Part 5 out of 6
'Sir William is there, with Captain Marsworth,' said Nelly. 'Cicely
comes here to-morrow.'
'Does she expect me to give her my room?' said Bridget sharply.
'Not at all. She likes the little spare-room.'
'Or pretends to! Has Sir William been here to-day?'
'Yes, he came round.'
A few more questions and answers led to silence broken only by the
crackling of the fire. The firelight played on Nelly's cheek and throat,
and on her white languid hands. Presently it caught her wedding-ring,
and Bridget's eye was drawn to the sparkle of the gold. She sat looking
absently at her sister. She was thinking of a tiny room in a hut
hospital--of the bed--and of those eyes that had opened on her. And
there sat Nelly--knowing nothing!
It was all a horrible anxiety. But it couldn't last long.
'So you are not at church?'
The voice was Marsworth's as he stepped inside the flagged passage of
the farm, Nelly having just opened the door to him.
'It's so far!--in winter,' said Nelly a little guiltily. 'I go to
Grasmere in summer.'
'Oh! don't apologise--to a heathen like me! I'm only too thankful to
find you alone. Is your sister here?'
'Yes. But we've made a room for her in one of the outhouses. She works
'What at? Is she still learning Spanish?' asked Marsworth, smiling, as
he followed Nelly into the little white drawing-room.
'I don't know,' said Nelly, after a moment, in a tone of depression.
'Bridget doesn't tell me.'
The corners of Marsworth's strong mouth shewed amusement. He was not
well acquainted with Bridget Cookson, but as far as his observation
went, she seemed to him a curious specimen of the half-educated
pretentious woman so plentiful in our modern life. In place of
'psychology' and 'old Spanish,' the subjects in which Miss Cookson was
said to be engaged, he would have liked to prescribe for her--and all
her kin--courses of an elementary kind in English history and vulgar
But, for Nelly Sarratt, Marsworth felt the tender and chivalrous respect
that natures like hers exact easily from strong men. To him, as to
Farrell, she was the 'little saint' and peacemaker, with her lovingness,
her sympathy, her lack of all the normal vanities and alloys that beset
the pretty woman. That she was not a strong character, that she was
easily influenced and guided by those who touched her affections, he
saw. But that kind of weakness in a woman--when that woman also
possesses the mysterious something, half physical, half spiritual, which
gives delight--is never unpleasing to such men as Marsworth, nor indeed
to other women. It was Marsworth's odd misfortune that he should have
happened to fall in love with a young woman who had practically none of
the qualities that he naturally and spontaneously admired in the sex.
It was, however, about that young woman that he had come to talk. For he
was well aware of Nelly's growing intimacy with Cicely, and had lately
begun to look upon that as his last hope.
Yet he was no sooner alone with Nelly than he felt a dim compunction.
This timid creature, with her dark haunting eyes, had problems enough of
her own to face. He perceived clearly that Farrell's passion for her was
mounting fast, and he had little or no idea what kind of response she
was likely to make to it. But all the same his own need drove him on.
And Nelly, who had scarcely slept all night, caught eagerly at some
temporary escape from her own perplexities.
'Dear Mrs. Sarratt!--have you _any_ idea, whether Cicely cares one brass
farthing for me, or not?'
To such broad and piteous appeal was a gallant officer reduced. Nelly
was sorry for him, but could not hide the smile in her eyes, as she
'Have you really asked her?'
'Asked her? Many times!--in the dark ages. It is months, however, since
she gave me the smallest chance of doing it again. Everything I do or
say appears to annoy her, and of course, naturally, I have relieved her
of my presence as much as possible.'
Nelly had taken up her knitting.
'If you never come--perhaps--Cicely thinks you are tired of her.'
'Is that her line now? And yet you know--you are witness!--of how she
behaves when I do come.'
Nelly looked up boldly.
'You mustn't be angry, but--why can't you accept her--as she is--without
always wanting her different?'
Marsworth flushed slightly. The impressive effect of his fine iron-grey
head, and marked features, his scrupulously perfect dress, and general
look of competence and ability, was deplorably undone by the signs in
him of bewilderment and distress.
'You mean--you think I bully her?--she thinks so?'
'She--she feels--you so dreadfully disapprove of her!' said Nelly,
sticking to it, but smiling.
'She regards me as a first-class prig in fact?'
'No--but she thinks you don't always understand.'
'That I don't know what a splendid creature she is, really?' said
Marsworth with increasing agitation. 'But I do know it! I know it up and
down. Why everybody--except those she dislikes!--at that hospital,
adores her. She's wearing herself out at the work. None of us are fit to
black her boots. But if one ever tries to tell her so--my hat!'
'Perhaps she doesn't like being praised either,' said Nelly softly.
'Perhaps she thinks--an old friend--should take it all for granted.'
'Good Lord!' said Marsworth holding his head in desperation--'whatever I
do is wrong! Dear Mrs. Sarratt!--look here--I must speak up for myself.
You know how Cicely has taken of late to being intolerably rude to
anybody she thinks is my friend. She castigates me through them. That
poor little girl, Daisy Stewart--why she's ready at any moment to
worship Cicely! But Cicely tramples on her--_you_ know how she does
it--and if I interfere, I'm made to wish I had never been born! At the
present moment, Cicely won't speak to me. There was some silly shindy at
a parish tea last week--by the way, she's coming to you to-day?'
'She arrives for lunch,' said Nelly, looking at the clock.
'And the Stewarts are coming to the cottage in the afternoon!' said
Marsworth in despair. 'Can you keep her away?'
'I'll try--but you know it's not much good trying to manage Cicely.'
'Don't I know it! I return to my first question--does she care a
Nelly was looking dreamily into the fire.
'You mean--does she care enough to give up her ways and take to yours?'
'Yes, I suppose I do mean that,' he said, with sudden seriousness.
Nelly shook her head, smiling.
'I don't know! But--Cicely's worth a deal of trouble.'
He assented with a mixture of fervour and depression.
'We've known each other since we were boy and girl. That's what makes
the difficulty, perhaps. We know each other too well. When she was a
child of fourteen, I was already in the Guards, and I used to try and
tackle her--because no one else would. Her father was dead. Her mother
had no influence with her; and Willy was too lazy. So I tried my hand.
And I find myself doing the same thing now. But of course it's
Nelly tried to cheer him up, but she was not herself very hopeful. She,
perceived too clearly the martinet in him and the rebel in Cicely. If
something were suddenly to throw them together, some common interest or
emotion, each might find the other's heart in a way past undoing. On the
other hand the jarring habit, once set up, has a way of growing worse,
and reducing everything else to dust and ashes. Finally she wound up
with a timid but emphatic counsel.
'Please--please--don't be sarcastic.'
He looked injured.
'I never am!'
'You don't know when you are. And be very nice to her this afternoon.'
'How can I, if she shews me at once that I'm unwelcome? You haven't
answered my question.'
He was standing ready for departure. Nelly's face changed--became all
sad and tender pity.
'You must ask it yourself!' she said eagerly, 'Go on asking it. It would
be too--too dreadful, wouldn't it?--to miss everything--by being proud,
or offended, for nothing----'
'What do you mean by everything?'
'You know,' she said, after a moment, shielding her eyes as they looked
into the fire; 'I'm sure you know. It _is_ everything.'
As he walked back to the cottage, he found himself speculating not so
much about his own case as about his friend's. Willy was certainly in
love. And Nelly Sarratt was as softly feminine as Cicely was mannish
and strong. But he somehow did not feel that Willy's chances were any
safer than his own.
A car arrived at one o'clock bringing Cicely, much wrapped up in fur
coat and motor-veils. She came impetuously into the sitting-room, and
seemed to fill it. It took some time to peel her and reduce her to the
size of an ordinary mortal. She then appeared in a navy-blue coat and
skirt, with navy-blue boots buttoned almost to the knees. The skirt was
immensely full and immensely short. When the strange erection to which
the motor-veil was attached was removed, Cicely showed a dark head with
hair cut almost short, and parted on the left side. Her eyebrows were
unmistakably blackened, her lips unmistakably--strengthened; and Nelly
saw at once that her guest was in a very feverish and irritated
'Are you alone?' said Cicely, glancing imperiously round her, when the
disrobing was done.
'Bridget is here.'
'What are you going to do this afternoon?'
'Can't we have a walk, you and I, together?'
'Of course we can. Why should we be bothered with anyone else?'
'I suppose,' said Nelly timidly--'they will come in to tea?'
'"They"? Oh! you mean Willy and Captain Marsworth? It is such a pity
Willy can't find somebody more agreeable for these Sundays.'
Cicely threw herself back in her chair, and lifted a navy-blue boot to
'More agreeable than Captain Marsworth?'
'Exactly. Willy can't do anything without him, when he's in these parts;
and it spoils everything!'
Nelly dropped a kiss on Cicely's hair, as she stood beside her.
'Why didn't you put off coming till next week?'
'Why should I allow my plans to be interfered with by Captain
Marsworth?' said Cicely, haughtily. 'I came to see _you_!'
'Well, we needn't see much of him,' said Nelly, soothingly, as she
dropped on a stool beside her friend.
'I'm not going to be kept out of the cottage, by Captain Marsworth, all
the same!' said Cicely hastily. 'There are several books there I want.'
'Oh, Cicely, what have you been doing?' said Nelly, laying her head on
her guest's knees.
'Doing? Nothing that I hadn't a perfect right to do. But I suppose--that
very particular gentleman--has been complaining?'
Nelly looked up, and met an eye, fiercely interrogative, yet trying hard
not to be interrogative.
'I've been doing my best to pick up the pieces.'
'Then he has been complaining?'
'A little narrative of facts,' said Nelly mildly.
'Facts--_facts_!' said Cicely, with the air of a disturbed lioness. 'As
if a man whose ideas of manners and morals date from about--a million
years before the Flood.'
'Dear!--there weren't any manners or morals a million years before the
Cicely drew a breath of exasperation.
'It's all very well to laugh, but if you only knew how _impossible_ that
'Then why not get a Sunday free from him?'
Cicely flushed against her will, and said nothing. Nelly's black eyes
observed her with as much sarcasm in their sweetness as she dared to
throw into them. She changed her tone.
'Don't go to the cottage this afternoon, Cicely.'
'Why?' The voice was peremptory.
'Well, because----' Nelly described Farrell's chance meeting with the
Stewarts and the inevitable invitation. Cicely's flush deepened. But she
tried to speak carelessly.
'Of course, the merest device on that girl's part! She arranged it all.'
'I really don't think she did.'
'Ah, well, _you_ haven't seen what's been going on. A more shameless
Cicely stopped abruptly. There was a sudden sparkle in Nelly's look,
which seemed to shew that the choice of the word 'pursuit' had been
Miss Farrell quieted down.
'Of course,' she said, with a very evident attempt to recapture whatever
dignity might be left on the field, 'neither Willy nor I like to see an
old friend throwing himself away on a little pink and white nonentity
like Daisy Stewart. We can't be expected to smile upon it.'
'But I understand, from one of the parties principally concerned, that
there is really nothing in it!' said Nelly, smiling.
'One of the perjuries I suppose at which Jove laughs!' said Cicely
getting up, and hastily rearranging her short curls with the help of
various combs, before the only diminutive looking-glass the farm
sitting-room provided. 'However, we shall see what happens. I have no
doubt Miss Daisy has arranged the proposal scene for this very
afternoon. We shall be in for the last act of the play.'
'Then you _are_ going to the cottage?'
'Certainly!' said Cicely, with a clearing brow. 'Don't let's talk any
more about it. Do give me some lunch. I'm ravenous. Ah, here's your
For through a back window looking on what had once been a farm-yard, and
was now a small garden, Cicely saw Bridget emerge from the rebuilt
outhouse where an impromptu study had been devised for her, and walk
towards the farm.
'I say, what's happened to your sister?'
'Happened to her? What do you mean?'
'She looks so much older.'
'I suppose she's been working too hard,' said Nelly, remorsefully. 'I
wish I knew what it was all about.'
'Well, I can tell you'--said Cicely laughing and whispering--'that
Willy doesn't think it's about anything in particular!'
'Hush!' said Nelly, with a pained look. 'Perhaps we shall all turn out
to be quite wrong. We shall discover that it was something--'
'Desperately interesting and important? Not it! But I'm going to be as
good as good. You'll see.'
And when Bridget appeared, Cicely did indeed behave herself with
remarkable decorum. Her opinion was that Nelly's strange sister had
grown more unlike other people than ever since she had last seen her.
She seemed to be in a perpetual brown study, which was compatible,
however, with a curious watchfulness which struck Cicely particularly.
She was always aware of any undercurrent in the room--of anyone going in
or out--of persons passing in the road. At lunch she scarcely opened her
lips, but Cicely was all the time conscious of being observed. After
luncheon Bridget got up abruptly, and said she was going down to
Grasmere to post a letter.
'Oh, then,' said Nelly--'you can ask if there are any for me.'
For there was no delivery at the farm on Sunday morning. Bridget nodded,
and they soon saw her emerge from the farm gate and take the Grasmere
'I must say your sister seems greatly to prefer her own company to
ours,' said Cicely, lighting her cigarette.
Again Nelly looked distressed.
'She was always like that,' she said at last. 'It doesn't really mean
'Do I know you well enough to ask whether you get on with her?'
Nelly coloured. 'I try my best'--she said, rather despairingly. Then she
added--'she does all sorts of things for me that I'm too lazy to do for
'I believe she likes Willy better than most people!' laughed Cicely.
'I'm not suggesting, please, that she has designs upon him. But she is
certainly more forthcoming to him than to anybody else, isn't she?'
Nelly did not reply. The remark only clouded her look still more. For
her inner mind was perfectly aware of Bridget's attitude towards William
Farrell, and understood it only too well. She knew by this time, past
any doubt, that Bridget was hungry for the Farrell wealth, and was
impatient with herself as a little fool who had not yet made certain of
it. If she stuck to her purpose--if she went away and cut off all
communication with Carton--Bridget would probably quarrel with her for
Would she stick to her purpose? Her mind was miserably swaying to and
fro. She felt morally as she had once felt--physically--on a summer
afternoon long before, when she, who could not swim, had gone
imperceptibly out of her depth, while bathing, and had become suddenly
aware of a seaward current, carrying her away. No help was near. For
five minutes, which had seemed five years, she had wrestled against the
deadly force, which if her girlish strength had been a fraction less,
would have swept her out, a lifeless plaything to the open sea.
Spiritually, it was the same now. Farrell's will, and--infinitely less
important, but still, to be reckoned with--Bridget's will, were pressing
her hard. She did not know if she could keep her footing.
Meanwhile Cicely, in complete ignorance of the new and agonised tension
in Nelly's mind, was thinking only of her own affairs. As soon as her
after-luncheon cigarette was done, she sprang up and began to put on her
'So you _are_ going to the cottage?' said Nelly.
'Certainly. How do you like my boots?'
She held up one for inspection.
'I don't like them!'
'Fast, you think? Ah, wait till you see my next costume! High Russian
boots, delicious things, up to there!' Cicely indicated a point above
the knee, not generally reached by the female boot--'hand-painted and
embroidered--with tassels--you know!--corduroy trousers!'
'Shan't I--and a pink jersey, the new shade? I saw a friend of mine in
this get-up, last week. Ripping! Only she had red hair, which completed
it. Perhaps I might dye mine!'
They sallied forth into a mild winter afternoon. Nelly would have
avoided the cottage and Farrell if she could, but Cicely had her own way
as usual. Presently they turned into a side lane skirting the tarn, from
which the cottage and its approaches could be seen, at a distance. From
the white-pillared porch, various figures were emerging, four in all.
Cicely came to a stop.
'There, you see!' she said, in her sharpest voice--'Look there!' For two
of the figures, whom it was easy to identify as Captain Marsworth and
Miss Stewart, diverging from the other pair, went off by themselves in
the direction of Skelwith, with a gay wave of the hand to the old Rector
and Farrell left behind.
Cicely's sudden scarlet ebbed in a moment, leaving her quite white. She
walked on with difficulty, her eyes on the ground. Nelly dared not
address her, or slip a sympathising hand into hers. And it was too late
to retreat. Farrell had perceived them, and he and his companion came
towards them. Cicely pulled herself rapidly together.
Nelly too had need of a minute or two's recollection before Farrell
joined them. He and she were still to meet as usual, while meeting was
possible--wasn't that how it stood? After all, her new plans could not
be made in a moment. She had promised nothing; but he had
promised--would she be able to hold him to it? Her heart trembled as he
But he met her in a sunny mood, introducing her to the white-haired old
clergyman, and watching Cicely with eyes that shewed a hidden amusement.
'The other two seemed to have some private business to discuss,' he said
carelessly. 'So they've got rid of us for a while. They're walking round
the other side of the tarn and will join us at the top of Red Bank. At
least if you're up to a walk?'
He addressed Nelly, who could do nothing but assent, though it meant a
tete-a-tete with him, while Cicely and the old Rector followed.
Mr. Stewart found Miss Farrell anything but an agreeable companion. He
was not a shrewd observer, and the love-affairs especially of his
fellow-creatures were always a surprise and a mystery to him. But he
vaguely understood that his little granddaughter was afraid of Miss
Farrell and did not get on with her. He, too, was afraid of Cicely and
her sharp tongue, while her fantastic dress and her rouge put him in
mind of passages in the prophet Ezekiel, the sacred author of whom he
was at that moment making a special study with a view to a Cambridge
University sermon. It would be terrible if Daisy were ever to take to
imitating Miss Farrell. He was a little disturbed about Daisy lately.
She had been so absent-minded, and sometimes--even--a little flighty.
She had forgotten the day before, to look out some passages for him; and
there was a rent in his old overcoat she had not mended. He was
disagreeably conscious of it. And what could she have to say to Captain
Marsworth? It was all rather odd--and annoying. He walked in a
Farrell and Nelly meanwhile were, it seemed, in no lack of conversation.
He told her that he might possibly be going to France, in a week or two,
for a few days. The Allied offensive on the Somme was apparently
shutting down for the winter. 'The weather in October just broke
everybody's heart, vile luck! Nothing to be done but to make the winter
as disagreeable to the Boche as we can, and to go on piling up guns and
shells for the spring. I'm going to look at hospitals at X---' he named
a great base camp--'and I daresay they'll let me have a run along some
bit of the front, if there's a motor to be had.'
Nelly stopped abruptly. He could see the colour fluctuating in her
'You're going to X---? You--you might see Dr. Howson?'
'Howson?' he said, surprised. 'Do you know him? Yes, I shall certainly
see Howson. He's now the principal surgeon at one of the General
Hospitals there, where I specially want to look at some new splints
they've been trying.'
Nelly moved on without speaking for a little. At last she said, almost
'He promised me--to make enquiries.'
'Did he?' Farrell spoke in the grave, deep voice he seemed to keep for
her alone, which was always sweet to her ear. 'And he has never
written?' She shook her head. 'But he would have written--instantly--you
may be quite sure, if there had been the slightest clue.'
'Oh yes, I know, I know,' she said hastily.
'Give me any message for him you like--or any questions you'd like me to
'Yes'--she said, vaguely.
It seemed to him she was walking languidly, and he was struck by her
weary look. The afternoon had turned windy and cold with gusts of rain.
But when he suggested an immediate return to the cottage, Nelly would
have none of it.
'We were to meet Captain Marsworth and Miss Stewart. Where are they?'
They emerged at the moment from the cottage grounds, upon the high road;
Farrell pointed ahead, and Nelly saw Marsworth and Miss Stewart walking
fast up the hill before them, and evidently in close conversation.
'What can they have to talk about?' said Nelly, wondering.
'Wouldn't you like to know!'
'You're not going to tell me?'
'Not a word.'
His eyes laughed at her. They walked on beside each other, strangely
content. And yet, with what undercurrents of sensitive and wounded
consciousness on her side, of anxiety on his!
At the top of Red Bank they came up with Marsworth and Miss Stewart.
Nelly's curiosity was more piqued than ever. If all that Marsworth had
said to her was true, why this evident though suppressed agitation on
the girl's part, and these shades of mystery in the air? Daisy Stewart
was what anybody would have called 'a pretty little thing.' She was
small, round-cheeked, round-eyed, round-limbed; light upon her feet;
shewing a mass of brown hair brushed with gold under her hat, and the
fresh complexion of a mountain maid. Nelly guessed her age about three
and twenty, and could not help keenly watching the meeting between her
and Cicely. She saw Cicely hold out a limp hand, and the girl's timid,
almost entreating eyes.
But, the next moment, her attention was diverted to a figure slowly
mounting the steep hill from Grasmere, on the top of which the cottage
party were now standing, uncertain whether to push on for their walk, or
to retreat homewards before the increasing rain. The person approaching
was Bridget. As she perceived her, Nelly was startled into quick
recollection of Cicely's remark of the morning--'Your sister seems to
have grown much older.' But not only older--_different!_ Nelly could not
have analysed her own impression, but it was so painful that she ran
down to meet her.
'Bridget, it's too far for you to Grasmere!--and coming back up this
awful hill! You look quite done. Do go home and lie down, or will you
come to the cottage for tea first? It's nearer.'
Bridget looked at her coldly.
'Why do you make such a fuss? I'm all right. But I'm not coming to the
cottage, thank you. I've got things to do.'
The implication was that everyone else was idle. Nelly drew back,
rebuffed. And as Bridget reached the group at the top of the hill it was
as though the rain and darkness suddenly deepened. All talk dropped.
Farrell, indeed, greeted her courteously, introduced her to the
Stewarts, and asked her to come back to the cottage for tea. But he was
refused as Nelly had been. Bridget went on her way alone towards the
farm. But after parting from the others she turned back suddenly to
say--'There were no letters for you, Nelly.'
'What a mercy!' said Farrell, as Bridget disappeared. 'Don't you think
so? I never have any forwarded here.'
'Ah, but you get so many,' said Nelly wistfully. 'But still, letters
don't matter to me--now.'
He said nothing, but it roused in him a kind of fierce soreness that she
would always keep the past so clearly before herself and him.
Violent rain came on, and they hurried back to the cottage for shelter.
Cicely was talking extravagantly all the time. She was tired to death,
she said, of everything patriotic. The people who prattled about
nursing, and the people who prattled about the war--especially the
people who talked about women's work--were all equally intolerable. She
meant to give up everything very soon. Somebody must amuse themselves,
or the world would go mad. Farrell threw at her some brotherly jibes;
the old Rector looked scared; and Marsworth said nothing.
* * * * *
There were bright fires in the cottage, and the dripping walkers were
glad to crowd round them; all except Cicely and Marsworth, who seemed to
Nelly's watching sense to be oddly like two wrestlers pacing round each
other, and watching the opportunity to close. Each would take out a book
from the shelves and put it back, or take up a newspaper from the
tables--crossing repeatedly, but never speaking. And meanwhile Nelly
also noticed that Daisy Stewart, now that Cicely's close contact was
removed, was looking extraordinarily pretty. Radiance, not to be
concealed, shone from her charming childish face.
Suddenly Marsworth paused in front of Cicely, intercepting her as she
was making for the door.
'Would you be an angel, Miss Farrell, and help me to find a particular
Turner drawing I want to see? Willy says it's in the studio somewhere.'
Cicely paused, half haughty, half irresolute.
'Willy knows his way about the portfolios much better than I do.'
Marsworth came nearer, and leaning one hand on the table between them,
bent over to her. He was smiling, but there was emotion in his look.
'Willy is looking after these people. Won't you?'
'All right!' she said carelessly, at last, and led the way.
The studio was empty. A wood fire burnt on the wide hearth, making a
pleasant glow in the wintry twilight. Cicely seated herself on the end
of a sofa, crossed her feet, and took out a cigarette. But to
Marsworth's intense relief she had taken off the helmet-like erection
she called a hat, and her black curly hair strayed as it pleased about
her brow and eyes.
'Well?' she said, at last, looking at him coolly. Marsworth could not
help laughing. He brought a chair, and placed it where he could see her
from below, as he lay back in it, his hands behind his head.
'Of course, you don't want to look at the portfolio,' she resumed, 'that
was your excuse. You want to tell me of your engagement to Miss
Marsworth laughed again. Her ear caught what seemed to be a note of
'Make haste, please!' she said, breathing quickly. 'There isn't very
His face changed. He sat up, and held out his hand to her.
'Dear Cicely, I want you to do something for me.'
But she put her own behind her back.
'Have you been quarrelling already? Because if you want me to make it
up, that really isn't my vocation.'
He was silent a moment surveying her. Then he said quietly--'I want you
to help me. I want you to be kind to that little girl.'
'Daisy Stewart? Thank you. But I've no gift at all for mothering babes!
Besides--she'll now have all the advice, and all the kindness she
Marsworth's lips twitched.
'Yes, that's true--if you and I can help her out. Cicely!--aren't you a
great friend of Sir John Raine?'
He named one of the chiefs of the Army Medical Department, a man whose
good word was the making of any aspirant in the field he ruled.
Cicely looked rather darkly at her questioner.
'What do you mean?'
'I want you to help me get an appointment for somebody.'
'For the man Daisy Stewart wants to marry.'
Cicely could not conceal her start.
'I don't like being mystified,' she said coldly.
Marsworth allowed his smile to shew itself.
'I'm not trying to mystify you in the least. Daisy Stewart has been
engaged for nearly a year to one of the house-surgeons in your
hospital--young Fellows. Nobody knows it--not Willy even. It has been
kept a dead secret, because that wicked old man the Rector won't have
it. Daisy makes him comfortable, and he won't give her up, if he can
help it. And as young Fellows has nothing but his present pay--a year
with board and lodging--it seemed hopeless. But now he has got his eye
And in a quiet business-like voice Marsworth put the case of the
penniless one--his qualifications, his ambitions, and the particular
post under the Army Medical Board on which he had set his hopes. If only
somebody with influence would give him a leg up!
'Does Willy know?'
'No. You see, I have come to you first.'
'How long have you known?'
'Since my stay with them last autumn. I suspected something then, just
as I was leaving; and Miss Daisy confessed--when I was there in May.
Since then she seems to have elected me her chief adviser. But, of
course, I had no right to tell anybody anything.'
'That is what you like--to advise people?'
Marsworth considered it.
'There was a time'--he said, at last, in a different voice, 'when my
advice used to be asked by someone else--and sometimes taken.'
Cicely pretended to light another cigarette, but her slim fingers shook
'And now--you never give it?'
'Oh yes, I do,' he said, with sudden bitterness--'even unasked. I'm
always the same old bore.'
There was silence. His right hand stole towards her left that was lying
limply over her knee. Cicely's eyes looking down were occupied with his
disabled arm, which, although much improved, was still glad to slip into
its sling whenever it was not actively wanted.
But just as he was capturing her, Cicely sprang up.
'I must go and see about Sir John Raine.'
'Cicely--I don't care a brass farthing about Sir John Raine!'
'But having once brought him in, I recommend you to stick to him,' said
Cicely, with teasing eyes. 'And don't go advising young women. It's not
good for the military. _I'm_ going to take this business in hand.'
And she made for departure, but Marsworth got to the door first, and put
his back against it.
'Find me the Turner, Cicely.'
'A man who asks for a thing on false pretences shouldn't have it.'
A silence. Then a meek voice said--
'Captain Marsworth, my brother, Sir William Farrell, will be requiring
my services at tea!'
Marsworth moved aside and she forward. But as she neared him, he caught
her passionately in his arms and kissed her. She released herself,
'Do I like being kissed?' she said in a low voice--'do I? Anyway
don't do it again!--and if you dare to say a word yet--to anyone--'
Her eyes threatened; but he saw in them revelations her pride could not
check, and would have disobeyed her at once; but she was too quick for
him. In a second she had opened the door and was gone.
During the rest of the afternoon, her brother and Nelly watched Cicely's
proceedings with stupefaction; only equalled by the bewilderment of Miss
Daisy Stewart. For that young lady was promoted to the good graces of
Sir William's formidable sister with a rapidity and completeness which
only natural good manners and good sense could have enabled her to deal
with; considering the icy exclusion to which she had been so long
condemned. But as she possessed both, she took it very simply; always
with the same serene light in her grey eyes.
Marsworth said to himself presently that young Fellows' chances were
good. But in truth he hardly remembered anything about them, except that
by the help of them he had kissed Cicely! And he had yet to find out
what that remarkable fact was to mean, either to himself or to her. She
refused to let him take her back to the farm, and she only gave him a
finger in farewell. Nor did she say a word of what had happened, even to
Nelly spent again a very wakeful night. Farrell had walked home with
them, and she understood from him that, although he was going over early
to Carton the following morning, he would be at the cottage again
before many days were over. It seemed to her that in telling her so he
had looked at her with eyes that seemed to implore her to trust him. And
she, on hearing it, had been merely dumb and irresponsive, not
forbidding or repellent, as she ought to have been. The courage to wound
him to the quick--to leave him bereft, to go out into the desert
herself, seemed to be more and more oozing away from her.
Yet there beside her bed, on the table which held her Testament, and the
few books--almost all given her by W.F.--to which she was wont to turn
in her wakeful hours, was George's photograph in uniform. About three
o'clock in the morning she lit her candle, and lay looking at it, till
suddenly she stretched out her hand for it, kissed it repeatedly, and
putting it on her breast, clasped her hands over it, and so fell asleep.
But before she fell asleep, she was puzzled by the sounds in Bridget's
room next door. Bridget seemed to be walking about--pacing up and down
incessantly. Sometimes the steps would cease; only to begin again after
a while with the same monotony. What could be the matter with Bridget?
This vague worry about her sister entered into and heightened all
Nelly's other troubles. Yet all the same, in the end, she fell asleep;
and the westerly wind blowing over Wetherlam, and chasing wild flocks of
grey rain-clouds before him, found no one awake in the cottage or the
farm to listen to the concert he was making with the fells, but
* * * * *
Bridget Cookson had indeed some cause for wakefulness. Locked away in
the old workbox, where she kept the papers to which she attached
importance, was a letter bearing the imprint 'O.A.S.,' which had been
delivered to her on Sunday afternoon by the Grasmere post-mistress. It
ran as follows:
'DEAR MISS COOKSON,--I know of course that you are fully convinced the
poor fellow we have here in charge has nothing to do with your
brother-in-law. But as you saw him, and as the case may throw light on
other cases of a similar nature, I thought I would just let you know
that owing apparently to the treatment we have been carrying out, there
are some very interesting signs of returning consciousness since your
visit, though nothing very definite as yet. He is terribly ill, and
physically I see no chance for him. But I think he _may_ be able to tell
us who he is before the end, in which case I will inform you, lest you
should now or at any future time feel the smallest misgiving as to your
own verdict in the matter. This is very unlikely, I know, for I
understand you were very decided; but still as soon as we have definite
information--if we get it--you may wish to inform poor Mrs. Sarratt of
your journey here. I hope she is getting stronger. She did indeed look
very frail when I saw her last.
'Yours very truly,
Since the receipt of that letter Bridget's reflections had been more
disagreeable than any she had yet grappled with. In Nelly's company the
awfulness of what she had done did sometimes smite home to her. Well,
she had staked everything upon it, and the only possible course was to
brazen it out. That George should die, and die _quickly_--without any
return of memory or speech, was what she terribly and passionately
desired. In all probability he would die quickly; he might even now be
dead. She saw the thing perpetually as a race between his returning
mind--if he still lived, and it was returning--and his ebbing strength.
If she had lived in old Sicilian days, she would have made a waxen image
like the Theocritean sorceress, and put it by the fire, that as it
wasted, so George might waste. As it was, she passed her time during the
forty-eight hours after reading Howson's letter in a silent and
murderous concentration on one thought and wish--George Sarratt's
What a release indeed for everybody!--if people would only tell the
truth, and not dress up their real feelings and interests in stale
sentimentalisms. Farrell made happy at no very distant date; Nelly
settled for life with a rich man who adored her; her own future
secured--with the very modest freedom and opportunity she craved:--all
this on the one side--futile tragedy and suffering on the other. None
the less, there were moments when, with a start, she realised what other
people might think of her conduct. But after all she could always plead
it was a mistake--an honest mistake. Are there not constantly cases in
the law courts, which shew how easy it is to fail in identifying the
right person, or to persist in identifying the wrong one?
During the days before Farrell returned, the two sisters were alone
together. Bridget would gladly have gone away out of sight and hearing
of Nelly. But she did not dare to leave the situation--above all, the
postman--unwatched. Meanwhile Nelly made repeated efforts to break down
the new and inexplicable barrier which seemed to have arisen between
herself and Bridget. Why would Bridget always sit alone in that chilly
outside room, which even with a large fire seemed to Nelly
uninhabitable? She tried to woo her sister, by all the small devices in
'Why won't you come and sit with me a bit, Bridget? I'm so dull all
alone!'--she would say when, after luncheon or high tea, Bridget showed
signs of immediately shutting herself up again.
'I can't. I must do some work.'
'Do tell me what you're doing, Bridget?'
'Oh, you wouldn't understand.'
'Well, other people don't always think me a born idiot!'--Nelly would
say, not without resentment. 'I really could understand, Bridget, if
'I haven't the time.'
'And you're killing yourself with so many hours of it. Why should you
slave so? If you only would come and help me sometimes with the Red
Cross work, I'd do any needlework for you, that you wanted.'
'You know I hate needlework.'
'You're not doing anything--not _anything_--for the war, Bridget!' Nelly
would venture, wistfully, at last.
'There are plenty of people to do things for the war. I didn't want the
war! Nobody asked my opinion.'
And presently the door would shut, and Nelly would be left to watch the
torrents of rain outside, and to endeavour by reading and drawing, by
needlework and the society of her small friend Tommy, whenever she could
capture him, to get through the day. She pined for Hester, but Hester
was doing Welfare work in a munition factory at Leeds, and could not be
So there she sat alone, brooding and planning, too timid to talk to
Bridget of her own schemes, and, in her piteous indecision, longing
guiltily for Farrell's return. Meanwhile she had written to several
acquaintances who were doing V.A.D. work in various voluntary hospitals,
to ask for information.
Suddenly, after the rain came frost and north wind--finally snow; the
beginning in the north of the fiercest winter Western Europe has known
for many years. Over heights and dales alike spread the white Leveller,
melting by day in the valley bottoms, and filling up his wastage by
renewed falls at night. Nelly ventured out sometimes to look at the high
glories of Wetherlam and the Pikes, under occasional gleams of sun.
Bridget never put a foot out of doors, except when she went to the
garden gate to look for the postman in the road, and take the letters
At last, one evening, when after a milder morning a bitter blast from
the north springing up at dusk had, once more, sent gusts of snow
scudding over the fells, Nelly's listening ear heard the well-known step
at the gate. She sprang up with a start of joy. She had been so lonely,
so imprisoned with her own sad thoughts. The coming of this kind, strong
man, so faithful to his small friend through all the stress of his busy
and important life, made a sudden impression upon her, which brought the
tears to her eyes. She thought of Carton, of its splendid buildings, and
the great hospital which now absorbed them; she seemed to see Farrell as
the king of it all, the fame of his doings spreading every month over
the north, and wiping out all that earlier conception of him as a
dilettante and an idler of which she had heard from Hester. And yet,
escaping from all that activity, that power, that constant interest and
excitement, here he was, making use of his first spare hour to come
through the snow and the dark, just to spend an hour with Nelly Sarratt,
just to cheer her lonely little life.
Nelly ran to the window and opened it.
'Is that really you?' she called, joyously, while the snow drifted
against her face.
Farrell, carrying a lantern, was nearing the porch. The light upon his
face as he turned shewed her his look of delight.
'I'm later than I meant, but the roads are awful. May I walk in?'
She ran down to meet him; then hung back rather shyly in the passage,
while he took off his overcoat and shook the snow from his beard.
'Have you any visitors?' he asked, still dusting away the snow.
'Only Bridget. I asked Hester, but she couldn't come.'
He came towards her along the narrow passage, to the spot where she
stood tremulous on the lowest step of the stairs. A lamp burning on a
table revealed her slight figure in black, the warm white of her throat
and face, the grace of the bending head, and the brown hair wreathed
about it. He saw her as an exquisite vision in a dim light and shade.
But it was not that which broke down his self-control so much as the
pathetic look in her dark eyes, the look of one who is glad, and yet
shrinks from her own gladness--tragically conscious of her own weakness,
and yet happy in it. It touched his heart so profoundly that whether
the effect was pain or pleasure he could not have told. But as he
reached the step, moved by an irresistible impulse, he held out his
arms, and she melted into them. For one entrancing instant, he held her
close and warm upon his breast, while the world went by.
But the next moment she had slipped away, and was sitting on the step,
her face in her hands.
He did not plead or excuse himself. He just stood by her endeavouring to
still and control his pulses--till at last she looked up. The lamp
shewed her his face, and the passion in it terrified her. For there had
been no passion in her soft and sudden yielding. Only the instinct of
the child that is forsaken and wants comforting, that feels love close
to it, and cannot refuse it.
'There, you see!' she said, desperately--'You see--I must go!'
'No! It's I who must go. Unless '--his voice sank almost to a
whisper--'Nelly!--couldn't you--marry me? You should never, never regret
She shook her head, and as she dropped her face again in her hands he
saw a shudder run through her. At the sight his natural impulse was to
let passion have its way, to raise her in his arms again, and whisper to
her there in the dark, as love inspired him, his cheek on hers. But he
did not venture. He was well aware of something intangible and
incalculable in Nelly that could not be driven. His fear of it held him
in check. He knew that she was infinitely sorry for him and tender
towards him. But he knew too that she was not in love with him. Only--he
would take his chance of that, if only she would marry him.
'Dear!' he said, stooping to her, and touching her dark curls with his
hand. 'Let's call in Hester! She's dreadfully wise! If you were with her
I should feel happy--I could wait. But it is when I see you so lonely
here--and so sad--nobody to care for you!--that I can't bear it!'
Through the rush of the wind, a sound of someone crossing the yard
behind the farm came to their ears. Nelly sprang to her feet and led the
way upstairs. Farrell followed her, and as they moved, they heard
Bridget open the back door and come in.
The little sitting-room was bright with lamp and fire, and Farrell,
perceiving that they were no longer to be alone, and momentarily
expecting Bridget's entrance, put impatience aside and began to talk of
his drive from Carton.
'The wind on Dunmail Raise was appalling, and the lamps got so
be-snowed, we had to be constantly clearing them. But directly we got
down into the valley it mended, and I managed to stop at the
post-office, and ask if there were any letters for you. There were
two--and a telegram. What have I done with them?' He began to search in
his pockets, his wits meanwhile in such a whirl that it was difficult
for him to realise what he was doing.
At that point Bridget opened the door. He turned to shake hands with
her, and then resumed his fumbling.
'I'm sure they did give them to me'--he said, in some concern,--'two
letters and a telegram.'
'A telegram!' said Bridget, suddenly, hurrying forward,--'it must be for
She peremptorily held out her hand, and as she did so, Nelly caught
sight of her sister. Startled out of all other thoughts she too made a
step forward. What _was_ wrong with Bridget? The tall, gaunt woman stood
there livid, her eyes staring at Farrell, her hand unsteady as she
thrust it towards him.
'Give me the telegram, please! I was expecting one,' she said, trying to
speak as usual.
Farrell turned to her in surprise.
'But it wasn't for you, Miss Cookson. It was for Mrs. Sarratt. I saw the
address quite plainly. Ah, here they are. How stupid of me! What on
earth made me put them in that pocket.'
He drew out the letters and the telegram. Bridget said again--'Give it
me, please! I know it's for me!' And she tried to snatch it. Farrell's
face changed. He disliked Bridget Cookson heartily, mainly on Nelly's
account, and her rude persistence nettled a temper accustomed to
command. He quietly put her aside.
'When your sister has read it, Miss Cookson, she will no doubt let you
see it. As it happens, the post-mistress made me promise to give it to
Mrs. Sarratt myself. She seemed interested--I don't know why.'
Nelly took it. Farrell--who began to have some strange misgiving--stood
between her and Bridget. Bridget made no further movement. Her eyes were
fixed on Nelly.
Nelly, bewildered by the little scene and by Bridget's extraordinary
behaviour, tore open the brown envelope, and read slowly--'Please come
at once. Have some news for you. Your sister will explain. Howson, Base
Headquarters, X------, France.'
'Howson?' said Nelly. Then the colour began to ebb from her face. 'Dr.
Howson?' she repeated. 'What news? What does he mean? _Oh_!'--the cry
rang through the room--'_it's George_!--it's George! he's
She thrust the telegram piteously into Farrell's hands. He read it, and
turned to Bridget.
'What does Dr. Howson mean, Miss Cookson, and why does he refer Mrs.
Sarratt to you?'
For some seconds she could not make her pale lips reply. Finally, she
said--'That's entirely my own affair, Sir William. I shall tell my
sister, of course. But Nelly had better go at once, as Dr. Howson
advises. I'll go and see to things.'
She turned slowly away. Nelly ran forward and caught her.
'Oh, Bridget--don't go--you mustn't go! What news is it? Bridget, tell
me!--you couldn't--you _couldn't_ be so cruel--not to tell me--if you
knew anything about George!'
Bridget stood silent.
'Oh, what can I do--what can I do?' cried Nelly.
Then her eyes fell on the letters still in her hand. She tore one
open--and read it--with mingled cries of anguish and joy. Farrell dared
not go near her. There seemed already a gulf between her and him.
'It's from Miss Eustace'--she said, panting, as she looked up at last,
and handed the letter to him--it's George--he's alive--they've heard
from France--he asks for me--but--but--he's dying.'
Her head dropped forward a little. She caught at the back of a chair,
nearly fainting. But when Farrell approached her, she put up a hand in
'No, no,--I'm all right. But, Bridget, Miss Eustace says--you've
actually _seen_ him--you've been to France. When did you go?'
'About three weeks ago,' said Bridget, after a moment's pause. 'Oh, of
course I know'--she threw back her head defiantly--'you'll all set on
me--you'll all blame me. But I suppose I may be mistaken like anybody
else--mayn't I? I didn't think the man I saw was George--I didn't! And
what was the good of disturbing your mind?'
But as she told the lie, she told it so lamely and unconvincingly that
neither of the other two believed it for a moment. Nelly stood
up--tottering--but mistress of herself. She looked at Farrell.
'Sir William--can you take me to Windermere, for the night-train? I know
when it goes--10.20. I'll be ready--by nine.' She glanced at the clock,
which was just nearing seven.
'Of course,' said Farrell, taking up his hat. 'I'll go and see to the
motor. But'--he looked at her with entreaty--'you can't go this long
The words implied a bitter consciousness that his own escort was
impossible. Nelly did not notice it. She only said impatiently--
'But, of course, I must go alone.'
She stood silent--mastering the agony within--forcing herself to think
and will. When the pause was over, she said quietly--'I will be quite
ready at nine.' And then mechanically--'It's very good of you.'
He went away, passing Bridget, who stood with one foot on the fender,
staring down into the fire.
When the outer door had closed upon him, Nelly looked at her sister. She
was trembling all over.
'Bridget--_why_ did you do it?' The voice was low and full of horror.
'What do you mean? I made a mistake--that's all!'
'Bridget--you _knew_ it was George! You couldn't be mistaken. Miss
Eustace says--in the letter'--she pointed to it--'they asked you about
his hands. Do you remember how you used to mock at them?'
'As if one could remember after a year and a half!'
'No, you couldn't forget, Bridget--a thing like that--I know you
couldn't. And what made you do it! Did you think I had forgotten
At that the tears streamed down her face, unheeded. She approached her
'Bridget, tell me what he looked like! Did you speak to him--did you see
his eyes open? Oh my poor George!--and I here--never thinking of
him'--she broke off incoherently, twisting her hands. 'Miss Eustace says
he was wounded in two places--severely--that she's afraid there's no
hope. Did they say that to you, Bridget--tell me!--for Heaven's sake
'You'll make yourself ill,' said Bridget harshly. 'You'd better lie
down, and let me pack for you.'
Nelly laughed out.
'As if I'd ever let you do anything for me any more! No, that's done
with. You've been so accustomed to manage me all these years. You
thought you could manage me now--you thought you could let George
die--and I should never know--and you'd make me marry--William Farrell.
Bridget--_I hate you!'_
She broke off, shivering, but resumed almost at once--'I see it all--I
think I see it all. And now it's all done for between you and me. If
George dies, I shall never come back to live with you again. You'd
better make plans, Bridget. It's over for ever.'
'You don't know what you're saying, now,' said Bridget, coldly.
Nelly did not hear her, she was lost in a whirl of images and thoughts.
And governed by them she went up to Bridget again, thrusting her small
white face under her sister's eyes.
'What sort of a room was he in, Bridget? Who was nursing him? Are you
sure he didn't know you? Did you call him by his name? Did you make him
'He knew nobody,' said Bridget, drawing back, against her will, before
the fire in Nelly's wild eyes. 'He was in a very good room. There was a
nurse sitting with him.'
'Was he--was he very changed?'
'Of course he was. If not, I should have known him.'
Nelly half smiled. Bridget could never have thought that soft mouth
capable of so much scorn. But no words came. Then Nelly walked away to a
drawer where she kept her accounts, her cheque-book, and any loose money
she might be in possession of. She took out her cheque-book and some two
or three pounds that lay there.
'If you want money, I can lend you some,' said Bridget, catching at the
old note of guardianship.
'Thank you. But I shall not want it.'
'Nelly, don't be a fool!' said Bridget, stung at last into speech.
'Suppose all you think is true--I don't admit it, mind--but suppose it's
true. How was I doing such a terrible wrong to you?--in the eyes, I
mean, of sensible people--in not disturbing your mind. Nobody
expected--that man I saw--to know anybody again--or to live more than a
few days. Even if I had been certain--and how could I be
certain?--wasn't it _reasonable_ to weigh one thing against another? You
know very well--it's childish to ignore it--what's been going on
But she paused. Nelly, writing a letter, was not apparently concerned
with anything Bridget had been saying. It did not seem to have reached
her ears. A queer terror shot through Bridget. But she dismissed it. As
if Nelly could ever really get on without her. Little, feckless,
Nelly finished her letter and put it up.
'I have written to Sir William's agent, Bridget'--she said turning
towards her sister--'to say that I give up the farm. I shall pay the
servant. Hester will look after my things, and send them--when I want
'Why Hester?' said Bridget, with something of a sneer.
Nelly did not answer. She put up her letter, took the money and the
cheque-book and went out of the room. Bridget heard her call their one
servant, Mrs. Dowson, and presently steps ascended the stairs and
Nelly's door shut. The sound of the shutting door roused in her again
that avenging terror. Her first impulse was to go and force herself
into Nelly's room, so as to manage and pack for her as usual. But
something stopped her. She consoled herself by going down to the kitchen
to look after the supper. Nelly, of course, must have some food before
her night journey.
Behind that shut door, Nelly was looking into the kind weather-beaten
face of Mrs. Dowson.
'Mrs. Dowson, I'm going away to-night--and I'm not coming back. Sir
Then she caught the woman's gnarled hands, and her own features began to
'Mrs. Dowson, they've found my husband! Did Sir William tell you? He's
not dead--he's alive--But he's very, very ill.'
'Oh, you poor lamb!' cried Mrs. Dowson. 'No--Sir William tellt me nowt.
The Lord be gracious to you!' Bathed in sudden tears, she kissed one of
the hands that held hers, pouring out incoherent words of hope. But
Nelly did not cry, and presently she said firmly--
'Now, please, you must help me to pack. Sir William will be here at
Presently all was ready. Nelly had hunted out an old grey travelling
dress in which George had often seen her, and a grey hat with a veil.
She hastily put all her black clothes aside.
'Miss Martin will send me anything I want. I have asked her to come and
fetch my things.'
'But Miss Cookson will be seein' to that!' said Mrs. Dowson wondering.
Nelly made no reply. She locked her little box, and then stood upright,
looking round the small room. She seemed to be saying 'Good-bye' for
ever to the Nelly who had lived, and dreamed, and prayed there. She was
going to George--that was all she knew.
Downstairs, Bridget was standing at the door of the little dining-room.
'I have put out some cold meat for you,' she said, stiffly. 'You won't
get anything for a long time.'
Nelly acquiesced. She drank some tea, and ate as much as she could.
Neither she nor Bridget spoke, till Bridget, who was at the window
looking out into the snow, turned round to say--'Here's the motor.'
Nelly rose, and tied her veil on closely. Mrs. Dowson brought her a
thick coat, which had been part of her trousseau, and wrapped her in it.
'You had better take your grey shawl,' said Bridget.
'I have it here, Miss,' said Mrs. Dowson, producing it. 'I'll put it
over her in the motor.'
She disappeared to open the door to Sir William's knock.
Nelly turned to her sister.
Bridget flamed out.
'And you don't mean to write to me? You mean to carry out this absurd
plan of separation!'
'I don't know what I shall do--till I have seen George,' said Nelly
steadily. 'He'll settle for me. Only you and I are not sisters any
Bridget shrugged her shoulders, with some angry remark about 'theatrical
nonsense.' Nelly went out into the passage, threw her arms about Mrs.
Dowson's neck, for a moment, and then hurried out towards the car. It
stood there in the falling snow, its bright lights blazing on the bit of
Westmorland wall opposite, and the overhanging oaks, still heavy with
dead leaf. Farrell was standing at the door, holding a fur rug. He and
Mrs. Dowson tucked it in round Nelly's small cloaked figure.
Then without a word, Farrell shut the door of the car, and took the seat
beside the driver. In another minute Bridget was watching the lights of
the lamps rushing along the sides of the lane, till at a sharp bend of
the road it disappeared.
There was a break presently in the snow-fall, and as they reached the
shores of Windermere, Nelly was aware of struggling gleams of moonlight
on steely water. The anguish in her soul almost resented the break in
the darkness. She was going to George; but George was dying, and while
he had been lying there in his lonely suffering, she had been forgetting
him, and betraying him. The recollection of Farrell's embrace
overwhelmed her with a crushing sense of guilt. George indeed should
never know. But that made no difference to her own misery.
The miles flew by. She began to think of her journey, to realise her
helplessness and inexperience in the practical things of life. She must
get her passport, and some money. Who would advise her, and tell her how
to get to France under war conditions? Would she be allowed to go by the
short sea passage? For that she knew a special permit was necessary.
Could she get it at once, or would she be kept waiting in town? The
notion of having to wait one unnecessary hour tortured her. Then her
thoughts fastened on Miss Eustace of the Enquiry Office, who had written
her the letter which had arrived simultaneously with Dr. Howson's
telegram. 'Let me know if I can be of any use to you, for your journey.
If there is anything you want to know that we can help you in, you had
better come straight to this office.'
Yes, that she would do. But the train arrived in London at 7 A.M. And
she could not possibly see Miss Eustace before ten or eleven. She must
just sit in the waiting-room till it was time. And she must get some
money. She had her cheque-book and would ask Sir William to tell her how
to get a cheque cashed in London. She was ashamed of her own ignorance
in these small practical matters.
The motor stopped. Sir William jumped down, but before he came to open
the door for her, she saw him turn round and wave his hand to two
persons standing outside the station. They hurried towards the motor,
and as Nelly stepped down from it, she felt herself grasped by eager
'You poor darling! I thought we couldn't be in time. But we flew. Don't
trouble about anything. We've done it all.'
Cicely!--and behind her Marsworth.
Nelly drew back.
'Dear Cicely!' she said faintly--'but I can manage--I can manage quite
Resistance, however, was useless. Marsworth and Cicely, it seemed, were
going to London with her--Cicely probably to France; and Marsworth had
already telegraphed about her passport. She would have gladly gone by
herself, but she finally surrendered--for George's sake, that she might
get to him the quicker.
Then everything was done for her. Amid the bustle of the departing
train, she was piteously aware of Farrell, and just before they started,
she leant out to give him her hand.
'I will tell George all you have done for me,' she said, gulping down a
He pressed her hand before releasing it, but said nothing. What was
there to say? Meanwhile, Cicely, to ease the situation, was chattering
hard, describing how Farrell had sent his chauffeur to Ambleside on a
motor bicycle, immediately after leaving Nelly, and so had got a
telephone message through to Cicely.
'We had the small car out and ready in ten minutes, and, by good luck,
there was a motor-transport man on leave, who had come to see a brother
in the hospital. We laid hands on him, and he drove us here. But it's a
mercy we're not sitting on the Raise! You remember that heap of stones
on the top of the Raise, that thing they say is a barrow--the grave of
some old British party before the Flood?--well, the motor gave out
there! Herbert and the chauffeur sat under it in the snow and worked at
it. I thought the river was coming over the road, and that the wind
would blow us all away. But it'll be all right for your crossing
to-morrow--the storm will have quite gone down. Herbert thinks you'll
start about twelve o'clock,--and you'll be at the camp that same night.
Oh, isn't it wonderful!--isn't it _ripping_?' cried Cicely under her
breath, stooping down to kiss Nelly, while the two men talked at the
carriage window.--'You're going to get him home! We'll have the best men
in London to look after him. He'll pull through, you'll see--he'll pull
Nelly sank into a seat and closed her eyes. Cicely's talk--why did she
call Marsworth 'Herbert'?--was almost unbearable to her. _She_ knew
through every vein that she was going across the Channel--to see George
die. If only she were in time!--if only she might hold him in her arms
once more! Would the train never go?
Farrell, in spite of snow and storm, pushed his way back to Carton that
night. In that long motor drive a man took counsel with himself on whom
the war had laid a chastening and refining hand. The human personality
cannot spend itself on tasks of pity and service without taking the
colour of them, without rising insensibly to the height of them. They
may have been carelessly adopted, or imposed from without. But the mere
doing of them exalts. As the dyer's hand is 'subdued to what it works
in,' so the man that is always about some generous business for his
fellow-men suffers thereby, insensibly, a change, which is part of the
'heavenly alchemy' for ever alive in the world. It was so at any rate
with William Farrell. The two years of his hospital work--hard, honest
grappling with the problems of human pain and its relief--had made a far
nobler man of him. So now, in this solitary hour, he looked his
trouble--courageously, chivalrously--in the face. The crash of all his
immediate hopes was bitter indeed. What matter! Let him think only of
those two poor things about to meet in France.
As to the future, he was well aware of the emotional depths in Nelly's
nature. George Sarratt's claim upon her life and memory would now be
doubly strong. For, with that long and intimate observation of the war
which his hospital experience had brought him, Farrell was keenly aware
of the merciful fact that the mere distance which, generally speaking,
the war imposes between the man dying on the battle-field and those who
love him at home, inevitably breaks the blow. The nerves of the woman
who loses her husband or her son are, at least, not tortured by the
actual sight of his wounds and death. The suffering is spiritual, and
the tender benumbing touch of religion or patriotism, or the remaining
affections of life, has less to fight with than when the physical senses
themselves are racked with acute memories of bodily wounds and bodily
death. It is not that sorrow is less deep, or memory less tenacious; but
both are less ruinous to the person sorrowing. So, at least, Farrell had
often seen it, among even the most loving and passionate of women.
Nelly's renascence in the quiet Westmorland life had been a fresh
instance of it; and he had good reason for thinking that, but for the
tragic reappearance of George Sarratt, it would not have taken very
long,--a few months more, perhaps--before she would have been persuaded
to let herself love, and be loved again.
But now, every fibre in her delicate being--physical and
spiritual--would be racked by the sight of Sarratt's suffering and
death. And no doubt--pure, scrupulous little soul!--she would be
tormented by the thought of what had just passed between herself and
him, before the news from France arrived. He might as well look that in
Well!--patience and time--there was nothing else to look to. He braced
himself to both, as he sped homeward through the high snowy roads, and
dropped through sleeping Keswick to Bassenthwaite and Carton. Then with
the sight of the hospital, the Red Cross flag drooping above its
doorway, as he drove up to it, the burden and interest of his great
responsibilities returned upon him. He jumped out to say a few cheery
words of thanks to his chauffeur, and went on with a rapid step to his
office on the ground floor, where he found important letters and
telegrams awaiting him. He dealt with them till far into the night. But
the thought of Nelly never really left him; nor that haunting physical
memory of her soft head upon his shoulder.
Of the weary hours which intervened between her meeting with Cicely and
Marsworth at Windermere station and her sight of Dr. Howson on the
rain-beaten quay at Bolougne, Nelly Sarratt could afterwards have given
no clear account. Of all the strings that were pulled, and the exalted
persons invoked, in order to place her as quickly as possible by the
side of her dying husband, she knew practically nothing. Cicely and
Marsworth, with Farrell to help them at the other end of a telegraph
wire, did everything. Passports and special permits were available in a
minimum of time. In the winter dawn at Euston Station, there was the
grey-headed Miss Eustace waiting; and two famous Army doctors journeyed
to Charing Cross a few hours later, on purpose to warn the wife of the
condition in which she was likely to find her husband, and to give her
kindly advice as to how she could help him most. The case had already
made a sensation at the Army Medical Headquarters; the reports on it
from France were being eagerly followed; and when the young wife
appeared from the north, her pathetic beauty quickened the general
sympathy. Nelly's path to France was smoothed in every possible way. No
Royalty could have been more anxiously thought for.
But she herself realised scarcely anything about it. It was her nature
to be grateful, sweet, responsive; but her gratitude and her sweetness
during these hours were automatic, unconscious. She was the spectator,
so to speak, of a moving picture which carried her on with it, in which
she was merely passive. The crowded boat, the grey misty sea, the
destroyers to right and left, she was aware of them in one connection
only--as part of the process by which she and George were to meet again.
But at last the boat was alongside the quays of the French port, and
through sheets of rain she saw the lights of a climbing town, and the
gleaming roadways of the docks. Crowds of men in khaki; a park of big
guns, their wet nozzles glittering under the electric lamps overhead;
hundreds of tethered horses; a long line of motor lorries;--the scene to
her was all a vague confusion, as Cicely, efficient and masterful as
usual, made a way for them both along the deck of the steamer through
close ranks of soldiers--a draft waiting their orders to disembark. Then
as they stepped on land, perception sharpened in a moment. A tall man in
khaki--whom she recognised as Dr. Howson--came eagerly forward.
'Mrs. Sarratt!--I hope you're not too tired. Would you rather get some
food here, in the town, or push on at once?'
'At once, please. How is he?'
A pair of kind grey eyes looked down upon her sadly.
'Very ill, _-very_ ill!--_but_ quite sensible. I know you will be
He carried her along the quay--while Cicely was taken possession of by a
nurse in uniform, who talked rapidly in an undertone.
'I have two cars,' said Howson to Nelly--'You and I will go first. Our
head Sister, Miss Parrish, who has been in charge of the case for so
long, will bring Miss Farrell.'
And as they reached the two waiting motors, Nelly found her hand grasped
by a comely elderly woman, in a uniform of grey and red.
'He was quite comfortable when we left him, Mrs. Sarratt. There's a
wonderful difference, even since yesterday, in his _mind_. He's
beginning to remember everything. He knows you're coming. He said--"Give
her my dear love, and tell her I'm not going to have my supper till she
comes. She shall give it me." Think of that! It's like a miracle. Three
weeks ago, he never spoke, he knew nobody.'
Nelly's white face trembled, but she said nothing. Howson put her into
the foremost car, and they were soon off, threading their way through
the busy streets of the base, while the Sister followed with Cicely.
'Oh, it was _cruel_ not to let Mrs. Sarratt know earlier!' said the
Sister indignantly, in answer to a hurried question from Cicely as soon
as they were alone. 'She might have had three weeks with him, and now
there can only be a day or two. What was Miss Cookson about? Even if she
were just mistaken, she might at least have brought her sister over to
see for herself--instead of preventing it by every means in her power. A
most extraordinary woman!'
Cicely felt her way in reply. She really knew nothing except what
Farrell had been able hurriedly to say to Marsworth at Windermere
station--which had been afterwards handed on to her. Farrell himself was
entirely mystified. 'The only motive I can suggest'--he had said to
Marsworth--'is that Miss Cookson had an insane dislike of her
brother-in-law. But, even so, why did she do it?'
Why, indeed? Cicely now heard the whole story from her companion; and
her shrewd mind very soon began to guess at reasons. She had always
observed Bridget's complaisance towards her brother, and even towards
herself--a clumsy complaisance which had never appealed at all either to
her or him. And she had noticed many small traits and incidents that
seemed to shew that Bridget had resented her sister's marriage, and felt
bitterly that Nelly might have done far better for herself. Also that
there was a strong taste for personal luxury in Bridget, which seemed
entirely lacking in Nelly.
'She wanted Willy's money!'--thought Cicely--'and couldn't get it for
herself. So when poor Sarratt disappeared, she saw a way of getting it
through Nelly. Not a bad idea!--if you are to have ideas of that kind.
But then, why behave like an idiot when Providence had done the thing
That was really the puzzle. George Sarratt was dying. Why not let poor
Nelly have her last weeks with him in peace, and then--in time--marry
her safely and lawfully to Willy?
But Cicely had again some inkling of Bridget's probable reply. She had
not been intimate with Nelly for more than a year without realising that
she was one of those creatures--so rare in our modern world--who do in
truth live and die by their affections. The disappearance of her husband
had very nearly killed her. In the first winter after he was finally
reported as 'Missing--believed killed,' and when she had really
abandoned hope, the slightest accident--a bad chill--an attack of
childish illness--any further shock--might have slit the thin-spun life
in a few days or weeks. The Torquay doctor had told Hester that she was
on the brink of tuberculosis, and if she were exposed to infection would
certainly develop it. Since then she had gained greatly in vitality and
strength. If only Fate had left her alone! 'With happiness and Willy,
she'd have been all right!' thought Cicely, who was daily accustomed to
watch the effect of mind on body in her brother's hospital. But now,
with this fresh and deeper tragedy before her--tearing at the poor
little heart--crushing the life again out of the frail being--why, the
prospects of a happy ending were decidedly less. The odious Bridget
might after all have acted intelligibly, though abominably.
As to the history of Sarratt's long disappearance, Cicely found that
very little was known.
'We don't question him,' said the Sister. 'It only exhausts him; and it
wouldn't be any good. He may tell his wife something more, of his own
accord, but we doubt whether he knows much more than he told Dr. Howson.
He remembers being wounded at Loos--lying out undiscovered, he thinks
for two days--then a German hospital--and a long, long journey. And
that's practically all. But just lately--this week, actually!--Dr.
Howson has got some information, through a family of peasants living
near Cassel, behind the British lines. They have relations across the
Belgian border, and gradually they have discovered who the man was who
came over the frontier with Mr. Sarratt. He came from a farm, somewhere
between Brussels and Courtrai, and now they've managed to get a letter
through from his brother. You know the man himself was shot just as they
reached the British lines. But this letter really tells a good deal. The
brother says that they found Mr. Sarratt almost dead,--and, as they
thought, insane--in a wood near their house. He was then wearing the
uniform of a British officer. They guessed he was an escaped prisoner,
and they took him in and hid him. Then news filtered through to them of
two English officers who had made their escape from a hospital train
somewhere south-west of Brussels; one slightly wounded, and one
severely; the severely wounded man suffering also from shell-shock. And
the slightly wounded man was shot, while the other escaped. The train,
it was said, was lying in a siding at the time--at the further edge of
the forest bordering their farm. So, of course, they identified the man
discovered by them as the severely wounded officer. Mr. Sarratt must
have somehow just struggled through to their side of the forest, where
they found him.
'What happened then, we can't exactly trace. He must have been there all
the winter. He was deaf and dumb, from nerve-shock, and could give no
account of himself at all. The men of the farm, two unmarried sons, were
good to him, but their old mother, whose family was German, always hated
his being there. She was in terror of the German military police who
used to ride over the farm, and one day, when her sons were away, she
took Mr. Sarratt's uniform, his identification disk, and all the
personal belongings she could find, and either burned or buried them.
The sons, who were patriotic Belgians, were however determined to
protect him, and no doubt there may have been some idea of a reward, if
they could find his friends. But they were afraid of their tyrannical
old mother, and of what she might do. So at last they made up their
minds to try somehow and get him over the French frontier, which was
not far off, and through the German lines. One of the brothers, whose
name was Benoit Desalles, to whom they say poor Mr. Sarratt was much
attached, went with him. They must have had an awful time, walking by
night, and hiding by day. Mr. Sarratt's wounds must have been in a bad
state, for they were only half healed when he escaped, and they had been
neglected all the winter. So how he dragged himself the distance he did,
the doctors can't imagine. And the peasants near the frontier from whom
we have got what information we have, have no knowledge at all of how he
and his Belgian guide finally got through the German lines. But when
they reached our lines, they were both, as Dr. Howson wrote to Miss
Cookson, in German uniforms. His people suppose that Benoit had stripped
some German dead, and that in the confusion caused in the German
line--at a point where it ran through a Belgian village--by a British
raid, at night, they got across the enemy trenches. And no doubt Benoit
had local knowledge which helped.
'Then in the No Man's Land, between the lines, they were under both
shell and rifle-fire, till it was seen by our men that Benoit had his
hands up, and that the other was wounded. The poor Belgian was dragging
Mr. Sarratt who was unconscious, and at last--wasn't it ill-luck?--just
as our men were pulling them into the trench, Benoit was shot through
the head by a German sniper. That, at least, is how we now reconstruct
the story. As far as Mr. Sarratt is concerned, we let it alone. We have
no heart to worry him. Poor fellow--poor, gallant, patient fellow!'
And the Sister's strong face softened, as Bridget had seen it soften at
'And there is really no hope for him?' asked Cicely after a time. The
Sister shook her head.
'The wounds have never healed--and they drain his life away. The heart
can't last out much longer. But he's not in pain now--thank God! It's
just weakness. I assure you, everybody--almost--in this huge camp, asks
for him and many--pray for him.' The Sister's eyes filled with tears.
'And now that the poor wife's come in time, there'll be an excitement! I
heard two men in one of our wards discussing it this morning. "They do
say as Mrs. Sarratt will be here to-day," said one of them. "Well,
that's a bit of all right, ain't it?" said the other, and they both
smoked away, looking as pleased as Punch. You see Miss Cookson's
behaviour has made the whole thing so extraordinary.'
'I suppose she thought it would be all over in a day or two,' she said,
The Sister looked puzzled.
'And that it would be better not to risk the effect on his wife? Of
course Mrs. Sarratt does look dreadfully delicate. So you _don't_ think
it was a mistake? It's very difficult to see how it could be! The hands
alone--one would think that anybody who really knew him must have
Cicely said no more. But she wondered how poor Nelly and her sister
would ever find it possible to meet again.
Meanwhile, in the car ahead, Howson was gently and tenderly preparing
the mind of Nelly for her husband's state. He described to her also, the
first signs of Sarratt's returning consciousness--the excitement among
his doctors and nurses--the anxious waiting for the first words--the
first clear evidence of restored hearing. And then, at last, the dazed
question--'Where am I?'--and the perplexed effort to answer
Howson's--'Can you tell us your name and regiment?'
Howson described the breathless waiting of himself and another doctor,
and then the slow coming of the words: 'My name is George Sarratt,
Lieutenant, 21st Lanchesters. But why----?'
A look of bewilderment at nurses and doctors, and then again--sleep.
'The next time he spoke, it was quite distinctly and of his own accord.
The nurse heard him saying softly--it was in the early morning--"I want
my wife--send for her." She told him you had been already sent for, and
he turned his head round at once and went to sleep.'
Howson could hardly go on, so keenly did he realise the presence of the
woman beside him. The soft fluttering breath unmanned him. But by
degrees Nelly heard all there was to know; especially the details of
the rapid revival of hearing, speech, and memory, which had gone on
through the preceding three days.
'And what is such a blessing,' said Howson, with the cheerfulness of the
good doctor--'is that he seems to be quite peaceful--quite at rest. He's
not unhappy. He's just waiting for you. They'll have given him an
injection of strychnine this evening to help him through.'
'How long?' The words were just breathed into the darkness.
'A day or two certainly--perhaps a week,' he said reluctantly. 'It's a
question of strength. Sometimes it lasts much longer than we expect.'
He said nothing to her of her sister's visit. Instinctively he suspected
some ugly meaning in that story. And Nelly asked no questions.
Suddenly, she was aware of lights in the darkness, and then of a great
camp marked out in a pattern of electric lamps, stretching up and away
over what seemed a wide and sloping hillside. Nelly put down the window
'Is it here?' 'No. A little further on.'
It seemed to her interminably further. The car rattled over the rough
pavement of a town, then through the darkness of woods--threading its
way through a confusion of pale roads--until, with a violent bump, it
came to a stop.
In the blackness of the November night, the chauffeur, mistaking the
entrance to a house, had run up a back lane and into a sand-bank.
'Do you hear the sea?' said Howson, as he helped Nelly to alight.
'There'll be wind to-night. But here we are.'
She looked round her as they walked through a thin wood. To her right
beyond the bare trees was a great building with a glass front. She could
see lights within--the passing figures of nurses--rows of beds--and men
in bed jackets--high rooms frescoed in bright colours.
'That used to be the Casino. Now it's a Red Cross Hospital. There are
always doctors there. So when we moved him away from the camp, we took
this little house close to the Hospital. The senior surgeon there can be
often in and out. He's looking after him splendidly.'
A small room in a small house, built for summer lodgings by the sea;
bare wooden walls and floor; a stove; open windows through which came
the slow boom of waves breaking on a sandy shore; a bed, and in it an
emaciated figure, propped up.
Nelly, as the door closed behind her, broke into a run like the soft
flight of a bird, and fell on her knees beside the bed. She had taken
off her hat and cloak. Excitement had kindled two spots of red in her
pale cheeks. The man in the bed turned his eyes towards her, and smiled.
Howson and the Sister went on tiptoe through a side door into another
'Kiss me, Nelly!'
Nelly, trembling, put her soft lips to his. But as she did so, a chill
anguish struck her--the first bitterness of the naked truth. As yet she
had only seen it through a veil, darkly. Was this her George--this
ghost, grey-haired, worn out, on the brink of the unknown? The old
passionate pressure of the mouth gone--for ever! Her young husband--her
young lover--she saw him far back in the past, on Rydal lake, the
dripping oars in his hand. This was a spirit which touched her--a
spiritual love which shone upon her. And she had never yet known so
sharp an agony.
So sharp it was that it dried all tears. She knelt there with his hands
in hers, kissing them, and gazing at him.
'Nelly, it's hard luck! Darling, I'd better have been patient. In time,
perhaps, I should have come back to you. How I got away--who planned
it--I don't remember. I remember nothing--of all that time. But Howson
has heard something, through some people near Cassel--has he told you?'
'Yes--but don't try to remember.'
He smiled at her. How strange the old sweetness on these grey lips!
'Have you missed me--dreadfully? Poor little Nelly! You're very pale--a
little shadow! Darling!--I _would_ like to live!'
And at that--at last--the eyes of both, as they gazed at each other,
filled with tears. Tears for the eternal helplessness of man,--the
'tears of things.'
But he roused himself, snatching still at a little love, a little
brightness--before the dark. The strychnine injected had given him
'Give me that jelly--and the champagne. Feed me, Nelly! But have you had
The stress laid on the '_you_' the tone of his voice, were so like his
old self that Nelly caught her breath. A ray of mad hope stole in. She
began to feed him, and as she did so, the Sister, as though she had
heard Sarratt's question, came quietly in with a tray on which was some
food for Nelly, and put it down beside her. Then she disappeared again.
With difficulty, Sarratt swallowed a few mouthfuls of jelly and
champagne. Then his left hand--the right was helpless--made a faint but
peremptory sign, and Nelly obediently took some food under his dimly
'I have thought of this so often,' he murmured--I knew you'd come. It's
been like someone walking through a dark passage that was getting
lighter. Only once--I had a curious dream. I thought I saw Bridget'
Nelly, trembling, took away his tray and her own, and then knelt down
again beside him. She kissed his forehead, and tried to divert his
thoughts by asking him if he was warm enough. His hands were very cold.
Should she make up the fire?
'Oh, no,--it's all right. But wasn't it strange? Suddenly, I seemed to
be looking at her--quite close--and she at me. And I was worried because
I had seen her more distinctly than I could remember you. Come
nearer--put your dear head against me. Oh, if I could only hold you, as
I used to!'
There was silence a little. But the wine had flushed him, and when the
bloodless lids lifted again, there was more life in the eyes.
'Nelly, poor darling, have you been very lonely?--Were the Farrells kind
'Yes, George, very kind. They did everything--everything they could.'
'Sir William promised me'--he said, gratefully. 'And where have you been
all the time? At Rydal?'
'No. I was ill--after the news came----'
'And Sir William lent us one of his farms--near his cottage--do you
'A little. That was kind of him--very kind. Nelly--I want to send him a
'Give him my grateful thanks, darling,--and--and--my blessing.'
Nelly hid her face against him, and he felt the convulsion of tearless
sobbing that passed through her.
'Poor Nelly!'--he said again, touching her hand tenderly. Then after
another pause--'Sit there, darling, where I can see you--your dear head,
and your eyes, and your pretty neck. You must go to bed soon, you
know--but just a little while! Now tell me what you have been doing.
Talk to me. I won't talk. I'll rest--but I shall hear. That's so
wonderful--that I _can_ hear you. I've been living in such a queer
world--no tongue--no ears--no mind, hardly--only my eyes.'
She obeyed him by a great effort. She talked to him--of what, she hardly
knew!--about her months in London and Torquay--: about her illness--the
farm--Hester Martin--and Cicely.
When she came to speak of her friendship with Cicely, he smiled in
surprise, his eyes still shut.
'That's jolly, dearest. You remember, I didn't like her. She wasn't at
all nice to you--once. But thank her for me--please.'
'She's here now, George, she brought me here. She wouldn't let me come
'God bless her!' he said, under his breath. 'I'll see her--to-morrow.
Now go on talking. You won't mind if I go to sleep? They won't let you
stop here, dear. You'll be upstairs. But you'll come early--won't you?'
They gave him morphia, and he went to sleep under her eyes. Then the
night nurse came in, and the surgeon from the hospital opposite, with
Howson. And Cicely took Nelly away.
Cicely had made everything ready in the little bare room upstairs. But
when she had helped Nelly to undress, she did not linger.
'Knock on the wall, if you want me. It is only wood, I shall hear
Nelly kissed her and she went. For nothing in her tender service that
day was Nelly more grateful to her.
Then Nelly put out her light, and drawing up the blind, she sat for long
staring into the moonlight night. The rain had stopped, but the wind was
high over the sea, which lay before her a tumbled mass of waves, not a
hundred yards away. To her right was the Casino, a subdued light shining
through the blinds of its glass verandahs, behind which she sometimes
saw figures passing--nurses and doctors on their various errands. Were
there men dying there to-night--like her George?
The anguish that held her, poor child, was no simple sorrow. Never--she
knew it doubly now--had she ceased to love her husband. She had told
Farrell the truth--'If George now were to come in at that door, there
would be no other man in the world for me!' And yet, while George was
dying, and at the very moment that he was asking for her, she had been
in Farrell's arms, and yielding to his kisses. George would never know;
but that only made her remorse the more torturing. She could never
confess to him--that indeed was her misery. He would die, and her
unfaith would stand between them for ever.
A cleverer, a more experienced, a more practical woman, in such a case,
would have found a hundred excuses and justifications for herself that
never occurred to Nelly Sarratt, to this young immature creature, in
whom the passionate love of her marriage had roused feelings and
emotions, which, when the man on whom they were spent was taken from
her, were still the master-light of all her seeing--still so strong and
absorbing, that, in her widowed state, they were like blind forces
searching unconsciously for some new support, some new thing to love.
She had nearly died for love--and then when her young strength revived
it had become plain that she could only live for love. Her hands had met
the hands seeking hers, inevitably, instinctively. To refuse, to stand
aloof, to cause pain--that had been the torment, the impossibility, for
one who had learnt so well how to give and to make happy. There was in
it no sensual element--only Augustine's 'love of loving.' Yet her
stricken conscience told her that, in her moral indecision, if the
situation had lasted much longer, she had not been able to make up her
mind to marry Farrell quickly, she might easily have become his
mistress, through sheer weakness, sheer dread of his suffering, sheer
longing to be loved.
Explanations and excuses, for any more seasoned student of human nature,
emerged on every hand. Nelly in her despair allowed herself none of
them. It merely seemed to her, in this night vigil, that she was
unworthy to touch her George, to nurse him, to uphold him; utterly
unworthy of all this reverent pity and affection that was being lavished
upon her for his sake.
She sat up most of the night, wrapped in her fur cloak, alive to any
sound from the room below. And about four in the morning, she stole down
the stairs to listen at his door. There one of the nurses found her, and
moved with pity, brought her in. They settled her in an arm-chair near
him; and then with the tardy coming of the November day, she watched the
sad waking that was so many hours nearer death, at that moment when
man's life is at its wretchedest, and all the forces of the underworld
seem to be let loose upon it.
And there, for five days and nights, with the briefest possible
intervals for food, and the sleep of exhaustion, she sat beside him. She
was dimly conscious of the people about her, of the boundless tenderness
and skill that was poured out upon the poor sufferer at her side; she
did everything for George that the nurses could shew her how to do--; it
was the one grain of personal desire left in her, and doctors and nurses
developed the most ingenious pity in devising things for her to do, and
in letting every remedy that soothed his pain, or cleared his mind, go,
as far as possible, through her hands. And there were moments when she
would walk blindly along the sea beach with Cicely, finding a stimulus
to endure in the sharpness of the winter wind, or looking in vague
wonder at the great distant camp, with its streets of hospitals, its
long lines of huts, its training-grounds, and the bodies of men at work