Part 3 out of 6
Miltoun shook his head, and again there was silence.
The buzzard hawk having seen them move, quivered his wings like a
moth's, and deserted that plane of air. A robin from the dappled
warmth of a mossy stone, was regarding them instead. There was
another splash in the pool.
Lord Dennis said gently:
"That fellow's risen twice; I believe he'd take a 'Wistman's
treasure.'" Extracting from his hat its latest fly, and binding it
on, he began softly to swish his line.
"I shall have him yet!" he muttered. But Miltoun had stolen away....
The further piece of information about Mrs. Noel, already known by
Barbara, and diffused by the 'Bucklandbury News', had not become
common knowledge at the Court till after Lord Dennis had started out
to fish. In combination with the report that Miltoun had arrived and
gone out without breakfast, it had been received with mingled
feelings. Bertie, Harbinger, and Shropton, in a short conclave,
after agreeing that from the point of view of the election it was
perhaps better than if she had been a divorcee, were still inclined
to the belief that no time was to be lost--in doing what, however,
they were unable to determine. Apart from the impossibility of
knowing how a fellow like Miltoun would take the matter, they were
faced with the devilish subtlety of all situations to which the
proverb 'Least said, soonest mended' applies. They were in the
presence of that awe-inspiring thing, the power of scandal. Simple
statements of simple facts, without moral drawn (to which no legal
exception could be taken) laid before the public as pieces of
interesting information, or at the worst exposed in perfect good
faith, lest the public should blindly elect as their representative
one whose private life might not stand the inspection of daylight--
what could be more justifiable! And yet Miltoun's supporters knew
that this simple statement of where he spent his evenings had a
poisonous potency, through its power of stimulating that side of the
human imagination the most easily excited. They recognized only too
well, how strong was a certain primitive desire, especially in rural
districts, by yielding to which the world was made to go, and how
remarkably hard it, was not to yield to it, and how interesting and
exciting to see or hear of others yielding to it, and how (though
here, of course, men might differ secretly) reprehensible of them to
do so! They recognized, too well, how a certain kind of conscience
would appreciate this rumour; and how the puritans would lick their
lengthened chops. They knew, too, how irresistible to people of any
imagination at all, was the mere combination of a member of a class,
traditionally supposed to be inclined to having what it wanted, with
a lady who lived alone! As Harbinger said: It was really devilish
awkward! For, to take any notice of it would be to make more people
than ever believe it true. And yet, that it was working mischief,
they felt by the secret voice in their own souls, telling them that
they would have believed it if they had not known better. They hung
about, waiting for Miltoun to come in.
The news was received by Lady Valleys with a sigh of intense relief,
and the remark that it was probably another lie. When Barbara
confirmed it, she only said: "Poor Eustace!" and at once wrote off to
her husband to say that 'Anonyma' was still married, so that the
worst fortunately could not happen.
Miltoun came in to lunch, but from his face and manner nothing could
be guessed. He was a thought more talkative than usual, and spoke of
Brabrook's speech--some of which he had heard. He looked at Courtier
meaningly, and after lunch said to him:
"Will you come round to my den?"
In that room, the old withdrawing-room of the Elizabethan wing--where
once had been the embroideries, tapestries, and missals of beruffled
dames were now books, pamphlets, oak-panels, pipes, fencing gear, and
along one wall a collection of Red Indian weapons and ornaments
brought back by Miltoun from the United States. High on the wall
above these reigned the bronze death-mask of a famous Apache Chief,
cast from a plaster taken of the face by a professor of Yale College,
who had declared it to be a perfect specimen of the vanishing race.
That visage, which had a certain weird resemblance to Dante's,
presided over the room with cruel, tragic stoicism. No one could
look on it without feeling that, there, the human will had been
pushed to its farthest limits of endurance.
Seeing it for the first time, Courtier said:
"Fine thing--that! Only wants a soul."
"Sit down," he said.
Courtier sat down.
There followed one of those silences in which men whose spirits,
though different, have a certain bigness in common--can say so much
to one another:
At last Miltoun spoke:
"I have been living in the clouds, it seems. You are her oldest
friend. The immediate question is how to make it easiest for her in
face of this miserable rumour!"
Not even Courtier himself could have put such whip-lash sting into
the word 'miserable.'
"Oh! take no notice of that. Let them stew in their own juice. She
Miltoun listened, not moving a muscle of his face.
"Your friends here," went on Courtier with a touch of contempt, "seem
in a flutter. Don't let them do anything, don't let them say a word.
Treat the thing as it deserves to be treated. It'll die."
Miltoun, however, smiled.
"I'm not sure," he said, "that the consequences will be as you think,
but I shall do as you say."
"As for your candidature, any man with a spark of generosity in his
soul will rally to you because of it."
"Possibly," said Miltoun. "It will lose me the election, for all
Then, dimly conscious that their last words had revealed the
difference of their temperaments and creeds, they stared at one
"No," said Courtier, "I never will believe that people can be so
"Until they are."
"Anyway, though we get at it in different ways, we agree."
Miltoun leaned his elbow on the mantelpiece, and shading his face
with his hand, said:
"You know her story. Is there any way out of that, for her?"
On Courtier's face was the look which so often came when he was
speaking for one of his lost causes--as if the fumes from a fire in
his heart had mounted to his head.
"Only the way," he answered calmly, "that I should take if I were
"The law into your own hands."
Miltoun unshaded his face. His gaze seemed to have to travel from an
immense distance before it reached Courtier. He answered:
"Yes, I thought you would say that."
When everything, that night, was quiet, Barbara, her hair hanging
loose outside her dressing gown, slipped from her room into the dim
corridor. With bare feet thrust into fur-crowned slippers which made
no noise, she stole along looking at door after door. Through a long
Gothic window, uncurtained, the mild moonlight was coming. She
stopped just where that moonlight fell, and tapped. There came no
answer. She opened the door a little way, and said:
"Are you asleep, Eusty?"
There still came no answer, and she went in.
The curtains were drawn, but a chink of moonlight peering through
fell on the bed. This was empty. Barbara stood uncertain,
listening. In the heart of that darkness there seemed to be, not
sound, but, as it were, the muffled soul of sound, a sort of strange
vibration, like that of a flame noiselessly licking the air. She put
her hand to her heart, which beat as though it would leap through the
thin silk covering. From what corner of the room was that mute
tremor coming? Stealing to the window, she parted the curtains, and
stared back into the shadows. There, on the far side, lying on the
floor with his arms pressed tightly round his head and his face to
the wall, was Miltoun. Barbara let fall the curtains, and stood
breathless, with such a queer sensation in her breast as she had
never felt; a sense of something outraged-of scarred pride. It was
gone at once, in a rush of pity. She stepped forward quickly in the
darkness, was visited by fear, and stopped. He had seemed absolutely
himself all the evening. A little more talkative, perhaps, a little
more caustic than usual. And now to find him like this! There was
no great share of reverence in Barbara, but what little she possessed
had always been kept for her eldest brother. He had impressed her,
from a child, with his aloofness, and she had been proud of kissing
him because he never seemed to let anybody else do so. Those
caresses, no doubt, had the savour of conquest; his face had been the
undiscovered land for her lips. She loved him as one loves that
which ministers to one's pride; had for him, too, a touch of motherly
protection, as for a doll that does not get on too well with the
other dolls; and withal a little unaccustomed awe.
Dared she now plunge in on this private agony? Could she have borne
that anyone should see herself thus prostrate? He had not heard her,
and she tried to regain the door. But a board creaked; she heard him
move, and flinging away her fears, said: "It's me! Babs!" and dropped
on her knees beside him. If it had not been so pitch dark she could
never have done that. She tried at once to take his head into her
arms, but could not see it, and succeeded indifferently. She could
but stroke his arm continually, wondering whether he would hate her
ever afterwards, and blessing the darkness, which made it all seem as
though it were not happening, yet so much more poignant than if it
had happened. Suddenly she felt him slip away from her, and getting
up, stole out. After the darkness of that room, the corridor seemed
full of grey filmy light, as though dream-spiders had joined the
walls with their cobwebs, in which innumerable white moths, so tiny
that they could not be seen, were struggling. Small eerie noises
crept about. A sudden frightened longing for warmth, and light, and
colour came to Barbara. She fled back to her room. But she could
not sleep. That terrible mute unseen vibration in the unlighted
room-like the noiseless licking of a flame at bland air; the touch of
Miltoun's hand, hot as fire against her cheek and neck; the whole
tremulous dark episode, possessed her through and through. Thus had
the wayward force of Love chosen to manifest itself to her in all its
wistful violence. At this fiat sight of the red flower of passion
her cheeks burned; up and down her, between the cool sheets, little
hot cruel shivers ran; she lay, wide-eyed, staring at the ceiling.
She thought, of the woman whom he so loved, and wondered if she too
were lying sleepless, flung down on a bare floor, trying to cool her
forehead and lips against a cold wall.
Not for hours did she fall asleep, and then dreamed of running
desperately through fields full of tall spiky asphodel-like flowers,
and behind her was running herself.
In the morning she dreaded to go down. Could she meet Miltoun now
that she knew of the passion in him, and he knew that she knew it?
She had her breakfast brought upstairs. Before she had finished
Miltoun himself came in. He looked more than usually self-contained,
not to say ironic, and only remarked: "If you're going to ride you
might take this note for me over to old Haliday at Wippincott." By
his coming she knew that he was saying all he ever meant to say about
that dark incident. And sympathizing completely with a reticence
which she herself felt to be the only possible way out for both of
them, Barbara looked at him gratefully, took the note and said: "All
Then, after glancing once or twice round the room, Miltoun went away.
He left her restless, divested of the cloak 'of course,' in a strange
mood of questioning, ready as it were for the sight of the magpie
wings of Life, and to hear their quick flutterings. Talk jarred on
her that morning, with its sameness and attachment to the facts of
the present and the future, its essential concern with the world as
it was-she avoided all companionship on her ride. She wanted to be
told of things that were not, yet might be, to peep behind the
curtain, and see the very spirit of mortal happenings escaped from
prison. And this was all so unusual with Barbara, whose body was too
perfect, too sanely governed by the flow of her blood not to revel in
the moment and the things thereof. She knew it was unusual. After
her ride she avoided lunch, and walked out into the lanes. But about
two o'clock, feeling very hungry, she went into a farmhouse, and
asked for milk. There, in the kitchen, like young jackdaws in a row
with their mouths a little open, were the three farm boys, seated on
a bench gripped to the alcove of the great fire-way, munching bread
and cheese. Above their heads a gun was hung, trigger upwards, and
two hams were mellowing in the smoke. At the feet of a black-haired
girl, who was slicing onions, lay a sheep dog of tremendous age, with
nose stretched out on paws, and in his little blue eyes a gleam of
approaching immortality. They all stared at, Barbara. And one of
the boys, whose face had the delightful look of him who loses all
sense of other things in what he is seeing at the moment, smiled, and
continued smiling, with sheer pleasure. Barbara drank her milk, and
wandered out again; passing through a gate at the bottom of a steep,
rocky tor, she sat down on a sun-warmed stone. The sunlight fell
greedily on her here, like an invisible swift hand touching her all
over, and specially caressing her throat and face. A very gentle
wind, which dived over the tor tops into the young fern; stole down
at her, spiced with the fern sap. All was warmth and peace, and only
the cuckoos on the far thorn trees--as though stationed by the
Wistful Master himself--were there to disturb her heart: But all the
sweetness and piping of the day did not soothe her. In truth, she
could not have said what was the matter, except that she felt so
discontented, and as it were empty of all but a sort of aching
impatience with--what exactly she could not say. She had that rather
dreadful feeling of something slipping by which she could not catch.
It was so new to her to feel like that--for no girl was less given to
moods and repinings. And all the time a sort of contempt for this
soft and almost sentimental feeling made her tighten her lips and
frown. She felt distrustful and sarcastic towards a mood so utterly
subversive of that fetich 'Hardness,' to the unconscious worship of
which she had been brought up. To stand no sentiment or nonsense
either in herself or others was the first article of faith; not to
slop-over anywhere. So that to feel as she did was almost horrible
to Barbara. Yet she could not get rid of the sensation. With sudden
recklessness she tried giving herself up to it entirely. Undoing the
scarf at her throat, she let the air play on her bared neck, and
stretched out her arms as if to hug the wind to her; then, with a
sigh, she got up, and walked on. And now she began thinking of
'Anonyma'; turning her position over and over. The idea that anyone
young and beautiful should thus be clipped off in her life, roused
her impatient indignation. Let them try it with her! They would
soon see! For all her cultivated 'hardness,' Barbara really hated
anything to suffer. It seemed to her unnatural. She never went to
that hospital where Lady Valleys had a ward, nor to their summer camp
for crippled children, nor to help in their annual concert for
sweated workers, without a feeling of such vehement pity that it was
like being seized by the throat: Once, when she had been singing to
them, the rows of wan, pinched faces below had been too much for her;
she had broken down, forgotten her words, lost memory of the tune,
and just ended her performance with a smile, worth more perhaps to
her audience than those lost verses. She never came away from such
sights and places without a feeling of revolt amounting almost to
rage; and she only continued to go because she dimly knew that it was
expected of her not to turn her back on such things, in her section
But it was not this feeling which made her stop before Mrs. Noel's
cottage; nor was it curiosity. It was a quite simple desire to
squeeze her hand.
'Anonyma' seemed taking her trouble as only those women who are no
good at self-assertion can take things--doing exactly as she would
have done if nothing had happened; a little paler than usual, with
lips pressed rather tightly together.
They neither of them spoke at first, but stood looking, not at each
other's faces, but at each other's breasts. At last Barbara stepped
forward impulsively and kissed her.
After that, like two children who kiss first, and then make
acquaintance, they stood apart, silent, faintly smiling. It had been
given and returned in real sweetness and comradeship, that kiss, for
a sign of womanhood making face against the world; but now that it
was over, both felt a little awkward. Would that kiss have been
given if Fate had been auspicious? Was it not proof of misery? So
Mrs. Noel's smile seemed saying, and Barbara's smile unwillingly
admitted. Perceiving that if they talked it could only be about the
most ordinary things, they began speaking of music, flowers, and the
queerness of bees' legs. But all the time, Barbara, though seemingly
unconscious, was noting with her smiling eyes, the tiny movement's,
by which one woman can tell what is passing in another. She saw a
little quiver tighten the corner of the lips, the eyes suddenly grow
large and dark, the thin blouse desperately rise and fall. And her
fancy, quickened by last night's memory, saw this woman giving
herself up to the memory of love in her thoughts. At this sight she
felt a little of that impatience which the conquering feel for the
passive, and perhaps just a touch of jealousy.
Whatever Miltoun decided, that would this woman accept! Such
resignation, while it simplified things, offended the part of Barbara
which rebelled against all inaction, all dictation, even from her
favourite brother. She said suddenly:
"Are you going to do nothing? Aren't you going to try and free
yourself? If I were in your position, I would never rest till I'd
made them free me."
But Mrs. Noel did not answer; and sweeping her glance from that crown
of soft dark hair, down the soft white figure, to the very feet,
"I believe you are a fatalist."
Soon after that, not knowing what more to say, she went away. But
walking home across the fields, where full summer was swinging on the
delicious air and there was now no bull but only red cows to crop
short the 'milk-maids' and buttercups, she suffered from this strange
revelation of the strength of softness and passivity--as though she
had seen in the white figure of 'Anonyma,' and heard in her voice
something from beyond, symbolic, inconceivable, yet real.
Lord Valleys, relieved from official pressure by subsidence of the
war scare, had returned for a long week-end. To say that he had been
intensely relieved by the news that Mrs. Noel was not free, would be
to put it mildly. Though not old-fashioned, like his mother-in-law,
in regard to the mixing of the castes, prepared to admit that
exclusiveness was out of date, to pass over with a shrug and a laugh
those numerous alliances by which his order were renewing the sinews
of war, and indeed in his capacity of an expert, often pointing out
the dangers of too much in-breeding--yet he had a peculiar personal
feeling about his own family, and was perhaps a little extra
sensitive because of Agatha; for Shropton, though a good fellow, and
extremely wealthy, was only a third baronet, and had originally been
made of iron. It was inadvisable to go outside the inner circle
where there was no material necessity for so doing. He had not done
it himself. Moreover there was a sentiment about these things!
On the morning after his arrival, visiting the kennels before
breakfast, he stood chatting with his head man, and caressing the wet
noses of his two favourite pointers,--with something of the feeling
of a boy let out of school. Those pleasant creatures, cowering and
quivering with pride against his legs, and turning up at him their
yellow Chinese eyes, gave him that sense of warmth and comfort which
visits men in the presence of their hobbies. With this particular
pair, inbred to the uttermost, he had successfully surmounted a great
risk. It was now touch and go whether he dared venture on one more
cross to the original strain, in the hope of eliminating the last
clinging of liver colour. It was a gamble--and it was just that
which rendered it so vastly interesting.
A small voice diverted his attention; he looked round and saw little
Ann. She had been in bed when he arrived the night before, and he
was therefore the newest thing about.
She carried in her arms a guinea-pig, and began at once:
"Grandpapa, Granny wants you. She's on the terrace; she's talking to
Mr. Courtier. I like him--he's a kind man. If I put my guinea-pig
down, will they bite it? Poor darling--they shan't! Isn't it a
Lord Valleys, twirling his moustache, regarded the guinea-pig without
favour; he had rather a dislike for all senseless kinds of beasts.
Pressing the guinea-pig between her hands, as it might be a
concertina, little Ann jigged it gently above the pointers, who,
wrinkling horribly their long noses, gazed upwards, fascinated.
"Poor darlings, they want it--don't they? Grandpapa"
"Do you think the next puppies will be spotted quite all over?"
Continuing to twirl his moustache, Lord Valleys answered:
"I think it is not improbable, Ann."
"Why do you like them spotted like that? Oh! they're kissing Sambo--
I must go!"
Lord Valleys followed her, his eyebrows a little raised.
As he approached the terrace his wife came, towards him. Her colour
was, deeper than usual, and she had the look, higher and more
resolute, peculiar to her when she had been opposed. In truth she
had just been through a passage of arms with Courtier, who, as the
first revealer of Mrs. Noel's situation, had become entitled to a
certain confidence on this subject. It had arisen from what she had
intended as a perfectly natural and not unkind remark, to the effect
that all the trouble had come from Mrs. Noel not having made her
position clear to Miltoun from the first.
He had at once grown very red.
"It's easy, Lady Valleys, for those who have never been in the
position of a lonely woman, to blame her."
Unaccustomed to be withstood, she had looked at him intently:
"I am the last person to be hard on a woman for conventional
reasons. But I think it showed lack of character."
Courtier's reply had been almost rude.
"Plants are not equally robust, Lady Valleys. Some, as we know, are
She had retorted with decision
"If you like to so dignify the simpler word 'weak'"
He had become very rigid at that, biting deeply into his moustache.
"What crimes are not committed under the sanctity of that creed
'survival of the fittest,' which suits the book of all you fortunate
people so well!"
Priding herself on her restraint, Lady Valleys answered:
"Ah! we must talk that out. On the face of them your words sound a
little unphilosophic, don't they?"
He had looked straight at her with a queer, unpleasant smile; and she
had felt at once disturbed and angry. It was all very well to pet
and even to admire these original sort of men, but there were limits.
Remembering, however, that he was her guest, she had only said:
"Perhaps after all we had better not talk it out;" and moving away,
she heard him answer: "In any case, I'm certain Audrey Noel never
wilfully kept your son in the dark; she's much too proud."
Though rude, she could not help liking the way he stuck up for this
woman; and she threw back at him the words:
"You and I, Mr. Courtier, must have a good fight some day!"
She went towards her husband conscious of the rather pleasurable
sensation which combat always roused in her.
These two were very good comrades. Theirs had been a love match, and
making due allowance for human nature beset by opportunity, had
remained, throughout, a solid and efficient alliance. Taking, as
they both did, such prominent parts in public and social matters, the
time they spent together was limited, but productive of mutual
benefit and reinforcement. They had not yet had an opportunity of
discussing their son's affair; and, slipping her hand through his
arm, Lady Valleys drew him away from the house.
"I want to talk to you about Miltoun, Geoff."
"H'm!" said Lord Valleys; "yes. The boy's looking worn. Good thing
when this election's over."
"If he's beaten and hasn't something new and serious to concentrate
himself on, he'll fret his heart out over that woman."
Lord Valleys meditated a little before replying.
"I don't think that, Gertrude. He's got plenty of spirit."
"Of course! But it's a real passion. And, you know, he's not like
most boys, who'll take what they can."
She said this rather wistfully.
"I'm sorry for the woman," mused Lord Valleys; "I really am."
"They say this rumour's done a lot of harm."
"Our influence is strong enough to survive that."
"It'll be a squeak; I wish I knew what he was going to do. Will you
"You're clearly the person to speak to him," replied Lord Valleys.
"I'm no hand at that sort of thing."
But Lady Valleys, with genuine discomfort, murmured:
"My dear, I'm so nervous with Eustace. When he puts on that smile of
his I'm done for, at once."
"This is obviously a woman's business; nobody like a mother."
"If it were only one of the others," muttered Lady Valleys: "Eustace
has that queer way of making you feel lumpy."
Lord Valleys looked at her askance. He had that kind of critical
fastidiousness which a word will rouse into activity. Was she lumpy?
The idea had never struck him.
"Well, I'll do it, if I must," sighed Lady Valleys.
When after breakfast she entered Miltoun's 'den,' he was buckling on
his spurs preparatory, to riding out to some of the remoter villages.
Under the mask of the Apache chief, Bertie was standing, more
inscrutable and neat than ever, in a perfectly tied cravatte,
perfectly cut riding breeches, and boots worn and polished till a
sooty glow shone through their natural russet. Not specially
dandified in his usual dress, Bertie Caradoc would almost sooner have
died than disgrace a horse. His eyes, the sharper because they had
only half the space of the ordinary eye to glance from, at once took
in the fact that his mother wished to be alone with 'old Miltoun,'
and he discreetly left the room.
That which disconcerted all who had dealings with Miltoun was the
discovery made soon or late, that they could not be sure how anything
would strike him. In his mind, as in his face, there was a certain
regularity, and then--impossible to say exactly where--it would,
shoot off and twist round a corner. This was the legacy no doubt of
the hard-bitten individuality, which had brought to the front so many
of his ancestors; for in Miltoun was the blood not only of the
Caradocs and Fitz-Harolds, but of most other prominent families in
the kingdom, all of whom, in those ages before money made the man,
must have had a forbear conspicuous by reason of qualities, not
always fine, but always poignant.
And now, though Lady Valleys had the audacity of her physique, and
was not customarily abashed, she began by speaking of politics,
hoping her son would give her an opening. But he gave her none, and
she grew nervous. At last, summoning all her coolness, she said:
"I'm dreadfully sorry about this affair, dear boy. Your father told
me of your talk with him. Try not to take it too hard."
Miltoun did not answer, and silence being that which Lady Valleys
habitually most dreaded, she took refuge in further speech, outlining
for her son the whole episode as she saw it from her point of view,
and ending with these words:
"Surely it's not worth it."
Miltoun heard her with his peculiar look, as of a man peering through
a vizor. Then smiling, he said:
"Thank you;" and opened the door.
Lady Valleys, without quite knowing whether he intended her to do so,
indeed without quite knowing anything at the moment, passed out, and
Miltoun closed the door behind her.
Ten minutes later he and Bertie were seen riding down the drive.
That afternoon the wind, which had been rising steadily, brought a
flurry of clouds up from the South-West. Formed out on the heart of
the Atlantic, they sailed forward, swift and fleecy at first, like
the skirmishing white shallops of a great fleet; then, in serried
masses, darkened the sun. About four o'clock they broke in rain,
which the wind drove horizontally with a cold whiffling murmur. As
youth and glamour die in a face before the cold rains of life, so
glory died on the moor. The tors, from being uplifted wild castles,
became mere grey excrescences. Distance failed. The cuckoos were
silent. There was none of the beauty that there is in death, no
tragic greatness--all was moaning and monotony. But about seven the
sun tore its way back through the swathe, and flared out. Like some
huge star, whose rays were stretching down to the horizon, and up to
the very top of the hill of air, it shone with an amazing murky
glamour; the clouds splintered by its shafts, and tinged saffron,
piled themselves up as if in wonder. Under the sultry warmth of this
new great star, the heather began to steam a little, and the glitter
of its wet unopened bells was like that of innumerable tiny smoking
fires. The two brothers were drenched as they cantered silently
home. Good friends always, they had never much to say to one
another. For Miltoun was conscious that he thought on a different
plane from Bertie; and Bertie grudged even to his brother any inkling
of what was passing in his spirit, just as he grudged parting with
diplomatic knowledge, or stable secrets, or indeed anything that
might leave him less in command of life. He grudged it, because in a
private sort of way it lowered his estimation of his own stoical
self-sufficiency; it hurt something proud in the withdrawing-room of
his soul. But though he talked little, he had the power of
contemplation--often found in men of decided character, with a
tendency to liver. Once in Nepal, where he had gone to shoot, he had
passed a month quite happily with only a Ghoorka servant who could
speak no English. To those who asked him if he had not been horribly
bored, he had always answered: "Not a bit; did a lot of thinking."
With Miltoun's trouble he had the professional sympathy of a brother
and the natural intolerance of a confirmed bachelor. Women were to
him very kittle-cattle. He distrusted from the bottom of his soul
those who had such manifest power to draw things from you. He was
one of those men in whom some day a woman might awaken a really fine
affection; but who, until that time, would maintain the perfectly
male attitude to the entire sex, and, after it, to all the sex but
one. Women were, like Life itself, creatures to be watched,
carefully used, and kept duly subservient. The only allusion
therefore that he made to Miltoun's trouble was very sudden.
"Old man, I hope you're going to cut your losses."
The words were followed by undisturbed silence: But passing Mrs.
Noel's cottage Miltoun said:
"Take my horse on; I want to go in here."....
She was sitting at her piano with her hands idle, looking at a line
of music.... She had been sitting thus for many minutes, but had not
yet taken in the notes.
When Miltoun's shadow blotted the light by which she was seeing so
little, she gave a slight start, and got up. But she neither went
towards him, nor spoke. And he, without a word, came in and stood by
the hearth, looking down at the empty grate. A tortoise-shell cat
which had been watching swallows, disturbed by his entrance, withdrew
from the window beneath a chair.
This silence, in which the question of their future lives was to be
decided, seemed to both interminable; yet, neither could end it.
At last, touching his sleeve, she said: "You're wet!"
Miltoun shivered at that timid sign of possession. And they again
stood in silence broken only by the sound of the cat licking its
But her faculty for dumbness was stronger than his, and--he had to
"Forgive me for coming; something must be settled. This--rumour----"
"Oh! that!" she said. "Is there anything I can do to stop the harm
It was the turn of Miltoun's lips to curl. "God! no; let them talk!"
Their eyes had come together now, and, once together, seemed unable
Mrs. Noel said at last:
"Will you ever forgive me?"
"What for--it was my fault."
"No; I should have known you better."
The depth of meaning in those words--the tremendous and subtle
admission they contained of all that she had been ready to do, the
despairing knowledge in them that he was not, and never had been,
ready to 'bear it out even to the edge of doom'--made Miltoun wince
"It is not from fear--believe that, anyway."
There followed another long, long silence! But though so close that
they were almost touching, they no longer looked at one another.
Then Miltoun said:
"There is only to say good-bye, then."
At those clear words spoken by lips which, though just smiling,
failed so utterly to hide his misery, Mrs. Noel's face became
colourless as her white gown. But her eyes, which had grown immense,
seemed from the sheer lack of all other colour, to have drawn into
them the whole of her vitality; to be pouring forth a proud and
Shivering, and crushing himself together with his arms, Miltoun
walked towards the window. There was not the faintest sound from
her, and he looked back. She was following him with her eyes. He
threw his hand up over his face, and went quickly out. Mrs. Noel
stood for a little while where he had left her; then, sitting down
once more at the piano, began again to con over the line of music.
And the cat stole back to the window to watch the swallows. The
sunlight was dying slowly on the top branches of the lime-tree; a,
drizzling rain began to fall.
Claud Fresnay, Viscount Harbinger was, at the age of thirty-one,
perhaps the least encumbered peer in the United Kingdom. Thanks to
an ancestor who had acquired land, and departed this life one hundred
and thirty years before the town of Nettlefold was built on a small
portion of it, and to a father who had died in his son's infancy,
after judiciously selling the said town, he possessed a very large
income independently of his landed interests. Tall and well-built,
with handsome, strongly-marked features, he gave at first sight an
impression of strength--which faded somewhat when he began to talk.
It was not so much the manner of his speech--with its rapid slang,
and its way of turning everything to a jest--as the feeling it
produced, that the brain behind it took naturally the path of least
resistance. He was in fact one of those personalities who are often
enough prominent in politics and social life, by reason of their
appearance, position, assurance, and of a certain energy, half
genuine, and half mere inherent predilection for short cuts.
Certainly he was not idle, had written a book, travelled, was a
Captain of Yeomanry, a Justice of the Peace, a good cricketer, and a
constant and glib speaker. It would have been unfair to call his
enthusiasm for social reform spurious. It was real enough in its
way, and did certainly testify that he was not altogether lacking
either in imagination or good-heartedness. But it was over and
overlaid with the public-school habit--that peculiar, extraordinarily
English habit, so powerful and beguiling that it becomes a second
nature stronger than the first--of relating everything in the
Universe to the standards and prejudices of a single class. Since
practically all his intimate associates were immersed in it, he was
naturally not in the least conscious of this habit; indeed there was
nothing he deprecated so much in politics as the narrow and
prejudiced outlook, such as he had observed in the Nonconformist, or
labour politician. He would never have admitted for a moment that
certain doors had been banged-to at his birth, bolted when he went to
Eton, and padlocked at Cambridge. No one would have denied that
there was much that was valuable in his standards--a high level of
honesty, candour, sportsmanship, personal cleanliness, and self-
reliance, together with a dislike of such cruelty as had been
officially (so to speak) recognized as cruelty, and a sense of public
service to a State run by and for the public schools; but it would
have required far more originality than he possessed ever to look at
Life from any other point of view than that from which he had been
born and bred to watch Her. To fully understand harbinger, one must,
and with unprejudiced eyes and brain, have attended one of those
great cricket matches in which he had figured conspicuously as a boy,
and looking down from some high impartial spot have watched the
ground at lunch time covered from rope to rope and stand to stand
with a marvellous swarm, all walking in precisely the same manner,
with precisely the same expression on their faces, under precisely
the same hats--a swarm enshrining the greatest identity of, creed and
habit ever known since the world began. No, his environment had not
been favourable to originality. Moreover he was naturally rapid
rather than deep, and life hardly ever left him alone or left him
silent. Brought into contact day and night with people to whom
politics were more or less a game; run after everywhere; subjected to
no form of discipline--it was a wonder that he was as serious as he
was. Nor had he ever been in love, until, last year, during her
first season, Barbara had, as he might have expressed it--in the case
of another 'bowled him middle stump. Though so deeply smitten, he.
had not yet asked her to marry him--had not, as it were, had time,
nor perhaps quite the courage, or conviction. When he was near her,
it seemed impossible that he could go on longer without knowing his
fate; when he was away from her it was almost a relief, because there
were so many things to be done and said, and so little time to do or
say them in. But now, during this fortnight, which, for her sake, he
had devoted to Miltoun's cause, his feeling had advanced beyond the
point of comfort.
He did not admit that the reason of this uneasiness was Courtier,
for, after all, Courtier was, in a sense, nobody, and 'an extremist'
into the bargain, and an extremist always affected the centre of
Harbinger's anatomy, causing it to give off a peculiar smile and tone
of voice. Nevertheless, his eyes, whenever they fell on that
sanguine, steady, ironic face, shone with a sort of cold inquiry, or
were even darkened by the shade of fear. They met seldom, it is
true, for most of his day was spent in motoring and speaking, and
most of Courtier's in writing and riding, his leg being still too
weak for walking. But once or twice in the smoking room late at
night, he had embarked on some bantering discussion with the champion
of lost causes; and very soon an ill-concealed impatience had crept
into his voice. Why a man should waste his time, flogging dead.
horses on a journey to the moon, was incomprehensible! Facts were
facts, human nature would never be anything but human nature! And it
was peculiarly galling to see in Courtier's eye a gleam, to catch in
his voice a tone, as if he were thinking: "My young friend, your soup
On a morning after one of these encounters, seeing Barbara sally
forth in riding clothes, he asked if he too might go round the
stables, and started forth beside her, unwontedly silent, with an odd
feeling about his heart, and his throat unaccountably dry.
The stables at Monkland Court were as large as many country houses.
Accommodating thirty horses, they were at present occupied by twenty-
one, including the pony of little Ann. For height, perfection of
lighting, gloss, shine, and purity of atmosphere they were unequalled
in the county. It seemed indeed impossible that any horse could ever
so far forget himself in such a place as to remember that he was a
horse. Every morning a little bin of carrots, apples, and lumps of
sugar, was set close to the main entrance, ready for those who might
desire to feed the dear inhabitants.
Reined up to a brass ring on either side of their stalls with their
noses towards the doors, they were always on view from nine to ten,
and would stand with their necks arched, ears pricked, and coats
gleaming, wondering about things, soothed by the faint hissing of the
still busy grooms, and ready to move their noses up and down the
moment they saw someone enter.
In a large loose-box at the end of the north wing Barbara's favourite
chestnut hunter, all but one saving sixteenth of whom had been
entered in the stud book, having heard her footstep, was standing
quite still with his neck turned. He had been crumping up an apple
placed amongst his feed, and his senses struggled between the
lingering flavour of that delicacy,--and the perception of a sound
with which he connected carrots. When she unlatched his door, and
said "Hal," he at once went towards his manger, to show his
independence, but when she said: "Oh! very well!" he turned round and
came towards her. His eyes, which were full and of a soft
brilliance, under thick chestnut lashes, explored her all over.
Perceiving that her carrots were not in front, he elongated his neck,
let his nose stray round her waist, and gave her gauntletted hand a
nip with his lips. Not tasting carrot, he withdrew his nose, and
snuffled. Then stepping carefully so as not to tread on her foot, he
bunted her gently with his shoulder, till with a quick manoeuvre he
got behind her and breathed low and long on her neck. Even this did
not smell of carrots, and putting his muzzle over her shoulder
against her cheek, he slobbered a very little. A carrot appeared
about the level of her waist, and hanging his head over, he tried to
reach it. Feeling it all firm and soft under his chin, he snuffled
again, and gave her a gentle dig with his knee. But still unable to
reach the carrot, he threw his head up, withdrew, and pretended not
to see her. And suddenly he felt two long substances round his neck,
and something soft against his nose. He suffered this in silence,
laying his ears back. The softness began puffing on his muzzle.
Pricking his ears again, he puffed back a little harder, with more
curiosity, and the softness was withdrawn. He perceived suddenly
that he had a carrot in his mouth.
Harbinger had witnessed this episode, oddly pale, leaning against the
loose-box wall. He spoke, as it came to an end:
The tone of his voice must have been as strange as it sounded to
himself, for Barbara spun round.
"How long am I going on like this?"
Neither changing colour nor dropping her eyes, she regarded him with
a faintly inquisitive interest. It was not a cruel look, had not a
trace of mischief, or sex malice, and yet it frightened him by its
serene inscrutability. Impossible to tell what was going on behind
it. He took her hand, bent over it, and said in a low voice:
"You know what I feel; don't be cruel to me!"
She did not pull away her hand; it was as if she had not thought of
"I am not a bit cruel."
Looking up, he saw her smiling.
His face was close to hers, but Barbara did not shrink back. She
just shook her head; and Harbinger flushed up.
"Why?" he asked; and as though the enormous injustice of that
rejecting gesture had suddenly struck him, he dropped her hand.
"Why?" he said again, sharply.
But the silence was only broken by the cheeping of sparrows outside
the round window, and the sound of the horse, Hal, munching the last
morsel of his carrot. Harbinger was aware in his every nerve of the
sweetish, slightly acrid, husky odour of the loosebox, mingling with
the scent of Barbara's hair and clothes. And rather miserably, he
said for the third time:
But folding her hands away behind her back. she answered gently:
"My dear, how should I know why?"
She was calmly exposed to his embrace if he had only dared; but he
did not dare, and went back to the loose-box wall. Biting his
finger, he stared at her gloomily. She was stroking the muzzle of
her horse; and a sort of dry rage began whisking and rustling in his
heart. She had refused him--Harbinger! He had not known, had not
suspected how much he wanted her. How could there be anybody else
for him, while that young, calm, sweet-scented, smiling thing lived,
to make his head go round, his senses ache, and to fill his heart
with longing! He seemed to himself at that moment the most unhappy
of all men.
"I shall not give you up," he muttered.
Barbara's answer was a smile, faintly curious, compassionate, yet
almost grateful, as if she had said:
"Thank you--who knows?"
And rather quickly, a yard or so apart, and talking of horses, they
returned to the house.
It was about noon, when, accompanied by Courtier, she rode forth.
The Sou-Westerly spell--a matter of three days--had given way before
radiant stillness; and merely to be alive was to feel emotion. At a
little stream running beside the moor under the wild stone man, the
riders stopped their horses, just to listen, and, inhale the day.
The far sweet chorus of life was tuned to a most delicate rhythm; not
one of those small mingled pipings of streams and the lazy air, of
beasts, men; birds, and bees, jarred out too harshly through the
garment of sound enwrapping the earth. It was noon--the still
moment--but this hymn to the sun, after his too long absence, never
for a moment ceased to be murmured. And the earth wore an under-robe
of scent, delicious, very finely woven of the young fern sap, heather
buds; larch-trees not yet odourless, gorse just going brown, drifted
woodsmoke, and the breath of hawthorn. Above Earth's twin vestments
of sound and scent, the blue enwrapping scarf of air, that wistful
wide champaign, was spanned only by the wings of Freedom.
After that long drink of the day, the riders mounted almost in
silence to the very top of the moor. There again they sat quite
still on their horses, examining the prospect. Far away to South and
East lay the sea, plainly visible. Two small groups of wild ponies
were slowly grazing towards each other on the hillside below.
Courtier said. in a low voice:
"'Thus will I sit and sing, with love in my arms; watching our two
herds mingle together, and below us the far, divine, cerulean sea.'"
And, after another silence, looking steadily in Barbara's face, he
"Lady Barbara, I am afraid this is the last time we shall be alone
together. While I have the chance, therefore, I must do homage....
You will always be the fixed star for my worship. But your rays are
too bright; I shall worship from afar. From your seventh Heaven,
therefore, look down on me with kindly eyes, and do not quite forget
Under that speech, so strangely compounded of irony and fervour,
Barbara sat very still, with glowing cheeks.
"Yes," said Courtier, "only an immortal must embrace a goddess.
Outside the purlieus of Authority I shall sit cross-legged, and
prostrate myself three times a day."
But Barbara answered nothing.
"In the early morning," went on Courtier, "leaving the dark and
dismal homes of Freedom I shall look towards the Temples of the
Great; there with the eye of faith I shall see you."
He stopped, for Barbara's lips were moving.
"Don't hurt me, please."
Courtier leaned over, took her hand, and put it to his lips. "We
will now ride on...."
That night at dinner Lord Dennis, seated opposite his great-niece,
was struck by her appearance.
"A very beautiful child," he thought, "a most lovely young creature!"
She was placed between Courtier and Harbinger. And the old man's
still keen eyes carefully watched those two. Though attentive to
their neighbours on the other side, they were both of them keeping
the corner of an eye on Barbara and on each other. The thing was
transparent to Lord Dennis, and a smile settled in that nest of
gravity between his white peaked beard and moustaches. But he
waited, the instinct of a fisherman bidding him to neglect no piece
of water, till he saw the child silent and in repose, and watched
carefully to see what would rise. Although she was so calmly, so
healthily eating, her eyes stole round at Courtier. This quick look
seemed to Lord Dennis perturbed, as if something were exciting her.
Then Harbinger spoke, and she turned to answer him. Her face was
calm now, faintly smiling, a little eager, provocative in its joy of
life. It made Lord Dennis think of his own youth. What a splendid
couple! If Babs married young Harbinger there would not be a finer
pair in all England. His eyes travelled back to Courtier. Manly
enough! They called him dangerous! There was a look of
effervescence, carefully corked down--might perhaps be attractive to
a girl! To his essentially practical and sober mind, a type like
Courtier was puzzling. He liked the look of him, but distrusted his
ironic expression, and that appearance of blood to the head. Fellow
--no doubt--that would ride off on his ideas, humanitarian! To Lord
Dennis there was something queer about humanitarians. They offended
perhaps his dry and precise sense of form. They were always looking
out for cruelty or injustice; seemed delighted when they found it--
swelled up, as it were, when they scented it, and as there was a good
deal about, were never quite of normal size. Men who lived for ideas
were, in fact, to one for whom facts sufficed always a little
worrying! A movement from Barbara brought him back to actuality.
Was the possessor of that crown of hair and those divine young
shoulders the little Babs who had ridden with him in the Row? Time
was certainly the Devil! Her eyes were searching for something; and
following the direction of that glance, Lord Dennis found himself
observing Miltoun. What a difference between those two! Both no
doubt in the great trouble of youth; which sometimes, as he knew too
well, lasted on almost to old age. It was a curious look the child
was giving her brother, as if asking him to help her. Lord Dennis
had seen in his day many young creatures leave the shelter of their
freedom and enter the house of the great lottery; many, who had drawn
a prize and thereat lost forever the coldness of life; many too, the
light of whose eyes had faded behind the shutters of that house,
having drawn a blank. The thought of 'little' Babs on the threshold
of that inexorable saloon, filled him with an eager sadness; and the
sight of the two men watching for her, waiting for her, like hunters,
was to him distasteful. In any case, let her not, for Heaven's sake,
go ranging as far as that red fellow of middle age, who might have
ideas, but had no pedigree; let her stick to youth and her own order,
and marry the--young man, confound him, who looked like a Greek god,
of the wrong period, having grown a moustache. He remembered her
words the other evening about these two and the different lives they
lived. Some romantic notion or other was working in her! And again
he looked at Courtier. A Quixotic type--the sort that rode slap-bang
at everything! All very well--but not for Babs! She was not like
the glorious Garibaldi's glorious Anita! It was truly characteristic
of Lord Dennis--and indeed of other people--that to him champions of
Liberty when dead were far dearer than champions of Liberty when
living. Yes, Babs would want more, or was it less, than just a life
of sleeping under the stars for the man she loved, and the cause he
fought for. She would want pleasure, and, not too much effort, and
presently a little power; not the uncomfortable after-fame of a woman
who went through fire, but the fame and power of beauty, and Society
prestige. This, fancy of hers, if it were a fancy, could be nothing
but the romanticism of a young girl. For the sake of a passing
shadow, to give up substance? It wouldn't do! And again Lord
Dennis fixed his shrewd glance on his great-niece. Those eyes, that
smile! Yes! She would grow out of this. And take the Greek god,
the dying Gaul--whichever that young man was!
It was not till the morning of polling day itself that Courtier left
Monkland Court. He had already suffered for some time from bad
conscience. For his knee was practically cured, and he knew well
that it was Barbara, and Barbara alone, who kept him staying there.
The atmosphere of that big house with its army of servants, the
impossibility of doing anything for himself, and the feeling of
hopeless insulation from the vivid and necessitous sides of life,
galled him greatly. He felt a very genuine pity for these people who
seemed to lead an existence as it were smothered under their own
social importance. It was not their fault. He recognized that they
did their best. They were good specimens of their kind; neither soft
nor luxurious, as things went in a degenerate and extravagant age;
they evidently tried to be simple--and this seemed to him to heighten
the pathos of their situation. Fate had been too much for them.
What human spirit could emerge untrammelled and unshrunken from that
great encompassing host of material advantage? To a Bedouin like
Courtier, it was as though a subtle, but very terrible tragedy was
all the time being played before his eyes; and in, the very centre of
this tragedy was the girl who so greatly attracted him. Every night
when he retired to that lofty room, which smelt so good, and where,
without ostentation, everything was so perfectly ordered for his
comfort, he thought:
"My God, to-morrow I'll be off!"
But every morning when he met her at breakfast his thought was
precisely the same, and there were moments when he caught himself
wondering: "Am I falling under the spell of this existence--am I
getting soft?" He recognized as never before that the peculiar
artificial 'hardness' of the patrician was a brine or pickle, in
which, with the instinct of self-preservation they deliberately
soaked themselves, to prevent the decay of their overprotected fibre.
He perceived it even in Barbara--a sort of sentiment-proof overall, a
species of mistrust of the emotional or lyrical, a kind of contempt
of sympathy and feeling. And every day he was more and more tempted
to lay rude hands on this garment; to see whether he could not make
her catch fire, and flare up with some emotion or idea. In spite of
her tantalizing, youthful self-possession, he saw that she felt this
longing in him, and now and then he caught a glimpse of a streak of
recklessness in her which lured him on:
And yet, when at last he was saying good-bye on the night before
polling day, he could not flatter himself that he had really struck
any spark from her. Certainly she gave him no chance, at that final
interview, but stood amongst the other women, calm and smiling, as if
determined that he should not again mock her with his ironical
He got up very early the next morning, intending to pass away unseen.
In the car put at his disposal; he found a small figure in a holland-
frock, leaning back against the cushions so that some sandalled toes
pointed up at the chauffeur's back. They belonged to little Ann, who
in the course of business had discovered the vehicle before the door.
Her sudden little voice under her sudden little nose, friendly but
not too friendly, was comforting to Courtier.
"Are you going? I can come as, far as the gate." "That is lucky."
"Yes. Is that all your luggage?"
"I'm afraid it is."
"Oh! It's quite a lot, really, isn't it?"
"As much as I deserve."
"Of course you don't have to take guinea-pigs about with you?"
"Not as a rule."
"I always do. There's great-Granny!"
There certainly was Lady Casterley, standing a little back from the
drive, and directing a tall gardener how to deal with an old oak-
tree. Courtier alighted, and went towards her to say good-bye. She
greeted him with a certain grim cordiality.
"So you are going! I am glad of that, though you quite understand
that I like you personally."
Her eyes gleamed maliciously.
"Men who laugh like you are dangerous, as I've told you before!"
Then, with great gravity; she added
"My granddaughter will marry Lord Harbinger. I mention that, Mr.
Courtier, for your peace of mind. You are a man of honour; it will
go no further."
Courtier, bowing over her hand, answered:
"He will be lucky."
The little old lady regarded him unflinchingly.
"He will, sir. Good-bye!"
Courtier smilingly raised his hat. His cheeks were burning.
Regaining the car, he looked round. Lady Casterley was busy once
more exhorting the tall gardener. The voice of little Ann broke in
on his thoughts:
"I hope you'll come again. Because I expect I shall be here at
Christmas; and my brothers will be here then, that is, Jock and
Tiddy, not Christopher because he's young. I must go now. Good-bye!
Courtier saw her slide away, and join the little pale adoring figure
of the lodge-keeper's daughter.
The car passed out into the lane.
If Lady Casterley had planned this disclosure, which indeed she had
not, for the impulse had only come over her at the sound of
Courtier's laugh, she could not have, devised one more effectual, for
there was deep down in him all a wanderer's very real distrust,
amounting almost to contempt, of people so settled and done for; as
aristocrats or bourgeois, and all a man of action's horror of what he
called puking and muling. The pursuit of Barbara with any other
object but that of marriage had naturally not occurred to one who had
little sense of conventional morality, but much self-respect; and a
secret endeavour to cut out Harbinger, ending in a marriage whereat
he would figure as a sort of pirate, was quite as little to the taste
of a man not unaccustomed to think himself as good as other people.
He caused the car to deviate up the lane that led to Audrey Noel's,
hating to go away without a hail of cheer to that ship in distress.
She came out to him on the verandah. From the clasp of her hand,
thin and faintly browned--the hand of a woman never quite idle--he
felt that she relied on him to understand and sympathize; and nothing
so awakened the best in Courtier as such mute appeals to his
protection. He said gently:
"Don't let them think you're down;" and, squeezing her hand hard:
"Why should you be wasted like this? It's a sin and shame!"
But he stopped in what he felt to be an unlucky speech at sight of
her face, which without movement expressed so much more than his
words. He was protesting as a civilized man; her face was the
protest of Nature, the soundless declaration of beauty wasted against
its will, beauty that was life's invitation to the embrace which gave
"I'm clearing out, myself," he said: "You and I, you know, are not
good for these people. No birds of freedom allowed!"
Pressing his hand, she turned away into the house, leaving Courtier
gazing at the patch of air where her white figure had stood. He had
always had a special protective feeling for Audrey Noel, a feeling
which with but little encouragement might have become something
warmer. But since she had been placed in her anomalous position, he
would not for the world have brushed the dew off her belief that she
could trust him. And, now that he had fixed his own gaze elsewhere,
and she was in this bitter trouble, he felt on her account the
rancour that a brother feels when Justice and Pity have conspired to
flout his sister. The voice of Frith the chauffeur roused him from
"Lady Barbara, sir!"
Following the man's eyes, Courtier saw against the sky-line on the
for above Ashman's Folly, an equestrian statue. He stopped the car
at once, and got out.
He reached her at the ruin, screened from the road, by that divine
chance which attends on men who take care that it shall. He could
not tell whether she knew of his approach, and he would have given
all he had, which was not much, to have seen through the stiff grey
of her coat, and the soft cream of her body, into that mysterious
cave, her heart. To have been for a moment, like Ashman, done for
good and all with material things, and living the white life where
are no barriers between man and woman. The smile on her lips so
baffled him, puffed there by her spirit, as a first flower is puffed
through the sur face of earth to mock at the spring winds. How tell
what it signified! Yet he rather prided himself on his knowledge of
women, of whom he had seen something. But all he found to say was:
"I'm glad of this chance."
Then suddenly looking up, he found her strangely pale and quivering.
"I shall see you in London!" she said; and, touching her horse with
her whip, without looking back, she rode away over the hill.
Courtier returned to the moor road, and getting into the car,
"Faster, please, Frith!"....
Polling was already in brisk progress when Courtier arrived in
Bucklandbury; and partly from a not unnatural interest in the result,
partly from a half-unconscious clinging to the chance of catching
another glimpse of Barbara, he took his bag to the hotel, determined
to stay for the announcement of the poll. Strolling out into the
High Street he began observing the humours of the day. The bloom of
political belief had long been brushed off the wings of one who had
so flown the world's winds. He had seen too much of more vivid
colours to be capable now of venerating greatly the dull and dubious
tints of blue and yellow. They left him feeling extremely
philosophic. Yet it was impossible to get away from them, for the
very world that day seemed blue and yellow, nor did the third colour
of red adopted by both sides afford any clear assurance that either
could see virtue in the other; rather, it seemed to symbolize the
desire of each to have his enemy's blood. But Courtier soon observed
by the looks cast at his own detached, and perhaps sarcastic, face,
that even more hateful to either side than its antagonist, was the
philosophic eye. Unanimous was the longing to heave half a brick at
it whenever it showed itself. With its d---d impartiality, its habit
of looking through the integument of things to see if there might be
anything inside, he felt that they regarded it as the real adversary-
-the eternal foe to all the little fat 'facts,' who, dressed up in
blue and yellow, were swaggering and staggering, calling each other
names, wiping each other's eyes, blooding each other's noses. To
these little solemn delicious creatures, all front and no behind, the
philosophic eye, with its habit of looking round the corner, was
clearly detestable. The very yellow and very blue bodies of these
roistering small warriors with their hands on their tin swords and
their lips on their tin trumpets, started up in every window and on
every wall confronting each citizen in turn, persuading him that they
and they alone were taking him to Westminster. Nor had they
apparently for the most part much trouble with electors, who, finding
uncertainty distasteful, passionately desired to be assured that the
country could at once be saved by little yellow facts or little blue
facts, as the case might be; who had, no doubt, a dozen other good
reasons for being on the one side or the other; as, for instance,
that their father had been so before them; that their bread was
buttered yellow or buttered blue; that they had been on the other
side last time; that they had thought it over and made up their
minds; that they had innocent blue or naive yellow beer within; that
his lordship was the man; or that the words proper to their mouths
were 'Chilcox for Bucklandbury'; and, above all, the one really
creditable reason, that, so far as they could tell with the best of
their intellect and feelings, the truth at the moment was either blue
The narrow high street was thronged with voters. Tall policemen
stationed there had nothing to do. The certainty of all, that they
were going to win, seemed to keep everyone in good humour. There was
as yet no need to break anyone's head, for though the sharpest
lookout was kept for any signs of the philosophic eye, it was only to
be found--outside Courtier--in the perambulators of babies, in one
old man who rode a bicycle waveringly along the street and stopped to
ask a policeman what was the matter in the town, and in two rather
green-faced fellows who trundled barrows full of favours both blue
But though Courtier eyed the 'facts' with such suspicion, the
keenness of everyone about the business struck him as really
splendid. They went at it with a will. Having looked forward to it
for months, they were going to look back on it for months. It was
evidently a religious ceremony, summing up most high feelings; and
this seemed to one who was himself a man of action, natural, perhaps
pathetic, but certainly no matter for scorn.
It was already late in the afternoon when there came debouching into
the high street a long string of sandwichmen, each bearing before and
behind him a poster containing these words beautifully situated in
large dark blue letters against a pale blue ground:
DANGER NOT PAST.
VOTE FOR MILTOUN AND THE GOVERNMENT,
AND SAVE THE EMPIRE."
Courtier stopped to look at them with peculiar indignation. Not only
did this poster tramp in again on his cherished convictions about
Peace, but he saw in it something more than met the unphilosophic
eye. It symbolized for him all that was catch-penny in the national
life-an epitaph on the grave of generosity, unutterably sad. Yet
from a Party point of view what could be more justifiable? Was it
not desperately important that every blue nerve should be strained
that day to turn yellow nerves, if not blue, at all events green,
before night fell? Was it not perfectly true that the Empire could
only be saved by voting blue? Could they help a blue paper printing
the words, 'New complications,' which he had read that morning? No
more than the yellows could help a yellow journal printing the words
'Lord Miltoun's Evening Adventure.' Their only business was to win,
ever fighting fair. The yellows had not fought fair, they never did,
and one of their most unfair tactics was the way they had of always
accusing the blues of unfair fighting, an accusation truly ludicrous!
As for truth! That which helped the world to be blue, was obviously
true; that which didn't, as obviously not. There was no middle
policy! The man who saw things neither was a softy, and no proper
citizen. And as for giving the yellows credit for sincerity--the
yellows never gave them credit! But though Courtier knew all that,
this poster seemed to him particularly damnable, and he could not for
the life of him resist striking one of the sandwich-boards with his
cane. The resounding thwack startled a butcher's pony standing by
the pavement. It reared, and bolted forward, with Courtier, who had
naturally seized the rein, hanging on. A dog dashed past. Courtier
tripped and fell. The pony, passing over, struck him on the head
with a hoof. For a moment he lost consciousness; then coming to
himself, refused assistance, and went to his hotel. He felt very
giddy, and, after bandaging a nasty cut, lay down on his bed.
Miltoun, returning from that necessary exhibition of himself, the
crowning fact, at every polling centre, found time to go and see him.
"That last poster of yours!" Courtier began, at once.
"I'm having it withdrawn."
"It's done the trick--congratulations--you'll get in!"
"I knew nothing of it."
"My dear fellow, I didn't suppose you did."
"When there is a desert, Courtier, between a man and the sacred city,
he doesn't renounce his journey because he has to wash in dirty water
on the way: The mob--how I loathe it!"
There was such pent-up fury in those words as to astonish even one
whose life had been passed in conflict with majorities.
"I hate its mean stupidities, I hate the sound of its voice, and the
look on its face--it's so ugly, it's so little. Courtier, I suffer
purgatory from the thought that I shall scrape in by the votes of the
mob. There is sin in using this creature and I am expiating it."
To this strange outburst, Courtier at first made no reply.
"You've been working too hard," he said at last, "you're off your
balance. After all, the mob's made up of men like you and me."
"No, Courtier, the mob is not made up of men like you and me. If it
were it would not be the mob."
"It looks," Courtier answered gravely, "as if you had no business in
this galley. I've always steered clear of it myself."
"You follow your feelings. I have not that happiness."
So saying, Miltoun turned to the door.
Courtier's voice pursued him earnestly.
"Drop your politics--if you feel like this about them; don't waste
your life following whatever it is you follow; don't waste hers!"
But Miltoun did not answer.
It was a wondrous still night, when, a few minutes before twelve,
with his forehead bandaged under his hat, the champion of lost causes
left the hotel and made his way towards the Grammar School for the
declaration of the poll. A sound as of some monster breathing guided
him, till, from a steep empty street he came in sight of a surging
crowd, spread over the town square, like a dark carpet patterned by
splashes of lamplight. High up above that crowd, on the little
peaked tower of the Grammar School, a brightly lighted clock face
presided; and over the passionate hopes in those thousands of hearts
knit together by suspense the sky had lifted; and showed no cloud
between them and the purple fields of air. To Courtier descending
towards the square, the swaying white faces, turned all one way,
seemed like the heads of giant wild flowers in a dark field, shivered
by wind. The night had charmed away the blue and yellow facts, and
breathed down into that throng the spirit of emotion. And he
realized all at once the beauty and meaning of this scene--expression
of the quivering forces, whose perpetual flux, controlled by the
Spirit of Balance, was the soul of the world. Thousands of hearts
with the thought of self lost in one over-mastering excitement!
An old man with a long grey beard, standing close to his elbow,
"'Tis anxious work--I wouldn't ha' missed this for anything in the
"Fine, eh?" answered Courtier.
"Aye," said the old man, "'tis fine. I've not seen the like o' this
since the great year--forty-eight. There they are--the aristocrats!"
Following the direction of that skinny hand Courtier saw on a balcony
Lord and Lady Valleys, side by side, looking steadily down at the
crowd. There too, leaning against a window and talking to someone
behind, was Barbara. The old man went on muttering, and Courtier
could see that his eyes had grown very bright, his whole face
transfigured by intense hostility; he felt drawn to this old
creature, thus moved to the very soul. Then he saw Barbara looking
down at him, with her hand raised to her temple to show that she saw
his bandaged head. He had the presence of mind not to lift his hat.
The old man spoke again.
"You wouldn't remember forty-eight, I suppose. There was a feeling
in the people then--we would ha' died for things in those days. I'm
eighty-four," and he held his shaking hand up to his breast, "but the
spirit's alive here yet! God send the Radical gets in!" There was
wafted from him a scent as of potatoes.
Far behind, at the very edge of the vast dark throng, some voices
began singing: "Way down upon the Swanee ribber." The tune floated
forth, ceased, spurted up once more, and died.
Then, in the very centre of the square a stentorian baritone roared
forth: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot!"
The song swelled, till every kind of voice, from treble to the old
Chartist's quavering bass, was chanting it; here and there the crowd
heaved with the movement of linked arms. Courtier found the soft
fingers of a young woman in his right hand, the old Chartist's dry
trembling paw in his left. He himself sang loudly. The grave and
fearful music sprang straight up into they air, rolled out right and
left, and was lost among the hills. But it had no sooner died away
than the same huge baritone yelled "God save our gracious King!" The
stature of the crowd seemed at once to leap up two feet, and from
under that platform of raised hats rose a stupendous shouting.
"This," thought Courtier, "is religion!"
They were singing even on the balconies; by the lamplight he could
see Lord Valleys mouth not opened quite enough, as though his voice
were just a little ashamed of coming out, and Barbara with her head
flung back against the pillar, pouring out her heart. No mouth in
all the crowd was silent. It was as though the soul of the English
people were escaping from its dungeon of reserve, on the pinions of
But suddenly, like a shot bird closing wings, the song fell silent
and dived headlong back to earth. Out from under the clock-face had
moved a thin dark figure. More figures came behind. Courtier could
see Miltoun. A voice far away cried: "Up; Chilcox!" A huge:
"Husill" followed; then such a silence, that the sound of an engine
shunting a mile away could be heard plainly.
The dark figure moved forward, and a tiny square of paper gleamed out
white against the black of his frock-coat.
"Ladies and gentlemen. Result of the Poll:
"Miltoun Four thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight. Chilcox Four
thousand eight hundred and two."
The silence seemed to fall to earth, and break into a thousand
pieces. Through the pandemonium of cheers and groaning, Courtier
with all his strength forced himself towards the balcony. He could
see Lord Valleys leaning forward with a broad smile; Lady Valleys
passing her hand across her eyes; Barbara with her hand in
Harbinger's, looking straight into his face. He stopped. The old
Chartist was still beside him, tears rolling down his cheeks into his
Courtier saw Miltoun come forward, and stand, unsmiling, deathly
At three o'clock in the afternoon of the nineteenth of July little
Ann Shropton commenced the ascent of the main staircase of Valleys
House, London. She climbed slowly, in the very middle, an extremely
small white figure on those wide and shining stairs, counting them
aloud. Their number was never alike two days running, which made
them attractive to one for whom novelty was the salt of life.
Coming to that spot where they branched, she paused to consider which
of the two flights she had used last, and unable to remember, sat
down. She was the bearer of a message. It had been new when she
started, but was already comparatively old, and likely to become
older, in view of a design now conceived by her of travelling the
whole length of the picture gallery. And while she sat maturing this
plan, sunlight flooding through a large window drove a white
refulgence down into the heart of the wide polished space of wood and
marble, whence she had come. The nature of little Ann habitually
rejected fairies and all fantastic things, finding them quite too
much in the air, and devoid of sufficient reality and 'go'; and this
refulgence, almost unearthly in its travelling glory, passed over her
small head and played strangely with the pillars in the hall, without
exciting in her any fancies or any sentiment. The intention of
discovering what was at the end of the picture gallery absorbed the
whole of her essentially practical and active mind. Deciding on the
left-hand flight of stairs, she entered that immensely long, narrow,
and--with blinds drawn--rather dark saloon. She walked carefully,
because the floor was very slippery here, and with a kind of
seriousness due partly to the darkness and partly to the pictures.
They were indeed, in this light, rather formidable, those old
Caradocs black, armoured creatures, some of them, who seemed to eye
with a sort of burning, grim, defensive greed the small white figure
of their descendant passing along between them. But little Ann, who
knew they were only pictures, maintained her course steadily, and
every now and then, as she passed one who seemed to her rather uglier
than the others, wrinkled her sudden little nose. At the end, as she
had thought; appeared a door. She opened it, and passed on to a
landing. There was a stone staircase in the corner, and there were
two doors. It would be nice to go up the staircase, but it would
also be nice to open the doors. Going towards the first door, with a
little thrill, she turned the handle. It was one of those rooms,
necessary in houses, for which she had no great liking; and closing
this door rather loudly she opened the other one, finding herself in
a chamber not resembling the rooms downstairs, which were all high
and nicely gilded, but more like where she had lessons, low, and
filled with books and leather chairs. From the end of the room which
she could not see, she heard a sound as of someone kissing something,
and instinct had almost made her turn to go away when the word:
"Hallo!" suddenly opened her lips. And almost directly she saw that
Granny and Grandpapa were standing by the fireplace. Not knowing
quite whether they were glad to see her, she went forward and began
"Is this where you sit, Grandpapa?"
"It's nice, isn't it, Granny? Where does the stone staircase go to?"
"To the roof of the tower, Ann."
"Oh! I have to give a message, so I must go now."
"Sorry to lose you."
Hearing the door shut behind her, Lord and Lady Valleys looked at
each other with a dubious smile.
The little interview which she had interrupted, had arisen in this
Accustomed to retire to this quiet and homely room, which was not his
official study where he was always liable to the attacks of
secretaries, Lord Valleys had come up here after lunch to smoke and
chew the cud of a worry.
The matter was one in connection with his Pendridny estate, in
Cornwall. It had long agitated both his agent and himself, and had
now come to him for final decision. The question affected two
villages to the north of the property, whose inhabitants were solely
dependent on the working of a large quarry, which had for some time
been losing money.
A kindly man, he was extremely averse to any measure which would
plunge his tenants into distress, and especially in cases where there
had been no question of opposition between himself and them. But,
reduced to its essentials, the matter stood thus: Apart from that
particular quarry the Pendridny estate was not only a going, but even
a profitable concern, supporting itself and supplying some of the
sinews of war towards Valleys House and the racing establishment at
Newmarket and other general expenses; with this quarry still running,
allowing for the upkeep of Pendridny, and the provision of pensions
to superannuated servants, it was rather the other way.
Sitting there, that afternoon, smoking his favourite pipe, he had at
last come to the conclusion that there was nothing for it but to
close down. He had not made this resolution lightly; though, to do
him justice, the knowledge that the decision would be bound to cause
an outcry in the local, and perhaps the National Press, had secretly
rather spurred him on to the resolve than deterred him from it. He
felt as if he were being dictated to in advance, and he did not like
dictation. To have to deprive these poor people of their immediate
living was, he knew, a good deal more irksome to him than to those
who would certainly make a fuss about it, his conscience was clear,
and he could discount that future outcry as mere Party spite. He had
very honestly tried to examine the thing all round; and had reasoned
thus: If I keep this quarry open, I am really admitting the principle
of pauperization, since I naturally look to each of my estates to
support its own house, grounds, shooting, and to contribute towards
the support of this house, and my family, and racing stable, and all
the people employed about them both.
To allow any business to be run on my estates which does not
contribute to the general upkeep, is to protect and really pauperize
a portion of my tenants at the expense of the rest; it must therefore
be false economics and a secret sort of socialism. Further, if
logically followed out, it might end in my ruin, and to allow that,
though I might not personally object, would be to imply that I do not
believe that I am by virtue of my traditions and training, the best
machinery through which the State can work to secure the welfare of
When he had reached that point in his consideration of the question,
his mind, or rather perhaps, his essential self, had not unnaturally
risen up and said: Which is absurd!
Impersonality was in fashion, and as a rule he believed in thinking
impersonally. There was a point, however, where the possibility of
doing so ceased, without treachery to oneself, one's order, and the
country. And to the argument which he was quite shrewd enough to put
to himself, sooner than have it put by anyone else, that it was
disproportionate for a single man by a stroke of the pen to be able
to dispose of the livelihood of hundreds whose senses and feelings
were similar to his own--he had answered: "If I didn't, some
plutocrat or company would--or, worse still, the State!" Cooperative
enterprise being, in his opinion, foreign to the spirit of the
country, there was, so far as he could see, no other alternative.
Facts were facts and not to be got over!
Notwithstanding all this, the necessity for the decision made him
sorry, for if he had no great sense of proportion, he was at least
He was still smoking his pipe and staring at a sheet of paper covered
with small figures when his wife entered. Though she had come to ask
his advice on a very different subject, she saw at once that he was
vexed, and said:
" What's the matter, Geoff?"
Lord Valleys rose, went to the hearth, deliberately tapped out his
pipe, then held out to her the sheet of paper.
"That quarry! Nothing for it--must go!"
Lady Valleys' face changed.
"Oh, no! It will mean such dreadful distress."
Lord Valleys stared at his nails. "It's putting a drag on the whole
estate," he said.
"I know, but how could we face the people--I should never be able to
go down there. And most of them have such enormous families."
Since Lord Valleys continued to bend on his nails that slow, thought-
forming stare, she went on earnestly:
"Rather than that I'd make sacrifices. I'd sooner Pendridny were let
than throw all those people out of work. I suppose it would let."
"Let? Best woodcock shooting in the world."
Lady Valleys, pursuing her thoughts, went on:
"In time we might get the people drafted into other things. Have you
"No," said Lord Valleys shortly, "and don't mean to--he's too
"He always seems to know what he wants very well."
"I tell you," repeated Lord Valleys, "Miltoun's no good in a matter
of this sort--he and his ideas throw back to the Middle Ages."
Lady Valleys went closer, and took him by the lapels of his collar.
"Geoff-really, to please me; some other way!"
Lord Valleys frowned, staring at her for some time; and at last
"To please you--I'll leave it over another year."
"You think that's better than letting?"
"I don't like the thought of some outsider there. Time enough to
come to that if we must. Take it as my Christmas present."
Lady Valleys, rather flushed, bent forward and kissed his ear.
It was at this moment that little Ann had entered.
When she was gone, and they had exchanged that dubious look, Lady
"I came about Babs. I don't know what to make of her since we came
up. She's not putting her heart into things."
Lord Valleys answered almost sulkily:
"It's the heat probably--or Claud Harbinger." In spite of his easy-
going parentalism, he disliked the thought of losing the child whom
he so affectionately admired.
"Ah!" said Lady Valleys slowly," I'm not so sure."
"How do you mean?"
"There's something queer about her. I'm by no means certain she
hasn't got some sort of feeling for that Mr. Courtier."
"What!" said Lord Valleys, growing most unphilosophically red.
"Confound it, Gertrude, Miltoun's business was quite enough for one
"For twenty," murmured Lady Valleys. "I'm watching her. He's going
to Persia, they say."
"And leaving his bones there, I hope," muttered Lord Valleys.
"Really, it's too much. I should think you're all wrong, though."
Lady Valleys raised her eyebrows. Men were very queer about such
things! Very queer and worse than helpless!
"Well," she said, "I must go to my meeting. I'll take her, and see
if I can get at something," and she went away.
It was the inaugural meeting of the Society for the Promotion of the
Birth Rate, over which she had promised to preside. The scheme was
one in which she had been prominent from the start, appealing as it
did to her large and full-blooded nature. Many movements, to which
she found it impossible to refuse her name, had in themselves but
small attraction; and it was a real comfort to feel something
approaching enthusiasm for one branch of her public work. Not that
there was any academic consistency about her in the matter, for in
private life amongst her friends she was not narrowly dogmatic on the
duty of wives to multiply exceedingly. She thought imperially on the
subject, without bigotry. Large, healthy families, in all cases save
individual ones! The prime idea at the back of her mind was--
National Expansion! Her motto, and she intended if possible to make
it the motto of the League, was: 'De l'audace, et encore de
l'audace!' It was a question of the full realization of the nation.
She had a true, and in a sense touching belief in 'the flag,' apart
from what it might cover. It was her idealism. "You may talk," she
would say, "as much as you like about directing national life in
accordance with social justice! What does the nation care about
social justice? The thing is much bigger than that. It's a matter
of sentiment. We must expand!"
On the way to the meeting, occupied with her speech, she made no
attempt to draw Barbara into conversation. That must wait. The
child, though languid, and pale, was looking so beautiful that it was
a pleasure to have her support in such a movement.
In a little dark room behind the hall the Committee were already
assembled, and they went at once on to the platform.
Unmoved by the stares of the audience, Barbara sat absorbed in moody
Into the three weeks since Miltoun's election there had been crowded
such a multitude of functions that she had found, as it were, no
time, no energy to know where she stood with herself. Since that
morning in the stable, when he had watched her with the horse Hal,
Harbinger had seemed to live only to be close to her. And the
consciousness of his passion gave her a tingling sense of pleasure.
She had been riding and dancing with him, and sometimes this had been
almost blissful. But there were times too, when she felt--though
always with a certain contempt of herself, as when she sat on that
sunwarmed stone below the tor--a queer dissatisfaction, a longing for
something outside a world where she had to invent her own starvations
and simplicities, to make-believe in earnestness.
She had seen Courtier three times. Once he had come to dine, in
response to an invitation from Lady Valleys worded in that charming,
almost wistful style, which she had taught herself to use to those
below her in social rank, especially if they were intelligent; once
to the Valleys House garden party; and next day, having told him what
time she would be riding, she had found him in the Row, not mounted,
but standing by the rail just where she must pass, with that look on
his face of mingled deference and ironic self-containment, of which
he was a master. It appeared that he was leaving England; and to her
questions why, and where, he had only shrugged his shoulders. Up on
this dusty platform, in the hot bare hall, facing all those people,
listening to speeches whose sense she was too languid and preoccupied
to take in, the whole medley of thoughts, and faces round her, and
the sound of the speakers' voices, formed a kind of nightmare, out of
which she noted with extreme exactitude the colour of her mother's
neck beneath a large black hat, and the expression on the face of a
Committee man to the right, who was biting his fingers under cover of
a blue paper. She realized that someone was speaking amongst the
audience, casting forth, as it were, small bunches of words. She
could see him--a little man in a black coat, with a white face which
kept jerking up and down.
"I feel that this is terrible," she heard him say; "I feel that this
is blasphemy. That we should try to tamper with the greatest force,
the greatest and the most sacred and secret-force, that--that moves
in the world, is to me horrible. I cannot bear to listen; it seems
to make everything so small!" She saw him sit down, and her mother
rising to answer.
"We must all sympathize with the sincerity and to a certain extent
with the intention of our friend in the body of the hall. But we
must ask ourselves:
"Have we the right to allow ourselves the luxury, of private feelings
in a matter which concerns the national expansion. We must not give
way to sentiment. Our friend in the body of the hall spoke--he will
forgive me for saying so--like a poet, rather than a serious
reformer. I am afraid that if we let ourselves drop into poetry, the
birth rate of this country will very soon drop into poetry too. And
that I think it is impossible for us to contemplate with folded
hands. The resolution I was about to propose when our friend in the
body of the hall----"
But Barbara's attention, had wandered off again into that queer
medley of thoughts, and feelings, out of which the little man had so
abruptly roused her. Then she realized that the meeting was breaking
up, and her mother saying:
"Now, my dear, it's hospital day. We've just time."
When they were once more in the car, she leaned back very silent,
watching the traffic.
Lady Valleys eyed her sidelong.
"What a little bombshell," she said, "from that small person! He
must have got in by mistake. I hear Mr. Courtier has a card for
Helen Gloucester's ball to-night, Babs."
"You will be there," said Lady Valleys dryly.
Barbara drew back into her corner.
"Don't tease me, Mother!"
An expression of compunction crossed Lady Valleys' face; she tried to
possess herself of Barbara's hand. But that languid hand did not
return her squeeze.
"I know the mood you're in, dear. It wants all one's pluck to shake
it off; don't let it grow on you. You'd better go down to Uncle
Dennis to-morrow. You've been overdoing it."
"I wish it were to-morrow."
The car had stopped, and Lady Valleys said:
"Will you come in, or are you too tired? It always does them good to
"You're twice as tired as me," Barbara answered; "of course I'll
At the entrance of the two ladies, there rose at once a faint buzz
and murmur. Lady Valleys, whose ample presence radiated suddenly a
businesslike and cheery confidence, went to a bedside and sat down.
But Barbara stood in a thin streak of the July sunlight, uncertain
where to begin, amongst the faces turned towards her. The poor dears
looked so humble, and so wistful, and so tired. There was one lying
quite flat, who had not even raised her head to see who had come in.
That slumbering, pale, high cheek-boned face had a frailty as if a
touch, a breath, would shatter it; a wisp of the blackest hair, finer
than silk, lay across the forehead; the closed eyes were deep sunk;
one hand, scarred almost to the bone with work, rested above her
breast. She breathed between lips which had no colour. About her,
sleeping, was a kind of beauty. And there came over the girl a queer
rush of emotion. The sleeper seemed so apart from everything there,
from all the formality and stiffness of the ward. To look at her
swept away the languid, hollow feeling with which she had come in; it
made her think of the tors at home, when the wind was blowing, and
all was bare, and grand, and sometimes terrible. There was something
elemental in that still sleep. And the old lady in the next led,
with a brown wrinkled face and bright black eyes brimful of life,
seemed almost vulgar beside such remote tranquillity, while she was
telling Barbara that a little bunch of heather in the better half of
a soap-dish on the window-sill had come from Wales, because, as she
explained: "My mother was born in Stirling, dearie; so I likes a bit
of heather, though I never been out o' Bethnal Green meself."
But when Barbara again passed, the sleeping woman was sitting up, and
looked but a poor ordinary thing--her strange fragile beauty all
It was a relief when Lady Valleys said:
"My dear, my Naval Bazaar at five-thirty; and while I'm there you
must go home and have a rest, and freshen yourself up for the
evening. We dine at Plassey House."
The Duchess of Gloucester's Ball, a function which no one could very
well miss, had been fixed for this late date owing to the Duchess's
announced desire to prolong the season and so help the hackney
cabmen; and though everybody sympathized, it had been felt by most
that it would be simpler to go away, motor up on the day of the Ball,
and motor down again on the following morning. And throughout the
week by which the season was thus prolonged, in long rows at the
railway stations, and on their stands, the hackney cabmen,
unconscious of what was being done for them, waited, patient as their
horses. But since everybody was making this special effort, an
exceptionally large, exclusive, and brilliant company reassembled at
In the vast ballroom over the medley of entwined revolving couples,
punkahs had been fixed, to clear and freshen the languid air, and
these huge fans, moving with incredible slowness, drove a faint
refreshing draught down over the sea of white shirt-fronts and bare
necks, and freed the scent from innumerable flowers.
Late in the evening, close by one of the great clumps of bloom, a
very pretty woman stood talking to Bertie Caradoc. She was his
cousin, Lily Malvezin, sister of Geoffrey Winlow, and wife of a
Liberal peer, a charming creature, whose pink cheeks, bright eyes,
quick lips, and rounded figure, endowed her with the prettiest air of
animation. And while she spoke she kept stealing sly glances at her
partner, trying as it were to pierce the armour of that self-
contained young man.
"No, my dear," she said in her mocking voice, "you'll never persuade
me that Miltoun is going to catch on. 'Il est trop intransigeant'.
Ah! there's Babs!"
For the girl had come gliding by, her eyes wandering lazily, her lips
just parted; her neck, hardly less pale than her white frock; her
face pale, and marked with languor, under the heavy coil of her tawny
hair; and her swaying body seeming with each turn of the waltz to be
caught by the arms of her partner from out of a swoon.