Part 3 out of 11
one man to another. There was once, I remember, a young man who had
heard me preach and was moved by my words and begged to see me in
private. He came one evening; he was tempted to commit a terrible
sin. He depended upon me to save him and I could say nothing. I
struggled, I prayed, but it was incredible to me that any man could
be tempted to such a thing. I spoke only conventional words that
meant nothing. He went away from me, and his lost soul is now upon
me and will always be . . . but, Martin, what I would say beyond
everything is--do not let us separate. Be free as you must be free,
as you should be free--but stay with me--remain with me. I am an old
man; I have longed for you as I think no other father can ever have
longed for his son. They tell me that I cannot live many more years.
God chooses His time. Be with me, Martin, for a little while even
though I may seem old to you and foolish. Perhaps things will come
back to you that you have long forgotten. You were once pledged and
it was a vow that is not easily removed--but it is enough for the
present if you will be with me a little, give me some of your time--
give the old days a chance to come back." He laid his hand upon his
The sudden touch of the dry, hot, trembling skin filled Martin's
heart with the strangest confusion of affection, embarrassment and
some familiar pathos. In just that way ten years before he had felt
his father's hand and had thought: "How old he's getting! . . . How
I shall miss him! . . . I hope nothing happens to him!" In the very
balance of his father's sentences and the deliberate choice of words
there had been something old-fashioned and remote from all the life
and scramble of Martin's recent years. Now he took his father's hand
in his own strong grasp and said gruffly:
"That's all right, father . . . I'm not going while you want
me . . . You and I . . . always . . . it's just the same now."
But even as he spoke he felt as though he were giving some pledge
that was to involve him in far more than he could see before him.
Then, with a happy sense that the sentimental part of the
conversation was over, he began to talk about all kinds of things.
He let himself go and even, after a while, began to feel the whole
thing really jolly and pleasant. His father wanted waking up. He had
been here so long, with all these awful frumps, brooding over one
idea, never getting away from this Religion.
Martin began to imagine himself very cleverly leading his father
into a normal natural life, taking him to see things, making him
laugh; it would do his health a world of good.
Then, quite suddenly, the old man said:
"And what do you remember, Martin, of the old days here, the days
when you were quite small, when we lived in Mason Street?"
What did Martin remember? He remembered a good deal. He was
surprised when he began to think . . . "Did he remember . . ." his
father suggested a scene, a day--yes, he remembered that. His father
continued, as though it had been for his own pleasure.
The scenes, the hours returned with a vividness and actuality that
thronged the room.
He could see Mason Street with its grocer's shop at the corner, its
Baths and Public Library, the sudden little black dips into the
areas as the houses followed one another, the lamp-post opposite
their window that had always excited him because it leaned inwards a
little as though it would presently tumble. He remembered the fat
short cook with the pink cotton dress who wheezed and blew so when
she had to climb the stairs. He remembered the rooms that would seem
bare enough to him now, he supposed, but were then filled with
exciting possibilities--a little round brown table, his mother's
work-box with mother-of-pearl shells upon the cover, a stuffed bird
with bright blue feathers under a glass case, a screen with coloured
pictures of battles and horses and elephants casted upon it. He
remembered the exact sound that the tinkling bell made when it
summoned them to meals, he remembered the especial smell of beef and
carpet that was the dining-room, he remembered a little door of
coloured glass on the first landing, a cupboard that had in it sugar
and apples, a room full of old books piled high all about the floor
upon the dry and dusty boards . . . a thousand other things came
crowding around him.
Then, as his father's voice continued, out from the background there
came his own figure, a small, pale, excited boy in short trousers.
He was immensely excited--that was the principal thing. It was
evening, the house seemed to swim in candlelight and smoke through
which things could be seen only dimly.
Something wonderful was about to happen to him. He was in a state of
glory, very close to God, so close that he could almost see Him
sitting with His long white beard in the middle of a cloud, watching
Martin with interest and affection. He was pleased with Martin and
Martin was pleased with himself. At the same time as his pleasure he
was aware that the stuff of his new black trousers tickled his knees
and that he was hungry.
He saw his small sister Amy for a moment and expressed quite
effectively by a smile and nod of the head his immeasurable
superiority to her . . .
They, he and his father, drove in a cab to the Chapel. Of what
followed then he was now less aware. He remembered that he was in a
small room with two men, that they all took off their clothes (he
remembered that one man, very stout and red, looked funny without
his clothes), that they put on long white night-shirts, that his was
too long for him and that he tripped over it, that they all three
walked down the centre of the Chapel, which was filled with eyes,
mouths and boots, and that he was very conscious of his toe-nails,
which had never been exposed in public before, that they came to a
round stone place filled with water and into this after the two men
he was dipped, that he didn't scream from the coldness, of the water
although he wanted to, that he was wrapped in a blanket and finally
carried home in an ecstasy of triumph.
What happiness followed! The vitality of it swept down upon him now,
so that he seemed never to have lived since then. He was the chosen
of God and every one knew it. What a little prig and yet how simple
it had all been, without any consciousness of insincerity or acting
on his part. God had chosen him and there he was, for ever and ever
safe and happy.
It was not only that he was assured that when the moment arrived he
would have, in Heaven, a "good time"--it was that he was greatly
exalted, so that he gave his twopence a week pocket-money to his
school-fellows, never pulled Amy's hair, never teased his mother's
canary. He had been aware, young though he was, of another life. He
prayed and prayed, he went to an endless succession of services and
meetings. There was Mr. Bates, one of the leading brethren then, who
loved him and spoilt him . . . above all, through and beyond it all,
there was his father, who adored him and whom he adored.
That adoration--of God, of his father, of life itself! Was it
possible that a small boy, normal and ordinary enough in other ways,
could feel so intensely such passions?
The dark room was crowding him with figures and scenes. A whole
world that he had thought dead and withered was beating--urgently,
insistently, upon his consciousness.
In another instant he did not know what surrender, what
acknowledgement he might have made. It seemed to him that nothing in
life was worth while save to receive again, in some fashion, that
vitality that he had once known.
The door was flung open; a stream of light struck the dark; the
shadows, memories, fled, helter-skelter, like crackling smoke into
Amy stood in the doorway, blinking at him, scowling. He knew, for
some undefined reason, that he could not meet his father's eyes. He
jumped up and walked to the window.
Maggie developed marvellously during her first weeks in London. It
could not truthfully be said that her aunts gave her great
opportunity for development; so far as they were concerned she might
as well have been back in the green seclusion of St. Dreots.
It is true that she accompanied her Aunt Elizabeth upon several
shopping expeditions, and on one hazardous afternoon they penetrated
the tangled undergrowth of Harrods' Stores; on all these occasions
Maggie was too deeply occupied with the personal safety and
happiness of her aunt to have leisure for many observations.
Aunt Elizabeth always started upon her shopping expeditions with the
conviction that something terrible was about to happen, and the
expectation of this overwhelming catastrophe paralysed her nerves.
Maggie wondered how it could have been with her when she had
ventured forth alone. She would stand in the middle of the street
hesitating as to the right omnibus for her to take, she was often
uncertain of the direction in which she should go. She would wave
her umbrella at an omnibus, and then when it began to slacken in
answer to her appeal, would discover that it was not the one that
she needed, and would wave her umbrella furiously once more. Then
when at last she had mounted the vehicle she would flood the
conductor with a stream of little questions, darting her eyes
angrily at all her neighbours as though they were gathered there
together to murder her at the earliest opportunity. She would be
desperately confused when asked to pay for her ticket, would be
unable to find her purse, and then when she discovered it would
scatter its contents upon the ground. In such an agony would she be
at the threatened passing of her destination that she would spring
up at every pause of the omnibus, striking her nearest neighbour's
eye or nose with her umbrella, apologising nervously, and then,
because she thought she had been too forward with a stranger,
staring fiercely about her and daring any one to speak to her. Upon
the day that she visited Harrods' she spent the greater part of her
time in the lift because she always wished to be somewhere where she
was not, and because it always went up when she wished it to go down
and down when she wished it to go up. Maggie, upon this eventful
occasion, did her best, but she also was bewildered, and wondered
how any of the attendants found their way home at night. Before the
end of the afternoon Aunt Elizabeth was not far from tears. "It
isn't cutlery we want. I told the man that it was saucepans. They
pay us no attention at all. You aren't any help to me, Maggie." They
arrived in a room filled with performing gramophones. This was the
final blow. Aunt Elizabeth, trembling all over, refused either to
advance or retreat. "Will you please," said Maggie very firmly to a
beautifully clothed young man with hair like a looking-glass, "show
us the way to the street?" He very kindly showed them, and it was
not until they were in the homeward omnibus that Aunt Elizabeth
discovered that she had bought nothing at all.
Nevertheless, although Maggie collected but little interesting
detail from these occasions, she did gather a fine general
impression of whirling movement and adventure. One day she would
plunge into it--meanwhile it was better that she should move slowly
and assemble gradual impressions. The solid caution that was mingled
in her nature with passionate feeling and enthusiasm taught her
admirable wisdom. Aunt Anne, it seemed, never moved beyond the small
radius of her home and the Chapel. She attended continually Bible-
meetings, prayer-meetings, Chapel services. She had one or two
intimate friends, a simple and devout old maid called Miss Pyncheon,
Mr. Magnus, whom Maggie had seen on the day of her arrival, Mr.
Thurston, to whom Maggie had taken an instant dislike, and Amy
Warlock. She visited these people and they visited her; for the rest
she seemed to take no exercise, and her declared love for the
country did not lead her into the Parks. She was more silent, if
possible, than she had been at St. Dreots, and read to herself a
great deal in the dark and melancholy drawing-room. Although she
talked very little to Maggie, the girl fancied that her eye was
always upon her. There was a strange attitude of watchfulness in her
silent withdrawal from her scene as though she had retired simply
because she could see the better from a distance.
She liked Maggie to read the Bible to her, and for an hour of every
evening Maggie did this. For some reason the girl greatly disliked
this hour and dreaded its approach. It was perhaps because it seemed
to bring before her the figure of her father, the words as they fell
from her lips seemed to be repeated by him as he stood behind her.
Nothing was more unexpected by her than the way that those last days
at St. Dreots crowded about her. They should surely have been killed
by the colours and interests of this new life. It appeared that they
were only accentuated by them. Especially did she see that night
when she had watched beside her father's dead body . . . she saw the
stirring of the beard, the shape of the feet beneath the sheet, the
flicker of the candle. Apart from this one hour of the day, however,
she was happy, excited, expectant. What it was that she expected she
did not exactly know, but there were so many things that life might
now do for her. One thing that very evidently it did not intend to
do for her was to make her tidy, careful, and a good manager. Old
Martha, the Cardinal servant, was her sworn enemy, and, indeed, with
reason. It seemed that Maggie could not remember the things that she
was told: lighted lamps were left long after they should have been
extinguished, one night the bathroom was drowned in water by a
running tap, her clothes were not mended, she was never punctual at
meal-times. And yet no one could call her a dreamy child. She could,
about things that interested her, be remarkably sharp and
penetrating. She had a swift and often successful intuition about
characters; facts and details about places or people she never
forgot. She had a hard, severe, entirely masculine sense of
independence, an ironic contempt for sentimentality, a warm, ardent
loyalty and simplicity in friendship. Her carelessness in all the
details of life sprang from her long muddled years at St. Dreots,
the lack of a mother's guidance and education, the careless
selfishness of her father's disregard of her. She struggled, poor
child, passionately to improve herself. She sat for hours in her
room working at her clothes, trying to mend her stockings, the holes
in her blouses, the rip of the braid at the bottom of her skirt. She
waited listening for the cuckoo to call that she might be in exact
time for luncheon or dinner, and then, as she listened, some thought
would occur to her, and, although she did not dream, her definite
tracking of her idea would lead her to forget all time. Soon there
would be Martha's knock on the door and her surly ill-tempered
"Quarter of an hour they've been sitting at luncheon, Miss."
And her clothes! The aunts had said that she must buy what was
necessary, and she had gone with Aunt Elizabeth to choose all the
right things. They had, between them, bought all the wrong ones.
Maggie had no idea of whether or no something suited her; a dress, a
hat that would look charming upon any one else looked terrible upon
her; she did not know what was the matter, but nothing became her!
Her new friend, Caroline Smith, laughing and chattering, tried to
help her. Caroline had very definite ideas about dress, and indeed
spent the majority of her waking hours in contemplation of that
subject. But she had never, she declared, been, in all her life, so
puzzled. She was perfectly frank.
"But it looks AWFUL, Maggie dear, and yesterday in the shop it
didn't seem so bad, although that old pig wouldn't let us have it
the way we wanted. It's just as it is with poor mother, who gets
fatter and fatter, diet herself as she may, so that she can wear
nothing at all now that looks right, and is only really comfortable
in her night-dress. Of course you're not FAT, Maggie darling, but
it's your figure--everything's either too long or too short for you.
You don't mind my speaking so frankly, do you? I always say one's
either a friend or not, and if one's a friend why then be as rude as
you please. What's friendship for?"
They were, in fact, the greatest possible friends. Maggie had never
possessed a girl-friend before. She had, in the first days of the
acquaintance, been shy and very silent--she had been afraid of going
too far. But soon she had seen that she could not go too far and
could not say too much. She had discovered then a multitude of new
There was nothing, she found, too small, too unimportant to claim
Caroline's interest. Caroline wished to know everything, and soon
Maggie disclosed to her many things that she had told to no other
human being in her life before. It could not honestly be said that
Caroline had many wise comments to make on Maggie's experiences. Her
attitude was one of surprised excitement. She was amazed by the most
ordinary incidents and conversations. She found Maggie's life quite
"You must stop me, Maggie, if I hurt your feelings. But
really! . . . Why, if poor father had treated me like that I'd
have gone straight out of the house and never come back. I would
indeed . . . Well, here you are now, dear, and we must just see each
other as often as ever we can!"
They made a strange contrast, Maggie so plain in her black dress
with her hair that always looked as though it had been cut short
like a boy's, her strong rough movements, and Caroline, so neat and
shining and entirely feminine that her only business in the world
seemed to be to fascinate, beguile and bewilder the opposite sex.
Whatever the aunts may have thought of this new friendship, they
said nothing. Caroline had her way with them as with every one else.
Maggie wondered often as to Aunt Anne's, real thoughts. But Aunt
Anne only smiled her dim cold smile, gave her cold hand into the
girl's warm one and said, "Good afternoon, Caroline. I hope your
father and mother are well." "They're dears, you know," Caroline
said to Maggie; "I do admire your Aunt Anne; she keeps to herself
so. I wish I could keep to myself, but I never was able to. Poor
mother used to say when I was quite little, 'You'll only make
yourself cheap, Carrie, if you go on like that. Don't make yourself
cheap, dear.' But what I say is, one's only young once and the
people who don't want one needn't have one."
Nevertheless there were, even in these very early days, directions
into which Maggie did not follow her new friend. Young as she was in
many things, in some ways she was very old indeed. She had been
trained in another school from Caroline; she felt from the very
first that upon certain questions her lovely friend was
inexperienced, foolish and dangerously reckless. On the question of
"men," for instance, Maggie, with clear knowledge of her father and
her uncle, refused to follow Caroline's light and easy excursions.
Caroline was disappointed; she had a great deal to say on the
subject and could speak, she assured Maggie, from a vast variety of
experience: "Men are all the same. What I say is, show them you
don't care 'that' about them and they'll come after you. Not that I
care whether they do or no. Only it's fun the way they go on. You
just try, Maggie."
But Maggie had her own thoughts. They were not imparted to her
friend. Nothing indeed appeared to her more odd than that Caroline
should be so wise in some things and so foolish in others. She did
not know that it was her own strange upbringing that gave her
independent estimates and judgments.
The second influence that, during these first weeks, developed her
soul and body was, strangely enough, her aunt's elderly friend, Mr.
Magnus. If Caroline introduced her to affairs of the world, Mr.
Magnus introduced her to affairs of the brain and spirit.
She had never before known any one who might be called "clever." Her
father was not, Uncle Mathew was not; no one in St. Dreots had been
clever. Mr. Magnus, of course, was "clever" because he wrote books,
two a year.
But to be an author, was not a claim to Maggie's admiration. As has
been said before, she did not care for reading, and considered that
the writing of books was a second-rate affair. The things that Mr.
Magnus might have done with his life if he had not spent it in
writing books! She regarded him with the kind indulgence of an elder
who watches a child brick-building. He very quickly discovered her
attitude and it amused him. They became the most excellent friends
over it. She on her side very quickly discovered the true reason of
his coming so often to their house; he loved Aunt Anne. At its first
appearance this discovery was so strange and odd that Maggie refused
to indulge it. Love seemed so far from Aunt Anne. She greeted Mr.
Magnus from the chill distance whence she greeted the rest of the
world--she gave him no more than she gave any one else--But Mr.
Magnus did not seem to desire more. He waited patiently, a slightly
ironical and self-contemptuous worshipper at a shrine that very
seldom opened its doors, and never admitted him to its altar. It was
this irony that Maggie liked in him; she regarded herself in the
same way. Their friendship was founded on a mutual detachment. It
Maggie soon discovered that Mr. Magnus was very happy to sit in
their house even though Aunt Anne was not present. His attitude
seemed to be that the atmosphere that she left behind her was enough
for him and that he could not, in justice, expect any more. Before
Maggie's arrival he had had but a slender excuse for his continual
presence. He could not sit in the empty drawing-room surveying the
large and ominous portrait of the Cardinal childhood, quite alone
save for Thomas, without seeming a very considerable kind of fool.
And to appear that in the eyes of Aunt Anne, who already regarded
mankind in general with pity, would be a mistake.
Now that Maggie was here he might come so often as he pleased. Many
was the dark afternoon through the long February and March months
that they sat together in the dim drawing-room, Maggie straining her
eyes over an attempted reform of some garment, Mr. Magnus talking in
his mild ironical voice with his large moon-like spectacles fixed
upon nothing in particular.
Mr. Magnus did all the talking. Maggie fancied that, all his life,
he had persisted in the same gentle humorous fashion without any
especial attention as to the wisdom, agreement or even existence of
his audience. She fancied that all men who wrote books did that.
They had to talk to "clear their ideas." She raised her eyes
sometimes and looked at him as he sat there. His shabby, hapless
appearance always appealed to her. She knew that he was, in reality,
anything but hapless, but his clothes never fitted him, and it was
impossible for him to escape from the Quixotic embarrassments of his
thin hair, his high cheek-bones, his large spectacles. His smile,
however, gave him his character; when he smiled--and he was always
smiling--you saw a man independent, proud, wise and gentle. He was
not a fool, Mr. Magnus, although he did love Aunt Anne.
To a great deal that he said Maggie paid but little attention; it
was, she felt, not intended for her. She had, in all her relations
with him, to struggle against the initial disadvantage that she
regarded all men who wrote books with pity. She was not so stupid as
not to realise that there were a great many fine books in the world
and that one was the better for reading them, but, just because
there were, already, so many fine ones, why write more that would
almost certainly be not so fine? He tried to explain, to her that
some men were compelled to write and could not help themselves.
"I wrote my first book when I was nineteen. One morning I just began
to write, and then it was very easy. Then everything else was easy.
The first publisher to whom I sent it accepted it. It was published
and had quite a success. I thought I was made for life. Anything
seemed possible to one. After all, so far as one's possibilities
went one was on a level with any one--Shakespeare, Dante, any one
you like. One might do anything. . . . I published a book a year,
after that, for ten years--ten years ten books, and then awoke to
the fact that I was nothing at all and would never be anything--that
I would never write like Shakespeare, and, a matter of equal
importance, would never sell like Mrs. Henry Wood. Not that I wished
to write like any one else. I had a great idea of keeping to my own
individuality, but I saw quite clearly that what I had in myself--
all of it--was no real importance to any one. I might so well have
been a butcher or baker for all that it mattered. I saw that I was
one of those unfortunate people--there are many of them--just in
between the artists and the shopkeepers. I was an artist all right,
but not a good enough one to count; had I been a shopkeeper I might
have sold my goods."
"Well, then, here's your question, Miss Cardinal. Why on earth did I
go on writing? . . . Simply because I couldn't help myself. Writing
was the only thing in the world that gave me happiness. I thought
too that there might be people, here and there, unknown to me who
cared for what I did. Not many of course--I soon discovered that
outside the small library set in London no one had ever heard of me.
When I was younger I had fancied that that to me fiery blazing
advertisement: "New Novel by William Magnus, author of . . ." must
cause men to stop in the street, exclaim, rush home to tell their
wives, 'Do you know Magnus' new novel is out?'--now I realised that
by nine out of every ten men and five out of every ten women the
literary page in the paper is turned over with exactly the same
impatience with which I turn over the betting columns. Anyway, why
not? . . . perfectly right. And then by this time I'd seen my old
books, often enough, lying scattered amongst dusty piles in second-
hand shops marked, 'All this lot 6d.' Hundreds and hundreds of six-
shilling novels, dirty, degraded, ashamed . . . I'd ask, sometimes,
when I was very young, for my own works. 'What's the name? What?
Magnus?--No, don't stock him. No demand. We could get you a copy,
sir . . . ' There it is. Why not laugh at it? I was doing perhaps
the most useless thing in the world. A commonplace little water-
colour, hung on a wall, can give happiness to heaps of people; a
poor piece of music can do a thousand things, good and bad, but an
unsuccessful novel--twenty unsuccessful novels! A whole row, with
the same history awaiting their successors . . . 'We welcome a new
novel by Mr. William Magnus, who our readers will remember wrote
that clever story . . . The present work seems to us at least the
equal of any that have preceded it.' . . . A fortnight's
advertisement--Dead silence. Some one in the Club, 'I see you've
written another book, old man. You do turn 'em out.' A letter from a
Press Agency who has never heard of one's name before, 'A little
sheaf of thin miserable cuttings.' . . . The Sixpenny Lot . . . Ouf!
And still I go on and shall go on until I die. Perhaps after all I'm
more justified than any of them. I'm stripped of all reasons save
the pleasure, the thrill, the torment, the hopes, the despairs of
the work itself. I've got nothing else out of it and shall get
nothing . . . and therefore I'm justified. Now do you understand a
little, Miss Cardinal?"
She half understood. She understood that he was compelled to do it
just as some men are compelled to go to race meetings and just as
Uncle Mathew was compelled to drink.
But she nevertheless thought it a dreadful pity that he was unable
to stop and interest himself in something else. Then he could see it
so plainly and yet go on! She admired and at the same time pitied
It seemed, this private history of Mr. Magnus, at first sight so far
from Maggie's immediate concerns, her new life, her aunts, the
Chapel and the Chapel world. It was only afterwards, when she looked
back, that she was able to see that all these private affairs of
private people radiated inwards, like the spokes of a wheel, towards
the mysterious inner circle--that inner circle of which she was
already dimly aware, and of which she was soon to feel the heat and
light. She was, meanwhile, so far impressed by Mr. Magnus'
confidences that she borrowed one of his novels from Caroline, who
confided to her that she herself thought it the dullest and most
tiresome of works. "To be honest, I only read a bit of it--I don't
know what it's about. I think it's downright silly."
This book bore the mysterious title of "Dredinger." It was concerned
apparently with the experiences of a young man who, buying an empty
house in Bloomsbury, discovered a pool of water in the cellar. The
young man was called Dredinger, which seemed to Maggie an unnatural
kind of name. He had an irritating habit of never finishing his
sentences, and the people he knew answered him in the same
inconclusive fashion. The pool in the cellar naturally annoyed him,
but he did nothing very practical about it, allowed it to remain
there, and discussed it with a Professor of Chemistry. Beyond this
Maggie could not penetrate. The young man was apparently in love
with a lady much older than himself, who wore pince-nez, but it was
an arid kind of love in which the young man discovered motives and
symptoms with the same dexterous surprise with which he discovered
newts and tadpoles in the cellar-pond. Maggie bravely attacked Mr.
"Why didn't he have men in to clear up the pond and lay a new
floor?" she asked.
"That was just the point," said Mr. Magnus. "He couldn't."
"Why couldn't he?"
"Weakness of character and waiting to see what would happen."
"He talked too much," she answered decisively. "But are there houses
in London with ponds in them ?"
"Lots," said Mr. Magnus. "Only the owners of the houses don't know
it. There is a big pond in the Chapel. That's what Thurston came out
This was beyond Maggie altogether. An agreeable thing, however,
about Mr. Magnus was that he did not mind when you disliked his
work. He seemed to expect that you would not like it. He was
certainly a very unconceited man.
A more important and more interesting theme was Mr. Magnus' reason
for being where he was. What was he doing here? What led him to the
Chapel doors, he being in no way a religious man?
"It was like this," he told her. "I was living in Golders Green, and
suddenly one morning I was tired of the country that wasn't country,
and the butcher boy and the postman. So I moved as far into the
centre of things as I could and took a room in St. Martin's Lane
close at hand here. Then one evening I was wandering about, a
desolate Sunday evening when the town is given over to cats. I
suddenly came across the Chapel. I like going into London churches
by chance, there's always something interesting, something you
wouldn't expect. The Chapel simply astonished me. I couldn't imagine
what they were all about, it wasn't the ordinary London
congregation, it was almost the ordinary London service and yet not
quite; there was an air of expectation and even excitement which is
most unusual in a London church. Then there was Warlock. Of course
one could see at once that he was an extraordinary man, a kind of
prophet all on his own; he was as far away from that congregation as
Columbus was from his crew when he first sighted the Indies."
"I've met one or two prophets in my time, and their concern has
always been with their audience first, themselves second and their
vision last. Warlock is the other way round. He should have been a
hermit, not the leader of a community. Well, it interested me. I
came again and again . . . I'm going to stay on now until the end."
"The end?" asked Maggie.
"The end of myself or the Chapel, whichever comes first. I wrote a
story once--a very bad one--about some merchants--why merchants I
don't know--who were flung on a desert island. It was all jungle and
desolation, and then suddenly they came upon a little white Temple.
It doesn't matter what happened afterwards. I've myself forgotten
most of it, but I remember that the sailors used the Temple in
different ways to keep their hopes and expectations alive. Their
expectations that one day a ship would come and save them . . . and
so far as I remember they became imaginative about the Temple, and
fancied that the Unknown God of it would help them to regain their
private affairs: one of them wanted to get back to his girl, another
to his favourite pub, another to his money-making, another to his
collection of miniatures. And they used to sit and look at the
Temple day after day and expect something to happen. When the ship
came at last they wouldn't go into it because they couldn't bear to
think that something should happen at last and they not be there to
see it. Oh yes, one of them went back, I remember. But his actual
meeting with his girl was so disappointing in comparison with his
long expectation of it in front of the Temple that he took the next
boat back to the island . . . but he never found it again. He
travelled everywhere and died, a disappointed man, at sea."
Mr. Magnus was fond of telling little stories, obscure and
pointless, and Maggie supposed that it was a literary habit. On this
occasion he continued to talk quite naturally for his own
satisfaction. "Yes, one can make oneself believe in anything. I have
believed in all sorts of things. In England, of course, people have
believed in nothing except that things will always be as they always
have been--a useful belief considering that things have never been
as they always were. In the old days, when the Boer War hadn't
interfered with tradition, it must have seemed to any one who wasn't
a young man pretty hopeless, but now I don't know. Imagination's
breaking in . . . Warlock's a prophet. I've got fascinated, sitting
round this Chapel, as badly as any of them. Yes, one can be led into
belief of anything."
"And what do you believe in, Mr. Magnus?" asked Maggie.
"Well, not in myself anyway, nor Thurston, nor Miss Avies . . . But
in your Aunt perhaps, and Warlock. The only thing I'm sure of is
that there's something there, but what it is of course I can't tell
you, and I don't suppose I shall ever know. The story of Sir
Galahad, Miss Cardinal--it seems mid-Victorian to us now--but it's a
fine story and true enough."
Maggie, who knew nothing of mid-Victorianism, was silent.
He ended with: "Mind you decide for yourself. That's the great thing
in life. Don't you believe anything that any one tells you. See for
yourself. And if there's something of great value, don't think the
less of it because the people who admire it aren't worth very much.
Why should they be? And possibly after all it's only themselves
they're admiring . . . There's a fearful lot of nonsense and humbug
in this thing, but there's something real too . . ."
He changed his note, suddenly addressing himself intently to her as
though he had a message to deliver.
"Don't think me impertinent. But your Aunt Anne. See as much of her
as you can. She's devoted to you, Miss Cardinal. You mayn't have
seen it--she's a reserved woman and very shy of her feelings, but
she's spoken to me . . . I hope I'm not interfering to say this, but
perhaps at first you don't understand her. She loves you, you're the
first human being I do believe that she's ever loved."
What was there then in Maggie that started up in rebellion at this
unexpected declaration? She had been sitting there, tranquil,
soothed with a happy sense that her new life was developing securely
for her in the way that she would have it. Suddenly she was alert,
"What has she said to you?" she asked quickly, frowning up at him
and drawing back as though she were afraid of him. He was startled
at the change in her.
"Said?" he repeated, stammering a little. "Why only . . . Nothing
. . . except that she cared for you and hoped that you would be
happy. She was afraid that it would all be strange for you at first
. . . Perhaps I have been interfering . . ."
"No," Maggie interrupted quickly. "Not you. Only I must lead my own
life. I must, mustn't I? I don't want to be selfish, but I can begin
for myself now. I have a little money of my own--and I MUST make my
own way. I don't want to be selfish," she repeated, "but I must be
free. I don't understand Aunt Anne. She never seems to care for me.
I want to do everything for her I can, but I don't want to be under
any one ever any more."
She was so young when she said this that he was suddenly moved to an
affectionate fatherly tenderness--but he knew her now too well to
"No, you mustn't be selfish," he answered her almost drily. "We
can't lead our lives quite alone, you know--every step we take we
affect some one somewhere. Your aunt doesn't want your liberty--she
wants your affection."
"She wants to make me religious," Maggie brought out, staring at Mr.
"Ah, if you see that, you don't understand her," he answered. "How
should you--yet? She cares so deeply for her religion that she
wishes naturally any one whom she loves to share it with her. But if
"If you don't?" cried Maggie, springing up from her seat and facing
"I'm sure she would wish to influence no one," he continued gravely.
"You've seen for yourself how apart her life is. She is too
conscious of the necessity for her own liberty--"
"It isn't liberty, it's slavery," Maggie caught him up passionately.
"Do you suppose I haven't watched all these weeks? What does her
religion do but shut her off from everything and everybody? Is she
kind to Aunt Elizabeth? No, she isn't, and you know it. Would she
care if we were all of us buried in the ruins of this house to-
morrow? Not for a single moment. And it's her religion. I hate
religion. I hate it! . . . and since I've been in this house I've
hated it more and more. You don't know what it was like with father.
I don't think of it now or talk of it, but I know what it made of
HIM. And now it's the same here, only it takes them in a different
way. But it's the same in the end--no one who's religious cares for
any one. And they'd make the same of me. Aunt Anne would--the same
as she's made of Aunt Elizabeth. They haven't said much yet, but
they're waiting for the right moment, and then they'll spring it
upon me. It's in the house, it's in the rooms, it's in the very
furniture. It's as though father had come back and was driving me
into it. And I want to be free, I want to lead my own life, to make
it myself. I don't want to think about God or Heaven or Hell. I
don't care whether I'm good or bad. . . . What's the use of my being
here in London and never seeing anything. I'll go into a shop or
something and work my fingers to the bone. They SHAN'T catch me.
They SHAN'T . . . If Uncle Mathew were here . . ."
She broke off suddenly, breathless, staring at Mr. Magnus as though
she had not been aware until now that he was in the room. To say
that her outburst astonished him was to put it very mildly indeed.
She had always been so quiet and restrained; she had seemed so happy
He blushed, pushed his spectacles with his fingers, then finally
"I'd no idea--that--that you hated it so much."
She was quiet and composed again. "I don't hate it," she answered
very calmly. "Only they shan't tie me--no one shall. And in the
house it's as though some one were watching behind every door. It
used to be just the same at home. When people think a lot about
religion something seems to get into a place. Why, truly, Mr.
Magnus, I've wondered once or twice lately, in spite of myself,
whether they mayn't be right after all and God's going to come in a
chariot and set the world on fire."
"It sounds silly, but when you see the way Aunt Anne and Mr. Warlock
believe things it almost makes them true."
Maggie finally added: "You mustn't think me selfish. I'm very very
grateful for all their kindness. I'm very happy. It's all splendid
compared with what life used to be at home--but I fancy sometimes
that the aunts think I'm just going to settle down here for ever and
be like them--and I'm not--I'm afraid of Aunt Anne."
"Afraid of her?" said Mr. Magnus. "Ah, you mustn't be that."
"She has some plan in her head. I know she has--"
"No plan is set except for your good," said Mr. Magnus.
"I don't want any one to bother about my good," answered Maggie. "I
can look after that for myself."
This little conversation revealed Maggie to Mr. Magnus in an
entirely new light. He had thought her, until now, a good simple
girl, entirely ignorant of life and eager to be taught. The sudden
discovery of her independence distressed him. He left the house that
afternoon with many new points to consider.
Meanwhile Maggie had kept from him the true root of the matter. She
had said nothing of Martin Warlock. She had said nothing, even to
herself, about him, and yet the consciousness of her meeting with
him was always with her as a fire smoulders in the hold of a ship,
burning stealthily through the thick heart of the place, dim and
concealed, to burst suddenly, with a touch of the wind, into shining
It was after her talk to Mr. Magnus that she suddenly saw that
Martin Warlock was always in her thoughts, and then, because she was
Maggie and had never been deceitful to herself or to any one else,
she faced the fact and considered it. She knew that she was ignorant
of the world and of life, that she knew nothing about men and,
although she had many times fancied to herself what love must be
like, she did not tell herself now that it was love that had come to
She saw him as a desirable companion; she thought that he would make
a most interesting friend; she would like to make her experiences of
life with him at her side. She would be free and he would be free,
but they would exchange confidences.
And then because she was very simple and had learnt nothing of the
difference between the things that decent girls might do and the
things they might not she began to consider the easiest way of
meeting him. She intended to go to him simply as one human being to
another and tell him that she liked him and hoped that they would
often see one another. There were no confused issues nor questions
of propriety before Maggie. Certainly she was aware that men took
advantage of girls' weakness--but that was, as in the case of Uncle
Mathew, when they had drunk too much--and it was the fault of the
girls, too, for not looking after themselves. Maggie felt that she
could look after herself anywhere. She was more afraid, by far, of
her Aunt Anne than of any man.
It happened on the very day after that conversation with Mr. Magnus
that Aunt Anne said at luncheon:
"I think, Maggie dear, if you don't mind, that you and I will pay a
call on Mrs. Warlock this afternoon. You have not been there yet.
To-day will be a very good opportunity."
Maggie's mind flew at once to her clothes. She had been with
Caroline Smith to that young lady's dressmaker, a thin and sharp-
faced woman whose black dress gleamed with innumerable pins. Maggie
had been pinched and measured, pulled in here and pulled out there.
Then there had been afternoons when she had been "fitted" under
Caroline's humorous and critical eye. Finally the dress had been
delivered, only two days ago, in a long card-board box; it waited
now for the great occasion.
The great occasion had, in the guise of the Warlock family, surely
arrived. Maggie's heart beat as she went up to her room. When at
last she was wearing the dress, standing before her mirror, her
cheeks were red and her hands shook a little.
The dress was very fine--simple of course and quite plain, but
elegant as no dress of Maggie's had ever been elegant. There surely
could not anywhere be a more perfect black dress, and yet, as Maggie
gazed, she was aware that there was something not quite right. She
was always straightforward with herself; yes, the thing that was not
quite right was her own stupid shape. Her figure was too square, her
back was too short, her hands too large. She had a moment of acute
disgust with herself so that she could have torn the dress from her
and rushed into her old obscure and dingy black again. Of what use
to dress her up? She would always look wrong, always be awkward and
ungainly . . . tears of disappointment gathered slowly in her eyes.
Then her pride reasserted itself; she raised her head proudly and
laughed at her anxious gaze. There was still her new hat. She took
it from the bed and put it on, sticking big pins into it, moving
back from the mirror, then forward again, turning her back, standing
on her toes, suddenly bowing to herself and waving her hand.
She was caught thus, laughing into the mirror, by old Martha, who
pushed her sour face through the door and said: "They've been
waiting this long time for you, Miss."
"All right, Martha," Maggie answered sharply, annoyed that she
should be found, posturing and bowing, by the woman. "Why didn't you
"I did knock, Miss. You were that occupied you didn't hear me." The
old woman was grinning.
Maggie went downstairs, her heart still beating, her cheeks still
flushed. She did hope that Aunt Anne would be pleased. Aunt Anne,
although she never said anything about clothes, must, of course,
notice such things, and if she loved Maggie as Mr. Magnus said she
did, then she would "show her approval." The girl stood for a moment
on the bottom step of the staircase looking at her aunt who was
waiting for her in the little dark hall.
"Well, dear--I'm waiting," she said.
The burning eyes of Thomas the cat watched from the deep shadows.
"I'm so sorry. I was dressing," said Maggie.
Her aunt said nothing more and they left the house.
Maggie, as always when she walked with Aunt Anne, was aware that
they made a strange couple, she so short and the other so tall, she
with her sturdy masculine walk, her aunt with her awkward halting
movement. They went in silence.
Maggie longed for a word of approval; a short sentence such as "How
nice you're looking, Maggie," or "I like your dress, Maggie," or
"That's a new dress, dear--I like it," would be enough. After that
Maggie felt that she could face a multitude of wild and savage
Warlocks, that she could walk into the Warlock drawing-room with a
fine brave carriage, above all, that she would feel a sudden warm
affection for her aunt that would make all their future life
But Aunt Anne said nothing. She looked exactly as she had looked
upon her first appearance at St. Dreots, so thin and tall, with her
pale tapering face and her eyes staring before her as though they
Maggie, as they turned up into Garrick Street, said:
"I hope you like my new dress, aunt."
Aunt Anne turned to her for a moment, smiled gently and then
vaguely, as though her mind were elsewhere, answered:
"I liked your old dress better, dear."
Maggie's face flamed; her temper flared into her eyes. For a moment
she had wild thoughts of breaking into open rebellion. She hated her
dress, she hated London, above all, she hated Aunt Anne. That lady's
happy unconsciousness that anything had occurred drove the girl into
furious irritation. Well, it was hopeless then, Mr. Magnus could say
what he pleased, her aunt did not care for her--she would not mind
did she fall dead in the street before her. The words in Maggie's
mind were: "You don't look at me. I'm not a human being to you at
all. But I won't live with you. I'll go my own way. You can't keep
me if you never speak to me nor think of me." But in some dark
fashion that strange impassivity held her. Aunt Anne had her
power . . .
They climbed the dim crooked staircase behind the antiquary's wall.
They rang the Warlock bell and were admitted. Maggie did not know
what it was that she had expected, but it was certainly not the
pink, warm room of Mrs. Warlock.
The heavy softly closing door hemmed them in, the silent carpet
folded about their steps; the canary twittered, the fire spurted and
crackled. But at once the girl's heart went out to old Mrs. Warlock;
she looked so charming in her white cap and blue bow, her eyes were
raised so gently to Maggie's face and her little hand was so soft
The meeting between Anne Cardinal and Mrs. Warlock was very
gracious. Aunt Anne gravely pressed the old lady's hand, looked at
her with her grave distant eyes, then very carefully and delicately
Amy Warlock came in; Maggie had met her before and disliked her.
Conversation dealt decently and carefully with the weather, the
canary and Maggie's discovery of London. Maggie was compelled to
confess that she was afraid that she had not discovered London at
all. She felt Amy Warlock's sharp eyes upon them all and, as always
when she was in company that was, she thought, suspicious of her,
she became hot and uncomfortable, she frowned and spoke in short,
almost hostile, sentences.
"They're laughing at my new clothes," she thought, "I wish I'd worn
my old ones . . . and anyway these hurt me." She sat up very
stiffly, her hands on her lap, her eyes staring at the little bright
water-colour on the wall opposite. Mrs. Warlock, like a trickling,
dancing brook, continued her talk:
"Of course there's the country. I was brought up as a girl just
outside Salisbury . . . So many, many years ago--I always tell my
boy that I'm such an old woman now that I don't belong to his world
at all. Just to sit here and see the younger generation go past.
Don't regret your youth, Miss Cardinal. You'll want it back again
one day. I said to Martin only yesterday . . ."
Neither Aunt Anne nor Amy Warlock had anything to say, so that quite
suddenly on the entrance of tea, conversation dropped. They all sat
there and looked at one another. There was a large silver tray with
silver tea-things upon it and a fat swelling china dish that held
hot buttered toast. There was a standing wicker pyramid containing
bread and butter, plates of little yellow and red cakes, shortbread
and very heavy plum cake black with currants.
Mrs. Warlock had ceased all conversation, her eyes were fixed upon
the preparations for tea. The door opened and John Warlock and his
son came in.
Maggie's eyes lighted when she saw Martin Warlock. She behaved as
she might have done had she been in her own room at St. Dreots. She
sprang up from her chair and stood there, smiling, waiting for him.
First his father shook hands with her, then Martin came and stood
beside her, laughing.
His face was flushed and he seemed excited about something, but she
felt nothing save her pleasure at meeting him, and it was only when
he had moved on to her aunt that she was conscious once more of Amy
Warlock's eyes, and wondered whether she had behaved badly in
jumping up to meet him.
As she considered this her anger and her confusion at her anger
increased. She saw that Martin was talking to her aunt and did not
look at her. Perhaps he also had thought her forward; of course that
horrid sister of his would think everything that she did wrong. But
did he? Surely he understood. She wanted to ask him and then wanted
to go home and leave them all. She saw that her teacup was trembling
in her hand. She steadied it upon her knee and then her knee began
to quiver, and all the time Amy Warlock watched her. She thought
then that she must assert herself and show that she was not confused
nor timid, so she began in a high-strained voice to talk to Mrs.
Warlock. She told Mrs. Warlock that she found Harrods' a confusing
place, that she had not yet visited Westminster Abbey, that her
health was quite good, that she had no brothers and no sisters, that
she could not play the piano, and that she was afraid that she never
It was after the last of these interesting statements that she was
suddenly aware of the sound of her own voice, as though it had been
a brazen gong beating stridently in the vastness of a deserted
Cathedral. She saw the old lady take two pieces of buttered toast
from the china dish, hold them tenderly in her hand and fling them a
swift, bird-like glance before she devoured them; during that
moment's vision Maggie discovered what so many people of vaster
experience both of life and of Mrs. Warlock had never discovered;
namely, that the old lady cared more for her food than her company.
Maggie was suddenly less afraid of the whole family. She looked up
then at Martin as though she thus would prove her new courage and,
he glancing across at the same moment, they smiled. He left his
father's side and, coming over to her, sat down close to her. He
dropped his voice in speaking to her.
"I've been wanting to see you," he said.
"Why?" she asked him.
"Well," he answered, smiling at her as though he wanted to tell her
something privately. "I feel as though we'd got a lot to tell one
another . . . I'm a stranger here really quite as much as you."
"No, you're not," she said. "You can't be so MUCH a stranger
anywhere because you've been all over the world and are ready for
"I don't seem to manage the simplest things. Aunt Elizabeth and I
get lost the moment we move outside the door . . . Do you like my
dress?" she asked him.
"Why!" he said, obviously startled by such a question. "It's--it's
"No, you know it isn't," she answered quickly, dropping her voice
into a confidential statement. "It's all wrong. I thought you'd know
why as you've been everywhere. Caroline Smith helped me to choose
it, and it looked all right until I wore it. It's me . . . I'm
hopeless to fit. Caroline says so. I don't care about clothes--if
only I looked just like anybody else I'd never bother again--but
it's so tiresome to have taken so much trouble and then for it to be
Martin was then aware of many things--that this was a strange
unusual girl, that she reassured him as to her interest, her
vitality, her sincerity as no girl had ever done before, that his
sister was aware of their intimate conversation and that she
resented it, and that he must see this girl again and as soon as
possible. He was as liable as any young man in the world to the most
sudden and most violent enthusiasms, but they had been enthusiasms
for a pretty face, for a sensual appeal, for a sentimental moment.
Here there was no prettiness, no sensuality, no sentiment. There was
something so new that he felt like Cortez upon his peak in Darien.
"It's all right," he reassured her urgently. "It's all right. I
promise you it is. The great thing is to look yourself. And you'll
never be the least like any one else." He meant that to be the first
open declaration of his own particular discovery of her, but he was
aware that his sentence could have more than one interpretation.
Uncomfortably conscious then of his sister's regard of them, he
looked up and said:
"Amy, Miss Cardinal's been telling me how confusing London is to
her. You've got as good an idea of London as any one in the world.
You should take her to one or two places and show her things."
Amy Warlock, every line of her stiff body firing at them both her
"Oh, I don't think Miss Cardinal would care for me as a guide. _I_
shouldn't be able to show her interesting things. We have scarcely,
I should fancy, enough in common. Miss Cardinal's interests are, I
imagine, very different from my own."
The tone, the words, fell into the sudden silence like a lighted
match into water. Maggie, her head erect, her voice, in spite of
herself, trembling a little, answered:
"Why, Miss Warlock, I shouldn't think of troubling you. It's very
kind of your brother, but one must make one's discoveries for
oneself, mustn't one? . . . I am already beginning to find my way
After that the tea-party fell into complete disruption. Maggie,
although she did not look, could feel Martin's anger like a flame
beside her. She was aware that Aunt Anne and Mr. Warlock were, like
some beings from another world, distant from the general confusion.
Her one passionate desire was to get up and leave the place; to her
intense relief she heard Aunt Anne's clear voice:
"I think, Mrs. Warlock, we must be turning homewards. Shall I send
you those papers about the Perteway's Mission? . . . Such splendid
work. I think it would interest you."
It was as though a hole had suddenly opened in the floor of the neat
little drawing-room and they were all hurrying to leave without, if
possible, tumbling into it. There was a general shaking of hands.
Mrs. Warlock said kindly to Maggie:
"Do come soon again, dear. It does an old lady good to see young
Martin was near the door. He almost crushed Maggie's hand in his: "I
must see you--soon," he whispered.
Free from the house Maggie and her aunt walked home in complete
silence. Maggie's heart was a confusion of rage, surprise,
loneliness and pride. No one had ever behaved like that to her
before. And what had she done? What was there about her that people
hated? . . . Why? . . . Why? She felt as though, in some way, it had
all been Aunt Anne's fault. Why did not Aunt Anne speak? Well, if
they all hated her she would go on her own way. She did not care.
But alone in her room, her face, indignant, proud, quivering,
surprising her in the long mirror by its strangeness, and causing
her to feel, because it did not seem to belong to her, more lonely
than ever, she burst out:
"I can't stand it. I CAN'T stand it. I'll get away . . . so soon as
ever I can!"
MAGGIE AND MARTIN
That moment in her bedroom altered for Maggie the course of all her
future life. She had never before been, consciously, a rebel; she
had, only a week before, almost acquiesced in the thought that she
would remain in her aunts' house for the rest of her days; now Mr.
Magnus, the Warlocks, and her new dress had combined to fire her
determination. She saw, quite suddenly, that she must escape at the
first possible moment.
The house that had been until now the refuge into which she had
escaped became the jumping-off place for her new adventure.
Until now the things in the house had been there to receive her as
one of themselves; from this moment they were there to prevent, if
possible, her release. She felt everything instantly hostile. They
all--Thomas the cat, Edward the parrot, the very sofas and chairs
and cushions--were determined not to let her go.
She saw, more than ever before, that her aunts were preparing some
religious trap for her. They were very quiet about it; they did not
urge her or bully her, but the subtle, silent influence went on so
that the very stair-carpet, the very scuttles that held the coal,
became secret messengers to hale her into the chapel and shut her in
there for ever. After her first visit there the chapel became a
nightmare to her--because, at once, she had felt its power. She had
known--she had always known and it had not needed Mr. Magnus to tell
her--that there was something in this religion--yes, even in the
wretched dirt and disorder of her father's soul--but with that
realisation that there was indeed something, had come also the
resolved conviction that life could not be happy, simple, successful
unless one broke from that power utterly, refused its dictates, gave
no hearing to its messages, surrendered nothing--absolutely nothing-
-to its influence. Had not some one said to her once, or was it not
in her little red A Kempis, that "once caught one might never escape
She would prove that, in her own struggle and independence, to be
untrue. The chapel should not have her, nor her father's ghost, nor
the dim half-visualised thoughts and memories that rose like dark
shadows in her soul and vanished again. She would believe in nothing
save what she could see, listen to nothing that was not clear and
simple before her. She was mistress of her own soul.
She did not, in this fashion, think things out for herself. To
herself she simply expressed it that she was going to lead her own
life, to earn her own living, to fight for herself; and that the
sooner she escaped this gloomy, damp, and ill-tempered house the
better. She would never say her prayers again; she would never read
the Bible again to herself or any one else; she would never kneel on
those hard chapel kneelers again; she would never listen to Mr.
Warlock's sermons again--once she had escaped.
Meanwhile she said nothing at all to herself about Martin Warlock,
who was really at the root of the whole matter.
She began at once to take steps. Two years before this a lady had
paid, with her sister, a short visit to St. Dreots and had taken a
great liking to Maggie. They had made friends, and this lady, a Miss
Katherine Trenchard, had begged Maggie to let her know if she came
to London and needed help or advice. Miss Trenchard divided her life
between London and a place called Garth in Roselands in Glebeshire,
and Maggie did not know where she would be now--but, after some
little hesitation, she wrote a letter, speaking of the death of her
father and of her desire to find some work in London, and directed
it to Garth.
Now of course she must post it herself--no allowing it to lie on the
hall-table with old Martha to finger it and the aunts to speculate
upon it and finally challenge her with its destiny.
On a bright evening when the house was as dark as a shut box and an
early star, frightened at its irregular and lonely appearance,
suddenly flashed like a curl of a golden whip across the sky, Maggie
slipped out of the house. She realised, with a triumphant and
determined nod of her head, that she had never been out alone in
London before--a ridiculous and shameful fact! She knew that there
was a pillar-box just round the corner, but because she had a hat
upon her head and shoes upon her feet she thought that she might as
well post it in the Strand, an EXCITING river of tempestuous sound
into which she had as yet scarcely penetrated. She slipped out of
the front door, then waited a moment, looking back at the silent
house. No one stirred in their street; the noise of the Strand came
up to her like wind beyond a valley. She must have felt, in that
instant, that she was making some plunge into hazardous waters and
she must have hesitated as to whether she would not spring back into
the quiet house, lock and bolt the door, and never go out again.
But, after that one glance, she went forward.
She had never before in her life been on any errand alone, and at
this evening hour the Strand was very full. She stood still clinging
to the safe privacy of her own street and peering over into the
blaze and quiver of the tumult. In the Strand end of her own street
there were several dramatic agencies, a second-hand book and print
shop with piles of dirty music in the barrow outside the window, a
little restaurant with cold beef, an ancient chicken, hard-boiled
eggs and sponge cakes under glass domes in the window; everywhere
about her were dim doors, glimpses of twisting stairs, dusty windows
and figures flitting up and down, in and out as though they were
marionettes pulled by invisible strings to fulfil some figure.
These were all in the dusk of the side-street; a large draper's with
shirts and collars and grinning wax boys in sailor suits caught with
its front windows the Strand lamps. It was beside the shop that
Maggie stood for an instant hesitating. She could see no pillar-box;
she could see nothing save the streams of human beings, slipping
like water between the banks of houses.
She hesitated, clinging to the draper's shop; then, suddenly
catching sight of the pillar-box a few yards down the street, she
let herself go, had a momentary sensation of swimming in a sea
desperately crowded with other bodies, fought against the fierce
gaze of lights that beat straight upon her eyes, found the box,
slipped in the letter, and then, almost at once, was back in her
quiet quarters again.
She turned and, her heart beating, hurried home. The house door was
still ajar. She pushed it back, slipped inside, caught her breath
and listened. Then she closed the door softly behind her, and with
that little act of attempted secrecy realised that she was now a
rebel, that things could never be, for her, the same again as they
had been a quarter of an hour ago. That glittering crowd, the lamps,
the smells, the sounds, had concentrated themselves into a little
fiery charm that held her heart within a flaming circle. She felt
the most audacious creature in the world--and also the most
ignorant. Not helpless--no, never helpless--but so ignorant that all
her life that had seemed to her, a quarter of an hour ago, so
tensely crowded with events and crises was now empty and barren like
the old straw-smelling cab at home. She did not want to offend her
aunts and hurt their feelings, but she was a living, breathing,
independent creature and she must go her own way. Neither they nor
their chapel should stop her--no, not the chapel nor any one in it.
She was standing, motionless, in the dark cold hall, wondering
whether any one had heard her enter, when she was suddenly conscious
of two eyes that watched her--two steady fiery eyes suspended as it
seemed in mid air. She realised that it was the cat. The cat hated
her and she hated it. She had not realised that before, but now with
the illumination of the lighted street behind her she realised it.
The cat was the spirit of the chapel watching her, spying upon her
tc see that she did not escape. The cat knew that she had posted her
letter and to whom she had posted it. She advanced to the bottom of
the stair and said: "Brr. You horrid thing! I hate you!" and
instantly the two fiery eyes had vanished, but now in their place
the whole house seemed to be watching, so silent and attentive was
it--and the odour of damp biscuits and wet umbrellas seemed to be
Just then old Martha came out with a lamp in her hand, and standing
upon a chair, lit the great ugly gas over the middle of the door.
"Why, Miss Maggie," she said in her soft, surprised whisper, looking
as she always did, beyond the girl, into darkness.
"I've been out," said Maggie, defiantly.
"Not all alone, miss?"
"All alone," said Maggie. "Why not? I can look after myself."
"Well, there's your uncle waiting in the drawing-room--just come,"
said the old woman, climbing down from the chair with that silent
imperturbable discontent that always frightened Maggie.
"Uncle Mathew! Here! in this house!" Maggie, even in the moment of
her first astonishment, was amazed at her own delight. That she
should ever feel THAT about Uncle Mathew! Truly it showed how
unhappy she had been, and she ran upstairs, two steps at a time, and
pushed back the drawing-room door.
"Uncle Mathew!" she cried.
Then at the sight of him she stood where she was. The man who faced
her, with all his old confusion of nervousness and uneasy geniality,
was, indeed, Uncle Mathew, but Uncle Mathew glorified, shabbily
glorified and at the same time a little abashed as though she had
caught him in the act of laying a mine that would blow up the whole
house. He was wearing finer clothes than she had ever seen him in
before--a frock coat, quite new but fitting him badly, so that it
was buttoned too tightly across his stomach and loose across the
back. He had a white flower in his button-hole, and a rather soiled
white handkerchief protruded from his breast-pocket. One leg of his
dark grey trousers had been creased in two places, and there were
little spots of blood on his high white collar because he had cut
himself shaving. His complexion was of the same old suppressed
purple, but his little eyes were bright and shining and active; they
danced towards Maggie. His scanty locks had been carefully brushed
over his bald head, and his hands, although they were still puffed
and swollen, were whiter than Maggie had ever seen them.
But it was in the end his attitude of confused defiance that made
her pause. What had he been doing, or what did he intend to do? He
was prosperous, she could see, and knowing him as she did, she was
afraid of his prosperity. She had never in her life realised so
clearly as she did now that he was a wicked old man--and still she
was glad to see him. He was an odd enough creature in that room, and
that, she was aware, pleased her.
"Well, my dear," he said very genially, as though they met again
after an hour's parting, "how are you? I'm very glad to see you--
looking so well too. And quite smart. Your aunts dressed you up. I
thought I must look at you. I'm staying just round the corner, and
my first thought was 'I wonder how she's getting on in all that tom-
foolery. You bet she's keeping her head.' And so you are. One can
see at a glance."
She went up to him, kissed him, and smelt whisky and some scent that
had geraniums in it. He put his arm round her, with his old unsteady
gesture, and held her to him for a moment, then patted her back with
his large, soft hand.
"Your aunt's a long time. I've been waiting half an hour."
"They've been to some meeting." She stood looking at him with her
fine steady gaze that had always made him afraid of her, and did so,
to his own surprise, again now. He had thought that his clothes
would have saved him from that; his fingers felt at his button-hole.
Looking at him she said:
"Uncle, I want to get away--out of this--at once. No, they aren't
horrid to me. Every one's been very kind. But I'm afraid of it all--
of never getting out of it--and I want to be independent . . ." She
stopped with a little breathless gasp because she heard the hall-
door close. "Ah, they're here! Don't tell them anything. We'll talk
afterwards . . ."
His eyes glittered with satisfaction. "I knew you would, my dear.
I knew you wouldn't be able to stand it . . . I'll get you out of
it . . . Trust me!"
The door opened and Aunt Anne came in. She had been prepared by
Martha for her visitor, and she came forward to him now with the
dignity and kindly patronage of some lady abbess receiving the
miscreant and boorish yokel of a neighbouring village. And yet how
fine she was! As Maggie watched her, she thought of what she would
give to have some of that self-command and dignity and decision. Was
it her religion that gave her that? Or only her own self-
satisfaction? No; there was something behind Aunt Anne, something
stronger than she, something that Mr. Warlock also knew . . . and it
was this something that Uncle Mathew met with his own hostility as
he looked up now at his sister and greeted her:
"Why, Mathew! You never told us. I would have hurried back, and now
Elizabeth, I'm afraid, has gone on to see some friends. She will be
so disappointed. But at least you've had Maggie to entertain you."
A quick glance was exchanged between uncle and niece.
"Yes," he said, "we've had a talk, Anne, thank you. And it doesn't
matter about Elizabeth, because I'm staying close here in Henrietta
Street, and I'll be in again if I may. I just looked in to ask
whether Maggie might come and have dinner with me at my little place
to-night. It's a most respectable place--I'll come and fetch her, of
course, and bring her back afterwards."
Of course Aunt Anne could not refuse, but oh! how Maggie saw that
she wanted to! The battle that followed was silent. Uncle Mathew's
eyes narrowed themselves to fiery malicious points; he dropped them
and moved his feet restlessly on the soft carpet.
"Quite respectable!" he repeated.
Aunt Anne smiled gently. "Why, of course, Mathew. I know you'll look
after Maggie. It will be a change for her. She's been having rather
a dull time here, I'm afraid."
Then there was silence. Maggie wanted to speak, but the words would
not come, and she had the curious sensation that even if she did
find them no one would hear them.
Then Uncle Mathew suddenly said good-bye, stumbled over his boots by
the door, shot out, "Seven o'clock, Maggie"--and was gone.
"Well, that will be nice for you, Maggie," said Anne, looking at
"Yes," said Maggie. "You don't mind, do you?"
"No dear, of course not."
"What do you want me to do?" Maggie broke out desperately. "I know
I'm not satisfying you and yet you won't say anything. Do tell me--
and I'll try--anything--almost anything . . ."
Then the sudden memory of her own posted letter silenced her. Was
that readiness to do "anything"? Had that not been rebellion? And
had she not asked Uncle Mathew to help her to escape? The
consciousness of her dishonesty coloured her cheek with crimson.
Then Aunt Anne, very tenderly, put her hand on her shoulder.
"Will you really do anything--for me, Maggie--for me?" Her voice was
gentle and her eyes had tears in them. "If you will--there are
things very close to my heart--"
Maggie turned away, trembling. She hung her head, then with a sudden
movement walked to the door.
"You must tell me," she said, "what you want. I'll try--I don't
Then as though she was aware that she was fighting the whole room
which had already almost entrapped her and that the fight was too
much for her, she went.
When she came to her own room and thought about her invitation she
wished, with a sudden change of mood, that she had a pretty frock or
two. She would have loved to have been grand to-night, and now the
best that she could do was to add her coral necklace and a little
gold brooch that years ago her father had given her, to the black
dress that she was already wearing. She realised, with a strange
little pang of loneliness, that she had not had one evening's fun
since her arrival in London--no, not one--and she would not have
captured to-night had Aunt Anne been able to prevent it.
Then as her mind returned back to her uncle she felt with a throb of
excited anticipation that perhaps after all this evening was to
prove the turning-point of her life. Her little escape into the
streets, her posting of the letter, had been followed so immediately
by Uncle Mathew's visit, and now this invitation!
"No one can keep me if I want to go," and the old cuckoo-clock
outside seemed to tick in reply:
"Can no one keep her if she wants to go?"
She finished her preparations; as she fastened the coral necklace
round her neck the face of Martin Warlock was suddenly before her.
He had been perhaps at her elbow all day.
"I like him and I think he likes me," she said to the mirror. "I've
got one friend," and her thought still further was that even if he
didn't like her he couldn't prevent her liking him.
She went down to the drawing-room and found Uncle Mathew, alone,
waiting for her.
"Here I am, Maggie," he said. "And let's get out of this as quick as
"I must go and say good-night to the aunts," she said.
She went upstairs to Aunt Anne's bedroom. Entering it was always to
her like passing into a shadowed church after the hot sunshine--the
long, thin room with high slender windows, the long hard bed, of the
most perfect whiteness and neatness, the heavy black-framed picture
of "The Ascension" over the bed, and the utter stillness broken by
no sound of clock or bell--even the fire seemed frozen into a glassy
purity in the grate.
Her aunt was sitting, as so often Maggie found her, in a stiff-
backed chair, her hands folded on her lap, staring in front of her.
Her eyes were like the open eyes of a dead woman; it was as though,
with a great effort of almost desperate concentration, she were
driving her vision against some obstinate world of opposition, and
the whole of life had meanwhile stayed to watch the issue.
A thin pale light from some street lamp lay, a faintly golden
shadow, across the white ceiling.
Maggie stood by the door.
"I've come to say good-night, aunt."
"Ah, Maggie dear, is that you?" The pale oval face turned towards
"You won't be very late, will you?"
"Hadn't I better have a key, not to bother Martha?"
"Oh, Martha won't have gone to bed."
Maggie felt as though her whole evening would be spoilt did she know
that Martha was waiting for her at the end of it.
"Oh, but it will be such a pity--"
"Martha will let you in, dear. Come and kiss me; I hope that you'll
And then the strangest thing happened. Maggie bent down. She felt a
tear upon her cheek and then the thin strong arms held her, for an
instant, in an almost threatening embrace.
"Good-night, dear aunt," she said; but, outside the room, she had to
stand for a moment in the dark passage to regain her control; her
heart was beating with wild unreasoning terror. Although she had
brushed her cheek with her hand the cold touch of the tears still
Outside the house they were free. It looked so close and dark behind
them that Maggie shivered a little and put her arm through her
"That's all right," he said, patting her hand. "We're going to enjoy
She looked up and saw Martin Warlock facing her. The unexpected
meeting held both of them silent for a moment. To her it seemed that
he had risen out of the very stones of the pavement, at her bidding,
to make her evening wonderful. He looked so strong, so square, so
solid after the phantom imaginations of the house that she had left,
that the sight of him was a step straight into the heart of comfort
"I was just coming," he said, looking at her, "to leave a note for
Miss Cardinal--from my father--"
"She's in," Maggie said.
"Oh, it wasn't to bother her--only to leave the note. About some
meeting, I think."
"We're just going out. This is my uncle--Mr. Warlock."
The two men shook hands.
Mathew Cardinal smiled. His eyes closed, his greeting had an urgency
in it as though he had suddenly made some discovery that gratified
and amused him. "Very glad to meet you--very glad, indeed, sir. Any
friend of my niece's. I know your father, sir; know him and admire
They all turned down the street together. Uncle Mathew talked, and
then, quite suddenly, stopping under a lamp-post as though within
the circle of light his charm were stronger, he said:
"I suppose, Mr. Warlock, you wouldn't do me the great, the extreme,
honour of dining with myself and my niece at my humble little inn
to-night? A little sudden--I hope you'll forgive the discourtesy--
but knowing your father--"
Martin looked straight into Maggie's eyes.
"Oh, please do!" she said, her heart beating, as it seemed, against
her eyes so that she dropped them.
"Well--" he hesitated. "It's very good of you, Mr. Cardinal--very
kind. As a matter of fact I was going to dine alone to-night--just a
chop, you know, somewhere--if it's really not inconvenient I'll be
They walked on together.
As they passed into Garrick Street, she knew that she had never in
all her life been so glad to be with any one, that she had never so
completely trusted any one, that she would like to be with him
often, to look after him, perhaps, and to be looked after by him.
Her feeling for him was almost sexless, because she had never
thought, as most girls do, of love and the intrigue and coquetry of
love. She was so simple as to be shameless, and at once, if he had
asked her then in the street to marry him she would have said yes
without hesitation or fear, or any analysis. She would like to look
after him as well as herself--there were things she was sure that
she could do for him--and she would be no burden to him because she
intended, in any case, to lead her own life. She would simply lead
it with a companion instead of without one.
He must have felt as he walked with her this trust and simplicity.
She was certainly the most extraordinary girl whom he had ever met,
and he'd met a number . . .
He could believe every word she said; he had never known any one so
direct and simple and honest, and yet with that she was not a fool,
as most honest girls were. No, she was not a fool. He would have
given anything to be as sure of himself . . .
She was plain--but then was she? As they passed beneath the light of
a street lamp his heart gave a sudden beat. Her face was so GOOD,
her eyes so true, her mouth so strong. She was like a boy, rather--
and, of course, she was dressed badly. But he wanted to look after
her. He was sure that she knew so little of the world and would be
so easily deceived . . .But who was he to look after any one?
He knew that she would trust him utterly, and trust him not only
because she was ignorant of the world, but also because she was
herself so true. At the thought of this trust his heart suddenly
warmed, partly with shame and partly with pride.
They walked very happily along laughing and talking. They turned
into Henrietta Street, misty with lamps that were dim in a thin
evening fog, and at the corner of the street, facing the Square, was
Uncle Mathew's hotel. It was a place for the use, in the main, of
commercial gentlemen, and it was said by eager searchers after local
colour, to have retained a great deal of the Dickens spirit. In the
hall there was a stout gentleman with a red nose, a soiled waiter, a
desolate palm and a large-bosomed lady all rings and black silk, in
a kind of wooden cage. Down the stairs came a dim vapour that smelt
of beef, whisky and tobacco, and in the distance was the regular
click of billiard-balls and the brazen muffled tones of a
gramophone. Uncle Mathew seemed perfectly at home here, and it was
strange to Maggie that he should be so nervous with Aunt Anne, his
own sister, when he could be so happily familiar with the powdered
lady in the black silk.
"We're to have dinner in a private room upstairs," said Uncle Mathew
in a voice that was casual and at the same time important. He led
the way up the stairs.
Maggie had read in some old bound volume at home a very gruesome
account of the "Life and Misdeeds of Mr. Palmer, the Rugeley
Poisoner." The impression that still remained with her was of a man
standing in the shadowy hall of just such an hotel as this, and
pouring poison into a glass which he held up against the light. This
picture had been vividly with her during her childhood, and she felt
that this must have been the very hotel where those fearful deeds
occurred, and that the ghost of Mr. Palmer's friend must, at this
very moment, be writhing in an upstairs bedroom--"writhing," as she
so fearfully remembered, bent "like a hoop."
However, these reminiscences did not in the least terrify her; she
welcomed their definite outlines in contrast with the shadowy
possibilities of her aunts' house. And she had Martin Warlock . . .
She had never been so happy in all her life.
A dismal little waiter with a very soiled shirt and a black tie
under his ear, guided them down into a dark passage and flung open
the door of a sitting-room. This room was dark and sizzling with
strange noises; a gas-jet burning low was hissing, some papers
rustled in the breeze from the half-opened window, and a fire,
overburdened with the weight of black coal, made frantic little
spurts of resistance.
A white cloth was laid on the table, and there were glasses and
knives and forks. A highly-coloured portrait of her late Majesty
Queen Victoria confronted a long-legged horse desperately winning a
race in which he had apparently no competitors. There was a wall-
paper of imitation marble and a broken-down book-case with some torn
paper editions languishing upon it. Beyond the open window there was
a purple haze and a yellow mist--also a bell rang and carts rattled
over the cobbles. The waiter shut out these sights and sounds, gave
the tablecloth a stroke with his dirty hand, and left the room.
They continued their cheerful conversation, Martin laughing at
nothing at all, and Maggie smiling, and Uncle Mathew stroking his
mouth and sharpening his eyes and standing, in his uneasy fashion,
first on one leg and then on the other. Maggie realised that her
uncle was trying to be most especially pleasant to young Warlock.
She wondered why; she also remembered what he had said to her about
Martin's father . . . No, he had changed. She could not follow his
motives as she had once been able to do. Then he had simply been a
foolish, drunken, but kindly-intentioned old man.
Then Mr. Warlock on his side seemed to like her uncle. That was an
extraordinary thing. Or was he only being friendly because he was
happy? No, she remembered his face as he had joined them that
evening. He had not been happy then. She liked him the more because
she knew that he needed help . . . The meal, produced at last by the
poor little waiter, was very merry. The food was not wonderful--the
thick pea-soup was cold, the sole bones and skin, the roast beef
tepid and the apple-tart heavy. The men drank whiskies and sodas,
and Maggie noticed that her uncle drank very little. And then (with
apologies to Maggie) they smoked cigars, and she sat before the
dismal fire in an old armchair with a hole in it.
Martin Warlock talked in a most delightful way about his travels,
and Uncle Mathew asked him questions that were not, after all, so
stupid. What had happened to him? Had Maggie always undervalued him,
or was it that he was sober now and clear-headed? His fat round
thighs seemed stronger, his hands seemed cleaner, the veins in his
face were not so purple. She remembered the night when he had come
into her room. She had been able to manage him then. Would she be
able to manage him now?
After dinner he grew very restless. His eyes wandered to the door,
then to his watch, then to his companions; he smiled uneasily,
pulling his moustache; then--jumping to his feet, tried to speak
with an easy self-confidence.
"I must leave you for a quarter of an hour . . . A matter of
business, only in this hotel. Downstairs. Yes. A friend of mine and
a little matter. Urgent. I'm sure you'll forgive me."
For a moment Maggie was frightened. She was here in a strange hotel
in a strange room with a man whom she scarcely knew. Then she looked
up into young Warlock's face and was reassured. She could trust him.
He stood with his arm on the shabby, dusty mantelpiece, looking down
upon her with his good-natured kindly smile, so kindly that she felt
that he was younger than she and needed protection in a world that
was filled with designing Uncle Mathews and mysterious Aunt Annes
and horrible Miss Warlocks.
He, on his side, as he looked down at her, was surprised at his own
excitement. His heart was beating, his hand trembling--before this
plain, ordinary, unattractive girl! Unattractive physically--but not
uninteresting. One of the most interesting human beings whom he had
ever met, simply because she was utterly unlike any one else. He
felt shame before her, because he knew that she would believe every
word that he said. In that she was simple, but "he would be bothered
if she was simple in anything else." She had made up her mind--he
knew it as well as though she had told him--to trust him absolutely,
and he knew well enough how little he was to be trusted. And because
of that faith and because of that trust he felt that she was more
reliable than he could have believed that changing fickle human
being would ever be. How secure he might feel with her!
Then, as he thought that, he realised how troubled he was about his
life at home during the last weeks. Amy hated him, his mother hid
herself from him, and his father's love frightened him. Already he
had found himself telling lies to avoid the chapel services and the
meetings with Thurston and the rest. His father's love for him had
something terrible in it, and, although he returned it, he could not
live up to that fire and heat.
No; he saw that he would not be able to remain for long at home. On
the other hand, go back to the old wandering life he would not. He
had had enough of that and its rotten carelessness and shabbiness.
What a girl this would be to settle down with somewhere! So strange
that she would be always interesting, so faithful that she would be
always there! Nor was he entirely selfish. Her childishness, her
ignorance, appealed to him for protection. She had no one but those
old aunts to care for her, she was poor and rebellious and ignorant.
Warlock was kind-hearted beyond the normal charity of man--much of
his weakness came from that very kindness.
As he saw which way he was going he tried to pull himself back. He
could not protect her--he had the best of reasons for knowing why.
He could do her nothing but harm . . . and yet he went on.
He took a chair close to her and sat down. He, who had known in his
time many women, could see how happy she was. That happiness excited
him. Suddenly he held her hand. She did not remove it.
"Look here," he began, and he was surprised at the hoarseness of his
voice, "your uncle will be back in a moment, and we never have a
chance of being alone. I've wanted to talk to you ever since I first
He felt her hand move in his. That stir was so helpless that he
suddenly determined to be honest.
"I think you'll trust me, won't you?" he asked.
"Yes," she said.
"Well, you mustn't," he went on hurriedly, his eyes on the door.
"I'm not worse, I suppose, than other men, but all the same I'm not
to be trusted. And when I say I'm not to be trusted I mean that I
myself don't know whether I'll keep my word from one minute to
another. I'm sure you don't know very much about men. I could see it
at once from the way you spoke."
She looked up, her clear, unconfused, unquestioning eyes facing him.
"I knew my father well," she said. "We were quite alone for years
together. And then Uncle Mathew--"
"Oh, your father, your uncle," he answered quickly. "They don't
count. What I mean is that you mustn't think men are scoundrels just
because they act badly. I swear that nine out of ten of them never
mean to do any harm."
"And they think they're speaking the truth at the time. But anything
'does' for them and then they're in a mess, and all they think about
is how to get out of it. Then it's every man for himself . . ."
Maggie shook her head.
"I've always known that I'd have to manage for myself," she said.
"I've never expected any one to do anything for me, so I'm not
likely to be disappointed now."
He moved a little closer to her and held her hand more firmly; even
as he did so something in his heart reproached him, but now the
reproach was very far away, like an echo of some earlier voice.
"Do you know you're a wonderful girl?" he said. "I knew you were
from the first moment I saw you. You're the most independent person
I've ever known. You can't guess how I admire that! And all the same
you're not happy, are you? You want to get out of it, don't you?"
She thought for a little while before she nodded her head.
"I suppose as a fact." she said, "I do. If you want to know--and you
mustn't tell anybody--I've posted a letter to a lady whom I met once
who told me if ever I wanted anything to write to her. I've asked
her for some work. I've got three hundred pounds of my own. It isn't
very much, I know, but I could start on it . . . I don't want to do
wrong to my aunts, who are very kind to me, but I'm not happy there.
It wouldn't be true to say I'm happy. You see," she dropped her
voice a little, "they want to make me religious, and I've had so
much of that with father already. I feel as though they were
pressing me into it somehow, and that I should wake up one morning
and find I should never escape again. There's so much goes on that I
don't understand. And it isn't only the chapel. Aunt Anne's very
quiet, but she makes you feel quite helpless sometimes. And perhaps
one will get more and more helpless the longer one stays. I don't
want to be helpless ever--nor religious!" she ended.
"Why, that's just my position," he continued eagerly. "I came home
as happily as anything. I'd almost forgotten all that had been when
I was a boy, how I was baptized and thought I belonged to God and
was so proud and stuck up. That all seems nonsense when you're
roughing it with other men who think about nothing but the day's
work. Then I came home meaning to settle down. I wanted to see my
governor too. I've always cared for him more than any one else in
the world . . . but I tell you now I simply don't know what's going
on at home. They want to catch me in a trap. That's what it feels
like. To make me what I was as a kid. It's strange, but there's more
in it than you'd think. You wouldn't believe the number of times
I've thought of my young days since I've been home. It's as though
some one was always shoving them up in front of my face. All I want,
you know, is to be jolly. To let other people alone and be let alone
myself. I wouldn't do any one any harm in the world--I wouldn't
really. But it's as though father wanted me to believe all the
things he believes, so that he could believe them more himself.
Perhaps it's the same with your aunt . . ." Then he added, "But
they're sick people. That explains a lot."
"Sick?" asked Maggie.
"Yes. My governor's got heart--awfully bad. He might go off at any
moment if he had a shock. And your aunt--don't you know?"
"No," said Maggie.
"Cancer. They all say so. I thought you'd have known."
"Oh!" Maggie drew in her breath. She shuddered. "Poor Aunt Anne! Oh,
poor Aunt Anne! I didn't know."
She felt a sudden rush of confused emotion. A love for her aunt,
desire to help her, and at the same time shrinking as though she saw
the whole house which had been, from the first, unhappy to her was
now diseased and evil and rotten. The hot life in her body told her
against her moral will that she must escape, and her soul, moving in
her and speaking to her, told her that now, more than ever, she must
"Oh, poor, poor Aunt Anne," she said again.
He moved and put his arm around her. He had meant it simply as a
movement of sympathy and protection, but when he felt the warmth of
her body against his, when he realised how she went to him at once
with the confidence and simplicity of a child, when he felt the hot
irregular beat of her heart, his own heart leapt, his arm was
strengthened like a barrier of iron against the world.
He had one moment of desperate resistance, a voice of protest
calling to him far, far away. His hand touched her neck; he raised
her face to his and kissed her, once gently, kindly, then,
passionately again and again.
She shivered a little, as though surrendering something to him, then
lay quite still in his arms.
"Maggie! Maggie!" he whispered.
Then she raised her head and herself kissed him.
There was a noise on the door. They separated; the door opened and
in the sudden light a figure was visible holding a glass.
For a blind instant Maggie, returning from her other world, thought
it the figure of Mr. Palmer of Rugeley.
It was, of course, Uncle Mathew.
Uncle Mathew saw Maggie back to her door, kissed her and left her.
On their way home he did not once mention Martin Warlock to her.
He left her as he heard the bolt turn in the door, hurrying away as
though he did not want to be seen. Maggie went in to find old Martha
with her crabbed face watching her sourly. But she did not care,
nothing could touch her now. Even the old woman, cross with waiting
by the fading kitchen fire, noticed the light in the girl's eyes.
She had always thought the girl hard and ungracious, but now that
face was soft, and the mouth smiling over its secret thoughts, and
the eyes sleepy with happiness.
Maggie could have said: "I'm wild with joy, Martha. I know what love
is. I had never thought that it could be like this. Be kind to me
because it's the greatest night of my life."
Martha said: "There's some milk hotted for you, Miss, and some
biscuits. There on the table by the stairs."
"Oh, I don't want anything, Martha, thank you!"
"Your aunt said you was to have it."
Maggie drank it down, Martha watching her. Then she went upstairs
softly, as though her joy might awaken the whole house. She lay
wide-eyed on her bed for hours, then fell into a heavy sleep, deep,
When, in the quieter light of the morning, she considered the event,
she had no doubts nor hesitations. She loved Martin and Martin loved
her. Soon Martin would marry her and they would go away. Her aunt
would be sorry of course, and his father, perhaps, would be angry,
but the sorrow and anger would be only for a little while. Then
Martin and she would live happily together always--happily because
they were both sensible people, and her own standard of fidelity and
trust was, she supposed, also his. She did not think very deeply
about what he had said to her; it only meant that he wanted to
escape from his family, a desire in which she could completely
sympathise. She had loved him, as she now saw, from the first moment
of meeting, and she would love him always. She would never be alone
again, and although Martin had told her that he was weak, and she
knew something about men, she was aware that their love for one
another would be a thing apart, constant, unfaltering, eternal. She
had read no modern fiction; she knew nothing about psychology: she
was absolutely happy . . .
And then in that very first day she discovered that life was not
quite so simple. In the first place, she wanted Martin desperately
and he did not come; and although she had at once a thousand
sensible reasons for the impossibility of his coming, nevertheless
strange new troubles and suspicions that she had never known before
rose in her heart. She had only kissed him once; he had only held
her in his arms for a few moments . . .She waited, looking from
behind the drawing-room curtains out into the street. How could he
let the whole day go by? He was prevented, perhaps, by that horrible
sister of his. When the dusk came and the muffin-man went ringing
his bell down the street she felt exhausted as though she had been
running for miles . . .
Then with sudden guilty realisation of the absorption that had held
her all day she wondered how much her aunt had noticed.
During the afternoon when she had been watching the streets from
behind the curtain Aunt Elizabeth had sat sewing, Thomas the cat
lumped before the fire, the whole room bathed in afternoon silence.
Maggie had watched as though hypnotized by the street itself,
marking the long squares of light, the pools of shadow, the lamp-
posts, the public-house at the corner, the little grocer's shop with
cases of oranges piled outside the door, the windows on the second
floor of the dressmaker's, through which you could see a dummy-
figure and a young woman with a pale face and shiny black hair, who
came and glanced out once and again, as though to reassure herself
that the gay world was still there.
The people, the horses and carts, the cabs went on their way.
Often it seemed that this figure must be Martin's--now this--now
this . . . And on every occasion Maggie's heart rose in her breast,
hammered at her eyes, then sank again. Over and over she told to
herself every incident of yesterday's meeting. Always it ended in
that same wonderful climax when she was caught to his breast and
felt his hand at her neck and then his mouth upon hers. She could
still feel against her skin the rough warm stuff of his coat and the
soft roughness of his cheek and the stiff roughness of his hair. She
could still feel how his mouth had just touched hers and then
suddenly gripped it as though it would never let it go; then she had
been absorbed by him, into his very heart, so that still now she
felt as though with his strong arms and his hard firm body he was
around her and about her.
Oh, she loved him! she loved him! but why did he not come? Had he
been able only to pass down the street and smile up to her window as
he went that would have been something. It would at least have
reassured her that yesterday was not a dream, an invention, and that
he was still there and thought of her and cared for her . . .
She pulled herself together. At the sound of the muffin-man's bell
she came back into her proper world. She would be patient; as she
had once resolved outside Borhedden Farm, so now she swore that she
would owe nothing to any man.
If she should love Martin Warlock it would not be for anything that
she expected to get from him, but only for the love that she had it
in her to give. If good came of it, well, if not, she was still her
But more than ever now was it impossible to be open with her aunts.
How strange it was that from the very beginning there had been
concealments between Aunt Anne and herself. Perhaps if they had been
open to one another at the first all would have been well. Now it
was too late.
Tea came in, and, with tea, Aunt Anne. It was the first time that
day that Maggie had seen her, and now, conscious of the news that
Martin had given her, she felt a movement of sympathy, of pity and
affection. Aunt Anne had been in her room all day, and she seemed as
she walked slowly to the fire to be of a finer pallor, a more
slender body than ever. Maggie felt as though she could see the
firelight through her body, and with that came also the conviction
that Aunt Anne knew everything, knew about Martin and the posted
letter and the thoughts of escape. Maggie herself was tired with the
trial of her waiting day, she was exhausted and was beating, with
all her resolve, against a disappointment that hammered with a
thundering noise, somewhere far away in the recesses of her soul. So
they all drew around the fire and had their tea.
Aunt Anne, leaning back in her chair, her beautiful hands stretched