Part 1 out of 6
E-text prepared by Suzanne Shell, Anne Reshnyk, cam, Delphine Lettau, and
the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THE MISSES MALLETT
(The Bridge Dividing)
by E. H. Young
BOOK I ROSE
BOOK II HENRIETTA
BOOK III ROSE AND HENRIETTA
Book I: _Rose_
On the high land overlooking the distant channel and the hills beyond
it, the spring day, set in azure, was laced with gold and green. Gorse
bushes flaunted their colour, larch trees hung out their tassels and
celandines starred the bright green grass in an air which seemed
palpably blue. It made a mist among the trees and poured itself into
the ground as though to dye the earth from which hyacinths would soon
spring. Far away, the channel might have been a still, blue lake, the
hills wore soft blue veils and, like a giant reservoir, the deeper
blue of the sky promised unlimited supplies. There were sheep and
lambs bleating in the fields, birds sang with a piercing sweetness,
and no human being was in sight until, up on the broad grassy track
which branched off from the main road and had the larch wood on one
side and, on the other, rough descending fields, there appeared a
woman on a horse. The bit jingled gaily, the leather creaked, the
horse, smelling the turf, gave a snort of delight, but his rider
restrained him lightly. On her right hand was the open country sloping
slowly to the water; on her left was the stealthiness of the larch
wood; over and about everything was the blue day. Straight ahead of
her the track dipped to a lane, and beyond that the ground rose again
in fields sprinkled with the drab and white of sheep and lambs and
backed by the elm trees of Sales Hall. She could see the chimneys of
the house and the rooks' nests in the elm tops and, as though the
sight reminded her of something mildly amusing, the smoothness of her
face was ruffled by a smile, the stillness of her pose by a quick
glance about her, but if she looked for anyone she did not find him.
There were small sounds from the larch wood, little creakings and
rustlings, but there was no human footstep, and the only visible
movements were made by the breeze in the trees and in the grass, the
flight of a bird and the distant gambolling of lambs.
She rode on down the steep, stony slope into the lane, and after
hesitating for a moment she turned to the right where the lane was
broadened by a border of rich grass and a hedge-topped bank. Here
primroses lay snugly in their clumps of crinkled leaves and, wishing
to feel the coolness of their slim, pale stalks between her fingers,
Rose Mallett dismounted, slipped the reins over her arm and allowed
her horse to feed while she stooped to the flowers. Then, in the full
sunshine, with the soft breeze trying to loosen her hair, with the
flowers in her bare hand, she straightened herself, consciously happy
in the beauty of the day, in the freedom and strength of her body, in
the smell of the earth and the sight of the country she had known and
loved all her life. It was long since she had ridden here without
encountering Francis Sales, who was bound up with her knowledge of the
country, and who, quite evidently, wished to annex some of the love
she lavished on it. This was a ridiculous desire which made her smile
again, yet, while she was glad to be alone, she missed the attention
of his presence. He had developed a capacity, which was like another
sense, for finding her when she rode on his domains or in their
neighbourhood, and she was surprised to feel a slight annoyance at his
absence, an annoyance which, illogically, was increased by the sight
of his black spaniel, the sure forerunner of his master, making his
way through the hedge. A moment later the tall figure of Sales himself
appeared above the budding twigs.
He greeted her in the somewhat sulky manner to which she was
accustomed. He was a young man with a grievance, and he looked at her
as though to-day it were personified in her.
She answered him cheerfully: 'What a wonderful day!'
'The day's all right,' he said.
Holding the primroses to her nose, she looked round. Catkins were
swaying lightly on the willows, somewhere out of sight a tiny runnel
of water gurgled, the horse ate noisily, the grass had a vividness of
green like the concentrated thought of spring.
'I don't see how anything can be wrong this morning,' she said.
'Ah, you're lucky to think so,' he answered, gazing at her clear, pale
'Well,' she turned to ask patiently, 'what is the matter with you?'
'Has a cow died?' And ignoring his angry gesture, she went on: 'I
don't think you take enough care of your property. Whenever I ride
here I find you strolling about miserably, with a dog.'
'That's your fault.'
'I don't quite see why,' she said pleasantly; 'but no doubt you are
right. But has a cow died?'
'Of course not. Why should it?'
'They do, I suppose?'
'It's the old man. He isn't well, and he's badgering me to go away, to
Canada, and learn more about farming.'
'So you should.'
'Of course you'd say so.'
'Or do you think you can't?'
He missed, or ignored, her point. 'He's ill. I don't want to leave
him'; and in a louder voice he added, almost shouted, 'I don't want to
Her grey eyes were watching the swinging catkins, her hand, lifting
the primroses, hid a smile. Again he had the benefit of her profile,
the knot of her dark, thick hair and the shadowy line of her
eyelashes, but she made no comment on his remark and after a moment of
sombre staring he uttered the one word, 'Well?'
'Well, I've told you.'
'Oh, I think you ought to go.'
'Then you don't love me?'
From under her raised eyebrows she looked at him steadily. 'No, I
don't love you,' she said slowly. There was no need to consider her
answer: she was sure of it. She was fond of him, but she could not
romantically love some one who looked and behaved like a spoilt boy.
She glanced from his handsome, frowning face in which the mouth was
opening for protest to a scene perfectly set for a love affair. There
was not so much as a sheep in sight: there was only the horse who,
careless of these human beings, still ate eagerly, chopping the good
grass with his teeth, and the spaniel who panted self-consciously and
with a great affectation of exhaustion. The place was beautiful and
the sunlight had some quality of enchantment. Faint, delicious smells
were offered on the wind and withdrawn in caprice; the trees were all
tipped with green and interlaced with blue air and blue sky; she
wished she could say she loved him, and she repeated her denial half
'Rose,' he pleaded, 'I've known you all my life!'
'Perhaps that's why. Perhaps I know you too well.'
'You don't. You don't know how--how I love you. And I should be
different with you. I should be happy. I've never been happy yet.'
'You can't,' she said slowly, 'get happiness through a person if you
can't get it through yourself.'
'Yes--if you are the person.'
She shook her head. 'I'm sorry. I can't help it.'
He reproached her. 'You've never thought about it.'
'Well, isn't that the same thing? And,' she added, 'you're so far
'I can get through the hedge,' he said practically.
She smiled in the way that always puzzled, irritated and allured him.
His words set him still farther off; he did not even understand her
'Is it better now?' he asked, close to her.
'No, no better.' She looked at his face, so deeply tanned that his
brown hair and moustache looked pale by contrast and his eyes
extraordinarily blue. His appearance always pleased her. It was almost
a part of the landscape, but the landscape was full of change, of
mystery in spite of its familiarity, and she found him dull,
monotonous, with a sort of stupidity which was not without attraction,
but which would be wearying for a whole life. She had no desire to be
his wife and the mistress of Sales Hall, its fields and woods and
farms. The world was big, the possibilities in life were infinite, and
she felt she was fit, perhaps destined, to play a larger part than
this he offered her, and if she could, as she foresaw, only play a
greater one through the agency of some man, she must have that man
colossal, for she was only twenty-three years old.
'No,' she said firmly, 'we are not suited to each other.'
'You are to me.' His angry helplessness seemed to darken the sunlight.
'You are to me. No one else. I've known you all my life. Rose, think
'I shall--but I shan't change. I don't believe you really love me,
Francis, but you want some one you can growl at legitimately. I don't
think you would find me satisfactory. Another woman might enjoy the
He made a wild movement, startling to the horse. 'You don't understand
'Well, then, that ought to settle it. And now I'm going.'
'Don't go,' he pleaded. 'And look here, you might have loosened your
'I might, but I didn't expect to be here so long. I didn't expect to
be so pleasantly entertained.' She put out her hand for his shoulder,
and, bending unwillingly, he received her foot.
'You needn't have said that,' he muttered, 'about being entertained.'
'You're so ungracious, Francis.'
'I can't help it when I care so much.'
From her high seat she looked at him with a sort of envy. 'It must be
rather nice to feel anything deeply enough to make you rude.'
'You torture me,' he said.
She was hurt by the sight of his suffering, she wished she could give
him what he wanted, she felt as though she were injuring a child, yet
her youth resented his childishness: it claimed a passion capable of
overwhelming her. She hardened a little. 'Good-bye,' she said, 'and if
I were you, I should certainly go abroad.'
'I shall!' he threatened her.
'Good-bye, then,' she repeated amiably.
'Don't go,' he begged in a low voice. 'Rose, I don't believe you know
what you are doing, and you've always loved the country, you've always
loved our place. You like our house. You told me once you envied us
'Yes, I love the rookery,' she said.
'And you'd have your own stables and as many horses as you wanted--'
'And milk from our own cows! And home-laid eggs!'
'Ah, you're laughing at me. You always do.'
'So you see,' she said, bending a little towards him, 'I shouldn't
make a very good companion.'
'But I could put up with it from you!' he cried. 'I could put up with
anything from you.'
She made a gesture. That was where he chiefly failed. The colossal
gentleman of her imagination was a tyrant.
* * * * *
She rode home, up and along the track, on to the high road with its
grass borders and across the shadows of the elm branches which striped
the road with black. It was a long road accompanied on one side and
for about two miles by a tall, smooth wall, unscalable, guarding the
privacy of a local magnate's park. It was a pitiless wall, without a
chink, without a roughness that could be seized by hands; it was
higher than Rose Mallett as she sat on her big horse and, but for the
open fields on the other side where lambs jumped and bleated, that
road would have oppressed the spirit, for the wall was a solid witness
to the pride and the power of material possession. Rose Mallett hated
it, not on account of the pride and the power, but because it was
ugly, monstrous, and so inhospitably smooth that not a moss would grow
on it. More vaguely, she disliked it because it set so definite a
limit to her path. She was always glad when she could turn the corner
and, leaving the wall to prolong the side of the right angle it made
at this point, she could take a side road, edging a wooded slope. That
slope made one side of the gorge through which the river ran, and,
looking down through the trees, she caught glimpses of water and a red
scar of rock on the other cliff.
The sound of a steamer's paddles threshing the water came to her
clearly, and the crying of the gulls was so familiar that she hardly
noticed it. And all the way she was thinking of Francis Sales, his
absurdity, his good looks and his distress; but in the permanence of
his distress, even in its sincerity, she did not much believe, for he
had failed to touch anything but her pity, and that failure seemed an
argument against the vehemence of his love. Yet she liked him, she had
always liked him since, as a little girl, she had been taken by her
stepsisters to a haymaking party at Sales Hall.
They had gone in a hired carriage, but one so smart and well-equipped
that it might have been their own, and she remembered the smell of the
leather seats warmed by the sun, the sound of the horse's hoofs and
the sight of Caroline and Sophia, extremely gay in their summer
muslins and shady hats, each holding a lace parasol to protect the
complexion already delicately touched up with powder and rouge. She
had been very proud of her stepsisters as she sat facing them and she
had decided to wear just such muslin dresses, just such hats, when she
grew up. Caroline was in pink with coral beads and a pink feather
drooping on her dark hair; and Sophia, very fair, with a freckle here
and there peeping, as though curious, through the powder, wore yellow
with a big-bowed sash. She was always very slim, and the only fair
Mallett in the family; but even in those days Caroline was inclined to
stoutness. She carried it well, however, with a great dignity,
fortified by reassurances from Sophia, and Rose's recollections of the
conversations of these two was of their constant compliments to each
other and the tireless discussion of clothes. These conversations
still went on.
Fifteen years ago she had sat in that carriage in a white frock, with
socks and ankle-strapped black shoes, her long hair flowing down her
back, and she had heard then, as one highly privileged, the words she
would hear again when she arrived home for tea. Under their tilted
parasols they had made their little speeches. No one was more
distinguished than Caroline; no girl of twenty had a prettier figure
than Sophia's; how well the pink feather looked against Caroline's
hair. Rose, listening intently, but not staring too hard lest her gaze
should attract their attention to herself, had looked at the fields
and at the high, smooth wall, and wondered whether she would rather
reach Sales Hall and enjoy the party, or drive on for ever in this
delightful company, but the carriage turned up the avenue of elms and
Rose saw for the first time the house which Francis Sales now offered
as an attraction. It was a big, square house with honest, square
windows, and the drive, shadowed by the elms, ran through the fields
where the haymaking was in progress. Only immediately in front of the
house were there any flower-beds and there were no garden trees or
shrubs. The effect was of great freedom and spaciousness, of
unaffected homeliness; and even then the odd delightful mixture of
hall and farm, the grandeur of the elm avenue set in the simplicity of
fields, gave pleasure to Rose Mallett's beauty-loving eyes. Anything
might happen in a garden that suddenly became a field, in a field that
ended in a garden, and the house had the same capacity for surprise.
There was a matted hall sunk a foot below the threshold, and to Rose,
accustomed to the delicate order of Nelson Lodge with its slim,
shining, old furniture, its polished brass and gleaming silver, the
comfortable carelessness of this place, with a man's cap on the hall
table, a group of sticks and a pair of slippers in a corner, and an
opened newspaper on a chair, seemed the very home of freedom. It was a
masculine house in which Mrs. Sales, a gentle lady with a fichu of
lace round her soft neck, looked strangely out of place, yet entirely
happy in her strangeness.
On the day of the party Rose had only a glimpse of the interior. The
three Miss Malletts, Caroline sweeping majestically ahead, were led
into the hayfield where Mrs. Sales sat serenely in a wicker chair. It
was evident at once that Mr. Sales, bluff and hearty, with gaitered
legs, was fond of little girls. He realized that this one with the
black hair and the solemn grey eyes would prefer eating strawberries
from the beds to partaking of them with cream from a plate; he knew
without being told that she would not care for gambolling with other
children in the hay; he divined her desire to see the pigs and horses,
and it was near the pigsties that she met Francis Sales. He was tall
for twelve years old and Rose respected him for his age and size; but
she wondered why he was with the pigs instead of with his guests, to
whom his father drove him off with a laugh.
'Says he can't bear parties,' Mr. Sales remarked genially to Rose.
'What do you think of that?'
'I like pigs, too,' Rose answered, to be surprised by his prolonged
Mr. Sales, in the intervals of his familiar conversation with the
pigs, wanted to know why Rose had not brought her father with her.
'Oh, he's too old,' Rose said, rather shocked. Her father had always
seemed old to her, as indeed he was, for she was the child of his
second marriage, and her young mother had died when she was born. Her
stepsisters, devoted to the little girl, and perhaps not altogether
sorry to be rid of a stepmother younger than themselves, had tried to
make up for that loss, but they were much occupied with the social
activities of Radstowe and they belonged to an otherwise inactive
generation, so that if Rose had a grievance it was that they never
played games with her, never ran, or played ball or bowled hoops as
she saw the mothers of other children doing. For such sporting she had
to rely upon her nurse who was of rather a solemn nature and liked
little girls to behave demurely out of doors.
General Mallett saw to it that his youngest daughter early learnt to
ride. Her memories of him were of a big man on a big horse, not
talkative, somewhat stern and sad, becoming companionable only when
they rode out together on the high Downs crowning the old city, and
then he was hardly recognizable as the father who heard her prayers
every night. These two duties of teaching her to ride and of hearing
her pray, and his insistence on her going, as Caroline and Sophia had
done, to a convent school in France, made up, as far as she could
remember, the sum of his interest in her, and when she returned home
from school for the last time, it was to attend his funeral.
She was hardly sorry, she was certainly not glad; she envied the
spontaneous tears of her stepsisters, and she found the lugubriousness
of the occasion much alleviated by the presence of her stepbrother
Reginald. She had hardly seen him since her childhood. Sophia always
spoke of him as she might have spoken of the dead. Caroline sometimes
referred to him in good round terms, sometimes with an indulgent
laugh; and for Rose he had the charm of mystery, the fascination of
the scapegrace. He was handsome, but good looks were a prerogative of
the Malletts; he was married to a wife he had never introduced to his
family and he had a little girl. What his profession was, Rose did not
know. Perhaps his face was his fortune, as certainly his sisters had
been his victims.
After the funeral he had several interviews with Caroline and Sophia,
when Rose could hear the mannish voice of Caroline growing gruff with
indignation and the high tones of Sophia rising to a squeak. He
emerged from these encounters with an angry face and a weak mouth
stubbornly set; but for Rose he had always a gay word or a pretty
speech. She was a real Mallett, he told her; she was more his sister
than the others, and she liked to hear him say so because he had a
kind of grace and a caressing voice, yet the cool judgment which was
never easily upset assured her that a man with his mouth must be in
the wrong. He was, in fact, pursuing his old practice of extracting
money from his sisters, and he only returned, presumably, to his wife
and child, when James Batty, the family solicitor, had been called to
the ladies' aid.
But they both cried when he went away.
'He is so lovable,' Sophia sobbed.
'My dear, he's a rake,' Caroline replied, carefully dabbing her
cheeks. 'All the Malletts are rakes--yes, even the General. Oh, he
took to religion in the end, I know, but that's what they do.' She
chuckled. 'When there's nothing left! I'm afraid I shall take to it
myself some day. I've sown my wild oats, too. Oh, no, I'm not going to
tell Rose anything about them, Sophia. You needn't be afraid, but
she'll hear of them sooner or later from anybody who remembers
Caroline Mallett in her youth.'
Rose had received this confession gravely, but she had not needed the
reassurance of Sophia; 'It isn't so, dear Rose--a flirt, yes, but
never wicked, never! My dear, of course not!'
'Of course not,' Rose repeated. She had already realized that her
stepsisters must be humoured.
* * * * *
Riding slowly, Rose recalled that haymaking party and her gradual
friendship, as the years went by, with the unsociable young Sales, a
friendship which had been tacitly recognized by them both when,
meeting her soon after his mother's death, he had laid his arms and
head on the low stone wall by which they were standing, and wept
without restraint. It was a display she could not have given herself
and it shocked her in a young man, but it left her in his debt. She
felt she owed something to a person who had shown such confidence in
her and though at the time she had been dumb and, as it seemed to her,
far from helpful, she did not forget her liability. However, she could
not remember it to the extent of marrying him; she had always shown
him more kindness than she really felt and, in considering these
things on her way home, she decided that she was still doing as much
as he could expect.
She had by this time turned another corner and the high bridge, swung
from one side of the gorge to the other, was before her. At the toll-house
was the red-faced man who had not altered in the whiteness of a
single hair since she had been taken across the bridge by her nurse
and allowed to peep fearfully through the railings which had towered
like a forest above her head. And the view from the bridge was still
for her a fairy vision.
Seawards, the river, now full and hiding its muddy banks which,
revealed, had their own opalescent beauty, went its way between the
cliffs, clothed on one hand with trees, save for a big red and yellow
gash where the stone was being quarried, and on the other with bare
rock, topped by the Downs spreading far out of sight. Landwards the
river was trapped into docks, spanned by low bridges and made into the
glistening part of a patchwork of water, brick and iron. Red-roofed
old houses, once the haunts of fashion, were clustered near the water
but divided from it now by tram-lines, companion anachronisms to the
steamers entering and leaving the docks, but by the farther shore, one
small strip of river was allowed to flow in its own way, and it
skirted meadows rising to the horizon and carrying with them more of
those noble elms in which the whole countryside was rich.
Her horse's hoofs sounding hollow on the bridge, Rose passed across,
and at the other toll-house door she saw the thin, pale man, with
spectacles on the end of his pointed nose, who had first touched his
hat to her when she rode on a tiny pony by the side of her father on
his big horse. That man was part of her life and she, presumably, was
part of his. He had watched many Upper Radstowe children from the
perambulator stage, and to him she remarked on the weather, as she had
done to the red-faced man at the other end. It was a beautiful day;
they were having a wonderful spring; it would soon be summer, she
said, but on repetition these words sounded false and intensely
dreary. It would soon be summer, but what did that mean to her?
Festivities suited to the season would be resumed in Radstowe. There
would be lawn tennis in the big gardens, and young men in flannels and
girls in white would stroll about the roads and gay voices would be
heard in the dusk. There would be garden-parties, and Mrs. Batty, the
wife of the lawyer, would be lavish with tennis for the young, gossip
for the middle-aged and unlimited strawberries and ices for all. Rose
would be one of the guests at this as at all the parties and, for the
first time, as though her refusal of Francis Sales had had some
strange effect, as though that rejected future had created a distaste
for the one fronting her, she was aghast at the prospect of perpetual
chatter, tea and pretty dresses. She was surely meant for something
better, harder, demanding greater powers. She had, by inheritance,
good manners, a certain social gift, but she had here nothing to
conquer with these weapons. What was she to do? The idea of qualifying
for the business of earning her bread did not occur to her. No female
Mallett had ever done such a thing, and not all the male ones.
Marriage opened the only door, but not marriage with Francis Sales,
not marriage with anyone she knew in Radstowe, and her stepsisters had
no inclination to leave the home of their youth, the scene of their
past successes, for her sake.
Rose sat very straight on her horse, not frowning, for she never
frowned, but wearing rather a set expression, so that an acquaintance,
passing unrecognized, made the usual reflection on the youngest Miss
Mallett's pride, and the pity that one so young should sometimes look
And Rose was wishing that the spring would last for ever, the spring
with its promise of excitement and adventure which would not be
fulfilled, though one was willingly deceived into believing that it
would. Yet she had youth's happy faith in accident: something
breathless and terrific would sweep her, as on the winds of storm, out
of this peaceful, gracious life, this place where feudalism still
survived, where men touched their hats to her as her due. And it was
her due! She raised her head and gave her pale profile to the houses
on one side, the trees and the open spaces of green on the other. And
not because she was a Mallett though it was a name honoured in
Radstowe, but because she was herself. Hats would always be touched to
her, and it was the touchers who would feel themselves complimented in
the act. She knew that, but the knowledge was not much to her; she
wished she could offer homage for a change, and the colossal figure of
her imagination loomed up again; a rough man, perhaps; yes, he might
be rough if he were also great; rough and the scandal of her
As she rode under the flowering trees to the stable where she kept her
horse, she wondered whether she should tell her stepsisters of Francis
Sales's proposal, but she knew she would not do so. She seldom told
them anything they did not know already. They would think it a
reasonable match; they might urge her acceptance; they were anxious
for her to marry, but Caroline, at least, was proud of the inherent
Mallett distaste for the marriage state. 'We're all flirts,' she would
say for the thousandth time. 'We can't settle down, not one of us,'
and holding up a thumb and forefinger and pinching them together, she
would add, 'We like to hold men's hearts like that--and let them go!'
It was great nonsense, Rose thought, but it had the necessary spice of
truth. The Malletts were not easily pleased, and they were not good
givers of anything except gold, the easiest thing to give. Rose wished
she could give the difficult things--love, devotion, and self-sacrifice;
but she could not, or perhaps she had no opportunity. She was fond
of her stepsisters, but her most conscious affection was the one she
felt for her horse.
She left him at the stable and, fastening up her riding-skirt, she
walked slowly home. She had not far to go. A steep street, where
narrow-fronted old houses informed the public that apartments were to
be let within, brought her to the broad space of grass and trees
called The Green, which she had just passed on her horse. Straight
ahead of her was the wide street flanked by houses of which her home
was one--a low white building hemmed in on each side by another and
with a small walled garden in front of it; not a large house, but one
full of character and of quiet self-assurance. Malletts had lived in
it for several generations, long before the opposite houses were
built, long before the road had, lower down, degenerated into a region
of shops. These houses, all rechristened in a day of enthusiasm,
Nelson Lodge, with Trafalgar House, taller, bigger, but not so white,
on one side of it, and Hardy Cottage, somewhat smaller, on the other,
had faced open meadows in General Mallett's boyhood. Round the corner,
facing The Green, were a few contemporaries, and they all had a slight
look of disdain for the later comers, yet no single house was
flagrantly new. There was not a villa in sight and on The Green two
old stone monuments, to long-dead and long-forgotten warriors, kept
company with the old trees under which children were now playing,
while nurses wheeled perambulators on the bisecting paths. The Green
itself sloped upwards until it became a flat-topped hill, once a
British or a Roman camp, and thence the river could be seen between
its rocky cliffs and the woods Rose had lately skirted clothing the
farther side in every shade of green.
She lingered for a moment to watch the children playing, the
nursemaids slowly pushing, the elms opening their crumpled leaves like
babies' hands. She had a momentary desire to stay, to wander round the
hill and look with untired eyes at the familiar scene; but she passed
on under the tyranny of tea. The Malletts were always in time for
meals and the meals were exquisite, like the polish on the old brass
door-knocker, like the furniture in the white panelled hall, like the
beautiful old mahogany in the drawing-room, the old china, the glass
bowls full of flowers.
Rose found Caroline and Sophia there on either side of a small wood
fire, while, facing the fire and spread in a chair not too low and not
too narrow for her bulk, sat Mrs. Batty, flushed, costumed for spring,
her hat a flower garden.
'Just in time,' Caroline said. 'Touch the bell, please, Sophia.'
'Susan saw me,' Rose said, and the elderly parlourmaid entered at that
moment with the teapot.
'Rose insists on having a latchkey,' Sophia explained. 'What would the
General have said?'
'What, indeed!' Caroline echoed. 'Young rakes are always old prudes.
Yes, the General was a rake, Sophia; you needn't look so modest. I
think I understand men.'
'Yes, yes, Caroline, no one better, but we are told to honour our
father and mother.'
'And I do honour him,' Caroline guffawed, 'honour him all the more.'
She had a deep voice and a deep laugh; she ought, she always said, to
have been a man, but there was nothing masculine about her appearance.
Her dark hair, carefully tinted where greyness threatened, was piled
in many puffs above a curly fringe: on the bodice of her flounced silk
frock there hung a heavy golden chain and locket; ear-rings dangled
from her large ears; there were rings on her fingers, and powder and a
hint of rouge on her face.
She laughed again. 'Mrs. Batty knows I'm right.'
Mrs. Batty's tightly gloved hand made a movement. She was a little in
awe of the Miss Malletts. With them she was always conscious of her
inferior descent. No General had ever ornamented her family, and her
marriage with James Batty had been a giddy elevation for her, but she
was by no means humble. She had her place in local society: she had a
fine house in that exclusive part of Radstowe called The Slope, and
her husband was a member of the oldest firm of lawyers in the city.
'You are very naughty, Miss Caroline,' she said, knowing that was the
remark looked for. She gave a little nod of her flower-covered head.
'And we've just got to put up with them, whatever they are.'
'Yes, yes, poor dears,' Sophia murmured. 'They're different, they
can't help it.'
'Nonsense,' Caroline retorted, 'they're just the same, there's nothing
to choose between me and Reginald--nothing except discretion!'
'Oh, Caroline dear!' Sophia entreated.
'Discretion!' Caroline repeated firmly, and Mrs. Batty, bending
forward stiffly because of her constricting clothes, and with a creak
and rustle, ventured to ask in low tones, 'Have you any news of Mr.
Mallett lately?' The three elder ladies murmured together; Rose,
indifferent, concerned with her own thoughts, ate a creamy cake. This
was one of the conversations she had heard before and there was no
need for her to listen.
She was roused by the departure of Mrs. Batty.
'Poor thing,' Caroline remarked as the door closed. 'It's a pity she
has no daughter with an eye for colour. The roses in her hat were pale
in comparison with her face. Why doesn't she use a little powder,
though I suppose that would turn her purple, and after all, she does
very well considering what she is; but why, why did James Batty marry
her? And he was one of our own friends! You remember the sensation at
the time, Sophia?'
Sophia remembered very well. 'She was a pretty girl, Caroline, and
good-natured. She has lost her looks, but she still has a kind heart.'
'Personally I would rather keep my looks,' said Caroline, touching her
fringe before the mirror. 'And I never had a kind heart to cherish.'
Tenderly Sophia shook her head. 'It isn't true,' she whispered to
Rose. 'The kindest in the world. It's just her way.'
Rose nodded understanding; then she stood up, tall and slim in her
severe clothes, her high boots. The gilt clock on the mantelpiece said
it was only five o'clock. There were five more hours before she could
reasonably go to bed.
'Where did you ride to-day, dear?' Sophia asked.
'Over the bridge.' And to dissipate some of her boredom, she added, 'I
met Francis Sales. He thinks of going abroad.'
There was an immediate confusion of little exclamations and a chatter.
'Going abroad? Why?'
'To learn farming.'
'Oh, dear,' Sophia sighed, 'and we thought--we hoped--'
'She must do as she likes,' Caroline said, and Rose smiled. 'The
Malletts don't care for marrying. Look at us, free as the air and with
plenty of amusing memories. In this world nobody gets more than that,
and we have been saved much trouble. Don't marry, my dear Rose.'
'You're assuming a good deal,' Rose said.
'But Rose is not like us,' Sophia protested. 'We have each other, but
we shall die before she does and leave her lonely. She ought to marry,
Caroline; we ought to have more parties. We are not doing our duty.'
'Parties! No!' Rose said. 'We have enough of them. If you threaten me
with more I shall go into a convent.'
Caroline laughed, and Sophia sighed again. 'That would be beautiful,'
'Sophia, how dare you?'
Sophia persisted mildly: 'So romantic--a young girl giving up all for
God;' and Caroline gave the ribald laugh on which she prided herself--
a shocking sound. 'Rose Mallett,' Sophia went on, so lost in her
vision that the jarring laughter was not heard, 'such a pretty name--a
nun! She would never be forgotten: people would tell their children.
Sister Rose!' She developed her idea. 'Saint Rose! It's as pretty as
'Sophia, you're in your dotage,' Caroline cried. 'A Mallett and a nun!
Well, she could pray for the rest of us, I suppose.'
'But I would rather you were married, dear,' Sophia said serenely.
'And we have known the Sales all our lives. It would have been so
'So dull!' Rose murmured.
'And we need praying for,' Caroline said. 'You'd be dull either way,
Rose. Have your fling, as I did. I've never regretted it. I was the
talk of Radstowe, wasn't I, Sophia? There was never a ball where I was
not looked for, and when I entered the ballroom'--she gave a display
of how she did it--'there was a rush of black coats and white shirts--
a mob--I used just to wave them all away--like that. Oh, yes, Sophia,
you were a belle, too--'
'But never as you were, Caroline.'
'You were admired for yourself, Sophia, but with me it was curiosity.
They only wanted to hear what I should say next. I had a tongue like a
lash! They were afraid of it.'
'Yes, yes,' Sophia said hastily, and she glanced at Rose, afraid of
meeting scepticism in her clear young eyes; but though Rose was
smiling it was not in mockery. She was thinking of her childhood when,
like a happier Cinderella, she had seen her stepsisters, in satins and
laces, with pendant fans and glittering jewels, excited, rustling,
with little words of commendation for each other, setting out for the
evening parties of which they never tired. They had always kissed her
before they went, looking, she used to think, as beautiful as
'And men like what they fear,' Caroline added.
'Yes, dear,' Sophia said. A natural flush appeared round the delicate
dabs of rouge. She hoped she might be forgiven for her tender deceits.
Those young men in the white waistcoats had often laughed at Caroline
rather than at her wit; she was, as Sophia had shrinkingly divined, as
often as not their butt, and dear Caroline had never known it; she
must never know it, never know it. She drew half her happiness from
the past, as, so differently, Sophia did herself, and, drooping a
little, her thoughts went farther back to the last year of her teens
when a pale and penniless young man had been her secret suitor, had
gone to America to make his fortune there--and died. She had told no
one; Caroline would have scorned him because he was shy and timid, and
he had not had time to earn enough to keep her; he had not had time.
She had a faded photograph of him pushed away at the back of a drawer
of the walnut bureau in the bedroom she shared with Caroline, a pale
young man wearing a collar too large for his thin neck, a young man
with kind, honest eyes. It was a grief to her that she could not wear
that photograph in a locket near her heart, but Caroline would have
found out. They had slept in the same bed since they were children,
and nothing could be hidden from her except the love she still
cherished in her heart. Some day she meant to burn that photograph
lest unsympathetic hands should touch it when she died; but death
still seemed far off, and sometimes, even while she was talking to
Caroline, she would pretend to rummage in the drawer, and for a moment
she would close her hand upon the photograph to tell him she had not
forgotten. She loved her little romance, and the gaiety in which she
had persisted, even on the day when she heard of his death and which
at first had seemed a necessary but cruel disloyalty, had become in
her mind the tenderest of concealments, as though she had wrapped her
secret in beauty, laughter, music and shining garments.
'Oh, yes, dear Rose,' she said, lifting her head, 'you must be
The outward life of the Mallett household was elegant and ordered.
Footsteps fell quietly on the carpeted stairs and passages; doors were
quietly opened and closed. The cook and the parlourmaid were old and
trusted servants; the house and kitchen maids were respectable young
women fitting themselves for promotion, and their service was given
with the thoroughness and deference to which the Malletts were
accustomed. In the whole house there was hardly an object without
beauty or tradition, the notable exception being the portrait of
General Mallett which hung above the Sheraton sideboard in the
dining-room, a gloomy daub, honoured for the General's sake.
From the white panelled hall, the staircase with its white banisters
and smooth mahogany rail led to a square landing which branched off
narrowly on two sides, and opening from the square were the bedroom
occupied by Rose, the one shared by her stepsisters and the one which
had been Reginald's. This room was never used, but it was kept, like
everything else in that house, in a state of cleanliness and polish,
ready for his arrival. He might come: if he needed money badly enough
he would come, and in spite of the already considerable depletion of
their capital, Caroline and Sophia lived in hope of hearing his
impatient assault of the door-knocker, the brass head of a lion
holding a heavy ring in his mouth. Rose, too, wished he would come,
but that last interview with the lawyer Batty had been more successful
than anyone but the lawyer himself had wished, and there was no knock,
no letter, no news.
The usual life of parties, calls and concerts continued without any
excitement but that felt by Caroline and Sophia in the getting of new
clothes, the refurbishing of old ones, the hearing of the latest
gossip, the reading of the latest novel. Sophia sometimes apologized
for the paper-backed books lying about the drawing-room by saying that
she and dear Caroline liked to keep up their French, but Caroline
loudly proclaimed her taste for salacious literature. She had a
reputation to keep up and she liked to shock her friends; but
everything was forgiven to Miss Mallett, the more readily, perhaps,
after Sophia's reassuring whisper, 'They are really charming books,
quite beautiful, nothing anybody could disapprove of. Why, there is
hardly an episode to make one shrink, though, of course, the French
are different,' and the Radstowe ladies would nod over their tea and
say, 'Of course, quite different!'
But Caroline, suspecting that murmured explanation, had been known to
call out in her harsh voice, 'It's no good asking Sophia about them.
She simply doesn't understand the best bits! She is _jeune fille_
still, she always will be!' Sophia, blushing a little, would feel
herself richly complimented, and the ladies laughed, Mrs. Batty
uncertainly, having no acquaintance with the French language.
Rose read steadily through all the books in the house and gained a
various knowledge which left her curiously untouched. She studied
music, and liked it better than anything else because it roused
emotions otherwise unobtainable, yet she did not care much for the
emotional kind. Perhaps her intensest feeling was the desire to feel
intensely, but being half ashamed of this desire she rarely dwelt on
it; she pursued her way, calm and aloof and proud. She was beautiful
and found pleasure in the contemplation of herself, and though she did
not discuss her appearance as her stepsisters discussed theirs, she
spent a good deal of time on it and much money on her plain but
perfect clothes. All three had more money than they needed, but Rose
was richer than the others, having inherited her mother's little
fortune as well as her share of what the General had left. She was, as
Caroline often told her with a hit at that gentleman's unnecessary
impartiality, a very desirable match. 'But they're afraid of you, my
dear; they were afraid of me, but I amused them, while you simply look
as if they were not there. Of course, that's attractive in its way,
and one must follow one's own line, but it takes a brave man to come
up to the scratch.'
'Caroline, what an expression!'
'Well, I want a brave man,' Rose said, 'if I want one at all.'
Caroline turned on Sophia. 'What's language for except to express
oneself? You're out of date, Sophia; you always were, and I've always
been ahead of my time. Now, Rose,'--these personalities were dear to
Caroline--'Rose belongs to no time at all. That frightens them. They
don't understand. You can't imagine a Radstowe young man making love
to the Sphinx. They were more daring when I was young. Look at
Reginald! Look at the General!'
'It was his profession,' Rose remarked.
'Yes, I suppose that's what he told himself when he married your
mother, a mere girl, no older than myself, but he was afraid of her
and adored her. I believe men always like their second wives best--
they're flattered at succeeding in getting two. I know men. Our own
mother was pious and made him go to church, but with your mother he
looked as if he were in a temple all the time. Those big, stern men
are always managed by their women; it's the thin men with weak legs
who really go their own way.'
'Caroline,' Sophia sighed, 'I don't know how you think of such things.
Is that an epigram?'
'I don't know,' Caroline said, 'but I shouldn't be surprised.'
Smiling in her mysterious way, Rose left the room, and Sophia,
slightly pink with anxiety, murmured, 'Caroline, there's no one in
Radstowe really fit for her. Don't you think we ought to go about,
perhaps to London, or abroad?'
'I'm not going to budge,' Caroline said. 'I love my home and I don't
believe in matchmaking, I don't believe in marriage. It wouldn't do
her any good, but if you feel like that, why don't you exploit her
'Oh--exploit! Certainly not! And you know I couldn't leave you.'
'Then don't talk nonsense,' Caroline said, and the life at Nelson
Lodge went on as before.
Every day Rose rode out, sometimes early in the morning on the Downs
when nobody was about and she had them to herself, but oftener across
the bridge into the other county where the atmosphere and the look of
things were immediately different, softer, more subtle yet more
exhilarating. She went there now with no fear of meeting Francis
Sales. He had gone to Canada without another word, and his absence
made him interesting for the first time. If she had not been bored in
a delicate way of her own which left no mark but an expression of
impassivity she would not have thought of him at all; but the days
went by and summer passed into autumn and autumn was threatened by
winter, with so little change beyond the coming and going of flowers
and leaves and birds, that her mind began to fix itself on a man who
loved her to the point of disgust and departure; and to her love of
the country round about Sales Hall was added a tender half-ironic
Once or twice she rode up to the Hall itself and paid a visit to Mr.
Sales who, crippled by rheumatism and half suffocated by asthma,
was hardly recognizable as the man who had shown her the pigs long
ago. In the little room called the study, where there was not a single
book, or in the big clear drawing-room of pale chintzes and faded,
gilt-framed water-colours, he entertained her with the ceremony due
to a very beautiful and dignified young woman, producing the latest
letter from his son and reading extracts from it. Sometimes there was a
photograph of Francis on a horse, Francis with a dog, or Francis at a
steam plough or other agricultural machine, but these she only
pretended to examine. She had not the least desire to see how he
looked, for in these last months she had made a picture of her own and
she would not have it overlaid by any other. It was a game of
pretence; she knew she was wasting her time; she had her youth and
strength and money and limitless opportunity for wide experience, but
her very youth, and the feeling that it would last for ever, made her
careless of it. There was plenty of time, she could afford to waste
it, and gradually that occupation became a habit, almost an
absorption. She warned herself that she must shake it off, but the
effort would leave her very bare, it would rob her of the fairy cloak
which made her inner self invisible, and she clung to it, secure in
her ability to be rid of it if she chose.
Her intellect made no mistake about Francis Sales, but her
imagination, finding occupation where it could, began to endow him
with romance, and that scene among the primroses, the startlingly
green grass, the pervading blue of the air, the horse so indifferent
to the human drama, the dog trying to understand it, became the
salient event of her life because it had awakened her capacity for
She did not love him, she could never love him, but he had loved her,
angrily, and, in retrospect, the absurd manner of his proposal had a
charm. She would have given much to know whether his feeling for her
persisted. From the letters read wheezily by Mr. Sales and sometimes
handed to her to read for herself, she learnt so little that she was
the freer to create a great deal and, riding home, she would break
into astonished inward laughter. Rose Mallett playing a game of
sentiment! And, crossing the bridge and passing through the streets
where she was known to every second person, she had pleasure in the
conviction that no one could have guessed what absurdity went on
behind the pale, impassive face, what secret and unsuspected amusement
she enjoyed; a little comedy of her own! The unsuitability of Francis
Sales for the part of hero supplied most of the humour and saved her
from loss of dignity. The thing was obviously absurd; she had never
cared for dolls, but in her young womanhood she was finding amusement
in the manipulation of a puppet.
The death of Mr. Sales in the cold March of the next year shocked her
from her game. She was sorry he had gone, for she had always liked
him, and he seemed to have taken with him the little girl who was fond
of pigs, and while Caroline and Sophia mourned the loss of an old
friend, Rose was faced with the certainty of his son's return. She
would have to stop her ridiculous imaginings, she must pretend she had
never had them for, when she saw him as flesh and blood, her game
would be ruined and she would be shamed. The imminence of his arrival
reminded her of his dullness, his handsome, sullen face and, more
tenderly, of those tears which had put her so oddly in his debt. But
she had no difficulty in casting away the false image she had made.
She was, she found, glad to be rid of it; she liked to feel herself
delivered of a weakness.
But she need not have been in such a hurry, for it was some months
before the man who brought the milk from Sales Hall also brought the
news that the master was returning. This information was handed to
Caroline and Sophia with their early tea.
Sitting up in bed and looking grotesquely terrible, they discussed the
event. Caroline, like Medusa, but with hair curlers instead of snakes
sprouting from her head, and Sophia with her heavy plait hanging over
her shoulder and defying with its luxuriance the yellowness of her
skin, they sat side by side, propped up with pillows, inured to the
sight of each other in undress.
'He has come back!' Sophia said ecstatically. 'Perhaps after all--'
'Oh, nonsense!' Caroline said as usual, 'she's meant for better
things. My dear, she was born for a great affair. She ought to be the
mistress of a king. Yes, something of that kind, with her looks, her
'But there are no kings in Radstowe,' Sophia said, 'and I don't think
you ought to say such things.'
'It's my way. You ought to know that. And I can't control my tongue
any more than Reginald can control his body.'
'And I don't want to. We're all wrapped up in cotton-wool nowadays. I
ought to have lived in another century. I, too, would have adorned a
court, and kept it lively! There's no wit left in the world, and
there's no wickedness of the right kind. We might as well be
Nonconformists at once.'
'Certainly not,' Sophia said firmly. 'Certainly not that.'
'But as you so cleverly remind me, there are no kings in Radstowe.
There's not even,' she added with a mocking smile which made her face
gay in a ghastly way, 'not even a foreign Count who would turn out an
impostor. Rose would do very well there, too. An imitation foreign
Count with a black moustache and no money! She would be magnificent
and tragic. Imagine them at Monte Carlo, keeping it up! She would hate
him, grandly; she would hate herself for being deceived; she would
never lose her dignity. You can't picture Rose with a droop or a tear.
They'd trail about the Continent and she would never come back.'
'But we don't want her to go away at all,' Sophia cried.
'And when she came to the point of being afraid of murdering him, she
would leave him without any fuss and live alone and mysterious
somewhere in the South of France, or Italy, or Spain. Yes, Spain.
There must be real Counts there and she would get her love affair at
'But she would still be married.'
'Of course!' Caroline, looking roguish, was terrible. 'That is
necessary for a love affair, _ma chere_.'
'I would much rather she married Francis Sales and came to see us
every week. Or any other nice young man in Radstowe. She would never
marry beneath her.'
'On the contrary,' Caroline remarked, 'she's bound to marry beneath
her--not in class, Sophia, not in class, though in Radstowe that's
possible, too. Look at the Battys! But certainly in brains and
Sophia, clinging to her own idea, repeated plaintively, 'I would
rather it were Francis Sales, and he must be lonely in that big
It appeared, however, that he was not to be lonely, for Susan,
entering with hot water, let fall in her discreet, impersonal way,
another piece of gossip. 'John Gibbs says they think Mr. Francis must
be bringing home a wife, Miss Caroline. He's having some of the rooms
'Ah!' said Caroline, and her plump elbow pressed Sophia's. 'Which
rooms, I wonder?'
'I did not inquire, Miss Caroline.'
'Then kindly inquire this afternoon, and tell him the butter is
deteriorating, but inquire first or you'll get nothing out of him.'
She turned with malicious triumph to Sophia. 'So that dream's over!'
'We shall have to break it to her gently,' Sophia said; 'but it may
not be true.'
In the dining-room over which the General's portrait tried, and
failed, to preside, as he himself had done in life, and where he was
conquered by an earlier and a later generation, by the shining
eloquence of the old furniture and silver and the living flesh and
blood of his children, Caroline gave Rose the news without, Sophia
thought, a spark of delicacy.
'They say Francis Sales is bringing home a wife.'
'Really?' Rose said, taking toast.
'He has sent orders for part of the house to be done up.'
Rose raised her eyes. 'Ah, she's hurt,' Sophia thought, but Rose
merely said, 'If he touches the drawing-room or the study I shall
never forgive him'; and then, thoughtfully, she added, 'but he won't
touch the drawing-room.'
'H'm, he'll do what his wife tells him, I imagine. No girl will
appreciate Mrs. Sales's washy paintings.'
'Rose would,' Sophia sighed.
'Yes, I do,' Rose said cheerfully. She was too cheerful for Sophia's
romantic little theory, but an acuter audience would have found her
too cheerful for herself. She had overdone it by half a tone, but the
exaggeration was too fine for any ears but her own. She was, as a
matter of fact, in the grip of a violent anger. She was not the kind
of woman to resent the new affections of a rejected lover, but she
had, through her own folly, attached herself to Francis Sales, as,
less unreasonably, his tears had once attached him to her, and the
immaterial nature of the bond composed its strength. Consciously
foolish as her thoughts had been, they became at that breakfast table,
with the water bubbling in the spirit kettle and the faint crunch of
Caroline eating toast, intensely real, and she was angry both with
herself and with his unfaithfulness. She did not love him--how could
she?--but he belonged to her; and now, if this piece of gossip turned
out to be true, she must share him with another. Jealousy, in its
usual sense, she had none as yet, but she had forged a chain she was
to find herself unable to break. It was her pride to consider herself
a hard young person, without spirituality, without sentiment, yet all
her personal relationships were to be of the fantastic kind she now
experienced, all her obligations such as others would have ignored.
'We shall know more when John Gibbs brings the afternoon milk,'
Rose went upstairs and left her stepsisters to their repetitions. Her
window looked out on the little walled front garden and the broad
street. Tradesmen's carts went by without hurry, ladies walked out
with their dogs, errand-boys loitered in the sun, and presently
Caroline and Sophia went down the garden path, Caroline sailing
majestically like a full-rigged ship, Sophia with her girlish,
tripping gait. They put up their sunshades, and sailed out on what
was, in effect, a foraging expedition. They were going to collect the
Outside the gate, they were hidden by the wall, but for a little while
Rose could hear Caroline's loud voice. Without doubt she was talking
of Francis Sales, unless she were asking Sophia if her hat, a large
one with pink roses, really became her. Rose knew it all so well, and
she closed her eyes for a moment in weariness. Suddenly she felt tired
and old; the flame of her anger had died down, and for that moment she
allowed herself to droop. She found little comfort in the fact that
she alone knew of her folly, and calling it folly no longer justified
it. She, too, had been rejected, more cruelly than had Francis Sales,
for she had given him something of her spirit. And she had liked to
imagine him far away, thinking of her and of her beauty; she had
fancied him remembering the scene among the primroses and continuing
to adore her in his sulky, inarticulate way. Well, he would think of
her no more, but she was subtly bound to him, first by his need, and
now, against all reason, by her thoughts. She had already learnt that
time, which sometimes seems so swift and heartless, is also slow and
kind. Her feelings would lose their intensity; she only had to wait,
and she waited with that outward impassivity which did not spoil her
beauty; it suited the firm modelling of her features, the creamy
whiteness of her skin, the clear grey eyes under the straight dark
eyebrows, and the lips bent into the promise of a smile.
Caroline and Sophia waited differently, first for the afternoon milk
and the information they wanted and, during the next weeks, for the
rumours which slowly developed into acknowledged facts. The
housekeeper at Sales Hall had heard from the young master: he was
married and returning immediately with his wife. Caroline sniffed and
hoped the woman was respectable; Sophia was charitably certain she
would be a charming girl; and Rose, knowing she questioned one of the
life occupations of her stepsisters, said coolly, 'Why speculate? We
shall see her soon. We must go and call.'
'Of course,' Caroline said, and Sophia, with her fixed idea, which was
right in the wrong way, said gently, 'If you're sure you want to go,
'Me?' asked Caroline.
'No, no, I was thinking of Rose.'
'Nonsense!' Caroline said, 'we're all going'; and Rose reassured
Sophia with perfect truth, 'I have been longing to see her for weeks.'
So it came about that the three sisters once more sat in a hired
carriage and drove to Sales Hall. On the box was the son of the man
who had driven them years ago, and though the carriage was a new one
and the old horse had long been metamorphosed into food for the wild
animals in the Radstowe Zoo, this expedition was in many ways a
repetition of the other. Caroline and Sophia faced the horses and Rose
sat opposite her stepsisters, but now she did not listen to their talk
with ears stretched, not to miss a word, and she did not think her
companions as beautiful as princesses. It was she who might have been
a princess for another child, but she did not think of that. She
looked with amusement and with misplaced pity at the other two. It was
a September afternoon and they were very gaily dressed, and again
Caroline had a feather drooping over her hair, while Sophia, more
girlish, wore a wide hat with a blue bow, and both their parasols were
tilted as before against the sun. It seemed to Rose that even the cut
of their garments had not changed with time. The two had always the
appearance of fashion plates of twenty years ago, but no doubt of
their correctness ever entered their minds; and so they managed to
preserve their elegance, as though their belief in themselves were
strong enough to impose it on those who saw them. Without this faith,
the severity of Rose's black dress, filmy enough for the season but
daringly plain, must have rebuked them. The pearls in her ears and on
her neck were her only ornaments; her little hat, wreathed with a
cream feather, shaded her brow. She sat with the repose which was one
of her gifts.
'I'm sure we all look very nice,' Caroline said suddenly, the very
remark she had made when they went to the haymaking party, 'though you
do look rather like a widow, Rose--a widow, getting over it very
comfortably, as they do--as they do!'
'I'm glad I look so interesting,' Rose murmured.
'Oh, interesting, always. Yes.'
They were jogging along the road bordered by the high smooth wall,
despairingly efficient, guarding treasures bought with gold; and the
tall elm-trees looked over it as though they wanted to escape. The
murmuring in their branches seemed to be of discontent, and the birds
singing in them had a taunting note. The road mounted a little and the
wall went with it, backed by the imprisoned trees. But at last, at the
cross-roads, the wall turned and the road went on without it. There
were open fields now on either hand, the property of Francis Sales,
and another mile brought the carriage to the opening of the grassy
track where Rose liked to think she had left her youth, but the road
went round on the other side of the larch woods, and when these were
passed Sales Hall came into sight.
'I always think,' Caroline said, 'it's a pity this beautiful avenue
hasn't a better setting. Mere fields, and open to the road! It's
undignified. It ought to have been a park.'
'With a high wall all round it,' Rose suggested.
'Exactly,' Caroline agreed. She was touching her fringe, giving little
pats and pulls to her dress, preparatory to descent, and Sophia
whispered, 'Just see, Caroline, that wisp of hair near my ear--so
tiresome! I can never be sure of it.'
'Not a sign of it,' Caroline assured her. 'Now I wonder what we are
going to find.'
They found the drawing-room empty and untouched. On the pale walls the
water-colours were still hanging, the floral carpet still covered the
floor, the faded chintzes had not been removed, and the light came
clearly through the long windows with their pale primrose curtains. In
the middle of the room was the circular settee to seat four persons,
back to back, with a little woolwork stool set for each pair of feet.
There were no flowers in the room, and they were not needed, for the
room itself was like some pale, scentless and old-fashioned bloom.
The three Miss Malletts sat down: Caroline gay and aggressive as a
parrot, and a parrot in a big gilded cage would not have been out of
place; Sophia fitting naturally into the gentle scheme of things; Rose
startlingly modern in her elegance.
'Well,' Caroline said, 'she's a long time. Changing her dress, I
expect,' and she sniffed. But Mrs. Francis Sales entered in a pink
cotton garment, her fair, curling hair a little untidy, for she had,
she said, been in the old walled garden behind the house. There was,
in fact, a rose hanging from her left hand. She was pretty, she seemed
artless and defenceless, but her big blue eyes had a wary look, and in
spite of that look spoiling an otherwise ingenuous countenance, Rose
imagined herself noticeably old and mature. She thought it was no
wonder that Francis was attracted, but at the same time she despised
him for a failure in taste, as though, faced with the choice between a
Heppelwhite chair and an affair of wicker and cretonne, he had chosen
the inferior article, though she had to admit that, for a permanent
seat, it might be more comfortable and certainly more yielding.
But as she watched Mrs. Sales presiding over the teacups, her scared
eyes moving swiftly from the parlourmaid, entering with cakes, to
Caroline, and from Caroline to Sophia, and then with added shyness to
the woman nearest her own age, Rose found her opinion changing. Mrs.
Francis Sales was timid, but she was not weak; the fair fluffiness of
her exterior was deceptive; and while Rose made this discovery and now
and then dropped a quiet word into the chatter of the others, she was
listening for Francis. He had been with his wife in the garden, but he
was some time in following her, and Rose knew that Mrs. Sales was
listening, too. She wondered whose ear first caught the sound of his
feet on the matted passage; she felt an absurd inward tremor and,
looking at Mrs. Sales, she saw that her pretty pink colour had
deepened and her blue eyes were bright, like flowers. She was
certainly charming in her simple frock, but her unsuitable shoes with
very high heels and sparkling buckles hurt Rose's eye as much as the
voice, also high and slightly grating, hurt her ear, and this voice
sharpened nervously as it said, 'Oh, here is Francis coming.'
No, he was not the person of Rose's dreams, and she felt an immense
relief: she had expected to be disappointed, but she was glad to find
the old Francis, big, bronzed and handsome, smelling of the open air
and tobacco and tweed, and no dangerous, disturbing, heroic figure.
For an instant he looked at Rose before he greeted the elder ladies,
and then, as Rose let her hand touch his and pleasantly said, 'How are
you?' she experienced a faint, almost physical shock. He was different
after all, and now she did not know whether to be glad or sorry.
Unchanged, she need not have given him another thought; subtly
altered, she was bound to probe into the how and why. He sat beside
her on the old-fashioned couch with a curled head, and his thirteen
stone descending heavily on the springs sent up her light weight with
a perceptible jerk.
'Clumsy boy!' Mrs. Sales exclaimed playfully.
Rose laughed. 'It's like the old see-saw. I was always in the air and
you on the ground. Is it there still--near the pigsties?'
'Yes, still there.' But this threatened to become too exclusive a
conversation, and Rose tried to do her share in more general topics.
Caroline, talking of the advantage of Radstowe, regretting the greater
gaiety of the past, when Sophia and she were belles, was adding
gratuitous advice on the management of husbands and some information
on the ways of men. Mrs. Sales laughed and glanced now and then at
Francis, but whether he responded Rose could not see, unless she
turned her head. He ought certainly to have been smiling at so pretty
a person, wrinkling his eyes in the way he had and straightening the
mouth which was sullen in repose. Yet she was almost sure he was doing
the minimum demanded of politeness, almost sure he was thinking of
herself and was conscious of her nearness, just as she, for the first
time, was physically conscious of his.
She rose, saying, 'May I look out of the window? I always liked this
view of the garden.' And having gazed out and made the necessary
remarks, she sat down, separated from him by the width of the room and
with her back to the light, a strategical position she ought to have
taken up before. But here she was at the disadvantage of facing him
and a scrutiny of which she had not thought him capable. With his legs
stretched out, his hands in his pockets, his eyes apparently half shut
but unquestionably fixed on her, he was really behaving rather badly.
She had never been stared at like this before and she told herself
that under the shelter of his marriage he had grown daring, if not
insolent; but at the same time she knew she was not telling herself
the truth: he was simply in the position of a thirsty man who has at
last found a stream. It appeared, then, that his wife did not
sufficiently quench his thirst.
Rose carefully did not look his way, but she experienced an altogether
new excitement, the very ancient one of desiring to taste forbidden
fruit simply because it was forbidden; this particular fruit, as such,
had no special charm; but she was born a Mallett and the half-sister
of Reginald. She had, however, as he had not, a substantial basis of
personal pride and a love of beauty which was at least as effectual as
a moral principle and she had not Francis's excuse for his behaviour.
She believed he did not know what he was doing; but she was entirely
clear-sighted as to herself and she refused to encourage the silent
intercourse which had established itself between them.
Caroline was in the midst of a piece of gossip, Sophia was
interjecting exclamations of moderation and reproach, and Mrs. Sales
was manifestly amused. Her chromatic giggle was as punctual as
Sophia's reproof, and Rose drew closer to the group made by the three,
and said, 'I'm missing Caroline's story. Which one is it?' And now it
was Francis who laughed.
'It's finished,' Caroline said. 'Don't tell your husband, at least
till we have gone--and we ought to go at once.'
But the coachman was not on the box. He had been invited to take tea
in the kitchen.
'We won't disturb him,' Sophia said. 'No, Caroline, let him have his
tea. We ought to encourage teetotal drinking in his class. Perhaps
Mrs. Sales will let us go round the garden. I am so fond of flowers.'
'Come and look at the pigsties,' Francis said to Rose, but, assuring
him she had grown too old for pigs, she followed the rest.
The walled garden had a beautiful disorder. A grey kitten and a white
puppy sat together on the grass, enjoying the sunshine and each
other's company and pretending to be asleep; and though the kitten
displayed no interest in the visitors, holding its personality of more
importance than anything else, the puppy jumped up, barked, and rushed
at each person in turn. Caroline, picking up her skirts and showing
the famous Mallett ankle, said, 'Go away, dog!' in a severe tone, and
the puppy rolled on the grass to show that he did not care and could
not by any possibility be snubbed. Under an apple-tree on which the
fruit was ripening were two cane chairs, a table, a newspaper and a
'This is my favourite place,' Mrs. Sales said to Rose. 'I hate that
drawing-room, and Francis won't have it touched. But I've got a
boudoir that's lovely. He sent an order to the best shop and had it
ready for a surprise, so if I'm not out of doors I sit there. Would
you like to see it?'
'I should, very much,' Rose said.
'Then come quickly while the others are eating those plums off the
Rose looked back. 'I can't think what Sophia will do with the stone,'
she murmured, smiling her faint smile.
Mrs. Sales was puzzled by this remark. 'Oh, she'll manage, won't she?
You don't want to help her, do you?'
'No, I don't want to help her.'
'Come along, then.'
Rose saw the boudoir, a little room half-way up the stairs. 'It's
Louis something,' said Mrs. Sales, 'but all the same, I think it's
sweet, and pink's my favourite colour. Francis thought of that. I was
wearing pink when I first met him.'
'I see,' Rose said. 'Was that long ago?'
'Only three months. I think we both fell in love at the same minute,
and that's nice, isn't it? I know I'm going to be happy, but I do hope
I shan't be dull. We're a big family at home. I'm English,' she added
a little anxiously, 'but my father settled there.'
'I don't think you should be dull,' Rose said. 'Everybody in Radstowe
will call on you, and there are lots of parties. And then there's
'Yes,' said Mrs. Sales. Her eyes left Rose's face, to return a little
wider, a little warier. 'Do you hunt too?'
'As often as I can. I only have one horse.'
'Francis says I am to have two.'
'And they will be good ones. He likes hunting and horses better than
anything else, I suppose.'
'But he mustn't neglect the farm,' his wife said firmly, and she added
slowly, 'I don't know that I need two horses, really. I haven't ridden
much, and there's a lot to do in the house. I don't believe in people
being out all day.'
'Well, you can't hunt all the year round, you know.'
Mrs. Sales let out a sigh so faint that most people would have missed
it. 'It will be beginning soon, won't it?'
'It feels a long way off in weather like this,' Rose said. 'But they
are getting into the carriage. I must go.'
Mrs. Sales lingered for an instant. 'I do hope we're going to be
friends.' This was more than a statement, it was a request, and Rose
shrank from it; but she said lightly, 'We shall be meeting often. You
will see more of us than you will care for, I'm afraid. The Malletts
are rather ubiquitous in Radstowe. It's fortunate for us, or Caroline
would die of boredom, but I don't know how it appears to other
She was going down the shallow stairs and the voice of Mrs. Sales
followed her sadly: 'He hasn't told me anything about any of his
'In three months? He hasn't had time, with you to think about!' A
laugh, pleased and self-conscious, reached her ears. 'No, but it's
rather lonely in this old house. We're a big family at home--and so
lively. There was always something going on. I wished we lived nearer
'And I envy you here. It's peaceful.'
'Yes, it's that,' Mrs. Sales agreed.
'I'm a good deal older than you, you see,' Rose elaborated.
'That's just it,' said Mrs. Sales.
Rose laughed, and Francis, standing at the door, turned at the sound
in time to catch the end of Rose's smile.
'What are you laughing at?'
'Mrs. Sales's candour.'
'Oh, was I rude?'
'No. Good-bye. I liked it.' Yet, as she settled herself in her place,
she was not more than half pleased. She liked her superior age only
because it marked a difference between her and the wife of Francis
'H'm!' Caroline said when the carriage had turned into the road and
the figures in the doorway had disappeared. 'Pretty, but unformed.'
'They seem very happy,' Sophia said, 'but I do think she ought to have
been wearing black. Her father-in-law has only been dead six months,
and even Francis was not wearing a black tie.'
But if Caroline condemned men in general, she supported them in
particular. 'Quite right, too. Men don't think of these things--and a
black tie with those tweeds! Sophia, don't be silly and sentimental;
but you always were, you always will be.'
'She might have had a white frock with a black ribbon,' Sophia
persisted. 'Why, Rose looked more like our old friend's daughter-in-law.'
'But hardly like a bride,' Rose said. 'And you see, pink is her
'So it is, dear. One could see that. Pink and blue, just as they were
mine.' She corrected herself. '_Are_ mine. Our complexions are very
much alike; in fact, she reminded me a little of myself.'
'Nonsense, Sophia! If you had been like that I should have disowned
you. However, she will do well enough for Sales Hall.'
Rose bent forward slightly. 'I like her,' she said distinctly. 'And
'Well, my dear, she'll soon have half a dozen children to keep her
'Hush, Caroline! The man will hear you.'
Caroline addressed Rose. 'Sophia's modesty is indecent. I've done what
I could for her.'
'Please listen to me,' Rose said. 'You are not to belittle Mrs. Sales
to people, Caroline. You can be a powerful friend, if you choose, and
if you sing her praises there will be a mighty chorus.'
'That's true,' Caroline said.
'Yes, that's true, dear Caroline,' Sophia echoed. 'And I think you're
taking this very sweetly, Rose.'
Caroline pricked up her ears. 'What's this? I'm out of this. Oh, that
old rubbish! She will have it you and Francis should have married. My
dear Sophia, Rose could have married anybody if she'd wanted to.
You'll admit that? Yes? Then can't you see'--she tapped Sophia's
knee--'then can't you see that Rose didn't want him? That's logic--and
something you lack.'
'Yes, dear,' Sophia said with the meekness of the unconvinced. 'And of
course it's wrong to think of it now that he's married to another.'
Caroline guffawed her loudest, and the astonished horse quickened his
pace. The driver cast a look over his shoulder to see that all was
well, for he had a sister who made strange noises in her fits; and
Sophia, sitting in her drooping fashion, as though her head with its
great knob of fair hair, in which the silver was just beginning to
show, were too heavy for her body, had to listen to the old gibes
which had never made and never would make any impression on her,
though she would have felt forlorn without them. She was the only
puritanical Mallett in history, Caroline said. Oh, yes, the General
had been great at family prayers, but he was trying to make up for
lost time. It was difficult to believe that Sophia and Reginald were
the same flesh and blood.
Sophia interrupted. She was fond of Reginald, but she had no desire to
be like him, and Caroline knew he was a disgrace. They argued for some
time, and Rose closed her eyes until the talk, never really
acrimonious, drifted into reminiscences of their childhood and
It was strange that they should have chosen that day to speak so much
of him, for when they reached home they found a letter addressed in an
'What's this?' Caroline said.
It was a thin, cheap envelope bearing a London postmark, and Caroline
drew out a flimsy sheet of paper.
'I must get my glasses,' she said. Her voice was agitated. 'No, no, I
can manage without them. The writing is immense, but faint. It's from
that woman.' She looked up, showing a face drawn and blotched with
ugly colour. 'It's to say that Reginald is dead.'
Mrs. Reginald Mallett had written the letter on the day of her
husband's funeral, and Caroline's tears for her brother were stemmed
by her indignation with his wife. She had purposely made it impossible
for his relatives to attend the ceremony.
'No,' Sophia said, 'the poor thing was distressed. We mustn't blame
'And such a letter!' Caroline flicked it with a disdainful finger.
Rose picked up the sheet. 'I don't see what else she could have said.
I think it's dignified--a plain statement. Why should you expect more?
You have never taken any notice of her.'
'Certainly not! And Reginald never suggested it. Of course he was
ashamed, poor boy. However, I am now going to write to her, asking if
she is in need, and enclosing a cheque. I feel some responsibility for
the child. She is half a Mallett, and the Malletts have always been
loyal to the family.'
'Yes, dear, we'll send a cheque, and--shouldn't we?--a few kind words.
She will value them.'
'She'll value the money more,' Caroline said grimly.
Here she was wrong, for the cheque was immediately returned. Mrs.
Mallett and her daughter were able to support themselves without help.
'Then we need think no more about them,' Caroline said, concealing her
annoyance, 'and I shall be able to afford a new dinner dress. Black
sequins, I thought, Sophia--and we must give a dinner for the Sales.'
'Caroline, no, you forget. We mustn't entertain for a little while.'
'Upon my word, I did forget. But it's no use pretending. It really
isn't quite like a death in the family, is it? Poor dear Reginald! I
was very fond of him, but half our friends believe he has been dead
for years. I shall wear black for three months, of course, but a
little dinner to the Sales would not be out of place. We have a duty
to the living as well as to the dead.'
Leaving her stepsisters to argue this point, Rose went upstairs and
looked into Reginald's old room. She had known very little of him, but
she was sorry he was dead, sorry there was no longer a chance of his
presence in the house, of meeting him on the stairs, very late for
breakfast and quite oblivious of the inconvenience he was causing, and
on his lips some remark which no one else would have made.
His room had not been occupied for some time, but it seemed emptier
than before; the mirror gave back a reflection of polished furniture
and vacancy; the bed looked smooth and cold enough for a corpse. No
personal possessions were strewn about, and the room itself felt
She was glad to enter her own, where beauty and luxury lived together.
The carpet was soft to her feet, a small wood fire burned in the
grate, for the evening promised to be cold, and the severe lines of
the furniture were clean and exquisite against the white walls. A pale
soft dressing-gown hung across a chair, a little handkerchief, as fine
as lace, lay crumpled on a table, there was a discreet gleam of silver
and tortoiseshell. This, at least, was the room of a living person.
Yet, as she stood before the cheval-glass, studying herself after the
habit of the Malletts, she thought perhaps she was less truly living
than Reginald in his grave. He left a memory of animation, of sin, of
charm; he had injured other people all his life, but they regretted
him and, presumably, he had had his pleasure out of their pain. And
what was she, standing there? A negatively virtuous young woman,
without enough desire of any kind to impel her to trample over
feelings, creeds and codes. If she died that moment, it would be said
of her that she was beautiful, and that was all. Reginald, with his
greed, his heartlessness, his indifference to all that did not serve
him, would not be forgotten: people would sigh and smile at the
mention of his name, hate him and wish him back. She envied him; she
wished she could feel in swift, passionate gusts as he had done, with
the force and the forgetfulness of a passing wind. His life, flecked
with disgrace, must also have been rich with temporary but memorable
beauty. The exterior of her own was all beauty, of person and
surroundings, but within there seemed to be only a cold waste.
She had been tempted the other afternoon, and she had resisted with
what seemed to her a despicable ease: she had not really cared, and
she felt that the necessity to struggle, even the collapse of her
resistance, would have argued better for her than her self-possession.
And for a moment she wished she had married Francis Sales. She would
at least have had some definite work in the world; she could have kept
him to his farming, as Mrs. Sales had set herself to do; she would
have had a home to see to and daily interviews with the cook! She
laughed at this decline in her ambition; she no longer expected the
advent of the colossal figure of her young dreams; and she knew this
was the hour when she ought to strike out a new way for herself, to
leave this place which offered her nothing but ease and a continuous,
foredoomed effort after enjoyment; but she also knew that she would
not go. She had not the energy nor the desire. She would drift on,
never submerged by any passion, keeping her head calmly above water,
looking coldly at the interminable sea. This was her conviction, but
she was not without a secret hope that she might at last be carried to
some unknown island, odorous, surprising and her own, where she would,
for the first time, experience some kind of excess.
The little dinner was duly given to the Sales. The Sales returned the
compliment; and Mrs. Batty, not to be outdone, offered what could only
adequately be described as a banquet in honour of the bride; there was
a general revival of hospitality, and the Malletts were at every
function. This was Caroline's reward for her instructed enthusiasm for
Christabel Sales, and before long the black sequin dress gave way to a
grey brocade and a purple satin, and the period of mourning was at an
end. For Rose, these entertainments were only interesting because the
Sales were there, and she hardly knew at what moment annoyance began
to mingle definitely with her pity for the little lady with the wary
eyes, or when the annoyance almost overcame the pity.
It might have been at a dinner-party when Christabel, seated at the
right hand of a particularly facetious host, let out her high
chromatic laughter incessantly, and the hostess, leaning towards
Francis, told him with the tenderness of an elderly woman whose own
romance lies far behind her, that it was a pleasure to see Mrs. Sales
so happy. He murmured something in response and, as he looked up and
met the gaze of Rose, she smiled at him and saw his eyes darken with
feeling, or with thought.
After dinner he sought her out. She had known that would happen:
she had been avoiding it for weeks, but it was useless to play at
hide-and-seek with the inevitable, and she calmly watched him
'Why did you laugh?' he asked at once, in his old, angry fashion. 'You
were laughing at me.'
'No, I smiled.'
'Ah, you're not so free with your smiles that they have no meaning.'
'Perhaps not, but I don't know what the meaning was.'
'I believe you've been laughing at me ever since I came back.'
'Indeed, I haven't. Why should I?'
'God knows,' he answered with a shrug; 'I never do understand what
people laugh at.'
'You're too self-conscious, Francis.'
'Only with you,' he said.
'Somebody is going to sing,' she warned him as a gaunt girl went
towards the piano; and sinking on to a convenient and sheltered couch,
they resigned themselves to listen--or to endure. From that corner
Rose had a view of the long room, mediocre in its decoration, mediocre
in its occupants. She could see her host standing before the fire,
swinging his eyeglasses on a cord and gazing at the cornice as the
song proceeded. She could see Christabel's neck and shoulders and the
back of her fair head. Beside her a plump matron had her face suitably
composed; three bored young men were leaning against a wall.
The music jangled, the voice shrieked a false emotion, and Rose's
eyebrows rose with the voice. It was dull, it was dreary, it was a
waste of time, yet what else, Rose questioned, could she do with time,
of which there was so much? She could not find an answer, and there
rose at that moment a chorus of thanks and a gentle clapping of hands.
The gaunt girl had finished her song and, poking her chin, returned to
her seat. The room buzzed with chatter; it seemed that only Francis
and Rose were silent. She turned to look at him.
'This is awful,' he said.
'No worse than usual.'
'When do you think we shall have exhausted Radstowe hospitality? And
the worst of it is we have to give dinners ourselves, and the same
things happen every time.'
'I find it soporific,' said Rose.
'I'd rather be soporific in an arm-chair with a pipe.'
'This is one of the penalties of marriage,' Rose said lightly.
'Look here, I'm giving Christabel another jumping lesson to-morrow.
I've put some hurdles up. Will you come? She's getting on very well.
I'll take her hunting before long.'
'Does she like it?'
'Oh, rather! My word, it would have been a catastrophe if she hadn't
taken to it.' He paused, considering the terrible situation from which
he had been saved. 'Can't imagine what I should have done. But she's
never satisfied. She's beginning to jeer at the old brown horse. I've
seen a grey mare that might do for her,' and he went on to enumerate
the animal's points.
Rose said, 'Why don't you let her have her first season with the old
horse? He knows his business. He'll take care of her.'
'She wouldn't approve of that. I tell you, she's ambitious. I'll go
and fetch her and you'll hear for yourself.'
She watched him bending over his wife, and saw Christabel rise and
slip a hand under his arm. The action was a little like that of a
young woman taking a walk with her young man, but it betokened a
confidence which roused a slight feeling of envy and sadness in Rose's
'We have been talking about hunting,' she began at once.
'Oh, yes,' Christabel said. She looked warily from one to the other.
'I'm recommending you to stick to the old brown horse, but Francis
says you laugh at him.'
'Would you ride him yourself?' Christabel asked.
'Not if I could get something better.'
'Well, then--' Christabel's tone was final.
But Rose persisted, saying, 'But, you see, this isn't my first season.
Stick to the old horse for a little while.'
'No,' Christabel said firmly. 'If Francis thinks I can ride the mare,
I should like to have her.'
Rose laughed, but she felt uneasy, and Francis said, 'I told you so.
She has any amount of pluck. You come and watch.'
'No, I can't come to-morrow. I think I'll see her first in all her
glory on the grey mare.'
'All the same,' Christabel added, 'if she's very expensive, I don't
want her. Francis is extravagant over horses, and we have to be
'We'll economize somewhere else,' he said. 'The mare is yours.'
She suppressed a sigh. Rose was sure of it, and in after days she was
to ask herself many times if she had been to blame in not interpreting
that sigh to Francis. But she had to give Christabel, and Christabel
especially, the loyalty of one woman to another. She would not wrench
from her in a few words the pride Francis took in her, to which she
sacrificed her fears. Rose had the astuteness of a jealousy she would
not own, of a sense of possession she could not discard, and she had
known, from the first moment, that Christabel was afraid of horses and
dreaded the very name of hunting. And Rose divined, too, that if she
herself had not been a horsewoman of some repute, Christabel would
have been less ambitious; she would have been contented with the old
brown horse; but Christabel, too, had an astuteness. No, she could not
have interfered; yet when she first saw Christabel on the mare she was
alarmed to the point of saying:
'Are you sure she's all right? You'd better keep beside her, Francis.'
The mare was fidgety and hot-headed. Christabel's hands were unsteady,
her face was pale, her lips were tight; but she was gay, and Francis
was proud to have her and her mount admired.
Rose looked round in despair. Could no one else see what was so plain
to her? She was tempted to go home. She felt she could not bear the
strain of watching that little figure perched on the grey beast that
looked like a wraith, like a warning. But she did not go, and she
learnt to be glad to have shared with Francis the horror of the moment
when the mare, out of control and mad with excitement, tried a fence
topping a bank, failed, and fell with Christabel beneath her.
On the ground there was a flurry of white and black, and then
stillness, while over the fields the hounds and the foremost riders
went like things seen in a dream, with the same callousness, the same
Rose saw men dismount and run towards the queer, ugly muddle on the
grass. She dismounted, too, and gave her horse to somebody to hold,
but she did nothing. Other, more capable people were before her, and
it struck her at that moment, while a bird in a bare hedge set up a
short chirrup of surprise, how little used she was to action. She
seemed to be standing alone in the big field: the rest was a picture
with which she had nothing to do. There was a busy group near the
fence, some men came running with a door, and then the sound of a shot
broke through her numbness. The mare had been put out of her pain; but
what of Christabel?
She hurried forward; she heard some one say, 'Ah, here's Miss
Mallett,' and she answered vaguely, 'Men are gentler.' But as they
lifted Christabel, Rose held one of her hands. It felt lifeless; she
looked small and broken; she made no sound.
'She's not conscious,' a man said, and at that she opened her eyes.
'My God, she's got some pluck!' Francis said. 'My God--'
She smiled at him, and he dropped behind with a gesture of despair.
'You were right,' he said to Rose, 'she wasn't equal to that brute.'
He turned angrily. 'Why didn't you make me see?'
She made no answer then, or afterwards, to him, but over and over
again, with the awful reiteration of the conscience-smitten, she set
out her reasons for her silence. She might have told him that of these
he was the chief. If he had looked at her less persistently on her
visits to Sales Hall, if he had married another kind of woman, she
would not have been afraid to speak, but she had tried not to
extinguish what little flame of love still flickered in his heart for
Christabel and she had succeeded in almost extinguishing her life, in
reducing her to permanent helplessness.
This was Rose's first experience of how evil comes out of good. What
would happen to that love, Rose did not know. For a time it burned
more brightly, fanned by Christabel's heroism and Francis's remorse,
but heroism can become monotonous to the spectator and poignant
remorse cannot be endured for ever. Christabel's plight was pitiful,
but Rose was sorrier for Francis. He had, as it were, engaged her
compassion years ago, he had a prior claim, and as time went on, her
pity for Christabel changed at moments to annoyance. It was cruel, but
Rose had no fund of patience. She disliked illness as she did
deformity, and though Christabel never complained of her constant
pain, she developed the exactions of an invalid, and the suspicions.
In those blue eyes, bluer, and more than ever wary, Rose saw the
questions which were never asked.
In the bedroom which, with the boudoir, had been furnished and
decorated by the best shop in Radstowe, for a surprise, Christabel lay
on a couch near the window, with a nurse in attendance, the puppy and
the kitten, both growing staid, for company. It tired her to use her
hands, she had never cared for reading and she lay there with little
for consolation but her pride in stoically bearing pain.
Often, and with many interruptions, she made Rose repeat the details
of the accident.
'I was riding well, wasn't I?' she would ask. 'Francis was pleased
with me. He said so. It wasn't my fault, was it? And then, when they
were carrying me home did you hear what he said? Tell me what he
And Rose told her: 'He said, "My God, she has got pluck!" Oh,
Christabel, don't talk about it.'
'I like to,' she replied, but the day came when she insisted on this
subject for the last time.
'Tell me what you thought when you saw me on the mare,' she said, and
Rose, careless for once, answered immediately, 'I thought she wasn't
fit for you to ride.'
'Ah,' Christabel said slowly, 'did you? Did you? But you didn't say
anything. That was--queer.'
Rose said nothing. She was frozen dumb and there was no possible reply
to such an implication; but she rose and drew on her gloves. She
looked tall and straight in her habit, and formidable.
'Are you going? But you must have tea with Francis. He's expecting
'I won't stay to-day,' Rose said. She was shaking with the anger she
'But if you don't,' Christabel cried, 'he'll want to know why. He'll
'I can't help that,' Rose said.
Tears came into Christabel's eyes. 'You might at least do that for
'Very well. Because you ask me.'
'And you'll come again soon?'
The sternness of Rose's face was broken by an ironic smile. 'Of
course! If you are sure you want me!'
She went downstairs and, as usual, Francis was waiting for her in the
matted hall. He did not greet her with a word or a smile. He watched
her descend the shallow flight, and together they went down the
passage to the clear drawing-room, where the faded water-colours
looked unreal and innocent and ignorant of tragedy.
'What's the matter?' he asked.
'Nothing.' She looked into the oval mirror which had so often
reflected his mother's placid face. 'My hat's a little crooked,' she
He laughed without mirth. 'Never in its life. Has Christabel been
'Worrying me? Poor child--'
'Yes, it's damnable, but she does worry one--and you look odd.'
'I'm getting old,' she murmured, not seeking reassurance but stating a
fact plain to her.
'You're exactly the same!' he said. 'Exactly the same!' He swept his
face with his hands, and at that sight a new sensation seized her
delicately, delightfully, as though a firm hand held her for an
instant above the earth, high in the air, free from care, from
restrictions, from the necessity for thought--but only for an instant.
She was set down again, inwardly swaying, apparently unmoved, but
conscious of the carpet under her feet, the chairs with twisted legs,
the primrose curtains, the spring afternoon outside.
'Let us have tea,' she said. She handled the pretty flowered cups and
under her astonished eyes the painted flowers were like a little
garden, gay and sweet and gilded. She seemed to smell them and the
hiss of the kettle was like a song. Then, as she handed him his cup
and looked into his wretched face and remembered the bitter reality of
things, she still could not lose all sense of sweetness.
'Don't say any more!' she said quickly. 'Don't say another word.'
'I won't, if you're sure you know everything. Do you?'
'Every single thing.'
'And you care?'
'Yes.' She drew a breath. 'I care--beyond speaking of it. Francis, not
It was extraordinary, it was inexplicable, but it was true and happily
beyond the region of regrets, for if she had married him years ago she