Part 4 out of 6
"Quite right. What's that smell of flowers?"
"It's from those 'yacinths on the sideboard, sir. They come from
Mrs. Larne, this afternoon."
"Put 'em on the table. Where's my daughter?"
"She's had dinner, sir; goin' to a ball, I think."
"Charity ball, I fancy, sir."
"Ummm! Give me a touch of the old sherry with the soup."
"Yes, sir. I shall have to open a bottle:"
"Very well, then, do!"
On his way to the cellar the man confided to Molly, who was carrying
"The Gov'nor's going it to-night! What he'll be like tomorrow I
The girl answered softly:
"Poor old man, let um have his pleasure." And, in the hall, with the
soup tureen against her bosom, she hummed above the steam, and
thought of the ribbons on her new chemises, bought out of the
sovereign he had given her.
And old Heythorp, digesting his osyters, snuffed the scent of the
hyacinths, and thought of the St. Germain, his favourite soup. It
would n't be first-rate, at this time of year--should be made with
little young home-grown peas. Paris was the place for it. Ah! The
French were the fellows for eating, and--looking things in the face!
Not hypocrites--not ashamed of their reason or their senses!
The soup came in. He sipped it, bending forward as far as he could,
his napkin tucked in over his shirt-front like a bib. He got the
bouquet of that sherry to a T--his sense of smell was very keen to-
night; rare old stuff it was--more than a year since he had tasted
it--but no one drank sherry nowadays, hadn't the constitution for it!
The fish came up, and went down; and with the sweetbread he took his
second glass of champagne. Always the best, that second glass--the
stomach well warmed, and the palate not yet dulled. Umm! So that
fellow thought he had him beaten, did he? And he said suddenly:
"The fur coat in the wardrobe, I've no use for it. You can take it
With tempered gratitude the valet answered:
"Thank you, sir; much obliged, I'm sure." So the old buffer had
found out there was moth in it!
"Have I worried you much?"
"No, sir; not at all, sir--that is, no more than reason."
"Afraid I have. Very sorry--can't help it. You'll find that, when
you get like me."
"Yes, sir; I've always admired your pluck, sir.
"Um! Very good of you to say so."
"Always think of you keepin' the flag flying', sir."
Old Heythorp bent his body from the waist.
"Much obliged to you."
"Not at all, sir. Cook's done a little spinach in cream with the
"Ah! Tell her from me it's a capital dinner, so far."
"Thank you, sir."
Alone again, old Heythorp sat unmoving, his brain just narcotically
touched. "The flag flyin'--the flag flyin'!" He raised his glass
and sucked. He had an appetite now, and finished the three cutlets,
and all the sauce and spinach. Pity! he could have managed a snipe
fresh shot! A desire to delay, to lengthen dinner, was strong upon
him; there were but the souffle' and the savoury to come. He would
have enjoyed, too, someone to talk to. He had always been fond of
good company--been good company himself, or so they said--not that he
had had a chance of late. Even at the Boards they avoided talking to
him, he had noticed for a long time. Well! that wouldn't trouble
him again--he had sat through his last Board, no doubt. They
shouldn't kick him off, though; he wouldn't give them that pleasure--
had seen the beggars hankering after his chairman's shoes too long.
The souffle was before him now, and lifting his glass, he said:
"These are the special glasses, sir; only four to the bottle."
The servant filled, screwing up his mouth.
Old Heythorp drank, and put the glass down empty with a sigh. He had
been faithful to his principles, finished the bottle before touching
the sweet--a good bottle--of a good brand! And now for the souffle!
Delicious, flipped down with the old sherry! So that holy woman was
going to a ball, was she! How deuced funny! Who would dance with a
dry stick like that, all eaten up with a piety which was just sexual
disappointment? Ah! yes, lots of women like that--had often noticed
'em--pitied 'em too, until you had to do with them and they made you
as unhappy as themselves, and were tyrants into the bargain. And he
"What's the savoury?"
"Cheese remmykin, sir."
"I'll have my port with it--the 'sixty-eight." The man stood gazing
with evident stupefaction. He had not expected this. The old man's
face was very flushed, but that might be the bath. He said feebly:
"Are you sure you ought, sir?"
"No, but I'm going to."
"Would you mind if I spoke to Miss Heythorp, Sir?"
"If you do, you can leave my service."
"Well, Sir, I don't accept the responsibility."
"Who asked you to?"
"Well, get it, then; and don't be an ass."
"Yes, Sir." If the old man were not humoured he would have a fit,
And the old man sat quietly staring at the hyacinths. He felt happy,
his whole being lined and warmed and drowsed--and there was more to
come! What had the holy folk to give you compared with the comfort
of a good dinner? Could they make you dream, and see life rosy for a
little? No, they could only give you promissory notes which never
would be cashed. A man had nothing but his pluck--they only tried to
undermine it, and make him squeal for help. He could see his
precious doctor throwing up his hands: "Port after a bottle of
champagne--you'll die of it!" And a very good death too--none
better. A sound broke the silence of the closed-up room. Music?
His daughter playing the piano overhead. Singing too! What a
trickle of a voice! Jenny Lind! The Swedish nightingale--he had
never missed the nights when she was singing--Jenny Lind!
"It's very hot, sir. Shall I take it out of the case?"
Ah! The ramequin!
"Touch of butter, and the cayenne!"
He ate it slowly, savouring each mouthful; had never tasted a better.
With cheese--port! He drank one glass, and said:
"Help me to my chair."
And settled there before the fire with decanter and glass and hand-
bell on the little low table by his side, he murmured:
"Bring coffee, and my cigar, in twenty minutes."
To-night he would do justice to his wine, not smoking till he had
finished. As old Horace said:
"Aequam memento rebus in arduis Servare mentem."
And, raising his glass, he sipped slowly, spilling a drop or two,
shutting his eyes.
The faint silvery squealing of the holy woman in the room above, the
scent of hyacinths, the drowse of the fire, on which a cedar log had
just been laid, the feeling of the port soaking down into the
crannies of his being, made up a momentary Paradise. Then the music
stopped; and no sound rose but the tiny groans of the log trying to
resist the fire. Dreamily he thought: 'Life wears you out--wears you
out. Logs on a fire!' And he filled his glass again. That fellow
had been careless; there were dregs at the bottom of the decanter and
he had got down to them! Then, as the last drop from his tilted
glass trickled into the white hairs on his chin, he heard the coffee
tray put down, and taking his cigar he put it to his ear, rolling it
in his thick fingers. In prime condition! And drawing a first
whiff, he said:
"Open that bottle of the old brandy in the sideboard."
"Brandy, sir? I really daren't, sir."
"Are you my servant or not?"
"Yes, sir, but---"
A minute of silence, then the man went hastily to the sideboard, took
out the bottle, and drew the cork. The tide of crimson in the old
man's face had frightened him.
"Leave it there."
The unfortunate valet placed the bottle on the little table. 'I'll
have to tell her,' he thought; 'but if I take away the port decanter
and the glass, it won't look so bad.' And, carrying them, he left the
Slowly the old man drank his coffee, and the liqueur of brandy. The
whole gamut! And watching his cigar-smoke wreathing blue in the
orange glow, he smiled. The last night to call his soul his own, the
last night of his independence. Send in his resignations to-morrow--
not wait to be kicked off! Not give that fellow a chance
A voice which seemed to come from far off, said:
"Father! You're drinking brandy! How can you--you know it's simple
poison to you!" A figure in white, scarcely actual, loomed up close.
He took the bottle to fill up his liqueur glass, in defiance; but a
hand in a long white glove, with another dangling from its wrist,
pulled it away, shook it at him, and replaced it in the sideboard.
And, just as when Mr. Ventnor stood there accusing him, a swelling
and churning in his throat prevented him from speech; his lips moved,
but only a little froth came forth.
His daughter had approached again. She stood quite close, in white
satin, thin-faced, sallow, with eyebrows raised, and her dark hair
frizzed--yes! frizzed--the holy woman! With all his might he tried
to say: 'So you bully me, do you--you bully me to-night!' but only
the word "so" and a sort of whispering came forth. He heard her
speaking. "It's no good your getting angry, Father. After
champagne--it's wicked!" Then her form receded in a sort of rustling
white mist; she was gone; and he heard the sputtering and growling of
her taxi, bearing her to the ball. So! She tyrannised and bullied,
even before she had him at her mercy, did she? She should see!
Anger had brightened his eyes; the room came clear again. And slowly
raising himself he sounded the bell twice, for the girl, not for that
fellow Meller, who was in the plot. As soon as her pretty black and
white-aproned figure stood before him, he said:
"Help me up."
Twice her soft pulling was not enough, and he sank back. The third
time he struggled to his feet.
"Thank you; that'll do." Then, waiting till she was gone, he crossed
the room, fumbled open the sideboard door, and took out the bottle.
Reaching over the polished oak, he grasped a sherry glass; and
holding the bottle with both hands, tipped the liquor into it, put it
to his lips and sucked. Drop by drop it passed over his palate mild,
very old, old as himself, coloured like sunlight, fragrant. To the
last drop he drank it, then hugging the bottle to his shirt-front, he
moved snail-like to his chair, and fell back into its depths. For
some minutes he remained there motionless, the bottle clasped to his
chest, thinking: 'This is not the attitude of a gentleman. I must
put it down on the table-on the table;' but a thick cloud was between
him and everything. It was with his hands he would have to put the
bottle on the table! But he could not find his hands, could not feel
them. His mind see-sawed in strophe and antistrophe: "You can't
move!"--"I will move!" "You're beaten"--"I'm not beat." "Give up"--
"I won't." That struggle to find his hands seemed to last for ever--
he must find them! After that--go down--all standing--after that!
Everything round him was red. Then the red cloud cleared just a
little, and he could hear the clock--"tick-tick-tick"; a faint
sensation spread from his shoulders down to his wrists, down his
palms; and yes--he could feel the bottle! He redoubled his struggle
to get forward in his chair; to get forward and put the bottle down.
It was not dignified like this! One arm he could move now; but he
could not grip the bottle nearly tight enough to put it down.
Working his whole body forward, inch by inch, he shifted himself up
in the chair till he could lean sideways, and the bottle, slipping
down his chest, dropped slanting to the edge of the low stool-table.
Then with all his might he screwed his trunk and arms an inch
further, and the bottle stood. He had done it--done it! His lips
twitched into a smile; his body sagged back to its old position. He
had done it! And he closed his eyes ....
At half-past eleven the girl Molly, opening the door, looked at him
and said softly: "Sirr! there's some ladies, and a gentleman!" But
he did not answer. And, still holding the door, she whispered out
into the hall:
"He's asleep, miss."
A voice whispered back:
"Oh! Just let me go in, I won't wake him unless he does. But I do
want to show him my dress."
The girl moved aside; and on tiptoe Phyllis passed in. She walked to
where, between the lamp-glow and the fire-glow, she was lighted up.
White satin--her first low-cut dress--the flush of her first supper
party--a gardenia at her breast, another in her fingers! Oh! what a
pity he was asleep! How red he looked! How funnily old men
breathed! And mysteriously, as a child might, she whispered:
No answer! And pouting, she stood twiddling the gardenia. Then
suddenly she thought: 'I'll put it in his buttonhole! When he wakes
up and sees it, how he'll jump!'
And stealing close, she bent and slipped it in. Two faces looked at
her from round the door; she heard Bob Pillin's smothered chuckle;
her mother's rich and feathery laugh. Oh! How red his forehead was!
She touched it with her lips; skipped back, twirled round, danced
silently a second, blew a kiss, and like quicksilver was gone.
And the whispering, the chuckling, and one little out-pealing laugh
rose in the hall.
But the old man slept. Nor until Meller came at his usual hour of
half-past twelve, was it known that he would never wake.
THE APPLE TREE
"The Apple-tree, the singing and the gold."
MURRAY'S "HIPPOLYTUS of EURIPIDES."
In their silver-wedding day Ashurst and his wife were motoring along
the outskirts of the moor, intending to crown the festival by
stopping the night at Torquay, where they had first met. This was
the idea of Stella Ashurst, whose character contained a streak of
sentiment. If she had long lost the blue-eyed, flower-like charm,
the cool slim purity of face and form, the apple-blossom colouring,
which had so swiftly and so oddly affected Ashurst twenty-six years
ago, she was still at forty-three a comely and faithful companion,
whose cheeks were faintly mottled, and whose grey-blue eyes had
acquired a certain fullness.
It was she who had stopped the car where the common rose steeply to
the left, and a narrow strip of larch and beech, with here and there
a pine, stretched out towards the valley between the road and the
first long high hill of the full moor. She was looking for a place
where they might lunch, for Ashurst never looked for anything; and
this, between the golden furze and the feathery green larches
smelling of lemons in the last sun of April--this, with a view into
the deep valley and up to the long moor heights, seemed fitting to
the decisive nature of one who sketched in water-colours, and loved
romantic spots. Grasping her paint box, she got out.
"Won't this do, Frank?"
Ashurst, rather like a bearded Schiller, grey in the wings, tall,
long-legged, with large remote grey eyes which sometimes filled with
meaning and became almost beautiful, with nose a little to one side,
and bearded lips just open--Ashurst, forty-eight, and silent, grasped
the luncheon basket, and got out too.
"Oh! Look, Frank! A grave!"
By the side of the road, where the track from the top of the common
crossed it at right angles and ran through a gate past the narrow
wood, was a thin mound of turf, six feet by one, with a moorstone to
the west, and on it someone had thrown a blackthorn spray and a
handful of bluebells. Ashurst looked, and the poet in him moved. At
cross-roads--a suicide's grave! Poor mortals with their
superstitions! Whoever lay there, though, had the best of it, no
clammy sepulchre among other hideous graves carved with futilities--
just a rough stone, the wide sky, and wayside blessings! And,
without comment, for he had learned not to be a philosopher in the
bosom of his family, he strode away up on to the common, dropped the
luncheon basket under a wall, spread a rug for his wife to sit on--
she would turn up from her sketching when she was hungry--and took
from his pocket Murray's translation of the "Hippolytus." He had
soon finished reading of "The Cyprian" and her revenge, and looked at
the sky instead. And watching the white clouds so bright against the
intense blue, Ashurst, on his silver-wedding day, longed for--he knew
not what. Maladjusted to life--man's organism! One's mode of life
might be high and scrupulous, but there was always an, undercurrent
of greediness, a hankering, and sense of waste. Did women have it
too? Who could tell? And yet, men who gave vent to their appetites
for novelty, their riotous longings for new adventures, new risks,
new pleasures, these suffered, no doubt, from the reverse side of
starvation, from surfeit. No getting out of it--a maladjusted
animal, civilised man! There could be no garden of his choosing, of
"the Apple-tree, the singing, and the gold," in the words of that
lovely Greek chorus, no achievable elysium in life, or lasting haven
of happiness for any man with a sense of beauty--nothing which could
compare with the captured loveliness in a work of art, set down for
ever, so that to look on it or read was always to have the same
precious sense of exaltation and restful inebriety. Life no doubt
had moments with that quality of beauty, of unbidden flying rapture,
but the trouble was, they lasted no longer than the span of a cloud's
flight over the sun; impossible to keep them with you, as Art caught
beauty and held it fast. They were fleeting as one of the glimmering
or golden visions one had of the soul in nature, glimpses of its
remote and brooding spirit. Here, with the sun hot on his face, a
cuckoo calling from a thorn tree, and in the air the honey savour of
gorse--here among the little fronds of the young fern, the starry
blackthorn, while the bright clouds drifted by high above the hills
and dreamy valleys here and now was such a glimpse. But in a moment
it would pass--as the face of Pan, which looks round the corner of a
rock, vanishes at your stare. And suddenly he sat up. Surely there
was something familiar about this view, this bit of common, that
ribbon of road, the old wall behind him. While they were driving he
had not been taking notice--never did; thinking of far things or of
nothing--but now he saw! Twenty-six years ago, just at this time of
year, from the farmhouse within half a mile of this very spot he had
started for that day in Torquay whence it might be said he had never
returned. And a sudden ache beset his heart; he had stumbled on just
one of those past moments in his life, whose beauty and rapture he
had failed to arrest, whose wings had fluttered away into the
unknown; he had stumbled on a buried memory, a wild sweet time,
swiftly choked and ended. And, turning on his face, he rested his
chin on his hands, and stared at the short grass where the little
blue milkwort was growing....
And this is what he remembered.
On the first of May, after their last year together at college, Frank
Ashurst and his friend Robert Garton were on a tramp. They had
walked that day from Brent, intending to make Chagford, but Ashurst's
football knee had given out, and according to their map they had
still some seven miles to go. They were sitting on a bank beside
the-road, where a track crossed alongside a wood, resting the knee
and talking of the universe, as young men will. Both were over six
feet, and thin as rails; Ashurst pale, idealistic, full of absence;
Garton queer, round-the-corner, knotted, curly, like some primeval
beast. Both had a literary bent; neither wore a hat.
Ashurst's hair was smooth, pale, wavy, and had a way of rising on
either side of his brow, as if always being flung back; Carton's was
a kind of dark unfathomed mop. They had not met a soul for miles.
"My dear fellow," Garton was saying, "pity's only an effect of self-
consciousness; it's a disease of the last five thousand years. The
world was happier without."
Ashurst, following the clouds with his eyes, answered:
"It's the pearl in the oyster, anyway."
"My dear chap, all our modern unhappiness comes from pity. Look at
animals, and Red Indians, limited to feeling their own occasional
misfortunes; then look at ourselves--never free from feeling the
toothaches of others. Let's get back to feeling for nobody, and have
a better time."
"You'll never practise that."
Garton pensively stirred the hotch-potch of his hair.
"To attain full growth, one mustn't be squeamish. To starve oneself
emotionally's a mistake. All emotion is to the good--enriches life."
"Yes, and when it runs up against chivalry?"
"Ah! That's so English! If you speak of emotion the English always
think you want something physical, and are shocked. They're afraid
of passion, but not of lust--oh, no!--so long as they can keep it
Ashurst did not answer; he had plucked a blue floweret, and was
twiddling it against the sky. A cuckoo began calling from a thorn
tree. The sky, the flowers, the songs of birds! Robert was talking
through his hat! And he said:
"Well, let's go on, and find some farm where we can put up." In
uttering those words, he was conscious of a girl coming down from the
common just above them. She was outlined against the sky, carrying a
basket, and you could see that sky through the crook of her arm. And
Ashurst, who saw beauty without wondering how it could advantage him,
thought: 'How pretty!' The wind, blowing her dark frieze skirt
against her legs, lifted her battered peacock tam-o'-shanter; her
greyish blouse was worn and old, her shoes were split, her little
hands rough and red, her neck browned. Her dark hair waved untidy
across her broad forehead, her face was short, her upper lip short,
showing a glint of teeth, her brows were straight and dark, her
lashes long and dark, her nose straight; but her grey eyes were the
wonder-dewy as if opened for the first time that day. She looked at
Ashurst--perhaps he struck her as strange, limping along without a
hat, with his large eyes on her, and his hair falling back. He could
not take off what was not on his head, but put up his hand in a
salute, and said:
"Can you tell us if there's a farm near here where we could stay the
night? I've gone lame."
"There's only our farm near, sir." She spoke without shyness, in a
pretty soft crisp voice.
"And where is that?"
"Down here, sir."
"Would you put us up?"
"Oh! I think we would."
"Will you show us the way?"
He limped on, silent, and Garton took up the catechism.
"Are you a Devonshire girl?"
"Ah! I thought you were a Celt; so it's not your farm?"
"My aunt's, sir."
"And your uncle's?"
"He is dead."
"Who farms it, then?"
"My aunt, and my three cousins."
"But your uncle was a Devonshire man?"
"Have you lived here long?" "Seven years."
"And how d'you like it after Wales?" "I don't know, sir."
"I suppose you don't remember?" "Oh, yes! But it is different."
"I believe you!"
Ashurst broke in suddenly: "How old are you?"
"And what's your name?" "Megan David."
"This is Robert Garton, and I am Frank Ashurst. We wanted to get on
"It is a pity your leg is hurting you."
Ashurst smiled, and when he smiled his face was rather beautiful.
Descending past the narrow wood, they came on the farm suddenly-a
long, low, stone-built dwelling with casement windows, in a farmyard
where pigs and fowls and an old mare were straying. A short steep-up
grass hill behind was crowned with a few Scotch firs, and in front,
an old orchard of apple trees, just breaking into flower, stretched
down to a stream and a long wild meadow. A little boy with oblique
dark eyes was shepherding a pig, and by the house door stood a woman,
who came towards them. The girl said:
"It is Mrs. Narracombe, my aunt."
"Mrs. Narracombe, my aunt," had a quick, dark eye, like a mother
wild-duck's, and something of the same snaky turn about her neck.
"We met your niece on the road," said Ashurst; "she thought you might
perhaps put us up for the night."
Mrs. Narracombe, taking them in from head to heel, answered:
"Well, I can, if you don't mind one room. Megan, get the spare room
ready, and a bowl of cream. You'll be wanting tea, I suppose."
Passing through a sort of porch made by two yew trees and some
flowering-currant bushes, the girl disappeared into the house, her
peacock tam-o'-shanter bright athwart that rosy-pink and the dark
green of the yews.
"Will you come into the parlour and rest your leg? You'll be from
"We were, but we've gone down now."
Mrs. Narracombe nodded sagely.
The parlour, brick-floored, with bare table and shiny chairs and sofa
stuffed with horsehair, seemed never to have been used, it was so
terribly clean. Ashurst sat down at once on the sofa, holding his
lame knee between his hands, and Mrs. Narracombe gazed at him. He
was the only son of a late professor of chemistry, but people found a
certain lordliness in one who was often so sublimely unconscious of
"Is there a stream where we could bathe?"
"There's the strame at the bottom of the orchard, but sittin' down
you'll not be covered!"
"Well, 'tis about a foot and a half, maybe."
"Oh! That'll do fine. Which way?"
"Down the lane, through the second gate on the right, an' the pool's
by the big apple tree that stands by itself. There's trout there, if
you can tickle them."
"They're more likely to tickle us!"
Mrs. Narracombe smiled. "There'll be the tea ready when you come
The pool, formed by the damming of a rock, had a sandy bottom; and
the big apple tree, lowest in the orchard, grew so close that its
boughs almost overhung the water; it was in leaf, and all but in
flower-its crimson buds just bursting. There was not room for more
than one at a time in that narrow bath, and Ashurst waited his turn,
rubbing his knee and gazing at the wild meadow, all rocks and thorn
trees and feld flowers, with a grove of beeches beyond, raised up on
a flat mound. Every bough was swinging in the wind, every spring
bird calling, and a slanting sunlight dappled the grass. He thought
of Theocritus, and the river Cherwell, of the moon, and the maiden
with the dewy eyes; of so many things that he seemed to think of
nothing; and he felt absurdly happy.
During a late and sumptuous tea with eggs to it, cream and jam, and
thin, fresh cakes touched with saffron, Garton descanted on the
Celts. It was about the period of the Celtic awakening, and the
discovery that there was Celtic blood about this family had excited
one who believed that he was a Celt himself. Sprawling on a horse
hair chair, with a hand-made cigarette dribbling from the corner of
his curly lips, he had been plunging his cold pin-points of eyes into
Ashurst's and praising the refinement of the Welsh. To come out of
Wales into England was like the change from china to earthenware!
Frank, as a d---d Englishman, had not of course perceived the
exquisite refinement and emotional capacity of that Welsh girl! And,
delicately stirring in the dark mat of his still wet hair, he
explained how exactly she illustrated the writings of the Welsh bard
Morgan-ap-Something in the twelfth century.
Ashurst, full length on the horsehair sofa, and jutting far beyond
its end, smoked a deeply-coloured pipe, and did not listen, thinking
of the girl's face when she brought in a relay of cakes. It had been
exactly like looking at a flower, or some other pretty sight in
Nature-till, with a funny little shiver, she had lowered her glance
and gone out, quiet as a mouse.
"Let's go to the kitchen," said Garton, "and see some more of her."
The kitchen was a white-washed room with rafters, to which were
attached smoked hams; there were flower-pots on the window-sill, and
guns hanging on nails, queer mugs, china and pewter, and portraits of
Queen Victoria. A long, narrow table of plain wood was set with
bowls and spoons, under a string of high-hung onions; two sheep-dogs
and three cats lay here and there. On one side of the recessed
fireplace sat two small boys, idle, and good as gold; on the other
sat a stout, light-eyed, red-faced youth with hair and lashes the
colour of the tow he was running through the barrel of a gun; between
them Mrs. Narracombe dreamily stirred some savoury-scented stew in a
large pot. Two other youths, oblique-eyed, dark-haired, rather sly-
faced, like the two little boys, were talking together and lolling
against the wall; and a short, elderly, clean-shaven man in
corduroys, seated in the window, was conning a battered journal. The
girl Megan seemed the only active creature-drawing cider and passing
with the jugs from cask to table. Seeing them thus about to eat,
"Ah! If you'll let us, we'll come back when supper's over," and
without waiting for an answer they withdrew again to the parlour.
But the colour in the kitchen, the warmth, the scents, and all those
faces, heightened the bleakness of their shiny room, and they resumed
their seats moodily.
"Regular gipsy type, those boys. There was only one Saxon--the
fellow cleaning the gun. That girl is a very subtle study
Ashurst's lips twitched. Garton seemed to him an ass just then.
Subtle study! She was a wild flower. A creature it did you good to
look at. Study!
Garton went on:
"Emotionally she would be wonderful. She wants awakening."
"Are you going to awaken her?"
Garton looked at him and smiled. 'How coarse and English you are!'
that curly smile seemed saying.
And Ashurst puffed his pipe. Awaken her! That fool had the best
opinion of himself! He threw up the window and leaned out. Dusk had
gathered thick. The farm buildings and the wheel-house were all dim
and bluish, the apple trees but a blurred wilderness; the air smelled
of woodsmoke from the kitchen fire. One bird going to bed later than
the others was uttering a half-hearted twitter, as though surprised
at the darkness. From the stable came the snuffle and stamp of a
feeding horse. And away over there was the loom of the moor, and
away and away the shy stars which had not as yet full light, pricking
white through the deep blue heavens. A quavering owl hooted.
Ashurst drew a deep breath. What a night to wander out in! A
padding of unshod hoofs came up the lane, and three dim, dark shapes
passed--ponies on an evening march. Their heads, black and fuzzy,
showed above the gate. At the tap of his pipe, and a shower of
little sparks, they shied round and scampered. A bat went fluttering
past, uttering its almost inaudible "chip, chip." Ashurst held out
his hand; on the upturned palm he could feel the dew. Suddenly from
overhead he heard little burring boys' voices, little thumps of boots
thrown down, and another voice, crisp and soft--the girl's putting
them to bed, no doubt; and nine clear words "No, Rick, you can't have
the cat in bed"; then came a skirmish of giggles and gurgles, a soft
slap, a laugh so low and pretty that it made him shiver a little. A
blowing sound, and the glim of the candle which was fingering the
dusk above, went out; silence reigned. Ashurst withdrew into the
room and sat down; his knee pained him, and his soul felt gloomy.
"You go to the kitchen," he said; "I'm going to bed."
For Ashurst the wheel of slumber was wont to turn noiseless and slick
and swift, but though he seemed sunk in sleep when his companion came
up, he was really wide awake; and long after Carton, smothered in the
other bed of that low-roofed room, was worshipping darkness with his
upturned nose, he heard the owls. Barring the discomfort of his
knee, it was not unpleasant--the cares of life did not loom large in
night watches for this young man. In fact he had none; just enrolled
a barrister, with literary aspirations, the world before him, no
father or mother, and four hundred a year of his own. Did it matter
where he went, what he did, or when he did it? His bed, too, was
hard, and this preserved him from fever. He lay, sniffing the scent
of the night which drifted into the low room through the open
casement close to his head. Except for a definite irritation with
his friend, natural when you have tramped with a man for three days,
Ashurst's memories and visions that sleepless night were kindly and
wistful and exciting. One vision, specially clear and unreasonable,
for he had not even been conscious of noting it, was the face of the
youth cleaning the gun; its intent, stolid, yet startled uplook at
the kitchen doorway, quickly shifted to the girl carrying the cider
jug. This red, blue-eyed, light-lashed, tow-haired face stuck as
firmly in his memory as the girl's own face, so dewy and simple. But
at last, in the square of darkness through the uncurtained casement,
he saw day coming, and heard one hoarse and sleepy caw. Then
followed silence, dead as ever, till the song of a blackbird, not
properly awake, adventured into the hush. And, from staring at the
framed brightening light, Ashurst fell asleep.
Next day his knee was badly swollen; the walking tour was obviously
over. Garton, due back in London on the morrow, departed at midday
with an ironical smile which left a scar of irritation--healed the
moment his loping figure vanished round the corner of the steep lane.
All day Ashurst rested his knee, in a green-painted wooden chair on
the patch of grass by the yew-tree porch, where the sunlight
distilled the scent of stocks and gillyflowers, and a ghost of scent
from the flowering-currant bushes. Beatifically he smoked, dreamed,
A farm in spring is all birth-young things coming out of bud and
shell, and human beings watching over the process with faint
excitement feeding and tending what has been born. So still the
young man sat, that a mother-goose, with stately cross-footed waddle,
brought her six yellow-necked grey-backed goslings to strop their
little beaks against the grass blades at his feet. Now and again
Mrs. Narracombe or the girl Megan would come and ask if he wanted
anything, and he would smile and say: "Nothing, thanks. It's
splendid here." Towards tea-time they came out together, bearing a
long poultice of some dark stuff in a bowl, and after a long and
solemn scrutiny of his swollen knee, bound it on. When they were
gone, he thought of the girl's soft "Oh!"--of her pitying eyes, and
the little wrinkle in her brow. And again he felt that unreasoning
irritation against his departed friend, who had talked such rot about
her. When she brought out his tea, he said:
"How did you like my friend, Megan?"
She forced down her upper lip, as if afraid that to smile was not
polite. "He was a funny gentleman; he made us laugh. I think he is
"What did he say to make you laugh?"
"He said I was a daughter of the bards. What are they?"
"Welsh poets, who lived hundreds of years ago."
"Why am I their daughter, please?"
"He meant that you were the sort of girl they sang about."
She wrinkled her brows. "I think he likes to joke. Am I?"
"Would you believe me, if I told you?"
"Well, I think he was right."
And Ashurst thought: 'You are a pretty thing!'
"He said, too, that Joe was a Saxon type. What would that be?"
"Which is Joe? With the blue eyes and red face?"
"Yes. My uncle's nephew."
"Not your cousin, then?"
"Well, he meant that Joe was like the men who came over to England
about fourteen hundred years ago, and conquered it."
"Oh! I know about them; but is he?"
"Garton's crazy about that sort of thing; but I must say Joe does
look a bit Early Saxon."
That "Yes" tickled Ashurst. It was so crisp and graceful, so
conclusive, and politely acquiescent in what was evidently. Greek to
"He said that all the other boys were regular gipsies. He should not
have said that. My aunt laughed, but she didn't like it, of course,
and my cousins were angry. Uncle was a farmer--farmers are not
gipsies. It is wrong to hurt people."
Ashurst wanted to take her hand and give it a squeeze, but he only
"Quite right, Megan. By the way, I heard you putting the little ones
to bed last night."
She flushed a little. "Please to drink your tea--it is getting cold.
Shall I get you some fresh?"
"Do you ever have time to do anything for yourself?"
"I've been watching, but I haven't seen it yet."
She wrinkled her brows in a puzzled frown, and her colour deepened.
When she was gone, Ashurst thought: 'Did she think I was chaffing
her? I wouldn't for the world!' He was at that age when to some men
"Beauty's a flower," as the poet says, and inspires in them the
thoughts of chivalry. Never very conscious of his surroundings, it
was some time before he was aware that the youth whom Garton had
called "a Saxon type" was standing outside the stable door; and a
fine bit of colour he made in his soiled brown velvet-cords, muddy
gaiters, and blue shirt; red-armed, red-faced, the sun turning his
hair from tow to flax; immovably stolid, persistent, unsmiling he
stood. Then, seeing Ashurst looking at him, he crossed the yard at
that gait of the young countryman always ashamed not to be slow and
heavy-dwelling on each leg, and disappeared round the end of the
house towards the kitchen entrance. A chill came over Ashurst's
mood. Clods? With all the good will in the world, how impossible to
get on terms with them! And yet--see that girl! Her shoes were
split, her hands rough; but--what was it? Was it really her Celtic
blood, as Garton had said?--she was a lady born, a jewel, though
probably she could do no more than just read and write!
The elderly, clean-shaven man he had seen last night in the kitchen
had come into the yard with a dog, driving the cows to their milking.
Ashurst saw that he was lame.
"You've got some good ones there!"
The lame man's face brightened. He had the upward look in his eyes
which prolonged suffering often brings.
"Yeas; they'm praaper buties; gude milkers tu."
"I bet they are."
"'Ope as yure leg's better, zurr."
"Thank you, it's getting on."
The lame man touched his own: "I know what 'tes, meself; 'tes a main
worritin' thing, the knee. I've a-'ad mine bad this ten year."
Ashurst made the sound of sympathy which comes so readily from those
who have an independent income, and the lame man smiled again.
"Mustn't complain, though--they mighty near 'ad it off."
"Yeas; an' compared with what 'twas, 'tes almost so gude as nu."
"They've put a bandage of splendid stuff on mine."
"The maid she picks et. She'm a gude maid wi' the flowers. There's
folks zeem to know the healin' in things. My mother was a rare one
for that. 'Ope as yu'll zune be better, zurr. Goo ahn, therr!"
Ashurst smiled. "Wi' the flowers!" A flower herself!
That evening, after his supper of cold duck, junket, and cider, the
girl came in.
"Please, auntie says--will you try a piece of our Mayday cake?"
"If I may come to the kitchen for it."
"Oh, yes! You'll be missing your friend."
"Not I. But are you sure no one minds?"
"Who would mind? We shall be very pleased."
Ashurst rose too suddenly for his stiff knee, staggered, and
subsided. The girl gave a little gasp, and held out her hands.
Ashurst took them, small, rough, brown; checked his impulse to put
them to his lips, and let her pull him up. She came close beside
him, offering her shoulder. And leaning on her he walked across the
room. That shoulder seemed quite the pleasantest thing he had ever
touched. But, he had presence of mind enough to catch his stick out
of the rack, and withdraw his hand before arriving at the kitchen.
That night he slept like a top, and woke with his knee of almost
normal size. He again spent the morning in his chair on the grass
patch, scribbling down verses; but in the afternoon he wandered about
with the two little boys Nick and Rick. It was Saturday, so they
were early home from school; quick, shy, dark little rascals of seven
and six, soon talkative, for Ashurst had a way with children. By
four o'clock they had shown him all their methods of destroying life,
except the tickling of trout; and with breeches tucked up, lay on
their stomachs over the trout stream, pretending they had this
accomplishment also. They tickled nothing, of course, for their
giggling and shouting scared every spotted thing away. Ashurst, on a
rock at the edge of the beech clump, watched them, and listened to
the cuckoos, till Nick, the elder and less persevering, came up and
stood beside him.
"The gipsy bogle zets on that stone," he said.
"What gipsy bogie?"
"Dunno; never zeen 'e. Megan zays 'e zets there; an' old Jim zeed 'e
once. 'E was zettin' there naight afore our pony kicked--in father's
'ead. 'E plays the viddle."
"What tune does he play?"
"What's he like?"
"'E's black. Old Jim zays 'e's all over 'air. 'E's a praaper bogle.
'E don' come only at naight." The little boy's oblique dark eyes
slid round. "D'yu think 'e might want to take me away? Megan's
feared of 'e."
"Has she seen him?"
"No. She's not afeared o' yu."
"I should think not. Why should she be?"
"She zays a prayer for yu."
"How do you know that, you little rascal?"
"When I was asleep, she said: 'God bless us all, an' Mr. Ashes.' I
yeard 'er whisperin'."
"You're a little ruffian to tell what you hear when you're not meant
to hear it!"
The little boy was silent. Then he said aggressively:
"I can skin rabbets. Megan, she can't bear skinnin' 'em. I like
"Oh! you do; you little monster!"
"A creature that likes hurting others."
The little boy scowled. "They'm only dead rabbets, what us eats."
"Quite right, Nick. I beg your pardon."
"I can skin frogs, tu."
But Ashurst had become absent. "God bless us all, and Mr. Ashes!"
And puzzled by that sudden inaccessibility, Nick ran back to the
stream where the giggling and shouts again uprose at once.
When Megan brought his tea, he said:
"What's the gipsy bogle, Megan?"
She looked up, startled.
"He brings bad things."
"Surely you don't believe in ghosts?"
"I hope I will never see him."
"Of course you won't. There aren't such things. What old Jim saw
was a pony."
"No! There are bogies in the rocks; they are the men who lived long
"They aren't gipsies, anyway; those old men were dead long before
She said simply: "They are all bad."
"Why? If there are any, they're only wild, like the rabbits. The
flowers aren't bad for being wild; the thorn trees were never
planted--and you don't mind them. I shall go down at night and look
for your bogie, and have a talk with him."
"Oh, no! Oh, no!"
"Oh, yes! I shall go and sit on his rock."
She clasped her hands together: "Oh, please!"
"Why! What 'does it matter if anything happens to me?"
She did not answer; and in a sort of pet he added:
"Well, I daresay I shan't see him, because I suppose I must be off
"Your aunt won't want to keep me here."
"Oh, yes! We always let lodgings in summer."
Fixing his eyes on her face, he asked:
"Would you like me to stay?"
"I'm going to say a prayer for you to-night!"
She flushed crimson, frowned, and went out of the room. He sat,
cursing himself, till his tea was stewed. It was as if he had hacked
with his thick boots at a clump of bluebells. Why had he said such a
silly thing? Was he just a towny college ass like Robert Garton, as
far from understanding this girl?
Ashurst spent the next week confirming the restoration of his leg, by
exploration of the country within easy reach. Spring was a
revelation to him this year. In a kind of intoxication he would
watch the pink-white buds of some backward beech tree sprayed up in
the sunlight against the deep blue sky, or the trunks and limbs of
the few Scotch firs, tawny in violent light, or again, on the moor,
the gale-bent larches which had such a look of life when the wind
streamed in their young green, above the rusty black underboughs. Or
he would lie on the banks, gazing at the clusters of dog-violets, or
up in the dead bracken, fingering the pink, transparent buds of the
dewberry, while the cuckoos called and yafes laughed, or a lark, from
very high, dripped its beads of song. It was certainly different
from any spring he had ever known, for spring was within him, not
without. In the daytime he hardly saw the family; and when Megan
brought in his meals she always seemed too busy in the house or among
the young things in the yard to stay talking long. But in the
evenings he installed himself in the window seat in the kitchen,
smoking and chatting with the lame man Jim, or Mrs. Narracombe, while
the girl sewed, or moved about, clearing the supper things away. And
sometimes, with the sensation a cat must feel when it purrs, he would
become conscious that Megan's eyes--those dew-grey eyes--were fixed
on him with a sort of lingering soft look which was strangely
It was on Sunday week in the evening, when he was lying in the
orchard listening to a blackbird and composing a love poem, that he
heard the gate swing to, and saw the girl come running among the
trees, with the red-cheeked, stolid Joe in swift pursuit. About
twenty yards away the chase ended, and the two stood fronting each
other, not noticing the stranger in the grass--the boy pressing on,
the girl fending him off. Ashurst could see her face, angry,
disturbed; and the youth's--who would have thought that red-faced
yokel could look so distraught! And painfully affected by that
sight, he jumped up. They saw him then. Megan dropped her hands,
and shrank behind a tree trunk; the boy gave an angry grunt, rushed
at the bank, scrambled over and vanished. Ashurst went slowly up to
her. She was standing quite still, biting her lip-very pretty, with
her fine, dark hair blown loose about her face, and her eyes cast
"I beg your pardon," he said.
She gave him one upward look, from eyes much dilated; then, catching
her breath, turned away. Ashurst followed.
But she went on; and taking hold of her arm, he turned her gently
round to him.
"Stop and speak to me."
"Why do you beg my pardon? It is not to me you should do that."
"Well, then, to Joe."
"How dare he come after me?"
"In love with you, I suppose."
She stamped her foot.
Ashurst uttered a short laugh. "Would you like me to punch his
She cried with sudden passion:
"You laugh at me-you laugh at us!"
He caught hold of her hands, but she shrank back, till her passionate
little face and loose dark hair were caught among the pink clusters
of the apple blossom. Ashurst raised one of her imprisoned hands and
put his lips to it. He felt how chivalrous he was, and superior to
that clod Joe--just brushing that small, rough hand with his mouth I
Her shrinking ceased suddenly; she seemed to tremble towards him. A
sweet warmth overtook Ashurst from top to toe. This slim maiden, so
simple and fine and pretty, was pleased, then, at the touch of his
lips! And, yielding to a swift impulse, he put his arms round her,
pressed her to him, and kissed her forehead. Then he was frightened-
-she went so pale, closing her eyes, so that the long, dark lashes
lay on her pale cheeks; her hands, too, lay inert at her sides. The
touch of her breast sent a shiver through him. "Megan!" he sighed
out, and let her go. In the utter silence a blackbird shouted. Then
the girl seized his hand, put it to her cheek, her heart, her lips,
kissed it passionately, and fled away among the mossy trunks of the
apple trees, till they hid her from him.
Ashurst sat down on a twisted old tree growing almost along the
ground, and, all throbbing and bewildered, gazed vacantly at the
blossom which had crowned her hair--those pink buds with one white
open apple star. What had he done? How had he let himself be thus
stampeded by beauty--pity--or--just the spring! He felt curiously
happy, all the same; happy and triumphant, with shivers running
through his limbs, and a vague alarm. This was the beginning of--
what? The midges bit him, the dancing gnats tried to fly into his
mouth, and all the spring around him seemed to grow more lovely and
alive; the songs of the cuckoos and the blackbirds, the laughter of
the yaflies, the level-slanting sunlight, the apple blossom which had
crowned her head! He got up from the old trunk and strode out of the
orchard, wanting space, an open sky, to get on terms with these new
sensations. He made for the moor, and from an ash tree in the hedge
a magpie flew out to herald him.
Of man--at any age from five years on--who can say he has never been
in love? Ashurst had loved his partners at his dancing class; loved
his nursery governess; girls in school-holidays; perhaps never been
quite out of love, cherishing always some more or less remote
admiration. But this was different, not remote at all. Quite a new
sensation; terribly delightful, bringing a sense of completed
manhood. To be holding in his fingers such a wild flower, to be able
to put it to his lips, and feel it tremble with delight against them!
What intoxication, and--embarrassment! What to do with it--how meet
her next time? His first caress had been cool, pitiful; but the next
could not be, now that, by her burning little kiss on his hand, by
her pressure of it to her heart, he knew that she loved him. Some
natures are coarsened by love bestowed on them; others, like
Ashurst's, are swayed and drawn, warmed and softened, almost exalted,
by what they feel to be a sort of miracle.
And up there among the tors he was racked between the passionate
desire to revel in this new sensation of spring fulfilled within him,
and a vague but very real uneasiness. At one moment he gave himself
up completely to his pride at having captured this pretty, trustful,
dewy-eyed thing! At the next he thought with factitious solemnity:
'Yes, my boy! But look out what you're doing! You know what comes
Dusk dropped down without his noticing--dusk on the carved, Assyrian-
looking masses of the rocks. And the voice of Nature said: "This is
a new world for you!" As when a man gets up at four o'clock and goes
out into a summer morning, and beasts, birds, trees stare at him and
he feels as if all had been made new.
He stayed up there for hours, till it grew cold, then groped his way
down the stones and heather roots to the road, back into the lane,
and came again past the wild meadow to the orchard. There he struck
a match and looked at his watch. Nearly twelve! It was black and
unstirring in there now, very different from the lingering, bird-
befriended brightness of six hours ago! And suddenly he saw this
idyll of his with the eyes of the outer world--had mental vision of
Mrs. Narracombe's snake-like neck turned, her quick dark glance
taking it all in, her shrewd face hardening; saw the gipsy-like
cousins coarsely mocking and distrustful; Joe stolid and furious;
only the lame man, Jim, with the suffering eyes, seemed tolerable to
his mind. And the village pub!--the gossiping matrons he passed on
his walks; and then--his own friends--Robert Carton's smile when he
went off that morning ten days ago; so ironical and knowing!
Disgusting! For a minute he literally hated this earthy, cynical
world to which one belonged, willy-nilly. The gate where he was
leaning grew grey, a sort of shimmer passed be fore him and spread
into the bluish darkness. The moon! He could just see it over the
bank be hind; red, nearly round-a strange moon! And turning away, he
went up the lane which smelled of the night and cowdung and young
leaves. In the straw-yard he could see the dark shapes of cattle,
broken by the pale sickles of their horns, like so many thin moons,
fallen ends-up. He unlatched the farm gate stealthily. All was dark
in the house. Muffling his footsteps, he gained the porch, and,
blotted against one of the yew trees, looked up at Megan's window.
It was open. Was she sleeping, or lying awake perhaps, disturbed--
unhappy at his absence? An owl hooted while he stood there peering
up, and the sound seemed to fill the whole night, so quiet was all
else, save for the never-ending murmur of the stream running below
the orchard. The cuckoos by day, and now the owls--how wonderfully
they voiced this troubled ecstasy within him! And suddenly he saw
her at her window, looking out. He moved a little from the yew tree,
and whispered: "Megan!" She drew back, vanished, reappeared, leaning
far down. He stole forward on the grass patch, hit his shin against
the green-painted chair, and held his breath at the sound. The pale
blur of her stretched-down arm and face did not stir; he moved the
chair, and noiselessly mounted it. By stretching up his arm he could
just reach. Her hand held the huge key of the front door, and he
clasped that burning hand with the cold key in it. He could just see
her face, the glint of teeth between her lips, her tumbled hair. She
was still dressed--poor child, sitting up for him, no doubt! "Pretty
Megan!" Her hot, roughened fingers clung to his; her face had a
strange, lost look. To have been able to reach it--even with his
hand! The owl hooted, a scent of sweetbriar crept into his nostrils.
Then one of the farm dogs barked; her grasp relaxed, she shrank back.
"Good-night, sir!" She was gone! With a sigh he dropped back to
earth, and sitting on that chair, took off his boots. Nothing for it
but to creep in and go to bed; yet for a long while he sat unmoving,
his feet chilly in the dew, drunk on the memory of her lost, half-
smiling face, and the clinging grip of her burning fingers, pressing
the cold key into his hand.
He awoke feeling as if he had eaten heavily overnight, instead of
having eaten nothing. And far off, unreal, seemed yesterday's
romance! Yet it was a golden morning. Full spring had burst at
last--in one night the "goldie-cups," as the little boys called them,
seemed to have made the field their own, and from his window he could
see apple blossoms covering the orchard as with a rose and white
quilt. He went down almost dreading to see Megan; and yet, when not
she but Mrs. Narracombe brought in his breakfast, he felt vexed and
disappointed. The woman's quick eye and snaky neck seemed to have a
new alacrity this morning. Had she noticed?
"So you an' the moon went walkin' last night, Mr. Ashurst! Did ye
have your supper anywheres?"
Ashurst shook his head.
"We kept it for you, but I suppose you was too busy in your brain to
think o' such a thing as that?"
Was she mocking him, in that voice of hers, which still kept some
Welsh crispness against the invading burr of the West Country? If
she knew! And at that moment he thought: 'No, no; I'll clear out. I
won't put myself in such a beastly false position.'
But, after breakfast, the longing to see Megan began and increased
with every minute, together with fear lest something should have been
said to her which had spoiled everything. Sinister that she had not
appeared, not given him even a glimpse of her! And the love poem,
whose manufacture had been so important and absorbing yesterday
afternoon under the apple trees, now seemed so paltry that he tore it
up and rolled it into pipe spills. What had he known of love, till
she seized his hand and kissed it! And now--what did he not know?
But to write of it seemed mere insipidity! He went up to his bedroom
to get a book, and his heart began to beat violently, for she was in
there making the bed. He stood in the doorway watching; and
suddenly, with turbulent joy, he saw her stoop and kiss his pillow,
just at the hollow made by his head last night.
How let her know he had seen that pretty act of devotion? And yet,
if she heard him stealing away, it would be even worse. She took the
pillow up, holding it as if reluctant to shake out the impress of his
cheek, dropped it, and turned round.
She put her hands up to her cheeks, but her eyes seemed to look right
into him. He had never before realised the depth and purity and
touching faithfulness in those dew-bright eyes, and he stammered:
"It was sweet of you to wait up for me last night."
She still said nothing, and he stammered on:
"I was wandering about on the moor; it was such a jolly night. I--
I've just come up for a book."
Then, the kiss he had seen her give the pillow afflicted him with
sudden headiness, and he went up to her. Touching her eyes with his
lips, he thought with queer excitement: 'I've done it! Yesterday all
was sudden--anyhow; but now--I've done it!' The girl let her forehead
rest against his lips, which moved downwards till they reached hers.
That first real lover's kiss-strange, wonderful, still almost
innocent--in which heart did it make the most disturbance?
"Come to the big apple tree to-night, after they've gone to bed.
She whispered back: "I promise."
Then, scared at her white face, scared at everything, he let her go,
and went downstairs again. Yes! He had done it now! Accepted her
love, declared his own! He went out to the green chair as devoid of
a book as ever; and there he sat staring vacantly before him,
triumphant and remorseful, while under his nose and behind his back
the work of the farm went on. How long he had been sitting in that
curious state of vacancy he had no notion when he saw Joe standing a
little behind him to the right. The youth had evidently come from
hard work in the fields, and stood shifting his feet, breathing
loudly, his face coloured like a setting sun, and his arms, below the
rolled-up sleeves of his blue shirt, showing the hue and furry sheen
of ripe peaches. His red lips were open, his blue eyes with their
flaxen lashes stared fixedly at Ashurst, who said ironically:
"Well, Joe, anything I can do for you?"
"Yu can goo away from yere. Us don' want yu."
Ashurst's face, never too humble, assumed its most lordly look.
"Very good of you, but, do you know, I prefer the others should speak
The youth moved a pace or two nearer, and the scent of his honest
heat afflicted Ashurst's nostrils.
"What d'yu stay yere for?"
"Because it pleases me."
"Twon't please yu when I've bashed yure head in!"
"Indeed! When would you like to begin that?"
Joe answered only with the loudness of his breathing, but his eyes
looked like those of a young and angry bull. Then a sort of spasm
seemed to convulse his face.
"Megan don' want yu."
A rush of jealousy, of contempt, and anger with this thick, loud-
breathing rustic got the better of Ashurst's self-possession; he
jumped up, and pushed back his chair.
"You can go to the devil!"
And as he said those simple words, he saw Megan in the doorway with a
tiny brown spaniel puppy in her arms. She came up to him quickly:
"Its eyes are blue!" she said.
Joe turned away; the back of his neck was literally crimson.
Ashurst put his finger to the mouth of the little brown bullfrog of a
creature in her arms. How cosy it looked against her!
"It's fond of you already. Ah I Megan, everything is fond of you."
"What was Joe saying to you, please?"
"Telling me to go away, because you didn't want me here."
She stamped her foot; then looked up at Ashurst. At that adoring
look he felt his nerves quiver, just as if he had seen a moth
scorching its wings.
"To-night!" he said. "Don't forget!"
"No." And smothering her face against the puppy's little fat, brown
body, she slipped back into the house.
Ashurst wandered down the lane. At the gate of the wild meadow he
came on the lame man and his cows.
"Beautiful day, Jim!"
"Ah! 'Tes brave weather for the grass. The ashes be later than th'
oaks this year. 'When th' oak before th' ash---'"
Ashurst said idly: "Where were you standing when you saw the gipsy
"It might be under that big apple tree, as you might say."
"And you really do think it was there?"
The lame man answered cautiously:
"I shouldn't like to say rightly that 't was there. 'Twas in my mind
as 'twas there."
"What do you make of it?"
The lame man lowered his voice.
"They du zay old master, Mist' Narracombe come o' gipsy stock. But
that's tellin'. They'm a wonderful people, yu know, for claimin'
their own. Maybe they knu 'e was goin', and sent this feller along
for company. That's what I've a-thought about it."
"What was he like?"
"'E 'ad 'air all over 'is face, an' goin' like this, he was, zame as
if 'e 'ad a viddle. They zay there's no such thing as bogies, but
I've a-zeen the 'air on this dog standin' up of a dark naight, when I
couldn' zee nothin', meself."
"Was there a moon?"
"Yeas, very near full, but 'twas on'y just risen, gold-like be'ind
"And you think a ghost means trouble, do you?"
The lame man pushed his hat up; his aspiring eyes looked at Ashurst
more earnestly than ever.
"'Tes not for me to zay that but 'tes they bein' so unrestin'like.
There's things us don' understand, that's zartin, for zure. There's
people that zee things, tu, an' others that don't never zee nothin'.
Now, our Joe--yu might putt anything under'is eyes an e'd never zee
it; and them other boys, tu, they'm rattlin' fellers. But yu take
an' putt our Megan where there's suthin', she'll zee it, an' more tu,
or I'm mistaken."
"She's sensitive, that's why."
"I mean, she feels everything."
"Ah! She'm very lovin'-'earted."
Ashurst, who felt colour coming into his cheeks, held out his tobacco
"Have a fill, Jim?"
"Thank 'ee, sir. She'm one in an 'underd, I think."
"I expect so," said Ashurst shortly, and folding up his pouch, walked
"Lovin'-hearted! "Yes! And what was he doing? What were his
intentions-as they say towards this loving-hearted girl? The thought
dogged him, wandering through fields bright with buttercups, where
the little red calves were feeding, and the swallows flying high.
Yes, the oaks were before the ashes, brown-gold already; every tree
in different stage and hue. The cuckoos and a thousand birds were
singing; the little streams were very bright. The ancients believed
in a golden age, in the garden of the Hesperides!... A queen wasp
settled on his sleeve. Each queen wasp killed meant two thousand
fewer wasps to thieve the apples which would grow from that blossom
in the orchard; but who, with love in his heart, could kill anything
on a day like this? He entered a field where a young red bull was
feeding. It seemed to Ashurst that he looked like Joe. But the
young bull took no notice of this visitor, a little drunk himself,
perhaps, on the singing and the glamour of the golden pasture, under
his short legs. Ashurst crossed out unchallenged to the hillside
above the stream. From that slope a for mounted to its crown of
rocks. The ground there was covered with a mist of bluebells, and
nearly a score of crab-apple trees were in full bloom. He threw
himself down on the grass. The change from the buttercup glory and
oak-goldened glamour of the fields to this ethereal beauty under the
grey for filled him with a sort of wonder; nothing the same, save the
sound of running water and the songs of the cuckoos. He lay there a
long time, watching the sunlight wheel till the crab-trees threw
shadows over the bluebells, his only companions a few wild bees. He
was not quite sane, thinking of that morning's kiss, and of to-night
under the apple tree. In such a spot as this, fauns and dryads
surely lived; nymphs, white as the crab-apple blossom, retired within
those trees; fauns, brown as the dead bracken, with pointed ears, lay
in wait for them. The cuckoos were still calling when he woke, there
was the sound of running water; but the sun had couched behind the
tor, the hillside was cool, and some rabbits had come out.
'Tonight!' he thought. Just as from the earth everything was pushing
up, unfolding under the soft insistent fingers of an unseen hand, so
were his heart and senses being pushed, unfolded. He got up and
broke off a spray from a crab-apple tree. The buds were like Megan--
shell-like, rose-pink, wild, and fresh; and so, too, the opening
flowers, white, and wild; and touching. He put the spray into his
coat. And all the rush of the spring within him escaped in a
triumphant sigh. But the rabbits scurried away.
It was nearly eleven that night when Ashurst put down the pocket
"Odyssey" which for half an hour he had held in his hands without
reading, and slipped through the yard down to the orchard. The moon
had just risen, very golden, over the hill, and like a bright,
powerful, watching spirit peered through the bars of an ash tree's
half-naked boughs. In among the apple trees it was still dark, and
he stood making sure of his direction, feeling the rough grass with
his feet. A black mass close behind him stirred with a heavy
grunting sound, and three large pigs settled down again close to each
other, under the wall. He listened. There was no wind, but the
stream's burbling whispering chuckle had gained twice its daytime
strength. One bird, he could not tell what, cried "Pippip," "Pip-
pip," with perfect monotony; he could hear a night-Jar spinning very
far off; an owl hooting. Ashurst moved a step or two, and again
halted, aware of a dim living whiteness all round his head. On the
dark unstirring trees innumerable flowers and buds all soft and
blurred were being bewitched to life by the creeping moonlight. He
had the oddest feeling of actual companionship, as if a million white
moths or spirits had floated in and settled between dark sky and
darker ground, and were opening and shutting their wings on a level
with his eyes. In the bewildering, still, scentless beauty of that
moment he almost lost memory of why he had come to the orchard. The
flying glamour which had clothed the earth all day had not gone now
that night had fallen, but only changed into this new form. He moved
on through the thicket of stems and boughs covered with that live
powdering whiteness, till he reached the big apple tree. No
mistaking that, even in the dark, nearly twice the height and size of
any other, and leaning out towards the open meadows and the stream.
Under the thick branches he stood still again, to listen. The same
sounds exactly, and a faint grunting from the sleepy pigs. He put
his hands on the dry, almost warm tree trunk, whose rough mossy
surface gave forth a peaty scent at his touch. Would she come--would
she? And among these quivering, haunted, moon-witched trees he was
seized with doubts of everything! All was unearthly here, fit for no
earthly lovers; fit only for god and goddess, faun and nymph not for
him and this little country girl. Would it not be almost a relief if
she did not come? But all the time he was listening. And still that
unknown bird went "Pip-pip," "Pip-pip," and there rose the busy
chatter of the little trout stream, whereon the moon was flinging
glances through the bars of her tree-prison. The blossom on a level
with his eyes seemed to grow more living every moment, seemed with
its mysterious white beauty more and more a part of his suspense. He
plucked a fragment and held it close--three blossoms. Sacrilege to
pluck fruit-tree blossom--soft, sacred, young blossom--and throw it
away! Then suddenly he heard the gate close, the pigs stirring again
and grunting; and leaning against the trunk, he pressed his hands to
its mossy sides behind him, and held his breath. She might have been
a spirit threading the trees, for all the noise she made! Then he
saw her quite close--her dark form part of a little tree, her white
face part of its blossom; so still, and peering towards him.
He whispered: "Megan!" and held out his hands. She ran forward,
straight to his breast. When he felt her heart beating against him,
Ashurst knew to the full the sensations of chivalry and passion.
Because she was not of his world, because she was so simple and young
and headlong, adoring and defenceless, how could he be other than her
protector, in the dark! Because she was all simple Nature and
beauty, as much a part of this spring night as was the living
blossom, how should he not take all that she would give him how not
fulfil the spring in her heart and his! And torn between these two
emotions he clasped her close, and kissed her hair. How long they
stood there without speaking he knew not. The stream went on
chattering, the owls hooting, the moon kept stealing up and growing
whiter; the blossom all round them and above brightened in suspense
of living beauty. Their lips had sought each other's, and they did
not speak. The moment speech began all would be unreal! Spring has
no speech, nothing but rustling and whispering. Spring has so much
more than speech in its unfolding flowers and leaves, and the
coursing of its streams, and in its sweet restless seeking! And
sometimes spring will come alive, and, like a mysterious Presence
stand, encircling lovers with its arms, laying on them the fingers of
enchantment, so that, standing lips to lips, they forget everything
but just a kiss. While her heart beat against him, and her lips
quivered on his, Ashurst felt nothing but simple rapture--Destiny
meant her for his arms, Love could not be flouted! But when their
lips parted for breath, division began again at once. Only, passion
now was so much the stronger, and he sighed:
"Oh! Megan! Why did you come?" She looked up, hurt, amazed.
"Sir, you asked me to."
"Don't call me 'sir,' my pretty sweet." "What should I be callin"
"I could not. Oh, no!"
"But you love me--don't you?"
"I could not help lovin' you. I want to be with you--that's all."
So faint that he hardly heard, she whispered: "I shall die if I can't
be with you."
Ashurst took a mighty breath.
"Come and be with me, then!"
Intoxicated by the awe and rapture in that "Oh!" he went on,
"We'll go to London. I'll show you the world.
"And I will take care of you, I promise, Megan. I'll never be a brute
"If I can be with you--that is all."
He stroked her hair, and whispered on:
"To-morrow I'll go to Torquay and get some money, and get you some
clothes that won't be noticed, and then we'll steal away. And when
we get to London, soon perhaps, if you love me well enough, we'll be
He could feel her hair shiver with the shake of her head.
"Oh, no! I could not. I only want to be with you!"
Drunk on his own chivalry, Ashurst went on murmuring, "It's I who am
not good enough for you. Oh! Megan, when did you begin to love me?"
"When I saw you in the road, and you looked at me. The first night I
loved you; but I never thought you would want me."
She slipped down suddenly to her knees, trying to kiss his feet.
A shiver of horror went through Ashurst; he lifted her up bodily and
held her fast--too upset to speak.
She whispered: "Why won't you let me?"
"It's I who will kiss your feet!"
Her smile brought tears into his eyes. The whiteness of her moonlit
face so close to his, the faint pink of her opened lips, had the
living unearthly beauty of the apple blossom.
And then, suddenly, her eyes widened and stared past him painfully;
she writhed out of his arms, and whispered: "Look!"
Ashurst saw nothing but the brightened stream, the furze faintly
gilded, the beech trees glistening, and behind them all the wide loom
of the moonlit hill. Behind him came her frozen whisper: "The gipsy
"There--by the stone--under the trees!"
Exasperated, he leaped the stream, and strode towards the beech
clump. Prank of the moonlight! Nothing! In and out of the boulders
and thorn trees, muttering and cursing, yet with a kind of terror, he
rushed and stumbled. Absurd! Silly! Then he went back to the apple
tree. But she was gone; he could hear a rustle, the grunting of the
pigs, the sound of a gate closing. Instead of her, only this old
apple tree! He flung his arms round the trunk. What a substitute
for her soft body; the rough moss against his face--what a substitute
for her soft cheek; only the scent, as of the woods, a little the
same! And above him, and around, the blossoms, more living, more
moonlit than ever, seemed to glow and breathe.
Descending from the train at Torquay station, Ashurst wandered
uncertainly along the front, for he did not know this particular
queen of English watering places. Having little sense of what he had
on, he was quite unconscious of being remarkable among its
inhabitants, and strode along in his rough Norfolk jacket, dusty
boots, and battered hat, without observing that people gazed at him
rather blankly. He was seeking a branch of his London bank, and
having found one, found also the first obstacle to his mood. Did he
know anyone in Torquay? No. In that case, if he would wire to his
bank in London, they would be happy to oblige him on receipt of the
reply. That suspicious breath from the matter-of-fact world somewhat
tarnished the brightness of his visions. But he sent the telegram.
Nearly opposite to the post office he saw a shop full of ladies'
garments, and examined the window with strange sensations. To have
to undertake the clothing of his rustic love was more than a little
disturbing. He went in. A young woman came forward; she had blue
eyes and a faintly puzzled forehead. Ashurst stared at her in
"I want a dress for a young lady."
The young woman smiled. Ashurst frowned the peculiarity of his
request struck him with sudden force.
The young woman added hastily:
"What style would you like--something modish?"
"What figure would the young lady be?"
"I don't know; about two inches shorter than you, I should say."
"Could you give me her waist measurement?"
"Oh! anything usual!"
While she was gone he stood disconsolately eyeing the models in the
window, and suddenly it seemed to him incredible that Megan--his
Megan could ever be dressed save in the rough tweed skirt, coarse
blouse, and tam-o'-shanter cap he was wont to see her in. The young
woman had come back with several dresses in her arms, and Ashurst
eyed her laying them against her own modish figure. There was one
whose colour he liked, a dove-grey, but to imagine Megan clothed in
it was beyond him. The young woman went away, and brought some more.
But on Ashurst there had now come a feeling of paralysis. How
choose? She would want a hat too, and shoes, and gloves; and,
suppose, when he had got them all, they commonised her, as Sunday
clothes always commonised village folk! Why should she not travel as
she was? Ah! But conspicuousness would matter; this was a serious
elopement. And, staring at the young woman, he thought: 'I wonder if
she guesses, and thinks me a blackguard?'
"Do you mind putting aside that grey one for me?" he said
desperately at last. "I can't decide now; I'll come in again this
The young woman sighed.
"Oh! certainly. It's a very tasteful costume. I don't think you'll
get anything that will suit your purpose better."
"I expect not," Ashurst murmured, and went out.
Freed again from the suspicious matter-of-factness of the world, he
took a long breath, and went back to visions. In fancy he saw the
trustful, pretty creature who was going to join her life to his; saw
himself and her stealing forth at night, walking over the moor under
the moon, he with his arm round her, and carrying her new garments,
till, in some far-off wood, when dawn was coming, she would slip off
her old things and put on these, and an early train at a distant
station would bear them away on their honeymoon journey, till London
swallowed them up, and the dreams of love came true.
"Frank Ashurst! Haven't seen you since Rugby, old chap!"
Ashurst's frown dissolved; the face, close to his own, was blue-eyed,
suffused with sun--one of those faces where sun from within and
without join in a sort of lustre. And he answered:
"Phil Halliday, by Jove!"
"What are you doing here?"
"Oh! nothing. Just looking round, and getting some money. I'm
staying on the moor."
"Are you lunching anywhere? Come and lunch with us; I'm here with my
young sisters. They've had measles."
Hooked in by that friendly arm Ashurst went along, up a hill, down a
hill, away out of the town, while the voice of Halliday, redolent of
optimism as his face was of sun, explained how "in this mouldy place
the only decent things were the bathing and boating," and so on, till
presently they came to a crescent of houses a little above and back
from the sea, and into the centre one an hotel--made their way.
"Come up to my room and have a wash. Lunch'll be ready in a jiffy."
Ashurst contemplated his visage in a looking-glass. After his
farmhouse bedroom, the comb and one spare shirt regime of the last
fortnight, this room littered with clothes and brushes was a sort of
Capua; and he thought: 'Queer--one doesn't realise But what--he did
not quite know.
When he followed Halliday into the sitting room for lunch, three
faces, very fair and blue-eyed, were turned suddenly at the words:
"This is Frank Ashurst my young sisters."
Two were indeed young, about eleven and ten. The third was perhaps
seventeen, tall and fair-haired too, with pink-and-white cheeks just
touched by the sun, and eyebrows, rather darker than the hair,
running a little upwards from her nose to their outer points. The
voices of all three were like Halliday's, high and cheerful; they
stood up straight, shook hands with a quick movement, looked at
Ashurst critically, away again at once, and began to talk of what
they were going to do in the afternoon. A regular Diana and
attendant nymphs! After the farm this crisp, slangy, eager talk,
this cool, clean, off-hand refinement, was queer at first, and then
so natural that what he had come from became suddenly remote. The
names of the two little ones seemed to be Sabina and Freda; of the
Presently the one called Sabina turned to him and said:
"I say, will you come shrimping with us?--it's awful fun!"
Surprised by this unexpected friendliness, Ashurst murmured:
"I'm afraid I've got to get back this afternoon."
"Can't you put it off?"
Ashurst turned to the new speaker, Stella, shook his head, and
smiled. She was very pretty! Sabina said regretfully: "You might!"
Then the talk switched off to caves and swimming.
"Can you swim far?"
"About two miles."
The three pairs of blue eyes, fixed on him, made him conscious of his
new importance--The sensation was agreeable. Halliday said:
"I say, you simply must stop and have a bathe. You'd better stay the
But again Ashurst smiled and shook his head. Then suddenly he found
himself being catechised about his physical achievements. He had
rowed--it seemed--in his college boat, played in his college football
team, won his college mile; and he rose from table a sort of hero.
The two little girls insisted that he must see "their" cave, and they
set forth chattering like magpies, Ashurst between them, Stella and
her brother a little behind. In the cave, damp and darkish like any
other cave, the great feature was a pool with possibility of
creatures which might be caught and put into bottles. Sabina and
Freda, who wore no stockings on their shapely brown legs, exhorted
Ashurst to join them in the middle of it, and help sieve the water.
He too was soon bootless and sockless. Time goes fast for one who
has a sense of beauty, when there are pretty children in a pool and a
young Diana on the edge, to receive with wonder anything you can
catch! Ashurst never had much sense of time. It was a shock when,
pulling out his watch, he saw it was well past three. No cashing his
cheque to-day-the bank would be closed before he could get there.
Watching his expression, the little girls cried out at once:
"Hurrah! Now you'll have to stay!"
Ashurst did not answer. He was seeing again Megan's face, when at
breakfast time he had whispered: "I'm going to Torquay, darling, to
get everything; I shall be back this evening. If it's fine we can go
to-night. Be ready." He was seeing again how she quivered and hung
on his words. What would she think? Then he pulled himself
together, conscious suddenly of the calm scrutiny of this other young
girl, so tall and fair and Diana-like, at the edge of the pool, of
her wondering blue eyes under those brows which slanted up a little.
If they knew what was in his mind--if they knew that this very night
he had meant! Well, there would be a little sound of disgust, and he
would be alone in the cave. And with a curious mixture of anger,
chagrin, and shame, he put his watch back into his pocket and said
"Yes; I'm dished for to-day."
"Hurrah! Now you can bathe with us."
It was impossible not to succumb a little to the contentment of these
pretty children, to the smile on Stella's lips, to Halliday's
"Ripping, old chap! I can lend you things for the night!" But again
a spasm of longing and remorse throbbed through Ashurst, and he said
"I must send a wire!"
The attractions of the pool palling, they went back to the hotel.
Ashurst sent his wire, addressing it to Mrs. Narracombe: "Sorry,
detained for the night, back to-morrow." Surely Megan would
understand that he had too much to do; and his heart grew lighter.
It was a lovely afternoon, warm, the sea calm and blue, and swimming
his great passion; the favour of these pretty children flattered him,
the pleasure of looking at them, at Stella, at Halliday's sunny face;
the slight unreality, yet extreme naturalness of it all--as of a last
peep at normality before be took this plunge with Megan! He got his
borrowed bathing dress, and they all set forth. Halliday and he
undressed behind one rock, the three girls behind another. He was
first into the sea, and at once swam out with the bravado of
justifying his self-given reputation. When he turned he could see
Halliday swimming along shore, and the girls flopping and dipping,
and riding the little waves, in the way he was accustomed to despise,
but now thought pretty and sensible, since it gave him the
distinction of the only deep-water fish. But drawing near, he
wondered if they would like him, a stranger, to come into their
splashing group; he felt shy, approaching that slim nymph. Then
Sabina summoned him to teach her to float, and between them the
little girls kept him so busy that he had no time even to notice
whether Stella was accustomed to his presence, till suddenly he heard
a startled sound from her: She was standing submerged to the waist,
leaning a little forward, her slim white arms stretched out and
pointing, her wet face puckered by the sun and an expression of fear.
"Look at Phil! Is he all right? Oh, look!"
Ashurst saw at once that Phil was not all right. He was splashing
and struggling out of his depth, perhaps a hundred yards away;
suddenly he gave a cry, threw up his arms, and went down. Ashurst
saw the girl launch herself towards him, and crying out: "Go back,
Stella! Go back!" he dashed out. He had never swum so fast, and
reached Halliday just as he was coming up a second time. It was a
case of cramp, but to get him in was not difficult, for he did not
struggle. The girl, who had stopped where Ashurst told her to,
helped as soon as he was in his depth, and once on the beach they sat
down one on each side of him to rub his limbs, while the little ones
stood by with scared faces. Halliday was soon smiling. It was--he
said--rotten of him, absolutely rotten! If Frank would give him an
arm, he could get to his clothes all right now. Ashurst gave him the
arm, and as he did so caught sight of Stella's face, wet and flushed
and tearful, all broken up out of its calm; and he thought: 'I called
her Stella! Wonder if she minded?'
While they were dressing, Halliday said quietly, "You saved my life,
Clothed, but not quite in their right minds, they went up all
together to the hotel and sat down to tea, except Halliday, who was
lying down in his room. After some slices of bread and jam, Sabina
"I say, you know, you are a brick!" And Freda chimed in:
Ashurst saw Stella looking down; he got up in confusion, and went to
the window. From there he heard Sabina mutter: "I say, let's swear
blood bond. Where's your knife, Freda?" and out of the corner of
his eye could see each of them solemnly prick herself, squeeze out a
drop of blood and dabble on a bit of paper. He turned and made for
"Don't be a stoat! Come back!" His arms were seized; imprisoned
between the little girls he was brought back to the table. On it lay
a piece of paper with an effigy drawn in blood, and the three names
Stella Halliday, Sabina Halliday, Freda Halliday--also in blood,
running towards it like the rays of a star. Sabina said:
"That's you. We shall have to kiss you, you know."
And Freda echoed:
Before Ashurst could escape, some wettish hair dangled against his
face, something like a bite descended on his nose, he felt his left
arm pinched, and other teeth softly searching his cheek. Then he was
released, and Freda said: