Part 9 out of 11
with her thick white neck, her body balanced clumsily but with great
strength, like that of a boy who has not yet grown to his full
maturity. She tossed her head back in a way that she had and was
The Caroline affair was of another sort. Some days after Christmas,
Maggie went to have tea with Caroline. She did not enjoy it at all.
She felt at once that there was something wrong with the house. It
was full of paintings in big gold frames, looking-glasses, and
marble statues, and there was a large garden that had an artificial
look of having been painted by some clever artist in the course of a
night. Maggie did not pay a long visit. There were a number of men
present; there was also a gramophone, and after tea they turned up
the carpet in the dining-room and danced.
Caroline, in spite of her noise and laughter, did not seem to Maggie
to be happy. She introduced her for a moment to the master of the
house, a stout red-faced man who looked as though he had lost
something very precious, but was too sleepy to search for it. He
called Caroline "Sweet," and she treated him with patronage and
contempt. Maggie came away distressed, and she was not surprised to
hear, a day or two later, from Grace that Mrs. Purdie was "fast" and
had been rude to Mrs. Constantine.
One day early in the spring Grace announced that Maggie ought not to
go and see Mrs. Purdie any more. "There are all sorts of stories,"
said Grace. "People say--Oh, well, never mind. They have dancing on
"But she's an old friend of mine," said Maggie.
"You have others to think of beside yourself, Maggie," said Grace.
"And there is the Church."
"She's an old friend of mine," repeated Maggie, her mouth set
"I will ask Paul what he thinks," said Grace.
"Please," said Maggie, her colour rising into her cheeks, "don't
interfere between Paul and me. I'll speak to him myself."
She did. Paul maintained the attitude of indifference that he had
adopted during the last six months.
"But would you rather I didn't go?" asked Maggie, aggravated.
"You must use your judgment," said Paul.
"But don't you see that I can't leave a friend just because people
are saying nasty things."
"There's your position in the parish," said Paul.
"Oh, Paul!" Maggie cried. "Don't be so aggravating! Just say what
you really think."
"I'm sorry I'm aggravating," said Paul patiently.
It was this conversation that determined Maggie. She had been
coming, through all the winter months, to a resolution. She must be
alone with Paul, she must have things out with him. As the months
had gone they had been slipping further and further apart. It had
been Paul who had gradually withdrawn into himself. He had been kind
and thoughtful but reserved, shy, embarrassed. She understood his
trouble, but at her first attempt to force him to speak he escaped
and placed Grace between them. Well, this summer should see the end
of that. They must know where they stood, and for that they must be
alone . . .
One day, early in June, Paul announced that he thought of exchanging
duties, for the month of August, with a Wiltshire clergyman. This
was Maggie's opportunity. Finding him alone in his study, she
"Paul, did you mean Grace to come with us to Little Harben in
"Of course, dear. She has nowhere else to go."
"Well, she mustn't come. I've given way about everything since we
were married. I'm not going to give way about this. That month we
are to be alone."
"Alone!" said Paul. "But we're always alone."
"We're never alone," said Maggie, standing with her legs apart and
her hands behind her back. "I don't mean to complain about Grace.
She's been very good to me, I know, and I've got much to be grateful
for. All the same she's not coming to Little Harben. She's got you
all the rest of the year. She can give you up for a month."
"But Maggie--" said Paul.
"No, I'm quite determined about this. I may be a child and a fool,
but I know what I'm talking about this time. You're not happy. You
never talk to me as you used to. There are many things we ought to
have out, but Grace is always there in the daytime and at night
you're too tired. If we go on like this we'll be strangers in
another six months."
He turned round to stare at her, and she saw in his eyes an odd
"Maggie," he said in a low voice. "If we go alone to Little Harben
does it mean that you think--you can begin to love me?"
She turned her eyes away. "I don't know. I don't know about myself,
I only know that I want us to be happy and I want us to be close
together--as we were before we were married. It's all gone wrong
somehow; I'm sure it's my fault. It was just the same with my father
and my aunts. I couldn't say the things to them I wanted to, the
things I really felt, and so I lost them. I'm going to lose you in
the same way if I'm not careful."
He still looked at her strangely. At last, with a sigh, he turned
back to his desk.
"I'll speak to Grace," he said. That night the storm broke.
During supper Grace was very quiet. Maggie, watching her, knew that
Paul had spoken to her. Afterwards in the study the atmosphere was
electric. Grace read The Church Times, Paul the Standard, Maggie
Longfellow's Golden Legend, which she thought foolish.
Grace looked up. "So I understand, Maggie, that you don't want me to
come with you and Paul this summer?"
Maggie, her heart, in spite of herself, thumping in her breast,
faced a Grace transfigured by emotion. That countenance, heavily,
flabbily good-natured, the eyes if stupid, also kind, was now marked
and riven with a flaming anger.
But Maggie was no coward. With her old gesture of self-command she
stilled her heart. "I'm very sorry, Grace," she said. "But it's only
for a month. I want to be alone with Paul."
Grace, her hands fumbling on the arms of her chair as though she
were blind, rose.
"You've hated my being here, Maggie . . . all this time I've seen
it. You've hated me. You don't know that you owe everything to me,
that you couldn't have managed the house, the shops, the servants--
nothing, nothing. This last year I've worked my fingers to the bone
for you and Paul. What do you think I get out of it? Nothing. It's
because I love Paul . . . because I love Paul. But you've hated my
doing things better than you, you've wanted me to fail, you've been
jealous, that's what you've been. Very well, then, I'll go. You've
made that plain enough at any rate. I'll leave to-morrow. I won't
wait another hour. And I'll never forgive you for this--never.
You've taken Paul away from me . . . all I've ever had. I'll never
forgive you--never, never, never."
"Grace, Grace," cried Paul.
But she rushed from the room.
Maggie looked at her husband.
"Why, Paul," she said, "you're frightened. Grace doesn't mean it.
She won't go to-morrow--or ever. There's nothing to be frightened
His red cheeks were pale. His hands trembled.
"I do so hate quarrels," he said.
Maggie went up to him and rather timidly put her hand on his arm.
"We'll have a lovely time at Harben," she said. "Oh, I do want you
to be happy, Paul."
THE BATTLE OF SKEATON
Strangely enough Maggie felt happier after this disturbance. Grace,
in the weeks that followed, was an interesting confusion of silent
and offended dignity and sudden capitulations because she had some
news of fussing interest that she must impart. Nevertheless she was
deeply hurt. She was as tenacious of her grievances as a limpet is
of its rock, and she had never been so severely wounded before.
Maggie, on her side, liked Grace better after the quarrel. She had
never really disliked her, she had only been irritated by her.
She thought it very natural of her to be angry and jealous about
Paul. She was determined that this month at Little Harben should put
everything right. Looking back over these past years she blamed
herself severely. She had been proud, self-centred, unfeeling. She
remembered that day so long ago at St. Dreot's when Aunt Anne had
appealed for her affection and she had made no reply. There had been
many days, too, in London when she had been rebellious and hard. She
thought of that night when Aunt Anne had suffered so terribly and
she had wanted only her own escape. Yes--hard and unselfish that was
what she had been, and she had been punished by losing Martin.
Already here, just as before in London, she was complaining and
angry, and unsympathetic. She did care for Paul--she could even love
Grace if she would let her. She would make everything right this
summer and try and be a better, kinder woman.
Then, one morning, she found a letter on the breakfast table. She
did not recognise the handwriting; when she opened it and saw the
signature at the end for a moment she also did not recognise that.
"William Magnus." . . . Then--why, of course! Mr. Magnus! She saw
him standing looking down at her with his mild eyes, staring through
his large spectacles.
Her heart beat furiously. She waited until breakfast was over, then
she took it up to her bedroom.
The letter was as follows:
Dear Miss Maggie,
I know you are not "Miss Maggie" now, but that is the only way that
I can think of you. I expect that you have quite forgotten me, and
perhaps you don't want to hear from me, but I must not lose sight of
you altogether. I haven't so many friends that I can lose one
without a word. I don't know quite what to begin by telling you. I
ought to ask you questions about yourself, I suppose, but I know
that your aunts hear from you from time to time and they give me
news from your letters. I hear that you are happily married and are
quite settled down to your new life. I'm very glad to hear that,
although it isn't quite the life that I would have prophesied for
you. Do you like Skeaton? I've never cared much for seaside resorts
myself, but then I'm a queer cranky old man, and I deserve all I
get. I wish I could tell you something cheerful about all your
friends here, but I'm afraid I can't. Your aunt is so brave and
plucky that probably she said nothing to you in her last letter
about how ill she has been, but she's just had a very bad bout, and
at one time we were afraid that we were going to lose her. You can
imagine how anxious we all were. But she is better again now,
although very much shattered. The Chapel is closed. There's a piece
of news for you! It never recovered from poor Warlock's death; he
was the spirit that gave it life, and although he may have had his
dreams and imaginations that deceived him, there was some life in
that building that I have never found anywhere else and shall never
find again. You remember that Amy Warlock married that scamp
Thurston. Well, she has left him and has come back to live with her
mother. She had a rather bad experience, I'm afraid, poor woman, but
she says nothing to any one about it. She and the old lady have
moved from this part of London and have gone to live somewhere in
Kensington. Some one saw Martin Warlock in Paris the other day. I
hear that he has been very seriously ill and is greatly changed,
looking years older. I can say, now that you are happily married,
that I am greatly relieved that you were not engaged to him. You
won't think this presumptuous of a man old enough to be your father,
will you? I am sure he had many good things in him, but he was very
weak and not fitted to look after you. But he had a good heart, I'm
sure, and his father's death was a great shock to him. Thurston, I
hear, is having revival meetings up and down the country. Miss
Avies, I believe, is with him. You remember Miss Pyncheon? She and
many other regular attendants at the Chapel have left this
neighbourhood. The Chapel is to be a cinematograph theatre, I
believe. There! I have given you all the gossip. I have not said
more about your aunts because I want you to come up one day to
London, when you have time, and see them. You will do that, won't
you? I expect you are very busy--I hope you are. I would like to
have a line from you, but please don't bother if you have too much
Always your friend,
When Maggie saw Martin's name the other writing on the page
transformed itself suddenly into a strange pattern of webs and
squares. Nevertheless she pursued her way through this, but without
her own agency, as though some outside person were reading to her
and she was not listening.
She repeated the last words "Always your friend, William Magnus"
aloud solemnly twice. Her thoughts ran in leaps and runs, hurdle-
race-wise across the flat level of her brain. Martin. Old. Ill.
Paris. Those walls out there and the road-man with a spade--little
boy walking with him--chattering--it's going to be hot. The light
across the lawn is almost blue and the beds are dry. His room. The
looking-glass. Always tilts back when one tries to see one's hair.
Meant to speak about it. Martin. Ill. Paris. Paris. Trains. Boats.
How quickly could one be there? No time at all. Paris. Never been to
Paris. Perhaps he isn't there now . . .
At that definite picture she controlled her mind again. She pulled
it up as a driver drags back a restive horse. Her first real thought
was: "How hard that this letter should have come now when I was just
going to put everything right with Paul." Her next: "Poor Paul! But
I don't care for him a bit . . . I don't care for any one but
Martin. I never did." Her next: "Why did I ever think I did?" And
her next: "Why did I ever do this?" She knew with a strange calm
certainty that from this moment she would never be rid of Martin's
presence again. She had maintained for more than a year a wonderful
make-believe of indifference. She had fancied that by, pushing
furiously with both hands one could drive things into the past. But
Fate was cleverer than that. What he wanted to keep he kept for you-
-the weaving of the pattern in the carpet might be your handiwork,
but the final design was settled before ever the carpet was begun.
Not that any of these fine thoughts ever entered Maggie's head. All
that she thought was "I love Martin. I want to go to him. He's ill.
I've got to do my duty about Paul." She settled upon that last
point. She bound her mind around it, fast and secure like thick
cord. She put Mr. Magnus' letter away in the shell-covered box, the
wedding-present from the aunts; in this box were the programme of
the play that she had been to with Martin, the ring with the three
pearls, Martin's few letters, and some petals of the chrysanthemum,
dry and faded, that she had worn on the great day of the matinee.
Something had warned her that it was foolish to keep Martin's
letters, but why should she not? She had never hidden her love for
Martin. Then, standing in the middle of the room, close beside the
large double-bed, with a football-group and "The Crucifixion"
staring down upon her, she had her worst hour. Nothing in all life
could have moved her as did that picture of Martin's loneliness and
sickness. Wave after wave of persuasion swept over her: "Go! Go now!
Take the train to Paris. You can find out from Mr. Magnus where he
was living. He is sick. He needs you. You swore to him that you
would never desert him, and you have deserted him. They don't want
you here. Grace hates you, and Paul is too lazy to care!"
At the thought of Paul resolution came to her. She looked up at the
rather fat, amiable youth with the stout legs and the bare knees in
the football photograph, and prayed to it: "Paul, I'm very lonely
and tempted. Care for me even though I can't love you as you want.
Don't give me up because I can't let you have what some one else has
got. Let's be happy, Paul--please."
She was shivering. She looked back with a terrified, reluctant
glance to the drawer where Mr. Magnus' letter was, then she went
Soon after they started for Little Harben. The last days in Skeaton
had scarcely been happy ones. Grace had erected an elaborate
scaffolding of offended dignity and bitter misery. She was not
bitterly miserable, indeed she enjoyed her game, but it was
depressing to watch Paul give way to her. He was determined to leave
her in a happy mind. Any one could have told him that the way to do
that was to leave her alone altogether. Instead he petted her,
persuading her to eat her favourite pudding, buying her a new work-
box that she needed, dismissing a boy from the choir (the only
treble who was a treble) because he was supposed to have made a
long-nose at Grace during choir-practice.
Ht adopted also a pleading line with her. "Now, Grace dear, don't
you think you could manage a little bit more?"
"Do you think you ought to go out in all this rain, Grace dear?"
"Grace, you look tired to death. Shall I read to you a little?"
He listened to her stories with a new elaborate attention. He
laughed heartily at the very faintest glimmer of a joke. Through it
all Grace maintained an unreleased solemnity, a mournful
superiority, a grim forbearance.
Maggie, watching, felt with a sinking heart that she was beginning
to despise Paul.
His very movement as he hurried to place a cushion for Grace sent a
little shiver down her back. "Oh, don't do it, Paul!" she heard
herself cry internally, but she could say nothing. She had won her
victory about Harben. She could only now be silent. Still, she bore
no grudge at all against Grace. She even liked her.
Grace made many sinister allusions to her fancied departure. "Ah, in
November . . . Oh! of course I shall not be here then!" or, "That
will be in the autumn then, won't it? You'd better give it to some
one who will be here at the time." With every allusion she scored a
victory. It was evident that Paul was terrified by the thought that
she should leave him. He did not see what he would do without her.
His world would tumble to pieces.
"But she hasn't the remotest intention of going," said Maggie.
"She'll never go."
"Well, I don't know. It would be strange without her, Maggie, I must
confess. You see, all our lives we've been together--all our lives."
Nevertheless he felt perhaps some relief, in spite of himself, when
they were safely in a train for Little Harben. It was rather a
relief, just for a day or two, not to see Grace's reproachful face.
Yes, it was. He was quite gay, almost like the boy he used to be.
Little Harben was one of the smallest villages in Wiltshire and its
Rectory one of the most dilapidated. The Rectory was sunk into the
very bottom of a green well. Green hills rose on every side above
it, green woods pressed in all around it, a wild, deserted green
garden crept up to the windows and clambered about the old walls.
There was hardly any furniture in the house, and many many windows
all without curtains. Long looking-glasses reflected the green
garden at every possible angle so that all the lights and shadows in
the house were green. There was a cat with green eyes, and the old
servant was so aged and infirm that she was, spiritually if not
physically, covered with green moss.
From their bedroom they could see the long green slope of the hill.
Everywhere there was a noise of birds nestling amongst the leaves,
of invisible streams running through the grass, of branches
mysteriously cracking, and, always, in the distance some one seemed
to be chopping with an axe. If you pushed a window open multitudes
of little insects fell in showers about you. All the roses were
eaten with green flies.
"What a place!" said Maggie; nevertheless it was rather agreeable
after the sand of Skeaton.
During the first three days they preserved their attitude of
friendly distance. On the fourth evening Maggie desperately flung
down her challenge. They were sitting, after supper, in the wild
deserted garden. It was a wonderful evening, faintly blue and dim
crocus with flickering silver stars. The last birds twittered in the
woods; the green arc of the hill against the evening sky had a great
majesty of repose and rest. "Now, Paul!" said Maggie.
"What is it, dear?" but he slowly changed colour and looked away
from her, out into the wood.
"We've got to face it some time," she said. "The sooner, then, the
"Face what?" he asked, dropping his voice as though he were afraid
that some one would overhear.
"You and me." Maggie gathered her resources together. "Before we
were married we were great friends. You were the greatest friend I
ever had except Uncle Mathew. And now I don't know what we are."
"Whose fault is that?" he asked huskily. "You know what the matter
is. You don't love me. You never have . . . Have you?" He suddenly
ended, turning towards her.
She saw his new eagerness and she was frightened, but she looked at
a little bunch of stars that twinkled at her above the dark elms and
"I'm very bad at explaining my feelings," she said. "And you're not
very good either, Paul. I know I am very fond of you, and I feel as
though it ought to be so simple if I were wiser or kinder. I've been
thinking for weeks about this, and I want to say that I'm ready to
do anything that will make you happy."
"You'll love me?" he asked.
"I'm very fond of you, and I always will be."
"No, but love."
"A word like that isn't important. Affection--"
"No. It's love I want."
She turned away from him, pressing her hands together, staring into
the wood that was sinking into avenues of dark. She couldn't answer
him. He came over to her. He knelt on the dry grass, took her head
between his hands, and kissed her again and again and again.
She heard him murmur: "Maggie . . . Maggie . . . Maggie. You must
love me. You must. I've waited so long. I didn't know what love was.
God in His Mercy forgive me for the thoughts I've had this year.
You've tormented me. Tantalised me. You're a witch. A witch. You're
so strange, so odd, so unlike any one. You've enchanted me. Love me.
Maggie . . . Love me . . . Love me."
She caught his words all broken and scattered. She felt his heart
beating against her body, and his hands were hot to the touch of her
cold cheek. She felt that he was desperate and ashamed and pitiful.
She felt, above all else, that she must respond--and she could not.
She strove to give him what he needed. She caught his hands, and
then, because she knew that she was acting falsely and the whole of
her nature was in rebellion, she drew back. He felt her withdraw.
His hands dropped.
She burst into tears, suddenly hiding her face in her hands as she
used to do when she was a little girl.
"Oh, Paul," she wept. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm wicked. I
He got up and stood with his back to her, looking towards the night
sky that flashed now with stars.
She controlled herself, feeling desperately that their whole future
together hung on the approaching minutes. She went up to him.
standing at first timidly behind him, then putting her hand through
"Paul. It isn't so hopeless. If I can't give you that I can give you
everything else. I told you from the first that I couldn't help
loving Martin. All that kind of love I gave to him, but we can be
friends. I want a friend so badly. If we're both lonely we can come
together closer and closer, and perhaps, later on--"
But she could not go on. She knew that she would never forget
Martin, that she would never love Paul. These two things were so
clear to her that she could not pretend. As the darkness gathered
the wood into its arms and the last twitter of the birds sank into
silence, she felt that she too was being caught into some silent
blackness. The sky was pale green, the stars so bright that the rest
of the world seemed to lie in dim shadow. She could scarcely see
Paul now; when he spoke his voice came, disembodied, out of the
"You'll never forget him, then?" at last he asked.
"You're strange. You don't belong to us. I should have seen that
at the beginning. I knew nothing about women and thought that all
that I wanted--oh God, why should I be so tempted? I've been a good
man . . ." Then he came close to her and put his hand on her
shoulder and even drew her to him. "I won't bother you any more,
Maggie. I'll conquer this. We'll be friends as you want. It isn't
fair to you--"
She felt the control that he was keeping on himself and she admired
him. Nevertheless she knew, young though she was, that if she let
him go now she was losing him for ever. The strangest pang of
loneliness and isolation seized her. If Paul left her and Martin
wasn't there, she was lonely indeed. She saw quite clearly how his
laziness would come to his aid. He would summon first his virtue and
his religion, and twenty years of abstinence would soon reassert
their sway; then he would slip back into the old, lazy, self-
complacent being that he had been before. Staring into the dark wood
she saw it all. She could completely capture him by responding to
his passion. Without that she was too queer, too untidy, too
undisciplined, to hold him at all. But she could not lie, she could
She kissed him.
"Paul, let's be friends, then. Splendid friends. Oh! we will be
But as he kissed her she knew that she had lost him.
Paul was very kind to her during their stay at Little Harben, but
they recovered none of that old friendship that had been theirs
before they married. Too many things were now between them. By the
end of that month Maggie longed to return to Skeaton. It was not
only that she felt crushed and choked by the strangling green that
hemmed in the old house--the weeds and the trees, and the plants
seemed to draw in the night closer and closer about the windows and
doors--but also solitude with Paul was revealing to her, in a
ruthless, cruel manner, his weaknesses. They were none of them,
perhaps, very terrible, but she did not wish to see them. She would
like to shut her eyes to them all. If she lost that friendly
kindness that she felt for him then indeed she had lost everything.
She felt as though he were wilfully trying to tug it away from her.
Why was it that she had never shrunk from the faults of Martin and
Uncle Mathew--faults so plain and obvious--and now shrunk from
Paul's? Paul's were such little ones--a desire for praise and
appreciation, a readiness to be cheated into believing that all was
well when he knew that things were very wrong, an eagerness to be
liked even by quite worthless people, sloth and laziness, living
lies that were of no importance save as sign-posts to the cowardice
of his soul. Yes, cowardice! That was the worst of all. Was it his
religion that had made him cowardly? Why was Maggie so terribly
certain that if the necessity for physical defence of her or some
helpless creature arose Paul would evade it and talk about "turning
the other cheek"? He was so large a man and so soft--a terrific
egoist finally, in the centre of his soul, an egoist barricaded by
superstitions and fears and lies, but not a ruthless egoist, because
that demanded energy.
And yet, with all this, he had so many good points. He was a child,
a baby, like so many clergymen. Even her father could have been
defended by that plea . . .
He was not radically bad, he was radically good, but he had never
known discipline or real sorrow or hardship. Wrapped in cotton wool
all his life, spoilt, indulged, treated by the world as men treat
women. His effeminacy was the result of his training because he had
always been sheltered. Now his contact with Maggie was presenting
him for the first time with Reality. Would he face and grapple with
it, or would he slip away, evade it, and creep back into his padded
The return to Skeaton and the winter that followed it did not answer
that question. Maggie, Grace, and Paul were figures, guarded and
defended, outwardly friendly. Grace behaved during those months very
well, but Maggie knew that this was a fresh sign of hostility. The
"Chut-Chut," "My dear child," and the rest that had been so
irritating had been after all signs of intimacy. They were now
withdrawn. Maggie made herself during that winter and the spring
that followed as busy as possible. She ruthlessly forbade all
thoughts of Martin, of the aunts, of London; she scarcely saw
Caroline, and the church was her fortress. She seemed to be flung
from service to service, to be singing in the choir (she had no
voice), asking children their catechism, listening to Paul's high,
rather strained, voice reading the lessons, talking politely to Mrs.
Maxse or one of the numerous girls, knitting and sewing (always so
badly), and above all struggling to remember the things that she was
for ever forgetting. Throughout this period she was pervaded by the
damp, oily smell of the heated church, always too hot, always too
close, always too breathless.
She had many headaches; she liked them because they held back her
temptation to think of forbidden things.
Gradually, although she did not know it, the impression gained
ground that she was "queer." She had not been to the Toms' often,
but she was spoken of as their friend. She had seen Caroline, who
was now considered by the church a most scandalous figure, scarcely
at all, but it was known that she was an old friend. Above all, it
was understood that the rector and his wife were not happy.
"Oh, she's odd--looks more like a boy than a woman. She never says
anything, seems to have no ideas. I don't believe she's religious
She knew nothing of this. She did not notice that she was not asked
often to other houses. People were kind (the Skeaton people were
neither malicious nor cruel) but left her more and more alone. She
said to herself again and again: "I must make this a success--I
must"--but the words were becoming mechanical. It was like tramping
a treadmill: she got no further, only became more and more
exhausted. That spring and summer people noticed her white face and
strange eyes. "Oh, she's a queer girl," they said.
The summer was very hot with a little wind that blew the sand
everywhere. Strange how that sand succeeded in penetrating into the
very depth of the town. The sand lay upon the pavement of the High
Street so that your feet gritted as you walked. The woods and houses
lay for nearly two months beneath a blazing sun. There was scarcely
any rain. The little garden behind the Rectory was parched and
brown; the laurel bushes were grey with dust. They saw very few
people that summer; many of their friends had escaped.
Maggie, thinking of the green depths of Harben a year ago, longed
for its coolness; nevertheless she was happy to think that she would
never have to see Harben again.
As she had foretold, laziness settled upon Paul. What he loved best
was to sink into his old armchair in the dusty study and read old
volumes of Temple Bar and the Cornhill. He had them piled at his
side; he read article after article about such subjects as "The
Silkworm Industry" and "Street Signs of the Eighteenth Century." He
was very proud of his sermons, but now he seldom gave a new one. He
always intended to. "Don't let any one disturb me to-night, Maggie,"
he would say at supper on Fridays. "I've got my sermon." But on
entering the study he remembered that there was an article in Temple
Bar that he must finish. He also read the Church Times right
through, including the advertisements. Grace gradually resumed her
She maintained, however, an elaborate pretence of leaving everything
to Maggie. Especially was she delighted when Maggie forgot
something. When that happened she said nothing; her mouth curled a
little. She treated Maggie less and less to her garrulous
confidences. They would sit for hours in the drawing-room together
without exchanging a word. Maggie and Paul had now different
bedrooms. Early in the autumn Maggie had a little note from Mr.
Magnus. It said:
"You have not written to any of us for months. Won't you come just
for a night to see your aunts? At least let us know that you are
She cried that night in bed, squeezing her head into the pillow so
that no one should hear her. She seemed to have lost all her pluck.
She must do something, but what? She did not know how to deal with
people. If they were kind and friendly there were so many things
that she could do, but this silent creeping away from her paralysed
her. She remembered how she had said to Katherine: "No one can make
me unhappy if I do not wish it to be." Now she did not dare to think
how unhappy she was. She knew that they all thought her strange and
odd, and she felt that strangeness creeping upon her. She MUST be
odd if many people thought her so. She became terribly self-
conscious, wondering whether her words and movements were strange.
She was often so tired that she could not drag one foot after
A few weeks before Christmas something happened. A terrible thing,
perhaps--but she was delivered by it . . .
She was sitting one afternoon a few weeks before Christmas in the
drawing-room alone with Grace. It was her "At Home" day, a Friday
afternoon. Grace was knitting a grey stocking, a long one that
curled on her lap. She knitted badly, clumsily, twisting her fingers
into odd shapes and muddling her needles. Now and then she would
look up as though she meant to talk, and then remembering that it
was Maggie who was opposite to her she would purse her lips and look
down again. The fire hummed and sputtered, the clock ticked, and
Grace breathed in heavy despairing pants over the difficulties of
her work. The door opened and the little maid, her eyes nervously
wandering towards Grace, murmured, "Mr. Cardinal, mum."
The next thing of which Maggie was conscious was Uncle Mathew
standing clumsily just inside the door shifting his bowler hat
between his two hands.
The relief of seeing him was so great that she jumped up and ran
towards him crying, "Oh, Uncle Mathew! I'm so glad! At last!"
He dropped his bowler in giving her his hand. She noticed at once
that he was looking very unhappy and had terribly run to seed.
He was badly shaved, his blue suit was shabby and soiled. He was
fatter, and his whole body was flabby and uncared for. Maggie saw at
once that he had been drinking, not very much, but enough to make
him a little uncertain on his feet and unsteady in his gaze. Maggie,
when she saw him, felt nothing but a rush of pity and desire to
protect him. Very strangely she felt the similarity between him and
herself. Nobody wanted either of them--they must just love one
another because there was no one else to love them.
She was aware then that Grace had risen and was standing looking at
She turned round to her saying, "Grace, this is my uncle. You've
heard me speak of him, haven't you? He was very kind to me when I
was a little girl . . . Uncle, this is my sister-in-law, Miss
Uncle Mathew smiled and, rather unsteadily, came forward; he caught
her hand in both his damp, hot ones. "Very pleased to meet you, Miss
Trenchard. I know you've been very good to my little Maggie; at
least when I say 'my little Maggie' she's not mine any longer. She
belongs to your brother now, doesn't she? Of course she does. I hope
Maggie realised then the terrified distress in Grace's eyes. The
grey stocking had fallen to the ground, and Grace stared at Uncle
Mathew in a kind of fascinated horror. She realised of course at
once that he was what she would call "tipsy." He was not "tipsy,"
but nevertheless "tipsy" enough for Grace. Maggie saw her take in
every detail of his appearance--his unshaven cheeks, the wisps of
hair over the bald top of his head, the spots on his waistcoat, the
mud on his boots, and again as she watched Grace make this summary,
love and protection for that unhappy man filled her heart. For
unhappy he was! She saw at once that he had had a long slide
downhill since his last visit to her. He was frightened--frightened
immediately now of Grace and the room and the physical world--but
frightened also behind these things at some spectre all his own.
Grace sat down and tried to recover herself. She began to talk in
her society voice. Maggie knew that she was praying, over and over
again, with a monotony possible only to the very stupid, that there
would be no callers that afternoon.
"And so you know Glebeshire, Mr. Cardinal! Fancy! I've never been
there--never been there in my life. Fancy that! Although so many of
my relations live there. I once nearly went down, one wet Christmas,
and I was going to stay with my aunt, but something happened to
prevent me. I think I caught a cold at the time. I can't quite
remember. But fancy you knowing Glebeshire so well!"
All this came out in a voice that might have issued from a
gramophone, so little did it represent Grace's real feelings or
emotions. Maggie knew so well that inside her head these
exclamations were rising and falling: "What a horrible man! What a
dreadful man! Maggie's uncle! We're lost if any one calls! Oh! I do
hope no one calls!"
It was obvious meanwhile that Mathew was urgently wishing for a
moment alone with Maggie. He looked at her with pleading eyes, and
once he winked towards Grace. He talked on, however, running some of
his words into one another and paying very little attention to
anything that Grace might say: "No, I haven't seen my little niece,
Miss Trenchard, for a long time--didn't like to interfere, in a way.
Thought she'd ask for me when she wanted me. We've always been the
greatest friends. I'm a bachelor, you see--never married. Not that
I'd like you to fancy that I've no interest in the other sex, far
from it, but I'm a wanderer by nature. A wife in every port,
perhaps. Well, who knows? But one's lonely at times, one is indeed.
A pretty tidy little place you've got here. Yes, you have--with a
Paul came in, and Maggie saw him start as Mathew's stout figure
surprised him. She felt then a rush of hostility against Paul. It
was as though, at every point, she must run in fiercely to defend
Meanwhile Grace's worst fears were realised. The little maid
announced Miss Purves and Mrs. Maxse. A terrible half-hour followed.
Miss Purves, as soon as she understood that this strange man was
Mrs. Trenchard's uncle, was all eager excitement, and Uncle Mathew,
bewildered by so many strangers, confused by a little unsteadiness
in his legs that would have been nothing had he not been in a small
room crowded with furniture, finally clasped Mrs. Maxse by the
shoulder in his endeavour to save himself from tumbling over the
little table that held the cakes and bread-and-butter. His hot,
heavy hand pressed into Mrs. Maxse's flesh, and Mrs. Maxse,
terrified indeed, screamed.
He began to apologise, and in his agitation jerked Miss Purves' cup
of tea from the table on to the floor.
After that he realised that it would be better for him to go. He
began elaborate apologies. Paul saw him to the door. He gripped Paul
by the hand. "I'm delighted to have met you," he said in full
hearing of the trembling ladies. "You've given me such a good time.
Give my little Maggie a good time too. She's not looking over well.
Send her up to London to stay with me for a bit."
Maggie saw him to the gate. In the middle of the little drive he
stopped, turning towards her, leaning his hands heavily upon her.
"Maggie dear," he said, "I'm in a bad way, a very bad way. You won't
"Of course I won't," she answered. "I may want your help in a week
He looked dismally about him, at the thick, dull laurel bushes and
the heavy, grey sky. "I don't like this place, Maggie," he said,
"and all those women. It's religion again, and it's worse than that
Chapel. You don't seem to be able to get away from religion. You're
not happy, my dear."
"Yes, I am," she answered firmly.
"No, you're not. And I'm not. But it will be all right in the end,
I've no doubt. You'll never desert me, Maggie."
"I'll never desert you," Maggie answered.
He bent down and kissed her, his breath whisky-laden. She kissed him
eagerly, tenderly. For a moment she felt that she would go with him,
just as she was, and leave them all.
"Uncle," she said, "you understand how it is, don't you? We'd have
asked you to stay if we'd known."
"Oh, that's all right." He looked at her mysteriously. "That new
sister-in-law of yours was shocked with me. They wouldn't have me in
the house. I saw that. And I only had one glass at the station. I'm
not much of a man in society now. That's the trouble . . . But next
time I'll come down and just send you a line and you'll come to see
me in my own little place--won't you? I'm in the devil of a mess,
Maggie, that's the truth, and I don't know how to get out of it.
I've been a bit of a fool, I have."
She saw the look of terror in his eye again.
"Would some money--" she suggested.
"Oh, I'm afraid it's past five pounds now, my dear." He sighed
heavily. "Well, I must be getting along. You'll catch your death of
cold standing out here. We ought to have been together all this
time, you know. It would have been better for both of us."
He kissed her again and left her. She slowly returned into the
house. Curiously, he had made her happier by his visit. Her pluck
returned. She needed it. Grace was now stirred by the most active of
all her passions--fear.
Nevertheless Grace and Paul behaved very well. Maggie understood the
shock that visit must have given them. She watched Grace imagining
the excited stories that would flow from the lips of Miss Purves and
Mrs. Maxse. She was determined, however, that Grace and Paul should
not suffer in silence--and Uncle Mathew must be vindicated.
At supper that night she plunged:
"Uncle Mathew's been very ill," she began, "for a long time now. He
wasn't himself this afternoon, I'm afraid. He was very upset at some
news that he'd just had. And then meeting so many strangers at once-
Maggie saw that Grace avoided her eyes.
"I don't think we'll discuss it, Maggie, if you don't mind. Mr.
Cardinal was strange in his behaviour, certainly. It was a pity that
Miss Purves came. But it's better not to discuss it."
"I don't agree," said Maggie. "If you think that I'm ashamed of
Uncle Mathew you're quite wrong. He's very unhappy and lonely--" She
felt her voice tremble. "He hasn't got any one to look after him--"
Grace's hand was trembling as she nervously crumbled her bread.
Still without looking at Maggie she said:
"By the way, you did the church flowers this morning didn't you,
Maggie turned white and, as always on these occasions, her heart
thumped, leaping, as it seemed, into the very palms of her hands.
"But it was to-morrow--" she began.
"You remember that I told you three days ago that it was to be this
morning instead of the usual Thursday because of the Morgans'
"Oh, Grace, I'm so sorry! I had remembered, I had indeed, and then
Lucy suddenly having that chill--."
Paul struck in. "Really, Maggie, that's too bad. No flowers to-
morrow? Those others were quite dead yesterday. I noticed at
evensong . . . Really, really. And the Morgans' wedding!"
Maggie sat there, trembling.
"I'm very sorry," she said, almost whispering. Why did fate play
against her? Why, when she might have fought the Uncle Mathew battle
victoriously, had Grace suddenly been given this weapon with which
"I'll go and do them now," she said. "I can take those flowers out
of the drawing-room."
"It's done," Grace slowly savouring her triumph. "I did them myself
"Then you should have told me that!" Maggie burst out. "It's not
fair making me miserable just for your own fun. You don't know how
you hurt, Grace. You're cruel, you're cruel!"
She had a horrible fear lest she should burst into tears. To save
that terrible disaster she jumped up and ran out of the room,
hearing behind her Paul's admonitory "Maggie, Maggie!"
It is to be expected that Mrs. Maxse and Miss Purves made the most
of their story. The Rector's wife and a drunken uncle! No, it was
too good to be true . . . but it was true, nevertheless. Christmas
passed and the horrible damp January days arrived. Skeaton was a
dripping covering of emptiness--hollow, shallow, deserted. Every
tree, Maggie thought, dripped twice as much as any other tree in
Europe. It remained for Caroline Purdie to complete the situation.
One morning at breakfast the story burst upon Maggie's ears. Grace
was too deeply moved and excited to remember her hostility. She
poured out the tale.
It appeared that for many many months Caroline had not been the wife
she should have been. No; there had been a young man, a Mr. Bennett
from London. The whole town had had its suspicions, had raised its
pointing finger, had peeped and peered and whimpered. The only
person who had noticed nothing was Mr. Purdie himself. He must, of
course, have seen that his house was filled with noisy young men and
noisier young women; he must have realised that his bills were high,
that champagne was drunk and cards were played, and that his wife's
attire was fantastically gorgeous. At any rate, if he noticed these
things he said nothing. He was a dull, silent, slow-thinking man,
people said. Then one day he went up to London or rather, in the
manner of the best modern problem play, he pretended to go, returned
abruptly, and discovered Caroline in the arms of Mr. Bennett.
He flung Mr. Bennett out of the bedroom window, breaking his leg and
his nose, and that was why every one knew the story. What he said to
Caroline was uncertain. He did not, however, pack her off, as Miss
Purves said he should have done, but rather kept her in the big ugly
house, just as he had done before, only now without the young men,
the young women, the champagne and the flowers.
"I must go and see her," said Maggie when she heard this story.
Grace turned the strange pale yellow that was her colour when she
"Maggie," she said, "I warn you that if you go to see this abandoned
woman you will be insulting Paul and myself before the whole town."
"She is my friend," said Maggie.
"She is a wicked woman," said Grace, breathing very heavily, "and
you're a wicked woman if you go to see her. You have already made
"That is untrue," Maggie said fiercely. "It is I that have been
miserable. Not that it hasn't been my own fault. I should never have
"No, you should not," said Grace, breathing as though she had been
running very hard. "And for that I was partly to blame. But fancy
what you've done since you've been with us! Just fancy! It's
terrible . . . never a greater mistake . . . never, never."
Maggie tossed her head. "Well, if it was a mistake," she said, "the
end of pretending has come at last. I've been trying for nearly two
years now to go your way and Paul's. I can't do it. I can't alter
myself. I've tried, and I can't. It's no use. Grace, we'd never get
on. I see it's been hopeless from the first. But you shan't make
Paul hate me. You've been trying your hardest, but you shan't
succeed. I know that I'm stupid and careless, but it's no use my
pretending to be good and quiet and obedient. I'm not good. I'm not
quiet. I'm not obedient. I'm going to be myself now. I'm going to
have the friends I want and do the things I want."
Grace moved back as though she thought that Maggie were going to
"You're wicked," she said. "What about those letters in your drawer?
You've never loved Paul."
"So you've been opening my drawers?" said Maggie. "You're worse than
I, Grace. I never opened any one's drawers nor read letters I
shouldn't. But it doesn't matter. There's nothing I want to hide.
Paul knows all about it. I'm not ashamed."
"No, you're not," Grace's eyes were large with terror. "You're
ashamed at nothing. You've made every one in the place laugh at us.
You've ruined Paul's life here--yes, you have. But you don't care.
Do you think I mind for myself? But I love Paul, and I've looked
after him all his life, and he was happy until you came--yes, he
was. You've made us all laughed at. You're bad all through, Maggie,
and the laws of the Church aren't anything to you at all."
There was a pause. Maggie, a little calmer, realised Grace, who had
sunk into a chair. She saw that stout middle-aged woman with the
flat expressionless face and the dull eyes. She saw the flabby hands
nervously trembling, and she longed suddenly to be kind and
"Oh, Grace," she cried. "I know I've been everything I shouldn't,
only don't you see I can't give up my friends? And I told Paul
before we married that I'd loved some one else and wasn't religious.
But perhaps it isn't too late. Let's be friends. I'll try harder
than ever before--"
Then she saw, in the way that Grace shrank back, her eyes staring
with the glazed fascination that a bird has for a snake, that there
was more than dislike and jealousy here, there was the wild
unreasoning fear that a child has for the dark.
"Am I like that?" was her own instinctive shuddering thought. Then,
almost running, she rushed up to her bedroom.
DEATH OF AUNT ANNE
Maggie, after that flight, faced her empty room with a sense of
horror. Was there, truly, then, something awful about her? The child
(for she was indeed nothing more) looked into her glass, standing on
tip-toe that she might peer sufficiently and saw her face, pale,
with its large dark eyes rimmed by the close-clipped hair. Was she
then awful? First her father, then her aunts, then the Warlocks, now
Grace and Paul--not only dislike but fright, terror, alarm!
Her loneliness crushed her in that half-hour as it had never crushed
her since that day at Borhedden. She broke down altogether, kneeling
by the bed and her head in her pillow sobbing: "Oh, Martin, I want
you! Martin, I want you so!"
When she was calmer she thought of going down to Paul and making
another appeal to him, but she knew that such an appeal could only
end in his asking her to change herself, begging her to be more
polite to Grace, more careful and less forgetful, and of course
to give up such people as the Toms and Caroline, and then there
would come, after it all, the question as to whether she intended
to behave better to himself, whether she would be more loving, more
. . . Oh no! she could not, she could not, she could not!
She saw the impossibility of it so plainly that it was a relief to
her and she washed her face and brushed her hair and plucked up
courage to regard herself normally once more. "I'm not different,"
she said to the looking-glass. "There's no reason for Grace to make
faces." She saw that the breach between herself and Grace had become
irreparable, and that whatever else happened in the future at least
it was certain that they would never be friends again.
She went downstairs prepared to do battle . . .
Next morning she paid her visit to Caroline. It was a strange
affair. The girl was sitting alone in her over-gorgeous house, her
hands on her lap, looking out of the window, an unusual position for
her to be in.
Caroline was at first very stiff and haughty, expecting that Maggie
had come to scold her. "I just looked in to sec how you were," said
"You might have come before," answered Caroline. "It's years since
you've been near me."
"I didn't like all those people you had in your house," said Maggie.
"I like it better now there's no one in it."
That was not, perhaps, very tactful of her. Caroline flushed.
"I could have them all here now if I wanted to ask them," she
"Well, I'm very glad you'd rather be without them," said Maggie.
"They weren't worthy of you, Caroline."
"Oh! What's the use going on talking like this!" Caroline broke out.
"Of course you've heard all about everything. Every one has. I can't
put my nose outside the door without them all peering at me. I hate
them all--all of them--and the place too, and every one in it."
"I expect you do--" said Maggie sympathetically.
"Nasty cats! As though they'd never done anything wrong all their
days. It was mostly Alfred's fault too. What does he expect when he
leaves me all alone here week after week eating one's heart out. One
must do something with one's time. Just like all men! At first
there's nothing too good for you, then when they get used to it they
can't be bothered about anything. I wonder what a man thinks married
life is? Then to listen to Alfred, you'd think we were still living
in the days of the Good Queen Victoria--you would indeed. Wouldn't
let me go up to London alone! There's a nice thing for you. And all
because he did let me go once and I meant to stay with mother and
mother was away. So I had to sleep at a hotel. Why shouldn't I sleep
at a hotel! I'm not a baby. And now he keeps me here like a
prisoner. Just as though I were in jail."
"Is he unkind to you?" asked Maggie.
"No, he isn't. It's his horrible kindness I can't stand. He won't
divorce me, he won't let me go away, he just keeps me here and is so
kind and patient that I could kill him. I shall one day. I know I
shall." She stood for a moment, pouting and looking out of the
window. Then suddenly she turned and, flinging her arms around
Maggie, burst into tears.
"Oh, Maggie! I'm so miserable . . . I'm so miserable, Maggie! Why
did I ever come here? Why did I ever marry? I was so happy at home
Maggie comforted her, persuading her that all would soon be well,
that people very quickly forgot their little pieces of scandal, and
that so long as she did not run away or do anything really desperate
all would come right. Maggie discovered that Caroline had escaped
from her crisis with an increased respect and even affection for her
husband. She was afraid of him, and was the sort of woman who must
be afraid of her husband before her married life can settle into any
kind of security.
"And I thought you'd altogether abandoned me!" she ended.
"I wasn't coming while all those people were about," said Maggie.
"You darling!" cried Caroline, kissing her. "Just the same as you
used to be. I was angry I can tell you when month after month went
by and you never came near me. I used to tell people when they asked
me that you were odd. 'She's not a bit like other people,' I would
say; 'not a bit and it's no use expecting her to be. She's always
been queer. I used to know her in London.' They do think you odd
here, darling. They do indeed. No one understands you. So odd for a
clergyman's wife. Well, so you are, aren't you? I always tell them
you had no bringing up."
Caroline in fact very quickly recovered her flow. As soon as she
found that Maggie was not shocked she reasserted her old
superiority. Before the visit was over she had rather despised
Maggie for not being shocked. At Maggie's departure, however, she
was very loving.
"You will come soon again, darling, won't you? It's no use asking
you to dinner because, of course, your husband won't come. But look
in any afternoon--or we might go for a drive in the motor. Good-bye-
Maggie, on her return, found Grace looking at the mid-day post in
the hall. She always did this in a very short-sighted way, taking up
the letters one by one, holding each very close to her eyes, and
sniffing at it as though she were trying to read through the
envelope. This always irritated Maggie, although her own letters
were not very many. To-night, when she heard the hall door open, she
turned and dropped the letters, giving that especial creaking little
gasp that she always did when she was startled.
"Oh, it's you, Maggie, is it? Where've you been?"
"I've been to see Mrs. Purdie," Maggie said defiantly.
Grace paused as though she were going to speak, then turned on her
heel. But just as she reached the sitting-room door she said,
"There's a telegram for you there."
Maggie saw it lying on the table. She picked it up and hesitated. A
wild beating of the heart told her that it must be from Martin. She
didn't know what told her this except that now for so long she had
been expecting to see a telegram lying in just this way on the
table, waiting for her. She took it up with a hand that trembled.
She tore it open and read:
"Come at once. Your aunt dying. Wishes to see you. Magnus."
No need to ask which aunt. When one aunt was mentioned it was Aunt
Anne--of course. Oh, poor Aunt Anne! Maggie longed for her, longed
to be with her, longed to be kind to her, longed to comfort her. And
Mr. Magnus and Martha and Aunt Elizabeth and the cat--she must go at
once, she must catch a train after luncheon.
She went impetuously into her husband's study.
"Oh, Paul!" she cried. "Aunt Anne's dying, and I must go to her at
Paul was sitting in his old armchair before the fire; he was wearing
faded brown slippers that flapped at his heels; his white hair was
tangled; his legs were crossed, the fat broad thighs pressing out
against the shiny black cloth of his trousers. He was chuckling over
an instalment of Anthony Trollope's "Brown Jones and Robinson" in a
very ancient Cornhill.
He looked up, "Maggie, you know it's my sermon-morning--
interruptions--" He had dropped the Cornhill, but not fast enough to
hide it from her.
She looked around at the dirty untidiness of the study. "It's all my
fault, this," she thought. "I should have kept him clean and neat
and keen on his work. I haven't. I've failed."
Then her next thought was: "Grace wouldn't let me--"
The study, in fact, was more untidy than ever, the pictures were
back in their places whence Maggie had once removed them.
Husband and wife looked at one another. If she felt: "I've not
managed my duty," he felt perhaps: "What a child she is after all!"
But between them there was the gulf of their past experience.
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said, yawning. "Is she an old lady?"
"No, she's not," said Maggie, breathing very quickly. "I love her
very much. I've been thinking, Paul, I've not been good about my
relations all this time. I ought to have seen them more. I must go
up to London at once."
"If your aunt's bad and wants you, I suppose you must," he answered.
He got up and came over to her. He kissed her suddenly.
"You'll be wanting some money," he said. "Don't be long away. I'll
She caught the 2.30 train. It seemed very strange to her to be
sitting in it alone after the many months when she had been always
either with Grace or Paul. An odd sense of adventure surrounded her,
and she felt as though she were now at last approaching the climax
to which the slow events of the last two years had been leading.
When she had been a little girl one of the few interesting books in
the house had been The Mysteries of Udulpho. She could see the
romance now, with its four dumpy volumes, the F's so confusingly
like S's, the faded print, and the yellowing page.
She could remember little enough of it, but there had been one scene
near the beginning of the story when the heroine, Emily, looking for
something in the dusk, had noticed some lines pencilled on the
wainscot; these mysterious pencilled lines had been the beginning of
all her troubles, and Maggie, as a small girl, had approached
sometimes in the evening dusk the walls of her attic to see whether
there too verses had been scribbled. Now, obscure in the corner of
her carriage, she felt as though the telegram had been a pencilled
message presaging some great event that would shortly change her
It was a dark and gloomy day, misty with a gale of wind that blew
the smoke into curls and eddies against the sky. There seemed to be
a roar about the vast London station that threatened her personally,
but she beat down her fears, found a taxi, and gave the driver the
As they drove along she felt how much older, how much older she was
then than when she was last in London. Then she had been ignorant of
all life and the world, now she felt that she was an old, old woman
with an infinite knowledge of marriage and men and women and the way
they lived. She looked upon her aunts and indeed all that world that
had surrounded the Chapel as something infinitely childish, and for
that reason rather sweet and touching. She could be kind and
friendly even to Amy Warlock she thought. She wished that she had
some excuse so that she might stay in London a week or two. She felt
that she could stretch her limbs and breathe again now that she was
out of Grace's sight.
And she would find out Uncle Mathew's address and pay him a surprise
visit . . . She laughed in the cab and felt gay and light-hearted
until she remembered the cause of her visit. Poor, poor Aunt Anne!
Oh, she did hope that she would be well enough to recognise her and
to show pleasure at seeing her. The cab had stopped in the well-
remembered street before the same old secret-looking house. Nothing
seemed to have changed, and the sight of it all brought Martin back
to her with so fierce a pang that for a moment breath seemed to
leave her body. It was just near here, only a few steps away, that
he had suddenly appeared, as though from the very paving-stones,
when she had been with Uncle Mathew, and then had gone to supper
with him. It was from this door that he had run on that last
desperate day. She looked up at the windows; the blinds were not
down; her aunt was yet alive; she paid the taxi and rang the bell.
The door was opened by Martha, who seemed infinitely older and more
wrinkled than on the last occasion, her old face was yellow like
drawn parchment and her thin grey hairs were pasted back over her
old skull; she was wearing black mittens.
"Miss Maggie!" and there was a real welcome in her voice. Maggie was
drawn into the dark little hall that smelt of cracknel biscuits and
lamp oil, there was the green baize door, and then suddenly the
shrill cry of the parrot, and then, out of the dark, the fiery eyes
of Thomas the cat.
"Oh, Miss Maggie!" said Martha. "Or I suppose I should say 'Mrs.'
now. It's a long, long time . . ."
"Yes, it is," said Maggie. "How is my aunt?"
"If she lives through the night they'll be surprised," Martha
answered, wheezing and sighing. "Yes, the doctor says--' If Miss
Cardinal sees morning,' he says--" Then as Maggie hesitated at the
bottom of the staircase. "If you'd go straight to the drawing-room,
Miss, Mum, Mr. Magnus is waiting tea for you there."
Maggie went up, past the Armed Men into the old room. She could have
kissed all the things for their old remembered intimacy and
friendliness, the pictures, the books, the old faded carpet, the
fire-screen, the chairs and wall-papers. There, too, was Mr. Magnus,
looking just as he used to look, with his spectacles and his
projecting ears, his timid smile and apologetic voice. He did seem
for a moment afraid of her, then her boyish air, her unfeigned
pleasure and happiness at being back there again, and a certain
childish awkwardness with which she shook hands and sat herself
behind the little tea-table reassured him:
"You're not changed at all," he told her. "Isn't that dreadful?" she
said; "when all the way in the cab I've been telling myself how
utterly different I am."
"I suppose you feel older?" he asked her.
"Older! Why, centuries!"
"You don't look a day," he said, smiling at her.
"That's my short hair," she answered, smiling back at him, "and not
being able to wear my clothes like a grown woman. It's a fact that I
can't get used to long skirts, and in Skeaton it's bad form to cross
your knees. I try and remember--" she sighed. "The truth is I forget
everything just as I used to."
"How is Aunt?" she asked him. He looked very grave, and behind his
smiles and welcome to her she saw that he was a tired and even
"They don't think she can live through the night," he answered her,
"but, thank God, she's out of all pain and will never suffer any
more. She's tranquil in her mind too, and the one thing she wanted
to put her quiet was to see you. She's been worrying about you for
months. Why didn't you come up to see us all this time, Maggie? That
wasn't kind of you."
"No, it wasn't," said Maggie. "But I didn't dare."
"Didn't dare?" he asked, astonished.
"No, there were things all this would have reminded me of too badly.
It wasn't safe to be reminded of them."
"Haven't you been happy, then, there?" he asked her almost in a
"Oh, I don't know," she didn't look up at him. "I made a mistake in
doing it. It was my fault, not theirs. No, I haven't been happy if
you want to know. And I shan't be. There's no chance. It's all
wrong; they all hate me. I seem to them odd, mad, like a witch they
used to burn in the old days. And I can't alter myself. And I don't
It was amazing what good it did her to bring all this out. She had
said none of it to any one before.
"Oh dear, oh dear," sighed Mr. Magnus. "I hadn't known. I thought it
was all going so well. But don't tell your aunt this. When she asks
you, say you're very, very happy and it's all going perfectly. She
must die at peace. Will you, my dear, will you?"
His almost trembling anxiety touched her.
"Why, dear Mr. Magnus, of course I will. And I am happy now that I'm
back with all of you. All I want is for people to be fond of me, you
know, but there's something in me--" She jumped up and stood in
front of him. "Mr. Magnus! You're wise, you write books, you know
all about things, tell me--tell me the absolute truth. Am I odd, am
I queer, am I like a witch that ought to be burnt at the stake?"
He was deeply touched. He put his hands on her shoulders, then
suddenly drew her to him and kissed her.
"I don't find you odd, my dear, but then, God forgive me, I'm odd
myself. We're all rather odd in this house, I'm afraid. But don't
you worry, Maggie. You're worth a wagon-load of ordinary people."
She drew slowly away. She sighed.
"I wish Paul and Grace only thought so," she said.
They had a quiet little tea together; Maggie was longing to ask Mr.
Magnus questions about himself, but she didn't dare to do so. He
wrapped himself in a reserved friendly melancholy which she could
not penetrate. He looked so much older, so much more faded, as
though the heat and fire had gradually stolen away from him and left
him only the grey ghost of what he had been.
"Are you writing any books, Mr. Magnus ?" she asked him.
"Any books?" he answered smiling. "Surely one would be enough, my
dear. I have one half-finished as a matter of fact, but it's not
satisfactory. If it weren't for the bread and butter I don't think
I'd ever tackle it again. Or rather the bread, I should say. It's
precious little butter it brings in."
"What's it called?" she asked.
"'The Toad in the Hole,'" he said.
"What a funny name! What does it mean?"
"I don't know." He shook his head. "It meant something when I began
it, but the meaning doesn't seem important now."
In a little while he left her, saying: "Now if I were you I'd take a
little nap, and later on I'll wake you and we'll go and see your
She slept, lying back in the blue armchair in front of the fire,
with only the leaping flames as light to the room. Strange and dim
but unspeakably sweet were her dreams. It seemed that she had
escaped for ever from Paul and Grace and Skeaton, and that in some
strange way Martin was back with her again, the same old Martin,
with his laugh and the light in his eyes and his rough red face. He
had come into the room--he was standing by the door looking at her;
she ran to him, her hands stretched out, cries of joy on her lips,
but oven as she reached him there was a cry through the house: "Your
Aunt Anne is dead! Your Aunt Anne is dead!" and all the bells began
to toll, and she was in the Chapel again and great crowds surged
past her. Aunt Anne's bier borne on high above them all. She cried
aloud, and woke to find Mr. Magnus standing at her side; one glance
at him told her that he was in terrible distress.
"You must come at once," he said. "Your aunt may have only a few
minutes to live."
She followed him, still only half-awake, rubbing her eyes with her
knuckles, and feeling as though she were continuing that episode
when Martha had led her at the dead of night into her aunt's
The chill of the passages however woke her fully, and then her one
longing and desire was that Aunt Anne should be conscious enough to
recognise her and be aware of her love for her.
The close room, with its smell of medicines and eau-de-Cologne and
its strange breathless hush, frightened her just as it had done once
before. She saw again the religious picture, the bleeding Christ and
the crucifix, the high white bed, the dim windows and the little
table with the bottles and the glasses. It was all as it had been
before. Her terror grew. She felt as though no power could drag her
to that bed. Something lurked there, something horrible and unclean,
that would spring upon her and hold her down with its claws . . .
"Maggie!" said the clear faint voice that she knew so well. Her
terror left her. She did not notice Aunt Elizabeth, who was seated
close to the bed, nor Mr. Magnus, nor the nurse, nor the doctor. She
went forward unafraid.
"Doctor, would you mind . . ." the voice went on. "Three minutes
alone with my niece . . ." The doctor, a stout red-faced man, said
something, the figures, all shadowy in the dim light, withdrew.
Maggie was aware of nothing except that there was something of the
utmost urgency that she must say. She came close to the bed, found a
chair there, sat down and bent forward. There her aunt was lying,
the black hair in a dark shadow across the pillow, the face white
and sharp, and the eyes burning with a fierce far-seeing light.
They had the intense gaze of a blind man to whom sight has suddenly
been given: he cries "I see! I see!" stretching out his arms towards
the sun, the trees, the rich green fields. She turned her head and
put both her hands about Maggie's; she smiled.
Maggie said, "Oh, Aunt Anne, do you feel bad?"
"No dear. I'm in no pain at all. Now that you've come I'm quite
happy. It was my one anxiety." Her voice was very faint, so that
Maggie had to lean forward to catch the words.
"You'll have thought me unkind all this time," said Maggie, "not to
have come, but it hasn't been unkindness. Many times I've wanted,
but there seemed to be so much to do that it wasn't RIGHT to come
"Are you happy, dear?" Aunt Anne said in her ghostly whisper.
"Very, very happy," said Maggie, remembering what Mr. Magnus had
said to her.
Aunt Anne sighed. "Ah, that's good. It was my one worry that you
mightn't be happy. I was all wrong about you, Maggie, trying to push
you my way instead of letting you go your own. I should have waited
for God to show His direction. But I was impatient--and if you were
unhappy--" She broke off and for a moment Maggie thought that she
would speak no more. She lay there, with her eyes closed, like a
She went on again: "I've always loved you, Maggie, from the very
first, but I was so impatient for you to come to God. I thought He
would reveal Himself and you not be ready. He did reveal Himself,
but not as I had thought. He came that night and took Mr. Warlock
with Him--that was true, Maggie, that night. All true--All true. God
will show you His way. It will be revealed to you. Heaven and its
glories. God and His dear Son . . ."
She stopped again and lay with her eyes closed.
Maggie timidly, at last, said:
"Aunt Anne, I want you to forgive me for all my wickedness. I didn't
mean to be wicked, but I just couldn't say my feelings out loud. I
was shy of them somehow. I still am, perhaps. Maybe I always will
be. But I just want to say that I know now how good you were to me
all that time and I'm grateful from my heart."
"You'll get better won't you, Aunt Anne, and then I'll come often?
I'm shy to say my feelings, but I love you. Aunt Anne, for what
you've been to me."
She stopped. There was a deathly stillness in the chamber. The lamp
had sunk low and the fire was a gold cavern. Dusk stole on stealthy
feet from wall to wall. Aunt Anne did not, it seemed, breathe. Her
hands had dropped from Maggie's and her arms lay straight upon the
sheet. Her eyes were closed.
Suddenly she whispered:
"Dear Maggie . . . Maggie . . . My Lord and my God . . . My
Master . . ."
Then very faintly: "The Lord is my Shepherd . . . My Shepherd . . .
He shall lead me forth . . . beside the pastures . . . my rod and my
staff . . . The Lord . . ."
She gave a little sigh and her head rolled to one side.
Maggie, with a startled fear, was suddenly conscious that she was
alone in the room. She went to the door and called for the doctor.
As they gathered about the bed the caverns of the fire fell with the
sharp sound of a closing door.
Next morning Maggie wrote to Paul telling him that her aunt was
dead, that the funeral would be in two days' time, and that she
would stay in London until that was over. She had not very much time
just then to think of the house and the dead woman in it, because on
the breakfast-table there was this letter for her.
23 CROMWELL RD., KENSINGTON, March 12, 1912.
DEAR MRS. TRENCHARD,
I hear that you have come to London to visit your aunt. I have been
hoping for some time past to have an opportunity of seeing you. I am
sure that you will have no wish at all to see me; at the same time I
do beg you to give me half an hour at the above address. Five
o'clock to-morrow would be a good time. Please ask for Miss Warlock.
Believe me, Yours faithfully, AMY WARLOCK.
Maggie stared at the signature, then, with a thickly beating heart,
decided that of course she would go. She was not afraid but--
Martin's sister! What would come of it? The house was strangely
silent; Aunt Elizabeth sniffed into her handkerchief a good deal;
Mr. Magnus, his face strained with a look of intense fatigue, went
out about some business. The blinds of the house wore down and all
the rooms were bathed in a green twilight.
About quarter past four Maggie went down into the Strand and found a
cab. She gave the address and off they went. Sitting in the corner
of the cab she seemed to be an entirely passive spectator of events
that were being played before her. She knew, remotely, that Aunt
Anne's death had deeply affected her, that coming back to the old
house had deeply affected her, and that this interview with Amy
Warlock might simply fasten on her the fate that she had for many
months now seen in front of her. She could not escape; and she did
not want to escape.
They found the house, a very grimy looking one, in the interminable
Cromwell Road. Maggie rang a jangling bell, and the door was
ultimately opened by a woman with sleeves turned up at the elbows
and a dirty apron.
"Is Miss Warlock at home?" The woman sniffed.
"I expect so," she said. "Most times she is. What name?"
"Mrs. Trenchard," Maggie said.
She was admitted into a hall that smelt of food and seemed in the
half-light to be full of umbrellas. The woman went upstairs, but
soon returned to say that Miss Warlock would see the lady. Maggie
found that in the sitting-room the gas was dimly burning. There was
the usual lodging-house furniture, and on a faded red sofa near the
fire old Mrs. Warlock was lying. Maggie could not see her very
clearly in the half-light, but there was something about her
immobility and the stiffness of her head (decorated as of old with
its frilly white cap) that reminded one of a figure made out of wax.
Maggie turned to find Amy Warlock standing close to her.
"Mrs. Thurston--" Maggie began, hesitating.
"You may not know," said Amy Warlock, "that I have retained my
maiden name. Sit down, won't you? It is good of you to have come."
The voice was a little more genial than it had been in the old days.
Nevertheless this was still the old Amy Warlock, stiff, masculine,
"I hope your aunt is better," she said.
"My aunt is dead," answered Maggie.
"Dear me, I'm sorry to hear that. She was a good woman and did many
kind actions in her time."
There was something very unpleasant about that room, with the yellow
light, the hissing gas, and the immobile figure on the sofa. Maggie
looked in the direction of old Mrs. Warlock
"You needn't mind mother," said Amy Warlock. "For some time now
she's been completely paralysed. She can't speak or move. But she
likes to be downstairs, to see the world a bit. It's sad after the
way that she used to enjoy life. Father's death was a great shock to
It was sad. Maggie remembered how fond she had been of her food.
Like a waxen image! Like a waxen image! The whole room was ghoulish
"I've asked you to come and see me, Mrs. Trenchard," continued Miss
Warlock, "not because we can have any wish to meet, I am sure. We
have never liked one another. But I have something on my conscience,
and I may not have another opportunity of speaking to you. I don't
suppose you have heard that very shortly I intend to enter a nunnery
"And your mother?" asked Maggie.
"Mother will go into a Home," answered Miss Warlock.
There was a strange little sound from the sofa like a rat nibbling
behind the wainscot.
"I must tell you," said Miss Warlock, speaking apparently with some
difficulty, "that I have done you a wrong. Shortly after my father's
death my brother wrote to you from Paris."
"Wrote to me?" repeated Maggie.
"Yes--wrote to you through me. I destroyed the letters. He wrote
then five times in rather swift succession. I destroyed all the
Maggie said nothing.
"I destroyed the letters," continued Amy Warlock, "because I did not
wish you and my brother to come together. I did not wish you to,
simply out of hatred for you both. I thought that my brother killed
my father--whom--whom--I loved. I knew that the one human being whom
Martin had ever loved beside his father was yourself. He did love
you, Mrs. Trenchard, more truly than I had believed it in his power
to love any one. I think you could have made him happy--therefore I
did not wish you to meet again."
There was a pause. Maggie said at last:
"Were there no other letters?"
"Yes," said Miss Warlock. "One this summer. For more than a year
there was nothing; then this summer, a little one. I destroyed that
"What did it say?" asked Maggie.
"It said that the woman to whom he had been married was dead. He
said that if you didn't answer this letter he would understand that
you would not want to hear from him any more. He had been very ill."
"Where did he write that?"
"And where is he now?"
"I don't know. I have heard from him no more."
Maggie got up and stood, her head raised as though listening for
"You've been very cruel, Miss Warlock," she said.
"Perhaps I have," said Miss Warlock. "But you cannot judge until you
know with what reason I hated my brother. It is a very old story.
However, now I hate no one. I will not apologise for what I have
done. I do not want your forgiveness. I had to absolve my
"And you have no idea where he is now?"
"I have no idea. He may be dead for all I know."
Maggie shivered. "If you have any more information you will give it
"I will give it you."
"This is my address." Maggie gave her a card.
They said good-day, looking for one moment, face to face, eye to
Then Maggie turned and went. Her eyes were dim so that she stumbled
on the stairs. In the street she walked, caring nothing of her
direction, seeing only Martin.
DEATH OF UNCLE MATHEW
Grace, during the days that Maggie was in London, regained something
of her old tranquillity. It was wonderful to her to be able to
potter about the house once more mistress of all that she surveyed
and protected from every watching eye. She had had, from her very
earliest years, a horror of being what she called "overlooked."
She had a habit of stopping, when she had climbed halfway upstairs,
of suddenly jerking her head round to see whether any one were
looking at her. You would have sworn, had you seen her, that she was
deeply engaged upon some nefarious and underhand plot; yet it was
not so-she was simply going to dust some of her hideous china
treasures in her bedroom.
Always after breakfast there was this pleasant ritual. She would
plod all round the house, duster in hand, picking things up. giving
them a little flick and putting them back again, patting treasures
that she especially loved, sighing heavily with satisfaction at the
pleasant sight of all her possessions tranquilly in their right
places. As she looked around the ugly sitting-room and saw the red
glazed pots with the ferns, the faded football-groups, the worsted
mats and the china shepherdesses, a rich warm feeling rose in her
heart and filled her whole body. It was like a fine meal to a hungry
man: every morning at half-past nine she was hungry in this fashion,
and every morning by eleven o'clock she was satisfied. Her thick
body thus promenaded the house; she was like a stolid policeman in
female attire, going his rounds to see that all was well. From room
to room she went, pausing to pant for breath on the stairs,
stumbling always because of her short sight at the three dark little
steps just outside Paul's bedroom, always sitting down on her bed
"to take a breath" and to get a full gaze at the crucifix of bright
yellow wood, that hung just under her mother's picture. Tramp,
tramp, tramp round the house she went.
It was incredible how deeply Maggie had interfered with this ritual.
She had certainly not intended to do so. After that first effort to
change certain things in the house she had retired from the battle,
had completely capitulated. Nevertheless she had interfered with all
Grace's movements and, as the terror of her grew, it seemed to
pervade every nook and corner of the house, so that Grace felt that
she could go nowhere without that invasion. Oh, how she resented it,
and how afraid she was! After Paul and Maggie returned from that
summer holiday she saw that Paul too felt Maggie's strangeness. To
Grace, from the beginning of that autumn, every movement and gesture
of Maggie's was strange. The oddity of her appearance, her ignorance
of everything that seemed to Grace to be life, her strange, half-
mocking, half-wondering attitude to the Church and its affairs
("like a heathen in Central Africa"), her dislike of the Maxses and
the Pynsents and her liking for the Toms and Caroline Purdie, her
odd silences and still odder speeches, all these things increased
the atmosphere that separated her from the rest of the world.
Then came the day when Grace, dusting in Maggie's bedroom,
discovered the bundle of letters. She read them, read them with
shame at her own dishonesty and anger at Maggie for making her
dishonest. To her virgin ignorance the passion in them spoke of
illicit love and the grossest immorality. Her heart burnt with a
strange mingling of envy, jealousy, loneliness, shame, and eagerness
to know more . . .
Then came Uncle Mathew's visit; then Caroline Purdie's disgrace. The
count was fully charged. Maggie, that strange girl found in the
heart of London's darkness, alone, without friends or parents, was a
witch, a devilish, potion-dealing witch, who might, at any time, fly
through the night-sky on a broom-stick as surely as any mediaeval
old hag. These visions might be exaggerated for many human beings,
not so for Grace. Having no imagination she was soaked in
superstition. She clung to a few simple pictures, and was exposed to
every terror that those pictures could supply.
Maggie now haunted her day and night. Everywhere she could feel
Maggie's eyes piercing her. A thousand times an hour she looked up
to see whether Maggie were not there in the room watching her. She
hated her now with terror that was partly fear for her own safety,
partly love and jealousy for Paul, partly outraged modesty and
tradition, partly sheer panic.
She had, as yet, said very little to Paul. She waited the right
moment. Maggie's absence showed her how deep and devastating this
fear had been. She saw that it embraced the whole life of Paul and
herself in Skeaton. She had grown fond of Skeaton; she was a woman
who would inevitably care for anything when she had become
thoroughly accustomed to its ways and was assured that it would do
her no harm.
She liked the shops and the woods, the sand and the sea. Above all,
she adored the Church. During a large part of every day she was
there, pottering about, talking to the caretaker, poking her nose
into the hymn-books to see whether the choir-boys had drawn pictures
in them, rubbing the brasses, making tidy the vestry. The house too
she loved, and the garden and the bottles on the wall. She might
have known that she was not popular in the place, she cannot have
failed to realise that she had no woman friend and that she was
seldom invited to dinner. This did not matter to her. Her
affections--and they were very real and genuine--were all for her
brother. Had she Paul she wanted no one else. That was enough.
And now it might be that they would have to leave the place. Already
the talk about Maggie was intolerable. Grace heard it on every side.
After Mathew Cardinal's visit the talk rose to a shriek. Grace knew
that those sudden silences on her entrance into the room meant
lively and excited discussion. "How terrible for the poor rector!"
"Such an odd girl--taken out of the slums." "Yes, quite drunk. He
knocked Mrs. Maxse down." "Oh I assure you that she went to see
Caroline Purdie the very day after. She did indeed . . ."
Yes. Grace knew all about it. Unless things changed Paul would have
to go. His life was ruined by this girl.
Nevertheless for a whole happy week the world seemed to sink back
into its old accustomed apathy. The very house seemed to take on its
old atmosphere. Paul came out of his study and went about paying
calls. That hour, from six to seven, when he was at home to his
parishioners seemed once again to be crowded with anxious old women
and men out of work and girls in trouble. He took Grace with him on
his rounds. Every one was very friendly. Grace was able to reassume
some of her old importance.
Her old flow of conversation--checked recently by the sense of
Maggie's strangeness--returned to her. In the morning she would
stand by her brother's study-table, duster in hand, and pour out her
"You know, Paul, it's all very well, you may say what you like, but
if Mrs. Maxse thinks she's going to have the whole of that second
pew she's mistaken. It's only for a week or two that she's got the
Broadbents staying with her, and I know what she's after. Just
fancy! What she wants is to put the Broadbents in that second seat
the two Sundays they're here and then stick to it after they're
gone. Just fancy what Miss Beats and Miss Hopwood will feel about
it! What I mean is that they've had that seat for nearly eight years
and now to be turned out! But I assure you, Paul, from what Linda
Maxse said to me yesterday I believe she intends that, I do indeed.
She thinks Miss Beats and Miss Hopwood will get used to sitting
somewhere else after two Sundays. 'I'm sure they won't mind--poor
old things,' she said only yesterday. 'Poor old things.' Just fancy!
Why, Mary Beats is very little older than I. You'll have to put your
foot down about it, you will, indeed, Paul. Yes, you will. Give
Linda Maxse an inch and she takes a mile, I always said--and this is
just the kind of thing . . ."
So happily Grace ran on and Paul looked up from his desk at her,
digging his fingers into his white hair, smiling at her in just the
old confidential way that he used to have before Maggie came.
She revived, too, her old habit of talking to herself. This had
always been an immense relief to her--it had helped her to feel
reassurance. Lately she had felt that Maggie was overhearing her and
was laughing at her; this had checked her and made her suspicious.
Now as she began to mount the stairs she would murmur to herself:
"It might be better to tell Jenny to go to Bartletts. After all,
it's quicker that way, and she'll be able to tell the boy to bring
the things back. She needn't wait. All the same she's stupid, she'll
make a muddle of it as likely as not. And Womball's boy is livelier
than Bartletts'. That's something after all. But if she goes out at
two-thirty she'll never be back by four--unless she went by Smith's
lane of course--she might do that . . . Oh, dear, these stairs are a
trial . . . yes, she might do that, and then she'd only be an hour
altogether. I'll suggest that . . ."
Her murmur was a cheerful monotonous sound accompanying her as she
went. She would stop and rub the side of her nose with her thumb,
considering. In the house, when there was no fear of callers, she
wore large loose slippers that tap-tapped as she went. In the
evenings she sat in Paul's study all amongst the Cornhills, The
Temple Bars, and The Bible Concordances. They were very cosy and
happy, and she talked incessantly. For some reason she did not dare
to ask him whether he were not happier now that Maggie was away.
She did not dare. There was not the complete confidence that there
had been. Paul was strange a little, bewitched by Maggie's
strangeness . . . There was something there that Grace did not
understand. So she said nothing, but she tried to convey to him, in
the peculiar warmth of her good-night kiss, what she felt.
Then Maggie returned. She came back in her black clothes and with
her pale face. Her aunt had died. She was more alone even than
before. She was very quiet, and agreed to everything that Grace
said. Nevertheless, although she agreed, she was more antagonistic
than she had been. She had now something that intensely preoccupied
her. Grace could see that she was always thinking about something
that had nothing to do with Skeaton or Paul or the house. She was
more absent-minded than ever, forgot everything, liked best to sit
in her bedroom all alone.
"Oh, she's mad!" said Grace. "She's really mad! Just fancy if she
should go right off her head!" Grace was now so desperately
frightened that she lay awake at night, sweating, listening to every
sound. "If she should come and murder me one night," she thought.
Another thought she had was: "It's just as though she sees some one
all the time who isn't there."
Then came 13th March, that dreadful day that would be never
forgotten by Grace so long as she lived. During the whole of the
past week Skeaton had been delivered up to a tempest of wind and
rain. The High Street, emptied of human beings, had glittered and
swayed under the sweeping storm. The Skeaton sea, possessing
suddenly a life of its own, had stormed upon the Skeaton promenade,
and worried and lashed and soaked that hideous structure to within
an inch of its unnatural life. Behind the town the woods had swayed
and creaked, funeral black against the grey thick sky. Across the
folds the rain fell in slanting sheets with the sibilant hiss of
relentless power and resolve.
After luncheon, on this day the 13th, Maggie disappeared into the
upper part of the house and Grace settled down on the drawing-room
sofa to a nice little nap. She fell asleep to the comforting patter
of rain upon the windows and the howling of the storm down the
chimney. She dreamt, as she often did, about food.
She was awakened, with a sudden start, by a sense of apprehension.
This happened to her now so often that there was nothing strange in
it, but she jumped up, with beating heart, from the sofa, crying
out: "What's happened? What's the matter?"
She realised that the room had grown darker since she fell asleep,
and although it was early still there was a sort of grey twilight
that stood out against a deeper dusk in the garden beyond.
"What is it?" she said again, and then saw that Jenny, the maid, was
standing in the doorway.
"Well, Jenny?" she asked, trying to recover some of her dignity.
"It's a man, mum," said the little girl. (Grace had got her cheap
from an orphanage.) "A gentleman, mum. He's asking for Mrs.
Trenchard. 'E give me 'is card. Oh, mum, 'e is wet too!"
She had scarcely finished, and Grace had only taken the card, when
Mathew Cardinal came forward out of the hall. He was a dim and
mysterious figure in that half-light, but Grace could see that he
was more battered and shabby than on his last visit. His coat collar
was turned up. She could only very vaguely see his face, but it
seemed to her strangely white when before it had been so grossly
She was struck by his immobility. Partly perhaps because she had
been roused from sleep and was yet neither clear nor resolved, he
seemed to her some nightmare figure. This was the man who was
responsible for all the trouble and scandal, this was the man who
threatened to drive Paul and herself from her home, this was the
blackguard who had not known how to behave in decent society. But
behind that was the terror of the mystery that enveloped Maggie--the
girl's uncle, the man who had shared in her strange earlier life,
and made her what she now was. As he stood there, motionless,
silent, the water dripping from his clothes, Grace was as frightened
as though he had already offered her personal violence or held a
pistol to her head.
"What do you want?" she asked hoarsely, stepping back to the sofa.
Jenny had left the room.
"I want to see my niece," he answered, still without moving. She
recognised then, strangely, in his voice a terror akin to her own.
He also was afraid of something. Of what? It was not that his voice
shook or that his tongue faltered. But he was terrified . . . She
could feel his heart thumping behind the words.
"I'm sorry," she said. "You can't see her. She's upstairs resting."
She did not know whence the resolution had come that he was not, in
any case, to see Maggie; she did not know what catastrophe she
anticipated from their meeting. She was simply resolved, as though
acting under the blind orders of some other power, that Maggie
should not see him and that he should leave the house at once.
"I must see her," he said, and the desperate urgency in his voice
would have touched any one less terrified than Grace. "I must."
"I'm sorry," she answered. The fear in his voice seemed now to give
her superiority over him. "It's impossible."
"Oh no," he said. "If she's here it can't be impossible. She'd want
to see me. We have things . . . I must . . . You don't understand,
"I only know," said Grace, "that after what occurred on your last
visit here, Mr. Cardinal, Maggie said that she would never see you
"That's a lie!" he said.