Part 6 out of 7
"As soon as I can."
Mr. Stone's eyes, wistfully bright, seemed trying to see through
"She came to me, I think," he said; "I seem to recollect her crying.
You are good to her?"
"I have tried to be," said Hilary.
Mr. Stone's face was discoloured by a flush. "You have no children,"
he said painfully; "do you live together?"
Hilary shook his head.
"You are estranged?" said Mr. Stone.
Hilary bowed. There was a long silence. Mr. Stone's eyes had
travelled to the window.
"Without love there cannot be life," he said at last; and fixing his
wistful gaze on Hilary, asked: "Does she love another?"
Again Hilary shook his head.
When Mr. Stone next spoke it was clearly to himself.
"I do not know why I am glad. Do you love another?"
At this question Hilary's eyebrows settled in a frown. "What do you
mean by love?" he said.
Mr. Stone did not reply; it was evident that he was reflecting
deeply. His lips began to move: "By love I mean the forgetfulness of
self. Unions are frequent in which only the sexual instincts, or the
remembrance of self, are roused---"
"That is true," muttered Hilary.
Mr. Stone looked up; painful traces of confusion showed in his face.
"We were discussing something."
"I was telling you," said Hilary, "that it would be better for your
daughter--if I go away for a time."
"Yes," said Mr. Stone; "you are estranged."
Hilary went back to his stand before the empty fireplace.
"There is one thing, sir," he said, "on my conscience to say before I
go, and I must leave it to you to decide. The little girl who comes
to you no longer lives where she used to live."
"In that street...." said Mr. Stone.
Hilary went on quickly. "She was obliged to leave because the
husband of the woman with whom she used to lodge became infatuated
with her. He has been in prison, and comes out tomorrow. If she
continues to come here he will, of course, be able to find her. I'm
afraid he will pursue her again. Have I made it clear to you?"
"No," said Mr. Stone.
"The man," resumed Hilary patiently, "is a poor, violent creature,
who has been wounded in the head; he is not quite responsible. He
may do the girl an injury."
"He has stabbed his wife already."
"I will speak to him," said Mr. Stone.
Hilary smiled. "I am afraid that words will hardly meet the case.
She ought to disappear."
There was silence.
"My book!" said Mr. Stone.
It smote Hilary to see how white his face had become. 'It's better,'
he thought, 'to bring his will-power into play; she will never come
here, anyway, after I'm gone.'
But, unable to bear the tragedy in the old man's eyes, he touched him
on the arm.
"Perhaps she will take the risk, sir, if you ask her."
Mr. Stone did not answer, and, not knowing what more to say, Hilary
went back to the window. Miranda was slumbering lightly out there in
the speckled shade, where it was not too warm and not too cold, her
cheek resting on her paw and white teeth showing.
Mr. Stone's voice rose again. "You are right; I cannot ask her to
run a risk like that!"
"She is just coming up the garden," Hilary said huskily. "Shall I
tell her to come in?"
"Yes," said Mr. Stone.
The girl came in, carrying a tiny bunch of lilies of the valley; her
face fell at sight of Mr. Stone; she stood still, raising the lilies
to her breast. Nothing could have been more striking than the change
from her look of guttered expectancy to a sort of hard dismay. A
spot of red came into both her cheeks. She gazed from Mr. Stone to
Hilary and back again. Both were staring at her. No one spoke. The
little model's bosom began heaving as though she had been running;
she said faintly: "Look; I brought you this, Mr. Stone!" and held out
to him the bunch of lilies. But Mr. Stone made no sign. "Don't you
Mr. Stone's eyes remained fastened on her face.
To Hilary this suspense was, evidently, most distressing. "Come,
will you tell her, sir," he said, "or shall I?"
Mr. Stone spoke.
"I shall try and write my book without you. You must not run this
risk. I cannot allow it."
The little model turned her eyes from side to side. "But I like to
copy out your book," she said.
"The man will injure you," said Mr. Stone.
The little model looked at Hilary.
"I don't care if he does; I'm not afraid of him. I can look after
myself; I'm used to it."
"I am going away," said Hilary quietly.
After a desperate look, that seemed to ask, 'Am I going, too?' the
little model stood as though frozen.
Wishing to end the painful scene, Hilary went up to Mr. Stone.
"Do you want to dictate to her this afternoon, sir?"
"No," said Mr. Stone.
"Will you come a little walk with me?"
Mr. Stone bowed.
Hilary turned to the little model. "It is goodbye, then," he said.
She did not take his hand. Her eyes, turned sideways, glinted; her
teeth were fastened on her lower lip. She dropped the lilies,
suddenly looked up at him, gulped, and slunk away. In passing she
had smeared the lilies with her foot.
Hilary picked up the fragments of the flowers, and dropped them into
the grate. The fragrance of the bruised blossoms remained clinging
to the air.
"Shall we get ready for our walk?" he said.
Mr. Stone moved feebly to the door, and very soon they were walking
silently towards the Gardens.
This same afternoon Thyme, wheeling a bicycle and carrying a light
valise, was slipping into a back street out of the Old Square.
Putting her burden down at the pavement's edge, she blew a whistle.
A hansom-cab appeared, and a man in ragged clothes, who seemed to
spring out of the pavement, took hold of her valise. His lean,
unshaven face was full of wolfish misery.
"Get off with you!" the cabman said.
"Let him do it!" murmured Thyme.
The cab-runner hoisted up the trunk, then waited motionless beside
Thyme handed him two coppers. He looked at them in silence, and went
'Poor man,' she thought; 'that's one of the things we've got to do
The cab now proceeded in the direction of the Park, Thyme following
on her bicycle, and trying to stare about her calmly.
'This,' she thought, 'is the end of the old life. I won't be
romantic, and imagine I'm doing anything special; I must take it all
as a matter of course.' She thought of Mr. Purcey's face--'that
person!'--if he could have seen her at this moment turning her back
on comfort. 'The moment I get there,' she mused, 'I shall let mother
know; she can come out to-morrow, and see for herself. I can't have
hysterics about my disappearance, and all that. They must get used
to the idea that I mean to be in touch with things. I can't be
stopped by what anybody thinks!'
An approaching motor-car brought a startled frown across her brow.
Was it 'that person'? But though it was not Mr. Purcey and his A.i.
Damyer, it was somebody so like him as made no difference. Thyme
uttered a little laugh.
In the Park a cool light danced and glittered on the trees and water,
and the same cool, dancing glitter seemed lighting the girl's eyes.
The cabman, unseen, took an admiring look at her. 'Nice little bit,
this!' it said.
'Grandfather bathes here,' thought Thyme. 'Poor darling! I pity
everyone that's old.'
The cab passed on under the shade of trees out into the road.
'I wonder if we have only one self in us,' thought Thyme.
'I sometimes feel that I have two--Uncle Hilary would understand what
I mean. The pavements are beginning to smell horrid already, and
it's only June to-morrow. Will mother feel my going very much? How
glorious if one didn't feel!'
The cab turned into a narrow street of little shops.
'It must be dreadful to have to serve in a small shop. What millions
of people there are in the world! Can anything be of any use?
Martin says what matters is to do one's job; but what is one's job?'
The cab emerged into a broad, quiet square.
'But I'm not going to think of anything,' thought Thyme; 'that's
fatal. Suppose father stops my allowance; I should have to earn my
living as a typist, or something of that sort; but he won't, when he
sees I mean it. Besides, mother wouldn't let him.'
The cab entered the Euston Road, and again the cabman's broad face
was turned towards Thyme with an inquiring stare.
'What a hateful road!' Thyme thought. 'What dull, ugly, common-
looking faces all the people seem to have in London! as if they
didn't care for anything but just to get through their day somehow.
I've only seen two really pretty faces!'
The cab stopped before a small tobacconist's on the south side of the
'Have I got to live here?' thought Thyme.
Through the open door a narrow passage led to a narrow staircase
covered with oilcloth. She raised her bicycle and wheeled it in. A
Jewish-looking youth emerging from the shop accosted her.
"Your gentleman friend says you are to stay in your rooms, please,
until he comes."
His warm red-brown eyes dwelt on her lovingly. "Shall I take your
luggage up, miss?"
"Thank you; I can manage."
"It's the first floor," said the young man.
The little rooms which Thyme entered were stuffy, clean, and neat.
Putting her trunk down in her bedroom, which looked out on a bare
yard, she went into the sitting-room and threw the window up. Down
below the cabman and tobacconist were engaged in conversation. Thyme
caught the expression on their faces--a sort of leering curiosity.
'How disgusting and horrible men are!' she thought, moodily staring
at the traffic. All seemed so grim, so inextricable, and vast, out
there in the grey heat and hurry, as though some monstrous devil were
sporting with a monstrous ant-heap. The reek of petrol and of dung
rose to her nostrils. It was so terribly big and hopeless; it was so
ugly! 'I shall never do anything,' thought Thyme-'never--never! Why
doesn't Martin come?'
She went into her bedroom and opened her valise. With the scent of
lavender that came from it, there sprang up a vision of her white
bedroom at home, and the trees of the green garden and the blackbirds
on the grass.
The sound of footsteps on the stairs brought her back into the
sitting-room. Martin was standing in the doorway.
Thyme ran towards him, but stopped abruptly. "I've come, you see.
What made you choose this place?"
"I'm next door but two; and there's a girl here--one of us. She'll
show you the ropes."
"Is she a lady?"
Martin raised his shoulders. "She is what is called a lady," he
said; "but she's the right sort, all the same. Nothing will stop
At this proclamation of supreme virtue, the look on Thyme's face was
very queer. 'You don't trust me,' it seemed to say, 'and you trust
that girl. You put me here for her to watch over me!...'
"I 'want to send this telegram," she said
Martin read the telegram. "You oughtn't to have funked telling your
mother what you meant to do."
Thyme crimsoned. "I'm not cold-blooded, like you."
"This is a big matter," said Martin. "I told you that you had no
business to come at all if you couldn't look it squarely in the
"If you want me to stay you had better be more decent to me, Martin."
"It must be your own affair," said Martin.
Thyme stood at the window, biting her lips to keep the tears back
from her eyes. A very pleasant voice behind her said: "I do think
it's so splendid of you to come!"
A girl in grey was standing there--thin, delicate, rather plain, with
a nose ever so little to one side, lips faintly smiling, and large,
shining, greenish eyes.
"I am Mary Daunt. I live above you. Have you had some tea?"
In the gentle question of this girl with the faintly smiling lips and
shining eyes Thyme fancied that she detected mockery.
"Yes, thanks. I want to be shown what my work's to be, at once,
The grey girl looked at Martin.
"Oh! Won't to-morrow do for all that sort of thing? I'm sure you
must be tired. Mr. Stone, do make her rest!"
Martin's glance seemed to say: 'Please leave your femininities!'
"If you mean business, your work will be the same as hers," he said;
"you're not qualified. All you can do will be visiting, noting the
state of the houses and the condition of the children."
The girl in grey said gently: "You see, we only deal with sanitation
and the children. It seems hard on the grown people and the old to
leave them out; but there's sure to be so much less money than we
want, so that it must all go towards the future."
There was a silence. The girl with the shining eyes added softly:
"1950!" repeated Martin. It seemed to be some formula of faith.
"I must send this telegram!" muttered Thyme.
Martin took it from her and went out.
Left alone in the little room, the two girls did not at first speak.
The girl in grey was watching Thyme half timidly, as if she could not
tell what to make of this young creature who looked so charming, and
kept shooting such distrustful glances.
"I think it's so awfully sweet of you to come," she said at last.
"I know what a good time you have at home; your cousin's often told
me. Don't you think he's splendid?"
To that question Thyme made no answer.
"Isn't this work horrid," she said--"prying into people's houses?"
The grey girl smiled. "It is rather awful sometimes. I've been at
it six months now. You get used to it. I've had all the worst
things said to me by now, I should think."
"You see," said the grey girl's faintly smiling lips, "you soon get
the feeling of having to go through with it. We all realise it's got
to be done, of course. Your cousin's one of the best of us; nothing
seems to put him out. He has such a nice sort of scornful kindness.
I'd rather work with him than anyone."
She looked past her new associate into that world outside, where the
sky seemed all wires and yellow heat-dust. She did not notice Thyme
appraising her from head to foot, with a stare hostile and jealous,
but pathetic, too, as though confessing that this girl was her
"I'm sure I can't do that work!" she said suddenly.
The grey girl smiled. "Oh, I thought that at first." Then, with an
admiring look: "But I do think it's rather a shame for you, you're so
pretty. Perhaps they'd put you on to tabulation work, though that's
awfully dull. We'll ask your cousin."
"No; I'll do the whole or nothing."
"Well," said the grey girl, "I've got one house left to-day. Would
you like to come and see the sort of thing?"
She took a small notebook from a side pocket in her skirt.
"I can't get on without a pocket. You must have something that you
can't leave behind. I left four little bags and two dozen
handkerchiefs in five weeks before I came back to pockets. It's
rather a horrid house, I'm afraid!"
"I shall be all right," said Thyme shortly.
In the shop doorway the young tobacconist was taking the evening air.
He greeted them with his polite but constitutionally leering smile.
"Good-evening, mith," he said; "nithe evening!"
"He's rather an awful little man," the grey girl said when they had
achieved the crossing of the street; "but he's got quite a nice sense
"Ah!" said Thyme.
They had turned into a by-street, and stopped before a house which
had obviously seen better days. Its windows were cracked, its doors
unpainted, and down in the basement could be seen a pile of rags, an
evil-looking man seated by it, and a blazing fire. Thyme felt a
little gulping sensation. There was a putrid scent as of burning
refuse. She looked at her companion. The grey girl was consulting
her notebook, with a faint smile on her lips. And in Thyme's heart
rose a feeling almost of hatred for this girl, who was so business-
like in the presence of such sights and scents.
The door was opened by a young red-faced woman, who looked as if she
had been asleep.
The grey girl screwed up her shining eyes. "Oh, do you mind if we
come in a minute?" she said. "It would be so good of you. We're
making a report."
"There's nothing to report here," the young woman answered. But the
grey girl had slipped as gently past as though she had been the very
spirit of adventure.
"Of course, I see that, but just as a matter of form, you know."
"I've parted with most of my things," the young woman said
defensively, "since my husband died. It's a hard life."
"Yes, yes, but not worse than mine--always poking my nose into other
The young woman was silent, evidently surprised.
"The landlord ought to keep you in better repair," said the grey
girl. "He owns next door, too, doesn't he?"
The young woman nodded. "He's a bad landlord. All down the street
'ere it's the same. Can't get nothing done."
The grey girl had gone over to a dirty bassinette where a half-naked
child sprawled. An ugly little girl with fat red cheeks was sitting
on a stool beside it, close to an open locker wherein could be seen a
number of old meat bones.'
"Your chickabiddies?" said the grey girl. "Aren't they sweet?"
The young woman's face became illumined by a smile.
"They're healthy," she said.
"That's more than can be said for all the children in the house, I
expect," murmured the grey girl.
The young woman replied emphatically, as though voicing an old
grievance: "The three on the first floor's not so bad, but I don't
let 'em 'ave anything to do with that lot at the top."
Thyme saw her new friend's hand hover over the child's head like some
pale dove. In answer to that gesture, the mother nodded. "Just
that; you've got to clean 'em every time they go near them children
at the top."
The grey girl looked at Thyme. 'That's where we've got to go,
evidently,' she seemed to say.
"A dirty lot!" muttered the young woman.
"It's very hard on you."
"It is. I'm workin' at the laundry all day when I can get it. I
can't look after the children--they get everywhere."
"Very hard," murmured the grey girl. "I'll make a note of that."
Together with the little book, in which she was writing furiously,
she had pulled out her handkerchief, and the sight of this
handkerchief reposing on the floor gave Thyme a queer satisfaction,
such as comes when one remarks in superior people the absence of a
virtue existing in oneself.
"Well, we mustn't keep you, Mrs.--Mrs. ?"
"Cleary. How old's this little one? Four? And the other? Two?
They are ducks. Good-bye!"
In the corridor outside the grey girl whispered: "I do like the way
we all pride ourselves on being better than someone else. I think
it's so hopeful and jolly. Shall we go up and see the abyss at the
A YOUNG GIRL'S MIND
A young girl's mind is like a wood in Spring--now a rising mist of
bluebells and flakes of dappled sunlight; now a world of still, wan,
tender saplings, weeping they know not why. Through the curling
twigs of boughs just green, its wings fly towards the stars; but the
next moment they have drooped to mope beneath the damp bushes. It is
ever yearning for and trembling at the future; in its secret places
all the countless shapes of things that are to be are taking stealthy
counsel of how to grow up without letting their gown of mystery fall.
They rustle, whisper, shriek suddenly, and as suddenly fall into a
delicious silence. From the first hazel-bush to the last may-tree it
is an unending meeting-place of young solemn things eager to find out
what they are, eager to rush forth to greet the kisses of the wind
and sun, and for ever trembling back and hiding their faces. The
spirit of that wood seems to lie with her ear close to the ground, a
pale petal of a hand curved like a shell behind it, listening for the
whisper of her own life. There she lies, white and supple, with
dewy, wistful eyes, sighing: 'What is my meaning? Ah, I am
everything! Is there in all the world a thing so wonderful as I?...
Oh, I am nothing--my wings are heavy; I faint, I die!'
When Thyme, attended by the grey girl, emerged from the abyss at the
top, her cheeks were flushed and her hands clenched. She said
nothing. The grey girl, too, was silent, with a look such as a
spirit divested of its body by long bathing in the river of reality
might bend on one who has just come to dip her head. Thyme's quick
eyes saw that look, and her colour deepened. She saw, too, the
glance of the Jewish youth when Martin joined them in the doorway.
'Two girls now,' he seemed to say. 'He goes it, this young man!'
Supper was laid in her new friend's room--pressed beef, potato salad,
stewed prunes, and ginger ale. Martin and the grey girl talked.
Thyme ate in silence, but though her eyes seemed fastened on her
plate, she saw every glance that passed between them, heard every
word they said. Those glances were not remarkable, nor were those
words particularly important, but they were spoken in tones that
seemed important to Thyme. 'He never talks to me like that,' she
When supper was over they went out into the streets to walk, but at
the door the grey girl gave Thyme's arm a squeeze, her cheek a swift
kiss, and turned back up the stairs.
"Aren't you coming?" shouted Martin.
Her voice was heard answering from above: "No, not tonight."
With the back of her hand Thyme rubbed off the kiss. The two cousins
walked out amongst the traffic.
The evening was very warm and close; no breeze fanned the reeking
town. Speaking little, they wandered among endless darkening
streets, whence to return to the light and traffic of the Euston Road
seemed like coming back to Heaven. At last, close again to her new
home, Thyme said: "Why should one bother? It's all a horrible great
machine, trying to blot us out; people are like insects when you put
your thumb on them and smear them on a book. I hate--I loathe it!"
"They might as well be healthy insects while they last," answered
Thyme faced round at him. "I shan't sleep tonight, Martin; get out
my bicycle for me."
Martin scrutinised her by the light of the street lamp. "All right,"
he said; "I'll come too."
There are, say moralists, roads that lead to Hell, but it was on a
road that leads to Hampstead that the two young cyclists set forth
towards eleven o'clock. The difference between the character of the
two destinations was soon apparent, for whereas man taken in bulk had
perhaps made Hell, Hampstead had obviously been made by the upper
classes. There were trees and gardens, and instead of dark canals of
sky banked by the roofs of houses and hazed with the yellow scum of
London lights, the heavens spread out in a wide trembling pool. From
that rampart of the town, the Spaniard's Road, two plains lay exposed
to left and right; the scent of may-tree blossom had stolen up the
hill; the rising moon clung to a fir-tree bough. Over the country
the far stars presided, and sleep's dark wings were spread above the
fields--silent, scarce breathing, lay the body of the land. But to
the south, where the town, that restless head, was lying, the stars
seemed to have fallen and were sown in the thousand furrows of its
great grey marsh, and from the dark miasma of those streets there
travelled up a rustle, a whisper, the far allurement of some
deathless dancer, dragging men to watch the swirl of her black,
spangled drapery, the gleam of her writhing limbs. Like the song of
the sea in a shell was the murmur of that witch of motion, clasping
to her the souls of men, drawing them down into a soul whom none had
ever known to rest.
Above the two young cousins, scudding along that ridge between the
country and the town, three thin white clouds trailed slowly towards
the west-like tired. seabirds drifting exhausted far out from land
on a sea blue to blackness with unfathomable depth.
For an hour those two rode silently into the country.
"Have we come far enough?" Martin said at last.
Thyme shook her head. A long, steep hill beyond a little sleeping
village had brought them to a standstill. Across the shadowy fields
a pale sheet of water gleamed out in moonlight. Thyme turned down
"I'm hot," she said; "I want to bathe my face. Stay here. Don't
come with me."
She left her bicycle, and, passing through a gate, vanished among the
Martin stayed leaning against the gate. The village clock struck
one. The distant call of a hunting owl, "Qu-wheek, qu-wheek!"
sounded through the grave stillness of this last night of May. The
moon at her curve's summit floated at peace on the blue surface of
the sky, a great closed water-lily. And Martin saw through the trees
scimitar-shaped reeds clustering black along the pool's shore. All
about him the may-flowers were alight. It was such a night as makes
dreams real and turns reality to dreams.
'All moonlit nonsense!' thought the young man, for the night had
disturbed his heart.
But Thyme did not come back. He called to her, and in the death-like
silence following his shouts he could hear his own heart beat. He
passed in through the gate. She was nowhere to be seen. Why was she
playing him this trick?
He turned up from the water among the trees, where the incense of the
may-flowers hung heavy in the air.
'Never look for a thing!' he thought, and stopped to listen. It was
so breathless that the leaves of a low bough against his cheek did
not stir while he stood there. Presently he heard faint sounds, and
stole towards them. Under a beech-tree he almost stumbled over
Thyme, lying with her face pressed to the ground. The young doctor's
heart gave a sickening leap; he quickly knelt down beside her. The
girl's body, pressed close to the dry beech-mat, was being shaken by
long sobs. From head to foot it quivered; her hat had been torn off,
and the fragrance of her hair mingled with the fragrance of the
night. In Martin's heart something seemed to turn over and over, as
when a boy he had watched a rabbit caught in a snare. He touched
her. She sat up, and, dashing her hand across her eyes, cried: "Go
away! Oh, go away!"
He put his arm round her and waited. Five minutes passed. The air
was trembling with a sort of pale vibration, for the moonlight had
found a hole in the dark foliage and flooded on to the ground beside
them, whitening the black beech-husks. Some tiny bird, disturbed by
these unwonted visitors, began chirruping and fluttering, but was
soon still again. To Martin, so strangely close to this young
creature in the night, there came a sense of utter disturbance.
'Poor little thing!' he thought; 'be careful of her, comfort her!'
Hardness seemed so broken out of her, and the night so wonderful!
And there came into the young man's heart a throb of the knowledge--
very rare with him, for he was not, like Hilary, a philosophising
person--that she was as real as himself--suffering, hoping, feeling,
not his hopes and feelings, but her own. His fingers kept pressing
her shoulder through her thin blouse. And the touch of those fingers
was worth more than any words, as this night, all moonlit dreams, was
worth more than a thousand nights of sane reality.
Thyme twisted herself away from him at last. "I can't," she sobbed.
"I'm not what you thought me--I'm not made for it!"
A scornful little smile curled Martin's lip. So that was it! But
the smile soon died away. One did not hit what was already down
Thyme's voice wailed through the silence. "I thought I could--but I
want beautiful things. I can't bear it all so grey and horrible.
I'm not like that girl. I'm-an-amateur!"
'If I kissed her---' Martin thought.
She sank down again, burying her face in the dark beech-mat. The
moonlight had passed on. Her voice came faint and stiffed, as out of
the tomb of faith. "I'm no good. I never shall be. I'm as bad as
But to Martin there was only the scent of her hair.
"No," murmured Thyme's voice, "I'm only fit for miserable Art.... I'm
only fit for--nothing!"
They were so close together on the dark beech mat that their bodies
touched, and a longing to clasp her in his arms came over him.
"I'm a selfish beast!" moaned the smothered voice. "I don't really
care for all these people--I only care because they're ugly for me to
Martin reached his hand out to her hair. If she had shrunk away he
would have seized her, but as though by instinct she let it rest
there. And at her sudden stillness, strange and touching, Martin's
quick passion left him. He slipped his arm round her and raised her
up, as if she had been a child, and for a long time sat listening
with a queer twisted smile to the moanings of her lost illusions.
The dawn found them still sitting there against the bole of the
beech-tree. Her lips were parted; the tears had dried on her
sleeping face, pillowed against his shoulder, while he still watched
her sideways with the ghost of that twisted smile.
And beyond the grey water, like some tired wanton, the moon in an
orange hood was stealing down to her rest between the trees.
STEPHEN SIGNS CHEQUES
Cecilia received the mystic document containing these words "Am quite
all right. Address, 598, Euston Road, three doors off Martin.
Letter follows explaining. Thyme," she had not even realised her
little daughter's departure. She went up to Thyme's room at once,
and opening all the drawers and cupboards, stared into them one by
one. The many things she saw there allayed the first pangs of her
'She has only taken one little trunk,' she thought, 'and left all her
This act of independence alarmed rather than surprised her, such had
been her sense of the unrest in the domestic atmosphere during the
last month. Since the evening when she had found Thyme in foods of
tears because of the Hughs' baby, her maternal eyes had not failed to
notice something new in the child's demeanour--a moodiness, an air
almost of conspiracy, together with an emphatic increase of youthful
sarcasm: Fearful of probing deep, she had sought no confidence, nor
had she divulged her doubts to Stephen.
Amongst the blouses a sheet of blue ruled paper, which had evidently
escaped from a notebook, caught her eye. Sentences were scrawled on
it in pencil. Cecilia read: "That poor little dead thing was so grey
and pinched, and I seemed to realise all of a sudden how awful it is
for them. I must--I must--I will do something!"
Cecilia dropped the sheet of paper; her hand was trembling. There
was no mystery in that departure now, and Stephen's words came into
her mind: "It's all very well up to a certain point, and nobody
sympathises with them more than I do; but after that it becomes
destructive of all comfort, and that does no good to anyone."
The sound sense of those words had made her feel queer when they were
spoken; they were even more sensible than she had thought. Did her
little daughter, so young and pretty, seriously mean to plunge into
the rescue work of dismal slums, to cut herself adrift from sweet
sounds and scents and colours, from music and art, from dancing,
flowers, and all that made life beautiful? The secret forces of
fastidiousness, an inborn dread of the fanatical, and all her real
ignorance of what such a life was like, rose in Cecilia with a force
which made her feel quite sick. Better that she herself should do
this thing than that her own child should be deprived of air and
light and all the just environment of her youth and beauty. 'She
must come back--she must listen to me!' she thought. 'We will begin
together; we will start a nice little creche of our own, or--perhaps
Mrs. Tallents Smallpeace could find us some regular work on one of
Then suddenly she conceived a thought which made her blood run
positively cold. What if it were a matter of heredity? What if
Thyme had inherited her grandfather's single-mindedness? Martin was
giving proof of it. Things, she knew, often skipped a generation and
then set in again. Surely, surely, it could not have done that!
With longing, yet with dread, she waited for the sound of Stephen's
latchkey. It came at its appointed time.
Even in her agitation Cecilia did not forget to spare him, all she
could. She began by giving him a kiss, and then said casually:
"Thyme has got a whim into her head."
"It's rather what you might expect," faltered Cecilia, "from her
going about so much with Martin."
Stephen's face assumed at once an air of dry derision; there was no
love lost between him and his young nephew-in-law.
"The Sanitist?" he said; "ah! Well?"
"She has gone off to do work-some place in the Euston Road. I've had
a telegram. Oh, and I found this, Stephen."
She held out to him half-heartedly the two bits of paper, one
pinkish-brown, the other blue. Stephen saw that she was trembling.
He took them from her, read them, and looked at her again. He had a
real affection for his wife, and the tradition of consideration for
other people's feelings was bred in him, so that at this moment, so
vitally disturbing, the first thing he did was to put his hand on her
shoulder and give it a reassuring squeeze. But there was also in
Stephen a certain primitive virility, pickled, it is true, at
Cambridge, and in the Law Courts dried, but still preserving
something of its possessive and assertive quality, and the second
thing he did was to say, "No, I'm damned!"
In that little sentence lay the whole psychology of his attitude
towards this situation and all the difference between two classes of
the population. Mr. Purcey would undoubtedly have said: "Well, I'm
damned!" Stephen, by saying "No, I'm damned!" betrayed that before he
could be damned he had been obliged to wrestle and contend with
something, and Cecilia, who was always wrestling too, knew this
something to be that queer new thing, a Social Conscience, the dim
bogey stalking pale about the houses of those who, through the
accidents of leisure or of culture, had once left the door open to
the suspicion: Is it possible that there is a class of people besides
my own, or am I dreaming? Happy the millions, poor or rich, not yet
condemned to watch the wistful visiting or hear the husky mutter of
that ghost, happy in their homes, blessed by a less disquieting god.
Such were Cecilia's inner feelings.
Even now she did not quite plumb the depths of Stephen's; she felt
his struggle with the ghost; she felt and admired his victory. What
she did not, could not, perhaps, realise, was the precise nature of
the outrage inflicted on him by Thyme's action. With her--being a
woman--the matter was more practical; she did not grasp, had never
grasped, the architectural nature of Stephen's mind--how really hurt
he was by what did not seem to him in due and proper order.
He spoke: "Why on earth, if she felt like that, couldn't she have
gone to work in the ordinary way? She could have put herself in
connection with some proper charitable society--I should never have
objected to that. It's all that young Sanitary idiot!"
"I believe," Cecilia faltered, "that Martin's is a society. It's a
kind of medical Socialism, or something of that sort. He has
tremendous faith in it."
Stephen's lip curled.
"He may have as much faith as he likes," he said, with the restraint
that was one of his best qualities, "so long as he doesn't infect my
daughter with it."
Cecilia said suddenly: "Oh! what are we to do, Stephen? Shall I go
over there to-night?"
As one may see a shadow pass down on a cornfield, so came the cloud
on Stephen's face. It was as though he had not realised till then
the full extent of what this meant. For a minute he was silent.
"Better wait for her letter," he said at last. "He's her cousin,
after all, and Mrs. Grundy's dead--in the Euston Road, at all
So, trying to spare each other all they could of anxiety, and careful
to abstain from any hint of trouble before the servants, they dined
and went to bed.
At that hour between the night and morning, when man's vitality is
lowest, and the tremors of his spirit, like birds of ill omen, fly
round and round him, beating their long plumes against his cheeks,
It was very still. A bar of pearly-grey dawn showed between the
filmy curtains, which stirred with a regular, faint movement, like
the puffing of a sleeper's lips. The tide of the wind, woven in Mr.
Stone's fancy of the souls of men, was at low ebb. Feebly it fanned
the houses and hovels where the myriad forms of men lay sleeping,
unconscious of its breath; so faint life's pulse, that men and
shadows seemed for that brief moment mingled in the town's sleep.
Over the million varied roofs, over the hundred million little
different shapes of men and things, the wind's quiet, visiting wand
had stilled all into the wonder state of nothingness, when life is
passing into death, death into new life, and self is at its feeblest.
And Stephen's self, feeling the magnetic currents of that ebb-tide
drawing it down into murmurous slumber, out beyond the sand-bars of
individuality and class, threw up its little hands and began to cry
for help. The purple sea of self-forgetfulness, under the dim,
impersonal sky, seemed to him so cold and terrible. It had no limit
that he could see, no rules but such as hung too far away, written in
the hieroglyphics of paling stars. He could feel no order in the
lift and lap of the wan waters round his limbs. Where would those
waters carry him? To what depth of still green silence? Was his own
little daughter to go down into this sea that knew no creed but that
of self-forgetfulness, that respected neither class nor person--this
sea where a few wandering streaks seemed all the evidence of the
precious differences between mankind? God forbid it
And, turning on his elbow, he looked at her who had given him this
daughter. In the mystery of his wife's sleeping face--the face of
her most near and dear to him--he tried hard not to see a likeness to
Mr. Stone. He fell back somewhat comforted with the thought: 'That
old chap has his one idea--his Universal Brotherhood. He's
absolutely absorbed in it. I don't see it in Cis's face a bit.
Quite the contrary.'
But suddenly a flash of clear, hard cynicism amounting to inspiration
utterly disturbed him: The old chap, indeed, was so wrapped up in
himself and his precious book as to be quite unconscious that anyone
else was alive. Could one be everybody's brother if one were blind
to their existence? But this freak of Thyme's was an actual try to
be everybody's sister. For that, he supposed, one must forget
oneself. Why, it was really even a worse case than that of Mr.
Stone! And to Stephen there was something awful in this thought.
The first small bird of morning, close to the open window, uttered a
feeble chirrup. Into Stephen's mind there leaped without reason
recollection of the morning after his first term at school, when,
awakened by the birds, he had started up and fished out from under
his pillow his catapult and the box of shot he had brought home and
taken to sleep with him. He seemed to see again those leaden shot
with their bluish sheen, and to feel them, round, and soft, and
heavy, rolling about his palm. He seemed to hear Hilary's surprised
voice saying: "Hallo, Stevie! you awake?"
No one had ever had a better brother than old Hilary. His only fault
was that he had always been too kind. It was his kindness that had
done for him, and made his married life a failure. He had never
asserted himself enough with that woman, his wife. Stephen turned
over on his other side. 'All this confounded business,' he thought,
'comes from over-sympathising. That's what's the matter with Thyme,
too.' Long he lay thus, while the light grew stronger, listening to
Cecilia's gentle breathing, disturbed to his very marrow by these
The first post brought no letter from Thyme, and the announcement
soon after, that Mr. Hilary had come to breakfast, was received by
both Stephen and Cecilia with a welcome such as the anxious give to
anything which shows promise of distracting them.
Stephen made haste down. Hilary, with a very grave and harassed
face, was in the dining-room. It was he, however, who, after one
look at Stephen, said:
"What's the matter, Stevie?"
Stephen took up the Standard. In spite of his self-control, his hand
shook a little.
"It's a ridiculous business," he said. "That precious young Sanitist
has so worked his confounded theories into Thyme that she has gone
off to the Euston Road to put them into practice, of all things!"
At the half-concerned amusement on Hilary's face his quick and rather
narrow eyes glinted.
"It's not exactly for you to laugh, Hilary," he said. "It's all of a
piece with your cursed sentimentality about those Hughs, and that
girl. I knew it would end in a mess."
Hilary answered this unjust and unexpected outburst by a look, and
Stephen, with the strange feeling of inferiority which would come to
him in Hilary's presence against his better judgment, lowered his own
"My dear boy," said Hilary, "if any bit of my character has crept
into Thyme, I'm truly sorry."
Stephen took his brother's hand and gave it a good grip; and, Cecilia
coming in, they all sat down.
Cecilia at once noted what Stephen in his preoccupation had not--that
Hilary had come to tell them something. But she did not like to ask
him what it was, though she knew that in the presence of their
trouble Hilary was too delicate to obtrude his own. She did not
like, either, to talk of her trouble in the presence of his. They
all talked, therefore, of indifferent things--what music they had
heard, what plays they had seen--eating but little, and drinking tea.
In the middle of a remark about the opera, Stephen, looking up, saw
Martin himself standing in the doorway. The young Sanitist looked
pale, dusty, and dishevelled. He advanced towards Cecilia, and said
with his usual cool determination:
"I've brought her back, Aunt Cis."
At that moment, fraught with such relief, such pure joy, such desire
to say a thousand things, Cecilia could only murmur: "Oh, Martin!"
Stephen, who had jumped up, asked: "Where is she?"
"Gone to her room."
"Then perhaps," said Stephen, regaining at once his dry composure,
"you will give us some explanation of this folly."
"She's no use to us at present."
"Then," said Stephen, "kindly understand that we have no use for you
in future, or any of your sort."
Martin looked round the table, resting his eyes on each in turn.
"You're right," he said. "Good-bye!"
Hilary and Cecilia had risen, too. There was silence. Stephen
crossed to the door.
"You seem to me," he said suddenly, in his driest voice, "with your
new manners and ideas, quite a pernicious youth."
Cecilia stretched her hands out towards Martin, and there was a faint
tinkling as of chains.
"You must know, dear," she said, "how anxious we've all been. Of
course, your uncle doesn't mean that."
The same scornful tenderness with which he was wont to look at Thyme
passed into Martin's face.
"All right, Aunt Cis," he said; "if Stephen doesn't mean it, he ought
to. To mean things is what matters." He stooped and kissed her
forehead. "Give that to Thyme for me," he said. "I shan't see her
for a bit."
"You'll never see her, sir," said Stephen dryly, "if I can help it!
The liquor of your Sanitism is too bright and effervescent."
Martin's smile broadened. "For old bottles," he said, and with
another slow look round went out.
Stephen's mouth assumed its driest twist. "Bumptious young devil!"
he said. "If that is the new young man, defend us!"
Over the cool dining-room, with its faint scent of pinks, of melon,
and of ham, came silence. Suddenly Cecilia glided from the room.
Her light footsteps were heard hurrying, now that she was not
visible, up to Thyme.
Hilary, too, had moved towards the door. In spite of his
preoccupation, Stephen could not help noticing how very worn his
"You look quite seedy, old boy," he said. "Will you have some
Hilary shook his head.
"Now that you've got Thyme back," he said, "I'd better let you know
my news. I'm going abroad to-morrow. I don't know whether I shall
come back again to live with B."
Stephen gave a low whistle; then, pressing Hilary's arm, he said:
"Anything you decide, old man, I'll always back you in, but--"
"I'm going alone."
In his relief Stephen violated the laws of reticence.
"Thank Heaven for that! I was afraid you were beginning to lose your
head about that girl"
"I'm not quite fool enough," said Hilary, "to imagine that such a
liaison would be anything but misery in the long-run. If I took the
child I should have to stick to her; but I'm not proud of leaving her
in the lurch, Stevie."
The tone of his voice was so bitter that Stephen seized his hand.
"My dear old man, you're too kind. Why, she's no hold on you--not
the smallest in the world!"
"Except the hold of this devotion I've roused in her, God knows how,
and her destitution."
"You let these people haunt you," said Stephen. "It's quite a
mistake--it really is."
"I had forgotten to mention that I am not an iceberg," muttered
Stephen looked into his face without speaking, then with the utmost
earnestness he said:
"However much you may be attracted, it's simply unthinkable for a man
like you to go outside his class."
"Class! Yes!" muttered Hilary: "Good-bye!"
And with a long grip of his brother's hand he went away.
Stephen turned to the window. For all the care and contrivance
bestowed on the view, far away to the left the back courts of an
alley could be seen; and as though some gadfly had planted in him its
small poisonous sting, he moved back from the sight at once.
'Confusion!' he thought. 'Are we never to get rid of these infernal
His eyes lighted on the melon. A single slice lay by itself on a
blue-green dish. Leaning over a plate, with a desperation quite
unlike himself, he took an enormous bite. Again and again he bit the
slice, then almost threw it from him, and dipped his fingers in a
'Thank God!' he thought, 'that's over! What an escape!'
Whether he meant Hilary's escape or Thyme's was doubtful, but there
came on him a longing to rush up to his little daughter's room, and
hug her. He suppressed it, and sat down at the bureau; he was
suddenly experiencing a sensation such as he had sometimes felt on a
perfect day, or after physical danger, of too much benefit, of
something that he would like to return thanks for, yet knew not how.
His hand stole to the inner pocket of his black coat. It stole out
again; there was a cheque-book in it. Before his mind's eye,
starting up one after the other, he saw the names of the societies he
supported, or meant sometime, if he could afford it, to support. He
reached his hand out for a pen. The still, small noise of the nib
travelling across the cheques mingled with the buzzing of a single
These sounds Cecilia heard, when, from the open door, she saw the
thin back of her husband's neck, with its softly graduated hair, bent
forward above the bureau. She stole over to him, and pressed herself
against his arm.
Stephen, staying the progress of his pen, looked up at her. Their
eyes met, and, bending down, Cecilia put her cheek to his.
THE FLOWERING OF THE ALOE
This same day, returning through Kensington Gardens, from his
preparations for departure, Hilary came suddenly on Bianca standing
by the shores of the Round Pond.
To the eyes of the frequenters of these Elysian fields, where so many
men and shadows daily steal recreation, to the eyes of all drinking
in those green gardens their honeyed draught of peace, this husband
and wife appeared merely a distinguished-looking couple, animated by
a leisured harmony. For the time was not yet when men were one, and
could tell by instinct what was passing in each other's hearts.
In truth, there were not too many people in London who, in their
situation, would have behaved with such seemliness--not too many so
civilised as they!
Estranged, and soon to part, they retained the manner of accord up to
the last. Not for them the matrimonial brawl, the solemn accusation
and recrimination, the pathetic protestations of proprietary rights.
For them no sacred view that at all costs they must make each other
miserable--not even the belief that they had the right to do so. No,
there was no relief for their sore hearts. They walked side by side,
treating each other's feelings with respect, as if there had been no
terrible heart-turnings throughout the eighteen years in which they
had first loved, then, through mysterious disharmony, drifted apart;
as if there were now between them no question of this girl.
Presently Hilary said:
"I've been into town and made my preparations; I'm starting tomorrow
for the mountains. There will be no necessity for you to leave your
"Are you taking her?"
It was beautifully uttered, without a trace of bias or curiosity,
with an unforced accent, neither indifferent nor too interested--no
one could have told whether it was meant for generosity or malice.
Hilary took it for the former.
"Thank you," he said; "but that comedy is finished."
Close to the edge of the Round Pond a swanlike cutter was putting out
to sea; in the wake of this fair creature a tiny scooped-out bit of
wood, with three feathers for masts, bobbed and trembled; and the two
small ragged boys who owned that little galley were stretching bits
of branch out towards her over the bright waters.
Bianca looked, without seeing, at this proof of man's pride in his
own property. A thin gold chain hung round her neck; suddenly she
thrust it into the bosom of her dress. It had broken into two,
between her fingers.
They reached home without another word.
At the door of Hilary's study sat Miranda. The little person
answered his caress by a shiver of her sleek skin, then curled
herself down again on the spot she had already warmed.
"Aren't you coming in with me?" he said.
Miranda did not move.
The reason for her refusal was apparent when Hilary had entered.
Close to the long bookcase, behind the bust of Socrates, stood the
little model. Very still, as if fearing to betray itself by sound or
movement, was her figure in its blue-green frock, and a brimless
toque of brown straw, with two purplish roses squashed together into
a band of darker velvet. Beside those roses a tiny peacock's feather
had been slipped in--unholy little visitor, slanting backward,
trying, as it were, to draw all eyes, yet to escape notice. And,
wedged between the grim white bust and the dark bookcase, the girl
herself was like some unlawful spirit which had slid in there, and
stood trembling and vibrating, ready to be shuttered out.
Before this apparition Hilary recoiled towards the door, hesitated,
"You should not have come here," he muttered, "after what we said to
The little model answered quickly: "But I've seen Hughs, Mr.
Dallison. He's found out where I live. Oh, he does look dreadful;
he frightens me. I can't ever stay there now."
She had come a little out of her hiding-place, and stood fidgeting
her hands and looking down.
'She's not speaking the truth,' thought Hilary.
The little model gave him a furtive glance. "I did see him," she
said. "I must go right away now; it wouldn't be safe, would it?"
Again she gave him that swift look.
Hilary thought suddenly: 'She is using my own weapon against me. If
she has seen the man, he didn't frighten her. It serves me right!'
With a dry laugh, he turned his back.
There was a rustling round. The little model had moved out of her
retreat, and stood between him and the door. At this stealthy
action, Hilary felt once more the tremor which had come over him when
he sat beside her in the Broad Walk after the baby's funeral.
Outside in the garden a pigeon was pouring forth a continuous love.
song; Hilary heard nothing of it, conscious only of the figure of the
girl behind him-that young. figure which had twined itself about his
"Well, what is it you want?" he said at last.
The little model answered by another question.
'Are you really going away, Mr. Dallison?"
She raised her hands to the level of her breast, as though she meant
to clasp them together; without doing so, however, she dropped them
to her sides. They were cased in very worn suede gloves, and in this
dire moment of embarrassment Hilary's eyes fastened themselves on
those slim hands moving against her skirt.
The little model tried at once to slip them away behind her.
Suddenly she said in her matter-of-fact voice: "I only wanted to ask
--Can't I come too?"
At this question, whose simplicity might have made an angel smile,
Hilary experienced a sensation as if his bones had been turned to
water. It was strange--delicious--as though he had been suddenly
offered all that he wanted of her, without all those things that he
did not want. He stood regarding her silently. Her cheeks and neck
were red; there was a red tinge, too, in her eyelids, deepening the
"chicory-flower" colour of her eyes. She began to speak, repeating a
lesson evidently learned by heart.
" I wouldn't be in your way. I wouldn't cost much. I could do
everything you wanted. I could learn typewriting. I needn't live
too near, or that; if you didn't want me, because of people talking;
I'm used to being alone. Oh, Mr. Dallison, I could do everything for
you. I wouldn't mind anything, and I'm not like some girls; I do
know what I'm talking about."
The little model put her hands up, and, covering her face, said:
"If you'd try and see!"
Hilary's sensuous feeling almost vanished; a lump rose in his throat
"My child," he said, "you are too generous!"
The little model seemed to know instinctively that by touching his
spirit she had lost ground. Uncovering her face, she spoke
breathlessly, growing very pale:
"Oh no, I'm not. I want to be let come; I don't want to stay here.
I know I'll get into mischief if you don't take me--oh, I know I
"If I were to let you come with me," said Hilary, "what then? What
sort of companion should I be to you, or you to me? You know very
well. Only one sort. It's no use pretending, child, that we've any
interests in common."
The little model came closer.
"I know what I am," she said, "and I don't want to be anything else.
I can do what you tell me to, and I shan't ever complain. I'm not
worth any more!"
"You're worth more," muttered Hilary, "than I can ever give you, and
I'm worth more than you can ever give me."
The little model tried to answer, but her words would not pass her
throat; she threw her head back trying to free them, and stood,
swaying. Seeing her like this before him, white as a sheet, with her
eyes closed and her lips parted, as though about to faint, Hilary
seized her by the shoulders. At the touch of those soft shoulders,
his face became suffused with blood, his lips trembled. Suddenly her
eyes opened ever so little between their lids, and looked at him.
And the perception that she was not really going to faint, that it
was a little desperate wile of this child Delilah, made him wrench
away his hands. The moment she felt that grasp relax she sank down
and clasped his knees, pressing them to her bosom so that he could
not stir. Closer and closer she pressed them to her, till it seemed
as though she must be bruising her flesh. Her breath came in sobs;
her eyes were closed; her lips quivered upwards. In the clutch of
her clinging body there seemed suddenly the whole of woman's power of
self-abandonment. It was just that, which, at this moment, so
horribly painful to him, prevented Hilary from seizing her in his
arms just that queer seeming self-effacement, as though she were lost
to knowledge of what she did. It seemed too brutal, too like taking
advantage of a child.
>From calm is born the wind, the ripple from the still pool, self out
of nothingness--so all passes imperceptibly, no man knows how. The
little model's moment of self-oblivion passed, and into her wet eyes
her plain, twisting spirit suddenly writhed up again, for all the
world as if she had said: 'I won't let you go; I'll keep you--I'll
Hilary broke away from her, and she fell forward on her face.
"Get up, child," he said--"get up; for God's sake, don't lie there!"
She rose obediently, choking down her sobs, mopping her face with a
small, dirty handkerchief. Suddenly, taking a step towards him, she
clenched both her hands and struck them downwards.
"I'll go to the bad," she said---" I will--if you don't take me!"
And, her breast heaving, her hair all loose, she stared straight into
his face with her red-rimmed eyes. Hilary turned suddenly, took a
book up from the writing-table, and opened it. His face was again
suffused with blood; his hands and lips trembled; his eyes had a
queer fixed stare.
"Not now, not now," he muttered; "go away now. I'll come to you
The little model gave him the look a dog gives you when it asks if
you are deceiving him. She made a sign on her breast, as a Catholic
might make the sign of his religion, drawing her fingers together,
and clutching at herself with them, then passed her little dirty
handkerchief once more over her eyes, and, turning round, went out.
Hilary remained standing where he was, reading the open book without
apprehending what it was.
There was a wistful sound, as of breath escaping hurriedly. Mr.
Stone was standing in the open doorway.
"She has been here," he said. "I saw her go away."
Hilary dropped the book; his nerves were utterly unstrung. Then,
pointing to a chair, he said: "Won't you sit down, sir?"
Mr. Stone came close up to his son-in-law.
"Is she in trouble?"
"Yes," murmured Hilary.
"She is too young to be in trouble. Did you tell her that?"
Hilary shook his head.
"Has the man hurt her?"
Again Hilary shook his head.
"What is her trouble, then?" said Mr. Stone. The closeness of this
catechism, the intent stare of the old man's eyes, were more than
Hilary could bear. He turned away.
"You ask me something that I cannot answer.
"It is a private matter."
With the blood still beating in his temples, his lips still
quivering, and the feeling of the girl's clasp round his knees, he
almost hated this old man who stood there putting such blind
Then suddenly in Mr. Stone's eyes he saw a startling change, as in
the face of a man who regains consciousness after days of vacancy.
His whole countenance had become alive with a sort of jealous
understanding. The warmth which the little model brought to his old
spirit had licked up the fog of his Idea, and made him see what was
going on before his eyes.
At that look Hilary braced himself against the wall.
A flush spread slowly over Mr. Stone's face. He spoke with rare
hesitation. In this sudden coming back to the world of men and
things he seemed astray.
"I am not going," he stammered, "to ask you any more. I could not
pry into a private matter. That would not be---" His voice failed;
he looked down.
Hilary bowed, touched to the quick by the return to life of this old
man, so long lost to facts, and by the delicacy in that old face.
"I will not intrude further on your trouble," said Mr. Stone,
"whatever it may be. I am sorry that you are unhappy, too."
Very slowly, and without again looking up at his son-in-law, he went
Hilary remained standing where he had been left against the wall.
THE HOME-COMING OF HUGHS
Hilary had evidently been right in thinking the little model was not
speaking the truth when she said she had seen Hughs, for it was not
until early on the following morning that three persons traversed the
long winding road leading from Wormwood Scrubs to Kensington. They
preserved silence, not because there was nothing in their hearts to
be expressed, but because there was too much; and they walked in the
giraffe-like formation peculiar to the lower classes--Hughs in front;
Mrs. Hughs to the left, a foot or two behind; and a yard behind her,
to the left again, her son Stanley. They made no sign of noticing
anyone in the road besides themselves, and no one in the road gave
sign of noticing that they were there; but in their three minds, so
differently fashioned, a verb was dumbly, and with varying emotion,
"I've been in prison." "You've been in prison. He's been in
Beneath the seeming acquiescence of a man subject to domination from
his birth up, those four words covered in Hughs such a whirlpool of
surging sensation, such ferocity of bitterness, and madness, and
defiance, that no outpouring could have appreciably relieved its
course. The same four words summed up in Mrs. Hughs so strange a
mingling of fear, commiseration, loyalty, shame, and trembling
curiosity at the new factor which had come into the life of all this
little family walking giraffe-like back to Kensington that to have
gone beyond them would have been like plunging into a wintry river.
To their son the four words were as a legend of romance, conjuring up
no definite image, lighting merely the glow of wonder.
"Don't lag, Stanley. Keep up with your father."
The little boy took three steps at an increased pace, then fell
behind again. His black eyes seemed to answer: 'You say that because
you don't know what else to say.' And without alteration in their
giraffe-like formation, but again in silence, the three proceeded.
In the heart of the seamstress doubt and fear were being slowly knit
into dread of the first sound to pass her husband's lips. What would
he ask? How should she answer? Would he talk wild, or would he talk
sensible? Would he have forgotten that young girl, or had he nursed
and nourished his wicked fancy in the house of grief and silence?
Would he ask where the baby was? Would he speak a kind word to her?
But alongside her dread there was guttering within her the undying
resolution not to 'let him go from her, if it were ever so, to that
"Don't lag, Stanley!"
At the reiteration of those words Hughs spoke.
"Let the boy alone! You'll be nagging at the baby next!"
Hoarse and grating, like sounds issuing from a damp vault, was this
The seamstress's eyes brimmed over.
"I won't get the chance," she stammered out. "He's gone!"
Hughs' teeth gleamed like those of a dog at bay.
"Who's taken him? You let me know the name."
Tears rolled down the seamstress's cheeks; she could not answer. Her
little son's thin voice rose instead:
"Baby's dead. We buried him in the ground. I saw it. Mr. Creed
came in the cab with me."
White flecks appeared suddenly at the corners of Hughs' lips. He
wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, and once more, giraffe-
like, the little family marched on....
"Westminister," in his threadbare summer jacket--for the day was
warm--had been standing for some little time in Mrs. Budgen's doorway
on the ground floor at Hound Street. Knowing that Hughs was to be
released that morning early, he had, with the circumspection and
foresight of his character, reasoned thus: 'I shan't lie easy in my
bed, I shan't hev no peace until I know that low feller's not a-goin'
to misdemean himself with me. It's no good to go a-puttin' of it
off. I don't want him comin' to my room attackin' of old men. I'll
be previous with him in the passage. The lame woman 'll let me. I
shan't trouble her. She'll be palliable between me and him, in case
he goes for to attack me. I ain't afraid of him.'
But, as the minutes of waiting went by, his old tongue, like that of
a dog expecting chastisement, appeared ever more frequently to
moisten his twisted, discoloured lips. 'This comes of mixin' up with
soldiers,' he thought, 'and a lowclass o' man like that. I ought to
ha' changed my lodgin's. He'll be askin' me where that young girl
is, I shouldn't wonder, an' him lost his character and his job, and
everything, and all because o' women!'
He watched the broad-faced woman, Mrs. Budgen, in whose grey eyes the
fighting light so fortunately never died, painfully doing out her
rooms, and propping herself against the chest of drawers whereon
clustered china cups and dogs as thick as toadstools on a bank.
"I've told my Charlie," she said, "to keep clear of Hughs a bit.
They comes out as prickly as hedgehogs. Pick a quarrel as soon as
look at you, they will."
'Oh dear,' thought Creed, 'she's full o' cold comfort.' But, careful
of his dignity, he answered, "I'm a-waitin' here to engage the
situation. You don't think he'll attack of me with definition at
this time in the mornin'?"
The lame woman shrugged her shoulders. "He'll have had a drop of
something," she said, "before he comes home. They gets a cold
feelin' in the stomach in them places, poor creatures!"
The old butler's heart quavered up into his mouth. He lifted his
shaking hand, and put it to his lips, as though to readjust himself.
"Oh yes," he said; "I ought to ha' given notice, and took my things
away; but there, poor woman, it seemed a-hittin' of her when she was
down. And I don't want to make no move. I ain't got no one else
that's interested in me. This woman's very good about mendin' of my
clothes. Oh dear, yes; she don't grudge a little thing like that!"
The lame woman hobbled from her post of rest, and began to make the
bed with the frown that always accompanied a task which strained the
contracted muscles of her leg. "If you don't help your neighbour,
your neighbour don't help you," she said sententiously.
Creed fixed his iron-rimmed gaze on her in silence. He was
considering perhaps how he stood with regard to Hughs in the light of
"I attended of his baby's funeral," he said. "Oh dear, he's here
The family of Hughs, indeed, stood in the doorway. The spiritual
process by which "Westminister" had gone through life was displayed
completely in the next few seconds. 'It's so important for me to
keep alive and well,' his eyes seemed saying. 'I know the class of
man you are, but now you're here it's not a bit o' use my bein'
frightened. I'm bound to get up-sides with you. Ho! yes; keep
yourself to yourself, and don't you let me hev any o' your nonsense,
'cause I won't stand it. Oh dear, no!'
Beads of perspiration stood thick on his patchily coloured forehead;
with lips stiffening, and intently staring eyes, he waited for what
the released prisoner would say.
Hughs, whose face had blanched in the prison to a sallow grey-white
hue, and whose black eyes seemed to have sunk back into his head,
slowly looked the old man up and down. At last he took his cap off,
showing his cropped hair.
"You got me that, daddy," he said, "but I don't bear you malice.
Come up and have a cup o' tea with us."
And, turning on his heel, he began to mount the stairs, followed by
his wife and child. Breathing hard, the old butler mounted too.
In the room on the second floor, where the baby no longer lived, a
haddock on the table was endeavouring to be fresh; round it were
slices of bread on plates, a piece of butter in a pie-dish, a teapot,
brown sugar in a basin, and, side by side a little jug of cold blue
milk and a half-empty bottle of red vinegar. Close to one plate a
bunch of stocks and gilly flowers reposed on the dirty tablecloth, as
though dropped and forgotten by the God of Love. Their faint perfume
stole through the other odours. The old butler fixed his eyes on it.
'The poor woman bought that,' he thought, 'hopin' for to remind him
of old days. She had them flowers on her weddin'-day, I shouldn't
wonder!" This poetical conception surprising him, he turned towards
the little boy, and said "This 'll be a memorial to you, as you gets
older." And without another word all sat down. They ate in silence,
and the old butler thought 'That 'addick ain't what it was; but a
beautiful cup o' tea. He don't eat nothing; he's more ameniable to
reason than I expected. There's no one won't be too pleased to see
His eyes, travelling to the spot from which the bayonet had been
removed, rested on the print of the Nativity. "'Suffer little
children to come unto Me,'" he thought, "'and forbid them not."
He'll be glad to hear there was two carriages followed him home.'
And, taking his time, he cleared his throat in preparation for
speech. But before the singular muteness of this family sounds would
not come. Finishing his tea, he tremblingly arose. Things that he
might have said jostled in his mind. 'Very pleased to 'a seen you.
Hope you're in good health at the present time of speaking. Don't
let me intrude on you. We've all a-got to die some time or other!'
They remained unuttered. Making a vague movement of his skinny hand,
he walked feebly but quickly to the door. When he stood but half-way
within the room, he made his final effort.
"I'm not a-goin' to say nothing," he said; "that'd be superlative! I
wish you a good-morning."
Outside he waited a second, then grasped the banister.
'For all he sets so quiet, they've done him no good in that place,'
he thought. 'Them eyes of his!' And slowly he descended, full of a
sort of very deep surprise. 'I misjudged of him,' he was thinking;
'he never was nothing but a 'armless human being. We all has our
predijuices--I misjudged of him. They've broke his 'eart between
'em--that they have.'
The silence in the room continued after his departure. But when the
little boy had gone to school, Hughs rose and lay down on the bed.
He rested there, unmoving, with his face towards the wall, his arms
clasped round his head to comfort it. The seamstress, stealing about
her avocations, paused now and then to look at him. If he had raged
at her, if he had raged at everything, it would not have been so
terrifying as this utter silence, which passed her comprehension--
this silence as of a man flung by the sea against a rock, and pinned
there with the life crushed out of him. All her inarticulate
longing, now that her baby was gone, to be close to something in her
grey life, to pass the unfranchisable barrier dividing her from the
world, seemed to well up, to flow against this wall of silence and to
Twice or three times she addressed him timidly by name, or made some
trivial remark. He did not answer, as though in very truth he had
been the shadow of a man lying there. And the injustice of this
silence seemed to her so terrible. Was she not his wife? Had she
not borne him five, and toiled to keep him from that girl? Was it
her fault if she had made his life a hell with her jealousy, as he
had cried out that morning before he went for her, and was "put
away"? He was her "man." It had been her right--nay, more, her
And still he lay there silent. From the narrow street where no
traffic passed, the cries of a coster and distant whistlings mounted
through the unwholesome air. Some sparrows in the eave were
chirruping incessantly. The little sandy house-cat had stolen in,
and, crouched against the doorpost, was fastening her eyes on the
plate which, held the remnants of the fish. The seamstress bowed her
forehead to the flowers on the table; unable any longer to bear the
mystery of this silence, she wept. But the dark figure on the bed
only pressed his arms closer round his head, as though there were
within him a living death passing the speech of men.
The little sandy cat, creeping across the floor, fixed its claws in
the backbone of the fish, and drew it beneath the bed.
Bianca did not see her husband after their return together from the
Round Pond. She dined out that evening, and in the morning avoided
any interview. When Hilary's luggage was brought down and the cab
summoned, she slipped up to take shelter in her room. Presently the
sound of his footsteps coming along the passage stopped outside her
door. He tapped. She did not answer.
Good-bye would be a mockery! Let him go with the words unsaid! And
as though the thought had found its way through the closed door, she
heard his footsteps recede again. She saw him presently go out to
the cab with his head bent down, saw him stoop and pat Miranda. Hot
tears sprang into her eyes. She heard the cab-wheels roll away.
The heart is like the face of an Eastern woman--warm and glowing,
behind swathe on swathe of fabric. At each fresh touch from the
fingers of Life, some new corner, some hidden curve or angle, comes
into view, to be seen last of all perhaps never to be seen by the one
who owns them.
When the cab had driven away there came into Bianca's heart a sense
of the irreparable, and, mysteriously entwined with that arid ache, a
sort of bitter pity: What would happen to this wretched girl now that
he was gone? Would she go completely to the bad--till she became one
of those poor creatures like the figure in "The Shadow," who stood
beneath lampposts in the streets? Out of this speculation, which was
bitter as the taste of aloes, there came to her a craving for some
palliative, some sweetness, some expression of that instinct of
fellow-feeling deep in each human breast, however disharmonic. But
even with that craving was mingled the itch to justify herself, and
prove that she could rise above jealousy.
She made her way to the little model's lodging.
A child admitted her into the bleak passage that served for hall.
The strange medley of emotions passing through Bianca's breast while
she stood outside the girl's door did not show in her face, which
wore its customary restrained, half-mocking look.
The little model's voice faintly said: "Come in."
The room was in disorder, as though soon to be deserted. A closed
and corded trunk stood in the centre of the floor; the bed, stripped
of clothing, lay disclosed in all the barrenness of discoloured
ticking. The china utensils of the washstand were turned head
downwards. Beside that washstand the little model, with her hat on--
the hat with the purplish-pink roses and the little peacock's
feather-stood in the struck, shrinking attitude of one who, coming
forward in the expectation of a kiss, has received a blow.
"You are leaving here, then?" Bianca said quietly.
"Yes," the girl murmured.
"Don't you like this part? Is it too far from your work?"
Again the little model whispered: "Yes."
Bianca's eyes travelled slowly over the blue beflowered walls and
rust-red doors; through the dusty closeness of this dismantled room a
rank scent of musk and violets rose, as though a cheap essence had
been scattered as libation. A small empty scent-bottle stood on the
"Have you found new lodgings?"
The little model edged closer to the window. A stealthy watchfulness
was creeping into her shrinking, dazed face.
She shook her head.
"I don't know where I'm going."
Obeying a sudden impulse to see more clearly, Bianca lifted her veil.
"I came to tell you," she said, "that I shall always be ready to help
The girl did not answer, but suddenly through her black lashes she
stole a look upward at her visitor. 'Can you,' it seemed to say,
'you--help me? Oh no; I think not!' And, as though she had been
stung by that glance, Bianca said with deadly slowness:
"It is my business, of course, entirely, now that Mr. Dallison has
The little model received this saying with a quivering jerk. It
might have been an arrow transfixing her white throat. For a moment
she seemed almost about to fall, but, gripping the window-sill, held
herself erect. Her eyes, like an animal's in pain, darted here,
there, everywhere, then rested on her visitor's breast, quite
motionless. This stare, which seemed to see nothing, but to be
doing, as it were, some fateful calculation, was uncanny. Colour
came gradually back into her lips and eyes and cheeks; she seemed to
have succeeded in her calculation, to be reviving from that stab.
And suddenly Bianca understood. This was the meaning of the packed
trunk, the dismantled room. He was going to take her, after all!
In the turmoil of this discovery two words alone escaped her:
They were enough. The girl's face at once lost all trace of its look
of desperate calculation, brightened, became guilty, and from guilty
The antagonism of all the long past months was now declared between
these two--Bianca's pride could no longer conceal, the girl's
submissiveness no longer obscure it. They stood like duellists, one
on each side of the trunk--that common, brown-Japanned, tin trunk,
corded with rope. Bianca looked at it.
"You," she said, "and he? Ha, ha; ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha!"
Against that cruel laughter--more poignant than a hundred homilies on
caste, a thousand scornful words--the little model literally could
not stand; she sat down in the low chair where she had evidently been
sitting to watch the street. But as a taste of blood will infuriate
a hound, so her own laughter seemed to bereave Bianca of all
"What do you imagine he's taking you for, girl? Only out of pity!
It's not exactly the emotion to live on in exile. In exile--but that
you do not understand!"
The little model staggered to her feet again. Her face had grown
"He wants me!" she said.
"Wants you? As he wants his dinner. And when he's eaten it--what
then? No, of course he'll never abandon you; his conscience is too
tender. But you'll be round his neck--like this!" Bianca raised her
arms, looped, and dragged them slowly down, as a mermaid's arms drag
at a drowning sailor.
The little model stammered: "I'll do what he tells me! I'll do what
he tells me!"
Bianca stood silent, looking at the girl, whose heaving breast and
little peacock's feather, whose small round hands twisting in front
of her, and scent about her clothes, all seemed an offence.
"And do you suppose that he'll tell you what he wants? Do you
imagine he'll have the necessary brutality to get rid of you? He'll
think himself bound to keep you till you leave him, as I suppose you
will some day!"
The girl dropped her hands. "I'll never leave him--never!" she cried
"Then Heaven help him!" said Bianca.
The little model's eyes seemed to lose all pupil, like two chicory
flowers that have no dark centres. Through them, all that she was
feeling struggled to find an outlet; but, too deep for words, those
feelings would not pass her lips, utterly unused to express emotion.
She could only stammer:
"I'm not--I'm not--I will---" and press her hands again to her
Bianca's lip curled.
"I see; you imagine yourself capable of sacrifice. Well, you have
your chance. Take it!" She pointed to the corded trunk. "Now's your
time; you have only to disappear!"
The little model shrank back against the windowsill. "He wants me!"
she muttered. "I know he wants me."
Bianca bit her lips till the blood came.
"Your idea of sacrifice," she said, "is perfect! If you went now, in
a month's time he'd never think of you again."
The girl gulped. There was something so pitiful in the movements of
her hands that Bianca turned away. She stood for several seconds
staring at the door, then, turning round again, said:
But the girl's whole face had changed. All tear-stained, indeed, she
had already masked it with a sort of immovable stolidity.
Bianca went swiftly up to the trunk.
"You shall!" she said. "Take that thing and go."
The little model did not move.
"So you won't?"
The girl trembled violently all over. She moistened her lips, tried
to speak, failed, again moistened them, and this time murmured; "I'll
only--I'll only--if lie tells me!"
"So you still imagine he will tell you!"
The little model merely repeated: "I won't--won't do anything without
he tells me!"
Bianca laughed. "Why, it's like a dog!" she said.
But the girl had turned abruptly to the window. Her lips were
parted. She was shrinking, fluttering, trembling at what she saw.
She was indeed like a spaniel dog who sees her master coming. Bianca
had no need of being told that Hilary was outside. She went into the
passage and opened the front door.
He was coming up the steps, his face worn like that of a man in
fever, and at the sight of his wife he stood quite still, looking
into her face.
Without the quiver of an eyelid, without the faintest trace of
emotion, or the slightest sign that she knew him to be there, Bianca
passed and slowly walked away.
FINISH OF THE COMEDY
Those who may have seen Hilary driving towards the little model's
lodgings saw one who, by a fixed red spot on either cheek, and the
over-compression of his quivering lips, betrayed the presence of that
animality which underlies even the most cultivated men.
After eighteen hours of the purgatory of indecision, he had not so
much decided to pay that promised visit on which hung the future of
two lives, as allowed himself to be borne towards the girl.
There was no one in the passage to see him after he had passed Bianca
in the doorway, but it was with a face darkened by the peculiar
stabbing look of wounded egoism that he entered the little model's
The sight of it coming so closely on the struggle she had just been
through was too much for the girl's self-control.
Instead of going up to him, she sat down on the corded trunk and
began to sob. It was the sobbing of a child whose school-treat has
been cancelled, of a girl whose ball-dress has not come home in time.
It only irritated Hilary, whose nerves had already borne all they
could bear. He stood literally trembling, as though each one of
these common little sobs were a blow falling on the drum-skin of his
spirit; and through every fibre he took in the features of the dusty,
scent-besprinkled room--the brown tin trunk, the dismantled bed, the
And he realised that she had burned her boats to make it impossible
for a man of sensibility to disappoint her!
The little model raised her face and looked at him. What she saw
must have been less reassuring even than the first sight had been,
for it stopped her sobbing. She rose and turned to the window,
evidently trying with handkerchief and powder-puff to repair the
ravages caused by her tears; and when she had finished she still
stood there with her back to him. Her deep breathing made her young
form quiver from her waist up to the little peacock's feather in her
hat; and with each supple movement it seemed offering itself to
In the street a barrel-organ had begun to play the very waltz it had
played the afternoon when Mr. Stone had been so ill. Those two were
neither of them conscious of that tune, too absorbed in their
emotions; and yet, quietly, it was bringing something to the girl's
figure like the dowering of scent that the sun brings to a flower.
It was bringing the compression back to Hilary's lips, the flush to
his ears and cheeks, as a draught of wind will blow to redness a fire
that has been choked. Without knowing it, without sound, inch by
inch he moved nearer to her; and as though, for all there was no sign
of his advance, she knew of it, she stayed utterly unmoving except
for the deep breathing that so stirred the warm youth in her. In
that stealthy progress was the history of life and the mystery of
sex. Inch by inch he neared her; and she swayed, mesmerising his
arms to fold round her thus poised, as if she must fall backward;
mesmerising him to forget that there was anything there, anything in
all the world, but just her young form waiting for him--nothing but
The barrel-organ stopped; the spell had broken! She turned round to
him. As a wind obscures with grey wrinkles the still green waters of
enchantment into which some mortal has been gazing, so Hilary's
reason suddenly swept across the situation, and showed it once more
as it was. Quick to mark every shade that passed across his face,
the girl made as though she would again burst into tears; then, since
tears had been so useless, she pressed her hand over her eyes.
Hilary looked at that round, not too cleanly hand. He could see her
watching him between her fingers. It was uncanny, almost horrible,
like the sight of a cat watching a bird; and he stood appalled at the
terrible reality of his position, at the sight of his own future with
this girl, with her traditions, customs, life, the thousand and one
things that he did not know about her, that he would have to live
with if he once took her. A minute passed, which seemed eternity,
for into it was condensed every force of her long pursuit, her
instinctive clutching at something that she felt to be security, her
reaching upwards, her twining round him.
Conscious of all this, held back by that vision of his future, yet
whipped towards her by his senses, Hilary swayed like a drunken man.
And suddenly she sprang at him, wreathed her arms round his neck, and
fastened her mouth to his. The touch of her lips was moist and hot.
The scent of stale violet powder came from her, warmed by her
humanity. It penetrated to Hilary's heart. He started back in sheer