Part 2 out of 6
suggested that if Miltoun was at Valleys House, it mightn't be too
late to wire to him. The thing ought to be stemmed at once! And in
all this concern about the situation there kept cropping out quaint
little outbursts of desire to disregard the whole thing as infernal
insolence, and metaphorically to punch the beggars' heads, natural to
young men of breeding.
Then, out of another silence came the voice of Lord Dennis:
"I am thinking of this poor lady."
Turning a little abruptly towards that dry suave voice, and
recovering the self-possession which seldom deserted him, Harbinger
"Quite so, sir; of course!"
In the lesser withdrawing room, used when there was so small a party,
Mrs. Winlow had gone to the piano and was playing to herself, for
Lady Casterley, Lady Valleys, and her two daughters had drawn
together as though united to face this invading rumour.
It was curious testimony to Miltoun's character that, no more here
than in the dining-hall, was there any doubt of the integrity of his
relations with Mrs. Noel. But whereas, there the matter was confined
to its electioneering aspect, here that aspect was already perceived
to be only the fringe of its importance. Those feminine minds, going
with intuitive swiftness to the core of anything which affected their
own males, had already grasped the fact that the rumour would, as it
were, chain a man of Miltoun's temper to this woman.
But they were walking on such a thin crust of facts, and there was so
deep a quagmire of supposition beneath, that talk was almost
painfully difficult. Never before perhaps had each of these four
women realized so clearly how much Miltoun--that rather strange and
unknown grandson, son, and brother--counted in the scheme of
existence. Their suppressed agitation was manifested in very
different ways. Lady Casterley, upright in her chair, showed it only
by an added decision of speech, a continual restless movement of one
hand, a thin line between her usually smooth brows. Lady Valleys
wore a puzzled look, as if a little surprised that she felt serious.
Agatha looked frankly anxious. She was in her quiet way a woman of
much character, endowed with that natural piety, which accepts
without questioning the established order in life and religion. The
world to her being home and family, she had a real, if gently
expressed, horror of all that she instinctively felt to be subversive
of this ideal. People judged her a little quiet, dull, and narrow;
they compared her to a hen for ever clucking round her chicks. The
streak of heroism that lay in her nature was not perhaps of patent
order. Her feeling about her brother's situation however was sincere
and not to be changed or comforted. She saw him in danger of being
damaged in the only sense in which she could conceive of a man--as a
husband and a father. It was this that went to her heart, though her
piety proclaimed to her also the peril of his soul; for she shared
the High Church view of the indissolubility of marriage.
As to Barbara, she stood by the hearth, leaning her white shoulders
against the carved marble, her hands behind her, looking down. Now
and then her lips curled, her level brows twitched, a faint sigh came
from her; then a little smile would break out, and be instantly
suppressed. She alone was silent--Youth criticizing Life; her
judgment voiced itself only in the untroubled rise and fall of her
young bosom, the impatience of her brows, the downward look of her
blue eyes, full of a lazy, inextinguishable light:
Lady Valleys sighed.
"If only he weren't such a queer boy! He's quite capable of marrying
her from sheer perversity."
"What!" said Lady Casterley.
"You haven't seen her, my dear. A most unfortunately attractive
creature--quite a charming face."
Agatha said quietly:
"Mother, if she was divorced, I don't think Eustace would."
"There's that, certainly," murmured Lady Valleys; "hope for the
"Don't you even know which way it was?" said Lady Casterley.
"Well, the vicar says she did the divorcing. But he's very
charitable; it may be as Agatha hopes."
"I detest vagueness. Why doesn't someone ask the woman?"
"You shall come with me, Granny dear, and ask her yourself; you will
do it so nicely."
Lady Casterley looked up.
"We shall see," she said. Something struggled with the autocratic
criticism in her eyes. No more than the rest of the world could she
help indulging Barbara. As one who believed in the divinity of her
order, she liked this splendid child. She even admired--though
admiration was not what she excelled in--that warm joy in life, as of
some great nymph, parting the waves with bare limbs, tossing from her
the foam of breakers. She felt that in this granddaughter, rather
than in the good Agatha, the patrician spirit was housed. There were
points to Agatha, earnestness and high principle; but something
morally narrow and over-Anglican slightly offended the practical,
this-worldly temper of Lady Casteriey. It was a weakness, and she
disliked weakness. Barbara would never be squeamish over moral
questions or matters such as were not really, essential to
aristocracy. She might, indeed, err too much the other way from
sheer high spirits. As the impudent child had said: "If people had
no pasts, they would have no futures." And Lady Casterley could not
bear people without futures. She was ambitious; not with the low
ambition of one who had risen from nothing, but with the high passion
of one on the top, who meant to stay there.
"And where have you been meeting this--er--anonymous creature?" she
Barbara came from the hearth, and bending down beside Lady
Casterley's chair, seemed to envelop her completely.
"I'm all right, Granny; she couldn't corrupt me."
Lady Casterley's face peered out doubtfully from that warmth, wearing
a look of disapproving pleasure.
"I know your wiles!" she said. "Come, now!"
"I see her about. She's nice to look at. We talk."
Again with that hurried quietness Agatha said:
"My dear Babs, I do think you ought to wait."
"My dear Angel, why? What is it to me if she's had four husbands?"
Agatha bit her lips, and Lady Valleys murmured with a laugh:
"You really are a terror, Babs."
But the sound of Mrs. Winlow's music had ceased--the men had come in.
And the faces of the four women hardened, as if they had slipped on
masks; for though this was almost or quite a family party, the
Winlows being second cousins, still the subject was one which each of
these four in their very different ways felt to be beyond general
discussion. Talk, now, began glancing from the war scare--Winlow had
it very specially that this would be over in a week--to Brabrook's
speech, in progress at that very moment, of which Harbinger provided
an imitation. It sped to Winlow's flight--to Andrew Grant's articles
in the 'Parthenon'--to the caricature of Harbinger in the 'Cackler',
inscribed 'The New Tory. Lord H-rb-ng-r brings Social Reform beneath
the notice of his friends,' which depicted him introducing a naked
baby to a number of coroneted old ladies. Thence to a dancer.
Thence to the Bill for Universal Assurance. Then back to the war
scare; to the last book of a great French writer; and once more to
Winlow's flight. It was all straightforward and outspoken, each
seeming to say exactly what came into the head. For all that, there
was a curious avoidance of the spiritual significances of these
things; or was it perhaps that such significances were not seen?
Lord Dennis, at the far end of the room, studying a portfolio of
engravings, felt a touch on his cheek; and conscious of a certain
fragrance, said without turning his head:
"Nice things, these, Babs!"
Receiving no answer he looked up.
There indeed stood Barbara.
"I do hate sneering behind people's backs!"
There had always been good comradeship between these two, since the
days when Barbara, a golden-haired child, astride of a grey pony, had
been his morning companion in the Row all through the season. His
riding days were past; he had now no outdoor pursuit save fishing,
which he followed with the ironic persistence of a self-contained,
high-spirited nature, which refuses to admit that the mysterious
finger of old age is laid across it. But though she was no longer
his companion, he still had a habit of expecting her confidences; and
he looked after her, moving away from him to a window, with surprised
It was one of those nights, dark yet gleaming, when there seems a
flying malice in the heavens; when the stars, from under and above
the black clouds, are like eyes frowning and flashing down at men
with purposed malevolence. The great sighing trees even had caught
this spirit, save one, a dark, spire-like cypress, planted three
hundred and fifty years before, whose tall form incarnated the very
spirit of tradition, and neither swayed nor soughed like the others.
>From her, too close-fibred, too resisting, to admit the breath of
Nature, only a dry rustle came. Still almost exotic, in spite of her
centuries of sojourn, and now brought to life by the eyes of night,
she seemed almost terrifying, in her narrow, spear-like austerity, as
though something had dried and died within her soul. Barbara came
back from the window.
"We can't do anything in our lives, it seems to me," she said, "but
play at taking risks!"
Lord Dennis replied dryly:
"I don't think I understand, my dear."
"Look at Mr. Courtier!" muttered Barbara. "His life's so much more
risky altogether than any of our men folk lead. And yet they sneer
"Let's see, what has he done?"
"Oh! I dare say not very much; but it's all neck or nothing. But
what does anything matter to Harbinger, for instance? If his Social
Reform comes to nothing, he'll still be Harbinger, with fifty
thousand a year."
Lord Dennis looked up a little queerly.
"What! Is it possible you don't take the young man seriously, Babs?"
Barbara shrugged; a strap slipped a little off one white shoulder.
"It's all play really; and he knows it--you can tell that from his
voice. He can't help its not mattering, of course; and he knows that
"I have heard that he's after you, Babs; is that true?"
"He hasn't caught me yet."
Barbara's answer was another shrug; and, for all their statuesque
beauty, the movement of her shoulders was like the shrug of a little
girl in her pinafore.
"And this Mr. Courtier," said Lord Dennis dryly: "Are you after him?"
"I'm after everything; didn't you know that, dear?"
"In reason, my child."
"In reason, of course--like poor Eusty!" She stopped. Harbinger
himself was standing there close by, with an air as nearly
approaching reverence as was ever to be seen on him. In truth, the
way in which he was looking at her was almost timorous.
"Will you sing that song I like so much, Lady Babs?"
They moved away together; and Lord Dennis, gazing after that
magnificent young couple, stroked his beard gravely.
Miltoun's sudden journey to London had been undertaken in pursuance
of a resolve slowly forming from the moment he met Mrs. Noel in the
stone flagged passage of Burracombe Farm. If she would have him and
since last evening he believed she would--he intended to marry her.
It has been said that except for one lapse his life had been austere,
but this is not to assert that he had no capacity for passion. The
contrary was the case. That flame which had been so jealously
guarded smouldered deep within him--a smothered fire with but little
air to feed on. The moment his spirit was touched by the spirit of
this woman, it had flared up. She was the incarnation of all that he
desired. Her hair, her eyes, her form; the tiny tuck or dimple at
the corner of her mouth just where a child places its finger; her way
of moving, a sort of unconscious swaying or yielding to the air; the
tone in her voice, which seemed to come not so much from happiness of
her own as from an innate wish to make others happy; and that
natural, if not robust, intelligence, which belongs to the very
sympathetic, and is rarely found in women of great ambitions or
enthusiasms--all these things had twined themselves round his heart.
He not only dreamed of her, and wanted her; he believed in her. She
filled his thoughts as one who could never do wrong; as one who,
though a wife would remain a mistress, and though a mistress, would
always be the companion of his spirit.
It has been said that no one spoke or gossiped about women in
Miltoun's presence, and the tale of her divorce was present to his
mind simply in the form of a conviction that she was an injured
woman. After his interview with the vicar, he had only once again
alluded to it, and that in answer to the speech of a lady staying at
the Court: "Oh! yes, I remember her case perfectly. She was the poor
woman who----" "Did not, I am certain, Lady Bonington." The tone
of his voice had made someone laugh uneasily; the subject was
All divorce was against his convictions, but in a blurred way he
admitted that there were cases where release was unavoidable. He was
not a man to ask for confidences, or expect them to be given him. He
himself had never confided his spiritual struggles to any living
creature; and the unspiritual struggle had little interest for
Miltoun. He was ready at any moment to stake his life on the
perfection of the idol he had set up within his soul, as simply and
straightforwardly as he would have placed his body in front of her to
shield her from harm.
The same fanaticism, which looked on his passion as a flower by
itself, entirely apart from its suitability to the social garden, was
also the driving force which sent him up to London to declare his
intention to his father before he spoke to Mrs. Noel. The thing
should be done simply, and in right order. For he had the kind of
moral courage found in those who live retired within the shell of
their own aspirations. Yet it was not perhaps so much active moral
courage as indifference to what others thought or did, coming from
his inbred resistance to the appreciation of what they felt.
That peculiar smile of the old Tudor Cardinal--which had in it
invincible self-reliance, and a sort of spiritual sneer--played over
his face when he speculated on his father's reception of the coming
news; and very soon he ceased to think of it at all, burying himself
in the work he had brought with him for the journey. For he had in
high degree the faculty, so essential to public life, of switching
off his whole attention from one subject to another.
On arriving at Paddington he drove straight to Valleys House.
This large dwelling with its pillared portico, seemed to wear an air
of faint surprise that, at the height of the season, it was not more
inhabited. Three servants relieved Miltoun of his little luggage;
and having washed, and learned that his father would be dining in, he
went for a walk, taking his way towards his rooms in the Temple. His
long figure, somewhat carelessly garbed, attracted the usual
attention, of which he was as usual unaware. Strolling along, he
meditated deeply on a London, an England, different from this
flatulent hurly-burly, this 'omniuin gatherum', this great discordant
symphony of sharps and flats. A London, an England, kempt and self-
respecting; swept and garnished of slums, and plutocrats,
advertisement, and jerry-building, of sensationalism, vulgarity,
vice, and unemployment. An England where each man should know his
place, and never change it, but serve in it loyally in his own caste.
Where every man, from nobleman to labourer, should be an oligarch by
faith, and a gentleman by practice. An England so steel-bright and
efficient that the very sight should suffice to impose peace. An
England whose soul should be stoical and fine with the stoicism and
fineness of each soul amongst her many million souls; where the town
should have its creed and the country its creed, and there should be
contentment and no complaining in her streets.
And as he walked down the Strand, a little ragged boy cheeped out
between his legs:
"Bloodee discoveree in a Bank--Grite sensytion! Pi-er!"
Miltoun paid no heed to that saying; yet, with it, the wind that
blows where man lives, the careless, wonderful, unordered wind, had
dispersed his austere and formal vision. Great was that wind--the
myriad aspiration of men and women, the praying of the uncounted
multitude to the goddess of Sensation--of Chance, and Change. A
flowing from heart to heart, from lip to lip, as in Spring the
wistful air wanders through a wood, imparting to every bush and tree
the secrets of fresh life, the passionate resolve to grow, and
become--no matter what! A sighing, as eternal as the old murmuring
of the sea, as little to be hushed, as prone to swell into sudden
Miltoun held on through the traffic, not looking overmuch at the
present forms of the thousands he passed, but seeing with the eyes of
faith the forms he desired to see. Near St. Paul's he stopped in
front of an old book-shop. His grave, pallid, not unhandsome face,
was well-known to William Rimall, its small proprietor, who at once
brought out his latest acquisition--a Mores 'Utopia.' That particular
edition (he assured Miltoun) was quite unprocurable--he had never
sold but one other copy, which had been literally, crumbling away.
This copy was in even better condition. It could hardly last another
twenty years--a genuine book, a bargain. There wasn't so much
movement in More as there had been a little time back.
Miltoun opened the tome, and a small book-louse who had been sleeping
on the word 'Tranibore,' began to make its way slowly towards the
very centre of the volume.
"I see it's genuine," said Miltoun.
"It's not to read, my lord," the little man warned him: "Hardly safe
to turn the pages. As I was saying--I've not had a better piece this
year. I haven't really!"
"Shrewd old dreamer," muttered Miltoun; "the Socialists haven't got
beyond him, even now."
The little man's eyes blinked, as though apologizing for the views of
"Well," he said, "I suppose he was one of them. I forget if your
lordship's very strong on politics?"
"I want to see an England, Rimall, something like the England of
Mores dream. But my machinery will be different. I shall begin at
The little man nodded.
"Quite so, quite so," he said; "we shall come to that, I dare say."
"We must, Rimall." And Miltoun turned the page.
The little man's face quivered.
"I don't think," he said, "that book's quite strong enough for you,
my lord, with your taste for reading. Now I've a most curious old
volume here--on Chinese temples. It's rare--but not too old. You
can peruse it thoroughly. It's what I call a book to browse on just
suit your palate. Funny principle they built those things on," he
added, opening the volume at an engraving, "in layers. We don't
build like that in England."
Miltoun looked up sharply; the little man's face wore no signs of
"Unfortunately we don't, Rimall," he said; "we ought to, and we
shall. I'll take this book."
Placing his finger on the print of the pagoda, he added: "A good
The little bookseller's eye strayed down the temple to the secret
"Exactly, my lord," he said; "I thought it'd be your fancy. The
price to you will be twenty-seven and six."
Miltoun, pocketing the bargain, walked out. He made his way into the
Temple, left the book at his Chambers, and passed on down to the bank
of Mother Thames. The Sun was loving her passionately that
afternoon; he had kissed her into warmth and light and colour. And
all the buildings along her banks, as far as the towers at
Westminster, seemed to be smiling. It was a great sight for the eyes
of a lover. And another vision came haunting Miltoun, of a soft-eyed
woman with a low voice, bending amongst her flowers. Nothing would
be complete without her; no work bear fruit; no scheme could have
Lord Valleys greeted his son at dinner with good fellowship and a
"Day off, my dear fellow? Or have you come up to hear Brabrook pitch
into us? He's rather late this time--we've got rid of that balloon
business no trouble after all."
And he eyed Miltoun with that clear grey stare of his, so cool,
level, and curious. Now, what sort of bird is this? it seemed
saying. Certainly not the partridge I should have expected from its
Miltoun's answer: "I came up to tell you some thing, sir," riveted
his father's stare for a second longer than was quite urbane.
It would not be true to say that Lord Valleys was afraid of his son.
Fear was not one of his emotions, but he certainly regarded him with
a respectful curiosity that bordered on uneasiness. The oligarchic
temper of Miltoun's mind and political convictions almost shocked one
who knew both by temperament and experience how to wait in front.
This instruction he had frequently had occasion to give his jockeys
when he believed his horses could best get home first in that way.
And it was an instruction he now longed to give his son. He himself
had 'waited in front' for over fifty years, and he knew it to be the
finest way of insuring that he would never be compelled to alter this
desirable policy--for something in Lord Valleys' character made him
fear that, in real emergency, he would exert himself to the point of
the gravest discomfort sooner than be left to wait behind. A fellow
like young Harbinger, of course, he understood--versatile, 'full of
beans,' as he expressed it to himself in his more confidential
moments, who had imbibed the new wine (very intoxicating it was) of
desire for social reform. He would have to be given his head a
little--but there would be no difficulty with him, he would never
'run out'--light handy build of horse that only required steadying at
the corners. He would want to hear himself talk, and be let feel
that he was doing something. All very well, and quite intelligible.
But with Miltoun (and Lord Valleys felt this to be no, mere parental
fancy) it was a very different business. His son had a way of
forcing things to their conclusions which was dangerous, and reminded
him of his mother-in-law. He was a baby in public affairs, of
course, as yet; but as soon as he once got going, the intensity of
his convictions, together with his position, and real gift--not of
the gab, like Harbinger's--but of restrained, biting oratory, was
sure to bring him to the front with a bound in the present state of
parties. And what were those convictions? Lord Valleys had tried to
understand them, but up to the present he had failed. And this did
not surprise him exactly, since, as he often said, political
convictions were not, as they appeared on the surface, the outcome of
reason, but merely symptoms of temperament. And he could not
comprehend, because he could not sympathize with, any attitude
towards public affairs that was not essentially level, attached to
the plain, common-sense factors of the case as they appeared to
himself. Not that he could fairly be called a temporizer, for deep
down in him there was undoubtedly a vein of obstinate, fundamental
loyalty to the traditions of a caste which prized high spirit beyond
all things. Still he did feel that Miltoun was altogether too much
the 'pukka' aristocrat--no better than a Socialist, with his
confounded way of seeing things all cut and dried; his ideas of
forcing reforms down people's throats and holding them there with the
iron hand! With his way too of acting on his principles! Why! He
even admitted that he acted on his principles! This thought always
struck a very discordant note in Lord Valleys' breast. It was almost
indecent; worse-ridiculous! The fact was, the dear fellow had
unfortunately a deeper habit of thought than was wanted in politics--
dangerous--very! Experience might do something for him! And out of
his own long experience the Earl of Valleys tried hard to recollect
any politician whom the practice of politics had left where he was
when he started. He could not think of one. But this gave him
little comfort; and, above a piece of late asparagus his steady eyes
sought his son's. What had he come up to tell him?
The phrase had been ominous; he could not recollect Miltoun's ever
having told him anything. For though a really kind and indulgent
father, he had--like so many men occupied with public and other
lives--a little acquired towards his offspring the look and manner:
Is this mine? Of his four children, Barbara alone he claimed with
conviction. He admired her; and, being a man who savoured life, he
was unable to love much except where he admired. But, the last
person in the world to hustle any man or force a confidence, he
waited to hear his son's news, betraying no uneasiness.
Miltoun seemed in no hurry. He described Courtier's adventure, which
tickled Lord Valleys a good deal.
"Ordeal by red pepper! Shouldn't have thought them equal to that,"
he said. "So you've got him at Monkland now. Harbinger still with
"Yes. I don't think Harbinger has much stamina.
"I rather resent his being on our side--I don't think he does us any
good. You've seen that cartoon, I suppose; it cuts pretty deep. I
couldn't recognize you amongst the old women, sir."
Lord Valleys smiled impersonally.
"Very clever thing. By the way; I shall win the Eclipse, I think."
And thus, spasmodically, the conversation ran till the last servant
had left the room.
Then Miltoun, without preparation, looked straight at his father and
"I want to marry Mrs. Noel, sir."
Lord Valleys received the shot with exactly the same expression as
that with which he was accustomed to watch his horses beaten. Then
he raised his wineglass to his lips; and set it down again untouched.
This was the only sign he gave of interest or discomfiture.
"Isn't this rather sudden?"
Miltoun answered: "I've wanted to from the moment I first saw her."
Lord Valleys, almost as good a judge of a man and a situation as of a
horse or a pointer dog, leaned back in his chair, and said with faint
"My dear fellow, it's good of you to have told me this; though, to be
quite frank, it's a piece of news I would rather not have heard."
A dusky flush burned slowly up in Miltoun's cheeks. He had
underrated his father; the man had coolness and courage in a crisis.
"What is your objection, sir?" And suddenly he noticed that a wafer
in Lord Valleys' hand was quivering. This brought into his eyes no
look of compunction, but such a smouldering gaze as the old Tudor
Churchman might have bent on an adversary who showed a sign of
weakness. Lord Valleys, too, noticed the quivering of that wafer,
and ate it.
"We are men of the world," he said.
Miltoun answered: "I am not."
Showing his first real symptom of impatience Lord Valleys rapped out:
"So be it! I am."
"Yes?", said Miltoun.
Nursing one knee, Miltoun faced that appeal without the faintest
movement. His eyes continued to burn into his father's face. A
tremor passed over Lord Valleys' heart. What intensity of feeling
there was in the fellow, that he could look like this at the first
breath of opposition!
He reached out and took up the cigar-box; held it absently towards
his son, and drew it quickly back.
"I forgot," he said; "you don't."
And lighting a cigar, he smoked gravely, looking straight before him,
a furrow between his brows. He spoke at last:
"She looks like a lady. I know nothing else about her."
The smile deepened round Miltoun's mouth.
"Why should you want to know anything else?"
Lord Valleys shrugged. His philosophy had hardened.
"I understand for one thing," he said coldly; "that there is a matter
of a divorce. I thought you took the Church's view on that subject."
"She has not done wrong."
"You know her story, then?"
Lord Valleys raised his brows, in irony and a sort of admiration.
"Chivalry the better part of discretion?"
"You don't, I think, understand the kind of feeling I have for Mrs.
Noel. It does not come into your scheme of things. It is the only
feeling, however, with which I should care to marry, and I am not
likely to feel it for anyone again."
Lord Valleys felt once more that uncanny sense of insecurity. Was
this true? And suddenly he felt Yes, it is true! The face before
him was the face of one who would burn in his own fire sooner than
depart from his standards. And a sudden sense of the utter
seriousness of this dilemma dumbed him.
"I can say no more at the moment," he muttered and got up from the
Lady Casterley was that inconvenient thing--an early riser. No woman
in the kingdom was a better judge of a dew carpet. Nature had in her
time displayed before her thousands of those pretty fabrics, where
all the stars of the past night, dropped to the dark earth, were
waiting to glide up to heaven again on the rays of the sun. At
Ravensham she walked regularly in her gardens between half-past seven
and eight, and when she paid a visit, was careful to subordinate
whatever might be the local custom to this habit.
When therefore her maid Randle came to Barbara's maid at seven
o'clock, and said: "My old lady wants Lady Babs to get up," there was
no particular pain in the breast of Barbara's maid, who was doing up
her corsets. She merely answered "I'll see to it. Lady Babs won't
be too pleased!" And ten minutes later she entered that white-walled
room which smelled of pinks-a temple of drowsy sweetness, where the
summer light was vaguely stealing through flowered chintz curtains.
Barbara was sleeping with her cheek on her hand, and her tawny hair,
gathered back, streaming over the pillow. Her lips were parted; and
the maid thought: "I'd like to have hair and a mouth like that!" She
could not help smiling to herself with pleasure; Lady Babs looked so
pretty--prettier asleep even than awake! And at sight of that
beautiful creature, sleeping and smiling in her sleep, the earthy,
hothouse fumes steeping the mind of one perpetually serving in an
atmosphere unsuited to her natural growth, dispersed. Beauty, with
its queer touching power of freeing the spirit from all barriers and
thoughts of self, sweetened the maid's eyes, and kept her standing,
holding her breath. For Barbara asleep was a symbol of that Golden
Age in which she so desperately believed. She opened her eyes, and
seeing the maid, said:
"Is it eight o'clock, Stacey?"
"No, but Lady Casterley wants you to walk with her."
"Oh! bother! I was having such a dream!"
"Yes; you were smiling."
"I was dreaming that I could fly."
"I could see everything spread out below me, as close as I see you; I
was hovering like a buzzard hawk. I felt that I could come down
exactly where I wanted. It was fascinating. I had perfect power,
And throwing her neck back, she closed her eyes again. The sunlight
streamed in on her between the half-drawn curtains.
The queerest impulse to put out a hand and stroke that full white
throat shot through the maid's mind.
"These flying machines are stupid," murmured Barbara; "the pleasure's
in one's body---wings!"
"I can see Lady Casterley in the garden."
Barbara sprang out of bed. Close by the statue of Diana Lady
Casterley was standing, gazing down at some flowers, a tiny, grey
figure. Barbara sighed. With her, in her dream, had been another
buzzard hawk, and she was filled with a sort of surprise, and queer
pleasure that ran down her in little shivers while she bathed and
In her haste she took no hat; and still busy with the fastening of
her linen frock, hurried down the stairs and Georgian corridor,
towards the garden. At the end of it she almost ran into the arms of
Awakening early this morning, he had begun first thinking of Audrey
Noel, threatened by scandal; then of his yesterday's companion, that
glorious young creature, whose image had so gripped and taken
possession of him. In the pleasure of this memory he had steeped
himself. She was youth itself! That perfect thing, a young girl
And his words, when she nearly ran into him, were: "The Winged
Barbara's answer was equally symbolic: "A buzzard hawk! Do you know,
I dreamed we were flying, Mr. Courtier."
Courtier gravely answered
"If the gods give me that dream----"
>From the garden door Barbara turned her head, smiled, and passed
Lady Casterley, in the company of little Ann, who had perceived that
it was novel to be in the garden at this hour, had been scrutinizing
some newly founded colonies of a flower with which she was not
familiar. On seeing her granddaughter approach, she said at once:
"What is this thing?"
"Never heard of it."
"It's rather the fashion, Granny."
"Nemesia?" repeated Lady Casterley. "What has Nemesis to do with
flowers? I have no patience with gardeners, and these idiotic names.
Where is your hat? I like that duck's egg colour in your frock.
There's a button undone." And reaching up her little spidery hand,
wonderfully steady considering its age, she buttoned the top button
but one of Barbara's bodice.
"You look very blooming, my dear," she said. "How far is it to this
woman's cottage? We'll go there now."
"She wouldn't be up."
Lady Casterley's eyes gleamed maliciously.
"You tell me she's so nice," she said. "No nice unencumbered woman
lies in bed after half-past seven. Which is the very shortest way?
No, Ann, we can't take you."
Little Ann, after regarding her great-grandmother rather too
"Well, I can't come, you see, because I've got to go."
"Very well," said Lady Casterley," then trot along."
Little Ann, tightening her lips, walked to the next colony of
Nemesia, and bent over the colonists with concentration, showing
clearly that she had found something more interesting than had yet
"Ha!" said Lady Casterley, and led on at her brisk pace towards the
All the way down the drive she discoursed on woodcraft, glancing
sharply at the trees. Forestry--she said-like building, and all
other pursuits which required, faith and patient industry, was a lost
art in this second-hand age. She had made Barbara's grandfather
practise it, so that at Catton (her country place) and even at
Ravensham, the trees were worth looking at. Here, at Monkland, they
were monstrously neglected. To have the finest Italian cypress in
the country, for example, and not take more care of it, was a
Barbara listened, smiling lazily. Granny was so amusing in her
energy and precision, and her turns of speech, so deliberately
homespun, as if she--than whom none could better use a stiff and
polished phrase, or the refinements of the French language--were
determined to take what liberties she liked. To the girl, haunted
still by the feeling that she could fly, almost drunk on the
sweetness of the air that summer morning, it seemed funny that anyone
should be like that. Then for a second she saw her grandmother's
face in repose, off guard, grim with anxious purpose, as if
questioning its hold on life; and in one of those flashes of
intuition which come to women--even when young and conquering like
Barbara--she felt suddenly sorry, as though she had caught sight of
the pale spectre never yet seen by her. "Poor old dear," she
thought; "what a pity to be old!"
But they had entered the footpath crossing three long meadows which
climbed up towards Mrs. Noel's. It was so golden-sweet here amongst
the million tiny saffron cups frosted with lingering dewshine; there
was such flying glory in the limes and ash-trees; so delicate a scent
from the late whins and may-flower; and, on every tree a greybird
calling to be sorry was not possible!
In the far corner of the first field a chestnut mare was standing,
with ears pricked at some distant sound whose charm she alone
perceived. On viewing the intruders, she laid those ears back, and a
little vicious star gleamed out at the corner of her eye. They
passed her and entered the second field. Half way across, Barbara
"Granny, that's a bull!"
It was indeed an enormous bull, who had been standing behind a clump
of bushes. He was moving slowly towards them, still distant about
two hundred yards; a great red beast, with the huge development of
neck and front which makes the bull, of all living creatures, the
symbol of brute force.
Lady Casterley envisaged him severely.
"I dislike bulls," she said; "I think I must walk backward."
"You can't; it's too uphill."
"I am not going to turn back," said Lady Casterley. "The bull ought
not to be here. Whose fault is it? I shall speak to someone. Stand
still and look at him. We must prevent his coming nearer."
They stood still and looked at the bull, who continued to approach.
"It doesn't stop him," said Lady Casterley. "We must take no notice.
Give me your arm, my dear; my legs feel rather funny."
Barbara put her arm round the little figure. They walked on.
"I have not been used to bulls lately," said Lady Casterley. The
bull came nearer.
"Granny," said Barbara, "you must go quietly on to the stile. When
you're over I'll come too."
"Certainly not," said Lady Casterley, "we will go together. Take no
notice of him; I have great faith in that."
"Granny darling, you must do as I say, please; I remember this bull,
he is one of ours."
At those rather ominous words Lady Casterley gave her a sharp glance.
"I shall not go," she said. "My legs feel quite strong now. We can
run, if necessary."
"So can the bull," said Barbara.
"I'm not going to leave you," muttered Lady Casterley. "If he turns
vicious I shall talk to him. He won't touch me. You can run faster
than I; so that's settled."
"Don't be absurd, dear," answered Barbara; "I am not afraid of
Lady Casterley flashed a look at her which had a gleam of amusement.
"I can feel you," she said; "you're just as trembly as I am."
The bull was now distant some eighty yards, and they were still quite
a hundred from the stile.
"Granny," said Barbara, "if you don't go on as I tell you, I shall
just leave you, and go and meet him! You mustn't be obstinate!"
Lady Casterley's answer was to grip her granddaughter round the
waist; the nervous force of that thin arm was surprising.
"You will do nothing of the sort," she said. "I refuse to have
anything more to do with this bull; I shall simply pay no attention."
The bull now began very slowly ambling towards them.
"Take no notice," said Lady Casterley, who was walking faster than
she had ever walked before.
"The ground is level now," said Barbara; "can you run?"
"I think so," gasped Lady Casterley; and suddenly she found herself
half-lifted from the ground, and, as it were, flying towards the
stile. She heard a noise behind; then Barbara's voice:
"We must stop. He's on us. Get behind me."
She felt herself caught and pinioned by two arms that seemed set on
the wrong way. Instinct, and a general softness told her that she
was back to back with her granddaughter.
"Let me go!" she gasped; "let me go!"
And suddenly she felt herself being propelled by that softness
forward towards the stile.
"Shoo!" she said; "shoo!"
"Granny," Barbara's voice came, calm and breathless, "don't! You
only excite him! Are we near the stile?"
"Ten yards," panted Lady Casterley.
"Look out, then!" There was a sort of warm flurry round her, a rush,
a heave, a scramble; she was beyond the stile. The bull and Barbara,
a yard or two apart, were just the other side. Lady Casterley raised
her handkerchief and fluttered it. The bull looked up; Barbara, all
legs and arms, came slipping down beside her.
Without wasting a moment Lady Casterley leaned forward and addressed
"You awful brute!" she said; "I will have you well flogged."
Gently pawing the ground, the bull snuffled.
"Are you any the worse, child?"
"Not a scrap," said Barbara's serene, still breathless voice.
Lady Casterley put up her hands, and took the girl's face between
"What legs you have!" she said. "Give me a kiss!"
Having received a hot, rather quivering kiss, she walked on, holding
somewhat firmly to Barbara's arm.
"As for that bull," she murmured, "the brute--to attack women!"
Barbara looked down at her.
"Granny," she said, "are you sure you're not shaken?"
Lady Casterley, whose lips were quivering, pressed them together very
"Not a b-b-bit."
"Don't you think," said Barbara, "that we had better go back, at
once--the other way?"
"Certainly not. There are no more bulls, I suppose, between us and
"But are you fit to see her?"
Lady Casterley passed her handkerchief over her lips, to remove their
"Perfectly," she answered.
"Then, dear," said Barbara, "stand still a minute, while I dust you
This having been accomplished, they proceeded in the direction of
Mrs. Noel's cottage.
At sight of it, Lady Casterley said:
"I shall put my foot down. It's out of the question for a man of
Miltoun's prospects. I look forward to seeing him Prime Minister
some day." Hearing Barbara's voice murmuring above her, she paused:
"What's that you say?"
"I said: What is the use of our being what we are, if we can't love
whom we like?"
"Love!" said Lady Casterley; "I was talking of marriage."
"I am glad you admit the distinction, Granny dear."
"You are pleased to be sarcastic," said Lady Casterley. "Listen to
me! It's the greatest nonsense to suppose that people in our caste
are free to do as they please. The sooner you realize that, the
better, Babs. I am talking to you seriously. The preservation of
our position as a class depends on our observing certain decencies.
What do you imagine would happen to the Royal Family if they were
allowed to marry as they liked? All this marrying with Gaiety girls,
and American money, and people with pasts, and writers, and so forth,
is most damaging. There's far too much of it, and it ought to be
stopped. It may be tolerated for a few cranks, or silly young men,
and these new women, but for Eustace "Lady Casterley paused again,
and her fingers pinched Barbara's arm, "or for you--there's only one
sort of marriage possible. As for Eustace, I shall speak to this
good lady, and see that he doesn't get entangled further."
Absorbed in the intensity of her purpose, she did not observe a
peculiar little smile playing round Barbara's lips.
"You had better speak to Nature, too, Granny!"
Lady Casterley stopped short, and looked up in her granddaughter's
"Now what do you mean by that?" she said "Tell me!"
But noticing that Barbara's lips had closed tightly, she gave her arm
a hard--if unintentional-pinch, and walked on.
Lady Casterley's rather malicious diagnosis of Audrey Noel was
correct. The unencumbered woman was up and in her garden when
Barbara and her grandmother appeared at the Wicket gate; but being
near the lime-tree at the far end she did not hear the rapid colloquy
which passed between them.
"You are going to be good, Granny?"
"As to that--it will depend."
Lady Casterley could not possibly have provided herself with a better
introduction than Barbara, whom Mrs. Noel never met without the sheer
pleasure felt by a sympathetic woman when she sees embodied in
someone else that 'joy in life' which Fate has not permitted to
She came forward with her head a little on one side, a trick of hers
not at all affected, and stood waiting.
The unembarrassed Barbara began at once:
"We've just had an encounter with a bull. This is my grandmother,
The little old lady's demeanour, confronted with this very pretty
face and figure was a thought less autocratic and abrupt than usual.
Her shrewd eyes saw at once that she had no common adventuress to
deal with. She was woman of the world enough, too, to know that
'birth' was not what it had been in her young days, that even money
was rather rococo, and that good looks, manners, and a knowledge of
literature, art, and music (and this woman looked like one of that
sort), were often considered socially more valuable. She was
therefore both wary and affable.
"How do you do?" she said. "I have heard of you. May we sit down
for a minute in your garden? The bull was a wretch!"
But even in speaking, she was uneasily conscious that Mrs. Noel's
clear eyes were seeing very well what she had come for. The look in
them indeed was almost cynical; and in spite of her sympathetic
murmurs, she did not somehow seem to believe in the bull. This was
disconcerting. Why had Barbara condescended to mention the wretched
brute? And she decided to take him by the horns.
"Babs," she said, "go to the Inn and order me a 'fly.' I shall drive
back, I feel very shaky," and, as Mrs. Noel offered to send her maid,
"No, no, my granddaughter will go."
Barbara having departed with a quizzical look, Lady Casterley patted
the rustic seat, and said:
"Do come and sit down, I want to talk to you:"
Mrs. Noel obeyed. And at once Lady Casterley perceived that "she had
a most difficult task before her. She had not expected a woman with
whom one could take no liberties. Those clear dark eyes, and that
soft, perfectly graceful manner--to a person so 'sympathetic' one
should be able to say anything, and--one couldn't! It was awkward.
And suddenly she noticed that Mrs. Noel was sitting perfectly
upright, as upright--more upright, than she was herself. A bad,
sign--a very bad sign! Taking out her handkerchief, she put it to
"I suppose you think," she said, "that we were not chased by a bull."
"I am sure you were."
"Indeed! Ah! But I've something else to talk to you about."
Mrs. Noel's face quivered back, as a flower might when it was going
to be plucked; and again Lady Casterley put her handkerchief to her
lips. This time she rubbed them hard. There was nothing to come
off; to do so, therefore, was a satisfaction.
"I am an old woman," she said," and you mustn't mind what I say."
Mrs. Noel did not answer, but looked straight at her visitor; to whom
it seemed suddenly that this was another person. What was it about
that face, staring at her! In a weird way it reminded her of a child
that one had hurt--with those great eyes and that soft hair, and the
mouth thin, in a line, all of a sudden. And as if it had been jerked
out of her, she said:
"I don't want to hurt you, my dear. It's about my grandson, of
But Mrs. Noel made neither sign nor motion; and the feeling of
irritation which so rapidly attacks the old when confronted by the
unexpected, came to Lady Casterley's aid.
"His name," she said, "is being coupled with yours in a way that's
doing him a great deal of harm. You don't wish to injure him, I'm
Mrs. Noel shook her head, and Lady Casterley went on:
"I don't know what they're not saying since the evening your friend
Mr. Courtier hurt his knee. Miltoun has been most unwise. You had
not perhaps realized that."
Mrs. Noel's answer was bitterly distinct:
"I didn't know anyone was sufficiently interested in my doings."
Lady Casterley suffered a gesture of exasperation to escape her.
"Good heavens!" she said; "every common person is interested in a
woman whose position is anomalous. Living alone as you do, and not a
widow, you're fair game for everybody, especially in the country."
Mrs. Noel's sidelong glance, very clear and cynical, seemed to say:
"Even for you."
"I am not entitled to ask your story," Lady Casterley went on, "but
if you make mysteries you must expect the worst interpretation put on
them. My grandson is a man of the highest principle; he does not see
things with the eyes of the world, and that should have made you
doubly careful not to compromise him, especially at a time like
Mrs. Noel smiled. This smile startled Lady Casterley; it seemed, by
concealing everything, to reveal depths of strength and subtlety.
Would the woman never show her hand? And she said abruptly:
"Anything serious, of course, is out of the question."
That word, which of all others seemed the right one, was spoken so
that Lady Casterley did not know in the least what it meant. Though
occasionally employing irony, she detested it in others. No woman
should be allowed to use it as a weapon! But in these days, when
they were so foolish as to want votes, one never knew what women
would be at. This particular woman, however, did not look like one
of that sort. She was feminine--very feminine--the sort of creature
that spoiled men by being too nice to them. And though she had come
determined to find out all about everything and put an end to it, she
saw Barbara re-entering the wicket gate with considerable relief.
"I am ready to walk home now," she said. And getting up from the
rustic seat, she made Mrs. Noel a satirical little bow.
"Thank you for letting me rest. Give me your arm, child."
Barbara gave her arm, and over her shoulder threw a swift smile at
Mrs. Noel, who did not answer it, but stood looking quietly after
them, her eyes immensely dark and large.
Out in the lane Lady Casterley walked on, very silent, digesting her
"What about the 'fly,' Granny?"
"The one you told me to order."
"You don't mean to say that you took me seriously?"
"No," said Barbara.
They proceeded some little way farther before Lady Casterley said
"She is deep."
"And dark," said Barbara. "I am afraid you were not good!"
Lady Casterley glanced upwards.
"I detest this habit," she said, "amongst you young people, of taking
nothing seriously. Not even bulls," she added, with a grim smile.
Barbara threw back her head and sighed.
"Nor 'flys,'" she said.
Lady Casterley saw that she had closed her eyes and opened her lips.
And she thought:
"She's a very beautiful girl. I had no idea she was so beautiful--
but too big!" And she added aloud:
"Shut your mouth! You will get one down!"
They spoke no more till they had entered the avenue; then Lady
Casterley said sharply:
"Who is this coming down the drive?"
"Mr. Courtier, I think."
"What does he mean by it, with that leg?"
"He is coming to talk to you, Granny."
Lady Casterley stopped short.
"You are a cat," she said; "a sly cat. Now mind, Babs, I won't have
"No, darling," murmured Barbara; "you shan't have it--I'll take him
off your hands."
"What does your mother mean," stammered Lady Casterley, "letting you
grow up like this! You're as bad as she was at your age!"
"Worse!" said Barbara. "I dreamed last night that I could fly!"
"If you try that," said Lady Casterley grimly, "you'll soon come to
grief. Good-morning, sir; you ought to be in bed!"
Courtier raised his hat.
"Surely it is not for me to be where you are not!" And he added
gloomily: "The war scare's dead!"
"Ah!" said Lady Casterley: "your occupation's gone then. You'll go
back to London now, I suppose." Looking suddenly at Barbara she saw
that the girl's eyes were half-closed, and that she was smiling; it
seemed to Lady Casterley too or was it fancy?--that she shook her
Thanks to Lady Valleys, a patroness of birds, no owl was ever shot on
the Monkland Court estate, and those soft-flying spirits of the dusk
hooted and hunted, to the great benefit of all except the creeping
voles. By every farm, cottage, and field, they passed invisible,
quartering the dark air. Their voyages of discovery stretched up on
to the moor as far as the wild stone man, whose origin their wisdom
perhaps knew. Round Audrey Noel's cottage they were as thick as
thieves, for they had just there two habitations in a long, old,
holly-grown wall, and almost seemed to be guarding the mistress of
that thatched dwelling--so numerous were their fluttering rushes, so
tenderly prolonged their soft sentinel callings. Now that the
weather was really warm, so that joy of life was in the voles, they
found those succulent creatures of an extraordinarily pleasant
flavour, and on them each pair was bringing up a family of
exceptionally fine little owls, very solemn, with big heads, bright
large eyes, and wings as yet only able to fly downwards. There was
scarcely any hour from noon of the day (for some of them had horns)
to the small sweet hours when no one heard them, that they forgot to
salute the very large, quiet, wingless owl whom they could espy
moving about by day above their mouse-runs, or preening her white and
sometimes blue and sometimes grey feathers morning and evening in a
large square hole high up in the front wall. And they could not
understand at all why no swift depredating graces nor any habit of
long soft hooting belonged to that lady-bird.
On the evening of the day when she received that early morning call,
as soon as dusk had fallen, wrapped in a long thin cloak, with black
lace over her dark hair, Audrey Noel herself fluttered out into the
lanes, as if to join the grave winged hunters of the invisible night.
Those far, continual sounds, not stilled in the country till long
after the sun dies, had but just ceased from haunting the air, where
the late May-scent clung as close as fragrance clings to a woman's
robe. There was just the barking of a dog, the boom of migrating
chafers, the song of the stream, and of the owls, to proclaim the
beating in the heart of this sweet Night. Nor was there any light by
which Night's face could be seen; it was hidden, anonymous; so that
when a lamp in a cottage threw a blink over the opposite bank, it was
as if some wandering painter had wrought a picture of stones and
leaves on the black air, framed it in purple, and left it hanging.
Yet, if it could only have been come at, the Night was as full of
emotion as this woman who wandered, shrinking away against the banks
if anyone passed, stopping to cool her hot face with the dew on the
ferns, walking swiftly to console her warm heart. Anonymous Night
seeking for a symbol could have found none better than this errant
figure, to express its hidden longings, the fluttering, unseen rushes
of its dark wings, and all its secret passion of revolt against its
At Monkland Court, save for little Ann, the morning passed but
dumbly, everyone feeling that something must be done, and no one
knowing what. At lunch, the only allusion to the situation had been
"When does Miltoun return?"
He had wired, it seemed, to say that he was motoring down that night.
"The sooner the better," Sir William murmured: "we've still a
But all had felt from the tone in which he spoke these words, how
serious was the position in the eyes of that experienced campaigner.
What with the collapse of the war scare, and this canard about Mrs.
Noel, there was indeed cause for alarm.
The afternoon post brought a letter from Lord Valleys marked Express.
Lady Valleys opened it with a slight grimace, which deepened as she
read. Her handsome, florid face wore an expression of sadness seldom
seen there. There was, in fact, more than a touch of dignity in her
reception of the unpalatable news.
"Eustace declares his intention of marrying this Mrs. Noel"--so ran
her husband's letter--"I know, unfortunately, of no way in which I
can prevent him. If you can discover legitimate means of dissuasion,
it would be well to use them. My dear, it's the very devil."
It was the very devil! For, if Miltoun had already made up his mind
to marry her, without knowledge of the malicious rumour, what would
not be his determination now? And the woman of the world rose up in
Lady Valleys. This marriage must not come off. It was contrary to
almost every instinct of one who was practical not only by character,
but by habit of life and training. Her warm and full-blooded nature
had a sneaking sympathy with love and pleasure, and had she not been
practical, she might have found this side of her a serious drawback
to the main tenor of a life so much in view of the public eye. Her
consciousness of this danger in her own case made her extremely alive
to the risks of an undesirable connection--especially if it were a
marriage--to any public man. At the same time the mother-heart in
her was stirred. Eustace had never been so deep in her affection as
Bertie, still he was her first-born; and in face of news which meant
that he was lost to her--for this must indeed be 'the marriage of two
minds' (or whatever that quotation was)--she felt strangely jealous
of a woman, who had won her son's love, when she herself had never
won it. The aching of this jealousy gave her face for a moment
almost a spiritual expression, then passed away into impatience. Why
should he marry her? Things could be arranged. People spoke of it
already as an illicit relationship; well then, let people have what
they had invented. If the worst came to the worst, this was not the
only constituency in England; and a dissolution could not be far off.
Better anything than a marriage which would handicap him all his
life! But would it be so great a handicap? After all, beauty
counted for much! If only her story were not too conspicuous! But
what was her story? Not to know it was absurd! That was the worst
of people who were not in Society, it was so difficult to find out!
And there rose in her that almost brutal resentment, which ferments
very rapidly in those who from their youth up have been hedged round
with the belief that they and they alone are the whole of the world.
In this mood Lady Valleys passed the letter to her daughters. They
read, and in turn handed it to Bertie, who in silence returned it to
But that evening, in the billiard-room, having manoeuvred to get him
to herself, Barbara said to Courtier:
"I wonder if you will answer me a question, Mr. Courtier?"
"If I may, and can."
Her low-cut dress was of yew-green, with, little threads of flame-
colour, matching her hair, so that there was about her a splendour of
darkness and whiteness and gold, almost dazzling; and she stood very
still, leaning back against the lighter green of the billiard-table,
grasping its edge so tightly that the smooth strong backs of her
"We have just heard that Miltoun is going to ask Mrs. Noel to marry
him. People are never mysterious, are they, without good reason? I
wanted you to tell me--who is she?"
"I don't think I quite grasp the situation," murmured Courtier. "You
said--to marry him?"
Seeing that she had put out her hand, as if begging for the truth, he
added: "How can your brother marry her--she's married!"
"I'd no idea you didn't know that much."
"We thought there was a divorce."
The expression of which mention has been made--that peculiar white-
hot sardonically jolly look--visited Courtier's face at once. "Hoist
with their own petard! The usual thing. Let a pretty woman live
alone--the tongues of men will do the rest."
"It was not so bad as that," said Barbara dryly; "they said she had
divorced her husband."
Caught out thus characteristically riding past the hounds Courtier
bit his lips.
"You had better hear the story now. Her father was a country parson,
and a friend of my father's; so that I've known her from a child.
Stephen Lees Noel was his curate. It was a 'snap' marriage--she was
only twenty, and had met hardly any men. Her father was ill and
wanted to see her settled before he died. Well, she found out almost
directly, like a good many other people, that she'd made an utter
Barbara came a little closer.
"What was the man like?"
"Not bad in his way, but one of those narrow, conscientious pig-
headed fellows who make the most trying kind of husband--bone
egoistic. A parson of that type has no chance at all. Every mortal
thing he has to do or say helps him to develop his worst points. The
wife of a man like that's no better than a slave. She began to show
the strain of it at last; though she's the sort who goes on till she
snaps. It took him four years to realize. Then, the question was,
what were they to do? He's a very High Churchman, with all their
feeling about marriage; but luckily his pride was wounded. Anyway,
they separated two years ago; and there she is, left high and dry.
People say it was her fault. She ought to have known her own mind--
at twenty! She ought to have held on and hidden it up somehow.
Confound their thick-skinned charitable souls, what do they know of
how a sensitive woman suffers? Forgive me, Lady Barbara--I get hot
over this." He was silent; then seeing her eyes fixed on him, went
on: "Her mother died when she was born, her father soon after her
marriage. She's enough money of her own, luckily, to live on
quietly. As for him, he changed his parish and runs one somewhere in
the Midlands. One's sorry for the poor devil, too, of course! They
never see each other; and, so far as I know, they don't correspond.
That, Lady Barbara, is the simple history."
Barbara, said, "Thank you," and turned away; and he heard her mutter:
"What a shame!"
But he could not tell whether it was Mrs. Noel's fate, or the
husband's fate, or the thought of Miltoun that had moved her to those
She puzzled him by her self-possession, so almost hard, her way of
refusing to show feeling.' Yet what a woman she would make if the
drying curse of high-caste life were not allowed to stereotype and
shrivel her! If enthusiasm were suffered to penetrate and fertilize
her soul! She reminded him of a great tawny lily. He had a vision
of her, as that flower, floating, freed of roots and the mould of its
cultivated soil, in the liberty of the impartial air. What a
passionate and noble thing she might become! What radiance and
perfume she would exhale! A spirit Fleur-de-Lys! Sister to all the
noble flowers of light that inhabited the wind!
Leaning in the deep embrasure of his window, he looked at anonymous
Night. He could hear the owls hoot, and feel a heart beating out
there somewhere in the darkness, but there came no answer to his
wondering. Would she--this great tawny lily of a girl--ever become
unconscious of her environment, not in manner merely, but in the very
soul, so that she might be just a woman, breathing, suffering,
loving, and rejoicing with the poet soul of all mankind? Would she
ever be capable of riding out with the little company of big hearts,
naked of advantage? Courtier had not been inside a church for twenty
years, having long felt that he must not enter the mosques of his
country without putting off the shoes of freedom, but he read the
Bible, considering it a very great poem. And the old words came
haunting him: 'Verily I say unto you, It is harder for a camel to
pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the
kingdom of Heaven.' And now, looking into the Night, whose darkness
seemed to hold the answer to all secrets, he tried to read the riddle
of this girl's future, with which there seemed so interwoven that
larger enigma, how far the spirit can free itself, in this life, from
the matter that encompasseth.
The Night whispered suddenly, and low down, as if rising from the
sea, came the moon, dropping a wan robe of light till she gleamed out
nude against the sky-curtain. Night was no longer anonymous. There
in the dusky garden the statue of Diana formed slowly before his
eyes, and behind her--as it were, her temple--rose the tall spire of
the cypress tree.
A copy of the Bucklandbury News, containing an account of his evening
adventure, did not reach Miltoun till he was just starting on his
return journey. It came marked with blue pencil together with a
"MY DEAR EUSTACE,
"The enclosed--however unwarranted and impudent--requires attention.
But we shall do nothing till you come back.
The effect on Miltoun might perhaps have been different had he not
been so conscious of his intention to ask Audrey Noel to be his wife;
but in any circumstances it is doubtful whether he would have done
more than smile, and tear the paper up. Truly that sort of thing had
so little power to hurt or disturb him personally, that he was
incapable of seeing how it could hurt or disturb others. If those
who read it were affected, so much the worse for them. He had a
real, if unobtrusive, contempt for groundlings, of whatever class;
and it never entered his head to step an inch out of his course in
deference to their vagaries. Nor did it come home to him that Mrs.
Noel, wrapped in the glamour which he cast about her, could possibly
suffer from the meanness of vulgar minds. Shropton's note, indeed,
caused him the more annoyance of those two documents. It was like
his brother-in-law to make much of little!
He hardly dozed at all during his swift journey through the sleeping
country; nor when he reached his room at Monkland did he go to bed.
He had the wonderful, upborne feeling of man on the verge of
achievement. His spirit and senses were both on fire--for that was
the quality of this woman, she suffered no part of him to sleep, and
he was glad of her exactions.
He drank some tea; went out, and took a path up to the moor. It was
not yet eight o'clock when he reached the top of the nearest tor.
And there, below him, around, and above, was a land and sky
transcending even his exaltation. It was like a symphony of great
music; or the nobility of a stupendous mind laid bare; it was God up
there, in His many moods. Serenity was spread in the middle heavens,
blue, illimitable, and along to the East, three huge clouds, like
thoughts brooding over the destinies below, moved slowly toward the
sea, so that great shadows filled the valleys. And the land that lay
under all the other sky was gleaming, and quivering with every
colour, as it were, clothed with the divine smile. The wind, from
the North, whereon floated the white birds of the smaller clouds, had
no voice, for it was above barriers, utterly free. Before Miltoun,
turning to this wind, lay the maze of the lower lands, the misty
greens, rose pinks, and browns of the fields, and white and grey dots
and strokes of cottages and church towers, fading into the blue veil
of distance, confined by a far range of hills. Behind him there was
nothing but the restless surface of the moor, coloured purplish-
brown. On that untamed sea of graven wildness could be seen no ship
of man, save one, on the far horizon--the grim hulk, Dartmoor Prison.
There was no sound, no scent, and it seemed to Miltoun as if his
spirit had left his body, and become part of the solemnity of God.
Yet, as he stood there, with his head bared, that strange smile which
haunted him in moments of deep feeling, showed that he had not
surrendered to the Universal, that his own spirit was but being
fortified, and that this was the true and secret source of his
delight. He lay down in a scoop of the stones. The sun entered
there, but no wind, so that a dry sweet scent exuded from the young
shoots of heather. That warmth and perfume crept through the shield
of his spirit, and stole into his blood; ardent images rose before
him, the vision of an unending embrace. Out of an embrace sprang
Life, out of that the World was made, this World, with its
innumerable forms, and natures--no two alike! And from him and her
would spring forms to take their place in the great pattern. This
seemed wonderful, and right-for they would be worthy forms, who would
hand on those traditions which seemed to him so necessary and great.
And then there broke on him one of those delirious waves of natural
desire, against which he had so often fought, so often with great
pain conquered. He got up, and ran downhill, leaping over the
stones, and the thicker clumps of heather.
Audrey Noel, too, had been early astir, though she had gone late
enough to bed. She dressed languidly, but very carefully, being one
of those women who put on armour against Fate, because they are
proud, and dislike the thought that their sufferings should make
others suffer; because, too, their bodies are to them as it were
sacred, having been given them in trust, to cause delight. When she
had finished, she looked at herself in the glass rather more
distrustfully than usual. She felt that her sort of woman was at a
discount in these days, and being sensitive, she was never content
either with her appearance, or her habits. But, for all that, she
went on behaving in unsatisfactory ways, because she incorrigibly
loved to look as charming as she could; and even if no one were going
to see her, she never felt that she looked charming enough. She was
--as Lady Casterley had shrewdly guessed--the kind of woman who
spoils men by being too nice to them; of no use to those who wish
women to assert themselves; yet having a certain passive stoicism,
very disconcerting. With little or no power of initiative, she would
do what she was set to do with a thoroughness that would shame an
initiator; temperamentally unable to beg anything of anybody, she
required love as a plant requires water; she could give herself
completely, yet remain oddly incorruptible; in a word, hopeless, and
usually beloved of those who thought her so.
With all this, however, she was not quite what is called a 'sweet
woman--a phrase she detested--for there was in her a queer vein of
gentle cynicism. She 'saw' with extraordinary clearness, as if she
had been born in Italy and still carried that clear dry atmosphere
about her soul. She loved glow and warmth and colour; such mysticism
as she felt was pagan; and she had few aspirations--sufficient to her
were things as they showed themselves to be.
This morning, when she had made herself smell of geraniums, and
fastened all the small contrivances that hold even the best of women
together, she went downstairs to her little dining-room, set the
spirit lamp going, and taking up her newspaper, stood waiting to make
It was the hour of the day most dear to her. If the dew had been
brushed off her life, it was still out there every morning on the
face of Nature, and on the faces of her flowers; there was before her
all the pleasure of seeing how each of those little creatures in the
garden had slept; how many children had been born since the Dawn; who
was ailing, and needed attention. There was also the feeling, which
renews itself every morning in people who live lonely lives, that
they are not lonely, until, the day wearing on, assures them of the
fact. Not that she was idle, for she had obtained through Courtier
the work of reviewing music in a woman's paper, for which she was
intuitively fitted. This, her flowers, her own music, and the
affairs of certain families of cottagers, filled nearly all her time.
And she asked no better fate than to have every minute occupied,
having that passion for work requiring no initiation, which is
natural to the owners of lazy minds.
Suddenly she dropped her newspaper, went to the bowl of flowers on
the breakfast-table, and plucked forth two stalks of lavender;
holding them away from her, she went out into the garden, and flung
them over the wall.
This strange immolation of those two poor sprigs, born so early,
gathered and placed before her with such kind intention by her maid,
seemed of all acts the least to be expected of one who hated to hurt
people's feelings, and whose eyes always shone at the sight of
flowers. But in truth the smell of lavender--that scent carried on
her husband's handkerchief and clothes--still affected her so
strongly that she could not bear to be in a room with it. As nothing
else did, it brought before her one, to live with whom had slowly
become torture. And freed by that scent, the whole flood of memory
broke in on her. The memory of three years when her teeth had been
set doggedly, on her discovery that she was chained to unhappiness
for life; the memory of the abrupt end, and of her creeping away to
let her scorched nerves recover. Of how during the first year of
this release which was not freedom, she had twice changed her abode,
to get away from her own story--not because she was ashamed of it,
but because it reminded her of wretchedness. Of how she had then
come to Monkland, where the quiet life had slowly given her
elasticity again. And then of her meeting with Miltoun; the
unexpected delight of that companionship; the frank enjoyment of the
first four months. And she remembered all her secret rejoicing, her
silent identification of another life with her own, before she
acknowledged or even suspected love. And just three weeks ago now,
helping to tie up her roses, he had touched her, and she had known.
But even then, until the night of Courtier's accident, she had not
dared to realize. More concerned now for him than for herself, she
asked herself a thousand times if she had been to blame. She had let
him grow fond of her, a woman out of court, a dead woman! An
unpardonable sin! Yet surely that depended on what she was prepared
to give! And she was frankly ready to give everything, and ask for
nothing. He knew her position, he had told her that he knew. In her
love for him she gloried, would continue to glory; would suffer for
it without regret. Miltoun was right in believing that newspaper
gossip was incapable of hurting her, though her reasons for being so
impervious were not what he supposed. She was not, like him, secured
from pain because such insinuations about the private affairs of
others were mean and vulgar and beneath notice; it had not as yet
occurred to her to look at the matter in so lofty and general a
light; she simply was not hurt, because she was already so deeply
Miltoun's property in spirit, that she was almost glad that they
should assign him all the rest of her. But for Miltoun's sake she
was disturbed to the soul. She had tarnished his shield in the eyes
of men; and (for she was oddly practical, and saw things in very
clear proportion) perhaps put back his career, who knew how many
She sat down to drink her tea. Not being a crying woman, she
suffered quietly. She felt that Miltoun would be coming to her. She
did not know at all what she should say when he did come. He could
not care for her so much as she cared for him! He was a man; men
soon forget! Ah! but he was not like most men. One could not look
at his eyes without feeling that he could suffer terribly! In all
this her own reputation concerned her not at all. Life, and her
clear way of looking at things, had rooted in her the conviction that
to a woman the preciousness of her reputation was a fiction invented
by men entirely for man's benefit; a second-hand fetish insidiously,
inevitably set-up by men for worship, in novels, plays, and law-
courts. Her instinct told her that men could not feel secure in the
possession of their women unless they could believe that women set
tremendous store by sexual reputation. What they wanted to believe,
that they did believe! But she knew otherwise. Such great-minded
women as she had met or read of had always left on her the impression
that reputation for them was a matter of the spirit, having little to
do with sex. From her own feelings she knew that reputation, for a
simple woman, meant to stand well in the eyes of him or her whom she
loved best. For worldly women--and there were so many kinds of
those, besides the merely fashionable--she had always noted that its
value was not intrinsic, but commercial; not a crown of dignity, but
just a marketable asset. She did not dread in the least what people
might say of her friendship with Miltoun; nor did she feel at all
that her indissoluble marriage forbade her loving him. She had
secretly felt free as soon as she had discovered that she had never
really loved her husband; she had only gone on dutifully until the
separation, from sheer passivity, and because it was against her
nature to cause pain to anyone. The man who was still her husband
was now as dead to her as if he had never been born. She could not
marry again, it was true; but she could and did love. If that love
was to be starved and die away, it would not be because of any moral
She opened her paper languidly; and almost the first words she read,
under the heading of Election News, were these:
'Apropos of the outrage on Mr. Courtier, we are requested to state
that the lady who accompanied Lord Miltoun to the rescue of that
gentleman was Mrs. Lees Noel, wife of the Rev. Stephen Lees Noel,
vicar of Clathampton, Warwickshire.'
This dubious little daub of whitewash only brought a rather sad smile
to her lips. She left her tea, and went out into the air. There at
the gate was Miltoun coming in. Her heart leaped. But she went
forward quietly, and greeted him with cast-down eyes, as if nothing
were out of the ordinary.
Exaltation had not left Miltoun. His sallow face was flushed, his
eyes glowed with a sort of beauty; and Audrey Noel who, better than
most women, could read what was passing behind a face, saw those eyes
with the delight of a moth fluttering towards a lamp. But in a very
unemotional voice she said:
"So you have come to breakfast. How nice of you!"
It was not in Miltoun to observe the formalities of attack. Had he
been going to fight a duel there would have been no preliminary, just
a look, a bow, and the swords crossed. So in this first engagement
of his with the soul of a woman!
He neither sat down nor suffered her to sit, but stood looking
intently into her face, and said:
"I love you."
Now that it had come, with this disconcerting swiftness, she was
strangely calm, and unashamed. The elation of knowing for sure that
she was loved was like a wand waving away all tremors, stilling them
to sweetness. Since nothing could take away that knowledge, it
seemed that she could never again be utterly unhappy. Then, too, in
her nature, so deeply, unreasoningly incapable of perceiving the
importance of any principle but love, there was a secret feeling of
assurance, of triumph. He did love her! And she, him! Well! And
suddenly panic-stricken, lest he should take back those words, she
put her hand up to his breast, and said:
"And I love you."
The feel of his arms round her, the strength and passion of that
moment, were so terribly sweet, that she died to thought, just
looking up at him, with lips parted and eyes darker with the depth of
her love than he had ever dreamed that eyes could be. The madness of
his own feeling kept him silent. And they stood there, so merged in
one another that they knew and cared nothing for any other mortal
thing. It was very still in the room; the roses and carnations in
the lustre bowl, seeming to know that their mistress was caught up
into heaven, had let their perfume steal forth and occupy every
cranny of the abandoned air; a hovering bee, too, circled round the
lovers' heads, scenting, it seemed, the honey in their hearts.
It has been said that Miltoun's face was not unhandsome; for Audrey
Noel at this moment when his eyes were so near hers, and his lips
touching her, he was transfigured, and had become the spirit of all
beauty. And she, with heart beating fast against him, her eyes, half
closing from delight, and her hair asking to be praised with its
fragrance, her cheeks fainting pale with emotion, and her arms too
languid with happiness to embrace him--she, to him, was the
incarnation of the woman that visits dreams.
So passed that moment.
The bee ended it; who, impatient with flowers that hid their honey so
deep, had entangled himself in Audrey's hair. And then, seeing that
words, those dreaded things, were on his lips, she tried to kiss them
back. But they came:
"When will you marry me?"
It all swayed a little. And with marvellous rapidity the whole
position started up before her. She saw, with preternatural insight,
into its nooks and corners. Something he had said one day, when they
were talking of the Church view of marriage and divorce, lighted all
up. So he had really never known about her! At this moment of utter
sickness, she was saved from fainting by her sense of humour--her
cynicism. Not content to let her be, people's tongues had divorced
her; he had believed them! And the crown of irony was that he should
want to marry her, when she felt so utterly, so sacredly his, to do
what he liked with sans forms or ceremonies. A surge of bitter
feeling against the man who stood between her and Miltoun almost made
her cry out. That man had captured her before she knew the world or
her own soul, and she was tied to him, till by some beneficent chance
he drew his last breath when her hair was grey, and her eyes had no
love light, and her cheeks no longer grew pale when they were kissed;
when twilight had fallen, and the flowers, and bees no longer cared
It was that feeling, the sudden revolt of the desperate prisoner,
which steeled her to put out her hand, take up the paper, and give it
When he had read the little paragraph, there followed one of those
eternities which last perhaps two minutes.
He said, then:
"It's true, I suppose?" And, at her silence, added: "I am sorry."
This queer dry saying was so much more terrible than any outcry, that
she remained, deprived even of the power of breathing, with her eyes
still fixed on Miltoun's face.
The smile of the old Cardinal had come up there, and was to her like
a living accusation. It seemed strange that the hum of the bees and
flies and the gentle swishing of the limetree should still go on
outside, insisting that there was a world moving and breathing apart
from her, and careless of her misery. Then some of her courage came
back, and with it her woman's mute power. It came haunting about her
face, perfectly still, about her lips, sensitive and drawn, about her
eyes, dark, almost mutinous under their arched brows. She stood,
drawing him with silence and beauty.
At last he spoke:
"I have made a foolish mistake, it seems. I believed you were free."
Her lips just moved for the words to pass: "I thought you knew. I
never, dreamed you would want to marry me."
It seemed to her natural that he should be thinking only of himself,
but with the subtlest defensive instinct, she put forward her own
"I suppose I had got too used to knowing I was dead."
"Is there no release?"
"None. We have neither of us done wrong; besides with him, marriage
She had broken his smile, which had been cruel without meaning to be
cruel; and with a smile of her own that was cruel too, she said:
"I didn't know that you believed in release either."
Then, as though she had stabbed herself in stabbing him, her face
He looked at her now, conscious at last that she was suffering. And
she felt that he was holding himself in with all his might from
taking her again into his arms. Seeing this, the warmth crept back
to her lips, and a little light into her eyes, which she kept hidden
from him. Though she stood so proudly still, some wistful force was
coming from her, as from a magnet, and Miltoun's hands and arms and
face twitched as though palsied. This struggle, dumb and pitiful,
seemed never to be coming to an end in the little white room,
darkened by the thatch of the verandah, and sweet with the scent of
pinks and of a wood fire just lighted somewhere out at the back.
Then, without a word, he turned and went out. She heard the wicket
gate swing to. He was gone.
Lord Denis was fly-fishing--the weather just too bright to allow the
little trout of that shallow, never silent stream to embrace with
avidity the small enticements which he threw in their direction.
Nevertheless he continued to invite them, exploring every nook of
their watery pathway with his soft-swishing line. In a rough suit
and battered hat adorned with those artificial and other flies, which
infest Harris tweed, he crept along among the hazel bushes and thorn-
trees, perfectly happy. Like an old spaniel, who has once gloried in
the fetching of hares, rabbits, and all manner of fowl, and is now
glad if you will but throw a stick for him, so one, who had been a
famous fisher before the Lord, who had harried the waters of Scotland
and Norway, Florida and Iceland, now pursued trout no bigger than
sardines. The glamour of a thousand memories hallowed the hours he
thus spent by that brown water. He fished unhasting, religious, like
some good Catholic adding one more to the row of beads already told,
as though he would fish himself, gravely, without complaint, into the
other world. With each fish caught he experienced a solemn
Though he would have liked Barbara with him that morning, he had only
looked at her once after breakfast in such a way that she could not
see him, and with a dry smile gone off by himself. Down by the
stream it was dappled, both cool and warm, windless; the trees met
over the river, and there were many stones, forming little basins
which held up the ripple, so that the casting of a fly required much
cunning. This long dingle ran for miles through the foot-growth of
folding hills. It was beloved of jays; but of human beings there
were none, except a chicken-farmer's widow, who lived in a house
thatched almost to the ground, and made her livelihood by directing
tourists, with such cunning that they soon came back to her for tea.
It was while throwing a rather longer line than usual to reach a
little dark piece of crisp water that Lord Dennis heard the swishing
and crackling of someone advancing at full speed. He frowned
slightly, feeling for the nerves of his fishes, whom he did not wish
startled. The invader was Miltoun, hot, pale, dishevelled, with a
queer, hunted look on his face. He stopped on seeing his great-
uncle, and instantly assumed the mask of his smile.
Lord Dennis was not the man to see what was not intended for him, and
he merely said:
"Well, Eustace!" as he might have spoken, meeting his nephew in the
hall of one of his London Clubs.
Miltoun, no less polite, murmured:
"Hope I haven't lost you anything."
Lord Dennis shook his head, and laying his rod on the bank, said:
"Sit down and have a chat, old fellow. You don't fish, I think?"
He had not, in the least, missed the suffering behind Miltoun's mask;
his eyes were still good, and there was a little matter of some
twenty years' suffering of his own on account of a woman--ancient
history now--which had left him quaintly sensitive, for an old man,
to signs of suffering in others.
Miltoun would not have obeyed that invitation from anyone else, but
there was something about Lord Dennis which people did not resist;
his power lay in a dry ironic suavity which could not but persuade
people that impoliteness was altogether too new and raw a thing to be
The two sat side by side on the roots of trees. At first they talked
a little of birds, and then were dumb, so dumb that the invisible
creatures of the woods consulted together audibly. Lord Dennis broke
"This place," he said, "always reminds me of Mark Twain's writings--
can't tell why, unless it's the ever-greenness. I like the evergreen
philosophers, Twain and Meredith. There's no salvation except
through courage, though I never could stomach the 'strong man'--
captain of his soul, Henley and Nietzsche and that sort--goes against
the grain with me. What do you say, Eustace?"
"They meant well," answered Miltoun, "but they protested too much."
Lord Dennis moved his head in assent.
"To be captain of your soul!" continued Miltoun in a bitter voice;
"it's a pretty phrase!"
"Pretty enough," murmured Lord Dennis.
Miltoun looked at him.
"And suitable to you," he said.
"No, my dear," Lord Dennis answered dryly, "a long way off that,
His eyes were fixed intently on the place where a large trout had
risen in the stillest toffee-coloured pool. He knew that fellow, a
half-pounder at least, and his thoughts began flighting round the top
of his head, hovering over the various merits of the flies. His
fingers itched too, but he made no movement, and the ash-tree under
which he sat let its leaves tremble, as though in sympathy.
"See that hawk?" said Miltoun.
At a height more than level with the tops of the hills a buzzard hawk
was stationary in the blue directly over them. Inspired by curiosity
at their stillness, he was looking down to see whether they were
edible; the upcurved ends of his great wings flirted just once to
show that he was part of the living glory of the air--a symbol of
freedom to men and fishes.
Lord Dennis looked at his great-nephew. The boy--for what else was
thirty to seventy-six?--was taking it hard, whatever it might be,
taking it very hard! He was that sort--ran till he dropped. The
worst kind to help--the sort that made for trouble--that let things
gnaw at them! And there flashed before the old man's mind the image
of Prometheus devoured by the eagle. It was his favourite tragedy,
which he still read periodically, in the Greek, helping himself now
and then out of his old lexicon to the meaning of some word which had
flown to Erebus. Yes, Eustace was a fellow for the heights and
He said quietly:
"You don't care to talk about it, I suppose?"