Part 2 out of 6
"H'm!" Stanley murmured. "Felix said some very queer things the
other night. He, too, might make ructions."
Oh, no!--Clara persisted--Felix had too much good taste. She
thought that something might be coming out of this occasion,
something as it were national, that would bear fruit. And watching
Stanley buttoning his braces, she grew enthusiastic. For, think
how splendidly everything was represented! Britto, with his view
that the thing had gone too far, and all the little efforts we
might make now were no good, with Canada and those great spaces to
outbid anything we could do; though she could not admit that he was
right, there was a lot in what he said; he had great gifts--and
some day might--who knew? Then there was Sir John--Clara pursued--
who was almost the father of the new Tory policy: Assist the
farmers to buy their own land. And Colonel Martlett, representing
the older Tory policy of: What the devil would happen to the
landowners if they did? Secretly (Clara felt sure) he would never
go into a lobby to support that. He had said to her: 'Look at my
brother James's property; if we bring this policy in, and the
farmers take advantage, his house might stand there any day without
an acre round it.' Quite true--it might. The same might even
happen to Becket.
Exactly!--Clara went on: And that was the beauty of having got the
Mallorings; theirs was such a steady point of view, and she was not
sure that they weren't right, and the whole thing really a question
of model proprietorship.
"H'm!" Stanley muttered. "Felix will have his knife into that."
Clara did not think that mattered. The thing was to get
everybody's opinion. Even Mr. Moorsome's would be valuable--if he
weren't so terrifically silent, for he must think a lot, sitting
all day, as he did, painting the land.
"He's a heavy ass," said Stanley.
Yes; but Clara did not wish to be narrow. That was why it was so
splendid to have got Mr. Sleesor. If anybody knew the Radical mind
he did, and he could give full force to what one always felt was at
the bottom of it--that the Radicals' real supporters were the urban
classes; so that their policy must not go too far with 'the Land,'
for fear of seeming to neglect the towns. For, after all, in the
end it was out of the pockets of the towns that 'the Land' would
have to be financed, and nobody really could expect the towns to
get anything out of it. Stanley paused in the adjustment of his
tie; his wife was a shrewd woman.
"You've hit it there," he said. "Wiltram will give it him hot on
Of course, Clara assented. And it was magnificent that they had
got Henry Wiltram, with his idealism and his really heavy corn tax;
not caring what happened to the stunted products of the towns--and
they truly were stunted, for all that the Radicals and the half-
penny press said--till at all costs we could grow our own food.
There was a lot in that.
"Yes," Stanley muttered, "and if he gets on to it, shan't I have a
jolly time of it in the smoking-room? I know what Cuthcott's like
with his shirt out."
Clara's eyes brightened; she was very curious herself to see Mr.
Cuthcott with his--that is, to hear him expound the doctrine he was
always writing up, namely, that 'the Land' was gone and, short of
revolution, there was nothing for it but garden cities. She had
heard he was so cutting and ferocious that he really did seem as if
he hated his opponents. She hoped he would get a chance--perhaps
Felix could encourage him.
"What about the women?" Stanley asked suddenly. "Will they stand a
political powwow? One must think of them a bit."
Clara had. She was taking a farewell look at herself in the far-
away mirror through the door into her bedroom. It was a mistake--
she added--to suppose that women were not interested in 'the Land.'
Lady Britto was most intelligent, and Mildred Malloring knew every
cottage on her estate.
"Pokes her nose into 'em often enough," Stanley muttered.
Lady Fanfar again, and Mrs. Sleesor, and even Hilda Martlett, were
interested in their husbands, and Miss Bawtrey, of course,
interested in everything. As for Maude Ughtred, all talk would be
the same to her; she was always week-ending. Stanley need not
worry--it would be all right; some real work would get done, some
real advance be made. So saying, she turned her fine shoulders
twice, once this way and once that, and went out. She had never
told even Stanley her ambition that at Becket, under her aegis,
should be laid the foundation-stone of the real scheme, whatever it
might be, that should regenerate 'the Land.' Stanley would only
have laughed; even though it would be bound to make him Lord
Freeland when it came to be known some day. . . .
To the eyes and ears of Nedda that evening at dinner, all was new
indeed, and all wonderful. It was not that she was unaccustomed to
society or to conversation, for to their house at Hampstead many
people came, uttering many words, but both the people and the words
were so very different. After the first blush, the first
reconnaissance of the two Bigwigs between whom she sat, her eyes
WOULD stray and her ears would only half listen to them. Indeed,
half her ears, she soon found out, were quite enough to deal with
Colonel Martlett and Sir John Fanfar. Across the azaleas she let
her glance come now and again to anchor on her father's face, and
exchanged with him a most enjoyable blink. She tried once or twice
to get through to Alan, but he was always eating; he looked very
like a young Uncle Stanley this evening.
What was she feeling? Short, quick stabs of self-consciousness as
to how she was looking; a sort of stunned excitement due to sheer
noise and the number of things offered to her to eat and drink;
keen pleasure in the consciousness that Colonel Martlett and Sir
John Fanfar and other men, especially that nice one with the
straggly moustache who looked as if he were going to bite, glanced
at her when they saw she wasn't looking. If only she had been
quite certain that it was not because they thought her too young to
be there! She felt a sort of continual exhilaration, that this was
the great world--the world where important things were said and
done, together with an intense listening expectancy, and a sense
most unexpected and almost frightening, that nothing important was
being said or would be done. But this she knew to be impudent. On
Sunday evenings at home people talked about a future existence,
about Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Chinese pictures, post-impressionism, and
would suddenly grow hot and furious about peace, and Strauss,
justice, marriage, and De Maupassant, and whether people were
losing their souls through materialism, and sometimes one of them
would get up and walk about the room. But to-night the only words
she could catch were the names of two politicians whom nobody
seemed to approve of, except that nice one who was going to bite.
Once very timidly she asked Colonel Martlett whether he liked
Strauss, and was puzzled by his answer: "Rather; those 'Tales of
Hoffmann' are rippin', don't you think? You go to the opera much?"
She could not, of course, know that the thought which instantly
rose within her was doing the governing classes a grave injustice--
almost all of whom save Colonel Martlett knew that the 'Tales of
Hoffmann' were by one Offenbach. But beyond all things she felt
she would never, never learn to talk as they were all talking--so
quickly, so continuously, so without caring whether everybody or
only the person they were talking to heard what they said. She had
always felt that what you said was only meant for the person you
said it to, but here in the great world she must evidently not say
anything that was not meant for everybody, and she felt terribly
that she could not think of anything of that sort to say. And
suddenly she began to want to be alone. That, however, was surely
wicked and wasteful, when she ought to be learning such a
tremendous lot; and yet, what was there to learn? And listening
just sufficiently to Colonel Martlett, who was telling her how
great a man he thought a certain general, she looked almost
despairingly at the one who was going to bite. He was quite silent
at that moment, gazing at his plate, which was strangely empty.
And Nedda thought: 'He has jolly wrinkles about his eyes, only they
might be heart disease; and I like the color of his face, so nice
and yellow, only that might be liver. But I DO like him--I wish
I'd been sitting next to him; he looks real.' From that thought,
of the reality of a man whose name she did not know, she passed
suddenly into the feeling that nothing else of this about her was
real at all, neither the talk nor the faces, not even the things
she was eating. It was all a queer, buzzing dream. Nor did that
sensation of unreality cease when her aunt began collecting her
gloves, and they trooped forth to the drawing-room. There, seated
between Mrs. Sleesor and Lady Britto, with Lady Malloring opposite,
and Miss Bawtrey leaning over the piano toward them, she pinched
herself to get rid of the feeling that, when all these were out of
sight of each other, they would become silent and have on their
lips a little, bitter smile. Would it be like that up in their
bedrooms, or would it only be on her (Nedda's) own lips that this
little smile would come? It was a question she could not answer;
nor could she very well ask it of any of these ladies. She looked
them over as they sat there talking and felt very lonely. And
suddenly her eyes fell on her grandmother. Frances Freeland was
seated halfway down the long room in a sandalwood chair, somewhat
insulated by a surrounding sea of polished floor. She sat with a
smile on her lips, quite still, save for the continual movement of
her white hands on her black lap. To her gray hair some lace of
Chantilly was pinned with a little diamond brooch, and hung behind
her delicate but rather long ears. And from her shoulders was
depended a silvery garment, of stuff that looked like the mail
shirt of a fairy, reaching the ground on either side. A tacit
agreement had evidently been come to, that she was incapable of
discussing 'the Land' or those other subjects such as the French
murder, the Russian opera, the Chinese pictures, and the doings of
one, L---- , whose fate was just then in the air, so that she sat
And Nedda thought: 'How much more of a lady she looks than anybody
here! There's something deep in her to rest on that isn't in the
Bigwigs; perhaps it's because she's of a different generation.'
And, getting up, she went over and sat down beside her on a little
Frances Freeland rose at once and said:
"Now, my darling, you can't be comfortable in that tiny chair. You
must take mine."
"Oh, no, Granny; please!"
"Oh, yes; but you must! It's so comfortable, and I've simply been
longing to sit in the chair you're in. Now, darling, to please
Seeing that a prolonged struggle would follow if she did not get
up, Nedda rose and changed chairs.
"Do you like these week-ends, Granny?"
Frances Freeland seemed to draw her smile more resolutely across
her face. With her perfect articulation, in which there was,
however, no trace of bigwiggery, she answered:
"I think they're most interesting, darling. It's so nice to see
new people. Of course you don't get to know them, but it's very
amusing to watch, especially the head-dresses!" And sinking her
voice: "Just look at that one with the feather going straight up;
did you ever see such a guy?" and she cackled with a very gentle
archness. Gazing at that almost priceless feather, trying to reach
God, Nedda felt suddenly how completely she was in her
grandmother's little camp; how entirely she disliked bigwiggery.
Frances Freeland's voice brought her round.
"Do you know, darling, I've found the most splendid thing for
eyebrows? You just put a little on every night and it keeps them
in perfect order. I must give you my little pot."
"I don't like grease, Granny."
"Oh! but this isn't grease, darling. It's a special thing; and you
only put on just the tiniest touch."
Diving suddenly into the recesses of something, she produced an
exiguous round silver box. Prizing it open, she looked over her
shoulder at the Bigwigs, then placed her little finger on the
contents of the little box, and said very softly:
"You just take the merest touch, and you put it on like that, and
it keeps them together beautifully. Let me! Nobody'll see!"
Quite well understanding that this was all part of her
grandmother's passion for putting the best face upon things, and
having no belief in her eyebrows, Nedda bent forward; but in a
sudden flutter of fear lest the Bigwigs might observe the
operation, she drew back, murmuring: "Oh, Granny, darling! Not
At that moment the men came in, and, under cover of the necessary
confusion, she slipped away into the window.
It was pitch-black outside, with the moon not yet up. The bloomy,
peaceful dark out there! Wistaria and early roses, clustering in,
had but the ghost of color on their blossoms. Nedda took a rose in
her fingers, feeling with delight its soft fragility, its coolness
against her hot palm. Here in her hand was a living thing, here
was a little soul! And out there in the darkness were millions
upon millions of other little souls, of little flame-like or
coiled-up shapes alive and true.
A voice behind her said:
"Nothing nicer than darkness, is there?"
She knew at once it was the one who was going to bite; the voice
was proper for him, having a nice, smothery sound. And looking
round gratefully, she said:
"Do you like dinner-parties?"
It was jolly to watch his eyes twinkle and his thin cheeks puff
out. He shook his head and muttered through that straggly
"You're a niece, aren't you? I know your father. He's a big man."
Hearing those words spoken of her father, Nedda flushed.
"Yes, he is," she said fervently.
Her new acquaintance went on:
"He's got the gift of truth--can laugh at himself as well as
others; that's what makes him precious. These humming-birds here
to-night couldn't raise a smile at their own tomfoolery to save
their silly souls."
He spoke still in that voice of smothery wrath, and Nedda thought:
'He IS nice!'
"They've been talking about 'the Land'"--he raised his hands and
ran them through his palish hair--"'the Land!' Heavenly Father!
'The Land!' Why! Look at that fellow!"
Nedda looked and saw a man, like Richard Coeur de Lion in the
history books, with a straw-colored moustache just going gray.
"Sir Gerald Malloring--hope he's not a friend of yours! Divine
right of landowners to lead 'the Land' by the nose! And our friend
Nedda, following his eyes, saw a robust, quick-eyed man with a
suave insolence in his dark, clean-shaved face.
"Because at heart he's just a supercilious ruffian, too cold-
blooded to feel, he'll demonstrate that it's no use to feel--waste
of valuable time--ha! valuable!--to act in any direction. And
that's a man they believe things of. And poor Henry Wiltram, with
his pathetic: 'Grow our own food--maximum use of the land as food-
producer, and let the rest take care of itself!' As if we weren't
all long past that feeble individualism; as if in these days of
world markets the land didn't stand or fall in this country as a
breeding-ground of health and stamina and nothing else. Well, well!"
"Aren't they really in earnest, then?" asked Nedda timidly.
"Miss Freeland, this land question is a perfect tragedy. Bar one
or two, they all want to make the omelette without breaking eggs;
well, by the time they begin to think of breaking them, mark me--
there'll be no eggs to break. We shall be all park and suburb.
The real men on the land, what few are left, are dumb and helpless;
and these fellows here for one reason or another don't mean
business--they'll talk and tinker and top-dress--that's all. Does
your father take any interest in this? He could write something
"He takes interest in everything," said Nedda. "Please go on, Mr.--
Mr.--" She was terribly afraid he would suddenly remember that
she was too young and stop his nice, angry talk.
"Cuthcott. I'm an editor, but I was brought up on a farm, and know
something about it. You see, we English are grumblers, snobs to
the backbone, want to be something better than we are; and
education nowadays is all in the direction of despising what is
quiet and humdrum. We never were a stay-at-home lot, like the
French. That's at the back of this business--they may treat it as
they like, Radicals or Tories, but if they can't get a fundamental
change of opinion into the national mind as to what is a sane and
profitable life; if they can't work a revolution in the spirit of
our education, they'll do no good. There'll be lots of talk and
tinkering, tariffs and tommy-rot, and, underneath, the land-bred
men dying, dying all the time. No, madam, industrialism and vested
interests have got us! Bar the most strenuous national heroism,
there's nothing for it now but the garden city!"
"Then if we WERE all heroic, 'the Land' could still be saved?"
Mr. Cuthcott smiled.
"Of course we might have a European war or something that would
shake everything up. But, short of that, when was a country ever
consciously and homogeneously heroic--except China with its opium?
When did it ever deliberately change the spirit of its education,
the trend of its ideas; when did it ever, of its own free will, lay
its vested interests on the altar; when did it ever say with a
convinced and resolute heart: 'I will be healthy and simple before
anything. I will not let the love of sanity and natural conditions
die out of me!' When, Miss Freeland, when?"
And, looking so hard at Nedda that he almost winked, he added:
"You have the advantage of me by thirty years. You'll see what I
shall not--the last of the English peasant. Did you ever read
'Erewhon,' where the people broke up their machines? It will take
almost that sort of national heroism to save what's left of him,
For answer, Nedda wrinkled her brows horribly. Before her there
had come a vision of the old, lame man, whose name she had found
out was Gaunt, standing on the path under the apple-trees, looking
at that little something he had taken from his pocket. Why she
thought of him thus suddenly she had no idea, and she said quickly:
"It's awfully interesting. I do so want to hear about 'the Land.'
I only know a little about sweated workers, because I see something
"It's all of a piece," said Mr. Cuthcott; "not politics at all, but
religion--touches the point of national self-knowledge and faith,
the point of knowing what we want to become and of resolving to
become it. Your father will tell you that we have no more idea of
that at present than a cat of its own chemical composition. As for
these good people here to-night--I don't want to be disrespectful,
but if they think they're within a hundred miles of the land
question, I'm a--I'm a Jingo--more I can't say."
And, as if to cool his head, he leaned out of the window.
"Nothing is nicer than darkness, as I said just now, because you
can only see the way you MUST go instead of a hundred and fifty
ways you MIGHT. In darkness your soul is something like your own;
in daylight, lamplight, moonlight, never."
Nedda's spirit gave a jump; he seemed almost at last to be going to
talk about the things she wanted, above all, to find out. Her
cheeks went hot, she clenched her hands and said resolutely:
"Mr. Cuthcott, do you believe in God?"
Mr. Cuthcott made a queer, deep little noise; it was not a laugh,
however, and it seemed as if he knew she could not bear him to look
at her just then.
"H'm!" he said. "Every one does that--according to their natures.
Some call God IT, some HIM, some HER, nowadays--that's all. You
might as well ask--do I believe that I'm alive?"
"Yes," said Nedda, "but which do YOU call God?"
As she asked that, he gave a wriggle, and it flashed through her:
'He must think me an awful enfant terrible!' His face peered round
at her, queer and pale and puffy, with nice, straight eyes; and she
"It isn't a fair question, is it? Only you talked about darkness,
and the only way--so I thought--"
"Quite a fair question. My answer is, of course: 'All three'; but
the point is rather: Does one wish to make even an attempt to
define God to oneself? Frankly, I don't! I'm content to feel that
there is in one some kind of instinct toward perfection that one
will still feel, I hope, when the lights are going out; some kind
of honour forbidding one to let go and give up. That's all I've
got; I really don't know that I want more."
Nedda clasped her hands.
"I like that," she said; "only--what is perfection, Mr. Cuthcott?"
Again he emitted that deep little sound.
"Ah!" he repeated, "what is perfection? Awkward, that--isn't it?"
"Is it"--Nedda rushed the words out--"is it always to be sacrificing
yourself, or is it--is it always to be--to be expressing yourself?"
"To some--one; to some--the other; to some--half one, half the
"But which is it to me?"
"Ah! that you've got to find out for yourself. There's a sort of
metronome inside us--wonderful, sell-adjusting little machine; most
delicate bit of mechanism in the world--people call it conscience--
that records the proper beat of our tempos. I guess that's all we
have to go by."
Nedda said breathlessly:
"Yes; and it's frightfully hard, isn't it?"
"Exactly," Mr. Cuthcott answered. "That's why people devised
religions and other ways of having the thing done second-hand. We
all object to trouble and responsibility if we can possibly avoid
it. Where do you live?"
"Your father must be a stand-by, isn't he?"
"Oh, yes; Dad's splendid; only, you see, I AM a good deal younger
than he. There was just one thing I was going to ask you. Are
these very Bigwigs?"
Mr. Cuthcott turned to the room and let his screwed-up glance
wander. He looked just then particularly as if he were going to
"If you take 'em at their own valuation: Yes. If at the
country's: So-so. If at mine: Ha! I know what you'd like to
ask: Should I be a Bigwig in THEIR estimation? Not I! As you
knock about, Miss Freeland, you'll find out one thing--all
bigwiggery is founded on: Scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours.
Seriously, these are only tenpenny ones; but the mischief is, that
in the matter of 'the Land,' the men who really are in earnest are
precious scarce. Nothing short of a rising such as there was in
1832 would make the land question real, even for the moment. Not
that I want to see one--God forbid! Those poor doomed devils were
treated worse than dogs, and would be again."
Before Nedda could pour out questions about the rising in 1832,
Stanley's voice said:
"Cuthcott, I want to introduce you!"
Her new friend screwed his eyes up tighter and, muttering
something, put out his hand to her.
"Thank you for our talk. I hope we shall meet again. Any time you
want to know anything--I'll be only too glad. Good night!"
She felt the squeeze of his hand, warm and dry, but rather soft, as
of a man who uses a pen too much; saw him following her uncle
across the room, with his shoulders a little hunched, as if
preparing to inflict, and ward off, blows. And with the thought:
'He must be jolly when he gives them one!' she turned once more to
the darkness, than which he had said there was nothing nicer. It
smelled of new-mown grass, was full of little shiverings of leaves,
and all colored like the bloom of a black grape. And her heart
". . . When I first saw Derek I thought I should never feel
anything but shy and hopeless. In four days, only in four days,
the whole world is different. . . . And yet, if it hadn't been for
that thunder-storm, I shouldn't have got over being shy in time.
He has never loved anybody--nor have I. It can't often be like
that--it makes it solemn. There's a picture somewhere--not a good
one, I know--of a young Highlander being taken away by soldiers
from his sweetheart. Derek is fiery and wild and shy and proud and
dark--like the man in that picture. That last day along the hills--
along and along--with the wind in our faces, I could have walked
forever; and then Joyfields at the end! Their mother's wonderful;
I'm afraid of her. But Uncle Tod is a perfect dear. I never saw
any one before who noticed so many things that I didn't, and
nothing that I did. I am sure he has in him what Mr. Cuthcott said
we were all losing--the love of simple, natural conditions. And
then, THE moment, when I stood with Derek at the end of the
orchard, to say good-by. The field below covered with those moony-
white flowers, and the cows all dark and sleepy; the holy feeling
down there was wonderful, and in the branches over our heads, too,
and the velvety, starry sky, and the dewiness against one's face,
and the great, broad silence--it was all worshipping something, and
I was worshipping--worshipping happiness. I WAS happy, and I think
HE was. Perhaps I shall never be so happy again. When he kissed
me I didn't think the whole world had so much happiness in it. I
know now that I'm not cold a bit; I used to think I was. I believe
I could go with him anywhere, and do anything he wanted. What
would Dad think? Only the other day I was saying I wanted to know
everything. One only knows through love. It's love that makes the
world all beautiful--makes it like those pictures that seem to be
wrapped in gold, makes it like a dream--no, not like a dream--like
a wonderful tune. I suppose that's glamour--a goldeny, misty,
lovely feeling, as if my soul were wandering about with his--not in
my body at all. I want it to go on and on wandering--oh! I don't
want it back in my body, all hard and inquisitive and aching! I
shall never know anything so lovely as loving him and being loved.
I don't want anything more--nothing! Stay with me, please--
Happiness! Don't go away and leave me! . . . They frighten me,
though; he frightens me--their idealism; wanting to do great
things, and fight for justice. If only I'd been brought up more
like that--but everything's been so different. It's their mother,
I think, even more than themselves. I seem to have grown up just
looking on at life as at a show; watching it, thinking about it,
trying to understand--not living it at all. I must get over that;
I will. I believe I can tell the very moment I began to love him.
It was in the schoolroom the second evening. Sheila and I were
sitting there just before dinner, and he came, in a rage, looking
splendid. 'That footman put out everything just as if I were a
baby--asked me for suspenders to fasten on my socks; hung the
things on a chair in order, as if I couldn't find out for myself
what to put on first; turned the tongues of my shoes out!--curled
them over!' Then Derek looked at me and said: 'Do they do that for
you?--And poor old Gaunt, who's sixty-six and lame, has three
shillings a week to buy him everything. Just think of that! If we
had the pluck of flies--' And he clenched his fists. But Sheila
got up, looked hard at me, and said: 'That'll do, Derek.' Then he
put his hand on my arm and said: 'It's only Cousin Nedda!' I began
to love him then; and I believe he saw it, because I couldn't take
my eyes away. But it was when Sheila sang 'The Red Sarafan,' after
dinner, that I knew for certain. 'The Red Sarafan'--it's a
wonderful song, all space and yearning, and yet such calm--it's the
song of the soul; and he was looking at me while she sang. How can
he love me? I am nothing--no good for anything! Alan calls him a
'run-up kid, all legs and wings.' Sometimes I hate Alan; he's
conventional and stodgy--the funny thing is that he admires Sheila.
She'll wake him up; she'll stick pins into him. No, I don't want
Alan hurt--I want every one in the world to be happy, happy--as I
am. . . . The next day was the thunder-storm. I never saw
lightning so near--and didn't care a bit. If he were struck I knew
I should be; that made it all right. When you love, you don't
care, if only the something must happen to you both. When it was
over, and we came out from behind the stack and walked home through
the fields, all the beasts looked at us as if we were new and had
never been seen before; and the air was ever so sweet, and that
long, red line of cloud low down in the purple, and the elm-trees
so heavy and almost black. He put his arm round me, and I let
him. . . . It seems an age to wait till they come to stay with us
next week. If only Mother likes them, and I can go and stay at
Joyfields. Will she like them? It's all so different to what it
would be if they were ordinary. But if he were ordinary I
shouldn't love him; it's because there's nobody like him. That
isn't a loverish fancy--you only have to look at him against Alan
or Uncle Stanley or even Dad. Everything he does is so different;
the way he walks, and the way he stands drawn back into himself,
like a stag, and looks out as if he were burning and smouldering
inside; even the way he smiles. Dad asked me what I thought of
him! That was only the second day. I thought he was too proud,
then. And Dad said: 'He ought to be in a Highland regiment; pity--
great pity!' He is a fighter, of course. I don't like fighting,
but if I'm not ready to, he'll stop loving me, perhaps. I've got
to learn. O Darkness out there, help me! And Stars, help me! O
God, make me brave, and I will believe in you forever! If you are
the spirit that grows in things in spite of everything, until
they're like the flowers, so perfect that we laugh and sing at
their beauty, grow in me, too; make me beautiful and brave; then I
shall be fit for him, alive or dead; and that's all I want. Every
evening I shall stand in spirit with him at the end of that orchard
in the darkness, under the trees above the white flowers and the
sleepy cows, and perhaps I shall feel him kiss me again. . . . I'm
glad I saw that old man Gaunt; it makes what they feel more real to
me. He showed me that poor laborer Tryst, too, the one who mustn't
marry his wife's sister, or have her staying in the house without
marrying her. Why should people interfere with others like that?
It does make your blood boil! Derek and Sheila have been brought
up to be in sympathy with the poor and oppressed. If they had
lived in London they would have been even more furious, I expect.
And it's no use my saying to myself 'I don't know the laborer, I
don't know his hardships,' because he is really just the country
half of what I do know and see, here in London, when I don't hide
my eyes. One talk showed me how desperately they feel; at night,
in Sheila's room, when we had gone up, just we four. Alan began
it; they didn't want to, I could see; but he was criticising what
some of those Bigwigs had said--the 'Varsity makes boys awfully
conceited. It was such a lovely night; we were all in the big,
long window. A little bat kept flying past; and behind the copper-
beech the moon was shining on the lake. Derek sat in the
windowsill, and when he moved he touched me. To be touched by him
gives me a warm shiver all through. I could hear him gritting his
teeth at what Alan said--frightfully sententious, just like a
newspaper: 'We can't go into land reform from feeling, we must go
into it from reason.' Then Derek broke out: 'Walk through this
country as we've walked; see the pigsties the people live in; see
the water they drink; see the tiny patches of ground they have; see
the way their roofs let in the rain; see their peeky children; see
their patience and their hopelessness; see them working day in and
day out, and coming on the parish at the end! See all that, and
then talk about reason! Reason! It's the coward's excuse, and the
rich man's excuse, for doing nothing. It's the excuse of the man
who takes jolly good care not to see for fear that he may come to
feel! Reason never does anything, it's too reasonable. The thing
is to act; then perhaps reason will be jolted into doing
something.' But Sheila touched his arm, and he stopped very
suddenly. She doesn't trust us. I shall always be being pushed
away from him by her. He's just twenty, and I shall be eighteen in
a week; couldn't we marry now at once? Then, whatever happened, I
couldn't be cut off from him. If I could tell Dad, and ask him to
help me! But I can't--it seems desecration to talk about it, even
to Dad. All the way up in the train to-day, coming back home, I
was struggling not to show anything; though it's hateful to keep
things from Dad. Love alters everything; it melts up the whole
world and makes it afresh. Love is the sun of our spirits, and
it's the wind. Ah, and the rain, too! But I won't think of
that! . . . I wonder if he's told Aunt Kirsteen! . . ."
While Nedda sat, long past midnight, writing her heart out in her
little, white, lilac-curtained room of the old house above the
Spaniard's Road, Derek, of whom she wrote, was walking along the
Malvern hills, hurrying upward in the darkness. The stars were his
companions; though he was no poet, having rather the fervid temper
of the born swordsman, that expresses itself in physical ecstasies.
He had come straight out from a stormy midnight talk with Sheila.
What was he doing--had been the burden of her cry--falling in love
just at this moment when they wanted all their wits and all their
time and strength for this struggle with the Mallorings? It was
foolish, it was weak; and with a sweet, soft sort of girl who could
be no use. Hotly he had answered: What business was it of hers?
As if one fell in love when one wished! She didn't know--her blood
didn't run fast enough! Sheila had retorted, "I've more blood in
my big toe than Nedda in all her body! A lot of use you'll be,
with your heart mooning up in London!" And crouched together on
the end of her bed, gazing fixedly up at him through her hair, she
had chanted mockingly: "Here we go gathering wool and stars--wool
and stars--wool and stars!"
He had not deigned to answer, but had gone out, furious with her,
striding over the dark fields, scrambling his way through the
hedges toward the high loom of the hills. Up on the short grass in
the cooler air, with nothing between him and those swarming stars,
he lost his rage. It never lasted long--hers was more enduring.
With the innate lordliness of a brother he already put it down to
jealousy. Sheila was hurt that he should want any one but her; as
if his love for Nedda would make any difference to their resolution
to get justice for Tryst and the Gaunts, and show those landed
tyrants once for all that they could not ride roughshod.
Nedda! with her dark eyes, so quick and clear, so loving when they
looked at him! Nedda, soft and innocent, the touch of whose lips
had turned his heart to something strange within him, and wakened
such feelings of chivalry! Nedda! To see whom for half a minute
he felt he would walk a hundred miles.
This boy's education had been administered solely by his mother
till he was fourteen, and she had brought him up on mathematics,
French, and heroism. His extensive reading of history had been
focussed on the personality of heroes, chiefly knights errant, and
revolutionaries. He had carried the worship of them to the
Agricultural College, where he had spent four years; and a rather
rough time there had not succeeded in knocking romance out of him.
He had found that you could not have such beliefs comfortably
without fighting for them, and though he ended his career with the
reputation of a rebel and a champion of the weak, he had had to
earn it. To this day he still fed himself on stories of rebellions
and fine deeds. The figures of Spartacus, Montrose, Hofer,
Garibaldi, Hampden, and John Nicholson, were more real to him than
the people among whom he lived, though he had learned never to
mention--especially not to the matter-of-fact Sheila--his
encompassing cloud of heroes; but, when he was alone, he pranced a
bit with them, and promised himself that he too would reach the
stars. So you may sometimes see a little, grave boy walking
through a field, unwatched as he believes, suddenly fling his feet
and his head every which way. An active nature, romantic, without
being dreamy and book-loving, is not too prone to the attacks of
love; such a one is likely to survive unscathed to a maturer age.
But Nedda had seduced him, partly by the appeal of her touchingly
manifest love and admiration, and chiefly by her eyes, through
which he seemed to see such a loyal, and loving little soul
looking. She had that indefinable something which lovers know that
they can never throw away. And he had at once made of her,
secretly, the crown of his active romanticism--the lady waiting for
the spoils of his lance. Queer is the heart of a boy--strange its
blending of reality and idealism!
Climbing at a great pace, he reached Malvern Beacon just as it came
dawn, and stood there on the top, watching. He had not much
aesthetic sense; but he had enough to be impressed by the slow
paling of the stars over space that seemed infinite, so little were
its dreamy confines visible in the May morning haze, where the
quivering crimson flags and spears of sunrise were forging up in a
march upon the sky. That vision of the English land at dawn, wide
and mysterious, hardly tallied with Mr. Cuthcott's view of a future
dedicate to Park and Garden City. While Derek stood there gazing,
the first lark soared up and began its ecstatic praise. Save for
that song, silence possessed all the driven dark, right out to the
Severn and the sea, and the fastnesses of the Welsh hills, and the
Wrekin, away in the north, a black point in the gray. For a moment
dark and light hovered and clung together. Would victory wing back
into night or on into day? Then, as a town is taken, all was over
in one overmastering rush, and light proclaimed. Derek tightened
his belt and took a bee-line down over the slippery grass. He
meant to reach the cottage of the laborer Tryst before that early
bird was away to the fields. He meditated as he went. Bob Tryst
was all right! If they only had a dozen or two like him! A dozen
or two whom they could trust, and who would trust each other and
stand firm to form the nucleus of a strike, which could be timed
for hay harvest. What slaves these laborers still were! If only
they could be relied on, if only they would stand together!
Slavery! It WAS slavery; so long as they could be turned out of
their homes at will in this fashion. His rebellion against the
conditions of their lives, above all against the manifold petty
tyrannies that he knew they underwent, came from use of his eyes
and ears in daily contact with a class among whom he had been more
or less brought up. In sympathy with, and yet not of them, he had
the queer privilege of feeling their slights as if they were his
own, together with feelings of protection, and even of contempt
that they should let themselves be slighted. He was near enough to
understand how they must feel; not near enough to understand why,
feeling as they did, they did not act as he would have acted. In
truth, he knew them no better than he should.
He found Tryst washing at his pump. In the early morning light the
big laborer's square, stubborn face, with its strange, dog-like
eyes, had a sodden, hungry, lost look. Cutting short ablutions
that certainly were never protracted, he welcomed Derek, and
motioned him to pass into the kitchen. The young man went in, and
perched himself on the window-sill beside a pot of Bridal Wreath.
The cottage was one of the Mallorings', and recently repaired. A
little fire was burning, and a teapot of stewed tea sat there
beside it. Four cups and spoons and some sugar were put out on a
deal table, for Tryst was, in fact, brewing the morning draught of
himself and children, who still lay abed up-stairs. The sight made
Derek shiver and his eyes darken. He knew the full significance of
what he saw.
"Did you ask him again, Bob?"
"Yes, I asked 'im."
"What did he say?"
"Said as orders was plain. 'So long as you lives there,' he says,
'along of yourself alone, you can't have her come back.'"
"Did you say the children wanted looking after badly? Did you make
it clear? Did you say Mrs. Tryst wished it, before she--"
"I said that."
"What did he say then?"
"'Sorry for you, m'lad, but them's m'lady's orders, an' I can't go
contrary. I don't wish to go into things,' he says; 'you know
better'n I how far 'tis gone when she was 'ere before; but seein'
as m'lady don't never give in to deceased wife's sister marryin',
if she come back 'tis certain to be the other thing. So, as that
won't do neither, you go elsewhere,' he says."
Having spoken thus at length, Tryst lifted the teapot and poured
out the dark tea into the three cups.
"Will 'ee have some, sir?"
Derek shook his head.
Taking the cups, Tryst departed up the narrow stairway. And Derek
remained motionless, staring at the Bridal Wreath, till the big man
came down again and, retiring into a far corner, sat sipping at his
"Bob," said the boy suddenly, "do you LIKE being a dog; put to what
company your master wishes?"
Tryst set his cup down, stood up, and crossed his thick arms--the
swift movement from that stolid creature had in it something
sinister; but he did not speak.
"Do you like it, Bob?"
"I'll not say what I feels, Mr. Derek; that's for me. What I
does'll be for others, p'raps."
And he lifted his strange, lowering eyes to Derek's. For a full
minute the two stared, then Derek said:
"Look out, then; be ready!" and, getting off the sill, he went out.
On the bright, slimy surface of the pond three ducks were quietly
revelling in that hour before man and his damned soul, the dog,
rose to put the fear of God into them. In the sunlight, against
the green duckweed, their whiteness was truly marvellous; difficult
to believe that they were not white all through. Passing the three
cottages, in the last of which the Gaunts lived, he came next to
his own home, but did not turn in, and made on toward the church.
It was a very little one, very old, and had for him a curious
fascination, never confessed to man or beast. To his mother, and
Sheila, more intolerant, as became women, that little, lichened,
gray stone building was the very emblem of hypocrisy, of a creed
preached, not practised; to his father it was nothing, for it was
not alive, and any tramp, dog, bird, or fruit-tree meant far more.
But in Derek it roused a peculiar feeling, such as a man might have
gazing at the shores of a native country, out of which he had been
thrown for no fault of his own--a yearning deeply muffled up in
pride and resentment. Not infrequently he would come and sit
brooding on the grassy hillock just above the churchyard. Church-
going, with its pageantry, its tradition, dogma, and demand for
blind devotion, would have suited him very well, if only blind
devotion to his mother had not stood across that threshold; he
could not bring himself to bow to that which viewed his rebellious
mother as lost. And yet the deep fibres of heredity from her
papistic Highland ancestors, and from old pious Moretons, drew him
constantly to this spot at times when no one would be about. It
was his enemy, this little church, the fold of all the instincts
and all the qualities against which he had been brought up to
rebel; the very home of patronage and property and superiority; the
school where his friends the laborers were taught their place! And
yet it had that queer, ironical attraction for him. In some such
sort had his pet hero Montrose rebelled, and then been drawn
despite himself once more to the side of that against which he had
While he leaned against the rail, gazing at that ancient edifice,
he saw a girl walk into the churchyard at the far end, sit down on
a gravestone, and begin digging a little hole in the grass with the
toe of her boot. She did not seem to see him, and at his ease he
studied her face, one of those broad, bright English country faces
with deep-set rogue eyes and red, thick, soft lips, smiling on
little provocation. In spite of her disgrace, in spite of the fact
that she was sitting on her mother's grave, she did not look
depressed. And Derek thought: 'Wilmet Gaunt is the jolliest of
them all! She isn't a bit a bad girl, as they say; it's only that
she must have fun. If they drive her out of here, she'll still
want fun wherever she is; she'll go to a town and end up like those
girls I saw in Bristol.' And the memory of those night girls, with
their rouged faces and cringing boldness, came back to him with
He went across the grass toward her.
She looked round as he came, and her face livened.
"You're an early bird, Mr. Derek."
"Haven't been to bed."
"Been up Malvern Beacon to see the sun rise."
"You're tired, I expect!"
"Must be fine up there. You'd see a long ways from there; near to
London I should think. Do you know London, Mr. Derek?"
"They say 'tis a funny place, too." Her rogue eyes gleamed from
under a heavy frown. "It'd not be all 'Do this' an' 'Do that'; an'
'You bad girl' an' 'You little hussy!' in London. They say there's
room for more'n one sort of girl there."
"All towns are beastly places, Wilmet."
Again her rogue's eyes gleamed. "I don' know so much about that,
Mr. Derek. I'm going where I won't be chivied about and pointed
at, like what I am here."
"Your dad's stuck to you; you ought to stick to him."
"Ah, Dad! He's losin' his place for me, but that don't stop his
tongue at home. 'Tis no use to nag me--nag me. Suppose one of
m'lady's daughters had a bit of fun--they say there's lots as do--
I've heard tales--there'd be none comin' to chase her out of her
home. 'No, my girl, you can't live here no more, endangerin' the
young men. You go away. Best for you's where they'll teach you to
be'ave. Go on! Out with you! I don't care where you go; but you
just go!' 'Tis as if girls were all pats o' butter--same square,
same pattern on it, same weight, an' all."
Derek had come closer; he put his hand down and gripped her arm.
Her eloquence dried up before the intentness of his face, and she
just stared up at him.
"Now, look here, Wilmet; you promise me not to scoot without
letting us know. We'll get you a place to go to. Promise."
A little sheepishly the rogue-girl answered:
"I promise; only, I'm goin'."
Suddenly she dimpled and broke into her broad smile.
"Mr. Derek, d'you know what they say--they say you're in love. You
was seen in th' orchard. Ah! 'tis all right for you and her! But
if any one kiss and hug ME, I got to go!"
Derek drew back among the graves, as if he had been struck with a
She looked up at him with coaxing sweetness.
"Don't you mind me, Mr. Derek, and don't you stay here neither. If
they saw you here with me, they'd say: 'Aw--look! Endangerin'
another young man--poor young man!' Good mornin', Mr. Derek!"
The rogue eyes followed him gravely, then once more began examining
the grass, and the toe of her boot again began kicking a little
hole. But Derek did not look back.
It is in the nature of men and angels to pursue with death such
birds as are uncommon, such animals as are rare; and Society had no
use for one like Tod, so uncut to its pattern as to be practically
unconscious of its existence. Not that he had deliberately turned
his back on anything; he had merely begun as a very young man to
keep bees. The better to do that he had gone on to the cultivation
of flowers and fruit, together with just enough farming as kept his
household in vegetables, milk, butter, and eggs. Living thus
amongst insects, birds, cows, and the peace of trees, he had become
queer. His was not a very reflective mind, it distilled but slowly
certain large conclusions, and followed intently the minute
happenings of his little world. To him a bee, a bird, a flower, a
tree was well-nigh as interesting as a man; yet men, women, and
especially children took to him, as one takes to a Newfoundland
dog, because, though capable of anger, he seemed incapable of
contempt, and to be endowed with a sort of permanent wonder at
things. Then, too, he was good to look at, which counts for more
than a little in the scales of our affections; indeed, the slight
air of absence in his blue eyes was not chilling, as is that which
portends a wandering of its owner on his own business. People
recognized that it meant some bee or other in that bonnet, or
elsewhere, some sound or scent or sight of life, suddenly
perceived--always of life! He had often been observed gazing with
peculiar gravity at a dead flower, bee, bird, or beetle, and, if
spoken to at such a moment, would say, "Gone!" touching a wing or
petal with his finger. To conceive of what happened after death
did not apparently come within the few large conclusions of his
reflective powers. That quaint grief of his in the presence of the
death of things that were not human had, more than anything,
fostered a habit among the gentry and clergy of the neighborhood of
drawing up the mouth when they spoke of him, and slightly raising
the shoulders. For the cottagers, to be sure, his eccentricity
consisted rather in his being a 'gentleman,' yet neither eating
flesh, drinking wine, nor telling them how they ought to behave
themselves, together with the way he would sit down on anything and
listen to what they had to tell him, without giving them the
impression that he was proud of himself for doing so. In fact, it
was the extraordinary impression he made of listening and answering
without wanting anything either for himself or for them, that they
could not understand. How on earth it came about that he did not
give them advice about their politics, religion, morals, or
monetary states, was to them a never-ending mystery; and though
they were too well bred to shrug their shoulders, there did lurk in
their dim minds the suspicion that 'the good gentleman,' as they
called him, was 'a tiddy-bit off.' He had, of course, done many
practical little things toward helping them and their beasts, but
always, as it seemed, by accident, so that they could never make up
their minds afterward whether he remembered having done them,
which, in fact, he probably did not; and this seemed to them
perhaps the most damning fact of all about his being--well, about
his being--not quite all there. Another worrying habit he had,
too, that of apparently not distinguishing between them and any
tramps or strangers who might happen along and come across him.
This was, in their eyes, undoubtedly a fault; for the village was,
after all, their village, and he, as it were, their property. To
crown all, there was a story, full ten years old now, which had
lost nothing in the telling, of his treatment of a cattle-drover.
To the village it had an eerie look, that windmill-like rage let
loose upon a man who, after all, had only been twisting a bullock's
tail and running a spiked stick into its softer parts, as any
drover might. People said--the postman and a wagoner had seen the
business, raconteurs born, so that the tale had perhaps lost
nothing--that he had positively roared as he came leaping down into
the lane upon the man, a stout and thick-set fellow, taken him up
like a baby, popped him into a furzebush, and held him there.
People said that his own bare arms had been pricked to the very
shoulder from pressing the drover down into that uncompromising
shrub, and the man's howls had pierced the very heavens. The
postman, to this day, would tell how the mere recollection of
seeing it still made him sore all over. Of the words assigned to
Tod on this occasion, the mildest and probably most true were: "By
the Lord God, if you treat a beast like that again, I'll cut your
liver out, you hell-hearted sweep!"
The incident, which had produced a somewhat marked effect in regard
to the treatment of animals all round that neighborhood, had never
been forgotten, nor in a sense forgiven. In conjunction with the
extraordinary peace and mildness of his general behavior, it had
endowed Tod with mystery; and people, especially simple folk,
cannot bring themselves to feel quite at home with mystery.
Children only--to whom everything is so mysterious that nothing can
be--treated him as he treated them, giving him their hands with
confidence. But children, even his own, as they grew up, began to
have a little of the village feeling toward Tod; his world was not
theirs, and what exactly his world was they could not grasp.
Possibly it was the sense that they partook of his interest and
affection too much on a level with any other kind of living thing
that might happen to be about, which discomfited their
understanding. They held him, however, in a certain reverence.
That early morning he had already done a good two hours' work in
connection with broad beans, of which he grew, perhaps, the best in
the whole county, and had knocked off for a moment, to examine a
spider's web. This marvellous creation, which the dew had visited
and clustered over, as stars over the firmament, was hung on the
gate of the vegetable garden, and the spider, a large and active
one, was regarding Tod with the misgiving natural to its species.
Intensely still Tod stood, absorbed in contemplation of that bright
and dusty miracle. Then, taking up his hoe again, he went back to
the weeds that threatened his broad beans. Now and again he
stopped to listen, or to look at the sky, as is the way of
husbandmen, thinking of nothing, enjoying the peace of his muscles.
"Please, sir, father's got into a fit again."
Two little girls were standing in the lane below. The elder, who
had spoken in that small, anxious voice, had a pale little face
with pointed chin; her hair, the color of over-ripe corn, hung
fluffy on her thin shoulders, her flower-like eyes, with something
motherly in them already, were the same hue as her pale-blue,
almost clean, overall. She had her smaller, chubbier sister by the
hand, and, having delivered her message, stood still, gazing up at
Tod, as one might at God. Tod dropped his hoe.
"Biddy come with me; Susie go and tell Mrs. Freeland, or Miss
He took the frail little hand of the elder Tryst and ran. They ran
at the child's pace, the one so very massive, the other such a
whiff of flesh and blood.
"Did you come at once, Biddy?"
"Where was he taken?"
"In the kitchen--just as I was cookin' breakfast."
"Ah! Is it a bad one?"
"Yes, sir, awful bad--he's all foamy."
"What did you do for it?"
"Susie and me turned him over, and Billy's seein' he don't get his
tongue down his throat--like what you told us, and we ran to you.
Susie was frightened, he hollered so."
Past the three cottages, whence a woman at a window stared in amaze
to see that queer couple running, past the pond where the ducks,
whiter than ever in the brightening sunlight, dived and circled
carelessly, into the Tryst kitchen. There on the brick floor lay
the distressful man, already struggling back out of epilepsy, while
his little frightened son sat manfully beside him.
"Towels, and hot water, Biddy!"
With extraordinary calm rapidity the small creature brought what
might have been two towels, a basin, and the kettle; and in silence
she and Tod steeped his forehead.
"Eyes look better, Biddy?"
"He don't look so funny now, sir."
Picking up that form, almost as big as his own, Tod carried it up
impossibly narrow stairs and laid it on a dishevelled bed.
"Phew! Open the window, Biddy."
The small creature opened what there was of window.
"Now, go down and heat two bricks and wrap them in something, and
bring them up."
Tryst's boots and socks removed, Tod rubbed the large, warped feet.
While doing this he whistled, and the little boy crept up-stairs
and squatted in the doorway, to watch and listen. The morning air
overcame with its sweetness the natural odor of that small room,
and a bird or two went flirting past. The small creature came back
with the bricks, wrapped in petticoats of her own, and, placing
them against the soles of her father's feet, she stood gazing at
Tod, for all the world like a little mother dog with puppies.
"You can't go to school to-day, Biddy."
"Is Susie and Billy to go?"
"Yes; there's nothing to be frightened of now. He'll be nearly all
right by evening. But some one shall stay with you."
At this moment Tryst lifted his hand, and the small creature went
and stood beside him, listening to the whispering that emerged from
his thick lips.
"Father says I'm to thank you, please."
"Yes. Have you had your breakfasts?"
The small creature and her smaller brother shook their heads.
"Go down and get them."
Whispering and twisting back, they went, and by the side of the bed
Tod sat down. In Tryst's eyes was that same look of dog-like
devotion he had bent on Derek earlier that morning. Tod stared out
of the window and gave the man's big hand a squeeze. Of what did
he think, watching a lime-tree outside, and the sunlight through
its foliage painting bright the room's newly whitewashed wall,
already gray-spotted with damp again; watching the shadows of the
leaves playing in that sunlight? Almost cruel, that lovely shadow
game of outside life so full and joyful, so careless of man and
suffering; too gay almost, too alive! Of what did he think,
watching the chase and dart of shadow on shadow, as of gray
butterflies fluttering swift to the sack of flowers, while beside
him on the bed the big laborer lay? . . .
When Kirsteen and Sheila came to relieve him of that vigil he went
down-stairs. There in the kitchen Biddy was washing up, and Susie
and Billy putting on their boots for school. They stopped to gaze
at Tod feeling in his pockets, for they knew that things sometimes
happened after that. To-day there came out two carrots, some lumps
of sugar, some cord, a bill, a pruning knife, a bit of wax, a bit
of chalk, three flints, a pouch of tobacco, two pipes, a match-box
with a single match in it, a six-pence, a necktie, a stick of
chocolate, a tomato, a handkerchief, a dead bee, an old razor, a
bit of gauze, some tow, a stick of caustic, a reel of cotton, a
needle, no thimble, two dock leaves, and some sheets of yellowish
paper. He separated from the rest the sixpence, the dead bee, and
what was edible. And in delighted silence the three little Trysts
gazed, till Biddy with the tip of one wet finger touched the bee.
"Not good to eat, Biddy."
At those words, one after the other, cautiously, the three little
Trysts smiled. Finding that Tod smiled too, they broadened, and
Billy burst into chuckles. Then, clustering in the doorway,
grasping the edibles and the sixpence, and consulting with each
other, they looked long after his big figure passing down the road.
Still later, that same morning, Derek and Sheila moved slowly up
the Mallorings' well-swept drive. Their lips were set, as though
they had spoken the last word before battle, and an old cock
pheasant, running into the bushes close by, rose with a whir and
skimmed out toward his covert, scared, perhaps, by something
uncompromising in the footsteps of those two.
Only when actually under the shelter of the porch, which some folk
thought enhanced the old Greek-temple effect of the Mallorings'
house, Derek broke through that taciturnity:
"What if they won't?"
"Wait and see; and don't lose your head, Derek." The man who stood
there when the door opened was tall, grave, wore his hair in
powder, and waited without speech.
"Will you ask Sir Gerald and Lady Malloring if Miss Freeland and
Mr. Derek Freeland could see them, please; and will you say the
matter is urgent?"
The man bowed, left them, and soon came back.
"My lady will see you, miss; Sir Gerald is not in. This way."
Past the statuary, flowers, and antlers of the hall, they traversed
a long, cool corridor, and through a white door entered a white
room, not very large, and very pretty. Two children got up as they
came in and flapped out past them like young partridges, and Lady
Malloring rose from her writing-table and came forward, holding out
her hand. The two young Freelands took it gravely. For all their
hostility they could not withstand the feeling that she would think
them terrible young prigs if they simply bowed. And they looked
steadily at one with whom they had never before been at quite such
close quarters. Lady Malloring, who had originally been the
Honorable Mildred Killory, a daughter of Viscount Silport, was
tall, slender, and not very striking, with very fair hair going
rather gray; her expression in repose was pleasant, a little
anxious; only by her eyes was the suspicion awakened that she was a
woman of some character. They had that peculiar look of belonging
to two worlds, so often to be met with in English eyes, a look of
self-denying aspiration, tinctured with the suggestion that denial
might not be confined to self.
In a quite friendly voice she said:
"Can I do anything for you?" And while she waited for an answer
her glance travelled from face to face of the two young people,
with a certain curiosity. After a silence of several seconds,
"Not for us, thank you; for others, you can."
Lady Malloring's eyebrows rose a little, as if there seemed to her
something rather unjust in those words--'for others.'
"Yes?" she said.
Sheila, whose hands were clenched, and whose face had been fiery
red, grew suddenly almost white.
"Lady Malloring, will you please let the Gaunts stay in their
cottage and Tryst's wife's sister come to live with the children
Lady Malloring raised one hand; the motion, quite involuntary,
ended at the tiny cross on her breast. She said quietly:
"I'm afraid you don't understand."
"Yes," said Sheila, still very pale, "we understand quite well. We
understand that you are acting in what you believe to be the
interests of morality. All the same, won't you? Do!"
"I'm very sorry, but I can't."
"May we ask why?"
Lady Malloring started, and transferred her glance to Derek.
"I don't know," she said with a smile, "that I am obliged to
account for my actions to you two young people. Besides, you must
know why, quite well."
Sheila put out her hand.
"Wilmet Gaunt will go to the bad if you turn them out."
"I am afraid I think she has gone to the bad already, and I do not
mean her to take others there with her. I am sorry for poor Tryst,
and I wish he could find some nice woman to marry; but what he
proposes is impossible."
The blood had flared up again in Sheila's cheeks; she was as red as
the comb of a turkey-cock.
"Why shouldn't he marry his wife's sister? It's legal, now, and
you've no right to stop it."
Lady Malloring bit her lips; she looked straight and hard at
"I do not stop it; I have no means of stopping it. Only, he cannot
do it and live in one of our cottages. I don't think we need
discuss this further."
"I beg your pardon--"
The words had come from Derek. Lady Malloring paused in her walk
toward the bell. With his peculiar thin-lipped smile the boy went
"We imagined you would say no; we really came because we thought it
fair to warn you that there may be trouble."
Lady Malloring smiled.
"This is a private matter between us and our tenants, and we should
be so glad if you could manage not to interfere."
Derek bowed, and put his hand within his sister's arm. But Sheila
did not move; she was trembling with anger.
"Who are you," she suddenly burst out, "to dispose of the poor,
body and soul? Who are you, to dictate their private lives? If
they pay their rent, that should be enough for you."
Lady Malloring moved swiftly again toward the bell. She paused
with her hand on it, and said:
"I am sorry for you two; you have been miserably brought up!"
There was a silence; then Derek said quietly:
"Thank you; we shall remember that insult to our people. Don't
ring, please; we're going."
In a silence if anything more profound than that of their approach,
the two young people retired down the drive. They had not yet
learned--most difficult of lessons--how to believe that people
could in their bones differ from them. It had always seemed to
them that if only they had a chance of putting directly what they
thought, the other side must at heart agree, and only go on saying
they didn't out of mere self-interest. They came away, therefore,
from this encounter with the enemy a little dazed by the discovery
that Lady Malloring in her bones believed that she was right. It
confused them, and heated the fires of their anger.
They had shaken off all private dust before Sheila spoke.
"They're all like that--can't see or feel--simply certain they're
superior! It makes--it makes me hate them! It's terrible,
ghastly." And while she stammered out those little stabs of
speech, tears of rage rolled down her cheeks.
Derek put his arm round her waist.
"All right! No good groaning; let's think seriously what to do."
There was comfort to the girl in that curiously sudden reversal of
their usual attitudes.
"Whatever's done," he went on, "has got to be startling. It's no
good pottering and protesting, any more." And between his teeth he
muttered: "'Men of England, wherefore plough?' . . ."
In the room where the encounter had taken place Mildred Malloring
was taking her time to recover. From very childhood she had felt
that the essence of her own goodness, the essence of her duty in
life, was the doing of 'good' to others; from very childhood she
had never doubted that she was in a position to do this, and that
those to whom she did good, although they might kick against it as
inconvenient, must admit that it WAS their 'good.' The thought:
'They don't admit that I am superior!' had never even occurred to
her, so completely was she unselfconscious, in her convinced
superiority. It was hard, indeed, to be flung against such
outspoken rudeness. It shook her more than she gave sign of, for
she was not by any means an insensitive woman--shook her almost to
the point of feeling that there was something in the remonstrance
of those dreadful young people. Yet, how could there be, when no
one knew better than she that the laborers on the Malloring estate
were better off than those on nine out of ten estates; better paid
and better housed, and--better looked after in their morals. Was
she to give up that?--when she knew that she WAS better able to
tell what was good for them than they were themselves. After all,
without stripping herself naked of every thought, experience, and
action since her birth, how could she admit that she was not better
able? And slowly, in the white room with the moss-green carpet,
she recovered, till there was only just a touch of soreness left,
at the injustice implicit in their words. Those two had been
'miserably brought up,' had never had a chance of finding their
proper place, of understanding that they were just two callow young
things, for whom Life had some fearful knocks in store. She could
even feel now that she had meant that saying: 'I am sorry for you
two!' She WAS sorry for them, sorry for their want of manners and
their point of view, neither of which they could help, of course,
with a mother like that. For all her gentleness and sensibility,
there was much practical directness about Mildred Malloring; for
her, a page turned was a page turned, an idea absorbed was never
disgorged; she was of religious temperament, ever trimming her
course down the exact channel marked out with buoys by the Port
Authorities, and really incapable of imagining spiritual wants in
others that could not be satisfied by what satisfied herself. And
this pathetic strength she had in common with many of her fellow
creatures in every class. Sitting down at the writing-table from
which she had been disturbed, she leaned her thin, rather long,
gentle, but stubborn face on her hand, thinking. These Gaunts were
a source of irritation in the parish, a kind of open sore. It
would be better if they could be got rid of before quarter day, up
to which she had weakly said they might remain. Far better for
them to go at once, if it could be arranged. As for the poor
fellow Tryst, thinking that by plunging into sin he could improve
his lot and his poor children's, it was really criminal of those
Freelands to encourage him. She had refrained hitherto from
seriously worrying Gerald on such points of village policy--his
hands were so full; but he must now take his part. And she rang
"Tell Sir Gerald I'd like to see him, please, as soon as he gets
"Sir Gerald has just come in, my lady."
Gerald Malloring--an excellent fellow, as could be seen from his
face of strictly Norman architecture, with blue stained-glass
windows rather deep set in--had only one defect: he was not a poet.
Not that this would have seemed to him anything but an advantage,
had he been aware of it. His was one of those high-principled
natures who hold that breadth is synonymous with weakness. It may
be said without exaggeration that the few meetings of his life with
those who had a touch of the poet in them had been exquisitely
uncomfortable. Silent, almost taciturn by nature, he was a great
reader of poetry, and seldom went to sleep without having digested
a page or two of Wordsworth, Milton, Tennyson, or Scott. Byron,
save such poems as 'Don Juan' or 'The Waltz,' he could but did not
read, for fear of setting a bad example. Burns, Shelley, and Keats
he did not care for. Browning pained him, except by such things
as: 'How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix' and the
'Cavalier Tunes'; while of 'Omar Khayyam' and 'The Hound of Heaven'
he definitely disapproved. For Shakespeare he had no real liking,
though he concealed this, from humility in the face of accepted
opinion. His was a firm mind, sure of itself, but not self-
assertive. His points were so good, and he had so many of them,
that it was only when he met any one touched with poetry that his
limitations became apparent; it was rare, however, and getting more
so every year, for him to have this unpleasant experience.
When summoned by his wife, he came in with a wrinkle between his
straight brows; he had just finished a morning's work on a drainage
scheme, like the really good fellow that he was. She greeted him
with a little special smile. Nothing could be friendlier than the
relations between these two. Affection and trust, undeviating
undemonstrativeness, identity of feeling as to religion, children,
property; and, in regard to views on the question of sex, a really
strange unanimity, considering that they were man and woman.
"It's about these Gaunts, Gerald. I feel they must go at once.
They're only creating bad feeling by staying till quarter day. I
have had the young Freelands here."
"Those young pups!"
"Can't it be managed?"
Malloring did not answer hastily. He had that best point of the
good Englishman, a dislike to being moved out of a course of
conduct by anything save the appeal of his own conscience.
"I don't know," he said, "why we should alter what we thought was
just. Must give him time to look round and get a job elsewhere."
"I think the general state of feeling demands it. It's not fair to
the villagers to let the Freelands have such a handle for
agitating. Labor's badly wanted everywhere; he can't have any
difficulty in getting a place, if he likes."
"No. Only, I rather admire the fellow for sticking by his girl,
though he is such a 'land-lawyer.' I think it's a bit harsh to
move him suddenly."
"So did I, till I saw from those young furies what harm it's doing.
They really do infect the cottagers. You know how discontent
spreads. And Tryst--they're egging him on, too."
Malloring very thoughtfully filled a pipe. He was not an alarmist;
if anything, he erred on the side of not being alarmed until it was
all over and there was no longer anything to be alarmed at! His
imagination would then sometimes take fire, and he would say that
such and such, or so and so, was dangerous.
"I'd rather go and have a talk with Freeland," he said. "He's
queer, but he's not at all a bad chap."
Lady Malloring rose, and took one of his real-leather buttons in
"My dear Gerald, Mr. Freeland doesn't exist."
"Don't know about that; a man can always come to life, if he likes,
in his own family."
Lady Malloring was silent. It was true. For all their unanimity
of thought and feeling, for all the latitude she had in domestic
and village affairs, Gerald had a habit of filling his pipe with
her decisions. Quite honestly, she had no objection to their
becoming smoke through HIS lips, though she might wriggle just a
little. To her credit, she did entirely carry out in her life her
professed belief that husbands should be the forefronts of their
wives. For all that, there burst from her lips the words:
"That Freeland woman! When I think of the mischief she's always
done here, by her example and her irreligion--I can't forgive her.
I don't believe you'll make any impression on Mr. Freeland; he's
entirely under her thumb."
Smoking slowly, and looking just over the top of his wife's head,
"I'll have a try; and don't you worry!"
Lady Malloring turned away. Her soreness still wanted salve.
"Those two young people," she murmured, "said some very unpleasant
things to me. The boy, I believe, might have some good in him, but
the girl is simply terrible."
"H'm! I think just the reverse, you know."
"They'll come to awful grief if they're not brought up sharp. They
ought to be sent to the colonies to learn reality."
"Come out, Mildred, and see how they're getting on with the new
vinery." And they went out together through the French window.
The vinery was of their own designing, and of extraordinary
interest. In contemplation of its lofty glass and aluminium-cased
pipes the feeling of soreness left her. It was very pleasant,
standing with Gerald, looking at what they had planned together;
there was a soothing sense of reality about that visit, after the
morning's happening, with its disappointment, its reminder of
immorality and discontent, and of folk ungrateful for what was done
for their good. And, squeezing her husband's arm, she murmured:
"It's really exactly what we thought it would be, Gerald!"
About five o'clock of that same afternoon, Gerald Malloring went to
see Tod. An open-air man himself, who often deplored the long
hours he was compelled to spend in the special atmosphere of the
House of Commons, he rather envied Tod his existence in this
cottage, crazed from age, and clothed with wistaria, rambler roses,
sweetbrier, honeysuckle, and Virginia creeper. Freeland had, in
his opinion, quite a jolly life of it--the poor fellow not being
able, of course, to help having a cranky wife and children like
that. He pondered, as he went along, over a talk at Becket, when
Stanley, still under the influence of Felix's outburst, had uttered
some rather queer sayings. For instance, he had supposed that they
(meaning, apparently, himself and Malloring) WERE rather unable to
put themselves in the position of these Trysts and Gaunts. He
seemed to speak of them as one might speak generically of Hodge,
which had struck Malloring as singular, it not being his habit to
see anything in common between an individual case, especially on
his own estate, and the ethics of a general proposition. The place
for general propositions was undoubtedly the House of Commons,
where they could be supported one way or the other, out of blue
books. He had little use for them in private life, where
innumerable things such as human nature and all that came into
play. He had stared rather hard at his host when Stanley had
followed up that first remark with: "I'm bound to say, I shouldn't
care to have to get up at half past five, and go out without a
bath!" What that had to do with the land problem or the regulation
of village morality Malloring had been unable to perceive. It all
depended on what one was accustomed to; and in any case threw no
light on the question, as to whether or not he was to tolerate on
his estate conduct of which his wife and himself distinctly
disapproved. At the back of national life there was always this
problem of individual conduct, especially sexual conduct--without
regularity in which, the family, as the unit of national life, was
gravely threatened, to put it on the lowest ground. And he did not
see how to bring it home to the villagers that they had got to be
regular, without making examples now and then.
He had hoped very much to get through his call without coming
across Freeland's wife and children, and was greatly relieved to
find Tod, seated on a window-sill in front of his cottage, smoking,
and gazing apparently at nothing. In taking the other corner of
the window-sill, the thought passed through his mind that Freeland
was really a very fine-looking fellow. Tod was, indeed, about
Malloring's own height of six feet one, with the same fairness and
straight build of figure and feature. But Tod's head was round and
massive, his hair crisp and uncut; Malloring's head long and
narrow, his hair smooth and close-cropped. Tod's eyes, blue and
deep-set, seemed fixed on the horizon, Malloring's, blue and deep-
set, on the nearest thing they could light on. Tod smiled, as it
were, without knowing; Malloring seemed to know what he was smiling
at almost too well. It was comforting, however, that Freeland was
as shy and silent as himself, for this produced a feeling that
there could not be any real difference between their points of
view. Perceiving at last that if he did not speak they would
continue sitting there dumb till it was time for him to go,
"Look here, Freeland; about my wife and yours and Tryst and the
Gaunts, and all the rest of it! It's a pity, isn't it? This is a
small place, you know. What's your own feeling?"
"A man has only one life."
Malloring was a little puzzled.
"In this world. I don't follow."
"Live and let live."
A part of Malloring undoubtedly responded to that curt saying, a
part of him as strongly rebelled against it; and which impulse he
was going to follow was not at first patent.
"You see, YOU keep apart," he said at last. "You couldn't say that
so easily if you had, like us, to take up the position in which we
"Why take it up?"
Malloring frowned. "How would things go on?"
"All right," said Tod.
Malloring got up from the sill. This was 'laisser-faire' with a
vengeance! Such philosophy had always seemed to him to savor
dangerously of anarchism. And yet twenty years' experience as a
neighbor had shown him that Tod was in himself perhaps the most
harmless person in Worcestershire, and held in a curious esteem by
most of the people about. He was puzzled, and sat down again.
"I've never had a chance to talk things over with you," he said.
"There are a good few people, Freeland, who can't behave
themselves; we're not bees, you know!"
He stopped, having an uncomfortable suspicion that his hearer was
"First I've heard this year," said Tod.
For all the rudeness of that interruption, Malloring felt a stir of
interest. He himself liked birds. Unfortunately, he could hear
nothing but the general chorus of their songs.
"Thought they'd gone," murmured Tod.
Malloring again got up. "Look here, Freeland," he said, "I wish
you'd give your mind to this. You really ought not to let your
wife and children make trouble in the village."
Confound the fellow! He was smiling; there was a sort of twinkle
in his smile, too, that Malloring found infectious!
"No, seriously," he said, "you don't know what harm you mayn't do."
"Have you ever watched a dog looking at a fire?" asked Tod.
"Yes, often; why?"
"He knows better than to touch it."
"You mean you're helpless? But you oughtn't to be."
The fellow was smiling again!
"Then you don't mean to do anything?"
Tod shook his head.
Malloring flushed. "Now, look here, Freeland," he said, "forgive
my saying so, but this strikes me as a bit cynical. D'you think I
enjoy trying to keep things straight?"
Tod looked up.
"Birds," he said, "animals, insects, vegetable life--they all eat
each other more or less, but they don't fuss about it."
Malloring turned abruptly and went down the path. Fuss! He never
fussed. Fuss! The word was an insult, addressed to him! If there
was one thing he detested more than another, whether in public or
private life, it was 'fussing.' Did he not belong to the League
for Suppression of Interference with the Liberty of the Subject?
Was he not a member of the party notoriously opposed to fussy
legislation? Had any one ever used the word in connection with
conduct of his, before? If so, he had never heard them. Was it
fussy to try and help the Church to improve the standard of morals
in the village? Was it fussy to make a simple decision and stick
to it? The injustice of the word really hurt him. And the more it
hurt him, the slower and more dignified and upright became his
march toward his drive gate.
'Wild geese' in the morning sky had been forerunners; very heavy
clouds were sweeping up from the west, and rain beginning to fall.
He passed an old man leaning on the gate of a cottage garden and
said: "Good evening!"
The old man touched his hat but did not speak.
"How's your leg, Gaunt?"
"'Tis much the same, Sir Gerald."
"Rain coming makes it shoot, I expect."
Malloring stood still. The impulse was on him to see if, after
all, the Gaunts' affair could not be disposed of without turning
the old fellow and his son out.
"Look here!" he said; "about this unfortunate business. Why don't
you and your son make up your minds without more ado to let your
granddaughter go out to service? You've been here all your lives;
I don't want to see you go."
The least touch of color invaded the old man's carved and grayish
"Askin' your pardon," he said, "my son sticks by his girl, and I
sticks by my son!"
"Oh! very well; you know your own business, Gaunt. I spoke for
A faint smile curled the corners of old Gaunt's mouth downward
beneath his gray moustaches.
"Thank you kindly," he said.
Malloring raised a finger to his cap and passed on. Though he felt
a longing to stride his feelings off, he did not increase his pace,
knowing that the old man's eyes were following him. But how pig-
headed they were, seeing nothing but their own point of view!
Well, he could not alter his decision. They would go at the June
quarter--not a day before, nor after.
Passing Tryst's cottage, he noticed a 'fly' drawn up outside, and
its driver talking to a woman in hat and coat at the cottage
doorway. She avoided his eye.
'The wife's sister again!' he thought. 'So that fellow's going to
be an ass, too? Hopeless, stubborn lot!' And his mind passed on
to his scheme for draining the bottom fields at Cantley Bromage.
This village trouble was too small to occupy for long the mind of
one who had so many duties. . . .
Old Gaunt remained at the gate watching till the tall figure passed
out of sight, then limped slowly down the path and entered his
son's cottage. Tom Gaunt, not long in from work, was sitting in
his shirtsleeves, reading the paper--a short, thick-set man with
small eyes, round, ruddy cheeks, and humorous lips indifferently
concealed by a ragged moustache. Even in repose there was about
him something talkative and disputatious. He was clearly the kind
of man whose eyes and wit would sparkle above a pewter pot. A good
workman, he averaged out an income of perhaps eighteen shillings a
week, counting the two shillings' worth of vegetables that he grew.
His erring daughter washed for two old ladies in a bungalow, so
that with old Gaunt's five shillings from the parish, the total
resources of this family of five, including two small boys at
school, was seven and twenty shillings a week. Quite a sum! His
comparative wealth no doubt contributed to the reputation of Tom
Gaunt, well known as local wag and disturber of political meetings.
His method with these gatherings, whether Liberal or Tory, had a
certain masterly simplicity. By interjecting questions that could
not be understood, and commenting on the answers received, he
insured perpetual laughter, with the most salutary effects on the
over-consideration of any political question, together with a
tendency to make his neighbors say: "Ah! Tom Gaunt, he's a proper
caution, he is!" An encomium dear to his ears. What he seriously
thought about anything in this world, no one knew; but some
suspected him of voting Liberal, because he disturbed their
meetings most. His loyalty to his daughter was not credited to
affection. It was like Tom Gaunt to stick his toes in and kick--
the Quality, for choice. To look at him and old Gaunt, one would
not have thought they could be son and father, a relationship
indeed ever dubious. As for his wife, she had been dead twelve
years. Some said he had joked her out of life, others that she had
gone into consumption. He was a reader--perhaps the only one in
all the village, and could whistle like a blackbird. To work hard,
but without too great method, to drink hard, but with perfect
method, and to talk nineteen to the dozen anywhere except at home--
was his mode of life. In a word, he was a 'character.'
Old Gaunt sat down in a wooden rocking-chair, and spoke.
"Sir Gerald 'e've a-just passed."
"Sir Gerald 'e can goo to hell. They'll know un there, by 'is
"'E've a-spoke about us stoppin'; so as Mettie goes out to
"'E've a-spoke about what 'e don't know 'bout, then. Let un do
what they like, they can't put Tom Gaunt about; he can get work
anywhere--Tom Gaunt can, an' don't you forget that, old man."
The old man, placing his thin brown hands on his knees, was silent.
And thoughts passed through and through him. 'If so be as Tom
goes, there'll be no one as'll take me in for less than three bob a
week. Two bob a week, that's what I'll 'ave to feed me--Two bob a
week--two bob a week! But if so be's I go with Tom, I'll 'ave to
reg'lar sit down under he for me bread and butter.' And he
contemplated his son.
"Where are you goin', then?" he said.
Tom Gaunt rustled the greenish paper he was reading, and his
little, hard gray eyes fixed his father.
"Who said I was going?"
Old Gaunt, smoothing and smoothing the lined, thin cheeks of the
parchmenty, thin-nosed face that Frances Freeland had thought to be
almost like a gentleman's, answered: "I thart you said you was
"You think too much, then--that's what 'tis. You think too much,
With a slight deepening of the sardonic patience in his face, old
Gaunt rose, took a bowl and spoon down from a shelf, and very
slowly proceeded to make himself his evening meal. It consisted of
crusts of bread soaked in hot water and tempered with salt, pepper,
onion, and a touch of butter. And while he waited, crouched over
the kettle, his son smoked his grayish clay and read his greenish
journal; an old clock ticked and a little cat purred without
provocation on the ledge of the tight-closed window. Then the door
opened and the rogue-girl appeared. She shook her shoulders as
though to dismiss the wetting she had got, took off her turn-down,
speckly, straw hat, put on an apron, and rolled up her sleeves.
Her arms were full and firm and red; the whole of her was full and
firm. From her rosy cheeks to her stout ankles she was
superabundant with vitality, the strangest contrast to her shadowy,
thin old grandfather. About the preparation of her father's tea
she moved with a sort of brooding stolidity, out of which would
suddenly gleam a twinkle of rogue-sweetness, as when she stopped to
stroke the little cat or to tickle the back of her grandfather's
lean neck in passing. Having set the tea, she stood by the table
and said slowly: "Tea's ready, father. I'm goin' to London."
Tom Gaunt put down his pipe and journal, took his seat at the
table, filled his mouth with sausage, and said: "You're goin' where
I tell you."
"I'm goin' to London."
Tom Gaunt stayed the morsel in one cheek and fixed her with his
little, wild boar's eye.
"Ye're goin' to catch the stick," he said. "Look here, my girl,
Tom Gaunt's been put about enough along of you already. Don't you
make no mistake."
"I'm goin' to London," repeated the rogue-girl stolidly. "You can
get Alice to come over."
"Oh! Can I? Ye're not goin' till I tell you. Don't you think
"I'm goin'. I saw Mr. Derek this mornin'. They'll get me a place
Tom Gaunt remained with his fork as it were transfixed. The effort
of devising contradiction to the chief supporters of his own
rebellion was for the moment too much for him. He resumed
"You'll go where I want you to go; and don't you think you can tell
me where that is."
In the silence that ensued the only sound was that of old Gaunt
supping at his crusty-broth. Then the rogue-girl went to the
window and, taking the little cat on her breast, sat looking out
into the rain. Having finished his broth, old Gaunt got up, and,
behind his son's back, he looked at his granddaughter and thought:
'Goin' to London! 'Twud be best for us all. WE shudn' need to be
movin', then. Goin' to London!' But he felt desolate.
When Spring and first love meet in a girl's heart, then the birds
The songs that blackbirds and dusty-coated thrushes flung through
Nedda's window when she awoke in Hampstead those May mornings
seemed to have been sung by herself all night. Whether the sun
were flashing on the leaves, or rain-drops sieving through on a
sou'west wind, the same warmth glowed up in her the moment her eyes
opened. Whether the lawn below were a field of bright dew, or dry
and darkish in a shiver of east wind, her eyes never grew dim all
day; and her blood felt as light as ostrich feathers.
Stormed by an attack of his cacoethes scribendi, after those few
blank days at Becket, Felix saw nothing amiss with his young
daughter. The great observer was not observant of things that
other people observed. Neither he nor Flora, occupied with matters
of more spiritual importance, could tell, offhand, for example, on
which hand a wedding-ring was worn. They had talked enough of
Becket and the Tods to produce the impression on Flora's mind that
one day or another two young people would arrive in her house on a
visit; but she had begun a poem called 'Dionysus at the Well,' and
Felix himself had plunged into a satiric allegory entitled 'The
Last of the Laborers.' Nedda, therefore, walked alone; but at her
side went always an invisible companion. In that long, imaginary
walking-out she gave her thoughts and the whole of her heart, and
to be doing this never surprised her, who, before, had not given
them whole to anything. A bee knows the first summer day and
clings intoxicated to its flowers; so did Nedda know and cling.
She wrote him two letters and he wrote her one. It was not poetry;
indeed, it was almost all concerned with Wilmet Gaunt, asking Nedda
to find a place in London where the girl could go; but it ended
with the words:
This letter troubled Nedda. She would have taken it at once to
Felix or to Flora if it had not been for the first words, "Dearest
Nedda," and those last three. Except her mother, she instinctively
distrusted women in such a matter as that of Wilmet Gaunt, feeling
they would want to know more than she could tell them, and not be
too tolerant of what they heard. Casting about, at a loss, she
thought suddenly of Mr. Cuthcott.
At dinner that day she fished round carefully. Felix spoke of him
almost warmly. What Cuthcott could have been doing at Becket, of
all places, he could not imagine--the last sort of man one expected
to see there; a good fellow, rather desperate, perhaps, as men of
his age were apt to get if they had too many women, or no woman,
Which, said Nedda, had Mr. Cuthcott?
Oh! None. How had he struck Nedda? And Felix looked at his
little daughter with a certain humble curiosity. He always felt
that the young instinctively knew so much more than he did.
"I liked him awfully. He was like a dog."
"Ah!" said Felix, "he IS like a dog--very honest; he grins and runs
about the city, and might be inclined to bay the moon."
'I don't mind that,' Nedda thought, 'so long as he's not
"He's very human," Felix added.
And having found out that he lived in Gray's Inn, Nedda thought: 'I
will; I'll ask him.'
To put her project into execution, she wrote this note:
"DEAR MR. CUTHCOTT:
"You were so kind as to tell me you wouldn't mind if I bothered you
about things. I've got a very bothery thing to know what to do
about, and I would be so glad of your advice. It so happens that I
can't ask my father and mother. I hope you won't think me very
horrible, wasting your time. And please say no, if you'd rather.
The answer came:
"DEAR MISS FREELAND:
"Delighted. But if very bothery, better save time and ink, and
have a snack of lunch with me to-morrow at the Elgin restaurant,
close to the British Museum. Quiet and respectable. No flowers by
request. One o'clock.
"Very truly yours,
Putting on 'no flowers' and with a fast-beating heart, Nedda, went
on her first lonely adventure. To say truth she did not know in
the least how ever she was going to ask this almost strange man
about a girl of doubtful character. But she kept saying to
herself: 'I don't care--he has nice eyes.' And her spirit would
rise as she got nearer, because, after all, she was going to find
things out, and to find things out was jolly. The new warmth and
singing in her heart had not destroyed, but rather heightened, her
sense of the extraordinary interest of all things that be. And