Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books


Part 5 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

She nodded, and he kept the bag as hostage.

The large policeman had strolled back. He saw the tall young man
standing over the bag and thought it would be well to keep an eye on
him, but Charles did not notice the policeman. His whole attention was
for Henrietta's reappearance. She would come back because she had said
she would, but if she did not come alone there would be trouble. He
did not, however, expect to see Francis Sales: he gathered that Sales
had failed her, and he was sorry. He would have beaten him, somehow;
he would have conquered for the first time in his life, and now he
felt that his task was going to be too easy. He wished he could have
sweated and panted in the doing of it; and when Henrietta returned
alone, walking with an angry swiftness, he felt a genuine regret.

'Come along, Charles,' she said briskly. 'Let us have dinner.'

He could see the brightness of her eyes, looking past him; her lips
had a fixed smile and he wished she would cry again. 'She is crying
inside,' he told himself. He moved forward beside her vaguely. The
tenderness of his love for her was like a powerful, warm wave,
sweeping over him and making him helpless for the time. He could do
nothing against it, he had to be carried with it, but suddenly it
receded, leaving him high and dry and unromantically in contact with a
lamp-post. His hat had fallen off.

'What are you doing?' Henrietta asked irritably.

He rubbed his head. 'Bumped it. I was thinking about you.'

'What were you thinking?' she asked defiantly.

'Oh, well--' he said.

She laughed. 'Charles, you're hopeless.'

'No, I'm not.' He stooped for his hat and picked it up. 'Not,' he
repeated strongly. 'Here's the place.' They had turned into a busy
street. 'I hope there won't be a band.'

'I hope there will be. I want noises, hideous noises.'

'You're going to get them,' he sighed as he pushed open the swing-door
and received in his ears the fierce banging, braying and shrieking of
various instruments played in a frenzy by a group of musicians
confined, as if for the public safety, in a small gallery at the end
of the room. Large and encumbered by the bag, he stood obstructing the
waiters in the passage between the tables.

'They're like wild beasts in a cage,' he said in the loud voice of his
anger. 'Can you stand it?'

'Oh, yes--yes. Let us sit here, in this corner.' He was ridiculous,
she thought, yet to-night, unconscious of any absurdity himself, he
had a dignity; he was not so ugly as she had thought; his somewhat
protruding eyes had less vacancy, and though his tie was crooked, she
was not ashamed of him. Nevertheless, she said as he sat down,
'Charles, I'm going to London to-night. Get a time-table.'

'Soup first,' he said.

'I must go to-night. I can't go back to Radstowe.'

'Did you,' he asked unexpectedly, 'leave a note on your dressing-table?'

'What?' She frowned. 'No, of course not.'

'Oh, well, you can go back. We're going to a concert together. It's
quite easy. I told you you were different from everybody else.' And
then, remembering Rose's words, he leaned across the table towards
her. 'The most beautiful and the best,' he said severely.


'Yes. Here's the soup.'

She drank it, looking at him between the spoonfuls. This was the man
who had talked to her by the Monks' Pool. Here was the same detachment
he had shown then, and though the act of taking soup was not poetical,
though the band blared and the place shone with many lights, she was
taken back to that night among the trees, with the water lying darkly
at her feet, keeping its own secrets; with the ducks quacking sleepily
and unseen, and the water rats diving with a silken splash.

She seemed to be recovering something she had lost because she had
disregarded it, something she wanted, not for use but for the sake of
possessing and sometimes looking at it.

Sternly she tried not to think of Francis Sales, who had deserted her.
She might have known he would desert her. He had looked at Aunt Rose
and she had seen him weaken, yet he had promised. He was that kind of
man: he could not say no to her face, but he left her in this city,
all alone.

Her lips trembled; she steadied them with difficulty. She was
determined not to honour him with so much as a memory or a regret, but
there came forbidden recollections of the dance, of the terrace, and
of her hands in his. She closed her eyes and a tremor, delicious,
horrible, ran through her body. She felt the strength of those brown,
muscular hands and she was assailed by the odour of wind and tobacco
that clung to him. He had never said anything worth remembering, but
there had been danger and excitement in his presence. There was
neither in the neighbourhood of Charles, yet she could not forget his

She opened her eyes. 'What was it you said just now?'

'You're the best and most beautiful woman in the world. Your fish is
getting cold.'

She ate it without appetite or distaste. 'But, Charles--'

'I know.'


'Everything,' he said.


He tapped himself, 'Here.'

'I expect you've got it all wrong.'

'Yesterday, perhaps, but not to-day. To-day I know everything.'

'How does it feel?'

'Wonderful,' he replied. They laughed together but, as though with
that laughter the door to emotion had been opened, he saw tears start
into her eyes. 'No,' he begged, 'there's no need to cry.'

She laughed again. 'I've got to cry some time.'

'When we're going home, then. We're going home in a car.'

'Are we?' she said, pleased as a child. 'But what about London,
Charles? I have to go.'

'Not to-night. Here's some chicken.'

'I can't go back.'

'But you haven't left a note.'


'Then it's easy. You and I have just been to a concert. You promised
me that long ago.'

She uttered no more protests. She ate and drank obediently, glad to be
cared for, and when the meal was over she told him gratefully, 'You
have been good. You never said another word about the band and it has
made even my head ache.'

'And I forgot about it!' He stared at her in amazement. 'I forgot
about it! I didn't hear it! Good heavens! But come away quickly before
I begin remembering.'

That they might be able to tell the truth, they went to the concert
and, standing at the back of the hall stayed there for a little while.
Even for Charles, the music was only a covering for his thoughts.
Henrietta, strangely gentle, was beside him, but he dwelt less on that
than on the greater marvel of the new power he felt within himself.
She might laugh at him, she might mock him in the future, but she
could not daunt him, and though she might never love him, he had done
her service. No one could take that from him. He turned his head and
looked down at her, to find her looking up at him, a little puzzled
but entirely friendly.

'Oh, Henrietta!' he whispered loudly, transgressing his own law of
silence and evoking an indignant hiss from an enthusiastic neighbour.
He blushed with shame, then decided that to-night he could not really
care, and signing to Henrietta to follow him, he tiptoed from the

'Did you hear? Did you hear?' he asked her. 'I spoke! I--at a concert!
I've never done that in my life before. I'll never do it again! But,
then, it was the first time you'd ever looked at me like that,
Henrietta! And, oh Lord, we've forgotten the bag. I dare not go back
for it.'

'We'll leave it, then,' she said indifferently. 'I don't want to see
it again.'

'But I like it. It's an old friend. I've watched it--' He checked
himself. 'I'll go. Wait here.'

'Why aren't we going home by train?' she asked, when he returned.

'The angry man didn't see me,' he said triumphantly. 'Oh, because--
well, you wanted somewhere to cry, didn't you?'

In the closed car she sat, for a time very straight, looking out of
the window at the streets and the people, but when they had drawn away
from the old city and left its grey stone houses behind and taken to
the roads where slowly moving carts were creaking and snatches of talk
from slow-tongued country people were heard and lost in the same
moment, she sank back. The roads were dark. They were lined by tall,
bare trees which seemed to challenge this swift passage and then
decide to permit what they could not prevent, and for a mile or so the
river gleamed darkly like an unsheathed sword in the night.

'We shall soon be there, shan't we?' she asked, in a small voice.

'Yes, pretty soon.'

'I wish we wouldn't. I wish we could go on like this for ever, to the
edge of the world and then drop over and forget.'

He sighed. He could not arrange that for her but he told the man to
drive more slowly. Against the dark upholstery of the car, her face
was like a young moon, wan and too weary for its work. He slipped his
arm under her back and drew her to him. Pulling off her hat, she found
a place for her head against his shoulder and he shut his eyes. She
breathed regularly and lightly, as though she were asleep, but
presently she said, 'Charles, I don't mean anything by this, but you
are the only friend I have. You won't think I mean anything, will

He shook his head and it came to rest on hers. He, too, wished they
might go on like this for ever, to the world's edge.

* * * * *

The car was stopped at a little distance from the house and Henrietta
had to rouse herself from the state between waking and sleeping,
thought and imagery, in which she had passed the journey. The jarring
of the brake shocked her into a recognition of facts and the gentle
humming of the engine reminded her that life had to go on as before.
The persistent sound, regular, not loud, controlled, was like
existence in Nelson Lodge; one wearied of it, yet one would weary more
of accidents breaking the healthy beating of the engine: to-night had
been one of the accidents and she was terribly tired. No wonder! She
had been trying to run away with a man who did not want her, a man who
had a lonely, miserable invalid for a wife, the old lover of Aunt
Rose. A little blaze of anger flared up at the thought of Rose;
nevertheless, she continued her self-accusations. She had been willing
to leave her aunts without a word and they had been good to her and
one of them was ill, and the very money in her pocket was not her own.
She was shocked by her behaviour. She was like her father, who took
what belonged to other people and used it badly.

She sat, flaccid, her hands loose on her lap. She felt incapable of
movement, but Charles was speaking to her, telling her to get out and
run home quickly. She looked at him. She was holding his friendly
hand. What would she have done without him? She saw herself in the
train, speeding through the lonely darkness; she saw herself knocking
at Mrs. Banks's door, felt herself clasped to the doubtful blackness
of that bosom, and she shuddered.

'You must go,' Charles said, but he still held her hand.

He had brought her back to cleanliness and comfort, he had saved her
from behaviour of gross ingratitude, he had been marvellously kind and

'Charles,' she said, 'it's awful.'

'No, it's all right. We've been to a concert.'

'Yes'--her voice sank--'I've kept that promise. But the whole thing--
and Aunt Caroline so ill. She may have died.'

'There hasn't been time,' he said.

'Oh, Charles, it only takes a minute.'

'Well, run home quickly. This bag's a nuisance,' he said, but he
looked at it tenderly. How he had dogged that bag! How heavy it
had seemed for her! 'Look here, I'll take it home and get it to you
to-morrow somehow.'

'I don't want it. I hate it.'

He thought, 'I'll keep it, then,' and aloud he said, 'I'll wrap the
things up in a parcel and let you have them. Nothing you don't want me
to see, is there?'

'No, nothing.'

'All right. Do get out, dear. No, I shall drive on.'

She lingered on the pavement. She had not said a word of thanks. She
jumped on to the step and put her head through the window. 'Thank you,
kind Charles,' she said.

'Henrietta,' he began in a loud voice, filling the dark interior with
sound, 'Henrietta--'

'What is it?'

'No, no. Nothing.'

'Tell me.'

'No. Not fair,' he said. 'Just weakness. Good night. Be quick.'

She ran along the street and gave the front-door bell a gentle push.
To her relief it was the housemaid and not Susan who opened to her.
Susan would have looked at her severely, but the housemaid had a
welcoming smile, an offer of food if Miss Henrietta had not dined.

Henrietta shook her head. She was going to bed at once. She did not
want anything to eat. How was Miss Caroline?

'Not so well to-night, Miss Henrietta. The doctor's been again and
there's a night-nurse come.'

Henrietta pressed her hands against her heart. Oh, good Charles,
wonderful Charles! She did not know how to be grateful enough. She
moved meekly, humbly through the hall and up the stairs. All was
terribly, portentously still, but in her bedroom there were no signs
of the trouble in the house. The fire was lighted, her evening gown
had been laid out on the bed, her silk stockings and slippers were in
their usual places. Nobody had suspected, nobody had been alarmed; she
had stolen back by a miracle into her place.

Yes, Charles Batty was a miracle, there was no other word for him and,
by contrast, the image of Francis Sales appeared mean, contemptible.
Why had he failed her? His desertion was a blessing, but it was also a
slight and perhaps a tribute to the power of Rose. Yes, that was it.
She set her little teeth. He had stared at Aunt Rose as though he
could not look at her enough, not with the starved expression she had
first intercepted long ago, but with a look of wonder, almost of awe.
She was nearly middle-aged, yet she could force that from him. Well,
she was welcome to anything he could give her, his offerings were no
compliment. Henrietta was done with him; she would not think of him
again; she had been foolish, she had been wicked, but she was the
richer and the wiser for her experience.

She had always been taught that sin brought suffering, yet here she
was, warm and comfortable, in possession of a salutary lesson and with
the good Charles for a secure friend. It was odd, unnatural, and this
variation in her case gave her a pleasant feeling of being a special
person for whom the operation of natural laws could be diverted. By
the weakness of Francis Sales and the strength of Aunt Rose whom,
nevertheless, she could never forgive, she was saved from much
unhappiness, and if her mother knew everything in that heaven to which
she had surely gone, she must now be weeping tears of thankfulness.
Yet Henrietta's future lay before her rather drearily. She stretched
out her arms and legs; she yawned. What was she to do? Being good, as
she meant to be, and realizing her sin, as indeed she did, was hardly
occupation enough for all her energies.

Her immediate business was to answer a knock at the door. It was Rose
who entered. Her natural pallor was overlaid by the whiteness of
distress. 'Oh, Henrietta, I am glad you have come in.'

'I've been to a concert with Charles Batty,' Henrietta said quickly.

Rose showed no interest or surprise. 'Caroline is so much worse.'
Henrietta felt a pang at her forgetfulness. 'She is very ill. I was
afraid you might not be back in time. She has been asking for you.'

'I've been to Wellsborough, to a concert,' Henrietta insisted. 'Is she
as bad as that, Aunt Rose? But she'll get better, won't she?'

'Come with me and say good night to her. 'Rose took Henrietta's hand.
'How warm you are,' she said, in wonder that anything could be less
cold than Caroline soon would be.

Henrietta's fingers tightened round the living hand. 'She's not going
to die, is she?'

'Yes, she's dying,' Rose said quietly.

'Oh, but she can't,' Henrietta protested. 'She doesn't want to. She'll
hate it so.' It was impossible to imagine Aunt Caroline without her
parties, without her clothes, she would find it intolerably dull to be
dead. 'Perhaps she will get better.'

Rose said nothing. They crossed the landing and entered the dim room.
Caroline lay in the middle of the big bed: with her hair lank and
uncurled she was hardly recognizable and strangely ugly. Her body
seemed to have dwindled, but her features were strong and harsh, and
Henrietta said to herself, 'This is the real Aunt Caroline, not what I
thought, not what I thought. I've never seen her before.' She wondered
how she had ever dared to joke with her: she had been a funny, vain
old woman without much sensibility, immune from much that others
suffered, and now she was a mere human creature, breathing with
difficulty and in pain.

Henrietta stood by the bed, saying and doing nothing: Rose had slipped
away; the nurse was quietly busy at a table and Aunt Sophia was
kneeling before a high-backed chair with her elbows on the cushioned
seat, her face in her hands. She was praying; it was as bad as that.
Her back, the sash-encircled waist, the thick hair, looked like those
of a young girl. She was praying. Henrietta looked again at Aunt
Caroline's grey face and saw that the eyes had opened, the lips were
smiling a little. 'Good child,' she said, with immense difficulty, as
though she had been seeking those words for a long time and had at
last fitted them to her thought.

Sophia stirred, dropped her hands and looked round: the nurse came
forward with a little crackle of starched clothes. 'Say good night to
her and go.'

Henrietta leaned over the empty space of bed and kissed Caroline on
the temple. 'Good night, dear Aunt Caroline,' she said softly.

There was no answer. The eyes were closed again and the harsh
breathing went on cruelly, like waves falling back from a pebbled
shore, and Henrietta felt the dampness of death on her lips. No, Aunt
Caroline would not get better.

She died in the early morning while Henrietta slept. Susan, entering
as usual with Henrietta's tea, did not say a word. She knew her place;
it was not for her to give the news to a member of the family;
moreover, she blamed Henrietta for Miss Caroline's death. It was the
Battys' ball that had killed Miss Caroline, and Susan stuck to her
belief that if it had not been for Miss Henrietta, there would not
have been a ball.

Sleepily, Henrietta watched Susan draw the blinds, but something in
the woman's slow, languid movements startled her into wakefulness. Her
dreams dropped back into their place. She had been sleeping warmly,
forgetfully, while death hovered over the house, looking for a way in.
She sat up in bed. 'Aunt Caroline?'

Susan began to cry, but in spite of her tears and her distress she
ejaculated dutifully, 'Miss Henrietta, your dressing-gown, your
slippers!' but Henrietta had rushed forth and bounded into Rose's

'You might have told me! You might have waked me!'

Rose was writing at her desk. She turned. 'Put on your dressing-gown,
Henrietta. You will get cold. I came into your room but you were fast
asleep, and in that minute it was all over. The big things happen so

Yes, that was true. Quickly one fell in and out of love, ran away from
home, returned and slept and waked to find that people had quickly
died. The big things happened quickly, but the little ones of every
day went on slow feet, as though they were tired of themselves.

'It was somehow a comfort,' Rose went on, 'to know that you were fast
asleep, but living. You never moved when I kissed you.'

'Kissed me? What did you do that for?' Henrietta asked in a loud
voice. She had been taken unawares by the woman who had wronged her,
yet she was touched and pleased.

'I couldn't help it. I was so glad to have you there, and you looked
so young. I don't know what we should do without you, poor Sophia and
I. Oh, do put on my dressing-gown!'

'Yes, dear, yes, put on the dressing-gown.' It was Sophia who spoke.
Her face was very calm; she actually looked younger, as though the
greatness of her sorrow had removed all other signs, like a fall of
snow hiding the scars of a hillside.

'Oh, Aunt Sophia!' Henrietta went forward and pressed her cheek
against the other's.

'Yes, dear, but you must go and dress. Breakfast is ready.'

Henrietta was a little shocked that Aunt Sophia, who was naturally
sentimental, should be less emotional on this occasion than Aunt Rose,
but she was also awed by this control. She remembered how, when her
own mother died, Mrs. Banks had refused to take solid food for a whole
day, and the recollection braced her for her cold bath, for fresh
linen, for emulation of Aunt Sophia, for everything unlike the
slovenly weeping of Mrs. Banks, sitting in the neglected kitchen with
a grimy pocket-handkerchief on her lap and the teapot at her elbow;
but she knew that the Banksian manner was really natural to her, and
the Mallett control, the acceptance, the same eating of breakfast,
were a pose, a falseness oddly better than her sincerity.

At table no one referred to Caroline; they were practical and composed
and afterwards, when Sophia and Rose were closeted together, making
arrangements, writing letters to relatives of whom Henrietta had never
heard, interviewing Mr. Batty and a husky personage in black,
Henrietta stole upstairs past Caroline's death chamber and into her
own room.

She was glad to find the pretty housemaid there, tidying the hearth
and dusting the furniture. She wanted to talk to somebody and the
pretty housemaid was sympathetic and discreet. She told Henrietta,
inevitably, of deaths in her own family, and Henrietta was interested
to hear how the housemaid's grandmother had died, actually while she
was saying her prayers.

'And you couldn't have a better end than that, could you, Miss

'I suppose not,' Henrietta said, 'but it might depend on what you were
praying for.'

'Oh, she would be saying the usual things, Miss Henrietta, just daily
bread and forgive our trespasses. There was no harm in my grandmother.
It was her husband who broke his neck picking apples. His own apples,'
she said hastily, 'And now poor Mrs. Sales has gone.'

'Mrs. Sales?'

'Yes, Miss Henrietta, I thought you'd know--last night. Her and Miss
Caroline together.' She implied that in this journey they would be
company for each other.

Henrietta found nothing to say, but above the shock of pity she felt
for the woman she had disliked and the awe induced by the name of
death, she was conscious of a load lifted from her mind: she had not
been deserted, her charm had not failed; it was the approach of death
that had held him back. She put the thought away lest it should lead
to others of which she would be ashamed, yet she felt a malicious
pleasure, lasting only for a second, at remembering that downstairs
sat Aunt Rose calmly full of affairs, Aunt Rose for whom the love of
Francis Sales had ceased too soon! And, suppressed but fermenting, was
the idea that in these late events, including the failure of her
escape, there was the kind hand of fate.

At that very moment Charles Batty chose to call.

'With a parcel, Miss Henrietta, and he would like to see you.'

'I can't see him,' Henrietta said. 'Tell him--tell him about Miss
Caroline.' She had already drifted away from Charles. He had been so
near last night, so almost dear in the troubled fog of her distress,
but this morning she had drifted and between them there was a shining
space of water sparkling hardly. But she spared him an instant of
gratitude and softness. His part in her life was like that, to a
sailor, of some lightship eagerly looked for in the darkness, of
strangely diminished consequence in the clear day, still there, safely
anchored, but with half its significance gone.

'I can't see him,' she repeated.

She wanted, suddenly, to see Aunt Rose. Voices no longer came from the
drawing-room. Mr. Batty, genuinely sad in the loss of an old friend,
had gone; the undertaker had tiptoed off to his gloomy lair, and
Henrietta went downstairs, but when she saw her aunt she dared not ask
her if she knew about Christabel Sales. Rose had a look of
invulnerability; perhaps she knew, but it was impossible to ask, and
if she knew, it had made no difference. It seemed as though she had
gone beyond the reach of feeling: she and Sophia both wore white
masks, but Sophia's was only a few hours old and Rose's had been
gradually assumed. It was not only Caroline's death which had given
her that strange, calm face: the expression had grown slowly, as
though something had been a long time dying, yet she hardly had a look
of loss. She seemed to be in possession of something, but Henrietta
could not understand what it was and she was vaguely afraid.

It was Aunt Sophia who, in spite of her amazing courage, had an air of
desolation. And there was no rouge on her cheeks: its absence made
Henrietta want to cry. She did cry at intervals throughout that day
and the ones that followed. It was terrible without Aunt Caroline and
pitiful to see Aunt Sophia keeping up her dignity among black-clothed,
black-beaded relatives who seemed to appear out of the ground like
snails after rain and who might have been part of the undertaker's
permanent stock-in-trade. Henrietta hated the mournful looks of these
ancient cousins, the shaking of their black beads, their sibilant
whisperings, and in their presence she was dry-eyed and rather rude.
Aunt Caroline would have laughed at them and their dowdy clothes that
smelt of camphor, but it seemed as though no one would ever laugh
again in Nelson Lodge.

And over the river, in the unsubdued country, where death was only the
repayment of a loan, there was another house with lowered blinds and
voices hushed. She was irritated by the thought of it, of the
consolatory letters Francis would receive, of the emotions he would
display, or conceal, but at the same time she was sorry that in death,
as in life, Christabel should be lonely. Her large and lively family
was far away, even the cat had gone, and there were only the nurse and
Francis and the little dog to miss her. In a sense Henrietta missed
her too, and that fair region of fields and woods which had been as
though blocked by that helpless body now lay open, vast, full of
possibilities, inviting exploration; and when Henrietta looked at her
Aunt Rose, it was with the jealous eye of a rival adventurer. But that
was absurd: there could be no rivalry between them. Henrietta was sure
of that and she tried to avoid these speculations.

And meanwhile necessary things were done and Christabel Sales and
Caroline Mallett were buried on the same day. The beaded relatives
departed, not to reappear until the next death in the family, and Rose
and Henrietta, both perhaps thinking of Francis Sales returning to his
big empty house, returned with Sophia to a Nelson Lodge oppressive in
its desolation. It seemed now that the whole business of life there,
the servants, the fires, the delicate meals, had proceeded solely for
Caroline's benefit; yet everything continued as before: the machinery
went on running smoothly; the dinner-table still reflected in its rich
surface the lights of candles, the sheen of silver, the pallor of
flowers. Nothing was neglected, everything was beautiful and exact,
and Susan had carefully arranged the chairs so that the vacant space
should not be emphasized.

The three black-robed women slipped into their seats without a word.
The soup was very hot, according to Caroline's instructions, but the
cook, inspired more by the desire to give pleasant nutriment than by
tact, had chosen to make the creamy variety which was Caroline's
favourite and, as each Mallett took up her spoon, she had a vision of
Caroline tasting the soup with the thoughtfulness of a connoisseur and
proclaiming it perfect to the last grain of salt.

'I can't eat it,' Sophia said faintly. In this almost comic
realization of her loss she showed the first sign of weakness. She
rose, trembling visibly, and Susan, anxious for the preservation of
the decencies, opened the door and closed it on her faltering figure
before the first sob shook her body. The others, without exchanging a
single glance, proceeded with the meal, eating little, each eager for
solitude and each finding it unbearable to picture Sophia up there in
the bedroom alone.

'But she doesn't want us,' Rose said.

'She might want me,' Henrietta replied provocatively, and for answer
Rose's smile flickered disconcertingly across the candle-light, and
her voice, a little worn, said quietly, 'Then go and see.'

The bedroom had a dreadful neatness; it smelt of disinfectant,
furniture polish and soap, and Sophia, from the big armchair, said
mournfully, 'They might have left it as it was. It feels like
lodgings.' And as the very feebleness of her outcry smote her sense
and waked echoes of all she left unsaid, her mouth fell shapeless, and
she cried, 'She's gone!' in a tone of astonishment and horror.

Henrietta, sitting on a little stool before the fire, listened to the
weeping which was too violent for Sophia's strength, and the harsh
sound reminded her of Aunt Caroline's difficult breathing. It seemed
as though the noise would go on for ever: she counted each separate
sob, and when they had gradually lessened and died away the relief was
like the ceasing of physical pain.

'Aunt Sophia,' Henrietta said, 'everybody has to die.'

Sophia heard. Tears glistened on her cheeks, her hair was disordered,
she looked like a large flaxen doll that had been left out in the rain
for a long time. 'But each person only once,' she whispered. 'One
doesn't get used to it, and Caroline--' She struggled to sit up.
'Caroline would be ashamed of me for this.'

'She might pretend to be, but she'd like it really.'

'I don't know,' Sophia murmured. 'She had such character. You never
believed her, did you, Henrietta, when she made out she had been--had
been indiscreet?'

'No, I never believed it.'

'I'm glad of that. It was a fancy of hers. I encouraged her in it, I'm
afraid; but it made her happy, it pleased her and it did no harm. I
suppose nobody believed her, but she didn't know. I don't think I'll
sit here doing nothing, Henrietta. I suppose I ought to go through her
papers. She never destroyed a letter. I might begin on them.'

'Oh, do you think you'd better? Don't you like just to sit here and
talk to me?'

'No, no, I must not give way. I'm not the only one. There's poor
Francis Sales. If he'd married Rose--I always planned that he should
marry Rose--and of course, we ought not to think of such things so
soon, but the thought has come to me that they may marry after all.'

Henrietta tightened the clasp of the hands on her knee and said, 'Why
do you think that?'

'It would be suitable,' Sophia said.

'But she's so old. Haven't you noticed how old she has looked lately?'

'Old? Rose old?' Sophia's manner became almost haughty. 'Rose has
nothing to do with age. My only doubt is whether Francis Sales is
worthy of her. Dear Caroline used to say she ought to--to marry a

'And she hasn't married anybody,' Henrietta remarked bitingly.

'Nobody,' Sophia said serenely. 'The Malletts don't marry,' she
sighed; 'but I hope you will, Henrietta.'

'No,' Henrietta said sharply. 'I shan't. I don't want to. Men are

'No, dear child, not all of them. Perhaps none of them. When I was
eighteen--' She hesitated. 'I must get on with her papers.' She stood
up and moved towards the bureau. 'They're here. We shared the drawers.
We shared everything.' She stretched out her hands and they fell
heavily, taking the weight of her body with them, against the shining
slope of wood.

Henrietta, who had been gazing moodily at the fire, was astonished to
hear the thud, to see her Aunt Sophia leaning drunkenly over the desk.
Sophia's lips were blue, her eyes were glazed, and Henrietta thought,
'She's dying, too. Shall I let her die?' but at the same moment she
leapt up and lowered her aunt into a chair.

'It's my heart,' Sophia said after a few minutes, and Henrietta
understood why poor Aunt Sophia always went upstairs so slowly. 'Don't
tell anybody. No one knows. I ought not to have cried like that.
There's a little bottle--' She told Henrietta to fetch it from a
secret place. 'I never let Caroline know. It would have worried her,
and, after all, she was the first to go. I'm glad to think I saved her
that anxiety. You remember how she teased me about getting tired?
Well, it didn't matter and she liked to think she was so young.
Wherever she is now, I do hope she isn't feeling angry with herself.
She thought illness was so vulgar.'

'But not death,' Henrietta said.

'No, not death,' and Henrietta fancied her aunt lingered lovingly on
the word. 'This must be a secret between us.' She lay back exhausted.
'I only had two secrets from Caroline. This about my heart was one.
Henrietta, in that little drawer, at the very back, you'll find a
photograph wrapped in tissue-paper. Find it for me, dear child. Thank
you.' She held it tenderly between her palms. 'This was the other.
It's the picture of my lover, Henrietta. Yes, I wanted you to know
that some one once loved me very dearly.'

'Oh, Aunt Sophia, we all love you. I love you dearly now.'

'Yes, dear, yes, I know; I'm grateful, but I wanted somebody to know
that I had had my romance, and have it still--all these years. But I
was loved, Henrietta, till he died, and I was very young then, younger
than you are now. Yes, I wanted somebody to know that poor Sophia had
a real lover once. He went away to America to make a fortune for me,
but he died. I have been wondering, since Caroline went, if she and he
have met. If so, perhaps she knows, perhaps she blames me, but I don't
think she will laugh--not now. I hope she laughs still, but not at
that. And now, Henrietta, we'll put the photograph into the fire.'

'Ah, no, Aunt Sophia, keep it still!'

'Dear child, I may die at any moment, and I have his dear face by
heart. I shouldn't like any other eyes to look at it, not even yours.
Stir the fire, Henrietta. Now help me up. No, dear, I would rather do
it myself.'

She knelt, her faded face lighted by the flames which consumed her
greatest treasure, her back still girlish, her slim waist girdled with
a black ribbon, her thick knot of hair resting on her neck.

Henrietta went quietly out of the room, but on the landing she wrung
her hands together. She felt herself surrounded by death, decay, lost
love, sad memories. She was too young for this house. She had a
longing to escape into sunshine, gaiety and pleasure. It was Caroline
who had laughed and planned, it was she who had made the place a home.
Rose was too remote, Sophia was living in the past, and Henrietta felt
herself alone. Even her father's portrait looked down at her with eyes
too much like her own, and out there, beyond the high-walled garden,
the roofs and the river, there was only Francis Sales and he was not a
friend. He was, perhaps, a lover; he was a sensation, an accident; but
he was not a companion or a refuge.

And the thought of Charles rose up, at that moment, like the thought
of a fireside. She wished he would come now and sit with her, asking
for nothing, but assuring her of service. That was what he was for,
she decided. You could not love Charles, but you could trust him for
ever, and the more trust he was given, the more he grew to it. She
needed him: she must not lose him. Deep in her heart she supposed she
was going to marry Francis Sales, yes, in spite of what Aunt Sophia
said, and it was a prospect towards which she tiptoed, holding her
breath, not daring to look; but she, like Rose, had no illusions. She
was the daughter of her mother's union with her father, and she was
prepared for trouble, for the need of Charles. Besides, she liked him:
he was companionable even when he scolded. One forgot about him, but
he returned; he was there. She went to bed in that comfortable


There could be no more parties for Henrietta that winter, but Mrs.
Batty's house was always open to her, and Mrs. Batty, like her son
Charles, could be relied upon for welcome and for relaxation. In her
presence Henrietta had a pleasant sense of superiority; she was
applauded and not criticized and she knew she could give comfort as
well as get it. Mrs. Batty liked to talk to her and Henrietta could
sink into one of the superlatively cushioned arm-chairs and listen or
not as she chose. There she was relieved of the slight but persistent
strain she was under in Nelson Lodge, for Sophia and Rose had
standards of manner, conduct and speech beyond her own, while Mrs.
Batty's, though they existed, were on another plane. Henrietta was
sure of herself in that luxurious, overcrowded drawing-room, decorated
and scented with the least precious of Mr. Batty's hothouse flowers,
and somewhat overheated.

On her first visit after Caroline's death, Mrs. Batty received the
bereaved niece with unction. 'Ah, poor dear,' she murmured, and
whether her sympathy was for Caroline or Henrietta, perhaps she did
not know herself. 'Poor dear! I can't get your aunt out of my head,
Henrietta, love. There she was at the party, looking like a queen--
well, you know what I mean--and Mr. Batty said she was the belle of
the ball. It was just his joke; but Mr. Batty never makes a joke that
hasn't something in it. I could see it myself. And then for her to die
like that--it seems as if it was our fault. It was a beautiful ball,
wasn't it, dear? I do think it was, but it's spoilt for me. I can only
be thankful it wasn't her stomach or I should have blamed the supper.
As it is, there must have been a draught. It was a cold night.'

'It was a lovely night,' Henrietta said, thinking of the terrace and
the dark river and the stars. She could remember it all without shame,
for he had not failed her and her personality had not failed. He had
not deserted her, and when they met there would be no need for
explanations. He would look at her, she would look at him--she had to
rouse herself. 'Yes, it was a splendid ball, Mrs. Batty.'

'And what did you think of my dress, dear?' Mrs. Batty asked, and
checked herself. 'But we ought not to talk about such things with your
dear aunt just dead. You must miss her sadly. Did you--were you with
her at the end?'

But this was a region in which Henrietta could not wander with Mrs.
Batty. 'Don't let us talk of it,' she said.

Mrs. Batty gurgled a rich sympathy and after a due pause she was glad
to resume the topic of the dance. This was her first real opportunity
for discussing it; under Mr. Batty's slightly ironical smile and his
references to expense, she had controlled herself; among her
acquaintances it was necessary to treat the affair as a mere
bagatelle; but with Henrietta she could expand unlimitedly. What she
thought, what she felt, what she said, what other people said to her,
and what her guests were reported to have said to other people, was
repeated and enlarged upon to Henrietta who, leaning back,
occasionally nodding her head or uttering a sound of encouragement,
lived through that night again.

Yes, out on the terrace he had been the real Francis Sales and that
man in the hollow looking at Aunt Rose and then turning to Henrietta
in uncertainty was the one evoked by that witch on horseback, the
modern substitute for a broomstick. Christabel Sales was right: Aunt
Rose was a witch with her calm, white face, riding swiftly and
fearlessly on her messages of evil. He was never himself in her
presence: how could he be? He was under her spell and he must be
cleared of it and kept immune. But how? Through these thoughts, which
were both exciting and alarming, Henrietta heard Mrs. Batty uttering
the name of Charles.

'He seems to have taken a turn for the better, my dear.'

'Has he been ill?' Henrietta asked.

'Ill? No. Bad-tempered, what you might call melancholy. Not lately.
Well, since the dance he has been different. Not so irritable at
breakfast. I told you once before, love, how I dreaded breakfast, with
John late half the time, going out with the dogs, and Mr. Batty behind
the paper with his eyebrows up, and Charles looking as if he'd been
dug up, like Lazarus, if it isn't wrong to say so, pale and pasty and
sorry he was alive--sort of damp, dear. Well, you know what I mean.
But as I tell you, he's been more cheerful. That dance must have done
him good, or something has. And Mr. Batty tells me he takes more
interest in his work. Still,' Mrs. Batty admitted, 'he does catch me
up at times.'

'Yes, I know. About music. I know. He's queer. I hate it when he gets
angry and shouts, but he's good really, in his heart.'

'Oh, of course he is,' Mrs. Batty murmured, and, looking at the plump
hands on her silken lap, she added, 'I wish he'd marry. Now, John,
he's engaged; but he didn't need to be. You know what I mean. He was
happy enough before, but Charles, if he could marry a nice girl--'

'He won't,' Henrietta said at once, and Mrs. Batty, suddenly alert,
asked sharply, 'Why not?'

'Oh, I don't know. Men are so easily deceived.'

'We can't help it. You wouldn't neglect a baby. Well, then, it's the
same thing. They never get out of their short frocks. Even Mr. Batty,'
his wife chuckled, 'he's very clever and all that, but he's like all
the rest. The very minute you marry, you've got a baby on your hands.'

Henrietta sighed. 'It isn't fair,' she murmured, yet she liked the
notion. Francis Sales was a baby. He would have to be managed, to be
amused; he would tire of his toys. She knew that, and she saw herself
constantly dressing up the old ones and deceiving him into believing
they were new.

'I suppose they're worth it,' she half questioned.


'No, babies,' Henrietta answered, meaning the same thing, but Mrs.
Batty took her up with fervour. She was reminiscent, and tears came
into her eyes; she was prophetic, she was embarrassing and faintly
disgusting to Henrietta, and when the door opened to let in Charles,
she welcomed him with a pleasure which was really the measure of her

She had not seen him since she had parted from him in the car. He did
not return her smile and it struck her that he never smiled. It was a
good thing: it would have made him look odder than ever, and somehow
he contrived to show his happiness without the display of teeth. His
eyes, she decided, bulged most when he was miserable, and now they
hardly bulged at all.

'You're back early to-day, dear,' Mrs. Batty said. 'I'll have some
fresh tea made.' But Charles, without averting his gaze from
Henrietta, said, 'I don't want any tea,' and to Henrietta he said
quietly, 'I haven't seen you for weeks.'

To her annoyance, she felt the colour creeping over her cheeks. No
doubt he would account for that in his own way, and to disconcert him
she added casually, 'It's not long really.'

'It seems long,' he said.

No one but Charles Batty would have said that in the presence of his
mother; it was ridiculous, and she looked at him with revengeful
criticism. He was plain; he was getting bald; his trousers bagged; his
socks were wrinkled like concertinas; his comparative self-assurance
was quite unjustified. He had looked at her consistently since he
entered the room, and Henrietta was angrily aware that Mrs. Batty was
trying to make herself insignificant in her corner of the sofa.
Henrietta could hear the careful control of her breathing. She was
hoping to make the young people forget she was there. Henrietta
frowned warningly at Charles.

'What's the matter?' he asked at once.

'Nothing.' She might have known it was useless to make signs.

'But you frowned.'

'Well, don't you ever get a twinge?' she prevaricated.

'Toothache, dear?' Mrs. Batty clucked her distress. 'I'll get some
laudanum. You just rub it on the gum--' She rose. 'I have some in my
medicine cupboard. I'll go and get it.' She went out, and across her
broad back she seemed to carry the legend, 'This is the consummation
of tact.'

Charles stood up and planted himself on the hearthrug and Henrietta
wished Mrs. Batty had not gone. 'I'm sorry you've got toothache,' he

'I haven't. I didn't say I had. My teeth are perfect.' With a vicious
opening of her mouth, she let him see them.

'Then why did you frown?'

'I had to do something to stop your glaring at me.'

'Was I glaring? I didn't know. I suppose I can't help looking at you.'

Henrietta appreciated this remark. 'I don't mind so much when we are
alone.' From anybody else she would have expected a reminder that she
had once allowed more than that, but she was safe with Charles and
half annoyed by her safety. Her instinct was to run and dodge, but it
was a poor game to play at hide-and-seek with this roughly executed
statue of a young man. 'Your mother must have noticed,' she explained.

'Well, why not? She'll have to know.'

'Know what?' she cried indignantly.

'That we're engaged.'

She brightened angrily. After all, he was thinking of that night and
she felt a new, exasperated respect for him. 'But I told you--I told
you I didn't mean anything when I let you--when we were alone in that

'I wasn't thinking of that,' he said, and she felt a drop. He had no
business not to think of it.

'Then what do you mean?' she asked coldly.

'I've been engaged to you,' he said, 'for a long time. I told you. But
I've been thinking that it really doesn't work.'

'Of course it doesn't. Anybody would have known that except you,
Charles Batty.'

'Yes, but nobody tells me things. I have to find them out.' He sighed.
'It takes time. But now I know.'

'Very well. You're released from the engagement you made all by
yourself. I had nothing to do with it.'

'No,' he said mildly, 'but I can't be released, so the only way out of
it is for you to be engaged too.' He fumbled in a pocket. 'I've bought
a ring.'

She sneered. 'Who told you about that?'

'I remembered it. John got one. It's always done and I think this one
is pretty.'

She had a great curiosity to see his choice. She guessed it would be
gaudy, like a child's, but she said, 'It has nothing to do with me. I
don't want to see it.'

'Do look.'

'Charles, you're hopeless.' 'The man said he would change it if you
didn't like it.' Into her hand he put the little box, attractively
small, no doubt lined with soft white velvet, and she longed to open
it. She had always wanted one of those little boxes and she remembered
how often she had gazed at them, holding glittering rings, in the
windows of jewellers' shops. She looked up at Charles, her eyes
bright, her lips a little parted, so young and helpless in that moment
that she drew from him his first cry of passion. 'Henrietta!' His
hands trembled.

'It's only,' she faltered, 'because I like looking at pretty things.'

'I know.' He dropped to the sofa beside her. 'It couldn't be anything

She turned to him, her face close to his, and she asked plaintively,
'But why shouldn't it be?' She seemed to blame him; she did blame him.
There was something in his presence seductively secure; there was
peace: she almost loved him; she loved her power to make him tremble,
and if only he could make her tremble too, she would be his. 'But it
isn't anything else,' she said below her breath.

'No, it isn't,' he echoed in the loud voice of his trouble. He got up
and moved away. 'So just look at the ring and tell me if you like it.'

He heard the box unwrapped and a voice saying, 'I do like it.'

'Then keep it.'

'But I can't.'

'Yes, you can. It's for you. It's pretty, isn't it? And you like
pretty things.'

'I could just look at it now and then, couldn't I? But no, it isn't

'I don't mind about that.

'I mean fair to me.'

He turned at that. 'I don't understand.'

'A kind of hold,' she explained.

'How could it be? I wasn't trying to tempt you, but we're engaged and
you must have a ring.'

She shook her small, clenched fists. 'We're not, we're not! Oh, yes,
you can be, if you like; but I didn't mean it would hold me in that
way. I meant it would be like a sign--of you. I shouldn't be able to
forget you; you would be there in the ring, in the box, in the drawer,
like the portrait of Aunt Sophia's--' She stopped herself. 'And I
can't burn you.'

'I don't know what you are talking about. I suppose I ought to.'

'No, you oughtn't.' She sprang up, delivered from her weakness. 'This
is nonsense. Of course, I can't keep your ring. Take it back, Charles.
It's beautiful. I thought it would be all red and blue like a flag,
but it's lovely. It makes my mouth water. It's like white fire.'

'It's like you,' he said. 'You're just as bright and just as hard, and
if only you were as small, I could put you in my pocket and never let
you go.'

She opened her eyes very wide. 'Then why do you let me go?' she asked
on an ascending note, and she did not mean to taunt him. It would be
so easy for him to keep her, if he knew how. She expected a despairing
groan, she half hoped for a violent embrace, but he answered quietly,
'I don't really let you go. It's you I love, not just your hair and
your face and the way your nose turns up, and your hands and feet, and
your straight neck. I have to let them go, but you don't go. You stay
with me all the time: you always will. You're like music, always in my
head, but you're more than that. You go deeper: I suppose into my
heart. Sometimes I think I'm carrying you in my arms. I can't see you
but I can feel you're there, and sometimes I laugh because I think
you're laughing.'

She listened, charmed into stillness. Here was an echo of his
outpouring in the darkness of that hour by the Monks' Pool, but these
words were closer, dearer. She felt for that moment that he did indeed
carry her in his arms and that she was glad to be there. He spoke so
quietly, he was so certain of his love that she was exalted and
abashed. She did not deserve all this, yet he knew she was hard as
well as bright, he knew her nose turned up. Perhaps there was nothing
he did not know.

He went on simply, without effort. 'And though I'm ugly and a fool, I
can't be hurt whatever you choose to do. What you do isn't you.' He
touched himself. 'The you is here. So it doesn't matter about the
ring. It doesn't matter about Francis Sales.'

She said on a caught breath and in a whisper, 'What about him?'

He looked at her and made a slight movement with the hands hanging at
his sides, a little flicking movement, as though he brushed something
away. 'I think perhaps you are going to marry him,' he said deeply.

Her head went up. 'Who told you that?' she demanded.

'Nobody. Nobody tells me anything.'

'Because nobody knows,' she said scornfully. 'I haven't seen him
since--' She hesitated. This Charles knew everything, and he said for
her, rather wearily, very quietly, 'Since his wife died. No. But you

'Yes,' she said defiantly, 'I expect I shall. I hope I shall.'

A shudder passed through Charles Batty's big frame and the words,
'Don't marry him,' reached her ears like a distant muttering of a
storm. 'You would not be happy.'

'What has happiness to do with it?' she asked with an astonishing
young bitterness.

'Ah, if you feel like that,' he said, 'if you feel as I do about you,
if nothing he does and nothing he says--'

'He says very little,' Henrietta interrupted gloomily, but Charles
seemed not to hear.

'If his actions are only like the wind in the trees, fluttering the
leaves--yes, I suppose that's love. The tree remains.'

She dropped her face into her hands. 'You're making me miserable,' she

He removed her hands and held them firmly. 'But why?'

'I don't know,' she swayed towards him, but he kept her arms rigid,
like a bar between them, 'but I don't want to lose you.'

'You can't,' he assured her.

'And though you think you have me in your heart, the me that doesn't
change, you'd like the other one too, wouldn't you? I mean, you'd
really like to hold me? Not just the thought of me? Tell me you love
me in that way too.'

'Yes,' he said, 'I love you in that way too, but I tell you it doesn't
matter.' He dropped her hands as though he had no more strength.
'Marry your Francis Sales. You still belong to me.'

'But will you belong to me?' she asked softly. She could not lose him,
she wanted to have them both, and Charles, perhaps unwisely, perhaps
from the depth of his wisdom, which was truth, answered quietly, 'I
belonged to you since the first day I saw you.'

She let out a sigh of inexpressible relief.


To Rose, the time between the death of Caroline and the coming of
spring was like an invalid's convalescence. She felt a languor as
though she had been ill, and a kind of content as though she were
temporarily free from cares. She knew that Henrietta and Charles Batty
often met, but she did not wish to know how Charles had succeeded in
preventing her escape: she did not try to connect Christabel's illness
with Henrietta's return; she enjoyed unquestioningly her rich feeling
of possession in the presence of the girl, who was much on her
dignity, very well behaved, but undeniably aloof. She had not yet
forgiven her aunt for that episode in the gipsies' hollow, but it did
not matter. Rose could tell herself without any affectation of virtue
that she had hoped for no benefit for herself; looking back she saw
that even what might be called her sin had been committed chiefly for
Francis's sake, only she had not sinned enough.

But for the present she need not think of him. He had gone away, she
heard, and she could ride over the bridge without the fear of meeting
him and with the feeling that the place was more than ever hers. It
was gloriously empty of any claim but its own. To gallop across the
fields, to ride more slowly on some height with nothing between her
and great massy clouds of unbelievable whiteness, to feel herself
relieved of an immense responsibility, was like finding the new world
she had longed for. She wished sincerely that Francis would not come
back; she wished that, riding one day, she might find Sales Hall
blotted out, leaving no sign, no trace, nothing but earth and fresh
spikes of green.

Day by day she watched the advance of spring. The larches put out
their little tassels, celandines opened their yellow eyes, the smell
of the gorse was her youth wafted back to her and she shook her head
and said she did not want it. This maturity was better: she had
reached the age when she could almost dissociate things from herself
and she found them better and more beautiful. She needed this
consolation, for it seemed that her personal relationships were to be
few and shadowy; conscious in herself of a capacity for crystallizing
them enduringly, they yet managed to evade her; it was some fault,
some failure in herself, but not knowing the cause she could not cure
it and she accepted it with the apparent impassivity which was,
perhaps, the origin of the difficulty.

And capable as she was of love, she was incapable of struggling for
it. She wanted Henrietta's affection; she wanted to give every
happiness to that girl, but she could not be different from herself,
she could not bait the trap. And it seemed that Henrietta might be
finding happiness without her help, or at least without realizing that
it was she who had given Charles his chance. She had rejected her plan
of taking Henrietta away: it was better to leave her in the
neighbourhood of Charles, for he was not a Francis Sales, and if
Henrietta could once see below his queer exterior, she would never see
it again except to laugh at it with an understanding beyond the power
of irritation; and she was made to have a home, to be busy about
small, important things, to play with children and tyrannize over a
man in the matter of socks and collars, to be tyrannized over by him
in the bigger affairs of life.

And with Henrietta settled, Rose would at last be free to take that
journey which, like everything else, had eluded her so far. She would
be free but for Sophia who seemed in these days pathetically subdued
and frail; but Sophia, Rose decided, could stay with Henrietta for a
time, or one of the elderly cousins would be glad to take up a
temporary residence in Nelson Lodge.

She was excited by the prospect of her freedom and sometimes, as
though she were doing something wrong, she secretly carried the big
atlas to her bedroom and pored over the maps. There were places with
names like poetry and she meant to see them all. She moved already in
a world of greater space and fresher air; her body was rejuvenated,
her mind recovered from its weariness and when, on an April day, she
came across Francis Sales in one of his own fields, it was a sign of
her condition that her first thought was of Henrietta and not of
herself. He had returned and Henrietta was again in danger, though one
of another kind.

She stopped her horse, thinking firmly, Whatever happens, she shall
not marry him: he is not good enough. She said: 'Good morning,' in
that cool voice which made him think of churches, and he stood,
stroking the horse's nose, looking down and making no reply.

'I've been away,' he said at last.

'I know. When did you come back?'

'Last night. I've been to Canada to see her people. I thought they'd
like to know about her and she would have liked it, too.'

A small smile threatened Rose's mouth. It seemed rather late to be
trying to please Christabel.

'I didn't hope,' he went on quietly, 'to have this luck so soon. I've
been wanting to see you, to tell you something. I wanted to get things
cleared up.'

'What things?'

He looked up. 'About Henrietta.'

'There's no need for that.'

'Not for you, perhaps, but there is for me. You were quite right that
day. I went home and I made up my mind to break my word to her. I'd
made it up before Christabel became so ill. I wanted you to know that.
I couldn't have left her that night--perhaps you hadn't realized I'd
meant to--but anyhow I couldn't have left her, and I wouldn't have
done it if I could. You were perfectly right.'

Rose moved a little in her saddle. 'And yet I had no right to be,' she
said. 'You and I--'

'Ah,' he said quickly, 'you and I were different. I don't blame myself
for that, but with Henrietta it was just devilry, sickness, misery.
Don't,' he commanded, 'dare to compare our--our love with that.'

'No,' she said, 'no, I don't think of it at all. It has dropped back
where it came from and I don't know where that is. I don't think of it
any more, but thank you for telling me about Henrietta. Good-bye.'

She moved on, but his voice followed her. 'I never loved her.'

She stopped but did not turn. 'I know that.'

'Yes, but I wanted to tell you.' He was at the horse's head again. 'I
don't think much of the way those people are keeping your bridle.
There's rust on the curb chain. Look at it. It's disgraceful! And I'd
like to tell you that I tried to make it up to Christabel at the last.
Too late--but she was happy. Good-bye. Tell those people they ought to
be ashamed of themselves.'

'I suppose we all ought to be,' Rose said wearily.

'Some of us are,' he replied. 'And,' he hesitated, 'you won't stop
riding here now I've come back?'

'Of course not. It's the habit of a lifetime.'

'I shan't worry you.'

She laughed frankly. 'I'm not afraid of that.'

She was immune, she told herself, she could not be touched, yet she
knew she had been touched already: she was obliged to think of him.
For the first time in her knowledge of him he had not grumbled, he was
like a repentant child, and she realized that he had suffered an
experience unknown to her, a sense of sin, and the fact gave him a
certain superiority and interest in her eyes.

She went home but not as she had set forth, for she seemed to hear the
jingle of her chains.

At luncheon Henrietta appeared in a new hat and an amiable mood. She
was going, she said casually, to a concert with Charles Batty.

'I didn't know there was one,' Rose said. 'Where is it?'

'Oh, not in Radstowe. We're going,' Henrietta said reluctantly, 'to

But that name seemed to have no association for Aunt Rose. She said,
'Oh, yes, they have very good concerts there, and I hope Charles will
like your hat.'

'I don't suppose he will notice it,' Henrietta murmured. She felt
grateful for her aunt's forgetfulness, and she said, with an
enthusiasm she had not shown for a long time, 'You look lovely to-day,
Aunt Rose, as if something nice had happened.'

Rose laughed and said, 'Nonsense, Henrietta,' in a manner faintly
reminiscent of Caroline. And she added quickly, against the invasion
of her own thoughts, 'And as for Charles, he notices much more than
one would think.'

'Oh, I've found that out,' Henrietta grieved. 'I don't think people
ought to notice--well, that one's nose turns up.'

'It depends how it does it. Yours is very satisfactory.'

They sparkled at each other, pleased at the ease of their intercourse
and quite unaware that these personalities also were reminiscent of
the Caroline and Sophia tradition of compliment.

Sophia, drooping over the table, said vaguely, 'Yes, very
satisfactory,' but she hardly knew to what Rose had referred. She
lived in her own memories, but she tried to disguise her distraction
and it was always safe to agree with Rose: she had good judgment,
unfailing taste. 'Rose,' she said more brightly, 'I'd forgotten. Susan
tells me that Francis Sales has come home.'

Rose said 'Yes,' and after the slightest pause, she added, 'I saw him
this morning.' She did not look at Henrietta. She felt with something
like despair that this had occurred at the very moment when they
seemed to be re-establishing their friendship, and now Henrietta would
be reminded of the unhappy past. She did not look across the table,
but, to her astonishment, she heard the girl's voice with trouble,
enmity and anger concentrated in its control, saying quickly, 'So
that's the nice thing that's happened!'

'Very nice,' Sophia murmured. 'Poor Francis! He must have been glad to
see you.'

Rose's eyes glanced over Henrietta's face with a look too proud to be
called disdain: she was doubly shocked, first by the girl's effrontery
and then by the truth in her words. She had indeed been feeling
indefinitely happy and ignoring the cause. She was, even now, not sure
of the cause. She did not know whether it was the change in Francis or
the jingling of the chains still sounding in her ears, but there had
been a lightness in her heart which had nothing to do with the sense
of that approaching freedom on which she had been counting.

She turned to Sophia as though Henrietta had not spoken. 'Yes, I think
he was glad to see a friend. He has been to Canada to see Christabel's
family. No, he didn't say how he was, but I thought he looked rather

'Ah, poor boy,' Sophia said. 'I think, Rose dear, it would be kind to
ask him here.'

'Oh, he knows he can come when he likes,' Rose said.

On the other side of the table Henrietta was shaking delicately. She
could only have got relief by inarticulate noises and insanely violent
movements. She hated Francis Sales, she hated Rose and Sophia and
Charles Batty. She would not go to the concert--yes, she would go and
make Charles miserable. She was enraged at the folly of her own
remark, at Rose's self-possession, and at her possible possession of
Francis Sales. She could not unsay what she had said and, having said
it, she did not know how to go on living with Aunt Rose; but she was
going to Wellsborough again and this time she need not come back: yet
she must come back to see Francis Sales. And though there was no one
in the world to whom she could express the torment of her mind she
could, at least, make Charles unhappy.

Rose and Sophia were chatting pleasantly, and Henrietta pushed back
her chair. 'Will you excuse me? I have to catch a train.'

Rose inclined her head: Sophia said, 'Yes, dear, go. Where did you say
you were going?'

'To Wellsborough.'

'Ah, yes. Caroline and I--Be careful to get into a ladies' carriage,

'I'm going with Charles Batty,' she said dully.

'Ah, then, you will be safe.'

Safe! Yes, she was perfectly safe with Charles. He would sit with his
hands hanging between his knees and stare. She was sick of him and, if
she dared, she would whisper during the music; at any rate, she would
shuffle her feet and make a noise with the programme. And to-morrow
she would emulate her aunt and waylay Francis Sales. There would be no
harm in copying Aunt Rose, a pattern of conduct! She had done it
before, she would do it again and they would see which one of them was
to be victorious at the last.

She fulfilled her intentions. Charles, who had been flourishing under
the kindness of her friendship, was puzzled by her capriciousness, but
he did not question her. He was learning to accept mysteries calmly
and to work at them in his head. She shuffled her feet and he
pretended not to hear: she crackled her programme and he smiled down
at her. This was maddening, yet it was a tribute to her power. She
could do what she liked and Charles would love her; he was a great
possession; she did not know what she would do without him.

As they ate their rich cakes in a famous teashop, Charles talked
incessantly about the music, and when at last he paused, she said
indifferently, 'I didn't hear a note.'

Mildly he advised her not to wear such tight shoes.

'Tight!' She looked down at them. 'I had them made for me!'

'You seemed to be uncomfortable,' he said.

'I was thinking, thinking, thinking.'

'What about?'

'Things you wouldn't understand, Charles. You're too good.'

'I dare say,' he murmured.

'You've never wanted to murder anyone.'

'Yes, I have.'


'That Sales fellow.'

Her eyelids quivered, but she said boldly, 'Because of me?'

'No, of course not. Making noises at concerts. Shooting birds. I've
told you so before.'

'He's been to Canada.'

'I know.'

'But he has come back.'

'Well, I suppose he had to come back some day.'

'And I hate Aunt Rose.'

'What a pity,' Charles said, taking another cake.

'Why a pity?'

'Beautiful woman.'

'Oh, yes, everybody thinks so, till they know her.'

'I know her and I think she's adorable.'

The word was startling from his lips. Charles, too, she exclaimed
inwardly. Was Aunt Rose even to come between her and Charles?

'But of course'--he remembered his lesson--'you're the most beautiful
and the best woman in the world.'

'I'm not a woman at all,' she said angrily: 'I'm a fiend.'

'Yes, to-day; but you won't be to-morrow. You'll feel different

He had, she reflected, a gift of prophecy. 'Yes, I shall,' she said
softly, 'I'm stupid. It will be all right to-morrow. I shan't even be
angry with Aunt Rose and you've been an angel to me. I shall never
forget you.'

He said nothing. He seemed very much interested in his cake.

And because she foresaw that her anger towards Aunt Rose would
soon be changed to pity, she apologized to her that night. 'I'm afraid
I was rude to you at luncheon.'

'Were you? Oh, not rude, Henrietta. Perhaps rather foolish and
indiscreet. You should think before you speak.'

This admonition was not what Henrietta expected, and she said, 'That's
just what I was doing. You mean I ought to be quiet when I'm

'Well, yes, that would be even better.'

'Then, Aunt Rose, I should never speak at all when I'm with you.'

'You haven't talked to me for a long time.'

She made a gesture like her father's--impatient, hopeless. 'How can
I?' she demanded. There was too much between them: the figure of
Francis Sales was too solid.

She set out as she had intended the next afternoon. It was full
spring-time now and Radstowe was gay and sweet with flowering trees.
The delicate rose of the almond blossom had already faded to a
fainting pink and fallen to the ground, and the laburnum was weeping
golden tears which would soon drop to the pavements and blacken there;
the red and white hawthorns were all out, and Henrietta's daily walks
had been punctuated by ecstatic halts when she stood under a canopy of
flower and leaf and drenched herself in scent and colour, or peeped
over garden fences to see tall tulips springing up out of the grass;
but to-day she did not linger.

It seemed a long time since she had crossed the river, yet the only
change was in the new green of the trees splashing the side of the
gorge. The gulls were still quarrelling for food on the muddy banks,
children and perambulators, horses and carts, were passing over the
bridge as on her first day in Radstowe, but there was now no Francis
Sales on his fine horse. The sun was bright but clouds were being
blown by a wind with a sharp breath, and she went quickly lest it
should rain before her business was accomplished. She had no fear of
not finding Francis Sales: in such things her luck never failed her,
and she came upon him even sooner than she had expected in the
outermost of his fields.

He stood beside the gate, scrutinizing a flock of sheep and lambs and
talking to the shepherd, and he turned at the sound of her footsteps
on the road. She smiled sweetly: rather stiffly he raised his hand to
his hat and in that moment she recognized that he had no welcome for
her. He had changed; he was grave though he was not sullen, and she
said to herself with her ready bitterness, 'Ah, he has reformed, now
that there's no need. That's what they all do.'

But her smile did not fade. She leaned over the gate in a friendly
manner and asked him about the lambs. How old were they? She hoped he
would not have them killed: they were too sweet. She had never touched
one in her life. Why did they get so ugly afterwards? It was hard to
believe those little things with faces like kittens, or like flowers,
were the children of their lumpy mothers. 'Do you think I could catch
one if I came inside?' she asked.

'Come inside,' he said, 'but the shepherd shall catch one for you.'

She stroked the curly wool, she pulled the apprehensive ears, she
uttered absurdities and, glancing up to see if Sales were laughing at
her charming folly, she saw that he was examining his flock with the
practical interest of a farmer. He was apparently considering some
technical point; he had not been listening to her at all. She hated
that lamb, she hoped he would kill it and all the rest, and she
decided to eat mutton in future with voracity.

'I was going to pick primroses,' she said. 'Are there any in these
fields?' 'I don't know. Can you spare me a few minutes? I want to
speak to you.'

Her heart, which had been thumping with a sickening slowness,
quickened its beats. Perhaps she had been mistaken, perhaps his
serious manner was that of a great occasion, and she saw herself
returning to Nelson Lodge and treating her Aunt Rose with gentle tact.

'Shall we sit on the gate?' she asked.

'I'd rather walk across the field. I've been wanting to see you--since
that night. I owe you an apology.'

She dared not speak for fear of making a mistake, and she waited,
walking slowly beside him, her eyes downcast.

'An apology--for the whole thing,' he said.

She looked up. 'What whole thing?'

'The way I behaved with you.'

'Oh, that! I don't see why you should apologize,' she said.

'It wasn't fair. It wasn't even decent.'

'But it was a sort of habit with you, wasn't it?' she said
commiseratingly, and had the happiness of seeing his face flush. 'I
quite understand. And we were both amused.'

'I wasn't amused,' he said, 'not a bit, and I'm sorry I behaved as I
did. You were so young--and so pretty. Well, it's no good making
excuses, but I couldn't rest until I'd seen you and--humbled myself.'

'Did Aunt Rose tell you to say this?' she asked.

'Rose? Of course not. Why should she?'

'She seems to have an extraordinary power.'

'Yes, she has,' he said simply.

'And have you humbled yourself to her, too?'

'No. With her,' he said slowly, 'there was no need.'

'I see.' She laughed up at him frankly. 'You know, I never took it
very seriously. I'm sorry the thought of it has troubled you.'

He went on, ignoring her lightness, and determined to say everything.
'I meant to meet you that night and tell you what I'm telling you now;
but Christabel was very ill and I couldn't leave her. I hope'--this
was difficult--'I hope you didn't get into any sort of mess.'

'That night?' She seemed to be thinking back to it. 'That night--no--I
went to a concert with Charles Batty.'

'Oh--' He was bewildered. 'Then it was all right?'

'Perfectly, of course.'

'I didn't know,' he muttered. 'And you forgive me?'

She was generous. 'I was just as bad as you. The Malletts are all
flirts. Haven't you heard Aunt Caroline say so? We can't help doing
silly things, but we never take them seriously. Why, you must have
noticed that with Aunt Rose!'

'No,' he said with dignity, 'your Aunt Rose is like nobody else in the
world. I think I told you that once. She--' He hesitated and was

'Well, I must be going back,' Henrietta said easily. 'I shan't bother
about the primroses. I think it's going to rain. And you won't think
about this any more, will you? You know, Aunt Caroline says she nearly
eloped several times, and I know my father did it once, with my own
mother, probably with other people beside. It's in the blood. I must
try to settle down. We did behave rather badly, I suppose, but so much
has happened since. That was my first ball and I felt I wanted to do
something daring.'

'You were not to blame,' he said; 'but I'm nearly old enough to be
your father. I can't forgive myself. I can't forget it.'

'Oh, dear! And I never took it seriously at all. There was a train
back to Radstowe at ten o'clock. I looked it up. I was going to get
that, but as it happened I went to a concert with Charles Batty. You
seem to have no idea how to play a game. You have to pretend to
yourself it's a matter of life and death; but you haven't to let it
be. That would spoil it.'

'I see,' he said. 'I'm afraid I didn't look at it like that. I wish I
had, and I'm glad you did. It makes it easier--and harder--for me.'

'We ought,' she said, 'to have laid the rules down first. Yes, we
ought to have done that.' She laughed again. 'I shall do that another
time. Good-bye.'

'Good-bye. You've been awfully good to me, Henrietta. Thank you.'

'Not a bit,' she cried. 'If I'd known you were bothering about it, I
would have reassured you.' She could not withhold a parting shot. 'I
would have sent you a message by Aunt Rose.'

She waved a hand and ran back to the road. She did not trouble to ask
herself whether or not he believed her. She was shaken by sobs without
tears. She did not love him, she had never loved him, but she could
not bear the knowledge that he did not love her. It was quite plain;
she was not going to deceive herself any more; his manner had been
unmistakable and it was Aunt Rose he loved. She had been beaten by
Aunt Rose, and even Charles called her adorable. She did not want
Francis Sales; he was rather stupid, and as a legitimate lover he
would be dull, duller than Charles, who at least knew how to say
things; but something coloured and exciting and dramatic had been
ravished from her--by Aunt Rose. That was the sting, and she was
humiliated, though she would not own it. She had been good enough for
an episode, but her charm had not endured.

Her little, rather inhuman teeth ground against each other. But she
had been clever, she had carried it off well; she had not given a
sign, and she determined to be equally clever with Aunt Rose. Some day
she would refer lightly to her folly and laugh at the susceptibility
of Francis Sales. It would hurt Aunt Rose to have her faithful lover
disparaged! But, ah! if only she and Aunt Rose were friends, what a
conspiracy they could enjoy together! They had both suffered, they
might both laugh. How they might play into each other's hands with
Francis Sales for the bewildered ball! It would be the finest sport in
the world; but they were not friends, and it was impossible to imagine
Aunt Rose at that game. No, she was alone in the world, and as she
felt the first drop of rain on her face she became aware of the aching
of her heart.

She stood for a moment on the bridge. A grey mist was being driven up
the river, blotting out the gorge and the trees. A gull, shrieking
dismally, cleaved the greyness with a white flash. It was cold and
Henrietta shivered, and once again she wished she could sit by a
fireside with some one who was kind and tender; but to-night there
would only be Aunt Sophia and Aunt Rose sitting with her in that
drawing-room, where everything was too elegant and too clear, where
now no one ever laughed.


They sat by the fire as she had foreseen, Sophia pretending to be busy
with her embroidery, Rose, in a straight-backed chair, reading a book.
Henrietta sat on a low stool with a book open on her knee, but she did
not read it. The fire talked to itself, said silly things and
chuckled, or murmured sentimentally. That chatter, vaguely insane, and
the turning of Rose's pages, the drawing of Sophia's silks through the
stuff and the click of her scissors, were the only sounds until,
suddenly, Sophia gave a groan and fell back in her chair. Rose, very
much startled, glanced at Henrietta and jumped up.

'It's her heart,' Henrietta said with the superiority of her
knowledge. 'I'll get her medicine.' She came back with it. 'She was
like this when Aunt Caroline died, but I promised not to tell. If she
has this she will be better.'

It was Henrietta who poured the liquid into the glass and applied it
to Sophia's lips. She was, she felt, the practical person, and it was
she, and not Aunt Rose, who had been trusted by Aunt Sophia. 'She
told me where she kept the stuff,' Henrietta continued calmly. 'There,
that's better.'

Sophia recovered with apologies: a little faintness; it was nothing.
In a few minutes she would go to bed. They helped her there.

'You ought to have told me, Henrietta,' Rose said on the landing.

'I couldn't. She wished it to be our secret.' It was pleasant to feel
that Aunt Rose was out of this affair.

'We must have the doctor and she ought not to be alone to-night.'

I'll sleep on the sofa in her room.'

'No, Henrietta, you need more sleep than I do.'

'Oh, but I'm young enough to sleep anywhere--on the floor! But let
Aunt Sophia choose.'

Henrietta went back to the drawing-room, and the housemaid was sent
for the doctor. Shortly afterwards there came a ring at the bell; no
doubt it was the doctor, and Henrietta wished she could go upstairs
with him, for Aunt Rose, she told herself again, was not a practical
person and Henrietta was experienced in illness. She had nursed her
mother and she liked looking after people. She knew how to arrange
pillows; she was not afraid of sickness. However, she would have to
wait until Aunt Sophia sent for her; but it was not the doctor: it was
Charles Batty who appeared in the doorway.

'Oh,' Henrietta said, 'what have you come for?'

He put down the hat and stick he had forgotten to leave in the hall.
'I don't know,' he said. 'I had a kind of feeling you might like to
see me. It's the first time I've had it,' he added solemnly.

He really had an extraordinary way of knowing things, but she said,
'Well, Aunt Sophia's ill, so I don't think you can stay.'

He looked round for her. 'She's not here. I shan't do any harm, shall
I? We can whisper.'

'She wouldn't hear us anyhow. It's my room above this one.'

'Is it?' He gazed at the ceiling with interest. 'Oh, up there!'

'I should have thought you knew by instinct,' she said bitingly.


'Come and sit down, Charles, and don't be disagreeable. I shall have
to go to Aunt Sophia soon, but then you will be able to talk to Aunt
Rose. That will do just as well.'

'Not quite,' he said. 'I really came to tell you--'

'You said you came because you thought I wanted you.'

'So I did, but there were several reasons. You said you were going to
be happy to-day, not murderous, do you remember? And I thought I'd
like to see how you looked. You don't look happy a bit. What's the

'I've told you Aunt Sophia's ill. And would you be happy if you had to
sit in this prim room with two old women?'

'Two? But your Aunt Caroline is dead.'

'But my Aunt Rose is very much alive.'

He wagged his head. 'I see.'

'But she isn't lively. She sits like this--reading a book, and Aunt
Sophia, poor Aunt Sophia, sews like this, and I sit on this horrid
little stool, like this. That's how we spend the evening.'

'How would you like to spend it?'

'Oh, I don't know.' She dropped her black head to her knees. 'It's so

'Well,' he began again, 'I really came to tell you that there's a
house to let on The Green: that little one with the red roof like a
cap and windows that squint; a little old house; but--' he paused--'it
has every modern convenience. Henrietta, there's a curl at the back of
your neck.'

'I know. It's always there.'

'I can't go on about the house unless you sit up.'


'Because of that curl.'

'And I'm not interested in the house.' She did not move. 'Whose is

'It belongs to a client of ours, but that doesn't matter. The point is
that it's to let. I've got an order to view. Look!--"_Please admit
Mr. Charles Batty._" I went this evening and we can both go to-morrow.
It's really a very cosy little house. There's a drawing-room opening
on the garden at the back, with plenty of room for a grand piano, and
the dining-room--I liked the dining-room very much. There was a fire
in it.'

'Is that unusual?'

'It looked so cosy, with a red carpet and everything.'

'Is the carpet to let, too?'

'I don't know. I dare say we could buy it. And mind you, Henrietta,
the kitchen is on the ground floor. That's unusual, if you like, in an
old house. I made sure of that before I went any further.'

'How far are you going?'

'We'll go everywhere to-morrow, even into the coal cellar. To-day I
just peeped.'

'I can imagine you. But what do you want a house for, Charles?'

'For you,' he said. 'You say you don't like spending the evenings
here--well, let's spend them in the little house. We can't go on being
engaged indefinitely.'

'Certainly not,' she said firmly, 'and I should adore a little house
of my own. I believe that's just what I want.'

'Then that's settled.'

'But not with you, Charles.'

He said nothing for a time. She was sitting up, her hands clasped on
her lap, and as she looked at him she half regretted her last words.
This was how they would sit in the little house, by the fire,
surrounded by their own possessions, with everything clean and bright
and, as he had said, very cosy. She had never had a home.

Suddenly she leaned towards him and put her head on his knee. His hand
fell on her hair. 'This doesn't mean anything,' she murmured; 'but I
was just thinking. You're tempting me again. First with the ring
because it was so pretty, and now with a house.'

'How else am I to get you?' he cried out. 'And you know you were
feeling lonely. That's why I came.'

'You thought it was your chance?'

'Yes,' he said. 'I don't know the ordinary things, but I know the

'I wonder how,' she said, and he answered with the one word, 'Love,'
in a voice so deep and solemn that she laughed.

'Do you know,' she said, 'I have never had a home. I've lived in other
people's houses, with their ugly furniture, their horrid sticky

'I shall take that house to-morrow.'

'But you can't go on collecting things like this. Houses and rings--'

'The ring's in my pocket now.'

'It must stay there, Charles. I ought not to keep my head on your
knee; but it's comfortable and I have no conscience. None.' She sat
up, brushing his chin with her hair. 'None!' she said emphatically.
'And here's Aunt Rose coming to fetch me for Aunt Sophia. Mind, I've
promised nothing. Besides, you haven't asked me to promise anything.'

'Oh!' He blinked. 'Well, there's no time now. Good evening, Miss
Mallett.' He pulled himself out of his chair.

'Good evening, Charles. I'm glad you're here to keep Henrietta
company. The doctor has been, Henrietta--'

'Oh, has he? I didn't hear him.'

'Sophia is settled for the night, and I'm going to her now.'

'But she'll want me!' Henrietta cried.

'No, she asked me to stay with her. Good night. Good night, Charles.'

'But did you say I wanted to be with her?'

Rose, smiling but a little pitiful, said gently, 'I gave her the
choice and she chose me.'

She disappeared, and Henrietta turned to Charles. 'You see, she gets
everything. She gets everything I ever wanted and she doesn't try--'
Her hands dropped to her side. 'She just gets it.'

'But what have you wanted?'

She turned away. 'Nothing. It doesn't matter.'

'Is she going to marry Francis Sales?'

'What makes you ask that?' she cried.

'I don't know. I just thought of it.'

'Oh, your thoughts! Why, you suggested the same thing, for me! As if I
would look at him!'

Charles blinked, his sign of agitation, but Henrietta did not see.
'He's good to look at,' Charles muttered. 'He knows how to wear his

'That doesn't matter.'

Charles heaved a sigh. 'One never knows what matters.'

'And the Malletts don't marry,' Henrietta said. 'Aunt Caroline and
Aunt Sophia and Aunt Rose, and now me. There's something in us that
can't be satisfied. It was the same with my father, only it took him
the other way.'

'I didn't know he was married more than once. Nobody tells me things.'

'Charles, dear, you're very stupid. He was only married once in a

'Oh, I see.'

'And if I did marry, I should be like him.' She turned to him and put
her face close to his. 'Unfaithful,' she pronounced clearly.

'Oh, well, Henrietta, you would still be you.'

She stepped backwards, shocked. 'Charles, wouldn't you mind?'

'Not so much,' he said stolidly, 'as doing without you altogether.'

'And the other day you said you need never do that because'--she
tapped his waistcoat--'because I'm here!'

He showed a face she had never seen before. 'You seem to think I'm not
made of flesh and blood!' he cried. 'You're wanton, Henrietta, simply
wanton!' And he rushed out of the room.

She heard the front door bang; she saw his hat and stick, lying where
he had put them; she smiled at them politely and then, sinking to the
floor beside the fender, she let out a little moan of despair and
delight. The fire chuckled and chattered and she leaned forward, her
face near the bars.

'Stop talking for a minute! I want to tell you something. There's
nobody else to tell. Listen! I'm in love with him now.' She nodded her
head. 'Yes, with him. I know it's ridiculous; but it's true. Did you
hear? You can laugh if you like. I don't care. I'm in love with him.
Oh, dear!'

She circled her neck with her hands as though she must clasp
something, and it would have been too silly to fondle his ugly hat.
And he would remember he had forgotten it; he would come back. She
dared not see him. 'I love him,' she cried out, 'too much to want to
see him!' She paused, astonished. 'I suppose that's how he feels about
me. How wonderful!' She looked round at the furniture, so still and
unmoved by the happy bewilderment in which she found herself. The
piano was mute; the lamps burned steadily; the chair in which Charles
had sat was unconscious of its privilege; even the fire's flames had
subsided; and she was intensely, madly, joyously alive. 'It's too
much,' she said, 'too much!' And for the first time she was ashamed of
her episode with Francis Sales. 'Playing at love,' she whispered.

But Charles would be coming back and, tiptoeing as though he might
hear her from the street, she picked up his hat and stick and laid
them neatly on the step outside the front door.

She slept with the profundity of her happiness and descended to
breakfast in a dream. Only the sight of Rose's tired face reminded her
that Aunt Sophia was ill. She had had a bad night, but she was better.

'She's not going to die, too, is she?' Henrietta asked, and she had a
sad vision of Aunt Rose living all alone in Nelson Lodge.

'She may live for a long time, but the doctor says she may die at any

'I don't suppose she wants to live.'

'What makes you think that?'

'Because of Aunt Caroline--and--other people. But if she dies,
whatever will you do?'

The question amused Rose. 'Go and see the world at last,' she said.
'Perhaps you will come, too.'

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest