by Mrs. Humprey Ward
BY MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
AUTHOR OF LADY ROSE'S DAUGHTER, MISSING, ELIZABETH'S CAMPAIGN,
“I don't care a hang about the Middle Classes!” said Lord
Buntingford, resting his head on his hand, and slowly drawing a pen
over a printed sheet that lay before him. The sheet was headed “Middle
Class Defence League,” and was an appeal to whom it might concern to
join the founders of the League in an attempt to curb the growing
rapacity of the working-classes. “Why should we be snuffed out without
a struggle?” said the circular. “We are fewer, no doubt, but we are
better educated. Our home traditions are infinitely superior. It is on
the Middle Classes that the greatness of England depends.”
“Does it?” thought Lord Buntingford irritably. “I wonder.”
He rose and began to pace his library, a shabby comfortable room
which he loved. The room however had distinction like its master. The
distinction came, perhaps, from its few pictures, of no great value,
but witnessing to a certain taste and knowledge on the part of the
persons, long since dead, who hung them there; from one or two cases of
old Nankin; from its old books; and from a faded but enchanting piece
of tapestry behind the cases of china, which seemed to represent a
forest. The tapestry, which covered the whole of the end wall of the
room, was faded and out of repair, but Lord Buntingford, who was a
person of artistic sensibilities, was very fond of it, and had never
been able to make up his mind to spare it long enough to have it sent
to the School of Art Needlework for mending. His cousin, Lady Cynthia
Welwyn, scolded him periodically for his negligence in the matter. But
after all it was he, and not Cynthia, who had to live in the room. She
had something to do with the School, and of course wanted jobs for her
“I hope that good woman's train will be punctual,” he thought to
himself, presently, as he went to a window and drew up a blind.
“Otherwise I shall have no time to look at her before Helena arrives.”
He stood awhile absently surveying the prospect outside. There was
first of all a garden with some pleasant terraces, and flights of stone
steps, planned originally in the grand style, but now rather
dilapidated and ill-kept, suggesting either a general shortage of pelf
on the part of the owner—or perhaps mere neglect and indifference.
Beyond the garden stretched a green rim of park, with a gleam of
water in the middle distance which seemed to mean either a river or a
pond, many fine scattered trees, and, girdling the whole, a line of
wooded hill. Just such a view as any county—almost—in this beautiful
England can produce. It was one of the first warm days of a belated
spring. A fortnight before, park and hills and garden had been deep in
snow. Now Nature, eager, and one might think ashamed, was rushing at
her neglected work, determined to set the full spring going in a
minimum of hours. The grass seemed to be growing, and the trees leafing
under the spectator's eyes. There was already a din of cuckoos in the
park, and the nesting birds were busy.
The scene was both familiar and unfamiliar to Lord Buntingford. He
had been brought up in it as a child. But he had only inherited the
Beechmark property from his uncle just before the war, and during
almost the whole of the war he had been so hard at work, as a volunteer
in the Admiralty, that he had never been able to do more than run down
once or twice a year to see his agent, go over his home farm, and
settle what timber was to be cut before the Government commandeered it.
He was not yet demobilized, as his naval uniform showed. There was a
good deal of work still to do in his particular office, and he was more
than willing to do it. But in a few months' time at any rate—he was
just now taking a fortnight's leave—he would be once more at a loose
end. That condition of things must be altered as soon as possible. When
he looked back over the years of driving work through which he had just
passed to the years of semi-occupation before them, he shrank from
those old conditions in disgust. Something must be found to which he
could enslave himself again. Liberty was the great delusion—at least
Politics?—Well, there was the House of Lords, and the possibility
of some minor office, when his Admiralty work was done. And the whole
post-war situation was only too breathless. But for a man who, as soon
as he had said Yes, was immediately seized with an insensate desire to
look once more at all the reasons which might have induced him to say
No, there was no great temptation in politics. Work was what the nation
Agriculture and the Simple Life?—Hardly! Five years of life in
London, four of them under war conditions, had spoilt any taste for the
country he had ever possessed. He meant to do his duty by his estate,
and by the miscellaneous crowd of people, returned soldiers and others,
who seemed to wish to settle upon it. But to take the plunge seriously,
to go in heart and soul for intensive culture or scientific
dairy-farming, to spend lonely winters in the country with his bailiffs
and tenants for company—it was no good talking about it—he knew it
could not be done.
And—finally—what was the good of making plans at all?—with these
new responsibilities which friendship and pity and weakness of will had
lately led him to take upon himself?—For two years at least he would
not be able to plan his life in complete freedom.
His thoughts went dismally off in the new direction. As he turned
away from the window, a long Venetian mirror close by reflected the
image of a tall man in naval uniform, with a head and face that were
striking rather than handsome—black curly hair just dusted with grey,
a slight chronic frown, remarkable blue eyes and a short silky beard.
His legs were slender in proportion to the breadth of his shoulders,
and inadequate in relation to the dignity of the head. One of them also
was slightly—very slightly—lame.
He wandered restlessly round the room again, stopping every now and
then with his hands in his pockets, to look at the books on the
shelves. Generally, he did not take in what he was looking at, but in a
moment less absent-minded than others, he happened to notice the name
of a stately octavo volume just opposite his eyes—
“Davison, on Prophecy.”
“Damn Davison!”—he said to himself, with sudden temper. The
outburst seemed to clear his mind. He went to the bell and rang it. A
thin woman in a black dress appeared, a woman with a depressed and
deprecating expression which was often annoying to Lord Buntingford. It
represented somehow an appeal to the sentiment of the spectator for
which there was really no sufficient ground. Mrs. Mawson was not a
widow, in spite of the Mrs. She was a well-paid and perfectly healthy
person; and there was no reason, in Lord Buntingford's view, why she
should not enjoy life. All the same, she was very efficient and made
him comfortable. He would have raised her wages to preposterous heights
to keep her.
“Is everything ready for the two ladies, Mrs. Mawson?”
“Everything, my Lord. We are expecting the pony-cart directly.”
“And the car has been ordered for Miss Pitstone?”
“Oh, yes, my Lord, long ago.”
“Gracious! Isn't that the cart!”
There was certainly a sound of wheels outside. Lord Buntingford
hurried to a window which commanded the drive.
“That's her! I must go and meet her.”
He went into the hall, reaching the front door just as the pony-cart
drew up with a lady in black sitting beside the driver. Mrs. Mawson
looked after him. She wondered why his lordship was in such a flurry.
“It's this living alone. He isn't used to have women about. And it's a
pity he didn't stay on as he was.”
Meanwhile the lady in the pony-cart, as she alighted, saw a tall
man, of somewhat remarkable appearance, standing on the steps of the
porch. Her expectations had been modest; and that she would be welcomed
by her employer in person on the doorstep of Beechmark had not been
among them. Her face flushed, and a pair of timid eyes met those of
Lord Buntingford as they shook hands.
“The train was very late,” she explained in a voice of apology.
“They always are,” said Lord Buntingford. “Never mind. You are in
quite good time. Miss Pitstone hasn't arrived. Norris, take Mrs.
Friend's luggage upstairs.”
An ancient man-servant appeared. The small and delicately built lady
on the step looked at him appealingly.
“I am afraid there is a box besides,” she said, like one confessing
a crime. “Not a big one—” she added hurriedly. “We had to leave it at
the station. The groom left word for it to be brought later.”
“Of course. The car will bring it,” said Lord Buntingford. “Only one
box and those bags?” he asked, smiling. “Why, that's most moderate.
Please come in.”
And he led the way to the drawing-room. Reassured by his kind voice
and manner, Mrs. Friend tripped after him. “What a charming man!” she
It was a common generalization about Lord Buntingford. Mrs. Friend
had still—like others—to discover that it did not take one very far.
In the drawing-room, which was hung with French engravings mostly
after Watteau, and boasted a faded Aubusson carpet, a tea-table was set
out. Lord Buntingford, having pushed forward a seat for his guest, went
towards the tea-table, and then thought better of it.
“Perhaps you'll pour out tea—” he said pleasantly. “It'll be your
function, I think—and I always forget something.”
Mrs. Friend took her seat obediently in front of the tea-table and
the Georgian silver upon it, which had a look of age and frailty as
though generations of butlers had rubbed it to the bone, and did her
best not to show the nervousness she felt. She was very anxious to
please her new employer.
“I suppose Miss Pitstone will be here before long?” she ventured,
when she had supplied both the master of the house and herself.
“Twenty minutes—” said Lord Buntingford, looking at his watch.
“Time enough for me to tell you a little more about her than I expect
And again his smile put her at ease.
She bent forward, clasping her small hands.
“Please do! It would be a great help.”
He noticed the delicacy of the hands, and of her slender body. The
face attracted him—its small neat features, and brown eyes. Clearly a
lady—that was something.
“Well, I shouldn't wonder—if you found her a handful,” he said
Mrs. Friend laughed—a little nervous laugh.
“Is she—is she very advanced?”
“Uncommonly—I believe. I may as well tell you candidly she didn't
want to come here at all. She wanted to go to college. But her mother,
who was a favourite cousin of mine, wished it. She died last autumn;
and Helena promised her that she would allow me to house her and look
after her for two years. But she regards it as a dreadful waste of
“I think—in your letter—you said I was to help her—in modern
languages—” murmured Mrs. Friend.
Lord Buntingford shrugged his shoulders—
“I have no doubt you could help her in a great many things. Young
people, who know her better than I do, say she's very clever. But her
mother and she were always wandering about—before the war—for her
mother's health. I don't believe she's been properly educated in
anything. Of course one can't expect a girl of nineteen to behave like
a schoolgirl. If you can induce her to take up some serious
reading—Oh, I don't mean anything tremendous!—and to keep up her
music—-I expect that's all her poor mother would have wanted. When we
go up to town you must take her to concerts—the opera—that kind of
thing. I dare say it will go all right!” But the tone was one of
resignation, rather than certainty.
“I'll do my best—” began Mrs. Friend.
“I'm sure you will. But—well, we'd better be frank with each other.
Helena's very handsome—very self-willed—and a good bit of an heiress.
The difficulty will be—quite candidly—lovers!”
They both laughed. Lord Buntingford took out his cigarette case.
“You don't mind if I smoke?”
“Not at all.”
“Won't you have one yourself?” He held out the case. Mrs. Friend did
not smoke. But she inwardly compared the gesture and the man with the
forbidding figure of the old woman in Lancaster Gate with whom she had
just completed two years of solitary imprisonment, and some
much-baffled vitality in her began to revive.
Lord Buntingford threw himself back in his arm-chair, and watched
the curls of smoke for a short space—apparently in meditation.
“Of course it's no good trying the old kind of thing—strict
chaperonage and that sort of business,” he said at last. “The modern
girl won't stand it.”
“No, indeed she won't!” said Mrs. Friend fervently. “I should like
to tell you—I've just come from ——” She named a university. “I went
to see a cousin of mine, who's in one of the colleges there. She's
going to teach. She went up just before the war. Then she left to do
some war work, and now she's back again. She says nobody knows what to
do with the girls. All the old rules have just—gone!” The
gesture of the small hand was expressive. “Authority—means nothing.
The girls are entering for the sports—just like the men. They want to
run the colleges—as they please—and make all the rules themselves.”
“Oh, I know—” broke in her companion. “They'll just allow the
wretched teachers and professors to teach—what their majesties choose
to learn. Otherwise—they run the show.”
“Of course, they're awfully nice girls—most of them,” said
Mrs. Friend, with a little, puzzled wrinkling of the brow.
“Ripping! Done splendid war work and all that. But the older
generation, now that things have begun again, are jolly well up a
tree—how to fit the new to the old. I have some elderly relations at
Oxbridge—a nice old professor and his wife. Not stick-in-the-muds at
all. But they tell me the world there—where the young women are
concerned—seems to be standing on its head. Well!—as far as I can
gather—I really know her very slightly—my little cousin Helena's in
just the same sort of stage. All we people over forty might as well
make our wills and have done with it. They'll soon discover some kind
device for putting us out of the way. They've no use for us. And yet at
the same time”—he flung his cigarette into the wood-fire beside
him—“the fathers and mothers who brought them into the world will
insist on clucking after them, or if they can't cluck themselves,
making other people cluck. I shall have to try and cluck after Helena.
It's absurd, and I shan't succeed, of course—how could I? But as I
told you, her mother was a dear woman—and—”
His sentence stopped abruptly. Mrs. Friend thought—“he was in love
with her.” However, she got no further light on the matter. Lord
Buntingford rose, and lit another cigarette.
“I must go and write a letter before post. Well, you see, you and I
have got to do our best. Of course, you mustn't try and run her on a
tight rein—you'd be thrown before you were out of the first field—“
His blue eyes smiled down upon the little stranger lady. “And you
mustn't spy upon her. But if you're really in difficulties, come to me.
We'll make out, somehow. And now, she'll be here in a few minutes.
Would you like to stay here—or shall I ring for the housemaid to show
you your room?”
“Thank you—I—think I'll stay here. Can I find a book?”
She looked round shyly.
“Scores. There are some new books”—he pointed to a side-table where
the obvious contents of a Mudie box, with some magazines, were laid
out—“and if you want old ones, that door”—he waved towards one at the
far end of the room—“will take you into the library. My
great-grandfather's collection—not mine! And then one has ridiculous
scruples about burning them! However, you'll find a few nice ones.
Please make yourself at home!” And with a slight bow to her, the first
sign in him of those manners of the grand seigneur she had
vaguely expected, he was moving away, when she said hurriedly, pursuing
her own thought:
“You said Miss Pitstone was very good-looking?”
“Oh, very!” He laughed. “She's exactly like Romney's Lady Hamilton.
You know the type?”
“Ye-es,” said Mrs. Friend. “I think I remember—before the war—at
Agnew's? My husband took me there once.” The tone was hesitating. The
little lady was clearly not learned in English art. But Lord
Buntingford liked her the better for not pretending.
“Of course. There's always an Emma, when Old Masters are on show.
Romney painted her forty or fifty times. We've got one ourselves—a
sketch my grandfather bought. If you'll come into the hall I'll show it
She followed obediently and, in a rather dark corner of the hall,
Lord Buntingford pointed out an unfinished sketch of Lady Hamilton—one
of the many Bacchante variants—the brown head bent a little under the
ivy leaves in the hair, the glorious laughing eyes challenging the
“Is she like that?” asked Mrs. Friend, wondering.
“Who?—my ward?” laughed Lord Buntingford. “Well, you'll see.”
He walked away, and Mrs. Friend stayed a few minutes more in front
of the picture—thinking—and with half an ear listening for the sound
of a motor. She was full of tremors and depression. “I was a fool to
come—a fool to accept!” she thought. The astonishing force of the
sketch—of the creature sketched—intimidated her. If Helena Pitstone
were really like that—“How can she ever put up with me? She'll just
despise me. It will be only natural. And then if things go wrong, Lord
Buntingford will find out I'm no good—and I shall have to go!”
She gave a long sigh, lifting her eyes a little—against her
will—to the reflection of herself in an old mirror hanging beside the
Romney. What a poor little insignificant figure—beside the other! No,
she had no confidence in herself—none at all—she never had had. The
people she had lived with had indeed generally been fond of her. It was
because she made herself useful to them. Old Mrs. Browne had professed
affection for her,—till she gave notice. She turned with a shiver from
the recollection of an odious scene.
She went bade to the drawing-room and thence to the library, looking
wistfully, as she passed through it, at the pleasant hall, with its old
furniture, and its mellowed comfort. She would like to find a home
here, if only they would put up with her. For she was very homeless.
As compared with the drawing-room, the library had been evidently
lived in. Its books and shabby chairs seemed to welcome her, and the
old tapestry delighted her. She stood some minutes before it in a quiet
pleasure, dreaming herself into the forest, and discovering an old
castle in its depths. Then she noticed a portrait of an old man,
labelled as by “Frank Holl, R. A.,” hanging over the mantelpiece. She
supposed it was the grandfather who had collected the books. The face
and hair of the old man had blanched indeed to a singular whiteness;
but the eyes, blue under strong eyebrows, with their concentrated look,
were the eyes of the Lord Buntingford with whom she had just been
The hoot of a motor startled her, and she ran to a window which
commanded the drive. An open car was rapidly approaching. A girl was
driving it, with a man in chauffeur's uniform sitting behind her. She
brought the car smartly up to the door, then instantly jumped out,
lifted the bonnet, and stood with the chauffeur at her side, eagerly
talking to him and pointing to something in the chassis. Mrs. Friend
saw Lord Buntingford run down the steps to greet his ward. She gave him
a smile and a left hand, and went on talking. Lord Buntingford stood
by, twisting his moustache, till she had finished. Then the chauffeur,
looking flushed and sulky, got into the car, and the girl with Lord
Buntingford ascended the steps. Mrs. Friend left the window, and
hurriedly went back to the drawing-room, where tea was still spread.
Through the drawing-room door she heard a voice from the hall full of
“You ought to sack that man, Cousin Philip. He's spoiling that
beautiful car of yours.”
“Is he? He suits me. Have you been scolding him all the way?”
“Well, I told him a few things—in your interest.” Lord Buntingford
laughed. A few words followed in lowered tones.
“He is telling her about me,” thought Mrs. Friend, and presently
caught a chuckle, very merry and musical, which brought an involuntary
smile to her own eyes. Then the door was thrown back, and Lord
Buntingford ushered in his ward.
“This is Mrs. Friend, Helena. She arrived just before you did.”
The girl advanced with sudden gravity and offered her hand. Mrs.
Friend was conscious that the eyes behind the hand were looking her all
Certainly a dazzling creature!—with the ripe red and white, the
astonishing eyes, and brown hair, touched with auburn, of the Romney
sketch. The beautiful head was set off by a khaki close cap, carrying a
badge, and the khaki uniform, tunic, short skirt, and leggings, might
have been specially designed to show the health and symmetry of the
girl's young form. She seemed to walk on air, and her presence
transformed the quiet old room.
“I want some tea badly,” said Miss Pitstone, throwing herself into a
chair, “and so would you, Cousin Philip, if you had been battling with
four grubby children and an idiot mother all the way from London. They
made me play 'beasts' with them. I didn't mind that, because my roaring
frightened them. But then they turned me into a fish, and fished for me
with the family umbrellas. I had distinctly the worst of it.” And she
took off her cap, turning it round on her hand, and looking at the
dints in it with amusement.
“Oh, no, you never get the worst of it!” said Lord Buntingford,
laughing, as he handed her the cake. “You couldn't if you tried.”
She looked up sharply. Then she turned to Mrs. Friend.
“That's the way my guardian treats me, Mrs. Friend. How can I take
“I think Lord Buntingford meant it as a compliment—didn't he?” said
Mrs. Friend shyly. She knew, alack, that she had no gift for repartee.
“Oh, no, he never pays compliments—least of all to me. He has a
most critical, fault-finding mind. Haven't you, Cousin Philip?”
“What a charge!” said Lord Buntingford, lighting another cigarette.
“It won't take Mrs. Friend long to find out its absurdity.”
“It will take her just twenty-four hours,” said the girl stoutly.
“He used to terrify me, Mrs. Friend, when I was a little thing ... May
I have some tea, please? When he came to see us, I always knew before
he had been ten minutes in the room that my hair was coming down, or my
shoes were untied, or something dreadful was the matter with me. I
can't imagine how we shall get on, now that he is my guardian. I shall
put him in a temper twenty times a day.”
“Ah, but the satisfactory thing now is that you will have to put up
with my remarks. I have a legal right now to say what I like.”
“H'm,” said Helena, demurring, “if there are legal rights nowadays.”
“There, Mrs. Friend—you hear?” said Lord Buntingford, toying with
his cigarette, in the depths of a big chair, and watching his ward with
eyes of evident enjoyment. “You've got a Bolshevist to look after—a
real anarchist. I'm sorry for you.”
“That's another of his peculiarities!” said the girl coolly,
“queering the pitch before one begins. You know you might like
me!—some people do—but he'll never let you.” And, bending forward,
with her cup in both hands, and her radiant eyes peering over the edge
of it, she threw a most seductive look at her new chaperon. The look
seemed to say, “I've been taking stock of you, and—well!—I think I
shan't mind you.”
Anyway, Mrs. Friend took it as a feeler and a friendly one. She
stammered something in reply, and then sat silent while guardian and
ward plunged into a war of chaff in which first the ward, but
ultimately the guardian, got the better. Lord Buntingford had more
resource and could hold out longer, so that at last Helena rose
“I don't feel that I have been at all prettily welcomed—have I,
Mrs. Friend? Lord Buntingford never allows one a single good mark. He
says I have been idle all the winter since the Armistice. I haven't.
I've worked like a nigger!”
“How many dances a week, Helena?—and how many boys?” Helena first
made a face, and then laughed out.
“As many dances—of course—as one could stuff in—without taxis. I
could walk down most of the boys. But Hampstead, Chelsea, and Curzon
Street, all in one night, and only one bus between them—that did
sometimes do for me.”
“When did you set up this craze?”
“Just about Christmas—I hadn't been to a dance for a year. I had
been slaving at canteen work all day”—she turned to Mrs. Friend—“and
doing chauffeur by night—you know—fetching wounded soldiers from
railway stations. And then somebody asked me to a dance, and I went.
And next morning I just made up my mind that everything else in the
world was rot, and I would go to a dance every night. So I chucked the
canteen and I chucked a good deal of the driving—except by day—and I
just dance—and dance!”
Suddenly she began to whistle a popular waltz—and the next minute
the two elder people found themselves watching open-mouthed the
whirling figure of Miss Helena Pitstone, as, singing to herself, and
absorbed apparently in some new and complicated steps, she danced down
the whole length of the drawing-room and back again. Then out of
breath, with a curtsey and a laugh, she laid a sudden hand on Mrs.
“Will you come and talk to me—before dinner? I can't talk—before
him. Guardians are impossible people!” And with another mock
curtsey to Lord Buntingford, she hurried Mrs. Friend to the door, and
Her guardian, with a shrug of the shoulders, walked to his
writing-table, and wrote a hurried note.
“My dear Geoffrey—I will send to meet you at Dansworth to-morrow by
the train you name. Helena is here—very mad and very beautiful. I hope
you will stay over Sunday. Yours ever, Buntingford.”
“He shall have his chance anyway,” he thought, “with the others. A
fair field, and no pulling.”
“There is only one bathroom in this house, and it is a day's journey
to find it,” said Helena, re-entering her own bedroom, where she had
left Mrs. Friend in a dimity-covered arm-chair by the window, while she
reconnoitred. “Also, the water is only a point or two above
freezing—and as I like boiling—”
She threw herself down on the floor by Mrs. Friend's side. All her
movements had a curious certainty and grace like those of a beautiful
animal, but the whole impression of her was still formidable to the
gentle creature who was about to undertake what already seemed to her
the absurd task of chaperoning anything so independent and
self-confident. But the girl clearly wished to make friends with her
new companion, and began eagerly to ask questions.
“How did you hear of me? Do you mind telling me?”
“Just through an agency,” said Mrs. Friend, flushing a little. “I
wanted to leave the situation I was in, and the agency told me Lord
Buntingford was looking for a companion for his ward, and I was to go
and see Lady Mary Chance—”
The girl's merry laugh broke out:
“Oh, I know Mary Chance—twenty pokers up her backbone! I should
Then she stopped, looking intently at Mrs. Friend, her brows drawn
together over her brilliant eyes.
“What would you have thought?” Mrs. Friend enquired, as the silence
“Well—that if she was going to recommend somebody to Cousin
Philip—to look after me, she would never have been content with
anything short of a Prussian grenadier in petticoats. She thinks me a
demon. She won't let her daughters go about with me. I can't imagine
how she ever fixed upon anyone so—”
“So what?” said Mrs. Friend, after a moment, nervously. Lost in the
big white arm-chair, her small hand propping her small face and head,
she looked even frailer than she had looked in the library.
“Well, nobody would ever take you for my jailer, would they?” said
Helena, surveying her.
Mrs. Friend laughed—a ghost of a laugh, which yet seemed to have
some fun in it, far away.
“Does this seem to you like prison?”
“This house? Oh, no. Of course I shall do just as I like in it. I
have only come because—well, my poor Mummy made a great point of it
when she was ill, and I couldn't be a brute to her, so I promised. But
I wonder whether I ought to have promised. It is a great tyranny, you
know—the tyranny of sick people. I wonder whether one ought to give in
The girl looked up coolly. Mrs. Friend felt as though she had been
“But your mother!” she said involuntarily.
“Oh, I know, that's what most people would say. But the question is,
what's reasonable. Well, I wasn't reasonable, and here I am. But I make
my conditions. We are not to be more than four months in the year in
this old hole”—she looked round her in not unkindly amusement at the
bare old-fashioned room; “we are to have four or five months in London,
at least; and when travelling abroad gets decent again, we are to
go abroad—Rome, perhaps, next winter. And I am jolly well to ask my
friends here, or in town—male and female—and Cousin Philip promised
to be nice to them. He said, of course, 'Within limits.' But that we
shall see. I'm not a pauper, you know. My trustees pay Lord Buntingford
whatever I cost him, and I shall have a good deal to spend. I shall
have a horse—and perhaps a little motor. The chauffeur here is a
fractious idiot. He has done that Rolls-Royce car of Cousin Philip's
balmy, and cut up quite rough when I spoke to him about it.”
“Done it what?” said Mrs. Friend faintly.
“Balmy. Don't you know that expression?” Helena, on the floor with
her hands under her knees, watched her companion's looks with a grin.
“It's our language now, you know—English—the language of us
young people. The old ones have got to learn it, as we speak it!
Well, what do you think of Cousin Philip?”
Mrs. Friend roused herself.
“I've only seen him for half an hour. But he was very kind.”
“And isn't he good-looking?” said the girl before her, with
enthusiasm. “I just adore that combination of black hair and blue
eyes—don't you? But he isn't by any means as innocent as he looks.”
“I never said—”
“No. I know you didn't,” said Helena serenely; “but you might
have—and he isn't innocent a bit. He's as complex as you make 'em.
Most women are in love with him, except me!” The brown eyes stared
meditatively out of window. “I suppose I could be if I tried. But he
doesn't attract me. He's too old.”
“Old?” repeated Mrs. Friend, with astonishment.
“Well, I don't mean he's decrepit! But he's forty-four if he's a
day—more than double my age. Did you notice that he's a little lame?”
“He is. It's very slight—an accident, I believe—somewhere abroad.
But they wouldn't have him for the Army, and he was awfully cut up. He
used to come and sit with Mummy every day and pour out his woes. I
suppose she was the only person to whom he ever talked about his
private affairs—he knew she was safe. Of course you know he is a
Mrs. Friend knew nothing. But she was vaguely surprised.
“Oh, well, a good many people know that—though Mummy always said
she never came across anybody who had ever seen his wife. He married
her when he was quite a boy—-abroad somewhere—when there seemed no
chance of his ever being Lord Buntingford—he had two elder brothers
who died—and she was an art student on her own. An old uncle of
Mummy's once told me that when Cousin Philip came back from abroad—she
died abroad—after her death, he seemed altogether changed somehow. But
he never, never speaks of her”—the girl swayed her slim body
backwards and forwards for emphasis—“and I wouldn't advise you or
anybody else to try. Most people think he's just a bachelor. I never
talk about it to people—Mummy said I wasn't to—and as he was very
nice to Mummy—well, I don't. But I thought you'd better know. And now
I think we'd better dress.”
But instead of moving, she looked down affectionately at her uniform
and her neat brown leggings.
“What a bore! I suppose I've no right to them any more.”
“What is your uniform?”
“Women Ambulance Drivers. Don't you know the hostel in Ruby Square?
I bargained with Cousin Philip after Mummy's death I should stay out my
time, till I was demobbed. Awfully jolly time I had—on the
whole—though the girls were a mixed lot. Well—let's get a move on.”
She sprang up. “Your room's next door.”
Mrs. Friend was departing when Helena enquired:
“By the way—have you ever heard of Cynthia Welwyn?”
Mrs. Friend turned at the door, and shook her head.
“Oh, well, I can tot her up very quickly—just to give you an
idea—as she's coming to dinner. She's fair and forty—just about
Buntingford's age—quite good-looking—quite clever—lives by herself,
reads a great deal—runs the parish—you know the kind of thing. They
swarm! I think she would like to marry Cousin Philip, if he would let
Mrs. Friend hurriedly shut the door at her back, which had been
slightly ajar. Helena laughed—the merry but very soft laugh Mrs.
Friend had first heard in the hall—a laugh which seemed somehow out of
keeping with the rest of its owner's personality.
“Don't be alarmed. I doubt whether that would be news to anybody in
this house! But Buntingford's quite her match. Well, ta-ta. Shall I
come and help you dress?”
“The idea!” cried Mrs. Friend. “Shall I help you?” She looked round
the room and at Helena vigorously tackling the boxes. “I thought you
had a maid?”
“Not at all. I couldn't be bored with one.”
“Do let me help you!”
“Then you'd be my maid, and I should bully you and detest you. You
must go and dress.”
And Mrs. Friend found herself gently pushed out of the room. She
went to her own in some bewilderment. After having been immured for
some three years in close attendance on an invalided woman shut up in
two rooms, she was like a person walking along a dark road and suddenly
caught in the glare of motor lamps. Brought into contact with such a
personality as Helena Pitstone promised to be, she felt helpless and
half blind. A survival, too; for this world into which she had now
stepped was one quite new to her. Yet when she had first shut herself
up in Lancaster Gate she had never been conscious of any great
difference between herself and other women or girls. She had lived a
very quiet life in a quiet home before the war. Her father, a
hard-working Civil Servant on a small income, and her mother, the
daughter of a Wesleyan Minister, had brought her up strictly, yet with
affection. The ways of the house were old-fashioned, dictated by an
instinctive dislike of persons who went often to theatres and dances,
of women who smoked, or played bridge, or indulged in loud, slangy
talk. Dictated, too, by a pervading “worship of ancestors,” of a
preceding generation of plain evangelical men and women, whose books
survived in the little house, and whose portraits hung upon its walls.
Then, in the first year of the war, she had married a young soldier,
the son of family friends, like-minded with her own people, a modest,
inarticulate fellow, who had been killed at Festubert. She had loved
him—oh, yes, she had loved him. But sometimes, looking back, she was
troubled to feel how shadowy he had become to her. Not in the region of
emotion. She had pined for his fondness all these years; she pined for
it still. But intellectually. If he had lived, how would he have felt
towards all these strange things that the war had brought about—the
revolutionary spirit everywhere, the changes come and coming? She did
not know; she could not imagine. And it troubled her that she could not
find any guidance for herself in her memories of him.
And as to the changes in her own sex, they seemed to have all come
about while she was sitting in a twilight room reading aloud to an old
woman. Only a few months after her husband's death her parents had both
died, and she found herself alone in the world, and almost penniless.
She was not strong enough for war work, the doctor said, and so she had
let the doors of Lancaster Gate close upon her, only looking for
something quiet and settled—even if it were a settled slavery.
After which, suddenly, just about the time of the Armistice, she had
become aware that nothing was the same; that the women and the
girls—so many of them in uniform!—that she met in the streets when
she took her daily walk—were new creatures; not attractive to her as a
whole, but surprising and formidable, because of the sheer life there
was in them. And she herself began to get restive; to realize that she
was not herself so very old, and to want to know—a hundred things! It
had taken her five months, however, to make up her mind; and then at
last she had gone to an agency—the only way she knew—and had braved
the cold and purely selfish wrath of the household she was leaving. And
now here she was in Lord Buntingford's house—Miss Helena Pitstone's
chaperon. As she stood before her looking-glass, fastening her little
black dress with shaking fingers, the first impression of Helena's
personality was upon her, running through her, like wine to the
unaccustomed. She supposed that now girls were all like this—all such
free, wild, uncurbed creatures, a law to themselves. One moment she
repeated that she was a fool to have come; and the next, she would not
have found herself back in Lancaster Gate for the world.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, in the adjoining room, Helena was putting on a tea-gown,
a white and silver “confection,” with a little tail like a fish, and a
short skirt tapering down to a pair of slim legs and shapely feet.
After all her protestations, she had allowed the housemaid to help her
unpack, and when the dress was on she had sent Mary flying down to the
drawing-room to bring up some carnations she had noticed there. When
these had been tucked into her belt, and the waves of her brown hair
had been somehow pinned and coiled into a kind of order, and she had
discovered and put on her mother's pearls, she was pleased with
herself, or rather with as much of herself as she could see in the
inadequate looking-glass on the toilet-table. A pier-glass from
somewhere was of course the prime necessity, and must be got
immediately. Meanwhile she had to be content with seeing herself in the
eyes of the housemaid, who was clearly dazzled by her appearance.
Then there were a few minutes before dinner, and she ran along the
passage to Mrs. Friend's room.
“May I come in? Oh, let me tie that for you?” And before Mrs. Friend
could interpose, the girl's nimble fingers had tied the narrow velvet
carrying a round locket which was her chaperon's only ornament. Drawing
back a little, she looked critically at the general effect. Mrs. Friend
flushed, and presently started in alarm, when Helena took up the comb
lying on the dressing-table.
“What are you going to do?”
“Only just to alter your hair a little. Do you mind? Do let me. You
look so nice in black. But your hair is too tight.”
Mrs. Friend stood paralysed, while with a few soft touches Helena
applied the comb.
“Now, isn't that nice! I declare it's charming! Now look at
yourself. Why should you make yourself look dowdy? It's all very
well—but you can't be much older than I am!”
And dancing round her victim, Helena effected first one slight
improvement and then another in Mrs. Friend's toilette, till the little
woman, standing in uneasy astonishment before the glass to which Helena
had dragged her, plucked up courage at last to put an end to the
“No, please don't!” she said, with decision, warding off the girl's
meddling hand, and putting back some of the quiet bands of hair. “You
mustn't make me look so unlike myself. And besides—I couldn't live up
to it!” Her shy smile broke out.
“Oh, yes, you could. You're quite nice-looking. I wonder if you'd
mind telling me how old you are? And must I always call you 'Mrs.
Friend'? It is so odd—when everybody calls each other by their
“I don't mind—I don't mind at all. But don't you think—for both
our sakes—you'd better leave me all the dignity you can?” Laughter was
playing round the speaker's small pale lips, and Helena answered it
“Does that mean that you'll have to manage me? Did Cousin Philip
tell you you must? But that—I may as well tell you at once—is a vain
delusion. Nobody ever managed me! Oh, yes, my superior officer in the
Women's Corps—she was master. But that was because I chose to make her
so. Now I'm on my own—and all I can offer—I'm afraid!—is an
alliance—offensive and defensive.”
Mrs. Friend looked at the radiant vision opposite to her with its
hands on its sides, and slowly shook her head.
“Cousin Philip—if necessary.”
Mrs. Friend again shook her head.
“Oh, you're in his pocket already!” cried Helena with a grimace.
“But never mind. I'm sure I shall like you. You'll come over to my side
“Why should I take any side?” asked Mrs. Friend, drawing on a pair
of black gloves.
“Well, because”—said Helena slowly—“Cousin Philip doesn't like
some of my pals—some of the men, I mean—I go about with—and we
may quarrel about it. The question is which of them I'm going to
marry—if I marry any of them. And some of them are married. Don't look
shocked! Oh, heavens, there's the gong! But we'll sit up to-night, if
you're not sleepy, and I'll give you a complete catalogue of some of
their qualifications—physical, intellectual, financial. Then you'll
have the carte du pays. Two of them are coming to-morrow for the
Sunday. There's nobody coming to-night of the least interest. Cynthia
Welwyn, Captain Vivian Lodge, Buntingford's cousin—rather a prig—but
good-looking. A girl or two, no doubt—probably the parson—probably
the agent. Now you know. Shall we go down?”
* * * * *
The library was already full when the two ladies entered. Mrs.
Friend was aware of a tall fair woman, beautifully dressed in black,
standing by Lord Buntingford; of an officer in uniform, resplendent in
red tabs and decorations, talking to a spare grey-haired man, who might
be supposed to be the agent; of a man in a round collar and clerical
coat, standing awkward and silent by the tall lady in black; and of
various other girls and young men.
All eyes were turned to Helena as she entered, and she was soon
surrounded, while Lord Buntingford took special care of Helena's
companion. Mrs. Friend found herself introduced to Lady Cynthia Welwyn,
the tall lady in black; to Mr. Parish, the grey-haired man, and to the
clergyman. Lady Cynthia bestowed on her a glance from a pair of
prominent eyes, and a few civil remarks, Mr. Parish made her an
old-fashioned bow, and hoped she had not found the journey too dusty,
while the clergyman, whose name she caught as Mr. Alcott, showed a
sudden animation as they shook hands, and had soon put her at her ease
by a manner in which she at once divined a special sympathy for the
stranger within the gates.
“You have just come, I gather?”
“I only arrived this afternoon.”
“And you are to look after Miss Helena?” he smiled.
Mrs. Friend smiled too.
“I hope so. If she will let me!”
“She is a radiant creature!” And for a moment he stood watching the
girl, as she stood, goddess-like, amid her group of admirers. His eyes
were deep-set and tired; his scanty grizzled hair fell untidily over a
furrowed brow; and his clothes were neither fresh nor well-brushed. But
there was something about him which attracted the lonely; and Mrs.
Friend was glad when she found herself assigned to him.
But though her neighbour was not difficult to talk to, her
surroundings were so absorbing to her that she talked very little at
dinner. It was enough to listen and look—at Lady Cynthia on Lord
Buntingford's right hand, and Helena Pitstone on his left; or at the
handsome officer with whom Helena seemed to be happily flirting through
a great part of dinner. Lady Cynthia was extremely good-looking, and
evidently agreeable, though it seemed to Mrs. Friend that Lord
Buntingford only gave her divided attention. Meanwhile it was very
evident that he himself was the centre of his own table, the person of
whom everyone at it was fundamentally aware, however apparently busy
with other people. She herself observed him much more closely than
before, the mingling in his face of a kind of concealed impatience, an
eagerness held in chains and expressed by his slight perpetual frown,
with a courtesy and urbanity generally gay or bantering, but at times,
and by flashes—or so it seemed to her—dipped in a sudden, profound
melancholy, like a quenched light. He held himself sharply erect, and
in his plain naval uniform, with the three Commander's stripes on the
sleeve, made, in her eyes, an even more distinguished figure than the
gallant and decorated hero on his left, with whom Helena seemed to be
so particularly engaged, “prig” though she had dubbed him.
As to Lady Cynthia's effect upon her host, Mrs. Friend could not
make up her mind. He seemed attentive or amused while she chatted to
him; but towards the end their conversation languished a good deal, and
Lady Cynthia must needs fall back on the stubby-haired boy to her
right, who was learning agency business with Mr. Parish. She smiled at
him also, for it was her business, Mrs. Friend thought, to smile at
everybody, but it was an absent-minded smile.
“You don't know Lord Buntingford?” said Mr. Alcott's rather muffled
voice beside her.
Mrs. Friend turned hastily.
“No—I never saw him till this afternoon.”
“He isn't easy to know. I know him very little, though he gave me
this living, and I have business with him, of course, occasionally. But
this I do know, the world is uncommonly full of people—don't you find
it so?—who say 'I go, Sir'—and don't go. Well, if Lord Buntingford
says 'I go, Sir'—he does go!”
“Does he often say it?” asked Mrs. Friend. And the man beside her
noticed the sudden gleam in her quiet little face, that rare or
evanescent sprite of laughter or satire that even the dwellers in
Lancaster Gate had occasionally noticed.
Mr. Alcott considered.
“Well, no,” he said at last. “I admit he's difficult to catch. He
likes his own ways a great deal better than other people's. But if you
do catch him—if you do persuade him—well, then you can stake your
bottom dollar on him. At least, that's my experience. He's been awfully
generous about land here—put a lot in my hands to distribute long
before the war ended. Some of the neighbours about—other
landlords—were very sick—thought he'd given them away because of the
terms. They sent him a round robin. I doubt if he read it. In a thing
like that he's adamant. And he's adamant, too, when he's once taken a
real dislike to anybody. There's no moving him.”
“You make me afraid!” said Mrs. Friend.
“Oh, no, you needn't be—” Mr. Alcott turned almost eagerly to look
at her. “I hope you won't be. He's the kindest of men. It's
extraordinarily kind of him—don't you think?”—the speaker smilingly
lowered his voice—“taking on Miss Pitstone like this? It's a great
Mrs. Friend made the slightest timid gesture of assent.
“Ah, well, it's just like him. He was devoted to her mother—and for
his friends he'll do anything. But I don't want to make a saint of him.
He can be a dour man when he likes—and he and I fight about a good
many things. I don't think he has much faith in the new England we're
all talking about—though he tries to go with it. Have you?” He turned
upon her suddenly.
Mrs. Friend felt a pang.
“I don't know anything,” she said, and he was conscious of the
agitation in her tone. “Since my husband died, I've been so out of
And encouraged by the kind eyes in the plain face, she told her
story, very simply and briefly. In the general clatter and hubbub of
the table no one overheard or noticed.
“H'm—you're stepping out into the world again as one might step out
of a nunnery—after five years. I rather envy you. You'll see things
fresh. Whereas we—who have been through the ferment and the horror—“
He broke off—“I was at the front, you see, for nearly two years—then
I got invalided. So you've hardly realized the war—hardly known there
was a war—not since—since Festubert?”
“It's dreadful!” she said humbly—“I'm afraid I know just nothing
He looked at her with a friendly wonder, and she, flushing deeper,
was glad to see him claimed by a lively girl on his left, while she
fell back on Mr. Parish, the agent, who, however, seemed to be absorbed
in the amazing—and agreeable—fact that Lord Buntingford, though he
drank no wine himself, had yet some Moet-et-Charidon of 1904 left to
give to his guests. Mr. Parish, as he sipped it, realized that the war
was indeed over.
But, all the time, he gave a certain amount of scrutiny to the
little lady beside him. So she was to be “companion” to Miss Helena
Pitstone—to prevent her getting into scrapes—if she could. Lord
Buntingford had told him that his cousin, Lady Mary Chance, had chosen
her. Lady Mary had reported that “companions” were almost as difficult
to find as kitchenmaids, and that she had done her best for him in
finding a person of gentle manners and quiet antecedents. “Such people
will soon be as rare as snakes in Ireland”—had been the concluding
sentence in Lady Mary's letter, according to Lord Buntingford's
laughing account of it. Ah, well, Lady Mary was old-fashioned. He hoped
the young widow might be useful; but he had his doubts. She looked a
weak vessel to be matching herself with anything so handsome and so
pronounced as the young lady opposite.
Why, the young lady was already quarrelling with her guardian! For
the whole table had suddenly become aware of a gust in the
neighbourhood of Lord Buntingford—a gust of heated talk—although the
only heated person seemed to be Miss Pitstone. Lord Buntingford was
saying very little; but whatever he did say was having a remarkable
effect on his neighbour. Then, before the table knew what it was all
about, it was over. Lord Buntingford had turned resolutely away, and
was devoting himself to conversation with Lady Cynthia, while his ward
was waging a fresh war of repartee with the distinguished soldier
beside her, in which her sharpened tones and quick breathing suggested
the swell after a storm.
Mrs. Friend too had noticed. She had been struck with the sudden
tightening of the guardian's lip, the sudden stiffening of his hand
lying on the table. She wondered anxiously what was the matter.
In the library afterwards, Lady Cynthia, Mrs. Friend, and the two
girls—his daughter and his guest—who had come with Mr. Parish,
settled into a little circle near the wood-fire which the chilliness of
the May evening made pleasant.
Helena Pitstone meanwhile walked away by herself to a distant part
of the room and turned over photographs, with what seemed to Mrs.
Friend a stormy hand. And as she did so, everyone in the room was aware
of her, of the brilliance and power of the girl's beauty, and of the
energy that like an aura seemed to envelop her personality. Lady
Cynthia made several attempts to capture her, but in vain. Helena would
only answer in monosyllables, and if approached, retreated further into
the dim room, ostensibly in search of a book on a distant shelf, really
in flight. Lady Cynthia, with a shrug, gave it up.
Mrs. Friend felt too strange to the whole situation to make any
move. She could only watch for the entry of the gentlemen. Lord
Buntingford, who came in last, evidently looked round for his ward. But
Helena had already flitted back to the rest of the company, and
admirably set off by a deep red chair into which she had thrown
herself, was soon flirting unashamedly with the two young men, with Mr.
Parish and the Rector, taking them all on in turn, and suiting the bait
to the fish with the instinctive art of her kind. Lord Buntingford got
not a word with her, and when the guests departed she had vanished
upstairs before anyone knew that she had gone.
“Have a cigar in the garden, Vivian, before you turn in? There is a
moon, and it is warmer outside than in,” said Lord Buntingford to his
cousin, when they were left alone.
“By all means.”
So presently they found themselves pacing a flagged path outside a
long conservatory which covered one side of the house. The moon was
cloudy, and the temperature low. But the scents of summer were already
in the air—of grass and young leaf, and the first lilac. The old grey
house with its haphazard outline and ugly detail acquired a certain
dignity from the night, and round it stretched dim slopes of pasture,
with oaks rising here and there from bands of white mist.
“Is that tale true you told me before dinner about Jim Donald?” said
Lord Buntingford abruptly. “You're sure it's true—honour bright?”
The other laughed.
“Why, I had it from Jim himself!” He laughed. “He just made a joke
of it. But he is a mean skunk! I've found out since that he wanted to
buy Preston out for the part Preston had taken in another affair.
There's a pretty case coming on directly, with Jim for hero. You have
heard of it.”
“No,” said Buntingford curtly; “but in any case nothing would have
induced me to have him here. Preston's a friend of mine. So when Helena
told me at dinner she had asked him for Saturday, I had to tell her I
should telegraph to him to-morrow morning not to come. She was angry,
Captain Lodge gave a low whistle. “Of course she doesn't know. But I
think you would be wise to stop it. And I remember now she danced all
night with him at the Arts Ball!”
There was a light tap on Mrs. Friend's door. She said “Come in"
rather unwillingly. Some time had elapsed since she had seen Helena's
fluttering white disappear into the corridor beyond her room; and she
had nourished a secret hope that the appointment had been forgotten.
But the door opened slightly. Mrs. Friend saw first a smiling face,
finger on lip. Then the girl slipped in, and closed the door with
“I don't want that 'very magnificent three-tailed Bashaw' to know we
are discussing him. He's somewhere still.”
“What did you say?” asked Mrs. Friend, puzzled.
“Oh, it's only a line of an old poem—I don't know by whom—my
father used to quote it. Well, now—did you see what happened at
Helena had established herself comfortably in a capacious arm-chair
opposite Mrs. Friend, tucking her feet under her. She was in a white
dressing-gown, and she had hastily tied a white scarf round her
loosened hair. In the dim light of a couple of candles her beauty made
an even more exciting impression on the woman watching her than it had
done in the lamp-lit drawing-room.
“It's war!” she said firmly, “war between Buntingford and me. I'm
sorry it's come so soon—the very first evening!—and I know it'll be
beastly for you—but I can't help it. I won't be dictated to. If
I'm not twenty-one, I'm old enough to choose my own friends; and if
Buntingford chooses to boycott them, he must take the consequences.”
And throwing her white arms above her head, her eyes looked out from
the frame of them—eyes sparkling with pride and will.
Mrs. Friend begged for an explanation.
“Well, I happened to tell him that I had invited Lord Donald for
Sunday. I'll tell you about Lord Donald presently—and he
simply—behaved like a brute! He said he was sorry I hadn't told him,
that he couldn't have Donald here, and would telegraph to him
to-morrow—not to come. Just think of that! So then I said—why? And he
said he didn't approve of Donald—or some nonsense of that sort. I was
quite calm. I reminded him he had promised to let me invite my
friends—that was part of the bargain. Yes—he said—but within
limits—and Donald was the limit. That made me savage—so I upped and
said, very well, if I couldn't see Donald here, I should see him
somewhere else—and he wouldn't prevent me. I wasn't going to desert my
friends for a lot of silly tales. So then he said I didn't know what I
was talking about, and turned his back on me. He kept his temper
provokingly—and I lost mine—which was idiotic of me. But I mean to be
even with him—somehow. And as for Donald, I shall go up to town and
lunch with him at the Ritz next week!”
“Oh, no, no, you can't!” cried Mrs. Friend in distress. “You can't
treat your guardian like that! Do tell me what it's all about!” And
bending forward, she laid her two small hands entreatingly on the
girl's knee. She looked so frail and pitiful as she did so, in her
plain black, that Helena was momentarily touched. For the first time
her new chaperon appeared to her as something else than a mere receiver
into which, or at which, it suited her to talk. She laid her own hand
soothingly on Mrs. Friend's.
“Of course I'll tell you. I really don't mean to be nasty to you.
But all the same I warn you that it's no good trying to stop me, when
I've made up my mind. Well, now, for Donald. I know, of course, what
Cousin Philip means. Donald ran away with the wife of a friend of
his—of Buntingford's, I mean—three or four weeks ago.”
Mrs. Friend gasped. The modern young woman was becoming altogether
too much for her. She could only repeat foolishly—“ran away?”
“Yes, ran away. There was no harm done. Sir Luke Preston—that's the
husband—followed them and caught them—and made her go back with him.
But Donald didn't mean any mischief. She'd quarrelled with Sir
Luke—she's an empty-headed little fluffy thing. I know her a
little—and she dared Donald to run away with her—for a lark. So he
took her on. He didn't mean anything horrid. I don't believe he's that
sort. They were going down to his yacht at Southampton—there were
several other friends of his on the yacht—and they meant to give Sir
Luke a fright—just show him that he couldn't bully her as he had been
doing—being sticky and stupid about her friends, just as Cousin Philip
wants to be about mine—and quarrelling about her dress-bills—and a
lot of things. Well, that's all! What's there in that?”
And the girl sat up straight, dropping her slim, white feet, while
her great eyes challenged her companion to say a word in defence of her
guardian. Mrs. Friend's head was turning.
“But it was surely wrong and foolish—” she began. Helena
“I daresay it was,” she said impatiently, “but that's not my affair.
It's Lord Donald's. I'm not responsible for him. But he's done nothing
that I know of to make me cut him—and I won't! He told me all
about it quite frankly. I said I'd stick by him—and I will.”
“And Sir Luke Preston is a friend of Lord Buntingford's?”
“Yes—” said Helena unwillingly—“I suppose he is. I didn't know.
Perhaps I wouldn't have asked Donald if I'd known. But I did ask him,
and he accepted. And now Buntingford's going to insult him publicly.
And that I won't stand—I vow I won't! It's insulting me too!”
And springing up, she began a stormy pacing of the room, her white
gown falling back from her neck and throat, and her hair floating
behind her. Mrs. Friend had begun to collect herself. In the few hours
she had passed under Lord Buntingford's roof she seemed to herself to
have been passing through a forcing house. Qualities she had never
dreamed of possessing or claiming she must somehow show, or give up the
game. Unless she could understand and get hold of this wholly
unexpected situation, as Helena presented it, she might as well re-pack
her box, and order the village fly for departure.
“Do you mind if I ask you some questions?” she said presently, as
the white skirts swept past her.
“Mind! Not a bit. What do you want to know?”
“Are you in love with Lord Donald?”
“If I were, do you think I'd let him run away with Lady Preston or
anybody else? Not at all! Lord Donald's just one of the men I like
talking to. He amuses me. He's very smart. He knows everybody. He's no
worse than anybody else. He did all sorts of plucky things in the war.
I don't ask Buntingford to like him, of course. He isn't his sort. But
he really might let me alone!”
“But you asked him to stay in Lord Buntingford's house—and without
“Well—and it's going to be my house, too, for two years—if
I can possibly bear it. When Mummy begged me, I told Buntingford my
conditions. And he's broken them!”
And standing still, the tempestuous creature drew herself to her
full height, her arms rigid by her side—a tragic-comic figure in the
dim illumination of the two guttering candles.
Mrs. Friend attempted a diversion.
“Who else is coming for the week-end?”
Instantly Helena's mood dissolved in laughter. She came to perch
herself on the arm of Mrs. Friend's chair.
“There—now let's forget my tiresome guardian. I promised to tell
you about my 'boys.' Well, there are two of them coming—and Geoffrey
French, besides a nephew of Buntingford's, who'll have this property
and most of the money some day, always supposing this tyrant of mine
doesn't marry, which of course any reasonable man would. Well—there's
Peter Dale—the dearest, prettiest little fellow you ever saw. He was
aide-de-camp to Lord Brent in the war—very smart—up to
everything. He's demobbed, and has gone into the City. Horribly rich
already, and will now, of course, make another pile. He dreadfully
wants to marry me—but—” she shook her head with emphasis—“No!—it
wouldn't do. He tries to kiss me sometimes. I didn't mind it at first.
But I've told him not to do it again. Then there's Julian—Julian
Horne—Balliol—awfully clever”—she checked off the various items on
her fingers—“as poor as a rat—a Socialist, of course—they all are,
that kind—but a real one—not like Geoffrey French, who's a sham,
though he is in the House, and has joined the Labour party. You
see”—her tone grew suddenly serious—“I don't reckon Geoffrey French
among my boys.”
“He's too old?”
“Oh, he's not so very old. But—I don't think he likes me very
much—and I'm not sure whether I like him. He's good fun, however—and
he rags Julian Horne splendidly. That's one of his chief functions—and
another is, to take a hand in my education—when I allow him—and when
Julian isn't about. They both tell me what to read. Julian tells me to
read history, and gives me lists of books. Geoffrey talks
economics—and philosophy—and I adore it—he talks so well. He gave me
Bergson the other day. Have you ever read any of him?”
“Never,” said Mrs. Friend, bewildered. “Who is he?”
Helena's laugh woke the echoes of the room. But she checked it at
“I don't want him to think we're plotting,” she said in a
stage-whisper, looking round her. “If I do anything I want to spring it
“Dear Miss Pitstone—please understand!—I can't help you to plot
against Lord Buntingford. You must see I can't. He's my employer and
your guardian. If I helped you to do what he disapproves I should
simply be doing a dishonourable thing.”
“Yes,” said Helena reflectively. “Of course I see that. It's
awkward. I suppose you promised and vowed a great many things—like
one's godmothers and godfathers?”
“No, I didn't promise anything—except that I would go out with you,
make myself useful to you, if I could—and help you with foreign
“Goody,” said Helena. “Do you really know French—and
German?” The tone was incredulous. “I wish I did.”
“Well, I was two years in France, and a year and a half in Germany
when I was a girl. My parents wanted me to be a governess.”
“And then you married?”
“Yes—just the year before the war.”
“And your husband was killed?” The tone was low and soft. Mrs.
Friend gave a mute assent. Suddenly Helena laid an arm round the little
“I want you to be friends with me—will you? I hated the thought of
a chaperon—I may as well tell you frankly. I thought I should probably
quarrel with you in a week. That was before I arrived. Then when I saw
you, I suddenly felt—'I shall like her! I'm glad she's here—I shan't
mind telling her my affairs.' I suppose it was because you looked
so—well, so meek and mild—so different from me—as though a puff
would blow you away. One can't account for those things, can one? Do
tell me your Christian name! I won't call you by it—if you don't like
“My name is Lucy,” said Mrs. Friend faintly. There was something so
seductive in the neighbourhood of the girl's warm youth and in the new
sweetness of her voice that she could not make any further defence of
“I might have guessed Lucy. It's just like you,” said the girl
triumphantly. “Wordsworth's Lucy—do you remember her?—'A violet by a
mossy stone'—That's you exactly. I adore Wordsworth. Do you
care about poetry?”
The eager eyes looked peremptorily into hers.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Friend shyly—“I'm very fond of some things. But
you'd think them old-fashioned!”
“What—Byron?—Shelley? They're never old-fashioned!”
“I never read much of them. But—I love Tennyson—and Mrs.
Helena made a face—
“Oh, I don't care a hang for her. She's so dreadfully pious and
sentimental. I laughed till I cried over 'Aurora Leigh.' But
now—French things! If you lived all that time in France, you must have
read French poetry. Alfred de Musset?—Madame de Noailles?”
Mrs. Friend shook her head.
“We went to lectures. I learnt a great deal of Racine—a little
Victor Hugo—and Rostand—because the people I boarded with took me to
“Ah, Rostand—” cried Helena, springing up. “Well, of course he's
vieux jeu now. The best people make mock of him. Julian does. I
don't care—he gives me thrills down my back, and I love him. But then
panache means a good deal to me. And Julian doesn't care a bit. He
despises people who talk about glory and honour—and that kind of
She stopped mischievously, her head on one side.
“Sorry!—but it slipped out. Lucy—good-night.”
Mrs. Friend hurriedly caught hold of her.
“And you won't do anything hasty—about Lord Donald?”
“Oh, I can't promise anything. One must stand by one's friends. One
simply must. But I'll take care Cousin Philip doesn't blame you.”
“If I'm no use, you know—I can't stay.”
“No use to Cousin Philip, you mean, in policing me?” said Helena,
with a good-humoured laugh. “Well, we'll talk about it again to-morrow.
The sly gaiety of the voice was most disarming.
“Good-night, Miss Pitstone.”
“No, that won't do. It's absurd! I never ask people to call me
Helena, unless I like them. I certainly never expected—there, I'll be
frank!—that I should want to ask you—the very first night too. But I
do want you to. Please, Lucy, call me Helena. Please!”
Mrs. Friend did as she was told.
“Sleep well,” said Helena from the door. “I hope the housemaid's put
enough on your bed, and given you a hot water-bottle? If anything
scares you in the night, wake me—that is, if you can!” She
Outside Mrs. Friend's door the old house was in darkness, save for a
single light in the hall, which burnt all night. The hall was the
feature of the house. A gallery ran round it supported by columns from
below, and spaced by answering columns which carried the roof. The
bedrooms ran round the hall, and opened into the gallery. The columns
were of yellow marble brought from Italy, and faded blue curtains hung
between them. Helena went cautiously to the balustrade, drew one of the
blue curtains round her, and looked down into the hall. Was everybody
gone to bed? No. There were movements in a distant room. Somebody
coughed, and seemed to be walking about. But she couldn't hear any
talking. If Cousin Philip were still up, he was alone.
Her anger came back upon her, and then curiosity. What was he
thinking about, as he paced his room like a caged squirrel? About the
trouble she was likely to give him—and what a fool he had been to take
the job? She would like to go and reason with him. The excess of
vitality that was in her, sighing for fresh worlds to conquer, urged
her to vehement and self-confident action,—action for its own sake,
for the mere joy of the heat and movement that go with it. Part of the
impulse depended on the new light in which the gentleman walking about
downstairs had begun to appear to her. She had known him hitherto as
“Mummy's friend,” always to be counted upon when any practical
difficulty arose, and ready on occasion to put in a sharp word in
defence of an invalid's peace, when a girl's unruliness threatened it.
Remembering one or two such collisions, Helena felt her cheeks burn, as
she hung over the hall, in the darkness. But those had been such
passing matters. Now, as she recalled the expression of his eyes,
during their clash at the dinner-table, she realized, with an
excitement which was not disagreeable, that something much more
prolonged and serious might lie before her. Accomplished modern, as she
knew him to be in most things, he was going to be “stuffy” and “stupid"
in some. Lord Donald's proceedings in the matter of Lady Preston
evidently seemed to him—she had been made to feel it—frankly
abominable. And he was not going to ask the man capable of them within
his own doors. Well and good. “But as I don't agree with him—Donald
was only larking!—I shall take my own way. A telegram goes anyway to
Donald to-morrow morning—and we shall see. So good-night, Cousin
Philip!” And blowing a kiss towards the empty hall, she gathered her
white skirts round her, and fled laughing towards her own room.
But just as she neared it, a door in front of her, leading to a
staircase, opened, and a man in khaki appeared, carrying a candle. It
was Captain Lodge, her neighbour at the dinner-table. The young man
stared with amazement at the apparition rushing along the gallery
towards him,—the girl's floating hair, and flushed loveliness as his
candle revealed it. Helena evidently enjoyed his astonishment, and his
sudden look of admiration. But before he could speak, she had vanished
within her own door, just holding it open long enough to give him a
laughing nod before it shut, and darkness closed with it on the
“A man would need to keep his head with that girl!” thought Captain
Lodge, with tantalized amusement. “But, my hat, what a beauty!”
Meanwhile in the library downstairs a good deal of thinking was
going on. Lord Buntingford was taking more serious stock of his new
duties than he had done yet. As he walked, smoking, up and down, his
thoughts were full of his poor little cousin Rachel Pitstone. She had
always been a favourite of his; and she had always known him better
than any other person among his kinsfolk. He had found it easy to tell
her secrets, when nobody else could have dragged a word from him; and
as a matter of fact she had known before she died practically all that
there was to know about him. And she had been so kind, and simple and
wise. Had she perhaps once had a tendresse for him—before she
met Ned Pitstone?—and if things had gone—differently—might he not,
perhaps, have married her? Quite possibly. In any case the bond between
them had always been one of peculiar intimacy; and in looking back on
it he had nothing to reproach himself with. He had done what he could
to ease her suffering life. Struck down in her prime by a mortal
disease, a widow at thirty, with her one beautiful child, her chief
misfortune had been the melancholy and sensitive temperament, which
filled the rooms in which she lived as full of phantoms as the palace
of Odysseus in the vision of Theoclymenus.
She was afraid for her child; afraid for her friend; afraid for the
world. The only hope of happiness for a woman, she believed, lay in an
honest lover, if such a lover could be found. Herself an intellectual,
and a freed spirit, she had no trust in any of the new professional and
technical careers into which she saw women crowding. Sex seemed to her
now as always the dominating fact of life. Votes did not matter, or
degrees, or the astonishing but quite irrelevant fact, as the papers
announced it, that women should now be able not only to fit but to plan
a battleship. Love, and a child's clinging mouth, and the sweetness of
a Darby and Joan old age, for these all but the perverted women had
always lived, and would always live.
She saw in her Helena the strong beginnings of sex. But she also
realized the promise of intelligence, of remarkable brain development,
and it seemed to her of supreme importance that sex should have the
first innings in her child's life.
“If she goes to college at once, as soon as I am gone, and her brain
and her ambition are appealed to, before she has time to fall in love,
she will develop on that side, prematurely—marvellously—and the rest
will atrophy. And then when the moment for falling in love is over—and
with her it mayn't be a long one—she will be a lecturer, a member of
Parliament perhaps—a Socialist agitator—a woman preacher,—who
knows?—there are all kinds of possibilities in Helena. But she will
have missed her chance of being a woman, and a happy one; and thirty
years hence she will realize it, when it is too late, and think
bitterly of us both. Believe me, dear Philip, the moment for love won't
last long in Helena's life. I have seen it come and go so rapidly, in
the case of some of the most charming women. For after all, the world
is now so much richer for women; and many women don't know their own
minds in time, or get lost among the new landmarks. And of course all
women can't marry; and thank God, there are a thousand new chances of
happiness for those who don't. But there are some—and Helena, I am
certain, will be one—who will be miserable, and probably wicked,
unless they fall in love, and are happy. And it is a strait gate they
will have to pass through. For their own natures and the new voices in
the world will tempt them to this side and that. And before they know
where they are—the moment will have gone—the wish—and the power.
“So, dear Philip, lend yourself to my plan; though you may seem to
yourself the wrong person, and though it imposes—as I know it will—a
rather heavy responsibility on you. But once or twice you have told me
that I have helped you—through difficult places. That makes me dare to
ask you this thing. There is no one else I can ask. And it won't be bad
for you, Philip,—it is good for us all, to have to think
intimately—seriously—for some other human being or beings; and owing
to circumstances, not your own fault, you have missed just this in
life—except for your thoughts and care for me—bless you always, my
“Am I preaching? Well, in my case the time for make-believe is over.
I am too near the end. The simple and austere soul of things seems to
“And yet what I ask you is neither simple, nor austere! Take care of
Helena for two years. Give her fun, and society,—a good time, and
every chance to marry. Then, after two years, if she hasn't married—if
she hasn't fallen in love—-she must choose her course.
“You may well feel you are too young—indeed I wish, for this
business, you were older!—but you will find some nice woman to be
hostess and chaperon; the experiment will interest and amuse you, and
the time will soon go. You know I could not ask you—unless some
things were—as they are. But that being so, I feel as if I were
putting into your hands the chance of a good deed, a kind
deed,—blessing, possibly, him that gives, and her that takes. And I am
just now in the mood to feel that kindness is all that matters, in this
mysterious life of ours. Oh, I wish I had been kinder—to so many
people!—I wish—I wish! The hands stretched out to me in the dark that
I have passed by—the voices that have piped to me, and I have not
“I mustn't cry. It is hard that in one of the few cases when I had
the chance to be kind, and did not wholly miss it, I should be making
in the end a selfish bargain of it—claiming so much more than I ever
“Forgive me, my best of friends—
“You shall come and see me once about this letter, and then we won't
discuss it again—ever. I have talked over the business side of it with
my lawyer, and asked him to tell you anything you don't yet know about
my affairs and Helena's. We needn't go into them.”
“One of the few cases where I had the chance to be kind.” Why,
Rachel Pitstone's life had been one continuous selfless offering to God
and man, from her childhood to her last hour! He knew very well what he
had owed her—what others had owed—to her genius for sympathy, for
understanding, for a compassion which was also a stimulus. He missed
her sorely. At that very moment, he was in great practical need of her
help, her guidance.
Whereas it was he—worse luck!—who must be the stumbling and
unwelcomed guide of Rachel's child! How, in the name of mystery, had
the child grown up so different from the mother? Well, impatience
wouldn't help him—he must set his mind to it. That scoundrel, Jim
Mrs. Friend passed a somewhat wakeful night after the scene in which
Helena Pitstone had bestowed her first confidences on her new
companion. For Lucy Friend the experience had been unprecedented and
agitating. She had lived in a world where men and women do not talk
much about themselves, and as a rule instinctively avoid thinking much
about themselves, as a habit tending to something they call “morbid.”
This at least had been the tone in her parents' house. The old woman in
Lancaster Gate had not been capable either of talking or thinking about
herself, except as a fretful animal with certain simple bodily wants.
In Helena, Lucy Friend had for the first time come cross the type of
which the world is now full—men and women, but especially women, who
have no use any longer for the reticence of the past, who desire to
know all they possibly can about themselves, their own thoughts and
sensations, their own peculiarities and powers, all of which are
endlessly interesting to them; and especially to the intellectual
elite among them. Already, before the war, the younger generation,
which was to meet the brunt of it, was an introspective, a
psychological generation. And the great war has made it doubly
introspective, and doubly absorbed in itself. The mere perpetual strain
on the individual consciousness, under the rush of strange events, has
developed men and women abnormally.
Only now it is not an introspection, or a psychology, which writes
journals or autobiography. It is an introspection which talks; a
psychology which chatters, of all things small and great; asking its
Socratic way through all the questions of the moment, the most trivial,
and the most tremendous.
Coolness, an absence of the old tremors and misgivings that used
especially to haunt the female breast in the days of Miss Austen, is a
leading mark of the new type. So that Mrs. Friend need not have been
astonished to find Helena meeting her guardian next morning at
breakfast as though nothing had happened. He, like a man of the world,
took his cue immediately from her, and the conversation—whether it ran
on the return of Karsavina to the Russian Ballet, or the success of
“Abraham Lincoln”; or the prospects of the Peace, or merely the
weddings and buryings of certain common acquaintances which appeared in
the morning's Times—was so free and merry, that Mrs. Friend
began soon to feel her anxieties of the night dropping away, to enjoy
the little luxuries of the breakfast table, and the pleasant outlook on
the park, of the high, faded, and yet stately room.
“What a charming view!” she said to Lord Buntingford, when they rose
from breakfast, and she made her way to the open window, while Helena
was still deep in the papers.
“You think so?” he said indifferently, standing beside her. “I'm
afraid I prefer London. But now on another matter—Do you mind taking
up your duties instanter?”
“Please—please let me!” she said, turning eagerly to him.
“Well—there is a cook-housekeeper somewhere—who, I believe,
expects orders. Do you mind giving them? Please do not look so alarmed!
It is the simplest matter in the world. You will appear to give orders.
In reality Mrs. Mawson will have everything cut and dried, and you will
not dare to alter a thing. But she expects you or me to pretend. And I
should be greatly relieved if you would do the pretending?”
“Certainly,” murmured Mrs. Friend.
Lord Buntingford, looking at the terrace outside, made a sudden
gesture—half despair, half impatience.
“Oh, and there's old Fenn,—my head gardener. He's been here forty
years, and he sits on me like an old man of the sea. I know what he
wants. He's coming up to ask me about something he calls a herbaceous
border. You see that border there?”—he pointed—“Well, I barely know a
peony from a cabbage. Perhaps you do?” He turned towards her hopefully;
and Mrs. Friend felt the charm, as many other women had felt it before
her, of the meditative blue eyes, under the black and heavy brow. She
shook her head smiling.
He smiled in return.
“But, if you don't—would you mind—again—pretending? Would you see
the old fellow, some time this morning—and tell him to do exactly what
he damn pleases—I beg your pardon!—it slipped out. If not, he'll come
into my study, and talk a jargon of which I don't understand a word,
for half an hour. And as he's stone deaf, he doesn't understand a word
I say. Moreover when he's once there I can't get him out. And I've got
a bit of rather tough county business this morning. Would you mind?
It's a great deal to ask. But if you only let him talk—and look
“Of course I will,” said Mrs. Friend, bewildered, adding rather
desperately, “But I don't know anything at all about it.”
“Oh, that doesn't matter. Perhaps Helena does! By the way, she
hasn't seen her sitting-room.”
He turned towards his ward, who was still reading at the table.
“I have arranged a special sitting-room for you, Helena. Would you
like to come and look at it?”
“What fun!” said Helena, jumping up. “And may I do what I like in
Buntingford's mouth twisted a little.
“Naturally! The house is at your disposal. Turn anything out you
like—and bring anything else in. There is some nice old stuff about,
if you look for it. If you send for the odd man he'll move anything.
Well, I'd better show you what I arranged. But you can have any other
room you prefer.”
He led the way to the first floor, and opened a door in a corner of
the pillared gallery.
“Oh, jolly!” cried Helena.
For they entered a lofty room, with white Georgian panelling, a few
pretty old cabinets and chairs, a chintz-covered sofa, a stand of
stuffed humming-birds, a picture or two, a blue Persian carpet, and a
large book-case full of books.
“My books!” cried Helena in amazement. “I was just going to ask if
the cases had come. How ever did you get them unpacked, and put here so
“Nothing easier. They arrived three days ago. I telephoned to a man
I know in Leicester Square. He sent some one down, and they were all
finished before you came down. Perhaps you won't like the arrangement?
Well, it will amuse you to undo it!”
If there was the slightest touch of sarcasm in the eyes that
travelled from her to the books, Helena took it meekly. She went to the
bookshelves. Poets, novelists, plays, philosophers, economists, some
French and Italian books, they were all in their proper places. The
books were partly her own, partly her mother's. Helena eyed them
“You must have taken a lot of trouble.”
“Not at all. The man took all the trouble. There wasn't much.”
As he spoke, her eye caught a piano standing between the windows.
“Mummy's piano! Why, I thought we agreed it should be stored?”
“It seemed to me you might as well have it down here. We can easily
hire one for London.”
“Awfully nice of you,” murmured Helena. She opened it and stood with
her hand on the keys, looking out into the park, as though she pursued
some thought or memory of her own. It was a brilliant May morning, and
the windows were open. Helena's slim figure in a white dress, the
reddish touch in her brown hair, the lovely rounding of her cheek and
neck, were thrown sharply against a background of new leaf made by a
giant beech tree just outside. Mrs. Friend looked at Lord Buntingford.
The thought leaped into her mind—“How can he help making love to her
himself?”—only to be immediately chidden. Buntingford was not looking
at Helena but at his watch.
“Well, I must go and do some drivelling work before lunch. I have
given Mrs. Friend carte blanche, Helena. Order what you like,
and if Mrs. Mawson bothers you, send her to me. Geoffrey comes
to-night, and we shall be seven to-morrow.”
He made for the door. Helena had turned suddenly at his last words,
eye and cheek kindling.
“Hm—” she said, under her breath—“So he has sent the telegram.”
She left the window, and began to walk restlessly about the room,
looking now at the books, now at the piano. Her face hardened, and she
paid no attention to Mrs. Friend's little comments of pleasure on the
room and its contents. Presently indeed she cut brusquely across.
“I am just going down to the stables to see whether my horse has
arrived. A friend of mine bought her for me in town—and she was to be
here early this morning. I want, too, to see where they're going to put
“Mayn't I come too?” said Mrs. Friend, puzzled by the sudden
clouding of the girl's beautiful looks.
“Oh, no—please don't. You've got to see the housekeeper! I'll get
my hat and run down. I found out last night where the stables are. I
shan't be more than ten minutes or so.”
She hurried away, leaving Mrs. Friend once more a prey to anxieties.
She recalled the threat of the night before. But no, impossible!
After all the kindness and the forethought! She dismissed it from her
The interview with the housekeeper was an ordeal to the gentle
inexperienced woman. But her entire lack of any sort of pretension was
in itself ingratiating; and her manner had the timid charm of her
character. Mrs. Mawson, who might have bristled or sulked in stronger
hands, in order to mark her distaste for the advent of a mistress in
the house she had been long accustomed to rule, was soon melted by the
docility of the little lady, and graciously consented to see her own
plans approved en bloc, by one so frankly ignorant of how a
country house party should be conducted. Then it was the turn of old
Fenn; a more difficult matter, since he did genuinely want
instructions, and Mrs. Friend had none to give him. But kind looks, and
sympathetic murmurs, mingled with honest delight in the show of azaleas
in the conservatory carried her through. Old Fenn too, instead of
resenting her, adopted her. She went back to the house flushed with a
little modest triumph.
Housewifely instincts revived in her. Her hands wanted to be doing.
She had ventured to ask Fenn for some flowers, and would dare to
arrange them herself if Mrs. Mawson would let her.
Then, as she re-entered the house, she came back at a bound to
reality. “If I can't keep Miss Pitstone out of mischief, I shan't be
here a month!” she thought pitifully; and how was it to be done?
She found Helena sitting demurely in the sitting-room, pretending to
read a magazine, but really, or so it seemed to Mrs. Friend, keeping
both eyes and ears open for events.
“I'm trying to get ready for Julian—” she said impatiently,
throwing away her book. “He sent me his article in the Market Place, but it's so stiff that I can't make head or tail of it. I like to hear
him talk—but he doesn't write English.”
Mrs. Friend took up the magazine, and perceived a marked item in the
table of contents—“A New Theory of Value.”
“What does it mean?” she asked.
“Oh, I wish I knew!” said Helena, with a little yawn. “And then he
changes so. Last year he made me read Meredith—the novels, I mean.
One of Our Conquerors, he vowed, was the finest thing ever written.
He scoffed at me for liking Diana and Richard Feverel
better, because they were easier. And now, nothing's bad enough
for Meredith's 'stilted nonsense'—'characters without a spark of life
in them'—'horrible mannerisms'—you should hear him. Except the
poems—ah, except the poems! He daren't touch them. I say—do you know
the 'Hymn to Colour'?” The girl's eager eyes questioned her companion.
Her face in a moment was all softness and passion.
Mrs. Friend shook her head. The nature and deficiencies of her own
education were becoming terribly plain to her with every hour in
Helena sprang up, fetched the book, put Mrs. Friend forcibly into an
arm-chair, and read aloud. Mrs. Friend listened with all her ears, and
was at the end, like Faust, no wiser than before. What did it all mean?
She groped, dazzled, among the Meredithian mists and splendours. But
Helena read with a growing excitement, as though the flashing
mysterious verse were part of her very being. When the last stanza was
done, she flung herself fiercely down on a stool at Mrs. Friend's feet,
“Look now where Colour, the soul's bridegroom, makes The House of
Heaven splendid for the Bride.”
She turned to look up at the little figure in the chair, half
laughing, half passionate: “You do understand, don't you?” Mrs. Friend
again shook her head despairingly.
“It sounds wonderful—but I haven't a notion what it means!” Helena
laughed again, but without a touch of mockery.
“One has to be taught—coached—regularly coached. Julian coached
“What is meant by Colour?” asked Mrs. Friend faintly.
“Colour is Passion, Beauty, Freedom!” said Helena, her cheek
glowing. “It is just the opposite of dulness—and routine—and
make-believe. It's what makes life worth while. And it is the young who
feel it—the young who hear it calling—the young who obey it! And then
when they are old, they have it to remember. Now, do you understand?”
Lucy Friend did not answer. But involuntarily, two shining tears
stood in her eyes. There was something extraordinarily moving in the
girl's ardour. She could hardly bear it. There came back to her
momentary visions from her own quiet past—a country lane at evening
where a man had put his arm round her and kissed her—her
wedding-evening by the sea, when the sun went down, and all the ways
were darkened, and the stars came out—and that telegram which put an
end to everything, which she had scarcely had time to feel, because her
mother was so ill, and wanted her every moment. Had she—even she—in
her poor, drab, little life—had her moments of living Poetry, of
transforming Colour, like others—without knowing it?
Helena watched her, as though in a quick, unspoken sympathy, her own
storm of feeling subsiding.
“Do you know, Lucy, you look very nice indeed in that little black
dress!” she said, in her soft, low voice, like the voice of an
incantation, that she had used the night before. “You are the neatest,
daintiest person!—not prim—but you make everything you wear refined.
When I compare you with Cynthia Welwyn!”
She raised her shoulders scornfully. Lucy Friend, aghast at the
outrageousness of the comparison, tried to silence her—but quite in
vain. Helena ran on.
“Did you watch Cynthia last night? She was playing for Cousin Philip
with all her might. Why doesn't he marry her? She would suit his
autocratic ideas very well. He is forty-four. She must be thirty-eight
if she is a day. They have both got money—which Cynthia can't do
without, for she is horribly extravagant. But I wouldn't give much for
her chances. Cousin Philip is a tough proposition, as the American
says. There is no getting at his real mind. All one knows is that it is
a tyrannical mind!”
All softness had died from the girl's face and sparkling eyes. She
sat on the floor, her hands round her knees, defiance in every tense
feature. Mrs. Friend was conscious of renewed alarm and astonishment,
and at last found the nerve to express them.
“How can you call it tyrannical when he spends all this time and
thought upon you!”
“The gilding of the cage,” said Helena stubbornly. “That is the way
women have always been taken in. Men fling them scraps to keep them
quiet. But as to the real feast—liberty to discover the world
for themselves, make their own experiments—choose and test their own
friends—no, thank you! And what is life worth if it is only to be
lived at somebody's else's dictation?”
“But you have only been here twenty-four hours—not so much! And you
don't know Lord Buntingford's reasons—”
“Oh, yes, I do know!” said Helena, undisturbed—“more or less. I
told you last night. They don't matter to me. It's the principle
involved that matters. Am I free, or am I not free? Anyway, I've just
sent that telegram.”
“To whom?” cried Mrs. Friend.
“To Lord Donald, of course, asking him to meet me at the Ritz next
Wednesday. If you will be so good”—the brown head made her a
ceremonial bow—“as to go up with me to town—we can go to my
dressmaker's together—I have got heaps to do there—then I can leave
you somewhere for lunch—and pick you up again afterwards!”
“Of course, Miss Pitstone—Helena!—I can't do anything of the sort,
unless your guardian agrees.”
“Well, we shall see,” said Helena coolly, jumping up. “I mean to
tell him after lunch. Don't please worry. And good-bye till lunch. This
time I am really going to look after my horse!”
A laugh, and a wave of the hand—she had disappeared. Mrs. Friend
was left to reflect on the New Woman. Was it in truth the war that had
produced her?—and if so, how and why? All that seemed probable was
that in two or three weeks' time, perhaps, she would be again appealing
to the same agency that had sent her to Beechmark. She believed she was
entitled to a month's notice.
Poor Lord Buntingford! Her sympathies were hotly on his side, so far
as she had any understanding of the situation into which she had been
plunged with so little warning. Yet when Helena was actually there at
her feet, she was hypnotized. The most inscrutable thing of all was,
how she could ever have supposed herself capable of undertaking such a
The two ladies were already lunching when Lord Buntingford appeared,
bringing with him another neighbouring squire, come to consult him on
certain local affairs. Sir Henry Bostock, one of those solid,
grey-haired pillars of Church and State in which rural England abounds,
was first dazzled by Miss Pitstone's beauty, and then clearly
scandalized by some of her conversation, and perhaps—or so Mrs. Friend
imagined—by the rather astonishing “make-up” which disfigured lips and
cheeks Nature had already done her best with.
He departed immediately after lunch. Lord Buntingford accompanied
him to the front door, saw him mount his horse, and was returning to
the library, when a white figure crossed his path.
“Cousin Philip, I want to speak to you.”
He looked up at once.
“All right, Helena. Will you come into the library?”
He ushered her in, shut the door behind her, and pushed forward an
“You'll find that comfortable, I think?”
“Thank you, I'd rather stand. Cousin Philip, did you send that
telegram this morning?”
“Certainly. I told you I should.”
“Then you won't be surprised that I too sent mine.”
“I don't understand what you mean?”
“When this morning you said there would be seven for dinner
to-night, I of course realized that you meant to stick to what you had
said about Lord Donald yesterday; and as I particularly want to see
Lord Donald, I sent the new groom to the village this morning with a
wire to him to say that I should be glad if he would arrange to give me
luncheon at the Ritz next Wednesday. I have to go up to try a dress
Lord Buntingford paused a moment, looking apparently at the
cigarette with which his fingers were playing.
“You proposed, I imagine, that Mrs. Friend should go with you?”
“Oh, yes, to my dressmaker's. Then I would arrange for her to go
somewhere to lunch—Debenham's, perhaps.”
“And it was your idea then to go alone—to meet Lord Donald?” He
“He would wait for me in the lounge at the Ritz. It's quite simple!”
Philip Buntingford laughed—good-humouredly.
“Well, it is very kind of you to have told me so frankly,
Helena—because now I shall prevent it. It is the last thing in the
world that your mother would have wished, that you should be seen at
the Ritz alone with Lord Donald. I therefore have her authority with me
in asking you either to write or telegraph to him again to-night,
giving up the plan. Better still if you would depute me to do it. It is
really a very foolish plan—if I may say so.”
“Because—well, there are certain things a girl of nineteen can't do
without spoiling her chances in life—and one of them is to be seen
about alone with a man like Lord Donald.”
“And again I ask—why?”
“I really can't discuss his misdoings with you, Helena. Won't you
trust me in the matter? I thought I had made it plain that having been
devoted to your mother, I was prepared to be equally devoted to you,
and wished you to be as happy and free as possible.”
“That's an appeal to sentiment,” said Helena, resolutely. “Of course
I know it all sounds horrid. You've been as nice as possible; and
anybody who didn't sympathize with my views would think me a nasty,
ungrateful toad. But I'm not going to be coaxed into giving them up,
any more than I'm going to be bullied.”
Lord Buntingford surveyed her. The habitual slight pucker—as though
of anxiety or doubt—in his brow was much in evidence. It might have
meant the chronic effort of a short-sighted man to see. But the fine
candid eyes were not short-sighted. The pucker meant something deeper.
“Of course I should like to understand what your views are,” he said
at last, throwing away one cigarette, and lighting another.
Helena's look kindled. She looked handsomer and more maenad-like
than ever, as she stood leaning against Buntingford's writing-table,
her arms folded, one slim foot crossed over the other.
“The gist of them is,” she said eagerly, “that we—the women
of the present day—are not going to accept our principles—moral—or
political—or economic—on anybody's authority. You seem, Cousin
Philip, in my case at any rate, to divide the world into two sets of
people, moral and immoral, good and bad—desirable and
undesirable—that kind of thing! And you expect me to know the one set,
and ignore the other set. Well, we don't see it that way at all. We
think that everybody is a pretty mixed lot. I know I am myself. At any
rate I'm not going to begin my life by laying down a heap of rules
about things I don't understand—or by accepting them from you, or
anybody. If Lord Donald's a bad man, I want to know why he is a bad
man—and then I'll decide. If he revolts my moral sense, of course I'll
cut him. But I won't take anybody else's moral sense for judge. We've
got to overhaul that sort of thing from top to bottom.”
Buntingford looked thoughtfully at the passionate speaker. Should
he—could he argue with her? Could he show her, for instance, a letter,
or parts of it, which he had received that very morning from poor Luke
Preston, his old Eton and Oxford friend? No!—it would be useless. In
her present mood she might treat it so as to rouse his own temper—let
alone the unseemliness of the discussion it must raise between them. Or
should he give her a fairly full biography of Jim Donald, as he
happened to know it? He revolted against the notion, astonished to find
how strong certain old-fashioned instincts still were in his
composition. And, after all, he had said a good deal the night before,
at dinner, when Helena's invitation to a man he despised as a coward
and a libertine had been first sprung upon him. There really was only
one way out. He took it.
“Well, Helena, I'm very sorry,” he said slowly. “Your views are very
interesting. I should like some day to discuss them with you. But the
immediate business is to stop this Ritz plan. You really won't stop it
“Certainly not!” said Helena, her breath fluttering.
“Well, then, I must write to Donald myself. I happen to possess the
means of making it impossible for him to meet you at the Ritz next
Wednesday, Helena; and I shall use them. You must make some other
“What means?” she demanded. She had turned very pale.
“Ah, no!—that you must leave to me. Look here, Helena”—his tone
softened—“can't we shake hands on it, and make up? I do hate
quarrelling with your mother's daughter.”
Involuntarily, through all her rage, Helena was struck by the
extreme sensitiveness of the face opposite her—a sensitiveness often
disguised by the powerful general effect of the man's head and eyes. In
a calmer mood she might have said to herself that only some past
suffering could have produced it. At the moment, however, she was
incapable of anything but passionate resentment.
All the same there was present in her own mind an ideal of what the
action and bearing of a girl in her position should be, which, with the
help of pride, would not allow her to drift into mere temper. She put
her hands firmly behind her; so that Buntingford was forced to withdraw
his; but she kept her self-possession.
“I don't see what there is but quarrelling before us, Cousin Philip,
if you are to proceed on these lines. Are you really going to keep me
to my promise?”
“To let me take care of you—for these two years? It was not a
promise to me, Helena.”
The girl's calm a little broke down.
“Mummy would never have made me give it,” she said fiercely, “if she
“Well, you can't ask her now,” he said gently. “Hadn't we better
make the best of it?”
She scorned to reply. He opened the door for her, and she swept
Left to himself, Buntingford gave a great stretch.
“That was strenuous!”—he said to himself—“uncommonly strenuous.
How many times a week shall I have to do it? Can't Cynthia Welwyn do
anything? I'll go and see Cynthia this afternoon.”
With which very natural, but quite foolish resolution, he at last
succeeded in quieting his own irritation, and turning his mind to a
political speech he had to make next week in his own village.
Cynthia Welwyn was giving an account of her evening at Beechmark to
her elder sister, Lady Georgina. They had just met in the little
drawing-room of Beechmark Cottage, and tea was coming in. It would be
difficult to imagine a greater contrast than the two sisters presented.
They were the daughters of a peer belonging to what a well-known
frequenter of great houses and great families before the war used to
call “the inferior aristocracy”—with an inflection of voice caught no
doubt from the great families themselves. Yet their father had been an
Earl, the second of his name, and was himself the son of a meteoric
personage of mid-Victorian days—parliamentary lawyer, peer, and
Governor of an Indian Presidency, who had earned his final step in the
peerage by the skilful management of a little war, and had then
incontinently died, leaving his family his reputation, which was
considerable, and his savings, which were disappointingly small. Lady
Cynthia and Lady Georgina were his only surviving children, and the
earldom was extinct.
The sisters possessed a tiny house in Brompton Square, and rented
Beechmark Cottage from Lord Buntingford, of whom their mother, long
since dead, had been a cousin. The cottage stood within the enclosure
of the park, and to their connection with the big house the sisters
owed a number of amenities,—game in winter, flowers and vegetables in
summer—which were of importance to their small income. Cynthia Welwyn,
however, could never have passed as anybody's dependent. She thanked
her cousin occasionally for the kindnesses of which his head gardener
and his game-keeper knew much more than he did; and when he said
impatiently—“Please never thank for that sort of thing!” she dropped
the subject as lightly as she had raised it. Secretly she felt that
such things, and much more, were her due. She had not got from life all
she should have got; and it was only natural that people should make it
up to her a little.
For Cynthia, though she had wished to marry, was unmarried, and a
secret and melancholy conviction now sometimes possessed her that she
would remain Cynthia Welwyn to the end. She knew very well that in the
opinion of her friends she had fallen between two stools. Her
neighbour, Sir Richard Watson, had proposed to her twice,—on the last
occasion some two years before the war. She had not been able to make
up her mind to accept him, because on the whole she was more in love
with her cousin, Philip Buntingford, and still hoped that his old
friendship for her might turn to something deeper. But the war had
intervened, and during its four years she and Buntingford had very much
lost sight of each other. She had taken her full share in the county
war work; while he was absorbed body and soul by the Admiralty.
And now that they were meeting again as of old, she was very
conscious, in some undefined way, that she had lost ground with him.
Uneasily she felt that her talk sometimes bored him; yet she could not
help talking. In the pre-war days, when they met in a drawing-room full
of people, he had generally ended his evening beside her. Now his
manner, for all its courtesy, seemed to tell her that those times were
done; that she was four years older; that she had lost the first
brilliance of her looks; and that he himself had grown out of her ken.
Helena's young unfriendly eyes had read her rightly. She did wish
fervently to recapture Philip Buntingford; and saw no means of doing
so. Meanwhile Sir Richard, now demobilized, had come back from the war
bringing great glory with him, as one of the business men whom the Army
had roped in to help in its vast labour and transport organization
behind the lines. He too had reappeared at Beechmark Cottage. But he
too was four years older—and dreadfully preoccupied, it seemed to her,
with a thousand interests which had mattered nothing to him in the old
Yet Cynthia Welwyn was still an extremely attractive and desirable
woman, and was quite aware of it, as was her elder sister, Lady
Georgina, who spent her silent life in alternately admiring and
despising the younger. Lady Georgina was short, thin, and nearly
white-haired. She had a deep voice, which she used with a harsh
abruptness, startling to the newcomer. But she used it very little.
Cynthia's friends, were used to see her sitting absolutely silent
behind the tea-urn at breakfast or tea, filling the cups while Cynthia
handed them and Cynthia talked; and they had learned that it was no use
at all to show compassion and try to bring her into the conversation. A
quiet rather stony stare, a muttered “Ah” or “Oh,” were all that such
efforts produced. Some of the frequenters of the cottage drawing-room
were convinced that Lady Georgina was “not quite all there.” Others had
the impression of something watchful and sinister; and were accustomed
to pity “dear Cynthia” for having to live with so strange a being.
But in truth the sisters suited each other very fairly, and Lady
Georgina found a good deal more tongue when she was alone with Cynthia
than at other times.
To the lively account that Cynthia had been giving her of the
evening at Beechmark, and the behaviour of Helena Pitstone, Lady
Georgina had listened in a sardonic silence; and at the end of it she
“What ever made the man such a fool?”
“Who?—Buntingford? My dear, what could he do? Rachel Pitstone was
his greatest friend in the world, and when she asked him just the week
before she died, how could he say No?” Lady Georgina murmured that in
that case Rachel Pitstone also had been a fool—
“Unless, of course, she wanted the girl to marry Buntingford. Why,
Philip's only forty-four now. A nice age for a guardian! Of course it's
not proper. The neighbours will talk.”
“Oh, no,—not with a chaperon. Besides nobody minds anything odd
Cynthia meanwhile as she lay stretched in a deep arm-chair, playing
with the tea-spoon in her shapely fingers, was a pleasant vision. Since
coming in from the village, she had changed her tweed coat and skirt
for a tea-frock of some soft silky stuff, hyacinth blue in colour; and
Georgina, for whom tea-frocks were a silly abomination, and who was
herself sitting bolt upright in a shabby blue serge some five springs
old, could not deny the delicate beauty of her sister's still fresh
complexion and pale gold hair, nor the effectiveness of the blue dress
in combination with them. She did not really want Cynthia to look
older, nor to see her ill-dressed; but all the same there were many
days when Cynthia's mature perfections roused a secret irritation in
her sister—a kind of secret triumph also in the thought that, in the
end, Time would be the master even of Cynthia. Perhaps after all she
would marry. It did look as though Sir Richard Watson, if properly
encouraged, and indemnified for earlier rebuffs, might still mean
business. As for Philip Buntingford, it was only Cynthia's vanity that
had ever made her imagine him in love with her. Lady Georgina scoffed
at the notion.
These fragmentary reflections, and others like them were passing
rapidly and disconnectedly through the mind of the elder sister, when
her ear caught the sound of footsteps in the drive. Drawing aside a
corner of the muslin curtain beside her, which draped one of the French
windows of the low room, she perceived the tall figure and scarcely
perceptible limp of Lord Buntingford. Cynthia too saw him, and ceased
to lounge. She quietly re-lit the tea-kettle, and took a roll of
knitting from a table near her. Then as the front bell rang through the
small house, she threw a scarcely perceptible look at her sister. Would
Georgie “show tact,” and leave her and Philip alone, or would she
insist on her rights and spoil his visit? Georgina made no sign.
Buntingford entered, flushed with his walk, and carrying a bunch of
blue-bells which he presented to Lady Georgina.
“I gathered them in Cricket Wood. The whole wood is a sea of blue.
You and Cynthia must really go and see them.”
He settled himself in a chair, and plunged into tea and small talk
as though to the manner born. But all the time Cynthia, while approving
his naval uniform, and his general picturesqueness, was secretly
wondering what he had come about. For although he was enjoying a
well-earned leave, the first for two years, and had every right to
idle, the ordinary afternoon call of country life, rarely, as she knew,
came into the scheme of his day. The weather was beautiful and she had
made sure that he would be golfing on a well-known links some three
Presently the small talk flagged, and Buntingford began to fidget.
Slowly Lady Georgina rose from her seat, and again extinguished the
flame under the silver kettle. Would she go, or would she not go?
Cynthia dropped some stitches in the tension of the moment. Then
Buntingford got up to open the door for Georgina, who, without deigning
to make any conventional excuse for her departure, nevertheless
Buntingford returned to his seat, picked up Cynthia's ball of wool,
and sat holding it, his eyes on the down-dropped head of his cousin,
and on the beautiful hands holding the knitting-needles. Yes, she was
still very good-looking, and had been sensible enough not to spoil
herself by paint and powder, unlike that silly child, Helena, who was
yet so much younger—twenty-two years younger, almost. It seemed
incredible. But he could reckon Cynthia's age to a day; for they had
known each other very well as children, and he had often given her a
birthday present, till the moment when, in her third season, Cynthia
had peremptorily put an end to the custom. Then he had gone abroad, and
there had been a wide gap of years when they had never seen each other
at all. And now, it was true, she did often bore him, intellectually.
But at this moment, he was not bored—quite the contrary. The sunny
cottage room, with its flowers and books and needlework, and a charming
woman as its centre, evidently very glad to see him, and ready to
welcome any confidences he might give her, produced a sudden sharp
effect upon him. That hunger for something denied him—the “It” which
he was always holding at bay—sprang upon him, and shook his
“We've known each other a long time, haven't we, Cynthia?” he said,
smiling, and holding out her ball of wool.
Cynthia hardly concealed her start of pleasure. She looked up,
shaking her hair from her white brow and temples with a graceful
gesture, half responsive, half melancholy.
“So long!” she said—“it doesn't bear thinking of.”
“Not at all. You haven't aged a bit. I want you to help me in
something, Cynthia. You remember how you helped me out of one or two
scrapes in the old days?”
They both laughed. Cynthia remembered very well. That scrape, for
instance, with the seductive little granddaughter of the retired
village school-master—a veritable Ancient of Days, who had been the
witness of an unlucky kiss behind a hedge, and had marched up
instanter, in his wrath, to complain to Lord Buntingford grand-pere.
Or that much worse scrape, when a lad of nineteen, with not enough to
do in his Oxford vacation, had imagined himself in love with a married
lady of the neighbourhood, twenty years older than himself, and had had
to be packed off in disgrace to Switzerland with a coach:—an angry
grandfather breathing fire and slaughter. Certainly in those days
Philip had been unusually—remarkably susceptible. Cynthia remembered
him as always in or out of a love-affair, while she to whom he never
made love was alternately champion and mentor. In those days, he had no
expectation of the estates or the title. He was plain Philip Bliss,
with an artistic and literary turn, great personal charm, and a
temperament that invited catastrophes. That was before he went to Paris
and Rome for serious work at painting. Seven years he had been away
from England, and she had never seen him. He had announced his marriage
to her in a short note containing hardly any particulars—except that
his wife was a student like himself, and that he intended to live
abroad and work. Some four years later, the Times contained the
bare news, in the obituary column, of his wife's death, and about a
year afterwards he returned to England, an enormously changed man, with
that slight lameness, which seemed somehow to draw a sharp, dividing
line between the splendid, impulsive youth who had gone abroad, and the
reserved, and self-contained man of thirty-two—pessimist and
dilettante—who had returned. His lameness he ascribed to an accident
in the Alps, but would never say anything more about it; and his
friends presently learned to avoid the subject, and to forget the
slight signs of something unexplained which had made them curious at
In the intervening years before the war, Cynthia felt tolerably sure
that she had been his only intimate woman friend. His former
susceptibility seemed to have vanished. On the whole he avoided women's
society. Some years after his return he had inherited the title and the
estates, and might have been one of the most invited men in London had
he wished to be; while Cynthia could remember at least three women, all
desirable, who would have liked to marry him. The war had swept him
more decidedly than ever out of the ordinary current of society. He had
made it both an excuse and a shield. His work was paramount; and even
his old friends had lost sight of him. He lived and breathed for an
important Committee of the Admiralty, on which as time went on he took
a more and more important place. In the four years Cynthia had scarcely
seen him more than half a dozen times.
And now the war was over. It was May again, and glorious May with
the world all colour and song, the garden a wealth of blossom, and the
nights clear and fragrant under moon or stars. And here was Philip
again—much more like the old Philip than he had been for
years—looking at her with those enchanting blue eyes of his, and
asking her to do something for him. No wonder Cynthia's pulses were
stirred. The night before, she had come home depressed—very conscious
that she had had no particular success with him at dinner, or
afterwards. This unexpected tete-a-tete, with its sudden touch
of intimacy, made up for it all.
What could she do but assure him—trying hard not to be too
forthcoming—that she would be delighted to help him, if she could?
What was wrong?
“Nothing but my own idiocy,” he said, smiling. “I find myself
guardian to an extremely headstrong young woman, and I don't know how
to manage her. I want your advice.”
Cynthia lay back in her chair, and prepared to give him all her
mind. But her eyes showed a certain mockery.
“I wonder why you undertook it!”
“So do I. But—well, I couldn't help it. We won't discuss that. But
what I had very little idea of—was the modern girl!” Cynthia laughed
“And now you have discovered her—in one day?” He laughed too, but
“Oh, I am only on the first step. What I shall come to presently, I
don't know. But the immediate problem is that Helena bombed me last
night by the unexpected announcement that she had asked Donald—Lord
Donald—for the week-end. Do you know him?” Cynthia's eyebrows had gone
“You know his reputation?”
“I begin to remember a good deal about him. Go on.”
“Well, Helena had asked that man, without consulting me, to stay at
my house, and she sprang the announcement on me, on Thursday, the
invitation being for Saturday. I had to tell her then and there—that
he couldn't come.”
“Naturally. How did she take it?”
“Very ill. You see, in a rash moment, I had told her to invite her
friends for week-ends as she pleased. So she holds that I have broken
faith, and this morning she told me she had arranged to go up and lunch
with Donald at the Ritz next week—alone! So again I had to stop it.
But I don't play the jailer even decently. I feel the greatest fool in
creation.” Cynthia smiled.
“I quite believe you! And this all happened in the first twenty-four
hours? Poor Philip!”
“And I have also been informed that Helena's 'views' will not allow
her—in the future—to take my advice on any such questions—that she
prefers her liberty to her reputation—and 'wants to understand a bad
man.' She said so. It's all very well to laugh, Cynthia! But what am I
Cynthia, however, continued to laugh unrestrainedly. And he joined
“And now you want advice?” she said at last, checking her mirth.
“I'm awfully sorry for you, Philip. What about the little chaperon?”
“As nice a woman as ever was—but I don't see her preventing Helena
from doing anything she wants to do. Helena will jolly well take care
of that. Besides she is too new to the job.”
“She may get on better with Helena, perhaps, than a stronger woman,”
mused Cynthia. “But I am afraid you have got your work cut out. Wasn't
it very rash of you?”
“I couldn't help it,” he repeated briefly. “And I must just do my
best. But I'd be awfully grateful if you'd take a hand, Cynthia. Won't
you come up and really make friends with her? She might take things
from you that she wouldn't from me.”
Cynthia looked extremely doubtful.
“I am sure last night she detested me.”
“How could you tell? And why should she?”
“I'm twenty years older. That's quite enough.”
“You scarcely look a day older, Cynthia.”
She sighed, and lightly touched his hand, with a caressing gesture
he remembered of old.
“Very nice of you to say it—but of course it isn't true. Well,
Philip, I'll do what I can. I'll wander up some time—on Sunday
perhaps. With your coaching, I could at least give her a biography of
Jim Donald. One needn't be afraid of shocking her?”
His eyebrows lifted.
“Who's shocked at anything nowadays? Look at the things girls read
and discuss! I'm old-fashioned, I suppose. But I really couldn't talk
about Donald to her this morning. The fellow is such a worm! It would
come better from you.”
“Tell me a few more facts, then, about him, than I know at present.”
He gave her rapidly a sketch of the life and antecedents of Lord
Donald of Dunoon—gambler, wastrel, divorce, et cetera, speaking
quite frankly, almost as he would have spoken to a man. For there was
nothing at all distasteful to him in Cynthia's knowledge of life. In a
woman of forty it was natural and even attractive. The notion of a
discussion of Donald's love-affairs with Helena had revolted him. It
was on the contrary something of a relief—especially with a practical
object in view—to discuss them with Cynthia.
They sat chatting till the shadows lengthened, then wandered into
the garden, still talking. Lady Georgina, watching from her window
upstairs, had to admit that Buntingford seemed to like her sister's
society. But if she had been within earshot at the last five minutes of
their conversation, she would perhaps have seen no reason, finally, to
change her opinion. Very agreeable that discursive talk had been to
both participants. Buntingford had talked with great frankness of his
own plans. In three months or so, his Admiralty work would be over. He
thought very likely that the Government would then give him a modest
place in the Administration. He might begin by representing the
Admiralty in the Lords, and as soon as he got a foot on the political
ladder prospects would open. On the whole, he thought, politics would
be his line. He had no personal axes to grind; was afraid of nothing;
wouldn't care if the Lords were done away with to-morrow, and could
live on a fraction of his income if the Socialists insisted on grabbing
the rest. But the new world which the war had opened was a desperately
interesting one. He hadn't enough at stake in it to spoil his nerve.
Whatever happened, he implied, he was steeled—politically and
intellectually. Nothing could deprive him either of the joy of the
fight, or the amusement of the spectacle.
And Cynthia, her honey-gold hair blown back from her white temples
by the summer wind, her blue parasol throwing a summer shade about her,
showed herself, as they strolled backwards and forwards over the shady
lawn of the cottage, a mistress of the listening art; and there is no
art more winning, either to men or women.
Then, in a moment, what broke the spell? Some hint or question from
her, of a more intimate kind?—something that touched a secret place,
wholly unsuspected by her? She racked her brains afterwards to think
what it could have been; but in vain. All she knew was that the man
beside her had suddenly stiffened. His easy talk had ceased to flow;
while still walking beside her, he seemed to be miles away. So that by
a quick common impulse both stood still.
“I must go back to the village,” said Cynthia. She smiled, but her
face had grown a little tired and faded.
He looked at his watch.
“And I told the car to fetch me half an hour ago. You'll be up some
time perhaps—luncheon to-morrow?—or Sunday?”
“If I can. I'll do my best.”
“Kind Cynthia!” But his tone was perfunctory, and his eyes avoided
her. When he had gone, she could only wonder what she had done to
offend him; and a certain dreariness crept into the evening light. She
was not the least in love with Philip—that she assured herself. But
his sudden changes of mood were very trying to one who would like to be
Buntingford walked rapidly home. His way lay through an oak wood,
that was now a revel of spring; overhead, a shimmering roof of golden
leaf and wild cherry-blossom, and underfoot a sea of blue-bells. A
winding path led through it, and through the lovely open and grassy
spaces which from time to time broke up the density of the wood—like
so many green floors cleared for the wood nymphs' dancing. From the
west a level sun struck through the trees, breaking through
storm-clouds which had been rapidly filling the horizon, and kindling
the tall trees, with their ribbed grey bark, till they shone for a
brief moment like the polished pillars in the house of Odysseus. Then a
nightingale sang. Nightingales were rare at Beechmark; and Buntingford
would normally have hailed the enchanted flute-notes with a boyish
delight. But this evening they fell on deaf ears, and when the garish
sunlight gave place to gloom, and drops of rain began to patter on the
new leaf, the gathering storm, and the dark silence of the wood, after
the nightingale had given her last trill, were welcome to a man
struggling with a recurrent and desperate oppression.
Must he always tamely submit to the fetters which bound him? Could
he do nothing to free himself? Could the law do nothing?
Enquiry—violent action of some sort—rebellion against the conditions
which had grown so rigid about him:—for the hundredth time, he
canvassed all ways of escape, and for the hundredth time, found none.
He knew very well what was wrong with him. It was simply the
imperious need for a woman's companionship in his life—for love. Physically and morally, the longing which had lately taken possession
of him, was becoming a gnawing and perpetual distress. There was the
plain fact. This hour with Cynthia Welwyn had stirred in him the depths
of old pain. But he was not really in love with Cynthia. During the
war, amid the absorption of his work, and the fierce pressure of the
national need, he had been quite content to forget her. His work—and
England's strait—had filled his mind and his time. Except for certain
dull resentments and regrets, present at all times in the background of
consciousness, the four years of the war had been to him a period of
relief, almost of deliverance. He had been able to lose himself; and in
that inner history of the soul which is the real history of each one of
us, that had been for long years impossible.
But now all that protection and help was gone; the floodgates were
loosened again. His work still went on; but it was no longer absorbing;
it no longer mattered enough to hold in check the vague impulses and
passions that were beating against his will.
And meanwhile the years were running on. He was forty-four, Helena
Pitstone's guardian, and clearly relegated already by that unmanageable
child to the ranks of the middle-aged. He had read her thought in her
great scornful eyes. “What has your generation to do with mine? Your
day is over!”
And all the while the ugly truth was that he had never had his
“day”—and was likely now to miss it for good. Or at least such “day"
as had shone upon him had been so short, so chequered, so tragically
wiped out, it might as well never have dawned. Yet the one dear woman
friend to whom in these latter years he had spoken freely, who knew him
through and through—Helena Pitstone's mother—had taken for granted,
in her quiet ascetic way, that he had indeed had his chance, and must
accept for good and all what had come of it. It was because she thought
of him as set apart, as debarred by what had happened to him, from
honest love-making, and protected by his own nature from anything less,
that she had asked him to take charge of Helena. He realized it now. It
had been the notion of a fanciful idealist, springing from certain
sickroom ideas of sacrifice—renunciation—submission to the will of
God—and so forth.
It was not the will of God!—that he should live forsaken and
die forlorn! He hurled defiance, even at Rachel, his dear dead friend,
who had been so full of pity for him, and for whom he had felt the
purest and most unselfish affection he had ever known—since his
And now the presence of her child in his house seemed to represent a
verdict, a sentence—of hers upon him, which he simply refused to
accept as just or final. If Rachel had only lived a little longer he
would have had it out with her. But in those last terrible days, how
could he either argue—or refuse?
All the same, he would utterly do his duty by Helena. If she chose
to regard him as an old fogy, well and good—it was perhaps better so.
Not that—if circumstances had been other than they were—-he would
have been the least inclined to make love to her. Her beauty was
astonishing. But the wonderful energy and vitality of her crude youth
rather repelled than attracted him.
The thought of the wrestles ahead of him was a weariness to an
already tired man. Debate with her, on all the huge insoluble questions
she seemed to be determined to raise, was of all things in the world
most distasteful to him. He would certainly cut a sorry figure in it;
nothing was more probable.
The rain began to plash down upon his face and bared head, cooling
an inner fever. The damp wood, the soft continuous dripping of the
cherry-blossoms, the scent of the blue-bells,—there was in them a
certain shelter and healing. He would have liked to linger there. But
already, at Beechmark, guests must have arrived; he was being missed.
The trees thinned, and the broad lawns of Beechmark came in sight.
Ah!—there was Geoffrey, walking up and down with Helena. Suppose
that really came off? What a comfortable way out! He and Cynthia must
back it all they could.
“Buntingford looks twice as old as he need!” said Geoffrey French,
lighting a cigarette as he and Helena stepped out of the drawing-room
window after dinner into the May world outside—a world which lay
steeped in an after-glow of magical beauty. “What's wrong, I wonder!
Have you been plaguing him, Helena?” The laughing shot was fired purely
at random. But the slight start and flush it produced in Helena struck
“I see nothing wrong with him,” said Helena, a touch of defiance in
her voice. “But of course it's extraordinarily difficult to get on with
“With Philip!—the jolliest, kindest chap going! What do you mean?”
“All right. It's no good talking to anybody with a parti pris!”
“No—but seriously, Helena—what's the matter? Why, you told me you
only began the new arrangement two days ago.”
“Exactly. And there's been time already for a first-class quarrel.
Time also for me to see that I shall never, never get on with him. I
don't know how we are to get through the two years!”
“Well!” ejaculated her companion. “In Heaven's name, what has
he been doing?”
Helena shrugged her shoulders. She was striding beside him like a
young Artemis—in white, with a silver star in her hair, and her short
skirts beaten back from her slender legs and feet by the evening wind.
Geoffrey French, who had had a classical education, almost looked for
the quiver and the bow. He was dazzled at once, and provoked. A
magnificent creature, certainly—“very mad and very handsome!”—he
recalled Buntingford's letter.
“Do tell me, Helena!” he urged.
“What's the good? You'll only side with him—and preach.
You've done that several times already.”
The young man frowned a little.
“I don't preach!” he said shortly. “I say what I think—when
you ask me. Twice, if I remember right, you told me of some proceeding
of yours, and asked me for my opinion. Well, I gave it, and it didn't
happen to be yours. But that isn't preaching.”
“You gave so many reasons—it was preaching.”
“Great Scott!—wasn't it more polite to give one's reasons?”
“Perhaps. But one shouldn't burst with them. One should be
sorry to disagree.”
“Hm. Well—now kindly lay down for me, how I am to disagree with you
about Philip. For I do disagree with you, profoundly.”
“There it is. Profoundly—that shows how you enjoy disagreeing. Why
can't you put yourself at my point of view?”
“Well, I'll try. But at least—explain it to me.”
Helena threw herself into a garden chair, under a wild cherry which
rose a pyramid of silver against an orange sky. Other figures were
scattered about the lawns, three or four young men, and three or four
girls in light dresses. The air seemed to be full of laughter and young
voices. Only Mrs. Friend sat shyly by herself just within the
drawing-room window, a book on her knee. A lamp behind her brought out
the lines of her bent head and slight figure.
“I wonder if I like you well enough,” said Helena coolly, biting at
a stalk of grass—“well enough, I mean, to explain things. I haven't
made you my father confessor yet, Geoffrey.”
“Suppose you begin—and see how it answers,” said French lazily,
rolling over on the grass in front of her, his chin in his hands.
“Well, I don't mind—for fun. Only if you preach I shall stop. But,
first of all, let's get some common ground. You admit, I suppose, that
the war has changed the whole position of women?”
“Don't state them!” said Helena hastily. “That would be preaching.
Yes, or No?”
“Yes, then,—you tyrant!”
“And that means—doesn't it—at the very least—that girls of my own
age have done with all the old stupid chaperonage business—at least
nearly all—that we are to choose our own friends, and make our own
arrangements?—doesn't it?” she repeated peremptorily.
“I don't know. My information is—that the mothers are stiffening.”
A laughing face looked up at her from the grass.
“Stiffening!” The tone was contemptuous. “Well, that may be so—for
babes of seventeen—like that one—” her gesture indicated a slight
figure in white at the edge of the lawn—“who have never been out of
“You think nineteen makes all the difference? I doubt,” said
Geoffrey French coolly, as he sat up tailor-fashion, and surveyed her.
“Well, my view is that for the babes, as you call them, chaperonage is
certainly reviving. I have just been sitting next Lady Maud, this
babe's mother, and she told me an invitation came for the babe from
some great house last week, addressed to 'Miss Luton and
partner'—whereon Lady Maud wrote back—'My daughter has no partner and
I shall be very happy to bring her.' Rather a poke in the eye! Then
there are the women of five or six and twenty who have been through the
war, and are not likely to give up the freedom of it—ever again.
That's all right. They'll take their own risks. Many of them will
prefer not to live at home again. They'll live with a friend—and visit
their people perhaps every day! But, then there's you,
Helena—the betwixt and between!—”
“Well—what about me?”
“You're neither a babe—nor a veteran.”
“I'm nineteen and a half—and I've done a year and a half of war
“Canteen—and driving? All right. Am I to give an opinion?”
“You will give it, whatever I say. And it's you all over—to give
it, before you've allowed me to explain anything.”
“Oh, I know your point of view—” said Geoffrey, unperturbed—“know
it by heart. Haven't you dinned it into me at half a dozen dances
lately? No!—I'm entitled to my say—and here it is. Claim all the
freedom you like—but as you're not twenty-five, but
nineteen—let a good fellow like Buntingford give you advice—and be
“Prig!” said Helena, pelting him with a spray of wild cherry, which
he caught and put in his button-hole. “If that isn't preaching, I
should like to know what is!”
“Not at all. Unbiased opinion—civilly expressed. If you really were
an emancipated young woman, Helena, you'd take it so! But now—” his
tone changed—“let's come to business. What have you and Philip been
Helena straightened her shoulders, as though to meet certain
“Because—I asked Lord Donald to spend the week-end here—”
“I did; and Cousin Philip wired to him and forbade him the house.
Offence No. 1. Then as I intended all the same to see Jim, I told him I
would go up and lunch with him at the Ritz. Cousin Philip vows I
shan't, and he seems to have some underhand means of stopping it—I—I
don't know what—”
“Underhand! Philip! I say, Helena, I wonder whether you have any
idea how people who really know him think about Buntingford!”
“Oh, of course men back up men!”
“Stuff! It's really silly—abominable too—the way you talk of
him—I can't help saying it.”
And this time it was Geoffrey's turn to look indignant. His long
face with its deeply set grey eyes, a rather large nose, and a fine
brow under curly hair, had flushed suddenly.
“If you can't help it, I suppose you must say it. But I don't know
why I should stay and listen,” said Helena provokingly, making a
movement as though to rise. But he laid a hand on her dress:
“No, no, Helena, don't go—look here—do you ever happen to notice
Buntingford—when he's sitting quiet—and other people are talking
“Not particularly.” The tone was cold, but she no longer threatened
“Well, I just ask you—some time—to watch. An old friend of
his said to me the other day—'I often feel that Buntingford is the
saddest man I know.'“
“Why should he be?” asked Helena imperiously.
“I can't tell you. No one can. It's just what those people think who
know him best. Well, that's one fact about him—that his men
friends feel they could no more torment a wounded soldier, than worry
Buntingford—if they could help it. Then there are other facts that no
one knows unless they've worked in Philip's office, where all the men
clerks and all the women typists just adore him! I happen to know a
good deal about it. I could tell you things—”
“For Heaven's sake, don't!” cried Helena impatiently. “What does it
matter? He may be a saint—with seven haloes—for those that don't
cross him. But I want my freedom!”—a white foot beat the ground
impatiently—“and he stands in the way.”
“Freedom to compromise yourself with a scoundrel like Donald! What
can you know about such a man—compared with what Philip knows?”
“That's just it—I want to know—” said Helena in her most
stubborn voice. “This is a world, now, in which we've all got to
know,—both the bad and the good of it. No more taking it on trust from
other people! Let us learn it for ourselves.”
“Helena!—you're quite mad!” said the young man, exasperated.
“Perhaps I am. But it's a madness you can't cure.” And springing to
her feet, she sent a call across the lawn—“Peter!” A slim boy who was
walking beside the “babe” of seventeen, some distance away, turned
sharply at the sound, and running across the grass pulled up in front
“Well?—here I am.”
“Shall we go and look at the lake? You might pull me about a
“Ripping!” said the youth joyously. “Won't you want a cloak?”
“No—it's so hot. Shall we ask Miss Luton?”
Peter made a face.
“Why should we?”
Helena laughed, and they went off together in the direction of a
strip of silver under distant trees on which the moon was shining.
French walked away towards the girlish figure now deserted.
Helena watched him out of the corner of her eyes, saw the girl's
eager greeting, and the disappearance of the two in the woody walk that
bordered the lawn. Then she noticed a man sitting by himself not far
away, with a newspaper on his knee.
“Suppose we take Mr. Horne, Peter?”
“Don't let's take anybody!” said the boy. “And anyway Horne's a
nuisance just now. He talks you dead with strikes—and
nationalization—and labour men—and all that rot. Can't we ever let it
alone? I want to talk to you, Helena. I say, you are ripping in
that dress! You're just divine, Helena!” The girl laughed, her
sweetest, most rippling laugh.
“Go on like that, Peter. You can't think how nice it
sounds—especially after Geoffrey's been lecturing for all he's worth.”
“Lecturing? Oh well, if it comes to that, I've got my grievance too,
Helena. We'll have it out, when I've found the boat.”
“Forewarned!” said Helena, still laughing. “Perhaps I won't come.”
“Oh, yes, you will,” said the boy confidently. “I believe you know
perfectly well what it's about. You've got a guilty conscience, Miss
Helena said nothing, till they had pushed the boat out from the
reeds and the water-lilies, and she was sitting with the steering ropes
in her hands opposite a boy in his shirt sleeves, with the head and
face of a cherub, and the spare frame of an athlete, who was devouring
her with his eyes.
“Are you quite done with the Army, Peter?”
“Quite. Got out a month ago. You come to me, Helena, if you want any
advice about foreign loans—eh? I can tell you a thing or two.”
“Are you going to be very rich?”
“Well, I'm pretty rich already,” said the boy candidly. “It seems
beastly to be wanting more. But my uncles would shove me into the Bank.
I couldn't help it.”
“You'll never look so nice as you did in your khaki, Peter. What
have you done with all your ribbons?”
“What, the decorations? Oh, they're kicking about somewhere.”
“You're not to let your Victoria Cross kick about, as you call it,”
said Helena severely. “By the way, Peter, you've never told me yet—Oh,
I saw the bit in the Times. But I want you to tell me
about it. Won't you?”
She bent forward, all softness, her beautiful eyes on her companion.
“No!” said Peter with energy—“never!”
She considered him.
“Was it so awful?” she asked under her breath.
“For God's sake, don't ask questions!” said the boy angrily. “You
know I want to forget it. I shall never be quite right till I do forget
She was silent. It was his twin brother he had tried to
save—staggering back through a British barrage with the wounded man on
his shoulders—only to find, as he stumbled into the trench, that he
had been carrying the dead. He himself had spent six months in hospital
from the effects of wounds and shock. He had emerged to find himself a
V. V. and A. D. C. to his Army Commander; and apparently as gay and
full of fun as before. But his adoring mother and sisters knew very
well that there were sore spots in Peter.
Helena realized that she had touched one. She bent forward
presently, and laid her own hand on one of the hands that were handling
He bent impetuously, and kissed the hand before she could withdraw
“Don't you play with me, Helena,” he said passionately. “I'm not a
child, though I look it ... Now, then, let's have it out.”
They had reached the middle of the pond, and were drifting across a
moonlit pathway, on either side of which lay the shadow of deep woods,
now impenetrably dark. The star in Helena's hair glittered in the
light, and the face beneath it, robbed of its daylight colour, had
become a study in black and white, subtler and more lovely than the
“Why did you do it, Helena?” said Peter suddenly.
“Why did you behave to me as you did, at the Arts Ball? Why did you
cut me, not once—but twice—three times—for that beast
“Now you're beginning!” she said, as she lazily trailed her
hand in the water. “It's really comic!”
“What do you mean?”
“Only that I've already quarrelled with Cousin Philip—and
Geoffrey—about Lord Donald—so if you insist on quarrelling too, I
shall have no friends left.”
“Damn Donald! It's like his impudence to ask you to dance at all. It
made me sick to see you with him. He's the limit. Well, but—I'm not
going to quarrel about Donald, Helena—I'm not going to quarrel about
anything. I'm going to have my own say—and you can't escape this
Helena looked round the pond.
“I can swim,” she said tranquilly.
“I should jump in after you—and we'd both go down together. No,
but—listen to me, dear Helena! Why won't you marry me? You say
sometimes—that you care for me a little.”
The boy's tone faltered.
“Why won't I marry you? Perhaps because you ask me so often,” said
Helena, laughing. “Neglect me—be rude to me—cut me at a dance, and
“I couldn't—it matters too much.”
“Dear Peter! But can't you understand that I don't want to commit
myself just yet? I want to have my life to myself a bit. I'm like the
miners and the railway men. I'm full of unrest! I can't and won't
settle down just yet. I want to look at things—the world's like a
great cinema show just now—everything passing so quick you can hardly
take breath. I want to sample it where I please. I want to dance—and
talk—and make experiments.”
“Well—marrying me would be an experiment,” said Peter stoutly. “I
vow you'd never regret it, Helena!”
“But I can't vow that you wouldn't! Let me alone, Peter. I suppose
some time I shall quiet down. It doesn't matter if I break my own
heart. But I won't take the responsibility of anybody else's heart just
“Well, of course, that means you're not in love with anybody. You'd
soon chuck all that nonsense if you were.”
The young, despairing voice thrilled her. It was all
experience—life—drama—this floating over summer water—with a
beautiful youth, whose heart seemed to be fluttering in her very hands.
But she was only thrilled intellectually—as a spectator. Peter would
soon get over it. She would be very kind to him, and let him down
easily. They drifted silently a little. Then Peter said abruptly:
“Well, at least, Helena, you might promise me not to dance with Jim
“Peter—my promises of that kind—are worth nothing! ... I think
it's getting late—we ought to be going home!” And she gave the rudder
a turn for the shore.
He unwillingly complied, and after rowing through the shadow of the
woods, they emerged on a moonlit slope of lawn, where was the usual
landing-place. Two persons who had been strolling along the edge of the
water approached them.
“Who is that with Buntingford?” asked Dale.
“My new chaperon. Aren't you sorry for her?”
“I jolly well am!” cried Peter. “She'll have a dog's life!”
“That's very rude of you, Peter. You may perhaps be surprised to
hear that I like her very much. She's a little dear—and I'm going to
be awfully good to her.”
“Which means, of course, that she'll never dare to cross you!”
“Peter, don't be unkind! Dear Peter—make it up! I do want to be
friends. There's just time for you to say something nice!”
For his vigorous strokes were bringing them rapidly to the bank.
“Oh, what's the good of talking!” said the boy impatiently. “I shall
be friends, of course—take what you fling me. I can't do anything
Helena blew him a kiss, to which he made no response.
“All right!—I'll bring you in!” said Lord Buntingford from the
He dragged the boat up on the sandy edge, and offered a hand to
Helena. She stumbled out, and would have fallen into the shallow water
but for his sudden grip upon her.
“That was stupid of me!” she said, vexed with herself.
He made no reply. It was left to Mrs. Friend to express a hope that
she had not sprained her foot.
“Oh, dear no,” said Helena. “But I'm cold. Peter, will you race me
to the house? Give me a fair start!”
Peter eagerly placed her, and then—a maiden flying and a young god
pursuing—they had soon drawn the eyes and laughter of all the other
guests, who cheered as the panting Helena, winner by a foot, dashed
through the drawing-room window into the house.
Helena and Mrs. Friend had been discussing the evening,—Helena on
the floor, in a white dressing-gown, with her hair down her back. She
had amused herself with a very shrewd analysis—not too favourable—of
Geoffrey French's character and prospects, and had rushed through an
eloquent account of Peter's performances in the war; she had mocked at
Lady Maud's conventionalities, and mimicked the “babe's” simpering
manner with young men; she had enquired pityingly how Mrs. Friend had
got on with the old Canon who had taken her in to dinner, and had
launched into rather caustic and, to Mrs. Friend's ear, astonishing
criticisms of “Cousin Philip's wine”—which Mrs. Friend had never even
dreamt of tasting. But of Cousin Philip himself there was not a word.
Mrs. Friend knew there had been an interview between them; but she
dared not ask questions. How to steer her way in the moral hurricane
she foresaw, was what preoccupied her; so as both to do her duty to
Lord B. and yet keep a hold on this strange being in whose good graces
she still found herself—much to her astonishment.
Then with midnight Helena departed. But long after she was herself
in bed, Mrs. Friend heard movements in the adjoining room, and was
aware of a scent of tobacco stealing in through her own open window.
Helena, indeed, when she found herself alone was, for a time, too
excited to sleep, and cigarettes were her only resource. She was
conscious of an exaltation of will, a passionate self-assertion,
beating through all her veins, which made sleep impossible. Cousin
Philip had scarcely addressed a word to her during the evening, and had
bade her a chilly good-night. Of course, if that was to be his attitude
it was impossible she could go on living under his roof. Her mother
could not for a moment have expected her to keep her word, under such
conditions ... And yet—why retreat? Why not fight it out, temperately,
but resolutely? “I lost my temper again like an idiot, this morning—I
mustn't—mustn't—lose it. He had jolly well the best of it.”
“Self-determination”—that was what she was bent on. If it was good
for nations, it was good also for individuals. Liberty to make one's
own mistakes, to face one's own risks—that was the minimum. And for
one adult human being to accept the dictation of another human being
was the only sin worth talking about. The test might come on some
trivial thing, like this matter of Lord Donald. Well,—she must be
content to “find quarrel in a straw, where honour is at stake.” Yet, of
course, her guardian was bound to resist. The fight between her will
and his was natural and necessary. It was the clash of two generations,
two views of life. She was not merely the wilful and insubordinate girl
she would have been before the war; she saw herself, at any rate, as
something much more interesting. All over the world there was the same
breaking of bonds; and the same instinct towards violence. “The
violent taketh by force.” Was it the instinct that war leaves, and must
leave, behind it—its most sinister, or its most pregnant, legacy? She
was passionately conscious of it, and of a strange thirst to carry it
into reckless action. The unrest in her was the same unrest that was
driving men everywhere—and women, too—into industrial disturbance and
moral revolt. The old is done with; and the Tree of Life needs to be
well shaken before the new fruit will drop.
Wild thoughts like these ran through her mind. Then she scoffed at
herself for such large notions, about so small a thing. And suddenly
something checked her—the physical recollection, as it were, left
tingling in her hand, of the grasp by which Buntingford had upheld her,
as she was leaving the boat. With it went a vision of his face, his
dark, furrowed face, in the moonlight.
“The saddest man I know.” Why and wherefore? Long after she was in
bed, she lay awake, absorbed in a dreamy yet intense gathering together
of all that she could recollect of Cousin Philip, from her childhood
up, through her school years, and down to her mother's death. Till now
he had been part of the more or less pleasant furniture of life. She
seemed to be on the way to realize him as a man—perhaps a force. It
was unsuspected—and rather interesting.
The drought continued; and under the hot sun the lilacs were already
pyramids of purple, the oaks were nearly in full leaf, and the
hawthorns in the park and along the hedges would soon replace with
another white splendour the fading blossom of the wild cherries.
It was Sunday morning, and none of the Beechmark party except Mrs.
Friend, Lady Luton and her seventeen-year-old daughter had shown any
inclination to go to church. Geoffrey French and Helena had escorted
the churchgoers the short way across the park, taking a laughing leave
of them at the last stile, whence the old church was but a stone's
throw. There was a circle of chairs on the lawn intermittently filled
by talkers. Lord Buntingford was indoors and was reported to have had
some ugly news that morning of a discharged soldiers' riot in a
neighbouring town where he owned a good deal of property. The
disturbance had been for the time being suppressed, but its renewal was
expected, and Buntingford, according to Julian Horne, who had been in
close consultation with him, was ready to go over at any moment, on a
telephone call from the town authorities, and take what other
“specials” he could gather with him.
“It's not at all a nice business,” said Horne, looking up from his
long chair, as Geoffrey French and Helena reappeared. “And if Philip is
rung up, he'll sweep us all in. So don't be out of the way, Geoffrey.”
“What's the matter? Somebody has been bungling as usual, I suppose,”
said Helena in her most confident and peremptory tone.
“The discharged men say that nobody pays any attention to them—and
they mean to burn down something.”
“On the principle of the Chinaman, and 'roast pig,'“ said French,
stretching himself at full length on the grass, where Helena was
already sitting. “What an extraordinary state of mind we're all in! We
all want to burn something. I want to burn the doctors, because some of
the medical boards have been beasts to some of my friends; the soldiers
over at Dansworth want to burn the town, because they haven't been made
enough of; the Triple Alliance want to burn up the country to cook
their roast pig—and as for you, Helena—”
He turned a laughing face upon her—but before she could reply, a
telephone was heard ringing, through the open windows of the house.
“For me, I expect,” exclaimed Helena, springing up. She disappeared
within the drawing-room, returning presently, with flushed cheeks, and
a bearing of which Geoffrey French at once guessed the meaning.
“Donald has thrown her over?” he said to himself. “Of course Philip
had the trump card!”
Helena, however, said nothing. She took up a book she had left on
the grass, and withdrew with it to the solitary shelter of a cedar some
yards away. Quiet descended on the lawns. The men smoked or buried
themselves in a sleepy study of the Sunday papers. The old house lay
steeped in sunshine. Occasional bursts of talk arose and died away; a
loud cuckoo in a neighbouring plantation seemed determined to silence
all its bird rivals; while once or twice the hum of an aeroplane
overhead awoke even in the drowsiest listener dim memories of the war.
Helena was only pretending to read. The telephone message which had
reached her had been from Lord Donald's butler—not even from Lord
Donald himself!—and had been to the effect that “his lordship” asked
him to say that he had been obliged to go to Scotland for a fortnight,
and was very sorry he had not been able to answer Miss Pitstone's
telegram before starting. Helena's cheeks were positively smarting
under the humiliation of it. Donald daring to send her a message
through a servant, when she had telegraphed to him! For of course it
was all a lie as to his having left town—one could tell that from the
butler's voice. He had been somehow frightened by Cousin Philip, and
was revenging himself by rudeness to her. She seemed to hear
“Jim” and his intimates discussing the situation. Of course it would
only amuse them!—everything amused them!—that Buntingford should have
put his foot down. How she had boasted, both to Jim and to some of his
friends, of the attitude she meant to take up with her guardian during
her “imprisonment on parole.” And this was the end of the first bout.
Cousin Philip had been easily master, and instead of making common
cause with her against a ridiculous piece of tyranny, Lord Donald had
backed out. He might at least have been sympathetic and polite—might
have come himself to speak to her at the telephone, instead—
Her blood boiled. How was she going to put up with this life? The
irony of the whole position was insufferable. Geoffrey's ejaculation
for instance when she had invited him to her sitting-room after
breakfast that he might look for a book he had lent her—“My word,
Helena, what a jolly place!—Why, this was the old school-room—I
remember it perfectly—the piggiest, shabbiest old den. And Philip has
had it all done up for you? Didn't know he had so much taste!” And
then, Geoffrey's roguish look at her, expressing the “chaff” he
restrained for fear of offending her. Lucy Friend, too, Captain Lodge,
Peter—everybody—no one had any sympathy with her. And lastly, Donald
himself—coward!—had refused to play up. Not that she cared one straw
about him personally. She knew very well that he was a poor creature.
It was the principle involved:—that a girl of nineteen is to be
treated as a free and responsible being, and not as though she were
still a child in the nursery. “Cousin Philip may have had the right to
say he wouldn't have Jim Donald in his house, if he felt that way—but
he had no right whatever to prevent my meeting him in town, if I chose
to meet him—that's my affair!—that's the point! All these men
here are in league. It's not Jim's character that's in
question—I throw Jim's character to the wolves—it's the freedom of
So the tumult in her surged to and fro, mingled all through with a
certain unwilling preoccupation. That semi-circular bow-window on the
south side of the house, which she commanded from her seat under the
cedar, was one of the windows of the library. Hidden from her by the
old bureau at which he was writing, sat Buntingford at work. She could
see his feet under the bureau, and sometimes the top of his head. Oh,
of course, he had a way with him—a certain magnetism—for the people
who liked him, and whom he liked. Lady Maud, for instance—how well
they had got on at breakfast? Naturally, she thought him adorable. And
Lady Maud's girl. To see Buntingford showing her the butterfly
collections in the library—devoting himself to her—and the little
thing blushing and smiling—it was simply idyllic! And then to contrast
the scene with that other scene, in the same room, the day before!
“Well, now, what am I going to do here—or in town?” she asked
herself in exasperation. “If Cousin Philip and I liked each other it
would be pleasant enough to ride together, to talk and read and
argue—his brain's all right!—with Lucy Friend to fall back upon
between whiles—for just these few weeks, at any rate, before we go to
town—and with the week-ends to help one out. But if we are to be at
daggers-drawn—he determined to boss me—and I equally determined not
to be bossed—why, the thing will be intolerable! Hullo!—is
that Cynthia Welwyn? She seems to be making for me.”
It was Lady Cynthia, very fresh and brilliant in airy black and
white, with a purple sunshade. She came straight over the grass to
Helena's shady corner.
“You look so cool! May I share?”
Helena rather ungraciously pushed forward a chair as they shook
“The rest of your party seem to be asleep,” said Cynthia, glancing
at various prostrate forms belonging to the male sex that were visible
on a distant slope of the lawn. “But you've heard of the Dansworth
disturbances?—and that everybody here may have to go?”
“Yes. It's probably exaggerated—isn't it?”
“I don't know. Everybody coming out of church was talking of it.
There was bad rioting last night—and a factory burnt down. They say
it's begun again. Buntingford will probably have to go. Where is he?”
Helena pointed to the library and to the feet under the bureau.
“He's waiting indoors, no doubt, in case there's a summons.”
“No doubt,” said Helena.
Cynthia found her task difficult. She had come determined to make
friends with this thorny young woman, and to smooth Philip's path for
him if she could. But now face to face with Helena she was conscious
that neither was Philip's ward at all in a forthcoming mood, nor was
her own effort spontaneous or congenial. They were both Buntingford's
kinswomen, Helena on his father's side, Cynthia on his mother's, and
had been more or less acquainted with each other since Helena left the
nursery. But there was nearly twenty years between them, and a critical
spirit on both sides.
Conversation very soon languished. An instinctive antagonism that
neither could have explained intelligibly would have been evident to
any shrewd listener. Helena was not long in suspecting that Lady
Cynthia was in some way Buntingford's envoy, and had been sent to make
friends, with an ulterior object; while Cynthia was repelled by the
girl's ungracious manner, and by the gulf which it implied between the
outlook of forty, and that of nineteen. “She means to make me feel that
I might have been her mother—and that we have nothing in common!”
The result was that Cynthia was driven into an intimate and
possessive tone with regard to Buntingford, which was more than the
facts warranted, and soon reduced Helena to monosyllables, and a
“You can't think,” said Cynthia effusively—“how good he is to us
two. It is so like him. He never forgets us. But indeed he never
Helena raised her eyebrows, as though the news astonished her, but
she was too polite to contradict.
“He sends you flowers, doesn't he?” she said carelessly.
“He sends us all kinds of things. But that's not what makes him so
charming. He's always so considerate for everybody! The day you were
coming, for instance, he thought of nothing but how to get your room
finished and your books in order. I hope you liked it?”
“Very much.” The tone was noncommittal.
“I don't suppose he told you how he worked,” said Cynthia, smiling.
“Oh, he's a great dear, Philip! Only he takes a good deal of knowing.”
“Did you ever see his wife?” said Helena abruptly.
Cynthia's movement showed her unpleasantly startled. She looked
instinctively towards the library window, where Buntingford was now
standing with his back to them. No, he couldn't have heard.
“No, never,” she said hurriedly, in a low voice. “Nobody ever speaks
to him about her. She was of course not his equal socially.”
“Is that the reason why nobody speaks of her?”
Cynthia flushed indignantly.
“Not that I know of. Why do you ask?”
“I thought you put the two things together,” said Helena in her most
detached tone. “And she was an artist?”
“A very good one, I believe. A man who had seen her in Paris before
her marriage told me long ago—oh, years ago—that she was
extraordinarily clever, and very ambitious.”
“And beautiful?” said Helena eagerly.
“I don't know. I never saw a picture of her.”
“I'll bet anything she was beautiful!”
“Most likely. Philip's very fastidious.”
“I wonder if she had a good time?” she said at last.
“If she didn't, it couldn't have been Philip's fault!” said Cynthia,
with some vigour.
The girl's note of interrogation was curiously provoking, and
Cynthia could have shaken her.
Suddenly through the open French windows of the library, a shrill
telephone call rang out. It came from the instrument on Buntingford's
desk, and the two outside could see him take up the receiver.
“It's a message from Dansworth,” said Cynthia, springing to her
feet. “They've sent for him.”
“Yes—yes—” came to them in Buntingford's deep assenting voice, as
he stood with the receiver to his ear. “All right—In an hour?—That's
it. Less, if possible? Well, I think we can do it in less. Good-bye.”
Helena had also risen. Buntingford emerged.
“Geoffrey!—Peter!—Horne!—all of you!”
From different parts of the lawn, men appeared running. Geoffrey
French, Captain Lodge, Peter, and Julian Horne, were in a few instants
grouped round their host, with Helena and Cynthia just behind.
“The Dansworth mob's out of hand,” said Buntingford briefly.
“They've set fire to another building, and the police are hard pressed.
They want specials at once. Who'll come? I've just had a most annoying
message from my chauffeur. His wife's been in to say that he's got a
temperature—since eight o'clock this morning—and has gone to bed. She
won't hear of his coming.”
“Funk?” said French quietly,—“or Bolshevism?”
Buntingford shrugged his shoulders. “We'll enquire into that later.
There are two cars—a Vauxhall and a small Renault—a two-seater. Who
“I think I can drive the Renault,” said Dale. “I'll go and get it at
once. Hope I shan't kill anybody.”
He ran off. The other men looked at each other in perplexity. None
of them knew enough about the business to drive a high-powered car
without serious risk to their own lives and the car's.
“I'll go and telephone to a man I know near here,” said Buntingford,
turning towards the house. “He'll lend us his chauffeur.”
“Why not let me drive?” said a girl's half-sarcastic voice. “I've
driven a Vauxhall most of the winter.”
Buntingford turned, smiling but uncertain.
“Of course! I had forgotten! But I don't like taking you into
danger, Helena. It sounds like an ugly affair!”
“Lodge and I will go with her,” said French, eagerly. “We can stop
the car outside the town. Horne can go with Dale.”
The eyes of the men were on the girl in white—men half humiliated,
half admiring. Helena, radiant, was looking at Buntingford, and at his
reluctant word of assent, she began joyously taking the hat-pins out of
her white lace hat.
“Give me five minutes to change. Lucky I've got my uniform here!
Then I'll go for the car.”
Within the five minutes she was in the garage in full uniform,
looking over and tuning up the car, without an unnecessary word. She
was the professional, alert, cheerful, efficient—and handsomer than
ever, thought French, in her close-fitting khaki.
“One word, Helena,” said Buntingford, laying a hand on her arm, when
all was ready, and she was about to climb into her seat. “Remember I am
in command of the expedition—and for all our sakes there must be no
divided authority. You agree?”
She looked up quietly.
He made way for her, and she took her seat with him beside her.
French, Lodge, Jones the butler, and Tomline the odd man, got in behind
her. Mrs. Friend appeared with a food hamper that she and Mrs. Mawson
had been rapidly packing. Her delicate little face was very pale, and
Buntingford stooped to reassure her.
“We'll take every care of her. Don't be alarmed. It's always a woman
comes to the rescue, isn't it? We're all ashamed. I shall take some
lessons next week!”
Helena, with her hand on the steering wheel, nodded and smiled to
her, and in another minute the splendid car was gliding out of the
garage yard, and flying through the park.
Cynthia, with Mrs. Friend, Lady Maud Luton, and Mrs. Mawson, were
left looking after them. Cynthia's expression was hard to read; she
seemed to be rushing on with the car, watching the face beside
Buntingford, the young hands on the wheel, the keen eyes looking ahead,
the play of talk between them.
“What a splendid creature!” said Lady Maud half-unwillingly, as she
and Cynthia walked back to the lawn. “I'm afraid I don't at all approve
of her in ordinary life. But just now—she was in her element.”
“Mother, you must let me learn motoring!” cried the girl of
seventeen, hanging on her mother's arm. She was flushed with innocent
envy. Helena driving Lord Buntingford seemed to her at the top of
“Goose! It wouldn't suit you at all,” said the mother, smiling.
“Please take my prayer-book indoors.”
The babe went obediently.
The miles ran past. Helena, on her mettle, was driving her best, and
Buntingford had already paid her one or two brief compliments, which
she had taken in silence. Presently they topped a ridge, and there lay
Dansworth in a hollow, a column of smoke gashed with occasional flame
rising above the town.
“A big blaze,” said Buntingford, examining it through a field-glass.
“It's the large brewery in the market-place. Hullo, you there!” He
hailed a country cart, full of excited occupants, which was being
driven rapidly towards them. The driver pulled up with difficulty.
Buntingford jumped out and went to make enquiries.
“It's a bad business, Sir,” said the man in charge of the cart, a
small farmer whom Buntingford recognized. “The men in it are just
mad—they don't know what they've done, nor why they've done it. But
the soldiers will be there directly. There's far too few police, and
I'm afraid there's some people hurt. I wouldn't take ladies into the
town if I was you, Sir.” He glanced at Helena.
Buntingford nodded, and returned to the car.
“You see that farm-house down there on the right?” he said to Helena
as they started again. “We'll stop there.”
They ran down the long slope to the town, the smoke carried towards
them by a westerly wind beginning to beat in their faces,—the roar of
the great bonfire in their ears.
Helena drew up at the entrance of a short lane leading to a farm on
the outskirts of the small country town—the centre of an active
furniture-making industry, for which the material lay handy in the
large beechwoods which covered the districts round it. The people of
the farm were all standing outside the house-door, watching the fire
“You're going to leave me here?” said Helena wistfully, looking at
“Please. You've brought us splendidly! I'll send Geoffrey back to
you as soon as possible, with instructions.”
She drove the car up to the farm. An elderly man came forward with
whom Buntingford made arrangements. The car was to be locked up. “And
you'll take care of the lady, till I send?”
“Aye, aye, Sir.”
“I'll come back to you, as soon as I can,” said French to Helena.
“Don't be anxious about us. We shall get into the market-hall by a back
way and find out what's going on. They've probably got the hose on by
now. Nothing like a hose-pipe for this kind of thing! Congratters on a
splendid bit of driving!”
“Hear, hear,” said Buntingford.
They went off, and Helena was left alone with the farm people, who
made much of her, and poured into her ears more or less coherent
accounts of the rioting and its causes. A few discontented soldiers, an
unpopular factory manager, and a badly-handled strike:—the tale was a
common one throughout England at the moment, and behind and beneath the
surface events lay the heaving of that “tide in the affairs of men,” a
tide of change, of restlessness, of revolt, set in motion by the great
war. Helena paced up and down the orchard slope behind the house,
watching the conflagration which was beginning to die down, startled
every now and then by what seemed to be the sound of shots, and once by
the rush past of a squadron of mounted police coming evidently from the
big country town some ten miles away. Hunger asserted itself, and she
made a raid on the hamper in the car, sharing some of its contents with
the black-eyed children of the farm. Every now and then news came from
persons passing along the road, and for a time things seemed to be
mending. The police were getting the upper hand; the Mayor had made a
plucky speech to the crowd in the market-place, with good results; the
rioters were wavering; and the soldiers had been stopped by telephone.
Then following hard on the last rumour came a sudden rush of worse
news. A policeman had been killed—two injured—the rioters had gained
a footing in the market-hall, and driven out both the police and the
specials—and after all, the soldiers had been sent for.
Helena wandered down to the gate of the farm lane opening on the
main road, consumed with restlessness and anxiety. If only they had let
her go with them! Buntingford's last look as he raised his hat to her
before departing, haunted her memory—the appeal in it, the unspoken
message. Might they not, after all, be friends? There seemed to be an
exquisite relaxation in the thought.
Another hour passed. Geoffrey French at last! He came on a motor
bicycle, and threw himself off beside her, breathless.
“Please get the car, Helena, and I'll go on with you. The town's
safe. The troops have arrived, and the rioters are scattering. The
police have made some arrests, and Philip believes the thing is
over—or I shouldn't have been allowed to come for you!”
“Why not?” said Helena half-indignantly, as they hurried towards the
barn in which the car had been driven. “Perhaps I might have been of
“No—you helped us best by staying here. The last hour's been pretty
bad. And now Philip wants you to take two wounded police to the Smeaton
Hospital—five miles. He'll go with you. They're badly hurt, I'm
afraid—there was some vicious stone-throwing.”
“All right! Perhaps you don't know that's my job!”
French helped her get out the car.
“We shall want mattresses and stretcher boards,” said Helena,
surveying it thoughtfully. “A doctor too and a nurse.”
“Right you are. They've thought of all that. You'll find everything
at the market-hall,—where the two men are.”
They drove away together, and into the outer streets of the town,
where now scarcely a soul was to be seen, though as the car passed, the
windows were crowded with heads. Police were everywhere, and the
market-place—a sorry sight of smoky wreck and ruin—was held by a
cordon of soldiers, behind which a crowd still looked on. French,
sitting beside her, watched the erect girl-driver, the excellence of
her driving, the brain and skill she was bringing to bear upon her
“job.” Here was the “new woman” indeed, in her best aspect. He could
not but compare the Helena of this adventure—this competent and
admirable Helena—with the girl of the night before. Had the war
produced the same dual personality in thousands of English men and
English women?—in the English nation itself?
They drew up at the steps of the market-hall, where a group of
persons were standing, including a nurse in uniform. Buntingford came
forward, and bending over the side of the car, said to Helena:
“Do you want to be relieved? There are several people here who could
drive the car.”
“I want to take these men to hospital.”
He smiled at her.
He turned back to speak to the doctor who was to accompany the car.
Helena jumped out, and went to consult with the nurse. In a very short
time, the car had been turned as far as possible into an ambulance, and
the wounded men were brought out.
“As gently as you can,” said the doctor to Helena. “Are your springs
“The car's first-rate, and I'll do my best. I've been driving for
nearly a year, up to the other day.” She pointed to her badge. The
doctor nodded approval, and he and the nurse took their places. Then
Buntingford jumped into the car, beside Helena.
“I'll show you the way. It won't take long.”
In a few minutes, the car was in country lanes, and all the smoking
tumult of the town had vanished from sight and hearing. It had become
already indeed almost incredible, in the glow of the May afternoon, and
amid the hawthorn white of the hedges, the chattering birds that fled
before them, the marvellous green of the fields. Helena drove with the
deftness of a practised hand, avoiding ruts, going softly over rough
“Good!” said Buntingford to her more than once—“that was
But the suffering of the men behind overshadowed everything else,
and it was with a big breath of relief that Buntingford at last
perceived the walls of the county hospital rising out of a group of
trees in front of them. Helena brought the car gently to a standstill,
and, jumping out, was ready to help as a V. A. D. in the moving of the
men. The hospital had been warned by telephone, and all preparations
had been made. When the two unconscious men were safely in bed, the
Dansworth doctor turned warmly to Helena:
“I don't know what we should have done without you, Miss Pitstone!
But you look awfully tired. I hope you'll go home at once, and rest.”
“I'm going to take her home—at once,” said Buntingford. “We can't
do anything more, can we?”
“Nothing. And here's the matron with a message.”
The message was from the mayor of Dansworth. “Situation well in
hand. No more trouble feared. Best thanks.”
“All right!” said Buntingford. He turned smiling to Helena. “Now
we'll go home and get some dinner!”
The Dansworth doctor and nurse remained behind. Once more
Buntingford got into the car beside his ward.
“What an ass I am!” he said, in disgust—“not to be able to drive
the car. But I should probably kill you and myself.”
Helena laughed at him, a new sweetness in the sound, and they
Presently Buntingford said gently:
“I want to thank you,—for one thing especially—for having waited
so patiently—while we got the thing under.”
“I wasn't patient at all! I wanted desperately to be in it!”
“All the more credit! It would have been a terrible anxiety if you
had been there. A policeman was killed just beside us. There was a man
with a revolver running amuck. He just missed French by a
Helena exclaimed in horror.
“You see—one puts the best face on it—but it might have been a
terrible business. But what I shall always remember most—is your part
Their eyes met, hers half shy, half repentant, his full of a
kindness she had never yet seen there.
“Oh, what a jolly day! We've had a glorious ride,” said Helena,
throwing herself down on the grass beside Mrs. Friend. “And how are
you? Have you been resting—or slaving—as you were expressly
forbidden to do?”
For Mrs. Friend had been enjoying a particularly bad cold and had
not long emerged from her bedroom, looking such a pitiful little wreck,
that both Lord Buntingford and Helena had been greatly concerned. In
the five weeks that had now elapsed since her arrival at Beechmark she
had stolen her quiet way into the liking of everybody in the house to
such an extent that, during the days she had been in bed with a high
temperature, she had been seriously missed in the daily life of the
place, and the whole household had actively combined to get her well
again. Mrs. Mawson had fed her; and Lucy Friend was aghast to think how
much her convalescence must be costing her employer in milk, eggs,
butter, cream and chickens, when all such foods were still so
frightfully, abominably dear. But they were forced down her throat by
Helena and the housekeeper; while Lord Buntingford enquired after her
every morning, and sent her a reckless supply of illustrated papers and
novels. To see her now in the library or on the lawn again, with her
white shawl round her, and the usual needlework on her knee, was a
pleasant sight to everybody in the house.
The little lady had not only won this place for herself by the sweet
and selfless gift which was her natural endowment; she was becoming the
practical helper of everybody, of Mrs. Mawson in the house, of old Fenn
in the garden, even of Buntingford himself, who was gradually falling
into the habit of letting her copy important letters for him, and keep
some order in the library. She was not in the least clever or
accomplished; but her small fingers seemed to have magic in them; and
her good will was inexhaustible.
Helena had grown amazingly fond of her. She appealed to something
maternal and protecting in the girl's strong nature. Since her mother's
death, there had been a big streak of loneliness in Helena's heart,
though she would have suffered tortures rather than confess it; and
little Lucy Friend's companionship filled a void. She must needs
respect Lucy's conscience, Lucy's instincts had more than once shamed
“What are you going to wear to-night?” said Mrs. Friend, softly
smoothing back the brown hair from the girl's hot brow.
“Pale green and apple-blossom.”
Lucy Friend smiled, as though already she had a vision of the
“That'll be delicious,” she said, with enthusiasm.
“Lucy!—am I good-looking?”
The girl spoke half wistfully, half defiantly, her eyes fixed on
Mrs. Friend laughed.
“I asked that question before I had seen you.”
“Of whom?” said Helena eagerly. “You didn't see anybody but Cousin
Philip before I arrived. Tell me, Lucy—tell me at once.”
Mrs. Friend kept a smiling silence for a minute. At last she
said—“Lord Buntingford showed me a portrait of you before you
“A portrait of me? There isn't one in the house! Lucy, you deceiver,
what do you mean?”
“I was taken to see one in the hall.”
A sudden light dawned on Helena.
“The Romney? No! And I've been showing it to everybody as the
loveliest thing going!”
Helena's face composed itself.
“I don't know why I should be flattered. She was a horrid minx. That
no doubt was what the likeness consisted in!”
Mrs. Friend laughed, but said nothing. Helena rose from the grass,
pausing to say as she turned towards the house:
“We're going to dance in the drawing-room, Mawson says. They've
“Doesn't it look nice?”
Helena assented. “Let me see—” she added slowly—“this is the third
dance, isn't it, since I came?”
“I don't think we need have another”—the tone was decided, almost
impatient—“at least when this party's over.”
Mrs. Friend opened her eyes.
“I thought you liked to dance every week-end?”
“Well—ye-es—amongst ourselves. I didn't mean to turn the house
upside-down every week.”
“Well, you see—the house-parties have been so large. And besides
there have been neighbours.”
“I didn't ask them,” said Helena. “But—we won't have
another—till we go to Town.”
“Very well. It might be wise. The servants are rather tired, and if
they give warning, we shall never get any more!”
Mrs. Friend watched the retreating figure of Helena. There had
indeed been a dizzy succession of week-end parties, and it seemed to
her that Lord Buntingford's patience under the infliction had been
simply miraculous. For they rarely contained friends of his own; his
lameness cut him off from dancing; and it had been clear to Lucy Friend
that in many cases Helena's friends had been sharply distasteful to
him. He was, in Mrs. Friend's eyes, a strange mixture as far as social
standards were concerned. A boundless leniency in some cases; the
sternest judgment in others.
For instance, a woman he had known from childhood had lately left
her husband, carried off her children, and joined her lover. Lord
Buntingford was standing, stoutly by her, helping her in her divorce
proceedings, paying for the education of the children, and defending
her whenever he heard her attacked. On the other hand, his will had
been iron in the matter of Lord Donald, whose exposure as co-respondent
in the particularly disreputable case had been lately filling the
newspapers. Mrs. Friend had seen Helena take up the Times on one
of the days on which the evidence in this case had appeared, and fling
it down again with a flush and a look of disgust. But since the day of
the Dansworth riot, she had never mentioned Lord Donald's name.
Certainly the relations between her and her guardian had curiously
changed. In the first place, since her Dansworth adventure, Helena had
found something to do to think about other than quarrelling with
“Cousin Philip.” Her curiosity as to how the two wounded police, whom
she had driven to the County Hospital that day, might be faring had led
to her going over there two or three times a week, either to relieve an
overworked staff, or to drive convalescent soldiers, still under
treatment in the wards.
The occupation had been a godsend to her, and everybody else. She
still talked revolution, and she was always ready to spar with Lord
Buntingford, or other people. But all the same Lucy Friend was often
aware of a much more tractable temper, a kind of hesitancy—and
appeasement—which, even if it passed away, made her beauty, for the
moment, doubly attractive.
Was it, after all, the influence of Lord Buntingford—and was the
event justifying her mother's strange provision for her? He had
certainly treated her with a wonderful kindness and indulgence. Of late
he had returned to his work at the Admiralty, only coming down to
Beechmark for long week-ends from Friday to Monday. But in these later
week-ends he had gradually abandoned the detached and half-sarcastic
attitude which he had originally assumed towards Helena, and it seemed
to Lucy Friend that he was taking his function towards her with a new
seriousness. If so, it had affected himself at least as much as the
proud and difficult girl whose guidance had been so hurriedly thrust
upon him. His new role had brought out in him unexpected resources, or
revived old habits. For instance he had not ridden for years; though,
as a young man, and before his accident, he had been a fine horseman.
But he now rode whenever he was at Beechmark, to show Helena the
country; and they both looked so well on horseback that it was a
pleasure of which Lucy Friend never tired to watch them go and to
welcome them home.
Then the fact that he was a trained artist, which most of his
friends had forgotten, became significant again for Helena's benefit.
She had some aptitude, and more ambition—would indeed, but for the
war, have been a South Kensington student, and had long cherished
yearnings for the Slade. He set her work to do during the week, and
corrected it with professional sharpness when he reappeared.
And more important perhaps than either the riding or the drawing,
was the partial relaxation for her benefit of the reserve and
taciturnity which had for years veiled the real man from those who
liked and respected him most. He never indeed talked of himself or his
past; but he would discuss affairs, opinions, books—especially on
their long rides together—with a frankness, and a tone of gay and
equal comradeship, which, or so Mrs. Friend imagined, had had a
disarming and rather bewildering effect on Helena. The girl indeed
seemed often surprised and excited. It was evident that they had never
got on during her mother's lifetime, and that his habitual bantering or
sarcastic tone towards her while she was still in the school-room had
roused an answering resentment in her. Hence the aggressive mood in
which, after two or three months of that half-mad whirl of gaiety into
which London had plunged after the Armistice, she had come down to
They still jarred, sometimes seriously; Helena was often provocative
and aggressive; and Buntingford could make a remark sting without
intending it. But on the whole Lucy Friend felt that she was watching
something which had in it possibilities of beauty; indeed of a rather
touching and rare development. But not at all as the preliminary to a
love-affair. In Buntingford's whole relation to his ward, Lucy Friend,
at least, had never yet detected the smallest sign of male
susceptibility. It suggested something quite different. Julian Horne,
who had taken a great fancy to Helena's chaperon, was now recommending
books to her instead of to Helena, who always forgot or disobeyed his
instructions. With a little preliminary lecture, he had put the
“Greville Memoirs” in her hands by way of improving her mind; and she
had been struck by a passage in which Greville describes Lord
Melbourne's training of the young Queen Victoria, whose Prime Minister
he was. The man of middle-age, accomplished, cynical and witty,
suddenly confronted with a responsibility which challenged both his
heart and his conscience—and that a responsibility towards an
attractive young girl whom he could neither court nor command, towards
whom his only instrument was the honesty and delicacy of his own
purpose:—there was something in this famous, historical situation
which seemed to throw a light on the humbler situation at Beechmark.
Four o'clock! In another hour the Whitsuntide party for which the
house stood ready would have arrived. Helena's particular “pals” were
all coming, and various friends and kinsfolk of Lord Buntingford's;
including Lady Mary Chance, a general or two, some Admiralty officials,
and one or two distinguished sailors with the halo of Zeebrugge about
them. The gathering was to last nearly a week. Mrs. Mawson had engaged
two extra servants, and the master of the house had resigned himself.
But he had laid it down that the fare was to be simple—and “no
champagne.” And though of course there would be plenty of bridge, he
had given a hint to Vivian Lodge, who, as his heir-apparent, was his
natural aide-de-camp in the management of the party, that anything like
high play would be unwelcome. Some of Helena's friends during the
latter week-ends of May had carried things to extremes.
Meanwhile the social and political sky was darkening in the June
England. Peace was on the point of being signed in Paris; but the
industrial war at home weighed on every thinking mind. London was
dancing night after night; money was being spent like water; and yet
every man and woman of sense knew that the only hope for Britain lay in
work and saving. Buntingford's habitual frown—the frown not of temper
but of oppression—had grown deeper; and on their long rides together
he had shown a great deal of his mind to Helena—the mind of a patriot
full of fear for his country.
A man came across the lawn. Lucy Friend was glad to recognize
Geoffrey French, who was a great favourite with her.
“You are early!” she said, as they greeted.
“I came down by motor-bike. London is hateful, and I was in a hurry
to get out of it. Where is Helena?”
“Gone to change her dress. She has been riding.”
Frank mopped his brow in silence for a little. Then he said with the
half-mischievous smile which in Lucy Friend's eyes was one of his chief
“How you and Philip have toned her down!”
“Oh, not I!” said Lucy, her modesty distressed. “I've always admired
her so! Of course—I was sometimes surprised—”
“I daresay we shall all be surprised a good many times yet?” Then he
moved a little closer to the small person, who was becoming everybody's
confidante. “Do you mind telling me something—if you know it?” he
said, lowering his voice.
“Ask me—but I can't promise!”
“Do you think Helena has quite made up her mind not to marry Dale?”
Mrs. Friend hesitated.
“I don't know—”
“But what do you think?”
She lifted her gentle face, under his compulsion, and slowly,
pitifully shook her head.
Geoffrey drew a long breath.
“Then she oughtn't to ask him here! The poor little fellow is going
through the tortures of the damned!”
“Oh, I'm so sorry. Isn't there anything we can do?” cried Mrs.
“Nothing—but keep him away. After all he's only the first victim.”
Startled by the note in her companion's voice, Mrs. Friend turned to
look at him. He forced a smile, as their eyes met.
“Oh, we must all take our chance! But Peter's not the boy he
was—before the war. Things bowl him over easily.”
“She likes him so much,” murmured Lucy. “I'm sure she never means to
“She isn't unkind!” said Geoffrey with energy. “It's the natural
fated thing. We are all the slaves of her car and she knows it. When
she was in the stage of quarrelling with us all, it was just fun. But
if Helena grows as delicious—as she promised to be last week—” He
shrugged his shoulders, with a deep breath—“Well,—she'll have to
marry somebody some day—and the rest of us may drown! Only, if you're
to be umpire—and she likes you so much that I expect you will be—play
He held out his hand, and she put hers into it, astonished to
realize that her own eyes were full of tears.
“I'm a mass of dust—I must go and change before tea,” he said
He went into the house, and she was left to some agitated thinking.
An hour later, the broad lawns of Beechmark, burnt yellow by the May
drought, were alive with guests, men in khaki and red tabs, fresh from
their War Office work; two naval Commanders, and a resplendent
Flag-Lieutenant; a youth in tennis flannels, just released from a city
office, who seven months earlier had been fighting in the last advance
of the war, and a couple of cadets who had not been old enough to fight
at all; girls who had been “out” before the war, and two others,
Helena's juniors, who were just leaving the school-room and seemed to
be all aglow with the excitement and wonder of this peace-world; a
formidable grey-haired woman, who was Lady Mary Chance; Cynthia and
Georgina Welwyn, and the ill-dressed, arresting figure of Mr. Alcott.
Not all were Buntingford's guests; some were staying at the Cottage,
some in another neighbouring house; but Beechmark represented the
headquarters of a gathering of which Helena Pitstone and her guardian
were in truth the central figures.
Helena in white, playing tennis; Helena with a cigarette, resting
between her sets, and chaffing with a ring of dazzled young men; Helena
talking wild nonsense with Geoffrey French, for the express purpose of
shocking Lady Mary Chance; and the next minute listening with a
deference graceful enough to turn even the seasoned head of a warrior
to a grey-haired general describing the taking of the Vimy Ridge; and
finally, Helena, holding a dancing class under the cedars on the yellow
smoothness of the lawn, after tea, for such young men as panted to
conquer the mysteries of “hesitation” or jazzing, and were ardently
courting instruction in the desperate hope of capturing their teacher
for a dance that night:—it was on these various avatars of Helena that
the whole party turned; and Lady Mary indignantly felt that there was
no escaping the young woman.
“Why do you let her smoke—and paint—and swear—I declare I
heard her swear!” she said in Buntingford's ear, as the dressing-bell
rang, and he was escorting her to the house. “And mark my words,
Philip—men may be amused by that kind of girl, but they won't marry
“As Helena's guardian I'm not particularly anxious about that!”
“Ah, no doubt, she tells you people propose to her—but is it true?”
snapped Lady Mary.
“You imagine that Helena tells me of her proposals?” said
“My dear Philip, don't pose! Isn't that the special function of a
“It may be. But, if so, Helena has never given me the chance of
“I told you so! Men will flirt with her, but they don't
propose to her!” said Lady Mary triumphantly.
Buntingford, smiling, let her have the last word, as he asked Mrs.
Friend to show her to her room.
Meanwhile the gardens were deserted, save for a couple of gardeners
and an electrician, who were laying some wires for the illumination of
the rose-garden in front of the drawing-room, and Geoffrey French, who
was in a boat, lazily drifting across the pond, and reading a volume of
poems by a friend which he had brought down with him. The evening was
fast declining; and from the shadow of the deep wood which bordered the
western edge of the pond he looked out on the sunset glow as it climbed
the eastern hill, transfiguring the ridge, and leaving a rich twilight
in the valley below. The tranquillity of the water, the silence of the
woods, the gentle swaying of the boat, finally wooed him from his book,
which after all he had only taken up as a protection from tormenting
thoughts. Had he—had he—any chance with Helena? A month before he
would have scornfully denied that he was in love with her. And now—he
had actually confessed his plight to Mrs. Friend!
As he lay floating between the green vault above, and the green
weedy depths below, his thoughts searched the five weeks that lay
between him and that first week-end when he had scolded Helena for her
offences. It seemed to him that his love for her had first begun that
day of the Dansworth riot. She had provoked and interested him before
that—but rather as a raw self-willed child—a “flapper” whose
extraordinary beauty gave her a distinction she had done nothing to
earn. But every moment in that Dansworth day was clear in memory:—the
grave young face behind the steering-wheel, the perfect lips
compressed, the eyes intent upon their task, the girl's courage and
self-command. Still more the patient Helena who waited for him at the
farm—the grateful exultant look when he said “Come”—and every detail
of the scene in Dansworth:—Helena with her most professional air,
driving through soldiers and police, Helena helping to carry and place
the two wounded men, and that smiling “good-bye” she had thrown him as
she drove away with Buntingford beside her.
The young man moved restlessly; and the light boat was set rocking.
It was curious how he too, like Lucy Friend, only from another point of
view, was beginning to reflect on the new intimacy that seemed to be
developing between Buntingford and his ward. Philip of course was an
awfully good fellow, and Helena was just finding it out; what else was
there in it? But the jealous pang roused by the thought of Buntingford,
once felt, persisted. Not for a moment did French doubt the honour or
the integrity of a man, who had done him personally many a kindness,
and had moreover given him some reason to think—-(he recalled the odd
little note he had received from Buntingford before Helena's first
week-end)—that if he were to fall in love with Helena, his suit would
be favourably watched by Helena's guardian. He could recall moreover
one or two quite recent indications on Buntingford's part—very slight
and guarded—which seemed to point in the same direction.
All very well: Buntingford himself might be quite heart-whole and
might remain so. French, who knew him well, though there was fourteen
years between them, was tolerably certain—without being able to give
any very clear reason for the conviction—that Buntingford would never
have undertaken the guardianship of Helena, had the merest possibility
of marrying her crossed his mind. French did not believe that it had
ever yet crossed his mind. There was nothing in his manner towards her
to suggest anything more than friendship, deepening interest,
affectionate responsibility—all feelings which would have shown
themselves plainly from the beginning had she allowed it.
But Helena herself? It was clear that however much they might still
disagree, Buntingford had conquered her original dislike of him, and
was in process of becoming the guide, philosopher, and friend her
mother had meant him to be. And Buntingford had charm and character,
and imagination. He could force a girl like Helena to respect him
intellectually; with such a nature that was half the battle. He would
be her master in time. Besides, there were all Philip's endless
opportunities of making life agreeable and delightful to her. When they
went to London, for instance, he would come out of the shell he had
lived in so long, and Helena would see him as his few intimate friends
had always seen him:—as one of the most accomplished and attractive of
mortals, with just that touch of something ironic and mysterious in his
personality and history, which appeals specially to a girl's fancy.
And what would be the end of it? Tragedy for Helena?—as well as
bitter disappointment and heartache for himself, Geoffrey French? He
was confident that Helena had in her the capacity for passion; that the
flowering-time of such a nature would be one of no ordinary intensity.
She would love, and be miserable—and beat herself to pieces—poor,
brilliant Helena!—against her own pain.
What could he do? Might there not be some chance for himself—now
—while the situation was still so uncertain and undeveloped? Helena was
still unconscious, unpledged. Why not cut in at once? “She likes
me—she has been a perfect dear to me these last few times of meeting!
Philip backs me. He would take my part. Perhaps, after all, my fears
are nonsense, and she would no more dream of marrying Philip, than he
would dream, under cover of his guardianship, of making love to her.”
He raised himself in the boat, filled with a new inrush of will and
hope, and took up the drifting oars. Across the water, on the white
slopes of lawn, and in some of the windows of the house, lights were
appearing. The electricians were testing the red and blue lamps they
had been stringing among the rose-beds, and from the gabled boathouse
on the further side, a bright shaft from a small searchlight which had
been fixed there, was striking across the water. Geoffrey watched it
wandering over the dark wood on his right, lighting up the tall stems
of the beeches, and sending a tricky gleam or two among the tangled
underwood. It seemed to him a symbol of the sudden illumination of mind
and purpose which had come to him, there, on the shadowed water—and he
turned to look at a window which he knew was Helena's. There were
lights within it, and he pictured Helena at her glass, about to slip
into some bright dress or other, which would make her doubly fair.
Meanwhile from the rose of the sunset, rosy lights were stealing over
the water and faintly glorifying the old house and its spreading
gardens. An overpowering sense of youth—of the beauty of the world—of
the mystery of the future, beat through his pulses. The coming dance
became a rite of Aphrodite, towards which all his being strained.
Suddenly, there was a loud snapping noise, as of breaking branches
in the wood beside him. It was so startling that his hands paused on
the oars, as he looked quickly round to see what could have produced
it. And at the same moment the searchlight on the boathouse reached the
spot to which his eyes were drawn, and he saw for an instant—sharply
distinct and ghostly white—a woman's face and hands—amid the
blackness of the wood. He had only a moment in which to see them, in
which to catch a glimpse of a figure among the trees, before the light
was gone, leaving a double gloom behind it.
Mysterious! Who could it be? Was it some one who wanted to be put
across the pond? He shouted. “Who is that?”
Then he rowed in to the shore, straining his eyes to see. It
occurred to him that it might be a lady's maid brought by a guest, who
had been out for a walk, and missed her way home in a strange park. “Do
you want to get to the house? I can put you across to it if you wish,”
he said in a loud voice, addressing the unknown—“otherwise you'll have
to go a long way round.”
No answer—only an intensity of silence, through which he heard from
a great distance a church clock striking. The wood and all its detail
had vanished in profound shadow.
Conscious of a curious excitement he rowed still further in to the
bank, and again spoke to the invisible woman. In vain. He began then to
doubt his own eyes. Had it been a mere illusion produced by some
caprice of the searchlight opposite? But the face!—the features of it
were stamped on his memory, the gaunt bitterness of them, the brooding
How could he have imagined such a thing?
Much perplexed and rather shaken in nerve, he rowed back across the
pond—to hear the band tuning in the flower-filled drawing-room, as he
approached the house.
About ten o'clock on the night of the ball at Beechmark, a labourer
was crossing the park on his way home from his allotment. Thanks to
summertime and shortened hours of labour he had been able to get his
winter greens in, and to earth up his potatoes, all in two strenuous
evenings; and he was sauntering home dead-tired. But he had doubled his
wages since the outbreak of war and his fighting son had come back to
him safe, so that on the whole he was inclined to think that the old
country was worth living in! The park he was traversing was mostly open
pasture studded with trees, except where at the beginning of the
eighteenth century the Lord Buntingford of the day had planted a wood
of oak and beech about the small lake which he had made by the
diversion of two streamlets that had once found a sluggish course
through the grassland. The trees in it were among the finest in the
country, but like so much of English woodland before the war, they had
been badly neglected for many years. The trees blown down by winter
storms had lain year after year where they fell; the dead undergrowth
was choking the young saplings; and some of the paths through the wood
had practically disappeared.
The path from the allotments to the village passed at the back of
the wood. Branching off from it, an old path leading through the trees
and round the edge of the lake had once been frequently used as a short
cut from the village to the house, but was now badly grown up and
indeed superseded by the new drive from the western lodge, made some
twenty years before this date.
The labourer, Richard Stimson, was therefore vaguely surprised when
he turned the corner of the wood and reached the fork of the path, to
see a figure of a woman, on the old right-of-way, between him and the
wood, for which she seemed to be making.
It was not the figure of anyone he knew. It was a lady, apparently,
in a dark gown, and a small hat with a veil. The light was still good,
and he saw her clearly. He stopped indeed to watch her, puzzled to know
what a stranger could be doing in the park, and on that path at ten
o'clock at night. He was aware indeed that there were gay doings at
Beechmark. He had seen the illuminated garden and house from the upper
park, and had caught occasional gusts of music from the band to which
no doubt the quality were dancing. But the fact didn't seem to have
much to do with the person he was staring at.
And while he stared at her, she turned, and instantly perceived—he
thought—that she was observed. She paused a moment, and then made an
abrupt change of direction; running round the corner of the wood, she
reached the path along which he himself had just come and disappeared
The whole occurrence filliped the rustic mind; but before he reached
his own cottage, Stimson had hit on an explanation which satisfied him.
It was of course a stranger who had lost her way across the park,
mistaking the two paths. On seeing him, she had realized that she was
wrong and had quickly set herself right. He told his wife the tale
before he went to sleep, with this commentary; and they neither of them
troubled to think about it any more.
Perhaps the matter would not have appeared so simple to either of
them had they known that Stimson had no sooner passed completely out of
sight, leaving the wide stretches of the park empty and untenanted
under a sky already alive with stars, than the same figure reappeared,
and after pausing a moment, apparently to reconnoitre, disappeared
within the wood.
“A year ago to-day, where were you?” said one Brigadier to another,
as the two Generals stood against the wall in the Beechmark
drawing-room to watch the dancing.
“Near Albert,” said the man addressed. “The brigade was licking its
wounds and training drafts.”
The other smiled.
“Mine was doing the same thing—near Armentieres. We didn't think
then, did we, that it would be all over in five months?”
“It isn't all over!” said the first speaker, a man with a refined
and sharply cut face, still young under a shock of grey hair. “We are
in the ground swell of the war. The ship may go down yet.”
“While the boys and girls dance? I hope not!” The soldier's eyes ran
smiling over the dancing throng. Then he dropped his voice:
For a very young boy and girl had come to stand in front of them.
The boy had just parted from a girl a good deal older than himself, who
had nodded to him a rather patronizing farewell, as she glided back
into the dance with a much decorated Major.
“These pre-war girls are rather dusty, aren't they?” said the boy
angrily to his partner.
“You mean they give themselves airs? Well, what does it matter? It's
we who have the good time now!” said the little creature beside
him, a fairy in filmy white, dancing about him as she spoke, hardly
able to keep her feet still for a moment, life and pleasure in every
The two soldiers—both fathers—smiled at each other. Then Helena
came down the room, a vision of spring, with pale green floating about
her, and apple-blossoms in her brown hair. She was dancing with
Geoffrey French, and both were dancing with remarkable stateliness and
grace to some Czech music, imposed upon the band by Helena, who had
given her particular friends instruction on the lawn that afternoon in
some of the steps that fitted it. They passed with the admiring or
envious eyes of the room upon them, and disappeared through the window
leading to the lawn. For on the smooth-shaven turf of the lawn there
was supplementary dancing, while the band in the conservatory, with all
barriers removed, was playing both for the inside and outside
Peter Dale was sitting out on the terrace over-looking the principal
lawn with the daughter of Lady Mary Chance, a rather pretty but stupid
girl, with a genius for social blunders. Buntingford had committed him
to a dance with her, and he was not grateful.
“She is pretty, of course, but horribly fast!” said his partner
contemptuously, as Helena passed. “Everybody thinks her such bad
“Then everybody is an ass!” said Peter violently, turning upon her.
“But it doesn't matter to Helena.”
The girl flushed in surprise and anger.
“I didn't know you were such great friends. I only repeat what I
hear,” she said stiffly.
“It depends on where you hear it,” said Peter. “There isn't a man in
this ball that isn't pining to dance with her.”
“Has she given you a dance?” said the girl, with a touch of malice
in her voice.
“Oh, I've come off as well as other people!” said Peter evasively.
Then, of a sudden, his chubby face lit up. For Helena, just as the
music was slackening to the close of the dance, and a crowd of
aspirants for supper dances were converging on the spot where she
stood, had turned and beckoned to Peter.
“Do you mind?—I'll come back!” he said to his partner, and rushed
“Second supper dance!” “All right!”
He returned radiant, and in his recovered good humour proceeded to
make himself delightful even to Miss Chance, whom, five minutes before,
he had detested.
But when he had returned her to her mother, Peter wandered off
alone. He did not want to dance with anybody, to talk to anybody. He
wanted just to remember Helena's smile, her eager—“I've kept it for
you, Peter, all the evening!”—and to hug the thought of his coming
joy. Oh, he hadn't a dog's chance, he knew, but as long as she was not
actually married to somebody else, he was not going to give up hope.
In a shrubbery walk, where a rising moon was just beginning to
chequer the path with light and shade, he ran into Julian Horne, who
was strolling tranquilly up and down, book in hand.
“Hullo, what are you doing here?” said the invaded one.
“Getting cool. And you?”
Julian showed his book—The Coming Revolution, a Bolshevist
pamphlet, then enjoying great vogue in manufacturing England.
“What are you reading such rot for?” said Peter, wondering.
“It gives a piquancy to this kind of thing!” was Horne's smiling
reply, as they reached an open space in the walk, and he waved his hand
towards the charming scene before them, the house with its lights, on
its rising ground above the lake, the dancing groups on the lawn, the
illuminated rose-garden; and below, the lake, under its screen of wood,
with boats on the smooth water, touched every now and then by the
creeping fingers of the searchlight from the boathouse, so that one
group after another of young men and maidens stood out in a white glare
against the darkness of the trees.
“It will last our time,” said Peter recklessly. “Have you seen
“A little while ago, he was sitting out with Lady Cynthia. But when
he passed me just now, he told me he was going down to look after the
lake and the boats—in case of accidents. There is a current at one end
apparently, and a weir; and the keeper who understands all about it is
in a Canada regiment on the Rhine.”
“Do you think Buntingford's going to marry Lady Cynthia?” asked
Horne laughed. “That's not my guess, at present,” he said after a
As he spoke, a boat on the lake came into the track of the
searchlight, and the two persons in it were clearly
visible—Buntingford rowing, and Helena, in the stern. The vision
passed in a flash; and Horne turned a pair of eyes alive with satirical
meaning on his companion.
“Well!” said Peter, troubled, he scarcely knew why—“what do you
Horne seemed to hesitate. His loose-limbed ease of bearing in his
shabby clothes, his rugged head, and pile of reddish hair, above a
thinker's brow, made him an impressive figure in the half light—gave
him a kind of seer's significance.
“Isn't it one of the stock situations?” he said at last—“this
situation of guardian and ward?—romantic situations, I mean? Of course
the note of romance must be applicable. But it certainly is applicable,
in this case.”
Peter stared. Julian Horne caught the change in the boy's delicate
face and repented him—too late.
“What rubbish you talk, Julian! In the first place it would be
“It would, I tell you,—damned dishonourable! And in the next, why,
a few weeks ago—Helena hated him!”
“Yes—she began with 'a little aversion'! One of the stock
openings,” laughed Horne.
“Well, ta-ta. I'm not going to stay to listen to you talking bosh
any more,” said Peter roughly. “There's the next dance beginning.”
He flung away. Horne resumed his pacing. He was very sorry for
Peter, whose plight was plain to all the world. But it was better he
should be warned. As for himself, he too had been under the spell. But
he had soon emerged. A philosopher and economist, holding on to
Helena's skirts in her rush through the world, would cut too sorry a
figure. Besides, could she ever have married him—which was of course
impossible, in spite of the courses in Meredith and Modern Literature
through which he had taken her—she would have tired of him in a year,
by which time both their fortunes would have been spent. For he knew
himself to be a spendthrift on a small income, and suspected a similar
propensity in Helena, on the grand scale. He returned, therefore, more
or less contentedly, to his musings upon an article he was to
contribute to The Market Place, on “The Influence of Temperament
in Economics.” The sounds of dance music in the distance made an
Meanwhile a scene—indisputably sentimental—was passing on the
lake. Helena and Geoffrey French going down to the water's edge to find
a boat, had met halfway with Cynthia Welwyn, in some distress. She had
just heard that Lady Georgina had been taken suddenly ill, and must go
home. She understood that Mawson was looking after her sister, who was
liable to slight fainting attacks at inconvenient moments. But how to
find their carriage! She had looked for a servant in vain, and
Buntingford was nowhere to be seen. French could do no less than offer
to assist; and Helena, biting her lip, despatched him. “I will wait for
you at the boathouse.”
He rushed off, with Cynthia toiling after him, and Helena descended
to the lake. As she neared the little landing stage, a boat approached
it, containing Buntingford, and two or three of his guests.
“Hullo, Helena, what have you done with Geoffrey?”
She explained. “We were just coming down for a row.”
“All right. I'll take you on till he comes. Jump in!”
She obeyed, and they were soon halfway towards the further side. But
about the middle of the lake Buntingford was seized with belated
compunction that he had not done his host's duty to his queer,
inarticulate cousin, Lady Georgina. “I suppose I ought to have gone to
look after her?”
“Not at all,” said Helena coolly. “I believe she does it often. She
can't want more than Lady Cynthia—and Geoffrey—and
Mawson. People shouldn't be pampered!”
Her impertinence was so alluring as she sat opposite to him,
trailing both hands in the water, that Buntingford submitted. There was
a momentary silence. Then Helena said:
“Lady Cynthia came to see me the other day. Did you send her?”
“Of course. I wanted you to make friends.”
“That we should never do! We were simply born to dislike each
“I never heard anything so unreasonable!” said Buntingford warmly.
“Cynthia is a very good creature, and can be excellent company.”
Helena gave a shrug.
“What does all that matter?” she said slowly—“when one has
instincts—and intuitions. No!—don't let's talk any more about Lady
Cynthia. But—there's something—please, Cousin Philip—I want to
say—I may as well say it now.”
He looked at her rather astonished, and, dimly as he saw her in the
shadow they had just entered, it seemed to him that her aspect had
“What is it? I hope nothing serious.”
“Yes—it is serious, to me. I hate apologizing!—I always have.”
“My dear Helena!—why should you apologize? For goodness' sake,
don't! Think better of it.”
“I've got to do it,” she said firmly, “Cousin Philip, you were quite
right about that man, Jim Donald, and I was quite wrong. He's a beast,
and I loathe the thought of having danced with him—there!—I'm sorry!”
She held out her hand.
Buntingford was supremely touched, and could not for the moment find
a jest wherewith to disguise it.
“Thank you!” he said quietly, at last. “Thank you, Helena. That was
very nice of you.” And with a sudden movement he stooped and kissed the
wet and rather quivering hand he held. At the same moment, the
searchlight which had been travelling about the pond, lighting up one
boat after another to the amusement of the persons in them, and of
those watching from the shore, again caught the boat in which sat
Buntingford and Helena. Both figures stood sharply out. Then the light
had travelled on, and Helena had hastily withdrawn her hand.
She fell back on the cushions of the stern seat, vexed with her own
agitation. She had described herself truly. She was proud, and it was
hard for her to “climb down.” But there was much else in the mixed
feeling that possessed her. There seemed, for one thing, to be a
curious happiness in it; combined also with a renewed jealousy for an
independence she might have seemed to be giving away. She wanted to
say—“Don't misunderstand me!—I'm not really giving up anything
vital—I mean all the same to manage my life in my own way.” But it was
difficult to say it in the face of the coatless man opposite, of whose
house she had become practically mistress, and who had changed all his
personal modes of life to suit hers. Her eyes wandered to the gay scene
of the house and its gardens, with its Watteau-ish groups of young men
and maidens, under the night sky, its light and music. All that had
been done, to give her pleasure, by a man who had for years
conspicuously shunned society, and whose life in the old country house,
before her advent, had been, as she had come to know, of the quietest.
She bent forward again, impulsively:
“Cousin Philip!—I'm enjoying this party enormously—it's awfully,
awfully good of you—but I don't want you to do it any more—”
“Do what, Helena?”
“Please, I can get along without any more week-ends, or parties.
You—you spoil me!”
“Well—we're going up to London, aren't we, soon? But I daresay
you're right”—his tone grew suddenly grave. “While we dance, there is
a terrible amount of suffering going on in the world.”
“You mean—after the war?”
He nodded. “Famine everywhere—women and children dying—half a
dozen bloody little wars. And here at home we seem to be on the brink
of civil war.”
“We oughtn't to be amusing ourselves at all!—that's the real truth
of it,” said Helena with gloomy decision. “But what are we to
do—women, I mean? They told me at the hospital yesterday they get rid
of their last convalescents next week. What is there for me to
do? If I were a factory girl, I should be getting unemployment benefit.
My occupation's gone—such as it was—it's not my fault!”
“Marry, my dear child,—and bring up children,” said Buntingford
bluntly. “That's the chief duty of Englishwomen just now.”
Helena flushed and said nothing. They drifted nearer to the bank,
and Helena perceived, at the end of a little creek, a magnificent group
of yew trees, of which the lower branches were almost in the water.
Behind them, and to the side of them, through a gap in the wood, the
moonlight found its way, but they themselves stood against the faint
light, superbly dark, and impenetrable, black water at their feet.
Buntingford pointed to them.
“They're fine, aren't they? This lake of course is artificial, and
the park was only made out of arable land a hundred years ago. I always
imagine these trees mark some dwelling-house, which has disappeared.
They used to be my chief haunt when I was a boy. There are four of
them, extraordinarily interwoven. I made a seat in one of them. I could
see everything and everybody on the lake, or in the garden; and nobody
could see me. I once overheard a proposal!”
“Eavesdropper!” laughed Helena. “Shall we land?—and go and look at
She gave a touch to the rudder. Then a shout rang out from the
landing-stage on the other side of the water.
“Ah, that's Geoffrey,” said Buntingford. “And I must really get back
to the house—to see people off.”
With a little vigorous rowing they were soon across the lake. Helena
sat silent. She did not want Geoffrey—she did not want to reach the
land—she had been happy on the water—why should things end?
* * * * *
Geoffrey reported that all was well with Lady Georgina, she had gone
home, and then stepping into the boat as Buntingford stepped out, he
began to push off.
“Isn't it rather late?” began Helena in a hesitating voice, half
rising from her seat. “I promised Peter a supper dance.”
Geoffrey turned to look at her.
“Nobody's gone in to supper yet. Shall I take you back?”
There was something in his voice which meant that this
tete-a-tete had been promised him. Helena resigned herself. But
that she would rather have landed was very evident to her companion,
who had been balked of half his chance already by Lady Georgina. Why
did elderly persons liable to faint come to dances?—that was what he
fiercely wanted to know as he pulled out into the lake.
Helena was very quiet. She seemed tired, or dreamy. Instinctively
Geoffrey lost hold on his own purpose. Something warned him to go
warily. By way of starting conversation he began to tell her of his own
adventure on the lake—of the dumb woman among the trees, whom he had
seen and spoken to, without reply. Helena was only moderately
interested. It was some village woman passing through the wood, she
supposed. Very likely the searchlight frightened her, and she knew she
had no business there in June when there were young pheasants about—
“Nobody's started preserving again yet—” put in Geoffrey.
“Old Fenn told me yesterday that there were lots of wild ones,” said
Helena languidly. “So there'll be something to eat next winter.”
“Are you tired, Helena?”
“Not at all,” she said, sitting up suddenly. “What were we talking
about?—oh, pheasants. Do you think we really shall starve next winter,
Geoffrey, as the Food Controller says?”
“I don't much care!” said French.
Helena bent forward.
“Now, you're cross with me, Geoffrey! Don't be cross! I think I
really am tired. I seem to have danced for hours.” The tone was
childishly plaintive, and French was instantly appeased. The joy of
being with her—alone—returned upon him in a flood.
“Well, then, rest a little. Why should you go back just yet? Isn't
it jolly out here?”
“Lovely,” she said absently—“but I promised Peter.”
“That'll be all right. We'll just go across and back.”
There was a short silence—long enough to hear the music from the
house, and the distant voices of the dancers. A little northwest wind
was creeping over the lake, and stirring the scents of the grasses and
sedge-plants on its banks. Helena looked round to see in what direction
they were going.
“Ah!—you see that black patch, Geoffrey?”
“Yes—it was near there I saw my ghost—or village woman—or lady's
maid—whatever you like to call it.”
“It was a lady's maid, I think,” said Helena decidedly. “They have a
way of getting lost. Do you mind going there?”—she pointed—“I want to
He pulled a stroke which sent the boat towards the yews; while she
repeated Buntingford's story of the seat.
“Perhaps we shall find her there,” said Geoffrey with a laugh.
“Your woman? No! That would be rather creepy! To think we had a spy
on us all the time! I should hate that!”
She spoke with animation; and a sudden question shot across French's
mind. She and Buntingford had been alone there under the darkness of
the yews. If a listener had been lurking in that old hiding-place, what
would he—or she—have heard? Then he shook the thought from him, and
rowed vigorously for the creek.
He tied the boat to a willow-stump, and helped Helena to land.
“I warn you—” he said, laughing. “You'll tear your dress, and wet
But with her skirts gathered tight round her she was already halfway
through the branches, and Geoffrey heard her voice from the further
“Oh I—such a wonderful place!”
He followed her quickly, and was no less astonished than she. They
stood in a kind of natural hall, like that “pillared shade” under the
yews of Borrowdale, which Wordsworth has made immortal:
beneath whose sable roof Of boughs, as if for festal
purpose, decked With unrejoicing berries, Ghostly shapes May meet at
noon-tide; Fear and trembling Hope, Silence and Foresight; Death the
Skeleton And Time the Shadow:—
For three yew trees of great age had grown together, forming a domed
tent of close, perennial leaf, beneath which all other vegetation had
disappeared. The floor, carpeted with “the pining members” of the yews,
was dry and smooth; Helena's light slippers scarcely sank in it. They
groped their way; and Helena's hand had slipped unconsciously into
Geoffrey's. In the velvety darkness, indeed, they would have seen
nothing, but for the fact that the moon stood just above the wood, and
through a small gap in the dome, where a rotten branch had fallen, a
little light came down.
“I've found the seat!” said Helena joyously, disengaging herself
from her companion. And presently a dim ray from overhead showed her to
him seated dryad-like in the very centre of the black interwoven
trunks. Or, rather, he saw the sparkle of some bright stones on her
neck, and the whiteness of her brow; but for the rest, only a
suggestion of lovely lines; as it were, a Spirit of the Wood, almost
He stood before her, in an ecstasy of pleasure.
“Helena!—you are a vision—a dream: Don't fade away! I wish we
could stay here for ever.”
“Am I a vision?” She put out a mischievous hand, and pinched him.
“But come here, Geoffrey—come up beside me—look! Anybody sitting here
could see a good deal of the lake!”
He squeezed in beside her, and true enough, through a natural
parting in the branches, which no one could have noticed from outside,
the little creek, with their boat in it, was plainly visible, and
beyond it the lights on the lawn.
“A jolly good observation post for a sniper!” said Geoffrey,
recollections of the Somme returning upon him; so far as he was able to
think of anything but Helena's warm loveliness beside him. Mad thoughts
began to surge up in him.
But an exclamation from Helena checked them:
“I say!—there's something here—in the seat.”
Her hand groped near his. She withdrew it excitedly.
“It's a scarf, or a bag, or something. Let's take it to the light.
Your woman, Geoffrey!”
She scrambled down, and he followed her unwillingly, the blood
racing through his veins. But he must needs help her again through the
close-grown branches, and into the boat.
She peered at the soft thing she held in her hand.
“It's a bag, a little silk bag. And there's something in it! Light a
He fumbled in his waistcoat pocket, and obeyed her. Their two heads
stooped together over the bag. Helena drew out a handkerchief—torn,
with a lace edging.
“That's not a village woman's handkerchief!” she said, wondering.
“And there are initials!”
He struck another match, and they distinguished something like F.M.
very finely embroidered in the corner of the handkerchief. The match
went out, and Helena put the handkerchief back into the bag, which she
examined in the now full moonlight, as they drifted out of the shadow.
“And the bag itself is a most beautiful little thing! It's shabby
and old, but it cost a great deal when it was new. What a strange,
strange thing! We must tell Cousin Philip. Somebody, perhaps, was
watching us all the time!”
She sat with her chin on her hands, gazing thoughtfully at French,
the bag on her knees. Now that the little adventure was over, and she
was begging him to take her back quickly to the house, Geoffrey was
only conscious of disappointment and chagrin. What did the silly
mystery in itself matter to him or her? But it had drawn a red herring
across his track. Would the opportunity it had spoilt ever return?
It was a glorious June morning; and Beechmark, after the ball, was
just beginning to wake up. Into the June garden, full of sun but gently
beaten by a fresh wind, the dancers of the night before emerged one by
one. Peter Dale had come out early, having quarrelled with his bed
almost for the first time in his life. He was now, however, fast asleep
in a garden-chair under a chestnut-tree. Buntingford, in flannels, and
as fresh as though he had slept ten hours instead of three, strolled
out through the library window, followed by French and Vivian Lodge.
“I say, what weather,” said French, throwing himself down on the
grass, his hands under his head. “Why can't Mother Nature provide us
with this sort of thing a little more plentifully?”
“How much would any man jack of us do if it were always fine?” said
Julian Horne, settling himself luxuriously in a deep and comfortable
chair under a red hawthorn in full bloom. “When the weather makes one
want to hang oneself, then's the moment for immortal works.”
“For goodness' sake, don't prate, Julian!” said French, yawning, and
flinging a rose-bud at Horne, which he had just gathered from a
garden-bed at his elbow. “You've had so much more sleep than the rest
of us, it isn't fair.”
“I saw him sup,” said Buntingford. “Who saw him afterwards?”
“No one but his Maker,” said Lodge, who had drawn his hat over his
eyes, and was lying on the grass beside French:—“and le bon Dieu
alone knows what he was doing; for he wasn't asleep. I heard him
tubbing at some unearthly hour in the room next to mine.”
“I finished my article about seven a.m.,” said Horne
tranquilly—“while you fellows were sleeping off the effects of
“Brute!” said Geoffrey languidly. Then suddenly, as though he had
remembered something, he sat up.
“By the way, Buntingford, I had an adventure yesterday evening—Ah,
here comes Helena! Half the story's mine—and half is hers. So we'll
wait a moment.”
The men sprang to their feet. Helena in the freshest of white gowns,
white shoes and a white hat approached, looking preoccupied. Lady Mary
Chance, who was sitting at an open drawing-room window, with a
newspaper she was far too tired to read on her lap, was annoyed to see
the general eagerness with which a girl who occasionally, and horribly
said “D—mn!” and habitually smoked, was received by a group of
infatuated males. Buntingford found the culprit a chair, and handed her
a cigarette. The rest, after greeting her, subsided again on the grass.
“Poor Peter!” said Helena, in a tone of mock pity, turning her eyes
to the sleeping form under the chestnut. “Have I won, or haven't I? I
bet him I would be down first.”
“You've lost—of course,” said Horne. “Peter was down an hour ago.”
“That's not what I meant by 'down.' I meant 'awake.'“
“No woman ever pays a bet if she can help it,” said Horne, “—though
I've known exceptions. But now, please, silence. Geoffrey says he has
something to tell us—an adventure—which was half his and half yours.
Which of you will begin?”
Helena threw a quick glance at Geoffrey, who nodded to her,
perceiving at the same moment that she had in her hand the little
embroidered bag of the night before.
“Well, it'll thrill you,” said Geoffrey slowly, “because there was a
spy among us last night—'takin' notes.'“
And with the heightening touches that every good story-teller
bestows upon a story, he described the vision of the lake—the strange
woman's face, as he had seen it in the twilight beside the yew trees.
Buntingford gradually dropped his cigarette to listen.
“Very curious—very interesting,” he said ironically, as French
paused, “and has lost nothing in the telling.”
“Ah, but wait till you hear the end!” cried Helena. “Now, it's my
And she completed the tale, holding up the bag at the close of it,
so that the tarnished gold of its embroidery caught the light.
Buntingford took it from her, and turned it over. Then he opened it,
drew out the handkerchief, and looked at the initials, “'F. M.'“ He
shook his head. “Conveys nothing. But you're quite right. That bag has
nothing to do with a village woman—unless she picked it up.”
“But the face I saw had nothing to do with a village woman, either,”
said French, with conviction. “It was subtle—melancholy—intense—more
than that!—fierce, fiercely miserable. I guess that the woman
possessing it would be a torment to her belongings if they happened not
to suit her. And, my hat!—if you made her jealous!”
“Was she handsome?” asked Lodge.
Geoffrey shrugged his shoulders.
“Must have been—probably—when she was ten years younger.”
“And she possessed this bag?” mused Buntingford—“which she or some
one bought at Florence—for I've discovered the address of a shop in
it—Fratelli Cortis, Via Tornabuoni, Firenze. You didn't find that out,
He passed the bag to her, pointing out a little printed silk label
which had been sewn into the neck of it. Then Vivian Lodge asked for it
and turned it over.
“Lovely work—and beautiful materials. Ah!—do you see what it
is?”—he held it up—“the Arms of Florence, embroidered in gold and
silver thread. H'm. I suppose, Buntingford, you get some Whitsuntide
visitors in the village?”
“Oh, yes, a few. There's a little pub with one or two decent rooms,
and several cottagers take lodgers. The lady, whoever she was, was
scarcely a person of delicacy.”
“She was in that place for an object,” said Geoffrey, interrupting
him with some decision. “Of that I feel certain. If she had just lost
her way, and was trespassing—she must have known, I think, that she
was trespassing—why didn't she answer my call and let me put her over
the lake? Of course I should never have seen her at all, but for that
accident of the searchlight.”
“The question is,” said Buntingford, “how long did she stay there?
She was not under the yews when you saw her?”
“Well, then, supposing, to get out of the way of the searchlight,
she found her way in and discovered my seat—how long do you guess she
was there?—and when the bag dropped?”
“Any time between then—and midnight—when Helena found it,” said
French. “She may have gone very soon after I saw her, leaving the bag
on the seat; or, if she stayed, on my supposition that she was there
for the purpose of spying, then she probably vanished when she heard
our boat drawn up, and knew that Helena and I were getting out.”
“A long sitting!” said Buntingford with a laugh—“four hours. I
really can't construct any reasonable explanation on those lines.”
“Why not? Some people have a passion for spying and eavesdropping.
If I were such a person, dumped in a country village with nothing to
do, I think I could have amused myself a good deal last night, in that
observation post. Through that hole I told you of, one could see the
lights and the dancing on the lawn, and watch the boats on the lake.
She could hear the music, and if anyone did happen to be talking
secrets just under the yews, she could have heard every word, quite
Involuntarily he looked at Helena, Helena was looking at the grass.
Was it mere fancy, or was there a sudden pinkness in her cheeks?
Buntingford too seemed to have a slightly conscious air. But he rose to
his feet, with a laugh.
“Well, I'll have a stroll to the village, some time to-day, and see
what I can discover about your Incognita, Helena. If she is a
holiday visitor, she'll be still on the spot. Geoffrey had better come
with me, as he's the only person who's seen her.”
“Right you are. After lunch.”
Buntingford nodded assent and went into the house.
* * * * *
The day grew hotter. Lodge and Julian Horne went off for a swim in
the cool end of the lake. Peter still slept, looking so innocent and
infantine in his sleep that no one had the heart to wake him. French
and Helena were left together, and were soon driven by the advancing
sun to the deep shade of a lime-avenue, which, starting from the back
of the house, ran for half a mile through the park. Here they were
absolutely alone. Lady Mary's prying eyes were defeated, and Helena
incidentally remarked that Mrs. Friend, being utterly “jacked up,” had
been bullied into staying in bed till luncheon.
So that in the green sunflecked shadow of the limes, Geoffrey
had—if Helena so pleased—a longer tete-a-tete before him, and
a more generous opportunity, even, than the gods had given him on the
lake. His pulses leapt; goaded, however, by alternate hope and fear.
But at least he had the chance to probe the situation a little deeper;
even if prudence should ultimately forbid him anything more.
Helena had chosen a wooden seat round one of the finest limes. Some
books brought out for show rather than use, lay beside her. A piece of
knitting—a scarf of a bright greenish yellow—lay on the lap of her
white dress. She had taken off her hat, and Geoffrey was passionately
conscious of the beauty of the brown head resting, as she talked,
against the furrowed trunk of the lime. Her brown-gold hair was dressed
in the new way, close to the head and face, and fastened by some
sapphire pins behind the ear. From this dark frame, and in the half
light of the avenue, the exquisite whiteness of the forehead and neck,
the brown eyes, so marvellously large and brilliant, and yet so
delicately finished in every detail beneath their perfect brows, and
the curve of the lips over the small white teeth, stood out as if they
had been painted on ivory by a miniature-painter of the Renaissance.
Her white dress, according to the prevailing fashion, was almost
low—as children's frocks used to be in the days of our
great-grandmothers. It was made with a childish full bodice, and a
childish sash of pale blue held up the rounded breast, that rose and
fell with her breathing, beneath the white muslin. Pale blue stockings,
and a pair of white shoes, with preposterous heels and pointed toes,
completed the picture. The mingling, in the dress, of extreme
simplicity with the cunningest artifice, and the greater daring and
joie de vivre which it expressed, as compared with the dress of
pre-war days, made it characteristic and symbolic:—a dress of the New
Geoffrey lay on the grass beside her, feasting his eyes upon
her—discreetly. Since when had English women grown so beautiful? At
all the weddings and most of the dances he had lately attended, the
brides and the debutantes had seemed to him of a loveliness out
of all proportion to that of their fore-runners in those far-off days
before the war. And when a War Office mission, just before the
Armistice, had taken him to some munition factories in the north, he
had been scarcely less seized by the comeliness of the
girl-workers:—the long lines of them in their blue overalls, and the
blue caps that could scarcely restrain the beauty and wealth of pale
yellow or red-gold hair beneath. Is there something in the rush and
flame of war that quickens old powers and dormant virtues in a race?
Better feeding and better wages among the working-classes—one may mark
them down perhaps as factors in this product of a heightened beauty.
But for these exquisite women of the upper class, is it the pace at
which they have lived, unconsciously, for these five years, that has
brought out this bloom and splendour?—and will it pass as it has come?
Questions of this kind floated through his mind as he lay looking at
Helena, melting rapidly into others much more peremptory and personal.
“Are you soon going up to Town?” he asked her presently. His voice
seemed to startle her. She returned evidently with difficulty from
thoughts of her own. He would have given his head to read them.
“No,” she said hesitatingly. “Why should we? It is so jolly down
here. Everything's getting lovely.”
“I thought you wanted a bit of season! I thought that was part of
your bargain with Philip?”
“Yes—but”—she laughed—“I didn't know how nice Beechmark was.”
His sore sense winced.
“Doesn't Philip want you to go?”
“Not at all. He says he gets much more work done in Town, without
Mrs. Friend and me to bother him—”
“He puts it that way?”
“Politely! And it rests him to come down here for Sundays. He loves
“I shouldn't have thought the Sundays were much rest?”
“Ah, but they're going to be!” she said eagerly. “We're not going to
have another party for a whole month. Cousin Philip has been treating
me like a spoiled child—stuffing me with treats—and I've put an end
And this was the Helena that had stipulated so fiercely for her
week-ends and her pals! The smart deepened.
“And you won't be tired of the country?”
“In the winter, perhaps,” she said carelessly. “Philip and I have
all sorts of plans for the things we want to do in London in the
winter. But not now—when every hour's delicious!”
“Philip and I!”—a new combination indeed!
She threw her head back again, drinking in the warm light and shade,
the golden intensity of the fresh leaf above her.
“And next week there'll be frost, and you'll be shivering over the
fire,” he threw at her, in a sarcastic voice.
“Well, even that—would be nicer—than London,” she said slowly. “I
never imagined I should like the country so much. Of course I wish
there was more to do. I told Philip so last night.”
“And what did he say?”
But she suddenly flushed and evaded the question.
“Oh, well, he hadn't much to say,” said Helena, looking a little
conscious. “Anyway, I'm getting a little education. Mrs. Friend's
brushing up my French—which is vile. And I do some reading every week
for Philip—and some drawing. By the way”—she turned upon her
companion—“do you know his drawings?—they're just ripping! He must
have been an awfully good artist. But I've only just got him to show me
his things. He never talks of them himself.”
“I've never seen one. His oldest friends can hardly remember that
time in his life. He seems to want to forget it.”
“Well, naturally!” said Helena, with an energy that astonished her
listener; but before he could probe what she meant, she stooped over
He saw that she had coloured brightly.
“Do you remember all that nonsense I talked to you a month ago?”
“I can remember it if you want me to. Something about old Philip
being a bully and a tyrant, wasn't it?”
“Some rubbish like that. Well—I don't want to be maudlin—but I
wish to put it on record that Philip isn't a bully and he
isn't a tyrant. He can be a jolly good friend!”
“With some old-fashioned opinions?” put in Geoffrey mockingly.
“Old-fashioned opinions?—yes, of course. And you needn't imagine
that I shall agree with them all. Oh, you may laugh, Geoffrey, but it's
quite true. I'm not a bit crushed. That's the delightful part of it.
It's because he has a genius—yes, a genius—for friendship. I didn't
know him when I came down here—I didn't know him a bit—and I was an
idiot. But one could trust him to the very last.”
Her hands lay idly on the bright-coloured knitting, and Geoffrey
could watch the emotion on her face.
“And one is so glad to be his friend!” she went on softly, “because
he has suffered so!”
“You mean in his marriage? What do you know about it?”
“Can't one guess?” she went on in the same low voice. “He never
speaks of her! There isn't a picture of her, of any sort, in the house.
He used to speak of her sometimes, I believe, to mother—of course she
never said a word—but never, never, to anyone else. It's quite clear
that he wants to forget it altogether. Well, you don't want to forget
what made you happy. And he says such bitter things often. Oh, I'm sure
it was a tragedy!”
“Well—why doesn't he marry again?” Geoffrey had turned over on his
elbows, and seemed to be examining the performances of an ant who was
trying to carry off a dead fly four times his size.
Helena did not answer immediately, and Geoffrey, looking up from the
ant, was aware of conflicting expressions passing across her face. At
last she said, drawing a deep breath:
“Well, at least, I'm glad he's come to like this dear old place—He
never used to care about it in the least.”
“That's because you've made it so bright for him,” said Geoffrey,
finding a seat on a tree-stump near her, and fumbling for a cigarette.
The praises of Philip were becoming monotonous and a reckless wish to
test his own fate was taking possession of him.
“I haven't!”—said Helena vehemently. “I have asked all sorts of
people down he didn't like—and I've made him live in one perpetual
racket. I've been an odious little beast. But now—perhaps—I shall
know better what he wants.”
“Excellent sentiments!” A scoffer looked down upon her through
curling rings of smoke. “Shall I tell you what Philip wants?”
“He wants a wife.”
The attentive eyes fixed on him withdrew themselves.
“Well—suppose he does?”
“Are you going to supply him with one? Lady Cynthia, I think, would
Helena flushed angrily.
“He hasn't the smallest intention of proposing to Cynthia. Nobody
with eyes in their head would suggest it.”
“No—but if you and he are such great friends—couldn't you pull it
off? It would be very suitable,” said Geoffrey coolly.
Helena broke out—the quick breath beating against her white bodice:
“Of course I understand you perfectly, Geoffrey—perfectly! You're
not very subtle—are you? What you're thinking is that when I call
Philip my friend I'm meaning something else—that I'm
Her words choked her. Geoffrey put out a soothing hand—and touched
“My dear child:—how could I suggest anything of the kind? I'm only
a little sorry—for Philip,”
“Philip can take care of himself,” she said passionately. “Only a
stupid—conventional—mind could want to spoil what is really
“So charming?” suggested Geoffrey, springing to his feet. “Very
well, Helena!—then if Philip is really nothing more to you than your
guardian, and your very good friend—why not give some one else a
He bent over her, his kind, clever face aglow with the feeling he
could no longer conceal. Their eyes met—Helena's at first resentful,
scornful even—then soft. She too stood up, and put out a pair of
protesting hands—“Please—please, Geoffrey,—don't.”
“Why not—you angel!” He possessed himself of one of the hands and
made her move with him along the avenue, looking closely into her eyes.
“You must know what I feel! I wanted to speak to you last night, but
you tricked me. I just adore you, Helena! I've got quite good
prospects—I'm getting on in the House of Commons—and I would work for
you day and night!”
“You didn't adore me a month ago!” said Helena, a triumphant little
smile playing about her mouth. “How you lectured me!”
“For you highest good,” he said, laughing; though his heart beat to
suffocation. “Just give me a word of hope, Helena! Don't turn me down,
“Then you mustn't talk nonsense,” she said vehemently, withdrawing
her hand. “I don't want to be engaged! I don't want to be married! Why
can't I be let alone?”
Geoffrey had turned a little pale. In the pause that followed he
fell back on a cigarette for consolation. “Why can't you be let alone?”
he said at last. “Why?—because—you're Helena!”
“What a stupid answer!” she said contemptuously. Then, with one of
her quick changes, she came near to him again. “Geoffrey!—it's no good
pressing me—but don't be angry with me, there's a dear. Just be my
friend and help me!”
She put a hand on his arm, and the face that looked into his would
have bewitched a stone.
“That's a very old game, Helena. 'Marry you? Rather not! but you may
join the queue of rejected ones if you like.'“
A mischievous smile danced in Helena's eyes.
“None of them can say I don't treat them nicely!”
“I daresay. But I warn you I shan't accept the position for long. I
shall begin again.”
“Well, but not yet!—not for a long time,” she pleaded. Then she
gave a little impatient stamp, as she walked beside him.
“I tell you—I don't want to be bound. I won't be bound! I want to
“So you said—a propos of Philip,” he retorted drily.
He saw the shaft strike home—the involuntary dropping of the
eyelids, the soft catch in the breath. But she rallied quickly.
“That was altogether different! You had no business to say that,
“Well, then, forgive me—and keep me quiet—just—just one kiss,
The last passionate words were hardly audible. They had passed into
the deepest shadow of the avenue. No one was visible in all its green
length. They stood ensiled by summer; the great trees mounting guard.
Helena threw a glance to right and left.
“Well, then—to keep you quiet—sans prejudice!”
She demurely offered her cheek. But his lips were scarcely allowed
to touch it, she drew away so quickly.
“Now, then, that's quite settled!” she said in her most
matter-of-fact voice. “Such a comfort! Let's go back.”
They turned back along the avenue, a rather flushed pair, enjoying
each other's society, and discussing the dance, and their respective
It happened, however, that this little scene—at its most critical
point—had only just escaped a spectator. Philip Buntingford passed
across the further end of the avenue on his way to the Horne Farm, at
the moment when Helena and Geoffrey turned their backs to him, walking
towards the house. They were not aware of him; but he stopped a moment
to watch the young figures disappearing under the green shade. A look
of pleasure was in his blue eyes. It seemed to him that things were
going well in that direction. And he wished them to go well. He had
known Geoffrey since he was a little chap in his first breeches; had
watched him through Winchester and Oxford, had taken as semi-paternal
pride in the young man's distinguished war record, and had helped him
with his election expenses. He himself was intimate with very few of
the younger generation. His companions in the Admiralty work, and
certain senior naval officers with whom that work had made him
acquainted:—a certain intimacy, a certain real friendship had indeed
grown up between him and some of them. But something old and tired in
him made the effort of bridging the gulf between himself and men in
their twenties—generally speaking—too difficult. Or he thought so.
The truth was, perhaps, as Geoffrey had expressed it to Helena, that
many of the younger men who had been brought into close official or
business contact with him felt a real affection for him. Buntingford
would have thought it strange that they should do so, and never for one
moment assumed it.
After its languid morning, Beechmark revived with the afternoon. Its
young men guests, whom the Dansworth rioters would probably have
classed as parasites and idlers battening on the toil of the people,
had in fact earned their holiday by a good many months of hard work,
whether in the winding up of the war, or the re-starting of suspended
businesses, or the renewed activities of the bar; and they were taking
it whole-heartedly. Golf, tennis, swimming, and sleep had filled the
day, and it was a crowd in high spirits that gathered round Mrs. Friend
for tea on the lawn, somewhere about five o'clock. Lucy, who had
reached that stage of fatigue the night before when—like Peter Dale,
only for different reasons—her bed became her worst enemy, had
scarcely slept a wink, but was nevertheless presiding gaily over the
tea-table. She looked particularly small and slight in a little dress
of thin grey stuff that Helena had coaxed her to wear in lieu of her
perennial black, but there was that expression in her pretty eyes as of
a lifted burden, and a new friendship with life, which persons in
Philip Buntingford's neighbourhood, when they belonged to the race of
the meek and gentle, were apt to put on. Peter Dale hung about her,
distributing tea and cake, and obedient to all her wishes. More than
once in these later weeks he had found, in the dumb sympathy and
understanding of the little widow, something that had been to him like
shadow in the desert. He was known to fame as one of the smartest young
aide-de-camps in the army, and fabulously rich besides. His invitation
cards, carelessly stacked in his Curzon Street rooms, were a sight to
see. But Helena had crushed his manly spirit. Sitting under the shadow
of Mrs. Friend, he liked to watch from a distance the beautiful and
dazzling creature who would have none of him. He was very sorry for
himself; but, all the same, he had had some rattling games of tennis;
the weather was divine, and he could still gaze at Helena; so that
although the world was evil, “the thrushes still sang in it.”
Buntingford and Geoffrey were seen walking up from the lake when tea
was nearly over.
All eyes were turned to them.
“Now, then,” said Julian Horne—“for the mystery, and its key. What
a pity mysteries are generally such frauds! They can't keep it up. They
let you down when you least expect it.”
“Well, what news?” cried Helena, as the two men approached.
Buntingford shook his head.
“Not much to tell—very little, indeed.”
It appeared to Horne that both men looked puzzled and vaguely
excited. But their story was soon told. They had seen Richard Stimson,
a labourer, who reported having noticed a strange lady crossing the
park in the direction of the wood, which, however, she had not entered,
having finally changed her course so as to bear towards the Western
Lodge and the allotments.
“That, you will observe, was about ten o'clock,” interjected French,
“and I saw my lady about eight.” Buntingford found a chair, lit a
cigarette, and resumed:
“She appeared in the village some time yesterday morning and went
into the church. She told the woman who was cleaning there that she had
come to look at an old window which was mentioned in her guide-book.
The woman noticed that she stayed some time looking at the monuments in
the church, and the tombs in the Buntingford chantry, which all the
visitors go to see. She ordered some sandwiches at the Rose-and-Crown
and got into talk with the landlord. He says she asked the questions
strangers generally do ask—'Who lived in the neighbourhood?'—If she
took a lodging in the village for August were there many nice places to
go and see?—and so on. She said she had visited the Buntingford tombs
in the chantry, and asked some questions about the family, and
myself—Was I married?—Who was the heir? etc. Then when she had paid
her bill, she enquired the way across the park to Feetham Station, and
said she would have a walk and catch a six o'clock train back to
London. She loved the country, she said—and liked walking. And that
“Except about her appearance,” put in Geoffrey. “The landlord said
he thought she must be an actress, or 'summat o' that sort.' She had
such a strange way of looking at you. But when we asked what that
meant, he scratched his head and couldn't tell us. All that we got out
of him was he wouldn't like to have her for a lodger—'she'd frighten
his missus.' Oh, and he did say that she looked dead-tired, and that he
advised her not to walk to Feetham, but to wait for the five o'clock
bus that goes from the village to the station. But she said she liked
walking, and would find some cool place in the park to sit in—till it
was time to catch the train.”
“She was well-dressed, he said,” added Buntingford, addressing
himself to Cynthia Welwyn, who sat beside him; “and his description of
her hat and veil, etc., quite agreed with old Stimson's account.”
There was a silence, in which everybody seemed to be trying to piece
the evidence together as to the mysterious onlooker of the night, and
make a collected whole of it. Buntingford and Geoffrey were especially
thoughtful and preoccupied. At last the former, after smoking a while
without speaking, got up with the remark that he must see to some
letters before post.
“Oh, no!”—pleaded Helena, intercepting him, and speaking so that he
only should hear. “To-morrow's Whitsunday, and Monday's Bank Holiday.
What's the use of writing letters? Don't you remember—you promised to
show me those drawings before dinner—and may Geoffrey come, too?”
A sudden look of reluctance and impatience crossed Buntingford's
face. Helena perceived it at once, and drew back. But Buntingford said
“Oh, certainly. In half an hour, I'll have the portfolios ready.”
He walked away. Helena sat flushed and silent, her eyes on the
ground, twisting and untwisting the handkerchief on her lap. And,
presently, she too disappeared. The rest of the party were left to
discuss with Geoffrey French the ins and outs of the evidence, and to
put up various theories as to the motives of the woman of the yew
trees; an occupation that lasted them till dressing-time.
Cynthia Welwyn took but little share in it. She was sitting rather
apart from the rest, under a blue parasol which made an attractive
combination with her semi-transparent black dress and the bright gold
of her hair. In reality, her thoughts were busy with quite other
matters than the lady of the yews. It did not seem to her of any real
importance that a half-crazy stranger, attracted by the sounds and
sights of the ball, on such a beautiful night, should have tried to
watch it from the lake. The whole tale was curious, but—to
her—irrelevant. The mystery she burned to find out was nearer home.
Was Helena Pitstone falling in love with Philip? And if so, what was
the effect on Philip? Cynthia had not much enjoyed her dance. The
dazzling, the unfair ascendency of youth, as embodied in Helena, had
been rather more galling than usual; and the “sittings out” she had
arranged with Philip during the supper dances had been all cancelled by
her sister's tiresome attack. Julian Horne, who generally got on with
her, chivalrously moved his seat near to her, and tried to talk. But he
found her in a rather dry and caustic mood. The ball had seemed to her
“badly managed”; and the guests, outside the house-party, “an odd set.”
Meanwhile, exactly at the hour named by Buntingford, he heard a
knock at the library door. Helena appeared.
She stood just inside the door, looking absurdly young and childish
in her white frock. But her face was grave.
“I thought just now”—she said, almost timidly,—“that you were
bored by my asking you to show us those things. Are you? Please tell
me. I didn't mean to get in the way of anything you were doing.”
“Bored! Not in the least. Here they are, all ready for you. Come
She saw two or three large portfolios distributed on chairs, and one
or two drawings already on exhibition. Her face cleared.
“Oh, what a heavenly thing!”
She made straight for a large drawing of the Val d'Arno in spring,
and the gap in the mountains that leads to Lucca, taken from some high
point above Fiesole. She knelt down before it in an ecstasy of
“Mummy and I were there two years before the war. I do believe you
came too?” She looked up, smiling, at the face above her.
It was the first time she had ever appealed to her childish
recollections of him in any other than a provocative or half-resentful
tone. He could remember a good many tussles with her in her frail
mother's interest, when she was a long-legged, insubordinate child of
twelve. And when Helena first arrived at Beechmark, it had hurt him to
realize how bitterly she remembered such things, how grossly she had
exaggerated them. The change indicated in her present manner, soothed
his tired, nervous mood. His smile answered her.
“Yes, I was there with you two or three days. Do you remember the
wild tulips we gathered at Settignano?”
“And the wild cherries—and the pear-blossoms! Italy in the spring
is Heaven!” she said, under her breath, as she dropped to a
sitting posture on the floor while he put the drawings before her.
“Well!—shall we go there next spring?”
“Don't tempt me—and then back out!”
“If I did,” he said, laughing, “you could still go with Mrs.
She made no answer. Another knock at the door.
“There's Geoffrey. Come in, old boy. We've only just begun.”
Half an hour's exhibition followed. Both Helena and French were
intelligent spectators, and their amazement at the quality and variety
of the work shown them seemed half-welcome, half-embarrassing to their
“Why don't you go on with it? Why don't you exhibit?” cried Helena.
He shrugged his shoulders.
“It doesn't interest me now. It's a past phase.”
She longed to ask questions. But his manner didn't encourage it. And
when the half-hour was done he looked at his watch.
“Dressing-time,” he said, smiling, holding it out to Helena. She
rose at once. Philip was a delightful artist, but the operations of
dressing were not to be trifled with. Her thanks, however, for “a
lovely time!” and her pleading for a second show on the morrow, were so
graceful, so sweet, that French, as he silently put the drawings back,
felt his spirits drop to zero. What could have so changed the thorny,
insolent girl of six weeks before—but the one thing? He stole a glance
at Buntingford. Surely he must realize what was happening—and his huge
Helena disappeared. Geoffrey volunteered to tie up a portfolio they
had only half examined, while Buntingford finished a letter. While he
was handling it, the portfolio slipped, and a number of drawings fell
out pell-mell upon the floor.
Geoffrey stooped to pick them up. A vehement exclamation startled
Buntingford at his desk.
“What's the matter, Geoffrey?”
“Philip! That's the woman I saw!—that's her face!—I could
swear to it anywhere!”
He pointed with excitement to the drawing of a woman's head and
shoulders, which had fallen out from the very back of the portfolio,
whereof the rotting straps and fastenings showed that it had not been
opened for many years.
Buntingford came to his side. He looked at the drawing—then at
French. His face seemed suddenly to turn grey and old.
“My God!” he said under his breath, and again, still lower—“My
God! Of course. I knew it!”
He dropped into a chair beside Geoffrey, and buried his face in his
Geoffrey stared at him in silence, a bewildering tumult of ideas and
conjectures rushing through his brain.
Another knock at the door. Buntingford rose automatically, went to
the door, spoke to the servant who had knocked, and came back with a
note in his hand, which he took to the window to read. Then with steps
which seemed to French to waver like those of a man half drunk he went
to his writing-desk, and wrote a reply which he gave to the servant who
was waiting in the passage. He stood a moment thinking, his hand over
his eyes, before he approached his nephew.
“Geoffrey, will you please take my place at dinner to-night? I am
going out. Make any excuse you like.” He moved away—but turned back
again, speaking with much difficulty—“The woman you saw—is at the
Rectory. Alcott took her in last night. He writes to me. I am going
Buntingford walked rapidly across the park, astonishing the old
lodge-keeper who happened to see him pass through, and knew that his
lordship had a large Whitsuntide party at the house, who must at that
very moment be sitting down to dinner.
The Rectory lay at the further extremity of the village, which was
long and straggling. The village street, still bathed in sun, was full
of groups of holiday makers, idling and courting. To avoid them,
Buntingford stepped into one of his own plantations, in which there was
a path leading straight to the back of the Rectory.
He walked like one half-stunned, with very little conscious thought.
As to the blow which had now fallen, he had lived under the possibility
of it for fourteen years. Only since the end of the war had he begun to
feel some security, and in consequence to realize a new ferment in
himself. Well—now at least he would know. And the hunger to
know winged his feet.
He found a gate leading into the garden of the Rectory open, and
went through it towards the front of the house. A figure in grey
flannels, with a round collar, was pacing up and down the little
grass-plot there, waiting for him.
John Alcott came forward at sight of him. He took Buntingford's hand
in both his own, and looked into his face. “Is it true?” he said,
“Probably,” said Buntingford, after a moment.
“Will you come into my study? I think you ought to hear our story
before you see her.”
He led the way into the tiny house, and into his low-roofed study,
packed with books from floor to ceiling, the books of a lonely man who
had found in them his chief friends. He shut the door with care,
suggesting that they should speak as quietly as possible, since the
house was so small, and sound travelled so easily through it.
“Where is she?” said Buntingford, abruptly, as he took the chair
Alcott pushed towards him.
“Just overhead. It is our only spare room.”
Buntingford nodded, and the two heads, the black and the grey, bent
towards each other, while Alcott gave his murmured report.
“You know we have no servant. My sister does everything, with my
help, and a village woman once or twice a week. Lydia came down this
morning about seven o'clock and opened the front door. To her
astonishment she found a woman leaning against the front pillar of our
little porch. My sister spoke to her, and then saw she must be
exhausted or ill. She told her to come in, and managed to get her into
the dining-room where there is a sofa. She said a few incoherent things
after lying down and then fainted. My sister called me, and I went for
our old doctor. He came back with me, said it was collapse, and heart
weakness—perhaps after influenza—and that we must on no account move
her except on to a bed in the dining-room till he had watched her a
little. She was quite unable to give any account of herself, and while
we were watching her she seemed to go into a heavy sleep. She only
recovered consciousness about five o'clock this evening. Meanwhile I
had been obliged to go to a diocesan meeting at Dansworth and I left my
sister and Dr. Ramsay in charge of her, suggesting that as there was
evidently something unusual in the case nothing should be said to
anybody outside the house till I came back and she was able to talk to
us. I hurried back, and found the doctor giving injections of
strychnine and brandy which seemed to be reviving her. While we were
all standing round her, she said quite clearly—'I want to see Philip
Buntingford.' Dr. Ramsay knelt down beside her, and asked her to tell
him, if she was strong enough, why she wanted to see you. She did not
open her eyes, but said again distinctly—'Because I am'—or was—I am
not quite sure which—'his wife.' And after a minute or two she said
twice over, very faintly—'Send for him—send for him.' So then I wrote
my note to you and sent it off. Since then the doctor and my sister
have succeeded in carrying her upstairs—and the doctor gives leave for
you to see her. He is coming back again presently. During her sleep,
she talked incoherently once or twice about a lake and a boat—and once
she said—'Oh, do stop that music!' and moved her head about as though
it hurt her. Since then I have heard some gossip from the village about
a strange lady who was seen in the park last night. Naturally one puts
two and two together—but we have said nothing yet to anyone. Nobody
knows that she—if the woman seen in the park, and the woman upstairs
are the same—is here.”
He looked interrogatively at his companion. But Buntingford, who had
risen, stood dumb.
“May I go upstairs?” was all he said.
The rector led the way up a small cottage staircase. His sister, a
grey-haired woman of rather more than middle age, spectacled and prim,
but with the eyes of the pure in heart, heard them on the stairs and
came out to meet them.
“She is quite ready, and I am in the next room, if you want me.
Please knock on the wall.”
Buntingford entered and shut the door. He stood at the foot of the
bed. The woman lying on it opened her eyes, and they looked at each
other long and silently. The face on the pillow had still the remains
of beauty. The powerful mouth and chin, the nose, which was long and
delicate, the deep-set eyes, and broad brow under strong waves of hair,
were all fused in a fine oval; and the modelling of the features was
intensely and passionately expressive. That indeed was at once the
distinction and, so to speak, the terror of the face,—its excessive,
abnormal individualism, its surplus of expression. A woman to fret
herself and others to decay—a woman, to burn up her own life, and that
of her lover, her husband, her child. Only physical weakness had at
last set bounds to what had once been a whirlwind force.
“Anna!” said Buntingford gently.
She made a feeble gesture which beckoned him to come nearer—to sit
down—and he came. All the time he was sharply, irrelevantly conscious
of the little room, the bed with its white dimity furniture, the texts
on the distempered walls, the head of the Leonardo Christ over the
mantelpiece, the white muslin dressing-table, the strips of carpet on
the bare boards, the cottage chairs:—the spotless cleanliness and the
poverty of it all. He saw as the artist, who cannot help but see, even
at moments of intense feeling.
“You thought—I was dead?” The woman in the bed moved her haggard
eyes towards him.
“Yes, lately I thought it. I didn't, for a long time.”
“I put that notice in—so that—you might marry again,” she said,
slowly, and with difficulty.
“I suspected that.”
“But you—didn't marry.”
“How could I?—when I had no real evidence?”
She closed her eyes, as though any attempt to argue, or explain was
beyond her, and he had to wait while she gathered strength again. After
what seemed a long time, and in a rather stronger voice she said:
“Did you ever find out—what I had done?”
“I discovered that you had gone away with Rocca—into Italy. I
followed you by motor, and got news of you as having gone over the
Splugen. My car had a bad accident on the pass, and I was ten weeks in
hospital at Chur. After that I lost all trace.”
“I heard of the accident,” she said, her eyes all the while
searching out the changed details of a face which had once been
familiar to her. “But Rocca wasn't with me then. I had only old
“The old bonne—we had at Melun?”
She made a sign of assent.—“I never lived with Rocca—till after
the child was born.”
“The child! What do you mean?”
The words were a cry. He hung over her, shaken and amazed.
“You never knew!”—There was a faint, ghastly note of triumph in her
voice. “I wouldn't tell you—after that night we quarrelled—I
concealed it. But he is your son—sure enough.”
“My son!—and he is alive?” Buntingford bent closer, trying to see
She turned to look at him, nodding silently.
“Where is he?”
“In London. It was about him—I came down here. I—I—want to get
rid of him.”
A look of horror crossed his face, as though in her faint yet
violent words he caught the echoes of an intolerable past. But he
“Tell me more—I want to help you.”
“You—you won't get any joy of him!” she said, still staring at him.
“He's not like other children—he's afflicted. It was a bad
doctor—when I was confined—up in the hills near Lucca. The child was
injured. There's nothing wrong with him—but his brain.”
A flickering light in Buntingford's face sank.
“And you want to get rid of him?”
“He's so much trouble,” she said peevishly. “I did the best I could
for him. Now I can't afford to look after him. I thought of everything
I could do—before—”
“Before you thought of coming to me?”
She assented. A long pause followed, during which Miss Alcott came
in, administered stimulant, and whispered to Buntingford to let her
rest a little. He sat there beside her motionless, for half an hour or
more, unconscious of the passage of time, his thoughts searching the
past, and then again grappling dully with the extraordinary, the
incredible statement that he possessed a son—a living but, apparently,
an idiot son. The light began to fail, and Miss Alcott slipped in
noiselessly again to light a small lamp out of sight of the patient.
“The doctor will soon be here,” she whispered to Buntingford.
The light of the lamp roused the woman. She made a sign to Miss
Alcott to lift her a little.
“Not much,” said the Rector's sister in Buntingford's ear. “It's the
heart that's wrong.”
Together they raised her just a little. Miss Alcott put a fan into
Buntingford's hands, and opened the windows wider.
“I'm all right,” said the stranger irritably. “Let me alone. I've
got a lot to say.” She turned her eyes on Buntingford. “Do you want to
“He died seven years ago. He was always good to me—awfully good to
me and to the boy. We lived in a horrible out-of-the-way place—up in
the mountains near Naples. I didn't want you to know about the boy. I
wanted revenge. Rocca changed his name to Melegrani. I called myself
Francesca Melegrani. I used to exhibit both at Naples and Rome. Nobody
ever found out who we were.”
“What made you put that notice in the Times?”
She smiled faintly, and the smile recalled to him an old expression
of hers, half-cynical, half-defiant.
“I had a pious fit once—when Rocca was very ill. I confessed to an
old priest—in the Abruzzi. He told me to go back to you—and ask your
forgiveness. I was living in sin, he said—and would go to hell. A dear
old fool! But he had some influence with me. He made me feel some
remorse—about you—only I wouldn't give up the boy. So when Rocca got
well and was going to Lyons, I made him post the notice from there—to
the Times. I hoped you'd believe it.” Then, unexpectedly, she
slightly raised her head, the better to see the man beside her.
“Do you mean to marry that girl I saw on the lake?”
“If you mean the girl that I was rowing, she is the daughter of a
cousin of mine. I am her guardian.”
“She's handsome.” Her unfriendly eyes showed her incredulity.
He drew himself stiffly together.
“Don't please waste your strength on foolish ideas. I am not going
to marry her, nor anybody.”
“You couldn't—till you divorce me—or till I die,” she said feebly,
her lids dropping again—“but I'm quite ready to see any lawyers—so
that you can get free.”
“Don't think about that now, but tell me again—what you want me to
“I want—to go to—America. I've got friends there. I want you to
pay my passage—because I'm a pauper—and to take over the boy.”
“I'll do all that. You shall have a nurse—when you are strong
enough—who will take you across. Now I must go. Can you just tell me
first where the boy is?”
Almost inaudibly she gave an address in Kentish Town. He saw that
she could bear no more, and he rose.
“Try and sleep,” he said in a voice that wavered. “I'll see you
again to-morrow. You're all right here.”
She made no reply, and seemed again either asleep or unconscious.
As he stood by the bed, looking down upon her, scenes and persons he
had forgotten for years rushed back into the inner light of
memory:—that first day in Lebas's atelier when he had seen her in her
Holland overall, her black hair loose on her neck, the provocative
brilliance of her dark eyes; their close comradeship in the contests,
the quarrels, the ambitions of the atelier; her patronage of him as her
junior in art, though her senior in age; her increasing influence over
him, and the excitement of intimacy with a creature so unrestrained, so
gifted, so consumed with jealousies, whether as an artist or a woman;
his proposal of marriage to her in one of the straight roads that cut
the forest of Compiegne; the ceremony at the Mairie, with only a few of
their fellow students for witnesses; the little apartment on the Rive
Gauche, with its bits of old furniture, and unframed sketches pinned up
on the walls; Anna's alternations of temper, now fascinating, now
sulky, and that steady emergence in her of coarse or vulgar traits,
like rocks in an ebbing sea; their early quarrels, and her old mother
who hated him; their poverty because of her extravagance; his growing
reluctance to take her to England, or to present her to persons of his
own class and breeding in Paris, and her frantic jealousy and
resentment when she discovered it; their scenes of an alternate
violence and reconciliation and finally her disappearance, in the
company, as he had always supposed, of Sigismondo Rocca, an Italian
studying in Paris, whose pursuit of her had been notorious for some
The door opened gently, and Miss Alcott's grey head appeared.
“The doctor!” she said, just audibly.
Buntingford followed her downstairs, and found himself presently in
Alcott's study, alone with a country doctor well known to him, a man
who had pulled out his own teeth in childhood, had attended his father
and grandfather before him, and carried in his loyal breast the secrets
and the woes of a whole countryside.
They grasped hands in silence.
“You know who she is?” said Buntingford quietly.
“I understand that she tells Mr. Alcott that she was Mrs. Philip
Bliss, that she left you fifteen years ago, and that you believed her
He saw Buntingford shrink.
“At times I did—yes, at times I did—but we won't go into that. Is
she ill—really ill?”
Ramsay spoke deliberately, after a minute's thought:
“Yes, she is probably very ill. The heart is certainly in a
dangerous state. I thought she would have slipped away this morning,
when they called me in—the collapse was so serious. She is not a
strong woman, and she had a bad attack of influenza last week. Then she
was out all last night, wandering about, evidently in a state of great
excitement. It was as bad a fainting fit as I have ever seen.”
“It would be impossible to move her?”
“For a day or two certainly. She keeps worrying about a
boy—apparently her own boy?”
“I will see to that.”
Ramsay hesitated a moment and then said—“What are we to call her?
It will not be possible, I imagine, to keep her presence here
altogether a secret. She called herself, in talking to Miss Alcott,
“Why not? As to explaining her, I hardly know what to say.”
Buntingford put his hand across his eyes; the look of weariness, of
perplexity, intensified ten-fold.
“An acquaintance of yours in Italy, come to ask you for help?”
Buntingford withdrew his hand.
“No!” he said with decision. “Better tell the truth! She was my
wife. She left me, as she has told the Alcotts, and took steps eleven
years ago to make me believe her dead. And up to seven years ago, she
passed as the wife of a man whom I knew by the name of Sigismondo
Rocca. When the announcement of her death appeared, I set enquiries on
foot at once, with no result. Latterly, I have thought it must be true;
but I have never been quite certain. She has reappeared now, it seems,
partly because she has no resources, and partly in order to restore to
me my son.”
“Your son!” said Ramsay, startled.
“She tells me that a boy was born after she left me, and that I am
the father. All that I must verify. No need to say anything whatever
about that yet. Her main purpose, no doubt, was to ask for pecuniary
assistance, in order to go to America. In return she will furnish my
lawyers with all the evidence necessary for my divorce from her.”
Ramsay slowly shook his head.
“I doubt whether she will ever get to America. She has worn herself
There was a silence. Then Buntingford added:
“If these kind people would keep her, it would be the best solution.
I would make everything easy for them. To-morrow I go up to Town—to
the address she has given me. And—I should be glad if you would come
The doctor looked surprised.
“Of course—if you want me—”
“The boy—his mother says—is abnormal—deficient. An injury at
birth. If you will accompany me I shall know better what to do.”
A grasp of the hand, a look of sympathy answered; and they parted.
Buntingford emerged from the little Rectory to find Alcott again
waiting for him in the garden. The sun had set some time and the moon
was peering over the hills to the east. The mounting silver rim
suddenly recalled to Buntingford the fairy-like scene of the night
before?—the searchlight on the lake, the lights, the music, and the
exquisite figure of Helena dancing through it all. Into what Vale of
the Shadow of Death had he passed since then?—
Alcott and he turned into the plantation walk together. Various
practical arrangements were discussed between them. Alcott and his
sister would keep the sick woman in their house as long as might be
necessary, and Buntingford once more expressed his gratitude.
Then, under the darkness of the trees, and in reaction from the
experience he had just passed through, an unhappy man's hitherto
impenetrable reserve, to some extent, broke down. And the companion
walking beside him showed himself a true minister of Christ—-humble,
tactful, delicate, yet with the courage of his message. What struck him
most, perhaps, was the revelation of what must have been Buntingford's
utter loneliness through long years; the spiritual isolation in which a
man of singularly responsive and confiding temper had passed perhaps a
quarter of his life, except for one blameless friendship with a woman
now dead. His utmost efforts had not been able to discover the wife who
had deserted him, or to throw any light upon her subsequent history.
The law, therefore, offered him no redress. He could not free himself;
and he could not marry again. Yet marriage and fatherhood were his
natural destiny, thwarted by the fatal mistake of his early youth.
Nothing remained but to draw a steady veil over the past, and to make
what he could of the other elements in life.
Alcott gathered clearly from the story that there had been no other
woman or women in the case, since his rupture with his wife. Was it
that his marriage, with all its repulsive episodes, had disgusted a
fastidious nature with the coarser aspects of the sex relation? The
best was denied him, and from the worse he himself turned away; though
haunted all the time by the natural hunger of the normal man.
As they walked on, Alcott gradually shaped some image for himself of
what had happened during the years of the marriage, piecing it together
from Buntingford's agitated talk. But he was not prepared for a sudden
statement made just as they were reaching the spot where Alcott would
naturally turn back towards the Rectory. It came with a burst, after a
“For God's sake, Alcott, don't suppose from what I have been telling
you that all the fault was on my wife's side, that I was a mere injured
innocent. Very soon after we married, I discovered that I had ceased to
love her, that there was hardly anything in common between us. And
there was a woman in Paris—a married woman, of my own
world—cultivated, and good, and refined—who was sorry for me, who
made a kind of spiritual home for me. We very nearly stepped over the
edge—we should have done—but for her religion. She was an ardent
Catholic and her religion saved her. She left Paris suddenly, begging
me as the last thing she would ever ask me, to be reconciled to Anna,
and to forget her. For some days I intended to shoot myself. But, at
last, as the only thing I could do for her, I did as she bade me. Anna
and I, after a while, came together again, and I hoped for a child.
Then, by hideous ill luck, Anna, about three months after our
reconciliation, discovered a fragment of a letter—believed the very
worst—made a horrible scene with me, and went off, as she has just
told me,—not actually with Rocca as I believed, but to join him in
Italy. From that day I lost all trace of her. Her concealment of the
boy's birth was her vengeance upon me. She knew how passionately I had
always wanted a son. But instead she punished him—the poor, poor
There was an anguish in the stifled voice which made sympathy
impertinent. Alcott asked some practical questions, and Buntingford
repeated his wife's report of the boy's condition, and her account of
an injury at birth, caused by the unskilful hands of an ignorant
“But I shall see him to-morrow. Ramsay and I go together. Perhaps,
after all, something can be done. I shall also make the first
arrangements for the divorce.”
Alcott was silent a moment—hesitating in the dark.
“You will make those arrangements immediately?”
“If she dies? She may die.”
“I would do nothing brutal—but—She came to make a bargain with
“Yes—but if she dies—might you not have been glad to say, 'I
The shy, clumsy man was shaken as he spoke, with the passion of his
own faith. The darkness concealed it, as it concealed its effect on
Buntingford. Buntingford made no direct reply, and presently they
parted, Alcott engaging to send a messenger over to Beechmark early,
with a report of the patient's condition, before Buntingford and Dr.
Ramsay started for London. Buntingford walked on. And presently in the
dim moonlight ahead he perceived Geoffrey French.
The young man approached him timidly, almost expecting to be
denounced as an intruder. Instead, Buntingford put an arm through his,
and leaned upon him, at first in a pathetic silence that Geoffrey did
not dare to break. Then gradually the story was told again, as much of
it as was necessary, as much as Philip could bear. Geoffrey made very
little comment, till through the trees they began to see the lights of
Then Geoffrey said in an unsteady voice:
“Philip!—there is one person you must tell—perhaps first of all.
You must tell Helena—yourself.”
Buntingford stopped as though under a blow.
“Of course, I shall tell Helena—but why?—”
His voice spoke bewilderment and pain.
“Tell her yourself—that's all,” said Geoffrey,
resolutely—“and, if you can, before she hears it from anybody else.”
Buntingford and French reached home between ten and eleven o'clock.
When they entered the house, they heard sounds of music from the
drawing-room. Peter Dale was playing fragments from the latest musical
comedy, with a whistled accompaniment on the drawing-room piano. There
seemed to be nothing else audible in the house, in spite of the large
party it contained. Amid the general hush, unbroken by a voice or a
laugh, the “funny bits” that Peter was defiantly thumping or whistling
made a kind of goblin chorus round a crushed and weary man, as he
pushed past the door of the drawing-room to the library. Geoffrey
“No one knows it yet,” said the young man, closing the door behind
them. “I had no authority from you to say anything. But of course they
all understood that something strange had happened. Can I be any help
with the others, while—”
“While I tell Helena?” said Buntingford, heavily. “Yes. Better get
it over. Say, please—I should be grateful for no more talk than is
Geoffrey stood by awkwardly, not knowing how to express the painful
sympathy he felt. His very pity made him abrupt.
“I am to say—that you always believed—she was dead?”
Under what name to speak of the woman lying at the Rectory puzzled
him. The mere admission of the thought that however completely in the
realm of morals she might have forfeited his name, she was still
Buntingford's wife in the realm of law, seemed an outrage.
At the question, Buntingford sprang up suddenly from the seat on
which he had fallen; and Geoffrey, who was standing near him
involuntarily retreated a few steps, in amazement at the passionate
animation which for the moment had transformed the whole aspect of the
“Yes, you may say so—you must say so! There is no other account you
can give of it!—no other account I can authorize you to give it. It is
four-fifths true—and no one in this house—not even you—has any right
to press me further. At the same time, I am not going to put even the
fraction of a lie between myself and you, Geoffrey, for you have
been—a dear fellow—to me!” He put his hand a moment on Geoffrey's
shoulder, withdrawing it instantly. “The point is—what would have come
about—if this had not happened? That is the test. And I can't give a
perfectly clear answer.” He began to pace the room—thinking aloud. “I
have been very anxious—lately—to marry. I have been so many years
alone; and I—well, there it is!—I have suffered from it, physically
and morally; more perhaps than other men might have suffered. And
lately—you must try and understand me, Geoffrey!—although I had
doubts—yes, deep down, I still had doubts—whether I was really
free—I have been much more ready to believe than I used to be, that I
might now disregard the doubts—silence them!—for good and all. It has
been my obsession—you may say now my temptation. Oh! the divorce court
would probably have freed me—have allowed me to presume my wife's
death after these fifteen years. But the difficulty lay in my own
conscience. Was I certain? No! I was not certain! Anna's ways and
standards were well known to me. I could imagine various motives which
might have induced her to deceive me. At the same time”—he stopped and
pointed to his writing-table—“these drawers are stuffed full of
reports and correspondence, from agents all over Europe, whom I
employed in the years before the war to find out anything they could. I
cannot accuse myself of any deliberate or wilful ignorance. I made
effort after effort—in vain. I was entitled—at last—it often seemed
to me to give up the effort, to take my freedom. But then”—his voice
dropped—“I thought of the woman I might love—and wish to marry. I
should indeed have told her everything, and the law might have been
ready to protect us. But if Anna still lived, and were suddenly to
reappear in my life—what a situation!—for a sensitive, scrupulous
“It would have broken—spoiled—everything!” said Geoffrey, under
his breath, but with emphasis. He was leaning against the mantelpiece,
and his face was hidden from his companion. Buntingford threw him a
strange, deprecating look.
“You are right—you are quite right. Yet I believe, Geoffrey, I
might have committed that wrong—but for this—what shall I call
it?—this 'act of God' that has happened to me. Don't misunderstand
me!” He came to stand beside his nephew, and spoke with intensity. “It
was only a possibility—and there is no guilt on my conscience.
I have no real person in my mind. But any day I might have failed my
own sense of justice—my own sense of honour—sufficiently—to let a
woman risk it!”
Geoffrey thought of one woman—if not two women—who would have
risked it. His heart was full of Helena. It was as though he could only
appreciate the situation as it affected her. How deep would the blow
strike, when she knew? He turned to look at Buntingford, who had
resumed his restless walk up and down the room, realizing with mingled
affection and reluctance the charm of his physical presence, the dark
head, the kind deep eyes, the melancholy selfishness that seemed to
enwrap him. Yet all the time he had not been selfless! There had been
no individual woman in the case. But none the less, he had been
consumed with the same personal longing—the same love of loving; the
amor amandi—as other men. That was a discovery. It brought him
nearer to the young man's tenderness; but it made the chance of a
misunderstanding on Helena's part greater.
“Shall I tell Helena you would like to speak to her?” he said,
breaking the silence.
Philip, left alone, tried to collect his thoughts. He did not
conceal from himself what had been implied rather than said by
Geoffrey. The hint had startled and disquieted him. But he could not
believe it had any real substance; and certainly he felt himself
blameless. A creature so radiant, with the world at her feet!—and he,
prematurely aged, who had seemed to her, only a few weeks ago, a mere
old fogy in her path! That she should have reconsidered her attitude
towards him, was surely natural, considering all the pains he had taken
to please her. But as to anything else—absurd!
Latterly, indeed, since she had come to that tacit truce with Jim,
he was well aware how much her presence in his house had added to the
pleasant moments of daily life. In winning her good will, in thinking
for her, in trying to teach her, in watching the movements of her quick
untrained intelligence and the various phases of her enchanting beauty,
he had found not only a new occupation, but a new joy. Rachel's
prophecy for him had begun to realize itself. And, all the time, his
hopes as to Geoffrey's success with her had been steadily rising. He
and Geoffrey had indeed been at cross-purposes, if Geoffrey really
believed what he seemed to believe! But it was nothing—it could be
nothing—but the fantasy of a lover, starting at a shadow.
And suddenly his mind, as he stood waiting, plunged into matters
which were not shadows—but palpitating realities. His son!—whom he was to see on the morrow. He believed the word of the woman
who had been his wife. Looking back on her character with all its
faults, he did not think she would have been capable of a malicious
lie, at such a moment. Forty miles away then, there was a human being
waiting and suffering, to whom his life had given life.
Excitement—yearning—beat through his pulses. He already felt the boy
in his arms; was already conscious of the ardour with which every
device of science should be called in, to help restore to him, not only
his son's body, but his mind.
There was a low tap at the door. He recalled his thoughts and went
to open it.
He took her hand and led her in. She had changed her white dress of
the afternoon for a little black frock, one of her mourning dresses for
her mother, with a bunch of flame-coloured roses at her waist. The
semi-transparent folds of the black brought out the brilliance of the
white neck and shoulders, the pale carnations of the face, the
beautiful hair, following closely the contours of the white brow. Even
through all his pain and preoccupation, Buntingford admired; was
instantly conscious of the sheer pleasure of her beauty. But it was the
pleasure of an artist, an elder brother—a father even. Her mother was
in his mind, and the strong affection he had begun to feel for his ward
was shot through and through by the older tenderness.
“Sit there, dear,” he said, pushing forward a chair. “Has Geoffrey
told you anything?”
“No. He said you wanted to tell me something yourself, and he would
speak to the others.”
She was very pale, and the hand he touched was cold. But she was
He sat down in front of her collecting his thoughts.
“Something has happened, Helena, to-day—this very evening—which
must—I fear—alter all your plans and mine. The poor woman whom
Geoffrey saw in the wood, whose bag you found, was just able to make
her escape, when you and Geoffrey landed. She wandered about the rest
of the night, and in the early morning she asked for shelter—being
evidently ill—at the Rectory, but it was not till this evening that
she made a statement which induced them to send for me. Helena!—what
did your mother ever tell you about my marriage?”
“She told me very little—only that you had married someone
abroad—when you were studying in Paris—and that she was dead.”
Buntingford covered his eyes with his hand.
“I told your mother, Helena, all I knew. I concealed nothing from
her—both what I knew—and what I didn't know.”
He paused, to take from his pocket a small leather case and to
extract from it a newspaper cutting. He handed it to her. It was from
the first column of the Times, was dated 1907, and contained the
words:—“On July 19th at Lyons, France, Anna, wife of Philip Bliss,
Helena read it, and looked up. Buntingford anticipated the words
that were on her lips.
“Wait a moment!—let me go on. I read that announcement in the
Times, Helena, three years after my wife had deserted me. I had
spent those three years, first in recovering from a bad accident, and
then in wandering about trying to trace her. Naturally, I went off to
Lyons at once, and could discover—nothing! The police there did all
they could to help me—our own Embassy in Paris got at the Ministry of
the Interior—useless! I recovered the original notice and envelope
from the Times. Both were typewritten, and the Lyons postmark
told us no more than the notice had already told. I could only carry on
my search, and for some years afterwards, even after I had returned to
London, I spent the greater part of all I earned and possessed upon it.
About that time my friendship with your mother began. She was already
ill, and spent most of her life—as you remember—except for those two
or three invalid winters in Italy—in that little drawing-room, I knew
so well. I could always be sure of finding her at home; and
gradually—as you recollect—she became my best friend. She was the
only person in England who knew the true story of my marriage. She
always suspected, from the time she first heard of it, that the notice
in the Times—”
Helena made a quick movement forward. Her lips parted.
“—was not true?”
Buntingford took her hand again, and they looked at each other, she
“And the woman last night?” she said, breathlessly—“was she someone
who knew—who could tell you the truth?”
“She was my wife—herself!”
Helena withdrew her hand.
“How strange!—how strange!” She covered her eyes. There was a
silence. After it, Buntingford resumed:
“Has Geoffrey told you the first warning of it—you left this room?”
He described the incident of the sketch.
“It was a drawing I had made of her only a few weeks before she left
me. I had no idea it was in that portfolio. We had scarcely time to put
it away before Mr. Alcott's note arrived—sending for me at once.”
Helena's hands had dropped, while she hung upon his story. And a
wonderful unconscious sweetness had stolen into her expression. Her
young heart was in her eyes.
“Oh, I am so glad—so glad—you had that warning!”
Buntingford was deeply touched.
“You dear child!” he said in a rather choked voice, and, rising, he
walked away from her to the further end of the room. When he returned,
he found a pale and thoughtful Helena.
“Of course, Cousin Philip, this will make a great change—in your
life—and in mine.”
He stood silently before her—preferring that she should make her
“I think—I ought to go away at once. Thanks to you—I have Mrs.
Friend—who is such a dear.”
“There is the London house, Helena. You can make any use of it you
“No, I think not,” she said resolutely. Then with an odd laugh which
recalled an earlier Helena—“I don't expect Lucy Friend would want to
have the charge of me in town; and you too—perhaps—would still be
responsible—and bothered about me—if I were in your house.”
Buntingford could not help a smile.
“My responsibility scarcely depends—does it—upon where you are?”
Then his voice deepened. “I desire, wherever you are, to cherish and
care for you—in your mother's place. I can't say what a joy it has
been to me to have you here.”
“No!—that's nonsense!—ridiculous!—” she said, suddenly breaking
down, and dashing the tears from her eyes.
“It's very true,” he said gently. “You've been the dearest pupil,
and forgiven me all my pedantic ways. But if not London—I will arrange
anything you wish.”
She turned away, evidently making a great effort not to weep. He too
was much agitated, and for a little while he busied himself with some
letters on his table.
When, at her call, he returned to her, she said, quite in her usual
“I should like to go somewhere—to some beautiful place—and draw.
That would take a month—perhaps. Then we can settle.” After a pause,
she added without hesitation—“And you?—what is going to happen?”
“It depends—upon whether it's life at the Rectory—or death.”
She was evidently startled, but said nothing, only gave him her
beautiful eyes again, and her unspoken sympathy.
Then an impulse which seemed invincible came upon him to be really
frank with her—to tell her more.
“It depends, also,—upon something else. But this I asked Geoffrey
not to tell the others in the drawing-room—just yet—and I ask you the
same. Of course you may tell Mrs. Friend.” She saw his face work with
emotion. “Helena, this woman that was my wife declares to me—that I
have a son living.”
He saw the light of amazement that rushed into her face, and hurried
on:—“But in the same breath that she tells me that, she tells me the
tragedy that goes with it.” And hardly able to command his voice, he
repeated what had been told him.
“Of course everything must be enquired into—verified. I go to town
to-morrow—with Ramsay. Possibly I shall bring him back—perhaps to
Ramsay's care, for the moment. Possibly, I shall leave him with someone
“Couldn't I help,” she said, after a moment, “if I stayed?”
“No, no!” he said with repugnance, which was almost passion. “I
couldn't lay such a burden upon you, or any young creature. You must go
and be happy, dear Helena—it is your duty to be happy! And this home
for a time will be a tragic one. Well, but now, where would you like to
go? Will you and Geoffrey and Mrs. Friend consult? I will leave any
money you want in Geoffrey's hands.”
“You mean”—she said abruptly—“that I really ought to go at
“Wouldn't it be best? It troubles me to think of you here—under the
shadow—of this thing.”
“I see!—I see! All right. You are going to London to-morrow
morning?” She had risen, and was moving towards the door.
“Yes, I shall go to the Rectory first for news. And then on to the
She paused a moment.
“And if—if she—I don't know what to call her—if she lives?”
“Well, then—I must be free,” he said, gravely; adding
immediately—“She passed for fifteen years after she left me as the
wife of an Italian I used to know. It would be very quickly arranged. I
should provide for her—and keep my boy. But all that is uncertain.”
“Yes, I understand.” She held out her hand. “Cousin Philip—I am
awfully sorry for you. I—I realized—somehow—only after I'd come down
here—that you must have had—things in your life—to make you unhappy.
And you've been so nice—so awfully nice to me! I just want to thank
you—with all my heart.”
And before he could prevent her, she had seized his hands and kissed
them. Then she rushed to the door, turning to show him a face between
tears and laughter.
“There!—I've paid you back!”
And with that she vanished.
Helena was going blindly through the hall, towards her own room,
when Peter Dale emerged from the shadows. He caught her as she passed.
“Let me have just a word, Helena! You know, everything will be
broken up here. I only want to say my mother would just adore to have
you for the season. We'd all make it nice for you—we'd be your
slaves—just let me wire to Mater to-morrow morning.”
“No, thank you, Peter. Please—please! don't stop me! I want to see
“Helena, do think of it!” he implored.
“No, I can't. It's impossible!” she said, almost fiercely. “Let me
go, Peter! Good-night!”
He stood, a picture of misery, at the foot of the stairs watching
her run up. Then at the top she turned, ran down a few steps again,
kissed her hand to him, and vanished, the bright buckles on her shoes
flashing along the gallery overhead.
But in the further corner of the gallery she nearly ran into the
arms of Geoffrey French, who was waiting for her outside her room.
“Is it too late, Helena—for me to have just a few words in your
He caught hold of her. The light just behind him showed him a tense
and frowning Helena.
“Yes—it is much too late! I can't talk now.”
“Only a few words?”
“No”—she panted—“no!—Geoffrey, I shall hate you if you
don't let me go!”
It seemed to her that everybody was in league to stand between her
and the one thing she craved for—to be alone and in the dark.
She snatched her dress out of his grasp, and he fell back.
She slipped into her own room, and locked the door. He shook his
head, and went slowly downstairs. He found Peter pacing the hall, and
they went out into the June dark together, a discomfited pair.
Meanwhile Mrs. Friend waited for Helena. She heard voices in the
passage and the locking of Helena's door. She was still weak from her
illness, so it seemed wisest to get into bed. But she had no hope or
intention of sleep. She sat up in bed, with a shawl round her, certain
that Helena would come. She was in a ferment of pity and fear,—she
scarcely knew why—fear for the young creature she had come to love
with all her heart; and she strained her ears to catch the sound of an
But Helena did not come. Through her open window Lucy could hear
steps along the terrace coming and going—to and fro. Then they ceased;
all sounds in the house ceased. The church clock in the distance struck
midnight, and a little owl close to the house shrieked and wailed like
a human thing, to the torment of Lucy's nerves. A little later she was
aware of Buntingford coming upstairs, and going to his room on the
further side of the gallery.
Then, nothing. Deep silence—that seemed to flow through the house
and all its rooms and passages like a submerging flood.
Except!—What was that sound, in the room next to hers—in Helena's
Lucy Friend got up trembling, put on a dressing-gown, and laid an
ear to the wall between her and Helena. It was a thin wall, mostly
indeed a panelled partition, belonging to an old bit of the house, in
which the building was curiously uneven in quality—sometimes
inexplicably strong, and sometimes mere lath and plaster, as though the
persons, building or re-building, had come to an end of their money and
were scamping their work.
Lucy, from the other side of the panels, had often heard Helena
singing while she dressed, or chattering to the housemaid. She listened
now in an anguish, her mind haunted alternately by the recollection of
the scene in the drawing-room, and the story told by Geoffrey French,
and by her rising dread and misgiving as to Helena's personal stake in
it. She had observed much during the preceding weeks. But her natural
timidity and hesitancy had forbidden her so far to draw hasty
deductions. And now—perforce!—she drew them.
The sounds in the next room seemed to communicate their rhythm of
pain to Lucy's own heart. She could not bear it after a while. She
noiselessly opened her own door, and went to Helena's. To her scarcely
audible knock there was no answer. After an interval she knocked
again—a pause. Then there were movements inside, and Helena's muffled
voice through the door.
“Please, Lucy, go to sleep! I am all right.”
“I can't sleep. Won't you let me in?”
Helena seemed to consider. But after an interval which seemed
interminable to Lucy Friend, the key was slowly turned and the door
Helena was standing inside, but there was so little light in the
room that Lucy could only see her dimly. The moon was full outside, but
the curtains had been drawn across the open window, and only a few
faint rays came through. As Mrs. Friend entered Helena turned from her,
and groping her way back to the bed, threw herself upon it, face
downwards. It was evidently the attitude from which she had risen.
Lucy Friend followed her, trembling, and sat down beside her. Helena
was still fully dressed, except for her hair, which had escaped from
combs and hairpins. As her eyes grew used to the darkness, Lucy could
see it lying, a dim mass on the white pillow, also a limp hand
upturned. She seized the hand and cherished it in hers.
“You are so cold, dear! Mayn't I cover you up and help you into
No answer. She found a light eiderdown that had been thrown aside,
and covered the prone figure, gently chafing the cold hands and feet.
After what seemed a long time, Helena, who had been quite still, said
in a voice she had to stoop to hear:
“I suppose you heard me crying. Please, Lucy, go back to bed. I
won't cry any more.”
“Dear—mayn't I stay?”
“Well, then—you must come and lie beside me. I am a brute to keep
“Won't you undress?”
“Please let me be! I'll try and go to sleep.”
Lucy slipped her own slight form under the wide eiderdown. There was
a long silence, at the end of which Helena said:
“I'm only—sorry—it's all come to an end—here.”
But with the words the girl's self-control again failed her. A deep
sob shook her from head to foot. Lucy with the tears on her own cheeks,
hung over her, soothing and murmuring to her as a mother might have
done. But the sob had no successor, and presently Helena said
faintly—“Good-night, Lucy. I'm warm now. I'm going to sleep.”
Lucy listened for the first long breaths of sleep, and seemed to
hear them, just as the dawn was showing itself, and the dawn-wind was
pushing at the curtains. But she herself did not sleep. This young
creature lying beside her, with her full passionate life, seemed to
have absolutely absorbed her own. She felt and saw with Helena. Through
the night, visions came and went—of “Cousin Philip,”—the handsome,
melancholy, courteous man, and of all his winning ways with the girl
under his care, when once she had dropped her first foolish quarrel
with him, and made it possible for him to show without reserve the
natural sweetness and chivalry of his character. Buntingford and Helena
riding, their well-matched figures disappearing under the trees, the
sun glancing from the glossy coats of their horses; Helena, drawing in
some nook of the park, her face flushed with the effort to satisfy her
teacher, and Buntingford bending over her; or again, Helena dancing, in
pale green and apple-blossom, while Buntingford leaned against the
wall, watching her with folded arms, and eyes that smiled over her
It all grew clear to Lucy—Helena's gradual capture, and the
innocence, the unconsciousness, of her captor. Her own shrewdness,
nevertheless, put the same question as Buntingford's conscience. Could
he ever have been quite sure of his freedom? Yet he had taken the risks
of a free man. But she could not, she did not blame him. She could only
ask herself the breathless question that French had already asked:
“How far has it gone with her? How deep is the wound?”
Cynthia and Georgina Welwyn were dining at Beechmark on the eventful
evening. They took their departure immediately after the scene in the
drawing-room when Geoffrey French, at his cousin's wish, gathered
Buntingford's guests together, and revealed the identity of the woman
in the wood. In the hurried conversation that followed, Cynthia
scarcely joined, and she was more than ready when Georgina proposed to
go. Julian Horne found them their wraps, and saw them off. It was a
beautiful night, and they were to walk home through the park.
“Shall I bring you any news there is to-morrow?” said Horne from the
doorstep—“Geoffrey has asked me to stay till the evening. Everybody
else of course is going early. It will be some time, won't it,”—he
lowered his voice—“before we shall see the bearing of all this?”
Cynthia assented, rather coldly; and when she and her sister were
walking through the moonlit path leading to the cottage, her silence
was still marked, whereas Georgina in her grim way was excited and
eager to talk.
The truth was that Cynthia was not only agitated by the news of the
evening. She was hurt—bitterly hurt. Could not Buntingford have spared
her a word in private? She was his kinswoman, his old and particular
friend, neglectful as he had shown himself during the war. Had he not
only a few weeks before come to ask her help with the trouble-some girl
whose charge he had assumed? She had been no good, she knew. Helena had
not been ready to make friends; and Cynthia's correctness had always
been repelled by the reckless note in Helena. Yet she had done her best
on that and other occasions and she had been rewarded by being treated
in this most critical, most agitated moment like any other of
Buntingford's week-end guests. Not a special message even—just the
news that everybody might now know, and—Julian Horne to see them off!
Yet Helena had been sent for at once. Helena had been closeted with
Philip for half an hour. No doubt he had a special responsibility
towards her. But what use could she possibly be? Whereas Cynthia felt
herself the practical, experienced woman, able to give an old friend
any help he might want in a grave emergency.
“Of course we must all hope she will die—and die quickly!” said
Lady Georgina, with energy, after some remarks to which Cynthia paid
small attention. “It would be the only sensible course for
Providence—after making such a terrible mistake.”
“Is there any idea of her dying?” Cynthia looked down upon her
sister with astonishment. “Geoffrey didn't say so.”
“He said she was 'very ill,' and from her conduct she must be crazy.
So there's hope.”
“You mean, for Philip?”
“For the world in general,” said Georgina, cautiously, with an
unnoticed glance at her companion. “But of course Philip has only
himself to blame. Why did he marry such a woman?”
“She may have been very beautiful—or charming—you don't know.”
Lady Georgina shrugged her shoulders.
“Well, of course there must have been something to bait the hook!
But when a man marries out of his own class, unless the woman dies, the
man goes to pieces.”
“Philip has not gone to pieces!” cried Cynthia indignantly.
“Because she removed herself. For practical purposes that was as
good as dying. He has much to be grateful for. Suppose she had come
home with him! She would have ruined him socially and morally.”
“And if she doesn't die,” said Cynthia slowly, “what will Philip do
“Ship her off to America, as she asks him, and prove a few little
facts in the divorce court—simple enough! It oughtn't to take him much
more than six months to get free—which he never has been yet!” added
Georgina, with particular emphasis.
“It's a mercy, my dear, that you didn't just happen to be Lady
“As if I had ever expected to be!” said Cynthia, much nettled.
“Well, you would, and you wouldn't have been!” said Georgina
obstinately. “It's very complicated. You would have had to be married
again—after the divorce.”
“I don't know why you are so unkind, Georgie!” There was a little
quaver in Cynthia's voice. “Philip's a very old friend of mine, and I'm
very sorry and troubled about him. Why do you smirch it all with these
“I won't make any more, if you don't like them,” said Georgina,
unabashed—“except just to say this, Cynthia—for the first time I
begin to believe in your chance. There was always something not cleared
up about Philip, and it might have turned out to be something past
mending. Now it is cleared up; and it's bad—but it might have been
worse. However—we'll change the subject. What about that handsome
young woman, Helena?”
“Now, if you'd chanced to say it was a mercy she didn't
happen to be Lady Buntingford, there'd have been some sense in it!”
Cynthia's tone betrayed the soreness within.
Lady Georgina laughed, or rather chuckled.
“I know Philip a great deal better than you do, my dear, though he
is your friend. He has made himself, I suspect, as usual, much too nice
to that child; and he may think himself lucky if he hasn't broken her
heart. He isn't a flirt—I agree. But he produces the same
effect—without meaning it. Without meaning anything indeed—except to
be good and kind to a young thing. The men with Philip's manners and
Philip's charm—thank goodness, there aren't many of them!—have an
abominable responsibility. The poor moth flops into the candle before
she knows where she is. But as to marrying her—it has never entered
his head for a moment, and never would.”
“And why shouldn't it, please?”
“Because she is much too young for him—and Philip is a tired man.
Haven't you seen that, Cynthy? Before you knew him, Philip had
exhausted his emotions—that's my reading of him. I don't for a moment
believe his wife was the only one, if what Geoffrey said of her, and
what one guesses, is true. She would never have contented him. And now
it's done. If he ever marries now, it will be for peace—not passion.
As I said before, Cynthy—and I mean no offence—your chances are
better than they were.”
Cynthia winced and protested again, but all the same she was
secretly soothed by her odd sister's point of view. They began to
discuss the situation at the Rectory,—how Alice Alcott, their old
friend, with her small domestic resources, could possibly cope with it,
if a long illness developed.
“Either the woman will die, or she will be divorced,” said Georgina
trenchantly. “And as soon as they know she isn't going to die, what on
earth will they do with her?”
As she spoke they were passing along the foot of the Rectory garden.
The Rectory stood really on the edge of the park, where it bordered on
the highroad; and their own cottage was only a hundred yards beyond.
There were two figures walking up and down in the garden. The Welwyns
identified them at once as the Rector and his sister.
“I shall go and ask Alice if we can do anything for her.”
She made for the garden gate that opened on the park and called
softly. The two dim figures turned and came towards her. It was soon
conveyed to the Alcotts that the Welwyns shared their knowledge, and a
conversation followed, almost in whispers under a group of lilacs that
flung round them the scents of the unspoilt summer. Alice Alcott, to
get a breath of air, had left her patient in the charge of their old
housemaid, for a quarter of an hour, but must go back at once and would
sit up all night. A nurse was coming on the morrow.
Then, while Georgina employed her rasping tongue on Mr. Alcott,
Cynthia and the Rector's sister conferred in low tones about various
urgent matters—furniture for the nurse's room, sheets, pillows, and
the rest. The Alcotts were very poor, and the Rectory had no reserves.
“Of course, we could send for everything to Beechmark,” murmured
“Why should you? It is so much further. We will send in everything
you want. What are we to call this—this person?” said Cynthia.
“Madame Melegrani. It is the name she has passed by for years.”
“You say she is holding her own?”
“Just—with strychnine and brandy. But the heart is very weak. She
told Dr. Ramsay she had an attack of flu last week—temperature up to
104. But she wouldn't give in to it—never even went to bed. Then came
the excitement of travelling down here and the night in the park. This
is the result. It makes me nervous to think that we shan't have Dr.
Ramsay to-morrow. His partner is not quite the same thing. But he is
going to London with Lord Buntingford.”
“Buntingford—going to London?” said Cynthia in amazement.
Miss Alcott started. She remembered suddenly that her brother had
told her that no mention was to be made, for the present, of the visit
to London. In her fatigue and suppressed excitement she had forgotten.
She could only retrieve her indiscretion—since white lies were not
practised at the Rectory—by a hurried change of subject and by
reminding her brother it was time for them to go back to the house.
They accordingly disappeared.
“What is Buntingford going to London for?” said Georgina as they
neared their own door.
Cynthia could not imagine—especially when the state of the Rectory
patient was considered. “If she is as bad as the Alcotts say, they will
probably want to-morrow to get a deposition from her of some kind,”
remarked Georgina, facing the facts as usual. Cynthia acquiesced. But
she was not thinking of the unhappy stranger who lay, probably dying,
under the Alcotts' roof. She was suffering from a fresh personal stab.
For, clearly, Geoffrey French had not told all there was to be known;
there was some further mystery. And even the Alcotts knew more than
she. Affection and pride were both wounded anew.
But with the morning came consolation. Her maid, when she called
her, brought in the letters as usual. Among them, one in a large
familiar hand. She opened it eagerly, and it ran:—
“Saturday night, 11 p.m.
“MY DEAR CYNTHIA:—I was so sorry to find when I went to the
drawing-room just now that you had gone home. I wanted if possible to
walk part of the way with you, and to tell you a few things myself. For
you are one of my oldest friends, and I greatly value your sympathy and
counsel. But the confusion and bewilderment of the last few hours have
been such—you will understand!
“To-morrow we shall hardly meet—for I am going to London on a
strange errand! Anna—the woman that was my wife—tells me that six
months after she left me, a son was born to me, whose existence she has
till now concealed from me. I have no reason to doubt her word, but of
course for everybody's sake I must verify her statement as far as I
can. My son—a lad of fifteen—is now in London, and so is the French
bonne—Zelie Ronchicourt—who originally lived with us in Paris,
and was with Anna at the time of her confinement. You will feel for me
when you know that he is apparently deaf and dumb. At any rate he has
never spoken, and the brain makes no response. Anna speaks of an injury
at birth. There might possibly be an operation. But of all this I shall
know more presently. The boy, of course, is mine henceforth—whatever
“With what mingled feelings I set out to-morrow, you can imagine. I
feel no bitterness towards the unhappy soul who has come back so
suddenly into my life. Except so far as the boy is concerned—(that
I feel cruelly!)—I have not much right—For I was not blameless
towards her in the old days. She had reasons—though not of the
ordinary kind—for the frantic jealousy which carried her away from me.
I shall do all I can for her; but if she gets through this illness,
there will be a divorce in proper form.
“For me, in any case, it is the end of years of miserable
uncertainty—of a semi-deception I could not escape—and of a moral
loneliness I cannot describe. I must have often puzzled you and many
others of my friends. Well, you have the key now. I can and will speak
freely when we meet again.
“According to present plans, I bring the boy back to-morrow. Ramsay
is to find me a specially trained nurse and will keep him under his own
observation for a time. We may also have a specialist down at once.
“I shall of course hurry back as soon as I can—Anna's state is
“Yours ever effectionately,
“P.S.—I don't know much about the domestic conditions in the
Ramsays' house. Ramsay I have every confidence in. He has always seemed
to me a very clever and a very nice fellow. And I imagine Mrs. Ramsay
is a competent woman.”
“She isn't!” said Cynthia, suddenly springing up in bed. “She is an
incompetent goose! As for looking after that poor child and his
Quite another plan shaped itself in her mind. But she did not as yet
communicate it to Georgina.
After breakfast she loaded her little pony carriage with all the
invalid necessaries she had promised Miss Alcott, and drove them over
to the Rectory. Alcott saw her arrival from his study, and came out,
his finger on his lip, to meet her.
“Many, many thanks,” he said, looking at what she had brought. “It
is awfully good of you. I will take them in—but I ask myself—will she
ever live through the day? Lord Buntingford and Ramsay hurried off by
the first train this morning. She has enquired for the boy, and they
will bring him back as soon as they can. She gives herself no chance!
She is so weak—but her will is terribly strong! We can't get her to
obey the doctor's orders. Of course, it is partly the restlessness of
Cynthia's eyes travelled to the upper window above the study.
Buntingford's wife lay there! It seemed to her that the little room
held all the secrets of Buntingford's past. The dying woman knew them,
and she alone. A new jealousy entered into Cynthia—a despairing sense
of the irrevocable. Helena was forgotten.
At noon Julian Horne arrived, bringing a book that Cynthia had lent
him. He stayed to gossip about the break-up of the party.
“Everybody has cleared out except myself and Geoffrey. Miss Helena
and her chaperon went this morning before lunch. Buntingford of course
had gone before they came down. French tells me they have gone to a
little inn in Wales he recommended. Miss Helena said she wanted
something to draw, and a quiet place. I must say she looked pretty
knocked up!—I suppose by the dance?”
His sharp greenish eyes perused Cynthia's countenance. She made no
reply. His remark did not interest a preoccupied woman. Yet she did not
fail to remember, with a curious pleasure, that there was no mention of
Helena in Buntingford's letter.
Between five and six that afternoon a party of four descended at a
station some fifteen miles from Beechmark, where Buntingford was not
very likely to be recognized. It consisted of Buntingford, the doctor,
a wrinkled French bonne, in a black stuff dress, and black
bonnet, and a frail little boy whom a spectator would have guessed to
be eleven or twelve years old. Buntingford carried him, and the whole
party passed rapidly to a motor standing outside. Then through a rainy
evening they sped on at a great pace towards the Beechmark park and
village. The boy sat next to Buntingford who had his arm round him. But
he was never still. He had a perpetual restless motion of the head and
the emaciated right hand, as though something oppressed the head, and
he were trying to brush it away. His eyes wandered round the faces in
the car,—from his father to the doctor, from the doctor to the
Frenchwoman. But there was no comprehension in them. He saw and did not
see. Buntingford hung over him, alive to his every movement, absorbed
indeed in his son. The boy's paternity was stamped upon him. He had
Buntingford's hair and brow; every line and trait in those noticeable
eyes of his father seemed to be reproduced in him; and there were small
characteristics in the hands which made them a copy in miniature of his
father's. No one seeing him could have doubted his mother's story; and
Buntingford had been able to verify it in all essential particulars by
the evidence of the old bonne, who had lived with Anna in Paris
before her flight, and had been present at the child's birth. The old
woman was very taciturn, and apparently hostile to Buntingford, whom
she perfectly remembered; but she had told enough.
The June evening was in full beauty when the car drew up at the
Rectory. Alcott and Dr. Ramsay's partner received them. The patient
they reported had insisted on being lifted to a chair, and was
feverishly expecting them.
Buntingford carried the boy upstairs, the bonne following.
The doctors remained on the landing, within call. At sight of her
mistress, Zelie's rugged face expressed her dismay. She hurried up to
her, dropped on her knees beside her, and spoke to her in agitated
French. Anna Melegrani turned her white face and clouded eyes upon her
for a moment; but made no response. She looked past her indeed to where
Buntingford stood with the boy, and made a faint gesture that seemed to
He put him down on his feet beside her. The pathetic little creature
was wearing a shabby velveteen suit, with knickerbockers, which bagged
about his thin frame. The legs like white sticks appearing below the
knickerbockers, the blue-veined hollows of the temples, and the tiny
hands—together with the quiet wandering look—made so pitiable an
impression that Miss Alcott standing behind the sick woman could not
keep back the tears. The boy himself was a centre of calm in the
agitated room, except for the constant movement of the head. He seemed
to perceive something familiar in his mother's face, but when she put
out a feeble hand to him, and tried to kiss him, he began to whimper.
Her expression changed at once; with what strength she had she pushed
him away. “Il est afreux!” she said sombrely, closing her eyes.
Buntingford lifted him up, and carried him to Zelie, who was in a
neighbouring room. She had brought with her some of the coloured
bricks, and “nests” of Japanese boxes which generally amused him. He
was soon sitting on the floor, aimlessly shuffling the bricks, and
apparently happy. As his father was returning to the sickroom a note
was put into his hand by the Rector. It contained these few
words—“Don't make final arrangements with the Ramsays till you have
seen me. Think I could propose something you would like better. Shall
be here all the evening. Yours affectionately—Cynthia.”
He had just thrust it into his pocket, when the Rector drew him
aside at the head of the stairs, while the two doctors were with the
“I don't want to interfere with any of your arrangements,” whispered
the Rector, “but I think perhaps I ought to tell you that Mrs. Ramsay
is no great housewife. She is a queer little flighty thing. She spends
her time in trying to write plays and bothering managers. There's no
harm in her, and he's very fond of her. But it is an untidy, dirty
little house! And nothing ever happens at the right time. My sister
said I must warn you. She's had it on her mind—as she's had a good
deal of experience of Mrs. Ramsay. And I believe Lady Cynthia has
Buntingford thanked him, remembering opportunely that when he had
proposed to Ramsay to take the boy into his house, the doctor had
accepted with a certain hesitation, which had puzzled him. “I will go
over and see my cousin when I can be spared.”
But a sudden call from the sickroom startled them both. Buntingford
When Buntingford entered he found the patient lying in a deep
old-fashioned chair propped up by pillows. She had been supplied with
the simplest of night-gear by Miss Alcott, and was wearing besides a
blue cotton overall or wrapper in which the Rector's sister was often
accustomed to do her morning's work. There was a marked incongruity
between the commonness of the dress, and a certain cosmopolitan stamp,
a touch of the grand air, which was evident in its wearer. The face,
even in its mortal pallor and distress, was remarkable both for its
intellect and its force. Buntingford stood a few paces from her, his
sad eyes meeting hers. She motioned to him.
“Send them all away.”
The doctors went, with certain instructions to Buntingford, one of
them remaining in the room below. Buntingford came to sit close by her.
“They say I shall kill myself if I talk,” she said in her gasping
whisper. “It doesn't matter. I must talk! So—you don't doubt the boy?”
Her large black eyes fixed him intently.
“No. I have no doubts—that he is my son. But his condition is very
piteous. I have asked a specialist to come down.”
There was a gleam of scorn in her expression.
“That'll do no good. I suppose—you think—we neglected the boy.
Niente. We did the best we could. He was under a splendid man—in
Naples—as good as any one here. He told me nothing could be done—and
nothing can be done.”
Buntingford had the terrible impression that there was a certain
triumph in the faint tone. He said nothing, and presently the whisper
“I keep seeing those people dancing—and hearing the band. I dropped
a little bag—did anybody find it?”
“Yes, I have it here.” He drew it out of his pocket, and put it in
her hand, which feebly grasped it.
“Rocca gave it to me at Florence once, I am very fond of it. I
suppose you wonder that—I loved him?”
There was a strange and tragic contrast between the woman's
weakness, and her bitter provocative spirit; just as there was between
the picturesque strength of Buntingford—a man in his prime—and the
humble, deprecating gentleness of his present voice and manner.
“No,” he answered. “I am glad—if it made you happy.”
“Happy!” She opened her eyes again. “Who's ever happy? We were never
“Yes—at the beginning,” he said, with a certain firmness. “Why take
She made a protesting movement.
“No—never! I was always—afraid. Afraid you'd get tired of me. I
was only happy—working—and when they hung my picture—in the
“I remember it well.”
“But I was always jealous—of you. You drew better—than I did. That
made me miserable.”
After a long pause, during which he gave her some of the prepared
stimulant Ramsay had left ready, she spoke again, with rather more
“Do you remember—that Artists' Fete—in the Bois—when I went as
“I was as handsome then—as that girl you were rowing. And now—But
I don't want to die!”—she said with sudden anguish—“Why should I die?
I was quite well a fortnight ago. Why does that doctor frighten me so?”
She tried to sit more erect, panting for breath. He did his best to
soothe her, to induce her to go back to bed. But she resisted with all
her remaining strength; instead, she drew him down to her.
“Tell me!—confess to me!”—she said hoarsely—“Madame de Chaville
was your mistress!”
“Never! Calm yourself, poor Anna! I swear to you. Won't you believe
She trembled violently. “If I left you—for nothing—”
She closed her eyes, and tears ran down her cheeks.
He bent over her—“Won't you rest now—and let them take you back to
bed? You mustn't talk like this any more. You will kill yourself.”
He left her in Ramsay's charge, and went first to find Alcott,
begging him to pray with her. Then he wandered out blindly, into the
summer evening. It was clear to him that she had only a few more
hours—or at most—days to live. In his overpowering emotion—a
breaking up of the great deeps of thought and feeling—he found his way
into the shelter of one of the beechwoods that girdled the park, and
sat there in a kind of moral stupor, till he had somehow mastered
himself. The “old unhappy far-off things” were terribly with him; the
failures and faults of his own distant life, far more than those of the
dying woman. The only thought—the only interest—which finally gave
him fresh strength—was the recollection of his boy.
Cynthia!—her letter—what was it she wanted to say to him? He got
up, and resolutely turned his steps towards the cottage.
Cynthia was waiting for him. She brought him into the little
drawing-room where a lamp had been lighted, and a tray of food was
waiting of which she persuaded him to eat some mouthfuls. But when he
questioned her as to the meaning of her letter, she evaded answering
for a little while, till he had eaten something and drunk a glass of
wine. Then she stretched out a hand to him, with a quiet smile.
“Come and see what I have been doing upstairs. It will be dreadful
if you don't approve!”
He followed her in surprise, and she led him upstairs through the
spotless passages of the cottage, bright with books and engravings,
where never a thing was out of place, to a room with a flowery paper
and bright curtains, looking on the park.
“I had it all got ready in a couple of hours. We have so much
room—and it is such a pleasure—” she said, in half apology. “Nobody
ever gets any meals at the Ramsays'—and they can't keep any servants.
Of course you'll change it, if you don't like it. But Dr. Ramsay
himself thought it the best plan. You see we are only a stone's throw
from him. He can run in constantly. He really seemed relieved!”
And there in a white bed, with the newly arrived special
nurse—kind-faced and competent—beside him, lay his recovered son,
deeply and pathetically asleep. For in his sleep the piteous head
movement had ceased, and he might have passed for a very delicate child
of twelve, who would soon wake like other children to a new summer day.
Into Buntingford's strained consciousness there fell a drop of balm
as he sat beside him, listening to the quiet breathing, and comforted
by the mere peace of the slight form.
He looked up at Cynthia and thanked her; and Cynthia's heart sang
The Alcotts' unexpected guest lingered another forty-eight hours
under their roof,—making a hopeless fight for life. But the influenza
poison, recklessly defied from the beginning, had laid too deadly a
grip on an already weakened heart. And the excitement of the means she
had taken to inform herself as to the conditions of Buntingford's life
and surroundings, before breaking in upon them, together with the
exhaustion of her night wandering, had finally destroyed her chance of
recovery. Buntingford saw her whenever the doctors allowed. She claimed
his presence indeed, and would not be denied. But she talked little
more; and in her latest hours it seemed to those beside her both that
the desire to live had passed, and that Buntingford's attitude towards
her had, in the end, both melted and upheld her. On the second night
after her arrival, towards dawn she sent for him. She then could not
speak. But her right hand made a last motion towards his. He held it,
till Ramsay who had his fingers on the pulse of the left, looked up
with that quiet gesture which told that all was over. Then he himself
closed her eyes, and stooping, he kissed her brow—
“Pardonnons—nous! Adieu!” he said, under his breath, in the
language familiar to their student youth together. Then he went
straight out of the room, and through the dewy park, and misty woods
already vocal with the awakening birds; he walked back to Beechmark,
and for some hours shut himself into his library, where no one
When he emerged it was with the air of a man turning to a new
chapter in life. Geoffrey French was still with him. Otherwise the big
house was empty and seemed specially to miss the sounds of Helena's
voice, and tripping feet. Buntingford enquired about her at once, and
Geoffrey was able to produce a letter from Mrs. Friend describing the
little Welsh Inn, near the pass of Aberglasslyn, where they had settled
themselves; the delicious river, shrunken however by the long drought,
which ran past their windows, and the many virtues—qualified by too
many children—of the primitive Welsh pair who ran the inn.
“I am to say that Miss Pitstone likes it all very much, and has
found some glorious things to draw. Also an elderly gentleman who is
sketching on the river has already promised her a lesson.”
“You'll be going down there sometime?” said Buntingford, turning an
enquiring look on his nephew.
“The week-end after next,” said Geoffrey—“unless Helena forbids it.
I must inspect the inn, which I recommended—and take stock of the
The vision of Helena, in “fresh woods and pastures new” radiantly
transfixing the affections of the “elderly gentleman,” put them both
for the moment in spirits. Buntingford smiled, and understanding that
Geoffrey was writing to his ward, he left some special messages for
But in the days that followed he seldom thought of Helena. He buried
his wife in the village church-yard, and the wondering villagers might
presently read on the headstone he placed over her grave, the short
inscription—“Anna Buntingford, wife of Philip, Lord Buntingford,” with
the dates of her birth and death. The Alcotts, authorized by Philip,
made public as much of the story as was necessary, and the presence of
the poor son and heir in the Welwyns' house, together with his tragic
likeness to his father, both completed and verified it. A wave of
unspoken but warm sympathy spread through the countryside.
Buntingford's own silence was unbroken. After the burial, he never
spoke of what had happened, except on one or two rare occasions to John
Alcott, who had become his intimate friend. But unconsciously the
attitude of his neighbours towards him had the effect of quickening his
liking for Beechmark, and increasing the probability of his ultimate
settlement there, at least for the greater part of the year.
Always supposing that it suited the boy—Arthur Philip—the names
under which, according to Zelie, he had been christened in the church
of the hill village near Lucca where he was born. For the care of this
innocent, suffering creature became, from the moment of his mother's
death, the dominating thought of Buntingford's life. The specialist,
who came down before her death, gave the father however little hope of
any favourable result from operation. But he gave a confident opinion
that much could be done by that wonderful system of training which
modern science and psychology combined have developed for the mentally
deficient or idiot child. For the impression left by the boy on the
spectator was never that of genuine idiocy. It was rather that of an
imprisoned soul. The normal soul seemed somehow to be there; but the
barrier between it and the world around it could not be broken through.
By the specialist's advice, Buntingford's next step was to appeal to a
woman, one of those remarkable women, who, unknown perhaps to more than
local or professional fame, are every year bringing the results of an
ardent moral and mental research to bear upon the practical tasks of
parent and teacher. This woman, whom we will call Mrs. Delane, combined
the brain of a man of science with the passion of motherhood. She had
spent her life in the educational service of a great municipality,
varied by constant travel and investigation; and she was now pensioned
and retired. But all over England those who needed her still appealed
to her; and she failed no one. She came down to see his son at
Buntingford's request, and spent some days in watching the child, with
Cynthia as an eager learner beside her.
The problem was a rare one. The boy was a deaf-mute, but not blind.
His very beautiful eyes—; his father's eyes—seemed to be perpetually
interrogating the world about him, and perpetually baffled. He cried—a
monotonous wailing sound—but he never smiled. He was capable of
throwing all his small possessions into a large basket, and of taking
them out again; an operation which he performed endlessly hour after
hour; but of purpose, or any action that showed it, he seemed
incapable. He could not place one brick upon another, or slip one
Japanese box inside its fellow. His temper seemed to be always gentle;
and in simple matters of daily conduct and habit Zelie had her own ways
of getting from him an automatic obedience. But he heard nothing; and
in his pathetic look, however clearly his eyes might seem to be meeting
those of a companion, there was no answering intelligence.
Mrs. Delane set patiently to work, trying this, and testing that;
and at the end of the first week, she and Cynthia were sitting on the
floor beside the boy, who had a heap of bricks before him. For more
than an hour Mrs. Delane had been guiding his thin fingers in making a
tower of bricks one upon another, and then knocking them down. Then, at
one moment, it began to seem to her that each time his hand enclosed in
hers knocked the bricks down, there was a certain faint flash in the
blue eyes, as though the sudden movement of the bricks gave the child a
thrill of pleasure. But to fall they must be built up. And his absorbed
teacher laboured vainly, through sitting after sitting, to communicate
to the child some sense of the connection between the two sets of
Time after time the small waxen hand lay inert in hers as she put a
brick between its listless fingers, and guided it towards the brick
waiting for it. Gradually the column of bricks mounted—built by her
action, her fingers enclosing his passive ones—and, finally, came the
expected crash, followed by the strange slight thrill in the child's
features. But for long there was no sign of spontaneous action of any
kind on his part. The ingenuity of his teacher attempted all the modes
of approach to the obstructed brain that were known to her, through the
two senses left him—sight and touch. But for many days in vain.
At last, one evening towards the end of June, when his mother had
been dead little more than a fortnight, Cynthia, Mrs. Delane's
indefatigable pupil, was all at once conscious of a certain spring in
the child's hand, as though it became—faintly—self-moved, a living
thing. She cried out. Buntingford was there looking on; and all three
hung over the child. Cynthia again placed the brick in his hand, and
withdrew her own. Slowly the child moved it forward—dropped it—then,
with help, raised it again—and, finally, with only the very slight
guidance from Cynthia, put it on top of the other. Another followed,
and another, his hand growing steadier with each attempt. Then
breathing deeply,—flushed, and with a puckered forehead—the boy
looked up at his father. Tears of indescribable joy had rushed to
Buntingford's eyes. Cynthia's were hidden in her handkerchief.
The child's nurse peremptorily intervened and carried him off to
bed. Mrs. Delane first arranged with Buntingford for the engagement of
a special teacher, taught originally by herself, and then asked for
something to take her to the station. She had set things in train, and
had no time to lose. There were too many who wanted her.
Buntingford and Cynthia walked across the park to Beechmark. From
the extreme despondency they were lifted to an extreme of hope.
Buntingford had felt, as it were, the spirit of his son strain towards
his own; the hidden soul had looked out. And in his deep emotion, he
was very naturally conscious of a new rush of affection and gratitude
towards his old playfellow and friend. The thought of her would be for
ever connected in his mind with the efforts and discoveries of the
agitating days through which—with such intensity—they had both been
living. When he remembered that wonder-look in his son's, eyes, he
would always see Cynthia bending over the child, no longer the mere
agreeable and well-dressed woman of the world, but, to him, the
embodiment of a heavenly pity, “making all things new.”
Cynthia's spirits danced as she walked beside him. There was in her
a joyous, if still wavering certainty that through the child, her hold
upon Philip, whether he spoke sooner or later, was now secure. But she
was still jealous of Helena. It had needed the moral and practical
upheaval caused by the reappearance and death of Anna, to drive Helena
from Philip and Beechmark; and if Helena—enchanting and incalculable
as ever, even in her tamer mood—were presently to resume her life in
Philip's house, no one could expect the Fates to intervene again so
kindly. Georgina might be certain that in Buntingford's case the woman
of forty had nothing to fear from the girl of nineteen. Cynthia was by
no means so certain; and she shivered at the risks to come.
For it was soon evident that the question of his ward's immediate
future was now much on Philip's mind. He complained that Helena wrote
so little, and that he had not yet heard from Geoffrey since the
week-end he was to spend in Wales. Mrs. Friend reported indeed in good
spirits. But obviously, whatever the quarters might be, Helena could
not stay there indefinitely.
“Of course I suggested the London house to her at once—with Mrs.
Friend for chaperon. But she didn't take to it. This week I must go
back to my Admiralty work. But we can't take the boy to London, and I
intended to come back here every night. We mustn't put upon you much
longer, my dear Cynthia!”
The colour rushed to Cynthia's face.
“You are going to take him away?” she said, with a look of
“Mustn't I bring him home, some time?” was his half-embarrassed
“But not yet! And how would it suit—with week-ends and dances for
“It wouldn't suit at all,” he said, perplexed—“though Helena seems
to have thrown over dancing for the present.”
“That won't last long!”
He laughed. “I am afraid you never took to her!” he said lightly.
“She never took to me!”
“I wonder if that was my fault? She suspected that I had called you
in to help me to keep her in order!”
“What was it brought her to reason—so suddenly?” said Cynthia,
seeking light at last on a problem that had long puzzled her.
“Two things, I imagine. First that she was the better man of us all,
that day of the Dansworth riot. She could drive my big car, and none of
the rest of us could! That seemed to put her right with us all. And
secondly—the reports of that abominable trial. She told me so. I only
hope she didn't read much of it!”
They had just passed the corner of the house, and come out on the
sloping lawn of Beechmark, with the lake, and the wood beyond it. All
that had happened behind that dark screen of yew, on the distant edge
of the water, came rushing back on Philip's imagination, so that he
fell silent. Cynthia on her side was thinking of the moment when she
came down to the edge of the lake to carry off Geoffrey French, and saw
Buntingford and Helena push off into the puckish rays of the
searchlight. She tasted again the jealous bitterness of it—and the
sense of defeat by something beyond her fighting—the arrogance of
Helena's young beauty. Philip was not in love with Helena; that she now
knew. So far she, Cynthia, had marvellously escaped the many chances
that might have undone her. But if Helena came back?
Meanwhile there were some uneasy thoughts at the back of Philip's
mind; and some touching and tender recollections which he kept sacred
to himself. Helena's confession and penitence—there, on that still
water—how pretty they were, how gracious! Nor could he ever forget her
sweetness, her pity on that first tragic evening. Geoffrey's alarms
were absurd. Yet when he thought of merely reproducing the situation as
it had existed before the night of the ball, something made him
hesitate. And besides, how could he reproduce it? All his real mind was
now absorbed in this overwhelming problem of his son; of the helpless,
appealing creature to whose aid the whole energies of his nature had
He walked back some way with Cynthia, talking of the boy, with an
intensity of hope that frightened her.
“Don't, or don't be too certain—yet!” she pleaded. “We have only
just seen the first sign—the first flicker. If it were all to vanish
“Could I bear it?” he said, under his breath—“Could I?”
“Anyway, you'll let me keep him—a little longer?”
She spoke very softly and sweetly.
“If your kindness really wishes it,” he said, rather reluctantly.
“But what does Georgina say?”
“Georgina is just as keen as I am,” said Cynthia boldly. “Don't you
see how fond she is of him already?”
Buntingford could not truthfully say that he had seen any signs on
Georgina's part, so far, of more than a decent neutrality in the
matter. Georgina was a precisian; devoted to order, and in love with
rules. The presence of the invalid boy, his nurse, and his teacher,
must upset every rule and custom of the little house. Could she really
put up with it? In general, she made the impression upon Philip of a
very wary cat, often apparently asleep, but with her claws ready. He
felt uncomfortable; but Cynthia had her way.
A specially trained teacher, sent down by Mrs. Delane, arrived a few
days later, and a process began of absorbing and fascinating interest
to all the spectators, except Georgina, who more than kept her head.
Every morning Buntingford would motor up to town, spend some
strenuous hours in demobilization work at the Admiralty, returning in
the evening to receive Cynthia's report of the day. Miss Denison, the
boy's teacher, who had been trained in one of the London Special
Schools, was a little round-faced lady with spectacles, apparently
without any emotions, but really filled with that educator's passion
which in so many women of our day fills the place of motherhood. From
the beginning she formed the conclusion that the pitiable little fellow
entrusted to her was to a great extent educable; but that he would not
live to maturity. This latter conclusion was carefully hidden from
Buntingford, though it was known to Cynthia; and Philip knew, for a
time, all the happiness, the excitement even of each day's slight
advance, combined with a boundless hope for the future. He spent his
evenings absorbed in the voluminous literature dealing with the
deaf-mute, which has grown up since the days of Laura Bridgman and
Helen Keller. But Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller—as he eagerly
reminded himself—were both of them blind; only one sense—that of
touch—was left to them. Arthur's blue eyes, the copy of his own,
already missed his father when he left home in the morning, and greeted
him when he came home at night. They contained for Philip a mystery and
a promise that he was never tired of studying. Every evening he would
ride over from Dansworth station to the cottage, put up his horse, and
spend the long summer twilights in carrying his son about the garden or
the park, or watching Miss Denison at her work. The boy was physically
very frail, and soon tired. But his look was now placid; the furrows in
the white brow were smoothed away; his general nutrition was much
better; his delicate cheeks had filled out a little; and his ghostly
beauty fascinated Philip's artistic sense, while his helplessness
appealed to the tenderest instinct of a strong man. Buntingford had
discovered a new and potent reason for living; and for living happily.
And meanwhile with all this slowly growing joy, Cynthia was more and
more closely connected. She and Buntingford had a common topic, which
was endlessly interesting and delightful to them both. Philip was no
longer conscious of her conventionalities and limitations, as he had
been conscious of them on his first renewed acquaintance with her after
the preoccupations of the war. He saw her now as Arthur's fairy
godmother, and as his own daily companion and helper in an exquisite
But Georgina was growing impatient. One evening she came home tired
and out of temper. She had been collecting the rents of some cottages
belonging to her, and the periodical operation was always trying to
everybody concerned. Georgina's secret conviction that “the poor in a
loomp is bad” was stoutly met by her tenants' firm belief that all
landlords are extortionate thieves. She came home, irritated by a
number of petty annoyances, to find the immaculate little drawing-room,
where every book and paper-knife knew its own place and kept it, given
up to Arthur and Miss Denison, with coloured blocks, pictures and
models used in that lady's teaching, strewn all over the floor, while
the furniture had been pushed unceremoniously aside.
“I won't have this house made a bear-garden!” she said, angrily, to
the dismayed teacher; and she went off straightway to find her sister.
Cynthia was in her own little den on the first floor happily engaged
in trimming a new hat. Georgina swept in upon her, shut the door, and
stood with her back to it.
“Cynthia—is this house yours or mine?”
As a matter of fact the house was Buntingford's. But Georgina was
formally the tenant of it, while the furniture was partly hers and
partly Cynthia's. In fact, however, Georgina had been always tacitly
held to be the mistress.
Cynthia looked up in astonishment, and at once saw that Georgina was
seriously roused. She put down her work and faced her sister.
“I thought it belonged to both of us,” she said mildly. “What is the
“I beg you to remember that I am the tenant. And I never consented
to make it an institution for the training of imbeciles!”
“Georgie!—Arthur is not an imbecile!”
“Of course I know he is an interesting one,” said Georgina, curtly.
“But all the same, from my point of view—However, I won't repeat the
word, if it annoys you. But what I want to know is, when are we to have
the house to ourselves again? Because, if this is to go on
indefinitely, I depart!”
Cynthia came nearer to her sister. Her colour fluttered a little.
“Don't interfere just at present, Georgie,” she said imploringly, in
a low voice.
The two sisters looked at each other—Georgina covered with the dust
and cobwebs of her own cottages, her battered hat a little on one side,
and her coat and skirt betraying at every seam its venerable antiquity;
and Cynthia, in pale grey, her rose-pink complexion answering to the
gold of her hair, with every detail of her summer dress as fresh and
dainty as the toil of her maid could make it.
“Well, I suppose—I understand,” said Georgina, at last, in her
gruffest voice. “All the same, I warn you, I can't stand it much
longer. I shall be saying something rude to Buntingford.”
“No, no—don't do that!”
“I haven't your motive—you see.”
Cynthia coloured indignantly.
“If you think I'm only pretending to care for the child, Georgie,
you're very much mistaken!”
“I don't think so. You needn't put words into my mouth, or thoughts
into my head. All the same, Cynthia,—cut it short!”
And with that she released the door and departed, leaving an anxious
and meditative Cynthia behind her.
A little later, Buntingford's voice was heard below. Cynthia,
descending, found him with Arthur in his arms. The day had been hot and
rainy—an oppressive scirocco day—and the boy was languid and out of
sorts. The nurse advised his being carried up early to bed, and
Buntingford had arrived just in time.
When he came downstairs again, he found Cynthia in a garden hat, and
they strolled out to look at the water-garden which was the common
hobby of both the sisters. There, sitting among the rushes by the side
of the little dammed-up stream, he produced a letter from Mrs. Friend,
with the latest news of his ward.
“Evidently we shan't get Helena back just yet. I shall run up next
week to see her, I think, Cynthia, if you will let me. I really will
take Arthur to Beechmark this week. Mrs. Mawson has arranged
everything. His rooms are all ready for him. Will you come and look at
Cynthia did not reply at once, and he watched her a little
anxiously. He was well aware what giving up the boy would mean to her.
Her devotion had been amazing. But the wrench must come some time.
“Yes, of course—you must take him,” said Cynthia, at last. “If
only—I hadn't come to love him so!”
She didn't cry. She was perfectly self-possessed. But there was
something in her pensive, sorrowful look that affected Philip more than
any vehement emotion could have done. The thought of all her
devotion—their long friendship—her womanly ways—came upon him
But another thought checked it—Helena!—and his promise to her dead
mother. If he now made Cynthia the mistress of Beechmark, Helena would
never return to it. For they were incompatible. He saw it plainly. And
to Helena he was bound; while she needed the shelter of his roof.
So that the words that were actually on Philip's lips remained
unspoken. They walked back rather silently to the cottage.
At supper Cynthia told her sister that the boy, with Zelie and his
teacher, would soon trouble her no more. Georgina expressed an
ungracious satisfaction, adding abruptly—“You'll be able to see him
there, Cynthy, just as well as here.”
Cynthia made no reply.
Mrs. Friend was sitting in the bow-window of the “Fisherman's Rest,”
a small Welsh inn in the heart of Snowdonia. The window was open, and a
smell of damp earth and grass beat upon Lucy in gusts from outside,
carried by a rainy west wind. Beyond the road, a full stream, white and
foaming after rain, was dashing over a rocky bed towards some rapids
which closed the view. The stream was crossed by a little bridge, and
beyond it rose a hill covered with oak-wood. Above the oak-wood and
along the road to the right—mountain forms, deep blue and purple, were
emerging from the mists which had shrouded them all day. The sun was
breaking through. A fierce northwest wind which had been tearing the
young leaf of the oak-woods all day, and strewing it abroad, had just
died away. Peace was returning, and light. The figure of Helena had
just disappeared through the oak-wood; Lucy would follow her later.
Behind Mrs. Friend, the walls of the inn parlour were covered deep
in sketches of the surrounding scenery—both oil and water-colour, bad
and good, framed and unframed, left there by the artists who haunted
the inn. The room was also adorned by a glass case full of stuffed
birds, badly moth-eaten, a book-case containing some battered books
mostly about fishing, and a large Visitors' Book lying on a
centre-table, between a Bradshaw and an old guide-book. Shut up, in
winter, the little room would smell intolerably close and musty. But
with the windows open, and a rainy sun streaming in, it spoke
pleasantly of holidays for plain hard-working folk, and of that
“passion for the beauty flown,” which distils, from the summer hours of
rest, strength for the winter to come.
Lucy had let Helena go out alone, of set purpose. For she knew, or
guessed, what Nature and Earth had done for Helena during the month
they had passed together in this mountain-land, since that night at
Beechmark. Helena had made no moan—revealed nothing. Only a certain
paleness in her bright cheek, a certain dreamy habit that Lucy had not
before noticed in her; a restlessness at night which the thin
partitions of the old inn sometimes made audible, betrayed that the
youth in her was fighting its first suffering, and fighting to win.
Lucy had never dared to speak—still less to pity. But her love was
always at hand, and Helena had repaid it, and the silence it dictated,
with an answering love. Lucy believed—though with trembling—that the
worst was now over, and that new horizons were opening on the stout
soul that had earned them. But now, as before, she held her peace.
Her diary lay on her lap, and she was thoughtfully turning it over.
It contained nothing but the barest entries of facts. But they meant a
good deal to her, as she looked through them. Every letter, for
instance, from Beechmark had been noted. Lord Buntingford had written
three times to Helena, and twice to herself. She had seen Helena's
letters; and Helena had read hers. It seemed to her that Helena had
deliberately shown her own; that the act was part of the conflict which
Lucy guessed at, but must not comment on, by word or look. All the
letters were the true expression of the man. The first, in which he
described in words, few; but singularly poignant, the death of his
wife, his recognition of his son, and the faint beginnings of hope for
the boy's maimed life, had forced tears from Lucy. Helena had read it
dry-eyed. But for several hours afterwards, on an evening of tempest,
she had vanished out of ken, on the mountainside; coming back as night
fell, her hair and clothes, dripping with rain, her cheeks glowing from
her battle with the storm, her eyes strangely bright.
Her answers to her guardian's letters had been, to Lucy's way of
thinking, rather cruelly brief; at least after the first letter written
in her own room, and posted by herself. Thenceforward, only a few
post-cards, laid with Lucy's letters, for her or any one else to read,
if they chose. And meanwhile Lucy was tolerably sure that she was
slowly but resolutely making her own plans for the months ahead.
The little diary contained also the entry of Geoffrey French's
visit—a long week-end, during which as far as Lucy could remember,
Helena and he had never ceased “chaffing” from morning till night, and
Helena had certainly never given him any opportunity for love-making.
She, Lucy, had had a few short moments alone with him, moments in which
his gaiety had dropped from him, like a ragged cloak, and a despondent
word or two had given her a glimpse of the lover he was not permitted
to be, beneath the role of friend he was tired of playing. He was
coming again soon. Helena had neither invited nor repelled him. Whereas
she had peremptorily bidden Peter Dale for this particular Sunday, and
he had thrown over half a dozen engagements to obey her.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Friend. Is Miss Pitstone at home?”
The speaker was a shaggy old fellow in an Inverness cape and an
ancient wide-awake, carrying a portfolio and a camp-stool. He had
stopped in his walk outside the open window, and his disappointed look
searched the inn parlour for a person who was not there.
“Oh, Mr. McCready, I'm so sorry!—but Miss Pitstone is out, and I
don't know when she will be back.”
The artist undid his portfolio, and laid a half-finished sketch—a
sketch of Helena's—on the window-sill.
“Will you kindly give her this? I have corrected it—made some notes
on the side. Do you think Miss Helena will be likely to be sketching
“I'm afraid I can't promise for her. She seems to like walking
better than anything else just now.”
“Yes, she's a splendid walker,” said the old man, with a sigh. “I
envy her strength. Well, if she wants me, she knows where to find
me—just beyond that bend there.” He pointed to the river.
“I'll tell her—and I'll give her the sketch. Good-bye.”
She watched him heavily cross the foot-bridge to the other side of
the river. Her quick pity went with him, for she herself knew well what
it meant to be solitary and neglected. He seldom sold a picture, and
nobody knew what he lived on. The few lessons he had given Helena had
been as a golden gleam in a very grey day. But alack, Helena had soon
tired of her lessons, as she had tired of the mile of coveted
trout-fishing that Mr. Evans of the farm beyond the oak-wood had
pressed upon her—or of the books the young Welsh-speaking curate of
the little mountain church near by was so eager to lend her. Through
and behind a much gentler manner, the girl's familiar self was to be
felt—by Lucy at least—as clearly as before. She was neither to be
held nor bound. Attempt to lay any fetter upon her—of hours, or
habit—and she was gone; into the heart of the mountains where no one
could follow her. Lucy would often compare with it the eager docility
of those last weeks at Beechmark.
* * * * *
Helena's walk had taken her through the dripping oak-wood and over
the crest of the hill to a ravine beyond, where the river, swollen now
by the abundant rains which had made an end of weeks of drought, ran,
noisily full, between two steep banks of mossy crag. From the crag,
oaks hung over the water, at fantastic angles, holding on, as it
seemed, by one foot and springing from the rock itself; while delicate
rock plants, and fern fringed every ledge down to the water. A seat on
the twisted roots of an overhanging oak, from which, to either side, a
little green path, as though marked for pacing, ran along the stream,
was one of her favourite haunts. From up-stream a mountain peak now
kerchiefed in wisps of sunlit cloud peered in upon her. Above it, a
lake of purest blue from which the wind, which had brought them, was
now chasing the clouds; and everywhere the glory of the returning sun,
striking the oaks to gold, and flinging a chequer of light on the green
floor of the wood.
Helena sat down to wait for Peter, who would be sure to find her
wherever she hid herself. This spot was dear to her, as those places
where life has consciously grown to a nobler stature are dear to men
and women. It was here that within twenty-four hours of her last words
with Philip Buntingford, she had sat wrestling with something which
threatened vital forces in her that her will consciously, desperately,
set itself to maintain. Through her whole ripened being, the passion of
that inner debate was still echoing; though she knew that the fight was
really won. It had run something like this:
“Why am I suffering like this?
“Because I am relaxed—unstrung. Why should I have everything I
want—when others go bare? Philip went bare for years. He endured—and
suffered. Why not I?
“But it is worse for me—who am young! I have a right to give way to
what I feel—to feel it to the utmost.
“That was the doctrine for women before the war—the old-fashioned
women. The modern woman is stronger. She is not merely nerves and
feeling. She must never let feeling—pain—destroy her will!
Everything depends upon her will. If I choose I can put this
feeling down. I have no right to it. Philip has done me no wrong. If I
yield to it, if it darkens my life, it will be another grief added to
those he has already suffered. It shan't darken my life. I will—and
can master it. There is so much still to learn, to do, to feel. I must
wrench myself free—and go forward. How I chattered to Philip about the
modern woman!—and how much older I feel, than I was then! If one can't
master oneself, one is a slave—all the same. I didn't know—how could
I know?—that the test was so near. If women are to play a greater and
grander part in the world, they must be much, much greater in soul,
firmer in will.
“Yet—I must cry a little. No one could forbid me that. But it must
be over soon.”
Then the letters from Beechmark had begun to arrive, each of them
bringing its own salutary smart as part of a general cautery. No
guardian could write more kindly, more considerately. But it was easy
to see that Philip's whole being was, and would be, concentrated on his
unfortunate son. And in that ministry Cynthia Welwyn was his natural
partner, had indeed already stepped into the post; so that gratitude,
if not passion, would give her sooner or later all that she desired.
“Cynthia has got the boy into her hands—and Philip with him. Well,
that was natural. Shouldn't I have done the same? Why should I feel
like a jealous beast, because Cynthia has had her chance, and taken it?
I won't feel like this! It's vile!—it's degrading! Only I wish Cynthia
was bigger, more generous—because he'll find it out some day. She'll
never like me, just because he cares for me—or did. I mean, as my
guardian, or an elder brother. For it was never—no never!—anything
else. So when she comes in at the front door, I shall go out at the
back. I shall have to give up even the little I now have. Let me just
face what it means.
“Yet perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Cynthia isn't as mean-spirited as I
“It's wonderful about the boy. I envy Cynthia—I can't help it. I
would have given my whole life to it. I would have been
trained—perhaps abroad. No one should have taught him but me. But
then—if Philip had loved me—only that was never possible!—he would
have been jealous of the boy—and I should have lost him. I never do
things in moderation. I go at them so blindly. But I shall learn some
Thoughts like these, and many others, were rushing through Helena's
mind, as after a long walk she found her seat again over the swollen
stream. The evening had shaken itself free of the storm, and was
pouring an incredible beauty on wood and river. The intoxication of it
ran through Helena's veins. For she possessed in perfection that
earth-sense, that passionate sense of kinship, kinship both of the
senses and the spirit, with the eternal beauty of the natural world,
which the gods implant in a blest minority of mortals. No one who has
it can ever be wholly forlorn, while sense and feeling remain.
Suddenly:—a little figure on the opposite bank, and a child's cry.
Helena sprang to her feet in dismay. She saw the landlord's small
son, a child of five, who had evidently lost his footing on the green
bank above the crag which faced her, and was sliding down, unable to
help himself, towards the point where nothing could prevent his falling
headlong into the stream below. The bank, however, was not wholly bare.
There were some thin gnarled oaks upon it, which might stop him.
“Catch hold of the trees, Bobby!” she shouted to him, in an agony.
The child heard, turned a white face to her, and tried to obey. He
was already a stalwart little mountaineer, accustomed to trot over the
fells after his father's sheep, and the physical instinct in his,
sturdy limbs saved him. He caught a jutting root, held on, and
gradually dragged himself up to the cushion of moss from which the tree
grew, sitting astride the root, and clasping the tree with both arms.
The position was still extremely dangerous, but for the moment he was
“All right, Bobby—clever boy! Hold tight—I'm coming!”
And she rushed towards a little bridge at the head of the ravine.
But before she could reach it, she saw the lad's father, cautiously
descending the bank, helped by a rope tied to an oak tree at the top.
He reached the child, tied the rope to the stem of the tree where the
little fellow was sitting, and then with the boy under one arm and
hauling on the rope with the other hand, he made his way up the few
perilous yards that divided them from safety. At the top he relieved
his parental feelings by a good deal of smacking and scolding. For
Bobby was a notorious “limb,” the terror of his mother and the inn
generally. He roared vociferously under the smacking. But when Helena
arrived on the scene, he stopped at once, and put out a slim red tongue
at her. Helena laughed, congratulated the father on his skill, and
returned to her seat.
“That's a parable of me!” she thought, as she sat with her elbows on
her knees, staring at the bank opposite.
“I very nearly slipped in!—like Bobby—but not quite. I'm
sound—though bruised. No desperate harm done.” She drew a long
breath—laughing to herself—though her eyes were rather wet. “Well,
now, then—what am I going to do? I'm not going into a convent. I don't
think I'm even going to college. I'm going to take my guardian's
advice. 'Marry—my dear child—and bring up children.' 'Marry?'—Very
well!”—she sprang to her feet—“I shall marry!—that's settled. As to
the children—that remains to be seen!”
And with her hands behind her, she paced the little path, in a
strange excitement and exaltation. Presently from the tower of the
little church, half a mile down the river, a bell began to strike the
hour. “Six o'clock!—Peter will be here directly. Now, he's got
to be lectured—for his good. I'm tired of lecturing myself. It's
somebody else's turn—”
And taking a letter from her pocket, she read and pondered it with
smiling eyes. “Peter will think I'm a witch. Dear old Peter! ...
For the sound of her name, shouted by some one still invisible,
caught her ear. She shouted back, and in another minute the boyish form
of Peter Dale emerged among the oaks above her. Three leaps, and he was
at her side.
“I say, Helena, this is jolly! You were a brick to write. How I got
here I'm sure I don't know. I seem to have broken every rule, and put
everybody out. My boss will sack me, I expect. Never mind!—I'd do it
And dropping to a seat beside her, on a fallen branch that had
somehow escaped the deluge of the day, he feasted his eyes upon her.
She had clambered back into her seat, and taken off her water-proof
hat. Her hair was tumbling about her ears, and her bright cheeks were
moist with rain, or rather with the intermittent showers that the wind
shook every now and then from the still dripping oak trees above her.
Peter thought her lovelier than ever—a wood-nymph, half divine. Yet,
obscurely, he felt a change in her, from the beginning of their talk.
Why had she sent for him? The wildest notions had possessed him, ever
since her letter reached him. Yet, now that he saw her, they seemed to
float away from him, like thistle-down on the wind.
“Helena!—why did you send for me?”
“I was very dull, Peter,—I wanted you to amuse me!”
The boy laughed indignantly.
“That's all very well, Helena—but it won't wash. You're jolly well
used to getting all you want, I know—but you wouldn't have ordered me
up from Town—twelve hours in a beastly train—packed like
sardines—just to tell me that.”
Helena looked at him thoughtfully. She began to eat some unripe
bilberries which she had gathered from the bank beside her, and they
made little blue stains on her white teeth.
“Old boy—I wanted to give you some advice.”
“Well, give it quick,” said Peter impatiently.
“No—you must let me take my time. Have you been to a great many
dances lately, Peter?”
“You bet!” The young Adonis shrugged his shoulders. “I seem to have
been through a London season, which I haven't done, of course, since
1914. Never went to so many dances in my life!”
“Somebody tells me, Peter, that—you're a dreadful flirt!” said
Helena, still with those grave, considering eyes.
Peter laughed—but rather angrily.
“All very well for you to talk, Miss Helena! Please—how many men
were you making fools of—including your humble servant—before you
went down to Beechmark? You have no conscience, Helena! You are the
'Belle Dame sans merci.'“
“All that is most unjust—and ridiculous!” said Helena mildly.
Peter went off into a peal of laughter. Helena persisted.
“What do you call flirting, Peter?”
“Turning a man's head—making him believe that you're gone on
him—when, in fact, you don't care a rap!”
“Peter!—then of course you know I never flirted with you!”
said Helena, with vigour. Peter hesitated, and Helena at once pursued
“Let's talk of something more to the point. I'm told, Peter, that
you've been paying great attentions—marked attentions—to a very nice
girl—that everybody's talking about it,—and that you ought long ago
either to have fixed it up,—or cleared out. What do you say to that,
“I suppose you mean—Jenny Dumbarton,” he said slowly. “Of course,
she's a very dear, pretty, little thing. But do you know why I first
took to her?” He looked defiantly at his companion.
“Because—she's rather like you. She's your colour—she has your
hair—she's a way with her that's something like you. When I'm dancing
with her, if I shut my eyes, I can sometimes fancy—it's you!”
“Oh, goodness!” cried Helena, burying her face in her hands. It was
a cry of genuine distress. Peter was silent a moment. Then he came
“Just look at me, please, Helena!”
She raised her eyes unwillingly. In the boy's beautiful clear-cut
face the sudden intensity of expression compelled her—held her
“Once more, Helena”—he said, in a voice that shook—“is there no
chance for me?”
“No, no, dear Peter!” she cried, stretching out her hands to him.
“Oh, I thought that was all over. I sent for you because I wanted just
to say to you—don't trifle!—don't shilly-shally! I know Jenny
Dumbarton a little. She's charming—she's got a delicate, beautiful
character—and such a warm heart! Don't break anybody's heart,
Peter—for my silly sake!”
The surge of emotion in Peter subsided slowly. He began to study the
moss at his feet, poking at it with his stick.
“What makes you think I've been breaking Jenny's heart?” he said at
last in another voice.
“Some of your friends, Peter, yours and mine—have been writing to
me. She's—she's very fond of you, they say, and lately she's been
looking a little limp ghost—all along of you, Mr. Peter! What have you
“What any other man in my position would have been doing—wishing to
Heaven I knew what to do!” said Peter, still poking vigorously
at the moss.
Helena bent forward from the oak tree, and just whispered—“Go back
to-morrow, Peter,—and propose to Jenny Dumbarton!”
Peter could not trust himself to look up at what he knew must be the
smiling seduction of her eyes and lips. He was silent; and Helena
withdrew—dryad-like—into the hollow made by the intertwined stems of
the oak, threw her head back against the main trunk, dropped her
eyelids, and waited.
“Are you asleep, Helena?” said Peter's voice at last.
“Not at all.”
“Then sit up, please, and listen to me.”
She obeyed. Peter was standing over her, his hands on his sides,
looking very manly, and rather pale.
“Having disposed of me for the last six months—you may as well
dispose of me altogether,” he said slowly. “Very well—I will go—and
propose to Jenny Dumbarton—-the day after to-morrow. Her people asked
me for the week-end. I gave a shuffling answer. I'll wire to her
to-morrow that I'm coming—”
“Peter—you're a darling!” cried Helena in delight, clapping her
hands. “Oh!—I wish I could see Jenny's face when she opens the
wire! You'll be very good to her, Peter?”
She looked at him searchingly, stirred by one of the sudden tremors
that beset even the most well-intentioned match-maker.
Peter smiled, with a rather twisted lip, straightening his
“I shouldn't ask any girl to marry me, that I couldn't love and
honour, not even to please you, Helena! And she knows all about you!”
“She doesn't!” said Helena, in consternation.
“Yes, she does. I don't mean to say that I've told her the exact
number of times you've refused me. But she knows quite enough. She'll
take me—if she does take me—with her eyes open. Well, now that's
settled!—But you interrupted me. There's one condition, Helena!”
“Name it.” She eyed him nervously.
—“That in return for managing my life, you give me some indication
of how you're going to manage your own!”
Helena fell back on the bilberry stalk, to gain time.
—“Because—” resumed Peter—“it's quite clear the Beechmark
situation is all bust up. Philip's got an idiot-boy to look after—with
Cynthia Welwyn in constant attendance. I don't see any room for you
“Neither do I,” said Helena, quietly. “You needn't tell me that.”
“Well, then, what are you going to do?”
“You forget, Peter, that I possess the dearest and nicest little
chaperon. I can roam the world where I please—without making any
“You'll always make scandals—”
“Scandals, Peter!” protested Helena.
“Well, victories, wherever you go—unless somebody has you pretty
tightly in hand. But you and I—both know a man—that would be your
He had moved, so as to stand firmly across the little path that ran
from Helena's seat to the inn. She began to fidget—to drop one foot,
that had been twisted under her, to the ground, as though “on tiptoe
for a flight.”
“It's time for supper, Peter. Mrs. Friend will think we're drowned.
And I caught such a beautiful dish of trout yesterday,—all for your
benefit! There's a dear man here who puts on the worms.”
“You don't go, till I get an answer, Helena.”
“There's nothing to answer. I've no plans. I draw, and fish, and
read poetry. I have some money in the bank; and Cousin Philip will let
me do what I like with it. Lastly—I have another month in which to
make up my mind.”
“Goose!—where to go next, of course.”
Peter shook his head. His mood was now as determined, as hot in
pursuit, as hers had been, a little earlier.
“I bet you'll have to make up your mind about something much more
important than that—before long. I happened to be—in the Gallery of
the House of Commons yesterday—”
“Improving your mind?”
“Listening to a lot of wild men talking rot about the army. But
there was one man who didn't talk rot, though I agreed with scarcely a
thing he said. But then he's a Labour man—or thinks he is—and I know
that I'm a Tory—as blue as you make 'em. Anyway I'm perfectly certain
you'd have liked to be there, Miss Helena!”
“Geoffrey?” said Helena coolly.
“Right you are. Well, I can tell you he made a ripping success! The
man next to me in the gallery, who seemed to have been born and bred
there—knew everybody and everything—and got as much fun out of it as
I do out of 'Chu-Chin-Chow'—he told me it was the first time Geoffrey
had really got what he called the 'ear of the House'—it was pretty
full too!—and that he was certain to get on—office, and all that kind
of thing—if he stuck to it. He certainly did it jolly well. He made
even an ignorant ass like me sit up. I'd go and hear him again—I vow I
would! And there was such a fuss in the lobby! I found Geoffrey there,
shovelling out hand-shakes, and talking to press-men. An old uncle of
mine—nice old boy—who's sat for a Yorkshire constituency for about a
hundred years, caught hold of me. 'Know that fellow, Peter?' 'Rather!'
'Good for you! He's got his foot on the ladder—he'll climb.'“
“Horrid word!” said Helena.
“Depends on what you mean by it. If you're to get to the top, I
suppose you must climb. Now, then, Helena!—if you won't take a man
like me whom you can run—take a man like Geoffrey who can run you—and
make you jolly happy all the same! There—I can give advice too, you
see—and you've no right to be offended!”
Helena could not keep her features still. Her eyes shot fire, though
of what kind the fire might be Peter was not quite sure. The two young
creatures faced each other. There was laughter in each face, but
something else; something strenuous, tragic even; as though “Life at
its grindstone set” had been at work on the radiant pair, evoking the
Meredithian series of intellect from the senses,—“brain from blood”;
with “spirit,” or generous soul, for climax.
But unconsciously Peter had moved aside. In a flash Helena had
slipped past him, and was flying through the wood, homeward, looking
back to mock him, as he sped after her in vain.
A week had passed. Mrs. Friend at ten o'clock in the morning had
just been having a heart to heart talk with the landlady of the inn on
the subject of a decent luncheon for three persons, and a passable
dinner for four. Food at the inn was neither good nor well-cooked, and
as criticism, even the mildest, generally led to tears, Mrs. Friend's
morning lot, when any guest was expected, was not a happy one. It was a
difficult thing indeed to get anything said or settled at all; since
the five-year old Bobby was generally scrimmaging round, capturing his
mother's broom and threatening to “sweep out” Mrs. Friend, or
brandishing the meat-chopper, as a still more drastic means of
dislodging her. The little villain, having failed to drown himself, was
now inclined to play tricks with his small sister, aged eight weeks;
and had only that morning, while his mother's back was turned, taken
the baby out of her cradle, run down a steep staircase with her in his
arms, and laid her on a kitchen chair, forgetting all about her a
minute afterwards. Even a fond mother had been provoked to smacking,
and the inn had been filled with howls and roarings, which deadened
even the thunder of the swollen stream outside. Then Helena, her
fingers in her ears, had made a violent descent upon the kitchen, and
carried off the “limb” to the river, where, being given something to do
in the shape of damming up a brook that ran into the main stream, he
had suddenly developed angelic qualities, and tied himself to Helena's
There they both were, on the river's pebbly bank, within hail,
Helena in a short white skirt with a green jersey and cap. She was
alternately helping Bobby to build the dam, and lying with her hands
beneath her head, under the shelter of the bank. Moderately fine
weather had returned, and the Welsh farmer had once more begun to hope
that after all he might get in his oats. The morning sun sparkled on
the river, on the freshly washed oak-woods, and on Bobby's bare curly
head, as he sat busily playing beside Helena.
What was Helena thinking of? Lucy Friend would have given a good
deal to know. On the little table before Lucy lay two telegrams: one
signed “Geoffrey” announced that he would reach Bettws station by
twelve, and the “Fisherman's Rest” about half an hour later. The other
announced the arrival of Lord Buntingford by the evening train. Lord
Buntingford's visit had been arranged two or three days before; and
Mrs. Friend wished it well over. He was of course coming to talk about
plans with his ward, who had now wasted the greater part of the London
season in this primitive corner of Wales. And both he and Geoffrey were
leaving historic scenes behind them in order to spend these few hours
with Helena. For this was Peace Day, when the victorious generals and
troops of the Empire, and the Empire's allies, were to salute England's
king amid the multitudes of London, in solemn and visible proof that
the long nightmare of the war had found its end. Buntingford had
naturally no heart for pageants; but Helena had been astonished by
Geoffrey's telegram, which had arrived the night before from the
Lancashire town he represented in Parliament. As an M.P. he ought
surely to have been playing his part in the great show. Moreover, she
had not expected him so soon, and she had done nothing to hurry his
coming. His telegram had brought a great flush of colour into her face.
But she made no other sign.
“Oh, well, we can take them out to see bonfires!” she had said,
putting on her most careless air, and had then dismissed the subject.
For that night the hills of the north were to run their fiery message
through the land, blazoning a greater victory than Drake's; and Helena,
who had by now made close friends with the mountains, had long since
decided on the best points of view.
Since then Lucy had received no confidences, and asked no questions.
A letter had reached her, however; by the morning's post, from Miss
Alcott, giving an account of the situation at Beechmark, of the removal
of the boy to his father's house, and of the progress that had been
made in awakening his intelligence and fortifying his bodily health.
“It is wonderful to see the progress he has made—so far, entirely
through imitation and handwork. He begins to have some notion of
counting and numbers—he has learnt to crochet and thread beads—-poor
little lad of fifteen!—he has built not only a tower but something
like a house, of bricks—and now his enthusiastic teacher is attempting
to teach him the first rudiments of speech, in this wonderful modern
way—lip-reading and the like. He has been under training for about six
weeks, and certainly the results are most promising. I believe his
mother protested to Lord Buntingford that he had not been neglected.
Nobody can believe her, who sees now what has been done. Apparently a
brain-surgeon in Naples was consulted as to the possibility of an
operation. But when that was dropped, nothing else was ever tried, no
training was attempted, and the child would have fared very badly, if
it had not been for the old bonne—Zelie—who was and is devoted
to him. His mother was ashamed of him, and came positively to hate the
sight of him.
“But the tragic thing is that as his mind develops, his body seems
to weaken. Food, special exercise, massage—poor Lord Buntingford has
been trying everything—but with small result. It is pitiful to see him
watching the child, and hanging on the doctors. 'Shall we stop all the
teaching?' he said to John the other day in despair—'my first object
is that he should live,' But it would be cruel to stop the
teaching now. The child would not allow it. He himself has caught the
passion of it. He seems to me to live in a fever of excitement and joy,
as one step follows another, and the door opens a little wider for his
poor prisoned soul. He adores his father, and will sit beside him,
stroking his silky beard, with his tiny fingers, and looking at him
with his large pathetic eyes ... They have taken him to Beechmark, as
you know, and given him a set of rooms, where he and his wonderful
little teacher, Miss Denison—trained in the Seguin method, they
say—and the old bonne Zelie live. The nurse has gone.
“I am so sorry for Lady Cynthia—she seems to miss him so. Of course
she goes over to Beechmark a good deal, but it is not the same as
having him under her own roof. And she was so good to him! She looks
tired of late, and rather depressed. I wonder if her dragoon of a
sister has been worrying her. Of course Lady Georgina is enchanted to
have got rid of Arthur.
“I am very glad to hear Lord Buntingford is going to Wales. Miss
Pitstone has been evidently a great deal on his mind. He said to John
the other day that he had arranged everything at Beechmark so that,
when you and she came back, he did not think you would find Arthur in
the way. The boy's rooms are in a separate wing, and would not
interfere at all with visitors. I said to him once that I was sure Miss
Helena would be very fond of the little fellow. But he frowned and
looked distressed. 'I should scarcely allow her to see him,' he said. I
asked why. 'Because a young girl ought to be protected from anything
irremediably sad. Life should be always bright for her. And I can still
make it bright for Helena—I intend to make it bright.'
“Good-bye, my dear Mrs. Friend. John and I miss you very much.”
A last sentence which gave Lucy Friend a quite peculiar pleasure.
Her modest ministrations in the parish and the school had amply earned
it. But it amazed her that anyone should attach any value to them. And
that Mr. Alcott should miss her—why, it was ridiculous!
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sight of Helena, returning to
the inn along the river bank, with Bobby clinging to her skirt.
“Take him in tow, please,” said Helena through the window. “I am
going to walk a little way to meet Geoffrey.”
Bobby's chubby hand held her so firmly that he could only be
detached from her by main force. He was left howling in Mrs. Friend's
grasp, till Helena, struck with compunction, turned back from the bend
of the road, to stuff a chocolate into his open mouth, and then ran off
again, laughing at the sudden silence which had descended on hill and
Through the intermittent shade and sunshine of the day, Helena
stepped on. She had never held herself so erect; never felt so
conscious of an intense and boundless vitality. Yet she was quite
uncertain as to what the next few hours would bring her. Peter had
given a hint—that she was sure; and she was now, it seemed, to be
wooed in earnest. On Geoffrey's former visit, she had teased him so
continuously, and put so many petty obstacles of all kinds in his way,
that he had finally taken his cue from her, and they had parted, in a
last whirlwind of “chaff,” but secretly angry, with each other or
“He might have held out a little longer,” thought Helena. “When
shall I ever get a serious word from her?” thought French.
Slowly she descended the long and winding hill leading to the
village. From the few scattered cottages and farms in sight, flags were
fluttering out. Groups of school children were scattered along the
road, waving little flags and singing. Over the wide valley below her,
with its woody hills and silver river, floated great cloud-shadows,
chasing and chased by the sun. There were wild roses in the hedges, and
perfume in every gust of wind. The summer was at its height, and the
fire and sap of it were running full-tilt in Helena's pulses.
Far down the winding road she saw at last a man on a motor
bicycle—bare-headed, and long-bodied.
Up he came, and soon was near enough to wave to her, while Helena
was still scolding her own emotions. When he flung himself off beside
her, she saw at once that he had come in an exultant mood expecting
triumph. And immediately something perverse in her—or was it merely
the old primeval instinct of the pursued maiden—set itself to baffle
“Very nice to see you!” she smiled, as she gave him a passive
hand—“but why aren't you in the Mall?”
“My Sovereign had not expressed any burning desire for my presence.
Can't we go to-night and feed a bonfire?”
“Several, if you like. I have watched the building of three. But it
“That won't matter,” he said joyously. “Nothing will matter!” And
again his ardent look challenged in her the Eternal Feminine.
“I don't agree. I hate a wet mackintosh dripping into my boots, and
Cousin Philip won't see any fun in it if it rains.”
He drew up suddenly.
“Philip!” he said, with a frown of irritation. “What has Philip to
do with it?”
“He arrives to-night by the London train.”
He resumed his walk beside her, in silence, pushing his bicycle. Had
she done it of malice prepense? No—impossible! He had only telegraphed
his own movements to her late on the previous evening, much too late to
make any sudden arrangement with Philip, who was coming from an Eastern
“He is coming to find out your plans?”
“I suppose so. But I have no plans.”
He stole a look at her. Yes—there was change in her, even since
they had met last:—a richer, intenser personality, suggested by a new
self-mastery. She seemed to him older—and a thought remote. Fears flew
through him. What had been passing in her mind since he had seen her
last? or in Philip's? Had he been fooled after all by those few wild
words from Peter, which had reached him in Lancashire, bidding him
catch his opportunity, or rue the loss of it for ever?
She saw the effervescence in him die down, and became gracious at
once. Especially because they were now in sight of the inn, and of Lucy
Friend sitting in the little garden beside the road. Geoffrey pulled
himself together, and prepared to play the game that Helena set him,
until the afternoon and the walk she could not deny him, should give
him his chance.
The little meal passed gaily, and after it Lucy Friend watched—not
without trepidation—Helena's various devices for staving off the
crisis. She had two important letters to write; she must go and watch
Mr. McCready sketching, as she had promised to do, or the old fellow
would never forgive her; and finally she invited the fuming M.P. to
fish the preserved water with her, accompanied by the odd-man as gilly.
At this Geoffrey's patience fairly broke. He faced her, crimson, in the
inn parlour; forgetting Lucy altogether and standing in front of the
door, so that Lucy could not escape and could only roll herself in a
curtain and look out of the window.
“I didn't come here to fish, Helena—or to sketch—but simply and
solely to talk to you! And I have come a long way. Suppose we take a
Helena eyed him. She was a little pale—but composed.
“At your service. Lead on, Sir Oracle!”
They went out together, Geoffrey taking command, and Lucy watched
them depart, across the foot-bridge, and by a green path that would
lead them before long to the ferny slopes of the mountain beyond the
oak-wood. As Helena was mounting the bridge, a servant of the inn ran
out with a telegram which had just arrived and gave it her.
Helena peered at the telegram, and then with a dancing smile thrust
it into her pocket without a word.
Her mood, as they walked on, was now, it seemed, eagerly political.
She insisted on hearing his own account of his successful speech in the
House; she wished to discuss his relations with the Labour party, which
were at the moment strained, on the question of Coal Nationalization;
she asked for his views on the Austrian Treaty, and on the prospects of
the Government. He lent himself to her caprice, so long as they were
walking one behind the other through a crowded oak-wood and along a
narrow path where she could throw her questions back over her shoulder,
herself well out of reach. But presently they came out on a glorious
stretch of fell, clothed with young green fern, and running up into a
purple crag fringed with junipers. Then he sprang to her side, and
Helena knew that the hour had come and the man. There was a flat rock
on the slope below the crag, under a group of junipers, and Helena
presently found herself sitting there, peremptorily guided by her
companion, and feeling dizzily that she was beginning to lose control
of the situation, as Geoffrey sank down into the fern beside her.
“At last!” he said, drawing a long breath—“At last!”
He lay looking up at her, his long face working with emotion—the
face of an intellectual, with that deep scar on the temple, where a
fragment of shrapnel had struck him on the first day of the Somme
“Unkind Helena!” he said, in a low voice that shook—“unkind
Her lips framed a retort. Then suddenly the tears rushed into her
eyes, and she covered them with her hands.
“I'm not unkind. I'm afraid!”
“Afraid of what?”
“I told you,” she said piteously, “I didn't want to marry—I didn't
want to be bound!”
“And you haven't changed your mind at all?”
She didn't answer. There was silence a moment. Then she said
“Do you want to hear secrets, Geoffrey?”
“I don't know. I expect I guess them.”
“What do you guess?” She lifted a proud face. He touched her hand
“I guess that when you came here—you were unhappy?”
Her lip trembled.
“I was—very unhappy.”
“And now?” he asked, caressing the hand he held.
“Well, now—I've walked myself back into—into common sense.
There!—I had it out with myself. I may as well have it out with you!
Two months ago I was a bit in love with Cousin Philip. Now, of course,
I love him—I always shall love him—but I'm not in love with
“Thank the Lord!” cried French—“since it has been the object of my
life for much more than two months to persuade you to be in love with
“I don't think I am—yet,” said Helena slowly.
Her look was strange—half repellent. On both sides indeed there was
a note of something else than prosperous love-making. On his, the
haunting doubt lest she had so far given her heart to Philip that full
fruition for himself, that full fruition which youth at its zenith
instinctively claims from love and fortune, could never be his. On
hers, the consciousness, scarcely recognized till now, of a moment of
mental exhaustion caused by mental conflict. She was half indignant
that he should press her, yet aware that she would miss the pressure if
it ceased; while he, believing that his cause was really won, and urged
on by Peter's hints, resented the barriers she would still put up
There was a short silence after her last speech. Then Helena said
“You haven't talked philosophy to me, Geoffrey, for such a long
“What's the use?” said Geoffrey, who was lying on his face, his eyes
covered by his hands—“I'm not feeling philosophical.”
“All the same, you made me once read half a volume of Bergson. I
didn't understand much of it, except that—whatever else he is, he's a
great poet. And I do know something about poetry! But I remember one
sentence very well—Life—isn't it Life?—is 'an action which is making
itself, across an action of the same kind which is unmaking itself.'
And he compares it to a rocket in a fire-works display rushing up in
flame through the falling cinders of the dead rockets.”
“Give the cinders a little time to fall, Geoffrey!” she said in a
He looked up ardently.
“Why? It's only the living fire that matters! Darling—let's come to
close quarters. You gave a bit of your warm heart to Philip, and you
imagined that it meant much more than it really did. And poor Philip
all the time was determined—cribbed and cabined—by his past,—and now
by his boy. We both know that if he marries anybody it will be Cynthia
Welwyn; and that he would be happier and less lonely if he married her.
But so long as your life is unsettled he will marry nobody. He
remembers that your mother entrusted you to him in the firm belief
that, in his uncertainty about his wife, he neither could nor would
marry anybody. So that for these two years, at any rate, he holds
himself absolutely bound to his compact with her and you.”
“And the moral of that is—” said Helena, flushing.
“Marry me!—Nothing simpler. Then the compact falls—and at one
stroke you bring two men into port.”
The conflict of expressions passing through her features showed her
shaken. He waited.
“Very well, Geoffrey—” she said at last, with a long, quivering
breath, as though some hostile force rent her and came out.
“If you want me so much—take me!”
But as she spoke she became aware of the lover in him ready to
spring. She drew back instantly from his cry of joy, and his
“Ah, but give me time—dear Geoffrey, give me time! You have my
He controlled himself, warned by her agitation, and her pallor.
“Mayn't we tell Philip—when he comes?”
“Yes, we'll tell Philip—and Lucy—to-night. Not a word!—till
then.” She jumped up—“Are you going to climb that crag before tea? I
She led him breathlessly up its steep side and down again. When they
regained the inn, Geoffrey had not even such a butterfly kiss to
remember as she had once given him in the lime-walk at Beechmark; and
Lucy, trying in her eager affection to solve the puzzle they presented
her with, had simply to give it up.
* * * * *
The day grew wilder. Great flights of clouds came up from the west
and fought the sun, and as the afternoon declined, light gusts of rain,
succeeded by bursts of sunshine, began to sweep across the oak-woods.
The landlord of the inn and his sons, who had been mainly responsible
for building the great bonfire on Moel Dun, and the farmers in their
gigs who stopped at the inn door, began to shake their heads over the
prospects of the night. Helena, Lucy Friend, and Geoffrey spent the
afternoon chiefly in fishing and wandering by the river. Helena clung
to Lucy's side, defying her indeed to leave her, and Geoffrey could
only submit, and count the tardy hours. They made tea in a green meadow
beside the stream, and immediately afterwards Geoffrey, looking at his
watch, announced to Mrs. Friend that he proposed to bicycle down to
Bettws to meet Lord Buntingford.
Helena came with him to the inn to get his bicycle. They said little
to each other, till, just as he was departing, French bent over to her,
as she stood beside his machine.
“Do I understand?—I may tell him?”
“Yes.” And then for the first time she smiled upon him; a smile that
was heavenly soft and kind; so that he went off in mounting spirits.
Helena retraced her steps to the river-side, where they had left
Lucy. She sat down on a rock by Lucy's side, and instinctively Lucy put
down some knitting she held, and turned an eager face—her soul in her
“Lucy—I am engaged to Geoffrey French.”
Lucy laughed and cried; held the bright head in her arms and kissed
the cheek that lay upon her shoulder. Helena's eyes too were wet; and
in both there was the memory of that night at Beechmark which had made
them sisters rather than friends.
“And of course,” said Helena—“you'll stay with me for ever.”
But Lucy was far too happy to think of her own future. She had made
friends—real friends—in these three months, after years of
loneliness. It seemed to her that was all that mattered. And half
guiltily her memory cherished those astonishing words—“Mr. Alcott
and I miss you very much.”
A drizzling rain had begun when towards eight o'clock they heard the
sound of a motor coming up the Bettws road. Lucy retreated into the
inn, while Helena stood at the gate waiting.
Buntingford waved to her as they approached, then jumped out and
followed her into the twilight of the inn parlour.
“My dear Helena!” He put his arm round her shoulder and kissed her
heartily. “God bless you!—good luck to you! Geoffrey has given me the
best news I have heard for many a long day.”
“You are pleased?” she said, softly, looking at him.
He sat down by her, holding her hands, and revealing to her his own
long-cherished dream of what had now come to pass. “The very day you
came to Beechmark, I wrote to Geoffrey, inviting him. And I saw you by
chance the day after the dance, together, in the lime-walk.” Helena's
start almost drew her hands away. He laughed. “I wasn't eavesdropping,
dear, and I heard nothing. But my dream seemed to be coming true, and I
went away in tip-top spirits—just an hour, I think, before Geoffrey
found that drawing.”
He released her, with an unconscious sigh, and she was able to see
how much older he seemed to have grown; the touches of grey in his
thick black hair, and the added wrinkles round his eyes,—those blue
eyes that gave him his romantic look, and were his chief beauty. But he
resumed at once:
“Well, now then, the sooner you come back to Beechmark the better.
Think of the lawyers—the trousseau—the wedding. My dear, you've no
time to waste!—nor have I. Geoffrey is an impatient fellow—he always
“And I shall see Arthur?” she asked him gently.
His look thanked her. But he did not pursue the subject.
Then Geoffrey and Lucy Friend came in, and there was much talk of
plans, and a merry dinner a quatre. Afterwards, the rain seemed
to have cleared off a little, and through the yellow twilight a thin
stream of people, driving or on foot, began to pour past the inn,
towards the hills. Helena ran upstairs to put on an oilskin hat and
cape over her white dress.
“You're coming to help light the bonfire?” said Geoffrey, addressing
Buntingford shook his head. He turned to Lucy.
“You and I will let the young ones go—won't we? I don't see you
climbing Moel Dun in the rain, and I'm getting too old! We'll walk up
the road a bit, and look at the people as they go by. I daresay we
shall see as much as the other two.”
So the other two climbed, alone and almost in silence. Beside them
and in front of them, scattered up and along the twilight fell, were
dim groups of pilgrims bent on the same errand with themselves. It was
not much past nine o'clock, and the evening would have been still light
but for the drizzle of rain and the low-hanging clouds. As it was,
those bound for the beacon-head had a blind climb up the rocks and the
grassy slopes that led to the top. Helena stumbled once or twice, and
Geoffrey caught her. Thenceforward he scarcely let her go again. She
protested at first, mountaineer that she was; but he took no heed, and
presently the warmth of his strong clasp seemed to hypnotize her. She
was silent, and let him pull her up.
On the top was a motley crowd of farmers, labourers and visitors,
with a Welsh choir from a neighbouring village, singing hymns and
patriotic songs. The bonfire was to be fired on the stroke of ten, by a
neighbouring landowner, whose white head and beard flashed hither and
thither through the crowd and the mist, as he gave his orders, and
greeted the old men, farmers and labourers, he had known for a
lifetime. The sweet Welsh voices rose in the “Men of Harlech,” “Land of
My Fathers,” or in the magnificent “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of
the Coming of the Lord.” And when the moment arrived, and the
white-haired Squire, with his three chosen men, fired the four corners
of the high-built pile, out rushed the blaze, flaring up to heaven,
defying the rain, and throwing its crimson glow on the faces ringed
round it. “God Save the King!” challenged the dark, and then, hand in
hand, the crowd marched round about the pyramid of fire in measured
rhythm, while “Auld Lang Syne,” sorrowfully sweet, echoed above the
haunted mountain-top where in the infancy of Britain, Celt and Roman in
succession had built their camps and reared their watch-towers. And
presently from all quarters of the great horizon sprang the answering
flames from mountain peaks that were themselves invisible in the murky
night, while they sent forward yet, without fail or break, the great
torch-race of victory, leaping on, invincible by rain or dark, far into
the clouded north.
But Geoffrey's eyes could not tear themselves from Helena. He saw
her bathed in light, from top to toe, now gold, now scarlet, a
fire-goddess, inimitably beautiful. They danced hand in hand,
intoxicated by the music, and by the movement of their young swaying
bodies. He felt Helena unconsciously leaning on him, her soft breath on
his cheek. Her eyes were his now, and her smiling lips, just parted
over her white teeth, tempted him beyond his powers of resistance.
“Come!” he whispered to her, and with a quick turn of the hand he
had swung her out of the fiery circle, and drawn her towards the
surrounding dark. A few steps and they were on the mountainside again,
while behind them the top was still aflame, and black forms still
danced round the drooping fire.
But they were safely curtained by night and the rising storm. After
the first stage of the descent, suddenly he flung his arms round her,
his mouth found hers, and all Helena's youth rushed at last to meet him
as he gathered her to his breast.
“Geoffrey—my Tyrant!—let me go!” she panted.
“Are you mine—are you mine, at last?—you wild thing!”
“I suppose so—” she said, demurely. “Only, let me breathe!”
She escaped, and he heard her say with low sweet laughter as though
“I seem at any rate to be following my guardian's advice!”
“What advice? Tell me! you darling, tell me everything. I have a
right now to all your secrets.”
Darkness hid her eyes. Hand in hand they went down the hillside,
while the Mount of Victory still blazed behind them.
Philip and Lucy were waiting for them. And then, at last, Helena
remembered her telegram of the afternoon, and read it to a group of
“Right you are. I proposed last night to Jennie Dumbarton. Wedding,
October—Await reply. PETER.”
“He shall have his reply,” said Helena. And she wrote it with
Geoffrey looking on.
Not quite twenty-four hours later, Buntingford was walking up
through the late twilight to Beechmark. After the glad excitement
kindled in him by Helena's and Geoffrey's happiness, his spirits had
dropped steadily all the way home. There before him across the park,
rose his large barrack of a house, so empty, but for that frail life
which seemed now part of his own.
He walked on, his eyes fixed on the lights in the rooms where his
boy was. When he reached the gate into the gardens, a figure came
suddenly out of the shrubbery towards him.
“Philip! We didn't expect you till to-morrow.”
He turned back with her, inexpressibly comforted by her
companionship. The first item in his news was of course the news of
Helena's engagement. Cynthia's surprise was great, as she showed; so
also was her relief, which she did not show.
“And the wedding is to be soon?”
“Geoffrey pleads for the first week in September, that they may have
time to get to some favourite places of his in France before Parliament
meets. Helena and Mrs. Friend will be here to-morrow.”
After a pause he turned to her, with another note in his voice:
“You have been with Arthur?”
She gave an account of her day.
“He misses you so. I wanted to make up to him a little.”
“He loves you—so do I!” said Buntingford. “Won't you come and take
charge of us both, dear Cynthia? I owe you so much already—I would do
my best to pay it.”
He took her hand and pressed it. All was said.
Yet through all her gladness, Cynthia felt the truth of Georgina's
remark—“When he marries it will be for peace—not passion.” Well, she
must accept it. The first-fruits were not for her. With all his
chivalry he would never be able to give her what she had it in her to
give him. It was the touch of acid in the sweetness of her lot. But
sweet it was all the same.
When she told Georgina, her sister broke into a little
laugh—admiring, not at all unkind.
“Cynthia, you are a clever woman! But I must point out that
Providence has given you every chance.”
Peace indeed was the note of Philip's mood that night, as he paced
up and down beside the lake after his solitary dinner. He was,
momentarily at least, at rest, and full of patient hope. His youth was
over. He resigned it, with a smile and a sigh; while seeming still to
catch the echoes of it far away, like music in some invisible city that
a traveller leaves behind him in the night. His course lay clear before
him. Politics would give him occupation, and through political life
power might come to him. But the real task to which he set his most
human heart, in this moment of change and reconstruction, was to make a
woman and a child happy.