Part 4 out of 5
Buntingford and French reached home between ten and eleven o'clock. When
they entered the house, they heard sounds of music from the drawing-room.
Peter Dale was playing fragments from the latest musical comedy, with a
whistled accompaniment on the drawing-room piano. There seemed to be
nothing else audible in the house, in spite of the large party it
contained. Amid the general hush, unbroken by a voice or a laugh, the
"funny bits" that Peter was defiantly thumping or whistling made a kind
of goblin chorus round a crushed and weary man, as he pushed past the
door of the drawing-room to the library. Geoffrey followed him.
"No one knows it yet," said the young man, closing the door behind them.
"I had no authority from you to say anything. But of course they all
understood that something strange had happened. Can I be any help with
the others, while--"
"While I tell Helena?" said Buntingford, heavily. "Yes. Better get it
over. Say, please--I should be grateful for no more talk than is
Geoffrey stood by awkwardly, not knowing how to express the painful
sympathy he felt. His very pity made him abrupt.
"I am to say--that you always believed--she was dead?"
Under what name to speak of the woman lying at the Rectory puzzled him.
The mere admission of the thought that however completely in the realm of
morals she might have forfeited his name, she was still Buntingford's
wife in the realm of law, seemed an outrage.
At the question, Buntingford sprang up suddenly from the seat on which he
had fallen; and Geoffrey, who was standing near him involuntarily
retreated a few steps, in amazement at the passionate animation which for
the moment had transformed the whole aspect of the elder man.
"Yes, you may say so--you must say so! There is no other account you can
give of it!--no other account I can authorize you to give it. It is
four-fifths true--and no one in this house--not even you--has any right
to press me further. At the same time, I am not going to put even the
fraction of a lie between myself and you, Geoffrey, for you have been--a
dear fellow--to me!" He put his hand a moment on Geoffrey's shoulder,
withdrawing it instantly. "The point is--what would have come about--if
this had not happened? That is the test. And I can't give a perfectly
clear answer." He began to pace the room--thinking aloud. "I have been
very anxious--lately--to marry. I have been so many years alone; and
I--well, there it is!--I have suffered from it, physically and morally;
more perhaps than other men might have suffered. And lately--you must try
and understand me, Geoffrey!--although I had doubts--yes, deep down, I
still had doubts--whether I was really free--I have been much more ready
to believe than I used to be, that I might now disregard the
doubts--silence them!--for good and all. It has been my obsession--you
may say now my temptation. Oh! the divorce court would probably have
freed me--have allowed me to presume my wife's death after these fifteen
years. But the difficulty lay in my own conscience. Was I certain? No! I
was not certain! Anna's ways and standards were well known to me. I could
imagine various motives which might have induced her to deceive me. At
the same time"--he stopped and pointed to his writing-table--"these
drawers are stuffed full of reports and correspondence, from agents all
over Europe, whom I employed in the years before the war to find out
anything they could. I cannot accuse myself of any deliberate or wilful
ignorance. I made effort after effort--in vain. I was entitled--at
last--it often seemed to me to give up the effort, to take my freedom.
But then"--his voice dropped--"I thought of the woman I might love--and
wish to marry. I should indeed have told her everything, and the law
might have been ready to protect us. But if Anna still lived, and were
suddenly to reappear in my life--what a situation!--for a sensitive,
"It would have broken--spoiled--everything!" said Geoffrey, under his
breath, but with emphasis. He was leaning against the mantelpiece, and
his face was hidden from his companion. Buntingford threw him a strange,
"You are right--you are quite right. Yet I believe, Geoffrey, I might
have committed that wrong--but for this--what shall I call it?--this 'act
of God' that has happened to me. Don't misunderstand me!" He came to
stand beside his nephew, and spoke with intensity. "It was _only_ a
possibility--and there is no guilt on my conscience. I have no real
person in my mind. But any day I might have failed my own sense of
justice--my own sense of honour--sufficiently--to let a woman risk it!"
Geoffrey thought of one woman--if not two women--who would have risked
it. His heart was full of Helena. It was as though he could only
appreciate the situation as it affected her. How deep would the blow
strike, when she knew? He turned to look at Buntingford, who had resumed
his restless walk up and down the room, realizing with mingled affection
and reluctance the charm of his physical presence, the dark head, the
kind deep eyes, the melancholy selfishness that seemed to enwrap him.
Yet all the time he had not been selfless! There had been no individual
woman in the case. But none the less, he had been consumed with the same
personal longing--the same love of loving; the _amor amandi_--as other
men. That was a discovery. It brought him nearer to the young man's
tenderness; but it made the chance of a misunderstanding on Helena's
"Shall I tell Helena you would like to speak to her?" he said, breaking
Philip, left alone, tried to collect his thoughts. He did not conceal
from himself what had been implied rather than said by Geoffrey. The hint
had startled and disquieted him. But he could not believe it had any real
substance; and certainly he felt himself blameless. A creature so
radiant, with the world at her feet!--and he, prematurely aged, who had
seemed to her, only a few weeks ago, a mere old fogy in her path! That
she should have reconsidered her attitude towards him, was surely
natural, considering all the pains he had taken to please her. But as to
Latterly, indeed, since she had come to that tacit truce with Jim, he was
well aware how much her presence in his house had added to the pleasant
moments of daily life. In winning her good will, in thinking for her, in
trying to teach her, in watching the movements of her quick untrained
intelligence and the various phases of her enchanting beauty, he had
found not only a new occupation, but a new joy. Rachel's prophecy for him
had begun to realize itself. And, all the time, his hopes as to
Geoffrey's success with her had been steadily rising. He and Geoffrey had
indeed been at cross-purposes, if Geoffrey really believed what he seemed
to believe! But it was nothing--it could be nothing--but the fantasy of a
lover, starting at a shadow.
And suddenly his mind, as he stood waiting, plunged into matters which
were not shadows--but palpitating realities. _His son_!--whom he was to
see on the morrow. He believed the word of the woman who had been his
wife. Looking back on her character with all its faults, he did not think
she would have been capable of a malicious lie, at such a moment. Forty
miles away then, there was a human being waiting and suffering, to whom
his life had given life. Excitement--yearning--beat through his pulses.
He already felt the boy in his arms; was already conscious of the ardour
with which every device of science should be called in, to help restore
to him, not only his son's body, but his mind.
There was a low tap at the door. He recalled his thoughts and went
to open it.
He took her hand and led her in. She had changed her white dress of the
afternoon for a little black frock, one of her mourning dresses for her
mother, with a bunch of flame-coloured roses at her waist. The
semi-transparent folds of the black brought out the brilliance of the
white neck and shoulders, the pale carnations of the face, the beautiful
hair, following closely the contours of the white brow. Even through all
his pain and preoccupation, Buntingford admired; was instantly conscious
of the sheer pleasure of her beauty. But it was the pleasure of an
artist, an elder brother--a father even. Her mother was in his mind, and
the strong affection he had begun to feel for his ward was shot through
and through by the older tenderness.
"Sit there, dear," he said, pushing forward a chair. "Has Geoffrey told
"No. He said you wanted to tell me something yourself, and he would speak
to the others."
She was very pale, and the hand he touched was cold. But she was
He sat down in front of her collecting his thoughts.
"Something has happened, Helena, to-day--this very evening--which must--I
fear--alter all your plans and mine. The poor woman whom Geoffrey saw in
the wood, whose bag you found, was just able to make her escape, when you
and Geoffrey landed. She wandered about the rest of the night, and in the
early morning she asked for shelter--being evidently ill--at the Rectory,
but it was not till this evening that she made a statement which induced
them to send for me. Helena!--what did your mother ever tell you about my
"She told me very little--only that you had married someone abroad--when
you were studying in Paris--and that she was dead."
Buntingford covered his eyes with his hand.
"I told your mother, Helena, all I knew. I concealed nothing from
her--both what I knew--and what I didn't know."
He paused, to take from his pocket a small leather case and to extract
from it a newspaper cutting. He handed it to her. It was from the first
column of the _Times_, was dated 1907, and contained the words:--"On July
19th at Lyons, France, Anna, wife of Philip Bliss, aged 28."
Helena read it, and looked up. Buntingford anticipated the words that
were on her lips.
"Wait a moment!--let me go on. I read that announcement in the _Times_,
Helena, three years after my wife had deserted me. I had spent those
three years, first in recovering from a bad accident, and then in
wandering about trying to trace her. Naturally, I went off to Lyons at
once, and could discover--nothing! The police there did all they could to
help me--our own Embassy in Paris got at the Ministry of the
Interior--useless! I recovered the original notice and envelope from the
_Times_. Both were typewritten, and the Lyons postmark told us no more
than the notice had already told. I could only carry on my search, and
for some years afterwards, even after I had returned to London, I spent
the greater part of all I earned and possessed upon it. About that time
my friendship with your mother began. She was already ill, and spent most
of her life--as you remember--except for those two or three invalid
winters in Italy--in that little drawing-room, I knew so well. I could
always be sure of finding her at home; and gradually--as you
recollect--she became my best friend. She was the only person in England
who knew the true story of my marriage. She always suspected, from the
time she first heard of it, that the notice in the _Times_--"
Helena made a quick movement forward. Her lips parted.
"--was not true?"
Buntingford took her hand again, and they looked at each other, she
"And the woman last night?" she said, breathlessly--"was she someone who
knew--who could tell you the truth?"
"She was my wife--herself!"
Helena withdrew her hand.
"How strange!--how strange!" She covered her eyes. There was a silence.
After it, Buntingford resumed:
"Has Geoffrey told you the first warning of it--you left this room?"
He described the incident of the sketch.
"It was a drawing I had made of her only a few weeks before she left me.
I had no idea it was in that portfolio. We had scarcely time to put it
away before Mr. Alcott's note arrived--sending for me at once."
Helena's hands had dropped, while she hung upon his story. And a
wonderful unconscious sweetness had stolen into her expression. Her young
heart was in her eyes.
"Oh, I am so glad--so glad--you had that warning!"
Buntingford was deeply touched.
"You dear child!" he said in a rather choked voice, and, rising, he
walked away from her to the further end of the room. When he returned, he
found a pale and thoughtful Helena.
"Of course, Cousin Philip, this will make a great change--in your
life--and in mine."
He stood silently before her--preferring that she should make her own
"I think--I ought to go away at once. Thanks to you--I have Mrs.
Friend--who is such a dear."
"There is the London house, Helena. You can make any use of it you like."
"No, I think not," she said resolutely. Then with an odd laugh which
recalled an earlier Helena--"I don't expect Lucy Friend would want to
have the charge of me in town; and you too--perhaps--would still be
responsible--and bothered about me--if I were in your house."
Buntingford could not help a smile.
"My responsibility scarcely depends--does it--upon where you are?" Then
his voice deepened. "I desire, wherever you are, to cherish and care for
you--in your mother's place. I can't say what a joy it has been to me to
have you here."
"No!--that's nonsense!--ridiculous!--" she said, suddenly breaking down,
and dashing the tears from her eyes.
"It's very true," he said gently. "You've been the dearest pupil, and
forgiven me all my pedantic ways. But if not London--I will arrange
anything you wish."
She turned away, evidently making a great effort not to weep. He too was
much agitated, and for a little while he busied himself with some letters
on his table.
When, at her call, he returned to her, she said, quite in her
"I should like to go somewhere--to some beautiful place--and draw. That
would take a month--perhaps. Then we can settle." After a pause, she
added without hesitation--"And you?--what is going to happen?"
"It depends--upon whether it's life at the Rectory--or death."
She was evidently startled, but said nothing, only gave him her beautiful
eyes again, and her unspoken sympathy.
Then an impulse which seemed invincible came upon him to be really frank
with her--to tell her more.
"It depends, also,--upon something else. But this I asked Geoffrey not
to tell the others in the drawing-room--just yet--and I ask you the
same. Of course you may tell Mrs. Friend." She saw his face work with
emotion. "Helena, this woman that was my wife declares to me--that I
have a son living."
He saw the light of amazement that rushed into her face, and hurried
on:--"But in the same breath that she tells me that, she tells me the
tragedy that goes with it." And hardly able to command his voice, he
repeated what had been told him.
"Of course everything must be enquired into--verified. I go to town
to-morrow--with Ramsay. Possibly I shall bring him back--perhaps to
Ramsay's care, for the moment. Possibly, I shall leave him with
someone in town."
"Couldn't I help," she said, after a moment, "if I stayed?"
"No, no!" he said with repugnance, which was almost passion. "I couldn't
lay such a burden upon you, or any young creature. You must go and be
happy, dear Helena--it is your duty to be happy! And this home for a time
will be a tragic one. Well, but now, where would you like to go? Will you
and Geoffrey and Mrs. Friend consult? I will leave any money you want in
"You mean"--she said abruptly--"that I really ought to go at
"Wouldn't it be best? It troubles me to think of you here--under the
shadow--of this thing."
"I see!--I see! All right. You are going to London to-morrow morning?"
She had risen, and was moving towards the door.
"Yes, I shall go to the Rectory first for news. And then on to the
She paused a moment.
"And if--if she--I don't know what to call her--if she lives?"
"Well, then--I must be free," he said, gravely; adding immediately--"She
passed for fifteen years after she left me as the wife of an Italian I
used to know. It would be very quickly arranged. I should provide for
her--and keep my boy. But all that is uncertain."
"Yes, I understand." She held out her hand. "Cousin Philip--I am awfully
sorry for you. I--I realized--somehow--only after I'd come down
here--that you must have had--things in your life--to make you unhappy.
And you've been so nice--so awfully nice to me! I just want to thank
you--with all my heart."
And before he could prevent her, she had seized his hands and kissed
them. Then she rushed to the door, turning to show him a face between
tears and laughter.
"There!--I've paid you back!"
And with that she vanished.
Helena was going blindly through the hall, towards her own room, when
Peter Dale emerged from the shadows. He caught her as she passed.
"Let me have just a word, Helena! You know, everything will be broken up
here. I only want to say my mother would just adore to have you for the
season. We'd all make it nice for you--we'd be your slaves--just let me
wire to Mater to-morrow morning."
"No, thank you, Peter. Please--please! don't stop me! I want to see
"Helena, do think of it!" he implored.
"No, I can't. It's impossible!" she said, almost fiercely. "Let me go,
He stood, a picture of misery, at the foot of the stairs watching her run
up. Then at the top she turned, ran down a few steps again, kissed her
hand to him, and vanished, the bright buckles on her shoes flashing along
the gallery overhead.
But in the further corner of the gallery she nearly ran into the arms of
Geoffrey French, who was waiting for her outside her room.
"Is it too late, Helena--for me to have just a few words in your
He caught hold of her. The light just behind him showed him a tense and
"Yes--it is much too late! I can't talk now."
"Only a few words?"
"No"--she panted--"no!--Geoffrey, I shall _hate_ you if you don't
let me go!"
It seemed to her that everybody was in league to stand between her and
the one thing she craved for--to be alone and in the dark.
She snatched her dress out of his grasp, and he fell back.
She slipped into her own room, and locked the door. He shook his head,
and went slowly downstairs. He found Peter pacing the hall, and they went
out into the June dark together, a discomfited pair.
Meanwhile Mrs. Friend waited for Helena. She heard voices in the passage
and the locking of Helena's door. She was still weak from her illness, so
it seemed wisest to get into bed. But she had no hope or intention of
sleep. She sat up in bed, with a shawl round her, certain that Helena
would come. She was in a ferment of pity and fear,--she scarcely knew
why--fear for the young creature she had come to love with all her heart;
and she strained her ears to catch the sound of an opening door.
But Helena did not come. Through her open window Lucy could hear steps
along the terrace coming and going--to and fro. Then they ceased; all
sounds in the house ceased. The church clock in the distance struck
midnight, and a little owl close to the house shrieked and wailed like a
human thing, to the torment of Lucy's nerves. A little later she was
aware of Buntingford coming upstairs, and going to his room on the
further side of the gallery.
Then, nothing. Deep silence--that seemed to flow through the house and
all its rooms and passages like a submerging flood.
Except!--What was that sound, in the room next to hers--in Helena's room?
Lucy Friend got up trembling, put on a dressing-gown, and laid an ear
to the wall between her and Helena. It was a thin wall, mostly indeed a
panelled partition, belonging to an old bit of the house, in which the
building was curiously uneven in quality--sometimes inexplicably
strong, and sometimes mere lath and plaster, as though the persons,
building or re-building, had come to an end of their money and were
scamping their work.
Lucy, from the other side of the panels, had often heard Helena singing
while she dressed, or chattering to the housemaid. She listened now in an
anguish, her mind haunted alternately by the recollection of the scene in
the drawing-room, and the story told by Geoffrey French, and by her
rising dread and misgiving as to Helena's personal stake in it. She had
observed much during the preceding weeks. But her natural timidity and
hesitancy had forbidden her so far to draw hasty deductions. And
now--perforce!--she drew them.
The sounds in the next room seemed to communicate their rhythm of pain to
Lucy's own heart. She could not bear it after a while. She noiselessly
opened her own door, and went to Helena's. To her scarcely audible knock
there was no answer. After an interval she knocked again--a pause. Then
there were movements inside, and Helena's muffled voice through the door.
"Please, Lucy, go to sleep! I am all right."
"I can't sleep. Won't you let me in?"
Helena seemed to consider. But after an interval which seemed
interminable to Lucy Friend, the key was slowly turned and the
Helena was standing inside, but there was so little light in the room
that Lucy could only see her dimly. The moon was full outside, but the
curtains had been drawn across the open window, and only a few faint rays
came through. As Mrs. Friend entered Helena turned from her, and groping
her way back to the bed, threw herself upon it, face downwards. It was
evidently the attitude from which she had risen.
Lucy Friend followed her, trembling, and sat down beside her. Helena was
still fully dressed, except for her hair, which had escaped from combs
and hairpins. As her eyes grew used to the darkness, Lucy could see it
lying, a dim mass on the white pillow, also a limp hand upturned. She
seized the hand and cherished it in hers.
"You are so cold, dear! Mayn't I cover you up and help you into bed?"
No answer. She found a light eiderdown that had been thrown aside, and
covered the prone figure, gently chafing the cold hands and feet. After
what seemed a long time, Helena, who had been quite still, said in a
voice she had to stoop to hear:
"I suppose you heard me crying. Please, Lucy, go back to bed. I won't cry
"Dear--mayn't I stay?"
"Well, then--you must come and lie beside me. I am a brute to keep
"Won't you undress?"
"Please let me be! I'll try and go to sleep."
Lucy slipped her own slight form under the wide eiderdown. There was a
long silence, at the end of which Helena said:
"I'm only--sorry--it's all come to an end--here."
But with the words the girl's self-control again failed her. A deep sob
shook her from head to foot. Lucy with the tears on her own cheeks, hung
over her, soothing and murmuring to her as a mother might have done. But
the sob had no successor, and presently Helena said faintly--"Good-night,
Lucy. I'm warm now. I'm going to sleep."
Lucy listened for the first long breaths of sleep, and seemed to hear
them, just as the dawn was showing itself, and the dawn-wind was pushing
at the curtains. But she herself did not sleep. This young creature lying
beside her, with her full passionate life, seemed to have absolutely
absorbed her own. She felt and saw with Helena. Through the night,
visions came and went--of "Cousin Philip,"--the handsome, melancholy,
courteous man, and of all his winning ways with the girl under his care,
when once she had dropped her first foolish quarrel with him, and made it
possible for him to show without reserve the natural sweetness and
chivalry of his character. Buntingford and Helena riding, their
well-matched figures disappearing under the trees, the sun glancing from
the glossy coats of their horses; Helena, drawing in some nook of the
park, her face flushed with the effort to satisfy her teacher, and
Buntingford bending over her; or again, Helena dancing, in pale green and
apple-blossom, while Buntingford leaned against the wall, watching her
with folded arms, and eyes that smiled over her conquests.
It all grew clear to Lucy--Helena's gradual capture, and the innocence,
the unconsciousness, of her captor. Her own shrewdness, nevertheless, put
the same question as Buntingford's conscience. Could he ever have been
quite sure of his freedom? Yet he had taken the risks of a free man. But
she could not, she did not blame him. She could only ask herself the
breathless question that French had already asked:
"How far has it gone with her? How deep is the wound?"
Cynthia and Georgina Welwyn were dining at Beechmark on the eventful
evening. They took their departure immediately after the scene in the
drawing-room when Geoffrey French, at his cousin's wish, gathered
Buntingford's guests together, and revealed the identity of the woman in
the wood. In the hurried conversation that followed, Cynthia scarcely
joined, and she was more than ready when Georgina proposed to go. Julian
Horne found them their wraps, and saw them off. It was a beautiful night,
and they were to walk home through the park.
"Shall I bring you any news there is to-morrow?" said Horne from the
doorstep--"Geoffrey has asked me to stay till the evening. Everybody else
of course is going early. It will be some time, won't it,"--he lowered
his voice--"before we shall see the bearing of all this?"
Cynthia assented, rather coldly; and when she and her sister were walking
through the moonlit path leading to the cottage, her silence was still
marked, whereas Georgina in her grim way was excited and eager to talk.
The truth was that Cynthia was not only agitated by the news of the
evening. She was hurt--bitterly hurt. Could not Buntingford have spared
her a word in private? She was his kinswoman, his old and particular
friend, neglectful as he had shown himself during the war. Had he not
only a few weeks before come to ask her help with the trouble-some girl
whose charge he had assumed? She had been no good, she knew. Helena had
not been ready to make friends; and Cynthia's correctness had always been
repelled by the reckless note in Helena. Yet she had done her best on
that and other occasions and she had been rewarded by being treated in
this most critical, most agitated moment like any other of Buntingford's
week-end guests. Not a special message even--just the news that everybody
might now know, and--Julian Horne to see them off! Yet Helena had been
sent for at once. Helena had been closeted with Philip for half an hour.
No doubt he had a special responsibility towards her. But what use could
she possibly be? Whereas Cynthia felt herself the practical, experienced
woman, able to give an old friend any help he might want in a grave
"Of course we must all hope she will die--and die quickly!" said Lady
Georgina, with energy, after some remarks to which Cynthia paid small
attention. "It would be the only sensible course for Providence--after
making such a terrible mistake."
"Is there any idea of her dying?" Cynthia looked down upon her sister
with astonishment. "Geoffrey didn't say so."
"He said she was 'very ill,' and from her conduct she must be crazy. So
"You mean, for Philip?"
"For the world in general," said Georgina, cautiously, with an unnoticed
glance at her companion. "But of course Philip has only himself to blame.
Why did he marry such a woman?"
"She may have been very beautiful--or charming--you don't know."
Lady Georgina shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, of course there must have been something to bait the hook! But
when a man marries out of his own class, unless the woman dies, the man
goes to pieces."
"Philip has not gone to pieces!" cried Cynthia indignantly.
"Because she removed herself. For practical purposes that was as good as
dying. He has much to be grateful for. Suppose she had come home with
him! She would have ruined him socially and morally."
"And if she doesn't die," said Cynthia slowly, "what will Philip do
"Ship her off to America, as she asks him, and prove a few little facts
in the divorce court--simple enough! It oughtn't to take him much more
than six months to get free--which he never has been yet!" added
Georgina, with particular emphasis.
"It's a mercy, my dear, that you didn't just happen to be Lady
"As if I had ever expected to be!" said Cynthia, much nettled.
"Well, you would, and you wouldn't have been!" said Georgina
obstinately. "It's very complicated. You would have had to be married
again--after the divorce."
"I don't know why you are so unkind, Georgie!" There was a little
quaver in Cynthia's voice. "Philip's a very old friend of mine, and I'm
very sorry and troubled about him. Why do you smirch it all with these
"I won't make any more, if you don't like them," said Georgina,
unabashed--"except just to say this, Cynthia--for the first time I
begin to believe in your chance. There was always something not cleared
up about Philip, and it might have turned out to be something past
mending. Now it is cleared up; and it's bad--but it might have been
worse. However--we'll change the subject. What about that handsome
young woman, Helena?"
"Now, if you'd chanced to say it was a mercy _she_ didn't happen to be
Lady Buntingford, there'd have been some sense in it!" Cynthia's tone
betrayed the soreness within.
Lady Georgina laughed, or rather chuckled.
"I know Philip a great deal better than you do, my dear, though he is
your friend. He has made himself, I suspect, as usual, much too nice to
that child; and he may think himself lucky if he hasn't broken her
heart. He isn't a flirt--I agree. But he produces the same
effect--without meaning it. Without meaning anything indeed--except to
be good and kind to a young thing. The men with Philip's manners and
Philip's charm--thank goodness, there aren't many of them!--have an
abominable responsibility. The poor moth flops into the candle before
she knows where she is. But as to marrying her--it has never entered his
head for a moment, and never would."
"And why shouldn't it, please?"
"Because she is much too young for him--and Philip is a tired man.
Haven't you seen that, Cynthy? Before you knew him, Philip had
exhausted his emotions--that's my reading of him. I don't for a moment
believe his wife was the only one, if what Geoffrey said of her, and
what one guesses, is true. She would never have contented him. And now
it's done. If he ever marries now, it will be for peace--not passion.
As I said before, Cynthy--and I mean no offence--your chances are
better than they were."
Cynthia winced and protested again, but all the same she was secretly
soothed by her odd sister's point of view. They began to discuss the
situation at the Rectory,--how Alice Alcott, their old friend, with her
small domestic resources, could possibly cope with it, if a long illness
"Either the woman will die, or she will be divorced," said Georgina
trenchantly. "And as soon as they know she isn't going to die, what on
earth will they do with her?"
As she spoke they were passing along the foot of the Rectory garden. The
Rectory stood really on the edge of the park, where it bordered on the
highroad; and their own cottage was only a hundred yards beyond. There
were two figures walking up and down in the garden. The Welwyns
identified them at once as the Rector and his sister.
"I shall go and ask Alice if we can do anything for her."
She made for the garden gate that opened on the park and called softly.
The two dim figures turned and came towards her. It was soon conveyed to
the Alcotts that the Welwyns shared their knowledge, and a conversation
followed, almost in whispers under a group of lilacs that flung round
them the scents of the unspoilt summer. Alice Alcott, to get a breath of
air, had left her patient in the charge of their old housemaid, for a
quarter of an hour, but must go back at once and would sit up all night.
A nurse was coming on the morrow.
Then, while Georgina employed her rasping tongue on Mr. Alcott, Cynthia
and the Rector's sister conferred in low tones about various urgent
matters--furniture for the nurse's room, sheets, pillows, and the rest.
The Alcotts were very poor, and the Rectory had no reserves.
"Of course, we could send for everything to Beechmark," murmured
"Why should you? It is so much further. We will send in everything you
want. What are we to call this--this person?" said Cynthia.
"Madame Melegrani. It is the name she has passed by for years."
"You say she is holding her own?"
"Just--with strychnine and brandy. But the heart is very weak. She told
Dr. Ramsay she had an attack of flu last week--temperature up to 104. But
she wouldn't give in to it--never even went to bed. Then came the
excitement of travelling down here and the night in the park. This is the
result. It makes me nervous to think that we shan't have Dr. Ramsay
to-morrow. His partner is not quite the same thing. But he is going to
London with Lord Buntingford."
"Buntingford--going to London?" said Cynthia in amazement.
Miss Alcott started. She remembered suddenly that her brother had told
her that no mention was to be made, for the present, of the visit to
London. In her fatigue and suppressed excitement she had forgotten. She
could only retrieve her indiscretion--since white lies were not practised
at the Rectory--by a hurried change of subject and by reminding her
brother it was time for them to go back to the house. They accordingly
"What is Buntingford going to London for?" said Georgina as they neared
their own door.
Cynthia could not imagine--especially when the state of the Rectory
patient was considered. "If she is as bad as the Alcotts say, they will
probably want to-morrow to get a deposition from her of some kind,"
remarked Georgina, facing the facts as usual. Cynthia acquiesced. But she
was not thinking of the unhappy stranger who lay, probably dying, under
the Alcotts' roof. She was suffering from a fresh personal stab. For,
clearly, Geoffrey French had not told all there was to be known; there
was some further mystery. And even the Alcotts knew more than she.
Affection and pride were both wounded anew.
But with the morning came consolation. Her maid, when she called her,
brought in the letters as usual. Among them, one in a large familiar
hand. She opened it eagerly, and it ran:--
"Saturday night, 11 p.m.
"MY DEAR CYNTHIA:--I was so sorry to find when I went to the drawing-room
just now that you had gone home. I wanted if possible to walk part of the
way with you, and to tell you a few things myself. For you are one of my
oldest friends, and I greatly value your sympathy and counsel. But the
confusion and bewilderment of the last few hours have been such--you will
"To-morrow we shall hardly meet--for I am going to London on a strange
errand! Anna--the woman that was my wife--tells me that six months after
she left me, a son was born to me, whose existence she has till now
concealed from me. I have no reason to doubt her word, but of course for
everybody's sake I must verify her statement as far as I can. My son--a
lad of fifteen--is now in London, and so is the French _bonne_--Zelie
Ronchicourt--who originally lived with us in Paris, and was with Anna at
the time of her confinement. You will feel for me when you know that he
is apparently deaf and dumb. At any rate he has never spoken, and the
brain makes no response. Anna speaks of an injury at birth. There might
possibly be an operation. But of all this I shall know more presently.
The boy, of course, is mine henceforth--whatever happens.
"With what mingled feelings I set out to-morrow, you can imagine. I feel
no bitterness towards the unhappy soul who has come back so suddenly into
my life. Except so far as the boy is concerned--(_that_ I feel
cruelly!)--I have not much right--For I was not blameless towards her in
the old days. She had reasons--though not of the ordinary kind--for the
frantic jealousy which carried her away from me. I shall do all I can for
her; but if she gets through this illness, there will be a divorce in
"For me, in any case, it is the end of years of miserable
uncertainty--of a semi-deception I could not escape--and of a moral
loneliness I cannot describe. I must have often puzzled you and many
others of my friends. Well, you have the key now. I can and will speak
freely when we meet again.
"According to present plans, I bring the boy back to-morrow. Ramsay is to
find me a specially trained nurse and will keep him under his own
observation for a time. We may also have a specialist down at once.
"I shall of course hurry back as soon as I can--Anna's state is
"Yours ever effectionately,
"P.S.--I don't know much about the domestic conditions in the Ramsays'
house. Ramsay I have every confidence in. He has always seemed to me a
very clever and a very nice fellow. And I imagine Mrs. Ramsay is a
"She isn't!" said Cynthia, suddenly springing up in bed. "She is an
incompetent goose! As for looking after that poor child and his
Quite another plan shaped itself in her mind. But she did not as yet
communicate it to Georgina.
After breakfast she loaded her little pony carriage with all the invalid
necessaries she had promised Miss Alcott, and drove them over to the
Rectory. Alcott saw her arrival from his study, and came out, his finger
on his lip, to meet her.
"Many, many thanks," he said, looking at what she had brought. "It is
awfully good of you. I will take them in--but I ask myself--will she ever
live through the day? Lord Buntingford and Ramsay hurried off by the
first train this morning. She has enquired for the boy, and they will
bring him back as soon as they can. She gives herself no chance! She is
so weak--but her will is terribly strong! We can't get her to obey the
doctor's orders. Of course, it is partly the restlessness of the
Cynthia's eyes travelled to the upper window above the study.
Buntingford's wife lay there! It seemed to her that the little room held
all the secrets of Buntingford's past. The dying woman knew them, and she
alone. A new jealousy entered into Cynthia--a despairing sense of the
irrevocable. Helena was forgotten.
At noon Julian Horne arrived, bringing a book that Cynthia had lent him.
He stayed to gossip about the break-up of the party.
"Everybody has cleared out except myself and Geoffrey. Miss Helena and
her chaperon went this morning before lunch. Buntingford of course had
gone before they came down. French tells me they have gone to a little
inn in Wales he recommended. Miss Helena said she wanted something to
draw, and a quiet place. I must say she looked pretty knocked up!--I
suppose by the dance?"
His sharp greenish eyes perused Cynthia's countenance. She made no reply.
His remark did not interest a preoccupied woman. Yet she did not fail to
remember, with a curious pleasure, that there was no mention of Helena in
Between five and six that afternoon a party of four descended at a
station some fifteen miles from Beechmark, where Buntingford was not very
likely to be recognized. It consisted of Buntingford, the doctor, a
wrinkled French _bonne_, in a black stuff dress, and black bonnet, and a
frail little boy whom a spectator would have guessed to be eleven or
twelve years old. Buntingford carried him, and the whole party passed
rapidly to a motor standing outside. Then through a rainy evening they
sped on at a great pace towards the Beechmark park and village. The boy
sat next to Buntingford who had his arm round him. But he was never
still. He had a perpetual restless motion of the head and the emaciated
right hand, as though something oppressed the head, and he were trying to
brush it away. His eyes wandered round the faces in the car,--from his
father to the doctor, from the doctor to the Frenchwoman. But there was
no comprehension in them. He saw and did not see. Buntingford hung over
him, alive to his every movement, absorbed indeed in his son. The boy's
paternity was stamped upon him. He had Buntingford's hair and brow; every
line and trait in those noticeable eyes of his father seemed to be
reproduced in him; and there were small characteristics in the hands
which made them a copy in miniature of his father's. No one seeing him
could have doubted his mother's story; and Buntingford had been able to
verify it in all essential particulars by the evidence of the old
_bonne_, who had lived with Anna in Paris before her flight, and had been
present at the child's birth. The old woman was very taciturn, and
apparently hostile to Buntingford, whom she perfectly remembered; but she
had told enough.
The June evening was in full beauty when the car drew up at the
Rectory. Alcott and Dr. Ramsay's partner received them. The patient
they reported had insisted on being lifted to a chair, and was
feverishly expecting them.
Buntingford carried the boy upstairs, the _bonne_ following. The doctors
remained on the landing, within call. At sight of her mistress, Zelie's
rugged face expressed her dismay. She hurried up to her, dropped on her
knees beside her, and spoke to her in agitated French. Anna Melegrani
turned her white face and clouded eyes upon her for a moment; but made no
response. She looked past her indeed to where Buntingford stood with the
boy, and made a faint gesture that seemed to summon him.
He put him down on his feet beside her. The pathetic little creature was
wearing a shabby velveteen suit, with knickerbockers, which bagged about
his thin frame. The legs like white sticks appearing below the
knickerbockers, the blue-veined hollows of the temples, and the tiny
hands--together with the quiet wandering look--made so pitiable an
impression that Miss Alcott standing behind the sick woman could not keep
back the tears. The boy himself was a centre of calm in the agitated
room, except for the constant movement of the head. He seemed to perceive
something familiar in his mother's face, but when she put out a feeble
hand to him, and tried to kiss him, he began to whimper. Her expression
changed at once; with what strength she had she pushed him away. "_Il est
afreux_!" she said sombrely, closing her eyes.
Buntingford lifted him up, and carried him to Zelie, who was in a
neighbouring room. She had brought with her some of the coloured bricks,
and "nests" of Japanese boxes which generally amused him. He was soon
sitting on the floor, aimlessly shuffling the bricks, and apparently
happy. As his father was returning to the sickroom a note was put into
his hand by the Rector. It contained these few words--"Don't make final
arrangements with the Ramsays till you have seen me. Think I could
propose something you would like better. Shall be here all the evening.
He had just thrust it into his pocket, when the Rector drew him aside at
the head of the stairs, while the two doctors were with the patient.
"I don't want to interfere with any of your arrangements," whispered the
Rector, "but I think perhaps I ought to tell you that Mrs. Ramsay is no
great housewife. She is a queer little flighty thing. She spends her time
in trying to write plays and bothering managers. There's no harm in her,
and he's very fond of her. But it is an untidy, dirty little house! And
nothing ever happens at the right time. My sister said I must warn you.
She's had it on her mind--as she's had a good deal of experience of Mrs.
Ramsay. And I believe Lady Cynthia has another plan."
Buntingford thanked him, remembering opportunely that when he had
proposed to Ramsay to take the boy into his house, the doctor had
accepted with a certain hesitation, which had puzzled him. "I will go
over and see my cousin when I can be spared."
But a sudden call from the sickroom startled them both. Buntingford
When Buntingford entered he found the patient lying in a deep
old-fashioned chair propped up by pillows. She had been supplied with the
simplest of night-gear by Miss Alcott, and was wearing besides a blue
cotton overall or wrapper in which the Rector's sister was often
accustomed to do her morning's work. There was a marked incongruity
between the commonness of the dress, and a certain cosmopolitan stamp, a
touch of the grand air, which was evident in its wearer. The face, even
in its mortal pallor and distress, was remarkable both for its intellect
and its force. Buntingford stood a few paces from her, his sad eyes
meeting hers. She motioned to him.
"Send them all away."
The doctors went, with certain instructions to Buntingford, one of them
remaining in the room below. Buntingford came to sit close by her.
"They say I shall kill myself if I talk," she said in her gasping
whisper. "It doesn't matter. I must talk! So--you don't doubt the boy?"
Her large black eyes fixed him intently.
"No. I have no doubts--that he is my son. But his condition is very
piteous. I have asked a specialist to come down."
There was a gleam of scorn in her expression.
"That'll do no good. I suppose--you think--we neglected the boy.
_Niente_. We did the best we could. He was under a splendid man--in
Naples--as good as any one here. He told me nothing could be done--and
nothing can be done."
Buntingford had the terrible impression that there was a certain
triumph in the faint tone. He said nothing, and presently the whisper
"I keep seeing those people dancing--and hearing the band. I dropped a
little bag--did anybody find it?"
"Yes, I have it here." He drew it out of his pocket, and put it in her
hand, which feebly grasped it.
"Rocca gave it to me at Florence once, I am very fond of it. I suppose
you wonder that--I loved him?"
There was a strange and tragic contrast between the woman's weakness, and
her bitter provocative spirit; just as there was between the picturesque
strength of Buntingford--a man in his prime--and the humble, deprecating
gentleness of his present voice and manner.
"No," he answered. "I am glad--if it made you happy."
"Happy!" She opened her eyes again. "Who's ever happy? We were
"Yes--at the beginning," he said, with a certain firmness. "Why take
She made a protesting movement.
"No--never! I was always--afraid. Afraid you'd get tired of me. I was
only happy--working--and when they hung my picture--in the Salon--you
"I remember it well."
"But I was always jealous--of you. You drew better--than I did. That made
After a long pause, during which he gave her some of the prepared
stimulant Ramsay had left ready, she spoke again, with rather more
"Do you remember--that Artists' Fete--in the Bois--when I went as
"I was as handsome then--as that girl you were rowing. And now--But I
don't want to die!"--she said with sudden anguish--"Why should I die? I
was quite well a fortnight ago. Why does that doctor frighten me so?" She
tried to sit more erect, panting for breath. He did his best to soothe
her, to induce her to go back to bed. But she resisted with all her
remaining strength; instead, she drew him down to her.
"Tell me!--confess to me!"--she said hoarsely--"Madame de Chaville was
"Never! Calm yourself, poor Anna! I swear to you. Won't you believe me?"
She trembled violently. "If I left you--for nothing--"
She closed her eyes, and tears ran down her cheeks.
He bent over her--"Won't you rest now--and let them take you back to bed?
You mustn't talk like this any more. You will kill yourself."
He left her in Ramsay's charge, and went first to find Alcott, begging
him to pray with her. Then he wandered out blindly, into the summer
evening. It was clear to him that she had only a few more hours--or at
most--days to live. In his overpowering emotion--a breaking up of the
great deeps of thought and feeling--he found his way into the shelter of
one of the beechwoods that girdled the park, and sat there in a kind of
moral stupor, till he had somehow mastered himself. The "old unhappy
far-off things" were terribly with him; the failures and faults of his
own distant life, far more than those of the dying woman. The only
thought--the only interest--which finally gave him fresh strength--was
the recollection of his boy.
Cynthia!--her letter--what was it she wanted to say to him? He got up,
and resolutely turned his steps towards the cottage.
Cynthia was waiting for him. She brought him into the little drawing-room
where a lamp had been lighted, and a tray of food was waiting of which
she persuaded him to eat some mouthfuls. But when he questioned her as to
the meaning of her letter, she evaded answering for a little while, till
he had eaten something and drunk a glass of wine. Then she stretched out
a hand to him, with a quiet smile.
"Come and see what I have been doing upstairs. It will be dreadful if you
He followed her in surprise, and she led him upstairs through the
spotless passages of the cottage, bright with books and engravings, where
never a thing was out of place, to a room with a flowery paper and bright
curtains, looking on the park.
"I had it all got ready in a couple of hours. We have so much room--and
it is such a pleasure--" she said, in half apology. "Nobody ever gets any
meals at the Ramsays'--and they can't keep any servants. Of course you'll
change it, if you don't like it. But Dr. Ramsay himself thought it the
best plan. You see we are only a stone's throw from him. He can run in
constantly. He really seemed relieved!"
And there in a white bed, with the newly arrived special
nurse--kind-faced and competent--beside him, lay his recovered son,
deeply and pathetically asleep. For in his sleep the piteous head
movement had ceased, and he might have passed for a very delicate child
of twelve, who would soon wake like other children to a new summer day.
Into Buntingford's strained consciousness there fell a drop of balm as he
sat beside him, listening to the quiet breathing, and comforted by the
mere peace of the slight form.
He looked up at Cynthia and thanked her; and Cynthia's heart sang for
The Alcotts' unexpected guest lingered another forty-eight hours under
their roof,--making a hopeless fight for life. But the influenza poison,
recklessly defied from the beginning, had laid too deadly a grip on an
already weakened heart. And the excitement of the means she had taken to
inform herself as to the conditions of Buntingford's life and
surroundings, before breaking in upon them, together with the exhaustion
of her night wandering, had finally destroyed her chance of recovery.
Buntingford saw her whenever the doctors allowed. She claimed his
presence indeed, and would not be denied. But she talked little more; and
in her latest hours it seemed to those beside her both that the desire to
live had passed, and that Buntingford's attitude towards her had, in the
end, both melted and upheld her. On the second night after her arrival,
towards dawn she sent for him. She then could not speak. But her right
hand made a last motion towards his. He held it, till Ramsay who had his
fingers on the pulse of the left, looked up with that quiet gesture which
told that all was over. Then he himself closed her eyes, and stooping, he
kissed her brow--
"_Pardonnons--nous! Adieu_!" he said, under his breath, in the language
familiar to their student youth together. Then he went straight out of
the room, and through the dewy park, and misty woods already vocal with
the awakening birds; he walked back to Beechmark, and for some hours shut
himself into his library, where no one disturbed him.
When he emerged it was with the air of a man turning to a new chapter in
life. Geoffrey French was still with him. Otherwise the big house was
empty and seemed specially to miss the sounds of Helena's voice, and
tripping feet. Buntingford enquired about her at once, and Geoffrey was
able to produce a letter from Mrs. Friend describing the little Welsh
Inn, near the pass of Aberglasslyn, where they had settled themselves;
the delicious river, shrunken however by the long drought, which ran past
their windows, and the many virtues--qualified by too many children--of
the primitive Welsh pair who ran the inn.
"I am to say that Miss Pitstone likes it all very much, and has found
some glorious things to draw. Also an elderly gentleman who is sketching
on the river has already promised her a lesson."
"You'll be going down there sometime?" said Buntingford, turning an
enquiring look on his nephew.
"The week-end after next," said Geoffrey--"unless Helena forbids it. I
must inspect the inn, which I recommended--and take stock of the elderly
The vision of Helena, in "fresh woods and pastures new" radiantly
transfixing the affections of the "elderly gentleman," put them both for
the moment in spirits. Buntingford smiled, and understanding that
Geoffrey was writing to his ward, he left some special messages for her.
But in the days that followed he seldom thought of Helena. He buried his
wife in the village church-yard, and the wondering villagers might
presently read on the headstone he placed over her grave, the short
inscription--"Anna Buntingford, wife of Philip, Lord Buntingford," with
the dates of her birth and death. The Alcotts, authorized by Philip, made
public as much of the story as was necessary, and the presence of the
poor son and heir in the Welwyns' house, together with his tragic
likeness to his father, both completed and verified it. A wave of
unspoken but warm sympathy spread through the countryside. Buntingford's
own silence was unbroken. After the burial, he never spoke of what had
happened, except on one or two rare occasions to John Alcott, who had
become his intimate friend. But unconsciously the attitude of his
neighbours towards him had the effect of quickening his liking for
Beechmark, and increasing the probability of his ultimate settlement
there, at least for the greater part of the year.
Always supposing that it suited the boy--Arthur Philip--the names under
which, according to Zelie, he had been christened in the church of the
hill village near Lucca where he was born. For the care of this innocent,
suffering creature became, from the moment of his mother's death, the
dominating thought of Buntingford's life. The specialist, who came down
before her death, gave the father however little hope of any favourable
result from operation. But he gave a confident opinion that much could be
done by that wonderful system of training which modern science and
psychology combined have developed for the mentally deficient or idiot
child. For the impression left by the boy on the spectator was never that
of genuine idiocy. It was rather that of an imprisoned soul. The normal
soul seemed somehow to be there; but the barrier between it and the world
around it could not be broken through. By the specialist's advice,
Buntingford's next step was to appeal to a woman, one of those remarkable
women, who, unknown perhaps to more than local or professional fame, are
every year bringing the results of an ardent moral and mental research to
bear upon the practical tasks of parent and teacher. This woman, whom we
will call Mrs. Delane, combined the brain of a man of science with the
passion of motherhood. She had spent her life in the educational service
of a great municipality, varied by constant travel and investigation; and
she was now pensioned and retired. But all over England those who needed
her still appealed to her; and she failed no one. She came down to see
his son at Buntingford's request, and spent some days in watching the
child, with Cynthia as an eager learner beside her.
The problem was a rare one. The boy was a deaf-mute, but not blind. His
very beautiful eyes--; his father's eyes--seemed to be perpetually
interrogating the world about him, and perpetually baffled. He cried--a
monotonous wailing sound--but he never smiled. He was capable of throwing
all his small possessions into a large basket, and of taking them out
again; an operation which he performed endlessly hour after hour; but of
purpose, or any action that showed it, he seemed incapable. He could not
place one brick upon another, or slip one Japanese box inside its fellow.
His temper seemed to be always gentle; and in simple matters of daily
conduct and habit Zelie had her own ways of getting from him an automatic
obedience. But he heard nothing; and in his pathetic look, however
clearly his eyes might seem to be meeting those of a companion, there was
no answering intelligence.
Mrs. Delane set patiently to work, trying this, and testing that; and at
the end of the first week, she and Cynthia were sitting on the floor
beside the boy, who had a heap of bricks before him. For more than an
hour Mrs. Delane had been guiding his thin fingers in making a tower of
bricks one upon another, and then knocking them down. Then, at one
moment, it began to seem to her that each time his hand enclosed in hers
knocked the bricks down, there was a certain faint flash in the blue
eyes, as though the sudden movement of the bricks gave the child a thrill
of pleasure. But to fall they must be built up. And his absorbed teacher
laboured vainly, through sitting after sitting, to communicate to the
child some sense of the connection between the two sets of movements.
Time after time the small waxen hand lay inert in hers as she put a brick
between its listless fingers, and guided it towards the brick waiting for
it. Gradually the column of bricks mounted--built by her action, her
fingers enclosing his passive ones--and, finally, came the expected
crash, followed by the strange slight thrill in the child's features. But
for long there was no sign of spontaneous action of any kind on his part.
The ingenuity of his teacher attempted all the modes of approach to the
obstructed brain that were known to her, through the two senses left
him--sight and touch. But for many days in vain.
At last, one evening towards the end of June, when his mother had been
dead little more than a fortnight, Cynthia, Mrs. Delane's indefatigable
pupil, was all at once conscious of a certain spring in the child's hand,
as though it became--faintly--self-moved, a living thing. She cried out.
Buntingford was there looking on; and all three hung over the child.
Cynthia again placed the brick in his hand, and withdrew her own. Slowly
the child moved it forward--dropped it--then, with help, raised it
again--and, finally, with only the very slight guidance from Cynthia, put
it on top of the other. Another followed, and another, his hand growing
steadier with each attempt. Then breathing deeply,--flushed, and with a
puckered forehead--the boy looked up at his father. Tears of
indescribable joy had rushed to Buntingford's eyes. Cynthia's were hidden
in her handkerchief.
The child's nurse peremptorily intervened and carried him off to bed.
Mrs. Delane first arranged with Buntingford for the engagement of a
special teacher, taught originally by herself, and then asked for
something to take her to the station. She had set things in train, and
had no time to lose. There were too many who wanted her.
Buntingford and Cynthia walked across the park to Beechmark. From the
extreme despondency they were lifted to an extreme of hope. Buntingford
had felt, as it were, the spirit of his son strain towards his own; the
hidden soul had looked out. And in his deep emotion, he was very
naturally conscious of a new rush of affection and gratitude towards his
old playfellow and friend. The thought of her would be for ever connected
in his mind with the efforts and discoveries of the agitating days
through which--with such intensity--they had both been living. When he
remembered that wonder-look in his son's, eyes, he would always see
Cynthia bending over the child, no longer the mere agreeable and
well-dressed woman of the world, but, to him, the embodiment of a
heavenly pity, "making all things new."
Cynthia's spirits danced as she walked beside him. There was in her a
joyous, if still wavering certainty that through the child, her hold upon
Philip, whether he spoke sooner or later, was now secure. But she was
still jealous of Helena. It had needed the moral and practical upheaval
caused by the reappearance and death of Anna, to drive Helena from Philip
and Beechmark; and if Helena--enchanting and incalculable as ever, even
in her tamer mood--were presently to resume her life in Philip's house,
no one could expect the Fates to intervene again so kindly. Georgina
might be certain that in Buntingford's case the woman of forty had
nothing to fear from the girl of nineteen. Cynthia was by no means so
certain; and she shivered at the risks to come.
For it was soon evident that the question of his ward's immediate future
was now much on Philip's mind. He complained that Helena wrote so little,
and that he had not yet heard from Geoffrey since the week-end he was to
spend in Wales. Mrs. Friend reported indeed in good spirits. But
obviously, whatever the quarters might be, Helena could not stay there
"Of course I suggested the London house to her at once--with Mrs.
Friend for chaperon. But she didn't take to it. This week I must go
back to my Admiralty work. But we can't take the boy to London, and I
intended to come back here every night. We mustn't put upon you much
longer, my dear Cynthia!"
The colour rushed to Cynthia's face.
"You are going to take him away?" she said, with a look of consternation.
"Mustn't I bring him home, some time?" was his half-embarrassed reply.
"But not yet! And how would it suit--with week-ends and dances for
"It wouldn't suit at all," he said, perplexed--"though Helena seems to
have thrown over dancing for the present."
"That won't last long!"
He laughed. "I am afraid you never took to her!" he said lightly.
"She never took to me!"
"I wonder if that was my fault? She suspected that I had called you in to
help me to keep her in order!"
"What was it brought her to reason--so suddenly?" said Cynthia, seeking
light at last on a problem that had long puzzled her.
"Two things, I imagine. First that she was the better man of us all, that
day of the Dansworth riot. She could drive my big car, and none of the
rest of us could! That seemed to put her right with us all. And
secondly--the reports of that abominable trial. She told me so. I only
hope she didn't read much of it!"
They had just passed the corner of the house, and come out on the sloping
lawn of Beechmark, with the lake, and the wood beyond it. All that had
happened behind that dark screen of yew, on the distant edge of the
water, came rushing back on Philip's imagination, so that he fell silent.
Cynthia on her side was thinking of the moment when she came down to the
edge of the lake to carry off Geoffrey French, and saw Buntingford and
Helena push off into the puckish rays of the searchlight. She tasted
again the jealous bitterness of it--and the sense of defeat by something
beyond her fighting--the arrogance of Helena's young beauty. Philip was
not in love with Helena; that she now knew. So far she, Cynthia, had
marvellously escaped the many chances that might have undone her. But if
Helena came back?
Meanwhile there were some uneasy thoughts at the back of Philip's mind;
and some touching and tender recollections which he kept sacred to
himself. Helena's confession and penitence--there, on that still
water--how pretty they were, how gracious! Nor could he ever forget her
sweetness, her pity on that first tragic evening. Geoffrey's alarms were
absurd. Yet when he thought of merely reproducing the situation as it had
existed before the night of the ball, something made him hesitate. And
besides, how could he reproduce it? All his real mind was now absorbed in
this overwhelming problem of his son; of the helpless, appealing creature
to whose aid the whole energies of his nature had been summoned.
He walked back some way with Cynthia, talking of the boy, with an
intensity of hope that frightened her.
"Don't, or don't be too certain--yet!" she pleaded. "We have only just
seen the first sign--the first flicker. If it were all to vanish again!"
"Could I bear it?" he said, under his breath--"Could I?"
"Anyway, you'll let me keep him--a little longer?"
She spoke very softly and sweetly.
"If your kindness really wishes it," he said, rather reluctantly. "But
what does Georgina say?"
"Georgina is just as keen as I am," said Cynthia boldly. "Don't you see
how fond she is of him already?"
Buntingford could not truthfully say that he had seen any signs on
Georgina's part, so far, of more than a decent neutrality in the matter.
Georgina was a precisian; devoted to order, and in love with rules. The
presence of the invalid boy, his nurse, and his teacher, must upset every
rule and custom of the little house. Could she really put up with it? In
general, she made the impression upon Philip of a very wary cat, often
apparently asleep, but with her claws ready. He felt uncomfortable; but
Cynthia had her way.
A specially trained teacher, sent down by Mrs. Delane, arrived a few days
later, and a process began of absorbing and fascinating interest to all
the spectators, except Georgina, who more than kept her head.
Every morning Buntingford would motor up to town, spend some strenuous
hours in demobilization work at the Admiralty, returning in the evening
to receive Cynthia's report of the day. Miss Denison, the boy's teacher,
who had been trained in one of the London Special Schools, was a little
round-faced lady with spectacles, apparently without any emotions, but
really filled with that educator's passion which in so many women of our
day fills the place of motherhood. From the beginning she formed the
conclusion that the pitiable little fellow entrusted to her was to a
great extent educable; but that he would not live to maturity. This
latter conclusion was carefully hidden from Buntingford, though it was
known to Cynthia; and Philip knew, for a time, all the happiness, the
excitement even of each day's slight advance, combined with a boundless
hope for the future. He spent his evenings absorbed in the voluminous
literature dealing with the deaf-mute, which has grown up since the days
of Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller. But Laura Bridgman and Helen
Keller--as he eagerly reminded himself--were both of them blind; only one
sense--that of touch--was left to them. Arthur's blue eyes, the copy of
his own, already missed his father when he left home in the morning, and
greeted him when he came home at night. They contained for Philip a
mystery and a promise that he was never tired of studying. Every evening
he would ride over from Dansworth station to the cottage, put up his
horse, and spend the long summer twilights in carrying his son about the
garden or the park, or watching Miss Denison at her work. The boy was
physically very frail, and soon tired. But his look was now placid; the
furrows in the white brow were smoothed away; his general nutrition was
much better; his delicate cheeks had filled out a little; and his ghostly
beauty fascinated Philip's artistic sense, while his helplessness
appealed to the tenderest instinct of a strong man. Buntingford had
discovered a new and potent reason for living; and for living happily.
And meanwhile with all this slowly growing joy, Cynthia was more and more
closely connected. She and Buntingford had a common topic, which was
endlessly interesting and delightful to them both. Philip was no longer
conscious of her conventionalities and limitations, as he had been
conscious of them on his first renewed acquaintance with her after the
preoccupations of the war. He saw her now as Arthur's fairy godmother,
and as his own daily companion and helper in an exquisite task.
But Georgina was growing impatient. One evening she came home tired and
out of temper. She had been collecting the rents of some cottages
belonging to her, and the periodical operation was always trying to
everybody concerned. Georgina's secret conviction that "the poor in a
loomp is bad" was stoutly met by her tenants' firm belief that all
landlords are extortionate thieves. She came home, irritated by a number
of petty annoyances, to find the immaculate little drawing-room, where
every book and paper-knife knew its own place and kept it, given up to
Arthur and Miss Denison, with coloured blocks, pictures and models used
in that lady's teaching, strewn all over the floor, while the furniture
had been pushed unceremoniously aside.
"I won't have this house made a bear-garden!" she said, angrily, to the
dismayed teacher; and she went off straightway to find her sister.
Cynthia was in her own little den on the first floor happily engaged in
trimming a new hat. Georgina swept in upon her, shut the door, and stood
with her back to it.
"Cynthia--is this house yours or mine?"
As a matter of fact the house was Buntingford's. But Georgina was
formally the tenant of it, while the furniture was partly hers and partly
Cynthia's. In fact, however, Georgina had been always tacitly held to be
Cynthia looked up in astonishment, and at once saw that Georgina was
seriously roused. She put down her work and faced her sister.
"I thought it belonged to both of us," she said mildly. "What is the
"I beg you to remember that I am the tenant. And I never consented to
make it an institution for the training of imbeciles!"
"Georgie!--Arthur is not an imbecile!"
"Of course I know he is an interesting one," said Georgina, curtly. "But
all the same, from my point of view--However, I won't repeat the word, if
it annoys you. But what I want to know is, when are we to have the house
to ourselves again? Because, if this is to go on indefinitely, I depart!"
Cynthia came nearer to her sister. Her colour fluttered a little.
"Don't interfere just at present, Georgie," she said imploringly, in a
The two sisters looked at each other--Georgina covered with the dust and
cobwebs of her own cottages, her battered hat a little on one side, and
her coat and skirt betraying at every seam its venerable antiquity; and
Cynthia, in pale grey, her rose-pink complexion answering to the gold of
her hair, with every detail of her summer dress as fresh and dainty as
the toil of her maid could make it.
"Well, I suppose--I understand," said Georgina, at last, in her gruffest
voice. "All the same, I warn you, I can't stand it much longer. I shall
be saying something rude to Buntingford."
"No, no--don't do that!"
"I haven't your motive--you see."
Cynthia coloured indignantly.
"If you think I'm only pretending to care for the child, Georgie, you're
very much mistaken!"
"I don't think so. You needn't put words into my mouth, or thoughts into
my head. All the same, Cynthia,--cut it short!"
And with that she released the door and departed, leaving an anxious and
meditative Cynthia behind her.
A little later, Buntingford's voice was heard below. Cynthia, descending,
found him with Arthur in his arms. The day had been hot and rainy--an
oppressive scirocco day--and the boy was languid and out of sorts. The
nurse advised his being carried up early to bed, and Buntingford had
arrived just in time.
When he came downstairs again, he found Cynthia in a garden hat, and they
strolled out to look at the water-garden which was the common hobby of
both the sisters. There, sitting among the rushes by the side of the
little dammed-up stream, he produced a letter from Mrs. Friend, with the
latest news of his ward.
"Evidently we shan't get Helena back just yet. I shall run up next week
to see her, I think, Cynthia, if you will let me. I really will take
Arthur to Beechmark this week. Mrs. Mawson has arranged everything. His
rooms are all ready for him. Will you come and look at them to-morrow?"
Cynthia did not reply at once, and he watched her a little anxiously. He
was well aware what giving up the boy would mean to her. Her devotion had
been amazing. But the wrench must come some time.
"Yes, of course--you must take him," said Cynthia, at last. "If only--I
hadn't come to love him so!"
She didn't cry. She was perfectly self-possessed. But there was something
in her pensive, sorrowful look that affected Philip more than any
vehement emotion could have done. The thought of all her devotion--their
long friendship--her womanly ways--came upon him overwhelmingly.
But another thought checked it--Helena!--and his promise to her dead
mother. If he now made Cynthia the mistress of Beechmark, Helena would
never return to it. For they were incompatible. He saw it plainly. And to
Helena he was bound; while she needed the shelter of his roof.
So that the words that were actually on Philip's lips remained unspoken.
They walked back rather silently to the cottage.
At supper Cynthia told her sister that the boy, with Zelie and his
teacher, would soon trouble her no more. Georgina expressed an ungracious
satisfaction, adding abruptly--"You'll be able to see him there, Cynthy,
just as well as here."
Cynthia made no reply.
Mrs. Friend was sitting in the bow-window of the "Fisherman's Rest," a
small Welsh inn in the heart of Snowdonia. The window was open, and a
smell of damp earth and grass beat upon Lucy in gusts from outside,
carried by a rainy west wind. Beyond the road, a full stream, white and
foaming after rain, was dashing over a rocky bed towards some rapids
which closed the view. The stream was crossed by a little bridge, and
beyond it rose a hill covered with oak-wood. Above the oak-wood and along
the road to the right--mountain forms, deep blue and purple, were
emerging from the mists which had shrouded them all day. The sun
was breaking through. A fierce northwest wind which had been tearing the
young leaf of the oak-woods all day, and strewing it abroad, had just
died away. Peace was returning, and light. The figure of Helena had just
disappeared through the oak-wood; Lucy would follow her later.
Behind Mrs. Friend, the walls of the inn parlour were covered deep in
sketches of the surrounding scenery--both oil and water-colour, bad and
good, framed and unframed, left there by the artists who haunted the inn.
The room was also adorned by a glass case full of stuffed birds, badly
moth-eaten, a book-case containing some battered books mostly about
fishing, and a large Visitors' Book lying on a centre-table, between a
Bradshaw and an old guide-book. Shut up, in winter, the little room would
smell intolerably close and musty. But with the windows open, and a rainy
sun streaming in, it spoke pleasantly of holidays for plain hard-working
folk, and of that "passion for the beauty flown," which distils, from the
summer hours of rest, strength for the winter to come.
Lucy had let Helena go out alone, of set purpose. For she knew, or
guessed, what Nature and Earth had done for Helena during the month they
had passed together in this mountain-land, since that night at Beechmark.
Helena had made no moan--revealed nothing. Only a certain paleness in her
bright cheek, a certain dreamy habit that Lucy had not before noticed in
her; a restlessness at night which the thin partitions of the old inn
sometimes made audible, betrayed that the youth in her was fighting its
first suffering, and fighting to win. Lucy had never dared to
speak--still less to pity. But her love was always at hand, and Helena
had repaid it, and the silence it dictated, with an answering love. Lucy
believed--though with trembling--that the worst was now over, and that
new horizons were opening on the stout soul that had earned them. But
now, as before, she held her peace.
Her diary lay on her lap, and she was thoughtfully turning it over. It
contained nothing but the barest entries of facts. But they meant a good
deal to her, as she looked through them. Every letter, for instance, from
Beechmark had been noted. Lord Buntingford had written three times to
Helena, and twice to herself. She had seen Helena's letters; and Helena
had read hers. It seemed to her that Helena had deliberately shown her
own; that the act was part of the conflict which Lucy guessed at, but
must not comment on, by word or look. All the letters were the true
expression of the man. The first, in which he described in words, few;
but singularly poignant, the death of his wife, his recognition of his
son, and the faint beginnings of hope for the boy's maimed life, had
forced tears from Lucy. Helena had read it dry-eyed. But for several
hours afterwards, on an evening of tempest, she had vanished out of ken,
on the mountainside; coming back as night fell, her hair and clothes,
dripping with rain, her cheeks glowing from her battle with the storm,
her eyes strangely bright.
Her answers to her guardian's letters had been, to Lucy's way of
thinking, rather cruelly brief; at least after the first letter written
in her own room, and posted by herself. Thenceforward, only a few
post-cards, laid with Lucy's letters, for her or any one else to read, if
they chose. And meanwhile Lucy was tolerably sure that she was slowly but
resolutely making her own plans for the months ahead.
The little diary contained also the entry of Geoffrey French's visit--a
long week-end, during which as far as Lucy could remember, Helena and he
had never ceased "chaffing" from morning till night, and Helena had
certainly never given him any opportunity for love-making. She, Lucy, had
had a few short moments alone with him, moments in which his gaiety had
dropped from him, like a ragged cloak, and a despondent word or two had
given her a glimpse of the lover he was not permitted to be, beneath the
role of friend he was tired of playing. He was coming again soon. Helena
had neither invited nor repelled him. Whereas she had peremptorily bidden
Peter Dale for this particular Sunday, and he had thrown over half a
dozen engagements to obey her.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Friend. Is Miss Pitstone at home?"
The speaker was a shaggy old fellow in an Inverness cape and an ancient
wide-awake, carrying a portfolio and a camp-stool. He had stopped in his
walk outside the open window, and his disappointed look searched the inn
parlour for a person who was not there.
"Oh, Mr. McCready, I'm so sorry!--but Miss Pitstone is out, and I don't
know when she will be back."
The artist undid his portfolio, and laid a half-finished sketch--a sketch
of Helena's--on the window-sill.
"Will you kindly give her this? I have corrected it--made some notes on
the side. Do you think Miss Helena will be likely to be sketching
"I'm afraid I can't promise for her. She seems to like walking better
than anything else just now."
"Yes, she's a splendid walker," said the old man, with a sigh. "I envy
her strength. Well, if she wants me, she knows where to find me--just
beyond that bend there." He pointed to the river.
"I'll tell her--and I'll give her the sketch. Good-bye."
She watched him heavily cross the foot-bridge to the other side of the
river. Her quick pity went with him, for she herself knew well what it
meant to be solitary and neglected. He seldom sold a picture, and nobody
knew what he lived on. The few lessons he had given Helena had been as a
golden gleam in a very grey day. But alack, Helena had soon tired of her
lessons, as she had tired of the mile of coveted trout-fishing that Mr.
Evans of the farm beyond the oak-wood had pressed upon her--or of the
books the young Welsh-speaking curate of the little mountain church near
by was so eager to lend her. Through and behind a much gentler manner,
the girl's familiar self was to be felt--by Lucy at least--as clearly as
before. She was neither to be held nor bound. Attempt to lay any fetter
upon her--of hours, or habit--and she was gone; into the heart of the
mountains where no one could follow her. Lucy would often compare with it
the eager docility of those last weeks at Beechmark.
* * * * *
Helena's walk had taken her through the dripping oak-wood and over the
crest of the hill to a ravine beyond, where the river, swollen now by the
abundant rains which had made an end of weeks of drought, ran, noisily
full, between two steep banks of mossy crag. From the crag, oaks hung
over the water, at fantastic angles, holding on, as it seemed, by one
foot and springing from the rock itself; while delicate rock plants, and
fern fringed every ledge down to the water. A seat on the twisted roots
of an overhanging oak, from which, to either side, a little green path,
as though marked for pacing, ran along the stream, was one of her
favourite haunts. From up-stream a mountain peak now kerchiefed in wisps
of sunlit cloud peered in upon her. Above it, a lake of purest blue from
which the wind, which had brought them, was now chasing the clouds; and
everywhere the glory of the returning sun, striking the oaks to gold, and
flinging a chequer of light on the green floor of the wood.
Helena sat down to wait for Peter, who would be sure to find her wherever
she hid herself. This spot was dear to her, as those places where life
has consciously grown to a nobler stature are dear to men and women. It
was here that within twenty-four hours of her last words with Philip
Buntingford, she had sat wrestling with something which threatened vital
forces in her that her will consciously, desperately, set itself to
maintain. Through her whole ripened being, the passion of that inner
debate was still echoing; though she knew that the fight was really won.
It had run something like this:
"Why am I suffering like this?
"Because I am relaxed--unstrung. Why should I have everything I
want--when others go bare? Philip went bare for years. He endured--and
suffered. Why not I?
"But it is worse for me--who am young! I have a right to give way to what
I feel--to feel it to the utmost.
"That was the doctrine for women before the war--the old-fashioned women.
The modern woman is stronger. She is not merely nerves and feeling. She
must _never_ let feeling--pain--destroy her will! Everything depends upon
her will. If I choose I _can_ put this feeling down. I have no right to
it. Philip has done me no wrong. If I yield to it, if it darkens my life,
it will be another grief added to those he has already suffered. It
shan't darken my life. I will--and can master it. There is so much still
to learn, to do, to feel. I must wrench myself free--and go forward. How
I chattered to Philip about the modern woman!--and how much older I feel,
than I was then! If one can't master oneself, one is a slave--all the
same. I didn't know--how could I know?--that the test was so near. If
women are to play a greater and grander part in the world, they must be
much, much greater in soul, firmer in will.
"Yet--I must cry a little. No one could forbid me that. But it must be
Then the letters from Beechmark had begun to arrive, each of them
bringing its own salutary smart as part of a general cautery. No guardian
could write more kindly, more considerately. But it was easy to see that
Philip's whole being was, and would be, concentrated on his unfortunate
son. And in that ministry Cynthia Welwyn was his natural partner, had
indeed already stepped into the post; so that gratitude, if not passion,
would give her sooner or later all that she desired.
"Cynthia has got the boy into her hands--and Philip with him. Well, that
was natural. Shouldn't I have done the same? Why should I feel like a
jealous beast, because Cynthia has had her chance, and taken it? I won't
feel like this! It's vile!--it's degrading! Only I wish Cynthia was
bigger, more generous--because he'll find it out some day. She'll never
like me, just because he cares for me--or did. I mean, as my guardian, or
an elder brother. For it was never--no never!--anything else. So when she
comes in at the front door, I shall go out at the back. I shall have to
give up even the little I now have. Let me just face what it means.
"Yet perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Cynthia isn't as mean-spirited as I
"It's wonderful about the boy. I envy Cynthia--I can't help it. I would
have given my whole life to it. I would have been trained--perhaps
abroad. No one should have taught him but me. But then--if Philip had
loved me--only that was never possible!--he would have been jealous of
the boy--and I should have lost him. I never do things in moderation. I
go at them so blindly. But I shall learn some day."
Thoughts like these, and many others, were rushing through Helena's mind,
as after a long walk she found her seat again over the swollen stream.
The evening had shaken itself free of the storm, and was pouring an
incredible beauty on wood and river. The intoxication of it ran through
Helena's veins. For she possessed in perfection that earth-sense, that
passionate sense of kinship, kinship both of the senses and the spirit,
with the eternal beauty of the natural world, which the gods implant in a
blest minority of mortals. No one who has it can ever be wholly forlorn,
while sense and feeling remain.
Suddenly:--a little figure on the opposite bank, and a child's cry.
Helena sprang to her feet in dismay. She saw the landlord's small son, a
child of five, who had evidently lost his footing on the green bank above
the crag which faced her, and was sliding down, unable to help himself,
towards the point where nothing could prevent his falling headlong into
the stream below. The bank, however, was not wholly bare. There were some
thin gnarled oaks upon it, which might stop him.
"Catch hold of the trees, Bobby!" she shouted to him, in an agony.
The child heard, turned a white face to her, and tried to obey. He was
already a stalwart little mountaineer, accustomed to trot over the fells
after his father's sheep, and the physical instinct in his, sturdy limbs
saved him. He caught a jutting root, held on, and gradually dragged
himself up to the cushion of moss from which the tree grew, sitting
astride the root, and clasping the tree with both arms. The position was
still extremely dangerous, but for the moment he was saved.
"All right, Bobby--clever boy! Hold tight--I'm coming!"
And she rushed towards a little bridge at the head of the ravine. But
before she could reach it, she saw the lad's father, cautiously
descending the bank, helped by a rope tied to an oak tree at the top. He
reached the child, tied the rope to the stem of the tree where the little
fellow was sitting, and then with the boy under one arm and hauling on
the rope with the other hand, he made his way up the few perilous yards
that divided them from safety. At the top he relieved his parental
feelings by a good deal of smacking and scolding. For Bobby was a
notorious "limb," the terror of his mother and the inn generally. He
roared vociferously under the smacking. But when Helena arrived on the
scene, he stopped at once, and put out a slim red tongue at her. Helena
laughed, congratulated the father on his skill, and returned to her seat.
"That's a parable of me!" she thought, as she sat with her elbows on her
knees, staring at the bank opposite.
"I very nearly slipped in!--like Bobby--but not quite. I'm sound--though
bruised. No desperate harm done." She drew a long breath--laughing to
herself--though her eyes were rather wet. "Well, now, then--what am I
going to do? I'm not going into a convent. I don't think I'm even going
to college. I'm going to take my guardian's advice. 'Marry--my dear
child--and bring up children.' 'Marry?'--Very well!"--she sprang to her
feet--"I shall marry!--that's settled. As to the children--that remains
to be seen!"
And with her hands behind her, she paced the little path, in a strange
excitement and exaltation. Presently from the tower of the little church,
half a mile down the river, a bell began to strike the hour. "Six
o'clock!--Peter will be here directly. Now, _he's_ got to be
lectured--for his good. I'm tired of lecturing myself. It's somebody
And taking a letter from her pocket, she read and pondered it with
smiling eyes. "Peter will think I'm a witch. Dear old Peter! ... Hullo!"
For the sound of her name, shouted by some one still invisible, caught
her ear. She shouted back, and in another minute the boyish form of
Peter Dale emerged among the oaks above her. Three leaps, and he was
at her side.
"I say, Helena, this is jolly! You were a brick to write. How I got
here I'm sure I don't know. I seem to have broken every rule, and
put everybody out. My boss will sack me, I expect. Never mind!--I'd
do it again!"
And dropping to a seat beside her, on a fallen branch that had somehow
escaped the deluge of the day, he feasted his eyes upon her. She had
clambered back into her seat, and taken off her water-proof hat. Her hair
was tumbling about her ears, and her bright cheeks were moist with rain,
or rather with the intermittent showers that the wind shook every now and
then from the still dripping oak trees above her. Peter thought her
lovelier than ever--a wood-nymph, half divine. Yet, obscurely, he felt a
change in her, from the beginning of their talk. Why had she sent for
him? The wildest notions had possessed him, ever since her letter reached
him. Yet, now that he saw her, they seemed to float away from him, like
thistle-down on the wind.
"Helena!--why did you send for me?"
"I was very dull, Peter,--I wanted you to amuse me!"
The boy laughed indignantly.
"That's all very well, Helena--but it won't wash. You're jolly well used
to getting all you want, I know--but you wouldn't have ordered me up
from Town--twelve hours in a beastly train--packed like sardines--just
to tell me that."
Helena looked at him thoughtfully. She began to eat some unripe
bilberries which she had gathered from the bank beside her, and they made
little blue stains on her white teeth.
"Old boy--I wanted to give you some advice."
"Well, give it quick," said Peter impatiently.
"No--you must let me take my time. Have you been to a great many dances
"You bet!" The young Adonis shrugged his shoulders. "I seem to have been
through a London season, which I haven't done, of course, since 1914.
Never went to so many dances in my life!"
"Somebody tells me, Peter, that--you're a dreadful flirt!" said Helena,
still with those grave, considering eyes.
Peter laughed--but rather angrily.
"All very well for you to talk, Miss Helena! Please--how many men were
you making fools of--including your humble servant--before you went down
to Beechmark? You have no conscience, Helena! You are the 'Belle Dame
"All that is most unjust--and ridiculous!" said Helena mildly.
Peter went off into a peal of laughter. Helena persisted.
"What do you call flirting, Peter?"
"Turning a man's head--making him believe that you're gone on him--when,
in fact, you don't care a rap!"
"Peter!--then of course you _know_ I never flirted with you!" said
Helena, with vigour. Peter hesitated, and Helena at once pursued her
"Let's talk of something more to the point. I'm told, Peter, that
you've been paying great attentions--marked attentions--to a very
nice girl--that everybody's talking about it,--and that you ought
long ago either to have fixed it up,--or cleared out. What do you say
to that, Peter?"
"I suppose you mean--Jenny Dumbarton," he said slowly. "Of course, she's
a very dear, pretty, little thing. But do you know why I first took to
her?" He looked defiantly at his companion.
"Because--she's rather like you. She's your colour--she has your
hair--she's a way with her that's something like you. When I'm dancing
with her, if I shut my eyes, I can sometimes fancy--it's you!"
"Oh, goodness!" cried Helena, burying her face in her hands. It was a cry
of genuine distress. Peter was silent a moment. Then he came closer.
"Just look at me, please, Helena!"
She raised her eyes unwillingly. In the boy's beautiful clear-cut
face the sudden intensity of expression compelled her--held her
"Once more, Helena"--he said, in a voice that shook--"is there no
chance for me?"
"No, no, dear Peter!" she cried, stretching out her hands to him. "Oh, I
thought that was all over. I sent for you because I wanted just to say to
you--don't trifle!--don't shilly-shally! I know Jenny Dumbarton a little.
She's charming--she's got a delicate, beautiful character--and such a
warm heart! Don't break anybody's heart, Peter--for my silly sake!"
The surge of emotion in Peter subsided slowly. He began to study the moss
at his feet, poking at it with his stick.
"What makes you think I've been breaking Jenny's heart?" he said at last
in another voice.
"Some of your friends, Peter, yours and mine--have been writing to
me. She's--she's very fond of you, they say, and lately she's been
looking a little limp ghost--all along of you, Mr. Peter! What have
you been doing?"
"What any other man in my position would have been doing--wishing
to Heaven I knew _what_ to do!" said Peter, still poking vigorously
at the moss.
Helena bent forward from the oak tree, and just whispered--"Go back
to-morrow, Peter,--and propose to Jenny Dumbarton!"
Peter could not trust himself to look up at what he knew must be the
smiling seduction of her eyes and lips. He was silent; and Helena
withdrew--dryad-like--into the hollow made by the intertwined stems of
the oak, threw her head back against the main trunk, dropped her eyelids,
"Are you asleep, Helena?" said Peter's voice at last.
"Not at all."
"Then sit up, please, and listen to me."
She obeyed. Peter was standing over her, his hands on his sides, looking
very manly, and rather pale.
"Having disposed of me for the last six months--you may as well dispose
of me altogether," he said slowly. "Very well--I will go--and propose
to Jenny Dumbarton---the day after to-morrow. Her people asked me for
the week-end. I gave a shuffling answer. I'll wire to her to-morrow
that I'm coming--"
"Peter--you're a darling!" cried Helena in delight, clapping her hands.
"_Oh_!--I wish I could see Jenny's face when she opens the wire! You'll
be very good to her, Peter?"
She looked at him searchingly, stirred by one of the sudden tremors that
beset even the most well-intentioned match-maker.
Peter smiled, with a rather twisted lip, straightening his shoulders.
"I shouldn't ask any girl to marry me, that I couldn't love and honour,
not even to please you, Helena! And she knows all about you!"
"She doesn't!" said Helena, in consternation.
"Yes, she does. I don't mean to say that I've told her the exact number
of times you've refused me. But she knows quite enough. She'll take
me--if she does take me--with her eyes open. Well, now that's
settled!--But you interrupted me. There's one condition, Helena!"
"Name it." She eyed him nervously.
--"That in return for managing my life, you give me some indication of
how you're going to manage your own!"
Helena fell back on the bilberry stalk, to gain time.
--"Because--" resumed Peter--"it's quite clear the Beechmark situation is
all bust up. Philip's got an idiot-boy to look after--with Cynthia Welwyn
in constant attendance. I don't see any room for you there, Helena!"
"Neither do I," said Helena, quietly. "You needn't tell me that."
"Well, then, what are you going to do?"
"You forget, Peter, that I possess the dearest and nicest little
chaperon. I can roam the world where I please--without making any
"You'll always make scandals--"
"_Scandals_, Peter!" protested Helena.
"Well, victories, wherever you go--unless somebody has you pretty tightly
in hand. But you and I--both know a man--that would be your match!"
He had moved, so as to stand firmly across the little path that ran
from Helena's seat to the inn. She began to fidget--to drop one foot,
that had been twisted under her, to the ground, as though "on tiptoe
for a flight."
"It's time for supper, Peter. Mrs. Friend will think we're drowned. And I
caught such a beautiful dish of trout yesterday,--all for your benefit!
There's a dear man here who puts on the worms."
"You don't go, till I get an answer, Helena."
"There's nothing to answer. I've no plans. I draw, and fish, and read
poetry. I have some money in the bank; and Cousin Philip will let me
do what I like with it. Lastly--I have another month in which to make
up my mind."
"Goose!--where to go next, of course."
Peter shook his head. His mood was now as determined, as hot in pursuit,
as hers had been, a little earlier.
"I bet you'll have to make up your mind about something much more
important than that--before long. I happened to be--in the Gallery of the
House of Commons yesterday--"
"Improving your mind?"
"Listening to a lot of wild men talking rot about the army. But there was
one man who didn't talk rot, though I agreed with scarcely a thing he
said. But then he's a Labour man--or thinks he is--and I know that I'm a
Tory--as blue as you make 'em. Anyway I'm perfectly certain you'd have
liked to be there, Miss Helena!"
"Geoffrey?" said Helena coolly.
"Right you are. Well, I can tell you he made a ripping success! The man
next to me in the gallery, who seemed to have been born and bred
there--knew everybody and everything--and got as much fun out of it as I
do out of 'Chu-Chin-Chow'--he told me it was the first time Geoffrey had
really got what he called the 'ear of the House'--it was pretty full
too!--and that he was certain to get on--office, and all that kind of
thing--if he stuck to it. He certainly did it jolly well. He made even an
ignorant ass like me sit up. I'd go and hear him again--I vow I would!
And there was such a fuss in the lobby! I found Geoffrey there,
shovelling out hand-shakes, and talking to press-men. An old uncle of
mine--nice old boy--who's sat for a Yorkshire constituency for about a
hundred years, caught hold of me. 'Know that fellow, Peter?' 'Rather!'
'Good for you! _He's_ got his foot on the ladder--he'll climb.'"
"Horrid word!" said Helena.
"Depends on what you mean by it. If you're to get to the top, I suppose
you must climb. Now, then, Helena!--if you won't take a man like me whom