by John Galsworthy
Light, entering the vast room--a room so high that its carved ceiling
refused itself to exact scrutiny--travelled, with the wistful, cold
curiosity of the dawn, over a fantastic storehouse of Time. Light,
unaccompanied by the prejudice of human eyes, made strange revelation
of incongruities, as though illuminating the dispassionate march of
For in this dining hall--one of the finest in England--the Caradoc
family had for centuries assembled the trophies and records of their
existence. Round about this dining hall they had built and pulled
down and restored, until the rest of Monkland Court presented some
aspect of homogeneity. Here alone they had left virgin the work of
the old quasi-monastic builders, and within it unconsciously
deposited their souls. For there were here, meeting the eyes of
light, all those rather touching evidences of man's desire to persist
for ever, those shells of his former bodies, the fetishes and queer
proofs of his faiths, together with the remorseless demonstration of
their treatment at the hands of Time.
The annalist might here have found all his needed confirmations; the
analyst from this material formed the due equation of high birth; the
philosopher traced the course of aristocracy, from its primeval rise
in crude strength or subtlety, through centuries of power, to
picturesque decadence, and the beginnings of its last stand. Even
the artist might here, perchance, have seized on the dry ineffable
pervading spirit, as one visiting an old cathedral seems to scent out
the constriction of its heart.
>From the legendary sword of that Welsh chieftain who by an act of
high, rewarded treachery had passed into the favour of the conquering
William, and received, with the widow of a Norman, many lands in
Devonshire, to the Cup purchased for Geoffrey Caradoc; present Earl
of Valleys, by subscription of his Devonshire tenants on the occasion
of his marriage with the Lady Gertrude Semmering--no insignia were
absent, save the family portraits in the gallery of Valleys House in
London. There was even an ancient duplicate of that yellow tattered
scroll royally, reconfirming lands and title to John, the most
distinguished of all the Caradocs, who had unfortunately neglected to
be born in wedlock, by one of those humorous omissions to be found in
the genealogies of most old families. Yes, it was there, almost
cynically hung in a corner; for this incident, though no doubt a
burning question in the fifteenth century, was now but staple for an
ironical little tale, in view of the fact that descendants of John's
'own' brother Edmund were undoubtedly to be found among the cottagers
of a parish not far distant.
Light, glancing from the suits of armour to the tiger skins beneath
them, brought from India but a year ago by Bertie Caradoc, the
younger son, seemed recording, how those, who had once been foremost
by virtue of that simple law of Nature which crowns the adventuring
and strong, now being almost washed aside out of the main stream of
national life, were compelled to devise adventure, lest they should
lose belief in their own strength.
The unsparing light of that first half-hour of summer morning
recorded many other changes, wandering from austere tapestries to the
velvety carpets, and dragging from the contrast sure proof of a
common sense which denied to the present Earl and Countess the
asceticisms of the past. And then it seemed to lose interest in this
critical journey, as though longing to clothe all in witchery. For
the sun had risen, and through the Eastern windows came pouring its
level and mysterious joy. And with it, passing in at an open
lattice, came a wild bee to settle among the flowers on the table
athwart the Eastern end, used when there was only a small party in
the house. The hours fled on silent, till the sun was high, and the
first visitors came--three maids, rosy, not silent, bringing brushes.
They passed, and were followed by two footmen--scouts of the
breakfast brigade, who stood for a moment professionally doing
nothing, then soberly commenced to set the table. Then came a little
girl of six, to see if there were anything exciting--little Ann
Shropton, child of Sir William Shropton by his marriage with Lady
Agatha, and eldest daughter of the house, the only one of the four
young Caradocs as yet wedded. She came on tiptoe, thinking to
surprise whatever was there. She had a broad little face, and wide
frank hazel eyes over a little nose that came out straight and
sudden. Encircled by a loose belt placed far below the waist of her
holland frock, as if to symbolize freedom, she seemed to think
everything in life good fun. And soon she found the exciting thing.
"Here's a bumble bee, William. Do you think I could tame it in my
little glass bog?"
"No, I don't, Miss Ann; and look out, you'll be stung!"
"It wouldn't sting me."
"Because it wouldn't."
"Of course--if you say so----"
"What time is the motor ordered?"
"I'm going with Grandpapa as far as the gate."
"Suppose he says you're not?"
"Well, then I shall go all the same."
"I might go all the way with him to London! Is Auntie Babs going?"
"No, I don't think anybody is going with his lordship."
"I would, if she were. William!"
"Is Uncle Eustace sure to be elected ?"
"Of course he is."
"Do you think he'll be a good Member of Parliament?"
"Lord Miltoun is very clever, Miss Ann."
"Well, don't you think so?"
"Does Charles think so?"
"I don't like London. I like here, and I like Cotton, and I like
home pretty well, and I love Pendridny--and--I like Ravensham."
"His lordship is going to Ravensham to-day on his way up, I heard
"Oh! then he'll see great-granny. William----"
"Here's Miss Wallace."
>From the doorway a lady with a broad pale patient face said:
"All right! Hallo, Simmons!"
The entering butler replied:
"Hallo, Miss Ann!"
"I've got to go."
"I'm sure we're very sorry."
The door banged faintly, and in the great room rose the busy silence
of those minutes which precede repasts. Suddenly the four men by the
breakfast fable stood back. Lord Valleys had come in.
He approached slowly, reading a blue paper, with his level grey eyes
divided by a little uncharacteristic frown. He had a tanned yet
ruddy, decisively shaped face, with crisp hair and moustache
beginning to go iron-grey--the face of a man who knows his own mind
and is contented with that knowledge. His figure too, well-braced
and upright, with the back of the head carried like a soldier's,
confirmed the impression, not so much of self-sufficiency, as of the
sufficiency of his habits of life and thought. And there was
apparent about all his movements that peculiar unconsciousness of his
surroundings which comes to those who live a great deal in the public
eye, have the material machinery of existence placed exactly to their
hands, and never need to consider what others think of them. Taking
his seat, and still perusing the paper, he at once began to eat what
was put before him; then noticing that his eldest daughter had come
in and was sitting down beside him, he said:
"Bore having to go up in such weather!"
"Is it a Cabinet meeting?"
"Yes. This confounded business of the balloons." But the rather
anxious dark eyes of Agatha's delicate narrow face were taking in the
details of a tray for keeping dishes warm on a sideboard, and she was
thinking: "I believe that would be better than the ones I've got,
after all. If William would only say whether he really likes these
large trays better than single hot-water dishes!" She contrived how-
ever to ask in her gentle voice--for all her words and movements were
gentle, even a little timid, till anything appeared to threaten the
welfare of her husband or children:
"Do you think this war scare good for Eustace's prospects, Father?"
But her father did not answer; he was greeting a new-comer, a tall,
fine-looking young man, with dark hair and a fair moustache, between
whom and himself there was no relationship, yet a certain negative
resemblance. Claud Fresnay, Viscount Harbinger, was indeed also a
little of what is called the 'Norman' type--having a certain firm
regularity of feature, and a slight aquilinity of nose high up on the
bridge--but that which in the elder man seemed to indicate only an
unconscious acceptance of self as a standard, in the younger man gave
an impression at once more assertive and more uneasy, as though he
were a little afraid of not chaffing something all the time.
Behind him had come in a tall woman, of full figure and fine
presence, with hair still brown--Lady Valleys herself. Though her
eldest son was thirty, she was, herself, still little more than
fifty. From her voice, manner, and whole personality, one might
suspect that she had been an acknowledged beauty; but there was now
more than a suspicion of maturity about her almost jovial face, with
its full grey-blue eyes; and coarsened complexion. Good comrade, and
essentially 'woman of the world,' was written on every line of her,
and in every tone of her voice. She was indeed a figure suggestive
of open air and generous living, endowed with abundant energy, and
not devoid of humour. It was she who answered Agatha's remark.
"Of course, my dear, the very best thing possible."
Lord Harbinger chimed in:
"By the way, Brabrook's going to speak on it. Did you ever hear him,
Lady Agatha? 'Mr. Speaker, Sir, I rise--and with me rises the
But Agatha only smiled, for she was thinking:
"If I let Ann go as far as the gate, she'll only make it a stepping-
stone to something else to-morrow." Taking no interest in public
affairs, her inherited craving for command had resorted for
expression to a meticulous ordering of household matters. It was
indeed a cult with her, a passion--as though she felt herself a sort
of figurehead to national domesticity; the leader of a patriotic
Lord Valleys, having finished what seemed necessary, arose.
"Any message to your mother, Gertrude?"
"No, I wrote last night."
"Tell Miltoun to keep--an eye on that Mr. Courtier. I heard him
speak one day--he's rather good."
Lady Valleys, who had not yet sat down, accompanied her husband to
"By the way, I've told Mother about this woman, Geoff."
"Was it necessary?"
"Well, I think so; I'm uneasy--after all, Mother has some influence
Lord Valleys shrugged his shoulders, and slightly squeezing his
wife's arm, went out.
Though himself vaguely uneasy on that very subject, he was a man who
did not go to meet disturbance. He had the nerves which seem to be
no nerves at all--especially found in those of his class who have
much to do with horses. He temperamentally regarded the evil of the
day as quite sufficient to it. Moreover, his eldest son was a riddle
that he had long given up, so far as women were concerned.
Emerging into the outer hall, he lingered a moment, remembering that
he had not seen his younger and favourite daughter.
"Lady Barbara down yet?" Hearing that she was not, he slipped into
the motor coat held for him by Simmons, and stepped out under the
white portico, decorated by the Caradoc hawks in stone.
The voice of little Ann reached him, clear and high above the
smothered whirring of the car.
"Come on, Grandpapa!"
Lord Valleys grimaced beneath his crisp moustache--the word grandpapa
always fell queerly on the ears of one who was but fifty-six, and by
no means felt it--and jerking his gloved hand towards Ann, he said:
"Send down to the lodge gate for this."
The voice of little Ann answered loudly:
"No; I'm coming back by myself."
The car starting, drowned discussion.
Lord Valleys, motoring, somewhat pathetically illustrated the
invasion of institutions by their destroyer, Science. A supporter of
the turf, and not long since Master of Foxhounds, most of whose soul
(outside politics) was in horses, he had been, as it were, compelled
by common sense, not only to tolerate, but to take up and even press
forward the cause of their supplanters. His instinct of self-
preservation was secretly at work, hurrying him to his own
destruction; forcing him to persuade himself that science and her
successive victories over brute nature could be wooed into the
service of a prestige which rested on a crystallized and stationary
base. All this keeping pace with the times, this immersion in the
results of modern discoveries, this speeding-up of existence so that
it was all surface and little root--the increasing volatility,
cosmopolitanism, and even commercialism of his life, on which he
rather prided himself as a man of the world--was, with a secrecy too
deep for his perception, cutting at the aloofness logically demanded
of one in his position. Stubborn, and not spiritually subtle, though
by no means dull in practical matters, he was resolutely letting the
waters bear him on, holding the tiller firmly, without perceiving
that he was in the vortex of a whirlpool. Indeed, his common sense
continually impelled him, against the sort of reactionaryism of which
his son Miltoun had so much, to that easier reactionaryism, which,
living on its spiritual capital, makes what material capital it can
out of its enemy, Progress.
He drove the car himself, shrewd and self-contained, sitting easily,
with his cap well drawn over those steady eyes; and though this
unexpected meeting of the Cabinet in the Whitsuntide recess was not
only a nuisance, but gave food for anxiety, he was fully able to
enjoy the swift smooth movement through the summer air, which met him
with such friendly sweetness under the great trees of the long
avenue. Beside him, little Ann was silent, with her legs stuck out
rather wide apart. Motoring was a new excitement, for at home it was
forbidden; and a meditative rapture shone in her wide eyes above her
sudden little nose. Only once she spoke, when close to the lodge the
car slowed down, and they passed the lodge-keeper's little daughter.
There was no answer, but the look on Susie's small pale face was so
humble and adoring that Lord Valleys, not a very observant man,
noticed it with a sort of satisfaction. "Yes," he thought, somewhat
irrelevantly, "the country is sound at heart!"
At Ravensham House on the borders of Richmond Park, suburban seat of
the Casterley family, ever since it became usual to have a residence
within easy driving distance of Westminster--in a large conservatory
adjoining the hall, Lady Casterley stood in front of some Japanese
lilies. She was a slender, short old woman, with an ivory-coloured
face, a thin nose, and keen eyes half-veiled by delicate wrinkled
lids. Very still, in her grey dress, and with grey hair, she gave
the impression of a little figure carved out of fine, worn steel.
Her firm, spidery hand held a letter written in free somewhat
"MY DEAR, MOTHER,
"Geoffrey is motoring up to-morrow. He'll look in on you on the way
if he can. This new war scare has taken him up. I shan't be in Town
myself till Miltoun's election is over. The fact is, I daren't leave
him down here alone. He sees his 'Anonyma' every day. That Mr.
Courtier, who wrote the book against War--rather cool for a man who's
been a soldier of fortune, don't you think?--is staying at the inn,
working for the Radical. He knows her, too--and, one can only hope,
for Miltoun's sake, too well--an attractive person, with red
moustaches, rather nice and mad. Bertie has just come down; I must
get him to have a talk with Miltoun, and see if he cant find out how
the land lies. One can trust Bertie--he's really very astute. I
must say, that she's quite a sweet-looking woman; but absolutely
nothing's known of her here except that she divorced her husband.
How does one find out about people? Miltoun's being so
extraordinarily strait-laced makes it all the more awkward. The
earnestness of this rising generation is most remarkable. I don't
remember taking such a serious view of life in my youth."
Lady Casterley lowered the coronetted sheet of paper. The ghost of a
grimace haunted her face--she had not forgotten her daughter's youth.
Raising the letter again, she read on:
"I'm sure Geoffrey and I feel years younger than either Miltoun or
Agatha, though we did produce them. One doesn't feel it with Bertie
or Babs, luckily. The war scare is having an excellent effect on
Miltoun's candidature. Claud Harbinger is with us, too, working for
Miltoun; but, as a matter of fact, I think he's after Babs. It's
rather melancholy, when you think that Babs isn't quite twenty--
still, one can't expect anything else, I suppose, with her looks; and
Claud is rather a fine specimen. They talk of him a lot now; he's
quite coming to the fore among the young Tories."
Lady Casterley again lowered the letter, and stood listening. A
prolonged, muffled sound as of distant cheering and groans had
penetrated the great conservatory, vibrating among the pale petals of
the lilies and setting free their scent in short waves of perfume.
She passed into the hall; where, stood an old man with sallow face
and long white whiskers.
"What was that noise, Clifton?"
"A posse of Socialists, my lady, on their way to Putney to hold a
demonstration; the people are hooting them. They've got blocked just
outside the gates."
"Are they making speeches?"
"They are talking some kind of rant, my lady."
"I'll go and hear them. Give me my black stick."
Above the velvet-dark, flat-toughed cedar trees, which rose like
pagodas of ebony on either side of the drive, the sky hung lowering
in one great purple cloud, endowed with sinister life by a single
white beam striking up into it from the horizon. Beneath this canopy
of cloud a small phalanx of dusty, dishevelled-looking men and women
were drawn up in the road, guarding, and encouraging with cheers, a
tall, black-coated orator. Before and behind this phalanx, a little
mob of men and boys kept up an accompaniment of groans and jeering.
Lady Casterley and her 'major-domo' stood six paces inside the
scrolled iron gates, and watched. The slight, steel-coloured figure
with steel-coloured hair, was more arresting in its immobility than
all the vociferations and gestures of the mob. Her eyes alone moved
under their half-drooped lids; her right hand clutched tightly the
handle of her stick. The speaker's voice rose in shrill protest
against the exploitation of 'the people'; it sank in ironical comment
on Christianity; it demanded passionately to be free from the
continuous burden of 'this insensate militarist taxation'; it
threatened that the people would take things info their own hands.
Lady Casterley turned her head:
"He is talking nonsense, Clifton. It is going to rain. I shall go
Under the stone porch she paused. The purple cloud had broken; a
blind fury of rain was deluging the fast-scattering crowd. A faint
smile came on Lady Casterley's lips.
"It will do them good to have their ardour damped a little. You will
get wet, Clifton--hurry! I expect Lord Valleys to dinner. Have a
room got ready for him to dress. He's motoring from Monkland."
In a very high, white-pannelled room, with but little furniture, Lord
Valleys greeted his mother-in-law respectfully.
"Motored up in nine hours, Ma'am--not bad going."
"I am glad you came. When is Miltoun's election?"
"On the twenty-ninth."
"Pity! He should be away from Monkland, with that--anonymous woman
"Ah! yes; you've heard of her!"
Lady Casterley replied sharply:
"You're too easy-going, Geoffrey."
Lord Valleys smiled.
"These war scares," he said, "are getting a bore. Can't quite make
out what the feeling of the country is about them."
Lady Casterley rose:
"It has none. When war comes, the feeling will be all right. It
always is. Give me your arm. Are you hungry?"...
When Lord Valleys spoke of war, he spoke as one who, since he arrived
at years of discretion, had lived within the circle of those who
direct the destinies of States. It was for him--as for the lilies in
the great glass house--impossible to see with the eyes, or feel with
the feelings of a flower of the garden outside. Soaked in the best
prejudices and manners of his class, he lived a life no more shut off
from the general than was to be expected. Indeed, in some sort, as a
man of facts and common sense, he was fairly in touch with the
opinion of the average citizen. He was quite genuine when he said
that he believed he knew what the people wanted better than those who
prated on the subject; and no doubt he was right, for temperamentally
he was nearer to them than their own leaders, though he would not
perhaps have liked to be told so. His man-of-the-world, political
shrewdness had been superimposed by life on a nature whose prime
strength was its practicality and lack of imagination. It was his
business to be efficient, but not strenuous, or desirous of pushing
ideas to their logical conclusions; to be neither narrow nor
puritanical, so long as the shell of 'good form' was preserved
intact; to be a liberal landlord up to the point of not seriously
damaging his interests; to be well-disposed towards the arts until
those arts revealed that which he had not before perceived; it was
his business to have light hands, steady eyes, iron nerves, and those
excellent manners that have no mannerisms. It was his nature to be
easy-going as a husband; indulgent as a father; careful and
straightforward as a politician; and as a man, addicted to pleasure,
to work, and to fresh air. He admired, and was fond of his wife, and
had never regretted his marriage. He had never perhaps regretted
anything, unless it were that he had not yet won the Derby, or quite
succeeded in getting his special strain of blue-ticked pointers to
breed absolutely true to type. His mother-in-law he respected, as
one might respect a principle.
There was indeed in the personality of that little old lady the
tremendous force of accumulated decision--the inherited assurance of
one whose prestige had never been questioned; who, from long
immunity, and a certain clear-cut matter-of-factness, bred by the
habit of command, had indeed lost the power of perceiving that her
prestige ever could be questioned. Her knowledge of her own mind was
no ordinary piece of learning, had not, in fact, been learned at all,
but sprang full-fledged from an active dominating temperament.
Fortified by the necessity, common to her class, of knowing
thoroughly the more patent side of public affairs; armoured by the
tradition of a culture demanded by leadership; inspired by ideas, but
always the same ideas; owning no master, but in servitude to her own
custom of leading, she had a mind, formidable as the two-edged swords
wielded by her ancestors the Fitz-Harolds, at Agincourt or Poitiers--
a mind which had ever instinctively rejected that inner knowledge of
herself or of the selves of others; produced by those foolish
practices of introspection, contemplation, and understanding, so
deleterious to authority. If Lord Valleys was the body of the
aristocratic machine, Lady Casterley was the steel spring inside it.
All her life studiously unaffected and simple in attire; of plain and
frugal habit; an early riser; working at something or other from
morning till night, and as little worn-out at seventy-eight as most
women of fifty, she had only one weak spot--and that was her
strength--blindness as to the nature and size of her place in the
scheme of things. She was a type, a force.
Wonderfully well she went with the room in which they were dining,
whose grey walls, surmounted by a deep frieze painted somewhat in the
style of Fragonard, contained many nymphs and roses now rather dim;
with the furniture, too, which had a look of having survived into
times not its own. On the tables were no flowers, save five lilies
in an old silver chalice; and on the wall over the great sideboard a
portrait of the late Lord Casterley.
"I hope Miltoun is taking his own line?"
"That's the trouble. He suffers from swollen principles--only wish
he could keep them out of his speeches."
"Let him be; and get him away from that woman as soon as his
election's over. What is her real name?"
"Mrs. something Lees Noel."
"How long has she been there?"
"About a year, I think."
"And you don't know anything about her?"
Lord Valleys raised his shoulders.
"Ah!" said Lady Casterley; "exactly! You're letting the thing drift.
I shall go down myself. I suppose Gertrude can have me? What has
that Mr. Courtier to do with this good lady?"
Lord Valleys smiled. In this smile was the whole of his polite and
easy-going philosophy. "I am no meddler," it seemed to say; and at
sight of that smile Lady Casterley tightened her lips.
"He is a firebrand," she said. "I read that book of his against War-
-most inflammatory. Aimed at Grant-and Rosenstern, chiefly. I've
just seen, one of the results, outside my own gates. A mob of anti-
Lord Valleys controlled a yawn.
"Really? I'd no idea Courtier had any influence."
"He is dangerous. Most idealists are negligible-his book was
"I wish to goodness we could see the last of these scares, they only
make both countries look foolish," muttered Lord Valleys.
Lady Casterley raised her glass, full of a bloody red wine. "The war
would save us," she said.
"War is no joke."
"It would be the beginning of a better state of things."
"You think so?"
"We should get the lead again as a nation, and Democracy would be put
back fifty years."
Lord Valleys made three little heaps of salt, and paused to count
them; then, with a slight uplifting of his eyebrows, which seemed to
doubt what he was going to say, he murmured: "I should have said that
we were all democrats nowadays.... What is it, Clifton?"
"Your chauffeur would like to know, what time you will have the car?"
"Directly after dinner."
Twenty minutes later, he was turning through the scrolled iron gates
into the road for London. It was falling dark; and in the tremulous
sky clouds were piled up, and drifted here and there with a sort of
endless lack of purpose. No direction seemed to have been decreed
unto their wings. They had met together in the firmament like a
flock of giant magpies crossing and re-crossing each others' flight.
The smell of rain was in the air. The car raised no dust, but bored
swiftly on, searching out the road with its lamps. On Putney Bridge
its march was stayed by a string of waggons. Lord Valleys looked to
right and left. The river reflected the thousand lights of buildings
piled along her sides, lamps of the embankments, lanterns of moored
barges. The sinuous pallid body of this great Creature, for ever
gliding down to the sea, roused in his mind no symbolic image. He
had had to do with her, years back, at the Board of Trade, and knew
her for what she was, extremely dirty, and getting abominably thin
just where he would have liked her plump. Yet, as he lighted a
cigar, there came to him a queer feeling--as if he were in the
presence of a woman he was fond of.
"I hope to God," he thought, "nothing'il come of these scares!" The
car glided on into the long road, swarming with traffic, towards the
fashionable heart of London. Outside stationers' shops, however, the
posters of evening papers were of no reassuring order.
'THE PLOT THICKENS.'
'GRAVE SITUATION THREATENED.'
And before each poster could be seen a little eddy in the stream of
the passers-by--formed by persons glancing at the news, and
disengaging themselves, to press on again. The Earl of Valleys
caught himself wondering what they thought of it! What was passing
behind those pale rounds of flesh turned towards the posters?
Did they think at all, these men and women in the street? What was
their attitude towards this vaguely threatened cataclysm? Face after
face, stolid and apathetic, expressed nothing, no active desire,
certainly no enthusiasm, hardly any dread. Poor devils! The thing,
after all, was no more within their control than it was within the
power of ants to stop the ruination of their ant-heap by some passing
boy! It was no doubt quite true, that the people had never had much
voice in the making of war. And the words of a Radical weekly, which
as an impartial man he always forced himself to read, recurred to
him. "Ignorant of the facts, hypnotized by the words 'Country' and
'Patriotism'; in the grip of mob-instinct and inborn prejudice
against the foreigner; helpless by reason of his patience, stoicism,
good faith, and confidence in those above him; helpless by reason of
his snobbery, mutual distrust, carelessness for the morrow, and lack
of public spirit-in the face of War how impotent and to be pitied is
the man in the street!" That paper, though clever, always seemed to
him intolerably hifalutin'!
It was doubtful whether he would get to Ascot this year. And his
mind flew for a moment to his promising two-year-old Casetta; then
dashed almost violently, as though in shame, to the Admiralty and the
doubt whether they were fully alive to possibilities. He himself
occupied a softer spot of Government, one of those almost nominal
offices necessary to qualify into the Cabinet certain tried minds,
for whom no more strenuous post can for the moment be found. From
the Admiralty again his thoughts leaped to his mother-in-law.
Wonderful old woman! What a statesman she would have made! Too
reactionary! Deuce of a straight line she had taken about Mrs. Lees
Noel! And with a connoisseur's twinge of pleasure he recollected
that lady's face and figure seen that morning as he passed her
cottage. Mysterious or not, the woman was certainly attractive!
Very graceful head with its dark hair waved back from the middle over
either temple--very charming figure, no lumber of any sort! Bouquet
about her! Some story or other, no doubt--no affair of his! Always
sorry for that sort of woman!
A regiment of Territorials returning from a march stayed the progress
of his car. He leaned forward watching them with much the same
contained, shrewd, critical look he would have bent on a pack of
hounds. All the mistiness and speculation in his mind was gone now.
Good stamp of man, would give a capital account of themselves! Their
faces, flushed by a day in the open, were masked with passivity, or,
with a half-aggressive, half-jocular self-consciousness; they were
clearly not troubled by abstract doubts, or any visions of the
horrors of war.
Someone raised a cheer 'for the Terriers!' Lord Valleys saw round him
a little sea of hats, rising and falling, and heard a sound, rather
shrill and tentative, swell into hoarse, high clamour, and suddenly
die out. "Seem keen enough!" he thought. "Very little does it!
Plenty of fighting spirit in the country." And again a thrill of
pleasure shot through him.
Then, as the last soldier passed, his car slowly forged its way
through the straggling crowd, pressing on behind the regiment--men of
all ages, youths, a few women, young girls, who turned their eyes on
him with a negligent stare as if their lives were too remote to
permit them to take interest in this passing man at ease.
At Monkland, that same hour, in the little whitewashed 'withdrawing-
room' of a thatched, whitewashed cottage, two men sat talking, one on
either side of the hearth; and in a low chair between them a dark-
eyed woman leaned back, watching, the tips of her delicate thin
fingers pressed together, or held out transparent towards the fire.
A log, dropping now and then, turned up its glowing underside; and
the firelight and the lamplight seemed so to have soaked into the
white walls that a wan warmth exuded. Silvery dun moths, fluttering
in from the dark garden, kept vibrating, like spun shillings, over a
jade-green bowl of crimson roses; and there was a scent, as ever in
that old thatched cottage, of woodsmoke, flowers, and sweetbriar.
The man on the left was perhaps forty, rather above middle height,
vigorous, active, straight, with blue eyes and a sanguine face that
glowed on small provocation. His hair was very bright, almost red,
and his fiery moustaches which descended to the level of his chin,
like Don Quixote's seemed bristling and charging.
The man on the right was nearer thirty, evidently tall, wiry, and
very thin. He sat rather crumpled, in his low armchair, with hands
clasped round a knee; and a little crucified smile haunted the lips
of his lean face, which, with its parchmenty, tanned, shaven cheeks,
and deep-set, very living eyes, had a certain beauty.
These two men, so extravagantly unlike, looked at each other like
neighbouring dogs, who, having long decided that they are better
apart, suddenly find that they have met at some spot where they
cannot possibly have a fight. And the woman watched; the owner, as
it were, of one, but who, from sheer love of dogs, had always stroked
and patted the other.
"So, Mr. Courtier," said the younger man, whose dry, ironic voice,
like his smile, seemed defending the fervid spirit in his eyes; "all
you say only amounts, you see, to a defence of the so-called Liberal
spirit; and, forgive my candour, that spirit, being an importation
from the realms of philosophy and art, withers the moment it touches
The man with the red moustaches laughed; the sound was queer--at once
so genial and so sardonic.
"Well put!" he said: "And far be it from me to gainsay. But since
compromise is the very essence of politics, high-priests of caste and
authority, like you, Lord Miltoun, are every bit as much out of it as
any Liberal professor."
"I don't agree!"
"Agree or not, your position towards public affairs is very like the
Church's attitude towards marriage and divorce; as remote from the
realities of life as the attitude of the believer in Free Love, and
not more likely to catch on. The death of your point of view lies in
itself--it's too dried-up and far from things ever to understand
them. If you don't understand you can never rule. You might just as
well keep your hands in your pockets, as go into politics with your
"I fear we must continue to agree to differ."
"Well; perhaps I do pay you too high a compliment. After all, you
are a patrician."
"You speak in riddles, Mr. Courtier."
The dark-eyed woman stirred; her hands gave a sort of flutter, as
though in deprecation of acerbity.
Rising at once, and speaking in a deferential voice, the elder man
"We're tiring Mrs. Noel. Good-night, Audrey, It's high time I was
off." Against the darkness of the open French window, he turned
round to fire a parting shot.
"What I meant, Lord Miltoun, was that your class is the driest and
most practical in the State--it's odd if it doesn't save you from a
poet's dreams. Good-night!" He passed out on to the lawn, and
The young man sat unmoving; the glow of the fire had caught his face,
so that a spirit seemed clinging round his lips, gleaming out of his
eyes. Suddenly he said:
"Do you believe that, Mrs. Noel?"
For answer Audrey Noel smiled, then rose and went over to the window.
"Look at my dear toad! It comes here every evening!"
On a flagstone of the verandah, in the centre of the stream of
lamplight, sat a little golden toad. As Miltoun came to look, it
waddled to one side, and vanished.
"How peaceful your garden is!" he said; then taking her hand, he very
gently raised it to his lips, and followed his opponent out into the
Truly peace brooded over that garden. The Night seemed listening--
all lights out, all hearts at rest. It watched, with a little white
star for every tree, and roof, and slumbering tired flower, as a
mother watches her sleeping child, leaning above him and counting
with her love every hair of his head, and all his tiny tremors.
Argument seemed child's babble indeed under the smile of Night. And
the face of the woman, left alone at her window, was a little like
the face of this warm, sweet night. It was sensitive, harmonious;
and its harmony was not, as in some faces, cold--but seemed to
tremble and glow and flutter, as though it were a spirit which had
found its place of resting.
In her garden,--all velvety grey, with black shadows beneath the yew-
trees, the white flowers alone seemed to be awake, and to look at her
wistfully. The trees stood dark and still. Not even the night birds
stirred. Alone, the little stream down in the bottom raised its
voice, privileged when day voices were hushed.
It was not in Audrey Noel to deny herself to any spirit that was
abroad; to repel was an art she did not practise. But this night,
though the Spirit of Peace hovered so near, she did not seem to know
it. Her hands trembled, her cheeks were burning; her breast heaved,
and sighs fluttered from her lips, just parted.
Eustace Cardoc, Viscount Miltoun, had lived a very lonely life, since
he first began to understand the peculiarities of existence. With
the exception of Clifton, his grandmother's 'majordomo,' he made, as
a small child, no intimate friend. His nurses, governesses, tutors,
by their own confession did not understand him, finding that he took
himself with unnecessary seriousness; a little afraid, too, of one
whom they discovered to be capable of pushing things to the point of
enduring pain in silence. Much of that early time was passed at
Ravensham, for he had always been Lady Casterley's favourite
grandchild. She recognized in him the purposeful austerity which had
somehow been omitted from the composition of her daughter. But only
to Clifton, then a man of fifty with a great gravity and long black
whiskers, did Eustace relieve his soul. "I tell you this, Clifton,"
he would say, sitting on the sideboard, or the arm of the big chair
in Clifton's room, or wandering amongst the raspberries, "because you
are my friend."
And Clifton, with his head a little on one side, and a sort of wise
concern at his 'friend's' confidences, which were sometimes of an
embarrassing description, would answer now and then: "Of course, my
lord," but more often: "Of course, my dear."
There was in this friendship something fine and suitable, neither of
these 'friends' taking or suffering liberties, and both being
interested in pigeons, which they would stand watching with a
In course of time, following the tradition of his family, Eustace
went to Harrow. He was there five years--always one of those boys a
little out at wrists and ankles, who may be seen slouching, solitary,
along the pavement to their own haunts, rather dusty, and with one
shoulder slightly raised above the other, from the habit of carrying
something beneath one arm. Saved from being thought a 'smug,' by his
title, his lack of any conspicuous scholastic ability, his obvious
independence of what was thought of him, and a sarcastic tongue,
which no one was eager to encounter, he remained the ugly duckling
who refused to paddle properly in the green ponds of Public School
tradition. He played games so badly that in sheer self-defence his
fellows permitted him to play without them. Of 'fives' they made an
exception, for in this he attained much proficiency, owing to a
certain windmill-like quality of limb. He was noted too for daring
chemical experiments, of which he usually had one or two brewing,
surreptitiously at first, and afterwards by special permission of his
house-master, on the principle that if a room must smell, it had
better smell openly. He made few friendships, but these were
His Latin was so poor, and his Greek verse so vile, that all had been
surprised when towards the finish of his career he showed a very
considerable power of writing and speaking his own language. He left
school without a pang. But when in the train he saw the old Hill and
the old spire on the top of it fading away from him, a lump rose in
his throat, he swallowed violently two or three times, and, thrusting
himself far back into the carriage corner, appeared to sleep.
At Oxford, he was happier, but still comparatively lonely; remaining,
so long as custom permitted, in lodgings outside his College, and
clinging thereafter to remote, panelled rooms high up, overlooking
the gardens and a portion of the city wall. It was at Oxford that he
first developed that passion for self-discipline which afterwards
distinguished him. He took up rowing; and, though thoroughly
unsuited by nature to this pastime, secured himself a place in his
College 'torpid.' At the end of a race he was usually supported from
his stretcher in a state of extreme extenuation, due to having pulled
the last quarter of the course entirely with his spirit. The same
craving for self-discipline guided him in the choice of Schools; he
went out in 'Greats,' for which, owing to his indifferent mastery of
Greek and Latin, he was the least fitted. With enormous labour he
took a very good degree. He carried off besides, the highest
distinctions of the University for English Essays. The ordinary
circles of College life knew nothing of him. Not once in the whole
course of his University career, was he the better for wine. He, did
not hunt; he never talked of women, and none talked of women in his
presence. But now and then he was visited by those gusts which come
to the ascetic, when all life seemed suddenly caught up and devoured
by a flame burning night and day, and going out mercifully, he knew
not why, like a blown candle. However unsocial in the proper sense
of the word, he by no means lacked company in these Oxford days. He
knew many, both dons and undergraduates. His long stride, and
determined absence of direction, had severely tried all those who
could stomach so slow a pastime as walking for the sake of talking.
The country knew him--though he never knew the country--from Abingdon
to Bablock Hythe. His name stood high, too, at the Union, where he
made his mark during his first term in a debate on a 'Censorship of
Literature' which he advocated with gloom, pertinacity, and a certain
youthful brilliance that might well have carried the day, had not an
Irishman got up and pointed out the danger hanging over the Old
Testament. To that he had retorted: "Better, sir, it should run a
risk than have no risk to run." From which moment he was notable.
He stayed up four years, and went down with a sense of bewilderment
and loss. The matured verdict of Oxford on this child of hers, was
"Eustace Miltoun! Ah! Queer bird! Will make his mark!"
He had about this time an interview with his father which confirmed
the impression each had formed of the other. It took place in the
library at Monkland Court, on a late November afternoon.
The light of eight candles in thin silver candlesticks, four on
either side of the carved stone hearth, illumined that room. Their
gentle radiance penetrated but a little way into the great dark space
lined with books, panelled and floored with black oak, where the
acrid fragrance of leather and dried roseleaves seemed to drench the,
very soul with the aroma of the past. Above the huge fireplace, with
light falling on one side of his shaven face, hung a portrait--
painter unknown--of that Cardinal Caradoc who suffered for his faith
in the sixteenth century. Ascetic, crucified, with a little smile
clinging to the lips and deep-set eyes, he presided, above the
bluefish flames of a log fire.
Father and son found some difficulty in beginning.
Each of those two felt as though he were in the presence of someone
else's very near relation. They had, in fact, seen extremely little
of each other, and not seen that little long.
Lord Valleys uttered the first remark:
"Well, my dear fellow, what are you going to do now? I think we can
make certain of this seat down here, if you like to stand."
Miltoun had answered: "Thanks, very much; I don't think so at
Through the thin fume of his cigar Lord Valleys watched that long
figure sunk deep in the chair opposite.
"Why not?" he said. "You can't begin too soon; unless you think you
ought to go round the world."
"Before I can become a man of it?"
Lord Valleys gave a rather disconcerted laugh.
"There's nothing in politics you can't pick up as you go along," he
said. "How old are you?"
"You look older." A faint line, as of contemplation, rose between
his eyes. Was it fancy that a little smile was hovering about
"I've got a foolish theory," came from those lips, "that one must
know the conditions first. I want to give at least five years to
Lord Valleys raised his eyebrows. "Waste of time," he said. "You'd
know more at the end of it, if you went into the House at once. You
take the matter too seriously."
For fully a minute Lord Valleys made no answer; he felt almost
ruffled. Waiting till the sensation had passed, he said: "Well, my
dear fellow, as you please."
Miltoun's apprenticeship to the profession of politics was served in
a slum settlement; on his father's estates; in Chambers at the
Temple; in expeditions to Germany, America, and the British Colonies;
in work at elections; and in two forlorn hopes to capture a
constituency which could be trusted not to change its principles. He
read much, slowly, but with conscientious tenacity, poetry, history,
and works on philosophy, religion, and social matters.
Fiction, and especially foreign fiction, he did not care for. With
the utmost desire to be wide and impartial, he sucked in what
ministered to the wants of his nature, rejecting unconsciously all
that by its unsuitability endangered the flame of his private spirit.
What he read, in fact, served only to strengthen those profounder
convictions which arose from his temperament. With a contempt of the
vulgar gewgaws of wealth and rank he combined a humble but intense
and growing conviction of his capacity for leadership, of a spiritual
superiority to those whom he desired to benefit. There was no trace,
indeed, of the common Pharisee in Miltoun, he was simple and direct;
but his eyes, his gestures, the whole man, proclaimed the presence of
some secret spring of certainty, some fundamental well into which no
disturbing glimmers penetrated. He was not devoid of wit, but he was
devoid of that kind of wit which turns its eyes inward, and sees
something of the fun that lies in being what you are. Miltoun saw
the world and all the things thereof shaped like spires--even when
they were circles. He seemed to have no sense that the Universe was
equally compounded of those two symbols, whose point of
reconciliation had not yet been discovered.
Such was he, then, when the Member for his native division was made a
He had reached the age of thirty without ever having been in love,
leading a life of almost savage purity, with one solitary breakdown.
Women were afraid of him. And he was perhaps a little afraid of
woman. She was in theory too lovely and desirable--the half-moon.
in a summer sky; in practice too cloying, or too harsh. He had an
affection for Barbara, his younger sister; but to his mother, his
grandmother, or his elder sister Agatha, he had never felt close. It
was indeed amusing to see Lady Valleys with her first-born. Her fine
figure, the blown roses of her face, her grey-blue eyes which had a
slight tendency to roll, as though amusement just touched with
naughtiness bubbled behind them; were reduced to a queer, satirical
decorum in Miltoun's presence. Thoughts and sayings verging on the
risky were characteristic of her robust physique, of her soul which
could afford to express almost ail that occurred to it. Miltoun had
never, not even as a child, given her his confidence. She bore him
no resentment, being of that large, generous build in body and mind,
rarely--never in her class--associated with the capacity for feeling
aggrieved or lowered in any estimation, even its own. He was, and
always had been, an odd boy, and there was an end of it! Nothing had
perhaps so disconcerted Lady Valleys as his want of behaviour in
regard to women. She felt it abnormal, just as she recognized the
essential if duly veiled normality of her husband and younger son.
It was this feeling which made her realize almost more vividly than
she had time for, in the whirl of politics and fashion, the danger of
his friendship with this lady to whom she alluded so discreetly as
Pure chance had been responsible for the inception of that
friendship. Going one December afternoon to the farmhouse of a
tenant, just killed by a fall from his horse, Miltoun had found the
widow in a state of bewildered grief, thinly cloaked in the manner of
one who had almost lost the power to express her feelings, and quite
lost it in presence of 'the gentry.' Having assured the poor soul
that she need have no fear about her tenancy, he was just leaving,
when he met, in the stone-flagged entrance, a lady in a fur cap and
jacket, carrying in her arms a little crying boy, bleeding from a cut
on the forehead. Taking him from her and placing him on a table in
the parlour, Miltoun looked at this lady, and saw that she was
extremely grave, and soft, and charming. He inquired of her whether
the mother should be told.
She shook her head.
"Poor thing, not just now: let's wash it, and bind it up first."
Together therefore they washed and bound up the cut. Having
finished, she looked at Miltoun, and seemed to say: "You would do the
telling so much better than I"
He, therefore, told the mother and was rewarded by a little smile
from the grave lady.
>From that meeting he took away the knowledge of her name, Audrey Lees
Noel, and the remembrance of a face, whose beauty, under a cap of
squirrel's fur, pursued him. Some days later passing by the village
green, he saw her entering a garden gate. On this occasion he had
asked her whether she would like her cottage re-thatched; an
inspection of the roof had followed; he had stayed talking a long
time. Accustomed to women--over the best of whom, for all their
grace and lack of affectation, high-caste life had wrapped the manner
which seems to take all things for granted--there was a peculiar
charm for Miltoun in this soft, dark-eyed lady who evidently lived
quite out of the world, and had so poignant, and shy, a flavour.
Thus from a chance seed had blossomed swiftly one of those rare
friendships between lonely people, which can in short time fill great
spaces of two lives.
One day she asked him: "You know about me, I suppose?" Miltoun made
a motion of his head, signifying that he did. His informant had been
"Yes, I am told, her story is a sad one--a divorce."
"Do you mean that she has been divorced, or----"
For the fraction of a second the vicar perhaps had hesitated.
"Oh! no--no. Sinned against, I am sure. A nice woman, so far as I
have seen; though I'm afraid not one of my congregation."
With this, Miltoun, in whom chivalry had already been awakened, was
content. When she asked if he knew her story, he would not for the
world have had her rake up what was painful. Whatever that story,
she could not have been to blame. She had begun already to be shaped
by his own spirit; had become not a human being as it was, but an
expression of his aspiration....
On the third evening after his passage of arms with Courtier, he was
again at her little white cottage sheltering within its high garden
walls. Smothered in roses, and with a black-brown thatch overhanging
the old-fashioned leaded panes of the upper windows, it had an air of
hiding from the world. Behind, as though on guard, two pine trees
spread their dark boughs over the outhouses, and in any south-west
wind could be heard speaking gravely about the weather. Tall lilac
bushes flanked the garden, and a huge lime-tree in the adjoining
field sighed and rustled, or on still days let forth the drowsy hum
of countless small dusky bees who frequented that green hostelry.
He found her altering a dress, sitting over it in her peculiar
delicate fashion--as if all objects whatsoever, dresses, flowers,
books, music, required from her the same sympathy.
He had come from a long day's electioneering, had been heckled at two
meetings, and was still sore from the experience. To watch her, to
be soothed, and ministered to by her had never been so restful; and
stretched out in a long chair he listened to her playing.
Over the hill a Pierrot moon was slowly moving up in a sky the colour
of grey irises. And in a sort of trance Miltoun stared at the burnt-
out star, travelling in bright pallor.
Across the moor a sea of shallow mist was rolling; and the trees in
the valley, like browsing cattle, stood knee-deep in whiteness, with
all the air above them wan from an innumerable rain as of moondust,
falling into that white sea. Then the moon passed behind the lime-
tree, so that a great lighted Chinese lantern seemed to hang blue-
black from the sky.
Suddenly, jarring and shivering the music, came a sound of hooting.
It swelled, died away, and swelled again.
"That has spoiled my vision," he said. "Mrs. Noel, I have something
I want to say." But looking down at her, sitting so still, with her
hands resting on the keys, he was silent in sheer adoration.
A voice from the door ejaculated:
"Oh! ma'am--oh! my lord! They're devilling a gentleman on the
When the immortal Don set out to ring all the bells of merriment, he
was followed by one clown. Charles Courtier on the other hand had
always been accompanied by thousands, who really could not understand
the conduct of this man with no commercial sense. But though he
puzzled his contemporaries, they did not exactly laugh at him,
because it was reported that he had really killed some men, and loved
some women. They found such a combination irresistible, when coupled
with an appearance both vigorous and gallant. The son of an
Oxfordshire clergyman, and mounted on a lost cause, he had been
riding through the world ever since he was eighteen, without once
getting out of the saddle. The secret of this endurance lay perhaps
in his unconsciousness that he was in the saddle at all. It was as
much his natural seat as office stools to other mortals. He made no
capital out of errantry, his temperament being far too like his red-
gold hair, which people compared to flames, consuming all before
them. His vices were patent; too incurable an optimism; an
admiration for beauty such as must sometimes have caused him to
forget which woman he was most in love with; too thin a skin; too hot
a heart; hatred of humbug, and habitual neglect of his own interest.
Unmarried, and with many friends, and many enemies, he kept his body
like a sword-blade, and his soul always at white heat.
That one who admitted to having taken part in five wars should be
mixing in a by-election in the cause of Peace, was not so
inconsistent as might be supposed; for he had always fought on the
losing side, and there seemed to him at the moment no side so losing
as that of Peace. No great politician, he was not an orator, nor
even a glib talker; yet a quiet mordancy of tongue, and the white-hot
look in his eyes, never failed to make an impression of some kind on
There was, however, hardly a corner of England where orations on
behalf of Peace had a poorer chance than the Bucklandbury division.
To say that Courtier had made himself unpopular with its matter-of-
fact, independent, stolid, yet quick-tempered population, would be
inadequate. He had outraged their beliefs, and roused the most
profound suspicions. They could not, for the life of them, make out
what he was at. Though by his adventures and his book, "Peace-a lost
Cause," he was, in London, a conspicuous figure, they had naturally
never heard of him; and his adventure to these parts seemed to them
an almost ludicrous example of pure idea poking its nose into plain
facts--the idea that nations ought to, and could live in peace being
so very pure; and the fact that they never had, so very plain!
At Monkland, which was all Court estate, there were naturally but few
supporters of Miltoun's opponent, Mr. Humphrey Chilcox, and the
reception accorded to the champion of Peace soon passed from
curiosity to derision, from derision to menace, till Courtier's
attitude became so defiant, and his sentences so heated that he was
only saved from a rough handling by the influential interposition of
Yet when he began to address them he had felt irresistibly attracted.
They looked such capital, independent fellows. Waiting for his turn
to speak, he had marked them down as men after his own heart. For
though Courtier knew that against an unpopular idea there must
always be a majority, he never thought so ill of any individual as to
suppose him capable of belonging to that ill-omened body.
Surely these fine, independent fellows were not to be hoodwinked by
the jingoes! It had been one more disillusion. He had not taken it
lying down; neither had his audience. They dispersed without
forgiving; they came together again without having forgotten.
The village Inn, a little white building whose small windows were
overgrown with creepers, had a single guest's bedroom on the upper
floor, and a little sitting-room where Courtier took his meals. The
rest of the house was but stone-floored bar with a long wooden bench
against the back wall, whence nightly a stream of talk would issue,
all harsh a's, and sudden soft u's; whence too a figure, a little
unsteady, would now and again emerge, to a chorus of 'Gude naights,'
stand still under the ash-trees to light his pipe, then move slowly
But on that evening, when the trees, like cattle, stood knee-deep in
the moon-dust, those who came out from the bar-room did not go away;
they hung about in the shadows, and were joined by other figures
creeping furtively through the bright moonlight, from behind the Inn.
Presently more figures moved up from the lanes and the churchyard
path, till thirty or more were huddled there, and their stealthy
murmur of talk distilled a rare savour of illicit joy. Unholy
hilarity, indeed, seemed lurking in the deep tree-shadow, before the
wan Inn, whence from a single lighted window came forth the half-
chanting sound of a man's voice reading out loud. Laughter was
smothered, talk whispered.
"He'm a-practisin' his spaches." "Smoke the cunnin' old vox out!"
"Red pepper's the proper stuff." "See men sneeze! We've a-screed up
Then, as a face showed at the lighted window, a burst of harsh
laughter broke the hush.
He at the window was seen struggling violently to wrench away a bar.
The laughter swelled to hooting. The prisoner forced his way
through, dropped to the ground, rose, staggered, and fell.
A voice said sharply:
Out of the sounds of scuffling and scattering came the whisper: "His
lordship!" And the shade under the ash-trees became deserted, save
by the tall dark figure of a man, and a woman's white shape.
"Is that you, Mr. Courtier? Are you hurt?"
A chuckle rose from the recumbent figure.
"Only my knee. The beggars! They precious nearly choked me,
Bertie Caradoc, leaving the smoking-room at Monkland Court that same
evening,--on his way to bed, went to the Georgian corridor, where his
pet barometer was hanging. To look at the glass had become the
nightly habit of one who gave all the time he could spare from his
profession to hunting in the winter and to racing in the summer.'
The Hon. Hubert Caradoc, an apprentice to the calling of diplomacy,
more completely than any living Caradoc embodied the characteristic
strength and weaknesses of that family. He was of fair height, and
wiry build. His weathered face, under sleek, dark hair, had regular,
rather small features, and wore an expression of alert resolution,
masked by impassivity. Over his inquiring, hazel-grey eyes the lids
were almost religiously kept half drawn. He had been born reticent,
and great, indeed, was the emotion under which he suffered when the
whole of his eyes were visible. His nose was finely chiselled, and
had little flesh. His lips, covered by a small, dark moustache,
scarcely opened to emit his speeches, which were uttered in a voice
singularly muffled, yet unexpectedly quick. The whole personality
was that of a man practical, spirited, guarded, resourceful, with
great power of self-control, who looked at life as if she were a
horse under him, to whom he must give way just so far as was
necessary to keep mastery of her. A man to whom ideas were of no
value, except when wedded to immediate action; essentially neat;
demanding to be 'done well,' but capable of stoicism if necessary;
urbane, yet always in readiness to thrust; able only to condone the
failings and to compassionate the kinds of distress which his own
experience had taught him to understand. Such was Miltoun's younger
brother at the age of twenty-six.
Having noted that the glass was steady, he was about to seek the
stairway, when he saw at the farther end of the entrance-hall three
figures advancing arm-in-arm. Habitually both curious and wary, he
waited till they came within the radius of a lamp; then, seeing them
to be those of Miltoun and a footman, supporting between them a lame
man, he at once hastened forward.
"Have you put your knee out, sir? Hold on a minute! Get a chair,
Seating the stranger in this chair, Bertie rolled up the trouser, and
passed his fingers round the knee. There was a sort, of loving-
kindness in that movement, as of a hand which had in its time felt
the joints and sinews of innumerable horses.
"H'm!"he said; "can you stand a bit of a jerk? Catch hold of him
behind, Eustace. Sit down on the floor, Charles, and hold the legs
of the chair. Now then!" And taking up the foot, he pulled. There
was a click, a little noise of teeth ground together; and Bertie
said: "Good man--shan't have to have the vet. to you, this time."
Having conducted their lame guest to a room in the Georgian corridor
hastily converted to a bedroom, the two brothers presently left him
to the attentions of the footman.
"Well, old man," said Bertie, as they sought their rooms; "that's put
paid to his name--won't do you any more harm this journey. Good
plucked one, though!"
The report that Courtier was harboured beneath their roof went the
round of the family before breakfast, through the agency of one whose
practice it was to know all things, and to see that others partook of
that knowledge, Little Ann, paying her customary morning visit to her
mother's room, took her stand with face turned up and hands clasping
her belt, and began at once.
"Uncle Eustace brought a man last night with a wounded leg, and Uncle
Bertie pulled it out straight. William says that Charles says he
only made a noise like this"--there was a faint sound of small
chumping teeth: "And he's the man that's staying at the Inn, and the
stairs were too narrow to carry him up, William says; and if his knee
was put out he won't be able to walk without a stick for a long time.
Can I go to Father?"
Agatha, who was having her hair brushed, thought:
"I'm not sure whether belts so low as that are wholesome," murmured:
"Wait a minute!"
But little Ann was gone; and her voice could be heard in the
dressing-room climbing up towards Sir William, who from the sound of
his replies, was manifestly shaving. When Agatha, who never could
resist a legitimate opportunity of approaching her husband, looked
in, he was alone, and rather thoughtful--a tall man with a solid,
steady face and cautious eyes, not in truth remarkable except to his
"That fellow Courtier's caught by the leg," he said. "Don't know
what your Mother will say to an enemy in the camp."
"Isn't he a freethinker, and rather----"
Sir William, following his own thoughts, interrupted:
"Just as well, of course, so far as Miltoun's concerned, to have got
Agatha sighed: "Well, I suppose we shall have to be nice to him.
I'll tell Mother."
Sir William smiled.
"Ann will see to that," he said.
Ann was seeing to that.
Seated in the embrasure of the window behind the looking-glass, where
Lady Valleys was still occupied, she was saying:
"He fell out of the window because of the red pepper. Miss Wallace
says he is a hostage--what does hostage mean, Granny?"
When six years ago that word had first fallen on Lady Valleys' ears,
she had thought: "Oh! dear! Am I really Granny? "It had been a
shock, had seemed the end of so much; but the matter-of-fact heroism
of women, so much quicker to accept the inevitable than men, had soon
come to her aid, and now, unlike her husband, she did not care a bit.
For all that she answered nothing, partly because it was not
necessary to speak in order to sustain a conversation with little
Ann, and partly because she was deep in thought.
The man was injured! Hospitality, of course--especially since their
own tenants had committed the outrage! Still, to welcome a man who
had gone out of his way to come down here and stump the country
against her own son, was rather a tall order. It might have been
worse, no doubt. If; for instance, he had been some 'impossible'
Nonconformist Radical! This Mr. Courtier was a free lance--rather a
well-known man, an interesting creature. She must see that he felt
'at home' and comfortable. If he were pumped judiciously, no doubt
one could find out about this woman. Moreover, the acceptance of
their 'salt' would silence him politically if she knew anything of
that type of man, who always had something in him of the Arab's
creed. Her mind, that of a capable administrator, took in all the
practical significance of this incident, which, although untoward,
was not without its comic side to one disposed to find zest and
humour in everything that did not absolutely run counter to her
interests and philosophy.
The voice of little Ann broke in on her reflections.
"I'm going to Auntie Babs now."
"Very well; give me a kiss first."
Little Ann thrust up her face, so that its sudden little nose
penetrated Lady Valleys' soft curving lips....
When early that same afternoon Courtier, leaning on a stick, passed
from his room out on to the terrace, he was confronted by three
sunlit peacocks marching slowly across a lawn towards a statue of
Diana. With incredible dignity those birds moved, as if never in
their lives had they been hurried. They seemed indeed to know that
when they got there, there would be nothing for them to do but to
come back again. Beyond them, through the tall trees, over some
wooded foot-hills of the moorland and a promised land of pinkish
fields, pasture, and orchards, the prospect stretched to the far sea.
Heat clothed this view with a kind of opalescence, a fairy garment,
transmuting all values, so that the four square walls and tall
chimneys of the pottery-works a few miles down the valley seemed to
Courtier like a vision of some old fortified Italian town. His
sensations, finding himself in this galley, were peculiar. For his
feeling towards Miltoun, whom he had twice met at Mrs. Noel's, was,
in spite of disagreements, by no means unfriendly; while his feeling
towards Miltoun's family was not yet in existence. Having lived from
hand to mouth, and in many countries, since he left Westminster
School, he had now practically no class feelings. An attitude of
hostility to aristocracy because it was aristocracy, was as
incomprehensible to him as an attitude of deference.
His sensations habitually shaped themselves in accordance with those
two permanent requirements of his nature, liking for adventure, and
hatred of tyranny. The labourer who beat his wife, the shopman who
sweated his 'hands,' the parson who consigned his parishioners to
hell, the peer who rode roughshod--all were equally odious to him.
He thought of people as individuals, and it was, as it were, by
accident that he had conceived the class generalization which he had
fired back at Miltoun from Mrs. Noel's window. Sanguine, accustomed
to queer environments, and always catching at the moment as it flew,
he had not to fight with the timidities and irritations of a nervous
temperament. His cheery courtesy was only disturbed when he became
conscious of some sentiment which appeared to him mean or cowardly.
On such occasions, not perhaps infrequent, his face looked as if his
heart were physically fuming, and since his shell of stoicism was
never quite melted by this heat, a very peculiar expression was the
result, a sort of calm, sardonic, desperate, jolly look.
His chief feeling, then, at the outrage which had laid him captive in
the enemy's camp, was one of vague amusement, and curiosity. People
round about spoke fairly well of this Caradoc family. There did not
seem to be any lack of kindly feeling between them and their tenants;
there was said to be no griping destitution, nor any particular ill-
housing on their estate. And if the inhabitants were not encouraged
to improve themselves, they were at all events maintained at a
certain level, by steady and not ungenerous supervision. When a roof
required thatching it was thatched; when a man became too old to
work, he was not suffered to lapse into the Workhouse. In bad years
for wool, or beasts, or crops, the farmers received a graduated
remission of rent. The pottery-works were run on a liberal if
autocratic basis. It was true that though Lord Valleys was said to
be a staunch supporter of a 'back to the land' policy, no disposition
was shown to encourage people to settle on these particular lands, no
doubt from a feeling that such settlers would not do them so much
justice as their present owner. Indeed so firmly did this conviction
seemingly obtain, that Lord Valleys' agent was not unfrequently
observed to be buying a little bit more.
But, since in this life one notices only what interests him, all this
gossip, half complimentary, half not, had fallen but lightly on the
ears of the champion of Peace during his campaign, for he was, as
has, been said, but a poor politician, and rode his own horse very
much his own way.
While he stood there enjoying the view, he heard a small high voice,
and became conscious of a little girl in a very shady hat so far back
on her brown hair that it did not shade her; and of a small hand put
out in front. He took the hand, and answered:
"Thank you, I am well--and you?" perceiving the while that a pair of
wide frank eyes were examining his leg.
"Does it hurt?"
"Not to speak of."
"My pony's leg was blistered. Granny is coming to look at it."
"I have to go now. I hope you'll soon be better. Good-bye!"
Then, instead of the little girl, Courtier saw a tall and rather
florid woman regarding him with a sort of quizzical dignity. She
wore a stiffish fawn-coloured dress that seemed to be cut a little
too tight round her substantial hips, for it quite neglected to
embrace her knees. She had on no hat, no gloves, no ornaments,
except the rings on her fingers, and a little jewelled watch in a
leather bracelet on her wrist. There was, indeed, about her whole
figure an air of almost professional escape from finery.
Stretching out a well-shaped but not small hand, she said:
"I most heartily apologize to you, Mr. Courtier."
"Not at all."
"I do hope you're comfortable. Have they given you everything you
"More than everything."
"It really was disgraceful! However it's brought us the pleasure of
making your acquaintance. I've read your book, of course."
To Courtier it seemed that on this lady's face had come a look which
seemed to say: Yes, very clever and amusing, quite enjoyable! But
the ideas---- What? You know very well they won't do--in fact they
"That's very nice of you."
But into Lady Valleys' answer, "I don't agree with it a bit, you
know!" there had crept a touch of asperity, as though she knew that
he had smiled inside. "What we want preached in these days are the
warlike virtues--especially by a warrior."
"Believe me, Lady Valleys, the warlike virtues are best left to men
of more virgin imagination."
He received a quick look, and the words: "Anyway, I'm sure you don't
care a rap for politics. You know Mrs. Lees Noel, don't you? What a
pretty woman she is!"
But as she spoke Courtier saw a young girl coming along the terrace.
She had evidently been riding, for she wore high boots and a skirt
which had enabled her to sit astride. Her eyes were blue, and her
hair--the colour of beech-leaves in autumn with the sun shining
through--was coiled up tight under a small soft hat. She was tall,
and moved towards them like one endowed with great length from the
hip joint to the knee. Joy of life, serene, unconscious vigour,
seemed to radiate from her whole face and figure.
At Lady Valleys' words:
"Ah, Babs! My daughter Barbara--Mr. Courtier," he put out his hand,
received within it some gauntleted fingers held out with a smile, and
heard her say:
"Miltoun's gone up to Town, Mother; I was going to motor in to
Bucklandbury with a message he gave me; so I can fetch Granny out
from the station:"
"You had better take Ann, or she'll make our lives a burden; and
perhaps Mr. Courtier would like an airing. Is your knee fit, do you
Glancing at the apparition, Courtier replied:
Never since the age of seven had he been able to look on feminine
beauty without a sense of warmth and faint excitement; and seeing now
perhaps the most beautiful girl he had ever beheld, he desired to be
with her wherever she might be going. There was too something very
fascinating in the way she smiled, as if she had a little seen
through his sentiments.
"Well then," she said, "we'd better look for Ann."
After short but vigorous search little Ann was found--in the car,
instinct having told her of a forward movement in which it was her
duty to take part. And soon they had started, Ann between them in
that peculiar state of silence to which she became liable when really
>From the Monkland estate, flowered, lawned, and timbered, to the open
moor, was like passing to another world; for no sooner was the last
lodge of the Western drive left behind, than there came into sudden
view the most pagan bit of landscape in all England. In this wild
parliament-house, clouds, rocks, sun, and winds met and consulted.
The 'old' men, too, had left their spirits among the great stones,
which lay couched like lions on the hill-tops, under the white
clouds, and their brethren, the hunting buzzard hawks. Here the very
rocks were restless, changing form, and sense, and colour from day to
day, as though worshipping the unexpected, and refusing themselves to
law. The winds too in their passage revolted against their courses,
and came tearing down wherever there were combes or crannies, so that
men in their shelters might still learn the power of the wild gods.
The wonders of this prospect were entirely lost on little Ann, and
somewhat so on Courtier, deeply engaged in reconciling those two
alien principles, courtesy, and the love of looking at a pretty face.
He was wondering too what this girl of twenty, who had the self-
possession of a woman of forty, might be thinking. It was little Ann
who broke the silence.
"Auntie Babs, it wasn't a very strong house, was it?"
Courtier looked in the direction of her small finger. There was the
wreck of a little house, which stood close to a stone man who had
obviously possessed that hill before there were men of flesh. Over
one corner of the sorry ruin, a single patch of roof still clung, but
the rest was open.
"He was a silly man to build it, wasn't he, Ann? That's why they
call it Ashman's Folly."
"Is he alive?"
"Not quite--it's just a hundred years ago."
"What made him build it here?"
"He hated women, and--the roof fell in on him."
"Why did he hate women?"
"He was a crank."
"What is a crank?"
"Ask Mr. Courtier."
Under this girl's calm quizzical glance, Courtier endeavoured to find
an answer to that question.
"A crank," he said slowly, "is a man like me."
He heard a little laugh, and became acutely conscious of Ann's
dispassionate examining eyes.
"Is Uncle Eustace a crank?"
"You know now, Mr. Courtier, what Ann thinks of you. You think a
good deal of Uncle Eustace, don't you, Ann?"
"Yes," said Ann, and fixed her eyes before her. But Courtier gazed
sideways--over her hatless head.
His exhilaration was increasing every moment. This girl reminded him
of a two-year-old filly he had once seen, stepping out of Ascot
paddock for her first race, with the sun glistening on her satin
chestnut skin, her neck held high, her eyes all fire--as sure to win,
as that grass was green. It was difficult to believe her Miltoun's
sister. It was difficult to believe any of those four young Caradocs
related. The grave ascetic Miltoun, wrapped in the garment of his
spirit; mild, domestic, strait-laced Agatha; Bertie, muffled, shrewd,
and steely; and this frank, joyful conquering Barbara--the range was
But the car had left the moor, and, down a steep hill, was passing
the small villas and little grey workmen's houses outside the town of
"Ann and I have to go on to Miltoun's headquarters. Shall I drop you
at the enemy's, Mr. Courtier? Stop, please, Frith."
And before Courtier could assent, they had pulled up at a house on
which was inscribed with extraordinary vigour: "Chilcox for
Hobbling into the Committee-room of Mr. Humphrey Chilcox, which
smelled of paint, Courtier took with him the scented memory of youth,
and ambergris, and Harris tweed.
In that room three men were assembled round a table; the eldest of
whom, endowed with little grey eyes, a stubbly beard, and that
mysterious something only found in those who have been mayors, rose
at once and came towards him.
"Mr. Courtier, I believe," he said bluffly. "Glad to see you, sir.
Most distressed to hear of this outrage. Though in a way, it's done
us good. Yes, really. Grossly against fair play. Shouldn't be
surprised if it turned a couple of hundred votes. You carry the
effects of it about with you, I see."
A thin, refined man, with wiry hair, also came up, holding a
newspaper in his hand.
"It has had one rather embarrassing effect," he said. "Read this
'OUTRAGE ON A DISTINGUISHED VISITOR.
'LORD MILTOUN'S EVENING ADVENTURE.'"
Courtier read a paragraph.
The man with the little eyes broke the ominous silence which ensued.
"One of our side must have seen the whole thing, jumped on his
bicycle and brought in the account before they went to press. They
make no imputation on the lady--simply state the facts. Quite
enough," he added with impersonal grimness; "I think he's done for
The man with the refined face added nervously:
"We couldn't help it, Mr. Courtier; I really don't know what we can
do. I don't like it a bit."
"Has your candidate seen this?" Courtier asked.
"Can't have," struck in the third Committee-man; "we hadn't seen it
ourselves until an hour ago."
"I should never have permitted it," said the man with the refined
face; "I blame the editor greatly."
"Come to that----" said the little-eyed man, "it's a plain piece of
news. If it makes a stir, that's not our fault. The paper imputes
nothing, it states. Position of the lady happens to do the rest.
Can't help it, and moreover, sir, speaking for self, don't want to.
We'll have no loose morals in public life down here, please God!"
There was real feeling in his words; then, catching sight of
Courtier's face, he added: "Do you know this lady?"
"Ever since she was a child. Anyone who speaks evil of her, has to
reckon with me."
The man with the refined face said earnestly:
"Believe me, Mr. Courtier, I entirely sympathize. We had nothing to
do with the paragraph. It's one of those incidents where one
benefits against one's will. Most unfortunate that she came out on
to the green with Lord Miltoun; you know what people are."
"It's the head-line that does it; " said the third
Committee-man; "they've put what will attract the public."
"I don't know, I don't know," said the little-eyed man stubbornly;
"if Lord Miltoun will spend his evenings with lonely ladies, he can't
blame anybody but himself."
Courtier looked from face to face.
"This closes my connection with the campaign," he said: "What's the
address of this paper?" And without waiting for an answer, he took
up the journal and hobbled from the room. He stood a minute outside
finding the address, then made his way down the street.
By the side of little Ann, Barbara sat leaning back amongst the
cushions of the car. In spite of being already launched into high-
caste life which brings with it an early knowledge of the world, she
had still some of the eagerness in her face which makes children
lovable. Yet she looked negligently enough at the citizens of
Bucklandbury, being already a little conscious of the strange mixture
of sentiment peculiar to her countrymen in presence of herself--that
curious expression on their faces resulting from the continual
attempt to look down their noses while slanting their eyes upwards.
Yes, she was already alive to that mysterious glance which had built
the national house and insured it afterwards--foe to cynicism,
pessimism, and anything French or Russian; parent of all the national
virtues, and all the national vices; of idealism and muddle-
headedness, of independence and servility; fosterer of conduct,
murderer of speculation; looking up, and looking down, but never
straight at anything; most high, most deep, most queer; and ever
bubbling-up from the essential Well of Emulation.
Surrounded by that glance, waiting for Courtier, Barbara, not less
British than her neighbours, was secretly slanting her own eyes up
and down over the absent figure of her new acquaintance. She too
wanted something she could look up to, and at the same time see
damned first. And in this knight-errant it seemed to her that she
had got it.
He was a creature from another world. She had met many men, but not
as yet one quite of this sort. It was rather nice to be with a
clever man, who had none the less done so many outdoor things, been
through so many bodily adventures. The mere writers, or even the
'Bohemians,' whom she occasionally met, were after all only
'chaplains to the Court,' necessary to keep aristocracy in touch with
the latest developments of literature and art. But this Mr. Courtier
was a man of action; he could not be looked on with the amused,
admiring toleration suited to men remarkable only for ideas, and the
way they put them into paint or ink. He had used, and could use, the
sword, even in the cause of Peace. He could love, had loved, or so
they said: If Barbara had been a girl of twenty in another class, she
would probably never have heard of this, and if she had heard, it
might very well have dismayed or shocked her. But she had heard, and
without shock, because she had already learned that men were like
that, and women too sometimes.
It was with quite a little pang of concern that she saw him hobbling
down the street towards her; and when he was once more seated, she
told the chauffeur: "To the station, Frith. Quick, please!" and
"You are not to be trusted a bit. What were you doing?"
But Courtier smiled grimly over the head of Ann, in silence.
At this, almost the first time she had ever yet encountered a
distinct rebuff, Barbara quivered, as though she had been touched
lightly with a whip. Her lips closed firmly, her eyes began to
dance. "Very well, my dear," she thought. But presently stealing a
look at him, she became aware of such a queer expression on his face,
that she forgot she was offended.
"Is anything wrong, Mr. Courtier?"
"Yes, Lady Barbara, something is very wrong--that miserable mean
thing, the human tongue."
Barbara had an intuitive knowledge of how to handle things, a kind of
moral sangfroid, drawn in from the faces she had watched, the talk
she had heard, from her youth up. She trusted those intuitions, and
letting her eyes conspire with his over Ann's brown hair, she said:
"Anything to do with Mrs. N-----?" Seeing "Yes" in his eyes, she
added quickly: "And M-----?")
"I thought that was coming. Let them babble! Who cares?"
She caught an approving glance, and the word, "Good!"
But the car had drawn up at Bucklandbury Station.
The little grey figure of Lady Casterley, coming out of the station
doorway, showed but slight sign of her long travel. She stopped to
take the car in, from chauffeur to Courtier.
"Well, Frith!--Mr. Courtier, is it? I know your book, and I don't
approve of you; you're a dangerous man--How do you do? I must have
those two bags. The cart can bring the rest.... Randle, get up in
front, and don't get dusty. Ann!" But Ann was already beside the
chauffeur, having long planned this improvement. "H'm! So you've
hurt your leg, sir? Keep still! We can sit three.... Now, my dear,
I can kiss you! You've grown!"
Lady Casterley's kiss, once received, was never forgotten; neither
perhaps was Barbara's. Yet they were different. For, in the case of
Lady Casterley, the old eyes, bright and investigating, could be seen
deciding the exact spot for the lips to touch; then the face with its
firm chin was darted forward; the lips paused a second, as though to
make quite certain, then suddenly dug hard and dry into the middle of
the cheek, quavered for the fraction of a second as if trying to
remember to be soft, and were relaxed like the elastic of a catapult.
And in the case of Barbara, first a sort of light came into her eyes,
then her chin tilted a little, then her lips pouted a little, her
body quivered, as if it were getting a size larger, her hair
breathed, there was a small sweet sound; it was over.
Thus kissing her grandmother, Barbara resumed her seat, and looked at
Courtier. 'Sitting three' as they were, he was touching her, and it
seemed to her somehow that he did not mind.
The wind had risen, blowing from the West, and sunshine was flying on
it. The call of the cuckoos--a little sharpened--followed the swift-
travelling car. And that essential sweetness of the moor, born of
the heather roots and the South-West wind, was stealing out from
under the young ferns.
With her thin nostrils distended to this scent, Lady Casterley bore a
distinct resemblance to a small, fine game-bird.
"You smell nice down here," she said. "Now, Mr. Courtier, before I
forget--who is this Mrs. Lees Noel that I hear so much of?"
At that question, Barbara could not help sliding her eyes round. How
would he stand up to Granny? It was the moment to see what he was
made of. Granny was terrific!
"A very charming woman, Lady Casterley."
"No doubt; but I am tired of hearing that. What is her story?"
"Has she one?"
"Ha!" said Lady Casterley.
Ever so slightly Barbara let her arm press against Courtiers. It was
so delicious to hear Granny getting no forwarder.
"I may take it she has a past, then?"
"Not from me, Lady Casterley."
Again Barbara gave him that imperceptible and flattering touch.
"Well, this is all very mysterious. I shall find out for myself.
You know her, my dear. You must take me to see her."
"Dear Granny! If people hadn't pasts, they wouldn't have futures."
Lady Casterley let her little claw-like hand descend on her grand-
"Don't talk nonsense, and don't stretch like that!" she said; "you're
too large already...."
At dinner that night they were all in possession of the news. Sir
William had been informed by the local agent at Staverton, where Lord
Harbinger's speech had suffered from some rude interruptions. The
Hon. Geoffrey Winlow; having sent his wife on, had flown over in his
biplane from Winkleigh, and brought a copy of 'the rag' with him.
The one member of the small house-party who had not heard the report
before dinner was Lord Dennis Fitz-Harold, Lady Casterley's brother.
Little, of course, was said. But after the ladies had withdrawn,
Harbinger, with that plain-spoken spontaneity which was so
unexpected, perhaps a little intentionally so, in connection with his
almost classically formed face, uttered words to the effect that, if
they did not fundamentally kick that rumour, it was all up with
Miltoun. Really this was serious! And the beggars knew it, and they
were going to work it. And Miltoun had gone up to Town, no one knew
what for. It was the devil of a mess!
In all the conversation of this young man there was that peculiar
brand of voice, which seems ever rebutting an accusation of being
serious--a brand of voice and manner warranted against anything save
ridicule; and in the face of ridicule apt to disappear. The words,
just a little satirically spoken: "What is, my dear young man?"
stopped him at once.
Looking for the complement and counterpart of Lady Casterley, one
would perhaps have singled out her brother. All her abrupt decision
was negated in his profound, ironical urbanity. His voice and look
and manner were like his velvet coat, which had here and there a
whitish sheen, as if it had been touched by moonlight. His hair too
had that sheen. His very delicate features were framed in a white
beard and moustache of Elizabethan shape. His eyes, hazel and still
clear, looked out very straight, with a certain dry kindliness. His
face, though unweathered and unseamed, and much too fine and thin in
texture, had a curious affinity to the faces of old sailors or
fishermen who have lived a simple, practical life in the light of an
overmastering tradition. It was the face of a man with a very set
creed, and inclined to be satiric towards innovations, examined by
him and rejected full fifty years ago. One felt that a brain not
devoid either of subtlety or aesthetic quality had long given up all
attempts to interfere with conduct; that all shrewdness of
speculation had given place to shrewdness of practical judgment based
on very definite experience. Owing to lack of advertising power,
natural to one so conscious of his dignity as to have lost all care
for it, and to his devotion to a certain lady, only closed by death,
his life had been lived, as it were, in shadow. Still, he possessed
a peculiar influence in Society, because it was known to be
impossible to get him to look at things in a complicated way. He was
regarded rather as a last resort, however. "Bad as that? Well,
there's old Fitz-Harold! Try him! He won't advise you, but he'll
And in the heart of that irreverent young man, Harbinger, there
stirred a sort of misgiving. Had he expressed himself too freely?
Had he said anything too thick? He had forgotten the old boy!
Stirring Bertie up with his foot, he murmured "Forgot you didn't
know, sir. Bertie will explain."
Thus called on, Bertie, opening his lips a very little way, and
fixing his half-closed eyes on his great-uncle, explained. There was
a lady at the cottage--a nice woman--Mr. Courtier knew her--old
Miltoun went there sometimes--rather late the other evening--these
devils were making the most of it--suggesting--lose him the election,
if they didn't look out. Perfect rot, of course!
In his opinion, old Miltoun, though as steady as Time, had been a
flat to let the woman come out with him on to the Green, showing
clearly where he had been, when he ran to Courtier's rescue. You
couldn't play about with women who had no form that anyone knew
anything of, however promising they might look.
Then, out of a silence Winlow asked: What was to be done? Should
Miltoun be wired for? A thing like this spread like wildfire! Sir
William--a man not accustomed to underrate difficulties--was afraid
it was going to be troublesome. Harbinger expressed the opinion that
the editor ought to be kicked. Did anybody know what Courtier had
done when he heard of it. Where was he--dining in his room? Bertie
suggested that if Miltoun was at Valleys House, it mightn't be too
late to wire to him. The thing ought to be stemmed at once! And in
all this concern about the situation there kept cropping out quaint
little outbursts of desire to disregard the whole thing as infernal
insolence, and metaphorically to punch the beggars' heads, natural to
young men of breeding.
Then, out of another silence came the voice of Lord Dennis:
"I am thinking of this poor lady."
Turning a little abruptly towards that dry suave voice, and
recovering the self-possession which seldom deserted him, Harbinger
"Quite so, sir; of course!"
In the lesser withdrawing room, used when there was so small a party,
Mrs. Winlow had gone to the piano and was playing to herself, for
Lady Casterley, Lady Valleys, and her two daughters had drawn
together as though united to face this invading rumour.
It was curious testimony to Miltoun's character that, no more here
than in the dining-hall, was there any doubt of the integrity of his
relations with Mrs. Noel. But whereas, there the matter was confined
to its electioneering aspect, here that aspect was already perceived
to be only the fringe of its importance. Those feminine minds, going
with intuitive swiftness to the core of anything which affected their
own males, had already grasped the fact that the rumour would, as it
were, chain a man of Miltoun's temper to this woman.
But they were walking on such a thin crust of facts, and there was so
deep a quagmire of supposition beneath, that talk was almost
painfully difficult. Never before perhaps had each of these four
women realized so clearly how much Miltoun--that rather strange and
unknown grandson, son, and brother--counted in the scheme of
existence. Their suppressed agitation was manifested in very
different ways. Lady Casterley, upright in her chair, showed it only
by an added decision of speech, a continual restless movement of one
hand, a thin line between her usually smooth brows. Lady Valleys
wore a puzzled look, as if a little surprised that she felt serious.
Agatha looked frankly anxious. She was in her quiet way a woman of
much character, endowed with that natural piety, which accepts
without questioning the established order in life and religion. The
world to her being home and family, she had a real, if gently
expressed, horror of all that she instinctively felt to be subversive
of this ideal. People judged her a little quiet, dull, and narrow;
they compared her to a hen for ever clucking round her chicks. The
streak of heroism that lay in her nature was not perhaps of patent
order. Her feeling about her brother's situation however was sincere
and not to be changed or comforted. She saw him in danger of being
damaged in the only sense in which she could conceive of a man--as a
husband and a father. It was this that went to her heart, though her
piety proclaimed to her also the peril of his soul; for she shared
the High Church view of the indissolubility of marriage.
As to Barbara, she stood by the hearth, leaning her white shoulders
against the carved marble, her hands behind her, looking down. Now
and then her lips curled, her level brows twitched, a faint sigh came
from her; then a little smile would break out, and be instantly
suppressed. She alone was silent--Youth criticizing Life; her
judgment voiced itself only in the untroubled rise and fall of her
young bosom, the impatience of her brows, the downward look of her
blue eyes, full of a lazy, inextinguishable light:
Lady Valleys sighed.
"If only he weren't such a queer boy! He's quite capable of marrying
her from sheer perversity."
"What!" said Lady Casterley.
"You haven't seen her, my dear. A most unfortunately attractive
creature--quite a charming face."
Agatha said quietly:
"Mother, if she was divorced, I don't think Eustace would."
"There's that, certainly," murmured Lady Valleys; "hope for the
"Don't you even know which way it was?" said Lady Casterley.
"Well, the vicar says she did the divorcing. But he's very
charitable; it may be as Agatha hopes."
"I detest vagueness. Why doesn't someone ask the woman?"
"You shall come with me, Granny dear, and ask her yourself; you will
do it so nicely."
Lady Casterley looked up.
"We shall see," she said. Something struggled with the autocratic
criticism in her eyes. No more than the rest of the world could she
help indulging Barbara. As one who believed in the divinity of her
order, she liked this splendid child. She even admired--though
admiration was not what she excelled in--that warm joy in life, as of
some great nymph, parting the waves with bare limbs, tossing from her
the foam of breakers. She felt that in this granddaughter, rather
than in the good Agatha, the patrician spirit was housed. There were
points to Agatha, earnestness and high principle; but something
morally narrow and over-Anglican slightly offended the practical,
this-worldly temper of Lady Casteriey. It was a weakness, and she
disliked weakness. Barbara would never be squeamish over moral
questions or matters such as were not really, essential to
aristocracy. She might, indeed, err too much the other way from
sheer high spirits. As the impudent child had said: "If people had
no pasts, they would have no futures." And Lady Casterley could not
bear people without futures. She was ambitious; not with the low
ambition of one who had risen from nothing, but with the high passion
of one on the top, who meant to stay there.
"And where have you been meeting this--er--anonymous creature?" she
Barbara came from the hearth, and bending down beside Lady
Casterley's chair, seemed to envelop her completely.
"I'm all right, Granny; she couldn't corrupt me."
Lady Casterley's face peered out doubtfully from that warmth, wearing
a look of disapproving pleasure.
"I know your wiles!" she said. "Come, now!"
"I see her about. She's nice to look at. We talk."
Again with that hurried quietness Agatha said:
"My dear Babs, I do think you ought to wait."
"My dear Angel, why? What is it to me if she's had four husbands?"
Agatha bit her lips, and Lady Valleys murmured with a laugh:
"You really are a terror, Babs."
But the sound of Mrs. Winlow's music had ceased--the men had come in.
And the faces of the four women hardened, as if they had slipped on
masks; for though this was almost or quite a family party, the
Winlows being second cousins, still the subject was one which each of
these four in their very different ways felt to be beyond general
discussion. Talk, now, began glancing from the war scare--Winlow had
it very specially that this would be over in a week--to Brabrook's
speech, in progress at that very moment, of which Harbinger provided
an imitation. It sped to Winlow's flight--to Andrew Grant's articles
in the 'Parthenon'--to the caricature of Harbinger in the 'Cackler',
inscribed 'The New Tory. Lord H-rb-ng-r brings Social Reform beneath
the notice of his friends,' which depicted him introducing a naked
baby to a number of coroneted old ladies. Thence to a dancer.
Thence to the Bill for Universal Assurance. Then back to the war
scare; to the last book of a great French writer; and once more to
Winlow's flight. It was all straightforward and outspoken, each
seeming to say exactly what came into the head. For all that, there
was a curious avoidance of the spiritual significances of these
things; or was it perhaps that such significances were not seen?
Lord Dennis, at the far end of the room, studying a portfolio of
engravings, felt a touch on his cheek; and conscious of a certain
fragrance, said without turning his head:
"Nice things, these, Babs!"
Receiving no answer he looked up.
There indeed stood Barbara.
"I do hate sneering behind people's backs!"
There had always been good comradeship between these two, since the
days when Barbara, a golden-haired child, astride of a grey pony, had
been his morning companion in the Row all through the season. His
riding days were past; he had now no outdoor pursuit save fishing,
which he followed with the ironic persistence of a self-contained,
high-spirited nature, which refuses to admit that the mysterious
finger of old age is laid across it. But though she was no longer
his companion, he still had a habit of expecting her confidences; and
he looked after her, moving away from him to a window, with surprised
It was one of those nights, dark yet gleaming, when there seems a
flying malice in the heavens; when the stars, from under and above
the black clouds, are like eyes frowning and flashing down at men
with purposed malevolence. The great sighing trees even had caught
this spirit, save one, a dark, spire-like cypress, planted three
hundred and fifty years before, whose tall form incarnated the very
spirit of tradition, and neither swayed nor soughed like the others.
>From her, too close-fibred, too resisting, to admit the breath of
Nature, only a dry rustle came. Still almost exotic, in spite of her
centuries of sojourn, and now brought to life by the eyes of night,
she seemed almost terrifying, in her narrow, spear-like austerity, as
though something had dried and died within her soul. Barbara came
back from the window.
"We can't do anything in our lives, it seems to me," she said, "but
play at taking risks!"
Lord Dennis replied dryly:
"I don't think I understand, my dear."
"Look at Mr. Courtier!" muttered Barbara. "His life's so much more
risky altogether than any of our men folk lead. And yet they sneer
"Let's see, what has he done?"
"Oh! I dare say not very much; but it's all neck or nothing. But
what does anything matter to Harbinger, for instance? If his Social
Reform comes to nothing, he'll still be Harbinger, with fifty
thousand a year."
Lord Dennis looked up a little queerly.
"What! Is it possible you don't take the young man seriously, Babs?"
Barbara shrugged; a strap slipped a little off one white shoulder.
"It's all play really; and he knows it--you can tell that from his
voice. He can't help its not mattering, of course; and he knows that
"I have heard that he's after you, Babs; is that true?"
"He hasn't caught me yet."
Barbara's answer was another shrug; and, for all their statuesque
beauty, the movement of her shoulders was like the shrug of a little
girl in her pinafore.
"And this Mr. Courtier," said Lord Dennis dryly: "Are you after him?"
"I'm after everything; didn't you know that, dear?"
"In reason, my child."
"In reason, of course--like poor Eusty!" She stopped. Harbinger
himself was standing there close by, with an air as nearly
approaching reverence as was ever to be seen on him. In truth, the
way in which he was looking at her was almost timorous.
"Will you sing that song I like so much, Lady Babs?"
They moved away together; and Lord Dennis, gazing after that
magnificent young couple, stroked his beard gravely.
Miltoun's sudden journey to London had been undertaken in pursuance
of a resolve slowly forming from the moment he met Mrs. Noel in the
stone flagged passage of Burracombe Farm. If she would have him and
since last evening he believed she would--he intended to marry her.
It has been said that except for one lapse his life had been austere,
but this is not to assert that he had no capacity for passion. The
contrary was the case. That flame which had been so jealously
guarded smouldered deep within him--a smothered fire with but little
air to feed on. The moment his spirit was touched by the spirit of
this woman, it had flared up. She was the incarnation of all that he
desired. Her hair, her eyes, her form; the tiny tuck or dimple at
the corner of her mouth just where a child places its finger; her way
of moving, a sort of unconscious swaying or yielding to the air; the
tone in her voice, which seemed to come not so much from happiness of
her own as from an innate wish to make others happy; and that
natural, if not robust, intelligence, which belongs to the very
sympathetic, and is rarely found in women of great ambitions or
enthusiasms--all these things had twined themselves round his heart.
He not only dreamed of her, and wanted her; he believed in her. She
filled his thoughts as one who could never do wrong; as one who,
though a wife would remain a mistress, and though a mistress, would
always be the companion of his spirit.
It has been said that no one spoke or gossiped about women in
Miltoun's presence, and the tale of her divorce was present to his
mind simply in the form of a conviction that she was an injured
woman. After his interview with the vicar, he had only once again
alluded to it, and that in answer to the speech of a lady staying at
the Court: "Oh! yes, I remember her case perfectly. She was the poor
woman who----" "Did not, I am certain, Lady Bonington." The tone
of his voice had made someone laugh uneasily; the subject was
All divorce was against his convictions, but in a blurred way he
admitted that there were cases where release was unavoidable. He was
not a man to ask for confidences, or expect them to be given him. He
himself had never confided his spiritual struggles to any living
creature; and the unspiritual struggle had little interest for
Miltoun. He was ready at any moment to stake his life on the
perfection of the idol he had set up within his soul, as simply and
straightforwardly as he would have placed his body in front of her to
shield her from harm.
The same fanaticism, which looked on his passion as a flower by
itself, entirely apart from its suitability to the social garden, was
also the driving force which sent him up to London to declare his
intention to his father before he spoke to Mrs. Noel. The thing
should be done simply, and in right order. For he had the kind of
moral courage found in those who live retired within the shell of
their own aspirations. Yet it was not perhaps so much active moral
courage as indifference to what others thought or did, coming from
his inbred resistance to the appreciation of what they felt.
That peculiar smile of the old Tudor Cardinal--which had in it
invincible self-reliance, and a sort of spiritual sneer--played over
his face when he speculated on his father's reception of the coming
news; and very soon he ceased to think of it at all, burying himself
in the work he had brought with him for the journey. For he had in
high degree the faculty, so essential to public life, of switching
off his whole attention from one subject to another.
On arriving at Paddington he drove straight to Valleys House.
This large dwelling with its pillared portico, seemed to wear an air
of faint surprise that, at the height of the season, it was not more
inhabited. Three servants relieved Miltoun of his little luggage;
and having washed, and learned that his father would be dining in, he
went for a walk, taking his way towards his rooms in the Temple. His
long figure, somewhat carelessly garbed, attracted the usual
attention, of which he was as usual unaware. Strolling along, he
meditated deeply on a London, an England, different from this
flatulent hurly-burly, this 'omniuin gatherum', this great discordant
symphony of sharps and flats. A London, an England, kempt and self-
respecting; swept and garnished of slums, and plutocrats,
advertisement, and jerry-building, of sensationalism, vulgarity,
vice, and unemployment. An England where each man should know his
place, and never change it, but serve in it loyally in his own caste.
Where every man, from nobleman to labourer, should be an oligarch by
faith, and a gentleman by practice. An England so steel-bright and
efficient that the very sight should suffice to impose peace. An
England whose soul should be stoical and fine with the stoicism and
fineness of each soul amongst her many million souls; where the town
should have its creed and the country its creed, and there should be
contentment and no complaining in her streets.
And as he walked down the Strand, a little ragged boy cheeped out
between his legs:
"Bloodee discoveree in a Bank--Grite sensytion! Pi-er!"
Miltoun paid no heed to that saying; yet, with it, the wind that
blows where man lives, the careless, wonderful, unordered wind, had
dispersed his austere and formal vision. Great was that wind--the
myriad aspiration of men and women, the praying of the uncounted
multitude to the goddess of Sensation--of Chance, and Change. A
flowing from heart to heart, from lip to lip, as in Spring the
wistful air wanders through a wood, imparting to every bush and tree
the secrets of fresh life, the passionate resolve to grow, and
become--no matter what! A sighing, as eternal as the old murmuring
of the sea, as little to be hushed, as prone to swell into sudden
Miltoun held on through the traffic, not looking overmuch at the
present forms of the thousands he passed, but seeing with the eyes of
faith the forms he desired to see. Near St. Paul's he stopped in
front of an old book-shop. His grave, pallid, not unhandsome face,
was well-known to William Rimall, its small proprietor, who at once
brought out his latest acquisition--a Mores 'Utopia.' That particular
edition (he assured Miltoun) was quite unprocurable--he had never
sold but one other copy, which had been literally, crumbling away.
This copy was in even better condition. It could hardly last another
twenty years--a genuine book, a bargain. There wasn't so much
movement in More as there had been a little time back.
Miltoun opened the tome, and a small book-louse who had been sleeping
on the word 'Tranibore,' began to make its way slowly towards the
very centre of the volume.
"I see it's genuine," said Miltoun.
"It's not to read, my lord," the little man warned him: "Hardly safe
to turn the pages. As I was saying--I've not had a better piece this
year. I haven't really!"
"Shrewd old dreamer," muttered Miltoun; "the Socialists haven't got
beyond him, even now."
The little man's eyes blinked, as though apologizing for the views of
"Well," he said, "I suppose he was one of them. I forget if your
lordship's very strong on politics?"
"I want to see an England, Rimall, something like the England of
Mores dream. But my machinery will be different. I shall begin at
The little man nodded.
"Quite so, quite so," he said; "we shall come to that, I dare say."
"We must, Rimall." And Miltoun turned the page.
The little man's face quivered.
"I don't think," he said, "that book's quite strong enough for you,
my lord, with your taste for reading. Now I've a most curious old
volume here--on Chinese temples. It's rare--but not too old. You
can peruse it thoroughly. It's what I call a book to browse on just
suit your palate. Funny principle they built those things on," he
added, opening the volume at an engraving, "in layers. We don't
build like that in England."
Miltoun looked up sharply; the little man's face wore no signs of
"Unfortunately we don't, Rimall," he said; "we ought to, and we
shall. I'll take this book."
Placing his finger on the print of the pagoda, he added: "A good
The little bookseller's eye strayed down the temple to the secret
"Exactly, my lord," he said; "I thought it'd be your fancy. The
price to you will be twenty-seven and six."
Miltoun, pocketing the bargain, walked out. He made his way into the
Temple, left the book at his Chambers, and passed on down to the bank
of Mother Thames. The Sun was loving her passionately that
afternoon; he had kissed her into warmth and light and colour. And
all the buildings along her banks, as far as the towers at
Westminster, seemed to be smiling. It was a great sight for the eyes
of a lover. And another vision came haunting Miltoun, of a soft-eyed
woman with a low voice, bending amongst her flowers. Nothing would
be complete without her; no work bear fruit; no scheme could have
Lord Valleys greeted his son at dinner with good fellowship and a
"Day off, my dear fellow? Or have you come up to hear Brabrook pitch
into us? He's rather late this time--we've got rid of that balloon
business no trouble after all."
And he eyed Miltoun with that clear grey stare of his, so cool,
level, and curious. Now, what sort of bird is this? it seemed
saying. Certainly not the partridge I should have expected from its
Miltoun's answer: "I came up to tell you some thing, sir," riveted
his father's stare for a second longer than was quite urbane.
It would not be true to say that Lord Valleys was afraid of his son.
Fear was not one of his emotions, but he certainly regarded him with
a respectful curiosity that bordered on uneasiness. The oligarchic
temper of Miltoun's mind and political convictions almost shocked one
who knew both by temperament and experience how to wait in front.
This instruction he had frequently had occasion to give his jockeys
when he believed his horses could best get home first in that way.
And it was an instruction he now longed to give his son. He himself
had 'waited in front' for over fifty years, and he knew it to be the
finest way of insuring that he would never be compelled to alter this
desirable policy--for something in Lord Valleys' character made him
fear that, in real emergency, he would exert himself to the point of
the gravest discomfort sooner than be left to wait behind. A fellow
like young Harbinger, of course, he understood--versatile, 'full of
beans,' as he expressed it to himself in his more confidential
moments, who had imbibed the new wine (very intoxicating it was) of
desire for social reform. He would have to be given his head a
little--but there would be no difficulty with him, he would never
'run out'--light handy build of horse that only required steadying at
the corners. He would want to hear himself talk, and be let feel
that he was doing something. All very well, and quite intelligible.
But with Miltoun (and Lord Valleys felt this to be no, mere parental
fancy) it was a very different business. His son had a way of
forcing things to their conclusions which was dangerous, and reminded
him of his mother-in-law. He was a baby in public affairs, of
course, as yet; but as soon as he once got going, the intensity of
his convictions, together with his position, and real gift--not of
the gab, like Harbinger's--but of restrained, biting oratory, was
sure to bring him to the front with a bound in the present state of
parties. And what were those convictions? Lord Valleys had tried to
understand them, but up to the present he had failed. And this did
not surprise him exactly, since, as he often said, political
convictions were not, as they appeared on the surface, the outcome of
reason, but merely symptoms of temperament. And he could not
comprehend, because he could not sympathize with, any attitude
towards public affairs that was not essentially level, attached to
the plain, common-sense factors of the case as they appeared to
himself. Not that he could fairly be called a temporizer, for deep
down in him there was undoubtedly a vein of obstinate, fundamental
loyalty to the traditions of a caste which prized high spirit beyond
all things. Still he did feel that Miltoun was altogether too much
the 'pukka' aristocrat--no better than a Socialist, with his
confounded way of seeing things all cut and dried; his ideas of
forcing reforms down people's throats and holding them there with the
iron hand! With his way too of acting on his principles! Why! He
even admitted that he acted on his principles! This thought always
struck a very discordant note in Lord Valleys' breast. It was almost
indecent; worse-ridiculous! The fact was, the dear fellow had
unfortunately a deeper habit of thought than was wanted in politics--
dangerous--very! Experience might do something for him! And out of
his own long experience the Earl of Valleys tried hard to recollect
any politician whom the practice of politics had left where he was
when he started. He could not think of one. But this gave him
little comfort; and, above a piece of late asparagus his steady eyes
sought his son's. What had he come up to tell him?
The phrase had been ominous; he could not recollect Miltoun's ever
having told him anything. For though a really kind and indulgent
father, he had--like so many men occupied with public and other
lives--a little acquired towards his offspring the look and manner:
Is this mine? Of his four children, Barbara alone he claimed with
conviction. He admired her; and, being a man who savoured life, he
was unable to love much except where he admired. But, the last
person in the world to hustle any man or force a confidence, he
waited to hear his son's news, betraying no uneasiness.
Miltoun seemed in no hurry. He described Courtier's adventure, which
tickled Lord Valleys a good deal.
"Ordeal by red pepper! Shouldn't have thought them equal to that,"
he said. "So you've got him at Monkland now. Harbinger still with
"Yes. I don't think Harbinger has much stamina.
"I rather resent his being on our side--I don't think he does us any
good. You've seen that cartoon, I suppose; it cuts pretty deep. I
couldn't recognize you amongst the old women, sir."
Lord Valleys smiled impersonally.
"Very clever thing. By the way; I shall win the Eclipse, I think."
And thus, spasmodically, the conversation ran till the last servant
had left the room.
Then Miltoun, without preparation, looked straight at his father and
"I want to marry Mrs. Noel, sir."
Lord Valleys received the shot with exactly the same expression as
that with which he was accustomed to watch his horses beaten. Then
he raised his wineglass to his lips; and set it down again untouched.
This was the only sign he gave of interest or discomfiture.
"Isn't this rather sudden?"
Miltoun answered: "I've wanted to from the moment I first saw her."
Lord Valleys, almost as good a judge of a man and a situation as of a
horse or a pointer dog, leaned back in his chair, and said with faint
"My dear fellow, it's good of you to have told me this; though, to be
quite frank, it's a piece of news I would rather not have heard."
A dusky flush burned slowly up in Miltoun's cheeks. He had
underrated his father; the man had coolness and courage in a crisis.
"What is your objection, sir?" And suddenly he noticed that a wafer
in Lord Valleys' hand was quivering. This brought into his eyes no
look of compunction, but such a smouldering gaze as the old Tudor
Churchman might have bent on an adversary who showed a sign of
weakness. Lord Valleys, too, noticed the quivering of that wafer,
and ate it.
"We are men of the world," he said.
Miltoun answered: "I am not."
Showing his first real symptom of impatience Lord Valleys rapped out:
"So be it! I am."
"Yes?", said Miltoun.
Nursing one knee, Miltoun faced that appeal without the faintest
movement. His eyes continued to burn into his father's face. A
tremor passed over Lord Valleys' heart. What intensity of feeling
there was in the fellow, that he could look like this at the first
breath of opposition!
He reached out and took up the cigar-box; held it absently towards
his son, and drew it quickly back.
"I forgot," he said; "you don't."
And lighting a cigar, he smoked gravely, looking straight before him,
a furrow between his brows. He spoke at last:
"She looks like a lady. I know nothing else about her."
The smile deepened round Miltoun's mouth.
"Why should you want to know anything else?"
Lord Valleys shrugged. His philosophy had hardened.
"I understand for one thing," he said coldly; "that there is a matter
of a divorce. I thought you took the Church's view on that subject."
"She has not done wrong."
"You know her story, then?"
Lord Valleys raised his brows, in irony and a sort of admiration.
"Chivalry the better part of discretion?"
"You don't, I think, understand the kind of feeling I have for Mrs.
Noel. It does not come into your scheme of things. It is the only
feeling, however, with which I should care to marry, and I am not
likely to feel it for anyone again."
Lord Valleys felt once more that uncanny sense of insecurity. Was
this true? And suddenly he felt Yes, it is true! The face before
him was the face of one who would burn in his own fire sooner than
depart from his standards. And a sudden sense of the utter
seriousness of this dilemma dumbed him.
"I can say no more at the moment," he muttered and got up from the
Lady Casterley was that inconvenient thing--an early riser. No woman
in the kingdom was a better judge of a dew carpet. Nature had in her
time displayed before her thousands of those pretty fabrics, where
all the stars of the past night, dropped to the dark earth, were
waiting to glide up to heaven again on the rays of the sun. At
Ravensham she walked regularly in her gardens between half-past seven
and eight, and when she paid a visit, was careful to subordinate
whatever might be the local custom to this habit.
When therefore her maid Randle came to Barbara's maid at seven
o'clock, and said: "My old lady wants Lady Babs to get up," there was
no particular pain in the breast of Barbara's maid, who was doing up
her corsets. She merely answered "I'll see to it. Lady Babs won't
be too pleased!" And ten minutes later she entered that white-walled
room which smelled of pinks-a temple of drowsy sweetness, where the
summer light was vaguely stealing through flowered chintz curtains.
Barbara was sleeping with her cheek on her hand, and her tawny hair,
gathered back, streaming over the pillow. Her lips were parted; and
the maid thought: "I'd like to have hair and a mouth like that!" She
could not help smiling to herself with pleasure; Lady Babs looked so
pretty--prettier asleep even than awake! And at sight of that
beautiful creature, sleeping and smiling in her sleep, the earthy,
hothouse fumes steeping the mind of one perpetually serving in an
atmosphere unsuited to her natural growth, dispersed. Beauty, with
its queer touching power of freeing the spirit from all barriers and
thoughts of self, sweetened the maid's eyes, and kept her standing,
holding her breath. For Barbara asleep was a symbol of that Golden
Age in which she so desperately believed. She opened her eyes, and
seeing the maid, said:
"Is it eight o'clock, Stacey?"
"No, but Lady Casterley wants you to walk with her."
"Oh! bother! I was having such a dream!"
"Yes; you were smiling."
"I was dreaming that I could fly."
"I could see everything spread out below me, as close as I see you; I
was hovering like a buzzard hawk. I felt that I could come down
exactly where I wanted. It was fascinating. I had perfect power,
And throwing her neck back, she closed her eyes again. The sunlight
streamed in on her between the half-drawn curtains.
The queerest impulse to put out a hand and stroke that full white
throat shot through the maid's mind.
"These flying machines are stupid," murmured Barbara; "the pleasure's
in one's body---wings!"
"I can see Lady Casterley in the garden."
Barbara sprang out of bed. Close by the statue of Diana Lady
Casterley was standing, gazing down at some flowers, a tiny, grey
figure. Barbara sighed. With her, in her dream, had been another
buzzard hawk, and she was filled with a sort of surprise, and queer
pleasure that ran down her in little shivers while she bathed and
In her haste she took no hat; and still busy with the fastening of
her linen frock, hurried down the stairs and Georgian corridor,
towards the garden. At the end of it she almost ran into the arms of
Awakening early this morning, he had begun first thinking of Audrey
Noel, threatened by scandal; then of his yesterday's companion, that
glorious young creature, whose image had so gripped and taken
possession of him. In the pleasure of this memory he had steeped
himself. She was youth itself! That perfect thing, a young girl
And his words, when she nearly ran into him, were: "The Winged
Barbara's answer was equally symbolic: "A buzzard hawk! Do you know,
I dreamed we were flying, Mr. Courtier."
Courtier gravely answered
"If the gods give me that dream----"
>From the garden door Barbara turned her head, smiled, and passed
Lady Casterley, in the company of little Ann, who had perceived that
it was novel to be in the garden at this hour, had been scrutinizing
some newly founded colonies of a flower with which she was not
familiar. On seeing her granddaughter approach, she said at once:
"What is this thing?"
"Never heard of it."
"It's rather the fashion, Granny."
"Nemesia?" repeated Lady Casterley. "What has Nemesis to do with
flowers? I have no patience with gardeners, and these idiotic names.
Where is your hat? I like that duck's egg colour in your frock.
There's a button undone." And reaching up her little spidery hand,
wonderfully steady considering its age, she buttoned the top button
but one of Barbara's bodice.
"You look very blooming, my dear," she said. "How far is it to this
woman's cottage? We'll go there now."
"She wouldn't be up."
Lady Casterley's eyes gleamed maliciously.
"You tell me she's so nice," she said. "No nice unencumbered woman
lies in bed after half-past seven. Which is the very shortest way?
No, Ann, we can't take you."
Little Ann, after regarding her great-grandmother rather too
"Well, I can't come, you see, because I've got to go."
"Very well," said Lady Casterley," then trot along."
Little Ann, tightening her lips, walked to the next colony of
Nemesia, and bent over the colonists with concentration, showing
clearly that she had found something more interesting than had yet
"Ha!" said Lady Casterley, and led on at her brisk pace towards the
All the way down the drive she discoursed on woodcraft, glancing
sharply at the trees. Forestry--she said-like building, and all
other pursuits which required, faith and patient industry, was a lost
art in this second-hand age. She had made Barbara's grandfather
practise it, so that at Catton (her country place) and even at
Ravensham, the trees were worth looking at. Here, at Monkland, they
were monstrously neglected. To have the finest Italian cypress in
the country, for example, and not take more care of it, was a
Barbara listened, smiling lazily. Granny was so amusing in her
energy and precision, and her turns of speech, so deliberately
homespun, as if she--than whom none could better use a stiff and
polished phrase, or the refinements of the French language--were
determined to take what liberties she liked. To the girl, haunted
still by the feeling that she could fly, almost drunk on the
sweetness of the air that summer morning, it seemed funny that anyone
should be like that. Then for a second she saw her grandmother's
face in repose, off guard, grim with anxious purpose, as if
questioning its hold on life; and in one of those flashes of
intuition which come to women--even when young and conquering like
Barbara--she felt suddenly sorry, as though she had caught sight of
the pale spectre never yet seen by her. "Poor old dear," she
thought; "what a pity to be old!"
But they had entered the footpath crossing three long meadows which
climbed up towards Mrs. Noel's. It was so golden-sweet here amongst
the million tiny saffron cups frosted with lingering dewshine; there
was such flying glory in the limes and ash-trees; so delicate a scent
from the late whins and may-flower; and, on every tree a greybird
calling to be sorry was not possible!
In the far corner of the first field a chestnut mare was standing,
with ears pricked at some distant sound whose charm she alone
perceived. On viewing the intruders, she laid those ears back, and a
little vicious star gleamed out at the corner of her eye. They
passed her and entered the second field. Half way across, Barbara
"Granny, that's a bull!"
It was indeed an enormous bull, who had been standing behind a clump
of bushes. He was moving slowly towards them, still distant about
two hundred yards; a great red beast, with the huge development of
neck and front which makes the bull, of all living creatures, the
symbol of brute force.
Lady Casterley envisaged him severely.
"I dislike bulls," she said; "I think I must walk backward."
"You can't; it's too uphill."
"I am not going to turn back," said Lady Casterley. "The bull ought
not to be here. Whose fault is it? I shall speak to someone. Stand
still and look at him. We must prevent his coming nearer."
They stood still and looked at the bull, who continued to approach.
"It doesn't stop him," said Lady Casterley. "We must take no notice.
Give me your arm, my dear; my legs feel rather funny."
Barbara put her arm round the little figure. They walked on.
"I have not been used to bulls lately," said Lady Casterley. The
bull came nearer.
"Granny," said Barbara, "you must go quietly on to the stile. When
you're over I'll come too."
"Certainly not," said Lady Casterley, "we will go together. Take no
notice of him; I have great faith in that."
"Granny darling, you must do as I say, please; I remember this bull,
he is one of ours."
At those rather ominous words Lady Casterley gave her a sharp glance.
"I shall not go," she said. "My legs feel quite strong now. We can
run, if necessary."
"So can the bull," said Barbara.
"I'm not going to leave you," muttered Lady Casterley. "If he turns
vicious I shall talk to him. He won't touch me. You can run faster
than I; so that's settled."
"Don't be absurd, dear," answered Barbara; "I am not afraid of
Lady Casterley flashed a look at her which had a gleam of amusement.
"I can feel you," she said; "you're just as trembly as I am."
The bull was now distant some eighty yards, and they were still quite
a hundred from the stile.
"Granny," said Barbara, "if you don't go on as I tell you, I shall
just leave you, and go and meet him! You mustn't be obstinate!"
Lady Casterley's answer was to grip her granddaughter round the
waist; the nervous force of that thin arm was surprising.
"You will do nothing of the sort," she said. "I refuse to have
anything more to do with this bull; I shall simply pay no attention."
The bull now began very slowly ambling towards them.
"Take no notice," said Lady Casterley, who was walking faster than
she had ever walked before.
"The ground is level now," said Barbara; "can you run?"
"I think so," gasped Lady Casterley; and suddenly she found herself
half-lifted from the ground, and, as it were, flying towards the
stile. She heard a noise behind; then Barbara's voice:
"We must stop. He's on us. Get behind me."
She felt herself caught and pinioned by two arms that seemed set on
the wrong way. Instinct, and a general softness told her that she
was back to back with her granddaughter.
"Let me go!" she gasped; "let me go!"
And suddenly she felt herself being propelled by that softness
forward towards the stile.
"Shoo!" she said; "shoo!"
"Granny," Barbara's voice came, calm and breathless, "don't! You
only excite him! Are we near the stile?"
"Ten yards," panted Lady Casterley. .
"Look out, then!" There was a sort of warm flurry round her, a rush,
a heave, a scramble; she was beyond the stile. The bull and Barbara,
a yard or two apart, were just the other side. Lady Casterley raised
her handkerchief and fluttered it. The bull looked up; Barbara, all
legs and arms, came slipping down beside her.
Without wasting a moment Lady Casterley leaned forward and addressed
"You awful brute!" she said; "I will have you well flogged."
Gently pawing the ground, the bull snuffled.
"Are you any the worse, child?"
"Not a scrap," said Barbara's serene, still breathless voice.
Lady Casterley put up her hands, and took the girl's face between
"What legs you have!" she said. "Give me a kiss!"
Having received a hot, rather quivering kiss, she walked on, holding
somewhat firmly to Barbara's arm.
"As for that bull," she murmured, "the brute--to attack women!"
Barbara looked down at her.
"Granny," she said, "are you sure you're not shaken?"
Lady Casterley, whose lips were quivering, pressed them together very
"Not a b-b-bit."
"Don't you think," said Barbara, "that we had better go back, at
once--the other way?"
"Certainly not. There are no more bulls, I suppose, between us and
"But are you fit to see her?"
Lady Casterley passed her handkerchief over her lips, to remove their
"Perfectly," she answered.
"Then, dear," said Barbara, "stand still a minute, while I dust you
This having been accomplished, they proceeded in the direction of
Mrs. Noel's cottage.
At sight of it, Lady Casterley said:
"I shall put my foot down. It's out of the question for a man of
Miltoun's prospects. I look forward to seeing him Prime Minister
some day." Hearing Barbara's voice murmuring above her, she paused:
"What's that you say?"
"I said: What is the use of our being what we are, if we can't love
whom we like?"
"Love!" said Lady Casterley; "I was talking of marriage."
"I am glad you admit the distinction, Granny dear."
"You are pleased to be sarcastic," said Lady Casterley. "Listen to
me! It's the greatest nonsense to suppose that people in our caste
are free to do as they please. The sooner you realize that, the
better, Babs. I am talking to you seriously. The preservation of
our position as a class depends on our observing certain decencies.
What do you imagine would happen to the Royal Family if they were
allowed to marry as they liked? All this marrying with Gaiety girls,
and American money, and people with pasts, and writers, and so forth,
is most damaging. There's far too much of it, and it ought to be
stopped. It may be tolerated for a few cranks, or silly young men,
and these new women, but for Eustace "Lady Casterley paused again,
and her fingers pinched Barbara's arm, "or for you--there's only one
sort of marriage possible. As for Eustace, I shall speak to this
good lady, and see that he doesn't get entangled further."
Absorbed in the intensity of her purpose, she did not observe a
peculiar little smile playing round Barbara's lips.
"You had better speak to Nature, too, Granny!"
Lady Casterley stopped short, and looked up in her granddaughter's
"Now what do you mean by that?" she said "Tell me!"
But noticing that Barbara's lips had closed tightly, she gave her arm
a hard--if unintentional-pinch, and walked on.
Lady Casterley's rather malicious diagnosis of Audrey Noel was
correct. The unencumbered woman was up and in her garden when
Barbara and her grandmother appeared at the Wicket gate; but being
near the lime-tree at the far end she did not hear the rapid colloquy
which passed between them.
"You are going to be good, Granny?"
"As to that--it will depend."
Lady Casterley could not possibly have provided herself with a better
introduction than Barbara, whom Mrs. Noel never met without the sheer
pleasure felt by a sympathetic woman when she sees embodied in
someone else that 'joy in life' which Fate has not permitted to
She came forward with her head a little on one side, a trick of hers
not at all affected, and stood waiting.
The unembarrassed Barbara began at once:
"We've just had an encounter with a bull. This is my grandmother,
The little old lady's demeanour, confronted with this very pretty
face and figure was a thought less autocratic and abrupt than usual.
Her shrewd eyes saw at once that she had no common adventuress to
deal with. She was woman of the world enough, too, to know that
'birth' was not what it had been in her young days, that even money
was rather rococo, and that good looks, manners, and a knowledge of
literature, art, and music (and this woman looked like one of that
sort), were often considered socially more valuable. She was
therefore both wary and affable.
"How do you do?" she said. "I have heard of you. May we sit down
for a minute in your garden? The bull was a wretch!"
But even in speaking, she was uneasily conscious that Mrs. Noel's
clear eyes were seeing very well what she had come for. The look in
them indeed was almost cynical; and in spite of her sympathetic
murmurs, she did not somehow seem to believe in the bull. This was
disconcerting. Why had Barbara condescended to mention the wretched
brute? And she decided to take him by the horns.
"Babs," she said, "go to the Inn and order me a 'fly.' I shall drive
back, I feel very shaky," and, as Mrs. Noel offered to send her maid,
"No, no, my granddaughter will go."
Barbara having departed with a quizzical look, Lady Casterley patted
the rustic seat, and said:
"Do come and sit down, I want to talk to you:"
Mrs. Noel obeyed. And at once Lady Casterley perceived that "she had
a most difficult task before her. She had not expected a woman with
whom one could take no liberties. Those clear dark eyes, and that
soft, perfectly graceful manner--to a person so 'sympathetic' one
should be able to say anything, and--one couldn't! It was awkward.
And suddenly she noticed that Mrs. Noel was sitting perfectly
upright, as upright--more upright, than she was herself. A bad,
sign--a very bad sign! Taking out her handkerchief, she put it to
"I suppose you think," she said, "that we were not chased by a bull."
"I am sure you were."
"Indeed! Ah! But I've something else to talk to you about."
Mrs. Noel's face quivered back, as a flower might when it was going
to be plucked; and again Lady Casterley put her handkerchief to her
lips. This time she rubbed them hard. There was nothing to come
off; to do so, therefore, was a satisfaction.
"I am an old woman," she said," and you mustn't mind what I say."
Mrs. Noel did not answer, but looked straight at her visitor; to whom
it seemed suddenly that this was another person. What was it about
that face, staring at her! In a weird way it reminded her of a child
that one had hurt--with those great eyes and that soft hair, and the
mouth thin, in a line, all of a sudden. And as if it had been jerked
out of her, she said:
"I don't want to hurt you, my dear. It's about my grandson, of
But Mrs. Noel made neither sign nor motion; and the feeling of
irritation which so rapidly attacks the old when confronted by the
unexpected, came to Lady Casterley's aid.
"His name," she said, "is being coupled with yours in a way that's
doing him a great deal of harm. You don't wish to injure him, I'm
Mrs. Noel shook her head, and Lady Casterley went on:
"I don't know what they're not saying since the evening your friend
Mr. Courtier hurt his knee. Miltoun has been most unwise. You had
not perhaps realized that."
Mrs. Noel's answer was bitterly distinct:
"I didn't know anyone was sufficiently interested in my doings."
Lady Casterley suffered a gesture of exasperation to escape her.
"Good heavens!" she said; "every common person is interested in a
woman whose position is anomalous. Living alone as you do, and not a
widow, you're fair game for everybody, especially in the country."
Mrs. Noel's sidelong glance, very clear and cynical, seemed to say:
"Even for you."
"I am not entitled to ask your story," Lady Casterley went on, "but
if you make mysteries you must expect the worst interpretation put on
them. My grandson is a man of the highest principle; he does not see
things with the eyes of the world, and that should have made you
doubly careful not to compromise him, especially at a time like
Mrs. Noel smiled. This smile startled Lady Casterley; it seemed, by
concealing everything, to reveal depths of strength and subtlety.
Would the woman never show her hand? And she said abruptly:
"Anything serious, of course, is out of the question."
That word, which of all others seemed the right one, was spoken so
that Lady Casterley did not know in the least what it meant. Though
occasionally employing irony, she detested it in others. No woman
should be allowed to use it as a weapon! But in these days, when
they were so foolish as to want votes, one never knew what women
would be at. This particular woman, however, did not look like one
of that sort. She was feminine--very feminine--the sort of creature
that spoiled men by being too nice to them. And though she had come
determined to find out all about everything and put an end to it, she
saw Barbara re-entering the wicket gate with considerable relief.
"I am ready to walk home now," she said. And getting up from the
rustic seat, she made Mrs. Noel a satirical little bow.
"Thank you for letting me rest. Give me your arm, child."
Barbara gave her arm, and over her shoulder threw a swift smile at
Mrs. Noel, who did not answer it, but stood looking quietly after
them, her eyes immensely dark and large.
Out in the lane Lady Casterley walked on, very silent, digesting her
"What about the 'fly,' Granny?"
"The one you told me to order."
"You don't mean to say that you took me seriously?"
"No," said Barbara,.
They proceeded some little way farther before Lady Casterley said
"She is deep."
"And dark," said Barbara. "I am afraid you were not good!"
Lady Casterley glanced upwards.
"I detest this habit," she said, "amongst you young people, of taking
nothing seriously. Not even bulls," she added, with a grim smile.
Barbara threw back her head and sighed.
"Nor 'flys,'" she said.
Lady Casterley saw that she had closed her eyes and opened her lips.
And she thought:
"She's a very beautiful girl. I had no idea she was so beautiful--
but too big!" And she added aloud:
"Shut your mouth! You will get one down!"
They spoke no more till they had entered the avenue; then Lady
Casterley said sharply:
"Who is this coming down the drive?"
"Mr. Courtier, I think."
"What does he mean by it, with that leg?"
"He is coming to talk to you, Granny."
Lady Casterley stopped short.
"You are a cat," she said; "a sly cat. Now mind, Babs, I won't have
"No, darling," murmured Barbara; "you shan't have it--I'll take him
off your hands."
"What does your mother mean," stammered Lady Casterley, "letting you
grow up like this! You're as bad as she was at your age!"
"Worse!" said Barbara. "I dreamed last night that I could fly!"
"If you try that," said Lady Casterley grimly, "you'll soon come to
grief. Good-morning, sir; you ought to be in bed!"
Courtier raised his hat.
"Surely it is not for me to be where you are not!" And he added
gloomily: "The war scare's dead!"
"Ah!" said Lady Casterley: "your occupation's gone then. You'll go
back to London now, I suppose." Looking suddenly at Barbara she saw
that the girl's eyes were half-closed, and that she was smiling; it
seemed to Lady Casterley too or was it fancy?--that she shook her
Thanks to Lady Valleys, a patroness of birds, no owl was ever shot on
the Monkland Court estate, and those soft-flying spirits of the dusk
hooted and hunted, to the great benefit of all except the creeping
voles. By every farm, cottage, and field, they passed invisible,
quartering the dark air. Their voyages of discovery stretched up on
to the moor as far as the wild stone man, whose origin their wisdom
perhaps knew. Round Audrey Noel's cottage they were as thick as
thieves, for they had just there two habitations in a long, old,
holly-grown wall, and almost seemed to be guarding the mistress of
that thatched dwelling--so numerous were their fluttering rushes, so
tenderly prolonged their soft sentinel callings. Now that the
weather was really warm, so that joy of life was in the voles, they
found those succulent creatures of an extraordinarily pleasant
flavour, and on them each pair was bringing up a family of
exceptionally fine little owls, very solemn, with big heads, bright
large eyes, and wings as yet only able to fly downwards. There was
scarcely any hour from noon of the day (for some of them had horns)
to the small sweet hours when no one heard them, that they forgot to
salute the very large, quiet, wingless owl whom they could espy
moving about by day above their mouse-runs, or preening her white and
sometimes blue and sometimes grey feathers morning and evening in a
large square hole high up in the front wall. And they could not
understand at all why no swift depredating graces nor any habit of
long soft hooting belonged to that lady-bird.
On the evening of the day when she received that early morning call,
as soon as dusk had fallen, wrapped in a long thin cloak, with black
lace over her dark hair, Audrey Noel herself fluttered out into the
lanes, as if to join the grave winged hunters of the invisible night.
Those far, continual sounds, not stilled in the country till long
after the sun dies, had but just ceased from haunting the air, where
the late May-scent clung as close as fragrance clings to a woman's
robe. There was just the barking of a dog, the boom of migrating
chafers, the song of the stream, and of the owls, to proclaim the
beating in the heart of this sweet Night. Nor was there any light by
which Night's face could be seen; it was hidden, anonymous; so that
when a lamp in a cottage threw a blink over the opposite bank, it was
as if some wandering painter had wrought a picture of stones and
leaves on the black air, framed it in purple, and left it hanging.
Yet, if it could only have been come at, the Night was as full of
emotion as this woman who wandered, shrinking away against the banks
if anyone passed, stopping to cool her hot face with the dew on the
ferns, walking swiftly to console her warm heart. Anonymous Night
seeking for a symbol could have found none better than this errant
figure, to express its hidden longings, the fluttering, unseen rushes
of its dark wings, and all its secret passion of revolt against its
At Monkland Court, save for little Ann, the morning passed but
dumbly, everyone feeling that something must be done, and no one
knowing what. At lunch, the only allusion to the situation had been
"When does Miltoun return?"
He had wired, it seemed, to say that he was motoring down that night.
"The sooner the better," Sir William murmured: "we've still a
But all had felt from the tone in which he spoke these words, how
serious was the position in the eyes of that experienced campaigner.
What with the collapse of the war scare, and this canard about Mrs.
Noel, there was indeed cause for alarm.
The afternoon post brought a letter from Lord Valleys marked Express.
Lady Valleys opened it with a slight grimace, which deepened as she
read. Her handsome, florid face wore an expression of sadness seldom
seen there. There was, in fact, more than a touch of dignity in her
reception of the unpalatable news.
"Eustace declares his intention of marrying this Mrs. Noel"--so ran
her husband's letter--"I know, unfortunately, of no way in which I
can prevent him. If you can discover legitimate means of dissuasion,
it would be well to use them. My dear, it's the very devil."
It was the very devil! For, if Miltoun had already made up his mind
to marry her, without knowledge of the malicious rumour, what would
not be his determination now? And the woman of the world rose up in
Lady Valleys. This marriage must not come off. It was contrary to
almost every instinct of one who was practical not only by character,
but by habit of life and training. Her warm and full-blooded nature
had a sneaking sympathy with love and pleasure, and had she not been
practical, she might have found this side of her a serious drawback
to the main tenor of a life so much in view of the public eye. Her
consciousness of this danger in her own case made her extremely alive
to the risks of an undesirable connection--especially if it were a
marriage--to any public man. At the same time the mother-heart in
her was stirred. Eustace had never been so deep in her affection as
Bertie, still he was her first-born; and in face of news which meant
that he was lost to her--for this must indeed be 'the marriage of two
minds' (or whatever that quotation was)--she felt strangely jealous
of a woman, who had won her son's love, when she herself had never
won it. The aching of this jealousy gave her face for a moment
almost a spiritual expression, then passed away into impatience. Why
should he marry her? Things could be arranged. People spoke of it
already as an illicit relationship; well then, let people have what
they had invented. If the worst came to the worst, this was not the
only constituency in England; and a dissolution could not be far off.
Better anything than a marriage which would handicap him all his
life! But would it be so great a handicap? After all, beauty
counted for much! If only her story were not too conspicuous! But
what was her story? Not to know it was absurd! That was the worst
of people who were not in Society, it was so difficult to find out!
And there rose in her that almost brutal resentment, which ferments
very rapidly in those who from their youth up have been hedged round
with the belief that they and they alone are the whole of the world.
In this mood Lady Valleys passed the letter to her daughters. They
read, and in turn handed it to Bertie, who in silence returned it to
But that evening, in the billiard-room, having manoeuvred to get him
to herself, Barbara said to Courtier:
"I wonder if you will answer me a question, Mr. Courtier?"
"If I may, and can."
Her low-cut dress was of yew-green, with, little threads of flame-
colour, matching her hair, so that there was about her a splendour of
darkness and whiteness and gold, almost dazzling; and she stood very
still, leaning back against the lighter green of the billiard-table,
grasping its edge so tightly that the smooth strong backs of her
"We have just heard that Miltoun is going to ask Mrs. Noel to marry
him. People are never mysterious, are they, without good reason? I
wanted you to tell me--who is she?"
"I don't think I quite grasp the situation," murmured Courtier. "You
said--to marry him?"
Seeing that she had put out her hand, as if begging for the truth, he
added: "How can your brother marry her--she's married!"
"I'd no idea you didn't know that much."
"We thought there was a divorce."
The expression of which mention has been made--that peculiar white-
hot sardonically jolly look--visited Courtier's face at once. "Hoist
with their own petard! The usual thing. Let a pretty woman live
alone--the tongues of men will do the rest."
"It was not so bad as that," said Barbara dryly; "they said she had
divorced her husband."
Caught out thus characteristically riding past the hounds Courtier
bit his lips.
"You had better hear the story now. Her father was a country parson,
and a friend of my father's; so that I've known her from a child.
Stephen Lees Noel was his curate. It was a 'snap' marriage--she was
only twenty, and had met hardly any men. Her father was ill and
wanted to see her settled before he died. Well, she found out almost
directly, like a good many other people, that she'd made an utter
Barbara came a little closer.
"What was the man like?"
"Not bad in his way, but one of those narrow, conscientious pig-
headed fellows who make the most trying kind of husband--bone
egoistic. A parson of that type has no chance at all. Every mortal
thing he has to do or say helps him to develop his worst points. The
wife of a man like that's no better than a slave. She began to show
the strain of it at last; though she's the sort who goes on till she
snaps. It took him four years to realize. Then, the question was,
what were they to do? He's a very High Churchman, with all their
feeling about marriage; but luckily his pride was wounded. Anyway,
they separated two years ago; and there she is, left high and dry.
People say it was her fault. She ought to have known her own mind--
at twenty! She ought to have held on and hidden it up somehow.
Confound their thick-skinned charitable souls, what do they know of
how a sensitive woman suffers? Forgive me, Lady Barbara--I get hot
over this." He was silent; then seeing her eyes fixed on him, went
on: "Her mother died when she was born, her father soon after her
marriage. She's enough money of her own, luckily, to live on
quietly. As for him, he changed his parish and runs one somewhere in
the Midlands. One's sorry for the poor devil, too, of course! They
never see each other; and, so far as I know, they don't correspond.
That, Lady Barbara, is the simple history."
Barbara, said, "Thank you," and turned away; and he heard her mutter:
"What a shame!"
But he could not tell whether it was Mrs. Noel's fate, or the
husband's fate, or the thought of Miltoun that had moved her to those
She puzzled him by her self-possession, so almost hard, her way of
refusing to show feeling.' Yet what a woman she would make if the
drying curse of high-caste life were not allowed to stereotype and
shrivel her! If enthusiasm were suffered to penetrate and fertilize
her soul! She reminded him of a great tawny lily. He had a vision
of her, as that flower, floating, freed of roots and the mould of its
cultivated soil, in the liberty of the impartial air. What a
passionate and noble thing she might become! What radiance and
perfume she would exhale! A spirit Fleur-de-Lys! Sister to all the
noble flowers of light that inhabited the wind!
Leaning in the deep embrasure of his window, he looked at anonymous
Night. He could hear the owls hoot, and feel a heart beating out
there somewhere in the darkness, but there came no answer to his
wondering. Would she--this great tawny lily of a girl--ever become
unconscious of her environment, not in manner merely, but in the very
soul, so that she might be just a woman, breathing, suffering,
loving, and rejoicing with the poet soul of all mankind? Would she
ever be capable of riding out with the little company of big hearts,
naked of advantage? Courtier had not been inside a church for twenty
years, having long felt that he must not enter the mosques of his
country without putting off the shoes of freedom, but he read the
Bible, considering it a very great poem. And the old words came
haunting him: 'Verily I say unto you, It is harder for a camel to
pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the
kingdom of Heaven.' And now, looking into the Night, whose darkness
seemed to hold the answer to all secrets, he tried to read the riddle
of this girl's future, with which there seemed so interwoven that
larger enigma, how far the spirit can free itself, in this life, from
the matter that encompasseth.
The Night whispered suddenly, and low down, as if rising from the
sea, came the moon, dropping a wan robe of light till she gleamed out
nude against the sky-curtain. Night was no longer anonymous. There
in the dusky garden the statue of Diana formed slowly before his
eyes, and behind her--as it were, her temple--rose the tall spire of
the cypress tree.
A copy of the Bucklandbury News, containing an account of his evening
adventure, did not reach Miltoun till he was just starting on his
return journey. It came marked with blue pencil together with a
"MY DEAR EUSTACE,
"The enclosed--however unwarranted and impudent--requires attention.
But we shall do nothing till you come back.
The effect on Miltoun might perhaps have been different had he not
been so conscious of his intention to ask Audrey Noel to be his wife;
but in any circumstances it is doubtful whether he would have done
more than smile, and tear the paper up. Truly that sort of thing had
so little power to hurt or disturb him personally, that he was
incapable of seeing how it could hurt or disturb others. If those
who read it were affected, so much the worse for them. He had a
real, if unobtrusive, contempt for groundlings, of whatever class;
and it never entered his head to step an inch out of his course in
deference to their vagaries. Nor did it come home to him that Mrs.
Noel, wrapped in the glamour which he cast about her, could possibly
suffer from the meanness of vulgar minds. Shropton's note, indeed,
caused him the more annoyance of those two documents. It was like
his brother-in-law to make much of little!
He hardly dozed at all during his swift journey through the sleeping
country; nor when he reached his room at Monkland did he go to bed.
He had the wonderful, upborne feeling of man on the verge of
achievement. His spirit and senses were both on fire--for that was
the quality of this woman, she suffered no part of him to sleep, and
he was glad of her exactions.
He drank some tea; went out, and took a path up to the moor. It was
not yet eight o'clock when he reached the top of the nearest tor.
And there, below him, around, and above, was a land and sky
transcending even his exaltation. It was like a symphony of great
music; or the nobility of a stupendous mind laid bare; it was God up
there, in His many moods. Serenity was spread in the middle heavens,
blue, illimitable, and along to the East, three huge clouds, like
thoughts brooding over the destinies below, moved slowly toward the
sea, so that great shadows filled the valleys. And the land that lay
under all the other sky was gleaming, and quivering with every
colour, as it were, clothed with the divine smile. The wind, from
the North, whereon floated the white birds of the smaller clouds, had
no voice, for it was above barriers, utterly free. Before Miltoun,
turning to this wind, lay the maze of the lower lands, the misty
greens, rose pinks, and browns of the fields, and white and grey dots
and strokes of cottages and church towers, fading into the blue veil
of distance, confined by a far range of hills. Behind him there was
nothing but the restless surface of the moor, coloured purplish-
brown. On that untamed sea of graven wildness could be seen no ship
of man, save one, on the far horizon--the grim hulk, Dartmoor Prison.
There was no sound, no scent, and it seemed to Miltoun as if his
spirit had left his body, and become part of the solemnity of God.
Yet, as he stood there, with his head bared, that strange smile which
haunted him in moments of deep feeling, showed that he had not
surrendered to the Universal, that his own spirit was but being
fortified, and that this was the true and secret source of his
delight. He lay down in a scoop of the stones. The sun entered
there, but no wind, so that a dry sweet scent exuded from the young
shoots of heather. That warmth and perfume crept through the shield
of his spirit, and stole into his blood; ardent images rose before
him, the vision of an unending embrace. Out of an embrace sprang
Life, out of that the World was made, this World, with its
innumerable forms, and natures--no two alike! And from him and her
would spring forms to take their place in the great pattern. This
seemed wonderful, and right-for they would be worthy forms, who would
hand on those traditions which seemed to him so necessary and great.
And then there broke on him one of those delirious waves of natural
desire, against which he had so often fought, so often with great
pain conquered. He got up, and ran downhill, leaping over the
stones, and the thicker clumps of heather.
Audrey Noel, too, had been early astir, though she had gone late
enough to bed. She dressed languidly, but very carefully, being one
of those women who put on armour against Fate, because they are
proud, and dislike the thought that their sufferings should make
others suffer; because, too, their bodies are to them as it were
sacred, having been given them in trust, to cause delight. When she
had finished, she looked at herself in the glass rather more
distrustfully than usual. She felt that her sort of woman was at a
discount in these days, and being sensitive, she was never content
either with her appearance, or her habits. But, for all that, she
went on behaving in unsatisfactory ways, because she incorrigibly
loved to look as charming as she could; and even if no one were going
to see her, she never felt that she looked charming enough. She was
--as Lady Casterley had shrewdly guessed--the kind of woman who
spoils men by being too nice to them; of no use to those who wish
women to assert themselves; yet having a certain passive stoicism,
very disconcerting. With little or no power of initiative, she would
do what she was set to do with a thoroughness that would shame an
initiator; temperamentally unable to beg anything of anybody, she
required love as a plant requires water; she could give herself
completely, yet remain oddly incorruptible; in a word, hopeless, and
usually beloved of those who thought her so.
With all this, however, she was not quite what is called a 'sweet
woman--a phrase she detested--for there was in her a queer vein of
gentle cynicism. She 'saw' with extraordinary clearness, as if she
had been born in Italy and still carried that clear dry atmosphere
about her soul. She loved glow and warmth and colour; such mysticism
as she felt was pagan; and she had few aspirations--sufficient to her
were things as they showed themselves to be.
This morning, when she had made herself smell of geraniums, and
fastened all the small contrivances that hold even the best of women
together, she went downstairs to her little dining-room, set the
spirit lamp going, and taking up her newspaper, stood waiting to make
It was the hour of the day most dear to her. If the dew had been
brushed off her life, it was still out there every morning on the
face of Nature, and on the faces of her flowers; there was before her
all the pleasure of seeing how each of those little creatures in the
garden had slept; how many children had been born since the Dawn; who
was ailing, and needed attention. There was also the feeling, which
renews itself every morning in people who live lonely lives, that
they are not lonely, until, the day wearing on, assures them of the
fact. Not that she was idle, for she had obtained through Courtier
the work of reviewing music in a woman's paper, for which she was
intuitively fitted. This, her flowers, her own music, and the
affairs of certain families of cottagers, filled nearly all her time.
And she asked no better fate than to have every minute occupied,
having that passion for work requiring no initiation, which is
natural to the owners of lazy minds.
Suddenly she dropped her newspaper, went to the bowl of flowers on
the breakfast-table, and plucked forth two stalks of lavender;
holding them away from her, she went out into the garden, and flung
them over the wall.
This strange immolation of those two poor sprigs, born so early,
gathered and placed before her with such kind intention by her maid,
seemed of all acts the least to be expected of one who hated to hurt
people's feelings, and whose eyes always shone at the sight of
flowers. But in truth the smell of lavender--that scent carried on
her husband's handkerchief and clothes--still affected her so
strongly that she could not bear to be in a room with it. As nothing
else did, it brought before her one, to live with whom had slowly
become torture. And freed by that scent, the whole flood of memory
broke in on her. The memory of three years when her teeth had been
set doggedly, on her discovery that she was chained to unhappiness
for life; the memory of the abrupt end, and of her creeping away to
let her scorched nerves recover. Of how during the first year of
this release which was not freedom, she had twice changed her abode,
to get away from her own story--not because she was ashamed of it,
but because it reminded her of wretchedness. Of how she had then
come to Monkland, where the quiet life had slowly given her
elasticity again. And then of her meeting with Miltoun; the
unexpected delight of that companionship; the frank enjoyment of the
first four months. And she remembered all her secret rejoicing, her
silent identification of another life with her own, before she
acknowledged or even suspected love. And just three weeks ago now,
helping to tie up her roses, he had touched her, and she had known.
But even then, until the night of Courtier's accident, she had not
dared to realize. More concerned now for him than for herself, she
asked herself a thousand times if she had been to blame. She had let
him grow fond of her, a woman out of court, a dead woman! An
unpardonable sin! Yet surely that depended on what she was prepared
to give! And she was frankly ready to give everything, and ask for
nothing. He knew her position, he had told her that he knew. In her
love for him she gloried, would continue to glory; would suffer for
it without regret. Miltoun was right in believing that newspaper
gossip was incapable of hurting her, though her reasons for being so
impervious were not what he supposed. She was not, like him, secured
from pain because such insinuations about the private affairs of
others were mean and vulgar and beneath notice; it had not as yet
occurred to her to look at the matter in so lofty and general a
light; she simply was not hurt, because she was already so deeply
Miltoun's property in spirit, that she was almost glad that they
should assign him all the rest of her. But for Miltoun's sake she
was disturbed to the soul. She had tarnished his shield in the eyes
of men; and (for she was oddly practical, and saw things in very
clear proportion) perhaps put back his career, who knew how many
She sat down to drink her tea. Not being a crying woman, she
suffered quietly. She felt that Miltoun would be coming to her. She
did not know at all what she should say when he did come. He could
not care for her so much as she cared for him! He was a man; men
soon forget! Ah! but he was not like most men. One could not look
at his eyes without feeling that he could suffer terribly! In all
this her own reputation concerned her not at all. Life, and her
clear way of looking at things, had rooted in her the conviction that
to a woman the preciousness of her reputation was a fiction invented
by men entirely for man's benefit; a second-hand fetish insidiously,
inevitably set-up by men for worship, in novels, plays, and law-
courts. Her instinct told her that men could not feel secure in the
possession of their women unless they could believe that women set
tremendous store by sexual reputation. What they wanted to believe,
that they did believe! But she knew otherwise. Such great-minded
women as she had met or read of had always left on her the impression
that reputation for them was a matter of the spirit, having little to
do with sex. From her own feelings she knew that reputation, for a
simple woman, meant to stand well in the eyes of him or her whom she
loved best. For worldly women--and there were so many kinds of
those, besides the merely fashionable--she had always noted that its
value was not intrinsic, but commercial; not a crown of dignity, but
just a marketable asset. She did not dread in the least what people
might say of her friendship with Miltoun; nor did she feel at all
that her indissoluble marriage forbade her loving him. She had
secretly felt free as soon as she had discovered that she had never
really loved her husband; she had only gone on dutifully until the
separation, from sheer passivity, and because it was against her
nature to cause pain to anyone. The man who was still her husband
was now as dead to her as if he had never been born. She could not
marry again, it was true; but she could and did love. If that love
was to be starved and die away, it would not be because of any moral
She opened her paper languidly; and almost the first words she read,
under the heading of Election News, were these:
'Apropos of the outrage on Mr. Courtier, we are requested to state
that the lady who accompanied Lord Miltoun to the rescue of that
gentleman was Mrs. Lees Noel, wife of the Rev. Stephen Lees Noel,
vicar of Clathampton, Warwickshire.'
This dubious little daub of whitewash only brought a rather sad smile
to her lips. She left her tea, and went out into the air. There at
the gate was Miltoun coming in. Her heart leaped. But she went
forward quietly, and greeted him with cast-down eyes, as if nothing
were out of the ordinary.
Exaltation had not left Miltoun. His sallow face was flushed, his
eyes glowed with a sort of beauty; and Audrey Noel who, better than
most women, could read what was passing behind a face, saw those eyes
with the delight of a moth fluttering towards a lamp. But in a very
unemotional voice she said:
"So you have come to breakfast. How nice of you!
It was not in Miltoun to observe the formalities of attack. Had he
been going to fight a duel there would have been no preliminary, just
a look, a bow, and the swords crossed. So in this first engagement
of his with the soul of a woman!
He neither sat down nor suffered her to sit, but stood looking
intently into her face, and said:
"I love you."
Now that it had come, with this disconcerting swiftness, she was
strangely calm, and unashamed. The elation of knowing for sure that
she was loved was like a wand waving away all tremors, stilling them
to sweetness. Since nothing could take away that knowledge, it
seemed that she could never again be utterly unhappy. Then, too, in
her nature, so deeply, unreasoningly incapable of perceiving the
importance of any principle but love, there was a secret feeling of
assurance, of triumph. He did love her! And she, him! Well! And
suddenly panic-stricken, lest he should take back those words, she
put her hand up to his breast, and said:
"And I love you."
The feel of his arms round her, the strength and passion of that
moment, were so terribly sweet, that she died to thought, just
looking up at him, with lips parted and eyes darker with the depth of
her love than he had ever dreamed that eyes could be. The madness of
his own feeling kept him silent. And they stood there, so merged in
one another that they knew and cared nothing for any other mortal
thing. It was very still in the room; the roses and carnations in
the lustre bowl, seeming to know that their mistress was caught up
into heaven, had let their perfume steal forth and occupy every
cranny of the abandoned air; a hovering bee, too, circled round the
lovers' heads, scenting, it seemed, the honey in their hearts.
It has been said that Miltoun's face was not unhandsome; for Audrey
Noel at this moment when his eyes were so near hers, and his lips
touching her, he was transfigured, and had become the spirit of all
beauty. And she, with heart beating fast against him, her eyes, half
closing from delight, and her hair asking to be praised with its
fragrance, her cheeks fainting pale with emotion, and her arms too
languid with happiness to embrace him--she, to him, was the
incarnation of the woman that visits dreams.
So passed that moment.
The bee ended it; who, impatient with flowers that hid their honey so
deep, had entangled himself in Audrey's hair. And then, seeing that
words, those dreaded things, were on his lips, she tried to kiss them
back. But they came:
"When will you marry me?"
It all swayed a little. And with marvellous rapidity the whole
position started up before her. She saw, with preternatural insight,
into its nooks and corners. Something he had said one day, when they
were talking of the Church view of marriage and divorce, lighted all
up. So he had really never known about her! At this moment of utter
sickness, she was saved from fainting by her sense of humour--her
cynicism. Not content to let her be, people's tongues had divorced
her; he had believed them! And the crown of irony was that he should
want to marry her, when she felt so utterly, so sacredly his, to do
what he liked with sans forms or ceremonies. A surge of bitter
feeling against the man who stood between her and Miltoun almost made
her cry out. That man had captured her before she knew the world or
her own soul, and she was tied to him, till by some beneficent chance
he drew his last breath when her hair was grey, and her eyes had no
love light, and her cheeks no longer grew pale when they were kissed;
when twilight had fallen, and the flowers, and bees no longer cared
It was that feeling, the sudden revolt of the desperate prisoner,
which steeled her to put out her hand, take up the paper, and give it
When he had read the little paragraph, there followed one of those
eternities which last perhaps two minutes.
He said, then:
"It's true, I suppose?" And, at her silence, added: "I am sorry."
This queer dry saying was so much more terrible than any outcry, that
she remained, deprived even of the power of breathing, with her eyes
still fixed on Miltoun's face.
The smile of the old Cardinal had come up there, and was to her like
a living accusation. It seemed strange that the hum of the bees and
flies and the gentle swishing of the limetree should still go on
outside, insisting that there was a world moving and breathing apart
from her, and careless of her misery. Then some of her courage came
back, and with it her woman's mute power. It came haunting about her
face, perfectly still, about her lips, sensitive and drawn, about her
eyes, dark, almost mutinous under their arched brows. She stood,
drawing him with silence and beauty.
At last he spoke:
"I have made a foolish mistake, it seems. I believed you were free."
Her lips just moved for the words to pass: "I thought you knew. I
never, dreamed you would want to marry me."
It seemed to her natural that he should be thinking only of himself,
but with the subtlest defensive instinct, she put forward her own
"I suppose I had got too used to knowing I was dead."
"Is there no release?"
"None. We have neither of us done wrong; besides with him, marriage
She had broken his smile, which had been cruel without meaning to be
cruel; and with a smile of her own that was cruel too, she said:
"I didn't know that you believed in release either."
Then, as though she had stabbed herself in stabbing him, her face
He looked at her now, conscious at last that she was suffering. And
she felt that he was holding himself in with all his might from
taking her again into his arms. Seeing this, the warmth crept back
to her lips, and a little light into her eyes, which she kept hidden
from him. Though she stood so proudly still, some wistful force was
coming from her, as from a magnet, and Miltoun's hands and arms and
face twitched as though palsied. This struggle, dumb and pitiful,
seemed never to be coming to an end in the little white room,
darkened by the thatch of the verandah, and sweet with the scent of
pinks and of a wood fire just lighted somewhere out at the back.
Then, without a word, he turned and went out. She heard the wicket
gate swing to. He was gone.
Lord Denis was fly-fishing--the weather just too bright to allow the
little trout of that shallow, never silent stream to embrace with
avidity the small enticements which he threw in their direction.
Nevertheless he continued to invite them, exploring every nook of
their watery pathway with his soft-swishing line. In a rough suit
and battered hat adorned with those artificial and other flies, which
infest Harris tweed, he crept along among the hazel bushes and thorn-
trees, perfectly happy. Like an old spaniel, who has once gloried in
the fetching of hares, rabbits, and all manner of fowl, and is now
glad if you will but throw a stick for him, so one, who had been a
famous fisher before the Lord, who had harried the waters of Scotland
and Norway, Florida and Iceland, now pursued trout no bigger than
sardines. The glamour of a thousand memories hallowed the hours he
thus spent by that brown water. He fished unhasting, religious, like
some good Catholic adding one more to the row of beads already told,
as though he would fish himself, gravely, without complaint, into the
other world. With each fish caught he experienced a solemn
Though he would have liked Barbara with him that morning, he had only
looked at her once after breakfast in such a way that she could not
see him, and with a dry smile gone off by himself. Down by the
stream it was dappled, both cool and warm, windless; the trees met
over the river, and there were many stones, forming little basins
which held up the ripple, so that the casting of a fly required much
cunning. This long dingle ran for miles through the foot-growth of
folding hills. It was beloved of jays; but of human beings there
were none, except a chicken-farmer's widow, who lived in a house
thatched almost to the ground, and made her livelihood by directing
tourists, with such cunning that they soon came back to her for tea.
It was while throwing a rather longer line than usual to reach a
little dark piece of crisp water that Lord Dennis heard the swishing
and crackling of someone advancing at full speed. He frowned
slightly, feeling for the nerves of his fishes, whom he did not wish
startled. The invader was Miltoun, hot, pale, dishevelled, with a
queer, hunted look on his face. He stopped on seeing his great-
uncle, and instantly assumed the mask of his smile.
Lord Dennis was not the man to see what was not intended for him, and
he merely said:
"Well, Eustace!" as he might have spoken, meeting his nephew in the
hall of one of his London Clubs.
Miltoun, no less polite, murmured:
"Hope I haven't lost you anything."
Lord Dennis shook his head, and laying his rod on the bank, said:
"Sit down and have a chat, old fellow. You don't fish, I think?"
He had not, in the least, missed the suffering behind Miltoun's mask;
his eyes were still good, and there was a little matter of some
twenty years' suffering of his own on account of a woman--ancient
history now--which had left him quaintly sensitive, for an old man,
to signs of suffering in others.
Miltoun would not have obeyed that invitation from anyone else, but
there was something about Lord Dennis which people did not resist;
his power lay in a dry ironic suavity which could not but persuade
people that impoliteness was altogether too new and raw a thing to be
The two sat side by side on the roots of trees. At first they talked
a little of birds, and then were dumb, so dumb that the invisible
creatures of the woods consulted together audibly. Lord Dennis broke
"This place," he said, "always reminds me of Mark Twain's writings--
can't tell why, unless it's the ever-greenness. I like the evergreen
philosophers, Twain and Meredith. There's no salvation except
through courage, though I never could stomach the 'strong man'--
captain of his soul, Henley and Nietzsche and that sort--goes against
the grain with me. What do you say, Eustace?"
"They meant well," answered Miltoun, "but they protested too much."
Lord Dennis moved his head in assent.
"To be captain of your soul!" continued Miltoun in a bitter voice;
"it's a pretty phrase!"
"Pretty enough," murmured Lord Dennis.
Miltoun looked at him.
"And suitable to you," he said.
"No, my dear," Lord Dennis answered dryly, "a long way off that,
His eyes were fixed intently on the place where a large trout had
risen in the stillest toffee-coloured pool. He knew that fellow, a
half-pounder at least, and his thoughts began flighting round the top
of his head, hovering over the various merits of the flies. His
fingers itched too, but he made no movement, and the ash-tree under
which he sat let its leaves tremble, as though in sympathy.
"See that hawk?" said Miltoun.
At a height more than level with the tops of the hills a buzzard hawk
was stationary in the blue directly over them. Inspired by curiosity
at their stillness, he was looking down to see whether they were
edible; the upcurved ends of his great wings flirted just once to
show that he was part of the living glory of the air--a symbol of
freedom to men and fishes.
Lord Dennis looked at his great-nephew. The boy--for what else was
thirty to seventy-six?--was taking it hard, whatever it might be,
taking it very hard! He was that sort--ran till he dropped. The
worst kind to help--the sort that made for trouble--that let things
gnaw at them! And there flashed before the old man's mind the image
of Prometheus devoured by the eagle. It was his favourite tragedy,
which he still read periodically, in the Greek, helping himself now
and then out of his old lexicon to the meaning of some word which had
flown to Erebus. Yes, Eustace was a fellow for the heights and
He said quietly:
"You don't care to talk about it, I suppose?"
Miltoun shook his head, and again there was silence.
The buzzard hawk having seen them move, quivered his wings like a
moth's, and deserted that plane of air. A robin from the dappled
warmth of a mossy stone, was regarding them instead. There was
another splash in the pool.
Lord Dennis said gently:
"That fellow's risen twice; I believe he'd take a 'Wistman's
treasure.'" Extracting from his hat its latest fly, and binding it
on, he began softly to swish his line.
"I shall have him yet!" he muttered. But Miltoun had stolen away....
The further piece of information about Mrs. Noel, already known by
Barbara, and diffused by the 'Bucklandbury News', had not become
common knowledge at the Court till after Lord Dennis had started out
to fish. In combination with the report that Miltoun had arrived and
gone out without breakfast, it had been received with mingled
feelings. Bertie, Harbinger, and Shropton, in a short conclave,
after agreeing that from the point of view of the election it was
perhaps better than if she had been a divorcee, were still inclined
to the belief that no time was to be lost--in doing what, however,
they were unable to determine. Apart from the impossibility of
knowing how a fellow like Miltoun would take the matter, they were
faced with the devilish subtlety of all situations to which the
proverb 'Least said, soonest mended' applies. They were in the
presence of that awe-inspiring thing, the power of scandal. Simple
statements of simple facts, without moral drawn (to which no legal
exception could be taken) laid before the public as pieces of
interesting information, or at the worst exposed in perfect good
faith, lest the public should blindly elect as their representative
one whose private life might not stand the inspection of daylight--
what could be more justifiable! And yet Miltoun's supporters knew
that this simple statement of where he spent his evenings had a
poisonous potency, through its power of stimulating that side of the
human imagination the most easily excited. They recognized only too
well, how strong was a certain primitive desire, especially in rural
districts, by yielding to which the world was made to go, and how
remarkably hard it, was not to yield to it, and how interesting and
exciting to see or hear of others yielding to it, and how (though
here, of course, men might differ secretly) reprehensible of them to
do so! They recognized, too well, how a certain kind of conscience
would appreciate this rumour; and how the puritans would lick their
lengthened chops. They knew, too, how irresistible to people of any
imagination at all, was the mere combination of a member of a class,
traditionally supposed to be inclined to having what it wanted, with
a lady who lived alone! As Harbinger said: It was really devilish
awkward! For, to take any notice of it would be to make more people
than ever believe it true. And yet, that it was working mischief,
they felt by the secret voice in their own souls, telling them that
they would have believed it if they had not known better. They hung
about, waiting for Miltoun to come in.
The news was received by Lady Valleys with a sigh of intense relief,
and the remark that it was probably another lie. When Barbara
confirmed it, she only said: "Poor Eustace!" and at once wrote off to
her husband to say that 'Anonyma' was still married, so that the
worst fortunately could not happen.
Miltoun came in to lunch, but from his face and manner nothing could
be guessed. He was a thought more talkative than usual, and spoke of
Brabrook's speech--some of which he had heard. He looked at Courtier
meaningly, and after lunch said to him:
"Will you come round to my den?"
In that room, the old withdrawing-room of the Elizabethan wing--where
once had been the embroideries, tapestries, and missals of beruffled
dames were now books, pamphlets, oak-panels, pipes, fencing gear, and
along one wall a collection of Red Indian weapons and ornaments
brought back by Miltoun from the United States. High on the wall
above these reigned the bronze death-mask of a famous Apache Chief,
cast from a plaster taken of the face by a professor of Yale College,
who had declared it to be a perfect specimen of the vanishing race.
That visage, which had a certain weird resemblance to Dante's,
presided over the room with cruel, tragic stoicism. No one could
look on it without feeling that, there, the human will had been
pushed to its farthest limits of endurance.
Seeing it for the first time, Courtier said:
"Fine thing--that! Only wants a soul."
"Sit down," he said.
Courtier sat down.
There followed one of those silences in which men whose spirits,
though different, have a certain bigness in common--can say so much
to one another:
At last Miltoun spoke:
"I have been living in the clouds, it seems. You are her oldest
friend. The immediate question is how to make it easiest for her in
face of this miserable rumour!"
Not even Courtier himself could have put such whip-lash sting into
the word 'miserable.'
"Oh! take no notice of that. Let them stew in their own juice. She
Miltoun listened, not moving a muscle of his face.
"Your friends here," went on Courtier with a touch of contempt, "seem
in a flutter. Don't let them do anything, don't let them say a word.
Treat the thing as it deserves to be treated. It'll die."
Miltoun, however, smiled.
"I'm not sure," he said, "that the consequences will be as you think,
but I shall do as you say."
"As for your candidature, any man with a spark of generosity in his
soul will rally to you because of it."
"Possibly," said Miltoun. "It will lose me the election, for all
Then, dimly conscious that their last words had revealed the
difference of their temperaments and creeds, they stared at one
"No," said Courtier, "I never will believe that people can be so
"Until they are."
"Anyway, though we get at it in different ways, we agree."
Miltoun leaned his elbow on the mantelpiece, and shading his face
with his hand, said:
"You know her story. Is there any way out of that, for her?"
On Courtier's face was the look which so often came when he was
speaking for one of his lost causes--as if the fumes from a fire in
his heart had mounted to his head.
"Only the way," he answered calmly, "that I should take if I were
"The law into your own hands."
Miltoun unshaded his face. His gaze seemed to have to travel from an
immense distance before it reached Courtier. He answered:
"Yes, I thought you would say that."
When everything, that night, was quiet, Barbara, her hair hanging
loose outside her dressing gown, slipped from her room into the dim
corridor. With bare feet thrust into fur-crowned slippers which made
no noise, she stole along looking at door after door. Through a long
Gothic window, uncurtained, the mild moonlight was coming. She
stopped just where that moonlight fell, and tapped. There came no
answer. She opened the door a little way, and said:
"Are you asleep, Eusty?"
There still came no answer, and she went in.
The curtains were drawn, but a chink of moonlight peering through
fell on the bed. This was empty. Barbara stood uncertain,
listening. In the heart of that darkness there seemed to be, not
sound, but, as it were, the muffled soul of sound, a sort of strange
vibration, like that of a flame noiselessly licking the air. She put
her hand to her heart, which beat as though it would leap through the
thin silk covering. From what corner of the room was that mute
tremor coming? Stealing to the window, she parted the curtains, and
stared back into the shadows. There, on the far side, lying on the
floor with his arms pressed tightly round his head and his face to
the wall, was Miltoun. Barbara let fall the curtains, and stood
breathless, with such a queer sensation in her breast as she had
never felt; a sense of something outraged-of scarred pride. It was
gone at once, in a rush of pity. She stepped forward quickly in the
darkness, was visited by fear, and stopped. He had seemed absolutely
himself all the evening. A little more talkative, perhaps, a little
more caustic than usual. And now to find him like this! There was
no great share of reverence in Barbara, but what little she possessed
had always been kept for her eldest brother. He had impressed her,
from a child, with his aloofness, and she had been proud of kissing
him because he never seemed to let anybody else do so. Those
caresses, no doubt, had the savour of conquest; his face had been the
undiscovered land for her lips. She loved him as one loves that
which ministers to one's pride; had for him, too, a touch of motherly
protection, as for a doll that does not get on too well with the
other dolls; and withal a little unaccustomed awe.
Dared she now plunge in on this private agony? Could she have borne
that anyone should see herself thus prostrate? He had not heard her,
and she tried to regain the door. But a board creaked; she heard him
move, and flinging away her fears, said: "It's me! Babs!" and dropped
on her knees beside him. If it had not been so pitch dark she could
never have done that. She tried at once to take his head into her
arms, but could not see it, and succeeded indifferently. She could
but stroke his arm continually, wondering whether he would hate her
ever afterwards, and blessing the darkness, which made it all seem as
though it were not happening, yet so much more poignant than if it
had happened. Suddenly she felt him slip away from her, and getting
up, stole out. After the darkness of that room, the corridor seemed
full of grey filmy light, as though dream-spiders had joined the
walls with their cobwebs, in which innumerable white moths, so tiny
that they could not be seen, were struggling. Small eerie noises
crept about. A sudden frightened longing for warmth, and light, and
colour came to Barbara. She fled back to her room. But she could
not sleep. That terrible mute unseen vibration in the unlighted
room-like the noiseless licking of a flame at bland air; the touch of
Miltoun's hand, hot as fire against her cheek and neck; the whole
tremulous dark episode, possessed her through and through. Thus had
the wayward force of Love chosen to manifest itself to her in all its
wistful violence. At this fiat sight of the red flower of passion
her cheeks burned; up and down her, between the cool sheets, little
hot cruel shivers ran; she lay, wide-eyed, staring at the ceiling.
She thought, of the woman whom he so loved, and wondered if she too
were lying sleepless, flung down on a bare floor, trying to cool her
forehead and lips against a cold wall.
Not for hours did she fall asleep, and then dreamed of running
desperately through fields full of tall spiky asphodel-like flowers,
and behind her was running herself.
In the morning she dreaded to go down. Could she meet Miltoun now
that she knew of the passion in him, and he knew that she knew it?
She had her breakfast brought upstairs. Before she had finished
Miltoun himself came in. He looked more than usually self-contained,
not to say ironic, and only remarked: "If you're going to ride you
might take this note for me over to old Haliday at Wippincott." By
his coming she knew that he was saying all he ever meant to say about
that dark incident. And sympathizing completely with a reticence
which she herself felt to be the only possible way out for both of
them, Barbara looked at him gratefully, took the note and said: "All
Then, after glancing once or twice round the room, Miltoun went away.
He left her restless, divested of the cloak 'of course,' in a strange
mood of questioning, ready as it were for the sight of the magpie
wings of Life, and to hear their quick flutterings. Talk jarred on
her that morning, with its sameness and attachment to the facts of
the present and the future, its essential concern with the world as
it was-she avoided all companionship on her ride. She wanted to be
told of things that were not, yet might be, to peep behind the
curtain, and see the very spirit of mortal happenings escaped from
prison. And this was all so unusual with Barbara, whose body was too
perfect, too sanely governed by the flow of her blood not to revel in
the moment and the things thereof. She knew it was unusual. After
her ride she avoided lunch, and walked out into the lanes. But about
two o'clock, feeling very hungry, she went into a farmhouse, and
asked for milk. There, in the kitchen, like young jackdaws in a row
with their mouths a little open, were the three farm boys, seated on
a bench gripped to the alcove of the great fire-way, munching bread
and cheese. Above their heads a gun was hung, trigger upwards, and
two hams were mellowing in the smoke. At the feet of a black-haired
girl, who was slicing onions, lay a sheep dog of tremendous age, with
nose stretched out on paws, and in his little blue eyes a gleam of
approaching immortality. They all stared at, Barbara. And one of
the boys, whose face had the delightful look of him who loses all
sense of other things in what he is seeing at the moment, smiled, and
continued smiling, with sheer pleasure. Barbara drank her milk, and
wandered out again; passing through a gate at the bottom of a steep,
rocky tor, she sat down on a sun-warmed stone. The sunlight fell
greedily on her here, like an invisible swift hand touching her all
over, and specially caressing her throat and face. A very gentle
wind, which dived over the tor tops into the young fern; stole down
at her, spiced with the fern sap. All was warmth and peace, and only
the cuckoos on the far thorn trees--as though stationed by the
Wistful Master himself--were there to disturb her heart: But all the
sweetness and piping of the day did not soothe her. In truth, she
could not have said what was the matter, except that she felt so
discontented, and as it were empty of all but a sort of aching
impatience with--what exactly she could not say. She had that rather
dreadful feeling of something slipping by which she could not catch.
It was so new to her to feel like that--for no girl was less given to
moods and repinings. And all the time a sort of contempt for this
soft and almost sentimental feeling made her tighten her lips and
frown. She felt distrustful and sarcastic towards a mood so utterly
subversive of that fetich 'Hardness,' to the unconscious worship of
which she had been brought up. To stand no sentiment or nonsense
either in herself or others was the first article of faith; not to
slop-over anywhere. So that to feel as she did was almost horrible
to Barbara. Yet she could not get rid of the sensation. With sudden
recklessness she tried giving herself up to it entirely. Undoing the
scarf at her throat, she let the air play on her bared neck, and
stretched out her arms as if to hug the wind to her; then, with a
sigh, she got up, and walked on. And now she began thinking of
'Anonyma'; turning her position over and over. The idea that anyone
young and beautiful should thus be clipped off in her life, roused
her impatient indignation. Let them try it with her! They would
soon see! For all her cultivated 'hardness,' Barbara really hated
anything to suffer. It seemed to her unnatural. She never went to
that hospital where Lady Valleys had a ward, nor to their summer camp
for crippled children, nor to help in their annual concert for
sweated workers, without a feeling of such vehement pity that it was
like being seized by the throat: Once, when she had been singing to
them, the rows of wan, pinched faces below had been too much for her;
she had broken down, forgotten her words, lost memory of the tune,
and just ended her performance with a smile, worth more perhaps to
her audience than those lost verses. She never came away from such
sights and places without a feeling of revolt amounting almost to
rage; and she only continued to go because she dimly knew that it was
expected of her not to turn her back on such things, in her section
But it was not this feeling which made her stop before Mrs. Noel's
cottage; nor was it curiosity. It was a quite simple desire to
squeeze her hand.
'Anonyma' seemed taking her trouble as only those women who are no
good at self-assertion can take things--doing exactly as she would
have done if nothing had happened; a little paler than usual, with
lips pressed rather tightly together.
They neither of them spoke at first, but stood looking, not at each
other's faces, but at each other's breasts. At last Barbara stepped
forward impulsively and kissed her.
After that, like two children who kiss first, and then make
acquaintance, they stood apart, silent, faintly smiling. It had been
given and returned in real sweetness and comradeship, that kiss, for
a sign of womanhood making face against the world; but now that it
was over, both felt a little awkward. Would that kiss have been
given if Fate had been auspicious? Was it not proof of misery? So
Mrs. Noel's smile seemed saying, and Barbara's smile unwillingly
admitted. Perceiving that if they talked it could only be about the
most ordinary things, they began speaking of music, flowers, and the
queerness of bees' legs. But all the time, Barbara, though seemingly
unconscious, was noting with her smiling eyes, the tiny movement's,
by which one woman can tell what is passing in another. She saw a
little quiver tighten the corner of the lips, the eyes suddenly grow
large and dark, the thin blouse desperately rise and fall. And her
fancy, quickened by last night's memory, saw this woman giving
herself up to the memory of love in her thoughts. At this sight she
felt a little of that impatience which the conquering feel for the
passive, and perhaps just a touch of jealousy.
Whatever Miltoun decided, that would this woman accept! Such
resignation, while it simplified things, offended the part of Barbara
which rebelled against all inaction, all dictation, even from her
favourite brother. She said suddenly:
"Are you going to do nothing? Aren't you going to try and free
yourself? If I were in your position, I would never rest till I'd
made them free me."
But Mrs. Noel did not answer; and sweeping her glance from that crown
of soft dark hair, down the soft white figure, to the very feet,
"I believe you are a fatalist."
Soon after that, not knowing what more to say, she went away. But
walking home across the fields, where full summer was swinging on the
delicious air and there was now no bull but only red cows to crop
short the 'milk-maids' and buttercups, she suffered from this strange
revelation of the strength of softness and passivity--as though she
had seen in the white figure of 'Anonyma,' and heard in her voice
something from beyond, symbolic, inconceivable, yet real.
Lord Valleys, relieved from official pressure by subsidence of the
war scare, had returned for a long week-end. To say that he had been
intensely relieved by the news that Mrs. Noel was not free, would be
to put it mildly. Though not old-fashioned, like his mother-in-law,
in regard to the mixing of the castes, prepared to admit that
exclusiveness was out of date, to pass over with a shrug and a laugh
those numerous alliances by which his order were renewing the sinews
of war, and indeed in his capacity of an expert, often pointing out
the dangers of too much in-breeding--yet he had a peculiar personal
feeling about his own family, and was perhaps a little extra
sensitive because of Agatha; for Shropton, though a good fellow, and
extremely wealthy, was only a third baronet, and had originally been
made of iron. It was inadvisable to go outside the inner circle
where there was no material necessity for so doing. He had not done
it himself. Moreover there was a sentiment about these things!
On the morning after his arrival, visiting the kennels before
breakfast, he stood chatting with his head man, and caressing the wet
noses of his two favourite pointers,--with something of the feeling
of a boy let out of school. Those pleasant creatures, cowering and
quivering with pride against his legs, and turning up at him their
yellow Chinese eyes, gave him that sense of warmth and comfort which
visits men in the presence of their hobbies. With this particular
pair, inbred to the uttermost, he had successfully surmounted a great
risk. It was now touch and go whether he dared venture on one more
cross to the original strain, in the hope of eliminating the last
clinging of liver colour. It was a gamble--and it was just that
which rendered it so vastly interesting.
A small voice diverted his attention; he looked round and saw little
Ann. She had been in bed when he arrived the night before, and he
was therefore the newest thing about.
She carried in her arms a guinea-pig, and began at once:
"Grandpapa, Granny wants you. She's on the terrace; she's talking to
Mr. Courtier. I like him--he's a kind man. If I put my guinea-pig
down, will they bite it? Poor darling--they shan't! Isn't it a
Lord Valleys, twirling his moustache, regarded the guinea-pig without
favour; he had rather a dislike for all senseless kinds of beasts.
Pressing the guinea-pig between her hands, as it might be a
concertina, little Ann jigged it gently above the pointers, who,
wrinkling horribly their long noses, gazed upwards, fascinated.
"Poor darlings, they want it--don't they? Grandpapa"
"Do you think the next puppies will be spotted quite all over?"
Continuing to twirl his moustache, Lord Valleys answered:
"I think it is not improbable, Ann."
"Why do you like them spotted like that? Oh! they're kissing Sambo--
I must go!"
Lord Valleys followed her, his eyebrows a little raised.
As he approached the terrace his wife came, towards him. Her colour
was, deeper than usual, and she had the look, higher and more
resolute, peculiar to her when she had been opposed. In truth she
had just been through a passage of arms with Courtier, who, as the
first revealer of Mrs. Noel's situation, had become entitled to a
certain confidence on this subject. It had arisen from what she had
intended as a perfectly natural and not unkind remark, to the effect
that all the trouble had come from Mrs. Noel not having made her
position clear to Miltoun from the first.
He had at once grown very red.
"It's easy, Lady Valleys, for those who have never been in the
position of a lonely woman, to blame her."
Unaccustomed to be withstood, she had looked at him intently:
"I am the last person to be hard on a woman for conventional"
reasons. But I think it showed lack of character."
Courtier's reply had been almost rude.
"Plants are not equally robust, Lady Valleys. Some, as we know, are
She had retorted with decision
"If you like to so dignify the simpler word 'weak' "
He had become very rigid at that, biting deeply into his moustache.
"What crimes are not committed under the sanctity of that creed
'survival of the fittest,' which suits the book of all you fortunate
people so well!"
Priding herself on her restraint, Lady Valleys answered:
"Ah! we must talk that out. On the face of them your words sound a
little unphilosophic, don't they?
He had looked straight at her with a queer, unpleasant smile; and she
had felt at once disturbed and angry. It was all very well to pet
and even to admire these original sort of men, but there were limits.
Remembering, however, that he was her guest, she had only said:
"Perhaps after all we had better not talk it out;" and moving away,
she heard him answer: "In any case, I'm certain Audrey Noel never
wilfully kept your son in the dark; she's much too proud."
Though rude, she could not help liking the way he stuck up for this
woman; and she threw back at him the words:
"You and I, Mr. Courtier, must have a good fight some day!"
She went towards her husband conscious of the rather pleasurable
sensation which combat always roused in her.
These two were very good comrades. Theirs had been a love match, and
making due allowance for human nature beset by opportunity, had
remained, throughout, a solid and efficient alliance. Taking, as
they both did, such prominent parts in public and social matters, the
time they spent together was limited, but productive of mutual
benefit and reinforcement. They had not yet had an opportunity of
discussing their son's affair; and, slipping her hand through his
arm, Lady Valleys drew him away from the house.
"I want to talk to you about Miltoun, Geoff."
"H'm!" said Lord Valleys; "yes. The boy's looking worn. Good thing
when this election's over."
"If he's beaten and hasn't something new and serious to concentrate
himself on, he'll fret his heart out over that woman."
Lord Valleys meditated a little before replying.
"I don't think that, Gertrude. He's got plenty of spirit."
"Of course! But it's a real passion. And, you know, he's not like
most boys, who'll take what they can."
She said this rather wistfully.
"I'm sorry for the woman," mused Lord Valleys; "I really am."
"They say this rumour's done a lot of harm."
"Our influence is strong enough to survive that."
"It'll be a squeak; I wish I knew what he was going to do. Will you
"You're clearly the person to speak to him," replied Lord Valleys.
"I'm no hand at that sort of thing."
But Lady Valleys, with genuine discomfort, murmured:
"My dear, I'm so nervous with Eustace. When he puts on that smile of
his I'm done for, at once."
"This is obviously a woman's business; nobody like a mother."
"If it were only one of the others," muttered Lady Valleys: "Eustace
has that queer way of making you feel lumpy."
Lord Valleys looked at her askance. He had that kind of critical
fastidiousness which a word will rouse into activity. Was she lumpy?
The idea had never struck him.
"Well, I'll do it, if I must," sighed Lady Valleys.
When after breakfast she entered Miltoun's 'den,' he was buckling on
his spurs preparatory, to riding out to some of the remoter villages.
Under the mask of the Apache chief, Bertie was standing, more
inscrutable and neat than ever, in a perfectly tied cravatte,
perfectly cut riding breeches, and boots worn and polished till a
sooty glow shone through their natural russet. Not specially
dandified in his usual dress, Bertie Caradoc would almost sooner have
died than disgrace a horse. His eyes, the sharper because they had
only half the space of the ordinary eye to glance from, at once took
in the fact that his mother wished to be alone with 'old Miltoun,'
and he discreetly left the room.
That which disconcerted all who had dealings with Miltoun was the
discovery made soon or late, that they could not be sure how anything
would strike him. In his mind, as in his face, there was a certain
regularity, and then--impossible to say exactly where--it would,
shoot off and twist round a corner. This was the legacy no doubt of
the hard-bitten individuality, which had brought to the front so many
of his ancestors; for in Miltoun was the blood not only of the
Caradocs and Fitz-Harolds, but of most other prominent families in
the kingdom, all of whom, in those ages before money made the man,
must have had a forbear conspicuous by reason of qualities, not
always fine, but always poignant.
And now, though Lady Valleys had the audacity of her physique, and
was not customarily abashed, she began by speaking of politics,
hoping her son would give her an opening. But he gave her none, and
she grew nervous. At last, summoning all her coolness, she said:
"I'm dreadfully sorry about this affair, dear boy. Your father told
me of your talk with him. Try not to take it too hard."
Miltoun did not answer, and silence being that which Lady Valleys
habitually most dreaded, she took refuge in further speech, outlining
for her son the whole episode as she saw it from her point of view,
and ending with these words:
"Surely it's not worth it."
Miltoun heard her with his peculiar look, as of a man peering through
a vizor. Then smiling, he said:
"Thank you;" and opened the door.
Lady Valleys, without quite knowing whether he intended her to do so,
indeed without quite knowing anything at the moment, passed out, and
Miltoun closed the door behind her.
Ten minutes later he and Bertie were seen riding down the drive.
That afternoon the wind, which had been rising steadily, brought a
flurry of clouds up from the South-West. Formed out on the heart of
the Atlantic, they sailed forward, swift and fleecy at first, like
the skirmishing white shallops of a great fleet; then, in serried
masses, darkened the sun. About four o'clock they broke in rain,
which the wind drove horizontally with a cold whiffling murmur. As
youth and glamour die in a face before the cold rains of life, so
glory died on the moor. The tors, from being uplifted wild castles,
became mere grey excrescences. Distance failed. The cuckoos were
silent. There was none of the beauty that there is in death, no
tragic greatness--all was moaning and monotony. But about seven the
sun tore its way back through the swathe, and flared out. Like some
huge star, whose rays were stretching down to the horizon, and up to
the very top of the hill of air, it shone with an amazing murky
glamour; the clouds splintered by its shafts, and tinged saffron,
piled themselves up as if in wonder. Under the sultry warmth of this
new great star, the heather began to steam a little, and the glitter
of its wet unopened bells was like that of innumerable tiny smoking
fires. The two brothers were drenched as they cantered silently
home. Good friends always, they had never much to say to one
another. For Miltoun was conscious that he thought on a different
plane from Bertie; and Bertie grudged even to his brother any inkling
of what was passing in his spirit, just as he grudged parting with
diplomatic knowledge, or stable secrets, or indeed anything that
might leave him less in command of life. He grudged it, because in a
private sort of way it lowered his estimation of his own stoical
self-sufficiency; it hurt something proud in the withdrawing-room of
his soul. But though he talked little, he had the power of
contemplation--often found in men of decided character, with a
tendency to liver. Once in Nepal, where he had gone to shoot, he had
passed a month quite happily with only a Ghoorka servant who could
speak no English. To those who asked him if he had not been horribly
bored, he had always answered: "Not a bit; did a lot of thinking."
With Miltoun's trouble he had the professional sympathy of a brother
and the natural intolerance of a confirmed bachelor. Women were to
him very kittle-cattle. He distrusted from the bottom of his soul
those who had such manifest power to draw things from you. He was
one of those men in whom some day a woman might awaken a really fine
affection; but who, until that time, would maintain the perfectly
male attitude to the entire sex, and, after it, to all the sex but
one. Women were, like Life itself, creatures to be watched,
carefully used, and kept duly subservient. The only allusion
therefore that he made to Miltoun's trouble was very sudden.
"Old man, I hope you're going to cut your losses."
The words were followed by undisturbed silence: But passing Mrs.
Noel's cottage Miltoun said:
"Take my horse on; I want to go in here."....
She was sitting at her piano with her hands idle, looking at a line
of music.... She had been sitting thus for many minutes, but had not
yet taken in the notes.
When Miltoun's shadow blotted the light by which she was seeing so
little, she gave a slight start, and got up. But she neither went
towards him, nor spoke. And he, without a word, came in and stood by
the hearth, looking down at the empty grate. A tortoise-shell cat
which had been watching swallows, disturbed by his entrance, withdrew
from the window beneath a chair.
This silence, in which the question of their future lives was to be
decided, seemed to both interminable; yet, neither could end it.
At last, touching his sleeve, she said: "You're wet!"
Miltoun shivered at that timid sign of possession. And they again
stood in silence broken only by the sound of the cat licking its
But her faculty for dumbness was stronger than his, and--he had to
"Forgive me for coming; something must be settled. This--rumour----"
"Oh! that!" she said. "Is there anything I can do to stop the harm
It was the turn of Miltoun's lips to curl. "God! no; let them talk!"
Their eyes had come together now, and, once together, seemed unable
Mrs. Noel said at last:
"Will you ever forgive me?"
"What for--it was my fault."
"No; I should have known you better."
The depth of meaning in those words--the tremendous and subtle
admission they contained of all that she had been ready to do, the
despairing knowledge in them that he was not, and never had been,
ready to 'bear it out even to the edge of doom'--made Miltoun wince
"It is not from fear--believe that, anyway."
There followed another long, long silence! But though so close that
they were almost touching, they no longer looked at one another.
Then Miltoun said:
"There is only to say good-bye, then."
At those clear words spoken by lips which, though just smiling,
failed so utterly to hide his misery, Mrs. Noel's face became
colourless as her white gown. But her eyes, which had grown immense,
seemed from the sheer lack of all other colour, to have drawn into
them the whole of her vitality; to be pouring forth a proud and
Shivering, and crushing himself together with his arms, Miltoun
walked towards the window. There was not the faintest sound from
her, and he looked back. She was following him with her eyes. He
threw his hand up over his face, and went quickly out. Mrs. Noel
stood for a little while where he had left her; then, sitting down
once more at the piano, began again to con over the line of music.
And the cat stole back to the window to watch the swallows. The
sunlight was dying slowly on the top branches of the lime-tree; a,
drizzling rain began to fall.
Claud Fresnay, Viscount Harbinger was, at the age of thirty-one,
perhaps the least encumbered peer in the United Kingdom. Thanks to
an ancestor who had acquired land, and departed this life one hundred
and thirty years before the town of Nettlefold was built on a small
portion of it, and to a father who had died in his son's infancy,
after judiciously selling the said town, he possessed a very large
income independently of his landed interests. Tall and well-built,
with handsome, strongly-marked features, he gave at first sight an
impression of strength--which faded somewhat when he began to talk.
It was not so much the manner of his speech--with its rapid slang,
and its way of turning everything to a jest--as the feeling it
produced, that the brain behind it took naturally the path of least
resistance. He was in fact one of those personalities who are often
enough prominent in politics and social life, by reason of their
appearance, position, assurance, and of a certain energy, half
genuine, and half mere inherent predilection for short cuts.
Certainly he was not idle, had written a book, travelled, was a
Captain of Yeomanry, a Justice of the Peace, a good cricketer, and a
constant and glib speaker. It would have been unfair to call his
enthusiasm for social reform spurious. It was real enough in its
way, and did certainly testify that he was not altogether lacking
either in imagination or good-heartedness. But it was over and
overlaid with the public-school habit--that peculiar, extraordinarily
English habit, so powerful and beguiling that it becomes a second
nature stronger than the first--of relating everything in the
Universe to the standards and prejudices of a single class. Since
practically all his intimate associates were immersed in it, he was
naturally not in the least conscious of this habit; indeed there was
nothing he deprecated so much in politics as the narrow and
prejudiced outlook, such as he had observed in the Nonconformist, or
labour politician. He would never have admitted for a moment that
certain doors had been banged-to at his birth, bolted when he went to
Eton, and padlocked at Cambridge. No one would have denied that
there was much that was valuable in his standards--a high level of
honesty, candour, sportsmanship, personal cleanliness, and self-
reliance, together with a dislike of such cruelty as had been
officially (so to speak) recognized as cruelty, and a sense of public
service to a State run by and for the public schools; but it would
have required far more originality than he possessed ever to look at
Life from any other point of view than that from which he had been
born and bred to watch Her. To fully understand harbinger, one must,
and with unprejudiced eyes and brain, have attended one of those
great cricket matches in which he had figured conspicuously as a boy,
and looking down from some high impartial spot have watched the
ground at lunch time covered from rope to rope and stand to stand
with a marvellous swarm, all walking in precisely the same manner,
with precisely the same expression on their faces, under precisely
the same hats--a swarm enshrining the greatest identity of, creed and
habit ever known since the world began. No, his environment had not
been favourable to originality. Moreover he was naturally rapid
rather than deep, and life hardly ever left him alone or left him
silent. Brought into contact day and night with people to whom
politics were more or less a game; run after everywhere; subjected to
no form of discipline--it was a wonder that he was as serious as he
was. Nor had he ever been in love, until, last year, during her
first season, Barbara had, as he might have expressed it--in the case
of another 'bowled him middle stump. Though so deeply smitten, he.
had not yet asked her to marry him--had not, as it were, had time,
nor perhaps quite the courage, or conviction. When he was near her,
it seemed impossible that he could go on longer without knowing his
fate; when he was away from her it was almost a relief, because there
were so many things to be done and said, and so little time to do or
say them in. But now, during this fortnight, which, for her sake, he
had devoted to Miltoun's cause, his feeling had advanced beyond the
point of comfort.
He did not admit that the reason of this uneasiness was Courtier,
for, after all, Courtier was, in a sense, nobody, and 'an extremist'
into the bargain, and an extremist always affected the centre of
Harbinger's anatomy, causing it to give off a peculiar smile and tone
of voice. Nevertheless, his eyes, whenever they fell on that
sanguine, steady, ironic face, shone with a sort of cold inquiry, or
were even darkened by the shade of fear. They met seldom, it is
true, for most of his day was spent in motoring and speaking, and
most of Courtier's in writing and riding, his leg being still too
weak for walking. But once or twice in the smoking room late at
night, he had embarked on some bantering discussion with the champion
of lost causes; and very soon an ill-concealed impatience had crept
into his voice. Why a man should waste his time, flogging dead.
horses on a journey to the moon, was incomprehensible! Facts were
facts, human nature would never be anything but human nature! And it
was peculiarly galling to see in Courtier's eye a gleam, to catch in
his voice a tone, as if he were thinking: "My young friend, your soup
On a morning after one of these encounters, seeing Barbara sally
forth in riding clothes, he asked if he too might go round the
stables, and started forth beside her, unwontedly silent, with an odd
feeling about his heart, and his throat unaccountably dry.
The stables at Monkland Court were as large as many country houses.
Accommodating thirty horses, they were at present occupied by twenty-
one, including the pony of little Ann. For height, perfection of
lighting, gloss, shine, and purity of atmosphere they were unequalled
in the county. It seemed indeed impossible that any horse could ever
so far forget himself in such a place as to remember that he was a
horse. Every morning a little bin of carrots, apples, and lumps of
sugar, was set close to the main entrance, ready for those who might
desire to feed the dear inhabitants.
Reined up to a brass ring on either side of their stalls with their
noses towards the doors, they were always on view from nine to ten,
and would stand with their necks arched, ears pricked, and coats
gleaming, wondering about things, soothed by the faint hissing of the
still busy grooms, and ready to move their noses up and down the
moment they saw someone enter.
In a large loose-box at the end of the north wing Barbara's favourite
chestnut hunter, all but one saving sixteenth of whom had been
entered in the stud book, having heard her footstep, was standing
quite still with his neck turned. He had been crumping up an apple
placed amongst his feed, and his senses struggled between the
lingering flavour of that delicacy,--and the perception of a sound
with which he connected carrots. When she unlatched his door, and
said "Hal," he at once went towards his manger, to show his
independence, but when she said: "Oh! very well!" he turned round and
came towards her. His eyes, which were full and of a soft
brilliance, under thick chestnut lashes, explored her all over.
Perceiving that her carrots were not in front, he elongated his neck,
let his nose stray round her waist, and gave her gauntletted hand a
nip with his lips. Not tasting carrot, he withdrew his nose, and
snuffled. Then stepping carefully so as not to tread on her foot, he
bunted her gently with his shoulder, till with a quick manoeuvre he
got behind her and breathed low and long on her neck. Even this did
not smell of carrots, and putting his muzzle over her shoulder
against her cheek, he slobbered a very little. A carrot appeared
about the level of her waist, and hanging his head over, he tried to
reach it. Feeling it all firm and soft under his chin, he snuffled
again, and gave her a gentle dig with his knee. But still unable to
reach the carrot, he threw his head up, withdrew, and pretended not
to see her. And suddenly he felt two long substances round his neck,
and something soft against his nose. He suffered this in silence,
laying his ears back. The softness began puffing on his muzzle.
Pricking his ears again, he puffed back a little harder, with more
curiosity, and the softness was withdrawn. He perceived suddenly
that he had a carrot in his mouth.
Harbinger had witnessed this episode, oddly pale, leaning against the
loose-box wall. He spoke, as it came to an end:
The tone of his voice must have been as strange as it sounded to
himself, for Barbara spun round.
"How long am I going on like this?"
Neither changing colour nor dropping her eyes, she regarded him with
a faintly inquisitive interest. It was not a cruel look, had not a
trace of mischief, or sex malice, and yet it frightened him by its
serene inscrutability. Impossible to tell what was going on behind
it. He took her hand, bent over it, and said in a low voice:
"You know what I feel; don't be cruel to me!"
She did not pull away her hand; it was as if she had not thought of
"I am not a bit cruel."
Looking up, he saw her smiling.
His face was close to hers, but Barbara did not shrink back. She
just shook her head; and Harbinger flushed up.
"Why?" he asked; and as though the enormous injustice of that
rejecting gesture had suddenly struck him, he dropped her hand.
"Why?" he said again, sharply.
But the silence was only broken by the cheeping of sparrows outside
the round window, and the sound of the horse, Hal, munching the last
morsel of his carrot. Harbinger was aware in his every nerve of the
sweetish, slightly acrid, husky odour of the loosebox, mingling with
the scent of Barbara's hair and clothes. And rather miserably, he
said for the third time:
But folding her hands away behind her back. she answered gently:
"My dear, how should I know why?"
She was calmly exposed to his embrace if he had only dared; but he
did not dare, and went back to the loose-box wall. Biting his
finger, he stared at her gloomily. She was stroking the muzzle of
her horse; and a sort of dry rage began whisking and rustling in his
heart. She had refused him--Harbinger! He had not known, had not
suspected how much he wanted her. How could there be anybody else
for him, while that young, calm, sweet-scented, smiling thing lived,
to make his head go round, his senses ache, and to fill his heart
with longing! He seemed to himself at that moment the most unhappy
of all men.
"I shall not give you up," he muttered.
Barbara's answer was a smile, faintly curious, compassionate, yet
almost grateful, as if she had said:
"Thank you--who knows?"
And rather quickly, a yard or so apart, and talking of horses, they
returned to the house.
It was about noon, when, accompanied by Courtier, she rode forth.
The Sou-Westerly spell--a matter of three days--had given way before
radiant stillness; and merely to be alive was to feel emotion. At a
little stream running beside the moor under the wild stone man, the
riders stopped their horses, just to listen, and, inhale the day.
The far sweet chorus of life was tuned to a most delicate rhythm; not
one of those small mingled pipings of streams and the lazy air, of
beasts, men; birds, and bees, jarred out too harshly through the
garment of sound enwrapping the earth. It was noon--the still
moment--but this hymn to the sun, after his too long absence, never
for a moment ceased to be murmured. And the earth wore an under-robe
of scent, delicious, very finely woven of the young fern sap, heather
buds; larch-trees not yet odourless, gorse just going brown, drifted
woodsmoke, and the breath of hawthorn. Above Earth's twin vestments
of sound and scent, the blue enwrapping scarf of air, that wistful
wide champaign, was spanned only by the wings of Freedom.
After that long drink of the day, the riders mounted almost in
silence to the very top of the moor. There again they sat quite
still on their horses, examining the prospect. Far away to South and
East lay the sea, plainly visible. Two small groups of wild ponies
were slowly grazing towards each other on the hillside below.
Courtier said. in a low voice:
"'Thus will I sit and sing, with love in my arms; watching our two
herds mingle together, and below us the far, divine, cerulean sea.'"
And, after another silence, looking steadily in Barbara's face, he
"Lady Barbara, I am afraid this is the last time we shall be alone
together. While I have the chance, therefore, I must do homage....
You will always be the fixed star for my worship. But your rays are
too bright; I shall worship from afar. From your seventh Heaven,
therefore, look down on me with kindly eyes, and do not quite forget
Under that speech, so strangely compounded of irony and fervour,
Barbara sat very still, with glowing cheeks.
"Yes," said Courtier, "only an immortal must embrace a goddess.
Outside the purlieus of Authority I shall sit cross-legged, and
prostrate myself three times a day."
But Barbara answered nothing.
"In the early morning," went on Courtier, "leaving the dark and
dismal homes of Freedom I shall look towards the Temples of the
Great; there with the eye of faith I shall see you."
He stopped, for Barbara's lips were moving.
"Don't hurt me, please."
Courtier leaned over, took her hand, and put it to his lips. "We
will now ride on...."
That night at dinner Lord Dennis, seated opposite his great-niece,
was struck by her appearance.
"A very beautiful child," he thought, "a most lovely young creature!"
She was placed between Courtier and Harbinger. And the old man's
still keen eyes carefully watched those two. Though attentive to
their neighbours on the other side, they were both of them keeping
the corner of an eye on Barbara and on each other. The thing was
transparent to Lord Dennis, and a smile settled in that nest of
gravity between his white peaked beard and moustaches. But he
waited, the instinct of a fisherman bidding him to neglect no piece
of water, till he saw the child silent and in repose, and watched
carefully to see what would rise. Although she was so calmly, so
healthily eating, her eyes stole round at Courtier. This quick look
seemed to Lord Dennis perturbed, as if something were exciting her.
Then Harbinger spoke, and she turned to answer him. Her face was
calm now, faintly smiling, a little eager, provocative in its joy of
life. It made Lord Dennis think of his own youth. What a splendid
couple! If Babs married young Harbinger there would not be a finer
pair in all England. His eyes travelled back to Courtier. Manly
enough! They called him dangerous! There was a look of
effervescence, carefully corked down--might perhaps be attractive to
a girl! To his essentially practical and sober mind, a type like
Courtier was puzzling. He liked the look of him, but distrusted his
ironic expression, and that appearance of blood to the head. Fellow
--no doubt--that would ride off on his ideas, humanitarian! To Lord
Dennis there was something queer about humanitarians. They offended
perhaps his dry and precise sense of form. They were always looking
out for cruelty or injustice; seemed delighted when they found it--
swelled up, as it were, when they scented it, and as there was a good
deal about, were never quite of normal size. Men who lived for ideas
were, in fact, to one for whom facts sufficed always a little
worrying! A movement from Barbara brought him back to actuality.
Was the possessor of that crown of hair and those divine young
shoulders the little Babs who had ridden with him in the Row? Time
was certainly the Devil! Her eyes were searching for something; and
following the direction of that glance, Lord Dennis found himself
observing Miltoun. What a difference between those two! Both no
doubt in the great trouble of youth; which sometimes, as he knew too
well, lasted on almost to old age. It was a curious look the child
was giving her brother, as if asking him to help her. Lord Dennis
had seen in his day many young creatures leave the shelter of their
freedom and enter the house of the great lottery; many, who had drawn
a prize and thereat lost forever the coldness of life; many too, the
light of whose eyes had faded behind the shutters of that house,
having drawn a blank. The thought of 'little' Babs on the threshold
of that inexorable saloon, filled him with an eager sadness; and the
sight of the two men watching for her, waiting for her, like hunters,
was to him distasteful. In any case, let her not, for Heaven's sake,
go ranging as far as that red fellow of middle age, who might have
ideas, but had no pedigree; let her stick to youth and her own order,
and marry the--young man, confound him, who looked like a Greek god,
of the wrong period, having grown a moustache. He remembered her
words the other evening about these two and the different lives they
lived. Some romantic notion or other was working in her! And again
he looked at Courtier. A Quixotic type--the sort that rode slap-bang
at everything! All very well--but not for Babs! She was not like
the glorious Garibaldi's glorious Anita! It was truly characteristic
of Lord Dennis--and indeed of other people--that to him champions of
Liberty when dead were far dearer than champions of Liberty when
living. Yes, Babs would want more, or was it less, than just a life
of sleeping under the stars for the man she loved, and the cause he
fought for. She would want pleasure, and, not too much effort, and
presently a little power; not the uncomfortable after-fame of a woman
who went through fire, but the fame and power of beauty, and Society
prestige. This, fancy of hers, if it were a fancy, could be nothing
but the romanticism of a young girl. For the sake of a passing
shadow, to give up substance? It wouldn't do!. And again Lord
Dennis fixed his shrewd glance on his great-niece. Those eyes, that
smile! Yes! She would grow out of this. And take the Greek god,
the dying Gaul--whichever that young man was!
It was not till the morning of polling day itself that Courtier left
Monkland Court. He had already suffered for some time from bad
conscience. For his knee was practically cured, and he knew well
that it was Barbara, and Barbara alone, who kept him staying there.
The atmosphere of that big house with its army of servants, the
impossibility of doing anything for himself, and the feeling of
hopeless insulation from the vivid and necessitous sides of life,
galled him greatly. He felt a very genuine pity for these people who
seemed to lead an existence as it were smothered under their own
social importance. It was not their fault. He recognized that they
did their best. They were good specimens of their kind; neither soft
nor luxurious, as things went in a degenerate and extravagant age;
they evidently tried to be simple--and this seemed to him to heighten
the pathos of their situation. Fate had been too much for them.
What human spirit could emerge untrammelled and unshrunken from that
great encompassing host of material advantage? To a Bedouin like
Courtier, it was as though a subtle, but very terrible tragedy was
all the time being played before his eyes; and in, the very centre of
this tragedy was the girl who so greatly attracted him. Every night
when he retired to that lofty room, which smelt so good, and where,
without ostentation, everything was so perfectly ordered for his
comfort, he thought:
"My God, to-morrow I'll be off!"
But every morning when he met her at breakfast his thought was
precisely the same, and there were moments when he caught himself
wondering: "Am I falling under the spell of this existence--am I
getting soft?" He recognized as never before that the peculiar
artificial 'hardness' of the patrician was a brine or pickle, in
which, with the instinct of self-preservation they deliberately
soaked themselves, to prevent the decay of their overprotected fibre.
He perceived it even in Barbara--a sort of sentiment-proof overall, a
species of mistrust of the emotional or lyrical, a kind of contempt
of sympathy and feeling. And every day he was more and more tempted
to lay rude hands on this garment; to see whether he could not make
her catch fire, and flare up with some emotion or idea. In spite of
her tantalizing, youthful self-possession, he saw that she felt this
longing in him, and now and then he caught a glimpse of a streak of
recklessness in her which lured him on:
And yet, when at last he was saying good-bye on the night before
polling day, he could not flatter himself that he had really struck
any spark from her. Certainly she gave him no chance, at that final
interview, but stood amongst the other women, calm and smiling, as if
determined that he should not again mock her with his ironical
He got up very early the next morning, intending to pass away unseen.
In the car put at his disposal; he found a small figure in a holland-
frock, leaning back against the cushions so that some sandalled toes
pointed up at the chauffeur's back. They belonged to little Ann, who
in the course of business had discovered the vehicle before the door.
Her sudden little voice under her sudden little nose, friendly but
not too friendly, was comforting to Courtier.
"Are you going? I can come as, far as the gate." "That is lucky."
"Yes. Is that all your luggage?"
"I'm afraid it is."
"Oh! It's quite a lot, really, isn't it?"
"As much as I deserve."
"Of course you don't have to take guinea-pigs about with you?"
"Not as a rule."
"I always do. There's great-Granny!"
There certainly was Lady Casterley, standing a little back from the
drive, and directing a tall gardener how to deal with an old oak-
tree. Courtier alighted, and went towards her to say good-bye. She
greeted him with a certain grim cordiality.
"So you are going! I am glad of that, though you quite understand
that I like you personally."
Her eyes gleamed maliciously.
"Men who laugh like you are dangerous, as I've told you before!"
Then, with great gravity; she added
"My granddaughter will marry Lord Harbinger. I mention that, Mr.
Courtier, for your peace of mind. You are a man of honour; it will
go no further."
Courtier, bowing over her hand, answered:
"He will be lucky."
The little old lady regarded him unflinchingly.
"He will, sir. Good-bye!"
Courtier smilingly raised his hat. His cheeks were burning.
Regaining the car, he looked round. Lady Casterley was busy once
more exhorting the tall gardener. The voice of little Ann broke in
on his thoughts:
"I hope you'll come again. Because I expect I shall be here at
Christmas; and my brothers will be here then, that is, Jock and
Tiddy, not Christopher because he's young. I must go now. Good-bye!
Courtier saw her slide away, and join the little pale adoring figure
of the lodge-keeper's daughter.
The car passed out into the lane.
If Lady Casterley had planned this disclosure, which indeed she had
not, for the impulse had only come over her at the sound of
Courtier's laugh, she could not have, devised one more effectual, for
there was deep down in him all a wanderer's very real distrust,,
amounting almost to contempt, of people so settled and done for; as
aristocrats or bourgeois, and all a man of action's horror of what he
called puking and muling. The pursuit of Barbara with any other
object but that of marriage had naturally not occurred to one who had
little sense of conventional morality, but much self-respect; and a
secret endeavour to cut out Harbinger, ending in a marriage whereat
he would figure as a sort of pirate, was quite as little to the taste
of a man not unaccustomed to think himself as good as other people.
He caused the car to deviate up the lane that led to Audrey Noel's,
hating to go away without a hail of cheer to that ship in distress.
She came out to him on the verandah. From the clasp of her hand,
thin and faintly browned--the hand of a woman never quite idle--he
felt that she relied on him to understand and sympathize; and nothing
so awakened the best in Courtier as such mute appeals to his
protection. He said gently:
"Don't let them think you're down;" and, squeezing her hand hard:
"Why should you be wasted like this? It's a sin and shame!"
But he stopped in what he felt to be an unlucky speech at sight of
her face, which without movement expressed so much more than his
words. He was protesting as a civilized man; her face was the
protest of Nature, the soundless declaration of beauty wasted against
its will, beauty that was life's invitation to the embrace which gave
"I'm clearing out, myself," he said: "You and I, you know, are not
good for these people. No birds of freedom allowed!"
Pressing his hand, she turned away into the house, leaving Courtier
gazing at the patch of air where her white figure had stood. He had
always had a special protective feeling for Audrey Noel, a feeling
which with but little encouragement might have become something
warmer. But since she had been placed in her anomalous position, he
would not for the world have brushed the dew off her belief that she
could trust him. And, now that he had fixed his own gaze elsewhere,
and she was in this bitter trouble, he felt on her account the
rancour that a brother feels when Justice and Pity have conspired to
flout his sister. The voice of Frith the chauffeur roused him from
"Lady Barbara, sir!"
Following the man's eyes, Courtier saw against the sky-line on the
for above Ashman's Folly, an equestrian statue. He stopped the car
at once, and got out.
He reached her at the ruin, screened from the road, by that divine
chance which attends on men who take care that it shall. He could
not tell whether she knew of his approach, and he would have given
all he had, which was not much, to have seen through the stiff grey
of her coat, and the soft cream of her body, into that mysterious
cave, her heart. To have been for a moment, like Ashman, done for
good and all with material things, and living the white life where
are no barriers between man and woman. The smile on her lips so
baffled him, puffed there by her spirit, as a first flower is puffed
through the sur face of earth to mock at the spring winds. How tell
what it signified! Yet he rather prided himself on his knowledge of
women, of whom he had seen something. But all he found to say was:
"I'm glad of this chance."
Then suddenly looking up, he found her strangely pale and quivering.
"I shall see you in London!" she said; and, touching her horse with
her whip, without looking back, she rode away over the hill.
Courtier returned to the moor road, and getting into the car,
"Faster, please, Frith!"....
Polling was already in brisk progress when Courtier arrived in
Bucklandbury; and partly from a not unnatural interest in the result,
partly from a half-unconscious clinging to the chance of catching
another glimpse of Barbara, he took his bag to the hotel, determined
to stay for the announcement of the poll. Strolling out into the
High Street he began observing the humours of the day. The bloom of
political belief had long been brushed off the wings of one who had
so flown the world's winds. He had seen too much of more vivid
colours to be capable now of venerating greatly the dull and dubious
tints of blue and yellow. They left him feeling extremely
philosophic. Yet it was impossible to get away from them, for the
very world that day seemed blue and yellow, nor did the third colour
of red adopted by both sides afford any clear assurance that either
could see virtue in the other; rather, it seemed to symbolize the
desire of each to have his enemy's blood. But Courtier soon observed
by the looks cast at his own detached, and perhaps sarcastic, face,
that even more hateful to either side than its antagonist, was the
philosophic eye. Unanimous was the longing to heave half a brick at
it whenever it showed itself. With its d---d impartiality, its habit
of looking through the integument of things to see if there might be
anything inside, he felt that they regarded it as the real adversary-
-the eternal foe to all the little fat 'facts,' who, dressed up in
blue and yellow, were swaggering and staggering, calling each other
names, wiping each other's eyes, blooding each other's noses. To
these little solemn delicious creatures, all front and no behind, the
philosophic eye, with its habit of looking round the corner, was
clearly detestable. The very yellow and very blue bodies of these
roistering small warriors with their hands on their tin swords and
their lips on their tin trumpets, started up in every window and on
every wall confronting each citizen in turn, persuading him that they
and they alone were taking him to Westminster. Nor had they
apparently for the most part much trouble with electors, who, finding
uncertainty distasteful, passionately desired to be assured that the
country could at once be saved by little yellow facts or little blue
facts, as the case might be; who had, no doubt, a dozen other good
reasons for being on the one side or the other; as, for instance,
that their father had been so before them; that their bread was
buttered yellow or buttered blue; that they had been on the other
side last time; that they had thought it over and made up their
minds; that they had innocent blue or naive yellow beer within; that
his lordship was the man; or that the words proper to their mouths
were 'Chilcox for Bucklandbury'; and, above all, the one really
creditable reason, that, so far as they could tell with the best of
their intellect and feelings, the truth at the moment was either blue
The narrow high street was thronged with voters. Tall policemen
stationed there had nothing to do. The certainty of all, that they
were going to win, seemed to keep everyone in good humour. There was
as yet no need to break anyone's head, for though the sharpest
lookout was kept for any signs of the philosophic eye, it was only to
be found--outside Courtier--in the perambulators of babies, in one
old man who rode a bicycle waveringly along the street and stopped to
ask a policeman what was the matter in the town, and in two rather
green-faced fellows who trundled barrows full of favours both blue
But though Courtier eyed the 'facts' with such suspicion, the
keenness of everyone about the business struck him as really
splendid. They went at it with a will. Having looked forward to it
for months, they were going to look back on it for months. It was
evidently a religious ceremony, summing up most high feelings; and
this seemed to one who was himself a man of action, natural, perhaps
pathetic, but certainly no matter for scorn.
It was already late in the afternoon when there came debouching into
the high street a long string of sandwichmen, each bearing before and
behind him a poster containing these words beautifully situated in
large dark blue letters against a pale blue ground:
DANGER NOT PAST.
VOTE FOR MILTOUN AND THE GOVERNMENT,
AND SAVE THE EMPIRE."
Courtier stopped to look at them with peculiar indignation. Not only
did this poster tramp in again on his cherished convictions about
Peace, but he saw in it something more than met the unphilosophic
eye. It symbolized for him all that was catch-penny in the national
life-an epitaph on the grave of generosity, unutterably sad. Yet
from a Party point of view what could be more justifiable? Was it
not desperately important that every blue nerve should be strained
that day to turn yellow nerves, if not blue, at all events green,
before night fell? Was it not perfectly true that the Empire could
only be saved by voting blue? Could they help a blue paper printing
the words, 'New complications,' which he had read that morning? No
more than the yellows could help a yellow journal printing the words
'Lord Miltoun's Evening Adventure.' Their only business was to win,
ever fighting fair. The yellows had not fought fair, they never did,
and one of their most unfair tactics was the way they had of always
accusing the blues of unfair fighting, an accusation truly ludicrous!
As for truth! That which helped the world to be blue, was obviously
true; that which didn't, as obviously not. There was no middle
policy! The man who saw things neither was a softy, and no proper
citizen. And as for giving the yellows credit for sincerity--the
yellows never gave them credit! But though Courtier knew all that,
this poster seemed to him particularly damnable, and he could not for
the life of him resist striking one of the sandwich-boards with his
cane. The resounding thwack startled a butcher's pony standing by
the pavement. It reared, and bolted forward, with Courtier, who had
naturally seized the rein, hanging on. A dog dashed past. Courtier
tripped and fell. The pony, passing over, struck him on the head
with a hoof. For a moment he lost consciousness; then coming to
himself, refused assistance, and went to his hotel. He felt very
giddy, and, after bandaging a nasty cut, lay down on his bed.
Miltoun, returning from that necessary exhibition of himself, the
crowning fact, at every polling centre, found time to go and see him.
"That last poster of yours!" Courtier began, at once.
"I'm having it withdrawn."
"It's done the trick--congratulations--you'll get in!"
"I knew nothing of it."
"My dear fellow, I didn't suppose you did."
"When there is a desert, Courtier, between a man and the sacred city,
he doesn't renounce his journey because he has to wash in dirty water
on the way: The mob--how I loathe it!"
There was such pent-up fury in those words as to astonish even one
whose life had been passed in conflict with majorities.
"I hate its mean stupidities, I hate the sound of its voice, and the
look on its face--it's so ugly, it's so little. Courtier, I suffer
purgatory from the thought that I shall scrape in by the votes of the
mob. There is sin in using this creature and I am expiating it."
To this strange outburst, Courtier at first made no reply.
"You've been working too hard," he said at last, "you're off your
balance. After all, the mob's made up of men like you and me."
"No, Courtier, the mob is not made up of men like you and me. If it
were it would not be the mob."
"It looks," Courtier answered gravely, "as if you had no business in
this galley. I've always steered clear of it myself."
"You follow your feelings. I have not that happiness."
So saying, Miltoun turned to the door.
Courtier's voice pursued him earnestly.
"Drop your politics--if you feel like this about them; don't waste
your life following whatever it is you follow; don't waste hers!"
But Miltoun did not answer.
It was a wondrous still night, when, a few minutes before twelve,
with his forehead bandaged under his hat, the champion of lost causes
left the hotel and made his way towards the Grammar School for the
declaration of the poll. A sound as of some monster breathing guided
him, till, from a steep empty street he came in sight of a surging
crowd, spread over the town square, like a dark carpet patterned by
splashes of lamplight. High up above that crowd, on the little
peaked tower of the Grammar School, a brightly lighted clock face
presided; and over the passionate hopes in those thousands of hearts
knit together by suspense the sky had lifted; and showed no cloud
between them and the purple fields of air. To Courtier descending
towards the square, the swaying white faces, turned all one way,
seemed like the heads of giant wild flowers in a dark field, shivered
by wind. The night had charmed away the blue and yellow facts, and
breathed down into that throng the spirit of emotion. And he
realized all at once the beauty and meaning of this scene--expression
of the quivering forces, whose perpetual flux, controlled by the
Spirit of Balance, was the soul of the world. Thousands of hearts
with the thought of self lost in one over-mastering excitement!
An old man with a long grey beard, standing close to his elbow,
"'Tis anxious work--I wouldn't ha' missed this for anything in the
"Fine, eh?" answered Courtier.
"Aye," said the old man, "'tis fine. I've not seen the like o' this
since the great year--forty-eight. There they are--the aristocrats!"
Following the direction of that skinny hand Courtier saw on a balcony
Lord and Lady Valleys, side by side, looking steadily down at the
crowd. There too, leaning against a window and talking to someone
behind, was Barbara. The old man went on muttering, and Courtier
could see that his eyes had grown very bright, his whole face
transfigured by intense hostility; he felt drawn to this old
creature, thus moved to the very soul. Then he saw Barbara looking
down at him, with her hand raised to her temple to show that she saw
his bandaged head. He had the presence of mind not to lift his hat.
The old man spoke again.
"You wouldn't remember forty-eight, I suppose. There was a feeling
in the people then--we would ha' died for things in those days. I'm
eighty-four," and he held his shaking hand up to his breast, "but the
spirit's alive here yet! God send the Radical gets in!" There was
wafted from him a scent as of potatoes.
Far behind, at the very edge of the vast dark throng, some voices
began singing: "Way down upon the Swanee ribber." The tune floated
forth, ceased, spurted up once more, and died.
Then, in the very centre of the square a stentorian baritone roared
forth: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot!"
The song swelled, till every kind of voice, from treble to the old
Chartist's quavering bass, was chanting it; here and there the crowd
heaved with the movement of linked arms. Courtier found the soft
fingers of a young woman in his right hand, the old Chartist's dry
trembling paw in his left. He himself sang loudly. The grave and
fearful music sprang straight up into they air, rolled out right and
left, and was lost among the hills. But it had no sooner died away
than the same huge baritone yelled "God save our gracious King!" The
stature of the crowd seemed at once to leap up two feet, and from
under that platform of raised hats rose a stupendous shouting.
"This," thought Courtier, "is religion!"
They were singing even on the balconies; by the lamplight he could
see Lord Valleys mouth not opened quite enough, as though his voice
were just a little ashamed of coming out, and Barbara with her head
flung back against the pillar, pouring out her heart. No mouth in
all the crowd was silent. It was as though the soul of the English
people were escaping from its dungeon of reserve, on the pinions of
But suddenly, like a shot bird closing wings, the song fell silent
and dived headlong back to earth. Out from under the clock-face had
moved a thin dark figure. More figures came behind. Courtier could
see Miltoun. A voice far away cried: "Up; Chilcox!" A huge:
"Husill" followed; then such a silence, that the sound of an engine
shunting a mile away could be heard plainly.
The dark figure moved forward, and a tiny square of paper gleamed out
white against the black of his frock-coat.
"Ladies and gentlemen. Result of the Poll:
Miltoun Four thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight. Chilcox Four
thousand eight hundred and two."
The silence seemed to fall to earth, and break into a thousand
pieces. Through the pandemonium of cheers and groaning, Courtier
with all his strength forced himself towards the balcony. He could
see Lord Valleys leaning forward with a broad smile; Lady Valleys
passing her hand across her eyes; Barbara with her hand in
Harbinger's, looking straight into his face. He stopped. The old
Chartist was still beside him, tears rolling down his cheeks into his
Courtier saw Miltoun come forward, and stand, unsmiling, deathly
At three o'clock in the afternoon of the nineteenth of July little
Ann Shropton commenced the ascent of the main staircase of Valleys
House, London. She climbed slowly, in the very middle, an extremely
small white figure on those wide and shining stairs, counting them
aloud. Their number was never alike two days running, which made
them attractive to one for whom novelty was the salt of life.
Coming to that spot where they branched, she paused to consider which
of the two flights she had used last, and unable to remember, sat
down. She was the bearer of a message. It had been new when she
started, but was already comparatively old, and likely to become
older, in view of a design now conceived by her of travelling the
whole length of the picture gallery. And while she sat maturing this
plan, sunlight flooding through a large window drove a white
refulgence down into the heart of the wide polished space of wood and
marble, whence she had come. The nature of little Ann habitually
rejected fairies and all fantastic things, finding them quite too
much in the air, and devoid of sufficient reality and 'go'; and this
refulgence, almost unearthly in its travelling glory, passed over her
small head and played strangely with the pillars in the hall, without
exciting in her any fancies or any sentiment. The intention of
discovering what was at the end of the picture gallery absorbed the
whole of her essentially practical and active mind. Deciding on the
left-hand flight of stairs, she entered that immensely long, narrow,
and--with blinds drawn--rather dark saloon. She walked carefully,
because the floor was very slippery here, and with a kind of
seriousness due partly to the darkness and partly to the pictures.
They were indeed, in this light, rather formidable, those old
Caradocs black, armoured creatures, some of them, who seemed to eye
with a sort of burning, grim, defensive greed the small white figure
of their descendant passing along between them. But little Ann, who
knew they were only pictures, maintained her course steadily, and
every now and then, as she passed one who seemed to her rather uglier
than the others, wrinkled her sudden little nose. At the end, as she
had thought; appeared a door. She opened it, and passed on to a
landing. There was a stone staircase in the corner, and there were
two doors. It would be nice to go up the staircase, but it would
also be nice to open the doors. Going towards the first door, with a
little thrill, she turned the handle. It was one of those rooms,
necessary in houses, for which she had no great liking; and closing
this door rather loudly she opened the other one, finding herself in
a chamber not resembling the rooms downstairs, which were all high
and nicely gilded, but more like where she had lessons, low, and
filled with books and leather chairs. From the end of the room which
she could not see, she heard a sound as of someone kissing something,
and instinct had almost made her turn to go away when the word:
"Hallo!" suddenly opened her lips. And almost directly she saw that
Granny and Grandpapa were standing by the fireplace. Not knowing
quite whether they were glad to see her, she went forward and began
"Is this where you sit, Grandpapa?"
"It's nice, isn't it, Granny? Where does the stone staircase go to?"
"To the roof of the tower, Ann."
"Oh! I have to give a message, so I must go now."
"Sorry to lose you."
Hearing the door shut behind her, Lord and Lady Valleys looked at
each other with a dubious smile.
The little interview which she had interrupted, had arisen in this
Accustomed to retire to this quiet and homely room, which was not his
official study where he was always liable to the attacks of
secretaries, Lord Valleys had come up here after lunch to smoke and
chew the cud of a worry.
The matter was one in connection with his Pendridny estate, in
Cornwall. It had long agitated both his agent and himself, and had
now come to him for final decision. The question affected two
villages to the north of the property, whose inhabitants were solely
dependent on the working of a large quarry, which had for some time
been losing money.
A kindly man, he was extremely averse to any measure which would
plunge his tenants into distress, and especially in cases where there
had been no question of opposition between himself and them. But,
reduced to its essentials, the matter stood thus: Apart from that
particular quarry the Pendridny estate was not only a going, but even
a profitable concern, supporting itself and supplying some of the
sinews of war towards Valleys House and the racing establishment at
Newmarket and other general expenses; with this quarry still running,
allowing for the upkeep of Pendridny, and the provision of pensions
to superannuated servants, it was rather the other way.
Sitting there, that afternoon, smoking his favourite pipe, he had at
last come to the conclusion that there was nothing for it but to
close down. He had not made this resolution lightly; though, to do
him justice, the knowledge that the decision would be bound to cause
an outcry in the local, and perhaps the National Press, had secretly
rather spurred him on to the resolve than deterred him from it. He
felt as if he were being dictated to in advance, and he did not like
dictation. To have to deprive these poor people of their immediate
living was, he knew, a good deal more irksome to him than to those
who would certainly make a fuss about it, his conscience was clear,
and he could discount that future outcry as mere Party spite. He had
very honestly tried to examine the thing all round; and had reasoned
thus: If I keep this quarry open, I am really admitting the principle
of pauperization, since I naturally look to each of my estates to
support its own house, grounds, shooting, and to contribute towards
the support of this house, and my family, and racing stable, and all
the people employed about them both.
To allow any business to be run on my estates which does not
contribute to the general upkeep, is to protect and really pauperize
a portion of my tenants at the expense of the rest; it must therefore
be false economics and a secret sort of socialism. Further, if
logically followed out, it might end in my ruin, and to allow that,
though I might not personally object, would be to imply that I do not
believe that I am by virtue of my traditions and training, the best
machinery through which the State can work to secure the welfare of
When he had reached that point in his consideration of the question,
his mind, or rather perhaps, his essential self, had not unnaturally
risen up and said: Which is absurd!
Impersonality was in fashion, and as a rule he believed in thinking
impersonally. There was a point, however, where the possibility of
doing so ceased, without treachery to oneself, one's order, and the
country. And to the argument which he was quite shrewd enough to put
to himself, sooner than have it put by anyone else, that it was
disproportionate for a single man by a stroke of the pen to be able
to dispose of the livelihood of hundreds whose senses and feelings
were similar to his own--he had answered: "If I didn't, some
plutocrat or company would--or, worse still, the State!" Cooperative
enterprise being, in his opinion, foreign to the spirit of the
country, there was, so far as he could see, no other alternative.
Facts were facts and not to be got over!
Notwithstanding all this, the necessity for the decision made him
sorry, for if he had no great sense of proportion, he was at least
He was still smoking his pipe and staring at a sheet of paper covered
with small figures when his wife entered. Though she had come to ask
his advice on a very different subject, she saw at once that he was
vexed, and said:
" What's the matter, Geoff?"
Lord Valleys rose, went to the hearth, deliberately tapped out his
pipe, then held out to her the sheet of paper.
"That quarry! Nothing for it--must go!"
Lady Valleys' face changed.
"Oh, no! It will mean such dreadful distress."
Lord Valleys stared at his nails. "It's putting a drag on the whole
estate," he said.
"I know, but how could we face the people--I should never be able to
go down there. And most of them have such enormous families."
Since Lord Valleys continued to bend on his nails that slow, thought-
forming stare, she went on earnestly:
"Rather than that I'd make sacrifices. I'd sooner Pendridny were let
than throw all those people out of work. I suppose it would let."
"Let? Best woodcock shooting in the world."
Lady Valleys, pursuing her thoughts, went on:
"In time we might get the people drafted into other things. Have you
"No," said Lord Valleys shortly, "and don't mean to--he's too
"He always seems to know what he wants very well."
"I tell you," repeated Lord Valleys, "Miltoun's no good in a matter
of this sort--he and his ideas throw back to the Middle Ages."
Lady Valleys went closer, and took him by the lapels of his collar.
"Geoff-really, to please me; some other way!"
Lord Valleys frowned, staring at her for some time; and at last
"To please you--I'll leave it over another year."
"You think that's better than letting?"
"I don't like the thought of some outsider there. Time enough to
come to that if we must. Take it as my Christmas present."
Lady Valleys, rather flushed, bent forward and kissed his ear.
It was at this moment that little Ann had entered.
When she was gone, and they had exchanged that dubious look, Lady
"I came about Babs. I don't know what to make of her since we came
up. She's not putting her heart into things."
Lord Valleys answered almost sulkily:
"It's the heat probably--or Claud Harbinger." In spite of his easy-
going parentalism, he disliked the thought of losing the child whom
he so affectionately admired.
"Ah!" said Lady Valleys slowly," I'm not so sure."
"How do you mean?"
"There's something queer about her. I'm by no means certain she
hasn't got some sort of feeling for that Mr. Courtier."
"What!" said Lord Valleys, growing most unphilosophically red.
"Confound it, Gertrude, Miltoun's business was quite enough for one
"For twenty," murmured Lady Valleys. "I'm watching her. He's going
to Persia, they say."
"And leaving his bones there, I hope," muttered Lord Valleys.
"Really, it's too much. I should think you're all wrong, though."
Lady Valleys raised her eyebrows. Men were very queer about such
things! Very queer and worse than helpless!
"Well," she said, "I must go to my meeting. I'll take her, and see
if I can get at something," and she went away.
It was the inaugural meeting of the Society for the Promotion of the
Birth Rate, over which she had promised to preside. The scheme was
one in which she had been prominent from the start, appealing as it
did to her large and full-blooded nature. Many movements, to which
she found it impossible to refuse her name, had in themselves but
small attraction; and it was a real comfort to feel something
approaching enthusiasm for one branch of her public work. Not that
there was any academic consistency about her in the matter, for in
private life amongst her friends she was not narrowly dogmatic on the
duty of wives to multiply exceedingly. She thought imperially on the
subject, without bigotry. Large, healthy families, in all cases save
individual ones! The prime idea at the back of her mind was--
National Expansion! Her motto, and she intended if possible to make
it the motto of the League, was: 'De l'audace, et encore de
l'audace!' It was a question of the full realization of the nation.
She had a true, and in a sense touching belief in 'the flag,' apart
from what it might cover. It was her idealism. "You may talk," she
would say, "as much as you like about directing national life in
accordance with social justice! What does the nation care about
social justice? The thing is much bigger than that. It's a matter
of sentiment. We must expand!"
On the way to the meeting, occupied with her speech, she made no
attempt to draw Barbara into conversation. That must wait. The
child, though languid, and pale, was looking so beautiful that it was
a pleasure to have her support in such a movement.
In a little dark room behind the hall the Committee were already
assembled, and they went at once on to the platform.
Unmoved by the stares of the audience, Barbara sat absorbed in moody
Into the three weeks since Miltoun's election there had been crowded
such a multitude of functions that she had found, as it were, no
time, no energy to know where she stood with herself. Since that
morning in the stable, when he had watched her with the horse Hal,
Harbinger had seemed to live only to be close to her. And the
consciousness of his passion gave her a tingling sense of pleasure.
She had been riding and dancing with him, and sometimes this had been
almost blissful. But there were times too, when she felt--though
always with a certain contempt of herself, as when she sat on that
sunwarmed stone below the tor--a queer dissatisfaction, a longing for
something outside a world where she had to invent her own starvations
and simplicities, to make-believe in earnestness.
She had seen Courtier three times. Once he had come to dine, in
response to an invitation from Lady Valleys worded in that charming,
almost wistful style, which she had taught herself to use to those
below her in social rank, especially if they were intelligent; once
to the Valleys House garden party; and next day, having told him what
time she would be riding, she had found him in the Row, not mounted,
but standing by the rail just where she must pass, with that look on
his face of mingled deference and ironic self-containment, of which
he was a master. It appeared that he was leaving England; and to her
questions why, and where, he had only shrugged his shoulders. Up on
this dusty platform, in the hot bare hall, facing all those people,
listening to speeches whose sense she was too languid and preoccupied
to take in, the whole medley of thoughts, and faces round her, and
the sound of the speakers' voices, formed a kind of nightmare, out of
which she noted with extreme exactitude the colour of her mother's
neck beneath a large black hat, and the expression on the face of a
Committee man to the right, who was biting his fingers under cover of
a blue paper. She realized that someone was speaking amongst the
audience, casting forth, as it were, small bunches of words. She
could see him--a little man in a black coat, with a white face which
kept jerking up and down.
"I feel that this is terrible," she heard him say; "I feel that this
is blasphemy. That we should try to tamper with the greatest force,
the greatest and the most sacred and secret-force, that--that moves
in the world, is to me horrible. I cannot bear to listen; it seems
to make everything so small!" She saw him sit down, and her mother
rising to answer.
"We must all sympathize with the sincerity and to a certain extent
with the intention of our friend in the body of the hall. But we
must ask ourselves:
Have we the right to allow ourselves the luxury, of private feelings
in a matter which concerns the national expansion. We must not give
way to sentiment. Our friend in the body of the hall spoke--he will
forgive me for saying so--like a poet, rather than a serious
reformer. I am afraid that if we let ourselves drop into poetry, the
birth rate of this country will very soon drop into poetry too. And
that I think it is impossible for us to contemplate with folded
hands. The resolution I was about to propose when our friend in the
body of the hall----"
But Barbara's attention, had wandered off again into that queer
medley of thoughts, and feelings, out of which the little man had so
abruptly roused her. Then she realized that the meeting was breaking
up, and her mother saying:
"Now, my dear, it's hospital day. We've just time."
When they were once more in the car, she leaned back very silent,
watching the traffic.
Lady Valleys eyed her sidelong.
"What a little bombshell," she said, "from that small person! He
must have got in by mistake. I hear Mr. Courtier has a card for
Helen Gloucester's ball to-night, Babs."
"You will be there," said Lady Valleys dryly.
Barbara drew back into her corner.
"Don't tease me, Mother!"
An expression of compunction crossed Lady Valleys' face; she tried to
possess herself of Barbara's hand. But that languid hand did not
return her squeeze.
"I know the mood you're in, dear. It wants all one's pluck to shake
it off; don't let it grow on you. You'd better go down to Uncle
Dennis to-morrow. You've been overdoing it."
"I wish it were to-morrow."
The car had stopped, and Lady Valleys said:
"Will you come in, or are you too tired? It always does them good to
"You're twice as tired as me," Barbara answered; "of course I'll
At the entrance of the two ladies, there rose at once a faint buzz
and murmur. Lady Valleys, whose ample presence radiated suddenly a
businesslike and cheery confidence, went to a bedside and sat down.
But Barbara stood in a thin streak of the July sunlight, uncertain
where to begin, amongst the faces turned towards her. The poor dears
looked so humble, and so wistful, and so tired. There was one lying
quite flat, who had not even raised her head to see who had come in.
That slumbering, pale, high cheek-boned face had a frailty as if a
touch, a breath, would shatter it; a wisp of the blackest hair, finer
than silk, lay across the forehead; the closed eyes were deep sunk;
one hand, scarred almost to the bone with work, rested above her
breast. She breathed between lips which had no colour. About her,
sleeping, was a kind of beauty. And there came over the girl a queer
rush of emotion. The sleeper seemed so apart from everything there,
from all the formality and stiffness of the ward. To look at her
swept away the languid, hollow feeling with which she had come in; it
made her think of the tors at home, when the wind was blowing, and
all was bare, and grand, and sometimes terrible. There was something
elemental in that still sleep. And the old lady in the next led,
with a brown wrinkled face and bright black eyes brimful of life,
seemed almost vulgar beside such remote tranquillity, while she was
telling Barbara that a little bunch of heather in the better half of
a soap-dish on the window-sill had come from Wales, because, as she
explained: "My mother was born in Stirling, dearie; so I likes a bit
of heather, though I never been out o' Bethnal Green meself."
But when Barbara again passed, the sleeping woman was sitting up, and
looked but a poor ordinary thing--her strange fragile beauty all
It was a relief when Lady Valleys said:
"My dear, my Naval Bazaar at five-thirty; and while I'm there you
must go home and have a rest, and freshen yourself up for the
evening. We dine at Plassey House."
The Duchess of Gloucester's Ball, a function which no one could very
well miss, had been fixed for this late date owing to the Duchess's
announced desire to prolong the season and so help the hackney
cabmen; and though everybody sympathized, it had been felt by most
that it would be simpler to go away, motor up on the day of the Ball,
and motor down again on the following morning. And throughout the
week by which the season was thus prolonged, in long rows at the
railway stations, and on their stands, the hackney cabmen,
unconscious of what was being done for them, waited, patient as their
horses. But since everybody was making this special effort, an
exceptionally large, exclusive, and brilliant company reassembled at
In the vast ballroom over the medley of entwined revolving couples,
punkahs had been fixed, to clear and freshen the languid air, and
these huge fans, moving with incredible slowness, drove a faint
refreshing draught down over the sea of white shirt-fronts and bare
necks, and freed the scent from innumerable flowers.
Late in the evening, close by one of the great clumps of bloom, a
very pretty woman stood talking to Bertie Caradoc. She was his
cousin, Lily Malvezin, sister of Geoffrey Winlow, and wife of a
Liberal peer, a charming creature, whose pink cheeks, bright eyes,
quick lips, and rounded figure, endowed her with the prettiest air of
animation. And while she spoke she kept stealing sly glances at her
partner, trying as it were to pierce the armour of that self-
contained young man.
"No, my dear," she said in her mocking voice, "you'll never persuade
me that Miltoun is going to catch on. 'Il est trop intransigeant'.
Ah! there's Babs!"
For the girl had come gliding by, her eyes wandering lazily, her lips
just parted; her neck, hardly less pale than her white frock; her
face pale, and marked with languor, under the heavy coil of her tawny
hair; and her swaying body seeming with each turn of the waltz to be
caught by the arms of her partner from out of a swoon.
With that immobility of lips, learned by all imprisoned in Society,
Lily Malvezin murmured:
"Who's that she's dancing with? Is it the dark horse, Bertie?"
Through lips no less immobile Bertie answered:
"Forty to one, no takers."
But those inquisitive bright eyes still followed Barbara, drifting in
the dance, like a great waterlily caught in the swirl of a mill pool;
and the thought passed through that pretty head:
"She's hooked him. It's naughty of Babs, really!" And then she saw
leaning against a pillar another whose eyes also were following those
two; and she thought: "H'm! Poor Claud--no wonder he's looking like
that. Oh! Babs!"
By one of the statues on the terrace Barbara and her partner stood,
where trees, disfigured by no gaudy lanterns, offered the refreshment
of their darkness and serenity.
Wrapped in her new pale languor, still breathing deeply from the
waltz, she seemed to Courtier too utterly moulded out of loveliness.
To what end should a man frame speeches to a vision! She was but an
incarnation of beauty imprinted on the air, and would fade out at a
touch-like the sudden ghosts of enchantment that came to one under
the blue, and the starlit snow of a mountain night, or in a birch
wood all wistful golden! Speech seemed but desecration! Besides,
what of interest was there for him to say in this world of hers, so
bewildering and of such glib assurance--this world that was like a
building, whose every window was shut and had a blind drawn down. A
building that admitted none who had not sworn, as it were, to believe
it the world, the whole world, and nothing but the world, outside
which were only the nibbled remains of what had built it. This,
world of Society, in which he felt like one travelling through a
desert, longing to meet a fellow-creature.
The voice of Harbinger behind them said:
Long did the punkahs waft their breeze over that brave-hued wheel of
pleasure, and the sound of the violins quaver and wail out into the
morning. Then quickly, as the spangles of dew vanish off grass when
the sun rises, all melted away; and in the great rooms were none but
flunkeys presiding over the polished surfaces like flamingoes by some
lakeside at dawn.
A brick dower-house of the Fitz-Harolds, just outside the little
seaside town of Nettlefold, sheltered the tranquil days of Lord
Dennis. In that south-coast air, sanest and most healing in all
England, he raged very slowly, taking little thought of death, and
much quiet pleasure in his life. Like the tall old house with its
high windows and squat chimneys, he was marvellously self-contained.
His books, for he somewhat passionately examined old civilizations,
and described their habits from time to time with a dry and not too
poignant pen in a certain old-fashioned magazine; his microscope, for
he studied infusoria; and the fishing boat of his friend John Bogle,
who had long perceived that Lord Dennis was the biggest fish he ever
caught; all these, with occasional visitors, and little runs to
London, to Monkland, and other country houses, made up the sum of a
life which, if not desperately beneficial, was uniformly kind and
harmless, and, by its notorious simplicity, had a certain negative
influence not only on his own class but on the relations of that
class with the country at large. It was commonly said in Nettlefold,
that he was a gentleman; if they were all like him there wasn't much
in all this talk against the Lords. The shop people and lodging-
house keepers felt that the interests of the country were safer in
his hands: than in the hands of people who wanted to meddle with
everything for the good of those who were only anxious to be let
alone. A man too who could so completely forget he was the son of a
Duke, that other people never forgot it, was the man for their money.
It was true that he had never had a say in public affairs; but this
was overlooked, because he could have had it if he liked, and the
fact that he did not like, only showed once more that he was a
Just as he was the one personality of the little town against whom
practically nothing was ever, said, so was his house the one house
which defied criticism. Time had made it utterly suitable. The
ivied walls, and purplish roof lichened yellow in places, the quiet
meadows harbouring ponies and kine, reaching from it to the sea--all
was mellow. In truth it made all the other houses of the town seem
shoddy--standing alone beyond them, like its, master, if anything a
little too esthetically remote from common wants.
He had practically no near neighbours of whom he saw anything, except
once in a way young Harbinger three miles distant at Whitewater. But
since he had the faculty of not being bored with his own society,
this did not worry him. Of local charity, especially to the fishers
of the town, whose winter months were nowadays very bare of profit,
he was prodigal to the verge of extravagance, for his income was not
great. But in politics, beyond acting as the figure-head of certain
municipal efforts, he took little or no part. His Toryism indeed was
of the mild order, that had little belief in the regeneration of the
country by any means but those of kindly feeling between the classes.
When asked how that was to be brought about, he would answer with his
dry, slightly malicious, suavity, that if you stirred hornets' nests
with sticks the hornets would come forth. Having no land, he was shy
of expressing himself on that vexed question; but if resolutely
attacked would give utterance to some such sentiment as this: "The
land's best in our hands on the whole, but we want fewer dogs-in-the-
manger among us."
He had, as became one of his race, a feeling for land, tender and
protective, and could not bear to think of its being put out to farm
with that cold Mother, the State. He was ironical over the views of
Radicals or Socialists, but disliked to hear such people personally
abused behind their backs. It must be confessed, however, that if
contradicted he increased considerably the ironical decision of his
sentiments. Withdrawn from all chance in public life of enforcing
his views on others, the natural aristocrat within him was forced to
find some expression.
Each year, towards the end of July, he placed his house at the
service of Lord Valleys, who found it a convenient centre for
It was on the morning after the Duchess of Gloucester's Ball, that he
received this note:
"DEAREST UNCLE DENNIS,
"May I come down to you a little before time and rest? London is so
terribly hot. Mother has three functions still to stay for, and I
shall have to come back again for our last evening, the political
one--so I don't want to go all the way to Monkland; and anywhere
else, except with you, would be rackety. Eustace looks so seedy.
I'll try and bring him, if I may. Granny is terribly well.
"Best love, dear, from your.
The same afternoon she came, but without Miltoun, driving up from the
station in a fly. Lord Dennis met her at the gate; and, having
kissed her, looked at her somewhat anxiously, caressing his white
peaked beard. He had never yet known Babs sick of anything, except
when he took her out in John Bogle's boat. She was certainly looking
pale, and her hair was done differently--a fact disturbing to one who
did not discover it. Slipping his arm through hers he led her out
into a meadow still full of buttercups, where an old white pony, who
had carried her in the Row twelve years ago, came up to them and
rubbed his muzzle against her waist. And suddenly there rose in Lord
Dennis the thoroughly discomforting and strange suspicion that,
though the child was not going to cry, she wanted time to get over
the feeling that she was. Without appearing to separate himself from
her, he walked to the wall at the end of the field, and stood looking
at the sea.
The tide was nearly up; the South wind driving over it brought him
the scent of the sea-flowers, and the crisp rustle of little waves
swimming almost to his feet. Far out, where the sunlight fell, the
smiling waters lay white and mysterious in July haze, giving him a
queer feeling. But Lord Dennis, though he had his moments of poetic
sentiment, was on the whole quite able to keep the sea in its proper
place--for after all it was the English Channel; and like a good
Englishman he recognized that if you once let things get away from
their names, they ceased to be facts, and if they ceased to be facts,
they became--the devil! In truth he was not thinking much of the
sea, but of Barbara. It was plain that she was in trouble of some
kind. And the notion that Babs could find trouble in life was
extraordinarily queer; for he felt, subconsciously, what a great
driving force of disturbance was necessary to penetrate the hundred
folds of the luxurious cloak enwrapping one so young and fortunate.
It was not Death; therefore it must be Love; and he thought at once
of that fellow with the red moustaches. Ideas were all very well--no
one would object to as many as you liked, in their proper place--the
dinner-table, for example. But to fall in love, if indeed it were
so, with a man who not only had ideas, but an inclination to live up
to them, and on them, and on nothing else, seemed to Lord Dennis
She had followed him to the wall, and he looked--at her dubiously.
"To rest in the waters of Lethe, Babs? By the way, seen anything of
our friend Mr. Courtier? Very picturesque--that Quixotic theory of
And in saying that, his voice (like so many refined voices which have
turned their backs on speculation) was triple-toned-mocking at ideas,
mocking at itself for mocking at ideas, yet showing plainly that at
bottom it only mocked at itself for mocking at ideas, because it
would be, as it were, crude not to do so.
But Barbara did not answer his question, and began to speak of other
things. And all that afternoon and evening she talked away so
lightly that Lord Dennis, but for his instinct, would have been
That wonderful smiling mask--the inscrutability of Youth--was laid
aside by her at night. Sitting at her window, under the moon,
'a gold-bright moth slow-spinning up the sky,' she watched the
darkness hungrily, as though it were a great thought into whose heart
she was trying to see. Now and then she stroked herself, getting
strange comfort out of the presence of her body. She had that old
unhappy feeling of having two selves within her. And this soft night
full of the quiet stir of the sea, and of dark immensity, woke in her
a terrible longing to be at one with something, somebody, outside
herself. At the Ball last night the 'flying feeling' had seized on
her again; and was still there--a queer manifestation of her streak
of recklessness. And this result of her contacts with Courtier, this
'cacoethes volandi', and feeling of clipped wings, hurt her--as being
forbidden hurts a child.
She remembered how in the housekeeper's room at Monkland there lived
a magpie who had once sought shelter in an orchid-house from some
pursuer. As soon as they thought him wedded to civilization, they
had let him go, to see whether he would come back. For hours he had
sat up in a high tree, and at last come down again to his cage;
whereupon, fearing lest the rooks should attack him when he next took
this voyage of discovery, they clipped one of his wings. After that
the twilight bird, though he lived happily enough, hopping about his
cage and the terrace which served him for exercise yard, would seem
at times restive and frightened, moving his wings as if flying in
spirit, and sad that he must stay on earth.
So, too, at her window Barbara fluttered her wings; then, getting
into bed, lay sighing and tossing. A clock struck three; and seized
by an intolerable impatience at her own discomfort, she slipped a
motor coat over her night-gown, put on slippers, and stole out into
the passage. The house was very still. She crept downstairs,
smothering her footsteps. Groping her way through the hall,
inhabited by the thin ghosts of would-be light, she slid back the
chain of the door, and fled towards the sea. She made no more noise
running in the dew, than a bird following the paths of air; and the
two ponies, who felt her figure pass in the darkness, snuffled,
sending out soft sighs of alarm amongst the closed buttercups. She
climbed the wall over to the beach. While she was running, she had
fully meant to dash into the sea and cool herself, but it was so
black, with just a thin edging scarf of white, and the sky was black,
bereft of lights, waiting for the day!
She stood, and looked. And all the leapings and pulsings of flesh
and spirit slowly died in that wide dark loneliness, where the only
sound was the wistful breaking of small waves. She was well used to
these dead hours--only last night, at this very time, Harbinger's arm
had been round her in a last waltz! But here the dead hours had such
different faces, wide-eyed, solemn, and there came to Barbara,
staring out at them, a sense that the darkness saw her very soul, so
that it felt little and timid within her. She shivered in her fur-
lined coat, as if almost frightened at finding herself so
marvellously nothing before that black sky and dark sea, which seemed
all one, relentlessly great.... And crouching down, she waited for
the dawn to break.
It came from over the Downs, sweeping a rush of cold air on its
wings, flighting towards the sea. With it the daring soon crept back
into her blood. She stripped, and ran down into the dark water, fast
growing pale. It covered her jealously, and she set to work to swim.
The water was warmer than the air. She lay on her back and splashed,
watching the sky flush. To bathe like this in the half-dark, with
her hair floating out, and no wet clothes clinging to her limbs, gave
her the joy of a child doing a naughty thing. She swam out of her
depth, then scared at her own adventure, swam in again as the sun
She dashed into her two garments, climbed the wall, and scurried back
to the house. All her dejection, and feverish uncertainty were gone;
she felt keen, fresh, terribly hungry, and stealing into the dark
dining-room, began rummaging for food. She found biscuits, and was
still munching, when in the open doorway she saw Lord Dennis, a
pistol in one hand and a lighted candle in the other. With his
carved features and white beard above an old blue dressing-gown, he
looked impressive, having at the moment a distinct resemblance to
Lady Casterley, as though danger had armoured him in steel.
"You call this resting!" he said, dryly; then, looking at her drowned
hair, added: "I see you have already entrusted your trouble to the
waters of Lethe."
But without answer Barbara vanished into the dim hall and up the
While Barbara was swimming to meet the dawn, Miltoun was bathing in
those waters of mansuetude and truth which roll from wall to wall in
the British House of Commons.
In that long debate on the Land question, for which he had waited to
make his first speech, he had already risen nine times without
catching the Speaker's eye, and slowly a sense of unreality was
creeping over him. Surely this great Chamber, where without end rose
the small sound of a single human voice, and queer mechanical bursts
of approbation and resentment, did not exist at all but as a gigantic
fancy of his own! And all these figures were figments of his brain!
And when he at last spoke, it would be himself alone that he
addressed! The torpid air tainted with human breath, the unwinking
stare of the countless lights, the long rows of seats, the queer
distant rounds of pale listening flesh perched up so high, they were
all emanations of himself! Even the coming and going in the gangway
was but the coming and going of little wilful parts of him! And
rustling deep down in this Titanic creature of his fancy was 'the
murmuration' of his own unspoken speech, sweeping away the puff balls
of words flung up by that far-away, small, varying voice.
Then, suddenly all that dream creature had vanished; he was on his
feet, with a thumping heart, speaking.
Soon he had no tremors, only a dim consciousness that his words
sounded strange, and a queer icy pleasure in flinging them out into
the silence. Round him there seemed no longer men, only mouths and
eyes. And he had enjoyment in the feeling that with these words of
his he was holding those hungry mouths and eyes dumb and unmoving.
Then he knew that he had reached the end of what he had to say, and
sat down, remaining motionless in the centre of a various sound;
staring at the back of the head in front of him, with his hands
clasped round his knee. And soon, when that little faraway voice was
once more speaking, he took his hat, and glancing neither to right
nor left, went out.
Instead of the sensation of relief and wild elation which fills the
heart of those who have taken the first plunge, Miltoun had nothing
in his deep dark well but the waters of bitterness. In truth, with
the delivery of that speech he had but parted with what had been a
sort of anodyne to suffering. He had only put the fine point on his
conviction, of how vain was his career now that he could not share it
with Audrey Noel. He walked slowly towards the Temple, along the
riverside, where the lamps were paling into nothingness before that
daily celebration of Divinity, the meeting of dark and light.
For Miltoun was not one of those who take things lying down; he took
things desperately, deeply, and with revolt. He took them like a
rider riding himself, plunging at the dig of his own spurs, chafing
and wincing at the cruel tugs of his own bitt; bearing in his
friendless, proud heart all the burden of struggles which shallower
or more genial natures shared with others.
He looked hardly less haggard, walking home, than some of those
homeless ones who slept nightly by the river, as though they knew
that to lie near one who could so readily grant oblivion, alone could
save them from seeking that consolation. He was perhaps unhappier
than they, whose spirits, at all events, had long ceased to worry
them, having oozed out from their bodies under the foot of Life:
Now that Audrey Noel was lost to him, her loveliness and that
indescribable quality which made her lovable, floated before him, the
very torture-flowers of a beauty never to be grasped--yet, that he
could grasp, 'if he only would! That was the heart and fervour of
his suffering. To be grasped if he only would! He was suffering,
too, physically from a kind of slow fever, the result of his wetting
on the day when he last saw her. And through that latent fever,
things and feelings, like his sensations in the House before his
speech, were all as it were muffled in a horrible way, as if they all
came to him wrapped in a sort of flannel coating, through which he
could not cut. And all the time there seemed to be within him two
men at mortal grips with one another; the man of faith in divine
sanction and authority, on which all his beliefs had hitherto hinged,
and a desperate warm-blooded hungry creature. He was very miserable,
craving strangely for the society of someone who could understand
what he was feeling, .and, from long habit of making no confidants,
not knowing how to satisfy that craving.
It was dawn when he reached his rooms; and, sure that he would not
sleep, he did not even go to bed, but changed his clothes, made
himself some coffee, and sat down at the window which overlooked the
In Middle Temple Hall a Ball was still in progress, though the
glamour from its Chinese lanterns was already darkened and gone.
Miltoun saw a man and a girl, sheltered by an old fountain, sitting
out their last dance. Her head had sunk on her partner's shoulder;
their lips were joined. And there floated up to the window the scent
of heliotrope, with the tune of the waltz that those two should have
been dancing. This couple so stealthily enlaced, the gleam of their
furtively turned eyes, the whispering of their lips, that stony niche
below the twittering sparrows, so cunningly sought out--it was the
world he had abjured! When he looked again, they--like a vision
seen--had stolen away and gone; the music too had ceased, there was
no scent of heliotrope. In the stony niche crouched a stray cat
watching the twittering sparrows.
Miltoun went out, and, turning into the empty Strand, walked on--
without heeding where, till towards five o'clock he found himself on
He rested there, leaning over the parapet, looking down at the grey
water. The sun was just breaking through the heat haze; early
waggons were passing, and already men were coming in to work. To
what end did the river wander up and down; and a human river flow
across it twice every day? To what end were men and women suffering?
Of the full current of this life Miltoun could no more see the aim,
than that of the wheeling gulls in the early sunlight.
Leaving the bridge he made towards Barnes Common. The night was
still ensnared there on the gorse bushes grey with cobwebs and starry
dewdrops. He passed a tramp family still sleeping, huddled all
together. Even the homeless lay in each other's arms!
>From the Common he emerged on the road near the gates of Ravensham;
turning in there, he found his way to the kitchen garden, and sat
down on a bench close to the raspberry bushes. They were protected
from thieves, but at Miltoun's approach two blackbirds flustered out
through the netting and flew away.
His long figure resting so motionless impressed itself on the eyes of
a gardener, who caused a report to be circulated that his young
lordship was in the fruit garden. It reached the ears of Clifton,
who himself came out to see what this might mean. The old man took
his stand in front of Miltoun very quietly.
"You have come to breakfast, my lord?"
"If my grandmother will have me, Clifton."
"I understood your lordship was speaking last night."
"You find the House of Commons satisfactory, I hope."
"Fairly, thank you, Clifton."
"They are not what they were in the great days of your grandfather, I
believe. He had a very good opinion of them. They vary, no doubt."
"That is so. I find quite anew spirit towards public affairs. The
ha'penny Press; one takes it in, but one hardly approves. I shall be
anxious to read your speech. They say a first speech is a great
"It is rather."
"But you had no reason to be anxious. I'm sure it was beautiful."
Miltoun saw that the old man's thin sallow cheeks had flushed to a
deep orange between his snow-white whiskers.
"I have looked forward to this day," he stammered, "ever since I knew
your lordship--twenty-eight years. It is the beginning."
"Or the end, Clifton."
The old man's face fell in a look of deep and concerned astonishment.
"No, no," he said; "with your antecedents, never."
Miltoun took his hand.
"Sorry, Clifton--didn't mean to shock you."
And for a minute neither spoke, looking at their clasped hands as if
"Would your lordship like a bath--breakfast is still at eight. I can
procure you a razor."
When Miltoun entered the breakfast room, his grandmother, with a copy
of the Times in her hands, was seated before a grape fruit, which,
with a shredded wheat biscuit, constituted her first meal. Her
appearance hardly warranted Barbara's description of 'terribly well';
in truth she looked a little white, as if she had been feeling the
heat. But there was no lack of animation in her little steel-grey
eyes, nor of decision in her manner.
"I see," she said, "that you've taken a line of your own, Eustace.
I've nothing to say against that; in fact, quite the contrary. But
remember this, my dear, however you may change you mustn't wobble.
Only one thing counts in that place, hitting the same nail on the
head with the same hammer all the time. You aren't looking at all
Miltoun, bending to kiss her, murmured:
"Thanks, I'm all right."
"Nonsense," replied Lady Casterley. "They don't look after you. Was
your mother in the House?"
"I don't think so."
"Exactly. And what is Barbara about? She ought to be seeing to
"Barbara is down with Uncle Dennis."
Lady Casterley set her jaw; then looking her grandson through and
"I shall take you down there this very day. I shall have the sea to
you. What do you say, Clifton?"
"His lordship does look pale."
"Have the carriage, and we'll go from Clapham Junction. Thomas can
go in and fetch you some clothes. Or, better, though I dislike them,
we can telephone to your mother for a car. It's very hot for trains.
Arrange that, please, Clifton!"
To this project Miltoun raised no objection. And all through the
drive he remained sunk in an indifference and lassitude which to Lady
Casterley seemed in the highest degree ominous. For lassitude, to
her, was the strange, the unpardonable, state. The little great
lady--casket of the aristocratic principle--was permeated to the very
backbone with the instinct of artificial energy, of that alert vigour
which those who have nothing socially to hope for are forced to
develop, lest they should decay and be again obliged to hope. To
speak honest truth, she could not forbear an itch to run some sharp
and foreign substance into her grandson, to rouse him somehow, for
she knew the reason of his state, and was temperamentally out of
patience with such a cause for backsliding. Had it been any other of
her grandchildren she would not have hesitated, but there was that in
Miltoun which held even Lady Casterley in check, and only once during
the four hours of travel did she attempt to break down his reserve.
She did it in a manner very soft for her--was he not of all living
things the hope and pride of her heart? Tucking her little thin
sharp hand under his arm, she said quietly:
"My dear, don't brood over it. That will never do."
But Miltoun removed her hand gently, and laid it back on the dust
rug, nor did he answer, or show other sign of having heard.
And Lady Casterley, deeply wounded, pressed her faded lips together,
and said sharply:
"Slower, please, Frith!"
It was to Barbara that Miltoun unfolded, if but little, the trouble
of his spirit, lying that same afternoon under a ragged tamarisk
hedge with the tide far out. He could never have done this if there
had not been between them the accidental revelation of that night at
Monkland; nor even then perhaps had he not felt in this young sister
of his the warmth of life for which he was yearning. In such a
matter as love Barbara was the elder of these two. For, besides the
motherly knowledge of the heart peculiar to most women, she had the
inherent woman-of-the-worldliness to be expected of a daughter of
Lord and Lady Valleys. If she herself were in doubt as to the state
of her affections, it was not as with Miltoun, on the score of the
senses and the heart, but on the score of her spirit and curiosity,
which Courtier had awakened and caused to flap their wings a little.
She worried over Miltoun's forlorn case; it hurt her too to think of
Mrs. Noel eating her heart out in that lonely cottage. A sister so--
good and earnest as Agatha had ever inclined Barbara to a rebellious
view of morals, and disinclined her altogether to religion. And so,
she felt that if those two could not be happy apart, they should be
happy together, in the name of all the joy there was in life!
And while her brother lay face to the sky under the tamarisks, she
kept trying to think of how to console him, conscious that she did
not in the least understand the way he thought about things. Over
the fields behind, the larks were hymning the promise of the unripe
corn; the foreshore was painted all colours, from vivid green to
mushroom pink; by the edge of the blue sea little black figures
stooped, gathering sapphire. The air smelled sweet in the shade of
the tamarisk; there was ineffable peace. And Barbara, covered by the
network of sunlight, could not help impatience with a suffering which
seemed to her so corrigible by action. At last she ventured:
"Life is short, Eusty!"
Miltoun's answer, given without movement, startled her:
"Persuade me that it is, Babs, and I'll bless you. If the singing of
these larks means nothing, if that blue up there is a morass of our
invention, if we are pettily, creeping on furthering nothing, if
there's no purpose in our lives, persuade me of it, for God's sake!"
Carried suddenly beyond her depth, Barbara could only put out her
hand, and say: "Oh! don't take things so hard!"
"Since you say that life is short," Miltoun muttered, with his smile,
"you shouldn't spoil it by feeling pity! In old days we went to the
Tower for our convictions. We can stand a little private roasting, I
hope; or has the sand run out of us altogether?"
Stung by his tone, Barbara answered in rather a hard voice:
"What we must bear, we must, I suppose. But why should we make
trouble? That's what I can't stand!"
"O profound wisdom!"
"I love Life!" she said.
The galleons of the westering sun were already sailing in a broad
gold fleet straight for that foreshore where the little black
stooping figures had not yet finished their toil, the larks still
sang over the unripe corn--when Harbinger, galloping along the sands
from Whitewater to Sea House, came on that silent couple walking home
It would not be safe to say of this young man that he readily
diagnosed a spiritual atmosphere, but this was the less his demerit,
since everything from his cradle up had conspired to keep the
spiritual thermometer of his surroundings at 60 in the shade. And
the fact that his own spiritual thermometer had now run up so that it
threatened to burst the bulb, rendered him less likely than ever to
see what was happening with other people's. Yet, he did notice that
Barbara was looking pale, and--it seemed--sweeter than ever.... With
her eldest brother he always somehow felt ill at ease. He could not
exactly afford to despise an uncompromising spirit in one of his own
order, but he was no more impervious than others to Miltoun's
caustic, thinly-veiled contempt for the commonplace; and having a
full-blooded belief in himself---usual with men of fine physique,
whose lots are so cast that this belief can never or almost never be
really shaken--he greatly disliked the feeling of being a little
looked down on. It was an intense relief, when, saying that he
wanted a certain magazine, Miltoun strode off into the town.
To Harbinger, no less than to Miltoun and Barbara, last night had
been bitter and restless. The sight of that pale swaying figure,
with the parted lips, whirling round in Courtier's arms, had clung to
his vision ever since, the Ball. During his own last dance with her
he had been almost savagely silent; only by a great effort
restraining his tongue from mordant allusions to that 'prancing, red-
haired fellow,' as he secretly called the champion of lost causes.
In fact, his sensations there and since had been a revelation, or
would have teen if he could have stood apart to see them. True, he
had gone about next day with his usual cool, off-hand manner, because
one naturally did not let people see, but it was with such an inner
aching and rage of want and jealousy as to really merit pity. Men of
his physically big, rather rushing, type, are the last to possess
their souls in patience. Walking home after the Ball he had
determined to follow her down to the sea, where she had said, so
maliciously; that she was going. After a second almost sleepless
night he had no longer any hesitation. He must see her! After all,
a man might go to his own 'place' with impunity; he did not care if
it were a pointed thing to do.... Pointed! The more pointed the
better! There was beginning to be roused in him an ugly stubbornness
of male determination. She should not escape him!
But now that he was walking at her side, all that determination and
assurance melted to perplexed humility. He marched along by his
horse with his head down, just feeling the ache of being so close to
her and yet so far; angry with his own silence and awkwardness,
almost angry with her for her loveliness, and the pain it made him
suffer. When they reached the house, and she left him at the stable-
yard, saying she was going to get some flowers, he jerked the beast's
bridle and swore at it for its slowness in entering the stable. He,
was terrified that she would be gone before he could get into the
garden; yet half afraid of finding her there. But she was still
plucking carnations by the box hedge which led to the conservatories.
And as she rose from gathering those blossoms, before he knew what he
was doing, Harbinger had thrown his arm around her, held her as in a
vice, kissed her unmercifully.
She seemed to offer no resistance, her smooth cheeks growing warmer
and warmer, even her lips passive; but suddenly he recoiled, and his
heart stood still at his own outrageous daring. What had he done?
He saw her leaning back almost buried in the clipped box hedge, and
heard her say with a sort of faint mockery: "Well!"
He would have flung himself down on his knees to ask for pardon but
for the thought that someone might come. He muttered hoarsely: "By
God, I was mad!" and stood glowering in sullen suspense between
hardihood and fear. He heard her say, quietly:
"Yes, you were-rather."
Then seeing her put her hand up to her lips as if he had hurt them,
he muttered brokenly:
"Forgive me, Babs!"
There was a full minute's silence while he stood there, no longer
daring to look at her, beaten all over by his emotions. Then, with
bewilderment, he heard her say:
"I didn't mind it--for once!"
He looked up at that. How could she love him, and speak so coolly!
How could she not mind, if she did not love him! She was passing her
hands over her face and neck and hair, repairing the damage of his
"Now shall we go in?" she said.
Harbinger took a step forward.
"I love you so," he said; "I will put my life in your hands, and you
shall throw it away."
At those words, of whose exact nature he had very little knowledge,
he saw her smile.
"If I let you come within three yards, will you be good?"
He bowed; and, in silence, they walked towards the house.
Dinner that evening was a strange, uncomfortable meal. But its
comedy, too subtly played for Miltoun and Lord Dennis, seemed
transparent to the eyes of Lady Casterley; for, when Harbinger had
sallied forth to ride back along the sands, she took her candle and
invited Barbara to retire. Then, having admitted her granddaughter
to the apartment always reserved for herself, and specially furnished
with practically nothing, she sat down opposite that tall, young,
solid figure, as it were taking stock of it, and said:
"So you are coming to your senses, at all events. Kiss me!'
Barbara, stooping to perform this rite, saw a tear stealing down the
carved fine nose. Knowing that to notice it would be too dreadful,
she raised herself, and went to the window. There, staring out over
the dark fields and dark sea, by the side of which Harbinger was
riding home, she put her hand up to her, lips, and thought for the
"So that's what it's like!"
Three days after his first, and as he promised himself, his last
Society Ball, Courtier received a note from Audrey Noel, saying that
she had left Monkland for the present, and come up to a little flat--
on the riverside not far from Westminster.
When he made his way there that same July day, the Houses of
Parliament were bright under a sun which warmed all the grave air
emanating from their counsels of perfection: Courtier passed by
dubiously. His feelings in the presence of those towers were always
a little mixed. There was not so much of the poet in him as to cause
him to see nothing there at all save only same lines against the sky,
but there was enough of the poet to make him long to kick something;
and in this mood he wended his way to the riverside.
Mrs. Noel was not at home, but since the maid informed him that she
would be in directly, he sat down to wait. Her flat, which was on-
the first floor, overlooked the river and had evidently been taken
furnished, for there were visible marks of a recent struggle with an
Edwardian taste which, flushed from triumph over Victorianism, had
filled the rooms with early Georgian remains. On the only definite
victory, a rose-coloured window seat of great comfort and little age,
Courtier sat down, and resigned himself to doing nothing with the
ease of an old soldier.
To the protective feeling he had once had for a very graceful, dark-
haired child, he joined not only the championing pity of a man of
warm heart watching a woman in distress, but the impatience of one,
who, though temperamentally incapable of feeling oppressed himself,
rebelled at sight of all forms of tyranny affecting others.
The sight of the grey towers, still just visible, under which Miltoun
and his father sat, annoyed him deeply; symbolizing to him,
Authority--foe to his deathless mistress, the sweet, invincible lost
cause of Liberty. But presently the river; bringing up in flood the
unbound water that had bathed every shore, touched all sands, and
seen the rising and falling of each mortal star, so soothed him with
its soundless hymn to Freedom, that Audrey Noel coming in with her
hands full of flowers, found him sleeping firmly, with his mouth
Noiselessly putting down the flowers, she waited for his awakening.
That sanguine visage, with its prominent chin, flaring moustaches,
and eyebrows raised rather V-shaped above his closed eyes, wore an
expression of cheery defiance even in sleep; and perhaps no face in
all London was so utterly its obverse, as that of this dark, soft-
haired woman, delicate, passive, and tremulous with pleasure at sight
of the only person in the world from whom she felt she might learn of
Miltoun, without losing her self-respect.
He woke at last, and manifesting no discomfiture, said:
"It was like you not to wake me."
They sat for a long while talking, the riverside traffic drowsily
accompanying their voices, the flowers drowsily filling the room with
scent; and when Courtier left, his heart was sore. She had not
spoken of herself at all, but had talked nearly all the time of
Barbara, praising her beauty and high spirit; growing pale once or
twice, and evidently drinking in with secret avidity every allusion
to Miltoun. Clearly, her feelings had not changed, though she would
not show them! Courtier's pity for her became well-nigh violent.
It was in such a mood, mingled with very different feelings, that he
donned evening clothes and set out to attend the last gathering of
the season at Valleys House, a function which, held so late in July,
was perforce almost perfectly political.
Mounting the wide and shining staircase, that had so often baffled
the arithmetic of little Ann, he was reminded of a picture entitled
'The Steps to Heaven' in his nursery four-and-thirty years before.
At the top of this staircase, and surrounded by acquaintances, he
came on Harbinger, who nodded curtly. The young man's handsome face
and figure appeared to Courtier's jaundiced eye more obviously
successful and complacent than ever; so that he passed him by
sardonically, and manoeuvred his way towards Lady Valleys, whom he
could perceive stationed, like a general, in a little cleared space,
where to and fro flowed constant streams of people, like the rays of
a star. She was looking her very best, going well with great and
highly-polished spaces; and she greeted Courtier with a special
cordiality of tone, which had in it, besides kindness towards one who
must be feeling a strange bird, a certain diplomatic quality,
compounded of desire, as it were, to 'warn him off,' and fear of
saying something that might irritate and make him more dangerous.
She had heard, she said, that he was bound for Persia; she hoped he
was not going to try and make things more difficult there; then with
the words: "So good of you to have come!" she became once more the
centre of her battlefield.
Perceiving that he was finished with, Courtier stood back against a
wall and watched. Thus isolated, he was like a solitary cuckoo
contemplating the gyrations of a flock of rooks. Their motions
seemed a little meaningless to one so far removed from all the
fetishes and shibboleths of Westminster. He heard them discussing
Miltoun's speech, the real significance of which apparently had only
just been grasped. The words 'doctrinaire,' 'extremist,' came to his
ears, together with the saying 'a new force.' People were evidently
puzzled, disturbed, not pleased--as if some star not hitherto
accounted for had suddenly appeared amongst the proper
Searching this crowd for Barbara, Courtier had all the time an uneasy
sense of shame. What business had he to come amongst these people so
strange to him, just for the sake of seeing her! What business had
he to be hankering after this girl at all, knowing in his heart that
he could not stand the atmosphere she lived in for a week, and that
she was utterly unsuited for any atmosphere that he could give her;
to say nothing of the unlikelihood that he could flutter the pulses
of one half his age!
A voice, behind him said: "Mr. Courtier!"
He turned, and there was Barbara.
"I want to talk to you about something serious: Will you come into
the picture gallery?"
When at last they were close to a family group of Georgian Caradocs,
and could as it were shut out the throng sufficiently for private
speech, she began:
"Miltoun's so horribly unhappy; I don't know what to do for him: He's
making himself ill!"
And she suddenly looked up, in Courtier's face. She seemed to him
very young, and touching, at that moment. Her eyes had a gleam of
faith in them, like a child's eyes; as if she relied on him to
straighten out this tangle, to tell her not only about Miltoun's
trouble, but about all life, its meaning, and the secret of its
happiness: And he said gently:
"What can I do? Mrs. Noel is in Town. But that's no good, unless--"
Not knowing how to finish this sentence; he was silent.
"I wish I were Miltoun," she muttered.
At that quaint saying, Courtier was hard put to it not to take hold
of the hands so close to him. This flash of rebellion in her had
quickened all his blood. But she seemed to have seen what had passed
in him, for her next speech was chilly.
"It's no good; stupid of me to be worrying you."
"It is quite impossible for you to worry me."
Her eyes lifted suddenly from her glove, and looked straight into
"Are you really going to Persia?"
"But I don't want you to, not yet!" and turning suddenly, she left
Strangely disturbed, Courtier remained motionless, consulting the
grave stare of the group of Georgian Caradocs.
A voice said:
"Good painting, isn't it?"
Behind him was Lord Harbinger. And once more the memory of Lady
Casterley's words; the memory of the two figures with joined hands on
the balcony above the election crowd; all his latent jealousy of this
handsome young Colossus, his animus against one whom he could, as it
were, smell out to be always fighting on the winning side; all his
consciousness too of what a lost cause his own was, his doubt whether
he were honourable to look on it as a cause at all, flared up in
Courtier, so that his answer was a stare. On Harbinger's face, too,
there had come a look of stubborn violence slowly working up towards
"I said: 'Good, isn't it?' Mr. Courtier."
"I heard you."
"And you were pleased to answer?"
"With the civility which might be expected of your habits."
Coldly disdainful, Courtier answered:
"If you want to say that sort of thing, please choose a place where I
can reply to you," and turned abruptly on his heel.
But he ground his teeth as he made his way out into the street.
In Hyde Park the grass was parched and dewless under a sky whose
stars were veiled by the heat and dust haze. Never had Courtier so
bitterly wanted the sky's consolation--the blessed sense of
insignificance in the face of the night's dark beauty, which,
dwarfing all petty rage and hunger, made men part of its majesty,
exalted them to a sense of greatness.
It was past four o'clock the following day when Barbara issued from
Valleys House on foot; clad in a pale buff frock, chosen for
quietness, she attracted every eye. Very soon entering a taxi-cab,
she drove to the Temple, stopped at the Strand entrance, and walked
down the little narrow lane into the heart of the Law. Its votaries
were hurrying back from the Courts, streaming up from their Chambers
for tea, or escaping desperately to Lord's or the Park--young
votaries, unbound as yet by the fascination of fame or fees. And
each, as he passed, looked at Barbara, with his fingers itching to
remove his hat, and a feeling that this was She. After a day spent
amongst precedents and practice, after six hours at least of trying
to discover what chance A had of standing on his rights, or B had of
preventing him, it was difficult to feel otherwise about that calm
apparition--like a golden slim tree walking. One of them, asked by
her the way to Miltoun's staircase, preceded her with shy ceremony,
and when she had vanished up those dusty stairs, lingered on, hoping
that she might find her visitee out, and be obliged to return and ask
him the way back. But she did not come, and he went sadly away,
disturbed to the very bottom of all that he owned in fee simple.
In fact, no one answered Barbara's knock, and discovering that the
door yielded, she walked through the lobby past the clerk's den,
converted to a kitchen, into the sitting-room. It was empty. She
had never been to Miltoun's rooms before, and she stared about her
curiously. Since he did not practise, much of the proper gear was
absent. The room indeed had a worn carpet, a few old chairs, and was
lined from floor to ceiling with books. But the wall space between
the windows was occupied by an enormous map of England, scored all
over with figures and crosses; and before this map stood an immense
desk, on which were piles of double foolscap covered with Miltoun's
neat and rather pointed writing. Barbara examined them, puckering up
her forehead; she knew that he was working at a book on the land
question; but she had never realized that the making of a book
requited so much writing. Papers, too, and Blue Books littered a
large bureau on which stood bronze busts of AEschylus and Dante.
"What an uncomfortable place!" she thought. The room, indeed, had an
atmosphere, a spirit, which depressed her horribly. Seeing a few
flowers down in the court below, she had a longing to get out to
them. Then behind her she heard the sound of someone talking. But
there was no one in the room; and the effect of this disrupted
soliloquy, which came from nowhere, was so uncanny, that she
retreated to the door. The sound, as of two spirits speaking in one
voice, grew louder, and involuntarily she glanced at the busts. They
seemed quite blameless. Though the sound had been behind her when
she was at the window, it was again behind her now that she was at
the door; and she suddenly realized that it was issuing from a
bookcase in the centre of the wall. Barbara had her father's nerve,
and walking up to the bookcase she perceived that it had been affixed
to, and covered, a door that was not quite closed. She pulled it
towards her, and passed through. Across the centre of an unkempt
bedroom Miltoun was striding, dressed only in his shirt and trousers.
His feet were bare, and his head and hair dripping wet; the look on
his thin dark face went to Barbara's heart. She ran forward, and
took his hand. This was burning hot, but the sight of her seemed to
have frozen his tongue and eyes. And the contrast of his burning
hand with this frozen silence, frightened Barbara horribly. She
could think of nothing but to put her other hand to his forehead.
That too was burning hot!
"What brought you here?" he said.
She could only murmur:
"Oh! Eusty! Are you ill?"
Miltoun took hold of her wrists.
"It's all right, I've been working too hard; got a touch of fever."
"So I can feel," murmured Barbara. "You ought to be in bed. Come
home with me."
Miltoun smiled. "It's not a case for leeches."
The look of his smile, the sound of his voice, sent a shudder through
"I'm not going to leave you here alone.
But Miltoun's grasp tightened on her wrists.
"My dear Babs, you will do what I tell you. Go home, hold your
tongue, and leave me to burn out in peace."
Barbara sustained that painful grip without wincing; she had regained
"You must come! You haven't anything here, not even a cool drink."
"My God! Barley water!"
The scorn he put into those two words was more withering than a whole
philippic against redemption by creature comforts. And feeling it
dart into her, Barbara closed her lips tight. He had dropped her
wrists, and again, begun pacing up and down; suddenly he stopped:
"'The stars, sun, moon all shrink away,
A desert vast, without a bound,
And nothing left to eat or drink,
And a dark desert all around.'
You should read your Blake, Audrey."
Barbara turned quickly, and went out frightened. She passed through
the sitting-room and corridor on to the staircase. He was ill-
raving! The fever in Miltoun's veins seemed to have stolen through
the clutch of his hands into her own veins. Her face was burning,
she thought confusedly, breathed unevenly. She felt sore, and at the
same time terribly sorry; and withal there kept rising in her the
gusty memory of Harbingers kiss.
She hurried down the stairs, turned by instinct down-hill and found
herself on the Embankment. And suddenly, with her inherent power of
swift decision, she hailed a cab, and drove to the nearest telephone
To a woman like Audrey Noel, born to be the counterpart and
complement of another,--whose occupations and effort were inherently
divorced from the continuity of any stiff and strenuous purpose of
her own, the uprooting she had voluntarily undergone was a serious
Bereaved of the faces of her flowers, the friendly sighing of her
lime-tree, the wants of her cottagers; bereaved of that busy monotony
of little home things which is the stay and solace of lonely women,
she was extraordinarily lost. Even music for review seemed to have
failed her. She had never lived in London, so that she had not the
refuge of old haunts and habits, but had to make her own--and to make
habits and haunts required a heart that could at least stretch out
feelers and lay hold of things, and her heart was not now able. When
she had struggled with her Edwardian flat, and laid down her simple
routine of meals, she was as stranded as ever was, convict let out of
prison. She had not even that great support, the necessity of hiding
her feelings for fear of disturbing others. She was planted there,
with her longing and grief, and nothing, nobody, to take her out of
herself. Having wilfully embraced this position, she tried to make
the best of it, feeling it less intolerable, at all events, than
staying on at Monkland, where she had made that grievous, and
unpardonable error--falling in love.
This offence, on the part of one who felt within herself a great
capacity to enjoy and to confer happiness, had arisen--like the other
grievous and unpardonable offence, her marriage--from too much
disposition to yield herself to the personality of another. But it
was cold comfort to know that the desire to give and to receive love
had twice over left her--a dead woman. Whatever the nature of those
immature sensations with which, as a girl of twenty, she had accepted
her husband, in her feeling towards Miltoun there was not only
abandonment, but the higher flame of self-renunciation. She wanted
to do the best for him, and had not even the consolation of the
knowledge that she had sacrificed herself for his advantage. All had
been taken out of her hands! Yet with characteristic fatalism she
did not feel rebellious. If it were ordained that she should, for
fifty, perhaps sixty years, repent in sterility and ashes that first
error of her girlhood, rebellion was, none the less, too far-fetched.
If she rebelled, it would not be in spirit, but in action. General
principles were nothing to her; she lost no force brooding over the
justice or injustice of her situation, but merely tried to digest its
The whole day, succeeding Courtier's visit, was spent by her in the
National Gallery, whose roof, alone of all in London, seemed to offer
her protection. She had found one painting, by an Italian master,
the subject of which reminded her of Miltoun; and before this she sat
for a very long time, attracting at last the gouty stare of an
official. The still figure of this lady, with the oval face and
grave beauty, both piqued his curiosity, and stimulated certain moral
qualms. She, was undoubtedly waiting for her lover. No woman, in
his experience, had ever sat so long before a picture without
ulterior motive; and he kept his eyes well opened to see what this
motive would be like. It gave him, therefore, a sensation almost
amounting to chagrin when coming round once more, he found they had
eluded him and gone off together without coming under his inspection.
Feeling his feet a good deal, for he had been on them all day, he sat
down in the hollow which she had left behind her; and against his
will found himself also looking at the picture. It was painted in a
style he did not care for; the face of the subject, too, gave him the
queer feeling that the gentleman was being roasted inside. He had
not been sitting there long, however, before he perceived the lady
standing by the picture, and the lips of the gentleman in the picture
moving. It seemed to him against the rules, and he got up at once,
and went towards it; but as he did so, he found that his eyes were
shut, and opened them hastily. There was no one there.
>From the National Gallery, Audrey had gone into an A.B.C. for tea,
and then home. Before the Mansions was a taxi-cab, and the maid met
her with the news that 'Lady Caradoc' was in the sitting-room.
Barbara was indeed standing in the middle of the room with a look on
her face such as her father wore sometimes on the racecourse, in the
hunting field, or at stormy Cabinet Meetings, a look both resolute
and sharp. She spoke at once:
"I got your address from Mr. Courtier. My brother is ill. I'm
afraid it'll be brain fever, I think you had better go and see him at
his rooms in the Temple; there's no time to be lost."
To Audrey everything in the room seemed to go round; yet all her
senses were preternaturally acute, so that she could distinctly smell
the mud of the river at low tide. She said, with a shudder:
"Oh! I will go; yes, I will go at once."
"He's quite alone. He hasn't asked for you; but I think your going
is the only chance. He took me for you. You told me once you were a
The room was steady enough now, but she had lost the preternatural
acuteness of her senses, and felt confused. She heard Barbara say:
"I can take you to the door in my cab," and murmuring: "I will get
ready," went into her bedroom. For a moment she was so utterly
bewildered that she did nothing. Then every other thought was lost
in a strange, soft, almost painful delight, as if some new instinct
were being born in her; and quickly, but without confusion or hurry,
she began packing. She put into a valise her own toilet things; then
flannel, cotton-wool, eau de Cologne, hot-water bottle, Etna, shawls,
thermometer, everything she had which could serve in illness.
Changing to a plain dress, she took up the valise and returned to
Barbara. They went out together to the cab. The moment it began to
bear her to this ordeal at once so longed-for and so terrible, fear
came over her again, so that she screwed herself into the corner,
very white and still. She was aware of Barbara calling to the
driver: "Go by the Strand, and stop at a poulterer's for ice!" And,
when the bag of ice had been handed in, heard her saying: "I will
bring you all you want--if he is really going to be ill."
Then, as the cab stopped, and the open doorway of the staircase was
before her, all her courage came back.
She felt the girl's warm hand against her own, and grasping her
valise and the bag of ice, got out, and hurried up the steps.
On leaving Nettlefold, Miltoun had gone straight back to his rooms,
and begun at once to work at his book on the land question. He
worked all through that night--his third night without sleep, and all
the following day. In the evening, feeling queer in the head, he
went out and walked up and down the Embankment. Then, fearing to go
to bed and lie sleepless, he sat down in his arm-chair. Falling
asleep there, he had fearful dreams, and awoke unrefreshed. After
his bath, he drank coffee, and again forced himself to work. By the
middle of the day he felt dizzy and exhausted, but utterly
disinclined to eat. He went out into the hot Strand, bought himself
a necessary book, and after drinking more coffee, came back and again
began to work. At four o'clock he found that he was not taking in
the words. His head was burning hot, and he went into his bedroom to
bathe it. Then somehow he began walking up and down, talking to
himself, as Barbara had found him.
She had no sooner gone, than he felt utterly exhausted. A small
crucifix hung over his bed, and throwing himself down before it, he
remained motionless with his face buried in the coverlet, and his
arms stretched out towards the wall. He did not pray, but merely
sought rest from sensation. Across his half-hypnotized consciousness
little threads of burning fancy kept shooting. Then he could feel
nothing but utter physical sickness, and against this his will
revolted. He resolved that he would not be ill, a ridiculous log for
women to hang over. But the moments of sickness grew longer and more
frequent; and to drive them away he rose from his knees, and for some
time again walked up and down; then, seized with vertigo, he was
obliged to sit on the bed to save himself from falling. From being
burning hot he had become deadly cold, glad to cover himself with the
bedclothes. The heat soon flamed up in him again; but with a sick
man's instinct he did not throw off the clothes, and stayed quite
still. The room seemed to have turned to a thick white substance
like a cloud, in which he lay enwrapped, unable to move hand or foot.
His sense of smell and hearing had become unnaturally acute; he
smelled the distant streets, flowers, dust, and the leather of his
books, even the scent left by Barbara's clothes, and a curious.
odour of river mud. A clock struck six, he counted each stroke; and
instantly the whole world seemed full of striking clocks, the sound
of horses' hoofs, bicycle bells, people's footfalls. His sense of
vision, on the contrary, was absorbed in consciousness of this white
blanket of cloud wherein he was lifted above the earth, in the midst
of a dull incessant hammering. On the surface of the cloud there
seemed to be forming a number of little golden spots; these spots
were moving, and he saw that they were toads. Then, beyond them, a
huge face shaped itself, very dark, as if of bronze, with eyes
burning into his brain. The more he struggled to get away from these
eyes, the more they bored and burned into him. His voice was gone,
so that he was unable to cry out, and suddenly the face marched over
When he recovered consciousness his head was damp with moisture
trickling from something held to his forehead by a figure leaning
above him. Lifting his hand he touched a cheek; and hearing a sob
instantly suppressed, he sighed. His hand was gently taken; he felt
kisses on it.
The room was so dark, that he could scarcely see her face--his sight
too was dim; but he could hear her breathing and the least sound of
her dress and movements--the scent too of her hands and hair seemed
to envelop him, and in the midst of all the acute discomfort of his
fever, he felt the band round his brain relax. He did not ask how
long she had been there, but lay quite still, trying to keep his eyes
on her, for fear of that face, which seemed lurking behind the air,
ready to march on him again. Then feeling suddenly that he could not
hold it back, he beckoned, and clutched at her, trying to cover
himself with the protection of her breast. This time his swoon was
not so deep; it gave way to delirium, with intervals when he knew
that she was there, and by the shaded candle light could see her in a
white garment, floating close to him, or sitting still with her hand
on his; he could even feel the faint comfort of the ice cap, and of
the scent of eau de Cologne. Then he would lose all consciousness of
her presence, and pass through into the incoherent world, where the
crucifix above his bed seemed to bulge and hang out, as if it must
fall on him. He conceived a violent longing to tear it down, which
grew till he had struggled up in bed and wrenched it from off the
wall. Yet a mysterious consciousness of her presence permeated even
his darkest journeys into the strange land; and once she seemed to be
with him, where a strange light showed them fields and trees, a dark
line of moor, and a bright sea, all whitened, and flashing with sweet
Soon after dawn he had a long interval of consciousness, and took in
with a sort of wonder her presence in the low chair by his bed. So
still she sat in a white loose gown, pale with watching, her eyes
immovably fixed on him, her lips pressed together, and quivering at
his faintest motion. He drank in desperately the sweetness of her
face, which had so lost remembrance of self.
Barbara gave the news of her brother's illness to no one else, common
sense telling her to run no risk of disturbance. Of her own
initiative, she brought a doctor, and went down twice a day to hear
reports of Miltoun's progress.
As a fact, her father and mother had gone to Lord Dennis, for
Goodwood, and the chief difficulty had been to excuse her own neglect
of that favourite Meeting. She had fallen back on the half-truth
that Eustace wanted her in Town; and, since Lord and Lady Valleys had
neither of them shaken off a certain uneasiness about their son, the
It was not until the sixth day, when the crisis was well past and
Miltoun quite free from fever, that she again went down to
On arriving she at once sought out her mother, whom she found in her
bedroom, resting. It had been very hot at Goodwood.
Barbara was not afraid of her--she was not, indeed, afraid of anyone,
except Miltoun, and in some strange way, a little perhaps of
Courtier; yet, when the maid had gone, she did not at once begin her
tale. Lady Valleys, who at Goodwood had just heard details of a
Society scandal, began a carefully expurgated account of it suitable
to her daughter's ears--for some account she felt she must give to
"Mother," said Barbara suddenly, "Eustace has been ill. He's out of
danger now, and going on all right." Then, looking hard at the
bewildered lady, she added: "Mrs. Noel is nursing him."
The past tense in which illness had been mentioned, checking at the
first moment any rush of panic in Lady Valleys, left her confused by
the situation conjured up in Barbara's last words. Instead of
feeding that part of man which loves a scandal, she was being fed,
always an unenviable sensation. A woman did not nurse a man under
such circumstances without being everything to him, in the world's
eyes. Her daughter went on:
"I took her to him. It seemed the only thing to do--since it's all
through fretting for her. Nobody knows, of course, except the
"Heavens!" muttered Lady Valleys.
"It has saved him."
The mother instinct in Lady Valleys took sudden fright. "Are you
telling me the truth, Babs? Is he really out of danger? How wrong
of you not to let me know before?"
But Barbara did not flinch; and her mother relapsed into rumination.
"Stacey is a cat!" she said suddenly. The expurgated details of the
scandal she had been retailing to her daughter had included the usual
maid. She could not find it in her to enjoy the irony of this
coincidence. Then, seeing Barbara smile, she said tartly:
"I fail to see the joke."
"Only that I thought you'd enjoy my throwing Stacey in, dear."
"What! You mean she doesn't know?"
"Not a word."
Lady Valleys smiled.
"What a little wretch you are, Babs! "Maliciously she added: "Claud
and his mother are coming over from Whitewater, with Bertie and Lily
Malvezin, you'd better go and dress;" and her eyes searched her
daughter's so shrewdly, that a flush rose to the girl's cheeks.
When she had gone, Lady Valleys rang for her maid again, and relapsed
into meditation. Her first thought was to consult her husband; her
second that secrecy was strength. Since no one knew but Barbara, no
one had better know.
Her astuteness and experience comprehended the far-reaching
probabilities of this affair. It would not do to take a single false
step. If she had no one's action to control but her own and
Barbara's, so much the less chance of a slip. Her mind was a strange
medley of thoughts and feelings, almost comic, well-nigh tragic; of
worldly prudence, and motherly instinct; of warm-blooded sympathy
with all love-affairs, and cool-blooded concern for her son's career.
It was not yet too late perhaps to prevent real mischief; especially
since it was agreed by everyone that the woman was no adventuress.
Whatever was done, they must not forget that she had nursed him--
saved him, Barbara had said! She must be treated with all kindness
Hastening her toilette, she in turn went to her daughter's room.
Barbara was already dressed, leaning out of her window towards the
Lady Valleys began almost timidly:
"My dear, is Eustace out of bed yet?"
"He was to get up to-day for an hour or two."
"I see. Now, would there be any danger if you and I went up and took
charge over from Mrs. Noel?"
"Yes, yes! But, exercise your judgment. Would it harm him?"
Barbara was silent. "No," she said at last, "I don't suppose it
would, now; but it's for the doctor to say."
Lady Valleys exhibited a manifest relief.
"We'll see him first, of course. Eustace will have to have an
ordinary nurse, I suppose, for a bit."
Looking stealthily at Barbara, she added:
"I mean to be very nice to her; but one mustn't be romantic, you
>From the little smile on Barbara's lips she derived no sense of
certainty; indeed she was visited by all her late disquietude about
her young daughter, by all the feeling that she, as well as Miltoun,
was hovering on the verge of some folly.
"Well, my dear," she said, "I am going down."
But Barbara lingered a little longer in that bedroom where ten nights
ago she had lain tossing, till in despair she went and cooled herself
in the dark sea.
Her last little interview with Courtier stood between her and a fresh
meeting with Harbinger, whom at the Valleys House gathering she had
not suffered to be alone with her. She came down late.
That same evening, out on the beach road, under a sky swarming with
stars, the people were strolling--folk from the towns, down for their
fortnight's holiday. In twos and threes, in parties of six or eight,
they passed the wall at the end of Lord Dennis's little domain; and
the sound of their sparse talk and laughter, together with the
sighing of the young waves, was blown over the wall to the ears of
Harbinger, Bertie, Barbara, and Lily Malvezin, when they strolled out
after dinner to sniff the sea. The holiday-makers stared dully at
the four figures in evening dress looking out above their heads; they
had other things than these to think of, becoming more and more
silent as the night grew dark. The four young people too were rather
silent. There was something in this warm night, with its sighing,
and its darkness, and its stars, that was not favourable to talk, so
that presently they split into couples, drifting a little apart.
Standing there, gripping the wall, it seemed to Harbinger that there
were no words left in the world. Not even his worst enemy could have
called this young man romantic; yet that figure beside him, the gleam
of her neck and her pale cheek in the dark, gave him perhaps the most
poignant glimpse of mystery that he had ever had. His mind,
essentially that of a man of affairs, by nature and by habit at home
amongst the material aspects of things, was but gropingly conscious
that here, in this dark night, and the dark sea, and the pale figure
of this girl whose heart was dark to him and secret, there was
perhaps something--yes, something--which surpassed the confines of
his philosophy, something beckoning him on out of his snug compound
into the desert of divinity. If so, it was soon gone in the aching
of his senses at the scent of her hair, and the longing to escape
from this weird silence.
"Babs," he said; "have you forgiven me?"
Her answer came, without turn of head, natural, indifferent:
"Yes--I told you so."
"Is that all you have to say to a fellow?"
"What shall we talk about--the running of Casetta?"
Deep down within him Harbinger uttered a noiseless oath. Something
sinister was making her behave like this to him! It was that fellow-
-that fellow! And suddenly he said:
"Tell me this----" then speech seemed to stick in his throat. No!
If there were anything in that, he preferred not to hear it. There
was a limit!
Down below, a pair of lovers passed, very silent, their arms round
each other's waists.
Barbara turned and walked away towards the house.
The days when Miltoun was first allowed out of bed were a time of
mingled joy and sorrow to her who had nursed him. To see him sitting
up, amazed at his own weakness, was happiness, yet to think that he
would be no more wholly dependent, no more that sacred thing, a
helpless creature, brought her the sadness of a mother whose child no
longer needs her. With every hour he would now get farther from her,
back into the fastnesses of his own spirit. With every hour she
would be less his nurse and comforter, more the woman he loved. And
though that thought shone out in the obscure future like a glamorous
flower, it brought too much wistful uncertainty to the present. She
was very tired, too, now that all excitement was over--so tired that
she hardly knew what she did or where she moved. But a smile had
become so faithful to her eyes that it clung there above the shadows
of fatigue, and kept taking her lips prisoner.
Between the two bronze busts she had placed a bowl of lilies of the
valley; and every free niche in that room of books had a little vase
of roses to welcome Miltoun's return.
He was lying back in his big leather chair, wrapped in a Turkish gown
of Lord Valleys'--on which Barbara had laid hands, having failed to
find anything resembling a dressing-gown amongst her brother's
austere clothing. The perfume of lilies had overcome the scent of
books, and a bee, dusky, adventurer, filled the room with his
They did not speak, but smiled faintly, looking at one another. In
this still moment, before passion had returned to claim its own,
their spirits passed through the sleepy air, and became entwined, so
that neither could withdraw that soft, slow, encountering glance. In
mutual contentment, each to each, close as music to the strings of a
violin, their spirits clung--so lost, the one in the other, that
neither for that brief time seemed to know which was self.
In fulfilment of her resolution, Lady Valleys, who had returned to
Town by a morning train, started with Barbara for the Temple about
three in the after noon, and stopped at the doctor's on the way. The
whole thing would be much simpler if Eustace were fit to be moved at
once to Valleys House; and with much relief she found that the doctor
saw no danger in this course. The recovery had been remarkable--
touch and go for bad brain fever just avoided! Lord Miltoun's
constitution was extremely sound. Yes, he would certainly favour a
removal. His rooms were too confined in this weather. Well nursed--
decidedly) Oh; yes! Quite! And the doctor's eyes became perhaps a
trifle more intense. Not a professional, he understood. It might be
as well to have another nurse, if they were making the change. They
would have this lady knocking up. Just so! Yes, he would see to
that. An ambulance carriage he thought advisable. That could all be
arranged for this afternoon--at once--he himself would look to it.
They might take Lord Miltoun off just as he was; the men would know
what to do. And when they had him at Valleys House, the moment he
showed interest in his food, down to the sea-down to the sea! At
this time of year nothing like it! Then with regard to nourishment,
he would be inclined already to shove in a leetle stimulant, a
thimbleful perhaps four times a day with food--not without--mixed
with an egg, with arrowroot, with custard. A week would see him on
his legs, a fortnight at the sea make him as good a man as ever.
Overwork--burning the candle--a leetlemore would have seen a very
different state of things! Quite so! quite so! Would come round
himself before dinner, and make sure. His patient might feel it just
at first! He bowed Lady Valleys out; and when she had gone, sat down
at his telephone with a smile flickering on his clean-cut lips,
Greatly fortified by this interview, Lady Valleys rejoined her
daughter in the ear; but while it slid on amongst the multitudinous
traffic, signs of unwonted nervousness began to start out through the
placidity of her face.
"I wish, my dear," she said suddenly, "that someone else had to do
this. Suppose Eustace refuses!"
"He won't," Barbara answered; "she looks so tired, poor dear.
Lady Valleys gazed with curiosity at that young face, which had
flushed pink. Yes, this daughter of hers was a woman already, with
all a woman's intuitions. She said gravely:
"It was a rash stroke of yours, Babs; let's hope it won't lead to
Barbara bit her lips.
"If you'd seen him as I saw him! And, what disaster? Mayn't they
love each other, if they want?"
Lady Valleys swallowed a grimace. It was so exactly her own point of
view. And yet----!
"That's only the beginning," she said; "you forget the sort of boy
"Why can't the poor thing be let out of her cage?" cried Barbara.
"What good does it do to anyone? Mother, if ever, when I am married,
I want to get free, I will!"
The tone of her voice was so quivering, and unlike the happy voice of
Barbara, that Lady Valleys involuntarily caught hold of her hand and
squeezed it hard.
"My dear sweet," she said, "don't let's talk of such gloomy things."
"I mean it. Nothing shall stop me."
But Lady Valleys' face had suddenly become rather grim.
"So we think, child; it's not so simple."
"It can't be worse, anyway," muttered Barbara, "than being buried
alive as that wretched woman is."
For answer Lady Valleys only murmured:
"The doctor promised that ambulance carriage at four o'clock. What
am I going to say?"
"She'll understand when you look at her. She's that sort."
The door was opened to them by Mrs. Noel herself.
It was the first time Lady Valleys had seen her in a house, and there
was real curiosity mixed with the assurance which masked her
nervousness. A pretty creature, even lovely! But the quite genuine
sympathy in her words: "I am truly grateful. You must be quite worn
out," did not prevent her adding hastily: "The doctor says he must be
got home out of these hot rooms. We'll wait here while you tell
And then she saw that it was true; this woman was the sort who
Left in the dark passage, she peered round at Barbara.
The girl was standing against the wall with her head thrown back.
Lady Valleys could not see her face; but she felt all of a sudden
exceedingly uncomfortable, and whispered:
"Two murders and a theft, Babs; wasn't it 'Our Mutual Friend'?"
"Her face! When you're going to throw away a flower, it looks at
"My dear!" murmured Lady Valleys, thoroughly distressed, "what things
you're saying to-day!"
This lurking in a dark passage, this whispering girl--it was all
queer, unlike an experience in proper life.
And then through the reopened door she saw Miltoun, stretched out in
a chair, very pale, but still with that look about his eyes and lips,
which of all things in the world had a chastening effect on Lady
Valleys, making her feel somehow incurably mundane.
She said rather timidly:
"I'm so glad you're better, dear. What a time you must have had!
It's too bad that I knew nothing till yesterday!"
But Miltoun's answer was, as usual, thoroughly disconcerting.
"Thanks, yes! I have had a perfect time--and have now to pay for it,
Held back by his smile from bending to kiss him, poor Lady Valleys
fidgeted from head to foot. A sudden impulse of sheer womanliness
caused a tear to fall on his hand.
When Miltoun perceived that moisture, he said:
"It's all right, mother. I'm quite willing to come."
Still wounded by his voice, Lady Valleys hardened instantly. And
while preparing for departure she watched the two furtively. They
hardly looked at one another, and when they did, their eyes baffled
her. The expression was outside her experience, belonging as it were
to a different world, with its faintly smiling, almost shining,
Vastly relieved when Miltoun, covered with a fur, had been taken down
to the carriage, she lingered to speak to Mrs. Noel.
"We owe you a great debt. It might have been so much worse. You
mustn't be disconsolate. Go to bed and have a good long rest." And
from the door, she murmured again: "He will come and thank you, when
Descending the stone stairs, she thought: "'Anonyma'--'Anonyma'--yes,
it was quite the name." And suddenly she saw Barbara come running up
"What is it, Babs?"
"Eustace would like some of those lilies." And, passing Lady
Valleys, she went on up to Miltoun's chambers.
Mrs. Noel was not in the sitting-room, and going to the bedroom door,
the girl looked in.
She was standing by the bed, drawing her hand over and over the white
surface of the pillow. Stealing noiselessly back, Barbara caught up
the bunch of lilies, and fled.
Miltoun, whose constitution, had the steel-like quality of Lady
Casterley's, had a very rapid convalescence. And, having begun to
take an interest in his food, he was allowed to travel on the seventh
day to Sea House in charge of Barbara.
The two spent their time in a little summer-house close to the sea;
lying out on the beach under the groynes; and, as Miltoun grew
stronger, motoring and walking on the Downs.
To Barbara, keeping a close watch, he seemed tranquilly enough
drinking in from Nature what was necessary to restore balance after
the struggle, and breakdown of the past weeks. Yet she could never
get rid of a queer feeling that he was not really there at all; to
look at him was like watching an uninhabited house that was waiting
for someone to enter.
During a whole fortnight he did not make a single allusion to Mrs.
Noel, till, on the very last morning, as they were watching the sea,,
he said with his queer smile:
"It almost makes one believe her theory, that the old gods are not
dead. Do you ever see them, Babs; or are you, like me, obtuse?"
Certainly about those lithe invasions of the sea-nymph waves, with
ashy, streaming hair, flinging themselves into the arms of the land,
there was the old pagan rapture, an inexhaustible delight, a
passionate soft acceptance of eternal fate, a wonderful acquiescence
in the untiring mystery of life.
But Barbara, ever disconcerted by that tone in his voice, and by this
quick dive into the waters of unaccustomed thought, failed to find an
Miltoun went on:
"She says, too, we can hear Apollo singing. Shall we try."
But all that came was the sigh of the sea, and of the wind in the
"No," muttered Miltoun at last, "she alone can hear it."
And Barbara saw, once more on his face that look, neither sad nor
impatient, but as of one uninhabited and waiting.
She left Sea House next day to rejoin her mother, who, having been to
Cowes, and to the Duchess of Gloucester's, was back in Town waiting
for Parliament to rise, before going off to Scotland. And that same
afternoon the girl made her way to Mrs. Noel's flat. In paying this
visit she was moved not so much by compassion, as by uneasiness, and
a strange curiosity. Now that Miltoun was well again, she was
seriously disturbed in mind. Had she made a mistake in summoning
Mrs. Noel to nurse him?
When she went into the little drawing-room Audrey was sitting in the
deep-cushioned window-seat with a book on her knee; and by the fact
that it was open at the index, Barbara judged that she had not been
reading too attentively. She showed no signs of agitation at the
sight of her visitor, nor any eagerness to hear news of Miltoun. But
the girl had not been five minutes in the room before the thought
came to her: " Why! She has the same look as Eustace!" She, too,
was like an empty tenement; without impatience, discontent, or grief-
-waiting! Barbara had scarcely realized this with a curious sense of
discomposure, when Courtier was announced. Whether there was in this
an absolute coincidence or just that amount of calculation which
might follow on his part from receipt of a note written from Sea
House--saying that Miltoun was well again, that she was coming up and
meant to go and thank Mrs. Noel--was not clear, nor were her own
sensations; and she drew over her face that armoured look which she
perhaps knew Courtier could not bear to see. His face, at all
events, was very red when he shook hands. He had come, he told Mrs.
Noel, to say good-bye. He was definitely off next week. Fighting
had broken out; the revolutionaries were greatly outnumbered. Indeed
he ought to have been there long before!
Barbara had gone over to the window; she turned suddenly, and said:
"You were preaching peace two months ago!"
"We are not all perfectly consistent, Lady Barbara. These poor
devils have a holy cause."
Barbara held out her hand to Mrs. Noel.
"You only think their cause holy because they happen to be weak.
Good-bye, Mrs. Noel; the world is meant for the strong, isn't it!"
She intended that to hurt him; and from the tone of his voice, she
knew it had.
"Don't, Lady Barbara; from your mother, yes; not from you!"
"It's what I believe. Good-bye!" And she went out.
She had told him that she did not want him to go--not yet; and he was
But no sooner had she got outside, after that strange outburst, than
she bit her lips to keep back an angry, miserable feeling. He had
been rude to her, she had been rude to him; that was the way they had
said good-bye! Then, as she emerged into the sunlight, she thought:
"Oh! well; he doesn't care, and I'm sure I don't!"
She heard a voice behind her.
"May I get you a cab?" and at once the sore feeling began to die
away; but she did not look round, only smiled, and shook her head,
and made a little room for him on the pavement.
But though they walked, they did not at first talk. There was rising
within Barbara a tantalizing devil of desire to know the feelings
that really lay behind that deferential gravity, to make him show her
how much he really cared. She kept her eyes demurely lowered, but
she let the glimmer of a smile flicker about her lips; she knew too
that her cheeks were glowing, and for that she was not sorry. Was
she not to have any--any--was he calmly to go away--without---- And
she thought: "He shall say something! He shall show me, without that
horrible irony of his!"
She said suddenly:
"Those two are just waiting--something will happen!"
"It is probable," was his grave answer.
She looked at him then--it pleased her to see him quiver as if that
glance had gone right into him; and she said softly:
"And I think they will be quite right."
She knew those were reckless words, nor cared very much what they
meant; but she knew the revolt in them would move him. She saw from
his face that it had; and after a little pause, said:
"Happiness is the great thing," and with soft, wicked slowness:
"Isn't it, Mr. Courtier?"
But all the cheeriness had gone out of his face, which had grown
almost pale. He lifted his hand, and let it drop. Then she felt
sorry. It was just as if he had asked her to spare him.
"As to that," he said: "The rough, unfortunately, has to be taken
with the smooth. But life's frightfully jolly sometimes."
He looked at her with firm gravity, and answered
A sense of utter mortification seized on Barbara. He was too strong
for her--he was quixotic--he was hateful! And, determined not to
show a sign, to be at least as strong as he, she said calmly:
"Now I think I'll have that cab!"
When she was in the cab, and he was standing with his hat lifted, she
looked at him in the way that women can, so that he did not realize
that she had looked.
When Miltoun came to thank her, Audrey Noel was waiting in the middle
of the room, dressed in white, her lips smiling, her dark eyes
smiling, still as a flower on a windless day.
In that first look passing between them, they forgot everything but
happiness. Swallows, on the first day of summer, in their discovery
of the bland air, can neither remember that cold winds blow, nor
imagine the death of sunlight on their feathers, and, flitting hour
after hour over the golden fields, seem no longer birds, but just the
breathing of a new season--swallows were no more forgetful of
misfortune than were those two. His gaze was as still as her very
self; her look at him had in at the quietude of all emotion.
When they' sat down to talk it was as if they had gone back to those
days at Monkland, when he had come to her so often to discuss
everything in heaven and earth. And yet, over that tranquil eager
drinking--in of each other's presence, hovered a sort of awe. It was
the mood of morning before the sun has soared. The dew-grey cobwebs
enwrapped the flowers of their hearts--yet every prisoned flower
could be seen. And he and she seemed looking through that web at the
colour and the deep-down forms enshrouded so jealously; each feared
too much to unveil the other's heart. They were like lovers who,
rambling in a shy wood, never dare stay their babbling talk of the
trees and birds and lost bluebells, lest in the deep waters of a kiss
their star of all that is to come should fall and be drowned. To
each hour its familiar--and the spirit of that hour was the spirit of
the white flowers in the bowl on the window-sill above her head.
They spoke of Monk-land, and Miltoun's illness; of his first speech,
his impressions of the House of Commons; of music, Barbara, Courtier,
the river. He told her of his health, and described his days down by
the sea. She, as ever, spoke little of herself, persuaded that it
could not interest even him; but she described a visit to the opera;
and how she had found a picture in the National Gallery which
reminded her of him. To all these trivial things and countless
others, the tone of their voices--soft, almost murmuring, with a sort
of delighted gentleness--gave a high, sweet importance, a halo that
neither for the world would have dislodged from where it hovered.
It was past six when he got up to go, and there had not been a moment
to break the calm of that sacred feeling in both their hearts. They
parted with another tranquil look, which seemed to say: 'It is well
with us--we have drunk of happiness.'
And in this same amazing calm Miltoun remained after he had gone
away, till about half-past nine in the evening, he started forth, to
walk down to the House. It was now that sort of warm, clear night,
which in the country has firefly magic, and even over the Town
spreads a dark glamour. And for Miltoun, in the delight of his new
health and well-being, with every sense alive and clean, to walk
through the warmth and beauty of this night was sheer pleasure. He
passed by way of St. James's Park, treading down the purple shadows
of plane-tree leaves into the pools of lamplight, almost with
remorse--so beautiful, and as if alive, were they. There were moths
abroad, and gnats, born on the water, and scent of new-mown grass
drifted up from the lawns. His heart felt light as a swallow he had
seen that morning; swooping at a grey feather, carrying it along,
letting it flutter away, then diving to seize it again. Such was his
elation, this beautiful night! Nearing the House of Commons, he
thought he would walk a little longer, and turned westward to the
river: On that warm evening the water, without movement at turn of
tide, was like the black, snake-smooth hair of Nature streaming out
on her couch of Earth, waiting for the caress of a divine hand. Far
away on the further; bank throbbed some huge machine, not stilled as
yet. A few stars were out in the dark sky, but no moon to invest
with pallor the gleam of the lamps. Scarcely anyone passed. Miltoun
strolled along the river wall, then crossed, and came back in front
of the Mansions where she lived. By the railing he stood still. In
the sitting-room of her little flat there was no light, but the
casement window was wide open, and the crown of white flowers in the
bowl on the window-sill still gleamed out in the darkness like a
crescent moon lying on its face. Suddenly, he saw two pale hands
rise--one on either side of that bowl, lift it, and draw it in. And
he quivered, as though they had touched him. Again those two hands
came floating up; they were parted now by darkness; the moon of
flowers was gone, in its place had been set handfuls of purple or
crimson blossoms. And a puff of warm air rising quickly out of the
night drifted their scent of cloves into his face, so that he held
his breath for fear of calling out her name.
Again the hands had vanished--through the open window there was
nothing to be seen but darkness; and such a rush of longing seized on
Miltoun as stole from him all power of movement. He could hear her
playing, now. The murmurous current of that melody was like the
night itself, sighing, throbbing, languorously soft. It seemed that
in this music she was calling him, telling him that she, too, was
longing; her heart, too, empty. It died away; and at the window her
white figure appeared. From that vision he could not, nor did he try
to shrink, but moved out into the, lamplight. And he saw her
suddenly stretch out her hands to him, and withdraw them to her
breast. Then all save the madness of his longing deserted Miltoun.
He ran down the little garden, across the hall, up the stairs.
The door was open. He passed through. There, in the sitting-room,
where the red flowers in the window scented all the air, it was dark,
and he could not at first see her, till against the piano he caught
the glimmer of her white dress. She was sitting with hands resting
on the pale notes. And falling on his knees, he buried his face
against her. Then, without looking up, he raised his hands. Her
tears fell on them covering her heart, that throbbed as if the
passionate night itself were breathing in there, and all but the
night and her love had stolen forth.
On a spur of the Sussex Downs, inland from Nettle-Cold, there stands
a beech-grove. The traveller who enters it out of the heat and
brightness, takes off the shoes of his spirit before its, sanctity;
and, reaching the centre, across the clean beech-mat, he sits
refreshing his brow with air, and silence. For the flowers of
sunlight on the ground under those branches are pale and rare, no
insects hum, the birds are almost mute. And close to the border
trees are the quiet, milk-white sheep, in congregation, escaping from
noon heat. Here, above fields and dwellings, above the ceaseless
network of men's doings, and the vapour of their talk, the traveller
feels solemnity. All seems conveying divinity--the great white
clouds moving their wings above him, the faint longing murmur of the
boughs, and in far distance, the sea.... And for a space his
restlessness and fear know the peace of God.
So it was with Miltoun when he reached this temple, three days after
that passionate night, having walked for hours, alone and full of
conflict. During those three days he had been borne forward on the
flood tide; and now, tearing himself out of London, where to think
was impossible, he had come to the solitude of the Downs to walk, and
face his new position.
For that position he saw to be very serious. In the flush of full
realization, there was for him no question of renunciation. She was
his, he hers; that was determined. But what, then, was he to do?
There was no chance of her getting free. In her husband's view, it
seemed, under no circumstances was marriage dissoluble. Nor, indeed,
to Miltoun would divorce have made things easier, believing as he did
that he and she were guilty, and that for the guilty there could be
no marriage. She, it was true, asked nothing but just to be his in
secret; and that was the course he knew most men would take, without
further thought. There was no material reason in the world why he
should not so act, and maintain unchanged every other current of his
life. It would be easy, usual. And, with her faculty for self-
effacement, he knew she would not be unhappy. But conscience, in
Miltoun, was a terrible and fierce thing. In the delirium of his
illness it had become that Great Face which had marched over him.
And, though during the weeks of his recuperation, struggle of all
kind had ceased, now that he had yielded to his passion, conscience,
in a new and dismal shape, had crept up again to sit above his heart:
He must and would let this man, her husband, know; but even if that
caused no open scandal, could he go on deceiving those who, if they
knew of an illicit love, would no longer allow him to be their
representative? If it were known that she was his mistress, he could
no longer maintain his position in public life--was he not therefore
in honour bound; of his own accord, to resign it? Night and day he
was haunted by the thought: How can I, living in defiance of
authority, pretend to authority over my fellows? How can I remain in
public life? But if he did not remain in public life, what was he to
do? That way of life was in his blood; he had been bred and born
into it; had thought of nothing else since he was a boy. There was
no other occupation or interest that could hold him for a moment--he
saw very plainly that he would be cast away on the waters of
So the battle raged in his proud and twisted spirit, which took
everything so hard--his nature imperatively commanding him to keep
his work and his power for usefulness; his conscience telling him as
urgently that if he sought to wield authority, he must obey it.
He entered the beech-grove at the height of this misery, flaming with
rebellion against the dilemma which Fate had placed before him;
visited by gusts of resentment against a passion, which forced him to
pay the price, either of his career, or of his self-respect; gusts,
followed by remorse that he could so for one moment regret his love
for that tender creature. The face of Lucifer was not more dark,
more tortured, than Miltoun's face in the twilight of the grove,
above those kingdoms of the world, for which his ambition and his
conscience fought. He threw himself down among the trees; and
stretching out his arms, by chance touched a beetle trying to crawl
over the grassless soil. Some bird had maimed it. He took the
little creature up. The beetle truly could no longer work, but it
was spared the fate lying before himself. The beetle was not, as he
would be, when his power of movement was destroyed, conscious of his
own wasted life. The world would not roll away down there. He would
still see himself cumbering the ground, when his powers were taken,
from him. This thought was torture. Why had he been suffered to
meet her, to love her, and to be loved by her? What had made him so
certain from the first moment, if she were not meant for him? If he
lived to be a hundred, he would never meet another. Why, because of
his love, must he bury the will and force of a man? If there were no
more coherence in God's scheme than this, let him too be incoherent!
Let him hold authority, and live outside authority! Why stifle his
powers for the sake of a coherence which did not exist! That would
indeed be madness greater than that of a mad world!
There was no answer to his thoughts in the stillness of the grove,
unless it were the cooing of a dove, or the faint thudding of the
sheep issuing again into sunlight. But slowly that stillness stole
into Miltoun's spirit. "Is it like this in the grave?" he thought.
"Are the boughs of those trees the dark earth over me? And the sound
in them the sound the dead hear when flowers are growing, and the
wind passing through them? And is the feel of this earth how it
feels to lie looking up for ever at nothing? Is life anything but a
nightmare, a dream; and is not this the reality? And why my fury, my
insignificant flame, blowing here and there, when there is really no
wind, only a shroud of still air, and these flowers of sunlight that
have been dropped on me! Why not let my spirit sleep, instead of
eating itself away with rage; why not resign myself at once to wait
for the substance, of which this is but the shadow!"
And he lay scarcely breathing, looking up at the unmoving branches
setting with their darkness the pearls of the sky.
"Is not peace enough?" he thought. "Is not love enough? Can I not
be reconciled, like a woman? Is not that salvation, and happiness?
What is all the rest, but 'sound and fury, signifying nothing?"
And as though afraid to lose his hold of that thought, he got up and
hurried from the grove.
The whole wide landscape of field and wood, cut by the pale roads,
was glimmering under the afternoon sun, Here was no wild, wind-swept
land, gleaming red and purple, and guarded by the grey rocks; no home
of the winds, and the wild gods. It was all serene and silver-
golden. In place of the shrill wailing pipe of the hunting buzzard-
hawks half lost up in the wind, invisible larks were letting fall
hymns to tranquillity; and even the sea--no adventuring spirit
sweeping the shore with its wing--seemed to lie resting by the side
of the land.
When on the afternoon of that same day Miltoun did not come, all the
chilly doubts which his presence alone kept away, crowded thick and
fast into the mind of one only too prone to distrust her own
happiness. It could not last--how could it?
His nature and her own were so far apart! Even in that giving of
herself which had been such happiness, she had yet doubted; for there
was so much in him that was to her mysterious. All that he loved in
poetry and nature, had in it something craggy and culminating. The
soft and fiery, the subtle and harmonious, seemed to leave him cold.
He had no particular love for all those simple natural things, birds,
bees, animals, trees, and flowers, that seemed to her precious and
Though it was not yet four o'clock she was already beginning to droop
like a flower that wants water. But she sat down to her piano,
resolutely, till tea came; playing on and on with a spirit only half
present, the other half of her wandering in the Town, seeking for
Miltoun. After tea she tried first to read, then to sew, and once
more came back to her piano. The clock struck six; and as if its
last stroke had broken the armour of her mind, she felt suddenly sick
with anxiety. Why was he so long? But she kept on playing, turning
the pages without taking in the notes, haunted by the idea that he
might again have fallen ill. Should she telegraph? What good, when
she could not tell in the least where he might be? And all the
unreasoning terror of not knowing where the loved one is, beset her
so that her hands, in sheer numbness, dropped from the keys. Unable
to keep still, now, she wandered from window to door, out into the
little hall, and back hastily to the window. Over her anxiety
brooded a darkness, compounded of vague growing fears. What if it
were the end? What if he had chosen this as the most merciful way of
leaving her? But surely he would never be so cruel! Close on the
heels of this too painful thought came reaction; and she told herself
that she was a fool. He was at the House; something quite ordinary
was keeping him. It was absurd to be anxious! She would have to get
used to this now. To be a drag on him would be dreadful. Sooner
than that she would rather--yes--rather he never came back! And she
took up her book, determined to read quietly till he came. But the
moment she sat down her fears returned with redoubled force-the cold
sickly horrible feeling of uncertainty, of the knowledge that she
could do nothing but wait till she was relieved by something over
which she had no control. And in the superstition that to stay there
in the window where she could see him come, was keeping him from her,
she went into her bedroom. From there she could watch the sunset
clouds wine-dark over the river. A little talking wind shivered
along the houses; the dusk began creeping in. She would not turn on
the light, unwilling to admit that it was really getting late, but
began to change her dress, lingering desperately over every little
detail of her toilette, deriving therefrom a faint, mysterious
comfort, trying to make herself feel beautiful. From sheer dread of
going back before he came, she let her hair fall, though it was quite
smooth and tidy, and began brushing it. Suddenly she thought with
horror of her efforts at adornment--by specially preparing for him,
she must seem presumptuous to Fate. At any little sound she stopped
and stood listening--save for her hair and eyes, as white from head
to foot as a double narcissus flower in the dusk, bending towards
some faint tune played to it somewhere oft in the fields. But all
those little sounds ceased, one after another--they had meant
nothing; and each time, her spirit returning--within the pale walls
of the room, began once more to inhabit her lingering fingers.
During that hour in her bedroom she lived through years. It was dark
when she left it.
When Miltoun at last came it was past nine o'clock.
Silent, but quivering all over; she clung to him in the hall; and
this passion of emotion, without sound to give it substance, affected
him profoundly. How terribly sensitive and tender she was! She
seemed to have no armour. But though so stirred by her emotion, he
was none the less exasperated. She incarnated at that moment the
life to which he must now resign himself--a life of unending
tenderness, consideration, and passivity.
For a long time he could not bring himself to speak of his decision.
Every look of her eyes, every movement of her body, seemed pleading
with him to keep silence. But in Miltoun's character there was an
element of rigidity, which never suffered him to diverge from an
objective once determined.
When he had finished telling her, she only said:
"Why can't we go on in secret?"
And he felt with a sort of horror that he must begin his struggle
over again. He got up, and threw open the window. The sky was dark
above the river; the wind had risen. That restless murmuration, and
the width of the night with its scattered stars, seemed to come
rushing at his face. He withdrew from it, and leaning on the sill
looked down at her. What flower-like delicacy she had! There
flashed across him the memory of a drooping blossom, which, in the
Spring, he had seen her throw into the flames; with the words: "I
can't bear flowers to fade, I always want to burn them." He could
see again those waxen petals yield to the fierce clutch of the little
red creeping sparks, and the slender stalk quivering, and glowing,
and writhing to blackness like a live thing. And, distraught, he
"I can't live a lie. What right have I to lead, if I can't follow?
I'm not like our friend Courtier who believes in Liberty. I never
have, I never shall. Liberty? What is Liberty? But only those who
conform to authority have the right to wield authority. A man is a
churl who enforces laws, when he himself has not the strength to
observe them. I will not be one of whom it can be said: 'He can rule
"No one will know."
Miltoun turned away.
"I shall know," he said; but he saw clearly that she did not
understand him. Her face had a strange, brooding, shut-away look, as
though he had frightened her. And the thought that she could not
understand, angered him.
He said, stubbornly: "No, I can't remain in public life."
"But what has it to do with politics? It's such a little thing."
"If it had been a little thing to me, should I have left you at
Monkland, and spent those five weeks in purgatory before my illness?
A little thing!"
She exclaimed with sudden fire:
"Circumstances aye the little thing; it's love that's the great
Miltoun stared at her, for the first time understanding that she had
a philosophy as deep and stubborn as his own. But he answered
"Well! the great thing has conquered me!"
And then he saw her looking at him, as if, seeing into the recesses
of his soul, she had made some ghastly discovery. The look was so
mournful, so uncannily intent that he turned away from it.
"Perhaps it is a little thing," he muttered; "I don't know. I can't
see my way. I've lost my bearings; I must find them again before I
can do anything."
But as if she had not heard, or not taken in the sense of his words,
she said again:
"Oh! don't let us alter anything; I won't ever want what you can't
And this stubbornness, when he was doing the very thing that would
give him to her utterly, seemed to him unreasonable.
"I've had it out with myself," he said. "Don't let's talk about it
Again, with a sort of dry anguish, she murmured:
"No, no! Let us go on as we are!"
Feeling that he had borne all he could, Miltoun put his hands on her
shoulders, and said: "That's enough!"
Then, in sudden remorse, he lifted her, and clasped her to him.
But she stood inert in his arms, her eyes closed, not returning his
On the last day before Parliament rose, Lord Valleys, with a light
heart, mounted his horse for a gallop in the Row. Though she was a
blood mare he rode her with a plain snaffle, having the horsemanship
of one who has hunted from the age of seven, and been for twenty
years a Colonel of Yeomanry. Greeting affably everyone he knew, he
maintained a frank demeanour on all subjects, especially of
Government policy, secretly enjoying the surmises and
prognostications, so pleasantly wide of the mark, and the way
questions and hints perished before his sphinx-like candour. He
spoke cheerily too of Miltoun, who was 'all right again,' and
'burning for the fray' when the House met again in the autumn. And
he chaffed Lord Malvezin about his wife. If anything--he said--could
make Bertie take an interest in politics, it would be she. He had
two capital gallops, being well known to the police: The day was
bright, and he was sorry to turn home. Falling in with Harbinger, he
asked him to come back to lunch. There had seemed something
different lately, an almost morose look, about young Harbinger; and
his wife's disquieting words about Barbara came back to Lord Valleys
with a shock. He had seen little of the child lately, and in the
general clearing up of this time of year had forgotten all about the
Agatha, who was still staying at Valleys House with little Ann,
waiting to travel up to Scotland with her mother, was out, and there
was no one at lunch except Lady Valleys and Barbara herself.
Conversation flagged; for the young people were extremely silent,
Lady Valleys was considering the draft of a report which had to be
settled before she left, and Lord Valleys himself was rather
carefully watching his daughter. The news that Lord Miltoun was in
the study came as a surprise, and somewhat of a relief to all. To an
exhortation to luring him in to lunch; the servant replied that Lord
Miltoun had lunched, and would wait.
"Does he know there's no one here?"
"Yes, my lady."
Lady Valleys pushed back her plate, and rose:
"Oh, well!" she said, "I've finished."
Lord Valleys also got up, and they went out together, leaving
Barbara, who had risen, looking doubtfully at the door.
Lord Valleys had recently been told of the nursing episode, and had
received the news with the dubious air of one hearing something about
an eccentric person, which, heard about anyone else, could have had
but one significance. If Eustace had been a normal young man his
father would have shrugged his shoulder's, and thought: "Oh, well!
There it is!" As it was, he had literally not known what to think.
And now, crossing the saloon which intervened between the dining-room
and the study, he said to his wife uneasily:
"Is it this woman again, Gertrude--or what?"
Lady Valleys answered with a shrug:
"Goodness knows, my dear."
Miltoun was standing in the embrasure of a window above the terrace.
He looked well, and his greeting was the same as usual.
"Well, my dear fellow," said Lord Valleys, "you're all right again
evidently--what's the news?"
"Only that I've decided to resign my seat."
Lord Valleys stared.
"What on earth for?"
But Lady Valleys, with the greater quickness of women, divining
already something of the reason, had flushed a deep pink.
"Nonsense, my dear," she said; "it can't possibly be necessary, even
if----" Recovering herself, she added dryly:
"Give us some reason."
"The reason is simply that I've joined my life to Mrs. Noel's, and I
can't go on as I am, living a lie. If it were known I should
obviously have to resign at once."
"Good God!" exclaimed Lord Valleys.
Lady Valleys made a rapid movement. In the face of what she felt to
be a really serious crisis between these two utterly different
creatures of the other sex, her husband and her son, she had dropped
her mask and become a genuine woman. Unconsciously both men felt
this change, and in speaking, turned towards her.
"I can't argue it," said Miltoun; "I consider myself bound in
"And then?" she asked.
Lord Valleys, with a note of real feeling, interjected:
"By Heaven! I did think you put your country above your private
"Geoff!" said Lady Valleys.
But Lord Valleys went on:
"No, Eustace, I'm out of touch with your view of things altogether.
I don't even begin to understand it."
"That is true," said Miltoun.
"Listen to me, both of you!" said Lady Valleys: "You two are
altogether different; and you must not quarrel. I won't have that.
Now, Eustace, you are our son, and you have got to be kind and
considerate. Sit down, and let's talk it over."
And motioning her husband to a chair, she sat down in the embrasure
of a window. Miltoun remained standing. Visited by a sudden dread,
Lady Valleys said:
"Is it--you've not--there isn't going to be a scandal?"
Miltoun smiled grimly.
"I shall tell this man, of course, but you may make your minds easy,
I imagine; I understand that his view of marriage does not permit of
divorce in any case whatever."
Lady Valleys sighed with an utter and undisguised relief.
"Well, then, my dear boy," she began, " even if you do feel you must
tell him, there is surely no reason why it should not otherwise be
Lord Valleys interrupted her:
"I should be glad if you would point out the connection between your
honour and the resignation of your seat," he said stiffly.
Miltoun shook his head.
"If you don't see already, it would be useless."
"I do not see. The whole matter is--is unfortunate, but to give up
your work, so long as there is no absolute necessity, seems to me
far-fetched and absurd. How many men are, there into whose lives
there has not entered some such relation at one time or another?
This idea would disqualify half the nation." His eyes seemed in that
crisis both to consult and to avoid his wife's, as though he were at
once asking her endorsement of his point of view, and observing the
proprieties. And for a moment in the midst of her anxiety, her sense
of humour got the better of Lady Valleys. It was so funny that Geoff
should have to give himself away; she could not for the life of her
help fixing him with her eyes.
"My dear," she murmured, "you underestimate three-quarters, at the
But Lord Valleys, confronted with danger, was growing steadier.
"It passes my comprehension;" he said, "why you should want to mix up
sex and politics at all."
Miltoun's answer came very slowly, as if the confession were hurting
"There is--forgive me for using the word--such a thing as one's
religion. I don't happen to regard life as divided into public and
private departments. My vision is gone--broken--I can see no object
before me now in public life--no goal--no certainty."
Lady Valleys caught his hand:
"Oh! my dear," she said, "that's too dreadfully puritanical!" But at
Miltoun's queer smile, she added hastily: "Logical--I mean."
"Consult your common sense, Eustace, for goodness' sake," broke in
Lord Valleys. "Isn't it your simple duty to put your scruples in
your pocket, and do the best you can for your country with the powers
that have been given you?"
"I have no common sense."
"In that case, of course, it may be just as well that you should
leave public life."
"Nonsense!" cried Lady Valleys. "You don't understand, Geoffrey.
I ask you again, Eustace, what will you do afterwards?"
"I don't know."
"You will eat your heart out."
"If you can't come to a reasonable arrangement with your conscience,"
again broke in Lord Valleys, "for Heaven's sake give her up, like a
man, and cut all these knots."
"I beg your pardon, sir!" said Miltoun icily.
Lady Valleys laid her hand on his arm. "You must allow us a little
logic too, my dear. You don't seriously imagine that she would wish
you to throw away your life for her? I'm not such a bad judge of
character as that."
She stopped before the expression on Miltoun's face.
"You go too fast," he said; "I may become a free spirit yet."
To this saying, which seemed to her cryptic and sinister, Lady
Valleys did not know what to answer.
"If you feel, as you say," Lord Valleys began once more, "that the
bottom has been knocked out of things for you by this--this affair,
don't, for goodness' sake, do anything in a hurry. Wait! Go abroad!
Get your balance back! You'll find the thing settle itself in a few
months. Don't precipitate matters; you can make your health an
excuse to miss the Autumn session."
Lady Valleys chimed in eagerly
"You really are seeing the thing out of all proportion. What is a
love-affair. My dear boy, do you suppose for a moment anyone would
think the worse of you, even if they knew? And really not a soul
"It has not occurred to me to consider what they would think."
"Then," cried Lady Valleys, nettled, "it's simply your own pride."
"You have said."
Lord Valleys, who had turned away, spoke in an almost tragic voice
"I did not think that on a point of honour I should differ from my
Catching at the word honour, Lady Valleys cried suddenly:
"Eustace, promise me, before you do anything, to consult your Uncle
"This becomes comic," he said.
At that word, which indeed seemed to them quite wanton, Lord and Lady
Valleys turned on their son, and the three stood staring, perfectly
silent. A little noise from the doorway interrupted them.
Left by her father and mother to the further entertainment of
Harbinger, Barbara had said:
"Let's have coffee in here," and passed into the withdrawing room.
Except for that one evening, when together by the sea wall they stood
contemplating the populace, she had not been alone with him since he
kissed her under the shelter of the box hedge. And now, after the
first moment, she looked at him calmly, though in her breast there
was a fluttering, as if an imprisoned bird were struggling ever so
feebly against that soft and solid cage. Her last jangled talk with
Courtier had left an ache in her heart. Besides, did she not know
all that Harbinger could give her?
Like a nymph pursued by a faun who held dominion over the groves,
she, fugitive, kept looking back. There was nothing in that fair
wood of his with which she was not familiar, no thicket she had not
travelled, no stream she had not crossed, no kiss she could not
return. His was a discovered land, in which, as of right, she would
reign. She had nothing to hope from him but power, and solid
pleasure. Her eyes said: How am I to know whether I shall not want
more than you; feel suffocated in your arms; be surfeited by all that
you will bring me? Have I not already got all that?
She knew, from his downcast gloomy face, how cruel she seemed, and
was sorry. She wanted to be good to him, and said almost shyly:
"Are you angry with me, Claud?"
Harbinger looked up.
"What makes you so cruel?"
"I am not cruel."
"You are. Where is your heart?"
"Here!" said Barbara, touching her breast.
"Ah!" muttered Harbinger; "I'm not joking."
She said gently:'
"Is it as bad as that, my dear?"
But the softness of her voice seemed to fan the smouldering fires in
"There's something behind all this," he stammered, "you've no right
to make a fool of me!"
"And what is the something, please?"
"That's for you to say. But I'm not blind. What about this fellow
At that moment there was revealed to Barbara a new acquaintance--the
male proper. No, to live with him would not be quite lacking in
His face had darkened; his eyes were dilated, his whole figure seemed
to have grown. She suddenly noticed the hair which covered his
clenched fists. All his suavity had left him. He came very close.
How long that look between them lasted, and of all there was in it,
she had no clear knowledge; thought after thought, wave after wave of
feeling, rushed through her. Revolt and attraction, contempt and
admiration, queer sensations of disgust and pleasure, all mingled--as
on a May day one may see the hail fall, and the sun suddenly burn
through and steam from the grass.
Then he said hoarsely:
"Oh! Babs, you madden me so!"
Smoothing her lips, as if to regain control of them, she answered:
"Yes, I think I have had enough," and went out into her father's
The sight of Lord and Lady Valleys so intently staring at Miltoun
restored hex self-possession.
It struck her as slightly comic, not knowing that the little scene
was the outcome of that word. In truth, the contrast between Miltoun
and his parents at this moment was almost ludicrous.
Lady Valleys was the first to speak.
"Better comic than romantic. I suppose Barbara may know, considering
her contribution to this matter. Your brother is resigning his seat,
my dear; his conscience will not permit him to retain it, under
certain circumstances that have arisen."
"Oh!" cried Barbara: "but surely----"
"The matter has been argued, Babs," Lord Valleys said shortly;
"unless you have some better reason to advance than those of ordinary
common sense, public spirit, and consideration for one's family, it
will hardly be worth your while to reopen the discussion."
Barbara looked up at Miltoun,, whose face, all but the eyes, was like
"Oh, Eusty!" she said, "you're not going to spoil your life like
this! Just think how I shall feel."
Miltoun answered stonily:
"You did what you thought right; as I am doing."
"Does she want you to?"
"There is, I should imagine," put in Lord Valleys, "not a solitary
creature in the whole world except your brother himself who would
wish for this consummation. But with him such a consideration does
"Oh!" sighed Barbara; "think of Granny!"
"I prefer not to think of her," murmured Lady Valleys.
"She's so wrapped up in you, Eusty. She always has believed in you
Miltoun sighed. And, encouraged by that sound, Barbara went closer.
It was plain enough that, behind his impassivity, a desperate
struggle was going on in Miltoun. He spoke at last:
"If I have not already yielded to one who is naturally more to me
than anything, when she begged and entreated, it is because I feel
this in a way you don't realize. I apologize for using the word
comic just now, I should have said tragic. I'll enlighten Uncle
Dennis, if that will comfort you; but this is not exactly a matter
for anyone, except myself." And, without another look or word, he
As the door closed, Barbara ran towards it; and, with a motion
strangely like the wringing of hands, said
"Oh, dear! Oh! dear!" Then, turning away to a bookcase, she began to
This ebullition of feeling, surpassing even their own, came as a real
shock to Lady and Lord Valleys, ignorant of how strung-up she had
been before she entered the room. They had not seen Barbara cry
since she was a tiny girl. And in face of her emotion any animus
they might have shown her for having thrown Miltoun into Mrs. Noel's
arms, now melted away. Lord Valleys, especially moved, went up to
his daughter, and stood with her in that dark corner, saying nothing,
but gently stroking her hand. Lady Valleys, who herself felt very
much inclined to cry, went out of sight into the embrasure of the
Barbara's sobbing was soon subdued.
"It's his face," she said: "And why? Why? It's so unnecessary!"
Lord Valleys, continually twisting his moustache, muttered:
"Exactly! He makes things for himself!"
"Yes," murmured Lady Valleys from the window, "he was always
uncomfortable, like that. I remember him as a baby. Bertie never
And then the silence was only broken by the little angry sounds of
Barbara blowing her nose.
"I shall go and see mother," said Lady Valleys, suddenly: "The boy's
whole life may be ruined if we can't stop this. Are you coming,
But Barbara refused.
She went to her room, instead. This crisis in Miltoun's life had
strangely shaken her. It was as if Fate had suddenly revealed all
that any step out of the beaten path might lead to, had brought her
sharply up against herself. To wing out into the blue! See what it
meant! If Miltoun kept to his resolve, and gave up public life, he
was lost! And she herself! The fascination of Courtier's chivalrous
manner, of a sort of innate gallantry, suggesting the quest of
everlasting danger--was it not rather absurd? And--was she
fascinated? Was it not simply that she liked the feeling of
fascinating him? Through the maze of these thoughts, darted the
memory of Harbinger's face close to her own, his clenched hands, the
swift revelation of his dangerous masculinity. It was all a
nightmare of scaring queer sensations, of things that could never be
settled. She was stirred for once out of all her normal conquering
philosophy. Her thoughts flew back to Miltoun. That which she had
seen in their faces, then, had come to pass! And picturing Agatha's
horror, when she came to hear of it, Barbara could not help a smile.
Poor Eustace! Why did he take things so hardly? If he really
carried out his resolve--and he never changed his mind--it would be
tragic! It would mean the end of everything for him!
Perhaps now he would get tired of Mrs. Noel. But she was not the
sort of woman a man would get tired of. Even Barbara in her
inexperience felt that. She would always be too delicately careful
never to cloy him, never to exact anything from him, or let him feel
that he was bound to her by so much as a hair. Ah! why couldn't they
go on as if nothing had happened? Could nobody persuade him? She
thought again of Courtier. If he, who knew them both, and was so
fond of Mrs. Noel, would talk to Miltoun, about the right to be
happy, the right to revolt? Eustace ought to revolt! It was his
duty. She sat down to write; then, putting on her hat, took the note
and slipped downstairs.
The flowers of summer in the great glass house at Ravensham were
keeping the last afternoon-watch when Clifton summoned Lady Casterley
with the words:
"Lady Valleys in the white room."
Since the news of Miltoun's illness, and of Mrs. Noel's nursing, the
little old lady had possessed her soul in patience; often, it is
true, afflicted with poignant misgivings as to this new influence in
the life of her favourite, affected too by a sort of jealousy, not to
be admitted, even in her prayers, which, though regular enough, were
perhaps somewhat formal. Having small liking now for leaving home,
even for Catton, her country place, she was still at Ravensham, where
Lord Dennis had come up to stay with her as soon as Miltoun had left
Sea House. But Lady Casterley was never very dependent on company.
She retained unimpaired her intense interest in politics, and still
corresponded freely with prominent men. Of late, too, a slight
revival of the June war scare had made its mark on her in a certain
rejuvenescence, which always accompanied her contemplation of
national crises, even when such were a little in the air. At blast
of trumpet her spirit still leaped forward, unsheathed its sword, and
stood at the salute. At such times, she rose earlier, went to bed
later, was far less susceptible to draughts, and refused with
asperity any food between meals. She wrote too with her own hand
letters which she would otherwise have dictated to her secretary.
Unfortunately the scare had died down again almost at once; and the
passing of danger always left her rather irritable. Lady Valleys'
visit came as a timely consolation.
She kissed her daughter critically; for there was that about her
manner which she did not like.
"Yes, of course I am well!" she said. "Why didn't you bring
"She was tired!"
"H'm! Afraid of meeting me, since she committed that piece of folly
over Eustace. You must be careful of that child, Gertrude, or she
will be doing something silly herself. I don't like the way she
keeps Claud Harbinger hanging in the wind."
Her daughter cut her short:
"There is bad news about Eustace."
Lady Casterley lost the little colour in her cheeks; lost, too, all
her superfluity of irritable energy.
"Tell me, at once!"
Having heard, she said nothing; but Lady Valleys noticed with alarm
that over her eyes had come suddenly the peculiar filminess of age.
"Well, what do you advise?" she asked.
Herself tired, and troubled, she was conscious of a quite unwonted
feeling of discouragement before this silent little figure, in the
silent white room. She had never before seen her mother look as if
she heard Defeat passing on its dark wings. And moved by sudden
tenderness for the little frail body that had borne her so long ago,
she murmured almost with surprise:
"Yes," said Lady Casterley, as if speaking to herself, "the boy saves
things up; he stores his feelings--they burst and sweep him away.
First his passion; now his conscience. There are two men in him; but
this will be the death of one of them." And suddenly turning on her
daughter, she said:
"Did you ever hear about him at Oxford, Gertrude? He broke out once,
and ate husks with the Gadarenes. You never knew. Of course--you
never have known anything of him."
Resentment rose in Lady Valleys, that anyone should knew her son
better than herself; but she lost it again looking at the little
figure, and said, sighing:
Lady Casterley murmured:
"Go away, child; I must think. You say he's to consult' Dennis? Do
you know her address? Ask Barbara when you get back and telephone it
to me. And at her daughter's kiss, she added grimly:
"I shall live to see him in the saddle yet, though I am seventy-
When the sound of her daughter's car had died :away, she rang the
"If Lady Valleys rings up, Clifton, don't take the message, but call
me." And seeing that Clifton did not move she added sharply: "Well?"
"There is no bad news of his young lordship's health, I hope?"
"Forgive me, my lady, but I have had it on my mind for some time to
ask you something."
And the old man raised his hand with a peculiar dignity, seeming to
say: You will excuse me that for the moment I am a human being
speaking to a human being.
"The matter of his attachment," he went on, "is known to me; it has
given me acute anxiety, knowing his lordship as I do, and having
heard him say something singular when he was here in July. I should
be grateful if you would assure--me that there is to be no hitch in
his career, my lady."
The expression on Lady Casterley's face was strangely compounded of
surprise, kindliness, defence, and impatience as with a child.
"Not if I can prevent it, Clifton," she said shortly; "in fact, you
need not concern yourself."
"Excuse me mentioning it, my lady;" a quiver ran over his face
between its long white whiskers, "but his young lordship's career is
more to me than my own."
When he had left her, Lady Casterley sat down in a little low chair--
long she sat there by the empty hearth, till the daylight, was all
Not far from the dark-haloed indeterminate limbo where dwelt that
bugbear of Charles Courtier, the great Half-Truth Authority, he
himself had a couple of rooms at fifteen shillings a week. Their
chief attraction was that the great Half-Truth Liberty had
recommended them. They tied him to nothing, and were ever at his
disposal when he was in London; for his landlady, though not bound by
agreement so to do, let them in such a way, that she could turn
anyone else out at a week's notice. She was a gentle soul, married
to a socialistic plumber twenty years her senior. The worthy man had
given her two little boys, and the three of them kept her in such
permanent order that to be in the presence of Courtier was the
greatest pleasure she knew. When he disappeared on one of his
nomadic missions, explorations, or adventures, she enclosed the whole
of his belongings in two tin trunks and placed them in a cupboard
which smelled a little of mice. When he reappeared the trunks were
reopened, and a powerful scent of dried rose-leaves would escape.
For, recognizing the mortality of things human, she procured every
summer from her sister, the wife of a market gardener, a consignment
of this commodity, which she passionately sewed up in bags, and
continued to deposit year by year, in Courtier's trunks.
This, and the way she made his toast--very crisp--and aired his
linen--very dry, were practically the only things she could do for a
man naturally inclined to independence, and accustomed from his
manner of life to fend for himself.
At first signs of his departure she would go into some closet or
other, away from the plumber and the two marks of his affection, and
cry quietly; but never in Courtier's presence did she dream of
manifesting grief--as soon weep in the presence of death or birth, or
any other fundamental tragedy or joy. In face of the realities of
life she had known from her youth up the value of the simple verb
'sto--stare-to stand fast.'
And to her Courtier was a reality, the chief reality of life, the
focus of her aspiration, the morning and the evening star.
The request, then five days after his farewell visit to Mrs. Noel--
for the elephant-hide trunk which accompanied his rovings, produced
her habitual period of seclusion, followed by her habitual appearance
in his sitting-room bearing a note, and some bags of dried rose--
leaves on a tray. She found him in his shirt sleeves, packing.
"Well, Mrs. Benton; off again!"
Mrs. Benton, plaiting her hands, for she had not yet lost something
of the look and manner of a little girl, answered in her flat, but
"Yes, sir; and I hope you're not going anywhere very dangerous this
time. I always think you go to such dangerous places."
"To Persia, Mrs. Benton, where the carpets come from."
"Oh! yes, sir. Your washing's just come home."
Her, apparently cast-down, eyes stored up a wealth of little details;
the way his hair grew, the set of his back, the colour of his braces.
But suddenly she said in a surprising voice:
"You haven't a photograph you could spare, sir, to leave behind? Mr.
Benton was only saying to me yesterday, we've nothing to remember him
by, in case he shouldn't come back."
"Here's an old one."
Mrs. Benton took the photograph.
"Oh!" she said; "you can see who it is." And holding it perhaps too
tightly, for her fingers trembled, she added:
"A note, please, sir; and the messenger boy is waiting for--an
While he read the note she noticed with concern how packing had
brought the blood into his head....
When, in response to that note, Courtier entered the well-known
confectioner's called Gustard's, it was still not quite tea-time, and
there seemed to him at first no one in the room save three middle-
aged women packing sweets; then in the corner he saw Barbara. The
blood was no longer in his head; he was pale, walking down that
mahogany-coloured room impregnated with the scent of wedding-cake.
Barbara, too, was pale.
So close to her that he could count her every eyelash, and inhale the
scent of her hair and clothes to listen to her story of Miltoun, so
hesitatingly, so wistfully told, seemed very like being kept waiting
with the rope already round his neck, to hear about another person's
toothache. He felt this to have been unnecessary on the part of
Fate! And there came to him perversely the memory of that ride over
the sun-warmed heather, when he had paraphrased the old Sicilian
song: 'Here will I sit and sing.' He was a long way from singing
now; nor was there love in his arms. There was instead a cup of tea;
and in his nostrils the scent of cake, with now and then a whiff of
"I see," he said, when she had finished telling him: "'Liberty's a
glorious feast!' You want me to go to your brother, and quote Bums?
You know, of course, that he regards me as dangerous."
"Yes; but he respects and likes you."
"And I respect and like him," answered Courtier.
One of the middle-aged females passed, carrying a large white card-
board box; and the creaking of her stays broke the hush.
"You have been very sweet to me," said Barbara, suddenly.
Courtier's heart stirred, as if it were turning over within him; and
gazing into his teacup, he answered
"All men are decent to the evening star. I will go at once and find
your brother. When shall I bring you news?"
"To-morrow at five I'll be at home."
And repeating, "To-morrow at five," he rose.
Looking back from the door, he saw her face puzzled, rather
reproachful, and went out gloomily. The scent of cake, and orange-
flower water, the creaking of the female's stays, the colour of
mahogany, still clung to his nose and ears, and eyes; but within him
it was all dull baffled rage. Why had he not made the most of this
unexpected chance; why had he not made desperate love to her? A
conscientious ass! And yet--the whole thing was absurd! She was so
young! God knew he would be glad to be out of it. If he stayed he
was afraid that he would play the fool. But the memory of her words:
"You have been very sweet to me!" would not leave him; nor the
memory of her face, so puzzled, and reproachful. Yes, if he stayed
he would play the fool! He would be asking her to marry a man double
her age, of no position but that which he had carved for himself, and
without a rap. And he would be asking her in such a way that she
might possibly have some little difficulty in refusing. He would be
letting himself go. And she was only twenty--for all her woman-of-
the-world air, a child! No! He would be useful to her, if possible,
this once, and then clear out!
When Miltoun left Valleys House he walked in the direction of
Westminster. During the five days that he had been back in London he
had not yet entered the House of Commons. After the seclusion of his
illness, he still felt a yearning, almost painful, towards the
movement and stir of the town. Everything he heard and saw made an
intensely vivid impression. The lions in Trafalgar Square, the great
buildings of Whitehall, filled him with a sort of exultation. He was
like a man, who, after a long sea voyage, first catches sight of
land, and stands straining his eyes, hardly breathing, taking in one
by one the lost features of that face. He walked on to Westminster
Bridge, and going to an embrasure in the very centre, looked back
towards the towers.
It was said that the love of those towers passed into the blood. It
was said that he who had sat beneath them could never again be quite
the same. Miltoun knew that it was true--desperately true, of
himself. In person he had sat there but three weeks, but in soul he
seemed to have been sitting there hundreds of years. And now he
would sit there no more! An almost frantic desire to free himself
from this coil rose up within him. To be held a prisoner by that
most secret of all his instincts, the instinct for authority! To be
unable to wield authority because to wield authority was to insult
authority. God! It was hard! He turned his back on the towers; and
sought distraction in the faces of the passers-by.
Each of these, he knew, had his struggle to keep self-respect! Or
was it that they were unconscious of struggle or of self-respect, and
just let things drift? They looked like that, most of them! And all
his inherent contempt for the average or common welled up as he
watched them. Yes, they looked like that! Ironically, the sight of
those from whom he had desired the comfort of compromise, served
instead to stimulate that part of him which refused to let him
compromise. They looked soft, soggy, without pride or will, as
though they knew that life was too much for them, and had shamefully
accepted the fact. They so obviously needed to be told what they
might do, and which way they should, go; they would accept orders as
they accepted their work, or pleasures: And the thought that he was
now debarred from the right to give them orders, rankled in him
furiously. They, in their turn, glanced casually at his tall figure
leaning against the parapet, not knowing how their fate was trembling
in the balance. His thin, sallow face, and hungry eyes gave one or
two of them perhaps a feeling of interest or discomfort; but to most
he was assuredly no more than any other man or woman in the hurly-
burly. That dark figure of conscious power struggling in the fetters
of its own belief in power, was a piece of sculpture they had neither
time nor wish to understand, having no taste for tragedy--for
witnessing the human spirit driven to the wall.
It was five o'clock before Miltoun left the Bridge, and passed, like
an exile, before the gates of Church and State, on his way to his
uncle's Club. He stopped to telegraph to Audrey the time he would be
coming to-morrow afternoon; and on leaving the Post-Office, noticed
in the window of the adjoining shop some reproductions of old Italian
masterpieces, amongst them one of Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus.' He
had never seen that picture; and, remembering that she had told him
it was her favourite, he stopped to look at it. Averagely well
versed in such matters, as became one of his caste, Miltoun had not
the power of letting a work of art insidiously steal the private self
from his soul, and replace it with the self of all the world; and he
examined this far-famed presentment of the heathen goddess with
aloofness, even irritation. The drawing of the body seemed to him
crude, the whole picture a little flat and Early; he did not like the
figure of the Flora. The golden serenity, and tenderness, of which
she had spoken, left him cold. Then he found himself looking at the
face, and slowly, but with uncanny certainty, began to feel that he
was looking at the face of Audrey herself. The hair was golden and
different, the eyes grey and different, the mouth a little fuller;
yet--it was her face; the same oval shape, the same far-apart, arched
brows, the same strangely tender, elusive spirit. And, as though
offended, he turned and walked on. In the window of that little shop
was the effigy of her for whom he had bartered away his life--the
incarnation of passive and entwining love, that gentle creature, who
had given herself to him so utterly, for whom love, and the flowers,
and trees, and birds, music, the sky, and the quick-flowing streams,
were all-sufficing; and who, like the goddess in the picture, seemed
wondering at her own existence. He had a sudden glimpse of
understanding, strange indeed in one who had so little power of
seeing into others' hearts: Ought she ever to have been born into a
world like this? But the flash of insight yielded quickly to that
sickening consciousness of his own position, which never left him
now. Whatever else he did, he must get rid of that malaise! But
what could he do in that coming life? Write books? What sort of
books could he write? Only such as expressed his views of
citizenship, his political and social beliefs. As well remain
sitting and speaking beneath those towers! He could never join the
happy band of artists, those soft and indeterminate spirits, for whom
barriers had no meaning, content-to understand, interpret, and
create. What should he be doing in that galley? The thought was
inconceivable. A career at the Bar--yes, he might take that up; but
to what end? To become a judge! As well continue to sit beneath
those towers! Too late for diplomacy. Too late for the Army;
besides, he had not the faintest taste for military glory. Bury
himself in the country like Uncle Dennis, and administer one of his
father's estates? It would be death. Go amongst the poor? For a
moment he thought he had found a new vocation. But in what capacity
--to order their lives, when he himself could not order his own; or,
as a mere conduit pipe for money, when he believed that charity was
rotting the nation to its core? At the head of every avenue stood an
angel or devil with drawn sword. And then there came to him another
thought. Since he was being cast forth from Church and State, could
he not play the fallen spirit like a man--be Lucifer, and destroy!
And instinctively he at once saw himself returning to those towers,
and beneath them crossing the floor; joining the revolutionaries, the
Radicals, the freethinkers, scourging his present Party, the party of
authority and institutions. The idea struck him as supremely comic,
and he laughed out loud in the street....
The Club which Lord Dennis frequented was in St. James's untouched by
the tides of the waters of fashion--steadily swinging to its moorings
in a quiet backwater, and Miltoun found his uncle in the library. He
was reading a volume of Burton's travels, and drinking tea.
"Nobody comes here," he said, "so, in spite of that word on the door,
we shall talk. Waiter, bring some more tea, please."
Impatiently, but with a sort of pity, Miltoun watched Lord Dennis's
urbane movements, wherein old age was, pathetically, trying to make
each little thing seem important, if only to the doer. Nothing his
great-uncle could say would outweigh the warning of his picturesque
old figure! To be a bystander; to see it all go past you; to let
your sword rust in its sheath, as this poor old fellow had done! The
notion of explaining what he had come about was particularly hateful
to Miltoun; but since he had given his word, he nerved himself with
secret anger, and began:
"I promised my mother to ask you a question, Uncle Dennis. You know
of my attachment, I believe?"
Lord Dennis nodded.
"Well, I have joined my life to this lady's. There will be no
scandal, but I consider it my duty to resign my seat, and leave
public life alone. Is that right or wrong according to, your view?"
Lord Dennis looked at his nephew in silence. A faint flush coloured
his brown cheeks. He had the appearance of one travelling in mind
over the past.
"Wrong, I think," he said, at last.
"Why, if I may ask?"
"I have not the pleasure of knowing this lady, and am therefore
somewhat in the dark; but it appears to me that your decision is not
fair to her."
"That is beyond me," said Miltoun.
Lord Dennis answered firmly:
"You have asked me a frank question, expecting a frank answer, I
"Then, my dear, don't blame me if what I say is unpalatable."
"I shall not."
"Good! You say you are going to give up public life for the sake of
your conscience. I should have no criticism to make if it stopped
He paused, and for quite a minute remained silent, evidently
searching for words to express some intricate thread of thought.
"But it won't, Eustace; the public man in you is far stronger than
the other. You want leadership more than you want love. Your
sacrifice will kill your affection; what you imagine is your loss and
hurt, will prove to be this lady's in the end."
Lord Dennis continued very dryly and with a touch of malice:
"You are not listening to me; but I can see very well that the
process has begun already underneath. There's a curious streak of
the Jesuit in you, Eustace. What you don't want to see, you won't
"You advise me, then, to compromise?"
"On the contrary, I point out that you will be compromising if you
try to keep both your conscience and your love. You will be seeking
to have, it both ways."
"That is interesting."
"And you will find yourself having it neither," said Lord Dennis
Miltoun rose. "In other words, you, like the others, recommend me to
desert this lady who loves me, and whom I love. And yet, Uncle, they
say that in your own case----"
But Lord Dennis had risen, too, having lost all the appanage and
manner of old age.
"Of my own case," he said bluntly, "we won't talk. I don't advise
you to desert anyone; you quite mistake me. I advise you to know
yourself. And I tell you my opinion of you--you were cut out by
Nature for a statesman, not a lover! There's something dried-up in
you, Eustace; I'm not sure there isn't something dried-up in all our
caste. We've had to do with forms and ceremonies too long. We're
not good at taking the lyrical point of view."
"Unfortunately," said Miltoun, "I cannot, to fit in with a theory of
yours, commit a baseness."
Lord Dennis began pacing up and down. He was keeping his lips closed
"A man who gives advice," he said at last, "is always something of a
fool. For all that, you have mistaken mine. I am not so
presumptuous as to attempt to enter the inner chamber of your spirit.
I have merely told you that, in my opinion, it would be more honest
to yourself, and fairer to this lady, to compound with your
conscience, and keep both your love and your public life, than to
pretend that you were capable of sacrificing what I know is the
stronger element in you for the sake of the weaker. You remember the
saying, Democritus I think: 'each man's nature or character is his
fate or God'. I recommend it to you."
For a full minute Miltoun stood without replying, then said:
"I am sorry to have troubled you, Uncle Dennis. A middle policy is
no use to me. Good-bye!" And without shaking hands, he went out.
In the hall someone rose from a sofa, and came towards him. It was
"Run you to earth at last," he said; "I wish you'd come and dine with
me. I'm leaving England to-morrow night, and there are things I want
There passed through Miltoun's mind the rapid thought: 'Does he
know?' He assented, however, and they went out together.
"It's difficult to find a quiet place," said Courtier; "but this
The place chosen was a little hostel, frequented by racing men, and
famed for the excellence of its steaks. And as they sat down
opposite each other in the almost empty room, Miltoun thought: Yes,
he does know! Can I stand any more of this? He waited almost
savagely for the attack he felt was coming.
"So you are going to give up your seat?" said Courtier.
Miltoun looked at him for some seconds, before replying.
"From what town-crier did you hear that?"
But there was that in Courtier's face which checked his anger; its
friendliness was transparent.
"I am about her only friend," Courtier proceeded earnestly; "and this
is my last chance--to say nothing of my feeling towards you, which,
believe me, is very cordial."
"Go on, then," Miltoun muttered.
"Forgive me for putting it bluntly. Have you considered what her
position was before she met you?"
Miltoun felt the blood rushing to his face, but he sat still,
clenching his nails into the palms of his hands.
"Yes, yes," said Courtier, "but that attitude of mind--you used to
have it yourself--which decrees either living death, or spiritual
adultery to women, makes my blood boil. You can't deny that those
were the alternatives, and I say you had the right fundamentally to
protest against them, not only in words but deeds. You did protest,
I know; but this present decision of yours is a climb down, as much
as to say that your protest was wrong."
Miltoun rose from his seat. "I cannot discuss this," he said; "I
"For her sake, you must. If you give up your public work, you'll
spoil her life a second time."
Miltoun again sat down. At the word 'must' a steely feeling had come
to his aid; his eyes began to resemble the old Cardinal's. "Your
nature and mine, Courtier," he said, "are too far apart; we shall
never understand each other."
"Never mind that," answered Courtier. "Admitting those two
alternatives to be horrible, which you never would have done unless
the facts had been brought home to you personally
"That," said Miltoun icily, "I deny your right to say."
"Anyway, you do admit them--if you believe you had not the right to
rescue her, on what principle do you base that belief?"
Miltoun placed his elbow on the table, and leaning his chin on his
hand, regarded the champion of lost causes without speaking. There
was such a turmoil going on within him that with difficulty he could
force his lips to obey him.
"By what right do you ask me that?" he said at last. He saw
Courtier's face grow scarlet, and his fingers twisting furiously at
those flame-like moustaches; but his answer was as steadily ironical
"Well, I can hardly sit still, my last evening in England, without
lifting a finger, while you immolate a woman to whom I feel like a
brother. I'll tell you what your principle is: Authority, unjust or
just, desirable or undesirable, must be implicitly obeyed. To break
a law, no matter on what provocation, or for whose sake, is to break
"Don't hesitate--say, of God."
"Of an infallible fixed Power. Is that a true definition of your
"Yes," said Miltoun, between his teeth, "I think so."
"Exceptions prove the rule."
"Hard cases make bad law."
Courtier smiled : "I knew you were coming out with that. I deny that
they do with this law, which is altogether behind the times. You had
the right to rescue this woman."
"No, Courtier, if we must fight, let us fight on the naked facts."
have not rescued anyone. I have merely stolen sooner than starve.
That is why I cannot go on pretending to be a pattern. If it were
known, I could not retain my seat an hour; I can't take advantage of
an accidental secrecy. Could you?"
Courtier was silent; and with his eyes Miltoun pressed on him, as
though he would despatch him with that glance.
"I could," said Courtier at last. "When this law, by enforcing
spiritual adultery on those who have come to hate their mates,
destroys the sanctity of the married state--the very sanctity it
professes to uphold, you must expect to have it broken by reasoning
men and women without their feeling shame, or losing self-respect."
In Miltoun there was rising that vast and subtle passion for
dialectic combat, which was of his very fibre. He had almost lost
the feeling that this was his own future being discussed. He saw
before him in this sanguine man, whose voice and eyes had such a
white-hot sound and look, the incarnation of all that he
"That," he said, "is devil's advocacy. I admit no individual as
judge in his own case."
"Ah! Now we're coming to it. By the way, shall we get out of this
They were no sooner in the cooler street, than the voice of Courtier
"Distrust of human nature, fear--it's the whole basis of action for
men of your stamp. You deny the right of the individual to judge,
because you've no faith in the essential goodness of men; at heart
you believe them bad. You give them no freedom, you allow them no
consent, because you believe that their decisions would move
downwards, and not upwards. Well, it's the whole difference between
the aristocratic and the democratic view of life. As you once told
me, you hate and fear the crowd."
Miltoun eyed that steady sanguine face askance:
"Yes," he said, "I do believe that men are raised in spite of
"You're honest. By whom?"
Again Miltoun felt rising within him a sort of fury. Once for all he
would slay this red-haired rebel; he answered with almost savage
"Strangely enough, by that Being to mention whom you object--working
through the medium of the best."
"High-Priest! Look at that girl slinking along there, with her eye
on us; suppose, instead of withdrawing your garment, you went over
and talked to her, got her to tell you what she really felt and
thought, you'd find things that would astonish you. At bottom,
mankind is splendid. And they're raised, sir, by the aspiration
that's in all of them. Haven't you ever noticed that public
sentiment is always in advance of the Law?"
"And you," said Miltoun, "are the man who is never on the side of the
The champion of lost causes uttered a short laugh.
"Not so logical as all that," he answered; "the wind still blows; and
Life's not a set of rules hung up in an office. Let's see, where are
we?" They had been brought to a stand-still by a group on the
pavement in front of the Queen's Hall: "Shall we go in, and hear some
music, and cool our tongues?"
Miltoun nodded, and they went in.
The great lighted hall, filled with the faint bluefish vapour from
hundreds of little rolls of tobacco leaf, was crowded from floor to
Taking his stand among the straw-hatted throng, Miltoun heard that
steady ironical voice behind him:
"Profanum vulgus! Come to listen to the finest piece of music ever
written! Folk whom you wouldn't trust a yard to know what was good
for them! Deplorable sight, isn't it?"
He made no answer. The first slow notes of the seventh Symphony of
Beethoven had begun to steal forth across the bank of flowers; and,
save for the steady rising of that bluefish vapour, as it were
incense burnt to the god of melody, the crowd had become deathly
still, as though one mind, one spirit, possessed each pale face
inclined towards that music rising and falling like the sighing of
the winds, that welcome from death the freed spirits of the
When the last notes had died away, he turned and walked out.
"Well," said the voice behind him, "hasn't that shown you how things
swell and grow; how splendid the world is?"
"It has shown me how beautiful the world can be made by a great man."
And suddenly, as if the music had loosened some band within him, he
began to pour forth words:
"Look at the crowd in this street, Courtier, which of all crowds in
the whole world can best afford to be left to itself; secure from
pestilence, earthquake, cyclone, drought, from extremes of heat and
cold, in the heart of the greatest and safest city in the world; and
yet-see the figure of that policeman! Running through all the good
behaviour of this crowd, however safe and free it looks, there is,
there always must be, a central force holding it together. Where
does that central force come from? From the crowd itself, you say.
I answer: No. Look back at the origin of human States. From the
beginnings of things, the best man has been the unconscious medium of
authority, of the controlling principle, of the divine force; he felt
that power within him--physical, at first--he used it to take the
lead, he has held the lead ever since, he must always hold it. All
your processes of election, your so-called democratic apparatus, are
only a blind to the inquiring, a sop to the hungry, a salve to the
pride of the rebellious. They are merely surface machinery; they
cannot prevent the best man from coming to the top; for the best man
stands nearest to the Deity, and is the first to receive the waves
that come from Him. I'm not speaking of heredity. The best man is
not necessarily born in my class, and I, at all events, do not
believe he is any more frequent there than in other classes."
He stopped as suddenly as he had begun.
"You needn't be afraid," answered Courtier, "that I take you for an
average specimen. You're at one end, and I at the other, and we
probably both miss the golden mark. But the world is not ruled by
power, and the fear which power produces, as you think, it's ruled by
love. Society is held together by the natural decency in man, by
fellow-feeling. The democratic principle, which you despise, at root
means nothing at all but that. Man left to himself is on the upward
lay. If it weren't so, do you imagine for a moment your 'boys in
blue' could keep order? A man knows unconsciously what he can and
what he can't do, without losing his self-respect. He sucks that
knowledge in with every breath. Laws and authority are not the be-
all and end-all, they are conveniences, machinery, conduit pipes,
main roads. They're not of the structure of the building--they're
Miltoun lunged out with the retort
"Without which no building could be built."
"That's rather different, my friend, from identifying them with the
building. They are things to be taken down as fast as ever they can
be cleared away, to make room for an edifice that begins on earth,
not in the sky. All the scaffolding of law is merely there to save
time, to prevent the temple, as it mounts, from losing its way, and
straying out of form."
"No," said Miltoun, "no! The scaffolding, as you call it, is the
material projection of the architect's conception, without which the
temple does not and cannot rise; and the architect is God, working
through the minds and spirits most akin to Himself."
"We are now at the bed-rock," cried Courtier, "your God is outside
this world. Mine within it."
"And never the twain shall meet!"
In the silence that followed Miltoun saw that they were in Leicester
Square, all quiet as yet before the theatres had disgorged; quiet yet
waiting, with the lights, like yellow stars low-driven from the dark
heavens, clinging to the white shapes of music-halls and cafes, and a
sort of flying glamour blanching the still foliage of the plane
"A 'whitely wanton'--this Square!" said Courtier: "Alive as a face;
no end to its queer beauty! And, by Jove, if you went deep enough,
you'd find goodness even here."
"And you'd ignore the vice," Miltoun answered.
He felt weary all of a sudden, anxious to get to his rooms, unwilling
to continue this battle of words, that brought him no nearer to
relief. It was with strange lassitude that he heard the voice still
"We must make a night of it, since to-morrow we die.... You would
curb licence from without--I from within. When I get up and when I
go to bed, when I draw a breath, see a face, or a flower, or a tree--
if I didn't feel that I was looking on the Deity, I believe I should
quit this palace of varieties, from sheer boredom. You, I
understand, can't look on your God, unless you withdraw into some
high place. Isn't it a bit lonely there?"
"There are worse things than loneliness." And they walked on, in
silence; till suddenly Miltoun broke out:
"You talk of tyranny! What tyranny could equal this tyranny of your
freedom? What tyranny in the world like that of this 'free' vulgar,
narrow street, with its hundred journals teeming like ants' nests, to
produce-what? In the entrails of that creature of your freedom,
Courtier, there is room neither for exaltation, discipline, nor
sacrifice; there is room only for commerce, and licence."
There was no answer for a moment; and from those tall houses, whose
lighted windows he had apostrophized, Miltoun turned away towards the
river. "No," said the voice beside him, "for all its faults, the
wind blows in that street, and there's a chance for everything. By
God, I would rather see a few stars struggle out in a black sky than
any of your perfect artificial lighting."
And suddenly it seemed to Miltoun that he could never free himself
from the echoes of that voice--it was not worth while to try. "We
are repeating ourselves," he said, dryly.
The river's black water was making stilly, slow recessional under a
half-moon. Beneath the cloak of night the chaos on the far bank, the
forms of cranes, high buildings, jetties, the bodies of the sleeping
barges, a--million queer dark shapes, were invested with emotion.
All was religious out there, all beautiful, all strange. And over
this great quiet friend of man, lamps--those humble flowers of night,
were throwing down the faint continual glamour of fallen petals; and
a sweet-scented wind stole along from the West, very slow as yet,
bringing in advance the tremor and perfume of the innumerable trees
and fields which the river had loved as she came by.
A murmur that was no true sound, but like the whisper of a heart to.
a heart, accompanied this voyage of the dark water.
Then a small blunt skiff--manned by two rowers came by under the
wall, with the thudding and the creak of oars.
"So 'To-morrow we die'?" said Miltoun : "You mean, I suppose, that
'public life' is the breath of my nostrils, and I must die, because I
give it up?"
"Am I right in thinking that it was my young sister who sent you on
Courtier did not answer.
"And so," Miltoun went on, looking him through and through;
"to-morrow is to be your last day, too? Well, you're right to go.
She is not an ugly duckling, who can live out of the social pond;
she'll always want her native element. And now, we'll say goodbye!
Whatever happens to us both, I shall remember this evening."
Smiling, he put out his hand 'Moriturus te saluto.'
Courtier sat in Hyde Park waiting for five o'clock. The day had
recovered somewhat from a grey morning, as though the glow of that
long hot summer were too burnt-in on the air to yield to the first
assault. The sun, piercing the crisped clouds, those breast feathers
of heavenly doves, darted its beams at the mellowed leaves, and
showered to the ground their delicate shadow stains. The first, too
early, scent from leaves about to fall, penetrated to the heart. And
sorrowful sweet birds were tuning their little autumn pipes, blowing
into them fragments of Spring odes to Liberty.
Courtier thought of Miltoun and his mistress. By what a strange fate
had those two been thrown together; to what end was their love
coming? The seeds of grief were already sown, what flowers of
darkness, or of tumult would come up? He saw her again as a little,
grave, considering child, with her soft eyes, set wide apart under
the dark arched brows, and the little tuck at the corner of her mouth
that used to come when he teased her. And to that gentle creature
who would sooner die than force anyone to anything, had been given
this queer lover; this aristocrat by birth and nature, with the dried
fervent soul, whose every fibre had been bred and trained in and to
the service of Authority; this rejecter of the Unity of Life; this
worshipper of an old God! A God that stood, whip in hand, driving
men to obedience. A God that even now Courtier could conjure up
staring at him from the walls of his nursery. The God his own father
had believed in. A God of the Old Testament, knowing neither
sympathy nor understanding. Strange that He should be alive still;
that there should still be thousands who worshipped Him. Yet, not so
very strange, if, as they said, man made God in his own image! Here
indeed was a curious mating of what the philosophers would call the
will to Love, and the will to Power!
A soldier and his girl came and sat down on a bench close by. They
looked askance at this trim and upright figure with the fighting
face; then, some subtle thing informing them that he was not of the
disturbing breed called officer, they ceased to regard him,
abandoning themselves to dumb and inexpressive felicity. Arm in arm,
touching each other, they seemed to Courtier very jolly, having that
look of living entirely in the moment, which always especially
appealed to one whose blood ran too fast to allow him to speculate
much upon the future or brood much over the past.
A leaf from the bough above him, loosened by the sun's kisses,
dropped, and fell yellow at his feet. The leaves were turning very
It was characteristic of this man, who could be so hot over the lost
causes of others, that, sitting there within half an hour of the
final loss of his own cause, he could be so calm, so almost
apathetic. This apathy was partly due to the hopelessness, which
Nature had long perceived, of trying to make him feel oppressed, but
also to the habits of a man incurably accustomed to carrying his
fortunes in his hand, and that hand open. It did not seem real to
him that he was actually going to suffer a defeat, to have to confess
that he had hankered after this girl all these past weeks, and that
to-morrow all would be wasted, and she as dead to him as if he had
never seen her. No, it was not exactly resignation, it was rather
sheer lack of commercial instinct. If only this had been the lost
cause of another person. How gallantly he would have rushed to the
assault, and taken her by storm! If only he himself could have been
that other person, how easily, how passionately could he not have
pleaded, letting forth from him all those words which had knocked at
his teeth ever since he knew her, and which would have seemed so
ridiculous and so unworthy, spoken on his own behalf. Yes, for that
other person he could have cut her out from under the guns of the
enemy; he could have taken her, that fairest prize.
And in queer, cheery-looking apathy--not far removed perhaps from
despair--he sat, watching the leaves turn over and fall, and now and
then cutting with his stick at the air, where autumn was already
riding. And, if in imagination he saw himself carrying her away into
the wilderness, and with his devotion making her happiness to grow,
it was so far a flight, that a smile crept about his lips, and once
or twice he snapped his jaws.
The soldier and his girl rose, passing in front of him down the Row.
He watched their scarlet and blue figures, moving slowly towards the
sun, and another couple close to the rails, crossing those receding
forms. Very straight and tall, there was something exhilarating in
the way this new couple swung along, holding their heads up, turning
towards each other, to exchange words or smiles. Even at that
distance they could be seen to be of high fashion; in their gait was
the almost insolent poise of those who are above doubts and cares,
certain of the world and of themselves. The girl's dress was tawny
brown, her hair and hat too of the same hue, and the pursuing
sunlight endowed her with a hazy splendour. Then, Courtier saw who
they were--that couple!
Except for an unconscious grinding of his teeth, he made no sound or
movement, so that they went by without seeing him. Her voice, though
not the words, came to him distinctly. He saw her hand slip up under
Harbinger's arm and swiftly down again. A smile, of whose existence
he was unaware, settled on his lips. He got up, shook himself, as a
dog shakes off a beating, and walked away, with his mouth set very
Left alone among the little mahogany tables of Gustard's, where the
scent of cake and of orange-flower water made happy all the air,
Barbara had sat for some minutes, her eyes cast down--as a child from
whom a toy has been taken contemplates the ground, not knowing
precisely what she is feeling. Then, paying one of the middle-aged
females, she went out into the Square. There a German band was
playing Delibes' Coppelia; and the murdered tune came haunting her, a
very ghost of incongruity.
She went straight back to Valleys House. In the room where three
hours ago she had been left alone after lunch with Harbinger, her
sister was seated in the window, looking decidedly upset. In fact,
Agatha had just spent an awkward hour. Chancing, with little Ann,
into that confectioner's where she could best obtain a particularly
gummy sweet which she believed wholesome for her children, she had
been engaged in purchasing a pound, when looking down, she perceived
Ann standing stock-still, with her sudden little nose pointed down
the shop, and her mouth opening; glancing in the direction of those
frank, enquiring eyes, Agatha saw to her amazement her sister, and a
man whom she recognized as Courtier. With a readiness which did her
complete credit, she placed a sweet in Ann's mouth, and saying to the
middle-aged female: "Then you'll send those, please. Come, Ann!"
went out. Shocks never coming singly, she had no sooner reached
home, than from her father she learned of the development of
Miltoun's love affair. When Barbara returned, she was sitting,
unfeignedly disturbed and grieved; unable to decide whether or no she
ought to divulge what she herself had seen, but withal buoyed-up by
that peculiar indignation of the essentially domestic woman, whose
ideals have been outraged.
Judging at once from the expression of her face that she must have
heard the news of Miltoun, Barbara said:
"Well, my dear Angel, any lecture for me?"
Agatha answered coldly:
"I think you were quite mad to take Mrs. Noel to him."
"The whole duty of woman," murmured Barbara, "includes a little
Agatha looked at her in silence.
"I can't make you out," she said at last; "you're not a fool!"
"Only a knave."
"You may think it right to joke over the ruin of Miltoun's life,"
murmured Agatha; "I don't."
Barbara's eyes grew bright; and in a hard voice she answered:
"The world is not your nursery, Angel!"
Agatha closed her lips very tightly, as who should imply: "Then it
ought to be!" But she only answered:
"I don't think you know that I saw you just now in Gustard's."
Barbara eyed her for a moment in amazement, and began to laugh.
"I see," she said; "monstrous depravity--poor old Gustard's!" And
still laughing that dangerous laugh, she turned on her heel and went
At dinner and afterwards that evening she was very silent, having on
her face the same look that she wore out hunting, especially when in
difficulties of any kind, or if advised to 'take a pull.' When she
got away to her own room she had a longing to relieve herself by some
kind of action that would hurt someone, if only herself. To go to
bed and toss about in a fever--for she knew herself in these thwarted
moods--was of no use! For a moment she thought of going out. That
would be fun, and hurt them, too; but it was difficult. She did not
want to be seen, and have the humiliation of an open row. Then there
came into her head the memory of the roof of the tower, where she had
once been as a little girl. She would be in the air there, she would
be able to breathe, to get rid of this feverishness. With the
unhappy pleasure of a spoiled child taking its revenge, she took care
to leave her bedroom door open, so that her maid would wonder where
she was, and perhaps be anxious, and make them anxious. Slipping
through the moonlit picture gallery on to the landing, outside her
father's sanctum, whence rose the stone staircase leading to the
roof, she began to mount. She was breathless when, after that
unending flight of stairs she emerged on to the roof at the extreme
northern end of the big house, where, below her, was a sheer drop of
a hundred feet. At first she stood, a little giddy, grasping the
rail that ran round that garden of lead, still absorbed in her
brooding, rebellious thoughts. Gradually she lost consciousness of
everything save the scene before her. High above all neighbouring
houses, she was almost appalled by the majesty of what she saw. This
night-clothed city, so remote and dark, so white-gleaming and alive,
on whose purple hills and valleys grew such myriad golden flowers of
light, from whose heart came this deep incessant murmur--could it
possibly be the same city through which she had been walking that
very day! From its sleeping body the supreme wistful spirit had
emerged in dark loveliness, and was low-flying down there, tempting
her. Barbara turned round, to take in all that amazing prospect,
from the black glades of Hyde Park, in front, to the powdery white
ghost of a church tower, away to the East. How marvellous was this
city of night! And as, in presence of that wide darkness of the sea
before dawn, her spirit had felt little and timid within her--so it
felt now, in face of this great, brooding, beautiful creature, whom
man had made. She singled out the shapes of the Piccadilly hotels,
and beyond them the palaces and towers of Westminster and Whitehall;
and everywhere the inextricable loveliness of dim blue forms and
sinuous pallid lines of light, under an indigo-dark sky. Near at
hand, she could see plainly the still-lighted windows, the motorcars
gliding by far down, even the tiny shapes of people walking; and the
thought that each of them meant someone like herself, seemed strange.
Drinking of this wonder-cup, she began to experience a queer
intoxication, and lost the sense of being little; rather she had the
feeling of power, as in her dream at Monkland. She too, as well as
this great thing below her, seemed to have shed her body, to be
emancipated from every barrier-floating deliciously identified with
air. She seemed to be one with the enfranchised spirit of the city,
drowned in perception of its beauty. Then all that feeling went, and
left her frowning, shivering, though the wind from the West was warm.
Her whole adventure of coming up here seemed bizarre, ridiculous.
Very stealthily she crept down, and had reached once more the door
into 'the picture gallery, when she heard her mother's voice say in
amazement: "That you, Babs?" And turning, saw her coming from the
doorway of the sanctum.
Of a sudden very cool, with all her faculties about her, Barbara
smiled, and stood looking at Lady Valleys, who said with hesitation:
"Come in here, dear, a minute, will you?"
In that room resorted to for comfort, Lord Valleys was standing with
his back to the hearth, and an expression on his face that wavered
between vexation and decision. The doubt in Agatha's mind whether
she should tell or no, had been terribly resolved by little Ann, who
in a pause of conversation had announced: "We saw Auntie Babs and Mr.
Courtier in Gustard's, but we didn't speak to them."
Upset by the events of the afternoon, Lady Valleys had not shown her
usual 'savoir faire'. She had told her husband. A meeting of this
sort in a shop celebrated for little save its wedding cakes was in a
sense of no importance; but, being disturbed already by the news of
Miltoun, it seemed to them both nothing less than sinister, as though
the heavens were in league for the demolition of their house. To
Lord Valleys it was peculiarly mortifying, because of his real
admiration for his daughter, and because he had paid so little
attention to his wife's warning of some weeks back. In consultation,
however, they had only succeeded in deciding that Lady Valleys should
talk with her. Though without much spiritual insight, they had, each
of them, a certain cool judgment; and were fully alive to the danger
of thwarting Barbara. This had not prevented Lord Valleys from
expressing himself strongly on the 'confounded unscrupulousness of
that fellow,' and secretly forming his own plan for dealing with this
matter. Lady Valleys, more deeply conversant with her daughter's
nature, and by reason of femininity more lenient towards the other
sex, had not tried to excuse Courtier, but had thought privately:
'Babs is rather a flirt.' For she could not altogether help
remembering herself at the same age.
Summoned thus unexpectedly, Barbara, her lips very firmly pressed
together, took her stand, coolly enough, by her father's writing-
Seeing her suddenly appear, Lord Valleys instinctively relaxed his
frown; his experience of men and things, his thousands of diplomatic
hours, served to give him an air of coolness and detachment which he
was very far from feeling. In truth he would rather have faced a
hostile mob than his favourite daughter in such circumstances. His
tanned face with its crisp grey moustache, his whole head indeed,
took on, unconsciously, a more than ordinarily soldierlike
appearance. His eyelids drooped a little, his brows rose slightly.
She was wearing a blue wrap over her evening frock, and he seized
instinctively on that indifferent trifle to begin this talk.
"Ah! Babs, have you been out?"
Alive to her very finger-nails, with every nerve tingling, but
showing no sign, Barbara answered:
"No; on the roof of the tower."
It gave her a real malicious pleasure to feel the perplexity beneath
her father's dignified exterior. And detecting that covert mockery,
Lord Valleys said dryly:
Then, with that sudden resolution peculiar to him, as though he were
bored with having to delay and temporize, he added:
"Do you know, I doubt whether it's wise to make appointments in
confectioner's shops when Ann is in London."
The dangerous little gleam in Barbara's eyes escaped his vision but
not that of Lady Valleys, who said at once:
"No doubt you had the best of reasons, my dear."
Barbara curled her lip. Had it not been for the scene they had been
through that day with Miltoun, and for their very real anxiety, both
would have seen, then, that while their daughter was in this mood,
least said was soonest mended. But their nerves were not quite
within control; and with more than a touch of impatience Lord Valleys
"It doesn't appear to you, I suppose, to require any explanation?"
"Ah!" said Lord Valleys: "I see. An explanation can be had no doubt
from the gentleman whose sense of proportion was such as to cause him
to suggest such a thing."
"He did not suggest it. I did."
Lord Valleys' eyebrows rose still higher.
"Indeed!" he said.
"Geoffrey!" murmured Lady Valleys, "I thought I was to talk to Babs."
"It would no doubt be wiser."
In Barbara, thus for the first time in her life seriously
reprimanded, there was at work the most peculiar sensation she had
ever felt, as if something were scraping her very skin--a sick, and
at the same time devilish, feeling. At that moment she could have
struck her father dead. But she showed nothing, having lowered the
lids of her eyes.
"Anything else?" she said.
Lord Valleys' jaw had become suddenly more prominent.
"As a sequel to your share in Miltoun's business, it is peculiarly
"My dear," broke in Lady Valleys very suddenly, "Babs will tell me.
It's nothing, of course."
Barbara's calm voice said again:
The repetition of this phrase in that maddening, cool voice almost
broke down her father's sorely tried control.
"Nothing from you," he said with deadly coldness. "I shall have the
honour of telling this gentleman what I think of him."
At those words Barbara drew herself together, and turned her eyes
from one face to the other.
Under that gaze, which for all its cool hardness, was so furiously
alive, neither Lord nor Lady Valleys could keep quite still. It was
as if she had stripped from them the well-bred mask of those whose
spirits, by long unquestioning acceptance of themselves, have become
inelastic, inexpansive, commoner than they knew. In fact a rather
awful moment! Then Barbara said:
"If there's nothing else, I'm going to bed. Goodnight!"
And as calmly as she had come in, she went out.
When she had regained her room, she locked the door, threw off her
cloak, and looked at herself in the glass. With pleasure she saw how
firmly her teeth were clenched, how her breast was heaving, and how
her eyes seemed to be stabbing herself. And all the time she
"Very well! My dears! Very well!"
In that mood of rebellious mortification she fell asleep. And,
curiously enough, dreamed not of him whom she had in mind been so
furiously defending, but of Harbinger. She fancied herself in
prison, lying in a cell fashioned like the drawing-room at Sea house;
and in the next cell, into which she could somehow look, Harbinger
was digging at the wall with his nails. She could distinctly see the
hair on the back of his hands, and hear him breathing. The hole he
was making grew larger and larger. Her heart began to beat
furiously; she awoke.
She rose with a new and malicious resolution to show no sign of
rebellion, to go through the day as if nothing had happened, to
deceive them all, and then--! Exactly what 'and then' meant, she did
not explain even to herself.
In accordance with this plan of action she presented an untroubled
front at breakfast, went out riding with little Ann, and shopping
with her mother afterwards. Owing to this news of Miltoun the
journey to Scotland had been postponed. She parried with cool
ingenuity each attempt made by Lady Valleys to draw her into
conversation on the subject of that meeting at Gustard's, nor would
she talk of her brother; in every other way she was her usual self.
In the afternoon she even volunteered to accompany her mother to old
Lady Harbinger's in the neighbourhood of Prince's Gate. She knew
that Harbinger would be there, and with the thought of meeting that
other at 'five o'clock,' had a cynical pleasure in thus encountering
him. It was so complete a blind to them all! Then, feeling that she
was accomplishing a masterstroke; she even told him, in her mother's
hearing, that she would walk home, and he might come if he cared. He
But when once she had begun to swing along in the mellow afternoon,
under the mellow trees, where the air was sweetened by the South-West
wind, all that mutinous, reckless mood of hers vanished, she felt
suddenly happy and kind, glad to be walking with him. To-day too he
was cheerful, as if determined not to spoil her gaiety; and she was
grateful for this. Once or twice she even put her hand up and
touched his sleeve, calling his attention to birds or trees,
friendly, and glad, after all those hours of bitter feelings, to be
giving happiness. When they parted at the door of Valleys House, she
looked back at him with a queer, half-rueful smile. For, now the
hour had come!
In a little unfrequented ante-room, all white panels and polish, she
sat down to wait. The entrance drive was visible from here; and she
meant to encounter Courtier casually in the hall. She was excited,
and a little scornful of her own excitement. She had expected him to
be punctual, but it was already past five; and soon she began to feel
uneasy, almost ridiculous, sitting in this room where no one ever
came. Going to the window, she looked out.
A sudden voice behind her, said:
Turning, she saw little Ann regarding her with those wide, frank,
hazel eyes. A shiver of nerves passed through Barbara.
"Is this your room? It's a nice room, isn't it?"
"Quite a nice room, Ann."
"Yes. I've never been in here before. There's somebody just come,
so I must go now."
Barbara involuntarily put her hands up to her cheeks, and quickly
passed with her niece into the hall. At the very door the footman
William handed her a note. She looked at the superscription. It was
from Courtier. She went back into the room. Through its half-closed
door the figure of little Ann could be seen, with her legs rather
wide apart, and her hands clasped on her low-down belt, pointing up
at William her sudden little nose. Barbara shut the door abruptly,
broke the seal, and read:
"DEAR LADY BARBARA,
"I am sorry to say my interview with your brother was fruitless.
"I happened to be sitting in the Park just now, and I want to wish
you every happiness before I go. It has been the greatest pleasure
to know you. I shall never have a thought of you that will not be my
pride; nor a memory that will not help me to believe that life is
good. If I am tempted to feel that things are dark, I shall remember
that you are breathing this same mortal air. And to beauty and joy'
I shall take off my hat with the greater reverence, that once I was
permitted to walk and talk, with you. And so, good-bye, and God
Your faithful servant,
Her cheeks burned, quick sighs escaped her lips; she read the letter
again, but before getting to the end could not see the words for
mist. If in that letter there had been a word of complaint or even
of regret! She could not let him go like this, without good-bye,
without any explanation at all. He should not think of her as a
cold, stony flirt, who had been merely stealing a few weeks'
amusement out of him. She would explain to him at all events that it
had not been that. She would make him understand that it was not
what he thought--that something in her wanted--wanted----! Her mind
was all confused. "What was it?" she thought: "What did I do?" And
sore with anger at herself, she screwed the letter up in her glove,
and ran out. She walked swiftly down to Piccadilly, and crossed into
the Green Park. There she passed Lord Malvezin and a friend
strolling up towards Hyde Park Corner, and gave them a very faint
bow. The composure of those two precise and well-groomed figures
sickened her just then. She wanted to run, to fly to this meeting
that should remove from him the odious feelings he must have, that
she, Barbara Caradoc, was a vulgar enchantress, a common traitress
and coquette! And his letter--without a syllable of reproach! Her
cheeks burned so, that she could not help trying to hide them from
people who passed.
As she drew nearer to his rooms she walked slower, forcing herself to
think what she should do, what she should let him do! But she
continued resolutely forward. She would not shrink now--whatever
came of it! Her heart fluttered, seemed to stop beating, fluttered
again. She set her teeth; a sort of desperate hilarity rose in her.
It was an adventure! Then she was gripped by the feeling that had
come to her on the roof. The whole thing was bizarre, ridiculous!
She stopped, and drew the letter from her glove. It might be
ridiculous, but it was due from her; and closing her lips very tight,
she walked on. In thought she was already standing close to him, her
eyes shut, waiting, with her heart beating wildly, to know what she
would feel when his lips had spoken, perhaps touched her face or
hand. And she had a sort of mirage vision of herself, with eyelashes
resting on her cheeks, lips a little parted, arms helpless at her
sides. Yet, incomprehensibly, his figure was invisible. She
discovered then that she was standing before his door.
She rang the bell calmly, but instead of dropping her hand, pressed
the little bare patch of palm left open by the glove to her face, to
see whether it was indeed her own cheek flaming so.
The door had been opened by some unseen agency, disclosing a passage
and flight of stairs covered by a red carpet, at the foot of which
lay an old, tangled, brown-white dog full of fleas and sorrow.
Unreasoning terror seized on Barbara; her body remained rigid, but
her spirit began flying back across the Green Park, to the very hall
of Valleys House. Then she saw coming towards her a youngish woman
in a blue apron, with mild, reddened eyes.
"Is this where Mr. Courtier lives?"
"Yes, miss." The teeth of the young woman were few in number and
rather black; and Barbara could only stand there saying nothing, as
if her body had been deserted between the sunlight and this dim red
passage, which led to-what?
The woman spoke again:
"I'm sorry if you was wanting him, miss, he's just gone away."
Barbara felt a movement in her heart, like the twang and quiver of an
elastic band, suddenly relaxed. She bent to stroke the head of the
old dog, who was smelling her shoes. The woman said:
"And, of course, I can't give you his address, because he's gone to
With a murmur, of whose sense she knew nothing, Barbara hurried out
into the sunshine. Was she glad? Was she sorry? At the corner of
the street she turned and looked back; the two heads, of the woman
and the dog, were there still, poked out through the doorway.
A horrible inclination to laugh seized her, followed by as horrible a
desire to cry.
By the river the West wind, whose murmuring had visited Courtier and
Miltoun the night before, was bringing up the first sky of autumn.
Slow-creeping and fleecy grey, the clouds seemed trying to overpower
a sun that shone but fitfully even thus early in the day. While
Audrey Noel was dressing sunbeams danced desperately on the white
wall, like little lost souls with no to-morrow, or gnats that wheel
and wheel in brief joy, leaving no footmarks on the air. Through the
chinks of a side window covered by a dark blind some smoky filaments
of light were tethered to the back of her mirror. Compounded of
trembling grey spirals, so thick to the eye that her hand felt
astonishment when it failed to grasp them, and so jealous as ghosts
of the space they occupied, they brought a moment's distraction to a
heart not happy. For how could she be happy, her lover away from her
now thirty hours, without having overcome with his last kisses the
feeling of disaster which had settled on her when he told her of his
resolve. Her eyes had seen deeper than his; her instinct had
received a message from Fate.
To be the dragger-down, the destroyer of his usefulness; to be not
the helpmate, but the clog; not the inspiring sky, but the cloud!
And because of a scruple which she could not understand! She had no
anger with that unintelligible scruple; but her fatalism, and her
sympathy had followed it out into his future. Things being so, it
could not be long before he felt that her love was maiming him; even
if he went on desiring her, it would be only with his body. And if,
for this scruple, he were capable of giving up his public life, he
would be capable of living on with her after his love was dead! This
thought she could not bear. It stung to the very marrow of her
nerves. And yet surely Life could not be so cruel as to have given
her such happiness meaning to take it from her! Surely her love was
not to be only one summer's day; his love but an embrace, and then--
for ever nothing!
This morning, fortified by despair, she admitted her own beauty. He
would, he must want her more than that other life, at the very
thought of which her face darkened. That other life so hard, and far
from her! So loveless, formal, and yet--to him so real, so
desperately, accursedly real! If he must indeed give up his career,
then surely the life they could live together would make up to him--
a life among simple and sweet things, all over the world, with music
and pictures, and the flowers and all Nature, and friends who sought
them for themselves, and in being kind to everyone, and helping the
poor and the unfortunate, and loving each other! But he did not want
that sort of life! What was the good of pretending that he did? It
was right and natural he should want, to use his powers! To lead and
serve! She would not have him otherwise: With these thoughts
hovering and darting within her, she went on twisting and coiling her
dark hair, and burying her heart beneath its lace defences. She
noted too, with her usual care, two fading blossoms in the bowl of
flowers on her dressing-table, and, removing their, emptied out the
water and refilled the bowl.
Before she left her bedroom the sunbeams had already ceased to dance,
the grey filaments of light were gone. Autumn sky had come into its
own. Passing the mirror in the hall which was always rough with her,
she had not courage to glance at it. Then suddenly a woman's belief
in the power of her charm came to her aid; she felt almost happy--
surely he must love her better than his conscience! But that
confidence was very tremulous, ready to yield to the first rebuff.
Even the friendly fresh--cheeked maid seemed that morning to be
regarding her with compassion; and all the innate sense, not of 'good
form,' but of form, which made her shrink from anything that should
disturb or hurt another, or make anyone think she was to be pitied,
rose up at once within her; she became more than ever careful to show
nothing even to herself. So she passed the morning, mechanically
doing the little usual things. An overpowering longing was with her
all the time, to get him away with her from England, and see whether
the thousand beauties she could show him would not fire him with love
of the things she loved. As a girl she had spent nearly three years
abroad. And Eustace had never been to Italy, nor to her beloved
mountain valleys! Then, the remembrance of his rooms at the Temple
broke in on that vision, and shattered it. No Titian's feast of
gentian, tawny brown, and alpen-rose could intoxicate the lover of
those books, those papers, that great map. And the scent of leather
came to her now as poignantly as if she were once more flitting about
noiselessly on her business of nursing. Then there rushed through
her again the warm wonderful sense that had been with her all those
precious days--of love that knew secretly of its approaching triumph
and fulfilment; the delicious sense of giving every minute of her
time, every thought, and movement; and all the sweet unconscious
waiting for the divine, irrevocable moment when at last she would
give herself and be his. The remembrance too of how tired, how
sacredly tired she had been, and of how she had smiled all the time
with her inner joy of being tired for him.
The sound of the bell startled her. His telegram had said, the
afternoon! She determined to show nothing of the trouble darkening
the whole world for her, and drew a deep breath, waiting for his
It was not Miltoun, but Lady Casterley.
The shock sent the blood buzzing into her temples. Then she noticed
that the little figure before her was also trembling; drawing up a
chair, she said: "Won't you sit down?"
The tone of that old voice, thanking her, brought back sharply the
memory of her garden, at Monkland, bathed in the sweetness and
shimmer of summer, and of Barbara standing at her gate towering above
this little figure, which now sat there so silent, with very white
face. Those carved features, those keen, yet veiled eyes, had too
often haunted her thoughts; they were like a bad dream come true.
"My grandson is not here, is he?"
Audrey shook her head.
"We have heard of his decision. I will not beat about the bush with
you. It is a disaster for me a calamity. I have known and loved him
since he was born, and I have been foolish enough to dream, dreams
about him. I wondered perhaps whether you knew how much we counted
on him. You must forgive an old woman's coming here like this. At
my age there are few things that matter, but they matter very much."
And Audrey thought: "And at my age there is but one thing that
matters, and that matters worse than death." But she did not speak.
To whom, to what should she speak? To this hard old woman, who
personified the world? Of what use, words?,,
"I can say to you," went on the voice of the little figure, that
seemed so to fill the room with its grey presence, "what I could not
bring myself to say to others; for you are not hard-hearted."
A quiver passed up from the heart so praised to the still lips. No,
she was not hard-hearted! She could even feel for this old woman
from whose voice anxiety had stolen its despotism.
"Eustace cannot live without his career. His career is himself, he
must be doing, and leading, and spending his powers. What he has
given you is not his true self. I don't want to hurt you, but the
truth is the truth, and we must all bow before it. I may be hard,
but I can respect sorrow."
To respect sorrow! Yes, this grey visitor could do that, as the wind
passing over the sea respects its surface, as the air respects the
surface of a rose, but to penetrate to the heart, to understand her
sorrow, that old age could not do for youth! As well try to track
out the secret of the twistings in the flight of those swallows out
there above the river, or to follow to its source the faint scent of
the lilies in that bowl! How should she know what was passing in
here--this little old woman whose blood was cold? And Audrey had the
sensation of watching someone pelt her with the rind and husks of
what her own spirit had long devoured. She had a longing to get up,
and take the hand, the chill, spidery hand of age, and thrust it into
her breast, and say: "Feel that, and cease!"
But, withal, she never lost her queer dull compassion for the owner
of that white carved face. It was not her visitor's fault that she
had come! Again Lady Casterley was speaking.
"It is early days. If you do not end it now, at once, it will only
come harder on you presently. You know how determined he is. He
will not change his mind. If you cut him off from his work in life,
it will but recoil on you. I can only expect your hatred, for
talking like this, but believe me, it's for your good, as well as
his, in the long run."
A tumultuous heart-beating of ironical rage seized on the listener to
that speech. Her good! The good of a corse that the breath is just
abandoning; the good of a flower beneath a heel; the good of an old
dog whose master leaves it for the last time! Slowly a weight like
lead stopped all that fluttering of her heart. If she did not end it
at once! The words had now been spoken that for so many hours, she
knew, had lain unspoken within her own breast. Yes, if she did not,
she could never know a moment's peace, feeling that she was forcing
him to a death in life, desecrating her own love and pride! And the
spur had been given by another! The thought that someone--this hard
old woman of the hard world--should have shaped in words the
hauntings of her love and pride through all those ages since Miltoun
spoke to her of his resolve; that someone else should have had to
tell her what her heart had so long known it must do--this stabbed
her like a knife! This, at all events, she could not bear!
She stood up, and said:
"Please leave me now! I have a great many things to do, before I
With a sort of pleasure she saw a look of bewilderment cover that old
face; with a sort of pleasure she marked the trembling of the hands
raising their owner from the chair; and heard the stammering in the
voice: "You are going? Before-before he comes? You-you won't be
seeing him again?" With a sort of pleasure she marked the
hesitation, which did not know whether to thank, or bless, or just
say nothing and creep away. With a sort of pleasure she watched the
flush mount in the faded cheeks, the faded lips pressed together.
Then, at the scarcely whispered words: "Thank you, my dear!" she
turned, unable to bear further sight or sound. She went to the
window and pressed her forehead against the glass, trying to think of
nothing. She heard the sound of wheels-Lady Casterley had gone. And
then, of all the awful feelings man or woman can know, she
experienced the worst: She could not cry!
At this most bitter and deserted moment of her life, she felt
strangely calm, foreseeing clearly, exactly; what she must do, and
where go. Quickly it must be done, or it would never be done!
Quickly! And without fuss! She put some things together, sent the
maid out for a cab, and sat down to write.
She must do and say nothing that could excite him, and bring back his
illness. Let it all be sober, reasonable! It would be easy to let
him know where she was going, to write a letter that would bring him
flying after her. But to write the calm, reasonable words that would
keep him waiting and thinking, till he never again came to her, broke
When she had finished and sealed the letter, she sat motionless with
a numb feeling in hands and brain, trying to realize what she had
next to do. To go, and that was all!
Her trunks had been taken down already. She chose the little hat
that he liked her best in, and over it fastened her thickest veil.
Then, putting on her travelling coat and gloves, she looked in the
long mirror, and seeing that there was nothing more to keep her,
lifted her dressing bag, and went down.
Over on the embankment a child was crying; and the passionate
screaming sound, broken by the gulping of tears, made her cover her
lips, as though she had heard her own escaped soul wailing out there.
She leaned out of the cab to say to the maid:
"Go and comfort that crying, Ella."
Only when she was alone in the train, secure from all eyes, did she
give way to desperate weeping. The white smoke rolling past the
windows was not more evanescent than her joy had been. For she had
no illusions--it was over! From first to last--not quite a year!
But even at this moment, not for all the world would she have been
without her love, gone to its grave, like a dead child that evermore
would be touching her breast with its wistful fingers.
Barbara returning from her visit to Courtier's deserted rooms, was
met at Valleys House with the message: Would she please go at once to
When, in obedience, she reached Ravensham, she found her grandmother
and Lord-Dennis in the white room. They were standing by one of the
tall windows, apparently contemplating the view. They turned indeed
at sound of Barbara's approach, but neither of them spoke or nodded.
Not having seen her grandfather since before Miltoun's illness,
Barbara found it strange to be so treated; she too took her stand
silently before the window. A very large wasp was crawling up the
pane, then slipping down with a faint buzz.
Suddenly Lady Casterley spoke.
"Kill that thing!"
Lord Dennis drew forth his handkerchief.
"Not with that, Dennis. It will make a mess. "Take a paper knife."
"I was going to put it out," murmured Lord Dennis.
"Let Barbara with her gloves."
Barbara moved towards the pane.
"It's a hornet, I think," she said.
"So he is!" said Lord Dennis, dreamily:
"Nonsense," murmured Lady Casterley, "it's a common wasp."
"I know it's a hornet, Granny. The rings are darker."
Lady Casterley bent down; when she raised herself she had a slipper
in her hand.
"Don't irritate him!" cried Barbara, catching her wrist. But Lady
Casterley freed her hand.
"I will," she said, and brought the sole of the slipper down on the
insect, so that it dropped on the floor, dead. "He has no business
And, as if that little incident had happened to three other people,
they again stood silently looking through the window.
Then Lady Casterley turned to Barbara.
"Well, have you realized the mischief that you've done?"
"Ann!" murmured Lord Dennis.
"Yes, yes; she is your favourite, but that won't save her. This
woman--to her great credit--I say to her great credit--has gone away,
so as to put herself out of Eustace's reach, until he has recovered
With a sharp-drawn breath Barbara said:
"Oh! poor thing!"
But on Lady Casterley's face had come an almost cruel look.
"Ah!" she said: "Exactly. But, curiously enough, I am thinking of
Eustace." Her little figure was quivering from head to foot: "This
will be a lesson to you not to play with fire!"
"Ann!" murmured Lord Dennis again, slipping his arm through
"The world," went on Lady Casterley, "is a place of facts, not of
romantic fancies. You have done more harm than can possibly be
repaired. I went to her myself. I was very much moved.' If it
hadn't been for your foolish conduct----"
"Ann!" said Lord Dennis once more.
Lady Casterley paused, tapping the floor with her little foot.
Barbara's eyes were gleaming.
"Is there anything else you would like to squash, dear?"
"Babs!" murmured Lord Dennis; but, unconsciously pressing his hand
against her heart, the girl went on.
"You are lucky to be abusing me to-day--if it had been yesterday----"
At these dark words Lady Casterley turned away, her shoes leaving
little dull stains on the polished floor.
Barbara raised to her cheek the fingers which she had been so
convulsively embracing. "Don't let her go on, uncle," she whispered,
"not just now!"
"No, no, my dear," Lord Dennis murmured, "certainly not--it is
"It has been your sentimental folly," came Lady Casterley's voice
from a far corner, "which has brought this on the boy."
Responding to the pressure of the hand, back now at her waist,
Barbara did not answer; and the sound of the little feet retracing
their steps rose in the stillness. Neither of those two at the
window turned their heads; once more the feet receded, and again
began coming back.
Suddenly Barbara, pointing to the floor, cried:
"Oh! Granny, for Heaven's sake, stand still; haven't you squashed
the hornet enough, even if he did come in where he hadn't any
Lady Casterley looked down at the debris of the insect.
"Disgusting!" she said; but when she next spoke it was in a less
hard, more querulous voice.
"That man--what was his name--have you got rid of him?"
Barbara went crimson.
"Abuse my friends, and I will go straight home and never speak to you
For a moment Lady Casterley looked almost as if she might strike her
granddaughter; then a little sardonic smile broke out on her face.
"A creditable sentiment!" she said.
Letting fall her uncle's hand, Barbara cried:
"In any case, I'd better go. I don't know why you sent for me."
Lady Casterley answered coldly:
"To let you and your mother know of this woman's most unselfish
behaviour; to put you on the 'qui vive' for what Eustace may do now;
to give you a chance to make up for your folly. Moreover to warn you
against----" she paused.
"Let me----" interrupted Lord Dennis.
"No, Uncle Dennis, let Granny take her shoe!"
She had withdrawn against the wall, tall, and as it were, formidable,
with her head up. Lady Casterley remained silent.
"Have you got it ready?" cried Barbara: "Unfortunately he's flown!"
A voice said:
He had come in quietly and quickly, preceding the announcement, and
stood almost touching that little group at the window before they
caught sight of him. His face had the rather ghastly look of
sunburnt faces from which emotion has driven the blood; and his eyes,
always so much the most living part of him, were full of such
stabbing anger, that involuntarily they all looked down.
"I want to speak to you alone," he said to Lady Casterley.
Visibly, for perhaps the first time in her life, that indomitable
little figure flinched. Lord Dennis drew Barbara away, but at the
door he whispered:
"Stay here quietly, Babs; I don't like the look of this."
Unnoticed, Barbara remained hovering.
The two voices, low, and so far off in the long white room, were
uncannily distinct, emotion charging each word with preternatural
power of penetration; and every movement of the speakers had to the
girl's excited eyes a weird precision, as of little figures she had
once seen at a Paris puppet show. She could hear Miltoun reproaching
his grandmother in words terribly dry and bitter. She edged nearer
and nearer, till, seeing that they paid no more heed to her than if
she were an attendant statue, she had regained her position by the
Lady Casterley was speaking.
"I was not going to see you ruined before my eyes, Eustace. I did
what I did at very great cost. I did my best for you."
Barbara saw Miltoun's face transfigured by a dreadful smile--the
smile of one defying his torturer with hate. Lady Casterley went on:
"Yes, you stand there looking like a devil. Hate me if you like--but
don't betray us, moaning and moping because you can't have the moon.
Put on your armour, and go down into the battle. Don't play the
Miltoun's answer cut like the lash of a whip.
"By God! Be silent!"
And weirdly, there was silence. It was not the brutality of the
words, but the sight of force suddenly naked of all disguise--like a
fierce dog let for a moment off its chain--which made Barbara utter a
little dismayed sound. Lady Casterley had dropped into a chair,
trembling. And without a look Miltoun passed her. If their
grandmother had fallen dead, Barbara knew he would not have stopped
to see. She ran forward, but the old woman waved her away.
"Go after him," she said, "don't let him go alone."
And infected by the fear in that wizened voice, Barbara flew.
She caught her brother as he was entering the taxi-cab in which he
had come, and without a word slipped in beside him. The driver's
face appeared at the window, but Miltoun only motioned with his head,
as if to say: Anywhere, away from here!
The thought flashed through Barbara: "If only I can keep him in here
She leaned out, and said quietly:
"To Nettlefold, in Sussex--never mind your petrol--get more on the
road. You can have what fare you like. Quick!"
The man hesitated, looked in her face, and said:
"Very well; miss. By Dorking, ain't it?"
The clock over the stables was chiming seven when Miltoun and Barbara
passed out of the tall iron gates, in their swift-moving small world,
that smelled faintly of petrol. Though the cab was closed, light
spurts of rain drifted in through the open windows, refreshing the
girl's hot face, relieving a little her dread of this drive. For,
now that Fate had been really cruel, now that it no longer lay in
Miltoun's hands to save himself from suffering, her heart bled for
him; and she remembered to forget herself. The immobility with which
he had received her intrusion, was ominous. And though silent in her
corner, she was desperately working all her woman's wits to discover
a way of breaking into the house of his secret mood. He appeared not
even to have noticed that they had turned their backs on London, and
passed into Richmond Park.
Here the trees, made dark by rain, seemed to watch gloomily the
progress of this whirring-wheeled red box, unreconciled even yet to
such harsh intruders on their wind-scented tranquillity. And the
deer, pursuing happiness on the sweet grasses, raised disquieted
noses, as who should say: Poisoners of the fern, defilers of the
trails of air!
Barbara vaguely felt the serenity out there in the clouds, and the
trees, and wind. If it would but creep into this dim, travelling
prison, and help her; if it would but come, like sleep, and steal
away dark sorrow, and in one moment make grief-joy. But it stayed
outside on its wistful wings; and that grand chasm which yawns
between soul and soul remained unbridged. For what could she say?
How make him speak of what he was going to do? What alternatives
indeed were now before him? Would he sullenly resign his seat, and
wait till he could find Audrey Noel again? But even if he did find
her, they would only be where they were. She had gone, in order not
to be a drag on him--it would only be the same thing all over again!
Would he then, as Granny had urged him, put on his armour, and go
down into the fight? But that indeed would mean the end, for if she
had had the strength to go away now, she would surely never come back
and break in on his life a second time. And a grim thought swooped
down on Barbara. What if he resigned everything! Went out into the
dark! Men did sometimes--she knew--caught like this in the full
flush of passion. But surely not Miltoun, with his faith! 'If the
lark's song means nothing--if that sky is a morass of our invention--
if we are pettily creeping on, furthering nothing--persuade me of it,
Babs, and I'll bless you.' But had he still that anchorage, to
prevent him slipping out to sea? This sudden thought of death to one
for whom life was joy, who had never even seen the Great Stillness,
was very terrifying. She fixed her eyes on the back of the
chauffeur, in his drab coat with the red collar, finding some comfort
in its solidity. They were in a taxi-cab, in Richmond Park! Death-
incongruous, incredible death! It was stupid to be frightened! She
forced herself to look at Miltoun. He seemed to be asleep; his eyes
were closed, his arms folded--only a quivering of his eyelids
betrayed him. Impossible to tell what was going on in that grim
waking sleep, which made her feel that she was not there at all, so
utterly did he seem withdrawn into himself!
He opened his eyes, and said suddenly:
"So you think I'm going to lay hands on myself, Babs?"
Horribly startled by this reading of her thoughts, Barbara could only
edge away and stammer:
"No; oh, no!"
"Where are we going in this thing?"
"Nettlefold. Would you like him stopped?"
"It will do as well as anywhere."
Terrified lest he should relapse into that grim silence, she timidly
possessed herself of his hand.
It was fast growing dark; the cab, having left the villas of Surbiton
behind, was flying along at great speed among pine-trees and
stretches of heather gloomy with faded daylight.
Miltoun said presently, in a queer, slow voice "If I want, I have
only to open that door and jump. You who believe that 'to-morrow we
die'--give me the faith to feel that I can free myself by that jump,
and out I go!" Then, seeming to pity her terrified squeeze of his
hand, he added: "It's all right, Babs; we, shall sleep comfortably
enough in our beds tonight."
But, so desolate to the girl was his voice, that she hoped now for
"Let us be skinned quietly," muttered Miltoun, "if nothing else.
Sorry to have disturbed you."
Pressing close up to him, Barbara murmured:
"If only---- Talk to me!".
But Miltoun, though he stroked her hand, was silent.
The cab, moving at unaccustomed speed along these deserted roads,
moaned dismally; and Barbara was possessed now by a desire which she
dared not put in practice, to pull his head down, and rock it against
her. Her heart felt empty, and timid; to have something warm resting
on it would have made all the difference. Everything real,
substantial, comforting, seemed to have slipped away. Among these
flying dark ghosts of pine-trees--as it were the unfrequented
borderland between two worlds--the feeling of a cheek against her
breast alone could help muffle the deep disquiet in her, lost like a
child in a wood.
The cab slackened speed, the driver was lighting his lamps; and his
red face appeared at the window.
"We'll 'ave to stop here, miss; I'm out of petrol. Will you get some
dinner, or go through?"
"Through," answered Barbara:
While they were passing the little their, buying then petrol, asking
the way, she felt less miserable, and even looked about her with a
sort of eagerness. Then when they had started again, she thought: If
I could get him to sleep--the sea will comfort him! But his eyes
were staring, wide-open. She feigned sleep herself; letting her head
slip a little to one side, causing small sounds of breathing to
escape. The whirring of the wheels, the moaning of the cab joints,
the dark trees slipping by, the scent of the wet fern drifting in,
all these must surely help! And presently she felt that he was
indeed slipping into darkness--and then-she felt nothing.
When she awoke from the sleep into which she had seen Miltoun fall,
the cab was slowly mounting a steep hill, above which the moon had
risen. The air smelled strong and sweet, as though it had passed
over leagues of grass.
"The Downs!" she thought; "I must have been asleep!"
In sudden terror, she looked round for Miltoun. But he was still
there, exactly as before, leaning back rigid in his corner of the
cab, with staring eyes, and no other signs of life. And still only
half awake, like a great warm sleepy child startled out of too deep
slumber, she clutched, and clung to him. The thought that he had
been sitting like that, with his spirit far away, all the time that
she had been betraying her watch in sleep, was dreadful. But to her
embrace there was no response, and awake indeed now, ashamed, sore,
Barbara released him, and turned her face to the air.
Out there, two thin, dense-black, long clouds, shaped like the wings
of a hawk, had joined themselves together, so that nothing of the
moon showed but a living brightness imprisoned, like the eyes and
life of a bird, between those swift sweeps of darkness. This great
uncanny spirit, brooding malevolent over the high leagues of moon-wan
grass, seemed waiting to swoop, and pluck up in its talons, and
devour, all that intruded on the wild loneness of these far-up plains
of freedom. Barbara almost expected to hear coming from it the lost
whistle of the buzzard hawks. And her dream came back to her. Where
were her wings-the wings that in sleep had borne her to the stars;
the wings that would never lift her--waking--from the ground? Where
too were Miltoun's wings? She crouched back into her corner; a tear
stole up and trickled out between her closed lids-another and another
followed. Faster and faster they came. Then she felt Miltoun's arm
round her, and heard him say: "Don't cry, Babs!" Instinct telling
her what to do, she laid her head against his chest, and sobbed
bitterly. Struggling with those sobs, she grew less and less
unhappy--knowing that he could never again feel quite so desolate, as
before he tried to give her comfort. It was all a bad dream, and
they would soon wake from it! And they would be happy; as happy as
they had been before--before these last months! And she whispered:
"Only a little while, Eusty!"
Old Lady Harbinger dying in the early February of the following year,
the marriage of Barbara with her son was postponed till June.
Much of the wild sweetness of Spring still clung to the high moor
borders of Monkland on the early morning of the wedding day.
Barbara was already up and dressed for riding when her maid came to
call her; and noting Stacey's astonished eyes fix themselves on her
boots, she said:
"It'll tire you."
"Nonsense; I'm not going to be hung."
Refusing the company of a groom, she made her way towards the stretch
of high moor where she had ridden with Courtier a year ago. Here
over the short, as yet unflowering, heather, there was a mile or more
of level galloping ground. She mounted steadily, and her spirit
rode, as it were, before her, longing to get up there among the
peewits and curlew, to feel the crisp, peaty earth slip away under
her, and the wind drive in her face, under that deep blue sky.
Carried by this warm-blooded sweetheart of hers, ready to jump out of
his smooth hide with pleasure, snuffling and sneezing in sheer joy,
whose eye she could see straying round to catch a glimpse of her
intentions, from whose lips she could hear issuing the sweet bitt-
music, whose vagaries even seemed designed to startle from her a
closer embracing--she was filled with a sort of delicious impatience
with everything that was not this perfect communing with vigour.
Reaching the top, she put him into a gallop. With the wind furiously
assailing her face and throat, every muscle crisped; and all her
blood tingling--this was a very ecstasy of motion!
She reined in at the cairn whence she and Courtier had looked down at
the herds of ponies. It was the merest memory now, vague and a
little sweet, like the remembrance of some exceptional Spring day,
when trees seem to flower before your eyes, and in sheer wantonness
exhale a scent of lemons. The ponies were there still, and in
distance the shining sea. She sat thinking of nothing, but how good
it was to be alive. The fullness and sweetness of it all, the
freedom and strength! Away to the West over a lonely farm she could
see two buzzard hawks hunting in wide circles. She did not envy
them--so happy was she, as happy as the morning. And there came to
her suddenly the true, the overmastering longing of mountain tops.
"I must," she thought; "I simply must!"
Slipping off her horse she lay down on her back, and at once
everything was lost except the sky. Over her body, supported above
solid earth by the warm, soft heather, the wind skimmed without sound
or touch. Her spirit became one with that calm unimaginable freedom.
Transported beyond her own contentment, she no longer even knew
whether she was joyful.
The horse Hal, attempting to eat her sleeve, aroused her. She
mounted him, and rode down. Near home she took a short cut across a
meadow, through which flowed two thin bright streams, forming a delta
full of lingering 'milkmaids,' mauve marsh orchis, and yellow flags.
>From end to end of this long meadow, so varied, so pied with trees
and stones, and flowers, and water, the last of the Spring was
Some ponies, shyly curious of Barbara and her horse, stole up, and
stood at a safe distance, with their noses dubiously stretched out,
swishing their lean tails. And suddenly, far up, following their own
music, two cuckoos flew across, seeking the thorn-trees out on the
moor. While she was watching the arrowy birds, she caught sight of
someone coming towards her from a clump of beech-trees, and suddenly
saw that it was Mrs. Noel!
She rode forward, flushing. What dared she say? Could she speak of
her wedding, and betray Miltoun's presence? Could she open her mouth
at all without rousing painful feeling of some sort? Then, impatient
of indecision, she began:
"I'm so glad to see you again. I didn't know you were still down
"I only came back to England yesterday, and I'm just here to see to
the packing of my things."
"Oh!" murmured Barbara. "You know what's happening to me, I
Mrs. Noel smiled, looked up, and said: "I heard last night. All joy
A lump rose in Barbara's throat.
"I'm so glad to have seen you," she murmured once more; "I expect I
ought to be getting on," and with the word " Good-bye," gently
echoed, she rode away.
But her mood of delight was gone; even the horse Hal seemed to tread
unevenly, for all that he was going back to that stable which ever
appeared to him desirable ten minutes after he had left it.
Except that her eyes seemed darker, Mrs. Noel had not changed. If
she had shown the faintest sign of self-pity, the girl would never
have felt, as she did now, so sorry and upset.
Leaving the stables, she saw that the wind was driving up a huge,
white, shining cloud. "Isn't it going to be fine after all!" she
Re-entering the house by an old and so-called secret stairway that
led straight to the library, she had to traverse that great dark
room. There, buried in an armchair in front of the hearth she saw
Miltoun with a book on his knee, not reading, but looking up at the
picture of the old Cardinal. She hurried on, tiptoeing over the.
soft carpet, holding her breath, fearful of disturbing the queer
interview, feeling guilty, too, of her new knowledge, which she did
not mean to impart. She had burnt her fingers once at the flame
between them; she would not do so a second time!
Through the window at the far end she saw that the cloud had burst;
it was raining furiously. She regained her bedroom unseen. In spite
of her joy out there on the moor, this last adventure of her girlhood
had not been all success; she had again the old sensations, the old
doubts, the dissatisfaction which she had thought dead. Those two!
To shut one's eyes, and be happy--was it possible! A great rainbow,
the nearest she had ever seen, had sprung up in the park, and was
come to earth again in some fields close by. The sun was shining out
already through the wind-driven bright rain. Jewels of blue had
begun to star the black and white and golden clouds. A strange white
light-ghost of Spring passing in this last violent outburst-painted
the leaves of every tree; and a hundred savage hues had come down
like a motley of bright birds on moor and fields.
The moment of desperate beauty caught Barbara by the throat. Its
spirit of galloping wildness flew straight into her heart. She
clasped her hands across her breast to try and keep that moment. Far
out, a cuckoo hooted-and the immortal call passed on the wind. In
that call all the beauty, and colour, and rapture of life seemed to
be flying by. If she could only seize and evermore have it in her
heart, as the buttercups out there imprisoned the sun, or the fallen
raindrops on the sweetbriars round the windows enclosed all changing
light! If only there were no chains, no walls, and finality were
Her clock struck ten. At this time to-morrow! Her cheeks turned
hot; in a mirror she could see them burning, her lips scornfully
curved, her eyes strange. Standing there, she looked long at
herself, till, little by little, her face lost every vestige of that
disturbance, became solid and resolute again. She ceased to have the
galloping wild feeling in her heart, and instead felt cold. Detached
from herself she watched, with contentment, her own calm and radiant
beauty resume the armour it had for that moment put off.
After dinner that night, when the men left the dining-hall, Miltoun
slipped away to his den. Of all those present in the little church
he had seemed most unemotional, and had been most moved. Though it
had been so quiet and private a wedding, he had resented all cheap
festivity accompanying the passing of his young sister. He would
have had that ceremony in the little dark disused chapel at the
Court; those two, and the priest alone. Here, in this half-pagan
little country church smothered hastily in flowers, with the raw
singing of the half-pagan choir, and all the village curiosity and
homage-everything had jarred, and the stale aftermath sickened him.
Changing his swallow-tail to an old smoking jacket, he went out on to
the lawn. In the wide darkness he could rid himself of his
Since the day of his election he had not once been at Monkland; since
Mrs. Noel's flight he had never left London. In London and work he
had buried himself; by London and work he had saved himself! He had
gone down into the battle.
Dew had not yet fallen, and he took the path across the fields.
There was no moon, no stars, no wind; the cattle were noiseless under
the trees; there were no owls calling, no night-jars churring, the
fly-by-night chafers were not abroad. The stream alone was alive in
the quiet darkness. And as Miltoun followed the wispy line of grey
path cleaving the dim glamour of daisies and buttercups, there came
to him the feeling that he was in the presence, not of sleep, but of
eternal waiting. The sound of his footfalls seemed desecration. So
devotional was that hush, burning the spicy incense of millions of
leaves and blades of grass.
Crossing the last stile he came out, close to her deserted cottage,
under her lime-tree, which on the night of Courtier's adventure had
hung blue-black round the moon. On that side, only a rail, and a few
shrubs confined her garden.
The house was all dark, but the many tall white flowers, like a
bright vapour rising from earth, clung to the air above the beds.
Leaning against the tree Miltoun gave himself to memory.
>From the silent boughs which drooped round his dark figure, a little
sleepy bird uttered a faint cheep; a hedgehog, or some small beast of
night, rustled away in the grass close by; a moth flew past, seeking
its candle flame. And something in Miltoun's heart took wings after
it, searching for the warmth and light of his blown candle of love.
Then, in the hush he heard a sound as of a branch ceaselessly trailed
through long grass, fainter and fainter, more and more distinct;
again fainter; but nothing could he see that should make that
homeless sound. And the sense of some near but unseen presence crept
on him, till the hair moved on his scalp. If God would light the
moon or stars, and let him see! If God would end the expectation of
this night, let one wan glimmer down into her garden, and one wan
glimmer into his breast! But it stayed dark, and the homeless noise
never ceased. The weird thought came to Miltoun that it was made by
his own heart, wandering out there, trying to feel warm again. He
closed his eyes and at once knew that it was not his heart, but
indeed some external presence, unconsoled. And stretching his hands
out he moved forward to arrest that sound. As he reached the
railing, it ceased. And he saw a flame leap up, a pale broad pathway
of light blanching the grass.
And, realizing that she was there, within, he gasped. His finger-
nails bent and broke against the iron railing without his knowing.
It was not as on that night when the red flowers on her windowsill
had wafted their scent to him; it was no sheer overpowering rush of
passion. Profounder, more terrible, was this rising up within him of
yearning for love--as if, now defeated, it would nevermore stir, but
lie dead on that dark grass beneath those dark boughs. And if
victorious--what then? He stole back under the tree.
He could see little white moths travelling down that path of
lamplight; he could see the white flowers quite plainly now, a pale
watch of blossoms guarding the dark sleepy ones; and he stood, not
reasoning, hardly any longer feeling; stunned, battered by struggle.
His face and hands were sticky with the honey-dew, slowly, invisibly
distilling from the lime-tree. He bent down and felt the grass. And
suddenly there came over him the certainty of her presence. Yes, she
was there--out on the verandah! He could see her white figure from
head to foot; and, not realizing that she could not see him, he
expected her to utter some cry. But no sound came from her, no
gesture; she turned back into the house. Miltoun ran forward to the
railing. But there, once more, he stopped--unable to think, unable
to feel; as it were abandoned by himself. And he suddenly found his
hand up at his mouth, as though there were blood there to be
staunched that had escaped from his heart.
Still holding that hand before his mouth, and smothering the sound of
his feet in the long grass, he crept away.
In the great glass house at Ravensham, Lady Casterley stood close to
some Japanese lilies, with a letter in her hand. Her face was very
white, for it was the first day she had been allowed down after an
attack of influenza; nor had the hand in which she held the letter
its usual steadiness. She read:
"Just a line, dear, before the post goes, to tell you that Babs has
gone off happily. The child looked beautiful. She sent you her
love, and some absurd message--that you would be glad to hear, she
was perfectly safe, with both feet firmly on the ground."
A grim little smile played on Lady Casterley's pale lips:- Yes,
indeed, and time too! The child had been very near the edge of the
cliffs! Very near committing a piece of romantic folly! That was
well over! And raising the letter again, she read on:
"We were all down for it, of course, and come back tomorrow.
Geoffrey is quite cut up. Things can't be what they were without our
Babs. I've watched Eustace very carefully, and I really believe he's
safely over that affair at last. He is doing extraordinarily well in
the House just now. Geoffrey says his speech on the Poor Law was
head and shoulders the best made."
Lady Casterley let fall the hand which held the letter. Safe? Yes,
he was safe! He had done the right--the natural thing! And in time
he would be happy! He would rise now to that pinnacle of desired
authority which she had dreamed of for him, ever since he was a tiny
thing, ever since his little thin brown hand had clasped hers in
their wanderings amongst the flowers, and the furniture of tall
rooms. But, as she stood--crumpling the letter, grey-white as some
small resolute ghost, among her tall lilies that filled with their
scent the great glass house-shadows flitted across her face. Was it
the fugitive noon sunshine? Or was it some glimmering perception of
the old Greek saying--'Character is Fate;' some sudden sense of the
universal truth that all are in bond to their own natures, and what a
man has most desired shall in the end enslave him?