Part 2 out of 6
When she made him set her down, she said gaily that she was all right,
and gave him a kiss of thanks, simply, like a child. The valley lay
before them with its scattered lights, and they pressed on through the
twilight--two dim and spectral figures--spirits it seemed, who had been
on the heights sharing ambrosial feasts with the Immortals, and had but
just descended to the common earth again.
* * * * *
Nelly spent the next three days, outside their walks and boatings on the
lake, in whatever wifely offices to her man still remained to
her--marking his new socks and khaki shirts, furnishing a small medicine
chest, and packing a tin of special delicacies, meat lozenges,
chocolate, various much advertised food tabloids, and his favourite
biscuits. Sarratt laughed over them, but had not the heart to dissuade
her. She grew paler every day, but was always gay and smiling so long as
his eyes were on her; and his sound young sleep knew nothing of her
quiet stifled weeping at those moments of the night, when the bodily and
nervous forces are at their lowest, and all the future blackens. Miss
Martin paid them several visits, bringing them books and flowers. Books
and flowers too arrived from Carton--with a lavish supply of cigarettes
for the departing soldier. Nelly had the piteous sense that everyone was
sorry for her--Mrs. Weston, the kind landlady, Milly, the little
housemaid. It seemed to her sometimes that the mere strangers she met in
the road knew that George was going, and looked at her compassionately.
The last day came, showery in the morning, and clearing to a glorious
evening, with all the new leaf and growing hayfields freshened by rain,
and all the streams brimming. Bridget came over in the afternoon, and as
she watched her sister's face, became almost kind, almost sympathetic.
George proposed to walk back part of the way to Ambleside with his
sister-in-law, and Nelly with a little frown of alarm watched them go.
But the tete-a-tete was not disagreeable to either. Bridget was taken
aback, to begin with, by some very liberal proposals of Sarratt's on the
subject of her and Nelly's joint expenses during his absence. She was to
be Nelly's guest--they both wished it--and he said kindly that he
quite understood Nelly's marriage had made a difference to her, and he
hoped she would let them make it up to her, as far and as soon as they
could. Bridget was surprised into amiability,--and Sarratt found a
chance of saying--
'And you'll let Nelly talk about the war--though it does bore you? She
won't be able to help it--poor child!'
Bridget supposed that now she too would have to talk about the war. He
needn't be afraid, she added drily. She would look after Nelly. And she
looked so masterful and vigorous as she said it, that Sarratt could only
They shook hands in the road, better friends to all seeming than they
had been yet. And Nelly received George's account of the conversation
with a sigh of relief.
* * * * *
That night the midsummer moon would be at the full, and as the clouds
vanished from the sky, and the soft purple night came down, Nelly and
Sarratt leaving every piece of luggage behind them, packed, labelled,
locked, and piled in the hall, ready for the cart that was to call for
it in the early hours--took their way to the lake and the boathouse.
They had been out at night once before, but this was to be the crowning
last thing--the last joint memory.
It was eleven o'clock before the oars dipped into the water, and as they
neared the larger island, the moon, rearing its bright head over the
eastern fells, shot a silver pathway through the lake; and on either
side of the pathway, the mirrored woods and crags, more dim and ghostly
than by day, seemed to lead downward to that very threshold and entrance
of the underworld, through which the blinded Theban king vanished from
the eyes of men. Silver-bright the woods and fell-side, on the west;
while on the east the woods in shadow, lay sleeping, 'moon-charmed.' The
air was balmy; and one seemed to hear through it the steady soft beat of
the summer life, rising through the leaves and grass and flowers. Every
sound was enchantment--the drip of water from the oars, the hooting of
an owl on the island, even the occasional distant voices, and tapping of
horses' feet on the main road bordering the lake.
Sarratt let the oars drift, and the boat glided, as though of its own
will, past the island, and into the shadow beyond it. Now it was Silver
How, and all the Grasmere mountains, that caught the 'hallowing' light.
Nelly sat bare-headed, her elbows on her knees, and her face propped in
her hands. She was in white, with a white shawl round her, and the grace
of the slight form and dark head stirred anew in Sarratt that astonished
and exquisite sense of possession which had been one of the main
elements of consciousness, during their honeymoon. Of late indeed it had
been increasingly met and wrestled with by something harsher and
sterner; by the instinct of the soldier, of the fighting man, foreseeing
a danger to his own will, a weakening of the fibre on which his effort
and his power depend. There were moments when passionately as he loved
her, he was glad to be going; secretly glad that the days which were in
truth a greater test of endurance than the trenches were coming to an
end. He must be able to trust himself and his own nerve to the utmost.
Away from her, love would be only a strengthening power; here beside
her, soul and sense contended.
A low voice came out of the shadow.
'George--I'm not going with you to the station.'
'Best not, dearest--much best.'
A silence. Then the voice spoke again.
'How long will it take you, George, getting to the front?'
'About twenty-four hours from the base, perhaps more. It's a weary
'Will you be in action at once?'
'I think so. That part of the line's very short of men.'
'When shall I hear?'
'By every possible post, I should think, darling. You've given me
And he tapped his breast-pocket, where lay the little writing-case she
had furnished for every imaginable need.
'When you're tired, you're--you're not to write.'
He put out his long arms, and took her hands in his.
'I shan't be tired--and I shall write.'
She looked down upon the hands holding hers. In each of the little
fingers there was a small amusing deformity--a slight crook or
twist--which, as is the way of lovers, was especially dear to her. She
remembered once, before they were engaged, flaming out at Bridget, who
had made mock of it. She stooped now, and kissed the fingers. Then she
bowed her forehead upon them.
'George!'--he could only just hear her--'I know Miss Martin will be
kind to me--and I shall find plenty to do. You're never to worry about
'I won't--so long as you write to me--every day.'
There was again a silence. Then she lifted her head, and as the boat
swung out of the shadow, the moonlight caught her face.
'You'll take that Wordsworth I gave you, won't you, George? It'll remind
you--of this.' Her gesture showed the lake and the mountains.
'Of course, I shall take it. I shall read it whenever I can--perhaps
more for your sake--than Wordsworth's.'
'It'll make us remember the same things,' she murmured.
'As if we wanted anything to make us remember!'
'George!' her voice was almost a sob--'It's been almost too perfect.
Sometimes--just for that--I'm afraid.'
'Don't be, darling. The God we believe in _isn't_ a jealous God! That's
one of the notions one grows out of--over there.'
'Do you think He's our friend, George--that He really cares?'
The sweet appealing voice touched him unbearably.
'Yes, I do think it--' he said, firmly, after a pause. 'I do believe
it--with all my heart.'
'Then I'll believe it!' she said, with a long breath; and there was
silence again, till suddenly over the water came the sound of the Rydal
Chapel bell, striking midnight. Nelly withdrew her hands and sat up.
'George, we must go home. You must have a good night.'
He obeyed her, took up the oars, and pulled swiftly to the boathouse.
She sat in a kind of dream. It was all over, the heavenly time--all
done. She had had the very best of life--could it ever come again? In
her pain and her longing she was strangely conscious of growth and
change. The Nelly of three weeks back seemed to have nothing to do with
her present self, to be another human being altogether.
He made her go to bed, and remained in the sitting-room himself, under
pretence of some papers he must put in order. When the sounds in the
next room ceased, and he knew that she must be lying still, waiting for
him, he sat down, took pen and paper, and began to write to her--a
letter to be given to her if he fell. He had already written a letter of
business directions, which was at his lawyer's. This was of another
'My Darling,--this will be very short. It is only to tell you that if I
fall--if we never meet again, after to-morrow, you are to think first of
all--and always--that you have made a man so happy that if no more joy
can come to him on earth, he could die now--as far as he himself is
concerned--blessing God for his life. I never imagined that love could
be so perfect. You have taught me. God reward you--God watch over you.
If I die, you will be very sad--that will be the bitterness to me, if I
have time to know it. But this is my last prayer to you--to be comforted
by this remembrance--of what you have done for me--what you have been to
me. And in time, my precious one, comfort will come. There may be a
child--if so, you will love it for us both. But if not, you must still
take comfort. You must be willing, for my sake, to be comforted. And
remember:--don't be angry with me, darling--if in years to come, another
true love, and another home should be offered you, don't refuse
them--Nelly! You were born to be loved. And if my spirit lives, and
understands; what could it feel but joy that your sorrow was healed--my
'This will be given to you only if I die. With the deepest gratitude and
the tenderest love that a man can feel, I bid you good-bye--my precious
He put it up with a steady hand, and addressed it first to Nelly,
enclosing it in a larger envelope addressed to his oldest friend, a
school-fellow, who had been his best man at their marriage. Then he
stole downstairs, unlocked the front door, and crossing the road in the
moonlight, he put the letter into the wall post-box on the further side.
And before re-entering the house, he stood a minute or two in the road,
letting the fresh wind from the fells beat upon his face, and trying
the while to stamp on memory the little white house where Nelly lay, the
trees overhanging it, the mountain tops beyond the garden wall.
'Is Mrs. Sarratt in?' asked Miss Martin of Mrs. Weston's little maid,
Milly wore a look of animation, as of one who has been finding the world
'She's gone a walk--over the bridge, Miss.'
'Has she had news of Mr. Sarratt?'
'Yes, Miss,' said the girl eagerly. 'He's all right. Mrs. Sarratt got a
telegram just a couple of hours ago.'
'And you think I shall find her by the lake?'
Milly thought so. Then advancing a step, she said confidentially--
'She's been dreadfully upset this two days, Miss. Not that she'd say
anything. But she's looked------'
'I know. I saw her yesterday.'
'And it's been a job to get her to eat anything. Mrs. Weston's been
after her with lots of things--tasty you know, Miss--to try and tempt
her. But she wouldn't hardly look at them.'
'Thank you, Milly'--said Miss Martin, after a pause. 'Well, I'll find
her. Is Miss Cookson here?'
Milly's candid countenance changed at once. She frowned--it might have
been said she scowled.
'She came the day Mr. Sarratt went away, Miss. Well of course it's not
my place to speak, Miss--but _she_ don't do Mrs. Sarratt no good!' Miss
Martin couldn't help a smile--but she shook her head reprovingly all the
same, as she hastened away. Milly had been in her Sunday-school class,
and they were excellent friends.
Across the Rotha, she pursued a little footpath leading to the lakeside.
It was a cold day, with flying clouds and gleams on hill and water. The
bosom of Silver How held depths of purple shadow, but there were lights
like elves at play, chasing each other along the Easedale fells, and the
stony side of Nab Scar.
Beside the water, on a rock, sat Nelly Sarratt. An open telegram and a
bundle of letters lay on her lap, her hands loosely folded over them.
She was staring at the water and the hills, with absent eyes, and her
small face wore an expression--relaxed and sweet--like that of a
comforted child, which touched Miss Martin profoundly.
'So you've heard?--you poor thing!' said the elder woman smiling, as she
laid a friendly hand on the girl's shoulder.
Nelly looked up--and drew a long deep breath.
'He's all right, and the battalion's going to have three weeks'
rest--behind the lines.'
Her dark eyes shone. Hester Martin sat down on the turf beside her.
'Capital! When did you hear last?'
'Just the day before the "push." Of course he couldn't tell me
anything--but somehow I knew. And then the papers since--they're pretty
ghastly,' said Nelly, with a faint laugh and a shiver. 'The farm under
the hill there'--she pointed--'you know about them?'
'Yes. I saw them after the telegram,' said Miss Martin, sadly. 'Of
course it was the only son. These small families are too awful. Every
married woman ought to have six sons!'
Nelly dropped her face out of sight, shading it with her hands.
Presently she said, in a dreamy voice of content--
'I shall get a letter to-morrow.'
'How do you know?'
Nelly held out the telegram, which said--
'All safe. Posted letter last night. Love.'
'It _can't_ take more than forty-eight hours to come--can it?' Then she
lifted her eyes again to the distant farm, with its white front and its
dark patch of yews.
'I keep thinking of _their_ telegram--' she said, slowly--'and then of
mine. Oh, this war is too _horrible!'_ She threw up her hands with a
sudden wild gesture, and then let one of them drop into Hester Martin's
grasp. 'In George's last letter he told me he had to go with a message
across a bit of ground that was being shelled. He went with a
telephonist. He crossed first. The other man was to wait and follow him
after an interval. George got across, then the man with the telephone
wire started, and was shot--just as he reached George. He fell into
George's arms--and died. And it might have been George--it might have
been George just as well! It might be George any day!'
Miss Martin looked at her in perplexity. She had no ready-made
consolations--she never had. Perhaps it was that which made her kind
wrinkled face such a welcome sight to those in trouble. But at last she
said--'It is all we women can do--to be patient--and hope--not to let
our courage go down.'
Nelly shook her head.
'I am always saying that to myself--but! when the news comes--_if_ it
comes--what good will that be to me! Oh, I haven't been idle--indeed I
haven't,' she added piteously--'I've worked myself tired every day--just
not to think!'
'I know you have,' Miss Martin pressed the hand in hers. 'Well, now,
he'll be all safe for a fortnight------'
'Perhaps three weeks,' Nelly corrected her, eagerly. Then she looked
round at her new friend, a shy smile lighting up her face, and
bringing back its bloom.
'You know he writes to me nearly every day?'
'It's the way people have--war or no war--when they're in love,' said
Hester Martin drily. 'And you--how often?'
'_Every_ day. I haven't missed once. How could I?--when he wants me to
write--when I hear so often!' And her free hand closed possessively,
greedily, over the letters in her lap.
Hester Martin surveyed her thoughtfully.
'I wouldn't do war-work all day, if I were you,' she said at last. 'Why
don't you go on with your sketching?'
'I was going to try this very afternoon. Sir William said he would give
me a lesson,' was the listless reply.
'He's coming here?'
'He said he would be walking this way, if it was fine,' said Nelly,
Both relapsed into silence. Then Miss Martin enquired after Bridget. The
face beside her darkened a little.
'She's very well. She knows about the telegram. She thought I was a
great goose to be so anxious. She's making an index now--for the book!'
'The psychology book?'
'Yes!' A pause--then Nelly looked round, flushing.
'I can't talk to Bridget you see--about George--or the war. She just
thinks the world's mad--that it's six to one and half a dozen to the
other--that it doesn't matter at all who wins--so long of course as the
Germans don't come here. And as for me, if I was so foolish as to marry
a soldier in the middle of the war, why I must just take the
consequences--grin and bear it!'
Her tone and look showed that in her clinging way she had begun to
claim the woman beside her as a special friend, while Hester Martin's
manner towards her bore witness that the claim excited a warm
response--that intimacy and affection had advanced rapidly since George
'Why do you put up with it?' said Miss Martin, sharply. 'Couldn't you
get some cousin--some friend to stay with you?'
Nelly shook her head. 'George wanted me to. But I told him I couldn't.
It would mean a quarrel. I could never quarrel with Bridget.'
Miss Martin laughed indignantly. 'Why not--if she makes you miserable?'
'I don't know. I suppose I'm afraid of her. And besides'--the words
came reluctantly--: 'she does a lot for me. I _ought_ to be very
Yes, Hester Martin did know that, in a sense, Bridget did 'a lot' for
her younger sisters. It was not many weeks since she had made their
acquaintance, but there had been time for her to see how curiously
dependent young Mrs. Sarratt was on Miss Cookson. There was no real
sympathy between them; nor could Miss Martin believe that there was ever
much sense of kinship. But whenever there was anything to be done
involving any friction with the outside world, Bridget was ready to do
it, while Nelly invariably shrank from it.
For instance, some rather troublesome legal business connected with
Nelly's marriage, and the reinvestment of a small sum of money, had
descended on the young wife almost immediately after George's
departure. She could hardly bring herself to look at the letter. What
did it matter? Let their trustee settle it. To be worrying about it
seemed to be somehow taking her mind from George--to be breaking in on
that imaginative vision of him, and his life in the trenches, which
while it tortured her, yet filled the blank of his absence. So Bridget
did it all--corresponded peremptorily with their rather old and
incompetent trustee, got all the signatures necessary out of Nelly, and
carried the thing through. Again, on another and smaller occasion, Miss
Martin had seen the two sisters confronted with a scandalous overcharge
for the carriage of some heavy luggage from Manchester. Nelly was
aghast; but she would have paid the sum demanded like a lamb, if Bridget
had not stepped in--grappled with carter and railway company, while
Nelly looked on, helpless but relieved.
It was clear that Nelly's inborn wish to be liked, her quivering
responsiveness, together with a strong dose of natural indolence, made
her hate disagreement or friction of any kind. She was always
yielding--always ready to give in. But when Bridget in her harsh
aggravating way fought things out and won, Nelly was indeed often made
miserable, by the _ricochet_ of the wrath roused by Bridget's methods
upon herself; but she generally ended, all the same, by realising that
Bridget had done her a service which she could not have done for
Hester Martin frankly thought the sister odious, and pitied the bride
for having to live with her. All the same she often found herself
wondering how Nelly would ever manage the practical business of life
alone, supposing loneliness fell to her at any time. But why should it
fall to her?--unless indeed Sarratt were killed in action. If he
survived the war he would make her the best of guides and husbands; she
would have children; and her sweetness, her sensitiveness would stiffen
under the impact of life to a serviceable toughness. But meanwhile what
could she do--poor little Ariadne!--but 'live and be lovely'--sew and
knit, and gather sphagnum moss--dreaming half her time, and no doubt
crying half the night. What dark circles already round the beautiful
eyes! And how transparent were the girl's delicate hands! Miss Martin
felt that she was watching a creature on whom love had been acting with
a concentrated and stimulating energy, bringing the whole being suddenly
and rapidly into flower. And now, what had been only stimulus and warmth
had become strain, and, sometimes, anguish, or fear. The poor drooping
plant could with difficulty maintain itself.
For the moment however, Nelly, in her vast relief, was ready to talk and
think of quite ordinary matters.
'Bridget is in a good temper with me to-day!' she said presently,
looking with a smile at her companion--'because--since the telegram
came--I told her I would accept Miss Farrell's invitation to go and
spend a Sunday with them.'
'Well, it might distract you. But you needn't expect to get much out of
The old face lit up with its tolerant, half-sarcastic smile.
'I shall be dreadfully afraid of her!' said Nelly.
'No need to be. William will keep her in order. She is a foolish woman,
Cicely, and her own worst enemy, but--somehow'--The speaker paused. She
was about to say--'somehow I am fond of her'--when she suddenly wondered
whether the remark would be true, and stopped herself.
'I think she's very--very good-looking'--said Nelly, heartily. 'Only,
why'--she hesitated, but her half-laughing look continued the sentence.
'Why does she blacken her eyebrows, and paint her lips, and powder her
cheeks? Is that what you mean?'
Nelly's look was apologetic. 'She doesn't really want it, does she?' she
said shyly, as though remembering that she was speaking to a kinswoman
of the person discussed. 'She could do so well without it.'
'No--to be quite candid, I don't think she _would_ look so well without
it. That's the worst of it. It seems to suit her to be made up!--though
everybody knows it _is_ make-up.'
'Of course, if George wanted me to "make up," I should do it at once,'
said Nelly, thoughtfully, propping her chin on her hands, and staring at
the lake. 'But he hates it. Is--is Miss Farrell--' she looked
round--'in love with anybody?'
Miss Martin laughed.
'I'll leave you to find out--when you go there. So if your husband liked
you to paint and powder, you would do it?'
The older woman looked curiously at her companion. As she sat there, on
a rock above the lake, in a grey nurse's dress with a nurse's bonnet
tied under her chin, Hester Martin conveyed an impression of rugged and
unconscious strength which seemed to fuse her with the crag behind her.
She had been gathering sphagnum moss on the fells almost from sunrise
that morning; and by tea-time she was expecting a dozen munition-workers
from Barrow, whom she was to house, feed and 'do for,' in her little
cottage over the week-end. In the interval, she had climbed the steep
path to that white farm where death had just entered, and having mourned
with them that mourn, she had come now, as naturally, to rejoice with
Nelly considered her question, but not in any doubtfulness of mind.
'Indeed, I would,' she said, decidedly. 'Isn't it my duty to make George
'What "George"? If Mr. Sarratt wanted you to paint and powder----'
'He wouldn't be the "George" I married? There's something in that!'
laughed Nelly. Then she lifted her hand to shade her eyes against the
westering sun--'Isn't that Sir William coming?'
She pointed doubtfully to a distant figure walking along the path that
skirts the western edge of the lake. Miss Martin put up her glasses.
'Certainly. Coming no doubt to give you a lesson. But where are your
Nelly rose in a hurry.
'I forgot about them when I came out. The telegram--' She pressed her
hands to her eyes, with a long breath.
'I'll run back for them. Will you tell him?'
She departed, and Hester awaited her cousin. He came slowly along the
lake, his slight lameness just visible in his gait--otherwise a splendid
figure of a man, with a bare head, bearded and curled, like a Viking in
a drawing by William Morris. He carried various artist's gear slung
about him, and an alpenstock. His thoughts were apparently busy, for he
came within a few yards of Hester Martin, before he saw her.
'Hullo! Hester--you here? I came to get some news of Mrs. Sarratt and
her husband. Is he all right?'
Hester repeated the telegram, and added the information that seeing him
coming, Mrs. Sarratt had gone in search of her sketching things.
'Ah!--I thought if she'd got good news she might like to begin,' said
Farrell. 'Poor thing--she's lucky! Our casualties these last few days
have been awful, and the gain very small. Men or guns--that's our
choice just now. And it will be months before we get the guns. So
practically, there's no choice. Somebody ought to be hung!'
He sat down frowning. But his face soon cleared, and he began to study
the point of view.
'Nothing to be made of it but a picture post-card,' he declared.
'However I daresay she'll want to try it. They always do--the beginners.
The more ambitious and impossible the thing, the better.'
'Why don't you _teach_ her?' said Hester, severely.
'Why I only want to amuse her, poor little soul!' he said, as he put his
easel together. 'Why should she take it seriously?'
'She's more intelligence than you think.'
'Has she? What a pity! There are so many intelligent people in the
world, and so few pretty ones,'
He spoke with a flippant self-confidence that annoyed his cousin. But
she knew very well that she was poorly off in the gifts that were
required to scourge him. And there already was the light form of Nelly,
on the footbridge over the river. Farrell looked up and saw her coming.
'Extraordinary--the grace of the little thing!' he said, half to
himself, half to Hester. 'And she knows nothing about it--or seems to.'
'Do you imagine that her husband hasn't told her?' Hester's tone was
Farrell looked up in wonder. 'Sarratt? of course he has--so far as he
has eyes to see it. But he has no idea how remarkable it is.'
'What? His wife's beauty? Nonsense!'
'How could he? It wants a trained eye,' said Farrell, quite serious.
'Hush!--here she comes.'
Nelly came up breathlessly, laden with her own paraphernalia. Farrell at
once perceived that she was pale and hollow-eyed. But her expression was
'How kind of you to come!' she said, looking up at him. 'You know I've
had good news--splendid news?'
'I do indeed. I came to ask,' he said gravely. 'He's out of it for a
'Yes, for three weeks!'
'So you can take a rest from worrying?'
She nodded brightly, but she was not yet quite mistress of her nerves,
and her face quivered. He turned away, and began to set his palette,
while she seated herself.
Hester watched the lesson for half an hour, till it was time to go and
make ready for her munition-workers. And she watched it with increasing
pleasure, and increasing scorn of a certain recurrent uneasiness she had
not been able to get rid of. Nothing could have been better than
Farrell's manner to Ariadne. It was friendly, chivalrous,
respectful--all it should be--with a note of protection, of unspoken
sympathy, which, coming from a man nearly twenty years older than the
little lady herself, was both natural and attractive. He made an
excellent teacher besides, handling her efforts with a mixture of
criticism and praise, which presently roused Nelly's ambition, and
kindled her cheeks and eyes. Time flew and when Hester Martin rose to
leave them, Nelly cried out in protest--'It can't be five o'clock!'
'A quarter to--just time to get home before my girls arrive!'
'Oh, and I must go too,' said Nelly regretfully. 'I promised Bridget I
would be in for tea. But I _was_ getting on--wasn't I?' She turned to
'Swimmingly. But you've only just begun. Next time the sitting must be
'Will you--will you come in to tea?'--she asked him shyly. 'My sister
would be very glad.'
'Many thanks--but I am afraid I can't. I shall be motoring back to
Carton to-night. To-morrow is one of my hospital days. I told you how I
divided my week, and salved my conscience.'
He smiled down upon her from his great height, his reddish gold hair and
beard blown by the wind, and she seemed to realise him as a great,
manly, favouring presence, who made her feel at ease.
Hester Martin had already vanished over the bridge, and Farrell and
Nelly strolled back more leisurely towards the lodgings, he carrying her
canvas sketching bag.
On the way she conveyed to him her own and Bridget's acceptance of the
'If Miss Farrell won't mind our clothes--or rather our lack of them! I
did mean to have my wedding dress altered into an evening
She lifted her hand and let it fall, in a sad significant gesture which
pleased his fastidious eye.
'You hadn't even the time of the heart for it? I should think not!' he
said warmly. 'Who cares about dress nowadays?'
'Your sister!' thought Nelly--but aloud she said--
'Well then we'll come--we'll be delighted to come. May I see the
'Of course. It's like any other hospital.'
'Is it very full now?' she asked him uneasily, her bright look clouding.
'Yes--but it ebbs and flows. Sometimes for a day or two all our men
depart. Then there is a great rush.'
'Are they bad cases?'
There was an unwilling insistence in her voice, as though her mind dealt
with images it would gladly have put away, but could not.
'A good many of them. They send them us as straight as they can from the
front. But the surgeons are wonderfully skilful. It's simply marvelous
what they can do.'
He seemed to see a shiver pass through her slight shoulders, and he
changed the subject at once. The Carton motor should come for her and
her sister, he said, whenever they liked, the following Saturday
afternoon. The run would take about an hour. Meanwhile--
'Do you want any more books or magazines?' he asked her smiling, with
the look of one only eager to be told how to serve her. They had paused
in the road outside the lodgings.
'Oh I how could we! You sent us such a bundle!' cried Nelly gratefully.
'We are always finding something new in it. It makes the evenings so
different. We will bring them back when we come.'
'Don't hurry. And go on with the drawing. I shall expect to see it a
great deal further on next time. It's all right so far.'
He went his way back, speedily, taking a short cut over Loughrigg to his
cottage. His thoughts, as he climbed, were very full of Mrs. Sarratt.
But they were the thoughts of an artist--of a man who had studied
beauty, and the European tradition of beauty, whether in form or
landscape, for many years; who had worked--_a contre coeur_--in a Paris
studio, and had copied Tintoret--fervently--in Venice; who had been a
collector of most things, from Tanagra figures to Delia Robbias. She
made an impression upon him in her lightness and grace, her small
proportions, her lissomness of outline, very like that of a Tanagra
figure. How had she come to spring from Manchester? What kindred had she
with the smoke and grime of a great business city? He fell into amused
speculation. Manchester has always possessed colonies of Greek
merchants. Somewhere in the past was there some strain of southern blood
which might account for her? He remembered a beautiful Greek girl at an
Oxford Commemoration, when he had last attended that function; the
daughter of a Greek financier settled in London, whose still lovely
mother had been drawn and painted interminably by the Burne Jones and
William Morris group of artists. _She_ was on a larger scale than Mrs.
Sarratt, but the colour of the flesh was the same--as though light shone
through alabaster--and the sweetness of the deep-set eyes. Moreover she
had produced much the same effect on the bystander, as of a child of
nature, a creature of impulse and passion--passion, clinging and
self-devoted, not fierce and possessive--through all the more
superficial suggestions of reticence and self-control. 'This little
creature is only at the beginning of her life'--he thought, with a kind
of pity for her very softness and exquisiteness. 'What the deuce will
she have made of it, by the end? Why should such beings grow old?'
His interest in her led him gradually to other thoughts--partly
disagreeable, partly philosophical. He had once--and only once--found
himself involved in a serious love-affair, which, as it had left him a
bachelor, had clearly come to no good. It was with a woman much older
than himself--gifted--more or less famous--a kind of modern Corinne whom
he had met for a month in Rome in his first youth. Corinne had laid
siege to him, and he had eagerly, whole-heartedly succumbed. He saw
himself, looking back, as the typically befooled and bamboozled mortal;
for Corinne, in the end, had thrown him over for a German professor, who
admired her books and had a villa on the Janiculum. During the eighteen
years which had elapsed since their adventure, he had quite made it up
with her, and had often called at the Janiculan villa, with its
antiques, its window to the view, and the great Judas tree between it
and Rome. His sense of escape--which grew upon him--was always tempered
by a keen respect for the lady's disinterestedness, and those high
ideals which must have led her--for what else could?--to prefer the
German professor, who had so soon become decrepit, to himself. But the
result of it all had been that the period of highest susceptibility and
effervescence had passed by, leaving him still unmarried. Since then he
had had many women-friends, following harmlessly a score of 'chance
desires'! But he had never wanted to marry anybody; and the idea of
surrendering the solitude and independence of his pleasant existence had
now become distasteful to him. Renan in some late book speaks of his
life as 'cette charmante promenade a travers la realite.' Farrell could
have adopted much the same words about his own--until the war. The war
had made him think a good deal, like Sarratt; though the thoughts of a
much travelled, epicurean man of the world were naturally very
different from those of the young soldier. At least 'the surge and
thunder' of the struggle had developed in Farrell a new sensitiveness, a
new unrest, as though youth had returned upon him. The easy, drifting
days of life before the catastrophe were gone. The 'promenade' was no
longer charming. But the jagged and broken landscape through which it
was now taking him, held him often--like so many others--breathless with
strange awes, strange questionings. And all the more, because, owing to
his physical infirmity, he must be perforce a watcher, a discontented
watcher, rather than an actor, in the great scene.
* * * * *
That night Nelly, sitting at her open window, with starlight on the
lake, and the cluster rose sending its heavy scent into the room--wrote
to her husband.
'My darling--it is just a little more than eight hours since I got your
telegram. Sometimes it seems like nothing--and then like _days_--days of
happiness. I was _very_ anxious. But I know I oughtn't to write about
that. You say it helps you if I keep cheerful, and always expect the
best and not the worst. Indeed, George, I do keep cheerful. Ask Miss
At this point two splashes fell, luckily not on the letter, but on the
blotting paper beside it, and Nelly hastily lifted her handkerchief to
dry a pair of swimming eyes.
'But he can't see--he won't know!' she thought, apologising to herself;
yet wrestling at the same time with the sharp temptation to tell him
exactly how she had suffered, that he might comfort her. But she
repelled it. Her moral sense told her that she ought to be sustaining
and strengthening him--rather than be hanging upon him the burden of her
own fears and agonies.
She went on bravely--
'Of course, after the news in the paper this morning,--and yesterday--I
was worried till I heard. I knew--at any rate I guessed--you must have
been in it all. And now you are safe, my own own!--for three whole
blessed weeks. Oh, how well I shall sleep all that time--and how much
work I shall do! But it won't be all war-work. Sir William Farrell came
over to-day, and showed me how to begin a drawing of the lake. I shall
finish it for your birthday, darling. Of course you won't want to be
bothered with it out there. I shall keep it till you come. The lake is
so beautiful to-night, George. It is warmer again, and the stars are all
out. The mountains are so blue and quiet--the water so still. But for
the owls, everything seems asleep. But they call and call--and the echo
goes round the lake. I can just see the island, and the rocks round
which the boat drifted--that last night. How good you were to me--how I
loved to sit and look at you, with the light on your dear face--and the
oars hanging--and the shining water--
'And then I think of where you are--and what you have been seeing in
that awful fighting. But not for long. I try to put it away.
'George, darling!--you know what you said when you went away--what you
hoped might come--to make us both happy--and take my thoughts off the
war? But, dear, it isn't so--you mustn't hope it. I shall be dreadfully
sorry if you are disappointed. But you'll only find _me_--your own
Nelly--not changed a bit--when you come back.
'I want to hear everything when you write--how your men did--whether you
took any prisoners, whether there was ammunition enough, or whether you
were short again? I feel every day that I ought to go and make
munitions--but somehow--I can't. We are going to Carton on Saturday.
Bridget is extremely pleased. I rather dread it. But I shall be able to
write you a long letter about it on Sunday morning, instead of going to
church. There is Rydal chapel striking twelve! My darling--my
The following Saturday afternoon, at three o'clock, the Carton motor
duly arrived at the Rydal cottage door. It was a hot summer day, the
mountains colourless and small under their haze of heat, the woods
darkening already towards the August monotony, the streams low and
shrunken. Lakeland was at the moment when the artists who haunt her
would rather not paint her, remembering the subtleties of spring, and
looking forward to the pageantry of autumn. But for the eye that loves
her she has beauties enough at any time, and no blanching heat and dust
can spoil the lovely or delicate things that lie waiting in the shade of
her climbing oak-woods or on her bare fells, or beside her still lakes.
Nelly took her seat in the landaulette, with Bridget beside her. Milly
and Mrs. Weston admiringly watched their departure from the doorway of
the lodgings, and they were soon speeding towards Grasmere and Dunmail
Raise. Nelly's fresh white dress, aided by the blue coat and shady hat
which George had thought so ravishing, became her well; and she was
girlishly and happily aware of it. Her spirits were high, for there in
the little handbag on her wrist lay George's last letter, received that
morning, short and hurried, written just to catch the post, on his
arrival at the rest camp, thirty miles behind the line. Heart-ache and
fear, if every now and then their black wings brushed her, and far
within, a nerve quivered, were mostly quite forgotten. Youth, the joy of
being loved, the joy of mere living, reclaimed her.
Bridget beside her, in a dark blue cotton, with a very fashionable hat,
looked more than her thirty years, and might almost have been taken for
Nelly's mother. She sat erect, her thin straight shoulders carrying her
powerful head and determined face; and she noticed many things that
quite escaped her sister: the luxury of the motor for instance; the
details of the Farrell livery worn by the two discharged soldiers who
sat in front as chauffeur and footman; and the evident fact that while
small folk must go without servants, the rich seemed to have no
difficulty in getting as many as they wanted.
'I wonder what this motor cost?' she said presently in a speculative
tone, as they sped past the turn to Grasmere church and began to ascend
the pass leading to Keswick.
'Well, we know--about--don't we?' said Nelly vaguely. And she guessed a
sum, at which Bridget looked contemptuous.
'More than _that_, my dear! However of course it doesn't matter to
'Don't you think people look at us sometimes, as though we were doing
something wrong?' said Nelly uneasily. They had just passed two old
labourers--fine patriarchal fellows who had paused a moment to gaze at
the motor and the two ladies. 'I suppose it's because--because we look
'Well, why shouldn't we?'
'Because it's war-time I suppose,' said Nelly slowly--'and perhaps
their sons are fighting--'
'We're not fighting!'
'No--but--.' With a slight frown, Nelly tried to express herself. 'It
looks as if we were just living as usual, while--Oh, you know, Bridget,
what people think!--how _everybody's_ trying not to spend money on
'Are they?' Bridget laughed aloud. 'Look at all the dress advertisements
in the papers. Why, yesterday, when I was having tea with those people
at Windermere, there was a man there telling lots of interesting things.
He said he knew some great merchants in the city, who had spent
thousands and thousands on furs--expensive furs--the summer before the
war. And they thought they'd all have been left on their hands, that
they'd have lost heavily. And instead of that they sold them all, and
made a real big profit!'
Bridget turned an almost triumphant look on her sister, as though the
_coup_ described had been her own.
'Well, it isn't right!' said Nelly, passionately. 'It isn't--it
_isn't_--Bridget! When the war's costing so much--and people are
suffering and dying--'
'Oh, I know!' said Bridget hastily. 'You needn't preach to me my dear
child. I only wanted you to look at _facts_. You're always so incurably
'I'm not!' Nelly protested, helplessly. 'We _make_ the facts. If nobody
bought the furs, the facts would be different. George says it's wicked
to squander money, and live as if everything were just the same as it
used to be. And I agree with him!'
'Of course you do!' laughed Bridget. '_You_ don't squander money, my
'Only because I haven't got it to spend, you mean?' said Nelly,
'No--but you should look at things sensibly. The people who are making
money are spending it--oceans of it! And the people who have money, like
the Farrells, are spending it too. Wait till you see how they live!'
'But there's the hospital!' cried Nelly.
Bridget shrugged her shoulders.
'That's because they can afford to give the hospital, and have the
motor-cars too. If they had to choose between hospitals and motor-cars!'
'Lots of people do!'
'You think Sir William Farrell looks like doing without things?' said
Bridget, provokingly. Then she checked herself. 'Of course I like Sir
William very much. But then _I_ don't see why he shouldn't have
motor-cars or any other nice thing he wants.'
'That's because--you don't think enough--you never think enough--about
the war!' said Nelly, insistently.
Bridget's look darkened.
'I would stop the war to-morrow--I would make peace to-morrow--if I
could--you know I would. It will destroy us all--ruin us all. It's
sheer, stark lunacy. There, you know what I think!'
'I don't see what it's ever cost you, Bridget!' said Nelly, breathing
'Oh, well, it's very easy to say that--but it isn't argument.'
Bridget's deep-set penetrating eyes glittered as she turned them on her
sister. 'However, for goodness' sake, don't let's quarrel about it. It's
a lovely day, and we don't often have a motor like this to drive in!'
The speaker leant back, giving herself up to the sensuous pleasure of
the perfectly hung car, and the rapid movement through the summer air.
Wythburn and Thirlmere were soon passed; leaving them just time to
notice the wrack and ruin which Manchester has made of the once lovely
shore of Thirlmere, where hideous stretches of brown mud, and the ruins
of long submerged walls and dwellings, reappear with every dry summer to
fling reproach in the face of the destroyer.
Now they were on the high ground above Keswick; and to the west and
north rose a superb confusion of mountain-forms, peaked and rounded and
cragged, with water shining among them, and the silver cloud wreaths
looped and threaded through the valleys, leaving the blue or purple
tops suspended, high in air, unearthly and alone, to parley with the
setting sun. Not yet setting indeed--but already flooding the west with
a glory in which the further peaks had disappeared--burnt away; a
shining holocaust to the Gods of Light and Fire.
Then a sharp descent, a run through Keswick, another and a tamer lake, a
sinking of the mountain-forms, and they were nearing the woods of
Carton. Both sisters had been silent for some time. Nelly was wrapt in
thoughts of George. Would he get leave before Christmas? Suppose he were
wounded slightly--just a wound that would send him home, and let her
nurse him?--a wound from which he would be sure to get well--not too
quickly! She could not make up her mind to wish it--to pray for it--it
seemed like tempting Providence. But how she had envied a young couple
whom she sometimes met walking on the Ambleside road!--a young private
of one of the Border regiments, with a bandaged arm, and his sweetheart.
Once--with that new free-masonry which the war has brought about, she
had stopped to speak to them. The boy had been quite ready to talk about
his wound. It had seemed nothing at first--just a fragment of
shrapnel--he had scarcely known he was hit. But abscess after abscess
had formed--a leading nerve had been injured--it might be months before
he could use it again. And meanwhile the plain but bright-faced girl
beside him was watching over him; he lodged with her parents as his own
were dead; and they were to be married soon. No chance of his going out
again! The girl's father would give him work in his garage. They had the
air of persons escaped from shipwreck and ashamed almost of their own
secret happiness, while others were still battling with and sinking in
* * * * *
A flowery lodge, a long drive through green stretches of park, with a
heather fell for background--and then the motor, leaving to one side a
huge domed pile with the Union Jack floating above it, ran through a
wood, and drew up in front of Carton Cottage, a low building on the
steps of which stood Sir William Farrell.
'Delighted to see you! Come in, and let Cicely give you some tea.
They'll see to your luggage!'
He led in Nelly, and Bridget followed, glancing from side to side, with
an eye shrewdly eager, an eye that took in and appraised all it saw. A
cottage indeed! It had been built by Sir William's father, for his only
sister, a maiden lady, to whom he was much attached. 'Aunt Sophy' had
insisted on a house to herself, being a person of some ruggedness and
eccentricity of character and averse to any sort of dependence on other
people's ways and habits. But she had allowed her brother to build and
furnish the cottage for her as lavishly as he pleased, and during his
long widowhood she had been of much help to him in the management of
the huge household at Carton Hall, and in the bringing up of his two
children. After her death, the house had remained empty for some time,
till, six months after the outbreak of war, Farrell had handed over the
Hall to the War Office, and he and his sister had migrated to the
Bridget was aware, as she followed her sister, of rooms small but
numerous opening out on many sides, of long corridors with glistening
teak floors, of windows open to a garden ablaze with roses. Sir William
led them to what seemed a buzz of voices, and opened a door.
Cicely Farrell rose languidly from a table surrounded by laughing young
men, and advanced to meet the newcomers. Nelly found herself shaking
hands with the Captain Marsworth she had seen at Loughrigg Tarn, and
being introduced by Sir William to various young officers, some in
khaki, visitants from a neighbouring camp, and some from the Hall, in
various forms of convalescent undress, grey flannel suits, khaki tunics
with flannel 'slacks,' or full khaki, as the wearers pleased. The little
lady in white had drawn all the male eyes upon her as she came in, and
those who rapidly resumed their talk with Miss Farrell or each other,
interrupted by the entrance of the newcomers, were no less aware of her
than those who, with Farrell, devoted themselves to supply the two
sisters with tea.
Nelly herself, extremely shy, but sustained somehow by the thought that
she must hold her own in this new world, was soon deep in conversation
with a charming youth, who owned a long, slightly lantern-jawed face and
fair hair, moved on crutches with a slung knee, and took everything
including his wound as 'funny.'
'Where is your husband?' he asked her. 'Sir William thinks he is
somewhere near Festubert? My hat, the Lanchesters have been having a hot
time there!--funny, isn't it? But they'll be moved to an easier job
soon. They're always in luck--the Lanchesters--funny, I call it?--what?
I wouldn't worry if I were you. Your husband's got through this all
right--mightn't have another such show for ages. These things are awful
chancey--funny, isn't it? Oh, my wound?--well, it was just when I was
getting over the parados to move back to billets--that the brute got me.
Funny, wasn't it? Hullo!--here's a swell! My hat!--it's General Torr!'
Nelly looked up bewildered to see a group of officers enter the room,
headed by a magnificent soldier, with light brown hair, handsome
features, and a broad be-ribboned chest. Miss Farrell greeted him and
his comrades with her best smiles; and Nelly observed her closely, as
she stood laughing and talking among them. Sir William's sister was in
uniform, if it could be called a uniform. She wore a nurse's cap and
apron over a pale blue dress of some soft crapey material. The cap was a
square of fine lawn, two corners of which were fastened under the chin
with a brooch consisting of one large pearl. The open throat showed a
single string of fine pearls, and diamonds sparkled in the small ears.
Edging the cap on the temples and cheeks were little curls--a la
Henrietta Maria--and the apron, also of the finest possible lawn, had a
delicately embroidered edge. The lips of the wearer had been
artificially reddened, her eyebrows and eyelids had been skilfully
pencilled, her cheeks rouged. A more extraordinary specimen of the
nursing sisterhood it would have been impossible to find. Nevertheless
the result was, beyond gainsaying, both amusing and picturesque. The lad
beside Nelly watched Miss Farrell with a broad grin. On the other hand,
a lady in a thin black dress and widow's veil, who was sitting near
Bridget, turned away after a few minutes' observation of the hostess,
and with a curling lip began to turn over a book lying on a table near
her. But whether the onlookers admired or disapproved, there could be no
question that Miss Farrell held the field.
'I am very glad to hear that Mrs. Sarratt has good news of her husband!'
said Captain Marsworth courteously to Bridget, hardly able to make
himself heard however amid the din and laughter of the central group. He
too had been watching Cicely Farrell--but with a wholly impassive
countenance. Bridget made some indifferent answer, and then eagerly
asked who the visitors were. She was told that they were officers from a
neighbouring camp, including the general commanding the camp. Sir
William, said Captain Marsworth, had built the whole camp at his own
expense, and on his own land, without waiting for any government
'I suppose he is so enormously rich--he can do anything he wants!' said
Bridget, her face kindling. 'It must be grand never to think what you
Captain Marsworth was a trifle taken aback by the remark, as Sir William
was barely a couple of yards away.
'Yes, I daresay it's convenient,' he said, lightly. 'And what do you
find to do with yourself at Rydal?'
Bridget informed him briefly that she was correcting some proof-sheets
for a friend, and would then have an index to make.
Captain Marsworth looked at her curiously.
'May one ask what the book is?'
'It's something new about psychology,' said Bridget, calmly. 'It's going
to be a great deal talked about. My friend's awfully clever.'
'Ah! Doesn't she find it a little difficult to think about psychology
'Why should she? Somebody's got to think about psychology,' was the
sharp reply. 'You can't let everything go, because there's a war.'
'I see! You remind me of a man I know, who's translating Dante. He's
just over military age, and there he sits in a Devonshire valley, with a
pile of books. I happen to know a particular department in a public
office that's a bit hustled for want of men, and I suggested that he
should lend a hand. He said it was his business to keep culture going!'
'Well?' said Bridget.
The challenging obstinacy of her look daunted him. He laughed.
'You think it natural--and right--to take the war like that?'
'Well, I don't see who's got a right to interfere with you if you do,'
she said, stiffly. Then, however, it occurred even to her obtuse and
self-centred perception, that she was saying something unexpected and
distasteful to a man who was clearly a great friend of the Farrells, and
therefore a member of the world she envied. So she changed the subject.
'Does Miss Farrell ever do any real nursing?' she asked abruptly.
Captain Marsworth's look became, in a moment, reserved and cold. 'She's
always ready to do anything for any of us!'
Then the speaker rose. 'I see Sir William's preparing to take your
sister into the gardens. You certainly ought to see them. They're very
* * * * *
The party streamed out into the paths leading through a wood, and past a
series of water-lily pools to the walled gardens. Sir William walked in
front with Nelly.
'My brother's new craze!' said Cicely in the ear of the General beside
her, who being of heroic proportions had to stoop some way to hear the
remark. He followed the direction of her eyes.
'What, that little woman? A vision! Is it only looks, or is there
Cicely shrugged her shoulders.
'I don't know. I haven't found out. The sister's plain, disagreeable,
'She looks rather clever.'
'Doesn't that show she's stupid? Nobody ought to look clever. Do you
admire Mrs. Sarratt?'
'Can one help it? Or are you going also to maintain,' laughed the
general, 'that no one can be beautiful who looks it?'
'One _could_ maintain it--easily. The best kind of beauty has always to
be discovered. What do you think, Captain Marsworth?'
She turned--provokingly--to the soldier on her left hand.
'About beauty?' He looked up listlessly. 'I've no idea. The day's too
Cicely eyed him.
'You're tired!' she said peremptorily. 'You've been doing too much. You
ought to go and rest.'
He smiled, and standing back he let them pass him. Turning into a side
path he disappeared towards the hospital.
'Poor old fellow!--he still looks very delicate,' said the General. 'How
is he really getting on?'
'The arm's improving. He's having massage and electricity. Sometimes he
seems perfectly well,' said Cicely. An oddly defiant note had crept into
the last sentence.
'He looks down--out of spirits. Didn't he lose nearly all his friends at
'Yes, some of his best friends.'
'And half the battalion! He always cared enormously about his men. He
and I, you know, fought in South Africa together. Of course then he was
just a young subaltern. He's a splendid chap! I'm afraid he won't get to
the front again. But of course they'll find him something at home. He
ought to marry--get a wife to look after him. By the way, somebody told
me there was some talk about him and the daughter of the rector here. A
nice little girl. Do you know her?'
'Miss Stewart? Yes.'
'What do you think of her?'
'A little nincompoop. Quite harmless!'
The handsome hero smiled--unseen by his companion.
Meanwhile Farrell was walking with Nelly through the stately series of
walled gardens, which his grandfather had planned and carried out,
mainly it seemed for the boredom of the grandson.
'What do we want with all these things now?' he said, waving an
impatient hand, as he and Nelly stood at the top flight of steps looking
down upon the three gardens sloping to the south, with their fragments
of statuary, and old leaden statuettes, ranged along the central walks.
'They're all out of date. They were before the war; and the war has
given them the _coup de grace_. No more big estates--no more huge
country houses! My grandfather built and built, for the sake of
building, and I pay for his folly. After the war!--what sort of a world
shall we tumble into!'
'I don't want these gardens destroyed!' said Nelly, looking up at him.
'No one ought to spoil them. They're far too beautiful!'
She was beginning to speak with more freedom, to be less afraid of him.
The gap between her small provincial experience and modes of thought,
and his, was narrowing. Each was beginning to discover the inner
personality of the other. And the more Farrell explored her the more
charmed he was. She was curiously ignorant, whether of books or life.
Even the busy commercial life amid which she had been brought up, as it
seemed to him, she had observed but little. When he asked her questions
about Manchester, she was generally vague or puzzled. He saw that she
was naturally romantic; and her passion for the absent Sarratt, together
with her gnawing anxiety about him which could not be concealed, made
her, again, very touching in the eyes of a man of imagination whose
feelings were quick and soft. He walked about with her for more than an
hour, discoursing ironically on the Grecian temples, the rustic bridges
and pools and fountains, now in imitation of the older Versailles and
now of the Trianon, with which his grandfather had burdened his
descendants; so that the glorious evening, as it descended, presently
became a merry duel between him and her, she defending and admiring his
own possessions, and he attacking them. Her eyes sparkled, and a bright
red--a natural red--came back into her pale cheeks. She spoke and moved
with an evident exhilaration, as though she realised her own developing
powers, and was astonished by her own readiness of speech, and the sheer
pleasure of talk. And something, no doubt, entered in of the new scene;
its scale and magnificence, so different from anything she had yet
known; its suggestion of a tradition reaching back through many
generations, and of a series of lives relieved from all vulgar
necessities, playing as they pleased with art and money, with water and
At the same time she was never merely dazzled; and never, for one
moment, covetous or envious. He was struck with her simple dignity and
independence; and he perfectly understood that a being so profoundly in
love, and so overshadowed by a great fear, could only lend, so to speak,
her outer mind to Carton or the persons in it. He gathered roses for
her, and did his utmost to please her. But she seemed to him all the
time like a little hovering elf--smiling and gay--but quite intangible.
* * * * *
Dinner in the 'cottage' was short, but in Bridget's eyes perfect.
Personally, she was not enjoying herself very much, for she had made up
her mind that she did not get on with military men, and that it was
their fault, not hers; so that she sat often silent, a fact however
unnoticed in the general clatter of the table. She took it quite calmly,
and was more than compensated for the lack of conversation by the whole
spectacle of the Farrell wealth; the flowers, the silver, the costly
accessories of all kinds, which even in war-time, and in a 'cottage,'
seemed to be indispensable. It would have been more amusing, no doubt,
if it had been the big house and not the cottage. Sometimes through the
open windows and the trees, she caught sight of the great lighted pile a
little way off, and found herself dreaming of what it would be to live
there, and to command all that these people commanded. She saw herself
sweeping through the magnificent rooms, giving orders, inviting guests,
entertaining royalty, driving about the country in splendid motors. It
was a waking dream, and though she never uttered a word, the animation
of her thoughts infused a similar animation into her aspect, and made
her almost unconscious of her neighbours. Captain Marsworth made several
attempts to win her attention before she heard him.
She turned at last an absent glance upon him.
'Miss Farrell talks of our all going over to the hospital after dinner.
She and Sir William often spend the evening there,' said Captain
Marsworth, quite aware from Miss Farrell's frequent glances in his
direction that he was not in her opinion doing his duty with Miss
'Will it take us long?' said Bridget, the vivacity of her look dying
'As long as you please to stay!' laughed the Captain, drily.
* * * * *
That passage after dinner through the convalescent wards of the finely
equipped hospital was to Nelly Sarratt an almost intolerable experience.
She went bravely through it, leaving, wherever she talked to a
convalescent, an impression of shy sweetness behind her, which made a
good many eyes follow her as Farrell led her through the rooms. But she
was thankful when it was over; and when, at last, she was alone in her
room for the night, she flew--for consolation--to the drawer in which
she had locked her writing-desk, and the letters she had received that
morning. The post had just arrived as they were leaving Rydal, and she
had hastily torn open a letter from George, and thrust the others into a
large empty envelope. And now she discovered among them to her delight a
second letter from George, unopened. What unexpected joy!
It too was dated--'Somewhere in France'--and had been written two days
after the letter she had opened in the morning.
'My darling--we're having a real jolly time here--in an old village,
far behind the line, and it is said we shall be here for three whole
weeks. Well, some of us really wanted it, for the battalion has been in
some very hot fighting lately, and has had a nasty bit of the line to
look after for a long time--with nothing very much to show for it. My
platoon has lost some of its best men, and I've been pretty badly hit,
as some of them were real chums of mine--the bravest and dearest
fellows. And I don't know why, but for the first time, I've been feeling
rather jumpy and run down. So I went to a doctor, and he told me I'd
better go off duty for a fortnight. But just then, luckily, the whole
battalion was ordered, as I told you a week ago, into what's called
"divisional rest," so here we are--for three weeks! Quite good
billets--an old French farm--with two good barns and lots of straw for
the men, and an actual bedroom for me--and a real bed--_with sheets!_
Think of that! I am as comfortable as possible. Just at first I'm going
to stay in bed for a couple of days to please the doctor--but then I
shall be all right, and shall probably take a course of gymnastics
they're starting here--odd, isn't it?--like putting us to school
again!--so that I may be quite fit before going back to the front.
'One might almost forget the war here, if it weren't for the rumble of
the guns which hardly ever ceases. They are about thirty-five miles
away. The whole country is quite peaceful, and the crops coming on
splendidly. The farm produces delicious brown eggs--and you should
see--and _taste_--the omelets the farmer's wife makes! Coffee
too--first-rate! How these French women work! Our men are always
helping them, and the children hang round our Tommies like flies.
'These two days in bed are a godsend, for I can read all your letters
through again. There they are--spread out on my sheet! By Jove, little
woman, you've treated me jolly well! And now I can pay you back a
little. But perhaps you won't mind, dearest, if I don't write anything
very long, for I expect I ought to take it easy--for a bit--I can't
think why I should have felt so slack. I never knew anything about
nerves before. But the doctor has been very nice and understanding--a
real, decent fellow. He declares I shall be as fit as a fiddle, long
before the three weeks are done.
'My bedroom door is open, and some jolly yellow chickens are wandering
in and out. And sometimes the farmer's youngest--a nice little chap of
eight--comes to look at me. I teach him English--or I try--but when I
say the English words, he just doubles up with laughing and runs away.
Nelly, my precious--if I shut my eyes--I can fancy your little head
there--just inside the door--and your eyes looking at me!...May the Lord
give us good luck--and may we all be home by Christmas!--Mind you finish
She put the letter down with a rather tremulous hand. It had depressed
her, and made her anxious. She read in it that George had been through
horrible things--and had suffered.
Then all that she had seen in the hospital came back upon her, and
rising restlessly she threw herself, without undressing, face downwards
on her bed. That officer, blanched to the colour of white wax, who had
lost a leg after frightful haemorrhage; that other, the merest boy,
whose right eye had been excised--she could not get them out of her
mind, nor the stories they had told her of the actions in which they had
'George--George!' It was a moan of misery, stifled in the darkness.
Then, suddenly, she remembered she had not said good-night to Bridget.
She had forgotten Bridget. She had been unkind. She got up, and sped
along the passage to Bridget's room.
'Bridget!' She just opened the door. 'May I come in?'
Bridget was already in bed. In her hands was a cup of steaming chocolate
which a maid had just brought her, and she was lingering over it with a
face of content.
Nelly opened her eyes in astonishment.
'Did you ask for it, Bridget?'
'I did--or rather the housemaid asked what I would have. She
said--"ladies have just what they like in their rooms." So I asked for
Nelly sat down on the bed.
'Is it good?'
'Excellent,' said Bridget calmly. 'Whatever did you expect?'
'We seem to have been eating ever since we came!' said Nelly
frowning,--'and they call it economising!'
Bridget threw back her head with a quiet laugh.
'Didn't I tell you so?'
'I wondered how you got on at dinner?' said Nelly hesitating. 'Captain
Marsworth didn't seem to be taking much trouble?'
'It didn't matter to me,' said Bridget. 'That kind of man always behaves
'You mean soldiers behave like that?'
'Well, I don't like soldiers--brothers-in-law excepted, of course.' And
Bridget gave her short, rather harsh laugh.
Nelly got up.
'Well, I shall be ready to go as early as you like on Monday, Bridget.
It was awfully good of you to pack all my things so nicely!'
'Don't I always?' Bridget laughed.
'You do--you do indeed. Good-night.'
She touched Bridget's cheek with her lips and stole away.
Bridget was left to think. There was a dim light in the room showing the
fine inlaid furniture, the flowery paper, the chintz-covered arm-chairs
and sofa, and, through an open door, part of the tiled wall of the
Miss Cookson had never slept in such a room before, and every item in
it pleased a starved sense in her. Poverty was _hateful_! Could one
never escape it?
Then she closed her eyes, and seemed to be watching Sir William and
Nelly in the gardens, his protecting eager air--her face looking up. Of
_course_ she might have married him--with the greatest ease!--if only
George Sarratt had not been in the way.
All the talk that evening had been of a new 'push'--a new and steady
offensive, as soon as the shell supply was better. George would be in
that 'push.' Nobody expected it for another month. By that time he would
be back at the front. She lay and thought, her eyes closed, her harsh
face growing a little white and pinched under the electric lamp beside
her. Potentially, her thoughts were murderous. The _wish_ that George
might not return formed itself clearly, for the first time, in her mind.
Dreams followed, as to consequences both for Nelly and herself,
supposing he did not return. And in the midst of them she fell asleep.
August came, the second August of the war. The heart of England was sad
and sick, torn by the losses at Gallipoli, by the great disaster of the
Russian retreat, by the shortage of munitions, by the endless small
fighting on the British front, which eat away the young life of our
race, week by week, and brought us no further. But the spirit of the
nation was rising--and its grim task was becoming nakedly visible at
last. _Guns--men!_ Nothing else to say--nothing else to do.
George Sarratt's battalion returned to the fighting line somewhere about
the middle of August. 'But we are only marking time,' he wrote to his
wife. 'Nothing doing here, though the casualties go on every day.
However we all know in our bones there will be plenty to do soon. As for
me I am--more or less--all right again.'
Indeed, as September wore on, expectation quickened on both sides of the
Channel. Nelly went in fear of she knew not what. The newspapers said
little, but through Carton and the Farrells, she heard a great deal of
military gossip. The shell supply was improving--the new Ministry of
Munitions beginning to tell--a great blow was impending.
Weeks of rain and storm died down into an autumnal gentleness. The
bracken was turning on the hills, the woods beginning to dress for the
pageant of October. The sketching lessons which the usual August deluge
had interrupted were to begin again, as soon as Farrell came home. He
had been in France for a fortnight, at Etaples, and in Paris, studying
new methods and appliances for the benefit of the hospital. But whether
he was at home or no, the benefactions of Carton never ceased. Almost
every other day a motor from the Hall drove up laden with fruit and
flowers, with books and magazines.
The fourth week of September opened. The rumours of coming events crept
more heavily and insistently than ever through a sudden spell of heat
that hung over the Lakes. Nelly Sarratt slept little, and wrote every
day to her George, letters of which long sections were often destroyed
when written, condemned for lack of cheerfulness.
She was much touched by Farrell's constant kindness, and grateful for
it; especially because it seemed to keep Bridget in a good temper. She
was grateful too for the visitors whom a hint from him would send on
fine afternoons to call on the ladies at Rydal--convalescent officers,
to whom the drive from Carton, and tea with 'the pretty Mrs. Sarratt'
were an attraction, while Nelly would hang breathless on their gossip of
the war, until suddenly, perhaps, she would turn white and silent, lying
back in her garden chair with the look which the men talking to
her--brave, kind-hearted fellows--soon learnt to understand. Marsworth
came occasionally, and Nelly grew to like him sincerely, and to be
vaguely sorry for him, she hardly knew why. Cicely Farrell apparently
forgot them entirely. And in August and the first part of September she
too, according to Captain Marsworth's information, had been away, paying
On the morning of September 26th, the Manchester papers which reached
the cottage with the post contained columns of telegrams describing the
British attack at Loos, and the French 'push' in Champagne. Among the
letters was a short word from Sarratt, dated the 24th. 'We shall
probably be in action to-morrow, dearest. I will wire as soon as I can,
but you must not be anxious if there is delay. As far as I can judge it
will be a big thing. You may be sure I shall take all the precautions
possible. God bless you, darling. Your letters are _everything_.'
Nelly read the letter and the newspaper, her hands trembling as she held
it. At breakfast, Bridget eyed her uncomfortably.
'He'll be all right!' she said with harsh decision. 'Don't fret.'
The day passed, with heavy heat mists over the Lake, the fells and the
woods blotted out. On pretence of sketching, Nelly spent the hours on
the side of Loughrigg, trying sometimes to draw or sew, but for the most
part, lying with shut eyes, hidden among the bracken. Her faculty for
dreaming awake--for a kind of visualisation sharper than most people
possess--had been much developed since George's departure. It partly
tormented, partly soothed her.
Night came without news. 'I _can't_ hear till to-morrow night,' she
thought, and lay still all night patient and sleepless, her little hands
crossed on her breast. The window was wide open and she could see the
stars peering over Loughrigg.
Next morning, fresh columns in the newspaper. The action was still going
on. She must wait. And somehow it was easier to wait this second day;
she felt more cheerful. Was there some secret voice telling her that if
he were dead, she would have heard?
After lunch she set out to take some of the Carton flowers to the
farmer's wife living in a fold of the fell, who had lost her only son in
the July fighting. Hester Martin had guided her there one day, and some
fellow-feeling had established itself rapidly between Nelly, and the
sad, dignified woman, whose duties went on as usual while all that gave
them zest had departed.
The distance was short, and she left exact word where she could be
found. As she climbed the narrow lane leading to the farm, she presently
heard a motor approaching. The walls enclosing the lane left barely room
to pass. She could only scramble hurriedly up a rock which had been
built into the wall, and hold on to a young tree growing from it. The
motor which was large and luxurious passed slowly, and in the car she
saw two young men, one pale and sickly-looking, wrapped in a great-coat
though the day was stuffily warm: the other, the driver, a tall and
stalwart fellow, who threw Nelly a cold, unfriendly look as they went
by. Who could they be? The road only led to the farm, and when Nelly had
last visited Mrs. Grayson, a week before, she and her old husband and a
granddaughter of fourteen had been its only inmates.
Mrs. Grayson received her with a smile.
'Aye, aye, Mrs. Sarratt, coom in. Yo're welcome.'
But as Nelly entered the flagged kitchen, with its joints of bacon and
its bunches of dried herbs, hanging from the low beamed ceiling, its
wide hob grate, its dresser, table and chairs of old Westmorland oak,
every article in it shining with elbow-grease,--she saw that Mrs.
Grayson looked particularly tired and pale.
'Yo mun ha' passed them in t' lane?' said the farmer's wife wearily,
when the flowers had been admired and put in water, and Nelly had been
established in the farmer's own chair by the fire, while his wife
insisted on getting an early cup of tea.
'Who were they, Mrs. Grayson?'
'Well, they're nobbut a queer soart, Mrs. Sarratt--and I'd be glad to
see t' back on 'em. They're "conscientious objectors"--that's what they
are--an my husband coom across them in Kendal toother day. He'd
finished wi t' market, and he strolled into the room at the Town Hall,
where the men were coomin' in--yo know--to sign on for the war. An' he
got talkin' wi' these two lads, who were lookin' on as he was. And they
said they was "conscientious objectors"--and wouldn't fight not for
nothing nor nobody. But they wouldn't mind doing their bit in other
ways, they said. So John he upped and said--would they coom and help him
with his second crop o' hay--you know we've lost nearly all our men,
Mrs. Sarratt--and they said they would--and that very evening he brought
'em along. And who do you think they are?'
Nelly could not guess; and Mrs. Grayson explained that the two young men
were the wealthy sons of a wealthy Liverpool tradesman and were starting
a branch of their father's business in Kendal. They had each of them a
motor, and apparently unlimited money. They had just begun to be useful
in the hay-making--'But they wouldn't _touch_ the stock--they wouldn't
kill anything--not a rat! They wouldn't even shoo the birds from the
oats! And last night one of them was took ill--and I must go and sit up
with him, while his brother fetched the big car from Kendal to take him
home. And there was he, groaning,--nobbut a bit of _colic_, Mrs.
Sarratt, that anybody might have!--and there I sat--thinking of our lads
in the trenches--thinking of _my boy_--that never grumbled at
anything--and would ha' been just ashamed to make such a fuss for such a
little. And this afternoon the brother's taken him away to be
molly-coddled at home. And, of course, they've left us, just when they
might ha' been o' soom real service. There's three fields still liggin
oot in t' wet--and nobody to lend a hand wi' them. But I doan't want
them back! I doan't hold wi' foak like that. I doan't want to see a mon
like that settin' where my boy used to set, when he came home. It goes
agin me. I can't soomhow put up wi' it.'
And as she sat there opposite Nelly, her gnarled and work-stained hands
resting on her knees, the tears suddenly ran over her cheeks. But she
quickly apologised for herself. 'The truth is I am run doon, Mrs.
Sarratt. I've done nothing but _cook_ and _cook_--since these young men
coom along. They wouldn't eat noa flesh--soa I must always be cookin'
summat--vegetables--or fish--or sweet things. I'm fair tired oot!'
Nelly exclaimed indignantly.
'Was it their _religion_ made them behave like that?'
'Religion!' Mrs. Grayson laughed. 'Well, they was only the yan Sunday
here--but they took no account o't, whativer. They went motorin' all
day; an niver set foot in church or chapel. They belong to soom Society
or other--I couldna tell what. But we'll not talk o' them ony more, Mrs.
Sarratt, if yo please. I'm just thankful they're gone ... An have ye
heard this day of Mr. Sarratt?'
The gentle ageing face bent forward tenderly. Nelly lifted her own
dark-rimmed eyes to it Her mouth quivered.
'No, not yet, Mrs. Grayson. But I shall soon. You'll have seen about
this fighting in the newspapers? There's been a great battle--I think
he'll have been in it. I shall hear to-night. I shall be sure to hear
'The Lord protect him!' said Mrs. Grayson softly. They both sat silent,
looking into the fire. Through the open door, the hens could be heard
pecking and clucking in the yard, and the rushing of a beck swollen by
the rain, on the fell-side. Presently the farmer's wife looked up--
'It's devil's work, is war!' she said, her eyes blazing. Nelly held out
her hand and Mrs. Grayson put hers into it. The two women looked at each
other,--the one who had lost, and the other who feared to lose.
'Yes, it's awful,' said Nelly, in a low voice. 'They want us to be
Mrs. Grayson shook her head again.
'We can do it when they're settin' there--afore us,' she said, 'but not
when we're by our lone.'
'It's the nights that are worst--' she murmured, under her
breath--'because it's then they're fighting--when we're in
'My boy was killed between one and two in the morning '--whispered Mrs.
Grayson. 'I heard from one of his friends this morning. He says it was
a lovely night, and the daylight just comin' up. I think of it when I'm
layin' awake and hearing the birds beginning.'
There was silence again, till Mrs. Grayson said, suddenly, with a
'But I'd rather be Jim's mother, and be settin' here without him, than
I'd be the mother o'yan of them young fellows as is just gone!'
'Yes,' said Nelly slowly--'yes. If we think too much about keeping them
safe--just for ourselves--If; they despise--they _would_ despise us.
And if anyone hangs back, we despise them. It' a horrible puzzle.'
'We can pray for them,' said Mrs. Grayson simply. 'God can keep them
safe if it's His will.'
'Yes '--said Nelly again. But her tone was flat and hesitating. Her
ever-present fear was very little comforted by prayer. But she found
comfort in Mrs. Grayson. She liked to stay on in the old kitchen,
watching Mrs. Grayson's household ways, making friends with the stolid
tabby cat, or listening to stories of Jim as a child. Sometimes she
would read parts of George's letters to this new friend. Bridget never
cared to hear them; and she was more completely at ease with the
farmer's wife even than with Hester Martin.
But she could not linger this afternoon. Her news might come any time.
And Sir William had telephoned that morning to say that he and his
sister would call on their way from Windermere, and would ask for a cup
of tea. Marsworth would probably meet them at Rydal.
As she descended the lane, she scolded herself for ingratitude. She was
glad the Farrells were coming, because they would bring newspapers, and
perhaps information besides, of the kind that does not get into
newspapers. But otherwise--why had she so little pleasure now in the
prospect of a visit from Sir William Farrell? He had never forced
himself upon them. Neither his visits nor his lessons had been
oppressively frequent, while the kindnesses which he had showered upon
them, from a distance, had been unceasing. She could hardly have
explained her disinclination. Was it that his company had grown so
stimulating and interesting to her, that it made her think too much of
other things than the war?--and so it seemed to separate her from
George? Her own quiet occupations--the needlework and knitting that she
did for a neighbouring war workroom, the gathering and drying of the
sphagnum moss, the visiting of a few convalescent soldiers, a daily
portion of Wordsworth, and some books about him--these things were
within her compass George knew all about them, for she chronicled them
in her letters day by day. She had a happy peaceful sense of communion
with him while she was busy with them. But Farrell's restless mind and
wide culture at once tired and fascinated her. He would often bring a
volume of Shelley, or Pater, or Hardy, or some quite modern poet, in his
pocket, and propose to read to her and Bridget, when the sketching was
done. And as he read, he would digress into talk, the careless audacity
of which would sometimes distress or repel, and sometimes absorb her;
till suddenly, perhaps, she realised how far she was wandering from that
common ground where she and George had moved together, and would try and
find her way back to it. She was always learning some new thing; and she
hated to learn, unless George changed and learnt with her.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Captain Marsworth was walking along the road from Grasmere to
Rydal with a rather listless step. As a soldier he was by no means
satisfied with the news of the week. We ought to have been in Lille and
weren't. It seemed to him that was about what the Loos action came to;
and his spirits were low. In addition he was in one of those fits of
depression which attack an able man who has temporarily come to a
stand-still in life, when his physical state is not buoyant enough to
enable him to fight them off. He was beginning plainly to see that his
own part in the war was done. His shattered arm, together with the
neuralgic condition which had followed on the wound, were not going to
mend sufficiently within any reasonable time to let him return to the
fighting line, where, at the moment of his wound, he was doing
divisional staff work, and was in the way of early promotion. He was a
man of clear and vigorous mind, inclined always to take a pessimistic
view of himself and his surroundings, and very critical also of persons
in authority; a scientific soldier, besides, indulging a strong natural
contempt for the politicians and all their crew, only surpassed by a
similar scorn of newspapers and the press. He had never been popular as
a subaltern, but since he had conquered his place among the 'brains' of
the army, his fame had spread, and it was freely prophesied that his
rise would be rapid. So that his growing conviction that his active
military career was over had been the recent cause in him of much
bitterness of soul. It was a bitter realisation, and a recent one. He
had been wounded at Neuve Chapelle in March, and up to July he had been
confident of complete and rapid recovery.
Well, there was of course some compensation. A post in the War
Office--in the Intelligence Department--would, he understood, be offered
him; and by October he meant to be at work. Meanwhile an old school and
college friendship between himself and 'Bill Farrell,' together with the
special facilities at Carton for the treatment of neuralgia after
wounds, had made him an inmate for several months of the special wing
devoted to such cases in the splendid hospital; though lately by way of
a change of surroundings, he had been lodging with the old Rector of the
village of Carton, whose house was kept--and well kept--by a
sweet-looking and practical granddaughter, herself an orphan.
Marsworth had connections in high quarters, and possessed some
considerable means. He had been a frequenter of the Farrells since the
days when the old aunt was still in command, and Cicely was a young
thing going to her first dances. He and she had sparred and quarrelled
as boy and girl. Now that, after a long interval, they had again been
thrown into close contact, they sparred and quarrelled still. He was a
man of high and rather stern ideals, which had perhaps been
intensified--made a little grimmer and fiercer than before--by the
strain of the war; and the selfish frivolity of certain persons and
classes in face of the national ordeal was not the least atoned for in
his eyes by the heroism of others. The endless dress advertisements in
the daily papers affected him as they might have affected the prophet
Ezekiel, had the daughters of Judah added the purchase of fur coats,
priced from twenty guineas to two hundred to their other enormities. He
had always in his mind the agonies of the war, the sights of the
trenches, the holocaust of young life, the drain on the national
resources, the burden on the national future. So that the Farrell
motor-cars and men servants, the costly simplicity of the 'cottage,'
Cicely's extravagance in dress, her absurd and expensive uniform, her
make-up and her jewels, were so many daily provocations to a man thus
And yet--he had not been able so far to tear himself away from Carton!
And he knew many things about Cicely Farrell that Nelly Sarratt had not
discovered; things that alternately softened and enraged him; things
that kept him now, as for some years past, provokingly, irrationally
interested in her. He had once proposed to her, and she had refused him.
That was known to a good many people. But what their relations were now
was a mystery to the friends on both sides.
Whatever they were, however, on this September afternoon Marsworth was
coming rapidly to the conclusion that he had better put an end to them.
His latent feelings of resentment and irritation had been much sharpened
of late by certain passages of arms between himself and Cicely--since
she returned from her visits--with regard to that perfectly gentle and
inoffensive little maiden, Miss Daisy Stewart, the Rector's
granddaughter. Miss Farrell had several times been unpardonably rude to
the poor child in his presence, and, as it seemed to him, with the
express object of showing him how little she cared to keep on friendly
terms with him.
Nevertheless--he found himself puzzling over certain other incidents in
his recent ken, of a different character. The hospital at Carton was
mainly for privates, with a certain amount of accommodation for
officers. He had done his best during the summer to be useful to some
poor fellows, especially of his own regiment, on the Tommies' side. And
he had lately come across some perplexing signs of a special
thoughtfulness on Miss Farrell's part for these particular men. He had
discovered also that she had taken pains to keep these small kindnesses
of hers from his knowledge.
'I wasn't to tell you, sir,'--said the boy who had lost an eye--'not
whatever. But when you come along with them things'--a set of draughts
and a book--'why it do seem as though I be gettin' more than my share!'
Well, she had always been incomprehensible--and he was weary of the
attempt to read her. But he wanted a home--he wanted to marry. He began
to think again--in leisurely fashion--of the Rector's granddaughter.
Was that Mrs. Sarratt descending the side-lane? The sight of her
recalled his thoughts instantly to the war, and to a letter he had
received that morning from a brother officer just arrived in London on
medical leave--the letter of a 'grouser' if ever there was one.
'They say that this week is to see another big push--the French probably
in Champagne, and we south of Bethune. I know nothing first-hand, but I
do know that it can only end in a few kilometres of ground, huge
casualties,--and, as you were! _We are not ready_--we can't be ready for
months. On the other hand we must keep moving--if only to kill a few
Germans, and keep our own people at home in heart. I passed some of the
Lanchesters on my way down--going up, as fresh as paint after three
weeks' rest--what's left of them. They're sure to be in it.'
The little figure in the mauve cotton had paused at the entrance to the
lane, perceiving him.
What about Sarratt? Had she heard? He hurried on to meet her, and put
'There can't be any telegram yet,' she said, her pale cheeks flushing.
'But it will come to-night. Shall we go back quickly?'
They walked on rapidly. He soon found she did not want to talk of the
news, and he was driven back on the weather.
'What a blessing to see the sun again I this west country damp
'I think I like it!'
'Do you only "say that to annoy "?'
'No, I _do_ like it! I like to see the rain shutting out everything, so
that one can't make any plans--or go anywhere.' She smiled, but he was
well aware of the fever in her look. He had not seen it there since the
weeks immediately following Sarratt's departure. His heart warmed to the
frail creature, tremulous as a leaf in the wind, yet making a show of
courage. He had often asked himself whether he would wish to be loved as
Mrs. Sarratt evidently loved her husband; whether he could possibly meet
such a claim upon his own sensibility. But to-day he thought he could
meet it; to-day he thought it would be agreeable.
Nelly had not told Marsworth however that one reason for which she
liked the rain was that it had temporarily put an end to the sketching
lessons. Nor could she have added that this new distaste in her, as
compared with the happy stir of fresh or quickened perception, which had
been the result of his early teaching, was connected, not only with Sir
William--but with Bridget--her sister Bridget.
But the truth was that something in Bridget's manner, very soon after
the Carton visit, had begun to perplex and worry the younger sister. Why
was Bridget always insisting on the lessons?--always ready to scold
Nelly if one was missed--and always practising airs and graces with Sir
William that she wasted on no one else? Why was she so frequently away
on the days when Sir William was expected? Nelly had only just begun to
notice it, and to fall back instinctively on Miss Martin's company
whenever it could be had. She hated her own vague annoyance with
Bridget's behaviour, just because she could not pour herself out to
George about it. It was really too silly and stupid to talk about. She
supposed--she dreaded--that Bridget might be going to ask Sir William
some favour; that she meant to make use of his kindness to her sister in
order to work upon him. How horrible that would be!--how it would spoil
everything! Nelly began sometimes to dream of moving, of going to
Borrowdale, or to the coast at Scascale. And then, partly her natural
indolence, and partly her clinging to every rock and field in this
beautiful place where she had been so happy, intervened; and she let
Yet when Sir William and Cicely arrived, to find Bridget making tea, and
Nelly listening with a little frown of effort, while Marsworth, pencil
in hand, was drawing diagrams _a la Belloc_, to explain to her the
Russian retreat from Galicia, how impossible not to feel cheered by
Farrell's talk and company! The great _bon enfant_, towering in the
little room, and positively lighting it up by the red-gold of his-hair
and beard, so easily entertained, so overflowing with kind intentions,
so fastidious intellectually, and so indulgent morally:--as soon as he
appeared he filled the scene.
'No fresh news, dear Mrs. Sarratt, nothing whatever,' he said at once,
meeting her hungry eyes. 'And you?'
She shook her head.
'Don't worry. You'll get it soon. I've sent the motor back to Windermere
for the evening papers.'
Meanwhile Marsworth found himself reduced to watching Cicely, and
presently he found himself more angry and disgusted than he had ever yet
been. How could she? How dared she? On this day of all days, to be
snobbishly playing the great lady in Mrs. Sarratt's small sitting-room!
Whenever that was Cicely's mood she lisped; and as often as Marsworth,
who was sitting far away from her, talking to Bridget Cookson, caught
her voice, it seemed to him that she was lisping--affectedly--monstrously.
She was describing for instance a certain ducal household in which she
had just been spending the week-end, and Marsworth heard her say--
'Well at last, poor Evelyn' ('poor Evelyn' seemed to be a youthful
Duchess, conducting a war economy campaign through the villages of her
husband's estate), 'began to get threatening letters. She found out
afterwards they came from a nurse-maid she had sent away. "Madam, don't
you talk to us, but look at 'ome! examine your own nursewy, Madam, and
hold your tongue!" She did examine, and I found her cwying. "Oh,
Cicely, isn't it awful, I've just discovered that Nurse has been
spending _seven pounds a week_ on Baby's wibbons!" So she's given up war
'Why not the "wibbons?"' said Hester Martin, who had just come in and
heard the tale.
'Because nobody gives up what they weally want to have,' said Cicely
promptly, with a more affected voice and accent than before.
Bridget pricked up her ears and nodded triumphantly towards Nelly.
'Don't talk nonsense, Cicely,' said Farrell. 'Why, the Duchess has
planted the whole rose-garden with potatoes, and sold all her Pekinese.'
'Only because she was tired of the Pekinese, and has so many flowers she
doesn't know what to do with them! On the other hand the _Duke_ wants
parlour-maids; and whenever he says so, Evelyn draws all the blinds
down and goes to bed. And that annoys him so much that he gives in!
Don't you talk, Willy. The Duchess always gets wound you!'
'I don't care twopence about her,' said Farrell, rather savagely. 'What
does she matter?' Then he moved towards Nelly, whose absent look and
drooping attitude he had been observing for some minutes.
'Shan't we go down to the Lake, Mrs. Sarratt? It seems really a fine
evening at last, and there won't be so many more. Let me carry some
shawls. Marsworth, lend a hand.'
Soon they were all scattered along the edge of the Lake. Hester Martin
had relieved Marsworth of Bridget; Farrell had found a dry rock, and
spread a shawl upon it for Nelly's benefit. Marsworth and Cicely had no
choice but to pair; and she, with a grey hat and plume half a yard high,
preposterously short skirts, and high-heeled boots buttoned to the knee,
condescended to stroll beside him, watching his grave embarrassed look
with an air of detachment as dramatically complete as she could make it.
* * * * *
'You look awfully tired!' said Farrell to his companion, eyeing her with
most sincere concern. 'I wonder what you've been doing to yourself.'
'I'm all right,' she said with emphasis. 'Indeed I'm all right. You said
you'd sent for the papers?'
'The motor will wait for them at Windermere. But I don't think there'll
be much more to hear. I'm afraid we've shot our bolt.'
She clasped her hands listlessly on her knee, and said nothing.
'Are you quite sure Sarratt has been in it?' he asked her.
'Oh, yes, I'm sure.'
There was a dull conviction in her voice. She began to pluck at the
grass beside her, while her dark contracted eyes swept the Lake in front
of her--seeing nothing.