The Dark Tower
by Phyllis Bottome
Winn Staines respected God, the royal family, and his regiment; but
even his respect for these three things was in many ways academic: he
respected nothing else.
His father, Admiral Sir Peter Staines, had never respected anything;
he went to church, however, because his wife didn't. They were that
kind of family.
Lady Staines had had twelve children. Seven of them died as promptly
as their constitutions allowed; the five survivors, shouted at,
quarreled over, and soundly thrashed, tore themselves through a violent
childhood into a rackety youth. They were never vicious, for they never
reflected over or considered anything that they did.
Winn got drunk occasionally, assaulted policemen frequently, and
could carry a small pony under each arm. Charles and James, who were in
the navy, followed in the footsteps of Sir Peter; that is to say, they
explored all possible accidents on sea or ashore, and sought for a
fight as if it were a mislaid crown jewel.
Dolores and Isabella had to content themselves with minor feats and
to be known merely as the terrors of the neighborhood, though
ultimately Dolores succeeded in making a handsome splash by running
away with a prize-fighting groom. She made him an excellent wife, and
though Lady Staines never mentioned her name again, it was rumored that
Sir Peter met her surreptitiously at Tattersall's and took her advice
upon his horses.
Isabella, shocked and outraged by this sisterly mischance, married,
in the face of all probability, a reluctant curate. He subsided into a
family living given to him by Sir Peter, and tried to die of
Isabella took entire control of the parish, which she ruled as if it
were a quarter-deck. She did not use her father's language, but she
inherited his voice. It rang over boys' clubs and into mothers'
meetings with the penetration and volume of a megaphone.
Lady Staines heartily disliked both her daughters, and she appeared
not to care very deeply for her sons, but of the three she had a
decided preference for Winn. Winn had a wicked temper, an unshakable
nerve, and had inherited the strength of Sir Peter's muscles and the
sledge-hammer weight of Lady Staines's wit. He had been expelled from
his private school for unparalleled insolence to the head master; a
repetition of his summing up of that gentleman's life and conduct
delighted his mother, though she assisted Sir Peter in thrashing him
for the result.
It may have contributed to his mother's affection for him that Winn
had left England at nineteen, and had reached thirty-five with only two
small intervals at home.
His first leave had kept them all busy with what the Staines
considered a wholly unprovoked lawsuit; a man whom Winn had most
unfortunately felt it his duty to fling from a bus into the street,
having the weak-minded debility to break his leg had the further
audacity to claim enormous damages. The Staines fought the case en
bloc with splendid zeal, and fiery eloquence. It would probably
have resulted better for their interests if they had not defied their
own counsel, outraged the respectable minds of the jury, and insulted
the learned judge. Under these circumstances they lost their case, and
the rest of Winn's leave was taken up in the Family's congenial pursuit
of laying the blame on each other.
The second and more fatal visit heralded Winn's marriage. He had not
had time to marry before. It would not be true to say that women had
played no part in his experiences, but the part they had played was
neither exalted nor durable. They figured in his imagination as an
inferior type of game, tiresome when captured. His life had been spent
mainly in pursuit of larger objects. He had been sent straight from
Sandhurst to South Africa, where he had fought with violence and
satisfaction for two years, winning the D. S. O., a broken nose, and a
cut across the face. When the fighting was over, he obtained leave for
a two-years' exploring expedition into the heart of West Africa. Ten
men had gone on this expedition, and two survived. Winn never talked of
these experiences, but he once admitted to a friend that the early
study of his sisters' characters had saved him in many awkward moments.
He had known how to appeal to female savages with the unerring touch of
From West Africa he was called to the Indian frontier, where he put
in seven years in variegated and extremely useful service. He received
his majority early, and disappeared for two years into Tibet,
Manchuria, and China. After that he came back to England for polo, and
met Estelle Fanshawe. She was lovely, gentle, intensely vain, and not
Lady Staines disposed of her at once as a mincing ninny. The
phrase aggravated Winn, and his fancy deepened. It was stimulated by
the fact that Estelle was the belle of the neighborhood and had a large
supply of ardent admirers. It was almost like running a race with the
odds against you. Winn was not a conceited man, and perhaps he thought
the odds more against him than they actually were. He was the second
son of a man who was immensely rich, (though Sir Peter was reported
stingy to his children). Everybody knew who the Staines were, while the
Fanshawes after every effort and with nearly every attraction had not
become a part of public knowledge. Besides, Estelle had been made love
to for some time, and Winn's way was undeniably different from that of
her other admirers.
He met her at a dance, and insisted upon dancing with her the whole
evening. He took her card away from her, and scored off all her
indignant partners. In the interval of these decisive actions he made
love to her in a steady, definite way that was difficult to laugh at
and impossible to turn aside.
When he said good-night to her he told her that he would probably
come and see her soon. She went away in a flutter, for his words,
though casual, had had a sharply significant sound; besides, he had
very nearly kissed her; if she had been more truthful, she would have
She didn't, in thinking it over, know at all how this had happened,
and she generally knew precisely how these things happened.
Lady Staines told her son at breakfast a few mornings later what she
thought of Miss Fanshawe.
She's a girl, she observed, knocking the top off her egg, who
will develop into a nervous invalid or an advanced coquette, and it
entirely depends upon how much admiration she gets which she does. I
hear she's religious, too, in a silly, egotistical way. She ought to
have her neck wrung.
Sir Peter disagreed; they heard him in the servants' hall.
Certainly not! he roared; certainly not! I don't think so at all!
The girl's a damned pretty piece, and the man's one of my best tenants.
He's only just come, and he's done wonders to the place already. And I
won't have the boy crabbed for fancying a neighbor! It's very natural
he should. You never have a woman in the house fit to look at. Who the
devil do you expect your boys to marry? Negresses or bar-maids?
Gentlewomen, said Lady Staines, firmly, unless their father's
behavior prevents them from being accepted.
Winn said nothing. He got up and began cutting ham at the sideboard.
His mother hesitated a moment; but as she had only roused one of her
men, she made a further effort in the direction of the other.
The girl's a mean-spirited little liar, she observed. I wouldn't
take her as a housemaid.
You may have to take her as a daughter-in-law, though, Winn
remarked without turning round from the sideboard.
[Illustration: You may have to take her as a daughter-in-law,
though, Winn remarked without turning round from the sideboard]
Sir Peter grunted. He didn't like this at all, but he couldn't very
well say so without appearing to agree with his wife, a thing he had
carefully avoided doing for thirty years.
Lady Staines rose and gathered up her letters.
You're of age, she said to her son, and you've had about as much
experience of civilized women as a European baby has of crocodiles, and
you'll be just about as safe and clever with them. As for you, Peter,
pray don't trouble to tell me what you think of the Fanshawes in a
year's time. You've never had a tenant you haven't had a lawsuit with
yet, and this time you'll be adding Winn's divorce proceedings to your
other troubles. I should think you might begin to save toward the
Sir Peter's oaths accompanied his wife across the dining-room to the
door, which her son opened ceremoniously for her. Their eyes crossed
If I get that girl, you'll be nice to her, Winn said in a low
As long as you are, replied Lady Staines, with a grim smile. He
did not bang the door after her, as she had hoped; instead, he went to
see the girl.
It was eleven o'clock when Winn arrived at the Fanshawes. Estelle
was barely dressed, she always slept late, had her breakfast in bed,
and gave as much trouble as possible to the servants.
However, when she heard who had called to see her, she sent for a
basket and some roses, and five minutes later strolled into the
drawing-room, with her hat on, and the flowers in her hands.
Her mother stayed in the garden and nervously thought out the lunch.
Winn seized the basket out of Estelle's hands, took her by the
wrists, and drew her to the window.
She wasn't frightened of him, but she pretended to be. She said,
Oh, Major Staines! She looked as soft and innocent as a cream-fed
kitten. Winn cleared his throat. It made him feel rather religious to
look at her. He did not of course see her as a kitten; he saw her
approximately as an angel.
Look here, he said, my name's Winn.
You're hurting my wrists, she murmured. He dropped them. Winn,
she said under her breath.
I say, he said after a moment's pause, would you mind marrying
Estelle lifted her fine China blue eyes to his. They weren't soft,
but they could sometimes look very mysterious.
Oh, she said, but, Winnit's so suddenso soon!
Leave's short, Winn explained, and besides, I knew the moment I
looked at you, I wanted you. I don't know how you feel, of course;
butwellI'm sure you aren't the kind of girl to let a fellow kiss
you, are you, and mean nothing?
Estelle's long lashes swept her cheeks; she behaved exquisitely. She
was, of course, exactly that kind of girl.
Ah, she said, with a little tremble in her voice, if I do marry
youwill you be kind to me?
Winn trembled, too; he flushed very red, and suddenly he did the
funniest, most unlikely thing in the world: he got down on his knees
beside her, and taking both her hands in his, he kissed them.
I'll be like this as much as ever you'll let me, he said gravely.
He had a great craving for sweetness, delicacy, and gentleness; he
began to tell her in little short, abrupt sentences how unworthy he was
of her, not fit to touch her reallyhe was afraid he'd been horribly
roughand done lots of things she would have hated (he forgot to
mention that he'd ever done anything worth doing as well); he explained
that he didn't know any women a bit like her; there weren't any, of
course, really likebut she knew what he meant. So that he
expected she'd have to teach him a lotwould sheif she didn't mind,
and overlook his being stupid?
Estelle listened thoughtfully for a few minutes, then she asked him
if he didn't think eight bridesmaids would be better than four?
He got up from his knees then.
He didn't like discussing the wedding, and he got bored very soon
and went away, so that Mrs. Fanshawe didn't need to have the special
lunch she had ordered, after all.
They were to have a very short engagement, and Estelle decided on
four bridesmaids and four pages; she was so small herself that children
would look prettier and more innocent.
There was something particularly charming about a young wedding, and
they were to have a celebration firstEstelle was most particular
about thatand a wedding breakfast afterwards of course. Winn was
extraordinarily kind to her; he let her settle everything she liked and
gave her exactly the ring she wantedan immense emerald set with
diamonds. He wasn't in the least particular about where they spent the
honeymoon, after making a very silly suggestion, which Estelle promptly
over-ruled, that they might go to the East Coast and make a study of
He agreed that London would do just as well, with theaters, and he
could look up a man he knew at the War Office. Certainly they should go
to the Ritz if Estelle liked it; but it was rather noisy.
The one point he did make was to have a young officer he liked, who
had been with him in China, Lionel Drummond, as his best man, instead
of his cousin Lord Arlington. His brothers were out of the question, as
he couldn't have one without having a row with the other. Estelle
wanted Lord Arlington, but when she pressed the point, Winn gave her a
most extraordinary sharp look and said, I thought I told you I wanted
that boy Drummond? It was a most peculiar and disconcerting look, well
known in the Staines family. Trouble usually followed very quickly upon
its heels. Estelle shivered and gave in and was rewarded by a diamond
This showed her how important shivering was going to be in her
The only really disagreeable time Estelle had during her engagement
was the short half hour in which Lady Staines fulfilled her maternal
It was a rainy day and Lady Staines had walked two miles across the
fields in what looked like a cricket cap, and a waterproof.
She cleaned her boots as carefully as she could in the hall. They
were square-toed and hob-nailed and most unsuitable for a drawing-room.
Mrs. Fanshawe literally quailed before them. You shouldn't have
parquet floors, Lady Staines remarked, holding out her hand; in the
country, it's the ruin of them unless you wear paper soles, she
glanced searchingly at Mrs. Fanshawe's and Estelle's feet. And that of
course is the ruin of your feet. Probably you've lived in London all
Mrs. Fanshawe found herself in the position of apologizing for what
had hitherto been her proudest boast. Lady Staines looked tolerantly
around her. London's a poor place, she observed, and very shoddy.
When my friends the Malverns lived here, they had old oak and rather
nice chintzes. I see you go in for color schemes and nicknacks. I hope
Estelle won't find Staines uncomfortable; however, she probably won't
be with us often.
She turned to her future daughter-in-law. You are Estelle, my dear,
ain't you? she demanded. And I dare say you can't speak a word of
French in spite of your fine name. Can you?
Estelle hesitated and blushed. Not very much, I'm afraid, she
truthfully murmured. It flashed through her mind that with Lady Staines
you must be truthful if there was any possible chance of your being
Hum! said Lady Staines thoughtfully. I can't see what people
spend so much on education for nowadays. I really can't! And you're
going to marry my second son, ain't you? she demanded. Well, I'm sure
it's very kind of you. All the Staines have tempers, but Winn's is
quite the worst. I don't want to exaggerate, but I really don't think
you could match it in this world. He generally keeps it, too! He was a
nasty, murderous, little boy. I assure you I've often beaten him till
he was black and blue and never got a word out of him.
Mrs. Fanshawe looked horrified. But my dear Lady Staines, she
urged, surely you tried kindness?
Lady Staines shook her head. No, she said, I don't think so, I
don't think I am kindvery. But he's turned out well, don't you think?
He's the only one of my sons who's got honorsa 'D.S.O.' for South
Africa, and a C.B. for something or other, I never know what, in China;
and he got his Majority extraordinarily young for special servicesor
he wouldn't have been able to marry you, my dear, for his father won't
help him. He doesn't get drunk as often as the other two boys, either;
in fact, on the whole, I should call him satisfactory. And now he's
chosen you, and I'm sure we're all very grateful to you for taking him
Mrs. Fanshawe offered her visitor tea; she was profoundly shocked,
but she thought that tea would help. Lady Staines refused it. No,
thank you very much, she said. I must be getting back to give Sir
Peter his. I shall be late as it is, and I shall probably hear him
swearing all down the drive. We shall all be seeing more than enough of
each other before long. But there's no use making a fuss about it, is
there? We're a most disagreeable family, and I'm sure it'll be worse
for you than for us.
Estelle accompanied her future mother-in-law to the door. She had
not been as much shocked as her mother.
Lady Staines laid her small neat hand on the girl's arm. She looked
at her very hard, but there was a spark of some kind, behind the
hardness; if the eyes hadn't been those of Lady Staines, they might
almost have been said to plead.
I wonder if you like him? she said slowly.
Estelle said, Oh, dear Lady Staines, believe mewith all my
Lady Staines didn't believe her, but she smiled good-humoredly.
Yes, yes, my dear, I know! she said. But how much heart have you
got? You see his happiness and yours depend on that. The woman who
marries a Staines ought to have a good deal of heart and all of it
ought to be his.
Estelle put on an air of pretty dignity. I have never loved any one
before, she asserted with serene untruthfulness (she felt sure this
fact couldn't be proved against her), and Winn believes in my heart.
Does he? said his mother. I wonder. He believes in your pretty
face! Well, it is pretty, I acknowledge that. Keep it as pretty as you
She didn't kiss her future daughter-in-law, but she tapped her
lightly on the shoulder and trudged back with head erect through the
It's a bad business, she said to herself thoughtfully. He's
rushed his fence and there's a ditch on the other side of it, deep
enough to drown him!
Winn wanted, if possible, a home without rows. He knew very little
of homes, and nothing which had made him suppose this ideal likely to
Still he went on having it, hiding it, and hoping for it.
Once he had come across it. It was the time when he had decided to
undertake a mission to Tibet without a government mandate. He wanted
young Drummond to go with him. The job was an awkward and dangerous
one. Certain authorities had warned Winn that though, if the results
were satisfactory, it would certainly be counted in his favor, should
anything go wrong no help could be sent to him, and he would be held
personally responsible; that is he would be held responsible if he were
not dead, which was the most likely outcome of the whole business.
It is easy to test a man on the Indian frontier, and Winn had had
his eye on Lionel Drummond for two years. He was a cool-headed,
reliable boy, and in some occult and wholly unexpressed way Winn was
conscious that he was strongly drawn to him. Winn offered him the job,
and even consented, when he was on leave, to visit the Drummonds and
talk the matter over with the boy's parents. It was then that he
discovered that people really could have a quiet home.
Mrs. Drummond was a woman of a great deal of character, very great
gentleness, and equal courage. She neither cried nor made fusses, and
no one could even have imagined her making a noise.
It was she who virtually settled, after a private talk with Winn,
that Lionel might accompany him. The extraordinary thing that Mrs.
Drummond said to Winn was, You see, I feel quite sure that you'll look
after Lionel, whatever happens.
Winn had replied coldly, I should never dream of taking a man who
couldn't look after himself.
Mrs. Drummond said nothing. She just smiled at Winn as if he had
agreed that he would look after Lionel. General Drummond was
non-committal. He knew the boy would get on without the mission, but he
also seemed to be influenced by some absurd idea that Winn was to be
indefinitely trusted, so that he would say nothing to stop them. Lionel
himself was wild with delight, and the whole affair was managed without
suspicion, resentment, or hostility.
The expedition was quite as hard as the authorities had intimated,
and at one point it very nearly proved fatal. A bad attack of dysentery
and snow blindness brought Lionel down at a very inconvenient spot,
crossing the mountains of Tibet during a blizzard. The rest of the
party said with some truth that they must go forward or perish. Winn
sent them on to the next settlement, keeping back a few stores and
plenty of cartridges. He said that he would rejoin them with Drummond
when Drummond was better, and if he did not arrive before a certain
date they were to push on without him.
They were alone together for six weeks, and during these six weeks
Winn discovered that he was quite a new kind of person; for one thing
he developed into a first-rate nurse, and he could be just like a
mother, and say the silliest, gentlest things. No one was there to see
or hear him, and the boy was so ill that he wouldn't be likely to
remember afterwards. He did remember, however, he remembered all his
life. The stores ran out and they were dependent on Winn's rifle for
food. They melted snow water to drink, and there were days when their
chances looked practically invisible.
Somehow or other they got out of it, the boy grew better, the
weather improved, and Winn managed, though the exact means were never
specified, to drag Lionel on a sledge to the nearest settlement, where
the rest of the party were still awaiting them.
After that the expedition was successful and the friendship between
the two men final. Winn didn't like to think what Mrs. Drummond would
say to him when they got back to England, but she let him down quite
easily; she gave him no thanks, she only looked at him with Lionel's
steady eyes and said, smiling a little, I always knew you'd bring him
back to me.
Winn did not ask Lionel to stay at Staines Court until the wedding.
None of the Staines went in much for making friends, and he didn't want
his mother to see that he was fond of any one.
The night before the wedding, however, Lionel arrived in the midst
of an altercation as to who had ordered the motor to meet the wrong
This lasted a long time because all the Staines, except Dolores,
were gathered together, and it expanded unexpectedly into an attack on
Charles, the eldest son, whose name had been coupled with that of a
lady whose professional aptitudes were described as those of a
manicurist. There was a moment when murder of a particularly atrocious
and internecine character seemed the only possible outcome to the
discussionthen Charles in a white fury found the door.
Before he had gone out of earshot Sir Peter asked Lionel what his
father would do if presented with a possible daughter-in-law so
markedly frail? Sir Peter seemed to be laboring under the delusion that
he had been weakly favorable to his son's inclinations, and that any
other father would have expressed himself more forcibly. Lionel was
saved from the awkwardness of disagreeing with him by an unexpected
remark from Lady Staines.
A girl from some kind of a chemist's shop, she observed musingly.
I fancy she's too good for Charles.
Sir Peter, who was fond of Charles, said the girl was probably not
from a chemist's shop; and described to the horror of the butler, who
had entered to prepare the tea-table, just what kind of a place she
probably was from.
Lady Staines looked at Winn, and said she didn't see that it was
much worse to marry a manicure girl than one who looked like a
manequin. They were neither of them types likely to do credit to the
family. Winn replied that, as far as that went, bad clothes and good
morals did not always go together. He was prepared apparently with an
apt illustration, when Isabella's husband, the Rev. Mr. Betchley, asked
feebly if he might go up-stairs to rest.
It was quite obvious to everybody that he needed it.
The next morning at breakfast the manicure girl was again discussed,
but in a veiled way so as not really to upset Charles before the
Winn escaped immediately afterwards with Lionel. They went for a
walk, most of which was conducted in silence; finally, however, they
found a log, took out their pipes, and made themselves comfortable.
Lionel said, I wish I'd seen Miss Fanshawe; it must be awfully
jolly for you, Winn.
Winn was silent for a minute or two, then he began, slowly gathering
impetus as he went on: Wellyes, of course, in a sense it is. I mean,
I know I'm awfully lucky and all that, onlyyou see, old chap, I'm
frightfully ignorant of women. I know one sort of coursea jolly sight
better than you dobut girls! Hang it all, I don't know girls. That's
what worries meshe's such a little thing. He paused a moment. I
hope it's all right, he said, marrying her. It seems pretty rough on
them sometimes, I thinkdon't youI fancy she's delicate and all
that. Lionel nodded. It does seem rather beastly, he admitted,
their having to have a hard time, I meanbut if they care for youI
suppose it works out all right. Winn paid no attention to this
fruitless optimism. He went on with his study of Estelle. She'sshe's
religious too, you know, that's why we're to have that other service
first. Rather nice idea, I think, don't you, what? Makes it a bit of a
strain for her though I'm afraid, but she'd never think of that. I'm
sure she's plucky. Lionel also was quite sure Estelle must be plucky.
Fancy you getting married, Lionel said suddenly. I can't see it
I feel it funny myself, Winn admitted. You see, it's so damned
long, and I never have seen much of women. I hope she won't expect me
to talk a lot or anything of that kind. Her people, you know, chatter
like so many magpiesjust oozes out of 'em.
We must be off, Lionel said.
They stood up, knocked the ashes out of their pipes, and prepared to
It was a mild June day, small vague hills stretched behind them, and
before them soft, lawn-like fields fell away to the river's edge.
Everywhere the green of trees in a hundred tones of color and with
delicate, innumerable leaf shadows, laid upon the landscape, the
fragrance and lightness of the spring.
They were in a temperate land, every yard of it was cultivated and
civilized, immensely lived on and understood. None of it had been
neglected or was dangerous or strange to the eye of man.
Simultaneously the thought flashed between them of other lands and
of sharper vicissitudes; they saw again bleak passes which were cruel
death traps, and above them untrodden alien heights; they felt the
solemn vastness of the interminable, flawless snows. They kept their
eyes away from each otherbut they knew what each other was feeling,
adventure and danger were calling to themthe old sting and thrill of
an unending trail; and then from a little hollow in the guarded hills
rang out the wedding bells.
Lionel looked a little shyly at his chief. I wonder, he said, as
Winn made no response, if we can ever do thingsthings together
again, I meanI should like to think we could. Winn gave him a quick
look and moved hastily ahead over the field path toward the church.
Why the devil shouldn't we? he threw back at Lionel over his
Estelle's wedding was a great success, but this was not surprising
when one realized how many years had been spent in preparation for it.
Estelle was only twenty-three, but for the last ten years she had known
that she would marry, and she had thought out every detail of the
ceremony except the bridegroom. You could have any kind of a
bridegroommen were essentially imperfectbut you need have only one
kind of ceremony, and that could be ideal.
Estelle had visualized everything from the last pot of
liliesalways Annunciation ones, not Arum, which look paganat the
altar to the red cloth at the door. There were to be rose-leaves
instead of rice; the wedding was to be in June, with a tent in the
garden and strawberries.
If possible, she would be married by a bishop; if not, by a dean.
The bishop having proved too remote, the dean had to do. But he was a
fine-looking man, and would be made a bishop soon, so Estelle did not
really mind. The great thing was to have gaiters on the lawn afterward.
The day was perfect. Estelle woke at her usual hour in the morning,
her heart was beating a little faster than it generally did, and then
she remembered with a pang of joy the perfect fit of her wedding-gown
hanging in the wardrobe. She murmured to herself:
One love, one life. She was not thinking of Winn, but she had
always meant to say that on her wedding morning.
Then she had early tea. Her mother came in and kissed her, and
Estelle implored her not to fuss, and above all not to get red in the
face before going to church, where she was to wear a mauve hat.
It was difficult for Mrs. Fanshawe not to fuss, Estelle was the most
expensive of her children and in a way the most important; for if she
wasn't pleased it was always so dreadful. There were half a dozen
younger children and any of them might do something tiresome.
Estelle arrived at the church five minutes late, on her father's
arm, followed by four little bridesmaids in pink and white, and four
little pages in blue and white. The effect was charming.
The village church was comfortably full, and with her eyes modestly
cast down Estelle managed to see that all the right people were there,
including the clergyman's daughters, whom she had always hated.
The Fanshawes and her mother's relations the Arnots had come down
from town. They all looked very prosperous people with good dressmakers
and tailors, and most of them had given her handsome silver wedding
presents or checks.
They were on one side of the church just as Estelle had always
pictured them, and on the other were the Staines and their relations.
The Staines had very few friends, and those they had were hard riding,
hunting people, who never look their best in satin. There was no doubt
that the Staines sitting in the front seat were a blot on the whole
You couldn't tell everybody that they were a county family, and they
didn't look like it. They were too large and coarse, and took up far
too much room. There they sat, six big creatures in one pew, all
restless, all with big chins, hard eyes, jutting eyebrows, and a
dreadful look as if they were buccaneering. As a matter of fact they
all felt rather timid and flat, and meant to behave beautifully, though
Sir Peter needn't have blown his nose like a trumpet and stamped
simultaneously just as Estelle entered.
At the top of the aisle Winn waited for his bride; and his boots
were dusty. Standing behind him was the handsomest man that Estelle had
ever seen; and not only that, but the very kind of man she had always
wished to see. It made Estelle feel for a moment like a good
housekeeper, who has not been told that a distinguished guest was
coming to dinner. If she had known, she would have ordered something
different. She felt in a flash that he was the kind of bridegroom who
would have suited the ceremony.
He was several inches taller than Winn, slim, with a small athletic
head and perfectly cut Greek features; his face would have been a shade
too regular and too handsome if he had not had the very same
hard-bitten look in his young gray eyes that Winn had in his bright,
hawk-like brown ones. Lionel was looking at Estelle as she came up the
aisle in a tender, protective, admiring way, as if she were a very
beautiful flower. This was most satisfactory, but at least Winn might
have done the same. Instead of looking as if he were waiting for his
bride, he looked exactly as if he were holding a narrow pass against an
enemy. His very figure had a peculiarly stern and rock-like expression.
His broad shoulders were set, his rather heavy head erect, and when he
did look at Estelle, it was an inconceivably sharp look as if he were
trying to see through her.
She didn't know, of course, that on his way to church he had thought
every little white cloud in the blue sky was like her, and every lily
in a cottage garden. There was a drop of sardonic blood in him, that
made him challenge her even at the moment of achieved surrender.
By Jove, he thought to himself, can she be as beautiful as she
Then the service began, and they had the celebration first, and
afterward the usual ceremony, perfectly conducted, and including the
rather over-exercised Voice that Breathed o'er Eden. The dean gave
them an excellent, short and evasive address about their married
duties, a great deal nicer than anything in the Prayer Book, and the
March from Lohengrin took them to the vestry. In the vestry Winn began
to be tiresome. The vicar said:
Kiss the bride, and Winn replied:
No, thanks; not at present, looking like a stone wall, and
sticking his hands in his pockets. The vicar, who had known him from a
boy, did not press the point; but of course the dean looked surprised.
Any dean would.
The reception afterwards would have been perfect but for the
Staines, who tramped through everything. Estelle perpetually saw them
bursting into places where they weren't wanted, and shouting remarks
which sounded abusive but were meant to be cordial to cowering
Fanshawes and Arnots. It was really not necessary for Sir Peter to say
in the middle of the lawn that what Mr. Fanshawe wanted was more
It seemed to Estelle that wherever she went she heard Sir Peter's
resonant voice talking about manure.
Lady Staines was much quieter; still she needn't have remarked to
Estelle's mother, WellI'm glad to see you have seven children,
that looks promising at any rate. It made two unmarried ladies of
uncertain age walk into a flower-bed.
Winn behaved abominably. He took the youngest Fanshawe child and
disappeared with him into the stable yard.
Even Charles and James behaved better than that. They hurled
well-chosen incomprehensible jokes at the clergyman's
daughtersdreadful girls who played hockey and had known the Staines
all their livesand these ladies returned their missiles with
It caused a good deal of noise, but it sounded hearty.
Isabella, being a clergyman's wife, talked to the Dean, who soon
looked more astonished than ever.
At last it was all comfortably over. Estelle, leaning on her
father's arm in pale blue, kissed her mother. Mrs. Fanshawe looked at
the end rather tactlessly cheerful. (She had cried throughout the
ceremony, just when she had worn the mauve hat and Estelle had hoped
Mr. Fanshawe behaved much more suitably; he said to Winn with a
trembling voice, Take care of my little girl, and Winn, who might
have said something graceful in reply, merely shook his father-in-law's
hand with such force that Mr. Fanshawe, red with pain, hastily
Lionel Drummond was charming and much appreciated everywhere; he
retrieved Winn from the stable yard when no one could guess where he
was, and was the first person to call Estelle, Mrs. Staines; he wound
up the affair with a white satin slipper.
When they drove off, Estelle turned toward Winn with shining eyes
and quivering lips. It was the moment for a judicious amount of
love-making, and all Winn said was:
Look here, you know, those high-heeled things on your feet are
absolutely murderous. They might give you a bad tumble. Don't let me
see you in 'em again. Are you sure you're quite comfortable, and all
He made the same absurd fuss about Estelle's comfort in the railway
carriage; but it was one of the last occasions on which he did it,
because he discovered almost immediately that however many things you
could think of for Estelle's comfort, she could think of more for
herself, and no matter how much care or attention was lavished upon
her, it could never quite equal her unerring instinct for her own
After this he was prepared to be ardent, but Estelle didn't care for
ardor in a railway train, so she soon stopped it. One of the funny
things she discovered about Winn was that it was the easiest possible
thing to stop his ardor, and this was really odd, because it was not
from lack of strength in his emotion. She never quite discovered what
it did come from, because it didn't occur to her that Winn would very
much rather have died than offend or tire the woman he loved.
She thought that Winn was rather coarse, but he wasn't as coarse as
Estelle had a great deal that she wanted to talk over about the
wedding. The whole occasion flamed out at hera perfect project,
perfectly carried out. She explained to Winn at length who everybody
was and how there had been some people there who had had to be taken
down, and others who had had to be pushed forward, and her mother
explained to, and her father checked, and the children (it was too
dreadful how they'd let Bobby run after Winn), kept as much out of the
way as possible.
Winn listened hard and tried to follow intelligently all the family
histories she evolved for him. At last after a rather prolonged pause
on his part, just at a point when he should have expressed admiration
of her guidance of a delicate affair, Estelle glanced at him and
discovered that he was asleep! They hadn't been married for three
hours, and he could go to sleep in the middle of their first real talk!
She was sure Lionel Drummond wouldn't have done any such thing. But
Winn was oldhe was thirty-fiveand she could see quite plainly now
that the hair round the tops of his ears was gray. She looked at him
scornfully, but he didn't wake up.
When he woke up he laughed.
By Jove! he exclaimed, I believe I've been to sleep! but he
didn't apologize. He began instead to tell her some things that might
interest her, about what Drummond, his best man, and he, had done in
Manchuria, just as if nothing had happened; but naturally Estelle
wouldn't be interested. She was first polite, then bored, then
captious. Winn looked at her rather hard. Are you trying to pay me
back for falling asleep? he asked with a queer little laugh. Is that
what you're up to? Estelle stiffened.
Certainly not, she said. I simply wasn't very interested. I don't
think I like Chinese stories, and Manchuria is just the same, of
Winn leaned over her, with a wicked light in his eyes, like a
naughty school boy. Own up! he said, laying his rough hand very
gently on her shoulder. Own up, old lady!
But has anybody ever owned up when they were being spiteful?
Estelle didn't. She looked at Winn's hand till he withdrew it, and
then she remarked that she was feeling faint from want of food.
After she had had seven chicken sandwiches, pâté de foie gras, half
a melon, and some champagne, she began to be agreeable.
Winn was delighted at this change in her and quite inclined to think
that their little breeze had been entirely due to his own
awkwardness. Still, he wished she had owned up.
It took Winn a month to realize that he had paid his money, had his
shy, and knocked down an empty cocoanut.
He couldn't get his money back, and he must spend the rest of his
life carrying the cocoanut about with him.
It never occurred to him to shirk the institution of marriage. The
church, the law, and the army stood in his mind for good, indelible
things. Estelle was his wife as much as his handkerchief was his
handkerchief. This meant that they were to be faithful to each other,
go out to dinner together, and that he was to pay her bills. He knew
the great thing in any tight corner was never under any circumstances
to let go. All the dangers he had ever been in, had yielded, only
because he hadn't.
It was true he had not been married before, but the same rule no
doubt held good of marriage. If he held on to it, something more
bearable would come of it. Then one could be out of the house a good
deal, and there was the regiment. He began to see his way through
marriage as a man sees his way through a gap in an awkward fence. The
unfortunate part of it was that he couldn't get through the gap unless
Estelle shared his insight.
He would have liked to put it to her, but he didn't know how; he
never had had a great gift of expression, and something had brought him
up very short in his communications with his wife.
It was so slight a thing that Estelle herself had forgotten all
about it, but to a Staines it was absolutely final. She had told the
gardener that Winn wanted hyacinths planted in the front bed. Winn
hadn't wanted a garden at all, and he had let her have her way in
everything else; but he had said quite plainly that he wouldn't on any
account have hyacinths. The expression he used about them was
excessively coarse, and it certainly should have remained in Estelle's
memory. He had said, that the bally things stank. Nevertheless, Estelle
had told the gardener that the master wanted hyacinths, and the
gardener had told Winn. Winn gazed at the gardener in a way which made
him wish that he had never been a gardener, but had taken up any other
profession in which he was unlikely to meet a glance so nasty. Then
Winn said quietly:
You are perfectly sure, Parsons, that Mrs. Staines told you it was
my wish to have the hyacinths? And the gardener had said:
Yes, sir. She did say, sir, as 'ow you 'ad a particler fancy
for them. And Winn had gone into the house and asked Estelle what the
devil she meant? Estelle immediately denied the hyacinths and the
gardener. People like that, she said, always misunderstand what one
said to them.
Very well, then, Winn replied. He has lied to me, and must go.
I'll dismiss him at once. He told me distinctly that you had said I
Estelle fidgeted. She didn't want the gardener to go. She really
couldn't remember what she'd said and what she hadn't said to him. And
Winn was absurd, and how could it matter, and the people next door had
hyacinths, and they'd always had them at home!
Winn listened in silence. He didn't say anything more about the
gardener having lied, and he didn't countermand the hyacinths; only
from that moment he ceased to believe a single word his wife said to
him. This is discouraging to conversation and was very unfair to
Estelle; for she might have told the truth more often if she had not
discovered that it made no difference to her husband whether she told
it to him or not.
Estelle knew that her heart was broken, but on the whole she did not
find that she was greatly inconvenienced.
In an unhappy marriage the woman generally scores unless she is in
love with her husband. Estelle never had been in love with Winn; she
had had an agreeable feeling about him, and now she had a disagreeable
feeling about him, but neither of these emotions could be compared with
beaten-brass hot-water jugs, which she had always meant to have when
she was married.
If Winn had remained deeply in love with her, besides making things
more comfortable at meals it would have been a feather in her cap.
Still his cruelty could be turned into another almost more becoming
She said to herself and a little later to the nearest clergyman, I
must make an offering of my sorrow. She offered it a good deal, almost
to every person she met. Even the cook was aware of it; but, like all
servants, she unhesitatingly sided with the master. He might be in the
wrong, but he was seldom if ever in the kitchen.
They had to have a house and servants, because Estelle felt that
marriage without a house was hardly legal; and Winn had given way about
it, as he was apt to do about things Estelle wanted. His very cruelty
made him particularly generous about money.
But Estelle was never for a moment taken in by his generosity; she
saw that it was his way of getting out of being in love with her. Winn
was a bad man and had ruined her lifethis forced her to supplement
Later on when he put down one of his hunters and sold a polo pony so
that she could have a maid, she began to wonder if she had at all found
out how bad he really was?
There was one point he never yielded; he firmly intended to rejoin
his regiment in March.
The station to which they would have to go was five thousand feet
up, lonely, healthy, and quite unfashionable. Winn had tried to make it
seem jolly to her and had mentioned as a recommendation apparently that
it was the kind of place in which you needn't wear gloves. It was close
to the border, and women had to be a little careful where they rode.
Estelle had every intention of being careful; she would, she
thought, be too careful ever to go to the Indian frontier at all. She
had often heard of the tragic separations of Anglo-Indian marriages; it
was true that they were generally caused by illness and children, but
there must be other methods of obtaining the same immunities.
She had never had any difficulty with the doctor at home; she relied
on him entirely, and he had invariably ordered her what she wanted,
after a nice quiet talk.
Travers, the regimental doctor, was different, he looked exactly
like a vet, and only understood things you had actually broken. Still
Estelle put her trust in Providence; no self-respecting higher Power
could wish a woman of her type to be wasted on a hill station.
Something would happen to help her, and if not, she would be given
grace to help herself.
One day Winn came down to breakfast with a particularly disagreeable
expression. He said good-morning into his newspaper as usual without
noticing her pathetic little smile.
He only unburied himself to take his second cup of coffee, then he
said, without looking at her,
It's a beastly nuisance, the War Office want me to extend my
leavehanged if I do.
Estelle thanked Heaven in a flash and passed him the marmalade. She
had never dreamed the War Office could be so efficient.
That shows, she said gracefully, what they think of you!
Winn turned his sardonic eyes towards her. Thanks, he drawled, I
dare say it's the kind of thing you'd like. They propose that I should
stay on here at the Staff College for another year and write 'em a
damned red tape report on Tibet. His irony, dropped from him. If it
was a job, he said in a low voice, I'd go like a shot.
Mightn't it mean promotion? she asked a little nervously. Winn
shrugged his shoulders. I can write anything they want out there, he
said gloomily. All I want is ink! What I know I've got in my head, you
see. I'd take that with me.
But you couldn't talk things over with them or answer their
questions, could you? Estelle intelligently ventured. She had an
intelligence which ripened along the line of her desires.
I could tell them anything they want to know in ten minutes! said
Winn impatiently. They don't want information, they want a straight
swift kick! They know what I thinkthey just want me to string out a
lot of excuses for them not to act! Besides the chief thing isthey'd
have to send for me, if there was a rowI know the ground and the
other chaps don't. I wish to God there'd be a row!
Estelle sighed and gazed pathetically out of the window. Her eyes
rested on the bed where the hyacinths were planted, and beyond it to
gorse bushes and a corrugated iron shed.
They were at Aldershot, which was really rather a good place for
meeting suitable people. What do you intend to do? she asked,
trembling a little. Winn was at his worst when questioned as to his
intentions; he preferred to let them explode like fire-crackers.
Do! he snorted, Write and tell 'em when they've got any kind of
job on the size of six-pence I'll be in it! And if not Tibet's about as
useful to draw up a report onas ice in the hunting seasonand I'm
off in Marchand that's that!
A tear rolled down Estelle's cheek and splashed on the tablecloth;
she trembled harder until her teaspoon rattled.
Winn looked at her. What's up? he asked irritably. Anything
I suppose, she said, prolonging a small sob, you don't care what
I feel about going to India?
But you knew we were always going out in March didn't you? he
asked, as if that had anything to do with it! The absurd face value
that he gave to facts was enough to madden any woman. Estelle sobbed
I never knew I should be so unhappy! she moaned. Winn looked
extremely foolish and rather conscience-stricken; he even made a
movement to rise, but thought better of it.
I'm sure I'm awfully sorry, he said apologetically. I suppose you
mean you're a bit sick of me, don't you? Estelle wiped her eyes, and
returned to her toast. Can't you see, she asked bitterly, that our
life together is the most awful tragedy?
Oh, come now, said Winn, who associated tragedy solely with police
courts and theaters. It's not so bad as all that, is it? We can rub
along, you know. I dare say I've been rather a brute, but I shall be a
lot better company when I'm back in the regiment. We must buck up,
that's all! I don't like to bother you about it, but I think you'd see
things differently if we had a kid. I do really. I've seen heaps of
scratch marriages turn out jolly wellwhen the kids began to come!
How can you be so disgustingly coarse! shuddered Estelle.
Besides, I'm far too delicate! Not that you would care if I died!
You'd just marry again!
Oh, no! I shouldn't do that, said Winn in his horrid quiet way
which might mean anything. He got up and walked to the window. You
wouldn't die, he observed with his back turned to her. You'd be a
jolly sight stronger all the rest of your life! I asked Travers!
Oh! she cried, you don't mean to tell me that you talked me over
with that disgusting red-faced man!
I don't talk people over, said Winn without turning round. He's a
doctor. I asked his opinion!
Well, she said, I think it was horrible of youandand most
ungentlemanly. If I'd wanted to know, I'd have found out for myself. I
haven't the slightest confidence in regimental doctors.
Winn said nothing. One of the things Estelle most disliked in him
was the way in which it seemed as if he had some curious sense of
delicacy of his own. She wanted to think of Winn as a man impervious to
all refinement, born to outrage the nicer susceptibility of her own
mind, but there were moments when it seemed as if he didn't think the
susceptibilities of her mind were nice at all. He was not awed by her
He didn't say anything of course, but he let certain subjects
Suddenly he turned round from the window and fixed his eyes on hers.
She thought he was going to be very violent, but he wasn't, he talked
quite quietly, only something hard and bright in his eyes warned her to
Look here, he said, I've thought of something, a kind of bargain!
I'll give in to you about this job, if you'll give in to me about the
other! It's no use fighting over things, is it?
If you'll have a kid, I'll stay on here for a year more; if you
won't, I'll clear out in March and you'll have to come with me, for I
can't afford two establishments. I don't see what else to offer you
unless you want to go straight back to your people. You'd hardly care
to go to mine, if they'd have you.
But if you do what I ask about the childI'll meet you all the way
roundI swear toyou shan't forget it! Only you must ride straight.
If you play me any monkey tricks over ityou'll never set eyes on me
again; and I'm afraid you'll have to have Travers, because I trust him,
not some slippery old woman who'd let you play him like a fish! D'you
Estelle stared aghast at this mixture of brutality and cunning. Her
mind flew round and round like a squirrel in a cage.
She could have managed beautifully if it hadn't been for Travers.
Travers would be as impervious to handling as a battery mule. She
really wouldn't be able to do anything with Travers. He looked as if he
drank; but he didn't.
Of course having a baby was simply horrid; lots of women got out of
it nowadays who were quite happily married.
It was disgusting of Winn to suggest it when he didn't even love
But once she had one, if she really did give way, a good deal might
be done with it.
Maternity was sacred; being a wife on the other hand was forever
climbing up the climbing wave, there was nothing final about it as
there was in being able to say, I am the mother of your child!
Her wistful blue eyes expanded. She saw her own way spreading out
before her like a promised land. I can't, she said touchingly,
decide all this in a minute.
He could stay on for two years at the War Office, and Estelle meant
him to stay without inconvenience to herself. He tried bargaining with
her; but her idea of a bargain was one-sided.
I sometimes feel as if you kept me out of everything, she said at
Estelle was feeling her way; she thought she might collect a few
extras to add to her side of the bargain.
Apparently she was right. Winn was all eagerness to meet her. How
do you mean? he asked anxiously.
Oh, she said contemplatively, such heaps of things! One thing, I
don't expect you've ever noticed that you never ask your friends to
stay here. I've had all mine; you've never even asked your mother! It's
as if you were ashamed of me.
I'll ask her like a shot if you like, he said eagerly. Estelle was
not anxious for a visit from Lady Staines, but she thought it sounded
better to begin with her. She let her pass.
It's not only your relations, she went on; it's your friends.
What must they think of a wife they are never allowed to see?
But they're such a bachelor crew, he objected. It never occurred
to me you'd care for themjust ordinary soldier chaps like me, not a
bit clever or amusing.
Estelle did not say that crews of bachelors are seldom out of place
in the drawing-room of a young and pretty woman. She looked past her
husband to where in fancy she beheld the aisle of a church and the
young Adonis, who had been his best man, with eyes full of reverence
and awe gazing at her approaching figure.
I thought, she said indifferently, you liked that man you
insisted on having instead of Lord Arlington at the wedding?
I do, said Winn. He's my best friend. I meet him sometimes in
town, you know.
He must think it awfully funny, said Estelle, sadly, our never
having him down here.
He's not that sort, said Winn. He was my sub, you know. He
wouldn't think anything funny unless I told him to. We know each other
That makes it funnier still, said Estelle, relentlessly.
Oh, all right, said Winn, after a moment's pause. Have him down
here if you like. Shall I write to him or will you?
He's your friend, said Estelle, politely.
Yes, said Winn, but it's your idea. There was a peculiar look in
his eyes, as if he wanted to warn her about something. He went to the
door and then glanced back at her, apparently hoping that she had
changed her mind.
Estelle hadn't the faintest intention of changing her mind. She had
already decided to put sweet peas in Lionel's room and a marked copy of
The Road Mender.
You may as well ask him yourself, said Winn, if you really want
him to come.
It was time, Estelle felt, that the real things of life should come
back to her. She had had them before marriagethese real
thingslight, swift, contacts with chosen spirits; friendships not
untinged with a liability to become something less capable of
definition. But since her marriage she had been forced into a world of
secondary experiences. Winn, to begin with, had stood very much in the
way, and when he had ceased to block the paths of sentiment she had not
found a substitute. At Aldershot, where they lived, there was an
unspoken rule that brides should be left alone. Women called, and men
were polite, but when Estelle began those delicate personal
conversations which led the way to deeper spiritual contacts she
discovered that nothing followed. She could not say that she found the
men elusive; stone walls are not elusive, but they do not lend
themselves to an easy way across country. As to women, theoretically
Estelle desired their friendship just as much as that of men; but in
practice she generally found them unsympathetic, and incapable of the
finest type of intimacy. They did not seem to know what the word
devotion meant. Men did, especially young men, though the older ones
talked more about it. Estelle had already seen herself after marriage
as a confidante to Winn's young brother officers. She would help them
as only a good woman can. (She foresaw particularly how she would help
to extricate them from the influences of bad women. It was
extraordinary how many women who influenced men at all were bad!)
Estelle never had any two opinions about being a good woman herself.
She couldn't be anything else. Good women held all the cards, but there
was no reason why they shouldn't be attractive; it was their failure to
grasp this potentiality, which gave bad women their temporary sway.
It was really necessary in the missionary career open to young and
attractive married women, to be magnetic. Up to a certain point men
must be led on, because if they didn't care for you in the right way
you couldn't do anything with them at all. After that point, they must
be gently and firmly stopped, or else they might become tiresome, and
that would be bad both for them and for you. Especially with a husband
like Winn, who seemed incapable of grasping fine shades, and far too
capable of dealing roughly and brutally with whatever he did grasp.
There had been a dress, for instance, that he simply refused to let
Estelle wearremarking that it was a bit too thickthough that was
really the last quality it had possessed.
The question of congenial friendship was therefore likely to be a
difficulty, but Estelle had never forgotten Lionel Drummond. When she
stopped thinking about Winn except as an annoyance, it became necessary
for her to think of somebody else, and her mind fixed itself at once
upon her husband's friend. It seemed to her that in Lionel Drummond she
would find a perfect spiritual counterpart. She dreamed of a friendship
with him too deep for mere friendliness, too late for accepted love;
and it seemed to her exactly the kind of thing she wanted. Hand in hand
they would tread the path of duty together, surrounded by a rosy mist.
They might even lead Winn to higher things; but at this point
Estelle's imagination balked. She could not see Winn being ledhe was
too truculentand he had never in his tenderest moments evinced the
slightest taste for higher things. It would be better perhaps if they
simply set him a good example. He would be certain not to follow it.
She and Lionel would have terrible moments, of course. Estelle
thrilled at the thought of these moments, and from time to time she
slightly stretched the elastic of the path of duty to meet them. They
would still keep on it, of course; they would never go any further than
Petrarch and Laura. These historic philanderers should be their limit,
and when the worst came to the worst, Estelle would softly murmur to
Lionel, Petrarch and Laura have borne it, and we must bear it too.
She became impatient for Lionel's arrival and bought a new and
exquisitely becoming blue chiffon dress. Both she and her maid were so
struck by her appearance that when Estelle heard Winn banging about at
the last moment in his dressing room, she knocked at his door. Even the
lowest type of man can be used as a superior form of looking glass. He
shouted Come in! and stared at her while he fumbled at his collar
stud; then he lifted his eyebrows and said War-painteh?
I only wanted to remind you, dear, said Estelle patiently, that
the key of the wine cellar is in my bureau drawer.
Lionel arrived before Winn had finished dressing. Estelle greeted
him with outstretched hands. I am so very glad to see you at last,
she said in her softest, friendliest voice. I think it will do Winn
good to have you here.
Lionel laughed shyly.
I shouldn't have thought, he said, that Winn would need much more
Ah, my dear fellow! said Winn's voice behind him, you don't know
how great my needs are. Sorry I couldn't meet you.
Estelle's beautiful, wavering eyes rested for a moment on her
husband. She had never known a man to dress so quickly, and it seemed
to her an unnecessary quality.
The dinner was a great success. Both men were absurdly gay. Winn
told good stories, laughed at Lionel, and rallied his young wife. She
had never seen him like this before, and she put it down to the way one
man sets off another.
Estelle felt that she was being a great success, and it warmed her
heart. The two men talked for her and listened to her; she had a moment
when she thought that perhaps, after all, she needn't relegate Winn to
a lower world.
They accepted with enthusiasm her offer to sing to them after dinner
and then they kept her waiting in the drawing-room for an hour and a
She sat there opposite a tall Italian mirror, quivering with her
power, her beauty, her ability to charm, and with nothing before her
but the empty coffee-cups.
She played a little, she even sang a little (the house was small) to
recall them to a sense of her presence, but inexplicably they clung to
their talk. Winn who at ordinary times seemed incapable of more than
disconnected fragments of speech was (she could hear him now and then
quite distinctly) talking like a cataract; and Lionel was, if anything,
worse. Her impatience turned into suspicion. Probably Winn was
poisoning his friend's mind against her. Perhaps he was drinking too
much, Sir Peter did, and people often took after their fathers. That
would have to be another point for Lionel and her to tackle. At last
they came in, and Lionel said without any attempt at an apology:
We should love some music, Mrs. Winn.
Winn said nothing. He stuck his hands into his pockets, and stood in
front of the fireplace in a horribly British manner while she turned
over her songs. Estelle sang rather prettily. She preferred songs of a
type that dealt with bitter regret over unexplained partings. She sang
them with a great deal of expression and a slight difficulty in letting
go of the top notes. After she had sung two or three, Lionel said:
Now, Winn, you sing.
Estelle started. She had never before heard of this accomplishment
of her husband's. It occurred to her now that Lionel would think it
very strange she hadn't, but he need never know unless Winn gave her
away. She need not have been afraid. Winn said quietly, as if he said
it to her every evening, D'you mind playing for me, Estelle? Then he
dragged out from under her music a big black book in which he had
painstakingly copied and collected his selection of songs.
He had a high, clear baritone, very true and strangely impressive;
it filled the little room. When he had finished, Lionel forgot to ask
Estelle to sing again. Winn excused himself; he said he had a letter or
two to write and left them.
It's jolly, your both singing, Lionel said, looking at her with
the same admiring friendliness he had shown her before. She guessed
then that Winn had said nothing against her. After all, at the bottom
of her heart she had known he wouldn't. You can't live with a man for
five months and not know where you are safe.
Estelle smiled prettily.
Yes, she said gently, music is a great bond, and then she began
to talk to Lionel about himself.
She had a theory that all men liked to talk exclusively about
themselves, and it is certain that most men enjoyed their conversation
with her; but in this particular instance she made a mistake. Lionel
did not like talking about himself, and above all he disliked
sympathetic admiration. He was not a conceited man, and it had not
occurred to him that he was a suitable subject for admiration. Nor did
he see why he should receive sympathy. He had had an admirably free and
happy life with parents who were his dearest friends, and with a friend
who was to him a hero beyond the need of definition.
Still, he wouldn't have shrunk from talking about Winn with Estelle.
It was her right to talk about him, her splendid, perfect privilege. He
supposed that she was a little shy, because she seemed to slip away
from their obvious great topic; but he wished, if she wasn't going to
talk about Winn, she would leave his people alone.
She tried to sympathize with him about his home difficulties, and
when she discovered that he hadn't any, her sympathy veered to the
horrible distance he had to be away from it.
Oh, well, said Lionel, it's my father's old regiment, you know;
that makes it awfully different. They know as much about my life as I
do myself, and when I don't get leave, they often come out to me for a
month or two. They're good travelers.
They must be simply wonderful! Estelle said ecstatically. Lionel
said nothing. He looked slightly amazed. It seemed so funny that Winn,
who hadn't much use for ecstasy, should have married a so easily
I do envy you, she said pathetically, all that background of home
companionship. We were brought up so differently. It was not my
parents' fault of course she added rather quickly. Something in
Lionel's expression warned her that he would be unsympathetic to
confidences against parents.
Well, you've got Winn, he said, looking at her with his steadfast
encouraging eyes, you've got your background now. He was prepared to
put up with a little ecstasy on this subject, but Estelle looked away
from him, her great eyes strangely wistful and absorbed. She was an
extraordinary exquisite and pretty little person, like a fairy on a
Christmas tree, or a Dresden china shepherdess, not a bit, somehow,
like a wife.
Yes, she said, twisting her wedding ring round her tiny manicured
finger. But sometimes I am a little anxious about himI know it's
silly of me.
Lionel's shyness fell away from him with disconcerting suddenness.
Why are you anxious? he demanded. What do you mean, Mrs. Winn?
Estelle hesitated, she hadn't meant to say exactly what her fear
was, she only wanted to arouse the young man's chivalry and to talk in
some way that approached intimacy.
Everything must have a beginning, even Petrarch and Laura.
She found Lionel's eyes fixed upon her with a piercing quality
difficult to meet. He obviously wouldn't understand if she didn't mean
anythingand she hardly knew him well enough to touch on her real
difficulties with Winn, those would have to come later.
But she must be anxious about somethingshe was forced into the
rather meager track of her husband's state of health.
I don't quite know, she mused, of course he seems perfectly
strongbut I sometimes wonder if he is as strong as he looks.
Lionel brushed her wonder aside. Please tell me exactly what you've
noticed, he said, as if he were a police sergeant and she were some
reluctant and slightly prevaricating witness.
She hadn't, as a matter of fact, noticed anything. He sometimes
looks terribly tired, she said a little uncertainly, but I dare say
it's all my foolishness, Mr. Drummond. I am afraid I am inclined to be
nervous about other people's health Estelle sighed softly. She often
accused herself of faults which no one had discovered in her. Winn, I
am sure, would be the first to laugh at me.
Yes, I dare say he would, said Lionel quietly. But I never will,
Mrs. Winn. She raised her eyes gratefully to himat last she had
succeeded in touching him.
You see, Lionel explained, I care too much for him myself.
Her eyes dropped. She had a feeling that Petrarch and Laura had
hardly begun like that.
The next few days were very puzzling to Estelle; nobody behaved as
she expected them to behave, including herself. She found Lionel always
ready to accept her advances with open-hearted cordiality, but she had
to make the advances. She had not meant to do this. Her idea had been
to be a magnet, and magnets keep quite still; needles do all the
moving. But this particular needle (except that it didn't appear at all
soft) might have been made of cotton wool.
And Winn wouldn't behave at a disadvantage; he was neither
tyrannical nor jealous. He left her a great deal to Lionel, and treated
her with good-natured tolerance in private and with correct attention
before his friend.
In theory Estelle had always stated her belief in platonic
friendship, but she had never been inconvenienced by having to carry it
out. One thing had always led to another. She had imagined that Lionel
(in his relations with her) would be a happy mixture of Lancelot and
Galahad. The Galahad side of him would appear when Lancelot became
inconvenientand the Lancelot side of him would be there to fall back
upon when Galahad got too dull. But in their actual relation there
seemed to be some important ingredient left out. Of course Lancelot was
guilty and Estelle had never for a moment intended Lionel to be guilty,
but on the other hand Lancelot was in love with the Queen.
This quality was really essential.
Lancelot had had a great affection for the King of course, but that
had been subsidiary; and this was what puzzled Estelle most, was
Lionel's feeling for her subsidiary to his feeling for Winn?
Lionel was delightful to her; he waited on her hand and foot; he
studied all her tastes and remembered everything she told him. Could
playing polo with Winn, going out for walks in the rain, and helping to
make saddles in Winn's musty, smelling den appeal to him with greater
force than her society? He wasn't in love with any one else, and if men
weren't in love with any one else, they were usually in love with
Estelle. But with Lionel everything stopped short. They conversed
confidentially, they used each other's Christian names, but she was
left with the sensation of having come up against an invisible barrier.
There was no impact, and there was no curtness; there was simply empty
space. She was not even sure that Lionel would have liked her at all if
she hadn't been Winn's wife. As it was, he certainly wanted her
friendship and took pains to win it. It must be added that he won more
than he took pains to win. Estelle for the first time in her life
stumbled waveringly into a little love.
The visit prolonged itself from a week to a fortnight. Estelle did
not sleep the night before Lionel went. She tossed feverishly to and
fro, planning their parting. Surely he would not leave her without a
word? Surely there must be some touch of sentiment to this separation,
horrible and inevitable, that lay before them?
She remembered afterwards that as she lay in the dark and foresaw
her loneliness she wondered if she wouldn't after all risk the Indian
frontier to be near him? She was subsequently glad she had decided that
It was a very wet morning, and Lionel was to leave before lunch.
Winn went as usual into his study to play with his eternal experiments
in leather. Lionel went with him. She heard the two men laughing
together down the passage. Could real friends have laughed if they had
minded parting with each other?
She sat at her desk in the drawing-room biting nervously at her pen.
He was going; was it possible that there would be no farewell?
Just some terrible flat hand-shake at the door under Winn's
But after a time she heard steps returning. Lionel came by himself.
Are you busy? he asked. Shall I bother you if we talk a little?
No, she said softly. I hoped you would come back.
Lionel did not answer for a moment. For the first time in their
acquaintance he was really a little stirred. He moved about the room
restlessly, he wouldn't sit down, though half unconsciously she had put
her hand on the chair beside her.
Do you know, he said at last, I've got something to say to you,
and I'm awfully afraid it may annoy you.
Was it really coming, the place at which he would have to be
stopped, after all her fruitless endeavors to get him to move in any
direction at all? It looked like it; he was very obviously embarrassed
and flushed; he did not even try to meet her eyes.
The fact is, he went on, I simply can't go without saying it, and
you've been so awfully good to meyou've let me feel we're friends.
He paused, and Estelle leaned forward, her eyes melting with
I am so glad you feel like that, Lionel, she murmured. Do please
say anythinganything you like. I shall always understand and forgive,
if it is necessary for me to forgive.
You're awfully generous, he said gratefully. She smiled, and put
out her hand again toward the chair. This time he sat down in it, but
he turned it to face her.
He was a big man and he seemed to fill the room in which they sat.
His blue-gray eyes fixed themselves on hers intently, his whole being
seemed absorbed in what he was about to say.
You see, he began, I think you may be making a big mistake.
Naturally Winn's awfully fond of you and all that and you've just
started life, and you like to live in your own country, surrounded by
jolly little things, and perhaps India seems frightening and far away.
Estelle shrank back a little; he put his hand on the back of her chair
soothingly. Of course it must be hard, he said. Only I want to
explain it to you. Winn's heart is yours, I know, but it's in his work,
too, as a man's must be, and his work's out there; it's not here at
When I came here and looked about me, and saw the house and the
garden and the country, where we've had such jolly walks and talksit
all seemed temporary somehow, made upnot quite natural, I can't
explain what I mean but not a bit like Winn. I needn't tell you what he
is, I dare say you think it's cheek of me to talk about him at all, I
can quite understand it if you do, only perhaps there's a side of him
I've seen more of, and which makes me want to say what I know he
isn'twhat I don't think even love can make him behe isn't tame!
He stopped abruptly; Estelle's eyes had hardened and grown very
I don't know what you mean, she said. Has he complained of my
keeping him here?
Lionel pushed back his chair.
Ah, Mrs. Winn! Mrs. Winn! he exclaimed half laughingly, and half
reproachfully; you know he wouldn't complain. He only told me that he
wasn't coming back just yet, and Iwell, I thought I saw why he
Then, she said, turning careful eyes away from him, if he hasn't
complained, I hardly see why you should attack me like this. I suppose
you think I am as unnatural andand temporary as our surroundings?
Lionel stood up and looked down at her in a puzzled way.
Oh, I say, you know, he ventured, you're not playing very fair,
are you? Of course I'm not attacking you. I thought we were friends,
and I wanted to help you.
Friends! she said. Her voice broke suddenly into a hard little
laugh. Well, what else have you to suggest to me about my husbandout
of your friendship for me?
You're not forgiving me, he reminded her gently, not dreaming what
it was she had been prepared to forgive. But perhaps I'd better go on
and get it all out while I'm about it. You know it isn't only that I
think he won't care for staying on here, but I think it's a bit of a
risk. I don't want to frighten you, but after a man's had black water
fever twice, he's apt to be a little groggy, especially about the
lungs. England isn't honestly a very good winter place for him for a
year or two
Estelle flung up her head.
If he was going to be an invalid, she said, he oughtn't to have
The silence that followed her speech crept into every corner of the
room. Lionel did not look puzzled any more. He stood up very straight
and stiff; only his eyes changed. He could not look at her; they were
filled with contempt. He gave her a moment or two to disavow her words;
he would have given his right hand to hear her do it.
I beg your pardon, he said at last. I have overstated the case if
you imagine your husband is an invalid. I think, if you don't mind, he
added, I'll see if my things are ready.
Please do, she said, groping in her mind for something left to
hurt him with. And another time perhaps you will know better than to
say for my husband what he is perfectly competent to say for himself.
You are quite right, Lionel said quietly; another time I shall
know better. The rain against the windows sounded again; she had not
heard it before.
He did not come back to say good-by. She heard him talking to Winn
in the hall, the dogcart drove up, and then she saw him for the last
time, his fine, clear-cut profile, his cap dragged over his forehead,
his eyes hard, as they were when he had looked at her. He must have
known she stood there at the window watching, but he never looked back.
She had expected a terrible parting, but never a parting as terrible as
this. Mercifully she had kept her head; it was all she had kept.
It was shortly after Lionel's departure that Estelle realized there
was nothing between her and the Indian frontier except the drawing-room
sofa. She fixed herself as firmly on this shelter as a limpet takes
hold upon a rock. People were extremely kind and sympathetic, and Winn
himself turned over a new leaf. He was gentle and considerate to her,
and offered to read aloud to her in the evenings.
Nothing shook her out of this condition. The baby arrived,
unavailingly as an incentive to health, and not at all the kind of baby
Estelle had pictured. He was almost from his first moments a thorough
Staines. He was never very kissable, and was anxious as soon as
possible to get on to his own feet. At eight months he crawled rapidly
across the carpet with a large musical-box suspended from his mouth by
its handle; at ten he could walk. He tore all his lawn frocks on Winn's
spurs, screamed with joy at his father's footsteps, and always
preferred knees to laps.
His general attitude towards women was hostility, he looked upon
them as unfortunate obstacles in the path of adventure, and howled
dismally when they caressed him. He had more tolerance for his mother
who seemed to him an object provided by Providence in connection with a
sofa, on purpose for him to climb over.
Her maternal instinct went so far as to allow him to climb over it
twice a day for short intervals. After all he had gained her two years.
Estelle lay on the sofa one autumn afternoon at four o'clock, with
her eyes firmly shut. She was aware that Winn had come in, and was very
inconsiderately tramping to and fro in heavy boots. He seldom entered
the drawing-room at this hour, and if he did, he went out again as soon
as he saw that her eyes were shut.
Probably he meant to say something horrible about India; she had
been expecting it for some time. The report on Tibet was finished, and
he could let his staff work go when he liked.
He stood at the foot of her couch and looked at her curiously.
Estelle could feel his eyes on her; she wondered if he noticed how thin
she was, and how transparent her eyelids were. Every fiber in her body
was aware of her desire to impress him with her frailty. She held it
before him like a banner.
Estelle, he said. When he spoke she winced.
Yes, dear, she murmured hardly above a whisper.
Would you mind opening your eyes? he suggested. I've got
something I want to talk over with you, and I really can't talk to a
door banged in my face.
I'm so sorry, she said meekly; I'm afraid I'm almost too
exhausted to talk, but I'll try to listen to what you have to say.
Thanks, said Winn. He paused as if, after all, it wasn't easy to
begin, even in the face of this responsiveness. She thought he looked
rather odd. His eyes had a queer, dazed look, as if he had been
drinking heavily or as if somebody had kicked him.
Well, she asked at last, what is it you want to talk about?
Suspense of any kind, you know, is very bad for my heart.
I beg your pardon, he said. It was only that I thought I'd better
mention I am going to Davos.
Davos! She opened her eyes wide now and stared at him. That snow
place? she asked, full of consumptives? What a curious idea! I never
have been able to understand how people can care to go there for sport.
It seems to me rather cruel; but, then, I know I am specially sensitive
about that kind of thing. Other people's pain weighs so on me.
I didn't say I was going there for sport, Winn answered in the
same peculiar manner. He sat down and began to play with a paper-cutter
on his knee. As a matter of fact, I'm not, he went on. I've crocked
one of my lungs. They seem to think I've got to go. It's a great
It was curious the way he kept looking at her, as if he expected
something. He couldn't have told exactly what he expected himself. He
was face to face with a new situation; he wasn't exactly frightened,
but he had a feeling that he would like very much to know how he ought
to meet it. He had often been close to deathbut he had never somehow
thought of dying, he wasn't close to death now but at the end of
something which might be very horrible there would be the long affair
of dying. He hoped he would get through it all right and not make a
fuss or be a bother to anybody. It had all come with a curious
suddenness. He had gone to Travers one day because when Polly pulled he
had an odd pain in his chest. He had had a toss the week before, and it
had occurred to him that a rib might be broken; but Travers said it
Travers had tapped him all over and looked grave, uncommonly grave,
and said some very uncomfortable things. He had insisted on dragging
Winn up to town to see a big man, and the big man had said, Davos, and
don't lose any time about it. He hadn't said much else, only when Winn
had remarked, But, damn it all, you know I'm as strong as a horse, he
had answered, You'll need every bit of strength you've got, and all
the way home Travers had talked to him like a Dutch uncle.
It was really funny when you came to think of it, because there
wasn't anything to see or even feelexcept a little coughand getting
rather hot in the evenings, but after Travers had finished pitching
into him Winn had written to Lionel and made his will and had rather
wondered what Estelle would feel about it. He hadn't wanted to upset
her. He hadn't upset her. She stared at him for a moment; then she
How odd! You look perfectly all right. I never have believed in
Winn mentioned the name of the big man.
It does sound rather rot, he added apologetically. He still
waited. Estelle moved restlessly on the sofa.
Well, she said, what on earth am I to do? It's really horribly
inconvenient. I suppose I shall have to go back to my people for the
winter unless you can afford to let me take a flat in London.
I'm afraid I can't afford that, said Winn. I think it would be
best for you to go to your people for the winter, unless, of course,
you'd rather go to mine. I'm going down there to-morrow; I've written
to tell them. I must get my father to let me have some money as it is.
It's really an infernal nuisance from the expense point of view.
I couldn't go to your people, said Estelle, stiffly. They have
never been nice to me; besides, they would be sure to teach baby how to
swear. Then she added, I suppose this puts an end to your going to
Winn dropped his eyes.
Yes, he said, this puts an end to my going back to India for the
present. I've been up before the board; they're quite agreeable. In
fact, they've been rather decent to me.
Estelle gave a long sigh of relief and gratitude. It was really
extraordinary how she had been helped to avoid India. She couldn't
think what made Winn go on sitting there, just playing with the
He sat there for a long time, but he didn't say any more. At last he
got up and went to the door.
Well, he said, I think I'll just run up and have a look at the
Poor dear, said Estelle, I'm frightfully sorry for you, of
course, though I don't believe it's at all painfuland by the way,
Winn, don't forget that consumption is infectious.
He stopped short as if someone had struck him. After all, he didn't
go to the nursery; she heard him go down the passage to the
Sir Peter was having his annual attack of gout. Staines Court
appeared at these times like a ship battened down and running before a
Figures of pale and frightened maids flickered through the long
passage-ways. The portly butler violently ejected from the dining-room
had been seen passing swiftly through the hall, with the ungainly
movement of a prehistoric animal startled from its lair.
The room in which Sir Peter sat burned with his language. Eddies of
blasphemous sound rushed out and buffeted the landings like a rising
Sir Peter sat in a big arm chair in the center of the room. His
figure gave the impression of a fortressed island in the middle of an
empty sea. His foot was rolled in bandages and placed on a low stool
before him; within reach of his hand was a knobbed blackthorn stick, a
bell and a copy of the Times newspaper.
Fortunately Lady Staines was impervious to sound and acclimatized to
fury. When Sir Peter was well she frequently raised storms, but when he
had gout she let him raise them for himself. He was raising one now on
the subject of Winn's letter.
What's that he says? What's that he says? roared Sir Peter.
Something the matter with his lungs! That's the first time a Staines
has ever spoken of his lungs. The boy's mad. I don't admit it! I don't
believe it for a moment, all a damned piece of doctors' rubbish, the
chap's a fool to listen to 'em! When has he ever seen me catering to
hearse-conducting, pocket-filling asses!
Charles was home on a twenty-four hours' leavehe stood by the
mantelpiece and regarded his parent with undutiful and critical eyes.
I should say you send for 'em, he observed, whenever you've got a
pain; why they're always hangin' about. Look at that table chock full
of medicines. 'Nuff to kill a horsewhere do they come from?
Hold your infernal tongue, Sir! shouted Sir Peter. What do I have
'em for? I have 'em here to expose them! That's whyI just let them
try it on, and then hold them up to ridicule! Do you find I ever pay
the least attention to 'em, Sarah? he demanded from his wife.
Not as a rule, Lady Staines admitted, unless you're very bad
indeed, and then you do as you like directly the pain has stopped.
Well, why shouldn't I! said Sir Peter triumphantly. Once I get
rid of the pain I can do as I like. When I've got red hot needles
eating into my toes, am I likely to like anything? Of course not, you
may just as well take medicine then as anything else, but as to taking
orders from a pack of ill-bred bumpkins, full of witch magic as a dog
of fleas, I see myself! Don't stand grinning there, Charles, like a
dirty, shock-headed barmaid's dropped hair pin! I won't stand it! I
can't see why all my sons should have thin legs, neither you nor I,
Sarah, ever went about like a couple of spilikin's. I call it indecent!
Why don't you get something inside 'em, Charles, eh? No stamina, that's
what it is! Everybody going to the dogs in motor cars with manicure
girls out of their parents' pockets! Why don't you answer me,
Charles, when I speak to you?
Nobody can answer you when you keep roaring like a deuced
megaphone, said Charles wearily. Let's hear what the chap's got to
say for himself, Mater.
Lady Staines read Winn's letter out loud in a dry voice without
expression; it might have been an account of a new lawn mower which she
held beneath it.
I've managed to crock one of my lungs somehow, but they say
got a chance if I go straight out to Davos for six months. Ask
guv'nor if he'll let me have some money. I shall want it
wife and the kid will go to her people. You might run across
have a look at him sometimes. He's rather a jolly little chap.
shall come down for the week-end to-morrow unless I hear from
to the contrary.
Your affectionate son,
I think that's all, said his mother.
What! shouted Sir Peter. He had never shouted quite like this
before. Charles groaned and buried his head in his hands. Even Lady
Staines looked up from the lawn mower's letter, which she had placed on
the top of Winn's; the medicine bottles sprang from the table and fell
back again sufficiently shaken for the next dose.
Do you mean to tell me! cried Sir Peter in a quieter voice, that
that little piece of dandelion fluffthat baggagethat city fellow's
half baked, peeled onion of a minx is going to desert her husband?
That's what I call itdesertion! What does she want to go back to her
people for? She must go with him! She must go to Davos! She shall go to
Davos! if I have to take her there by the hair! I never heard of
anything so outrageous in my life! What becomes of domesticity? where's
family life? That's what I want to know! and is Winn such a milk and
water noodle that he's going to sit down under it and say 'Thank you!'
Not that I think he needs to go to Davos for a moment, mind you. Let
him come here and have a nice quiet time with me, that's what he
That's all very well, Father, said Charles. But what you mean is
you don't want to fork out! If the chap's told to go to Davos, he's got
to go to Davos, and it's his own look-out whether he takes his wife
with him or not. Consumption isn't a joke, and I tell you plainly that
if you don't help him when he's got a chance, you needn't expect me
to come to the funeral. No flowers and coffins and beloved sons on
tombstones, are going to make me move an inch. It'll be just the same
to me as if you'd shoved him under with your own hand, and that's all
I've got to say, and it's no use blowing the roof off about it!
You'd better go now, Charles, said Lady Staines quietly.
When Sir Peter had finished saying what he thought of Charles and
what he intended to do to the entail, Lady Staines gave him his
Look here, Peter, she said, this is a bad business about our
Sir Peter met her eyes and nodded.
Yes, he agreed, a damned bad business!
We'd better get him off, she added after a moment's pause.
It's all nonsense, grumbled Sir Peter, and I told you from the
first you ought never to have let him marry that girl. Her father's the
poorest tenant I ever had, soft-headed, London vermin! He doesn't know
anything about manureand he'll never learn. I shall cut down all his
trees as soon as I'm about again. As for the girl, keep her out of my
sight or I'll wring her neck. I ought to have done it long ago. How
much does he want?
Let's make it three hundred, Lady Staines said. He may as well be
Pouring money into a sieve, grumbled Sir Peter. Send for the
doctor and bring me the medical dictionary. I may as well see what it
says about consumption, and don't mention the word when Winn's about. I
will have tact! If you'd used common or garden tact in this house
before, that marriage would never have taken place. I sit here
simmering with it day in and day out and everybody else goes about
giving the whole show away! If it hadn't been for my tact Charles would
have married that manicure girl years ago. Bring me my check-book. It's
nothing but a school-boy's lark, this going to Davos. Why consumption's
a pin-prick compared to gout! No painuse of both legssanguine
disposition. Where the hell's that medical dictionary? Ah, it's there,
is itthen why the devil didn't you give it me before?
Sir Peter read solemnly for a few minutes, and then flung the book
on the floor.
Bosh! he cried angrily. All old woman's nonsense. Can't tell
what's going on inside a pair of bellowscan they? Then why make
condemned asses of themselves, and say they can! Don't tell Charles
I've written this checkhe's the most uncivil rascal we've got.
It was odd how Winn looked forward to seeing Staines; he couldn't
remember ever having paid much attention to the scenery before; he had
always liked the bare backs of the downs behind the house where he used
to exercise the horses, and the turf was short and smelt of thyme; and
of course the shooting was good and the house stood well; but he hadn't
thought about it till now, any more than he thought about his braces.
He decided to walk up from the station. There was a short cut
through the fields and then you came on the Court suddenly,
over-looking a sheet of water.
It was a still November day, colorless and sodden. The big elms were
as dark as wet haystacks and the woods huddled dispiritedly in a vague
The trees broke to the right of the Court and the house rose up like
a gigantic silver ghost.
It was a battered old Tudor building with an air of not having been
properly cleaned; blackened and weather-soaked, unconscionably averse
from change, it had held its own for four hundred years.
The stones looked as if they were made out of old moonlight and thin
December sunshine. A copse of small golden trees, aspen and silver
birches made a pale screen of light beside the house and at its feet,
the white water stretched like a gleaming eye.
There wasn't a tree Winn hadn't climbed or an inch he hadn't
explored, fought over and played on. He wanted quite horribly to come
back to it again, it was as if there were roots from the very soil in
him tugging at his menaced life.
His mother advanced across the lawn to meet him. She wore a very old
blue serge dress and a black and white check cap which looked as if it
had been discarded by a jockey.
In one hand she held a trowel and in the other a parcel of spring
bulbs. She gave Winn the side of her hard brown cheek to kiss and
remarked, You've just come in time to help me with these bulbs. Every
one of them must be got in this afternoon. Philip has left usyour
father threw a watering can at him. I can't think what's happened to
the men nowadays, they don't seem to be able to stand anything, and
I've sent Davis into the village to buy ducks. He ought to have been
back long ago if it was only ducks, but probably it's a girl at the
mill as well.
Winn looked at the bulbs with deep distaste. Hang it all, Mother,
he objected, it's such a messy day for planting bulbs! Nonsense,
said Lady Staines firmly, I presume you wash your hands before dinner,
don't you, you can get the dirt off then? It's a perfect day for bulbs
as you'd know if you had the ghost of country sense in you. There's
another trowel in the small greenhouse, get it and begin. Winn strode
off to the greenhouse smiling; he had had an instinctive desire to get
home, he wanted hard sharp talk that he could answer as if it were a
Punch and Judy show.
In his married life he had had to put aside the free expression of
his thoughts; you couldn't hit out all round if the other person
wouldn't hit back and started whining. Every member of the Staines
family had been brought up on the tradition of combative speech, the
bleakest of personalities found its nest there. Sometimes, of course,
you got too much of it. Sir Peter and Charles were noisy and James and
Dolores were apt to be brutally rough. They were all vehement but there
were different shades in their ability. Winn got through the joints in
their armor as easily as milk slips into a glass. It was Lady Staines
and Winn who were the deadly fighters.
They fought the others with careless ease, but they fought each
other watchfully with fixed eyes and ready implacable brains.
It was difficult to say what they fought for but it was a
magnificent spectacle to see them fight, and they had for each other a
regard which, if it was never tender, had every element of respect.
They worked now for some time in silence. Suddenly Lady Staines
cocked a wintry blue eye in her son's direction and remarked, Why
ain't your wife going with you to Davos? Winn hurled a bulb into the
small hole prepared for it before answering, then he said:
She's too delicate to stand the cold.
Is there anything the matter with her? asked his mother.
Winn preferred to consider this question in the light of rhetoric
and made no reply. He wasn't going to give Estelle away by saying there
was nothing the matter with her, and on the other hand a lie would have
been pounced upon and torn to pieces. Marriage don't seem to have
agreed with either of you particularly well, observed Lady Staines
with a grim smile.
We haven't got your constitution, replied her son. If either you
or Father had married any one elsethey'd have been dead within six
Humph! said his mother. That only shows our sound judgment; we
took what we could stomach! It's her look-out of course, but I suppose
she knows she's running you into the Divorce Court, letting you go out
there by yourself? All those snow places bristle with grass widows and
girls who have outstayed their market and have to get a hustle on!
Sending a man out there alone is like driving a new-born lamb into a
pack of wolves! Lady Staines with her eye on the heavily built and
rather leathery lamb beside her gave a sardonic chuckle. Winn ignored
You needn't be afraid, he replied. I'm done with women; they
tempt me about as much as stale sponge cakes.
Ah! said his mother, I've heard that tale before. A man who says
he's done with women simply means one of them's done with him. Besides,
you're to be an invalid, I understand! An invalid man is as exposed to
women as a young chicken to rats. You won't stand a ghost of a chance.
Look at your father, if I left him alone when he was having an attack
of gout with a gray-haired matron of a reformatory, he'd be on his
knees to her before I could get back.
You can take it from me, said Winn, that even if I should
need such a thing as a petticoat, I'd try a kind that won't affect
marriage. I'll never look at another good woman againthe other sort
will do for me if I can't stick it without.
Don't racket too much, said Lady Staines, planting her last bulb
with scientific skill. They say keeping women's very expensive up
thereon account of the Russian Princes.
By the by, said Winn, thanks for the money. Had any difficulty in
Not much, said Lady Staines, withdrawing to the lawn. Charles got
rather in the way.
Silly ass, observed Winn. Didn't want me to have it, I suppose?
No, he did want you to have it, replied Lady Staines, but he
needn't have been such a fool as to have said so. It nearly upset
everything. His idea was, you see, that if his father gave you
somethinghe and James would have to be bought off. So they were in
the end, but they'd have had more if he'd played his hand better.
Winn laughed. Jolly to be home again, he remarked. Dinner as
Yes, said Lady Staines, and don't forget one of the footmen's a
Plymouth Brother and mustn't be shocked. It's so difficult to get any
one nowadays, one mustn't be too particular. He said he could stand
your father by constant prayer, but he gave notice over Charles.
Charles ought to have waited till dessert to let himself go.
The dinner passed off well. Sir Peter and Winn had one never failing
bone of contention, the rival merits of the sister services. Sir Peter
expressed on every possible occasion in his son's presence, a bitter
contempt for the army, and Winn never let an opportunity pass without
pointing out the gorged and pampered state of the British Navy.
If we'd had half the money spent on us, Sir, that you keep guzzling
over, Winn cheerfully threw out, we could knock spots out of Europe.
The trouble with England isshe treats her sailors as if they were the
proud sistersand we are shoved out like Cinderella into the scullery
to do all the dirty work.
Pooh! said Sir Peter, work! Is that what you call ittakin' a
horse out for an hour or two, and shoutin' at a few men on a parade
ground. What's an army good foreven when it's big enough to be seen
with the naked eye and capable of attacking a few black savages with
their antiquated weapons. Why you're safe, that's what you
aredead safe! Land's beneath youimmovableyou can get anywhere you
want to as easy as sliding down banisters! Targets keep still too! It's
nothing to hit a thing you can stand to fire at while it stands
still to be fired at! Child's play, that's what it is. Look at
us, something up all the time, peace or war. We've got the sea to
fightwind tooand thick weather. We've got our pace to mind and if
we ever did clinch up we'd have to do our fighting at a rate that'd
make an express train giddyand running after a target goin' as hard
as we do! That's what I call something of a service. No! No! The Army's
played out. You're for ornament now, meant to go round Buckingham
Palace and talk to nurse-maids in the Park.
Not many nurse-maids in the Kyber Pass, his son observed.
Frontiersyes, I dare say, snorted Sir Peter. A few black rag
dolls behind trees popping at you to keep your circulation going, and
you with Maxims and all, going picnics in the hills and burning down
villages as easy as pulling fire-crackersand half the time you want
help from us! Look at South Africa!
They looked at South Africa for some time till the dessert came and
the Plymouth Brother thankfully withdrew. After that Winn allowed
himself some margin and Lady Staines leaned back in her chair, ate
grapes and enjoyed her coffee.
The conversation became pungent, savage and enlivened on Sir Peter's
part by strange oaths.
Winn kept to sudden thrusts of irony impossible to foresee and
difficult to parry.
They drank velvety ripe old port. Sir Peter was for the moment out
of pain and anxious to assert his freedom from doctors. The
conversation shifted to submarines. Sir Peter thought them an underhand
and decadent development suited to James, who was in command of one of
As to aëroplanes he said that as we'd now succeeded in imitating
infernal birds and fisheshe supposed we'd soon bring off reptiles the
kind of creature the modern young would be likely to represent best.
We shall soon have the police crawling on their bellies up and down
the Strand hiding behind lamp-posts, finished Sir Peter. Call that
kind of thing science! It's an inverted Noah's Ark! That's what it is!
And when you get it all going to suit yourself, there'll be another
flood, and serve you all damned well right. I shall enjoy seeing you
Winn replied that you had to fight with your head now and that
people who fought with their fists were about as dangerous as stuffed
Sir Peter replied that in the end everything came down to blood, how
much you'd got yourself and how much you could get out of the enemy.
Lady Staines was slightly afraid of leaving them in this atmosphere,
but at last she reluctantly withdrew to the hall, where she listened to
the varying shades of Sir Peter's voice and decided they were on the
whole loud enough to be normal.
At eleven o'clock she and Winn between them assisted Sir Peter to
This was a sharp and fiery passage usually undertaken by the
toughest of the gardeners.
Winn however managed extraordinarily well. He insisted on occasional
pauses and by a home truth of an appallingly personal nature actually
silenced his father for the last half flight.
Sir Peter breakfasted in his room.
He had had a bad night. He wouldn't, as he explained to his wife,
have minded if Winn had been a puny chap; but there he was, sound and
strong, with clear hard eyes, broad, straight shoulders and a grip of
iron, and yet Taylor, that little village hound of an apothecary, said
once you had microbes it didn't matter how strong you werethey were
just as likely to be fatal as if you were a narrow-chested epileptic.
Microbes! The very thought of such small insignificant creatures
getting in his way filled Sir Peter with fury. He had always hated
insects. But the worst of it was in the morning he didn't feel angry,
he simply felt chilled and helpless. His son was hit and he couldn't
help him. It all came back to that. There was only one person who could
help a sick man, and that person was his wife. Theoretically Sir Peter
despised and hated women, but practically he leaned on his wife as only
a strong man can lean on a woman; without her, he literally would not
have known which way to turn. His trust in her was as solid as his love
for a good stout ship. In every crisis of his life she had stood by his
side, bitter tongued, hard-headed, undemonstrative and his as much as
any ship that had sailed under his flag.
If she had failed him he would have gone down, and now here was his
son's wifeanother womanpresumably formed for the same purpose,
leaking away from under him at the very first sign of weather.
He thought of Estelle with a staggered horror; she had looked soft
and sweetjust the woman to minister to a knocked-out man. The trouble
with her was she had no guts.
Sir Peter woke his wife up at four o'clock in the morning to shout
this fact into her ear. Lady Staines said, Wellwhoever said she
had? and apparently went to sleep again. But Sir Peter didn't go to
sleep: Estelle reminded him of how he had once been done over a mare, a
beautiful, fine stepping lady-like creature who looked as if she were
made of velvet and steel, no vice in her and every point correct; and
then what had happened? He'd bought her and she'd developed a spirit
like wet cotton wool, no pace, no staying power. She'd sweat and
stumble after a few minutes run, no amount of dieting, humoring or
whipping affected her. She'd set out to shirk, and shirk she didtill
he worked her off on a damned fool Dolores had fortunately introduced
him toonly wives can't be handed on like maresDevil's the
pitySir Peter said to himself, as he fell off to sleep. Works
perfectly with horses.
Winn came up-stairs soon after breakfast a little set and silent, to
say good-by to his father. Sir Peter had thrown his breakfast out of
the window and congealed the Plymouth Brother's morning prayers. He
wanted to get hold of something tangible to move circumstances and
cheat fate, but he couldn't think what you did do, when it wasn't a
question of storms or gunsor a man you could knock down for
insubordination, simply a physical fact.
He scowled gloomily at his son's approach. I wish you weren't such
a damned fool, he observed by way of greeting. Why can't you shake a
little sense into your wife? What's marriage for? I've been talking to
your mother about it. I don't say she isn't a confoundedly aggravating
woman, your mother! But she's always stuck to me, hasn't let me down,
you know. A wife ain't meant to do that. It's unnatural! Why can't you
say to her, 'You come with me or I'll damned well show you the reason
why' That's the line to take!
A woman you've got to say that to isn't going to make much of a
companion, Winn said quietly. I'd rather she stayed where she liked.
Sir Peter was silent for a moment, then he said, Any more children
No, said his son, nor likely to be either, as far as I'm
There you are! said Sir Peter. Finicky and immoral, that's what I
call it! That's the way trouble begins, the more children the less
nonsense. Why don't you have more children instead of sitting sneering
at me like an Egyptian Pyramid?
That's my look-out, said Winn with aggravating composure. When I
want 'em, I'll have 'em. Don't you worry, Father.
That's all devilish well! said Sir Peter crossly. But I shall
worry! Do I know more about the world or do you? Not that I want to
quarrel with you, my dear boy, he added hastily. I admit things are
awkward for youdamned awkwardstill it's no use sitting down under
them when you might have a row and clear the air, is it? What I want to
say iswhy not have a row?
You can't have a row with a piece of pink silk, can you? his son
demanded. I don't want to blame her, but it's no use counting her in;
besides, honestly, Father, I don't care a rapwhy should I expect her
to? My marriage was a misdeal.
Sir Peter shook his head. Men ought to love their wives, he said
solemnly; in a sense, of course, no fuss about it, and never letting
them knowand not putting oneself out about it! But still there ought
to be something to hold on to, and anyhow the more you stick together,
the more there is, and your going off like this won't improve matters.
Love or no love, marriage is a life.
Winn laughed again. Life he said, yeswellhow do I know how
much longer I shall have to bother about life?
There was a silence. Sir Peter's gnarled old hands met above his
blackthorn stick and trembled.
Winn wished he hadn't spoken. He did not know how to tell his father
not to mind. He hadn't really thought his father would mind.
However, there they sat, minding it.
Then Sir Peter said, I don't believe in consumption, I never have,
and I never shall; besides Taylor says Davos is a very good place for
it, and you're an early case, and it's all damned nonsense, and you've
got to buck up and think no more about it. What I want to hear is that
you're back in your Regiment again. I dare say there'll be trouble
later on, and then where'll you be if you're an invalidhave you ever
thought of that?
Yesthat'd be something to live for, Winn said gravely;
You shouldn't be so confoundedly particular, said his father. Now
look at meif we did have trouble where'd I be? Nowhere at allold!
Just gout and newspapers and sons getting up ideas about their lungs,
but when do I complain?
If you want another £50 any timeI don't say that I can't give it
to youthough the whole thing's damned unremunerative! There's the
Winn stood quite still for a moment looking at his father. It might
have been thought by an observer that his eyes, which were remarkably
bright, were offensively critical, but Sir Peter, though he wished the
last moment to end, knew that his son was not being critical.
Then Winn said, Wellgood-by, Father. I'm sure I'm much obliged to
you. And his father said, Damn everything! just after the door was
It hadn't seemed dismal at first, it had only seemed quite
unnatural. Everything had stopped being natural when the small creature
in lawn, only the height of his knee, had been torn reluctantly away
from its hold on his trousers. This parting had made Winn feel as if
something inside him was being unfairly handled.
There was nothing he could get hold of in Peter to promise security,
and the only thing that Peter could grasp was the trousers, which had
had to be forcibly removed from him.
Later on Peter would be consoled by a Teddy Bear or the hearth
brush, but Winn had had to go before Peter was consoled, and without
the resources of the hearth brush.
Estelle wept bitterly in the hall, but Winn hadn't minded that; he
had long ago come to the conclusion that Estelle had a taste for tears,
just as some people liked boiled eggs for breakfast. He simply patted
her on the shoulder and looked away from her while she kissed him.
He had enjoyed starting from Charing Cross, intimidating the porters
and giving the man who registered his luggage dispassionate and
unfavorable pieces of his mind. But when he was once fairly off he
began to have a new feeling. It came over him when he was out of
England and had crossed the small gray strip of formless familiar
seathe sea itself always seemed to Winn to belong much more to
England than to Franceso much so that it annoyed him at Boulogne to
have to submit to being thought possibly unblasphemous by porters. He
began to feel alone. Up till now he had always seen his way. There had
been fellows to do things with and animals; even marriage, though
disconcerting, had not set him adrift. He had been cramped by it, but
not disintegrated. Now what seemed to have happened was that he had
been cut loose. There wasn't the regiment or even a staff college to
fall back upon. There wasn't a trail to follow or horses to gentle; his
very dog had had to be left behind because of the ridiculous
restrictions of canine quarantine.
It really was an extraordinarily uncomfortable feeling, as if he
were a damned ghost poking about in a new world full of surprises. It
was quite possible that he might find himself among bounders. He had
always avoided bounders, but that had been comparatively easy in a
world where everybody observed an unspoken, inviolable code. If people
didn't know the ropes, they found it simpler to go, and Winn had
sometimes assisted them to find it simpler; but he saw that now
bounders could really turn up with impunity, for, as far as ropes went,
it was he himself who would be in the minority. He might meet men who
talked, long-haired, mysterious chaps too soft to kick or radicals,
though if the worst came to the worst, he flattered himself that he had
always the resource of being unpleasant.
He knew that when the hair rose up on his head like the back of a
challenged bull-dog, and he stuck his hands in his pockets and looked
at people rather straight between the eyes, they usually shut up.
He didn't mind doing this of course, if necessary; only if he had to
do it to everybody in the hotel it might become monotonous, and he had
a nervous fear that consumption was rather a cad's disease.
Fortunately he had got his skates, and he supposed there'd be
toboggans and skis. He would see everybody in hell before he would
share a table.
It was curious how one could get to thirty-six and then suddenly in
the middle of nothing start up a whole new set of feelingsfeelings
about Peter, who had, after all, only just happened, and yet seemed to
have belonged to him always; and his lungs going wrong, and loneliness,
like a homesick school-girl! Winn had never felt lonely in Central
Africa or Tibet, so that it seemed rather absurd to start such an
emotion in a railway train surrounded by English people, particularly
as it had nothing to do with what he looked upon as his home. His
feeling about leaving the house at Aldershot had been, Thank God there
aren't going to be any more dinners!
Still, there it was. He did feel lonely; probably it was one of the
symptoms of bad lungs which Travers hadn't mentioned, the same kind of
thing as the perfectly new desire to lean back in his corner and shut
He felt all right in a way, his muscles acted, he could easily have
thrown a stout young man with white eyelashes passing along the
corridor through the nearest window; but there was a blurred sensation
behind everything, a tiresome, unaccountable feeling as if he mightn't
always be able to do things. He couldn't explain it exactly; but if it
really turned up at all formidably later, he intended to shoot himself
quickly before Peter got old enough to care.
One thing he had quite made up his mind about: he would get well if
he could, but if he couldn't, he wasn't going to be looked after. The
mere thought of it drove him into the corridor, where he spent the
night alternately walking up and down and sitting on an extremely
uncomfortable small seat by a draughty door to prove to himself that he
wasn't in the least tired.
He began to feel rather better after the coffee at Basle, and though
he was hardly the kind of person to take much interest in mere scenery,
the small Swiss villages, with their high pink or blue clock-faced
churches made him wish he could pack them into a box, with a slice of
green mountain behind, and send them to Peter to play with.
After Landeck he smelt the snows, and challenged successfully the
whole shivering carriage on the subject of an open window. The snows
reminded Winn in a jolly way of Kashmir and nights spent alone on dizzy
heights in a Dak bungalow.
The valleys ceased slowly to breathe, the dull autumn coloring sank
into the whiteness of a dream. The mountains rose up on all sides, wave
upon wave of frozen foam, aiming steadily at the high, clear skies. The
half-light of the failing day covered the earth with a veil of silver
and retreating gold.
The valleys passed into silence, freezing, whispering silence. The
moon rose mysteriously behind a line of black fir-trees, sending shafts
of blue light into the hollow cup of mountain gorges. It was a poet's
world, Blake or Shelley could have made it, it was too cold for Keats.
Winn had not read these poets. It reminded him of a particularly good
chamois hunt, in which he had bagged a splendid fellow, after four
hours' hard climbing and stalking. The mountains receded a little, and
everything became part of a white hollow filled with black fir-trees,
and beyond the fir-trees a blue lake as blue as an Indian moonstone,
and then one by one, with the unexpectedness of a flight of glow-worms,
sparkled the serried ranks of the hotels. Out they flashed, breaking up
the mystery, defying the mountains, as insistent and strident as life.
The train stopped, and its contents spilled themselves out a little
uncertainly and stiffly on the platform. Instantly the cold caught
them, not the insidious, subtle cold of lower worlds, but the fresh,
brusk buffet of the Alps. It caught them by the throat and chest, it
tingled in ears and noses; there was no menace in it, and no weakness.
It was as compulsory as a policeman in a street fight.
Winn had just stepped aside to allow a clamorous lady to take
possession of his porter when he saw a man struggle into the light
under a lamp-post; he was carrying something very carefully in his
Winn could not immediately make out what it was, but he saw the
man's face and read utmost mortal misery in his eyes; then he
discovered that the burden was a woman. Her hands were so thin that
they lay like broken flower petals on the man's shoulders; her face was
nothing but a hollow shell; her eyes moved, so that Winn knew she was
alive, and in the glassy stillness of the air he caught her dry
whispering voice, I am not really tired, dearest, she murmured. In a
moment they had vanished. It struck Winn as very curious that people
could love each other like that, or that a dying woman should fight her
husband's fears with her last strength. He felt horribly sorry for them
and impatient with himself for feeling sorry. After all, he had not
come up to Davos to go about all over the place feeling sorry for
strange people to whom he had never been introduced. The funny part of
it was that he didn't only feel sorry for them, he felt a little sorry
for himself. Was love really like that? And had he missed it? Well, of
course he knew he had missed it, only he hadn't realized that it was
quite like that.
Fortunately at this moment a German porter appeared to whom Winn
felt an instant simple antagonism. He was a self-complacent man, and he
brought Winn the wrong luggage.
Look here, my man, Winn said smoothly, but with a rocky insistence
behind his words, if you don't look a little sharp and bring me the
right boxes with green labels, I shall have to kick you into the
middle of next week.
This restored Winn even more quickly than it restored his luggage.
No one followed him into the small stuffy omnibus which glided off
swiftly toward its destination. The hotel was an ugly wooden house in
the shape of a hive built out with balconies; it reminded Winn of a
gigantic bird-cage handsomely provided with perches. It was only ten
o'clock, but the house was as silent as the mountains behind it.
The landlord appeared, and, leading Winn into a brilliantly lighted,
empty room, offered him cold meat.
Winn said the kind of thing that any Staines would feel called upon
to say on arriving at a cold place at a late hour and being confronted
with cold meat.
The landlord apologized in a whisper, and returned after some delay
with soup. Nothing, not even more language, could move him beyond soup.
He kept saying that it was late and that they must be quiet, and he
didn't seem to believe Winn when Winn remarked that he hadn't come up
there to be quiet. Winn himself became quieter as he followed the
landlord through interminable passages covered with linoleum where his
boots made a noise like muffled thunder.
Everywhere there was a strange sense of absolute cleanliness and
silence, the subduing smell of disinfectant and the sight of padded,
green felt doors.
When Winn was left alone in a room like a vivid cell, all emptiness
and electric light, and with another green door leading into a farther
room, he became aware of a very faint sound that came from the other
side of the door. It was like the bark of a dog shut up in a distant
cellar; it explained the padding of the doors.
In all the months that followed, Winn never lost this sound, near or
far; it was always with him, seldom shattering and harsh, but always
sounding as if something were being broken gradually, little by little,
shaken into pieces by some invisible disintegrating power.
Winn flung open the long window which faced the bed. It led out to a
small private balconyif he had to be out on a balcony, he had of
course made a point of its being privateand looked over all Davos.
The lights were nearly gone now. Only two or three twinkled in a
narrow circle on a sheet of snow; behind them the vague shapes of the
mountains hung immeasurably alien and at peace.
A bell rang out through the still air with a deep, reverberating
note. It was a reassuring and yet solemn sound, as if it alone were
responsible for humanity, for all the souls crowded together in the
tiny valley, striving for their separate, shaken, inconclusive lives.
An odd placeDavos, Winn thought to himself. No idea it was like
this. Sort of mix up between a picnic and a cemetery!
And then suddenly somebody laughed. The sound came from a slope of
mountain behind the hotel, and through the dark Winn's quick ear caught
the sound of a light rushing across the snow. Some one must be
tobogganing out there, some one very young and gay and incorrigibly
certain of joy. Winn hoped he should hear Peter laughing like that
later on. It was such a jolly boy's laugh, low, with a mischievous
chuckle in it, elated, and very disarming.
He hoped the child wouldn't get hauled up for being out so late and
making a noise. He smiled as he thought that the owner of the voice,
even if collared, would probably be up to getting out of his trouble;
and when he turned in, he was still smiling.
Dr. Gurnet's house was like an eye, or a pair of super-vigilant
eyes, stationed between Davos Dorf and Davos Platz.
It stood, a small brown chalet, perched high above the lake. There
was nothing on either side of it but the snows, the sunshine, and the
sense of its vigilance; inside, from floor to ceiling, there were neat
little cases with the number of the year, and in each year there was a
complete, exhaustive, and entertaining history of those who wintered,
unaware of its completion and entertainment, in either of the villages.
No eye but his own saw these documents, but no secret policeman ever so
controlled the inner workings of a culprit's mind. There was nothing in
Dr. Gurnet himself that led one to believe in his piercing quality. He
was a stout little man, with a high-domed, bald head, long arms, short
legs, and whitish blue eyes which had the quality of taking in
everything they saw without giving anything out.
Sometimes they twinkled, but the twinkle was in most cases for his
own consumption; he disinfected even his jokes so that they were never
catching. The consulting-room contained no medical books. There were
two book-shelves, on one side psychology from the physical point of
view, and in the other bookcase, psychology as understood by the
leading lights of the Catholic religion.
Dr. Gurnet was fond of explaining to his more intelligent patients
that here you had the two points of view.
Psychology is like alcohol, he observed; you may have it with
soda-water or without. Religion is the soda-water.
Two tiger skins lay on the floor. Dr. Gurnet was a most excellent
shot. He was too curious for fear, though he always asserted that he
disliked danger, and took every precaution to avoid it, excepting, of
course, giving up the thing which he had set out to do. But it was a
fact that his favorites among his patients were, as a rule, those who
loved danger for its own sake without curiosity and without fear.
He saw at a glance that Winn belonged to this category. Names were
like pocket electric lamps to Dr. Gurnet. He switched them on and off
to illuminate the dark places of the earth. He held Winn's card in his
hand and recalled that he had known a former colonel of his regiment.
A very distinguished officer, he remarked, of a very
distinguished regiment. Probably perfectly unknown in England. England
has a preference for worthless men while they live and a tenderness for
them after they are dead unless corrected by other nations. It is an
odd thing to me that men like Colonel Travers and yourself, for
instance, care to give up your lives to an empire that is like a badly
deranged stomach with a craving for unhealthy objects.
We haven't got to think about it, said Winn. We keep the corner
we are in quiet.
Yes, said Dr. Gurnet sympathetically, I know; but I think it
would be better if you had to think about it. Perhaps it wouldn't be
necessary to keep things quiet if they were more thoroughly exposed to
Winn's attention wandered to the tiger skins.
Did you bag those fellows yourself? he asked. Dr. Gurnet smilingly
agreed. After this Winn didn't so much mind having his chest examined.
But the examination of his chest, though a long and singularly
thorough operation, seemed to Dr. Gurnet a mere bead strung on an
extended necklace. He hadn't any idea, as the London specialist had
had, that Winn could only have one organ and one interest. He came upon
him with the effect of bouncing out from behind a screen with a series
of funny, flat little questions. Sometimes Winn thought he was going to
be angry with him, but he never was. There was a blithe impersonal
touch in Dr. Gurnet, a smiling willingness to look on private histories
as of less importance than last year's newspapers. It was as if he
airily explained to his patients that really they had better put any
facts there were on the files, and let the housemaid use the rest for
the kitchen fire; and he required very little on Winn's part. From a
series of reluctant monosyllables he built up a picturesque and
reliable structure of his new patient's life. They weren't by any means
all physical questions. He wanted to know if Winn knew German. Winn
said he didn't, and added that he didn't like Germans.
Then you should take some pains to understand them, observed Dr.
Gurnet. Not to understand the language of an enemy is the first step
toward defeat. Why, it is even necessary sometimes to understand one's
Winn said that he had a friend he understood perfectly; his name was
I know him through and through, he explained; that's why I trust
him. Dr. Gurnet looked interested, but not convinced.
Ah, he said, personally I shouldn't trust any man till he was
dead. You know where you are then, you know. Before that one
prophesies. By the by, are you married? Dr. Gurnet did not raise his
eyes at this question, but before Winn's leaden Yes had answered him
he had written on the case paper, Unhappy domestic life.
Anderyour wife's not here with you? Dr. Gurnet suavely
continued. Winn thought himself non-committal when he confined himself
No; she's in England with my boy. He was as non-committal for Dr.
Gurnet as if he had been a wild elephant. He admitted Peter with a
change of voice, and asked eagerly if things with lungs were hereditary
Not at present in your case, Dr. Gurnet informed him. By the by,
you'll get better, you know. You're a little too old to cure, but
you'll patch up.
What does that mean? Winn demanded. Shall I be a broken-winded,
Dr. Gurnet shook his head.
You can go back to your regiment, he said, and do anything you
like bar pig-sticking and polo in a year's time. That is to say, if you
do as you are told for that year and will have the kindness to remember
that, if you do not, I am not responsible, nor shall I be in any great
degree inconsolable. I am here like a sign-post; my part of the
business is to point the road. I really don't care if you follow it or
not; but I should be desolated, of course, if you followed it and
didn't arrive. This, however, has not yet occurred to me.
You will be out of doors nine hours a day, and kindly fill in this
card for me. You may skate, but not ski or toboggan, nor take more than
four hours' active exercise out of the twenty-four. In a month's time I
shall be pleased to see you. Remember about the German anderdo you
Winn stared ominously.
Flirt? No, he said. Why the devil should I?
Dr. Gurnet gave a peculiar little smile, half quizzical and half
Well, he said, I sometimes recommend it to my patients in order
that they may avoid the intenser application known as falling in love.
Or in cases like your own, for instance, when a considerable amount of
beneficial cheerfulness may be arrived at by a careful juxtaposition of
the sexes. You follow me?
No, hanged if I do, said Winn. I've told you I'm married, haven't
I? Besides, I dislike women.
Ah, there perhaps we may be more in agreement than you imagine,
said Dr. Gurnet, increasing his kindly smile. But I must continue to
assure you that this avoidance of what you dislike is a hazardous
operation. The study of women at a distance is both amusing and
instructive. I grant you that too close personal relations are less so.
I have avoided family life most carefully from this consideration, but
much may be obtained from women without going to extremes. In fact, if
I may say so, women impart their most favorable attributes solely under
these conditions. Good morning.
Winn left the small brown house with a heart that was strangely
light. Of course he didn't believe in doctors any more than Sir Peter
did, but he found himself believing that he was going to get well.
All the morning he had been moving his mind in slow waves that did
not seem like thoughts against the rock of death; but he came away from
the tiger-skins and the flickering laughter of Dr. Gurnet's eyes with a
comfortable sense of having left all such questions on the doorstep. He
thought instead of whether it was worth while to go down to the rink
before lunch or not.
It was while he was still undecided as to this question that he
heard a little shriek of laughter. It ran up a scale like three notes
on a flute; he knew in a moment that it was the same laughter he had
listened to the night before.
He turned aside and found himself at the bend of a long ice run
leading down to the lake. A group of men were standing there, and with
one foot on a toboggan, her head flung back, her eyes full of sparkling
mischief, was the child. He forgot that he had ever thought her a boy,
though she looked on the whole as if she would like to be thought one.
Her curly auburn hair was short and very thick, and perched upon it was
a round scarlet cap; her mouth was scarlet; her eyes were like Scotch
braes, brown and laughing; the curves of her long, delicate lips ran
upward; her curving thin, black eyebrows were like question-marks; her
chin was tilted upward like the petal of a flower. She was very slim,
and wore a very short brown skirt which revealed the slenderest of feet
and ankles; a sweater clung to her unformed, lithe little figure. She
had an air of pointed sharpness and firmness like a lifted sword. She
might have been sixteen, though she was, as a matter of fact, three
years older; but she was not so much an age as a sensationthe
sensation of youth, incredibly arrogant and unharmed. The men were
trying to dissuade her from the run. It had just been freshly iced; the
long blue line of it curved as hard as iron in and out under banks of
ice far down into the valley. A tall boy beside her, singularly like
her in features and coloring, but weaker in fiber and expression, said
Don't go and make a fool of yourself, Claire. It's a man's run, not
a girl's. I won't have you do it. It was the fatal voice of authority
Across the group her eyes met Winn's; wicked and gay they ran over
him and into him. He stuck his hands into his pockets and stared back
at her grimly, like a Staines. He wasn't going to say anything; only if
she had belonged to him he would have stopped her. His eyes said he
could have stopped her; but she didn't belong to him, so he set his
square jaw, and gave her his unflinching, indifferent disapproval.
She appeared after this to be unaware of him, and turned to her
Won't have it? she said, with a little gurgle of laughter. Why,
how do you suppose you can stop me? There's only one way of keeping a
man's run for men, and that's for girls not to be able to use itsee!
She slipped her teasing foot off the toboggan and with an agile
twist of her small body sprang face downward on the board. In an
instant she was off, lying along it light as a feather, but holding the
runners in a grip of steel. In a moment more she was nothing but a
traveling black dot far down the valley, lifting to the banks, swirling
lightning swift back into the straight in a series of curves and
flashes, till at the end the toboggan, girl and all, swung high into
the air, and subsided safely into a snow-drift.
Winn turned and walked away; he wasn't going to applaud her.
Something burned in his heart, grave and angry, stubborn and very
strong. It was as if a strange substance had got into him, and he
couldn't in the least have said what it was. It voiced itself for him
in his saying to himself, That girl wants looking after. The men on
the bank admired her; there were too many of them, and no woman. He
wondered if he should ever see her again. She was curiously vivid to
himbrown shoes and stockings, tossed hair, clear eyes. He remembered
once going to an opera and being awfully bored because there was such a
lot of stiff music and people bawling about; only on the stage there
had been a girl lying in the middle of a ring of flames. She'd showed
up uncommonly well, rather like this one did in the hot sunshine.
Walking back to the hotel he met a string of bounders, people he had
seen and loathed at breakfast. Some of them had tried to talk to him;
one beggar had had the cheek to ask Winn what he was up there for, and
when Winn had said, Not to answer impertinent questions, things at
the breakfast-tablethere was one confounded long one for
breakfasthad fallen rather flat.
He felt sure he wouldn't see the girl again; only he did almost at
once. She came into the salle-à-manger with her brother, as if
it belonged to them. After two stormy, obstinate scenes Winn had
obtained the shelter of his separate and solitary table. The waiter
approached the two young things as they entered late and a little
flushed; apparently he explained to them with patient stubbornness that
they, at any rate, must give up this privilege; they couldn't have a
separate table. He also tried to persuade them which one to join. The
boy made a blustering assertion of himself and then subsided. Claire
Rivers did neither. Her eyes ran over the room, mutinous and a little
disdainful; then she moved. It seemed to Winn he had never seen anybody
move so lightly and so swiftly. There was no faltering in her. She took
the room with her head up like a sail before a breeze. She came
straight to Winn's table and looked down at him.
This is ours, she said. You've taken it, though we were here
first. Do you think it's fair?
Winn rose quietly and looked down at her. He was glad he was half a
head taller; still he couldn't look very far down. She caught at the
corner of her lip with a small white tooth. He tried to make a look of
sternness come into his eyes, but he felt guiltily aware that he wanted
to give in to her, just as he wanted to give in, to Peter.
Of course, he said, gravely, I had no idea it was your table when
I got it from that tow-headed fool. You must take it at once, and I'll
make him bring in another one.
He won't, said Claire. He says he can't; Herr Avalon, the
proprietor, won't give him another; besides, there isn't room.
Oh, I think he will, said Winn. Shall I go over and bring your
brother to you? Won't you sit down?
She hesitated, then she said:
You make me feel as if I were being very rude, and I don't want to
drive you away. Only, you know, the other people here are rather awful,
Winn was aware that their entire awfulness was concentrated upon his
Please sit down, he said a little authoritatively. Her brother
ought to have backed her up, but the young fool wouldn't; he stood
shamefacedly over by the door. I'll get hold of your brother, Winn
added, turning away from her. The waiter hovered nervously in their
Am I to set for the three, sir? he ventured. Claire turned quickly
Yes, she said; why not? If you don't mind, I mean. You aren't
really a bit horrid.
How can you possibly tell? Winn asked, with a short laugh.
However, I'll get your brother, and if you really don't mind, I'll
come back with him.
Claire was quite sure that she could tell and that she didn't mind.
The waiter came back in triumph, but Winn gave him a sharp look
which extracted his triumph as neatly as experts extract a winkle with
a pin. Maurice apologized with better manners than Winn had expected.
He looked a terribly unlicked cub, and Winn found himself watching
anxiously to see if Claire ate enough and the right things. He
couldn't, of course, say anything if she didn't, but he found himself
Winn was from the first sure that it was perfectly all right. She
wouldn't notice him at all. She would merely look upon him as the man
who was there when there were skates to clean, skis to oil, any handy
little thing which the other fellows, being younger and not feeling so
like an old nurse, might more easily overlook. Women liked fellows who
cut a dash, and you couldn't cut a dash and be an old nurse
simultaneously. Winn clung to the simile of the old nurse. That was,
after all the real truth of his feelings, not more than that, certainly
not love. Love would make more of a figure in the world, not that it
mattered what you called things provided you behaved decently. Only he
was glad he was not in love.
He bought her flowers and chocolates, though he had a pang about the
chocolates, not feeling quite sure that they were good for her; but
flowers were safe.
He didn't give her liliesthey seemed too self-consciously
virginal, as if they wanted to rub it inhe gave her crimson roses,
flowers that frankly enjoyed themselves and were as beautiful as they
could be. They were like Claire herself. She never stopped to consider
an attitude; she just went about flowering all over the place in a kind
of perpetual fragrance.
She enjoyed herself so much that she simply hadn't time to notice
any one in particular. There were a dozen men always about her. She was
so young and happy and unintentional that every one wanted to be with
her. It was like sitting in the sun.
She never muddled things up or gave needless pain or cheated. That
was what Winn liked about her. She was as fair as a judge without being
anything like so grave.
They were all playing a game, and she was the leader. They would
have let her break the rules if she had wanted to break them! but she
wouldn't have let herself.
Of course the hotel didn't approve of her; no hotel could be
expected to approve of a situation which it so much enjoyed. Besides
Claire was lawless; she kept her own rules, but she broke everybody
else's. She never sought a chaperon or accepted some older woman's
sheltering presence; she never sat in the ladies' salon or went to tea
with the chaplain's wife. On one dreadful occasion she tobogganed
wilfully on a Sunday, under the chaplain's nose, with a man who had
arrived only the night before.
When old Mrs. Stewart, who knitted regularly by the winter and
counted almost as many scandals as stitches, took her up on the subject
out of kindness of heart, Claire had said without meaning to be rude:
I really don't think the chaplain's nose ought to be there, to
be under, do you?
Of course, Mrs. Stewart did. She had the highest respect for the
chaplain's nose; but it wasn't the kind of subject you could argue
For a long time Claire and Winn never really talked; she threw words
at him over her shoulder or in the hall or when he put her skates on or
took them off at the rink. He seemed to get there quicker than any one
else, though the operation itself was sometimes a little prolonged. Of
course there were meals, but meals belonged to Maurice, and Claire had
a way of always slipping behind him, so that it was really over the
skates that Winn discovered how awfully clever she was.
She read books, deep books; why, even Hall Caine and Marie Corelli
didn't satisfy her, and Winn had always thought those famous authors
the last words in modern literature. He now learned others. She gave
him Conrad to read, and Meredith. He got stuck in Meredith, but he
liked Conrad; it made him smell the mud and feel again the silence of
Funny, he explained to Claire, because when you come to think of
it, he doesn't actually write about the smell; only he's got it, and
the jungle feeling, too. It's quiet, you know, in there, but not a bit
like the snows out here; there's nothing doing up in this snow, but God
alone knows what's happening in the jungle. Odd how there can be two
sorts of quiet, ain't it?
There can be two sorts of anything, said Claire, exultantly. Oh,
not only twodozens; that's why it's all such fun.
But Winn was inclined to think that there might be more fun where
there were fewer candidates for it. There was, for instance, Mr. Roper.
Maurice was trying to work up for his final examination at Sandhurst
with Mr. Roper. He was a black-haired, polite man with a constant smile
and a habit of agreeing with people much too promptly; also he read
books and talked to Claire about them in the evening till every one
started bridge. Fortunately, that shut him up.
Winn was considered in Anglo-Indian clubs, where the standard of
bridge is high, to play considerably above it, and Claire played with a
relish, that was more instinctive than reliable; nevertheless, Winn
loved playing with her, and accepted Mr. Roper and Maurice as one
accepts severity of climate on the way to a treat. He knew he must keep
his temper with them both, so when he wanted to be nasty he looked at
Claire, and when Claire looked at him he wanted to be nice. He
couldn't, of course, stop Claire from ever in any circumstances
glancing in the direction of Mr. Roper, and it would have startled him
extremely if he had discovered that Claire, seeing how much he disliked
it, had reduced this form of communion to the rarest civility; because
Winn still took for granted the fact that Claire noticed nothing.
It was the solid earth on which he stood. For some months his
consciousness of his wife had been an intermittent recognition of a
disagreeable fact; but for the first few weeks at Davos he forgot
Estelle entirely; she drifted out of his mind with the completeness of
a collar stud under a wardrobe.
He never for a moment forgot Peter, but he didn't talk about him
because it would have seemed like boasting. Even if he had said, I
have a boy called Peter, it would have sounded as if nobody else had
ever had a boy like Peter. Besides, he didn't want to talk about
himself; he wanted to talk about Claire.
She hadn't time to tell him much; she was preparing for a skating
competition, which took several hours a day, and then in the afternoons
she skied or tobogganed with Mr. Ponsonby, a tall, lean Eton master
getting over an illness. Winn privately thought that if Mr. Ponsonby
was well enough to toboggan, he was well enough to go back and teach
boys; but this opinion was not shared by Mr. Ponsonby, who greatly
preferred staying where he was and teaching Claire.
Claire tobogganed and skied with the same thrill as she played
bridge and skated; they all seemed to her breathless and vital duties.
She did not think of Mr. Ponsonby as much as she did of the toboggan,
but he gave her points. In any case, Winn preferred him to Mr. Roper,
who was obliged to teach Maurice in the afternoons.
If one wants very much to learn a particular subject, it is
surprising how much of it one may pick up in the course of a day from
In a week Winn had learned that Maurice and Claire were orphans,
that they lived with an aunt who didn't get on with Claire and an uncle
who didn't get on with Maurice, and that there were several cousins too
stodgy for words. Claire was waiting for Maurice to get through
Sandhursthe'd been horribly interrupted by pleurisyand then she
could keep house for him somewherewherever he was sentunless she
took up a profession. She rather thought she was going to do that in
any case, because they would have awfully little money; and besides,
not doing things was a bore, and every girl ought to make her way in
the world, didn't Major Staines think so?
Major Staines didn't, and emphatically said that he didn't.
Good God, no! What on earth for? was how he expressed it. Claire
stopped short, outside the office door, just as she was going to pay
We shall have to talk about this, she said gravely. I'm awfully
afraid you're a reactionary.
I dare say I am, said Winn, who hadn't the faintest idea what a
reactionary was, but rather liked the sound of it. We'll talk about it
as much as you like. How about lunch at the Schatz Alp?
That was how they went to the Schatz Alp and had their first real
Claire was not perfectly sure of lifeit occurred to her at
nineteen that it might have in store for her certain surprisesbut she
was perfectly sure of herself. She knew that she ought to have been a
boy, and that if she had been a boy she would have tried to be like
General Gordon. Balked of this ambition by the fact of her sex, she
turned her attention to Maurice.
It seemed to her essential that he should be like General Gordon in
her place, and by dint of persuasion, concentration of purpose, and
sheer indomitable will power she infected Maurice with the same idea.
He had made her no promises, but he had agreed to enter the army.
It is improbable that General Gordon's character was formed wholly
by the exertions of his sister, but Claire in her eagerness rather
overlooked the question of material. There was nothing in Maurice
himself that was wrong, but he belonged to a class of young men who are
always being picked up by wrong 'uns.
He wanted a little too much to be liked. He was quite willing to be
a hero to please Claire if it was not too much trouble. Meanwhile he
expected it to be compatible with drinking rather more than was good
for him, spending considerably too much money, and talking loudly and
knowingly upon subjects considered doubtful.
If the world had been as innocent as Maurice, this program would in
time have corrected itself. But besides holes and the unwary, there are
from time to time diggers of holes, and it was to these unsound guides
that Maurice found himself oftenest attracted.
What he asked of Claire was that she should continue to believe in
him and make his way easy for him. She could fight for his freedom with
a surly uncle, but having won it, she shouldn't afterward expect a
fellow to do things with it which would end in his being less free.
Maurice really loved Claire, his idea of love being that he would
undeviatingly choose her to bear all his burdens. She managed the
externals of his life with the minimum of exertion to himself. She
fought his guardians; she talked straight to his opposers; she took
buffets that were meant for him to take; she made plans, efforts, and
arrangements for his comfort. Lots of things he wanted he could simply
not have had if she had failed to procure them.
Pushed beyond a certain point Maurice gave in, or appeared to give
in, and lied. Claire never admitted even to herself that Maurice lied,
but she took unusual pains to prevent his ever being pushed beyond a
It was Claire who had managed the journey to Davos in the teeth of
opposition; but it was Maurice who would have no other guide than Mr.
Roper, a splendid army coach picked up at a billiard room in a hotel.
Now that they were at Davos, Claire became a little doubtful if, after
all, her uncle hadn't been right when he had declared that Bournemouth
would have done as well and been far less expensive. Then Winn came,
and she began mysteriously to feel that the situation was saved.
It wasn't that Winn looked in the least like General Gordon, but Mr.
Ponsonby had told her that he was a distinguished officer and shot
tigers on foot.
Claire was quite surprised that Winn had been so nice to her,
particularly as he hadn't appeared at all a friendly kind of person;
but she became more and more convinced that Winn was a knight errant in
disguise and had been sent by heaven to her direct assistance.
Claire believed very strongly in heaven. If you have no parents and
very disagreeable relatives, heaven becomes extremely important. Claire
didn't think it was at all the place her aunt and uncle vaguely held
out to her as a kind of permanent and compulsory pew into which an
angelic verger conducted the more respectable after death.
Everything Mr. and Mrs. Tighe considered the laws of God seemed to
Claire unlikely to be the laws of anybody except people like Mr. and
Mrs. Tighe; but she did believe that God looked after Maurice and
herself, and she was anxious that He should look particularly after
She determined that on the day she went to the Schatz Alp with Major
Staines she would take him into her confidence. She could explain the
position of women to him while they climbed the Rhüti-Weg; this would
give them all of lunch for Maurice's future, and she hoped without
direct calculationsbecause, although Claire generally had very strong
purposes, she seldom had calculationsthat perhaps if she was lucky he
would tell her about tigers on the way down.
It was one of those mornings at Davos which seemed made out of
fragrance and crystal. The sun soaked into the pines, the sky above the
tree-tops burned like blue flame. It was the first time in Claire's
life that she had gone out all by herself to lunch with a grown-up man.
Winn was far more important than a mere boy, besides being a major.
She had been planning all the morning during her skating what
arguments she should use to Winn on the subject of women, but when she
saw him in the hall everything went out of her head. She only knew that
it was a heavenly day and that it seemed extraordinarily difficult not
It was a long walk up to the Schatz Alp; there were paths where the
pine-trees met overhead, garlanded with wreaths of snow, and the spaces
between the wreaths were as blue as love-in-a-mist, an old-fashioned
flower that grows in English gardens. Claire pointed it out to Winn.
Only, she said, up here there isn't any mist, is there?
No, said Winn, looking at her in a curious way; as far as I can
see, there is none whatever. By the by, that particular flower you
mention isn't only called love-in-a-mist, it's also called
But that's a pity, said Claire, decisively. I like the other name
She moved beside him with a buoyant, untiring step, without haste
and without effort. He told her that he would like to take her up into
the Himalayas. She would make a good climber. In his heart he knew
there was no place on earth to which he wouldn't like to take her. She
was born to be a man's comrade, observant, unexacting, level-headed.
She was the kind of girl you wouldn't mind seeing in a tight place if
you were there, of course, to get her out of it. Then he pulled himself
up and told himself not to be fanciful.
It was rather a fanciful morning: the day and the snowy hillside and
the endless, pungent sweetness of the sunny air were like a spell. He
found he was telling Claire about the things he used to do when he was
a boy. He went on doing it because the adventures of the Staines family
made her laugh.
He had not supposed that James, Charles, Isabella, Dolores, and he
himself were particularly funny before, but he was delighted to
discover their hidden gift. Claire wanted to hear everything about
them, their ponies, their dogs, their sharp disgraces, and their more
wonderful escapes and revenges; but she didn't want them to be
punished, and Winn had to hasten over those frequent and usually
They had the woods to themselves; there was no sound at all except
the occasional soft drop of melting snow. Once they stood quite still
holding their breath to watch the squirrels skim from tree to tree as
if they were weaving the measures of a mystic dance. If it hadn't been
for the squirrels they might have been the only creatures alive in all
the silent, sparkling earth.
The mountains spread out around them with the reticent hush of
interrupted consciousness. They seemed to be on the verge of further
revelations, and were withheld from a last definite whisper only by the
intrusion of humanity.
I know they could speak if they liked, Claire murmured. What do
you suppose they'd say?
Let's have an avalanche and knock the silly blighters out of our
valley for good and all, Winn suggested.
Claire disposed of Davos with a wave of her hand.
But they don't mind us, do they? she urged. Because we're so
happy and we like them so. Doesn't the air make you feel awfully funny
Yes, Winn admitted; but it's not all the air, you know.
Claire wanted to know what else it was; but as Winn didn't offer to
explain, she felt that perhaps she had better not ask.
They were near the top when Winn paused suddenly and said in a most
peculiar reluctant voice; Look here, I think I ought to tell you.
He stumbled over the words and then added, No, by Jove, that won't
Oh, don't let's tell each other things we ought! Claire entreated.
It's not the kind of morning for that. I meant to talk about lots of
really important subjects, but I'm not going to now. I may later, of
course; but just now I don't feel in the mood for being important.
Winn looked at her very hard, and then he said:
But still you are rather important, you know.
Then, she laughed, I'm important enough to have my own way,
Winn said nothing. He seemed to acquiesce that she was important
enough for that.
Would you like to know, she asked, what I'd really like for
lunch? Winn said he would awfully, and by the time she had told him
they had reached the top, and the funicular appeared, disgorging people
in front of a big glass-covered restaurant.
Winn found the best and quietest table with the finest view. From it
they could see the valley down to Frauenkirch and up to Clavedel.
It was a splendid lunch, curiously good, with sparkling sweet wine,
which Claire loved, and Winn, secretly loathing, serenely shared
because of a silly feeling he had that he must take what she did.
After lunch they sat and smoked, leaning over the great clear view.
They could hear the distant velvety boom of the village clock beneath
them. Winn gripped his hand firmly on the table.
I've got to damned well do it, he said to himself. He remembered
that he had had once to shoot a spy in cold blood, and that he used
those words to himself before he did it.
A couple passed close to their table. The woman was over-dressed,
and hung with all kinds of jingling chains and bangles; she was pretty,
and as she sat with her profile turned a little toward them she was
curiously like Estelle. This was his opportunity. It must come now; all
the morning it had lain in the back of his mind, behind delight, behind
their laughter, like some lurking jungle creature waiting for the dark.
Do you see that woman, he asked Claire, the pretty one over there
by the pillar? She's awfully like
Claire stopped him. Pretty! she cried. Do you really think she's
pretty? I think she's simply loathsome!
Winn checked himself hurriedly; he obviously couldn't finish his
sentence with she's awfully like my wife.
Well, she sets out to be pretty, doesn't she? he altered it rather
lamely. Claire continued extremely scornful.
Yes, I dare say, she admitted. She may set out to be smart too,
hung round with things like a Christmas-tree, but she's as common as a
sixpenny bazaar. I'll tell you why I don't like her, Major Staines, and
who she reminds me of, but perhaps you think her pretty, too? I mean
that horrid woman, Mrs. Bouncing in our hotel?
But can't horrid women be pretty, too? Winn ventured with
No, of course not, said Claire, with great decisiveness. Why, you
know horrid men can't be handsome. Look at Mr. Roper! Winn was
uncertain if this point of knowledge had ever reached him; but he
wasn't at this time of day going to look at Mr. Roper, so he gave in.
I dare say you're right, he said. As a matter of fact, you know,
I never do look at Roper.
But that's not the reason, Claire went on, slightly softened by
her victory, that I dislike her. I really dislike her because I think
she is bad for Maurice; but perhaps you haven't noticed the way he
keeps hanging about her. It makes me sick.
Winn admitted that he had noticed it.
Still, he said, of course if you hadn't proved to me that by
being horrid she couldn't be pretty, I should have supposed that he
simply hung about Mrs. Bouncing because she waswell, not precisely
Claire looked doubtfully at him, but he wasn't smiling; he was
merely looking at her with sufficient attention.
There are only two of us, she said in a low voice, Maurice and
me, and I do so awfully want him to be a success. I don't think anybody
else does. I don't even know how much he wants it himself. You see,
Maurice is so young in many ways, and our people having diedhe hasn't
had much of a chance, has he? Men ought to have fathers.
Winn listened intently; he always remembered anything she said, but
this particular opinion sank deep into the bottom of his heart: Men
ought to have fathers.
I've done the best I can, Claire went on, but you see, I'm young,
too; there are lots of things I don't really know about life. I think
perhaps I sometimes believe too much that things are going to be jolly,
and that makes me a bad adviser for Maurice. Do you know what I mean?
Winn nodded, but he determined that whether she expected or not, she
should have things jolly. He must be able to manage it. If one wanted a
thing as much as he wanted this, surely one could bring it off.
Hadn't he pulled off races on the scratchiest of polo ponies, when
he couldn't afford better, out of sheer intention? He had meant to win,
moved the pony along, and won. Was life less controllable than a shoddy
He set his mouth and stared grimly out over the sparkling snow. He
did not ask himself how a man with a wife hung round his neck like a
millstone was going to manage the perpetual happiness of a stray young
woman. He never asked himself questions or saw how things were to be
done, but when the crisis came his instinct taught him in a flash the
short cut to victory.
Now, said Claire, unexpectedly, you are looking awfully
dangerousyou do rather sometimes, you knowlike a kind of volcano
that might go off.
Winn turned his eyes slowly toward her.
I shall never be dangerous for you, Miss Rivers, he said gently.
He did not know how much he promised her or that he was already
incapable of keeping his promise. She looked away from him with smiling
lips and happy, mysterious eyes. She had known long ago that all the
force he had was as safe with her as if he had laid it in her hands;
safer than that, because he held it in his ownfor her.
It seemed to Claire that you were only perfectly secure when you
were with a man who could be dangerous to everybody else, but always
safe for you.
You will help me with Maurice? she said softly. Then I sha'n't
feel worried any more.
I shouldn't let it worry me for a moment if I were you, Winn
assured her. He hasn't come to much harm so far. He's young, that's
all. I'll keep my eye on him, of course.
Winn knew quite well what he would do with a subaltern of Maurice's
type. He would take him out shooting and put the fear of God into him.
If this were done often and systematically enough, the subaltern would
improve or send in his papers. But Davos did not offer equal
advantages. One could not get the fear of God everywhere on a tap;
besides, there was Mrs. Bouncing.
Claire turned suddenly toward him.
I want Maurice, she said rather breathlessly, with shining eyes,
to be a good soldier; I want him to be like you.
Winn felt a pang of fear; it was a pang that was half horrible pain,
and half passionate and wild delight. Was Claire perfectly safe? Why
did she want Maurice to be like him? It was Claire herself who banished
his fear; she added hastily:
He really must get through Sandhurst properly.
Of course she hadn't meant anything. In fact, if she really had
liked him in any particular way she'd have been shot before she showed
it. What she wanted was simply the advice of an older man in the
service. It did not occur to Winn that Claire had been shot already
without knowing it.
He went on being reassured all the way back because Claire talked
persistently about tigers. Winn explained that once you thoroughly knew
where you were, there was no real danger in a tiger.
Winn discovered almost immediately that what assistance he could
give to Maurice would have to be indirect. He had not a light hand for
weak, evasive, and excitable people, and Maurice did not like to be
driven off the rink with Better come along with me or I should think
a good brisk walk to Clavedel would be about your mark. Winn's idea of
a walk was silence and pace; he had a poor notion of small talk, and he
became peculiarly dumb with a young man whose idea of conversation was
When Maurice began telling stories about how he got the better of
so-and-so or the length of his ski-jumps, Winn's eyes became
unpleasantly like probes, and Maurice felt the élan of his effects
painfully ebbing away. Still, there was a certain honor in being sought
out by the most exclusive person in the hotel and Winn's requests,
stated in flat terms and with the force of his determination behind
them, were extraordinarily difficult to refuse.
It was Mr. Roper who gave Maurice the necessary stiffening. Mr.
Roper didn't like Winn, and though their intercourse had been limited
to a series of grunts on Winn's part, Mr. Roper felt something
unerringly inimical behind each of these indeterminate sounds.
That man's a spoil-sport, he informed his pupil. Maurice agreed.
But he's beastly difficult to say no to, he added. You mean to
somehow, but you don't.
I expect he's trying to manage you, Mr. Roper cleverly hinted.
This decided Maurice once and for all. He refused all further
invitations. He had a terror of being managed, and though he always was
managed, gusts of this fear would seize upon him at any effort to
influence him in any direction favorable to himself. He was never in
the least uneasy at being managed to his disadvantage.
Baffled in his main direction, Winn turned his mind upon the subject
of Mr. Roper. Mr. Roper was slippery and intensely amiable; these were
not the qualities with which Winn felt himself capable of direct
dealing. He would have liked to destroy Mr. Roper, and he thought that
the situation might eventually arrive at this point; but until it did,
he saw that he had better leave Mr. Roper alone. You can't do anything
with a worm but tread on it, he said to himself, and in hotels people
had to be careful how they trod on worms. There was still Mrs.
Bouncing, but a slight study of that lady, which took place in the hall
after dinner, put this possibility out of the question. She called Winn
a naughty man and suggested his taking her tobogganing by moonlight.
Mr. Bouncing was a side issue, but Winn, despite his own marriage,
held the theory that men ought to look after their wives. He felt that
if there had been any question of other men he could have managed
Estelle; or, even short of managing Estelle, he could have managed the
other men. It occurred to him now that perhaps Mr. Bouncing could be
led to act favorably upon the question of his wife's behavior.
Mr. Bouncing could not walk at all; he could get out to the public
balcony in the sun, and when he was there, he lay with the Pink 'Un
and The Whipping Post on his lap and his thermometer beside him. All
he asked was that he should have his hot milk regularly four times a
day. He hardly talked to anybody at all. This was not because it made
him cough to talkit didn't particularly; he coughed without being
made tobut because he had exhausted his audience.
There was only one subject left to Mr. Bouncing, and that was his
health; after he had told people all his symptoms, they didn't want to
hear any more and there was nothing left to talk about. So he lay there
in the sunshine thinking about his symptoms instead. There were a good
many of them to think about, and all of them were bad.
Mr. Bouncing was surprised when Winn sat down to talk to him, and he
explained to him at once exactly what the doctors thought of his case.
Winn listened passively, and came back the next day at the same time.
This surprised Mr. Bouncing still more, and little by little the
subjects between them widened. Mr. Bouncing still talked about himself,
but he talked differently. He told Winn things he had never told any
one else, and he was really pleased when Winn laughed at a joke he
showed him in The Pink 'Un.
You can laugh, he said almost admiringly. I daren't, you know;
that's one of the things I'm told not to do, but I often wish some one
would come here and laugh at the jokes for me. It's quite an effort for
me sometimes not to burst out; and then, you see, hemorrhage! I knew a
poor chap who literally died of itdied of laughing. They might put
that in the 'Pink 'Un,' mightn't they?
Winn said he thought one might die of worse things.
Yes, I know, agreed Mr. Bouncing, but I'm not going to be caught
like that. I dare say you don't know, but I believe I'm the worst case
in the hotel. I'm not quite sure; that's what worries me.
There's a Mrs. Maguire who stays in bed. I've made all sorts of
inquiries about her; but people are so stupid, they don't know the
right symptoms to ask about, and I can't go in and look at her, can I?
And my wife won't. She says one death's-head is enough for her and I
quite see her point. Perhaps Mrs. Maguire's case is partly nerves. My
wife thinks I'm very nervous. So I am, you know, in a way. I have to be
careful; but, Lord! when I see the things people do up here! The risks
they take! You, for instance. I've seen you do heaps of things that are
perfectly deadly; and yet there you are getting better. Funny, isn't
Winn said it was funny, but he supposed one must take his chance.
Yes, I know; that is what people keep saying, Mr. Bouncing
admitted. You can take it if you've got it; but my point is, if you
haven't got it, you can't take it, can you? Now, as far as I can see,
looking back from the start, you know, I never had a dog's chance. It's
years since I went out in a wind without an overcoat on, and once in
the very beginning I got my feet wet; but for the last five years I've
been as careful as a girl with a new hat. I think I shall live till the
spring if I don't get influenza. I hope you'll remember not to come
near me if you feel a cold coming on. Winn assured him that he would.
I asked Dr. Gurnet the other day, Mr. Bouncing went on musingly, if
he thought I should ever be able to walk to the post-office againI
used to get there and back last winter, you knowbut he wouldn't give
me a direct answer. He said he thought I could rely on the hotel
porter. He's not quite definite enoughDr. Gurnet. I told him the
other day how difficult it was to get up in the morning, and he said,
'Well, then, why not stay in bed?' But I'm not going to do that. I
believe you go quicker when you stay in bed. Besides, I should be dull
lying there in bed. I like to sit here and watch people and see the
silly things they do. That young boy you sit at table withhe won't
come to any good. Silly! He thinks my wife likes him, but she doesn't;
it's just that she must have her mind taken off, you know, at times,
poor thing. I like to see her amused.
And what about you? asked Winn. It seems to me she might better
spend some of her time amusing you.
Mr. Bouncing pointed to the Pink 'Un.
I've got plenty to amuse me, he explained, and you mustn't think
she doesn't look after me. Why, the other daywhen I had the high
temperature, you know, and stayed in my roomshe came to the door
after she'd been skating, and said, 'Still coughing?' That shows she
noticed I was worse, doesn't it?
I'm sure she must be awfully anxious about you, Winn assented with
more kindliness than truth. But do you care for her knocking about so
with young Rivers and that chap Roper? It seems to me she's too young
and too pretty. If I were you, I'd call her in a bit; I would really.
Mr. Bouncing leaned back in his chair and shut his eyes. This always
made Winn a little uneasy, for when Mr. Bouncing's eyes were shut it
was so difficult to tell whether he was alive or dead. However, after a
few minutes he opened them.
They are five minutes late with my hot milk, he said. Do you mind
just getting up and touching the bell? And you've got such a sharp way
of speaking to waiters, perhaps you wouldn't mind hauling him over the
coals for me when he comes? Winn complied with this request rapidly
and effectively, and the hot milk appeared as if by magic.
Mr. Bouncing drank some before he returned to the subject of his
Yes, he said, I dare say you would call her in. You're the kind
of man who can make people come in when you call. I'm not. Besides, you
see, she's young; she's got her life to live, and, then, ought I to
have married her at all? Of course I was wonderfully well at the time;
I could walk several miles, I remember, and had no fever to speak of.
Still, there were the symptoms. She took the risk, of courseshe was
one of a large family, and I had moneybut it hasn't been very amusing
for her, you must admit.
Winn didn't admit it, because it seemed to him as if it had been
extremely amusing for Mrs. Bouncing, a great deal more amusing than it
had any right to be.
Perhaps you think she oughtn't to have married for money, Mr.
Bouncing went on when he had finished the hot milk and Winn still sat
there saying nothing. But you're quite wrong if you do. Money is the
most important thing there isnext to health of course. Health and
moneyone's no use without the other, of course; but I don't honestly
think anything else really matters. I know what the chaplain says; but
he's always been quite strong.
That's all very well, said Winn. I'm not a religious man myself,
but people oughtn't to take something for nothing. If she's married you
for your money, she ought to be more with you. She's got the money,
hasn't she, and what have you got? That's the way I look at it.
Mr. Bouncing did not shake his headhe was too careful for
thatbut he looked as if he were shaking it.
That's one point of view, of course, he said slowly; but how do
you know I want to have her more with me? She's very young and strong.
I expect she'd be exciting, and it wouldn't be at all good for me to be
Besides, she has no sense of humor. I wouldn't dream of asking her
to laugh at my jokes as I do you. She wouldn't see them, and then I
shouldn't like to show her the improper ones. They're not suitable for
ladies, and the improper ones are the best. I sometimes think you can't
have a really good joke unless it's improper.
Winn did not say anything; but he thought that however limited Mrs.
Bouncing's sense of humor might be, she would have enjoyed the improper
Mr. Bouncing took out his thermometer.
It is five minutes, he said, since I've had the glass of milk,
and I think my tongue must have cooled down by now. So I shall take my
temperature, and after that I shall try to go to sleep. But I don't
believe you are really anxious about my wife; what you're worried about
is young Rivers. I've seen you taking him for walks, and it's no use
your worrying about him, because, as I've said before, he's silly. If
he didn't do one silly thing, he'd do another. However, he's selfish,
too. That's always something; he won't be so likely to come to grief as
if he were merely silly. It's his sister I should be worried about if I
Why? asked Winn without looking at him. Mr. Bouncing looked at
Winn, but he made no answer. He had already got his thermometer in his
Winn had a feeling that he ought to keep away from her, but Davos
was an inconvenient place for keeping away. People were always turning
up when one least expected them, or one turned up oneself. Privacy and
publicity flashed together in the sunny air. Even going off up a
mountain with a book was hardly the resource it seemed; friends skied
or tobogganed down upon you from the top, and carried you off to tea.
Winn had an uneasy feeling that he oughtn't to go every morning to
the rink, though that was naturally the place for a man who was only
allowed to skate to find himself. It was also the place where he could
not fail to find Claire. There were a good many other skaters on the
rink, too; they were all preparing for the International Skating
The English, as a rule, stuck to their own rink, where they had a
style of skating belonging to themselves. Their style was perpendicular
and very stiff; it was by no means easy to attain, and when attained,
hardly perhaps, to the observer, worth the efforts expended. Winn
approved of it highly. He thought it a smart and sensible way to skate,
and was by no means a bad exponent; but once he had seen Claire skating
on the big rink, he put aside his abortive circling round an orange. It
is difficult to concentrate upon being a ramrod when every instinct in
you desires to chase a swallow. She wore, when she skated, a short,
black velvet skirt, white fox furs, and a white fur cap. One couldn't
very well miss seeing her. It did not seem to Winn as if she skated at
all. She skimmed from her seat into the center of her chosen corner,
and then looked about her, balanced in the air. When she began to skate
he could not tell whether the band was playing or not, because he felt
as if she always moved to music.
She would turn at first mysteriously and doubtingly, trying her
edges, with little short cuts and dashes, like a leaf blown now here
and now there, pushed by a draught of air, and then some purpose seemed
to catch her, and her steps grew intricate and measured. He could not
take his eyes from her or remember that she was real, she looked so
unsubstantial, eddying to and fro, curving and circling and swooping.
There was no stiffness in her, and Winn found himself ready to give up
stiffness; it was terrible the amount of things he found himself ready
to give up as he watched her body move like seaweed on a tide. Motion
and joy and music all seemed easy things, and the things that were not
easy slipped out of his mind.
After a time Maurice would join her to practise the pair-skating. He
was a clever skater, but careless, and it set Winn's teeth on edge to
watch how nearly he sometimes let her down. He would have let any other
woman down, but Claire knew him. She counted on his not being exactly
where he ought to be, hovered longer on her return strokes, pushed
herself more swiftly forward to meet him, or retreated to avoid his too
impulsive rushes. Winn was always glad when Maurice, satisfied with his
cursory practice, left her circling alone and unfettered like a
sea-gull on a cliff.
This was the time when he always made up his mind not to join her,
and felt most sure that she didn't care whether he joined her or not.
He had not talked with her alone since their lunch at the Schatz Alp
nearly a week ago. Every one of her hours was full, her eyes danced and
laughed as usual, the secretive bloom of youth hid away from him any
sign of expectation. He did not dream that every day for a week she had
expected and wanted him. She couldn't herself have explained what she
wanted. Only her gaiety had lost its unconsciousness; she was showing
that she didn't mind, she was not, now minding. It seemed so strange
that just when she had felt as if they were real friends he had
mysteriously kept away from her. Perhaps he hadn't meant all the nice
things he had said or all the nicer things he hadn't said at all, but
just looked whenever her eyes met his? They did not meet his now; he
always seemed to be looking at something else. Other men put on her
skates and found her quickest on the rink, and the other men seemed to
Claire like trees walking; they were no longer full of amusing
possibilities. They were in the way. Then one morning Winn, watching
her from a distance noticed that Maurice didn't turn up. Claire
actually looked a forlorn and lonely little figure, and he couldn't
make up his mind not to join her.
He skated slowly up to her.
Well, he said, where's Maurice? He oughtn't to be missing a good
skating morning like this? It suddenly seemed to Claire as if
everything was all right again. Winn was there for her, just as he had
been on the Schatz Alp; his eyes looked the same, and the intentional
bruskness which he put into his voice was quite insufficient to hide
Oh, she said, Major Staines, I didn't mean to tell anybody, but I
shall tell you of course. It's rather sickening, isn't it? Maurice
doesn't want to go in for the competition any more; he says he can't
spare the time.
What! cried Winn; look here, let's sit down and talk about it.
They sat down, and the music and the sunshine spread out all round
them. Everything swung into a curious harmony, and left them almost
nothing to be upset about. He can't throw you over like this, Winn
protested. Why, it's only a fortnight off the day, and you're one of
the tiptop skaters.
Claire did not say what she knew to be true, that people had been
saying that too much to Maurice, and Maurice only liked praise that
came his own way.
I think it's Mrs. Bouncing, she said dejectedly. He's teaching
her to skate, but she'll never learn. She's been up here for years, and
she doesn't know her edges! It looks awfully as if he really liked her,
because Maurice skates quite well.
I'm afraid I've been of very little use to you about Mrs.
Bouncing, Winn said apologetically. I thought Bouncing might help us,
he's quite a good chap; but I'm afraid he's too down in the mouth.
Still, I think I may be able to do something if things get to look
really bad. Don't worry about that, please. But, by Jove! this skating
matter is serious. What are you going to do about it? Anything
that stopped sport seemed to Winn to be really serious; something had
got to be done about it. Isn't there any one else up here not going in
for it that you could lick into shape?
Claire shook her head doubtfully.
They'd have to give up every bit of their time, she explained,
and virtually hardly breathe. You see, pair-skating is really very
stiff. Of course, if I got a new man, I'd do most of the figures; but
he'd have to be there to catch me at the right times, and awfully
steady on his edges, and waltz of course.
What about me? Winn asked quietly.
I'm steady on my edges, and I can waltz after a fashion, and I'd
promise not to breathe for a fortnight. He looked at her, and then
looked away quickly. He was a damned fool to have offered himself! How
on earth was he going to stand a fortnight with her when he could
barely keep himself in hand for five minutes?
Oh, she said, you!
Afterward she said a good deal more, but Winn only remembered the
way she said you, because her voice had sounded different, as if she
had found something she had wanted to lay her hands on. Of course what
she really wanted was to go in for the pair-skating; it was much the
They began from that moment to go in for it. Winn had to speak to
Dr. Gurnet about the skating, because four hours wasn't enough, and
Claire insisted upon Dr. Gurnet's consent.
Dr. Gurnet had consented, though he had raised his eyebrows and
said, Pair-skating? and then he had asked who Major Staines had
chosen for his partner. Naturally Winn had become extremely stiff, and
said, Miss Rivers, in a tone which should have put an end to the
Well, well! said Dr. Gurnet. And she's a woman, after all, isn't
she? Winn ignored this remark.
By the by, he said, my friend's coming out in about a
fortnightthe one I told you about, Captain Drummond.
I remember perfectly, said Dr. Gurnet; a most estimable person I
understand you to say. In about a fortnight? The skating competition
will just be over then, won't it? I am sure I hope you and Miss Rivers
will both make a great success of it.
The fortnight passed in a sunny flash. On the whole Winn had kept
himself in hand. His voice had betrayed him, his eyes had betrayed him,
all his controlled and concentrated passion had betrayed him; but he
hadn't said anything. He had buried his head deep in the sands and
trusted like an ostrich to an infectious oblivion. He reviewed his
behavior on the way to the rink the day of the International.
It was an icy cold morning; the valley was wrapped in a thick blue
mist. There was no sunlight yet. The tops of the mountains were a
sharpened deadly white, colder than purity. As he walked toward the
valley the black fir-trees on the distant heights took fire. They
seemed to be lighted one by one from some swift, invisible torch, and
then quicker than sight itself the sun slipped over the edge and ran in
a golden flood across the mountains. The little willows by the
lake-side turned apricot; the rink was very cold and only just
refrozen. It was a small gray square surrounded by color. Winn was
quite alone in the silence and the light and the tingling bitter air.
There was something in him that burned like a secret undercurrent of
fire. Had he played the game? What about that dumb weight on his lips
when he had tried to tell Claire on the Schatz Alp about Estelle? He
couldn't get it out then; but had he tried again later? Had he
concealed his marriage? Why should he tell her anything? She wouldn't
care, she was so young. Couldn't he have his bit of spring, his dance
of golden daffodils, and then darkness? He really thought of daffodils
when he thought of Claire. She wouldn't mind, because she was spring
itself, and had in front of her a great succession of flowers; but
these were the last he was going to have. There wouldn't be anything at
all after Claire, and he wasn't going to make love to her. Good God! he
wasn't such a beast! There had been times this last fortnight that had
tried every ounce of his self-control, and he hadn't touched her. He
hadn't said a word that damned yellow-necked, hen-headed chaplain's
wife couldn't have heard and welcome. Would many fellows have had his
chances and behaved as if they were frozen barbed-wire fences? And
she'd looked at himby Jove, she'd looked at him! Not that she'd meant
anything by it; only it had been hard to have to sit on the only decent
feelings he had ever had and not let them rip. And as far as Estelle
was concerned, she didn't care a damn for him, and he might just as
well have been a blackguard. But that wasn't quite the point, was it?
Blackguards hurt girls, and he hadn't set out to hurt Claire.
Well, there was no use making any song or dance about it; he'd have
to go. At first he had thought he could tell her he was marriedtell
her as soon as the competition was over, and stay on; but he hadn't
counted on the way things grew, and he didn't think now he could tell
her and then hold his tongue about what he felt. If he told her, the
whole thing would be out; he couldn't keep it back. There were things
you knew you could do, like going away and staying away; there were
others you were a fool to try.
He circled slowly over the black ice surrounded by pink flames. It
made him laugh, because he might have been a creature in hell. Yes,
that was what hell was like, he had always known itcold. Cold and
lonely, when, if you'd only had a bit of luck, you might have been up
somewhere in the sunlight, not alone. He didn't feel somehow this
morning as if his marriage was an obstruction; he felt as if it were a
shame. It hurt him terribly that what had driven him to Estelle could
be called love, when love was this other feelingthe feeling that he'd
like to be torn into little bits rather than fail Claire. He'd be
ridiculous to please her; he'd face anything, suffer anything, take
anything on. And it wasn't in the least that she was lovely. He didn't
think about her beauty half as much as he thought about her health and
the gentle, tender ways she had with sick people. He'd watched her over
and over again, when she had no idea he was anywhere near, being nice
to people in ways in which Winn had never dreamed before one could be
nice. When people had nothing but their self-esteem left them, no
attractions, no courage, no health, she'd just sit down beside them and
make their self-esteem happy and comfortable.
She needn't have been anything but young and gay and triumphant, but
she never shirked anybody else's pain. He had puzzled over her a good
deal because, as far as he could see, she hadn't the ordinary rules
belonging to good peopleabout church, and not playing cards for
money, and pulling people up. It wasn't right and wrong she was
thinking of most; it was other people's feelings.
He tried not to love her like that, because it made it worse. It was
like loving God and Peter; it mixed him all up.
He couldn't see straight because everything he saw turned into love
of her, and being with her seemed like being good; and it wasn't, of
course, if he concealed things.
The icy blue rink turned slowly into gold before he had quite made
up his mind what to do. Making up his mind had a good deal to do with
Lionel, so that he felt fairly safe about it. It was going to hurt
horribly, but if it only hurt him, it couldn't be said to matter. You
couldn't have a safe plan that didn't hurt somebody, and as long as it
didn't hurt the person it was made for, it could be counted a success.
Davos began to descend upon the rink, first the best
skatersSwedes, Russians, and Germansand then all the world. The
speed-skaters stood about in heavy fur coats down to their feet.
Claire came down surrounded by admirers. Winn heard her laugh before
he saw her, and after he had seen her he saw nothing else. She looked
like one of the fir-trees when the sun had caught it; she seemed aflame
with a quite peculiar radiance and joy. She flew toward Winn, imitating
the speed-skaters with one long swift stride of her skates.
Ah, she cried, isn't it a jolly morning? Isn't everything
heavenly? Aren't you glad you are alive?
That was the kind of mood she was in. It was quite superfluous to
ask if she was nervous. She was just about as nervous as the sun was
when it ran over the mountains.
There doesn't seem to be much the matter with you this morning,
said Winn, eying her thoughtfully.
The rink cleared at eleven and the band began to play.
The judges sat in different quarters of the rink so as to get the
best all-around impression of the skating. The audience, muffled up in
furs, crowded half-way up the valley, as if it were a gigantic
A Polish girl, very tall and slender, with a long black pigtail,
swung out upon the ice. She caught the music with a faultless
steadiness and swing. Her eyes were fixed on the mountains; her
flexible hips and waist swung her to and fro as easily as a winter bird
hovers balanced on its steady pinions. Out of the crowd her partner, a
huge black-bearded Russian, glided toward her, caught her by the waist,
lifted her, and flung her from side to side in great swirls and
resounding leaps. Her skirts flew about her, her pigtail swung round
her in the air, her feet struck the ice firmly together like a pair of
ringing castanets. The crowd shouted applause as he caught her by the
wrists after a particularly dazzling plunge into the empty air, and
brought her round to face them, her fixed eyes changed and shot with
triumph. The dance was over.
Then a succession of men skaters came forward, whirling, twisting,
capering with flying feet. Winn watched them with more astonishment
Like a ring of beastly slippery microbes! he remarked to Claire.
Yes, she said; but wait. Half a dozen men and women came running
out on the rink; with lifted feet, hand in hand, they danced like
Then a German pair followed the Polish. Both were strong, first-rate
skaters, but the man was rough and selfish; he pulled his girl about,
was careless of her, and in the end let her down, and half the audience
Swedish, Norwegian, French pairs followed swiftly after. Then Claire
rose with a quickening of her breath.
Now, she said, you! It was curious how seldom she said Major
Winn didn't much care to do this kind of thing before foreigners.
However, it was in a way rather jolly, especially when the music warmed
one's blood. He swept her out easily to the center of the ice. For a
time he had only to watch her. He wondered what she looked like to all
the black-headed dots sitting in the sun and gazing. In his heart there
was nothing left to which he could compare her. She turned her head a
little, curving and swooping toward him, and then sprang straight into
the air. He had her fast for a moment; her hands were in his, her eyes
laughed at his easy strength, and again she shot away from him. Now he
had to follow her, in and out, to the sound of the music; at first he
thought of the steps, but he soon stopped thinking. Something had
happened which made it quite unnecessary to think.
[Illustration: In his heart there was nothing left to which he could
He was reading everything she knew out of his own heart; she had got
into him somehow, so that he had no need to watch for his cue.
Wherever she wanted him he was; whenever she needed the touch of his
hand or his steadiness it was ready for her. They were like the music
and words of a song, or like a leaf and the dancing air it rests upon.
They were no longer two beings; they had slipped superbly, intolerably
into one; they couldn't go wrong; they couldn't make a mistake. Where
she led he followed, indissolubly a part of her.
They swung together for the final salute. It seemed to Winn that her
hearther happy, swift-beating, exultant heartwas in his breast, and
then suddenly, violently he remembered that she wasn't his, that he had
no right to touch her. He moved away from her, leaving her, a little
bewildered, to bow alone to the great cheering mass of people.
She found him afterward far back in the crowd, with a white face and
You must come and see the speed-skaters, she urged, with her hand
on his arm. It's the thing I told you about most. And I believe we've
won the second prize. The Russian and Pole have got the first, of
course; They were absolutely perfect, but we were rather good. Why did
you rush off, and what are you looking like that for? Is anything the
matter? You're not her voice faltered suddenlyyou're not angry,
No, I'm not angry, said Winn, recklessly, and nothing's the
matter, and I'll go wherever you want and see what you want and do what
you want, and I ran away because I was a damned fool and hate a fuss.
And I see you're going to ask me if I liked it awfully. Yes, I did; I
liked it awfully. Now are you satisfied? He still hadn't said
anything, he thought, that mattered.
Oh, yes, she said slowly, of course I'm satisfied. I'm glad you
liked it awfully; I liked it awfully myself.
The valley of the Dischmatal lies between two rather shapeless
mountains; it leads nowhere, and there is nothing in it.
Winn gave no reason for his wish to walk there with Lionel except
that it was a quiet place for a talk. They had been together for
twenty-four hours and so far they had had no talk. Lionel had expected
to find a change in Winn; he had braced himself to meet the shock of
seeing the strongest man he knew pitilessly weakened under an insidious
disease. He had found a change, but not the one he expected. Winn
looked younger, more alert, and considerably more vigorous. There was a
curious excitement in his eyes which might have passed for happiness if
he had not been so restless. He was glad to see Lionel, but that wasn't
enough to account for it. Winn looked ten years younger and he had
something up his sleeve.
Lionel had his own theory as to what that something might be, but he
wouldn't have expected it to make Winn look younger. He couldn't help
being afraid that Winn had found out Estelle. There had always been the
chance that he might never find her out; he was neither reflective nor
analytical, and Lionel was both. Winn might have been content simply to
accept her as lovely and delightful, an ideal wifenot a companion,
but a beautiful, fluttering creature to be supplied with everything it
wanted. If he had done that he wouldn't have waked up to the fact that
the creature gave him nothing whatever backbeyond preening its
feathers and forbearing to peck. Lionel respected and loved women, so
that he could afford to feel a certain contempt for Estelle, but he had
always feared Winn's feeling any such emotion. Winn would condemn
Estelle first and bundle her whole sex after her. Lionel hardly dared
to ask him, as he did at last on their way through Dorf, what news he
had of his wife.
What news of Estelle? Winn asked indifferently. None
particularly. She doesn't like Peter's language. My people seem to have
taken to him rather, and I hear he's picked up parts of the Governor's
vocabulary. It'll be jolly hearing him talk; he couldn't when I left.
Estelle's taken up religion. It's funny, my mother said she would,
before we were married. My mother's got a pretty strong head; Estelle
hasn't, she was keen about the Tango when I left; but I dare say
religion's better for her; hers is the high church kind. Up there is
the valleyfunny sort of place; it'll remind you of the hillsthat's
one reason why I brought you out herethat and the hotel being like a
fly paper. Davos is like all the places where our sort of people
gofashion or diseaseit don't matter a penny whichthey're all over
the place itself, in and out of each other's pockets, and yet get a
mile or two out and nobody's in sight. Funny how people like each
other. I don't like 'em, you know. I hate 'em.
In the early February afternoon the valley lay before them
singularly still and white. There were no fir-trees on the sides of the
abrupt snow slopes, and it took Winn some time to rediscover a faint
pathway half blotted out by recent snow.
A few minutes later the road behind them vanished, everything
dropped away from them but the snow, and the low gray skies. A tiny
wind slipped along the valley; it was strange not to see it, for it
felt like the push of a Presence, in the breathless solitude. A long
way off Lionel could hear a faint noise like the sound of some one
It reminded him of the sound behind the green baize doors in the
hotel. It was just such a sound, suppressed, faint, but quite audible,
that he heard along the passages at night. He looked questioningly at
That's a waterfall, said Winn; most of it's frozen up but it
leaks through a little. There's a story about this placeI didn't
mention it to you before, did I?
Lionel shook his head. Winn was not in the habit of telling him
stories about places. He had informed Lionel on one occasion some years
ago, that he thought legends too fanciful, unless they were in the
Bible, which was probably true, and none of our business. But Lionel
had already wondered if this change in Winn wasn't on the whole making
him more fanciful.
I dare say, Winn began, there's not a word of truth in it, and
it's perfectly pointless besides; still it's a queer place, this
valley, and what's particularly odd is, that though you can find it
easily enough sometimes, there are days when I'm blessed if it's there
at all! Anyhow I've gone wrong times out of number when I've looked for
it, and you know I don't usually go wrong about finding places. This is
the middle one of three valleys, count 'em backwards or forwards,
whichever way you likebut I give you my word, after you've passed the
first, and take the second turn, you'll find yourself in the third
valleyor take it the other way, you'll be in the first. It's made me
jumpy before now, looking for it. However, that hasn't anything to do
with the story, such as it is.
They say that on New Year's eve, all the dead that have died in
Davos (there must be a jolly lot of 'em when you come to think of it)
process through the valley to the Waterfall. What their object is, of
course, the story doesn't mentionghosts, as far as I can see, never
have much object, except to make you sit up; but they set out anyhow,
scores and scores of 'em.
If it happens to be moonlight, you can see them slipping over the
snow, making for the waterfall as fast as they can hoof it, but none of
them look backand if they were all your dearest friends you couldn't
catch a glimpse of their facesunless, I suppose, you had the gumption
to start off by sitting up at the waterfall and waiting for 'emwhich
nobody has, of course. The point of the story, if you can call it a
point, is that the last man in the procession isn't dead at all. He's a
sort of false spook of the livingtaking his first turn in with
thembecause as sure as fate he dies before the next year's out, and
when the other chaps have reached the waterfall, he stops short and
looks back toward Davosthat's how he's been spotted, and he's always
died all right before the end of the year. Rum tale, isn't it?
How did you get hold of it? Lionel asked curiously. It's not much
in your line, is it?
WellI don't know, said Winn, taking out his pipe and preparing
to light it. The last six months or so, I've thought a lot of funny
things. I came up here prepared to die; that's to say, I thought I'd
got to, which is as far as you can prepare for most things, but I'm not
going to die, as I told you yesterday, but what I didn't mention to you
then was that, on the whole, as it happens now, I'd jolly well rather.
You mean, said Lionel, that it's got too thick between you and
Estelle? I wish you'd tell me, old chap. I haven't an idea how it
stands, but I've been afraid ever since I stayed with you, that you'd
made a bit of a mistake over your marriage?
As far as that goes, said Winn, I swallowed that down all right.
It's no use bothering about a thing that isn't there. It's what is that
counts. It counts damnably, I can tell you that. Look here, have you
ever had any ideas about love?
I can't say that I have, Lionel admitted cautiously. Many. I dare
say I should like it if it came; and I've had fancies for girls, of
course, but nothing so far I couldn't walk off, not what people call
the real thing, I suppose. I've always liked women more than you have,
and I don't think you get let in so much if you honestly like 'em. I
haven't seen any one I particularly want to marry yet, if that's what
That's part of it, agreed Winn. I supposed you'd been like that.
I shouldn't wonder if what you say about liking 'em being safer, isn't
true. I never liked 'em. I've taken what I could get when I wanted it.
I rather wish I hadn't now, but I can't say I was ever sorry before.
EvenEstellewell, I don't want to be nasty about herbut it was
only different, I can see that now, because I knew I couldn't get what
I wanted without marrying herstillI somehow think I'd made a kind
of a start that timeonly I got pulled up too short. I dare say I
quite deserved it. That's no way of liking a woman. When you do
really, you know all the rest's been half twaddle and half greed.
Your father and mother are all rightso are mine really, though they
do blow each other's heads offstill, there's something thereyou
know what I mean?
Something indestructible and uniting said Lionel quietly. I've
often wondered about it.
Well, I've never wondered about it, said Winn, firmly, and I'm
not going to begin now. Still, I admit it's there. What I'm getting at
is that there's something I want you to do for me. You'll probably
think I'm mad, but I can't help that. It'll work out all right in the
end, if you'll do it.
You can ask me anything you like, said Lionel, quietly; any
damned thing. I don't suppose I'll refuse to do it.
The water broke into a prolonged gurgle under their feet; it sounded
uncannily like some derisive listener. There was nothing in sight at
allnot even their shadows on the unlighted snows.
Wellthere's a girl here, Winn said in a low voice; it's not
very easy to explain. I haven't told her about Estelle; I meant to, but
I couldn't. I'm afraid you'll think I haven't played the game, but I
haven't made love to her; only I can't stay any longer; I've got to
Lionel nodded. All right, he said; let's go wherever you like;
there are plenty of other snow places jollier than this.
That isn't what I want, said Winn. I want you to stay with her. I
want you to marry her eventuallyd' you see? It's quite simple,
By Jove, said Lionel, thoughtfully; simple, d' you call it? As
simple as taking a header into the mid-Atlantic! And what good would it
do you, my dear old chap, if I did? It wouldn't be you that had got
I dare say not, said Winn; you don't see my point. She'd be all
right with you. What I want for the girl is for her to be taken care
of. She hasn't any people to speak of, and she's up here now with a
rotten, unlicked cub of a brother. I fancy she's the kind of girl that
would have a pretty hideous time with the wrong man. I've got to know
she's being looked after. D' you see?
But why should she marry? Lionel persisted. Isn't she all right
as she is? What do you want to marry her off for?
There'll be a man sooner or later, Winn explained. There always
is, and she'swell, I didn't believe girls were innocent before. By
God, when they are, it makes you sit up! I couldn't run the risk of
leaving her alone, and that's flat! It's like chucking matches to a
child and turning your back on it.
For after all, if a man cares about a girl the way I care about
her, he does chuck her matches. When I gosome one decent ought to be
there to take my place.
But there isn't the slightest chance she'll like me, even if I
happened to like her, Lionel protested. Honestly, Winn, you haven't
thought the thing out properly. You can't stick people about in each
other's placesthey don't fit.
They can be made to, said Winn, inexorably, if they're the proper
people. She'll like you to start with, besides you readauthors. So
does sheshe's awfully clever, she doesn't think anything of Marie
Corelli; and she likes a man. As to your taking to herwell, my dear
chap, you haven't seen her! I give you a week; I'll hang about till
then. You can tell me your decision at the end of it.
That's another thing, said Lionel. Of course you only care for
the girl, I see that, it's quite natural, but if by any chance I did
pull the thing offwhat's going to happen to you and me, afterwards?
I've cared for that most, always.
A Föhn wind had begun to blow up the valleyit brought with it a
curious light that lay upon the snow like red dust. I don't say I
shall like it, Winn said after a pause. I'm not out to like it. There
isn't anything in the whole damned job possible for me to like. But I'd
a lot rather have it than any other way. I think that ought to show you
what I think of you. You needn't be afraid I'll chuck you for seeing me
through. I might keep away for a time, but I'd come back. She isn't the
kind of a woman that makes a difference between friends.
Oh, all right, said Lionel after a pause, I'll go in for itif I
Winn got up and replaced his pipe carefully, shaking his ashes out
on to the snow. I'm sure I'm much obliged to you, he said stiffly.
The wind ran up the valley with a sound like a flying train. Neither
of them spoke while the gust lasted. It fell as suddenly as it came,
and the valley shrank back into its pall of silence.
It was so solitary that it seemed to Lionel as if, at times, it
might easily have no existence.
Lionel walked a little in front of Winn; the snow was soft and made
heavy going. At the corner of the valley he turned to wait for Winn,
and then he remembered the fanciful legend of New Year's eve, for he
saw Winn's face very set and white, and his eyes looked as if the
presence of death was in themturned toward Davos.
Winn was under the impression that he could stand two or three days,
especially if he had something practical to do. What helped him was the
condition of Mr. Bouncing. Mr. Bouncing had suddenly retired. He had a
bedroom on the other side of Winn's, and a sitting-room connected it
with his wife's; but Mrs. Bouncing failed increasingly to take much
advantage of this connection. Her theory was that, once you were in
bed, you were better left alone.
Mr. Bouncing refused to have a nurse; he said they were disagreeable
women who wouldn't let you take your own temperature. This might have
seemed to involve the services of Mrs. Bouncing; but they were taken up
for the moment by a bridge drive.
People do seem to want me so! she explained plaintively to Winn in
the corridor. And I have a feeling, you know, Major Staines, that in a
hotel like this it's one's duty to make things go.
Some things go without much making, said Winn, significantly. He
was under the impression that one of these things was Mr. Bouncing.
Winn made it his business, since it appeared to be nobody else's, to
keep an eye on Mr. Bouncing: in the daytime he sat with him and ran his
errands; at night he came in once or twice and heated things for Mr.
Bouncing on a spirit lamp.
Mr. Bouncing gave him minute directions, and scolded him for leaving
milk exposed to the menaces of the air and doing dangerous things with
a teaspoon. Nevertheless, he valued Winn's company.
You see, he explained to Winn, when you can't sleep, you keep
coming up to the point of dying. It's very odd, the point of dying, a
kind of collapsishness that won't collapse. You say to yourself, 'I
can't feel any colder than this,' or, 'I must have more breath,' or,
'This lung is bound to go if I cough much more.' And the funny part of
it is, you do go on getting colder, and your breath breaks like a
rotten thread, and you never stop coughing, and yet you don't go! I
dare say I shall be quite surprised when I do. Then when you come in
and give me warm, dry sheets and something hot to drink, something
comes back. I suppose it's life force; but not muchnever as much as
when I started the collapse. I'm getting weaker every hour; don't you
notice it? I never approved of all this lying in bed. I shall speak to
Dr. Gurnet about it to-morrow.
Winn had noticed it; he came and sat down by Mr. Bouncing's bed.
Snowy weather, he suggested, takes the life out of you.
Mr. Bouncing ignored this theory.
I hear, he went on, that you and your new friend have changed
your table. You don't sit with the Rivers any more.
No, said Winn, laconically; table isn't big enough.
I expect they eat too fast, Mr. Bouncing continued; young people
almost always eat too fast. You'll digest better at another table. You
look to me as if you had indigestion now.
Winn shook his head.
Look here, Bouncing, he said earnestly, I'm going off to St.
Moritz next week to have a look at the Cresta; I wish you'd have a
nurse. Drummond will run in and give an eye to you, of course; but
you're pretty seedy, and that's a fact. I don't like leaving you
Next week, said Mr. Bouncing, thoughtfully. Well, I dare say I
shall be ready by then. It would be a pity, when I've just got you into
the way of doing things properly, to have to teach them all over again
to somebody else. I'm really not quite strong enough for that kind of
thing. But I'm not going to have a nurse. Oh, dear, no! Nurses deceive
you and cheer you up. I don't feel well enough to be cheered up. I like
somebody who is thoroughly depressed himself, as you are, you know. I
dare say you think I notice nothing lying here, but I've noticed that
you're thoroughly depressed. Have you quarreled with your friend? It's
odd you rush off to St. Moritz alone just when he's arrived.
No, it isn't, said Winn, hastily. He'll join me later; he's
staying here at my request.
Mr. Bouncing sighed gently.
Well, he said; then all I can say is that you make very odd
requests. One thing I'm perfectly sure about: if you go and look at the
Cresta, you'll go down it, you're such a careless man, and then you'll
be killed. Is that what you want?
I could do with it, said Winn, briefly.
That, said Mr. Bouncing, is because you're strong. It really
isn't nice to talk in that light way about being killed to any one who
has got to be before very long whether he likes it or not. If you were
in my place you'd value your life, unless it got too uncomfortable, of
Winn apologized instantly. Mr. Bouncing accepted his apology
You'll learn, he explained kindly, how to talk to very ill people
in time, and then probably you'll never see any more of them.
Experience is a very silly thing, I've often noticed; it hops about so.
No continuity. What I was going to say was, don't be worried about
young Rivers and my wife. Take my word for it, you're making a great
I am glad to hear you say so, Winn answered. As a matter of fact,
I have at present a few little private worries of my own; but I'm
relieved, you think the Rivers boy is all right. I've been thinking of
having a little talk with that tutor of his.
Ah, I shouldn't do that if I were you, said Mr. Bouncing,
urgently; you're sure to be violent. I see you have a great deal of
violence in you; you ought to control it. It's bad for your nerves.
There are things I could tell you which would make you change your mind
about young Rivers, but I don't know that I shall; it would excite me
too much. I think I should like you to go down and telephone to Dr.
Gurnet. Tell him my temperature is normal. It's a very odd thing; I
haven't had a normal temperature for over three years. Perhaps I'm
going to get better, after all. It's really only my breathing that's
troubling me to-night. It would be funny if I got well, wouldn't it?
But I mustn't talk any more; so don't come back until I knock in the
night. Pass me the 'Pink 'Un.' Winn passed him the Pink 'Un and
raised him with one deft, strong movement more comfortably up on his
You've got quite a knack for this sort of thing, Mr. Bouncing
observed. If you'd been a clever man, you might have been a doctor.
Mr. Bouncing did not knock during the night. Winn heard him stirring
at ten o'clock, and went in. The final change had come very quickly.
Mr. Bouncing was choking. He waved his hand as if the very appearance
of Winn between him and the open balcony door kept away from him the
air that he was vainly trying to breathe. Then a rush of blood came in
a stream between his lips. Winn moved quickly behind him and lifted him
in his arms.
Mr. Bouncing was no weight at all, and he made very little sound. He
was quite conscious, and the look in his eyes was more interested than
alarmed. The rush of bleeding stopped suddenly; his breathing was
weaker and quieter, but he no longer choked.
Look here, old man, Winn said, let me get your wife.
But Mr. Bouncing signaled to him not to move; after a time he
This is the first time I ever had hemorrhage. Most uncomfortable.
Do let me get your wife! Winn urged again.
No, said Mr. Bouncing. Womennot much goodafter the first.
Don't talk any more then, old man, Winn pleaded. You'll start
that bleeding off again.
But Mr. Bouncing made a faint clicking sound that might have been a
Too late, he whispered. Don't matter now. No more risks. Besides,
I'm tootoo uncomfortable to live.
There were several pauses in the hemorrhage, and at each pause Mr.
Bouncing's mind came back to him as clear as glass. He spoke at
Not Rivers, he said, fixing Winn's eyes, RoperRoper. Then he
leaned back on the strong shoulder supporting him. Glad to go, he
murmured. Life has beena damned nuisance. I've hadenough of it.
Then again, between broken, flying breaths he whispered, Lonely.
That's all right, Winn said gently.
You're not alone now. I've got hold of you.
No, whispered Mr. Bouncing, no, I don't think you have.
There was no more violence now; his failing breath shook him hardly
at all. Even as he spoke, something in him was suddenly freed; his
chest rose slowly, his arm lifted then fell back, and Winn saw that he
was no longer holding Mr. Bouncing.
He closed the balcony door; the cold air filled the room as if it
were still trying to come to the rescue of Mr. Bouncing. Winn had often
done the last offices for the dead before, but always out of doors. Mr.
Bouncing would have thought that a very careless way to die; he had
often told Winn that he thought nature most unpleasant.
When Winn had set the room in order he sat down by the table and
wondered if it would be wrong to smoke a cigarette. He wanted to smoke,
but he came to the conclusion that it wasn't quite the thing.
To-night was the ball for the international skatershe ought to
have been there, of course. He had made Lionel go in his place, and had
written a stiff little note to Claire, asking her to give his dances to
his friend. He had Claire's answer in his pocket. Of course I will,
but I'm awfully disappointed. She had spelled disappointed with two
s's and one p. Win had crushed the note into his pocket and not looked
at it since, but he took it out now. It wasn't like smoking a
cigarette. Bouncing wouldn't mind. There was no use making a fuss about
it; he had done the best thing for her. He was handing all that
immaculate, fresh youth into a keeping worthy of it. He wasn't fit
himself. There were too many things he couldn't tell her, there was too
much in him still that might upset and shock her. He would have done
his best, of course, to have taken care of her; but better men could
take better care. Lionel had said nothing so far; he had taken Claire
skiing and skating, and once down the Schatz Alp. When he had come back
from the Schatz Alp he had gone a long walk by himself. Winn had
offered to accompany him, but Lionel had said he wanted to go alone and
think. Winn accepted this decision without question. He knew Lionel was
a clever man, but he didn't himself see anything to think about. The
thing was perfectly simple: Lionel liked Claire or he didn't; no amount
of being clever could make any difference. Winn was a little suspicious
of thinking. It seemed to him rather like a way of getting out of
The room was very cold, but Winn didn't like going away and leaving
Mr. Bouncing. By the by he heard voices in the next room. He could
distinguish the high, flat giggle of Mrs. Bouncing. She had come back
from the dance, probably with young Rivers. He must go in and tell her.
That was the next thing to be done. He got up, shook himself, glanced
at the appeased and peaceful young face upon the pillow, and walked
into the next room. It was a sitting-room, and Winn had not knocked;
but he shut the door instantly after him, and then stood in front of
it, as if in some way to keep the silent tenant of the room behind him
from seeing what he saw.
Mrs. Bouncing was in a young man's arms receiving a prolonged
farewell. It wasn't young Rivers, and it was an accustomed kiss. Mrs.
Bouncing screamed. She was the kind of woman who found a scream in an
emergency as easily as a sailor finds a rope.
It wasn't Winn's place to say, What the devil are you doing here,
sir? to Mr. Roper; it was the question which, if Mr. Roper had had the
slightest presence of mind, he would have addressed to Winn. As it was
he did nothing but snarla timid and ineffectual snarl which was
without influence upon the situation.
You'd better clear out, Winn continued; but if I see you in Davos
after the eight o'clock express to-morrow I shall give myself the
pleasure of breaking every bone in your body. Any one's at liberty to
play a game, Mr. Roper, but not a double game; and in the future I
really wouldn't suggest your choosing a dying man's wife to play it
with. It's the kind of thing that awfully ruffles his friends.
I don't know what you mean, said Mr. Roper, hastily edging toward
the door; your language is most uncalled for. And as to going away, I
shall do nothing of the kind.
Better think it over, said Winn, with misleading calm. He moved
forward as he spoke, seized Mr. Roper by the back of his coat as if he
were some kind of boneless mechanical toy, and deposited him in the
passage outside the door.
Mrs. Bouncing screamed again. This time it was a shrill and
gratified scream. She felt herself to be the heroine of an occasion.
Winn eyed her as a hostile big dog eyes one beneath his fighting
powers. Then he said:
I shouldn't make that noise if I were you; it's out of place. I
came here to give you bad news.
This time Mrs. Bouncing didn't scream. She took hold of the edge of
the table and repeated three times in a strange, expressionless voice:
George is dead! George is dead! George is dead!
Winn thought she was going to faint, but she didn't. She held on to
What ought I to do, Major Staines? she asked in a quavering voice.
Winn considered the question gravely. It was a little late in the
day for Mrs. Bouncing to start what she ought to do, but he approved of
I think, he said at lastI think you ought to go in and look at
him. It's usual.
Oh, dear! said Mrs. Bouncing, with a shiver, I never have seen a
Winn escorted her to the bedside and then turned away from her. She
looked down at her dead husband. Mr. Bouncing had no anxiety in his
face at all now; he looked incredibly contented and young.
II suppose he really is gone? said Mrs. Bouncing in a low voice.
Then she moved waveringly over to a big armchair.
There is no doubt about it at all, said Winn. I didn't ring up
Gurnet. He will come in any case first thing to-morrow morning.
Mrs. Bouncing moved her beringed hands nervously, and then suddenly
began to cry. She cried quietly into her pocket-handkerchief, with her
I wish things hadn't happened! she sobbed. Oh, dear! I wish
things hadn't happened! She did not refer to the death of Mr.
Bouncing. Winn said nothing. I really didn't mean any harm, Mrs.
Bouncing went on between her sobsnot at first. You know how things
run on; and he'd been ill seven years, and one does like a little bit
of fun, doesn't one?
I shouldn't think about all that now, Winn replied. It isn't
Mrs. Bouncing shook her head and sobbed louder; sobbing seemed a
refuge from suitability.
I wouldn't have minded, she said brokenly, if I'd heated his
milk. I always thought he was so silly about having skin on it. I
didn't believe when he came up-stairs it was because he was really
worse. I wanted the sitting-room to myself. Oh dear! oh dear! I said it
was all nonsense! And he said, 'Never mind, Millie; it won't be for
long,' and I thought he meant he'd get down-stairs again. And he
didn't; he meant this!
Winn cleared his throat.
I don't think he blamed you, he said, as much as I did.
Mrs. Bouncing was roused by this into a sudden sense of her
Oh, she said, what are you going to do to me? You've always hated
me. I'm sure I don't know why; I took quite a fancy to you that first
evening. I always have liked military men, but you're so stand-offish;
and now, of course, goodness knows what you'll think! If poor old
George were alive he'd stand up for me!
I'm not going to do anything to hurt you, Mrs. Bouncing, said
Winn, after a short pause. You'll stay on here, of course, till after
the funeral. We shall do all we can to help you, and then you'll go
back to England, won't you?
Yes, she said, shivering, I suppose so. I shall go back to
England. I shall have to see George's people. They don't like me.
Willwill that be all?
As far as I am concerned, said Winn, more gently, there is only
one thing further I have to suggest. I should like you to promise me,
when you leave here, to have nothing more to do with young Rivers. It's
better not; it puts him off his work.
Mrs. Bouncing reddened.
Oh, she said, I know; I didn't mean any harm by that. You can't
help young men taking a fancy to you, can you? At least I can't. It
looked better didn't it, in a wayyou know what I mean. I didn't want
people to think anything. If only George hadn't been so good to me! I
don't suppose you can understand, but it makes it worse when they are.
It seemed to Winn as if he could understand, but he didn't say so.
Bouncing should have pulled her up. Winn always believed in people
being pulled up. The difficulty lay in knowing how to carry the process
out. It had seemed to Mr. Bouncing simpler to die.
You'd better go to bed now, Winn said at last. People will be up
soon. He died quite peacefully. He didn't want you to be disturbed. I
think that's all, Mrs. Bouncing.
She got up and went again to the bed.
I suppose I oughtn't to kiss him? she whispered. I haven't any
right to now, have I? You know what I mean? But I would have liked to
Oh, I don't believe he'd mind, said Winn, turning away.
Mrs. Bouncing kissed him.
Winn felt no desire to go to bed. He went out into the long, blank
corridor and wondered if the servants would be up soon and he could get
anything to drink. The passage was intensely still; it stretched
interminably away from him like a long, unlighted road. A vague gray
light came from the windows at each end. It was too early for the
shapes of the mountains to be seen. The outside world was featureless
and very cold.
There was no sound in the house except the faint sound behind the
green baize doors, which never wholly ceased. Winn had always listened
to it before with an impatient distaste; he had hated to hear these
echoes of dissolution. This morning, for the first time, he felt
Suppose things had gone differently; that he'd been too late, and
known his fate? He could have stayed on then; he could have accepted
Claire's beautiful young friendliness. He could have left her free; and
yet he could have seen her every day; then he would have died.
Weakness has privileges. It escapes responsibility; allowances are
made for it. It hasn't got to get up and go, tearing itself to pieces
from the roots. He could have told her about Peter and Estelle and what
a fool he had been; and at the end, he supposed, it wouldn't have
mattered if he had just mentioned that he loved her.
Now there wasn't going to be any end. Life would stretch out narrow,
interminable, and dark, like the passage with the windows at each end,
which were only a kind of blur without any light.
However, of course there was no use bothering about it; since the
servants weren't up and he couldn't get any coffee, he must just turn
in. It suddenly occurred to Winn that what he was feeling now was
unhappiness, a funny thing; he had never really felt before. It was the
kind of feeling the man had had, under the lamp-post at the station,
carrying his dying wife. The idea of a broken heart had always seemed
to Winn namby-pamby. You broke if you were weak; you didn't break if
you were strong. What was happening now was that he was strong and he
was being broken. It was a painful process, because there was a good
deal of him to break, and it had only just begun. However, this was
mercifully hidden from him. He said to himself: I dare say I'm run
down and fidgety with having had to sit up with Bouncing. I shall feel
all right to-morrow. Then the door behind him opened, and Lionel
joined him. He was still dressed as he had been when he came back from
the ball some hours earlier.
Hullo! he said. I wondered if that was you; I thought I heard
something stirring outside. You weren't in your room when I came in.
Been with Bouncing?
Yes, said Winn; he's dead. I'm looking for some coffee. These
confounded, tow-headed Swiss mules never get up at any decent hour. Why
are you still dressed? Nothing wrong, is there?
Well, I didn't feel particularly sleepy, somehow, Lionel
acknowledged. Are you going to stand outside in this moth-eaten
passage the rest of the night, or will you come in with me and have a
whisky and soda? You must be fagged out.
I don't mind if I do, Winn agreed. We may as well make a night of
For a few minutes neither of them spoke, then Winn said: Had a
Lionel did not answer him directly; but he turned round, and met his
friend's eyes with his usual unswerving honesty.
Look here, old Winn, he said, it's up to you to decide now. I'll
stay on here or go with you, whichever you like.
You like her, then? Winn asked quickly.
Yes, said Lionel, I like her.
Well, then, you'll stay of course, said Winn without any
hesitation. Isn't that what we damned well settled?
Lionel's eyes had changed. They were full of a new light; he looked
as if some one had lit a lantern within him. Love had come to him not
as it had come to Winn, bitterly, unavailingly, without illusion; it
had fallen upon his free heart and lit it from end to end with joy. He
loved as a man loves whose heart is clean and who has never loved
before, without a scruple and without restraint. Love had made no
claims on him yet; it had not offered him either its disappointments or
its great rewards. He was transformed without being altered. He simply
saw everything as glorious which before had been plain, but he did not
see different things.
Yes, he said, I know we talked about it; but I'm hanged if I'll
try unless I'm sure you are absolutely keen. I thought it all out
afterafter I'd seen her, and it seemed to me all very well in the
abstract giving her up to another man and all that, but when it came to
the point, would you be really sure to want me to carry through? I've
seen her now, you know, and I'm glad I've seen her. I'll be glad always
for that, but it needn't go any further.
Winn looked past him; he was tired with the long night's strain, and
he had no white ideal to be a rapture in his heart. He loved Claire not
because she was perfection, but because she was herself. She was
faultless to Lionel, but Winn didn't care whether she was faultless or
not. He didn't expect perfection or even want it, and he wasn't the man
to be satisfied with an ideal; but he wanted, as few men have ever
wanted for any women, that Claire should be happy and safe.
I've told you once, he said; you might know I shouldn't change.
I've got one or two little jobs to see to about Bouncing's funeral.
That woman's half a little cat and half an abject fool. Still, you
can't help feeling a bit sorry for her. I dare say I can get things
done by lunch-time; then I'll drive over the Fluella. I'll put up at
the Kulm; but don't bother to write till you've got something settled.
I'm not going to mess about saying good-by to people. You can tell Miss
Rivers when I'm gone.
Look here, Lionel urged, you can't do that; you must say good-by
to her properly. She was awfully sick at your not turning up at the
ball. After all, you know, you've seen a lot of her, and she
particularly likes you. You can't jump off into space, as if you were
that old chap in the Bible without any beginning or any end!
Winn stuck his hands in his pockets and looked immovably obstinate.
I'm damned if I do, he replied. Why should I? What's the use of
saying good-by? The proper thing to do when you're going away is to go.
You needn't linger, mewing about like somebody's pet kitten.
Lionel poured out the whiskey before replying, and pushed a glass in
Winn's direction; then he said:
Don't be a fool, old chap; you'll have to say good-by to her. You
don't want to hurt her feelings.
What's it to you whether I hurt her feelings or not? Winn asked
There was a moment's sharp tension. It dropped at the tone of
Lionel's quiet voice.
It's a great deal to me, he said steadily; but I know it's not
half as much to me as it is to you, old Winn.
Oh, all right, said Winn after a short pause. I suppose I'll say
it if you think I ought to. Only stand by if you happen to be anywhere
about. By the by, I hope I shall have some kind of a scrap with Roper
before the morning's over. I shall enjoy that. Infernal little beast, I
caught him out last night. I can't tell you how; but unless he's off by
the eight o'clock to-morrow, he's in for punishment.
All right, he said; don't murder him. I'm going to turn in now.
Sorry about Bouncing. Did he have a bad time, poor chap?
No, said Winn, not really. He had a jolly sight harder time
living; and yet I believe he'd have swopped with me at the end. Funny
how little we know what the other fellow feels!
We can get an idea sometimes, Lionel said in a queer voice, with
his back to his friend. Winn hastened to the door of his room. He knew
that Lionel had an idea. He said, as he half closed the door on
Thanks awfully for the whiskey.
Unfortunately, Winn was not permitted the pleasure of punishing Mr.
Roper in the morning. Mr. Roper thought the matter over for the greater
part of an unpleasantly short night. He knew that he could prepare a
perfect case, he could easily clear himself to his pupil, he could
stand by his guns, and probably even succeed in making Mrs. Bouncing
stand by hers; but he didn't want to be thrashed. Whatever else
happened, he knew that he could not get out of this. Winn meant to
thrash him, and Winn would thrash him. People like Winn could not be
manipulated; they could only be avoided. They weren't afraid of being
arrested, and they didn't care anything about being fined. They damned
the consequences of their ferocious acts; and if you happened to be one
of the consequences and had a constitutional shrinking from being
damned, it was wiser to pack early and be off by an eight o'clock
Winn was extremely disappointed at this decision; it robbed him of
something which, as he thought, would have cleared the air. However, he
spent a busy morning in assisting Mrs. Bouncing. She was querulous and
tearful and wanted better dressmakers and a more becoming kind of
mourning than it was easy to procure in Davos. It seemed to Winn as if
she was under the impression that mourning was more important to a
funeral than a coffin; but when it came to the coffin, she had terrible
ideas about lilies embroidered in silver, which upset Winn very much.
Mr. Bouncing had always objected to lilies. He considered that their
heavy scent was rather dangerous. Mrs. Bouncing told Winn what
everybody in the hotel had suggested, and appeared to expect him to
combine and carry out all their suggestions, with several other
contradictory ones of her own.
During this crisis Maurice Rivers markedly avoided Mrs. Bouncing. He
felt as if she might have prevented Mr. Bouncing's death just then. It
was a failure of tact. He didn't like the idea of death, and he had
always rather counted oh the presence of Mr. Bouncing. He was afraid he
might, with Mr. Bouncing removed, have gone a little too far.
He explained his position to Winn, whom he met on one of his many
One doesn't want to let oneself in for anything, you know, he
asserted. I'm sure, as a man of the world, you'd advise me to keep out
of it, wouldn't you? It's different for you, of course; you were poor
Winn, whose temper was extremely ruffled, gave him a formidable
You get into things a bit too soon, my boy, he replied coldly,
and get out of 'em a bit too late.
Oh, come, you know, said Maurice, jauntily, I'm not responsible
for poor old Bouncing's death, am I?
I don't say you are, Winn continued, without looking any
pleasanter. Bouncing had to die, and a jolly good thing for him it was
when it came off; his life wasn't worth a row of pins. But I wasn't
talking about him; I was talking about her. If you really want my
advice, I'll tell you plainly that if you want to go the pace, choose
women one doesn't marry, don't monkey about with the more or less
respectable ones who have a right to expect you to play the game. It's
not done, and it's beastly unfair. D' you see my point?
Maurice wondered if he should be thoroughly angry or not. Suddenly
it occurred to him that Winn was waiting, and that he had better see
his point and not be thoroughly angry.
Yes, I dare say I did go a little far, he admitted, throwing out a
manly chest; but between you and me, Staines, should you say our
friend Mrs. B. was respectable or not?
She isn't my friend, said Winn, grimly; but as she ought to be
yours, I'll trouble you to keep your questions to yourself.
The idea of being angry having apparently been taken out of
Maurice's hands, he made haste to disappear into the hotel.
Winn walked on into the village. It was the last time he intended to
go there. There was nothing peculiarly touching about the flat, long
road, with the rink beneath it and the mountains above. The houses and
shops, German pensions and crowded balconies had no particular charm.
Even the tall, thin spire of the church lacked distinction; and yet it
seemed to Winn that it would be difficult to forget. He stopped at the
rink as he returned to pick up his skates. He told himself that he was
fortunate when he discovered Claire, with Lionel on one side of her and
Ponsonby on the other; he had wanted the help of an audience; now he
was going to have one. Claire saw him before the others did, and skated
swiftly across to him.
But why don't you put your skates on? she said, pointing to them
in his hand. You're not much good there, you know, on the bank.
I'm not much good anywhere, as far as that goes, said Winn,
quickly, before the others came up. Then he said in a different voice,
I hope you enjoyed your dance last night.
Claire paused the briefest moment before she answered him; it was as
if she were trying quickly to change the key in which she spoke in
order to meet his wishes, and as if she did not want to change the key.
Yes, I did, she said, most awfully. It was a heavenly dance. I
was so sorry you couldn't come, but Captain Drummond told me why.
Winn confounded Lionel under his breath for not holding his tongue;
but he felt a warmth stir in his heart at the knowledge that, no matter
what was at stake, Lionel would not suffer the shadow of blame to
attach itself to him. It had been one of Winn's calculations that
Claire would be annoyed at his disappointing her and think the less of
him because she was annoyed. He was not a clever calculator.
Of course I understood, Claire went on; you had to be with poor
Mr. Bouncing. It was just like you to stay with him. She had said a
good deal, considering that Mr. Ponsonby and Lionel were there. Still,
Winn did not misunderstand her. Of course she meant nothing.
Well, he said, holding out his hand, I'm extremely glad, Miss
Rivers, to have run across you like this, because I'm off this
afternoon to St. Moritz. I want to have a look at the Cresta.
Claire ignored his outstretched hand.
Oh, she cried a little breathlessly, you're not going away, are
you? But you'll come back again, of course?
I hope so, I'm sure, some day or other, said Winn. Then he turned
to Ponsonby. Have you been down the Cresta? he asked.
Mr. Ponsonby shook his head.
Not from Church Leap, he replied. I've got too much respect for
my bones. It's awfully tricky; I've gone down from below it. You don't
get such a speed on then.
Oh, Major Staines, you won't toboggan? Claire cried out. You know
you mustn't toboggan! Dr. Gurnet said you mustn't. You won't, will you?
Captain Drummond, aren't you going with him to stop him?
He isn't a very easy person to stop, he answered her. I'll join
him later on, of course; but I want to see a little more of Davos
before I go.
There isn't the slightest danger, Winn remarked, without meeting
Claire's eyes. The Cresta's as safe as a church hassock. There isn't
half the skill in tobogganing that there is in skating. Good-by, Miss
Rivers. I never enjoyed anything as much as I enjoyed our skating
competition. I'm most grateful to you for putting up with me.
Claire gave him her hand then, but Winn remembered afterward that
she never said good-by. She looked at him as if he had done something
which was not fair.
Winn's chief objection to St. Moritz was the shabby way in which it
imitated Davos. It had all the same materialsendless snows, forests
of fir-trees, soaring peaks and the serene blueness of the skiesand
yet as Davos it didn't in the least come off. It was more beautiful and
less definite; the peaks were nearer and higher; they streamed out
around the valley like an army with banners. The long, low lake and the
small, perched villages, grossly overtopped by vulgar hotel palaces,
had a far more fugitive air.
It was a place without a life of its own. Whatever character St.
Moritz might once have had was as lost as that of the most catholic of
evening ladies in Piccadilly.
Davos had had the dignity of its purpose; it had set out to heal.
St. Moritz, on the contrary, set out to avoid healing. It was haunted
by crown princes and millionaire Jews, ladies with incredible ear-rings
and priceless furs; sharp, little, baffling trans-atlantic children
thronged its narrow streets, and passed away from it as casually as a
company of tramps.
There was this advantage for Winn: nobody wanted to be friendly
unless one was a royalty or a financial magnate. Winn was as much alone
as if he had dropped from Charing Cross into the Strand. He smoked,
read his paper, and investigated in an unaccommodating spirit all that
St. Moritz provided; but he didn't have to talk.
Winn was suffering from a not uncommon predicament: he had done the
right thing at enormous cost, and he was paying for it, instead of
being paid. Virtue had struck her usual hard bargain with her votaries.
She had taken all he had to give, and then sent in a bill for damages.
He was not in the least aware that he was unhappy, and often, for
five or ten minutes at a time, he would forget Claire; afterward he
would remember her, and that was worse. The unfortunate part of being
made all of a piece is that if you happen to want anything, there is
really no fiber of your being that doesn't want it.
Winn loved in the same spirit that he rode and he always rode to a
finish. In these circumstances and in this frame of mind, the Cresta
occurred to Winn in the light of a direct inspiration. No one could
ride the Cresta with any other preoccupation.
Winn knew that he oughtn't to do it; he remembered Dr. Gurnet's
advice, and it put an edge to his intention. If he couldn't have what
he wanted, there would be a minor satisfaction in doing what he
oughtn't. The homely adage of cutting off your nose to spite your face
had never been questioned by the Staines family. They looked upon a
nose as there chiefly for that purpose. It was a last resource to be
drawn upon, when the noses of others appeared to be out of reach.
There were, however, a few preliminary difficulties. No one was
allowed to ride the Cresta without practice, and it was a part of
Winn's plan not to be bothered with gradual stages. Only one man had
ever been known to start riding the Cresta from Church Leap without
previous trials, and his evidence was unobtainable as he was
unfortunately killed during the experiment. Since this adventure a
stout Swiss peasant had been placed to guard the approaches to the run.
Winn walked up to him during the dinner-hour, when he knew the valley
was freest from possible intruders.
I want you to clear off, he said to the man, offering him five
francs, and pointing in the direction of St. Moritz. The peasant shook
his head, retaining the five francs, and opening the palm of his other
hand. Winn placed a further contribution in it and said firmly:
Now if you don't go I shall knock you down. He shook his fist to
reinforce the feebleness of his alien speech. The Swiss peasant stepped
off the path hurriedly into a snow-drift. He was a reasonable man, and
he did not grasp why one mad Englishman should wish to be killed, nor,
for the matter of that, why others equally mad, should wish to prevent
it. So he walked off in the direction of St. Moritz and hid behind a
tree, reposing upon the deeply rooted instinct of not being responsible
for what he did not see.
Winn regarded the run methodically, placed his toboggan on the
summit of the leap, and looked down at the thin, blue streak stretching
into the distance. The valley appeared to be entirely empty; there was
nothing visibly moving in it except a little distant smoke on the way
to Samaden. The run looked very cold and very narrow; the nearest banks
stood up like cliffs.
Winn strapped a rake to his left foot, and calculated that the
instant he felt the ice under him he must dig into it, otherwise he
would go straight over the first bank. Then he crouched over his
toboggan, threw himself face downward, and felt it spring into the air.
He kept no very definite recollection of the sixty-odd seconds that
followed. The ice rose up at him like a wall; the windhe had not
previously been aware of the faintest draught of aircut into his eyes
and forehead like fire. His lips blistered under it.
He felt death at every dizzy, dwindling seconddeath knotted up and
racketing, so imminent that he wouldn't have time to straighten himself
out or let go of his toboggan before he would be tossed out into the
He remembered hearing a man say that if you fell on the Cresta and
didn't let go of your toboggan, it knocked you to pieces. His hands
were fastened on the runners as if they were clamped down with iron.
The scratching of the rake behind him sounded appalling in the
He shot up the first bank, shaving the top by the thinness of a
hair, wobbled sickeningly back on to the straight, regained his grip,
shot the next bank more easily, and whirled madly down between the iron
walls. He felt as if he were crawling slowly as a fly crawls up a pane
of glass, in a buzzing eternity.
Then he was bumped across the road and shot under the bridge. There
was a hill at the end of the run. As he flew up it he became for the
first time aware of pace. The toboggan took it like a racing-cutter,
and at the top rose six feet into the air, and plunged into the nearest
Winn crawled out, feeling very sick and shaken, and as if every bone
in his body was misplaced.
Oh, you idiot! You idiot! you unbounded, God-forsaken idiot! a
voice exclaimed in his ears. You've given me the worst two minutes of
Winn looked around him more annoyed than startled. He felt a great
disinclination for speech and an increasing desire to sit down and keep
still; and he did not care to conduct a quarrel sitting down.
However, a growing inability to stand up decided him; he dragged out
his toboggan and sat on it.
The speaker appeared round a bend of the run. She had apparently
been standing in the path that overlooked a considerable portion of it.
She was not a young woman, and from her complexion and the hardness
of her thickly built figure she might have been made of wood.
She wore a short, strapped-in skirt, leather leggings, and a
fawn-colored sweater. Her eyes were a sharp, decided blue, and the rest
of her appearance matched the sweater.
Winn pulled himself together.
I don't see, Madam, he remarked slowly, but with extreme
aggressiveness, what the devil my actions have to do with you!
No, said the lady, grimly, I don't suppose from the exhibition
I've just been watching, that you're in the habit of seeing farther
than to the end of your own nose. However, I may as well point out to
you that if you had killed yourself, as you richly deserved, and as you
came within an ace of doing, the run would have been stopped for the
season. We should all have been deprived of the Grand National, and I,
who come up here solely to ride the Cresta, which I have done regularly
every winter for twenty years, would have had my favorite occupation
snatched from me at an age when I could least afford to miss it.
I haven't been killed, and I had not the slightest intention of
being so, Winn informed her with dangerous calm. I merely wished to
ride the Cresta for the first time unobserved. Apparently I have failed
in my intention. If so, it is my misfortune and not my fault. He took
out a cigarette, and lit it with a steady hand, and turned his eyes
away from her. He expected her to go away, but, to his surprise, she
My name, she said, is Marley. What is yours?
Staines, Winn replied with even greater brevity. He had to give
her his name, but he meant it to be his last concession.
Ah, she said thoughtfully, that accounts for it. You're the image
of Sir Peter, and you seem to have inherited not only his features, but
his manners. I needn't, perhaps, inform you that the latter were
uniformly bad. I knew your father when I was a girl. He was stationed
in Hong-Kong at the time and he was good enough to call me the little
Chinese, no doubt in reference to my complexion. Plain as I am now, I
was a great deal plainer as a girl, though I dare say you wouldn't
Winn made no comment upon this doubtful statement; he merely
grunted. His private opinion was that ladies of any age should not ride
the Cresta, and that ladies old enough to have known his father at
Hong-Kong should not toboggan at all.
It was unsuitable, and she might have hurt herself; into these two
pitfalls women should never fall.
Miss Marley had a singularly beautiful speaking voice; it was as
soft as velvet. She dropped it half a tone, and said suddenly:
Look here, don't do that kind of thing again. It's foolish. People
don't always get killed, you know; sometimes they get maimed. Forgive
me, but I thought I would just like to point it out to you. I could not
bear to see a strong man maimed.
Winn knew that it was silly and weak to like her just because of the
tone of her voice, but he found himself liking her. He had a vague
desire to tell her that he wouldn't do it again and that he had been
rather a fool; but the snow was behaving in a queer way all around him;
it appeared to be heaving itself up. He said instead:
Excuse me for sitting down like this. I've had a bit of a shake.
I'll be all right in a moment or two. Then he fainted.
Miss Marley stooped over him, opened his collar, laid him flat on
the groundhe had fallen in a heap on his tobogganand chafed his
wrists and forehead with snow. When she saw that he was coming round,
she moved a little away from him and studied his toboggan.
If I were you, she observed, I should have these runners cut a
little finer; they are just a shade too thick.
Winn dragged himself on to the toboggan and wondered how his collar
came to be undone. When he did it up, he found his hands were shaking,
which amazed him very much. He looked a little suspiciously at his
Of course, Miss Marley continued pleasantly, I ought to have that
watchman discharged. I am a member of the Cresta committee, and he
behaved scandalously; but I dare say you forced him into it, so I shall
just walk up the hill and give him a few straight words. Probably you
don't know the dialect. I've made a point of studying it. If I were
you, I should stay where you are until I come back. I want you to come
to tea with me at Cresta. There's a particularly good kind of bun in
the village, and I think I can give you some rather useful tobogganing
tips. It isn't worth while your climbing up the hill just to climb down
again, is it? Besides, you'd probably frighten the man.
Thanks, said Winn. All right; I'll stay. He didn't want the
Cresta bun, and he thought that he resented Miss Marley's invitation;
but, on the other hand, he was intensely glad she was going off and
leaving him alone.
He felt uncommonly queer. Perhaps he could think of some excuse to
avoid the tea when she came back.
All the muscles of his chest seemed to have gone wrong; it hurt him
to breathe. He sat with his head down, like a man climbing a hill
against a strong wind. It was rather funny to feel ill again when he
had really forgotten he was up there for his health. That was what he
It was not nearly as painful a feeling as remembering Claire.
Unfortunately, it was very quickly followed by the more painful
When Miss Marley came back, he had the eyes of a creature caught in
She took him to Cresta to tea, and it did not occur to Winn to
wonder why a woman who at forty-five habitually rode the Cresta should
find it necessary to walk at the pace of a deliberating snail. It was a
pace which at the moment suited Winn precisely.
On the whole he enjoyed his tea. Miss Marley's manners, though
abrupt, had certain fine scruples of their own. She showed no personal
curiosity and she gave Winn some really valuable tips. He began to
understand why she had so deeply resented his trifling with the Cresta.
Miss Marley was one of the few genuine workers at St. Moritz, a
member of the old band who had worked devotedly to produce the Monster
which had afterward as promptly devoured them. This fate, however, had
not as yet overtaken Miss Marley. She was too tough and too rich to be
very easily devoured. The Cresta was at once her child and her banner;
she had helped to make it, and she wound its folds around her as a
screen for her invisible kindnesses.
Menaced boys could have told how she had averted their ruin with
large checks and sharp reproofs. She had saved many homes and covered
many scandals. For girls she had a special tenderness. She had never
been a beautiful young girl, and she had a pathetic reverence for what
was frail and fair. For them she had no reproofs, only vast mercy, and
patient skill in releasing them from the traps which had caught their
flurried young senses; but for those who had set the traps she had no
Miss Marley was not known for any of these things. She was
celebrated for fights with chaplains and sanitary inspectors, and for
an inability to give in to authority unless authority knew what it was
about. She had never once tried to please, which is the foundation of
charm. Perhaps it would have been a useless effort, for she was not
born to please. She was born to get things done.
After Miss Marley had talked to Winn for an hour, she decided to get
him to join the Bandy Club. He was the kind of man who must do
something, and it was obviously better that he should not again tempt
fate by riding the Cresta from Church Leap without practice. This
course became clearer to Miss Marley when she discovered that Winn had
come up for his health.
Of course a fellow who wasn't seedy wouldn't have made an ass of
himself over riding the Cresta, Winn explained, eyeing her
He must have got somehow off his toboggan on to the snow, and he had
no recollection at all of getting there. Miss Marley said nothing to
enlighten him further. She merely suggested bandy. After dinner she
introduced Winn to the captain of the St. Moritz team, and at three
o'clock the next afternoon she watched him play in a practice-match.
Winn played with a concentrated viciousness which assured her of two
things: he would be an acquisition to the team, and if he felt as badly
as all that, it was just as well to get some of it worked off on
anything as unresponsive as a ball.
After this Miss Marley let him alone. She considered this the chief
factor in assisting the lives of others; and for nearly two hours a
day, while he was playing bandy, Winn succeeded in not remembering
Winn's way of playing bandy was to play as if there wasn't any ice.
In the first few practices it had the disadvantage of a constant series
of falls, generally upon the back of his head; but he soon developed an
increasing capacity of balance and an intensity of speed. He became the
quickest forward the St. Moritz team had ever possessed.
When he was following the ball he took up his feet and ran. The hard
clash of the skates, the determined onrush of the broad-built,
implacable figure, were terrible to withstand. What was to be done
against a man who didn't skate, but tore, who fell upon a ball as a
terrier plunges, eyeless and intent, into a rat-hole? The personal
safety of himself or others never occurred to Winn. He remembered
nothing but the rules of the game. These he held in the back of his
mind, with the ball in front of it.
All St. Moritz came to watch the great match between itself and
Davos. It was a still, cold day; there was no blue in the sky; the
mountains were a hard black and white and the valley very colorless and
clear. There was a hush of coming snow in the air, and the sky was
covered by a toneless, impending cloud.
The game, after a brief interval, became a duel between two men:
Winn, with his headlong, thirsty method of attack, and the champion
player of Davos, Mavorovitch, who was known as the most finished skater
of the season.
Mavorovitch never apparently lifted his skates, but seemed to send
them forward by a kind of secret pressure. He was a very cool player,
as quick as mercury and as light as thistledown. Winn set himself
against him with the dogged fury of a bull against a toreador.
That man's not brave; he's careless, a St. Moritz potentate
remarked to Miss Marley. Miss Marley gave a short laugh and glanced at
That's my idea of courage, she said, carelessness toward things
that don't count. Major Staines isn't careless with the ball.
A game's a game, the foreign prince protested, not a prolonged
invitation to concussion.
All, that's where your foreign blood comes in, Your Highness,
argued Miss Marley. A game isn't a game to an Englishman; it's his way
of tackling life. As a man plays so he reaps.
Very well, then, remarked her companion, gravely. Mark my words,
Madame, your friend over there will reap disaster.
Winn tackled the ball in a series of sudden formidable rushes; he
hurled himself upon the slight form of Mavorovitch, only to find he had
before him a portion of the empty air. Mavorovitch was invariably a few
inches beyond his reach, and generally in possession of the ball.
Twice Winn wrested it forcibly from him and got half way up the ice,
tearing along with his skates crashing their iron way toward the goal,
and twice Mavorovitch noiselessly, except for a faint scraping, slid up
behind him and coaxed the ball out of his very grip. St. Moritz lost
two goals to nothing in the first half, and Winn felt as if he were
biting on air.
He stood a little apart from the other players, with his back turned
to the crowd. He wished it wasn't necessary always to have an audience;
a lot of people who sat and did nothing irritated him. Mavorovitch
irritated him, too. He did not like a man to be so quiet; the faint
click, click of Mavorovitch's skates on the ice was like a
The whistle sounded again, and Winn set upon the ball with redoubled
fury. He had a feeling that if he didn't win this game he was going to
dislike it very much. He tore up the ice, every muscle strained, his
stick held low, caressing the round, flying knob in front; he had got
the ball all right, the difficulty was going to be, to keep it. His
mind listened to the faint distant scraping of Mavorovitch's approach.
Winn had chosen the exact spot for slowing up for his stroke.
It must be a long-distance shot or Mavorovitch would be there to
intercept him, the longer, the safer, if he could get up speed enough
for his swing. He had left the rest of the players behind him long ago,
tossing some to one side and outflanking others; but he had not got
clear away from Mavorovitch, bent double, and quietly calculating, a
few feet behind him, the exact moment for an intercepting spurt: and
then through the sharpness of the icy air and the sense of his own
speed an extraordinary certainty flashed into Winn. He was not alone;
Claire was there. He called it a fancy, but he knew it was a certainty.
A burning joy seized him, and a new wild strength poured into him. He
could do anything now.
He drew up suddenly, long before the spot he had fixed upon as a
certain stroke, lifted his arm, and struck with all his might. It was a
long, doubtful, crossing stroke, almost incredibly distant from the
The crowd held its breath as the ball rose, cutting straight above
the goal-keeper's head, through the very center of the goal.
Winn was probably the only person there who didn't follow its
flight. He looked up quickly at the bank above him, and met her eyes.
She was as joined to him as if they had no separate life.
In a moment it struck him that there was nothing else to do but to
go to her at once, take her in his arms, and walk off with her
somewhere into the snow. He knew now that he had been in hell; the
sight of her was like the sudden cessation of blinding physical pain.
Then he pulled himself together and went back to the game. He
couldn't think any more, but the new activity in him went on playing
methodically and without direction.
Mavorovitch, who was playing even more skilfully and swiftly, got
the better of him once or twice; but the speed that had given Winn room
for his great stroke flowed tirelessly through him. It seemed to him as
if he could have outpaced a Scotch express.
He carried the ball off again and again out of the mob of his
assailants. They scattered under his rushes like creatures made of
cardboard. He offered three goals and shot one. The cheering of the St.
Moritzers sounded in his ears as if it were a long way off. He saw the
disappointed, friendly grin of little Mavorovitch as the last whistle
settled the match at five goals to four against Davos, but everything
seemed cloudy and unreal. He heard Mavorovitch say:
Spooner never told us he had a dark horse over here. I must say I
am disappointed. Until half-time I thought I should get the better of
you; but how did you get that devilish spurt on? Fierce pace tires, but
you were easier to tire when you began.
Winn's eyes wandered over the little man beside him.
Oh, I don't know, he said good-naturedly; he had never in his life
felt so good-natured. I suppose I thought we were getting beaten. That
rather braces one up, doesn't it?
Ah, that is you English all over, laughed Mavorovitch. We have a
saying, 'In all campaigns the English lose many battles, but they
always win onenamely, the last.'
I'm sure it's awfully jolly of you to say so, said Winn. You play
a pretty fine game yourself, you know, considerably more skill in it
than mine. I had no idea you were not English yourself.
Mavorovitch seemed to swim away into a mist of laughter, people
receded, the bank receded; at last he stood before her. Winn thought
she was a little thinner in the face and her eyes were larger than
ever. He could not take his own away from her; he had no thoughts, and
he forgot to speak.
Everybody was streaming off to tea. The rink was deserted; it lay a
long, gray shadow beneath the high, white banks. The snow had begun to
fall, light, dry flakes that rested like powder on Claire's curly hair.
She waited for him to speak; but as he still said nothing, she asked
with a sudden dimple:
Where does this path lead to?
Then Winn recollected himself, and asked her if she didn't want some
tea. Claire shook her head.
Not now, she said decidedly; I want to go along this path.
Winn obeyed her silently. The path took them between dark fir-trees
to the farthest corner of the little park. Far below them a small
stream ran into the lake, it was frozen over, but in the silence they
could hear it whispering beneath the ice. The world was as quiet as if
it lay in velvet. Then Claire said suddenly:
Oh, why did you make me hurt him when I liked him so much?
They found a bench and sat down under the trees.
Do you mean you've sent Lionel away? Winn asked anxiously.
Yes, she said in a forlorn little voice; yesterday I sent him
away. He didn't know I was coming over here, he was very miserable. He
asked me if I knew about youhe said he believed you wanted me toand
I said, 'Of course I know everything.' I wasn't going to let him think
you hadn't told me. Why did you go away?
He had not thought she would ask him that. It was as if he saw
before him an interminable hill which he had believed himself to have
He drew a deep breath, then he said:
Didn't they talk about it? I wrote to her, the chaplain's wife I
mean; I hadn't time to see her, but I sent it by the porter. I thought
she'd do; she seemed a gossipy woman, kept on knitting and gassing over
a stove in the hall. I thought she wasa sort of circulating library,
you see. I tipped the portertow-headed Swiss brute. I suppose he
He went away the same day you did, Claire explained. Nobody told
me anything. Do you think I would have let them? I wouldn't let Lionel,
and I knew he had a right to, but I didn't care about anybody's rights.
You see, II thought you'd tell me yourself. So I came, she finished
She waited. Winn began to draw patterns on the snow with his stick,
then he said:
I've been a bit of a blackguard not telling you myself. I didn't
want to talk about it, and that's a fact. I'm married.
He kept his face turned away from her. It seemed a long time before
You should have told me that before, she said in a queer, low
voice. It's too late now.
Would it, he asked quickly, have made any differenceabout
Lionel, I mean?
She shook her head.
Not, she said, about Lionel.
He bent lower over the pattern in the snow; it had become more
I couldn't tell you, he muttered; I tried. I couldn't. That was
why I went off. You say too late. D'you mind telling me if you
Her silence seemed interminable, and then he knew she had already
answered him. It seemed to him that if he sat there and died, he
Winn, she asked in a whisper, did you go because of meor
because of you?
He turned round, facing her.
Is that worrying you? he asked fiercely. Well, you can see for
yourself, can't you? All there is of me He could not finish his
It was snowing heavily. They seemed intensely, cruelly alone. It was
as if all life crept off and left them by themselves in the drifting
gray snow, in their silent little corner of the unconscious,
Winn put his arm around her and drew her head down on his shoulder.
It's all right, he said rather thickly. I won't hurt you.
But he knew that he had hurt her, and that it was all wrong.
She did not cry, but she trembled against his heart. He felt her
shivering as if she were afraid of all the world but him.
I must stay with you, she whispered. I must stay with you,
He tried not to say always, but he thought afterward that he must
have said always.
Then she lifted her curls and her little fur cap with the snow on it
from his shoulder, and looked deep into his eyes. The worst of it was
that hers were filled with joy.
Winn, she said, do you love me enough for anything? Not only for
happiness, but, if we had to have dreadful things, enough for dreadful
She spoke of dreadful things as if they were outside her, and as if
they were very far away.
I love you enough for anything, said Winn, gravely.
Tell me, she whispered, did you ever even thinkyou liked her as
Winn looked puzzled; it took him a few minutes to guess whom she
meant, then he said wonderingly:
My wife, you mean?
Claire nodded. It was silly how the little word tore its way into
her very heart; she had to bite her lips to keep herself from crying
out. She did not realize that the word was meaningless to him.
No, said Winn, gravely; that's the worst of it. I must have been
out of my head. It was a fancy. Of course I thought it was all right,
but I didn't care. It was fun rather than otherwise; you know
what I mean? I'm afraid I gave her rather a rotten time of it; but
fortunately she doesn't like me at all. It's not surprising.
Yes, it is, said Claire, firmly; it's very surprising. But if she
doesn't care for you, and you don't care for her, can't anything be
There is something cruel in the astonishing ease with which youth
believes in remedial measures. It is a cruelty which reacts so terribly
upon its possessors.
Winn hesitated; then he told her that he would take her to the ends
of the world. Claire pushed away the ends of the world; they did not
sound very practical.
I mean, she said, have you got to consider anybody else? Of
course there's Maurice and your people, I've thought of them. But I
don't think they'd mind so awfully always, do you? It wouldn't be like
robbing or cheating some one who really needed us. We couldn't do that,
Then Winn remembered Peter. He told her somehow that there was
Peter. He hid his face against her breast while he told her; he could
not bear to see in her eyes this new knowledge of Peter.
But she was very quiet about it; it was almost as if she had always
known that there was Peter.
Winn spoke very wildly after that; he denied Peter; he denied any
obstacles; he spoke as if they were already safely and securely
married. He explained that they had to be together; that was the long
and short of it. Anything else was absurd; she must see that it was
Claire didn't interrupt him once; but when he had quite finished,
she said consideringly:
Yes; but, after all, she gave you Peter.
Then Winn laughed, remembering how Estelle had given him Peter. He
couldn't explain to Claire quite how funny it was.
She bore his laughter, though it surprised her a little; there
seemed to be so many new things to be learned about him. Then she said:
Anyway, we can be quite happy for a fortnight, can't we?
Winn raised his head and looked at her. It was his turn to be
Maurice and I, she explained, have to go back in two weeks; we've
come over here for the fortnight. So we'll just be happy, won't we? And
we can settle what we'll do afterward, at the end of the time.
She spoke as if a fortnight was a long time. Then Winn kissed her;
he did it with extraordinary gentleness, on the side of her cheek and
on her wet curls covered with snow.
You're such a baby, he said half to himself; so it isn't a bit of
use your being as old as the hills the other part of the time. There
are just about a million reasons why you shouldn't stay, you know.
Oh, reasons! said Claire, making a face at anything so trivial as
a reason. Then she became very grave, and said, I want to stay,
Winn; of course I know what you mean. But there's Maurice; it isn't as
if I were alone. And afterwardsoh, Winn, it's because I don't know
what is going to happen afterwardsI must have now!
Winn thought for a moment, then he said:
Well, I'll try and work it. You mustn't be in the same hotel,
though. Fortunately, I know a nice woman who'll help us through; only,
darling, I'm awfully afraid it's beastly wrong for you. I mean I can't
explain properly; but if I let you go now, it would be pretty
sickening. But you'd get away; and if you stay, I'll do the best I can
but we shall get mixed up so that you'll find it harder to shake me
off. You see, you're awfully young; there are chances ahead of you,
awfully decent other chaps, marriage
And you, she whisperedyou?
Oh, it doesn't matter a damn about me either way, he explained
carefully. I'm stuck. But it isn't really fair of me to let you stay.
You don't understand, but it simply isn't fair.
Claire looked reproachfully at him.
If I don't want you to be fair, she said, you oughtn't to want to
benot more than I do, I mean. BesidesOh, Winn, I do know about when
I go! That's why I can't go till we've been happy, awfully
happy, first. Don't you see, if I went now, there'd be nothing
to look back on but just your being hurt and my being hurt; and I want
happiness! Oh, Winn, I want happiness!
That was the end of it. He took her in his arms and promised her
It seemed incredible that they should be happy, but from the first
of their fortnight to the last they were increasingly, insanely happy.
Everything ministered to their joy; the unstinted blue and gold of the
skies, the incommunicable glee of mountain heights, their blind and
There was no future. They were on an island cut off from all
to-morrows; but they were together, and their island held the fruits of
They lived surrounded by light passions, by unfaithfulnesses that
had not the sharp excuses of desire, bonds that held only because they
would require an effort to break and bonds that were forged only
because it was easier to pass into a new relation than to continue in
an old one. Their solid and sober passion passed through these light
fleets of pleasure-boats as a great ship takes its unyielding way
toward deep waters.
Winn was spared the agony of foresight; he could not see beyond her
sparkling eyes; and Claire was happy, exultantly, supremely happy, with
the reckless, incurious happiness of youth.
It was terrible to see them coming in and out with their joy. Their
faces were transfigured, their eyes had the look of sleep-walkers, they
moved as through another world. They had only one observer, and to Miss
Marley the sight of them was like the sight of those unknowingly
condemned to die. St. Moritz in general was not observant. It had
gossips, but it did not know the difference between true and false,
temporary and permanent. It had one mold for all its fancies: given a
man and a woman, it formed at once its general and monotonous
Maurice might have noticed Claire's preoccupation, for Maurice was
sensitive to that which touched himself, but for the moment a group
more expensive and less second rate than he had discovered at Davos
took up his entire attention. He had none to spare for his sister
unless she bothered him, and she didn't bother him.
It was left to Miss Marley to watch from hour to hour the
significant and rising chart of passion. The evening after the Davos
match, Winn had knocked at the door of her private sitting-room. It was
his intention only to ask her if she would dine with some friends of
his from Davos; he would mention indifferently that they were very
young, a mere boy and girl, and he would suggest with equal subtlety
that he would be obliged if Miss Marley would continue to take meals at
his table during their visit. St. Moritz, he saw himself saying, was
such a place for talk. There was no occasion to go into anything, and
Miss Marley would, of course, have no idea how matters really stood.
She was a good sort, but he wasn't going to talk about Claire.
Miss Marley said, Come in, in that wonderful, low, soft voice of
hers that came so strangely from her blistered lips. She was sitting in
a low chair, smoking, in front of an open wood fire.
Her room was furnished by herself. It was a comfortable, featureless
room, with no ornaments and no flowers; there were plenty of books in
cases or lying about at ease on a big table, a stout desk by the
window, and several leather-covered, deep armchairs. The walls were
bare except for photographs of the Cresta. These had been taken from
every possible angle of the runits banks, its corners, its flashing
pieces of straight, and its incredible final hill. It was noticeable
that though there was generally a figure on a toboggan in the
photograph, it never happened to be one of Miss Marley herself. She was
a creditable rider, but she did not, to her own mind, show off the
Her eyes met Winn's with a shrewdness that she promptly veiled. He
wasn't looking as if he wanted her to be shrewd. It struck her that she
was seeing Winn as he must have looked when he was about twenty. She
wondered if this was only because he had won the match. His eyes were
very open and they were off their guard. It could not be said that Winn
had ever in his life looked appealing, but for a Staines to look so
exposed to friendliness was very nearly an appeal.
Mavorovitch has just left me, said Miss Marley. You ought to have
heard what he said about you. It was worth hearing. You played this
afternoon like a successful demon dealing with lost souls. I don't
think I've ever seen bandy played quite in that vein before.
Winn sank into one of the leather armchairs and lighted a cigarette.
As a matter of fact, he said, I played like a fluke. I am not up
to Mavorovitch's form at all. I just happened to be on my game; he
would have had me down and out otherwise.
Miss Marley nodded; she was wondering what had put Winn on his game.
She turned her eyes away from him and looked into the fire. Winn was
resting for the first time that day; the sense of physical ease and her
even, tranquil comradeship were singularly soothing to him. Suddenly it
occurred to him that he very much liked Miss Marley, and in a way in
which he had never before liked any woman, with esteem and without
excitement. He gave her a man's first proof of confidence.
Look here, he said, I want you to help me.
Miss Marley turned her eyes back to him; she was a plain woman, but
she was able to speak with her eyes, and though what she said was
sometimes hard and always honest, on the present occasion they
expressed only an intense reassurance of good-will.
When I came in, Winn said rather nervously, I meant to ask you a
little thing, but I find I am going to ask you a big one.
Oh, well, said Miss Marley, ask away. Big or little, friends
should stand by each other.
Yes, said Winn, relieved, that's what I thought you'd say. I
don't know that I ever mentioned to you I'm married?
No, she answered quietly, I can't say that you did; however, most
men of your age are married.
And I've got a son, Winn continued. His name is Peterafter my
father, you know.
That's a good thing, she concurred heartily. I'm glad you've got
Unfortunately, said Winn, my marriage didn't exactly come off. We
got hold of the wrong end of the stick.
Ah, said Miss Marley, that's a pity! The right end of the stick
is, I believe, almost essential in marriage.
Yes, Winn acknowledged; I see that now, of course. I was keen on
getting her, but I hadn't thought the rest out. Rather odd, isn't it,
that you don't get as much as a tip about how jolly a thing could be
till you've dished yourself from having it?
Miss Marley agreed that it was rather odd.
Winn came back swiftly to his point.
What I was going to ask you, he said, holding her with his eyes,
is to sit at my table for a bit. I happen to have two young friends of
mine over from Davos. He's her brother, of course, but I thought I'd
like to have another woman somewhere about. Look better, wouldn't it?
She's only nineteen.
His voice dropped as he mentioned Claire's age as if he were
speaking of the Madonna.
Yes, agreed Miss Marley, it would look better.
I dare say, said Winn after rather a long pause, you see what I
mean? The idea isour idea, you knowto be together as much as we can
for a fortnight. It'll be all right, of course; only I rather wondered
if you'd see us through.
See you through being all right? Miss Marley asked with the
directness of a knife-thrust.
Wellyes, said Winn. It would just put people off thinking
things. Everybody seems to know you up here, and I somehow thought I'd
rather you knew.
Thank you, said Miss Marley, briefly.
She turned back to the fire again. She had seen all she wanted to
see in Winn's eyes. She saw his intention. What she wasn't sure about
was the fortnight. A fortnight can do a good deal with an intention.
Miss Marley knew the world very well. People had often wanted to use
her for a screen before, and generally she had refused, believing that
the chief safeguard of innocence is the absence of screens. But she saw
that Winn did not want her to be that kind of a screen; he wanted her
to be in the center of his situation without touching it. He wanted her
for Claire, but he wanted her also a little for himself, so that he
might feel the presence of her upright friendliness. He intensely
There are people who intend to do good in the world and invariably
do harm. They enter eagerly into the lives of others and put their
fingers pressingly upon delicate machinery; very often they destroy it,
more seldom, unfortunately, they cut their own fingers. Miss Marley did
not belong to this type. She did not wish to be involved and she was
scrupulous never to involve others. She hesitated before she gave her
consent, but she couldn't withstand the thought that Claire was only
nineteen. She spoke at last.
What you suggest, she said quietly, is going to be rather hard
for you both. I suppose you do realize how hard? You see, you are only
at the beginning of the fortnight now. Unhappy men and very young girls
make difficult situations, Major Staines.
He got up and walked to the window, standing with his back to her.
She wondered if she had said too much; his back looked uncompromising.
She did not realize that she could never say too much in the defense of
Claire. Then he said, without looking round:
We shall have to manage somehow.
It occurred to Miss Marley, with a wave of reassurance, that this
was probably Winn's usual way of managing.
In any case, she said firmly, you can count on me to do anything
Winn expressed no gratitude. He merely said:
I shall introduce her to you this evening.
Before he left Miss Marley he shook hands with her. Her hands were
hard and muscular, but she realized when she felt his grip that he must
have been extremely grateful.
They went out early, before the sun was up, when the valley was an
apricot mist and the mountains were as white as snowdrops in the
spring. The head waiter fell easily into their habits, and provided
them with an early breakfast and a parcel for lunch. Then they drove
off through the biting, glittering coldness.
Sometimes they went far down the valley to Sils and on to the verge
of the Maloja. Sometimes they drove through the narrower valleys to
Pontresina and on into the impenetrable winter gloom of the Mortratsch
glacier. The end was the same solitude, sunshine, and their love. The
world was wrapped away in its winter stillness. The small Swiss
villages slept and hardly stirred. In the hot noonday a few drowsy
peasants crept to and from the barns where the cattle passed their
winter life. Sometimes a woman labored at a frozen pump, or a party of
skiers slipped rapidly through the shady streets, rousing echoes with
their laughter; but for the most part they were as much alone as if the
world had ceased to hold any beings but themselves. The pine-trees
scented all the air, the snow dripped reluctantly, and sometimes far
off they heard the distant boom of an avalanche. They sat together for
long sunlit hours on the rickety wooden balcony of a friendly hospice,
drinking hot spiced glüwein and building up their precarious
There were moments when the hollow present snapped under their feet
like a broken twig, and then the light in their eyes darkened and they
ran out upon the safer path of make-believe.
It was Winn who, curiously enough, began it, and returned to it
oftenest. It came to him, this abolishing of Estelle, always more
easily than it came to Claire. It was inconceivable to Claire that Winn
didn't, as a rule, remember his wife. She could have understood the
tragedy of his marriage, but Winn didn't make a tragedy of it, he made
nothing of it at all. It seemed terrible to Claire that any woman,
bearing his name, the mother of his child, should have no life in his
heart. She found herself resenting this for Estelle. She tried to make
Winn talk about her, so that she might justify her ways to him. But
Winn went no further in his expressions than the simple phrases, She's
not my sort, We haven't anything in common, I expect we didn't hit
it off. Finally he said, terribly, under the persistency of Claire's
pressure, Well, if you will have it, I don't believe a single word she
Oh, but sometimes, sometimes she must speak the truth! Claire
urged, breathless with pity.
I dare say, Winn replied indifferently. Possibly she does, but
what difference does it make to me when I don't know which times?
Claire waited a little, then she said:
I wasn't thinking of the difference to you; I was thinking of the
difference to her.
I tell you, Winn repeated obstinately, that I don't care a hang
about the difference to her. People shouldn't tell lies. I don't care
that for her! He snapped a crumb off the table. He looked triumphantly
at Claire, under the impression that he had convinced her of a pleasing
fact. She burst into tears.
He tried to take her in his arms, but for a moment she resisted him.
Do you want me to love Estelle? he asked in desperation.
Claire shook her head.
I'd like herto be loved, she said, still sobbing.
Winn looked wonderingly at her.
Well, as far as that goes, so would I, he observed, with a
sardonic grin. There'd be some way out for us then.
Claire shook her head vehemently, but she made no attempt to explain
her tears. She felt that she couldn't alter him, and that when he most
surprised her it was wiser to accept these surprises than to probe her
He surprised her very often, he was in such a hurry to unburden
himself of all he was. It seemed to him as if he must tell her
everything while he had her. He expressed himself as he had never in
his wildest dreams supposed that any man could express himself to
another human being. He broke down his conventions, he forced aside his
restraint, he literally poured out his heart to her. He gave her his
opinions, his religion, his codes of conduct, until she began a little
to understand his attitude toward Estelle.
It was part of his exterior way of looking at the world at large. Up
till now people, except Lionel, had never really entered into his
imagination. Of course there were his servants and his dogs and, nearer
still, his horses. He spent hours telling her about his horses. They
really had come into his life, but never people; even his own family
were nothing but a background for wrangles.
He had never known tenderness. He had had all kinds of odd feelings
about Peter, but they hadn't got beyond his own mind. His tenderness
was beyond everything now; it over-flowed expression. It was the
radical thing in him. He showed her plainly that it would break his
heart if she were to let her feet get wet. He made plans for her future
which would have suited a chronic invalid. He wanted to give her
jewels, expensive specimens of spaniels, and a banking account.
She would take nothing from him but a notebook and a little opal
ring. Winn restrained his passion, but out of revenge for his restraint
his fancies ran wild.
It was Claire who had to be practical; she who had spent her youth
in dreams now clung desperately to facts. She read nothing, she hardly
talked, but she drew his very soul out to meet her listening soul.
There were wonders within wonders to her in Winn. She had hardly forced
herself to accept his hardness when she discovered in him a tolerance
deeper than anything she had ever seen, and an untiring patience. He
had pulled men out of holes only to see them run back into them with
the swiftness of burrowing rabbits; but nothing made him feel as if he
could possibly give them up.
You can't tell how many new starts a man wants, he explained to
Claire; but he ought to have as many as he can take. As long as a man
wants to get on, I think he ought to be helped.
His code about a man's conduct to women was astonishingly drastic.
If you've let a woman in, he explained, you've got to strip
yourself to get her out, no matter whether you care for her or not. The
moment a woman gets caught out, you can't do too much for her. It's
like seeing a dog with a tin can tied to its tail; you've got to get it
off. A man ought to pay for his fun; even if it isn't his fault, he
ought to pay just the same. It's not so much that he's the responsible
person, but he's the least had. That ought to settle the
He was more diffident, but not less decided, on the subject of
If there's a God at all, he stated, He must be good; otherwise
you can't explain goodness, which doesn't pay and yet always seems
worth having. You know what I mean. Not that I am a religious man
myself, but I like the idea. Women certainly ought to be religious.
He hoped that Claire would go regularly to church unless it was
It was on the Bernina, when they were nine thousand feet up in a
blue sky, beyond all sight or sound of life, in their silent, private
world, that they talked about death.
Curious, Winn said, how little you think about it when you're up
against it. I shouldn't like to die of an illness. That's all I've ever
felt about it; that would be like letting go. I don't think I could let
go easily; but just a proper, decent knock-outwhy, I don't believe
you'd know anything about it. I never felt afraid of chucking it, till
I knew you, now I'm afraid.
Claire looked at his strong hands in the sunshine and at her own
which lay on his; they looked so much alive! She tried hard to think
about death, because she knew that some day everybody must die; but she
felt as if she was alive forever.
Yes, she said; of course I suppose we shall. But, Winn,
don't you think that we could send for each other then? Wouldn't that
The idea of death became suddenly a shortening of the future; it was
like something to look forward to. Winn nodded gravely, but he didn't
seem to take the same comfort in it that Claire did. He only said:
I dare say we could manage something. But you feel all right, don't
Claire laughed until something in his grave eyes hurt her behind her
The sky changed from saffron to dead blue and then to startling rose
color. Flame after flame licked the Bernina heights. Their sleigh-bells
rang persistently beneath them. They drank their coffee hurriedly while
the sun sank out of the valley, and the whole world changed into an icy
They drove off rapidly down the pass, wrapped in furs and clinging
to each other. They did not know what anything would mean when they
were apart. The thought of separation was like bending from a sunny
world over a well of darkness. Claire cried a little, but not very
much. She never dared let herself really cry because of what might
happen to Winn.
It surprised him sometimes how little she tried to influence his
future life. She did not make him promise anything except to go to see
Dr. Gurnet. He wondered afterward why she had left so much to his
discretion when he had made so many plans, and urgent precautions for
her future; and yet he knew that when she left him he would be
desperate enough to break any promises and never desperate enough to
break her trust in him. Suddenly he said to her as the darkness of the
pass swallowed them:
Look here, I won't take to drink. I'd like to, but I won't. And
Claire leaned toward him and kissed him, and he said a moment later,
with a little half laugh:
D'you know, I rather wish you hadn't done that. You never have
before, and I sha'n't be able to forget it. You put the stopper on to
And Claire said nothing, smiling into the darkness.
Claire had never been alone with Miss Marley before; she had known
her only as an accompaniment to Winn; but she had been aware, even in
these partial encounters, that she was being benevolently judged. It
must be owned that earlier in the day she had learned, with a sinking
of the heart, that she must give up the evening to Miss Marley. When
every hour counted as a victory over time, she could not understand how
Winn could let her go; and yet he had said quite definitely: I want
you to go to Miss Marley this evening. She'd like to talk to you, and I
think you'd better.
But something happened which changed her feelings. Miss Marley was a
woman despite the Cresta and there are times when only a woman's
judgment can satisfy the heart of a girl. Claire was startled and
perturbed by Maurice's sudden intervention. Maurice said:
That chap Staines is getting you talked about. Pretty low down of
him, as I believe he's married. She was pulled up short in the golden
stream of her love. She saw for the first time the face of
opinionthat hostile, stupid, interfering face. Claire had never
thought that by any malign possibility they could be supposed to be
doing wrong. She could not connect wrong with either her love or
Winn's. If there was one quality more than another which had
distinguished it, it had been its simple sense of rightness. She had
seen Winn soften and change under it as the hard earth changes at the
touch of spring. She had felt herself enriched and enlarged, moving
more unswervingly than ever toward her oldest prayerthat she might,
on the whole, be good. She hardly prayed at all about Winn; loving him
was her prayer.
If she had meant to take him away from Estelle or to rob him of
Peter, then she knew she would have been wrong. But in this fortnight
she was taking nothing from Estelle that Estelle had ever had, and she
was doing no harm to Peter. It would not be likely to do him any harm
to soften his father's heart.
Claire's morality consisted solely in the consideration of other
people; her instincts revolted against unkindness. It was an early
Christian theory much lost sight of, Love, and do as you please, the
safety of the concession resting upon the quality of the love.
But to-night another idea had occurred to her, and she was very
uneasy. Was it really possible that any one could blame Winn? Her first
instinct had been sheer anger, and her anger had carried her past fear
into the pride of love. She had felt as if she wanted to confront the
world and defy it. If the world dared judge them, what did it matter?
Their hearts were clean. She was too young to know that under the
world's judgments clean hearts break even more easily than soiled ones.
But her mind had not rested there. She had begun to be afraid for
Winn, and with all her heart she longed to see him justified. What had
he ever done that he could be judged? He had loved her, spared her,
guarded her. He had made, he was making, inconceivable sacrifices for
her. He was killing not only his own joy, but hers rather than do her
what he thought a wrong.
She sat on a footstool in front of Miss Marley's wood fire, frowning
at the flames. Miss Marley watched her cautiously; there was a good
deal she wanted to say, but she hoped that most of it might be said by
Claire. A very careful talker can get a good deal expressed in this
way; impressions, to be permanent, must always come from the person you
wish to impress.
Miss Marley, Claire began, do you think it matters what people
Miss Marley, who invariably rolled her own cigarettes, took up a
small silver box, flattened the cigarette-paper out carefully, and
prepared to fill it before answering. Then she said:
Very few people do think; that is generally what mattersabsence
of thought. Speech without thought is responsible for most people's
But it can't matter what people say if it isn't true, can it?
Claire persisted. I meannonsense can't count against
I'm rather afraid it does matter, said Miss Marley, lighting her
cigarette. Nonsense is very infectious, and it often carries a good
deal of weight. I have known nonsense break people's hearts.
Oh! said Claire in a rising breath. She was wondering what it was
like to have a broken heart. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew
that she was going to have one, half of one; but what really frightened
her was that the other half was going to belong to Winn.
Could any one, she said under her breath, think any harm of him?
He told me you knew all about us, and that I might talk to you if I
wanted to; but I didn't then. There didn't seem anything to say. But
now I do want to know; I want to know awfully what you think. If I
asked him, he'd only laugh or else he'd be angry. He's very young in
some ways, you know, Miss Marleyyounger than I am.
Yes, agreed Miss Marley; men are always, to the end of their
lives, very young in some ways.
I never thought, Claire went on breathlessly, that people would
dream of blaming him because we were together. Why, it's so stupid! If
they only knew! He's so good!
If he's that, said Miss Marley, smiling into the fire, you've
succeeded in making a saint of a Staines, a very difficult experiment!
I shouldn't advise you to run away too much with that idea, however.
It isn't me; it's him, exclaimed Claire, regardless of grammar. I
mean, after what Maurice said this afternoonI don't know how to put
it quiteI almost wish we'd both been bad!
Miss Marley nodded. She knew the danger of blame when a tug of war
is in progress, and how it weakens the side attacked.
How can I explain to people, Claire went on, what he's been like?
I don't know whether I've told you, but he went away almost directly he
found out he cared, beforelong before he knew I cared, though he
might have known; and he left a message to tell me about his wife,
which I never got. But, oh, Miss Marley, I've never told him, I should
have come if I'd got it or not! I should really, because I had
to know if he cared! So you see, don't you, that if either of us was
wicked it was me? Only I didn't feel wicked; I really felt
awfully good. I don't see how you're to tell what's right if God
doesn't let you know and people talk nonsense.
It's not, agreed Miss Marley, dryly, particularly easy to know.
And his wife doesn't care for him, Claire went on. Fancy Winn's
wife not caring for him! Poor woman!
Why do you pity her? Miss Marley inquired with interest.
Well, said Claire, with a sudden dimple, I was only thinking I
shouldn't like to be Winn's wife if he didn't care for me; and then I
was thinking that if he didn't, I'd make him!
Well, that effort doesn't seem required of you, said Miss Marley.
No, but it only shows you that I'm much the most wicked, doesn't
it? asked Claire, with some pride.
The points against Winn, Miss Marley said gravely, are his age,
his experience, and his wife. I feel bound to tell you that there are
points against him.
Winn isn't really old, she explained, because he's only done
things all his lifegames or his work; it hasn't been people. People
make you old, especially when you are looking after them. He's never
really grown up; and as for experience, I don't think you experience
anything unless you care about it. It hurts me sometimes to hear him
talk about his wife. He's never had her; he's only had me. I
don't explain very well, but I know it's true, because he told me
things about loving which showed me he'd never had anything before
except dogsand Peter; and Peter's awfully young, and dogs can't
answer back. You can't grow up on dogs.
Miss Marley tacitly admitted the limitations of canine influence;
but she said:
Still, you know, he's not kept to his own code; that's what one
must judge people by. I'm sure he'd tell you himself that a married man
should leave girls alone.
Claire thought for a moment, then she said:
Yes, but he's gone deeper than his code now. Don't you think that
perhaps a smash, even of something you value, makes you grow? I don't
know how to put it quite, but if you never did what you thought wrong,
would you ever know how big right is? Besides, he hasn't gone on doing
it. Perhaps he did start wrong in getting to care, but that only
makes it harder and finer, his stopping himself. Very few people, I
think, but Winn could stop themselves, and nobody but Winn could ever
careso much. Her voice broke, and she turned away her head.
What, said Miss Marley, rolling another cigarette, are your
Miss Marley felt that she must give up first principles but she
hoped that she might still be able to do something about plans.
We are going to drive over the Maloja to Chiavenna, said Claire;
Maurice has a party to go with. We shall start by the earlier post,
and have lunch together at Vico-Soprano before he comes. And then when
Maurice comes we shall say good-by; and thenand then, Miss Marley,
I've been thinkingwe mustn't meet again! I haven't told Winn yet,
because he likes to talk as if we could, in places awfully far away and
odd, with you to chaperon us. I think it helps him to talk like that
but I don't think now that we must ever meet again. You won't blame him
if I tell you something, will you?
No, said Miss Marley; after what you've said to me to-night I am
not inclined to blame him.
Well, said Claire, I don't think, if we were to meet again, he
would let me go. We may manage this time, but not twice.
Are you sure, asked Miss Marley, gently, that you will manage
Claire raised her head and looked at Miss Marley.
Aren't you? she said gravely. I did feel very sure.
I'd feel a great deal surer, said Miss Marley, if you didn't
drive down the pass. If you once set off with Winn, do you suppose
he'll stop? I am sure he means to now; in fact, his sending you up here
to talk to me proves it. He knows I sha'n't be much of a help to him in
carrying you off. But, my dear, I never knew any Staines stop, once
he'd started. As long as he is looking at the consequences for you,
he'll steer clear of them, he's looking at them now, but a moment will
come when he'll cease to look, and then everything will depend on you.
I think your one chance is to say good-by here, and to drive down the
pass with Maurice. He can dispose of his party for once.
The color left Claire's face, but her eyes never flinched from Miss
Marley's. After a time Miss Marley turned her head away; she could no
longer bear the look in Claire's eyes. It was like watching the face of
some one drowning.
I don't want a chance! whispered Claire.
[Illustration: I don't want a chance, whispered Claire]
Miss Marley found her voice difficult to control, but she did
control it; she said:
I was thinking of his chance. If he does you any harm, he won't
forgive himself. You can stop it; he can't possibly stop himself.
No, said Claire. She didn't cry; she sat very straight and still
on her footstool in front of the fire. After a while she said in a
curious dragging voice: Very well, then; I must tell him about the
pass. Oh, what shall I do if he minds! It's his minding She stopped,
as if the words broke something in her.
Yes, said Miss Marley; but he'll mind more if he ruins your life.
You see, you won't think you're ruined, but Winn will think so. He'll
believe he's ruined the woman he loves, and after a little time, when
his passion has ceased to ride him blind, he'll never hold up his head
again. You'll be responsible for that. It sounded cruel, but it was
not cruel. Miss Marley knew that as long as she laid the responsibility
at Claire's door, Claire would not think her cruel.
Claire repeated slowly after her:
I should be responsible for that! Then she said: Oh, how silly
laws are! How silly! As if any one could be ruined who simply loved!
We should probably be sillier without laws, Miss Marley observed.
And you must remember they have their recommendations: they keep silly
people comparatively safe.
Safe! said Claire. I think that's the emptiest, poorest word
there is! Who wants to be safe?
You wouldn't think so if you had a child, said Miss Marley,
quietly. You would need safety then, and you would learn to prize it.
Claire bowed her head into her hands.
Oh, why can't I have one now! Why can't I? she whispered brokenly.
Miss Marley bit her lips; she had hoped Claire was too young for
this particular stab.
Because he'd think it wrong, said Miss Marley after a pause, and
because of Peter. He's got that obligation. The two would clash.
Claire rose slowly to her feet.
I'll just go and tell him about the pass, she said quietly. When
it's over I'll begin to think; but I needn't really think till then,
need I? Because I feel as if I couldn't just now; it would stop my
Miss Marley said that she was quite sure that Claire need not begin
to think at present and privately she hoped that, when that hour came,
something might happen which would deaden thought. She was thankful to
remember that the worst of feeling is always over before the worst of
thinking can begin. But Claire was too young to comfort herself with
the limitations of pain. She only knew that she must tell Winn about
the pass and seem for a moment at least, in his eyes, not to trust him.
Nevertheless, she smiled at Miss Marley before she left her, because
she didn't want Miss Marley to feel upset; and Miss Marley accepted
this reassurance with an answering smile until the door was shut.
When Claire found Winn at the bridge-table she saw at a glance that
he was not in the mood for renunciations. His eyes had the hard,
shining stare that was the danger-signal of the Staines family. He shot
a glance at Claire as if she were a hostile force and he was taking her
measure. He was putting her outside himself in order to fight her. It
was as if he knew instinctively that their wills were about to clash.
When the rubber was over, he got up and walked straight to her.
You put me off my game, he said grimly. I can see you're up to
something; but we can't talk here.
Let's talk to-morrow, she urged, not now. I thought perhaps you'd
like to come and listen to the music with me; there is music in the
You did, did you? he replied in the same hard voice. Well, you
were mistaken. Go up-stairs to my room and wait for me. It's number 28,
two or three doors beyond Miss Marley's sitting-room. I'll follow you.
An older woman would have hesitated, and if Claire had hesitated,
Winn would never have forgiven her. But her youth was at once her
danger and her protection.
She would rather have waited till to-morrow, because she saw that
Winn was in a difficult mood; but she had no idea what was behind his
mood. She went at once.
She had never been in Winn's room before, and as she sat down to
wait for him her eyes took in its neat impressive bareness. It was a
narrow hotel room, a bed in one corner, a chest of drawers, washstand,
and wardrobe opposite. By the balcony window were a small table and an
armchair. A cane chair stood at the foot of the bed.
Nothing was lying about. There were few traces of occupation
visible; only a pair of felt slippers under the bed, a large bath
sponge on the washstand, and a dressing-gown hanging on the nail behind
the door. In his tooth-glass by the bedside was a rose Claire had worn
and given him. It was put there with meticulous care; its stalk had
been re-cut and its leaves freshened. Beside it lay a small New
Testament and a book on saddles.
Winn joined her in exactly five minutes. He shut the door carefully
after him, and sat down on the cane chair opposite her.
I thought you might like to know, he said politely, that I have
made up my mind not to let you go.
Then he waited for Claire to contradict him. But Claire waited, too;
Claire waited longest. She was not sure what to say, and, unlike most
women, when she was not sure what to say, she said nothing. Winn spoke
again, but a little less quietly.
It's no use your making a fuss, he stated, or cutting up rough
about it and throwing morals at my head. I've got past that. He got
up, locked the door, and then came back. I'm going to keep that door
locked until I make sure what you're up to.
You needn't have done that, Claire said quietly. Do you think I
want to leave you? If I did, I shouldn't be here. You can't make me do
anything I don't want to do, because I want exactly what you do.
Winn shot an appreciative glance at her; that was a good stroke, but
he wasn't going to be taken in by it. In some ways he would have
preferred to see her angry. Hostility is generally the sign of
weakness; but Claire looked at him with an unyielding tenderness.
The question is, he said firmly, can I make you do what we both
want and what you are holding back from? I dare say you've got good
reasons for holding back and all that, and I know I'm an out-and-out
blackguard to press you, but I've reached a place where I won't stand
any more. D'you see my point?
Claire nodded. She was not angry, because she saw that Winn was
fighting her not because he wanted to be victorious over her, but
because he was being conquered by pain.
She was not going to let him be conquered by itthat, as Miss
Marley had said, was her responsibilitybut it wasn't going to be easy
to prevent it. She was close against the danger-line, and every nerve
in her being had long ago become part of Winn. He was fighting against
the best of himself, but all that was not the best of Claire fought on
his side. Perhaps there was not very much that was not the best in
Claire. She hesitated, then she said:
I thought you wanted meto go. I think you really do want it;
that's why I'm going.
Winn leaned forward and took hold of both her wrists. So I did, he
agreed; but it isn't any good. I can't do it. I've thought it all
outjust what to do, you knowfor both of us. I'll have to leave my
regiment, of course, but I can get back into something else all right
later on. Estelle will give me a divorce. She'll want to keep the child
away from me; besides, she'll like to be a public martyr. As for you
and me, you'll have to face rough music for a year or two; that's the
worst part of it. I'm sorry. We'll stay abroad till it's over. My
mother will help us. I can count on her.
Winn, come here, said Claire. He came and knelt down beside her.
She put her hands on his shoulders and looked deep into his eyes. He
tried to keep them hard, but he failed.
Don't try and get round me! he said threateningly. You'll make me
dangerous if you do. It isn't the least good!
Can you listen to what I say? Claire asked quietly.
I suppose so, said Winn, guardedly. I love every bit of youI
love the ground your chair's onbut I'm not going to give in.
And that's the way I love you, she said. I'd go with you to the
world's end, Winn, if I didn't love you so much and you'd take me
there; but you won't, for just the same reason. We can't do what would
be unfair; we shouldn't like it. It's no use, darling; we shouldn't
That's all you know about it, said Winn, unappeasably. Anyhow,
we're going to do it, whether you like it or not.
Then she took her hands away from his shoulders and leaned back in
her chair. He had never seen her look so frail and small, and he knew
that she had never been so formidably strong.
Oh, no, Winn, she whispered; I'm not. I'm not going to do it. If
you wanted it, if you really wanted it with all of you, you wouldn't be
rough with me; you'd be gentle. You're not being gentle because you
don't think it right, and I'm never going to do what you don't think
Winn drew a deep, hard breath. He threw his arms round her and
pressed her against his heart.
I'm not rough, he muttered, and you've got to do it!
You've got to give in!
Claire made no answer. She only clung to him, and every now and then
she said his name under her breath as if she were calling to something
in him to save her.
Whatever it was that she was calling to answered her. He suddenly
bowed his head and buried it in her lap. She felt his body shake, and
he began to sob, hard, dry sobs that broke him as they came. He held
her close, with his face hidden. Claire pressed her hands on each side
of his temples, feeling the throbbing of his heart. She felt as if
something inside her were being torn to pieces, something that knocked
its way against her side in a vain endeavor to escape. She very nearly
gave in. Then Winn stopped as suddenly as he had begun.
Sorry, he said, but this kind of thing is a bit wearing. I'm not
going to unlock that door. Do you intend to stay all night here, or
give me your promise? He spoke steadily now; his moment of weakness
was past. She could have gone then, but nothing would have induced her
to leave him while he cried.
I don't intend to do either, Claire said with equal steadiness.
When you think I ought to go, you'll let me out.
It struck Winn that her knowledge of him was positively uncanny.
I don't believe, he said sharply, you're only nineteen. I believe
you've been in love before!
Claire didn't say anything, but she looked past him at the door.
Her look maddened him.
You're playing with me! he cried. By Jove! you're playing with
me! He caught her by the shoulders, and for a moment he believed that
he was going to kill her; but her eyes never wavered. He was not
hurting her, and she knew that he never would. She said:
O my darling boy!
Winn got up and walked to the window. When he came back, his
expression had completely changed.
Now cut along to bed, he said quietly. You're tired. Goat once,
This time she knew she ought to go, but something held her back. She
was not satisfied with the look in his eyes. He was controlled again,
but it was a controlled desperation. She could not leave him with that.
Her mind was intensely alert with pain; she followed his eyes. They
rested for a moment on the stand by his bed. He pushed the key across
the table toward her, but she did not look at the key; she crossed the
room and opened the drawer under the Bible.
She saw what she had expected to see. It was Winn's revolver; upon
it lay a snap-shot of Peter. He always kept them together.
Claire took out the revolver. Winn watched her, with his hands in
Be careful, he said; it's loaded.
She brought it to him and said:
Now take all the things out of it. Winn laughed, and unloaded it
without a word. Now open the window, she ordered, and throw them
into the snow. Winn obeyed. When he came back she put her arms around
his neck and kissed him. Now I'll go, she said.
All right, agreed Winn, gently. Wait for me in the cloak-room,
and I'll take you across. But, I say, look herewill you ever forgive
me? I'm afraid I've been a most fearful brute.
Then Claire knew she couldn't stand any more. She turned and ran
into the passage. Fortunately, the cloak-room was empty. She pressed
herself against a fur coat and sobbed as Winn had sobbed up-stairs; but
she had not his arms to comfort her. She had not dared to cry in his
They walked hand in hand across the snow from his hotel to the door
Claire knew that she could say anything she liked to Winn now, so
she said what she had made up her mind to say.
Winn dearest, do you know what I came down for this evening?
He held her hand tighter and nodded.
I guessed, he said. That was, you know, what rather did for me.
You mean you aren't going to let me come with you down the pass?
We mustn't, Claire whispered; and then she felt she couldn't be
good any more. It cost too much. So she added, But you can if you
like. But there wasn't any real need for Claire to be good now; Winn
was good instead.
No, he said; it's much wiser not. You look thoroughly done up.
I'm not going to have any more of this. Let's breakfast together. You
come over at eight sharp and arrange with Maurice to take you down at
ten. That's quite enough for you.
Claire laughed. Winn stared at her, then in a moment he laughed,
We'd better not take any more chances, he explained. Next time it
might happen to us both together. Then you'd really be had! Thanks
awfully for seeing me through. Good night.
She went into the hotel without a word, and all her heart rebelled
against her for having seen him through.
The hour of parting crept upon them singularly quietly and slowly.
They both pretended to eat breakfast, and then they walked out into
Badrutt's Park. They sat in the nearest shelter, hand in hand, looking
over the gray, empty expanse of the rink. It was too early for any one
to be about. Only a few Swiss peasants were sweeping the ice and Winn
hardly looked upon Swiss peasants as human.
He asked Claire exactly how much money she had a year, and told her
when she came of age what he should advise her to suggest to her
trustees to put it in.
Then he went through all the things he thought she ought to have for
driving down the pass. Claire interrupted him once to remind him about
going to see Dr. Gurnet. Winn said he remembered quite well and would
go. They both assured each other that they had had good nights. Winn
said he thought Maurice would be all right in a few years, and that he
didn't think he was shaping for trouble. He privately thought that
Maurice was not going to have any shape at all, but he omitted this
He told her how much he enjoyed his regiment and explained
laboriously how Claire was to think of his future, which was to be,
apparently, a whirl of pleasure from morning till night.
They talked very disconnectedly; in the middle of recounting his
future joys, Winn said:
And then if anything was to happen to me, you know, I hope you'd
think better of it and marry Lionel.
Claire did not promise to marry Lionel, but she implied that even
without marriage she, like Winn, was about to pass into an existence
studded with resources and amusements; and then she added:
And if you were to die, or I was, Miss Marley could help us to see
each other just at the last. I asked her about it. Despite their
future happiness, they seemed to draw more solid satisfaction out of
this final privilege.
The last ten minutes they hardly talked at all. Every now and then
Winn wanted to know if Claire's feet were warm, and Claire asked him to
let her have a photograph of Peter.
Then Maurice came out of the hotel, and a tailing party stood in the
open doorway and wondered if it was going to snow. The sleigh drove up
to the hotel, jingling in the gayest manner, with pawing horses. Winn
walked across the courtyard with her and nodded to Maurice; and Maurice
allowed Winn to tuck Claire up, because, after he'd looked at Winn's
eyes, it occurred to him that he couldn't do anything else.
Winn reduced the hall porter, a magnificent person in gold lace,
with an immense sense of dignity, to gibbering terror before the
lift-boy and the boots because he had failed to supply the sleigh with
a sufficiently hot foot-warmer.
Finally even Winn was satisfied that there was nothing more to eat
or to wear which the sleigh could be induced to hold or Claire agree to
want. He stood aside then, and told the man briefly to be off. The
driver, who did not understand English, understood perfectly what Winn
meant, and hastened to crack his whip.
Claire looked back and saw Winn, bare-headed, looking after her. His
eyes were like a mother's eyes when she fights in naked absorption
against the pain of her child.
He went on looking like that for a long while after the sleigh had
disappeared. Then he put on his cap and started off up the valley
It had already begun to snow. The walk to Pontresina is the coldest
and darkest of winter walks, and the snow made it heavy going. Winn got
very much out of breath, and his chest hurt him. Every now and then he
stopped and said to himself, By Jove! I wonder if I'm going to be
ill? But as he always pushed on afterward with renewed vigor, as if a
good idea had just occurred to him, it hardly seemed as if he cared
very much whether he was going to be ill or not. He got as far as the
Mortratsch Glacier before he stopped.
He couldn't get any farther because when he got into the inn for
lunch, something or other happened to him. A fool of a porter had the
impertinence to tell him afterward that he had fainted. Winn knocked
the porter down for daring to make such a suggestion; but feeling
remarkably queer despite this relaxation, he decided to drive back to
He wound up the day with bridge and a prolonged wrangle with Miss
Marley on the subject of the Liberal Government.
Miss Marley lent herself to the fray and became extremely heated.
Winn had her rather badly once or twice, and as he never subsequently
heard her argue on the same subject with others, he was spared the
knowledge that she shared his political views precisely, and had
tenderly provided him with the flaws in her opponent's case.
When he went to bed he began a letter to Claire. He told her that he
had had a jolly walk, a good game of bridge, and that he thought he'd
succeeded in knocking some radical nonsense out of Miss Marley's head.
Then he inclosed his favorite snap-shot of Peter, the one that he kept
with his revolver, and said he would get taken properly with him when
he went back to England.
Winn stopped for a long time after that, staring straight in front
of him; then he wrote:
I hope you'll never be sorry for having come across me, because
you've given me everything I ever wanted. I hope you'll not mind my
having been rather rough the other night. I didn't mean anything by it.
I wouldn't hurt a hair of your head; but I think you know that I
wouldn't, only I thought I'd just mention it. Please be careful about
the damp when you get back to England.
He stopped for half an hour when he had got as far as England, and
as the heating was off, the room grew very cold; then he wrote, I
didn't know men loved women like this.
After that he decided to finish the letter in the morning; but when
the morning came he crossed the last sentence out because he thought it
might upset her.
He had been afraid that Davos would be beautiful, but the thaw had
successfully dissipated its immaculate loveliness. Half of the snow
slopes were already bare, the roads were a sea of mud, and the valley
was as dingy as if a careless washerwoman had upset a basket of dirty
linen on her way to the laundry. All the sport people had gone, the
streets were half empty, and most of the tourist shops were shut. Only
the very ill had reappeared; they crept aimlessly about in the sunshine
with wonder in their eyes that they were still alive.
Winn had put up at the nearest hotel and made the earliest possible
appointment with Dr. Gurnet. Dr. Gurnet was obviously pleased to see
him, but the pleasure faded rapidly from his face after a glance or two
at Winn. The twinkle remained in his eyes, but it had become
Perhaps you would be so kind as to take off your things, he
suggested. After I have examined you we can talk more at our ease.
It seemed to Winn as if he had never been so knocked about before.
Dr. Gurnet pounced upon him and went over him inch by inch; he reminded
Winn of nothing so much as of an excited terrier hunting up and down a
bank for a rat-hole. Eventually Dr. Gurnet found his rat. He went back
to his chair, sat down heavily, and looked at Winn. For rather an
ominous moment he was silent; then he said politely:
Of course I suppose you are aware, Major Staines, of what you have
done with your very excellent chances?
Winn shook his head doubtfully. He hadn't, as a matter of fact,
thought much lately about these particular chances.
Ah, said Dr. Gurnet, then I regret to inform you that you have
simply walked through themor, in your case, I should be inclined to
imagine, tobogganedand you have come out the other side. You haven't
got any chances now.
Winn did not say anything for a moment or two; then he observed:
I'm afraid I've rather wasted your time.
Pray don't mention it, said Dr. Gurnet. It is so small a thing
compared with what you have done with your own.
You rather have me there, he admitted; I suppose I have been
rather an ass.
My dear fellow, said Dr. Gurnet, more kindly, I'm really annoyed
about this, extremely annoyed. I had booked you to get well. I expected
it. What have you been doing with yourself? You've broken down that
right lung badly; the infection has spread to the left. It was not the
natural progress of the disease, which was in process of being checked;
it is owing to a very great and undue physical strain, and absolutely
no attempt to take precautions after it. Also you have, I should say,
complicated this by a great nervous shock.
Nonsense! said Winn, briefly. I don't go in for nerves.
You must allow me to correct you, said Dr. Gurnet, gently. You
are a human being, and all human beings are open to the effects of
I'm afraid I haven't quite played the game, Winn confessed, after
a short pause. I hadn't meant to let you down like this, Doctor
Gurnet. I think it is due to me to tell you that I shouldn't have come
to you for orders if I had intended at the time to shirk them. You're
quite right about the tobogganing: I had a go at the Cresta. I know it
shook me up a bit, but I didn't spill. Perhaps something went wrong
And why, may I ask, did you do it? Dr. Gurnet asked ironically.
You did not act solely, I presume, from an idea of thwarting my
Winn's eyes moved away from the gimlets opposite them.
I found time dragging on my hands, rather, he explained a trifle
Ah, said Dr. Gurnet, you should have done what I told youyou
should have flirted; then you wouldn't have found time hanging on your
Winn held his peace. He thought Dr. Gurnet had a right to be
annoyed, so he gave him his head; but he had an uncomfortable feeling
that Dr. Gurnet would make a very thorough use of this concession.
Dr. Gurnet watched Winn silently for a few moments, then he said:
People who don't wish to get well don't get well; but, on the other
hand, it is very rare that people who wish to die die. They merely get
very ill and give everybody a great deal of highly unnecessary
I'm not really seedy yet, Winn said apologetically. I suppose you
couldn't give me any idea of how things are going to goI mean how
long I've he hesitated for a few seconds; he felt as if he'd been
brought up curiously shortI've got to live, he finished firmly.
I can give you some idea, of course, said Dr. Gurnet; but if you
take any more violent or irregular plunges, you may very greatly
shorten your time. Should you insist on remaining in your regiment and
doing your work, you have, I fancy, about two years more before a
complete breakdown. You are a very strong man, and your lung-tissue is
tough. Should you remain here under my care, you will live
indefinitely, but I can hold out no hope of an ultimate recovery. If
you return to England as an invalid, you will most undoubtedly kill
yourself from boredom, though I have a suggestion to make to you which
I hope may prevent this termination to your career. On the whole,
though I fear advice is wasted upon you, I should recommend you to
remain in the army. It is what I should do myself if I were unfortunate
enough to have your temperament while retaining my own brains.
Oh, yes, said Winn, rising to go; of course I sha'n't chuck the
army. I quite see that's the only sensible thing to do.
Pray sit down again, said Dr. Gurnet, blandly, and do not run
away with the idea that I think any course you are likely to pursue
sensible in itself. If you were a sensible man, you would not take
personal disappointment as if it were prussic acid.
It isn't disappointment, he said quickly; it was the only thing
Ah, well, said Dr. Gurnet, Heaven forbid that I should enter into
a controversy with any one who believes in moral finality! Sensible
people compromise, Major Staines; but do not be offended, for I have
every reason to believe that sensible people do not make the best
soldiers. I am asking you to remain for a few minutes further because
there is one other point to which I wish to draw your attention should
you be able to spare me the time?
All right, said Winn, with a short laugh; I've got time enough,
according to you; I've got two years.
Well, yes, said Dr. Gurnet, drawing the tips of his fingers
carefully together. And, Major Staines, according to me you
Winn sat up.
What d' you mean? he asked quickly.
Men in my position, replied Dr. Gurnet, guardedly, have very
interesting little side-lights into the mentality of other nations. I
don't know whether you remember my asking you if you knew German?
Yes, said Winn. It went out of head; but now you speak of it, I
I am delighted, said Dr. Gurnet, blandly, to have reconstructed
your brain-tissue up to that point. I had a certain reason for asking
you this question. I have a good many German patients, some French
ones, and a most excellent Belgian professor has placed himself under
Well, what about it? asked Winn with some sharpness. He had an
idea that this queer fellow before him meant something.
The Germans are an interesting nation, Dr. Gurnet proceeded
without hurrying, and they have a universal hobby. I don't know
whether you have noticed, Major Staines, but a universal hobby is a
very powerful thing. I am sometimes rather sorry that with us it has
wholly taken the form of athletic sports. I dare say you are going to
tell me that with you it is not golf, but polo; even this enlarged idea
does not wholly alter my depression.
With the Germans, you see, the hobby happens to be
man[oe]uversmilitary man[oe]uvers. I understand that this spring
Alsace and Lorraine have taken on the aspect of one gigantic camp. Now,
Belgium, Dr. Gurnet proceeded, tapping Winn's knee with his
fore-finger, is a small, flat, undefended country, and one of my
French patients informs me that the French Government have culpably
neglected their northern line of forts.
I hear from my other friend, the Belgian professor, that three
years ago the Belgian Government ordered big fortress guns from Krupp.
They have not got them yet; but I do not believe Krupp is incapable of
turning out guns. On the contrary, I hear that Krupp has, in a still
shorter time, entirely renovated the artillery of the Austrian army.
Winn leaned forward excitedly.
I say, sir, he exclaimed, you ought to be in the intelligence
God forbid! said Dr. Gurnet, piously. Not that I believe in God,
he added; but I cling to the formulated expletives.
I should be extremely uncomfortable in any office. Besides, I have
my doubts as to the value of intelligence in England. It is so very
rare and so un-English. One suspects occasional un-English qualities
drawn together for government purposes.
I merely mentioned these interesting national traits because I had
an idea, partly that you would respond to them, and partly that they
are going in an exceedingly short time to become manifest to the world
You think we are going to have war? asked Winn, his eyes
sparkling. War! He said the word as if he loved it.
Dr. Gurnet shrugged his shoulders and sighed, and spread out his
rather fat little hands.
Yes, Major Staines, he said dryly, I quite think we are going to
Then I must get back to my regiment as quickly as possible, said
Winn, getting up.
I shouldn't do that if I were you, said Dr. Gurnet. I should
advise your remaining in England for three months, I think you will be
used quicker if you do that. War is unlikely to begin in India, and the
climate is deleterious in the summer months. And might I suggest the
carrying out of a few minor precautions? If you are to live efficiently
for two years, it will be highly necessary for you to carry them out.
Winn turned toward him eagerly.
I'll do any bally thing you tell me to now, he said quickly.
Dr. Gurnet laughed, then he said:
Go back to England, study German, and await your chance. Don't play
any more heavy games, don't lose your temper or try your heart, don't
drink or smoke or play billiards or sit in a room with a shut window.
Take plenty of good plain food and a certain amount of exercise. You
are going to be needed.
Winn drew a deep breath.
It's a funny thing, he said, turning toward the door, but somehow
I believe in you.
Dr. Gurnet shook hands with him cordially.
In a sense, I may say, he observed, in spite of your extremely
disappointing behavior, that I return the compliment. I believe in you,
Major Staines, only Dr. Gurnet finished the rest of the sentence
after the door had shut behind his patient. Unfortunately, I am not
sure if there are quite enough of you.
When the Staineses gave an entertainment it was to mark their
contempt for what more sensitive people might have considered a family
They had given a ball a week from the day on which Dolores ran away
with the groom. A boat-race had been inaugurated upon the occasion on
which Winn lost his lawsuit; and some difficulty (ultimately overcome)
between James and the Admiralty had resulted in a dinner followed by
fireworks on the lawn.
When Winn returned from Davos, Lady Staines decided upon a garden
Good God! cried Sir Peter. Do you mean to tell me I've wasted
that three hundred pounds, Sarah? Sir Peter preferred this form of the
question to Is my boy going to die? He meant precisely the same
As far as I know, Lady Staines replied, nobody ever dies
before causing trouble; they die after it, and add their funeral
expenses to the other inconveniences they have previously arranged for.
Can't you see the boy's marriage has gone to pot?
I wish you wouldn't pick up slang expressions from your sons,
growled Sir Peter. You never hear me speaking in that loose way. Why
haven't they got a home of their own? You would ask them herenurse,
bottles, and baby like a traveling Barnum'sand Winn glares in one
cornerand that little piece of dandelion fluff lies down and grizzles
on the nearest cushionand now you want to have a garden party on the
top of 'em! Anybody'd suppose this was a Seamen's Home from the use you
put it to! And of all damned silly ways of entertaining people, a
garden party's the worse! Who wants to look at other people's gardens
except to find fault with 'em?
Besides, unless you want rain (which we don't with the hay half
down) it's tempting Providence. Nothing'll keep rain off a garden party
except prayers in church during a drought.
What the hell do you expect to gain by it? I know what it all
meansBuns! Bands! high-heeled kick-shaws cutting up my turf! Why the
devil don't you get a Punch and Judy show down and be done with it?
Of course you don't like a garden party, said Lady Staines,
smoothly, nor do I. Do you suppose I care to be strapped tight into
smart stays at my age, and walk about my own gravel paths in purple
satin, listening to drivel about other people's children? We must do
something for the neighborhood sometimes, whether they like it or not.
That's what we're here forit's the responsibility of our position.
Quite absurd, I know, but then, most people's responsibilities are
quite absurd. You have a son and he behaves like a fool. You can leave
him to take the consequences of course if you likeonly as some of
them will devolve on us, it is worth a slight effort to evade them.
For God's sake, spit it out, and have done with it! shouted Sir
Peter. What's the boy done?
Lady Staines sat down opposite her husband and folded her hands in
her lap. She was a woman who always sat perfectly still on the rare
occasions when she was not too busy to sit down at all.
What I hoped would happen, she said, hasn't happened. He's
presumably picked up with some respectable woman.
What do you mean by that? asked Sir Peter. I never knew any one
as cold-bloodedly immoral as you are, Sarah. Did you want the boy to
pick up with a baggage?
Certainly, said Lady Staines. Why not? I have always understood
that the Social Evil was for our protection, but I never believed it.
No woman worth her salt has ever wanted protection. It's men that want
it. They need a class of creature that won't involve them beyond a
certain point, and quite right too. Winn seemed to see this before he
went offbut he didn't keep it in mindhe ran his head into a noose.
Has he talked to you about it? asked Sir Peter, incredulously.
I don't need talk, said Lady Staines. I judge by facts. Winn goes
to church regularly, his temper is execrable, and he takes long walks
by himself. A satisfied man is neither irate nor religiousand has
nothing to walk off. Consequently it's a virtuous attachment. That's
serious, because it will lead to the divorce court. Virtues generally
lead to somebody trying to get out of something.
Pooh! Sir Peter grunted. You've got that out of some damned
French novel. You must have virtue, the place has got to be kept up
somehow, hasn't it? If what you say is trueand I don't for a moment
admit a word of itI don't see how you're going to sugar things over
with a couple of hundred people trampling up my lawn?
Estelle likes people, Lady Staines replied. My idea is to make
her a success. I will introduce her to everybody worth knowing. I'll
get some of our people down from town. They'll hate it, of course; but
they'll be curious to see what's up. Of course they won't see anything.
At the end of the day, if it's all gone off wellI'll have a little
talk with Estelle. I shall tell her first what I think of her; and then
I shall offer to back her if she'll turn over a new leaf. Winn'll do
his part for the sake of the boy, if she meets him half way. I give
religion its duehe wants to do his duty, only he doesn't see what it
is. He must live with his wife. His prayers will come in nicely
Sir Peter chuckled. There's something in your idea, Sarah, he
admitted. But it's a damned expensive process. All my strawberries
will go. And if it rains, everybody'll come into the house and scuttle
over my library like so many rabbits.
I'll keep them out of the library, said Lady Staines, rising, and
I shall want a hundred pounds.
She left the library after a short series of explosions, with a
check for seventy-five. She had only expected fifty.
The garden party was, if not a great success, at least a great
The village was entertained by sports in a field, backed by beer in
tents, and overseen by Winn with the delighted assistance of the
Lady Staines, in stiff purple satin, strode uncomfortably up and
down herbaceous borders, exposing the ignorance of her fellow gardeners
by a series of ruthless questions.
Charles and James, who had put in an intermittent appearance in the
hope of a loan from Sir Peter, did their best to make things go.
Charles had brought down a bull terrier, and the bull terrier brought
down, first one of the donkeys that was to take part in the sports, but
was permanently incapacitated from any further participation either in
sport or labor, then two pet lap dogs, in a couple of sharp shakes on
the lawn, and crowned his career of murder with the stable cat, in an
outhouse where Charles had at last incontinently and a little
inconsiderately, as far as the cat was concerned, flung him.
Isabel and her husband had driven over from a neighboring parish.
Isabel liked garden parties. She made her way at once to a group of
clergy, her husband dangling meekly in her rear; and then told them in
her quarter deck style exactly what she thought ought to be done with
their parishes. Sir Peter remained in the library with the windows open
and his eye upon passing clouds.
Several of his friends joined him, and they talked about Ulster.
Everybody was at this time talking about Ulster.
Most of them spoke of it as people talk of a tidal wave in China.
They did not exactly wish the wave to destroy the whole of China, but
they would all have felt a little annoyed if it had withdrawn without
The Government has been weak, said Sir Peter sternly; as weak as
a soft-boiled egg! What Ireland wants is a firm hand, and if that's not
enough, a swift kick after it! Concession! Who wants concessions? A
sensible man doesn't make concessions unless he's trying to bluff you
into thinking he's got what he hasn't got, or is getting out of you
what he hasn't right to get!
But people oughtn't to import arms. I'll go as far as that! It's
against discipline. Whether it's one side or the other, it ought to be
There'll be a row, of coursea healthy, blood-letting hell of a
row, and we shall all be the better for it! But I don't approve of
firearms being let loose all over the placeit's un-English. It only
shows what the poor devils at Ulster must have suffered, and be afraid
of suffering, to resort to it! That sort of thing is all very well in
the Balkans. My son Winn's been talking about the Balkans latelykind
of thing the army's always getting gas off about! What I say islet
'em fight! They got the Turk down once, all of 'em together, and he was
the only person that could keep 'em in hand. Now I hear Austria wants
to start trouble in Serbia because of that assassination in June. What
they want to make a fuss about assassination in that family for I can't
think! I should look upon it as an hereditary disease and leave it at
that! But don't tell me it's anything to worry about compared to
Ulster. What's the danger of a country that talks thirteen languages,
has no non-commissioned officers, and always gets beat when it fights?
Sarah! Sarah! Get the people in for tea. Can't you see there's a shower
coming? Damn it all! And my second crop of hay's not in yet! That's
what comes of giving garden parties. Of course I'm very glad to see you
all, but you know what I mean. No shilly-shallying with the English
climate's my mottoit's the only dangerous thing we've got!
Lady Staines disregarded this admonition. The light clouds above the
elms puffed idly in the heavy air. It was a hot bright day, murmurous
with bees and the idle, half notes of midsummer birds.
Estelle, in the most diaphanous of blue muslins, held a little court
under a gigantic mulberry tree. She had always intended marriage with a
Staines to be like this.
Winn was nowhere to be seen, and his mother plodded patiently to and
fro across the lawn, bringing a line of distinguished visitors to be
introduced to her.
They were kind, curt people who looked at Estelle rather hard, and
asked her absurd questions about Winn's regiment, Sir Peter's ships,
and her baby. They had no general ideas, but however difficult they
were to talk to, Estelle knew they were the right people to meetshe
had seen their names in magazines. None of her own family were there;
they had all been invited, but Estelle had preferred their remaining at
home. She had once heard Sir Peter refer to her father as Old
Moneybags. He had apologized afterwards, but he might do it again.
Lady Staines was the only person who noticed the arrival of two
telegramsthey were taken to Charles and James, who were at that
moment in the refreshment tent opposite the claret cup. The telegrams
arrived simultaneously, and Charles said, Good Lord! and James said,
My hat! when they read the contents, with every symptom of surprise
I shouldn't have supposed, Lady Staines thought to herself, that
two of my boys would have backed the same horse. It must be a
They put the telegrams rather carefully away, and shortly afterwards
she observed that they had set off together in the direction of the
The long golden twilight drew to a close, the swallows swooped and
circled above the heavy, darkened elms. The flowers in the long
herbaceous borders had a fragile look in the colorless soft air.
The garden party drifted slowly away.
Lady Staines stopped her daughter-in-law going into the house; but
she was destined never to tell her what she thought of her. Estelle
escaped Nemesis by the turn of a hair.
Sir Peter came out of the library prepared to inspect the lawn.
What's up with those boys? he demanded, struck by the unusual sight
of his three sons advancing towards him from the river, their heads
bent in talk, and not apparently quarreling.
Lady Staines followed the direction of his eyes; then she said to
Estelle, You'd better go in now, my dear; I'll talk to you later.
Sir Peter shouted in his stentorian voice an appeal to his sons to
join him. Lady Staines, while she waited, took off her white kid gloves
and her purple bonnet, and deposited them upon the balustrades.
What are you up to, demanded Sir Peter when they came within
earshot, sticking down there by the river with your heads glued
together like a set of damned Guy Fawkesesinstead of saying good-by
to your mother's guestswho haven't had the sense to get under way
before seven o'clockthough I gave 'em a hint to be off an hour ago?
Helping villagers to climb greasy poles, and finishing a sack
race, Charles explained. Lively time Winn's been having down thereI
had no idea our second housemaid was so pretty.
None of that! None of that! said Sir Peter, sharply. You keep to
bar-maids, young Charlesand manicure girls, though there ought to be
an act of Parliament against 'em! Still, I'll admit you can't do much
harm herethree of you together, and your mother on the front
Harm, said James, winking in the direction of his mother; what
can poor chaps like us dohere to-day and gone to-morrowMother'd
better keep her eye on those near home!
Off to-night you might as well say! remarked Charles, glancing at
James with a certain intentness.
Why off to-night? asked Lady Staines. I thought you were staying
over the week-end?
Winn's put us on to something, explained Charles. Awfully good
show, he sayson at the Oxford. Pretty hot stuff and the censor hasn't
smelt it out yetwe rather thought we'd run up to-night and have a
look at it.
Winn stuck his hands in his pockets, set his jaw, and looked at his
mother. Lady Staines was regarding him with steady eyes.
You didn't get a telegram, too? she asked.
No, said Winn. Why should I?
Not likely, said James, genially. Always behindhand in the
Damn these midges! said Charles, hurriedly. James stopped with his
Army, you were going to say, weren't you? asked his mother,
suavely. If you are my sons I must say you make uncommonly poor
Sir Peter, whose attention had wandered to tender places in the
lawn, looked up sharply.
What's that? What's that? he asked. Been telling lies, have they?
A nice way you've brought 'em up, Sarah! What have they been lying
about? A woman? Because if they have, I won't hear a word about it!
Lies about a woman are perfectly correct, though I'm hanged if I can
see how they can all three be lying about one woman. That seems a bit
thick, I must say.
To Sir Peter's surprise, nobody made any reply. Charles yawned,
James whistled, and Winn kept his eyes steadily fixed on Lady Staines.
Those were orders then, Lady Staines observed in a dry quiet
voice. I thought it very likely. I suppose it's Germany. I felt sure
we should have trouble with that excitable young man sooner or later.
He had too good an opinion of himself to be an emperor.
Not Ulster! exclaimed Sir Peter. God bless my soulnot Ulster!
Oh, we can take on Ulster afterwards, said James reassuringly.
Now we'll see what submarines can do; 'member the Japs?
Winn, said Lady Staines, before you're off, say good-by to your
Winn frowned, and then he said, All right, Mother, and left them.
It was a very still evening, the scent of new mown hay and the
mysterious sweetness of the starry white tobacco plant haunted the
Winn found Estelle lying down by the open window. He had not been in
her room for some time. He sat down by the sofa, and fingered the
tassels at her waist.
Is anything the matter? she asked coldly.
He had only himself to thank that she was coldhe knew that. He saw
so plainly now, all the mistakes he'd made, that the ones Estelle had
made, receded into the distance. He'd never been gentle to her. Even
when he thought he loved her, he wasn't really gentle.
Gentleness was superlative kindness, and no woman who had not had
just that sort of kindness from the man she married, could help being
rather nasty. He had owed it to Estelleno matter whether she told him
the truth or not.
Look here, Estelle, he began. I want our boy to go to
It wasn't exactly what he meant to say, but it was something; he had
never called Peter our boy before. Estelle did not notice it.
Of course, I should prefer Eton, she said, but I suppose you will
do as you likeas usual!
Winn dropped the piece of tassel, but he persevered.
I say, he began, don't you think we've got rather off the track?
I know it's not your fault, but your being ill and my being away and
all that? I don't want you to feel sore about it, you know. I want you
to realize that I know I've been rather a beast to you. I don't think
I'm fitted somehow for domestic lifewhat?
Fitted for it! said Estelle, tragically. I have never known one
happy moment with you! You seem incapable of any kind of chivalry! I
never would have believed a man could exist who knew less how to
make a woman happy! It's too late to talk of it all now! I've made my
supreme sacrifice. I've offered up my broken heart! I am living upon a
higher plane! You would never understand anything that wasn't coarse,
brutal, and low! So I shan't explain it to you. I know my duty, but I
don't think after the way you have behaved I really need consider
myself under any obligation to live with you again. Father Anselm
agrees with me.
Winn laughed. Don't you worry about that, he hastened to assure
her, or Father Anselm either; there isn't the least necessityand it
wasn't what I meant.
Estelle looked annoyed. It plainly should have been what Winn meant.
Have as much of the higher plane as you like, he went on, only
look after the boy. I'm off to London to-night, there's probably going
to be some work of a kind that I can do. I mayn't be back directly.
Hope you'll be all right. We can write about plans.
He stood up, hesitating a little. He had an idea that it would make
him feel less strange if she kissed him. Of course it was absurd,
because just to have a woman's arms round his neck wasn't going to be
the least like Claire. But he had a curious feeling that perhaps he
might never be alone with a woman again, and he wanted to part friends
I wonder, he said, leaning towards her, would you mind very much
if I kissed you?
Estelle turned her head away with a little gesture of aversion.
I am sorry, she said. I shall not willingly allow you to kiss me,
but of course you are my husbandI am in your power.
By Jove, said Winn, unexpectedly, what a little cat you are!
They were the last words he ever said to her.
For a time he could do nothing but think of his luckit was
astounding how obstacles had been swept aside for him.
The best he had expected was that in the hurry of things he might
get back to India without a medical examination, in the hope that his
regiment would be used later. But his work at the Staff College had
brought him into notice, a man conveniently died, and Winn appeared at
the right moment.
Within twenty-four hours of his visit to the War Office, he was
attached for staff duty to a British division.
Then work closed over his head. He became a railway time-table, a
lost-luggage office, a registrar, and a store commissioner.
He had the duties of a special Providence thrust upon him, with all
the disadvantages of being readily held accountable, so skilfully
evaded by the higher powers.
Junior officers flew to him for orders as belated ladies fly to
their pin cushions for pins.
He ate when it was distinctly necessary, and slept two hours out of
He left nothing undone which he could do himself; his mind was
unfavorable to chance. The heads of departments listened when he made
suggestions, and found it convenient to answer with accuracy his sudden
Subordinates hurried to obey his infrequent but final orders; and
when Winn said, I think you'd find it better, people found it better.
The division slipped off like cream, without impediment or hitch.
There were no delays, the men acquired their kit, and found their
The trains swept in velvet softness out of the darkened London
station through the sweet, quiet, summer night into a sleepless
Folkestone. The division went straight onto the right transports; there
wasn't a man, a horse, or a gun out of place.
Winn heaved a sigh of relief as he stepped on board; his troubles as
a staff officer had only just begun, but they had begun as troubles
should always begin, by being adequately met. There were no arrears.
He did not think of Claire until he stood on deck and saw the lights
receding and the shadow that was England passing out of his sight.
He remembered her then with a little pang of joyfor suddenly he
knew that he was free to think of her.
He had thought of her before as a man registers a fact that is
always present to him, but in the interval since he had seen her his
consciousness of her had been increasingly troubled.
Now the trouble was fading, as England faded, as his old life was
He had a sense that he was finally freed. It was not like seeing
Claire again, but it was like not having to see anything else.
Until I'm dead I'm hers, and after I'm dead I'm hers, so that's all
right, he said to himself. I haven't got to muddle things up any
The sea lay around them at dawn like a sheet of pearlit was very
empty but for the gulls' wings beating to and fro out of the mist.
Winn had lived through many campaigns. He had known rough jungle
tussles in mud swamps, maddened by insects, thirst, and fever; he had
fought in colder, cleaner dangers down the Khyber Pass, and he had gone
through the episodic scientific flurries of South Africa; but France
disconcerted him; he had never started a campaign before in a country
like a garden, met by welcoming populations, with flowers and fruit.
It made him feel sick. The other places were the proper ones for
It was not his way to think of what lay before him. It would, like
all great emergencies, like all great calamities, keep to its moment,
and settle itself. Nevertheless he could not free his mind from the
presence of the villagesthe pleasant, smiling villages, the little
church towers in the middle, the cobbled streets, the steep-pitched,
gray roofs and the white sunny walls.
Carnations and geraniums filled the windows, and all the
inhabitants, the solid, bright-faced people, had a greeting for their
Voilà quelque choses des solides, ces Anglais! the women called to
Winn found himself shrinking from their welcoming eyes. He thought
he hadn't had enough sleep, because as a rule a Staines did not shrink;
but when he slept in the corner of the hot jolting railway train, he
dreamed of the villages.
They were to attack directly they arrived at their destination. By
the time they reached there, Winn knew more. He had gathered up the
hastily flung messages by telegram and telephone, by flying cars and
from breathless despatch riders, and he knew what they meant.
They had no chance, from the first, not a ghost of a chance. They
were to hold on as long as they could, and then retreat. Part of the
line had gone already. The French had gone. No reinforcements were
coming up. There were no reinforcements.
They were to retreat turn and turn about; meantime they must hold.
They could hear the guns now, the bright harvest fields trembled a
little under the impact of these alien presences.
They came nearer and the sky filled with white puffs of smoke that
looked like glittering sunset clouds, and were not clouds. Overhead the
birds sang incessantly, undisturbed even by the occasional drilling of
In the plains that lay beneath them, they could see the dim blue
lines of the enemy debouching.
They made Winn think of locusts. He had seen a plague once in Egypt.
They came on like the Germans, a gray mass that never brokethat could
not break, because behind it there were more, and still more locusts,
thick as clouds, impenetrable as clouds.
You killed and killed and killed, and yet there were more clouds.
Every now and then it ran through his mind like a flame, that they
would spread this loathsome, defiling cloud over the smiling little
villages of France.
Fortunately there was no time for pity; there were merely the
different ways of meeting the question of holding on.
It was like an attempt to keep back a tide with a teaspoon.
Their guns did what they could, they did more than it seemed
possible guns could do. The men in control of them worked like maniacs.
It was not a time to think of what people could do. The men were
falling like leaves off a tree.
The skylarks and the swallows vanished before the villainous
occupation of the air. The infantry in the loosely built trenches held
on, breathless, broken, like a battered boat in a hurricane, stout
against the oncoming waves.
The stars came out and night fellnight rent and tortured, darkness
assaulted and broken by a myriad new lights of death, but still
merciful, reassuring darkness. The moment for the retreat had come.
It was a never-ending business, a stumbling, bewildering business.
The guns roared on, holding open indefatigably, without cessation, the
way of their escape.
Much later they got away themselves, dashing blindly in the wake of
their exhausted little army, ready to turn at command and hold again,
and escape again, and once more hold the unending blue lines, with
their unnumbered guns, unwinding like an endless serpent in their rear.
The morning showed them still retreating. Sometimes they were miles
ahead and could see nothing but the strangely different barred and
shivering villages, small settlements of terror, in an untroubled land.
There were no flowers flung upon them now, only hurried gasping
questions, Are they coming? How far are they behind you?
Sometimes they were halted for half an hour at a time, and sat in
hedges and ate, or meant to eat, and slept between the bites.
Occasionally they surprised small bands of wandering Uhlans, and if
there was time took them prisoners, and if there was no time, shot them
in rows against white walls.
Once they met a troop out of one of their own divisions, led by a
solitary subaltern of nineteen, with queer fixed eyes, who didn't know
who he was. All he could say, I brought them out.
Despatch riders hurled themselves upon the Staff with orders; very
often they had conflicting orders; and they always had dust, trouble
with horses, trouble with motor ambulances, trouble with transport.
Enraged heroic surgeons achieving hourly physical miracles, implored
with tears to be given impossible things like time. Of course they
couldn't have time.
Then in the midst of chaos, orders would come to hold. The guns
unlimbered, the transports tore madly ahead. Everything that could be
cleared off down the road was cleared off, more rough trenches were
dug, more hot and sullen hours of waiting followed, and then once more
the noise, the helpless slaughter, the steady dogged line gripping the
shallow earth, and the unnumbered horde of locusts came on again,
eating up the fields of France.
Sometimes whole regiments entrained under the care of fatherly
French railway officials, curiously liable to hysteria on ordinary
excursion days, but now as calm as Egyptian Pyramids in the face of
national disaster. They pieced together with marvelous ingenuity the
broken thread of speech presented to them by the occasional French
scholars upon the British Staff; but more often still they shook polite
and emphatic heads, and explained that there quite simply were no
trains. The possible, yes; but the impossible, no. One could not create
trains. So the men went on marching. They did not like retreating, but
they moved as if they were on parade in front of Buckingham Palace, and
when they held, they fought as winners fight.
It was not until they reached the Marne that Winn found time to
write to Claire. We are getting on very nicely, he wrote. I hope you
are not worrying about us. We have plenty to eat, though we have to
take our meals a little hurriedly.
There is a good deal of work to do.
This war is the best thing that ever happened to mebar one.
Before I came out I thought I should go to pieces. I feel quite free to
write to you now. I do not think there can be any harm in it, so I hope
you won't mind. If things do not seem to be going very well with us at
first, remember that they never do.
Every campaign I ever went in for, we were short-handed to start
with, and had to fight against odds, which doesn't matter really if you
have the right men, but always takes longer and looks discouraging to
outsiders. The men are very good and I am glad the War Office let me
commandeer the boots I wantedthe kind they offered me at first
wouldn't have done at all for this sort of work. It is rather hard not
being with the men more, but the work is very absorbing, so I do not
mind as much as I did.
I think the regiment will come out later, and they have promised to
let me go back into it. I am sorry about the villages. It's a pity the
Germans slopped over into France at all. I found two Uhlans yesterday
in a farmyard; they had been behaving badly, so I did them both in.
One very seldom sees any of them, worse luck.
I hope you are taking great care of yourself and not worrying. Your
In the weeks that followed, Claire got many letters. They were short
letters, written in flying motors, in trains, in outhouses, in romantic
châteaux; but they all began in the same reassuring way. I am very
well, and we are getting on quite nicely.
The Allied line was being flung out in wild curves and swoops like
the flight of a dove before a hawk; from Soissons up toward Calais they
fenced and circled.
They retook Rheims, they seized Amiens. Lille fell from them and
The battle of the Aisne passed by slow degrees out of their hands,
and the English found themselves fighting their extraordinary first
fight for Ypres. They stood between the Germans and the Channel ports
as thinly as a Japanese screen, between England and the Atlantic. The
very camp cooks were in the trenches.
Time fled like a long thunderous hour. It was a storm that flashed
and fell and returned again.
Winn was beginning to feel tired now. He hardly slept at night, and
by day his brain moved as if it were made of red-hot steel, flying
rapidly from expedient to expedient, facing the hourly problems of that
wild and wet October, how to keep men alive who never rested, who were
too few, who took the place of guns. He wrote more seldom now, and once
he said, We are having rather a hard time, but we shall get through
Fortunately all Englishmen are born with a curious pioneer instinct,
and being the least adaptable people in the world, they have learned
the more readily to adapt the changes of the hour.
They remade their external world, out of this new warfare.
They remade it at the cost of their lives in Flanders, in the face
of incredulous enemies and criticizing neutrals, painstakingly, without
science, doggedly out of their own wills. They held Ypres by a thread,
and when it seemed that nothing could keep it, one cold and dreadful
day along the Menin road came up their reinforcements.
First one group and then another of tall, dark people, silent footed
as falling leaves, turbaned black faces, eyes of appalling and
unearthly gravity, hearts half like a rock and half like a child, alien
captive people of another blood, took their place silently, regiment by
regiment blocking up the dreadful gaps with their guns, their rifles,
and the free gift of their lives.
Lionel has come, Winn wrote, and all my men. I never was so glad
of anything, but you. Send me all the warm things you can. The winter
will be quite jolly now when the men get used to the trenches. It's a
funny thing, but they've given me command of the regiment. I hadn't
expected it, but I've always liked handling Sikhs. Whatever happens,
you'll remember that I've been an awfully lucky chap, won't you?
Lionel and Winn talked of the regiment and the war; these two things
filled the exacting hours. In a world a very long way off and in the
depths of their hearts were England and Claire.
They spent three weeks in the trenches, blackened and water clogged
It was the darkest time of a dark December, the water was up to
their waists, there was no draining the treacherous clay surfaces. The
men suffered to the limit of their vitality and sometimes passed it;
they needed constant care and watching. It had to be explained to them
that they were not required to give up their lives to spirits, in a
land that worshiped idols. Behind the strange lights and noises
heralding death there were solid people who ate sausages, and could be
One or two small parties led in night attacks overcame the worst of
Later on when the mud dried they could kill more; in the end all
would be killed, and they would return with much honor to their land of
To the officers who moved among them, absorbed in the questions of
their care, there was never any silence or peace, and yet there was a
strange content in the huddled, altered life of their wet ditch.
Every power of the will, every nerve of the body, was being
definitely used. Winn and Lionel felt a strange mood of exultation.
They pushed back difficulties and pierced insoluble problems with
prompt escapes. Only from time to time casualties dropped in upon them
grimly, impervious to human ingenuity.
In the quieter hours of the night, they crouched side by side
formulating fresh schemes and going over one by one the weak points of
They hadn't enough guns, or any reinforcements; they had no dry
clothes. The men were not accustomed to wet climates or invisible
They wanted more sand-bags and more bombs, and it would be better
for human beings not to be in trenches for three weeks at a time in the
They sat there pitting their brains against these obstacles,
creating the miraculous ingenuity of war. Personal questions dropped.
Lionel saw that Winn was ill beyond mending, but he saw it without
definite thoughtit was one more obstacle in a race of obstacles. It
wouldn't do for Winn to break down. He fitted himself without
explanations, selflessly, with magnificent disinterestedness, into his
friend's needs. He was like a staff in the hand of a blind man.
Winn himself had begun to wonder, moving about in his sea of mud,
how much worse you could be before you were actually done. His cough
shook him incessantly, his brain burned, and his hands were curiously
weak. He was conscious that he had to repeat to himself all day long
the things he had to do; even then he might have forgotten if there had
not been Lionel. He might have forgotten to give orders. In spite of
everything a strange inner bliss possessed him which nourished him like
food. He had Claire's letters, they never failed him, they were as
regular as the beats of a heart. Something in him lived that had never
lived before, something that did not seem likely ever to die.
It was helping him as Lionel was helping him to get through things.
What he had to get through was dying. It was going to be quicker than
the way they had of dying in Davos, but it mightn't be quick enough; it
might drive him out of his last fight, back to an inconceivable stale
This must not happen. Lionel must live and he must die, where he
was. You could bully fate, if you were prepared to pay the price for
Winn was not sure yet what the price would be, he was only sure that
he was prepared to pay it.
They were to be relieved next day. The men were so worn out that
they could hardly move. Winn and Lionel found their own bodies
difficult to control; they had become heavy and inert from want of
sleep, but their minds were alive and worked with feverish swiftness,
like the minds of people in a long illness, when consciousness creeps
above the level of pain.
Winn had just returned from his evening round of the trenches.
Lionel was resting in his dug-out; he heard Winn's approach. Winn was
coughing againa little choking, short cough.
He bent double and crouched down beside Lionel without speaking.
Well, said Lionel, to-morrow we'll be out of this. About time
toowith that cough of yours.
Winn was silent for a moment, then he said, I suppose you know I'm
Lionel bowed his head. Yes, he muttered, I suppose I know it.
After a pause Winn began again.
There isn't much good talking, of course. On the other hand, you
may as well know what I feel. I've had tremendous luck in one way and
another. I never expected to get the regiment, for instanceand your
coming out here and all that. I've seen how jolly things could be.
You haven't had them, said Lionel in a low voice. The things you
wanted most, I mean. Your pitch was queered too soon.
I don't know, said Winn, painstakingly. In a sense, of course,
you haven't had things if you've only seen 'em. Still when you come to
think of it, you partly have. Look at the Germans; we've worked
considerably into them without seeing 'em, haven't we? What I mean is
that I appreciate goodness now; I see its point. Not that I'd have kept
clear a moment by myself. I hope you quite understand that? I've been a
blackguard and I'd have been a worse one if I'd had the chance. But I'm
glad I hadn't the chance now. I don't know that I'm putting the thing
straightbut you know what she's like? Thank God I couldn't alter
They listened for a moment to the night. Their ears were always
awake, registering sounds from the sodden, death-ridden fields beneath
them, and above, but they heard nothing beyond the drip of the rain, an
occasional groan from a man tortured by rheumatism, and the long-drawn
scream of a distant shell.
You can call yourself what you like, said Lionel at last. I know
what you are, that's enough for me, and she knew it; that's one reason
I got to caring for her.
I dare say that seems a rummy thing to you, to care for a woman
because she cares for another man. But it's a fact.
Winn moved uneasily. Then he said abruptly, Look here, young 'un, I
was wrong before when I asked you to step in instead of me, but I'm not
wrong now. You can take it from me she'll marry you in the end. She's
young; be patient. I dare say she'll think for a time she's had enough,
but she hasn't. There's no good living a lonely life. We may both get
done in, of course. But I don't fancy we shall. I want you to promise
me not to get killed if you can help it.
Keep away from me if you think I'm getting into trouble, because I
sha'n't be getting into trouble, I shall be getting out of it, d'you
The guns sounded nearer, a machine gun rattled sharply in their
ears, as if it had been let off in their dug-out.
I sha'n't care for anybody else, said Lionel, quietly, and I
shall wait all my life for her. As for not being killedyou don't want
me to shirk my job, of course; bar that, I sha'n't ask for trouble.
Winn said, All rightthen that's that! I'm going to sleep.
They neither of them slept.
It came very quickly and confusedly toward dawn. The silence was
rent across like a piece of torn silk. The crash of bombs, the peppery,
sharp detonation of rifles broke up the sullen air. Out of the dark,
vague shapes loomed, the trench filled with the sound of deep breathing
and scuffling, and the shriek of sudden pain.
Death and mud and darkness closed together.
It was all over in half an hour, the attack was driven out, and the
men moved uncertainly about, trying to discover their dead, and relieve
The dawn was gray and in the half light, Winn saw Lionel's eyes open
and shut; the blood was pouring from a hideous wound in his side.
You've got to live, Winn said grimly, bending over him. No damned
nonsense about it! You've got to live. Lionel's eyes closed again and
he knew nothing more of the rough bandaging, the endless waiting in the
sodden trench while Winn sat motionless beside him, watching his
flickering breath. In the hours of the interminable journey, Lionel
roused himself sometimes and heard again like a perpetual refrain,
You've got to live. The motor ambulance jarred and bumped it, the
wheels of the train echoed it through the fever in his brain. He woke
in England knowing that he was going to live.
[Illustration: You've got to live, said Winn, bending grimly over
him; You've got to live!]
A few hours later Winn went to see the general of his division. I
want you to let me have another twenty-four in, sir, he explained.
They won't expect an attack so soon. I know my men are not very fresh,
but it'll wake them up. They've stood a good lot. I've been talking to
'em. They want to get a bit of their own back. That trench of theirs is
too near us in any case. They'd be better pushed back.
The general hesitated, but Winn's fiery sunken eyes held and shook
Well, Staines, he said, you know what you can do with your men,
of course. Have it your own way. When do you want to attack?
Soon as they've settled off to sleep, said Winn, just to give 'em
Don't lose too many men, said the general, and above all come
That's as may be, said Winn. If I can get the men over quietly in
a bit of mist, I sha'n't lose too many of 'em. I've told them if
they're too fagged to stand, they'd better fight. They quite agree
Winn led the attack with the last of his strength, and in the
fierceness of his rage with life.
A white fog hung over the fields like the shadow of a valley filled
The men fought like demonsstrange shapes in the fog, with here and
there as the flames shot up, the flash of their black faces, set to
Winn's voice rallied and held them above the racket of the spitting
rifles, and the incessant coughing of the guns. It was the Staines
voice let out on a last voyage. To have gone back against it would have
been more dangerous than to go on against the guns.
They seized the trench and held it, there were no prisoners taken in
the dark, and after the first light they ceased to hear Winn's voice.
The sun came out and showed them all they had won, and what they had
Winn lay peacefully between the old trench and the new, beyond
resentment, beyond confusion, in the direct simplicity of death.