Part 2 out of 5
Dazed, she schemed for a way out. She invited friends, she tried to give
him some further connexion with the outer world. But it was no good.
After all their joy and suffering, after their dark, great year of
blindness and solitude and unspeakable nearness, other people seemed to
them both shallow, prattling, rather impertinent. Shallow prattle seemed
presumptuous. He became impatient and irritated, she was wearied. And so
they lapsed into their solitude again. For they preferred it.
But now, in a few weeks' time, her second baby would be born. The first
had died, an infant, when her husband first went out to France. She
looked with joy and relief to the coming of the second. It would be her
salvation. But also she felt some anxiety. She was thirty years old, her
husband was a year younger. They both wanted the child very much. Yet she
could not help feeling afraid. She had her husband on her hands, a
terrible joy to her, and a terrifying burden. The child would occupy her
love and attention. And then, what of Maurice? What would he do? If only
she could feel that he, too, would be at peace and happy when the child
came! She did so want to luxuriate in a rich, physical satisfaction of
maternity. But the man, what would he do? How could she provide for him,
how avert those shattering black moods of his, which destroyed them both?
She sighed with fear. But at this time Bertie Reid wrote to Isabel. He
was her old friend, a second or third cousin, a Scotchman, as she was a
Scotchwoman. They had been brought up near to one another, and all her
life he had been her friend, like a brother, but better than her own
brothers. She loved him--though not in the marrying sense. There was a
sort of kinship between them, an affinity. They understood one another
instinctively. But Isabel would never have thought of marrying Bertie. It
would have seemed like marrying in her own family.
Bertie was a barrister and a man of letters, a Scotchman of the
intellectual type, quick, ironical, sentimental, and on his knees before
the woman he adored but did not want to marry. Maurice Pervin was
different. He came of a good old country family--the Grange was not a
very great distance from Oxford. He was passionate, sensitive, perhaps
over-sensitive, wincing--a big fellow with heavy limbs and a forehead
that flushed painfully. For his mind was slow, as if drugged by the
strong provincial blood that beat in his veins. He was very sensitive to
his own mental slowness, his feelings being quick and acute. So that he
was just the opposite to Bertie, whose mind was much quicker than his
emotions, which were not so very fine.
From the first the two men did not like each other. Isabel felt that they
_ought_ to get on together. But they did not. She felt that if only each
could have the clue to the other there would be such a rare understanding
between them. It did not come off, however. Bertie adopted a slightly
ironical attitude, very offensive to Maurice, who returned the Scotch
irony with English resentment, a resentment which deepened sometimes into
This was a little puzzling to Isabel. However, she accepted it in the
course of things. Men were made freakish and unreasonable. Therefore,
when Maurice was going out to France for the second time, she felt that,
for her husband's sake, she must discontinue her friendship with Bertie.
She wrote to the barrister to this effect. Bertram Reid simply replied
that in this, as in all other matters, he must obey her wishes, if these
were indeed her wishes.
For nearly two years nothing had passed between the two friends. Isabel
rather gloried in the fact; she had no compunction. She had one great
article of faith, which was, that husband and wife should be so important
to one another, that the rest of the world simply did not count. She and
Maurice were husband and wife. They loved one another. They would have
children. Then let everybody and everything else fade into insignificance
outside this connubial felicity. She professed herself quite happy and
ready to receive Maurice's friends. She was happy and ready: the happy
wife, the ready woman in possession. Without knowing why, the friends
retired abashed and came no more. Maurice, of course, took as much
satisfaction in this connubial absorption as Isabel did.
He shared in Isabel's literary activities, she cultivated a real interest
in agriculture and cattle-raising. For she, being at heart perhaps an
emotional enthusiast, always cultivated the practical side of life, and
prided herself on her mastery of practical affairs. Thus the husband and
wife had spent the five years of their married life. The last had been
one of blindness and unspeakable intimacy. And now Isabel felt a great
indifference coming over her, a sort of lethargy. She wanted to be
allowed to bear her child in peace, to nod by the fire and drift vaguely,
physically, from day to day. Maurice was like an ominous thunder-cloud.
She had to keep waking up to remember him.
When a little note came from Bertie, asking if he were to put up a
tombstone to their dead friendship, and speaking of the real pain he felt
on account of her husband's loss of sight, she felt a pang, a fluttering
agitation of re-awakening. And she read the letter to Maurice.
'Ask him to come down,' he said.
'Ask Bertie to come here!' she re-echoed.
'Yes--if he wants to.'
Isabel paused for a few moments.
'I know he wants to--he'd only be too glad,' she replied. 'But what about
you, Maurice? How would you like it?'
'I should like it.'
'Well--in that case--But I thought you didn't care for him--'
'Oh, I don't know. I might think differently of him now,' the blind man
replied. It was rather abstruse to Isabel.
'Well, dear,' she said, 'if you're quite sure--'
'I'm sure enough. Let him come,' said Maurice.
So Bertie was coming, coming this evening, in the November rain and
darkness. Isabel was agitated, racked with her old restlessness and
indecision. She had always suffered from this pain of doubt, just an
agonizing sense of uncertainty. It had begun to pass off, in the lethargy
of maternity. Now it returned, and she resented it. She struggled as
usual to maintain her calm, composed, friendly bearing, a sort of mask
she wore over all her body.
A woman had lighted a tall lamp beside the table, and spread the cloth.
The long dining-room was dim, with its elegant but rather severe pieces
of old furniture. Only the round table glowed softly under the light. It
had a rich, beautiful effect. The white cloth glistened and dropped its
heavy, pointed lace corners almost to the carpet, the china was old and
handsome, creamy-yellow, with a blotched pattern of harsh red and deep
blue, the cups large and bell-shaped, the teapot gallant. Isabel looked
at it with superficial appreciation.
Her nerves were hurting her. She looked automatically again at the high,
uncurtained windows. In the last dusk she could just perceive outside a
huge fir-tree swaying its boughs: it was as if she thought it rather
than saw it. The rain came flying on the window panes. Ah, why had she
no peace? These two men, why did they tear at her? Why did they not
come--why was there this suspense?
She sat in a lassitude that was really suspense and irritation. Maurice,
at least, might come in--there was nothing to keep him out. She rose to
her feet. Catching sight of her reflection in a mirror, she glanced at
herself with a slight smile of recognition, as if she were an old friend
to herself. Her face was oval and calm, her nose a little arched. Her
neck made a beautiful line down to her shoulder. With hair knotted
loosely behind, she had something of a warm, maternal look. Thinking this
of herself, she arched her eyebrows and her rather heavy eyelids, with a
little flicker of a smile, and for a moment her grey eyes looked amused
and wicked, a little sardonic, out of her transfigured Madonna face.
Then, resuming her air of womanly patience--she was really fatally
self-determined--she went with a little jerk towards the door. Her eyes
were slightly reddened.
She passed down the wide hall, and through a door at the end. Then she
was in the farm premises. The scent of dairy, and of farm-kitchen, and of
farm-yard and of leather almost overcame her: but particularly the scent
of dairy. They had been scalding out the pans. The flagged passage in
front of her was dark, puddled and wet. Light came out from the open
kitchen door. She went forward and stood in the doorway. The farm-people
were at tea, seated at a little distance from her, round a long, narrow
table, in the centre of which stood a white lamp. Ruddy faces, ruddy
hands holding food, red mouths working, heads bent over the tea-cups:
men, land-girls, boys: it was tea-time, feeding-time. Some faces caught
sight of her. Mrs. Wernham, going round behind the chairs with a large
black teapot, halting slightly in her walk, was not aware of her for a
moment. Then she turned suddenly.
'Oh, is it Madam!' she exclaimed. 'Come in, then, come in! We're at tea.'
And she dragged forward a chair.
'No, I won't come in,' said Isabel, 'I'm afraid I interrupt your meal.'
'No--no--not likely, Madam, not likely.'
'Hasn't Mr. Pervin come in, do you know?'
'I'm sure I couldn't say! Missed him, have you, Madam?'
'No, I only wanted him to come in,' laughed Isabel, as if shyly.
'Wanted him, did ye? Get you, boy--get up, now--'
Mrs. Wernham knocked one of the boys on the shoulder. He began to scrape
to his feet, chewing largely.
'I believe he's in top stable,' said another face from the table.
'Ah! No, don't get up. I'm going myself,' said Isabel.
'Don't you go out of a dirty night like this. Let the lad go. Get along
wi' ye, boy,' said Mrs. Wernham.
'No, no,' said Isabel, with a decision that was always obeyed. 'Go on
with your tea, Tom. I'd like to go across to the stable, Mrs. Wernham.'
'Did ever you hear tell!' exclaimed the woman.
'Isn't the trap late?' asked Isabel.
'Why, no,' said Mrs. Wernham, peering into the distance at the tall, dim
clock. 'No, Madam--we can give it another quarter or twenty minutes yet,
good--yes, every bit of a quarter.'
'Ah! It seems late when darkness falls so early,' said Isabel.
'It do, that it do. Bother the days, that they draw in so,' answered Mrs.
Wernham.' Proper miserable!'
'They are,' said Isabel, withdrawing.
She pulled on her overshoes, wrapped a large tartan shawl around her, put
on a man's felt hat, and ventured out along the causeways of the first
yard. It was very dark. The wind was roaring in the great elms behind the
outhouses. When she came to the second yard the darkness seemed deeper.
She was unsure of her footing. She wished she had brought a lantern. Rain
blew against her. Half she liked it, half she felt unwilling to battle.
She reached at last the just visible door of the stable. There was no
sign of a light anywhere. Opening the upper half, she looked in: into a
simple well of darkness. The smell of horses, and ammonia, and of warmth
was startling to her, in that full night. She listened with all her ears,
but could hear nothing save the night, and the stirring of a horse.
'Maurice!' she called, softly and musically, though she was afraid.
'Maurice--are you there?'
Nothing came from the darkness. She knew the rain and wind blew in upon
the horses, the hot animal life. Feeling it wrong, she entered the
stable, and drew the lower half of the door shut, holding the upper part
close. She did not stir, because she was aware of the presence of the
dark hindquarters of the horses, though she could not see them, and she
was afraid. Something wild stirred in her heart.
She listened intensely. Then she heard a small noise in the distance--far
away, it seemed--the chink of a pan, and a man's voice speaking a brief
word. It would be Maurice, in the other part of the stable. She stood
motionless, waiting for him to come through the partition door. The
horses were so terrifyingly near to her, in the invisible.
The loud jarring of the inner door-latch made her start; the door was
opened. She could hear and feel her husband entering and invisibly
passing among the horses near to her, in darkness as they were, actively
intermingled. The rather low sound of his voice as he spoke to the horses
came velvety to her nerves. How near he was, and how invisible! The
darkness seemed to be in a strange swirl of violent life, just upon her.
She turned giddy.
Her presence of mind made her call, quietly and musically:
'Yes,' he answered. 'Isabel?'
She saw nothing, and the sound of his voice seemed to touch her.
'Hello!' she answered cheerfully, straining her eyes to see him. He was
still busy, attending to the horses near her, but she saw only darkness.
It made her almost desperate.
'Won't you come in, dear?' she said.
'Yes, I'm coming. Just half a minute. _Stand over--now_! Trap's not come,
'Not yet,' said Isabel.
His voice was pleasant and ordinary, but it had a slight suggestion of
the stable to her. She wished he would come away. Whilst he was so
utterly invisible she was afraid of him.
'How's the time?' he asked.
'Not yet six,' she replied. She disliked to answer into the dark.
Presently he came very near to her, and she retreated out of doors.
'The weather blows in here,' he said, coming steadily forward, feeling
for the doors. She shrank away. At last she could dimly see him.
'Bertie won't have much of a drive,' he said, as he closed the doors.
'He won't indeed!' said Isabel calmly, watching the dark shape at the
'Give me your arm, dear,' she said.
She pressed his arm close to her, as she went. But she longed to see him,
to look at him. She was nervous. He walked erect, with face rather
lifted, but with a curious tentative movement of his powerful, muscular
legs. She could feel the clever, careful, strong contact of his feet with
the earth, as she balanced against him. For a moment he was a tower of
darkness to her, as if he rose out of the earth.
In the house-passage he wavered, and went cautiously, with a curious look
of silence about him as he felt for the bench. Then he sat down heavily.
He was a man with rather sloping shoulders, but with heavy limbs,
powerful legs that seemed to know the earth. His head was small, usually
carried high and light. As he bent down to unfasten his gaiters and boots
he did not look blind. His hair was brown and crisp, his hands were
large, reddish, intelligent, the veins stood out in the wrists; and his
thighs and knees seemed massive. When he stood up his face and neck were
surcharged with blood, the veins stood out on his temples. She did not
look at his blindness.
Isabel was always glad when they had passed through the dividing door
into their own regions of repose and beauty. She was a little afraid of
him, out there in the animal grossness of the back. His bearing also
changed, as he smelt the familiar, indefinable odour that pervaded his
wife's surroundings, a delicate, refined scent, very faintly spicy.
Perhaps it came from the pot-pourri bowls.
He stood at the foot of the stairs, arrested, listening. She watched him,
and her heart sickened. He seemed to be listening to fate.
'He's not here yet,' he said. 'I'll go up and change.'
'Maurice,' she said, 'you're not wishing he wouldn't come, are you?'
'I couldn't quite say,' he answered. 'I feel myself rather on the _qui
'I can see you are,' she answered. And she reached up and kissed his
cheek. She saw his mouth relax into a slow smile.
'What are you laughing at?' she said roguishly.
'You consoling me,' he answered.
'Nay,' she answered. 'Why should I console you? You know we love each
other--you know _how_ married we are! What does anything else matter?'
'Nothing at all, my dear.'
He felt for her face, and touched it, smiling.
'_You're_ all right, aren't you?' he asked, anxiously.
'I'm wonderfully all right, love,' she answered. 'It's you I am a little
troubled about, at times.'
'Why me?' he said, touching her cheeks delicately with the tips of his
fingers. The touch had an almost hypnotizing effect on her.
He went away upstairs. She saw him mount into the darkness, unseeing and
unchanging. He did not know that the lamps on the upper corridor were
unlighted. He went on into the darkness with unchanging step. She heard
him in the bathroom.
Pervin moved about almost unconsciously in his familiar surroundings,
dark though everything was. He seemed to know the presence of objects
before he touched them. It was a pleasure to him to rock thus through a
world of things, carried on the flood in a sort of blood-prescience. He
did not think much or trouble much. So long as he kept this sheer
immediacy of blood-contact with the substantial world he was happy, he
wanted no intervention of visual consciousness. In this state there was a
certain rich positivity, bordering sometimes on rapture. Life seemed to
move in him like a tide lapping, and advancing, enveloping all things
darkly. It was a pleasure to stretch forth the hand and meet the unseen
object, clasp it, and possess it in pure contact. He did not try to
remember, to visualize. He did not want to. The new way of consciousness
substituted itself in him.
The rich suffusion of this state generally kept him happy, reaching its
culmination in the consuming passion for his wife. But at times the flow
would seem to be checked and thrown back. Then it would beat inside him
like a tangled sea, and he was tortured in the shattered chaos of his own
blood. He grew to dread this arrest, this throw-back, this chaos inside
himself, when he seemed merely at the mercy of his own powerful and
conflicting elements. How to get some measure of control or surety, this
was the question. And when the question rose maddening in him, he would
clench his fists as if he would _compel_ the whole universe to submit to
him. But it was in vain. He could not even compel himself.
Tonight, however, he was still serene, though little tremors of
unreasonable exasperation ran through him. He had to handle the razor
very carefully, as he shaved, for it was not at one with him, he was
afraid of it. His hearing also was too much sharpened. He heard the woman
lighting the lamps on the corridor, and attending to the fire in the
visitor's room. And then, as he went to his room he heard the trap
arrive. Then came Isabel's voice, lifted and calling, like a bell
'Is it you, Bertie? Have you come?'
And a man's voice answered out of the wind:
'Hello, Isabell There you are.'
'Have you had a miserable drive? I'm so sorry we couldn't send a closed
carriage. I can't see you at all, you know.'
'I'm coming. No, I liked the drive--it was like Perthshire. Well, how are
you? You're looking fit as ever, as far as I can see.'
'Oh, yes,' said Isabel. 'I'm wonderfully well. How are you? Rather thin,
'Worked to death--everybody's old cry. But I'm all right, Ciss. How's
Pervin?--isn't he here?'
'Oh, yes, he's upstairs changing. Yes, he's awfully well. Take off your
wet things; I'll send them to be dried.'
'And how are you both, in spirits? He doesn't fret?'
'No--no, not at all. No, on the contrary, really. We've been wonderfully
happy, incredibly. It's more than I can understand--so wonderful: the
nearness, and the peace--'
'Ah! Well, that's awfully good news--'
They moved away. Pervin heard no more. But a childish sense of desolation
had come over him, as he heard their brisk voices. He seemed shut
out--like a child that is left out. He was aimless and excluded, he did
not know what to do with himself. The helpless desolation came over him.
He fumbled nervously as he dressed himself, in a state almost of
childishness. He disliked the Scotch accent in Bertie's speech, and the
slight response it found on Isabel's tongue. He disliked the slight purr
of complacency in the Scottish speech. He disliked intensely the glib way
in which Isabel spoke of their happiness and nearness. It made him
recoil. He was fretful and beside himself like a child, he had almost a
childish nostalgia to be included in the life circle. And at the same
time he was a man, dark and powerful and infuriated by his own weakness.
By some fatal flaw, he could not be by himself, he had to depend on the
support of another. And this very dependence enraged him. He hated Bertie
Reid, and at the same time he knew the hatred was nonsense, he knew it
was the outcome of his own weakness.
He went downstairs. Isabel was alone in the dining-room. She watched him
enter, head erect, his feet tentative. He looked so strong-blooded and
healthy, and, at the same time, cancelled. Cancelled--that was the word
that flew across her mind. Perhaps it was his scars suggested it.
'You heard Bertie come, Maurice?' she said.
'Yes--isn't he here?'
'He's in his room. He looks very thin and worn.'
'I suppose he works himself to death.'
A woman came in with a tray--and after a few minutes Bertie came down. He
was a little dark man, with a very big forehead, thin, wispy hair, and
sad, large eyes. His expression was inordinately sad--almost funny. He
had odd, short legs.
Isabel watched him hesitate under the door, and glance nervously at her
husband. Pervin heard him and turned.
'Here you are, now,' said Isabel. 'Come, let us eat.'
Bertie went across to Maurice.
'How are you, Pervin,' he said, as he advanced.
The blind man stuck his hand out into space, and Bertie took it.
'Very fit. Glad you've come,' said Maurice.
Isabel glanced at them, and glanced away, as if she could not bear to see
'Come,' she said. 'Come to table. Aren't you both awfully hungry? I am,
'I'm afraid you waited for me,' said Bertie, as they sat down.
Maurice had a curious monolithic way of sitting in a chair, erect and
distant. Isabel's heart always beat when she caught sight of him thus.
'No,' she replied to Bertie. 'We're very little later than usual. We're
having a sort of high tea, not dinner. Do you mind? It gives us such a
nice long evening, uninterrupted.'
'I like it,' said Bertie.
Maurice was feeling, with curious little movements, almost like a cat
kneading her bed, for his place, his knife and fork, his napkin. He was
getting the whole geography of his cover into his consciousness. He sat
erect and inscrutable, remote-seeming Bertie watched the static figure of
the blind man, the delicate tactile discernment of the large, ruddy
hands, and the curious mindless silence of the brow, above the scar. With
difficulty he looked away, and without knowing what he did, picked up a
little crystal bowl of violets from the table, and held them to his nose.
'They are sweet-scented,' he said. 'Where do they come from?'
'From the garden--under the windows,' said Isabel.
'So late in the year--and so fragrant! Do you remember the violets under
Aunt Bell's south wall?'
The two friends looked at each other and exchanged a smile, Isabel's eyes
'Don't I?' she replied. '_Wasn't_ she queer!'
'A curious old girl,' laughed Bertie. 'There's a streak of freakishness
in the family, Isabel.'
'Ah--but not in you and me, Bertie,' said Isabel. 'Give them to Maurice,
will you?' she added, as Bertie was putting down the flowers. 'Have you
smelled the violets, dear? Do!--they are so scented.'
Maurice held out his hand, and Bertie placed the tiny bowl against his
large, warm-looking fingers. Maurice's hand closed over the thin white
fingers of the barrister. Bertie carefully extricated himself. Then the
two watched the blind man smelling the violets. He bent his head and
seemed to be thinking. Isabel waited.
'Aren't they sweet, Maurice?' she said at last, anxiously.
'Very,' he said. And he held out the bowl. Bertie took it. Both he and
Isabel were a little afraid, and deeply disturbed.
The meal continued. Isabel and Bertie chatted spasmodically. The blind
man was silent. He touched his food repeatedly, with quick, delicate
touches of his knife-point, then cut irregular bits. He could not bear to
be helped. Both Isabel and Bertie suffered: Isabel wondered why. She did
not suffer when she was alone with Maurice. Bertie made her conscious of
After the meal the three drew their chairs to the fire, and sat down to
talk. The decanters were put on a table near at hand. Isabel knocked the
logs on the fire, and clouds of brilliant sparks went up the chimney.
Bertie noticed a slight weariness in her bearing.
'You will be glad when your child comes now, Isabel?' he said.
She looked up to him with a quick wan smile.
'Yes, I shall be glad,' she answered. 'It begins to seem long. Yes, I
shall be very glad. So will you, Maurice, won't you?' she added.
'Yes, I shall,' replied her husband.
'We are both looking forward so much to having it,' she said.
'Yes, of course,' said Bertie.
He was a bachelor, three or four years older than Isabel. He lived in
beautiful rooms overlooking the river, guarded by a faithful Scottish
man-servant. And he had his friends among the fair sex--not lovers,
friends. So long as he could avoid any danger of courtship or marriage,
he adored a few good women with constant and unfailing homage, and he was
chivalrously fond of quite a number. But if they seemed to encroach on
him, he withdrew and detested them.
Isabel knew him very well, knew his beautiful constancy, and kindness,
also his incurable weakness, which made him unable ever to enter into
close contact of any sort. He was ashamed of himself, because he could
not marry, could not approach women physically. He wanted to do so. But
he could not. At the centre of him he was afraid, helplessly and even
brutally afraid. He had given up hope, had ceased to expect any more that
he could escape his own weakness. Hence he was a brilliant and successful
barrister, also _litterateur_ of high repute, a rich man, and a great
social success. At the centre he felt himself neuter, nothing.
Isabel knew him well. She despised him even while she admired him. She
looked at his sad face, his little short legs, and felt contempt of him.
She looked at his dark grey eyes, with their uncanny, almost childlike
intuition, and she loved him. He understood amazingly--but she had no
fear of his understanding. As a man she patronized him.
And she turned to the impassive, silent figure of her husband. He sat
leaning back, with folded arms, and face a little uptilted. His knees
were straight and massive. She sighed, picked up the poker, and again
began to prod the fire, to rouse the clouds of soft, brilliant sparks.
'Isabel tells me,' Bertie began suddenly, 'that you have not suffered
unbearably from the loss of sight.'
Maurice straightened himself to attend, but kept his arms folded.
'No,' he said, 'not unbearably. Now and again one struggles against it,
you know. But there are compensations.'
'They say it is much worse to be stone deaf,' said Isabel.
'I believe it is,' said Bertie. 'Are there compensations?' he added, to
'Yes. You cease to bother about a great many things.' Again Maurice
stretched his figure, stretched the strong muscles of his back, and
leaned backwards, with uplifted face.
'And that is a relief,' said Bertie. 'But what is there in place of the
bothering? What replaces the activity?'
There was a pause. At length the blind man replied, as out of a
negligent, unattentive thinking:
'Oh, I don't know. There's a good deal when you're not active.'
'Is there?' said Bertie. 'What, exactly? It always seems to me that when
there is no thought and no action, there is nothing.'
Again Maurice was slow in replying.
'There is something,' he replied. 'I couldn't tell you what it is.'
And the talk lapsed once more, Isabel and Bertie chatting gossip and
reminiscence, the blind man silent.
At length Maurice rose restlessly, a big, obtrusive figure. He felt tight
and hampered. He wanted to go away.
'Do you mind,' he said, 'if I go and speak to Wernham?'
'No--go along, dear,' said Isabel.
And he went out. A silence came over the two friends. At length Bertie
'Nevertheless, it is a great deprivation, Cissie.'
'It is, Bertie. I know it is.'
'Something lacking all the time,' said Bertie.
'Yes, I know. And yet--and yet--Maurice is right. There is something
else, something _there_, which you never knew was there, and which you
'What is there?' asked Bertie.
'I don't know--it's awfully hard to define it--but something
strong and immediate. There's something strange in Maurice's
presence--indefinable--but I couldn't do without it. I agree that it
seems to put one's mind to sleep. But when we're alone I miss nothing; it
seems awfully rich, almost splendid, you know.'
'I'm afraid I don't follow,' said Bertie.
They talked desultorily. The wind blew loudly outside, rain chattered on
the window-panes, making a sharp, drum-sound, because of the closed,
mellow-golden shutters inside. The logs burned slowly, with hot, almost
invisible small flames. Bertie seemed uneasy, there were dark circles
round his eyes. Isabel, rich with her approaching maternity, leaned
looking into the fire. Her hair curled in odd, loose strands, very
pleasing to the man. But she had a curious feeling of old woe in her
heart, old, timeless night-woe.
'I suppose we're all deficient somewhere,' said Bertie.
'I suppose so,' said Isabel wearily.
'Damned, sooner or later.'
'I don't know,' she said, rousing herself. 'I feel quite all right, you
know. The child coming seems to make me indifferent to everything, just
placid. I can't feel that there's anything to trouble about, you know.'
'A good thing, I should say,' he replied slowly.
'Well, there it is. I suppose it's just Nature. If only I felt I needn't
trouble about Maurice, I should be perfectly content--'
'But you feel you must trouble about him?'
'Well--I don't know--' She even resented this much effort.
The evening passed slowly. Isabel looked at the clock. 'I say,' she said.
'It's nearly ten o'clock. Where can Maurice be? I'm sure they're all in
bed at the back. Excuse me a moment.'
She went out, returning almost immediately.
'It's all shut up and in darkness,' she said. 'I wonder where he is. He
must have gone out to the farm--'
Bertie looked at her.
'I suppose he'll come in,' he said.
'I suppose so,' she said. 'But it's unusual for him to be out now.'
'Would you like me to go out and see?'
'Well--if you wouldn't mind. I'd go, but--' She did not want to make the
Bertie put on an old overcoat and took a lantern. He went out from the
side door. He shrank from the wet and roaring night. Such weather had a
nervous effect on him: too much moisture everywhere made him feel almost
imbecile. Unwilling, he went through it all. A dog barked violently at
him. He peered in all the buildings. At last, as he opened the upper door
of a sort of intermediate barn, he heard a grinding noise, and looking
in, holding up his lantern, saw Maurice, in his shirt-sleeves, standing
listening, holding the handle of a turnip-pulper. He had been pulping
sweet roots, a pile of which lay dimly heaped in a corner behind him.
'That you, Wernham?' said Maurice, listening.
'No, it's me,' said Bertie.
A large, half-wild grey cat was rubbing at Maurice's leg. The blind
man stooped to rub its sides. Bertie watched the scene, then
unconsciously entered and shut the door behind him, He was in a high sort
of barn-place, from which, right and left, ran off the corridors in front
of the stalled cattle. He watched the slow, stooping motion of the other
man, as he caressed the great cat.
Maurice straightened himself.
'You came to look for me?' he said.
'Isabel was a little uneasy,' said Bertie.
'I'll come in. I like messing about doing these jobs.'
The cat had reared her sinister, feline length against his leg, clawing
at his thigh affectionately. He lifted her claws out of his flesh.
'I hope I'm not in your way at all at the Grange here,' said Bertie,
rather shy and stiff.
'My way? No, not a bit. I'm glad Isabel has somebody to talk to. I'm
afraid it's I who am in the way. I know I'm not very lively company.
Isabel's all right, don't you think? She's not unhappy, is she?'
'I don't think so.'
'What does she say?'
'She says she's very content--only a little troubled about you.'
'Perhaps afraid that you might brood,' said Bertie, cautiously.
'She needn't be afraid of that.' He continued to caress the flattened
grey head of the cat with his fingers. 'What I am a bit afraid of,' he
resumed, 'is that she'll find me a dead weight, always alone with me down
'I don't think you need think that,' said Bertie, though this was what he
'I don't know,' said Maurice. 'Sometimes I feel it isn't fair that she's
saddled with me.' Then he dropped his voice curiously. 'I say,' he asked,
secretly struggling, 'is my face much disfigured? Do you mind telling
'There is the scar,' said Bertie, wondering. 'Yes, it is a disfigurement.
But more pitiable than shocking.'
'A pretty bad scar, though,' said Maurice.
There was a pause.
'Sometimes I feel I am horrible,' said Maurice, in a low voice, talking
as if to himself. And Bertie actually felt a quiver of horror.
'That's nonsense,' he said.
Maurice again straightened himself, leaving the cat.
'There's no telling,' he said. Then again, in an odd tone, he added: 'I
don't really know you, do I?'
'Probably not,' said Bertie.
'Do you mind if I touch you?'
The lawyer shrank away instinctively. And yet, out of very philanthropy,
he said, in a small voice: 'Not at all.'
But he suffered as the blind man stretched out a strong, naked hand to
him. Maurice accidentally knocked off Bertie's hat.
'I thought you were taller,' he said, starting. Then he laid his hand on
Bertie Reid's head, closing the dome of the skull in a soft, firm grasp,
gathering it, as it were; then, shifting his grasp and softly closing
again, with a fine, close pressure, till he had covered the skull and the
face of the smaller man, tracing the brows, and touching the full, closed
eyes, touching the small nose and the nostrils, the rough, short
moustache, the mouth, the rather strong chin. The hand of the blind man
grasped the shoulder, the arm, the hand of the other man. He seemed to
take him, in the soft, travelling grasp.
'You seem young,' he said quietly, at last.
The lawyer stood almost annihilated, unable to answer.
'Your head seems tender, as if you were young,' Maurice repeated. 'So do
your hands. Touch my eyes, will you?--touch my scar.'
Now Bertie quivered with revulsion. Yet he was under the power of the
blind man, as if hypnotized. He lifted his hand, and laid the fingers
on the scar, on the scarred eyes. Maurice suddenly covered them with
his own hand, pressed the fingers of the other man upon his disfigured
eye-sockets, trembling in every fibre, and rocking slightly, slowly, from
side to side. He remained thus for a minute or more, whilst Bertie stood
as if in a swoon, unconscious, imprisoned.
Then suddenly Maurice removed the hand of the other man from his brow,
and stood holding it in his own.
'Oh, my God' he said, 'we shall know each other now, shan't we? We shall
know each other now.'
Bertie could not answer. He gazed mute and terror-struck, overcome by his
own weakness. He knew he could not answer. He had an unreasonable fear,
lest the other man should suddenly destroy him. Whereas Maurice was
actually filled with hot, poignant love, the passion of friendship.
Perhaps it was this very passion of friendship which Bertie shrank from
'We're all right together now, aren't we?' said Maurice. 'It's all right
now, as long as we live, so far as we're concerned?'
'Yes,' said Bertie, trying by any means to escape.
Maurice stood with head lifted, as if listening. The new delicate
fulfilment of mortal friendship had come as a revelation and surprise to
him, something exquisite and unhoped-for. He seemed to be listening to
hear if it were real.
Then he turned for his coat.
'Come,' he said, 'we'll go to Isabel.'
Bertie took the lantern and opened the door. The cat disappeared. The two
men went in silence along the causeways. Isabel, as they came, thought
their footsteps sounded strange. She looked up pathetically and anxiously
for their entrance. There seemed a curious elation about Maurice. Bertie
was haggard, with sunken eyes.
'What is it?' she asked.
'We've become friends,' said Maurice, standing with his feet apart, like
a strange colossus.
'Friends!' re-echoed Isabel. And she looked again at Bertie. He met her
eyes with a furtive, haggard look; his eyes were as if glazed with
'I'm so glad,' she said, in sheer perplexity.
'Yes,' said Maurice.
He was indeed so glad. Isabel took his hand with both hers, and held it
'You'll be happier now, dear,' she said.
But she was watching Bertie. She knew that he had one desire--to escape
from this intimacy, this friendship, which had been thrust upon him. He
could not bear it that he had been touched by the blind man, his insane
reserve broken in. He was like a mollusk whose shell is broken.
At first Joe thought the job O.K. He was loading hay on the trucks, along
with Albert, the corporal. The two men were pleasantly billeted in a
cottage not far from the station: they were their own masters, for Joe
never thought of Albert as a master. And the little sidings of the tiny
village station was as pleasant a place as you could wish for. On one
side, beyond the line, stretched the woods: on the other, the near side,
across a green smooth field red houses were dotted among flowering apple
trees. The weather being sunny, work being easy, Albert, a real good pal,
what life could be better! After Flanders, it was heaven itself.
Albert, the corporal, was a clean-shaven, shrewd-looking fellow of about
forty. He seemed to think his one aim in life was to be full of fun and
nonsense. In repose, his face looked a little withered, old. He was a
very good pal to Joe, steady, decent and grave under all his 'mischief';
for his mischief was only his laborious way of skirting his own _ennui_.
Joe was much younger than Albert--only twenty-three. He was a tallish,
quiet youth, pleasant looking. He was of a slightly better class than his
corporal, more personable. Careful about his appearance, he shaved every
day. 'I haven't got much of a face,' said Albert. 'If I was to shave
every day like you, Joe, I should have none.'
There was plenty of life in the little goods-yard: three porter youths,
a continual come and go of farm wagons bringing hay, wagons with timber
from the woods, coal carts loading at the trucks. The black coal seemed
to make the place sleepier, hotter. Round the big white gate the
station-master's children played and his white chickens walked, whilst
the stationmaster himself, a young man getting too fat, helped his wife
to peg out the washing on the clothes line in the meadow.
The great boat-shaped wagons came up from Playcross with the hay. At
first the farm-men waggoned it. On the third day one of the land-girls
appeared with the first load, drawing to a standstill easily at the head
of her two great horses. She was a buxom girl, young, in linen overalls
and gaiters. Her face was ruddy, she had large blue eyes.
'Now that's the waggoner for us, boys,' said the corporal loudly.
'Whoa!' she said to her horses; and then to the corporal: 'Which boys do
'We are the pick of the bunch. That's Joe, my pal. Don't you let on that
my name's Albert,' said the corporal to his private. 'I'm the corporal.'
'And I'm Miss Stokes,' said the land-girl coolly, 'if that's all the boys
'You know you couldn't want more, Miss Stokes,' said Albert politely.
Joe, who was bare-headed, whose grey flannel sleeves were rolled up to
the elbow, and whose shirt was open at the breast, looked modestly aside
as if he had no part in the affair.
'Are you on this job regular, then?' said the corporal to Miss Stokes.
'I don't know for sure,' she said, pushing a piece of hair under her hat,
and attending to her splendid horses.
'Oh, make it a certainty,' said Albert.
She did not reply. She turned and looked over the two men coolly. She was
pretty, moderately blonde, with crisp hair, a good skin, and large blue
eyes. She was strong, too, and the work went on leisurely and easily.
'Now!' said the corporal, stopping as usual to look round, 'pleasant
company makes work a pleasure--don't hurry it, boys.' He stood on the
truck surveying the world. That was one of his great and absorbing
occupations: to stand and look out on things in general. Joe, also
standing on the truck, also turned round to look what was to be seen. But
he could not become blankly absorbed, as Albert could.
Miss Stokes watched the two men from under her broad felt hat. She had
seen hundreds of Alberts, khaki soldiers standing in loose attitudes,
absorbed in watching nothing in particular. She had seen also a good many
Joes, quiet, good-looking young soldiers with half-averted faces. But
there was something in the turn of Joe's head, and something in his
quiet, tender-looking form, young and fresh--which attracted her eye. As
she watched him closely from below, he turned as if he felt her, and his
dark-blue eye met her straight, light-blue gaze. He faltered and turned
aside again and looked as if he were going to fall off the truck. A
slight flush mounted under the girl's full, ruddy face. She liked him.
Always, after this, when she came into the sidings with her team, it was
Joe she looked for. She acknowledged to herself that she was sweet on
him. But Albert did all the talking. He was so full of fun and nonsense.
Joe was a very shy bird, very brief and remote in his answers. Miss
Stokes was driven to indulge in repartee with Albert, but she fixed her
magnetic attention on the younger fellow. Joe would talk with Albert, and
laugh at his jokes. But Miss Stokes could get little out of him. She had
to depend on her silent forces. They were more effective than might be
Suddenly, on Saturday afternoon, at about two o'clock, Joe received a
bolt from the blue--a telegram: 'Meet me Belbury Station 6.00 p.m. today.
M.S.' He knew at once who M.S. was. His heart melted, he felt weak as if
he had had a blow.
'What's the trouble, boy?' asked Albert anxiously.
'No--no trouble--it's to meet somebody.' Joe lifted his dark-blue eyes in
confusion towards his corporal.
'Meet somebody!' repeated the corporal, watching his young pal with keen
blue eyes. 'It's all right, then; nothing wrong?'
'No--nothing wrong. I'm not going,' said Joe.
Albert was old and shrewd enough to see that nothing more should be said
before the housewife. He also saw that Joe did not want to take him into
confidence. So he held his peace, though he was piqued.
The two soldiers went into town, smartened up. Albert knew a fair
number of the boys round about; there would be plenty of gossip in the
market-place, plenty of lounging in groups on the Bath Road, watching the
Saturday evening shoppers. Then a modest drink or two, and the movies.
They passed an agreeable, casual, nothing-in-particular evening, with
which Joe was quite satisfied. He thought of Belbury Station, and of
M.S. waiting there. He had not the faintest intention of meeting her. And
he had not the faintest intention of telling Albert.
And yet, when the two men were in their bedroom, half undressed, Joe
suddenly held out the telegram to his corporal, saying: 'What d'you think
Albert was just unbuttoning his braces. He desisted, took the telegram
form, and turned towards the candle to read it.
'_Meet me Belbury Station 6.00 p.m. today. M.S._,' he read, _sotto voce_.
His face took on its fun-and-nonsense look.
'Who's M.S.?' he asked, looking shrewdly at Joe.
'You know as well as I do,' said Joe, non-committal.
'M.S.,' repeated Albert. 'Blamed if I know, boy. Is it a woman?'
The conversation was carried on in tiny voices, for fear of disturbing
'I don't know,' said Joe, turning. He looked full at Albert, the two men
looked straight into each other's eyes. There was a lurking grin in each
'Well, I'm--_blamed_!' said Albert at last, throwing the telegram down
emphatically on the bed.
'Wha-at?' said Joe, grinning rather sheepishly, his eyes clouded none the
Albert sat on the bed and proceeded to undress, nodding his head with
mock gravity all the while. Joe watched him foolishly.
'What?' he repeated faintly.
Albert looked up at him with a knowing look.
'If that isn't coming it quick, boy!' he said. 'What the blazes! What ha'
you bin doing?'
'Nothing!' said Joe.
Albert slowly shook his head as he sat on the side of the bed.
'Don't happen to me when I've bin doin' nothing,' he said. And he
proceeded to pull off his stockings.
Joe turned away, looking at himself in the mirror as he unbuttoned his
'You didn't want to keep the appointment?' Albert asked, in a changed
voice, from the bedside.
Joe did not answer for a moment. Then he said:
'I made no appointment.'
'I'm not saying you did, boy. Don't be nasty about it. I mean you didn't
want to answer the--unknown person's summons--shall I put it that way?'
'No,' said Joe.
'What was the deterring motive?' asked Albert, who was now lying on his
back in bed.
'Oh,' said Joe, suddenly looking round rather haughtily. 'I didn't want
to.' He had a well-balanced head, and could take on a sudden distant
'Didn't want to--didn't cotton on, like. Well--_they be artful, the
women_--' he mimicked his landlord. 'Come on into bed, boy. Don't loiter
about as if you'd lost something.'
Albert turned over, to sleep.
On Monday Miss Stokes turned up as usual, striding beside her team. Her
'whoa!' was resonant and challenging, she looked up at the truck as her
steeds came to a standstill. Joe had turned aside, and had his face
averted from her. She glanced him over--save for his slender succulent
tenderness she would have despised him. She sized him up in a steady
look. Then she turned to Albert, who was looking down at her and smiling
in his mischievous turn. She knew his aspects by now. She looked straight
back at him, though her eyes were hot. He saluted her.
'Beautiful morning, Miss Stokes.'
'Very!' she replied.
'Handsome is as handsome looks,' said Albert.
Which produced no response.
'Now, Joe, come on here,' said the corporal. 'Don't keep the ladies
waiting--it's the sign of a weak heart.'
Joe turned, and the work began. Nothing more was said for the time being.
As the week went on all parties became more comfortable. Joe remained
silent, averted, neutral, a little on his dignity. Miss Stokes was
off-hand and masterful. Albert was full of mischief.
The great theme was a circus, which was coming to the market town on the
'You'll go to the circus, Miss Stokes?' said Albert.
'I may go. Are you going?'
'Certainly. Give us the pleasure of escorting you.'
'That's what I call a flat refusal--what, Joe? You don't mean that you
have no liking for our company, Miss Stokes?'
'Oh, I don't know,' said Miss Stokes. 'How many are there of you?'
'Only me and Joe.'
'Oh, is that all?' she said, satirically.
Albert was a little nonplussed.
'Isn't that enough for you?' he asked.
'Too many by half,' blurted out Joe, jeeringly, in a sudden fit of
uncouth rudeness that made both the others stare.
'Oh, I'll stand out of the way, boy, if that's it,' said Albert to Joe.
Then he turned mischievously to Miss Stokes. 'He wants to know what M.
stands for,' he said, confidentially.
'Monkeys,' she replied, turning to her horses.
'What's M.S.?' said Albert.
'Monkey nuts,' she retorted, leading off her team.
Albert looked after her a little discomfited. Joe had flushed dark, and
cursed Albert in his heart.
On the Saturday afternoon the two soldiers took the train into town. They
would have to walk home. They had tea at six o'clock, and lounged about
till half past seven. The circus was in a meadow near the river--a great
red-and-white striped tent. Caravans stood at the side. A great crowd of
people was gathered round the ticket-caravan.
Inside the tent the lamps were lighted, shining on a ring of faces, a
great circular bank of faces round the green grassy centre. Along with
some comrades, the two soldiers packed themselves on a thin plank seat,
rather high. They were delighted with the flaring lights, the wild
effect. But the circus performance did not affect them deeply. They
admired the lady in black velvet with rose-purple legs who leapt so
neatly on to the galloping horse; they watched the feats of strength and
laughed at the clown. But they felt a little patronizing, they missed the
sensational drama of the cinema.
Half-way through the performance Joe was electrified to see the face of
Miss Stokes not very far from him. There she was, in her khaki and her
felt hat, as usual; he pretended not to see her. She was laughing at the
clown; she also pretended not to see him. It was a blow to him, and it
made him angry. He would not even mention it to Albert. Least said,
soonest mended. He liked to believe she had not seen him. But he knew,
fatally, that she had.
When they came out it was nearly eleven o'clock; a lovely night, with a
moon and tall, dark, noble trees: a magnificent May night. Joe and Albert
laughed and chaffed with the boys. Joe looked round frequently to see if
he were safe from Miss Stokes. It seemed so.
But there were six miles to walk home. At last the two soldiers set off,
swinging their canes. The road was white between tall hedges, other
stragglers were passing out of the town towards the villages; the air was
full of pleased excitement.
They were drawing near to the village when they saw a dark figure ahead.
Joe's heart sank with pure fear. It was a figure wheeling a bicycle; a
land girl; Miss Stokes. Albert was ready with his nonsense. Miss Stokes
had a puncture.
'Let me wheel the rattler,' said Albert.
'Thank you,' said Miss Stokes. 'You _are_ kind.'
'Oh, I'd be kinder than that, if you'd show me how,' said Albert.
'Are you sure?' said Miss Stokes.
'Doubt my words?' said Albert. 'That's cruel of you, Miss Stokes.'
Miss Stokes walked between them, close to Joe.
'Have you been to the circus?' she asked him.
'Yes,' he replied, mildly.
'Have _you_ been?' Albert asked her.
'Yes. I didn't see you,' she replied.
'What!--you say so! Didn't see us! Didn't think us worth looking at,'
began Albert. 'Aren't I as handsome as the clown, now? And you didn't as
much as glance in our direction? I call it a downright oversight.'
'I never _saw_ you,' reiterated Miss Stokes. 'I didn't know you saw me.'
'That makes it worse,' said Albert.
The road passed through a belt of dark pine-wood. The village, and the
branch road, was very near. Miss Stokes put out her fingers and felt for
Joe's hand as it swung at his side. To say he was staggered is to put it
mildly. Yet he allowed her softly to clasp his fingers for a few moments.
But he was a mortified youth.
At the cross-road they stopped--Miss Stokes should turn off. She had
another mile to go.
'You'll let us see you home,' said Albert.
'Do me a kindness,' she said. 'Put my bike in your shed, and take it to
Baker's on Monday, will you?'
'I'll sit up all night and mend it for you, if you like.'
'No thanks. And Joe and I'll walk on.'
'Oh--ho! Oh--ho!' sang Albert. 'Joe! Joe! What do you say to that, now,
boy? Aren't you in luck's way. And I get the bloomin' old bike for my
pal. Consider it again, Miss Stokes.'
Joe turned aside his face, and did not speak.
'Oh, well! I wheel the grid, do I? I leave you, boy--'
'I'm not keen on going any further,' barked out Joe, in an uncouth voice.
'She hain't my choice.'
The girl stood silent, and watched the two men.
'There now!' said Albert. 'Think o' that! If it was _me_ now--' But he
was uncomfortable. 'Well, Miss Stokes, have me,' he added.
Miss Stokes stood quite still, neither moved nor spoke. And so the three
remained for some time at the lane end. At last Joe began kicking the
ground--then he suddenly lifted his face. At that moment Miss Stokes was
at his side. She put her arm delicately round his waist.
'Seems I'm the one extra, don't you think?' Albert inquired of the high
Joe had dropped his head and did not answer. Miss Stokes stood with her
arm lightly round his waist. Albert bowed, saluted, and bade good-night.
He walked away, leaving the two standing.
Miss Stokes put a light pressure on Joe's waist, and drew him down the
road. They walked in silence. The night was full of scent--wild cherry,
the first bluebells. Still they walked in silence. A nightingale was
singing. They approached nearer and nearer, till they stood close by his
dark bush. The powerful notes sounded from the cover, almost like flashes
of light--then the interval of silence--then the moaning notes, almost
like a dog faintly howling, followed by the long, rich trill, and
flashing notes. Then a short silence again.
Miss Stokes turned at last to Joe. She looked up at him, and in the
moonlight he saw her faintly smiling. He felt maddened, but helpless. Her
arm was round his waist, she drew him closely to her with a soft pressure
that made all his bones rotten.
Meanwhile Albert was waiting at home. He put on his overcoat, for the
fire was out, and he had had malarial fever. He looked fitfully at the
_Daily Mirror_ and the _Daily Sketch_, but he saw nothing. It seemed a
long time. He began to yawn widely, even to nod. At last Joe came in.
Albert looked at him keenly. The young man's brow was black, his face
'All right, boy?' asked Albert.
Joe merely grunted for a reply. There was nothing more to be got out of
him. So they went to bed.
Next day Joe was silent, sullen. Albert could make nothing of him. He
proposed a walk after tea.
'I'm going somewhere,' said Joe.
'Where--Monkey nuts?' asked the corporal. But Joe's brow only became
So the days went by. Almost every evening Joe went off alone, returning
late. He was sullen, taciturn and had a hang-dog look, a curious way of
dropping his head and looking dangerously from under his brows. And he
and Albert did not get on so well any more with one another. For all his
fun and nonsense, Albert was really irritable, soon made angry. And Joe's
stand-offish sulkiness and complete lack of confidence riled him, got on
his nerves. His fun and nonsense took a biting, sarcastic turn, at which
Joe's eyes glittered occasionally, though the young man turned unheeding
aside. Then again Joe would be full of odd, whimsical fun, outshining
Miss Stokes still came to the station with the wain: Monkey-nuts,
Albert called her, though not to her face. For she was very clear and
good-looking, almost she seemed to gleam. And Albert was a tiny bit
afraid of her. She very rarely addressed Joe whilst the hay-loading was
going on, and that young man always turned his back to her. He seemed
thinner, and his limber figure looked more slouching. But still it had
the tender, attractive appearance, especially from behind. His tanned
face, a little thinned and darkened, took a handsome, slightly sinister
'Come on, Joe!' the corporal urged sharply one day. 'What're you doing,
boy? Looking for beetles on the bank?'
Joe turned round swiftly, almost menacing, to work.
'He's a different fellow these days, Miss Stokes,' said Albert to the
young woman. 'What's got him? Is it Monkey nuts that don't suit him, do
'Choked with chaff, more like,' she retorted. 'It's as bad as feeding a
threshing machine, to have to listen to some folks.'
'As bad as what?' said Albert. 'You don't mean me, do you, Miss Stokes?'
'No,' she cried. 'I don't mean you.'
Joe's face became dark red during these sallies, but he said nothing. He
would eye the young woman curiously, as she swung so easily at the work,
and he had some of the look of a dog which is going to bite.
Albert, with his nerves on edge, began to find the strain rather severe.
The next Saturday evening, when Joe came in more black-browed than ever,
he watched him, determined to have it out with him.
When the boy went upstairs to bed, the corporal followed him. He closed
the door behind him carefully, sat on the bed and watched the younger man
undressing. And for once he spoke in a natural voice, neither chaffing
'What's gone wrong, boy?'
Joe stopped a moment as if he had been shot. Then he went on unwinding
his puttees, and did not answer or look up.
'You can hear, can't you?' said Albert, nettled.
'Yes, I can hear,' said Joe, stooping over his puttees till his face was
'Then why don't you answer?'
Joe sat up. He gave a long, sideways look at the corporal. Then he lifted
his eyes and stared at a crack in the ceiling.
The corporal watched these movements shrewdly.
'And _then_ what?' he asked, ironically.
Again Joe turned and stared him in the face. The corporal smiled very
slightly, but kindly.
'There'll be murder done one of these days,' said Joe, in a quiet,
'So long as it's by daylight--' replied Albert. Then he went over, sat
down by Joe, put his hand on his shoulder affectionately, and continued,
'What is it, boy? What's gone wrong? You can trust me, can't you?'
Joe turned and looked curiously at the face so near to his.
'It's nothing, that's all,' he said laconically.
'Then who's going to be murdered?--and who's going to do the
murdering?--me or you--which is it, boy?' He smiled gently at the stupid
youth, looking straight at him all the while, into his eyes. Gradually
the stupid, hunted, glowering look died out of Joe's eyes. He turned his
head aside, gently, as one rousing from a spell.
'I don't want her,' he said, with fierce resentment.
'Then you needn't have her,' said Albert. 'What do you go for, boy?'
But it wasn't as simple as all that. Joe made no remark.
'She's a smart-looking girl. What's wrong with her, my boy? I should have
thought you were a lucky chap, myself.'
'I don't want 'er,' Joe barked, with ferocity and resentment.
'Then tell her so and have done,' said Albert. He waited awhile. There
was no response. 'Why don't you?' he added.
'Because I don't,' confessed Joe, sulkily.
Albert pondered--rubbed his head.
'You're too soft-hearted, that's where it is, boy. You want your mettle
dipping in cold water, to temper it. You're too soft-hearted--'
He laid his arm affectionately across the shoulders of the younger man.
Joe seemed to yield a little towards him.
'When are you going to see her again?' Albert asked. For a long time
there was no answer.
'When is it, boy?' persisted the softened voice of the corporal.
'Tomorrow,' confessed Joe.
'Then let me go,' said Albert. 'Let me go, will you?'
The morrow was Sunday, a sunny day, but a cold evening. The sky was grey,
the new foliage very green, but the air was chill and depressing. Albert
walked briskly down the white road towards Beeley. He crossed a larch
plantation, and followed a narrow by-road, where blue speedwell flowers
fell from the banks into the dust. He walked swinging his cane, with
mixed sensations. Then having gone a certain length, he turned and began
to walk in the opposite direction.
So he saw a young woman approaching him. She was wearing a wide hat of
grey straw, and a loose, swinging dress of nigger-grey velvet. She walked
with slow inevitability. Albert faltered a little as he approached her.
Then he saluted her, and his roguish, slightly withered skin flushed. She
was staring straight into his face.
He fell in by her side, saying impudently:
'Not so nice for a walk as it was, is it?'
She only stared at him. He looked back at her.
'You've seen me before, you know,' he said, grinning slightly. 'Perhaps
you never noticed me. Oh, I'm quite nice looking, in a quiet way, you
But Miss Stokes did not speak: she only stared with large, icy blue eyes
at him. He became self-conscious, lifted up his chin, walked with his
nose in the air, and whistled at random. So they went down the quiet,
deserted grey lane. He was whistling the air: 'I'm Gilbert, the filbert,
the colonel of the nuts.'
At last she found her voice:
'He thought you'd like a change: they say variety's the salt of
life--that's why I'm mostly in pickle.'
'Where is he?'
'Am I my brother's keeper? He's gone his own ways.'
'Nay, how am I to know? Not so far but he'll be back for supper.'
She stopped in the middle of the lane. He stopped facing her.
'Where's Joe?' she asked.
He struck a careless attitude, looked down the road this way and that,
lifted his eyebrows, pushed his khaki cap on one side, and answered:
'He is not conducting the service tonight: he asked me if I'd officiate.'
'Why hasn't he come?'
'Didn't want to, I expect. I wanted to.'
She stared him up and down, and he felt uncomfortable in his spine, but
maintained his air of nonchalance. Then she turned slowly on her heel,
and started to walk back. The corporal went at her side.
'You're not going back, are you?' he pleaded. 'Why, me and you, we should
get on like a house on fire.'
She took no heed, but walked on. He went uncomfortably at her side,
making his funny remarks from time to time. But she was as if stone deaf.
He glanced at her, and to his dismay saw the tears running down her
cheeks. He stopped suddenly, and pushed back his cap.
'I say, you know--' he began.
But she was walking on like an automaton, and he had to hurry after her.
She never spoke to him. At the gate of her farm she walked straight in,
as if he were not there. He watched her disappear. Then he turned on his
heel, cursing silently, puzzled, lifting off his cap to scratch his head.
That night, when they were in bed, he remarked: 'Say, Joe, boy; strikes
me you're well-off without Monkey nuts. Gord love us, beans ain't in it.'
So they slept in amity. But they waited with some anxiety for the morrow.
It was a cold morning, a grey sky shifting in a cold wind, and
threatening rain. They watched the wagon come up the road and through the
yard gates. Miss Stokes was with her team as usual; her 'Whoa!' rang out
like a war-whoop.
She faced up at the truck where the two men stood.
'Joe!' she called, to the averted figure which stood up in the wind.
'What?' he turned unwillingly.
She made a queer movement, lifting her head slightly in a sipping,
half-inviting, half-commanding gesture. And Joe was crouching already to
jump off the truck to obey her, when Albert put his hand on his shoulder.
'Half a minute, boy! Where are you off? Work's work, and nuts is nuts.
You stop here.'
Joe slowly straightened himself.
'Joe!' came the woman's clear call from below.
Again Joe looked at her. But Albert's hand was on his shoulder, detaining
him. He stood half averted, with his tail between his legs.
'Take your hand off him, you!' said Miss Stokes.
'Yes, Major,' retorted Albert satirically.
She stood and watched.
'Joe!' Her voice rang for the third time.
Joe turned and looked at her, and a slow, jeering smile gathered on his
'Monkey nuts!' he replied, in a tone mocking her call.
She turned white--dead white. The men thought she would fall. Albert
began yelling to the porters up the line to come and help with the load.
He could yell like any non-commissioned officer upon occasion.
Some way or other the wagon was unloaded, the girl was gone. Joe and his
corporal looked at one another and smiled slowly. But they had a weight
on their minds, they were afraid.
They were reassured, however, when they found that Miss Stokes came no
more with the hay. As far as they were concerned, she had vanished into
oblivion. And Joe felt more relieved even than he had felt when he heard
the firing cease, after the news had come that the armistice was signed.
There was thin, crisp snow on the ground, the sky was blue, the wind very
cold, the air clear. Farmers were just turning out the cows for an hour
or so in the midday, and the smell of cow-sheds was unendurable as I
entered Tible. I noticed the ash-twigs up in the sky were pale and
luminous, passing into the blue. And then I saw the peacocks. There they
were in the road before me, three of them, and tailless, brown, speckled
birds, with dark-blue necks and ragged crests. They stepped archly over
the filigree snow, and their bodies moved with slow motion, like small,
light, flat-bottomed boats. I admired them, they were curious. Then a
gust of wind caught them, heeled them over as if they were three frail
boats opening their feathers like ragged sails. They hopped and skipped
with discomfort, to get out of the draught of the wind. And then, in the
lee of the walls, they resumed their arch, wintry motion, light and
unballasted now their tails were gone, indifferent. They were indifferent
to my presence. I might have touched them. They turned off to the shelter
of an open shed.
As I passed the end of the upper house, I saw a young woman just coming
out of the back door. I had spoken to her in the summer. She recognized
me at once, and waved to me. She was carrying a pail, wearing a white
apron that was longer than her preposterously short skirt, and she had on
the cotton bonnet. I took off my hat to her and was going on. But she put
down her pail and darted with a swift, furtive movement after me.
'Do you mind waiting a minute?' she said. 'I'll be out in a minute.'
She gave me a slight, odd smile, and ran back. Her face was long and
sallow and her nose rather red. But her gloomy black eyes softened
caressively to me for a moment, with that momentary humility which makes
a man lord of the earth.
I stood in the road, looking at the fluffy, dark-red young cattle that
mooed and seemed to bark at me. They seemed happy, frisky cattle, a
little impudent, and either determined to go back into the warm shed, or
determined not to go back, I could not decide which.
Presently the woman came forward again, her head rather ducked. But she
looked up at me and smiled, with that odd, immediate intimacy, something
witch-like and impossible.
'Sorry to keep you waiting,' she said. 'Shall we stand in this
cart-shed--it will be more out of the wind.'
So we stood among the shafts of the open cart-shed that faced the road.
Then she looked down at the ground, a little sideways, and I noticed a
small black frown on her brows. She seemed to brood for a moment. Then
she looked straight into my eyes, so that I blinked and wanted to turn my
face aside. She was searching me for something and her look was too near.
The frown was still on her keen, sallow brow.
'Can you speak French?' she asked me abruptly.
'More or less,' I replied.
'I was supposed to learn it at school,' she said. 'But I don't know a
word.' She ducked her head and laughed, with a slightly ugly grimace and
a rolling of her black eyes.
'No good keeping your mind full of scraps,' I answered.
But she had turned aside her sallow, long face, and did not hear what I
said. Suddenly again she looked at me. She was searching. And at the same
time she smiled at me, and her eyes looked softly, darkly, with infinite
trustful humility into mine. I was being cajoled.
'Would you mind reading a letter for me, in French,' she said, her face
immediately black and bitter-looking. She glanced at me, frowning.
'Not at all,' I said.
'It's a letter to my husband,' she said, still scrutinizing.
I looked at her, and didn't quite realize. She looked too far into me, my
wits were gone. She glanced round. Then she looked at me shrewdly. She
drew a letter from her pocket, and handed it to me. It was addressed from
France to Lance-Corporal Goyte, at Tible. I took out the letter and began
to read it, as mere words. '_Mon cher Alfred_'--it might have been a bit
of a torn newspaper. So I followed the script: the trite phrases of a
letter from a French-speaking girl to an English soldier. 'I think of you
always, always. Do you think sometimes of me?' And then I vaguely
realized that I was reading a man's private correspondence. And yet, how
could one consider these trivial, facile French phrases private! Nothing
more trite and vulgar in the world, than such a love-letter--no newspaper
Therefore I read with a callous heart the effusions of the Belgian
damsel. But then I gathered my attention. For the letter went on, '_Notre
cher petit bebe_--our dear little baby was born a week ago. Almost I
died, knowing you were far away, and perhaps forgetting the fruit of our
perfect love. But the child comforted me. He has the smiling eyes and
virile air of his English father. I pray to the Mother of Jesus to send
me the dear father of my child, that I may see him with my child in his
arms, and that we may be united in holy family love. Ah, my Alfred, can I
tell you how I miss you, how I weep for you. My thoughts are with you
always, I think of nothing but you, I live for nothing but you and our
dear baby. If you do not come back to me soon, I shall die, and our child
will die. But no, you cannot come back to me. But I can come to you, come
to England with our child. If you do not wish to present me to your good
mother and father, you can meet me in some town, some city, for I shall
be so frightened to be alone in England with my child, and no one to take
care of us. Yet I must come to you, I must bring my child, my little
Alfred to his father, the big, beautiful Alfred that I love so much. Oh,
write and tell me where I shall come. I have some money, I am not a
penniless creature. I have money for myself and my dear baby--'
I read to the end. It was signed: 'Your very happy and still more unhappy
Elise.' I suppose I must have been smiling.
'I can see it makes you laugh,' said Mrs. Goyte, sardonically. I looked
up at her.
'It's a love-letter, I know that,' she said. 'There's too many "Alfreds"
'One too many,' I said.
'Oh, yes--And what does she say--Eliza? We know her name's Eliza, that's
another thing.' She grimaced a little, looking up at me with a mocking
'Where did you get this letter?' I said.
'Postman gave it me last week.'
'And is your husband at home?'
'I expect him home tonight. He's been wounded, you know, and we've been
applying for him home. He was home about six weeks ago--he's been in
Scotland since then. Oh, he was wounded in the leg. Yes, he's all right,
a great strapping fellow. But he's lame, he limps a bit. He expects he'll
get his discharge--but I don't think he will. We married? We've been
married six years--and he joined up the first day of the war. Oh, he
thought he'd like the life. He'd been through the South African War. No,
he was sick of it, fed up. I'm living with his father and mother--I've no
home of my own now. My people had a big farm--over a thousand acres--in
Oxfordshire. Not like here--no. Oh, they're very good to me, his father
and mother. Oh, yes, they couldn't be better. They think more of me than
of their own daughters. But it's not like being in a place of your own,
is it? You can't _really_ do as you like. No, there's only me and his
father and mother at home. Before the war? Oh, he was anything. He's had
a good education--but he liked the farming better. Then he was a
chauffeur. That's how he knew French. He was driving a gentleman in
France for a long time--'
At this point the peacocks came round the corner on a puff of wind.
'Hello, Joey!' she called, and one of the birds came forward, on delicate
legs. Its grey speckled back was very elegant, it rolled its full,
dark-blue neck as it moved to her. She crouched down. 'Joey, dear,' she
said, in an odd, saturnine caressive voice, 'you're bound to find me,
aren't you?' She put her face forward, and the bird rolled his neck,
almost touching her face with his beak, as if kissing her.
'He loves you,' I said.
She twisted her face up at me with a laugh.
'Yes,' she said, 'he loves me, Joey does,'--then, to the bird--'and I
love Joey, don't I. I _do_ love Joey.' And she smoothed his feathers for
a moment. Then she rose, saying: 'He's an affectionate bird.'
I smiled at the roll of her 'bir-rrd'.
'Oh, yes, he is,' she protested. 'He came with me from my home seven
years ago. Those others are his descendants--but they're not like
Joey--_are they, dee-urr?_' Her voice rose at the end with a witch-like
Then she forgot the birds in the cart-shed and turned to business again.
'Won't you read that letter?' she said. 'Read it, so that I know what it
'It's rather behind his back,' I said.
'Oh, never mind him,' she cried. 'He's been behind my back long
enough--all these four years. If he never did no worse things behind my
back than I do behind his, he wouldn't have cause to grumble. You read me
what it says.'
Now I felt a distinct reluctance to do as she bid, and yet I began--'My
'I guessed that much,' she said. 'Eliza's dear Alfred.' She laughed. 'How
do you say it in French? _Eliza?_'
I told her, and she repeated the name with great contempt--_Elise_.
'Go on,' she said. 'You're not reading.'
So I began--'I have been thinking of you sometimes--have you been
thinking of me?'--
'Of several others as well, beside her, I'll wager,' said Mrs. Goyte.
'Probably not,' said I, and continued. 'A dear little baby was born here
a week ago. Ah, can I tell you my feelings when I take my darling little
brother into my arms--'
'I'll bet it's _his_,' cried Mrs. Goyte.
'No,' I said. 'It's her mother's.'
'Don't you believe it,' she cried. 'It's a blind. You mark, it's her own
right enough--and his.'
'No,' I said, 'it's her mother's.' 'He has sweet smiling eyes, but not
like your beautiful English eyes--'
She suddenly struck her hand on her skirt with a wild motion, and bent
down, doubled with laughter. Then she rose and covered her face with her
'I'm forced to laugh at the beautiful English eyes,' she said.
'Aren't his eyes beautiful?' I asked.
'Oh, yes--_very!_ Go on!--_Joey, dear, dee-urr, Joey!_'--this to the
--'Er--We miss you very much. We all miss you. We wish you were here to
see the darling baby. Ah, Alfred, how happy we were when you stayed with
us. We all loved you so much. My mother will call the baby Alfred so that
we shall never forget you--'
'Of course it's his right enough,' cried Mrs. Goyte.
'No,' I said. 'It's the mother's.' Er--'My mother is very well. My father
came home yesterday--on leave. He is delighted with his son, my little
brother, and wishes to have him named after you, because you were so good
to us all in that terrible time, which I shall never forget. I must weep
now when I think of it. Well, you are far away in England, and perhaps I
shall never see you again. How did you find your dear mother and father?
I am so happy that your wound is better, and that you can nearly walk--'
'How did he find his dear _wife!_' cried Mrs. Goyte. 'He never told her
he had one. Think of taking the poor girl in like that!'
'We are so pleased when you write to us. Yet now you are in England you
will forget the family you served so well--'
'A bit too well--eh, _Joey!_' cried the wife.
'If it had not been for you we should not be alive now, to grieve and to
rejoice in this life, that is so hard for us. But we have recovered some
of our losses, and no longer feel the burden of poverty. The little
Alfred is a great comfort to me. I hold him to my breast and think of the
big, good Alfred, and I weep to think that those times of suffering were
perhaps the times of a great happiness that is gone for ever.'
'Oh, but isn't it a shame, to take a poor girl in like that!' cried Mrs.
Goyte. 'Never to let on that he was married, and raise her hopes--I call
it beastly, I do.'
'You don't know,' I said. 'You know how anxious women are to fall in
love, wife or no wife. How could he help it, if she was determined to
fall in love with him?'
'He could have helped it if he'd wanted.'
'Well,' I said, 'we aren't all heroes.'
'Oh, but that's different! The big, good Alfred!--did ever you hear such
tommy-rot in your life! Go on--what does she say at the end?'
'Er--We shall be pleased to hear of your life in England. We all send
many kind regards to your good parents. I wish you all happiness for your
future days. Your very affectionate and ever-grateful Elise.'
There was silence for a moment, during which Mrs. Goyte remained with her
head dropped, sinister and abstracted. Suddenly she lifted her face, and
her eyes flashed.
'Oh, but I call it beastly, I call it mean, to take a girl in like that.'
'Nay,' I said. 'Probably he hasn't taken her in at all. Do you think
those French girls are such poor innocent things? I guess she's a great
deal more downy than he.'
'Oh, he's one of the biggest fools that ever walked,' she cried.
'There you are!' said I.
'But it's his child right enough,' she said.
'I don't think so,' said I.
'I'm sure of it.'
'Oh, well,' I said, 'if you prefer to think that way.'
'What other reason has she for writing like that--'
I went out into the road and looked at the cattle.
'Who is this driving the cows?' I said. She too came out.
'It's the boy from the next farm,' she said.
'Oh, well,' said I, 'those Belgian girls! You never know where their
letters will end. And, after all, it's his affair--you needn't bother.'
'Oh--!' she cried, with rough scorn--'it's not _me_ that bothers. But
it's the nasty meanness of it--me writing him such loving letters'--she
put her hand before her face and laughed malevolently--'and sending him
parcels all the time. You bet he fed that gurrl on my parcels--I know he
did. It's just like him. I'll bet they laughed together over my letters.
I bet anything they did--'
'Nay,' said I. 'He'd burn your letters for fear they'd give him away.'
There was a black look on her yellow face. Suddenly a voice was heard
calling. She poked her head out of the shed, and answered coolly:
'All right!' Then turning to me: 'That's his mother looking after me.'
She laughed into my face, witch-like, and we turned down the road.
When I awoke, the morning after this episode, I found the house darkened
with deep, soft snow, which had blown against the large west windows,
covering them with a screen. I went outside, and saw the valley all white
and ghastly below me, the trees beneath black and thin looking like wire,
the rock-faces dark between the glistening shroud, and the sky above
sombre, heavy, yellowish-dark, much too heavy for this world below of
hollow bluey whiteness figured with black. I felt I was in a valley of
the dead. And I sensed I was a prisoner, for the snow was everywhere
deep, and drifted in places. So all the morning I remained indoors,
looking up the drive at the shrubs so heavily plumed with snow, at the
gateposts raised high with a foot or more of extra whiteness. Or I looked
down into the white-and-black valley that was utterly motionless and
beyond life, a hollow sarcophagus.
Nothing stirred the whole day--no plume fell off the shrubs, the valley
was as abstracted as a grove of death. I looked over at the tiny,
half-buried farms away on the bare uplands beyond the valley hollow, and
I thought of Tible in the snow, of the black witch-like little Mrs.
Goyte. And the snow seemed to lay me bare to influences I wanted to
In the faint glow of the half-clear light that came about four o'clock in
the afternoon, I was roused to see a motion in the snow away below, near
where the thorn trees stood very black and dwarfed, like a little savage
group, in the dismal white. I watched closely. Yes, there was a flapping
and a struggle--a big bird, it must be, labouring in the snow. I
wondered. Our biggest birds, in the valley, were the large hawks that
often hung flickering opposite my windows, level with me, but high above
some prey on the steep valleyside. This was much too big for a hawk--too
big for any known bird. I searched in my mind for the largest English
wild birds, geese, buzzards.
Still it laboured and strove, then was still, a dark spot, then struggled
again. I went out of the house and down the steep slope, at risk of
breaking my leg between the rocks. I knew the ground so well--and yet I
got well shaken before I drew near the thorn-trees.
Yes, it was a bird. It was Joey. It was the grey-brown peacock with a
blue neck. He was snow-wet and spent.
'Joey--Joey, de-urr!' I said, staggering unevenly towards him. He looked
so pathetic, rowing and struggling in the snow, too spent to rise, his
blue neck stretching out and lying sometimes on the snow, his eye closing
and opening quickly, his crest all battered.
'Joey dee-uur! Dee-urr!' I said caressingly to him. And at last he lay
still, blinking, in the surged and furrowed snow, whilst I came near and
touched him, stroked him, gathered him under my arm. He stretched his
long, wetted neck away from me as I held him, none the less he was quiet
in my arm, too tired, perhaps, to struggle. Still he held his poor,
crested head away from me, and seemed sometimes to droop, to wilt, as if
he might suddenly die.
He was not so heavy as I expected, yet it was a struggle to get up to the
house with him again. We set him down, not too near the fire, and gently
wiped him with cloths. He submitted, only now and then stretched his soft
neck away from us, avoiding us helplessly. Then we set warm food by him.
I _put_ it to his beak, tried to make him eat. But he ignored it. He
seemed to be ignorant of what we were doing, recoiled inside himself
inexplicably. So we put him in a basket with cloths, and left him
crouching oblivious. His food we put near him. The blinds were drawn, the
house was warm, it was night. Sometimes he stirred, but mostly he huddled
still, leaning his queer crested head on one side. He touched no food,
and took no heed of sounds or movements. We talked of brandy or
stimulants. But I realized we had best leave him alone.
In the night, however, we heard him thumping about. I got up anxiously
with a candle. He had eaten some food, and scattered more, making a mess.
And he was perched on the back of a heavy arm-chair. So I concluded he
was recovered, or recovering.
The next day was clear, and the snow had frozen, so I decided to carry
him back to Tible. He consented, after various flappings, to sit in a big
fish-bag with his battered head peeping out with wild uneasiness. And so
I set off with him, slithering down into the valley, making good progress
down in the pale shadow beside the rushing waters, then climbing
painfully up the arrested white valleyside, plumed with clusters of young
pine trees, into the paler white radiance of the snowy, upper regions,
where the wind cut fine. Joey seemed to watch all the time with wide
anxious, unseeing eye, brilliant and inscrutable. As I drew near to Tible
township he stirred violently in the bag, though I do not know if he had
recognized the place. Then, as I came to the sheds, he looked sharply
from side to side, and stretched his neck out long. I was a little afraid
of him. He gave a loud, vehement yell, opening his sinister beak, and I
stood still, looking at him as he struggled in the bag, shaken myself by
his struggles, yet not thinking to release him.
Mrs. Goyte came darting past the end of the house, her head sticking
forward in sharp scrutiny. She saw me, and came forward.
'Have you got Joey?' she cried sharply, as if I were a thief.
I opened the bag, and he flopped out, flapping as if he hated the touch
of the snow now. She gathered him up, and put her lips to his beak. She
was flushed and handsome, her eyes bright, her hair slack, thick, but
more witch-like than ever. She did not speak.
She had been followed by a grey-haired woman with a round, rather sallow
face and a slightly hostile bearing.
'Did you bring him with you, then?' she asked sharply. I answered that I
had rescued him the previous evening.
From the background slowly approached a slender man with a grey moustache
and large patches on his trousers.
'You've got'im back 'gain, ah see,' he said to his daughter-in-law. His
wife explained how I had found Joey.
'Ah,' went on the grey man. 'It wor our Alfred scared him off, back your
life. He must'a flyed ower t'valley. Tha ma' thank thy stars as 'e wor
fun, Maggie. 'E'd a bin froze. They a bit nesh, you know,' he concluded
'They are,' I answered. 'This isn't their country.'
'No, it isna,' replied Mr. Goyte. He spoke very slowly and deliberately,
quietly, as if the soft pedal were always down in his voice. He looked at
his daughter-in-law as she crouched, flushed and dark, before the
peacock, which would lay its long blue neck for a moment along her lap.
In spite of his grey moustache and thin grey hair, the elderly man had a
face young and almost delicate, like a young man's. His blue eyes
twinkled with some inscrutable source of pleasure, his skin was fine and
tender, his nose delicately arched. His grey hair being slightly ruffled,
he had a debonair look, as of a youth who is in love.
'We mun tell 'im it's come,' he said slowly, and turning he called:
'Alfred--Alfred! Wheer's ter gotten to?'
Then he turned again to the group.
'Get up then, Maggie, lass, get up wi' thee. Tha ma'es too much o'
A young man approached, wearing rough khaki and kneebreeches. He was
Danish looking, broad at the loins.
'I's come back then,' said the father to the son; 'leastwise, he's bin
browt back, flyed ower the Griff Low.'
The son looked at me. He had a devil-may-care bearing, his cap on one
side, his hands stuck in the front pockets of his breeches. But he said
'Shall you come in a minute, Master,' said the elderly woman, to me.
'Ay, come in an' ha'e a cup o' tea or summat. You'll do wi' summat,
carrin' that bod. Come on, Maggie wench, let's go in.'
So we went indoors, into the rather stuffy, overcrowded living-room, that
was too cosy, and too warm. The son followed last, standing in the
doorway. The father talked to me.
Maggie put out the tea-cups. The mother went into the dairy again.
'Tha'lt rouse thysen up a bit again, now, Maggie,' the father-in-law
said--and then to me: ''ers not bin very bright sin' Alfred came whoam,
an' the bod flyed awee. 'E come whoam a Wednesday night, Alfred did. But