Part 1 out of 6
MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
Author of "Robert Elsmere," "Lady Rose's Daughter,"
"The Mating of Lydia," etc.
Frontispiece in Colour by C. Allan Gilbert
[Illustration: _Deeply regret to inform you your husband reported
wounded and missing_]
'Shall I set the tea, Miss?'
Miss Cookson turned from the window.
'Yes--bring it up--except the tea of course--they ought to be here at
'And Mrs. Weston wants to know what time supper's to be?'
The fair-haired girl speaking was clearly north-country. She pronounced
the 'u' in 'supper,' as though it were the German 'u' in _Suppe_.
Miss Cookson shrugged her shoulders.
'Well, they'll settle that.'
The tone was sharp and off-hand. And the maid-servant, as she went
downstairs, decided for the twentieth time that afternoon, that she
didn't like Miss Cookson, and she hoped her sister, Mrs. Sarratt, would
be nicer. Miss Cookson had been poking her nose into everything that
afternoon, fiddling with the rooms and furniture, and interfering with
Mrs. Weston. As if Mrs. Weston didn't know what to order for lodgers,
and how to make them comfortable! As if she hadn't had dozens of brides
and bridegrooms to look after before this!--and if she hadn't given
them all satisfaction, would they ever have sent her all them
picture-postcards which decorated her little parlour downstairs?
All the same, the house-parlourmaid, Milly by name, was a good deal
excited about this particular couple who were now expected. For Mrs.
Weston had told her it had been a 'war wedding,' and the bridegroom was
going off to the front in a week. Milly's own private affairs--in
connection with a good-looking fellow, formerly a gardener at Bowness,
now recently enlisted in one of the Border regiments--had caused her to
take a special interest in the information, and had perhaps led her to
put a bunch of monthly roses on Mrs. Sarratt's dressing-table. Miss
Cookson hadn't bothered herself about flowers. That she might have
done!--instead of fussing over things that didn't concern her--just for
the sake of ordering people about.
When the little red-haired maid had left the room, the lady she disliked
returned to the window, and stood there absorbed in reflections that
were not gay, to judge from the furrowed brow and pinched lips that
accompanied them. Bridget Cookson was about thirty; not precisely
handsome, but at the same time, not ill-looking. Her eyes were large and
striking, and she had masses of dark hair, tightly coiled about her head
as though its owner felt it troublesome and in the way. She was thin,
but rather largely built, and her movements were quick and decided. Her
tweed dress was fashionably cut, but severely without small ornament of
She looked out upon a beautiful corner of English Lakeland. The house in
which she stood was built on the side of a little river, which, as she
saw it, came flashing and sparkling out of a lake beyond, lying in broad
strips of light and shade amid green surrounding fells. The sun was
slipping low, and would soon have kindled all the lake into a white
fire, in which its islands would have almost disappeared. But, for the
moment, everything was plain:--the sky, full of light, and filmy grey
cloud, the fells with their mingling of wood and purple crag, the
shallow reach of the river beyond the garden, with a little family of
wild duck floating upon it, and just below her a vivid splash of colour,
a mass of rhododendron in bloom, setting its rose-pink challenge against
the cool greys and greens of the fell.
But Bridget Cookson was not admiring the view. It was not new to her,
and moreover she was not in love with Westmorland at all; and why Nelly
should have chosen this particular spot, to live in, while George was at
the war, she did not understand. She believed there was some sentimental
reason. They had first seen him in the Lakes--just before the war--when
they two girls and their father were staying actually in this very
lodging-house. But sentimental reasons are nothing.
Well, the thing was done. Nelly was married, and in another week, George
would be at the front. Perhaps in a fortnight's time she would be a
widow. Such things have happened often. 'And then what shall I do with
her?' thought the sister, irritably,--recoiling from a sudden vision of
Nelly in sorrow, which seemed to threaten her own life with even greater
dislocation than had happened to it already. 'I must have my time to
myself!--freedom for what I want'--she thought to herself, impatiently,
'I can't be always looking after her.'
Yet of course the fact remained that there was no one else to look after
Nelly. They had been left alone in the world for a good while now. Their
father, a Manchester cotton-broker in a small way, had died some six
months before this date, leaving more debts than fortune. The two girls
had found themselves left with very small means, and had lived, of late,
mainly in lodgings--unfurnished rooms--with some of their old furniture
and household things round them. Their father, though unsuccessful in
business, had been ambitious in an old-fashioned way for his children,
and they had been brought up 'as gentlefolks'--that is to say without
any trade or profession.
But their poverty had pinched them disagreeably--especially Bridget, in
whom it had produced a kind of angry resentment. Their education had not
been serious enough, in these days of competition, to enable them to
make anything of teaching after their Father's death. Nelly's
water-colour drawing, for instance, though it was a passion with her,
was quite untrained, and its results unmarketable. Bridget had taken up
one subject after another, and generally in a spirit of antagonism to
her surroundings, who, according to her, were always 'interfering' with
what she wanted to do,--with her serious and important occupations. But
these occupations always ended by coming to nothing; so that, as Bridget
was irritably aware, even Nelly had ceased to be as much in awe of them
as she had once been.
But the elder sister had more solid cause than this for dissatisfaction
with the younger. Nelly had really behaved like a little fool! The one
family asset of which a great deal might have been made--should have
been made--was Nelly's prettiness. She was _very_ pretty--absurdly
pretty--and had been a great deal run after in Manchester already. There
had been actually two proposals from elderly men with money, who were
unaware of the child's engagement, during the past three months; and
though these particular suitors were perhaps unattractive, yet a little
time and patience, and the right man would have come along, both
acceptable in himself, and sufficiently supplied with money to make
everything easy for everybody.
But Nelly had just wilfully and stubbornly fallen in love with this
young man--and wilfully and stubbornly married him. It was unlike her to
be stubborn about anything. But in this there had been no moving her.
And now there was nothing before either of them but the same shabbiness
and penury as before. What if George had two hundred and fifty a year
of his own, besides his pay?--a fact that Nelly was always triumphantly
brandishing in her sister's eyes.
No doubt it was more than most young subalterns had--much more. But what
was two hundred and fifty a year? Nelly would want every penny of it for
herself--and her child--or children. For of course there would be a
child--Bridget Cookson fell into profound depths of thought, emerging
from them, now as often before, with the sore realisation of how much
Nelly might have done with her 'one talent,' both for herself and her
sister, and had not done.
The sun dropped lower; one side of the lake was now in shadow, and from
the green shore beneath the woods and rocks, the reflections of tree and
crag and grassy slope were dropping down and down, unearthly clear and
far, to that inverted heaven in the 'steady bosom' of the water. A
little breeze came wandering, bringing delicious scents of grass and
moss, and in the lake the fish were rising.
Miss Cookson moved away from the window. How late they were! She would
hardly get home in time for her own supper. They would probably ask her
to stay and sup with them. But she did not intend to stay. Honeymooners
were much better left to themselves. Nelly would be a dreadfully
sentimental bride; and then dreadfully upset when George went away. She
had asked her sister to join them in the Lakes, and it was taken for
granted that they would resume living together after George's departure.
But Bridget had fixed her own lodgings, for the present, a mile away,
and did not mean to see much of her sister till the bridegroom had gone.
There was the sound of a motor-car on the road, which ran along one side
of the garden, divided from it by a high wall. It could hardly be they;
for they were coming frugally by the coach. But Miss Cookson went across
to a side window looking on the road to investigate.
At the foot of the hill opposite stood a luxurious car, waiting
evidently for the party which was now descending the hill towards it.
Bridget had a clear view of them, herself unseen behind Mrs. Weston's
muslin blinds. A girl was in front, with a young man in khaki, a
convalescent officer, to judge from his frail look and hollow eyes. The
girl was exactly like the fashion-plate in the morning's paper. She wore
a very short skirt and Zouave jacket in grey cloth, high-heeled grey
boots, with black tips and gaiters, a preposterous little hat perched on
one side of a broad white forehead, across which the hair was parted
like a boy's, and an ostrich plume on the top of the hat, which nodded
and fluttered so extravagantly that the face beneath almost escaped the
spectator's notice. Yet it was on the whole a handsome face, audacious,
like its owner's costume, and with evident signs--for Bridget Cookson's
sharp eyes--of slight make-up.
Miss Cookson knew who she was. She had seen her in the neighbouring
town that morning, and had heard much gossip about her. She was Miss
Farrell, of Carton Hall, and that gentleman coming down the hill more
slowly behind her was no doubt her brother Sir William.
Lame? That of course was the reason why he was not in the army. It was
not very conspicuous, but still quite definite. A stiff knee, Miss
Cookson supposed--an accident perhaps--some time ago. Lucky for him!--on
any reasonable view. Bridget Cookson thought the war 'odious,' and gave
no more attention to it than she could help. It had lasted now nearly a
year, and she was heartily sick of it. It filled the papers with
monotonous news which tired her attention--which she did not really try
to understand. Now she supposed she would have to understand it. For
George, her new brother-in-law, was sure to talk a terrible amount of
Sir William was very tall certainly, and good-looking. He had a short
pointed beard, a ruddy, sunburnt complexion, blue eyes and broad
shoulders--the common points of the well-born and landowning
Englishman. Bridget looked at him with a mixture of respect and
hostility. To be rich was to be so far interesting; still all such
persons, belonging to a world of which she knew nothing, were in her
eyes 'swells,' and gave themselves airs; a procedure on their part,
which would be stopped when the middle and lower classes were powerful
enough to put them in their place. It was said, however, that this
particular man was rather a remarkable specimen of his kind--didn't
hunt--didn't preserve--had trained as an artist, and even exhibited. The
shopwoman in B---- from whom Miss Cookson derived her information about
the Farrells, had described Sir William as 'queer'--said everybody knew
he was 'queer.' Nobody could get him to do any county work. He hated
Committees, and never went near them. It was said he had been in love
and the lady had died. 'But if we all turned lazy for that kind of
thing!'--said the little shopwoman, shrugging her shoulders. Still the
Farrells were not unpopular. Sir William had a pleasant slow way of
talking, especially to the small folk; and he had just done something
very generous in giving up his house--the whole of his house--somewhere
Cockermouth way, to the War Office, as a hospital. As for his sister,
she seemed to like driving convalescent officers about, and throwing
away money on her clothes. There was no sign of 'war economy' about Miss
Here, however, the shopwoman's stream of gossip was arrested by the
arrival of a new customer. Bridget was not sorry. She had not been at
all interested in the Farrells' idiosyncrasies; and she only watched
their preparations for departure now, for lack of something to do. The
chauffeur was waiting beside the car, and Miss Farrell got in first,
taking the front seat. Then Sir William, who had been loitering on the
hill, hurried down to give a helping hand to the young officer, who was
evidently only in the early stages of convalescence. After settling his
guest comfortably, he turned to speak to his chauffeur, apparently about
their road home, as he took a map out of his pocket.
At this moment, a clatter of horses' hoofs and the rattle of a coach
were heard. Round the corner, swung the Windermere evening coach in fine
style, and drew up at the door of Mrs. Weston's lodgings, a little ahead
of the car.
'There they are!' said Miss Cookson, excited in spite of herself. 'Well,
I needn't go down. George will bring in the luggage.'
A young man and a young lady got up from their seats. A ladder was
brought for the lady to descend. But just as she was about to step on
it, a fidgeting horse in front made a movement, the ladder slipped, and
the lady was only just in time to withdraw her foot and save herself.
Sir William Farrell, who had seen the little incident, ran forward,
while the man who had been placing the ladder went to the horse, which
was capering and trying to rear in his eagerness to be off.
Sir William raised the ladder, and set it firmly against the coach.
'I think you might risk it now,' he said, raising his eyes pleasantly to
the young person above him.
'Thank you,' said a shy voice. Mrs. Sarratt turned round and descended.
Meanwhile the man holding the ladder saw an officer in khaki standing
on the top of the coach, and heard him address a word of laughing
encouragement to the lady. And no sooner had her feet touched the ground
than he was at her side in a trice.
'Thank you, Sir!' he said, saluting. 'My wife was very nearly thrown
off. That horse has been giving trouble all the way.'
'Must be content with what you can get, in war-time!' said the other
smiling, as he raised his hat to the young woman he had befriended, whom
he now saw plainly. 'And there are so few visitors at present in these
parts that what horses there are don't get enough to do.'
The face turned upon him was so exquisite in line and colour that Sir
William, suddenly struck, instead of retreating to his car, lingered
while the soldier husband--a lieutenant, to judge from the stripes on
his cuff,--collected a rather large amount of luggage from the top of
'You must have had a lovely drive along Windermere,' said Sir William
politely. 'Let me carry that bag for you. You're stopping here?'
'Yes--' said Mrs. Sarratt, distractedly, watching to see that the
luggage was all right. 'Oh, George, _do_ take care of that parcel!'
But she had spoken too late. As her husband, having handed over two suit
cases to Mrs. Weston's fourteen-year old boy, came towards her with a
large brown paper parcel, the string of it slipped, Mrs. Sarratt gave a
little cry, and but for her prompt rush to his assistance, its contents
would have descended into the road. But through a gap in the paper
various tin and china objects were disclosed.
'That's your "cooker," Nelly,' said her husband laughing. 'I told you it
would bust the show!'
But her tiny, deft fingers rapidly repaired the damage, and re-tied the
string while he assisted her. The coach drove off, and Sir William
patiently held the bag. Then she insisted on carrying the parcel
herself, and the lieutenant relieved Sir William.
'Awfully obliged to you!' he said gratefully. 'Good evening! We're
stopping here for a bit' He pointed to the open door of the
lodging-house, where Mrs. Weston and the boy were grappling with the
'May I ask--' Sir William's smile as he looked from one to the other
expressed that loosening of conventions in which we have all lived since
the war--'Are you home on leave, or--'
'I came home to be married,' said the young soldier, flushing slightly,
while his eyes crossed those of the young girl beside him. 'I've got a
'You've been out some time?'
'Since last November. I got a scratch in the Ypres fight in April--oh,
nothing--a small flesh wound--but they gave me a month's leave, and my
medical board has only just passed me.'
'Lanchesters?' said Sir William, looking at his cap. The other nodded
'Well, I am sure I hope you'll have good weather here,' said Sir
William, stepping back, and once more raising his hat to the bride.
'And--if there was Anything I could do to help your stay--'
'Oh, thank you, Sir, but--'
The pair smiled again at each other. Sir William understood, and smiled
too. A more engaging couple he thought he had never seen. The young man
was not exactly handsome, but he had a pair of charming hazel eyes, a
good-tempered mouth, and a really fine brow. He was tall too, and well
proportioned, and looked the pick of physical fitness. 'Just the kind of
splendid stuff we are sending out by the ship-load,' thought the elder
man, with a pang of envy--'And the girl's lovely!'
She was at that moment bowing to him, as she followed her husband across
the road. A thought occurred to Sir William, and he pursued her.
'I wonder--' he said diffidently--'if you care for boating--if you would
like to boat on the lake--'
'Oh, but it isn't allowed!' She turned on him a pair of astonished eyes.
'Not in general. Ah, I see you know these parts already. But I happen to
know the owner of the boathouse. Shall I get you leave?'
'Oh, that _would_ be delightful!' she said, her face kindling with a
child's joyousness. 'That _is_ kind of you! Our name is Sarratt--my
husband is Lieutenant Sarratt.'
--'Of the 21st Lanchesters? All right--I'll see to it!'
And he ran back to his car, while the young people disappeared into the
little entrance hall of the lodging-house, and the door shut upon them.
Miss Farrell received her brother with gibes. Trust William for finding
out a beauty! Who were they?
Farrell handed on his information as the car sped along the Keswick
'Going back in a week, is he?' said the convalescent officer beside him.
Then, bitterly--'lucky dog!'
Farrell looked at the speaker kindly.
'What--with a wife to leave?'
The boy, for he was little more, shrugged his shoulders. At that moment
he knew no passion but the passion for the regiment and his men, to whom
he couldn't get back, because his 'beastly constitution' wouldn't let
him recover as quickly as other men did. What did women matter?--when
the 'push' might be on, any day.
Cicely Farrell continued to chaff her brother, who took it
placidly--fortified by a big cigar.
'And if she'd been plain, Willy, you'd never have so much as known she
was there! Did you tell her you haunted these parts?'
He shook his head.
* * * * *
Meanwhile the bride and bridegroom had been met on the lodging-house
stairs by the bride's sister, who allowed herself to be kissed by the
bridegroom, and hugged by the bride. Her lack of effusion, however, made
little impression on the newcomers. They were in that state of happiness
which transfigures everything round it; they were delighted with the
smallest things; with the little lodging-house sitting room, its windows
open to the lake and river; with its muslin curtains, very clean and
white, its duster-rose too, just outside the window; with Mrs. Weston,
who in her friendly flurry had greeted the bride as 'Miss Nelly,' and
was bustling to get the tea; even, indeed, with Bridget Cookson's few
casual attentions to them. Mrs. Sarratt thought it 'dear' of Bridget to
have come to meet them, and ordered tea for them, and put those
delicious roses in her room--
'I didn't!' said Bridget, drily. 'That was Milly. It didn't occur to
The bride looked a little checked. But then the tea came in, a real
Westmorland meal, with its toasted bun, its jam, and its 'twist' of new
bread; and Nelly Sarratt forgot everything but the pleasure of making
her husband eat, of filling his cup for him, of looking sometimes
through the window at that shining lake, beside which she and George
would soon be roaming--for six long days. Yes, and nights too. For there
was a moon rising, which would be at the full in two or three days.
Imagination flew forward, as she leant dreamily back in her chair when
the meal was over, her eyes on the landscape. They two alone--on that
warm summer lake--drifting in the moonlight--heart against heart, cheek
against cheek. A shiver ran through her, which was partly passion,
partly a dull fear. But she banished fear. Nothing--_nothing_ should
spoil their week together.
'Darling!' said her husband, who had been watching her--'You're not very
tired?' He slipped his hand round hers, and her fingers rested in his
clasp, delighted to feel themselves so small, and his so strong. He had
spoken to her in the low voice that was hers alone. She was jealous lest
Bridget should have overheard it. But Bridget was at the other end of
the room. How foolish it had been of her--just because she was so happy,
and wanted to be nice to everybody!--to have asked Bridget to stay with
them! She was always doing silly things like that--impulsive things. But
now she was married. She must think more. It was really very considerate
of Bridget to have got them all out of a difficulty and to have settled
herself a mile away from them; though at first it had seemed rather
unkind. Now they could see her always sometime in the day, but not so as
to interfere. She was afraid Bridget and George would never really get
on, though she--Nelly--wanted to forget all the unpleasantness there had
been,--to forget everything--everything but George. The fortnight's
honeymoon lay like a haze of sunlight between her and the past.
But Bridget had noticed the voice and the clasped hands,--with
irritation. Really, after a fortnight, they might have done with that
kind of demonstrativeness. All the same, Nelly was quite extraordinarily
pretty--prettier than ever. While the sister was slowly putting on her
hat before the only mirror the sitting-room possessed, she was keenly
conscious of the two figures near the window, of the man in khaki
sitting on the arm of Nelly's chair, holding her hand, and looking down
upon her, of Nelly's flushed cheek and bending head. What a baby she
looked!--scarcely seventeen. Yet she was really twenty-one--old enough,
by a long way, to have done better for herself than this! Oh, George, in
himself, was well enough. If he came back from the war, his new-made
sister-in-law supposed she would get used to him in time. Bridget
however did not find it easy to get on with men, especially young men,
of whom she knew very few. For eight or ten years now, she had looked
upon them chiefly as awkward and inconvenient facts in women's lives.
Before that time, she could remember a few silly feelings on her own
part, especially with regard to a young clerk of her father's, who had
made love to her up to the very day when he shamefacedly told her that
he was already engaged, and would soon be married. That event had been a
shock to her, and had made her cautious and suspicious towards men ever
since. Her life was now full of quite other interests--incoherent and
changeable, but strong while they lasted. Nelly's state of bliss awoke
no answering sympathy in her.
'Well, good-bye, Nelly,' she said, when she had put on her
things--advancing towards them, while the lieutenant rose to his feet.
'I expect Mrs. Weston will make you comfortable. I ordered in all the
things for to-morrow.'
'Everything's _charming_!' said Nelly, as she put her arms round her
sister. 'It was awfully good of you to see to it all. Will you come over
to lunch to-morrow? We might take you somewhere.'
'Oh, don't bother about me! You won't want me. I'll look in some time.
I've got a lot of work to do.'
Nelly withdrew her arms. George Sarratt surveyed his sister-in-law with
'Work?' he repeated, with his pleasant, rather puzzled smile.
'What are you doing now, Bridget?' said Nelly, softly, stroking the
sleeve of her sister's jacket, but really conscious only of the man
'Reading some proof-sheets for a friend,' was the rather short reply, as
Bridget released herself.
'Something dreadfully difficult?' laughed Nelly.
'I don't know what you mean by difficult,' said Bridget ungraciously,
looking for her gloves. 'It's psychology--that's all. Lucy Fenn's
bringing out another volume of essays.'
'It sounds awful!' said George Sarratt, laughing. 'I wish I knew what
psychology was about. But can't you take a holiday?--just this week?'
He looked at her rather gravely. But Bridget shook her head, and again
said good-bye. George Sarratt took her downstairs, and saw her off on
her bicycle. Then he returned smiling, to his wife.
'I say, Bridget makes me feel a dunce! Is she really such a learned
Nelly's dark eyes danced a little. 'I suppose she is--but she doesn't
stick to anything. It's always something different. A few months ago, it
was geology; and we used to go out for walks with a hammer and a bag.
Last year it was _the_-ology! Our poor clergyman, Mr. Richardson, was no
match for Bridget at all. She could always bowl him over.'
'Somehow all the "ologies" seem very far away--don't they?' murmured
Sarratt, after they had laughed together. They were standing at the
window again, his arm close round her, her small dark head pressed
against him. There was ecstasy in their nearness to each other--in the
silver beauty of the lake--in the soft coming of the June evening; and
in that stern fact itself that in one short week, he would have left
her, would be facing death or mutilation, day after day, in the trenches
on the Ypres salient. While he held her, all sorts of images flitted
through his mind--of which he would not have told her for the
world--horrible facts of bloody war. In eight months he had seen plenty
of them. The signs of them were graven on his young face, on his eyes,
round which a slight permanent frown, as of perplexity, seemed to have
settled, and on his mouth which was no longer naif and boyish, but would
always drop with repose into a hard compressed line.
Nelly looked up.
'Everything's far away'--she whispered--'but this--and you!' He kissed
her upturned lips--and there was silence.
Then a robin singing outside in the evening hush, sent a message to
them. Nelly with an effort drew herself away.
'Shan't we go out? We'll tell Mrs. Weston to put supper on the table,
and we can come in when we like. But I'll just unpack a little first--in
She disappeared through a door at the end of the sitting-room. Her last
words--softly spoken--produced a kind of shock of joy in Sarratt. He sat
motionless, hearing the echo of them, till she reappeared. When she came
back, she had taken off her serge travelling dress and was wearing a
little gown of some white cotton stuff, with a blue cloak, the evening
having turned chilly, and a hat with a blue ribbon. In this garb she was
a vision of innocent beauty; wherein refinement and a touch of
strangeness combined with the dark brilliance of eyes and hair, with the
pale, slightly sunburnt skin, the small features and tiny throat, to
rivet the spectator. And she probably knew it, for she flushed slightly
under her husband's eyes.
'Oh, what a paradise!' she said, under her breath, pointing to the scene
beyond the window. Then--lifting appealing hands to him--'Take me
The newly-married pair crossed a wooden bridge over the stream from the
Lake, and found themselves on its further shore, a shore as untouched
and unspoilt now as when Wordsworth knew it, a hundred years ago. The
sun had only just vanished out of sight behind the Grasmere fells, and
the long Westmorland after-glow would linger for nearly a couple of
hours yet. After much rain the skies were clear, and all the omens fair.
But the rain had left its laughing message behind; in the full river, in
the streams leaping down the fells, in the freshness of every living
thing--the new-leafed trees, the grass with its flowers, the rushes
spreading their light armies through the flooded margins of the lake,
and bending to the light wind, which had just, as though in mischief,
blotted out the dream-world in the water, and set it rippling eastwards
in one sheet of living silver, broken only by a cloud-shadow at its
further end. Fragrance was everywhere--from the trees, the young fern,
the grass; and from the shining west, the shadowed fells, the brilliant
water, there breathed a voice of triumphant beauty, of unconquered
peace, which presently affected George Sarratt strangely.
They had just passed through a little wood; and in its friendly gloom,
he had put his arm round his wife so that they had lingered a little,
loth to leave its shelter. But now they had emerged again upon the
radiance of the fell-side, and he had found a stone for Nelly to rest
'That those places in France, and that sky--should be in the same
world!' he said, under his breath, pointing to the glow on the eastern
fells, as he threw himself down on the turf beside her.
Her face flushed with exercise and happiness suddenly darkened.
'Don't--don't talk of them to-night!'--she said passionately--'not
to-night--just to-night, George!'
And she stooped impetuously to lay her hand on his lips. He kissed the
hand, held it, and remained silent, his eyes fixed upon the lake. On
that day week he would probably just have rejoined his regiment. It was
somewhere in the neighbourhood of Bailleul. Hot work, he heard, was
expected. There was still a scandalous shortage of ammunition--and if
there was really to be a 'push,' the losses would be appalling. Man
after man that he knew had been killed within a week--two or three
days--twenty-four hours even!--of rejoining. Supposing that within a
fortnight Nelly sat here, looking at this lake, with the War Office
telegram in her hand--'Deeply regret to inform you, etc.' This was not a
subject on which he had ever allowed himself to dwell, more than in his
changed circumstances he was bound to dwell. Every soldier, normally,
expects to get through. But of course he had done everything that was
necessary for Nelly. His will was in the proper hands; and the night
before their wedding he had written a letter to her, to be given her if
he fell. Otherwise he had taken little account of possible death; nor
had it cost him any trouble to banish the thought of it.
But the beauty of the evening--of this old earth, which takes no account
of the perishing of men--and Nelly's warm life beside him, hanging upon
his, perhaps already containing within it the mysterious promise of
another life, had suddenly brought upon him a tremor of soul--an inward
shudder. Did he really believe in existence after death--in a meeting
again, in some dim other scene, if they were violently parted now? He
had been confirmed while at school. His parents were Church people of a
rather languid type, and it seemed the natural thing to do. Since then
he had occasionally taken the Communion, largely to please an elder
school-friend, who was ardently devout, and was now a Chaplain on the
Western front. But what did it really mean to him?--what would it mean
to _her_--if she were left alone? Images passed through his mind--the
sights of the trenches--shattered and dying bodies. What was the
_soul_?--had it really an independent life? _Something_ there was in
men--quite rough and common men--something revealed by war and the
sufferings of war--so splendid, so infinitely beyond anything he had
ever dreamed of in ordinary life, that to think of it roused in him a
passion of hidden feeling--perhaps adoration--but vague and
speechless--adoration of he knew not what. He did not speak easily of
his feeling, even to his young wife, to whom marriage had so closely, so
ineffably bound him. But as he lay on the grass looking up at
her--smiling--obeying her command of silence, his thoughts ranged
irrepressibly. Supposing he fell, and she lived on--years and years--to
be an old woman? Old! Nelly? Impossible! He put his hand gently on the
slender foot, and felt the pulsing life in it. 'Dearest!' she murmured
at his touch, and their eyes met tenderly.
'I should be content--' he thought--'if we could just live _this_ life
out! I don't believe I should want another life. But to go--and leave
her; to go--just at the beginning--before one knows anything--before one
has finished anything--'
And again his eyes wandered from her to the suffusion of light and
colour on the lake. 'How could anyone ever want anything better than
this earth--this life--at its best--if only one were allowed a full and
normal share of it!' And he thought again, almost with a leap of
exasperation, of those dead and mangled men--out there--in France. Who
was responsible--God?--or man? But man's will is--must be--something
dependent--something included in God's will. If God really existed, and
if He willed war, and sudden death--then there must be another life. Or
else the power that devised the world was not a good, but an evil--at
best, a blind one.
But while his young brain was racing through the old puzzles in the old
ways, Nelly was thinking of something quite different. Her delicate
small face kept breaking into little smiles with pensive intervals--till
at last she broke out--
'Do you remember how I caught you--turning back to look after us--just
here--just about here? You had passed that thorn tree--'
He came back to love-making with delight.
'"Caught me!" I like that! As if you weren't looking back too! How else
did you know anything about me?'
He had taken his seat beside her on the rock, and her curly black head
was nestling against his shoulder. There was no one on the mountain
path, no one on the lake. Occasionally from the main road on the
opposite shore there was a passing sound of wheels. Otherwise the world
was theirs--its abysses of shadow, its 'majesties of light.'
She laughed joyously, not attempting to contradict him. It was on this
very path, just two months before the war, that they had first seen each
other. She with her father and Bridget were staying at Mrs. Weston's
lodgings, because she, Nelly, had had influenza, and the doctor had sent
her away for a change. They knew the Lakes well already, as is the way
of Manchester folk. Their father, a hard-worked, and often melancholy
man, had delighted in them, summer and winter, and his two girls had
trudged about the fells with him year after year, and wanted nothing
different or better. At least, Nelly had always been content. Bridget
had grumbled often, and proposed Blackpool, or Llandudno, or Eastbourne
for a change. But their father did not like 'crowds.' They came to the
Lakes always before or after the regular season. Mr. Cookson hated the
concourse of motorists in August, and never would use one himself. Not
even when they went from Ambleside to Keswick. They must always walk, or
go by the horse-coach.
Nelly presently looked up, and gave a little pull to the corner of her
'Of course you know you behaved abominably that next day at Wythburn!
You kept that whole party waiting while you ran after us. And I hadn't
dropped that bag. You knew very well I hadn't dropped it!'
'It did as well as anything else. I got five minutes' talk with you. I
found out where you lodged.'
'Poor papa!'--said Nelly reflectively--'he was so puzzled. "There's that
fellow we saw at Wythburn again! Why on earth does he come here to fish?
I never saw anybody catch a thing in this bit of the river." Poor papa!'
They were both silent a little. Mr. Cookson had not lived long enough to
see Nelly and George Sarratt engaged. The war had killed him. Financial
embarrassment was already closing on him when it broke out, and he
could not stand the shock and the general dislocation of the first
weeks, as sounder men could. The terror of ruin broke him down--and he
was dead before Christmas, nominally of bronchitis and heart failure.
Nelly had worn mourning for him up to her wedding day. She had been very
sorry for 'poor papa'--and very fond of him; whereas Bridget had been
rather hard on him always. For really he had done his best. After all he
had left them just enough to live upon. Nelly's conscience, grown
tenderer than of old under the touch of joy, pricked her as she thought
of her father. She knew he had loved her best of his two daughters. She
would always remember his last lingering hand-clasp, always be thankful
for his last few words--'God bless you, dear.' But had she cared for him
enough in return?--had she really tried to understand him? Some
vague sense of the pathos of age--of its isolation--its dumb
renouncements--gripped her. If he had only lived longer! He would have
been so proud of George.
She roused herself.
'You did really make up your mind--_then_?' she asked him, just for the
pleasure of hearing him confess it again.
'Of course I did! But what was the good?'
She knew that he meant it had been impossible to speak while his mother
was still alive, and he, her only child, was partly dependent upon her.
But his mother had died not long after Nelly's father, and her little
income had come to her son. So now what with Nelly's small portion, and
his mother's two hundred and fifty a year in addition to his pay, the
young subaltern thought himself almost rich--in comparison with so many
others. His father, who had died while he was still at school, had been
a master at Harrow, and he had been brought up in a refined home, with
high standards and ideals. A scholarship at Oxford at one of the smaller
colleges, a creditable degree, then an opening in the office of a
well-known firm of solicitors, friends of his father, and a temporary
commission, as soon as war broke out, on his record as a keen and
diligent member of the Harrow and Oxford O.T.C.'s:--these had been the
chief facts of his life up to August 1914;--that August which covered
the roads leading to the Aldershot headquarters, day by day, with the
ever-renewed columns of the army to be, with masses of marching men,
whose eager eyes said one thing only--'_Training_!--_training_!'
The war, and the causes of the war, had moved his nature, which was
sincere and upright, profoundly; all the more perhaps because of a
certain kindling and awakening of the whole man, which had come from his
first sight of Nelly Cookson in the previous June, and from his growing
friendship with her--which he must not yet call love. He had decided
however after three meetings with her that he would never marry anyone
else. Her softness, her yieldingness, her delicate beauty intoxicated
him. He rejoiced that she was no 'new woman,' but only a very girlish
and undeveloped creature, who would naturally want his protection as
well as his love. For it was his character to protect and serve. He had
protected and served his mother--faithfully and well. And as she was
dying, he had told her about Nelly--not before; only to find that she
knew it all, and that the only soreness he had ever caused her came from
the secrecy which he had tenderly thought her due.
But for all his sanity and sweet temper there was a hard tough strain in
him, which had made war so far, even through the horrors of it, a great
absorbing game to him, for which he knew himself fitted, in which he
meant to excel. Several times during the fighting that led up to Neuve
Chapelle he had drawn the attention of his superiors, both for bravery
and judgment; and after Neuve Chapelle, he had been mentioned in
despatches. He had never yet known fear in the field--never even such a
shudder at the unknown--which was yet the possible!--as he had just been
conscious of. His nerves had always been strong, his nature was in the
main simple. Yet for him, as well as for so many other 'fellows' he
knew, the war had meant a great deal of this new and puzzled
thinking--on problems of right and wrong, of 'whence' and 'whither,' of
the personal value of men--this man, or that man. By George, war brought
them out!--these personal values. And the general result for him, up to
now,--had he been specially lucky?--had been a vast increase of faith in
his fellow men, yes, and faith in himself, modest as he was. He was
proud to be an English soldier--proud to the roots of his being. His
quiet patriotism had become a passion; he knew now in what he had
Yes--England for ever! An English home after the war--and English
children. Oh, he hoped Nelly would have children! As he held her pressed
against him, he seemed to see her in the future--with the small things
round her. But he did not speak of it.
She meanwhile was thinking of quite other things, and presently she said
in a quick, troubled voice--
'George!--while you are away--you don't want me to do munitions?'
He laughed out.
'Munitions! I see you at a lathe! Dear--I don't think you'd earn your
keep!' And he lifted her delicate arm and tiny hand, and looked at them
with scientific curiosity. Her frail build was a constant wonder and
pleasure to him. But small as she was, there was something unusual, some
prophecy, perhaps, of developments to come, in the carriage of her head,
and in some of her looks. Her education had been extremely slight, many
of her ideas were still childish, and the circle from which she came had
been inferior in birth and breeding to his own. But he had soon realised
on their honeymoon, in spite of her simple talk, that she was very
'Because--' she went on, doubtfully--'there are so many other things I
could do--quite useful things. There's sphagnum moss! Everybody up here
is gathering sphagnum moss--you know--for bandages--upon the fells. I
daresay Bridget might help in that. She won't do any other sort of
'Why, I thought all women were doing some kind of war-work!'
'Bridget won't. She doesn't want to hear about the war at all. She's
bored with it.'
'Bored with it! Good heavens!' Sarratt's countenance clouded.
'Darling--that'll be rather hard on you, if you and she are going to
Nelly lifted her head from his shoulder, and looked at him rather
'I'm afraid you don't know much about Bridget, George. She's,--well,
she's--one of the--oddest women you ever met.'
'So it seems! But why is she bored with the war?'
'Well--you see--it doesn't matter to _her_ in any way--and she doesn't
want it to matter to her. There's nobody in it she cares about.'
'Thanks!' laughed Sarratt. But Nelly still grave, shook her head. 'Oh,
she's not the least like other people. She won't care about you, George,
just because you've married me. And--'
'And what? Is she still angry with me for not being rich?'
And his thoughts went back to his first interview with Bridget
Cookson--on the day when their engagement was announced. He could see
the tall sharp-featured woman now, standing with her back to the light
in the little sitting-room of the Manchester lodgings. She had not been
fierce or abusive at all. She had accepted it quietly--with only a few
'All right, Mr. Sarratt. I have nothing to say. Nelly must please
herself. But you've done her an injury! There are plenty of rich men
that would have married her. You're very poor--and so are we.'
When the words were spoken, Nelly had just accepted him; she was her own
mistress; he had not therefore taken her sister's disapproval much to
heart. Still the words had rankled.
'Darling!--when I made you marry me--_did_ I do you an injury?' he said
suddenly, as they were walking again hand in hand along the high green
path with the lake at their feet, and a vision of blue and rose before
them, in the shadowed western mountains, the lower grounds steeped in
fiery light, and the red reflections in the still water.
'What _do_ you mean?' said Nelly, turning upon him a face of wonder.
'Well, that was what Bridget said to me, when I told her that you had
accepted me. But I was a great fool to tell you, darling! I'm sorry I
did. It was only--'
'"Injury,"' repeated Nelly, not listening to him. 'Oh, yes, of course
that was money. Bridget says it's all nonsense talking about honour, or
love, or that kind of thing. Everything is really money. It was money
that began this war. The Germans wanted our trade and our money--and we
were determined they shouldn't have them--and that's all there is in it.
With money you can have everything you want and a jolly life--and
without money you can have nothing,--and are just nobody. When that rich
old horror wanted to marry me last year in Manchester, Bridget thought
me perfectly mad to refuse him. She didn't speak to me for a week. Of
course he would have provided for her too.'
Sarratt had flushed hotly; but he spoke good-naturedly.
'Well, that was a miss for her--I quite see that. But after all we can
help her a bit. We shall always feel that we must look after her. And
why shouldn't she herself marry?'
'Never! She hates men.'
There was a silence a moment. And then Sarratt said, rather gravely--'I
say, darling, if she's going to make you miserable while I am away,
hadn't we better make some other arrangement? I thought of course she
would be good to you, and look after you! Naturally any sister would,
that was worth her salt!'
And he looked down indignantly on the little figure beside him. But it
roused Nelly's mirth that he should put it in that way.
'George,--you _are_ such a darling!--and--and, such a goose!' She rubbed
her cheek against his arm as though to take the edge off the epithet.
'The idea of Bridget's wanting to "look after" me! She'll want to
_manage_ me of course--and I'd much better let her do it. I don't mind!'
And the speaker gave a long, sudden sigh.
'But I won't have you troubled and worried, when I'm not there to
protect you!' cried Sarratt, fiercely. 'You could easily find a friend.'
But Nelly shook her head.
'Oh, no. That wouldn't do. Bridget and I always get on, George. We never
quarrelled--except when I stuck to marrying you. Generally--I always
give in. It doesn't matter. It answers perfectly.'
She spoke with a kind of languid softness which puzzled him.
'But now you can't always give in, dearest! You belong to me!' And his
grasp tightened on the hand he held.
'I can give in enough--to keep the peace,' said Nelly slowly. 'And if
you weren't here, it wouldn't be natural that I shouldn't live with
Bridget. I'm used to her. Only I want to make you understand her,
darling. She's not a bit like--well, like the people you admire, and its
no good expecting her to be.'
'I shall talk to her before I go!' he said, half laughing, half
Nelly looked alarmed.
'No--please don't! She always gets the better of people who scold her.
Or if you were to get the better, then she'd visit it on me. And now
don't let's talk of her any more! What were we saying? Oh, I know--what
I was to do. Let's sit down again,--there's a rock, made for us.'
And on a natural seat under a sheltering rock canopied and hung with
fern, the two rested once more, wrapped in one cloak, close beside the
water, which was quiet again, and crossed by the magical lights and
splendid shadows of the dying sunset. Nelly had been full of plans when
they sat down, but the nearness of the man she loved, his arm round her,
his life beating as it were in one pulse with hers, intoxicated, and for
a time silenced her. She had taken off her hat, and she lay quietly
against him in the warm shelter of the cloak. He thought presently she
was asleep. How small and dear she was! He bent over her, watching as
closely as the now dim light allowed, the dark eyelashes lying on her
cheek, her closed mouth, and soft breathing. His very own!--the thought
was ecstasy--he forgot the war, and the few days left him.
But this very intensity of brooding love in which he held her, made her
restless after a little. She sat up, and smiled at him--
'We must go home!--Yes, we must. But look!--there is a boat!'
And only a few yards from them, emerging from the shadows, they saw a
boat rocking gently at anchor beside a tiny landing-stage. Nelly sprang
to her feet.
'George!--suppose you were just to row us out--there--into the light!'
But when they came to the boat they found it pad-locked to a post in the
'Ah, well, never mind,' said Nelly--'I'm sure that man won't forget?'
'That man who spoke to us? Who was he?'
'Oh, I found out from Bridget, and Mrs. Weston. He's Sir William
Farrell, a great swell, tremendously rich. He has a big place somewhere,
out beyond Keswick, beyond Bassenthwaite. You saw he had a stiff knee?'
'Yes. Can't fight, I suppose--poor beggar! He was very much struck by
_you_, Mrs. George Sarratt!--that was plain.'
Nelly laughed--a happy childish laugh.
'Well, if he does get us leave to boat, you needn't mind, need you? What
else, I wonder, could he do for us?'
'Nothing!' The tone was decided. 'I don't like being beholden to great
folk. But that, I suppose, is the kind of man whom Bridget would have
liked you to marry, darling?'
'As if he would ever have looked at me!' said Nelly tranquilly. 'A man
like that may be as rich as rich, but he would never marry a poor wife.'
'Thank God, I don't believe money will matter nearly as much to people,
after the war!' said Sarratt, with energy. 'It's astonishing how now, in
the army--of course it wasn't the same before the war--you forget it
entirely. Who cares whether a man's rich, or who's son he is? In my
batch when I went up to Aldershot there were men of all sorts,
stock-brokers, landowners, city men, manufacturers, solicitors, some of
them awfully rich, and then clerks, and schoolmasters, and lots of poor
devils, like myself. We didn't care a rap, except whether a man took to
his drill, or didn't; whether he was going to keep the Company back or
help it on. And it's just the same in the field. Nothing counts but what
you _are_--it doesn't matter a brass hap'orth what you have. And as the
new armies come along that'll be so more and more. It's "Duke's son and
Cook's son," everywhere, and all the time. If it was that in the South
African war, it's twenty times that now. This war is bringing the nation
together as nothing ever has done, or could do. War is hellish!--but
there's a deal to be said for it!'
He spoke with ardour, as they strolled homeward, along the darkening
shore, she hanging on his arm. Nelly said nothing. Her little face
showed very white in the gathering shadows. He went on.
'There was a Second Lieutenant in our battalion, an awfully handsome
boy--heir to a peerage I think. But he couldn't get a commission quick
enough to please him when the war broke out, so he just enlisted--oh! of
course they've given him a commission long ago. But his great friend was
a young miner, who spoke broad Northumberland, a jolly chap. And these
two stuck together--we used to call them the Heavenly Twins. And in the
fighting round Hill 60, the miner got wounded, and lay out between the
lines, with the Boche shells making hell round him. And the other fellow
never rested till he'd crawled out to him, and taken him water, and tied
him up, and made a kind of shelter for him. The miner was a big fellow,
and the other was just a slip of a boy. So he couldn't drag in his
friend, but he got another man to go out with him, and between them they
did it right enough. And when I was in the clearing station next day, I
saw the two--the miner in bed, awfully smashed up, and the other sitting
by him. It made one feel choky. The boy could have put down a cool
hundred thousand, I suppose, if it could have done any good. But it
wouldn't. I can tell you, darling, this war knocks the nonsense out of a
'But Bridget is a woman!' said a dreamy voice beside him.
Sarratt laughed; but he was launched on recollections and could not stop
himself. Apparently everybody in his company was a hero, and had
deserved the Military Cross ten times over, except himself. He described
some incidents he had personally seen, and through the repressed fire
with which he spoke, the personality and ideals of the man revealed
themselves--normal, strong, self-forgetting. Had he even forgotten the
little creature beside him? Hardly, for instinctively he softened away
some of the terrible details of blood and pain. But he had forgotten
Nelly's prohibition. And when again they had entered the dark wood which
lay between them and the cottage on the river-bank, suddenly he heard a
trembling breath, and a sob.
He caught her in his arms.
'Nelly, darling! Oh, I was a brute to talk to you like this.'
'No,' she said, struggling with herself--'No! Wait a moment.' She lay
against him trembling through every limb, while he kissed and comforted
'I'm--I'm not a coward, George!' she said at last, gasping,--'I'm not
indeed. Only--well, this morning I had about a hundred and seventy hours
left--I counted them. And now there are fifteen less. And all the time,
while we talk, they are slipping away, so quick--so quick--'
But she was regaining self-control, and soon released herself.
'I won't do it again!' she said piteously, in the tone of a penitent
child. 'I won't indeed. Let's go home. I'm all right.'
And home they sped, hand in hand, silently. The little room when they
re-entered it was bright with firelight, because kind Mrs. Weston had
thought the flight chilly, and the white table laid out for them--its
pretty china and simple fare--tempted and cheered them with its look of
home. But Nelly lay on the sofa afterwards very pale, though smiling and
talking as usual. And through the night she was haunted, sleeping and
waking, by the image of the solitary boat rocking gently on the moonlit
lake, the water lapping its sides. She saw herself and George adrift in
it--sailing into--disappearing in--that radiance of silver light.
Sleepily she hoped that Sir William Farrell would not forget his
May I come in?'
Nelly Sarratt, who was standing beside the table in the sitting-room,
packing a small luncheon-basket with sandwiches and cake, looked up in
astonishment. Then she went to the door which was slightly ajar, and
She beheld a very tall man standing smiling on the threshold.
'I hope I'm not disturbing you, Mrs. Sarratt--but I was on my way for a
day's sketching, and as my car passed your house, I thought I would like
to bring you, myself, the permission which I spoke of on Saturday. I
wrote yesterday, my friend was away from home but I got a telegram this
The visitor held out a telegram, which Nelly took in some bewilderment.
It fluttered her to be so much thought for by a stranger--and a stranger
moreover who seemed but to wave his wand and things were done. But she
thanked him heartily.
'Won't you come in, Sir William?' she asked him, shyly. 'My husband will
be here directly.'
It pleased him that she had found out who he was. He protested that he
mustn't stay a moment, but all the same he came in, and stood with his
hands in his pockets looking at the view. He seemed to Nelly to fill the
little sitting-room. Not that he was stout. There was not an ounce of
superfluous flesh on him anywhere. But he stood at least six foot four
in his boots; his shoulders were broad in proportion; and his head, with
its strong curly hair of a light golden brown, which was repeated in his
short beard, carried itself with the unconscious ease of one who has
never known anything but the upper seats of life. His features were
handsome, except for a broad irregular mouth, and his blue eyes were
kind and lazily humorous.
'There's nothing better than that lake,' he said, motioning towards it,
with his hand, as though he followed the outlines of the hills. 'But I
never try to draw it. I leave that to the fellows who think they can!
I'm afraid your permit's only for a week, Mrs. Sarratt. The boat, I
find, will be wanted after that.'
'Oh, but my husband will be gone in a week--less than a week. I couldn't
row myself!' said Nelly, smiling.
But Sir William thought the smile trembled a little, and he felt very
sorry for the small, pretty creature.
'You will be staying on here after your husband goes?'
'Oh yes. My sister will be with me. We know the Lakes very well.'
'Staying through the summer, I suppose?' 'I shan't want to move--if the
war goes on. We haven't any home of our own--yet.'
She had seated herself, and spoke with the self-possession which belongs
to those who know themselves fair to look upon. But there seemed to be
no coquetry about her--no consciousness of a male to be attracted. All
her ways were very gentle and childish, and in her white dress she made
the same impression on Farrell as she had on Bridget, of
extreme--absurd--youthfulness. He guessed her age about nineteen,
'I'm afraid the war will go on,' he said, kindly. 'We are only now just
finding out our deficiencies.'
'I know--it's _awful_ how we want guns and shells! My husband says it
makes him savage to see how we lose men for want of them. _Why_ are we
so short? Whose fault is it?'
A spot of angry colour had risen in her cheek. It was the dove defending
her mate. The change was lovely, and Farrell, with his artist's eye,
watched it eagerly. But he shook his head.
'It's nobody's fault. It's all on such a scale--unheard of! Nobody could
have guessed before-hand--unless like Germany, we had been preparing for
years to rob and murder our neighbours. Well, Mrs. Sarratt, I must be
going on. But I wanted to say, that if we could do anything for
you--please command us. We live about twenty miles from here. My sister
hopes she may come and see you. And we have a big library at Carton. If
there are any books you want--'
'Oh, how _very_ kind of you!' said Nelly gratefully. She had risen and
was standing beside him, looking at him with her dark, frank eyes. 'But
indeed I shall get on very well. There's a war workroom in Manchester,
which will send me work. And I shall try and help with the sphagnum
moss. There's a notice up near here, asking people to help. 'And
perhaps'--she laughed and colored--'I shall try to sketch a little. I
can't do it a bit--but it amuses me.'
'Oh, you _draw_?' said Farrell, with a smile. Then, looking round him,
he noticed a portfolio on the table, with a paint box beside it. 'May I
With rather red cheeks, Nelly showed her performances. She knew very
well, being accustomed to follow such things in the newspapers, that Sir
William Farrell had exhibited both in London and Manchester, and was
much admired by some of the critics.
Farrell twisted his mouth over them a good deal, considering them
'Yes, I see--I see exactly where you are. Not bad at all, some of them.
I could lend you some things which would help you I think. Ah, here is
George Sarratt entered, looking in some surprise at their very prompt
visitor, and a little inclined to stand on his guard against a patronage
that might be troublesome. But Farrell explained himself so
apologetically that the young man could only add his very hearty thanks
to his wife's.
'Well, I really _must_ be off,' said Farrell again, looking for his hat.
'And I see you are going out for the day.' He glanced at the lunch
preparations. 'Do you know Loughrigg Tarn?' He turned to Nelly.
'Oh, yes!' Her face glowed. 'Isn't it beautiful? But I don't think
George knows it.' She looked up at him. He smiled and shook his head.
'I have a cottage there,' said Farrell, addressing Sarratt. 'Wordsworth
said it was like Nemi. It isn't:--but it's beautiful all the same. I
wish you would bring your wife there to tea with me one day before you
go? There is an old woman who looks after me. This view is fine'--he
pointed to the window--'but I think mine is finer.'
'Thank you,' said Sarratt, rather formally--'but I am afraid our days
are getting pretty full.'
'Of course, of course!' said Sir William, smiling. 'I only meant, if you
happened to be walking in that direction and want a rest. I have a
number of drawings there--my own and other people's, which Mrs. Sarratt
might care to see--sometime. You go on Saturday?'
'Yes. I'm due to rejoin by Monday.'
Farrell's expression darkened.
'You see what keeps me?' he said, sharply, striking his left knee with
the flat of his hand. 'I had a bad fall, shooting in Scotland, years
ago--when I was quite a lad. Something went wrong in the knee-cap. The
doctors muffed it, and I have had a stiff knee ever since. I daresay
they'd give me work at the War Office--or the Admiralty. Lots of fellows
I know who can't serve are doing war-work of that kind. But I can't
stand office work--never could. It makes me ill, and in a week of it I
am fit to hang myself. I live out of doors. I've done some
recruiting--speaking for the Lord Lieutenant. But I can't speak worth a
cent--and I do no good. No fellow ever joined up because of my
eloquence!--couldn't if he tried. No--I've given up my house--it was the
best thing I could do. It's a jolly house, and I've got lots of jolly
things in it. But the War Office and I between us have turned it into a
capital hospital. We take men from the Border regiments mostly. I wonder
if I shall ever be able to live in it again! My sister and I are now in
the agent's house. I work at the hospital three or four days a week--and
then I come here and sketch. I don't see why I shouldn't.'
He straightened his shoulder as though defying somebody. Yet there was
something appealing, and, as it were, boyish, in the defiance. The man's
patriotic conscience could be felt struggling with his dilettantism.
Sarratt suddenly liked him.
'No, indeed,' he said heartily. 'Why shouldn't you?' 'It's when one
thinks of _your_ job, one feels a brute to be doing anything one likes.'
'Well, you'd be doing the same job if you could. That's all right!' said
It was curious how in a few minutes the young officer had come to seem
the older and more responsible of the two men. Yet Farrell was clearly
his senior by some ten or fifteen years. Instinctively Nelly moved
nearer to George. She liked to feel how easily he could hold his own
with great people, who made _her_ feel nervous. For she understood from
Mrs. Weston that the Farrells were very great people indeed, as to money
and county position, and that kind of thing.
Sarratt took his visitor downstairs, and returned, laughing to himself.
'Well, darling, I've promised we'll go to his cottage one day this week.
You've to let him know. He's an odd fellow! Reminds me of that story of
the young Don at Cambridge who spent all the time he could spare from
neglecting his duties in adorning his person. And yet that doesn't hit
it quite either. For I don't suppose he does spend much time in adorning
his person. He doesn't want it. He's such a splendid looking chap to
begin with. But I'm sure his duties have a poor time! Why, he told
me--me, an utter stranger!--as we went downstairs--that being a
landowner was the most boring trade in the world. He hated his tenants,
and turned all the bother of them over to his agents. "But they don't
hate me"--he said--"because I don't put the screw on. I'm rich enough
without." By Jove, he's a queer specimen!'
And Sarratt laughed out, remembering some further items of the
conversation on the stairs.
'Whom are you discussing?' said a cold voice in the background.
It was Bridget Cookson's voice, and the husband and wife turned to greet
her. The day was balmy--June at its best. But Bridget as she came in had
the look of someone rasped with east wind. Nelly noticed too that since
her marriage, Bridget had developed an odd habit of not looking her--or
George--straight in the face. She looked sideways, as though determined
to avoid the mere sight of their youth and happiness. 'Is she going to
make a quarrel of it all our lives?' thought Nelly impatiently. 'And
when George is so nice to her! How can she be so silly!'
'We were talking about our visitor who has just left,' said Sarratt,
clearing a chair for his sister-in-law. 'Ah, you came from the other
direction, you just missed him.'
'The man'--said Nelly--'who was so awfully polite to me on Saturday--Sir
Bridget's countenance lost its stiffness at once--became eager and
'What did he come for?'
'To bring us permission to use the boat for a week,' said Nelly.
'Wasn't it decent of him?--and to do it so quick!'
'Oh, that's the Farrell way--always was,' said Bridget complacently, as
though she had the family in her pocket. 'When they think of a thing
it's done. It's hit or miss. They never stop to think.'
Sarratt looked at his sister-in-law with a covert amusement. It was a
left-handed remark. But she went on--while Nelly finished the packing of
the luncheon-basket--pouring out a flood of gossip about the
Farrells's place near Cockermouth, their great relations, their wealth,
their pictures, and their china, while Sarratt walked up and down,
fidgeting with his mouth, and inwardly thanking his stars that his Nelly
was not the least like her sister, that she was as refined and
well-bred, as Bridget was beginning to seem to him vulgar and tiresome.
But he realised that there was a personality in the tall harsh woman;
that she might be formidable; and once or twice he found himself
watching the curious side-long action of her head and neck, and the play
of her eyes and mouth, with a mingling of close attention and strong
dislike. He kept his own counsel however; and presently he heard
Bridget, who had so far refused all their invitations to join their
walks or excursions, rather eagerly accepting Nelly's invitation to go
with them to Sir William's Loughrigg cottage. She knew all about it
apparently, and said it was 'a gem of a place!' Sir William kept an old
butler and his wife there--pensioned off--who looked after him when he
came. 'Everything's tiny,' said Bridget with emphasis--'but _perfect_!
Sir William has the most exquisite taste. But he never asks anybody to
go there. None of the neighbours know him. So of course they say its
"side," and he gives himself airs. Anyway, Nelly, you may think
yourselves highly honoured--'
'Darling, isn't that basket ready?' said Sarratt, coming to his wife's
aid. 'We're losing the best of the day--and if Bridget really won't go
Bridget frowned and rose.
'How are the proofs getting on?' said Sarratt, smiling, as she bade him
a careless good-bye.
Bridget drew herself up.
'I never talk about my work.'
'I suppose that's a good rule,' he said doubtfully, 'especially now that
there's so much else to talk about. The Russian news to-day is pretty
A dark look of anxiety crossed the young man's face. For it was the days
of the great Russian retreat in Galicia and Poland, and every soldier
looking on, knew with gnashing of teeth that the happenings in the East
meant a long postponement of our own advance.
'Oh, I never trouble about the war!' said Bridget, with a
half-contemptuous note in her voice that fairly set George Sarratt on
fire. He flushed violently, and Nelly looked at him in alarm. But he
said nothing. Nelly however with a merry side-glance at him, unseen by
Bridget, interposed to prevent him from escorting Bridget downstairs.
She went herself. Most sisters would have dispensed with or omitted this
small attention; but Nelly always treated Bridget with a certain
ceremony. When she returned, she threw her arms round George's neck,
half laughing, and half inclined to cry.
'Oh, George, I do wish I had a nicer sister to give you!' But George had
entirely recovered himself.
'We shall get on perfectly!' he declared, kissing the soft head that
leant against him. 'Give me a little time, darling. She's new to
me!--I'm new to her.'
Nelly sighed, and went to put on her hat. In her opinion it was no more
easy to like Bridget after three years than three hours. It was certain
that she and George would never suit each other. At the same time Nelly
was quite conscious that she owed Bridget a good deal. But for the fact
that Bridget did the housekeeping, that Bridget saw to the investment of
their small moneys, and had generally managed the business of their
joint life, Nelly would not have been able to dream, and sketch, and
read, as it was her delight to do. It might be, as she had said to
Sarratt, that Bridget managed because she liked managing. All the same
Nelly knew, not without some prickings of conscience as to her own
dependence, that when George was gone, she would never be able to get on
Into what a world of delight the two plunged when they set forth! The
more it rains in the Westmorland country, the more heavenly are the days
when the clouds forget to rain! There were white flocks of them in the
June sky as the new-married pair crossed the wooden bridge beyond the
garden, leading to the further side of the lake, but they were sailing
serene and sunlit in the blue, as though their whole business were to
dapple the hills with blue and violet shadows, or sometimes to throw a
dazzling reflection down into the quiet water. There had been rain,
torrential rain, just before the Sarratts arrived, so that the river was
full and noisy, and all the little becks clattering down the fell, in
their haste to reach the lake, were boasting to the summer air, as
though in forty-eight hours of rainlessness they would not be as dry and
dumb as ever again. The air was fresh, in spite of the Midsummer sun,
and youth and health danced in the veins of the lovers. And yet not
without a touch of something feverish, something abnormal, because of
that day--that shrouded day--standing sentinel at the end of the week.
They never spoke of it, but they never forgot it. It entered into each
clinging grasp he gave her hand as he helped her up or down some steep
or rugged bit of path--into the lingering look of her brown eyes, which
thanked him, smiling--into the moments of silence, when they rested amid
the springing bracken, and the whole scene of mountain, cloud and water
spoke with that sudden tragic note of all supreme beauty, in a world of
'brittleness.' But they were not often silent. There was so much to
say. They were still exploring each other, after the hurry of their
marriage, and short engagement. For a time she chattered to him about
her own early life--their old red-brick house in a Manchester suburb,
with its good-sized rooms, its mahogany doors, its garden, in which her
father used to work--his only pleasure, after his wife's death, besides
'the concerts'--'You know we've awfully good music in Manchester!' As
for her own scattered and scanty education, she had begun to speak of it
almost with bitterness. George's talk and recollections betrayed quite
unconsciously the standards of the academic or highly-trained
professional class to which all his father's kindred belonged; and his
only sister, a remarkably gifted girl, who had died of pneumonia at
eighteen, just as she was going to Girton, seemed to Nelly, when he
occasionally described or referred to her, a miracle--a terrifying
miracle--of learning and accomplishment.
Once indeed, she broke out in distress:--'Oh, George, I don't know
anything! Why wasn't I sent to school! We had a wretched little
governess who taught us nothing. And then I'm lazy--I never was
ambitious--like Bridget. Do you mind that I'm so stupid--do you mind?'
And she laid her hands on his knee, as they sat together among the fern,
while her eyes searched his face in a real anxiety.
What joy it was to laugh at her--to tease her!
'_How_ stupid are you, darling? Tell me, exactly. It is of course a
terrible business. If I'd only known--'
But she would be serious.
'I don't know _any_ languages, George! Just a little French--but you'd
be ashamed if you heard me talking it. As to history--don't ask!' She
shrugged her shoulders despairingly. Then her face brightened. 'But
there's something! I do love poetry--I've read a lot of poetry.'
'That's all right--so have I,' he said, promptly.
'Isn't it strange--' her tone was thoughtful--'how people care for poetry
nowadays! A few years ago, one never heard of people--ordinary
people--_buying_ poetry, new poetry--or reading it. But I know a shop in
Manchester that's just full of poetry--new books and old books--and the
shop-man told me that people buy it almost more than anything. Isn't it
funny? What makes them do it? Is it the war?'
Sarratt considered it, while making a smooth path for a gorgeous green
beetle through the bit of turf beside him.
'I suppose it's the war,' he said at last. 'It does change fellows. It's
easy enough to go along bluffing and fooling in ordinary times. Most men
don't know what they think--or what they feel--or whether they feel
anything. But somehow--out there--when you see the things other fellows
are doing--when you know the things you may have to do yourself--well----'
'Yes, yes--go on!' she said eagerly, and he went on, but reluctantly,
for he had seen her shiver, and the white lids fall a moment over her
'--It doesn't seem unnatural--or hypocritical--or canting--to talk and
feel--sometimes--as you couldn't talk or feel at home, with life going
on just as usual. I've had to censor letters, you see, darling--and the
letters some of the roughest and stupidest fellows write, you'd never
believe. And there's no pretence in it either. What would be the good of
pretending out there? No--it's just the pace life goes--and the
fire--and the strain of it. It's awful--and _horrible_--and yet you
wouldn't not be there for the world.'
His voice dropped a little; he looked out with veiled eyes upon the lake
chequered with the blue and white of its inverted sky. Nelly
guessed--trembling--at the procession of images that was passing through
them; and felt for a moment strangely separated from him--separated and
'George, it's dreadful now--to be a woman!'
She spoke in a low appealing voice, pressing up against him, as though
she begged the soul in him that had been momentarily unconscious of her,
to come back to her.
He laughed, and the vision before his eyes broke up.
'Darling, it's adorable now--to be a woman! How I shall think of you,
when I'm out there!--away from all the grime and the horror--sitting by
this lake, and looking--as you do now.'
He drew a little further away from her, and lying on his elbows on the
grass, he began to read her, as it were, from top to toe, that he might
fix every detail in his mind.
'I like that little hat so much, Nelly!--and that blue cloak is just
ripping! And what's that you've got at your waist--a silver
buckle?--yes! I gave it you. Mind you wear it, when I'm away, and tell
me you're wearing it--then I can fancy it.'
'Will you ever have time--to think of me--George?'
She bent towards him.
'Well, not when I'm going over the parapet to attack the Boches.
Honestly, one thinks of nothing then but how one can get one's men
across. But you won't come off badly, my little Nell--for
thoughts--night or day. And you mustn't think of us too sentimentally.
It's quite true that men write wonderful letters--and wonderful verse
too--men of all ranks--things you'd never dream they could write. I've
got a little pocket-book full that I've collected. I've left it in
London, but I'll show you some day. But bless you, nobody _talks_ about
their feelings at the front. We're a pretty slangy lot in the trenches,
and when we're in billets, we read novels and rag each other--and
_sleep_--my word, we do sleep!'
He rolled on his back, and drew his hat over his eyes a moment, for
even in the fresh mountain air the June sun was fierce. Nelly sat still,
watching him, as he had watched her--all the young strength and
comeliness of the man to whom she had given herself.
And as she did so there came swooping down upon her, like the blinding
wings of a Fury, the remembrance of a battle picture she had seen that
morning: a bursting shell--limp figures on the ground. Oh not
George--not _George_--never! The agony ran through her, and her fingers
gripped the turf beside her. Then it passed, and she was silently proud
that she had been able to hide it. But it had left her pale and
restless. She sprang up, and they went along the high path leading to
Grasmere and Langdale.
Presently at the top of the little neck which separates Rydal from
Grasmere they came upon an odd cavalcade. In front walked an elderly
lady, with a huge open bag slung round her, in which she carried an
amazing load of the sphagnum moss that English and Scotch women were
gathering at that moment all over the English and Scotch mountains for
the surgical purposes of the war. Behind her came a pony, with a boy.
The pony was laden with the same moss, so was the boy. The lady's face
was purple with exertion, and in her best days she could never have been
other than plain; her figure was shapeless. She stopped the pony as she
neared the Sarratts, and addressed them--panting.
'I beg your pardon!--but have you by chance seen another lady carrying
a bag like mine? I brought a friend with me to help gather this
stuff--but we seem to have missed each other on the top of Silver
How--and I can't imagine what's happened to her.'
The voice was exceedingly musical and refined--but there was a touch of
power in it--a curious note of authority. She stood, recovering breath
and looking at the young people with clear and penetrating eyes,
The Sarratts could only say that they had not come across any other
moss-gatherer on the road.
The strange lady sighed--but with a half humorous, half philosophical
lifting of the eyebrows.
'It was very stupid of me to miss her--but you really can't come to
grief on these fells in broad daylight. However, if you do meet her--a
lady with a sailor hat, and a blue jersey--will you tell her that I've
gone on to Ambleside?'
Sarratt politely assured her that they would look out for her companion.
He had never yet seen a grey-haired Englishwoman, of that age, carry so
heavy a load, and he liked both her pluck and her voice. She reminded
him of the French peasant women in whose farms he often lodged behind
the lines. She meanwhile was scrutinising him--the badge on his cap, and
the two buttons on his khaki sleeve.
'I think I know who you are,' she said, with a sudden smile. 'Aren't
you Mr. and Mrs. Sarratt? Sir William Farrell told me about you.' Then
she turned to the boy--'Go on, Jim. I'll come soon.'
A conversation followed on the mountain path, in which their new
acquaintance gave her name as Miss Hester Martin, living in a cottage on
the outskirts of Ambleside, a cousin and old friend of Sir William
Farrell; an old friend indeed, it seemed, of all the local residents;
absorbed in war-work of different kinds, and somewhere near sixty years
of age; but evidently neither too old nor too busy to have lost the
natural interest of a kindly spinster in a bride and bridegroom,
especially when the bridegroom was in khaki, and under orders for the
front. She promised, at once, to come and see Mrs. Sarratt, and George,
beholding in her a possible motherly friend for Nelly when he should be
far away, insisted that she should fix a day for her call before his
departure. Nelly added her smiles to his. Then, with a pleasant nod,
Miss Martin left them, refusing all their offers to help her with her
load. '"My strength is as the strength of ten,"' she said with a flash
of fun in her eyes--'But I won't go on with the quotation. Good-bye.'
George and Nelly went on towards a spot above a wood in front of them to
which she had directed them, as a good point to rest and lunch. She,
meanwhile, pursued her way towards Ambleside, her thoughts much more
occupied with the young couple than with her lost companion. The little
thing was a beauty, certainly. Easy to see what had attracted William
Farrell! An uncommon type--and a very artistic type; none of your
milk-maids. She supposed before long William would be proposing to draw
her--hm!--with the husband away? It was to be hoped some watch-dog would
be left. William was a good fellow--no real malice in him--had never
_meant_ to injure anybody, that she knew of--but--
Miss Martin's cogitations however went no farther in exploring that
'but.' She was really very fond of her cousin William, who bore an
amount of discipline from her that no one else dared to apply to the
owner of Carton. Tragic, that he couldn't fight! That would have brought
out all there was in him.
Nelly Sarratt stood lost in the beauty of the spectacle commanded by Sir
William Farrell's cottage. It was placed in a by-road on the western
side of Loughrigg, that smallest of real mountains, beloved of poets and
wanderers. The ground dropped sharply below it to a small lake or tarn,
its green banks fringed with wood, while on the further side the purple
crag and noble head of Wetherlam rose out of sunlit mist,--thereby
indefinitely heightened--into a pearl and azure sky. To the north also,
a splendid wilderness of fells, near and far; with the Pikes and Bowfell
leading the host. White mists--radiant mists--perpetually changing, made
a magic interweaving of fell with fell, of mountain with sky. Every tint
of blue and purple, of amethyst and sapphire lay melted in the chalice
carved out by the lake and its guardian mountains. Every line of that
chalice was harmonious as though each mountain and valley filled its
place consciously, in a living order; and in the grandeur of the whole
there was no terror, no hint of a world hostile and inaccessible to man,
as in the Alps and the Rockies.
'These mountains are one's friends,' said Farrell, smiling as he stood
beside Nelly, pointing out the various peaks by name. 'If you know them
only a little, you can trust yourself to them, at any hour of the day or
night. Whereas, in the Alps, I always feel myself "a worm and no man"!'
'I have never been abroad,' said Nelly shyly.
For once he found an _ingenue_ attractive.
'Then you have it to come--when the world is sane again. But some things
you will have missed for ever. For instance, you will never see
Rheims--as it was. I have spent months at Rheims in old days, drawing
and photographing. I must show you my things. They have a tragic value
And taking out a portfolio from a rack near him, he opened it and put it
on a stand before her.
Nelly, who had in her the real instincts of the artist, turned over some
very masterly drawings, in mingled delight and despair.
'If I could only do something like that!' she said, pointing to a study
of some of the famous windows at Rheims, with vague forms of saint and
king emerging from a conflagration of colour, kindled by the afternoon
sun, and dyeing the pavement below.
'Ah, that took me some time. It was difficult. But here are some
fragments you'll like--just bits from the facade and the monuments.'
The strength of the handling excited her. She looked at them in silence;
remembering with disgust all the pretty sentimental work she had been
used to copy. She began to envisage what this commonly practised art
may be; what a master can do with it. Standards leaped up. Alp on Alp
appeared. When George was gone she would _work_, yes, she would work
hard--to surprise him when he came back.
Sir William meanwhile was increasingly taken with his guest. She was
shy, very diffident, very young; but in the few things she said, he
discerned--or fancied--the stirrings of a real taste--real intelligence.
And she was prettier and more fetching than ever--with her small dark
head, and her lovely mouth. He would like to draw the free sensuous line
of it, the beautiful moulding of the chin. What a prize for the young
man! Was he aware of his own good fortune? Was he adequate?
'I say, how jolly!' said Sarratt, coming up to look. 'My wife, Sir
William--I think she told you--has got a turn for this kind of thing.
These will give her ideas.'
And while he looked at the drawings, he slipped a hand into his wife's
arm, smiling down upon her, and commenting on the sketches. There was
nothing in what he said. He only 'knew what he liked,' and an unfriendly
bystander would have been amused by his constant assumption that Nelly's
sketches were as good as anybody's. Entirely modest for himself, he was
inclined to be conceited for her, she checking him, with rather flushed
cheeks. But Farrell liked him all the better, both for the ignorance and
the pride. The two young people standing there together, so evidently
absorbed in each other, yet on the brink of no ordinary parting, touched
the romantic note in him. He was very sorry for them--especially for the
bride--and eagerly, impulsively wished to befriend them.
In the background, the stout lady whom the Sarratts had met on Loughrigg
Terrace, Miss Hester Martin, was talking to Miss Farrell, while Bridget
Cookson was carrying on conversation with a tall officer who carried his
arm in a sling, and was apparently yet another convalescent officer from
the Carton hospital, whom Cicely Farrell had brought over in her motor
to tea at her brother's cottage. His name seemed to be Captain
Marsworth, and he was doing his best with Bridget; but there were great
gaps in their conversation, and Bridget resentfully thought him dull.
Also she perceived--for she had extremely quick eyes in such
matters--that Captain Marsworth, while talking to her, seemed to be
really watching Miss Farrell, and she at once jumped to the conclusion
that there was something 'up' between him and Miss Farrell.
Cicely Farrell certainly took no notice of him. She was sitting perched
on the high end of a sofa smoking a cigarette and dangling her feet,
which were encased, as before, in high-heeled shoes and immaculate
gaiters. She was dressed in white serge with a cap and jersey of the
brightest possible green. Her very open bodice showed a string of fine
pearls and she wore pearl ear-rings. Seen in the same room with Nelly
Sarratt she could hardly be guessed at less than twenty-eight. She was
the mature woman in full possession of every feminine weapon,
experienced, subtle, conscious, a little hard, a little malicious. Nelly
Sarratt beside her looked a child. Miss Farrell had glanced at her with
curiosity, but had not addressed many words to her. She had concluded at
once that it was a type that did not interest her. It interested William
of course, because he was professionally on the look out for beauty. But
that was his affair. Miss Farrell had no use for anything so unfledged
and immature. And as for the sister, Miss Cookson, she had no points of
attraction whatever. The young man, the husband, was well
enough--apparently a gentleman; but Miss Farrell felt that she would
have forgotten his existence when the tea-party was over. So she had
fallen back on conversation with her cousin. That Cousin Hester--dear,
shapeless, Puritanical thing!--disapproved of her, her dress, her
smoking, her ways, and her opinions, Cicely well knew--but that only
gave zest to their meetings, which were not very frequent.
Meanwhile Bridget, in lieu of conversation and while tea was still
preparing, was making mental notes of the cottage. It consisted
apparently of two sitting-rooms, and a studio--in which they were to
have tea--with two or three bedrooms above. It had been developed out of
a Westmorland farm, but developed beyond recognition. The spacious rooms
panelled in plain oak, were furnished sparely, with few things, but
those of the most beautiful and costly kind. Old Persian rugs and
carpets, a few Renaissance mirrors, a few priceless 'pots,' a picture or
two, hangings and coverings of a dim purple--the whole, made by these
various items and objects, expressed a taste perhaps originally florid,
but tamed by long and fastidious practice of the arts of decoration.
In the study where tea had been laid, Nelly could not restrain her
wonder and delight. On one wall hung ten of the most miraculous
Turners--drawings from his best period, each of them irreplaceably
famous. Another wall showed a group of Boningtons--a third a similar
gathering of Whistlers. Sir William, charmed with the bride's pleasure,
took down drawing after drawing, carried them to the light for her, and
discoursed upon them.
'Would you like that to copy?'--he said, putting a Turner into her
lap--a marvel of blue mountain peaks, and winding river, and aerial
'Oh, I shouldn't dare--I should be afraid!' said Nelly, hardly liking to
take the treasure in her own hands. 'Aren't they--aren't they worth
Sir William laughed.
'Well, of course, they're valuable--everybody wants them. But if you
would ever like that one to copy, you shall have it, and any other that
would help you. I know you wouldn't let it be hurt, if you could help
it--because you'd love it--as I do. You wouldn't let a Turner drawing
like that fade and blister in the sun--as I've seen happen again and
again in houses he painted them for. Brutes! Hanging's too good for
people who maltreat Turners. Let me relieve you of it now. I must get
you some tea. But the drawing will come to you next week. You won't be
able to think of it till then.'
He looked at her with the ardent sympathy which sprang easily from his
quick, emotional temperament, and made it possible for him to force his
way rapidly into intimacy, where he desired to be intimate. But Nelly
shrank into herself. She put the drawing away, and did not seem to care
to look at any more. Farrell wished he had left his remark unspoken, and
finding that he had somehow extinguished her smiles and her talk, he
relieved her of his company, and went away to talk to Sarratt and
Captain Marsworth. As soon as tea was over, Nelly beckoned to her
'Are you going so soon?' said Hester Martin, who had been unobtrusively
mothering her, since Farrell left her--'When may I come and see you?'
'To-morrow?' said Nelly vaguely, looking up. 'George hoped you would
come, before he goes. There are--there are only three days.'
'I will come to-morrow,' said Miss Martin, touching Nelly's hand softly.
The cold, small fingers moved, as though instinctively, towards her, and
took refuge in her warm capacious hand. Then Nelly whispered to
'I want to go, Bridget.'
Bridget frowned with annoyance. Why should Nelly want to go so soon? The
beauty and luxury of the cottage--the mere tea-table with all its
perfect appointments of fine silver and china, the multitude of cakes,
the hot-house fruit, the well-trained butler--all the signs of wealth
that to Nelly were rather intimidating, and to Sarratt--in
war-time--incongruous and repellent, were to Bridget the satisfaction of
so many starved desires. This ease and lavishness; the best of
everything and no trouble to get it; the 'cottage' as perfect as the
palace;--it was so, she felt, that life should be lived, to be really
worth living. She envied the Farrells with an intensity of envy. Why
should some people have so much and others so little? And as she watched
Sir William's attentions to Nelly, she said to herself, for the
hundredth time, that but for Nelly's folly, she could easily have
captured wealth like this. Why not Sir William himself? It would not
have been at all unlikely that they should come across him on one of
their Westmorland holidays. The thought of their dingy Manchester rooms,
of the ceaseless care and economy that would be necessary for their
joint menage when Sarratt was gone, filled her with disgust. Their
poverty was wholly unnecessary--it was Nelly's silly fault. She felt at
times as though she hated her brother-in-law, who had so selfishly
crossed their path, and ruined the hopes and dreams which had been
strengthening steadily in her mind during the last two years
especially, since Nelly's beauty had become more pronounced.
'It's not at all late!' she said, angrily, in her sister's ear.
'Oh, but George wants to take me to Easedale,' said Nelly under her
breath. 'It will be our last long walk.'
Bridget had to submit to be torn away. A little motor was waiting
outside. It had brought the Sarratts and Bridget from Rydal, and was to
take Bridget home, dropping the Sarratts at Grasmere for an evening
walk. Sir William tried indeed to persuade them to stay longer, till a
signal from his cousin Hester stopped him; 'Well, if you must go, you
must,' he said, regretfully. 'Cicely, you must arrange with Mrs.
Sarratt, when she will pay us a visit--and'--he looked uncertainly round
him, as though he had only just remembered Bridget's existence--'of
course your sister must come too.'
Cicely came forward, and with a little lisp, repeated her brother's
Sir William took his guests to their car, and bade a cordial farewell to
'Good-bye--and good luck. What shall I wish you? The D.S.O., and a
respectable leave before the summer's over? You will be in for great
Sarratt shook his head.
'Not till we get more guns, and tons more shell!'
'Oh, the country's waking up!'
'It's about time!' said Sarratt, gravely, as he climbed into the car.
Sir William bent towards him.
'Anything that we can do to help your wife and her sister, during their
stay here, you may be sure we shall do.'
'It's very kind of you,' said the young officer gratefully, as he
grasped Farrell's hand. And Nelly sent a shy glance of thanks towards
the speaker, while Bridget sat erect and impassive.
Sir William watched them disappear, and then returned to the tea-room.
He was received with a burst of laughter from his sister.
'Well, Willy, so you're caught--fairly caught! What am I to do? When am
I to ask her? And the sister too?'
And lighting another cigarette, Cicely looked at her brother with
Farrell reddened a little, but kept his temper.
'In a week or two I should think, you might ask her, when she's got over
her husband's going away.'
'They get over it very soon--in general,' said Cicely coolly.
'Not that sort.'
The voice was Captain Marsworth's.
Cicely appeared to take no notice. But her eyelids flickered. Hester
'A dear, little, appealing thing,' she said, warmly--'and her husband
evidently a capital fellow. I didn't take to the sister--but who knows?
She may be an excellent creature, all the same. I'm glad I shall be so
near them. It will be a help to that poor child to find her something to
'You think she'll hunt sphagnum--and make bandages? I don't.'
'Why this "thusness?"' said Miss Martin raising her eyebrows. 'What has
made you take a dislike to the poor little soul, Cicely? There never was
anyone more plainly in love--'
'Or more to be pitied,' said the low voice in the background--low but
It was now Cicely's turn to flush.
'Of course I know I'm a beast,' she said defiantly,--'but the fact is I
didn't like either of them!--the sisters, I mean.'
'What oh earth is there to dislike in Mrs. Sarratt!' cried Farrell.
'You're quite mad, Cicely.'
'She's too pretty,' said Miss Farrell obstinately--and too--too simple.
And nobody as pretty as that can be really simple. It's only pretence.'
As she spoke Cicely rose to her feet, and began to put on her veil in
front of one of the old mirrors. 'But of course, Will, I shall behave
nicely to your friends. Don't I always behave nicely to them?'
She turned lightly to her brother, who looked at her only half appeased.
'I shan't give you a testimonial to-day, Cicely.'
'Then I must do without it. Well, this day three weeks, a party at
Carton, for Mrs. Sarratt. Will that give her time to settle down?'
'Unless her husband is killed by then,' said Captain Marsworth, quietly.
'His regiment is close to Loos. He'll be in the thick of it directly.'
'Oh no,' said Cicely, twisting the ends of her veil lightly between a
finger and thumb. 'Just a "cushy" wound, that'll bring him home on a
three months' leave, and give her the bore of nursing him.'
'Cicely, you are a hard-hearted wretch!' said her brother, angrily. 'I
think Marsworth and I will go and stroll till the motor is ready.'
The two men disappeared, and Cicely let herself drop into an arm-chair.
Her eyes, as far as could be seen through her veil, were blazing; the
redness in her cheeks had improved upon the rouge with which they were
already touched; and the gesture with which she pulled on her gloves was
one of excitement.
'Cicely dear--what is the matter with you?' said Miss Martin in
distress. She was fond of Cicely, in spite of that young lady's
extravagances of dress and manner, and she divined something gone wrong.
'Nothing is the matter--nothing at all. It is only necessary, sometimes,
to shock people,' said Cicely, calming down. She threw her head back
against the chair and closed her eyes, while her lips still smiled
'Were you trying to shock Captain Marsworth?'
'It's so easy--it's hardly worth doing,' said Cicely, sleepily. Then
after a pause--'Ah, isn't that the motor?'
* * * * *
Meanwhile the little hired motor from Ambleside had dropped the Sarratts
on the Easedale road, and carried Bridget away in an opposite direction,
to the silent but great relief of the newly-married pair. And soon the
husband and wife had passed the last farm in the valley, and were
walking up a rough climbing path towards Sour Milk Ghyll, and Easedale
Tarn. The stream was full, and its many channels ran white and foaming
down the steep rock face, where it makes its chief leap to the valley.
The summer weather held, and every tree and fell-side stood bathed in a
warm haze, suffused with the declining light. All round, encircling
fells in a purple shadow; to the north and east, great slopes
appearing--Helvellyn, Grisedale, Fairfield. They walked hand in hand
where the path admitted--almost silent--passionately conscious of each
other--and of the beauty round them. Sometimes they stopped to gather a
flower, or notice a bird; and then there would be a few words, with a
meaning only for themselves. And when they reached the tarn,--a magical
shadowed mirror of brown and purple water,--they sat for long beside it,
while the evening faded, and a breathless quiet came across the hills,
stilling all their voices, even, one might have fancied, the voice of
the hurrying stream itself. At the back of Nelly's mind there was always
the same inexorable counting of the hours; and in his a profound and
sometimes remorseful pity for this gentle creature who had given herself
to him, together with an immense gratitude.
The stars came out, and a light easterly wind sprang up, sending ripples
across the tarn, and stirring last year's leaves among the new grass. It
had grown chilly, and Sarratt took Nelly's blue cloak from his arm and
wrapped her in it--then in his arms, as she rested against him.
Presently he felt her hand drop languidly from his, and he knew
that--not the walk, but the rush of those half-spoken thoughts which
held them both, had brought exhaustion.
'Darling--we must go home!' He bent over her.
She rose feebly.
'Why am I so tired? It's absurd.'
'Let me carry you a little.'
'You couldn't!' She smiled at him.
But he lifted her with ease--she was so small and slight, while in him a
fresh wave of youth and strength had risen, with happiness, and the
reaction of convalescence. She made no resistance, and he carried her
down some way, through the broad mingled light. Her face was hidden on
his breast, and felt the beating of his life. She said to herself more
than once that to die so would be bliss. The marvel of love bewildered
her. 'What was I like before it?--what shall I be, when he is gone?'