Part 4 out of 5
"Oh, I think he'll get over it."
"I mean it couldn't have hurt _me_ more."
"She _is_ a beast," said Barbara. "I bet you anything you like it's her
fault. She drove him to it."
"No, Barbara, it was _my_ fault. _I_ drove him. I'm always laughing at
him, and he can't bear being laughed at. It makes him feel all stuffy
and middle-aged. He only goes in for passion because it makes him feel
"It isn't really passion," said Barbara.
"No, you wise thing, it isn't. If it was I could forgive him. I could
forgive it if he really felt young. It's this ghastly affectation I
can't stand.... But it's my fault, Barbara, my fault. I should have kept
They sat silent, Barbara at Fanny's feet. Presently Fanny drew the
girl's head down into her lap.
"You'll never be old, Barbara," she said. "And Ralph won't."
"What made you think of Ralph, Fanny?"
"Horatio, of course."
If any rumour circulated round Wyck-on-the-Hill, sooner or later it was
bound to reach the old lady at the Dower House. The Dower House was the
redistributing centre for the news of the district.
Thus Mr. Waddington heard that Mrs. Levitt was talking about letting the
White House furnished; that she was in debt to all the tradesmen in the
place; that her rent at Mrs. Trinder's was still owing; that her losses
at bridge were never paid for. He heard that if Major Markham had been
thinking of Mrs. Levitt, he had changed his mind; there was even a
definite rumour about a broken engagement. Anyhow, Major Markham was now
paying unmistakable attentions to the youngest Miss Hawtrey of
Medlicott. But as, engagement or no engagement, his attentions to Mrs.
Levitt had been unmistakable too, their rupture required some
explanation. It was supposed that the letter which the Major's mother,
old Mrs. Markham of Medlicott, received from her daughter, Mrs. Dick
Benham of Tunbridge Wells, did very thoroughly explain it. There had
been "things" in that letter which Mrs. Markham had not been able to
repeat, but you gathered from her singular reticence that they had
something to do with Dick Benham and Mrs. Levitt, and that they showed
conclusively that Elise was not what old Mrs. Waddington called "a nice
"They say she led Frank Levitt an awful life. The Benhams, my dear,
won't have her in the house."
But all this was trivial compared with the correspondence that now
passed between Mr. Waddington and Elise. He admitted now that old
Corbett had known what he was talking about when he had warned him that
he would be landed--landed, if he didn't take care, to the tune of five
hundred and fifty-five pounds. His letters to Mrs. Levitt, dictated to
Barbara Madden, revealed the care he had to take. From motives which
appeared to him chivalrous he had refrained from showing Barbara Mrs.
Levitt's letters to him. He left her to gather their crude substance
from his admirable replies.
"'MY DEAR MRS. LEVITT:
"'I am afraid I must advise you to give up the scheme if it depends on
my co-operation. I thought I had defined my position--'
"Defined my position is good, I think."
"It sounds good," said Barbara.
"'That position remains what it was. And as your exceptionally fine
intelligence cannot fail to understand it, no more need be said.
"'At least I hope it is so. I should be sorry if our very pleasant
relations terminated in disappointment--'"
For one instant she could see him smile, feeling voluptuously the sharp,
bright edge of his word before it cut him. He drew back, scowling above
a sudden sombre flush of memory.
"Disappointment--" said Barbara, giving him his cue.
"Disappointment is not quite the word. I want something--something more
His eyes turned away from her, pretending to look for it.
"Ah--now I have it. 'Very pleasant relations terminated on a note--on a
note of--on an unexpected note.
"'With kind regards, very sincerely yours,
"'HORATIO BYSSHE WADDINGTON.'
"You will see, Barbara, that I am saying precisely the same thing, but
saying it inoffensively, as a gentleman should."
Forty-eight hours later he dictated:
"'DEAR MRS. LEVITT:
"'No: I have no suggestion to make except that you curtail your very
considerable expenditure. For the rest, believe me it is as disagreeable
for me to be obliged to refuse your request as I am sure it must be for
you to make it--'
"H'm. Rest--request. That won't do. 'As disagreeable for me to have to
refuse as it must be for you to ask.'
"Simpler, that. Never use an elaborate phrase where a simple one will
"'You are good enough to say I have done so much for you in the past. I
have done what I could; but you will pardon me if I say there is a limit
beyond which I cannot go.
"'HORATIO B. WADDINGTON.'
"I've sent her a cheque for fifty-five pounds already. That ought to
have settled her."
"Settled her? You don't mean to say you sent her a _cheque?_"
"You oughtn't to have sent her anything at all."
"But I'd promised it, Barbara--"
"I don't care. You ought to have waited."
"I wanted to close the account and have done with her."
"That isn't the way to close it, sending cheques. That cheque will have
to go through Parson's Bank. Supposing Toby sees it?"
"What if he does?"
"He might object. He might even make a row about it."
"What could I do? I had to pay her."
"You could have made the cheque payable to me. It would have passed as
my quarter's salary. I could have cashed it and you could have given her
"And if Toby remembered their numbers?"
"You could have changed them for ten shilling notes in Cheltenham."
"All these elaborate precautions!"
"You can't be too precautions when you're dealing with a woman like
that.... Is this all you've given her?"
"Yes. Did you ever give her anything any other time?"
"Well--possibly--from time to time--"
"Have you any idea of the total amount?"
"I can't say off-hand. And I can't see what it has to do with it."
"It has everything to do with it. Can you find out?"
"Certainly, if I look up my old cheque books."
"You'd better do that now."
He turned, gloomily, to his writing-table. The cheque books for the
current year and the year before it betrayed various small loans to Mrs.
Levitt, amounting in all to a hundred and fifty pounds odd.
"Oh, dear," said Barbara, "all that's down against you. Still--it's all
ante-Wednesday. What a pity you didn't pay her that fifty-five before
"How do you mean?"
"It's pretty certain she's misinterpreted your paying it now so soon."
"After the interview? Do you really think she misunderstood me,
"I think she wants you to think she did."
"You think she's trying--trying--to--"
"To sell you her silence? Yes, I do."
"Good God! I never thought of that. Blackmail."
"I don't suppose for a minute she thinks she's blackmailing you. She's
just trying it on.... And she may raise her price, too. She won't rest
till she's got that five hundred out of you."
Mrs. Levitt's next communication would appear to have supported
Barbara's suspicion, for Mr. Waddington was compelled to answer it thus:
"DEAR MRS. LEVITT:
"You say you were 'right then' and that my 'promises' were
(You could tell where the inverted commas came by the biting clip of his
--"I fail to appreciate the point of this allusion. I cannot imagine
what conditions you refer to. I made none. As for promises, I am not
responsible for the somewhat restricted interpretation you see fit to
put on a friend's general expressions of goodwill.
"HORATIO BYSSHE WADDINGTON."
His last letter, a day later, never got as far as its signature.
"My decision will not be affected by the contingency you suggest. You
are at perfect liberty to say what you like. Nobody will believe you."
"That, I think, is as far as I can go."
"Much too far," said Barbara.
"And that's taking her too seriously."
"Much. You mustn't send that letter."
"Because it gives you away."
"Gives me away? It seems to me most guarded."
"It isn't. It implies that there _are_ things she might say. Even if you
don't mind her saying them you mustn't put it in writing."
"Ah-h. There's something in that. Of course, I could threaten her with a
lawyer's letter. But somehow--The fact is, Barbara, if you're a
decent man you're handicapped in dealing with a lady. Delicacy. There
are things that could be said. Material things--most material to the
case. But I can't say them."
"No. You can't say them. But I can. I think I could stop the whole thing
in five minutes, if I saw Mrs. Levitt. Will you leave it to me?"
"Come--I don't know--"
"Why not? I assure you it'll be all right."
"Well. Perhaps. It's a matter of business. A pure matter of business."
"It certainly is that. There's no reason why you shouldn't hand it over
to your secretary."
He hesitated. He was still afraid of what Elise might say to Barbara.
"You will understand that she is in a very unbalanced state. Excitable.
A woman in that state is apt to put interpretations on the most
"She won't be able to put on any after I've done with her. If it comes
to that, I can put on interpretations too."
Mr. Waddington then, at Barbara's dictation, wrote a short note to Mrs.
Levitt inviting her to call and see him that afternoon at three o'clock.
At three o'clock Barbara was ready for her.
She had assumed for the occasion her War Office manner, that firm
sweetness with which she used to stand between importunate interviewers
and her chief. It had made her the joy of her department.
"Mr. Waddington is extremely sorry he is not able to see you himself. He
is engaged with his agent at the moment."
Mr. Waddington had, indeed, created that engagement.
"Engaged? But I have an appointment."
"Yes. He's very sorry. He said if there was anything I could do for
"Thank you, Miss Madden. If it's all the same to you, I'd much rather
see Mr. Waddington himself. I can wait."
"I wouldn't advise you to. I'm afraid he may be a long time. He has some
very important business on hand just now."
"_My_ business," said Mrs. Levitt, "is very important."
"Oh, if it's only business," Barbara said, "I think we can settle it at
once. I've had most of the correspondence in my hands and I think I know
all the circumstances."
"You have had the correspondence in your hands?"
"Well, you see, I'm Mr. Waddington's secretary. That's what I'm here
"I didn't know he trusted his private business to his secretary."
"He's obliged to. He has so much of it. You surely don't expect him to
copy out his own letters?"
"I don't expect him to hand over my letters to other people to read."
"I haven't read your letters, Mrs. Levitt. I've merely taken down his
answers to copy out and file for reference."
"Then, my dear Miss Madden, you don't know all the circumstances."
"At any rate, I can tell you what Mr. Waddington intends to do and what
he doesn't. You want to see him, I suppose, about the loan for the
Mrs. Levitt was too profoundly disconcerted to reply.
Barbara went on in her firm sweetness. "I know he's very sorry not to be
able to do more, but, as you know, he did not advise the investment and
he can't possibly advance anything for it beyond the fifty pounds he has
already paid you."
"Since you know so much about it," said Mrs. Levitt with a certain calm,
subdued truculence, "you may as well know everything. You are quite
mistaken in supposing that Mr. Waddington did not advise the investment.
On the contrary, it was on his representations that I decided to invest.
And it was on the strength of the security he offered that my solicitors
advanced me the money. He is responsible for the whole business; he has
made me enter into engagements that I cannot meet without him, and when
I ask him to fulfil his pledges he lets me down."
"I don't think Mr. Waddington knows that your solicitors advanced the
money. There is no reference to them in the correspondence."
"I think, if you'll look through your _files_, or if Mr. Waddington will
look through his, you'll find you are mistaken."
"I can tell Mr. Waddington what you've told me and let you know what he
says. If you don't mind waiting a minute I can let you know now."
She sought out Mr. Waddington in his office--luckily it was situated in
the kitchen wing, the one farthest from the library. She found him alone
in it (the agent had gone), sitting in a hard Windsor chair. He knew
that Elise couldn't pursue him into his office; it was even doubtful
whether she knew where it was. He had retreated into it as into some
Not that he looked safe. His face sagged more than ever, as though the
Postlethwaite nose had withdrawn its support from that pale flesh of
funk. If it had any clear meaning at all it expressed a terrified
expectation of blackmail. His very moustache and hair drooped
"Are you disengaged?" she said.
"Yes. But for God's sake don't tell her that."
"It's all right. She knows she isn't going to see you."
She felt the queer, pathetic clinging of his mind to her as if it
realized that she held his honour and Fanny's happiness in her hands.
"She's not going to give up that five hundred without a struggle."
"The deuce she isn't. On what grounds does she claim it?"
"She says you advised her to make a certain investment, and that you
promised to lend her half the sum she wanted."
"I made no promise. I said, 'Perhaps that sum might be forthcoming.' I
made it very clear that it would depend on circumstances."
"On circumstances that she understood--knew about?"
"Er--on circumstances that--No. She didn't know about them."
"Still, you made conditions?"
"No. I made--a mental reservation."
"She seems to be aware of the circumstances that influenced you. She
thinks you've gone back on your word."
"I have gone back on nothing. My word's sacred. The woman lies."
"She sticks to it that the promise was made, that on the strength of it
she invested a certain sum of money through her solicitors, that they
advanced the money on that security and you advised the investment."
"I did not advise it. I advised her to give it up. I wrote to her. You
took down the letter.... No, you didn't. I copied that one myself."
"Have you got it? I'd better show it her."
"Yes. It's--it's--confound it, it's in my private drawer."
"Can't I find it?"
He hesitated. He didn't like the idea of anybody, even little Barbara,
rummaging in his private drawer, but he had to choose the lesser of two
evils, and that letter would put the matter beyond a doubt.
"Here's the key," he said, and gave it her. "It's dated October the
thirtieth or thirty-first. But it's all humbug. I've reason to believe
that money was never invested at all. It's all debts. She hasn't a leg
to stand on. Not a leg."
"Not a stump," said Barbara. "Leave her to me."
She went back to the library. Mrs. Levitt's face lifted itself in
"One moment, Mrs. Levitt."
After a slightly prolonged search in Mr. Waddington's private drawer she
found the letter of October tie thirty-first, and returned with it to
the office. It was very short and clear:
"MY DEAR ELISE:
"I cannot promise anything--it depends on circumstances. But if you sent
me the name and address of your solicitors it might help."
"Take it," he said, "and show it her."
Barbara went back again to the library and her final battle with Elise.
This time she had armed herself with the cheque books.
Mrs. Levitt began, "Well--?"
"Mr. Waddington says he is very sorry if there's any misunderstanding. I
don't know whether you remember getting this letter from him?"
Mrs. Levitt blinked hard as she read the letter.
"Of course I remember."
"You see that he could hardly have stated his position more clearly."
"But--this letter is dated October the thirty-first. The promise I refer
to was made long after that."
"It doesn't appear so from his letters--all that I've taken down. If you
can show me anything in writing--"
"Writing? Mr. Waddington is a gentleman and he was my friend. I never
dreamed of pinning him down to promises in writing. I thought his word
was enough. I never dreamed of his going back on it. And after
compromising me the way he's done."
Barbara's eyebrows lifted delicately, innocently. "_Has_ he compromised
"Never mind how. Quite enough to start all sorts of unpleasant stories."
"You shouldn't listen to them. People will tell stories without anything
to start them."
"That doesn't make them any less unpleasant. I should have thought the
very least Mr. Waddington could do--"
"Would be to pay you compensation?"
"There can be no compensation in a case of this sort, Miss Madden. I'm
not talking about compensation. Mr. Waddington must realize that he
cannot compromise me without compromising himself."
"I should think he would realize it, you know."
"Then he ought to realize that he is not exactly in a position to
repudiate his engagements."
"Do you consider that _you_ are in a position--exactly--to hold him to
engagements he never entered into?"
"I've told you already that he has let me in for engagements that I
cannot meet if he goes back on his word."
"I see. And you want to make it unpleasant for him. As unpleasant as you
"I can make it even more unpleasant for him, Miss Madden, than it is for
"What, after all the compromising?"
"I think so. If, for instance, I chose to tell somebody what happened
the other day, what you saw yourself."
"_Did_ I see anything?"
"You can't deny that you saw something you were not meant to see."
"You mean Wednesday afternoon? Well, if Mr. Waddington chose to say that
I saw you in a bad fit of hysterics I shouldn't deny _that_."
"I see. You're well posted, Miss Madden."
"I am, rather. But supposing you told everybody in the place he was
caught making love to you, what good would it do you?"
"Excuse me, we're not talking about the good it would do me, but the
harm it would do him."
"Same thing," said Barbara. "Supposing you told everybody and nobody
"Everybody will believe me. You forget that those stories have been
going about long before Wednesday."
"All the better for Mr. Waddington and all the worse for you. You were
compromised before Wednesday. Then why, if you didn't like being
compromised, did you consent to come to tea alone with him when his wife
"I came on business, _as you know_."
"You came to borrow money from a man who had compromised you? If you're
so careful of your reputation I should have thought that would have been
the last thing you'd have done."
"You're forgetting my friendship with Mr. Waddington."
"You said business just now. Friendship or business, or business _and_
friendship, I don't think you're making out a very good case for
yourself, Mrs. Levitt. But supposing you did make it out, and supposing
Mr. Waddington did lose his head and _was_ making love to you on
Wednesday, do you imagine people here are going to take _your_ part
"He's not so popular in Wyck as all that."
"He mayn't be, but his caste is. Immensely popular with the county,
which I suppose is all you care about. You must remember, Mrs. Levitt,
that he's Mr. Waddington of Wyck; you're not fighting one Mr.
Waddington, but three hundred years of Waddingtons. You're up against
all his ancestors."
"I don't care _that_ for his ancestors," said Mrs. Levitt with a
gesture of the thumb.
"You may not. I certainly don't. But other people do. Major Markham, the
Hawtreys, the Thurstons, even the Corbetts, do you suppose they're all
going to turn against him because he lost his head for a minute on a
Wednesday? Ten to one they'll all think, and _say_, you made him do it."
"I made him? Preposterous!"
"Not so preposterous as you imagine. You must make allowances for
people's prejudices. If you wanted to stand clear you shouldn't have
taken all that money from him."
"All that money indeed! A loan, a mere temporary loan, for an investment
"Not only that loan, but--" Barbara produced the cheque books with
their damning counterfoils. "Look here--twenty-five pounds on the
thirty-first of January. And here--October last year, and July, and
January before that--More than a hundred and fifty altogether. How
are you going to account for that?
"And who's going to believe that Mr. Waddington paid all that for
nothing, if some particularly nasty person gets up and says he didn't?
You see what a horrible position you'd be in, don't you?"
Mrs. Levitt didn't answer. Her face thickened slightly with a dreadful
flush. Her nerve was going.
Barbara watched it go. She followed up her advantage. "And supposing I
were to tell everybody--his friend, Major Markham, say--that you were
pressing him for that five hundred, immediately _after_ the affair of
Wednesday, on threats of exposure, wouldn't that look very like
"Blackmail? _Really_, Miss Madden--"
"I don't suppose you _mean_ it for blackmail; I'm only pointing out what
it'll look like. It won't look _well_.... Much better face the facts.
You _can't_ do Mr. Waddington any real harm, short of forcing his wife
to get a separation."
There was a black gleam in Mrs. Levitt's eyes. "Precisely. And
supposing--since we _are_ supposing--I told Mrs. Waddington of his
"Too late. Mr. Waddington has told her himself."
"His own version."
"Certainly, his own version."
"And supposing I gave mine?"
"Do. Whatever you say it'll be your word against ours and she won't
believe you. If she did she'd think it was all your fault.... And
remember, I have the evidence for your attempts at blackmail.
"I don't think," said Barbara, going to the door and opening it,
"there's anything more to be said."
Mrs. Levitt walked out with her agitated waddle. Barbara followed her
amicably to the front door. There Elise made her last stand.
"_Good_ afternoon, Miss Madden. I congratulate Mr. Waddington--on the
Barbara rushed to the relief of the besieged in his office redoubt.
"It's all over!" she shouted at him joyously.
Mr. Waddington did not answer all at once. He was still sitting in his
uneasy Windsor chair, absorbed in meditation. He had brought out a
little note from his inmost pocket and as he looked at it he smiled.
It began thus, and its date was the Saturday following that dreadful
"MY DEAR MR. WADDINGTON:
"After the way you have stood by me and helped me in the past, I cannot
believe that it is all over, and that I can come to you, my generous
friend, and be repulsed--"
He looked up. "How did she behave, Barbara?" "Oh--she wanted to bite--to
bite badly; but I drew all her teeth, very gently, one by one." Teeth.
Elise's teeth--drawn by Barbara.
He tore the note into little bits, and, as he watched them flutter into
the waste-paper basket, he sighed. He rose heavily.
"Let's go and tell Fanny all about it," said Barbara.
"I hope you realize, Horatio, that it was Barbara who got you out of
"Barbara showed a great deal of intelligence; but you must give me
credit for some tact and discretion of my own," Mr. Waddington said as
he left the drawing-room.
"_Was_ he tactful and discreet?"
"His first letters," said Barbara, "were masterpieces of tact and
discretion. Before he saw the danger. Afterwards I think his nerve may
have gone a bit. Whose wouldn't?"
"It _was_ clever of you, Barbara. All the same, it must have been rather
awful, going for her like that."
Now that it was all over Barbara saw that it had been awful; rather like
a dog-fight. She had been going round and round, rolling with Mrs.
Levitt in the mud; so much mud that for purposes of sheer cleanliness it
hardly seemed to matter which of them was top dog at the finish. All she
could see was that it had to be done and there wasn't anybody else to do
"You see," Fanny went on, "she had a sort of case. He _was_ making love
to her and she didn't like it. It doesn't seem quite fair to turn on her
"She did all the turning. I wouldn't have said a thing if she hadn't
tried to put the screw on. Somebody had got to stop it."
"Yes," Fanny said. "Yes. Still, I wish we could have let her go in
"There wasn't any peace for her to go in; and she wouldn't have gone.
She'd have been here now, with his poor thumb in her screw. After all,
Fanny, I only pointed out how beastly it would be for her if she didn't
go. And I only did that because he was your husband, and it was your
"Yes, darling, yes; I know what you did it for. ... Oh, I wish she
wasn't so horribly badly off."
"So do I, then it wouldn't have happened. But how can you be such an
angel to her, Fanny?"
"I'm not. I'm only decent. I hate using our position to break her poor
back. Telling her we're Waddingtons of Wyck and she's only Mrs. Levitt."
"It was the handiest weapon. And you didn't use it. _I'm_ not a
Waddington of Wyck. Besides, it's true; she can't blackmail him in his
own county. You don't seem to realize how horrid she was, and how jolly
"No," Fanny said, "I don't realize people's horridness. As for danger, I
don't want to disparage your performance, Barbara, but she seems to me
to have been an easy prey."
"You _are_ disparaging me," said Barbara.
"I'm not. I only don't like to think of you enjoying that nasty scrap."
"I only enjoyed it on your account."
"And I oughtn't to grudge you your enjoyment when we reap the benefit. I
don't know what Horatio would have done without you. I shudder to think
of the mess he'd have made of it himself."
"He was making rather a mess of it," Barbara said, "when I took it on."
"Well," said Fanny, "I daresay I'm a goose. Perhaps I ought to be
grateful to Mrs. Levitt. If he was on the look-out for adventures, it's
just as well he hit on one that'll keep him off it for the future. She'd
have been far more deadly if she'd been a nice woman. If he _must_ make
"Only then he couldn't very well have done it," Barbara said.
"Oh, couldn't he! You never can tell what a man'll do, once he's begun,"
Meanwhile Mrs. Levitt stayed on, having failed to let her house for the
winter. She seemed to be acting on Barbara's advice and refraining from
any malignant activity; for no report of the Waddington affair had as
yet penetrated into the tea-parties and little dinners at
Wyck-on-the-Hill. Punctually every Friday evening Mr. Thurston of the
Elms, and either Mr. Hawtrey or young Hawtrey of Medlicott, turned up at
the White House for their bridge. If Mrs. Dick Benham chose to write
venomous letters about Elise Levitt to old Mrs. Markham, that was no
reason why they should throw over an agreeable woman whose hospitality
had made Wyck-on-the-Hill a place to live in, so long as she behaved
decently _in_ the place. They kept it up till past midnight now that
Mrs. Levitt had had the happy idea of serving a delicious supper at
eleven. (She had paid her debts of honour with Mr. Waddington's five
pounds; the fifty she reserved, in fancy, for the cost of the chickens
and the trifles and the Sauterne.) In Mr. Thurston and the Hawtreys the
bridge habit and the supper habit, and what Billy Hawtrey called the
Levitty habit, was so strong that it overrode their sense of loyalty to
Major Markham. The impression created by Mrs. Dick Benham only
heightened their enjoyment in doing every Friday what Mrs. Thurston and
Mrs. Hawtrey persisted in regarding as a risky thing. "There was no harm
in Elise Levitt," they said.
So every Friday, after midnight, respectable householders, sleeping on
either side of the White House, were wakened by the sudden opening of
her door, by shrill "Good nights" called out from the threshold and
answered by bass voices up the street, by the shutting of the door and
the shriek of the bolt as it slid to.
And the Rector went about saying, in his genial way, that he liked Mrs.
Levitt, that she was well connected, and that there was no harm in her.
So long as any parishioner was a frequent attendant at church, and a
regular subscriber to the coal and blanket club, and a reliable source
of soup and puddings for the poor, it was hard to persuade him that
there was any harm in them. Fanny Waddington said of him that if
Beelzebub subscribed to his coal and blanket club he'd ask him to tea.
He had a stiff face for uncharitable people; Elise was received almost
ostentatiously at the rectory as a protest against scandal-mongering;
and he made a point of stopping to talk to her when he met her in the
This might have meant the complete rehabilitation of Elise, but that
the Rector's geniality was too indiscriminate, too perfunctory, too
Christian, as Fanny put it, to afford any sound social protection; and,
ultimately, the approval of the rectory was disastrous to Elise, letting
her in, as she afterwards complained bitterly, for Miss Gregg. Meanwhile
it helped her with people like Mrs. Bostock and Mrs. Cleaver and Mrs.
Jackson, who wanted to be charitable and to stand well with the Rector.
Then, in the December following the Waddington affair, Wyck was
astonished by the friendship that sprang up, suddenly, between Mrs.
Levitt and Miss Gregg, the governess at the rectory.
There was a reason for it--there always is a reason for these
things--and Mrs. Bostock named it when she named young Billy Hawtrey.
Friendship with Mrs. Levitt provided Miss Gregg with, unlimited
facilities for meeting Billy, who was always running over from Medlicott
to the White House. Miss Gregg's passion for young Billy hung by so
slender, so nervous, and so insecure a thread that it required the
continual support of conversation with an experienced and sympathetic
friend. Miss Gregg had never known anybody so sympathetic and so
experienced as Mrs. Levitt. The first time they were alone together she
had seen by Elise's face that she had some secret like her own (Miss
Gregg meant Major Markham), and that she would understand. And one
strict confidence leading to another, before very long Miss Gregg had
captured that part of Elise's secret that related to Mr. Waddington.
It was through Miss Gregg's subsequent activities that it first became
known in Wyck that Mrs. Levitt had referred to Mr. Waddington as "that
horrible old man." This might have been very damaging to Mr. Waddington
but that Annie Trinder, at the Manor, had told her aunt, Mrs. Trinder,
that Mr. Waddington spoke of Mrs. Levitt as "that horrible woman," and
had given orders that she was not to be admitted if she called. It was
then felt that there might possibly be more than one side to the
Then, bit by bit, through the repeated indiscretions of Miss Gregg, the
whole affair of Mrs. Levitt and Mr. Waddington came out. It travelled
direct from Miss Gregg to the younger Miss Hawtrey of Medlicott, and
finally reached Sir John Corbett by way of old Hawtrey, who had it from
his wife, who didn't believe a word of it.
Sir John didn't believe a word of it, either. At any rate, that was what
he said to Lady Corbett. To himself he wondered whether there wasn't
"something in it." He would give a good deal to know, and he made up
his mind that the next time he saw Waddington he'd get it out of him.
He saw him the very next day.
Ever since that dreadful Wednesday an uneasy mind had kept Mr.
Waddington for ever calling on his neighbours. He wanted to find out
from their behaviour and their faces whether they knew anything and how
much they knew. He lived in perpetual fear of what that horrible woman
might say or do. The memory of what _he_ had said and done that
Wednesday no longer disturbed his complete satisfaction with himself. He
couldn't think of Elise as horrible without at the same time thinking of
himself as the pure and chivalrous spirit that had resisted her.
Automatically he thought of himself as pure and chivalrous. And in the
rare but beastly moments when he did remember what he had done and said
to Elise and what Elise had done and said to him, when he felt again her
hand beating him off and heard her voice crying out: "You old imbecile!"
automatically he thought of her as cold. Some women were like
that--cold. Deficient in natural feeling. Only an abnormal coldness
could have made her repulse him as she did. She had told him to his
face, in her indecent way, that love was _the_ most ridiculous thing.
He couldn't, for the life of him, understand how a thing that was so
delightful to other women could he ridiculous to Elise; but there it
Absolutely abnormal, that. His vanity received immense consolation in
thinking of Elise as abnormal.
His mind passed without a jolt or a jar from one consideration to its
opposite. Elise was cold and he was normally and nobly passionate Elise
was horrible and he was chivalrously pure. Whichever way he had it he
But you couldn't tell in what awful light the thing might present itself
to other people.
It was this doubt that drove him to Underwoods one afternoon early in
January, ostensibly to deliver his greetings for the New Year.
After tea Sir John lured him into his library for a smoke. The peculiar
smile and twinkle at play on his fat face should have warned Mr.
Waddington of what was imminent.
They puffed in an amicable silence for about two minutes before he
"Ever see anything of Mrs. Levitt now?"
Mr. Waddington raised his eyebrows as if surprised at this impertinence.
He seemed to be debating with himself whether he would condescend to
answer it or not.
"No," he said presently, "I don't."
"Taken my advice and dropped it, have you?"
"I should say, rather, it dropped itself."
"I'm glad to hear that, Waddington; I'm very glad to hear it. I always
said, you know, you'd get landed if you didn't look out."
"My dear Corbett, I did look out. You don't imagine I was going to be
let in more than I could help."
"Wise after the event, what?"
Mr. Waddington thought: "He's trying to pump me." He was determined not
to be pumped. Corbett should not get anything out of him.
"After what event? Fanny's called several times, but she doesn't care to
keep it up. Neither, to tell the honest truth, do I.... Why?"
Sir John was twinkling at him in his exasperating way.
"Why? Because, my dear fellow, the woman's going about everywhere saying
she's given _you_ up."
"I don't care," said Mr. Waddington, "what she says. Quite immaterial to
"You mayn't care, but your friends do, Waddington."
"It's very good of them. But they can save themselves the trouble."
He thought: "He isn't going to get anything out of me."
"Oh, come, you don't suppose we believe a word of it."
They looked at each other. Sir John thought: "I'll get it out of him."
And Mr. Waddington thought: "I'll get it out of him."
"You might as well tell me what you're talking about," he said.
"My dear chap, it's what Mrs. Levitt's talking about. That's the point."
"Yes. She's a dangerous woman, Waddington. I told you you were doing a
risky thing taking up with her like that.... And there's Hawtrey doing
the same thing, the very same thing.... But he's a middle-aged man, so I
suppose he thinks he's safe. ... But if he was ten years younger--
Hang it all, Waddington, if I was a younger man I shouldn't feel safe. I
shouldn't, really. I can't think what there is about her. There's
"Yes," said Mr. Waddington, "there's something."
Something. He wasn't going to let Corbett think him so middle-aged that
he was impervious to its charm.
"What is it?" said Sir John. "She isn't handsome, yet she gets all the
young fellows running after her. There was Markham, and Thurston, and
there's young Hawtrey. It's only sober old chaps like me who don't get
landed.... Upon my word, Waddington, I shouldn't blame you if you _had_
lost your head."
Mr. Waddington felt shaken in his determination not to let Corbett get
it out of him. It was also clear that, if he did admit to having for one
wild moment lost his head, Corbett would think none the worse of him. He
would then be classed with Markham and young Billy, whereas if he denied
it, he would only rank himself with old fossils like Corbett. And he
couldn't bear it. There was such a thing as doing yourself an
Sir John watched him hovering round the trap he had laid for him.
"Absolutely between ourselves," he said. "_Did_ you?"
Under Mr. Waddington's iron-grey moustache you could see the
Rabelaisian smile answering the Rabelaisian twinkle. For the life of him
he couldn't resist it.
"Well--between ourselves, Corbett, absolutely--to be perfectly honest, I
did. There _is_ something about her.... Just for a second, you know. It
didn't come to anything."
"Didn't it? She says you made violent love to her."
"I won't swear what I wouldn't have done if I hadn't pulled myself up
At this point it occurred to him that if Elise had betrayed the secret
of his love-making she would also have told her own tale of its repulse.
That had to be accounted for.
"I can tell you one queer thing about that woman, Corbett. She's
"Oh, come, Waddington--"
"You wouldn't think it--"
"I don't," said Sir John, with a loud guffaw.
"But I assure you, my dear Corbett, she's simply wooden. Talk of making
love, you might as well make love to--to a chair or a cabinet. I can
tell you Markham's had a lucky escape."
"I don't imagine that's what put him off," said Sir John. "He knew
"What do you suppose he knew?"
"Something the Benhams told them, I fancy. They'd some queer story.
Rather think she ran after Dicky, and Mrs. Benham didn't like it."
"Don't know what she wanted with him. Couldn't have been in love with
him, I will say that for her."
"Well, she seems to have preferred their bungalow to her own. Anyhow,
they couldn't get her out of it."
"I don't believe that story. We must be fair to the woman, Corbett."
He thought he had really done it very well. Not only had he accounted
honourably for his repulse, but he had cleared Elise. And he had cleared
himself from the ghastly imputation of middle-age. Repulse or no
repulse, he was proud of his spurt of youthful passion.
And in another minute he had persuaded himself that his main motive had
been the desire to be fair to Elise.
"H'm! I don't know about being fair," said Sir John. "Anyhow, I
congratulate you on your lucky escape."
Mr. Waddington rose to go. "Of course--about what I told you--you won't
let it go any further?"
Sir John laughed out loud. "Of course I won't. Only wanted to know how
far _you_ went. Might have gone farther and fared worse, what?"
He rose, too, laughing. "If anybody tries to pump me I shall say you
behaved very well. So you did, my dear fellow, so you did. Considering
He could afford to laugh. He had got it out of poor old Waddington, as
he said he would. But to the eternal honour of Sir John Corbett, it did
not go any further. When people tried to get it out of him he simply
said that there was nothing in it, and that to his certain knowledge
Waddington had behaved very well. As Barbara had prophesied, nobody
believed that he had behaved otherwise. It was not for nothing that he
was Mr. Waddington of Wyck.
And in consequence of the revelations she had made to her friend, Miss
Gregg, very early in the New Year Elise found other doors closed to her
besides the Markhams' and the Waddingtons'. And behind the doors on each
side of the White House respectable householders could sleep in their
beds on Friday nights without fear of being wakened by the opening and
shutting of Mrs. Levitt's door and by the shrill "Good nights" called
out from its threshold and answered up the street The merry bridge
parties and the little suppers were no more.
Even the Rector's geniality grew more and more Christian and
perfunctory, till he too left off stopping to talk to Mrs. Levitt when
he met her in the street.
Mr. Waddington's confession to Sir John was about the only statement
relating to the Waddington affair which did not go any further. Thus a
very curious and interesting report of it reached Ralph Bevan through
Colonel Grainger, when he heard for the first time of the part Barbara
had played in it.
In the story Elise had told in strict confidence to Miss Gregg, Mr.
Waddington had been deadly afraid of her and had beaten a cowardly
retreat behind Barbara's big guns. Not that either Elise or Miss Gregg
would have admitted for one moment that her guns were big; Colonel
Grainger had merely inferred the deadliness of her fire from the
demoralization of the enemy.
"Your little lady, Bevan," he said, "seems to have come off best in that
"We needn't worry any more about the compact, Barbara, now I know about
it," Ralph said, as they walked together. Snow had fallen. The Cotswolds
were all white, netted with the purplish brown filigree-work of the
trees. Their feet went crunching through the furry crystals of the snow.
"No. That's one good thing she's done."
"Was it very funny, your scrap?"
"It seemed funnier at the time than it did afterwards. It was really
rather beastly. Fanny didn't like it."
"You could hardly expect her to. There's a limit to Fanny's sense of
"There's a limit to mine. Fanny was right. I had to fight her with the
filthiest weapons. I had to tell her she couldn't do anything because he
was Waddington of Wyck, and she was up against all his ancestors. I had
to drag in his ancestors."
"That was bad."
"I know it was. It's what Fanny hated. And no wonder. She made me feel
such a miserable little snob, Ralph."
"Yes. _She_ couldn't have done it. She'd have let her do her damnedest."
"That's because Fanny's an incurable little aristocrat. She's got more
Waddington of Wyckedness in her little finger than Horatio has in all
his ego; and she despises Mrs. Levitt. She wouldn't have condescended to
scrap with her."
"The horrible thing is, it's true. He can do what he likes and nothing
happens to him. He can turn the Ballingers out of their house and
nothing happens. He can make love to a woman who doesn't want to be made
love to and nothing happens. Because he's Waddington of Wyck."
"He's Waddington of Wyck, but he isn't such a bad old thing, really.
People laugh at him, but they like him because he's so funny. And
they've taken Mrs. Levitt's measure pretty accurately."
"You don't think, then, I was too big a beast to her?"
"Somebody had to save him, Ralph. After all, he's Fanny's husband."
"Yes, after all, he's Fanny's husband."
"So you don't--do you?"
"Of course I don't.... What's he doing now?"
"Oh, just pottering about with his book. It's nearly finished."
"You've kept it up?"
"Rather. There isn't a sentence he mightn't have written himself. I
think I'm going to let him go back to Lower Wyck on the last page and
end there. In his Manor. I thought of putting something in about
holly-decked halls and Yule logs on the Christmas hearth. He was
photographed the other day. In the snow."
"I wonder if he'll really settle down now. Or if he'll do it all over
again some day with somebody else."
"You can't tell. You can't possibly tell. He may do anything."
"That's what we feel about him," Barbara said.
"Endless possibilities. Yet you'd think he couldn't go one better than
For the next half-mile they disputed whether in the scene with Mrs.
Levitt he was or was not really funny. Ralph was inclined to think that
he might have been purely disgusting.
"You didn't _see_ him, Ralph. You've no right to say he wasn't funny."
"No. No. I didn't see him. You needn't rub it in, Barbara."
"We've got to wait and see what he does next. It may be your turn any
"We can't expect him to do very much for a little while. He must be a
bit exhausted with this last stunt."
"Yes. And the funny thing is he has moments when you don't laugh at him.
Moments of calm, beautiful peace.... You come on him walking in his
garden looking for snowdrops in the snow. Or he's sitting in his
library, reading Buchan's 'History of the Great War.' Happy. Not
thinking about himself at all. Then you're sorry you ever laughed at
"I'm not," Ralph said. "He owes it us. He does nothing else to justify
"Yes. But he exists. He exists. And somehow, it's pretty mysterious
when you think of it. You wonder whether you mayn't have seen him all
wrong. Whether all the time he isn't just, a simple old thing. When you
get that feeling--of his mysteriousness, Ralph--somehow you're done."
"I haven't had it yet."
"Oh, it's there. You'll get it some day."
"You see, Barbara, how right I was? We can't keep off him."
It was Sunday, the last week of Horry's holidays. All through supper he
had been talking about cycling to Cirencester if the frost held, to
skate on the canal.
The frost did hold, and in the morning he strapped a cushion on the
carrier of his bicycle and called up the stairs to Barbara.
"Come along, Barbara, let's go to Cirencester."
Barbara appeared, ready, carrying her skates. Mr. Waddington had let her
off the Ramblings, yet, all of a sudden, she looked depressed.
"Oh, Horry," she said, "I was going with Ralph."
"You are _not_," said Horry. "You're always going with Ralph. You're
jolly well coming with me this time."
"But I promised him."
"You'd no business to promise him, when it's the last week of my
holidays. 'Tisn't fair."
Fanny came out into the hall.
"Horry," she said, "don't worry Barbara. Can't you see she wants to go
"That's exactly," he said, "what I complain of."
She shook her head at him. "You're your father all over again," she
"I'll swear I'm not," said Horry.
"If you were half as polite as your father it wouldn't be a bad thing."
There was a sound of explosions in the drive. "There's Ralph come to
settle it himself," said Fanny. And at that point, Mr. Waddington came
out on them, suddenly, from the cloak-room.
"What's all this?" he said. He looked with disgust at the skates
dangling from Barbara's hand. He went out into the porch and looked with
disgust at Ralph and at the motor-bicycles. He thought with bitterness
of the Cirencester canal. He couldn't skate. Even when he was Horry's
age he hadn't skated. He couldn't ride a motor-bicycle. When he looked
at the beastly things and thought of their complicated machinery and
their evil fascination for Barbara, he hated them. He hated Horry and
Ralph standing up before Barbara, handsome, vibrating with youth and
health and energy.
"I won't have Barbara riding on that thing. It isn't safe. If he skids
on the snow he'll break her neck."
"Much more likely to break his own neck," said Horry.
In his savage interior Mr. Waddington wished he would, and Horry too.
"He won't skid," said Barbara; "if he does I'll hop off."
"We'll come back," said Ralph, "if we don't get on all right."
They started in a duet of explosions, the motor-bicycles hissing and
crunching through the light snow. Barbara, swinging on Ralph's carrier,
waved her hand light-heartedly to Mr. Waddington. He hated Barbara; but
far more than Barbara he hated Horry, and far more than Horry he hated
"He'd no business to take her," he said. "She'd no business to go."
"You can't stop them, my dear," said Fanny; "they're too young."
"Well, if they come back with their necks broken they'll have only
themselves to thank."
He took a ferocious pleasure in thinking of Horry and Ralph and Barbara
with their necks broken.
Fanny stared at him. "I wonder what's made him so cross," she thought.
"He looks as if he'd got a chill on the liver.".... "Horatio, have you
got a chill on the liver?"
"Now, what on earth put that into your head?"
"Your face. You look just a little off colour, darling."
At that moment Mr. Waddington began to sneeze.
"There, I knew you'd caught cold. You oughtn't to go standing about in
"I haven't caught cold," said Mr. Waddington.
But he shut himself up in his library and stayed there, huddled in his
armchair. From time to time he leaned forward and stooped over the
hearth, holding his chest and stomach as near as possible to the fire.
Shivers like thin icicles kept on slipping down his spine.
At lunch-time he complained that there was nothing he could eat, and
before the meal was over he went back to his library and his fire. Fanny
sat with him there.
"I wish you wouldn't go standing out in the cold," she said. She knew
that on Saturday he had stood for more than ten minutes in the fallen
snow of the park to be photographed. And he wouldn't wear his overcoat
because he thought he looked younger without it, and slenderer.
"No wonder you've got a chill," she said.
"I didn't get it then. I got it yesterday in the garden."
She remembered. He had been wandering about the garden, after church,
looking for snowdrops in the snow. Barbara had worn the snowdrops in the
breast of her gown last night.
He nourished his resentment on that memory and on the thought that he
had got his chill picking snowdrops for Barbara.
At tea-time he drank a little tea, but he couldn't eat anything. He felt
sick and his head ached. At dinner-time, on Fanny's advice, he went to
bed and Fanny took his temperature.
A hundred and one. He turned the thermometer in his hand, gazing
earnestly at the slender silver thread. He was gratified to know that
his temperature was a hundred and one and that Fanny was frightened and
had sent for the doctor. He had a queer, satisfied, exalted feeling, now
that he was in for it. When Barbara came back she would know what he was
in for and be frightened, too. He would have been still more gratified
if he had known that without him dinner was a miserable affair. Fanny
showed that she was frightened, and her fear flattened down the high
spirits of Ralph and Barbara and Horry, returned from their skating.
"You see, Barbara," said Ralph, when they had left Fanny and Horry with
the doctor, "we can't live without him."
They listened at the smoke-room door for the sound of Dr. Ransome's
departure, and Ralph waited while Barbara went back and brought him the
"It's flu, and a touch of congestion of the lungs."
They looked at each other sorrowfully, so sorrowfully that they smiled.
"Yet we can smile," he said.
"You know," said Barbara, "he got it standing in the snow, while
Pyecraft photographed him."
"It's the way," Ralph said, "he would get it."
And Barbara laughed. But, all the same, she felt a distinct pang at her
heart every time she went into her bedroom and saw, in its glass on her
dressing-table, the bunch of snowdrops that Mr. Waddington had picked
for her in the snow. They made a pattern on her mind; white cones
hanging down; sharp green blades piercing; green stalks held in the
crystal of the water.
"Nobody but a fool," said Horry, "would have stood out in the snow to be
photographed ... at his age."
Barbara was in the morning-room, stirring some black, sticky stuff in a
saucepan over the fire. The black, sticky stuff was to go on Mr.
Waddington's chest. Horry looked on, standing beside her in an attitude
of impatience. A pair of boots with skates clipped on hung from his
shoulders by their laces. He felt that his irritation was justifiable,
for Barbara had refused to go out skating with him.
"Why 'don't'?" said Horry. "It's obvious."
"Very. But he's ill."
"There can't be much the matter with him or the mater wouldn't look so
"She likes nursing him."
"Well," Horry said, "_you_ can't nurse him."
"No. But I can stir this stuff," said Barbara.
"I suppose," Horry said, "you'd think me an awful brute if I went?"
"I wish you _would_ go. You're a much more awful brute standing there
saying things about him and getting in my way."
"All right. I'll get out of it. That's jolly easy."
And he went. But he felt sick and sore. He had tried to persuade himself
that his father wasn't ill because he couldn't bear to think how ill he
was; it interfered with his enjoyment of his skating. "If," he said to
himself, "if he'd only put it off till the ice gave. But it was just
like him to choose a hard frost."
His anger gave him relief from the sickening anxiety he felt when he
thought of his father and his father's temperature. It had gone down,
but not to normal.
Mr. Waddington lay in his bed in Fanny's room. Barbara, standing at the
open door with her saucepan, caught a sight of him.
He was propped up by his pillows. On his shoulders, over one of those
striped pyjama suits that Barbara had once ordered from the Stores, he
wore, like a shawl, a woolly, fawn-coloured motor-scarf of Fanny's. His
arms were laid before him on the counterpane in a gesture of complete
surrender to his illness. Fanny was always tucking them away under the
blankets, but if anybody came in he would have them so. He was sitting
up, waiting in an adorable patience for something to be done for him.
His face had the calm, happy look of expectation utterly appeased and
resigned. It was that look that frightened Barbara; it made her think
that Mr. Waddington was going to die. Supposing his congestion turned to
pneumonia? There was so much of him to be ill, and those big men always
did die when they got pneumonia.
Mr. Waddington could hear Barbara's quiet voice saying something to
Fanny; he could see her unhappy, anxious face. He enjoyed Barbara's
anxiety. He enjoyed the cause of it, his illness. So long as he was
actually alive he even enjoyed the thought that, if his congestion
turned to pneumonia, he might actually die. There was a dignity, a
prestige about being dead that appealed to him. Even his high
temperature and his headache and his shooting pains and his difficulty
in breathing could not altogether spoil his pleasure in the delicious
concern of everybody about him, and in his exquisite certainty that, at
any minute, a moan would bring Fanny to his side. He was the one person
in the house that counted. He had always known it, but he had never felt
it with the same intensity as now. The mind of every person in the house
was concentrated on him now as it had not been concentrated before. He
was holding them all in a tension of worry and anxiety. He would
apologize very sweetly for the trouble he was giving everybody,
declaring that it made him very uncomfortable; but even Fanny could see
that he was gratified.
And as he got worse--before he became too ill to think about it at
all--he had a muzzy yet pleasurable sense that everybody in
Wyck-on-the-Hill and in the county for miles round was thinking of him.
He knew that Corbett and Lady Corbett and Markham and Thurston and the
Hawtreys, and the Rector and the Rector's wife and Colonel Grainger had
called repeatedly to inquire for him. He was particularly gratified by
Grainger's calling. He knew that Hitchin had stopped Horry in the street
to ask after him, and he was particularly gratified by that. Old
Susan-Nanna had come up from Medlicott to see him. And Ralph Bevan
called every day. That gratified him, too.
The only person who was not allowed to know anything about his illness
was his mother, for Mr. Waddington was certain it would kill her. Every
evening at medicine time he would ask the same questions: "My mother
doesn't know yet?" And: "Anybody called to-day?" And Fanny would give
him the messages, and he would receive them with a gentle, solemn
sweetness. You wouldn't have believed, Barbara said to herself, that
complacency could take so heartrending a form.
And under it all, a deeper bliss in bliss, was the thought that Barbara
was thinking about him, worrying about him, and being, probably, ten
times more unhappy about him than Fanny. After working so long by his
side, her separation from him would be intolerable to Barbara;
intolerable, very likely, the thought that it was Fanny's turn, now, to
be by his side. Every day she brought him a bunch of snowdrops, and
every day, as the door closed on her little anxious face, he was sorry
for Barbara shut out from his room. Poor little Barbara. Sometimes, when
he was feeling well enough, he would call to her: "Come in, Barbara."
And she would come in and look at him and put her flowers into his hand
and say she hoped he was better. And he would answer: "Not much better,
Barbara. I'm very ill."
He even allowed Ralph to come and look at him. He would hold his hand in
a clasp that he made as limp as possible, on purpose, and would say in a
voice artificially weakened: "I'm very ill, Ralph."
Dr. Ransome said he wasn't; but Mr. Waddington knew better. It was true
that from time to time he rallied sufficiently to comb his own hair
before Barbara was let in with her snowdrops, and that he could give
orders to Partridge in a loud, firm tone; but he was too ill to do more
than whisper huskily to Barbara and Fanny.
Then when he felt a little better the trained nurse came, and with the
sheer excitement of her coming Mr. Waddington's temperature leapt up
again, and the doctor owned that he didn't like that.
And Barbara found Fanny in the library, crying. She had been tidying up
his writing-table, going over all his papers with a feather brush, and
she had come on the manuscript of the Ramblings unfinished.
"Barbara, I know I'm an idiot, but I simply cannot bear it. It was all
very well as long as I could nurse him, but now that woman's come
there's nothing I can do for him.... I've--I've never done anything all
my life for him. He's always done everything for me. And I've been a
brute. Always laughing at him.... Think, Barbara, think; for eighteen
years never to have taken him seriously. Never since I married him.... I
believe he's going to die. Just--just to punish me."
"He isn't," said Barbara indignantly, as if she had never believed it
herself. "The doctor says he isn't really very ill. The congestion isn't
spreading. It was better yesterday."
"It'll be worse to-night, you may depend on it. The doctor doesn't
_like_ his temperature flying up and down like that."
"It'll go down again," said Barbara.
"You don't know what it'll do," said Fanny darkly. "Did you ever see
such a lamb, such a _lamb_ as he is when he's ill?"
"No," said Barbara; "he's an angel."
"That's just," said Fanny, "what makes me feel he's going to die.... I
wish I were you, Barbara."
"Yes. You've really helped him. He could never have written his book
without you. His poor book."
She sat stroking it. And suddenly a horrible memory overcame her, and
she cried out:
"Oh, my God! And I've laughed at that, too!"
Barbara put her arm round her. "You didn't, darling. Well, if you
did--it is a little funny, you know. I'm afraid I've laughed a bit."
"Oh, _you_--that doesn't matter. You helped to write it."
Then Barbara broke out. "Oh, don't, Fanny, don't, _don't_ talk about his
poor book. I can't _bear_ it."
"We're both idiots," said Fanny. "Imbeciles."
She paused, drying her eyes.
"He liked the snowdrops you brought him," she said.
Barbara thought: "And the snowdrops he brought _me_." He had caught cold
that day, picking them. They had withered in the glass in her bedroom.
She left Fanny, only to come upon Horry in his agony. Horry stood in the
window of the dining-room, staring out and scowling at the snow.
"Damn the snow!" he said. "It's killed him."
"It hasn't, Horry," she said; "he'll get better."
"He won't get better. If this beastly frost holds he hasn't got a
"Horry dear, the doctor says he's better."
"He doesn't. He says his temperature's got no business to go up."
"All the same--"
"Supposing he does think him better. Supposing he doesn't know.
Supposing he's a bleating idiot.... I expect the dear old pater knows
how he is a jolly sight better than anybody can tell him.... And you
know you're worrying about him yourself. So's the mater. She's been
"She's jealous of the nurse. That's what's the matter with her."
"Jealous? Tosh! That nurse is an idiot. She's sent his temperature up
"Horry, old thing, you must buck up. You mustn't let your nerve go like
"Nerve? Your nerve would go if you were me. I tell you, Barbara, I
wouldn't care a hang about his being ill--I mean I shouldn't care so
infernally if I'd been decent to him. ... But you were right I was a
cad, a swine. Laughing at him."
"So was I, Horry. I laughed at him. I'd give anything not to have."
"You didn't matter...."
He was silent a moment. Then he swung round, full to her. His face
burned, his eyes flashed tears; he held his head up to stop them
"Barbara--if he dies, I'll kill myself."
That evening Mr. Waddington's temperature went up another point. Ralph,
calling about nine o'clock, found Barbara alone in the library, huddled
in a corner of the sofa, with her pocket-handkerchief beside her, rolled
in a tight, damp ball. She started as he came in.
"Oh," she said, "I thought you were the doctor."
"Do you want him?"
"Yes. Fanny does. She's frightened."
"Shall I go and get him?"
"No. No. They've sent Kimber. Oh, Ralph, I'm frightened, too."
"But he's getting on all right. He is really. Ransome says so."
"I know. I've told them that. But they won't believe it. And _I_ don't
now. He'll die: you'll see he'll die. Just because we've been such pigs
"Nonsense; that wouldn't make him--"
"I'm not so sure. It's awful to see him lying there, like a lamb--so
good--when you think how we've hunted and hounded him."
"He didn't know, Barbara. We never let him know."
"You don't know what he knew. He must have seen it."
"He never sees anything."
"I tell you, you don't know what he sees.... I'd give anything, anything
not to have done it."
"So would I."
"It's a lesson to me," she said, "as long as I live, never to laugh at
anybody again. Never to say cruel things."
"We didn't say cruel things."
"Not very unkind."
"We did. I did. I said all the really beastly ones."
"No. No, you didn't. Not half as beastly as I and Horry did."
"That's what Horry's thinking now. He's nearly off his head about it."
"Look here, Barbara; you're simply sentimentalizing because he's ill and
you're sorry for him.... You needn't be. I tell you, he's enjoying his
illness. ... I don't suppose," said Ralph thoughtfully, "he's enjoyed
anything so much since the war."
"Doesn't that show what brutes we've been, that he has to be ill in
order to enjoy himself?"
"Oh, no. He enjoys himself--himself, Barbara--all the time. He can't
help enjoying his illness. He likes to have everybody fussing round him
and thinking about him."
"That's what I mean. We never did think of him. Not seriously. We've
done nothing--nothing but laugh. Why, you're laughing now. ... It's
horrible of you, Ralph, when he may be dying. ... It would serve us all
jolly well right if he did die."
To her surprise and indignation, Barbara began to cry. The hard, damp
lump of pocket-handkerchief was not a bit of good, and before she could
reach out for it Ralph's arms were round her and he was kissing the
tears off one by one.
"Darling, I didn't think you really minded--"
"What d-did you th-think, then?" she sobbed.
"I thought you were playing. A sort of variation of the game."
"I told you it was a cruel game."
"Never mind. It's all over. We'll never play it again. And he'll be well
in another week. ... Look here, Barbara, can't you leave off thinking
about him for a minute? You know I love you, most awfully, don't you?"
"Yes. I know now all right."
"And _I_ know."
"How do you know?"
"Because, old thing, you've never ceased to hang on to my collar since
I grabbed you. You can't go back on _that_."
"I don't want to go back on it.... I say, we always said he brought us
together, and he _has_, this time."
When later that night Ralph told Fanny of their engagement the first
thing she said was, "You mustn't tell him. Not till he's well again. In
fact, I'd rather you didn't tell him till just before you're married."
"Why ever not?"
"It might upset him. You see," she said, "he's very fond of Barbara."
The next day Mr. Waddington's temperature went down to normal; and the
next, when Ralph called, Barbara fairly rushed at him with the news.
"He's sitting up," she shouted, "eating a piece of sole."
"Hooray! Now we can be happy."
The sound of Fanny's humming came through the drawing-room door.
Mr. Waddington was sitting up in his armchair before the bedroom fire.
By turning his head a little to the right he could command a perfect
view of himself in the long glass by the window. To get up and look at
himself in that glass had been the first act of his convalescence. He
had hardly dared to think what alterations his illness might have made
in him. He remembered the horrible sight that Corbett had presented
after _his_ influenza last year.
Looking earnestly at himself in the glass, he had found that his
appearance was, if anything, improved. Outlines that he had missed for
the last ten years were showing up again. The Postlethwaite nose was
cleaner cut. He was almost slender, and not half so weak as Fanny said
he ought to have been. Immobility in bed, his spiritual attitude of
complacent acquiescence, and the release of his whole organism from the
strain of a restless intellect had set him up more than his influenza
had pulled him down; and it was a distinctly more refined and youthful
Waddington that Barbara found sitting in the armchair, wearing a royal
blue wadded silk dressing-gown and Fanny's motor-scarf, with a grey
mohair shawl over his knees.
Mr. Waddington's convalescence was altogether delightful to him,
admitting, as it did, of sustained companionship with Barbara. As soon
as it reached the armchair stage she sat with him for hours together.
She had finished the Ramblings, and at his request she read them aloud
to him all over again from beginning to end. Mr. Waddington was much
gratified by the impression they made recited in Barbara's charming
voice; the voice that trembled a little now and then with an emotion
that did her credit.
"'Come with me into the little sheltered valley of the Speed. Let us
follow the brown trout stream that goes purling through the lush green
grass of the meadows--'"
"I'd no idea," said Mr. Waddington, "it was anything like so good as it
is. We may congratulate ourselves on having got rid of Ralph Bevan."
And in February, when the frost broke and the spring weather came, and
the green and pink and purple fields showed up again through the mist on
the hillsides, he went out driving with Barbara in his car. He wanted
to look again at the places of his _Ramblings_, and he wanted Barbara to
look at them with him. It was the reward he had promised her for what he
called her dreary, mechanical job of copying and copying.
Barbara noticed the curious, exalted expression of his face as he sat up
beside her in the car, looking noble. She put it down partly to that
everlasting self-satisfaction that made his inward happiness, and partly
to sheer physical exhilaration induced by speed. She felt something like
it herself as they tore switchbacking up and down the hills: an
excitement whipped up on the top of the deep happiness that came from
thinking about Ralph. And there was hardly a moment when she didn't
think about him. It made her eyes shine and her mouth quiver with a
peculiarly blissful smile.
And Mr. Waddington looked at Barbara where she sat tucked up beside him.
He noticed the shining and the quivering, and he thought--what he always
had thought of Barbara. Only now he was certain.
The child loved him. She had been fascinated and frightened, frightened
and fascinated by him from the first hour that she had known him. But
she was not afraid of him any more. She had left off struggling. She was
giving herself up like a child to this feeling, the nature of which, in
her child's innocence, she did not yet know. But he knew. He had always
So much one half of Mr. Waddington's mind admitted, while the other half
denied that he had known it with any certainty. It went on saying to
itself: "Blind. Blind. Yet I might have known it," as if he hadn't.
He had, of course, kept it before him as a possibility (no part of him
denied that). And he had used tact. He had handled a delicate situation
with a consummate delicacy. He had done everything an honourable man
could do. But there it was. There it had been from the day that he had
come into the house and found her there. And the thing was too strong
for Barbara. Poor child, he might have known it would be. And it was too
strong for Mr. Waddington. It wasn't his fault. It was Fanny's fault,
having the girl there and forcing them to that dangerous intimacy.
Before his illness Mr. Waddington had resisted successfully any little
inclination he might have had to take advantage of the situation. He
conceived his inner life for the last nine months as consisting of a
series of resistances. He conceived the episode of Elise as a safety
valve, natural but unpleasant, for the emotions caused by Barbara: the
substitution of a permissible for an impermissible lapse. It had been
incredible to him that he should make love to Barbara.
But one effect of his influenza was apparent. It had lowered his
resistance, and, lowering it, had altered his whole moral perspective
and his scale of values, till one morning in April, walking with Barbara
in the garden that smelt of wallflowers and violets, he became aware
that Barbara was as necessary to him as he was to Barbara.
Her easel stood in a corner of the lawn with an unfinished water-colour
drawing of the house on it. He paused before it, smiling his tender,
"There's one thing I regret, Barbara--that I didn't have your drawings
for my Cotswold book."
The _Ramblings_, thanks to unproclaimed activities of Ralph Bevan, were
at that moment in the press.
"Why should you," she said, "if you didn't care about them?"
"It's inconceivable that I shouldn't have cared. ... I was blind. Blind.
... Well, some day, if we ever have an _Údition de luxe_, they shall
appear in that."
She hadn't the heart to tell him that the drawings had another
destination, for as yet the existence of Ralph's took was a secret.
They had agreed that nothing should disturb Mr. Waddington's pleasure in
the publication of his Ramblings--his poor Ramblings.
"One has to pay for blindness in this world," he said.
"A lot of people'll be let in at that rate. I don't suppose five will
care a rap about my drawings."
"I wasn't thinking only of your drawings, my dear." He pondered. ...
"Fanny tells me you're going to have a birthday. You're quite a little
April girl, aren't you?"
It was Barbara's twenty-fourth birthday, and the day of her adoption. It
had begun, unpropitiously, with something very like a dispute between
Horatio and Fanny.
Mr. Waddington had gone up to London the day before, and had returned
with a pearl pendant for Fanny, and a green jade necklace for Barbara
(not yet presented) and a canary yellow waistcoat for himself.
And not only the waistcoat--
On the birthday morning Fanny had called out to Barbara as she passed
her bedroom door:
"Barbara, come here."
Fanny was staring, fascinated, at four pairs of silk pyjamas spread out
before her on the bed. Remarkable pyjamas, of a fierce magenta with
forked lightning in orange running about all over them.
"Good God, Fanny!"
"You may well say 'Good God.' What would you say if you'd got to...?
I'm not a nervous woman, but--"
"It's a mercy he didn't get them eighteen years ago," said Barbara, "or
Horry might have been born an idiot."
"Yellow waistcoats are all very well," said Fanny. "But what _can_ he
have been thinking of?"
"I don't know," said Barbara. Somehow the pattern called up,
irresistibly, the image of Mrs. Levitt.
"Perhaps," she said, "he thinks he's Jupiter."
"Well, I'm not What's-her-name, and I don't want to be blasted. So I'll
put them somewhere where he can't find them."
At that moment they had heard Mr. Waddington coming through his
dressing-room and Barbara had run away by the door into the corridor.
"Who took those things out of my wardrobe?" he said. He was gazing,
dreamily, affectionately almost, at the pyjamas.
"And what for?"
"To look at them. Can you wonder? Horatio, if you wear them I'll apply
for a separation."
"You needn't worry."
There was a queer look in his face, significant and furtive. And Fanny's
mind, with one of its rapid flights, darted off from the pyjamas.
"What are you going to do about Barbara?" she said.
"_Do_ about her?"
"Yes. You know we were going to adopt her if we liked her enough. And we
do like her enough, don't we?"
"I have no paternal feeling for Barbara," said Mr. Waddington. "The
parental relation does not appeal to me as desirable or suitable."
"I should have thought, considering her age and your age, it was very
"Not if it entails obligations that I might regret."
"You're going to provide for her, aren't you? That isn't an obligation,
surely, you'll regret?"
"I can provide for her without adopting her."
"How? It's no good just leaving her something in your will."
"I shall continue half her salary," said Mr. Waddington, "as an
"Yes. But will you give her a marriage portion if she marries?"
He was silent. His mind reeled with the blow.
"If she marries," he said, "with my consent and my approval--yes."
"If that isn't a parental attitude! And supposing she doesn't?"
"She isn't thinking of marrying."
"You don't know what she's thinking of."
"Neither, I venture to say, do you."
"Well--I don't see how I can adopt her, if you don't."
"I didn't say I wouldn't adopt her."
"Then you will?"
He snapped back at her with an incredible ferocity.
"I suppose I shall have to. Don't _worry_ me!"
He then lifted up the pyjamas from the bed and carried them into his
dressing-room. Through the open door she saw him, mounted on a chair,
laying them out, tenderly, on the top shelf of the wardrobe: as if he
were storing them for some mysterious and romantic purpose in which
Fanny was not included.
"Perhaps, after all," she thought, "he only bought them because they
make him feel young."
All the morning, that morning of Barbara's birthday and adoption Mr.
Waddington's thoughtful gloom continued. And in the afternoon he shut
himself up in his library and gave orders that he was not to be
Barbara was in the morning-room.
They had given her the morning-room for a study, and she was alone in
it, amusing herself with her pocket sketch-book.
The sketch-book was Barbara's and Ralph's secret. Sometimes it lived for
days with Ralph at the White Hart. Sometimes it lived with Barbara, in
her coat pocket, or in her bureau under lock and key. She was obsessed
with the fear that some day she would leave it about and Fanny would
find it, or Mr. Waddington. Or any minute Mr. Waddington might come on
her and catch her with it. It would be awful if she were caught. For
that remarkable collection contained several pen-and-ink drawings of Mr.
Waddington, and Barbara added to their number daily.
But at the moment, the long interval between an unusually early birthday
tea and an unusually late birthday dinner, she was safe. Fanny had gone
over to Medlicott in the car. Mr. Waddington was tucked away in his
library, reading in perfect innocence and simplicity and peace. It
wasn't even likely that Ralph would turn up, for he had gone over to
Oxford, and it was on his account that the birthday dinner was put off
till half-past eight. There would be hours and hours.
She had just finished the last of three drawings of Mr. Waddington: Mr.
Waddington standing up before the long looking-glass in his new pyjamas;
Mr. Waddington appearing in the doorway of Fanny's bedroom as Jupiter,
with forked lightning zig-zagging out of him into every corner; Mr.
Waddington stooping to climb into his bed, a broad back view with
lightnings blazing out of it.
And it was that moment that Mr. Waddington chose to come in to present
the green jade necklace. He was wearing his canary yellow waistcoat.
Barbara closed her sketch-book hurriedly and laid it on the table. She
kept one arm over it while she received and opened the leather case
where the green necklace lay on its white cushion.
"For _me_? Oh, it's too heavenly. How awfully sweet of you."
"Do you like it, Barbara?"
"I love it."
Compunction stung her when she thought of her drawings, especially the
one where he was getting into bed. She said to herself: "I'll never do
it again. Never again.... And I won't show it to Ralph."
"Put it on," he commanded, "and let me see you in it."
She lifted it from the case. She raised her arms and clasped it round
her neck; she went to the looking-glass. And, after the first rapt