Part 6 out of 6
known it) was dashing about the streets for him, he lay under a
railway arch trying to settle his plans. He must pay back the
friends who had given him shillings and clothes. He thought of
Flea, whose Sundays he was spoiling--poor Flea, who ought to be
in them now, shining before his girl. "I daresay he'll be ashamed
and not go to see her, and then she'll take the other man." He
was also very hungry. That worm Mrs. Elliot would be through her
lunch by now. Trying his braces round him, and tearing up those
old wet documents, he stepped forth to make money. A villainous
young brute he looked: his clothes were dirty, and he had lost
the spring of the morning. Touching the walls, frowning, talking
to himself at times, he slouched disconsolately northwards; no
wonder that some tawdry girls screamed at him, or that matrons
averted their eyes as they hurried to afternoon church. He
wandered from one suburb to another, till he was among people
more villainous than himself, who bought his tobacco from him and
sold him food. Again the neighbourhood "went up," and families,
instead of sitting on their doorsteps, would sit behind thick
muslin curtains. Again it would "go down" into a more avowed
despair. Far into the night he wandered, until he came to a
solemn river majestic as a stream in hell. Therein were gathered
the waters of Central England--those that flow off Hindhead, off
the Chilterns, off Wiltshire north of the Plain. Therein they
were made intolerable ere they reached the sea. But the waters he
had known escaped. Their course lay southward into the Avon by
forests and beautiful fields, even swift, even pure, until they
mirrored the tower of Christchurch and greeted the ramparts of
the Isle of Wight. Of these he thought for a moment as he crossed
the black river and entered the heart of the modern world.
Here he found employment. He was not hampered by genteel
traditions, and, as it was near quarter-day, managed to get taken
on at a furniture warehouse. He moved people from the suburbs to
London, from London to the suburbs, from one suburb to another.
His companions were hurried and querulous. In particular, he
loathed the foreman, a pious humbug who allowed no swearing, but
indulged in something far more degraded--the Cockney repartee.
The London intellect, so pert and shallow, like a stream that
never reaches the ocean, disgusted him almost as much as the
London physique, which for all its dexterity is not permanent,
and seldom continues into the third generation. His father, had
he known it, had felt the same; for between Mr. Elliot and the
foreman the gulf was social, not spiritual: both spent their
lives in trying to be clever. And Tony Failing had once put the
thing into words: "There's no such thing as a Londoner. He's only
a country man on the road to sterility."
At the end of ten days he had saved scarcely anything. Once he
passed the bank where a hundred pounds lay ready for him, but it
was still inconvenient for him to take them. Then duty sent him
to a suburb not very far from Sawston. In the evening a man who
was driving a trap asked him to hold it, and by mistake tipped
him a sovereign. Stephen called after him; but the man had a
woman with him and wanted to show off, and though he had meant to
tip a shilling, and could not afford that, he shouted back that
his sovereign was as good as any one's, and that if Stephen did
not think so he could do various things and go to various places.
On the action of this man much depends. Stephen changed the
sovereign into a postal order, and sent it off to the people at
Cadford. It did not pay them back, but it paid them something,
and he felt that his soul was free.
A few shillings remained in his pocket. They would have paid his
fare towards Wiltshire, a good county; but what should he do
there? Who would employ him? Today the journey did not seem worth
while. "Tomorrow, perhaps," he thought, and determined to spend
the money on pleasure of another kind. Two-pence went for a ride
on an electric tram. From the top he saw the sun descend--a disc
with a dark red edge. The same sun was descending over Salisbury
intolerably bright. Out of the golden haze the spire would be
piercing, like a purple needle; then mists arose from the Avon
and the other streams. Lamps flickered, but in the outer purity
the villages were already slumbering. Salisbury is only a Gothic
upstart beside these. For generations they have come down to her
to buy or to worship, and have found in her the reasonable crisis
of their lives; but generations before she was built they were
clinging to the soil, and renewing it with sheep and dogs and
men, who found the crisis of their lives upon Stonehenge. The
blood of these men ran in Stephen; the vigour they had won for
him was as yet untarnished; out on those downs they had united with
rough women to make the thing he spoke of as "himself"; the last
of them has rescued a woman of a different kind from streets and
houses such as these. As the sun descended he got off the tram
with a smile of expectation. A public-house lay opposite, and a
boy in a dirty uniform was already lighting its enormous lamp.
His lips parted, and he went in.
Two hours later, when Rickie and Herbert were going the rounds, a
brick came crashing at the study window. Herbert peered into the
garden, and a hooligan slipped by him into the house, wrecked the
hall, lurched up the stairs, fell against the banisters, balanced
for a moment on his spine, and slid over. Herbert called for the
police. Rickie, who was upon the landing, caught the man by the
knees and saved his life.
"What is it?" cried Agnes, emerging.
"It's Stephen come back," was the answer. "Hullo, Stephen!"
Hither had Rickie moved in ten days--from disgust to penitence,
from penitence to longing from a life of horror to a new life, in
which he still surprised himself by unexpected words. Hullo,
Stephen! For the son of his mother had come back, to forgive him,
as she would have done, to live with him, as she had planned.
"He's drunk this time," said Agnes wearily. She too had altered:
the scandal was ageing her, and Ansell came to the house daily.
But Stephen was now insensible.
"Stephen, you live here--"
"Good gracious me!" interposed Herbert. "My advice is, that we
all go to bed. The less said the better while our nerves are in this
well, Rickie. Of course, Wonham sleeps the night if you wish." They
drunken mass into the spare room. A mass of scandal it seemed to one of
symbol of redemption to the other. Neither acknowledged it a man, who
answer them back after a few hours' rest.
"Ansell thought he would never forgive me," said Rickie. "For
once he's wrong."
"Come to bed now, I think." And as Rickie laid his hand on the
sleeper's hair, he added, "You won't do anything foolish, will
you? You are still in a morbid state. Your poor mother--Pardon
me, dear boy; it is my turn to speak out. You thought it was your
father, and minded. It is your mother. Surely you ought to mind
"I have been too far back," said Rickie gently. "Ansell took me
on a journey that was even new to him. We got behind right and
wrong, to a place where only one thing matters--that the Beloved should
from the dead."
"But you won't do anything rash?"
"Why should I?"
"Remember poor Agnes," he stammered. "I--I am the first to
acknowledge that we might have pursued a different policy. But we
are committed to it now. It makes no difference whose son he is.
I mean, he is the same person. You and I and my sister stand or
fall together. It was our agreement from the first. I hope--No more of
distressing scenes with her, there's a dear fellow. I assure you they
"Things will quiet down now."
"To bed now; I insist upon that much."
"Very well," said Rickie, and when they were in the passage,
locked the door from the outside. "We want no more muddles," he
Mr. Pembroke was left examining the hall. The bust of Hermes was
broken. So was the pot of the palm. He could not go to bed
without once more sounding Rickie. "You'll do nothing rash," he called.
notion of him living here was, of course, a passing impulse. We three
adopted a common policy."
"Now, you go away!" called a voice that was almost flippant. "I
never did belong to that great sect whose doctrine is that each
one should select--at least, I'm not going to belong to it any
longer. Go away to bed."
"A good night's rest is what you need," threatened Herbert, and
retired, not to find one for himself.
But Rickie slept. The guilt of months and the remorse of the last
ten days had alike departed. He had thought that his life was
poisoned, and lo! it was purified. He had cursed his mother, and
Ansell had replied, "You may be right, but you stand too near to
settle. Step backwards. Pretend that it happened to me. Do you
want me to curse my mother? Now, step forward and see whether
anything has changed." Something had changed. He had journeyed--
as on rare occasions a man must--till he stood behind right and
wrong. On the banks of the grey torrent of life, love is the only
flower. A little way up the stream and a little way down had
Rickie glanced, and he knew that she whom he loved had risen from
the dead, and might rise again. "Come away--let them die out--let
them die out." Surely that dream was a vision! To-night also he
hurried to the window--to remember, with a smile, that Orion is
not among the stars of June.
"Let me die out. She will continue," he murmured, and in making
plans for Stephen's happiness, fell asleep.
Next morning after breakfast he announced that his brother must
live at Dunwood House. They were awed by the very moderation of
his tone. "There's nothing else to be done. Cadover's hopeless,
and a boy of those tendencies can't go drifting. There is also
the question of a profession for him, and his allowance."
"We have to thank Mr. Ansell for this," was all that Agnes could
say; and "I foresee disaster," was the contribution of Herbert.
"There's plenty of money about," Rickie continued. "Quite a
man's-worth too much. It has been one of our absurdities. Don't
look so sad, Herbert. I'm sorry for you people, but he's sure to
let us down easy." For his experience of drunkards and of Stephen
He supposed that he had come without malice to renew the offer of
ten days ago.
"It is the end of Dunwood House."
Rickie nodded, and hoped not. Agnes, who was not looking well,
began to cry. "Oh, it is too bad," she complained, "when I've
saved you from him all these years." But he could not pity her,
nor even sympathize with her wounded delicacy. The time for such
nonsense was over. He would take his share of the blame: it was
cant to assume it all.
Perhaps he was over-hard. He did not realize how large his share
was, nor how his very virtues were to blame for her
"If I had a girl, I'd keep her in line," is not the remark of a
fool nor of a cad. Rickie had not kept his wife in line. He had
shown her all the workings of his soul, mistaking this for love;
and in consequence she was the worse woman after two years of
marriage, and he, on this morning of freedom, was harder upon her
than he need have been.
The spare room bell rang. Herbert had a painful struggle between
curiosity and duty, for the bell for chapel was ringing also, and
he must go through the drizzle to school. He promised to come up
in the interval, Rickie, who had rapped his head that Sunday on
the edge of the table, was still forbidden to work. Before
him a quiet morning lay. Secure of his victory, he took the
portrait of their mother in his hand and walked leisurely
upstairs. The bell continued to ring.
"See about his breakfast," he called to Agnes, who replied, "Very
well." The handle of the spare room door was moving slowly. "I'm
coming," he cried. The handle was still. He unlocked and entered,
his heart full of charity.
But within stood a man who probably owned the world.
Rickie scarcely knew him; last night he had seemed so colorless,
no negligible. In a few hours he had recaptured motion and
passion and the imprint of the sunlight and the wind. He stood,
not consciously heroic, with arms that dangled from broad
stooping shoulders, and feet that played with a hassock on the
carpet. But his hair was beautiful against the grey sky, and his
eyes, recalling the sky unclouded, shot past the intruder as if
to some worthier vision. So intent was their gaze that Rickie
himself glanced backwards, only to see the neat passage and the
banisters at the top of the stairs. Then the lips beat together
twice, and out burst a torrent of amazing words.
"Add it all up, and let me know how much. I'd sooner have died.
It never took me that way before. I must have broken pounds' worth.
If you'll not tell the police, I promise you shan't lose, Mr.
Elliot, I swear. But it may be months before I send it.
Everything is to be new. You've not to be a penny out of pocket,
do you see? Do let me go, this once again."
"What's the trouble?" asked Rickie, as if they had been friends
for years. "My dear man, we've other things to talk about.
Gracious me, what a fuss! If you'd smashed the whole house I
wouldn't mind, so long as you came back."
"I'd sooner have died," gulped Stephen.
"You did nearly! It was I who caught you. Never mind yesterday's
rag. What can you manage for breakfast?"
The face grew more angry and more puzzled. "Yesterday wasn't a
rag," he said without focusing his eyes. "I was drunk, but
naturally meant it."
"To smash you. Bad liquor did what Mrs. Elliot couldn't. I've put
myself in the wrong. You've got me."
It was a poor beginning.
"As I have got you," said Rickie, controlling himself, "I want to
have a talk with you. There has been a ghastly mistake."
But Stephen, with a countryman's persistency, continued on his
own line. He meant to be civil, but Rickie went cold round the
mouth. For he had not even been angry with them. Until he was
drunk, they had been dirty people--not his sort. Then the trivial
injury recurred, and he had reeled to smash them as he passed.
"And I will pay for everything," was his refrain, with which the
sighing of raindrops mingled. "You shan't lose a penny, if only
you let me free."
"You'll pay for my coffin if you talk like that any longer! Will
you, one, forgive my frightful behaviour; two, live with me?" For
his only hope was in a cheerful precision.
Stephen grew more agitated. He thought it was some trick.
"I was saying I made an unspeakable mistake. Ansell put me right,
but it was too late to find you. Don't think I got off easily.
Ansell doesn't spare one. And you've got to forgive me, to share
my life, to share my money.--I've brought you this photograph--I
want it to be the first thing you accept from me--you have the
greater right--I know all the story now. You know who it is?"
"Oh yes; but I don't want to drag all that in."
"It is only her wish if we live together. She was planning it
when she died."
"I can't follow--because--to share your life? Did you know I
called here last Sunday week?"
"Yes. But then I only knew half. I thought you were my father's
Stephen's anger and bewilderment were increasing. He stuttered.
"What--what's the odds if you did?"
"I hated my father," said Rickie. "I loved my mother." And never
had the phrases seemed so destitute of meaning.
"Last Sunday week," interrupted Stephen, his voice suddenly
rising, "I came to call on you. Not as this or that's son. Not to
fall on your neck. Nor to live here. Nor--damn your dirty little
mind! I meant to say I didn't come for money. Sorry. Sorry. I
simply came as I was, and I haven't altered since."
"Yes--yet our mother--for me she has risen from the dead since
then--I know I was wrong--"
"And where do I come in?" He kicked the hassock. "I haven't risen
from the dead. I haven't altered since last Sunday week. I'm--" He
stuttered again. He could not quite explain what he was. "The man
towards Andover--after all, he was having principles. But you've-
-" His voice broke. "I mind it--I'm--I don't alter
--blackguard one week--live here the next--I keep to one or the
other--you've hurt something most badly in me that I didn't know
"Don't let us talk," said Rickie. "It gets worse every minute.
Simply say you forgive me; shake hands, and have done with it."
"That I won't. That I couldn't. In fact, I don't know what you
Then Rickie began a new appeal--not to pity, for now he was in no
mood to whimper. For all its pathos, there was something heroic
in this meeting. "I warn you to stop here with me, Stephen. No one
else in the world will look after you. As far as I know, you have
never been really unhappy yet or suffered, as you should do, from
your faults. Last night you nearly killed yourself with drink.
Never mind why I'm willing to cure you. I am willing, and I warn
you to give me the chance. Forgive me or not, as you choose. I
care for other things more."
Stephen looked at him at last, faintly approving. The offer was
ridiculous, but it did treat him as a man.
"Let me tell you of a fault of mine, and how I was punished for
it," continued Rickie. "Two years ago I behaved badly to you, up
at the Rings. No, even a few days before that. We went for a
ride, and I thought too much of other matters, and did not try to
understand you. Then came the Rings, and in the evening, when you
called up to me most kindly, I never answered. But the ride was
the beginning. Ever since then I have taken the world at
second-hand. I have bothered less and less to look it in the
face--until not only you, but every one else has turned unreal.
Never Ansell: he kept away, and somehow saved himself. But every
one else. Do you remember in one of Tony Failing's books, 'Cast
bitter bread upon the waters, and after many days it really does
come back to you'? This had been true of my life; it will be
equally true of a drunkard's, and I warn you to stop with me."
"I can't stop after that cheque," said Stephen more gently. "But
I do remember the ride. I was a bit bored myself."
Agnes, who had not been seeing to the breakfast, chose this
moment to call from the passage. "Of course he can't stop," she
exclaimed. "For better or worse, it's settled. We've none of us
altered since last Sunday week."
"There you're right, Mrs. Elliot!" he shouted, starting out of
the temperate past. "We haven't altered." With a rare flash of
insight he turned on Rickie. "I see your game. You don't care
about ME drinking, or to shake MY hand. It's some one else you
want to cure--as it were, that old photograph. You talk to me,
but all the time you look at the photograph." He snatched it up.
"I've my own ideas of good manners, and to look friends between
the eyes is one of them; and this"--he tore the photograph across
"and this"--he tore it again--"and these--" He flung the pieces
at the man, who had sunk into a chair. "For my part, I'm off."
Then Rickie was heroic no longer. Turning round in his chair, he
covered his face. The man was right. He did not love him, even as
he had never hated him. In either passion he had degraded him to
be a symbol for the vanished past. The man was right, and would
have been lovable. He longed to be back riding over those windy
fields, to be back in those mystic circles, beneath pure sky.
Then they could have watched and helped and taught each other,
until the word was a reality, and the past not a torn photograph,
but Demeter the goddess rejoicing in the spring. Ah, if he had
seized those high opportunities! For they led to the highest of
all, the symbolic moment, which, if a man accepts, he has
The voice of Agnes, which had lured him then ("For my sake," she
had whispered), pealed over him now in triumph. Abruptly it broke
into sobs that had the effect of rain. He started up. The anger
had died out of Stephen's face, not for a subtle reason but
because here was a woman, near him, and unhappy.
She tried to apologize, and brought on a fresh burst of tears.
Something had upset her. They heard her locking the door of her
room. From that moment their intercourse was changed.
"Why does she keep crying today?" mused Rickie, as if he spoke to
some mutual friend.
"I can make a guess," said Stephen, and his heavy face flushed.
"Did you insult her?" he asked feebly.
"But who's Gerald?"
Rickie raised his hand to his mouth.
"She looked at me as if she knew me, and then gasps 'Gerald,' and
"Gerald is the name of some one she once knew."
"So I thought." There was a long silence, in which they could
hear a piteous gulping cough. "Where is he now?" asked Stephen.
"And then you--?"
"Bad, this sort of thing."
"I didn't know of this particular thing. She acted as if she had
forgotten him. Perhaps she had, and you woke him up. There are
queer tricks in the world. She is overstrained. She has probably
been plotting ever since you burst in last night."
Stephen stood irresolute. "I suppose you and she pulled
together?" He said at last.
"Get away from us, man! I mind losing you. Yet it's as well you
"Oh, THAT'S out of the question," said Stephen, brushing his cap.
"If you've guessed anything, I'd be obliged if you didn't mention
it. I've no right to ask, but I'd be obliged."
He nodded, and walked slowly along the landing and down the
stairs. Rickie accompanied him, and even opened the front door.
It was as if Agnes had absorbed the passion out of both of them.
The suburb was now wrapped in a cloud, not of its own making.
Sigh after sigh passed along its streets to break against
dripping walls. The school, the houses were hidden, and all
civilization seemed in abeyance. Only the simplest sounds, the
simplest desires emerged. They agreed that this weather was
strange after such a sunset.
"That's a collie," said Stephen, listening.
"I wish you'd have some breakfast before starting."
"No food, thanks. But you know" He paused. "It's all been a
muddle, and I've no objection to your coming along with me."
The cloud descended lower.
"Come with me as a man," said Stephen, already out in the mist.
"Not as a brother; who cares what people did years back? We're
alive together, and the rest is cant. Here am I, Rickie, and
there are you, a fair wreck. They've no use for you here,--never
had any, if the truth was known,--and they've only made you
beastly. This house, so to speak, has the rot. It's common-sense
that you should come."
"Stephen, wait a minute. What do you mean?"
"Wait's what we won't do," said Stephen at the gate.
"I must ask--"
He did wait for a minute, and sobs were heard, faint, hopeless,
vindictive. Then he trudged away, and Rickie soon lost his colour
and his form. But a voice persisted, saying, "Come, I do mean it.
Come; I will take care of you, I can manage you."
The words were kind; yet it was not for their sake that Rickie
plunged into the impalpable cloud. In the voice he had found a
surer guarantee. Habits and sex may change with the new
generation, features may alter with the play of a private
passion, but a voice is apart from these. It lies nearer to the
racial essence and perhaps to the divine; it can, at all events,
overleap one grave.
Mr. Pembroke did not receive a clear account of what had happened
when he returned for the interval. His sister--he told her
frankly--was concealing something from him. She could make no
reply. Had she gone mad, she wondered. Hitherto she had pretended
to love her husband. Why choose such a moment for the truth?
"But I understand Rickie's position," he told her. "It is an
unbalanced position, yet I understand it; I noted its approach
while he was ill. He imagines himself his brother's keeper.
Therefore we must make concessions. We must negotiate." The
negotiations were still progressing in November, the month during
which this story draws to its close.
"I understand his position," he then told her. "It is both weak
and defiant. He is still with those Ansells. Read this letter,
which thanks me for his little stories. We sent them last month,
you remember--such of them as we could find. It seems that he
fills up his time by writing: he has already written a book."
She only gave him half her attention, for a beautiful wreath had
just arrived from the florist's. She was taking it up to the
cemetery: today her child had been dead a year.
"On the other hand, he has altered his will. Fortunately, he
cannot alter much. But I fear that what is not settled on you,
will go. Should I read what I wrote on this point, and also my
minutes of the interview with old Mr. Ansell, and the copy of my
correspondence with Stephen Wonham?"
But her fly was announced. While he put the wreath in for her,
she ran for a moment upstairs. A few tears had come to her eyes.
A scandalous divorce would have been more bearable than this
withdrawal. People asked, "Why did her husband leave her?" and
the answer came, "Oh, nothing particular; he only couldn't stand
her; she lied and taught him to lie; she kept him from the work
that suited him, from his friends, from his brother,--in a word,
she tried to run him, which a man won't pardon." A few tears; not
many. To her, life never showed itself as a classic drama, in
which, by trying to advance our fortunes, we shatter them. She
had turned Stephen out of Wiltshire, and he fell like a
thunderbolt on Sawston and on herself. In trying to gain Mrs.
Failing's money she had probably lost money which would have been
her own. But irony is a subtle teacher, and she was not the woman
to learn from such lessons as these. Her suffering was more
direct. Three men had wronged her; therefore she hated them, and,
if she could, would do them harm.
"These negotiations are quite useless," she told Herbert when she
came downstairs. "We had much better bide our time. Tell me just
about Stephen Wonham, though."
He drew her into the study again. "Wonham is or was in Scotland,
learning to farm with connections of the Ansells: I believe the
money is to go towards setting him up. Apparently he is a hard
worker. He also drinks!"
She nodded and smiled. "More than he did?"
"My informant, Mr. Tilliard--oh, I ought not to have mentioned
his name. He is one of the better sort of Rickie's Cambridge
friends, and has been dreadfully grieved at the collapse, but he
does not want to be mixed up in it. This autumn he was up in the
Lowlands, close by, and very kindly made a few unobtrusive
inquiries for me. The man is becoming an habitual drunkard."
She smiled again. Stephen had evoked her secret, and she hated
him more for that than for anything else that he had done. The
poise of his shoulders that morning--it was no more--had recalled
If only she had not been so tired! He had reminded her of the
greatest thing she had known, and to her cloudy mind this seemed
degradation. She had turned to him as to her lover; with a look,
which a man of his type understood, she had asked for his pity;
for one terrible moment she had desired to be held in his arms.
Even Herbert was surprised when she said, "I'm glad he drinks. I
hope he'll kill himself. A man like that ought never to have been
"Perhaps the sins of the parents are visited on the children,"
said Herbert, taking her to the carriage. "Yet it is not for us
"I feel sure he will be punished. What right has he--" She broke
off. What right had he to our common humanity? It was a hard
lesson for any one to learn. For Agnes it was impossible.
Stephen was illicit, abnormal, worse than a man diseased. Yet she
had turned to him: he had drawn out the truth.
"My dear, don't cry," said her brother, drawing up the windows.
"I have great hopes of Mr. Tilliard--the Silts have written--Mrs.
Failing will do what she can--"
As she drove to the cemetery, her bitterness turned against
Ansell, who had kept her husband alive in the days after
Stephen's expulsion. If he had not been there, Rickie would have
renounced his mother and his brother and all the outer world,
troubling no one. The mystic, inherent in him, would have
prevailed. So Ansell himself had told her. And Ansell, too, had
sheltered the fugitives and given them money, and saved them
from the ludicrous checks that so often stop young men. But when
she reached the cemetery, and stood beside the tiny grave, all
her bitterness, all her hatred were turned against Rickie.
"But he'll come back in the end," she thought. "A wife has only
to wait. What are his friends beside me? They too will marry. I
have only to wait. His book, like all that he has done, will
fail. His brother is drinking himself away. Poor aimless Rickie!
I have only to keep civil. He will come back in the end."
She had moved, and found herself close to the grave of Gerald.
The flowers she had planted after his death were dead, and she
had not liked to renew them. There lay the athlete, and his dust
was as the little child's whom she had brought into the world
with such hope, with such pain.
That same day Rickie, feeling neither poor nor aimless, left the
Ansells' for a night's visit to Cadover. His aunt had invited
him--why, he could not think, nor could he think why he should
refuse the invitation. She could not annoy him now, and he was
not vindictive. In the dell near Madingley he had cried, "I hate
no one," in his ignorance. Now, with full knowledge, he hated no
one again. The weather was pleasant, the county attractive, and
he was ready for a little change.
Maud and Stewart saw him off. Stephen, who was down for the
holiday, had been left with his chin on the luncheon table. He
had wanted to come also. Rickie pointed out that you cannot visit
where you have broken the windows. There was an argument--there
generally was--and now the young man had turned sulky.
"Let him do what he likes," said Ansell. "He knows more than we
do. He knows everything."
"Is he to get drunk?" Rickie asked.
"And to go where he isn't asked?"
Maud, though liking a little spirit in a man, declared this to be
"Well, I wish you joy!" Rickie called, as the train moved away.
"He means mischief this evening. He told me piously that he felt
it beating up. Good-bye!"
"But we'll wait for you to pass," they cried. For the Salisbury
train always backed out of the station and then returned, and the
Ansell family, including Stewart, took an incredible pleasure in
seeing it do this.
The carriage was empty. Rickie settled himself down for his
little journey. First he looked at the coloured photographs. Then
he read the directions for obtaining luncheon-baskets, and felt
the texture of the cushions. Through the windows a signal-box
interested him. Then he saw the ugly little town that was now his
home, and up its chief street the Ansells' memorable facade. The
spirit of a genial comedy dwelt there. It was so absurd, so
kindly. The house was divided against itself and yet stood.
Metaphysics, commerce, social aspirations--all lived together in
harmony. Mr. Ansell had done much, but one was tempted to believe
in a more capricious power--the power that abstains from
"nipping." "One nips or is nipped, and never knows
beforehand," quoted Rickie, and opened the poems of Shelley, a
man less foolish than you supposed. How pleasant it was to read!
If business worried him, if Stephen was noisy or Ansell perverse,
there still remained this paradise of books. It seemed as if he
had read nothing for two years.
Then the train stopped for the shunting, and he heard protests
from minor officials who were working on the line. They
complained that some one who didn't ought to, had mounted on
the footboard of the carriage. Stephen's face appeared, convulsed
with laughter. With the action of a swimmer he dived in through
the open window, and fell comfortably on Rickie's luggage and
Rickie. He declared it was the finest joke ever known. Rickie was
not so sure. "You'll be run over next," he said. "What did you do
"I'm coming with you," he giggled, rolling all that he could on
to the dusty floor.
"Now, Stephen, this is too bad. Get up. We went into the whole
"I know; and I settled we wouldn't go into it again, spoiling my
"Well, it's execrable taste."
Now he was waving to the Ansells, and showing them a piece of
soap: it was all his luggage, and even that he abandoned, for he
flung it at Stewart's lofty brow.
"I can't think what you've done it for. You know how strongly I
Stephen replied that he should stop in the village; meet Rickie
at the lodge gates; that kind of thing.
"It's execrable taste," he repeated, trying to keep grave.
"Well, you did all you could," he exclaimed with sudden sympathy.
"Leaving me talking to old Ansell, you might have thought you'd
got your way. I've as much taste as most chaps, but, hang it!
your aunt isn't the German Emperor. She doesn't own Wiltshire."
"You ass!" sputtered Rickie, who had taken to laugh at nonsense
"No, she isn't," he repeated, blowing a kiss out of the window to
maidens. "Why, we started for Wiltshire on the wet morning!"
"When Stewart found us at Sawston railway station?" He smiled
happily. "I never thought we should pull through."
"Well, we DIDN'T. We never did what we meant. It's nonsense that
I couldn't have managed you alone. I've a notion. Slip out after
your dinner this evening, and we'll get thundering tight
"I've a notion I won't."
"It'd do you no end of good. You'll get to know people--
shepherds, carters--" He waved his arms vaguely, indicating
democracy. "Then you'll sing."
"But I'll catch you," promised Stephen. "We shall carry you up
the hill to bed. In the morning you wake, have your row with old
Em'ly, she kicks you out, we meet--we'll meet at the Rings!" He
danced up and down the carriage. Some one in the next carriage
punched at the partition, and when this happens, all lads with
mettle know that they must punch the partition back.
"Thank you. I've a notion I won't," said Rickie when the noise
had subsided--subsided for a moment only, for the following
conversation took place to an accompaniment of dust and bangs.
"Except as regards the Rings. We will meet there."
"Then I'll get tight by myself."
"No, you won't."
"Yes, I will. I swore to do something special this evening. I
feel like it."
"In that case, I get out at the next station." He was laughing,
but quite determined. Stephen had grown too dictatorial of late.
The Ansells spoilt him. "It's bad enough having you there at all.
Having you there drunk is impossible. I'd sooner not visit my
aunt than think, when I sat with her, that you're down in the
village teaching her labourers to be as beastly as yourself. Go
if you will. But not with me."
"Why shouldn't I have a good time while I'm young, if I don't
harm any one?" said Stephen defiantly.
"Need we discuss self."
"Oh, I can stop myself any minute I choose. I just say 'I won't'
to you or any other fool, and I don't."
Rickie knew that the boast was true. He continued, "There is also
a thing called Morality. You may learn in the Bible, and also
from the Greeks, that your body is a temple."
"So you said in your longest letter."
"Probably I wrote like a prig, for the reason that I have never
been tempted in this way; but surely it is wrong that your body
should escape you."
"I don't follow," he retorted, punching.
"It isn't right, even for a little time, to forget that you
"I suppose you've never been tempted to go to sleep?"
Just then the train passed through a coppice in which the grey
undergrowth looked no more alive than firewood. Yet every twig in
it was waiting for the spring. Rickie knew that the analogy was
false, but argument confused him, and he gave up this line of
"Do be more careful over life. If your body escapes you in one
thing, why not in more? A man will have other temptations."
"You mean women," said Stephen quietly, pausing for a moment in
this game. "But that's absolutely different. That would be
harming some one else."
"Is that the only thing that keeps you straight?"
"What else should?" And he looked not into Rickie, but past him,
with the wondering eyes of a child. Rickie nodded, and referred
himself to the window.
He observed that the country was smoother and more plastic. The
woods had gone, and under a pale-blue sky long contours of earth
were flowing, and merging, rising a little to bear some coronal
of beeches, parting a little to disclose some green valley, where
cottages stood under elms or beside translucent waters. It was
Wiltshire at last. The train had entered the chalk. At last it
slackened at a wayside platform. Without speaking he opened the
"What's that for?"
"To go back."
Stephen had forgotten the threat. He said that this was not
playing the game.
"I can't have you going back."
"Promise to behave decently then."
He was seized and pulled away from the door.
"We change at Salisbury," he remarked. "There is an hour to
wait. You will find me troublesome."
"It isn't fair," exploded Stephen. "It's a lowdown trick. How can
I let you go back?"
"Oh, yes, yes, yes. Y.M.C.A. But for this occasion only."
"No, no. For the rest of your holiday."
"Yes, yes. Very well. I promise."
"For the rest of your life?"
Somehow it pleased him that Stephen should bang him crossly with
his elbow and say, "No. Get out. You've gone too far." So had the
train. The porter at the end of the wayside platform slammed the
door, and they proceeded toward Salisbury through the slowly
modulating downs. Rickie pretended to read. Over the book he
watched his brother's face, and wondered how bad temper could be
consistent with a mind so radiant. In spite of his obstinacy and
conceit, Stephen was an easy person to live with. He never
fidgeted or nursed hidden grievances, or indulged in a shoddy
pride. Though he spent Rickie's money as slowly as he could, he
asked for it without apology: "You must put it down against me,"
he would say. In time--it was still very vague--he would rent or
purchase a farm. There is no formula in which we may sum up
decent people. So Ansell had preached, and had of course
proceeded to offer a formula: "They must be serious, they must be
truthful." Serious not in the sense of glum; but they must be
convinced that our life is a state of some importance, and our
earth not a place to beat time on. Of so much Stephen was
convinced: he showed it in his work, in his play, in his
self-respect, and above all--though the fact is hard to face-in
his sacred passion for alcohol. Drink, today, is an unlovely
thing. Between us and the heights of Cithaeron the river of sin
now flows. Yet the cries still call from the mountain, and
granted a man has responded to them, it is better he respond with
the candour of the Greek.
"I shall stop at the Thompsons' now," said the disappointed
Rickie did not press his triumph, but it was a happy moment,
partly because of the triumph, partly because he was sure that
his brother must care for him. Stephen was too selfish to give up
any pleasure without grave reasons. He was certain that he had
been right to disentangle himself from Sawston, and to ignore the
threats and tears that still tempted him to return. Here there
was real work for him to do. Moreover, though he sought no
reward, it had come. His health was better, his brain sound, his
life washed clean, not by the waters of sentiment, but by the
efforts of a fellow-man. Stephen was man first, brother
afterwards. Herein lay his brutality and also his virtue. "Look
me in the face. Don't hang on me clothes that don't belong--as
you did on your wife, giving her saint's robes, whereas she was
simply a woman of her own sort, who needed careful watching. Tear
up the photographs. Here am I, and there are you. The rest is
cant." The rest was not cant, and perhaps Stephen would confess
as much in time. But Rickie needed a tonic, and a man, not a
brother, must hold it to his lips.
"I see the old spire," he called, and then added, "I don't mind
seeing it again."
"No one does, as far as I know. People have come from the other
side of the world to see it again."
"Pious people. But I don't hold with bishops." He was young
enough to be uneasy. The cathedral, a fount of superstition, must
find no place in his life. At the age of twenty he had settled
"I've got my own philosophy," he once told Ansell, "and I don't
care a straw about yours." Ansell's mirth had annoyed him not a
little. And it was strange that one so settled should feel his
heart leap up at the sight of an old spire. "I regard it as a
public building," he told Rickie, who agreed. "It's useful, too,
as a landmark." His attitude today was defensive. It was part of
a subtle change that Rickie had noted in him since his return
from Scotland. His face gave hints of a new maturity. "You can
see the old spire from the Ridgeway," he said, suddenly laying a
hand on Rickie's knee, "before rain as clearly as any telegraph
"How far is the Ridgeway?"
"North, naturally. North again from that you see Devizes, the
vale of Pewsey, and the other downs. Also towards Bath. It is
something of a view. You ought to get on the Ridgeway."
"I shouldn't have time for that."
"Or Beacon Hill. Or let's do Stonehenge."
"If it's fine, I suggest the Rings."
"It will be fine." Then he murmured the names of villages.
"I wish you could live here," said Rickie kindly. "I believe you
love these particular acres more than the whole world."
Stephen replied that this was not the case: he was only used to
them. He wished they were driving out, instead of waiting for the
They had advanced into Salisbury, and the cathedral, a public
building, was grey against a tender sky. Rickie suggested that,
while waiting for the train, they should visit it. He spoke of
the incomparable north porch.
"I've never been inside it, and I never will. Sorry to shock you,
Rickie, but I must tell you plainly. I'm an atheist. I don't
believe in anything."
"I do," said Rickie.
"When a man dies, it's as if he's never been," he asserted. The
train drew up in Salisbury station. Here a little incident took
place which caused them to alter their plans.
They found outside the station a trap driven by a small boy, who
had come in from Cadford to fetch some wire-netting. "That'll do
us," said Stephen, and called to the boy, "If I pay your
railway-ticket back, and if I give you sixpence as well, will you
let us drive back in the trap?" The boy said no. "It will be all
right," said Rickie. "I am Mrs. Failing's nephew." The boy shook
his head. "And you know Mr. Wonham?" The boy couldn't say he
didn't. "Then what's your objection? Why? What is it? Why not?"
But Stephen leant against the time-tables and spoke of other
Presently the boy said, "Did you say you'd pay my railway-ticket
back, Mr. Wonham?"
"Yes," said a bystander. "Didn't you hear him?"
"I heard him right enough."
Now Stephen laid his hand on the splash-board, saying, "What I
want, though, is this trap here of yours, see, to drive in back
myself;" and as he spoke the bystander followed him in canon,
"What he wants, though, is that there trap of yours, see, to
drive hisself back in."
"I've no objection," said the boy, as if deeply offended. For a
time he sat motionless, and then got down, remarking, "I won't
rob you of your sixpence."
"Silly little fool," snapped Rickie, as they drove through the
Stephen looked surprised. "What's wrong with the boy? He had to
think it over. No one had asked him to do such a thing before.
Next time he'd let us have the trap quick enough."
"Not if he had driven in for a cabbage instead of wire-netting."
"He never would drive in for a cabbage."
Rickie shuffled his feet. But his irritation passed. He saw that
the little incident had been a quiet challenge to the
civilization that he had known. "Organize." "Systematize." "Fill
up every moment," "Induce esprit de corps." He reviewed the
watchwords of the last two years, and found that they ignored
personal contest, personal truces, personal love. By following
them Sawston School had lost its quiet usefulness and become a
frothy sea, wherein plunged Dunwood House, that unnecessary ship.
Humbled, he turned to Stephen and said, "No, you're right.
Nothing is wrong with the boy. He was honestly thinking it out."
But Stephen had forgotten the incident, or else he was not
inclined to talk about it. His assertive fit was over.
The direct road from Salisbury to Cadover is extremely dull. The
city--which God intended to keep by the river; did she not move
there, being thirsty, in the reign of William Rufus?--the city
had strayed out of her own plain, climbed up her slopes, and
tumbled over them in ugly cataracts of brick. The cataracts are
still short, and doubtless they meet or create some commercial
need. But instead of looking towards the cathedral, as all the
city should, they look outwards at a pagan entrenchment, as the
city should not. They neglect the poise of the earth, and the
sentiments she has decreed. They are the modern spirit.
Through them the road descends into an unobtrusive country where,
nevertheless, the power of the earth grows stronger. Streams do
divide. Distances do still exist. It is easier to know the men in
your valley than those who live in the next, across a waste of
down. It is easier to know men well. The country is not paradise,
and can show the vices that grieve a good man everywhere. But
there is room in it, and leisure.
"I suppose," said Rickie as the twilight fell, "this kind of
thing is going on all over England." Perhaps he meant that towns
are after all excrescences, grey fluxions, where men, hurrying
to find one another, have lost themselves. But he got no
response, and expected none. Turning round in his seat, he
watched the winter sun slide out of a quiet sky. The horizon was
primrose, and the earth against it gave momentary hints of
purple. All faded: no pageant would conclude the gracious day,
and when he turned eastward the night was already established.
"Those verlands--" said Stephen, scarcely above his breath.
"What are verlands?"
He pointed at the dusk, and said, "Our name for a kind of field."
Then he drove his whip into its socket,and seemed to swallow
something. Rickie, straining his eyes for verlands, could only
see a tumbling wilderness of brown.
"Are there many local words?"
"There have been."
"I suppose they die out."
The conversation turned curiously. In the tone of one who
replies, he said, "I expect that some time or other I shall
"I expect you will," said Rickie, and wondered a little why the
reply seemed not abrupt. "Would we see the Rings in the daytime
"(We do see them.) But Mrs. Failing once said no decent woman
would have me."
"Did you agree to that?"
"Drive a little, will you?"
The horse went slowly forward into the wilderness, that turned
from brown to black. Then a luminous glimmer surrounded them, and
the air grew cooler: the road was descending between parapets of
"But, Rickie, mightn't I find a girl--naturally not refined--and
be happy with her in my own way? I would tell her straight I was
nothing much--faithful, of course, but that she should never have
all my thoughts. Out of no disrespect to her, but because all
one's thoughts can't belong to any single person."
While he spoke even the road vanished, and invisible water came
gurgling through the wheel-spokes. The horse had chosen the ford.
"You can't own people. At least a fellow can't. It may be
different for a poet. (Let the horse drink.) And I want to marry
some one, and don't yet know who she is, which a poet again will
tell you is disgusting. Does it disgust you? Being nothing much,
surely I'd better go gently. For it's something rather outside
that makes one marry, if you follow me: not exactly oneself.
(Don't hurry the horse.) We want to marry, and yet--I can't
explain. I fancy I'll go wading: this is our stream."
Romantic love is greater than this. There are men and women--we
know it from history--who have been born into the world for each
other, and for no one else, who have accomplished the longest
journey locked in each other's arms. But romantic love is also
the code of modern morals, and, for this reason, popular. Eternal
union, eternal ownership--these are tempting baits for the
average man. He swallows them, will not confess his mistake,
and--perhaps to cover it--cries "dirty cynic" at such a man as
Rickie watched the black earth unite to the black sky. But the
sky overhead grew clearer, and in it twinkled the Plough and the
central stars. He thought of his brother's future and of his own
past, and of how much truth might lie in that antithesis of
Ansell's: "A man wants to love mankind, a woman wants to love one
man." At all events, he and his wife had illustrated it, and
perhaps the conflict, so tragic in their own case, was elsewhere
the salt of the world. Meanwhile Stephen called from the water
for matches: there was some trick with paper which Mr. Failing
had showed him, and which he would show Rickie now, instead of
talking nonsense. Bending down, he illuminated the dimpled
surface of the ford. "Quite a current." he said, and his face
flickered out in the darkness. "Yes, give me the loose paper,
quick! Crumple it into a ball."
Rickie obeyed, though intent on the transfigured face. He
believed that a new spirit dwelt there, expelling the crudities
of youth. He saw steadier eyes, and the sign of manhood set like
a bar of gold upon steadier lips. Some faces are knit by beauty,
or by intellect, or by a great passion: had Stephen's waited for
the touch of the years?
But they played as boys who continued the nonsense of the railway
carriage. The paper caught fire from the match, and spread into a
rose of flame. "Now gently with me," said Stephen, and they laid
it flowerlike on the stream. Gravel and tremulous weeds leapt
into sight, and then the flower sailed into deep water, and up
leapt the two arches of a bridge. "It'll strike!" they cried;
"no, it won't; it's chosen the left," and one arch became a fairy
tunnel, dropping diamonds. Then it vanished for Rickie; but
Stephen, who knelt in the water, declared that it was still
afloat, far through the arch, burning as if it would burn
The carriage that Mrs. Failing had sent to meet her nephew
returned from Cadchurch station empty. She was preparing for a
solitary dinner when he somehow arrived, full of apologies, but
more sedate than she had expected. She cut his explanations
short. "Never mind how you got here. You are here, and I am quite
pleased to see you." He changed his clothes and they proceeded to
There was a bright fire, but the curtains were not drawn. Mr.
Failing had believed that windows with the night behind are more
beautiful than any pictures, and his widow had kept to the
custom. It was brave of her to persevere, lumps of chalk having
come out of the night last June. For some obscure reason--not so
obscure to Rickie--she had preserved them as mementoes of an
episode. Seeing them in a row on the mantelpiece, he expected
that their first topic would be Stephen. But they never mentioned
him, though he was latent in all that they said.
It was of Mr. Failing that they spoke. The Essays had been a
success. She was really pleased. The book was brought in at her
request, and between the courses she read it aloud to her nephew,
in her soft yet unsympathetic voice. Then she sent for the press
notices--after all no one despises them--and read their comments
on her introduction. She wielded a graceful pen, was apt,
adequate, suggestive, indispensable, unnecessary. So the meal
passed pleasantly away, for no one could so well combine the
formal with the unconventional, and it only seemed charming when
papers littered her stately table.
"My man wrote very nicely," she observed. "Now, you read me
something out of him that you like. Read 'The True Patriot.'"
He took the book and found: "Let us love one another. Let our
children, physical and spiritual, love one another. It is all
that we can do. Perhaps the earth will neglect our love. Perhaps
she will confirm it, and suffer some rallying-point, spire,
mound, for the new generatons to cherish."
"He wrote that when he was young. Later on he doubted whether we
had better love one another, or whether the earth will confirm
anything. He died a most unhappy man."
He could not help saying, "Not knowing that the earth had
"Has she? It is quite possible. We meet so seldom in these days,
she and I. Do you see much of the earth?"
"Do you expect that she will confirm you?"
"It is quite possible."
"Beware of her, Rickie, I think."
"I think not."
"Beware of her, surely. Going back to her really is going back--
throwing away the artificiality which (though you young people
won't confess it) is the only good thing in life. Don't pretend
you are simple. Once I pretended. Don't pretend that you care for
anything but for clever talk such as this, and for books."
"The talk," said Leighton afterwards, "certainly was clever. But
it meant something, all the same." He heard no more, for his
mistress told him to retire.
"And my nephew, this being so, make up your quarrel with your
wife." She stretched out her hand to him with real feeling. "It
is easier now than it will be later. Poor lady, she has written
to me foolishly and often, but, on the whole, I side with her
against you. She would grant you all that you fought for--all the
people, all the theories. I have it, in her writing, that she
will never interfere with your life again."
"She cannot help interfering," said Rickie, with his eyes on the
black windows. "She despises me. Besides, I do not love her."
"I know, my dear. Nor she you. I am not being sentimental. I say
once more, beware of the earth. We are conventional people, and
conventions--if you will but see it--are majestic in their way,
and will claim us in the end. We do not live for great passions
or for great memories, or for anything great."
He threw up his head. "We do."
"Now listen to me. I am serious and friendly tonight, as you must
have observed. I have asked you here partly to amuse myself--you
belong to my March Past--but also to give you good advice. There
has been a volcano--a phenomenon which I too once greatly
admired. The eruption is over. Let the conventions do their work
now, and clear the rubbish away. My age is fifty-nine, and I tell
you solemnly that the important things in life are little things,
and that people are not important at all. Go back to your wife."
He looked at her, and was filled with pity. He knew that he would
never be frightened of her again. Only because she was serious
and friendly did he trouble himself to reply. "There is one
little fact I should like to tell you, as confuting your theory.
The idea of a story--a long story--had been in my head for a
year. As a dream to amuse myself--the kind of amusement you would
recommend for the future. I should have had time to write it, but
the people round me coloured my life, and so it never seemed
worth while. For the story is not likely to pay. Then came the
volcano. A few days after it was over I lay in bed looking out
upon a world of rubbish. Two men I know--one intellectual, the
other very much the reverse--burst into the room. They said,
'What happened to your short stories? They weren't good, but
where are they? Why have you stopped writing? Why haven't you
been to Italy? You must write. You must go. Because to write, to
go, is you." Well, I have written, and yesterday we sent the long
story out on its rounds. The men do not like it, for different
reasons. But it mattered very much to them that I should write
it, and so it got written. As I told you, this is only one fact;
other facts, I trust, have happened in the last five months. But
I mention it to prove that people are important, and therefore,
however much it inconveniences my wife, I will not go back to
"And Italy?" asked Mrs. Failing.
This question he avoided. Italy must wait. Now that he had the
time, he had not the money.
"Or what is the long story about, then?"
"About a man and a woman who meet and are happy."
"Somewhat of a tour de force, I conclude."
He frowned. "In literature we needn't intrude our own
limitations. I'm not so silly as to think that all marriages turn
out like mine. My character is to blame for our catastrophe, not
"My dear, I too have married; marriage is to blame."
But here again he seemed to know better.
"Well," she said, leaving the table and moving with her dessert
to the mantelpiece, "so you are abandoning marriage and taking to
literature. And are happy."
"Because, as we used to say at Cambridge, the cow is there. The
world is real again. This is a room, that a window, outside is
the night "
He pointed to the floor. "The day is straight below, shining
through other windows into other rooms."
"You are very odd," she said after a pause, "and I do not like
you at all. There you sit, eating my biscuits, and all the time
you know that the earth is round. Who taught you? I am going to
bed now, and all the night, you tell me, you and I and the
biscuits go plunging eastwards, until we reach the sun. But
breakfast will be at nine as usual. Good-night."
She rang the bell twice, and her maid came with her candle and
her walking-stick: it was her habit of late to go to her room as
soon as dinner was over, for she had no one to sit up with.
Rickie was impressed by her loneliness, and also by the mixture
in her of insight and obtuseness. She was so quick, so
clear-headed, so imaginative even. But all the same, she had
forgotten what people were like. Finding life dull, she had
dropped lies into it, as a chemist drops a new element into a
solution, hoping that life would thereby sparkle or turn some
beautiful colour. She loved to mislead others, and in the end her
private view of false and true was obscured, and she misled
herself. How she must have enjoyed their errors over Stephen! But
her own error had been greater, inasmuch as it was spiritual
Leighton came in with some coffee. Feeling it unnecessary to
light the drawing-room lamp for one small young man, he persuaded
Rickie to say he preferred the dining-room. So Rickie sat down by
the fire playing with one of the lumps of chalk. His thoughts
went back to the ford, from which they had scarcely wandered.
Still he heard the horse in the dark drinking, still he saw the
mystic rose, and the tunnel dropping diamonds. He had driven away
alone, believing the earth had confirmed him. He stood behind
things at last, and knew that conventions are not majestic, and
that they will not claim us in the end.
As he mused, the chalk slipped from his fingers, and fell on the
coffee-cup, which broke. The china, said Leighton, was expensive.
He believed it was impossible to match it now. Each cup was
different. It was a harlequin set. The saucer, without the cup,
was therefore useless. Would Mr. Elliot please explain to Mrs.
Failing how it happened.
Rickie promised he would explain.
He had left Stephen preparing to bathe, and had heard him working
up-stream like an animal, splashing in the shallows, breathing
heavily as he swam the pools; at times reeds snapped, or clods of
earth were pulled in. By the fire he remembered it was again
November. "Should you like a walk?" he asked Leighton, and told
him who stopped in the village tonight. Leighton was pleased. At
nine o'clock the two young men left the house, under a sky that
was still only bright in the zenith. "It will rain tomorrow,"
"My brother says, fine tomorrow."
"Fine tomorrow," Leighton echoed.
"Now which do you mean?" asked Rickie, laughing.
Since the plumes of the fir-trees touched over the drive, only a
very little light penetrated. It was clearer outside the lodge
gate, and bubbles of air, which Wiltshire seemed to have
travelled from an immense distance, broke gently and separately
on his face. They paused on the bridge. He asked whether the
little fish and the bright green weeds were here now as well as
in the summer. The footman had not noticed. Over the bridge they
came to the cross-roads, of which one led to Salisbury and the
other up through the string of villages to the railway station.
The road in front was only the Roman road, the one that went on
to the downs. Turning to the left, they were in Cadford.
"He will be with the Thompsons," said Rickie, looking up at dark
eaves. "Perhaps he's in bed already."
"Perhaps he will be at The Antelope."
"No. Tonight he is with the Thompsons."
"With the Thompsons." After a dozen paces he said, "The Thompsons
have gone away."
"They were turned out by Mr. Wilbraham on account of our broken
"Are you sure?"
"Five families were turned out."
"That's bad for Stephen," said Rickie, after a pause. "He was
looking forward--oh, it's monstrous in any case!"
"But the Thompsons have gone to London," said Leighton. "Why,
that family--they say it's been in the valley hundreds of years,
and never got beyond shepherding. To various parts of London."
"Let us try The Antelope, then."
"Let us try The Antelope."
The inn lay up in the village. Rickie hastened his pace. This
tyranny was monstrous. Some men of the age of undergraduates had
broken windows, and therefore they and their families were to be
ruined. The fools who govern us find it easier to be severe. It
saves them trouble to say, "The innocent must suffer with the
guilty." It even gives them a thrill of pride. Against all this
wicked nonsense, against the Wilbrahams and Pembrokes who try to
rule our world Stephen would fight till he died. Stephen was a
hero. He was a law to himself, and rightly. He was great enough
to despise our small moralities. He was attaining love. This eve-
ning Rickie caught Ansell's enthusiasm, and felt it worth while
to sacrifice everything for such a man.
"The Antelope," said Leighton. "Those lights under the greatest
"Would you please ask if he's there, and if he'd come for a turn
with me. I don't think I'll go in."
Leighton opened the door. They saw a little room, blue with
tobacco-smoke. Flanking the fire were deep settles hiding all but
the legs of the men who lounged in them. Between the settles
stood a table, covered with mugs and glasses. The scene was
picturesque--fairer than the cutglass palaces of the town.
"Oh yes, he's there," he called, and after a moment's hesitation
"Would he come?"
"No. I shouldn't say so," replied Leighton, with a furtive
glance. He knew that Rickie was a milksop. "First night, you
know, sir, among old friends."
"Yes, I know," said Rickie. "But he might like a turn down the
village. It looks stuffy inside there, and poor fun probably to
watch others drinking."
Leighton shut the door.
"What was that he called after you?"
"Oh, nothing. A man when he's drunk--he says the worst he's ever
heard. At least, so they say."
"A man when he's drunk?"
"But Stephen isn't drinking?"
"He couldn't be. If he broke a promise--I don't pretend he's a
saint. I don't want him one. But it isn't in him to break a
"Yes, sir; I understand."
"In the train he promised me not to drink--nothing theatrical:
just a promise for these few days."
"'No, sir,'" stamped Rickie. "'Yes! no! yes!' Can't you speak
out? Is he drunk or isn't he?"
Leighton, justly exasperated, cried, "He can't stand, and I've
told you so again and again."
"Stephen!" shouted Rickie, darting up the steps. Heat and the
smell of beer awaited him, and he spoke more furiously than he
had intended. "Is there any one here who's sober?" he cried. The
landlord looked over the bar angrily, and asked him what he
meant. He pointed to the deep settles. "Inside there he's drunk.
Tell him he's broken his word, and I will not go with him to the
"Very well. You won't go with him to the Rings," said the
landlord, stepping forward and slamming the door in his face.
In the room he was only angry, but out in the cool air he
remembered that Stephen was a law to himself. He had chosen to
break his word, and would break it again. Nothing else bound him.
To yield to temptation is not fatal for most of us. But it was
the end of everything for a hero.
"He's suddenly ruined!" he cried, not yet remembering himself.
For a little he stood by the elm-tree, clutching the ridges of
its bark. Even so would he wrestle tomorrow, and Stephen,
imperturbable, reply, "My body is my own." Or worse still, he
might wrestle with a pliant Stephen who promised him glibly
again. While he prayed for a miracle to convert his brother, it
struck him that he must pray for himself. For he, too, was
"Why, what's the matter?" asked Leighton. "Stephen's only being
with friends. Mr. Elliot, sir, don't break down. Nothing's
happened bad. No one's died yet, or even hurt themselves." Ever
kind, he took hold of Rickie's arm, and, pitying such a nervous
fellow, set out with him for home. The shoulders of Orion rose
behind them over the topmost boughs of the elm. From the bridge
the whole constellation was visible, and Rickie said, "May God
receive me and pardon me for trusting the earth."
"But, Mr. Elliot, what have you done that's wrong?"
"Gone bankrupt, Leighton, for the second time. Pretended again
that people were real. May God have mercy on me!"
Leighton dropped his arm. Though he did not understand, a chill
of disgust passed over him, and he said, "I will go back to The
Antelope. I will help them put Stephen to bed."
"Do. I will wait for you here." Then he leant against the parapet
and prayed passionately, for he knew that the conventions would
claim him soon. God was beyond them, but ah, how far beyond, and
to be reached after what degradation! At the end of this childish
detour his wife awaited him, not less surely because she was only
his wife in name. He was too weak. Books and friends were not
enough. Little by little she would claim him and corrupt him and
make him what he had been; and the woman he loved would die out,
in drunkenness, in debauchery, and her strength would be
dissipated by a man, her beauty defiled in a man. She would not
continue. That mystic rose and the face it illumined meant
nothing. The stream--he was above it now--meant nothing, though
it burst from the pure turf and ran for ever to the sea. The
bather, the shoulders of Orion-they all meant nothing, and were
going nowhere. The whole affair was a ridiculous dream.
Leighton returned, saying, "Haven't you seen Stephen? They say he
followed us: he can still walk: I told you he wasn't so bad."
"I don't think he passed me. Ought one to look?" He wandered a
little along the Roman road. Again nothing mattered. At the
level-crossing he leant on the gate to watch a slow goods train
pass. In the glare of the engine he saw that his brother had come
this way, perhaps through some sodden memory of the Rings, and
now lay drunk over the rails. Wearily he did a man's duty. There
was time to raise him up and push him into safety. It is also a
man's duty to save his own life, and therefore he tried. The
train went over his knees. He died up in Cadover, whispering,
"You have been right," to Mrs. Failing.
She wrote of him to Mrs. Lewin afterwards as "one who has failed
in all he undertook; one of the thousands whose dust returns to
the dust, accomplishing nothing in the interval. Agnes and I
buried him to the sound of our cracked bell, and pretended that
he had once been alive. The other, who was always honest, kept
>From the window they looked over a sober valley, whose sides were
not too sloping to be ploughed, and whose trend was followed by a
grass-grown track. It was late on Sunday afternoon, and the
valley was deserted except for one labourer, who was coasting
slowly downward on a rosy bicycle. The air was very quiet. A jay
screamed up in the woods behind, but the ring-doves, who roost
early, were already silent. Since the window opened westward, the
room was flooded with light, and Stephen, finding it hot, was
working in his shirtsleeves.
"You guarantee they'll sell?" he asked, with a pen between his
teeth. He was tidying up a pile of manuscripts.
"I guarantee that the world will be the gainer," said Mr.
Pembroke, now a clergyman, who sat beside him at the table with
an expression of refined disapproval on his face.
"I'd got the idea that the long story had its points, but that
these shorter things didn't--what's the word?"
"'Convince' is probably the word you want. But that type of
criticism is quite a thing of the past. Have you seen the
illustrated American edition?"
"I don't remember."
"Might I send you a copy? I think you ought to possess one."
"Thank you." His eye wandered. The bicycle had disappeared into
some trees, and thither, through a cloudless sky, the sun was
"Is all quite plain?" said Mr. Pembroke. "Submit these ten
stories to the magazines, and make your own terms with the
editors. Then--I have your word for it--you will join forces with
me; and the four stories in my possession, together with yours,
should make up a volume, which we might well call 'Pan Pipes.'"
"Are you sure `Pan Pipes' haven't been used up already?"
Mr. Pembroke clenched his teeth. He had been bearing with this
sort of thing for nearly an hour. "If that is the case, we can
select another. A title is easy to come by. But that is the idea
it must suggest. The stories, as I have twice explained to you,
all centre round a Nature theme. Pan, being the god of--"
"I know that," said Stephen impatiently.
"--Being the god of--"
"All right. Let's get furrard. I've learnt that."
It was years since the schoolmaster had been interrupted, and he
could not stand it. "Very well," he said. "I bow to your superior
knowledge of the classics. Let us proceed."
"Oh yes the introduction. There must be one. It was the
introduction with all those wrong details that sold the other
"You overwhelm me. I never penned the memoir with that
"If you won't do one, Mrs. Keynes must!"
"My sister leads a busy life. I could not ask her. I will do it
myself since you insist."
"And the binding?"
"The binding," said Mr. Pembroke coldly, "must really be left to
the discretion of the publisher. We cannot be concerned with such
details. Our task is purely literary." His attention wandered. He
began to fidget, and finally bent down and looked under the
table. "What have we here?" he asked.
Stephen looked also, and for a moment they smiled at each other
over the prostrate figure of a child, who was cuddling Mr.
Pembroke's boots. "She's after the blacking," he explained. "If
we left her there, she'd lick them brown."
"Indeed. Is that so very safe?"
"It never did me any harm. Come up! Your tongue's dirty."
"Can I--" She was understood to ask whether she could clean her
tongue on a lollie.
"No, no!" said Mr. Pembroke. "Lollipops don't clean little girls'
"Yes, they do," he retorted. "But she won't get one." He lifted
her on his knee, and rasped her tongue with his handkerchief.
"Dear little thing," said the visitor perfunctorily. The
child began to squall, and kicked her father in the stomach.
Stephen regarded her quietly. "You tried to hurt me," he said.
"Hurting doesn't count. Trying to hurt counts. Go and clean your
tongue yourself. Get off my knee." Tears of another sort came
into her eyes, but she obeyed him. "How's the great Bertie?" he
"Thank you. My nephew is perfectly well. How came you to hear of
"Through the Silts, of course. It isn't five miles to Cadover."
Mr. Pembroke raised his eyes mournfully. "I cannot conceive how
the poor Silts go on in that great house. Whatever she intended,
it could not have been that. The house, the farm, the money,--
everything down to the personal articles that belong to Mr.
Failing, and should have reverted to his family!"
"It's legal. Interstate succession."
"I do not dispute it. But it is a lesson to one to make a will.
Mrs. Keynes and myself were electrified."
"They'll do there. They offered me the agency, but--" He looked
down the cultivated slopes. His manners were growing rough, for
he saw few gentlemen now, and he was either incoherent or else
alarmingly direct. "However, if Lawrie Silt's a Cockney like his
father, and if my next is a boy and like me--" A shy beautiful
look came into his eyes, and passed unnoticed. "They'll do," he
repeated. "They turned out Wilbraham and built new cottages, and
bridged the railway, and made other necessary alterations." There
was a moment's silence.
Mr. Pembroke took out his watch. "I wonder if I might have the
trap? I mustn't miss my train, must I? It is good of you to have
granted me an interview. It is all quite plain?"
"A case of half and half-division of profits."
"Half and half?" said the young farmer slowly. "What do you take
me for? Half and half, when I provide ten of the stories and you
"I--I--" stammered Mr. Pembroke.
"I consider you did me over the long story, and I'm damned if you
do me over the short ones!"
"Hush! if you please, hush!--if only for your little girl's
He lifted a clerical palm.
"You did me," his voice drove, "and all the thirty-nine Articles
won't stop me saying so. That long story was meant to be mine. I
got it written. You've done me out of every penny it fetched.
It's dedicated to me--flat out--and you even crossed out the
dedication and tidied me out of the introduction. Listen to me,
Pembroke. You've done people all your life--I think without
knowing it, but that won't comfort us. A wretched devil at your
school once wrote to me, and he'd been done. Sham food, sham
religion, sham straight talks--and when he broke down, you said
it was the world in miniature." He snatched at him roughly. "But
I'll show you the world." He twisted him round like a baby, and
through the open door they saw only the quiet valley, but in it a
rivulet that would in time bring its waters to the sea. "Look
even at that--and up behind where the Plain begins and you get on
the solid chalk--think of us riding some night when you're
ordering your hot bottle--that's the world, and there's no
miniature world. There's one world, Pembroke, and you can't tidy
men out of it. They answer you back do you hear?--they answer
back if you do them. If you tell a man this way that four sheep
equal ten, he answers back you're a liar."
Mr. Pembroke was speechless, and--such is human nature--he chiefly
resented the allusion to the hot bottle; an unmanly luxury in which
he never indulged; contenting himself with nightsocks. "Enough--
there is no witness present--as you have doubtless observed." But
there was. For a little voice cried, "Oh, mummy, they're fighting--
such fun--" and feet went pattering up the stairs. "Enough. You
talk of 'doing,' but what about the money out of which you 'did' my
sister? What about this picture"--he pointed to a faded photograph
of Stockholm--"which you caused to be filched from the walls of my
house? What about--enough! Let us conclude this disheartening
scene. You object to my terms. Name yours. I shall accept them.
It is futile to reason with one who is the worse for drink."
Stephen was quiet at once. "Steady on!" he said gently. "Steady
on in that direction. Take one-third for your four stories and
the introduction, and I will keep two-thirds for myself." Then he
went to harness the horse, while Mr. Pembroke, watching his
broad back, desired to bury a knife in it. The desire passed,
partly because it was unclerical, partly because he had no knife,
and partly because he soon blurred over what had happened. To him
all criticism was "rudeness": he never heeded it, for he never
needed it: he was never wrong. All his life he had ordered little
human beings about, and now he was equally magisterial to big
ones: Stephen was a fifth-form lout whom, owing to some flaw in
the regulations, he could not send up to the headmaster to be
This attitude makes for tranquillity. Before long he felt merely
an injured martyr. His brain cleared. He stood deep in thought
before the only other picture that the bare room boasted--the
Demeter of Cnidus. Outside the sun was sinking, and its last rays
fell upon the immortal features and the shattered knees. Sweet-
peas offered their fragrance, and with it there entered those
more mysterious scents that come from no one flower or clod of
earth, but from the whole bosom of evening.
He tried not to be cynical. But in his heart he could not regret
that tragedy, already half-forgotten, conventionalized,
indistinct. Of course death is a terrible thing. Yet death is
merciful when it weeds out a failure. If we look deep enough, it
is all for the best. He stared at the picture and nodded.
Stephen, who had met his visitor at the station, had intended to
drive him back there. But after their spurt of temper he sent him
with the boy. He remained in the doorway, glad that he was going
to make money, glad that he had been angry; while the glow of the
clear sky deepened, and the silence was perfected, and the scents
of the night grew stronger. Old vagrancies awoke, and he resolved
that, dearly as he loved his house, he would not enter it again
till dawn. "Goodnight!" he called, and then the child came
running, and he whispered, "Quick, then! Bring me a rug."
"Good-night," he repeated, and a pleasant voice called through an
upper window, "Why good-night?" He did not answer until the child
was wrapped up in his arms.
"It is time that she learnt to sleep out," he cried. "If you want
me, we're out on the hillside, where I used to be."
The voice protested, saying this and that.
"Stewart's in the house," said the man, "and it cannot matter,
and I am going anyway."
"Stephen, I wish you wouldn't. I wish you wouldn't take her.
Promise you won't say foolish things to her. Don't--I wish you'd
come up for a minute--"
The child, whose face was laid against his, felt the muscles in
"Don't tell her foolish things about yourself--things that aren't
any longer true. Don't worry her with old dead dreadfulness. To
"Just tonight I won't, then."
"Stevie, dear, please me more--don't take her with you."
At this he laughed impertinently. "I suppose I'm being kept in
line," she called, and, though he could not see her, she
stretched her arms towards him. For a time he stood motionless,
under her window, musing on his happy tangible life. Then his
breath quickened, and he wondered why he was here, and why he
should hold a warm child in his arms. "It's time we were
starting," he whispered, and showed the sky, whose orange was
already fading into green. "Wish everything goodnight."
"Good-night, dear mummy," she said sleepily. "Goodnight, dear
house. Good-night, you pictures--long picture--stone lady. I see
you through the window--your faces are pink."
The twilight descended. He rested his lips on her hair, and
carried her, without speaking, until he reached the open down. He
had often slept here himself, alone, and on his wedding-night,
and he knew that the turf was dry, and that if you laid your face
to it you would smell the thyme. For a moment the earth aroused
her, and she began to chatter. "My prayers--" she said anxiously.
He gave her one hand, and she was asleep before her fingers had
nestled in its palm. Their touch made him pensive, and again he
marvelled why he, the accident, was here. He was alive and had
created life. By whose authority? Though he could not phrase it,
he believed that he guided the future of our race, and that,
century after century, his thoughts and his passions would
triumph in England. The dead who had evoked him, the unborn whom
he would evoke he governed the paths between them. By whose
Out in the west lay Cadover and the fields of his earlier youth,
and over them descended the crescent moon. His eyes followed her
decline, and against her final radiance he saw, or thought he
saw, the outline of the Rings. He had always been grateful, as
people who understood him knew. But this evening his gratitude
seemed a gift of small account. The ear was deaf, and what thanks
of his could reach it? The body was dust, and in what ecstasy of
his could it share? The spirit had fled, in agony and loneliness,
never to know that it bequeathed him salvation.
He filled his pipe, and then sat pressing the unlit tobacco with
his thumb. "What am I to do?" he thought. "Can he notice the
things he gave me? A parson would know. But what's a man like me
to do, who works all his life out of doors?" As he wondered, the
silence of the night was broken. The whistle of Mr. Pembroke's
train came faintly, and a lurid spot passed over the land--
passed, and the silence returned. One thing remained that a man
of his sort might do. He bent down reverently and saluted the
child; to whom he had given the name of their mother.