Part 2 out of 5
"The gist of them is," she said eagerly, "that _we_--the women of the
present day--are not going to accept our principles--moral--or
political--or economic--on anybody's authority. You seem, Cousin Philip,
in my case at any rate, to divide the world into two sets of people,
moral and immoral, good and bad--desirable and undesirable--that kind of
thing! And you expect me to know the one set, and ignore the other set.
Well, we don't see it that way at all. We think that everybody is a
pretty mixed lot. I know I am myself. At any rate I'm not going to begin
my life by laying down a heap of rules about things I don't
understand--or by accepting them from you, or anybody. If Lord Donald's a
bad man, I want to know why he is a bad man--and then I'll decide. If he
revolts my moral sense, of course I'll cut him. But I won't take anybody
else's moral sense for judge. We've got to overhaul that sort of thing
from top to bottom."
Buntingford looked thoughtfully at the passionate speaker. Should
he--could he argue with her? Could he show her, for instance, a letter,
or parts of it, which he had received that very morning from poor Luke
Preston, his old Eton and Oxford friend? No!--it would be useless. In her
present mood she might treat it so as to rouse his own temper--let alone
the unseemliness of the discussion it must raise between them. Or should
he give her a fairly full biography of Jim Donald, as he happened to know
it? He revolted against the notion, astonished to find how strong certain
old-fashioned instincts still were in his composition. And, after all, he
had said a good deal the night before, at dinner, when Helena's
invitation to a man he despised as a coward and a libertine had been
first sprung upon him. There really was only one way out. He took it.
"Well, Helena, I'm very sorry," he said slowly. "Your views are very
interesting. I should like some day to discuss them with you. But the
immediate business is to stop this Ritz plan. You really won't stop it
"Certainly not!" said Helena, her breath fluttering.
"Well, then, I must write to Donald myself. I happen to possess the means
of making it impossible for him to meet you at the Ritz next Wednesday,
Helena; and I shall use them. You must make some other arrangement."
"What means?" she demanded. She had turned very pale.
"Ah, no!--that you must leave to me. Look here, Helena"--his tone
softened--"can't we shake hands on it, and make up? I do hate quarrelling
with your mother's daughter."
Involuntarily, through all her rage, Helena was struck by the extreme
sensitiveness of the face opposite her--a sensitiveness often disguised
by the powerful general effect of the man's head and eyes. In a calmer
mood she might have said to herself that only some past suffering could
have produced it. At the moment, however, she was incapable of anything
but passionate resentment.
All the same there was present in her own mind an ideal of what the
action and bearing of a girl in her position should be, which, with the
help of pride, would not allow her to drift into mere temper. She put her
hands firmly behind her; so that Buntingford was forced to withdraw his;
but she kept her self-possession.
"I don't see what there is but quarrelling before us, Cousin Philip, if
you are to proceed on these lines. Are you really going to keep me to
"To let me take care of you--for these two years? It was not a promise to
The girl's calm a little broke down.
"Mummy would never have made me give it," she said fiercely, "if she
"Well, you can't ask her now," he said gently. "Hadn't we better make the
best of it?"
She scorned to reply. He opened the door for her, and she swept
Left to himself, Buntingford gave a great stretch.
"That was strenuous!"--he said to himself--"uncommonly strenuous. How
many times a week shall I have to do it? Can't Cynthia Welwyn do
anything? I'll go and see Cynthia this afternoon."
With which very natural, but quite foolish resolution, he at last
succeeded in quieting his own irritation, and turning his mind to a
political speech he had to make next week in his own village.
Cynthia Welwyn was giving an account of her evening at Beechmark to her
elder sister, Lady Georgina. They had just met in the little drawing-room
of Beechmark Cottage, and tea was coming in. It would be difficult to
imagine a greater contrast than the two sisters presented. They were the
daughters of a peer belonging to what a well-known frequenter of great
houses and great families before the war used to call "the inferior
aristocracy"--with an inflection of voice caught no doubt from the great
families themselves. Yet their father had been an Earl, the second of his
name, and was himself the son of a meteoric personage of mid-Victorian
days--parliamentary lawyer, peer, and Governor of an Indian Presidency,
who had earned his final step in the peerage by the skilful management of
a little war, and had then incontinently died, leaving his family his
reputation, which was considerable, and his savings, which were
disappointingly small. Lady Cynthia and Lady Georgina were his only
surviving children, and the earldom was extinct.
The sisters possessed a tiny house in Brompton Square, and rented
Beechmark Cottage from Lord Buntingford, of whom their mother, long since
dead, had been a cousin. The cottage stood within the enclosure of the
park, and to their connection with the big house the sisters owed a
number of amenities,--game in winter, flowers and vegetables in
summer--which were of importance to their small income. Cynthia Welwyn,
however, could never have passed as anybody's dependent. She thanked her
cousin occasionally for the kindnesses of which his head gardener and his
game-keeper knew much more than he did; and when he said
impatiently--"Please never thank for that sort of thing!" she dropped the
subject as lightly as she had raised it. Secretly she felt that such
things, and much more, were her due. She had not got from life all she
should have got; and it was only natural that people should make it up to
her a little.
For Cynthia, though she had wished to marry, was unmarried, and a secret
and melancholy conviction now sometimes possessed her that she would
remain Cynthia Welwyn to the end. She knew very well that in the opinion
of her friends she had fallen between two stools. Her neighbour, Sir
Richard Watson, had proposed to her twice,--on the last occasion some two
years before the war. She had not been able to make up her mind to accept
him, because on the whole she was more in love with her cousin, Philip
Buntingford, and still hoped that his old friendship for her might turn
to something deeper. But the war had intervened, and during its four
years she and Buntingford had very much lost sight of each other. She had
taken her full share in the county war work; while he was absorbed body
and soul by the Admiralty.
And now that they were meeting again as of old, she was very conscious,
in some undefined way, that she had lost ground with him. Uneasily she
felt that her talk sometimes bored him; yet she could not help talking.
In the pre-war days, when they met in a drawing-room full of people, he
had generally ended his evening beside her. Now his manner, for all its
courtesy, seemed to tell her that those times were done; that she was
four years older; that she had lost the first brilliance of her looks;
and that he himself had grown out of her ken. Helena's young unfriendly
eyes had read her rightly. She did wish fervently to recapture Philip
Buntingford; and saw no means of doing so. Meanwhile Sir Richard, now
demobilized, had come back from the war bringing great glory with him, as
one of the business men whom the Army had roped in to help in its vast
labour and transport organization behind the lines. He too had reappeared
at Beechmark Cottage. But he too was four years older--and dreadfully
preoccupied, it seemed to her, with a thousand interests which had
mattered nothing to him in the old easy days.
Yet Cynthia Welwyn was still an extremely attractive and desirable
woman, and was quite aware of it, as was her elder sister, Lady
Georgina, who spent her silent life in alternately admiring and
despising the younger. Lady Georgina was short, thin, and nearly
white-haired. She had a deep voice, which she used with a harsh
abruptness, startling to the newcomer. But she used it very little.
Cynthia's friends, were used to see her sitting absolutely silent behind
the tea-urn at breakfast or tea, filling the cups while Cynthia handed
them and Cynthia talked; and they had learned that it was no use at all
to show compassion and try to bring her into the conversation. A quiet
rather stony stare, a muttered "Ah" or "Oh," were all that such efforts
produced. Some of the frequenters of the cottage drawing-room were
convinced that Lady Georgina was "not quite all there." Others had the
impression of something watchful and sinister; and were accustomed to
pity "dear Cynthia" for having to live with so strange a being.
But in truth the sisters suited each other very fairly, and Lady Georgina
found a good deal more tongue when she was alone with Cynthia than at
To the lively account that Cynthia had been giving her of the evening at
Beechmark, and the behaviour of Helena Pitstone, Lady Georgina had
listened in a sardonic silence; and at the end of it she said--
"What ever made the man such a fool?"
"Who?--Buntingford? My dear, what could he do? Rachel Pitstone was his
greatest friend in the world, and when she asked him just the week before
she died, how could he say No?" Lady Georgina murmured that in that case
Rachel Pitstone also had been a fool--
"Unless, of course, she wanted the girl to marry Buntingford. Why,
Philip's only forty-four now. A nice age for a guardian! Of course it's
not proper. The neighbours will talk."
"Oh, no,--not with a chaperon. Besides nobody minds anything odd
Cynthia meanwhile as she lay stretched in a deep arm-chair, playing with
the tea-spoon in her shapely fingers, was a pleasant vision. Since coming
in from the village, she had changed her tweed coat and skirt for a
tea-frock of some soft silky stuff, hyacinth blue in colour; and
Georgina, for whom tea-frocks were a silly abomination, and who was
herself sitting bolt upright in a shabby blue serge some five springs
old, could not deny the delicate beauty of her sister's still fresh
complexion and pale gold hair, nor the effectiveness of the blue dress in
combination with them. She did not really want Cynthia to look older, nor
to see her ill-dressed; but all the same there were many days when
Cynthia's mature perfections roused a secret irritation in her sister--a
kind of secret triumph also in the thought that, in the end, Time would
be the master even of Cynthia. Perhaps after all she would marry. It did
look as though Sir Richard Watson, if properly encouraged, and
indemnified for earlier rebuffs, might still mean business. As for Philip
Buntingford, it was only Cynthia's vanity that had ever made her imagine
him in love with her. Lady Georgina scoffed at the notion.
These fragmentary reflections, and others like them were passing rapidly
and disconnectedly through the mind of the elder sister, when her ear
caught the sound of footsteps in the drive. Drawing aside a corner of the
muslin curtain beside her, which draped one of the French windows of the
low room, she perceived the tall figure and scarcely perceptible limp of
Lord Buntingford. Cynthia too saw him, and ceased to lounge. She quietly
re-lit the tea-kettle, and took a roll of knitting from a table near her.
Then as the front bell rang through the small house, she threw a scarcely
perceptible look at her sister. Would Georgie "show tact," and leave her
and Philip alone, or would she insist on her rights and spoil his visit?
Georgina made no sign.
Buntingford entered, flushed with his walk, and carrying a bunch of
blue-bells which he presented to Lady Georgina.
"I gathered them in Cricket Wood. The whole wood is a sea of blue. You
and Cynthia must really go and see them."
He settled himself in a chair, and plunged into tea and small talk as
though to the manner born. But all the time Cynthia, while approving his
naval uniform, and his general picturesqueness, was secretly wondering
what he had come about. For although he was enjoying a well-earned leave,
the first for two years, and had every right to idle, the ordinary
afternoon call of country life, rarely, as she knew, came into the scheme
of his day. The weather was beautiful and she had made sure that he would
be golfing on a well-known links some three miles off.
Presently the small talk flagged, and Buntingford began to fidget. Slowly
Lady Georgina rose from her seat, and again extinguished the flame under
the silver kettle. Would she go, or would she not go? Cynthia dropped
some stitches in the tension of the moment. Then Buntingford got up to
open the door for Georgina, who, without deigning to make any
conventional excuse for her departure, nevertheless departed.
Buntingford returned to his seat, picked up Cynthia's ball of wool, and
sat holding it, his eyes on the down-dropped head of his cousin, and on
the beautiful hands holding the knitting-needles. Yes, she was still very
good-looking, and had been sensible enough not to spoil herself by paint
and powder, unlike that silly child, Helena, who was yet so much
younger--twenty-two years younger, almost. It seemed incredible. But he
could reckon Cynthia's age to a day; for they had known each other very
well as children, and he had often given her a birthday present, till the
moment when, in her third season, Cynthia had peremptorily put an end to
the custom. Then he had gone abroad, and there had been a wide gap of
years when they had never seen each other at all. And now, it was true,
she did often bore him, intellectually. But at this moment, he was not
bored--quite the contrary. The sunny cottage room, with its flowers and
books and needlework, and a charming woman as its centre, evidently very
glad to see him, and ready to welcome any confidences he might give her,
produced a sudden sharp effect upon him. That hunger for something denied
him--the "It" which he was always holding at bay--sprang upon him, and
shook his self-control.
"We've known each other a long time, haven't we, Cynthia?" he said,
smiling, and holding out her ball of wool.
Cynthia hardly concealed her start of pleasure. She looked up, shaking
her hair from her white brow and temples with a graceful gesture, half
responsive, half melancholy.
"So long!" she said--"it doesn't bear thinking of."
"Not at all. You haven't aged a bit. I want you to help me in something,
Cynthia. You remember how you helped me out of one or two scrapes in the
They both laughed. Cynthia remembered very well. That scrape, for
instance, with the seductive little granddaughter of the retired village
school-master--a veritable Ancient of Days, who had been the witness of
an unlucky kiss behind a hedge, and had marched up instanter, in his
wrath, to complain to Lord Buntingford _grand-pere._ Or that much worse
scrape, when a lad of nineteen, with not enough to do in his Oxford
vacation, had imagined himself in love with a married lady of the
neighbourhood, twenty years older than himself, and had had to be packed
off in disgrace to Switzerland with a coach:--an angry grandfather
breathing fire and slaughter. Certainly in those days Philip had been
unusually--remarkably susceptible. Cynthia remembered him as always in or
out of a love-affair, while she to whom he never made love was
alternately champion and mentor. In those days, he had no expectation of
the estates or the title. He was plain Philip Bliss, with an artistic and
literary turn, great personal charm, and a temperament that invited
catastrophes. That was before he went to Paris and Rome for serious work
at painting. Seven years he had been away from England, and she had never
seen him. He had announced his marriage to her in a short note containing
hardly any particulars--except that his wife was a student like himself,
and that he intended to live abroad and work. Some four years later, the
_Times_ contained the bare news, in the obituary column, of his wife's
death, and about a year afterwards he returned to England, an enormously
changed man, with that slight lameness, which seemed somehow to draw a
sharp, dividing line between the splendid, impulsive youth who had gone
abroad, and the reserved, and self-contained man of thirty-two--pessimist
and dilettante--who had returned. His lameness he ascribed to an accident
in the Alps, but would never say anything more about it; and his friends
presently learned to avoid the subject, and to forget the slight signs of
something unexplained which had made them curious at first.
In the intervening years before the war, Cynthia felt tolerably sure that
she had been his only intimate woman friend. His former susceptibility
seemed to have vanished. On the whole he avoided women's society. Some
years after his return he had inherited the title and the estates, and
might have been one of the most invited men in London had he wished to
be; while Cynthia could remember at least three women, all desirable, who
would have liked to marry him. The war had swept him more decidedly than
ever out of the ordinary current of society. He had made it both an
excuse and a shield. His work was paramount; and even his old friends had
lost sight of him. He lived and breathed for an important Committee of
the Admiralty, on which as time went on he took a more and more important
place. In the four years Cynthia had scarcely seen him more than half a
And now the war was over. It was May again, and glorious May with the
world all colour and song, the garden a wealth of blossom, and the nights
clear and fragrant under moon or stars. And here was Philip again--much
more like the old Philip than he had been for years--looking at her with
those enchanting blue eyes of his, and asking her to do something for
him. No wonder Cynthia's pulses were stirred. The night before, she had
come home depressed--very conscious that she had had no particular
success with him at dinner, or afterwards. This unexpected _tete-a-tete_,
with its sudden touch of intimacy, made up for it all.
What could she do but assure him--trying hard not to be too
forthcoming--that she would be delighted to help him, if she could? What
"Nothing but my own idiocy," he said, smiling. "I find myself guardian to
an extremely headstrong young woman, and I don't know how to manage her.
I want your advice."
Cynthia lay back in her chair, and prepared to give him all her mind. But
her eyes showed a certain mockery.
"I wonder why you undertook it!"
"So do I. But--well, I couldn't help it. We won't discuss that. But what
I had very little idea of--was the modern girl!" Cynthia laughed out.
"And now you have discovered her--in one day?" He laughed too, but
"Oh, I am only on the first step. What I shall come to presently, I don't
know. But the immediate problem is that Helena bombed me last night by
the unexpected announcement that she had asked Donald--Lord Donald--for
the week-end. Do you know him?" Cynthia's eyebrows had gone up.
"You know his reputation?"
"I begin to remember a good deal about him. Go on."
"Well, Helena had asked that man, without consulting me, to stay at my
house, and she sprang the announcement on me, on Thursday, the
invitation being for Saturday. I had to tell her then and there--that he
"Naturally. How did she take it?"
"Very ill. You see, in a rash moment, I had told her to invite her
friends for week-ends as she pleased. So she holds that I have broken
faith, and this morning she told me she had arranged to go up and lunch
with Donald at the Ritz next week--alone! So again I had to stop it. But
I don't play the jailer even decently. I feel the greatest fool in
creation." Cynthia smiled.
"I quite believe you! And this all happened in the first twenty-four
hours? Poor Philip!"
"And I have also been informed that Helena's 'views' will not allow
her--in the future--to take my advice on any such questions--that
she prefers her liberty to her reputation--and 'wants to understand
a bad man.' She said so. It's all very well to laugh, Cynthia! But
what am I to do?"
Cynthia, however, continued to laugh unrestrainedly. And he joined in.
"And now you want advice?" she said at last, checking her mirth. "I'm
awfully sorry for you, Philip. What about the little chaperon?"
"As nice a woman as ever was--but I don't see her preventing Helena from
doing anything she wants to do. Helena will jolly well take care of that.
Besides she is too new to the job."
"She may get on better with Helena, perhaps, than a stronger woman,"
mused Cynthia. "But I am afraid you have got your work cut out. Wasn't it
very rash of you?"
"I couldn't help it," he repeated briefly. "And I must just do my best.
But I'd be awfully grateful if you'd take a hand, Cynthia. Won't you come
up and really make friends with her? She might take things from you that
she wouldn't from me."
Cynthia looked extremely doubtful.
"I am sure last night she detested me."
"How could you tell? And why should she?"
"I'm twenty years older. That's quite enough."
"You scarcely look a day older, Cynthia."
She sighed, and lightly touched his hand, with a caressing gesture he
remembered of old.
"Very nice of you to say it--but of course it isn't true. Well, Philip,
I'll do what I can. I'll wander up some time--on Sunday perhaps. With
your coaching, I could at least give her a biography of Jim Donald. One
needn't be afraid of shocking her?"
His eyebrows lifted.
"Who's shocked at anything nowadays? Look at the things girls read and
discuss! I'm old-fashioned, I suppose. But I really couldn't talk about
Donald to her this morning. The fellow is such a worm! It would come
better from you."
"Tell me a few more facts, then, about him, than I know at present."
He gave her rapidly a sketch of the life and antecedents of Lord Donald
of Dunoon--gambler, wastrel, _divorce_, et cetera, speaking quite
frankly, almost as he would have spoken to a man. For there was nothing
at all distasteful to him in Cynthia's knowledge of life. In a woman of
forty it was natural and even attractive. The notion of a discussion of
Donald's love-affairs with Helena had revolted him. It was on the
contrary something of a relief--especially with a practical object in
view--to discuss them with Cynthia.
They sat chatting till the shadows lengthened, then wandered into the
garden, still talking. Lady Georgina, watching from her window upstairs,
had to admit that Buntingford seemed to like her sister's society. But if
she had been within earshot at the last five minutes of their
conversation, she would perhaps have seen no reason, finally, to change
her opinion. Very agreeable that discursive talk had been to both
participants. Buntingford had talked with great frankness of his own
plans. In three months or so, his Admiralty work would be over. He
thought very likely that the Government would then give him a modest
place in the Administration. He might begin by representing the Admiralty
in the Lords, and as soon as he got a foot on the political ladder
prospects would open. On the whole, he thought, politics would be his
line. He had no personal axes to grind; was afraid of nothing; wouldn't
care if the Lords were done away with to-morrow, and could live on a
fraction of his income if the Socialists insisted on grabbing the rest.
But the new world which the war had opened was a desperately interesting
one. He hadn't enough at stake in it to spoil his nerve. Whatever
happened, he implied, he was steeled--politically and intellectually.
Nothing could deprive him either of the joy of the fight, or the
amusement of the spectacle.
And Cynthia, her honey-gold hair blown back from her white temples by the
summer wind, her blue parasol throwing a summer shade about her, showed
herself, as they strolled backwards and forwards over the shady lawn of
the cottage, a mistress of the listening art; and there is no art more
winning, either to men or women.
Then, in a moment, what broke the spell? Some hint or question from her,
of a more intimate kind?--something that touched a secret place, wholly
unsuspected by her? She racked her brains afterwards to think what it
could have been; but in vain. All she knew was that the man beside her
had suddenly stiffened. His easy talk had ceased to flow; while still
walking beside her, he seemed to be miles away. So that by a quick common
impulse both stood still.
"I must go back to the village," said Cynthia. She smiled, but her face
had grown a little tired and faded.
He looked at his watch.
"And I told the car to fetch me half an hour ago. You'll be up some time
perhaps--luncheon to-morrow?--or Sunday?"
"If I can. I'll do my best."
"Kind Cynthia!" But his tone was perfunctory, and his eyes avoided her.
When he had gone, she could only wonder what she had done to offend him;
and a certain dreariness crept into the evening light. She was not the
least in love with Philip--that she assured herself. But his sudden
changes of mood were very trying to one who would like to be his friend.
Buntingford walked rapidly home. His way lay through an oak wood, that
was now a revel of spring; overhead, a shimmering roof of golden leaf and
wild cherry-blossom, and underfoot a sea of blue-bells. A winding path
led through it, and through the lovely open and grassy spaces which from
time to time broke up the density of the wood--like so many green floors
cleared for the wood nymphs' dancing. From the west a level sun struck
through the trees, breaking through storm-clouds which had been rapidly
filling the horizon, and kindling the tall trees, with their ribbed grey
bark, till they shone for a brief moment like the polished pillars in the
house of Odysseus. Then a nightingale sang. Nightingales were rare at
Beechmark; and Buntingford would normally have hailed the enchanted
flute-notes with a boyish delight. But this evening they fell on deaf
ears, and when the garish sunlight gave place to gloom, and drops of rain
began to patter on the new leaf, the gathering storm, and the dark
silence of the wood, after the nightingale had given her last trill, were
welcome to a man struggling with a recurrent and desperate oppression.
Must he always tamely submit to the fetters which bound him? Could he do
nothing to free himself? Could the law do nothing? Enquiry--violent
action of some sort--rebellion against the conditions which had grown so
rigid about him:--for the hundredth time, he canvassed all ways of
escape, and for the hundredth time, found none.
He knew very well what was wrong with him. It was simply the imperious
need for a woman's companionship in his life--for _love_. Physically and
morally, the longing which had lately taken possession of him, was
becoming a gnawing and perpetual distress. There was the plain fact. This
hour with Cynthia Welwyn had stirred in him the depths of old pain. But
he was not really in love with Cynthia. During the war, amid the
absorption of his work, and the fierce pressure of the national need, he
had been quite content to forget her. His work--and England's strait--had
filled his mind and his time. Except for certain dull resentments and
regrets, present at all times in the background of consciousness, the
four years of the war had been to him a period of relief, almost of
deliverance. He had been able to lose himself; and in that inner history
of the soul which is the real history of each one of us, that had been
for long years impossible.
But now all that protection and help was gone; the floodgates were
loosened again. His work still went on; but it was no longer absorbing;
it no longer mattered enough to hold in check the vague impulses and
passions that were beating against his will.
And meanwhile the years were running on. He was forty-four, Helena
Pitstone's guardian, and clearly relegated already by that unmanageable
child to the ranks of the middle-aged. He had read her thought in her
great scornful eyes. "What has your generation to do with mine? Your
day is over!"
And all the while the ugly truth was that he had never had his "day"--and
was likely now to miss it for good. Or at least such "day" as had shone
upon him had been so short, so chequered, so tragically wiped out, it
might as well never have dawned. Yet the one dear woman friend to whom in
these latter years he had spoken freely, who knew him through and
through--Helena Pitstone's mother--had taken for granted, in her quiet
ascetic way, that he had indeed had his chance, and must accept for good
and all what had come of it. It was because she thought of him as set
apart, as debarred by what had happened to him, from honest love-making,
and protected by his own nature from anything less, that she had asked
him to take charge of Helena. He realized it now. It had been the notion
of a fanciful idealist, springing from certain sickroom ideas of
sacrifice--renunciation--submission to the will of God--and so forth.
It was _not_ the will of God!--that he should live forsaken and die
forlorn! He hurled defiance, even at Rachel, his dear dead friend, who
had been so full of pity for him, and for whom he had felt the purest and
most unselfish affection he had ever known--since his mother's death.
And now the presence of her child in his house seemed to represent a
verdict, a sentence--of hers upon him, which he simply refused to accept
as just or final. If Rachel had only lived a little longer he would have
had it out with her. But in those last terrible days, how could he either
All the same, he would utterly do his duty by Helena. If she chose to
regard him as an old fogy, well and good--it was perhaps better so. Not
that--if circumstances had been other than they were---he would have been
the least inclined to make love to her. Her beauty was astonishing. But
the wonderful energy and vitality of her crude youth rather repelled than
The thought of the wrestles ahead of him was a weariness to an already
tired man. Debate with her, on all the huge insoluble questions she
seemed to be determined to raise, was of all things in the world most
distasteful to him. He would certainly cut a sorry figure in it; nothing
was more probable.
The rain began to plash down upon his face and bared head, cooling an
inner fever. The damp wood, the soft continuous dripping of the
cherry-blossoms, the scent of the blue-bells,--there was in them a
certain shelter and healing. He would have liked to linger there. But
already, at Beechmark, guests must have arrived; he was being missed.
The trees thinned, and the broad lawns of Beechmark came in sight.
Ah!--there was Geoffrey, walking up and down with Helena. _Suppose_ that
really came off? What a comfortable way out! He and Cynthia must back it
all they could.
"Buntingford looks twice as old as he need!" said Geoffrey French,
lighting a cigarette as he and Helena stepped out of the drawing-room
window after dinner into the May world outside--a world which lay steeped
in an after-glow of magical beauty. "What's wrong, I wonder! Have you
been plaguing him, Helena?" The laughing shot was fired purely at random.
But the slight start and flush it produced in Helena struck him.
"I see nothing wrong with him," said Helena, a touch of defiance in her
voice. "But of course it's extraordinarily difficult to get on with him."
"With Philip!--the jolliest, kindest chap going! What do you mean?"
"All right. It's no good talking to anybody with a _parti pris_!"
"No--but seriously, Helena--what's the matter? Why, you told me you only
began the new arrangement two days ago."
"Exactly. And there's been time already for a first-class quarrel. Time
also for me to see that I shall never, never get on with him. I don't
know how we are to get through the two years!"
"_Well_!" ejaculated her companion. "In Heaven's name, what has he
Helena shrugged her shoulders. She was striding beside him like a young
Artemis--in white, with a silver star in her hair, and her short skirts
beaten back from her slender legs and feet by the evening wind. Geoffrey
French, who had had a classical education, almost looked for the quiver
and the bow. He was dazzled at once, and provoked. A magnificent
creature, certainly--"very mad and very handsome!"--he recalled
"Do tell me, Helena!" he urged.
"What's the good? You'll only side with him--and _preach_. You've done
that several times already."
The young man frowned a little.
"I don't preach!" he said shortly. "I say what I think--_when_ you ask
me. Twice, if I remember right, you told me of some proceeding of yours,
and asked me for my opinion. Well, I gave it, and it didn't happen to be
yours. But that isn't preaching."
"You gave so many reasons--it _was_ preaching."
"Great Scott!--wasn't it more polite to give one's reasons?"
"Perhaps. But one shouldn't _burst_ with them. One should be sorry to
"Hm. Well--now kindly lay down for me, how I am to disagree with you
about Philip. For I do disagree with you, profoundly."
"There it is. Profoundly--that shows how you enjoy disagreeing. Why can't
you put yourself at my point of view?"
"Well, I'll try. But at least--explain it to me."
Helena threw herself into a garden chair, under a wild cherry which rose
a pyramid of silver against an orange sky. Other figures were scattered
about the lawns, three or four young men, and three or four girls in
light dresses. The air seemed to be full of laughter and young voices.
Only Mrs. Friend sat shyly by herself just within the drawing-room
window, a book on her knee. A lamp behind her brought out the lines of
her bent head and slight figure.
"I wonder if I like you well enough," said Helena coolly, biting at a
stalk of grass--"well enough, I mean, to explain things. I haven't made
you my father confessor yet, Geoffrey."
"Suppose you begin--and see how it answers," said French lazily, rolling
over on the grass in front of her, his chin in his hands.
"Well, I don't mind--for fun. Only if you preach I shall stop. But, first
of all, let's get some common ground. You admit, I suppose, that the war
has changed the whole position of women?"
"Don't state them!" said Helena hastily. "That would be preaching.
Yes, or No?"
"Yes, then,--you tyrant!"
"And that means--doesn't it--at the very least--that girls of my own age
have done with all the old stupid chaperonage business--at least nearly
all--that we are to choose our own friends, and make our own
arrangements?--doesn't it?" she repeated peremptorily.
"I don't know. My information is--that the mothers are stiffening."
A laughing face looked up at her from the grass.
"Stiffening!" The tone was contemptuous. "Well, that may be so--for babes
of seventeen--like that one--" her gesture indicated a slight figure in
white at the edge of the lawn--"who have never been out of the
"You think nineteen makes all the difference? I doubt," said Geoffrey
French coolly, as he sat up tailor-fashion, and surveyed her. "Well, my
view is that for the babes, as you call them, chaperonage is certainly
reviving. I have just been sitting next Lady Maud, this babe's mother,
and she told me an invitation came for the babe from some great house
last week, addressed to 'Miss Luton and partner'--whereon Lady Maud wrote
back--'My daughter has no partner and I shall be very happy to bring
her.' Rather a poke in the eye! Then there are the women of five or six
and twenty who have been through the war, and are not likely to give up
the freedom of it--ever again. That's all right. They'll take their own
risks. Many of them will prefer not to live at home again. They'll live
with a friend--and visit their people perhaps every day! But, then
there's _you_, Helena--the betwixt and between!--"
"Well--what about me?"
"You're neither a babe--nor a veteran."
"I'm nineteen and a half--and I've done a year and a half of war work--"
"Canteen--and driving? All right. Am I to give an opinion?"
"You will give it, whatever I say. And it's you all over--to give it,
before you've allowed me to explain anything."
"Oh, I know your point of view--" said Geoffrey, unperturbed--"know it by
heart. Haven't you dinned it into me at half a dozen dances lately?
No!--I'm entitled to my say--and here it is. Claim all the freedom you
like--but as you're _not_ twenty-five, but nineteen--let a good fellow
like Buntingford give you advice--and be thankful!"
"Prig!" said Helena, pelting him with a spray of wild cherry, which he
caught and put in his button-hole. "If that isn't preaching, I should
like to know what is!"
"Not at all. Unbiased opinion--civilly expressed. If you really were an
emancipated young woman, Helena, you'd take it so! But now--" his tone
changed--"let's come to business. What have you and Philip been
Helena straightened her shoulders, as though to meet certain disapproval.
"Because--I asked Lord Donald to spend the week-end here--"
"I did; and Cousin Philip wired to him and forbade him the house.
Offence No. 1. Then as I intended all the same to see Jim, I told him I
would go up and lunch with him at the Ritz. Cousin Philip vows I shan't,
and he seems to have some underhand means of stopping it--I--I don't
"Underhand! Philip! I say, Helena, I wonder whether you have any idea how
people who really know him think about Buntingford!"
"Oh, of course men back up men!"
"Stuff! It's really silly--abominable too--the way you talk of him--I
can't help saying it."
And this time it was Geoffrey's turn to look indignant. His long face
with its deeply set grey eyes, a rather large nose, and a fine brow under
curly hair, had flushed suddenly.
"If you can't help it, I suppose you must say it. But I don't know why I
should stay and listen," said Helena provokingly, making a movement as
though to rise. But he laid a hand on her dress:
"No, no, Helena, don't go--look here--do you ever happen to notice
Buntingford--when he's sitting quiet--and other people are talking
"Not particularly." The tone was cold, but she no longer threatened
"Well, I just ask you--some time--to _watch_. An old friend of his
said to me the other day--'I often feel that Buntingford is the
saddest man I know.'"
"Why should he be?" asked Helena imperiously.
"I can't tell you. No one can. It's just what those people think who know
him best. Well, that's one fact about him--that his _men_ friends feel
they could no more torment a wounded soldier, than worry Buntingford--if
they could help it. Then there are other facts that no one knows unless
they've worked in Philip's office, where all the men clerks and all the
women typists just adore him! I happen to know a good deal about it. I
could tell you things--"
"For Heaven's sake, don't!" cried Helena impatiently. "What does it
matter? He may be a saint--with seven haloes--for those that don't cross
him. But _I_ want my freedom!"--a white foot beat the ground
impatiently--"and he stands in the way."
"Freedom to compromise yourself with a scoundrel like Donald! What _can_
you know about such a man--compared with what Philip knows?"
"That's just it--I _want_ to know--" said Helena in her most stubborn
voice. "This is a world, now, in which we've all got to know,--both the
bad and the good of it. No more taking it on trust from other people! Let
us learn it for ourselves."
"Helena!--you're quite mad!" said the young man, exasperated.
"Perhaps I am. But it's a madness you can't cure." And springing to her
feet, she sent a call across the lawn--"Peter!" A slim boy who was
walking beside the "babe" of seventeen, some distance away, turned
sharply at the sound, and running across the grass pulled up in front
"Well?--here I am."
"Shall we go and look at the lake? You might pull me about a little."
"Ripping!" said the youth joyously. "Won't you want a cloak?"
"No--it's so hot. Shall we ask Miss Luton?"
Peter made a face.
"Why should we?"
Helena laughed, and they went off together in the direction of a strip of
silver under distant trees on which the moon was shining.
French walked away towards the girlish figure now deserted.
Helena watched him out of the corner of her eyes, saw the girl's eager
greeting, and the disappearance of the two in the woody walk that
bordered the lawn. Then she noticed a man sitting by himself not far
away, with a newspaper on his knee.
"Suppose we take Mr. Horne, Peter?"
"Don't let's take anybody!" said the boy. "And anyway Horne's a nuisance
just now. He talks you dead with strikes--and nationalization--and labour
men--and all that rot. Can't we ever let it alone? I want to talk to
_you_, Helena. I say, you are ripping in that dress! You're just
_divine_, Helena!" The girl laughed, her sweetest, most rippling laugh.
"Go on like that, Peter. You can't think how nice it sounds--especially
after Geoffrey's been lecturing for all he's worth."
"Lecturing? Oh well, if it comes to that, I've got my grievance too,
Helena. We'll have it out, when I've found the boat."
"Forewarned!" said Helena, still laughing. "Perhaps I won't come."
"Oh, yes, you will," said the boy confidently. "I believe you know
perfectly well what it's about. You've got a guilty conscience,
Helena said nothing, till they had pushed the boat out from the reeds
and the water-lilies, and she was sitting with the steering ropes in
her hands opposite a boy in his shirt sleeves, with the head and face
of a cherub, and the spare frame of an athlete, who was devouring her
with his eyes.
"Are you quite done with the Army, Peter?"
"Quite. Got out a month ago. You come to me, Helena, if you want any
advice about foreign loans--eh? I can tell you a thing or two."
"Are you going to be very rich?"
"Well, I'm pretty rich already," said the boy candidly. "It seems beastly
to be wanting more. But my uncles would shove me into the Bank. I
couldn't help it."
"You'll never look so nice as you did in your khaki, Peter. What have you
done with all your ribbons?"
"What, the decorations? Oh, they're kicking about somewhere."
"You're not to let your Victoria Cross kick about, as you call it," said
Helena severely. "By the way, Peter, you've never told me yet--Oh, I saw
the bit in the _Times_. But I want _you_ to tell me about it. Won't you?"
She bent forward, all softness, her beautiful eyes on her companion.
"No!" said Peter with energy--"_never_!"
She considered him.
"Was it so awful?" she asked under her breath.
"For God's sake, don't ask questions!" said the boy angrily. "You know I
want to forget it. I shall never be quite right till I do forget it."
She was silent. It was his twin brother he had tried to save--staggering
back through a British barrage with the wounded man on his
shoulders--only to find, as he stumbled into the trench, that he had been
carrying the dead. He himself had spent six months in hospital from the
effects of wounds and shock. He had emerged to find himself a V. V. and
A. D. C. to his Army Commander; and apparently as gay and full of fun as
before. But his adoring mother and sisters knew very well that there were
sore spots in Peter.
Helena realized that she had touched one. She bent forward presently, and
laid her own hand on one of the hands that were handling the sculls.
He bent impetuously, and kissed the hand before she could withdraw it.
"Don't you play with me, Helena," he said passionately. "I'm not a child,
though I look it ... Now, then, let's have it out."
They had reached the middle of the pond, and were drifting across a
moonlit pathway, on either side of which lay the shadow of deep woods,
now impenetrably dark. The star in Helena's hair glittered in the light,
and the face beneath it, robbed of its daylight colour, had become a
study in black and white, subtler and more lovely than the real Helena.
"Why did you do it, Helena?" said Peter suddenly.
"Why did you behave to me as you did, at the Arts Ball? Why did you cut
me, not once--but twice--three times--for that _beast_ Donald?"
"Now _you're_ beginning!" she said, as she lazily trailed her hand in the
water. "It's really comic!"
"What do you mean?"
"Only that I've already quarrelled with Cousin Philip--and
Geoffrey--about Lord Donald--so if you insist on quarrelling too, I shall
have no friends left."
"Damn Donald! It's like his impudence to ask you to dance at all. It made
me sick to see you with him. He's the limit. Well, but--I'm not going to
quarrel about Donald, Helena--I'm not going to quarrel about anything.
I'm going to have my own say--and you can't escape this time--you witch!"
Helena looked round the pond.
"I can swim," she said tranquilly.
"I should jump in after you--and we'd both go down together. No,
but--listen to me, dear Helena! Why won't you marry me? You say
sometimes--that you care for me a little."
The boy's tone faltered.
"Why won't I marry you? Perhaps because you ask me so often," said
Helena, laughing. "Neglect me--be rude to me--cut me at a dance, and
"I couldn't--it matters too much."
"Dear Peter! But can't you understand that I don't want to commit myself
just yet? I want to have my life to myself a bit. I'm like the miners and
the railway men. I'm full of unrest! I can't and won't settle down just
yet. I want to look at things--the world's like a great cinema show just
now--everything passing so quick you can hardly take breath. I want to
sample it where I please. I want to dance--and talk--and make
"Well--marrying me would be an experiment," said Peter stoutly. "I vow
you'd never regret it, Helena!"
"But I can't vow that you wouldn't! Let me alone, Peter. I suppose some
time I shall quiet down. It doesn't matter if I break my own heart. But I
won't take the responsibility of anybody else's heart just yet."
"Well, of course, that means you're not in love with anybody. You'd soon
chuck all that nonsense if you were."
The young, despairing voice thrilled her. It was all
experience--life--drama--this floating over summer water--with a
beautiful youth, whose heart seemed to be fluttering in her very hands.
But she was only thrilled intellectually--as a spectator. Peter would
soon get over it. She would be very kind to him, and let him down easily.
They drifted silently a little. Then Peter said abruptly:
"Well, at least, Helena, you might promise me not to dance with Jim
"Peter--my promises of that kind--are worth nothing! ... I think it's
getting late--we ought to be going home!" And she gave the rudder a turn
for the shore.
He unwillingly complied, and after rowing through the shadow of the
woods, they emerged on a moonlit slope of lawn, where was the usual
landing-place. Two persons who had been strolling along the edge of the
water approached them.
"Who is that with Buntingford?" asked Dale.
"My new chaperon. Aren't you sorry for her?"
"I jolly well am!" cried Peter. "She'll have a dog's life!"
"That's very rude of you, Peter. You may perhaps be surprised to hear
that I like her very much. She's a little dear--and I'm going to be
awfully good to her."
"Which means, of course, that she'll never dare to cross you!"
"Peter, don't be unkind! Dear Peter--make it up! I do want to be friends.
There's just time for you to say something nice!"
For his vigorous strokes were bringing them rapidly to the bank.
"Oh, what's the good of talking!" said the boy impatiently. "I shall be
friends, of course--take what you fling me. I can't do anything else."
Helena blew him a kiss, to which he made no response.
"All right!--I'll bring you in!" said Lord Buntingford from the shore.
He dragged the boat up on the sandy edge, and offered a hand to Helena.
She stumbled out, and would have fallen into the shallow water but for
his sudden grip upon her.
"That was stupid of me!" she said, vexed with herself.
He made no reply. It was left to Mrs. Friend to express a hope that she
had not sprained her foot.
"Oh, dear no," said Helena. "But I'm cold. Peter, will you race me to the
house? Give me a fair start!"
Peter eagerly placed her, and then--a maiden flying and a young god
pursuing--they had soon drawn the eyes and laughter of all the other
guests, who cheered as the panting Helena, winner by a foot, dashed
through the drawing-room window into the house.
Helena and Mrs. Friend had been discussing the evening,--Helena on the
floor, in a white dressing-gown, with her hair down her back. She had
amused herself with a very shrewd analysis--not too favourable--of
Geoffrey French's character and prospects, and had rushed through an
eloquent account of Peter's performances in the war; she had mocked at
Lady Maud's conventionalities, and mimicked the "babe's" simpering manner
with young men; she had enquired pityingly how Mrs. Friend had got on
with the old Canon who had taken her in to dinner, and had launched into
rather caustic and, to Mrs. Friend's ear, astonishing criticisms of
"Cousin Philip's wine"--which Mrs. Friend had never even dreamt of
tasting. But of Cousin Philip himself there was not a word. Mrs. Friend
knew there had been an interview between them; but she dared not ask
questions. How to steer her way in the moral hurricane she foresaw, was
what preoccupied her; so as both to do her duty to Lord B. and yet keep a
hold on this strange being in whose good graces she still found
herself--much to her astonishment.
Then with midnight Helena departed. But long after she was herself in
bed, Mrs. Friend heard movements in the adjoining room, and was aware of
a scent of tobacco stealing in through her own open window.
Helena, indeed, when she found herself alone was, for a time, too excited
to sleep, and cigarettes were her only resource. She was conscious of an
exaltation of will, a passionate self-assertion, beating through all her
veins, which made sleep impossible. Cousin Philip had scarcely addressed
a word to her during the evening, and had bade her a chilly good-night.
Of course, if that was to be his attitude it was impossible she could go
on living under his roof. Her mother could not for a moment have expected
her to keep her word, under such conditions ... And yet--why retreat? Why
not fight it out, temperately, but resolutely? "I lost my temper again
like an idiot, this morning--I mustn't--mustn't--lose it. He had jolly
well the best of it."
"Self-determination"--that was what she was bent on. If it was good for
nations, it was good also for individuals. Liberty to make one's own
mistakes, to face one's own risks--that was the minimum. And for one
adult human being to accept the dictation of another human being was the
only sin worth talking about. The test might come on some trivial thing,
like this matter of Lord Donald. Well,--she must be content to "find
quarrel in a straw, where honour is at stake." Yet, of course, her
guardian was bound to resist. The fight between her will and his was
natural and necessary. It was the clash of two generations, two views of
life. She was not merely the wilful and insubordinate girl she would
have been before the war; she saw herself, at any rate, as something
much more interesting. All over the world there was the same breaking of
bonds; and the same instinct towards _violence_. "The violent taketh by
force." Was it the instinct that war leaves, and must leave, behind
it--its most sinister, or its most pregnant, legacy? She was
passionately conscious of it, and of a strange thirst to carry it into
reckless action. The unrest in her was the same unrest that was driving
men everywhere--and women, too--into industrial disturbance and moral
revolt. The old is done with; and the Tree of Life needs to be well
shaken before the new fruit will drop.
Wild thoughts like these ran through her mind. Then she scoffed at
herself for such large notions, about so small a thing. And suddenly
something checked her--the physical recollection, as it were, left
tingling in her hand, of the grasp by which Buntingford had upheld her,
as she was leaving the boat. With it went a vision of his face, his dark,
furrowed face, in the moonlight.
"The saddest man I know." Why and wherefore? Long after she was in bed,
she lay awake, absorbed in a dreamy yet intense gathering together of all
that she could recollect of Cousin Philip, from her childhood up, through
her school years, and down to her mother's death. Till now he had been
part of the more or less pleasant furniture of life. She seemed to be on
the way to realize him as a man--perhaps a force. It was unsuspected--and
The drought continued; and under the hot sun the lilacs were already
pyramids of purple, the oaks were nearly in full leaf, and the hawthorns
in the park and along the hedges would soon replace with another white
splendour the fading blossom of the wild cherries.
It was Sunday morning, and none of the Beechmark party except Mrs.
Friend, Lady Luton and her seventeen-year-old daughter had shown any
inclination to go to church. Geoffrey French and Helena had escorted the
churchgoers the short way across the park, taking a laughing leave of
them at the last stile, whence the old church was but a stone's throw.
There was a circle of chairs on the lawn intermittently filled by
talkers. Lord Buntingford was indoors and was reported to have had some
ugly news that morning of a discharged soldiers' riot in a neighbouring
town where he owned a good deal of property. The disturbance had been for
the time being suppressed, but its renewal was expected, and Buntingford,
according to Julian Horne, who had been in close consultation with him,
was ready to go over at any moment, on a telephone call from the town
authorities, and take what other "specials" he could gather with him.
"It's not at all a nice business," said Horne, looking up from his long
chair, as Geoffrey French and Helena reappeared. "And if Philip is rung
up, he'll sweep us all in. So don't be out of the way, Geoffrey."
"What's the matter? Somebody has been bungling as usual, I suppose," said
Helena in her most confident and peremptory tone.
"The discharged men say that nobody pays any attention to them--and they
mean to burn down something."
"On the principle of the Chinaman, and 'roast pig,'" said French,
stretching himself at full length on the grass, where Helena was already
sitting. "What an extraordinary state of mind we're all in! We all want
to burn something. I want to burn the doctors, because some of the
medical boards have been beasts to some of my friends; the soldiers over
at Dansworth want to burn the town, because they haven't been made enough
of; the Triple Alliance want to burn up the country to cook their roast
pig--and as for you, Helena--"
He turned a laughing face upon her--but before she could reply, a
telephone was heard ringing, through the open windows of the house.
"For me, I expect," exclaimed Helena, springing up. She disappeared
within the drawing-room, returning presently, with flushed cheeks, and a
bearing of which Geoffrey French at once guessed the meaning.
"Donald has thrown her over?" he said to himself. "Of course Philip had
the trump card!"
Helena, however, said nothing. She took up a book she had left on the
grass, and withdrew with it to the solitary shelter of a cedar some yards
away. Quiet descended on the lawns. The men smoked or buried themselves
in a sleepy study of the Sunday papers. The old house lay steeped in
sunshine. Occasional bursts of talk arose and died away; a loud cuckoo in
a neighbouring plantation seemed determined to silence all its bird
rivals; while once or twice the hum of an aeroplane overhead awoke even
in the drowsiest listener dim memories of the war.
Helena was only pretending to read. The telephone message which had
reached her had been from Lord Donald's butler--not even from Lord Donald
himself!--and had been to the effect that "his lordship" asked him to say
that he had been obliged to go to Scotland for a fortnight, and was very
sorry he had not been able to answer Miss Pitstone's telegram before
starting. Helena's cheeks were positively smarting under the humiliation
of it. Donald _daring_ to send her a message through a servant, when she
had telegraphed to him! For of course it was all a lie as to his having
left town--one could tell that from the butler's voice. He had been
somehow frightened by Cousin Philip, and was revenging himself by
rudeness to _her_. She seemed to hear "Jim" and his intimates discussing
the situation. Of course it would only amuse them!--everything amused
them!--that Buntingford should have put his foot down. How she had
boasted, both to Jim and to some of his friends, of the attitude she
meant to take up with her guardian during her "imprisonment on parole."
And this was the end of the first bout. Cousin Philip had been easily
master, and instead of making common cause with her against a ridiculous
piece of tyranny, Lord Donald had backed out. He might at least have been
sympathetic and polite--might have come himself to speak to her at the
Her blood boiled. How was she going to put up with this life? The irony
of the whole position was insufferable. Geoffrey's ejaculation for
instance when she had invited him to her sitting-room after breakfast
that he might look for a book he had lent her--"My word, Helena, what a
jolly place!--Why, this was the old school-room--I remember it
perfectly--the piggiest, shabbiest old den. And Philip has had it all
done up for you? Didn't know he had so much taste!" And then, Geoffrey's
roguish look at her, expressing the "chaff" he restrained for fear of
offending her. Lucy Friend, too, Captain Lodge, Peter--everybody--no one
had any sympathy with her. And lastly, Donald himself--coward!--had
refused to play up. Not that she cared one straw about him personally.
She knew very well that he was a poor creature. It was the _principle_
involved:--that a girl of nineteen is to be treated as a free and
responsible being, and not as though she were still a child in the
nursery. "Cousin Philip may have had the right to say he wouldn't have
Jim Donald in his house, if he felt that way--but he had no right
whatever to prevent my meeting him in town, if I chose to meet
him--that's _my_ affair!--that's the point! All these men here are in
league. It's _not_ Jim's character that's in question--I throw Jim's
character to the wolves--it's the freedom of women!"
So the tumult in her surged to and fro, mingled all through with a
certain unwilling preoccupation. That semi-circular bow-window on the
south side of the house, which she commanded from her seat under the
cedar, was one of the windows of the library. Hidden from her by the old
bureau at which he was writing, sat Buntingford at work. She could see
his feet under the bureau, and sometimes the top of his head. Oh, of
course, he had a way with him--a certain magnetism--for the people who
liked him, and whom he liked. Lady Maud, for instance--how well they had
got on at breakfast? Naturally, she thought him adorable. And Lady Maud's
girl. To see Buntingford showing her the butterfly collections in the
library--devoting himself to her--and the little thing blushing and
smiling--it was simply idyllic! And then to contrast the scene with that
other scene, in the same room, the day before!
"Well, now, what am I going to do here--or in town?" she asked herself in
exasperation. "If Cousin Philip and I liked each other it would be
pleasant enough to ride together, to talk and read and argue--his brain's
all right!--with Lucy Friend to fall back upon between whiles--for just
these few weeks, at any rate, before we go to town--and with the
week-ends to help one out. But if we are to be at daggers-drawn--he
determined to boss me--and I equally determined not to be bossed--why,
the thing will be _intolerable_! Hullo!--is that Cynthia Welwyn? She
seems to be making for me."
It was Lady Cynthia, very fresh and brilliant in airy black and white,
with a purple sunshade. She came straight over the grass to Helena's
"You look so cool! May I share?"
Helena rather ungraciously pushed forward a chair as they shook hands.
"The rest of your party seem to be asleep," said Cynthia, glancing at
various prostrate forms belonging to the male sex that were visible on a
distant slope of the lawn. "But you've heard of the Dansworth
disturbances?--and that everybody here may have to go?"
"Yes. It's probably exaggerated--isn't it?"
"I don't know. Everybody coming out of church was talking of it. There
was bad rioting last night--and a factory burnt down. They say it's begun
again. Buntingford will probably have to go. Where is he?"
Helena pointed to the library and to the feet under the bureau.
"He's waiting indoors, no doubt, in case there's a summons."
"No doubt," said Helena.
Cynthia found her task difficult. She had come determined to make friends
with this thorny young woman, and to smooth Philip's path for him if she
could. But now face to face with Helena she was conscious that neither
was Philip's ward at all in a forthcoming mood, nor was her own effort
spontaneous or congenial. They were both Buntingford's kinswomen, Helena
on his father's side, Cynthia on his mother's, and had been more or less
acquainted with each other since Helena left the nursery. But there was
nearly twenty years between them, and a critical spirit on both sides.
Conversation very soon languished. An instinctive antagonism that neither
could have explained intelligibly would have been evident to any shrewd
listener. Helena was not long in suspecting that Lady Cynthia was in some
way Buntingford's envoy, and had been sent to make friends, with an
ulterior object; while Cynthia was repelled by the girl's ungracious
manner, and by the gulf which it implied between the outlook of forty,
and that of nineteen. "She means to make me feel that I might have been
her mother--and that we have nothing in common!"
The result was that Cynthia was driven into an intimate and possessive
tone with regard to Buntingford, which was more than the facts warranted,
and soon reduced Helena to monosyllables, and a sarcastic lip.
"You can't think," said Cynthia effusively--"how good he is to us
two. It is so like him. He never forgets us. But indeed he never
Helena raised her eyebrows, as though the news astonished her, but she
was too polite to contradict.
"He sends you flowers, doesn't he?" she said carelessly.
"He sends us all kinds of things. But that's not what makes him so
charming. He's always so considerate for everybody! The day you were
coming, for instance, he thought of nothing but how to get your room
finished and your books in order. I hope you liked it?"
"Very much." The tone was noncommittal.
"I don't suppose he told you how he worked," said Cynthia, smiling. "Oh,
he's a great dear, Philip! Only he takes a good deal of knowing."
"Did you ever see his wife?" said Helena abruptly.
Cynthia's movement showed her unpleasantly startled. She looked
instinctively towards the library window, where Buntingford was now
standing with his back to them. No, he couldn't have heard.
"No, never," she said hurriedly, in a low voice. "Nobody ever speaks to
him about her. She was of course not his equal socially."
"Is that the reason why nobody speaks of her?"
Cynthia flushed indignantly.
"Not that I know of. Why do you ask?"
"I thought you put the two things together," said Helena in her most
detached tone. "And she was an artist?"
"A very good one, I believe. A man who had seen her in Paris before her
marriage told me long ago--oh, years ago--that she was extraordinarily
clever, and very ambitious."
"And beautiful?" said Helena eagerly.
"I don't know. I never saw a picture of her."
"I'll bet anything she was beautiful!"
"Most likely. Philip's very fastidious."
"I wonder if she had a good time?" she said at last.
"If she didn't, it couldn't have been Philip's fault!" said Cynthia, with
The girl's note of interrogation was curiously provoking, and Cynthia
could have shaken her.
Suddenly through the open French windows of the library, a shrill
telephone call rang out. It came from the instrument on Buntingford's
desk, and the two outside could see him take up the receiver.
"It's a message from Dansworth," said Cynthia, springing to her feet.
"They've sent for him."
"Yes--yes--" came to them in Buntingford's deep assenting voice, as he
stood with the receiver to his ear. "All right--In an hour?--That's it.
Less, if possible? Well, I think we can do it in less. Good-bye."
Helena had also risen. Buntingford emerged.
"Geoffrey!--Peter!--Horne!--all of you!"
From different parts of the lawn, men appeared running. Geoffrey French,
Captain Lodge, Peter, and Julian Horne, were in a few instants grouped
round their host, with Helena and Cynthia just behind.
"The Dansworth mob's out of hand," said Buntingford briefly. "They've set
fire to another building, and the police are hard pressed. They want
specials at once. Who'll come? I've just had a most annoying message from
my chauffeur. His wife's been in to say that he's got a
temperature--since eight o'clock this morning--and has gone to bed. She
won't hear of his coming."
"Funk?" said French quietly,--"or Bolshevism?"
Buntingford shrugged his shoulders. "We'll enquire into that later.
There are two cars--a Vauxhall and a small Renault--a two-seater. Who
"I think I can drive the Renault," said Dale. "I'll go and get it at
once. Hope I shan't kill anybody."
He ran off. The other men looked at each other in perplexity. None of
them knew enough about the business to drive a high-powered car without
serious risk to their own lives and the car's.
"I'll go and telephone to a man I know near here," said Buntingford,
turning towards the house. "He'll lend us his chauffeur."
"Why not let me drive?" said a girl's half-sarcastic voice. "I've driven
a Vauxhall most of the winter."
Buntingford turned, smiling but uncertain.
"Of course! I had forgotten! But I don't like taking you into danger,
Helena. It sounds like an ugly affair!"
"Lodge and I will go with her," said French, eagerly. "We can stop the
car outside the town. Horne can go with Dale."
The eyes of the men were on the girl in white--men half humiliated, half
admiring. Helena, radiant, was looking at Buntingford, and at his
reluctant word of assent, she began joyously taking the hat-pins out of
her white lace hat.
"Give me five minutes to change. Lucky I've got my uniform here! Then
I'll go for the car."
Within the five minutes she was in the garage in full uniform, looking
over and tuning up the car, without an unnecessary word. She was the
professional, alert, cheerful, efficient--and handsomer than ever,
thought French, in her close-fitting khaki.
"One word, Helena," said Buntingford, laying a hand on her arm, when all
was ready, and she was about to climb into her seat. "Remember I am in
command of the expedition--and for all our sakes there must be no divided
authority. You agree?"
She looked up quietly.
He made way for her, and she took her seat with him beside her. French,
Lodge, Jones the butler, and Tomline the odd man, got in behind her. Mrs.
Friend appeared with a food hamper that she and Mrs. Mawson had been
rapidly packing. Her delicate little face was very pale, and Buntingford
stooped to reassure her.
"We'll take every care of her. Don't be alarmed. It's always a woman
comes to the rescue, isn't it? We're all ashamed. I shall take some
lessons next week!"
Helena, with her hand on the steering wheel, nodded and smiled to her,
and in another minute the splendid car was gliding out of the garage
yard, and flying through the park.
Cynthia, with Mrs. Friend, Lady Maud Luton, and Mrs. Mawson, were left
looking after them. Cynthia's expression was hard to read; she seemed to
be rushing on with the car, watching the face beside Buntingford, the
young hands on the wheel, the keen eyes looking ahead, the play of talk
"What a splendid creature!" said Lady Maud half-unwillingly, as she and
Cynthia walked back to the lawn. "I'm afraid I don't at all approve of
her in ordinary life. But just now--she was in her element."
"Mother, you must let me learn motoring!" cried the girl of seventeen,
hanging on her mother's arm. She was flushed with innocent envy. Helena
driving Lord Buntingford seemed to her at the top of creation.
"Goose! It wouldn't suit you at all," said the mother, smiling. "Please
take my prayer-book indoors."
The babe went obediently.
The miles ran past. Helena, on her mettle, was driving her best, and
Buntingford had already paid her one or two brief compliments, which she
had taken in silence. Presently they topped a ridge, and there lay
Dansworth in a hollow, a column of smoke gashed with occasional flame
rising above the town.
"A big blaze," said Buntingford, examining it through a field-glass.
"It's the large brewery in the market-place. Hullo, you there!" He hailed
a country cart, full of excited occupants, which was being driven rapidly
towards them. The driver pulled up with difficulty.
Buntingford jumped out and went to make enquiries.
"It's a bad business, Sir," said the man in charge of the cart, a small
farmer whom Buntingford recognized. "The men in it are just mad--they
don't know what they've done, nor why they've done it. But the soldiers
will be there directly. There's far too few police, and I'm afraid
there's some people hurt. I wouldn't take ladies into the town if I was
you, Sir." He glanced at Helena.
Buntingford nodded, and returned to the car.
"You see that farm-house down there on the right?" he said to Helena as
they started again. "We'll stop there."
They ran down the long slope to the town, the smoke carried towards them
by a westerly wind beginning to beat in their faces,--the roar of the
great bonfire in their ears.
Helena drew up at the entrance of a short lane leading to a farm on the
outskirts of the small country town--the centre of an active
furniture-making industry, for which the material lay handy in the large
beechwoods which covered the districts round it. The people of the farm
were all standing outside the house-door, watching the fire and talking.
"You're going to leave me here?" said Helena wistfully, looking at
"Please. You've brought us splendidly! I'll send Geoffrey back to you as
soon as possible, with instructions."
She drove the car up to the farm. An elderly man came forward with whom
Buntingford made arrangements. The car was to be locked up. "And you'll
take care of the lady, till I send?"
"Aye, aye, Sir."
"I'll come back to you, as soon as I can," said French to Helena. "Don't
be anxious about us. We shall get into the market-hall by a back way and
find out what's going on. They've probably got the hose on by now.
Nothing like a hose-pipe for this kind of thing! Congratters on a
splendid bit of driving!"
"Hear, hear," said Buntingford.
They went off, and Helena was left alone with the farm people, who made
much of her, and poured into her ears more or less coherent accounts of
the rioting and its causes. A few discontented soldiers, an unpopular
factory manager, and a badly-handled strike:--the tale was a common one
throughout England at the moment, and behind and beneath the surface
events lay the heaving of that "tide in the affairs of men," a tide of
change, of restlessness, of revolt, set in motion by the great war.
Helena paced up and down the orchard slope behind the house, watching the
conflagration which was beginning to die down, startled every now and
then by what seemed to be the sound of shots, and once by the rush past
of a squadron of mounted police coming evidently from the big country
town some ten miles away. Hunger asserted itself, and she made a raid on
the hamper in the car, sharing some of its contents with the black-eyed
children of the farm. Every now and then news came from persons passing
along the road, and for a time things seemed to be mending. The police
were getting the upper hand; the Mayor had made a plucky speech to the
crowd in the market-place, with good results; the rioters were wavering;
and the soldiers had been stopped by telephone. Then following hard on
the last rumour came a sudden rush of worse news. A policeman had been
killed--two injured--the rioters had gained a footing in the market-hall,
and driven out both the police and the specials--and after all, the
soldiers had been sent for.
Helena wandered down to the gate of the farm lane opening on the main
road, consumed with restlessness and anxiety. If only they had let her go
with them! Buntingford's last look as he raised his hat to her before
departing, haunted her memory--the appeal in it, the unspoken message.
Might they not, after all, be friends? There seemed to be an exquisite
relaxation in the thought.
Another hour passed. Geoffrey French at last! He came on a motor bicycle,
and threw himself off beside her, breathless.
"Please get the car, Helena, and I'll go on with you. The town's safe.
The troops have arrived, and the rioters are scattering. The police have
made some arrests, and Philip believes the thing is over--or I shouldn't
have been allowed to come for you!"
"Why not?" said Helena half-indignantly, as they hurried towards the
barn in which the car had been driven. "Perhaps I might have been of
"No--you helped us best by staying here. The last hour's been pretty bad.
And now Philip wants you to take two wounded police to the Smeaton
Hospital--five miles. He'll go with you. They're badly hurt, I'm
afraid--there was some vicious stone-throwing."
"All right! Perhaps you don't know that's my job!"
French helped her get out the car.
"We shall want mattresses and stretcher boards," said Helena, surveying
it thoughtfully. "A doctor too and a nurse."
"Right you are. They've thought of all that. You'll find everything at
the market-hall,--where the two men are."
They drove away together, and into the outer streets of the town, where
now scarcely a soul was to be seen, though as the car passed, the windows
were crowded with heads. Police were everywhere, and the market-place--a
sorry sight of smoky wreck and ruin--was held by a cordon of soldiers,
behind which a crowd still looked on. French, sitting beside her, watched
the erect girl-driver, the excellence of her driving, the brain and skill
she was bringing to bear upon her "job." Here was the "new woman" indeed,
in her best aspect. He could not but compare the Helena of this
adventure--this competent and admirable Helena--with the girl of the
night before. Had the war produced the same dual personality in thousands
of English men and English women?--in the English nation itself?
They drew up at the steps of the market-hall, where a group of persons
were standing, including a nurse in uniform. Buntingford came forward,
and bending over the side of the car, said to Helena:
"Do you want to be relieved? There are several people here who could
drive the car."
"I want to take these men to hospital."
He smiled at her.
He turned back to speak to the doctor who was to accompany the car.
Helena jumped out, and went to consult with the nurse. In a very short
time, the car had been turned as far as possible into an ambulance, and
the wounded men were brought out.
"As gently as you can," said the doctor to Helena. "Are your
"The car's first-rate, and I'll do my best. I've been driving for nearly
a year, up to the other day." She pointed to her badge. The doctor nodded
approval, and he and the nurse took their places. Then Buntingford jumped
into the car, beside Helena.
"I'll show you the way. It won't take long."
In a few minutes, the car was in country lanes, and all the smoking
tumult of the town had vanished from sight and hearing. It had become
already indeed almost incredible, in the glow of the May afternoon,
and amid the hawthorn white of the hedges, the chattering birds that
fled before them, the marvellous green of the fields. Helena drove
with the deftness of a practised hand, avoiding ruts, going softly
over rough places.
"Good!" said Buntingford to her more than once--"that was excellent!"
But the suffering of the men behind overshadowed everything else, and it
was with a big breath of relief that Buntingford at last perceived the
walls of the county hospital rising out of a group of trees in front of
them. Helena brought the car gently to a standstill, and, jumping out,
was ready to help as a V. A. D. in the moving of the men. The hospital
had been warned by telephone, and all preparations had been made. When
the two unconscious men were safely in bed, the Dansworth doctor turned
warmly to Helena:
"I don't know what we should have done without you, Miss Pitstone! But
you look awfully tired. I hope you'll go home at once, and rest."
"I'm going to take her home--at once," said Buntingford. "We can't do
anything more, can we?"
"Nothing. And here's the matron with a message."
The message was from the mayor of Dansworth. "Situation well in hand. No
more trouble feared. Best thanks."
"All right!" said Buntingford. He turned smiling to Helena. "Now we'll go
home and get some dinner!"
The Dansworth doctor and nurse remained behind. Once more Buntingford got
into the car beside his ward.
"What an ass I am!" he said, in disgust--"not to be able to drive the
car. But I should probably kill you and myself."
Helena laughed at him, a new sweetness in the sound, and they started.
Presently Buntingford said gently:
"I want to thank you,--for one thing especially--for having waited so
patiently--while we got the thing under."
"I wasn't patient at all! I wanted desperately to be in it!"
"All the more credit! It would have been a terrible anxiety if you had
been there. A policeman was killed just beside us. There was a man with a
revolver running amuck. He just missed French by a hair-breadth."
Helena exclaimed in horror.
"You see--one puts the best face on it--but it might have been a terrible
business. But what I shall always remember most--is your part in it"
Their eyes met, hers half shy, half repentant, his full of a kindness she
had never yet seen there.
"Oh, what a jolly day! We've had a glorious ride," said Helena, throwing
herself down on the grass beside Mrs. Friend. "And how are you? Have you
been resting--or slaving--as you were _expressly_ forbidden to do?"
For Mrs. Friend had been enjoying a particularly bad cold and had not
long emerged from her bedroom, looking such a pitiful little wreck, that
both Lord Buntingford and Helena had been greatly concerned. In the five
weeks that had now elapsed since her arrival at Beechmark she had stolen
her quiet way into the liking of everybody in the house to such an extent
that, during the days she had been in bed with a high temperature, she
had been seriously missed in the daily life of the place, and the whole
household had actively combined to get her well again. Mrs. Mawson had
fed her; and Lucy Friend was aghast to think how much her convalescence
must be costing her employer in milk, eggs, butter, cream and chickens,
when all such foods were still so frightfully, abominably dear. But they
were forced down her throat by Helena and the housekeeper; while Lord
Buntingford enquired after her every morning, and sent her a reckless
supply of illustrated papers and novels. To see her now in the library or
on the lawn again, with her white shawl round her, and the usual
needlework on her knee, was a pleasant sight to everybody in the house.
The little lady had not only won this place for herself by the sweet and
selfless gift which was her natural endowment; she was becoming the
practical helper of everybody, of Mrs. Mawson in the house, of old Fenn
in the garden, even of Buntingford himself, who was gradually falling
into the habit of letting her copy important letters for him, and keep
some order in the library. She was not in the least clever or
accomplished; but her small fingers seemed to have magic in them; and her
good will was inexhaustible.
Helena had grown amazingly fond of her. She appealed to something
maternal and protecting in the girl's strong nature. Since her mother's
death, there had been a big streak of loneliness in Helena's heart,
though she would have suffered tortures rather than confess it; and
little Lucy Friend's companionship filled a void. She must needs respect
Lucy's conscience, Lucy's instincts had more than once shamed her own.
"What are you going to wear to-night?" said Mrs. Friend, softly smoothing
back the brown hair from the girl's hot brow.
"Pale green and apple-blossom."
Lucy Friend smiled, as though already she had a vision of the
"That'll be delicious," she said, with enthusiasm.
"Lucy!--am I good-looking?"
The girl spoke half wistfully, half defiantly, her eyes fixed on Lucy.
Mrs. Friend laughed.
"I asked that question before I had seen you."
"Of whom?" said Helena eagerly. "You didn't see anybody but Cousin Philip
before I arrived. Tell me, Lucy--tell me at once."
Mrs. Friend kept a smiling silence for a minute. At last she said--"Lord
Buntingford showed me a portrait of you before you arrived."
"A portrait of me? There isn't one in the house! Lucy, you deceiver, what
do you mean?"
"I was taken to see one in the hall."
A sudden light dawned on Helena.
"The Romney? No! And I've been showing it to everybody as the loveliest
Helena's face composed itself.
"I don't know why I should be flattered. She was a horrid minx. That no
doubt was what the likeness consisted in!"
Mrs. Friend laughed, but said nothing. Helena rose from the grass,
pausing to say as she turned towards the house:
"We're going to dance in the drawing-room, Mawson says. They've
"Doesn't it look nice?"
Helena assented. "Let me see--" she added slowly--"this is the third
dance, isn't it, since I came?"
"I don't think we need have another"--the tone was decided, almost
impatient--"at least when this party's over."
Mrs. Friend opened her eyes.
"I thought you liked to dance every week-end?"
"Well--ye-es--amongst ourselves. I didn't mean to turn the house
upside-down every week."
"Well, you see--the house-parties have been so large. And besides there
have been neighbours."
"I didn't ask _them_," said Helena. "But--we won't have another--till we
go to Town."
"Very well. It might be wise. The servants are rather tired, and if they
give warning, we shall never get any more!"
Mrs. Friend watched the retreating figure of Helena. There had indeed
been a dizzy succession of week-end parties, and it seemed to her that
Lord Buntingford's patience under the infliction had been simply
miraculous. For they rarely contained friends of his own; his lameness
cut him off from dancing; and it had been clear to Lucy Friend that in
many cases Helena's friends had been sharply distasteful to him. He
was, in Mrs. Friend's eyes, a strange mixture as far as social
standards were concerned. A boundless leniency in some cases; the
sternest judgment in others.
For instance, a woman he had known from childhood had lately left her
husband, carried off her children, and joined her lover. Lord Buntingford
was standing, stoutly by her, helping her in her divorce proceedings,
paying for the education of the children, and defending her whenever he
heard her attacked. On the other hand, his will had been iron in the
matter of Lord Donald, whose exposure as co-respondent in the
particularly disreputable case had been lately filling the newspapers.
Mrs. Friend had seen Helena take up the _Times_ on one of the days on
which the evidence in this case had appeared, and fling it down again
with a flush and a look of disgust. But since the day of the Dansworth
riot, she had never mentioned Lord Donald's name.
Certainly the relations between her and her guardian had curiously
changed. In the first place, since her Dansworth adventure, Helena had
found something to do to think about other than quarrelling with "Cousin
Philip." Her curiosity as to how the two wounded police, whom she had
driven to the County Hospital that day, might be faring had led to her
going over there two or three times a week, either to relieve an
overworked staff, or to drive convalescent soldiers, still under
treatment in the wards.
The occupation had been a godsend to her, and everybody else. She still
talked revolution, and she was always ready to spar with Lord
Buntingford, or other people. But all the same Lucy Friend was often
aware of a much more tractable temper, a kind of hesitancy--and
appeasement--which, even if it passed away, made her beauty, for the
moment, doubly attractive.
Was it, after all, the influence of Lord Buntingford--and was the event
justifying her mother's strange provision for her? He had certainly
treated her with a wonderful kindness and indulgence. Of late he had
returned to his work at the Admiralty, only coming down to Beechmark for
long week-ends from Friday to Monday. But in these later week-ends he had
gradually abandoned the detached and half-sarcastic attitude which he had
originally assumed towards Helena, and it seemed to Lucy Friend that he
was taking his function towards her with a new seriousness. If so, it had
affected himself at least as much as the proud and difficult girl whose
guidance had been so hurriedly thrust upon him. His new role had brought
out in him unexpected resources, or revived old habits. For instance he
had not ridden for years; though, as a young man, and before his
accident, he had been a fine horseman. But he now rode whenever he was at
Beechmark, to show Helena the country; and they both looked so well on
horseback that it was a pleasure of which Lucy Friend never tired to
watch them go and to welcome them home.
Then the fact that he was a trained artist, which most of his friends had
forgotten, became significant again for Helena's benefit. She had some
aptitude, and more ambition--would indeed, but for the war, have been a
South Kensington student, and had long cherished yearnings for the Slade.
He set her work to do during the week, and corrected it with professional
sharpness when he reappeared.
And more important perhaps than either the riding or the drawing, was the
partial relaxation for her benefit of the reserve and taciturnity which
had for years veiled the real man from those who liked and respected him
most. He never indeed talked of himself or his past; but he would discuss
affairs, opinions, books--especially on their long rides together--with a
frankness, and a tone of gay and equal comradeship, which, or so Mrs.
Friend imagined, had had a disarming and rather bewildering effect on
Helena. The girl indeed seemed often surprised and excited. It was
evident that they had never got on during her mother's lifetime, and that
his habitual bantering or sarcastic tone towards her while she was still
in the school-room had roused an answering resentment in her. Hence the
aggressive mood in which, after two or three months of that half-mad
whirl of gaiety into which London had plunged after the Armistice, she
had come down to Beechmark.
They still jarred, sometimes seriously; Helena was often provocative and
aggressive; and Buntingford could make a remark sting without intending
it. But on the whole Lucy Friend felt that she was watching something
which had in it possibilities of beauty; indeed of a rather touching and
rare development. But not at all as the preliminary to a love-affair. In
Buntingford's whole relation to his ward, Lucy Friend, at least, had
never yet detected the smallest sign of male susceptibility. It suggested
something quite different. Julian Horne, who had taken a great fancy to
Helena's chaperon, was now recommending books to her instead of to
Helena, who always forgot or disobeyed his instructions. With a little
preliminary lecture, he had put the "Greville Memoirs" in her hands by
way of improving her mind; and she had been struck by a passage in which
Greville describes Lord Melbourne's training of the young Queen Victoria,
whose Prime Minister he was. The man of middle-age, accomplished, cynical
and witty, suddenly confronted with a responsibility which challenged
both his heart and his conscience--and that a responsibility towards an
attractive young girl whom he could neither court nor command, towards
whom his only instrument was the honesty and delicacy of his own
purpose:--there was something in this famous, historical situation which
seemed to throw a light on the humbler situation at Beechmark.
Four o'clock! In another hour the Whitsuntide party for which the house
stood ready would have arrived. Helena's particular "pals" were all
coming, and various friends and kinsfolk of Lord Buntingford's; including
Lady Mary Chance, a general or two, some Admiralty officials, and one or
two distinguished sailors with the halo of Zeebrugge about them. The
gathering was to last nearly a week. Mrs. Mawson had engaged two extra
servants, and the master of the house had resigned himself. But he had
laid it down that the fare was to be simple--and "no champagne." And
though of course there would be plenty of bridge, he had given a hint to
Vivian Lodge, who, as his heir-apparent, was his natural aide-de-camp in
the management of the party, that anything like high play would be
unwelcome. Some of Helena's friends during the latter week-ends of May
had carried things to extremes.
Meanwhile the social and political sky was darkening in the June England.
Peace was on the point of being signed in Paris; but the industrial war
at home weighed on every thinking mind. London was dancing night after
night; money was being spent like water; and yet every man and woman of
sense knew that the only hope for Britain lay in work and saving.
Buntingford's habitual frown--the frown not of temper but of
oppression--had grown deeper; and on their long rides together he had
shown a great deal of his mind to Helena--the mind of a patriot full of
fear for his country.
A man came across the lawn. Lucy Friend was glad to recognize Geoffrey
French, who was a great favourite with her.
"You are early!" she said, as they greeted.
"I came down by motor-bike. London is hateful, and I was in a hurry to
get out of it. Where is Helena?"
"Gone to change her dress. She has been riding."
Frank mopped his brow in silence for a little. Then he said with the
half-mischievous smile which in Lucy Friend's eyes was one of his chief
"How you and Philip have toned her down!"
"Oh, not I!" said Lucy, her modesty distressed. "I've always admired her
so! Of course--I was sometimes surprised--"
"I daresay we shall all be surprised a good many times yet?" Then he
moved a little closer to the small person, who was becoming everybody's
confidante. "Do you mind telling me something--if you know it?" he said,
lowering his voice.
"Ask me--but I can't promise!"
"Do you think Helena has quite made up her mind not to marry Dale?"
Mrs. Friend hesitated.
"I don't know--"
"But what do you think?"
She lifted her gentle face, under his compulsion, and slowly, pitifully
shook her head.
Geoffrey drew a long breath.
"Then she oughtn't to ask him here! The poor little fellow is going
through the tortures of the damned!"
"Oh, I'm so sorry. Isn't there anything we can do?" cried Mrs. Friend.
"Nothing--but keep him away. After all he's only the first victim."
Startled by the note in her companion's voice, Mrs. Friend turned to look
at him. He forced a smile, as their eyes met.
"Oh, we must all take our chance! But Peter's not the boy he was--before
the war. Things bowl him over easily."
"She likes him so much," murmured Lucy. "I'm sure she never means to
"She isn't unkind!" said Geoffrey with energy. "It's the natural fated
thing. We are all the slaves of her car and she knows it. When she was in
the stage of quarrelling with us all, it was just fun. But if Helena
grows as delicious--as she promised to be last week--" He shrugged his
shoulders, with a deep breath--"Well,--she'll have to marry somebody some
day--and the rest of us may drown! Only, if you're to be umpire--and she
likes you so much that I expect you will be--play fair!"
He held out his hand, and she put hers into it, astonished to realize
that her own eyes were full of tears.
"I'm a mass of dust--I must go and change before tea," he said abruptly.
He went into the house, and she was left to some agitated thinking.
An hour later, the broad lawns of Beechmark, burnt yellow by the May
drought, were alive with guests, men in khaki and red tabs, fresh from
their War Office work; two naval Commanders, and a resplendent
Flag-Lieutenant; a youth in tennis flannels, just released from a city
office, who seven months earlier had been fighting in the last advance of
the war, and a couple of cadets who had not been old enough to fight at
all; girls who had been "out" before the war, and two others, Helena's
juniors, who were just leaving the school-room and seemed to be all aglow
with the excitement and wonder of this peace-world; a formidable
grey-haired woman, who was Lady Mary Chance; Cynthia and Georgina Welwyn,
and the ill-dressed, arresting figure of Mr. Alcott. Not all were
Buntingford's guests; some were staying at the Cottage, some in another
neighbouring house; but Beechmark represented the headquarters of a
gathering of which Helena Pitstone and her guardian were in truth the
Helena in white, playing tennis; Helena with a cigarette, resting between
her sets, and chaffing with a ring of dazzled young men; Helena talking
wild nonsense with Geoffrey French, for the express purpose of shocking
Lady Mary Chance; and the next minute listening with a deference graceful
enough to turn even the seasoned head of a warrior to a grey-haired
general describing the taking of the Vimy Ridge; and finally, Helena,
holding a dancing class under the cedars on the yellow smoothness of the
lawn, after tea, for such young men as panted to conquer the mysteries of
"hesitation" or jazzing, and were ardently courting instruction in the
desperate hope of capturing their teacher for a dance that night:--it was
on these various avatars of Helena that the whole party turned; and Lady
Mary indignantly felt that there was no escaping the young woman.
"Why do you let her smoke--and paint--and _swear_--I declare I heard her
swear!" she said in Buntingford's ear, as the dressing-bell rang, and he
was escorting her to the house. "And mark my words, Philip--men may be
amused by that kind of girl, but they won't marry her."
"As Helena's guardian I'm not particularly anxious about that!"