Part 4 out of 6
night and Sophia appeared in Rose's bedroom early in the morning, her
great plait of hair swinging free, her face yellow with anxiety and
sleeplessness and lack of powder, to inform her stepsister that dear
Caroline was very ill: they must have the doctor directly after
breakfast. Sophia was afraid Caroline was going to die. She had
groaned in the night when she thought Sophia was asleep. 'I deceived
her,' Sophia said. 'I hope it wasn't wrong, but I knew she would be
easier if she thought I slept. Now she says there is nothing the
matter with her and she wants to get up, but that's her courage.'
Caroline was not allowed to rise and after breakfast and an hour with
Sophia behind the locked door she announced her readiness to see the
doctor, who diagnosed nothing more serious than a chill. She was very
much disgusted with his order to stay in bed. She had not had a day in
bed for years; she believed people were only ill when they wanted to
be and, as she did not wish to be, she was not ill. She had no
resource but to be unpleasant to Sophia, to the silently devoted Susan
and to Rose who had intended to go to Sales Hall with Henrietta.
She was not able to do that, but later in the afternoon she set out to
meet her so that she might have company for part of the dark way home.
Afterwards, she could never make up her mind whether she was glad or
sorry she had gone. She had expected to meet Henrietta within a mile
or two of the bridge, and the further she went without a sight of the
small figure walking towards her, the more necessary it became to
proceed, but she felt a deadly sickness of this road. She loved each
individual tree, each bush and field and the view from every point,
but the whole thing she hated. It was the personification of mistake,
disappointment and slow disillusion, but now it was all shrouded in
darkness and she seemed to be walking on nothing, through nothing and
towards nothing. She herself was nothing and she thought of nothing,
though now and then a little wave of anxiety washed over her. Where
She became genuinely alarmed when, in the hollow between the track and
the rising fields, she saw a fire and discovered by its light a
caravan, a cart, a huddle of dark figures, a tethered pony, and heard
the barking of dogs. There were gipsies camping in the sheltered dip.
If Henrietta had walked into their midst, she might have been robbed,
she would certainly have been frightened; and Rose stood still,
The cleared space, where the wood had been, stretched away to a line
of trees edging the main road and above it there was a greenish colour
in the sky. There was not a sound but what came from the encampment.
Down there the fire glowed like some enormous and mysterious jewel and
before it figures which had become poetical and endowed with some
haggard kind of beauty passed and vanished. They might have been
employed in the rites of some weird worship and the movements which
were in reality connected with the cooking of some snared bird or
rabbit seemed to have a processional quality. The fire was
replenished, the stew was stirred, there was a faint clatter of tin
plates and a sharp cracking of twigs: a figure passed before the fire
with extraordinary gestures and slid into the night: another figure
appeared and followed its predecessor: smoke rose and a savoury smell
floated on the air.
Suddenly a child wailed and Rose had the ghastly impression that it
was the child who was in the pot.
Cautiously she stepped into the clearing; the dogs barked again and
she ran swiftly, as silently as possible, leaping over the small
hummocks of heath, dodging the brushwood and finding a certain
pleasure in her own speed and in her fear that the dogs would soon be
snapping at her heels. If she did not find Henrietta on the road, she
would go on to Sales Hall. Very high up, clouds floated as though
patrolling the sky; they found in her fleeting figure something which
must be watched.
She was breathless and strangely happy when she reached the road. She
was pleased at her capacity for running and her dull trouble seemed to
have lifted, to have risen from her mind and gone off to join the
clouds. She laughed a little and dropped down on a stone, and above
the hurried beating of her heart she heard fainter, more despairing,
the cry of the gipsy child. 'It isn't cooked yet,' she thought. There
was a deeper silence, and she imagined a horrible dipping into the
pot, a loud and ravenous eating.
For a few minutes she forgot her quest, conscious of a happy loss of
personality in this solitary place, feeling herself merged into the
night, looking up at the patrolling clouds which, having lost her, had
moved on. She sat in the darkness until she heard, very far off, the
beat of a horse's hoofs, the rumble of wheels. She remembered then
that she had to find Henrietta. The road towards Sales Hall was
nowhere blurred by a figure, there was no sound of footsteps, and the
noise of the approaching horse and cart was distantly symbolic of
human activity and home-faring; it made her think of lights and food.
She looked back, and not many yards away two figures stepped from the
sheltering trees by the roadside. On the whiteness of the road they
were clear and unmistakable. Their arms were outstretched and their
hands were joined and, as she looked, the two forms became one,
separated and parted. The feet of Henrietta went tapping down the road
and for a moment Francis stood and watched her. Then he turned. He
struck a match, and Rose saw his face and hands illuminated like a
paper lantern. The match made a short, brilliant journey in the air
and fell extinguished. He had lighted his pipe and was advancing
towards her. She, too, advanced and stopped a few feet from him and at
once she said calmly, 'Was that Henrietta? I came to find her.'
He stammered something; she was afraid he was going to lie, yet at the
same time she knew that to hear him lie would give her pleasure; it
would be like the final shattering and trampling of her love: but he
did not lie.
'Yes, Henrietta,' he said sullenly. 'There are gipsies in the hollow.
I shall turn them out to-morrow.'
'Let them stay there,' she said, she knew not why.
'They're all thieves,' he muttered.
Neither spoke. It was like a dream to be standing there with him and
hearing Henrietta's footsteps tapping into silence. Then Rose asked in
genuine bewilderment, 'Why did you let her go home alone? Why did you
leave her here?'
'She wouldn't have me. She's safe now'; and raising his voice, he
almost cried, 'You shouldn't let her come here!' It was a cry for
help, he was appealing to her again, he was the victim of his habit.
She smiled and wondered if her pale face was as clear to him as his
was to her.
'No, I should not,' she said slowly. 'I should not. One does nothing
all one's life but make mistakes.' Her chief feeling at that moment
was one of self-disgust. She moved away without another word, going
slowly so that she should not overtake Henrietta.
Henrietta was going very fast, impelled by the fury of her thoughts,
and she forgot to be afraid of the lonely country, for she felt
herself still wrapped in the dangerous safety of that man's embrace,
and the darkness through which she went was still the palpitating
darkness which had fallen over her at his touch. The thing had been
bound to happen. She had been watching its approach and pretending it
was not there, and now it had arrived and she was giddy with
excitement, inspired with a sense of triumph, tremulous with
Her thoughts were not of her lover as an individual, but of the
situation as a whole. Here she was, Henrietta Mallett, from Mrs.
Banks's boarding-house, the chief figure in a drama and an unrepentant
sinner. She could not help it: she loved him; he needed her. Since
that day when she had offered him friendship and help, he had been
depending on her more and more, a big man like a neglected baby. She
had strenuously fixed her mind on the babyish side of him, but all the
time her senses had been attracted by the man, and now, by the mere
physical experience of the force of his arms, she could never see him
as a child again. She clung to the idea of helping him, to the thought
of his misfortunes, for that was imperative, but she was now conscious
of her fewer years, her infinitely smaller bodily strength, the
limitations of her sex.
And suddenly, as she moved swiftly, hardly feeling the ground under
her feet, she began to cry, with emotion, with fear and joy. What was
going to happen to her? She loved him. She could still feel the
violence of his clasp, the roughness of his coat on her cheeks, the
iron of his hands, so distinctly that it seemed to have happened only
a moment ago, yet she was nearly home. She could see the lights of the
bridge as though swung on a cord across the gulf, and she dried her
eyes. She was exhausted and hungry and when she had passed over the
river she made her way to a shop where chocolates could be bought. She
knew their comforting and sustaining properties. It was unromantic,
but hunger asserts itself in spite of love.
It was getting late and the shop was empty but for one assistant and a
tall young man. This was Charles Batty, taking a great deal of trouble
over his purchase, for spread before him on the counter was an
assortment of large chocolate boxes adorned with bows of ribbon and
pictures of lovers leaning over stiles and red-lipped maidens
'I don't like these pictures,' Henrietta heard him mutter bashfully.
'Here's one with roses. Roses are always suitable.' 'No,' he said, 'I
want a big white box with crimson ribbon.' Henrietta stepped up to his
side. 'I'll help you choose,' she said.
He started, stared, forgot to take off his hat. He gazed at her with
the absorption of some connoisseur looking at the perfect thing he has
dreamed of: he looked without greed and with a sort of ecstasy which
left his face expressionless and embarrassed Henrietta in the presence
of the arch girl behind the counter.
Charles waked up. 'I want a white one,' he repeated, 'with crimson
ribbon. No pictures.' The assistant went away and he turned to
Henrietta. 'It's for you,' he said.
'Charles, don't speak so loud.'
'I don't care. But I suppose you're ashamed of me. Yes, of course,
'Don't be silly,' Henrietta said, 'and do be quick, because I want
some chocolates myself.'
With the large box, white and crimson-ribboned and wrapped in paper,
under his arm, he waited until she was served, and then they walked
together down the street, made brilliant with the lights of many
'This is for you,' he said, 'but I'll carry it.'
'But this isn't the way home.'
'No.' They turned back into the dimmer road bordering The Green.
'I suppose you wouldn't walk round the hill?'
'I don't mind.' She felt as she might have done in the company of some
large, protective dog. He was there, saving her from the fear of
molestation, but there was no need to speak to him, it was almost
impossible to think consecutively of him, yet she did remind herself
that a very long time ago, when she was young, he had said wonderful
things to her. She had forgotten that fact in the stir of these last
'I got these chocolates for you,' he said again. 'I thought perhaps
that was the kind of thing I ought to do. I don't know, and you can't
ask people because they'd laugh. Why didn't you come to tea on
'I can't come every Sunday.'
'Of course you can. Considering I'm engaged to you, it's only proper.'
'I don't know what you mean.'
'Yes,' he said, 'you may not be engaged to me, but I'm engaged to you.
That's what I've decided.'
She laughed. 'You'll find it rather dull, I'm afraid.'
'No,' he said. 'I can do things for you.' She was struck by that
simple statement, spoilt by his next words: 'Like these chocolates.'
He was very insistent about the chocolates and proud of his idea. She
thanked him. 'But I don't want you to give me things.'
'You can't stop me. I'm doing it all the time.'
They had reached the highest point of the hill and they halted at the
railing on the cliff's edge. Below them, the blackness of earth gave
way to the blackness of air and the shining blackness of water, and
slowly the opposing cliff cleared itself from a formless mass into the
hardly seen shapes of rock and tree. Here was beauty, here was
something permanent in the midst of change, and it seemed as though
the hand of peace were laid on Henrietta. For a moment the episode on
the other side of the water and the problem it involved took their
tiny places in the universe instead of the large ones in her life and,
strangely enough, it was Charles Batty who loomed up big, as though he
had some odd fellowship with immensity and beauty.
'What do you give me?' she asked. 'I don't want it, you know, but tell
'I told you that night when you listened and took it all. I don't
think I can say it again.'
'No, but you're not to misunderstand me, and you mustn't go on giving
and getting nothing back.'
'That's just what I can do. Not many people could, but I can. Perhaps
it's the only way I can be great, like an artist giving his work to a
world that doesn't care.'
The quick sense she had to serve her instead of knowledge and to make
her unconsciously subtle, detected his danger in the words and some
lack of homage to herself. 'Ah, you're pretending, and you're enjoying
it,' she said. 'It's consoling you for not being able to do anything
'Who said I couldn't do anything else?'
'Well, you nearly did, and I don't suppose you can. If you could, you
wouldn't bother about me.'
He was silent and though she did not look at him she was very keenly
aware of his tall figure wrapped in an overcoat reaching almost to his
heels and with the big parcel under his left arm. He was always
slightly absurd and now, when he struck the top bar of the railing
with his left hand and uttered a mournful, 'Yes, it's true!' the
tragedy in his tone could not repress her smile. Yet if he had been
less funny he might have been less truly tragic.
'So, you see, I'm only a kind of makeshift,' she remarked.
'No,' he said, 'but I may have been mistaken in myself. I'm not
mistaken about you. Never!' he cried, striking the rail again.
They were alone on the hill, but suddenly, with a clatter of wings, a
bird left his nest in the rocks and swept out of sight, leaving a
memory of swiftness and life, of an intenser blackness in the gulf.
Far below them, to the left, there were lights, stationary and moving,
and sometimes the clang of a tramcar bell reached them with its harsh
music: the slim line of the bridge, with here and there a dimly
burning light, was like a spangled thread. The sound of footsteps and
voices came to them from the road behind the hill.
'But after all,' Charles said more clearly, 'it doesn't matter about
being acclaimed. It's just like making music for deaf people: the
music's there; the music's there. And so it doesn't matter very much
whether you love me. It's one's weakness that wants that, one's
loneliness. I can love you just the same, perhaps better; it's the
audience that spoils things. I should think it does!'
'So you're quite happy.'
'Not quite,' he answered, 'but I have something to do, something I can
do, too. Music--no, I'm not good enough. I'm no more than an amateur,
but in this I can be supreme.'
'You can't be sure of that,' she said acutely. 'If you wrote a poem
you might think it was perfect, but you wouldn't absolutely know till
you'd tried it on other people. So you can't be sure about love.'
'You mightn't be,' he said with a touch of scorn. 'You may depend on
other people, but I don't.'
She made a small sound of scorn. 'No, you'll never know whether you're
doing this wonderful work of yours well or not because,' she said,
cruelly exultant, 'it won't be tested.'
'Ah, but it might be. You've got to do things as though they will be.'
'I suppose so,' she said indifferently. 'And now I must go back.'
He turned obediently and thrust the parcel at her.
'But aren't you going to take me home?' she asked.
'No, I don't think I need do that. I shall stay here.'
'Then I won't have your chocolates. I didn't want them, anyhow, but
now I won't take them.'
'I don't understand you,' he said miserably.
'Doesn't the painter understand his paints or the musician his
instruments? No, you'll have to begin at the beginning, Charles Batty,
and work very hard before you're a success.'
She ran from him fleetly, hardly knowing why she was so angry, but it
seemed to her that he had no right to be content without her love; she
felt he must be emasculate, and the guilty passion of Francis Sales
was, by contrast, splendid. But for that passion, Charles Batty might
have persuaded her she was incapable of rousing men's desire and not
to rouse it was not to be a woman. Accordingly, she valued Francis and
despised the other, yet when she had reached home and run upstairs and
was standing in the dim room where the firelight cast big, uncertain
shadows, like vague threats, on walls and ceiling, she suffered a
The scene on the road became sinister: she remembered the strange
silence of the trees and the clangorous barking of the dogs, the
hoarse voices from the encampment in the hollow. It had been very dark
there and an extraordinary blackness had buried her when she was in
that man's arms. It had been dark, too, on the hill, but with a
feeling of space and height and freedom. If Charles had been a little
different--but then, he did not really want her; he was making a study
of his sorrow, he was gazing at it, turning it round and over, growing
familiar with all its aspects. He was an artist frustrated of any
power but this of feeling and to have given him herself would simply
have been to rob him of what he found more precious. But she and
Francis Sales were kin; she understood him: he was not better than
herself, perhaps he was not so good and he, too, was unhappy, but he
did not love her for those qualities of which Charles Batty had talked
by the Monks' Pool, he wove no poetry about her: he loved her because
she was pretty; because her mouth was red and her eyes bright and her
body young: he loved her because, being her father's daughter, her
youth answered his desire with enough shame to season appetite, but
not to spoil it. And she thought of Christabel as of some sick doll.
Dinner was a strange meal that night. Caroline's chair was empty, and
the sighs of Sophia were like gentle zephyrs in the room. Henrietta's
silence might have been interpreted as anxiety about her aunt and
Susan informed the cook, truly enough, that Miss Henrietta had a
It was only Rose who could have explained the nature of the feeling.
She was fascinated by the sight of Henrietta, her rival, her fellow
dupe. Rose looked at her without envy or malice or covetousness, but
with an extraordinary interest, trying to find what likeness to
herself and what differences had attracted Francis Sales.
There was the dark hair, curly where hers was straight, dark eyes
instead of grey ones, the same warm pallor of the skin, in Henrietta's
case slightly overlaid with pink; but the mouth, ah! it must be the
mouth and what it meant that made the alluring difference. Henrietta's
mouth was soft, red and mutinous; in her father it had been a blemish,
half hidden by the foreign cut of moustache and beard, but in
Henrietta it was a beauty and a warning. Rose had never properly
studied that mouth before and under the fixity of her gaze Henrietta's
eyelids fluttered upwards. There were shadows under her eyes and it
seemed to Rose that she had changed a little. She must have changed.
Rose had never been in the arms of Francis Sales; she shuddered now at
the thought, but she knew that she, too, would have been different
after that experience.
She looked at Henrietta with the sadness of her desire to help her,
the fear of her inability to do it; and Henrietta looked back with a
hint of defiance, the symbol of her attitude to the cruel world in
which fond lovers were despised and love had a hard road. Rose
restrained an impulse to lean across the table and say quietly, 'I saw
you to-night with Francis Sales and I am sorry for you. He told me I
should not let you meet him. He said that himself, so you see he does
not want you,' and she wondered how much that cry of his had been
uttered in despair of his passion and how much in weariness of
Henrietta and himself.
Rose leaned back in her chair and immediately straightened. She was
intolerably tired but she refused to droop. It seemed as though she
were never to be free from secrecy: after her release there had been a
short time of dreary peace and now she had Henrietta's fight to wage
in secret, her burden to carry without a word. And this was worse,
more difficult, for she had less power with which to meet more danger.
Between the candle lights she sent a smile to Henrietta, but the
girl's mouth was petulantly set and it was a relief when Sophia
quavered out, 'She won't be able to go to the Battys' ball! She will
Rose and Henrietta were momentarily united in their common amazement
at the genuineness of this sorrow and to both there was something
comic in the picture of the elderly Caroline, suffering from a chill
and bemoaning the loss of an evening's pleasure. Henrietta cast a look
of scornful surprise at her Aunt Sophia. Was the Battys' ball a matter
for a broken heart? Rose said consolingly, 'It isn't till after
Christmas. Perhaps she will be well enough.'
'And Christmas,' Sophia wailed. 'Henrietta's first Christmas here!
With Caroline upstairs!'
'I don't like Christmas,' Henrietta said. 'It makes me miserable.'
'But you will like the ball,' Rose said. 'Why, if it hadn't been for
the ball we might have been in Algiers now.'
'With Caroline ill! I should have sent for you.'
'Shall we start, Henrietta, in a few weeks' time?' She ignored
Henrietta's vague murmur. 'Oh, not until Caroline is quite well,
Sophia. We could go to the south of France, Henrietta. Yes, I think we
had better arrange that.' Rose felt a slightly malicious pleasure in
this proposal which became a serious one as she spoke. 'You must learn
to speak French, and it is a long time since I have been abroad. It
will be a kindness to me. I don't care to go alone. We have no
engagements after the middle of January, so shall we settle to go
then?' There was authority in her tone. 'We shall avoid brigands,
Sophia, but I think we ought to go. It is not fair that Henrietta's
experiences should be confined to Radstowe.'
'Quite right, dear.' Sophia was unwillingly but nobly truthful. 'We
have a duty to her father, but say nothing to Caroline until she is
Henrietta was silent but she had a hot rage in her heart. She felt
herself in a trap and she looked with sudden hatred and suspicion at
her Aunt Rose. It was impossible to defy that calm authority. She
would have to go, in merest gratitude she must consent; she would be
carried off, but she looked round wildly for some means of escape.
The prospect of that exile spoilt a Christmas which otherwise would
not have been a miserable one, for the Malletts made it a charming
festival with inspired ideas for gifts and a delightful party on
Christmas Day, when Caroline was allowed to appear. She refused to say
that she was better; she had never been ill; it was a mere fad of the
doctor and her sisters; she supposed they were tired of her and wanted
a little peace. However, she continued to absorb large quantities of
strengthening food, beef tea, meat jelly and heady tonic, for she
loved food, and she was determined to go to the ball.
This was on New Year's Eve, and all that day, from the moment when
Susan drew the curtains and brought the early tea, there was an
atmosphere of excitement in Nelson Lodge and Henrietta permitted
herself to enjoy it. Francis Sales was to be at the ball. She forgot
the threatened exile, she ignored Charles Batty's tiresome insistence
that she must dance with him twice as many times as with anybody else,
because he was engaged to her.
'I don't believe you can dance a bit,' she cried.
'I can get round,' he said. 'It's the noise of the band that upsets
me--jingle, jingle, bang, bang! But we can sit out when we can't bear
it any longer.'
'That would be very amusing,' Henrietta said.
Susan, drawing Henrietta's curtains, remarked that it was a nice day
for the ball and then, looking severely at Henrietta and arranging a
wrap round her shoulders, she said, 'I suppose Miss Caroline is
'Oh, I hope so,' Henrietta said. 'She's not worse, is she?'
'Not that I know of, Miss Henrietta, but I'm afraid it will be the
death of her.' She seemed to think it would be Henrietta's fault and,
in the kitchen, she told Cook that, but for Miss Henrietta, the
Battys, who were close-fisted people--you had only to look at Mr.
Batty's mouth--would not be giving a ball at all, but they had their
eyes on Miss Henrietta for that half-witted son of theirs. She was
sure of it. And Miss Caroline was not fit to go, it would be the death
of her. Cook was optimistic. It would do Miss Caroline good; she was
always the better for a little fun.
The elder ladies breakfasted in bed to save themselves all unnecessary
fatigue, and throughout the day they moved behind half-lowered blinds.
Henrietta was warned not to walk out. There was a cold wind, her face
would be roughened; and when she insisted on air and exercise she was
advised to wear a thick veil. Both ladies offered her a shawl-like
covering for the face, but Henrietta shook her head. 'Feel,' she said,
lifting a hand of each to either cheek.
'Like a flower,' Sophia said.
'The wind doesn't hurt flowers. It won't hurt me.'
Fires were lighted in the bedroom earlier than usual. Caroline and
Sophia again retired to their room, leaving orders that they were not
to be disturbed until four o'clock, and a solemn hush fell on the
While the ladies were having tea, Susan was busy in their bedroom
laying out their gowns and Henrietta, chancing to pass the open door,
peeped in. The bed was spread with the rose-pink and apricot dresses
of their choice, with petticoats of corresponding hues, with silken
stockings and long gloves and fans; and on the mound made by the
pillows two pairs of very high-heeled slippers pointed their narrow
toes. It might have been the room of two young girls and, before she
fluttered down to tea, Henrietta took another glance at the mass of
yellow tulle on her own bed. She wished Mrs. Banks and Miss Stubb
could see her in that dress. Mrs. Banks would cry and Miss Stubb would
grow poetical. She would have to write and tell them all about it. At
eight o'clock the four Miss Malletts assembled in the drawing-room.
Caroline was magnificent. Old lace veiled the shimmering satin of her
gown and made it possible to wear the family emeralds: these, heavily
set, were on her neck and in her ears; a pair of bracelets adorned her
arms. Seen from behind, she might have been the stout and prosperous
mother of a family in her prime and only when she turned and displayed
the pink patches on yellow skin, was her age discernible. She was
magnificent, and terrible, and Henrietta had a moment of recoil before
she gasped, 'Oh, Aunt Caroline, how lovely!'
Sophia advanced more modestly for inspection. 'She looks about
twenty-one!' Caroline exclaimed. 'What a figure! Like a girl's!'
'You're prejudiced, dear Caroline. I never had your air. You're
'We're all wonderful!' Henrietta cried.
They had all managed to express themselves: Caroline in the superb
attempt at overcoming her age, and Sophia in the softness of her
apparel; Rose, in filmy black and pearls round her firm throat, gently
proud and distant; and Henrietta was like some delicately gaudy
insect, dancing hither and thither, approaching and withdrawing.
'Yes, we're all wonderful,' Henrietta said again. 'Don't you think we
ought to start? It's a pity for other people not to see us!'
With Susan's help they began the business of packing themselves into
the cab. Caroline lifted her skirts and showed remarkably thin legs,
but she stood on the doorstep to quarrel with Sophia about the taking
of a shawl. She ought to have a lace one round her shoulders, Sophia
said, for the Assembly Rooms were always cold and it was a frosty
'Sophia, you're an idiot,' Caroline said. 'Do you think I'm going to
sit in a ball-room in a shawl? Why not take a hot-water bottle and a
'At least we must have the smelling salts. Susan, fetch the salts.
Miss Caroline might need them.'
Miss Caroline said she would rather die than display such weakness and
she stepped into the cab which groaned under her weight. Another
fainter groan accompanied Sophia's entrance and Rose and Henrietta,
tapping their satin shoes on the pavement, heard sounds of bickering.
Sophia had forgotten her handkerchief and Susan fled once more into
The cabman growled his disapproval from the box. 'I've another party
to fetch,' he said. 'And how many of you's going?'
'Only four,' Henrietta said sweetly, 'and we shan't be a minute.'
'I've been waiting ten already,' said the man.
The handkerchief was handed into the darkness of the cab and Rose and
Henrietta followed. 'Mind my toes,' Caroline said. 'Susan, tell that
disagreeable fellow to drive on.'
They had not far to go, but the man did not hurry his horse. Other
cabs passed them on the road, motor-cars whizzed by.
'We shall be dreadfully late,' Henrietta sighed.
'I am always late for balls,' Caroline said calmly.
Rose, leaning back in her corner, could see Henrietta's profile
against the window-pane. Her lips were parted, she leaned forward
eagerly. 'We shall miss a dance,' she murmured.
Caroline coughed. 'Oh, dear,' Sophia moaned. 'Caroline, you should be
'You're a silly old woman,' Caroline retorted.
'But you'll promise not to sit in a draught; Henrietta, see that your
Aunt Caroline doesn't sit in a draught.' But Henrietta was letting
down the window, for the cab had drawn up before the portals of the
In the cloak-room, Rose and Henrietta slipped off their wraps, glanced
in the mirror, and were ready, but there were anxious little
whisperings and consultations on the part of the elder ladies and
Henrietta cast a despairing glance at Rose. Would they never be ready?
But at last Caroline uttered a majestic 'Now' and led the way like a
plump duck swimming across a pond with a fleet of smaller ducks behind
No expense and no trouble had been spared to justify the expectations
of Radstowe. The antechamber was luxuriously carpeted, arm-chaired,
cushioned, palmed and screened, and the hired flunkey at the ballroom
door had a presence and a voice fitted for the occasion.
'Miss Mallett!' he bawled. 'Miss Sophia Mallett! Miss Rose Mallett!
Miss Henrietta Mallett!'
The moment had come. Henrietta lifted her head, settled her shoulders
and prepared to meet the eyes of Francis Sales. The Malletts had
arrived between the first and second dances and the guests sitting
round the walls had an uninterrupted view of the stately entrance.
Mrs. Batty, in diamonds and purple satin, greeted the late-comers with
enthusiasm and James Batty escorted Caroline and Sophia to arm-chairs
that had all the appearance of thrones. Mrs. Batty patted Henrietta on
'Pretty dear,' she said. 'Here you are at last. There are a lot of
boys with their programmes half empty till you come, and my Charles,
too. Not that he's much for dancing. I've told him he must look after
the ugly ones. We're going to have a quadrille for your aunts' sake!'
And then, whispering, she asked, 'What do you think of it? I said if
we had it at all, we'd have it good.'
'It's gorgeous!' Henrietta said, and off the stage she had never seen
a grander spectacle. The platform at the end of the room was banked
with flowers and behind them uniformed and much-moustached musicians
played with ardour, with rapture, their eyes closing sentimentally in
the choicest passages. Baskets of flowers hung from the chandeliers,
the floor was polished to the slipperiness of ice and Mrs. Batty, on
her hospitable journeys to and fro, was in constant danger of a fall.
The society of Radstowe, all in new garments, appeared to Henrietta of
a dazzling brilliance, but she stood easily, holding her head high, as
though she were well used to this kind of glory. Looking round, she
saw Francis Sales leaning against a wall, talking to his partner and
smiling with unnecessary amiability. A flame of jealousy flickered
hotly through her body. How could he smile like that? Why did he not
come to her? And then, in the pride of her secret love, she remembered
that he dare not show his eagerness. They belonged to each other, they
were alone in their love, and all these people, talking, laughing,
fluttering fans, thinking themselves of immense importance, had no
real existence. He and she alone of all that company existed with a
fierceness that changed the sensuous dance-music into the cry of
Young men approached her and wrote their initials on her programme
which was already marked with little crosses against the numbers she
had promised to Francis Sales. Charles Batty, rather hot, anxious and
glowering, arrived too late. His angry disgust, his sense of
desertion, were beyond words. He stared at her. 'And my flowers,' he
'Charles, don't shout.'
'Where are my flowers? I sent some--roses and lilies and maidenhair.
Where are they?'
'I haven't seen them.'
'Ah, I suppose you didn't like them, but the girl in the shop told me
they would be all right. How should I know?'
'I haven't seen them,' she repeated. Over his shoulder she saw the
figure of Francis Sales coming towards her.
'I ordered them yesterday,' Charles continued loudly. 'I'll kill that
girl. I'll go at once.'
'The shop will be shut,' Henrietta reminded him. 'Oh, do be quiet,
Charles.' She turned with a smile for Francis.
'She hasn't a dance left,' Charles said.
'Mr. Sales took the precaution of booking them in advance,' Henrietta
said lightly, and with a miserable gesture Charles went off,
muttering, 'I hadn't thought of that. Why didn't some one tell me?'
That ball was to be known in Nelson Lodge as the one that killed Miss
Caroline, but Miss Caroline had her full share of pleasure out of it.
It was the custom in Radstowe to make much of Caroline and Sophia:
they were respected and playfully loved and it was not only the
middle-aged gentlemen who asked them to dance, and John and Charles
Batty were not the only young ones who had the honour of leading them
into the middle of the room, taking a few turns in a waltz and
returning, in good order, to the throne-like arm-chairs. Francis Sales
had their names on his programme, but with him they used the privilege
of old friends and preferred to talk.
'You can keep your dancing for Rose and Henrietta,' Caroline said.
'He comes too late for me,' Rose said pleasantly. He gave her
something remarkably like one of his old looks and she answered it
with a grave one. There was gnawing trouble at her heart. She had
watched his meeting with Henrietta. It had been wordless; everything
was understood. She had also seen the unhappiness of Charles Batty,
and, on an inspiration, she said to him, 'Charles, you must take pity
on an old maid. I have all these dances to give away.'
For him this dance was to be remembered as the beginning of his
friendship with Rose Mallett; but at the moment he was merely annoyed
at being prevented from watching Henrietta's dark head appearing and
disappearing among the other dancers like that of a bather in a rough
sea. He said, 'Oh, thank you very much. Are you sure there's nobody
else? But I suppose there can't be'; and holding her at arm's length,
he ambled round her, treading occasionally on her toes. He apologized:
he was no good at dancing: he hoped he had not hurt her slippers, or
She paused and looked down at them. 'You mustn't do that to Henrietta.
Her slippers are yellow and you would spoil them.'
'She isn't giving me a single dance!' he burst out. 'I asked her to,
but I never thought I ought to get a promise. Nobody told me. Nobody
tells me anything.'
An icily angry gentleman remonstrated with him for standing in the
fairway and Rose suggested that they should sit down.
'You see, I'm no good. I can't dance. I can't please her.'
'Charles, you're still in the way. Let us go somewhere quiet and then
you can tell me all about it.'
He took her to a small room leading from the big one. 'I'll shut the
door,' he said, 'and then we shan't hear that hideous din.'
'It is a very good band.'
'It's profane,' Charles said wearily. 'Music--they call it music!' He
was off at a great pace and she did not try to hold him in. She lay
back in the big chair and seemed to study the toes on which Charles
Batty had trampled. His voice rolled on like the sound of water,
companionable and unanswerable. Suddenly his tone changed. 'Henrietta
is very unkind to me.'
'Is there any reason why she shouldn't be?'
'I do everything I can think of. I've told her all about myself.'
'She would rather hear about herself.'
'I've done that, too. Perhaps I haven't done it enough. I've given her
chocolates and flowers. What else ought I to do?'
Her voice, very calm and clear after his spluttering, said, 'Not too
'Oh!' This was a new idea. 'Oh! I never thought of that. Why--'
She interrupted his usual cry. 'Women are naturally cruel.'
'Are they? I didn't know that either.' He swallowed the information
visibly. She could almost see the process of digestion. 'Oh!' he said
'They don't mean to be. They are simply untouched by a love they don't
return.' She added thoughtfully: 'And inclined to despise the lover.'
'That's it,' he mourned. 'She despises me.' And in a louder voice he
demanded, not of Rose Mallett, but of the mysterious world in which he
gropingly existed, 'Why should she?'
'She shouldn't, but perhaps you yourself are making a mistake.'
She heard indistinctly the word, 'Impossible.'
'You can't be sure.'
'I'm quite certain about that--about nothing else.' His big hands
moved. 'I cling to that.'
'Then you must be ready to serve her. Charles, if I ever needed you--'
'I'd do anything for you because you're her aunt. And besides,' he
said simply, 'you're rather like her in the face.'
'Thank you, but it's her you may have to serve--and not me. I want her
to be happy. I don't know where her happiness is, but I know where it
is not. Some day I may tell you.' She looked at him. He might be
useful as an ally; she was sure he could be trusted. 'Promise you will
do anything I ask for her sake.'
He turned the head which had been sunk on his crumpled shirt. 'Is
anything the matter?' he asked, concerned, and more alert than she had
ever seen him.
She said, 'Hush!' for the door behind was opening and it let in a
murmur of voices and a rush of cold, fresh air. Rose shivered and,
looking round, she saw Henrietta and Francis Sales. Her cloak was half
on and half off her shoulders, her colour was very high and her eyes
were not so dazzled by the light that she did not immediately
recognize her aunt. It was Francis Sales who hesitated and Rose said
quickly, 'Oh, please shut the door.'
He obeyed and stood by Henrietta's side, a pleasing figure, looking
taller and more finely made in his black clothes.
'Have you been on the terrace?'
'Yes, it's a glorious night.'
'You'll get cold,' Charles said severely. She had been out there with
the man who murdered music and who, therefore, was a scoundrel, and
Charles's objection was based on that fact and not on Francis Sales's
married state. He had not the pleasure of feeling a pious indignation
that a man with an invalid wife walked on the terrace with Henrietta.
He would have said, 'Why not?' and he would have found an excuse for
any man in the beauty, the wonder, the enchantment of that girl,
though he could not forgive Henrietta for her friendship with the
slaughterer of music and of birds.
He glared and repeated, 'You'll be ill.'
Henrietta pretended not to hear him, and Rose said thoughtfully and
slowly, 'Oh, no, Charles, people don't get cold when they are happy.'
'I suppose not.' He felt in a vague way that he and Rose, sitting
there, for he had forgotten to stand up, were united against the other
two who stood, very clear, against the gold-embossed wall of the room,
and that those two were conscious of the antagonism. They also were
united and he felt an increase of his dull pain at the sight of their
comeliness, the suspicion of their likeness to each other. 'I suppose
not,' Charles said, and after that no one spoke, as though it were
impossible to find a light word, and unnecessary.
Each one was aware of conflict, of something fierce and silent going
on, but it was Rose who understood the situation best and Charles who
understood it least. His feelings were torturing but simple. He wanted
Henrietta and he could not get her: he did not please her, and that
Sales, that Philistine, that handsome, well-made, sulky-looking beggar
knew how to do it.
But Rose was conscious of the working of four minds: there was her
own, sore with the past and troubled by a present in which her lover
concealed his discomfiture under the easy sullenness of his pose. He,
too, had the past shared with her to haunt him, but he had also a
present bright with Henrietta's allurements yet darkly streaked with
prohibitions, struggles and surrenders, and Rose saw that the worst
tragedy was his and hers. It must not be Henrietta's. In their youth
she and Francis had misunderstood, and in their maturity they had
failed, each other; it was the fault of neither and Henrietta must not
be the victim of their folly. Looking at the big fan of black feathers
spread on her knee, Rose smiled a little, with a maternal tenderness.
Henrietta was her father's daughter, wilful and lovable, but she was
also the daughter of that mother who had been good and loving.
Henrietta had her father's passion for excitement but, being a woman,
she had the greater need of being loved, and Rose raised her eyes and
looked at Charles with an ironical appreciation of his worthiness, of
his comicality. She saw him with Henrietta's eyes, and her white
shoulders lifted and dropped in resignation. Then she looked at
Henrietta and smiled frankly. 'Another dance has begun,' she said.
'Somebody must be looking for you.'
'No,' Henrietta said, 'it's with Mr. Sales,' and turning to him with
the effect of ignoring Rose, she said in a clear voice which became
slightly harsh as she saw him gazing at her aunt oddly, almost as
though he were astonished by a new sight, 'Shall we go back to the
terrace or shall we dance?'
'You'll get cold,' Charles said again angrily.
'Let us dance,' Sales said.
The door to the ball-room closed behind them and Charles let out a
groan. 'You see!' he said.
Rose hoped he did not see too much and she was reassured when he
added, 'She takes no notice of me.'
'Poor Charles, but you know you treat her a little like a child. You
shouldn't talk of catching cold. You're too material.'
She was surprised to hear him say with a sort of humble pride, 'Only
before other people. She's heard me different.' Then, dropping into
the despair of his own thoughts, and with the rage of one feeling
himself sinking hopelessly, he cried out, 'It's like pouring water
through a sieve.'
The voice of Rose, very calm and wise, said gently, 'Continue to
'It's all very fine,' he muttered.
'Continue to pour. It may be all you can do, but it is worth while.'
'I told her I would do that, one night, on the hill. She said she
didn't want it.'
'She doesn't know,' Rose said in the same voice, comforting in its
quietness. She stood up. 'We had better go back now, and remember, you
promise to do for her anything I ask of you.'
'Of course,' he said, 'but I shall do it wrong.'
She laid her hand on his arm. 'It must be done rightly. It must. It
will be. Now take me back.'
He resigned her unwillingly, for he felt that she was his strength, to
the partner who claimed her, but as she prepared to dance, Charles
returned hurriedly and, ignoring the affronted gentleman who had
already clasped her, he said anxiously, 'This service--what is it? Is
there something wrong?'
She looked deeply into his eyes. 'There must not be.'
And now, for him in the sea of dancers, there were two dark heads
bobbing among the waves.
The hours sped by; the lavish supper was consumed; dresses and flowers
lost their freshness; the musicians lost their energetic ardour; the
man at the piano was seen to yawn cavernously above the keys. The
guests began to depart, leaving an exhausted but happy Mrs. Batty. She
had been complimented by Miss Mallett on the perfection of her
arrangements, on the brilliance of the assembly, on the music and even
on the refreshments, and Mrs. Batty had blessed her own perseverance
against Mr. Batty's obstinacy in the matter of the supper. He had
wanted light refreshments and she had insisted on a knife-and-fork
affair, and Miss Caroline had actually remarked on the wisdom of a
solid meal. She had no patience with snacks. Mrs. Batty intended to
lull Mr. Batty to slumber with that quotation.
In the cab, as the Malletts jolted home in the care of the same surly
driver, Caroline complaisantly spoke of her congratulations. She would
not have said so much to anybody else, but she knew Mrs. Batty would
'So she was, dear,' Sophia said, but her more delicate social sense
was troubled. 'Though I do think one ought to treat everybody as one
would treat the greatest lady in the land. I think we ought to have
taken for granted that everything would be correct.'
'Rubbish! You must treat people as they want to be treated. She was
panting for praise, and she got it, and anyhow it's too late to
They had stayed to the end so that Henrietta's pleasure should not be
curtailed, and now she was leaning back, very white and still.
'I believe the child's asleep,' Sophia whispered.
'No, I'm not. I'm wide awake.'
'Did you enjoy it, dear?'
'Very much,' said Henrietta.
'I kept my eye on you, child,' Caroline said.
Henrietta made an effort. 'I kept my eye on you, Aunt Caroline. I saw
you flirting with Mr. Batty.'
'Impudence! Sophia, do you hear her? I only danced with him twice,
though I admit he hovered round my chair. They always did. I can't
help it. We're all like that. You should have seen your father at a
ball! There was no one like him. Such an air! Ah, here we are. I
suppose this disagreeable cabman must be tipped.'
'I'll see to that,' Rose said. It was the first time she had spoken.
'Be quick, Caroline. Don't stand in the cold.'
'The dancing has done me good,' Caroline said, and she lingered on the
pavement to look at the stars, holding her skirts high in the happy
knowledge of her unrivalled legs and feet. 'No, Sophia, I am not cold,
or tired; but yes, I'll take a little soup.'
They sat round the roaring fire prepared for them and drank the soup
out of fine old cups. Caroline chattered; she was gay; she believed
she had been a great success; young men had paid court to her; she had
rapped at least one of them with her fan; a grey-haired man had talked
to her of her lively past. But Sophia had much ado to prevent her
heavy head from nodding. Henrietta was silent, very busy with her
thoughts and careful to avoid the eyes of Rose.
'I think,' Caroline said, 'we ought to give a little dance. We could
have this carpet up. Just a little dance--'
'But Henrietta and I,' Rose said distinctly, 'are going away.'
'Oh, nonsense! You must put it off. We ought to give a dance for the
child. Now, how many couples? Ten, at least. Sophia, you're asleep.'
'No, dear. A party. I heard. But if you're ready now, I think I'll go
'Go along. I'll follow.'
'Oh, no, Caroline, we always go together.'
'Well, well, I'll come, but I could stay here and talk for hours. I
could always sit you out and dance you out, couldn't I?'
'Yes, dear. You're wonderful. Such spirit!'
They kissed Rose; they both kissed Henrietta on each cheek.
'A little dance,' Caroline repeated, and patted Henrietta's arm. 'Good
child,' she murmured.
Henrietta went upstairs behind them, slowly, not to overtake Sophia.
She did not want to be left down there with Aunt Rose. She wanted
solitude, and she knew now what people meant when they talked of being
in a dream. Under her hand the slim mahogany rail felt like the cold,
firm hand of Francis Sales when, after their last dance together, he
had led her on to the terrace again. They were alone there, for the
wind was very cold, but for Henrietta it was part of the exquisite
mantle in which she was wrapped. She was wrapped in the glamour of the
night and the stars and the excitement of the dance, yet suddenly,
looking down at the dark river, she was chilled. She said, and her
voice seemed to be carried off by the wind, 'Aunt Rose is going to
take me away.'
He bent down to her. 'What did you say?'
She put her lips close to his ear. 'Aunt Rose is going to take me
He dropped her hand. 'She can't do that.'
'But she will. I shall have to go,' and he said gloomily, 'I knew you
would leave me, too.' She felt helpless and lonely: her happiness had
gone; the wind had risen. She said loudly, 'It's not my fault. What
can I do? I shall come back.'
He stood quite still and did not look at her. 'You don't think of me.'
'I think of nothing else. How can I tell her I can't leave you? She
has been good to me.'
'She was once good to me, too. That won't last long.'
'Ah, that's not true!' she cried.
'Go, then, if she's more to you than I am. I'm used to that.'
She moved away from him. Why did he not help her? He was a man; he
loved her, but he was cruel. Ah, the thought warmed her, it was his
love that made him cruel: he needed her; he was lonely. Under her
cloak, she clasped her gloved hands in a helplessness which must be
conquered. What shall I do? she asked the stars. Across the river the
cliff was sombre; it seemed to listen and to disapprove. The stars
were kinder: they twinkled, they laughed, they understood, and the
lights on the bridge glowed steadily with reassurance. She turned back
to Francis Sales. 'You must trust me,' she said firmly. He put his
hands heavily on her shoulders. 'I won't let you go.'
A murmur, inarticulate and delighted, escaped her lips. This was what
she wanted. Very small and willing to be commanded, she leaned against
him. 'What will you do with me?' she whispered, secure in his
strength. She laughed. 'You will have to take me away yourself!'
'You wouldn't come,' he said with unexpected seriousness.
So close to him that the wind could not steal the words, she answered,
'I would do anything for one I loved.'
The memory of her own voice, its tenderness and seduction, startled
her in the solitude of her room. She had not known she could speak
like that. She dropped her face into her hands, and in the rapture of
her own daring and in the recollection of the excitement which had
frozen them into a stillness through which the beating of their hearts
sounded like a faint tap of drums, there came the doubt of her
Had she really meant what she said? Yet she could have said nothing
else. The words had left her lips involuntarily, her voice, as though
of itself, had taken on that tender tone. She could not have failed in
that dramatic moment, but now she was half afraid of her undertaking.
Well, her hands dropped to her sides, she had given her word; she had
promised herself in an heroic surrender and her very doubts seemed to
sanctify the act.
For a long time she sat by the fire, half undressed, her immature thin
arms hanging loosely, her sombre eyes staring at the fire. She wished
this night might go on for ever, this time of ecstasy between a
promise and its fulfilment. She had seen disillusionment in another
and did not laugh at its possibility for herself; it would come to
her, she thought, as it had come to her mother, who had hoped her
daughter would find happiness in love; and Henrietta wondered if that
gentle spirit was aware of what was happening.
The thought troubled her a little, and from her mother, who had been a
neglected wife, it was no more than a step to that other, lying on her
back, tortured and lonely. If Christabel Sales had a daughter, what
would be her fierce young thoughts about this thief, sitting by the
fire in a joy which was half misery? Yet she was no thief: she was
only picking up what would otherwise be wasted. It seemed to her that
life was hardly more than a perpetual and painful choice. Some one had
to be hurt, and why should it not be Christabel? Or was she hurt
enough already? And again, what good would she get from Henrietta's
sacrifice? No one would gain except Henrietta herself, she could see
that plainly, and she was prepared to suffer; she was anxious to
suffer and be justified.
The coals in the grate began to fade, the room was cold and she was
tired. Slowly she continued her undressing, throwing down her dainty
garments with the indifference of her fatigue. She feared her thoughts
would stand between her and sleep, but, when she lay down, warmth
gradually stole over her and soothed her into forgetfulness. She
slept, but she waked to unusual sounds in the house: a door opened,
there were footsteps on the landing and then a voice, shrill and
frightened. She jumped out of bed. Sophia was on the landing; Rose was
just opening her door; Susan, decently covered by a puritanical
dressing-gown, had been roused by the noise. Caroline was in pain,
Sophia said. She was breathing with great difficulty. 'I told her she
ought to take a shawl,' Sophia sobbed.
Fires had to be lighted, water boiled and flannels warmed, and the
voice of Caroline was heard in gasping expostulation. Henrietta
dressed quickly. 'I'm going for the doctor,' she told Rose, who was
already putting on her coat, and Henrietta noticed that she still wore
her evening gown. She had not been to bed, and for a moment Henrietta
forgot her Aunt Caroline and stared at her Aunt Rose.
'I am going,' Rose said quietly. 'Oh, hadn't you better stay here?
Aunt Sophia is in such a fuss.'
'We'll go together,' Rose said. 'I can't let you go alone.'
Henrietta laughed a little. This care was so unnecessary for one who
had given herself to a future full of peril.
They went out in the cold darkness of the morning, walking very fast
and now and then breaking into a run, and with them there walked a
shadowy third person, keeping them apart. It was strange to be yoked
together by Caroline's danger and securely separated by this shadow.
They did not speak, they had nothing to say, yet both thought, What
difference is this going to make? But on their way back, when the
doctor had been roused and they had his promise to come quickly,
Henrietta's fear burst the bonds of her reserve. 'You don't think she
is going to die, do you?'
Rose put her arm through Henrietta's. 'Oh, Henrietta, I hope not. No,
no, I'm not going to believe that, 'and, temporarily united, the third
person left behind though following closely, they returned to the
lighted house. As they stood in the hall they could hear the rasping
sound of Caroline's breathing.
John Gibbs, of Sales Hall, milkman and news carrier, shook his head
over the cans that morning. Mrs. Sales was very bad. The master had
fetched the doctor in the early morning. He had set out in the same
car that brought him from the dance. Cook and Susan looked at each
other with a compression of lips and a nodding of heads, implying that
misfortune never came singly, but they did not tell John Gibbs of the
illness in their own house. They had imbibed something of the Mallett
reserve and they did not wish the family affairs to be blabbed at
every house in Radstowe. But when the man had gone, Susan reminded
Cook of her early disapproval of that ball. It would kill Miss
Caroline, it would kill Mrs. Sales.
'She wasn't there, poor thing,' Cook said.
'But he was, gallivanting. I dare say it upset her.'
Susan was right. Christabel Sales had fretted herself into one of her
heart attacks; but the Malletts did not know this until later. At
present they were concerned with Caroline, about whom the doctor was
reassuring. She was very ill, but she had herself remarked that if
they were expecting her to die they would be disappointed, and that
was the spirit to help recovery.
A nurse was installed in the sick-room, Sophia fluttered a little less
and Rose and Henrietta ignored their emotion of the early morning;
they also avoided each other. They were both occupied with the same
problem, though Henrietta's thoughts had taken definite shape; above
her dreaming, her practical mind was dealing with concrete details,
and Rose was merely speculating on the future, and the more she
speculated, the surer she became of the necessity to interfere. Her
plan of carrying Henrietta to other lands was frustrated for the
present by Caroline's illness and she dared not allow things to drift.
There was a smouldering defiance in Henrietta's manner: she was
absorbed yet wary; she seemed to have a grudge against the aunt who
had missed nothing at the dance, who had seen her exits and entrances
with Francis Sales and interrupted their farewell glance, the wave of
Henrietta's gloved hand towards the tall figure standing in the porch
of the Assembly Rooms to see her depart.
There was a certain humour about the situation, and for Rose an
impeding feeling of hypocrisy. Here she was, determined to put
obstacles on the primrose path where she herself once had dallied. It
looked like the envy of age for youth, it looked like inclining to
virtue because the opposite was no longer possible for her, like tardy
loyalty to Christabel; but she must not be hampered by appearances.
Her chief fear was of hardening Henrietta's temper, and she came to
the conclusion that she must appeal to Francis Sales himself. It was
an unpleasant task and, she dimly felt, she hardly knew why, a
dangerous one; and meeting Henrietta that day at meals or in the
hushed quiet of the passages, she felt herself a traitor to the girl.
After all, what right had she to interfere? She had no right, and her
double excuse was her knowledge of Francis Sales' character and her
certainty that Henrietta was chiefly moved by her dramatic instinct.
And again Rose wished that the hair of Charles Batty's head were
thicker and that he could supply the counter-attraction needed; but
she might at least be able to use him; there was no one else.
That night, after an evening spent in soothing Sophia's fears which
had been roused by the unnatural gentleness of Caroline, and treating
Henrietta to all the friendliness she would receive, Rose went out to
post a letter to Francis Sales. She had asked him, with an irony she
had no doubt he would miss, to meet her in the hollow where the
gipsies had encamped and where so many of their interviews had taken
place. It was within a few yards of that bank of primroses where he
had asked her to marry him.
Caroline was better the next morning and it was easy for Rose to
escape. She chose to ride. It was one of those mild January days which
already promise the return of spring. Birds chirped in the leafless
trees, the earth was damp and seemed to stir with the efforts of
innumerable roots to produce a richer life, yet the leaves of autumn
were still lying on the ground. How she loved this country, this blue
air, this smell of fruit present even before the blossom was on the
trees, the sight of wood smoke curling from the cottage chimneys, the
very ruts in the road! A little while ago she had told herself she was
sickened by it: it was the symbol of failure and young, tender, ruined
hopes, but the love of it lay deeply in her heart; all this, the
failure and the ruin, were of her life and it could be no more cast
off than could the hands which had refused the kissing and clasping of
This was her own country: the strange, unbridled, stealthy wildness of
it was in her blood; it was in Henrietta through her father, it was in
Francis, too, and due to it was this tragic muddle in which they found
themselves. She had a faint, despairing feeling that she could not
fight against it, that her mission would only be another failure, yet
she counted on Francis's easy tenderness of heart. The very weakness
which persuaded him to an action could turn him from it, and it was to
his tenderness she must appeal.
She reached the track and, raised high on her horse, she could see the
fields with the rough grass and gorse bushes sloping to the channel;
the pale strip of water like silver melted in the heart of the hills
and falling slowly to the sea; the blue hills themselves like gates
keeping a fair country. The place where the wood had been was like a
brown and purple rug, but before long the pattern would be complicated
by creeping green. Where the trees had murmured and whispered or stood
silent, listening, there was now no sound, no secrecy; the place lay
candidly under the wide sky, but, from a field out of sight, a sheep
bleated disconsolately, with a sound of infinite, uncomprehending woe,
and a steamer in the river sent out a distant hoot of answering
The gipsies had departed; the ashes of their fire made a black patch
on the ground and a few rags fluttered in the wind. There was no human
being in sight and she rode down the slope to wait in the hollow. She
was beginning to wonder if Francis had received her letter when, with
a dreary sense of watching a familiar scene reacted, she saw him in
the lane with Henrietta by his side. Here was an unexpected
difficulty, and she could do nothing but ride towards them, raising
her whip in greeting.
She said at once to Francis, 'Did you get my letter?' She saw
Henrietta's face flush angrily, but she knew that the time had come
for her to speak. 'I asked you to meet me here.'
He was staring at her and his mouth moved mechanically. 'No, I didn't
get it by the first post. Perhaps it's there now.' With his eyes still
fixed on her, he moved back a step.
'No.' Rose smiled. 'Don't go and get it. Fortunately you are here. I
want to talk to you, Henrietta, please--' Her voice was gentle, she
leaned forward in the saddle with a charming gesture of request, but
Henrietta shook her head. She was antagonized by that charm which was
holding Francis's eyes. A loosened curl had fallen over her forehead,
giving to the severity of her dress, copied from that portrait of her
father, a dishevelling touch, as though a young lady were suddenly
discovered to be a gipsy in an evil frame of mind.
'If it's anything to do with me, I'm going to stay,' she said. 'If it
hasn't, I'll go.' She looked at Francis and added, between her teeth,
'But it must have.' Those words and that look claimed him for her own.
Rose lifted her chin and looked over the two heads, the uncovered one
of Francis Sales and Henrietta's, with her hat a little askew, and,
absurdly, Rose remembered that the child had washed her hair the night
before: that was why the hat was crooked and the curl loose, making
the scene undignified and funny above the pain of it. Rose spoke in a
voice heightened by a tone. 'It concerns you both,' she said.
'Ah, then, you needn't say it, need she, Francis?'
'Francis,' she repeated the name with a grave humour, 'this is not
fair to Henrietta.'
'I know that,' he muttered, and Rose saw Henrietta shoot at him a thin
look of scorn.
Henrietta said, 'But I don't care about that, and anyhow, we're not
going to do it any more. We're tired of these meetings'--she faced
him--'aren't we? We had just made up our minds to have no more of
'I'm glad of that,' said Rose, and she fancied that the hurried
beating of her heart must be plain through the thick stuff of her
Henrietta laughed, showing little teeth, and Rose thought, 'Her teeth
are too small. They spoil her.'
'No, you need not spy on us any more,' Henrietta said.
Francis made a movement of distaste. He said, as though the words cost
him much labour, 'Henrietta, don't.'
But there seemed to be no limit to what Rose could bear. She stooped
forward suddenly and put her cheek against the horse's neck in an
impulsive need to express affection, perhaps to get it.
'You think I don't understand,' she said quietly, 'but I do, too
well.' She paused, and in her overpowering sense of helplessness, of
distrust, she found herself making, without a quiver, the confession
of her own foolishness.
'I don't know whether Francis has told you that he and I were once in
love with one another. At least that is what we called it.' Very pale,
appearing to have grown thinner in that moment, she looked at the
horse's ears and spoke as though she and Henrietta were alone. 'Until
quite lately. Then he realized, we both realized, our mistake. But it
seems that Francis must have somebody to--to meet, to kiss. Between me
and you there has been some one else.' With a wave of her hand, she
put aside that thought. 'We used to meet here often. This place must
be full of memories for him. For me, the whole countryside is
scattered with little broken bits of love. It breaks so easily, or it
may be only the counterfeit that breaks. Anyhow, it broke, it chipped.
I thought you ought to know that.' She touched her horse with her heel
and turned down the lane. She went slowly, sitting very straight, but
she had the constant expectation of being shot in the back. She had to
remind herself that Henrietta had no weapon but her eyes.
It was those eyes Francis Sales chiefly remembered when he had parted
from Henrietta and turned homewards. There had been scorn in them,
anger, grief, jealousy and expectation. If she had not been so small,
if they had not been raised to his, if he could have looked levelly
into them as he did into the clear grey eyes of Rose, things might
have been different. But she was little and she had clung to him,
looking up. She had told him she could never see her Aunt Rose again.
How could she? Was he sure he did not love Rose still? Was he sure? He
ought to be, for it was he who had made Henrietta love him. He had
liked that tribute too much to contradict it, but Rose Mallett was
right: whoever had been the promoter of this business, it was not fair
to Henrietta, and the thought of Rose, so white and straight, was like
wind after a sultry day. She was like a church, he thought; a dim
church with tall pillars losing themselves in the loftiness of the
roof; yes, that was what was the matter with her: she was cold, but
there was no one like her, you could not forget her even in the warmth
of Henrietta's presence. One way and another, these Malletts tortured
He walked home, trying to find some way out of this maze of promises
to Henrietta and of self-reproach, and his mental wanderings were
interrupted by an unwelcome request from the nurse that he should go
at once to Mrs. Sales. She seemed, the woman warned him, to be very
much excited: would he please be careful? She must not have another
As he entered the room, it seemed to him that he had been treading on
egg-shells all his life, but a sudden pity swept him at the sight of
his wife, very weak from the pain of the night before last, yet
intensely, almost viciously alive. He wished he had not gone to the
Battys' ball; it had upset her and done him no good. If it had not
been for that walk on the terrace--
He shut the door gently and stood by her. 'Are you in pain?' he asked.
He felt remorsefully that he did not know how to treat her; he had not
love enough, yet with all his heart he wanted to be kind.
'You haven't kissed me to-day,' she said. 'No, don't do it. You don't
want to, do you?'
'Yes, I do,' he said, and as he bent over her he was touched by the
contented sigh she gave. If he could begin over again, he told
himself, with the virtue of the man who has committed himself fatally,
things would be different. If he hadn't brought Henrietta to such a
pass, they should be different now.
'I've never stopped being fond of you, Christabel.'
She laughed and disconcerted him. 'Or of your horses, or your dogs,'
she said. 'No one could expect you to care much for a useless log like
me. No one could have expected you not to go to that dance.' Tears
filled her eyes. 'But I was lonely. And I imagined you there--'
'I wish I hadn't gone,' he said truthfully.
She seemed to consider that remark, but presently she asked, 'Have you
He had lost a great deal, for Rose despised him; that had been plain
in the face which once had been so soft for him.
'I asked you,' Christabel said, 'if you had lost something.'
She let out a small piercing shriek. 'You're lying, lying! But why
should I care? You've done that for years. And Rose has been so kind,
hasn't she, coming to see me every week? Take your letter, Francis.
Yes, I've read it! I don't care. I'm helpless. Take it!' From its
hiding-place under the coverlet she drew the letter and threw it at
him. It fluttered feebly to the ground. She had made a tremendous
effort, trying to fling it in his face, and it had fallen as mildly as
a snowflake. She began to sob. This was the climax of her suffering,
that it should fall like that.
He picked it up and read it. It was no good trying to explain, for one
explanation would only necessitate another. He was deeply in the mire,
they were both, they were all in it, and he did not know how to get
anybody out, but he had to stop that sobbing somehow. His pity for
Christabel swelled into his biggest feeling. He crumpled the letter
angrily and, at the sound, she held her breathing for a moment. Of
course, she should have crumpled the letter and then she might have
hit him with it.
'I wish to God I'd never seen her,' she heard him say with despairing
anger. And then, more gently, 'Don't cry, Christabel. I can't bear to
hear you. The letter's nothing. I shall never meet her again. I must
take more care of you.' He took her hand and stroked it. He would
never meet Rose again, but he had an appointment with Henrietta.
'You promise? But no, it doesn't matter if you love her.'
'I don't love her.'
'But you did.'
He passed his free hand across his forehead. No, he would not keep
that appointment with Henrietta, or he would only keep it to tell her
it was impossible. He could not go with this wailing in his ears and
he knew that piteous sound was his salvation. It gave him the strength
to appear weak. 'Don't cry. It's all right, Christabel. Look, I'll
burn the confounded letter and I swear it's the only one I've ever had
from her. 'It was to Rose, he admitted miserably, that he owed the
possibility of telling that truth.
Her weeping became quieter. 'Tell her,' she articulated, 'I never want
to see her again.'
'But,' he said petulantly, 'haven't I just told you I never want to
'Then write--write--I don't mind Henrietta.'
'No!' he almost shouted, 'not Henrietta either!'
She turned to him a face ravaged with tears and misery. 'Why not
Henrietta?' she whispered.
'I hate the lot of them,' he muttered. 'They're all witches.'
She laughed joyously. 'That's what I've said myself!' She gave him
both her thin, hot hands to hold. 'But it's worth while, all this, if
you are going to be good to me.'
He kissed her then as the sinner kisses the saint who has wrought a
miracle of salvation for him. 'We've had bad luck,' he murmured.
'You've had the worst of it.' He stroked her cheek. 'Poor little
Once out of sight of the two standing in the lane, Rose rode home
quickly. She felt she had a great deal to do, but she did not know
what it was. Her head was hot with the turmoil of her thoughts. There
was no order in them; the past was mixed with the present, the done
with the undone: she was assailed by the awful conviction that right
was prolific in producing wrong. If she had not preserved her own
physical integrity, these two, who were almost like her children--yes,
that was how she felt towards them--would not have been tempted to
such folly. For it was folly: they did not love each other, and she
remembered, with a sickening pang, the expression with which Francis
had looked at her. She told herself he loved her still; he had never
loved anybody else and she had only pity and protection and a
deep-rooted fondness to give him in return. She cared more passionately
for Henrietta, who was now the victim of the superficial chastity on
which Rose had insisted.
If she had known that Henrietta was to suffer, she would have subdued
her niceness, for if Francis had been in physical possession of her
body, she would have had no difficulty in possessing his mind. Holding
nothing back, she could also have held him securely. She did not want
him, but Henrietta would have been saved. But then Rose had not known:
how could she? And Henrietta might be saved yet, she must be saved.
The obvious method was to lay siege to the facile heart of Francis,
but there was no time for that. Rose was not deceived by Henrietta's
enigmatic words. They were tired of meeting stealthily, she had said.
What did that mean? Her head grew hotter. She had to force herself
into calm, and the old man at the toll-house on the bridge received
her visual greeting as she passed, but, as she went slowly to the
stables, there was added to her anxiety the thrilling knowledge that
at last, and for the first time, she was going to take definite
action. Her whole life had been a long and dull preparation for this
day. She began to take a pleasure in her excitement: she had something
to do; she was delivered from the monotony of thought.
On her way from the stables she met Charles Batty going home for his
midday meal, and she stopped him. 'Charles!' she said. She presented
to his appreciative eyes a very elegant figure in the habit looped up
to show her high slim boots, with her thick plait of hair under the
hard hat, her complexion defying the whiteness of her stock; while to
her he appeared with something of the aspect of an angel in a long top
coat and a hat at the back of his head. 'Charles,' she said again,
tapping her boot with her whip, 'I'm in trouble. Would you mind
walking home by the hill? I want you to help me, but I can't tell you
how. Not yet.'
He walked beside her without speaking and they came to the place where
he had stood with Henrietta and she had flouted him; whither she had
wandered on her first day in Radstowe, that high point overlooking the
gorge, the rocks, the trees, the river; that scene of which not
Charles, nor Rose, nor Henrietta could ever tire.
'Not, yet,' she repeated. 'Will you meet me this afternoon?'
'Look here,' he remonstrated, 'if Henrietta found out--'
She had not time to smile. 'It's for her sake.'
'I'll do anything,' he said.
'Then will you meet me this afternoon at five o'clock? Not here. I may
not be able to get so far. Where can we meet?'
'Well, there's the post-office. Can't mistake that.'
'No, no, I may have something important, very important, Charles, to
say to you. At five o'clock, will you be on The Green? There's a seat
by the old monument. It won't take a minute to get there. Are you
listening? On The Green at five o'clock. Come towards me as soon as
you see me and at once we'll walk together towards the avenue. Wait
till six, and if I don't come, will you still hold yourself in
readiness at home? Don't forget. Don't be absent-minded and forget
what you are there for, and even if there's a barrel-organ playing
dreadful tunes, you'll wait there? For Henrietta.'
'I don't understand this about Henrietta.'
'That doesn't matter, not in the least. Now what are your
He repeated them.
'Very well. I trust you.'
They separated and she went home, a little amused by her melodramatic
conduct, but much comforted by the fact that Charles, though ignorant
of his part, was with her in this conspiracy. She was met by
reproaches from Sophia.
'Oh, Rose, riding on such a day! And Henrietta out, too! Suppose we'd
wanted something from the chemist!'
'But you didn't, did you? And there are four servants in the house.
How is Caroline now?'
'Very quiet. Oh, Rose, she's very ill. She lets me do anything I like.
She hasn't a fault to find with me.'
'Let Henrietta sit with her this afternoon while Nurse is out.'
'No, no, Rose, I must do what I can for her.'
'I should like Henrietta to feel she is needed.'
'I don't think Caroline would be pleased. I'll see what she says.'
Caroline was distressingly indifferent but, as Henrietta went to her
room on her return and sent a message that she had a headache and did
not want any food, she was left undisturbed. Sophia became still more
agitated. What was the matter with the child? It would be terrible if
she were ill, too. Would Rose go and take her temperature? No, Rose
was sure Henrietta would not care for that. She had better be left to
sleep. If only she could be put to sleep for a few days!
Now that she was in the house and locked into her room, Rose was
alarmed. She was afraid she had done wrong in making that confession;
she had played what seemed to be her strongest card but she had played
it in the wrong way, at the wrong moment. She had surely roused the
girl's antagonism and rivalry, and there came to Rose's memory many
little scenes in which Reginald Mallett, crossed in his desires, or
irritated by reproaches, had suddenly stopped his storming, set his
stubborn mouth and left the house, only to return when need drove him
But if Henrietta went, and Rose had no doubt of her intention, she
would not come back. She had the unbending pride of her mother's
class, and Rose's fear was changed into a sense of approaching
desolation. The house would be unbearable without Henrietta. Rose
stood on the landing listening to the small sounds from Caroline's
room and the unbroken silence from Henrietta's. If that room became
empty, the house would be empty too. There would be no swift footsteps
up and down the stairs, no bursts of singing, no laughter: she must
not go; she could not be spared. For a moment Rose forgot Francis
Sales's share in the adventure: she could only think of her own
She went quickly down the stairs and sat in the drawing-room, leaving
the door open, and after an hour or so she heard stealthy sounds from
the room above; drawers were opened carefully and Henrietta, in
slipperless feet, padded across the floor. Rose looked at her watch
and rang the bell.
'Please take a tray to Miss Henrietta's room,' she told Susan, 'with
tea, and sandwiches and, yes, an egg. She had no luncheon. A good,
substantial tea, please, Susan.' If the child were anticipating a
journey, she must be fed.
A little later she heard Susan knock at Henrietta's door. It was not
opened, but the tray was deposited outside with a slight rattle of
china, and Susan's voice, mildly reproachful, exhorted Miss Henrietta
to eat and drink.
At half-past four the tray was still lying there untouched. This meant
that Henrietta was in no hurry, or that she was too indignant to eat:
but it might also mean that she had no time. Only half-past four and
Charles Batty was not due till five! He might be there already; in his
place, she would have been there, but men were painfully exact, and
five was the hour she had named. But again, Charles Batty was not an
ordinary man. Trusting to that fact, she went to her room and provided
herself with money, and, having listened without a qualm at
Henrietta's door, she ran out of the house.
The church facing The Green sounded the three-quarters and there, on
the seat by the old stone, sat Charles, his hands in his pockets, his
hat pulled over his eyes in a manner likely to rouse suspicions in the
mildest of policemen.
He rose. 'Where's your hat?'
'No time,' she said.
He repeated his lesson. 'We were to walk towards the avenue.'
'Yes, but I daren't. I want to keep in sight of the house. Come with
me. Here's money. Don't lose it.'
He held it loosely. 'Some one's been playing "The Merry Peasant" for
half an hour,' he said. 'I'll never sit here again.'
'Charles, take care of the money. You may need it. There's ten
pounds--all I had--but perhaps it will be enough. I want you to watch
our gate, and if Henrietta goes out, please follow her, but don't let her
'Oh, I say!' he murmured.
'I know. It's hateful, it's abominable, but you must do it.'
'She won't be pleased.'
'You must do it,' Rose repeated.
'She's sure to see me. Eyes like needles.'
'She mustn't. She'll probably go by train. If she goes to London, to
this address--I've written it down for you--you may leave her there
for the night and let me know at once. If she goes anywhere else, you
must go with her. Take care of her. I can't tell you exactly what to
do because I don't know what's going to happen. She may meet somebody,
and then, Charles, you must go with them both. But bring her home if
you can. Don't go to sleep. Don't compose music in your head. Oh,
Charles, this is your chance!'
'Is it? I shall miss it. I always do the wrong thing.'
'Not to-night.' She smiled at him eagerly, imperiously, trying to
endue him with her own spirit. 'Stay here in the shadow. I don't think
you will have long to wait, and if you get your chance, if you have to
talk to her, don't scold.'
'Scold! It's she that scolds. She bullies me.'
'Ah, not to-night!' she repeated gaily.
He peered down at her. 'Yes, you are rather like her in the face,
specially when you laugh. Better looking, though,' he added
'Don't tell her that.'
'Mustn't I? Well, I don't suppose I shall think of it again.'
'Remember that for you she is the best and most beautiful woman in the
world. You can tell her that.'
'The best and most beautiful--yes,' he said. 'All right. But you'll
see--I'll lose her. Bound to,' he muttered.
She put her hand on his arm. 'You'll bring her home,' she said firmly,
and she left him standing monumentally, with his hat awry.
Charles stood obediently in the place assigned to him, where the
shelter of the Malleus' garden wall made his own bulk less conspicuous
and whence he could see the gate. The night was mild, but a little
wind had risen, gently rocking the branches of the trees which, in the
neighbourhood of the street lamps, cast their shadows monstrously on
the pavements. Their movements gradually resolved themselves into
melody in Charles Batty's mind: the beauty of the reflected and
exaggerated twigs and branches was not consciously realized by his
eyes, but the swaying, the sudden ceasing, and the resumption of that
delicate agitation became music in his ears. He, too, swayed slightly
on his big feet and forgot his business, to remember it with a jerk
and a fear that Henrietta had escaped him. Rose had told him he must
not make music in his head. How had she known he would want to do
that? She must have some faculty denied to him, the same faculty which
warned her that Henrietta was going to do something strange to-night.
He felt in his pocket to assure himself of the money's safety. He
rearranged his hat and determined to concentrate on watching. The pain
which, varying in degrees, always lived in his bosom, the pain of
misunderstanding and being misunderstood, of doing the wrong thing, of
meaning well and acting ill, became acute. He was bound to make a
mistake; he would lose Henrietta or incense her, though now he was
more earnest to do wisely than he had ever been. He had told her he
was going to make an art of love, but he knew that art was far from
perfected, and she was incapable of appreciating mere endeavour. He
was afraid of her, but to-night he was more afraid of failing.
The music tripped in his head but he would not listen to it. He
strained his ears for the opening of the Malletts' door, and just as
the sound of the clock striking two steady notes for half-past five
was fading, as though it were being carried on the light wings of the
wind over the big trees, over the green, across the gorge, across the
woods to the essential country, he heard a faint thud, a patter of
feet and the turning of the handle of the gate. He stepped back lest
she should be going to pass him, but she turned the other way, walking
quickly, with a small bag in her hand.
'She's going away,' Charles said to himself with perspicacity, and now
for the first time he knew what her absence would mean to him. She did
not love him, she mocked and despised him, but the Malletts' house had
held her, and several times a day he had been able to pass and tell
himself she was there. Now, with the sad little bag in her hand, she
was not only in personal danger, she threatened his whole life.
He followed, not too close. Her haste did not destroy the beauty of
her carriage, her body did not hang over her feet, teaching them the
way to go; it was straight, like a young tree. He had never really
looked at her before, he had never had a mind empty of everything
except the consideration of her, and now he was puzzled by some
difference. In his desire to discover what it was, he drew
indiscreetly close to her, and though a quick turn of her head
reminded him of his duty to see and not to be seen, he had made his
discovery. Her clothes were different: they were shabby and, searching
for an explanation, he found the right one. She was wearing the
clothes in which she had arrived at Nelson Lodge. He remembered. In
books it was what fugitives always did: they discarded their rich
clothes and they left a note on the pin-cushion. It was her way of
shaking the dust from her feet and, with a rush of feeling in which he
forgot himself, he experienced a new, protective tenderness for her.
He realized that she, too, might be unhappy, and it seemed that it was
he who ought to comfort her, he who could do it.
He had to put a drag on his steps as they tried to hurry after her,
through the main street of Upper Radstowe, through another darker one
where there were fewer people and he had to exercise more care, and so
past the big square where tall old houses looked at each other across
an enclosure of trees, down to a broad street where tramcars rushed
and rattled. She boarded one of these and went inside. Pulling his hat
farther over his face in the erroneous belief that he would be the
less noticeable, he ascended to the top, to crane his head over the
side at every stopping-place lest Henrietta should get off; but there
was no sign of her until they reached that strange place in the middle
of the city where the harbour ran into the streets and the funnels and
masts of ships mingled with the roofs of houses. This was the spot
where, round a big triangle of paving, tramcars came and went in every
direction, and here everybody must alight.
The streets were brilliant with electricity; electric signs popped
magically with many-coloured lights on the front of a music hall where
an audience was already gathering for the first performance, on
public-houses, on the big red warehouses on the quay. The lighted
tramcars with passengers inside looked like magic-lantern slides, and
amid all the people using the triangle as a promenade or hurrying here
and there on business, the newsboys shouting and the general bustle,
Charles did not know whether to be more afraid of losing Henrietta or
colliding with her. But now his faculties were alert and he used more
discretion than was necessary, for Henrietta, under the influence of
that instinct which persuades that not seeing is a precaution against
being seen, was scrupulous in avoiding the encounter of any eye.
He followed her to another tramcar which would take her to the
station; he followed her when she alighted once more and, seeing her
change that bag from one hand to another, as though she found it
heavy, he let out a groan so loud and heartfelt that it aroused the
pity of a passer-by, but he was really luxuriating in his sorrow for
her. It was an immense relief after much sorrowing for himself and it
induced a forgetfulness of everything but his determination to help
It was easy to keep her in sight while she went up the broad approach
to the dull, crowded, badly lighted and dirty station: it was harder
to get near enough to hear what ticket she demanded. He did not hear,
but again he followed the little, shabby, yet somehow elegant figure,
and he took a place in the compartment next to the one she chose. It
was the London train, and he found himself hoping she was not going so
far; he felt that to see her disappearing into that house of which he
had the address in his pocket would be like seeing her disappear for
ever. He would lose his chance of helping her, or rather, she would
lose her chance of being helped, a slightly different aspect of the
affair and the one on which he had set his mind.
He had taken a ticket for the first stop, and when the train slowed
down for the station of that neighbouring city, he had his head out of
the window. An old gentleman with a noisy cold protested. Could he not
wait until the train actually stopped? Charles was afraid he could not
be so obliging. He assured the old gentleman that the night was mild.
'And I'm keeping a good deal of the draught out,' he said pleasantly.
He saw a small hand on the door of the next compartment, then the
sleeve of a black coat as Henrietta stretched for the handle, and he
said to himself, 'She was in mourning for her mother.' He was proud of
remembering that; he had a sense of nearness and a slow suspicion that
hitherto he had not sufficiently considered her. In their past
intercourse he had been trying to stamp his own thoughts on her mind,
but now it seemed that something of her, more real than her physical
beauty, was being impressed on him. He wanted to know what she was
feeling, not in regard to him, but in regard, for instance, to that
dead mother, and why she ran away like this, in her old clothes and
with the little bag.
She was out of the train: she had descended the steps to the roadway
and there she looked about her, hesitating. Cabmen hailed her but,
ignoring them and crossing the tramlines, she began to walk slowly up
a dull street where cards in the house windows told of lodgings to be
let. If she knocked at one of these doors, what was he to do? But she
did not look at the houses: her head was drooping a little, her feet
moved reluctantly, she was no longer eager and her bag was heavy
again, she had changed it from the right to the left hand, and then,
unexpectedly, she quickened her pace. The naturally unobservant
Charles divined a cause and, looking for it, he saw with a shock of
surprise and horror the tall figure of a man at the end of the street.
She was hastening towards him.
Charles stood stock-still. A man! He had not thought of that, he had
positively never thought of it! Nor had he guessed at his capacity for
jealousy and anger. Then this was why Rose Mallett had sent him on
this mission: it was a man's work, and in the confusion of his
feelings he still had time to wish he had spent more of his youth in
the exercise of his muscles. He braced himself for an encounter, but
already Henrietta had swerved aside. This was not the man she was to
meet; her expectation had misled her; but the acute Charles surmised
that the man she looked for would also be tall and slim.
Tall and slim; he repeated the words so that he should make no
mistake, but subconsciously they had roused memories and instead of
that little black figure hurrying on in front of him, he saw a young
woman clothed in yellow, entering from the frosty night, with
brilliant half veiled eyes, and by the side of her was Francis Sales.
Again he stood still, as much in amazement at his own folly as in any
other feeling. Francis Sales, the fellow who could dance, who murdered
music and little birds! And he had a wife! Charles was not shocked. If
Henrietta had wished to elope with a great musician, wived though he
might be, Charles could have let her go, subduing his own pangs, not
for her own sake but for that of a man more important than himself,
but he would not yield the claims of his devotion to Francis Sales. He
should not have her.
He walked on quickly, taking no precautions. He had lost sight of
Henrietta and he could not even hear the sound of her steps, yet he
had no doubt but he would find her, and she was not far to seek. A
turn of the road brought him under the shadow of the cathedral and, in
the paved square surrounded by old houses in which it stood, he saw
her. Apparently at that moment she also saw him, for with an
incredibly swift movement and a furtiveness which wrung his heart, she
slipped into the porch and disappeared. He followed. The door was
unlocked and she had passed through it, but he lingered there,
fancying he could smell the faint sweetness of her presence. Within,
the organ was booming softly and in that sound he forgot, for a
moment, the necessity for action. The music seemed to be wonderfully
complicated with the waft of Henrietta's passage, with his love for
her, with all he imagined her to be, but the forgetfulness was only
for that moment, and he pushed open the door.
The place was dimly lighted. Two candles, like stars, twinkled on the
distant altar; a few people sat in the darkness with an extraordinary
effect of personal sorrow. This was not where happy people came to
offer thanks; it was a refuge for the afflicted, a temporary harbour
for the weary. They did not seem to pray; they sat relaxed, wrapped in
the antique peace, the warm, musty smell of the building, sitting with
the stillness of their desire to preserve this safety which was theirs
only for a little while. Their dull clothes mixed with the shadows,
the old oak, the worn stone, and the voice of the organ was like the
voice of multitudes of sad souls. Very soon the music ceased with a
kind of sob and the verger, with his skirts flapping round his feet,
came to warn those isolated human creatures that they must face the
They rose obediently, but Henrietta did not move, as though she alone
of that company had not learnt the lesson of necessity. But the altar
lights were now extinguished, the skirted verger was approaching her,
and Charles forestalled him. He murmured, 'Henrietta!'
She looked up without surprise. 'What time is it?' she asked.
She rose, picking up her bag.
'Let me have that,' he said.
'No, no,' she answered absently, and then, 'Is it really seven?'
'Yes, there's the clock striking now.' The sound of the seven notes
whirred and then clanged above their heads. 'We must go,' he said.
'They're locking up.' The air was cold and damp after the warmth of
the church and Henrietta stood, shivering a little and looking round
'I'm hungry,' Charles Batty said. 'Will you come and have dinner with
'No,' she replied, 'I shall stay here.'
'How long for?'
'I don't know.' And sharply she turned on him and asked, 'What are you
'I come here sometimes. There are concerts.'
'You'll be late, then, if you are going to dine.'
'I know, but I'm hungry. You can't listen to music if you're hungry.
Let's have dinner first.'
The square was deserted, the lights in the little shops, where old
furniture and lace and jewels were sold, were all put out and the
large policeman who had been standing at the corner had moved away.
'I don't want anything to eat,' she said. She dropped the bag and
covered her face with both her hands. She was going to cry, but he was
not afraid; he was rather glad and, not without pleasure at his own
daring, he removed a hand, tucked it under his arm, and said, 'Come
She struggled. 'I can't. I must go to London. If you want to help me
you'll find out about the trains. I can go to Mrs. Banks. I can't go
back to Radstowe.'
'Henrietta,' he said firmly, 'come and have dinner and we'll talk
'If you'll promise to help me.'
'There's nothing I want to do so much,' he said. 'We mustn't forget
'Somewhere quiet, Charles,' she murmured.
'Somewhere good,' he emended.
She looked down, 'Such old clothes.'
'It doesn't matter what you wear,' he told her. 'You always look
different from anybody else.'
'Do I? And I am! I am! I'm much worse, and nobody,' she almost
sobbed, 'is so unhappy! Charles, will you wait here for a minute? I
must just--just walk round the square.'
'You'll come back?'