by Mrs. Humphry Ward
PART I. MISSING
MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
Frontispiece in Colour by C. Allan Gilbert
[Illustration: Deeply regret to inform you your husband reported
wounded and missing]
PART I. MISSING
'Shall I set the tea, Miss?'
Miss Cookson turned from the window.
'Yes—bring it up—except the tea of course—they ought to be here
at any time.'
'And Mrs. Weston wants to know what time supper's to be?'
The fair-haired girl speaking was clearly north-country. She
pronounced the 'u' in 'supper,' as though it were the German 'u' in
Miss Cookson shrugged her shoulders.
'Well, they'll settle that.'
The tone was sharp and off-hand. And the maid-servant, as she went
downstairs, decided for the twentieth time that afternoon, that she
didn't like Miss Cookson, and she hoped her sister, Mrs. Sarratt, would
be nicer. Miss Cookson had been poking her nose into everything that
afternoon, fiddling with the rooms and furniture, and interfering with
Mrs. Weston. As if Mrs. Weston didn't know what to order for lodgers,
and how to make them comfortable! As if she hadn't had dozens of brides
and bridegrooms to look after before this!—and if she hadn't given
them all satisfaction, would they ever have sent her all them
picture-postcards which decorated her little parlour downstairs?
All the same, the house-parlourmaid, Milly by name, was a good deal
excited about this particular couple who were now expected. For Mrs.
Weston had told her it had been a 'war wedding,' and the bridegroom was
going off to the front in a week. Milly's own private affairs—in
connection with a good-looking fellow, formerly a gardener at Bowness,
now recently enlisted in one of the Border regiments—had caused her to
take a special interest in the information, and had perhaps led her to
put a bunch of monthly roses on Mrs. Sarratt's dressing-table. Miss
Cookson hadn't bothered herself about flowers. That she might have
done!—instead of fussing over things that didn't concern her—just for
the sake of ordering people about.
When the little red-haired maid had left the room, the lady she
disliked returned to the window, and stood there absorbed in
reflections that were not gay, to judge from the furrowed brow and
pinched lips that accompanied them. Bridget Cookson was about thirty;
not precisely handsome, but at the same time, not ill-looking. Her eyes
were large and striking, and she had masses of dark hair, tightly
coiled about her head as though its owner felt it troublesome and in
the way. She was thin, but rather largely built, and her movements were
quick and decided. Her tweed dress was fashionably cut, but severely
without small ornament of any kind.
She looked out upon a beautiful corner of English Lakeland. The
house in which she stood was built on the side of a little river,
which, as she saw it, came flashing and sparkling out of a lake beyond,
lying in broad strips of light and shade amid green surrounding fells.
The sun was slipping low, and would soon have kindled all the lake into
a white fire, in which its islands would have almost disappeared. But,
for the moment, everything was plain:—the sky, full of light, and
filmy grey cloud, the fells with their mingling of wood and purple
crag, the shallow reach of the river beyond the garden, with a little
family of wild duck floating upon it, and just below her a vivid splash
of colour, a mass of rhododendron in bloom, setting its rose-pink
challenge against the cool greys and greens of the fell.
But Bridget Cookson was not admiring the view. It was not new to
her, and moreover she was not in love with Westmorland at all; and why
Nelly should have chosen this particular spot, to live in, while George
was at the war, she did not understand. She believed there was some
sentimental reason. They had first seen him in the Lakes—just before
the war—when they two girls and their father were staying actually in
this very lodging-house. But sentimental reasons are nothing.
Well, the thing was done. Nelly was married, and in another week,
George would be at the front. Perhaps in a fortnight's time she would
be a widow. Such things have happened often. 'And then what shall I do
with her?' thought the sister, irritably,—recoiling from a sudden
vision of Nelly in sorrow, which seemed to threaten her own life with
even greater dislocation than had happened to it already. 'I must have
my time to myself!—freedom for what I want'—she thought to herself,
impatiently, 'I can't be always looking after her.'
Yet of course the fact remained that there was no one else to look
after Nelly. They had been left alone in the world for a good while
now. Their father, a Manchester cotton-broker in a small way, had died
some six months before this date, leaving more debts than fortune. The
two girls had found themselves left with very small means, and had
lived, of late, mainly in lodgings—unfurnished rooms—with some of
their old furniture and household things round them. Their father,
though unsuccessful in business, had been ambitious in an old-fashioned
way for his children, and they had been brought up 'as
gentlefolks'—that is to say without any trade or profession.
But their poverty had pinched them disagreeably—especially Bridget,
in whom it had produced a kind of angry resentment. Their education had
not been serious enough, in these days of competition, to enable them
to make anything of teaching after their Father's death. Nelly's
water-colour drawing, for instance, though it was a passion with her,
was quite untrained, and its results unmarketable. Bridget had taken up
one subject after another, and generally in a spirit of antagonism to
her surroundings, who, according to her, were always 'interfering' with
what she wanted to do,—with her serious and important occupations. But
these occupations always ended by coming to nothing; so that, as
Bridget was irritably aware, even Nelly had ceased to be as much in awe
of them as she had once been.
But the elder sister had more solid cause than this for
dissatisfaction with the younger. Nelly had really behaved like a
little fool! The one family asset of which a great deal might have been
made—should have been made—was Nelly's prettiness. She was very
pretty—absurdly pretty—and had been a great deal run after in
Manchester already. There had been actually two proposals from elderly
men with money, who were unaware of the child's engagement, during the
past three months; and though these particular suitors were perhaps
unattractive, yet a little time and patience, and the right man would
have come along, both acceptable in himself, and sufficiently supplied
with money to make everything easy for everybody.
But Nelly had just wilfully and stubbornly fallen in love with this
young man—and wilfully and stubbornly married him. It was unlike her
to be stubborn about anything. But in this there had been no moving
her. And now there was nothing before either of them but the same
shabbiness and penury as before. What if George had two hundred and
fifty a year of his own, besides his pay?—a fact that Nelly was always
triumphantly brandishing in her sister's eyes.
No doubt it was more than most young subalterns had—much more. But
what was two hundred and fifty a year? Nelly would want every penny of
it for herself—and her child—or children. For of course there would
be a child—Bridget Cookson fell into profound depths of thought,
emerging from them, now as often before, with the sore realisation of
how much Nelly might have done with her 'one talent,' both for herself
and her sister, and had not done.
The sun dropped lower; one side of the lake was now in shadow, and
from the green shore beneath the woods and rocks, the reflections of
tree and crag and grassy slope were dropping down and down, unearthly
clear and far, to that inverted heaven in the 'steady bosom' of the
water. A little breeze came wandering, bringing delicious scents of
grass and moss, and in the lake the fish were rising.
Miss Cookson moved away from the window. How late they were! She
would hardly get home in time for her own supper. They would probably
ask her to stay and sup with them. But she did not intend to stay.
Honeymooners were much better left to themselves. Nelly would be a
dreadfully sentimental bride; and then dreadfully upset when George
went away. She had asked her sister to join them in the Lakes, and it
was taken for granted that they would resume living together after
George's departure. But Bridget had fixed her own lodgings, for the
present, a mile away, and did not mean to see much of her sister till
the bridegroom had gone.
There was the sound of a motor-car on the road, which ran along one
side of the garden, divided from it by a high wall. It could hardly be
they; for they were coming frugally by the coach. But Miss Cookson went
across to a side window looking on the road to investigate.
At the foot of the hill opposite stood a luxurious car, waiting
evidently for the party which was now descending the hill towards it.
Bridget had a clear view of them, herself unseen behind Mrs. Weston's
muslin blinds. A girl was in front, with a young man in khaki, a
convalescent officer, to judge from his frail look and hollow eyes. The
girl was exactly like the fashion-plate in the morning's paper. She
wore a very short skirt and Zouave jacket in grey cloth, high-heeled
grey boots, with black tips and gaiters, a preposterous little hat
perched on one side of a broad white forehead, across which the hair
was parted like a boy's, and an ostrich plume on the top of the hat,
which nodded and fluttered so extravagantly that the face beneath
almost escaped the spectator's notice. Yet it was on the whole a
handsome face, audacious, like its owner's costume, and with evident
signs—for Bridget Cookson's sharp eyes—of slight make-up.
Miss Cookson knew who she was. She had seen her in the neighbouring
town that morning, and had heard much gossip about her. She was Miss
Farrell, of Carton Hall, and that gentleman coming down the hill more
slowly behind her was no doubt her brother Sir William.
Lame? That of course was the reason why he was not in the army. It
was not very conspicuous, but still quite definite. A stiff knee, Miss
Cookson supposed—an accident perhaps—some time ago. Lucky for
him!—on any reasonable view. Bridget Cookson thought the war 'odious,'
and gave no more attention to it than she could help. It had lasted now
nearly a year, and she was heartily sick of it. It filled the papers
with monotonous news which tired her attention—which she did not
really try to understand. Now she supposed she would have to understand
it. For George, her new brother-in-law, was sure to talk a terrible
amount of shop.
Sir William was very tall certainly, and good-looking. He had a
short pointed beard, a ruddy, sunburnt complexion, blue eyes and broad
shoulders—the common points of the well-born and landowning
Englishman. Bridget looked at him with a mixture of respect and
hostility. To be rich was to be so far interesting; still all such
persons, belonging to a world of which she knew nothing, were in her
eyes 'swells,' and gave themselves airs; a procedure on their part,
which would be stopped when the middle and lower classes were powerful
enough to put them in their place. It was said, however, that this
particular man was rather a remarkable specimen of his kind—didn't
hunt—didn't preserve—had trained as an artist, and even exhibited.
The shopwoman in B——from whom Miss Cookson derived her information
about the Farrells, had described Sir William as 'queer'—said
everybody knew he was 'queer.' Nobody could get him to do any county
work. He hated Committees, and never went near them. It was said he had
been in love and the lady had died. 'But if we all turned lazy for that
kind of thing!'—said the little shopwoman, shrugging her shoulders.
Still the Farrells were not unpopular. Sir William had a pleasant slow
way of talking, especially to the small folk; and he had just done
something very generous in giving up his house—the whole of his
house—somewhere Cockermouth way, to the War Office, as a hospital. As
for his sister, she seemed to like driving convalescent officers about,
and throwing away money on her clothes. There was no sign of 'war
economy' about Miss Farrell.
Here, however, the shopwoman's stream of gossip was arrested by the
arrival of a new customer. Bridget was not sorry. She had not been at
all interested in the Farrells' idiosyncrasies; and she only watched
their preparations for departure now, for lack of something to do. The
chauffeur was waiting beside the car, and Miss Farrell got in first,
taking the front seat. Then Sir William, who had been loitering on the
hill, hurried down to give a helping hand to the young officer, who was
evidently only in the early stages of convalescence. After settling his
guest comfortably, he turned to speak to his chauffeur, apparently
about their road home, as he took a map out of his pocket.
At this moment, a clatter of horses' hoofs and the rattle of a coach
were heard. Round the corner, swung the Windermere evening coach in
fine style, and drew up at the door of Mrs. Weston's lodgings, a little
ahead of the car.
'There they are!' said Miss Cookson, excited in spite of herself.
'Well, I needn't go down. George will bring in the luggage.'
A young man and a young lady got up from their seats. A ladder was
brought for the lady to descend. But just as she was about to step on
it, a fidgeting horse in front made a movement, the ladder slipped, and
the lady was only just in time to withdraw her foot and save herself.
Sir William Farrell, who had seen the little incident, ran forward,
while the man who had been placing the ladder went to the horse, which
was capering and trying to rear in his eagerness to be off.
Sir William raised the ladder, and set it firmly against the coach.
'I think you might risk it now,' he said, raising his eyes
pleasantly to the young person above him.
'Thank you,' said a shy voice. Mrs. Sarratt turned round and
descended. Meanwhile the man holding the ladder saw an officer in khaki
standing on the top of the coach, and heard him address a word of
laughing encouragement to the lady. And no sooner had her feet touched
the ground than he was at her side in a trice.
'Thank you, Sir!' he said, saluting. 'My wife was very nearly thrown
off. That horse has been giving trouble all the way.'
'Must be content with what you can get, in war-time!' said the other
smiling, as he raised his hat to the young woman he had befriended,
whom he now saw plainly. 'And there are so few visitors at present in
these parts that what horses there are don't get enough to do.'
The face turned upon him was so exquisite in line and colour that
Sir William, suddenly struck, instead of retreating to his car,
lingered while the soldier husband—a lieutenant, to judge from the
stripes on his cuff,—collected a rather large amount of luggage from
the top of the coach.
'You must have had a lovely drive along Windermere,' said Sir
William politely. 'Let me carry that bag for you. You're stopping
'Yes—' said Mrs. Sarratt, distractedly, watching to see that the
luggage was all right. 'Oh, George, do take care of that
But she had spoken too late. As her husband, having handed over two
suit cases to Mrs. Weston's fourteen-year old boy, came towards her
with a large brown paper parcel, the string of it slipped, Mrs. Sarratt
gave a little cry, and but for her prompt rush to his assistance, its
contents would have descended into the road. But through a gap in the
paper various tin and china objects were disclosed.
'That's your “cooker,” Nelly,' said her husband laughing. 'I told
you it would bust the show!'
But her tiny, deft fingers rapidly repaired the damage, and re-tied
the string while he assisted her. The coach drove off, and Sir William
patiently held the bag. Then she insisted on carrying the parcel
herself, and the lieutenant relieved Sir William.
'Awfully obliged to you!' he said gratefully. 'Good evening! We're
stopping here for a bit' He pointed to the open door of the
lodging-house, where Mrs. Weston and the boy were grappling with the
'May I ask—' Sir William's smile as he looked from one to the other
expressed that loosening of conventions in which we have all lived
since the war—'Are you home on leave, or—'
'I came home to be married,' said the young soldier, flushing
slightly, while his eyes crossed those of the young girl beside him.
'I've got a week more.'
'You've been out some time?'
'Since last November. I got a scratch in the Ypres fight in
April—oh, nothing—a small flesh wound—but they gave me a month's
leave, and my medical board has only just passed me.'
'Lanchesters?' said Sir William, looking at his cap. The other
'Well, I am sure I hope you'll have good weather here,' said Sir
William, stepping back, and once more raising his hat to the bride.
'And—if there was Anything I could do to help your stay—'
'Oh, thank you, Sir, but—'
The pair smiled again at each other. Sir William understood, and
smiled too. A more engaging couple he thought he had never seen. The
young man was not exactly handsome, but he had a pair of charming hazel
eyes, a good-tempered mouth, and a really fine brow. He was tall too,
and well proportioned, and looked the pick of physical fitness. 'Just
the kind of splendid stuff we are sending out by the ship-load,'
thought the elder man, with a pang of envy—'And the girl's lovely!'
She was at that moment bowing to him, as she followed her husband
across the road. A thought occurred to Sir William, and he pursued her.
'I wonder—' he said diffidently—'if you care for boating—if you
would like to boat on the lake—'
'Oh, but it isn't allowed!' She turned on him a pair of astonished
'Not in general. Ah, I see you know these parts already. But I
happen to know the owner of the boathouse. Shall I get you leave?'
'Oh, that would be delightful!' she said, her face kindling
with a child's joyousness. 'That is kind of you! Our name is
Sarratt—my husband is Lieutenant Sarratt.'
—'Of the 21st Lanchesters? All right—I'll see to it!'
And he ran back to his car, while the young people disappeared into
the little entrance hall of the lodging-house, and the door shut upon
Miss Farrell received her brother with gibes. Trust William for
finding out a beauty! Who were they?
Farrell handed on his information as the car sped along the Keswick
'Going back in a week, is he?' said the convalescent officer beside
him. Then, bitterly—'lucky dog!'
Farrell looked at the speaker kindly.
'What—with a wife to leave?'
The boy, for he was little more, shrugged his shoulders. At that
moment he knew no passion but the passion for the regiment and his men,
to whom he couldn't get back, because his 'beastly constitution'
wouldn't let him recover as quickly as other men did. What did women
matter?—when the 'push' might be on, any day.
Cicely Farrell continued to chaff her brother, who took it
placidly—fortified by a big cigar.
'And if she'd been plain, Willy, you'd never have so much as known
she was there! Did you tell her you haunted these parts?'
He shook his head.
* * * * *
Meanwhile the bride and bridegroom had been met on the lodging-house
stairs by the bride's sister, who allowed herself to be kissed by the
bridegroom, and hugged by the bride. Her lack of effusion, however,
made little impression on the newcomers. They were in that state of
happiness which transfigures everything round it; they were delighted
with the smallest things; with the little lodging-house sitting room,
its windows open to the lake and river; with its muslin curtains, very
clean and white, its duster-rose too, just outside the window; with
Mrs. Weston, who in her friendly flurry had greeted the bride as 'Miss
Nelly,' and was bustling to get the tea; even, indeed, with Bridget
Cookson's few casual attentions to them. Mrs. Sarratt thought it 'dear'
of Bridget to have come to meet them, and ordered tea for them, and put
those delicious roses in her room—
'I didn't!' said Bridget, drily. 'That was Milly. It didn't occur to
The bride looked a little checked. But then the tea came in, a real
Westmorland meal, with its toasted bun, its jam, and its 'twist' of new
bread; and Nelly Sarratt forgot everything but the pleasure of making
her husband eat, of filling his cup for him, of looking sometimes
through the window at that shining lake, beside which she and George
would soon be roaming—for six long days. Yes, and nights too. For
there was a moon rising, which would be at the full in two or three
days. Imagination flew forward, as she leant dreamily back in her chair
when the meal was over, her eyes on the landscape. They two alone—on
that warm summer lake—drifting in the moonlight—heart against heart,
cheek against cheek. A shiver ran through her, which was partly
passion, partly a dull fear. But she banished fear. Nothing—nothing
should spoil their week together.
'Darling!' said her husband, who had been watching her—'You're not
very tired?' He slipped his hand round hers, and her fingers rested in
his clasp, delighted to feel themselves so small, and his so strong. He
had spoken to her in the low voice that was hers alone. She was jealous
lest Bridget should have overheard it. But Bridget was at the other end
of the room. How foolish it had been of her—just because she was so
happy, and wanted to be nice to everybody!—to have asked Bridget to
stay with them! She was always doing silly things like that—impulsive
things. But now she was married. She must think more. It was really
very considerate of Bridget to have got them all out of a difficulty
and to have settled herself a mile away from them; though at first it
had seemed rather unkind. Now they could see her always sometime in the
day, but not so as to interfere. She was afraid Bridget and George
would never really get on, though she—Nelly—wanted to forget all the
unpleasantness there had been,—to forget everything—everything but
George. The fortnight's honeymoon lay like a haze of sunlight between
her and the past.
But Bridget had noticed the voice and the clasped hands,—with
irritation. Really, after a fortnight, they might have done with that
kind of demonstrativeness. All the same, Nelly was quite
extraordinarily pretty—prettier than ever. While the sister was slowly
putting on her hat before the only mirror the sitting-room possessed,
she was keenly conscious of the two figures near the window, of the man
in khaki sitting on the arm of Nelly's chair, holding her hand, and
looking down upon her, of Nelly's flushed cheek and bending head. What
a baby she looked!—scarcely seventeen. Yet she was really
twenty-one—old enough, by a long way, to have done better for herself
than this! Oh, George, in himself, was well enough. If he came back
from the war, his new-made sister-in-law supposed she would get used to
him in time. Bridget however did not find it easy to get on with men,
especially young men, of whom she knew very few. For eight or ten years
now, she had looked upon them chiefly as awkward and inconvenient facts
in women's lives. Before that time, she could remember a few silly
feelings on her own part, especially with regard to a young clerk of
her father's, who had made love to her up to the very day when he
shamefacedly told her that he was already engaged, and would soon be
married. That event had been a shock to her, and had made her cautious
and suspicious towards men ever since. Her life was now full of quite
other interests—incoherent and changeable, but strong while they
lasted. Nelly's state of bliss awoke no answering sympathy in her.
'Well, good-bye, Nelly,' she said, when she had put on her
things—advancing towards them, while the lieutenant rose to his feet.
'I expect Mrs. Weston will make you comfortable. I ordered in all the
things for to-morrow.'
'Everything's charming!' said Nelly, as she put her arms
round her sister. 'It was awfully good of you to see to it all. Will
you come over to lunch to-morrow? We might take you somewhere.'
'Oh, don't bother about me! You won't want me. I'll look in some
time. I've got a lot of work to do.'
Nelly withdrew her arms. George Sarratt surveyed his sister-in-law
'Work?' he repeated, with his pleasant, rather puzzled smile.
'What are you doing now, Bridget?' said Nelly, softly, stroking the
sleeve of her sister's jacket, but really conscious only of the man
'Reading some proof-sheets for a friend,' was the rather short
reply, as Bridget released herself.
'Something dreadfully difficult?' laughed Nelly.
'I don't know what you mean by difficult,' said Bridget
ungraciously, looking for her gloves. 'It's psychology—that's all.
Lucy Fenn's bringing out another volume of essays.'
'It sounds awful!' said George Sarratt, laughing. 'I wish I knew
what psychology was about. But can't you take a holiday?—just this
He looked at her rather gravely. But Bridget shook her head, and
again said good-bye. George Sarratt took her downstairs, and saw her
off on her bicycle. Then he returned smiling, to his wife.
'I say, Bridget makes me feel a dunce! Is she really such a learned
Nelly's dark eyes danced a little. 'I suppose she is—but she
doesn't stick to anything. It's always something different. A few
months ago, it was geology; and we used to go out for walks with a
hammer and a bag. Last year it was the-ology! Our poor
clergyman, Mr. Richardson, was no match for Bridget at all. She could
always bowl him over.'
'Somehow all the “ologies” seem very far away—don't they?' murmured
Sarratt, after they had laughed together. They were standing at the
window again, his arm close round her, her small dark head pressed
against him. There was ecstasy in their nearness to each other—in the
silver beauty of the lake—in the soft coming of the June evening; and
in that stern fact itself that in one short week, he would have left
her, would be facing death or mutilation, day after day, in the
trenches on the Ypres salient. While he held her, all sorts of images
flitted through his mind—of which he would not have told her for the
world—horrible facts of bloody war. In eight months he had seen plenty
of them. The signs of them were graven on his young face, on his eyes,
round which a slight permanent frown, as of perplexity, seemed to have
settled, and on his mouth which was no longer naif and boyish, but
would always drop with repose into a hard compressed line.
Nelly looked up.
'Everything's far away'—she whispered—'but this—and you!' He
kissed her upturned lips—and there was silence.
Then a robin singing outside in the evening hush, sent a message to
them. Nelly with an effort drew herself away.
'Shan't we go out? We'll tell Mrs. Weston to put supper on the
table, and we can come in when we like. But I'll just unpack a little
first—in our room.'
She disappeared through a door at the end of the sitting-room. Her
last words—softly spoken—produced a kind of shock of joy in Sarratt.
He sat motionless, hearing the echo of them, till she reappeared. When
she came back, she had taken off her serge travelling dress and was
wearing a little gown of some white cotton stuff, with a blue cloak,
the evening having turned chilly, and a hat with a blue ribbon. In this
garb she was a vision of innocent beauty; wherein refinement and a
touch of strangeness combined with the dark brilliance of eyes and
hair, with the pale, slightly sunburnt skin, the small features and
tiny throat, to rivet the spectator. And she probably knew it, for she
flushed slightly under her husband's eyes.
'Oh, what a paradise!' she said, under her breath, pointing to the
scene beyond the window. Then—lifting appealing hands to him—'Take me
The newly-married pair crossed a wooden bridge over the stream from
the Lake, and found themselves on its further shore, a shore as
untouched and unspoilt now as when Wordsworth knew it, a hundred years
ago. The sun had only just vanished out of sight behind the Grasmere
fells, and the long Westmorland after-glow would linger for nearly a
couple of hours yet. After much rain the skies were clear, and all the
omens fair. But the rain had left its laughing message behind; in the
full river, in the streams leaping down the fells, in the freshness of
every living thing—the new-leafed trees, the grass with its flowers,
the rushes spreading their light armies through the flooded margins of
the lake, and bending to the light wind, which had just, as though in
mischief, blotted out the dream-world in the water, and set it rippling
eastwards in one sheet of living silver, broken only by a cloud-shadow
at its further end. Fragrance was everywhere—from the trees, the young
fern, the grass; and from the shining west, the shadowed fells, the
brilliant water, there breathed a voice of triumphant beauty, of
unconquered peace, which presently affected George Sarratt strangely.
They had just passed through a little wood; and in its friendly
gloom, he had put his arm round his wife so that they had lingered a
little, loth to leave its shelter. But now they had emerged again upon
the radiance of the fell-side, and he had found a stone for Nelly to
'That those places in France, and that sky—should be in the same
world!' he said, under his breath, pointing to the glow on the eastern
fells, as he threw himself down on the turf beside her.
Her face flushed with exercise and happiness suddenly darkened.
'Don't—don't talk of them to-night!'—she said passionately—'not
to-night—just to-night, George!'
And she stooped impetuously to lay her hand on his lips. He kissed
the hand, held it, and remained silent, his eyes fixed upon the lake.
On that day week he would probably just have rejoined his regiment. It
was somewhere in the neighbourhood of Bailleul. Hot work, he heard, was
expected. There was still a scandalous shortage of ammunition—and if
there was really to be a 'push,' the losses would be appalling. Man
after man that he knew had been killed within a week—two or three
days—twenty-four hours even!—of rejoining. Supposing that within a
fortnight Nelly sat here, looking at this lake, with the War Office
telegram in her hand—'Deeply regret to inform you, etc.' This was not
a subject on which he had ever allowed himself to dwell, more than in
his changed circumstances he was bound to dwell. Every soldier,
normally, expects to get through. But of course he had done everything
that was necessary for Nelly. His will was in the proper hands; and the
night before their wedding he had written a letter to her, to be given
her if he fell. Otherwise he had taken little account of possible
death; nor had it cost him any trouble to banish the thought of it.
But the beauty of the evening—of this old earth, which takes no
account of the perishing of men—and Nelly's warm life beside him,
hanging upon his, perhaps already containing within it the mysterious
promise of another life, had suddenly brought upon him a tremor of
soul—an inward shudder. Did he really believe in existence after
death—in a meeting again, in some dim other scene, if they were
violently parted now? He had been confirmed while at school. His
parents were Church people of a rather languid type, and it seemed the
natural thing to do. Since then he had occasionally taken the
Communion, largely to please an elder school-friend, who was ardently
devout, and was now a Chaplain on the Western front. But what did it
really mean to him?—what would it mean to her—if she were left
alone? Images passed through his mind—the sights of the
trenches—shattered and dying bodies. What was the soul?—had it
really an independent life? Something there was in men—quite
rough and common men—something revealed by war and the sufferings of
war—so splendid, so infinitely beyond anything he had ever dreamed of
in ordinary life, that to think of it roused in him a passion of hidden
feeling—perhaps adoration—but vague and speechless—adoration of he
knew not what. He did not speak easily of his feeling, even to his
young wife, to whom marriage had so closely, so ineffably bound him.
But as he lay on the grass looking up at her—smiling—obeying her
command of silence, his thoughts ranged irrepressibly. Supposing he
fell, and she lived on—years and years—to be an old woman? Old!
Nelly? Impossible! He put his hand gently on the slender foot, and felt
the pulsing life in it. 'Dearest!' she murmured at his touch, and their
eyes met tenderly.
'I should be content—' he thought—'if we could just live this
life out! I don't believe I should want another life. But to go—and
leave her; to go—just at the beginning—before one knows
anything—before one has finished anything—'
And again his eyes wandered from her to the suffusion of light and
colour on the lake. 'How could anyone ever want anything better than
this earth—this life—at its best—if only one were allowed a full and
normal share of it!' And he thought again, almost with a leap of
exasperation, of those dead and mangled men—out there—in France. Who
was responsible—God?—or man? But man's will is—must be—something
dependent—something included in God's will. If God really existed, and
if He willed war, and sudden death—then there must be another life. Or
else the power that devised the world was not a good, but an evil—at
best, a blind one.
But while his young brain was racing through the old puzzles in the
old ways, Nelly was thinking of something quite different. Her delicate
small face kept breaking into little smiles with pensive
intervals—till at last she broke out—
'Do you remember how I caught you—turning back to look after
us—just here—just about here? You had passed that thorn tree—'
He came back to love-making with delight.
'“Caught me!” I like that! As if you weren't looking back too! How
else did you know anything about me?'
He had taken his seat beside her on the rock, and her curly black
head was nestling against his shoulder. There was no one on the
mountain path, no one on the lake. Occasionally from the main road on
the opposite shore there was a passing sound of wheels. Otherwise the
world was theirs—its abysses of shadow, its 'majesties of light.'
She laughed joyously, not attempting to contradict him. It was on
this very path, just two months before the war, that they had first
seen each other. She with her father and Bridget were staying at Mrs.
Weston's lodgings, because she, Nelly, had had influenza, and the
doctor had sent her away for a change. They knew the Lakes well
already, as is the way of Manchester folk. Their father, a hard-worked,
and often melancholy man, had delighted in them, summer and winter, and
his two girls had trudged about the fells with him year after year, and
wanted nothing different or better. At least, Nelly had always been
content. Bridget had grumbled often, and proposed Blackpool, or
Llandudno, or Eastbourne for a change. But their father did not like
'crowds.' They came to the Lakes always before or after the regular
season. Mr. Cookson hated the concourse of motorists in August, and
never would use one himself. Not even when they went from Ambleside to
Keswick. They must always walk, or go by the horse-coach.
Nelly presently looked up, and gave a little pull to the corner of
her husband's moustache.
'Of course you know you behaved abominably that next day at
Wythburn! You kept that whole party waiting while you ran after us. And
I hadn't dropped that bag. You knew very well I hadn't dropped it!'
'It did as well as anything else. I got five minutes' talk with you.
I found out where you lodged.'
'Poor papa!'—said Nelly reflectively—'he was so puzzled. “There's
that fellow we saw at Wythburn again! Why on earth does he come here to
fish? I never saw anybody catch a thing in this bit of the river.” Poor
They were both silent a little. Mr. Cookson had not lived long
enough to see Nelly and George Sarratt engaged. The war had killed him.
Financial embarrassment was already closing on him when it broke out,
and he could not stand the shock and the general dislocation of the
first weeks, as sounder men could. The terror of ruin broke him
down—and he was dead before Christmas, nominally of bronchitis and
heart failure. Nelly had worn mourning for him up to her wedding day.
She had been very sorry for 'poor papa'—and very fond of him; whereas
Bridget had been rather hard on him always. For really he had done his
best. After all he had left them just enough to live upon. Nelly's
conscience, grown tenderer than of old under the touch of joy, pricked
her as she thought of her father. She knew he had loved her best of his
two daughters. She would always remember his last lingering hand-clasp,
always be thankful for his last few words—'God bless you, dear.' But
had she cared for him enough in return?—had she really tried to
understand him? Some vague sense of the pathos of age—of its
isolation—its dumb renouncements—gripped her. If he had only lived
longer! He would have been so proud of George.
She roused herself.
'You did really make up your mind—then?' she asked him, just
for the pleasure of hearing him confess it again.
'Of course I did! But what was the good?'
She knew that he meant it had been impossible to speak while his
mother was still alive, and he, her only child, was partly dependent
upon her. But his mother had died not long after Nelly's father, and
her little income had come to her son. So now what with Nelly's small
portion, and his mother's two hundred and fifty a year in addition to
his pay, the young subaltern thought himself almost rich—in comparison
with so many others. His father, who had died while he was still at
school, had been a master at Harrow, and he had been brought up in a
refined home, with high standards and ideals. A scholarship at Oxford
at one of the smaller colleges, a creditable degree, then an opening in
the office of a well-known firm of solicitors, friends of his father,
and a temporary commission, as soon as war broke out, on his record as
a keen and diligent member of the Harrow and Oxford O.T.C.'s:—these
had been the chief facts of his life up to August 1914;—that August
which covered the roads leading to the Aldershot headquarters, day by
day, with the ever-renewed columns of the army to be, with masses of
marching men, whose eager eyes said one thing only—'Training!—
The war, and the causes of the war, had moved his nature, which was
sincere and upright, profoundly; all the more perhaps because of a
certain kindling and awakening of the whole man, which had come from
his first sight of Nelly Cookson in the previous June, and from his
growing friendship with her—which he must not yet call love. He had
decided however after three meetings with her that he would never marry
anyone else. Her softness, her yieldingness, her delicate beauty
intoxicated him. He rejoiced that she was no 'new woman,' but only a
very girlish and undeveloped creature, who would naturally want his
protection as well as his love. For it was his character to protect and
serve. He had protected and served his mother—faithfully and well. And
as she was dying, he had told her about Nelly—not before; only to find
that she knew it all, and that the only soreness he had ever caused her
came from the secrecy which he had tenderly thought her due.
But for all his sanity and sweet temper there was a hard tough
strain in him, which had made war so far, even through the horrors of
it, a great absorbing game to him, for which he knew himself fitted, in
which he meant to excel. Several times during the fighting that led up
to Neuve Chapelle he had drawn the attention of his superiors, both for
bravery and judgment; and after Neuve Chapelle, he had been mentioned
in despatches. He had never yet known fear in the field—never even
such a shudder at the unknown—which was yet the possible!—as he had
just been conscious of. His nerves had always been strong, his nature
was in the main simple. Yet for him, as well as for so many other
'fellows' he knew, the war had meant a great deal of this new and
puzzled thinking—on problems of right and wrong, of 'whence' and
'whither,' of the personal value of men—this man, or that man. By
George, war brought them out!—these personal values. And the general
result for him, up to now,—had he been specially lucky?—had been a
vast increase of faith in his fellow men, yes, and faith in himself,
modest as he was. He was proud to be an English soldier—proud to the
roots of his being. His quiet patriotism had become a passion; he knew
now in what he had believed.
Yes—England for ever! An English home after the war—and English
children. Oh, he hoped Nelly would have children! As he held her
pressed against him, he seemed to see her in the future—with the small
things round her. But he did not speak of it.
She meanwhile was thinking of quite other things, and presently she
said in a quick, troubled voice—
'George!—while you are away—you don't want me to do munitions?'
He laughed out.
'Munitions! I see you at a lathe! Dear—I don't think you'd earn
your keep!' And he lifted her delicate arm and tiny hand, and looked at
them with scientific curiosity. Her frail build was a constant wonder
and pleasure to him. But small as she was, there was something unusual,
some prophecy, perhaps, of developments to come, in the carriage of her
head, and in some of her looks. Her education had been extremely
slight, many of her ideas were still childish, and the circle from
which she came had been inferior in birth and breeding to his own. But
he had soon realised on their honeymoon, in spite of her simple talk,
that she was very quick—very intelligent.
'Because—' she went on, doubtfully—'there are so many other things
I could do—quite useful things. There's sphagnum moss! Everybody up
here is gathering sphagnum moss—you know—for bandages—upon the
fells. I daresay Bridget might help in that. She won't do any other
sort of war-work.'
'Why, I thought all women were doing some kind of war-work!'
'Bridget won't. She doesn't want to hear about the war at all. She's
bored with it.'
'Bored with it! Good heavens!' Sarratt's countenance clouded.
'Darling—that'll be rather hard on you, if you and she are going to
Nelly lifted her head from his shoulder, and looked at him rather
'I'm afraid you don't know much about Bridget, George. She's,—well,
she's—one of the—oddest women you ever met.'
'So it seems! But why is she bored with the war?'
'Well—you see—it doesn't matter to her in any way—and she
doesn't want it to matter to her. There's nobody in it she cares
'Thanks!' laughed Sarratt. But Nelly still grave, shook her head.
'Oh, she's not the least like other people. She won't care about you,
George, just because you've married me. And—'
'And what? Is she still angry with me for not being rich?'
And his thoughts went back to his first interview with Bridget
Cookson—on the day when their engagement was announced. He could see
the tall sharp-featured woman now, standing with her back to the light
in the little sitting-room of the Manchester lodgings. She had not been
fierce or abusive at all. She had accepted it quietly—with only a few
'All right, Mr. Sarratt. I have nothing to say. Nelly must please
herself. But you've done her an injury! There are plenty of rich men
that would have married her. You're very poor—and so are we.'
When the words were spoken, Nelly had just accepted him; she was her
own mistress; he had not therefore taken her sister's disapproval much
to heart. Still the words had rankled.
'Darling!—when I made you marry me—did I do you an injury?'
he said suddenly, as they were walking again hand in hand along the
high green path with the lake at their feet, and a vision of blue and
rose before them, in the shadowed western mountains, the lower grounds
steeped in fiery light, and the red reflections in the still water.
'What do you mean?' said Nelly, turning upon him a face of
'Well, that was what Bridget said to me, when I told her that you
had accepted me. But I was a great fool to tell you, darling! I'm sorry
I did. It was only—'
'“Injury,”' repeated Nelly, not listening to him. 'Oh, yes, of
course that was money. Bridget says it's all nonsense talking about
honour, or love, or that kind of thing. Everything is really money. It
was money that began this war. The Germans wanted our trade and our
money—and we were determined they shouldn't have them—and that's all
there is in it. With money you can have everything you want and a jolly
life—and without money you can have nothing,—and are just nobody.
When that rich old horror wanted to marry me last year in Manchester,
Bridget thought me perfectly mad to refuse him. She didn't speak to me
for a week. Of course he would have provided for her too.'
Sarratt had flushed hotly; but he spoke good-naturedly.
'Well, that was a miss for her—I quite see that. But after all we
can help her a bit. We shall always feel that we must look after her.
And why shouldn't she herself marry?'
'Never! She hates men.'
There was a silence a moment. And then Sarratt said, rather
gravely—'I say, darling, if she's going to make you miserable while I
am away, hadn't we better make some other arrangement? I thought of
course she would be good to you, and look after you! Naturally any
sister would, that was worth her salt!'
And he looked down indignantly on the little figure beside him. But
it roused Nelly's mirth that he should put it in that way.
'George,—you are such a darling!—and—and, such a goose!'
She rubbed her cheek against his arm as though to take the edge off the
epithet. 'The idea of Bridget's wanting to “look after” me! She'll want
to manage me of course—and I'd much better let her do it. I
don't mind!' And the speaker gave a long, sudden sigh.
'But I won't have you troubled and worried, when I'm not there to
protect you!' cried Sarratt, fiercely. 'You could easily find a
But Nelly shook her head.
'Oh, no. That wouldn't do. Bridget and I always get on, George. We
never quarrelled—except when I stuck to marrying you. Generally—I
always give in. It doesn't matter. It answers perfectly.'
She spoke with a kind of languid softness which puzzled him.
'But now you can't always give in, dearest! You belong to me!' And
his grasp tightened on the hand he held.
'I can give in enough—to keep the peace,' said Nelly slowly. 'And
if you weren't here, it wouldn't be natural that I shouldn't live with
Bridget. I'm used to her. Only I want to make you understand her,
darling. She's not a bit like—well, like the people you admire, and
its no good expecting her to be.'
'I shall talk to her before I go!' he said, half laughing, half
Nelly looked alarmed.
'No—please don't! She always gets the better of people who scold
her. Or if you were to get the better, then she'd visit it on me. And
now don't let's talk of her any more! What were we saying? Oh, I
know—what I was to do. Let's sit down again,—there's a rock, made for
And on a natural seat under a sheltering rock canopied and hung with
fern, the two rested once more, wrapped in one cloak, close beside the
water, which was quiet again, and crossed by the magical lights and
splendid shadows of the dying sunset. Nelly had been full of plans when
they sat down, but the nearness of the man she loved, his arm round
her, his life beating as it were in one pulse with hers, intoxicated,
and for a time silenced her. She had taken off her hat, and she lay
quietly against him in the warm shelter of the cloak. He thought
presently she was asleep. How small and dear she was! He bent over her,
watching as closely as the now dim light allowed, the dark eyelashes
lying on her cheek, her closed mouth, and soft breathing. His very
own!—the thought was ecstasy—he forgot the war, and the few days left
But this very intensity of brooding love in which he held her, made
her restless after a little. She sat up, and smiled at him—
'We must go home!—Yes, we must. But look!—there is a boat!'
And only a few yards from them, emerging from the shadows, they saw
a boat rocking gently at anchor beside a tiny landing-stage. Nelly
sprang to her feet.
'George!—suppose you were just to row us out—there—into the
But when they came to the boat they found it pad-locked to a post in
the little pier.
'Ah, well, never mind,' said Nelly—'I'm sure that man won't
'That man who spoke to us? Who was he?'
'Oh, I found out from Bridget, and Mrs. Weston. He's Sir William
Farrell, a great swell, tremendously rich. He has a big place
somewhere, out beyond Keswick, beyond Bassenthwaite. You saw he had a
'Yes. Can't fight, I suppose—poor beggar! He was very much struck
by you, Mrs. George Sarratt!—that was plain.'
Nelly laughed—a happy childish laugh.
'Well, if he does get us leave to boat, you needn't mind, need you?
What else, I wonder, could he do for us?'
'Nothing!' The tone was decided. 'I don't like being beholden to
great folk. But that, I suppose, is the kind of man whom Bridget would
have liked you to marry, darling?'
'As if he would ever have looked at me!' said Nelly tranquilly. 'A
man like that may be as rich as rich, but he would never marry a poor
'Thank God, I don't believe money will matter nearly as much to
people, after the war!' said Sarratt, with energy. 'It's astonishing
how now, in the army—of course it wasn't the same before the war—you
forget it entirely. Who cares whether a man's rich, or who's son he is?
In my batch when I went up to Aldershot there were men of all sorts,
stock-brokers, landowners, city men, manufacturers, solicitors, some of
them awfully rich, and then clerks, and schoolmasters, and lots of poor
devils, like myself. We didn't care a rap, except whether a man took to
his drill, or didn't; whether he was going to keep the Company back or
help it on. And it's just the same in the field. Nothing counts but
what you are—it doesn't matter a brass hap'orth what you have.
And as the new armies come along that'll be so more and more. It's
“Duke's son and Cook's son,” everywhere, and all the time. If it was
that in the South African war, it's twenty times that now. This war is
bringing the nation together as nothing ever has done, or could do. War
is hellish!—but there's a deal to be said for it!'
He spoke with ardour, as they strolled homeward, along the darkening
shore, she hanging on his arm. Nelly said nothing. Her little face
showed very white in the gathering shadows. He went on.
'There was a Second Lieutenant in our battalion, an awfully handsome
boy—heir to a peerage I think. But he couldn't get a commission quick
enough to please him when the war broke out, so he just enlisted—oh!
of course they've given him a commission long ago. But his great friend
was a young miner, who spoke broad Northumberland, a jolly chap. And
these two stuck together—we used to call them the Heavenly Twins. And
in the fighting round Hill 60, the miner got wounded, and lay out
between the lines, with the Boche shells making hell round him. And the
other fellow never rested till he'd crawled out to him, and taken him
water, and tied him up, and made a kind of shelter for him. The miner
was a big fellow, and the other was just a slip of a boy. So he
couldn't drag in his friend, but he got another man to go out with him,
and between them they did it right enough. And when I was in the
clearing station next day, I saw the two—the miner in bed, awfully
smashed up, and the other sitting by him. It made one feel choky. The
boy could have put down a cool hundred thousand, I suppose, if it could
have done any good. But it wouldn't. I can tell you, darling, this war
knocks the nonsense out of a man!'
'But Bridget is a woman!' said a dreamy voice beside him.
Sarratt laughed; but he was launched on recollections and could not
stop himself. Apparently everybody in his company was a hero, and had
deserved the Military Cross ten times over, except himself. He
described some incidents he had personally seen, and through the
repressed fire with which he spoke, the personality and ideals of the
man revealed themselves—normal, strong, self-forgetting. Had he even
forgotten the little creature beside him? Hardly, for instinctively he
softened away some of the terrible details of blood and pain. But he
had forgotten Nelly's prohibition. And when again they had entered the
dark wood which lay between them and the cottage on the river-bank,
suddenly he heard a trembling breath, and a sob.
He caught her in his arms.
'Nelly, darling! Oh, I was a brute to talk to you like this.'
'No,' she said, struggling with herself—'No! Wait a moment.' She
lay against him trembling through every limb, while he kissed and
'I'm—I'm not a coward, George!' she said at last, gasping,—'I'm
not indeed. Only—well, this morning I had about a hundred and seventy
hours left—I counted them. And now there are fifteen less. And all the
time, while we talk, they are slipping away, so quick—so quick—'
But she was regaining self-control, and soon released herself.
'I won't do it again!' she said piteously, in the tone of a penitent
child. 'I won't indeed. Let's go home. I'm all right.'
And home they sped, hand in hand, silently. The little room when
they re-entered it was bright with firelight, because kind Mrs. Weston
had thought the flight chilly, and the white table laid out for
them—its pretty china and simple fare—tempted and cheered them with
its look of home. But Nelly lay on the sofa afterwards very pale,
though smiling and talking as usual. And through the night she was
haunted, sleeping and waking, by the image of the solitary boat rocking
gently on the moonlit lake, the water lapping its sides. She saw
herself and George adrift in it—sailing into—disappearing in—that
radiance of silver light. Sleepily she hoped that Sir William Farrell
would not forget his promise.
May I come in?'
Nelly Sarratt, who was standing beside the table in the
sitting-room, packing a small luncheon-basket with sandwiches and cake,
looked up in astonishment. Then she went to the door which was slightly
ajar, and opened it.
She beheld a very tall man standing smiling on the threshold.
'I hope I'm not disturbing you, Mrs. Sarratt—but I was on my way
for a day's sketching, and as my car passed your house, I thought I
would like to bring you, myself, the permission which I spoke of on
Saturday. I wrote yesterday, my friend was away from home but I got a
telegram this morning.'
The visitor held out a telegram, which Nelly took in some
bewilderment. It fluttered her to be so much thought for by a
stranger—and a stranger moreover who seemed but to wave his wand and
things were done. But she thanked him heartily.
'Won't you come in, Sir William?' she asked him, shyly. 'My husband
will be here directly.'
It pleased him that she had found out who he was. He protested that
he mustn't stay a moment, but all the same he came in, and stood with
his hands in his pockets looking at the view. He seemed to Nelly to
fill the little sitting-room. Not that he was stout. There was not an
ounce of superfluous flesh on him anywhere. But he stood at least six
foot four in his boots; his shoulders were broad in proportion; and his
head, with its strong curly hair of a light golden brown, which was
repeated in his short beard, carried itself with the unconscious ease
of one who has never known anything but the upper seats of life. His
features were handsome, except for a broad irregular mouth, and his
blue eyes were kind and lazily humorous.
'There's nothing better than that lake,' he said, motioning towards
it, with his hand, as though he followed the outlines of the hills.
'But I never try to draw it. I leave that to the fellows who think they
can! I'm afraid your permit's only for a week, Mrs. Sarratt. The boat,
I find, will be wanted after that.'
'Oh, but my husband will be gone in a week—less than a week. I
couldn't row myself!' said Nelly, smiling.
But Sir William thought the smile trembled a little, and he felt
very sorry for the small, pretty creature.
'You will be staying on here after your husband goes?'
'Oh yes. My sister will be with me. We know the Lakes very well.'
'Staying through the summer, I suppose?' 'I shan't want to move—if
the war goes on. We haven't any home of our own—yet.'
She had seated herself, and spoke with the self-possession which
belongs to those who know themselves fair to look upon. But there
seemed to be no coquetry about her—no consciousness of a male to be
attracted. All her ways were very gentle and childish, and in her white
dress she made the same impression on Farrell as she had on Bridget, of
extreme—absurd—youthfulness. He guessed her age about nineteen,
'I'm afraid the war will go on,' he said, kindly. 'We are only now
just finding out our deficiencies.'
'I know—it's awful how we want guns and shells! My husband
says it makes him savage to see how we lose men for want of them.
Why are we so short? Whose fault is it?'
A spot of angry colour had risen in her cheek. It was the dove
defending her mate. The change was lovely, and Farrell, with his
artist's eye, watched it eagerly. But he shook his head.
'It's nobody's fault. It's all on such a scale—unheard of! Nobody
could have guessed before-hand—unless like Germany, we had been
preparing for years to rob and murder our neighbours. Well, Mrs.
Sarratt, I must be going on. But I wanted to say, that if we could do
anything for you—please command us. We live about twenty miles from
here. My sister hopes she may come and see you. And we have a big
library at Carton. If there are any books you want—'
'Oh, how very kind of you!' said Nelly gratefully. She had
risen and was standing beside him, looking at him with her dark, frank
eyes. 'But indeed I shall get on very well. There's a war workroom in
Manchester, which will send me work. And I shall try and help with the
sphagnum moss. There's a notice up near here, asking people to help.
'And perhaps'—she laughed and colored—'I shall try to sketch a
little. I can't do it a bit—but it amuses me.'
'Oh, you draw?' said Farrell, with a smile. Then, looking
round him, he noticed a portfolio on the table, with a paint box beside
it. 'May I look?'
With rather red cheeks, Nelly showed her performances. She knew very
well, being accustomed to follow such things in the newspapers, that
Sir William Farrell had exhibited both in London and Manchester, and
was much admired by some of the critics.
Farrell twisted his mouth over them a good deal, considering them
'Yes, I see—I see exactly where you are. Not bad at all, some of
them. I could lend you some things which would help you I think. Ah,
here is your husband.'
George Sarratt entered, looking in some surprise at their very
prompt visitor, and a little inclined to stand on his guard against a
patronage that might be troublesome. But Farrell explained himself so
apologetically that the young man could only add his very hearty thanks
to his wife's.
'Well, I really must be off,' said Farrell again, looking for
his hat. 'And I see you are going out for the day.' He glanced at the
lunch preparations. 'Do you know Loughrigg Tarn?' He turned to Nelly.
'Oh, yes!' Her face glowed. 'Isn't it beautiful? But I don't think
George knows it.' She looked up at him. He smiled and shook his head.
'I have a cottage there,' said Farrell, addressing Sarratt.
'Wordsworth said it was like Nemi. It isn't:—but it's beautiful all
the same. I wish you would bring your wife there to tea with me one day
before you go? There is an old woman who looks after me. This view is
fine'—he pointed to the window—'but I think mine is finer.'
'Thank you,' said Sarratt, rather formally—'but I am afraid our
days are getting pretty full.'
'Of course, of course!' said Sir William, smiling. 'I only meant, if
you happened to be walking in that direction and want a rest. I have a
number of drawings there—my own and other people's, which Mrs. Sarratt
might care to see—sometime. You go on Saturday?'
'Yes. I'm due to rejoin by Monday.'
Farrell's expression darkened.
'You see what keeps me?' he said, sharply, striking his left knee
with the flat of his hand. 'I had a bad fall, shooting in Scotland,
years ago—when I was quite a lad. Something went wrong in the
knee-cap. The doctors muffed it, and I have had a stiff knee ever
since. I daresay they'd give me work at the War Office—or the
Admiralty. Lots of fellows I know who can't serve are doing war-work of
that kind. But I can't stand office work—never could. It makes me ill,
and in a week of it I am fit to hang myself. I live out of doors. I've
done some recruiting—speaking for the Lord Lieutenant. But I can't
speak worth a cent—and I do no good. No fellow ever joined up because
of my eloquence!—couldn't if he tried. No—I've given up my house—it
was the best thing I could do. It's a jolly house, and I've got lots of
jolly things in it. But the War Office and I between us have turned it
into a capital hospital. We take men from the Border regiments mostly.
I wonder if I shall ever be able to live in it again! My sister and I
are now in the agent's house. I work at the hospital three or four days
a week—and then I come here and sketch. I don't see why I shouldn't.'
He straightened his shoulder as though defying somebody. Yet there
was something appealing, and, as it were, boyish, in the defiance. The
man's patriotic conscience could be felt struggling with his
dilettantism. Sarratt suddenly liked him.
'No, indeed,' he said heartily. 'Why shouldn't you?' 'It's when one
thinks of your job, one feels a brute to be doing anything one
'Well, you'd be doing the same job if you could. That's all right!'
said Sarratt smiling.
It was curious how in a few minutes the young officer had come to
seem the older and more responsible of the two men. Yet Farrell was
clearly his senior by some ten or fifteen years. Instinctively Nelly
moved nearer to George. She liked to feel how easily he could hold his
own with great people, who made her feel nervous. For she
understood from Mrs. Weston that the Farrells were very great people
indeed, as to money and county position, and that kind of thing.
Sarratt took his visitor downstairs, and returned, laughing to
'Well, darling, I've promised we'll go to his cottage one day this
week. You've to let him know. He's an odd fellow! Reminds me of that
story of the young Don at Cambridge who spent all the time he could
spare from neglecting his duties in adorning his person. And yet that
doesn't hit it quite either. For I don't suppose he does spend much
time in adorning his person. He doesn't want it. He's such a splendid
looking chap to begin with. But I'm sure his duties have a poor time!
Why, he told me—me, an utter stranger!—as we went downstairs—that
being a landowner was the most boring trade in the world. He hated his
tenants, and turned all the bother of them over to his agents. “But
they don't hate me”—he said—“because I don't put the screw on. I'm
rich enough without.” By Jove, he's a queer specimen!'
And Sarratt laughed out, remembering some further items of the
conversation on the stairs.
'Whom are you discussing?' said a cold voice in the background.
It was Bridget Cookson's voice, and the husband and wife turned to
greet her. The day was balmy—June at its best. But Bridget as she came
in had the look of someone rasped with east wind. Nelly noticed too
that since her marriage, Bridget had developed an odd habit of not
looking her—or George—straight in the face. She looked sideways, as
though determined to avoid the mere sight of their youth and happiness.
'Is she going to make a quarrel of it all our lives?' thought Nelly
impatiently. 'And when George is so nice to her! How can she be so
'We were talking about our visitor who has just left,' said Sarratt,
clearing a chair for his sister-in-law. 'Ah, you came from the other
direction, you just missed him.'
'The man'—said Nelly—'who was so awfully polite to me on
Saturday—Sir William Farrell.'
Bridget's countenance lost its stiffness at once—became eager and
'What did he come for?'
'To bring us permission to use the boat for a week,' said Nelly.
'Wasn't it decent of him?—and to do it so quick!'
'Oh, that's the Farrell way—always was,' said Bridget complacently,
as though she had the family in her pocket. 'When they think of a thing
it's done. It's hit or miss. They never stop to think.'
Sarratt looked at his sister-in-law with a covert amusement. It was
a left-handed remark. But she went on—while Nelly finished the packing
of the luncheon-basket—pouring out a flood of gossip about the
Farrells's place near Cockermouth, their great relations, their wealth,
their pictures, and their china, while Sarratt walked up and down,
fidgeting with his mouth, and inwardly thanking his stars that his
Nelly was not the least like her sister, that she was as refined and
well-bred, as Bridget was beginning to seem to him vulgar and tiresome.
But he realised that there was a personality in the tall harsh woman;
that she might be formidable; and once or twice he found himself
watching the curious side-long action of her head and neck, and the
play of her eyes and mouth, with a mingling of close attention and
strong dislike. He kept his own counsel however; and presently he heard
Bridget, who had so far refused all their invitations to join their
walks or excursions, rather eagerly accepting Nelly's invitation to go
with them to Sir William's Loughrigg cottage. She knew all about it
apparently, and said it was 'a gem of a place!' Sir William kept an old
butler and his wife there—pensioned off—who looked after him when he
came. 'Everything's tiny,' said Bridget with emphasis—'but perfect! Sir William has the most exquisite taste. But he never asks anybody to
go there. None of the neighbours know him. So of course they say its
“side,” and he gives himself airs. Anyway, Nelly, you may think
yourselves highly honoured—'
'Darling, isn't that basket ready?' said Sarratt, coming to his
wife's aid. 'We're losing the best of the day—and if Bridget really
won't go with us—'
Bridget frowned and rose.
'How are the proofs getting on?' said Sarratt, smiling, as she bade
him a careless good-bye.
Bridget drew herself up.
'I never talk about my work.'
'I suppose that's a good rule,' he said doubtfully, 'especially now
that there's so much else to talk about. The Russian news to-day is
A dark look of anxiety crossed the young man's face. For it was the
days of the great Russian retreat in Galicia and Poland, and every
soldier looking on, knew with gnashing of teeth that the happenings in
the East meant a long postponement of our own advance.
'Oh, I never trouble about the war!' said Bridget, with a
half-contemptuous note in her voice that fairly set George Sarratt on
fire. He flushed violently, and Nelly looked at him in alarm. But he
said nothing. Nelly however with a merry side-glance at him, unseen by
Bridget, interposed to prevent him from escorting Bridget downstairs.
She went herself. Most sisters would have dispensed with or omitted
this small attention; but Nelly always treated Bridget with a certain
ceremony. When she returned, she threw her arms round George's neck,
half laughing, and half inclined to cry.
'Oh, George, I do wish I had a nicer sister to give you!' But George
had entirely recovered himself.
'We shall get on perfectly!' he declared, kissing the soft head that
leant against him. 'Give me a little time, darling. She's new to
me!—I'm new to her.'
Nelly sighed, and went to put on her hat. In her opinion it was no
more easy to like Bridget after three years than three hours. It was
certain that she and George would never suit each other. At the same
time Nelly was quite conscious that she owed Bridget a good deal. But
for the fact that Bridget did the housekeeping, that Bridget saw to the
investment of their small moneys, and had generally managed the
business of their joint life, Nelly would not have been able to dream,
and sketch, and read, as it was her delight to do. It might be, as she
had said to Sarratt, that Bridget managed because she liked managing.
All the same Nelly knew, not without some prickings of conscience as to
her own dependence, that when George was gone, she would never be able
to get on without Bridget.
Into what a world of delight the two plunged when they set forth!
The more it rains in the Westmorland country, the more heavenly are the
days when the clouds forget to rain! There were white flocks of them in
the June sky as the new-married pair crossed the wooden bridge beyond
the garden, leading to the further side of the lake, but they were
sailing serene and sunlit in the blue, as though their whole business
were to dapple the hills with blue and violet shadows, or sometimes to
throw a dazzling reflection down into the quiet water. There had been
rain, torrential rain, just before the Sarratts arrived, so that the
river was full and noisy, and all the little becks clattering down the
fell, in their haste to reach the lake, were boasting to the summer
air, as though in forty-eight hours of rainlessness they would not be
as dry and dumb as ever again. The air was fresh, in spite of the
Midsummer sun, and youth and health danced in the veins of the lovers.
And yet not without a touch of something feverish, something abnormal,
because of that day—that shrouded day—standing sentinel at the end of
the week. They never spoke of it, but they never forgot it. It entered
into each clinging grasp he gave her hand as he helped her up or down
some steep or rugged bit of path—into the lingering look of her brown
eyes, which thanked him, smiling—into the moments of silence, when
they rested amid the springing bracken, and the whole scene of
mountain, cloud and water spoke with that sudden tragic note of all
supreme beauty, in a world of 'brittleness.' But they were not often
silent. There was so much to say. They were still exploring each other,
after the hurry of their marriage, and short engagement. For a time she
chattered to him about her own early life—their old red-brick house in
a Manchester suburb, with its good-sized rooms, its mahogany doors, its
garden, in which her father used to work—his only pleasure, after his
wife's death, besides 'the concerts'—'You know we've awfully good
music in Manchester!' As for her own scattered and scanty education,
she had begun to speak of it almost with bitterness. George's talk and
recollections betrayed quite unconsciously the standards of the
academic or highly-trained professional class to which all his father's
kindred belonged; and his only sister, a remarkably gifted girl, who
had died of pneumonia at eighteen, just as she was going to Girton,
seemed to Nelly, when he occasionally described or referred to her, a
miracle—a terrifying miracle—of learning and accomplishment.
Once indeed, she broke out in distress:—'Oh, George, I don't know
anything! Why wasn't I sent to school! We had a wretched little
governess who taught us nothing. And then I'm lazy—I never was
ambitious—like Bridget. Do you mind that I'm so stupid—do you mind?'
And she laid her hands on his knee, as they sat together among the
fern, while her eyes searched his face in a real anxiety.
What joy it was to laugh at her—to tease her!
'How stupid are you, darling? Tell me, exactly. It is of
course a terrible business. If I'd only known—'
But she would be serious.
'I don't know any languages, George! Just a little
French—but you'd be ashamed if you heard me talking it. As to
history—don't ask!' She shrugged her shoulders despairingly. Then her
face brightened. 'But there's something! I do love poetry—I've read a
lot of poetry.'
'That's all right—so have I,' he said, promptly.
'Isn't it strange—' her tone was thoughtful—'how people care for
poetry nowadays! A few years ago, one never heard of people—ordinary
people—buying poetry, new poetry—or reading it. But I know a
shop in Manchester that's just full of poetry—new books and old
books—and the shop-man told me that people buy it almost more than
anything. Isn't it funny? What makes them do it? Is it the war?'
Sarratt considered it, while making a smooth path for a gorgeous
green beetle through the bit of turf beside him.
'I suppose it's the war,' he said at last. 'It does change fellows.
It's easy enough to go along bluffing and fooling in ordinary times.
Most men don't know what they think—or what they feel—or whether they
feel anything. But somehow—out there—when you see the things other
fellows are doing—when you know the things you may have to do
'Yes, yes—go on!' she said eagerly, and he went on, but
reluctantly, for he had seen her shiver, and the white lids fall a
moment over her eyes.
'—It doesn't seem unnatural—or hypocritical—or canting—to talk
and feel—sometimes—as you couldn't talk or feel at home, with life
going on just as usual. I've had to censor letters, you see,
darling—and the letters some of the roughest and stupidest fellows
write, you'd never believe. And there's no pretence in it either. What
would be the good of pretending out there? No—it's just the pace life
goes—and the fire—and the strain of it. It's awful—and horrible
—and yet you wouldn't not be there for the world.'
His voice dropped a little; he looked out with veiled eyes upon the
lake chequered with the blue and white of its inverted sky. Nelly
guessed—trembling—at the procession of images that was passing
through them; and felt for a moment strangely separated from
him—separated and desolate.
'George, it's dreadful now—to be a woman!'
She spoke in a low appealing voice, pressing up against him, as
though she begged the soul in him that had been momentarily unconscious
of her, to come back to her.
He laughed, and the vision before his eyes broke up.
'Darling, it's adorable now—to be a woman! How I shall think of
you, when I'm out there!—away from all the grime and the
horror—sitting by this lake, and looking—as you do now.'
He drew a little further away from her, and lying on his elbows on
the grass, he began to read her, as it were, from top to toe, that he
might fix every detail in his mind.
'I like that little hat so much, Nelly!—and that blue cloak is just
ripping! And what's that you've got at your waist—a silver
buckle?—yes! I gave it you. Mind you wear it, when I'm away, and tell
me you're wearing it—then I can fancy it.'
'Will you ever have time—to think of me—George?'
She bent towards him.
'Well, not when I'm going over the parapet to attack the Boches.
Honestly, one thinks of nothing then but how one can get one's men
across. But you won't come off badly, my little Nell—for
thoughts—night or day. And you mustn't think of us too sentimentally.
It's quite true that men write wonderful letters—and wonderful verse
too—men of all ranks—things you'd never dream they could write. I've
got a little pocket-book full that I've collected. I've left it in
London, but I'll show you some day. But bless you, nobody talks
about their feelings at the front. We're a pretty slangy lot in the
trenches, and when we're in billets, we read novels and rag each
other—and sleep—my word, we do sleep!'
He rolled on his back, and drew his hat over his eyes a moment, for
even in the fresh mountain air the June sun was fierce. Nelly sat
still, watching him, as he had watched her—all the young strength and
comeliness of the man to whom she had given herself.
And as she did so there came swooping down upon her, like the
blinding wings of a Fury, the remembrance of a battle picture she had
seen that morning: a bursting shell—limp figures on the ground. Oh not
George—not George—never! The agony ran through her, and her
fingers gripped the turf beside her. Then it passed, and she was
silently proud that she had been able to hide it. But it had left her
pale and restless. She sprang up, and they went along the high path
leading to Grasmere and Langdale.
Presently at the top of the little neck which separates Rydal from
Grasmere they came upon an odd cavalcade. In front walked an elderly
lady, with a huge open bag slung round her, in which she carried an
amazing load of the sphagnum moss that English and Scotch women were
gathering at that moment all over the English and Scotch mountains for
the surgical purposes of the war. Behind her came a pony, with a boy.
The pony was laden with the same moss, so was the boy. The lady's face
was purple with exertion, and in her best days she could never have
been other than plain; her figure was shapeless. She stopped the pony
as she neared the Sarratts, and addressed them—panting.
'I beg your pardon!—but have you by chance seen another lady
carrying a bag like mine? I brought a friend with me to help gather
this stuff—but we seem to have missed each other on the top of Silver
How—and I can't imagine what's happened to her.'
The voice was exceedingly musical and refined—but there was a touch
of power in it—a curious note of authority. She stood, recovering
breath and looking at the young people with clear and penetrating eyes,
The Sarratts could only say that they had not come across any other
moss-gatherer on the road.
The strange lady sighed—but with a half humorous, half
philosophical lifting of the eyebrows.
'It was very stupid of me to miss her—but you really can't come to
grief on these fells in broad daylight. However, if you do meet her—a
lady with a sailor hat, and a blue jersey—will you tell her that I've
gone on to Ambleside?'
Sarratt politely assured her that they would look out for her
companion. He had never yet seen a grey-haired Englishwoman, of that
age, carry so heavy a load, and he liked both her pluck and her voice.
She reminded him of the French peasant women in whose farms he often
lodged behind the lines. She meanwhile was scrutinising him—the badge
on his cap, and the two buttons on his khaki sleeve.
'I think I know who you are,' she said, with a sudden smile. 'Aren't
you Mr. and Mrs. Sarratt? Sir William Farrell told me about you.' Then
she turned to the boy—'Go on, Jim. I'll come soon.'
A conversation followed on the mountain path, in which their new
acquaintance gave her name as Miss Hester Martin, living in a cottage
on the outskirts of Ambleside, a cousin and old friend of Sir William
Farrell; an old friend indeed, it seemed, of all the local residents;
absorbed in war-work of different kinds, and somewhere near sixty years
of age; but evidently neither too old nor too busy to have lost the
natural interest of a kindly spinster in a bride and bridegroom,
especially when the bridegroom was in khaki, and under orders for the
front. She promised, at once, to come and see Mrs. Sarratt, and George,
beholding in her a possible motherly friend for Nelly when he should be
far away, insisted that she should fix a day for her call before his
departure. Nelly added her smiles to his. Then, with a pleasant nod,
Miss Martin left them, refusing all their offers to help her with her
load. '“My strength is as the strength of ten,”' she said with a flash
of fun in her eyes—'But I won't go on with the quotation. Good-bye.'
George and Nelly went on towards a spot above a wood in front of
them to which she had directed them, as a good point to rest and lunch.
She, meanwhile, pursued her way towards Ambleside, her thoughts much
more occupied with the young couple than with her lost companion. The
little thing was a beauty, certainly. Easy to see what had attracted
William Farrell! An uncommon type—and a very artistic type; none of
your milk-maids. She supposed before long William would be proposing to
draw her—hm!—with the husband away? It was to be hoped some watch-dog
would be left. William was a good fellow—no real malice in him—had
never meant to injure anybody, that she knew of—but—
Miss Martin's cogitations however went no farther in exploring that
'but.' She was really very fond of her cousin William, who bore an
amount of discipline from her that no one else dared to apply to the
owner of Carton. Tragic, that he couldn't fight! That would have
brought out all there was in him.
Nelly Sarratt stood lost in the beauty of the spectacle commanded by
Sir William Farrell's cottage. It was placed in a by-road on the
western side of Loughrigg, that smallest of real mountains, beloved of
poets and wanderers. The ground dropped sharply below it to a small
lake or tarn, its green banks fringed with wood, while on the further
side the purple crag and noble head of Wetherlam rose out of sunlit
mist,—thereby indefinitely heightened—into a pearl and azure sky. To
the north also, a splendid wilderness of fells, near and far; with the
Pikes and Bowfell leading the host. White mists—radiant
mists—perpetually changing, made a magic interweaving of fell with
fell, of mountain with sky. Every tint of blue and purple, of amethyst
and sapphire lay melted in the chalice carved out by the lake and its
guardian mountains. Every line of that chalice was harmonious as though
each mountain and valley filled its place consciously, in a living
order; and in the grandeur of the whole there was no terror, no hint of
a world hostile and inaccessible to man, as in the Alps and the
'These mountains are one's friends,' said Farrell, smiling as he
stood beside Nelly, pointing out the various peaks by name. 'If you
know them only a little, you can trust yourself to them, at any hour of
the day or night. Whereas, in the Alps, I always feel myself “a worm
and no man”!'
'I have never been abroad,' said Nelly shyly.
For once he found an ingenue attractive.
'Then you have it to come—when the world is sane again. But some
things you will have missed for ever. For instance, you will never see
Rheims—as it was. I have spent months at Rheims in old days, drawing
and photographing. I must show you my things. They have a tragic value
And taking out a portfolio from a rack near him, he opened it and
put it on a stand before her.
Nelly, who had in her the real instincts of the artist, turned over
some very masterly drawings, in mingled delight and despair.
'If I could only do something like that!' she said, pointing to a
study of some of the famous windows at Rheims, with vague forms of
saint and king emerging from a conflagration of colour, kindled by the
afternoon sun, and dyeing the pavement below.
'Ah, that took me some time. It was difficult. But here are some
fragments you'll like—just bits from the facade and the monuments.'
The strength of the handling excited her. She looked at them in
silence; remembering with disgust all the pretty sentimental work she
had been used to copy. She began to envisage what this commonly
practised art may be; what a master can do with it. Standards leaped
up. Alp on Alp appeared. When George was gone she would work,
yes, she would work hard—to surprise him when he came back.
Sir William meanwhile was increasingly taken with his guest. She was
shy, very diffident, very young; but in the few things she said, he
discerned—or fancied—the stirrings of a real taste—real
intelligence. And she was prettier and more fetching than ever—with
her small dark head, and her lovely mouth. He would like to draw the
free sensuous line of it, the beautiful moulding of the chin. What a
prize for the young man! Was he aware of his own good fortune? Was he
'I say, how jolly!' said Sarratt, coming up to look. 'My wife, Sir
William—I think she told you—has got a turn for this kind of thing.
These will give her ideas.'
And while he looked at the drawings, he slipped a hand into his
wife's arm, smiling down upon her, and commenting on the sketches.
There was nothing in what he said. He only 'knew what he liked,' and an
unfriendly bystander would have been amused by his constant assumption
that Nelly's sketches were as good as anybody's. Entirely modest for
himself, he was inclined to be conceited for her, she checking him,
with rather flushed cheeks. But Farrell liked him all the better, both
for the ignorance and the pride. The two young people standing there
together, so evidently absorbed in each other, yet on the brink of no
ordinary parting, touched the romantic note in him. He was very sorry
for them—especially for the bride—and eagerly, impulsively wished to
In the background, the stout lady whom the Sarratts had met on
Loughrigg Terrace, Miss Hester Martin, was talking to Miss Farrell,
while Bridget Cookson was carrying on conversation with a tall officer
who carried his arm in a sling, and was apparently yet another
convalescent officer from the Carton hospital, whom Cicely Farrell had
brought over in her motor to tea at her brother's cottage. His name
seemed to be Captain Marsworth, and he was doing his best with Bridget;
but there were great gaps in their conversation, and Bridget
resentfully thought him dull. Also she perceived—for she had extremely
quick eyes in such matters—that Captain Marsworth, while talking to
her, seemed to be really watching Miss Farrell, and she at once jumped
to the conclusion that there was something 'up' between him and Miss
Cicely Farrell certainly took no notice of him. She was sitting
perched on the high end of a sofa smoking a cigarette and dangling her
feet, which were encased, as before, in high-heeled shoes and
immaculate gaiters. She was dressed in white serge with a cap and
jersey of the brightest possible green. Her very open bodice showed a
string of fine pearls and she wore pearl ear-rings. Seen in the same
room with Nelly Sarratt she could hardly be guessed at less than
twenty-eight. She was the mature woman in full possession of every
feminine weapon, experienced, subtle, conscious, a little hard, a
little malicious. Nelly Sarratt beside her looked a child. Miss Farrell
had glanced at her with curiosity, but had not addressed many words to
her. She had concluded at once that it was a type that did not interest
her. It interested William of course, because he was professionally on
the look out for beauty. But that was his affair. Miss Farrell had no
use for anything so unfledged and immature. And as for the sister, Miss
Cookson, she had no points of attraction whatever. The young man, the
husband, was well enough—apparently a gentleman; but Miss Farrell felt
that she would have forgotten his existence when the tea-party was
over. So she had fallen back on conversation with her cousin. That
Cousin Hester—dear, shapeless, Puritanical thing!—disapproved of her,
her dress, her smoking, her ways, and her opinions, Cicely well
knew—but that only gave zest to their meetings, which were not very
Meanwhile Bridget, in lieu of conversation and while tea was still
preparing, was making mental notes of the cottage. It consisted
apparently of two sitting-rooms, and a studio—in which they were to
have tea—with two or three bedrooms above. It had been developed out
of a Westmorland farm, but developed beyond recognition. The spacious
rooms panelled in plain oak, were furnished sparely, with few things,
but those of the most beautiful and costly kind. Old Persian rugs and
carpets, a few Renaissance mirrors, a few priceless 'pots,' a picture
or two, hangings and coverings of a dim purple—the whole, made by
these various items and objects, expressed a taste perhaps originally
florid, but tamed by long and fastidious practice of the arts of
In the study where tea had been laid, Nelly could not restrain her
wonder and delight. On one wall hung ten of the most miraculous
Turners—drawings from his best period, each of them irreplaceably
famous. Another wall showed a group of Boningtons—a third a similar
gathering of Whistlers. Sir William, charmed with the bride's pleasure,
took down drawing after drawing, carried them to the light for her, and
discoursed upon them.
'Would you like that to copy?'—he said, putting a Turner into her
lap—a marvel of blue mountain peaks, and winding river, and aerial
'Oh, I shouldn't dare—I should be afraid!' said Nelly, hardly
liking to take the treasure in her own hands. 'Aren't they—aren't they
worth immense sums?'
Sir William laughed.
'Well, of course, they're valuable—everybody wants them. But if you
would ever like that one to copy, you shall have it, and any other that
would help you. I know you wouldn't let it be hurt, if you could help
it—because you'd love it—as I do. You wouldn't let a Turner drawing
like that fade and blister in the sun—as I've seen happen again and
again in houses he painted them for. Brutes! Hanging's too good for
people who maltreat Turners. Let me relieve you of it now. I must get
you some tea. But the drawing will come to you next week. You won't be
able to think of it till then.'
He looked at her with the ardent sympathy which sprang easily from
his quick, emotional temperament, and made it possible for him to force
his way rapidly into intimacy, where he desired to be intimate. But
Nelly shrank into herself. She put the drawing away, and did not seem
to care to look at any more. Farrell wished he had left his remark
unspoken, and finding that he had somehow extinguished her smiles and
her talk, he relieved her of his company, and went away to talk to
Sarratt and Captain Marsworth. As soon as tea was over, Nelly beckoned
to her husband.
'Are you going so soon?' said Hester Martin, who had been
unobtrusively mothering her, since Farrell left her—'When may I come
and see you?'
'To-morrow?' said Nelly vaguely, looking up. 'George hoped you would
come, before he goes. There are—there are only three days.'
'I will come to-morrow,' said Miss Martin, touching Nelly's hand
softly. The cold, small fingers moved, as though instinctively, towards
her, and took refuge in her warm capacious hand. Then Nelly whispered
'I want to go, Bridget.'
Bridget frowned with annoyance. Why should Nelly want to go so soon?
The beauty and luxury of the cottage—the mere tea-table with all its
perfect appointments of fine silver and china, the multitude of cakes,
the hot-house fruit, the well-trained butler—all the signs of wealth
that to Nelly were rather intimidating, and to Sarratt—in
war-time—incongruous and repellent, were to Bridget the satisfaction
of so many starved desires. This ease and lavishness; the best of
everything and no trouble to get it; the 'cottage' as perfect as the
palace;—it was so, she felt, that life should be lived, to be really
worth living. She envied the Farrells with an intensity of envy. Why
should some people have so much and others so little? And as she
watched Sir William's attentions to Nelly, she said to herself, for the
hundredth time, that but for Nelly's folly, she could easily have
captured wealth like this. Why not Sir William himself? It would not
have been at all unlikely that they should come across him on one of
their Westmorland holidays. The thought of their dingy Manchester
rooms, of the ceaseless care and economy that would be necessary for
their joint menage when Sarratt was gone, filled her with disgust.
Their poverty was wholly unnecessary—it was Nelly's silly fault. She
felt at times as though she hated her brother-in-law, who had so
selfishly crossed their path, and ruined the hopes and dreams which had
been strengthening steadily in her mind during the last two years
especially, since Nelly's beauty had become more pronounced.
'It's not at all late!' she said, angrily, in her sister's ear.
'Oh, but George wants to take me to Easedale,' said Nelly under her
breath. 'It will be our last long walk.'
Bridget had to submit to be torn away. A little motor was waiting
outside. It had brought the Sarratts and Bridget from Rydal, and was to
take Bridget home, dropping the Sarratts at Grasmere for an evening
walk. Sir William tried indeed to persuade them to stay longer, till a
signal from his cousin Hester stopped him; 'Well, if you must go, you
must,' he said, regretfully. 'Cicely, you must arrange with Mrs.
Sarratt, when she will pay us a visit—and'—he looked uncertainly
round him, as though he had only just remembered Bridget's
existence—'of course your sister must come too.'
Cicely came forward, and with a little lisp, repeated her brother's
Sir William took his guests to their car, and bade a cordial
farewell to Sarratt.
'Good-bye—and good luck. What shall I wish you? The D.S.O., and a
respectable leave before the summer's over? You will be in for great
Sarratt shook his head.
'Not till we get more guns, and tons more shell!'
'Oh, the country's waking up!'
'It's about time!' said Sarratt, gravely, as he climbed into the
car. Sir William bent towards him.
'Anything that we can do to help your wife and her sister, during
their stay here, you may be sure we shall do.'
'It's very kind of you,' said the young officer gratefully, as he
grasped Farrell's hand. And Nelly sent a shy glance of thanks towards
the speaker, while Bridget sat erect and impassive.
Sir William watched them disappear, and then returned to the
tea-room. He was received with a burst of laughter from his sister.
'Well, Willy, so you're caught—fairly caught! What am I to do? When
am I to ask her? And the sister too?'
And lighting another cigarette, Cicely looked at her brother with
Farrell reddened a little, but kept his temper.
'In a week or two I should think, you might ask her, when she's got
over her husband's going away.'
'They get over it very soon—in general,' said Cicely coolly.
'Not that sort.'
The voice was Captain Marsworth's.
Cicely appeared to take no notice. But her eyelids flickered. Hester
'A dear, little, appealing thing,' she said, warmly—'and her
husband evidently a capital fellow. I didn't take to the sister—but
who knows? She may be an excellent creature, all the same. I'm glad I
shall be so near them. It will be a help to that poor child to find her
something to do.'
'You think she'll hunt sphagnum—and make bandages? I don't.'
'Why this “thusness?”' said Miss Martin raising her eyebrows. 'What
has made you take a dislike to the poor little soul, Cicely? There
never was anyone more plainly in love—'
'Or more to be pitied,' said the low voice in the background—low
It was now Cicely's turn to flush.
'Of course I know I'm a beast,' she said defiantly,—'but the fact
is I didn't like either of them!—the sisters, I mean.'
'What oh earth is there to dislike in Mrs. Sarratt!' cried Farrell.
'You're quite mad, Cicely.'
'She's too pretty,' said Miss Farrell obstinately—and too—too
simple. And nobody as pretty as that can be really simple. It's only
As she spoke Cicely rose to her feet, and began to put on her veil
in front of one of the old mirrors. 'But of course, Will, I shall
behave nicely to your friends. Don't I always behave nicely to them?'
She turned lightly to her brother, who looked at her only half
'I shan't give you a testimonial to-day, Cicely.'
'Then I must do without it. Well, this day three weeks, a party at
Carton, for Mrs. Sarratt. Will that give her time to settle down?'
'Unless her husband is killed by then,' said Captain Marsworth,
quietly. 'His regiment is close to Loos. He'll be in the thick of it
'Oh no,' said Cicely, twisting the ends of her veil lightly between
a finger and thumb. 'Just a “cushy” wound, that'll bring him home on a
three months' leave, and give her the bore of nursing him.'
'Cicely, you are a hard-hearted wretch!' said her brother, angrily.
'I think Marsworth and I will go and stroll till the motor is ready.'
The two men disappeared, and Cicely let herself drop into an
arm-chair. Her eyes, as far as could be seen through her veil, were
blazing; the redness in her cheeks had improved upon the rouge with
which they were already touched; and the gesture with which she pulled
on her gloves was one of excitement.
'Cicely dear—what is the matter with you?' said Miss Martin in
distress. She was fond of Cicely, in spite of that young lady's
extravagances of dress and manner, and she divined something gone
'Nothing is the matter—nothing at all. It is only necessary,
sometimes, to shock people,' said Cicely, calming down. She threw her
head back against the chair and closed her eyes, while her lips still
'Were you trying to shock Captain Marsworth?'
'It's so easy—it's hardly worth doing,' said Cicely, sleepily. Then
after a pause—'Ah, isn't that the motor?'
* * * * *
Meanwhile the little hired motor from Ambleside had dropped the
Sarratts on the Easedale road, and carried Bridget away in an opposite
direction, to the silent but great relief of the newly-married pair.
And soon the husband and wife had passed the last farm in the valley,
and were walking up a rough climbing path towards Sour Milk Ghyll, and
Easedale Tarn. The stream was full, and its many channels ran white and
foaming down the steep rock face, where it makes its chief leap to the
valley. The summer weather held, and every tree and fell-side stood
bathed in a warm haze, suffused with the declining light. All round,
encircling fells in a purple shadow; to the north and east, great
slopes appearing—Helvellyn, Grisedale, Fairfield. They walked hand in
hand where the path admitted—almost silent—passionately conscious of
each other—and of the beauty round them. Sometimes they stopped to
gather a flower, or notice a bird; and then there would be a few words,
with a meaning only for themselves. And when they reached the tarn,—a
magical shadowed mirror of brown and purple water,—they sat for long
beside it, while the evening faded, and a breathless quiet came across
the hills, stilling all their voices, even, one might have fancied, the
voice of the hurrying stream itself. At the back of Nelly's mind there
was always the same inexorable counting of the hours; and in his a
profound and sometimes remorseful pity for this gentle creature who had
given herself to him, together with an immense gratitude.
The stars came out, and a light easterly wind sprang up, sending
ripples across the tarn, and stirring last year's leaves among the new
grass. It had grown chilly, and Sarratt took Nelly's blue cloak from
his arm and wrapped her in it—then in his arms, as she rested against
him. Presently he felt her hand drop languidly from his, and he knew
that—not the walk, but the rush of those half-spoken thoughts which
held them both, had brought exhaustion.
'Darling—we must go home!' He bent over her.
She rose feebly.
'Why am I so tired? It's absurd.'
'Let me carry you a little.'
'You couldn't!' She smiled at him.
But he lifted her with ease—she was so small and slight, while in
him a fresh wave of youth and strength had risen, with happiness, and
the reaction of convalescence. She made no resistance, and he carried
her down some way, through the broad mingled light. Her face was hidden
on his breast, and felt the beating of his life. She said to herself
more than once that to die so would be bliss. The marvel of love
bewildered her. 'What was I like before it?—what shall I be, when he
When she made him set her down, she said gaily that she was all
right, and gave him a kiss of thanks, simply, like a child. The valley
lay before them with its scattered lights, and they pressed on through
the twilight—two dim and spectral figures—spirits it seemed, who had
been on the heights sharing ambrosial feasts with the Immortals, and
had but just descended to the common earth again.
* * * * *
Nelly spent the next three days, outside their walks and boatings on
the lake, in whatever wifely offices to her man still remained to
her—marking his new socks and khaki shirts, furnishing a small
medicine chest, and packing a tin of special delicacies, meat lozenges,
chocolate, various much advertised food tabloids, and his favourite
biscuits. Sarratt laughed over them, but had not the heart to dissuade
her. She grew paler every day, but was always gay and smiling so long
as his eyes were on her; and his sound young sleep knew nothing of her
quiet stifled weeping at those moments of the night, when the bodily
and nervous forces are at their lowest, and all the future blackens.
Miss Martin paid them several visits, bringing them books and flowers.
Books and flowers too arrived from Carton—with a lavish supply of
cigarettes for the departing soldier. Nelly had the piteous sense that
everyone was sorry for her—Mrs. Weston, the kind landlady, Milly, the
little housemaid. It seemed to her sometimes that the mere strangers
she met in the road knew that George was going, and looked at her
The last day came, showery in the morning, and clearing to a
glorious evening, with all the new leaf and growing hayfields freshened
by rain, and all the streams brimming. Bridget came over in the
afternoon, and as she watched her sister's face, became almost kind,
almost sympathetic. George proposed to walk back part of the way to
Ambleside with his sister-in-law, and Nelly with a little frown of
alarm watched them go.
But the tete-a-tete was not disagreeable to either. Bridget was
taken aback, to begin with, by some very liberal proposals of Sarratt's
on the subject of her and Nelly's joint expenses during his absence.
She was to be Nelly's guest—they both wished it—and he said kindly
that he quite understood Nelly's marriage had made a difference to her,
and he hoped she would let them make it up to her, as far and as soon
as they could. Bridget was surprised into amiability,—and Sarratt
found a chance of saying—
'And you'll let Nelly talk about the war—though it does bore you?
She won't be able to help it—poor child!'
Bridget supposed that now she too would have to talk about the war.
He needn't be afraid, she added drily. She would look after Nelly. And
she looked so masterful and vigorous as she said it, that Sarratt could
only believe her.
They shook hands in the road, better friends to all seeming than
they had been yet. And Nelly received George's account of the
conversation with a sigh of relief.
* * * * *
That night the midsummer moon would be at the full, and as the
clouds vanished from the sky, and the soft purple night came down,
Nelly and Sarratt leaving every piece of luggage behind them, packed,
labelled, locked, and piled in the hall, ready for the cart that was to
call for it in the early hours—took their way to the lake and the
boathouse. They had been out at night once before, but this was to be
the crowning last thing—the last joint memory.
It was eleven o'clock before the oars dipped into the water, and as
they neared the larger island, the moon, rearing its bright head over
the eastern fells, shot a silver pathway through the lake; and on
either side of the pathway, the mirrored woods and crags, more dim and
ghostly than by day, seemed to lead downward to that very threshold and
entrance of the underworld, through which the blinded Theban king
vanished from the eyes of men. Silver-bright the woods and fell-side,
on the west; while on the east the woods in shadow, lay sleeping,
'moon-charmed.' The air was balmy; and one seemed to hear through it
the steady soft beat of the summer life, rising through the leaves and
grass and flowers. Every sound was enchantment—the drip of water from
the oars, the hooting of an owl on the island, even the occasional
distant voices, and tapping of horses' feet on the main road bordering
Sarratt let the oars drift, and the boat glided, as though of its
own will, past the island, and into the shadow beyond it. Now it was
Silver How, and all the Grasmere mountains, that caught the 'hallowing'
Nelly sat bare-headed, her elbows on her knees, and her face propped
in her hands. She was in white, with a white shawl round her, and the
grace of the slight form and dark head stirred anew in Sarratt that
astonished and exquisite sense of possession which had been one of the
main elements of consciousness, during their honeymoon. Of late indeed
it had been increasingly met and wrestled with by something harsher and
sterner; by the instinct of the soldier, of the fighting man,
foreseeing a danger to his own will, a weakening of the fibre on which
his effort and his power depend. There were moments when passionately
as he loved her, he was glad to be going; secretly glad that the days
which were in truth a greater test of endurance than the trenches were
coming to an end. He must be able to trust himself and his own nerve to
the utmost. Away from her, love would be only a strengthening power;
here beside her, soul and sense contended.
A low voice came out of the shadow.
'George—I'm not going with you to the station.'
'Best not, dearest—much best.'
A silence. Then the voice spoke again.
'How long will it take you, George, getting to the front?'
'About twenty-four hours from the base, perhaps more. It's a weary
'Will you be in action at once?'
'I think so. That part of the line's very short of men.'
'When shall I hear?'
'By every possible post, I should think, darling. You've given me
And he tapped his breast-pocket, where lay the little writing-case
she had furnished for every imaginable need.
'When you're tired, you're—you're not to write.'
He put out his long arms, and took her hands in his.
'I shan't be tired—and I shall write.'
She looked down upon the hands holding hers. In each of the little
fingers there was a small amusing deformity—a slight crook or
twist—which, as is the way of lovers, was especially dear to her. She
remembered once, before they were engaged, flaming out at Bridget, who
had made mock of it. She stooped now, and kissed the fingers. Then she
bowed her forehead upon them.
'George!'—he could only just hear her—'I know Miss Martin will be
kind to me—and I shall find plenty to do. You're never to worry about
'I won't—so long as you write to me—every day.'
There was again a silence. Then she lifted her head, and as the boat
swung out of the shadow, the moonlight caught her face.
'You'll take that Wordsworth I gave you, won't you, George? It'll
remind you—of this.' Her gesture showed the lake and the mountains.
'Of course, I shall take it. I shall read it whenever I can—perhaps
more for your sake—than Wordsworth's.'
'It'll make us remember the same things,' she murmured.
'As if we wanted anything to make us remember!'
'George!' her voice was almost a sob—'It's been almost too perfect.
Sometimes—just for that—I'm afraid.'
'Don't be, darling. The God we believe in isn't a jealous
God! That's one of the notions one grows out of—over there.'
'Do you think He's our friend, George—that He really cares?'
The sweet appealing voice touched him unbearably.
'Yes, I do think it—' he said, firmly, after a pause. 'I do believe
it—with all my heart.'
'Then I'll believe it!' she said, with a long breath; and there was
silence again, till suddenly over the water came the sound of the Rydal
Chapel bell, striking midnight. Nelly withdrew her hands and sat up.
'George, we must go home. You must have a good night.'
He obeyed her, took up the oars, and pulled swiftly to the
boathouse. She sat in a kind of dream. It was all over, the heavenly
time—all done. She had had the very best of life—could it ever come
again? In her pain and her longing she was strangely conscious of
growth and change. The Nelly of three weeks back seemed to have nothing
to do with her present self, to be another human being altogether.
He made her go to bed, and remained in the sitting-room himself,
under pretence of some papers he must put in order. When the sounds in
the next room ceased, and he knew that she must be lying still, waiting
for him, he sat down, took pen and paper, and began to write to her—a
letter to be given to her if he fell. He had already written a letter
of business directions, which was at his lawyer's. This was of another
'My Darling,—this will be very short. It is only to tell you that
if I fall—if we never meet again, after to-morrow, you are to think
first of all—and always—that you have made a man so happy that if no
more joy can come to him on earth, he could die now—as far as he
himself is concerned—blessing God for his life. I never imagined that
love could be so perfect. You have taught me. God reward you—God watch
over you. If I die, you will be very sad—that will be the bitterness
to me, if I have time to know it. But this is my last prayer to you—to
be comforted by this remembrance—of what you have done for me—what
you have been to me. And in time, my precious one, comfort will come.
There may be a child—if so, you will love it for us both. But if not,
you must still take comfort. You must be willing, for my sake, to be
comforted. And remember:—don't be angry with me, darling—if in years
to come, another true love, and another home should be offered you,
don't refuse them—Nelly! You were born to be loved. And if my spirit
lives, and understands; what could it feel but joy that your sorrow was
healed—my best beloved!
'This will be given to you only if I die. With the deepest gratitude
and the tenderest love that a man can feel, I bid you good-bye—my
He put it up with a steady hand, and addressed it first to Nelly,
enclosing it in a larger envelope addressed to his oldest friend, a
school-fellow, who had been his best man at their marriage. Then he
stole downstairs, unlocked the front door, and crossing the road in the
moonlight, he put the letter into the wall post-box on the further
side. And before re-entering the house, he stood a minute or two in the
road, letting the fresh wind from the fells beat upon his face, and
trying the while to stamp on memory the little white house where Nelly
lay, the trees overhanging it, the mountain tops beyond the garden
'Is Mrs. Sarratt in?' asked Miss Martin of Mrs. Weston's little
Milly wore a look of animation, as of one who has been finding the
'She's gone a walk—over the bridge, Miss.'
'Has she had news of Mr. Sarratt?'
'Yes, Miss,' said the girl eagerly. 'He's all right. Mrs. Sarratt
got a telegram just a couple of hours ago.'
'And you think I shall find her by the lake?'
Milly thought so. Then advancing a step, she said confidentially—
'She's been dreadfully upset this two days, Miss. Not that she'd say
anything. But she's looked———'
'I know. I saw her yesterday.'
'And it's been a job to get her to eat anything. Mrs. Weston's been
after her with lots of things—tasty you know, Miss—to try and tempt
her. But she wouldn't hardly look at them.'
'Thank you, Milly'—said Miss Martin, after a pause. 'Well, I'll
find her. Is Miss Cookson here?'
Milly's candid countenance changed at once. She frowned—it might
have been said she scowled.
'She came the day Mr. Sarratt went away, Miss. Well of course it's
not my place to speak, Miss—but she don't do Mrs. Sarratt no
good!' Miss Martin couldn't help a smile—but she shook her head
reprovingly all the same, as she hastened away. Milly had been in her
Sunday-school class, and they were excellent friends.
Across the Rotha, she pursued a little footpath leading to the
lakeside. It was a cold day, with flying clouds and gleams on hill and
water. The bosom of Silver How held depths of purple shadow, but there
were lights like elves at play, chasing each other along the Easedale
fells, and the stony side of Nab Scar.
Beside the water, on a rock, sat Nelly Sarratt. An open telegram and
a bundle of letters lay on her lap, her hands loosely folded over them.
She was staring at the water and the hills, with absent eyes, and her
small face wore an expression—relaxed and sweet—like that of a
comforted child, which touched Miss Martin profoundly.
'So you've heard?—you poor thing!' said the elder woman smiling, as
she laid a friendly hand on the girl's shoulder.
Nelly looked up—and drew a long deep breath.
'He's all right, and the battalion's going to have three weeks'
rest—behind the lines.'
Her dark eyes shone. Hester Martin sat down on the turf beside her.
'Capital! When did you hear last?'
'Just the day before the “push.” Of course he couldn't tell me
anything—but somehow I knew. And then the papers since—they're pretty
ghastly,' said Nelly, with a faint laugh and a shiver. 'The farm under
the hill there'—she pointed—'you know about them?'
'Yes. I saw them after the telegram,' said Miss Martin, sadly. 'Of
course it was the only son. These small families are too awful. Every
married woman ought to have six sons!'
Nelly dropped her face out of sight, shading it with her hands.
Presently she said, in a dreamy voice of content—
'I shall get a letter to-morrow.'
'How do you know?'
Nelly held out the telegram, which said—
'All safe. Posted letter last night. Love.'
'It can't take more than forty-eight hours to come—can it?'
Then she lifted her eyes again to the distant farm, with its white
front and its dark patch of yews.
'I keep thinking of their telegram—' she said, slowly—'and
then of mine. Oh, this war is too horrible!' She threw up her
hands with a sudden wild gesture, and then let one of them drop into
Hester Martin's grasp. 'In George's last letter he told me he had to go
with a message across a bit of ground that was being shelled. He went
with a telephonist. He crossed first. The other man was to wait and
follow him after an interval. George got across, then the man with the
telephone wire started, and was shot—just as he reached George. He
fell into George's arms—and died. And it might have been George—it
might have been George just as well! It might be George any day!'
Miss Martin looked at her in perplexity. She had no ready-made
consolations—she never had. Perhaps it was that which made her kind
wrinkled face such a welcome sight to those in trouble. But at last she
said—'It is all we women can do—to be patient—and hope—not to let
our courage go down.'
Nelly shook her head.
'I am always saying that to myself—but! when the news comes—if
it comes—what good will that be to me! Oh, I haven't been idle—indeed
I haven't,' she added piteously—'I've worked myself tired every
day—just not to think!'
'I know you have,' Miss Martin pressed the hand in hers. 'Well, now,
he'll be all safe for a fortnight———'
'Perhaps three weeks,' Nelly corrected her, eagerly. Then she looked
round at her new friend, a shy smile lighting up her face, and bringing
back its bloom.
'You know he writes to me nearly every day?'
'It's the way people have—war or no war—when they're in love,'
said Hester Martin drily. 'And you—how often?'
'Every day. I haven't missed once. How could I?—when he
wants me to write—when I hear so often!' And her free hand closed
possessively, greedily, over the letters in her lap.
Hester Martin surveyed her thoughtfully.
'I wouldn't do war-work all day, if I were you,' she said at last.
'Why don't you go on with your sketching?'
'I was going to try this very afternoon. Sir William said he would
give me a lesson,' was the listless reply.
'He's coming here?'
'He said he would be walking this way, if it was fine,' said Nelly,
Both relapsed into silence. Then Miss Martin enquired after Bridget.
The face beside her darkened a little.
'She's very well. She knows about the telegram. She thought I was a
great goose to be so anxious. She's making an index now—for the book!'
'The psychology book?'
'Yes!' A pause—then Nelly looked round, flushing.
'I can't talk to Bridget you see—about George—or the war. She just
thinks the world's mad—that it's six to one and half a dozen to the
other—that it doesn't matter at all who wins—so long of course as the
Germans don't come here. And as for me, if I was so foolish as to marry
a soldier in the middle of the war, why I must just take the
consequences—grin and bear it!'
Her tone and look showed that in her clinging way she had begun to
claim the woman beside her as a special friend, while Hester Martin's
manner towards her bore witness that the claim excited a warm
response—that intimacy and affection had advanced rapidly since George
'Why do you put up with it?' said Miss Martin, sharply. 'Couldn't
you get some cousin—some friend to stay with you?'
Nelly shook her head. 'George wanted me to. But I told him I
couldn't. It would mean a quarrel. I could never quarrel with Bridget.'
Miss Martin laughed indignantly. 'Why not—if she makes you
'I don't know. I suppose I'm afraid of her. And besides'—the words
came reluctantly—: 'she does a lot for me. I ought to be very
Yes, Hester Martin did know that, in a sense, Bridget did 'a lot'
for her younger sisters. It was not many weeks since she had made their
acquaintance, but there had been time for her to see how curiously
dependent young Mrs. Sarratt was on Miss Cookson. There was no real
sympathy between them; nor could Miss Martin believe that there was
ever much sense of kinship. But whenever there was anything to be done
involving any friction with the outside world, Bridget was ready to do
it, while Nelly invariably shrank from it.
For instance, some rather troublesome legal business connected with
Nelly's marriage, and the reinvestment of a small sum of money, had
descended on the young wife almost immediately after George's
departure. She could hardly bring herself to look at the letter. What
did it matter? Let their trustee settle it. To be worrying about it
seemed to be somehow taking her mind from George—to be breaking in on
that imaginative vision of him, and his life in the trenches, which
while it tortured her, yet filled the blank of his absence. So Bridget
did it all—corresponded peremptorily with their rather old and
incompetent trustee, got all the signatures necessary out of Nelly, and
carried the thing through. Again, on another and smaller occasion, Miss
Martin had seen the two sisters confronted with a scandalous overcharge
for the carriage of some heavy luggage from Manchester. Nelly was
aghast; but she would have paid the sum demanded like a lamb, if
Bridget had not stepped in—grappled with carter and railway company,
while Nelly looked on, helpless but relieved.
It was clear that Nelly's inborn wish to be liked, her quivering
responsiveness, together with a strong dose of natural indolence, made
her hate disagreement or friction of any kind. She was always
yielding—always ready to give in. But when Bridget in her harsh
aggravating way fought things out and won, Nelly was indeed often made
miserable, by the ricochet of the wrath roused by Bridget's
methods upon herself; but she generally ended, all the same, by
realising that Bridget had done her a service which she could not have
done for herself.
Hester Martin frankly thought the sister odious, and pitied the
bride for having to live with her. All the same she often found herself
wondering how Nelly would ever manage the practical business of life
alone, supposing loneliness fell to her at any time. But why should it
fall to her?—unless indeed Sarratt were killed in action. If he
survived the war he would make her the best of guides and husbands; she
would have children; and her sweetness, her sensitiveness would stiffen
under the impact of life to a serviceable toughness. But meanwhile what
could she do—poor little Ariadne!—but 'live and be lovely'—sew and
knit, and gather sphagnum moss—dreaming half her time, and no doubt
crying half the night. What dark circles already round the beautiful
eyes! And how transparent were the girl's delicate hands! Miss Martin
felt that she was watching a creature on whom love had been acting with
a concentrated and stimulating energy, bringing the whole being
suddenly and rapidly into flower. And now, what had been only stimulus
and warmth had become strain, and, sometimes, anguish, or fear. The
poor drooping plant could with difficulty maintain itself.
For the moment however, Nelly, in her vast relief, was ready to talk
and think of quite ordinary matters.
'Bridget is in a good temper with me to-day!' she said presently,
looking with a smile at her companion—'because—since the telegram
came—I told her I would accept Miss Farrell's invitation to go and
spend a Sunday with them.'
'Well, it might distract you. But you needn't expect to get much out
The old face lit up with its tolerant, half-sarcastic smile.
'I shall be dreadfully afraid of her!' said Nelly.
'No need to be. William will keep her in order. She is a foolish
woman, Cicely, and her own worst enemy, but—somehow'—The speaker
paused. She was about to say—'somehow I am fond of her'—when she
suddenly wondered whether the remark would be true, and stopped
'I think she's very—very good-looking'—said Nelly, heartily.
'Only, why'—she hesitated, but her half-laughing look continued the
'Why does she blacken her eyebrows, and paint her lips, and powder
her cheeks? Is that what you mean?'
Nelly's look was apologetic. 'She doesn't really want it, does she?'
she said shyly, as though remembering that she was speaking to a
kinswoman of the person discussed. 'She could do so well without it.'
'No—to be quite candid, I don't think she would look so well
without it. That's the worst of it. It seems to suit her to be made
up!—though everybody knows it is make-up.'
'Of course, if George wanted me to “make up,” I should do it at
once,' said Nelly, thoughtfully, propping her chin on her hands, and
staring at the lake. 'But he hates it. Is—is Miss Farrell—' she
looked round—'in love with anybody?'
Miss Martin laughed.
'I'll leave you to find out—when you go there. So if your husband
liked you to paint and powder, you would do it?'
The older woman looked curiously at her companion. As she sat there,
on a rock above the lake, in a grey nurse's dress with a nurse's bonnet
tied under her chin, Hester Martin conveyed an impression of rugged and
unconscious strength which seemed to fuse her with the crag behind her.
She had been gathering sphagnum moss on the fells almost from sunrise
that morning; and by tea-time she was expecting a dozen
munition-workers from Barrow, whom she was to house, feed and 'do for,'
in her little cottage over the week-end. In the interval, she had
climbed the steep path to that white farm where death had just entered,
and having mourned with them that mourn, she had come now, as
naturally, to rejoice with Nelly Sarratt.
Nelly considered her question, but not in any doubtfulness of mind.
'Indeed, I would,' she said, decidedly. 'Isn't it my duty to make
'What “George”? If Mr. Sarratt wanted you to paint and powder——'
'He wouldn't be the “George” I married? There's something in that!'
laughed Nelly. Then she lifted her hand to shade her eyes against the
westering sun—'Isn't that Sir William coming?'
She pointed doubtfully to a distant figure walking along the path
that skirts the western edge of the lake. Miss Martin put up her
'Certainly. Coming no doubt to give you a lesson. But where are your
Nelly rose in a hurry.
'I forgot about them when I came out. The telegram—' She pressed
her hands to her eyes, with a long breath.
'I'll run back for them. Will you tell him?'
She departed, and Hester awaited her cousin. He came slowly along
the lake, his slight lameness just visible in his gait—otherwise a
splendid figure of a man, with a bare head, bearded and curled, like a
Viking in a drawing by William Morris. He carried various artist's gear
slung about him, and an alpenstock. His thoughts were apparently busy,
for he came within a few yards of Hester Martin, before he saw her.
'Hullo! Hester—you here? I came to get some news of Mrs. Sarratt
and her husband. Is he all right?'
Hester repeated the telegram, and added the information that seeing
him coming, Mrs. Sarratt had gone in search of her sketching things.
'Ah!—I thought if she'd got good news she might like to begin,'
said Farrell. 'Poor thing—she's lucky! Our casualties these last few
days have been awful, and the gain very small. Men or guns—that's our
choice just now. And it will be months before we get the guns. So
practically, there's no choice. Somebody ought to be hung!'
He sat down frowning. But his face soon cleared, and he began to
study the point of view.
'Nothing to be made of it but a picture post-card,' he declared.
'However I daresay she'll want to try it. They always do—the
beginners. The more ambitious and impossible the thing, the better.'
'Why don't you teach her?' said Hester, severely.
'Why I only want to amuse her, poor little soul!' he said, as he put
his easel together. 'Why should she take it seriously?'
'She's more intelligence than you think.'
'Has she? What a pity! There are so many intelligent people in the
world, and so few pretty ones,'
He spoke with a flippant self-confidence that annoyed his cousin.
But she knew very well that she was poorly off in the gifts that were
required to scourge him. And there already was the light form of Nelly,
on the footbridge over the river. Farrell looked up and saw her coming.
'Extraordinary—the grace of the little thing!' he said, half to
himself, half to Hester. 'And she knows nothing about it—or seems to.'
'Do you imagine that her husband hasn't told her?' Hester's tone was
Farrell looked up in wonder. 'Sarratt? of course he has—so far as
he has eyes to see it. But he has no idea how remarkable it is.'
'What? His wife's beauty? Nonsense!'
'How could he? It wants a trained eye,' said Farrell, quite serious.
'Hush!—here she comes.'
Nelly came up breathlessly, laden with her own paraphernalia.
Farrell at once perceived that she was pale and hollow-eyed. But her
expression was radiant.
'How kind of you to come!' she said, looking up at him. 'You know
I've had good news—splendid news?'
'I do indeed. I came to ask,' he said gravely. 'He's out of it for a
'Yes, for three weeks!'
'So you can take a rest from worrying?'
She nodded brightly, but she was not yet quite mistress of her
nerves, and her face quivered. He turned away, and began to set his
palette, while she seated herself.
Hester watched the lesson for half an hour, till it was time to go
and make ready for her munition-workers. And she watched it with
increasing pleasure, and increasing scorn of a certain recurrent
uneasiness she had not been able to get rid of. Nothing could have been
better than Farrell's manner to Ariadne. It was friendly, chivalrous,
respectful—all it should be—with a note of protection, of unspoken
sympathy, which, coming from a man nearly twenty years older than the
little lady herself, was both natural and attractive. He made an
excellent teacher besides, handling her efforts with a mixture of
criticism and praise, which presently roused Nelly's ambition, and
kindled her cheeks and eyes. Time flew and when Hester Martin rose to
leave them, Nelly cried out in protest—'It can't be five o'clock!'
'A quarter to—just time to get home before my girls arrive!'
'Oh, and I must go too,' said Nelly regretfully. 'I promised Bridget
I would be in for tea. But I was getting on—wasn't I?' She
turned to Farrell.
'Swimmingly. But you've only just begun. Next time the sitting must
'Will you—will you come in to tea?'—she asked him shyly. 'My
sister would be very glad.'
'Many thanks—but I am afraid I can't. I shall be motoring back to
Carton to-night. To-morrow is one of my hospital days. I told you how I
divided my week, and salved my conscience.'
He smiled down upon her from his great height, his reddish gold hair
and beard blown by the wind, and she seemed to realise him as a great,
manly, favouring presence, who made her feel at ease.
Hester Martin had already vanished over the bridge, and Farrell and
Nelly strolled back more leisurely towards the lodgings, he carrying
her canvas sketching bag.
On the way she conveyed to him her own and Bridget's acceptance of
the Carton invitation.
'If Miss Farrell won't mind our clothes—or rather our lack of them!
I did mean to have my wedding dress altered into an evening
She lifted her hand and let it fall, in a sad significant gesture
which pleased his fastidious eye.
'You hadn't even the time of the heart for it? I should think not!'
he said warmly. 'Who cares about dress nowadays?'
'Your sister!' thought Nelly—but aloud she said—
'Well then we'll come—we'll be delighted to come. May I see the
'Of course. It's like any other hospital.'
'Is it very full now?' she asked him uneasily, her bright look
'Yes—but it ebbs and flows. Sometimes for a day or two all our men
depart. Then there is a great rush.'
'Are they bad cases?'
There was an unwilling insistence in her voice, as though her mind
dealt with images it would gladly have put away, but could not.
'A good many of them. They send them us as straight as they can from
the front. But the surgeons are wonderfully skilful. It's simply
marvelous what they can do.'
He seemed to see a shiver pass through her slight shoulders, and he
changed the subject at once. The Carton motor should come for her and
her sister, he said, whenever they liked, the following Saturday
afternoon. The run would take about an hour. Meanwhile—
'Do you want any more books or magazines?' he asked her smiling,
with the look of one only eager to be told how to serve her. They had
paused in the road outside the lodgings.
'Oh I how could we! You sent us such a bundle!' cried Nelly
gratefully. 'We are always finding something new in it. It makes the
evenings so different. We will bring them back when we come.'
'Don't hurry. And go on with the drawing. I shall expect to see it a
great deal further on next time. It's all right so far.'
He went his way back, speedily, taking a short cut over Loughrigg to
his cottage. His thoughts, as he climbed, were very full of Mrs.
Sarratt. But they were the thoughts of an artist—of a man who had
studied beauty, and the European tradition of beauty, whether in form
or landscape, for many years; who had worked—a contre coeur—in
a Paris studio, and had copied Tintoret—fervently—in Venice; who had
been a collector of most things, from Tanagra figures to Delia Robbias.
She made an impression upon him in her lightness and grace, her small
proportions, her lissomness of outline, very like that of a Tanagra
figure. How had she come to spring from Manchester? What kindred had
she with the smoke and grime of a great business city? He fell into
amused speculation. Manchester has always possessed colonies of Greek
merchants. Somewhere in the past was there some strain of southern
blood which might account for her? He remembered a beautiful Greek girl
at an Oxford Commemoration, when he had last attended that function;
the daughter of a Greek financier settled in London, whose still lovely
mother had been drawn and painted interminably by the Burne Jones and
William Morris group of artists. She was on a larger scale than
Mrs. Sarratt, but the colour of the flesh was the same—as though light
shone through alabaster—and the sweetness of the deep-set eyes.
Moreover she had produced much the same effect on the bystander, as of
a child of nature, a creature of impulse and passion—passion, clinging
and self-devoted, not fierce and possessive—through all the more
superficial suggestions of reticence and self-control. 'This little
creature is only at the beginning of her life'—he thought, with a kind
of pity for her very softness and exquisiteness. 'What the deuce will
she have made of it, by the end? Why should such beings grow old?'
His interest in her led him gradually to other thoughts—partly
disagreeable, partly philosophical. He had once—and only once—found
himself involved in a serious love-affair, which, as it had left him a
bachelor, had clearly come to no good. It was with a woman much older
than himself—gifted—more or less famous—a kind of modern Corinne
whom he had met for a month in Rome in his first youth. Corinne had
laid siege to him, and he had eagerly, whole-heartedly succumbed. He
saw himself, looking back, as the typically befooled and bamboozled
mortal; for Corinne, in the end, had thrown him over for a German
professor, who admired her books and had a villa on the Janiculum.
During the eighteen years which had elapsed since their adventure, he
had quite made it up with her, and had often called at the Janiculan
villa, with its antiques, its window to the view, and the great Judas
tree between it and Rome. His sense of escape—which grew upon him—was
always tempered by a keen respect for the lady's disinterestedness, and
those high ideals which must have led her—for what else could?—to
prefer the German professor, who had so soon become decrepit, to
himself. But the result of it all had been that the period of highest
susceptibility and effervescence had passed by, leaving him still
unmarried. Since then he had had many women-friends, following
harmlessly a score of 'chance desires'! But he had never wanted to
marry anybody; and the idea of surrendering the solitude and
independence of his pleasant existence had now become distasteful to
him. Renan in some late book speaks of his life as 'cette charmante
promenade a travers la realite.' Farrell could have adopted much the
same words about his own—until the war. The war had made him think a
good deal, like Sarratt; though the thoughts of a much travelled,
epicurean man of the world were naturally very different from those of
the young soldier. At least 'the surge and thunder' of the struggle had
developed in Farrell a new sensitiveness, a new unrest, as though youth
had returned upon him. The easy, drifting days of life before the
catastrophe were gone. The 'promenade' was no longer charming. But the
jagged and broken landscape through which it was now taking him, held
him often—like so many others—breathless with strange awes, strange
questionings. And all the more, because, owing to his physical
infirmity, he must be perforce a watcher, a discontented watcher,
rather than an actor, in the great scene.
* * * * *
That night Nelly, sitting at her open window, with starlight on the
lake, and the cluster rose sending its heavy scent into the room—wrote
to her husband.
'My darling—it is just a little more than eight hours since I got
your telegram. Sometimes it seems like nothing—and then like days
—days of happiness. I was very anxious. But I know I oughtn't to
write about that. You say it helps you if I keep cheerful, and always
expect the best and not the worst. Indeed, George, I do keep cheerful.
Ask Miss Martin—ask Bridget—'
At this point two splashes fell, luckily not on the letter, but on
the blotting paper beside it, and Nelly hastily lifted her handkerchief
to dry a pair of swimming eyes.
'But he can't see—he won't know!' she thought, apologising to
herself; yet wrestling at the same time with the sharp temptation to
tell him exactly how she had suffered, that he might comfort her. But
she repelled it. Her moral sense told her that she ought to be
sustaining and strengthening him—rather than be hanging upon him the
burden of her own fears and agonies.
She went on bravely—
'Of course, after the news in the paper this morning,—and
yesterday—I was worried till I heard. I knew—at any rate I
guessed—you must have been in it all. And now you are safe, my own
own!—for three whole blessed weeks. Oh, how well I shall sleep all
that time—and how much work I shall do! But it won't be all war-work.
Sir William Farrell came over to-day, and showed me how to begin a
drawing of the lake. I shall finish it for your birthday, darling. Of
course you won't want to be bothered with it out there. I shall keep it
till you come. The lake is so beautiful to-night, George. It is warmer
again, and the stars are all out. The mountains are so blue and
quiet—the water so still. But for the owls, everything seems asleep.
But they call and call—and the echo goes round the lake. I can just
see the island, and the rocks round which the boat drifted—that last
night. How good you were to me—how I loved to sit and look at you,
with the light on your dear face—and the oars hanging—and the shining
'And then I think of where you are—and what you have been seeing in
that awful fighting. But not for long. I try to put it away.
'George, darling!—you know what you said when you went away—what
you hoped might come—to make us both happy—and take my thoughts off
the war? But, dear, it isn't so—you mustn't hope it. I shall be
dreadfully sorry if you are disappointed. But you'll only find me
—your own Nelly—not changed a bit—when you come back.
'I want to hear everything when you write—how your men did—whether
you took any prisoners, whether there was ammunition enough, or whether
you were short again? I feel every day that I ought to go and make
munitions—but somehow—I can't. We are going to Carton on Saturday.
Bridget is extremely pleased. I rather dread it. But I shall be able to
write you a long letter about it on Sunday morning, instead of going to
church. There is Rydal chapel striking twelve! My darling—my
The following Saturday afternoon, at three o'clock, the Carton motor
duly arrived at the Rydal cottage door. It was a hot summer day, the
mountains colourless and small under their haze of heat, the woods
darkening already towards the August monotony, the streams low and
shrunken. Lakeland was at the moment when the artists who haunt her
would rather not paint her, remembering the subtleties of spring, and
looking forward to the pageantry of autumn. But for the eye that loves
her she has beauties enough at any time, and no blanching heat and dust
can spoil the lovely or delicate things that lie waiting in the shade
of her climbing oak-woods or on her bare fells, or beside her still
Nelly took her seat in the landaulette, with Bridget beside her.
Milly and Mrs. Weston admiringly watched their departure from the
doorway of the lodgings, and they were soon speeding towards Grasmere
and Dunmail Raise. Nelly's fresh white dress, aided by the blue coat
and shady hat which George had thought so ravishing, became her well;
and she was girlishly and happily aware of it. Her spirits were high,
for there in the little handbag on her wrist lay George's last letter,
received that morning, short and hurried, written just to catch the
post, on his arrival at the rest camp, thirty miles behind the line.
Heart-ache and fear, if every now and then their black wings brushed
her, and far within, a nerve quivered, were mostly quite forgotten.
Youth, the joy of being loved, the joy of mere living, reclaimed her.
Bridget beside her, in a dark blue cotton, with a very fashionable
hat, looked more than her thirty years, and might almost have been
taken for Nelly's mother. She sat erect, her thin straight shoulders
carrying her powerful head and determined face; and she noticed many
things that quite escaped her sister: the luxury of the motor for
instance; the details of the Farrell livery worn by the two discharged
soldiers who sat in front as chauffeur and footman; and the evident
fact that while small folk must go without servants, the rich seemed to
have no difficulty in getting as many as they wanted.
'I wonder what this motor cost?' she said presently in a speculative
tone, as they sped past the turn to Grasmere church and began to ascend
the pass leading to Keswick.
'Well, we know—about—don't we?' said Nelly vaguely. And she
guessed a sum, at which Bridget looked contemptuous.
'More than that, my dear! However of course it doesn't matter
'Don't you think people look at us sometimes, as though we were
doing something wrong?' said Nelly uneasily. They had just passed two
old labourers—fine patriarchal fellows who had paused a moment to gaze
at the motor and the two ladies. 'I suppose it's because—because we
look so smart.'
'Well, why shouldn't we?'
'Because it's war-time I suppose,' said Nelly slowly—'and perhaps
their sons are fighting—'
'We're not fighting!'
'No—but—.' With a slight frown, Nelly tried to express herself.
'It looks as if we were just living as usual, while—Oh, you know,
Bridget, what people think!—how everybody's trying not to spend
money on themselves.'
'Are they?' Bridget laughed aloud. 'Look at all the dress
advertisements in the papers. Why, yesterday, when I was having tea
with those people at Windermere, there was a man there telling lots of
interesting things. He said he knew some great merchants in the city,
who had spent thousands and thousands on furs—expensive furs—the
summer before the war. And they thought they'd all have been left on
their hands, that they'd have lost heavily. And instead of that they
sold them all, and made a real big profit!'
Bridget turned an almost triumphant look on her sister, as though
the coup described had been her own.
'Well, it isn't right!' said Nelly, passionately. 'It isn't—it
isn't—Bridget! When the war's costing so much—and people are
suffering and dying—'
'Oh, I know!' said Bridget hastily. 'You needn't preach to me my
dear child. I only wanted you to look at facts. You're always so
'I'm not!' Nelly protested, helplessly. 'We make the facts.
If nobody bought the furs, the facts would be different. George says
it's wicked to squander money, and live as if everything were just the
same as it used to be. And I agree with him!'
'Of course you do!' laughed Bridget. 'You don't squander
money, my dear!'
'Only because I haven't got it to spend, you mean?' said Nelly,
'No—but you should look at things sensibly. The people who are
making money are spending it—oceans of it! And the people who have
money, like the Farrells, are spending it too. Wait till you see how
'But there's the hospital!' cried Nelly.
Bridget shrugged her shoulders.
'That's because they can afford to give the hospital, and have the
motor-cars too. If they had to choose between hospitals and
'Lots of people do!'
'You think Sir William Farrell looks like doing without things?'
said Bridget, provokingly. Then she checked herself. 'Of course I like
Sir William very much. But then I don't see why he shouldn't
have motor-cars or any other nice thing he wants.'
'That's because—you don't think enough—you never think
enough—about the war!' said Nelly, insistently.
Bridget's look darkened.
'I would stop the war to-morrow—I would make peace to-morrow—if I
could—you know I would. It will destroy us all—ruin us all. It's
sheer, stark lunacy. There, you know what I think!'
'I don't see what it's ever cost you, Bridget!' said Nelly,
'Oh, well, it's very easy to say that—but it isn't argument.'
Bridget's deep-set penetrating eyes glittered as she turned them on
her sister. 'However, for goodness' sake, don't let's quarrel about it.
It's a lovely day, and we don't often have a motor like this to drive
The speaker leant back, giving herself up to the sensuous pleasure
of the perfectly hung car, and the rapid movement through the summer
air. Wythburn and Thirlmere were soon passed; leaving them just time to
notice the wrack and ruin which Manchester has made of the once lovely
shore of Thirlmere, where hideous stretches of brown mud, and the ruins
of long submerged walls and dwellings, reappear with every dry summer
to fling reproach in the face of the destroyer.
Now they were on the high ground above Keswick; and to the west and
north rose a superb confusion of mountain-forms, peaked and rounded and
cragged, with water shining among them, and the silver cloud wreaths
looped and threaded through the valleys, leaving the blue or purple
tops suspended, high in air, unearthly and alone, to parley with the
setting sun. Not yet setting indeed—but already flooding the west with
a glory in which the further peaks had disappeared—burnt away; a
shining holocaust to the Gods of Light and Fire.
Then a sharp descent, a run through Keswick, another and a tamer
lake, a sinking of the mountain-forms, and they were nearing the woods
of Carton. Both sisters had been silent for some time. Nelly was wrapt
in thoughts of George. Would he get leave before Christmas? Suppose he
were wounded slightly—just a wound that would send him home, and let
her nurse him?—a wound from which he would be sure to get well—not
too quickly! She could not make up her mind to wish it—to pray for
it—it seemed like tempting Providence. But how she had envied a young
couple whom she sometimes met walking on the Ambleside road!—a young
private of one of the Border regiments, with a bandaged arm, and his
sweetheart. Once—with that new free-masonry which the war has brought
about, she had stopped to speak to them. The boy had been quite ready
to talk about his wound. It had seemed nothing at first—just a
fragment of shrapnel—he had scarcely known he was hit. But abscess
after abscess had formed—a leading nerve had been injured—it might be
months before he could use it again. And meanwhile the plain but
bright-faced girl beside him was watching over him; he lodged with her
parents as his own were dead; and they were to be married soon. No
chance of his going out again! The girl's father would give him work in
his garage. They had the air of persons escaped from shipwreck and
ashamed almost of their own secret happiness, while others were still
battling with and sinking in the waves.
* * * * *
A flowery lodge, a long drive through green stretches of park, with
a heather fell for background—and then the motor, leaving to one side
a huge domed pile with the Union Jack floating above it, ran through a
wood, and drew up in front of Carton Cottage, a low building on the
steps of which stood Sir William Farrell.
'Delighted to see you! Come in, and let Cicely give you some tea.
They'll see to your luggage!'
He led in Nelly, and Bridget followed, glancing from side to side,
with an eye shrewdly eager, an eye that took in and appraised all it
saw. A cottage indeed! It had been built by Sir William's father, for
his only sister, a maiden lady, to whom he was much attached. 'Aunt
Sophy' had insisted on a house to herself, being a person of some
ruggedness and eccentricity of character and averse to any sort of
dependence on other people's ways and habits. But she had allowed her
brother to build and furnish the cottage for her as lavishly as he
pleased, and during his long widowhood she had been of much help to him
in the management of the huge household at Carton Hall, and in the
bringing up of his two children. After her death, the house had
remained empty for some time, till, six months after the outbreak of
war, Farrell had handed over the Hall to the War Office, and he and his
sister had migrated to the smaller house.
Bridget was aware, as she followed her sister, of rooms small but
numerous opening out on many sides, of long corridors with glistening
teak floors, of windows open to a garden ablaze with roses. Sir William
led them to what seemed a buzz of voices, and opened a door.
Cicely Farrell rose languidly from a table surrounded by laughing
young men, and advanced to meet the newcomers. Nelly found herself
shaking hands with the Captain Marsworth she had seen at Loughrigg
Tarn, and being introduced by Sir William to various young officers,
some in khaki, visitants from a neighbouring camp, and some from the
Hall, in various forms of convalescent undress, grey flannel suits,
khaki tunics with flannel 'slacks,' or full khaki, as the wearers
pleased. The little lady in white had drawn all the male eyes upon her
as she came in, and those who rapidly resumed their talk with Miss
Farrell or each other, interrupted by the entrance of the newcomers,
were no less aware of her than those who, with Farrell, devoted
themselves to supply the two sisters with tea.
Nelly herself, extremely shy, but sustained somehow by the thought
that she must hold her own in this new world, was soon deep in
conversation with a charming youth, who owned a long, slightly
lantern-jawed face and fair hair, moved on crutches with a slung knee,
and took everything including his wound as 'funny.'
'Where is your husband?' he asked her. 'Sir William thinks he is
somewhere near Festubert? My hat, the Lanchesters have been having a
hot time there!—funny, isn't it? But they'll be moved to an easier job
soon. They're always in luck—the Lanchesters—funny, I call it?—what?
I wouldn't worry if I were you. Your husband's got through this all
right—mightn't have another such show for ages. These things are awful
chancey—funny, isn't it? Oh, my wound?—well, it was just when I was
getting over the parados to move back to billets—that the brute got
me. Funny, wasn't it? Hullo!—here's a swell! My hat!—it's General
Nelly looked up bewildered to see a group of officers enter the
room, headed by a magnificent soldier, with light brown hair, handsome
features, and a broad be-ribboned chest. Miss Farrell greeted him and
his comrades with her best smiles; and Nelly observed her closely, as
she stood laughing and talking among them. Sir William's sister was in
uniform, if it could be called a uniform. She wore a nurse's cap and
apron over a pale blue dress of some soft crapey material. The cap was
a square of fine lawn, two corners of which were fastened under the
chin with a brooch consisting of one large pearl. The open throat
showed a single string of fine pearls, and diamonds sparkled in the
small ears. Edging the cap on the temples and cheeks were little
curls—a la Henrietta Maria—and the apron, also of the finest possible
lawn, had a delicately embroidered edge. The lips of the wearer had
been artificially reddened, her eyebrows and eyelids had been skilfully
pencilled, her cheeks rouged. A more extraordinary specimen of the
nursing sisterhood it would have been impossible to find. Nevertheless
the result was, beyond gainsaying, both amusing and picturesque. The
lad beside Nelly watched Miss Farrell with a broad grin. On the other
hand, a lady in a thin black dress and widow's veil, who was sitting
near Bridget, turned away after a few minutes' observation of the
hostess, and with a curling lip began to turn over a book lying on a
table near her. But whether the onlookers admired or disapproved, there
could be no question that Miss Farrell held the field.
'I am very glad to hear that Mrs. Sarratt has good news of her
husband!' said Captain Marsworth courteously to Bridget, hardly able to
make himself heard however amid the din and laughter of the central
group. He too had been watching Cicely Farrell—but with a wholly
impassive countenance. Bridget made some indifferent answer, and then
eagerly asked who the visitors were. She was told that they were
officers from a neighbouring camp, including the general commanding the
camp. Sir William, said Captain Marsworth, had built the whole camp at
his own expense, and on his own land, without waiting for any
'I suppose he is so enormously rich—he can do anything he wants!'
said Bridget, her face kindling. 'It must be grand never to think what
Captain Marsworth was a trifle taken aback by the remark, as Sir
William was barely a couple of yards away.
'Yes, I daresay it's convenient,' he said, lightly. 'And what do you
find to do with yourself at Rydal?'
Bridget informed him briefly that she was correcting some
proof-sheets for a friend, and would then have an index to make.
Captain Marsworth looked at her curiously.
'May one ask what the book is?'
'It's something new about psychology,' said Bridget, calmly. 'It's
going to be a great deal talked about. My friend's awfully clever.'
'Ah! Doesn't she find it a little difficult to think about
psychology just now?'
'Why should she? Somebody's got to think about psychology,' was the
sharp reply. 'You can't let everything go, because there's a war.'
'I see! You remind me of a man I know, who's translating Dante. He's
just over military age, and there he sits in a Devonshire valley, with
a pile of books. I happen to know a particular department in a public
office that's a bit hustled for want of men, and I suggested that he
should lend a hand. He said it was his business to keep culture going!'
'Well?' said Bridget.
The challenging obstinacy of her look daunted him. He laughed.
'You think it natural—and right—to take the war like that?'
'Well, I don't see who's got a right to interfere with you if you
do,' she said, stiffly. Then, however, it occurred even to her obtuse
and self-centred perception, that she was saying something unexpected
and distasteful to a man who was clearly a great friend of the
Farrells, and therefore a member of the world she envied. So she
changed the subject.
'Does Miss Farrell ever do any real nursing?' she asked abruptly.
Captain Marsworth's look became, in a moment, reserved and cold.
'She's always ready to do anything for any of us!'
Then the speaker rose. 'I see Sir William's preparing to take your
sister into the gardens. You certainly ought to see them. They're very
* * * * *
The party streamed out into the paths leading through a wood, and
past a series of water-lily pools to the walled gardens. Sir William
walked in front with Nelly.
'My brother's new craze!' said Cicely in the ear of the General
beside her, who being of heroic proportions had to stoop some way to
hear the remark. He followed the direction of her eyes.
'What, that little woman? A vision! Is it only looks, or is there
Cicely shrugged her shoulders.
'I don't know. I haven't found out. The sister's plain,
'She looks rather clever.'
'Doesn't that show she's stupid? Nobody ought to look clever. Do you
admire Mrs. Sarratt?'
'Can one help it? Or are you going also to maintain,' laughed the
general, 'that no one can be beautiful who looks it?'
'One could maintain it—easily. The best kind of beauty has
always to be discovered. What do you think, Captain Marsworth?'
She turned—provokingly—to the soldier on her left hand.
'About beauty?' He looked up listlessly. 'I've no idea. The day's
Cicely eyed him.
'You're tired!' she said peremptorily. 'You've been doing too much.
You ought to go and rest.'
He smiled, and standing back he let them pass him. Turning into a
side path he disappeared towards the hospital.
'Poor old fellow!—he still looks very delicate,' said the General.
'How is he really getting on?'
'The arm's improving. He's having massage and electricity. Sometimes
he seems perfectly well,' said Cicely. An oddly defiant note had crept
into the last sentence.
'He looks down—out of spirits. Didn't he lose nearly all his
friends at Neuve Chapelle?'
'Yes, some of his best friends.'
'And half the battalion! He always cared enormously about his men.
He and I, you know, fought in South Africa together. Of course then he
was just a young subaltern. He's a splendid chap! I'm afraid he won't
get to the front again. But of course they'll find him something at
home. He ought to marry—get a wife to look after him. By the way,
somebody told me there was some talk about him and the daughter of the
rector here. A nice little girl. Do you know her?'
'Miss Stewart? Yes.'
'What do you think of her?'
'A little nincompoop. Quite harmless!'
The handsome hero smiled—unseen by his companion.
Meanwhile Farrell was walking with Nelly through the stately series
of walled gardens, which his grandfather had planned and carried out,
mainly it seemed for the boredom of the grandson.
'What do we want with all these things now?' he said, waving an
impatient hand, as he and Nelly stood at the top flight of steps
looking down upon the three gardens sloping to the south, with their
fragments of statuary, and old leaden statuettes, ranged along the
central walks. 'They're all out of date. They were before the war; and
the war has given them the coup de grace. No more big
estates—no more huge country houses! My grandfather built and built,
for the sake of building, and I pay for his folly. After the war!—what
sort of a world shall we tumble into!'
'I don't want these gardens destroyed!' said Nelly, looking up at
him. 'No one ought to spoil them. They're far too beautiful!'
She was beginning to speak with more freedom, to be less afraid of
him. The gap between her small provincial experience and modes of
thought, and his, was narrowing. Each was beginning to discover the
inner personality of the other. And the more Farrell explored her the
more charmed he was. She was curiously ignorant, whether of books or
life. Even the busy commercial life amid which she had been brought up,
as it seemed to him, she had observed but little. When he asked her
questions about Manchester, she was generally vague or puzzled. He saw
that she was naturally romantic; and her passion for the absent
Sarratt, together with her gnawing anxiety about him which could not be
concealed, made her, again, very touching in the eyes of a man of
imagination whose feelings were quick and soft. He walked about with
her for more than an hour, discoursing ironically on the Grecian
temples, the rustic bridges and pools and fountains, now in imitation
of the older Versailles and now of the Trianon, with which his
grandfather had burdened his descendants; so that the glorious evening,
as it descended, presently became a merry duel between him and her, she
defending and admiring his own possessions, and he attacking them. Her
eyes sparkled, and a bright red—a natural red—came back into her pale
cheeks. She spoke and moved with an evident exhilaration, as though she
realised her own developing powers, and was astonished by her own
readiness of speech, and the sheer pleasure of talk. And something, no
doubt, entered in of the new scene; its scale and magnificence, so
different from anything she had yet known; its suggestion of a
tradition reaching back through many generations, and of a series of
lives relieved from all vulgar necessities, playing as they pleased
with art and money, with water and wood.
At the same time she was never merely dazzled; and never, for one
moment, covetous or envious. He was struck with her simple dignity and
independence; and he perfectly understood that a being so profoundly in
love, and so overshadowed by a great fear, could only lend, so to
speak, her outer mind to Carton or the persons in it. He gathered roses
for her, and did his utmost to please her. But she seemed to him all
the time like a little hovering elf—smiling and gay—but quite
* * * * *
Dinner in the 'cottage' was short, but in Bridget's eyes perfect.
Personally, she was not enjoying herself very much, for she had made up
her mind that she did not get on with military men, and that it was
their fault, not hers; so that she sat often silent, a fact however
unnoticed in the general clatter of the table. She took it quite
calmly, and was more than compensated for the lack of conversation by
the whole spectacle of the Farrell wealth; the flowers, the silver, the
costly accessories of all kinds, which even in war-time, and in a
'cottage,' seemed to be indispensable. It would have been more amusing,
no doubt, if it had been the big house and not the cottage. Sometimes
through the open windows and the trees, she caught sight of the great
lighted pile a little way off, and found herself dreaming of what it
would be to live there, and to command all that these people commanded.
She saw herself sweeping through the magnificent rooms, giving orders,
inviting guests, entertaining royalty, driving about the country in
splendid motors. It was a waking dream, and though she never uttered a
word, the animation of her thoughts infused a similar animation into
her aspect, and made her almost unconscious of her neighbours. Captain
Marsworth made several attempts to win her attention before she heard
She turned at last an absent glance upon him.
'Miss Farrell talks of our all going over to the hospital after
dinner. She and Sir William often spend the evening there,' said
Captain Marsworth, quite aware from Miss Farrell's frequent glances in
his direction that he was not in her opinion doing his duty with Miss
'Will it take us long?' said Bridget, the vivacity of her look dying
'As long as you please to stay!' laughed the Captain, drily.
* * * * *
That passage after dinner through the convalescent wards of the
finely equipped hospital was to Nelly Sarratt an almost intolerable
experience. She went bravely through it, leaving, wherever she talked
to a convalescent, an impression of shy sweetness behind her, which
made a good many eyes follow her as Farrell led her through the rooms.
But she was thankful when it was over; and when, at last, she was alone
in her room for the night, she flew—for consolation—to the drawer in
which she had locked her writing-desk, and the letters she had received
that morning. The post had just arrived as they were leaving Rydal, and
she had hastily torn open a letter from George, and thrust the others
into a large empty envelope. And now she discovered among them to her
delight a second letter from George, unopened. What unexpected joy!
It too was dated—'Somewhere in France'—and had been written two
days after the letter she had opened in the morning.
'My darling—we're having a real jolly time here—in an old village,
far behind the line, and it is said we shall be here for three whole
weeks. Well, some of us really wanted it, for the battalion has been in
some very hot fighting lately, and has had a nasty bit of the line to
look after for a long time—with nothing very much to show for it. My
platoon has lost some of its best men, and I've been pretty badly hit,
as some of them were real chums of mine—the bravest and dearest
fellows. And I don't know why, but for the first time, I've been
feeling rather jumpy and run down. So I went to a doctor, and he told
me I'd better go off duty for a fortnight. But just then, luckily, the
whole battalion was ordered, as I told you a week ago, into what's
called “divisional rest,” so here we are—for three weeks! Quite good
billets—an old French farm—with two good barns and lots of straw for
the men, and an actual bedroom for me—and a real bed—with sheets!
Think of that! I am as comfortable as possible. Just at first I'm going
to stay in bed for a couple of days to please the doctor—but then I
shall be all right, and shall probably take a course of gymnastics
they're starting here—odd, isn't it?—like putting us to school
again!—so that I may be quite fit before going back to the front.
'One might almost forget the war here, if it weren't for the rumble
of the guns which hardly ever ceases. They are about thirty-five miles
away. The whole country is quite peaceful, and the crops coming on
splendidly. The farm produces delicious brown eggs—and you should
see—and taste—the omelets the farmer's wife makes! Coffee
too—first-rate! How these French women work! Our men are always
helping them, and the children hang round our Tommies like flies.
'These two days in bed are a godsend, for I can read all your
letters through again. There they are—spread out on my sheet! By Jove,
little woman, you've treated me jolly well! And now I can pay you back
a little. But perhaps you won't mind, dearest, if I don't write
anything very long, for I expect I ought to take it easy—for a bit—I
can't think why I should have felt so slack. I never knew anything
about nerves before. But the doctor has been very nice and
understanding—a real, decent fellow. He declares I shall be as fit as
a fiddle, long before the three weeks are done.
'My bedroom door is open, and some jolly yellow chickens are
wandering in and out. And sometimes the farmer's youngest—a nice
little chap of eight—comes to look at me. I teach him English—or I
try—but when I say the English words, he just doubles up with laughing
and runs away. Nelly, my precious—if I shut my eyes—I can fancy your
little head there—just inside the door—and your eyes looking at
me!...May the Lord give us good luck—and may we all be home by
Christmas!—Mind you finish that sketch!'
She put the letter down with a rather tremulous hand. It had
depressed her, and made her anxious. She read in it that George had
been through horrible things—and had suffered.
Then all that she had seen in the hospital came back upon her, and
rising restlessly she threw herself, without undressing, face downwards
on her bed. That officer, blanched to the colour of white wax, who had
lost a leg after frightful haemorrhage; that other, the merest boy,
whose right eye had been excised—she could not get them out of her
mind, nor the stories they had told her of the actions in which they
had been wounded.
'George—George!' It was a moan of misery, stifled in the darkness.
Then, suddenly, she remembered she had not said good-night to
Bridget. She had forgotten Bridget. She had been unkind. She got up,
and sped along the passage to Bridget's room.
'Bridget!' She just opened the door. 'May I come in?'
Bridget was already in bed. In her hands was a cup of steaming
chocolate which a maid had just brought her, and she was lingering over
it with a face of content.
Nelly opened her eyes in astonishment.
'Did you ask for it, Bridget?'
'I did—or rather the housemaid asked what I would have. She
said—“ladies have just what they like in their rooms.” So I asked for
Nelly sat down on the bed.
'Is it good?'
'Excellent,' said Bridget calmly. 'Whatever did you expect?'
'We seem to have been eating ever since we came!' said Nelly
frowning,—'and they call it economising!'
Bridget threw back her head with a quiet laugh.
'Didn't I tell you so?'
'I wondered how you got on at dinner?' said Nelly hesitating.
'Captain Marsworth didn't seem to be taking much trouble?'
'It didn't matter to me,' said Bridget. 'That kind of man always
behaves like that,'
'You mean soldiers behave like that?'
'Well, I don't like soldiers—brothers-in-law excepted, of course.'
And Bridget gave her short, rather harsh laugh.
Nelly got up.
'Well, I shall be ready to go as early as you like on Monday,
Bridget. It was awfully good of you to pack all my things so nicely!'
'Don't I always?' Bridget laughed.
'You do—you do indeed. Good-night.'
She touched Bridget's cheek with her lips and stole away.
Bridget was left to think. There was a dim light in the room showing
the fine inlaid furniture, the flowery paper, the chintz-covered
arm-chairs and sofa, and, through an open door, part of the tiled wall
of the bathroom.
Miss Cookson had never slept in such a room before, and every item
in it pleased a starved sense in her. Poverty was hateful! Could
one never escape it?
Then she closed her eyes, and seemed to be watching Sir William and
Nelly in the gardens, his protecting eager air—her face looking up. Of
course she might have married him—with the greatest ease!—if only
George Sarratt had not been in the way.
All the talk that evening had been of a new 'push'—a new and steady
offensive, as soon as the shell supply was better. George would be in
that 'push.' Nobody expected it for another month. By that time he
would be back at the front. She lay and thought, her eyes closed, her
harsh face growing a little white and pinched under the electric lamp
beside her. Potentially, her thoughts were murderous. The wish
that George might not return formed itself clearly, for the first time,
in her mind. Dreams followed, as to consequences both for Nelly and
herself, supposing he did not return. And in the midst of them she fell
August came, the second August of the war. The heart of England was
sad and sick, torn by the losses at Gallipoli, by the great disaster of
the Russian retreat, by the shortage of munitions, by the endless small
fighting on the British front, which eat away the young life of our
race, week by week, and brought us no further. But the spirit of the
nation was rising—and its grim task was becoming nakedly visible at
last. Guns—men! Nothing else to say—nothing else to do.
George Sarratt's battalion returned to the fighting line somewhere
about the middle of August. 'But we are only marking time,' he wrote to
his wife. 'Nothing doing here, though the casualties go on every day.
However we all know in our bones there will be plenty to do soon. As
for me I am—more or less—all right again.'
Indeed, as September wore on, expectation quickened on both sides of
the Channel. Nelly went in fear of she knew not what. The newspapers
said little, but through Carton and the Farrells, she heard a great
deal of military gossip. The shell supply was improving—the new
Ministry of Munitions beginning to tell—a great blow was impending.
Weeks of rain and storm died down into an autumnal gentleness. The
bracken was turning on the hills, the woods beginning to dress for the
pageant of October. The sketching lessons which the usual August deluge
had interrupted were to begin again, as soon as Farrell came home. He
had been in France for a fortnight, at Etaples, and in Paris, studying
new methods and appliances for the benefit of the hospital. But whether
he was at home or no, the benefactions of Carton never ceased. Almost
every other day a motor from the Hall drove up laden with fruit and
flowers, with books and magazines.
The fourth week of September opened. The rumours of coming events
crept more heavily and insistently than ever through a sudden spell of
heat that hung over the Lakes. Nelly Sarratt slept little, and wrote
every day to her George, letters of which long sections were often
destroyed when written, condemned for lack of cheerfulness.
She was much touched by Farrell's constant kindness, and grateful
for it; especially because it seemed to keep Bridget in a good temper.
She was grateful too for the visitors whom a hint from him would send
on fine afternoons to call on the ladies at Rydal—convalescent
officers, to whom the drive from Carton, and tea with 'the pretty Mrs.
Sarratt' were an attraction, while Nelly would hang breathless on their
gossip of the war, until suddenly, perhaps, she would turn white and
silent, lying back in her garden chair with the look which the men
talking to her—brave, kind-hearted fellows—soon learnt to understand.
Marsworth came occasionally, and Nelly grew to like him sincerely, and
to be vaguely sorry for him, she hardly knew why. Cicely Farrell
apparently forgot them entirely. And in August and the first part of
September she too, according to Captain Marsworth's information, had
been away, paying visits.
On the morning of September 26th, the Manchester papers which
reached the cottage with the post contained columns of telegrams
describing the British attack at Loos, and the French 'push' in
Champagne. Among the letters was a short word from Sarratt, dated the
24th. 'We shall probably be in action to-morrow, dearest. I will wire
as soon as I can, but you must not be anxious if there is delay. As far
as I can judge it will be a big thing. You may be sure I shall take all
the precautions possible. God bless you, darling. Your letters are
Nelly read the letter and the newspaper, her hands trembling as she
held it. At breakfast, Bridget eyed her uncomfortably.
'He'll be all right!' she said with harsh decision. 'Don't fret.'
The day passed, with heavy heat mists over the Lake, the fells and
the woods blotted out. On pretence of sketching, Nelly spent the hours
on the side of Loughrigg, trying sometimes to draw or sew, but for the
most part, lying with shut eyes, hidden among the bracken. Her faculty
for dreaming awake—for a kind of visualisation sharper than most
people possess—had been much developed since George's departure. It
partly tormented, partly soothed her.
Night came without news. 'I can't hear till to-morrow night,'
she thought, and lay still all night patient and sleepless, her little
hands crossed on her breast. The window was wide open and she could see
the stars peering over Loughrigg.
Next morning, fresh columns in the newspaper. The action was still
going on. She must wait. And somehow it was easier to wait this second
day; she felt more cheerful. Was there some secret voice telling her
that if he were dead, she would have heard?
After lunch she set out to take some of the Carton flowers to the
farmer's wife living in a fold of the fell, who had lost her only son
in the July fighting. Hester Martin had guided her there one day, and
some fellow-feeling had established itself rapidly between Nelly, and
the sad, dignified woman, whose duties went on as usual while all that
gave them zest had departed.
The distance was short, and she left exact word where she could be
found. As she climbed the narrow lane leading to the farm, she
presently heard a motor approaching. The walls enclosing the lane left
barely room to pass. She could only scramble hurriedly up a rock which
had been built into the wall, and hold on to a young tree growing from
it. The motor which was large and luxurious passed slowly, and in the
car she saw two young men, one pale and sickly-looking, wrapped in a
great-coat though the day was stuffily warm: the other, the driver, a
tall and stalwart fellow, who threw Nelly a cold, unfriendly look as
they went by. Who could they be? The road only led to the farm, and
when Nelly had last visited Mrs. Grayson, a week before, she and her
old husband and a granddaughter of fourteen had been its only inmates.
Mrs. Grayson received her with a smile.
'Aye, aye, Mrs. Sarratt, coom in. Yo're welcome.'
But as Nelly entered the flagged kitchen, with its joints of bacon
and its bunches of dried herbs, hanging from the low beamed ceiling,
its wide hob grate, its dresser, table and chairs of old Westmorland
oak, every article in it shining with elbow-grease,—she saw that Mrs.
Grayson looked particularly tired and pale.
'Yo mun ha' passed them in t' lane?' said the farmer's wife wearily,
when the flowers had been admired and put in water, and Nelly had been
established in the farmer's own chair by the fire, while his wife
insisted on getting an early cup of tea.
'Who were they, Mrs. Grayson?'
'Well, they're nobbut a queer soart, Mrs. Sarratt—and I'd be glad
to see t' back on 'em. They're “conscientious objectors”—that's what
they are—an my husband coom across them in Kendal toother day. He'd
finished wi t' market, and he strolled into the room at the Town Hall,
where the men were coomin' in—yo know—to sign on for the war. An' he
got talkin' wi' these two lads, who were lookin' on as he was. And they
said they was “conscientious objectors”—and wouldn't fight not for
nothing nor nobody. But they wouldn't mind doing their bit in other
ways, they said. So John he upped and said—would they coom and help
him with his second crop o' hay—you know we've lost nearly all our
men, Mrs. Sarratt—and they said they would—and that very evening he
brought 'em along. And who do you think they are?'
Nelly could not guess; and Mrs. Grayson explained that the two young
men were the wealthy sons of a wealthy Liverpool tradesman and were
starting a branch of their father's business in Kendal. They had each
of them a motor, and apparently unlimited money. They had just begun to
be useful in the hay-making—'But they wouldn't touch the
stock—they wouldn't kill anything—not a rat! They wouldn't even shoo
the birds from the oats! And last night one of them was took ill—and I
must go and sit up with him, while his brother fetched the big car from
Kendal to take him home. And there was he, groaning,—nobbut a bit of
colic, Mrs. Sarratt, that anybody might have!—and there I
sat—thinking of our lads in the trenches—thinking of my boy
—that never grumbled at anything—and would ha' been just ashamed to
make such a fuss for such a little. And this afternoon the brother's
taken him away to be molly-coddled at home. And, of course, they've
left us, just when they might ha' been o' soom real service. There's
three fields still liggin oot in t' wet—and nobody to lend a hand wi'
them. But I doan't want them back! I doan't hold wi' foak like that. I
doan't want to see a mon like that settin' where my boy used to set,
when he came home. It goes agin me. I can't soomhow put up wi' it.'
And as she sat there opposite Nelly, her gnarled and work-stained
hands resting on her knees, the tears suddenly ran over her cheeks. But
she quickly apologised for herself. 'The truth is I am run doon, Mrs.
Sarratt. I've done nothing but cook and cook—since these
young men coom along. They wouldn't eat noa flesh—soa I must always be
cookin' summat—vegetables—or fish—or sweet things. I'm fair tired
Nelly exclaimed indignantly.
'Was it their religion made them behave like that?'
'Religion!' Mrs. Grayson laughed. 'Well, they was only the yan
Sunday here—but they took no account o't, whativer. They went motorin'
all day; an niver set foot in church or chapel. They belong to soom
Society or other—I couldna tell what. But we'll not talk o' them ony
more, Mrs. Sarratt, if yo please. I'm just thankful they're gone ... An
have ye heard this day of Mr. Sarratt?'
The gentle ageing face bent forward tenderly. Nelly lifted her own
dark-rimmed eyes to it Her mouth quivered.
'No, not yet, Mrs. Grayson. But I shall soon. You'll have seen about
this fighting in the newspapers? There's been a great battle—I think
he'll have been in it. I shall hear to-night. I shall be sure to hear
'The Lord protect him!' said Mrs. Grayson softly. They both sat
silent, looking into the fire. Through the open door, the hens could be
heard pecking and clucking in the yard, and the rushing of a beck
swollen by the rain, on the fell-side. Presently the farmer's wife
'It's devil's work, is war!' she said, her eyes blazing. Nelly held
out her hand and Mrs. Grayson put hers into it. The two women looked at
each other,—the one who had lost, and the other who feared to lose.
'Yes, it's awful,' said Nelly, in a low voice. 'They want us to be
Mrs. Grayson shook her head again.
'We can do it when they're settin' there—afore us,' she said, 'but
not when we're by our lone.'
'It's the nights that are worst—' she murmured, under her
breath—'because it's then they're fighting—when we're in
'My boy was killed between one and two in the morning '—whispered
Mrs. Grayson. 'I heard from one of his friends this morning. He says it
was a lovely night, and the daylight just comin' up. I think of it when
I'm layin' awake and hearing the birds beginning.'
There was silence again, till Mrs. Grayson said, suddenly, with a
'But I'd rather be Jim's mother, and be settin' here without him,
than I'd be the mother o'yan of them young fellows as is just gone!'
'Yes,' said Nelly slowly—'yes. If we think too much about keeping
them safe—just for ourselves—If; they despise—they would
despise us. And if anyone hangs back, we despise them. It' a horrible
'We can pray for them,' said Mrs. Grayson simply. 'God can keep them
safe if it's His will.'
'Yes '—said Nelly again. But her tone was flat and hesitating. Her
ever-present fear was very little comforted by prayer. But she found
comfort in Mrs. Grayson. She liked to stay on in the old kitchen,
watching Mrs. Grayson's household ways, making friends with the stolid
tabby cat, or listening to stories of Jim as a child. Sometimes she
would read parts of George's letters to this new friend. Bridget never
cared to hear them; and she was more completely at ease with the
farmer's wife even than with Hester Martin.
But she could not linger this afternoon. Her news might come any
time. And Sir William had telephoned that morning to say that he and
his sister would call on their way from Windermere, and would ask for a
cup of tea. Marsworth would probably meet them at Rydal.
As she descended the lane, she scolded herself for ingratitude. She
was glad the Farrells were coming, because they would bring newspapers,
and perhaps information besides, of the kind that does not get into
newspapers. But otherwise—why had she so little pleasure now in the
prospect of a visit from Sir William Farrell? He had never forced
himself upon them. Neither his visits nor his lessons had been
oppressively frequent, while the kindnesses which he had showered upon
them, from a distance, had been unceasing. She could hardly have
explained her disinclination. Was it that his company had grown so
stimulating and interesting to her, that it made her think too much of
other things than the war?—and so it seemed to separate her from
George? Her own quiet occupations—the needlework and knitting that she
did for a neighbouring war workroom, the gathering and drying of the
sphagnum moss, the visiting of a few convalescent soldiers, a daily
portion of Wordsworth, and some books about him—these things were
within her compass George knew all about them, for she chronicled them
in her letters day by day. She had a happy peaceful sense of communion
with him while she was busy with them. But Farrell's restless mind and
wide culture at once tired and fascinated her. He would often bring a
volume of Shelley, or Pater, or Hardy, or some quite modern poet, in
his pocket, and propose to read to her and Bridget, when the sketching
was done. And as he read, he would digress into talk, the careless
audacity of which would sometimes distress or repel, and sometimes
absorb her; till suddenly, perhaps, she realised how far she was
wandering from that common ground where she and George had moved
together, and would try and find her way back to it. She was always
learning some new thing; and she hated to learn, unless George changed
and learnt with her.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Captain Marsworth was walking along the road from Grasmere
to Rydal with a rather listless step. As a soldier he was by no means
satisfied with the news of the week. We ought to have been in Lille and
weren't. It seemed to him that was about what the Loos action came to;
and his spirits were low. In addition he was in one of those fits of
depression which attack an able man who has temporarily come to a
stand-still in life, when his physical state is not buoyant enough to
enable him to fight them off. He was beginning plainly to see that his
own part in the war was done. His shattered arm, together with the
neuralgic condition which had followed on the wound, were not going to
mend sufficiently within any reasonable time to let him return to the
fighting line, where, at the moment of his wound, he was doing
divisional staff work, and was in the way of early promotion. He was a
man of clear and vigorous mind, inclined always to take a pessimistic
view of himself and his surroundings, and very critical also of persons
in authority; a scientific soldier, besides, indulging a strong natural
contempt for the politicians and all their crew, only surpassed by a
similar scorn of newspapers and the press. He had never been popular as
a subaltern, but since he had conquered his place among the 'brains' of
the army, his fame had spread, and it was freely prophesied that his
rise would be rapid. So that his growing conviction that his active
military career was over had been the recent cause in him of much
bitterness of soul. It was a bitter realisation, and a recent one. He
had been wounded at Neuve Chapelle in March, and up to July he had been
confident of complete and rapid recovery.
Well, there was of course some compensation. A post in the War
Office—in the Intelligence Department—would, he understood, be
offered him; and by October he meant to be at work. Meanwhile an old
school and college friendship between himself and 'Bill Farrell,'
together with the special facilities at Carton for the treatment of
neuralgia after wounds, had made him an inmate for several months of
the special wing devoted to such cases in the splendid hospital; though
lately by way of a change of surroundings, he had been lodging with the
old Rector of the village of Carton, whose house was kept—and well
kept—by a sweet-looking and practical granddaughter, herself an
Marsworth had connections in high quarters, and possessed some
considerable means. He had been a frequenter of the Farrells since the
days when the old aunt was still in command, and Cicely was a young
thing going to her first dances. He and she had sparred and quarrelled
as boy and girl. Now that, after a long interval, they had again been
thrown into close contact, they sparred and quarrelled still. He was a
man of high and rather stern ideals, which had perhaps been
intensified—made a little grimmer and fiercer than before—by the
strain of the war; and the selfish frivolity of certain persons and
classes in face of the national ordeal was not the least atoned for in
his eyes by the heroism of others. The endless dress advertisements in
the daily papers affected him as they might have affected the prophet
Ezekiel, had the daughters of Judah added the purchase of fur coats,
priced from twenty guineas to two hundred to their other enormities. He
had always in his mind the agonies of the war, the sights of the
trenches, the holocaust of young life, the drain on the national
resources, the burden on the national future. So that the Farrell
motor-cars and men servants, the costly simplicity of the 'cottage,'
Cicely's extravagance in dress, her absurd and expensive uniform, her
make-up and her jewels, were so many daily provocations to a man thus
And yet—he had not been able so far to tear himself away from
Carton! And he knew many things about Cicely Farrell that Nelly Sarratt
had not discovered; things that alternately softened and enraged him;
things that kept him now, as for some years past, provokingly,
irrationally interested in her. He had once proposed to her, and she
had refused him. That was known to a good many people. But what their
relations were now was a mystery to the friends on both sides.
Whatever they were, however, on this September afternoon Marsworth
was coming rapidly to the conclusion that he had better put an end to
them. His latent feelings of resentment and irritation had been much
sharpened of late by certain passages of arms between himself and
Cicely—since she returned from her visits—with regard to that
perfectly gentle and inoffensive little maiden, Miss Daisy Stewart, the
Rector's granddaughter. Miss Farrell had several times been
unpardonably rude to the poor child in his presence, and, as it seemed
to him, with the express object of showing him how little she cared to
keep on friendly terms with him.
Nevertheless—he found himself puzzling over certain other incidents
in his recent ken, of a different character. The hospital at Carton was
mainly for privates, with a certain amount of accommodation for
officers. He had done his best during the summer to be useful to some
poor fellows, especially of his own regiment, on the Tommies' side. And
he had lately come across some perplexing signs of a special
thoughtfulness on Miss Farrell's part for these particular men. He had
discovered also that she had taken pains to keep these small kindnesses
of hers from his knowledge.
'I wasn't to tell you, sir,'—said the boy who had lost an eye—'not
whatever. But when you come along with them things'—a set of draughts
and a book—'why it do seem as though I be gettin' more than my share!'
Well, she had always been incomprehensible—and he was weary of the
attempt to read her. But he wanted a home—he wanted to marry. He began
to think again—in leisurely fashion—of the Rector's granddaughter.
Was that Mrs. Sarratt descending the side-lane? The sight of her
recalled his thoughts instantly to the war, and to a letter he had
received that morning from a brother officer just arrived in London on
medical leave—the letter of a 'grouser' if ever there was one.
'They say that this week is to see another big push—the French
probably in Champagne, and we south of Bethune. I know nothing
first-hand, but I do know that it can only end in a few kilometres of
ground, huge casualties,—and, as you were! We are not ready—we
can't be ready for months. On the other hand we must keep moving—if
only to kill a few Germans, and keep our own people at home in heart. I
passed some of the Lanchesters on my way down—going up, as fresh as
paint after three weeks' rest—what's left of them. They're sure to be
The little figure in the mauve cotton had paused at the entrance to
the lane, perceiving him.
What about Sarratt? Had she heard? He hurried on to meet her, and
put his question.
'There can't be any telegram yet,' she said, her pale cheeks
flushing. 'But it will come to-night. Shall we go back quickly?'
They walked on rapidly. He soon found she did not want to talk of
the news, and he was driven back on the weather.
'What a blessing to see the sun again I this west country damp
'I think I like it!'
'Do you only “say that to annoy ”?'
'No, I do like it! I like to see the rain shutting out
everything, so that one can't make any plans—or go anywhere.' She
smiled, but he was well aware of the fever in her look. He had not seen
it there since the weeks immediately following Sarratt's departure. His
heart warmed to the frail creature, tremulous as a leaf in the wind,
yet making a show of courage. He had often asked himself whether he
would wish to be loved as Mrs. Sarratt evidently loved her husband;
whether he could possibly meet such a claim upon his own sensibility.
But to-day he thought he could meet it; to-day he thought it would be
Nelly had not told Marsworth however that one reason for which she
liked the rain was that it had temporarily put an end to the sketching
lessons. Nor could she have added that this new distaste in her, as
compared with the happy stir of fresh or quickened perception, which
had been the result of his early teaching, was connected, not only with
Sir William—but with Bridget—her sister Bridget.
But the truth was that something in Bridget's manner, very soon
after the Carton visit, had begun to perplex and worry the younger
sister. Why was Bridget always insisting on the lessons?—always ready
to scold Nelly if one was missed—and always practising airs and graces
with Sir William that she wasted on no one else? Why was she so
frequently away on the days when Sir William was expected? Nelly had
only just begun to notice it, and to fall back instinctively on Miss
Martin's company whenever it could be had. She hated her own vague
annoyance with Bridget's behaviour, just because she could not pour
herself out to George about it. It was really too silly and stupid to
talk about. She supposed—she dreaded—that Bridget might be going to
ask Sir William some favour; that she meant to make use of his kindness
to her sister in order to work upon him. How horrible that would
be!—how it would spoil everything! Nelly began sometimes to dream of
moving, of going to Borrowdale, or to the coast at Scascale. And then,
partly her natural indolence, and partly her clinging to every rock and
field in this beautiful place where she had been so happy, intervened;
and she let things slide.
Yet when Sir William and Cicely arrived, to find Bridget making tea,
and Nelly listening with a little frown of effort, while Marsworth,
pencil in hand, was drawing diagrams a la Belloc, to explain to
her the Russian retreat from Galicia, how impossible not to feel
cheered by Farrell's talk and company! The great bon enfant,
towering in the little room, and positively lighting it up by the
red-gold of his-hair and beard, so easily entertained, so overflowing
with kind intentions, so fastidious intellectually, and so indulgent
morally:—as soon as he appeared he filled the scene.
'No fresh news, dear Mrs. Sarratt, nothing whatever,' he said at
once, meeting her hungry eyes. 'And you?'
She shook her head.
'Don't worry. You'll get it soon. I've sent the motor back to
Windermere for the evening papers.'
Meanwhile Marsworth found himself reduced to watching Cicely, and
presently he found himself more angry and disgusted than he had ever
yet been. How could she? How dared she? On this day of all days, to be
snobbishly playing the great lady in Mrs. Sarratt's small sitting-room!
Whenever that was Cicely's mood she lisped; and as often as Marsworth,
who was sitting far away from her, talking to Bridget Cookson, caught
her voice, it seemed to him that she was
lisping—affectedly—monstrously. She was describing for instance a
certain ducal household in which she had just been spending the
week-end, and Marsworth heard her say—
'Well at last, poor Evelyn' ('poor Evelyn' seemed to be a youthful
Duchess, conducting a war economy campaign through the villages of her
husband's estate), 'began to get threatening letters. She found out
afterwards they came from a nurse-maid she had sent away. “Madam, don't
you talk to us, but look at 'ome! examine your own nursewy, Madam, and
hold your tongue!” She did examine, and I found her cwying. “Oh,
Cicely, isn't it awful, I've just discovered that Nurse has been
spending seven pounds a week on Baby's wibbons!” So she's given
up war economy!'
'Why not the “wibbons?”' said Hester Martin, who had just come in
and heard the tale.
'Because nobody gives up what they weally want to have,' said Cicely
promptly, with a more affected voice and accent than before.
Bridget pricked up her ears and nodded triumphantly towards Nelly.
'Don't talk nonsense, Cicely,' said Farrell. 'Why, the Duchess has
planted the whole rose-garden with potatoes, and sold all her
'Only because she was tired of the Pekinese, and has so many flowers
she doesn't know what to do with them! On the other hand the Duke
wants parlour-maids; and whenever he says so, Evelyn draws all the
blinds down and goes to bed. And that annoys him so much that he gives
in! Don't you talk, Willy. The Duchess always gets wound you!'
'I don't care twopence about her,' said Farrell, rather savagely.
'What does she matter?' Then he moved towards Nelly, whose absent look
and drooping attitude he had been observing for some minutes.
'Shan't we go down to the Lake, Mrs. Sarratt? It seems really a fine
evening at last, and there won't be so many more. Let me carry some
shawls. Marsworth, lend a hand.'
Soon they were all scattered along the edge of the Lake. Hester
Martin had relieved Marsworth of Bridget; Farrell had found a dry rock,
and spread a shawl upon it for Nelly's benefit. Marsworth and Cicely
had no choice but to pair; and she, with a grey hat and plume half a
yard high, preposterously short skirts, and high-heeled boots buttoned
to the knee, condescended to stroll beside him, watching his grave
embarrassed look with an air of detachment as dramatically complete as
she could make it.
* * * * *
'You look awfully tired!' said Farrell to his companion, eyeing her
with most sincere concern. 'I wonder what you've been doing to
'I'm all right,' she said with emphasis. 'Indeed I'm all right. You
said you'd sent for the papers?'
'The motor will wait for them at Windermere. But I don't think
there'll be much more to hear. I'm afraid we've shot our bolt.'
She clasped her hands listlessly on her knee, and said nothing.
'Are you quite sure Sarratt has been in it?' he asked her.
'Oh, yes, I'm sure.'
There was a dull conviction in her voice. She began to pluck at the
grass beside her, while her dark contracted eyes swept the Lake in
front of her—seeing nothing.
'Good God!'—thought Farrell—'Are they all—all the
women—suffering like this?'
'You'll get a telegram from him to-morrow, I'm certain you will!' he
said, with eager kindness. 'Try and look forward to it. You know the
good chances are five to one.'
'Not for a lieutenant,' she said, under her breath. 'They have to
lead their men. They can't think of their own lives.'
There was silence a little. Then Farrell said—floundering, 'He'd
want you to bear up!'
'I am bearing up!' she said quickly, a little resentfully.
'Yes, indeed you are!' He touched her arm a moment caressingly, as
though in apology. It was natural to his emotional temperament to
express itself so—through physical gesture. But Nelly disliked the
'I only meant'—Farrell continued, anxiously—'that he would beg you
not to anticipate trouble—not to go to meet it.'
She summoned smiles, altering her position a little, and drawing a
wrap round her. The delicate arm was no longer within his reach.
And restlessly she began to talk of other things—the conscientious
objectors of the morning—Zeppelins—a recruiting meeting at Ambleside.
Farrell had the impression of a wounded creature that could not bear to
be touched; and it was something new to his prevailing sense of power
in life, to be made to realise that he could do nothing. His sympathy
seemed to alienate her; and he felt much distressed and rebuffed.
* * * * *
Meanwhile as the clouds cleared away from the September afternoon,
Marsworth and Cicely were strolling along the Lake, and sparring as
He had communicated to her his intention of leaving Carton within a
week or so, and trying some fresh treatment in London.
'You're tired of us?' she enquired, her head very much in air.
'Not at all. But I think I might do a bit of work.'
'The doctors don't think so.'
'Ah, well—when a man's got to my stage, he must make experiments on
his own. It won't be France—I know that. But there's lots else.'
'You'll break down in a week!' she said with energy. 'I had a talk
about you with Seaton yesterday.'
He looked at her with amusement. For the moment, she was no longer
Cicely Farrell, extravagantly dressed, but the shrewd hospital worker,
who although she would accept no responsibility that fettered her
goings and comings beyond a certain point, was yet, as he well knew,
invaluable, as a force in the background, to both the nursing and
medical staff of Carton.
'Well, what did Seaton say?'
'That you would have another bad relapse, if you attempted yet to go
'I shall risk it.'
'That's so like you. You never take anyone's advice.'
'On the contrary, I am the meekest and most docile of men.' She
shrugged her shoulders.
'You were docile, I suppose, when Seaton begged you not to go off to
the Rectory, and give yourself all that extra walking backwards and
forwards to the hospital every day?'
'I wanted a change of scene. I like the old Rector—I even like
'I am sure everything—and everybody—is perfect at the
'No—not perfect—but peaceable.'
He looked at her smiling. His grey eyes, under their strong black
brows, challenged her. She perceived in them a whole swarm of unspoken
charges. Her own colour rose.
'So peace is what you want?'
'Peace—and a little sympathy.'
'And we give you neither?'
'Willy never fails one.'
'So it's my crimes that are driving you away? It's all to be laid on
'Don't you believe me when I say I want to do some work?'
'Not much. So I have offended you?'
His look changed, became grave—touched with compunction.
'Miss Farrell, I oughtn't to have been talking like this. You and
Willy have been awfully good to me.'
'And then you call me “Miss Farrell”!' she cried,
passionately—'when you know very well that you've called me Cicely for
'Hush!' said Marsworth suddenly, 'what was that?'
He turned back towards Rydal. On the shore path, midway between them
and the little bay at the eastern end of the lake, where Farrell and
Nelly Sarratt had been sitting, were Hester Martin and Bridget. They
too had turned round, arrested in their walk. Beyond them, at the edge
of the water, Farrell could be seen beckoning. And a little way behind
him on the slope stood a boy with a bicycle.
'He is calling us,' said Marsworth, and began to run.
Hester Martin was already running—Bridget too.
But Hester and Marsworth outstripped the rest. Farrell came to meet
'Hester, for God's sake, get her sister!'
'What is it?' gasped Hester. 'Is he killed?'
'No—“Wounded and missing!” Poor, poor child!'
'Where is she?'
'She's sitting there—dazed—with the telegram. She's hardly said
anything since it came.'
Hester ran on. There on a green edge of the bank sat Nelly staring
at a fluttering piece of paper.
Hester sank beside her, and put her arms round her.
'Dear Mrs. Sarratt!'
'What does it mean?' said Nelly turning her white face. 'Read it.'
'“Deeply regret to inform you your husband reported wounded and
'Missing? That means—a prisoner. George is a prisoner—and
wounded! Can't I go to him?'
She looked piteously at Hester. Bridget had come up and was standing
'If he's a prisoner, he's in a German hospital. Dear Mrs. Sarratt,
you'll soon hear of him!'
Nelly stood up. Her young beauty of an hour before seemed to have
dropped from her like the petals of a rose. She put her hand to her
'But I shan't see him—again'—she said slowly—'till the end of the
war—the end of the war'—she repeated, pressing her hands on
her eyes. The note of utter desolation brought the tears to Hester's
cheeks. But before she could say anything, Nelly had turned sharply to
'Bridget, I must go up to-night!'
'Must you?' said Bridget reluctantly. 'I don't see what you can do.'
'I can go to the War Office—and to that place where they make
enquiries for you. Of course, I must go to London!—and I must
stay there. There might be news of him any time.'
Bridget and Hester looked at each other. The same thought was in
their minds. But Nelly, restored to momentary calmness by her own
suggestion, went quickly to Farrell, who with his sister and Marsworth
was standing a little way off.
'I must go to London to-night, Sir William. Could you order
something for me?'
'I'll take you to Windermere, Mrs. Sarratt,' said Cicely before her
brother could reply. 'The motor's there now.'
'No, no, Cicely, I'll take Mrs. Sarratt,' said Farrell impatiently.
'I'll send back a car from Ambleside, for you and Marsworth.'
'You forget Sir George Whitehead,' said Cicely quietly. 'I'll do
Sir George Whitehead of the A.M.S.C. was expected at Carton that
evening on a visit of inspection to the hospital. Farrell, as
Commandant, could not possibly be absent. He acknowledged the fact by a
gesture of annoyance. Cicely immediately took things in charge.
A whirl of packing and departure followed. By the time she and her
charges left for Windermere, Cicely's hat and high heels had been
entirely blotted out by a quite extraordinary display on her part of
both thoughtfulness and efficiency. Marsworth had seen the same
transformation before, but never so markedly. He tried several times to
make his peace with her; but she held aloof, giving him once or twice
an odd look out of her long almond-shaped eyes.
'Good-bye, and good luck!' said Farrell to Nelly, through the car
window; and as she held out her hand, he stooped and kissed it with a
gulp in his throat. Her deathly pallor and a grey veil thrown back and
tied under her small chin gave her a ghostly loveliness which stamped
itself on his recollection.
'I am going up to town myself to-morrow. I shall come and see if I
can do anything for you.'
'Thank you,' said Nelly mechanically. 'Oh yes, I shall have thought
of many things by then. Good-bye.'
Marsworth and Farrell were left to watch the disappearance of the
car along the moonlit road.
'Poor little soul!' said Farrell—'poor little soul!' He walked on
along the road, his eyes on the ground. Marsworth offered him a cigar,
and they smoked in silence.
'What'll the next message be?' said Farrell, after a little while.
'“Reported wounded and missing—now reported killed”? Most probable!'
Marsworth assented sadly.
It was a pale September day. In the country, among English woods and
heaths the sun was still strong, and trees and bracken, withered heath,
and reddening berries, burned and sparkled beneath it. But in the dingy
bedroom of a dingy Bloomsbury hotel, with a film of fog over everything
outside, there was no sun to be seen; the plane trees beyond the
windows were nearly leafless; and the dead leaves scudding and whirling
along the dusty, airless streets, under a light wind, gave the last
dreary touch to the scene that Nelly Sarratt was looking at. She was
standing at a window, listlessly staring at some houses opposite, and
the unlovely strip of garden which lay between her and the houses.
Bridget Cookson was sitting at a table a little way behind her, mending
The sisters had been four days in London. For Nelly, life was just
bearable up to five or six o'clock in the evening because of her
morning and afternoon visits to the Enquiry Office in D——Street,
where everything that brains and pity could suggest was being done to
trace the 'missing'; where sat also that kind, tired woman, at the
table which Nelly by now knew so well, with her pitying eyes, and her
soft voice, which never grew perfunctory or careless. 'I'm so
sorry!—but there's no fresh news.' That had been the evening message;
and now the day's hope was over, and the long night had to be got
That morning, however, there had been news—a letter from Sarratt's
Colonel, enclosing letters from two privates, who had seen Sarratt go
over the parapet in the great rush, and one of whom had passed
him—wounded—on the ground and tried to stay by him. But 'Lieutenant
Sarratt wouldn't allow it.' 'Never mind me, old chap'—one witness
reported him as saying. 'Get on. They'll pick me up presently.' And
there they had left him, and knew no more.
Several other men were named, who had also seen him fall, but they
had not yet been traced. They might be in hospital badly wounded, or if
Sarratt had been made prisoner, they had probably shared his fate. 'And
if your husband has been taken prisoner, as we all hope,' said the
gentle woman at the office—'it will be at least a fortnight before we
can trace him. Meanwhile we are going on with all other possible
Nelly had those phrases by heart. The phrases too of that short
letter—those few lines—the last she had ever received from George,
written two days before the battle, which had reached her in
Westmorland before her departure.
That letter lay now on her bosom, just inside the folds of her
blouse, where her hand could rest upon it at any moment. How
passionately she had hoped for another, a fragment perhaps torn from
his notebook in the trenches, and sent back by some messenger at the
last moment! She had heard of that happening to so many others. Why not
to her!—oh, why not to her?
Her heart was dry with longing and grief; her eyes were red for want
of sleep. There were strange numb moments when she felt nothing, and
could hardly remember why she was in London. And then would come the
sudden smart of reviving consciousness—the terrible returns of an
anguish, under which her whole being trembled. And always, at the back
of everything, the dull thought—'I always knew it—I knew he would
die!'—recurring again and again; only to be dashed away by a protest
no less persistent—'No, no! He is not dead!—not dead! In a
fortnight—she said so—there'll be news—they'll have found him. Then
he'll be recovering—and prisoners are allowed to write. Oh, my
It was with a leap of ecstasy that yet was pain, that she imagined
to herself the coming of the first word from him. Prisoners' letters
came regularly—no doubt of that. Why, the landlady at the hotel had a
son who was at Ruhleben, and she heard once a month. Nelly pictured the
moment when the letter would be in her hand, and she would be looking
at it. Oh, no doubt it wouldn't be addressed by him! By the nurse
perhaps—a German nurse—or another patient. He mightn't be well
enough. All the same, the dream filled her eyes with tears, that for a
moment eased the burning within.
Her life was now made up of such moments and dreams. On the whole,
what held her most was the fierce refusal to think of him as dead. That
morning, in dressing, among the clothes they had hurriedly brought with
them from Westmorland, she saw a thin black dress—a useful stand-by in
the grime of London—and lifted her hands to take it from the peg on
which it hung. Only to recoil from it with horror. That—never!
And she had dressed herself with care in a coat and skirt of rough blue
tweed that George had always liked; scrupulously putting on her little
ornaments, and taking pains with her hair. And at every step of the
process, she seemed to be repelling some attacking force; holding a
door with all her feeble strength against some horror that threatened
to come in.
The room in which she stood was small and cheerless; but it was all
they could afford. Bridget frankly hated the ugliness and bareness of
it; hated the dingy hotel, and the slatternly servants, hated the
boredom of the long waiting for news to which apparently she was to be
committed, if she stayed on with Nelly. She clearly saw that public
opinion would expect her to stay on. And indeed she was not without
some natural pity for her younger sister. There were moments when
Nelly's state caused her extreme discomfort—even something more. But
when they occurred, she banished them as soon as possible, and with a
firm will, which grew the firmer with exercise. It was everybody's duty
to keep up their spirits and not to be beaten down by this abominable
war. And it was a special duty for those who hated the war, and would
stop it at once if they could. Yet Bridget had entirely declined to
join any 'Stop the War,' or pacifist societies. She had no sympathy
with 'that sort of people.' Her real opinion about the war was that no
cause could be worth such wretched inconvenience as the war caused to
everyone. She hated to feel and know that probably the majority of
decent people would say, if asked,—as Captain Marsworth had
practically said—that she, Bridget Cookson, ought to be doing V.A.D.
work, or relieving munition-workers at week-ends, instead of fiddling
with an index to a text-book on 'The New Psychology.' The mere
consciousness of that was already an attack on her personal freedom to
do what she liked, which she hotly resented. And as to that
conscription of women for war-work which was vaguely talked of, Bridget
passionately felt that she would go to prison rather than submit to
such a thing. For the war said nothing whatever to her heart or
conscience. All the great tragic side of it—the side of death and
wounds and tears—of high justice and ideal aims—she put away from
her, as she always had put away such things, in peace. They did not
concern her personally. Why make trouble for oneself?
And yet here was a sister whose husband was 'wounded and
missing'—probably, as Bridget firmly believed, already dead. And the
meaning of that fact—that possibility—was writ so large on Nelly's
physical aspect, on Nelly's ways and plans, that there was really no
getting away from it. Also—there were other people to be considered.
Bridget did not at all want to offend or alienate Sir William
Farrell—now less than ever. And she was quite aware that he would
think badly of her, if he suspected she was not doing her best for
The September light waned. The room grew so dark that Bridget turned
on an electric light beside her, and by the help of it stole a long
look at Nelly, who was still standing by the window. Would
grieving—would the loss of George—take Nelly's prettiness away? She
had certainly lost flesh during the preceding weeks and days. Her
little chin was very sharp, as Bridget saw it against the window, and
her hair seemed to have parted with its waves and curls, and to be
hanging limp about her ears. Bridget felt a pang of annoyance that
anything should spoil Nelly's good looks. It was altogether unnecessary
Presently Nelly moved back towards her sister.
'I don't know how I shall get through the next fortnight,' she said
in a low voice. 'I wonder what we had better do?'
'Well, we can't stay here,' said Bridget sharply. 'It's too
expensive, though it is such a poky hole. We can find a lodging, I
suppose, and feed ourselves. Unless of course we went back to
Westmorland. Why can't you? They can always telegraph.'
Nelly flushed. Her hand lying on the back of Bridget's chair shook.
'And if George sent for me,' she said, in the same low, strained
voice, 'it would take eight hours longer to get to him than it would
Bridget said nothing. In her heart of hearts she felt perfectly
certain that George never would send. She rose and put down her
'I must go and post a letter downstairs. I'll ask the woman in the
office if she knows anything about lodgings.'
Nelly went back to her post by the window. Her mind was bruised
between two conflicting feelings—a dumb longing for someone to caress
and comfort her, someone who would meet her pain with a bearing less
hard and wooden than Bridget's—and at the same time, a passionate
shrinking from the bare idea of comfort and sympathy, as something not
to be endured. She had had a kind letter from Sir William Farrell that
morning. He had spoken of being soon in London. But she did not know
that she could bear to see him—unless he could help—get something
Bridget descended to the ground floor, and had a conversation with
the young lady in the office, which threw no light at all on the
question of lodgings. The young lady in question seemed to be patting
and pinning up her back hair all the time, besides carrying on another
conversation with a second young lady in the background. Bridget was
disgusted with her and was just going upstairs again, when the very
shabby and partly deformed hall porter informed her that someone—a
gentleman—was waiting to see her in the drawing-room.
A gentleman? Bridget hastened to the small and stuffy drawing-room,
where the hall porter had just turned on the light, and there beheld a
tall bearded man pacing up and down, who turned abruptly as she
'How is she? Is there any news?'
Sir William Farrell hurriedly shook her offered hand, frowning a
little at the sister who always seemed to him inadequate and
'Thank you, Sir William; she is quite well. There is a little
news—but nothing of any consequence.'
She repeated the contents of the hospital letter, with the comments
on it of the lady they had seen at the office.
'We shan't hear anything more for a fortnight. They have written to
'Then they think he's a prisoner?'
Bridget supposed so.
'At any rate they hope he is. Well, I'm thankful there's no worse
news. Poor thing—poor little thing! Is she bearing
He asked the questions peremptorily, yet with a real anxiety.
Bridget vaguely resented the peremptoriness, but she answered the
questions. It was very difficult to get Nelly to eat anything, and
Bridget did not believe she slept much.
Farrell shook his head impatiently, with various protesting noises,
while she spoke. Then drawing up suddenly, with his hands in his
pockets, he looked round the room in which they stood.
'But why are you staying here? It's a dreadful hole! That porter
gave me the creeps. And it's so far from everywhere.'
'There is a tube station close by. We stay here because it's cheap,'
said Bridget, grimly.
Sir William walked up the room again, poking his nose into the
moribund geranium that stood, flanked by some old railway guides, on
the middle table, surveyed the dirty and ill-kept writing-table, the
uncomfortable chairs, and finally went to look out of the window; after
which he suddenly and unaccountably brightened up and turned with a
smile to Bridget.
'Do you think you could persuade your sister to do something that
would please me very much?'
'I'm sure I don't know, Sir William.'
'Well, it's this. Cicely and I have a flat in St. James' Square. I'm
there very little just now, and she less. You know we're both awfully
busy at Carton. We've had a rush of wounded the last few weeks. I must
be up sometimes on business for the hospital, but I can always sleep at
my club. So what I want to persuade you to do, Miss Cookson, is to get
Mrs. Sarratt to accept the loan of our flat, for a few weeks while
she's kept in town. It would be a real pleasure to us. We're awfully
sorry for her!'
He beamed upon her, all his handsome face suffused with kindness and
Bridget was amazed, but cautious.
'It's awfully good of you—but—shouldn't we have to get a servant?
I couldn't do everything.'
Sir William laughed.
'Gracious—I should think not! There are always servants there—it's
kept ready for us. I put in a discharged soldier—an army cook and his
wife—a few months ago. They're capital people. I'm sure they'd look
after you. Well now, will you suggest that to Mrs. Sarratt? Could I see
Bridget hesitated. Some instinct told her that Nelly would not wish
to accept this proposal. She said slowly—
'I'm afraid she's very tired to-night.'
'Oh, don't bother her then! But just try and persuade her—won't
you—quietly? And send me a word to-night.'
He gave the address.
'If I hear that you'll come, I'll make all the arrangements
to-morrow morning before I leave for Westmorland. You can just take her
round in a taxi any time you like, and the servants will be quite ready
for you. You'll be close to D——Street—close to everything. Now do!'
He stood with his hands on his side looking down eagerly and a
little sharply on the hard-featured woman before him.
'It's awfully good of you,' said Bridget again—'most awfully good.
Of course I'll tell Nelly what you say.'
'And drop me a line to-night?'
'Yes, I'll write.'
Sir William took up his stick.
'Well, I shall put everything in train. Tell her, please, what a
pleasure she'd give us. And she won't keep Cicely away. Cicely will be
up next week. But there's plenty of room. She and her maid wouldn't
make any difference to you. And please tell Mrs. Sarratt too, that if
there's anything I can do—anything—she has only to let me
* * * * *
Bridget went back to the room upstairs. As she opened the door she
saw Nelly standing under the electric light—motionless. Something in
her attitude startled Bridget.
Nelly turned slowly, and Bridget saw that she had a letter in her
hand. Bridget ran up to her.
'Have you heard anything?'
'He did write to me!—he did!—just the last minute—in the
trench. I knew he must. He gave it to an engineer officer who was going
back to Headquarters, to post. The officer was badly wounded as he went
back. They've sent it me from France. The waiter brought me the letter
just after you'd gone down.'
The words came in little panting gasps.
Then, suddenly, she slipped down beside the table at which Bridget
had been working, and hid her face. She was crying. But it was very
difficult weeping—with few tears. The slight frame shook from top to
Bridget stood by her, not knowing what to do. But she was conscious
of a certain annoyance that she couldn't begin at once on the subject
of the flat. She put her hand awkwardly on her sister's shoulder.
'Don't cry so. What does he say?'
Nelly did not answer for a little. At last she said, her face still
'It was only—to tell me—that he loved me—'
There was silence again. Then Nelly rose to her feet. She pressed
her hair back from her white face.
'I don't want any supper, Bridget. I think—I should like to go to
Bridget helped her to undress. It was now nearly dark and she drew
down the blinds. When she looked again at Nelly, she saw her lying
white and still, her wide eyes fixed on vacancy.
'I found a visitor downstairs,' she said, abruptly. 'It was Sir
Nelly shewed no surprise, or interest. But she seemed to find some
'Why did he come?'
Bridget came to the bedside.
'He wants us to go and stay at his flat—their flat. He and his
sister have it together—in St. James' Square. He wants us to go
to-morrow. He's going back to Carton. There are two servants there. We
shouldn't have any trouble. And you'd be close to D——Street. Any news
they got they could send round directly.'
Nelly closed her eyes.
'I don't care where we go,' she said, under her breath.
'He wanted a line to-night,' said Bridget—'I can't hear of any
lodgings. And the boarding-houses are all getting frightfully
expensive—because food's going up so.'
'Not a boarding-house!' murmured Nelly. A shiver of repulsion ran
through her. She was thinking of a boarding-house in one of the
Bloomsbury streets where she and Bridget had once stayed before her
marriage—the long tables full of strange faces—the drawing-room
crowded with middle-aged women, who stared so.
'Well, I can write to him to-night then, and say we'll go to-morrow?
We certainly can't stay here. The charges are abominable. If we go to
their flat, for a few days, we can look round us and find something
'Where is it?' said Nelly faintly.
'In St. James' Square.'
The address conveyed very little to Nelly. She knew hardly anything
of London. Two visits—one to some cousins in West Kensington, another
to a friend at Hampstead—together with the fortnight three years ago
in the Bloomsbury boarding-house, when Bridget had had some grand
scheme with a publisher which never came off, and Nelly had mostly
stayed indoors with bad toothache:—her acquaintance with the great
city had gone no further. Of its fashionable quarters both she and
Bridget were entirely ignorant, though Bridget would not have admitted
Bridget got her writing-case out of her trunk and began to write to
Sir William. Nelly watched her. At last she said slowly, as though she
were becoming a little more conscious of the world around her:—
'It's awfully kind of them. But we needn't stay long.'
'Oh no, we needn't stay long.'
Bridget wrote the letter, and disappeared to post it. Nelly was left
alone in darkness. The air about her seemed to be ringing with the
words of her letter.
'MY OWN DARLING,—We are just going over. I have found a man
back to D.H.Q. who will post this—and I just want you to know
that, whatever happens, you are my beloved, and our love can't
God bless you, my dear, dear wife.... We are all in good
spirits—everything ought to go well—and I will write the
She seemed to see him, tearing the leaf from the little block she
had given him, and standing in the trench, so slim and straight in his
khaki. And then, what happened after? when the rush came? Would she
never know? If he never came back to her, what was she going to do with
her life? Waves of lonely terror went through her—terror of the long
sorrow before her—terror of her own weakness.
And then again—reaction. She sat up in bed, angrily wrestling with
her own lapse from hope. Of course it was all coming right! She turned
on the light, with a small trembling hand, and tried to read a
newspaper Bridget had brought in. But the words swam before her; the
paper dropped from her grasp; and when Bridget came back, her face was
hidden, she seemed to be asleep.
* * * * *
'Is this it?' said Nelly, looking in alarm at the new and splendid
house before which the taxi had drawn up.
'Well, it's the right number!' And Bridget, rather flurried, looked
at the piece of paper on which Farrell had written the address for her,
the night before.
She jumped out of the taxi and ran up some marble steps towards a
glass door covered with a lattice metal-work, beyond which a hall, a
marble staircase and a lift shewed dimly. Inside, a porter in livery,
at the first sight of the taxi, put down the newspaper he was reading,
and hurried to the door.
'Is this Sir William Farrell's flat?' asked Bridget.
'It's all right, Miss. They're expecting you. Sir William went off
this morning. I was to tell you he had to go down to Aldershot to-day
on business, but he hoped to look in this evening, on his way to
Euston, to see that you had everything comfortable.'
Reluctantly, and with a feeble step, Nelly descended, helped by the
'Oh, Bridget, I wish we hadn't come!' She breathed it into her
sister's ear, as they stood together in the hall, waiting for the lift
which had been called. Bridget shut her lips tightly, and said nothing.
The lift carried them up to the third floor, and there at the top
the ex-army cook and his wife were waiting, a pair of stout and
comfortable people, all smiles and complaisance. The two small trunks
were shouldered by the man, and the woman led the way.
'Lunch will be ready directly, Ma'am,' she said to Nelly, who
followed her in bewilderment across a hall panelled in marble and
carpeted with something red and soft.
'Sir William thought you would like it about one o'clock. And this
is your room, please, Ma'am—unless you would like anything different.
It's Miss Farrell's room. She always likes the quiet side. And I've put
Miss Cookson next door. I thought you'd wish to be together?'
Nelly entered a room furnished in white and pale green, luxurious in
every detail, and hung with engravings after Watteau framed in white
wood. Through an open door shewed another room a little smaller, but
equally dainty and fresh in all its appointments. Bridget tripped
briskly through the open door, looked around her and deposited her bag
upon the bed. Nelly meanwhile was being shewn the green-tiled and
marble-floored bathroom attached to her room, Mrs. Simpson chattering
on the various improvements and subtleties, which 'Miss Cicely' had
lately commanded there.
'But I'm sure you'll be wanting your lunch, Ma'am,' said the woman
at last, venturing a compassionate glance at the pale young creature
beside her. 'It'll be ready in five minutes. I'll tell Simpson he can
She disappeared, and Nelly sank into a chair. Why had they come to
this place? Her whole nature was in revolt. The gaiety and luxury of
the flat seemed to rise up and reproach her. What was she doing in such
surroundings?—when George—Oh, it was hateful—hateful! She thought
with longing of the little bare room in the Rydal lodgings, where they
had been happy together.
'Well, are you ready?' said Bridget, bustling in. 'Do take off your
things. You look absolutely done up!'
Nelly rose slowly, but her face had flushed.
'I can't stay here, Bridget!' she said with energy—'I can't! I
don't know why we came.'
'Because we were asked,' said Bridget calmly. 'We can stay, I think,
for a couple of days, can't we, till we find something else? Where are
And she began vigorously unpacking for her sister, helplessly
watched by Nelly. They had just come from D——Street, where Nelly had
been shewn various letters and telegrams; but nothing which promised
any real further clue to George Sarratt's fate. He had been seen
advancing—seen wounded—by at least a dozen men of the regiment, and a
couple of officers, all of whom had now been communicated with. But the
wave of the counter-attack—temporarily successful—had rushed over the
same ground before the British gains had been finally consolidated, and
from that fierce and confused fighting there came no further word of
George Sarratt. It was supposed that in the final German retreat he had
been swept up as a German prisoner. He was not among the dead found and
buried by an English search party on the following day—so much had
been definitely ascertained.
The friendly volunteer in D——Street—whose name appeared to be
Miss Eustace—had tried to insist with Nelly that on the whole, and so
far, the news collected was not discouraging. At least there was no
verification of death. And for the rest, there were always the letters
from Geneva to wait for. 'One must be patient,' Miss Eustace had said
finally. 'These things take so long! But everybody's doing their best.'
And she had grasped Nelly's cold hands in hers, long and pityingly. Her
own fine aquiline face seemed to have grown thinner and more strained
even since Nelly had known it. She often worked in the office, she
said, up to midnight.
All these recollections and passing visualisations of words and
faces, drawn from those busy rooms a few streets off, in which not only
George Sarratt's fate, but her own, as it often seemed to Nelly, were
being slowly and inexorably decided, passed endlessly through her
brain, as she mechanically took off her things, and brushed her hair.
Presently she was following Bridget across the hall to the
drawing-room. Bridget seemed already to know all about the flat. 'The
dining-room opens out of the drawing-room. It's all Japanese,' she said
complaisantly, turning back to her sister. 'Isn't it jolly? Miss
Farrell furnished it. Sir William let her have it all her own way.'
Nelly looked vaguely round the drawing-room, which had a blue
Persian carpet, pale purple walls, hung with Japanese colour prints, a
few chairs, one comfortable sofa, a couple of Japanese cabinets, and
pots of Japanese lilies in the corners. It was a room not meant for
living in. There was not a book in it anywhere. It looked exactly what
it was—a perching-place for rich people, who liked their own ways, and
could not be bored with hotels.
The dining-room was equally bare, costly, and effective. Its only
ornament was a Chinese Buddha, a great terra-cotta, marvellously alive,
which had been looted from some Royal tomb, and now sat serenely out of
place, looking over the dainty luncheon-table to the square outside,
and wrapt in dreams older than Christianity.
The flat was nominally lent to 'Mrs. Sarratt,' but Bridget was
managing everything, and had never felt so much in her element in her
life. She sat at the head of the table, helped Nelly, gave all the
orders, and was extraordinarily brisk and cheerful.
Nelly scarcely touched anything, and Mrs. Simpson who waited was
'Perhaps you'd tell Simpson anything you could fancy, Madam,' she
said anxiously in Nelly's ear, as she handed the fruit. Nelly must
needs smile when anyone spoke kindly to her. She smiled now, though
'Why, it's all beautiful, thank you. But I'm not hungry.'
'We'll have coffee in the drawing-room, please, Mrs. Simpson,' said
Bridget rising—a tall masterful figure, in a black silk dress, which
she kept for best occasions. 'Now Nelly, you must rest.'
Nelly let herself be put on the sofa in the drawing-room, and
Bridget—after praising the coffee, the softness of the chairs, the
beauty of the Japanese lilies, and much speculation on the value of the
Persian carpet which, she finally decided, was old and
priceless—announced that she was going for a walk.
'Why don't you come too, Nelly? Come and look at the shops. You
shouldn't mope all day long. If they do send for you to nurse George,
you won't have the strength of a cat.'
But Nelly had shrunk into herself. She said she would stay in and
write a letter to Hester Martin. Presently she was left alone. Mrs.
Simpson had cleared away, and shut all the doors between the
sitting-rooms and the kitchen. Inside the flat nothing was to be heard
but the clock ticking on the drawing-room mantelpiece. Outside, there
were intermittent noises and rattles from the traffic in the square,
and beyond that again the muffled insistent murmur which seemed to
Nelly this afternoon—in her utter loneliness—the most desolate sound
she had ever heard. The day had turned to rain and darkness, and the
rapid closing of the October afternoon prophesied winter. Nelly could
not rouse herself to write the letter to Miss Martin. She lay prone in
a corner of the sofa, dreaming, as she had done all her life; save that
the faculty—of setting in motion at will a stream of vivid and
connected images—which had always been one of her chief pleasures, was
now an obsession and a torment. How often, in her wakeful nights at
Rydal, had she lived over again every moment in the walk to Blea Tarn,
till at last, gathered once more on George's knees, and nestling to his
breast, she had fallen asleep—comforted.
She went through it all, once more, in this strange room, as the
darkness closed; only the vision ended now, not in a tender
thrill—half conscious, fading into sleep—of remembered joy, but in an
anguish of sobbing, the misery of the frail tormented creature, unable
to bear its life.
Nevertheless sleep came. For nights she had scarcely slept, and in
the silence immediately round her the distant sounds gradually lost
their dreary note, and became a rhythmical and soothing influence. She
fell into a deep unconsciousness.
* * * * *
An hour later, a tall man rang at the outer door of the flat. Mrs.
Simpson obeyed the summons, and found Sir William Farrell on the
'Well, have they come?'
'Oh, yes, sir.' And Mrs. Simpson gave a rapid, sotto voce
account of the visitors' arrival, their lunch, Mrs. Sarratt's sad
looks—'poor little lady!'—and much else.
Sir William stepped in.
'Are they at home?'
Mrs. Simpson shook her head.
'They went out after lunch, Sir William, and I have not heard them
Which, of course, was a mistake on the part of Mrs. Simpson, who,
hearing the front door close half an hour after luncheon and no
subsequent movement in the flat, had supposed that the sisters had gone
'All right. I'll wait for them. I want to see Mrs. Sarratt before I
start. You may get me a cup of tea, if you like.'
Mrs. Simpson disappeared with alacrity, and Farrell crossed the hall
to the drawing-room. He turned on the light as he opened the door, and
was at once aware of Nelly's slight form on the sofa. She did not move,
and something in her attitude—some rigidity that he fancied—alarmed
him. He took a few steps, and then saw that there was no cause for
alarm. She was only asleep, poor child, profoundly, pathetically
asleep. Her utter unconsciousness, the delicate hand and arm lying over
the edge of the sofa, and the gleam of her white forehead under its
muffling cloud of hair, moved him strangely. He retreated as quietly as
he could, and almost ran into Mrs. Simpson bringing a tray. He beckoned
her into a small room which he used as his own den. But he had hardly
explained the situation, before there were sounds in the drawing-room,
and Nelly opened the door, which he had closed behind him. He had
forgotten to turn out the light, and its glare had awakened her.
'Oh, Sir William—' she said, in bewilderment—'Did you come in just
He explained his proceedings, retaining the hand she gave him, and
looking down upon her with an impulsive and affectionate pity.
'You were asleep. I disturbed you,' he said, remorsefully.
'Oh no, do come in.'
She led the way into the drawing-room.
'I wanted—specially—to tell you some things I heard at Aldershot
to-day, which I thought might cheer you,' said Farrell.
And sitting beside her, while Mrs. Simpson lit a fire and spread a
white tea-table, he repeated various stories of the safe return of
'missing' men which he had collected for her that morning, including
the narrative of an escaped prisoner, who, although badly wounded, had
managed to find his way back, at night, from the neighbourhood of
Brussels, through various hairbreadth adventures and disguises, and
after many weeks to the British lines. He brought the tale to her, as
an omen of hope, together with his other gleanings; and under the
influence of his cheerful voice and manner, Nelly's aspect changed; the
light came back into her eyes, which hung upon him, as Farrell talked
on, persuading himself, as he persuaded her. So that presently, when
tea came in, and the kettle boiled, she was quite ready to pour out for
him, to ask him questions about his night journey, and thank him
timidly for all his kindness.
'But this—this is too grand for us!'—she said, looking round her.
'We must find a lodging soon.'
He begged her earnestly to let the flat be of use to her, and she,
embarrassed and unwilling, but dreading to hurt his feelings, was
compelled at last to submit to a week's stay.
Then he got up to go; and she was very sorry to say good-bye to him.
As for him, in her wistful and gracious charm, she had never seemed to
him more lovely. How she became grief!—in her measure reserve!
He ran down the stairs of the mansion just as Bridget Cookson
arrived with the lift at the third floor. She recognised the
disappearing figure, and stood a moment at the door of the flat,
looking after it, a gleam of satisfaction in her eyes.
'Is she out?'
The questioner was William Farrell, and the question was addressed
to his cousin Hester, whom he had found sitting in the little upstairs
drawing-room of the Rydal lodgings, partly knitting, but mostly
thinking, to judge from her slowly moving needles, and her absent eyes
fixed upon the garden outside the open window.
'She has gone down to the lake—it is good for her to be alone a
'You brought her up from Torquay?'
'I did. We slept in London, and arrived yesterday. Miss Cookson
comes this evening.'
'Why doesn't she keep away?' said Farrell, impatiently.
He took a seat opposite his cousin. He was in riding-dress, and
looked in splendid case. From his boyhood he had always been coupled in
Hester's mind with the Biblical words—'ruddy and of a cheerful
countenance'; and as he sat there flushed with air and exercise, they
fitted him even better than usual. Yet there was modern subtlety too in
his restless eyes, and mouth alternately sensitive and ironic.
Hester's needles began to ply a little faster. A spring wind came
through the window, and stirred her grey hair.
'How did she get over it yesterday?' Farrell presently asked.
'Well, of course it was hard,' said Hester, quietly. 'I let her
alone, poor child, and I told Mrs. Weston not to bother her. She came
up to these rooms and shut herself up a little. I went over to my own
cottage, and came back for supper. Then she had got it over—and I just
kissed her and said nothing. It was much best.'
'Do you think she gives up hope?'
Hester shook her head.
'Not the least. You can see that.'
'What do you mean?'
'When she gives up hope, she will put on a black dress.'
Farrell gave an impatient sigh.
'You know there can't be the smallest doubt that Sarratt is dead! He
died in some German hospital, and the news has never come through.'
'The Red Cross people at Geneva declare that if he had died in
hospital they would know. The identification disks are returned to
them—so they say—with remarkable care.'
'Well then, he died on the field, and the Germans buried him.'
'In which case the poor soul will know nothing—ever,' said Hester
sadly. 'But, of course, she believes he is a prisoner.'
'My dear Hester, if he were, we should certainly have heard!
Enquiries are now much more thorough, and the results much more
accurate, than they were a year ago.'
'Loss of memory?—shell-shock?' said Hester vaguely.
'They don't do away with your disk, and your regimental marks, etc.
Whatever may happen to a private, an officer doesn't slip through and
vanish like this, if he is still alive. The thing is perfectly clear.'
Hester shook her head without speaking. She was just as thoroughly
convinced as Farrell that Nelly was a widow; but she did not see how
anybody could proclaim it before Nelly did.
'I wonder how long it will take to convince her,' said Farrell,
after a pause.
'Well, I suppose when peace comes, if there's no news then, she will
have to give it up. By the way, when may one—legally—presume that
one's husband is dead?' asked Hester, suddenly lifting her shrewd grey
eyes to the face of her visitor.
'It used to be seven years. But I believe now you can go to the
'If a woman wants to re-marry? Well that, of course, Nelly Sarratt
will never do!'
'My dear Hester, what nonsense!' said Farrell, vehemently. 'Of
course she'll marry again. What is she?—twenty-one? It would be a sin
and a shame.'
'I only meant she would never take any steps of her own will to
separate herself from Sarratt.'
'Women look at things far too sentimentally!' exclaimed Farrell,
'and they just spoil their lives. However, neither you nor I can
prophesy anything. Time works wonders; and if he didn't, we should all
be wrecks and lunatics!'
Hester said nothing. She was conscious of suppressed excitement in
the man before her. Farrell watched her knitting fingers for a little,
and then remarked:—
'But of course at present what has to be done, is to improve her
health, and distract her thoughts.'
Hester's eyes lifted again.
'And you want to take it in hand?'
Her emphasis on the pronoun was rather sharp. Farrell's fair though
sunburnt skin shewed a sudden redness.
'Yes, I do. Why shouldn't I?' His look met hers full.
'She's very lonely—very unprotected,' said Hester, slowly.
'You mean, you can't trust me?' he said, flushing deeper.
'No, Willy—no!' Hester's earnest, perplexed look appeased his
rising anger. 'But it's a very difficult position, you must see for
yourself. Ever since George Sarratt disappeared, you've been—what
shall I say?—the poor child's earthly Providence. Her illness—her
convalescence—you've done everything—you've provided everything—'
'With her sister's consent, remember!—and I promised Sarratt to
look after them!'
Farrell's blue eyes were now bright and stubborn. Hester realised
him as ready for an argument which both he and she had long foreseen.
She and Farrell had always been rather intimate friends, and he had
come to her for advice in some very critical moments of his life.
'Her sister!' repeated Hester, contemptuously. 'Yes, indeed, Bridget
Cookson—in my opinion—is a great deal too ready to accept everything
you do! But Nelly has fought it again and again. Only, in her weakness,
with you on one side—and Bridget on the other—what could she do?'
She had taken the plunge now. Her own colour had risen—her hand
shook a little on her needles. And she had clearly roused some strong
emotion in Farrell. After a few moments' silence, he fell upon her,
speaking rather huskily.
'You mean I have taken advantage of her?'
'I don't mean anything of the kind!' Hester's tone shewed her
distress. 'I know that all you have done has been out of pure
friendship and goodness—
He stopped her.
'Don't go on!' he said roughly. 'Whatever I am, I'm not a hypocrite.
I worship the ground she treads on!'
There was silence. Hester bent again over her work. The thoughts of
both flew back over the preceding six months. Nelly's utter collapse
after five or six weeks in London, when the closest enquiries, backed
by Farrell's intelligence, influence and money—he had himself sent out
a special agent to Geneva—had failed to reveal the slightest trace of
George Sarratt; her illness, pneumonia, the result of a slight chill
affecting a general physical state depressed by grief and
sleeplessness; her long and tedious convalescence; and that pitiful
dumbness and inertia from which she had only just begun to emerge.
Hester was thinking too of the nurses, the doctors, the lodgings at
Torquay, the motor, the endless flowers and books!—all provided,
practically, by Farrell, aided and abetted by Bridget's readiness—a
discreditable readiness, in the eyes of a person of such Spartan
standards as Hester Martin—to avail herself to any extent of other
people's money. The patient was not to blame. Even in the worst times
of her illness, Nelly had shewn signs of distress and revolt. But
Bridget, instructed by Farrell, had talked vaguely of 'a loan from a
friend'; and Nelly had been too ill, too physically weak, to urge
Seeing that he was to blame, Farrell broke in upon Hester's
'You know very well'—he said vehemently—'that if anything less had
been done for her, she would have died!'
Would she? It was the lavishness and costliness of Farrell's giving
which had shocked Hester's sense of delicacy, and had given rise—she
was certain—to gossip among the Farrell friends and kindred that could
easily have been avoided. She looked at her companion steadily.
'Suppose we grant it, Willy. But now she's convalescent, she's going
to get strong. Let her live her own life. You can't marry
her—and'—she added it deliberately—'she is as much in love with her
poor George as she ever was!'
Farrell moved restlessly in his chair. She saw him wince—and she
had intended the blow.
'I can't marry her—yet—perhaps for years. But why can't I be her
friend? Why can't I share with her the things that give me
pleasure—books—art—and all the rest? Why should you condemn me to
see her living on a pittance, with nobody but a sister who is as hard
as nails to look after her?—lonely, and unhappy, and dull—when I know
that I could help her, turn her mind away from her trouble—make her
take some pleasure in life again? You talk, Hester, as though we had a
dozen lives to play with, instead of this one rickety business!'
His resentment grew with the expression of it. But Hester met him
'I'm anxious—because human nature is human nature—and risk is
risk,' she said slowly.
He bent forward, his hands on his knees.
'I swear to you I will be honestly her friend! What do you take me
for, Hester? You know very well that—I have had my adventures, and
they're over. I'm not a boy. I can answer for myself.'
'All very well!—but suppose—suppose—before she felt
herself free—and against her conscience—she were to fall in
love with you?'
Farrell could not conceal the flash that the mere words, reluctantly
as they were spoken, sent through his blue eyes. He laughed.
'Well—you're there! Act watch-dog as much as you please.
Besides—we all know—you have just said so—that she does not believe
in Sarratt's death, that she feels herself still his wife, and not his
widow. That fact establishes the relation between her and me. And if
the outlook changes—'
His voice dropped to a note of pleading—
'Let me, Hester!—let me!'
'As if I could prevent you!' said Hester, rather bitterly, bending
again over her work.
'Yes, you could. You have such influence with her now, that you
could banish me entirely if you pleased. A word from you would do it.
But it would be hideously cruel of you—and abominally unjust! However,
I know your power—over her—and so over me. And so I made up my mind
it was no good trying to conceal anything from you. I've told you
straight out. I love her—and because I love her—you may be perfectly
certain I shall protect her!'
Silence again. Farrell had turned towards the open window. When
Hester turned her eyes she saw his handsome profile, his Nibelung's
head and beard against the stony side of the fell. A man with unfair
advantages, it seemed to her, if he chose to put out his strength;—the
looks of a king, a warm heart, a sympathetic charm, felt quite as much
by men as by women, and ability which would have distinguished him in
any career, if his wealth had not put the drag on industry. But at the
moment he was not idle. He was more creditably and fully employed then
she had ever known him. His hospital and his pride in it were in fact
Nelly Sarratt's best safeguard. Whatever he wished, he could not
possibly spend all his time at her feet.
Hester tried one more argument—the conventional.
'Have you ever really asked yourself, Willy, how it will look to the
outside world—what people will think? It is all very well to scoff at
Mrs. Grundy, but the poor child has no natural guardian. We both agree
her sister is no use to her.'
'Let them think!'—he turned to her again with energy—'so long as
you and I know. Besides—I shan't compromise her in any way. I
shall be most careful not to do so.'
'Look at this room!' said Hester drily. She herself surveyed it.
Farrell's laugh had a touch of embarrassment.
'Well?—mayn't anyone give things to a sick child? Hush!—here she
He drew further back into the room, and they both watched a little
figure in a serge dress crossing the footbridge beyond the garden. Then
she came into the garden, and up the sloping lawn, her hat dangling in
her hand, and the spring sunshine upon her. Hester thought of the
preceding June; of the little bride, with her springing step, and
radiant eyes. Nelly, as she was now, seemed to her the typical
figure—or rather, one of the two typical figures of the war—the man
in action, the woman in bereavement. Sorrow had marked her; bitten into
her youth, and blurred it. Yet it had also dignified and refined her.
She was no less lovely.
As she approached, she saw them and waved to them. Farrell went to
the sitting-room door to meet her, and it seemed both to him and Hester
that in spite of her emaciation and her pallor, she brought the spring
in with her. She had a bunch of willow catkins and primroses in her
hand, and her face, for all its hollow cheeks and temples, shewed just
a sparkle of returning health.
It was clear that she was pleased to see Farrell. But her manner of
greeting him now was very different from what it had been in the days
before her loss. It was much quieter and more assured. His
seniority—there were nineteen years between them—his conspicuous
place in the world, his knowledge and accomplishment, had evidently
ceased to intimidate her. Something had equalised them.
But his kindness could still make her shy.
Half-way across the room, she caught sight of a picture, on an
easel, both of which Farrell had brought with him.
'Oh!—-' she said, and stopped short, looking from it to him.
He enjoyed her surprise.
'Well? Do you remember admiring it at the cottage? I'm up to the
neck in work. I never go there. I thought you and Hester might as well
take care of it for a bit.'
Nelly approached it. It was one of the Turner water-colours which
glorified the cottage; the most adorable, she thought, of all of them.
It shewed a sea of downs, their grassy backs flowing away wave after
wave, down to the real sea in the gleaming distance. Between the downs
ran a long valley floor—cottages on it, woods and houses, farms and
churches, strung on a silver river; under the mingled cloud and
sunshine of an April day. It breathed the very soul of England,—of
this sacred long-descended land of ours. Sarratt, who had stood beside
her when she had first looked at it, had understood it so at once.
'Jolly well worth fighting for—this country! isn't it?' he had said
to Farrell over her head, and once or twice afterwards he had spoken to
her of the drawing with delight. 'I shall think of it—over there.
It'll do one good.'
As she paused before it now, a sob rose in her throat. But she
controlled herself quickly. Then something beyond the easel caught her
eye—a mass of flowers, freesias, narcissus, tulips, tumbled on a
table; then a pile of new books; and finally, a surprising piece of
'What have you been doing now?' she asked him, wondering, and, as
Hester thought, shrinking back a little.
'It's from Cicely'—he said apologetically. 'She made me bring it.
She declared she'd sampled the sofa here,—' he pointed to an ancient
one in a corner—'and it would disgrace a dug-out. It's her
affair—don't blame me!'
Nelly looked bewildered.
'But I'm not ill now. I'm getting well.'
'If you only knew what a ghost you look still,' he said vehemently,
'you'd let Cicely have her little plot. This used to stand in my
mother's sitting-room. It was bought for her. Cicely had it put to
As he spoke, he made a hasty mental note that Cicely would have to
be coached in her part.
Nelly examined the object. It was a luxurious adjustable couch,
covered in flowery chintz, with a reading-desk, and well supplied with
the softest cushions.
She laughed, but there was rather a flutter in her laugh.
'It's awfully kind of Cicely. But you know—'
Her eyes turned on Farrell with a sudden insistence. Hester had just
left the room, and her distant voice—with other voices—could be heard
in the garden.
'—You know you mustn't—all of you—spoil me so, any more. I've got
my life to face. You mean it so kindly—but—'
She sank into a chair by the window that Farrell had placed for her,
and her aspect struck him painfully. There was so much weakness in it;
and yet a touch of fierceness.
'I've got my life to face,' she repeated—'and you mustn't, Sir
William—you mustn't let me get too dependent on you—and
Cicely—and Hester. Be my friend—my true friend—and help me—'
She bent forward, and her pale lips just breathed the rest—
'Help me—to endure hardness! That's what I want—for
George's sake—and my own. I must find some work to do. In a few months
perhaps I might be able to teach—but there are plenty of things I
could do now. I want to be just—neglected a little—treated as a
She smiled faintly at him as he stood beside her. He felt himself
rebuked—abashed—as though he had been in some sort an intruder on her
spiritual freedom; had tried to purchase her dependence by a kindness
she did not want. That was not in her mind, he knew. But it was in
Hester's. And there was not wanting a certain guilty consciousness in
But he threw it off. Absurdity! She did need his friendship;
and he had done what he had done without the shadow of a corrupt
motive—en tout bien, tout honneur.
It was intolerable to him to think of her as poor and
resourceless—left to that disagreeable sister and her own melancholy
thoughts. Still the first need of all was that she should trust him—as
a good friend, who had slipped by force of circumstances into a kind of
guardian's position. Accordingly he applied himself to the kind of
persuasion that befits seniority and experience. She had asked to be
treated as a normal person. He proved to her, gently laughing at her,
that the claim was preposterous. Ask her doctor!—ask Hester! As for
teaching, time enough to talk about that when she had a little flesh on
her bones, a little strength in her limbs. She might read, of course;
that was what the couch was for. Lying there by the window she might
become as learned as she liked, and get strong at the same time. He
would keep her stocked with books. The library at Carton was going
mouldy for lack of use. And as for her drawing, he had
hoped—perhaps—she might some time take a lesson—
Then he saw a little shiver run through her.
'Could I?' she said in a low voice, turning her face away. And he
perceived that the bare idea of resuming old pleasures—the pleasures
of her happy, her unwidowed time—was still a shock to her.
'I'm sure it would help'—he said, persevering. 'You have a real
turn for water-colour. You should cultivate it—you should really. In
my belief you might do a great deal better with it than with teaching.'
That roused her. She sat up, her eyes brightening.
'If I worked—you really think? And then,' her voice
dropped—'if George came back—'
'Exactly,' he said gravely—'it might be of great use. Didn't you
wish for something normal to do? Well, here's the chance. I can supply
you with endless subjects to copy. There are more in the cottage than
you would get through in six months. And I could send you over
portfolios of my own studies and academies, done at Paris, and
in the Slade, which would help you—and sometimes we could take some
work out of doors.'
She said nothing, but her sad puzzled eyes, as they wandered over
the garden and the lake, shewed that she was considering it.
Then suddenly her expression changed.
'Isn't that Cicely's voice?' She motioned towards the garden.
'I daresay. I sent on the motor to meet her at Windermere. She's
been in town for two or three weeks, selling at Red Cross Bazaars and
things. And by George!—isn't that Marsworth?'
He sprang up to look, and verified his guess. The tall figure on the
lawn with Cicely and Hester was certainly Marsworth. He and Nelly
looked at each other, and Nelly smiled.
'You know Cicely and I have become great friends?' she said shyly.
'It's so odd that I should call her Cicely—but she makes me.'
'She treats you nicely?—at last?'
'She's awfully good to me,' said Nelly, with emphasis. 'I used to be
so afraid of her.'
'What wrought the miracle?'
But Nelly shook her head, and would not tell.
'I had a letter from Marsworth a week ago,' said Farrell
reflecting—'asking how and where we all were. I told him I was tied
and bound to Carton—no chance of getting away for ages—but that
Cicely had kicked over the traces and gone up to London for a month.
Then he sent a post-card to say that he was coming up for a fortnight's
treatment, and would go to his old quarters at the Rectory. Ah!—'
He paused, grinning. The same thought occurred to both of them.
Marsworth was still suffering very much at times from his neuralgia in
the arm, and had a great belief in one of the Carton surgeons, who,
with Farrell's aid, had now installed one of the most complete
electrical and gymnastic apparatus in the kingdom, at the Carton
hospital. Once, during an earlier absence of Cicely's before Christmas,
he had suddenly appeared at the Rectory, for ten days' treatment; and
now—again! Farrell laughed.
'As for Cicely, you can never count on her for a week together. She
got home-sick, and wired to me that she was coming to-night. I forgot
all about Marsworth. I expect they met at the station; and quarrelled
all the way here. What on earth is Cicely after in that direction! You
say you've made friends with her. Do you know?'
Nelly looked conscious.
'I—I guess something,' she said.
'But you mustn't tell?'
She nodded, smiling. Farrell shrugged his shoulders.
'Well, am I to encourage Marsworth—supposing he comes to me for
advice—to go and propose to the Rector's granddaughter?'
'Certainly not!' said Nelly, opening a pair of astonished eyes.
'Aha, I've caught you! You've given the show away. But you
know'—his tone grew serious—'it's not at all impossible that he may.
She torments him too much.'
'He must do nothing of the kind,' said Nelly, with decision.
'Well, you tell him so. I wash my hands of them. I can't fathom
either of them. Here they are!'
Voices ascending the stairs announced the party. Cicely came in
first; tired and travel-stained, and apparently in the worst of
tempers. But she seemed glad to see Nelly Sarratt, whom she kissed, to
the astonishment of her Cousin Hester, who was not as yet aware of the
new relations between the two. And then, flinging herself into a chair
beside Nelly, she declared that she was dead-beat, that the train had
been intolerably full of khaki, and that soldiers ought to have trains
'Thank your stars, Cicely, that you are allowed to travel at all,'
said Farrell. 'No civilian nowadays matters a hap'orth.'
'And then we talk about Prussian Militarism!' cried Cicely. And she
went off at score describing the invasion of her compartment at Rugby
by a crowd of young officers, whose manners were 'atrocious.'
'What was their crime?' asked Marsworth, quietly. He sat in the
background, cigarette in hand, a strong figure, rather harshly drawn,
black hair slightly grizzled, a black moustache, civilian clothes. He
had filled out since the preceding summer and looked much better in
health. But his left arm was still generally in its sling.
'They had every crime!' said Cicely impatiently. 'It isn't worth
Marsworth raised his eyebrows.
'You think, of course, I have no right to criticise anything in
'Not at all. Criticism is the salt of life.' His eyes twinkled.
'That I entirely deny!' said Cicely, firmly. She made a fantastic
but agreeable figure as she sat near the window in the full golden
light of the March evening. Above her black toque there soared a
feather which almost touched the ceiling of the low room—a panache, nodding defiance; while her short grey skirts shewed her shapely
ankles and feet, clothed in grey gaiters and high boots of the very
'What do you deny, Cicely?' asked her brother, absently, conscious
always, through all the swaying of talk, of the slight childish form of
Nelly Sarratt beneath him, in her deep chair; and of the eyes and
mouth, which after the few passing smiles he had struck from them, were
veiled again in their habitual sadness. 'Here I and sorrow sit.'
The words ran through his mind, only to be passionately rejected. She
was young!—and life was long. Forget she would, and must.
At her brother's question, Cicely merely shrugged her shoulders.
'Your sister was critical,' said Marsworth, laughing,—'and then
denies the uses of criticism.'
'As some people employ it!' said Cicely, pointedly.
Marsworth's mouth twitched—but he said nothing.
Then Hester, perceiving that the atmosphere was stormy, started some
of the usual subjects that relieve tension; the weather—the
possibility of a rush of Easter tourists to the Lakes—the daffodils
that were beginning to make beauty in some sheltered places. Marsworth
assisted her; while Cicely took a chair beside Nelly, and talked
exclusively to her, in a low voice. Presently Hester saw their hands
slip together—Cicely's long and vigorous fingers enfolding Nelly's
thin ones. How had two such opposites ever come to make friends? The
kindly old maid was very conscious of cross currents in the spiritual
air, as she chatted to Marsworth. She was keenly aware of Farrell, and
could not keep the remembrance of what he had said to her out of her
mind. Nelly's face and form, also, as the twilight veiled them, were
charged for Hester with pitiful meaning. While at the back of her
thoughts there was an expectation, a constant and agitating
expectation, of another arrival. Bridget Cookson might be upon them at
any moment. To Hester Martin she was rapidly becoming a disquieting and
sinister element in this group of people. Yet why, Hester could not
really have explained.
The afternoon was rapidly drawing in, and Farrell was just beginning
to take out his watch, and talk of starting home, when the usual
clatter of wheels and hoofs announced the arrival of the evening coach.
Nelly sat up, looking very white and weary.
'I am expecting my sister,' she said to Farrell. 'She has no doubt
come by this coach.'
And in a few more minutes, Bridget was in the room, distributing to
everybody there the careless staccato greetings which were her way of
protecting herself against the world. Her entrance and her manner had
always a disintegrating effect upon other human beings; and Bridget had
no sooner shaken hands with the Farrells than everybody—save
Nelly—was upon their feet and ready to move. One of Bridget's most
curious and marked characteristics was an unerring instinct for
whatever news might be disagreeable to the company in which she found
herself; and on this occasion she brought some bad war news—a German
advance at Verdun, with corresponding French losses—and delivered it
with the emphasis of one to whom it was not really unwelcome. Cicely,
to whom, flourishing her evening paper, she had mainly addressed
herself, listened with the haughty and casual air she generally put on
for Bridget Cookson. She had succumbed for her own reasons to the charm
of Nelly. She was only the more inclined to be rude to Bridget.
Accordingly she professed complete incredulity on the subject of the
news. 'Invented,'—she supposed—'to sell some halfpenny rag or other.
It would all be contradicted to-morrow.' Then when Bridget, smarting
under so much scepticism, attempted to support her tale by the
testimony of various stale morsels of military gossip, current in a
certain pessimist and pacifist household she had been visiting in
Manchester, as to the unfavourable situation in France, and the dead
certainty of the loss of Verdun; passing glibly on to the 'bad staff
work' on the British side, and the 'poor quality of the new officers
compared to the old,' etc.—Cicely visibly turned up her nose, and with
a few deft, cat-like strokes put a raw provincial in her place. She,
Cicely, of course—she made it plain, by a casual hint or two—had just
come from the very centre of things; from living on a social diet of
nothing less choice than Cabinet Ministers and leading Generals—Bonar
Law, Asquith, Curzon, Briand, Lloyd George, Thomas, the great Joffre
himself. Bridget began to scowl a little, and had it been anyone else
than Cicely Farrell who was thus chastising her, would soon have turned
her back upon them. For she was no indiscriminate respecter of persons,
and cared nothing at all about rank or social prestige. But from a
Farrell she took all things patiently; till Cicely, suddenly
discovering that her victim was giving her no sport, called
peremptorily to 'Willy' to help her put on her cloak. But Farrell was
having some last words with Nelly, and Marsworth came forward—
'Oh thank you!' said Cicely carelessly, 'I can manage it myself.'
And she did not allow him to touch it.
Marsworth retreated, and Hester, who had seen the little incident,
whispered indignantly in her cousin's ear—
'Cicely!—you are a wicked little wretch!'
But Cicely only laughed, and her feather made defiant nods and
flourishes all the way downstairs.
'Come along Marsworth, my boy,' said Farrell when the good-byes were
said, and Hester stood watching their departure, while Cicely chattered
from the motor, where she sat wrapped in furs against a rising east
wind. 'Outside—or inside?' He pointed to the car.
'Outside, thank you,' said Marsworth, with decision. He promptly
took his place beside the chauffeur, and Farrell and his sister were
left to each other's company. Farrell had seldom known his companion
more cross and provoking than she was during the long motor ride home;
and on their arrival at Carton she jumped out of the car, and with
barely a nod to Marsworth, vanished into the house.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Nelly had let Hester install her on the Carton couch, and
lay there well shawled, beside the window, her delicate face turned to
the lake and the mountains. Bridget was unpacking, and Hester was just
departing to her own house. Nelly could hardly let her go. For a month
now, Hester had been with her at Torquay, while Bridget was pursuing
some fresh 'work' in London. And Nelly's desolate heart had found both
calm and bracing in Hester's tenderness. For the plain shapeless
spinster was one of those rare beings who in the Lampadephoria of life,
hand on the Lamp of Love, pure and undefiled, as they received it from
men and women, like themselves, now dead.
But Hester went at last, and Nelly was alone. The lake lay steeped
in a rich twilight, into which the stars were rising. The purple breast
of Silver How across the water breathed of shelter, of rest, of things
ineffable. Nelly's eyes were full of tears, and her hands clasped on
her breast scarcely kept down the sobbing. There, under the hands, was
the letter which George had written to her, the night before he left
her. She had been told of its existence within a few days of his
disappearance; and though she longed for it, a stubborn instinct had
bade her refuse to have it, refuse to open it. 'No!—I was only to open
it, if George was dead. And he is not dead!' And as time went on, it
had seemed to her for months, as if to open it, would be in some
mysterious way to seal his fate. But at last she had sent for it—at
last she had read it—with bitter tears.
She would wear no black for him—her lost lover. She told herself to
hope still. But she was, in truth, beginning to despair. And into her
veins, all unconsciously, as into those of the old brown earth, the
tides of youth, the will to live, were slowly, slowly, surging back.
'You have gone far enough,' said Cicely imperiously. 'I am going to
take you home.'
'Let me sit a little first. It's all so lovely. Nelly dropped into
the soft springy turf, dried by a mild east wind, and lay curled up
under a rock, every tremulous nerve in her still frail body played on
by the concert of earth and sky before her. It was May; the sky was
china-blue, and the clouds sailed white upon it. The hawthorns too were
white upon the fell-side, beside the ageing gold of the gorse, while
below, the lake lay like roughened silver in its mountain cup, and on
the sides of Nab Scar, below the screes, the bronze of the oaks ran in
and out among the feathery green of the larch plantations, or the
flowering grass of the hay-meadows dropping to the lake. The most
spiritual moment of the mountain spring was over. This was earth in her
moment of ferment, rushing towards the fruition of summer.
Nelly's youth was keenly, automatically conscious of the physical
pleasure of the day; except indeed for recurrent moments, when that
very pleasure revived the sharpness of grief. Soon it would be the
anniversary of her wedding day. Every hour of that day, and of the
honeymoon bliss which followed it, seemed to be still so close to her.
Surely she had only to put out her hand to find his, and all the horror
and the anguish swept away. Directly she shut her eyes on this spring
scene, she was in that other life, which had been, and therefore must
But she had not been talking of him with Cicely. She very seldom
talked of him now, or of the past. She kept up correspondence with half
a dozen men of his company—the brother officer to whom Sarratt had
given his last letter—a sergeant, and three or four privates, who had
written to her about him. She had made friends with them all,
especially with the young lieutenant. They seemed to like hearing from
her; and she followed all their migrations and promotions with a
constant sympathy. One of them had just written to her from a hospital
at Boulogne. He had been seriously wounded in a small affair near
Festubert early in May. He was getting better he said, but he hardly
cared whether he recovered or not. Everybody he cared for in the
regiment had 'gone west' in the fighting of the preceding month. No big
push either,—just many little affairs that came to nothing—it was
'damned luck!' There was one of his officers that he couldn't get
over—he couldn't get over 'Mr. Edward' being killed. He—the
writer—had been Mr. Edward's servant for a month or two—having known
his people at home—and a nicer young fellow never stepped. 'When I go
back, I'm going to look for Mr. Edward—they say he was buried close to
the trenches where he fell, and I'm going to put him in some quiet
place; and then when the war's over we can bring him back to Baston
Magna, and lay him with his own people in Baston churchyard.'
'I wonder who Mr. Edward was,' said Nelly to herself, with half shut
eyes. She had entirely forgotten Cicely's neighbourhood. But Cicely
turned round, and asked her what she was thinking of. Nelly repeated
the letter, and Cicely suddenly shewed agitation—'Edward!—Baston
Magna!—he means Edward Longmore!'
Cicely rarely cried. When she was moved, she had a way of turning a
grey-white, and speaking with particular deliberation, as though every
word were an effort. Of late, for some mysterious reason, she only
indulged occasionally in 'make-up'; there was no rouge, at any rate, on
this afternoon, to disguise her change of colour. She looked oddly at
'I danced with him at Christmas,' she said. 'There was a very smart
party at a house in Grosvenor Square. The Prince was there, home on
short leave, and about twenty young men in khaki, and twenty girls.
Edward Longmore was there—he wrote to me afterwards. Oh, he was much
younger than I. He was the dearest, handsomest, bravest little fellow.
When I saw his name in the list—I just'—she ground her small white
teeth—'I just cursed the war! Do you know'—she rolled over on
the grass beside Nelly, her chin in her hands—'the July before the
war, I used to play tennis in a garden near London. There were always
five or six boys hanging about there—jolly handsome boys, with
everything that anybody could want—family, and money, and lots of
friends—all the world before them. And there's not one of them left.
They're all dead—dead! Think of that! Boys of twenty and
twenty-one. What'll the girls do they used to play and dance with? All
their playfellows are gone. They can't marry—they'll never marry. It
hadn't anything to do with me, of course. I'm twenty-eight. I felt like
a mother to them! But I shan't marry either!'
Nelly didn't answer for a moment. Then she put out a hand and turned
Cicely's face towards her.
'Where is he?—and what is he doing?' she said, half laughing, but
always with that something behind her smile which seemed to set her
Cicely sat up.
'He? Oh, that gentleman! Well, he has got some fresh
work—just the work he wanted, he says, in the Intelligence Department,
and he writes to Willy that life is “extraordinarily interesting,” and
he's “glad to have lived to see this thing, horrible as it is.”'
'Well, you wouldn't wish him to be miserable?'
'I should have no objection at all to his being miserable,' said
Cicely calmly, 'but I am not such a fool as to suppose that I should
ever know it, if he were.'
Cicely took up a stalk of grass, and began to bite it. Her eyes
seemed on fire. Nelly was suddenly aware of the flaming up of fierce
elemental things in this fashionably dressed young woman whose time was
oddly divided between an important share in the running of her
brother's hospital, and a hungry search after such gaieties as a world
at war might still provide her with. She could spend one night absorbed
in some critical case, and eagerly rendering the humblest V.A.D.
service to the trained nurses whom her brother paid; and the next
morning she would travel to London in order to spend the second night
in one of those small dances at great houses of which she had spoken to
Nelly, where the presence of men just come from, or just departing to,
the firing line lent a zest to the talk and the flirting, the
jealousies and triumphs of the evening that the dances of peace must do
without. Then after a morning of wild spending in the shops she would
take a midday train back to Cumberland and duty.
Nelly, looking at her, wondered afresh how they had ever come to be
friends. Yet they were friends, and her interest in Cicely's affairs
was one of the slender threads drawing her back to life.
It had all happened when she was ill at the flat; after that letter
from the Geneva Red Cross which reported that in spite of exhaustive
enquiries among German hospitals, and in the prisoners' camps no trace
of Lieutenant Sarratt could be found. On the top of the letter, and the
intolerable despair into which it had plunged her, had come influenza.
There was no doubt—Nelly's recollection faced it candidly—that she
would have come off badly but for Cicely. Bridget had treated the
illness on the hardening plan, being at the moment slightly touched
with Christian Science. Nelly should 'think it away.' To stay in bed
and give in was folly. She meanwhile had found plenty to do in London,
and was away for long hours. In one of these absences, Cicely—having
been seized with a sudden hunger for the flesh-pots of 'town'—appeared
at the flat with her maid. She discovered Nelly Sarratt in bed, and so
weak as to be hardly capable of answering any question. Mrs. Simpson
was doing her best; but she gave an indignant account of Bridget's
behaviour, and Cicely at once took a strong line, both as a
professional nurse—of sorts—and as mistress of the flat. Bridget,
grimly defensive, was peremptorily put on one side, and Cicely devoted
the night she was to have spent in dancing to tending her
half-conscious guest. In the days that followed she fell, quite against
her will, under the touching charm of Nelly's refinement, humility and
sweetness. Her own trenchant and masterful temper was utterly melted,
for the time, by Nelly's helpless state, by the grief which threatened
to kill her, and by a gratefulness for any kindness shewn her, which
seemed to Cicely almost absurd.
She fell in love—impetuously—with the little creature thus thrown
upon her pity. She sent for a trained nurse and their own doctor. She
wired for Hester Martin, and in forty-eight hours Bridget had been
entirely ousted, and Nelly's state had begun to shew signs of
improvement. Bridget took the matter stoically. 'I know nothing about
nursing,' she said, with composure. 'If you wish to look after my
sister, by all means look after her. Many thanks. I propose to go and
stay near the British Museum, and will look in here when I can.'
So she departed, and Cicely stayed in London for three weeks until
Nelly was strong enough to go to Torquay. Then, reluctantly, she gave
up her charge to Bridget, she being urgently wanted at Carton, and
Hester at Rydal. Bridget reappeared on the scene with the same
sangfroid as she had left it. She had no intention of quarrelling with
the Farrells whatever they might do; and in an eminently satisfactory
interview with Sir William—quite unknown to Nelly—she allowed him to
give her a cheque which covered all their expenses at Torquay.
Meanwhile Nelly had discovered Cicely's secret—which indeed was not
very secret. Captain Marsworth had appeared in London for the purpose
of attending his Medical Board, and called at the flat. Nelly was by
that time on the sofa, with Cicely keeping guard, and Nelly could
sometimes deaden her own consciousness for a little in watching the
two. What were they after? Marsworth's ethical enthusiasms and
resentments, the prophetic temper that was growing upon him in relation
to the war, his impatience of idleness and frivolity and 'slackness,'
of all modes of life that were not pitched in a key worthy of that
continuous sacrifice of England's youngest and noblest that was going
on perpetually across the Channel:—these traits in him made it very
easy to understand why, after years of philandering with Cicely
Farrell, he was now, apparently, alienated from her, and provoked by
her. But then, why did he still pursue her?—why did he still lay claim
to the privileges of their old intimacy, and why did Cicely allow him
to do so?
At last one evening, after a visit from Marsworth which had been one
jar from beginning to end, Cicely had suddenly dropped on a stool,
beside Nelly on the sofa.
'What an intolerable man!' she said with crimson cheeks. 'Shall I
tell Simpson not to let him in again?'
Nelly looked her surprise, for as yet there had been no confidence
on this subject between them. And then had come a torrent—Cicely
walking stormily up and down the room, and pouring out her soul.
The result of which outpouring was that through all the anger and
denunciation, Nelly very plainly perceived that Cicely was a captured
creature, endeavouring to persuade herself that she was still free. She
loved Marsworth—and hated him. She could not make up her mind to give
up for his sake the 'lust of the eye and the pride of life,' as he
clearly would endeavour to make her give them up, the wild bursts of
gaiety and flirting for which she periodically rushed up to town, the
passion for dress, the reckless extravagance with which it pleased her
to shock him whenever they met. And he also—so it seemed to Nelly—was
torn by contradictory feelings. As soon as Cicely was within reach, he
could not keep away from her; and yet when confronted with her, and
some new vagary, invented probably to annoy him, though he might
refrain 'even from good words,' his critical mouth and eye betrayed
him, and set the offender in a fury.
However, it was the quarrels between these two strange lovers, if
they were lovers, that had made a friendship, warm and real—on
Cicely's side even impassioned—between Nelly and Cicely. For Cicely
had at last found someone—not of her own world—to whom she could talk
in safety. Yet she had treated the Sarratts cavalierly to begin with,
just because they were outsiders, and because 'Willy' was making such a
fuss with them; for she was almost as easily jealous in her brother's
case as in Marsworth's. But now Nelly's sad remoteness from ordinary
life, her very social insignificance, and the lack of any links between
her and the great Farrell kinship of relations and friends, made her
company, and her soft, listening ways specially welcome and soothing to
Cicely's excited mood.
During the latter half of the winter they had corresponded, though
Cicely was the worst of letter-writers; and since Nelly and her sister
had been in Rydal again there had been constant meetings. Nelly's
confidences in return for Cicely's were not many nor frequent. The
effects of grief were to be seen in her aspect and movements, in her
most pathetic smile, in her increased dreaminess, and the inertia
against which she struggled in vain. Since May began, she had for the
first time put on black. Nobody had dared to speak to her about it, so
sharply did the black veil thrown back from the childish brow intensify
the impression that she made, as of something that a touch might break.
But the appearance of the widow's dress seemed to redouble the
tenderness with which every member of the little group of people among
whom she lived treated her—always excepting her sister. Nelly had in
vain protested to Farrell against the 'spoiling' of which she was the
object. 'Spoiled' she was, and it was clear both to Hester and Cicely,
after a time, that though she had the will, she had not the strength to
Unless on one point. She had long since stopped all subsidies of
money from Farrell through Bridget, having at last discovered the plain
facts about them. Her letter of thanks to him for all he had done for
her was at once so touching and so determined, that he had not dared
since to cross her will. All that he now found it possible to urge was
that the sisters would allow him to lend them a vacant farmhouse of
his, not far from the Loughrigg Tarn cottage. Nelly had been so far
unwilling; it was clear that her heart clung to the Rydal lodgings. But
Hester and Cicely were both on Farrell's side. The situation of the
farm was higher and more bracing than Rydal; and both Cicely and
Farrell cherished the notion of making it a home for Nelly, until
At this point Farrell generally succeeded in putting a strong rein
upon his thoughts, as part of the promise he had made to Hester. But
Cicely, who was much cooler and more matter of fact than her brother,
had long since looked further ahead. Willy was in love, irrevocably in
love with Nelly Sarratt. That had been plain to her for some time.
Before those days in the flat, when she herself had fallen in love with
Nelly, and before the disappearance of George Sarratt, she had resented
Willy's absurd devotion to a little creature who, for all her beauty,
seemed to Cicely merely an insignificant member of the middle classes,
with a particularly impossible sister. And as to the notion that Mrs.
Sarratt might become at some distant period her brother's wife, Lady
Farrell of Carton, Cicely would have received it with scorn, and fought
the realisation of it tooth and nail. Yet now all the 'Farrell
feeling,' the Farrell pride, in this one instance, at any rate, was
gone. Why? Cicely didn't know. She supposed first because Nelly was
such a dear creature, and next because the war had made such a curious
difference in things. The old lines were being rubbed out. And Cicely,
who had been in her day as exclusively snobbish as any other well-born
damsel, felt now that it would not matter in the least if they remained
rubbed out. Persons who 'did things' by land or sea; persons who
invented things; persons with ideas; persons who had the art of making
others follow them into the jaws of death;—these were going to be the
aristocracy of the future. Though the much abused aristocracy of the
present hadn't done badly either!
So she was only concerned with the emotional aspects of her
brother's state. Was Nelly now convinced of her husband's death?—was
that what her black meant? And if she were convinced, and it were
legally possible for her to marry again and all that—what chance would
there be for Willy? Cicely was much puzzled by Nelly's relation to him.
She had seen many signs, pathetic signs, of a struggle on Nelly's side
against Farrell's influence; especially in the time immediately
following her first return to the north in March. She had done her best
then, it seemed to Cicely, to do without him and to turn to other
interests and occupations than those he set her, and she had failed;
partly no doubt owing to her physical weakness, which had put an end to
many projects,—that of doing week-end munition work for instance—but
still more, surely, to Farrell's own qualities. 'He is such a charmer
with women,' thought Cicely, half smiling; 'that's what it is.'
By which she meant that he had the very rare gift of tenderness; of
being able to make a woman feel, that as a human being, quite apart
from any question of passion, she interested and touched him. It was
just sympathy, she supposed, the artistic magnetic quality in him,
which made him so attractive to women, and women so attractive to him.
He was no longer a young man in the strict sense; he was a man of
forty, with the prestige of great accomplishment, and a wide knowledge
of life. It was generally supposed that he had done with love-affairs,
and women instinctively felt it safe to allow him a personal freedom
towards them, which from other men would have offended them. He might
pat a girl's shoulder, or lay a playful grasp on a woman's arm, and
nobody minded; it was a sign of his liking, and most people wished to
be liked by him. However he never allowed himself any half-caress of
the kind towards Nelly Sarratt now; and once or twice, in the old days,
before Sarratt's disappearance, Cicely had fancied that she had seen
Nelly check rather sharply one of these demonstrations of Willy's which
were so natural to him, and in general so unconscious and innocent.
And now he never attempted them. What did that mean? Simply—so
Cicely thought—that he was in love, and dared venture such things no
longer. But all the same there were plenty of devices open to him by
which week after week he surrounded Nelly with a network of care, which
implied that he was always thinking of her; which were in fact a
caress, breathing a subtle and restrained devotion, more appealing than
anything more open. And Cicely seemed to see Nelly
yielding—unconsciously; unconsciously 'spoilt,' and learning to depend
on the 'spoiler.' Why did Hester seem so anxious always about Farrell's
influence with Nelly—so ready to ward him off, if she could? For after
all, thought Cicely, easily, however long it might take for Nelly to
recover her hold on life, and to clear up the legal situation, there
could be but one end of it. Willy meant to marry this little woman; and
in the long run no woman would be able to resist him.
* * * * *
The friends set out to stroll homewards through the long May
evening, talking of the hideous Irish news—how incredible amid the
young splendour of the Westmorland May!—or of the progress of the war.
Meanwhile Bridget Cookson was walking to meet them from the Rydal
end of the Lake. She was accompanied by a Manchester friend, a young
doctor, Howson by name, who had known the sisters before Nelly's
marriage. He had come to Ambleside in charge of a patient that morning,
and was going back on the morrow, and then to France. Bridget had
stumbled on him in Ambleside, and finding he had a free evening had
invited him to come and sup with them. And a vivid recollection of
Nelly Cookson as a girl had induced him to accept. He had been present
indeed at the Sarratt wedding, and could never forget Nelly as a bride,
the jessamine wreath above her dark eyes, and all the exquisite
shapeliness of her slight form, in the white childish dress of fine
Indian muslin, which seemed to him the prettiest bridal garment he had
ever seen. And now—poor little soul!
'You think she still hopes?'
Bridget shrugged her shoulders.
'She says so. But she has put on mourning at last—a few weeks ago.'
'People do turn up, you know,' said the doctor musing. 'There have
been some wonderful stories.'
'They don't turn up now,' said Bridget positively—'now that the
enquiries are done properly.'
'Oh, the Germans are pretty casual—and the hospital returns are far
from complete, I hear. However the probabilities, no doubt, are all on
the side of death.'
'The War Office are certain of it,' said Bridget with emphasis. 'But
it's no good trying to persuade her. I don't try.'
'No, why should you? Poor thing! Well, I'm off to X——next week,'
said the young man. 'I shall keep my eyes open there, in case anything
about him should turn up.'
Bridget frowned slightly, and her face flushed.
'Should you know him again, if you saw him?' she asked, abruptly.
'I think so,' said the doctor with slight hesitation, 'I remember
him very well at the wedding. Tall and slight?—not handsome exactly,
but a good-looking gentlemanly chap? Oh yes, I remember him. But of
course, to be alive now, if by some miraculous chance he were alive,
and not to have let you know—why he must have had some brain
'He isn't alive!' said Bridget impatiently. 'The War Office have no
Howson was rather surprised at the sudden acerbity of her tone. But
his momentary impression was immediately lost in the interest roused in
him by the emergence from the wood, in front, of Nelly and Cicely. He
was a warm-hearted fellow, himself just married, and the approach of
the black-veiled figure, which he had last seen in bridal white,
touched him like an incident in a play.
Nelly recognised him from a short distance, and went a little pale.
'Who is that with your sister?' asked Cicely.
'It is a man we knew in Manchester,—Doctor Howson.'
'Did you expect him?'
'Oh no.' After a minute she added—'He was at our wedding. I haven't
seen him since.'
Cicely was sorry for her. But when the walkers met, Nelly greeted
the young man very quietly. He himself was evidently moved. He held her
hand a little, and gave her a quick, scrutinising look. Then he moved
on beside her, and Cicely, in order to give Nelly the opportunity of
talking to him for which she evidently wished, was forced to carry off
Bridget, and endure her company patiently all the way home.
When Nelly and the doctor arrived, following close on the two in
front, Cicely cried out that Nelly must go and lie down at once till
supper. She looked indeed a deplorable little wraith; and the doctor,
casting, again, a professional eye on her, backed up Cicely.
Nelly smiled, resisted, and finally disappeared.
'You'll have to take care of her,' said Howson to Bridget. 'She
looks to me as if she couldn't stand any strain.'
'Well, she's not going to have any. This place is quiet enough!
She's been talking of munition-work, but of course we didn't let her.'
Cicely took the young man aside and expounded her brother's plan of
the farm on the western side of Loughrigg. Howson asked questions about
its aspect, and general comfort, giving his approval in the end.
'Oh, she'll pull through,' he said kindly, 'but she must go slow.
This kind of loss is harder to bear—physically—than death straight
out. I've promised her'—he turned to Bridget—'to make all the
enquiries I can. She asked me that at once.'
After supper, just as Howson was departing, Farrell appeared, having
driven himself over through the long May evening, ostensibly to take
Cicely home, but really for the joy of an hour in Nelly's company.
He sat beside her in the garden, after Howson's departure, reading
to her, by the lingering light, the poems of a great friend of his who
had been killed at Gallipoli. Nelly was knitting, but her needles were
often laid upon her knee, while she listened with all her mind, and
sometimes with tears in her eyes, that were hidden by the softly
dropping dusk. She said little, but what she did say came now from a
greatly intensified inner life, and a sharpened intelligence; while all
the time, the charm that belonged to her physical self, her voice, her
movements, was at work on Farrell, so that he felt his hour with her a
delight after his hard day's work. And she too rested in his presence,
and his friendship. It was not possible now for her to rebuff him, to
refuse his care. She had tried, tried honestly, as Cicely saw, to live
independently—to 'endure hardness.' And the attempt had broken down.
The strange, protesting feeling, too, that she was doing some wrong to
George by accepting it was passing away. She was George's, she would
always be his, to her dying day; but to live without being loved, to
tear herself from those who wished to love her—for that she had proved
too weak. She knew it, and was not unconscious of a certain moral
defeat; as she looked out upon all the strenuous and splendid things
that women were doing in the war.
* * * * *
Farrell and Cicely sped homeward through a night that was all but
day. Cicely scarcely spoke; she was thinking of Marsworth. Farrell had
still in his veins the sweetness of Nelly's presence. But there were
other thoughts too in his mind, the natural thoughts of an Englishman
at war. Once, over their heads, through the luminous northern sky,
there passed an aeroplane flying south-west high above the fells. Was
it coming from the North Sea, from the neighbourhood of that invincible
Fleet, on which all hung, by which all was sustained? He thought of the
great ships, and the men commanding them, as greyhounds straining in
the leash. What touch of fate would let them loose at last?
The Carton hospital was now full of men fresh from the front. The
casualties were endless. A thousand a night often along the French
front—and yet no real advance. The far-flung battle was practically at
a stand-still. And beyond, the chaos in the Balkans, the Serbian
debacle! No—the world was full of lamentation, mourning and woe; and
who could tell how Armageddon would turn? His quick mind travelled
through all the alternative possibilities ahead, on fire for his
country. But always, after each digression through the problems of the
war, thought came back to the cottage at Rydal, and Nelly on the lawn,
her white throat emerging from the thin black dress, her hands clasped
on her lap, her eyes turned to him as he read.
And all the time it was just conceivable that Sarratt might
still be discovered. At that thought, the summer night darkened.
In the summer of 1916, a dark and miserable June, all chilly showers
and lowering clouds, followed on the short-lived joys of May. But all
through it, still more through the early weeks of July, the spiritual
heaven for English hearts was brightening. In June, two months before
she was expected to move, Russia flung herself on the Eastern front of
the enemy. Brussiloff's victorious advance drove great wedges into the
German line, and the effect on that marvellous six months' battle,
which we foolishly call the Siege of Verdun, was soon to be seen. Hard
pressed they were, those heroes of Verdun!—how hard pressed no one in
England knew outside the War Office and the Cabinet, till the worst was
over, and the Crown Prince, 'with his dead and his shame,' had recoiled
in sullen defeat from the prey that need fear him no more.
Then on the first of July, the British army, after a bombardment the
like of which had never yet been seen in war, leapt from its trenches
on the Somme front, and England held her breath while her new Armies
proved of what stuff they were made. In those great days 'there were no
stragglers—none!' said an eye-witness in amazement. The incredible
became everywhere the common and the achieved. Life was laid down as at
a festival. 'From your happy son'—wrote a boy, as a heading to his
last letter on this earth.
And by the end of July the sun was ablaze again on the English
fields and harvests. Days of amazing beauty followed each other amid
the Westmorland fells; with nights of moonlight on sleeping lakes, and
murmuring becks; or nights of starlit dark, with that mysterious glow
in the north-west which in the northern valleys so often links the
evening with the dawn.
How often through these nights Nelly Sarratt lay awake, in her new
white room in Mountain Ash Farm!—the broad low window beside her open
to the night, to that 'Venus's Looking Glass' of Loughrigg Tarn below
her, and to the great heights beyond, now dissolving under the
moon-magic, now rosy with dawn, and now wreathed in the floating cloud
which crept in light and silver along the purple of the crags. To have
been lifted to this height above valley and stream, had raised and
strengthened her, soul and body, as Farrell and Hester had hoped. Her
soul, perhaps, rather than her body; for she was still the frailest of
creatures, without visible ill, and yet awakening in every quick-eyed
spectator the same misgiving as in the Manchester doctor. But she was
calmer, less apparently absorbed in her own grief; though only,
perhaps, the more accessible to the world misery of the war. In these
restless nights, her remarkable visualising power, which had only
thriven, it seemed, upon the flagging of youth and health, carried her
through a series of waking dreams, almost always concerned with the
war. Under the stimulus of Farrell's intelligence, she had become a
close student of the war. She read much, and what she read, his living
contact with men and affairs—with that endless stream of wounded in
particular, which passed through the Carton hospital—and his graphic
talk illumined for her. Then in the night arose the train of visions;
the trenches—always the trenches; those hideous broken woods of the
Somme front, where the blasted soil has sucked the best life-blood of
England; those labyrinthine diggings and delvings in a tortured earth,
made for the Huntings of Death—'Death that lays man at his
length'—for panting pursuit, and breathless flight, and the last
crashing horror of the bomb, in some hell-darkness at the end of
all:—these haunted her. Or she saw visions of men swinging from peak
to peak above fathomless depths of ice and snow on the Italian front;
climbing precipices where the foot holds by miracle, and where not only
men but guns must go; or vanishing, whole lines of them, awfully
forgotten in the winter snows, to reappear a frozen and ghastly host,
with the melting of the spring.
And always, mingled with everything, in the tense night hours—that
slender khaki figure, tearing the leaf from his sketch-book, leaping
over the parados,—falling—in the No Man's Land. But, by day, the
obsession of it now often left her.
It was impossible not to enjoy her new home. Farrell had taken an
old Westmorland farm, with its white-washed porch, its small-paned
windows outlined in white on the grey walls, its low raftered rooms,
and with a few washes of colour—pure blue, white, daffodil yellow—had
made all bright within, to match the bright spaces of air and light
without. There was some Westmorland oak, some low chairs, a sofa and a
piano from the old Manchester house, some etchings and drawings, hung
on the plain walls by Farrell himself, with the most fastidious care;
and a few—a very few things—from his own best stores, which Hester
allowed him to 'house' with Nelly from time to time—picture, or pot,
or tapestry. She played watch-dog steadily, not resented by Farrell,
and unsuspected by Nelly. Her one aim was that the stream of Nelly's
frail life should not be muddied by any vile gossip; and she achieved
it. The few neighbours who had made acquaintance with 'little Mrs.
Sarratt' had, all of them been tacitly, nay eagerly willing, to take
their cue from Hester. To be vouched for by Hester Martin, the 'wise
woman' and saint of a country-side, was enough. It was understood that
the poor little widow had been commended to the care of William Farrell
and his sister, by the young husband whose gallant death was officially
presumed by the War Office. Of course, Mrs. Sarratt, poor child,
believed that he was still alive—that was so natural! But that hope
would die down in time. And then—anything might happen!
Meanwhile, elderly husbands—the sole male inhabitants left in the
gentry houses of the district—who possessed any legal knowledge,
informed their wives that no one could legally presume the death of a
vanished husband, under seven years, unless indeed they happen to have
a Scotch domicile, in which case two years was enough. Seven years!—preposterous!—in time of war, said the wives. To which the husbands
would easily reply that, in such cases as Mrs. Sarratt's, the law
indeed might be 'an ass,' but there were ways round it. Mrs. Sarratt
might re-marry, and no one could object, or would object. Only—if
Sarratt did rise from the dead, the second marriage would be ipso
facto null and void. But as Sarratt was clearly dead, what did that
So that the situation, though an observed one—for how could the
Farrell comings and goings, the Farrell courtesies and benefactions,
possibly be hid?—was watched only by friendly and discreet eyes,
thanks always to Hester. Most people liked William Farrell; even that
stricter sect, who before the war had regarded him as a pleasure loving
dilettante, and had been often scandalised by his careless levity in
the matter of his duties as a landlord and county magnate. 'Bill
Farrell' had never indeed evicted or dealt hardly with any mortal
tenant. He had merely neglected and ignored them; had cared not a brass
farthing about the rates which he or they, paid—why should he indeed,
when he was so abominably rich from other sources than land?—nothing
about improving their cows, or sheep or pigs; nothing about 'intensive
culture,' or jam or poultry, or any of the other fads with which the
persons who don't farm plague the persons who do; while the very
mention of a public meeting, or any sort of public duty, put him to
instant flight. Yet even the faddists met him with pleasure, and parted
from him with regret. He took himself 'so jolly lightly'; you couldn't
expect him to take other people seriously. Meanwhile, his genial cheery
manner made him a general favourite, and his splendid presence,
combined with his possessions and his descent, was universally accepted
as a kind of Cumberland asset, to which other counties could hardly lay
claim. If he wanted the little widow, why certainly, let him have her!
It was magnificent what he had done for his hospital; when nobody
before the war had thought him capable of a stroke of practical work.
Real good fellow, Farrell! Let him go in and win. His devotion, and
poor Nelly's beauty, only infused a welcome local element of romance
into the ever-darkening scene of war.
* * * * *
The first anniversary of Sarratt's disappearance was over. Nelly had
gone through it quite alone. Bridget was in London, and Nelly had said
to Cicely—'Don't come for a few days—nor Sir William—please! I shall
be all right.'
They obeyed her, and she spent her few days partly on the fells, and
partly in endless knitting and sewing for a war-workroom recently
started in her immediate neighbourhood. The emotion to which she
surrendered herself would soon reduce her to a dull vacancy; and then
she would sit passive, not forcing herself to think, alone in the old
raftered room, or in the bit of garden outside, with its phloxes and
golden rods; her small fingers working endlessly—till the wave of
feeling and memory returned upon her. Those few days were a kind of
'retreat,' during which she lived absorbed in the recollections of her
short, married life, and, above all, in which she tried piteously and
bravely to make clear to herself what she believed; what sort of faith
was in her for the present and the future. It often seemed to her that
during the year since George's death, her mind had been wrenched and
hammered into another shape. It had grown so much older, she scarcely
knew it herself. Doubts she had never known before had come to her; but
also, intermittently, a much keener faith. Oh, yes, she believed in
God. She must; not only because George had believed in Him, but also
because she, her very self, had been conscious, again and again, in the
night hours, or on the mountains, of ineffable upliftings and
communings, of flashes through the veil of things. And so there must be
another world; because the God she guessed at thus, with sudden adoring
insight, could not have made her George, only to destroy him; only to
give her to him for a month, and then strike him from her for ever. The
books she learnt to know through Farrell, belonging to that central
modern literature, which is so wholly sceptical that the 'great
argument' itself has almost lost interest for those who are producing
it, often bewildered her, but did not really affect her. Religion—a
vague, but deeply-felt religion—soothed and sheltered her. But she did
not want to talk about it.
After these days were over, she emerged conscious of some radical
change. She seemed to have been walking with George 'on the other
side,' and to have left him there—for a while. She now really believed
him dead, and that she had got to live her life without him. This first
full and sincere admission of her loss tranquillised her. All the more
reason now that she should turn to the dear friendships that life still
held, should live in and for them, and follow where they led, through
the years before her. Farrell, Cicely, Hester—they stood between her
weakness—oh how conscious, how scornfully conscious, she was of
it!—and sheer desolation. Cicely, 'Willy,'—for somehow she and he had
slipped almost without knowing it into Christian names—had become to
her as brother and sister. And Hester too—so strong!—so kind!—was
part of her life; severe sometimes, but bracing. Nelly was conscious,
indeed, occasionally, that something in Hester disapproved something in
her. 'But it would be all right,' she thought, wearily, 'if only I were
stronger.' Did she mean physically or morally? The girl's thought did
'I believe you want me “hatched over again and hatched different”!'
she said one evening to Hester, as she laid her volume of 'Adam Bede'
'Do I ever say so?'
'No—but—if you were me—you wouldn't stop here moping!' said
Nelly, with sudden passion. 'You'd strike out—do something!'
'With these hands?' said Hester, raising one of them, and looking at
it pitifully. 'My dear—does Bridget feed you properly?'
'I don't know. I never think about it. She settles it.'
'Why do you let her settle it?'
'She will!' cried Nelly, sitting upright in her chair, her eyes
bright and cheeks flushing, as though something in Hester's words
accused her. 'I couldn't stop her!'
'Well, but when she's away?'
'Then Mrs. Rowe settles it,' said Nelly, half laughing. 'I never
enquire. What does it matter?'
She put down her knitting, and her wide, sad eyes followed the
clouds as they covered the purple breast of the Langdales, which rose
in threatening, thunder light, beyond the steely tarn in front. Hester
watched her anxiously. How lovely was the brown head, with its short
curls enclosing the delicate oval of the face! But Nelly's lack of grip
on life, of any personal demand, of any healthy natural egotism,
whether towards Bridget, or anybody else, was very disquieting to
Hester. In view of the situation which the older woman saw steadily
approaching, how welcome would have been some signs of a greater
fighting strength in the girl's nature!
* * * * *
But Nelly had made two friends since the migration to the farm with
whom at any rate she laughed; and that, as Hester admitted, was
One was a neighbouring farmer, an old man, with splendid eyes, under
dark bushy brows, fine ascetic features, grizzled hair, and a habit of
carrying a scythe over his shoulder which gave him the look of 'Old
Father Time,' out for the mowing of men. The other was the little son
of a neighbouring parson, an urchin of eight, who had succumbed to an
innocent passion for the pretty lady at the farm.
One radiant October afternoon, Nelly carried out a chair and some
sketching things into the garden. But the scheme Farrell had suggested
to her, of making a profession of her drawing, had not come to much.
Whether it was the dying down of hope, and therewith of physical
energy, or whether she had been brought up sharp against the limits of
her small and graceful talent, and comparing herself with Farrell,
thought it no use to go on—in any case, she had lately given it up,
except as an amusement. But there are days when the humblest artist
feels the creative stir; and on this particular afternoon there were
colours and lights abroad on the fells, now dyed red with withering
fern, and overtopped by sunny cloud, that could not be resisted. She
put away the splints she was covering, and spread out her easel.
And presently, through every bruised and tired sense, as she worked
and worked, the 'Eternal Fountain of that Heavenly Beauty' distilled
His constant balm. She worked on, soothed and happy.
In a few minutes there was a sound at the gate. A child looked
in—black tumbled hair, dark eyes, a plain but most engaging
'I'm tomin in,' he announced, and without any more ado, came in.
Nelly held out a hand and kissed him.
'You must be very good.'
'I is good,' said the child, radiantly.
Nelly spread a rug for him to lie on, and provided him with a piece
of paper, some coloured chalks and a piece of mill board. He turned
over on his front and plunged into drawing—
Silence—till Nelly asked—
'What are you drawing, Tommy?'
'Haggans and Hoons,' said a dreamy voice, the voice of one absorbed.
'I forget'—said Nelly gravely—'which are the good ones?'
'The Hoons are good. The Haggans are awfully wicked!' said the
child, slashing away at his drawing with bold vindictive strokes.
'Are you drawing a Haggan, Tommy?'
He held up a monster, half griffin, half crocodile, for her to see,
and she heartily admired it.
'Where do the Haggans live, Tommy?'
'In Jupe,' said the child, again drawing busily.
'You mean Jupiter?'
'I don't!' said Tommy reproachfully, 'I said Jupe, and I mean
Jupe. Perhaps'—he conceded, courteously—'I may have got the idea from
that other place. But it's quite different. You do believe it's quite
'Certainly,' said Nelly.
'I'm glad of that—because—well, because I can't be friends with
people that say it isn't different. You do see that, don't you?'
Nelly assured him she perfectly understood, and then Tommy rolled
over on his back, and staring at the sky, began to talk in mysterious
tones of 'Jupe,' and the beings that lived in it, Haggans, and Hoons,
lions and bears, and white mice. His voice grew dreamier and dreamier.
Nelly thought he was asleep, and she suddenly found herself looking at
the little figure on the grass with a passionate hunger. If such a
living creature belonged to her—to call her its very own—to cling to
her with its dear chubby hands!
She bent forward, her eyes wet, above the unconscious Tommy. But a
step on the road startled her, and raising her head she saw 'Old Father
Time,' with scythe on shoulder, leaning on the little gate which led
from the strip of garden to the road, and looking at her with the
expression which implied a sarcastic view of things in general, and
especially of 'gentlefolk.' But he was favourably inclined to Mrs.
Sarratt, and when Nelly invited him in, he obeyed her, and grounding
his scythe, as though it had been a gun, he stood leaning upon it,
indulgently listening while she congratulated him on a strange incident
which, as she knew from Hester, had lately occurred to him.
A fortnight before, the old man had received a letter from the
captain of his son's company in France sympathetically announcing to
him the death in hospital of his eldest son, from severe wounds
received in a raid, and assuring him he might feel complete confidence
'that everything that could be done for your poor boy has been done.'
The news had brought woe to the cottage where the old man and his
wife lived alone, since the fledging of their sturdy brood, under a
spur of Loughrigg. The wife, being now a feeble body, had taken to her
bed under the shock of grief; the old man had gone to his work as
usual, 'nobbut a bit queerer in his wits,' according to the farmer who
employed him. Then after three days came a hurried letter of apology
from the captain, and a letter from the chaplain, to say there had been
a most deplorable mistake, and 'your son, I am glad to say, was only
slightly wounded, and is doing well!'
Under so much contradictory emotion, old Backhouse's balance had
wavered a good deal. He received Nelly's remarks with a furtive smile,
as though he were only waiting for her to have done, and when they
ceased, he drew a letter slowly from his pocket.
'D'ye see that, Mum?'
'I'se juist gotten it from t' Post Office. They woant gie ye
noothin' till it's forced oot on 'em. But I goa regular, an to-day owd
Jacob—'at's him as keps t' Post Office—handed it ower. It's from
Donald, sure enoof.'
He held it up triumphantly. Nelly's heart leapt—and sank. How often
in the first months of her grief had she seen—in visions—that blessed
symbolic letter held up by some ministering hand!—only to fall from
the ecstasy of the dream into blacker depths of pain.
'Oh, Mr. Backhouse, I'm so glad!' was all she could find to say. But
her sweet trembling face spoke for her. After a pause, she added—'Does
he write with his own hand?'
'You mun see for yorsel'.' He held it out to her. She looked at it
'But it's not opened!'
'I hadna juist me spectacles,' said Father Time, cautiously. 'Mebbee
yo'll read it to me.'
'But it's to his mother!' cried Nelly. 'I can't open your wife's
'You needn't trooble aboot that. You read it, Mum. There'll be
noothin' in it.'
He made her read it. There was nothing in it. It was just a nice
letter from a good boy, saying that he had been knocked over in 'a bit
of a scrap,' but was nearly all right, and hoped his father and mother
were well, 'as it leaves me at present.' But when it was done, Father
Time took off his hat, bent his grey head, and solemnly thanked his
God, in broad Westmorland. Nelly's eyes swam, as she too bowed the
head, thinking of another who would never come back; and Tommy, thumb
in mouth, leant against her, listening attentively.
At the end of the thanksgiving however, Backhouse raised his head
'Not that I iver believed that foolish yoong mon as wrote me that
Dick wor dead,' he said, contemptuously. 'Bit it's as weel to git
Nelly heartily agreed, adding—
'I may be going to London next week, Mr. Backhouse. You say your son
will be in the London Hospital. Shall I go and see him?'
Backhouse looked at her cautiously.
'I doan't know, Mum. His moother will be goin', likely.'
'Oh, I don't want to intrude, Mr. Backhouse. But if she doesn't go?'
'Well, Mum; I will say you've a pleasant coontenance, though yo're
not juist sich a thrivin' body as a'd like to see yer. But theer's mony
people as du more harm nor good by goin' to sit wi' sick foak.'
Nelly meekly admitted it; and then she suggested that she might be
the bearer of anything Mrs. Backhouse would like to send her
son—clothes, for instance? The old man thawed rapidly, and the three,
Nelly, Tommy, and Father Time, were soon sincerely enjoying each
other's society, when a woman in a grey tweed costume, and black sailor
hat, arrived at the top of a little hill in the road outside the
garden, from which the farm and its surroundings could be seen.
At the sight of the group in front of the farm, she came to an
abrupt pause, and hidden from them by a projecting corner of wall she
surveyed the scene—Nelly, with Tommy on her knee, and the old labourer
who had just shouldered his scythe again, and was about to go on his
It was Bridget Cookson, who had been to Kendal for the day, and had
walked over from Grasmere, where the char-a-banc, alias the 'Yellow
Peril,' had deposited her. She had passed the Post Office on her way,
and had brought thence a letter which she held in her hand. Her face
was pale and excited. She stood thinking; her eyes on Nelly, her lips
moving as though she were rehearsing some speech or argument.
Then when she had watched old Backkhouse make his farewell, and turn
towards the gate, she hastily opened a black silk bag hanging from her
wrist, and thrust the letter into it.
After which she walked on, meeting the old man in the lane, and run
into by Tommy, who, head foremost, was rushing home to shew his
glorious Haggan to his 'mummy.'
Nelly's face at sight of her sister stiffened insensibly.
'Aren't you very tired, Bridget? Have you walked all the way? Yes,
you do look tired! Have you had tea?'
'Yes, at Windermere.'
Bridget cleared the chair on which Nelly had placed her paint-box,
and sat down. She was silent a little and then said abruptly—
'It's a horrid bore, I shall have to go to London again.'
'Again?' Nelly's look of surprise was natural. Bridget had returned
from another long stay in the Bloomsbury boarding-house early in
October, and it was now only the middle of the month. But Bridget's
doings were always a great mystery to Nelly. She was translating
something from the Spanish—that was all Nelly knew—and also, that
when an offer had been made to her through a friend, of some
translating work for the Foreign Office, she had angrily refused it.
She would not, she said, be a slave to any public office.
'Won't it be awfully expensive?' said Nelly after a pause, as
Bridget did not answer. The younger sister was putting her painting
things away, and making ready to go in. For though the day had been
wonderfully warm for October, the sun had just set over Bowfell, and
the air had grown suddenly chilly.
'Well, I can't help it,' said Bridget, rather roughly. 'I shall have
Something in her voice made Nelly look at her.
'I say you are tired! Come in and lie down a little. That
walk from Grasmere's too much for you!'
Bridget submitted with most unusual docility.
The sisters entered the house together.
'I'll go upstairs for a little,' said Bridget. 'I shall be all right
by supper.' Then, as she slowly mounted the stairs, a rather gaunt and
dragged figure in her dress of grey alpaca, she turned to say—
'I met Sir William on the road just now. He passed me in the car,
and waved his hand. He called out something—I couldn't hear it.'
'Perhaps to say he would come to supper,' said Nelly, her face
brightening. 'I'll go and see what there is.'
Bridget went upstairs. Her small raftered room was invaded by the
last stormy light of the autumn evening. The open casement window
admitted a cold wind. Bridget shut it, with a shiver. But instead of
lying down, she took a chair by the window, absently removed her hat,
and sat there thinking. The coppery light from the west illumined her
face with its strong discontented lines, and her hands, which were
large, but white and shapely—a source indeed of personal pride to
Presently, in the midst of her reverie, she heard a step outside,
and saw Sir William Farrell approaching the gate. Nelly, wrapped in a
white shawl, was still strolling about the garden, and Bridget watched
their meeting—Nelly's soft and smiling welcome, and Farrell's
eagerness, his evident joy in finding her alone.
'And she just wilfully blinds herself!' thought Bridget
contemptuously—'talks about his being a brother to her, and that sort
of nonsense. He's in love with her!—of course he's in love with her.
And as for Nelly—she's not in love with him. But she's getting used to
him; she depends on him. When he's not there she misses him. She's
awfully glad to see him when he comes. Perhaps, it'll take a month or
two. I give it a month or two—perhaps six months—perhaps a year. And
then she'll marry him—and—'
Here her thoughts became rather more vague and confused. They were
compounded of a fierce impatience with the war, and of certain urgent
wishes and ambitions, which had taken possession of a strong and
unscrupulous character. She wanted to travel. She wanted to see the
world, and not to be bothered by having to think of money. Contact with
very rich people, like the Farrells, and the constant spectacle of what
an added range and power is given to the human will by money, had
turned the dull discontent of her youth into an active fever of desire.
She had no illusions about herself at all. She was already a plain and
unattractive old maid. Nobody would want to marry her; and she did not
want to marry anybody. But she wanted to do things and to see
things, when the hateful war was over. She was full of curiosities
about life and the world, that were rather masculine than feminine. Her
education, though it was still patchy and shallow, had been advancing
since Nelly's marriage, and her intelligence was hungry. The
satisfaction of it seemed too to promise her the only real pleasures to
which she could look forward in life. On the wall of her bedroom were
hanging photographs of Rome, Athens, the East. She dreamt of a
wandering existence; she felt that she would be insatiable of movement,
of experience, if the chance were given her.
But how could one travel, or buy books, or make new acquaintances,
without money?—something more at any rate than the pittance on which
she and Nelly subsisted.
What was it Sir William was supposed to have, by way of
income?—thirty thousand a year? Well, he wouldn't always be spending
it on his hospital, and War income tax, and all the other horrible
burdens of the time. If Nelly married him, she would have an ample
margin to play with; and to do Nelly justice, she was always
open-handed, always ready to give away. She would hand over her own
small portion to her sister, and add something to it. With six or seven
hundred a year, Bridget would be mistress of her own fate, and of the
future. Often, lately, in waking moments of the night, she had felt a
sudden glow of exultation, thinking what she could do with such a sum.
The world seemed to open out on all sides—offering her new
excitements, new paths to tread in. She wanted no companion, to hamper
her with differing tastes and wishes. She would be quite sufficient to
The garden outside grew dark. She heard Farrell say 'It's too cold
for you—you must come in,' and she watched Nelly enter the house in
front of him—turning her head back to answer something he said to her.
Even through the dusk Bridget was conscious of her sister's beauty. She
did not envy it in the least. It was Nelly's capital—Nelly's
opportunity. Let her use it for them both. Bridget would be well
satisfied to gather up the crumbs from her rich sister's table.
Then from the dream, she came back with chill and desperation—to
reality. The letter in her pocket—the journey before her—she pondered
alternatives. What was she to do in this case—or in that? Everything
might be at stake—everything was at stake—her life and Nelly's—
The voices from the parlour below came up to her. She heard the
crackling of a newly lighted fire—Farrell reading aloud—and Nelly's
gentle laughter. She pictured the scene; the two on either side of the
fire, with Nelly's mourning, her plain widow's dress, as the symbol—in
Nelly's eyes—of what divided her from Farrell, or any other suitor,
and made it possible to be his friend without fear. Bridget knew that
Nelly so regarded it. But that of course was just Nelly's foolish way
of looking at things. It was only a question of time.
And meanwhile the widow's dress had quite other meanings for
Bridget. She pondered long in the dark, till the supper bell rang.
At supper, her silence embarrassed and infected her companions, and
Farrell, finding it impossible to get another tete-a-tete with Nelly,
took his leave early. He must be up almost with the dawn so as to get
to Carton by nine o'clock.
* * * * *
Out of a stormy heaven the moon was breaking as he walked back to
his cottage. The solitude of the mountain ways, the freshness of the
rain-washed air, and the sweetness of his hour with Nelly, after the
bustle of the week, the arrivals and departures, the endless business,
of a great hospital:—he was conscious of them all, intensely
conscious, as parts of a single, delightful whole to which he had
looked forward for days. And yet he was restless and far from happy. He
wandered about the mountain roads for a long time—watching the moon as
it rose above the sharp steep of Loughrigg and sent long streamers of
light down the Elterwater valley, and up the great knees of the Pikes.
The owls hooted in the oak-woods, and the sound of water—the Brathay
rushing over the Skelwith rocks, and all the little becks in fell and
field, near and far—murmured through the night air, and made
earth-music to the fells. Farrell had much of the poet in him; and the
mountains and their life were dear to him. But he was rapidly passing
into the stage when a man over-mastered by his personal desires is no
longer open to the soothing of nature. He had recently had a long and
confidential talk with his lawyer at Carlisle, who was also his friend,
and had informed himself minutely about the state of the law. Seven
years!—unless, of her own free will, she took the infinitesimal risk
of marriage before the period was up.
But he despaired of her doing any such thing. He recognised fully
that the intimacy she allowed him, her sweet openness and
confidingness, were all conditioned by what she regarded as the fixed
points in her life; by her widowhood, legal and spiritual, and by her
tacit reliance on his recognition of the fact that she was set apart,
bound as other widows were not bound, protected by the very mystery of
Sarratt's fate, from any thought of re-marriage.
And he!—all the time the strength of a man's maturest passion was
mounting in his veins. And with it a foreboding—coming he knew not
whence—like the sudden shadow that, as he looked, blotted out the
moonlight on the shining bends and loops of the Brathay, where it
wandered through the Elterwater fields.
Bridget Cookson slowly signed her name to the letter she had been
writing in the drawing-room of the boarding-house where she was
accustomed to stay during her visits to town. Then she read the letter
'I can't get back till the middle or end of next week at least.
There's been a great deal to do, of one kind or another. And I'm going
down to Woking to-morrow to spend the week-end with a girl I met here
who's knocked up in munition-work. Don't expect me till you see me. But
I daresay I shan't be later than Friday.'
Bridget Cookson had never yet arrived at telling falsehoods for the
mere pleasure of it. On the whole she preferred not to tell them. But
she was well aware that her letter to Nelly contained a good many, both
expressed and implied.
Well, that couldn't be helped. She put up her letter, and then
proceeded to look carefully through the contents of her handbag. Yes,
her passport was all right, and her purse with its supply of notes.
Also the letter that she was to present to the Base Commandant, or the
Red Cross representative at the port of landing. The latter had been
left open for her to read. It was signed 'Ernest Howson, M.D.,' and
asked that Miss Bridget Cookson might be sent forward to No. 102,
General Hospital, X Camp, France, as quickly as possible.
There was also another letter addressed to herself in the same
handwriting. She opened it and glanced through it—
'DEAR MISS COOKSON,—I think I have made everything as easy for you
as I can on this side. You won't have any difficulty. I'm awfully glad
you're coming. I myself am much puzzled, and don't know what to think.
Anyway I am quite clear that my right course was to communicate with
you—first. Everything will depend on what you say.'
The following afternoon, Bridget found herself, with a large party
of V.A.D.'s, and other persons connected with the Red Cross, on board a
Channel steamer. The day was grey and cold, and Bridget having tied on
her life-belt, and wrapped herself in her thickest cloak, found a seat
in the shelter of the deck cabins whence the choppy sea, the destroyer
hovering round them, and presently the coast of France were visible. A
secret excitement filled her. What was she going to see? and what was
she going to do? All round her too were the suggestions of war,
commonplace and familiar by now to half the nation, but not to Bridget
who had done her best to forget the war. The steamer deck was crowded
with officers returning from leave who were walking up and down, all of
them in life-belts, chatting and smoking. All eyes were watchful of the
sea, and the destroyer; and the latest submarine gossip passed from
mouth to mouth. The V.A.D.'s with a few army nurses, kept each other
company on the stern deck. The mild sea gave no one any excuse for
discomfort, and the pleasant-faced rosy girls in their becoming
uniforms, laughed and gossiped with each other, though not without a
good many side glances towards the khaki figures pacing the deck, many
of them specimens of English youth at its best.
Bridget however took little notice of them. She was becoming more
and more absorbed in her own problem. She had not in truth made up her
mind how to deal with it, and she admitted reluctantly that she would
have to be guided by circumstance. Midway across, when the French coast
and its lighthouses were well in view, she took out the same letter
which she had received two days before at the Grasmere post-office, and
again read it through.
'X Camp, 102, General Hospital.
'DEAR MISS COOKSON,—I am writing to you, in the first
instance instead of to Mrs. Sarratt, because I have a vivid remembrance
of what seemed to me your sister's frail physical state, when I saw you
last May at Rydal. I hope she is much stronger, but I don't want to
risk what, if it ended in disappointment, might only be a terrible
strain upon her to no purpose—so I am preparing the way by writing to
'The fact is I want you to come over to France—at once. Can you get
away, without alarming your sister, or letting her, really, know
anything about it? It is the merest, barest chance, but I think there
is just a chance, that a man who is now in hospital here may be
poor George Sarratt—only don't build upon it yet, please. The
case was sent on here from one of the hospitals near the Belgian
frontier about a month ago, in order that a famous nerve-specialist,
who has joined us here for a time, might give his opinion on it. It is
a most extraordinary story. I understand from the surgeon who wrote to
our Commandant, that one night, about three months ago, two men, in
German uniforms, were observed from the British front-line trench,
creeping over the No Man's Land lying between the lines at a point
somewhere east of Dixmude. One man, who threw up his hands, was
dragging the other, who seemed wounded. It was thought that they were
deserters, and a couple of men were sent out to bring them in. Just as
they were being helped into our trench, however, one of them was hit by
an enemy sniper and mortally wounded. Then it was discovered that they
were not Germans at all. The man who had been hit said a few incoherent
things about his wife and children in the Walloon patois as he lay in
the trench, and trying to point to his companion, uttered the one word
“Anglais”—that, everyone swears to—and died. No papers were found on
either of them, and when the other man was questioned, he merely shook
his head, with a vacant look. Various tests were applied to him, but it
was soon clear, both that he was dumb—and deaf—from nerve shock,
probably—and that he was in a terrible physical state. He had been
severely wounded—apparently many months before—in the shoulder and
thigh. The wounds had evidently been shockingly neglected, and were
still septic. The surgeon who examined him thought that what with
exposure, lack of food, and his injuries, it was hardly probable he
would live more than a few weeks. However, he has lingered till now,
and the specialist I spoke of has just seen him.
'As to identification marks there were none. But you'll hear all
about that when you come. All I can say is that, as soon as they got
the man into hospital, the nurses and surgeons became convinced that he
was English, and that in addition to his wounds, it was a case of
severe shell-shock—acute and long-continued neurasthenia properly
speaking,—loss of memory, and all the rest of it.
'Of course the chances of this poor fellow being George Sarratt are
infinitesimal—I must warn you as to that. How account for the interval
between September 1915 and June 1916—for his dress, his companion—for
their getting through the German lines?
'However, directly I set eyes on this man, which was the week after
I arrived here, I began to feel puzzled about him. He reminded me of
someone—but of whom I couldn't remember. Then one afternoon it
suddenly flashed upon me—and for the moment I felt almost sure that I
was looking at George Sarratt. Then, of course, I began to doubt again.
I have tried—under the advice of the specialist I spoke of—all kinds
of devices for getting into some kind of communication with him.
Sometimes the veil between him and those about him seems to thin a
little, and one makes attempts—hypnotism, suggestion, and so forth.
But so far, quite in vain. He has, however, one peculiarity which I may
mention. His hands are long and rather powerful. But the little fingers
are both crooked—markedly so. I wonder if you ever noticed Sarratt's
hands? However, I won't write more now. You will understand, I am sure,
that I shouldn't urge you to come, unless I thought it seriously worth
your while. On the other hand, I cannot bear to excite hopes which
may—which probably will—come to nothing. All I can feel certain of is
that it is my duty to write, and I expect that you will feel that it is
your duty to come.
'I send you the address of a man at the War Office—high up in the
R.A.M.C.—to whom I have already written. He will, I am sure, do all he
can to help you get out quickly. Whoever he is, the poor fellow here is
* * * * *
The steamer glided up the dock of the French harbour. The dusk had
fallen, but Bridget was conscious of a misty town dimly sprinkled with
lights, and crowned with a domed church; of chalk downs, white and
ghostly, to right and left; and close by, of quays crowded with
soldiers, motors, and officials. Carrying her small suit-case, she
emerged upon the quay, and almost immediately was accosted by the
official of the Red Cross who had been told off to look after her.
'Let me carry your suit-case. There is a motor here, which will take
you to X——. There will be two nurses going with you.'
Up the long hill leading southwards out of the town, sped the motor,
stopping once to show its pass to the sentries—khaki and grey, on
either side of the road, and so on into the open country, where an
autumn mist lay over the uplands, beneath a faintly starlit sky. Soon
it was quite dark. Bridget listened vaguely to the half-whispered talk
of the nurses opposite, who were young probationers going back to work
after a holiday, full of spirits and merry gossip about 'Matron' and
'Sister,' and their favourite surgeons. Bridget was quite silent.
Everything was strange and dreamlike. Yet she was sharply conscious
that she was nearing—perhaps—some great experience, some act—some
decision—which she would have to make for herself, with no one to
advise her. Well, she had never been a great hand at asking advice.
People must decide things for themselves.
She wondered whether they would let her see 'the man' that same
night. Hardly—unless he were worse—in danger. Otherwise, they would
be sure to think it better for her to see him first in daylight. She
too would be glad to have a night's rest before the interview. She had
a curiously bruised and battered feeling, as of someone who had been
going through an evil experience.
Pale stretches of what seemed like water to the right, and across it
a lighthouse. And now to the left, a sudden spectacle of lines of light
in a great semicircle radiating up the side of a hill.
The nurses exclaimed—
'There's the Camp! Isn't it pretty at night?'
The officer sitting in front beside the driver turned to ask—
'Where shall I put you down?'
'Number——' said both the maidens in concert. The elderly major in
khaki—who in peace-time was the leading doctor of a Shropshire country
town—could not help smiling at the two lassies, and their bright
'You don't seem particularly sorry to come back!' he said.
'Oh, we're tired of holidays,' said the taller of the two, with a
laugh. 'People at home think they're so busy, and—-'
'You think they're doing nothing?'
'Well, it don't seem much, when you've been out here!' said the girl
more gravely—'and when you know what there is to do!'
'Aye, aye,' said the man in front. 'We could do with hundreds more
of your sort. Hope you preached to your friends.'
'We did!' said both, each with the same young steady voice.
'Here we are—Stop, please.'
For the motor had turned aside to climb the hill into the
semicircle. On all sides now were rows of low buildings—hospital
huts—hospital marquees—stores—canteens. Close to the motor, as it
came to a stand-still, the door of a great marquee stood open, and
Bridget could see within, a lighted hospital ward, with rows of beds,
men in scarlet bed-jackets, sitting or lying on them—flowers—nurses
moving about. The scene was like some bright and delicate illumination
on the dark.
'I shall have to take you a bit further on,' said the major to
Bridget, as the two young nurses waved farewell. 'We've got a room in
the hotel for you. And Dr. Howson will come for you in the morning. He
thought that would be more satisfactory both for you and the patient
than that you should go to the hospital to-night.'
Bridget acquiesced, with a strong sense of relief. And presently the
camp and its lights were all left behind again, and the motor was
rushing on, first through a dark town, and then through woods—pine
woods—as far as the faint remaining light enabled her to see, till dim
shapes of houses, and scattered lamps began again to appear, and the
motor drew up.
'Well, you'll find a bed here, and some food,' said the major as he
handed her out. 'Can't promise much. It's a funny little place, but
they don't look after you badly.'
They entered one of the small seaside hotels of the cheaper sort
which abound in French watering-places, where the walls of the tiny
rooms seem to be made of brown paper, and everyone is living in their
neighbour's pocket. But a pleasant young woman came forward to take
'Mademoiselle Cook—Cookson?' she said interrogatively. 'I have a
letter for Mademoiselle. Du medecin,' she added, addressing the major.
'Ah?' That gentleman put down Bridget's bag in the little hall, and
stood attentive. Bridget opened the letter—a very few words—and read
it with an exclamation.
'DEAR MISS COOKSON,—I am awfully sorry not
to meet you to-night, and at the hospital to-morrow.
But I am sent for to Bailleul. My only brother
has been terribly wounded—they think fatally—in a
bombing attack last night. I am going up at once—there
is no help for it. One of my colleagues, Dr.
Vincent, will take you to the hospital and will tell me
your opinion. In haste.—Yours sincerely,
'H'm, a great pity!' said the major, as she handed the note to him.
'Howson has taken a tremendous interest in the case. But Vincent is
next best. Not the same thing perhaps—but still—Of course the whole
medical staff here has been interested in it. It has some extraordinary
features. You I think have had a brother-in-law “missing” for some
He had piloted her into the bare salle a manger, where two
young officers, with a party of newly-arrived V.A.D.'s were having
dinner, and where through an open window came in the dull sound of
waves breaking on a sandy shore.
'My brother-in-law has been missing since the battle of Loos,' said
Bridget—'more than a year. We none of us believe that he can be alive.
But of course when Dr. Howson wrote to me, I came at once.'
'Has he a wife?'
'Yes, but she is very delicate. That is why Dr. Howson wrote to me.
If there were any chance—of course we must send for her. But I shall
know—I shall know at once.'
'I suppose you will—yes, I suppose you will,' mused the major.
'Though of course a man is terribly aged by such an experience. He's
English—that we're certain of. He often seems to understand—half
understand—a written phrase or word in English. And he is certainly a
man of refinement. All his personal ways—all that is instinctive and
automatic—the subliminal consciousness, so to speak—seems to be that
of a gentleman. But it is impossible to get any response out of him,
for anything connected with the war. And yet we doubt whether there is
any actual brain lesion. So far it seems to be severe functional
disturbance—which is neurasthenia—aggravated by his wounds and
general state. But the condition is getting worse steadily. It is very
sad, and very touching. However, you will get it all out of Vincent.
You must have some dinner first. I wish you a good-night.'
And the good man, so stout and broad-shouldered that he seemed to be
bursting out of his khaki, hurried away. The lady seemed to him
curiously hard and silent—'a forbidding sort of party.' But then he
himself was a person of sentiment, expressing all the expected feelings
in the right places, and with perfect sincerity.
Bridget took her modest dinner, and then sat by the window, looking
out over a lonely expanse of sand, towards a moonlit sea. To right and
left were patches of pine wood, and odd little seaside villas, with
fantastic turrets and balconies. A few figures passed—nurses in white
head dresses, and men in khaki. Bridget understood after talking to the
little patronne, that the name of the place was Paris a la Mer,
that there was a famous golf course near, and that large building, with
a painted front to the right, was once the Casino, and now a hospital
It was all like a stage scene, the sea, the queer little houses, the
moonlight, the passing figures. Only the lights were so few and dim,
and there was no music.
Bridget turned, to see a tall young surgeon in khaki, tired, pale
and dusty, who looked at her with a frown of worry, a man evidently
over-driven, and with hardly any mind to give to this extra task that
had been put upon him.
'I'm sorry to be late—but we've had an awful rush to-day,' he said,
as he perfunctorily shook hands. 'There was some big fighting on the
Somme, the night before last, and the casualty trains have been coming
in all day. I'm only able to get away for five minutes.
'Well now, Miss Cookson'—he sat down opposite her, and tried to get
his thoughts into business shape—'first let me tell you it's a great
misfortune for you that Howson's had to go off. I know something about
the case—but not nearly as much as he knows. First of all—how old was
'About twenty-seven—I don't know precisely.'
'H'm. Well of course this man looks much older than that—but the
question is what's he been through? Was Lieutenant Sarratt fair or
'Rather dark. He had brown hair.'
'I can't remember precisely,' said Bridget, after a moment. 'I don't
notice the colour of people's eyes. But I'm sure they were some kind of
'This man's are a greenish grey. Can you recollect anything peculiar
about Lieutenant Sarratt's hands?'
Again Bridget paused for a second or two, and then said—'I can't
remember anything at all peculiar about them.'
The surgeon looked at her closely, and was struck with the wooden
irresponsiveness of the face, which was however rather handsome, he
thought, than otherwise. No doubt, she was anxious to speak
deliberately, when so much might depend on her evidence and her
opinion. But he had never seen any countenance more difficult to read.
'Perhaps you're not a close observer of such things?'
'No, I don't think I am.'
'H'm—that's rather a pity. A great deal may turn on them, in this
Then the face before him woke up a little.
'But I am quite sure I should know my brother-in-law again, under
any circumstances,' said Bridget, with emphasis.
'Ah, don't be so sure! Privation and illness change people terribly.
And this poor fellow has suffered!'—he shrugged his shoulders
expressively. 'Well, you will see him to-morrow. There is of course no
external evidence to help us whatever. The unlucky accident that the
Englishman's companion—who was clearly a Belgian peasant,
disguised—of that there is no doubt—was shot through the lungs at the
very moment that the two men reached the British line, has wiped out
all possible means of identification—unless, of course, the man
himself can be recognised by someone who knew him. We have had at least
a dozen parties—relations of “missing” men—much more recent
cases—over here already—to no purpose. There is really no clue,
unless'—the speaker rose with a tired smile—'unless you can supply
one, when you see him. But I am sorry about the fingers. That has
always seemed to me a possible clue. To-morrow then, at eleven?'
'It is surely most unlikely that my brother-in-law could have
survived all this time? If he had been a prisoner, we should have heard
of him, long ago. Where could he have been?'
The young man shrugged his shoulders.
'There have been a few cases, you know—of escaped
prisoners—evading capture for a long time—and finally crossing the
line. But of course it is very unlikely—most unlikely. Well,
to-morrow?' He bowed and departed.
Bridget made her way to her small carpetless room, and sat for long
with a shawl round her at the open window. She could imagine the farm
in this moonlight. It was Saturday. Very likely both Cicely and Sir
William were at the cottage. She seemed to see Nelly, with the white
shawl over her dark head, saying good-night to them at the farm-gate.
That meant that it was all going forward. Some day,—and soon,—Nelly
would discover that Farrell was necessary to her—that she couldn't do
without him—just as she had never been able in practical ways to do
without her sister. No, there was nothing in the way of Nelly's great
future, and the free development of her—Bridget's—own life, but this
sudden and most unwelcome stroke of fate. If she had to send for
Nelly—supposing it really were Sarratt—and then if he died—Nelly
might never get over it.
It might simply kill her—why not? All the world knew that she was a
weakling. And if it didn't kill her, it would make it infinitely less
likely that she would marry Farrell—in any reasonable time. Nelly was
not like other people. She was all feelings. Actually to see George
die—and in the state that these doctors described—would rack and
torture her. She would never be the same again. The first shock was bad
enough; this might be far worse. Bridget's selfishness, in truth,
counted on the same fact as Farrell's tenderness. 'After all, what
people don't see, they can't feel'—to quite the same degree. But if
Nelly, being Nelly, had seen the piteous thing, she would turn against
Farrell, and think it loyalty to George to send her rich suitor about
his business. Bridget felt that she could exactly foretell the course
of things. A squalid and melancholy veil dropped over the future.
Poverty, struggle, ill-health for Nelly—poverty, and the starving of
all natural desires and ambitions for herself—that was all there was
to look forward to, if the Farrells were alienated, and the marriage
A fierce revolt shook the woman by the window. She sat on there till
the moon dropped into the sea, and everything was still in the little
echoing hotel. And then though she went to bed she could not sleep.
* * * * *
After her coffee and roll in the little salle a manger, which
with its bare boards and little rags of curtains was only meant for
summer guests, and was now, on this first of November, nippingly cold,
Bridget wandered a little on the shore watching the white dust of the
foam as a chill west wind skimmed it from the incoming waves, then
packed her bag, and waited restlessly for Dr. Vincent. She understood
she was to be allowed, if she wished, two visits in the hospital, so as
to give her an opportunity of watching the patient she was going to
see, without undue hurry, and would then be motored back to D——in
time for the night boat. She was bracing herself therefore to an
experience the details of which she only dimly foresaw, but which must
in any case be excessively disagreeable. What exactly she was going to
do or say, she didn't know. How could she, till the new fact was before
Punctually on the stroke of eleven, a motor arrived in charge of an
army driver, and Bridget set out. They were to pick up Vincent in the
town of X——itself and run on to the Camp. The sun was out by this
time, and all the seaside village, with its gimcrack hotels and villas
flung pell-mell upon the sand, and among the pines, was sparkling under
it. So were the withered woods, where the dead leaves were flying
before the wind, the old town where Napoleon gathered his legions for
the attack on England, and the wide sandy slopes beyond it, where the
pine woods had perished to make room for the Camp. The car stopped
presently on the edge of the town. To the left spread a river estuary,
with a spit of land beyond, and lighthouses upon it, sharp against a
pale blue sky. Every shade of pale yellow, of lilac and pearl, sparkled
in the distance, in the scudding water, the fast flying westerly
clouds, and the sandy inlets among the still surviving pines.
'You're punctuality itself,' said a man emerging from a building
before which a sentry was pacing—'Now we shall be there directly.'
The building, so Bridget was informed, housed the Headquarters of
the Base, and from it the business of the great Camp, whether on its
military or its hospital side, was mainly carried on. And as they drove
towards the Camp her companion, with the natural pride of the
Englishman in his job, told the marvellous tale of the two preceding
years—how the vast hospital city had been reared, and organised—the
military camp too—the convalescent camp—the transports—and the
'The Boche thought they were the only organisers in the
world!—We've taught them better!' he said, with a laugh in his
pleasant eyes, the whole man of him, so weary the night before, now
fresh and alert in the morning sunshine.
Bridget listened with an unwilling attention. This bit of the war
seen close at hand was beginning to suggest to her some new vast world,
of which she was wholly ignorant, where she was the merest cypher on
sufferance. The thought was disagreeable to her irritable pride, and
she thrust it aside. She had other things to consider.
They drew up outside one of the general hospitals lined along the
'You'll find him in a special ward,' said Vincent, as he handed her
out. 'But I'll take you first to Sister.'
They entered the first hut, and made their way past various small
rooms, amid busy people going to and fro. Bridget was aware of the
usual hospital smell of mingled anesthetic and antiseptic, and
presently, her companion laid a hasty hand on her arm and drew her to
one side. A surgeon passed with a nurse. They entered a room on the
right, and left the door of it a little ajar.
'The operating theatre,' said Vincent, with a gesture that shewed
her where to look; and through the open door Bridget saw a white room
beyond, an operating table and a man, a splendid boy of nineteen or
twenty lying on it, with doctors and nurses standing round. The youth's
features shewed waxen against the white walls, and white overalls of
'This way,' said Vincent. 'Sister, this is Miss Cookson. You
remember—Dr. Howson sent for her.'
A shrewd-faced woman of forty in nurse's dress looked closely at
'We shall be very glad indeed, Miss Cookson, if you can throw any
light on this case. It is one of the saddest we have here. Will you
follow me, please?'
Bridget found herself passing through the main ward of the hut, rows
of beds on either hand. She seemed to be morbidly conscious of scores
of eyes upon her, and was glad when she found herself in the passage
beyond the ward.
The Sister opened a door into a tiny sitting-room, and offered
Bridget a chair.
'They have warned you that this poor fellow is deaf and dumb?'
'Yes—I had heard that.'
'And his brain is very clouded. He tries to do all we tell him—it
is touching to see him. But his real intelligence seems to be far away.
Then there are the wounds. Did Dr. Howson tell you about them?'
'He said there were bad wounds.'
The Sister threw up her hands.
'How he ever managed to do the walking he must have done to get
through the lines is a mystery to us all. What he must have endured!
The wounds must have been dressed to begin with in a German
field-hospital. Then on his way to Germany, before the wounds had
properly healed—that at least is our theory—somewhere near the
Belgian frontier he must have made his escape. What happened then, of
course, during the winter and spring nobody knows; but when he reached
our lines, the wounds were both in a septic state. There have been two
operations for gangrene since he has been here. I don't think he'll
Bridget lifted her eyes and looked intently at the speaker—
'You think he's very ill?'
'Very ill,' said the Sister emphatically. 'If you can identify him,
you must send for his wife at once—at once! Lieutenant Sarratt
was, I think, married?'
'Yes,' said Bridget. 'Now may I see him?'
The Sister looked at her visitor curiously. She was both puzzled and
repelled by Bridget's manner, by its lack of spring and cordiality, its
dull suggestion of something reserved and held back. But perhaps the
woman was only shy; and oppressed by the responsibility of what she had
come to do. The Sister was a very human person, and took tolerant views
of everything that was not German. She rose, saying gently—
'If I may advise you, take time to watch him, before you form or
express any opinion. We won't hurry you.'
Bridget followed her guide a few steps along the corridor. The
Sister opened a door, and stood aside to let Bridget pass in. Then she
came in herself, and beckoned to a young probationer who was rolling
bandages on the further side of the only bed the room contained. The
girl quietly put down her work and went out.
There was a man lying in the bed, and Bridget looked at him. Her
heart beat so fast, that she felt for a moment sick and suffocated. The
Sister bent over him tenderly, and put back the hair, the grey hair
which had fallen over his forehead. At the touch, his eyes opened, and
as he saw the Sister's face he very faintly smiled. Bridget suddenly
put out a hand and steadied herself by a chair standing beside the bed.
The Sister however saw nothing but the face on the pillow, and the
smile. The smile was so rare!—it was the one sufficient reward for all
his nurses did for him.
'Now I'll leave you,' said the Sister, forbearing to ask any further
questions. 'Won't you sit down there? If you want anyone, you have only
to touch that bell.'
She disappeared. And Bridget sat down, her eyes on the figure in the
bed, and on the hand outside the sheet. Her own hands were trembling,
as they lay crossed upon her lap.
How grey and thin the hair was—how ghostly the face—what suffering
in every line!
Bridget drew closer.
'George!' she whispered.
No answer. The man's eyes were closed again. He seemed to be asleep.
Bridget looked at his hand—intently. Then she touched it.
The heavy blue-veined eyelids rose again, as though at the only
summons the brain understood. Bridget bent forward. What colour there
had been in it before ebbed from her sallow face; her lips grew white.
The eyes of the man in the bed met hers—first mechanically—without
any sign of consciousness; then—was it imagination?—or was there a
sudden change of expression—a quick trouble—a flickering of the lids?
Bridget shook through every limb. If he recognised her, if the sight of
her brought memory back—even a gleam of it—there was an end of
everything, of course. She had only to go to the nearest telegraph
office and send for Nelly.
But the momentary stimulus passed as she looked—the eyes grew
vacant again—the lids fell. Bridget drew a long breath. She raised
herself and moved her chair farther away.
Time passed. The window behind her was open, and the sun came in,
and stole over the bed. The sick man scarcely moved at all. There was
complete silence, except for the tread of persons in the corridor
outside, and certain distant sounds of musketry and bomb practice from
the military camp half a mile away.
He was dying—the man in the bed. That was plain. Bridget knew the
look of mortal illness. It couldn't be long.
She sat there nearly an hour—thinking. At the end of that time she
rang the hand-bell near her.
Sister Agnes appeared at once. Bridget had risen and confronted her.
'Well,' said the Sister eagerly. But the visitor's irresponsive look
quenched her hopes at once.
'I see nothing at all that reminds me of my brother-in-law,' said
Bridget with emphasis. 'I am very sorry—but I cannot identify this
person as George Sarratt.'
The Sister's face fell.
'You don't even see the general likeness Dr. Howson thought he saw?'
Bridget turned back with her towards the bed.
'I see what Dr. Howson meant,' she said, slowly. 'But there is no
real likeness. My brother-in-law's face was much longer. His mouth was
quite different. And his eyes were brown.'
'Did you see the eyes again? Did he look at you?'
'And there was no sign of recognition?'
'Poor dear fellow!' said the Sister, stooping over him again. There
was a profound and yearning pity in the gesture. 'I wish we could have
kept him more alive—more awake—for you, to see. But there had to be
morphia this morning. He had a dreadful night. Are you quite
sure? Wouldn't you like to come back this afternoon, and watch him
again? Sometimes a second time—Oh, and what of the hands?—did you
notice them?' And suddenly remembering Dr. Howson's words, the Sister
pointed to the long, bloodless fingers lying on the sheet, and to the
marked deformity in each little finger.
'Yet—but George's hands were not peculiar in any way.' Bridget's
voice, as she spoke, seemed to herself to come from far away; as though
it were that of another person speaking under compulsion.
'I'm sorry—I'm sorry!'—the Sister repeated. 'It's so sad for him
to be dying here—all alone—nobody knowing even who he is—when one
thinks how somebody must be grieving and longing for him.'
'Have you no other enquiries?' said Bridget, abruptly, turning to
pick up some gloves she had laid down.
'Oh yes—we have had other visitors—and I believe there is a
gentleman coming to-morrow. But nothing that sounded so promising as
your visit. You won't come again?'
'It would be no use,' said the even, determined voice. 'I will write
to Dr. Howson from London. And I do hope'—for the first time, the
kindly nurse perceived some agitation in this impressive stranger—'I
do hope that nobody will write to my sister—to Mrs. Sarratt. She is
very delicate. Excitement and disappointment might just kill her.
That's why I came.'
'And that of course is why Dr. Howson wrote to you first. Oh I am
sure he will take every care. He'll be very, very sorry! You'll write
to him? And of course so shall I.'
The news that the lady from England had failed to identify the
nameless patient to whom doctor and nurses had been for weeks giving
their most devoted care spread rapidly, and Bridget before she left the
hospital had to run the gauntlet of a good many enquiries, at the hands
of the various hospital chiefs. She produced on all those who
questioned her the impression of an unattractive, hard, intelligent
woman whose judgment could probably be trusted.
'Glad she isn't my sister-in-law!' thought Vincent as he turned back
from handing her into the motor which was to take her to the port. But
he did not doubt her verdict, and was only sorry for 'old Howson,' who
had been so sure that something would come of her visit.
The motor took Bridget rapidly back to D——, where she would be in
good time for an afternoon boat. She got some food, automatically, at a
hotel near the quay, and automatically made her way to the boat when
the time came. A dull sense of something irrevocable,—something
horrible,—overshadowed her. But the 'will to conquer' in her was as
iron; and, as in the Prussian conscience, left no room for pity or
A psychologist would have found much to interest him in Bridget
Cookson's mental state during the days which followed on her journey to
France. The immediate result of that journey was an acute sharpening of
intelligence, accompanied by a steady, automatic repression of all
those elements of character or mind which might have interfered with
its free working. Bridget understood perfectly that she had committed a
crime, and at first she had not been able to protect herself against
the normal reaction of horror or fear. But the reaction passed very
quickly. Conscience gave up the ghost. Selfish will, and keen wits held
the field; and Bridget ceased to be more than occasionally
uncomfortable, though a certain amount of anxiety was of course
She did not certainly want to be found out, either by Nelly or the
Farrells; and she took elaborate steps to prevent it. She wrote first a
long letter to Howson giving her reasons for refusing to believe in his
tentative identification of the man at X——as George Sarratt, and
begging him not to write to her sister. 'That would be indeed cruel. She can just get along now, and every month she gets a little
stronger. But her heart, which was weakened by the influenza last year,
would never stand the shock of a fearful disappointment. Please let her
be. I take all the responsibility. That man is not George Sarratt. I
hope you may soon discover who he is.'
Step No. 2 was to go, on the very morning after she arrived in
London, to the Enquiry Office in A——Street. Particulars of the case
in France had that morning reached the office, and Bridget was but just
in time to stop a letter from Miss Eustace to Nelly. When she pointed
out that she had been over to France on purpose to see for herself,
that there was no doubt at all in her own mind, and that it would only
torment a frail invalid to no purpose to open up the question, the
letter was of course countermanded. Who could possibly dispute a
sister's advice in such a case? And who could attribute the advice to
anything else than sisterly affection!
Meanwhile among the mountains an unusually early winter was
beginning to set in. The weather grew bitterly cold, and already a
powdering of snow was on the fell-tops. For all that, Nelly could never
drink deep enough of the November beauty, as it shone upon the fells
through some bright frosty days. The oaks were still laden with leaf;
the fern was still scarlet on the slopes; and the ghylls and waterfalls
leapt foaming white down their ancestral courses. And in this austerer
world, Nelly's delicate personality, as though braced by the touch of
winter, seemed to move more lightly and buoyantly. She was more vividly
interested in things and persons—in her drawing, her books, her
endless knitting and sewing for the wounded. She was puzzled that
Bridget stayed so long in town, but alack! she could do very well
without Bridget. Some portion of the savour of life, of that infinity
of small pleasures which each day may bring for the simple and the pure
in heart, was again hers. Insensibly the great wound was healing. The
dragging anguish of the first year assailed her now but rarely.
One morning she opened the windows in the little sitting-room, to
let in the sunshine, and the great spectacle of the Pikes wrapped in
majestic shadow, purple-black, with the higher peaks ranged in a
hierarchy of light behind them.
She leant far out of the window, breathing in the tonic smell of the
oak leaves on the grass beneath her, and the freshness of the mountain
air. Then, as she turned back to the white-walled raftered room with
its bright fire, she was seized with the pleasantness of this place
which was now her home. Insensibly it had captured her heart, and her
senses. And who was it—what contriving brain—had designed and built
it up, out of the rough and primitive dwelling it had once been?
Of course, William Farrell had done it all! There was scarcely a
piece of furniture, a picture, a book, that was not of his choosing and
placing. Little by little, they had been gathered round her. His hand
had touched and chosen them, every one. He took far more pleasure and
interest in the details of these few rooms than in any of his own
houses and costly possessions.
Suddenly—as she sat there on the window-ledge, considering the
room, her back to the mountains—one of those explosions of
consciousness rushed upon Nelly, which, however surprising the crash,
are really long prepared and inevitable.
What did that room really mean—the artistic and subtle
simplicity of it?—the books, the flowers, and the few priceless
things, drawings or terra-cottas, brought from the cottage, and changed
every few weeks by Farrell himself, who would arrive with them under
his arm, or in his pockets, and take them back in like manner.
The colour flooded into Nelly's face. She dropped it in her hands
with a low cry. An agony seized her. She loathed herself.
Then springing up passionately she began to pace the narrow floor,
her slender arms and hands locked behind her.
Sir William was coming that very evening. So was Cicely, who was to
be her own guest at the farm, while Marsworth, so she heard, was to
have the spare room at the cottage.
She had not seen William Farrell for some time—for what counted, at
least, as some time in their relation; not since that evening before
Bridget went away—more than a fortnight. But it was borne in upon her
that she had heard from him practically every day. There, in the drawer
of her writing-table, lay the packet of his letters. She looked for
them now morning after morning, and if they failed her, the day seemed
blank. Anybody might have read them—or her replies. None the less
Farrell's letters were the outpouring of a man's heart and mind to the
one person with whom he felt himself entirely at ease. The endless
problems and happenings of the great hospital to which he was devoting
more and more energy, and more and more wealth; the incidents and
persons that struck him; his loves and hates among the staff or the
patients; the humour or the pity of the daily spectacle;—it was all
there in his letters, told in a rich careless English that stuck to the
memory. Nelly was accustomed to read and re-read them.
Yes, and she was proud to receive them!—proud that he thought so
much of her opinion and cared so much for her sympathy. But why
did he write to her, so constantly, so intimately?—what was the real
motive of it all?
At last, Nelly asked herself the question. It was fatal of course.
So long as no question is asked of Lohengrin—who, what, and whence he
is—the spell holds, the story moves. But examine it, as we all know,
and the vision fades, the gleam is gone.
She passed rapidly, and almost with terror, into a misery of
remorse. What had she been doing with this kindest and best of men?
Allowing him to suppose that after a little while she would be quite
ready to forget George and be his wife? That threw her into a fit of
helpless crying. The tears ran down her cheeks as she moved to and fro.
Her George!—falling out there, in that ghastly No Man's Land, dying
out there, alone, with no one to help, and quiet now in his unknown
grave. And after little more than a year she was to forget him, and be
rich and happy with a new lover—a new husband?
She seemed to herself the basest of women. Base towards George—and
towards Farrell—both! What could she do?—what must she do? Oh, she
must go away—she must break it all off! And looking despairingly round
the room, which only an hour before had seemed to her so dear and
familiar, she tried to imagine herself in exile from all it
represented, cut off from Farrell and from Cicely, left only to her own
But she must—she must! That very evening she must speak to
Willy—she must have it out. Of course he would urge her to stay
there—he would promise to go away—and leave her alone. But that would
be too mean, too ungrateful. She couldn't banish him from this spot
that he loved, where he snatched his few hours—always now growing
fewer—of rest and pleasure. No, she must just depart. Without telling
him? Without warning? Her will failed her.
She got out her table, with its knitting, and its bundles of
prepared work which had arrived that morning from the workroom, and
began upon one of them mechanically. But she was more and more weighed
down by a sense of catastrophe—which was also a sense of passionate
shame. Why, she was George's wife, still!—his wife—for who
could know, for certain, that he was dead? That was what the law
meant. Seven years!
* * * * *
She spent the day in a wretched confusion of thoughts and plans. A
telegram from Cicely arrived about midday—'Can't get to you till
to-morrow. Willy and Marsworth coming to-day—Marsworth not till late.'
So any hour might bring Farrell. She sat desperately waiting for
him. Meanwhile there was a post-card from Bridget saying that she too
would probably arrive that evening.
That seemed the last straw. Bridget would merely think her a fool;
Bridget would certainly quarrel with her. Why, it had been Bridget's
constant object to promote the intimacy with the Farrells, to throw her
and Sir William together. Nelly remembered her own revolts and
refusals. They seemed now so long ago! In those days it was jealousy
for George that filled her, the fierce resolve to let no one so much as
dream that she could ever forget him, and to allow no one to give money
to George's wife, for whom George himself had provided, and should
still provide. And at an earlier stage—after George left her, and
before he died—she could see herself, as she looked back, keeping Sir
William firmly at a distance, resenting those friendly caressing ways,
which others accepted—which she too now accepted, so meekly, so
abominably! She thought of his weekly comings and goings, as they were
now; how, in greeting and good-bye, he would hold her hands, both of
them, in his; how once or twice he had raised them to his lips. And it
had begun to seem quite natural to her, wretch that she was; because he
pitied her, because he was so good to her—and so much older, nearly
twenty years. He was her brother and dear friend, and she the little
sister whom he cherished, who sympathised with all he did, and would
listen as long as he pleased, while he talked of everything that filled
his mind—the war news, his work, his books, his companions; or would
sit by, watching breathlessly while his skilful hand put down some
broad 'note' of colour or light, generally on a page of her own
Ah, but it must end—it must end! And she must tell him to-night.
Then she fell to thinking of how it was she had been so blind for so
long; and was now in this tumult of change. One moment, and she was
still the Nelly of yesterday, cheerful, patient, comforted by the love
of her friends; and the next, she had become this poor, helpless thing,
struggling with her conscience, her guilty conscience, and her sorrow.
How had it happened? There was something uncanny, miraculous in it. But
anyway, there, in a flash it stood revealed—her treason to George—her
unkindness to Willy.
For she would never marry him—never! She simply felt herself an
unfaithful wife—a disloyal friend.
* * * * *
The November day passed on, cloudless, to its red setting over the
Coniston fells. Wetherlam stood black against the barred scarlet of the
west, and all the valleys lay veiled in a blue and purple mist,
traversed by rays of light, wherever a break in the mountain wall let
the sunset through. The beautiful winter twilight had just begun, when
Nelly heard the step she waited for outside.
She did not run to the window to greet him as she generally did. She
sat still, by the fire, her knitting on her knee. Her black dress was
very black, with the plainest white ruffle at her throat. She looked
very small and pitiful. Perhaps she meant to look it! The weak in
dealing with the strong have always that instinctive resource.
'How jolly to find you alone!' said Farrell joyously, as he entered
the room. 'I thought Miss Bridget was due.' He put down the books with
which he had come laden and approached her with outstretched hands. 'I
say!—you don't look well!' His look, suddenly sobered, examined her.
'Oh yes, I am quite well. Bridget comes to-night.'
She hurriedly withdrew herself, and he sat down opposite her,
holding some chilly fingers to the blaze, surveying her all the time.
'Why doesn't Bridget stop here and look after you?'
Nelly laughed. 'Because she has much more interesting things to do!'
'That's most unlikely! Have you been alone all the week?'
'Yes, but quite busy, thank you—and quite well.' 'You don't look
it,' he repeated gravely, after a moment.
'So busy, and so well,' she insisted, 'that even I can't find
excuses for idling here much longer.'
He gave a perceptible start. 'What does that mean? What are you
going to do?'
'I don't know. But I think'—she eyed him uneasily—'hospital work
of some kind.'
He shook his head.
'I wouldn't take you in my hospital! You'd knock up in a week.'
'You're quite, quite mistaken,' she said, eagerly. 'I can wash
dishes and plates now as well as anyone. Hester told me the other day
of a small hospital managed by a friend of hers—where they want a
parlour-maid. I could do that capitally.'
'Where is it?' he asked, after a moment.
She hesitated, and at last said evasively—
'In Surrey somewhere—I think.'
He took up the tongs, and deliberately put the fire together, in
silence. At last he said—
'I thought you promised Cicely and me that you wouldn't attempt
anything of the kind?'
'Not till I was fit.' Her voice trembled a little. 'But now I
'You should let your friends judge that for you,' he said gently.
'No, no, I can't. I must judge for myself.' She spoke with growing
agitation. 'You have been so awfully, awfully good to me!—and
now'—she bent forward and laid a pleading hand on his arm—'now you
must be good to me in another way I you must let me go. I brood here
too much. I want not to think—I am so tired of myself. Let me go and
think about other people—drudge a little—and slave a little! Let
me—it will do me good!'
His face altered perceptibly during this appeal. When he first came
in, fresh from the frosty air, his fair hair and beard flaming in the
firelight, his eyes all pleasure, he had seemed the embodiment of
whatever is lusty and vigorous in life—an overwhelming presence in the
little cottage room. But he had many subtler aspects. And as he
listened to her, the Viking, the demi-god, disappeared.
'And what about those—to whom it will do harm?'
'Oh no, it won't do harm—to anybody,' she faltered.
'It will do the greatest harm!'—he laid a sharp emphasis on the
words. 'Isn't it worth while to be just the joy and inspiration of
those who can work hard—so that they go away from you, renewed like
eagles? Cicely and I come—we tell you our troubles—our worries—our
failures, and our successes. We couldn't tell them to anyone else. But
you sit here; and you're so gentle and so wise—you see things so
clearly, just because you're not in the crowd, not in the rough and
tumble—that we go away—bucked up!—and run our shows the better for
our hours with you. Why must women be always bustling and hurrying, and
all of them doing the same things? If you only knew the blessing it is
to find someone with a little leisure just to feel, and think!—just to
listen to what one has to say. You know I am always bursting with
things to say!'
He looked at her with a laugh. His colour had risen.
'I arrive here—often—full of grievances and wrath against
everybody—hating the Government—hating the War Office—hating our own
staff, or somebody on it—entirely and absolutely persuaded that the
country is going to the dogs, and that we shall be at Germany's mercy
in six months. Well, there you sit—I don't know how you manage
it!—but somehow it all clears away. I don't want to hang anybody any
more—I think we are going to win—I think our staff are splendid
fellows, and the nurses, angels—(they ain't, though, all the
same!)—and it's all you!—just by being you—just by giving me
rope enough—letting me have it all out. And I go away with twice the
work in me I had when I came. And Cicely's the same—and Hester. You
play upon us all—just because'—he hesitated—'because you're so sweet
to us all. You raise us to a higher power; you work through us. Who
else will do it if you desert us?'
Her lips trembled.
'I don't want to desert you, but—what right have I to such
comfort—such luxury—when other people are suffering and toiling?'
He raised his eyebrows.
'Luxury? This little room? And there you sit sewing and knitting all
day! And I'll be bound you don't eat enough to keep a sparrow!'
There was silence. She was saying to herself—'Shall I ever be able
to go?—to break with them all?' The thought, the image, of George
flashed again through her mind. But why was it so much fainter, so much
less distinct than it had been an hour ago? Yet she seemed to turn to
him, to beg him piteously to protect her from something vague and
Suddenly a low voice spoke—
She looked up—startled—her childish eyes full of tears.
He held out his hand, and she could not help it, she yielded her
Farrell's look was full of energy, of determination. He drew nearer
to her, still holding her hand. But he spoke with perfect self-control.
'Nelly, I won't deceive you! I love you! You are everything to me.
It seems as if I had never been happy—never known what happiness could
possibly mean till I knew you. To come here every week—to see you like
this for these few hours—it changes everything—it sweetens
everything—because you are in my heart—because I have the hope—that
She withdrew her hand and covered her face.
'Oh, it's my fault—my fault!' she said, incoherently—'how could
I?—how could I?'
There was silence again. He opened his lips to speak once or twice,
but no words came. One expression succeeded another on his face; his
eyes sparkled. At last he said—'How could you help it? You could not
prevent my loving you.'
'Yes, I could—I ought——,' she said, vehemently. 'Only I was a
fool—I never realised. That's so like me. I won't face things. And
yet'—she looked at him miserably—'I did beg you to let me live my own
life—didn't I?—not to spoil me—not—not to be so kind to me.'
'Yes. But then you see—you were you!'
She sprang up, looking down upon him, as he sat by the fire. 'That's
just it. If I were another person! But no!—no! I can't be your friend.
I'm not old enough—or clever enough. And I can't ever be anything
'Why?' He asked it very quietly, his eyes raised to hers. He could
see the quick beat of her breath under her black dress.
'Because I'm not my own. I'm not free—you know I'm not. I'm not
free legally—and I'm not free in heart. Oh, if George were to come in
at that door!'—she threw back her head with a passionate
gesture—'there would be nobody else in the world for
He stooped over the fire, fidgeting with it, so that his face was
hidden from her.
'You know, I think, that if I believed there was the faintest hope
of that, I should never have said a word—of my own feelings. But as it
is—why must you feel bound to break up this—this friendship, which
means so much to us all? What harm is there in it? Time will clear up a
great deal. I'll hold my tongue—I promise you. I won't bother you. I
won't speak of it again—for a year—or more—if you wish. But—don't
He looked up with that smile which in Cicely's unbiased opinion gave
him such an unfair advantage over womankind.
With a little sob, Nelly walked away towards the window, which was
still uncurtained though the night had fallen. Outside there was a
starry deep of sky, above Wetherlam and the northern fells. The great
shapes held the valley in guard; the river windings far below seemed
still to keep the sunset; while here and there shone scattered lights
in farms and cottages, sheltering the old, old life of the dales.
Insensibly Nelly's passionate agitation began to subside. Had she
been filling her own path with imaginary perils and phantoms? Yet there
echoed in her mind the low-spoken words—'I won't deceive you! I love
you!' And the recollection both frightened and touched her.
Presently Farrell spoke again, quite in his usual voice.
'I shall be in despair if you leave me to tackle Cicely alone. She's
been perfectly mad lately. But you can put it all right if you choose.'
Nelly was startled into turning back towards him.
'Oh!—how can I?'
'Tell her she has been behaving abominably, and making a good
fellow's life a burden to him. Scold her! Laugh at her!'
'What has she been doing?' said Nelly, still standing by the window.
Farrell launched into a racy and elaborate account—the effort of
one determined, coute que coute, to bring the conversation back
to an ordinary key—of Cicely's proceedings, during the ten days since
Nelly had seen her.
It appeared that Marsworth, after many weeks during which they had
heard nothing of him, had been driven north again to his Carton doctor,
by a return of neuralgic trouble in his wounded arm; and as usual had
put up at the Rectory, where as usual Miss Daisy, the Rector's
granddaughter, had ministered to him like the kind little brick she
'You see, she's altogether too good to be true!' said Farrell. 'And
yet it is true. She looks after her grandfather and the parish. She
runs the Sunday school, and all the big boys are in love with her. She
does V.A.D. work at the hospital. She spends nothing on her dress.
She's probably up at six every morning. And all the time, instead of
being plain, which of course virtue ought to be, she's as pretty as
possible—like a little bird. And Cicely can't abide her. I don't know
whether she's in love with Marsworth. Probably she is. Why not? At any
rate, whenever Marsworth and Cicely fall out, which they do every
day—Cicely has the vile habit—of course you know!—of visiting
Marsworth's sins upon little Daisy Stewart. I understood she was guilty
of some enormity at the Red Cross sale in the village last week.
Marsworth was shocked, and had it out with her. Consequently they
haven't been on speaking terms for days.'
'What shall we do with them to-morrow?' cried Nelly in alarm, coming
to sit down again by the fire and taking up her knitting. How strange
it was—after that moment of tempestuous emotion—to have fallen back
within a few minutes into this familiar, intimate chat! Her pulse was
still rushing. She knew that something irrevocable had happened, and
that when she was alone, she must face it. And meanwhile here she sat
knitting!—and trying to help him with Cicely as usual!
'Oh, and to-morrow!'—said Farrell with amusement, 'the fat will
indeed be in the fire.'
And he revealed the fact that on his way through Grasmere he had
fallen in with the Stewarts. The old man had been suffering from
bronchitis, and the two had come for a few days' change to some cousins
'And the old man's a bit of a collector and wants to see the
Turners. He knows Carton by heart. So I had to ask them to come up
to-morrow—and there it is!—Cicely will find them in possession, with
Marsworth in attendance!'
'Why does she come at all?' said Nelly, wondering. 'She knows
Captain Marsworth will be here. She said so, in her telegram.'
Farrell shrugged his shoulders.
'“It taks aw soarts to mak a worrld,” as they say up here. But
Marsworth and Cis are queer specimens! I am privately certain he can't
do for long without seeing her. And as for her, I had no sooner
arranged that he should join me here to-night, than she telegraphed to
you! Just like her! I had no idea she thought of coming. Well, I
suppose to quarrel yourself into matrimony is one of the recognised
The talk dropped. The joint consciousness behind it was too much for
it. It fell like a withered leaf.
Farrell got up to go. Nelly too rose, trembling, to her feet. He
took her hand.
'Don't leave us,' he repeated, softly. 'You are our little
saint—you help us by just living. Don't attempt things too hard for
you. You'll kill yourself, and then——'
She looked at him mutely, held by the spell of his eyes.
'Well then,' he finished, abruptly, 'there won't be much left for
one man to live for. Good-night.'
He was gone, and she was left standing in the firelight, a small,
'What shall I do?' she was saying to herself, 'Oh, what ought I to
She sank down on the floor, and hid her face against a chair.
Helplessly, she wished that Hester would come!—someone wise and strong
who would tell her what was right. The thought of supplanting George,
of learning to forget him, of letting somebody else take his place in
her heart, was horrible—even monstrous—to her. Yet she did not know
how she would ever find the strength to make Farrell suffer. His
devotion appealed—not to any answering passion in her—there was
none—but to an innate lovingness, that made it a torment to her to
refuse to love and be loved. Her power of dream, of visualisation,
shewed him to her alone and unhappy; when, perhaps, she might
still—without harm—have been a help to him—have shewn him her
gratitude. She felt herself wavering and retreating; seeking, as usual,
the easiest path out of her great dilemma. Must she either be disloyal
to her George?—her dead, her heroic George!—or unkind to this living
man, whose unselfish devotion had stood between her and despair? After
all, might it not still go on? She could protect herself. She was not
But she was afraid! She was in truth held by the terror of
her own weakness, and Farrell's strength, as she lay crouching by the
Outside the wind was rising. Great clouds were coming up from the
south-west. The rain had begun. Soon it was lashing the windows, and
pouring from the eaves of the old farmhouse.
Nelly went back to her work; and the wind and rain grew wilder as
the hours passed. Just as she was thinking wearily of going to bed,
there were sounds of wheels outside.
Bridget? so late! Nelly had long since given her up. What a night on
which to face the drive from Windermere! Poor horse!—poor man!
Yes, it was certainly Bridget! As Nelly half rose, she heard the
harsh, deep voice upon the stairs. A tall figure, heavily cloaked,
'My dear Bridget—I'd quite given you up!'
'No need,' said Bridget coolly, as she allowed Nelly to kiss her
cheek. 'The afternoon train from Euston was a little late. You can't
help that with all these soldiers about.'
'Come and sit down by the fire. Have you done all you wanted to do?'
Bridget sat down, after taking off her wet water-proof, and held a
draggled hat to the blaze. Nelly looking at her was struck by the fact
that Bridget's hair had grown very grey, and the lines in her face very
deep. What an extraordinary person Bridget was! What had she been doing
all this time?
But nothing could be got out of the traveller. She sat by the fire
for a while, and let Nelly get her a tray of food. But she said very
little, except to complain of the weather, and, once, to ask if the
Farrells were at the cottage.
'Sir William is there, with Captain Marsworth,' said Nelly. 'Cicely
comes here to-morrow.'
'Does she expect me to give her my room?' said Bridget sharply.
'Not at all. She likes the little spare-room.'
'Or pretends to! Has Sir William been here to-day?'
'Yes, he came round.'
A few more questions and answers led to silence broken only by the
crackling of the fire. The firelight played on Nelly's cheek and
throat, and on her white languid hands. Presently it caught her
wedding-ring, and Bridget's eye was drawn to the sparkle of the gold.
She sat looking absently at her sister. She was thinking of a tiny room
in a hut hospital—of the bed—and of those eyes that had opened on
her. And there sat Nelly—knowing nothing!
It was all a horrible anxiety. But it couldn't last long.
'So you are not at church?'
The voice was Marsworth's as he stepped inside the flagged passage
of the farm, Nelly having just opened the door to him.
'It's so far!—in winter,' said Nelly a little guiltily. 'I go to
Grasmere in summer.'
'Oh! don't apologise—to a heathen like me! I'm only too thankful to
find you alone. Is your sister here?'
'Yes. But we've made a room for her in one of the outhouses. She
'What at? Is she still learning Spanish?' asked Marsworth, smiling,
as he followed Nelly into the little white drawing-room.
'I don't know,' said Nelly, after a moment, in a tone of depression.
'Bridget doesn't tell me.'
The corners of Marsworth's strong mouth shewed amusement. He was not
well acquainted with Bridget Cookson, but as far as his observation
went, she seemed to him a curious specimen of the half-educated
pretentious woman so plentiful in our modern life. In place of
'psychology' and 'old Spanish,' the subjects in which Miss Cookson was
said to be engaged, he would have liked to prescribe for her—and all
her kin—courses of an elementary kind in English history and vulgar
But, for Nelly Sarratt, Marsworth felt the tender and chivalrous
respect that natures like hers exact easily from strong men. To him, as
to Farrell, she was the 'little saint' and peacemaker, with her
lovingness, her sympathy, her lack of all the normal vanities and
alloys that beset the pretty woman. That she was not a strong
character, that she was easily influenced and guided by those who
touched her affections, he saw. But that kind of weakness in a
woman—when that woman also possesses the mysterious something, half
physical, half spiritual, which gives delight—is never unpleasing to
such men as Marsworth, nor indeed to other women. It was Marsworth's
odd misfortune that he should have happened to fall in love with a
young woman who had practically none of the qualities that he naturally
and spontaneously admired in the sex.
It was, however, about that young woman that he had come to talk.
For he was well aware of Nelly's growing intimacy with Cicely, and had
lately begun to look upon that as his last hope.
Yet he was no sooner alone with Nelly than he felt a dim
compunction. This timid creature, with her dark haunting eyes, had
problems enough of her own to face. He perceived clearly that Farrell's
passion for her was mounting fast, and he had little or no idea what
kind of response she was likely to make to it. But all the same his own
need drove him on. And Nelly, who had scarcely slept all night, caught
eagerly at some temporary escape from her own perplexities.
'Dear Mrs. Sarratt!—have you any idea, whether Cicely cares
one brass farthing for me, or not?'
To such broad and piteous appeal was a gallant officer reduced.
Nelly was sorry for him, but could not hide the smile in her eyes, as
she surveyed him.
'Have you really asked her?'
'Asked her? Many times!—in the dark ages. It is months, however,
since she gave me the smallest chance of doing it again. Everything I
do or say appears to annoy her, and of course, naturally, I have
relieved her of my presence as much as possible.'
Nelly had taken up her knitting.
'If you never come—perhaps—Cicely thinks you are tired of her.'
'Is that her line now? And yet you know—you are witness!—of how
she behaves when I do come.'
Nelly looked up boldly.
'You mustn't be angry, but—why can't you accept her—as she
is—without always wanting her different?'
Marsworth flushed slightly. The impressive effect of his fine
iron-grey head, and marked features, his scrupulously perfect dress,
and general look of competence and ability, was deplorably undone by
the signs in him of bewilderment and distress.
'You mean—you think I bully her?—she thinks so?'
'She—she feels—you so dreadfully disapprove of her!' said Nelly,
sticking to it, but smiling.
'She regards me as a first-class prig in fact?'
'No—but she thinks you don't always understand.'
'That I don't know what a splendid creature she is, really?' said
Marsworth with increasing agitation. 'But I do know it! I know it up
and down. Why everybody—except those she dislikes!—at that hospital,
adores her. She's wearing herself out at the work. None of us are fit
to black her boots. But if one ever tries to tell her so—my hat!'
'Perhaps she doesn't like being praised either,' said Nelly softly.
'Perhaps she thinks—an old friend—should take it all for granted.'
'Good Lord!' said Marsworth holding his head in
desperation—'whatever I do is wrong! Dear Mrs. Sarratt!—look here—I
must speak up for myself. You know how Cicely has taken of late to
being intolerably rude to anybody she thinks is my friend. She
castigates me through them. That poor little girl, Daisy Stewart—why
she's ready at any moment to worship Cicely! But Cicely tramples on
her—you know how she does it—and if I interfere, I'm made to
wish I had never been born! At the present moment, Cicely won't speak
to me. There was some silly shindy at a parish tea last week—by the
way, she's coming to you to-day?'
'She arrives for lunch,' said Nelly, looking at the clock.
'And the Stewarts are coming to the cottage in the afternoon!' said
Marsworth in despair. 'Can you keep her away?'
'I'll try—but you know it's not much good trying to manage Cicely.'
'Don't I know it! I return to my first question—does she care a
Nelly was looking dreamily into the fire.
'You mean—does she care enough to give up her ways and take to
'Yes, I suppose I do mean that,' he said, with sudden seriousness.
Nelly shook her head, smiling.
'I don't know! But—Cicely's worth a deal of trouble.'
He assented with a mixture of fervour and depression.
'We've known each other since we were boy and girl. That's what
makes the difficulty, perhaps. We know each other too well. When she
was a child of fourteen, I was already in the Guards, and I used to try
and tackle her—because no one else would. Her father was dead. Her
mother had no influence with her; and Willy was too lazy. So I tried my
hand. And I find myself doing the same thing now. But of course it's
Nelly tried to cheer him up, but she was not herself very hopeful.
She, perceived too clearly the martinet in him and the rebel in Cicely.
If something were suddenly to throw them together, some common interest
or emotion, each might find the other's heart in a way past undoing. On
the other hand the jarring habit, once set up, has a way of growing
worse, and reducing everything else to dust and ashes. Finally she
wound up with a timid but emphatic counsel.
'Please—please—don't be sarcastic.'
He looked injured.
'I never am!'
'You don't know when you are. And be very nice to her this
'How can I, if she shews me at once that I'm unwelcome? You haven't
answered my question.'
He was standing ready for departure. Nelly's face changed—became
all sad and tender pity.
'You must ask it yourself!' she said eagerly, 'Go on asking it. It
would be too—too dreadful, wouldn't it?—to miss everything—by being
proud, or offended, for nothing——'
'What do you mean by everything?'
'You know,' she said, after a moment, shielding her eyes as they
looked into the fire; 'I'm sure you know. It is everything.'
As he walked back to the cottage, he found himself speculating not
so much about his own case as about his friend's. Willy was certainly
in love. And Nelly Sarratt was as softly feminine as Cicely was mannish
and strong. But he somehow did not feel that Willy's chances were any
safer than his own.
A car arrived at one o'clock bringing Cicely, much wrapped up in fur
coat and motor-veils. She came impetuously into the sitting-room, and
seemed to fill it. It took some time to peel her and reduce her to the
size of an ordinary mortal. She then appeared in a navy-blue coat and
skirt, with navy-blue boots buttoned almost to the knees. The skirt was
immensely full and immensely short. When the strange erection to which
the motor-veil was attached was removed, Cicely showed a dark head with
hair cut almost short, and parted on the left side. Her eyebrows were
unmistakably blackened, her lips unmistakably—strengthened; and Nelly
saw at once that her guest was in a very feverish and irritated
'Are you alone?' said Cicely, glancing imperiously round her, when
the disrobing was done.
'Bridget is here.'
'What are you going to do this afternoon?'
'Can't we have a walk, you and I, together?'
'Of course we can. Why should we be bothered with anyone else?'
'I suppose,' said Nelly timidly—'they will come in to tea?'
'“They”? Oh! you mean Willy and Captain Marsworth? It is such a pity
Willy can't find somebody more agreeable for these Sundays.'
Cicely threw herself back in her chair, and lifted a navy-blue boot
to the fire.
'More agreeable than Captain Marsworth?'
'Exactly. Willy can't do anything without him, when he's in these
parts; and it spoils everything!'
Nelly dropped a kiss on Cicely's hair, as she stood beside her.
'Why didn't you put off coming till next week?'
'Why should I allow my plans to be interfered with by Captain
Marsworth?' said Cicely, haughtily. 'I came to see you!'
'Well, we needn't see much of him,' said Nelly, soothingly, as she
dropped on a stool beside her friend.
'I'm not going to be kept out of the cottage, by Captain Marsworth,
all the same!' said Cicely hastily. 'There are several books there I
'Oh, Cicely, what have you been doing?' said Nelly, laying her head
on her guest's knees.
'Doing? Nothing that I hadn't a perfect right to do. But I
suppose—that very particular gentleman—has been complaining?'
Nelly looked up, and met an eye, fiercely interrogative, yet trying
hard not to be interrogative.
'I've been doing my best to pick up the pieces.'
'Then he has been complaining?'
'A little narrative of facts,' said Nelly mildly.
'Facts—facts!' said Cicely, with the air of a disturbed
lioness. 'As if a man whose ideas of manners and morals date from
about—a million years before the Flood.'
'Dear!—there weren't any manners or morals a million years before
Cicely drew a breath of exasperation.
'It's all very well to laugh, but if you only knew how impossible
that man is!'
'Then why not get a Sunday free from him?'
Cicely flushed against her will, and said nothing. Nelly's black
eyes observed her with as much sarcasm in their sweetness as she dared
to throw into them. She changed her tone.
'Don't go to the cottage this afternoon, Cicely.'
'Why?' The voice was peremptory.
'Well, because——' Nelly described Farrell's chance meeting with
the Stewarts and the inevitable invitation. Cicely's flush deepened.
But she tried to speak carelessly.
'Of course, the merest device on that girl's part! She arranged it
'I really don't think she did.'
'Ah, well, you haven't seen what's been going on. A more
Cicely stopped abruptly. There was a sudden sparkle in Nelly's look,
which seemed to shew that the choice of the word 'pursuit' had been
Miss Farrell quieted down.
'Of course,' she said, with a very evident attempt to recapture
whatever dignity might be left on the field, 'neither Willy nor I like
to see an old friend throwing himself away on a little pink and white
nonentity like Daisy Stewart. We can't be expected to smile upon it.'
'But I understand, from one of the parties principally concerned,
that there is really nothing in it!' said Nelly, smiling.
'One of the perjuries I suppose at which Jove laughs!' said Cicely
getting up, and hastily rearranging her short curls with the help of
various combs, before the only diminutive looking-glass the farm
sitting-room provided. 'However, we shall see what happens. I have no
doubt Miss Daisy has arranged the proposal scene for this very
afternoon. We shall be in for the last act of the play.'
'Then you are going to the cottage?'
'Certainly!' said Cicely, with a clearing brow. 'Don't let's talk
any more about it. Do give me some lunch. I'm ravenous. Ah, here's your
For through a back window looking on what had once been a farm-yard,
and was now a small garden, Cicely saw Bridget emerge from the rebuilt
outhouse where an impromptu study had been devised for her, and walk
towards the farm.
'I say, what's happened to your sister?'
'Happened to her? What do you mean?'
'She looks so much older.'
'I suppose she's been working too hard,' said Nelly, remorsefully.
'I wish I knew what it was all about.'
'Well, I can tell you'—said Cicely laughing and whispering—'that
Willy doesn't think it's about anything in particular!'
'Hush!' said Nelly, with a pained look. 'Perhaps we shall all turn
out to be quite wrong. We shall discover that it was something—'
'Desperately interesting and important? Not it! But I'm going to be
as good as good. You'll see.'
And when Bridget appeared, Cicely did indeed behave herself with
remarkable decorum. Her opinion was that Nelly's strange sister had
grown more unlike other people than ever since she had last seen her.
She seemed to be in a perpetual brown study, which was compatible,
however, with a curious watchfulness which struck Cicely particularly.
She was always aware of any undercurrent in the room—of anyone going
in or out—of persons passing in the road. At lunch she scarcely opened
her lips, but Cicely was all the time conscious of being observed.
After luncheon Bridget got up abruptly, and said she was going down to
Grasmere to post a letter.
'Oh, then,' said Nelly—'you can ask if there are any for me.'
For there was no delivery at the farm on Sunday morning. Bridget
nodded, and they soon saw her emerge from the farm gate and take the
'I must say your sister seems greatly to prefer her own company to
ours,' said Cicely, lighting her cigarette.
Again Nelly looked distressed.
'She was always like that,' she said at last. 'It doesn't really
'Do I know you well enough to ask whether you get on with her?'
Nelly coloured. 'I try my best'—she said, rather despairingly. Then
she added—'she does all sorts of things for me that I'm too lazy to do
'I believe she likes Willy better than most people!' laughed Cicely.
'I'm not suggesting, please, that she has designs upon him. But she is
certainly more forthcoming to him than to anybody else, isn't she?'
Nelly did not reply. The remark only clouded her look still more.
For her inner mind was perfectly aware of Bridget's attitude towards
William Farrell, and understood it only too well. She knew by this
time, past any doubt, that Bridget was hungry for the Farrell wealth,
and was impatient with herself as a little fool who had not yet made
certain of it. If she stuck to her purpose—if she went away and cut
off all communication with Carton—Bridget would probably quarrel with
her for good.
Would she stick to her purpose? Her mind was miserably swaying to
and fro. She felt morally as she had once felt—physically—on a summer
afternoon long before, when she, who could not swim, had gone
imperceptibly out of her depth, while bathing, and had become suddenly
aware of a seaward current, carrying her away. No help was near. For
five minutes, which had seemed five years, she had wrestled against the
deadly force, which if her girlish strength had been a fraction less,
would have swept her out, a lifeless plaything to the open sea.
Spiritually, it was the same now. Farrell's will, and—infinitely less
important, but still, to be reckoned with—Bridget's will, were
pressing her hard. She did not know if she could keep her footing.
Meanwhile Cicely, in complete ignorance of the new and agonised
tension in Nelly's mind, was thinking only of her own affairs. As soon
as her after-luncheon cigarette was done, she sprang up and began to
put on her hat.
'So you are going to the cottage?' said Nelly.
'Certainly. How do you like my boots?'
She held up one for inspection.
'I don't like them!'
'Fast, you think? Ah, wait till you see my next costume! High
Russian boots, delicious things, up to there!' Cicely indicated a point
above the knee, not generally reached by the female boot—'hand-painted
and embroidered—with tassels—you know!—corduroy trousers!'
'Shan't I—and a pink jersey, the new shade? I saw a friend of mine
in this get-up, last week. Ripping! Only she had red hair, which
completed it. Perhaps I might dye mine!'
They sallied forth into a mild winter afternoon. Nelly would have
avoided the cottage and Farrell if she could, but Cicely had her own
way as usual. Presently they turned into a side lane skirting the tarn,
from which the cottage and its approaches could be seen, at a distance.
From the white-pillared porch, various figures were emerging, four in
Cicely came to a stop.
'There, you see!' she said, in her sharpest voice—'Look there!' For
two of the figures, whom it was easy to identify as Captain Marsworth
and Miss Stewart, diverging from the other pair, went off by themselves
in the direction of Skelwith, with a gay wave of the hand to the old
Rector and Farrell left behind.
Cicely's sudden scarlet ebbed in a moment, leaving her quite white.
She walked on with difficulty, her eyes on the ground. Nelly dared not
address her, or slip a sympathising hand into hers. And it was too late
to retreat. Farrell had perceived them, and he and his companion came
towards them. Cicely pulled herself rapidly together.
Nelly too had need of a minute or two's recollection before Farrell
joined them. He and she were still to meet as usual, while meeting was
possible—wasn't that how it stood? After all, her new plans could not
be made in a moment. She had promised nothing; but he had
promised—would she be able to hold him to it? Her heart trembled as he
But he met her in a sunny mood, introducing her to the white-haired
old clergyman, and watching Cicely with eyes that shewed a hidden
'The other two seemed to have some private business to discuss,' he
said carelessly. 'So they've got rid of us for a while. They're walking
round the other side of the tarn and will join us at the top of Red
Bank. At least if you're up to a walk?'
He addressed Nelly, who could do nothing but assent, though it meant
a tete-a-tete with him, while Cicely and the old Rector followed.
Mr. Stewart found Miss Farrell anything but an agreeable companion.
He was not a shrewd observer, and the love-affairs especially of his
fellow-creatures were always a surprise and a mystery to him. But he
vaguely understood that his little granddaughter was afraid of Miss
Farrell and did not get on with her. He, too, was afraid of Cicely and
her sharp tongue, while her fantastic dress and her rouge put him in
mind of passages in the prophet Ezekiel, the sacred author of whom he
was at that moment making a special study with a view to a Cambridge
University sermon. It would be terrible if Daisy were ever to take to
imitating Miss Farrell. He was a little disturbed about Daisy lately.
She had been so absent-minded, and sometimes—even—a little flighty.
She had forgotten the day before, to look out some passages for him;
and there was a rent in his old overcoat she had not mended. He was
disagreeably conscious of it. And what could she have to say to Captain
Marsworth? It was all rather odd—and annoying. He walked in a
Farrell and Nelly meanwhile were, it seemed, in no lack of
conversation. He told her that he might possibly be going to France, in
a week or two, for a few days. The Allied offensive on the Somme was
apparently shutting down for the winter. 'The weather in October just
broke everybody's heart, vile luck! Nothing to be done but to make the
winter as disagreeable to the Boche as we can, and to go on piling up
guns and shells for the spring. I'm going to look at hospitals at X—-'
he named a great base camp—'and I daresay they'll let me have a run
along some bit of the front, if there's a motor to be had.'
Nelly stopped abruptly. He could see the colour fluctuating in her
'You're going to X—-? You—you might see Dr. Howson?'
'Howson?' he said, surprised. 'Do you know him? Yes, I shall
certainly see Howson. He's now the principal surgeon at one of the
General Hospitals there, where I specially want to look at some new
splints they've been trying.'
Nelly moved on without speaking for a little. At last she said,
'He promised me—to make enquiries.'
'Did he?' Farrell spoke in the grave, deep voice he seemed to keep
for her alone, which was always sweet to her ear. 'And he has never
written?' She shook her head. 'But he would have
written—instantly—you may be quite sure, if there had been the
'Oh yes, I know, I know,' she said hastily.
'Give me any message for him you like—or any questions you'd like
me to ask.'
'Yes'—she said, vaguely.
It seemed to him she was walking languidly, and he was struck by her
weary look. The afternoon had turned windy and cold with gusts of rain.
But when he suggested an immediate return to the cottage, Nelly would
have none of it.
'We were to meet Captain Marsworth and Miss Stewart. Where are
They emerged at the moment from the cottage grounds, upon the high
road; Farrell pointed ahead, and Nelly saw Marsworth and Miss Stewart
walking fast up the hill before them, and evidently in close
'What can they have to talk about?' said Nelly, wondering.
'Wouldn't you like to know!'
'You're not going to tell me?'
'Not a word.'
His eyes laughed at her. They walked on beside each other, strangely
content. And yet, with what undercurrents of sensitive and wounded
consciousness on her side, of anxiety on his!
At the top of Red Bank they came up with Marsworth and Miss Stewart.
Nelly's curiosity was more piqued than ever. If all that Marsworth had
said to her was true, why this evident though suppressed agitation on
the girl's part, and these shades of mystery in the air? Daisy Stewart
was what anybody would have called 'a pretty little thing.' She was
small, round-cheeked, round-eyed, round-limbed; light upon her feet;
shewing a mass of brown hair brushed with gold under her hat, and the
fresh complexion of a mountain maid. Nelly guessed her age about three
and twenty, and could not help keenly watching the meeting between her
and Cicely. She saw Cicely hold out a limp hand, and the girl's timid,
almost entreating eyes.
But, the next moment, her attention was diverted to a figure slowly
mounting the steep hill from Grasmere, on the top of which the cottage
party were now standing, uncertain whether to push on for their walk,
or to retreat homewards before the increasing rain. The person
approaching was Bridget. As she perceived her, Nelly was startled into
quick recollection of Cicely's remark of the morning—'Your sister
seems to have grown much older.' But not only older—different!
Nelly could not have analysed her own impression, but it was so painful
that she ran down to meet her.
'Bridget, it's too far for you to Grasmere!—and coming back up this
awful hill! You look quite done. Do go home and lie down, or will you
come to the cottage for tea first? It's nearer.'
Bridget looked at her coldly.
'Why do you make such a fuss? I'm all right. But I'm not coming to
the cottage, thank you. I've got things to do.'
The implication was that everyone else was idle. Nelly drew back,
rebuffed. And as Bridget reached the group at the top of the hill it
was as though the rain and darkness suddenly deepened. All talk
dropped. Farrell, indeed, greeted her courteously, introduced her to
the Stewarts, and asked her to come back to the cottage for tea. But he
was refused as Nelly had been. Bridget went on her way alone towards
the farm. But after parting from the others she turned back suddenly to
say—'There were no letters for you, Nelly.'
'What a mercy!' said Farrell, as Bridget disappeared. 'Don't you
think so? I never have any forwarded here.'
'Ah, but you get so many,' said Nelly wistfully. 'But still, letters
don't matter to me—now.'
He said nothing, but it roused in him a kind of fierce soreness that
she would always keep the past so clearly before herself and him.
Violent rain came on, and they hurried back to the cottage for
shelter. Cicely was talking extravagantly all the time. She was tired
to death, she said, of everything patriotic. The people who prattled
about nursing, and the people who prattled about the war—especially
the people who talked about women's work—were all equally intolerable.
She meant to give up everything very soon. Somebody must amuse
themselves, or the world would go mad. Farrell threw at her some
brotherly jibes; the old Rector looked scared; and Marsworth said
* * * * *
There were bright fires in the cottage, and the dripping walkers
were glad to crowd round them; all except Cicely and Marsworth, who
seemed to Nelly's watching sense to be oddly like two wrestlers pacing
round each other, and watching the opportunity to close. Each would
take out a book from the shelves and put it back, or take up a
newspaper from the tables—crossing repeatedly, but never speaking. And
meanwhile Nelly also noticed that Daisy Stewart, now that Cicely's
close contact was removed, was looking extraordinarily pretty.
Radiance, not to be concealed, shone from her charming childish face.
Suddenly Marsworth paused in front of Cicely, intercepting her as
she was making for the door.
'Would you be an angel, Miss Farrell, and help me to find a
particular Turner drawing I want to see? Willy says it's in the studio
Cicely paused, half haughty, half irresolute.
'Willy knows his way about the portfolios much better than I do.'
Marsworth came nearer, and leaning one hand on the table between
them, bent over to her. He was smiling, but there was emotion in his
'Willy is looking after these people. Won't you?'
'All right!' she said carelessly, at last, and led the way.
The studio was empty. A wood fire burnt on the wide hearth, making a
pleasant glow in the wintry twilight. Cicely seated herself on the end
of a sofa, crossed her feet, and took out a cigarette. But to
Marsworth's intense relief she had taken off the helmet-like erection
she called a hat, and her black curly hair strayed as it pleased about
her brow and eyes.
'Well?' she said, at last, looking at him coolly. Marsworth could
not help laughing. He brought a chair, and placed it where he could see
her from below, as he lay back in it, his hands behind his head.
'Of course, you don't want to look at the portfolio,' she resumed,
'that was your excuse. You want to tell me of your engagement to Miss
Marsworth laughed again. Her ear caught what seemed to be a note of
'Make haste, please!' she said, breathing quickly. 'There isn't very
His face changed. He sat up, and held out his hand to her.
'Dear Cicely, I want you to do something for me.'
But she put her own behind her back.
'Have you been quarrelling already? Because if you want me to make
it up, that really isn't my vocation.'
He was silent a moment surveying her. Then he said quietly—'I want
you to help me. I want you to be kind to that little girl.'
'Daisy Stewart? Thank you. But I've no gift at all for mothering
babes! Besides—she'll now have all the advice, and all the kindness
Marsworth's lips twitched.
'Yes, that's true—if you and I can help her out. Cicely!—aren't
you a great friend of Sir John Raine?'
He named one of the chiefs of the Army Medical Department, a man
whose good word was the making of any aspirant in the field he ruled.
Cicely looked rather darkly at her questioner.
'What do you mean?'
'I want you to help me get an appointment for somebody.'
'For the man Daisy Stewart wants to marry.'
Cicely could not conceal her start.
'I don't like being mystified,' she said coldly.
Marsworth allowed his smile to shew itself.
'I'm not trying to mystify you in the least. Daisy Stewart has been
engaged for nearly a year to one of the house-surgeons in your
hospital—young Fellows. Nobody knows it—not Willy even. It has been
kept a dead secret, because that wicked old man the Rector won't have
it. Daisy makes him comfortable, and he won't give her up, if he can
help it. And as young Fellows has nothing but his present pay—a year
with board and lodging—it seemed hopeless. But now he has got his eye
And in a quiet business-like voice Marsworth put the case of the
penniless one—his qualifications, his ambitions, and the particular
post under the Army Medical Board on which he had set his hopes. If
only somebody with influence would give him a leg up!
'Does Willy know?'
'No. You see, I have come to you first.'
'How long have you known?'
'Since my stay with them last autumn. I suspected something then,
just as I was leaving; and Miss Daisy confessed—when I was there in
May. Since then she seems to have elected me her chief adviser. But, of
course, I had no right to tell anybody anything.'
'That is what you like—to advise people?'
Marsworth considered it.
'There was a time'—he said, at last, in a different voice, 'when my
advice used to be asked by someone else—and sometimes taken.'
Cicely pretended to light another cigarette, but her slim fingers
shook a little.
'And now—you never give it?'
'Oh yes, I do,' he said, with sudden bitterness—'even unasked. I'm
always the same old bore.'
There was silence. His right hand stole towards her left that was
lying limply over her knee. Cicely's eyes looking down were occupied
with his disabled arm, which, although much improved, was still glad to
slip into its sling whenever it was not actively wanted.
But just as he was capturing her, Cicely sprang up.
'I must go and see about Sir John Raine.'
'Cicely—I don't care a brass farthing about Sir John Raine!'
'But having once brought him in, I recommend you to stick to him,'
said Cicely, with teasing eyes. 'And don't go advising young women.
It's not good for the military. I'm going to take this business
And she made for departure, but Marsworth got to the door first, and
put his back against it.
'Find me the Turner, Cicely.'
'A man who asks for a thing on false pretences shouldn't have it.'
A silence. Then a meek voice said—
'Captain Marsworth, my brother, Sir William Farrell, will be
requiring my services at tea!'
Marsworth moved aside and she forward. But as she neared him, he
caught her passionately in his arms and kissed her. She released
'Do I like being kissed?' she said in a low voice—'do I? Anyway
don't do it again!—and if you dare to say a word yet—to anyone—'
Her eyes threatened; but he saw in them revelations her pride could
not check, and would have disobeyed her at once; but she was too quick
for him. In a second she had opened the door and was gone.
During the rest of the afternoon, her brother and Nelly watched
Cicely's proceedings with stupefaction; only equalled by the
bewilderment of Miss Daisy Stewart. For that young lady was promoted to
the good graces of Sir William's formidable sister with a rapidity and
completeness which only natural good manners and good sense could have
enabled her to deal with; considering the icy exclusion to which she
had been so long condemned. But as she possessed both, she took it very
simply; always with the same serene light in her grey eyes.
Marsworth said to himself presently that young Fellows' chances were
good. But in truth he hardly remembered anything about them, except
that by the help of them he had kissed Cicely! And he had yet to find
out what that remarkable fact was to mean, either to himself or to her.
She refused to let him take her back to the farm, and she only gave him
a finger in farewell. Nor did she say a word of what had happened, even
Nelly spent again a very wakeful night. Farrell had walked home with
them, and she understood from him that, although he was going over
early to Carton the following morning, he would be at the cottage again
before many days were over. It seemed to her that in telling her so he
had looked at her with eyes that seemed to implore her to trust him.
And she, on hearing it, had been merely dumb and irresponsive, not
forbidding or repellent, as she ought to have been. The courage to
wound him to the quick—to leave him bereft, to go out into the desert
herself, seemed to be more and more oozing away from her.
Yet there beside her bed, on the table which held her Testament, and
the few books—almost all given her by W.F.—to which she was wont to
turn in her wakeful hours, was George's photograph in uniform. About
three o'clock in the morning she lit her candle, and lay looking at it,
till suddenly she stretched out her hand for it, kissed it repeatedly,
and putting it on her breast, clasped her hands over it, and so fell
But before she fell asleep, she was puzzled by the sounds in
Bridget's room next door. Bridget seemed to be walking about—pacing up
and down incessantly. Sometimes the steps would cease; only to begin
again after a while with the same monotony. What could be the matter
with Bridget? This vague worry about her sister entered into and
heightened all Nelly's other troubles. Yet all the same, in the end,
she fell asleep; and the westerly wind blowing over Wetherlam, and
chasing wild flocks of grey rain-clouds before him, found no one awake
in the cottage or the farm to listen to the concert he was making with
the fells, but Bridget—and Cicely.
* * * * *
Bridget Cookson had indeed some cause for wakefulness. Locked away
in the old workbox, where she kept the papers to which she attached
importance, was a letter bearing the imprint 'O.A.S.,' which had been
delivered to her on Sunday afternoon by the Grasmere post-mistress. It
ran as follows:
'DEAR MISS COOKSON,—I know of course that you are fully convinced
the poor fellow we have here in charge has nothing to do with your
brother-in-law. But as you saw him, and as the case may throw light on
other cases of a similar nature, I thought I would just let you know
that owing apparently to the treatment we have been carrying out, there
are some very interesting signs of returning consciousness since your
visit, though nothing very definite as yet. He is terribly ill, and
physically I see no chance for him. But I think he may be able
to tell us who he is before the end, in which case I will inform you,
lest you should now or at any future time feel the smallest misgiving
as to your own verdict in the matter. This is very unlikely, I know,
for I understand you were very decided; but still as soon as we have
definite information—if we get it—you may wish to inform poor Mrs.
Sarratt of your journey here. I hope she is getting stronger. She did
indeed look very frail when I saw her last.
'Yours very truly,
Since the receipt of that letter Bridget's reflections had been more
disagreeable than any she had yet grappled with. In Nelly's company the
awfulness of what she had done did sometimes smite home to her. Well,
she had staked everything upon it, and the only possible course was to
brazen it out. That George should die, and die quickly—without
any return of memory or speech, was what she terribly and passionately
desired. In all probability he would die quickly; he might even now be
dead. She saw the thing perpetually as a race between his returning
mind—if he still lived, and it was returning—and his ebbing strength.
If she had lived in old Sicilian days, she would have made a waxen
image like the Theocritean sorceress, and put it by the fire, that as
it wasted, so George might waste. As it was, she passed her time during
the forty-eight hours after reading Howson's letter in a silent and
murderous concentration on one thought and wish—George Sarratt's
What a release indeed for everybody!—if people would only tell the
truth, and not dress up their real feelings and interests in stale
sentimentalisms. Farrell made happy at no very distant date; Nelly
settled for life with a rich man who adored her; her own future
secured—with the very modest freedom and opportunity she craved:—all
this on the one side—futile tragedy and suffering on the other. None
the less, there were moments when, with a start, she realised what
other people might think of her conduct. But after all she could always
plead it was a mistake—an honest mistake. Are there not constantly
cases in the law courts, which shew how easy it is to fail in
identifying the right person, or to persist in identifying the wrong
During the days before Farrell returned, the two sisters were alone
together. Bridget would gladly have gone away out of sight and hearing
of Nelly. But she did not dare to leave the situation—above all, the
postman—unwatched. Meanwhile Nelly made repeated efforts to break down
the new and inexplicable barrier which seemed to have arisen between
herself and Bridget. Why would Bridget always sit alone in that chilly
outside room, which even with a large fire seemed to Nelly
uninhabitable? She tried to woo her sister, by all the small devices in
'Why won't you come and sit with me a bit, Bridget? I'm so dull all
alone!'—she would say when, after luncheon or high tea, Bridget showed
signs of immediately shutting herself up again.
'I can't. I must do some work.'
'Do tell me what you're doing, Bridget?'
'Oh, you wouldn't understand.'
'Well, other people don't always think me a born idiot!'—Nelly
would say, not without resentment. 'I really could understand, Bridget,
if you'd try.'
'I haven't the time.'
'And you're killing yourself with so many hours of it. Why should
you slave so? If you only would come and help me sometimes with the Red
Cross work, I'd do any needlework for you, that you wanted.'
'You know I hate needlework.'
'You're not doing anything—not anything—for the war,
Bridget!' Nelly would venture, wistfully, at last.
'There are plenty of people to do things for the war. I didn't want
the war! Nobody asked my opinion.'
And presently the door would shut, and Nelly would be left to watch
the torrents of rain outside, and to endeavour by reading and drawing,
by needlework and the society of her small friend Tommy, whenever she
could capture him, to get through the day. She pined for Hester, but
Hester was doing Welfare work in a munition factory at Leeds, and could
not be got at.
So there she sat alone, brooding and planning, too timid to talk to
Bridget of her own schemes, and, in her piteous indecision, longing
guiltily for Farrell's return. Meanwhile she had written to several
acquaintances who were doing V.A.D. work in various voluntary
hospitals, to ask for information.
Suddenly, after the rain came frost and north wind—finally snow;
the beginning in the north of the fiercest winter Western Europe has
known for many years. Over heights and dales alike spread the white
Leveller, melting by day in the valley bottoms, and filling up his
wastage by renewed falls at night. Nelly ventured out sometimes to look
at the high glories of Wetherlam and the Pikes, under occasional gleams
of sun. Bridget never put a foot out of doors, except when she went to
the garden gate to look for the postman in the road, and take the
letters from him.
At last, one evening, when after a milder morning a bitter blast
from the north springing up at dusk had, once more, sent gusts of snow
scudding over the fells, Nelly's listening ear heard the well-known
step at the gate. She sprang up with a start of joy. She had been so
lonely, so imprisoned with her own sad thoughts. The coming of this
kind, strong man, so faithful to his small friend through all the
stress of his busy and important life, made a sudden impression upon
her, which brought the tears to her eyes. She thought of Carton, of its
splendid buildings, and the great hospital which now absorbed them; she
seemed to see Farrell as the king of it all, the fame of his doings
spreading every month over the north, and wiping out all that earlier
conception of him as a dilettante and an idler of which she had heard
from Hester. And yet, escaping from all that activity, that power, that
constant interest and excitement, here he was, making use of his first
spare hour to come through the snow and the dark, just to spend an hour
with Nelly Sarratt, just to cheer her lonely little life.
Nelly ran to the window and opened it.
'Is that really you?' she called, joyously, while the snow drifted
against her face.
Farrell, carrying a lantern, was nearing the porch. The light upon
his face as he turned shewed her his look of delight.
'I'm later than I meant, but the roads are awful. May I walk in?'
She ran down to meet him; then hung back rather shyly in the
passage, while he took off his overcoat and shook the snow from his
'Have you any visitors?' he asked, still dusting away the snow.
'Only Bridget. I asked Hester, but she couldn't come.'
He came towards her along the narrow passage, to the spot where she
stood tremulous on the lowest step of the stairs. A lamp burning on a
table revealed her slight figure in black, the warm white of her throat
and face, the grace of the bending head, and the brown hair wreathed
about it. He saw her as an exquisite vision in a dim light and shade.
But it was not that which broke down his self-control so much as the
pathetic look in her dark eyes, the look of one who is glad, and yet
shrinks from her own gladness—tragically conscious of her own
weakness, and yet happy in it. It touched his heart so profoundly that
whether the effect was pain or pleasure he could not have told. But as
he reached the step, moved by an irresistible impulse, he held out his
arms, and she melted into them. For one entrancing instant, he held her
close and warm upon his breast, while the world went by.
But the next moment she had slipped away, and was sitting on the
step, her face in her hands.
He did not plead or excuse himself. He just stood by her
endeavouring to still and control his pulses—till at last she looked
up. The lamp shewed her his face, and the passion in it terrified her.
For there had been no passion in her soft and sudden yielding. Only the
instinct of the child that is forsaken and wants comforting, that feels
love close to it, and cannot refuse it.
'There, you see!' she said, desperately—'You see—I must go!'
'No! It's I who must go. Unless '—his voice sank almost to a
whisper—'Nelly!—couldn't you—marry me? You should never, never
She shook her head, and as she dropped her face again in her hands
he saw a shudder run through her. At the sight his natural impulse was
to let passion have its way, to raise her in his arms again, and
whisper to her there in the dark, as love inspired him, his cheek on
hers. But he did not venture. He was well aware of something intangible
and incalculable in Nelly that could not be driven. His fear of it held
him in check. He knew that she was infinitely sorry for him and tender
towards him. But he knew too that she was not in love with him.
Only—he would take his chance of that, if only she would marry him.
'Dear!' he said, stooping to her, and touching her dark curls with
his hand. 'Let's call in Hester! She's dreadfully wise! If you were
with her I should feel happy—I could wait. But it is when I see you so
lonely here—and so sad—nobody to care for you!—that I can't bear
Through the rush of the wind, a sound of someone crossing the yard
behind the farm came to their ears. Nelly sprang to her feet and led
the way upstairs. Farrell followed her, and as they moved, they heard
Bridget open the back door and come in.
The little sitting-room was bright with lamp and fire, and Farrell,
perceiving that they were no longer to be alone, and momentarily
expecting Bridget's entrance, put impatience aside and began to talk of
his drive from Carton.
'The wind on Dunmail Raise was appalling, and the lamps got so
be-snowed, we had to be constantly clearing them. But directly we got
down into the valley it mended, and I managed to stop at the
post-office, and ask if there were any letters for you. There were
two—and a telegram. What have I done with them?' He began to search in
his pockets, his wits meanwhile in such a whirl that it was difficult
for him to realise what he was doing.
At that point Bridget opened the door. He turned to shake hands with
her, and then resumed his fumbling.
'I'm sure they did give them to me'—he said, in some concern,—'two
letters and a telegram.'
'A telegram!' said Bridget, suddenly, hurrying forward,—'it must be
She peremptorily held out her hand, and as she did so, Nelly caught
sight of her sister. Startled out of all other thoughts she too made a
step forward. What was wrong with Bridget? The tall, gaunt woman
stood there livid, her eyes staring at Farrell, her hand unsteady as
she thrust it towards him.
'Give me the telegram, please! I was expecting one,' she said,
trying to speak as usual.
Farrell turned to her in surprise.
'But it wasn't for you, Miss Cookson. It was for Mrs. Sarratt. I saw
the address quite plainly. Ah, here they are. How stupid of me! What on
earth made me put them in that pocket.'
He drew out the letters and the telegram. Bridget said again—'Give
it me, please! I know it's for me!' And she tried to snatch it.
Farrell's face changed. He disliked Bridget Cookson heartily, mainly on
Nelly's account, and her rude persistence nettled a temper accustomed
to command. He quietly put her aside.
'When your sister has read it, Miss Cookson, she will no doubt let
you see it. As it happens, the post-mistress made me promise to give it
to Mrs. Sarratt myself. She seemed interested—I don't know why.'
Nelly took it. Farrell—who began to have some strange
misgiving—stood between her and Bridget. Bridget made no further
movement. Her eyes were fixed on Nelly.
Nelly, bewildered by the little scene and by Bridget's extraordinary
behaviour, tore open the brown envelope, and read slowly—'Please come
at once. Have some news for you. Your sister will explain. Howson, Base
Headquarters, X———, France.'
'Howson?' said Nelly. Then the colour began to ebb from her face.
'Dr. Howson?' she repeated. 'What news? What does he mean? Oh!'—the cry rang through the room—'it's George!—it's George!
he's found!—he's found!'
She thrust the telegram piteously into Farrell's hands. He read it,
and turned to Bridget.
'What does Dr. Howson mean, Miss Cookson, and why does he refer Mrs.
Sarratt to you?'
For some seconds she could not make her pale lips reply. Finally,
she said—'That's entirely my own affair, Sir William. I shall tell my
sister, of course. But Nelly had better go at once, as Dr. Howson
advises. I'll go and see to things.'
She turned slowly away. Nelly ran forward and caught her.
'Oh, Bridget—don't go—you mustn't go! What news is it? Bridget,
tell me!—you couldn't—you couldn't be so cruel—not to tell
me—if you knew anything about George!'
Bridget stood silent.
'Oh, what can I do—what can I do?' cried Nelly.
Then her eyes fell on the letters still in her hand. She tore one
open—and read it—with mingled cries of anguish and joy. Farrell dared
not go near her. There seemed already a gulf between her and him.
'It's from Miss Eustace'—she said, panting, as she looked up at
last, and handed the letter to him—it's George—he's alive—they've
heard from France—he asks for me—but—but—he's dying.'
Her head dropped forward a little. She caught at the back of a
chair, nearly fainting. But when Farrell approached her, she put up a
hand in protest.
'No, no,—I'm all right. But, Bridget, Miss Eustace says—you've
actually seen him—you've been to France. When did you go?'
'About three weeks ago,' said Bridget, after a moment's pause. 'Oh,
of course I know'—she threw back her head defiantly—'you'll all set
on me—you'll all blame me. But I suppose I may be mistaken like
anybody else—mayn't I? I didn't think the man I saw was George—I
didn't! And what was the good of disturbing your mind?'
But as she told the lie, she told it so lamely and unconvincingly
that neither of the other two believed it for a moment. Nelly stood
up—tottering—but mistress of herself. She looked at Farrell.
'Sir William—can you take me to Windermere, for the night-train? I
know when it goes—10.20. I'll be ready—by nine.' She glanced at the
clock, which was just nearing seven.
'Of course,' said Farrell, taking up his hat. 'I'll go and see to
the motor. But'—he looked at her with entreaty—'you can't go this
long journey alone!'
The words implied a bitter consciousness that his own escort was
impossible. Nelly did not notice it. She only said impatiently—
'But, of course, I must go alone.'
She stood silent—mastering the agony within—forcing herself to
think and will. When the pause was over, she said quietly—'I will be
quite ready at nine.' And then mechanically—'It's very good of you.'
He went away, passing Bridget, who stood with one foot on the
fender, staring down into the fire.
When the outer door had closed upon him, Nelly looked at her sister.
She was trembling all over.
'Bridget—why did you do it?' The voice was low and full of
'What do you mean? I made a mistake—that's all!'
'Bridget—you knew it was George! You couldn't be mistaken.
Miss Eustace says—in the letter'—she pointed to it—'they asked you
about his hands. Do you remember how you used to mock at them?'
'As if one could remember after a year and a half!'
'No, you couldn't forget, Bridget—a thing like that—I know you
couldn't. And what made you do it! Did you think I had forgotten
At that the tears streamed down her face, unheeded. She approached
her sister piteously.
'Bridget, tell me what he looked like! Did you speak to him—did you
see his eyes open? Oh my poor George!—and I here—never thinking of
him'—she broke off incoherently, twisting her hands. 'Miss Eustace
says he was wounded in two places—severely—that she's afraid there's
no hope. Did they say that to you, Bridget—tell me!—for Heaven's sake
'You'll make yourself ill,' said Bridget harshly. 'You'd better lie
down, and let me pack for you.'
Nelly laughed out.
'As if I'd ever let you do anything for me any more! No, that's done
with. You've been so accustomed to manage me all these years. You
thought you could manage me now—you thought you could let George
die—and I should never know—and you'd make me marry—William Farrell.
Bridget—I hate you!'
She broke off, shivering, but resumed almost at once—'I see it
all—I think I see it all. And now it's all done for between you and
me. If George dies, I shall never come back to live with you again.
You'd better make plans, Bridget. It's over for ever.'
'You don't know what you're saying, now,' said Bridget, coldly.
Nelly did not hear her, she was lost in a whirl of images and
thoughts. And governed by them she went up to Bridget again, thrusting
her small white face under her sister's eyes.
'What sort of a room was he in, Bridget? Who was nursing him? Are
you sure he didn't know you? Did you call him by his name? Did you make
'He knew nobody,' said Bridget, drawing back, against her will,
before the fire in Nelly's wild eyes. 'He was in a very good room.
There was a nurse sitting with him.'
'Was he—was he very changed?'
'Of course he was. If not, I should have known him.'
Nelly half smiled. Bridget could never have thought that soft mouth
capable of so much scorn. But no words came. Then Nelly walked away to
a drawer where she kept her accounts, her cheque-book, and any loose
money she might be in possession of. She took out her cheque-book and
some two or three pounds that lay there.
'If you want money, I can lend you some,' said Bridget, catching at
the old note of guardianship.
'Thank you. But I shall not want it.'
'Nelly, don't be a fool!' said Bridget, stung at last into speech.
'Suppose all you think is true—I don't admit it, mind—but suppose
it's true. How was I doing such a terrible wrong to you?—in the eyes,
I mean, of sensible people—in not disturbing your mind. Nobody
expected—that man I saw—to know anybody again—or to live more than a
few days. Even if I had been certain—and how could I be
certain?—wasn't it reasonable to weigh one thing against
another? You know very well—it's childish to ignore it—what's been
going on here——'
But she paused. Nelly, writing a letter, was not apparently
concerned with anything Bridget had been saying. It did not seem to
have reached her ears. A queer terror shot through Bridget. But she
dismissed it. As if Nelly could ever really get on without her. Little,
feckless, sentimental thing!
Nelly finished her letter and put it up.
'I have written to Sir William's agent, Bridget'—she said turning
towards her sister—'to say that I give up the farm. I shall pay the
servant. Hester will look after my things, and send them—when I want
'Why Hester?' said Bridget, with something of a sneer.
Nelly did not answer. She put up her letter, took the money and the
cheque-book and went out of the room. Bridget heard her call their one
servant, Mrs. Dowson, and presently steps ascended the stairs and
Nelly's door shut. The sound of the shutting door roused in her again
that avenging terror. Her first impulse was to go and force herself
into Nelly's room, so as to manage and pack for her as usual. But
something stopped her. She consoled herself by going down to the
kitchen to look after the supper. Nelly, of course, must have some food
before her night journey.
Behind that shut door, Nelly was looking into the kind
weather-beaten face of Mrs. Dowson.
'Mrs. Dowson, I'm going away to-night—and I'm not coming back. Sir
Then she caught the woman's gnarled hands, and her own features
began to work.
'Mrs. Dowson, they've found my husband! Did Sir William tell you?
He's not dead—he's alive—But he's very, very ill.'
'Oh, you poor lamb!' cried Mrs. Dowson. 'No—Sir William tellt me
nowt. The Lord be gracious to you!' Bathed in sudden tears, she kissed
one of the hands that held hers, pouring out incoherent words of hope.
But Nelly did not cry, and presently she said firmly—
'Now, please, you must help me to pack. Sir William will be here at
Presently all was ready. Nelly had hunted out an old grey travelling
dress in which George had often seen her, and a grey hat with a veil.
She hastily put all her black clothes aside.
'Miss Martin will send me anything I want. I have asked her to come
and fetch my things.'
'But Miss Cookson will be seein' to that!' said Mrs. Dowson
wondering. Nelly made no reply. She locked her little box, and then
stood upright, looking round the small room. She seemed to be saying
'Good-bye' for ever to the Nelly who had lived, and dreamed, and prayed
there. She was going to George—that was all she knew.
Downstairs, Bridget was standing at the door of the little
dining-room. 'I have put out some cold meat for you,' she said,
stiffly. 'You won't get anything for a long time.'
Nelly acquiesced. She drank some tea, and ate as much as she could.
Neither she nor Bridget spoke, till Bridget, who was at the window
looking out into the snow, turned round to say—'Here's the motor.'
Nelly rose, and tied her veil on closely. Mrs. Dowson brought her a
thick coat, which had been part of her trousseau, and wrapped her in
'You had better take your grey shawl,' said Bridget.
'I have it here, Miss,' said Mrs. Dowson, producing it. 'I'll put it
over her in the motor.'
She disappeared to open the door to Sir William's knock.
Nelly turned to her sister.
Bridget flamed out.
'And you don't mean to write to me? You mean to carry out this
absurd plan of separation!'
'I don't know what I shall do—till I have seen George,' said Nelly
steadily. 'He'll settle for me. Only you and I are not sisters any
Bridget shrugged her shoulders, with some angry remark about
'theatrical nonsense.' Nelly went out into the passage, threw her arms
about Mrs. Dowson's neck, for a moment, and then hurried out towards
the car. It stood there in the falling snow, its bright lights blazing
on the bit of Westmorland wall opposite, and the overhanging oaks,
still heavy with dead leaf. Farrell was standing at the door, holding a
fur rug. He and Mrs. Dowson tucked it in round Nelly's small cloaked
Then without a word, Farrell shut the door of the car, and took the
seat beside the driver. In another minute Bridget was watching the
lights of the lamps rushing along the sides of the lane, till at a
sharp bend of the road it disappeared.
There was a break presently in the snow-fall, and as they reached
the shores of Windermere, Nelly was aware of struggling gleams of
moonlight on steely water. The anguish in her soul almost resented the
break in the darkness. She was going to George; but George was dying,
and while he had been lying there in his lonely suffering, she had been
forgetting him, and betraying him. The recollection of Farrell's
embrace overwhelmed her with a crushing sense of guilt. George indeed
should never know. But that made no difference to her own misery.
The miles flew by. She began to think of her journey, to realise her
helplessness and inexperience in the practical things of life. She must
get her passport, and some money. Who would advise her, and tell her
how to get to France under war conditions? Would she be allowed to go
by the short sea passage? For that she knew a special permit was
necessary. Could she get it at once, or would she be kept waiting in
town? The notion of having to wait one unnecessary hour tortured her.
Then her thoughts fastened on Miss Eustace of the Enquiry Office, who
had written her the letter which had arrived simultaneously with Dr.
Howson's telegram. 'Let me know if I can be of any use to you, for your
journey. If there is anything you want to know that we can help you in,
you had better come straight to this office.'
Yes, that she would do. But the train arrived in London at 7 A.M.
And she could not possibly see Miss Eustace before ten or eleven. She
must just sit in the waiting-room till it was time. And she must get
some money. She had her cheque-book and would ask Sir William to tell
her how to get a cheque cashed in London. She was ashamed of her own
ignorance in these small practical matters.
The motor stopped. Sir William jumped down, but before he came to
open the door for her, she saw him turn round and wave his hand to two
persons standing outside the station. They hurried towards the motor,
and as Nelly stepped down from it, she felt herself grasped by eager
'You poor darling! I thought we couldn't be in time. But we flew.
Don't trouble about anything. We've done it all.'
Cicely!—and behind her Marsworth.
Nelly drew back.
'Dear Cicely!' she said faintly—'but I can manage—I can manage
Resistance, however, was useless. Marsworth and Cicely, it seemed,
were going to London with her—Cicely probably to France; and Marsworth
had already telegraphed about her passport. She would have gladly gone
by herself, but she finally surrendered—for George's sake, that she
might get to him the quicker.
Then everything was done for her. Amid the bustle of the departing
train, she was piteously aware of Farrell, and just before they
started, she leant out to give him her hand.
'I will tell George all you have done for me,' she said, gulping
down a sob.
He pressed her hand before releasing it, but said nothing. What was
there to say? Meanwhile, Cicely, to ease the situation, was chattering
hard, describing how Farrell had sent his chauffeur to Ambleside on a
motor bicycle, immediately after leaving Nelly, and so had got a
telephone message through to Cicely.
'We had the small car out and ready in ten minutes, and, by good
luck, there was a motor-transport man on leave, who had come to see a
brother in the hospital. We laid hands on him, and he drove us here.
But it's a mercy we're not sitting on the Raise! You remember that heap
of stones on the top of the Raise, that thing they say is a barrow—the
grave of some old British party before the Flood?—well, the motor gave
out there! Herbert and the chauffeur sat under it in the snow and
worked at it. I thought the river was coming over the road, and that
the wind would blow us all away. But it'll be all right for your
crossing to-morrow—the storm will have quite gone down. Herbert thinks
you'll start about twelve o'clock,—and you'll be at the camp that same
night. Oh, isn't it wonderful!—isn't it ripping?' cried Cicely
under her breath, stooping down to kiss Nelly, while the two men talked
at the carriage window.—'You're going to get him home! We'll have the
best men in London to look after him. He'll pull through, you'll
see—he'll pull through!'
Nelly sank into a seat and closed her eyes. Cicely's talk—why did
she call Marsworth 'Herbert'?—was almost unbearable to her. She
knew through every vein that she was going across the Channel—to see
George die. If only she were in time!—if only she might hold him in
her arms once more! Would the train never go?
Farrell, in spite of snow and storm, pushed his way back to Carton
that night. In that long motor drive a man took counsel with himself on
whom the war had laid a chastening and refining hand. The human
personality cannot spend itself on tasks of pity and service without
taking the colour of them, without rising insensibly to the height of
them. They may have been carelessly adopted, or imposed from without.
But the mere doing of them exalts. As the dyer's hand is 'subdued to
what it works in,' so the man that is always about some generous
business for his fellow-men suffers thereby, insensibly, a change,
which is part of the 'heavenly alchemy' for ever alive in the world. It
was so at any rate with William Farrell. The two years of his hospital
work—hard, honest grappling with the problems of human pain and its
relief—had made a far nobler man of him. So now, in this solitary
hour, he looked his trouble—courageously, chivalrously—in the face.
The crash of all his immediate hopes was bitter indeed. What matter!
Let him think only of those two poor things about to meet in France.
As to the future, he was well aware of the emotional depths in
Nelly's nature. George Sarratt's claim upon her life and memory would
now be doubly strong. For, with that long and intimate observation of
the war which his hospital experience had brought him, Farrell was
keenly aware of the merciful fact that the mere distance which,
generally speaking, the war imposes between the man dying on the
battle-field and those who love him at home, inevitably breaks the
blow. The nerves of the woman who loses her husband or her son are, at
least, not tortured by the actual sight of his wounds and death. The
suffering is spiritual, and the tender benumbing touch of religion or
patriotism, or the remaining affections of life, has less to fight with
than when the physical senses themselves are racked with acute memories
of bodily wounds and bodily death. It is not that sorrow is less deep,
or memory less tenacious; but both are less ruinous to the person
sorrowing. So, at least, Farrell had often seen it, among even the most
loving and passionate of women. Nelly's renascence in the quiet
Westmorland life had been a fresh instance of it; and he had good
reason for thinking that, but for the tragic reappearance of George
Sarratt, it would not have taken very long,—a few months more,
perhaps—before she would have been persuaded to let herself love, and
be loved again.
But now, every fibre in her delicate being—physical and
spiritual—would be racked by the sight of Sarratt's suffering and
death. And no doubt—pure, scrupulous little soul!—she would be
tormented by the thought of what had just passed between herself and
him, before the news from France arrived. He might as well look that in
Well!—patience and time—there was nothing else to look to. He
braced himself to both, as he sped homeward through the high snowy
roads, and dropped through sleeping Keswick to Bassenthwaite and
Carton. Then with the sight of the hospital, the Red Cross flag
drooping above its doorway, as he drove up to it, the burden and
interest of his great responsibilities returned upon him. He jumped out
to say a few cheery words of thanks to his chauffeur, and went on with
a rapid step to his office on the ground floor, where he found
important letters and telegrams awaiting him. He dealt with them till
far into the night. But the thought of Nelly never really left him; nor
that haunting physical memory of her soft head upon his shoulder.
Of the weary hours which intervened between her meeting with Cicely
and Marsworth at Windermere station and her sight of Dr. Howson on the
rain-beaten quay at Bolougne, Nelly Sarratt could afterwards have given
no clear account. Of all the strings that were pulled, and the exalted
persons invoked, in order to place her as quickly as possible by the
side of her dying husband, she knew practically nothing. Cicely and
Marsworth, with Farrell to help them at the other end of a telegraph
wire, did everything. Passports and special permits were available in a
minimum of time. In the winter dawn at Euston Station, there was the
grey-headed Miss Eustace waiting; and two famous Army doctors journeyed
to Charing Cross a few hours later, on purpose to warn the wife of the
condition in which she was likely to find her husband, and to give her
kindly advice as to how she could help him most. The case had already
made a sensation at the Army Medical Headquarters; the reports on it
from France were being eagerly followed; and when the young wife
appeared from the north, her pathetic beauty quickened the general
sympathy. Nelly's path to France was smoothed in every possible way. No
Royalty could have been more anxiously thought for.
But she herself realised scarcely anything about it. It was her
nature to be grateful, sweet, responsive; but her gratitude and her
sweetness during these hours were automatic, unconscious. She was the
spectator, so to speak, of a moving picture which carried her on with
it, in which she was merely passive. The crowded boat, the grey misty
sea, the destroyers to right and left, she was aware of them in one
connection only—as part of the process by which she and George were to
But at last the boat was alongside the quays of the French port, and
through sheets of rain she saw the lights of a climbing town, and the
gleaming roadways of the docks. Crowds of men in khaki; a park of big
guns, their wet nozzles glittering under the electric lamps overhead;
hundreds of tethered horses; a long line of motor lorries;—the scene
to her was all a vague confusion, as Cicely, efficient and masterful as
usual, made a way for them both along the deck of the steamer through
close ranks of soldiers—a draft waiting their orders to disembark.
Then as they stepped on land, perception sharpened in a moment. A tall
man in khaki—whom she recognised as Dr. Howson—came eagerly forward.
'Mrs. Sarratt!—I hope you're not too tired. Would you rather get
some food here, in the town, or push on at once?'
'At once, please. How is he?'
A pair of kind grey eyes looked down upon her sadly.
'Very ill,—very ill!—but quite sensible. I know you will be
He carried her along the quay—while Cicely was taken possession of
by a nurse in uniform, who talked rapidly in an undertone.
'I have two cars,' said Howson to Nelly—'You and I will go first.
Our head Sister, Miss Parrish, who has been in charge of the case for
so long, will bring Miss Farrell.'
And as they reached the two waiting motors, Nelly found her hand
grasped by a comely elderly woman, in a uniform of grey and red.
'He was quite comfortable when we left him, Mrs. Sarratt. There's a
wonderful difference, even since yesterday, in his mind. He's
beginning to remember everything. He knows you're coming. He
said—“Give her my dear love, and tell her I'm not going to have my
supper till she comes. She shall give it me.” Think of that! It's like
a miracle. Three weeks ago, he never spoke, he knew nobody.'
Nelly's white face trembled, but she said nothing. Howson put her
into the foremost car, and they were soon off, threading their way
through the busy streets of the base, while the Sister followed with
'Oh, it was cruel not to let Mrs. Sarratt know earlier!' said
the Sister indignantly, in answer to a hurried question from Cicely as
soon as they were alone. 'She might have had three weeks with him, and
now there can only be a day or two. What was Miss Cookson about? Even
if she were just mistaken, she might at least have brought her sister
over to see for herself—instead of preventing it by every means in her
power. A most extraordinary woman!'
Cicely felt her way in reply. She really knew nothing except what
Farrell had been able hurriedly to say to Marsworth at Windermere
station—which had been afterwards handed on to her. Farrell himself
was entirely mystified. 'The only motive I can suggest'—he had said to
Marsworth—'is that Miss Cookson had an insane dislike of her
brother-in-law. But, even so, why did she do it?'
Why, indeed? Cicely now heard the whole story from her companion;
and her shrewd mind very soon began to guess at reasons. She had always
observed Bridget's complaisance towards her brother, and even towards
herself—a clumsy complaisance which had never appealed at all either
to her or him. And she had noticed many small traits and incidents that
seemed to shew that Bridget had resented her sister's marriage, and
felt bitterly that Nelly might have done far better for herself. Also
that there was a strong taste for personal luxury in Bridget, which
seemed entirely lacking in Nelly.
'She wanted Willy's money!'—thought Cicely—'and couldn't get it
for herself. So when poor Sarratt disappeared, she saw a way of getting
it through Nelly. Not a bad idea!—if you are to have ideas of that
kind. But then, why behave like an idiot when Providence had done the
thing for you?'
That was really the puzzle. George Sarratt was dying. Why not let
poor Nelly have her last weeks with him in peace, and then—in
time—marry her safely and lawfully to Willy?
But Cicely had again some inkling of Bridget's probable reply. She
had not been intimate with Nelly for more than a year without realising
that she was one of those creatures—so rare in our modern world—who
do in truth live and die by their affections. The disappearance of her
husband had very nearly killed her. In the first winter after he was
finally reported as 'Missing—believed killed,' and when she had really
abandoned hope, the slightest accident—a bad chill—an attack of
childish illness—any further shock—might have slit the thin-spun life
in a few days or weeks. The Torquay doctor had told Hester that she was
on the brink of tuberculosis, and if she were exposed to infection
would certainly develop it. Since then she had gained greatly in
vitality and strength. If only Fate had left her alone! 'With happiness
and Willy, she'd have been all right!' thought Cicely, who was daily
accustomed to watch the effect of mind on body in her brother's
hospital. But now, with this fresh and deeper tragedy before
her—tearing at the poor little heart—crushing the life again out of
the frail being—why, the prospects of a happy ending were decidedly
less. The odious Bridget might after all have acted intelligibly,
As to the history of Sarratt's long disappearance, Cicely found that
very little was known.
'We don't question him,' said the Sister. 'It only exhausts him; and
it wouldn't be any good. He may tell his wife something more, of his
own accord, but we doubt whether he knows much more than he told Dr.
Howson. He remembers being wounded at Loos—lying out undiscovered, he
thinks for two days—then a German hospital—and a long, long journey.
And that's practically all. But just lately—this week, actually!—Dr.
Howson has got some information, through a family of peasants living
near Cassel, behind the British lines. They have relations across the
Belgian border, and gradually they have discovered who the man was who
came over the frontier with Mr. Sarratt. He came from a farm, somewhere
between Brussels and Courtrai, and now they've managed to get a letter
through from his brother. You know the man himself was shot just as
they reached the British lines. But this letter really tells a good
deal. The brother says that they found Mr. Sarratt almost dead,—and,
as they thought, insane—in a wood near their house. He was then
wearing the uniform of a British officer. They guessed he was an
escaped prisoner, and they took him in and hid him. Then news filtered
through to them of two English officers who had made their escape from
a hospital train somewhere south-west of Brussels; one slightly
wounded, and one severely; the severely wounded man suffering also from
shell-shock. And the slightly wounded man was shot, while the other
escaped. The train, it was said, was lying in a siding at the time—at
the further edge of the forest bordering their farm. So, of course,
they identified the man discovered by them as the severely wounded
officer. Mr. Sarratt must have somehow just struggled through to their
side of the forest, where they found him.
'What happened then, we can't exactly trace. He must have been there
all the winter. He was deaf and dumb, from nerve-shock, and could give
no account of himself at all. The men of the farm, two unmarried sons,
were good to him, but their old mother, whose family was German, always
hated his being there. She was in terror of the German military police
who used to ride over the farm, and one day, when her sons were away,
she took Mr. Sarratt's uniform, his identification disk, and all the
personal belongings she could find, and either burned or buried them.
The sons, who were patriotic Belgians, were however determined to
protect him, and no doubt there may have been some idea of a reward, if
they could find his friends. But they were afraid of their tyrannical
old mother, and of what she might do. So at last they made up their
minds to try somehow and get him over the French frontier, which was
not far off, and through the German lines. One of the brothers, whose
name was Benoit Desalles, to whom they say poor Mr. Sarratt was much
attached, went with him. They must have had an awful time, walking by
night, and hiding by day. Mr. Sarratt's wounds must have been in a bad
state, for they were only half healed when he escaped, and they had
been neglected all the winter. So how he dragged himself the distance
he did, the doctors can't imagine. And the peasants near the frontier
from whom we have got what information we have, have no knowledge at
all of how he and his Belgian guide finally got through the German
lines. But when they reached our lines, they were both, as Dr. Howson
wrote to Miss Cookson, in German uniforms. His people suppose that
Benoit had stripped some German dead, and that in the confusion caused
in the German line—at a point where it ran through a Belgian
village—by a British raid, at night, they got across the enemy
trenches. And no doubt Benoit had local knowledge which helped.
'Then in the No Man's Land, between the lines, they were under both
shell and rifle-fire, till it was seen by our men that Benoit had his
hands up, and that the other was wounded. The poor Belgian was dragging
Mr. Sarratt who was unconscious, and at last—wasn't it ill-luck?—just
as our men were pulling them into the trench, Benoit was shot through
the head by a German sniper. That, at least, is how we now reconstruct
the story. As far as Mr. Sarratt is concerned, we let it alone. We have
no heart to worry him. Poor fellow—poor, gallant, patient fellow!'
And the Sister's strong face softened, as Bridget had seen it soften
at Sarratt's bedside.
'And there is really no hope for him?' asked Cicely after a time.
The Sister shook her head.
'The wounds have never healed—and they drain his life away. The
heart can't last out much longer. But he's not in pain now—thank God!
It's just weakness. I assure you, everybody—almost—in this huge camp,
asks for him and many—pray for him.' The Sister's eyes filled with
tears. 'And now that the poor wife's come in time, there'll be an
excitement! I heard two men in one of our wards discussing it this
morning. “They do say as Mrs. Sarratt will be here to-day,” said one of
them. “Well, that's a bit of all right, ain't it?” said the other, and
they both smoked away, looking as pleased as Punch. You see Miss
Cookson's behaviour has made the whole thing so extraordinary.'
'I suppose she thought it would be all over in a day or two,' she
The Sister looked puzzled.
'And that it would be better not to risk the effect on his wife? Of
course Mrs. Sarratt does look dreadfully delicate. So you don't
think it was a mistake? It's very difficult to see how it could be! The
hands alone—one would think that anybody who really knew him must have
Cicely said no more. But she wondered how poor Nelly and her sister
would ever find it possible to meet again.
Meanwhile, in the car ahead, Howson was gently and tenderly
preparing the mind of Nelly for her husband's state. He described to
her also, the first signs of Sarratt's returning consciousness—the
excitement among his doctors and nurses—the anxious waiting for the
first words—the first clear evidence of restored hearing. And then, at
last, the dazed question—'Where am I?'—and the perplexed effort to
answer Howson's—'Can you tell us your name and regiment?'
Howson described the breathless waiting of himself and another
doctor, and then the slow coming of the words: 'My name is George
Sarratt, Lieutenant, 21st Lanchesters. But why——?'
A look of bewilderment at nurses and doctors, and then again—sleep.
'The next time he spoke, it was quite distinctly and of his own
accord. The nurse heard him saying softly—it was in the early
morning—“I want my wife—send for her.” She told him you had been
already sent for, and he turned his head round at once and went to
Howson could hardly go on, so keenly did he realise the presence of
the woman beside him. The soft fluttering breath unmanned him. But by
degrees Nelly heard all there was to know; especially the details of
the rapid revival of hearing, speech, and memory, which had gone on
through the preceding three days.
'And what is such a blessing,' said Howson, with the cheerfulness of
the good doctor—'is that he seems to be quite peaceful—quite at rest.
He's not unhappy. He's just waiting for you. They'll have given him an
injection of strychnine this evening to help him through.'
'How long?' The words were just breathed into the darkness.
'A day or two certainly—perhaps a week,' he said reluctantly. 'It's
a question of strength. Sometimes it lasts much longer than we expect.'
He said nothing to her of her sister's visit. Instinctively he
suspected some ugly meaning in that story. And Nelly asked no
Suddenly, she was aware of lights in the darkness, and then of a
great camp marked out in a pattern of electric lamps, stretching up and
away over what seemed a wide and sloping hillside. Nelly put down the
window to see.
'Is it here?' 'No. A little further on.'
It seemed to her interminably further. The car rattled over the
rough pavement of a town, then through the darkness of woods—threading
its way through a confusion of pale roads—until, with a violent bump,
it came to a stop.
In the blackness of the November night, the chauffeur, mistaking the
entrance to a house, had run up a back lane and into a sand-bank.
'Do you hear the sea?' said Howson, as he helped Nelly to alight.
'There'll be wind to-night. But here we are.'
She looked round her as they walked through a thin wood. To her
right beyond the bare trees was a great building with a glass front.
She could see lights within—the passing figures of nurses—rows of
beds—and men in bed jackets—high rooms frescoed in bright colours.
'That used to be the Casino. Now it's a Red Cross Hospital. There
are always doctors there. So when we moved him away from the camp, we
took this little house close to the Hospital. The senior surgeon there
can be often in and out. He's looking after him splendidly.'
A small room in a small house, built for summer lodgings by the sea;
bare wooden walls and floor; a stove; open windows through which came
the slow boom of waves breaking on a sandy shore; a bed, and in it an
emaciated figure, propped up.
Nelly, as the door closed behind her, broke into a run like the soft
flight of a bird, and fell on her knees beside the bed. She had taken
off her hat and cloak. Excitement had kindled two spots of red in her
pale cheeks. The man in the bed turned his eyes towards her, and
Howson and the Sister went on tiptoe through a side door into
'Kiss me, Nelly!'
Nelly, trembling, put her soft lips to his. But as she did so, a
chill anguish struck her—the first bitterness of the naked truth. As
yet she had only seen it through a veil, darkly. Was this her
George—this ghost, grey-haired, worn out, on the brink of the unknown?
The old passionate pressure of the mouth gone—for ever! Her young
husband—her young lover—she saw him far back in the past, on Rydal
lake, the dripping oars in his hand. This was a spirit which touched
her—a spiritual love which shone upon her. And she had never yet known
so sharp an agony.
So sharp it was that it dried all tears. She knelt there with his
hands in hers, kissing them, and gazing at him.
'Nelly, it's hard luck! Darling, I'd better have been patient. In
time, perhaps, I should have come back to you. How I got away—who
planned it—I don't remember. I remember nothing—of all that time. But
Howson has heard something, through some people near Cassel—has he
'Yes—but don't try to remember.'
He smiled at her. How strange the old sweetness on these grey lips!
'Have you missed me—dreadfully? Poor little Nelly! You're very
pale—a little shadow! Darling!—I would like to live!'
And at that—at last—the eyes of both, as they gazed at each other,
filled with tears. Tears for the eternal helplessness of man,—the
'tears of things.'
But he roused himself, snatching still at a little love, a little
brightness—before the dark. The strychnine injected had given him
'Give me that jelly—and the champagne. Feed me, Nelly! But have you
had any food?'
The stress laid on the 'you' the tone of his voice, were so
like his old self that Nelly caught her breath. A ray of mad hope stole
in. She began to feed him, and as she did so, the Sister, as though she
had heard Sarratt's question, came quietly in with a tray on which was
some food for Nelly, and put it down beside her. Then she disappeared
With difficulty, Sarratt swallowed a few mouthfuls of jelly and
champagne. Then his left hand—the right was helpless—made a faint but
peremptory sign, and Nelly obediently took some food under his dimly
'I have thought of this so often,' he murmured—I knew you'd come.
It's been like someone walking through a dark passage that was getting
lighter. Only once—I had a curious dream. I thought I saw Bridget'
Nelly, trembling, took away his tray and her own, and then knelt
down again beside him. She kissed his forehead, and tried to divert his
thoughts by asking him if he was warm enough. His hands were very cold.
Should she make up the fire?
'Oh, no,—it's all right. But wasn't it strange? Suddenly, I seemed
to be looking at her—quite close—and she at me. And I was worried
because I had seen her more distinctly than I could remember you. Come
nearer—put your dear head against me. Oh, if I could only hold you, as
I used to!'
There was silence a little. But the wine had flushed him, and when
the bloodless lids lifted again, there was more life in the eyes.
'Nelly, poor darling, have you been very lonely?—Were the Farrells
kind to you?'
'Yes, George, very kind. They did everything—everything they
'Sir William promised me'—he said, gratefully. 'And where have you
been all the time? At Rydal?'
'No. I was ill—after the news came——'
'And Sir William lent us one of his farms—near his cottage—do you
'A little. That was kind of him—very kind. Nelly—I want to send
him a message——'
'Give him my grateful thanks, darling,—and—and—my blessing.'
Nelly hid her face against him, and he felt the convulsion of
tearless sobbing that passed through her.
'Poor Nelly!'—he said again, touching her hand tenderly. Then after
another pause—'Sit there, darling, where I can see you—your dear
head, and your eyes, and your pretty neck. You must go to bed soon, you
know—but just a little while! Now tell me what you have been doing.
Talk to me. I won't talk. I'll rest—but I shall hear. That's so
wonderful—that I can hear you. I've been living in such a queer
world—no tongue—no ears—no mind, hardly—only my eyes.'
She obeyed him by a great effort. She talked to him—of what, she
hardly knew!—about her months in London and Torquay—: about her
illness—the farm—Hester Martin—and Cicely.
When she came to speak of her friendship with Cicely, he smiled in
surprise, his eyes still shut.
'That's jolly, dearest. You remember, I didn't like her. She wasn't
at all nice to you—once. But thank her for me—please.'
'She's here now, George, she brought me here. She wouldn't let me
'God bless her!' he said, under his breath. 'I'll see
her—to-morrow. Now go on talking. You won't mind if I go to sleep?
They won't let you stop here, dear. You'll be upstairs. But you'll come
They gave him morphia, and he went to sleep under her eyes. Then the
night nurse came in, and the surgeon from the hospital opposite, with
Howson. And Cicely took Nelly away.
Cicely had made everything ready in the little bare room upstairs.
But when she had helped Nelly to undress, she did not linger.
'Knock on the wall, if you want me. It is only wood, I shall hear
Nelly kissed her and she went. For nothing in her tender service
that day was Nelly more grateful to her.
Then Nelly put out her light, and drawing up the blind, she sat for
long staring into the moonlight night. The rain had stopped, but the
wind was high over the sea, which lay before her a tumbled mass of
waves, not a hundred yards away. To her right was the Casino, a subdued
light shining through the blinds of its glass verandahs, behind which
she sometimes saw figures passing—nurses and doctors on their various
errands. Were there men dying there to-night—like her George?
The anguish that held her, poor child, was no simple sorrow.
Never—she knew it doubly now—had she ceased to love her husband. She
had told Farrell the truth—'If George now were to come in at that
door, there would be no other man in the world for me!' And yet, while
George was dying, and at the very moment that he was asking for her,
she had been in Farrell's arms, and yielding to his kisses. George
would never know; but that only made her remorse the more torturing.
She could never confess to him—that indeed was her misery. He would
die, and her unfaith would stand between them for ever.
A cleverer, a more experienced, a more practical woman, in such a
case, would have found a hundred excuses and justifications for herself
that never occurred to Nelly Sarratt, to this young immature creature,
in whom the passionate love of her marriage had roused feelings and
emotions, which, when the man on whom they were spent was taken from
her, were still the master-light of all her seeing—still so strong and
absorbing, that, in her widowed state, they were like blind forces
searching unconsciously for some new support, some new thing to love.
She had nearly died for love—and then when her young strength revived
it had become plain that she could only live for love. Her hands had
met the hands seeking hers, inevitably, instinctively. To refuse, to
stand aloof, to cause pain—that had been the torment, the
impossibility, for one who had learnt so well how to give and to make
happy. There was in it no sensual element—only Augustine's 'love of
loving.' Yet her stricken conscience told her that, in her moral
indecision, if the situation had lasted much longer, she had not been
able to make up her mind to marry Farrell quickly, she might easily
have become his mistress, through sheer weakness, sheer dread of his
suffering, sheer longing to be loved.
Explanations and excuses, for any more seasoned student of human
nature, emerged on every hand. Nelly in her despair allowed herself
none of them. It merely seemed to her, in this night vigil, that she
was unworthy to touch her George, to nurse him, to uphold him; utterly
unworthy of all this reverent pity and affection that was being
lavished upon her for his sake.
She sat up most of the night, wrapped in her fur cloak, alive to any
sound from the room below. And about four in the morning, she stole
down the stairs to listen at his door. There one of the nurses found
her, and moved with pity, brought her in. They settled her in an
arm-chair near him; and then with the tardy coming of the November day,
she watched the sad waking that was so many hours nearer death, at that
moment when man's life is at its wretchedest, and all the forces of the
underworld seem to be let loose upon it.
And there, for five days and nights, with the briefest possible
intervals for food, and the sleep of exhaustion, she sat beside him.
She was dimly conscious of the people about her, of the boundless
tenderness and skill that was poured out upon the poor sufferer at her
side; she did everything for George that the nurses could shew her how
to do—; it was the one grain of personal desire left in her, and
doctors and nurses developed the most ingenious pity in devising things
for her to do, and in letting every remedy that soothed his pain, or
cleared his mind, go, as far as possible, through her hands. And there
were moments when she would walk blindly along the sea beach with
Cicely, finding a stimulus to endure in the sharpness of the winter
wind, or looking in vague wonder at the great distant camp, with its
streets of hospitals, its long lines of huts, its training-grounds, and
the bodies of men at work upon them. Here, the war came home to her, as
a vast machine by which George, like millions of others, had been
caught and crushed. She shuddered to think of it.
At intervals Sarratt still spoke a good deal, though rarely after
their third day together. He asked her once—'Dear, did you ever send
for my letter?' She paused a moment to think. 'You mean the letter you
left for me—in case?' He made a sign of assent, and then smiled into
the face bending over him. 'Read it again, darling. I mean it all now,
as I did then.' She could only kiss him softly—without tears. After
the first day she never cried.
On the last night of his life, when she thought that all speech was
over, and that she would never hear his voice, or see a conscious look,
again, he opened his eyes suddenly, and she heard—'I love you,
sweetheart! I love you, sweetheart!' twice over. That was the last
sound. Towards midnight he died.
Next morning Cicely wrote to Farrell:—
'We are coming home to-morrow after they bury him in the cemetery
here. Please get Hester—whatever she may be doing—to throw it
up, and come and meet us. She is the only person who can help Nelly now
for a bit Nelly pines for Rydal—where they were together. She would go
to Hester's cottage. Tell Hester.
'Why, old boy, do such things happen? That's what I keep asking—not
being a saint, like these dear nurses here, who really have been
angelic. I am the only one who rebels. George Sarratt was so
patient—so terribly patient! And Nelly is just crushed—for the
moment, though I sometimes expect to see a strange energy in her before
long. But I keep knocking my head all day, and part of the night—the
very small part that I'm not asleep—against the questions that
everybody seems to have asked since the world began—and I know that I
am a fool, and go on doing it.
'George Sarratt, I think, was a simple Christian, and died like one.
He seemed to like the Chaplain, which was a comfort. How much any of
that means to Nelly I don't know.'
She also wrote to Marsworth:—
'Meet us, please, at Charing Cross. I have no spirit to answer your
last letters as they deserve. But I give you notice that I don't thrive
on too sweet a diet—and praise is positively bad for me. It wrinkles
me up the wrong way.
'What can be done about that incredible sister? She ought to know
that Nelly is determined not to see her. Just think!—they might have
had nearly a month together, and she cut it down to five days!
('Dear Herbert, say anything you like, and the sweeter the better!)
'Well—what news?' said Farrell abruptly. For Cicely had come into
his library with a letter in her hand. The library was a fine
eighteenth-century room still preserved intact amid the general
appropriation of the big house by the hospital, and when he was not
busy in his office, it was his place of refuge.
Cicely perched herself on the edge of his writing-table.
'Hester has brought her to Rydal all right,' she said cheerfully.
'How is she?'
'As you might expect. But Hester says she talks of nothing but going
to work. She has absolutely set her heart upon it, and there is no
'It is, of course, an absurdity,' said Farrell, frowning.
'Absurdity or not, she means to do it, and Hester begs that nobody
will try to persuade her against it. She has promised Hester to stay
with her for three weeks, and then she has already made her
'What is she going to do?'
'She is going to a hospital near Manchester. They want a V.A.D.
Farrell rose impatiently, and stretching out his hand for his pipe,
began to pace the room, steeped evidently in disagreeable reflection.
'You know as well as I do'—he said at last—that she hasn't the
physical strength for it.'
'Well then she'll break down, and we can put her to bed. But try she
will, and I entirely approve of it,' said Cicely firmly. 'Hard physical
work—till you drop—till you're so tired, you must go to sleep—that's
the only thing when you're as miserable as poor Nelly. You know it is,
Will. Don't you remember that poor Mrs. Henessy whose son died here?
Her letters to me afterwards used to be all about scrubbing. If she
could scrub from morning till night, she could just get along. She
scrubbed herself sane again. The bigger the floor, the better she liked
it. When bedtime came, she just slept like a log. And at last she got
all right. But it was touch-and-go when she left here.'
'She was a powerfully-built woman,' said Farrell gloomily.
'Oh, well, it isn't always the strapping ones that come through.
Anyway, old boy, I'm afraid you can't do anything to alter it.'
She looked at him a little askance. It was perfectly understood
between them that Cicely was more or less acquainted with her brother's
plight, and since her engagement to Marsworth had been announced it was
astonishing how much more ready Farrell had been to confide in her, and
she to be confided in.
But for her few days in France, however, with Nelly Sarratt,
Marsworth might still have had some wrestles to go through with Cicely.
At the very moment when Farrell's telephone message arrived, imploring
her to take charge of Nelly on her journey, Cicely was engaged in fresh
quarrelling with her long-suffering lover. But the spectacle of
Sarratt's death, and Nelly's agony, together with her own quick
divination of Nelly's inner mind, had worked profoundly on Cicely, and
Marsworth had never shewn himself a better fellow than in his complete
sympathy with her, and his eager pity for the Sarratts. 'I haven't the
heart to tease him'—Cicely had said candidly after her return to
England. 'He's been so horribly nice to me!' And the Petruchio having
once got the upper hand, the Katherine was—like her prototype—almost
overdoing it. The corduroy trousers, Russian boots, the flame-coloured
jersey actually arrived. Cicely looked at them wistfully and locked
them up. As to the extravagances that still remained, in hats, or
skirts, or head-dressing, were they to be any further reduced,
Marsworth would probably himself implore her not to be too suddenly
reasonable. For, without them, Cicely would be only half Cicely.
But his sister's engagement, perhaps, had only made Farrell feel
more sharply than ever the collapse of his own hopes. Three days after
Sarratt's death Nelly had written to him to give him George's dying
message, and to thank him on her own account for all that he had done
to help her journey. The letter was phrased as Nelly could not help
phrasing anything she wrote. Cicely, to whom Nelly dumbly shewed it,
thought it 'sweet.' But on Farrel's morbid state, it struck like ice,
and he had the greatest difficulty in writing a letter of sympathy,
such as any common friend must send her, in return. Every word seemed
to him either too strong or too weak. The poor Viking, indeed, had
begun to look almost middle-aged, and Cicely with a pang had discovered
or fancied some streaks of grey in the splendid red beard and curly
hair. At the same time her half-sarcastic sense perceived that he was
far better provided than Nelly, with the means of self-protection
against his trouble. 'Men always are,' thought Cicely—'they have so
much more interesting things to do.' And she compared the now famous
hospital, with its constant scientific developments, the ever-changing
and absorbing spectacle of the life within it, and Farrell's remarkable
position amid its strenuous world—with poor Nelly's 'housemaiding.'
But Nelly was choosing the path that suited her own need, and in the
spiritual world, the humblest means may be the best. It was when she
was cooking for her nuns that some of St. Teresa's divinest ecstasies
came upon her! Not that there was any prospect of ecstasy for Nelly
Sarratt. She seemed to herself to be engaged in a kind of surgery—the
cutting or burning away of elements in herself that she had come to
scorn. Hester, who was something of a saint herself, came near to
understanding her. Cicely could only wonder. But Hester perceived, with
awe, a fierceness in Nelly—a kind of cruelty—towards herself,
with which she knew well, from a long experience of human beings, that
it was no use to argue. The little, loving, easy-going thing had
discovered in her own gentleness and weakness, the source of something
despicable—that is, of her own failure to love George as steadfastly
and truly as he had loved her. The whole memory of her marriage was
poisoned for her by this bitter sense that in little more than a year
after she had lost him, while he was actually still alive, and when the
law even, let alone the highest standards of love, had not released
her, she had begun to yield to the wooing of another man. Perhaps only
chance, under all the difficult circumstances of her intimacy with
Farrell, had saved her from a shameful yielding—from dishonour, as
well as a broken faith.
'What had brought it about?'—she asked herself. And she asked it
with a desperate will, determined to probe her own sin to the utmost.
'Soft living!'—was her own reply—moral and physical indolence. The
pleasure of being petted and spoiled, the readiness to let others work
for her, and think for her, what people called her 'sweetness!' She
turned upon it with a burning hatred and contempt. She would scourge it
out of herself. And then perhaps some day she would be able to think of
George's last faint words with something else than remorseful anguish—
love you, sweetheart!—I love you, sweetheart!'
During the three weeks, however, that she was with Hester, she was
very silent. She clung to Hester without words, and with much less than
her usual caressingness. She found—it was evident—a certain comfort
in solitary walks, in the simple talk of Mrs. Tyson, and 'Father Time,'
who came to see her, and scolded her for her pale cheeks with a
disrespectful vigour which brought actually a smile to her eyes. Tommy
was brought over to see her; and she sat beside him, while he lay on
the floor drawing Hoons and Haggans, at a great rate, and brimful of
fresh adventures in 'Jupe.' But he was soon conscious that his old
playfellow was not the listener she had been; and he presently stole
away with a wistful look at her.
One evening early in December, Hester coming in from marketing in
Ambleside, found Nelly, sitting by the fire, a book open on her knee,
so absorbed in thought that she had not heard her friend's entrance.
Yet her lips seemed to be moving. Hester came softly, and knelt down
'Darling, I have been such a long time away!'
Nelly drew a deep breath.
'Oh, no I—I—I've been thinking,'
Hester looked at the open book, and saw that it was 'The Letters of
St. Ignatius'—a cheap copy, belonging to a popular theological
'Library,' she herself had lately bought.
'Did that interest you, Nelly?' she asked, wondering.
'Some of it'—said Nelly, flushing a little. And after a moment's
hesitation, she pointed to a passage under her hand:—'For I fear your
love, lest it injure me, for it is easy to do what you will; but it is
difficult for me to attain unto God, if ye insist on sparing me.'
And suddenly Hester remembered that before going out she had
entreated Nelly to give herself another fortnight's rest before going
to Manchester. It would then be only six weeks since her husband's
death. 'And if you break down, dear,'—she had ventured—'it won't only
be trouble to you—but to them '—meaning the hospital authorities.
Whereupon for the first time since her return, Nelly's eyes had filled
with tears. But she made no reply, and Hester had gone away uneasy.
'Why will you be so hard on yourself?' she murmured, taking the
lovely childish face in her two hands and kissing it.
Nelly gently released herself, and pointed again, mutely, to a
passage further on—the famous passage in which the saint, already in
the ecstasy of martyrdom, appeals again to the Christian church in
Rome, whether he is bound, not to save him from the wild beasts of the
arena. 'I entreat you, shew not unto me an unseasonable love! Suffer me
to be the food of wild beasts, through whom it is allowed me to attain
unto God. I am the corn of God; let me be ground by the teeth of the
wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.... Pardon me
in this. I know what is expedient for me. I am but now beginning to be
'Nelly dear—what do you mean?'
A faint little smile crossed Nelly's face.
'Oh, nothing—only;—' she sighed again—'It's so splendid!
Such a will!—such a faith! No one thinks like that now. No one is
willing to be “the corn of God.”'
'Oh, yes they are!' said Hester, passionately. 'There are thousands
of men—and women—in this war, who are willing to do
everything—suffer everything—for others—their country—their people
'Well, then they're happy!—and why hold anyone back?' said Nelly,
with soft reproach. And letting her head drop on Hester's shoulder, she
'Let me go, dear Hester—let me go! It's drudgery I want—
drudgery' she repeated with intensity. 'Something that I don't want
to do—something that's against the grain—all day long.' Then she
laughed and roused herself. 'Not much likeness between me and St.
Ignatius, is there?'
Hester considered her gravely.
'When people like you are wrestling all day and every day with
something too hard for them, their strength gives way. They think they
can do it, but they can't.'
'My strength won't give way,' said Nelly, with quiet conviction.
Then, after pausing a moment, she said with a strange ardour—'I once
heard a story—a true story—of a man, who burnt his own hand off,
because it had struck his friend. He held it in a flame till there was
only the burnt stump, and after that he forgave himself and could bear
to live again.'
'But whom have you struck, you poor child!' cried Hester.
'George!' said Nelly, looking at her with bitterly shining
Hester's arms enfolded her, and they talked far into the night.
Before they separated, Hester had agreed that the date of Nelly's
departure should be not postponed, but quickened.
And during the few remaining days they were together, Hester could
only notice with growing amazement the change in all the small ways and
habits that had once characterised Nelly Sarratt—especially since her
Torquay illness; the small invalidisms and self-indulgences, the
dependence on a servant or on Bridget. Now the ascetic, penitential
passion had come upon her; as it comes in different forms, upon many a
man or woman in the selva oscura of their life; and Hester knew
that there was no resisting it.
Hester went back to her 'Welfare' work. Cicely travelled between
Carton and London, collecting her trousseau and declaring that she
would be married in Lent, whatever people might say. Farrell was
deeply engaged in introducing a new antiseptic treatment of an
extremely costly kind throughout his hospital, in watching the results
of it, and in giving facilities for the study of it, to the authorities
and officials of all kinds who applied to him. A sorrowful man—but a
very busy one. Marsworth was making his mark in the Intelligence
Department of the War Office, and was being freely named as the head of
an important Military Mission to one of the Allied Headquarters. What
would become of Cicely and the wedding, if the post were given him,
and—as was probable—at a day's warning—was not quite clear. Cicely,
however, took it calmly. 'They can't give us less than three hours'
notice—and if it's after two o'clock, we can always get married
somehow by five. You scurry round, pay fifty pounds, and somebody at
Lambeth does it. Then—I should see him safely off in the evening!'
Meanwhile Bridget Cookson was living in her usual Bloomsbury
boarding-house, holding herself quite aloof from the idle ways of its
inmates, who, in the midst of the world-war, were still shopping as
usual in the mornings and spending the afternoons in tea and gossip.
Bridget, however, was scarcely employing her own time to any greater
profit for a burdened country. She was learning various languages, and
attending a number of miscellaneous lectures. Her time was fairly full,
and she lived in an illusion of multifarious knowledge which flattered
her vanity. She was certainly far cleverer; and better-educated than
the other women of her boarding-house; and she was one of those persons
who throughout life prefer to live with their inferiors. 'The only
remedy against a superiority,'—says some French writer—'is to love
it.' But Bridget was so made that she could not love it; she could only
pull it down and belittle it.
But all the same, Bridget Cookson was no monster, though she was
probably without feelings and instincts that most people possess. She
missed Nelly a good deal, more than Nelly herself would have believed.
And she thought now, that she had behaved like a fool in not
recognising Sarratt at once, and so preserving her influence with her
sister. Morally, however, she saw no great harm in what she had done.
It was arguable, at any rate. Everything was arguable. As to the effect
on Nelly of the outward and visible facts of Sarratt's death, it seemed
to have been exactly what she, Bridget, had foreseen. Through some
Manchester acquaintance she succeeded in getting occasional news of
Nelly, who was, it appeared, killing herself with hard and disagreeable
work. She heard also from the woman left in charge of the Loughrigg
farm that all Mrs. Sarratt's personal possessions had been sent to the
care of Miss Martin, and that Sir William had shut up the cottage and
never came there. Sometimes Bridget would grimly contrast this state of
things with what might have happened, had her stroke succeeded, and had
George died unrecognised. In that event how many people would have been
made happy, who were now made miserable!
The winter passed away, the long and bitter winter which seemed to
sharpen for English hearts and nerves all the suffering of the war. On
the Somme the Germans were secretly preparing the retreat which began
with the spring, while the British armies were growing to their full
stature, month by month, and England was becoming slowly accustomed to
the new and amazing consciousness of herself as a great military power.
And meanwhile death in the trenches still took its steady toll of our
best and dearest; and at sea, while British sea-power pressed home its
stifling grasp on the life of Germany, the submarine made England
anxious, but not afraid.
March shewed some pale gleams of spring, but April was one of the
coldest and dreariest in the memory of living man. The old earth in
sympathy with the great struggle that was devastating and searing her,
seemed to be withholding leaf and flower, and forbidding the sun to woo
Till the very first days of May! Then, with a great return upon
herself, Nature flew to work. The trees rushed into leaf, and never had
there been such a glorious leafage. Everything was late, but everything
was perfection. And nowhere was the spring loveliness more lovely than
in Westmorland. The gentle valleys of the Lakes had been muffled in
snow and scourged with hail. The winter furies had made their lairs in
the higher fells, and rushed shrieking week after week through delicate
and quiet scenes not made for them. The six months from November to May
had been for the dale-dwellers one long endurance. But in one May week
all was forgotten, and atoned for. Beauty, 'an hourly presence,'
reigned without a rival. From the purple heights that stand about
Langdale and Derwentwater, to the little ferns and mountain plants that
crept on every wall, or dipped in every brook, the mountain land was
all alive and joyful. The streams alone made a chorus for the gods.
Hester, who was now a woman of sixty, had reluctantly admitted, by
the middle of the month, that, after a long winter spent in a munition
factory and a Lancashire town, employed on the most strenuous work that
she, an honest worker all her life, had ever known, a fortnight's
holiday was reasonable. And she wrote to Nelly Sarratt, just as she was
departing northwards, to say—cunningly—that she was very tired and
run down, and would Nelly come and look after her for a little? It was
the first kindness she had ever asked of Nelly, to whom she had done so
many. Nelly telegraphed in reply that in two days she would be at
Hester spent the two days in an expectation half-eager,
half-anxious. It had been agreed between them that in their
correspondence the subject of Nelly's health was to be tabooed. In case
of a serious breakdown, the Commandant of Nelly's hospital would write.
Otherwise there were to be no enquiries and no sympathy. Cicely
Marsworth before her marriage in early March had seen Nelly twice and
had reported—against the grain—that although 'most unbecomingly
thin,' the obstinate little creature said she was well, and apparently
was well. Everybody in the hospital, said Cicely, was at Nelly's feet.
'It is of course nonsense for her to lay down, that she won't be
petted, Nature has settled that for her. However, I am bound to say it
is the one thing that makes her angry, and the nurses are all amazed at
what she has been able to stand. There is a half-blind boy, suffering
from “shock” in one of the wards, to whom they say she has devoted
herself for months. She has taught him to speak again, and to walk, and
the nerve-specialist who has been looking after the poor fellow told
her he would trust her with his worst cases, if only she would come and
nurse for him. That did seem to please her. She flushed up a little
when she told me. Otherwise she has become horribly impersonal!
Her wings are growing rapidly. But oh, Hester, I did and do prefer the
old Nelly to any angel I've ever known. If I hadn't married Herbert, I
should like to spend all my time in tempting her—the poor
darling!—as the devil—who was such a fool!—tempted St. Anthony. I
know plenty of saints; but I know only one little, soft kissable Nelly.
She shan't be taken from us!'
So horribly impersonal! What did Cicely mean?
Well, Cicely—with the object described in full view—would soon be
able to tell her. For the Marsworths were coming to Carton for a week,
before starting for Rome, and would certainly come over to her to say
good-bye. As to William—would it really be necessary to leave him
behind? Nelly must before long brace herself to see him again, as an
ordinary friend. He had meant no harm—and done no harm—poor William!
Hester was beginning secretly to be his warm partisan.
Twenty-four hours later, Nelly arrived. As Hester received her from
the coach, and walked with her arm round the tiny waist to the cottage
by the bend of the river, where tea beside the sun-flecked stream was
set for the traveller, the older friend was at once startled and
reassured. Reassured—because, after these six months, Nelly could
laugh once more, and her step was once more firm and normal; and
startled, by the new and lonely independence she perceived in her frail
visitor. Nelly was in black again, with a small black hat from which
her widow's veil fell back over her shoulders. The veil, the lawn
collar and cuffs, together with her childish slightness, and the curls
on her temples and brow that she had tried in vain to straighten, made
her look like a little girl masquerading. And yet, in truth, what
struck her hostess was the sad maturity for which she seemed to have
exchanged her old clinging ways. She spoke, for the first time, as one
who was mistress of her own life and its issues; with a perfectly clear
notion of what there was for her to do. She had made up her mind, she
told Hester, to take work offered her in one of the new special
hospitals for nervous cases which were the product of the war. 'They
think I have a turn for it, and they are going to train me. Isn't it
kind and dear of them?'
'But I am told it is the most exhausting form of nursing there is,'
said Hester wondering. 'Are you quite sure you can stand it?'
'Try me!' said Nelly, with a strange brightness of look. Then
reaching out a hand she slipped it contentedly into her friend's.
'Hester!—isn't it strange what we imagine about ourselves—and what is
really true? I thought the first weeks that I was in hospital, I
must break down. I never dreamt that anyone could feel so tired—so
deadly ill—and yet go on. And then one began, little by little, to get
hardened,—of course I'm only now beginning to feel that!—and it seems
like being born again, with a quite new body, that one can make—yes,
make—do as one likes. That's what the soldiers tell me—about
their training. And they wonder at it, as I do.'
'My dear, you're horribly thin,' interrupted Hester.
'Oh, not too thin!' said Nelly, complacently.
Then she lifted up her eyes suddenly, and saw the lake in a dazzle
of light, and Silver How, all purple, as of old; yet another family of
wild duck swimming where the river issued from the lake; and just
beyond, the white corner of the house where she and George had spent
their few days of bliss. Slowly, the eyes filled with brimming tears.
She threw off her hat and veil, and slipping to the grass, she laid her
head against her friend's knee, and there was a long silence.
Hester broke it at last.
'I want you to come a little way up the fell, and look at a daffodil
field. We'll leave a message, and Cicely can follow us there.' And then
she added, not without trepidation—'and I asked her to bring William,
if he had time.'
Nelly was silent a moment, and then said quietly—-'Thank you. I'm
glad you did.'
They left the garden and wandered through some rocky fields on the
side of the fell, till they came to one where Linnaeus or any other
pious soul might well have gone upon his knees for joy. Some loving
hand had planted it with daffodils—the wild Lent lily of the district,
though not now very plentiful about the actual lakes. And the daffodils
had come back rejoicing to their kingdom, and made it their own again.
They ran in lines and floods, in troops and skirmishers, all through
the silky grass, and round the trunks of the old knotted oaks, that
hung as though by one foot from the emerging rocks and screes. Above,
the bloom of the wild cherries made a wavering screen of silver between
the daffodils and the May sky; amid the blossom the golden-green of the
oaks struck a strong riotous note; and far below, at their feet, the
lake lay blue, with all the sky within it, and the softness of the
larch-woods on its banks.
Nelly dropped into the grass among the daffodils. One could not have
called her the spirit of the spring—the gleeful, earthly spring—as it
would have been natural to do, in her honeymoon days. And yet, as
Hester watched her, she seemed in her pale, changed beauty to be in
some strange harmony with that grave, renewing, fruitful heart of all
things, whereof the daffodils and the cherry-blossom were but symbols.
Presently there were voices beneath them—climbing voices that came
nearer—of a man and a woman. Nelly's hand begun to pluck restlessly at
the grass beside her.
Cicely emerged first, Cicely in white, very bridal, and very happy.
Very conscious too, though she did not betray it by a movement or a
look, of the significance of this first meeting, since Sarratt's death,
between her brother and Nelly. But they met very simply. Nelly went a
little way down the steep to meet them. She kissed Cicely, and gave
Farrell her hand.
'It was very good of you to come.'
But then it seemed to Hester, who could not help watching it, that
Nelly's face, as she stood there looking gravely at Farrell, shewed a
sudden trouble and agitation. It was gone very quickly, however, and
she and he walked on together along a green path skirting the fells,
and winding through the daffodils and the hawthorns.
Cicely and Hester followed, soon perceiving that the two ahead had
slipped into animated conversation.
'What can it be about?' said Cicely, in Hester's ear.
'I heard the word “Charcot,”' said Hester.
The bride listened deliberately.
'And William's talking about an article in the Lancet he's
been boring Herbert and me with, by that very specialist that Nelly's
so keen about,—the man that is going to have her trained to nurse his
cases. Something about the new treatment of “shock.” I say, Hester,
what an odd sort of fresh beginning!'
Cicely turned a look half grave, half laughing on her
'The specialist's married!'
Hester frowned a little.
'Beginning of what?'
'Oh, I don't know,' said Cicely, with a shrug, 'But life is long,
Mademoiselle Hester, and now they've got a common interest—outside
themselves. They can talk about things—not feelings.
Goodness!—did you hear that? William is head over ears in his new
antiseptic—and look at Nelly—she's quite pink! That's what I meant by
her being horribly impersonal. She used the word “scientific” to
me, three times, when I went to see her—Nelly!'
'If she's impersonal, I should doubt whether William is,' said
'Ah, no—poor Willy!' was Cicely's musing reply. 'It's a hard time
for him. I don't believe she's ever out of his mind. Or at least, she
wouldn't be, if it weren't for his work. That's the blessed part—for
both of them. And now you see—it gives them such a deal to talk
about'—her gesture indicated the couple in front. 'It's like two sore
surfaces, isn't it, that mustn't touch—you want something between.'
'All the same, William mustn't set his heart—'
'And Hester—dear old thing!—mustn't preach!' said Cicely laughing,
and pinching her cousin's arm. 'What's the good of saying that, about a
man like William, who knows what he wants? Of course he's set his
heart, and will go on setting it. But he'll wait—as long as she
'It'll be a long time.'
'All right! They're neither of them Methuselahs yet. Heavens!—What
are they at now? Ambrine!—she's talking to him'
But some deep mingled instinct, at once of sympathy with Nelly and
pity for Farrell, made Hester unwilling to discuss the subject any
more. George's death was too recent; peace and a happy future too
remote. So she turned on Cicely.
'And please, what have you done with Herbert? I was promised a
'Business!' said Cicely, sighing. 'We had hardly arrived for our
week's leave, when the wretched War Office wired him to come back. He
went this morning, and I wanted to go too, but—I'm not to racket just
Cicely blushed, and Hester, smiling, pressed her hand.
'Then you're not going to Rome?'
'Certainly I am! But one has to give occasional sops to the domestic
They sauntered back to tea in Hester's garden by the river, and
there the talk of her three guests was more equal and unfettered, more
of a real interchange, than Hester ever remembered it. Of old, Farrell
had been the guardian and teacher, indoctrinating Nelly with his own
views on art, reading to her from his favourite poets, or surrounding
her in a hundred small matters with a playful and devoted homage. But
now in the long wrestle with her grief and remorse, she had thought, as
well as felt. She was as humble and simple as ever, but her companions
realised that she was standing on her own feet. And this something new
in her—which was nothing but a strengthened play of intelligence and
will—had a curious effect on Farrell. It seemed to bring him out,
also; so that the nobler aspects of his life, and the nobler
proportions of his character shewed themselves, unconsciously. Hester,
with anxious joy, guessed at the beginnings of a new moral relation, a
true comradeship, between himself and Nelly, such as there had never
yet been—which might go far. It masked the depths in both of them; or
rather it was a first bridge thrown over the chasm between them. What
would come of it?
Again she rebuked herself even for the question. But when the time
for departure came, and Nelly took Cicely into the house to fetch the
wraps which had been left there, Farrell drew his chair close to
Hester's. She read agitation in his look.
'So she's actually going to take up this new nursing? She says she
is to have six months' training.'
'Yes—don't grudge it her!'
Farrell was silent a moment, then broke out—'Did you ever see
anything so small and transparent as her hands are? I was watching them
as she sat there.'
'But they're capable!' laughed Hester. 'You should hear what her
matron says of her.'
'How much weight has she lost?'
'Not more—as yet—than she can stand. There's an intense life in
her—a spiritual life—that seems to keep her going.'
'Hester—dear Hester—watch over her!'
He put out a hand and grasped his cousin's.
'Yes, you may trust me.'
'Hester!—do you believe there'll ever be any hope for me?'
'It's unkind even to think of it yet,' she said gravely.
He drew himself up, recovering self-control.
'I know—I know. I hope I'm not quite a fool! And indeed it's better
than I thought. She's not going to banish me altogether. When this new
hospital's open—in another month or so—and she's settled there—she
asks me to call upon her. She wants me to go into this man's
treatment.' There was a touch of comedy in the words; but the emotion
in his face was painful to see.
'Good!' said Hester, smiling.
When the guests were gone, Nelly came slowly back to Hester from the
garden gate. Her hands were loosely clasped before her, her eyes on the
ground. When she reached Hester she looked up and Hester saw that her
eyes were full of tears.
'He'll miss her very much,' she said, sadly.
'Yes—she's been a great deal more to him lately than she used to
Nelly stood silently looking out over the lake for a while. In her
mind and Hester's there were thoughts which neither could express.
Suddenly, Nelly turned to Hester. Her voice sounded strained and quick.
'I never told you—on my way here, I went to see Bridget.'
Hester was taken by surprise. After a moment's silence she said—
'Has she ever repented—ever asked your forgiveness?
Nelly shook her head.
'But I think—she would be sorry—if she could. I shall go and see
her sometimes. But she doesn't want me. She seems quite busy—and
'Satisfied!' said Hester, indignantly.
'I mean with what she is doing—with her way of living.'
There was silence. But presently there was a stifled sob in the
darkness; and Hester knew that Nelly was thinking of those
irrecoverable weeks of which Bridget's cruelty had robbed her.
Then presently bedtime came, and Hester saw her guest to her room.
But a little while after, as she was standing by her own window she
heard the garden door open and perceived a small figure slipping down
over the lawn—a shadow among shadows—towards the path along the lake.
And she guessed of course that Nelly had gone out to take a last look
at the scene of her lost happiness, before her departure on the morrow.
Only twenty-two—with all her life before her—if she lived!
Of course, the probability was that she would live—and gradually
forget—and in process of time marry William Farrell. But Hester could
not be at all sure that the story would so work out. Supposing that the
passion of philanthropy, or the passion of religion, fastened upon
her—on the girlish nature that had proved itself with time to be of so
much finer and rarer temper than those about her had ever suspected?
Both passions are absorbing; both tend to blunt in many women the
natural instinct of the woman towards the man. Nelly had been an
old-fashioned, simple girl, brought up in a backwater of life. Now she
was being drawn into that world of the new woman—where are women
policemen, and women chauffeurs, and militant suffragists, and women in
overalls and breeches, and many other strange types. The war has shown
us—suddenly and marvellously—the adaptability of women. Would little
Nelly, too, prove as plastic as the rest, and in the excitement of
meeting new demands, and reaching out to new powers, forget the old
needs and sweetnesses?
It might be so; but in her heart of hearts, Hester did not believe
it would be so.
Meanwhile Nelly was wandering through the May dusk along the lake.
She walked through flowers. The scents of a rich earth were in the air;
daylight lingered, but a full and golden moon hung over Loughrigg in
the west; and the tranced water of the lake was marvellously giving
back the beauty amid which it lay—form, and colour, and distance—and
all the magic of the hour between day and night. There was no boat,
alack, to take her to the island; but there it lay, dreaming on the
silver water, with a great hawthorn in full flower shewing white upon
its rocky side. She made her way to the point nearest to the island,
and there sat down on a stone at the water's edge.
Opposite to her was the spot where she and George had drifted with
the water on their last night together. If she shut her eyes she could
see his sunburnt face, blanched by the moonlight, his strong shoulders,
his hands—which she had kissed—lying on the oars. And mingling with
the vision was that other—of a grey, dying face, a torn and broken
Her heart was full of intensest love and yearning; but the love was
no longer a torment. She knew now that if she had been able to tell
George everything, he would never have condemned her; he would only
have opened his arms and comforted her.
She was wrapped in a mystical sense of communion with him, as she
sat dreaming there. But in such a calm and exaltation of spirit, that
there was ample room besides in her mind for the thought of William
Farrell—her friend. Her most faithful and chivalrous friend! She
thought of Farrell's altered aspect, of the signs of a great task laid
upon him, straining even his broad back. And then, of his loneliness.
Cicely was gone—his 'little friend' was gone.
What could she still do for him? It seemed to her that even while
George stood spiritually beside her, in this scene of their love, he
was bidding her think kindly and gratefully of the man whom he had
blessed in dying—the man who, in loving her, had meant him no harm.
Her mind formed no precise image of the future. She was incapable,
indeed, as yet, of forming any that would have disturbed that intimate
life with George which was the present fruit in her of remorseful love
and pity. The spring shores of Rydal, the meadows steeping their
flowery grasses in the water, the new leaf, the up-curling fern,
breathed in her unconscious ear their message of re-birth. But she knew
only that she was uplifted, strengthened—to endure and serve.