Part 2 out of 6
'I have been thinking, Harold, that the time has come when you should
be altogether your own master. I am more than pleased, my boy, with
the way you have gone through college; it is, I am sure, just as your
dear father would have wished it, and as it would have pleased him
best.' He paused, and Harold said in a low voice:
'I tried hard, sir, to do what I thought he would like; and what you
would.' The Squire went on more cheerfully:
'I know that, my boy! I know that well. And I can tell you that it
is not the least of the pleasures we have all had in your success,
how you have justified yourself. You have won many honours in the
schools, and you have kept the reputation as an athlete which your
father was so proud of. Well, I suppose in the natural order of
things you would go into a profession; and of course if you so desire
you can do that. But if you can see your way to it I would rather
that you stayed here. My house is your home as long as I live; but I
don't wish you to feel in any way dependent. I want you to stay here
if you will; but to do it just because you wish to. To this end I
have made over to you the estate at Camp which was my father's gift
to me when I came of age. It is not a very large one; but it will
give you a nice position of your own, and a comfortable income. And
with it goes my blessing, my dear boy. Take it as a gift from your
father and myself!'
Harold was much moved, not only by the act itself but by the gracious
way of doing it. There were tears in his eyes as he wrung the
Squire's hand; his voice thrilled with feeling as he said:
'Your many goodnesses to my father's son, sir, will, I hope, be
justified by his love and loyalty. If I don't say much it is because
I do not feel quite master of myself. I shall try to show in time,
as I cannot say it all at once, all that I feel.'
Harold continued to live at Normanstand. The house at Camp was in
reality a charming cottage. A couple of servants were installed, and
now and again he stayed there for a few days as he wished to get
accustomed to the place. In a couple of months every one accepted
the order of things; and life at Normanstand went on much as it had
done before Harold had gone to college. There was a man in the house
now instead of a boy: that was all. Stephen too was beginning to be
a young woman, but the relative positions were the same as they had
been. Her growth did not seem to make an ostensible difference to
any one. The one who might have noticed it most, Mrs. Jarrold, had
died during the last year of Harold's life at college.
When the day came for the quarterly meeting of the magistrates of the
county of Norcester, Squire Rowly arranged as usual to drive Squire
Norman. This had been their habit for good many years. The two men
usually liked to talk over the meeting as they returned home
together. It was a beautiful morning for a drive, and when Rowly
came flying up the avenue in his T-cart with three magnificent bays,
Stephen ran out on the top of the steps to see him draw up. Rowly
was a fine whip, and his horses felt it. Squire Norman was ready,
and, after a kiss from Stephen, climbed into the high cart. The men
raised their hats and waved good-bye. A word from Rowly; with a
bound the horses were off. Stephen stood looking at them delighted;
all was so sunny, so bright, so happy. The world was so full of life
and happiness to-day that it seemed as if it would never end; that
nothing except good could befall.
Harold, later on that morning, was to go into Norcester also; so
Stephen with a lonely day before her set herself to take up loose-
ends of all sorts of little personal matters. They would all meet at
dinner as Rowly was to stop the night at Normanstand.
Harold left the club in good time to ride home to dinner. As he
passed the County Hotel he stopped to ask if Squire Norman had left;
and was told that he had started only a short time before with Squire
Rowly in his T-cart. He rode on fast, thinking that perhaps he might
overtake them and ride on with them. But the bays knew their work,
and did it. They kept their start; it was only at the top of the
North hill, five miles out of Norcester, that he saw them in the
distance, flying along the level road. He knew he would not now
overtake them, and so rode on somewhat more leisurely.
The Norcester highroad, when it has passed the village of Brackling,
turns away to the right behind the great clump of oaks. From this
the road twists to the left again, making a double curve, and then
runs to Norling Parva in a clear stretch of some miles before
reaching the sharp turn down the hill which is marked 'Dangerous to
Cyclists.' From the latter village branches the by-road over the
hill which is the short cut to Normanstand.
When Harold turned the corner under the shadow of the oaks he saw a
belated road-mender, surrounded by some gaping peasants, pointing
excitedly in the distance. The man, who of course knew him, called
to him to stop.
'What is it?' he asked, reining up.
'It be Squire Rowly's bays which have run away with him. Three on
'em, all in a row and comin' like the wind. Squire he had his reins
all right, but they 'osses didn't seem to mind 'un. They was fair
mad and bolted. The leader he had got frightened at the heap o'
stones theer, an' the others took scare from him.'
Without a word Harold shook his reins and touched the horse with his
whip. The animal seemed to understand and sprang forward, covering
the ground at a terrific pace. Harold was not given to alarms, but
here might be serious danger. Three spirited horses in a light cart
made for pace, all bolting in fright, might end any moment in
calamity. Never in his life did he ride faster than on the road to
Norling Parva. Far ahead of him he could see at the turn, now and
again, a figure running. Something had happened. His heart grew
cold: he knew as well as though he had seen it, the high cart
swaying on one wheel round the corner as the maddened horses tore on
their way; the one jerk too much, and the momentary reaction in the
crash! . . .
With beating heart and eyes aflame in his white face he dashed on.
It was all too true. By the side of the roadway on the inner curve
lay the cart on its side with broken shafts. The horses were
prancing and stamping about along the roadway not recovered from
their fright. Each was held by several men.
And on the grass two figures were still lying where they had been
thrown out. Rowly, who had of course been on the off-side, had been
thrown furthest. His head had struck the milestone that stood back
on the waste ground before the ditch. There was no need for any one
to tell that his neck had been broken. The way his head lay on one
side, and the twisted, inert limbs, all told their story plainly
Squire Norman lay on his back stretched out. Some one had raised him
to a sitting posture and then lowered him again, straightening his
limbs. He did not therefore look so dreadful as Rowly, but there
were signs of coming death in the stertorous breathing, the ooze of
blood from nostrils and ears as well as mouth. Harold knelt down by
him at once and examined him. Those who were round all knew him and
stood back. He felt the ribs and limbs; so far as he could ascertain
by touch no bone was broken.
Just then the local doctor, for whom some one had run, arrived in his
gig. He, too, knelt beside the injured man, a quick glance having
satisfied him that there was only one patient requiring his care.
Harold stood up and waited. The doctor looked up, shaking his head.
Harold could hardly suppress the groan which was rising in his
throat. He asked:
'Is it immediate? Should his daughter be brought here?'
'How long would it take her to arrive?'
'Perhaps half an hour; she would not lose an instant.'
'Then you had better send for her.'
'I shall go at once!' answered Harold, turning to jump on his horse,
which was held on the road.
'No, no!' said the doctor, 'send some one else. You had better stay
here yourself. He may become conscious just before the end; and he
may want to say something!' It seemed to Harold that a great bell
was sounding in his ears.--'Before the end! Good God! Poor
Stephen!' . . . But this was no time for sorrow, or for thinking of
it. That would come later. All that was possible must be done; and
to do it required a cool head. He called to one of the lads he knew
could ride and said to him:
'Get on my horse and ride as fast as you can to Normanstand. Send at
once to Miss Norman and tell her that she is wanted instantly. Tell
her that there has been an accident; that her father is alive, but
that she must come at once without a moment's delay. She had better
ride my horse back as it will save time. She will understand from
that the importance of time. Quick!'
The lad sprang to the saddle, and was off in a flash. Whilst Harold
was speaking, the doctor had told the men, who, accustomed to hunting
accidents, had taken a gate from its hinges and held it in readiness,
to bring it closer. Then under his direction the Squire was placed
on the gate. The nearest house was only about a hundred yards away;
and thither they bore him. He was lifted on a bed, and then the
doctor made fuller examination. When he stood up he looked very
grave and said to Harold:
'I greatly fear she cannot arrive in time. That bleeding from the
ears means rupture of the brain. It is relieving the pressure,
however, and he may recover consciousness before he dies. You had
better be close to him. There is at present nothing that can be
done. If he becomes conscious at all it will be suddenly. He will
relapse and probably die as quickly.'
All at once Norman opened his eyes, and seeing him said quietly, as
he looked around:
'What place is this, Harold?'
'Martin's--James Martin's, sir. You were brought here after the
'Yes, I remember! Am I badly hurt? I can feel nothing!'
'I fear so, sir! I have sent for Stephen.'
'Sent for Stephen! Am I about to die?' His voice, though feeble,
was grave and even.
'Alas! sir, I fear so!' He sank on his knees as he spoke and took
him, his second father, in his arms.
'Is it close?'
'Then listen to me! If I don't see Stephen, give her my love and
blessing! Say that with my last breath I prayed God to keep her and
make her happy! You will tell her this?'
'I will! I will!' He could hardly speak for the emotion which was
choking him. Then the voice went on, but slower and weaker:
'And Harold, my dear boy, you will look after her, will you not?
Guard her and cherish her, as if you were indeed my son and she your
'I will. So help me God!' There was a pause of a few seconds which
seemed an interminable time. Then in a feebler voice Squire Norman
'And Harold--bend down--I must whisper! If it should be that in time
you and Stephen should find that there is another affection between
you, remember that I sanction it--with my dying breath. But give her
time! I trust that to you! She is young, and the world is all
before her. Let her choose . . . and be loyal to her if it is
another! It may be a hard task, but I trust you, Harold. God bless
you, my other son!' He rose slightly and listened. Harold's heart
leaped. The swift hoof-strokes of a galloping horse were heard . . .
The father spoke joyously:
'There she is! That is my brave girl! God grant that she may be in
time. I know what it will mean to her hereafter!'
The horse stopped suddenly.
A quick patter of feet along the passage and then Stephen half
dressed with a peignoir thrown over her, swept into the room. With
the soft agility of a leopard she threw herself on her knees beside
her father and put her arms round him. The dying man motioned to
Harold to raise him. When this had been done he laid his hand
tenderly on his daughter's head, saying:
'Let now, O Lord, Thy servant depart in peace! God bless and keep
you, my dear child! You have been all your life a joy and a delight
to me! I shall tell your mother when I meet her all that you have
been to me! Harold, be good to her! Good-bye--Stephen! . . .
Margaret! . . . '
His head fell over, and Harold, laying him gently down, knelt beside
Stephen. He put his arm round her; and she, turning to him, laid her
hand on his breast and sobbed as though her heart would break.
The bodies of the two squires were brought to Normanstand. Rowly had
long ago said that if he died unmarried he would like to lie beside
his half-sister, and that it was fitting that, as Stephen would be
the new Squire of Norwood, her dust should in time lie by his. When
the terrible news of her nephew's and of Norman's death came to
Norwood, Miss Laetitia hurried off to Normanstand as fast as the
horses could bring her.
Her coming was an inexpressible comfort to Stephen. After the first
overwhelming burst of grief she had settled into an acute despair.
Of course she had been helped by the fact that Harold had been with
her, and she was grateful for that too. But it did not live in her
memory of gratitude in the same way. Of course Harold was with her
in trouble! He had always been; would always be.
But the comfort which Aunt Laetitia could give was of a more positive
From that hour Miss Rowly stayed at Normanstand. Stephen wanted her;
and she wanted to be with Stephen.
After the funeral Harold, with an instinctive delicacy of feeling,
had gone to live in his own house; but he came to Normanstand every
day. Stephen had so long been accustomed to consulting him about
everything that there was no perceptible change in their relations.
Even necessary business to be done did not come as a new thing.
And so things went on outwardly at Normanstand very much as they had
done before the coming of the tragedy. But for a long time Stephen
had occasional bursts of grief which to witness was positive anguish
to those who loved her.
Then her duty towards her neighbours became a sort of passion. She
did not spare herself by day or by night. With swift intuition she
grasped the needs of any ill case which came before her, and with
swift movement she took the remedy in hand.
Her aunt saw and approved. Stephen, she felt, was in this way truly
fulfilling her duty as a woman. The old lady began to secretly hope,
and almost to believe, that she had laid aside those theories whose
carrying into action she so dreaded.
But theories do not die so easily. It is from theory that practice
takes its real strength, as well as its direction. And did the older
woman whose life had been bound under more orderly restraint but
know, Stephen was following out her theories, remorselessly and to
CHAPTER IX--IN THE SPRING
The months since her father's death spread into the second year
before Stephen began to realise the loneliness of her life. She had
no companion now but her aunt; and though the old lady adored her,
and she returned her love in full, the mere years between them made
impossible the companionship that youth craves. Miss Rowly's life
was in the past. Stephen's was in the future. And loneliness is a
feeling which comes unbidden to a heart.
Stephen felt her loneliness all round. In old days Harold was always
within hail, and companionship of equal age and understanding was
available. But now his very reticence in her own interest, and by
her father's wishes, made for her pain. Harold had put his strongest
restraint on himself, and in his own way suffered a sort of silent
martyrdom. He loved Stephen with every fibre of his being. Day by
day he came toward her with eager step; day by day he left her with a
pang that made his heart ache and seemed to turn the brightness of
the day to gloom. Night by night he tossed for hours thinking,
thinking, wondering if the time would ever come when her kisses would
be his . . . But the tortures and terrors of the night had their
effect on his days. It seemed as if the mere act of thinking, of
longing, gave him ever renewed self-control, so that he was able in
his bearing to carry out the task he had undertaken: to give Stephen
time to choose a mate for herself. Herein lay his weakness--a
weakness coming from his want of knowledge of the world of women.
Had he ever had a love affair, be it never so mild a one, he would
have known that love requires a positive expression. It is not
sufficient to sigh, and wish, and hope, and long, all to oneself.
Stephen felt instinctively that his guarded speech and manner were
due to the coldness--or rather the trusting abated worship--of the
brotherhood to which she had been always accustomed. At the time
when new forces were manifesting and expanding themselves within her;
when her growing instincts, cultivated by the senses and the passions
of young nature, made her aware of other forces, new and old,
expanding themselves outside her; at the time when the heart of a
girl is eager for new impressions and new expansions, and the calls
of sex are working within her all unconsciously, Harold, to whom her
heart would probably have been the first to turn, made himself in his
effort to best show his love, a quantite negligeable.
Thus Stephen, whilst feeling that the vague desires of budding
womanhood were trembling within her, had neither thought nor
knowledge of their character or their ultimate tendency. She would
have been shocked, horrified, had that logical process, which she
applied so freely to less personal matters, been used upon her own
intimate nature. In her case logic would of course act within a
certain range; and as logic is a conscious intellectual process, she
became aware that her objective was man. Man--in the abstract.
'Man,' not 'a man.' Beyond that, she could not go. It is not too
much to say that she did not ever, even in her most errant thought,
apply her reasoning, or even dream of its following out either the
duties, the responsibilities, or the consequences of having a
husband. She had a vague longing for younger companionship, and of
the kind naturally most interesting to her. There thought stopped.
One only of her male acquaintances did not at this time appear.
Leonard Everard, who had some time ago finished his course at
college, was living partly in London and partly on the Continent.
His very absence made him of added interest to his old play-fellow.
The image of his grace and comeliness, of his dominance and masculine
force, early impressed on her mind, began to compare favourably with
the actualities of her other friends; those of them at least who were
within the circle of her personal interest. 'Absence makes the heart
grow fonder.' In Stephen's mind had been but a very mustard-seed of
fondness. But new lights were breaking for her; and all of them, in
greater or lesser degree, shone in turn on the memory of the pretty
self-willed dominant boy, who now grew larger and more masculine in
stature under the instance of each successive light. Stephen knew
the others fairly well through and through. The usual mixture of
good and evil, of strength and weakness, of purpose and vacillation,
was quite within the scope of her own feeling and of her observation.
But this man was something of a problem to her; and, as such, had a
prominence in her thoughts quite beyond his own worthiness.
In movement of some form is life; and even ideas grow when the pulses
beat and thought quickens. Stephen had long had in her mind the idea
of sexual equality. For a long time, in deference to her aunt's
feelings, she had not spoken of it; for the old lady winced in
general under any suggestion of a breach of convention. But though
her outward expression being thus curbed had helped to suppress or
minimise the opportunities of inward thought, the idea had never left
her. Now, when sex was, consciously or unconsciously, a dominating
factor in her thoughts, the dormant idea woke to new life. She had
held that if men and women were equal the woman should have equal
rights and opportunities as the man. It had been, she believed, an
absurd conventional rule that such a thing as a proposal of marriage
should be entirely the prerogative of man.
And then came to her, as it ever does to woman, opportunity.
Opportunity, the cruelest, most remorseless, most unsparing, subtlest
foe that womanhood has. Here was an opportunity for her to test her
own theory; to prove to herself, and others, that she was right.
They--'they' being the impersonal opponents of, or unbelievers in,
her theory--would see that a woman could propose as well as a man;
and that the result would be good.
It is a part of self-satisfaction, and perhaps not the least
dangerous part of it, that it has an increasing or multiplying power
of its own. The desire to do increases the power to do; and desire
and power united find new ways for the exercise of strength. Up to
now Stephen's inclination towards Leonard had been vague, nebulous;
but now that theory showed a way to its utilisation it forthwith
began to become, first definite, then concrete, then substantial.
When once the idea had become a possibility, the mere passing of time
did the rest.
Her aunt saw--and misunderstood. The lesson of her own youth had not
been applied; not even of those long hours and days and weeks at
which she hinted when she had spoken of the tragedy of life which by
inference was her own tragedy: 'to love and to be helpless. To
wait, and wait, and wait, with your heart all aflame!'
Stephen recognised her aunt's concern for her health in time to
protect herself from the curiosity of her loving-kindness. Her youth
and readiness and adaptability, and that power of play-acting which
we all have within us and of which she had her share, stood to her.
With but little effort, based on a seeming acquiescence in her aunt's
views, she succeeded in convincing the old lady that her incipient
feverish cold had already reached its crisis and was passing away.
But she had gained certain knowledge in the playing of her little
part. All this self-protective instinct was new; for good or ill she
had advanced one more step in not only the knowledge but the power of
duplicity which is so necessary in the conventional life of a woman.
Oh! did we but see! Could we but see! Here was a woman, dowered in
her youth with all the goods and graces in the power of the gods to
bestow, who fought against convention; and who yet found in
convention the strongest as well as the readiest weapon of defence.
For nearly two weeks Stephen's resolution was held motionless,
neither advancing nor receding; it was veritably the slack water of
her resolution. She was afraid to go on. Not afraid in sense of
fear as it is usually understood, but with the opposition of virginal
instincts; those instincts which are natural, but whose uses as well
as whose powers are unknown to us.
CHAPTER X--THE RESOLVE
The next few days saw Stephen abnormally restless. She had fairly
well made up her mind to test her theory of equality of the sexes by
asking Leonard Everard to marry her; but her difficulty was as to the
doing it. She knew well that it would not do to depend on a chance
meeting for an opportunity. After all, the matter was too serious to
allow of the possibility of levity. There were times when she
thought she would write to him and make her proffer of affection in
this way; but on every occasion when such thought recurred it was
forthwith instantly abandoned. During the last few days, however,
she became more reconciled to even this method of procedure. The
fever of growth was unabated. At last came an evening which she had
all to herself. Miss Laetitia was going over to Norwood to look
after matters there, and would remain the night. Stephen saw in her
absence an opportunity for thought and action, and said that, having
a headache, she would remain at home. Her aunt offered to postpone
her visit. But she would not hear of it; and so she had the evening
After dinner in her boudoir she set herself to the composition of a
letter to Leonard which would convey at least something of her
feelings and wishes towards him. In the depths of her heart, which
now and again beat furiously, she had a secret hope that when once
the idea was broached Leonard would do the rest. And as she thought
of that 'rest' a languorous dreaminess came upon her. She thought
how he would come to her full of love, of yearning passion; how she
would try to keep towards him, at first, an independent front which
would preserve her secret anxiety until the time should come when she
might yield herself to his arms and tell him all. For hours she
wrote letter after letter, destroying them as quickly as she wrote,
as she found that she had but swayed pendulum fashion between
overtness and coldness. Some of the letters were so chilly in tone
that she felt they would defeat their own object. Others were so
frankly warm in the expression of--regard she called it, that with
burning blushes she destroyed them at once at the candle before her.
At last she made up her mind. Just as she had done when a baby she
realised that the opposing forces were too strong for her; she gave
in gracefully. It would not do to deal directly in a letter with the
matter in hand. She would write to Leonard merely asking him to see
her. Then, when they were together without fear of interruption, she
would tell him her views.
She got as far as 'Dear Mr. Leonard,' when she stood up, saying to
'I shall not be in a hurry. I must sleep on it before I write!' She
took up the novel she had been reading in the afternoon, and read on
at it steadily till her bedtime.
That night she did not sleep. It was not that she was agitated.
Indeed, she was more at ease than she had been for days; she had
after much anxious thought made up her mind to a definite course of
action. Therefore her sleeplessness was not painful. It was rather
that she did not want to sleep, than that she could not. She lay
still, thinking, thinking; dreaming such dreams as are the occasions
of sanctified privacy to her age and sex.
In the morning she was no worse for her vigil. When at luncheon-time
Aunt Laetitia had returned she went into all the little matters of
which she had to report. It was after tea-time when she found
herself alone, and with leisure to attend to what was, she felt,
directly her own affair. During the night she had made up her mind
exactly what to say to Leonard; and as her specific resolution bore
the test of daylight she was satisfied. The opening words had in
their inception caused her some concern; but after hours of thought
she had come to the conclusion that to address, under the
circumstance, the recipient of the letter as 'Dear Mr. Everard' would
hardly do. The only possible justification of her unconventional act
was that there existed already a friendship, an intimacy of years,
since childhood; that there were already between them knowledge and
understanding of each other; that what she was doing, and about to
do, was but a further step in a series of events long ago undertaken.
She thought it better to send by post rather than messenger, as the
latter did away with all privacy with regard to the act.
The letter was as follows:
'DEAR LEONARD,--Would it be convenient for you to meet me to-morrow,
Tuesday, at half-past twelve o'clock on the top of Caester Hill? I
want to speak about a matter that may have some interest to you, and
it will be more private there than in the house. Also it will be
cooler in the shade on the hilltop. -
Yours sincerely, STEPHEN NORMAN.'
Having posted the letter she went about the usual routine of her life
at Normanstand, and no occasion of suspicion or remark regarding her
came to her aunt.
In her room that night when she had sent away her maid, she sat down
to think, and all the misgivings of the day came back. One by one
they were conquered by one protective argument:
'I am free to do as I like. I am my own mistress; and I am doing
nothing that is wrong. Even if it is unconventional, what of that?
God knows there are enough conventions in the world that are wrong,
hopelessly, unalterably wrong. After all, who are the people who are
most bound by convention? Those who call themselves "smart!" If
Convention is the god of the smart set, then it is about time that
honest people chose another!'
Leonard received the letter at breakfast-time. He did not give it
any special attention, as he had other letters at the same time, some
of which were, if less pleasant, of more immediate importance. He
had of late been bombarded with dunning letters from tradesmen; for
during his University life, and ever since, he had run into debt.
The moderate allowance his father made him he had treated as cash for
incidental expenses, but everything else had been on credit. Indeed
he was beginning to get seriously alarmed about the future, for his
father, who had paid his debts once, and at a time when they were by
comparison inconsiderable, had said that he would not under any
circumstances pay others. He was not sorry, therefore, for an
opportunity of getting away for a few hours from home; from himself--
from anxieties, possibilities. The morning was a sweltering one, and
he grumbled to himself as he set out on his journey through the
Stephen rose fresh and in good spirits, despite her sleepless night.
When youth and strength are to the fore, a night's sleep is not of
much account, for the system once braced up is not allowed to
slacken. It was a notable sign of her strong nature that she was not
even impatient, but waited with calm fixity the hour at which she had
asked Leonard Everard to meet her. It is true that as the time grew
closer her nerve was less marked. And just before it she was a girl-
-and nothing more; with all girl's diffidence, a girl's self-
distrust, a girl's abnegation, a girl's plasticity.
In the more purely personal aspect of her enterprise Stephen's effort
was more conscious. It is hardly possible for a pretty woman to seek
in her study of perfection the aid of her mirror and to be
unconscious of her aims. There must certainly be at least one
dominant purpose: the achievement of success. Stephen did not
attempt to deny her own beauty; on the contrary she gave it the
fullest scope. There was a certain triumph in her glance as she took
her last look in her mirror; a gratification of her wish to show
herself in the best way possible. It was a very charming picture
which the mirror reflected.
It may be that there is a companionship in a mirror, especially to a
woman; that the reflection of oneself is an emboldening presence, a
personality which is better than the actuality of an unvalued
stranger. Certainly, when Stephen closed the door and stood in the
wainscoted passage, which was only dimly lit by the high window at
either end, her courage seemed at once to ooze away.
Probably for the first time in her life, as she left the shade of the
long passage and came out on the staircase flooded with the light of
the noonday sun, Stephen felt that she was a girl--'girl' standing as
some sort of synonym for weakness, pretended or actual. Fear, in
whatever form or degree it may come, is a vital quality and must
move. It cannot stand at a fixed point; if it be not sent backward
it must progress. Stephen felt this, and, though her whole nature
was repugnant to the task, forced herself to the effort of
repression. It would, she felt, have been to her a delicious
pleasure to have abandoned all effort; to have sunk in the lassitude
The woman in her was working; her sex had found her out!
She turned and looked around her, as though conscious of being
watched. Then, seeing that she was alone, she went her way with
settled purpose; with flashing eyes and glowing cheeks--and a beating
heart. A heart all woman's since it throbbed the most with
apprehension when the enemy, Man, was the objective of her most
resolute attack. She knew that she must keep moving; that she must
not stop or pause; or her whole resolution must collapse. And so she
hurried on, fearful lest a chance meeting with any one might imperil
On she went through the faint moss-green paths; through meadows rich
with flowering grasses and the many reds of the summer wild-flowers.
And so up through the path cut in the natural dipping of the rock
that rose over Caester Hill and formed a strong base for the clump of
great trees that made a landmark for many a mile around. During the
first part of her journey between the house and the hilltop, she
tried to hold her purpose at arm's length; it would be sufficient to
face its terrors when the time had come. In the meantime the matter
was of such overwhelming importance that nothing else could take its
place; all she could do was to suspend the active part of the
thinking faculties and leave the mind only receptive.
But when she had passed through the thin belt of stunted oak and
beech which hedged in the last of the lush meadows, and caught sight
of the clump of trees on the hilltop, she unconsciously braced
herself as a young regiment loses its tremors when the sight of the
enemy breaks upon it. No longer her eyes fell earthward; they were
raised, and raised proudly. Stephen Norman was fixed in her
intention. Like the woman of old, her feet were on the ploughshares
and she would not hesitate.
As she drew near the appointed place her pace grew slower and slower;
the woman in her was unconsciously manifesting itself. She would not
be first in her tryst with a man. Unconsciousness, however, is not a
working quality which can be relied upon for staying power; the
approach to the trysting-place brought once more home to her the
strange nature of her enterprise. She had made up her mind to it;
there was no use in deceiving herself. What she had undertaken to do
was much more unconventional than being first at a meeting. It was
foolish and weak to delay. The last thought braced her up; and it
was with a hurried gait, which alone would have betrayed her to an
intelligent observer, that she entered the grove.
CHAPTER XI--THE MEETING
Had Stephen been better acquainted with men and women, she would have
been more satisfied with herself for being the first at the tryst.
The conventional idea, in the minds of most women and of all men, is
that a woman should never be the first. But real women, those in
whom the heart beats strong, and whose blood can leap, know better.
These are the commanders of men. In them sex calls to sex, all
unconsciously at first; and men answer to their call, as they to
Two opposite feelings strove for dominance as Stephen found herself
on the hilltop, alone. One a feeling natural enough to any one, and
especially to a girl, of relief that a dreaded hour had been
postponed; the other of chagrin that she was the first.
After a few moments, however, one of the two militant thoughts became
dominant: the feeling of chagrin. With a pang she thought if she
had been a man and summoned for such a purpose, how she would have
hurried to the trysting-place; how the flying of her feet would have
vied with the quick rapturous beating of her heart! With a little
sigh and a blush, she remembered that Leonard did not know the
purpose of the meeting; that he was a friend almost brought up with
her since boy and girl times; that he had often been summoned in
similar terms and for the most trivial of social purposes.
For nearly half an hour Stephen sat on the rustic seat under the
shadow of the great oak, looking, half unconscious of its beauty and
yet influenced by it, over the wide landscape stretched at her feet.
In spite of her disregard of conventions, she was no fool; the
instinct of wisdom was strong within her, so strong that in many ways
it ruled her conscious efforts. Had any one told her that her
preparations for this interview were made deliberately with some of
the astuteness that dominated the Devil when he took Jesus to the top
of a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth at
His feet, she would have, and with truth, denied it with indignation.
Nevertheless it was a fact that she had, in all unconsciousness,
chosen for the meeting a spot which would evidence to a man,
consciously or unconsciously, the desirability for his own sake of
acquiescence in her views and wishes. For all this spreading
landscape was her possession, which her husband would share. As far
as the eye could reach was within the estate which she had inherited
from her father and her uncle.
The half-hour passed in waiting had in one way its advantages to the
girl: though she was still as high strung as ever, she acquired a
larger measure of control over herself. The nervous tension,
however, was so complete physically that all her faculties were
acutely awake; very early she became conscious of a distant footstep.
To Stephen's straining ears the footsteps seemed wondrous slow, and
more wondrous regular; she felt instinctively that she would have
liked to have listened to a more hurried succession of less evenly-
marked sounds. But notwithstanding these thoughts, and the qualms
which came in their turn, the sound of the coming feet brought great
joy. For, after all, they were coming; and coming just in time to
prevent the sense of disappointment at their delay gaining firm
foothold. It was only when the coming was assured that she felt how
strong had been the undercurrent of her apprehension lest they should
not come at all.
Very sweet and tender and beautiful Stephen looked at this moment.
The strong lines of her face were softened by the dark fire in her
eyes and the feeling which glowed in the deep blushes which mantled
her cheeks. The proudness of her bearing was no less marked than
ever, but in the willowy sway of her body there was a yielding of
mere sorry pride. In all the many moods which the gods allow to good
women there is none so dear or so alluring, consciously as well as
instinctively, to true men as this self-surrender. As Leonard drew
near, Stephen sank softly into a seat, doing so with a guilty feeling
of acting a part. When he actually came into the grove he found her
seemingly lost in a reverie as she gazed out over the wide expanse in
front of her. He was hot after his walk, and with something very
like petulance threw himself into a cane armchair, exclaiming as he
did so with the easy insolence of old familiarity:
'What a girl you are, Stephen! dragging a fellow all the way up here.
Couldn't you have fixed it down below somewhere if you wanted to see
Strangely enough, as it seemed to her, Stephen did not dislike his
tone of mastery. There was something in it which satisfied her. The
unconscious recognition of his manhood, as opposed to her womanhood,
soothed her in a peaceful way. It was easy to yield to a dominant
man. She was never more womanly than when she answered him softly:
'It was rather unfair; but I thought you would not mind coming so
far. It is so cool and delightful here; and we can talk without
being disturbed.' Leonard was lying back in his chair fanning
himself with his wide-brimmed straw hat, with outstretched legs wide
apart and resting on the back of his heels. He replied with grudging
'Yes, it's cool enough after the hot tramp over the fields and
through the wood. It's not so good as the house, though, in one way:
a man can't get a drink here. I say, Stephen, it wouldn't be half
bad if there were a shanty put up here like those at the Grands
Mulets or on the Matterhorn. There could be a tap laid on where a
fellow could quench his thirst on a day like this!'
Before Stephen's eyes floated a momentary vision of a romantic chalet
with wide verandah and big windows looking over the landscape; a
great wide stone hearth; quaint furniture made from the gnarled
branches of trees; skins on the floor; and the walls adorned with
antlers, great horns, and various trophies of the chase. And amongst
them Leonard, in a picturesque suit, lolling back just as at present
and smiling with a loving look in his eyes as she handed him a great
blue-and-white Munich beer mug topped with cool foam. There was a
soft mystery in her voice as she answered:
'Perhaps, Leonard, there will some day be such a place here!' He
seemed to grumble as he replied:
'I wish it was here now. Some day seems a long way off!'
This seemed a good opening for Stephen; for the fear of the situation
was again beginning to assail her, and she felt that if she did not
enter on her task at once, its difficulty might overwhelm her. She
felt angry with herself that there was a change in her voice as she
'Some day may mean--can mean everything. Things needn't be a longer
way off than we choose ourselves, sometimes!'
'I say, that's a good one! Do you mean to say that because I am some
day to own Brindehow I can do as I like with it at once, whilst the
governor's all there, and a better life than I am any day? Unless
you want me to shoot the old man by accident when we go out on the
First.' He laughed a short, unmeaning masculine laugh which jarred
somewhat on her. She did not, however, mean to be diverted from her
main purpose, so she went on quickly:
'You know quite well, Leonard, that I don't mean anything of the
kind. But there was something I wanted to say to you, and I wished
that we should be alone. Can you not guess what it is?'
'No, I'll be hanged if I can!' was his response, lazily given.
Despite her resolution she turned her head; she could not meet his
eyes. It cut her with a sharp pain to notice when she turned again
that he was not looking at her. He continued fanning himself with
his hat as he gazed out at the view. She felt that the critical
moment of her life had come, that it was now or never as to her
fulfilling her settled intention. So with a rush she went on her
'Leonard, you and I have been friends a long time. You know my views
on some points, and that I think a woman should be as free to act as
a man!' She paused; words and ideas did not seem to flow with the
readiness she expected. Leonard's arrogant assurance completed the
dragging her back to earth which her own self-consciousness began:
'Drive on, old girl! I know you're a crank from Crankville on some
subjects. Let us have it for all you're worth. I'm on the grass and
Stephen paused. 'A crank from Crankville!'--this after her nights of
sleepless anxiety; after the making of the resolution which had cost
her so much, and which was now actually in process of realisation.
Was it all worth so much? why not abandon it now? . . . Abandon it!
Abandon a resolution! All the obstinacy of her nature--she classed
it herself as firmness--rose in revolt. She shook her head angrily,
pulled herself together, and went on:
'That may be! though it's not what I call myself, or what I am
usually called, so far as I know. At any rate my convictions are
honest, and I am sure you will respect them as such, even if you do
not share them.' She did not see the ready response in his face
which she expected, and so hurried on:
'It has always seemed to me that a--when a woman has to speak to a
man she should do so as frankly as she would like him to speak to
her, and as freely. Leonard, I--I,' as she halted, a sudden idea,
winged with possibilities of rescuing procrastination came to her.
She went on more easily:
'I know you are in trouble about money matters. Why not let me help
you?' He sat up and looked at her and said genially:
'Well, Stephen, you are a good old sort! No mistake about it. Do
you mean to say you would help me to pay my debts, when the governor
has refused to do so any more?'
'It would be a great pleasure to me, Leonard, to do anything for your
good or your pleasure.'
There was a long pause; they both sat looking down at the ground.
The woman's heart beat loud; she feared that the man must hear it.
She was consumed with anxiety, and with a desolating wish to be
relieved from the strain of saying more. Surely, surely Leonard
could not be so blind as not to see the state of things! . . . He
would surely seize the occasion; throw aside his diffidence and
relieve her! . . . His words made a momentary music in her ears as he
'And is this what you asked me to come here for?'
The words filled her with a great shame. She felt herself a dilemma.
It had been no part of her purpose to allude his debts. Viewed in
the light of what was to follow, it would seem to him that she was
trying to foreclose his affection. That could not be allowed to
pass; the error must be rectified. And yet! . . . And yet this very
error must be cleared up before she could make her full wish
apparent. She seemed to find herself compelled by inexorable
circumstances into an unlooked-for bluntness. In any case she must
face the situation. Her pluck did not fail her; it was with a very
noble and graceful simplicity that she turned to her companion and
'Leonard, I did not quite mean that. It would be a pleasure to me to
be of that or any other service to you, if I might be so happy! But
I never meant to allude to your debts. Oh! Leonard, can't you
understand! If you were my husband--or--or going to be, all such
little troubles would fall away from you. But I would not for the
world have you think . . . '
Her very voice failed her. She could not speak what was in her mind;
she turned away, hiding in her hands her face which fairly seemed to
burn. This, she thought, was the time for a true lover's
opportunity! Oh, if she had been a man, and a woman had so appealed,
how he would have sprung to her side and taken her in his arms, and
in a wild rapture of declared affection have swept away all the pain
of her shame!
But she remained alone. There was no springing to her side; no
rapture of declared affection; no obliteration of her shame. She had
to bear it all alone. There, in the open; under the eyes that she
would fain have seen any other phase of her distress. Her heart beat
loud and fast; she waited to gain her self-control.
Leonard Everard had his faults, plenty of them, and he was in truth
composed of an amalgam of far baser metals than Stephen thought; but
he had been born of gentle blood and reared amongst gentlefolk. He
did not quite understand the cause or the amount of his companion's
concern; but he could not but recognise her distress. He realised
that it had followed hard upon her most generous intention towards
himself. He could not, therefore, do less than try to comfort her,
and he began his task in a conventional way, but with a blundering
awkwardness which was all manlike. He took her hand and held it in
his; this much at any rate he had learned in sitting on stairs or in
conservatories after extra dances. He said as tenderly as he could,
but with an impatient gesture unseen by her:
'Forgive me, Stephen! I suppose I have said or done something which
I shouldn't. But I don't know what it is; upon my honour I don't.
Anyhow, I am truly sorry for it. Cheer up, old girl! I'm not your
husband, you know; so you needn't be distressed.'
Stephen took her courage a deux mains. If Leonard would not speak
she must. It was manifestly impossible that the matter could be left
in its present state.
'Leonard,' she said softly and solemnly, 'might not that some day
Leonard, in addition to being an egotist and the very incarnation of
selfishness, was a prig of the first water. He had been reared
altogether in convention. Home life and Eton and Christchurch had
taught him many things, wise as well as foolish; but had tended to
fix his conviction that affairs of the heart should proceed on
adamantine lines of conventional decorum. It never even occurred to
him that a lady could so far step from the confines of convention as
to take the initiative in a matter of affection. In his blind
ignorance he blundered brutally. He struck better than he knew, as,
meaning only to pass safely by an awkward conversational corner, he
'No jolly fear of that! You're too much of a boss for me!' The
words and the levity with which they were spoken struck the girl as
with a whip. She turned for an instant as pale as ashes; then the
red blood rushed from her heart, and face and neck were dyed crimson.
It was not a blush, it was a suffusion. In his ignorance Leonard
thought it was the former, and went on with what he considered his
'Oh yes! You know you always want to engineer a chap your own way
and make him do just as you wish. The man who has the happiness of
marrying you, Stephen, will have a hard row to hoe!' His 'chaff'
with its utter want of refinement seemed to her, in her high-strung
earnest condition, nothing short of brutal, and for a few seconds
produced a feeling of repellence. But it is in the nature of things
that opposition of any kind arouses the fighting instinct of a
naturally dominant nature. She lost sight of her femininity in the
pursuit of her purpose; and as this was to win the man to her way of
thinking, she took the logical course of answering his argument. If
Leonard Everard had purposely set himself to stimulate her efforts in
this direction he could hardly have chosen a better way. It came
somewhat as a surprise to Stephen, when she heard her own words:
'I would make a good wife, Leonard! A husband whom I loved and
honoured would, I think, not be unhappy!' The sound of her own voice
speaking these words, though the tone was low and tender and more
self-suppressing by far than was her wont, seemed to peal like
thunder in her own ears. Her last bolt seemed to have sped. The
blood rushed to her head, and she had to hold on to the arms of the
rustic chair or she would have fallen forward.
The time seemed long before Leonard spoke again; every second seemed
an age. She seemed to have grown tired of waiting for the sound of
his voice; it was with a kind of surprise that she heard him say:
'You limit yourself wisely, Stephen!'
'How do you mean?' she asked, making a great effort to speak.
'You would promise to love and honour; but there isn't anything about
As he spoke Leonard stretched himself again luxuriously, and laughed
with the intellectual arrogance of a man who is satisfied with a
joke, however inferior, of his own manufacture. Stephen looked at
him with a long look which began in anger--that anger which comes
from an unwonted sense of impotence, and ends in tolerance, the
intermediate step being admiration. It is the primeval curse that a
woman's choice is to her husband; and it is an important part of the
teaching of a British gentlewoman, knit in the very fibres of her
being by the remorseless etiquette of a thousand years, that she be
true to him. The man who has in his person the necessary powers or
graces to evoke admiration in his wife, even for a passing moment,
has a stronghold unconquerable as a rule by all the deadliest arts of
Leonard Everard was certainly good to look upon as he lolled at his
ease on that summer morning. Tall, straight, supple; a typical
British gentleman of the educated class, with all parts of the body
properly developed and held in some kind of suitable poise.
As Stephen looked, the anxiety and chagrin which tormented her seemed
to pass. She realised that here was a nature different from her own,
and which should be dealt with in a way unsuitable to herself; and
the conviction seemed to make the action which it necessitated more
easy as well as more natural to her. Perhaps for the first time in
her life Stephen understood that it may be necessary to apply to
individuals a standard of criticism unsuitable to self-judgment. Her
recognition might have been summed up in the thought which ran
through her mind:
'One must be a little lenient with a man one loves!'
Stephen, when once she had allowed the spirit of toleration to work
within her, felt immediately its calming influence. It was with
brighter thoughts and better humour that she went on with her task.
A task only, it seemed now; a means to an end which she desired.
'Leonard, tell me seriously, why do you think I gave you the trouble
of coming out here?'
'Upon my soul, Stephen, I don't know.'
'You don't seem to care either, lolling like that when I am serious!'
The words were acid, but the tone was soft and friendly, familiar and
genuine, putting quite a meaning of its own on them. Leonard looked
at her indolently:
'I like to loll.'
'But can't you even guess, or try to guess, what I ask you?'
'I can't guess. The day's too hot, and that shanty with the drinks
is not built yet.'
'Or may never be!' Again he looked at her sleepily.
'Never be! Why not?'
'Because, Leonard, it may depend on you.'
'All right then. Drive on! Hurry up the architect and the jerry-
A quick blush leaped to Stephen's cheeks. The words were full of
meaning, though the tone lacked something; but the news was too good.
She could not accept it at once; she decided to herself to wait a
short time. Ere many seconds had passed she rejoiced that she had
done so as he went on:
'I hope you'll give me a say before that husband of yours comes
along. He might be a blue-ribbonite; and it wouldn't do to start
such a shanty for rot-gut!'
Again a cold wave swept over her. The absolute difference of feeling
between the man and herself; his levity against her earnestness, his
callous blindness to her purpose, even the commonness of his words
chilled her. For a few seconds she wavered again in her intention;
but once again his comeliness and her own obstinacy joined hands and
took her back to her path. With chagrin she felt that her words
almost stuck in her throat, as summoning up all her resolution she
'It would be for you I would have it built, Leonard!' The man sat up
'For me?' he asked in a sort of wonderment.
'Yes, Leonard, for you and me!' She turned away; her blushes so
overcame her that she could not look at him. When she faced round
again he was standing up, his back towards her.
She stood up also. He was silent for a while; so long that the
silence became intolerable, and she spoke:
'Leonard, I am waiting!' He turned round and said slowly, the
absence of all emotion from his face chilling her till her face
'I don't think I would worry about it!'
Stephen Norman was plucky, and when she was face to face with any
difficulty she was all herself. Leonard did not look pleasant; his
face was hard and there was just a suspicion of anger. Strangely
enough, this last made the next step easier to the girl; she said
'All right! I think I understand!'
He turned from her and stood looking out on the distant prospect.
Then she felt that the blow which she had all along secretly feared
had fallen on her. But her pride as well as her obstinacy now
rebelled. She would not accept a silent answer. There must be no
doubt left to torture her afterwards. She would take care that there
was no mistake. Schooling herself to her task, and pressing one hand
for a moment to her side as though to repress the beating of her
heart, she came behind him and touched him tenderly on the arm.
'Leonard,' she said softly, 'are you sure there is no mistake? Do
you not see that I am asking you,' she intended to say 'to be my
husband,' but she could not utter the words, they seemed to stick in
her mouth, so she finished the sentence: 'that I be your wife?'
The moment the words were spoken--the bare, hard, naked, shameless
words--the revulsion came. As a lightning flash shows up the
blackness of the night the appalling truth of what she had done was
forced upon her. The blood rushed to her head till cheeks and
shoulders and neck seemed to burn. Covering her face with her hands
she sank back on the seat crying silently bitter tears that seemed to
scald her eyes and her cheeks as they ran.
Leonard was angry. When it began to dawn upon him what was the
purpose of Stephen's speech, he had been shocked. Young men are so
easily shocked by breaches of convention made by women they respect!
And his pride was hurt. Why should he have been placed in such a
ridiculous position! He did not love Stephen in that way; and she
should have known it. He liked her and all that sort of thing; but
what right had she to assume that he loved her? All the weakness of
his moral nature came out in his petulance. It was boyish that his
eyes filled with tears. He knew it, and that made him more angry
than ever. Stephen might well have been at a loss to understand his
anger, as, with manifest intention to wound, he answered her:
'What a girl you are, Stephen. You are always doing something or
other to put a chap in the wrong and make him ridiculous. I thought
you were joking--not a good joke either! Upon my soul, I don't know
what I've done that you should fix on me! I wish to goodness--'
If Stephen had suffered the red terror before, she suffered the white
terror now. It was not injured pride, it was not humiliation, it was
not fear; it was something vague and terrible that lay far deeper
than any of these. Under ordinary circumstances she would have liked
to have spoken out her mind and given back as good as she got; and
even as the thoughts whirled through her brain they came in a torrent
of vague vituperative eloquence. But now her tongue was tied.
Instinctively she knew that she had put it out of her power to
revenge, or even to defend herself. She was tied to the stake, and
must suffer without effort and in silence.
Most humiliating of all was the thought that she must propitiate the
man who had so wounded her. All love for him had in the instant
passed from her; or rather she realised fully the blank, bare truth
that she had never really loved him at all. Had she really loved
him, even a blow at his hands would have been acceptable; but now . .
She shook the feelings and thoughts from her as a bird does the water
from its wings; and, with the courage and strength and adaptability
of her nature, addressed herself to the hard task which faced her in
the immediate present. With eloquent, womanly gesture she arrested
the torrent of Leonard's indignation; and, as he paused in surprised
obedience, she said:
'That will do, Leonard! It is not necessary to say any more; and I
am sure you will see, later on, that at least there was no cause for
your indignation! I have done an unconventional thing, I know; and I
dare say I shall have to pay for it in humiliating bitterness of
thought later on! But please remember we are all alone! This is a
secret between us; no one else need ever know or suspect it!'
She rose as she concluded. The quiet dignity of her speech and
bearing brought back Leonard in some way to his sense of duty as a
gentleman. He began, in a sheepish way, to make an apology:
'I'm sure I beg your pardon, Stephen.' But again she held the
'There is no need for pardon; the fault, if there were any, was mine
alone. It was I, remember, who asked you to come here and who
introduced and conducted this melancholy business. I have asked you
several things, Leonard, and one more I will add--'tis only one:
that you will forget!'
As she moved away, her dismissal of the subject was that of an
empress to a serf. Leonard would have liked to answer her; to have
given vent to his indignation that, even when he had refused her
offer, she should have the power to treat him if he was the one
refused, and to make him feel small and ridiculous in his own eyes.
But somehow he felt constrained to silence; her simple dignity
There was another factor too, in his forming his conclusion of
silence. He had never seen Stephen look so well, or so attractive.
He had never respected her so much as when her playfulness had turned
to majestic gravity. All the boy and girl strife of the years that
had gone seemed to have passed away. The girl whom he had played
with, and bullied, and treated as frankly as though she had been a
boy, had in an instant become a woman--and such a woman as demanded
respect and admiration even from such a man.
CHAPTER XII--ON THE ROAD HOME
When Leonard Everard parted from Stephen he did so with a feeling of
dissatisfaction: firstly, with Stephen; secondly, with things in
general; thirdly, with himself. The first was definite, concrete,
and immediate; he could give himself chapter and verse for all the
girl's misdoing. Everything she had said or done had touched some
nerve painfully, or had offended his feelings; and to a man of his
temperament his feelings are very sacred things, to himself.
'Why had she put him in such a ridiculous position? That was the
worst of women. They were always wanting him to do something he
didn't want to do, or crying . . . there was that girl at Oxford.'
Here he turned his head slowly, and looked round in a furtive way,
which was getting almost a habit with him. 'A fellow should go away
so that he wouldn't have to swear lies. Women were always wanting
money; or worse: to be married! Confound women; they all seemed to
want him to marry them! There was the Oxford girl, and then the
Spaniard, and now Stephen!' This put his thoughts in a new channel.
He wanted money himself. Why, Stephen had spoken of it herself; had
offered to pay his debts. Gad! it was a good idea that every one
round the countryside seemed to know his affairs. What a flat he had
been not to accept her offer then and there before matters had gone
further. Stephen had lots of money, more than any girl could want.
But she didn't give him time to get the thing fixed . . . If he had
only known beforehand what she wanted he could have come prepared . .
. that was the way with women! Always thinking of themselves! And
now? Of course she wouldn't stump up after his refusing her. What
would his father say if he came to hear of it? And he must speak to
him soon, for these chaps were threatening to County Court him if he
didn't pay. Those harpies in Vere Street were quite nasty . . . '
He wondered if he could work Stephen for a loan.
He walked on through the woodland path, his pace slower than before.
'How pretty she had looked!' Here he touched his little moustache.
'Gad! Stephen was a fine girl anyhow! If it wasn't for all that red
hair . . . I like 'em dark better! . . . And her being such an
infernal boss!'. . . Then he said unconsciously aloud:
'If I was her husband I'd keep her to rights!'
'So that's what the governor meant by telling me that fortune was to
be had, and had easily, if a man wasn't a blind fool. The governor
is a starchy old party. He wouldn't speak out straight and say,
"Here's Stephen Norman, the richest girl you are ever likely to meet;
why don't you make up to her and marry her?" But that would be
encouraging his son to be a fortune-hunter! Rot! . . . And now, just
because she didn't tell me what she wanted to speak about, or the
governor didn't give me a hint so that I might be prepared, I have
gone and thrown away the chance. After all it mightn't be so bad.
Stephen is a fine girl! . . . But she mustn't ever look at me as she
did when I spoke about her not obeying. I mean to be master in my
own house anyhow!
'A man mustn't be tied down too tight, even if he is married. And if
there's plenty of loose cash about it isn't hard to cover up your
tracks . . . I think I'd better think this thing over calmly and be
ready when Stephen comes at me again. That's the way with women.
When a woman like Stephen fixes her cold grey on a man she does not
mean to go asleep over it. I daresay my best plan will be to sit
tight, and let her work herself up a bit. There's nothing like a
little wholesome neglect for bringing a girl to her bearings!' . . .
For a while he walked on in satisfied self-complacency.
'Confound her! why couldn't she have let me know that she was fond of
me in some decent way, without all that formal theatrical proposing?
It's a deuced annoying thing in the long run the way the women get
fond of me. Though it's nice enough in some ways while it lasts!' he
added, as if in unwilling recognition of fact. As the path debouched
on the highroad he said to himself half aloud:
'Well, she's a mighty fine girl, anyhow! And if she is red I've had
about enough of the black! . . . That Spanish girl is beginning to
kick too! I wish I had never come across . . . '
'Shut up, you fool!' he said to himself as he walked on.
When he got home he found a letter from his father. He took it to
his room before breaking the seal. It was at least concise and to
'The enclosed has been sent to me. You will have to deal with it
yourself. You know my opinion and also my intention. The items
which I have marked have been incurred since I spoke to you last
about your debts. I shall not pay another farthing for you. So take
your own course!
The enclosed was a jeweller's bill, the length and the total of which
lengthened his face and drew from him a low whistle. He held it in
his hand for a long time, standing quite still and silent. Then
drawing a deep breath he said aloud:
'That settles it! The halter is on me! It's no use squealing. If
it's to be a red head on my pillow! . . . All right! I must only
make the best of it. Anyhow I'll have a good time to-day, even if it
must be the last!'
That day Harold was in Norcester on business. It was late when he
went to the club to dine. Whilst waiting for dinner he met Leonard
Everard, flushed and somewhat at uncertain in his speech. It was
something of a shock to Harold to see him in such a state.
Leonard was, however, an old friend, and man is as a rule faithful to
friends in this form of distress. So in his kindly feeling Harold
offered to drive him home, for he knew that he could thus keep him
out of further harm. Leonard thanked him in uncertain speech, and
said he would be ready. In the meantime he would go and play
billiards with the marker whilst Harold was having his dinner.
At ten o'clock Harold's dogcart was ready and he went to look for
Leonard, who had not since come near him. He found him half asleep
in the smoking-room, much drunker than he had been earlier in the
The drive was fairly long, so Harold made up his mind for a prolonged
term of uneasiness and anxiety. The cool night-air, whose effect was
increased by the rapid motion, soon increased Leonard's somnolence
and for a while he slept soundly, his companion watching carefully
lest he should sway over and fall out of the trap. He even held him
up as they swung round sharp corners.
After a time he woke up, and woke in a nasty temper. He began to
find fault in an incoherent way with everything. Harold said little,
just enough to prevent any cause for further grievance. Then Leonard
changed and became affectionate. This mood was a greater bore than
the other, but Harold managed to bear it with stolid indifference.
Leonard was this by time making promises to do things for him, that
as he was what he called a 'goo' fell',' he might count on his help
and support in the future. As Harold knew him to be a wastrel, over
head and ears in debt and with only the succession to a small estate,
he did not take much heed to his maunderings. At last the drunken
man said something which startled him so much that he instinctively
drew himself together with such suddenness as to frighten the horse
and almost make him rear up straight.
'Woa! Woa! Steady, boy. Gently!' he said, quieting him. Then
turning to his companion said in a voice hollow with emotion and
vibrant with suppressed passion:
'What was it you said?'
Leonard, half awake, and not half of that half master of himself,
'I said I will make you agent of Normanstand when I marry Stephen.'
Harold grew cold. To hear of any one marrying Stephen was to him
like plunging him in a glacier stream; but to hear her name so
lightly spoken, and by such a man, was a bewildering shock which
within a second set his blood on fire.
'What do you mean?' he thundered. 'You marry Ste . . . Miss Norman!
You're not worthy to untie her shoe! You indeed! She wouldn't look
on the same side of the street with a drunken brute like you! How
dare you speak of her in such a way!'
'Brute!' said Leonard angrily, his vanity reaching inward to heart
and brain through all the numbing obstacle of his drunken flesh.
'Who's brute? Brute yourself! Tell you goin' to marry Stephen, 'cos
Stephen wants it. Stephen loves me. Loves me with all her red head!
Wha're you doin'! Wha!!'
His words merged in a lessening gurgle, for Harold had now got him by
'Take care what you say about that lady! damn you!' he said, putting
his face close the other's with eyes that blazed. 'Don't you dare to
mention her name in such a way, or you will regret it longer than you
can think. Loves you, you swine!'
The struggle and the fierce grip on his throat sobered Leonard
somewhat. Momentarily sobbed him to that point when he could be
coherent and vindictive, though not to the point where he could think
ahead. Caution, wisdom, discretion, taste, were not for him at such
a moment. Guarding his throat with both hands in an instinctive and
spasmodic manner he answered the challenge:
'Who are you calling swine? I tell you she loves me. She ought to
know. Didn't she tell me so this very day!' Harold drew back his
arm to strike him in the face, his anger too great for words. But
the other, seeing the motion and in the sobering recognition of
danger, spoke hastily:
'Keep your hair on! You know so jolly much more than I do. I tell
you that she told me this and a lot more this morning when she asked
me to marry her.'
Harold's heart grew cold as ice. There is something in the sound of
a voice speaking truthfully which a true man can recognise. Through
all Leonard's half-drunken utterings came such a ring of truth; and
Harold recognised it. He felt that his voice was weak and hollow as
he spoke, thinking it necessary to give at first a sort of official
denial to such a monstrous statement:
'I'm no liar!' answered Leonard. He would like to have struck him in
answer to such a word had he felt equal to it. 'She asked me to
marry her to-day on the hill above the house, where I went to meet
her by appointment. Here! I'll prove it to you. Read this!'
Whilst he was speaking he had opened the greatcoat and was fumbling
in the breast-pocket of his coat. He produced a letter which he
handed to Harold, who took it with trembling hand. By this time the
reins had fallen slack and the horse was walking quietly. There was
moonlight, but not enough to read by. Harold bent over and lifted
the driving-lamp next to him and turned it so that he could read the
envelope. He could hardly keep either lamp or paper still, his hand
trembled so when he saw that the direction was in Stephen's
handwriting. He was handing it back when Leonard said again:
'Open it! Read it! You must do so; I tell you, you must! You
called me a liar, and now must read the proof that I am not. If you
don't I shall have to ask Stephen to make you!' Before Harold's mind
flashed a rapid thought of what the girl might suffer in being asked
to take part in such a quarrel. He could not himself even act to the
best advantage unless he knew the truth . . . he took the letter from
the envelope and held it before the lamp, the paper fluttering as
though in a breeze from the trembling of his hand. Leonard looked
on, the dull glare of his eyes brightening with malignant pleasure as
he beheld the other's concern. He owed him a grudge, and by God he
would pay it. Had he not been struck--throttled--called a liar! . .
As he read the words Harold's face cleared. 'Why, you infernal young
scoundrel!' he said angrily, 'that letter is nothing but a simple
note from a young girl to an old friend--playmate asking him to come
to see her about some trivial thing. And you construe it into a
proposal of marriage. You hound!' He held the letter whilst he
spoke, heedless of the outstretched hand of the other waiting to take
it back. There was a dangerous glitter in Leonard's eyes. He knew
his man and he knew the truth of what he had himself said, and he
felt, with all the strength of his base soul, how best he could
torture him. In the very strength of Harold's anger, in the
poignancy of his concern, in the relief to his soul expressed in his
eyes and his voice, his antagonist realised the jealousy of one who
honours--and loves. Second by second Leonard grew more sober, and
more and better able to carry his own idea into act.
'Give me my letter!' he began.
'Wait!' said Harold as he put the lamp back into its socket. 'That
will do presently. Take back what you said just now!'
'What? Take back what?'
'That base lie; that Miss Norman asked you to marry her.'
Leonard felt that in a physical struggle for the possession of the
letter he would be outmatched; but his passion grew colder and more
malignant, and in a voice that cut like the hiss of a snake he spoke
slowly and deliberately. He was all sober now; the drunkenness of
brain and blood was lost, for the time, in the strength of his cold
'It is true. By God it is true; every word of it! That letter,
which you want to steal, is only a proof that I went to meet her on
Caester Hill by her own appointment. When I got there, she was
waiting for me. She began to talk about a chalet there, and at first
I didn't know what she meant--'
There was such conviction, such a triumphant truth in his voice, that
Harold was convinced.
'Stop!' he thundered; 'stop, don't tell me anything. I don't want to
hear. I don't want to know.' He covered his face with his hands and
groaned. It was not as though the speaker were a stranger, in which
case he would have been by now well on in his death by strangulation;
he had known Leonard all his life, and he was a friend of Stephen's.
And he was speaking truth.
The baleful glitter of Leonard's eyes grew brighter still. He was as
a serpent when he goes to strike. In this wise he struck.
'I shall not stop. I shall go on and tell you all I choose. You
have called me liar--twice. You have also called me other names.
Now you shall hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth. And if you won't listen to me some one else will.' Harold
groaned again; Leonard's eyes brightened still more, and the evil
smile on his face grew broader as he began more and more to feel his
power. He went on to speak with a cold deliberate malignancy, but
instinctively so sticking to absolute truth that he could trust
himself to hurt most. The other listened, cold at heart and
physically; his veins and arteries seemed stagnant.
'I won't tell you anything of her pretty embarrassments; how her
voice fell as she pleaded; how she blushed and stammered. Why, even
I, who am used to women and their pretty ways and their passions and
their flushings and their stormy upbraidings, didn't quite know for a
while what she was driving at. So at last she spoke out pretty
plainly, and told me what a fond wife she'd make me if I would only
take her!' Harold said nothing; he only rocked a little as one in
pain, and his hands fell. The other went on:
'That is what happened this morning on Caester Hill under the trees
where I met Stephen Norman by her own appointment; honestly what
happened. If you don't believe me now you can ask Stephen. My
Stephen!' he added in a final burst of venom as in a gleam of
moonlight through a rift in the shadowy wood he saw the ghastly
pallor of Harold's face. Then he added abruptly as he held out his
'Now give me my letter!'
In the last few seconds Harold had been thinking. And as he had been
thinking for the good, the safety, of Stephen, his thoughts flew
swift and true. This man's very tone, the openness of his malignity,
the underlying scorn when he spoke of her whom others worshipped,
showed him the danger--the terrible immediate danger in which she
stood from such a man. With the instinct of a mind working as truly
for the woman he loved as the needle does to the Pole he spoke
quietly, throwing a sneer into the tone so as to exasperate his
companion--it was brain against brain now, and for Stephen's sake:
'And of course you accepted. You naturally would!' The other fell
into the trap. He could not help giving an extra dig to his opponent
by proving him once more in the wrong.
'Oh no, I didn't! Stephen is a fine girl; but she wants taking down
a bit. She's too high and mighty just at present, and wants to boss
a chap too much. I mean to be master in my own house; and she's got
to begin as she will have to go on. I'll let her wait a bit: and
then I'll yield by degrees to her lovemaking. She's a fine girl, for
all her red head; and she won't be so bad after all!'
Harold listened, chilled into still and silent amazement. To hear
Stephen spoken of in such a way appalled him. She of all women! . .
. Leonard never knew how near sudden death he was, as he lay back in
his seat, his eyes getting dull again and his chin sinking. The
drunkenness which had been arrested by his passion was reasserting
itself. Harold saw his state in time and arrested his own movement
to take him by the throat and dash him to the ground. Even as he
looked at him in scornful hate, the cart gave a lurch and Leonard
fell forward. Instinctively Harold swept an arm round him and held
him up. As he did so the unconsciousness of arrested sleep came;
Leonard's chin sank on his breast and he breathed stertorously.
As he drove on, Harold's thoughts circled in a tumult. Vague ideas
of extreme measures which he ought to take flashed up and paled away.
Intention revolved upon itself till its weak side was exposed, and,
it was abandoned. He could not doubt the essential truth of
Leonard's statement regarding the proposal of marriage. He did not
understand this nor did he try to. His own love for the girl and the
bitter awaking to its futility made him so hopeless that in his own
desolation all the mystery of her doing and the cause of it was
merged and lost.
His only aim and purpose now was her safety. One thing at least he
could do: by fair means or foul stop Leonard's mouth, so that others
need not know her shame! He groaned aloud as the thought came to
him. Beyond this first step he could do nothing, think of nothing as
yet. And he could not take this first step till Leonard had so far
sobered that he could understand.
And so waiting for that time to come, he drove on through the silent
CHAPTER XIII--HAROLD'S RESOLVE
As they went on their way Harold noticed that Leonard's breathing
became more regular, as in honest sleep. He therefore drove slowly
so that the other might be sane again before they should arrive at
the gate of his father's place; he had something of importance to say
before they should part.
Seeing him sleeping so peacefully, Harold passed a strap round him to
prevent him falling from his seat. Then he could let his thoughts
run more freely. Her safety was his immediate concern; again and
again he thought over what he should say to Leonard to ensure his
Whilst he was pondering with set brows, he was startled by Leonard's
voice at his side:
'Is that you, Harold? I must have been asleep!' Harold remained
silent, amazed at the change. Leonard went on, quite awake and
'By George! I must have been pretty well cut. I don't remember a
thing after coming down the stairs of the club and you and the hall-
porter helping me up here. I say, old chap, you have strapped me up
all safe and tight. It was good of you to take charge of me. I hope
I haven't been a beastly nuisance!' Harold answered grimly:
'It wasn't exactly what I should have called it!' Then, after
looking keenly at his companion, he said: 'Are you quite awake and
'Quite.' The answer came defiantly; there was something in his
questioner's tone which was militant and aggressive. Before speaking
further Harold pulled up the horse. They were now crossing bare
moorland, where anything within a mile could have easily been seen.
They were quite alone, and would be undisturbed. Then he turned to
'You talked a good deal in your drunken sleep--if sleep it was. You
appeared to be awake!' Leonard answered:
'I don't remember anything of it. What did I say?'
'I am going to tell you. You said something so strange and so wrong
that you must answer for it. But first I must know its truth.'
'Must! You are pretty dictatorial,' said Leonard angrily. 'Must
answer for it! What do you mean?'
'Were you on Caester Hill to-day?'
'What's that to you?' There was no mistaking the defiant,
'Answer me! were you?' Harold's voice was strong and calm.
'What if I was? It is none of your affair. Did I say anything in
what you have politely called my drunken sleep?'
'What did I say?'
'I shall tell you in time. But I must know the truth as I proceed.
There is some one else concerned in this, and I must know as I go on.
You can easily judge by what I say if I am right.'
'Then ask away and be damned to you!' Harold's calm voice seemed to
quell the other's turbulence as he went on:
'Were you on Caester Hill this morning?'
'Did you meet Miss--a lady there?'
'What . . . I did!'
'Was it by appointment?' Some sort of idea or half-recollection
seemed to come to Leonard; he fumbled half consciously in his breast-
pocket. Then he broke out angrily:
'You have taken my letter!'
'I know the answer to that question,' said Harold slowly. 'You
showed me the letter yourself, and insisted on my reading it.'
Leonard's heart began to quail. He seemed to have an instinctive
dread of what was coming. Harold went on calmly and remorselessly:
'Did a proposal of marriage pass between you?'
'Yes!' The answer was defiantly given; Leonard began to feel that
his back was against the wall.
'Who made it?' The answer was a sudden attempt at a blow, but Harold
struck down his hand in time and held it. Leonard, though a fairly
strong man, was powerless in that iron grasp.
'You must answer! It is necessary that I know the truth.'
'Why must you? What have you to do with it? You are not my keeper!
Nor Stephen's; though I dare say you would like to be!' The insult
cooled Harold's rising passion, even whilst it wrung his heart.
'I have to do with it because I choose. You may find the answer if
you wish in your last insult! Now, clearly understand me, Leonard
Everard. You know me of old; and you know that what I say I shall
do. One way or another, your life or mine may hang on your answers
to me--if necessary!' Leonard felt himself pulled up. He knew well
the strength and purpose of the man. With a light laugh, which he
felt to be, as it was, hollow, he answered:
'Well, schoolmaster, as you are asking questions, I suppose I may as
well answer them. Go on! Next!' Harold went on in the same calm,
'Who made the proposal of marriage?'
'Did . . . Was it made at once and directly, or after some
'After a bit. I didn't quite understand at first what she was
driving at.' There was a long pause. With an effort Harold went on:
'Did you accept?' Leonard hesitated. With a really wicked scowl he
eyed his big, powerfully-built companion, who still had his hand as
in a vice. Then seeing no resource, he answered:
'I did not! That does not mean that I won't, though!' he added
defiantly. To his surprise Harold suddenly released his hand. There
was a grimness in his tone as he said:
'That will do! I know now that you have spoken the truth, sober as
well as drunk. You need say no more. I know the rest. Most men--
even brutes like you, if there are any--would have been ashamed even
to think the things you said, said openly to me, you hound. You
vile, traitorous, mean-souled hound!'
'What did I say?'
'I know what you said; and I shall not forget it.' He went on, his
voice deepening into a stern judicial utterance, as though he were
pronouncing a sentence of death:
'Leonard Everard, you have treated vilely a lady whom I love and
honour more than I love my own soul. You have insulted her to her
face and behind her back. You have made such disloyal reference to
her and to her mad act in so trusting you, and have so shown your
intention of causing, intentionally or unintentionally, woe to her,
that I tell you here and now that you hold henceforth your life in
your hand. If you ever mention to a living soul what you have told
me twice to-night, even though you should be then her husband; if you
should cause her harm though she should then be your wife; if you
should cause her dishonour in public or in private, I shall kill you.
So help me God!'
Not a word more did he say; but, taking up the reins, drove on in
silence till they arrived at the gate of Brindehow, where he signed
to him to alight.
He drove off in silence.
When he arrived at his own house he sent the servant to bed, and then
went to his study, where he locked himself in. Then, and then only,
did he permit his thoughts to have full range. For the first time
since the blow had fallen he looked straight in the face the change
in his own life. He had loved Stephen so long and so honestly that
it seemed to him now as if that love had been the very foundation of
his life. He could not remember a time when he had not loved her;
away back to the time when he, a big boy, took her, a little girl,
under his care, and devoted himself to her. He had grown into the
belief that so strong and so consistent an affection, though he had
never spoken it or even hinted at it or inferred it, had become a
part of her life as well as of his own. And this was the end of that
dreaming! Not only did she not care for him, but found herself with
a heart so empty that she needs must propose marriage to another man!
There was surely something, more than at present he knew of or could
understand, behind such an act done by her. Why should she ask
Everard to marry her? Why should she ask any man? Women didn't do
such things! . . . Here he paused. 'Women didn't do such things.'
All at once there came back to him fragments of discussions--in which
Stephen had had a part, in which matters of convention had been dealt
with. Out of these dim and shattered memories came a comfort to his
heart, though his brain could not as yet grasp the reason of it. He
knew that Stephen had held an unconventional idea as to the equality
of the sexes. Was it possible that she was indeed testing one of her
The idea stirred him so that he could not remain quiet. He stood up,
and walked the room. Somehow he felt light beginning to dawn, though
he could not tell its source, or guess at the final measure of its
fulness. The fact of Stephen having done such a thing was hard to
bear; but it was harder to think that she should have done such a
thing without a motive; or worse: with love of Leonard as a motive!
He shuddered as he paused. She could not love such a man. It was
monstrous! And yet she had done this thing . . . 'Oh, if she had had
any one to advise her, to restrain her! But she had no mother! No
mother! Poor Stephen!'
The pity of it, not for himself but for the woman he loved, overcame
him. Sitting down heavily before his desk, he put his face on his
hands, and his great shoulders shook.
Long, long after the violence of his emotion had passed, he sat there
motionless, thinking with all the power and sincerity he knew;
thinking for Stephen's good.
When a strong man thinks unselfishly some good may come out of it.
He may blunder; but the conclusion of his reasoning must be in the
main right. So it was with Harold. He knew that he was ignorant of
women, and of woman's nature, as distinguished from man's. The only
woman he had ever known well was Stephen; and she in her youth and in
her ignorance of the world and herself was hardly sufficient to
supply to him data for his present needs. To a clean-minded man of
his age a woman is something divine. It is only when in later life
disappointment and experience have hammered bitter truth into his
brain, that he begins to realise that woman is not angelic but human.
When he knows more, and finds that she is like himself, human and
limited but with qualities of purity and sincerity and endurance
which put his own to shame, he realises how much better a helpmate
she is for man than could be the vague, unreal creations of his
dreams. And then he can thank God for His goodness that when He
might have given us Angels He did give us women!
Of one thing, despite the seeming of facts, he was sure: Stephen did
not love Leonard. Every fibre of his being revolted at the thought.
She of so high a nature; he of so low. She so noble; he so mean.
Bah! the belief was impossible.
Impossible! Herein was the manifestation of his ignorance; anything
is possible where love is concerned! It was characteristic of the
man that in his mind he had abandoned, for the present at all events,
his own pain. He still loved Stephen with all the strength of his
nature, but for him the selfish side ceased to exist. He was trying
to serve Stephen; and every other thought had to give way. He had
been satisfied that in a manner she loved him in some way and in some
degree; and he had hoped that in the fulness of time the childish
love would ripen, so that in the end would come a mutual affection
which was of the very essence of Heaven. He believed still that she
loved him in some way; but the future that was based on hope had now
been wiped out with a sudden and unsparing hand. She had actually
proposed marriage to another man. If the idea of a marriage with him
had ever crossed her mind she could have had no doubt of her feeling
toward another. . . . And yet? And yet he could not believe that
she loved Leonard; not even if all trains of reasoning should end by
leading to that point. One thing he had at present to accept, that
whatever might be the measure of affection Stephen might have for
him, it was not love as he understood it. He resolutely turned his
back on the thought of his own side of the matter, and tried to find
some justification of Stephen's act.
'Seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened to ye' has
perhaps a general as well as a special significance. It is by
patient tireless seeking that many a precious thing has been found.
It was after many a long cycle of thought that the seeking and the
knocking had effectual result. Harold came to believe, vaguely at
first but more definitely as the evidence nucleated, that Stephen's
act was due to some mad girlish wish to test her own theory; to prove
to herself the correctness of her own reasoning, the fixity of her
own purpose. He did not go on analysing further; for as he walked
the room with a portion of the weight taken from his heart he noticed
that the sky was beginning to quicken. The day would soon be upon
him, and there was work to be done. Instinctively he knew that there
was trouble in store for Stephen, and he felt that in such an hour he
should be near her. All her life she had been accustomed to him. In
her sorrows to confide in him, to tell him her troubles so that they
might dwindle and pass away; to enhance her pleasures by making him a
sharer in them.
Harold was inspirited by the coming of the new day. There was work
to be done, and the work must be based on thought. His thoughts must
take a practical turn; what was he to do that would help Stephen?
Here there dawned on him for the first time the understanding of a
certain humiliation which she had suffered; she had been refused!
She who had stepped so far out of the path of maidenly reserve in
which she had always walked as to propose marriage to a man, had been
refused! He did not, could not, know to the full the measure of such
humiliation to a woman; but he could guess at any rate a part. And
that guessing made him grind his teeth in impotent rage.
But out of that rage came an inspiration. If Stephen had been
humiliated by the refusal of one man, might not this be minimised if
she in turn might refuse another? Harold knew so well the sincerity
of his own love and the depth of his own devotion that he was
satisfied that he could not err in giving the girl the opportunity of
refusing him. It would be some sort of balm to her wounded spirit to
know that Leonard's views were not shared by all men. That there
were others who would deem it a joy to serve as her slaves. When she
had refused him she would perhaps feel easier in her mind. Of course
if she did not refuse him . . . Ah! well, then would the gates of
Heaven open . . . But that would never be. The past could not be
blotted out! All he could do would be to serve her. He would go
early. Such a man as Leonard Everard might make some new
complication, and the present was quite bad enough.
It was a poor enough thing for him, he thought at length. She might
trample on him; but it was for her sake. And to him what did it
matter? The worst had come. All was over now!
CHAPTER XIV--THE BEECH GROVE
On the morning following the proposal Stephen strolled out into a
beech grove, some little distance from the house, which from
childhood had been a favourite haunt of hers. It was not in the
immediate road to anywhere, and so there was no occasion for any of
the household or the garden to go through it or near it. She did not
put on a hat, but took only a sunshade, which she used in passing
over the lawn. The grove was on the side of the house away from her
own room and the breakfast-room. When she had reached its shade she
felt that at last she was alone.
The grove was a privileged place. Long ago a great number of young
beeches had been planted so thickly that as they grew they shot up
straight and branchless in their struggle for the light. Not till
they had reached a considerable altitude had they been thinned; and
then the thinning had been so effected that, as the high branches
began to shoot out in the freer space, they met in time and
interlaced so closely that they made in many places a perfect screen
of leafy shade. Here and there were rifts or openings through which
the light passed; under such places the grass was fine and green, or
the wild hyacinths in due season tinged the earth with blue. Through
the grove some wide alleys had been left: great broad walks where
the soft grass grew short and fine, and to whose edges came a
drooping of branches and an upspringing of undergrowth of laurel and
rhododendron. At the far ends of these walks were little pavilions
of marble built in the classic style which ruled for garden use two
hundred years ago. At the near ends some of them were close to the
broad stretch of water from whose edges ran back the great sloping
banks of emerald sward dotted here and there with great forest trees.
The grove was protected by a ha-ha, so that it was never invaded from
without, and the servants of the house, both the domestics and the
gardeners and grooms, had been always forbidden to enter it. Thus by
long usage it had become a place of quiet and solitude for the
members of the family.
To this soothing spot had come Stephen in her pain. The long spell
of self-restraint during that morning had almost driven her to
frenzy, and she sought solitude as an anodyne to her tortured soul.
The long anguish of a third sleepless night, following on a day of
humiliation and terror, had destroyed for a time the natural
resilience of a healthy nature. She had been for so long in the
prison of her own purpose with Fear as warder; the fetters of
conventional life had so galled her that here in the accustomed
solitude of this place, in which from childhood she had been used to
move and think freely, she felt as does a captive who has escaped
from an irksome durance. As Stephen had all along been free of
movement and speech, no such opportunities of freedom called to her.
The pent-up passion in her, however, found its own relief. Her voice
was silent, and she moved with slow steps, halting often between the
green tree-trunks in the cool shade; but her thoughts ran free, and
passion found a vent. No stranger seeing the tall, queenly girl
moving slowly through the trees could have imagined the fierce
passion which blazed within her, unless he had been close enough to
see her eyes. The habit of physical restraint to which all her life
she had been accustomed, and which was intensified by the experience
of the past thirty-six hours, still ruled her, even here. Gradually
the habit of security began to prevail, and the shackles to melt
away. Here had she come in all her childish troubles. Here had she
fought with herself, and conquered herself. Here the spirits of the
place were with her and not against her. Here memory in its second
degree, habit, gave her the full sense of spiritual freedom.
As she walked to and fro the raging of her spirit changed its
objective: from restraint to its final causes; and chief amongst
them the pride which had been so grievously hurt. How she loathed
the day that had passed, and how more than all she hated herself for
her part in it; her mad, foolish, idiotic, self-importance which gave
her the idea of such an act and urged her to the bitter end of its
carrying out; her mulish obstinacy in persisting when every fibre of
her being had revolted at the doing, and when deep in her inmost soul
was a deterring sense of its futility. How could she have stooped to
have done such a thing: to ask a man . . . oh! the shame of it, the
shame of it all! How could she have been so blind as to think that
such a man was worthy! . . .
In the midst of her whirlwind of passion came a solitary gleam of
relief: she knew with certainty that she did not love Leonard; that
she had never loved him. The coldness of disdain to him, the fear of
his future acts which was based on disbelief of the existence of that
finer nature with which she had credited him, all proved to her
convincingly that he could never really have been within the charmed
circle of her inner life. Did she but know it, there was an even
stronger evidence of her indifference to him in the ready manner in
which her thoughts flew past him in their circling sweep. For a
moment she saw him as the centre of a host of besetting fears; but
her own sense of superior power nullified the force of the vision.
She was able to cope with him and his doings, were there such need.
And so her mind flew back to the personal side of her trouble: her
blindness, her folly, her shame.
In truth she was doing good work for herself. Her mind was working
truly and to a beneficent end. One by one she was overcoming the
false issues of her passion and drifting to an end in which she would
see herself face to face and would place so truly the blame for what
had been as to make it a warning and ennobling lesson of her life.
She moved more quickly, passing to and fro as does a panther in its
cage when the desire of forest freedom is heavy upon it.
That which makes the irony of life will perhaps never be understood
in its casual aspect by the finite mind of man. The 'why' and
'wherefore' and the 'how' of it is only to be understood by that All-
wise intelligence which can scan the future as well as the present,
and see the far far-reaching ramifications of those schemes of final
development to which the manifestation of completed character tend.
To any mortal it would seem a pity that to Stephen in her solitude,
when her passion was working itself out to an end which might be
good, should come an interruption which would throw it back upon
itself in such a way as to multiply its malignant force. But again
it is a part of the Great Plan that instruments whose use man's
finite mind could never predicate should be employed: the seeming
good to evil, the seeming evil to good.
As she swept to and fro, her raging spirit compelling to violent
movement, Stephen's eyes were arrested by the figure of a man coming
through the aisles of the grove. At such a time any interruption of
her passion was a cause for heightening anger; but the presence of a
person was as a draught to a full-fed furnace. Most of all, in her
present condition of mind, the presence of a man--for the thought of
a man lay behind all her trouble, was as a tornado striking a burning
forest. The blood of her tortured heart seemed to leap to her brain
and to suffuse her eyes. She 'saw blood'!
It mattered not that the man whom she saw she knew and trusted.
Indeed, this but added fuel to the flame. In the presence of a
stranger some of her habitual self-restraint would doubtless have
come back to her. But now the necessity for such was foregone;
Harold was her alter ego, and in his presence was safety. He was, in
this aspect, but a higher and more intelligent rendering of the trees
around her. In another aspect he was an opportune victim, something
to strike at. When the anger of a poison snake opens its gland, and
the fang is charged with venom, it must strike at something. It does
not pause or consider what it may be; it strikes, though it may be at
stone or iron. So Stephen waited till her victim was within distance
to strike. Her black eyes, fierce with passion and blood-rimmed as a
cobra's, glittered as he passed among the tree-trunks towards her,
eager with his errand of devotion.
Harold was a man of strong purpose. Had he not been, he would never
have come on his present errand. Never, perhaps, had any suitor set
forth on his quest with a heavier heart. All his life, since his
very boyhood, had been centred round the girl whom to-day he had come
to serve. All his thought had been for her: and to-day all he could
expect was a gentle denial of all his hopes, so that his future life
would be at best a blank.