The House in Dormer Forest
by Mary Webb
Book 1. The
Chapter 2. THE
FAMILY AT SUPPER
Chapter 4. NIGHT
Chapter 6. THE
ADVENT OF ERNEST
Chapter 9. HOW
THEY WENT TO THE
Chapter 10. THE
Chapter 12. THE
Chapter 13. THE
Book 2: The
Chapter 14. THE
Chapter 15. MR
Chapter 17. THE
Chapter 20. THE
AMBER GOES TO
Chapter 23. MR.
Chapter 24. A
Book 1. The House.
Chapter 1. DORMER
Dormer Old House stood amid the remnants of primeval woodland that
curtained the hills. These rose steeply on all sides of the house,
which lay low by the water in the valley. This was called Oolert's
Dingle, and there were plenty of owls to justify the name. On a moonlit
night, passing, high up, from side to side of the cuplike valley, they
looked like breeze-blown feathers. Higher still, on the very rim of the
cup, the far-travelled winds shouted across to one another, all winter,
news of the world. When the bats slipped from their purlieus in the
cobwebby outbuildings and climbed toward this rim, they had to ascend
step after grey step of the windless air, and only attained their
ambition after long flying.
From these heights, in fine weather, the house and its gardens lay
open to the view, small but clear, beside the white thread that was
Dormer brook. The place had been patched and enlarged by successive
generations, very much as man's ideas are altered, the result in both
cases being the same — a mansion to the majority, a prison to the few.
On clear evenings, when the westering sun struck up the valley and set
the windows on fire, one could see the centuries in the house, like
ferns in a fossil. There was the timbered black-and-white centre, once
the complete house, with diamond lattices and the unassuming solidity
of an Elizabethan manor; there was the small Queen Anne wing on the
left — one room down and two up — built by a rich ancestor of the
Darke family; there was the solemn, Georgian porch with its rounded,
shell-like roof and Grecian pillars. The right wing, hideously
stuccoed, consisted of one large room with many-paned sash-windows and
a steep red roof, and had been built by the father of Solomon Darke,
the present owner. At the back, perilously clinging to the Elizabethan
farm, was an ancient cottage, which seemed to be the nucleus of the
whole, and was built of stone and thatched. When the ambitious
Elizabethan set about building his manor, no doubt the two bottle-glass
windows of this cottage eyed him reproachfully, as a Vandal and a
despiser of his ancestors. It was neglected now, and remained, weighed
down by the large-leaved ivy, haunted by its whisper year after year,
and used only by Enoch, the gardener, who stored apples there, and by
the mice, who consumed the apples. The house, as a whole, had something
of a malignant air, as of an old ruler from whom senility takes the
power, but not the will, for tyranny.
All these things you could see in clear weather; but when it was
misty — and mist lingered here as of inalienable right — the house
was obliterated. It vanished like a pebble in a well, with all its
cabined and shuttered wraths and woes, all its thunderous 'thou shalt
nots.' At such times it did not seem that any law ruled in the valley
except the law of the white owls and the hasty water and the mazy
bat-dances. Only those who slept there night by night could tell you
that the house was overspread with a spider's-web of rules, legends and
customs so complex as to render the individual soul almost helpless. It
is the mass-ego that constructs dogmas and laws; for while the
individual soul is, if free at all, self-poised, the mass-mind is
always uncertain, driven by vague, wandering aims; conscious, in a dim
fashion, of its own weakness, it builds round itself a grotesque
structure in the everlastingness of which it implicitly believes. When
each unit of humanity merges itself in the mass, it loses its bearings
and must rely on externals. The whole effort of evolution is to the
development of individual souls who will dare to be free of the
architecture of crowd-morality. For when man is herded, he remembers
Round the House of Dormer stood the forest, austerely aloof. The
upper woods had never known the shuddering horror of the axe, the
bitter and incurable destruction of the day when gnomes of ugly aspect
are let loose with flashing weapons among the haughty sons and
daughters of the gods, hacking and tearing at the steadfast forms of
beauty, until beauty itself seems to have crashed earthwards.
Successive Darkes had threatened to fell the forest; but there was
always plenty of wood from the reaping of the storms and from trees
that fell from the rottenness of great age; so they had let it alone.
The trees looked down upon time-shattered hulks of others in every
stage of gentle decay. There were some mouldered trunks yet standing
with a twig or two of green on them, especially among the yews, which
must have weathered the winters of a thousand years. Others were of
such antiquity that only a jagged point showed where once the
leaf-shadows flickered on the wolf litters. Among these giants in their
prime and in their dignified dissolution rose on all sides in supple
grace the young trees and saplings. From the lissom creature that only
needed the gradual massing of maturity to make its beauty perfect, down
to the baby stem with two absurd, proudly-waving leaves, all took part
in that slow attainment of perfection through stages of beauty on which
all Nature seems intent. They stood, rank on rank, with rounded or
pointed tops, their foliage sometimes heavy and solemn, as in the yew
and the oak, sometimes fluffy as in the elm, or transparent and showing
the sky through its traceries as in birch and larch. They seemed to
peer at the house over one another's shoulders like people looking at
something grotesque, not with blame or praise, but in a kind of
For it does not seem that Nature, as some divines would have us
think, was built to stage man's miracle plays, or created as an
illustration of his various religions. Nature takes no account of man
and his curious arts, his weird worships, but remains dark and
unresponsive, beetling upon him as he creeps, ant-like, from his
momentary past to his doubtful future, painfully carrying his tiny load
of knowledge. But indifference is not hampering, as interference is;
therefore those that feel within them the stir of a growing soul prefer
the dour laws of earth to the drag of the herd of mankind, and fly from
the house of man to the forest, where the emotionless silence always
seems to be gathering, as waves mount and swell, to the disclosure of a
Chapter 2. THE FAMILY AT SUPPER
The Darkes had just finished supper, the event of the day. The red
woollen bellrope still swung from Peter's onslaught; for when, at Mrs.
Darke's morose order, 'Ring for Sarah,' he kicked his chair aside and
strode across the room, he always seemed to wreak a suppressed fury on
the bellrope, and more than once the tarnished rose to which it hung
had been torn from the wall.
'The room. Drat it!' said Sarah in the kitchen, like a person
proposing a toast.
Armed with a large tin tray, she burst into the diningroom. Clearing
was, in her hands, a belligerent enterprise in which her usual sulky
manner in the presence of her mistress gave place to more open
hostility. She wrested the plates from their owners and had been known
to leave Ruby, who liked two helpings, stranded, with no plate for her
last fruit stones. Tonight it was Mr. Darke who cried, 'Howd yer,
Sarah!' and clung to his plate.
'Don't say “Howd yer!” like any old waggoner, Solomon!' Mrs. Darke
spoke with exasperation.
'Waggoner, Solomon!' echoed a less irritated, thinner, more tiresome
voice, that of Mrs. Darke's mother, Mrs. Velindre.
Solomon Darke, a man of sixty, sat with his shoulders bent; his jaw,
of the kind sometimes called 'jowl,' rested on his Gladstone collar and
large 'made' tie. The expressionless heaviness of his face was redeemed
by something of the patience of oxen, and rendered intimidating by a
hint of the bulldog in the mouth's ferocious tenacity. It was obvious
that his one idea in any crisis would be to resort to physical force.
Between him and Peter sat Catherine Velindre, a distant relation who
lived at Dormer as a paying guest, calling Solomon and his wife 'uncle'
and 'aunt' as terms of respect. Her pointed face, her chestnut hair,
demurely parted and pinned round her head in a large plait, her small
and thinlipped mouth, might have belonged to a Chaucerian nun. But her
eyes were not those of a nun; they were too restless. They were
peculiarly long, of the type called almondshaped, with very little
curve in them; the lids, being large and heavilylashed, added to the
air of secrecy and awareness that was Catherine Velindre's chief
In extreme contrast with Catherine were Ruby Darke, a tall, plump,
pretty girl of eighteen who was sprawling across the table, and her
elder sister, Amber, who was in no way a success according to Dormer
standards. Her manner, when she was at ease, had charm, but it was
spoilt by shyness. Her hair was of an indeterminate brown, and her
complexion was ruined by illhealth, due to the perpetual chafing of
the wistful mind longing for things not in Dormer.
Peter, blackeyed, silent in the presence of his parents, and for
all his twenty years — full of the sullenness of early adolescence,
had the look of a creature gathered for a spring, but he was without
sufficient concentration to know in what direction he wished to go or
what he wanted to grasp. The air of repression which brooded over the
family, putting a constraint on emotion and impulse, seemed to act as
an irritant to Peter. He was vaguely aware of something inimical, as
animals are, but he knew nothing about atmosphere and would have
flushed scarlet if anyone had spoken to him of emotion.
Peter, Ruby, Amber and jasper — who was not here tonight — came by
their names in a curious way. Mrs. Darke had been so bored by the
advent of each child (for she had married Solomon not because she loved
him, but because she hated the Velindre household) that she had refused
to think of any names for them. There had been many long silent
conflicts when her husband sat, moody and obstinate, staring at the
mute bundle in the majestic cradle which was a Darke heirloom, and
saying at long intervals, 'Give it a name, Rachel!'
Mrs. Darke, equally obstinate, on her large sofa with its
uncomfortable ornaments of carved mahogany leaves, silently tore
calico. The argument, wordless on one side, always ended without a name
having been found; and, though Solomon's nerves were those of a
ploughman, they at last became irritated by the harsh, regular tearing,
and by that in his wife's character which lay behind the tearing and
'What are you making, tearing so?' he would ask angrily. And she
would reply, like scissors snapping, 'Binders!'
Afterwards Solomon generally took his gun and strolled towards the
Rectory, which was at some distance from the church and the House of
Dormer. The Rectory, a few cottages and an immense, overbearing rookery
made up the village. Entering the Rector's study with a couple of
rabbits pendent in his hand, Solomon would say sheepishly:
'Give it a name, Rector!'
Now the Rector was an authority on seals and gems. Nobody knew why he
had given his life to this study, but it was generally felt at Dormer
that he was an honour to the village and must be known all over the
world. As Mr. Mallow, the constable and chief member of the choir, said
with unintentional irony, 'The Rector's got a powerful burden of
learning, and he's first in that line, no danger, for who else ever
wanted to know about a stone?'
After these visits of Solomon the Rector would spend a happy morning,
poring over his list of jewels, and — having dined frugally on the
rabbits — would write a long, allusive letter to Solomon in beautiful
pointed script. Solomon, having extracted the name from it, would light
his pipe with it and say to his wife in an offhand tone:
'What d'you think of Amber, Ruby, or jasper?'
Whereupon Mrs. Darke said:
'That's the Rector!' and Solomon was very crestfallen.
Rachel Darke was grimly amused that her children should be called by
the names of precious stones; but to protest would have been to upset
her attitude of aloofness. Three gems headed the family, but, when the
Rector suggested 'Garnet' for the fourth, Solomon rebelled and said:
'Call him Peter. It was good enough for his grandfather.'
The Rector comforted himself with the reflection that Peter, a rock,
was only a jewel in the rough, and Peter had been true to this from his
cradle. As Mrs. Cantlop, the Rector's cousin, said with one of her
helpless sighs, 'Peter's such a knobby baby!' Mrs. Cantlop knew
the children's idiosyncrasies far better than Mrs. Darke did. She knew
that Ruby could absorb the crudest paint from her toys and still
flourish; that Amber, though an ailing child, was always ready to
gurgle into laughter; that jasper, even at the age of three, required
reasons for obeying an order, and that he would, after pondering on
them, behave 'like a Christian lamb.' She knew also, though neither
Mrs. Darke nor Mrs. Velindre noticed it, that Catherine, from the
moment of her first arrival — whitepinafored, reserved — ruled the
nursery. Of all the children, Peter was most like his mother. He had
the same long obstinate chin and the same smouldering black eyes.
Tonight, while Sarah clattered at the sideboard, Mrs. Darke sat
staring at the tablecloth, drumming on it with her long, restless
fingers. She was just beyond the circle of lamplight, and the dimness
made her seem even taller than she was. Her thin lips, very pale and
straight, were closed with almost painful firmness. Her forehead was
covered with lines, both vertical and horizontal, and an expression of
frigidity combined with exasperation made her face sinister.
Away from the table, in an armchair by the fire, sat Mrs. Velindre.
She was grotesquely like her daughter. She had the same closeset black
eyes, long pale face and lined forehead; but her eyes had no
expression. If one penetrated them, there seemed to be something
stealthily in wait behind them. It was like walking in a lonely wood
and becoming aware of something running in and out among the trees,
silent, invisible, and gradually being convinced that it is a ghost.
There was a ghost hiding in Mrs. Velindre's eyes — a cadaverous,
grisly thing which had looked at her out of other people's eyes when
she was a child; slowly possessing her in womanhood; finally absorbing
her whole personality — eating into it like a worm into a rotten
fruit. As she sat, hour after hour, in her high, straight chair, with
her white cap and black ringlets, two on each side, this ghost brooded
with batlike wings above her failing mind and endowed her with
something of awe, something that proclaimed her kin to the ancient gods
of vengeance and slaughter. For in her, more than in any other at
Dormer, except her daughter, the herd panic, which drives man to be
more cruel to his brother than are the wild beasts, held undisputed
dominion. As a young woman she had known generous instincts, but now,
at eighty, she could have refused without a qualm the request of a
dying man, if he disagreed with her religious views. Yet she could
scarcely be blamed. She had lived so long by fear and not by love, that
her capacity for cruelty had grown in proportion to her capacity for
panic. She had for so many years been trying to be like other people,
that she was now like nothing in heaven or earth. For the more a soul
conforms to the sanity of others, the more does it become insane. By
continually doing violence to its own laws, it finally loses the power
of governing itself. Mrs. Velindre, who was the oracle of the family,
never used either intellect or intuition in giving her verdicts. She
simply echoed her ancestors. If anything occurred without precedent in
her tradition, she was flustered and incompetent, until she had found
some text which could be made to bear on the question. Then she would
give her ultimatum.
Beneath the hanging lamp, which lit the large room vaguely, the six
faces, drawn in heavy chiaroscuro against the brown wallpaper, shone
out dimly as from an old picture. They might have belonged to a
prerenaissance Italian family or a household newly converted to
Calvinism. But though they might have belonged to any country or
period, they could only, it was clear, belong to one spiritual
atmosphere. Perhaps it was the weight of this atmosphere that gave the
room its medieval gloom. For the kernel of medievalism was fear — of
God, devils, man, and all the laws, customs and fetishes invented by
man. And this antique negation seemed to find in the House of Dormer a
congenial dwelling. Thick shadows clung to the ceiling like hovering
nightbirds, eliminating the corners and all furniture not within the
lamp's radius, obscuring detail and giving the room a measure of gloomy
'I wish jasper would come!' said Amber suddenly. 'He's late.'
'It would be almost better,' said Mrs. Darke, 'if jasper never came
'Wicked! A wicked boy! Never came at all,' muttered grandmother.
'He isn't, grandmother!' Amber was all on fire with wrath and love.
'Don't contradict your elders,' said Mrs. Darke. 'It is very tiresome
of jasper, with Ernest taking the curacy here, to come home an
'D'you mean to say we've got to have that fool Ernest living here?'
'I do. He is to be a paying guest.'
'Lord! The house'll be like to bust.'
'Burst! Burst!' corrected Mrs. Darke in exasperation.
'Burst!' echoed grandmother from the fireside.
'Bust!' repeated Solomon.
Peter guffawed. Any defiance of authority was a refreshment to his
tethered spirit. Amber was pink with suppressed laughter. Her
grandmother's voice was so like that of a distant, ruminative bird
answering a near bird, and her father's explosiveness was so funny and
excusable that her perpetually simmering glee at the humours of life
almost boiled over. A strain of what Mrs. Darke called vulgarity in her
husband was one of his most lovable qualities in Amber's eyes. She
always suspected it of being at least half compounded of humour.
Catherine looked pained.
'Really, Solomon, I wish you wouldn't be so vulgar!' said his wife.
'What've I said? Bust! Well, the house will bust. It won't
hold jasper and Ernest together.'
Sarah, at the sideboard, gave a smothered chuckle.
'Sarah! I said, clear!' Mrs. Darke spoke with incisive anger.
'Clear!' came the faithful echo from the hearth.
Sarah, with subdued passion, concluded her enterprise and was heard
dealing hardly with the crockery in the kitchen.
'Aren't you going to have any supper left, mamma?' asked Ruby.
'I am not.'
'What a welcome!' cried Amber.
'Is it a time for welcome?'
'A time to dance and a time to weep' quoted Mrs. Velindre, with the
buoyancy given by the knowledge of having made a quotation to the
'I don't see that poor jasper can expect a very cordial welcome,
after his behaviour,' said Catherine.
At that moment Sarah was heard roaring (there was no other possible
description of Sarah's voice when raised), 'The gundogs' supper's
'The dogs get supper — the very dogs!' Ruby spoke obstinately.
'The dogs cat of the crumbs!' said grandmother, again buoyant.
'The dogs will enjoy their supper, won't they, father?' asked Amber.
'Ay, ay. They mop it up.'
'Jasper will be hungry, father.'
But Solomon had gone. He would not be drawn into open hostilities
with his wife.
'Jasper deserves to be hungry,' said grandmother.
'Why must a fellow starve because he's expelled?' cried Peter
angrily. 'If the old fools expel him, it's their lookout; it's not his
'What is jasper's fault,' said Catherine softly, 'is the sin of
denying his Maker.'
Peter was silenced. He was susceptible to physical beauty, and, in
the absence of more obvious charms, those of his cousin held him. The
devout air, the 'preachy' sentence that he would have ridiculed in his
sisters, he admired in Catherine. By one of the ironies of things,
Catherine's religious words and looks were acceptable, not because they
were real, but because she looked and spoke with the eyes and lips of a
courtesan. Not that Catherine was anything but innocent and ignorant;
she was virginal to the point of exasperation; but there was something
cold in the allure of her eyes, something knifelike in her smile, that
recalled the loveless sisterhood. Grandmother spoke again:
'A jealous God!' she said in her most sepulchral voice. 'A jealous
'If he doesn't think there's a God, how can he say there is?' Peter
asked irascibly. It was easy to see that he did not argue for a
principle, but because arguing was an outlet for his volcanic dislike
of things in general.
'Why not just say there is and be comfy?' murmured Ruby sleepily.
Mrs. Darke turned and looked at her, and the look was enough to
wither her. But Ruby was not of the easily wilted souls. She was a
complaisant creature. She returned her mother's look contentedly,
ruminatively, and went on eating apples. Catherine watched her. .
'You eat a great many apples,' she remarked.
'That's why she has such a lovely complexion,' said Amber.
Catherine's eyes, narrow and lustrous, came round upon Amber, who
immediately became conscious of her own bad complexion.
She looked round the room, wishing she could make it more homelike
for Jasper. Dormer was not a comfortable house, though there were
plenty of material necessities. No one need ever be hungry; but no meal
ever partook of the nature of a sacrament. Amber often thought wearily
that here food and drink were only so much solid and liquid matter put
into the body in order to strengthen it so that it should once more
acquire solid and liquid matter. In many a poor home she had seen a
light that never shone at Dormer; seen the chalice lifted in whose
mingled wine is agony and ecstasy; heard those bells pealing out into
the rainy, windy night of time which swing only in the mysterious
belfries of the human heart. Sometimes when she came late through the
village she would see an oblong of crocus light that seemed to come not
only from the cheap lamp and the carefully tended fire. It might be a
young wife who stood in the doorway, while the eldest child, with stern
concentration, wielded the toasting fork. Or an old woman strained her
faded eyes to embrace with their love the old man coming heavily up the
path. When these vanished into the soft glow that was their rightful
country, Amber was filled with a strange, wild longing. Once she talked
of this to Ruby, and she was so wistful that Ruby cried: 'I'll make
you toast, Ambie! Yes, I will — scold who may!' In her childish
way she strove for the inner grace by first attaining the outer sign.
The toast caused trouble, but Ruby had a capacity for obstinacy, and
the war of the toastingfork became an institution. But the Dormer
meals still failed to be sacraments.
Tonight the room looked exactly as usual. Catherine had brought out
one of her hobbies, a device by which ink was sprayed through a wire
comb by a toothbrush on to white cardboard where ferns had been
pinned. The resulting white fern silhouettes were varnished and made
into blotters for bazaars. Catherine pinned the ferns on with great
precision, but Amber preferred Ruby's blotters, which were blotters in
every sense. The ink, in Ruby's hands, seemed to become exceedingly
wet, and the spray, which should have been fine as pepper, ran into
pools. Amber, seeing Ruby's large hands doubtfully poised over the
work, her indeterminate mouth slightly open, sometimes thought that
Catherine — neat, competent, her dark eyes slanted amusedly towards
Ruby — willed her to make blots. Tonight the regular, metallic
brushing worried Amber. She wanted to think about jasper, but the room
was full of small irritating sounds. Listening to them, it seemed to
her that they were the essence of the people that made them — each
little noise the complaint of the spirit within. Peter was whittling
elderwood for whistles, drawing his breath through his teeth meanwhile.
Mrs. Velindre's four steel knitting needles made a nervous undersong to
the brushing. Ruby's regular munching was occasionally drowned by a
rending noise as Mrs. Darke tore rags to stuff cushions. This sound
predominated over the others because of its very relentlessness. Each
tear was a momentary shriek. No one spoke for a long time. They seldom
talked over their evening employments. When Solomon came in, Amber felt
grateful to him because his amusement was a silent one. Every evening
except Sunday he read The Golden Chance, a paper consisting chiefly of
puzzles, graded for varying intellects. Some required the creation of a
complete couplet of verse. Solomon looked askance at these. Others only
needed an intuitive knowledge as to which lady would marry which
gentleman in a line of pictured heads. But by some black decree of fate
Solomon was never able to win a prize. Each Saturday, when he
depressedly ascertained that he had again failed, Amber loved him more
passionately, She resolved that next week he should win if she had to
sit up all night. But she was not good at puzzles. She thought the man
with a boxlike chin would marry the hectic lady; Solomon was sure he
loved the lady with the excessively developed figure; whereas the
perfidious young man really burned for her of the diamonds. 'We might
have known!' Solomon would say gloomily, and Amber always wished that
she wasn't too reserved to throw her arms round him. She used to wish
the same when Peter came home from school as a tiny boy with a bad
report. Tonight she wished it more intensely about Jasper. For he had
made in the eyes of Dormer a signal failure. None of his puzzles had
come right. His riddle remained unguessed. She remembered him as a
small boy having been placed on the stool of repentance by Mrs. Cantlop
— who had taught them all till they outstripped her in knowledge,
which happened early and standing there insecurely in a curious little
yellow tunic, his shoulders humpy with a sense of injustice. When she
remembered Jasper's keen love of fairness, the wild rages that shook
him at the lack of it; when she thought how he would come home
tonight, already frayed to breaking point by the failure of the world
of college to see his side of the question, she felt dismayed. She knew
exactly how they would all look at jasper, how the souls would lean out
from their faces like crowds watching a criminal — grandmother
peering, Mrs. Darke glaring, Ruby and Peter curious, her father
glowering, Catherine hypercritical. Her hemming grew large and wild.
'Father?' she said questioningly.
'Um?' Solomon looked up from the page he was poring over.
'When will he be here?'
The question had been quite different, but the room was too strong
for her; she fell back upon time. Time was a god at Dormer. Clocks
ticked in every room with fury or with phlegmatic dogmatism, and their
striking cut through every conversation. Mrs. Velindre's grandfather
clock was especially dictatorial. At five minutes to the hour it
hiccupped, and, when people had just forgotten this, it gave forth the
hour in deliberate and strident tones that only ceased at five minutes
past, so that it cynically took ten minutes from every sixty in order
to preach the fleetingness of time. Mrs. Darke owned a black marble
timepiece like a tomb, which ticked irritably on the cold black marble
mantelpiece in the diningroom. In the hall was a tall clock which
chimed and would have been pleasant if the chimes had not been slightly
cracked. Sarah possessed a cuckoo clock, which shouted as unemotionally
as if it knew' that here at Dormer its cry did not mean summer. In all
the bedrooms were alarums, bee clocks, carriage clocks. To anyone
standing in the hall on a quiet afternoon, the multiple whisper of all
these timekeepers was very ghostly. They rustled like autumn leaves;
they hushed the living into the sleep of death. They increased Amber's
feeling that Dormer was too full of people; for, where man is massed,
there he seems doomed to live by rule and by time. Those who dare to be
themselves are not so bounded. For the lover time is changeable; a
moment of absence wears on him like a year, and a year with the beloved
is gone like a falling star. For the mystic also time does not exist;
already he dreams into eternity. When man is selfpoised, he awakes
from the hallucinations of time and law, and stealing out into the
silence of his own being hears a voice sound beyond mortality, telling
him that place and time are but bubbles; that the nervous counting of
moments and years is foolish; that he is free and has never been in
prison, since the walls that he thought loomed about him, strong and
opaque, are nothing; that he is, even now, one with the immense freedom
in which these bubbles float.
Solomon looked at the marble clock. 'Not for twenty minutes. Enoch's
slow,' he replied. 'And what 1 say is, the lad should have thought of
the family. What's it matter what he thinks? God's God. The Saviour's
the Saviour. Anyone that denies it — tar 'im and feather 'im!'
Amber was puzzled. She herself would have been willing to assent to
any dogma for the sake of one she loved, for she felt that to sacrifice
the human being who was dear to her for a creed, an idea, would be
criminal. In her, love had a way of flaring up like a beacon, changing
the world and consuming even herself. But she knew that jasper would
regard this as lying. As she recalled his sensitive, scornful face, the
heinousness of what he had done faded before a sense of romance. He had
been out into strange places. He had fought a ghostly warfare on the
shadowy slopes of the soul. Had he lost or won? Lost, was the verdict
of Dormer; but Amber dared to think not.
'I admire Jasper for not being afraid to say what he thinks,' she
said, conscious of temerity.
'Admire!' cried Catherine, with pretty horror.
'Admire!' echoed grandmother subterraneously. Mrs. Darke said
nothing, but her spirit seemed to weigh on them all like an iceberg
silently pressing upon a ship. Her silence was alarming. The less she
said, the more she seemed to say. Sometimes it seemed as if she were a
ventriloquist, and talked through her Mother. SO when Amber, almost in
tears, beating herself against the blank wall of their imperviousness
as the winter robins would beat against the Dormer windows in terror at
finding themselves in prison, cried: 'Yes! Admire! It's brave of him to
tell the truth!' it was grandmother who looked bleakly across the
room, gripping her needles of polished steel with fingers of polished
bone, and said: 'Jasper, until he repents, is damned.' Her voice, with
its metallic lack of emotion, seemed to hack the air and leave it
jagged. Solomon breathed stertorously over his puzzle; even Ruby felt
the tension, and sighed. No one contradicted grandmother. The room,
with its heavy shadows, fell again into silence.
Sarah's activities had died away in the kitchen, and the house lay
dumb under the night. To Amber it seemed that its quiet had the quality
of the spider's, mutely awaiting the faintly vocal fly. As she thought
it, a soft regular sound became audible, the fateful sound of a horse
trotting. She sprang up with a defensive feeling and went into the
hall. As she pulled open the heavy door, the voice of the stream,
swollen by the autumn rains, smote upon her suddenly, full of sad
foreboding. It was deepened by the low, sonorous sound of the Four
Waters, half a mile away a monotonous and beelike note that seemed to
have been struck before the beginning of time. Dormer, in its cup at
the bases of the hills, was always full of damp air and the sound of
water. Besieged by this grievous music — and what is there in nature
sadder than the lament of falling water? — she felt as if she had
opened the door not to the night and the stream, but on to a future
full of doubt and dread, veiled in mist.
She went back into the hall. Jasper could not be here for a few
minutes, and she found the light reassuring. From the diningroom came
Mrs. Velindre's voice reading passages from The Lion of the Tribe of
Judah, a paper which dealt exclusively with the vexed question of
the lost tribes. She persisted in regarding the Jews not as one of the
finest nations the world has seen, but as people requiring a
missionary. This paper was her spiritual and intellectual fodder, and
she read it nightly, with praiseworthy perseverance, to a totally
indifferent family. She also read it to Sarah while she lit her fire on
winter mornings, and Sarah had been heard to say that 'if the tribes
must be daft and mislay themselves, she wished they'd mislay themselves
for good and all, and not like hunt the thimble — no sooner lost than
it's werrit, werrit, werrit to find it.' But it was useless for Sarah
to rattle the fireirons; useless for the family to talk in raised
voices; for grandmother had a voice of great carrying power when she
liked, and she was not afraid of using it. The good seed was sown.
Tonight it was being sown. Jasper's arrival was unmarked, whether by
design or accident Amber did not know. She opened the door again and
heard the wheels suddenly muffled as the gig turned into the sandy
drive. She had put on her best frock, a white cashmere, oldfashioned
in make, and she showed as a thin, insignificant figure between the
large brown hall and the large blue night.
So deeply had her genius for loving been stirred by jasper's forlorn
condition — she knew he would be unspeakably forlorn at Dormer; so
greatly had the innate chivalry of the individualist (who believes in
the essential beauty that is beneath the froth of action, speech and
motive) been aroused by hearing the absent abused, that it almost
seemed as if she might triumph over the constrictions of Dormer and
express herself to Jasper.
'My dear! oh, my dear!' she whispered, as Enoch, with a 'Be good,
pony!' drew up at the door, and jasper jumped out.
He kissed her perfunctorily, looked restlessly past her into the
hall, and said:
Amber, alone in the porch, twisting her hands together with a
crushing sense of failure and futility, murmured with a kind of
smouldering passion, 'Oh, I wish I were his mother!'
She was realizing the perpetual denial of spiritual truth by crude
fact. She was feeling that it was of no avail that she loved Jasper
maternally, protectingly, perceptively. He would neither expect nor
welcome these things from her. From Catherine he would expect them, but
would he get them? From Mrs. Darke he would not even expect them. Amber
raged, but her rage consumed herself only. For in the House of Dormer,
with its hollowechoing chambers, ascendancy is given to bodily and not
spiritual ties; to propinquity and not affinity; to the shout of the
crowd and not the faint, far voice of the soul.
Jasper disappeared in the gloomy doorway, and Amber, with the
secondsight that always comes to those who ponder anxiously upon a
loved one, knew, at least in part, what he must endure; she guessed
also that her conflict for his happiness with the personality of the
House, with the thing that hung, like a haunting demon, from the old
rooftree, would be long and hard and would perhaps bring defeat in the
Chapter 3. JASPER COMES HOME
Jasper stood in the diningroom doorway and thought that the room
looked like a cave — a dark cave from which anything might emerge,
devils or angels. As he thought this he was gazing at Catherine. As a
little boy, he had adored the tall white resurrection angel on its
golden background in Amber's Sunday book. He had been unusually fond of
church and of Bible pictures, and, while Peter was busy in the kitchen,
salting 'the raisins with which Sarah enlivened her Sabbath, he would
be wrapt in contemplation of the resurrection angel. Now, having
discarded angels, he needed something to put in their place. His mind
had not yet cast away the old religious phraseology. Perhaps the
hardest thing from which to break free in being born to the life of
individual honesty is this protecting caul of ancient phrases and
observances. To Jasper's temperament these were peculiarly dear. At his
first communion, when the Rector had read the plaintive 'In the same
night that He was betrayed . . .'Jasper had sobbed, and Mrs. Velindre,
who was there in an armour of solemnity that frightened him, had eyed
him suspiciously, thinking that he had a secret sin.
The dark sweetness of eucharistic dawns, the spiritual vitality Of
Christianity's best ideals — these he had resigned. But there, in the
restricted lamplight, with demure, downbent head and bright hair,
bound in the manner of religious art, was Catherine Velindre, tangible
and beautiful. Her white hands, just plump enough to be graceful, moved
to and fro quietly. Her shoulders, which sloped a good deal beneath her
dark silk blouse, gave her an air of fragility and gentleness. It
seemed to Jasper that her face broke upon him like a radiant landscape
seen from a forest, or a flower thrown from a dark window. He had
always been rather sentimental about Catherine. That Peter also was,
though only by fits and starts, encouraged him. So also did the fact
that his elders thought it 'very suitable' that she should marry Peter;
for Catherine possessed a small independent income which would help the
Dormer property, to which it was arranged that Peter should succeed,
Jasper having chosen the Church. Her money was a barrier in Jasper's
eyes. He wished she were a beggar and he the lord of the manor. He
thought her face would be adorable in a ragged setting, like the
crescent moon on a wild night. He had always been eager to be her
lover, but tonight he began to care for her in an intenser way. He put
her in the empty niche in his spiritual life and took her for his
guardian angel, who was to lead him along hard paths by the fascination
of sheer whiteness. She would smile down at him in his tourney for
Truth; she would be proud of him when he gave up material welfare for
He had an idea that they would all be proud of him, though possibly
deprecating his views. During the uproar at the training college, which
followed his outburst, during the sleepless nights when he mourned his
cherished future (he had wanted to be a scholarly, cultured, yet
practical vicar of some huge, wicked parish which he was to convert) in
the midst of exasperating misconstruction of his motives; in all these
he had comforted himself with the thought that Catherine, and in a
lesser degree the rest of the home people, would know that his motives
had been of the highest. He had thought that they would all agree that
honesty was the one course open to him. So little do we know the
personalities with which we are most intimate!
Jasper looked very handsome, very vital, very young, and therefore
very pathetic, standing in the dusk beyond the furthest lampray. His
eyes dwelt eagerly and dreamily on Catherine, until he suddenly
remembered that he had not, in Dormer phraseology, 'been the rounds.'
The curious coldness of his reception was rather lost upon him, he was
so dazzled by the halo he had just created for Catherine, the beauty of
which he ascribed entirely to her, and not at all to his own
Mrs. Darke silently suffered his embrace; but so she always did. Ruby
gave him one of her indifferent, wet kisses. Peter said 'Hullo!' which
was, for him, demonstrative. Then, just as he reached Catherine, his
father looked up and said the sentence he had hammered out as being
'I'd have been better pleased to see you for a better reason.'
Grandmother raised her head, and Amber, tearful in the hall, thought
that she looked, with her small, bright eyes, like a snake about to
'Why hast thou brought down my grey hairs?' queried grandmother,
rather inappositely, for her ringlets were as black as sloes. This was
by courtesy of a certain mixture called 'Uzit,' or through lack of the
emotions, for the emotions turn more heads grey than does old age. It
is not the Isouds and the Teresas of the world that conserve their
youth, but the Aphrodites.
'I've done nothing to be ashamed of,' said Jasper. Mrs. Darke looked
'You have sinned against the Holy Ghost!'
'Ghost — ghost!' muttered Mrs. Velindre.
'There's no such person,' said Jasper, defiant because he was alarmed
at his own daring.
'Blasphemer!' Mrs. Darke eyed her son with what an onlooker, who did
not know their relationship, would have called venom.
Jasper stuck out his chin; it was long, like his mother's.
'Blasphemer against what? Sinner against what?' he asked with
exasperation. 'You can't blaspheme against a lie.'
Solomon flung The Golden Chance across the room and banged his
fist on the table.
'Silence, sir!' he shouted.
'Father,' said Jasper, his voice shaking with passion and
disappointment, 'I won't be silent. It's lying to say I believe the
idiotic hotchpotch of the churches.'
'Silence!' roared Solomon again.
'Oh, why does Jasper rub them up the wrong way?' whispered Amber.
'I won't be treated like a naughty boy!' said Jasper furiously.
'A naughty boy! Yes! A very naughty boy!' said grandmother. 'When I
was young, caning was the cure.'
Grandmother had been brought up on 'Cautionary Tales for the Young.'
'Yes, a good stout stick'll find God for most of 'em,' remarked
Solomon, adding with an air of great reasonableness, 'God's God.'
'Oh, can't you understand? Won't you understand?' Jasper's voice was
'We understand,' said Mrs. Darke, 'that you must have done something
wicked and don't want to believe.'
Jasper's lips quivered. So they thought all his spiritual conflicts
mere fleshly lusts! This misconception irritated him as much as it hurt
'You're not angry with me because I don't believe in God,' he said,
'but because I'm different from you.'
He had hit upon the truth. What they hated him for — and Mrs.
Darke's feeling, like Mrs. Velindre's, did reach a silent
vindictiveness — was that he had disparted himself from the gelatinous
mass of the social ego, as the one live moth from a heap of dead larvæ.
Their quarrel with him was wholly material, though it was disguised as
a spiritual warfare. (Grandmother often referred to herself as one of a
militant band warring against 'Midian,' an impersonal and mysterious
foe as to whose identity no one ever evinced the slightest curiosity.)
It was the inchoate obstructing formative power; the inert pressing
down upon life. They were not aware of it, but Jasper saw it, and it
made him miserable. If he could have felt that his father and mother
and grandmother and all the hostile faces he glimpsed beyond them were
really fighting for an ideal, however dim and rudimentary, he would
have been able to respect them, and even like them, though they tore
him to pieces. There would also have been the chance that they were
right, that they might convince him. He would have liked to be
convinced of some of the things they professed to believe. Failing
that, a definite adversary, a hope of either victory or defeat, would
have been welcome. What more could a young man ask? Jasper asked it,
but he did not get it. An amorphous mass is not definite; it gives no
hope of anything but blind, aimless struggling. He was horrified at his
sudden vision of the vast crowdegoism which says: 'You are not as we,
so we crush you.' He felt this in grandmother's eyes when she gazed
owlishly upon him out of her twilight. Still more he felt it reaching
out to him from his mother's mind. She had no need to speak or look. It
was enough that she was in the room; the silent air grew sinister with
an unspoken threat.
'Different?' said Solomen slowly. 'Ay, you are, more's the pity.'
'Well father, that's how the world gets on. You go a step higher than
your father. I go a step higher than you.'
'Conceited ass!' Peter spoke roughly. He was annoyed that Jasper
could talk above his head.
Jasper turned on him furiously, and their eyes met across Catherine's
bent head with mutual antipathy. Jasper despised Peter as a reactionary
and a lover of the fleshpots of orthodoxy. Peter disliked Jasper
because he had more imagination than himself. Each, feeling the
atmosphere of the house lowering over him, mistrusted the other. Left
to themselves, they would probably have been interested in each other's
differences. At least, they would have been tolerant. But an inimical
atmosphere creates quarrels.
Catherine raised her eyes to Jasper's.
'Who put those dreadful ideas into your head, Jasper?' she asked.
'You can't have thought of them yourself.'
He looked at her pleadingly with his brilliant hazel eyes. As she
watched him, Peter slowly lost his lustre for her. Yes. Jasper was
distinguished. There was something in his face that had not been there
a few months ago, that was not in any of the other faces round the
table. She could not exactly name it, not understanding that it was
the essence of Jasper's being unveiling itself to her. What she did see
very clearly was that he would have been a great success in the Church.
'Not a miserable little backstairs curate,' she reflected, 'nor a fat
fool like Ernest Swyndle. He would have been asked everywhere. He would
have ended with a bishopric. Idiot! Theatrical idiot! He shall
end with a bishopric. He shall give up this nonsense, or else —' the
tip of her tongue just moistened the corners of her pointed mouth—'or
else he shall be punished. He shall suffer.'
'You are too nice for such silly ideas,' she said. 'Tell me who
talked to you about them?'
'I thought things out for myself,' said Jasper patiently. To anyone
else he would have been haughty. 'But I have got a friend whose views
are in most ways the same.
'Is he expelled, too?'
Jasper shrank into himself at her tone. Then he reflected that
Catherine could never be intentionally unkind, and pulled himself
'It's no disgrace to be expelled for an idea. He would have been glad
to be expelled with me, only he was a lecturer, not a student. He left
of his own accord because he disagreed with the Head.'
'Everything. He hates all the things the Head likes, only he keeps
his temper better than I do. He's older.'
'Age always tells!' cried Grandmother. 'Quality and age go together.'
'A fine chap!' Jasper flushed with enthusiasm. 'He's all for the
'Anarchists!' Solomon was irate almost to apoplexy. 'Look you, my
lad, no more of that. Your thoughts are your own; if you want to be
damned, you will be damned—'
'Be damned,' said grandmother, but without expletive intention.
'—But I can and will stop you fouling the house with such talk.
Board and lodging you can have, but no more argufying. Behave and stay,
or argufy and go. See?'
Jasper saw only too well that life at Dormer was going to be
unbearable. He was in the whitehot missionary and martyr stage. His
message might be one of negation, but it was none the less precious to
'I won't be muzzled!' he cried violently.
'Mad dogs always are,' remarked Peter.
Jasper glared at him.
'I'll go!' he said. 'I'll go clean away and never see any of you
again.' He choked. The first crepuscular oncoming of the fog of
misunderstanding and misconstruction is very hard to bear. When the
blackness has engulfed and numbed the soul, rebellion dies and the soul
sinks into painless despair.
Catherine laid down her comb and toothbrush, straightened herself,
and looked at Jasper. It would not suit her at all for him to go away.
How could she, if he went away, save his soul? She rested her chin on
her hands and let her eyes absorb him. He was, for the moment,
saturated with, engulfed in her will. He was fascinated and rather
alarmed. She had never looked at him like that before. No one seemed to
observe them, all being intent on their own interests. Mrs. Darke was
tearing a piece of linen in a way that was reminiscent of a cat tearing
feathers out of a bird. Catherine's eyes remained steady, and Jasper,
as if drawn by a cord, slowly leaned toward her till, with elbows
resting on the table, he almost touched her.
'Cathy!' he whispered. 'Cathy?'
His lips moved and remained parted. The first feverish glow of
passion swept over his face, leaving it troubled.
'Stay — with me!' she whispered.
'I can't, I can't!'
'I want you.'
'They'll drive me mad if I stay.'
Once more, Catherine submerged him under her gaze. The room was quite
silent at the moment.
Jehovah!' said grandmother suddenly. She believed in ejaculatory
prayer, and her style was coloured by her literature.
'Tch!' said Catherine irritably. But Jasper had heard nothing. I want
you to stay more than anything in the world, Jasper. Will you?'
'I'll stay if I die for it,' whispered Jasper.
He knew that there was nothing more solid, iron and soul destroying
than an inimical atmosphere. It kills more quickly than fire or sword.
It is more ferocious than a wild beast. To live among people who have a
false and unfriendly estimate of one's character, who misconstrue
motives, against whose changeless prejudice the wretched spirit flings
itself in vain — this is a refinement of torture with which few
sympathize. Then Catherine smiled up at him and the room seemed to grow
peaceful again. The sudden outbreak, thunderous and threatening, had
sunk to calm. He knew it would come round afresh in the manner of
tempest; for the people of Dormer could see only one point of view —
their own. This is the hotbed from which strife, national and
individual, always springs — narrow mentality, shrivelled emotions,
overweighted with physical strength, brooded upon by a still narrower
mentality, that of the past. This, because it is effete, is considered
immortal, and has been glorified by man into a god of vengeance.
Jasper, on his side, had the roughness of the conscious outlaw, the
élan of the growing plant, the necessitated fierceness of a creature
outnumbered. He could see their point of view, but he was afraid to put
off his armour of combativeness, and if he had done so there was no
common ground where they could have met, for the family never would see
his. His virtues were crimes in their eyes, his hopes a madman's
'Ring for prayers!' said Mrs. Darke suddenly.
Peter plunged at the bell. Ruby yawned. Solomon woke up, and in the
kitchen 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' came to an abrupt end.
Chapter 4. NIGHT IN DORMER
During prayers Amber could think of nothing but Jasper's footsteps
pacing backwards and forwards in his bedroom, which was above the
dining-room. Long after everyone had gone to bed she stood by her
window, trying to gather courage to go and comfort Jasper. As a
consciously plain woman she was deprecatory in action; as a sensitive
woman she was tender to the reserves of others. She knew Jasper would
be awake, going up and down like a caged creature. It was pathetic that
he should feel so deeply a thing that seemed to her a trifle. That he
should be homesick for a God and not able to find a God — this was
tragic, terrible. But to-night the main point had been simply that he
was expelled. On that everyone had harped. About that Jasper was
defiant and wretched. Because of that he was tramping his room. She
would go to him and tell him how greatly she admired him and
sympathized with him. But no! The reserve that chained them all at
Dormer and that often binds members of large families (so that the
legends of chains rattling and fetters clanking in their haunted houses
seem to have an allegorical significance) held her now a prisoner. Yet
she could not sleep. The strange clashing of antagonistic temperaments,
more obvious to-day than ever before; intuitive fear for Jasper, since
she saw that his nerves were inadequate to the life before him — these
things troubled her. She knew, because she loved him, that Jasper was
one of those who need the woolly wrappings of convention — small,
ordered thoughts, bounded desires, mediocre faiths, safe, communal
rights. These would have kept his too sensitive spirit and easily
frayed nerves warm and intact. She knew also that Jasper's tragedy lay
in the fact that he could not have these safe things. His passionate
love of truth sliced them away and left him shivering in the cold air
of individual effort; committed him to wild adventures in quest of God,
to insensate hopes and black despairs. Jaded by these Alpine
wanderings, be was unfit to bear the strain of life at Dormer, and was,
as he once said with bitterness, 'any man's fool.'
Amber looked out into the chill moonlight. On the silver lawn there
lay, black and sharp as carved ebony, the shadow of the House of
Dormer. Its two heavy, rounded gables of dark red brick topped with
grey stone, the solid, massed chimneys and the weather-vane (a gilded
trumpet supposed to be blown by the winds) were painted, large and
far-spreading, on the grass. The house gave a sense of solidity even by
its shadows. From outside came the muttering and crying of the weir and
the Four Waters. Through this continual plaint broke, at times, the
mutterings of the herds that peopled the low, misty meadows, their dim
shapes moving portentously in the vague moonlight. Their inarticulate
malaise with autumn or the night, with their unknown destiny or the
quality of their herbage, burst forth at times into a smothered bellow,
an incipient roar, broken and muffled as a tide on rocks. Sometimes one
would startle the air with a high note that was almost a shriek;
sometimes there would rise a deep, low chorus akin to the melody of
milking-time. Never, for long together, was the round, hollow Dormer
valley without some rumour of their calling, like the herds of
humankind, out of their tentative darkness, for they knew not what. The
mist, which lay lightly on the fields, thickened along the stream into
an opaque curtain, standing about the domain of Dormer like the bands
of an old enchantment. Mist always haunted Dormer. Sometimes the house
stood knee-deep in it, like a cow in water; sometimes it was submerged
far below, like a shell on the sea floor, the mist — white, weighty,
stirless — brimming nearly to the tops of the surrounding hills. At
these times, when the morning cocks crew sharp and sweet from the
rickyard, the plaintive sadness of their thin music pricked Amber to
tears. It was as if a city long dead, for infinite ages forgotten, were
summoned from ancient oblivion by a resurrection trumpet so faint and
inward-sounding that only the eager spirit heard, while the clay-bound
sleepers never knew that the moon had slipped down behind the western
hill and the grey world flushed for dawn.
Amber listened to the faint night-sounds that came and went beneath
the singing of the water and the grumbling of the herds. There was the
sea-murmur of the woods that climbed the hills and chanted in winter a
song more mysterious, though of less volume, than that of summer. There
was the lisp and rasp of dry leaves that came about the house on the
doubtful night-wind. There was the sibilant whisper of large-leaved ivy
that clothed the walls in heavy layers. And within the house, from
their bedroom across the landing, Amber could hear the voices of her
father and mother uplifted in their evening prayer. They always said
their prayers aloud, perhaps for the sake of example, and their voices
— lugubrious and penetrating — seemed to Amber to issue from their
room like her father's setters from their kennel, dour, passionless,
acquisitive. She felt shocked at herself for having had the idea, but
with each rise in their inflexion the resemblance grew more distinct.
At last they were still, and silence fell upon the house. Amber waited,
hesitated, sought for some pretext for going to Jasper.
The time crept on to midnight. She opened her door, and straightway
it seemed that the house was alive with noise, muted, but none the less
noise. The echoing whisper of the clocks seemed very loud and full of
meaning. The ticking of the one in the hall was like the falling of
heavy drops of water. Then the grandfather clock hiccupped, and in a
few minutes a storm of sound came up and along the passages. All the
striking clocks gave out the hour, and from the kitchen — far down, as
if from a cavern — the hoarse cuckoo shouted. Afterwards, in the
comparative silence, as if in satiric jest, began a new ticking — the
ticking of the death-watches. The old walls, hollowed and tunnelled by
rats and mice, were so full of these little beetles that nobody took
any notice of them except Sarah, who put cotton-wool in her ears
nightly. But this was more than half in plain physical fear of earwigs,
which she thought would penetrate to her brain. She had even been heard
to say (in daylight) that 'death-watches were poor feckless things,
traipsing and yammering like a blind beggar with a stick.' As Amber
listened to these eerie tickings she was reminded of the sound of
grandmother's watch at night, and of the curious ebony watch-stand on
which it hung. She thought whimsically of all the death-watches ticking
busily, each on a miniature stand, carved with an hour-glass and a
As if at the signal of midnight, there now began a new sound, more
disturbing and grotesque than the noise of the death-watches — a human
stir and murmur, probably started by the sound of the clocks. But the
sounds were those of sleep, not of waking life. It was as if the
spirits of those in the house, slumbering during the body's activity,
half awoke, and tried to pierce the silence around them. Amid a
continual stir of restless movement, tossing and turning and creaking
of beds, there began a low murmur from which at intervals a stray voice
would emerge. Amber could hear Mrs. Darke talking, as she generally did
in sleep, with a ceaseless monotony of self-expression. It was the
reaction from her unnatural waking life. She who preserved all day an
iron control of word and look and impulse committed herself all night.
But even in unconsciousness she spoke with characteristic reserve, in a
voice expressionless and secret. No one outside the room could ever
have distinguished a word, and her husband, who might have heard, slept
heavily and stertorously, his snores resounding through the walls. Amid
Mrs. Darke's indistinct babble and Solomon's snores, Amber could hear
Peter, whose door was ajar, grinding his teeth. This came at more or
less regular intervals, and at other intervals, from the far end of the
passage, came grandmother's voice, thin but awe-inspiring, crying
'Gideon!' and 'Jehovah!' Only from Catherine's room no sound ever came.
Amber wondered what she herself contributed to this concert, and was
smitten with silent, irrepressible laughter. But she became serious
again when Ruby cried out in some dream terror. There was something
wrong here, she felt, something sinister and unwholesome. Lost voices
came along the tortuous passages, uplifted as if in complaint from amid
murky dreams, and as if in baffled longing for some undiscovered good.
Even so the nations sleeping, drugged by tradition, among the bones of
their ancestors, stir restlessly and utter vague scattered cries,
mutterings, a low lament, a sudden far shriek. The midnight house
seemed like a graveyard, where the tremendous 'I say unto thee, arise!'
had been spoken and then revoked; where the dead stirred and uttered
strange plaints and groanings, but could not cast aside their cerements
nor rise up into the light of morning. Under the panic of the thought
that they were like people in a vault, and that she and Jasper were the
only ones alive, Amber fled along the passages to Jasper's room. She
heard as she came near, with great reassurance, his restless tramping,
comfortingly commonplace. Its very wrathfulness and irregularity
brought relief. He seemed to her like the watchman in some ancient
lightless town, where goblin hosts crush in from every side upon the
shelving air, which strains and is fissured under the weight of evil
until, to the terrified people in their nightmare chambers under the
threatened roofs, comes the watchman's voice, querulous with reality,
telling them that the night is cold and rainy.
Amber, with her mouse-coloured hair and her face grey with weariness,
looked, as she stood in the doorway, wrapped in her brown
dressing-gown, like the priestess of some occult worship. Jasper did
not see her. At the moment when she came in he was kneeling in front of
a little table on which he had placed a photograph of Catherine with a
vase of flowers in front of it. In the shock of this discovery, Amber's
face at first expressed disgusted surprise, then, as she saw that he
had, from very exhaustion, fallen into a doze on his knees, her look
melted into pitiful love. At such times the intensity of her expression
was so great that the outer self melted, like the crust of rock when
fire breaks through, and was fused in the inner self. No matter what
the face is, when the young spirit shines there exultant, it will be
beautiful. For the spirit, the centre of the ego, is eternally vital,
youthful, free. It has a thrilling life, never dreamed of by the
earth-nourished body. So Amber's face in these rare moments was
beautiful as are few faces in this world of pale emotions. For Amber
Darke was something of a mystic, though not exactly a religious mystic,
nor that wilder, sadder creature, an earth-mystic. Sometimes she was
deeply stirred by the beauty of Nature, but she did not live for it
alone, as does the true child of the weeping god. Sometimes it was
music that stirred her, or a stray sentence from the Bible, or the
stars, or poetry; but most often it was the sudden rapture or the
sudden pain of loving. Love would leap up in her at a chance touch of
pathos in the most unpromising people. At these times she left the
shallows of beauty that is heard and seen, and slipped out into the
deep sea where are no tides of change and decay, no sound, no colour,
but only an essence. In those waters nothing is but the spirit. She
alone knows the immortal waste. She only, in a voice lamenting and
sweet, cries across it as the curlew cries in spring. She only,
circling above its darkling peace, eyes its mystery that haply she may
Amber stood and looked at Jasper for a moment, then softly went away.
She was bitterly disappointed to find Catherine thus enshrined as a
divinity, when she herself had only asked to be as a servant. It was
grievous to see her perception and love refused and herself rejected
for one whom, she could not help thinking, had little to give. But
stronger than her disappointment was her need of doing something
practical for Jasper. For the mystic, whatever received opinion may
say, is always practical. He arrives at his ideas more quickly than
others, reaching the centre while they grope in a circle. And to grasp
the essential is to be triumphantly practical. The world never credits
the mystic with quick sight in mundane things, forgetting that, for his
long gazing into infinity, better sight is necessary than for grasping
obvious and clumsy facts. The mystic understands sex better than the
sensualist. He can analyse malice, greed, hypocrisy, better than those
who swim obscurely in their own black passions. A saint and not a devil
can best unravel the psychology of evil.
Amber's heart said: 'Warmth and comfort!' She remembered that Jasper
had probably had no food all day. With careful haste she went down the
shallow, creaking stairs, followed by sighs, indistinct words,
coughings desolate as the coughing of sheep on the wide moors, welcomed
in the hall by the stern ticking of grandmother's clock and its
growling, which was caused by some defect in its striking arrangements.
In the kitchen the cuckoo defiantly announced the hour of one. This
big, shadow-ridden place always filled Amber with panic at night. It
was all so cavernous; the house seemed so haunted by broken voices. She
hastened her preparations, hearing the autumn wind breathing beneath
the door with the soft, long-drawn melancholy with which a horse sighs.
When she got back to Jasper, he was tramping up and down again, and
the photograph was put away.
'Hullo! What d'you want?' he asked, in the unfriendly tone of those
in stress of mind. But Amber knew that beneath the frown and the
gruffness was a being who was very glad of sympathy. She saw his spirit
like a little weeping boy, round-shouldered with vexation, backing into
the darkest corner to avoid condolence, while watching with a
concealedly eager eye for the following of love, for the outstretched
hand and the carefully ordinary voice. She knew Jasper valued these
things, for she had found by chance in his handkerchief drawer,
carefully treasured, a letter she had once slipped under his door when
he was in durance after falling foul of grandmother. She had comforted
him then, so she could comfort him now; for whose nerves are more
sensitive in trouble, who is more unreachable than a boy? She made a
cheerful wood fire, put the kettle on and spread the little meal on two
chairs. Jasper, interested in spite of himself, walked about in a
moodiness that showed signs of disappearing when the ingratiating
scents of tea and frizzled bacon filled the room.
'Now, dear!' announced Amber, conscious of recklessness, for in the
atmosphere of Dormer endearments seemed out of place.
Warmed and comforted, Jasper spoke. Amber waited, breathless, for the
long-desired talk about the events at college from Jasper's point of
view, for a word of illumination as to his own ideas; for — possibly
— touch of affection for herself. She loved both boys; but Jasper she
'Don't you think,' said he, 'that Cathy's an angel?'
That Amber did not burst into tears argued a certain strength of
character in her. That she lied cheerfully, heartily, and immediately,
proclaimed her a great lover. For if there was a person on earth that
Amber mistrusted, saw through and feared, it was Catherine Velindre.
'So noble and above common things!' went on the adorer, chumbling
bacon with wholesome relish.
Amber clenched her hands.
'Anyway, he likes his supper,' she told herself. 'You are very fond
of Catherine, I know,' she said aloud.
The room was comfortably reassuring, Amber receptive, but not
inquisitive (curiosity is a weed-killer to young confidence). The
barriers came down.
'Fond, Ambie! Fond! I'd die a thousand deaths for her. I'm not good
enough even to be her friend, and yet —, His voice went from him in an
undignified husk, for it is only in grand opera and in bird-land that
the lover's inmost heart is spoken with unwavering tunefulness. In the
daily life of man huskiness hovers round the gates of expression with
humiliating insistence, and the helpful lozenge is not always handy.
'Jam?' queried Amber practically. 'You like strawberry.'
Jam acting as a demulcent, Jasper took up his tale.
'I wish we were back in the old days, and I could gallop away with
her colours on my helmet and tilt with everybody in her honour!'
His face was exalted, flushed with the embarrassment of
self-expression, his dark hair ruffled. He looked younger than ever,
and he always looked too young for his years. The idealist, if the
world lets him alone, keeps his childhood until he dies. He only loses
it if some great emotional tempest ravages his being to the depths.
Amber thought: 'He looks like a dear fluffy chicken!' She said: 'I'm
glad you can't. You'd get so knocked about. They always did.'
'I want to do hard things for her.'
'It seems to me that you have something quite hard enough to do —
living here at Dormer with Peter put above you, and not quarrelling
with him or with Ernest. Not giving in and yet not arguing, nor
irritating them all.'
'O Lord! What a life!'
'If I were you, I should go out into the world.'
'If she came too!' His beautiful eyes had such a look of rhapsody and
blazing passion that Amber, flushing, turned away. The old slumbering
longings, the old unconquerable desires flamed up within her anew. No!
She would never have a lover. Catherine, with her beauty; Ruby, with
her abundant health — lovers were for them. But who would ever seek in
Amber Darke, so still, of so sad-coloured an exterior, the creature of
fire and tears that could feed a man's heart with faery food and call
him into Paradise with songs wild as those of hawks on the untrodden
'Of course,' said Jasper, 'you don't know how a chap feels. But to me
it would be heaven just to pile up everything I had in front of her—
if I had anything worth giving.'
'She'd take it,' said Amber.
'And hell would be — her misunderstanding me.'
'You think she understands you now?'
'Oh yes! She doesn't approve, but she understands. She's got such a
lot of sympathy.'
'As long as she believes in my motives, everybody else can go hang.'
'I believe in you, Jasper.'
'Do you?' His tone was grateful, but indifferent.
Amber sighed audibly.
'Would Catherine, now that they all think you so wicked, marry you?'
'Marry me? Marry me?' Jasper tasted the delicious commonplace phrase
as if it were now honey. 'Marry me?'
All the flutes of the morning were playing fantasias in his head. How
soft and persuasive they were! How sweet and maddening! They were like
the birds in Dormer forest when the April madness had them under its
spell. And Amber, commonplace, sisterly, dull, Amber had started them.
He looked at her ruminatively. He had never, until now, thought of
Catherine as his wife. He had dwelt upon her with the selfless
imagination of a poet's first love. Amber's stray words had altered his
whole point of view, as stray words will. Catherine Velindre would
never again find the completely malleable metal with which she had been
accustomed to deal. A hardening alloy had been introduced, and
Catherine's clever fingers would find their work no longer easy.
Despondency fell again on Jasper.
'No,' he said. 'I don't believe she ever would.'
He was once more wrapped in reserve; the flutes had made him shy,
aloof. What should Amber know of them? What could she know of the music
of passion? The cries of the Venus-berg, so shrill and fierce, were not
for sisters' ears.
'And you wouldn't change your views, Jasper? Not even for her?'
Jasper's chin came out. Immediately it seemed to Amber that her
mother bad impinged on their talk.
'No! Not even for her!' said Jasper. His face took on a sombre and
forbidding look — a look that boded ill for his happiness. Then his
'But she wouldn't ask it. She's too large-minded. Although she's very
religious, she'll understand that my way is right for me. She'll be
'Like Ernest!' Amber said it with a smile.
'Tolerant, great-aunt, tolerant!' quoted Jasper. His mimicry of
Ernest was so inimitable that Amber had to stifle her laughter in the
pillow. She had a rare capacity for mirth. Her aspect of controlled
gleefulness was continually apt, without notice, to break out into
laughter as violent as that of Isoud of fragrant
memory, who, as the naïve chronicle remarks, 'laughed till she fell
down.' This whole-hearted laughter and the irrepressible humour behind
it had stood her in good stead at Dormer. She had been known, in
moments of grave family crisis, when the atmosphere was heavy and
electric, and all minds were sternly exercised over a delinquent, to
collapse into helpless and infectious laughter. Grandmother would speak
of 'the crackling of thorns,' and Mrs. Darke would say, in her
green-ice tone, 'I hate a laugher!' Catherine would merely look pained.
'You know Ernest's coming next week?' asked Amber.
Jasper nodded glumly.
'And I think, I'm afraid, he wants to marry Ruby.'
'Great Heavens! Can't it be stopped?' Jasper spoke with such real
disgust, as if at something unnatural and indecent, that Amber was
again overwhelmed in laughter. But her eyes grew mournful when she
thought of Ruby.
'I'm afraid not,' she said. 'You see, they all want it, and Ruby's
such a child. She thinks of things like rings and dresses.'
'Don't you?' Jasper was momentarily curious about his elder sister.
'No: She's above that.'
What Cathy was not above remained unspoken; for at that moment the
cocks began to crow down in the misty morning fields, and within the
house the passing of time became audible, for the clocks struck in
every room, and it was as if Time's robe had rustled.
'I must go,' said Amber. 'Sarah will be down soon.'
When she had taken back the supper tray and regained her own room,
she looked at her face in the mirror. It gazed back at her, twenty
years older for the night of watching. For perceptiveness and emotional
beauty, even the gift of humour, must be paid for to the last drop of
vitality. Hence the poet very often dies in early youth, the lover of
humanity is smitten by disease, those who would be the Christs of the
world have 'faces marred more than any man's.'
'Ah, well! what does it matter?' she thought. 'Nobody notices what I
Yet the irony of the fact that, in growing nearer to the spiritual
ideal hinted by her own face in childhood, she had lost the physical
expression of it, was bitter. The spirit, after all its wild burning,
had left her face not gaunt and riven (she would not have minded that)
but commonplace. Her eyes should have been, according to poetic
justice, clear pools for God and His tremulous retinue of shadowy woes
and glimmering joys to lean across and watch their delicate
reflections. But they were dull and sad. This is often so with minds of
peculiar strength or tenderness. The world lays such heavy burdens on
them that something must break. The soul is impregnable, so the body
breaks. The people whose eyes are clear pools are usually those who,
being completely vacant in soul, put all their vitality into physical
well-being and have a good digestion.
She leant from her window into the twisted, ancient pear tree that
grew round it, watching the yellow leaves floating, hesitant, to the
wet, brown soil; hearing the late pears, left ungathered a day too
long, falling with faint thuds, as their stalks, severed by damp and
the slight frost, gave way one by one.
'I must tell Enoch,' she thought. For out-of-doors Enoch was the
providence of the family, as Sarah was within. Amber lay down, but she
could not sleep, seeing ahead of Jasper the rocks he could not see, the
inevitable conflict that must arise when two entities wish to go linked
through life, but are attracted to opposite paths.
'I wish I didn't know Catherine quite so well,' thought Amber.
'Perhaps I misjudge her.'
But cold, smooth as a well-cut mirror, changeless as fate,
Catherine's personality floated up before her. She heard the clash of
wills, the baying of the pack of bitter thoughts, warped loves,
disillusionments, despairs. The scene was laid for tragedy — not
necessarily overt tragedy, but a drama of the spirit, more devastating,
more searing. How was she, with her small strength, to avert it?
She heard Sarah wrestling with the bolts and shutters, and knew that
the day had begun. From the pear tree came the courageous shrilling of
a robin who, having breakfasted with alderman's pomp on half a pear,
intended to give his audience something handsome in the way of music.
And from Dormer Woods away across the water an autumn thrush fluted
pensively, like a voice calling from another world, the song of one of
the elder gods out of the dædal forest.
Chapter 5. FAMILY PRAYERS
Amber was late for prayers. These were an institution at Dormer. It
seemed to Amber that everyone was unwillingly obliged, for fear of
everyone else's displeasure, to take part in them. Even Enoch's cousin,
Marigold, was under orders from Mrs. Darke to attend and be saved,
because she worked daily at Dormer. His aunt, Mrs. Gosling, however,
who only put in a few hours' work each week, might presumably absent
herself and be damned. Enoch Gale himself, in spite of all
representations, steadfastly refused to hear the Word. He was put down
as 'simple' by everyone but Sarah, who would say to him on Ash
Wednesday or Good Friday: 'Well, we've bin through a long sitting
to-day. Nigh on half an hour. There's more sense at the back of them
calf's eyes of yours than a body 'ud think, Enoch!'
She hoped that these veiled compliments would lure Enoch to commit
himself as to his reason for avoiding prayers. Mrs. Velindre said it
was secret sin, but Sarah scouted this, saying:
'He inna 'cute enough to sin.' Enoch never committed himself, being,
facially and vocally, as immune from self-expression as a young owl. It
was quite useless for Mrs. Darke to send for him, and say: 'You are
expected to attend prayers, Gale,' or for grandmother to add: 'Watch
and pray, Gale!' When Solomon said: 'D'you hear the missus, Enoch?' he
replied, 'Ah, sir, I yeard the missus.' But next day, as usual, he
failed to watch and pray.
This morning Jasper was also absent, and there was more nervous
tension than usual as the family watched Amber's flurried entrance.
Sarah and Marigold sat apart like lepers on the other side of a
stretch of neutral-tinted carpet. Solomon read the Bible in the gruff,
protesting voice of a man of action confronted by literature. Every day
he gave them a chapter, and said the same number of prayers. But he was
not the kind of man to make such gatherings seem a mystic meeting of
all the wistful souls in the House of Life. There are some beautiful
and benignant personalities that can do this, glorifying even a
function which has been spoilt by respectability. They can infuse into
the forms of Christianity so grave and sweet a loveliness, as to allure
the mind even a mind that knows them to be weaving dreams on the loom
of legend, preaching the Godhead of Christ as the old alchymists
preached the elixir of life.
On Sundays Solomon went once to church. Once a month he attended 'the
second service.' On ordinary occasions he put a shilling in the
offertory; at Christmas, half a crown; at Harvest Thanksgiving, gold.
He was considered a good Churchman, and a good business man. He had
been a land agent, but had retired on his father's death to the
ancestral house of Dormer. Perhaps the most lovable thing about him was
his honest indifference toward every member of his household except his
'Praise Him in His name Jah!' read Solomon, unconsciously hurrying
and blurring the words a little, as the suave scent of hot bacon stole
in from the kitchen. Sarah was the only person who showed any interest
in the remark, and she spelt the divine cognomen with an 'r.' Amber
observed that Ruby was asleep, that her mother was busily tearing an
envelope into small pieces, that Sarah was chumbling coffee berries, to
which she was partial, and that Peter was staring at the isolated
Marigold with extraordinary fixity. Marigold's cheeks, always of a
bright cherry laid very definitely on the cream, were much pinker than
usual, and her whole body drooped. Her eyes had a curious expression
for which Amber could find no name. Peter
looked older than his years. His rather hawk-like and fierce face had
lost its round boyishness, and his quick, imperious dark eyes were
those of the born adventurer. Brought up in an atmosphere of things
Outworn, sent to a school where the same atmosphere brooded, he could
find no outlet. He was possessed of the same passion as his mother for
impressing his personality on something or somebody, only his mind was
not yet warped. But no one had ever told him of the great adventures of
the soul; of the trackless paths of imagination; of philosophy and its
brave search for truth; of love and its golden abnegations, its supreme
rewards. Peter would have made a martyr for any cause that had enough
life in it. He was full of the defiant 'I will,' which in unity with 'I
love,' moves mountains. But his temperament, his abilities and budding
promise, had not been discovered or treasured, so he lounged about at
home, full of urgent, aimless vitality, and spent the moments of
enforced stillness at prayers in staring Marigold out of countenance.
This morning Amber noticed that while Peter stared at Marigold,
Catherine was watching Peter, intent, yet guarded, with an occasional
glance to spare for Marigold, who seemed almost to writhe under
Catherine's aloof, cold, virginal glance, strongly tinctured with
criticism. Once Peter caught Catherine's eye and scowled; but she met
the scowl with a half smile.
'Let us pray!' said Solomon, and they all went down, with more or
less grace, on to their knees.
When the others knelt, grandmother remained seated, like a stone idol
which is immune, through its very stoniness, from human movement. It
was understood that grandmother could not kneel. Only grandmother and
her Creator knew that not her knees but her pride of years deterred her
from this religious exercise; that, in fact, she did not choose to
kneel. This remaining upright amidst a grovelling family gave her a
satiric glee. Her gaze, travelling over the kneeling figures, seemed to
'Don't you wish you were older?' She triumphed in the fact that her
daughter — even she, the cold, the dreaded — humbly knelt, while, by
an unsuspected artifice, she herself escaped. She enjoyed her leisurely
scrutiny of shoulders and backs of heads, noticing with secret
amusement that Ruby's blouse was undone, Amber's hair untidy, Rachel's
quite white over the ears. She perceived also that Sarah sat on her
heels instead of kneeling (she often spoke to Sarah about this, but
without effect), and that Peter was making 'mice' with his
handkerchief, to the delight of Marigold.
Serene above the array of backs, Mrs. Velindre was also able, in her
leisurely privacy, to have an occasional game of solitaire, for
which she had a passion. She made this right in her own eyes by telling
herself that she was simply passing the marbles through her fingers as
nuns handle their beads, only without the wickedness of Rome. The
lugubriousness of some of grandmother's Amens was not due, as
Amber once pityingly thought, to a sense of the tragedy of age, nor, as
Sarah thought, to indigestion. It was due to the game going badly.
Amber knew the truth now, for since grandmother had decided to sit next
the lamp (for the better management of the marbles), her shadow had
utterly betrayed her to the two girls sitting near her, and had gone
grotesquely mopping and mowing — coal-black on the dun carpet — like
a long-armed imp, first to the feet of Amber, and then to the feet of
Catherine, while the marbles made themselves elongated shadows, like
little pillars. Amber never divulged this, though she longed to share
with Jasper a joke that made her crimson with laughter night after
night. Catherine's silence had a different motive. She regarded such
chance bits of knowledge as so many trump cards to be kept for moments
of need. She was not at all amused, but slightly irritated, that
grandmother should consider her foolish ruse successful.
Amber wondered, as her father went through the usual prayers, in the
usual way, what they were all there for. When they all joined in a
prayer, their voices seemed to her so discordant — tuned by duty and
not by love, each going loudly on its own way — that she was reminded
dog show. She was sorry for a God who was compelled, every day at
eight, to hear this, infinitely multiplied, when He might have been
listening to trees or running water, or the song of birds created for
'Amen!' said Solomon, with a note of triumph, and in a moment, as by
a conjuring trick, all except Sarah and Marigold were in their chairs,
Mrs. Darke poured out coffee as remorselessly as if it were poison.
Perhaps she was bored with the multitude of cups, but she never
'What about Jasper?' she asked, when the cups had gone round.
Jasper looked nervous. He hated these family discussions that always
came at meals. He had manuvered to sit by Catherine. This was Amber's
'place.' Everybody at Dormer had a 'place,' and it was sin to take it.
Amber, however, said nothing, but sat down by grandmother. This
position no one coveted, as grandmother emphasized her wishes by a very
sharp elbow in the side of her neighbour.
'Well?' said Mrs. Darke sharply.
Solomon looked at his eldest son ruefully.
'I dunno,' he said.
'What's he to do?' asked his wife.
'I don't see that he can have the place now. I can't take it off
'From, Solomon!' Mrs. Darke spoke with exasperation.
'From!' echoed grandmother, in a cautionary tone, addressing the
lumps of sugar that she was drowning in her cup. When she did this, her
parchment face had an expression that might have been worn by a
medieval lady drowning another lady in the moat.
'Seeing that Peter's gone straight, and Jasper's gone crooked,' added
Solomon. Jasper, looking at Peter's self-righteous expression, wanted
to spring at him. The two young men, with their straight, rather
Egyptian profiles, glared at one another across Catherine's head,
gracefully bent. They always seemed to be one on either side of
Catherine. This morning the three of them made a striking frieze, like
one on an ancient vase, Catherine managing to look like gracious
femininity between two types of predatory manhood
'But Jasper will go into the Church,' she said softly. 'He won't
disappoint us all.'
'He can't if they turn him out of college,' said Peter, with a loud
'He can go to another college,' murmured Catherine. 'He can retrieve
'Retrieve! Ha! Good girl!' said Solomon, feeling at home with the
'I wish you'd talk to me and not at me,' remarked Jasper.
'Why not go for the Army?' asked Solomon.
'Fight the good fight,' added Mrs. Velindre.
'Die for your country!' Peter put in.
'Not die, Jasper!' cried Ruby, with great concern. 'No, you must live
and get very fat, like the old sergeant at the Keep, and wear a medal,
and remember battles a hundred years ago.'
Mrs. Darke looked as if she thought dying for some respectable object
was the only thing left for Jasper to do.
'Well, my lad,' suggested Solomon, 'suppose we buy you a commission?'
Catherine silently turned her eyes on Jasper, and his pale, regular
face suddenly reddened, like a statue in a stormy sunrise.
'I'd rather stay at Dormer, father,' he said. 'He's afraid!' shouted
Peter, and received, above Catherine's head, what Sarah would have
called a clout.
In a moment Peter was on his feet, his chair upset with the violence
of his rising.
Sarah, who came in at that moment to 'gather for washing-up,'
afterwards remarked to Marigold:
'The young gentlemen's ravening sore; like two furious cats they be.
I never saw the like!'
'I'se reckon Master Peter'll be king o' the midden if it comes to
fisses,' remarked Marigold.
'Wringing clothes gives you a very red face, Marigol' — a very red
face it does. Maybe, it's your 'eart!' Sarah spoke with fine irony.
In the dining-room the storm had been quelled by Solomon's command,
and the conversation continued in a highly electric atmosphere.
'If he stays, he'd better work at Arkinstall's,' said Mrs. Darke.
'What for?' asked Solomon. 'I can't set him up as a farmer.'
'To earn his keep,' said his mother.
'In the sweat of his brow,' added grandmother. She felt that this
work, which Jasper was known to detest, would be a fitting judgment
from the Lord.
'But I don't want to be a farm labourer!' Jasper was dismayed.
'No. The lad must have a respectable trade,' said Solomon, who had
some rudimentary ideas of fairness. 'You'd better be a land agent,
'But I've no gift for such things, father. Can't I go on with my
'If you go into the Church.'
'Jasper!' Catherine's voice was caressing. 'Jasper! Think how much
good you could do.'
'It's useless to argue, Cathy.'
'She's a sensible girl,' remarked Solomon.
'I thought,' Jasper spoke hesitatingly, 'I could get a job at the
Keep, and bicycle there every day.'
'I can't be thwarted!' grandmother suddenly broke out. She had a
theory that, if crossed, she would die. She was fond of saying: 'I've
got a weak 'eart, Rachel!' — dropping her 'h' not because she could
not aspirate it, but because she did not see why, at her age, any
letter of the
alphabet should be her master. She said it now, adding: 'In the sweat
of his brow. It is the judgment of the Lord.'
'But can you stand such hard manual work, Jasper?' asked Amber.
'He looks remarkably well,' said Mrs. Darke. She had said the same at
the death-bed of each of her early wilting sisters, for she was that
curio which one meets very frequently — a stoic to the pain of others.
'Take it or leave it,' said Solomon, getting up. 'Board and lodging
and training at Arkinstall's, or — get out.'
Jasper opened his mouth to say he would get out. But Catherine, with
a slanting look shot with green fire chill as ice, caught his glance in
a cold spell, as the sirens caught the ships of lost mariners. Stranded
and fascinated, he felt as the weaker does in the presence of the
strong, that there was only one thing to do. Catherine's thin lips slid
into a smile that made a dimple in her right cheek; her hair had a
living and conquering ripple, with a sheen like copper-coloured armour.
'I never could have believed,' thought Jasper to himself, his eyes
dwelling on her face, 'that anything could be so white and so warm at
once — except a rose, a hedge-top rose, out of my reach.'
Then, realizing that Peter was in ecstasies of laughter, pointing at
them with a shaking finger, he forcibly withdrew his eyes, and said
'Arkinstall's, then, so be it.'
'Amen,' said grandmother.
Chapter 6. THE ADVENT OF ERNEST
Ernest was arriving. He was bicycling from Mallard's Keep — the
scene of his recent ministrations. It was twelve miles away, but, as
Ernest said, he was 'vigorous, vigorous!' He believed very strongly in
athletics of all kinds, and one of his mottoes was: 'Mens sana in
corpore sano.' Whatever he achieved with regard to mens, corpus
was a triumphant success. Some of the family waited in the ball to
welcome him. The hall was large and dusky, with a stone staircase. The
walls were adorned with horns, hoofs, heads, tails, feet, fur, and
occasionally with complete corpses of wild creatures. It was a savage
spectacle, and when the house had been shut at night it smelt as
atrocious as the most indignant ghost of a hunted animal could desire
in the way of vengeance. These trophies and various guns and whips
made, with a large dinner bell, the furniture of the hall. Brown
drugget ran from door to door, that leading to the drawing-room little
trodden, that leading from kitchen to dining-room worn white by Sarah's
Amber, seeing the group, felt indignant when she remembered Jasper's
home-coming. Punctually almost to a moment, Ernest came pedalling up
the drive. As he entered, he said:
Peace be to this house,' and raised his right hand. He was tall and
stout. 'A mountain of a man,' according to Sarah. He was florid in
'Yea! His eyes are crafty,' thought Amber, peering over the
banisters. His hair was very fair, and his head dome-shaped. The
sparseness and paleness of his hair helped on the oviform effect. Peter
and Jasper had been known, in their youth, to rush kitchenwards at
Ernest's arrival, shouting, 'An egg-cup!' This joke was greatly
appreciated by Sarah, who always flung her apron over her head, placed
one hand on her heart and one on her diaphragm, and rocked in an agony
Ernest rather waived the clerical in his dress. It was a discreet
blend of the ecclesiastical and the sporting. On the expanse of his
waistcoat shone a Maltese cross, inscribed with the cryptic remark:
'All in One.' Why he wore this, what it meant, who first thought of it,
were mysteries. Probably the phrase pleased him because of its
crowdedness. He was, as he often said, 'Gregarious, friend,
Hardly had the first greetings been interchanged, when grandmother's
penetrating voice was uplifted.
'Great-nephew! I hear you!'
As a matter of fact, Ernest was so distantly related to the family as
hardly to be connected, but they believed in the ties of blood, and
grandmother liked to be called 'great-aunt.' They all repaired to the
'You're not so deaf as you sometimes seem, grandmamma,' said
'You're not deaf, mamma!' said Mrs. Darke coldly. 'At least, you're
only deaf when you wish it.'
'The wind bloweth where it listeth!' quoted Mrs. Velindre airily. She
had a gift for apparently pointless quotations which, by their very
inappositeness, quelled her adversary, and were usually found, on
examination, to have a sardonic fitness.
'Great-aunt Velindre! Young as ever! Wonderful! Wonderful!' cried
'Too old to kneel,' said grandmother, with what Sarah called her
'When the heart adores,' said Ernest mellifluously, 'the feeble knee
Grandmother looked pleased. 'D'you know,' she confided in her
sounding whisper, 'Jasper's been a naughty boy. A very naughty boy!
He's an infidel!'
She said it in the tone of concealed glee with which one child will
sometimes speak of another's misdemeanours.
'Ah, yes. Pity! Pity!' Ernest replied. 'Give him line!'
He was rather a predatory shepherd. He always spoke of 'catching them
young,' 'hauling them in,' 'spreading the net wide.'
'It's a sign of the times,' said grandmother.
'What is, granny?' asked Amber.
'Unbelief. The end is upon us. Day of wrath! At midnight, or at
cock-crowing, or in the morning.' This sentence of grandmother's had,
in Amber's childhood, kept her awake night after night, afraid to go
for comfort to her father, lest he should endorse grandmother's words.
When sheet-lightning played across the velvet night, she would be
paralysed with terror, momentarily expecting the rending blast of the
trumpet. When shooting stars wandered to annihilation across her little
window, she covered her head with the pillow and waited tensely, as one
always awaits an expected sound, for the terrible stir of resurrection.
Terrible indeed it all seemed to her, coming as it did, wrapped in the
grave-clothes of grandmother's creed. Her sanity might have been
threatened, but for Sarah's coming into her room one night, to find her
hysterical with fear.
''s Amber, 'ush your roaring,' she said decidedly, when she had heard
the story. 'Would 'Tm above finish up the 'orld with all the harvest
about so untidy, and the
turkeys but half grown? Not likely! When He finishes, it'll be done
proper. And I ask you, 's Amber, what time o' the year there
inna summat in the doing? Come to think on it, I don't see when the
'orid could end, for even in January there's the ewes near
lambing, and the early rhubarb corning on and what not.'
This peculiar theology had greatly comforted Amber.
'Great-aunt,' said Ernest, 'he must find God! He shall
find God!' He had just added: 'Persuasion! Persuasion!' when Jasper
came into the room, not looking very open to suasion.
'A little talk, a quiet little talk, Jasper!' said Ernest. 'That's
what we need; that's what we must have!'
To do him justice, he meant to help, and tried to be tolerant. But
his bedside manner was too much for Jasper.
'A friendly talk?' he concluded. 'You'd like that?'
'Enormously! Enormously!' replied Jasper.
Amber gave an irrepressible little gurgle, which might have passed
unnoticed but for Mrs. Velindre, who pointed an accusing finger at
'Risible!' she said. 'Always was! Laughed at her baptism. Blessed are
they that weep!'
At this point Sarah rang the tea-bell. She always seemed to enjoy
these moments, four times a day, when, instead of listening in silence
as she handed dishes, she was able, ex officio, to drown the
voices of the family in torrents of noise.
Solomon and Peter came in.
'They've spared you from the Keep, then,' was Solomon's greeting.
'Yes, my Vicar was kind, very kind. Let me come without a murmur.'
'Willingly—willingly!' muttered Jasper.
Grandmother, who had been watching Solomon carve the game pie,
fortunately created a diversion at this point by calling out in a tone
'I like the tid-bits! Give me the tid-bits! I'm so old!'
'Well, you see, ma'am,'—Solomon always spoke respectfully to Mrs.
Velindre. She filled him with an almost religious awe
'You see, Ernest's the guest.'
'But he don't need the tid-bits,' said grandmother
argumentatively. 'He's as fat as butter already. Now I'm thin!
She was indeed cadaverous and meagre.
Amber, with difficulty controlling her laughter, looked to see how
Ernest received this. But he was talking to Ruby and had not heard.
He was saying in his usual cumulative style:
Cousin Ruby, pink is your colour. You should always wear pink. You
must always wear pink!
Ruby was looking flushed and pretty. Colour was her one claim to
beauty, and the pale, chiselled face of Catherine looked scorn at her
on this account.
'Last piece,' said Peter, pushing the bread-and-butter plate towards
Ruby, 'last piece and a handsome husband.'
Ruby was pleasantly aware that he admired her. To her eighteen years,
this was sweet. She began to dream of wedding cake and dresses; to
imagine how the three church bells would ring—Ting Tang Tong! Ting
Tang Tong! She could see the lines of villagers (very sparse lines,
for the parish was small) watching her triumphant progress to the
carriage. Amber and Catherine would be her bridesmaids (Catherine would
not like her being married first), and they would help her to dress.
Then her father would say something funny, and the Rector something
solemn, and her mother — (No. On second thoughts, it was quite
impossible to imagine her mother crying.) Then they would drive away,
and she would have 'done well for herself.' She would be a success
according to Dormer ideas. It did not occur to her that this conception
of marriage was like an elaborate box with nothing in it.
She decided that Ernest's forehead was intellectual; that the egg-cup
joke was unjust. She giggled so much at everything Ernest said—and he
said a good deal—that Mrs. Darke frowned ominously. Then, being an
astute woman, she considered the matter and frowned no more.
Ernest was patronizingly absorbed, and his cold eyes rested on Ruby.
Amber, from her unnoticed corner, saw in them an expression only to be
described as greed. She could not help thinking of a toad travelling
over a strawberry bed. If Ernest had known her thoughts, perhaps he
would have modified his summing-up of her personality, which was:
'Colourless, great-aunt, colourless!' It was a trick of his to sum-up
people in this way. Having done so, nothing but a portent would shake
his belief in his own decree. Amber felt more and more that, in spite
of his good nature, she did not like Ernest. Her eyes wandered to
Jasper, sunk in gloom because Catherine was talking to Peter. She
wondered why none of them was happy at Dormer. It occurred to her that
they were apt to treat each other as society treats the poor—as
criminals. Especially was this so if the inner self of any member of
the family dared to peer out of its hiding—dared to show what it was,
instead of remaining concealed in what they all thought it was. It was
seldom attempted, for there are few things so strong as massatmosphere.
Hall' a dozen people can build about a soul walls stronger than those
that were built around erring nuns; in that prison the living is as
helpless as if he were dead. Let these people decide that a sane man is
mad (he being different from them) and his most reasonable actions will
be twisted to madness. If he is sensitive, he will probably be driven
mad in the end, from a consciousness of injustice, antipathy, and the
hopelessness of all his struggles for understanding. So at Dormer Amber
was colourless, Jasper had a secret sin, Ruby needed moulding, and
Enoch was 'simple.'
Amber's further reflections were cut short by the ringing of the
front-door bell, and by the appearance of Sarah, who remarked in her
usual stony manner:
To Sarah, the man without his house was a poor, flaccid thing, like a
snail without its shell. She, therefore, made a practice of announcing
houses and not people. To such as Sarah, bricks and mortar mean a great
deal, the mind very little. So in the village it was never 'Mr. Darke's
lugging the hay,' or 'Arkinstall's cutting'; it was 'Dormer's lugging,'
and 'The Wallows is cutting.'
'I've put 'em in the drawing-room,' Sarah remarked.
'Light the fire,' said Mrs. Darke.
'Done!' replied Sarah, who loved to be able to meet a command in this
way. It was one of her few satisfactions in a life?—drudgery
performed for people to most of whom she was indifferent, while some
she actively disliked, and one—her mistress —she hated.
A crowd of people shut up together in one house, one creed, one
strait view of life, must eventually wear each other out.
Good nature is ground down by constant friction. Hatred leaps out
like sparks from flint and iron. Society thinks that mistakes are made
and crimes committed through the human soul being too much itself,
going its own way. But crimes really happen through the soul being too
little itself striving to conform, or being crushed into conformity.
The family adjourned to the drawing-room, where the Rector stood,
hands behind him, examining the one picture in the room (excepting
portraits) with the critical, astute air of one at an art
exhibition—the same look with which he had regarded the same picture
on every visit to Dormer in the last twenty years.
Mrs. Cantlop sat by the fire. Her hair, snow-white and always untidy,
crowned by a lace cap adorned with a tremendous ultramarine bow.
These bows of Mrs. Cantlop's desolated Mrs. Velindre, for she could not
wear such things herself. She had once, in emulation, donned a large
velvet bow; but her daughter had heaped such bitter scorn upon it, that
the poor old lady had given up the attempt, almost in tears. Tears were
difficult to connect with grandmother Velindre; one expected them to be
less like rain than hail. Since that day, grandmother's small, round,
hard head was always decked with the unambitious caps that suited her
best. She confided to Amber how much she felt this, and how greatly she
resented the fact that Mrs. Cantlop (a younger woman, a much less
important woman) could outshine her in cap-wear. Not that Mrs. Cantlop
did exactly wear her caps. They seemed rather to have alighted
unexpectedly, like birds in a high wind, on her hair, and they were
always on one side. About all her clothes there was this air of
separate volition, as if she were perpetually saying to them, in the
words of her favourite hymn, 'Thy will, not mine, be done.'
Mrs. Cantlop was engaged in tatting—curious and ancient occupation,
which seemed to have for her a peculiar fascination. Every blind at the
Rectory was edged with it; the legs of the arm-chairs were decently
veiled with it; cushions bristled with it; her own room might fairly be
said to reek of it; and things had come to such a pass that the Rector
had to lock up his dressing-gown.
'Well, Rector!' said Ernest, entering boisterously, 'I've come!'
'Yes,' replied the Rector depressedly. He did not like Ernest very
much, and he had been more or less forced, by Mrs. Darke's
representations, Ernest's bland bullying and his own good nature, to
give him the curacy. Pulling himself together, he endeavoured to infuse
into his manner an air of delight, for he was a kindly man.
'Welcome to our little community, Swyndle,' he said cordially. 'I
look forward to hearing you read many a good sermon in our ancient
'Extempore! Extempore!' Ernest corrected.
'As you please, of course.'
The Rector himself managed to preach excellent sermons, and to keep
people awake, through being a first-rate raconteur. By virtue of this
gift he could make the most insipid, dull or coarse narrative seem
cultured and interesting, with a gentle aroma of the walnuts and the
'I should like,' said Mrs. Cantlop in her crconing voice (it was
always a croon except when, under the visitation of heaven, it was a
wail), 'to add my mite of welcome, Mr. Swyndle. And so, if he were
here, would Keturah's father.' Here Mrs. Cant-lop's voice faltered, and
grandmother eyed her with contemptuous interest.
The gentleman alluded to was Mr. Cantlop. He was not, as might be
supposed, defunct. He was, to use his wife's words, 'looking for gold
in the wickedest place in the world.' He had been thus engaged for the
past thirty years, but so far there was no indication of his having
found any. In their early married life he had set up as a tea merchant
at Dormer. He and his Maker alone knew why he thought he could get a
living in this way. He did not make a living. Solomon's father, a very
arbitrary old gentleman, rated him soundly and told him if he couldn't
make gold he'd better 'go and scrat for it.' As Mr. Cantlop afterwards
told his wife, 'Incompetence was mentioned, and the name of
California.' It was useless for Mr. CantloP to say he did not want
gold, or for Mrs. Cantlop to say she wanted Mr. Cantlop. Public opinion
was too strong for them. They tried to be cheerful.
'My dear,' said Mr. Cantlop, 'I'll seek it. I'll find it. I'll bring
it.' He had a gift for terse and energetic expression; but there it
usually stopped. Under the stern eye of Solomon's father the poor
little man did really set out with a carpet bag and a red
pocket-handkerchief and eyes even redder from the parting with Amelia,
and a ticket provided by the Rector. Mystery had flung her curtains
over his doings after this, though from his yearly letters it was known
that he had arrived in California. In these letters he always spoke of
the gold as being just at hand. Mrs. Cantlop nearly always alluded to
him as 'Keturah's father,' seeming to feel that his personality, taken
alone, was rather misty. Keturah had ceased to exist a few hours after
she began her earthly race (during the tea period), so her personality
was, at best, doubtful. But taken together, rolled into a ball and
shaped by her imagination, they became quite intimidating and attained
a kind of ghostly awfulness, a spook-like majesty. With them—or,
rather, with it, for Mrs. Cantlop had made out of two nonentities an
entity —the timid old lady was even able to enter the lists with
grandmother. That lady held her in unutterable scorn, because she was
'nesh,' and because she was not a grandmother. To Mrs. Velindre her own
life seemed eminently right and laudable. She was a mother and a
grandmother. It did not occur to her to wonder, before engaging in
these occupations, whether she was fitted for them. Nor would she ever
have thought, as she looked at her daughter's face—chill, secret and
expressionless as granite—that perhaps she was a greater failure than
The two old heads nodded at one another across the large, chilly
room. They were like generals in a battlefield mauy times contested.
The Dormer drawing-room was, in some curious way reminiscent of a
mausoleum. The vault-like air; the white marble mantelpiece recalling
tombs; the wreath of Wax camelias made by Mrs. Velindre in early youth
and by her jealously treasured; the heavy curtains of purple cloth and
the immense valance, weighted with balls and fringe, that concealed
their union with the curtain rod as if it were an indecency—all these,
and the solemn hush that pervaded it, slowly gathering Sunday by Sunday
like a rising sea, made it less like a sitting-room than a grave. It
was obviously furnished out of the bequests of a great many people with
tastes that agreed, as a rule, only in being execrable. The room seemed
full of the waste products of ineffectual lives—full, indeed, to
repletion. The wills had been thorough; everything had come. Great-Aunt
Darke's two emu eggs, her alabaster vase and its red wool mat were here
as well as her Chinese cabinet and her own harsh portrait. Another
great-aunt, who seemed to have been gentler than most of them, and not
well-dowered with this world's goods, had left a sampler and three
shells with 'the sea in them,' as Amber used to say. 'You mean, the
mighty sea,' Catherine corrected, for she liked things on a grand
scale. And Jasper, Sunday after Sunday, irritated his mother and
suffered severe slappings by reason of his unceasing question, uttered
in a low but obstinate voice: 'Why is the sea in the shells, Mamma? Who
put it there, Mamma? Who made it sing?'
There were a few beautiful things in the drawing-room, but they were
obscured by the rest. An exquisite Chinese plate hung among a crowd of
others painted with flowers by ladies of Dormer; a delicate French fan
was nailed up between two of grandmother's home-made ones, constructed
of fowls' breasts and wings not always very perfectly cured. In these,
which appeared all over the house, were immortalized many excellent
dinners, when the Plymouth Rock or the Dorking had given its flesh for
the physical and its feathers for the aesthetic well-being of the
family. A small carved chest, that looked as if it might once have
sheltered love-letters, held grandmother's feather duster, with which
she daily stirred the ancient dust that settled on all these things as
of indisputable right. On a work-table near the fire were a few silver
trinkets, which caused great vexation to Mrs. Cantlop. This good lady
had become, perhaps through ceaseless concentration on the desirability
of Mr. Cantlop's finding gold, a harmless kleptomaniac. She was what
Sarah called 'a magpie to metal.' Though she was the most transparently
honest soul in Christendom, it always happened that her large black
silk apron was quite lumpy with things concealed beneath it by the end
of the evening at Dormer. Sometimes Mrs. Velindre pounced upon the
first offence; sometimes she waited. To-night she pounced.
'What are you doing with my grandson's christening spoon, Amelia
'Doing?' said Mrs. Cantlop, very flustered, and obviously extracting
it from her apron. 'I was just minding me what a sweet baby Jasper
She melted into tears. She did this as naturally and easily as snow
melts in a warm spring. The feat was very mysterious to Mrs. Velindre,
whose emotions were in perpetual cold storage.
'Not your baby, anyway,' said Mrs. Velindre.
'And eh! how the poor child cried when the Sign was put on him! It
seemed like something boded.'
'That was Sattan coming out!' said grandmother complacently. 'He's in
all young children.'
'Not in Jasper, I'm sure! For Keturah's father said—'
'He couldn't say. He'd gone to look for gold ten years back when the
child was born. You've no head for dates, Amelia Cantlop!'
'I was always thought a great one at my book,' said Amelia valiantly.
'You can't mind the big holly being felled!'
'I can! And I mind Keturah's father picking a leaf off it and writing
with a pin: “Love, honour and cherish!”'
'H'm! Fine words! But he didn't act up to 'em.'
'We are all weak mortals,' said Mrs. Cantlop. 'Only the Spouse never
While Ernest said ~the Captain,' Sarah—“Im above,' Mrs.
Gosling—'the Lamb,' and grandmother—'the lion of Judah,' Mrs. Cantlop
said 'the Spouse.' She let it be tacitly understood that in Mr.
Cantlop's place the Spouse would long ago have found gold.
Ernest came softly up to Jasper, leaning over him, laying a large
white hand on his shoulder, murmuring with his slight lisp—
'My dear fellow, remember your baptism!'
Jasper flung round. 'What the deuce has my baptism to do with you?'
'You cannot annul it; you cannot spoil it; you cannot get away from
it. What we have, we keep.'
'Shut up! I won't argue.'
'I hope we shall be fast friends,' said Ernest. He held that a
clergyman's work was threefold—to persuade, to punish and to pardon.
At present he was trying the first.
'You only want to be friends in order to convert me to your peculiar
Ernest waived this. 'I am gregarious,' he said.
This was so true, as all Ernest's acquaintances knew to their cost,
that Jasper smiled. Encouraged by this, Ernest added:
'Also, I am responsible, dear lad, for your eternal welfare!'
'Who gave you authority over me?'
'The voice of ordained authority,' said Ernest, in what he judged to
be the typical tone of that authority, 'is the voice of God.'
'What did you get ordained for?' Jasper inquired.
'I took Holy Orders because I was called.'
'You took them,' said Jasper, 'because Great-Uncle Swyndle left his
the first relation to take orders.'
Ernest was saved the necessity of a reply by the departure of the
guests. This was always thrilling when Mrs. Cantlop was present.
To-night grandmother suddenly shouted 'The Rector's going!' in her
sleepy ear, and then waited eagerly, her eyes fixed on Mrs. Cantlop's
apron. There was a silvery clatter of spoons, paper knives and
matchboxes, and Mrs. Cantlop departed, drowsy, tearful and under a
cloud, leaning on the Rector's kindly arm. The Rector himself was
depressed, for he found conversation with Ernest a great strain.
'Great-Aunt,' said Ernest, when they had gone, 'you may like to see
my little paper on hymns. I read it at the Keep.
Comprehensive, we hope. Tolerant, we know. I have included the hymns
of other churches as well as Mother Church.' (He had given a quarter of
a page to all hymns other than those of the English Church.)
'They are outside salvation,' said grandmother. 'They can't write
'Well, well, great-aunt, they try. We must not quench the smoking
flax. We must sympathize even with them that are without.'
'Without are dogs!' said grandmother succinctly.
Chapter 7. HARVEST PREPARATIONS
It was the vigil of the Harvest Festival, a week after Ernest
arrived. The days preceding Harvest or Christmas were red days at
Dormer — a time of fluttered hen-roosts and agitated pigsties, when
the air was full of shrieks and the yard ran with blood. In Sarah's
calendar they were called 'skriking-tide.' Sarah's calendar was
peculiar. She had red-letter days unknown to the churches. She was
accustomed to say: 'When the geese go a-stubbling, I take to my linsey
petticoat. When the last chick cracks out, I cast my cross-over.' In
the harvest preparations she stalked about the yard grimly, her shoes
reinforced with pattens, accomplishing, with Mrs. Gosling's help, feats
of skill and muscle — hacking pork into joints, trussing the goose,
Mrs. Gosling dressed fowls with the air of important resignation with
which she always brooded over death, whether that of a near relation, a
king or a spring chicken. She was 'layer-out' for the neighbourhood.
Dressing poultry was only her secondary gift, but she surrounded it
with the same pomp and ceremony.
She would murmur: 'A beautiful corpse in the coffin, mum! The tidiest
I ever laid out.' Or: 'A grand bird on the table, mum! The best I ever
drew.' And in both sentences her voice was exactly the same. She was
small and quiet. She seldom made a direct statement. It was a symbol of
her apologetic attitude to life that the most obvious fact was modified
in deference to the listener. She 'liked a drop of something
heartening' and was down in the Rector's private parish book as
'oinos.' There Solomon figured as 'sound'; Peter had a capital D, for
difficult; Jasper only possessed a large query. This book was jealously
guarded by the Rector. He locked it with a silver key which he
regularly left in his trouser pocket when he changed into his Sunday
suit, thus enabling Mrs. Cantlop to have some interesting reading.
Sarah sat by the kitchen fire. She was expecting Mrs. Gosling,
Marigold and Enoch, who lived across the water at the foot of the woods
and sometimes came in when they had 'cleaned' themselves. This was the
happiest moment of Sarah's day, for she was exercising her artistic
faculties. On the table stood a large stone ball, such as ornaments old
gateways. Beside it was a heap of broken crockery. On the hob simmered
a pot of glue. Sarah was fixing bits of china, reduced to the required
size with a hammer, to the stone ball. This she called her 'world.' It
was, so far, her most ambitious effort. She had done a seven-pound
jam-pot, a 'pair o' vawses' and other works, which shone with varnish
on the mantelpiece. The kitchen, dusky and draughty, was paved with
large grey flags, cracked and chipped at the corners. In the centre of
the high mantelpiece stood a mortar and a pestle, round the white end
of which the mouths of all the young Darkes had been stretched.
Flanking this were the vases. To the right hung the cuckoo clock, with
which Sarah found herself very much in accord, for it startled the air
like a summons to battle, and the kitchen was the scene of a deadly
daily battle between Sarah and inanimate things. Opposite the clock was
Sarah's one picture — the photograph of the grave of a little girl
(unknown to Sarah) who had distinguished herself by dying from the
effects of pushing a bead into her ear. This lugubrious oddity suited a
vein of religious fatalism in Sarah and Mrs. Gosling. They were never
so content as when, over cups of very strong tea, they solemnly
regarded the photograph in its frame of varnished chestnuts and
remarked, shaking their heads: 'Ah! Poor thing! It was to be. 'Im above
was 'ware of that bead afore ever it was blowed. Some met think it was
for this. Some met think it was for that. But 'E knowed as it
was for Jemima Onions' ear and a summons to glory!'
As Sarah hammered, conscious of a large batch of successful
cheesecakes in the oven, she heard Enoch come across the yard from
milking. Then he rubbed one shoulder against the door, which was his
way of knocking. Having taken the pails to the dairy, he sat down and
began to steam, diffusing an atmosphere of manure, and watching Sarah
from his shechinah with a wondering stare.
'Well?' said Sarah, operating on half a teacup.
'Enoch Oddman! You'm the most aggravating man. All eyes and no
'There he goes! “Eh?” Words met be gold the way you 'usband 'em.'
Enoch's contemplative gaze wandered round the kitchen.
'What dun you want me to say?' he asked. His voice had a sing-song
tone which always made Amber think of wind in the pine-tree. Enoch was
a silent soul. Solomon chose to consider him daft, and acquired him
cheaply on that account. His name was Gale, but he was called after his
profession, as is often the case in the country. Sarah did not reply to
his question, but opened the oven door and took out the cheesecakes.
'When I wed,' she said dreamily, breaking off a bit of crust for
Enoch, “im as I choose'll get a plenty of these — a plenty.'
'Dear now!' Enoch spoke in the midst of chumbling. 'It eats short.'
'Short? Ah! I'd as lief some folks 'ud be as short. They take as
long, some folks do, axin to wed, as if they were saved in Paradise
with all eternity to sing in under their wings.'
'Serious things,' said Enoch slowly, 'inna able to be done quick.
They mun be gone into in good sadness.'
'Mr. Ernest inna of your mind.'
'Any oonty can see he's after 's Ruby. Nor 'e wunna let the time pass
like some does. Tick, tack! Tick, tack! and the hours hooting and
nought done. And Mr. Ernest's an example to go by, seeing he's a
surplussed clergyman (and a good few yards it takes to go round 'im)
and seeing as he can preach the whiskers off a cat.'
'And I'll tell you this, Enoch Oddman, though you dunna deserve to
know ought, for Mr. No-eyes is your name. I'll tell you this' (she
lowered her voice to the awed and mysterious tone in which one might
speak of' elocutionary marvels such as the self-expression of Balaam's
ass), “e'll speak to-morrow! Ah! I seed him telling it over to himself
very solemn, not out loud, but talking to 'is mommets! Sarah, my girl,
I says, to-morrow in the flush of words (for it's like a cloudburst
when Mr. Ernest preaches the Word) his tongue being oiled, and the
words boiling in his yead, he wunna be able to stop, and he'll speak.'
'Ah!' Enoch was still indifferent.
'Eh, oh, ah!' mocked Sarah. 'Eh, oh, ah! You're like the Christian
Minstrels Rector got down to liven us up, choir treat. It was twang,
twang! and eh, oh, ah! and thrum! thrum! like 'earts at a Hiring Fair,
till I was fair melancholy.'
Enoch smiled, but his eyes did not lose their wistful, rather bemused
expression — the look of one just awakened from sleepwalking. This
made him kin to the animals, for it is in their eyes, from the humblest
to the fiercest. What are animals but souls walking in their sleep —
personalities still overdone by matter, prisoned in the early stages of
evolution amid the necessities of lust and blood? Yet there, even in
the eyes of a cat as it laps the blood of its victim, you may see the
disquieted spirit looking on with the startled wonder of a child that
has set the house afire. It is as if the animals saw, confused as the
reflections in running water, what they are and what they would be; as
if they glimpsed the possibility of breaking loose from the vast
machine of multitudinous physical bondage — from bloodshed, wrath, the
competitive struggle for life—and saw their little spirits, shivering
and afraid, but free, on the dark hills of futurity. Anyone who cared
to study Enoch came upon a mystery, discovering a being so near the
animal world that he could easily interpret the vague half-thoughts of
a sheep or a cow, yet so far advanced along the road of psychic
development that most of the other inhabitants of Dormer were pigmies
compared with him. None of them, except Jasper and perhaps Amber, were
conscious of their own souls; they were still asleep, and in their
sleep they mouthed the old righteousness of their forefathers. Enoch
was awake. Though he had not been roused by the sharp, clear trumpet of
intellect, he had heard in the twilight of semi-consciousness the
drowsy bell of intuition.
Enoch was never quite at his ease in Dormer. He liked to be out on
the huge purple hills under the towering sky, where the curlews cried
out strange news to him in passing, and the little brown doves murmured
of a hidden country, a secret law, more limited than those of man, yet
more miraculous. For there, to dream a nest is to build it. To desire
the sea, or an orange tree in Africa, is to obtain it. Genius and love
are the nearest approach we have made to this wholly mysterious life.
They are akin to it, though they are at once greater and more subject
to mistakes. There is something in that blind shaping of nests and
cocoons and cells, in that strange swinging out in sightless faith into
the limitless air that we have not yet understood.
Sarah stirred her glue like a dark-browed witch. She was what is
known as hard-favoured.
'What's Master Jasper lay tongue to when he comes round along of
you?' she asked.
Enoch contemplated her in silence. Sarah stamped.
'Deaf as a post and dumb as mutton. What a man!'
There was a soft fumbling at the door.
'That's ours,' remarked Enoch. This was his usual way of indicating
his aunt, while Sarah was 'the 'oman.' Mrs. Gosling entered, saying
that she partly thought it was seasonable weather. Sarah was beginning
work on a vase that seemed quite intact.
'You're never going to take and break that?' said Mrs. Gosling. Enoch
looked from the vase to Sarah with an expression that said, 'There's
nothing she won't do!'
'It's 's Catherine's,' explained Sarah. 'I'm obleeged to break more
things for her than for any of 'em, though the old lady runs her pretty
'I partly think the old lady's grave-ripe, poor thing,' said Mrs.
Gosling, “er's looking very middlin'.'
'She's looking what she is,' remarked Sarah, 'and downy's the word.
The things she'll do! Ah! There's a good few of 'er Uzit bottles on the
World! But this vawse of's Catherine's I'm obleeged to break along of
her making game of me in that letter to her auntie. “Poor Sarah!” she
says. “Poor vawse!” says Sarah.'
Sarah was obliged to break people's china when they offended her. It
was not spite. It was a judgment, inevitable, just, as the judgment of
God. You offended Sarah — you lost a vase. And, by the poetry of
things, your loss was Sarah's gain, and your forfeited ornament went to
the building of Sarah's magnum opus.
'She's sleek, is 's Catherine,' continued Sarah. 'But she's got sharp
claws, like a little cat! I can't abide cats! Out, you cats!'
She seized a broom and dislodged a tabby cat and kitten from the
fender. Then the dining-room bell rang, and Sarah, after some
grumbling, answered it. Returning, she said:
'They're ravening sore in the room. Master Jasper red as a layer's
comb, and 's Amber roaring crying.'
'What ails 'em?' asked Mrs. Gosling.
“Im above knows! But it's always Passion-tide in this 'ouse, I'm
'There'll come a day,' said Enoch in a low and singing voice, 'when
this bitter old 'ouse will fa-a-al.'
'Fall?' said Sarah. 'When the walls are six bricks through and solid
as my aunt Sophy, that weighed fourteen stone on her wedding day, so
when it came to “'ave and 'old” the bridegroom looked right scared. But
the best man nudged and the parson gave the word, so he spit on his
'ands, and said it like a man.'
'It'll fa-a-al,' said Enoch, 'like a waspy apple. It'll fa-a-al like
rotten leaves. And it'll fa-a-al in the night with a weight of shadows
'But that dunna tell us why they're chevy-chasing the lad,' Sarah
said, fetching refreshments as Marigold came in.
Marigold was very young, very dewy, a limpidly sweet nonentity — a
soulless fairy still asleep in the dawn-cold flower of youth. She sat
down by her mother and began without more ado to eat pig's chitterlings
and onions. As nobody thought of chitterlings with anything but
respect, nobody thought Marigold was doing violence to her beauty.
'I partly think,' said Mrs. Gosling, 'as Master Jasper's taken on
soft and got religious. There's a tidy few does. Old Lady Camperdine
got it and went for a Catholic. The last Sunday she ever come to Dormer
Church, she took and shied the gathering bag at the Rector's yed, with
folks' money in it and all. A beautiful corpse she made, too! Maybe
Master Jasper's found God all of a sudden!'
'Oh, God.' Sarah spoke with an air of indifference. Her religion took
the colour of her mind — materialistic. Like a pool, it received
whatever was dropped into it. Every Sunday she tolerated the Rector's
sermon. She understood that if she committed no overt act of
disobedience against certain arbitrary laws, benefit would accrue to
her. Heaven would, she felt, be difficult, but worth while, because so
many people wanted to get there and never would. God, in her eyes, was
a person who dispensed limited favours for the pleasure of observing
the antics of humiliation in which the recipients were obliged to
indulge. Respectability was the end and aim of life. To be in
comfortable circumstances was a great credit to anyone. Such things as
love, sacrifice, spiritual beauty, when mentioned in the Bible, must be
taken with a grain of salt, as being written by men who lived in a very
hot place and were nesh. The kind of love that meant arms round waists,
smacking kisses and an eventual wedding was, of course, different.
'To my mind,' she said, 'it's more like love than religion.' She
privately thirsted for love affairs, though usually denouncing them in
'Miss Catherine?' asked Marigold.
'Maybe yes. Maybe no. But she wunna stay true to Master Jasper. She's
for Master Peter and the 'ouse.'
'That she never is!' Marigold spoke suddenly and violently.
'You know a deal,' said Sarah.
'Where you bin since you cleaned yourself?' asked Mrs. Gosling. 'And
what'n you bin doing?'
Marigold's cheeks were very red.
Enoch's eyes, dwelling on her, were troubled.
At this moment the prayer bell rang. Marigold got up to go with a
light in her eyes. Sarah also got up with 'Prayers, drat 'em!'
But before they could go, Ernest entered.
'My man,' he said, 'how is it I never see you at family prayers?'
Enoch preserved his far gaze and his silence.
Sarah, anxious to get the day's work done, said in commiserating
'Seems like he's got a lattance in the speech, sir. He'll sit the
daylong mum as a Luke-tide fly. The mouth-mauling as I give un! And all
Ernest looked at Enoch with the interest of a doctor diagnosing a
'An impediment!' he exclaimed, and added with militant cajolery, 'A
man in the Bible had an impediment. It need not frighten you away. Keep
together! All in One!'
These encouraging phrases beat upon Enoch's placidity like waves on a
granite promontory. Sarah's stern mouth so far relaxed as to smile at
'Remember,' Ernest concluded, with authority tempered by benevolence,
'I shall look for you. I shall expect you. Don't be afraid. “Just as I
am,” you know, “just as I am.”'
Ernest retired, confident of victory.
'Got 'im?' queried grandmother sharply, as she would have questioned
'I think so — I trust so,' said Ernest blandly, looking out for the
evening's reading the chapter about the man with the impediment.
'I think not,' murmured Jasper. He wandered out to the kitchen
and sat down opposite Enoch. He found rest in the company of this being
who neither asserted nor denied, but remained aloof a soul crude and
simple, but its own.
They had the kitchen to themselves, for Mrs. Gosling had gone to take
her nightcap in luxurious solitude. Enoch was waiting for Marigold. He
knew that these walks through the star-fruited wood were soon to end,
for now that the Dormer family was larger, Marigold was to 'live in,'
sharing Sarah's attic.
The kitchen door was open and that of the dining-room ajar. A
hive-like murmur came along the passage.
'Enoch,' said Jasper, 'are we astray or are they?'
'Master Jasper, if Mr. Ernest was astray he wunna'd stray far. They'd
find un by his blaating.'
'No, but, Enoch, seriously, what do you think?'
'Oh, if it's to be in good sadness, Master Jasper, I canna say fairer
than — “I dunna know.” May-'appen we'm all strays. Maybe we'll ne'er
find out till Time's gone by. But I canna see as it's to be found out,'
he nodded sideways towards the murmur, 'that-a-way. Nor yet from a bit
of a four-leaf clover on Mr. Ernest's belly.'
Chapter 8. ERNEST SPEAKS
When Ruby woke next morning, the early harvest bells were ringing up
the valley, the rooks were loquacious in the upper woodlands, and Sarah
was thundering on Ernest's door.
'Mr. Ernest shanna say Sarah Jowel started 'un late the day he's
askin' to wed!' she said to Marigold. 'For ask to wed he will, afore
Soon Sarah appeared with an unwonted cup of tea for Ruby, and Ruby's
happiness increased. For she loved a cup of tea, strong and creamy, and
a picture book and a soft pillow; and at the back of her mind was the
thought that Ernest would certainly 'speak' to-day. She raised her
beautiful and indolent body sufficiently to drink.
'Has Miss Catherine had some?' she asked.
“s Catherine's not,' was the reply. 'For she's gone to the seven
o'clock, and when 'er goes to that 'er clems. Though why 'Im above
should take it unkind if she went full, is more than Sarah Jowel knows.
I'm as earnest after religion as most, but my stomach's my own.'
So saying, she flung back the curtains, and there was Ruby in a flood
of yellow sunshine, friendly to her young splendour, but cruel to
Amber, who was leaning from her window drinking the golden day.
Ernest also was up, looking very pink and clean, reading in a new
little manual he had brought with him, which was a service of prayer
for those contemplating marriage. It began with a prayer before the
proposal, and went straight on, as it were, on the crest of the wave,
to the banns, the wedding, and the children. What happened if 'the
answer was no,' as Enoch would say, did not appear. Only the successful
were catered for. To do Ernest justice, he meant very well in reading
this book. He nearly always did mean well. He wished to do right and he
wished others to do right in his way. What would have happened if his
Church, instead of telling him that what he wanted was right, had told
him that what he wanted was wrong, it is not easy to say. Fortunately,
it had never yet happened. Ernest knew it was right for him to marry
Ruby, and rear a large family. Ruby's point of view never occurred to
'Well, 's Ruby,' said Sarah, 'you do take the eye!'
She felt romance tingling in the air. Romance, to her, did not depend
on anything so ephemeral as love. So long as the dresses, the cake, and
some sort of a bridegroom were got together, what else mattered?
And Ruby, sipping her tea, basking in the sunshine, idly admiring the
texture of her skin under the light, and the full curve of her breast,
was of very much the same opinion.
That which Sarah had prophesied duly came to pass. After the service
Ernest hurried out of the vestry in his cassock and detained Ruby, who
was lingering rather expectantly. They wandered beneath the swart yews,
which canopied the churchyard mournfully, shadowing the grotesquely
shaped tombs — obelisks and sarcophagi, needles of stone, an immense
triple-tiered round erection of fluted marble, like a wedding cake, and
a stout stone boy, apparently of negroid extraction. All these tombs
were greened over by lichen, and as Ruby and Ernest walked under the
trees their faces took a greenish tint, as if upon them also it had
gathered. Keturah Cantlop's grave was smothered with waxen wreaths in
glass cases, for Mrs. Cantlop added a new one every Easter. She thought
them far more beautiful than real flowers. The little mound, thus
decorated, lying so darkly by the water under the heavy yews, had given
Ruby a great distaste for white flowers.
When they came to it she shivered and turned away. Ernest did not
notice. He was flushed and heated with the service and with the
consciousness of having preached a successful sermon. As Sarah would
have said, he was 'flown with words.' Mrs. Cantlop, who enjoyed many a
half-hour's nap under the mellifluous ebb and flow of Ernest's
self-expression, said when Ernest's preaching was criticized in her
presence: 'Ah, well! He has a gift for imparting knowledge.' To this
Catherine had rather tartly replied: 'If only he had any to impart!'
Ernest was, therefore, pleased with himself, Ruby and their
background of the world in general. He was only waiting to gravitate
again to the scene of his triumph until Solomon and Mr. Arkinstall had
gone. These two found the vestry convenient for their weekly talk.
Before church they argued. During the service they seethed. Afterwards
they quarrelled bitterly.
When they came out, Ernest said: 'Come into the vestry, Cousin Ruby.'
She was not his cousin, but Ernest liked what he called the homely ties
and titles of relationship, and if they were not there, he invented
them. The atmosphere of the vestry, though not so sacrosanct as that of
the church, was still sufficiently hassocky. Ernest sniffed it and
found it very good. The vestry was under the belfry at the west end,
and was curtained off from the church, so that the choir (who came in
humbly one by one in ordinary dress, conscious of their inferiority as
mere men) might robe in decent seclusion and emerge suddenly, surpliced
and looking quite different from their week-day selves, when the sexton
flung back the curtain with his dramatic gesture.
'Sit down, Ruby,' said Ernest, proffering the sexton's carved chair
and himself taking the small one with the rush seat (a great
Ruby felt embarrassed and alarmed, and rather as if she were going to
have an operation.
In the dark-stained window above, blue-bottles buzzed, drunk with the
fruit of the harvest decorations. Ruby's eyes strayed upwards She
caught herself thinking, as she watched them crawling, so tight and
well-found, that they looked as if they wore cassocks.
Ernest did not hesitate. He knew what he intended to say, and he said
'Cousin Ruby, you must be mine! You shall be mine!'
Ruby was pleasantly conscious of a very pretty openwork yoke, and she
looked up disconcertingly through a long, loosened strand of bright
'Is it because you think I'm pretty, Ernest?'
Ernest moistened his lips.
'Looks are nothing, Ruby. It is a meek and quiet spirit that I ask in
'Would you love me if I was like Mrs. Gosling?'
'Don't be flippant, Ruby.'
'But don't you like people to be pretty?'
'If looks are an index to the mind. But bodily beauty interests me
He looked long at the bright hair, the cream-and-roses skin, and
licked his lips again.
'Amber says, if you love a person, you love them because of the me
in them. Because they're them and nobody else. Will you love me that
way and never say “clumsy!” or “stupid!” or “foolish”?'
Ernest thought it best to refrain from all mention of moulding, and
not to give her any hint that her value lay in her ductility to the
hand of the potter.
'So it is yes, Ruby?' He took her hand in his large white one.
'Oh, it isn't real,' cried Ruby suddenly. 'Amber said you felt all
different, and I don't. It will be dull being married, if I feel just
the same as I do now.'
For a moment Ernest's soul, or his conscience, or his essential self
was pricked into a mistrust of itself. The 'sense of tears' which, in a
world brimful of tears, must visit the most self-satisfied at times,
stirred in him as he looked at Ruby's childish face and heard her
callow questionings. Then he pulled himself together, cast aside his
doubts and fell back upon custom and the letter of the law. Once more
his spirit lay inert, a partially atrophied organ embedded in the fatty
deposit of expediency.
'Of course! Of course!' he said comfortably. 'We feel different.
Quite, quite different.'
This was true. He was feeling uncomfortably warm and was perspiring a
'Yes, Ruby?' he suggested helpfully.
Ruby indicated that it was yes, and Ernest kissed her. Ruby edged
'Oh, your mouth is hot, Ernest! Hot and slow like —' she had almost
said — 'like a blue-bottle.' She felt as if the row of surplices that
hung in folds characteristic of their wearers, watched and criticized.
There was the Rector's, straight and spare, seeming to deprecate
tatting; Mr. Arkinstall's, long, with a kind of smug droop; Ernest's
own, starched and robust; Mr. Dank's (he was organist) almost hidden
beneath that of Mr. Mallow, the constable. Mr. Mallow's was the largest
of all. It was his astral self. It hung in the swelling folds admired
of Sarah. It was like a football from which the inside is removed — a
touch will collapse it, but until the touch comes, it seems to be the
same round, hard ball as ever. By virtue of it Mr. Mallow's presence,
breathing Law, still haunted the vestry.
Ernest was huffy, with some excuse. He took off his cassock and said
'Home!' while Ruby still eyed the blue-bottles with fascinated disgust.
Going out, in her confusion and hurry, she stepped on one of the
trailing bell-ropes, and down from the belfry came a tiny mournful
toll. Going out between the sheaves of corn, Ruby's eyes, which had
been vacant and asleep, took a gleam of wakefulness, and within the
wakefulness was a seed of fear.
When they told their news to the family, grandmother smacked her
lips. To the old, or the mentally unoccupied, or the spiritually
slumbrous, events are a stimulant — almost their only stimulant.
Grandmother was not at all interested in the thoughts of those she
lived with, but she was absorbedly interested in their doings. Let them
fall from heaven to hell in the life of the soul — grandmother would
not be aware of the slightest change in their condition; but let them
cease to take sugar in their tea — grandmother was all agog in a
moment. So now it was she and not Mrs. Darke who questioned as to the
date of the wedding.
'Soon, great-aunt, soon!' said Ernest.
'Where'll you live?' asked Solomon, who, as he said, scented
'Well, if convenient —, Ernest looked at Mrs. Darke, with whom he
had already prudently arranged matters.
'They'll live here,' said she.
'Until I attain my vicarage.'
Ernest always spoke of this vicarage as if it were a-building for him
in some terrestrial foretaste of Paradise, and were his for the taking.
This attitude annoyed Catherine, her contempt for Ernest being extreme.
'You've had one offered you, then?' she asked, in the smooth,
Persian-cat manner which made Sarah so wrathful.
'Well, to be accurate, not yet, not exactly.'
Ernest generally went to pieces when in conflict with Catherine. Then
he reflected that Catherine was perhaps jealous of Ruby; he rallied.
'Though, until I get my vicarage, I shall not need a help-meet, I do
want a companion,' he explained. 'It is not good for man to live
'Alone? In this house?' Jasper spoke with a kind of bitter wonder.
His eyes, travelling round the room, were so full of mingled disgust
and half-comic dismay that Amber with difficulty kept her gravity.
'Never alone!' said grandmother. 'There is an Eye that watches. There
is an Ear that hears.'
Ernest adjusted his collar, beaming. 'I'm gregarious — gregarious,'
'I love my fellows, and I hope — I may say I think — that my
fellows love me.'
He had the unconscious conceit of those temperamentally gregarious
people with whom companionship has become a lust; who think they are
always wanted; who mistrust and hate the lonely soul that does not want
them. Eventually, these people become exasperated with the non-social
being and (by way of a cure) shut him up with a great many other people
in some prison of the body or of the mind. Very often the first time in
his life when the unfortunate being is allowed the privilege of
loneliness is when he lies, at last, in his grave.
'Yes, I am sociable — very sociable. But one needs more. One needs,
in short, a wife, one with whom to share the lifelong eucharistic
sacrament of marriage.'
'No popery!' cried grandmother suspiciously. The word eucharist
always annoyed her. She and Ernest did not agree very well, he being
'High' and she 'Low,' he saying 'Ah-braham,' while she said
'Ay-braham.' Such a difference even religion could not bridge. At this
point Ruby, who had been staring at Mrs. Darke like one hypnotized,
suddenly burst into a torrent of words.
'Live here? Live here? But when people are married, they have their
own house, and furnish it and have presents and a storeroom —'
'When Ernest gets his bishopric you'll have all that, dear,' said
Catherine. But Ruby took no notice. She was stirred to the depths of
her not very deep personality.
'If I can't have a house and a storeroom and a trousseau, what's the
use of getting married?'
She burst into loud crying. Ernest came forward and laid his
well-kept right hand on her shoulder.
'You will have me,' he said with suave simplicity.
Ruby looked up at him with an expression that seemed to Amber to say
that Ernest was the fly rather than the ointment. She cried louder. But
grandmother saved the situation. She tapped her stick with authority.
'Clothes! The child must have clothes for the credit of the family.
She's gotten what she has in a pretty pickle! Hey! She's a tomboy, and
so you'll find, great-nephew!'
Ernest looked as though he were prepared to mould any quantity of
tomboys into patterns of wifeliness.
'Gowns! She shall be brought unto him in a raiment of needlework. I
must have a new one too, and a cap.' She eyed her daughter, conscious
'No bow,' said Mrs. Darke.
'I will have a bow! My grand-daughter's being married, ain't
'You're too small, mamma.'
'Son-in-law!' cried grandmother.
'You must have out the closed carriage and Enoch must drive us to the
Keep. There are some nice new caps at Mrs. Griffin's, with small
bows' — this with a pleading glance at her daughter —'for Sarah saw
'em last time she was there. When was it, Sarah?'
'Monday was a week, mum,' said Sarah, sweeping crumbs with the action
of a mower.
'So you'll order the carriage, son-in-law?'
'I suppose so, ma'am; eh, Rachel?'
Mrs. Darke nodded. At once the closed carriage, Enoch and Mrs.
Griffin became enrolled in the book of destiny.
Ruby brightened. Edging away from Ernest's hand, she sat down at her
grandmother's feet with a confiding air.
'Will you buy me frocks, granny?'
Among Mrs. Velindre's good qualities was a certain generosity which,
though perverse and variable, could always be counted on at an occasion
like this. For she loved a merrymaking almost as much as a funeral. She
was just going to assent when Mrs. Darke said: 'You will have what's
'There! Kiss your mother, Ruby,' said Ernest. Ruby did so, murmuring:
'White satin and a veil?'
'Is white satin suitable to a country girl?' asked Catherine
non-committally. She had a way of managing people through these vague
questions. 'Why not muslin?' she added.
'Ruby would look very nice in satin,' said Amber, 'and not nearly so
nice in muslin.'
Mrs. Darke hesitated. It was really a satisfactory match. The economy
of it pleased her, for it was only a case of telling Sarah to move
Ruby's things into Ernest's room, and of having Ruby's food paid for by
Ernest. Yes. It must be encouraged. But white satin was absurd.
'What does great-nephew say?' asked grandmother.
'I don't care what he says!' cried Ruby, stamping, and drowning a
murmured — 'Not in putting on of apparel.' 'If I can't have satin, I
won't marry you, Ernest. There!'
Ernest moistened his lips slightly. Decidedly moulding was required.
But for the present —'Well, great-aunt, I think Ruby would look well,
very well, in satin. It would do for parties after,' he added frugally.
'At the Palace,' murmured Catherine.
'Very well, Ruby,' said Mrs. Darke. 'White satin and no nonsense.'
'No nonsense!' echoed grandmother firmly, but with a sneaking fear
that caps with bows — even small ones — were nonsense.
'Can we go soon?' Ruby's spirits were rising fast. 'Can we have the
band to dance with and a knife-and-fork tea?'
'I don't see why not,' said Solomon. 'The first to go and all.'
'Only I'm not going!' Ruby's lips trembled again.
'Very well,' said Mrs. Darke, seeing another outbreak imminent.
Ruby was pacified, and Solomon and Ernest were able to retire and
discuss the financial side of the affair. For in respectable houses
marriage by barter is still the fashion instead of the much more
interesting marriage by capture and the rare, seemingly almost
unattainable, marriage for love.
Ruby fixed the day, early in November, after very little persuasion.
She was dull and her mind was not sufficiently furnished to be any
entertainment to her. So the prospect of excitement, a stir, new
possessions, was very attractive. As Sarah said, it was all fixed up as
neat as egg-and-breadcrumbs.
It never occurred to Ruby that in her passion for the acquisition of
goods she was losing herself.
Chapter 9. HOW THEY WENT TO THE KEEP
It was beneath one of the grieved skies of early October that the
five women set forth to buy Ruby's finery. Amber noticed how the clouds
lay in long bars of faded lilac on a background of pale, irradiant
yellow, wherein faint veinings were visible, like those in a sweet pea.
Across the lilac and the yellow and the pale golden lines floated on
the damp westerly wind small tear-coloured clouds.
Amber's thoughts were sad-coloured also, as she looked out of her
window at grandmother's piercing call:
'Grandchildren, I'm waiting!'
Ruby was so boisterously gay, so full of song, so lavish of
confidences and childish hugs, that she seemed pathetic, almost tragic.
Amber reflected that Ruby lived on the smooth surface of life — a
surface that covers all the griefs, the boiling hatreds, the wild
impossible loves and the white-hot despairs under a decent exterior.
But for all its smoothness, Amber thought, it was only a lava crust.
The volcanic fires might break through at any moment, consuming,
terrible. She was afraid for Ruby. She felt, as she had felt for
Jasper, a creeping dread of something sinister, not coming from
without, but lying dormant — a seed of evil — somewhere in the
ghostly recesses of the house itself. She hastily counted up her pocket
money, destined to be spent at the jeweller's on a watch for Ruby. For,
as if there were not enough time-pieces at Dormer, Ruby wanted another.
Ernest suggested silver; Catherine gun-metal. But Amber was determined
that whether Ruby's life were golden or not she should at least have a
Grandmother's voice being again uplifted, Amber ran down. The closed
carriage was drawn up before the door, and revealed itself as a small
brake, to which had been fastened a frame with a brown waterproof top,
and curtains all round. Thus was attained the maximum of convenience
with the minimum of extravagance. On the box sat Enoch, arrayed for the
occasion in his fawn livery coat with silver buttons, and a kind of
baby top-hat, rather rough in the nap, trimmed with corded ribbon. The
horse-rug discreetly hid his corduroy trousers. Amid all the changes
and chances of Enoch's upper garments — working coat, Sunday coat,
livery — his nether garments remained immutable, as if to symbolize
his scornful attitude towards these ceremonial robes.
'I'm up, and in!' cried grandmother, peering like a brown bird
through the brown curtains, rustling from side to side across the
straw-covered floor, leaning on her tall stick. She wore her winter
cape, a creation of Mrs. Cantlop's, made of multitudinous flounces of
brown wool. It was really a charity to give Mrs. Cantlop work of this
kind, for without tatting or crochet she was as restless as a sugarless
canary. Instead of the usual black satin sun-bonnet, Mrs. Velindre wore
her state bonnet, a helmet of net and beads tied under her witch-like
chin with a huge purple bow.
Ernest, Solomon and Sarah came to 'send' the party, while Marigold
and Mrs. Gosling hovered in the shadows of the hall.
'Well, Marigol',' said her mother, as Ruby dashed downstairs with
ribbons, veil and scarf flying, 'I'm in behopes the poor thing'll live.
She eats hearty and she looks hearty, but I partly think the strapping
uns go quickest. There was Polly of the Mill, and there was Mary Anne
of the World's End Public, as faded with the fading of the first year,
and died at Tummas-tide. But they do say she laughed at a blind man at
the lych-gate as stood to bless the bride, so it served un right,
seeing the poor fellow was dark.'
'Dunna crake so, mother. It's easy talking for you with troubles done
and nought in mind but dressing poor folk for Judgment. But for them
with their troubles to come—,'
Mrs. Gosling meditated. Then she said:
'Enoch looks grand to-day! The livery sets him off, and that majenty
Marigold tilted her nose scornfully, muttering: 'Enoch, indeed!' and
a burning blush ran from neck to forehead.
''s Ruby!' commanded Sarah. 'Wait till I fettle you, or they'll say
at the Keep as Dormer folk goes to town with their things daggly all
about. But it's Mr. Ernest as ought to tie the laces, for luck.'
Ernest did so with no very good grace; for when he knelt, he liked a
'I wish Sarah would know her place,' muttered Mrs. Darke.
'Know your place, Sarah!' piped grandmother, who was very much
Sarah folded her arms.
'I thank 'Im above as I know my place as well as most, mum,' she
said, mentally selecting one of grandmother's Spode vases for oblation
to the 'world.'
Solomon, who had watched them get in and who now scented a domestic
disturbance, said: 'Gee-hup, Enoch!'
'Up, Solomon! Not “hup,”' said Mrs. Darke.
'Up! Up!' shrieked grandmother, like Deborah arousing the Israelites.
They swung out of the gate, the curtains flapping; Ruby chattering,
losing her purse and finding it again; Catherine sitting, very cool and
polite, opposite grandmother, who indulged, at every declivity, in
ejaculatory prayer, and took the more mundane precaution, at the worst
hills, of prodding Enoch with her stick to remind him to be careful.
Meanwhile Solomon took the gundogs into the dining-room, which was
forbidden, and sat down with a stiff whisky and soda to concoct a
letter to Mr. Arkinstall which should, without bringing him under the
law, convey to that gentleman exactly what he (Solomon) thought of his
proposed fee for teaching Jasper to farm.
Sarah, Mrs. Gosling and Marigold retired to the kitchen, where they
revelled on cold pie, colder prognostications and green tea, which Mrs.
Griffin procured especially for grandmother. Mrs. Velindre always drank
this, not because she particularly liked it, but because it reminded
her of her youth, which had receded so far into the past that she
revered it almost as much as the Bible. If ever Mrs. Griffin was 'out
of' green tea, being a very complaisant person, she hated to say so.
She, therefore, put down 'green tea' in the bill. But, being very
honest, she only charged the price of black. Whereupon grandmother
cried jubilantly: 'Green tea's gone down!' and enjoyed the black
Ernest went to his room to touch up a little book of sermons which
'friends at the Keep' had asked him to publish. No one could ever find
out who these friends were. Catherine suggested that they must have
been his landlady, who couldn't read, and her son, who was deaf and had
not heard them. It was to be called 'Gleanings from the Sermons of a
Parish Priest.' Sarah, dipping into it while doing Ernest's room,
remarked to Marigold: 'If this is only the leasing, God save us from
Meanwhile the equipage trundled along through the lonely, deep,
dim-burning countryside. First through the outer precincts of Dormer
forest, where the tall beeches and the mountain ash trees, slender and
haughty in their flaming scarlet, seemed to give as little heed to the
passing of the carriage, with its tumult of human tongues, as to the
crawling of a brown beetle in the grass, but remained, wrapped in their
age-long meditation. Here the road lay beside Dormer brook, which
flowed — mute, brown, and covert — beneath trees so close and heavy
that they plunged the road into green twilight. Tall early-tinted
poplars pricked up, covered with beaten gold, like spires belonging to
a worship secret and remote. Sparsely in the hedges grew the pale,
infragrant flowers of early autumn — wild snapdragon, scabious, purple
and blue, wan yarrow and the forlorn harebell. Amber gathered some of
these for Ruby as they walked up the long hill at the foot of which
Jenny always stopped, looking round with an appealing air and the
expression of a reasonable person putting the case to another
'Tabor on a bit, Jenny, my girl!' said Enoch, and the carriage
meandered up the hill.
Amber thought: 'It's autumn with me, cold autumn; and it's never been
summer.' It was of the sadness of autumn that she thought — of the
tearful harebell and not of the golden spire. For a moment she envied
Ruby. She was, at least, plunging into life of some sort. Then suddenly
the affair appeared to her startled mind exactly as it was — a compact
between ignorant vanity and calculating lust.
'Do you love Ernest?' she asked in a tremor.
Ruby was not offended.
'Well enough,' she said.
'Oh, turn back! Turn back! It's not too late.'
'Too late for what?'
'To save yourself.'
'But I don't want to be saved. I want to be married.'
'Oh, you don't know — you don't think —,
'How do you know?'
Amber paused; she tried to find the explanation of what she knew, how
she knew it.
'It's something deep down,' she said, 'far down, like a pool in a
mountain hollow. I look down; I see things pass there, faces looking
up, hands beckoning. It's as if the things other people have felt come
and lean over me. And I see them, far down and faint —,
Ruby laughed, startling the little birds that feasted in the hedges.
'I suppose that's some of Jasper's stuff,' she said. The family
always took it for granted that Amber's remarks must be derivative.
'Oh, Ruby! Don't laugh. Think! Wake up! Marrying a man you don't love
is being hired at a hiring fair for wives.'
'What things you say! But Ernest does love me.'
'As much as his nature lets him, I expect.'
'Then tell him to go away and increase his capacity.'
Once more the little birds fled up before Ruby's laughter.
'How could he go away when he's curate of Dormer? What would mamma
say? Oh, Ambie, it's a good thing you're going to be an old maid! You
would give your young man an awful time!'
An old maid — an old maid! Ruby was unconscious of the sharp pain
she had given; of the passionate rebellion she had aroused.
'Yes! She is right,' thought Amber. 'She is marrying. Catherine will
marry. Marigold, even Sarah, will marry. But never Amber — who would
want Amber Darke?'
She knew her limitations. Yet in some occult way she knew herself
sad, not with the grief of emotional sterility, but with the sorrow of
the honeyed flower that no bee visits.
'Still,' she said aloud, 'better be lonely for ever than marry
'Do stop croaking, Ambie, and be nice!'
They walked on in silence, eyed from the leafy layers above by
wood-pigeons who lamented in tones impersonal yet impassioned,
monotonous yet arresting. It seemed as if that for which they mourned
were too old to be remembered, and had vanished, leaving nothing but a
'What are you thinking of?' asked Amber, hoping that Ruby was
repenting of her decision.
Ruby looked dreamy.
'I was thinking,' she said, 'that Catherine will be talking mamma
into muslin, and I will have satin!'
Amber sighed, looking away across the plain that was rimmed with
sorrowful blue — the blue of swallows that flash and are gone; the
blue of drowned forget-me-nots; the faded blue of old men's eyes; the
blue, lucent and pure, of a child's veins; all mingled, running into
one another beyond the cloud shadows, all gathered into one sad,
'She wants gold for the maids' dresses!' cried grandmother,
Catherine had evidently made good use of her time. She never walked
uphill. Her theory was that Jenny was a beast of burden and should
therefore have burdens. As for the dresses, gold would not suit Amber.
It would show up all her bad points. But herself it would suit. It
would make her look like a richly-jewelled Madonna.
'Get in!' said Mrs. Darke. 'Let's get there and get done.' They
climbed in and sat in an atmosphere of displeasure, knowing, without
Mrs. Darke saying it, that Mrs. Griffin ought to have come to Dormer,
instead of Dormer taking an unnecessary outing and going to Mrs.
Griffin. Four times a year, in the spring, at midsummer, at the turn of
the year, at Christmas, Mrs. Griffin's head young man visited Dormer in
his gig, bringing an evangel of fashion — designs, rolls of material,
all kinds of feminine gear. Mrs. Gosling still called him 'the
As they neared the Keep, they met gigs and various cows and sheep,
the latter wearing the expression of nervous tension which attendance
at an auction gives to animals. They adopted the sensible plan, at the
Keep, of doing all their buying and selling on one day. The farmer
brought his cattle and the wife her butter and both invested in such
things as farm and family needed—a sack of flour, a pig, a roll of
scarlet flannel. The latter would be purchased from Mrs. Griffin after
a sitting of half an hour or more. As Sarah said: 'Mrs. Griffin never
stinges words. Whether you lay out ten pound or ten farthings it's all
one, she'll talk till your yead sings.' When they passed Mrs. Griffin's
on their way to the inn, there she was in the midst of a crowd of
ladies buying for dear life, while their husbands had a final glass.
Dinner was awaiting them, for Mrs. Darke was no niggard where her own
dignity was concerned, and liked to order things in style. They sat
down in a panelled parlour with so many corners that hardly a panel was
of the same size. This had been a great coaching inn, and in Mrs.
Velindre's youth, several times a week, it blossomed with high-born
ladies in delicate dresses.
'I mind,' said grandmother, 'how my Aunt Deborah brought me here to
buy a white gown to be bishoped in. I was but eleven. The Bishop didn't
come often, and you had to get rid of Sattan when you could. I hid an
apple-cob in my pocket (Sattan being in me at the time), and the grease
showed. Aunt Deborah said: “Bishoped you may be. That's the will of the
Lord. Birched you shall be. That's mine.” A very brisk woman was my
When dinner was over, they went down the short, steep village street
to Mrs. Griffin's. When Ruby had emerged from her congratulations (like
a strong swimmer from a high sea) business was begun. Then those who
came for buttons and those who came for pins were little accounted of;
everyone gathered round the Dormer family.
'I want,' said grandmother, 'a purple gown and cap with a purple
From the window three caps were fetched. Mrs. Griffin's windows were
very fascinating. They were many paned, high up from the ground, and
bent very slightly into a gentle bow. Within, everything, from boots to
velvet, from sugar to sheets, was arranged in neat boxes piled in
pigeon-holes. Nothing disdained the neighbourhood of anything else on
the counter, and there was a delicious scent of new calico, soap, tea,
apples and leather. It was, in fact, the thing dearest to Mrs.
Griffin's heart, a blend. From tea to shot silk, from coffee to wine,
she loved a blend.
Grandmother sat on a high rush chair, like a thin little bird,
balancing one of the caps on her head.
Mrs. Griffin looked at the others.
'A thought — just a thought — too large?' she suggested.
'It would suit Mrs. Cantlop,' said Catherine.
'Ah! Mrs. Cantlop's a fine figure,' said the milliner.
Mrs. Griffin frowned at her. Grandmother was here, and Mrs. Cantlop
'Bulk!' she murmured reassuringly. 'What is bulk to brain?'
'The cap is too large,' said Mrs. Darke. 'Take it away!'
Finally the right cap was found, the yellow silk and the white satin
chosen, and all the other fineries bought. They left the shop with a
conquering air, conscious that there was comparatively little that they
had not bought. The assistants, worn and exhausted, bowed them out.
Mrs. Griffin, fresh as ever, talkative as ever, bowed them out, looking
at Ruby — cause of all this honourable outlay — with the tranced
admiration with which Mr. Cantlop would have looked at a gold mine,
could be have found one. Enoch, without emotion, loaded up. Jenny,
without emotion, watched him. Only, as she started, she shook her head
sadly, patiently, as the Rector might have shaken his over some
choirboy's peccadillo. So much useless lumber to be dragged to Dormer!
And Amber, tired and quiet in her corner, thinking of Ruby's reason for
marrying, and of the bridegroom, central figure to all this pomp, and
of her own dreadful appearance in the yellow dress, was inclined to
agree with Jenny.
The trees, dark, leafy still, but with the rasping music of autumn in
their withering boughs, leaned and muttered above them as they passed.
As the night wind rose, they seemed to shout a message, a message with
no words, a thought expressed in music and moanings. But the voices
were so loud within the carriage, raised in altercation about the
purchases, that Amber could not listen to it. She only thought: 'The
forest is a great artist. It is never paltry, never mean.' Then she
drew her coat more closely round her, for coldly with the cold
wandering wind came the thought:
'The forest will sing like this when I am dead. I shall die, but I
shall not have lived.'
Chapter 10. THE WEDDING
The great day dawned, as such days often do, in a tumult reminiscent
of spring cleaning, preparations for a family holiday, and sudden
death. At seven, by way of adding her mite to the confusion,
grandmother rang for Sarah.
'What is it now, mum?' asked that sorely tried prop of the household.
Grandmother nodded sideways at her new cap, which sat on a knob at
the foot of the bed in much the same way as it was to sit on her head,
so that knob and cap together looked like grandmother's elf.
'I don't like it,' said Mrs. Velindre. 'My great-niece chose it, and
I don't like it. I don't like her either.'
'She's as 'Im above made 'er, mum, but I doubt He didna give full
mind to the job. Seconds she is, like the tea-set she gave 's Ruby.'
'Is the mistress up?'
'Not yet, thank God!'
'She don't like a merrymaking, Sarah! She pretends she does, but she
Her daughter was the one person of whom she did not speak
possessively. It was always 'Rachel,' or 'the mistress.' With others it
was, 'my great-niece once removed,' 'my husband's nephew.' These
people, she tacitly implied, had no place in the world except in
relation to herself. Possibly the sinking of the possessive in her
daughter's case was an unconscious act of homage to an egosim even
stronger than her own. These two bad been meant for individualists.
This not being allowed, they bad become egoists, which always happens
on the principle that if you deny a child sugar it will steal from the
sugar-basin. The human mind, unless it is to remain nescient, must have
itself, must develop and explore itself. The more vital, the more awake
it is, the more it must turn inwards. For within, deep in the tenebrous
recesses of sub-consciousness, man hopes to find God. Not in churches,
not in his fellows, not in nature will he find God until he has seen
all these things mirrored in that opaque and fathomless pool, lying
within his own being, of which, as yet, we know nothing.
'Tell my eldest granddaughter to come and furbish it up,' said Mrs.
''s Amber's along of 's Ruby in the attic. 's Ruby's roaring crying.'
'What? What? What? On the wedding day?'
'It met be she likes the taste of salt, but I know my place too well
to inquire, mum.'
'Sarah! Has Mrs. Cantlop got a new one?'
Sarah clicked her tongue.
“Ow should I know, mum? I'll send 's Amber to you.'
She departed, arriving in the hall just as Enoch staggered up to the
door with a huge wedding post.
'Well, you've lugged us a power of things!' said Sarah, arms akimbo.
'I do sweat,' remarked Enoch.
'Ho! You've not begun yet. Come you in and lend a hand!' Enoch's eyes
took on their most cryptic, most bee-like expression, and he was just
beginning to say: 'It wunna be able to be done,' when Marigold
appeared. She rushed from the kitchen, all dishevelled pink and gold,
yellow hair waving, rosy print dress flying.
'Oh, Enoch, Enoch! You mun put the leaves in table for us, they'm
going to have the wold big cloth with the farmyard border, and sit down
seventeen all told; and there's the trestles in the barn and the yurns
to lug from the Rectory —'
Beneath that bewildering smile Enoch became as wax, and spent an hour
'Enoch can work as well as one here and there when he likes,' Sarah
remarked, pleased with the activity though not with the cause. She
turned to Marigold.
'Now, Marigol' Gosling, what ails you, smiling at Master Peter's
picture? You met clean the mantel brasses. Anybody 'ud think you'd been
to Gauby Market and lost yourself.'
'I've done 'em. They wunna come better!'
'I'll show 'em to come better!' cried Sarah. 'From rust to dust, from
vardigris to kettle-collow, every dirt's 'ware of its own master. Go
and get the kitchen breakfast. I'm clemmed.'
So the battle raged, above and below; the kitchen fire roaring; Sarah
shouting; the cuckoo striking every hour too soon; Rectory-Lucy and the
other helpers rushing about like frightened hens; Sarah turning out the
cats; Enoch bringing them in again; the gundogs howling; Peter lying in
wait to startle Marigold, making her drop the Crown Derby sugar-basin;
Sarah saying 'it was to be,' and storing fragments for the 'world';
Mrs. Darke seven times frozen; Mrs. Cantlop seven times thawed;
Marigold in tears for fear she would have to leave; Ruby in tears for
fear she wouldn't; Ernest, Solomon, Peter and Jasper all fetching hot
water for shaving at different times, each taking, as Mrs. Gosling
said, 'the one poor drop I kep' to scalt the gizzards'; grandmother
ringing, unanswered, till the bell broke, when she took refuge in the
imprecatory psalms; Amber trying to keep her temper, which was always
apt to be hasty, and greatly desiring someone to laugh with; and Enoch,
huge, silent, calm, like some carved figure of a god contemplating the
hot fury of a market-place.
When Amber went to Mrs. Velindre's room, the trouble of the cap was
not abated. Box after box had to be pulled out from under the vast bed
in the search for cap decorations. Grandmother kept innumerable boxes
stored in this way, imagining that the dark green valance would
discourage burglars. Sarah knew of the treasures, but as she always
freely and openly alluded to them as bonfire fuel, grandmother did not
fear for her honesty. What with the boxes, the Christmas-card screens,
the feather fans, old gowns, and stacks of The Lion tied up with
wool, the room was quite stuffed with possessions, which seemed to
elbow grandmother's thin body almost out of existence.
When the cap was done, it was time to dress, and then, before she had
half finished, there were the carriages — lent for the occasion by
various neighbours — and there was Ruby with her veil half on and a
very red face refusing to go downstairs unless she could have a
definite promise from Ernest as to her dress allowance. Ruby was no
weakling, and she seized the strategic hour. So Ernest had to be
fetched from the drawing-room, where, before the greenish mirror, he
was practising the saying of — 'I will' — soft, loud, modulated,
mellifluous, gentle, virile, stentorian. He tried in all ways, and had
almost decided upon stentorian, when in came Peter, very sulky, saying:
'The little fool says you're to promise a dress allowance or she'll
chuck it.' Poor Ernest felt that perhaps 'modulated' would be best. He
'Dear Ruby,' he said, 'such thoughts must not trouble us in this
solemn hour. Nay, they shall not.'
'Fix it!' cried Ruby dramatically. 'Fix it, or no wedding!'
'She seems unstrung; she is unstrung,' said Ernest.
'Obstinate!' said her mother. 'Obstinate as a mule.'
'A mule — a mule!' sang grandmother.
'The price of a good woman is above rubies,' said Ernest helplessly.
'Fix it!' cried his bride.
So fixed it was. But Ernest was so much disheartened that he could
scarcely remember whether, after all, it was to be stentorian or
mellifluous. Everything, however, went well in church. Mr. Mallow sang
'Oh, that I had the wings of a dove, for then would I flee away.' This
was always a serious strain on Sarah's allegiance to Enoch. On the way
back to the house Catherine remarked — 'He sings that same thing at
every festival, and every time hesings it louder.'
'And better,' said Amber, for though Mr. Mallow amused her, she did
not like Catherine's bitter humour.
'And every time he sings it he is fatter, and his dream more
impossible,' finished Catherine.
She was looking even more attractive than she had hoped. The dress
was one of those that for some unknown reason endow the wearer with new
mysterious beauty. Jasper thought she was like a gold-encrusted, richly
jewelled saint in a niche in some dim cathedral. She had seemed (as she
intended) much more like a bride than the bride, much more full of
charm and tenderness and delicate femininity. Her figure had a slender
grace that made Amber's mean and gave the bride a kind of brawny
truculence. The lurid colours of the East window, which represented
Death and Hell with gloomy realism, were powerless to sadden her
cowslip-tinted gown, but they fell on the bride's white dress in wan,
forlorn, and gloomy purples, and as the midday sun shafted in through
the southern facet of the East window, it laid a derisive bar of
corpse-like blue across her hot, red face and on her hand, stretched
out to receive the ring. Jasper thought: 'How lovely my dear is! How
sweet! The devotion of a life, of a whole life, is not enough.'
Catherine thought, 'What a cow-like creature Ruby is! She'll give
herself such airs, being a bride. She shall not.' The white teeth
Peter thought, 'Marigold would look nice in a veil — all that yellow
hair — I'll try and get hold of Ruby's veil and put it on Marigold for
Ruby thought, 'Ernest's hand is too hot, and I wish he wasn't so
Ernest thought, 'She must learn not to pant. I must tell her about it
this evening. Still, she has a well-developed figure. That is good. She
has a better figure than Amber or Catherine.' He was able to say with
truth and placidity, 'With my body I thee worship.' Fortunately the
wedding service says nothing about the love of the soul.
The tremendous wedding breakfast, with its mountains of its rows of
little corpses of various sizes — turkey, goose, duck chicken,
pheasant — all tastefully laid out by Mrs. Gosling its rather solid
cake and its rather hollow gaiety; its health-drinking, with Solomon's
heavy mirth, the Rector's cultured compliments, Ernest's fulminating
eloquence and Jasper's shy and flowery little speech to which nobody
listened, was not over till well on in the afternoon.
The party separated for a short time before tea, and Peter took his
opportunity to fling the veil over Marigold. Ernest also took his
opportunity to give Ruby his caution as to panting. Jasper decided that
the moment had come for the presentation to Catherine of the wreath of
yellow jessamine that he bad persuaded Marigold to make for him. He
sought for Marigold.
'Here, Master Jasper,' came a muffled voice from the dairy, and a
very pink Marigold emerged, leaving Peter behind the door with the
'The wreath!' whispered Jasper.
Marigold fetched it.
'Don't tell of me, Master Jasper,' she implored.
'Tell what?' said Jasper, in a lover's dream.
'He's daft about Miss Catherine,' said Marigold, to the cautiously
'And I'm daft about you!' said Peter with a smacking kiss so loud
that Sarah, getting tea in the kitchen, cried:
But hearing that Enoch was not present, she subsided. The whole world
might give smacking kisses to all and sundry if Sarah's 'intended' was
not among them.
The day wore on. Tea was over. The villagers' knife and fork tea in
the barn was over, and the dining-room cleared for the dance. Ruby,
trying not to pant, sat expectant by her mother awaiting the guests.
First came Mr. Arkinstall, followed by his family in Indian file. Mr.
Arkinstall taught Peter and Jasper to farm, Solomon to keep accounts,
and the Rector to manage the parish. He was Solomon's fellow-warden. He
had a broad pale face, drooping moustaches, which Catherine said gave
him a Chinese look, and a sniggering laugh. He also had a gift for
devious conversation which concealed undeviating views. He had proved
undeviating about his daughter's engagement. Alice had been engaged to
the new organist for fourteen years. He was still the new organist; no
one was considered even a moderately old resident at Dormer unless he
had lived there sixty years. When Charles Dank was really new, being a
florid young man of twenty, he had 'asked for' quiet Alice Arkinstall.
Mr. Arkinstall had immediately forbidden it, with devious reasoning.
Charles, on weekdays, was clerk to the solitary lawyer at the Keep. But
as no one ever went to law there (not because they did not quarrel, but
because they were economical) there was not very much for the lawyer,
and there was very little indeed for the clerk. Mr. Arkinstall said
that financially the marriage was impossible; that Charles must have
saved at least a hundred pounds before he would even consider it, and
that, in short, he'd die before he'd hear of it. Charles' father — a
very much more scarlet exaggeration of Charles — really did die; for
when he interviewed Mr. Arkinstall, he was so exasperated by the
Chinese expression, the snigger and the devious talk that his old
enemy, apoplexy, overwhelmed him. All this discouraged the young
couple. They only had spirit enough just to keep on being engaged.
Alice collected vast quantities of doyleys and antimacassars, and
became a victim to Mrs. Cantlop's tatting. Charles looked for a house.
That is to say, he looked at the only house that fell vacant during the
fourteen years, but it was beyond his means. Every Sunday Alice
listened a little more quietly, but always with the same admiration, to
his rendering of the voluntary. This became, every Sunday, a little
more explosive. Alice knew exactly the places where he went wrong and
where he missed a few bars, for his playing had now lost the variable
elasticity of youth. As the Rector said with his accustomed tact, it
had matured. Like Charles, it had gone to seed before it reached
perfection. The denial of love and fulfilment and the heart's desire
will cause even a genius to run to seed. Charles in maturity was more
pathetic than Charles in youth, and he was most pathetic of all when he
played dance music, which he was to do to-night. He was to be at the
piano, Mr. Greenways had taken an evening off in order to play the
flute, and Mr. Mallow was to manage the clarionet. Amber, as she looked
at Alice, whose plain unlit face wore the vaguely jaded air of a woman
who nears forty and has never lived, thought that Mr. Arkinstall had
much to answer for. Then she reflected that Alice was happier than she
was herself, for someone cared whether Alice lived or died. Certainly,
it was a muted love. They met once a week, at church, and walked
circumspectly back to the Wallows. There, as no one invited Charles to
tea, they parted. Charles did his duty in both walks of life. He sat in
the office all the week, and was greatly admired by the vague,
infrequent old ladies who wandered in to make their wills. As one of
them said, 'To see the young man's heartening. He's like a geranium in
the window, makes you nigh forget the wrench of “I give and bequeath.”'
Mrs. Arkinstall was a small, pebbly woman of inexhaustible (and quite
necessary) obstinacy. She wore a royal blue dress immensely trimmed
with braid, and a high comb in her black, polished hair. Young Philip
Arkinstall followed. Philip was innocent of Chinese moustaches and
devious conversation. He was direct to bluntness. But he had his
father's changeless-ness of purpose. He went through life like a hound
on the scent. What he wanted, that he would have. He would follow it
until he or the desired object expired of exhaustion. His philosophy
was simple. Men's respect was an aid to power; respect was won by
money; money was gained by chicanery and bullying. Woman was created
because a monastic life was not good for man. One special woman had
been created for him, and that woman was Catherine Velindre. He had
polished hair like his mother's, a square head, a fighting mouth, and
hot grey eyes. He was the only person at Dormer from whom Catherine had
ever been known to hide. He sat down and stared at the door where she
would come in. Jasper also stared at the door. He had presented the
wreath and had seen it starrily crowning the smooth, auburn hair. His
face had been quite pale with adoration, and he had snatched her hand
and kissed it.
'Alice!'. whispered Amber. 'If I were you I should run away with
Alice's face became faintly rosy. 'Where?'
'But how could we live? Where could we live?'
'Under a haystack — anywhere.'
'But the crochet, and the doyleys?'
Alice sighed. What would be the good of life without doyleys? Amber
thought, 'She doesn't love him. If she loved him she wouldn't care what
sort of house she had. If she herself loved — ah! but that would never
be. She was lonelier than ever to-night. Even Ruby's infantile
friendship was gone, monopolized by Ernest. The man of her dreams, how
different from anyone here! The love of her life, how far removed from
the lukewarm, the mercenary, the lustful! 'That love is made in
fairyland,' she thought, 'and in fairyland it stays.'
Then she forgot her own untold story in seeing the stories of others
unfold. The two men watching the door stiffened, their eyes gathered
intensity. Catherine swept in. She had a boyish figure, except for her
breast, which was full and feminine. The starry crown suited her. On
her bare neck was Philip Arkinstall's last Christmas present, a locket
and chain; on her arm was Jasper's, a forget-me-not bracelet. Her long
eyes, her long fingers, her long, elaborately bound hair were instinct
with provocation, self-esteem, hauteur.
'I shan't give that gel much more tether,' said Philip to himself.
'What can I do for her to show how much I love her?' thought Jasper.
Sarah, peering in from the door of the back hall, whispered to
Marigold that 'if's Catherine took on like that, she'd know trouble.'
Marigold nodded with the immense wisdom of partial experience.
Jasper and Philip got up at the same moment.
'Sit here,' said Philip.
'Here!' whispered Jasper.
His eyes were a prayer. But when he turned them on young Arkinstall,
they were positively ferocious.
Catherine took Jasper's chair. The two young men stood beside her.
'Law!' said Sarah. 'She's the girl for lovers. Young Arkinstall,
Master Jasper, and Master Peter. Fancy three lovers!'
'Two,' said Marigold.
'Many and many 'ud be glad of one and that one as miserable and
poor-spirited as you like, but 's Catherine's got three as well set up
as ever I see.'
'Two,' said Marigold.
'You strike two as regular as a clock,' said Sarah.
The musicians began.
'Mr. Mallow plays like a saved soul in Paradise,' said Sarah. Mr.
Mallow was much redder, much more inflated in the cheeks than even the
most rotund of cherubs. He did not spare himself. He played loudly and
with regularity. Mr. Dank was explosive. Mr. Greenways was plaintive.
The dancing began.
'Here's bride and bridegroom,' said Sarah. 'She looks down already.
But what a couple! Well-matched they are. The good beef that's gone
into them two bodies!' She was lost in admiration. 'Eh! There's the
bell. That'll be the Rectory and a drove of visitors.'
Grandmother sat with her chin resting on the silver knob of her
stick, looking at the dancers with a mingling of curiosity, displeasure
and goblin mirth. She watched Mrs. Cantlop gloomily.
'I knew she'd have a new one!' she thought, watching the flamboyant
rose-red bows with a wistfulness that turned to glee as the mass of
silk and lace alit like a large migratory bird on the Rector's
shoulder, and floated to the floor. Mrs. Cantlop was, in grandmother's
phrase, roistering. Her white hair seemed in half a mind to follow the
cap; her plump face red and damp from hearty exercise; her purple dress
had been more than once caught by one of Solomon's firmly planted feet,
and a long loop of the lavish tatting on her petticoat trailed in her
wake and threatened the venturesome Rector with headlong downfall. The
good man knew it was reckless to dance with Mrs. Cantlop. The
experience of years told him so. Observation of others told him so. It
was like the race in the fairy tale; defeat was sure, the penalty
Yet be did it, like the kind soul he was. And while he gyrated under
the continually falling shadow of the cap he often wondered why it was
that Mrs. Cantlop kept her eternal juvenility. He came to the
conclusion that it must be because she loved so muchthe personality she
had created — the Keturah-cum-Keturah's-father ghost on which she
spent her devotion. And sometimes the Rector's conventional ideas,
firmly planted by school and university — the idea that a man's first
duty is to maintain his wife in physical (not psychical) comfort, that
a woman is admirable in proportion to the number of her progeny —
sometimes these ideas flickered in the wind of doubt. Then he was
almost tempted to think Mr. Cantlop would have done better for his wife
by giving her what she wanted, his own company; that Mrs. Cantlop was
perhaps doing more for humanity by simply loving
Keturah-cum-Keturah's-father than Mrs. Darke had done by lovelessly
producing four children.
Sarah, looking through the crack of the door, eating raisins,
whispered to Enoch (tiptoeing through the hall) that the Rector was
dancing to his doom. But Enoch did not hear this, nor did he hear her
'Mr. Ernest's the lad at the sugar-plum shop to-night! The missus
makes a funeral of every randy. 's Catherine goes well!'
Catherine might have been a toy train by the way Sarah spoke. 'It was
a pity I was obleeged to break that fan Mr. Philip give her for her
birthday,' she continued to Mrs. Gosling.
Miss Amber ought to get a young chap to lug her round,' said Mrs.
Gosling, already mellow with good marriage wine.
No miracle ever struck her as so truly divine as that of Cana.
'Look at Mrs. Cantlop's cap!' murmured Sarah. 'The old lady's
grinding-mad with Mrs. Cantlop for getting it.'
'Where's Master Peter?' said Mrs. Gosling.
'The quieter that lad is,' replied Sarah, 'the further he's in
mischief, like the cat in the cream jug.' Enoch was also silently
asking that question. He was wondering why Marigold, so sweet in her
new spotted muslin apron and the cap with the little streamers, had
vanished and left him in the cold. Being a practical person, he was at
present engaged on a tour of investigation.
'Oh!' said Sarah suddenly, 'look 's the Rector! I knew he'd meet
'It was to be,' said Mrs. Gosling devoutly, looking compassionately
at the prone figure of the gallant Rector.
The musicians, dumbfounded at the cataclysm, wavered into silence.
Grandmother laughed, and her laugh was like the sound of the winter
wind in the old ivy of Dormer, like the sigh of freezing water lapping
in the rustling reeds. Ernest came forward with proffered help, showing
by his expression that he could have better upheld rectorial dignity.
Solomon hoisted the unfortunate gentleman to his feet, ran a practised
hand from knees to ankles and remarked: 'Sound!'
Mrs. Cantlop, breathlessly penitent, fanned everyone near her with a
highly-scented handkerchief, and Sarah advanced with the hall clothes
brush and the instinctive motherliness which awakes in all but the most
hardened men and women at the sight of prostrate misfortune.
Grandmother pondered complacently on the retributive punishment of
vanity. She watched the dance begin again. There they were, slowly
whirling, softly lighted, gliding in a perpetual-seeming June, floating
dreamily as the dandelion clocks under the dreamy suns of her youth.
Blown by soft winds now! Lit by bright lamps now! But she knew, ah! she
knew well, that winds grow wild at summer's end; that the night turns
cold and grey; that the frost settles. And the dandelion clocks, where
are they? Rotting — rotting! The hand of old age was heavy on her, and
she did not hear the plaintive flute the loud piano, the shrewdly blown
clarionet. She heard only, out of the dark forest, out of her dim
heart, a voice full of trouble, crying: 'It is ended!'
Perhaps it was something of this trouble reflected in her face that
brought Amber across the room to sit by her. They watched the dance go
by. Ruby passed, pink as a tulip. Catherine came by, creamy as a
guelder rose. She was in the arms of young Arkinstall. Jasper's eyes,
brilliant as sunny brook water, followed her as she floated by. His
face, ardent and wistful when it dwelt on her, grew tense with jealousy
when it turned to Philip. But his was the next dance! It seemed to
Amber that they were all like creatures under a spell, like the mist of
rnidges that dances, whirling, in a tiny vortex, beneath the humid,
dusky branches of the yew. They dance, but they remain in one place.
They whirl for a few moments as if enclosed in an invisible cone. Then,
in the midst of their dance, they die as they have lived, beneath the
humid, dusky branches of the yew. So at Dormer they danced, as it were,
in prison. They were like the companies of knights and ladies who
wandered of old into the airless halls of enchantment, and drinking
night-shade wine, and hearing a music full of poppies, drowsed into an
everlasting motion more deathly than death. There was just this quality
of airlessness about the Dormer revels. Around them, below, above, like
the invisible air about the midges, pressed the faces of their
ancestors — earth-pale, unassuaged, as must be the ghosts of the
unhappy; merciless as must be the unperceptive mind. They had lived by
the laws of others. They had danced in the slumbrous prison of
tradition. They would enforce these things. In the dusky corners of the
ceiling ashen faces seemed to linger; beyond the dividing doorway, from
the twilight gloom of the drawing-room, mournful eyes seemed to peer;
through every note of the music there seemed to murmur voices of
denial. Like bees on an interloper, they pressed in on the small
picture of life, crowding silently, ceaselessly, till the very air
seemed ready to crack. Ruled by the dead, held by the dead in eternal
copyhold, filled the dead until there was no room for the living, the
house seemed to have gone mad with its own antiquity, and antiquity is
Suddenly grandmother spoke, muttering to herself, and Amber's curious
'All young,' said grandmother, 'all froward, and all damned!'
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Mrs. Gosling brooded over cooking ducks, and
Enoch brooded over Marigold. Where was she?
'Enoch, you look a dream!' said Sarah, coming in.
Enoch wore a discarded coat of Solomon's, something between covert
and frock, and a coloured waistcoat and a pair of check trousers (once
belonging to Mr. Gosling, who had been a publican). To crown all,
Marigold had tied round his neck (oh, the rapture of that tying!) one
of her own blue ribbons.
'Mumchancing again!' cried Sarah, irate that her homage was ignored.
'When the angel Gabriel calls out the name of Enoch, I believe you'll
mumchance and lose your turn for Paradise!' But Enoch was gone.
He wandered along the stone passage until he came to the dairy, and
at the dairy door, in the shadows, he stopped, stricken and forlorn.
For there, in the damp, sweet-smelling place, at the far end, lighted
by a flickering candle, he saw two graceful shadows dancing along the
whitewashed wall, and one shadow had a cap with little streamers. They
did not care for the music of flute or violin, for they heard the voice
of youth singing as he swayed in the apple-tree — the tree laden with
rosy fruit, where Eve gathered — and his song came thrilling to them
across the pans of faintly crinkled cream, and made the rough dairy
floor as smooth as glass.
'Eh, Master Peter! Master Peter!' whispered Enoch. His hands shook;
his legs trembled as he turned and stole away. Tears were on his face
as he came back to the kitchen and sat down heavily. He must think —
and thinking was strange to him.
'What, rainin'?' asked Sarah, seeing his wet face.
'Ah! Rainin' sore,' said Enoch.
But Sarah, going to the door, said:
'Why, it's fine as May! A lover's night if ever! You're mooning,
A lover's night — a lover's night! Ah! but it was for other lovers,
not for him, not for him.
In the dining-room, Mrs. Darke still looked on like a queen watching
the revels of an alien race. Grandmother still frowned at Mrs. Cantlop,
and Mrs. Cantlop still danced. Catherine still gave her eyes to Philip
Arkinstall, her thoughts to Peter's whereabouts and her errands to
'Cathy! Cathy!' said Jasper, at the end of a dance. 'Mine's the
'Did you find out where Peter was?'
'I can't give him away, Cathy.'
'Very well, I shall use your dance to find out.'
She went away. Returning with a gleam in her eyes, she whispered to
'Cheesecakes in the dairy!'
Now if there was a thing grandmother liked, it was cheesecakes.
Slipping off into the next dance, Catherine watched her departure
Amber went across to Jasper.
'I suppose you wouldn't dance with me, dear?'
'You aren't much good at it, are you?' said Jasper, sullen with
Amber sighed, feeling that tragic sense of her own incompetence which
is peculiarly bitter when the desire to help is strong.
They sank into depression.
In the dairy the dance went on with giggling and laughter. But upon
the laughter and the dance and the fluting of youth broke suddenly,
like the sound of doom, Mrs. Velindre's voice.
'Grandson!' said Mrs. Velindre; and the two culprits were stricken
'Grandson!', how dare you dance with a servant! Woman—go!'
Marigold went, and as she went grandmother's voice followed her.
'The abomination and the mouse!' said Mrs. Velindre, and she hobbled
away, leaving Peter still speechless with astonishment. For why, in the
name of all things malevolent, should grandmother have come to the
dairy — a place to which she hardly came twice a year?
'Now there'll be the devil of a row!' he thought with irritation.
'And all about nothing!'
As a matter of fact, neither he nor Marigold had had the slightest
thought of harm. Grandmother's stick came tapping across amid the
dancers. Catherine's long eyes turned towards her over Philip
Arkinstall's shoulder, watched her go up to Mrs. Darke, watched the two
go away together. She would teach Peter to ignore her, Catherine
Velindre, for a servant! She would teach Marigold to aspire where she,
Catherine, might have set her eyes! She laughed softly.
'Stupid, people are!' she said.
'Damn stupid!' said Philip.
He thought, 'She's scheming again. Well, let her scheme! Meanwhile, I
bide my time.'
In his thoughts he knew what he would do. He knew Catherine better
than she ever dreamt. He knew her schemes, her determination never to
marry him. He knew her brain was worth ten of his, and that she was
powerful because she had no weak spot of love for anyone. He knew that
she used him only as a rod to bring Jasper to his senses. Very well. He
would take the only course by which he could outwit her. He would bide
his time, and he would compromise her.
'They never see where they are being led,' said Catherine, who was
still simple enough to take a transparent delight in her own schemes.
'No,' said Philip.
'Blind as bats!'
'All but you, Cathy. You see everything.' He permitted him-to laugh,
and the laugh partook of his father's.
Chapter 11. MARIGOLD'S WARNING
Catherine knocked at Mrs. Darke's door. There was an appreciable
silence, then a curt, 'Come in.'
Mrs. Darke's room was large, tidy and cold. It was tidy with the
inhuman neatness of an hotel bedroom and a conventional mind, a
neatness that came from emptiness. A woman's life history is generally
written in her room. But in Mrs. Darke's room nothing was written. All
the world might have come and peered in without learning a single thing
about her. There was nothing to show that she had a husband or children
— no mementoes, no gifts from Solomon — as a matter of fact,
Solomon's gifts were infrequent. This was not from meanness, but
because on his rare visits to the Keep there were always cartridges and
dog biscuits and such things to buy. There was no picture of him either
as a young man or a middle-aged one. Perhaps this did not matter very
much, for Solomon's soul at the age of twenty had been exactly the same
as Solomon's soul aged sixty, therefore no particular interest could
attach to his face. His mother, in a fit of family pride, had once
suggested his having his portrait done like the Squire of the next
parish, in hunting pink. Mrs. Darke, caught between the precipice of a
direct statement on one hand and the whirlpool of needless expense on
the other, chose the precipice, and said: 'However expensive it was, it
would still be only Solomon, and I have Solomon.'
There were none of those reassuring little indulgences and luxuries
which, by proclaiming a person to be something of a sybarite, generally
give security of a certain dependableness. From the sybarite you are
more sure of mercy than from the ascetic, because he is a creature of
the emotions, and desiring passionately the good things of life, he can
guess the tragedy of being without them.
The furniture was severe and gloomy, for Solomon's mother, to whom
the room had belonged, held Calvinistic views, and Mrs. Darke had not
troubled to alter it. She went in and out like a stranger, leaving no
impress on anything in the house, for the desire for artistic
self-expression comes of a healthy individualism and not from the
disease of egotism, which is stunted development. Mrs. Darke was quite
unindividual. She was a part of her class and creed, just as a bit of
meteorological stone is part of a sun or a star. But it will never be a
world unless it has movement. Nor would Mrs. Darke ever be an
individual, because she had no living impulses. Her longing to be bowed
down to, her greed of power, were also the results of this lack of
growth. It was as if, very far away in the mists of the subconscious
self, she heard a voice cry that she did not exist, never had existed,
and in fear of being nothing had resolved to seem to be everything. The
outer form was all in all to her. She was one of those for whom
ceremonial is made. She had always done her duty by her husband and
children. She had seen to it that Solomon's winter coat was put away
with pepper in the summer, and that his frayed cuffs were mended by
Marigold or her predecessors. Her offspring had all suffered
vaccination, baptism, dentistry, and confirmation at the correct times.
She ruled Solomon's house in the orthodox manner. She had a gift for
autocratic rule, and was a staunch believer in matriarchy. She disliked
her own mother, who bored her, but she would never confess it even to
herself. She had a certain dour loyalty to the dour laws she obeyed.
That she did not love Mrs. Velindre was not astonishing, for in nothing
but physical fact was that lady her mother. For the real mother is,
first, a passionate lover of her children, recklessly spending herself
in the manner of all lovers. The idea of either Mrs. Velindre or her
daughter in the guise of a reckless lover had in it more of mirth than
conviction. They had somehow missed the gift, for it does not go
inalienably with the production of offspring, and it is sometimes found
in strange places — in the eyes of spinsters or invalids, in the smile
of some whom the world despises.
'Well, what is it now?' asked Mrs. Darke, as Catherine entered with
her usual circumspect softness. If anyone had ever wanted to confide in
Rachel Darke, they must have found it an uphill road. She looked at
Catherine now very much as a Squire looks at a poacher. But Catherine
was quite undismayed. Like a smoothly polished statue, she was
impervious to rough weather.
'Forgive me for intruding, dear aunt,' she said amiably, looking
round for a comfortable chair. Not finding one, she lay down on the
bed, for she liked to be as comfortable as possible. This was the first
time for some years that she had interviewed her aunt in this room, but
she had remembered the cold and had put on her winter coat. She lay
very blandly on the ancestral birth and death bed, her fur collar well
up, setting off her rich hair.
Mrs. Darke looked more than ever like a Squire contemplating a
poacher. She paced to and fro, hands locked, tormenting one another. So
might a lady abbess walk, as she pondered on the penance of an
impenitent nun. A lady abbess was what Mrs. Darke should have been,
since power was what she thirsted after — power for its own sake, not
necessarily over many, but completely over a few. Having been allowed
no power in her youth, even over herself, no responsibility even for
her own actions (for she had been dominated by Mrs. Velindre and family
opinion), the desire had grown into a lust. To tyrannize was metheglin
to her, and things had come to such a pass that she had the habitual
drunkard's mad and cunning craving, only what she wanted was the human
soul. On that she fed, on that she gloated as any cannibal might. If it
fled from her, she clutched at it; if it escaped, she used all her
finesse to catch it again; having caught it, she tore it in bitter,
silent rage. Catherine was aware of this idiosyncrasy. She understood
her aunt (for beneath their respective manners of chillness and suavity
they were both savages) and she wielded a peculiar power over her by
pretending to offer herself as an unconscious sacrifice, like a plump,
gay-feathered bird. Innumerable times did Mrs. Darke imagine that she
had sent Catherine quivering with mental pain to spend a night in
tears, and on all those occasions Catherine had nestled into bed very
happily, murmuring, as she opened her favourite devotional book,
'Fooled again, dear aunt!'
'Are you ill?' inquired Mrs. Darke, and her eye told that she would
give short shrift to malingering.
'Never better, Aunt Rachel.'
'Whom have you quarrelled with?'
'I never quarrel, dear aunt.'
'Are you in debt?'
'Then why come to me?'
'For all you know, Aunt Rachel, I may want to see more of you.'
Mrs. Darke laughed — a short and cutting laugh. Who had ever wanted
to see more of her, anything of her? Certainly not Solomon, who in his
loud and hearty way ignored her existence whenever it was possible. Not
her mother, for she was in the position of abdicating monarch, and in
an absolute monarchy that is an unpleasant position. She mingled, in
her treatment of her daughter, pathetic echoes of autocracy with
equally pathetic shivers of fear. When Mrs. Velindre irritated her,
Mrs. Darke said, in her incisive voice:
'I shall lock you up!'
To grandmother, who loved to hobble about with her tall, knobbed
stick, and peer into everyone's affairs, going softly in list shoes,
this threat had a creeping horror. She avoided her daughter, whenever
she could. For each member of the family Mrs. Darke had an especial
rod, except perhaps for Sarah. Sarah feared nothing, and had the
courage of her convictions. There were times when she even lingered
near Mrs. Darke, 'singing for trouble,' as Mrs. Gosling said, like one
queen wasp meeting another. On one such memorable day Sarah broke a
kitchen cup, thus laying herself open to her mistress's icy satire.
Mrs. Darke had concluded her speech with:
'I think, as the old Derby jug is never in your hands but once a
year, it may outlast you if you die soon.'
Whereupon Sarah, in scarlet wrath, had seized the heirloom with a
shriek of: 'Outlast me, will you?' and had dashed it on to the flags.
Strangely enough, she did not get notice for this. After all, who else
would have done so much work in so short a time for so little money?
Later, dabbing bits of it on to her 'world,' she had been shamed into
partial repentance by Enoch's reproachful gaze.
'Well, aunt,' said Catherine, curling herself more comfortably, 'it's
about Mrs. Gosling's girl.'
She never called Marigold by her name, thinking it foolish and
knowing Marigold to be proud of it.
Mrs. Darke started. So Catherine knew! The last person who should
'What about her?'
'Granny told me.'
'I shall lock her up!' muttered Mrs. Darke. 'Told you she's in
trouble?' she asked Catherine, her mouth sneering, for she found these
unruly emotions of youth contemptible.
'Yes. It's very sad, aunt.'
'Did she name the man?'
'Aha! Aha!' thought Catherine. 'You didn't want me to know!' Aloud
she said: 'I am sorry to say she did.'
If Mrs. Darke cared for anyone it was Peter. He was superficially
very like herself. She had planned his marriage with Catherine years
ago. Catherine would live here under her rule, produce children, and
uphold with her money the falling fortunes of Dormer. The way in which
her controlled rage shook her was horrible to witness. Catherine
watched, amused. Mrs. Darke was whelmed in class hatred — a futility
of the human race even more devastating than the foolishness of
national hatred. It was well for herself and for Marigold that the girl
was not in the room at the moment. Mrs. Darke tore her handkerchief in
two. Catherine winced, disliking the noise. Then, seeing that it was
going to happen again, she said: 'Dear aunt?'
'What will Peter do?'
'It's a mistake — a mistake. It must be Jasper.'
'I know it isn't Jasper.' 'How?'
'Jasper has proposed to me.'
Mrs. Darke's face was again distorted. The one son wouldn't marry
Catherine, and must. The other son must not, and would.
'Did you refuse him?
'Of course, aunt. How could I marry an infidel?' This at least was
'Shall you send the girl away?'
'Shall I? Shall I? She will go packing at once. Prostitute that she
'Oh, dear aunt!'
'Nonsense. You are not so innocent as all that, Catherine.'
'And will Peter go also?'
'He will not. He will stay here as arranged. His father and Ernest
are talking to him.'
Catherine shook with silent laughter. She could so well imagine the
'Will Peter marry her?'
'Marry her? I'd sooner see him dead.'
'Will he marry someone else?'
'Of course. The family must go on.'
A curious look tenanted Catherine's eyes for a moment. It had in it
both anger and fear. At the back of her mind was always a lurking
intuition that she was doomed to carry on some man's family. She
emphatically did not want to. She wanted to be a queen in her own
right, to rule men, to enslave, but never to be enslaved.
'Suppose the girl you have thought of won't take Peter at
second-hand? Who is the girl, auntie? You always have plans. I'm sure
you have decided.'
Mrs. Darke walked across the room, flinging over her shoulder:
'That is not your affair!'
'I think it is,' said Catherine. 'Behold the lamb for the burnt
Once more Mrs. Darke's handkerchief suffered. Things were going worse
and worse. She had not dreamed that Catherine guessed. And now she had
not only guessed, she had found out about Marigold. Mrs. Darke almost
Catherine enjoyed the upper hand for a while. Then she administered
'If the girl went away—right away for good, and Peter was sorry,
and turned from this low affection to a higher — well, it's a woman's
duty to forgive.'
'He's about as good as you'll get,' muttered Mrs. Darke. 'A woman
should help him to turn the new page and choose the new road.'
Mrs. Darke's usually expressionless face, winter-pale and at the same
time volcanic, expressed relief. She had planned this match, and her
plans were her career.
But Catherine knew, in her heart, that she never would marry Peter,
never forgive him. She would bring pressure to bear on Jasper, bend him
to her will, marry him.
'Have you interviewed the girl, aunt?'
'Could you send for her now?'
Mrs. Darke, for once, was obliged to submit. She would rather have
seen Marigold alone, but she rang the bell.
'House afire, mum?' queried Sarah, looking in. She wished to
emphasize the undesirability and unusualness of ringing bedroom bells.
Mrs. Darke felt that the house was afire.
'Send Mrs. Gosling's girl up,' she said.
'Almighty God take pity on 'er,' said Sarah devoutly, as she went
Marigold stood in the doorway — a washed-out Marigold with crumpled
apron and dejected little streamers. She was dazed by the storm that
had descended on her. For the last two hours her mother had scolded,
Sarah had looked askance, Rectory-Lucy had sniffed, even Enoch had been
silent. Master Peter had 'caught a holt of her' and pranced across the
dairy, and she hadn't thought any harm. She had cried till she thought
she could cry no more.
'That's warning!' said Sarah when the bell rang, and sure enough it
was. She stood shaking, wondering what they all thought she had done.
'Take a week's notice!' said Mrs. Darke.
'Yes'm, thank you.'
Marigold had something of her mother's apologetic manner.
'Go and hide your head away from respectable people.'
'Please'm, I partly think I'm respectable.'
'Don't bandy words, you bad woman! You may be thankful to get off so
Marigold tried to avoid Catherine's pitiless eyes.
'Why do you tremble if you have not done wrong?' said Catherine.
It was a hopeless question. It has been a hopeless question to the
simple for many a long year. The sensitive and the timid always do
tremble, being in the right, and by so doing put themselves in the
wrong. Being accused of evil, they are crushed, and immediately this is
taken for guilt.
'How long have you cohabited with my son?' asked Mrs. Darke in a
terrible voice, regardless of Catherine's expostulation.
'I don't rightly understand, mum!' said Marigold.
'How long is it since you slept with my son first?'
Marigold was suddenly faint, for all her robustness. Her face was
scarlet, pulses beat all over her. She swayed as she stood and hid her
face in her hands.
'Ah! that's clear to you, is it?' said Mrs. Darke; 'that finds the
'The spot — the spot! Wash out the spot of sin!' said grandmother,
'Answer, girl!' said Mrs. Darke.
'Yes, answer!' said Catherine, curious. Life interested her; so did
'Answer! Answer!' piped grandmother.
But Marigold could find no voice. To think that of her! And she never
so much as let a man kiss her — not even Enoch under the mistletoe.
Only Master Peter had kissed her that once unbeknown.
'She daren't answer!' was the verdict.
Marigold raised her head, and out of the confusion and terror looked
pride, the simple pride of a country girl to whom her good name is all.
'I didn't never do such a thing,' she said on a shocked sob. 'Master
Peter wouldn't lower 'isself to ask it, nor me to say yes to it.'
They laughed. They did not believe her. Rectory-Lucy did not either,
nor her mother. She began to cry again.
'If you're a respectable girl, why do you cry?' inquired Catherine.
'Weeping and gnashing of teeth! You'll go to hell!' said grandmother.
'I'll goo away from this place!' said Marigold, with a flash of
spirit. 'And I won't never come back. I'll goo to my auntie!'
'I wish her joy!' said Catherine.
'And when the brat's born, don't bring it here,' said Mrs. Darke. 'To
the workhouse with it!'
'There wunna never be no brat, and there inna no wrong, and there
wunna — never, never!' cried Marigold again. 'And what for you should
all think ill of me as never done you no wrong —' she sobbed. 'Ask
Master Peter!' she cried suddenly.
Again the three laughed.
Ask Peter! How indecent! How like a common girl to suggest it!
Besides, of course, Peter would deny it, like any other young man.
'Do not dare to speak my son's name!' said Mrs. Darke. 'We know the
truth. Be grateful I don't send you off to-night. It is not for your
sake I keep up appearances, but for the family's. Your wages are here.
Take them and go.'
'I dunna want 'em, mum.'
'The stick! The stick!' said grandmother. 'In the old days it would
have been the stick across your shoulders!'
Marigold turned to go. Her plump figure, supple and strong, annoyed
Mrs. Darke by its independence even in the midst of confusion.
'Your dress is tight already!' she said. 'You know what that means!'
Catherine was horrified. She had never thought her aunt could be so
coarse. In fact, Mrs. Darke never was, but in her rage and hate she had
forgotten herself. Catherine went out of the room in expostulatory
silence, brushing past Marigold in pale, derisive purity.
Marigold, as she went downstairs, came slowly and by gradual steps to
the conclusion that being good did not pay. And a faint, fluttering
regret was born in the depths of her heart — regret that she had
suffered the penalty without having tasted one crumb of the joy.
Peter, in the deserted dancing-room, was feeling much the same thing.
There sat his father and Ernest, the judges. There stood he, the
'Here's a splother,' said Solomon.
'Pity — Pity!' said Ernest.
'What have you got to say for yourself?' asked Solomon.
'Nothing,' replied his son.
'An illicit connection with one of the servants! I'm damned!' said
'A hallowed love — sacred love,' continued Ernest. 'Ah! how
different from this!'
'I don't love anybody!' said Peter.
'Then there is no excuse.'
'There's no need of excuse; I've done nothing.'
'Lies —ies! I know young men!' Solomon spoke with a kind of gruff
'The human heart is desperately wicked,' added Ernest. 'all we like
'I tell you I've done nothing. I've not gone astray so far. But I
will! I will!' Peter added.
'A love that society can countenance,' Ernest remarked, 'is safe
because it is sanctioned, and sanctioned because it is safe.'
'You make my head ache,' said Peter.
'Give the girl up,' ordered Solomon.
'Don't say “can't” to me!'
'I can't give up what I haven't got.'
'If Catherine knew, she wouldn't marry you.' Peter laughed.
'She needn't. I don't want her. Pale thing!'
'If she knew you had danced with a servant in the dairy—
''I don't care who knows. There was no harm.'
'If there'd been no harm, would you have wanted to dance?' said
'Well, I'll go to bed, father. It's no good arguing. Good night.'
He was gone, a tumult of new ideas and personalized emotions in his
mind. As he and Jasper were going to bed, he said:
'Marigold's pretty, isn't she?'
'Passable,' said Jasper with a yawn.
'If you were me, should you marry Catherine?'
Jasper sat up in bed with a bounce.
'If you say that again I'll knock your head off,' he remarked. Peter
sighed. Everyone was very combative to-day. But as he fell asleep, he
thought again of Marigold. Decidedly she was pretty, very sweet to
kiss. And he had only kissed her once! They all blamed him. Very well.
He would have a few more — a good many more.
The house settled down. The night sounds began. Deathwatches,
creakings of furniture, the ticking of clocks like the falling of
Suddenly in the comparative silence a door opened and a figure rushed
across the landing to Amber's room. But the door was locked. Another
figure, stout and clad in pyjamas, followed.
'I'm going to Amber!' said a voice, low but determined:
'You shall not make me look ridiculous,' said another voice, low but
Another door opened silently, to the width of an inch.
'I don't like being married. I don't like you,' said the first voice.
The second voice tried persuasion.
'All that marriage means — companionship, love, children.
'I hate children!'
'A little replica of me!'
At that the first voice dissolved in laughter. A third door opened.
'What is this noise?' said Mrs. Darke. She stood there in a bar of
moonlight in a grey dressing-gown, grey of hair and face. And it seemed
as if a mental greyness gave a deeper tone to all the rest.
'She is hysterical, hysterical,' said Ernest. 'We must be patient.'
He stood there in his new pyjama suit, dignified and with a
consciousness of being in the right.
'Patient,' said Mrs. Darke, who had no more patience after the
troubles of the day. 'Don't be a fool, Ernest. Loose that door, Ruby,
and go back to your room. You have made the bargain. You must keep it.'
'I won't! I won't! He looks so fat in pyjamas!' answered Ruby in a
sibilant and infuriated whisper.
Catherine, watching through her inch-wide opening, shook with
laughter at the scene.
As Mrs. Darke and Ernest, taking each an arm, propelled Ruby across
the landing, she gently shut her door, chronicling the scene in her
mind as a useful rod for Ernest in the future.
The long day was done. The house watched over its sleeping children,
careless, it seemed, as to whether they dreamed happily or sadly. If
the house stood, what mattered the single Soul? Let Ruby be bound to a
hated bargain, let Marigold be cast out,
Peter marry without love, Jasper be broken in spirit, Amber lonely,
and the rest malformed in soul. What matter, if the house went on? The
house must go on, just as it was, just as it bad been for so long. It
would go on, surely, for ever. It lay under the dim forest, regarding
the flashing stars with its many eyes. And all around it through the
night the forest whispered, muttered, fir and spruce and pine with
their dark creative music, and with harsher voices the bare trees that
had forgotten leaves with summer. They sang, and the upping ivy on the
house sang with them, of things that had been before the earliest
wattle hut. They sang of lichens and mosses and elm samaras and rosy
seed of pines already preparing for the day when Dormer should be taken
back into the earth, curtained in green. For nothing that is built by
man for the subjugation of the single soul can stand.
Chapter 12. THE GROTTO
On the day after the wedding Catherine went to tea at the Rectory.
She liked to look her best, even for a middle-aged man and woman, which
was one of her pleasanter qualities. Sometimes, also, young Arkinstall
would vault over a stile as she came home, and walk with her. She
despised him, but he enlivened the tedium of a walk. To Catherine a
lonely walk was intolerable. She had no kinship with the wild, and if
there was one thing she disliked more than walking alone, it was
walking with Amber, for Amber insisted on talking about trees and
To-day Catherine did not, as usual, ask Marigold to wave her hair.
She went down to Sarah in the kitchen. Marigold knew how great a slight
this was, for she knew Catherine disliked Sarah.
'Aunt,' said Catherine before she started, 'they will wonder at the
Rectory what the fuss was about. Can' I tell them?'
'Tell that hurdy-gurdy of a woman! Not a word!'
Catherine smiled. She liked to 'draw' her aunt. Then she departed,
looking her best. And her best, as poor Jasper knew, was very good
indeed. Mrs. Darke went to call on Mrs. Arkinstall in order to comfort
herself for the tiresomeness of her married daughter by reminding Mrs.
Arkinstall that her daughter was still unmarried. An unhappy, sullen
Ruby had been taken for a drive by a hurt and dignified Ernest.
Marigold sat in the old school-room, where she sewed every afternoon,
and the November sun lingered on her bright head. As she sewed, she
cried, and as she cried, she pricked her finger, that the shirt she was
mending was bedewed with little points of red. Everything was very
quiet. Grandmother was in the ping-room asleep, and Amber in her own
room reading. Sarah was clearing up the kitchen and singing: 'There is
Marigold sewed and sobbed, for she had 'warning' to go in a week, and
her heart was here.
Suddenly the French window was opened cautiously, and in walked
'I knew you'd be crying,' he said. 'They told me — the
governor told me — you were going. So I just walked off from the
Wallows to see you. I'm damned sorry, Marigold.'
'Oh, Master Peter, I misdoubt someone'll come!'
'They're all safe. Marigold?'
'Since they started on me, talking, and that, I've thought about you
a lot. I didn't before.'
'No, Master Peter.'
'You're pretty when you cry. Ruby looks like a great pæony.'
'Oh! Master Peter!'
'Don't “Master Peter” me! Say Peter!'
'I couldna! No, never could I.'
He knelt in front of her and took away the sewing. 'What's this
'The cuffs on your blue and white shirt, Master —' He put a hand on
'Peter! The last I'll mend for you.' She sobbed.
'Do you love me, Marigold? Say “Yes, Peter”!' He had both hands now.
The pretty head drooped.
Peter kissed her. He was not in love with her, but his father's talk
of an illicit connection and Ernest's talk of unholy love had kindled
in him a curiosity and awakened in him a kind of emotionless and almost
impersonal passion. He was aroused and inspired by their groundless
suspicions to make the suspicions true.
'Say “I love you, Peter”!'
With trembling lips and swimming blue eyes she said it. In the midst
of his kisses she suddenly stiffened.
'Hushee! Hushee! There was a door slammed. You mun goo.' Her voice
was like a pigeon's.
'Meet me in the wood when you've washed up tea!' said Peter.
He was gone, but by the entrance to the woods he was waiting for her
in the evening, and every evening until her last. In the last sweet
moment of the last sweet hour, when Sarah could be heard down by the
gun-dog's kennel crying, 'Marigol'! Marigol'!' Peter spoke with the
cruelty that can dwell with passion (for in the last week he had learnt
a young passion, not the love-rayed gift of the great gods, but the
woodland passion of a faun).
'You are going to-morrow,' he said.
'To-morrowday! Oh, I wish I met be dead afore to-morrow-day!' cried
Marigold suddenly, in a voice broken with love. 'If it 'ud thunder now,
and a bolt fa-al, or a wind come out o' the sky, and this wold yewtree
'Silly! What d'you want to die for? I don't want to die.'
'Master Peter! Oh, my darlin', what'n you done to be more than the
world an' all?'
'I dunno!' Peter laughed shortly and rather shyly.
'I'd as lief be under the daisies if I canna bide in Dormer valley!
And that new girl mindin' your things and all!'
She cried again heartbrokenly.
'Well, you've got to go, so there's an end,' said Peter. 'But perhaps
I'll come and see you.'
The sun came out in Marigold's face.
'And if you're sorry to leave me, and if you're as fond of me as you
'What, Master Peter?'
'You won't say good-bye now.'
'Oh, but I mun — I'm agoing at five and it's prayers after supper
and then bed — and there's Sarah hollering agen.'
'Oh, I couldna! Not in the black o' night! Not all up to the grotto!'
'Oh, no, no!'
'Then come! I'll make a fire.'
'What'd Sarah and Rectory-Lucy say?'
'They won't know. Besides, they all thought harm of us when there
wasn't any harm. Let's give 'em something to cry for.'
'Oh, Master Peter, the things you say!'
'You and me, Marigold, you and me in the grotto as if it was our
house!' He conjured a picture of terror and fascination.
'P'raps you'll never see me again after to-morrow.'
'Dunna say that, oh, dunna! There's Sarah all of a hoost, skriking, I
'Come then, as soon as Sarah's asleep. Say!'
'Maybe I wunna,' said Marigold, turning to run down the wood, 'and
maybe I 'ool.'
Going to bed in Sarah's scintillating attic, Marigold felt lost in
the thought of to-morrow. Sarah eyed her tears in no unfriendly spirit.
Before, Marigold had been a powerful and permanent rival. Now, since
the fateful hour of the dance, she was obliterated. Her 'intended' was
now hers only. She always spoke of Enoch as her intended, thus
attaining that to which fine literature aspires — the expression of
the precise truth. When asked whether she was Enoch's intended also,
she replied: 'Oh, he treasures up his dark designs!' Now all was well.
Mere resistance on the part of Enoch was, she felt, unimportant. In a
lavish mood she had lighted two tallow dips, and in their wavering
light she surveyed her room with complaisance. It was a scene of almost
barbaric splendour. The multi-tinted crockery-work glittered savagely;
the patchwork quilt was bewildering in its variety; the scarlet rug,
made from the scraps of numerous flannel petticoats, defied the pink
glazed calico that draped the dressing-table. A good room, Sarah felt,
and good ornaments, very suitable for setting up house.
Marigold sat with her head leaning against the whitewashed wall
beneath a huge text worked in wool. She was feeling the burden of the
fact that, when one is very miserable, somebody always lights two
'Ah, you cry!' said Sarah. 'It'll do you good. So you're away to your
auntie's. Well, 's Catherine'll be glad. If Sarah Jowel's got eyes, 's
Catherine's had more to do with it than she'd care to say. She gets to
what she wants cross-lonkards, does 's Catherine, like a bird to
'Somebody's made right wrong,' sobbed Marigold. 'I wish I was dead.'
'Ah! I'm that-a-way myself, times,' said Sarah. 'Love's so lungeous!
It churns up your innards summat cruel!'
She began to sing in her resounding voice, 'There is a fountain
filled with blood.' This chirurgic hymn was a favourite of hers.
Marigold went on crying. The lungeousness of love had become very
apparent to her. Everyone was angry. Miss Catherine blazed at her with
eyes of haughty virtue. The old lady had a text for every meeting, and
did not mince her words. The mistress — Marigold shivered at the
thought of Mrs. Darke's glacial regard. And the angrier they were, the
more furiously did Peter make love. He snatched her hand as she went in
to prayers. He waylaid her at every dim turn of the stairs. He was
strange and wild. And now she had practically promised to go to the
grotto. She was trepidant, jubilant; but chiefly she was afraid. When
Sarah breathed deeply and the house had sunk into silence, and night
had flung her purple curtain over the forest, she must steal out and
meet Peter at the grotto.
'If you'd give your word to do a thing, would you do it if it wunna
right according to catechism?' she asked.
'Well,' said Sarah judicially, 'I met, if I bettered myself by it,
and if it was respectable.' She was arranging the cotton-wool in her
ears for the night.
'When true lovers part, it's a bad day for 'em,' she said. 'Put out
the candles, if you're only crying. Tears want no tallow. But if I was
you, I'd come to bed, Christian. And see, Marigol', I'll give you one
of those jars. No, seeing I'm sorry for you, I'll give you the pair. A
bit of property's a grand medicine for all ills.' She clapped in the
last piece of cotton-wool and got into bed.
Marigold also got into bed and lay there inertly. The lover,
facedwith parting, becomes a dumb creature beneath a heavy mallet. She
listened to the rats gnawing and scurrying within the walls. They were
like the unholy things that harbour in outworn forms — the petty
hates, the tyrannies, the deceit and fear. The attics were alive with
their stealthy goblin noise; it was as if they knew the night was
theirs and that none would gainsay them. There they were, and there
they would stay. Only if Dormer fell would they depart. Their shrill
squeaking and quarrelling, their occasional falls when they dislodged a
quantity of loose mortar, the perpetual fear that they would gnaw
through into the room, kept Marigold in a fidget. At last she heard,
through the half-open door, very faint, coming along the echoing
passages, the voice of the dictatorial clock announcing twelve. She
must go. In spite of her dread of the dark woods, of the judgment of
her fellows, the sorrowful to-morrow had receded, and there flowered in
the lightless room the wild rose of love's ecstasy. Sarah heard
Marigold stirring, for her sleep was what she called 'a dog-sleep.' She
guessed where Marigold was going, and as the faint creakings of the
attic stairs were hushed, she turned over restlessly, as if to shuffle
off responsibility, and murmured: 'I've got 'ool in my ears, hanna I?
For all I'm supposed to know, the girl's in bed and asleep.'
Marigold, passing the door of Ernest and Ruby, wondered why it was
right for them to be together, not loving each other (forshe was sure
they did not care for each other), and why it was wrong for Peter and
herself to be together, when they did love each other. For Marigold, in
common with other lovers, quite forgot to find out whether her gift was
returned. She envied the sleeping house, which was foolish of her, for
sleep is only a shadow. Those who go out of the dreaming house into the
forest are at least awake, however dark the forest may be.
The solid pilasters of the stone porch looked ghostly in the
moonlight, and from each one, as she opened the door, sprang a rod,
lying darkly on the floor of the hall. In the cold air her breath stood
up, white, small and palpable, as men have imagined the soul to stand
at its passing.
She went swiftly down to the bridge and along by the water, and as
she went, accompanied by her vagrant shadow, another shadow, taller and
less vacillating, followed under the lee of the bare woods. The black
silhouettes of the lower trees lay, spectral and large, half on land
and half in the water. Marigold's shadow and the shadow that followed
her threaded them. The wind made a snake-like, hissing sound in all the
yews of the hillside as Marigold sped upwards. As she neared the
grotto, a voice, low but imperative, called her from beside the water:
And the echoes that haunted the cup where Dormer lay took up the
music of the word and played with it, sending it like a ball from slope
'Marigold — gold — gold!'
But the broken echoes were flung back with a mocking sound into the
silver water, for she did not hear. Already Peter had stepped from the
grotto, already she was in his arms. 'You are late!' he said crossly.
Then in the sweetness of kissing her he forgave her, and they went into
the grotto. A red fire of logs blazed on the rough hearth that used to
warm the Dormer ladies when, in a day long gone, they spent their
maiden leisure in lining the grotto with shells. On the table was such
a repast as Peter deemed suitable. Marigold eyed the collation,
recognizing the contents of the larder. Her breathless pallor gave way
before her laughter.
'There'll be nought for dinner to-morrowday! They'll all be clemmed!'
And a peal of laughter startled the stony grotto as she saw, beside
to-morrow's pudding and the ham, Mrs. Velindre's beloved quince
marmalade and the potted meat without which Ernest could not breakfast.
Peter shouted, tossing back his bead with his wild faun air, snapping
his fingers. To-night the woodgod was predominant in him. It was in his
cheeks, in the straight, eager profile in which he resembled Jasper; in
the wave of his hair that was flung back like a crest, as if to cool an
over-hot forehead. It was in his loose-knit figure, which had, in spite
of the gaucherie of youth, the grace that is given even to the clumsy
by primal impulse. He had the touch of princeliness which passion, even
the callowest, the crudest, gives to the young.
'Apron!' he cried. 'Cap! What do we want with them? Off with 'em! Ho!
I like you better without a cap!'
He held the plait of hair, coloured like sunburnt bracken, in both
hands. The logs blazed, and every pale shell flushed in the red light.
Had the staid ladies, who set them one by one in place, known for what
festival they built that beauty of mother-of-pearl, had they heard
echoes of that laughter which now leapt with the leaping flames, maybe
they would have stayed their hands. Little would be done in this life
if men knew for what they built. So a great king may set forth to build
a palace of black basalt for the god of war. And behold! When he has
finished it, Fate says: 'This is not what I wanted. Come, you
tendrilled things, you blossomy things, wreathe this basalt into
beauty! Come, you white and golden doves, make a nest here, make a
music here! For this is a bower for the peaceful spirit of
Here was a place meant for the tame revellings of conventional
ladyhood, and behold! that rough, wild thing, young passion, took
possession. Marigold's head, outlined by the iridescent wail; her face,
thrown into relief by the dancing light, faintly rose-tinted; her eyes,
dark with present joy and future sorrow, made a picture so sweet that
the last remnants of caution left Peter. He would forget that he was to
marry pale Catherine and consolidate Dormer. All that would come in
time. But now, here was Marigold and here was he, and the red light
surged over shells of saffron, of salmon pink, of veined purple and
Peter stooped to a great conch that was the central ornament above
the fireplace, and shouted into its sounding hollow, 'Marigold!'
The confident music seemed to defy that other music without, the
music that had fallen into the water.
'Oh, hushee now,' said Marigold. But she smiled, for she too refused
to parley with the morrow, and who should hear them, safe in their
magical house in the dim lost centre of night?
Outside, climbing with slow and heavy steps, a great knob-bed stick
in his hand, Enoch heard the laughter — very faint and maddening, like
the provocative voice of an unkind love who had betaken herself to the
submerged halls of faery.
He stood still, and the attentive trees stood about him on this side
and on that, surveying him as though they questioned. His face was dark
and drawn with rage, and the fierceness of a creature defrauded. That
he was of so quiet a nature made this volcanic fire more terrible. So
wild a fury shook his massive body, that it seemed to conjure a visible
picture on the dim screen of night — a picture of two lovers dead amid
broken shells and scattered fire. But even as his hand was stretched
towards the door, he paused. Far down, in startled silver, out of
startled mist, a cock crowed. The sound was a key that opened within
his mind the great door of nature. He paused, and the trees seemed to
question him. They summoned his soul, his deepest, most mysterious
self; and when it came at their call they communed with it, creating
with its help a better thing than the desire of killing which had grown
up like a dark fungus in his mind. He had watched, knowing this hour
would come. He had waited in the garden, sure that one night she would
steal forth. To be up all night was nothing to him. He was always out
before the light. He could not have borne to miss the intoxicating
secrecy of those hours when who knows what strange things are out and
about — hours haunted by inexplicable Sounds, significant happenings.
Those are the hours when sheep and cattle do as they list, and look
upon the world with eyes different from those that humans know; for at
this time they have not yet called in their souls for the day — their
timid souls that must be barred in the shippon of silence, where they
sleep behind eyes shuttered with sullen or wistful inexpressiveness. In
dew-dark summer mornings Enoch loved to be among them as one kin to
them, and at the first shrilling of the sunrise chorus, when each beast
was startled (walking at ease with its soul) by its sudden shadow flung
blue before it by the early ray, Enoch also went as three — his broad
and sturdy body, his half-tamed soul, and his pansy-tinted shadow.
An hour less or more mattered little to him. He had meant to save
Marigold from the obloquy that in the House of Dormer falls on a
generous lover. He had intended to follow her and threaten them both
with discovery and drag her from the very arms of passion, carry her if
need be to her mother's house.
And now here he was, foiled by his own personality, tied hand and
foot by his own rage. For he knew that if he put his hand on the door
he would kill Peter Darke. He would strike from those black eyes the
glow of triumph, trample in the pine-needles that haughty figure, that
He gazed round him at the multitudinous witness of his temptation, at
the secret yews peering over one another with their great stooping
shoulders and their appearance of having their heads hidden. Yews are
the owls of the tree-world; they have the same curious look of having
drawn down their heads into their bodies. Beyond the yews he saw a dead
holly, stark and pale, with arms flung up as before an inevitable,
incurable horror. A little fir tree kept up a low descant, caressing
with its finger-tips the side of the grotto. It was well for those
within that they did not laugh at that moment. A laugh would have meant
three lives. But Peter was drinking deep in the grey wells of
Marigold's eyes, and no sound disturbed the night.
'Killing's allus untimely,' muttered Enoch, and it seemed to his soul
that the unheard echoes were crying with a sweet chiding: 'Untimely,
untimely!' But it was not on the sandstones that their silver voices
struck; it was on the cliffs and crannies of his deep and unknown self.
The heavy stick shook with the grip of his hands, his hands that
hated Peter. Marigold, his little girl, about whose life every root of
his being turned, Marigold was stolen from him. He had loved her as
unconsciously as the willow-wren loves Africa when winter winds are in
the sedges. His slow mind had not known it. His slow tongue had not
spoken it. But now, too late, be understood. His quarrel with Peter was
not that, being of 'the gentry' with 'money in pocket and money to
come,' he had used his superiority to dazzle Marigold. Nor was it that
Peter was anticipating marriage. It was that he intuitively knew
Peter's intention of marrying Catherine in the future. This secret and
others were known to him and to the rest of the dependants at Dormer.
Men are the toys of their underlings, who feed them and clothe them,
wake them and put them to bed, knowing beneath the outer manner of
subservience the autocracy of a child with its dolls. For he that
supplies the stark human need, whether of body or spirit, is king of
the world. Peter would marry Catherine and be well thought of. And what
of Marigold? This was the core of his rage, but it was not the
innermost core. Deeper than that lay the knowledge that Peter, in
pushing him aside, had denied Marigold the best love. For he knew that
Peter's affection for her was now, whatever it might be some day, a
thing flimsy as a cobweb; and that his own love was genuine and solid
as the heart of a young tree. Love which is only strong enough to
increase the lover's happiness is a poor thing. The love that is worth
giving is fire in the giver's band, a thing of woe and insufferable
'Kill and swing for it, Enoch Gale! Kill and swing!' So cried a voice
that came he knew not whence. The night wind stirred in the black tree,
but it was not the night wind spoke. Was it the ancient mutter of the
herd pasturing in the dead ages before it found a soul?
Suddenly Enoch flung the stick as far as his strength could send it.
It fell crashing into the undergrowth.
Within, Marigold stirred.
'Hushee!' she whispered. 'I mun goo! There's summat bad in the 'ood!'
'Go? You shall never go.'
'Didna you hear the crackling? That was the ghosses breaking through
'Silly! I'll take care of you.'
Enoch was running with clumsy haste away from the grotto, uphill,
eyes shut to escape the red glow from the slit of a window. He plunged
through the spinny of dead hollies, where the livid boles shone like
unlit corpse candles. At last he came to the place called by Amber the
Birds' Orchard. There in a grassy hollow beneath a crab tree he flung
himself upon his knees. The black, complex traceries of branch and twig
came and went upon his upturned moonlit face with the flowing motion of
water. All things below in the valley grew small, shrank to nothing.
The voices of the owls, echoing among the glades, came up thinly; the
song of the water sank to a low humming. Dormer lay far below; he could
see its dim blur through the traceries of the mist-beaded woods like a
sleeping creature curtained with dew-spangled cobwebs. Deep in mist was
Dormer valley. Even the grotto was half obliterated. But here upon the
open hill were no mists, no sounds, nothing to distract the spirit
waiting attent and eager for what would come upon it out of the
Enoch spoke, and his voice with its tree music seemed to possess the
air long after he had spoken.
'Dunna leave me stray in the dark night!' he said. 'I bin nought but
a poor beast in a big pasture.'
Whether the comfort for which he waited was to come from beyond the
stars, or from the mysterious hillside or from within himself, he did
not trouble to ask. He simply waited in the silence, while the keen air
fingered his face. It was one of those winter nights that mourn for
Bethlehem — a night on which the spirit longs to traverse low green
hills, strewn with sheep, under shaken gusts of music; a night on which
to meet what is rarer to-day than a miracle — a few simple men caught
in a spell of wonder; a night on which to reach at last a place low and
small, full of sweet breath and the trampling of clear-eyed cattle, and
holding, as the seed holds the tree, the very core of life. Alas, alas
for us who in these latter days find the wan hills all silent and
deserted, with none to beckon us to certain peace, with no noise of
angels in the silver clouds. Yet, when the solemn wind begins to move
along the mountain, walking in the heavy trees; when every dewy leaf
has a gleam of recognition for the wet-eyed stars, does there not come
upon us a sweetness greater than the fragrance of flowers, a desire —
passionate and vague — for a beauty that is not less real because its
revelations are subtle and its essence beyond the reach of the senses?
It was for this that Enoch, all unconsciously, waited with upturned
face caressed by shadows. It was on account of these hours of ecstasy
that he was called 'simple.' It was by virtue of this strange sacrament
of which he partook — a fruit that never apple tree bore nor sun
ripened — that he turned to go downhill again in the dim morning with
a light in his face. He was not in aspect a likely candidate for
saintship. He shambled, and he wore, as usual in damp weather, an old
potato sack draped over his shoulders. His eyes were full of grief, for
he had seen joy go singing past, and he knew that it was lost to him.
He was no more an ascetic than is any primitive creature. He was not of
those whose spirits, cadaverous with long exile in material things, sit
mournfully in the garden of earthly beauty, laying no finger on the
rose and gold, waking the hollow echoes with the cry: 'All these shall
He wandered down toward the water. 'It'll be sobbin' wet
to-morrowday!' he said.
A laugh rang out in the forest, falling into the stream like a flower
thrown from the tree-tops. The gibing echoes laughed lightly, elfishly.
'Eh, Marigol'!' muttered Enoch, the sweat standing on his forehead so
that the chill fingers of the breezes pricked him like electric
They came, the two young lawless creatures, one loveless, down the
quiet sloping path where the red elder leaves still hung. They came in
the panoply of early physical beauty. But it was on Enoch, cloaked in
his sack, leaden-eyed, dank with grief, that the greatest light of
When she saw him standing there, Marigold screamed, and the echoes
screamed like frightened fairies. But it did not matter; if anyone
heard they would not heed, for the woods were said to be haunted by
shrieks. Not only were the voices of the hedgehog and the bat heard
here, and that of the death's-head moth — a bewitched whisper — but
legend said that here the mandrake cried, and that in this hollow of
ancient greenery the Voices of creatures trampled by the multitude
lived within the echoes.
'Well?' said Peter, red and awkward and therefore blustering. 'What
are you doing, spying here?'
'Sir, you best know what I'm here for.'
'To see our Marigol' righted.'
'Righted?' queried Peter with a forced laugh. Marigold had crept into
the shadow of the elder tree where Enoch stood.
'I've yeard tell as you're to marry Miss Catherine one fine day,'
said Enoch. 'No offence, Master Peter.'
'Well~ what if I do?'
'Miss Catherine's posy-ring wunna be bought with your gold,'
said Enoch, with a flash in his brown eyes. 'If you come to Miss
Catherine's chamber it'll be lover, not 'usband she'll call you.'
'What do you mean?'
'I mean this-a-way, Master Peter. You'll wed our Marigol'
'Master Peter!' Enoch spoke sadly, reasonably, but with a latent
anger. 'Master Peter! You've took my Marigol' off me. For you was
my Marigol', my dear' — he turned to the weeping girl — 'and that you
know. You've brought her low, Master Peter — ah! she'll be low in the
eyes of men when this night's doings come to light.'
'Dunna say it, Enoch! Dunna say it!' cried Marigold.
'I mun say it to-night, my dear, and then never no more,' said Enoch.
'If so be you was fond of me, I'd marry you to-day in spite of all —
marry you and love you true.'
She clung to his sleeve in a passion of grief.
'But seeing she dunna, and seeing as any bit of love she's got to
give (for she is but young, Master Peter) is for you and no other, it
'ud be no manner use. So you'll marry our Marigol' to-morrowday.'
'I tell you I can't!'
Peter thought of his parents, of Catherine, of Ernest and the
neighbours, of the wrath and laughter. Why, life would not be livable
at Dormer. And all for a servant — a very pretty servant, of course,
but still only a servant. Marigold had now ceased to be wildly
exciting. She was no longer forbidden fruit. The fire in him was
slaked. But Catherine was still forbidden fruit. Catherine could send a
rarefied excitement through his veins. There was something alluring in
those long eyes of hers. No — he could not tie himself for life to
this pretty little thing, so shrinking and so yielding. He had won her;
she would soon bore him.
But Enoch's unmoved, equable voice broke in on him. 'You'll marry her
to-morrowday, Master Peter. If pocket-money's short, I've got a bit
saved for the licence and that.'
Peter stamped with rage.
'I won't! You can't make me!'
'Oh! I thought you was fond of me!' sobbed Marigold.
'If you dunna,' said Enoch stilly, 'you'll not see to-morrow's sun.'
Marigold screamed again, and again the echoes bandied the sound from
one to another.
Peter looked dazed.
'It's this-a-way,' said Enoch. 'I dunna care for life now, not a
farden. If you wunna do my bidding and right my girl, I'll drown you
like a kitten in Dormer brook, and hang for it.'
'Oh, God! Oh, God!' cried Marigold.
Peter's eyes looked dangerous.
'Dunna make un do it, Enoch, if he dunna want to!' pleaded Marigold.
'I be stronger than you,' said Enoch. 'I could break you in two,
easy. And I'd do it.'
Suddenly Peter sprang at him, for his temper was up and meekness was
not in him. But a grip of iron was on his arms in a moment; he was
helpless in the grasp of muscles hardened by years of toil.
He realized defeat. He understood that Enoch was that invincible
creature, a man who does not care whether he lives or dies. He made
'Well, look here! If I do it, nobody's to know. She must go away —,
'Ah! I'll goo to my auntie's.'
Enoch looked at Peter with mingled scorn, envy and anger.
'Go away! You've a chance to be near Marigold and you say go away!'
'Yes. She must go,' said Peter. 'Nobody must know.'
'You'll come to a better mind. But still, if you'll go and see her
now and again?'
'So be it!' said Enoch with a great sigh. 'But mind you, Master
Peter, no randies. No goings on with Miss Catherine, or—' He gave a
significant sideways nod towards the water.
Peter was aghast. That Enoch, of all people, should develop these
murderous tendencies! Then he suddenly felt sorry for Enoch. He
remembered the dancing firelight in the grotto, and the hawthorn
freshness of Marigold. He turned to go. Then he came impulsively and
boyishly back. 'Wish it hadn't happened,' he said gruffly.
'It inna your fault so much, lad, as the fault of the bitter old
house,' said Enoch.
His voice rang over the water as they went across the bridge, and the
house loomed up in the first sombre daylight. The mists, herded by a
rising wind, passed before it like strange creatures with an uncertain
wandering motion. Almost it seemed that the solid walls trembled, so
that the watcher might expect at any moment a sliding collapse
inevitably fated. For the falling of houses and cities and empires —
all the solidities of man's invention — is not with a crash of masonry
in the hour when all men flee. Years, centuries, before the crowded
humanity inhabitating them feels a flicker of disquiet, with less sound
than a midge makes, they have fallen in the echoing soul under the
owl-light of dreams.
Chapter 13. THE BEAST WALK
When something dramatic happens, people are usually too busy to
notice it. On the morning after Enoch's vigil by the grotto, two
dramatic things happened. Jasper went to purgatory for Catherine's and
the truth's sake, for it was his first day at Mr. Arkinstall's; and
Marigold set forth on the journey which was to make her the bride of
Ernest reasoned with Jasper at breakfast — the denuded meal with no
potted meat — for he was really a kind-hearted man, and Jasper's
miserable face worried him. Catherine pointed out how much easier was
the life of a country curate than the life of a farm-hand. But Jasper
'hardened his face,' to use a quotation of Sarah's, and turning to
Peter said: 'Coming?'
'In a minute.' Peter was cross and absent-minded. He was wondering
how the day off to-morrow was to be managed, and he wanted to say
good-bye to Marigold.
'Well, I'll go on,' said Jasper. He strode off down the drive, his
shoulders bent like those of a man carrying a heavy burden.
'Lord!' said Solomon, 'I'm sorry for Arkinstall. Not but what he
'Deserves what, uncle?' asked Catherine.
'The worst farm-hand ever man had,' said Solomon. 'And he's got it.'
Peter pushed back his chair. 'Can I ask off to-morrow, father?' he
'I thought I'd get some new leggin's.'
'They're quite good,' said his mother. 'And a few cartridges.'
'Plenty in the house,' said his father.
'And I want to see about Christmas presents.'
'Too early!' said his grandmother.
'Damn!' said Peter.
'What's that? What's that?' Solomon was particular as to swearing.
'Swearing is an ugly habit.' Catherine swept from the room.
'There, now you've offended the girl!'
'Let me have a day off, and I'll buy her a present.'
This extreme cunning won his point. He departed, but not to the
Arkinstalls'. He went down the lane towards the Four Waters, and there
he awaited the cart.
Meanwhile, Marigold was seen off by Sarah and her mother. She slipped
away like dew from a flower, and the house seemed to take no cognisance
of her going. Only the forest sang its old, low song, and the water
murmured of mountains and the sea — of things greater than Dormer.
'Well,' said Sarah, 'I shall miss you, Marigol'. Her that's coming is
but a poor thing. Gowk's her name and sullen's her ways. I'll miss you
Her protestations were the more genuine as she knew the departure to
'When you've raught back, Enoch, you can lug up the new girl's box,'
she said. 'And to-morrow you met as well churn, seeing I'll be drove
'To-morrow'll be a day off.'
'A day off!' When had Enoch ever wanted a day off?
'Ay. That's the colour of it,' said Enoch. To himself he said:
'I'll miss you proper, Marigol'! Ay, I'll miss you proper!'
'I partly think you'd better be a quieter girl at your auntie's than
what you've been at this 'ouse,' said Mrs. Gosling.
'Scrat on!' Enoch remarked to Jenny, feeling that things were getting
strained. They drove away, and the house was unaware that any
dissolution had begun within it. Enoch was glad to remembcr the five
pounds in silver which he had given to Marigold as a wedding present,
and the bunch of violets that reposed inside his hat, to be presented
at the station. Thinking of these things, he smiled his queer melodic
smile. At a turn of the road, there was Peter.
'Good-bye, Goldie!' he cried. 'Give us a kiss!' In the manner of
young lovers they forgot the feelings of Enoch. 'I'm coming to-morrow,
you know where,' said Peter.
'I know you be,' replied Enoch, with a grim mouth. While Marigold
journeyed on in hope and Enoch journeyed back in despair, things grew
very strained at the Wallows. Mr. Arkinstall became more and more
devious, more and more subtle as the day wore on and as he realized
Jasper's incompetence. Philip, for his part, had determined to drive
Jasper away. A pretender to the hand of Catherine should not receive
anything of encouragement at the Wallows. So if a dirty job had to be
done, Jasper did it. If anything fell, it fell on Jasper. If a young
horse had to be harnessed, Jasper harnessed it. Sometimes he looked up
towards Dormer and thought how near heaven was to hell — for Dormer
would be heaven, he felt, if Catherine would only love him. If he might
have her and his books and a chance of success in life, what a glory
there would be on the days! As it was, there seemed no chance of
anything but a choice of two evils. Either he must go ('and go he
shall!' said Philip) or he must stay and bear it. He gritted his teeth
and decided to stay.
He came home from his first day with worn nerves and in a state of
black depression. Like many commonplace men of his type, Mr. Arkinstall
had a hatred for anyone in the least unusual or above the ordinary
standard. He kept Jasper loading turnips till he was almost sick with
exhaustion. When Jasper flagged, he wove sarcasms of an amazing
circuitousness, indulging in an orgy of insults to which his oriental
expression gave a subtlety not their own.
All day Jasper promised himself that he would go up to his room after
tea and work. He could pass exams. even if he worked alone. If he
passed the exams., Catherine would surely see the foolishness of his
working at the Wallows, Then perhaps she would come with him into the
world. So he comforted himself with lonely enthusiasm. After tea he
fetched a candle and lit it. Grandmother eyed him over the top of the
Lion. Then, as he was going out unseen by the others, she announced
with startling suddenness:
'He's gotten another wax candle!' Mrs. Darke looked up.
'Why do you burn so many candles?' she asked.
'To do my work.'
'You don't want to work at books. You are learning farming. You are
not to be a scholar.'
'Not a scholar! Never a scholar now!' Grandmother harped, in the
manner of the insensitive, on the one unendurable thing.
'I can't spare you candles,' said Mrs. Darke.
Jasper turned and went out. He would buy the candles himself. But he
had no money. He went to look for his father and found him feeding the
'gun-dogs.' They received their supper with imperturbable pessimism, as
if they had been soured by their life-work of putting others in the way
of getting what they themselves wanted, and as if they knew that
Solomon liked them not for what they were, but for what they did. And
as they trailed after Solomon on their leads, day by day, they had an
air of being two very old people playing with a small boy. It was
evident that when his back was turned glances of amused tolerance were
'Father!' said Jasper with a mighty effort, 'could you let me have
Solomon was ruffled by Peter's affair and by the prospective
inconvenience of Enoch's holiday.
'I'll find the cash,' he said, 'when you find God.'
At this moment Ernest loomed above the kennel wall. He had a way of
appearing above Jasper's horizons like a round, red sun, persisting in
shining on the evil and on the good. He breathed forgiveness on Jasper
at every turn. He insisted on 'loving him. He said:
'One cannot do much for the poor fellow, but one can at least give
Jasper, finding this unbearable, tried hints, silence, finally
rudeness. But they had no more effect than paper darts flung at an
elephant. At the present moment Ernest made things worse by saying:
'Right, sir! Right! That's cricket! First things first.'
'If fools held their tongues —, exploded Jasper.
'Though I can't forgive an insult to my cloth,' said Ernest, 'I can
forgive an insult to myself, freely — freely.'
'In the devil's name,' shouted Jasper, 'stop this damnable
'If you want to quarrel,' remarked Solomon, 'quarrel elsewhere.
You're disturbing the dogs.'
Jasper went back to the house. As he flung the door open Ernest,
'I want to be friends, Jasper.'
'Well, I don't!'
'Refuse a friend!'
'I don't want friends just now. I want myself. I want to be let alone
and have room to breathe.'
Ernest expanded his immense chest. The chain on which dangled his
Maltese cross was tried to the uttermost.
'I am always able to breathe,' he said. 'I am never
conscious of stifling. It is life — the true life — that you want.
Mens sana in corpore sano. “Tis Life, more life, for which we
pant.” Come to the Captain.'
Jasper looked at him, and his expression verged on the murderous. He
was reminded of a frog which Peter (who had been cruel as a small boy
from lack of imagination) had inflated by putting a straw into its
mouth and blowing. He felt that Ernest would like to put a straw into
his (Jasper's) mind and blow until he was inflated with all the
orthodox views that Ernest held. Ernest was quite unconscious of any
'I am only trying to cheer you, my dear fellow — to cheer you and
draw you out of your gloom,' he said.
'If you cheer me any more, I shall go melancholy mad,'
'What you want, my dear Jasper, is to be more robust — less morbid;
to be less (if I may say so, as your spiritual pastor) less conceited
and more obedient. Obedient to the Captain, to myself and to the
'Obedience is a vice,' snapped Jasper. 'It is a pet vice of stunted
personalities who can't act for themselves, having no ideas, and who
claim merit for copying the ideas and actions of others.'
He went into the dining-room, comforted by the knowledge that he had
turned his sentence quite passably. The epigram has never been given
its due as a tonic against the ills of life; but a tonic it certainly
is, or why are so many books written?
In the dining-room no one had moved since Jasper went out. Catherine
looked up with disapproving raised eyebrows. Jasper sat down and turned
over the leaves of an old magazine which had lived on the side table
with the family Bible since a chance visitor left it there. Sitting
thus, humped in his chair, sullen as a winter bird, and feckless with
the lack of spiritual food, he glowered round at the others. Not one of
them, he thought, understood or wanted to understand his primal needs.
He had not the faintest idea that Amber followed his weary road step by
step, footsore when he was footsore, hungry when he was hungry.
Catherine he regarded as too far above him to be able to sympathize
with his troubles. They could not, he thought, glimpse in the mistiest
way the kind of life that was home to him. He was different, as a freak
bird is different; so they disliked him. As he sat there, he felt,
below the desultory conversation and the fixed expressions of their
faces, their spirits stalking his spirit in the silence of
semi-consciousness; snapping at him; coiling like snakes; peering out
from the ambush of their creed and from the stronghold of received
opinion at him, walking defcnceless through the night.
In this cellar of being, where he sometimes came, he felt them all to
be totally different from the everyday people he knew. Even Catherine,
when he descended into this crepuscular chamber, lit so startlingly by
flashes of insight, seemed alien to herself. Once even, he had glimpsed
on that angelic profile a sneer. As for grandmother, she was a fierce
adversary tilting at him with the armed, exuberant hate of a knight of
the middle ages, and with the face of an angry wasp. He chuckled when
be thus envisaged grandmother. But at the thought of his mother he did
not laugh. His face grew wan with the tormented expression of
neuralgia. Only his was a neuralgia of the soul.
'You fidget a good deal, Jasper,' said Catherine.
'Fidget! Fidget! Fidget!' said grandmother.
Jasper threw the magazine into the fire and went into the kitchen.
'A bad-tempered boy — a very bad-tempered boy,' muttered
'Sarah,' said Jasper coaxingly, 'give us two or three candles!'
But Sarah was in no mood to bestow candles.
'Don't talk of candles to a woman tormented, Master Jasper!' said
she. 'I've no mind to give you candles. And what's the use of this
wilful nonsense of book-learning? If you've got a big print Bible for
duty and the death and birth column every week for pleasure, what more
Jasper was beginning an argument, but at that moment Enoch came in
and Sarah's wrath fell on him. She had found the rough draft of the
letter Enoch had written for presentation with the violets.
'Love you, you says! And darling, you says! Parting for evermore, you
says! Who are you to say love and darling, as knows no more of love
than a calf new-born? And you sitting and looking at Jemima Onions day
in, day out, mum as a mouse in cheese. To go and write the like of this
all unbeknownst, and to a girl as canna do crockerywork and makes
pastry as hard as a lawyer!'
Jasper felt that others besides himself were incompletely happy.
'I'll go to the Beast Walk,' he thought. 'At least they're not
He was falling back upon a habit of his childhood. When people
misunderstood him, refused to reply to his questions, insisted upon his
conforming to their standards, then he went to the Beast Walk — the
place he loathed more than any place on earth. To climb this path
harrowed his soul, made his face even at ten years look quite wizened.
But now, in his young manhood, the dark spell was infinitely stronger.
He drank here of a charm thick as black honey made from purple poison
flowers by bees in hell. This curious psychic state was mysterious to
him as are the instincts of all animals — man and brute. No one else
felt it, though the place was certainly not cheerful. It was one of
those admixtures of men and nature which has somehow gone sour in the
making. To reach it you crossed the wooden bridge at the back of the
house, turning to the left under the trees in the shadowy path that led
towards the Four Waters. Half-way between the bridge and Mrs. Gosling's
cottage the Beast Walk went straight uphill from the water. There was
something significant in the way in which this broad and rather pompous
walk ended in the soft, thick stream without reason or explanation.
Nobody knew when the Beast Walk was first thought of. Only
grandmother could remember, as a little girl, being told by her
grandmother that it had been finished in her own archaic childhoods The
walk, during the whole of its ascent, was bordered on each side by
strange beasts and birds cut out of gigantic yew trees. It ended at the
grotto, which dominated it. Just here the wood was composed of yews and
hollies so old that they gave the impression of having existed in the
primeval forest. The upper woods were equally old, and much more
lovely; for there, in sheltered dingles of the hillside, oak and beech,
the silver flickering birch, the true-service tree and the
scarlet-fruited spindle stood in an elfin age that transcended youth,
because the age of trees does not imply loss of beauty. But down near
the water the hosts of the yews spread their black tents, like the
dwellings of gnomes.
In each generation the regnant Darke had cut one or two of these into
such shapes as pleased him. Swans, horses, fowls, peacocks, cattle and
sheep crowded the walk, and there was one very malevolent-looking
monkey. But the Darke idea of an animal's body seemed almost as wide of
the mark as their idea of its soul. Some were almost indistinguishable.
All had a nightmare touch. This was accentuated by the fact that they
bad not been trimmed for a long time, so beak and claw were
exaggerated, and the outlines of head and wing and udder became vague
and ominous. They were like a herd of prehistoric beasts trooping down
to drink at the stream. Jasper thought, as he looked at their lowering
ranks, that it was as if each ancestor had breathed such ferocities as
were in his soul into his especial creation. So the walk had come to
symbolize in his mind the Lares and Penates of Dormer, and the beasts
were pictures of hoary tradition, prescription, decrepit and unwieldy
laws, custom grown senile, a predatory collectivism. It was this
predatory atmosphere that most impressed him at Dormer. He felt
sometimes as if he had come into a wild-beast show and found all the
beasts loose. He was realizing that there are depths of savagery in the
human heart deeper than that of killing; that when law is put before
love and the material before the spiritual there is nothing left
wherewith to combat evil; that the commonplace is the soul's peril;
that a person with low aims, paltry pleasures and an inability to love
or hate passionately is more dangerous than any beast of prey; that his
righteous and respectable relations and neighbours were going to be
lions and tigers in his path.
The walk was always impressive — on a lurid evening of thunder when
the heavy air pressed upon the woods and the beasts were tinged with
reddish light; on a foggy December day when they loomed through yellow
curtains; in snow, when each lumpish shape wore with ironic mirth a
white chlamys; in windy weather, when they were like creatures silently
reaching out for a victim, having in them something of the horrific and
the obscene. The grotto, built of grey stone and flat as a tortoise,
might have been a sacrificial altar. But it was on a moonlit night such
as this that Jasper most detested them, and most nearly attained
through their sorcery creative expression. As he turned up the walk,
leaving the silver water behind him, the grass seemed to be strewn with
broken idols. But it was only the inky shadows, even more grotesque
than the trees, prone upon the greenish moonlight. He thought of his
grandmother, as he generally did in this place. He also thought how
strange it is that man can so easily create that which becomes a god of
terror to him, and with what eager celerity he sets to work to make
nightmares for his fellows. Those at Dormer now, those at Dormer in the
past, had made arid were still making springes for the souls of people
like himself'. Because his soul was alive and would fly they wished to
cage it. Because it sang its own song they wanted to kill it.
Spiritually they were cannibals. Jasper had a particular passion for
freedom, a wild-bird-like need of personal liberty. If he could not
grow as he would, live as he willed, something told him that he would
cease to grow, cease to exist.
'I'd go away to-night,' he thought, 'if it wasn't for Cathy. If she
wasn't what she is — beautiful in soul and body — I shouldn't care
what became of me, but she is — she is!'
The mis-shapen monkey, its eye a hole through which shone the
greenish sky, mopped and mowed before the moon and seemed to
contemplate him with ironic humour. Suddenly it came to him that here
he was, a single, friendless soul, in the wide, worn spoor of his
ancestors — of the herd that gallops because its neighbour gallops, is
afraid with its neighbour's panic, rushes on, flank to heaving flank,
each goring its neighbour in the agony of its own terror, at the
spectres of its own imagining.
Jasper shivered, feeling the woods cold and ghastly and companionless
without the retinue of summer. Already the autumn tree-music had
dwindled to the thin, eerie murmur of winter. With a shrug at his own
expense, Jasper walked on moodily between the crouching forms, and
sitting down on the stone bench outside the grotto, took out his
treasure, a photograph Catherine had had taken of herself in her
confirmation veil. She had turned up her eyes and drooped her mouth,
knowing with her unfailing sense for artistic effect that what would in
Amber have seemed a grimace would in herself merely look devout. And,
as Jasper was gazing at this with passionate intentness, suddenly
Catherine herself was there in a long white cloak.
'Like a moth,' said Jasper quietly, 'like a beautiful moth, you
She smiled, sitting beside him.
'Oh, come with me, Cathy, out into the world!' he cried. 'You don't
know, you wouldn't dream, how well I can do in the things I want to do.
Hated labour is bad labour. I can do no good here. Marry me, Cathy!'
'When you become a Christian again.'
Jasper was kneeling beside her, his right arm along the back of the
seat, touching her shoulders.
'God, whoever He is, wherever He is, must be greater than you make
Him, Cathy — too great to be a bone of contention between lovers.'
'If you become a Christian again, you could kneel by me like this
every night; you could put your arms round me; you—'
'Take care, Cathy. I'm not a boy now.'
'You could kiss me.'
She gleamed palely on him. She would win, though it cost her a blush.
But Jasper had no more patience — his arms were round her; he kissed
her hands, her forehead, her mouth, with a kind of wrathful reverence.
She remained still and silent in a cold rage.
'Well?' she said. 'Have you done?'
Jasper came to himself. But he still knelt there like a penitent
awaiting the lash.
'You are not even a gentleman,' said Catherine. 'I shall not speak to
you again for a month — not till Christmas.'
He received the sentence in silence, absorbed in wonder at his own
temerity, letting his impenitent eyes dwell on the lips he had kissed.
Catherine rose and drew her cloak about her, leaving him kneeling
there. Then suddenly she came back, her hands outstretched: 'If you'll
become a Christian, I'll marry you at Christmas.'
'If you asked me to change from one religion to another,' said
Jasper, 'if you asked me to steal for you, perhaps even to murder for
you, I'd do it. But I can't invent a God for you, Cathy. I can't make
the truth in myself a lie — even for you.'
She went with a scornful smile. Long after she had gone he watched
the space between the trees where she had disappeared.
'It's a long way to Christmas,' he thought. And a long way it was.
Peter, whose room he now shared, was very moody. Sometimes he whistled
till Jasper threw a book at him, sometimes he was gloomy. Night after
night, Jasper woke up to hear the door close softly. With a brother's
loyalty he never gave the slightest hint of this to anyone, nor did he
question Peter. If Peter forgot to make his bed look as if it had been
slept in, Jasper did it. He tried to be as incurious as he could, but
privately he glimpsed a romance. And when he heard Jenny's soft
footfalls on the sandy drive and her staccato gallop far off on the
road he felt lonelier than ever. He spent his time in avoiding Ernest
and trying not to let the family find out that Catherine was not
speaking to him. Only Amber was left to him, and even of her he was
rather afraid, for to the sensitive open sympathy is often painful.
Then one day even Amber's comradeship was taken away. She and
Catherine were going to tea at the Wallows. They always went early
because Alice liked chat. They had to leave a note at the Rectory, and
so did not go by the most direct road, but skirted the Dormer and
Wallows land. They noticed the cattle bunching, and coming up to them
saw that their heads were down, and all turned inwards toward something
on the ground. Low moanings and angry snortings made the scene more
alarming. Suddenly Amber cried:
'It's Hetty! They're goring Hetty!'
Hetty was a new acquisition at Dormer — a little Jersey cow, timid
and wild. She had evidently strayed into the Wallows land, and as she
was different from the big Herefords they had gored her.
'Help me to drive them off, Cathy, quick!'
'I shouldn't go too near,' said Catherine.
'Oh, she's hurt to death,' murmured Amber. 'She must be shot. Run,
Cathy, and fetch one of the boys. I'll keep them off.'
Catherine thought this preferable to staying. Amber, confronted with
the groaning animal, its eyes dimly appealing, was full of wild pity.
She wrung her hands.
'Oh, be quick, Cathy! Be quick!' she whispered. She ran to the brook
and fetched water in her hat to moisten the poor dry tongue. But it was
too late. She stood on the bank and watched for Catherine. How long she
was! Oh, why could she not run faster! Half an hour went by, an hour.
Sixty minutes of watching helpless agony is not pleasant. At last after
an hour and a quarter she saw Catherine with Jasper and Philip coming
leisurely along. Philip had a gun. She beckoned. She ran to meet them.
'What a long time!' she cried.
'What a fuss!' said Philip.
'Hurry up, now you are here.'
'My dear Amber, you're quite excited.' Philip spoke banteringly.
'Oh, don't talk. Shoot her quickly. What has she ever done that she
should suffer so?'
'First let's see if there's more money in her patched up than there
is in her dead,' said Philip.
'You shan't, you shan't,' Amber sobbed. 'Shoot her now, I say.
She shall not suffer so.'
Amber in this mood was new to them. Philip sniggered. Catherine
'Best get on with it,' said Jasper. 'It's our cow, anyway.'
'Yes, but your governor'll want damages.'
'Give me the gun,' said Jasper. It was enough that Philip wanted
delay; immediately Jasper wanted haste. Also his natural instincts were
the same as Amber's.
He took the gun and shot Hetty, and she laid down her tormented head
and forgot life and its sorrows.
'And now,' said Amber, 'I should like to know what you were thinking
of Catherine, not to hurry as I asked you.'
'I felt faint.'
'Faint.! What business had you to feel faint? There was a creature in
agony, and you, a perfectly strong, healthy woman, felt faint.
Nonsense! I don't believe it.'
Catherine looked pathetic. The two young men looked at Amber as if
she were inhuman.
'You have no sympathy, Amber,' said Catherine plaintively. 'You think
more about a soulless creature than you do about me.'
'You are too selfish for any words,' said Amber, turning away and
walking on alone. In a few minutes Jasper caught her up.
'You mustn't say such things to Cathy,' he said.
'They are true.'
'Cathy is an angel.'
'I know Catherine very well, dear.'
'If you want me to be your pal, you mustn't criticize Cathy either to
me or to herself or to anyone. Cathy is as far above you and me as
'Never mind the illustration, old boy!'
Amber laughed, but her laugh was rueful.
'Well,' said Jasper irritably, 'you've changed. That's all I can say.
I can't feel to you as I did.'
He turned and waited for the others. Amber, with a bitter sense of
frustration, went on alone, while the two young men eyed one another
across Catherine's hat with flashes of hostility, veiled on the part of
Philip, unveiled on the part of Jasper.
So it was that Jasper became doubly lonely. He felt this most at
Christmas. As Amber said, Christmas was the time when they gave each
other all the things they had bought at the bazaar at the Keep, which
things would be convenient for the summer sale at the Rectory. But
Jasper had no presents to give, for he not having yet found a God,
money had not been forthcoming from his father. Ernest, Catherine and
Mrs. Velindre all gave him devotional books which he put on his
mantelpiece and contemplated with dismay. But neither this nor the fact
that he had no gifts to bestow was what chiefly troubled him. What
grieved him was that on account of a philosophical difference of
opinion he was tacitly shut out from all share in the sweet humanities
of Christmas. It was understood that he would not care for carol
singers, would not care to go with Peter as of old to help the ringers.
The idea was that he was a sinner wilfully neglecting God. He knew in
his own heart that he was homesick for God and could not find Him.
It was the time of a winter day when the lonely heart aches; when the
dusk has fallen, but the lights are not yet lit; when the last sounds
of day come sadly across the meadows with a forlorn, lost music,
already becoming muted under the outspread hand of night.
Jasper felt bitterly alone when the family went off to church at
half-past three. He had felt it when they went to the choral
celebration in the morning, for that service had been one of his
greatest joys. He felt the irony of the fact that he, who could
appreciate these things, was shut away from them by his desire to do
right. Another irony was that they all took it for granted that
laziness was at the root of his absence. He had tried to find comfort
on Sundays in lighting a fire in the grotto and getting Enoch to come
and sit with him, for Enoch was another absentee. He was firm against
all reasoning, from the Rector's mild: 'What have you against us,
Enoch?' to Mrs. Gosling's 'Well, what I say is, on a cold morning a sup
of wine is a sup of wine!' But Enoch had been less companionable
lately. So Jasper surreptitiously followed the others down the drive,
along the few yards of lane, into the churchyard. The yews were piled
with sugary white; Mrs. Cantlop's wreaths were buried; the negro boy
had a warm snow vest all down one side. The church windows glowed
warmly and invitingly, and Charles Dank was playing, 'Oh, come, all ye
faithful!' with an explosiveness never attained except at Christmas. It
was all very human, very peaceful, Jasper thought — peaceful, that is,
for those who believed in it. As the voices rose within, he could
distinguish Catherine's clear, metallic soprano. He thought how lovely
she had looked as she came to him in the hall in her winter coat and
the cap with violets that showed her hair to such advantage. 'Put away
your pride and come!' she smiled. 'Come with me!'
As if he had any pride!
And then Ernest had come up behind him and whispered:
'Only come! Only have faith!'
Ruby said nothing; she spoke very little now.
'Faith? What is faith?' said Jasper to himself. And it seemed to him
that his friend Hallowes was right when he said that faith was
generally an effervescent froth rising out of the bubbling contentment
of the more comfortable classes of humanity; rendered to an essence;
bottled, and offered peremptorily to the less fortunate.
Jasper looked up at the angry reds and purples of Death and Hell
which stained the passing snow. It was too eerie here, so he went round
to the porch. Sitting there, a little sheltered from the wind, he could
be more intimately in touch with the service. Ernest was intoning
prayers now; Jasper could hear Mrs. Cantlop's voice in the responses,
very slow and hearty, and Mr. Arkinstall's, turning the simplicity of
the service into subtlety. He smiled when Sarah set about the creed as
she would about a day's washing. Finally, the Rector gave out his text:
'When He maketh up His jewels.'
When who made up what jewels? Jasper wondered. For, to some minds,
the more concrete religion is the less they can take hold of it. What
did all these people want? he wondered. What did they really expect?
Was their reward that they would die with the creations of their own
minds so thick about them that they would not hear the snow-wind
mourning: 'It is the end'? Would the Rector close his eyes for the last
time to see within himself multitudinous jewels of rayed splendour?
Would the woman whom no man had loved die with the kiss of passion on
her grey lips? Would trees whisper in Enoch's failing consciousness,
and mountains of dressed poultry cheer his aunt across the dark river,
and gold mines set their allure for Mr. Cantlop? Or was there something
real, though vague and inexpressible, awaiting them? If so, it seemed
to him a pity that they should cumber the window of vision with all
this stuff of their imagining.
There was no comfort here. He went back to the house, fetched his
flute, and played himself up the Beast Walk. And as he went, he smiled
wryly at his own expense, thinking how Sarah had said: 'It's wail,
wail, wail with you, Master Jasper, like the Willypeewits weep-weeping
in the moonshine, wanting summat to cry for.'
Jasper felt that he had a good deal to cry for. His music fell like
tears on the waters. He had learnt the rudiments of the flute years ago
from Mr. Greenways, but had outstripped him by virtue of a greater
capacity for misery. Mr. Greenways was of so cheerful a disposition
that it was doubtful whether the heights and depths of music would ever
be completely unveiled to him. But as Sarah said, 'With these whistles,
what you want is a tune, summat as goes with a hop, skip and jump, and
not shuffle, shuffle, like a tramp's wedding.'
'I wish,' said Jasper aloud, as he looked down the vista of beasts
from the grotto, and down the vista of his own life, 'I wish to God
Hallowes would come!'
Book 2: The forest
Chapter 14. THE UPPER WOODS
When the atmosphere of the house became too thunderous and Amber's
nerves were strained to breaking-point, she crept away to the upper
woods. This she had learnt from Enoch, for she noticed that when the
kitchen rang with battle, when the butter did not 'come,' or some of
his daily jobs went wrong, then, at the first leisure moment, he went
to the woods. He had unconsciously fostered a love of nature in her,
for he would bring her the rarely beautiful treasures of earth — a
primrose plant all a-blossom in a nest of moss, a branch of grape-like
buckthorn fruit, a young robin for her to set free from a cage of
rushes. He never kept birds in cages, and his only pets were two tame
hedgehogs that wandered about after him in a blind sort of devotion,
and were fed like cats with saucers of milk.
Amber loved to think in winter of the life that ran in the dark tree
trunks, of the muffled laughter in every grass-root and crocus bulb; to
hear the thrush chanting his prophetic vision of spring far-off in the
southern valleys. She loved to watch for the purple and gold and green
marvels of elf-land that blossomed out of the dead-black branches; to
kneel by the rockery and slip her finger into a corolla of the blue
gentian, where it was warmer than the outer air. She waited eagerly to
see, every year, the blackthorns float like clouds along the copper
coloured slopes; to hear on a spring evening, singing in the bare ash
tree against a sky of dewy purple, the first blackbird. It seemed to
her that while Dormer lived by law, the forest lived by impulse.
Through a gradual awakening to natural beauty, she reached a perception
of beauty peculiar to herself. She began to perceive analogies. Nature
became for her, not a fortuitous assemblage of pretty things, but a
harmony, a poem solemn and austere. It was for her no longer a flat
painting on the wall of life. Beauty breathed there, light shone there
that was not of the flower or the star. A tremor, mysterious and
thrilling, seemed to run with the light through all matter, through a
single open blossom of the wild gean tree and through the whispering
Something watched there; something waited; on this side or on that,
always a little above her, a little beyond. Was it there, where the
quicken burned, or there where the yellow snapdragon crowded — every
small mouth half open, as if about to tell her the secret? Young and
fugitive it seemed, as the baby thrush that hopped in callow dignity
across her path, yet darkling and terrific as the core of a
thunderstorm. When she turned quickly, it was gone, like the shy emmet,
slipping under the layers of the leafy, ferny wood; it was fled like
the night-wandering moth into the topmost, heavy platform of the pine,
fused in fierce moonlight. So her going out into the green world had in
it something of a religious rite.
On a still morning of early June she went up to the Birds' Orchard.
She often did this before the day of petty irritation began. For
everything was still the same at Dormer. Its inhabitants rasped on one
another like rocks grinding beneath the tides. Ruby lay on the
ancestral sofa most of the day now, and she had become almost as
tearful as Mrs. Cantlop. The family was much exercised about Peter, who
did not show the eagerness for Catherine's hand which they expected.
Jasper, very tiresomely, did. He and Amber had drifted further apart.
Amber was now in the unfortunate predicament of having no one to laugh
with, but she found some comfort in the inconsequence of the bird
She did not care for the lower woods; they were so near the house, so
much under its influence. The huge fissured boles of the yews, dull
red, each one a scheme of clustered columns, upheld the massive
black-green foliage, so that the wood seemed like a low chamber with a
heavy carven roof, under which twilight always brooded. The floor of
this place was deep with the leaves of many centuries, which had
gathered with the thickening years till they muffled the footsteps.
When Amber thought how the contemporaries of Harold Hardrada had
probably walked in this very wood, under trees which now were jagged
stumps, and considered their fragile joys, their tiny griefs, so huge
to them, she shivered, feeling antiquity to be fearful — almost
cynical. The hollies, the boles livid, grotesquely twisted and
writhing, were old but dwarfish. Their leaves, with the hard,
light-refracting polish (breaking the light as granite breaks water),
were sparse. They were in flower, but the thin grey froth of blossom
hardly seemed to belong to spring, though it possessed, like everything
in nature, its own individual beauty. This wood, in its silence and
stillness, with its massive yew foliage; like wrought iron, might have
been part of a petrified forest. Through arcades that seemed like the
recesses of time Amber hurried upwards, avoiding the Beast Walk.
Through a company of fir trees set with points of bright green flame
she came at last to the upper wood, and was instantly at grips with
beauty. There was for her literally something of wrestling, of the mood
'I will not let thee go until thou bless me,' in her communings with
Suddenly a blackbird fluted, and the notes, liquid and glassy, made
room for themselves and their silver echoes, seeming to need all space
in which to expand, to rise in full tide, submerging everything. The
bracken, still unopened, stood ranked in bright green slender pillars,
and Amber thought that the troops of hyacinths that marched in and out
among them were like the procession of a Lord Mayor's Show in faery. It
was very early, and the wood was in a charmed stillness. The blackbird
fell into a long meditation, and Amber shut her eyes, listening, not
with the ear, but with the soul. Here, where the sounds of the world
died away like a lapsing tide, she heard the sad rumour that life
makes, stirring and murmuring in the silver bush of nonentity. She
heard the moth-flicker of worlds slipping out into their age-long life,
and their return — faint as the hum of a spent bee — to their
everlastingly mysterious cause. Leaning against a wild pear tree, she
was aware, by her inward hearing, of the tidal wave of sap that rose so
full and strong that she could almost imagine it roaring like the sea.
Then a tremor of wind shook the flowering tree-tops, and she awoke
again to the senses, to the strangeness of these utterances of the
leaves. For the forest tree keeps in her heart secrets of days long
gone — days when the little bruit of man was drowned by the infinite
grave forest murmur; when the trees spoke aloud the things that now
they only whisper. Every tassel and streamer, every rosette, and
cluster and catkin, all the minute, unnoticed bloom of the woodland,
seemed to envelop her in scent and rustling music. Close about her she
had the bloom of the wild fruit trees in the Birds' Orchard. It was
steep and green as the hills in a dream, and up the slope, poised in
attitudes of wind-blown grace, climbed a company of crab trees. Their
brown and fissured trunks were lichened and mossy; their tops were
broad, and low and rosy. Standing on the slope, Amber could see them,
mushroom-like, spread with pink tapestry. She could see the burnished
bees, tethered by desire, hovering in thousands, falling in and out of
the rose coloured cups. She was drenched in the scent which, although
more delicate than that of an orchard tree, is not less heady — the
scent of wild apple in the early sun. The pale flowers and the bright,
close-fisted buds were packed layer upon layer in the exquisite
freshness of romance. From the middle of a cup shaped hollow rose a
wild pear tree, forty feet high, flowering late on its windy hillside.
It was white as a summer cloud, with its cymes of large, rose-like
blossoms. Its scent, more unearthly than the apple, wandered down with
the breezes that stole along the dazzling terraces. Amber loved pear
blossom; she delighted in the creamy, nut-like buds, each with its
cross of soft rose-colour, a little paler than the velvety stamens of
the open flower, and contrasting delicately with the silver calyx. She
listened to the bees, crazed with the high tide of honey, sounding up
and down the pillared whiteness their effortless monotone. But she
could not linger by the pear tree; there were so many other things to
see. She had the feeling, almost of greed, that such days bring — days
with something glistening in them, a touch of the eternal. She felt
like a child on the sea beach, loaded with shells veined with rainbow
tints, pearly, fiery, and all with the sea in them — all remembering
the deep water. Every petal, every leaf, seemed to be conning some
memory of profundities whence it had come. Every curving flower seemed
full of echoes too majestic for its fragility. She climbed to the
buckthorn grove. There they stood, creating their own atmosphere, as do
all groups of trees. They dwelt in green fire, for their leaves — thin
as those of beeches — were, young and fresh. Their stems were of regal
purple. Their creamy flowers, long-stalked, five-petalled, sweet,
starred the bases of the leaf clusters. Near by were the spindles,
gracious with shining leaves and mysterious fourfold flowers. At the
top of the inclosure was an old hedge of white beams, that had ceased
to be a hedge and become trees. The upward springing boughs, the soft
and downy leaves, were drifted over by flowers, so that each tree
seemed to stand amazed at its own whiteness, like a young bride in an
ample veil. A breath of scented air came from the hilltops and stole
among the branches. That which had form, and knew the mortality which
is in form, trembled before that which passed, formless and immortal.
It seemed content to linger here for a little while, before the
momentary existence of this visible beauty slipped into nothingness;
but it did not commit its whole self to any creature of matter, neither
to dew-dark petal nor gold-eyed bird. It passed in the wood, as
sunlight passes, or as the wind goes by, lifting the leaves with
indifferent fingers, or like the rain stroking the flowers in childlike
Because of it the place became no mere congregation of trees, but a
thing fierce as stellar space. Yet in the wood it never nested, never
came homing to the spangled meadow. For it possesses itself for ever in
a vitality withheld, immutable. It was this that drew Amber with
breathless curiosity into the secret haunts of nature. It was this that
struck her now into a kind of ecstasy, so that she neither saw nor
heard the stranger who came down the hill and stood watching her
beneath the blossom.
So it came to pass that he surprised the very self of Amber Darke
abroad in the blue day, hovering like a bee in the foam of flowers. Who
knows where the spirit lodges, in what grey cell or dawn-cold turret of
the mind? Wherever her lodging, Amber was playing truant, wearing, for
all her thirty years, a loveliness to which her physical self did not
entitle her, and to which Catherine would have denied her right. But
beneath Catherine's critical eyes it would have folded like the evening
The stranger came nearer, in a kind of eagerness, as though impelled.
He snapped a stick, and she turned with a little cry. They looked at
one another, and their look was that of friends who have met a long
while since, in other lands, to the sound of wilder music, but with the
same remembered ecstasy. Dim thoughts came to them of primeval forests
which it seemed that they two, wandering hand in hand, had traversed;
of antique seas far away on whose loud shores they had, as childish
playmates, slept; of huge, serrated mountains where they had climbed —
mountains now worn to low green hills. Where were those forests and
those roaring seas? They could not tell. In this world ages since; in
other worlds; in the strange Saharas of their own secret souls — it
did not concern them to know. What they cared for was the knowledge
that they had always known each other. Amber knew that all her thirty
years at Dormer had been a holding of the breath in expectation of this
moment. Michael Hallowes knew that his harsh and chequered career had
been one long search for this woman who now stood before him, tremulous
To him she seemed as lovely as a sun-drenched petal in which neither
colour nor texture can be seen, all being steeped in radiance.
She, looking up at him, saw only his eyes, in which dwelt an energy
of vitality not of physical origin. His mind had the qualities of
flame. He was one of those men who, passing through filthy places, burn
up evil as they go. His face had the strong sweetness that belongs to a
man who has been through the mire of human sin, and has come through
with his spirit intact. All the trees, metal-green, jewel-green,
dawn-green, splashed and flecked with rose, and mooned over with
patines of cream-colour, regarded them benignantly over each other's
shoulders. They seemed to crowd together, even to nudge one another,
for all their tall dignity, that they might look upon a marvel. The
bird-cherries sent down peace in pale flakes. The little crofts, the
bays of half-cultivated grass land bounded by lavish hawthorns, the
steep vivid slopes where cool, chicory-coloured shadows blossomed, were
all swimming in ox-eye daisies, white as the wake of a ship. Across
them swallows flashed, very low, and their sharp wings seemed to churn
up foam from the daisies. A scent came up, so keen that it made the
heart ache, as did the fresh, amazing colours — the flushed flowers,
the blanched flowers, the empurpled swallows, tinted like the
thunder-clouds that haunted the horizons of Dormer.
'Tell me your name!' said. Michael, in a voice at once commanding and
'Then you are Jasper's friend?'
Her heart sang. For if he was Jasper's friend, he would come to
Dormer. He would sit in those shadowy rooms, she would rest in the
protection of his voice, his smile, in the aura of his presence. All
that the house meant — the iron barriers between one and another,
Catherine's lacerating personality, Mrs. Darke's arctic eyes — faded
and became unimportant.
Michael stretched out his hand in a sudden impulse toward her, then
caught himself back into immobility, and said only 'He never told me.'
'That you lived at Dormer.'
At the idea of Jasper thinking her so wonderful, Amber laughed her
clear and merry laugh that was like a child's. Michael was not
offended. Already he held the essence of her personality within his
own, and when one human soul does that with another, misunderstanding
'If I had known, I should have come sooner,' he said.
Amber neither flushed nor trembled. She was not the queen-woman
receiving homage, nor the slave-woman awaiting subjugation. She was not
consciously a thing of sex or of physical existence at that moment.
That Michael should come to Dormer and find her, was to Amber as
inevitable as the fusion of colours or the pull of stars one upon
'Why should you have come?'
'To find you and fetch you away.'
'As children find the first primrose. Why do they look for the first
primrose, Amber Darke?'
A smile curved her mouth mischievously. She was not going to be led
down that road.
'Why do they look for it? Very well, I'll tell you. Because it is
'But I am not beautiful.'
He stepped back with half-closed eyes.
'I suppose, if one could get past your soul and look at your
features, you might even be plain,' he said. 'But your soul sheds such
a light, Amber. I shall never he able to see your features.'
Amber sighed in utter content, and her sigh was like the soft lifting
of young sycamore leaves. Here was a man, strong, sane, cognisant of
the world — one that must have seen many beautiful women — telling
her that she was beautiful, proclaiming himself by every glance her
lover. Her lover! The tints of the apple blossom deepened in her
cheeks. She looked round her at the old familiar nooks of the Birds'
Orchard, and her eyes were full of tears. She stopped and gathered an
ox-eye daisy, for Michael's long gaze began to make her shy.
'Give me that daisy!' said he.
She gave it, and picked another.
Their eyes met, and they broke into laughter. A rabbit that had
washed its face several times in an endeavour to decide whether they
were harmless, decided in the negative, and was gone. From below, the
descant of many birds ascended, and far down amid the maze of fluty
voices the stable clock struck eight. Amber started at the didactic
whisper of sound.
'I must go!' she said.
'May I come?'
Might he come? Might he have the keys of her life, of her heaven and
hell? Might he take her and all she was or hoped to be? Oh yes! Oh yes!
But might he know all this now? Oh no! Amber's Quaker spirit primmed
its mouth, and Amber's little goblin of humour shook its head. And what
Michael Hallowes received in lieu of the outspoken passion of a
'We shall be pleased if you will come to breakfast, Mr. Hallowes.'
But possibly Michael was not deceived. For he, too, possessed a
goblin of humour.
Amber did not see the expression of his eyes as he replied, following
her retreating figure:
'I shall be pleased to accept!'
Nor did she know that two brown and rather possessive hands were
stretched towards her muslin shoulders, and as suddenly taken away
'I won't startle her,' he resolved.
'But I shall not call you Miss Darke,' he added.
'No, ma'am. I shall call you Amber.'
'Very well, Mr. Hallowes.'
Michael smiled across Amber's hat, as if the hawthorns understood his
mind, and could appreciate the quizzical situation.
As they neared the house, faces appeared at the lower windows and
watched their advent.
'Amber with a man!' said Catherine, as if she stated an
'A nice one, too,' said Ruby wistfully.
'An untidy fellow,' remarked Ernest.
'Too thin!' judged grandmother. 'Now, you're too fat, great-nephew.'
Ernest ignored this.
'He looks like chapel,' he said.
Pressed to the kitchen window were the faces of Mrs. Gosling, Sarah,
and she of the sullen temper. Said Mrs. Gosling:
'Miss Amber's met her fatal. Hark at 'em laughing!'
But at this moment Jasper saw them. Amber, watching his tempestuous
welcome, thought: 'If anyone can save Jasper, here is the man to do
They went in to find Solomon preparing to read prayers.
'No prayers!' said Michael, and disappeared with Jasper.
Amber, hearing about Abimelech, began to realize that there were
going to be clouds even in this extraordinarily blue and sunny day.
'That gentleman's eyes,' said Sarah, as she sternly fried the bacon,
'probes your innards. If I'd ever took so much as a button, I wouldn't
dare meet 'em.'
'Did you see the fray on his shirt cuffs?' asked the sullen one. 'Ah!
but 's Amber's a good one at the needle,' replied Sarah, and even the
sullen one was able to see the connection.
In the dining-room conversation flourished more than it usually did.
Amber was silent, for she was conscious of Catherine's vivisecting eye,
and she was still tremulous from the sense of Michael's presence beside
her, and aware of his long, eager gaze, demanding that her spirit
should reveal itself to his completely, and without any shadow of
reserve. The finding of such a gaze on herself is, to a plain woman,
both disquieting and delicious — disquieting because she knows her
limitations; more delicious than a woman of many lovers can ever guess.
The woman of many lovers seldom experiences it, for passion — pure,
crude and vital — is a gift that comes to very few. As the meal went
on in the usual way, Peter sulking, Solomon saying the same things, her
mother looking the same things, grandmother eyeing Michael and flinging
at his head ever and anon extracts from the Lion, Amber found it
more and more difficult to believe in Michael's reality. She told
herself that she must be imagining the different tone in which he spoke
to her. It surely could not be true that, while to everyone else he
spoke coolly and indifferently, to her he spoke with the caressing
command of the Birds' Orchard. Then Amber realized that Catherine
intended Michael for her own. Catherine's face was becomingly flushed;
her pointed lips had pricked two dimples in her cheeks; her eyes turned
— leisurely green, speaking an etiolated sex — towards Michael's
sombre ones. Sombre Michael's were, but in their depths laughter
'Are they laughing at Catherine?' Amber wondered, adding
characteristically: 'Are they laughing at me?'
It was obvious that Catherine liked his curt voice, his downright way
of expressing himself. Ernest had just remarked that he believed in the
greatest good of the greatest number, to which Michael, without any
'Bosh! If each individual is allowed to be himself, he'll attain his
own good; and you can't co-ordinate individuals until you've got
individuals to co-ordinate.'
'That doesn't sound right,' said Solomon. 'I dunno what's wrong, but
it doesn't sound right.'
They pondered on that.
'Why are you so foolish as to go out early, Amber, when you are
always ailing?' asked Catherine, and received a full, ruminative glance
'Don't encourage her, Mr. Hallowes!' she finished.
'If she wants to go to the Birds' Orchard, it is not our business,'
Catherine frowned. She would show him whether he could contradict
Catherine Velindre! She would lure him, she would bind him. She would
lull him — and then? Ah, well! Maybe she would reward him.
A strange man. A queer, wild, seamy, passion-stirring being. Those
eyes could be kind, but they could also be merciless. They could
express passion — a devastating love for one woman.
'And I will be that woman!' said Catherine Velindre.
'When people are over thirty, they should be a little careful,
Amber,' she said.
Amber's eyes grew hot with tears. What man would look at a girl
again, even with passing interest, when he had been told she was over
thirty, and when he could see that she was plain? That look, which had
rested upon her in the forest, would not rest on her again. She did not
look up when Michael spoke:
'Dear me,' he said, with speculative interest, 'I should not have
thought you were more than twenty-nine, Miss Velindre.'
If ever a face looked vengeance, hers did. He should suffer for that
— when she had bound him.
But instead of replying angrily, she dissolved into melting
femininity. She leaned on the table, so that her well-moulded arm and
shoulder were shown to advantage. Her head drooped submissively. Her
eyes — secret, with the expression of the courtesan vaguely lingering
about them — looked up at Michael under their thick lids and lashes
with such an expression that he was reminded of a picture of an
Egyptian slave-market. As she had laid snares for Jasper, so she laid
them for Michael; but she had a very different man to deal with now.
Michael looked at her coolly, with a purposely irritating air of
appraising and depreciating goods, and a faint dismay was born in
He turned to Amber, and immediately the thrilled and thrilling look
was there. She thought, as she shyly glanced at him, that it was the
look a little boy might wear if he was suddenly set down outside a
faery town — heard the bells ringing, saw the golden minarets within,
the nodding poppies on the walls, the shadowy people passing inside the
fretted gates — and was told, 'Soon, in a little while, perhaps you
shall have the key.'
'Can it be I myself — Amber — that has aroused this passion?' she
thought. She could not believe it.
Suddenly on this hidden, tumultous joy came Solomon's voice
'What's your trade or profession, anyway?'
'But what d'you do?'
'I'm learning to look after sheep.'
'But you're an educated man.'
'Looking after sheep gives me time to think.'
'Time? What d'you want time for?'
'To explore myself and look for God.'
'Look for gold, did he say?' cried grandmother.
'But He's in church. You needn't put yourself out looking for Him.'
'I never found Him in church.'
'Young man!' — grandmother eyed him with disfavour — 'you've got a
'So have we all, ma'am!'
'What was your father?' asked Solomon. He had become very suspicious
of Michael, and was determined to sift him, host or no host.
'He was a good many things,' replied Michael.
'But what did he make his money at?'
'Well,' said Michael judicially, 'sometimes I think he made most as a
chimney-sweep, and sometimes I think he did best at the fried potato
His eyes, for all their quiet sombreness, could not conceal their
gleeful laughter, as he glanced from one face to another. There was a
silence so deep and so long that Amber wanted to scream. She felt that
the ancestors on the walls would, if it lasted much longer, begin to
talk from very nervousness. There was not a sound except the distant
voice of Sarah singing to an obbligato of tinny crashes:
'Foolish sheep, why will you scatter?'
Ernest was the first to recover; he came to the surface with a long
sigh and an 'Interesting! — interesting!'
Ruby giggled. She could always be relied on for that.
'Jolly good trades, both,' said Peter, feeling that he himself bad
made a specialty of the working classes.
Without a word Solomon got up and went to the gun-dogs. He always did
this under strong excitement. Catherine's eyes dwelt upon Michael. Was
he telling the truth or was he not? It was difficult to know. If it
were the truth — what then? She who had dreamed of bishops — was she
to fall so low as fried potatoes? It spoke something for Catherine
Velindre's strength of character that she swallowed the fried potatoes.
It also said a good deal for Michael's personal magnetism that a woman
of her stamp could continue, after such harsh treatment, to smile
provocatively on him. Jasper pushed his chair back.
'I'm off now; coming, Hallowes?' he asked. He was bitterly
disappointed that Michael had so soon offended Dormer. He had hoped to
see so much of him. Now he would not be asked.
In the general movement Michael leaned down, and said:
'You'll come with Jasper to see me, Amber?'
'I live at the Shepherd's Hut at Forest Gate. You know?'
'You'll like coming?'
He was gone. As she ran up to her own room she reflected that she had
said yes to everything — would have said yes, she feared, to anything
he had asked her. He was, it seemed, a person who dealt in
affirmatives. He was also a person, she knew, as she looked at her
burning cheeks in her little mirror, to whom Amber Darke could not say
She flung herself upon the bed and hid her face in the pillow. 'Oh
yes — yes — yes, Michael Hallowes!' she whispered. 'Yes, and yes a
hundred times. Yes and yes for all the years of my life. Yes — yes —
yes — to anything — to everything —, she burrowed deeper in the
pillow — 'to everything you ask of me, for ever and ever.'
She stayed there, still and silent, for a long while. Then she sat
up, and said with decision: 'But you shall not know that, Mr. Michael
Hallowes. Aha! You shall think it is no and no! Yes, you shall think it
is no for a long time. When will he ask us to go? Will it be to-morrow?
Will he say “Amber” again? Will he look down at me and smile again?'
'What ails you, 's Amber?' queried Sarah, entering, intent on
But when Sarah got down to the kitchen again, she nodded to Jemima's
'We know what ails her, girl!' she said confidentially.
'Love's so lungeous.'
And Amber, feverishly sewing new frills into her best blouse, thought
so also. But it was a very different kind of lungeousness from that
which Marigold had felt.
Chapter 15. MR CANTLOP COMES HOME
It was on Saint Swithin's day that Amber received her first
love-letter. Since the June morning when her real life began she had
only seen Michael once. Jasper had refused to go and see his friend
oftener. This puzzled Amber. It also struck her as suicidal. If there
was one person to whom Jasper, drowning in the tides of intolerance and
misunderstanding, spiritual despair and fear, could look for help, it
was Michael. And now he refused to see Michael. Amber could not know
that Catherine, white and regal in her favourite frock, had come on
Jasper in the Beast Walk, and had penalized any intimacy with Michael.
'If you love me,' said Catherine, 'you do not want him. If you want
him, you do not love me.' Catherine was aware that Jasper's going to
tea with Michael meant Amber's going to tea also.
'If I don't go and see Michael, will you be — as I want you to be?'
asked Jasper. He had grown thinner, browner, a good deal sterner. He
bargained where he had pleaded.
'As you want me to be?' Catherine pondered.
'You know what I want you to be.'
'Now, look here, Catherine, you shall not say you don't know.'
He grasped her hands, and she was aware that the Wallows had at least
given him some very serviceable muscles.
'I want you to be my wife, now — next week — to-morrow. I want you
to put aside everything, your religion, your old-maidish point of view
(it is old-maidish, Cathy!), everything, and give yourself to me. Now
He laughed ruefully, but he did not loose her hands.
'I have given up a good deal for you, Cathy. No, it's no use trying
to get your hands away. I am sorry if I am hurting you, but you have
hurt me. You say you love me. You say you want my good. I tell you the
only way you can compass my good is by giving yourself to me. Will you,
Cathy? Will you?'
Perhaps if Catherine had not met Michael, the young manhood of Jasper
would have won her, struck from her all her poses. But she had become
aware of a harder metal, tasted a stronger meat. She was afraid of
Michael Hallowes, and of all the strange blossoms in the garden of
woman's love for man, this purple blossom of fear is the most
fascinating to a nature such as Catherine's.
'If I give up Michael — though God knows why I should — will you
fix a limit to this hell?'
Catherine pondered again. She must keep Amber away from Forest Gate.
Therefore, she must keep Jasper away.
'I will tell you, yes or no, in two months,' said Catherine.
'Say six weeks — that's too long.'
'And you do love me? If you don't I won't go on with this. Do you?'
It was necessary to say yes.
'Loose my hands now, Jasper.'
He kissed them and let them go.
'I shall count the days. It will be the last Sunday in August.'
'And as you do really love me, and it's only a matter of conflicting
ideas, I shall hope for the best. Say you love me!'
Catherine flushed; Jasper was becoming an intolerable difficulty.
Well, it must be said.
'I love you!' said Catherine Velindre.
But as she fled across the water she saw sombre eyes with mocking
laughter in their depths; heard a voice deeper than Jasper's and more
inflexible; glimpsed a character of which the main fabric was wrought
That had happened yesterday, and to-day Amber received her letter,
unofficially, through Enoch.
'Jasper is not coming to see me for six weeks, God knows why. Will
you come to-day? I will meet you at the gate of the Forest at ten
As she read those words, so few and simple, her heart grew turbulent
as the silver passion of July wheat-fields under the wind.
At ten o'clock. So early! She stole away over the silken water, under
the summer lapping of the leaves. What would Dormer say to her? Let it
say what it would when the grave, beautiful day was over. But now —
Michael awaited her — herself and not another. As she went, all
beautiful things seemed to run to meet her. Already there had come the
faint dusking-over of the wheat-fields with the soft, rosy fawn which
steals away the green of summer; which glows and flushes through hot
days and yellow-moon nights until at last, through every phase of
saffron, tawny, almost salmon-colour, they have reached the time when
they can hold no more beauty. The ripples that swept over them,
water-green and pale, when the first clover flowered, now flowed in a
slower rhythm, each wave longer and stiffer, less like water than
honey. She thought, as her gaze lingered on the plain, that there a
shadow wavered which was not painted by any tree, slipping away before
the eye of man like dew from a lifted leaf. It seemed, as she looked
ahead at some green-veiled arch of the forest, that the curtain might
be twitched aside at any moment, and some revelation of the divine peer
out upon her. But when she passed the archway there was only the leafy,
mazy pattern of summer green. As she listened to the low breathing of
the forest, she half thought she heard an echo fall — like the
striking of a wing on soft resistant air, or the music of wild swans
passing above the roof of cloud, sounding upon their muffled golden
But Amber's meditations did not last long. A very long time before
she reached the gate of the Forest, there was Michael lying on his
elbow across the path, gazing up into the blue crevices between the
leaves, smoking an enormous briar.
'Come and sit by me,' said Michael. She spread her white skirts among
the beech mast and the pine needles.
'Have you ever had a love-letter, Amber?' he asked.
She reflected that unexpectedness was one of his great charms.
His smiling eyes dwelt on her so long that she turned away with a shy
'One?' persisted Michael. 'A short, sharp, practical thing — but
'Perhaps one,' she assented.
It was then that the doves began their fairy mischief-making. Not the
wood-pigeons; this was not a haunt of theirs; but the little
fawn-coloured doves that purr with a continual velvet softness, an
iteration which expresses everything for the lover.
Michael sat up and threw his pipe into the pine needles. 'Say — “I
had a love-letter this morning, Michael, and though it said nothing, it
brought a man's life with it.”'
Amber smiled to herself. Those hours with her own passionate heart in
her little room at Dormer must be concealed.
It was yes — inevitably and gloriously — but not yet.
'I had a letter from a very authoritative man this morning, Mr.
Hallowes,' said she. 'But it was not a love-letter — I hope.'
'You hope it was!' said Michael. 'You do! It is no use looking prim,
Amber, and you may say Mr. Hallowes a hundred times, but it won't
Amber was examining a wild rose.
'This attack is unmerited, Mr. Hallowes,' she remarked, after a long
The wood-pigeons purred, the wind ran lightly like an aerial squirrel
in and out of the tree-tops.
Michael took away the wild rose.
'I have been patient,' he said.
'But now it's time for that gnome of mischief to which you give
house-room to go to sleep. I want to talk to you.'
It was the vaguest whisper of sound.
'You know you and I are one, don't you?'
'Don't be demure, Amber; you know it. You knew it in the Birds'
'How soon can you come to me?'
'Well, how soon?'
'Do you mean, marry you?'
'Yes. If marriage is what you approve of. We are tied faster than
marriage. I am not prejudiced either way.'
He leaned on his elbow and regarded her.
'Yes. I should like you to marry me, please, Amber.'
'I will think about it.'
Michael smiled. He found her reserves almost more fascinating than
any other quality.
'And now home!' he said. 'I've cooked the dinner.'
It is true that the happy have no history. And as Michael and Amber
could not have said how the day passed, what they said or thought,
neither can the reader expect to know. Instead, he must be content to
return to Dormer, where, at three o'clock on this same Sunday
afternoon, the Rectory surveyed its glebe in drowsy peace. Into the
silence fell at long intervals the croaking caw of a rook, intensifying
the quiet. In the garden the rambler roses blazed, the lilies stood
each in an aura of stillness that was about the flowers like light
round the moon. Nothing stirred except the Rector's bees, who seemed to
think of taking an unfair advantage of his siesta by swarming. The
Rector, in his cool, green-lit drawing-room, was having his usual
conscientious Sabbath slumber over Paley's 'Evidences.' The good man
always did violence to his wishes on Sunday, putting away all his books
on gems, not so much as cutting the leaves of the latest brochure on
diamonds, though it had only arrived on Saturday. Paley was dutifully
opened after dinner, but the house was so quiet (Rectory-Lucy being Out
and even the cat sleeping the sleep of repletion) that a bland
complacency came over his thoughts. He pondered on his good fortune in
having avoided matrimony, and a great peace overwhelmed him, so that
Paley remained where Paley had been opened at half-past two. This
weakness of the Rector's was bitter to Ernest, who was unable to see
what a much better parish priest the Rector made simply because he
could not read Paley. When the Rector sat in his arm-chair and slept
rosily, the veriest sinner must have confided in him; and while his
intellectual light gave an uncertain ray, his humanity shone like a
lighthouse upon all who came near him.
Mrs. Cantlop — who was not equal even to looking at an unread Paley
— was asleep upstairs with her windows tightly shut and curtained.
The afternoon wore on very pleasantly. It was at about half-past four
that the Rector with a little start opened his blue eyes on a sight so
surprising that he polished his glasses for several minutes.
Seated in the corner of the sofa, in the shadow of the Japanese
screen, was Mr. Cantlop, with a bundle in a red handkerchief beside
him, and the expression of a Buddhist seeking to be absorbed into the
One. It seemed that if Mr. Cantlop could have transformed his small,
spare self into one of the buttons of the upholstery, he would have
done so and been thankful. He sat so quiet that the Rector was reminded
of ghosts, and he had an air of not having come from anywhere.
'Is that you, Cantlop?' asked the Rector.
'Yes, it's me,' said Mr. Cantlop.
'My dear man! I'm delighted!'
The Rector discarded Paley and shook hands violently.
'Well, well! This is delightful! I'll go and tell your wife.'
'I'll go,” said Mr. Cantlop faintly.
But the Rector felt that if Mrs. Cantlop woke to find her husband
materializing in the room — materializing was the only word for his
entrance — she would have a heart attack from sheer joy. So he left
Mr. Cantlop in the drawing-room, which seemed emptier for his presence.
After warning Mrs. Cantlop — warning seemed to him the right word —
the Rector went into the kitchen, murmuring — 'All across the
Atlantic, poor little man! Tea!' — as if some kind fairy would procure
Then he poked the fire till the lower part of the grate fell out with
all it upheld. 'Now, now!' said the Rector with tolerant reproof. He
found an oil stove and boiled the kettle on that. Then he fetched all
the eatables out of the larder and conveyed them, the cat proudly
serving as acolyte, into the dining-room. Finally, Mrs. Cantlop came
down in tears, brooches, her best cap and a great deal of lace, and
utterly overwhelmed Mr. Cantlop. When the Rector, perspiring, slightly
sooty, and with a new and deep respect for Lucy, triumphantly announced
tea, he found Mrs. Cantlop and the red bundle in possession of the
sofa, and a crushed Mr. Cantlop just existing between them.
'A remarkable man!' thought the Rector, who was something of a
psychologist, and who found Mr. Cantlop's consistent self-annihilation
more remarkable than other people's self-assertion.
They went in to tea, Mrs. Cantlop sugaring the Rector's cup lavishly,
and the Rector, who hated sugar, drinking it uncomplainingly. Mr.
Cantlop enjoyed his meal furtively. He could, in eating a dinner for
which he had not only paid, but overpaid, look as stealthy as a fox
that has robbed the hen-roost; and no burglar, meditating the
acquisition of another's gold, could have looked as sly as did Mr.
Cantlop in lawful possession of his own.
Not that he was in possession of his own, unfortunately; for when the
Rector said: 'Well, Cantlop, I suppose you've brought a sack of
nuggets?' Mr. Cantlop was heard to whisper: 'Lost!'
And lost it apparently was — the whole gleaning of his twenty years.
The Rector sighed, reflected that his means must be stretched to
include the three of them, and murmured something about treasure in
heaven. For this Mr. Cantlop seemed very eligible, for he certainly
would never have any on earth.
After tea they went to Dormer House, for the Rector had news to give
Ernest. There had come this very day at lunch a note from a
neighbouring vicar with a hint that a distant relation of his own
thought of presenting a living to Ernest. This meant an immediate move
for Ernest and Ruby, and though Ruby would rather not have moved just
now, she was so pleased to be leaving Dormer that she made no
Ernest's success and Mr. Cantlop's future career were discussed at
'Why not sexton?' asked grandmother, and everyone knew that this was
Mr. Cantlop's true vocation. It was tacitly understood that Mr. Cantlop
would perform his duties in so secretive a manner that no one would
guess his occupation, the village presumably thinking that it was done
by gnomes in the night.
'You're no bigger than when you went!' said grandmother. Mr. Cantlop
writhed under a sense of incurable insufficiency. 'Where's the gold?'
she continued. 'You've gotten none, I do believe, William!'
'Then what good are you?'
To Mr. Cantlop, who thought nothing of his own good qualities and had
always been ready to acquiesce in public opinion, this dictum that
money was the end-all and be-all seemed unanswerable.
It was not until Amber came in, looking almost pretty, and so full of
happiness that she infected all she came near, that Mr. Cantlop really
felt his home-coming to be a festival.
'You have come back to her!' she said. 'That's better than gold,
isn't it, Mrs. Cantlop?'
'It is, it is, my dear!' She wept again for joy, adding, 'And dear
William might have got entangled with those foreign ladies!'
Amber's silent delight in this picture was cut short by Catherine's
'Where have you been?'
Then the storm broke, and Amber began to disbelieve in her own
happiness. It was borne in upon her that she was plain, that she was
not young, that no man would want to marry her. It was pointed out that
the son of a chimney-sweep without money or influence was not the
husband for a daughter of Dormer. Catherine summed it all up.
'But, of course, it is just dear Amber's imagination. She is too much
No one believed in it. Did she believe in it herself? Amber wondered
when she leant into the purple midnight from her window, and looked up
towards the forest. No! In this house she could not believe in it. This
dull, tired, insignificant woman that looked back at her from the eyes
of those at Dormer was not the same creature that had wandered, free,
happy, beautiful, with Michael Hallowes in the golden sunlight. And as
she heard the stealthy noises of the house, she began to wonder whether
she would ever see Michael Hallowes alone again. Intuitively she knew
that they would watch her, that misunderstanding would be fostered,
that Catherine would spread her charms. A terror of Catherine grew up
in her mind. Alas! Alas! Catherine was so beautiful. Remorseless and
lovely, the pale face floated before her mind; lovely and cold, the
green eyes looked into hers.
'She is stronger than I!' was Amber's thought as she fell into a
And Catherine, watching the stars ride up from beyond the forest,
strengthened herself for the binding of Michael Hallowes.
Hour by hour the clocks uplifted their voices, preaching of
mortality, of striving, of busy anxieties. And hour by hour, Amber lay
awake rejoicing that, whatever came to her, she was no longer their
bondswoman. For to-day, in the large silence of the forest, coming home
softly over the dewy moss, to-day, for the first time, Michael had
kissed her. It was not the selfish kiss of the faun, nor the bluebottle
kiss of marital duty. It was the kiss of a lover. Before his hands were
laid gently on her shoulders, before his eyes took their fill of hers,
she had been a plain dull woman in a plain dull world. He kissed her,
and she stood in the rose-light of immortality.
Chapter 16. PETER'S LETTER
It was mid-August, and hot, thunderous weather, when the storm centre
at Dormer began to whirl with some activity. Michael and Amber had only
seen each other once, but Enoch had acted as letter carrier. Ernest and
Ruby had gone. Jasper welcomed the beginning of corn harvest as a means
of killing time by hard work. Peter, urged by his elders to make some
advances to Catherine, led a harried life, avoiding Mrs. Gosling,
Enoch, Catherine and his parents.
On this blazing August day at breakfast, after the girls had gone,
'My lad, you ought to marry.'
'Marry or burn!' said grandmother.
'I don't want to marry,' said Peter with sincerity. He felt already
too much married.
'You're young for your age,' said Solomon, 'a young innocent.' Peter
smiled as he went off to work. But he would not have smiled if he had
known the surprise fate had prepared for him.
It began when Mr. Greenways gave Enoch the letters. As a rule he
sorted the letters in almost unbroken silence. Sometimes on a Saturday
he would say, as he flung the Golden Chance across to Enoch:
'Another three ha'pence thrown away. He never wins anything.'
But as a rule Enoch watched him in silence. He admired the arbitrary
way in which Mr. Greenways allocated the letters. But to-day there was
one over which Mr. Greenways pondered long, and which he finally handed
to Enoch with raised eyebrows. As his face was of the kind that
expresses surprise very readily, looking amazed even in sleep, the
impression Enoch now received was that Mr. Greenways was going to have
'Look!' said Mr. Greenways.
Enoch looked, and his face was dismayed.
'That's Mrs. Gosling's Marigol',' said Mr. Greenways. Then he read
the address very slowly: 'Peter Darke, Esq.'
There was no mistaking Marigold's large round letters, which ran
across the envelope like fat boys playing leap-frog. 'If this roof
opened out into the kingdom of heaven,' said Mr. Greenways, 'or if my
missus spoke me fair, I couldna be more struck of a heap. It beats
'It's a good thing you're one for keeping counsel, Mr. Green-ways,'
'Mum!' said Mr. Greenways. 'Mum as a mumruffin!' He still looked like
a startled gnome. All the way to the house, with the summer-faint song
of the Four Waters in his ears, Enoch puzzled. What ailed Marigold to
forget herself like that? But now that she had forgotten herself, what
should he do? Peter might be gone to the Wallows when he got back. He
went early in harvest-time. He had better keep the letter and slip down
to the Wallows with it. It was a thing he had never done — to keep
back a letter. He had the translucent honesty of the majority of
country people who work for their bread, and he had a sense of
responsibility. He duly delivered the Dormer letters at the Dormer
front door, and if anybody ever wanted their letters in any other way,
they had to go to Mr. Greenways for them. But this was an occasion of
extreme urgency, for someone would recognize the postmark, even if they
did not know the writing.
Enoch delivered the letters without it, and put it into the breast
pocket of his coat, carefully wrapped in his handkerchief. There were
generally a few odd jobs to do before his day's work, and while he did
them he hung his coat in the kitchen.
Now it was Sarah's daily practice to go through the pockets of this
coat with a view to finding out any secrets Enoch might have. Whom she
loved, she chastened. Enoch was her intended, and she regarded his
pockets as potentially hers. No sooner, therefore, had Enoch gone
across the yard than Marigold's letter was in her hands. She saw with
relief that it was not addressed to Enoch.
'What a brazen piece!' she murmured to the kettle as she put it on
the hottest part of the fire. 'Now boil, you! and look sharp, or
Enoch'll be back.'
The kettle having complied, she began to steam the letter open. But
first she ousted the cats, for there was something about the opening of
letters which made her dislike those four lucently amused eyes.
'I'll learn you to outface your betters!' she said. Then she read the
'My DEAR HUSBAND,
'I write to say as there is a little Girl. Nine pounds and eyes your
colour. Sunday was a month since you came. Please to come. It's a very
nice little Girl.
'Your dutiful wife,
Sarah turned her pebble-coloured eyes up to Jemima Onions' grave.
'You could blow me to Paradise with a puff,' she said, 'if you'd a
She did not see Catherine glance in as she passed the kitchen door.
Suddenly Solomon shouted for the gun-dogs' breakfast. Sarah jumped
'like something scalted' and put the letter into the top dresser
drawer. It was unfortunate that Enoch called for the 'fowls' meat' at
the moment, so that Sarah was absent for some time. It was also
unfortunate that Catherine knew of Sarah's drawer. In a moment the
letter was in her hand. In another moment she had realized that Peter,
who had preferred a working-girl to herself was in her hands. Let him
pay for his impertinence! She was bored with Jasper, but Jasper had not
swerved in his allegiance. Let Jasper have Dormer! Certainly Peter
would not get it if this were known. She did not care what they did
with Dormer. She wanted nothing more of it nor of the Wallows. She
wanted (oh, strange fate for Catherine Velindre) a hard life on a
lonely hill-top with a penniless man who proudly owned for father a
seller of chip potatoes. As she stood in the kitchen with Marigold's
letter in her hand, a fierce jealousy overcame her. For Marigold had
given a child to the man she loved. To live in that bare hut on the
hill-top — with Michael; to experience passion — with Michael — such
was the desire of Catherine Velindre, the proud, the ambitious. She
struggled against it; she despised herself for it; but there it was,
unalterable. She put the letter down on the table and went to the
'Grandmamma!' she said, 'did you give Sarah any copies of the
It was a vexed question between Mrs. Velindre and Sarah — the status
of the Lion. Sarah refused to regard it as literature, and
treated it merely as paper. Out went Mrs. Velindre, and Catherine
smiled one of her long, secret smiles.
Very soon grandmother came tapping back.
'Fetch my daughter,' she said.
'What for, grandmamma?'
'Do as you're bid!' said the old lady.
She remained, while Catherine was away, murmuring to herself:
'Pounds! Nine pounds! Little girl! Gideon! Marigold Gosling! Hell
It was characteristic of Mrs. Darke that when Mrs. Velindre took the
letter from her beaded reticule and placed it before her, she only
'Ring for Sarah, Catherine.'
When Sarah came, she ordered breakfast, deciding to discard prayers
'Fetch the master,' she said, 'and tell Gale to fetch Master Peter
and Mrs. Gosling.'
She began to eat an egg, but it was less like a meal than an
execution. Mrs. Velindre drowned her lumps of sugar one by one, as if
they were both Marigolds.
Sarah returned to the kitchen and sat down heavily.
'There's only one thing as there's a God's plenty of for Sarah
Jowel,' she remarked. 'And that's trouble. It must be 's Catherine.
She's as deep as Dormer pond. She'll lose a brother when the devil
dies, no danger! There they'll all be, ravening and roaring, and
Enoch'll ne'er overlook it. I may plead and better plead, but he'll be
as sullen as a daylight owl.'
She rocked in her chair, until the cuckoo clock, striking in loud and
ribald tones, reminded her of her errands. 'You're wanting in the room,
sir,' she said to Solomon, awaking him from a long, bland siesta on the
wall of the gun-dogs' kennel.
'Read that!' said Mrs. Darke, when Solomon went in.
'Well, the lad's got himself in a pretty fix,' said Solomon. 'But
what's to be done?'
'Done — done — done!' said grandmother, like a bell tolling.
'Tch!' said Mrs. Darke, and tore the letter across and across. 'Tch!
Tch! Tch!' echoed grandmother, till the room seemed full of elfin
And now, as if they had not enough to think of, in walked Ernest,
'I have a child.'
'So has Peter, confound him!' said Solomon.
'I am a great-grandmother!' said Mrs. Velindre. It was left to Amber
'How is Ruby?'
'Physically well,' said Ernest. 'But mentally, strange — strange.
She does not like the child.'
'Her reason is the most curious thing about it. She says it is
because the child is like me. A strange aberration — it will pass.'
Amber was thankful that Michael was not there. She was also glad that
Solomon returned to Peter's affairs.
'Uncle,' said Ernest smoothly, 'hush it up! Hush it up!'
He spoke so mellifluously, that it was like a lullaby. The scandal
seemed already asleep, like a cross but persuaded baby.
'Hush it up, eh? But how?'
'Money, sir. Give the girl money and let her go away.'
'Let her look for gold, like Mr. Cantlop!' said grandmother.
'But suppose she loves Peter?' cried Amber.
'Oh, love! Sentiment!' said Solomon.
'Suppose she won't go. She seems to be legally married,' suggested
'Money! A great deal of money!' reiterated Ernest.
There was a deprecating tap, and Mrs. Gosling crept in.
'Well, Gosling, what have you to say?' asked Mrs. Darke.
'What about, mum, please?'
'You know quite well. Your girl and Master Peter.'
'It wunna my fault, mum! I'd neither part nor lot in it. I says to
Marigold: “Dunna you take on soft with Master Peter! You'll look very
old-fashioned,” I says, “when that 'appens as will 'appen!” And I
partly think it was Enoch's doing as Master Peter married Marigold.'
'Whoever was to blame, you go.'
'But you wouldna make me leave my cottage, mum and sir! I never
thought to leave it till I went in everyman's carriage. Some like
moving. It inna Lady Day with them unless they move. But I canna a-bear
it. And all them lickle gooseberry bushes I put in!' She wept into her
blue and white check apron. 'I partly think the old maister wouldna
have given me warning, with no fault of mine.'
'Well, well, missus, I'll see you don't lose by it,' said Solomon
gruffly. He fetched his cheque-book and wrote under Ernest's tutelary
''Nough?' he queried, pushing it toward Ernest.
'More than enough!' murmured Ernest reverentially. Money always made
him feel devout. He took his share in the contemplated betrayal of a
soul without a qualm. To do him justice, it never occurred to him that
Marigold might prefer Peter to money, nor that it was as great an
honour for Peter to be loved by Marigold as to be loved by any lady in
the county. His comment on the match was: 'Preposterous, my dear sir,
He thought Solomon's cheque wildly generous. After all, it was a
great deal more than what was paid for another betrayal of love a long
while since, in Jerusalem, the account of which Ernest always read with
such fine elocution.
'There, Mrs. Gosling!' said Solomon. 'Now you can both start afresh
'Well, I'm sure, sir!' Mrs. Gosling was quite dazzled by the vast
sum, even though it was only 'picture money.' She thought bow she would
convert it into real, convincing half-crowns and shillings, and make
wash-leather bags to hold it. 'And thank you kindly, sir!' she said. 'I
mun stir myself to move for Marigold's sake. I partly think I needna be
idle. For there's a time for each and every when they want fettling for
the Lord. And maybv I met take the gooseberry trees along of me?'
She came out from her apron. Her attitude had completely changed.
'If Marigold's willing, Anne Gosling's willing,' she said. 'So long
as you can make it all right about “let no man put asunder.”
'Here's Mr. Ernest. He's a parson.'
'Quite all right, Mrs. Gosling,' said Ernest. 'Circumstances alter
Mrs. Gosling retired, comforted and 'ticking for gossip,' as Amber
said. She was in the condition of the clock in the hall, which when it
had gurgled must speak at once all that was in its mind. No sooner was
she gone than Peter came in, handsome, flushed and sullen. He leant
against the door, aware of storm and — as Sarah said — smelling
trouble. Most of the faces in the room took the expression of a cat at
a mouse-hole when a whisker appears.
'Well, you, sir!' shouted Solomon. 'What have you got to say?'
Apparently the happy father had nothing to say.
'A pretty pickle!'
'Nine pounds! Gideon!'
'How old is it?'
'Husband of a servant!'
So the chorus ran.
'My dear fellow! Unwise! Unwise!' soothed Ernest. 'What possessed you
to do such a thing?'
'They did it in the Bible,' said Peter.
'Hold your tongue, sir!' stormed Solomon.
'I meant, why did you marry her?' amended Ernest, apparently unaware
of the deductions to be drawn from the remark.
Amber laughed, and Peter, perhaps for the first time in his life,
became aware of her as an individual, and not as a mere part of the
furniture of women that garnished Dormer. He looked across at her with
a whimsical smile. Something in his comely nonchalance annoyed
'Marigold has eyes like bluebottles and cheeks like raw meat,' she
said, with pale and pensive satire.
'If you were a man, I'd knock you down,' said Peter, beginning to
Catherine laughed disdainfully.
'Now, good people,' said Ernest, 'let us be calm. Let us ask
ourselves — “What would the Captain do?”
Whenever Ernest was confronted by a problem, he said this. When
people were restive and inquired how they could find out what the
Captain would do, he simply said: 'Ask the Captain.'
'The long and short of it is,' said Solomon, 'that you must
Immediately Peter decided that he wanted to live with Marigold and no
'She's going. It's settled,' said Mrs. Darke.
'It must be unsettled then,' replied Peter.
'No one will know,' said Ernest. 'There will be no scandal. All will
He felt that he would not be able to breathe again with comfort till
all was really well and Marigold on the sea. In all his professions of
willingness to bear crosses, it had not occurred to him that the
Captain could invent anything so horrible as this.
'You all talk as if I'd done wrong,' said Peter. 'I've not done
wrong. I've acted honourably. She's my wife. I suppose I can marry whom
He happily forgot, at the moment, that he had married to please
Enoch. Mrs. Darke looked at him, and around her seemed to boil the
thunderclouds of class hatred and matriarchy.
'Never,' she said, 'will I have the woman here!'
Had she known that her hatred of Marigold was weaving Marigold's
future happiness she would have died rather than say it.
'Then out I go!' said Peter. 'I'll go to Marigold.'
'If you go, you'll never come back, mind that!' said Mrs. Darke.
'Very well. I'll go to-day.'
'But are we, am I, never to see your little girl?' asked Amber.
'Bless me!' Peter gave an amused chuckle. 'I haven't seen the little
beggar myself yet!'
He turned toward the window as the swiftest means of exit.
'How will you get your living?' asked Solomon.
'You've no money. You will have to stay here,' said Mrs. Darke in a
tone of triumph under which ran, like a creature in the grass,
something of foreboding, something even of fear. What was it, she
wondered, this unbidden stirring in her stony heart? Was this what they
called love? Oh, no! no! Let it not be love. Could it be that Rachel
Darke, in this late hour, was to be tormented by this feckless,
unreasoning, routine-destroying phantom?
'You are dependent on us,' she said again.
'Don't go, Peter!' Amber spoke anxiously. 'Surely something can be
'You've no profession and no money,' said Catherine. 'You can't go.'
'Money! Money!' chanted grandmother. 'Money rules the world.'
'I'll go to the West and sell knives!' said Peter.
'Knives? What for?' cried everyone.
'To cut loose with — to get free with. Yes, that's what I'll do —
go to the West and sell knives.'
He vaulted out of the window. As he went across the blazing lawn with
his young, defiant shadow, the house seemed to fling its own shadow
after him, standing like a moated grange eyeing with its unsunned
western windows the first of its children to burst from its prisoning
shelter. It seemed to gaze after him when he had long disappeared. As
the day grew hotter, the walls began, ever so slightly, to shake in the
Inside the house all was still, until the clocks began to stir and
murmur on the silent air, that was full of the hot scents of thunder
weather. Their clamour seemed to arouse those in the dining-room.
'A child of Sattan,' said grandmother.
'Satan,' corrected Ernest.
There was a rubbing on the door, and Enoch walked in. He held his
purse, made by Sarah of corduroy bound with black tape and fastened
with a large linen button.
'I've druv plough for you, sir, from a lad,' he said, 'and my feyther
for yourn. I wish you well, and the family well. But I wunna take your
money — nor a farden piece of it.' He drew the cheque out and gave it
to Solomon. 'What me and mine needs, we can yearn,' he said.
In his eyes was an angry sparkle seldom seen there.
'And though you've given ours warning to go from Dormer Valley, I
wunna go from the village.'
'But surely, my good man, you'll not refuse money?' said Ernest.
'You'll listen to reason, Enoch?' added Solomon.
'It wunna be able to be done,' said Enoch, answering both together.
He turned and went out into the kitchen, where Mrs. Gosling and Sarah
sat crying on either side of the kitchen fire under the shadow of
As Enoch's steps died away across the yard, Sarah said:
'Enoch's worse than 'Im above when he's roused; for you can plead
pardon of 'Im above through a third party, and say you never meant it.
But Enoch knows you meant it, and there inna no third party. I feel so
bad, you'll be bound to fetch the doctor to me — only I feel too bad
for the doctor. Fetch me the beast-leech!'
Chapter 17. THE GODS ASSEMBLE
The last Sunday in August came, and still Dormer lay under the
burning and airless heat. It was the weather that wakes in all animals
a strange restlessness, when the young ponies on the mountains fear
they know not what, galloping furiously hither and thither, without aim
or destination; when the sheep cry all night long; when in the sullen
evenings the young gnats mind them of their wings and volley upwards to
their mating; when the woodpecker's laugh grows hysterical; when it has
even been known, in the hot, moonwhite midnights, for a hive to seethe
with such unrest, and for the late-hatched queen to wake with such a
wildness in her blood, that a swarm has gone raging up into the molten,
For many days there had loomed, around and above Dormer Valley,
gigantic clouds which grouped themselves beyond the circle of darkly
wooded, rooky hills, like people in an amphitheatre. Some towered like
gods in white mantles, with folded arms; others seemed to lean forward
upon the woods, as on a granite balustrade, brooding on the House of
Dormer. Some appeared to rest, chin on hand; some were hump-backed,
ponderous; others, like stealthy little gods of mischievous intent,
crept and climbed, peeping over the shoulders of the giants. They were
mostly of that terrific pink peculiar to thunderclouds, and fiercer
than grey or black — a very pale brick-colour tinged with yellow —
which seems like a caricature of all the rosy and firelit and
flesh-tinted pinks, which is at Once awful and ghoulish. With these,
rooted in the tempestuous navy-blue low on the horizon, grew up clouds
of a blanched ash-colour, very melancholy and wan. Sometimes the
Colours varied as in limelight. Violet, stark silver, leaden grey-green
—these passed over them like changing tints over a group of statuary.
Occasionally at night they would move slowly round the horizon, and
Jasper would think with relief that they were gone. But in the morning
they were back again, taller and more majestic, more intent, with the
same air of patient waiting for a drama in which — so his feverish
fancy told him — he was destined to enact a tragic part. On this
Sunday the sun rose coppery above the stifling valley, and sometimes
there came a hot gust from the east more oppressive than stillness. The
swallows felt this oppression and flew seldom, languorously and low,
over the water. The warblers hid themselves. The silent pigeons made no
stir amid the leaves. It was one of those days when dry places are full
of acrid scents, and damp places are ftid; when the fresh fragrances of
spring seem to have been changed into scents unhealthy and oppressive;
when summer curdles, and the year turns rancid from very richness.
Jasper was thankful that to-day he need not go into Mr. Arkinstall's
molten harvest fields. He felt utterly exhausted under the pressure of
a doubt which, even at its vaguest, is torture — doubt of the beloved.
He had watched Catherine's face when Michael's name was mentioned and
when she had not been on her guard.
He wandered out into the yard and met Enoch taking the pigs to
consume windfalls in the orchard.
Jasper paused, hesitant, wanting sympathy, but not knowing how to ask
for it. Enoch, characteristically, gave it without being asked, and by
talking of something else.
Having given a long ruminative look at Jasper's face he turned
squarely round with his back to him. This was his custom when people
were in trouble. He would not have thought it delicate to 'outface'
them. Thus posed, with a bit of half-ripe wheat to chew, and a wary eye
on the heavy eastern sky — as one who expected some demon to
materialize there — he said:
'The sun's dealing straitly with us, Master Jasper. Very straitly, he
'It makes the beasts mortal fratchety. They wunna stop where they're
put. Ours broke pasture last night, and her at the World's End public
got out, and she hanna raught back yet.'
The person referred to was not the landlady, but a much more
important person in Enoch's eyes — her cow.
'And Wallows broke out, and Rectory,' he went on. 'Pond's dry at
Rectory, but I canna see what for they wanted to break out at the
Wallows. It's the weather goes to their yeads. No beast can stand it.'
He turned sideways and indicated one of the sows. 'Now that un,' he
said, 'what d'you think she'd done when I came to the pigsty but now,
Master Jasper? Clomb right over the door, and there she was, bompassing
and boasting, and the rest screaming “housen afire!” I never heard such
a belownder. But she allus was a restless piece.'
'D'you think it'll rain soon, Enoch? I hate this weather.' The
tenseness behind the commonplace remark made it almost electrical.
'Well, Master Jasper, it met, and agen it metna. But the more of a
frizzle now, the more of a souse after. And the more things go
collywessen now, the more they'll drive a straight furrow after.'
With this he finally swallowed the much enduring bit of corn, removed
his eye from the east, turned round, and perceived that the 'piece' had
set off for the Wallows, leading with her the rest of the pigsty
If Jasper had not been so miserable, he would have shouted with
laughter at the picture of svelt bodies, thin perky tails and willing
little feet vanishing down the lane, while Nemesis with a long bean
stick followed with obstinate, unhasting tread.
Jasper went into the dim drawing-room, where only the motes stirred
in narrow shafts of sunlight that struck across the dust-coloured
carpet through defective slats in the Venetian blinds. It was airless,
for all the windows were shut, but it was shady, and the shrouded piano
with its tidy sheaf of sacred music seemed to promise a reassuring
muteness. A bluebottle that had caught its wing in the web of a spider
so old and crafty that it had even managed to elude Sarah, made an
intermittent, forlorn buzzing, as if it saw and did not like the
ghostly company of departed bluebottles to which it was to be gathered.
Jasper got up and released it. Then he lay down on the sofa. It was
Uncle Thomas Hilary's bequest, and it still bore the marks of Uncle
Thomas's occupation, for being a ponderous gentleman he had 'sat
through' the springs, as the Darkes of several generations knew. Jasper
curled himself into the attitude which best avoided the springs, and
tried to read. But even that anæsthetic failed him. Catherine's face,
oval and almost faultless, so clear in complexion that it seemed to
imply clarity of soul, floated across his vision with the floating
motes. He shut his eyes and saw her as she had looked at the dance —
the graceful head, the gentle outlines of shoulder and breast, the
softly lifted frill of her dress. He remembered how his hands had been
full of an ungovernable desire to touch her; how he had fought with the
desire and conquered it. What good had it been? Did she love him any
better for it? She said so. Did she understand him? He doubted it. He
had kissed her that day at the grotto, he had outsoared Peter's
scornful — 'I wouldn't take up with a girl I daren't kiss.' Catherine
had not kept her supremacy without some cost to herself But her eyes
remained coldly clear and untroubled when they dwelt on him, unchanged
in their liquid greenness, through his most impassioned moments. And
those same eyes had lighted at the name of Michael Hallowes. He had
seen the chill mermaid glance quiver and warm to a green flame. He had
seen the vexed, confused, red flush in her pale cheeks. Or was it his
imagination? 'Oh, God!' he thought, 'let it be imagination!'
He pulled out Catherine's portrait and kissed it many times. 'Who's
eating lozenges?' said grandmother from the inner room, whence she
emerged, feather-brush in hand, nodding inquiringly like a Chinese
queen with a gaudy fan.
'I see you, grandson!' she remarked, tapping her way to the sofa.
'You've gotten a touch of the sun.'
She nodded again, and a little stone idol of missionary extraction
(made with a detached head Strung on wire) which nodded all day in the
empty, silent room in perpetual affirmation of a negation, gravely
returned her bow. The two round, bard faces, the two hard, curiously
decorated heads, greeted one another across Jasper's body with an air
of affinity. Jasper thought as he looked at them that grandmother was
old enough and grotesque enough to have shared a temple with the idol
somewhere in the bat-haunted past.
Grandmother began to dust the piano, saying: 'Our God is a jealous
God!' And the four chandeliers of Aunt Charlotte-Lucy (deceased) which
flanked the idol, seemed to echo her with an elfin, accusing clash.
Jasper got up and went out. He wandered along the stream, dreaming
upon the deep, interfusing shadow beneath the twisted thorn, where lay
within the water, in a kind of tragic beauty, cross on brown cross and
multiple thorny crowns. He wished that he could see there the
reflection of the Man of Sorrows passing by across the world. Ah! if
only that fair and fiercely vital story were true, could he not follow
with bleeding feet — anywhere, anywhere! But with a fated beauty, even
as he looked, the reflections quivered and were gone, as the may tree
felt the furtive electric wind that roams the world before thunder; the
crosses were softly shivered; the crowns melted and failed upon the
Nothing was left but the marginal swords of the rushes; the faint
motions of water insects; the shadowy head of a swimming rat.
Slipping into an hypnotic dream, Jasper imagined that he saw within
the water, moving with the weird dignity with which a herd of cattle
pass in a pool, the people of Dormer. But their faces were not the
faces of daily life; some necromancy had brought them out of their
hiding. A wild and changeling company they seemed; but he scarcely
noticed any face except Catherine's. Her eyes looked chill and crafty
as the eyes of a sea-queen, dwelling cold in the cold green ocean,
never winning through to a soul.
The water wearied Jasper almost as much as the house. There were too
many people in the house; there were too many minnows in the water, the
warm stream was alive with them. There was no rest here. And above,
under the branches of the dark green, heavy trees, already tinged with
edges of yellow, danced in languid mazes the multitudes of midges. The
air was so heavy, the water ran so oily-thick, that Jasper felt
stifled. He decided to go to the grotto. It would be cool there. He
would take a jug of tea and stay there all day, until blessed evening
brought Catherine and her long-waited answer.
As he went up the Beast Walk, the strange shapes seemed silently to
jest and jape at him, alternately stirless and whispering. A
vacillating air wavered over them in the heat, stirred them to multiple
sibilations and fell to a calm that held in it, like a narcotic
solution, the scent of the green yew and of the deep layers of dead yew
beneath. Jasper liked it better when the trees were still; for to the
derided soul even the voice of the forest is derision. Lugubrious and
hollow-sounding, it roars upon him in winter like the voice of a ghoul,
hounding him from glade to glade under the complex traceries of grey
coral. And in summer, when the green tongues lisp and murmur as they
did to-day, so that the curtained woodland is full of a volume of soft
noise, he is even more keenly reminded, if he is inclined to be
introspective, of the ridicule of his fellows — as if each one laughed
softly behind his hand. Now, as he thought of his own life, of the way
he had been fooled by fate and was being, so he imagined, fooled by
everyone, his face grew wild and bitter. When darting doubts of
Catherine flashed like lizards in and out of the crevices of
consciousness, the stark holly trunks seemed to him like the pillars of
a torture chamber. What was his life? A round of drudgery among people
some of whom he detested. What was his future? Instinct began to tell
him that it was to be either a long wrestle of wills between himself
and Catherine, or blank despair. He saw life without glamour, without
romance; and to see it thus is like living in rocky and barren deserts.
He heard the shrilling of age in its wintry skeleton tree. He heard the
weak crying of infancy in its bleak, windy nest. He saw the callow
fledglings a-row, earnest, incompetent, doomed to innumerable downfalls
and unthinkable labours to attain — what? Simply to attain the
anxious, restless preoccupation of parenthood. The songs of maturity,
so sweet, so compelling to the hearer, what were they to the singer?
'They are what my love for Catherine is to me,' he thought, 'terror and
ecstasy, and very little ecstasy.' Fools! these poets, who imagined the
blackbird singing in April because he was happy. He was not happy. He
was full of a passion he did not understand and never wanted. He
shouted in a wild desperation, hoping to get rid of his unrest by the
outcry of his soul. If he won his mate, he was triumphant; but was he
happy? Jasper doubted it. Where did all the labour of home-building
lead — the carrying of heavy burdens — the feeding of unsatisfied
young? In his present mood he felt that Nature worked her creatures
like slaves, and, with her ironic smile — so suave and so secret —
fooled them into believing that they were masters of the world.
(Unconsciously Jasper endowed Nature with the very smile of Catherine.)
And when the play was done, summer over, fruits gone and song faded —
what then? Nothing. Only the shrilling of age in its wintry, skeleton
'Curse it!' said Jasper furiously, 'curse it!' There was in his voice
the agony of a straying creature benighted in the wilderness.
The forest remained aloof, not taciturn, but indifferent. Only the
echoes, in tones light and cold as the voices of gibing fairies,
faintly cried from the rocks and the walls of woodland, 'Curse! Curse!'
He knew that, if he stayed at Dormer, he could not resist the sleepy
poison of the place, where they were so full of material
preoccupations; where they destroyed the impalpable; where, for him,
madness lurked like a snake in the egg. Jasper, as he looked with
loathing at the leprous trunks of the dead hollies, thought: 'It's all
the joke of a goblin jester, without sense, without mercy, without even
humour. And he's got us in his clutches, body and soul!'
By which it will be seen that Mrs. Cantlop was right when she said,
'Jasper needs a tonic.'
He did, but it was not the kind that is sold in bottles. He had the
misfortune — it is sometimes a misfortune — to love wildly and yet
steadfastly. Therefore, Catherine being what she was, he moved in a
circle, and his struggles were fruitless. He saw life as a dark ravine,
a place where the bitter-berried juniper tangled the feet; where the
streams made a wintry clamour of wrath and sadness; where the crying of
the flock echoed from the white water to the crag, fell, broken, from
the cold night sky, shivered into silence in the hollows where gleamed
the white bones of sheep. This crevasse of the mind Jasper knew well.
Thither, at a chance word of any callous temperament, he was driven,
lamenting and lost. It is strange that those who speak such words never
dream that they have sent a fellow creature forth into a place so wild,
so deathly. Jasper sat down on the stone bench outside the grotto, and
looked towards the house. He wondered why so many of the people down
there were warped by the very things that should have made them
weathered timber. Yet, in a way, he loved them. One side of him loved
them, the other was irritated by them almost to frenzy.
He went into the grotto to avoid the intense heat and to be out of
sight of the contemplative, witnessing clouds. For the human mind, when
it nears the day of despair, can only think with equanimity of the
mysterious creatures of space — stars, cloud, light — when it
imagines a personal God behind them.
Jasper went through into the tiny inner room where no one ever came,
fetched the rug and lay down, utterly weary. The green light that
filtered in through the small ivied window was soothing, and after an
hour or two the book dropped from his hand, and he fell into the
dreamless sleep of those who are superlatively wretched.
Chapter 18. JASPER BREAKS PASTURE
Catherine stood, wrapped in a long cloak of white which she affected,
just outside the small, unglazed window of the grotto, in the wild,
tempestuous evening light. She had just seen Amber come from the outer
room of the little stone house, now dark and uncanny; so she did not
trouble to look inside, as was usually her prudent habit before sitting
down on the bench. She looked after Amber's retreating figure from
which even the shadows could not take the look of dowdiness, or, as
Catherine thought, of dumpiness. Amber wore her usual summer afternoon
dress — spotted muslin, with flounces, made by herself, and not very
'What a Mother Bunch!' thought Catherine, suppressing a titter.
She guessed where Amber was going. She was going farther into the
wood, so that Michael Hallowes should come out and look for her. Amber
did this because the sweetness of being looked for was heady as faery
wine to her, and because she needed its reassurance — for she was
subject to the swift darts of self-depreciation which make a plain
woman withdraw from her love in a pride rooted in humility.
To-night Catherine had other views for Michael. She stood, swaying a
little on her daintily shod feet, in the centre of a small circle of
yew trees. This was, in its turn, ringed by the immense amphitheatre of
statuesque cloud, very intent now, giving to Michael, as he came down
through the Birds' Orchard, a sense of oppressively courteous
attention. What were they waiting for up there, in that sad, pale, red
light of theirs, like people expectant before the curtain as it rises
on the chief scene of a play? Catherine, seeing that Amber had quite
disappeared in the dark yews, whispered:
'You can wait, and wait, and wait, my dear! He shall not come!'
She clicked her white teeth with finality, and sat down on the bench,
looking up the path down which Michael would come.
She clasped her hands in the intensity of her passion for him.
'Oh, he is a man — a man!' she thought.
'How he is glooming on the grotto! I can see he is not pleased. Is it
I he is not pleased with? Oh! I would rather have his anger than other
people's praise! I would rather be his mistress than the wife of a
Michael paused by the grotto, and glanced in at the ivied window, for
an intuition told him that Jasper would be there. Jasper lay in a
half-waking state. Surely, he thought, Catherine could not be harsh to
him. He remembered the feminine droop in the graceful figure. Surely
she must lay aside cold theory for love — the womanly, the warm, the
starry! Then the long conflict would be over. She should keep her
Christ. He would never lay a finger on her creed. She should keep that;
he would keep his honesty; all would be well. He did not see Michael.
The hush that lay on the world thickened round the grotto, as Michael
stood and looked at Catherine; bats began to appear, uttering, amid
their half-cynical activity, soulless cries. They were so eerie that
even Catherine, who had too glassy a mind to be, as a rule, affected by
nature, shivered and felt the place lonely.
'It is the only way,' thought Michael. 'Cruel; but the only way. It
must be the knife.'
The stone walls seemed to grow greyer with the shadows of
disillusionment. Old lost dreams and hopes came flocking, cold as
snowflakes, stealthy as bats, and clung dankly in the corners. Down
below, the water made its continual plaint; and once, from the
outskirts of the wood, there rang out the high, nervous cry of one of
the strayed animals.
'You have been a long time coming,' said Catherine softly.
Jasper stirred, rolled over, got up. There she was, his guardian
angel, come at last to comfort him. How sweet she was, with her dimly
coiled hair softly resting on the large cavalier collar!
He peered out, and was just going to speak when he saw Michael. He
sat down, holding on to the table with both hands in a rush of jealousy
so savage that he could not move. He did not hear Michael ask briskly:
'Where is she?'
He only heard the reply, which was not a reply, in the unmistakable
voice of a woman speaking to the man whom she passionately loves.
Horrible ages of suffering rolled over Jasper as he heard those few
'Why didn't you come sooner?'
'Why did you want me to come sooner?' asked Michael.
Catherine's head drooped. Dared she be frank? She looked swiftly at
Michael. No! She must hint; she dared not be outspoken.
She slipped from the white cloak and stood before him in her green
dress, made of silk and closely fitting. He thought as he watched her
that she had the conciliatory air of a new wife in a harem. She
trembled as she stood, for she who had laid snares for Jasper was
'I have been told,' she said diffidently, 'that I am beautiful.'
Michael said nothing.
She laughed nervously.
'Do you think so?' she said, glad that the shadows hid her burning
'Well, as you are now, looking less cold than ordinarily, I think you
are,' he said.
'Am I,' said Catherine, 'the kind of woman a man would like see in
'I should think so.'
'And would want to see with his children round her?' ('Oh, he is
cruel — cruel!' thought Catherine. 'He will not help me. He makes me
give myself to him!') Then, as Michael did not answer, she said:
'Amber is not strong. Perhaps she will never have children.'
'I did not come here to discuss Amber.'
'Poor Amber! She is cut out for an old maid.'
'She has the qualities which make old maids, as a rule, the Madonnas
of the world.'
'Marriage with any but the right woman must be so dull.'
'I'm afraid dear Amber is growing too fond of you.'
'You're a witch, Catherine Velindre.'
'But witches were ugly!'
'You're not a witch, then.'
Catherine sat down on the bench. 'What am I?'
'Jasper will tell you that you are his future wife.' Catherine sprang
up in rage and dismay. 'What, that fool?' she cried.
'What was that sound,' asked Michael, 'like a moan?'
'I hear nothing — nothing but you! I see nothing — nothing but
Catherine spoke with still intensity.
From the uttermost darkness beyond the serried gods of cloud there
darted, yellow and silent as a lizard, the first forked lightning
flash. It seemed to lick Catherine's passionate pale face before it
slid into the dark grotto.
From far down the woods, near the house, came Sarah's voice, sharp
and miniature, keeping on two nerve-wracking notes, the echo repeating
the second syllable of each word.
'Enoch — noch! Enoch — noch! You're wanted — wanted.'
'You are wanted, Michael,' burst from Catherine's tremulous
lips, 'you are wanted by—'
'It is Enoch that's wanted, not me,' corrected Michael. 'And now tell
me about Jasper. He is very fond of you, is old Jasper. And you?'
'And I,' said Catherine, 'if I saw him burning on a slow fire, and
knew that a word of love could save him, would give that word to—'
Again Michael saved her.
'Would give that word, of course,' he said. 'It's only a matter of
principle that has gone wrong between you and Jasper. It will come
right, because love is a primitive thing.'
'I only said it was his views to get rid of him.'
'If he had given up his honesty, his soul, for you, would you have
spoilt his life?'
'His life? What's his life? I don't care that for his life!
Foolish boy — with his empty face, and his “Cathy this” and “Cathy
Thunder had muttered round the horizon for a long time. Now the first
rattling peal fell from heaven.
Jasper burst from the grotto.
There are times, especially under moonlight, when the human face
takes the look of white flowers, and when the personality is effaced,
leaving simply human pathos. So Jasper looked, as he came from the low
dark house into the immense, tenebrous night — as though his whole
self had become transparent, and were being washed away on some roaring
Catherine's face also, blanched and tragic as she looked after
Michael, had this quality of helplessness. She had risked all and lost.
For the moment she was beaten. She, the passionless, had been stricken,
as the weak never are, by this overwhelming love which ruled her — who
had always ruled herself and others — until she was terrified.
Instinct had said — 'Win this man! Make him love you!' She had failed,
and her love had turned to a predatory beast, consuming her vitality.
She never took her eyes from Michael's retreating figure. Thunder
crashed and echoed above; but she was not afraid of the thunder.
Jasper's eyes burnt upon her from his ravaged face; but she was not
afraid of Jasper. She had seen with awful clearness exactly what
Michael thought of her, felt for her, in the one long look be had given
her before he turned on his heel and left her with Jasper. She was a
haughty woman, and she writhed as she saw again (she would see it all
her life) the expression of scorn in Michael's eyes — worse, the
expression of amusement. She cou1d have killed him as she realized that
he found her laughable. She bad offered him herself, and he had waved
away the gift as one might discourage a persistent beggar. She knew
that if she could have won Michael's love, she might have become, by
virtue of it, a simple direct creature, living sweetly in the sunlight.
Though she had been, in the House of Dormer, a cold and cynical egoist,
love could have awakened her, persuading, commanding, dragging her into
happiness through pain. The lover must suffer infinitely, the egoist
not at all.
She looked up at the tormented trees, where ran the furious, electric
wind, like a hunting leopard. She looked at the dark sky, where only a
central clarity of dim air was left as the cloud-gods crowded inwards,
their moon-silvered heads almost meeting. From the bases of their
thrones, where night was thickest, came the continuous, terrific peals;
and flashes coruscated there like electric sparks struck by their feet
from the granite hills.
At last she was obliged to look at Jasper, whose long stare, full of
curiosity, wonder, disgust and horror, had never left her.
So might one of the cave-dwelling hermits have looked if, after
opening his low door to a purple-winged seraph, he had turned and
beheld, where the seraph had stood, an ape. His soul was sick; his face
had a hollow look — the look of winter, of withering and decay.
A small thing to make shipwreck on, perhaps, a woman's ridicule. But
it was enough, she had revealed herself.
So they stood for a moment, alone among the sounding shadows.
Unbearably, from far below, came Sarah's call:
'Eenoch — noch! Eenoch!'
Jasper took a step towards her.
'Liar!' he said, and brought his open hand down in a stinging blow
upon her mouth.
Then with a sob he turned and went down the Beast Walk. As he flung
himself onward in the mopping and mowing of the shadows, he saw beneath
him a kindly velvet greyness, heard the soft 'lap-lap-lap' of Dormer
brook, swollen by thunder rain that had fallen on the hills early in
the day. The voice of the Four Waters, bee-like still, and still saying
what it had said before the beginning of man, had grown loud and
commanding. What with its imperious summons and the cajoling murmur of
the little waves below, it seemed that the water was rising like a
silver wraith and softly enclosing him. Liquid sounds were all about
him — drippings and gurglings, splashes, the rush of little eddies.
His soul seemed to be globed in water, like a tiny insect in a
As he went, he did not think of Catherine, with her predatory purity;
nor of Dormer, with its vault-like air; nor of his love, trampled and
dead. He thought of water — green, saffron, blue, brown, white, every
colour. His mind became for those moments the mind of a water-creature.
He dreamed the dreams of the long-rooted lily, the darting trout, the
caddis, moving on its secret enterprises, clad in its brook-finery of
little stones and nestling in the sand. The coot and the vole, the
water scorpion, and the bull-head that hides under the stones — these
were his intimates. He knew them in a flash of time — their desires,
their passion. They lived for the silver water; in the water they died.
He also was impassioned for water — since it gave a velvet-soft wound,
opened a green, easy corridor down into death. Yes! That was where he
would go, down where the water-buttercup rooted, and the rosy-budded
milfoil swayed, and that strange, sorcery-breathing bloom, the
buckbean, planted its feet in the mud. Peace was there — golden peace,
where the great clumps of tansy and figwort made all day long a brown
and yellow blur upon the sheet of steel; dark blue and silver peace,
where a rift of night sky slashed the grey current and held far within
it the sad, clear eye of a star; black, stirless peace, where a yew
tree laid its great bulk upon the pale water, like a weary giant on his
bed. Weary? Ah, but Jasper was weary! He was so infinitely tired of
trying to make people understand that he was not either an idiot or a
villain, but just a plain, simple youth wanting to make his own destiny
in his own way. Why wouldn't they see that? But, even as he thought of
it, the indomitable faces rose before him, hard with the inevitable
hardness of spiritual ignorance, as unable to get out of their
superstitions as he was to get back into them. He saw that, and he was
sorry for them, realizing that they were the victims of their own
Juggernaut. But for Catherine he was not sorry. He wished he had killed
'If she had gone on the streets,' he thought, 'and I had found her
plying her trade in some filthy den, I could have forgiven her, brought
her home, worshipped her still. But this — there is no cure for this.
Her very soul is putrid. There is no cure for me but the water. She
will never follow me into the water.'
He stood beneath the yew tree that was shaped like a monkey, and let
his eyes dwell on the murmuring flood, while he tried, with youth's
bepuzzled frown, to visualize Dormer without himself in it. There they
would all be, busy, absorbed in outward observance, and Catherine would
buy a becoming black dress. Suddenly he realized that, instead of his
personality being fainter because of his death, it would for the first
time be really ponderable.
He laughed at that — the wild laugh of a soul unmoored by some great
shock from the safe and homely things of life.
Then he heard Sarah, back in the garden, calling: 'Eenoch!' It
brought the world in, and the fear of being afraid, of being once more
tied down to the daily life he hated.
The water closed over him with a soft, assenting lisp.
Chapter 19. PHILIP ARKINSTALL SMILES
While these things were happening, Ernest had arrived. He had come to
say that 'something must be done' about Ruby. She was 'queer.'
'Great-aunt,' said Ernest, 'she said she did not like the child. I
said that in her husband a woman sees the ideal to which her child will
attain, and she laughed — laughed immoderately. Ruby seems insane; she
is insane. She has delusions; she thinks I am not a nice man.'
He felt hurt. He had done his duty by God and his fellows in giving
them a living likeness of himself, and this was his reward!
'She must be shut up,' said Mrs. Darke.
'I fear so, I deeply fear it,' said Ernest. Then, as conversation
flagged, he went out to find the younger members of the family.
He could walk as softly as a cat, and had often, while living at
Dormer, 'beaten' the woods for lovers, in the cause of morality. He had
approached Mr. Mallow about this, but Mr. Mallow said:
'I've no instructions as to lovers, sir. If they like to go daggling
about in the nasty, muddy 'ood when they met be comfortable by the
fire, I says, let 'em go dagglin'!'
Catherine, as she saw Ernest looming over her, almost before Jasper
had disappeared, began to cry. It was the last intolerable insult of
fate that Ernest should witness her humiliation.
Ernest, who had never thought of Catherine as one who could cry,
became very much interested.
'Confide in me,' he said. 'I may say I make a specialty of grief.'
Catherine was prevented from replying by sobs of rage.
Ernest, feeling that he must be broadly human, tried facetiousness.
'Suppose I guess?' he suggested.
'Suppose,' said Catherine, springing up in a vortex of wrath and
silken gleams, 'suppose you mind your own business, Ernest, instead of
coming purring over me!'
'You are my business,' said Ernest, 'all in one, you know.' He
acted as a tonic. She stopped crying and came out of her inertia.
'If you worry me,' she said, 'I shall tell everybody what I saw on
the night of your wedding, and what I heard.'
'Between twelve and one, on the landing,' said Catherine incisively.
Ernest sat quite still. So she had seen it all! The last person who
should have done so, that dreadful little cat!
He sat in deep dejection like a pricked balloon.
But in a moment they sprang to their feet. A cry rang out from the
trough of night, mournful, wild and hoarse. It was snatched up by the
echoes in the forest and hanselled by them as though it were a new,
The two words arrested Catherine's heart with their sickening, fatal
sound, and, as Ernest went to see what was the matter, she sank down on
the bench again. Enoch also heard them. He retired to the apple-room
now in his leisure, refusing to respond to Sarah's repentant
blandishments. He sat there in great peace, making thatching-pegs amid
the pleasant scent of summer apples, while the storm came nearer and
broke over the house. His unglazed window looked on the water and the
woods, and he could dimly see his aunt's cottage which stood near the
foot of the Beast Walk. He thought how the rose-and-white figure of
Marigold used to preside over the winter tea-table, and how he used to
hurry through the wild, wet wood so that he could see her sitting by
the fire with her sewing. He fell into a long reverie about her and her
child. He did not notice the darkening sky; the mice ventured out;
Sarah's call came unheeded from the wood.
It was not until Mrs. Gosling's cry sounded from her garden, coming
wildly across the water, that Enoch woke to the world.
'There's ours hollering,' he thought. 'The 'oman's been at it this
long while, but what ails ours?' He listened. Again came the melancholy
He sprang up and ran.
'I knowed they'd drive un to it,' he thought. 'Ay, Master Jasper's
broke pasture this night.'
He ran beside the full stream which churned against its banks. Mrs.
Gosling was inarticulate and wild. She wrung her hands and wailed, her
check shawl and grey hair blown by the wind, her face running with
'Oh, my 'ouns, Enoch! I thought you'd ne'er come!' she cried. 'Get un
out, Enoch! Get un out!'
Enoch snatched up a pole and ran downstream, for the current was
strong, and he thought Jasper must have been carried with it. He was
joined by Ernest, competent and energetic. To do him justice, Ernest
was always ready to spend himself for the general good. In a physical
crisis he was at his best.
'What's that?' he cried. 'In the water there, wading white as a
It was Amber. But not as anyone had ever seen her before. Wet to the
waist, dishevelled, sobbing, calling upon Jasper, she stood in the
water, and her voice was driven down the wind.
She had waited a long while for Michael. When the storm broke, she
had started to go back to the grotto. Then that awful shriek rang out,
and with a cry of — 'Jasper!' — she had rushed to the water.
'Where are you? Oh, where are you?' she called; and the echoes, in
ghostly chorus, took up the questioning sadness of her cry. The night
seemed full of voices uttering a lament ancient as love itself. But
only the clucking of the stream against its banks replied to her, the
moaning wind, the hushing rain.
'If you was to fetch the maister, Miss Amber,' said Enoch with his
swift intuitive perception of the right thing to do for people in
trouble, 'it ud be helpful-like.'
In his own heart he feared that Jasper was beyond all help. Amber ran
along the path where yellow leaves, loosened by the storm, fell sadly
from the chestnuts. Streaming with rain and brook water, shuddering
with the deep horror of death, she ran blindly. Anyone meeting her
would have thought her crazed; for love has no thoughts for its own
appearance, its own entity, when the beloved is threatened. So, in a
world absorbed in outer forms, love is often hooted as an imbecile.
Surely on Olympus the comfortable gods smiled behind their hands at
Eros, wandering careless down buttercup ways. And we know that among
his own people Christ was looked upon askance as one whom it was kinder
to regard as mad.
The storm had spent its rage. The thunder had retreated into hollow
caverns far away, leaving the night safe and quiet. Only jasper was not
safe, Amber thought. Only Jasper was not there to see the moon set in
the clear washed heavens. The gods, who had waited around the horizon
so patiently, had departed. Not one remained. The pigmy tragedy was
over; leaving the little actors yet on the dim, disordered stage, they
had stolen away, it seemed, in the stately silence of indifference.
Amber opened the dining-room door.
'We shall have to forgive Jasper,' her father was saying. 'Now
Peter's gone, he must have the place. We must have one son here. It
must be Jasper.'
'Jasper!' said grandmother.
'Jasper is drowned!' said Amber, and her voice startled the drowsy
walls, the lonely passages, with the emptiness of loss.
Still Catherine sat, as if paralysed, on her bench. And as she sat,
Philip Arkinstall watched her from the yew-tree shade. All the evening
he had been awaiting this hour. Now he heard, coming up from the water,
Sarah's voice calling Enoch, Sarah's heavy feet trampling the bracken.
She had heard Mrs. Gosling's cry, and was taking a short cut to the
In a moment she would pass the grotto.
He took two strides to the bench, snatched Catherine into his arms,
scattered her hairpins, ripped the green silk off one shoulder. Holding
her arms round his neck with one hand, he clasped her with the other,
crushing her to him with a grip that very ably mimicked passion.
Then he said loudly enough for Sarah to hear:
'Thank you, darling, for all the happiness you have given me!'
'Well,' said Sarah to herself as she hastened by, 'you met kill me
with a bit of grass! 's Catherine! — as was so mim and so prim, with
her 'air all down and dress near off!' The smile of one completely
satiated with vengeance for many wrongs dawned upon her rocky face.
'I hate you!' whispered Catherine. 'I'll pay you for this, Philip!'
'Yes, my dear. You'll pay with the gift of yourself!'
'How dare you!'
'I'm sorry to have inconvenienced you,' he said imperturbably,
picking up the hairpins. 'But you're such a damned clever woman. A
man's got to fight with his own weapons.'
'I'll never speak to you again!'
'But you'll marry me.'
'You?' Her voice was like a knife. 'When I marry, it will be a
'It will be me. But I don't claim to be your lover, my dear.'
'Claim? What do you dare claim to be?'
'We shall see; but I will tell you this — Sarah saw!'
Philip Arkinstall, as he went in a leisurely manner to help in the
search for Jasper, smiled.
Chapter 20. THE MARBLE CHRIST
When Catherine reached her own room, she stood transfixed in the
doorway. For, at this late hour, the moon, slanting in at her window,
laid the shadow of her large marble crucifix along the floor. The
figure of the Crucified, in contorted, purple-black shadow, stretched
its arms across the room. It seemed to her that they were outspread not
to save, but to grasp; that the head was bent not in love but with the
menace of a bird of prey. This Christ that she had set up in a
half-conscious pose of religiosity had never been anything but a
picturesque detail of her room. Now the tortured white figure seemed to
her to be real, yet not with the reassuring actuality of everyday, but
with the feverish vividness of a nightmare.
Catherine heard someone coming wearily and heavily upstairs. She
peered out. It was Amber, looking, in the wavering light of the candle
she carried, as grey and limp as if she, as well as Jasper, had been
drowned. Her wet clothes and the cold night air had chilled her so that
her face was almost blue. Catherine, as usual, was able to look all the
things that Amber really was. While Amber only looked bedraggled,
Catherine looked tragic, and she might easily have been imagined as she
stood there in her white dressing-gown, to be Jasper's guardian angel.
'What has happened?' asked Catherine.
'Jasper is drowned,' said Amber. 'And you are his murderess.'
'Are you mad?'
'I wish I were. I should have forgetfulness in my soul if I were.'
'Then what do you mean, calling me by that evil name?'
'Evil names are for evil people. You murdered Jasper just as much as
if you had pushed him into the stream. Your spirit did push him in.'
'The poor boy was crazy.'
'I think the sane people are responsible for what is called madness
— the people, that is, who think themselves sane.'
'Could I help it if he loved me? Could I help it if they both loved
There was a silence. They heard Sarah's steps go by, and the faint
rattle of the silver-basket. Whoever died, the silver must be looked
after. Custom decreed that it should sit on Sarah's chest of drawers,
covered with a wash-leather, the plated mustard-pot outside, like a
kind of Ishmael which the burglar might take if he liked. Though Sarah
did not mean to go to bed, she felt that the silver would be safe in
her room in the comfortable aura of ancient usage.
'Jasper and Michael,' said Catherine.
'Do you mean that you think Michael loves you?'
'Does a man quarrel with his best friend about a woman unless he
'Did they quarrel?'
'Did Michael keep you waiting to-night?'
'He was at the grotto — with me.'
Amber thought — 'There is some mistake; I will not believe
'Then Jasper came; there was a quarrel.'
'You are mistaken, Catherine. Michael loves me.'
Catherine took Amber by the arm and led her to the mirror.
'Look!' she said.
Amber looked, quailed, and turned away. But she repeated, as if it
were a charm, 'Michael loves me.'
'He said to-night what a nice old maid you would make.'
'If he said that, he did not mean it as you mean it.'
'He was laughing at you. Have you no pride? Give him up!'
'You must. He would only have a miserable half-life with you. With
me' — she stretched out her arms so that one hand touched the icy
marble of the cross — 'with me he would be happy.'
'I can't,' repeated Amber. 'He and I could sooner give up living,
than each other.'
Into Catherine's face came a look at once frantic and shrewd. It was
intolerable to think of Amber marrying Michael. Whatever happened to
herself, that must not be.
'You spoke of my pushing Jasper in,' she said. 'Suppose I told you
that your lover — or the man you persist in regarding as your lover —
pushed Jasper in?'
The room slipped into a darker silence, and as the moon sank from the
window, the shadow of the Crucified seemed to enlarge and engulf
'I should not believe it.'
'And if I saw it?'
'I should say you imagined it.'
Catherine remembered Ernest and his fear of her ridicule.
'If I could bring a witness?'
Her voice was a knife, cutting the silence with delicate strokes.
Outside, the pear tree rustled and sighed in the wet wind that drew out
of the east, where the first grey of dawn appeared. The clocks struck
three with forceful meaning, as though to say that Time was still
unappeased, still seeking his prey in the bodies of poor mortality.
'I should say your witness lied,' said Amber.
'And if my witness was of such standing in the world, so respected,
that his witness would be taken against that of others?'
'I should not care.'
'To-morrow, then, I shall accuse Michael.'
Catherine found some relief for her misery in tormenting Amber.
'You would not try to do such a thing?'
'On one condition I won't. Give him up.'
'Catherine! Catherine! I never thought you were wicked!'
'It is not I that is a murderer.'
'Oh, you are as calm as a frozen sea!'
'You have only to give him up.'
Amber groped for the matches. The room was very dark, and she felt
afraid of Catherine. She found the match-box, a luminous one with
Jesus on its white surface, and lit the candles.
She looked almost old. Anyone with a spark of pity would have waived
all discussion and simply put her to bed. But in Catherine's face, as
the candles lit it with an eerie glow, was no relenting. Cold as a
mermaid languidly breasting the green water, inexorable as a savage
queen demanding sacrifice, her innermost being looked out on Amber. Her
god — a god of marble — stood unheeded behind her with tragic eyes,
and dying, drooping head. He meant nothing to her, had never been real
to her, any more than He is real to half His devotees. For
Christianity, beautiful as it was in its precarious early days, is now
too often simply a ticket of respectability that is credited by the
Catherine looked at Amber with a careless scorn which veiled a
'You have only to give him up,' she repeated.
'As soon tell the earth to give up feeling the pull of the sun.'
'You talk quite well when you're roused,' said Catherine.
'No. I am not a good talker. I only feel,' said Amber quietly.
But she did not feel quiet. She was out in the wild, scarred
Wilderness that lies beyond the pleasant meadow-country of convention.
She felt the sharp rock, cruel and cold. Catherine's soul appeared to
her naked; more sterile than the waste, more cruel than the rock,
inhabiting the desolation like a white demon. Catherine the devout, she
that had communicated fasting, was nothing more than beast of prey. The
two women, locked in spiritual combat, breathed heavily. Their remote
selves confronted one another.
'You tortured Jasper! You put him in a cage and tortured him,' said
Amber. 'Now it is to be Michael.'
'Jasper was foolish. He insisted on being different. He had to be
made like other people.'
'So you used his love for you to torture him. You made him want to
die. You ought to be in hell, Catherine.'
'Hell is for unbelievers.'
'Are you a believer?'
'Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.' Amber laughed wildly.
'Don't do that!' said Catherine nervously. 'People will hear you.
'No one but your marble god. Oh, it is right that He should be made
of marble! If He were made of anything less cold, He would disown you.'
'If you will give up Michael,' said Catherine, returning to her point
and playing her best card, 'I will give him up, too.'
'It is impossible.'
Amber turned and went out.
Catherine was dismayed. She had not really meant to do it, though,
when she remembered Michael's quiet, maddeningly quiet eyes, with their
mockery, she felt that she would like to do it. But Ernest would be
troublesome. Not even fear of ridicule, she was afraid, would make him
bear false witness. Still, she had frightened Amber. Then, as she
curled up in bed, the remembrance of Jasper came back — the
intolerable remembrance of his face as she had last seen it.
'He was unhinged!' she whispered. 'It was not my fault!'
Hark! What was that? The clocks were beginning again.
How they growled and wheezed and rustled! How they ticked away from
Michael into the arms of Philip Arkinstall!
She lay and contemplated her future in the grey dawn. And as she
thought of it, the spirit of fear, that brooded on the rooftree of
Dormer and hooted through the long night of superstition, lodged in her
She looked stonily at the marble Christ, and the marble Christ looked
stonily back at her.
Chapter 21. AMBER GOES TO THE FOREST
Amber did not go to her room. She went softly downstairs into the
hall. Her plans were made; she had only to carry them out. She was
going to Michael. She did not know whether Catherine's threat carried
any weight; so she was going to Michael to make sure. But could she do
it? She was faint and sick with exhaustion and felt a growing
feverishness coming on. Love rose up, as it can in the most weary body,
and told her she could do it, however ill she was. A sense of calm came
over her as she went to the door. She had a strange feeling that if
Michael were here, all would be well with Jasper. Where was Michael?
Why had he not stayed to help in the search? Had he already been out of
earshot when Mrs. Gosling's cry rang out?
While she softly undid the bolts, she heard along the passages
echoing voices. Sarah and Mrs. Gosling and Enoch were sitting up in the
kitchen, Enoch having just come in to say that all search had been
useless. At this eerie time, down amid the elfish rustling of the
clocks in the black, hollow-sounding hall, where dawn had not
penetrated, they might have been the voices of strange spirits.
'The body — where be the body?'
'Deep watter! Ah, Dormer brook's deep watter after tempest.'
'He inna there, I say! He inna there!'
'Where bin 'e, then?'
'Gone! Washed away. Washed down to the sea.'
'Gone to the sea!'
Amber caught her breath as if she herself had suddenly been into deep
water. As she went across the brook she felt overwhelmingly weak. She
was a being who needed joy. Having joy, she could triumph over the most
desperate physical ills. But when joy flickered and went out, then she
remembered the grave. Now, as she went softly over the bridge and began
to climb the woods, joy seemed fled for ever.
She looked round her in a kind of terror, for she had come to the
moment, which all sensitive people must reach at some time, when the
soul perceives simultaneously the life of man — its small comforts,
its upholstery of everyday — and the infinite; when it asks, bemused
and anxious, 'Which is the dream?' They cannot both be true, it seems,
for they are in flat contradiction. Yet daily life is true. There it
is, with its duties and meals and wordy meetings; with its sweetness of
affectionate glances and homely jests. That is no dream. Yet, when the
beloved is dead, the daily life shrinks and withers; the infinite
presses in. There it is, with all its indifferent stars, fearfully
real, utterly unknown. With this intrusion of the infinite there come
all the strange instincts of the spirit that have no part in daily
life. These also are no dream. So there the soul stands, browbeaten and
stunned by antithesis, murmuring: 'Which is true? Is anything true?'
So it is at the deathbed of a loved one. He was here but a moment
ago. He is gone. Yet there are the lids ready to open; there is the
mouth just curving to a smile. But where is the love that will bring
the smile? It is here no more. The room is chill. Yet it is
indissolubly one with the beloved face. It cannot exist without it.
Neither can it, we think, cease to exist. Here is the old inveterate
antithesis again. If too long dwelt upon, it leads to madness, unless
some merciful half-solution rides up out of chaos.
Amber was tormented by the impossibility of imagining Jasper passive.
He had always been so rebelliously himself.
She felt like an actor in an unreal play. She looked round for some
convincing thing which, by its quiet linking of Yesterday with to-day,
might bring her the grief she ought to feel and could not feel. But
there were no homely things. This was no longer a forest of familiar
trees, carpeted with friendly flowers, under known skies. It was an
unknown country — that which encircles the world of fact, holding it
as a demon might hold a crystal glass. Great pillars stood vaguely
ranked on every side. Strange avenues led away for ever. Motionless,
solemn, clad in weeds of mist, the trees stood beneath a heaven utterly
sad. There was no shadow and little light. Mournfully the slow drops
fell from the wet leaves. Mournfully an owl cried across the grey
pastures. Here and there, against a dark curtain of massed foliage,
white tormented arms were flung up, as if in appeal. They were no
longer silver birches, but creatures of the beyond, imaging her
thoughts. Those larches, what were they? Strange vegetation rising from
unknown deeps of mud and rock; waving curious branches; bearing fruit
of weird, primordial form; standing in a transparent, miraculous medium
that men called 'air,' on a ball whirling through the void. 'Larches,'
'oaks'; how impudent seemed the little words! Amber wondered if the
cave-dwellers ticketed with their puny names the great bog plants, the
primeval beasts. The sky was no longer a blue ceiling, where named
stars went upon their ordered way. It was a waste from which might
spring at any moment wild rushing fires. All things had lost their
names, their homely identity. They cried to her, with muffled, mocking
voices: 'You know us not! You never knew us!' She was bewildered, in
this world where trees melted into ideas, thoughts hardened into
actuality. She stood beside a dark red pillar that broke, high up, into
an ominous heaviness of black, and had once been called a pine. Around
her stood multitudes of other such pillars, neither interrogating nor
welcoming. She stood on the threshold of the unknown. Everything seemed
immortal with an everlastingness that cried for merciful death. The
world seemed a mirage, made of nothing by a phantom dreaming he was a
She looked down towards the house. It seemed no longer her home, but
an assemblage of materials that might crumble at any moment like an
anthill. Within, more dismaying than the fires of the sky, were beings
come she knew not whence nor how; gathered for some unspoken purpose;
full of concealed desires, hatreds, appetites. That which lay behind
their innermost motive, was it friendly? She thought it was the same
thing that lingered beyond the last star in the sky, that haunted the
uttermost pale tint where colour vanished. Was it personal, or was it
merely naked life — nothing but matter, motion and heat? She
understood why thousands of lives had been spent in the attempt to
solve this apparently fathomless mystery. For to know the cosmos as
nothing but impersonal force is to dwell in an intellectual hell
compared with which the Christian's hell is Nirvana.
It was light now, but the valley lay under a deep sea of mist. Down
at Dormer would soon begin a great stir, like the stir in a hive when a
hornet enters. They would wake and remember that death had taken one of
them away; each would unconsciously rejoice that it was not he or she;
they would call to one another, running questingly up and down the
groaning stairs in such a fury of vitality as might almost have roused
'But I can't believe they wanted to rouse him,' thought Amber, with
bleak and concentrated bitterness. 'It always seemed more as if they
wanted to bury him.' She thought that, in the strange medley of
qualities bequeathed to man by the beast, one of the most horrible was
the instinct of the burying beetle. On few things does man lavish so
much care as on the shovelling of his fellows into nothingness; and a
man has only to state that he is dying, and his friends will flock from
every corner of the world to watch. Sometimes the throng becomes so
thick that the poor soul has much ado to get out of the world at all.
From all the trees fell heavy ingots of silver. Amber thought how, in
the perfection of youth, Jasper's life had fallen earth-wards like a
spilt rain-drop or a trodden leaf. To her eager temperament, the worst
of Jasper's tragedy was that lie had died without having lived. She had
an unquenchable thirst for life and it seemed to her a fearful irony
that he should have left the banqueting hall without having tasted of
the feast. She knew that she could obey death's call with equanimity if
she had first lived fully. Let Life come, bringing Death on his heels
if need be; but let him come!
Life had not even touched Jasper with his rosy finger-tip8
before the bony, bruising hands of Death grasped him. Where was Jasper
now? That soft, hesitant sound in the forest, coming down the glades
from very far away — was that Jasper? No. It was only morning stirring
in the tree-tops, and the vacillating footsteps of the water-drops
descending from the trees. That fingering of the wind in her hair,
lifting it gently — was that Jasper, a wandering essence, feeling
after life and love? In the lamenting water she thought she heard him
imploring her for she knew not what.
The pity of it all! It was one of those tragedies that could so
easily have been averted, she thought. Yet — could it? Did it not grow
naturally out of all that Dormer stood for? It seemed to her not so
much a gash across its routine as the logical fulfilment of its
principles. She thought that with individuals and with empires such
tragedies are not breaks in continuity, but simply the herd-panic at
At last she came out on the open hills. For though Michael's hut was
in the forest it was at its highest point, and the shortest way there
lay across the heather. The bracken waved wild arms in beautiful
abandon, not quite of summer, but not yet tinted by autumn, having
attained the transparent golden-green that comes before the burning
colours of September. As she walked, she watched the misty plain. Away
in the east, where the land was cold and low, it seemed as if the sky
had fallen — as if she was looking down on the mysterious upper sides
of the clouds — thick, lavish, of a weighty whiteness. The rising sun
struck the upper layers into colours of mother-o'-pearl. To the west
the mist thinned and was like pale water. Upon it, with delicate
dignity, the trees floated, like water-birds of faery, gravely and
magically tinted. Some were brown-green like grebes, others of the ashy
tint of coots, the soft grey of cygnets. The chestnuts, were the
sun struck them, were like sheldrakes with their deep bronzes; and the
beeches had the glossy green of teal. The white was populous with these
fairy creatures, floating head under at this moment, when her bodily
self was refined by exhaustion and her spirit keener than ever before,
that she felt for the first time within the thrilling poignancy of
beauty a sense of intimacy — as if she were beginning to know not only
the face of beauty, but her essence. She knew, in the belated silver
owl that passed hurriedly, as if ashamed that the eye of day should
behold its quest, something more than a bird of prey, something
wistful, immortal, kind. She knew in the silver spire of Dormer Church,
suddenly smitten by a lancing sunray, something less than an oracle —
something often pathetic, but withal lovable. As she watched the long
vermilion clouds in the east, and the luminous intervals' between the
colours (for, as in a rainbow, so in a sunrise, though they inundate
one another ever so gently, there is an interval between them, where it
often seems that beauty dwells), there swept into her half-expectant
mind a vast, all-hushing peace. It was not personal; but it enfolded
personality. It enfolded everything. A sigh, contented as that of a
tired but comforted child, went up from the pale earth to the pale sky.
But whether the bracken sighed, or the forest or she herself, Amber
hardly knew. She only knew that every tree and leaf and meadow shared
with her in a stupendous quietude, where only the miraculous seemed
She saw the strong line of hill above Michael's dwelling lit with
sunlight, shining like a wedge of unpolished silver. The rough cart
track that led to it seemed like a silver road for the chariots of
almighty love. She thought this place was like the land of heaven where
silver-footed creatures wandered, bemused with joy. Love was the core
of the morning; the unreasonable, unreasoning beatitude that nestled in
it as a germ does in the rosy pollen; the central fire round which all
paler fires whirled. There seemed no disloyalty to Jasper in this love.
The mist slowly ascended in lilac wreaths and veils. The hill-tops
flowered like purple pansies, and the serene sky seemed to soothe the
earth like a father's hand.
Amber's ideas of God were vague and shadowy. The moment she tried to
materialize them, they vanished. But now she felt, with a shock of
reality, that there was more here, on this airy hill, than could be
seen or touched or heard.
She knocked at the Shepherd's Hut, and Michael, shirtsleeved, with a
kettle in his hand and a light of love in his eyes, opened the door.
Chapter 22. FUNERAL PREPARATIONS
On the morning after the storm, Mr. Greenways, having sorted the
letters, was sitting in the sun, piping like a blackbird. He was a
cheerful soul, and while he produced, with puckered brow, pleasant
little trills and grace notes, he had a sense of deep content. But he
stopped immediately at the sight of Enoch's face and the tremendous
black bow that Sarah had tied for him. It may be said that, although
this stood out to his ears, it was unable to rob him of dignity.
'The old lady?' queried Mr. Greenways.
'Master Jasper,' said Enoch.
'In the flush of life! Ah, when I piped at Miss Ruby's wedding, I
knew I piped for trouble. Was it at the Wallows?'
'No. In Dormer brook. Drownded.'
'Laws! When's the funeral?'
'We hanna found un.'
'Not found un! Does Mallow know?'
'I'm going after Mallow now.'
'If there's ought to find, Mallow'll find it,' said Mr. Green-Ways.
'Trust the Law.'
When Enoch had gone, Mr. Greenways pondered awhile. Then he bethought
him to dispatch youths to various quarters to bear the tidings.
Meanwhile Enoch went to Mr. Mallow.
'Somebody drownded?' said Mr. Mallow, turning the Words over on his
tongue as if he rather liked them.
'Ah!' said Enoch, with his pine-tree cadence, 'drownded dead and
Mr. Mallow fetched a pair of handcuffs.
'We'll find un,' said Mr. Mallow, 'and the murderer.'
'There's no murderer,' said Enoch. He was troubled by these dark
happenings. They were to him, as to all contemplative people, so many
axes felling the trees that grew in his soul.
'No murderer!' Mr. Mallow eyed Enoch as if he suspected him of fraud.
'There must be a murderer!'
The Dormer kitchen was full of the smell of burnt porridge, which
showed that something was wrong. Sarah never burnt anything except
under the influence of strong emotion.
As they came in, Mrs. Gosling and Sarah were folding a great flapping
'What's that?' asked Mr. Mallow briskly.
'A winding sheet,' said Mrs. Gosling. 'God send the poor young
'Found!' said Mr. Mallow, looking squarely at Jemima's grave. 'I'll
lay I'll find un. And the murderer!'
'Master Jasper fell in 'isself,' said Mrs. Gosling. 'I seed un.'
'Woman!' said Mr. Mallow. 'When the Law comes in, your eyes go out.'
'There was a man once,' said Mrs. Gosling, 'wanted to find the
murderer, and I partly think he was the murderer.'
She did not like Mr. Mallow's curtness. Mr. Mallow said he would see
'They're going in to their breakfasses, poor things,' said Sarah
protectingly. She was mothering everybody in this crisis. She was the
kind of person who could make even crime homely, and create in a house
riddled with ghosts a reassuring atmosphere of the commonplace.
'Let 'em enjoy their victuals on this day of days!' she said, 'and
take bite and sup yourself, Mr. Mallow!'
'Well, I don't mind if I do taste a bit of fleshmeat!'
'Anything that's breathed, Mr. Mallow likes!' said Sarah admiringly.
'None of your snibs of vegetables nor snabs of eggs!'
'You can partly tell when folks be fed o' that'n,' said Mrs. Gosling,
ready to make peace. 'Poor measly things they be!'
'Au! But Mr. Mallow likes a tuthree pounds of juicy steak,' said
'Ours did too.' Mrs. Gosling spoke with melancholy pride.
'Anything as the life's been took off violent,' added Sarah.
'I could tell Mr. Mallow anywhere for a brave fellow.'
Mr. Mallow received this ovation as if gold and frankincense and
myrrh were his by right, and fell to on the meal. He being
incapacitated for conversation, it was kept up by the others.
'Mr. Mallow'll find out what there is to find out. He loves crime. I
partly think 'e hankers for crime.'
'Mr. Mallow'd make as good a chief constable as one here and there,'
Sarah remarked. 'He's got it on his fingers.'
'It's to be 'oped Master Jasper'll be found,' said Mrs. Gosling.
'Such a beautiful corpse he'd make!'
She did not judge people by the world's standards in proportion to
their usefulness, lovableness or beauty; nor even according to their
wealth or the number of their progeny. She judged them solely by their
nascent gift for making good corpses.
'I said the same to young Jim Cardingly as went for a sailor,' said
Mrs. Gosling. '“A beautiful corpse you'll make,” I says.'
'“I'll diddle you yet, Mrs. Gosling,” says he; and sure enough he
took on soft and went to Paradise the watery way. “Lost at sea and
never found,” says the paper. “Obstinate to the last!” says Anne
Here the dining-room bell rang, and Sarah went to the call like a hen
to her chickens.
When the clocks in their leisurely way struck twelve, there seemed to
be something more sardonic than usual in their dilatory enunciation.
The house had become a seething hive. Sarah, in her excitement, was
laying dinner an hour too early. Mrs. Gosling, in the kitchen, basting
the beef, kept murmuring:
In the midst of life we are in death,” ' smacking her lips gently
because the text was so suavely in her own vein. Mrs. Cantlop had come
to condole. She sat opposite to grand mother with her heart — as usual
— in the right place, and her bonnet — as usual — not so. Mr.
Cantlop lurked in the shadow of the Welsh dresser, where, being so very
thin, he attained the efface- ment which to him was fulfilment. Sarah
flung the cloth across the table with a sound like wind in a sail, and
dealt out the knives and forks with her habitual air of
disillusionment. Did she not know as much about the knives and forks —
their nicks, their flaws, the two with loose handles — as she did
about the people in the house? But to-day there was also something of
the high-priestess in her manner.
There were so many people in the room that she had difficulty in
getting about. In the general tumult no one had so far missed Amber.
The Rector sat by Mrs. Darke, and such fragments as 'When He maketh up
His jewels' . . . 'sardine stone. . .' were audible. These left Mrs.
Darke cold. Solomon sat in his arm-chair and once or twice shook his
'Both gone! Both lads gone!'
Grandmother, hearing this, spoke her thought aloud.
'I'm alive!' she said.
Except for occasional sobs from Mrs. Cantlop and texts from
grandmother the room was quiet. A few scuffles occurred when Sarah fell
over Mr. Cantlop as she might have fallen over one of the cats. Ernest
sat moodily in the window. He had spent an unpleasant half-hour with
Catherine. She had mocked him unmercifully. 'Portrait of a parish
priest in the role of a satyr!' she had said. Being not very highly
educated, she had said 'satire.' Ernest, even in his misery, had
corrected her. He had also permitted himself to murmur: 'Jezebel!'
Afterwards he had given his verdict as to Jasper to the family.
'Jasper is in an intermediate state. I have prayed, and I know.' The
Rector had expressed no opinion. He was one of those rare beings who,
being full of a gentle faith, never dogmatize.
There was a double knock. 'Church bells and organ!' Sarah announced.
Mr. Dank came in, followed by the ringers. They were the first-fruits
of Mr. Greenways'. activities. When should the 'Dead March' be played?
When should the muffled peal be rung?
Solomon thought he would wait to decide until Mr. Mallow came back
from his examination of the stream. So Mr. Dank sat down just inside
the door, and the ringers sat down just out-side, such being their own
idea of their subtle difference in rank. Hardly had they done so when
there was a sound of wheels, and the activity of Mr. Greenways became
again apparent. Everyone beheld Mrs. Griffin's gig, the horse in a
lather; Mrs. Griffin's dressmaker, in complimentary black; Mrs.
Griffin's little boy, almost intoxicated with excitement, looking, in
his neat round collar, much more like a cherubic illustration to an
epithalamium than a mourner, Mrs Griffin herself, benignant, bland,
sympathetic, looking as if she knew that life and death were a blend.
'The black!' cried grandmother. 'They've gotten the black!' They
staggered in with their loads, like bees when pollen-flowers abound,
and began to spread the black materials over the table. Master Griffin
sat with the ringers in the hall, where he eyed the animals' heads and
feet, and played cat's cradle with a bit of black tape.
'“Mourn, mourn for Jerusalem!” 'said grandmother, trying on bonnets
at the mirror.
It was at this dramatic moment that. Michael and Amber came up the
Catherine saw that Michael's arm was round Amber as they came in.
Like a gunshot, without her own volition, came the words: 'He pushed
They all seemed frozen in their seats. Michael stood and looked at
Catherine, and she confronted him with blazing cheeks and eyes in which
was no shadow of relenting.
'I saw Mr. Michael running down the 'ood far enough away when Mrs.
Gosling shrieked,' said Sarah.
'What were you doing?' asked Mrs. Darke. 'Looking for my intended,
'She torments our Enoch cruel, mum!' said Mrs. Gosling who had been
talking to the ringers. 'Even meals he canna be easy at, he's that
nervous, staring round like a frightened coney.'
'Well, well, never mind that!' said Solomon. 'Did anyone else see
what you saw, Catherine?'
She turned to Ernest, who looked as if he wished he were as small as
'Say what you saw, Ernest!'
But at this moment Michael and Amber broke into helpless laughter,
and even as the family still stared and Mrs. Darke murmured 'Mad!'
there at the window stood Jasper.
Catherine fainted. Whether the faint were real or simulated, it
served her need, for it saved her from taking any further part in the
scene. Mr. Mallow, entering with the handcuffs, stood aghast. Ernest
looked pained, for this was not the intermediate state.
Mr. Mallow bent over Catherine.
'It's not fracture nor a lacerated wound,' he said, 'nor stroke, nor
a foreign body in the ear' (he remembered Jemima). 'What took her?'
Solomon shook Jasper by one hand while the Rector shook him by the
other. Mr. Cantlop stole from his corner, gave jasper a surreptitious
pat on the back, and vanished again. Mrs. Cantlop enveloped him in her
complimentary half-mourning. Eight eyes looked in from the hall, and
Master Griffin made such a mess of the cat's cradle that it had to be
discarded. Mrs. Griffin began very tactfully to fold up the black.
'Not my bonnet!' said grandmother.
Jasper surveyed the room — the chairs littered with rolls of black;
the table laid for dinner; the crape; the black kid gloves and
black-edged handkerchiefs. He looked at the faces in the room with an
inscrutable expression. He felt as if he were his own disembodied
spirit. He thought 'Self-destruction may be the one sane action of a
lifetime.' To look at Catherine, white on the sofa, was exquisite
torture, knowing as he did that she was a hollow shell. The room, all
the familiar things, gave him the sick distaste that a man feels for a
room where he has been desperately ill. He would never sleep again
under the shadow of the old gods of Dormer. Everything seemed paltry,
savour-less, twice-told. He wished Death had given him his sable
livery, his dole of tears, swept him up in his pageantry.
'You've forgotten the coffin,' he said, and, turning, went out into
the hall and up into his own room to pack, leaving Michael to explain.
'He fell in, and I pulled him out,' was all that Michael vouchsafed.
The Griffin party and the ringers melted away.
'Then Michael took him home,' added Amber, 'not thinking anyone had
seen him fall in. For when Mrs. Gosling called out, he had just run
down the wood and jumped in. He had seen Jasper fall in higher up. So
he did not think we should be anxious, as Jasper stayed with him that
night before, when it rained.'
'Where were you?' asked Mrs. Darke.
'I went to Michael's.'
'Not knowing Jasper was there?'
'Then if Jasper had not, by chance, been there —'
'We should have had to be married,' finished Michael. 'We'll consider
that Jasper was not there.'
Catherine, who had been 'brought round' by Sarah, got up at this.
'You may all like to know,' she said, 'that I have promised to marry
Philip Arkinstall. I am going to stay at the Keep to get my trousseau.'
So she made a dramatic exit against heavy odds.
Chapter 23. MR. CANTLOP ACHIEVES FAME
“Your wedding morning, 's Amber,' said Sarah, 'and may I the course
of true love go smoother for you than for some! True love's a
treasure!' She wiped her eyes on her sacking apron and felt that its
harshness was as her own fate. For Enoch had been hard to mollify since
the unfortunate accident of the letter.
'A sore man! Neither to drive nor to lead!' she reflected.
'You deserve to be happy, Sarah,' said Amber, stroking the muslin
folds of the dress in which she was to go to Michael.
'Desert's a beggar, 's Amber, generally speaking,' said Sarah. 'When
people's intendeds be like horse and mule —'She was so overcome that
she went 'to rouse up the old lady.'
Grandmother wanted her to wrap up a present for Amber. It was a
plaque on which was painted a ptarmigan, head downwards.
Returning to the kitchen, Sarah found Mrs. Gosling already busy.
'Ah, Sarah!' said she, 'a wedding, when it is a wedding, takes
the eye! With the half-dozen bridesmaids giggling, the mothers fighting
each the other like wild cats, the bridegroom champing to be off (ours
champed terrible when I was wed. A meek manner had ours, but a great
sperrit). There's bridegroom hollering for coachman; and coachman
lashing up, very fresh; and even parson a bit fresh — leastways in the
olden days. But this! No champing, no maids and men, no coachmen, and
nobody fresh! Give me a funeral, say I! And a funeral we met ha' had,
but for Mr. Michael lugging Master Jasper out. We met ha' had great
black feathers waving, and crape without stint, and old men walking two
by two, as grievous as the gun-dogs. I'd liefer a funeral than an
outing! I mind when old Mr. Mucklewick deceived me sore that way. He
went into a swound, and they took un for jead. So they made un a
coffin. He was allus bone-idle, was Mr. Mucklewick, and he stayed in
that swound till they came to nail un down. It was touch and go, then!
But he stirred the little finger, so they knew their trouble was for
nought. “Poor Anne!” says he. Always one for a joke was Mr.
'Well, auntie!' said Enoch, coming in, 'your breath's your own to
spend and squander. But I wouldna waste so much of mine all at once,
not in a week of years!'
He took the pails to the dairy, where he was run to earth by Sarah.
'Mr. Michael said to 's Amber,' she remarked, 'in the little
drawing-room (as I couldna help but hear, being dusting in the big un),
as folks that was married wunna married if they didna love each the
other. Eh! I did laff!'
She looked at Enoch to see how he took this.
'Outlandish notions, folks get,' she added.
'I dunna see as it's outlandish.'
'Well,' said Sarah, surprisingly and firmly, 'I love you, Enoch, and
so I tell you straight!'
She advanced with the streaming skimmer in her hand. He backed
towards the door.
'We'll walk out from this day on,' said Sarah.
But from the passage, with the sound of retiring boots, came Enoch's
voice: 'It wunna be able to be done!'
Sarah was obliged to comfort herself with the beautiful rendering of
'The Wings of a Dove,' by Mr. Mallow at the wedding service. Mr.
Cantlop was there — a shadowy sexton, with a whisper faint as the
rustle of leaves, hovering in the dark corners, smuggling people into
their seats with the air of a conspirator, and handing them
prayer-books as if they were ill-gotten gain.
Mrs. Cantlop's bonnet towered and shone, lustily outfacing the
colours of Death and Hell. Grandmother insisted on wearing the funeral
bonnet. As Amber came down the path on Michael's arm in the sweet
September sunshine, he whispered:
'Handfasted now, eh, little girl?'
'I would have trusted you without,' she answered.
It was at the wedding breakfast that Mr. Cantlop, accidentally,
unintentionally, alarmedly, attained everlasting fame.
He covertly stuffed into Amber's hand a shabby little bag, which,
when she opened it, contained some dull pebbly things.
'To make a necklace,' explained Mr. Cantlop apologetically, and
disappeared into his glass. But the Rector behaved strangely. He
started; stretched his neck like an eager hen; came round the table;
snatched up the pebbly things; shouted:
'My God, Cantlop! You're not a poor man any more!'
'Swear not at all!' said grandmother.
'Where did you get them?' cried the Rector, shaking Mr Cantlop in his
'An old man, very ill,' murmured Mr. Cantlop. 'Looked after him. He
gave me those. No value. Make a necklace.'
'Have you any more of them?' shouted the Rector.
'Give it here! You're a rich man, my dear fellow.'
'What are they?' breathed Mr. Cantlop.
'Diamonds!' said the Rector. 'It's a good thing you didn't know,
Cantlop. You thought they were valueless, and so you kept 'em. If you'd
known their value, you'd have lost 'em.'
'You must give those back, Amber,' said Michael.
Amber obediently did so.
'Keep 'em!' said Mr. Cantlop distractedly, 'oh, keep 'cm.'
'She's my wife now, Mr. Cantlop, and I'm vowed to poverty,' said
'Suppose you keep one or two, just to rent a cottage till you start
work in earnest,' said the Rector.
'Very well, as a loan,' said Michael. 'Thank you kindly, Mr.
Mr. Cantlop beamed, blushed, coughed, murmured something about a
hiccup, and fled.
Chapter 24. A FOREST BRIDAL
Michael took his bride home without pomp or ceremony, leaning on his
arm, walking under the green roof of the woodland. The forest and man,
who dwells within the forest, sleep. When they wake they wake together.
The forest slumbers; its green walls are the walls of a palace
enchanted, far gone in spells. Every tree has its own dream; the
flowers drowse with eyes open or closed, and the dew gathers insensibly
on their heavy eyelids. All things have an air of suspension, as if
once, long ago, they were awake — moved freely with their large
gestures; spoke in their own esoteric language; and were then tranced
in the gracious attitude of their last waking moment. When the leaves
fall, the trees loose them as a sleeper drops his book. Inanimate
nature sleeps without pulses. Her creatures go their dim ways in
hypnotic ambulations. So, when in this spell-bound place the soul
wakes, a conscious entity, it is afraid in its loneliness. But as it
stands under the frescoed arches, a creature small but vital, the spell
is broken; all nature wakes with it, rises with it. The flower's eye is
no more vacant; the trees stretch their arms in the luxury of waking;
the forest sings with multiple voices; the supine earth finds a soul.
So it was with Michael and Amber. Arms were stretched forth in
welcome. Flute notes fell from thickets. The eyes of bird and insect,
the dewy gaze of a few late flowers, peered on them with new meanings.
Along by the stream the willows, clad in silver-dusted feathers,
meditated like stately birds. Willows are of all trees the most
mysterious. It is said that they were the first of trees, that before a
bird sang or a bee quested for honey the world was full of willow
forests. There the wind went in spring, a visible golden wave, deeply
laden with yellow pollen. There, in the glistening air, with none but
their own silver tongues to break the silence, the willows waited. They
waited for the insects to come to their yellow aments; for the birds to
flash in and out, making low music in the dusk. But they awaited also
the perception which should complete their creation. The flowers that
bloom unknown for a thousand years only exist when at last one flower
blossoms under a perceptive eye. For that flower the pollen was
launched spring after spring, the nectar gathered, the seed rounded. So
the understanding of beauty is a priesthood. Amber and Michael gave to
the forest almost as much as they gathered from it as they wandered in
the warm and mellow harvest weather.
The shadows were richly blue, of the tint of a chaffinch's head.
There were breakers in the standing corn, where Philip Arkinstall rode
up on the reaper, which rose beyond the tall wheat like a ship over the
horizon. From every nook in the forest came to meet them the benignant
scent of wet moss. The very hills were mossy in the sun. They were like
brown star moss; pale yellow sphagnum; bright green, red, green-white,
acorn-coloured, or purple moss. They lay in clear and gentle colours
under the periwinkle sky, and far off in the south a green-tinted
rain-storm wandered along their sloping sides.
A quintessence of the whole year's sweetness was distilled upon the
cool air. The atmosphere was of the unmixed gold of summer's maturity,
yet the landscape lay in the colours of childhood—swimming rose,
sapphire, mauve, frail gold, and again rose — all gathered within the
dark-blue silence of the horizon.
Vague rumours came over the plain, murmuring the vast content of
summer's end. Yet the air was quick as April is with the scents of
growing things; with warm poplar resin, and the smell of earth and
leaves churned up by rain; with the fragrance of the late white clover
that came to meet them like a friend.
The sheep, clean and white, fed in mown pastures, and the geese, wild
with the hint of autumn in the air, went with a flapping of white wings
to the rain-wet grass.
Already there had come in many trees a faint penumbra of gold, and
over all things lay the beauty that brings tears. The lovers came to
the Birds' Orchard and sat beneath a tree hung with little painted
'I wish I could be beautiful for you,' said Amber. 'I wish I had
Catherine's eyes and hair!'
'What colour are your eyes and hair?' asked Michael. 'I'll be damned
if I know!'
'The rudiments of courtship have not been taught to you.'
'Your spirit shines so, I can't see your features. Crude soul, that's
'We must pray for a great deal of crude soul, then.'
'The leeward side of an April orchard, that's what kissing you is
like,' said Michael.
So they sat, ringed in pale fire; for them bloomed red roses that had
in their petals no essence of decay; to them spoke in low, melodious
voices the birds that roost in faery forests. Softly and slowly the
fragrant evening fell around them. The plain slept, and over the rosy
ploughlands, the quiet forest, the golden, ever-stirring wheat, were
drawn thin, dusky veils. As the silence deepened, a thrush began to
sing somewhere in the woods — an autumn thrush, more plaintive than
those of spring. The music ascended like spirals of light smoke, and
the soul that haunts the depths of the forest began to spin from itself
the frail thread of beauty.
Over their hut, as they came towards it, stood a white cloud like a
shield of silver.
As they came to the door, there was Jasper, pale and wistful, but
smiling; and there by the fire was Ruby, with Ernest junior (domed even
at this early age with Athanasian dignity) on her knee.
'I brought her for the day!' whispered Jasper. 'It's supervision
that's wearing her out.'
Jasper was going to live at the Keep and work for his exams. Mr.
Cantlop had insisted upon paying the expenses of these. He had also
paid for Peter's and Marigold's passage to America.
'We're going now,' said Ruby, who understood that there might be men
so different from Ernest that a woman would like to be alone with them.
'You must stay to tea — or supper,' said Amber. She thought Ruby
terribly pathetic. 'What a dear baby!' she said.
'Yes. A darling!' said Amber, determinedly seeing only baby and not
When the sound of Jenny's feet died on the soft green turf, and the
shrill complaints of Ernest junior were hushed by distance, Michael and
Amber stood beneath a spreading larch tree, watching the sunset. The
west was a lake of luminous crocus yellow, clear and translucent as
water. In this, like green lilies, floated minute flakes of cloud.
Among them, peaceful and motionless, lay water birds of soft grey
cloud, sleeping among the lilies with folded wings.
In the woods it was already dusk, and, as they looked down towards
the plain, they saw lights spring out there shining between the
interstices of the branches like glow-worms.
'Amber,' said Michael, 'what are you going to do with your life?'
'Give it to you and to — all this.'
She waved an arm round the dark horizon, whence a fresh wind came.
'I have a confession to make, Amber.'
She smiled and waited.
'These things may not content me. I knew it to-day, when Cantlop and
the Rector were hobnobbing about our cottage. Think of it! They and
Arkinstall, your father, all of 'em, just the same, year by year. And
out yonder — the world.'
He looked at Amber keenly. The expression he had expected darted into
her face — surprise, almost agony. So might a devout Catholic look,
being excommunicated. Michael, watching her, wondered if she would pass
the test. It was characteristic of him to test her thus, through pain.
He was a hard man; hard to himself, to the world, hardest of all,
perhaps, to the woman he loved. Not even on her wedding day did he
spare her, chiefly because he so greatly wished to know how much she
cared for him. She had the shuddering air of a tendrilled plant torn
from its support. He waited. No crisis of the struggle was hidden from
him. Her face was clear and familiar to him as a flower's nectary to
She clasped her hands, hot with the stress of passion. For the love
of nature is a passion for those in whom it once lodges. It can never
be quenched. It cannot change. It is a furious, burning, physical
greed, as well as a state of mystical exaltation. It will have its own.
Amber thought of June mornings when polished birds with flaming
yellow bills made large tracks in the dew-white grass. She thought of
the subtle changes of the seasons, breathlessly fair, not one to be
spared. She remembered dawns that bloomed like a hedge of roses above
the amethyst hills, and the bank of white violets which had never
missed her yet in April. These things were her home, not Dormer. As one
saying goodbye to home for ever, she sat with drooping head. She felt
in her fingers the stalks of all the flowers she had ever picked —
hyacinths, cool and brittle; smooth cowslips; hollow mallows; warm
comfrey. She heard in her heart the individual leaf-song of every tree.
These things were of her essence now. But Michael also was of the
forest. These things belonged to her; but she belonged to Michael.
She looked up at last, and found his eyes on her. With a catch of the
breath she said:
'Of course, Michael. We must go — away.'
Her voice trembled into lostness.
Michael sighed. The tension had been almost unbearable.
'You love me enough to be willing to go?'
'I have said so. You are stern to-night.'
'You're a very beautiful woman, Amber. And if we go, I'll make it up
He spoke with self-reliance, having enough insight to know that the
man a woman loves can make up to her for anything on earth.
'What fairing shall I buy you, out in the world, Amber?'
'Is there nothing that will repay you — the delights of big cities?
He was silent. Around them the forest took up its night-spinning of
multitudinous little sounds. Sigh and rustle and soft footfall, ruffled
feather, falling of early seed vessels, and that dream of a sound, the
stealing of dew on to every leaf and blade and mossy bed — all
blending in a vague half-music.
Michael brooded on the leafy layers below them, on the glow-worm
lights which were all of the world that he could see. While she groped
intuitively, he saw the situation starkly and clearly. The temptation
to let this moment pass, to let the crisis remain unspoken, to let
their lives go on with the important things tacit, unexpressed, took
hold of him fiercely. But he had never treated life in this way. He
took a little medallion out of his pocket, and striking a match on his
boot, held it before her.
'That?' he asked.
'In poverty and discomfort? In crude places beyond the sea? In the
squalor of big cities?'
'You make it all very hard, Michael.'
'Life is hard.'
'Well, then, yes!'
'Michael, Michael! Let me be happy to-night! Let me!'
She was crying.
'Risking death?' His voice was harsh. 'Do you think I shall let you
say “Yes, yes!” in your eager way, without first making you realize?'
'There are some things in life that cannot be bought except at that
risk, Michael. They are worth it.'
Her voice sank in the purple silence. The little medallion of the
Madonna and Child slipped from her lap.
'Don't think I care about it at all, Amber.'
'I'd just as soon — not.'
'What a dreadful lie, Michael!'
He looked up with the shyly guilty air of a small delinquent. She
loved that look.
'And so brazen!' she added, stroking his hair. Michael knelt on the
moss with his arms about her. He was silent, but the forest, with a
deep and solemn murmur, spoke his heart.
Chapter 25. GRANDMOTHER HAS AN INSPIRATION
The House of Dormer was very quiet after the lovers left it.
Even Ernest was gone. Sarah, coming down from putting Mrs. Velindre
to bed, said: 'She's very sullen, Mrs. Gosling.' Mrs. Gosling was
lugubriously washing up. Not only had it been a shabby wedding instead
of a grand funeral, but Marigold had written to say she would not take
the money, but was going to live with Peter.
'All that money to slip through the fingers, Sarah!' she said. 'Give
me a sup of spirit.'
Upstairs, grandmother looked very small in her large bed, very
withered and puzzled. There was something she wanted. She moved her
lips, but the only words that came were:
'Perverse! A perverse generation!'
The feeble glow of the nightlight and the flicker of the small wood
fire lit the room vaguely, lighting up a feather fan in one place, a
stuffed bird in another; throwing into sudden relief the watch-stand
with its skull and hour-glass, and the white, round face of her watch.
It was a comfortable room, she reflected; but it was crowded. It
occurred to her that there were so many things in it that there was no
room for her. Hour after hour, being too much excited by the wedding to
sleep, she lay and thought of all the things in this room, in the
drawing-room, in the hall. The clocks, the portraits, the nodding idol,
the stuffed animals, the Bibles and prayer-books in their special
bookcase—all these things seemed to crowd on her till she could not
breathe. She felt at enmity with them. She wanted to get rid of them.
Lying there in the increasing darkness, she heard Solomon and Rachel
come up; heard their muffled voices praying as usual; and the chink of
Sarah's silver-basket. She thought of calling Sarah to remove the
crowding things that troubled her. But Sarah was gone before she
called. She had an idea. She would look in the Bible. She lit the
candle and opened the Bible. Her eyes fell on a heavily underlined
'Burning and fuel of fire.'
That was it! There was her answer! She looked round triumphantly. Now
she would show them!
She got up, took the candle, and went downstairs. The house was full
of noises — the rats, the clocks, the rising night-wind, the little
death-watches, ticking till the landing was like a clock-maker's. If
anyone had met grandmother they would have been likely to faint with
fright. With her huge nightcap, bare feet, and angry face she made a
quaint picture. She lit a bonfire in the drawing-room, and another in
the hall. Then she went back to bed very happily, feeling that she had
removed all annoyance through the inspiration of a text. Upstairs, they
all slept. Downstairs, the little fires crackled and blazed under the
amazed eyes of the ancestors, and the glassy ones of the stuffed birds.
The nodding idol disappeared in a welter of flame. The ancestors curled
up in their frames.
The rising moon laid the black shadow of the house on the lawn for
the last time. Inside, it was already hollow. And now, within the
shadow of the lawn, another shadow seemed to gather and stir and grow,
so that what had been a quiet pool of darkness became like water when
the wind goes over it. It consolidated, and then began very slowly to
flow across the lawn. The rats were leaving Dormer, coming from cellar
and attic and from their haunts in the thick walls. They passed away in
the direction of the churchyard like the shadow of a cloud. The lower
windows were all illumined now, and Enoch, who was wakeful, having the
sense of impending calamity shared by animals and poets, saw the angry
When he arrived at the house, all the clocks that remained were
striking with solemn tones the hour of twelve, and from the kitchen the
cuckoo hooted wildly. Enoch smashed a window and got in.
'Sir!' he cried, hammering at Solomon's door, 'Dormer's burning!'
'Save your mother, Rachel,' said Solomon, 'while I loose the
Enoch thundered on Sarah's door, which seemed to deprecate this rude
disturbance of a maiden's bower. Within, all was in its usual order,
Sarah's clothes neatly folded, the silver-basket pailed in its
Sarah woke, and heard Enoch's voice, but the cotton-wool kept her
from distinguishing the words.
'Enoch labouring at my door, and it midnight!' she said. She had
heard of lovers doing such things in the old days when there were rope
ladders; but that it should happen to her! She smiled in the darkness
and wondered what Enoch would do next. She decided to be very
righteous, moral and self-respecting.
'Sarah Jowel! Sarah Jowel!' cried Enoch.
'Ah! I hear, never fear,' murmured Sarah.
'Get up, woman!' shouted Enoch.
'What a belownder! It's no use you shouting, Enoch, for I'm a
self-respecting woman,' she said, 'and let you in I never will. I'd die
'Die! Of course you'll die! You'll be roasted if you're so
'Now don't you make such suggestions to me,' said Sarah, 'for I wunna
listen to 'em.'
She took the cotton-wool out of her ears to listen better.
'I tell you Dormer's burning!'
'Oh, is that all?'
It seemed a small thing to hear that Dormer was on fire when she had
thought Enoch was on fire.
Enoch carried grandmother downstairs, looking, in his large embrace,
like a Red Indian's doll. Her dark, pleased, slightly malicious face
was lit by the red light as they passed through the danger zone.
'I did it! I did it!' she cried.
'Most a pity if you did, mum, as you can boast of it,' said Sarah.
But grandmother only laughed her rustling laugh. Enoch set her down in
the church porch, where she huddled like a winter bird, only her eyes
alive, with their old look as of unknown creatures stalking in their
depths. She surveyed the blazing house with complaisance. Then she
'A burnt offering to the Lord. Hannah Velindre shall be called
blessed. Dormer's falling!'
There was something prophetic and portentous about her voice; but as
she met her daughter's eyes — frozen and scornful — it trailed away.
Her concluding 'I did it' had a childlike tremor.
'She must be shut up,' said Rachel. Her eyes brooded on the house,
that shone like a firework picture. The chimneys, lit from below,
seemed made of solid gold. Every window was illuminated as if for a
festival. They summoned with ironic hospitality to a feast of death,
where that wild creature, fire, was host and reveller. As one by one
the squares of daffodil and red and primrose sprang out of the
blackness, they seemed to be saying that every house not lit by love is
Enoch, coming through the wicket, met Sarah with her arms full of
'Did you send for the Silverton engine?' asked Sarah. 'Ah! but I
doubt it's too late. The bitter old place'll faal.' He returned to the
house and came back to Sarah with something in his hand, which he
presented to her.
'Woman!' he said. 'Your world!'
'Oh!' cried Sarah, 'what's a world? I want you, and so I tell you
'Softly, Sarah, softly!' said Enoch. 'It wunna be able —, 'What did
you save it for if you didna mean keeping company?'
'It was to be instead of me. It'll be company for you. It'll out-live
you and me. “The grass withereth,” but the like of that never gets
He spoke without irony.
'Enoch Gale!' said Sarah, 'do you mean to tell me, after the coaxing
and the driving I've been obliged to do, and the promises you've almost
give me, that you're going to creep out of it again, you miserable
'I saved your world.'
Sarah was swept by a wave of hatred of art for art's sake. 'So I'm to
have this, am I? And it's to outlast me, is it? I'll learn it to
She lifted the round varnished thing, with its jubilant colours, and
flung it, crashing, at the feet of the negro boy.
'What a furious, ravening woman you are, Sarah!' said Enoch.
Sarah, whose equilibrium was upset by the fire, flung her arms round
'It's like the 'ymn, Enoch!' she said. '“All the vain things that
charm me most —” I've given it up for you, Enoch! You canna say “no"
now!' Enoch started like a trapped rabbit.
'It wunna be able —, he began lamentably, with a very red face, less
from embarrassment than from the constriction of Sarah's muscular arms,
which were firm as her resolve.
But Enoch remembered Marigold's may-tree freshness — all her rose
and gold and white — and he hardened his heart against Sarah.
'— to be done!' he finished, freeing himself by a dexterous twist.
He backed away towards the safer regions of the fire. Sarah followed,
still a good deal upset.
'You've broke my spirit, Enoch,' she said. 'And Mallow must mend it!
Mallow's a disappointed man since Mr. Michael turned out not to be a
murderer. I'll marry Mallow!'
Nothing was heard in the churchyard but the roar of the fire and the
cropping of Mr. Arkinstall's two goats. He had voted himself the right
of grazing the churchyard, and they were tethered beyond the yew trees.
Their grotesque, bearded shadows stretched across the graves, black and
stark. Grandmother clapped her hands as a chimney fell. Into her
strait, less life had come an impulse, the first for numberless years.
She rejoiced greatly.
Over the house stood a pillar of smoke, towering into the sky and
flattening out into the shape of a Druidical altar. Behind it the dark
trees of the Beast Walk were scarlet from the reflected glow, as if
they too were burning.
Rachel was stunned as a long-caged animal is at the sight of open
doors. She would never hear the solemn, deathly night sounds of Dormer
again; never pace her grey bedroom. Grandmother had destroyed it all.
Here she was, shivering, outcast, lonely, the house she trusted in
dissolved, the restrictions that upheld her removed. She had lived
according to the ghostly will of the house until her faint desire for
freedom and development had died. Freedom was a dream; when it had
gone, she slept the better. And now, here she was, with nothing between
her and the stars. She was exasperated. She put her hands on
grandmother's shoulders and shook her till her ringlets swayed. 'I'll
lock you up!' she said, and loosed her. Grandmother sat crookedly, in
her grey tippet, against the wall.
Rachel awaited a harsh word. None came. Only the leaves lapped upon
the silence, wave upon wave, with a sound of peace. Only the pearl-grey
dawn began to build very slowly, with an architecture at once mighty
and sweet, a house of many vistas. This immense freedom, opening
majestically and relentlessly around a cowering soul that did not want
it, held a kind of irony. For Rachel Darke did not want it. She wanted
the old vampire dwelling.
She nudged her mother.
'Wake up!' she said.
Grandmother fell in a stiff heap at her feet. She lay there like a
broken idol that no man remembers. She was never to go tapping round
with her stick again. It is ill to look upon the old gods in their last
pitiful downfall. With a vertiginous horror Rachel knew that her mother
was dead. Brown, wrinkled, hard, the old face lay, smiling in the
secure knowledge that Hannah Velindre was to be called blessed.
It was at this moment, when dawn brooded like a silver-grey pigeon
over the world, that two odd figures appeared in the churchyard. A hint
of light from the east revealed them as William and Amelia Cantlop.
Amelia had been awakened by the red light or by some instinct of
'Dormer's burning, William, my dear!' she said with composure. Real
disaster found her possessed by a deeper self that slept within the
feckless, frustrate Amelia and woke when people were in trouble.
'Brandy, my dear,' she said.
Mr. Cantlop cunningly decanted it; Mrs. Cantlop collected wraps, her
idea being that people's clothes would be burnt off their backs and
decency outraged. They set forth, Amelia's bonnet not even attempting a
union with herself; only the strong corded strings prevented it from
darting eagerly skywards. Mr. Cantlop stole along in the shadow of the
hedges, noiseless as a homing owl. They seemed more at home in the wide
morning than Rachel, for they had no possessions except a mere living.
'She's dead,' said Rachel.
It was as if some poor wandering ghost had spoken of another ghost.
The goats looked up sharply, like bearded men consulting on a knotty
From its height the forest contemplated them. It had its own
preoccupations, its dreams of bronze and copper and clear gold. It was
cold to the death of humans and of houses. For the god of the forest is
not a following god; not one that stands at the door and knocks. To
those that seek him in the forest he gives a welcome. To those that
sleep he speaks no word. They may lie in their mole-like chambers for
ever, and slip from slumber into death.
The autumn wind, gay and eager, fluttered Mrs. Gosling's apron as she
went into the church to keep vigil beside the dead. Then with a swift
onrush it broke upon the forest, where the lovers woke as day enlarged