Part 4 out of 6
With that immobility of lips, learned by all imprisoned in Society,
Lily Malvezin murmured:
"Who's that she's dancing with? Is it the dark horse, Bertie?"
Through lips no less immobile Bertie answered:
"Forty to one, no takers."
But those inquisitive bright eyes still followed Barbara, drifting in
the dance, like a great waterlily caught in the swirl of a mill pool;
and the thought passed through that pretty head:
"She's hooked him. It's naughty of Babs, really!" And then she saw
leaning against a pillar another whose eyes also were following those
two; and she thought: "H'm! Poor Claud--no wonder he's looking like
that. Oh! Babs!"
By one of the statues on the terrace Barbara and her partner stood,
where trees, disfigured by no gaudy lanterns, offered the refreshment
of their darkness and serenity.
Wrapped in her new pale languor, still breathing deeply from the
waltz, she seemed to Courtier too utterly moulded out of loveliness.
To what end should a man frame speeches to a vision! She was but an
incarnation of beauty imprinted on the air, and would fade out at a
touch-like the sudden ghosts of enchantment that came to one under
the blue, and the starlit snow of a mountain night, or in a birch
wood all wistful golden! Speech seemed but desecration! Besides,
what of interest was there for him to say in this world of hers, so
bewildering and of such glib assurance--this world that was like a
building, whose every window was shut and had a blind drawn down. A
building that admitted none who had not sworn, as it were, to believe
it the world, the whole world, and nothing but the world, outside
which were only the nibbled remains of what had built it. This,
world of Society, in which he felt like one travelling through a
desert, longing to meet a fellow-creature.
The voice of Harbinger behind them said:
Long did the punkahs waft their breeze over that brave-hued wheel of
pleasure, and the sound of the violins quaver and wail out into the
morning. Then quickly, as the spangles of dew vanish off grass when
the sun rises, all melted away; and in the great rooms were none but
flunkeys presiding over the polished surfaces like flamingoes by some
lakeside at dawn.
A brick dower-house of the Fitz-Harolds, just outside the little
seaside town of Nettlefold, sheltered the tranquil days of Lord
Dennis. In that south-coast air, sanest and most healing in all
England, he raged very slowly, taking little thought of death, and
much quiet pleasure in his life. Like the tall old house with its
high windows and squat chimneys, he was marvellously self-contained.
His books, for he somewhat passionately examined old civilizations,
and described their habits from time to time with a dry and not too
poignant pen in a certain old-fashioned magazine; his microscope, for
he studied infusoria; and the fishing boat of his friend John Bogle,
who had long perceived that Lord Dennis was the biggest fish he ever
caught; all these, with occasional visitors, and little runs to
London, to Monkland, and other country houses, made up the sum of a
life which, if not desperately beneficial, was uniformly kind and
harmless, and, by its notorious simplicity, had a certain negative
influence not only on his own class but on the relations of that
class with the country at large. It was commonly said in Nettlefold,
that he was a gentleman; if they were all like him there wasn't much
in all this talk against the Lords. The shop people and lodging-
house keepers felt that the interests of the country were safer in
his hands: than in the hands of people who wanted to meddle with
everything for the good of those who were only anxious to be let
alone. A man too who could so completely forget he was the son of a
Duke, that other people never forgot it, was the man for their money.
It was true that he had never had a say in public affairs; but this
was overlooked, because he could have had it if he liked, and the
fact that he did not like, only showed once more that he was a
Just as he was the one personality of the little town against whom
practically nothing was ever, said, so was his house the one house
which defied criticism. Time had made it utterly suitable. The
ivied walls, and purplish roof lichened yellow in places, the quiet
meadows harbouring ponies and kine, reaching from it to the sea--all
was mellow. In truth it made all the other houses of the town seem
shoddy--standing alone beyond them, like its, master, if anything a
little too esthetically remote from common wants.
He had practically no near neighbours of whom he saw anything, except
once in a way young Harbinger three miles distant at Whitewater. But
since he had the faculty of not being bored with his own society,
this did not worry him. Of local charity, especially to the fishers
of the town, whose winter months were nowadays very bare of profit,
he was prodigal to the verge of extravagance, for his income was not
great. But in politics, beyond acting as the figure-head of certain
municipal efforts, he took little or no part. His Toryism indeed was
of the mild order, that had little belief in the regeneration of the
country by any means but those of kindly feeling between the classes.
When asked how that was to be brought about, he would answer with his
dry, slightly malicious, suavity, that if you stirred hornets' nests
with sticks the hornets would come forth. Having no land, he was shy
of expressing himself on that vexed question; but if resolutely
attacked would give utterance to some such sentiment as this: "The
land's best in our hands on the whole, but we want fewer dogs-in-the-
manger among us."
He had, as became one of his race, a feeling for land, tender and
protective, and could not bear to think of its being put out to farm
with that cold Mother, the State. He was ironical over the views of
Radicals or Socialists, but disliked to hear such people personally
abused behind their backs. It must be confessed, however, that if
contradicted he increased considerably the ironical decision of his
sentiments. Withdrawn from all chance in public life of enforcing
his views on others, the natural aristocrat within him was forced to
find some expression.
Each year, towards the end of July, he placed his house at the
service of Lord Valleys, who found it a convenient centre for
It was on the morning after the Duchess of Gloucester's Ball, that he
received this note:
"DEAREST UNCLE DENNIS,
"May I come down to you a little before time and rest? London is so
terribly hot. Mother has three functions still to stay for, and I
shall have to come back again for our last evening, the political
one--so I don't want to go all the way to Monkland; and anywhere
else, except with you, would be rackety. Eustace looks so seedy.
I'll try and bring him, if I may. Granny is terribly well.
"Best love, dear, from your.
The same afternoon she came, but without Miltoun, driving up from the
station in a fly. Lord Dennis met her at the gate; and, having
kissed her, looked at her somewhat anxiously, caressing his white
peaked beard. He had never yet known Babs sick of anything, except
when he took her out in John Bogle's boat. She was certainly looking
pale, and her hair was done differently--a fact disturbing to one who
did not discover it. Slipping his arm through hers he led her out
into a meadow still full of buttercups, where an old white pony, who
had carried her in the Row twelve years ago, came up to them and
rubbed his muzzle against her waist. And suddenly there rose in Lord
Dennis the thoroughly discomforting and strange suspicion that,
though the child was not going to cry, she wanted time to get over
the feeling that she was. Without appearing to separate himself from
her, he walked to the wall at the end of the field, and stood looking
at the sea.
The tide was nearly up; the South wind driving over it brought him
the scent of the sea-flowers, and the crisp rustle of little waves
swimming almost to his feet. Far out, where the sunlight fell, the
smiling waters lay white and mysterious in July haze, giving him a
queer feeling. But Lord Dennis, though he had his moments of poetic
sentiment, was on the whole quite able to keep the sea in its proper
place--for after all it was the English Channel; and like a good
Englishman he recognized that if you once let things get away from
their names, they ceased to be facts, and if they ceased to be facts,
they became--the devil! In truth he was not thinking much of the
sea, but of Barbara. It was plain that she was in trouble of some
kind. And the notion that Babs could find trouble in life was
extraordinarily queer; for he felt, subconsciously, what a great
driving force of disturbance was necessary to penetrate the hundred
folds of the luxurious cloak enwrapping one so young and fortunate.
It was not Death; therefore it must be Love; and he thought at once
of that fellow with the red moustaches. Ideas were all very well--no
one would object to as many as you liked, in their proper place--the
dinner-table, for example. But to fall in love, if indeed it were
so, with a man who not only had ideas, but an inclination to live up
to them, and on them, and on nothing else, seemed to Lord Dennis
She had followed him to the wall, and he looked--at her dubiously.
"To rest in the waters of Lethe, Babs? By the way, seen anything of
our friend Mr. Courtier? Very picturesque--that Quixotic theory of
And in saying that, his voice (like so many refined voices which have
turned their backs on speculation) was triple-toned-mocking at ideas,
mocking at itself for mocking at ideas, yet showing plainly that at
bottom it only mocked at itself for mocking at ideas, because it
would be, as it were, crude not to do so.
But Barbara did not answer his question, and began to speak of other
things. And all that afternoon and evening she talked away so
lightly that Lord Dennis, but for his instinct, would have been
That wonderful smiling mask--the inscrutability of Youth--was laid
aside by her at night. Sitting at her window, under the moon,
'a gold-bright moth slow-spinning up the sky,' she watched the
darkness hungrily, as though it were a great thought into whose heart
she was trying to see. Now and then she stroked herself, getting
strange comfort out of the presence of her body. She had that old
unhappy feeling of having two selves within her. And this soft night
full of the quiet stir of the sea, and of dark immensity, woke in her
a terrible longing to be at one with something, somebody, outside
herself. At the Ball last night the 'flying feeling' had seized on
her again; and was still there--a queer manifestation of her streak
of recklessness. And this result of her contacts with Courtier, this
'cacoethes volandi', and feeling of clipped wings, hurt her--as being
forbidden hurts a child.
She remembered how in the housekeeper's room at Monkland there lived
a magpie who had once sought shelter in an orchid-house from some
pursuer. As soon as they thought him wedded to civilization, they
had let him go, to see whether he would come back. For hours he had
sat up in a high tree, and at last come down again to his cage;
whereupon, fearing lest the rooks should attack him when he next took
this voyage of discovery, they clipped one of his wings. After that
the twilight bird, though he lived happily enough, hopping about his
cage and the terrace which served him for exercise yard, would seem
at times restive and frightened, moving his wings as if flying in
spirit, and sad that he must stay on earth.
So, too, at her window Barbara fluttered her wings; then, getting
into bed, lay sighing and tossing. A clock struck three; and seized
by an intolerable impatience at her own discomfort, she slipped a
motor coat over her night-gown, put on slippers, and stole out into
the passage. The house was very still. She crept downstairs,
smothering her footsteps. Groping her way through the hall,
inhabited by the thin ghosts of would-be light, she slid back the
chain of the door, and fled towards the sea. She made no more noise
running in the dew, than a bird following the paths of air; and the
two ponies, who felt her figure pass in the darkness, snuffled,
sending out soft sighs of alarm amongst the closed buttercups. She
climbed the wall over to the beach. While she was running, she had
fully meant to dash into the sea and cool herself, but it was so
black, with just a thin edging scarf of white, and the sky was black,
bereft of lights, waiting for the day!
She stood, and looked. And all the leapings and pulsings of flesh
and spirit slowly died in that wide dark loneliness, where the only
sound was the wistful breaking of small waves. She was well used to
these dead hours--only last night, at this very time, Harbinger's arm
had been round her in a last waltz! But here the dead hours had such
different faces, wide-eyed, solemn, and there came to Barbara,
staring out at them, a sense that the darkness saw her very soul, so
that it felt little and timid within her. She shivered in her fur-
lined coat, as if almost frightened at finding herself so
marvellously nothing before that black sky and dark sea, which seemed
all one, relentlessly great.... And crouching down, she waited for
the dawn to break.
It came from over the Downs, sweeping a rush of cold air on its
wings, flighting towards the sea. With it the daring soon crept back
into her blood. She stripped, and ran down into the dark water, fast
growing pale. It covered her jealously, and she set to work to swim.
The water was warmer than the air. She lay on her back and splashed,
watching the sky flush. To bathe like this in the half-dark, with
her hair floating out, and no wet clothes clinging to her limbs, gave
her the joy of a child doing a naughty thing. She swam out of her
depth, then scared at her own adventure, swam in again as the sun
She dashed into her two garments, climbed the wall, and scurried back
to the house. All her dejection, and feverish uncertainty were gone;
she felt keen, fresh, terribly hungry, and stealing into the dark
dining-room, began rummaging for food. She found biscuits, and was
still munching, when in the open doorway she saw Lord Dennis, a
pistol in one hand and a lighted candle in the other. With his
carved features and white beard above an old blue dressing-gown, he
looked impressive, having at the moment a distinct resemblance to
Lady Casterley, as though danger had armoured him in steel.
"You call this resting!" he said, dryly; then, looking at her drowned
hair, added: "I see you have already entrusted your trouble to the
waters of Lethe."
But without answer Barbara vanished into the dim hall and up the
While Barbara was swimming to meet the dawn, Miltoun was bathing in
those waters of mansuetude and truth which roll from wall to wall in
the British House of Commons.
In that long debate on the Land question, for which he had waited to
make his first speech, he had already risen nine times without
catching the Speaker's eye, and slowly a sense of unreality was
creeping over him. Surely this great Chamber, where without end rose
the small sound of a single human voice, and queer mechanical bursts
of approbation and resentment, did not exist at all but as a gigantic
fancy of his own! And all these figures were figments of his brain!
And when he at last spoke, it would be himself alone that he
addressed! The torpid air tainted with human breath, the unwinking
stare of the countless lights, the long rows of seats, the queer
distant rounds of pale listening flesh perched up so high, they were
all emanations of himself! Even the coming and going in the gangway
was but the coming and going of little wilful parts of him! And
rustling deep down in this Titanic creature of his fancy was 'the
murmuration' of his own unspoken speech, sweeping away the puff balls
of words flung up by that far-away, small, varying voice.
Then, suddenly all that dream creature had vanished; he was on his
feet, with a thumping heart, speaking.
Soon he had no tremors, only a dim consciousness that his words
sounded strange, and a queer icy pleasure in flinging them out into
the silence. Round him there seemed no longer men, only mouths and
eyes. And he had enjoyment in the feeling that with these words of
his he was holding those hungry mouths and eyes dumb and unmoving.
Then he knew that he had reached the end of what he had to say, and
sat down, remaining motionless in the centre of a various sound;
staring at the back of the head in front of him, with his hands
clasped round his knee. And soon, when that little faraway voice was
once more speaking, he took his hat, and glancing neither to right
nor left, went out.
Instead of the sensation of relief and wild elation which fills the
heart of those who have taken the first plunge, Miltoun had nothing
in his deep dark well but the waters of bitterness. In truth, with
the delivery of that speech he had but parted with what had been a
sort of anodyne to suffering. He had only put the fine point on his
conviction, of how vain was his career now that he could not share it
with Audrey Noel. He walked slowly towards the Temple, along the
riverside, where the lamps were paling into nothingness before that
daily celebration of Divinity, the meeting of dark and light.
For Miltoun was not one of those who take things lying down; he took
things desperately, deeply, and with revolt. He took them like a
rider riding himself, plunging at the dig of his own spurs, chafing
and wincing at the cruel tugs of his own bitt; bearing in his
friendless, proud heart all the burden of struggles which shallower
or more genial natures shared with others.
He looked hardly less haggard, walking home, than some of those
homeless ones who slept nightly by the river, as though they knew
that to lie near one who could so readily grant oblivion, alone could
save them from seeking that consolation. He was perhaps unhappier
than they, whose spirits, at all events, had long ceased to worry
them, having oozed out from their bodies under the foot of Life:
Now that Audrey Noel was lost to him, her loveliness and that
indescribable quality which made her lovable, floated before him, the
very torture-flowers of a beauty never to be grasped--yet, that he
could grasp, 'if he only would! That was the heart and fervour of
his suffering. To be grasped if he only would! He was suffering,
too, physically from a kind of slow fever, the result of his wetting
on the day when he last saw her. And through that latent fever,
things and feelings, like his sensations in the House before his
speech, were all as it were muffled in a horrible way, as if they all
came to him wrapped in a sort of flannel coating, through which he
could not cut. And all the time there seemed to be within him two
men at mortal grips with one another; the man of faith in divine
sanction and authority, on which all his beliefs had hitherto hinged,
and a desperate warm-blooded hungry creature. He was very miserable,
craving strangely for the society of someone who could understand
what he was feeling, .and, from long habit of making no confidants,
not knowing how to satisfy that craving.
It was dawn when he reached his rooms; and, sure that he would not
sleep, he did not even go to bed, but changed his clothes, made
himself some coffee, and sat down at the window which overlooked the
In Middle Temple Hall a Ball was still in progress, though the
glamour from its Chinese lanterns was already darkened and gone.
Miltoun saw a man and a girl, sheltered by an old fountain, sitting
out their last dance. Her head had sunk on her partner's shoulder;
their lips were joined. And there floated up to the window the scent
of heliotrope, with the tune of the waltz that those two should have
been dancing. This couple so stealthily enlaced, the gleam of their
furtively turned eyes, the whispering of their lips, that stony niche
below the twittering sparrows, so cunningly sought out--it was the
world he had abjured! When he looked again, they--like a vision
seen--had stolen away and gone; the music too had ceased, there was
no scent of heliotrope. In the stony niche crouched a stray cat
watching the twittering sparrows.
Miltoun went out, and, turning into the empty Strand, walked on--
without heeding where, till towards five o'clock he found himself on
He rested there, leaning over the parapet, looking down at the grey
water. The sun was just breaking through the heat haze; early
waggons were passing, and already men were coming in to work. To
what end did the river wander up and down; and a human river flow
across it twice every day? To what end were men and women suffering?
Of the full current of this life Miltoun could no more see the aim,
than that of the wheeling gulls in the early sunlight.
Leaving the bridge he made towards Barnes Common. The night was
still ensnared there on the gorse bushes grey with cobwebs and starry
dewdrops. He passed a tramp family still sleeping, huddled all
together. Even the homeless lay in each other's arms!
>From the Common he emerged on the road near the gates of Ravensham;
turning in there, he found his way to the kitchen garden, and sat
down on a bench close to the raspberry bushes. They were protected
from thieves, but at Miltoun's approach two blackbirds flustered out
through the netting and flew away.
His long figure resting so motionless impressed itself on the eyes of
a gardener, who caused a report to be circulated that his young
lordship was in the fruit garden. It reached the ears of Clifton,
who himself came out to see what this might mean. The old man took
his stand in front of Miltoun very quietly.
"You have come to breakfast, my lord?"
"If my grandmother will have me, Clifton."
"I understood your lordship was speaking last night."
"You find the House of Commons satisfactory, I hope."
"Fairly, thank you, Clifton."
"They are not what they were in the great days of your grandfather, I
believe. He had a very good opinion of them. They vary, no doubt."
"That is so. I find quite anew spirit towards public affairs. The
ha'penny Press; one takes it in, but one hardly approves. I shall be
anxious to read your speech. They say a first speech is a great
"It is rather."
"But you had no reason to be anxious. I'm sure it was beautiful."
Miltoun saw that the old man's thin sallow cheeks had flushed to a
deep orange between his snow-white whiskers.
"I have looked forward to this day," he stammered, "ever since I knew
your lordship--twenty-eight years. It is the beginning."
"Or the end, Clifton."
The old man's face fell in a look of deep and concerned astonishment.
"No, no," he said; "with your antecedents, never."
Miltoun took his hand.
"Sorry, Clifton--didn't mean to shock you."
And for a minute neither spoke, looking at their clasped hands as if
"Would your lordship like a bath--breakfast is still at eight. I can
procure you a razor."
When Miltoun entered the breakfast room, his grandmother, with a copy
of the Times in her hands, was seated before a grape fruit, which,
with a shredded wheat biscuit, constituted her first meal. Her
appearance hardly warranted Barbara's description of 'terribly well';
in truth she looked a little white, as if she had been feeling the
heat. But there was no lack of animation in her little steel-grey
eyes, nor of decision in her manner.
"I see," she said, "that you've taken a line of your own, Eustace.
I've nothing to say against that; in fact, quite the contrary. But
remember this, my dear, however you may change you mustn't wobble.
Only one thing counts in that place, hitting the same nail on the
head with the same hammer all the time. You aren't looking at all
Miltoun, bending to kiss her, murmured:
"Thanks, I'm all right."
"Nonsense," replied Lady Casterley. "They don't look after you. Was
your mother in the House?"
"I don't think so."
"Exactly. And what is Barbara about? She ought to be seeing to
"Barbara is down with Uncle Dennis."
Lady Casterley set her jaw; then looking her grandson through and
"I shall take you down there this very day. I shall have the sea to
you. What do you say, Clifton?"
"His lordship does look pale."
"Have the carriage, and we'll go from Clapham Junction. Thomas can
go in and fetch you some clothes. Or, better, though I dislike them,
we can telephone to your mother for a car. It's very hot for trains.
Arrange that, please, Clifton!"
To this project Miltoun raised no objection. And all through the
drive he remained sunk in an indifference and lassitude which to Lady
Casterley seemed in the highest degree ominous. For lassitude, to
her, was the strange, the unpardonable, state. The little great
lady--casket of the aristocratic principle--was permeated to the very
backbone with the instinct of artificial energy, of that alert vigour
which those who have nothing socially to hope for are forced to
develop, lest they should decay and be again obliged to hope. To
speak honest truth, she could not forbear an itch to run some sharp
and foreign substance into her grandson, to rouse him somehow, for
she knew the reason of his state, and was temperamentally out of
patience with such a cause for backsliding. Had it been any other of
her grandchildren she would not have hesitated, but there was that in
Miltoun which held even Lady Casterley in check, and only once during
the four hours of travel did she attempt to break down his reserve.
She did it in a manner very soft for her--was he not of all living
things the hope and pride of her heart? Tucking her little thin
sharp hand under his arm, she said quietly:
"My dear, don't brood over it. That will never do."
But Miltoun removed her hand gently, and laid it back on the dust
rug, nor did he answer, or show other sign of having heard.
And Lady Casterley, deeply wounded, pressed her faded lips together,
and said sharply:
"Slower, please, Frith!"
It was to Barbara that Miltoun unfolded, if but little, the trouble
of his spirit, lying that same afternoon under a ragged tamarisk
hedge with the tide far out. He could never have done this if there
had not been between them the accidental revelation of that night at
Monkland; nor even then perhaps had he not felt in this young sister
of his the warmth of life for which he was yearning. In such a
matter as love Barbara was the elder of these two. For, besides the
motherly knowledge of the heart peculiar to most women, she had the
inherent woman-of-the-worldliness to be expected of a daughter of
Lord and Lady Valleys. If she herself were in doubt as to the state
of her affections, it was not as with Miltoun, on the score of the
senses and the heart, but on the score of her spirit and curiosity,
which Courtier had awakened and caused to flap their wings a little.
She worried over Miltoun's forlorn case; it hurt her too to think of
Mrs. Noel eating her heart out in that lonely cottage. A sister so--
good and earnest as Agatha had ever inclined Barbara to a rebellious
view of morals, and disinclined her altogether to religion. And so,
she felt that if those two could not be happy apart, they should be
happy together, in the name of all the joy there was in life!
And while her brother lay face to the sky under the tamarisks, she
kept trying to think of how to console him, conscious that she did
not in the least understand the way he thought about things. Over
the fields behind, the larks were hymning the promise of the unripe
corn; the foreshore was painted all colours, from vivid green to
mushroom pink; by the edge of the blue sea little black figures
stooped, gathering sapphire. The air smelled sweet in the shade of
the tamarisk; there was ineffable peace. And Barbara, covered by the
network of sunlight, could not help impatience with a suffering which
seemed to her so corrigible by action. At last she ventured:
"Life is short, Eusty!"
Miltoun's answer, given without movement, startled her:
"Persuade me that it is, Babs, and I'll bless you. If the singing of
these larks means nothing, if that blue up there is a morass of our
invention, if we are pettily, creeping on furthering nothing, if
there's no purpose in our lives, persuade me of it, for God's sake!"
Carried suddenly beyond her depth, Barbara could only put out her
hand, and say: "Oh! don't take things so hard!"
"Since you say that life is short," Miltoun muttered, with his smile,
"you shouldn't spoil it by feeling pity! In old days we went to the
Tower for our convictions. We can stand a little private roasting, I
hope; or has the sand run out of us altogether?"
Stung by his tone, Barbara answered in rather a hard voice:
"What we must bear, we must, I suppose. But why should we make
trouble? That's what I can't stand!"
"O profound wisdom!"
"I love Life!" she said.
The galleons of the westering sun were already sailing in a broad
gold fleet straight for that foreshore where the little black
stooping figures had not yet finished their toil, the larks still
sang over the unripe corn--when Harbinger, galloping along the sands
from Whitewater to Sea House, came on that silent couple walking home
It would not be safe to say of this young man that he readily
diagnosed a spiritual atmosphere, but this was the less his demerit,
since everything from his cradle up had conspired to keep the
spiritual thermometer of his surroundings at 60 in the shade. And
the fact that his own spiritual thermometer had now run up so that it
threatened to burst the bulb, rendered him less likely than ever to
see what was happening with other people's. Yet, he did notice that
Barbara was looking pale, and--it seemed--sweeter than ever.... With
her eldest brother he always somehow felt ill at ease. He could not
exactly afford to despise an uncompromising spirit in one of his own
order, but he was no more impervious than others to Miltoun's
caustic, thinly-veiled contempt for the commonplace; and having a
full-blooded belief in himself---usual with men of fine physique,
whose lots are so cast that this belief can never or almost never be
really shaken--he greatly disliked the feeling of being a little
looked down on. It was an intense relief, when, saying that he
wanted a certain magazine, Miltoun strode off into the town.
To Harbinger, no less than to Miltoun and Barbara, last night had
been bitter and restless. The sight of that pale swaying figure,
with the parted lips, whirling round in Courtier's arms, had clung to
his vision ever since, the Ball. During his own last dance with her
he had been almost savagely silent; only by a great effort
restraining his tongue from mordant allusions to that 'prancing, red-
haired fellow,' as he secretly called the champion of lost causes.
In fact, his sensations there and since had been a revelation, or
would have teen if he could have stood apart to see them. True, he
had gone about next day with his usual cool, off-hand manner, because
one naturally did not let people see, but it was with such an inner
aching and rage of want and jealousy as to really merit pity. Men of
his physically big, rather rushing, type, are the last to possess
their souls in patience. Walking home after the Ball he had
determined to follow her down to the sea, where she had said, so
maliciously; that she was going. After a second almost sleepless
night he had no longer any hesitation. He must see her! After all,
a man might go to his own 'place' with impunity; he did not care if
it were a pointed thing to do.... Pointed! The more pointed the
better! There was beginning to be roused in him an ugly stubbornness
of male determination. She should not escape him!
But now that he was walking at her side, all that determination and
assurance melted to perplexed humility. He marched along by his
horse with his head down, just feeling the ache of being so close to
her and yet so far; angry with his own silence and awkwardness,
almost angry with her for her loveliness, and the pain it made him
suffer. When they reached the house, and she left him at the stable-
yard, saying she was going to get some flowers, he jerked the beast's
bridle and swore at it for its slowness in entering the stable. He,
was terrified that she would be gone before he could get into the
garden; yet half afraid of finding her there. But she was still
plucking carnations by the box hedge which led to the conservatories.
And as she rose from gathering those blossoms, before he knew what he
was doing, Harbinger had thrown his arm around her, held her as in a
vice, kissed her unmercifully.
She seemed to offer no resistance, her smooth cheeks growing warmer
and warmer, even her lips passive; but suddenly he recoiled, and his
heart stood still at his own outrageous daring. What had he done?
He saw her leaning back almost buried in the clipped box hedge, and
heard her say with a sort of faint mockery: "Well!"
He would have flung himself down on his knees to ask for pardon but
for the thought that someone might come. He muttered hoarsely: "By
God, I was mad!" and stood glowering in sullen suspense between
hardihood and fear. He heard her say, quietly:
"Yes, you were-rather."
Then seeing her put her hand up to her lips as if he had hurt them,
he muttered brokenly:
"Forgive me, Babs!"
There was a full minute's silence while he stood there, no longer
daring to look at her, beaten all over by his emotions. Then, with
bewilderment, he heard her say:
"I didn't mind it--for once!"
He looked up at that. How could she love him, and speak so coolly!
How could she not mind, if she did not love him! She was passing her
hands over her face and neck and hair, repairing the damage of his
"Now shall we go in?" she said.
Harbinger took a step forward.
"I love you so," he said; "I will put my life in your hands, and you
shall throw it away."
At those words, of whose exact nature he had very little knowledge,
he saw her smile.
"If I let you come within three yards, will you be good?"
He bowed; and, in silence, they walked towards the house.
Dinner that evening was a strange, uncomfortable meal. But its
comedy, too subtly played for Miltoun and Lord Dennis, seemed
transparent to the eyes of Lady Casterley; for, when Harbinger had
sallied forth to ride back along the sands, she took her candle and
invited Barbara to retire. Then, having admitted her granddaughter
to the apartment always reserved for herself, and specially furnished
with practically nothing, she sat down opposite that tall, young,
solid figure, as it were taking stock of it, and said:
"So you are coming to your senses, at all events. Kiss me!"
Barbara, stooping to perform this rite, saw a tear stealing down the
carved fine nose. Knowing that to notice it would be too dreadful,
she raised herself, and went to the window. There, staring out over
the dark fields and dark sea, by the side of which Harbinger was
riding home, she put her hand up to her, lips, and thought for the
"So that's what it's like!"
Three days after his first, and as he promised himself, his last
Society Ball, Courtier received a note from Audrey Noel, saying that
she had left Monkland for the present, and come up to a little flat--
on the riverside not far from Westminster.
When he made his way there that same July day, the Houses of
Parliament were bright under a sun which warmed all the grave air
emanating from their counsels of perfection: Courtier passed by
dubiously. His feelings in the presence of those towers were always
a little mixed. There was not so much of the poet in him as to cause
him to see nothing there at all save only same lines against the sky,
but there was enough of the poet to make him long to kick something;
and in this mood he wended his way to the riverside.
Mrs. Noel was not at home, but since the maid informed him that she
would be in directly, he sat down to wait. Her flat, which was on-
the first floor, overlooked the river and had evidently been taken
furnished, for there were visible marks of a recent struggle with an
Edwardian taste which, flushed from triumph over Victorianism, had
filled the rooms with early Georgian remains. On the only definite
victory, a rose-coloured window seat of great comfort and little age,
Courtier sat down, and resigned himself to doing nothing with the
ease of an old soldier.
To the protective feeling he had once had for a very graceful, dark-
haired child, he joined not only the championing pity of a man of
warm heart watching a woman in distress, but the impatience of one,
who, though temperamentally incapable of feeling oppressed himself,
rebelled at sight of all forms of tyranny affecting others.
The sight of the grey towers, still just visible, under which Miltoun
and his father sat, annoyed him deeply; symbolizing to him,
Authority--foe to his deathless mistress, the sweet, invincible lost
cause of Liberty. But presently the river; bringing up in flood the
unbound water that had bathed every shore, touched all sands, and
seen the rising and falling of each mortal star, so soothed him with
its soundless hymn to Freedom, that Audrey Noel coming in with her
hands full of flowers, found him sleeping firmly, with his mouth
Noiselessly putting down the flowers, she waited for his awakening.
That sanguine visage, with its prominent chin, flaring moustaches,
and eyebrows raised rather V-shaped above his closed eyes, wore an
expression of cheery defiance even in sleep; and perhaps no face in
all London was so utterly its obverse, as that of this dark, soft-
haired woman, delicate, passive, and tremulous with pleasure at sight
of the only person in the world from whom she felt she might learn of
Miltoun, without losing her self-respect.
He woke at last, and manifesting no discomfiture, said:
"It was like you not to wake me."
They sat for a long while talking, the riverside traffic drowsily
accompanying their voices, the flowers drowsily filling the room with
scent; and when Courtier left, his heart was sore. She had not
spoken of herself at all, but had talked nearly all the time of
Barbara, praising her beauty and high spirit; growing pale once or
twice, and evidently drinking in with secret avidity every allusion
to Miltoun. Clearly, her feelings had not changed, though she would
not show them! Courtier's pity for her became well-nigh violent.
It was in such a mood, mingled with very different feelings, that he
donned evening clothes and set out to attend the last gathering of
the season at Valleys House, a function which, held so late in July,
was perforce almost perfectly political.
Mounting the wide and shining staircase, that had so often baffled
the arithmetic of little Ann, he was reminded of a picture entitled
'The Steps to Heaven' in his nursery four-and-thirty years before.
At the top of this staircase, and surrounded by acquaintances, he
came on Harbinger, who nodded curtly. The young man's handsome face
and figure appeared to Courtier's jaundiced eye more obviously
successful and complacent than ever; so that he passed him by
sardonically, and manoeuvred his way towards Lady Valleys, whom he
could perceive stationed, like a general, in a little cleared space,
where to and fro flowed constant streams of people, like the rays of
a star. She was looking her very best, going well with great and
highly-polished spaces; and she greeted Courtier with a special
cordiality of tone, which had in it, besides kindness towards one who
must be feeling a strange bird, a certain diplomatic quality,
compounded of desire, as it were, to 'warn him off,' and fear of
saying something that might irritate and make him more dangerous.
She had heard, she said, that he was bound for Persia; she hoped he
was not going to try and make things more difficult there; then with
the words: "So good of you to have come!" she became once more the
centre of her battlefield.
Perceiving that he was finished with, Courtier stood back against a
wall and watched. Thus isolated, he was like a solitary cuckoo
contemplating the gyrations of a flock of rooks. Their motions
seemed a little meaningless to one so far removed from all the
fetishes and shibboleths of Westminster. He heard them discussing
Miltoun's speech, the real significance of which apparently had only
just been grasped. The words 'doctrinaire,' 'extremist,' came to his
ears, together with the saying 'a new force.' People were evidently
puzzled, disturbed, not pleased--as if some star not hitherto
accounted for had suddenly appeared amongst the proper
Searching this crowd for Barbara, Courtier had all the time an uneasy
sense of shame. What business had he to come amongst these people so
strange to him, just for the sake of seeing her! What business had
he to be hankering after this girl at all, knowing in his heart that
he could not stand the atmosphere she lived in for a week, and that
she was utterly unsuited for any atmosphere that he could give her;
to say nothing of the unlikelihood that he could flutter the pulses
of one half his age!
A voice, behind him said: "Mr. Courtier!"
He turned, and there was Barbara.
"I want to talk to you about something serious: Will you come into
the picture gallery?"
When at last they were close to a family group of Georgian Caradocs,
and could as it were shut out the throng sufficiently for private
speech, she began:
"Miltoun's so horribly unhappy; I don't know what to do for him: He's
making himself ill!"
And she suddenly looked up, in Courtier's face. She seemed to him
very young, and touching, at that moment. Her eyes had a gleam of
faith in them, like a child's eyes; as if she relied on him to
straighten out this tangle, to tell her not only about Miltoun's
trouble, but about all life, its meaning, and the secret of its
happiness: And he said gently:
"What can I do? Mrs. Noel is in Town. But that's no good, unless--"
Not knowing how to finish this sentence; he was silent.
"I wish I were Miltoun," she muttered.
At that quaint saying, Courtier was hard put to it not to take hold
of the hands so close to him. This flash of rebellion in her had
quickened all his blood. But she seemed to have seen what had passed
in him, for her next speech was chilly.
"It's no good; stupid of me to be worrying you."
"It is quite impossible for you to worry me."
Her eyes lifted suddenly from her glove, and looked straight into
"Are you really going to Persia?"
"But I don't want you to, not yet!" and turning suddenly, she left
Strangely disturbed, Courtier remained motionless, consulting the
grave stare of the group of Georgian Caradocs.
A voice said:
"Good painting, isn't it?"
Behind him was Lord Harbinger. And once more the memory of Lady
Casterley's words; the memory of the two figures with joined hands on
the balcony above the election crowd; all his latent jealousy of this
handsome young Colossus, his animus against one whom he could, as it
were, smell out to be always fighting on the winning side; all his
consciousness too of what a lost cause his own was, his doubt whether
he were honourable to look on it as a cause at all, flared up in
Courtier, so that his answer was a stare. On Harbinger's face, too,
there had come a look of stubborn violence slowly working up towards
"I said: 'Good, isn't it?' Mr. Courtier."
"I heard you."
"And you were pleased to answer?"
"With the civility which might be expected of your habits."
Coldly disdainful, Courtier answered:
"If you want to say that sort of thing, please choose a place where I
can reply to you," and turned abruptly on his heel.
But he ground his teeth as he made his way out into the street.
In Hyde Park the grass was parched and dewless under a sky whose
stars were veiled by the heat and dust haze. Never had Courtier so
bitterly wanted the sky's consolation--the blessed sense of
insignificance in the face of the night's dark beauty, which,
dwarfing all petty rage and hunger, made men part of its majesty,
exalted them to a sense of greatness.
It was past four o'clock the following day when Barbara issued from
Valleys House on foot; clad in a pale buff frock, chosen for
quietness, she attracted every eye. Very soon entering a taxi-cab,
she drove to the Temple, stopped at the Strand entrance, and walked
down the little narrow lane into the heart of the Law. Its votaries
were hurrying back from the Courts, streaming up from their Chambers
for tea, or escaping desperately to Lord's or the Park--young
votaries, unbound as yet by the fascination of fame or fees. And
each, as he passed, looked at Barbara, with his fingers itching to
remove his hat, and a feeling that this was She. After a day spent
amongst precedents and practice, after six hours at least of trying
to discover what chance A had of standing on his rights, or B had of
preventing him, it was difficult to feel otherwise about that calm
apparition--like a golden slim tree walking. One of them, asked by
her the way to Miltoun's staircase, preceded her with shy ceremony,
and when she had vanished up those dusty stairs, lingered on, hoping
that she might find her visitee out, and be obliged to return and ask
him the way back. But she did not come, and he went sadly away,
disturbed to the very bottom of all that he owned in fee simple.
In fact, no one answered Barbara's knock, and discovering that the
door yielded, she walked through the lobby past the clerk's den,
converted to a kitchen, into the sitting-room. It was empty. She
had never been to Miltoun's rooms before, and she stared about her
curiously. Since he did not practise, much of the proper gear was
absent. The room indeed had a worn carpet, a few old chairs, and was
lined from floor to ceiling with books. But the wall space between
the windows was occupied by an enormous map of England, scored all
over with figures and crosses; and before this map stood an immense
desk, on which were piles of double foolscap covered with Miltoun's
neat and rather pointed writing. Barbara examined them, puckering up
her forehead; she knew that he was working at a book on the land
question; but she had never realized that the making of a book
requited so much writing. Papers, too, and Blue Books littered a
large bureau on which stood bronze busts of AEschylus and Dante.
"What an uncomfortable place!" she thought. The room, indeed, had an
atmosphere, a spirit, which depressed her horribly. Seeing a few
flowers down in the court below, she had a longing to get out to
them. Then behind her she heard the sound of someone talking. But
there was no one in the room; and the effect of this disrupted
soliloquy, which came from nowhere, was so uncanny, that she
retreated to the door. The sound, as of two spirits speaking in one
voice, grew louder, and involuntarily she glanced at the busts. They
seemed quite blameless. Though the sound had been behind her when
she was at the window, it was again behind her now that she was at
the door; and she suddenly realized that it was issuing from a
bookcase in the centre of the wall. Barbara had her father's nerve,
and walking up to the bookcase she perceived that it had been affixed
to, and covered, a door that was not quite closed. She pulled it
towards her, and passed through. Across the centre of an unkempt
bedroom Miltoun was striding, dressed only in his shirt and trousers.
His feet were bare, and his head and hair dripping wet; the look on
his thin dark face went to Barbara's heart. She ran forward, and
took his hand. This was burning hot, but the sight of her seemed to
have frozen his tongue and eyes. And the contrast of his burning
hand with this frozen silence, frightened Barbara horribly. She
could think of nothing but to put her other hand to his forehead.
That too was burning hot!
"What brought you here?" he said.
She could only murmur:
"Oh! Eusty! Are you ill?"
Miltoun took hold of her wrists.
"It's all right, I've been working too hard; got a touch of fever."
"So I can feel," murmured Barbara. "You ought to be in bed. Come
home with me."
Miltoun smiled. "It's not a case for leeches."
The look of his smile, the sound of his voice, sent a shudder through
"I'm not going to leave you here alone."
But Miltoun's grasp tightened on her wrists.
"My dear Babs, you will do what I tell you. Go home, hold your
tongue, and leave me to burn out in peace."
Barbara sustained that painful grip without wincing; she had regained
"You must come! You haven't anything here, not even a cool drink."
"My God! Barley water!"
The scorn he put into those two words was more withering than a whole
philippic against redemption by creature comforts. And feeling it
dart into her, Barbara closed her lips tight. He had dropped her
wrists, and again, begun pacing up and down; suddenly he stopped:
"'The stars, sun, moon all shrink away,
A desert vast, without a bound,
And nothing left to eat or drink,
"And a dark desert all around.'
"You should read your Blake, Audrey."
Barbara turned quickly, and went out frightened. She passed through
the sitting-room and corridor on to the staircase. He was ill-
raving! The fever in Miltoun's veins seemed to have stolen through
the clutch of his hands into her own veins. Her face was burning,
she thought confusedly, breathed unevenly. She felt sore, and at the
same time terribly sorry; and withal there kept rising in her the
gusty memory of Harbingers kiss.
She hurried down the stairs, turned by instinct down-hill and found
herself on the Embankment. And suddenly, with her inherent power of
swift decision, she hailed a cab, and drove to the nearest telephone
To a woman like Audrey Noel, born to be the counterpart and
complement of another,--whose occupations and effort were inherently
divorced from the continuity of any stiff and strenuous purpose of
her own, the uprooting she had voluntarily undergone was a serious
Bereaved of the faces of her flowers, the friendly sighing of her
lime-tree, the wants of her cottagers; bereaved of that busy monotony
of little home things which is the stay and solace of lonely women,
she was extraordinarily lost. Even music for review seemed to have
failed her. She had never lived in London, so that she had not the
refuge of old haunts and habits, but had to make her own--and to make
habits and haunts required a heart that could at least stretch out
feelers and lay hold of things, and her heart was not now able. When
she had struggled with her Edwardian flat, and laid down her simple
routine of meals, she was as stranded as ever was, convict let out of
prison. She had not even that great support, the necessity of hiding
her feelings for fear of disturbing others. She was planted there,
with her longing and grief, and nothing, nobody, to take her out of
herself. Having wilfully embraced this position, she tried to make
the best of it, feeling it less intolerable, at all events, than
staying on at Monkland, where she had made that grievous, and
unpardonable error--falling in love.
This offence, on the part of one who felt within herself a great
capacity to enjoy and to confer happiness, had arisen--like the other
grievous and unpardonable offence, her marriage--from too much
disposition to yield herself to the personality of another. But it
was cold comfort to know that the desire to give and to receive love
had twice over left her--a dead woman. Whatever the nature of those
immature sensations with which, as a girl of twenty, she had accepted
her husband, in her feeling towards Miltoun there was not only
abandonment, but the higher flame of self-renunciation. She wanted
to do the best for him, and had not even the consolation of the
knowledge that she had sacrificed herself for his advantage. All had
been taken out of her hands! Yet with characteristic fatalism she
did not feel rebellious. If it were ordained that she should, for
fifty, perhaps sixty years, repent in sterility and ashes that first
error of her girlhood, rebellion was, none the less, too far-fetched.
If she rebelled, it would not be in spirit, but in action. General
principles were nothing to her; she lost no force brooding over the
justice or injustice of her situation, but merely tried to digest its
The whole day, succeeding Courtier's visit, was spent by her in the
National Gallery, whose roof, alone of all in London, seemed to offer
her protection. She had found one painting, by an Italian master,
the subject of which reminded her of Miltoun; and before this she sat
for a very long time, attracting at last the gouty stare of an
official. The still figure of this lady, with the oval face and
grave beauty, both piqued his curiosity, and stimulated certain moral
qualms. She, was undoubtedly waiting for her lover. No woman, in
his experience, had ever sat so long before a picture without
ulterior motive; and he kept his eyes well opened to see what this
motive would be like. It gave him, therefore, a sensation almost
amounting to chagrin when coming round once more, he found they had
eluded him and gone off together without coming under his inspection.
Feeling his feet a good deal, for he had been on them all day, he sat
down in the hollow which she had left behind her; and against his
will found himself also looking at the picture. It was painted in a
style he did not care for; the face of the subject, too, gave him the
queer feeling that the gentleman was being roasted inside. He had
not been sitting there long, however, before he perceived the lady
standing by the picture, and the lips of the gentleman in the picture
moving. It seemed to him against the rules, and he got up at once,
and went towards it; but as he did so, he found that his eyes were
shut, and opened them hastily. There was no one there.
>From the National Gallery, Audrey had gone into an A.B.C. for tea,
and then home. Before the Mansions was a taxi-cab, and the maid met
her with the news that 'Lady Caradoc' was in the sitting-room.
Barbara was indeed standing in the middle of the room with a look on
her face such as her father wore sometimes on the racecourse, in the
hunting field, or at stormy Cabinet Meetings, a look both resolute
and sharp. She spoke at once:
"I got your address from Mr. Courtier. My brother is ill. I'm
afraid it'll be brain fever, I think you had better go and see him at
his rooms in the Temple; there's no time to be lost."
To Audrey everything in the room seemed to go round; yet all her
senses were preternaturally acute, so that she could distinctly smell
the mud of the river at low tide. She said, with a shudder:
"Oh! I will go; yes, I will go at once."
"He's quite alone. He hasn't asked for you; but I think your going
is the only chance. He took me for you. You told me once you were a
The room was steady enough now, but she had lost the preternatural
acuteness of her senses, and felt confused. She heard Barbara say:
"I can take you to the door in my cab," and murmuring: "I will get
ready," went into her bedroom. For a moment she was so utterly
bewildered that she did nothing. Then every other thought was lost
in a strange, soft, almost painful delight, as if some new instinct
were being born in her; and quickly, but without confusion or hurry,
she began packing. She put into a valise her own toilet things; then
flannel, cotton-wool, eau de Cologne, hot-water bottle, Etna, shawls,
thermometer, everything she had which could serve in illness.
Changing to a plain dress, she took up the valise and returned to
Barbara. They went out together to the cab. The moment it began to
bear her to this ordeal at once so longed-for and so terrible, fear
came over her again, so that she screwed herself into the corner,
very white and still. She was aware of Barbara calling to the
driver: "Go by the Strand, and stop at a poulterer's for ice!" And,
when the bag of ice had been handed in, heard her saying: "I will
bring you all you want--if he is really going to be ill."
Then, as the cab stopped, and the open doorway of the staircase was
before her, all her courage came back.
She felt the girl's warm hand against her own, and grasping her
valise and the bag of ice, got out, and hurried up the steps.
On leaving Nettlefold, Miltoun had gone straight back to his rooms,
and begun at once to work at his book on the land question. He
worked all through that night--his third night without sleep, and all
the following day. In the evening, feeling queer in the head, he
went out and walked up and down the Embankment. Then, fearing to go
to bed and lie sleepless, he sat down in his arm-chair. Falling
asleep there, he had fearful dreams, and awoke unrefreshed. After
his bath, he drank coffee, and again forced himself to work. By the
middle of the day he felt dizzy and exhausted, but utterly
disinclined to eat. He went out into the hot Strand, bought himself
a necessary book, and after drinking more coffee, came back and again
began to work. At four o'clock he found that he was not taking in
the words. His head was burning hot, and he went into his bedroom to
bathe it. Then somehow he began walking up and down, talking to
himself, as Barbara had found him.
She had no sooner gone, than he felt utterly exhausted. A small
crucifix hung over his bed, and throwing himself down before it, he
remained motionless with his face buried in the coverlet, and his
arms stretched out towards the wall. He did not pray, but merely
sought rest from sensation. Across his half-hypnotized consciousness
little threads of burning fancy kept shooting. Then he could feel
nothing but utter physical sickness, and against this his will
revolted. He resolved that he would not be ill, a ridiculous log for
women to hang over. But the moments of sickness grew longer and more
frequent; and to drive them away he rose from his knees, and for some
time again walked up and down; then, seized with vertigo, he was
obliged to sit on the bed to save himself from falling. From being
burning hot he had become deadly cold, glad to cover himself with the
bedclothes. The heat soon flamed up in him again; but with a sick
man's instinct he did not throw off the clothes, and stayed quite
still. The room seemed to have turned to a thick white substance
like a cloud, in which he lay enwrapped, unable to move hand or foot.
His sense of smell and hearing had become unnaturally acute; he
smelled the distant streets, flowers, dust, and the leather of his
books, even the scent left by Barbara's clothes, and a curious.
odour of river mud. A clock struck six, he counted each stroke; and
instantly the whole world seemed full of striking clocks, the sound
of horses' hoofs, bicycle bells, people's footfalls. His sense of
vision, on the contrary, was absorbed in consciousness of this white
blanket of cloud wherein he was lifted above the earth, in the midst
of a dull incessant hammering. On the surface of the cloud there
seemed to be forming a number of little golden spots; these spots
were moving, and he saw that they were toads. Then, beyond them, a
huge face shaped itself, very dark, as if of bronze, with eyes
burning into his brain. The more he struggled to get away from these
eyes, the more they bored and burned into him. His voice was gone,
so that he was unable to cry out, and suddenly the face marched over
When he recovered consciousness his head was damp with moisture
trickling from something held to his forehead by a figure leaning
above him. Lifting his hand he touched a cheek; and hearing a sob
instantly suppressed, he sighed. His hand was gently taken; he felt
kisses on it.
The room was so dark, that he could scarcely see her face--his sight
too was dim; but he could hear her breathing and the least sound of
her dress and movements--the scent too of her hands and hair seemed
to envelop him, and in the midst of all the acute discomfort of his
fever, he felt the band round his brain relax. He did not ask how
long she had been there, but lay quite still, trying to keep his eyes
on her, for fear of that face, which seemed lurking behind the air,
ready to march on him again. Then feeling suddenly that he could not
hold it back, he beckoned, and clutched at her, trying to cover
himself with the protection of her breast. This time his swoon was
not so deep; it gave way to delirium, with intervals when he knew
that she was there, and by the shaded candle light could see her in a
white garment, floating close to him, or sitting still with her hand
on his; he could even feel the faint comfort of the ice cap, and of
the scent of eau de Cologne. Then he would lose all consciousness of
her presence, and pass through into the incoherent world, where the
crucifix above his bed seemed to bulge and hang out, as if it must
fall on him. He conceived a violent longing to tear it down, which
grew till he had struggled up in bed and wrenched it from off the
wall. Yet a mysterious consciousness of her presence permeated even
his darkest journeys into the strange land; and once she seemed to be
with him, where a strange light showed them fields and trees, a dark
line of moor, and a bright sea, all whitened, and flashing with sweet
Soon after dawn he had a long interval of consciousness, and took in
with a sort of wonder her presence in the low chair by his bed. So
still she sat in a white loose gown, pale with watching, her eyes
immovably fixed on him, her lips pressed together, and quivering at
his faintest motion. He drank in desperately the sweetness of her
face, which had so lost remembrance of self.
Barbara gave the news of her brother's illness to no one else, common
sense telling her to run no risk of disturbance. Of her own
initiative, she brought a doctor, and went down twice a day to hear
reports of Miltoun's progress.
As a fact, her father and mother had gone to Lord Dennis, for
Goodwood, and the chief difficulty had been to excuse her own neglect
of that favourite Meeting. She had fallen back on the half-truth
that Eustace wanted her in Town; and, since Lord and Lady Valleys had
neither of them shaken off a certain uneasiness about their son, the
It was not until the sixth day, when the crisis was well past and
Miltoun quite free from fever, that she again went down to
On arriving she at once sought out her mother, whom she found in her
bedroom, resting. It had been very hot at Goodwood.
Barbara was not afraid of her--she was not, indeed, afraid of anyone,
except Miltoun, and in some strange way, a little perhaps of
Courtier; yet, when the maid had gone, she did not at once begin her
tale. Lady Valleys, who at Goodwood had just heard details of a
Society scandal, began a carefully expurgated account of it suitable
to her daughter's ears--for some account she felt she must give to
"Mother," said Barbara suddenly, "Eustace has been ill. He's out of
danger now, and going on all right." Then, looking hard at the
bewildered lady, she added: "Mrs. Noel is nursing him."
The past tense in which illness had been mentioned, checking at the
first moment any rush of panic in Lady Valleys, left her confused by
the situation conjured up in Barbara's last words. Instead of
feeding that part of man which loves a scandal, she was being fed,
always an unenviable sensation. A woman did not nurse a man under
such circumstances without being everything to him, in the world's
eyes. Her daughter went on:
"I took her to him. It seemed the only thing to do--since it's all
through fretting for her. Nobody knows, of course, except the
"Heavens!" muttered Lady Valleys.
"It has saved him."
The mother instinct in Lady Valleys took sudden fright. "Are you
telling me the truth, Babs? Is he really out of danger? How wrong
of you not to let me know before?"
But Barbara did not flinch; and her mother relapsed into rumination.
"Stacey is a cat!" she said suddenly. The expurgated details of the
scandal she had been retailing to her daughter had included the usual
maid. She could not find it in her to enjoy the irony of this
coincidence. Then, seeing Barbara smile, she said tartly:
"I fail to see the joke."
"Only that I thought you'd enjoy my throwing Stacey in, dear."
"What! You mean she doesn't know?"
"Not a word."
Lady Valleys smiled.
"What a little wretch you are, Babs! "Maliciously she added: "Claud
and his mother are coming over from Whitewater, with Bertie and Lily
Malvezin, you'd better go and dress;" and her eyes searched her
daughter's so shrewdly, that a flush rose to the girl's cheeks.
When she had gone, Lady Valleys rang for her maid again, and relapsed
into meditation. Her first thought was to consult her husband; her
second that secrecy was strength. Since no one knew but Barbara, no
one had better know.
Her astuteness and experience comprehended the far-reaching
probabilities of this affair. It would not do to take a single false
step. If she had no one's action to control but her own and
Barbara's, so much the less chance of a slip. Her mind was a strange
medley of thoughts and feelings, almost comic, well-nigh tragic; of
worldly prudence, and motherly instinct; of warm-blooded sympathy
with all love-affairs, and cool-blooded concern for her son's career.
It was not yet too late perhaps to prevent real mischief; especially
since it was agreed by everyone that the woman was no adventuress.
Whatever was done, they must not forget that she had nursed him--
saved him, Barbara had said! She must be treated with all kindness
Hastening her toilette, she in turn went to her daughter's room.
Barbara was already dressed, leaning out of her window towards the
Lady Valleys began almost timidly:
"My dear, is Eustace out of bed yet?"
"He was to get up to-day for an hour or two."
"I see. Now, would there be any danger if you and I went up and took
charge over from Mrs. Noel?"
"Yes, yes! But, exercise your judgment. Would it harm him?"
Barbara was silent. "No," she said at last, "I don't suppose it
would, now; but it's for the doctor to say."
Lady Valleys exhibited a manifest relief.
"We'll see him first, of course. Eustace will have to have an
ordinary nurse, I suppose, for a bit."
Looking stealthily at Barbara, she added:
"I mean to be very nice to her; but one mustn't be romantic, you
>From the little smile on Barbara's lips she derived no sense of
certainty; indeed she was visited by all her late disquietude about
her young daughter, by all the feeling that she, as well as Miltoun,
was hovering on the verge of some folly.
"Well, my dear," she said, "I am going down."
But Barbara lingered a little longer in that bedroom where ten nights
ago she had lain tossing, till in despair she went and cooled herself
in the dark sea.
Her last little interview with Courtier stood between her and a fresh
meeting with Harbinger, whom at the Valleys House gathering she had
not suffered to be alone with her. She came down late.
That same evening, out on the beach road, under a sky swarming with
stars, the people were strolling--folk from the towns, down for their
fortnight's holiday. In twos and threes, in parties of six or eight,
they passed the wall at the end of Lord Dennis's little domain; and
the sound of their sparse talk and laughter, together with the
sighing of the young waves, was blown over the wall to the ears of
Harbinger, Bertie, Barbara, and Lily Malvezin, when they strolled out
after dinner to sniff the sea. The holiday-makers stared dully at
the four figures in evening dress looking out above their heads; they
had other things than these to think of, becoming more and more
silent as the night grew dark. The four young people too were rather
silent. There was something in this warm night, with its sighing,
and its darkness, and its stars, that was not favourable to talk, so
that presently they split into couples, drifting a little apart.
Standing there, gripping the wall, it seemed to Harbinger that there
were no words left in the world. Not even his worst enemy could have
called this young man romantic; yet that figure beside him, the gleam
of her neck and her pale cheek in the dark, gave him perhaps the most
poignant glimpse of mystery that he had ever had. His mind,
essentially that of a man of affairs, by nature and by habit at home
amongst the material aspects of things, was but gropingly conscious
that here, in this dark night, and the dark sea, and the pale figure
of this girl whose heart was dark to him and secret, there was
perhaps something--yes, something--which surpassed the confines of
his philosophy, something beckoning him on out of his snug compound
into the desert of divinity. If so, it was soon gone in the aching
of his senses at the scent of her hair, and the longing to escape
from this weird silence.
"Babs," he said; "have you forgiven me?"
Her answer came, without turn of head, natural, indifferent:
"Yes--I told you so."
"Is that all you have to say to a fellow?"
"What shall we talk about--the running of Casetta?"
Deep down within him Harbinger uttered a noiseless oath. Something
sinister was making her behave like this to him! It was that fellow-
-that fellow! And suddenly he said:
"Tell me this----" then speech seemed to stick in his throat. No!
If there were anything in that, he preferred not to hear it. There
was a limit!
Down below, a pair of lovers passed, very silent, their arms round
each other's waists.
Barbara turned and walked away towards the house.
The days when Miltoun was first allowed out of bed were a time of
mingled joy and sorrow to her who had nursed him. To see him sitting
up, amazed at his own weakness, was happiness, yet to think that he
would be no more wholly dependent, no more that sacred thing, a
helpless creature, brought her the sadness of a mother whose child no
longer needs her. With every hour he would now get farther from her,
back into the fastnesses of his own spirit. With every hour she
would be less his nurse and comforter, more the woman he loved. And
though that thought shone out in the obscure future like a glamorous
flower, it brought too much wistful uncertainty to the present. She
was very tired, too, now that all excitement was over--so tired that
she hardly knew what she did or where she moved. But a smile had
become so faithful to her eyes that it clung there above the shadows
of fatigue, and kept taking her lips prisoner.
Between the two bronze busts she had placed a bowl of lilies of the
valley; and every free niche in that room of books had a little vase
of roses to welcome Miltoun's return.
He was lying back in his big leather chair, wrapped in a Turkish gown
of Lord Valleys'--on which Barbara had laid hands, having failed to
find anything resembling a dressing-gown amongst her brother's
austere clothing. The perfume of lilies had overcome the scent of
books, and a bee, dusky, adventurer, filled the room with his
They did not speak, but smiled faintly, looking at one another. In
this still moment, before passion had returned to claim its own,
their spirits passed through the sleepy air, and became entwined, so
that neither could withdraw that soft, slow, encountering glance. In
mutual contentment, each to each, close as music to the strings of a
violin, their spirits clung--so lost, the one in the other, that
neither for that brief time seemed to know which was self.
In fulfilment of her resolution, Lady Valleys, who had returned to
Town by a morning train, started with Barbara for the Temple about
three in the after noon, and stopped at the doctor's on the way. The
whole thing would be much simpler if Eustace were fit to be moved at
once to Valleys House; and with much relief she found that the doctor
saw no danger in this course. The recovery had been remarkable--
touch and go for bad brain fever just avoided! Lord Miltoun's
constitution was extremely sound. Yes, he would certainly favour a
removal. His rooms were too confined in this weather. Well nursed--
(decidedly) Oh; yes! Quite! And the doctor's eyes became perhaps a
trifle more intense. Not a professional, he understood. It might be
as well to have another nurse, if they were making the change. They
would have this lady knocking up. Just so! Yes, he would see to
that. An ambulance carriage he thought advisable. That could all be
arranged for this afternoon--at once--he himself would look to it.
They might take Lord Miltoun off just as he was; the men would know
what to do. And when they had him at Valleys House, the moment he
showed interest in his food, down to the sea-down to the sea! At
this time of year nothing like it! Then with regard to nourishment,
he would be inclined already to shove in a leetle stimulant, a
thimbleful perhaps four times a day with food--not without--mixed
with an egg, with arrowroot, with custard. A week would see him on
his legs, a fortnight at the sea make him as good a man as ever.
Overwork--burning the candle--a leetlemore would have seen a very
different state of things! Quite so! quite so! Would come round
himself before dinner, and make sure. His patient might feel it just
at first! He bowed Lady Valleys out; and when she had gone, sat down
at his telephone with a smile flickering on his clean-cut lips,
Greatly fortified by this interview, Lady Valleys rejoined her
daughter in the ear; but while it slid on amongst the multitudinous
traffic, signs of unwonted nervousness began to start out through the
placidity of her face.
"I wish, my dear," she said suddenly, "that someone else had to do
this. Suppose Eustace refuses!"
"He won't," Barbara answered; "she looks so tired, poor dear.
Lady Valleys gazed with curiosity at that young face, which had
flushed pink. Yes, this daughter of hers was a woman already, with
all a woman's intuitions. She said gravely:
"It was a rash stroke of yours, Babs; let's hope it won't lead to
Barbara bit her lips.
"If you'd seen him as I saw him! And, what disaster? Mayn't they
love each other, if they want?"
Lady Valleys swallowed a grimace. It was so exactly her own point of
view. And yet----!
"That's only the beginning," she said; "you forget the sort of boy
"Why can't the poor thing be let out of her cage?" cried Barbara.
"What good does it do to anyone? Mother, if ever, when I am married,
I want to get free, I will!"
The tone of her voice was so quivering, and unlike the happy voice of
Barbara, that Lady Valleys involuntarily caught hold of her hand and
squeezed it hard.
"My dear sweet," she said, "don't let's talk of such gloomy things."
"I mean it. Nothing shall stop me."
But Lady Valleys' face had suddenly become rather grim.
"So we think, child; it's not so simple."
"It can't be worse, anyway," muttered Barbara, "than being buried
alive as that wretched woman is."
For answer Lady Valleys only murmured:
"The doctor promised that ambulance carriage at four o'clock. What
am I going to say?"
"She'll understand when you look at her. She's that sort."
The door was opened to them by Mrs. Noel herself.
It was the first time Lady Valleys had seen her in a house, and there
was real curiosity mixed with the assurance which masked her
nervousness. A pretty creature, even lovely! But the quite genuine
sympathy in her words: "I am truly grateful. You must be quite worn
out," did not prevent her adding hastily: "The doctor says he must be
got home out of these hot rooms. We'll wait here while you tell
And then she saw that it was true; this woman was the sort who
Left in the dark passage, she peered round at Barbara.
The girl was standing against the wall with her head thrown back.
Lady Valleys could not see her face; but she felt all of a sudden
exceedingly uncomfortable, and whispered:
"Two murders and a theft, Babs; wasn't it 'Our Mutual Friend'?"
"Her face! When you're going to throw away a flower, it looks at
"My dear!" murmured Lady Valleys, thoroughly distressed, "what things
you're saying to-day!"
This lurking in a dark passage, this whispering girl--it was all
queer, unlike an experience in proper life.
And then through the reopened door she saw Miltoun, stretched out in
a chair, very pale, but still with that look about his eyes and lips,
which of all things in the world had a chastening effect on Lady
Valleys, making her feel somehow incurably mundane.
She said rather timidly:
"I'm so glad you're better, dear. What a time you must have had!
It's too bad that I knew nothing till yesterday!"
But Miltoun's answer was, as usual, thoroughly disconcerting.
"Thanks, yes! I have had a perfect time--and have now to pay for it,
Held back by his smile from bending to kiss him, poor Lady Valleys
fidgeted from head to foot. A sudden impulse of sheer womanliness
caused a tear to fall on his hand.
When Miltoun perceived that moisture, he said:
"It's all right, mother. I'm quite willing to come."
Still wounded by his voice, Lady Valleys hardened instantly. And
while preparing for departure she watched the two furtively. They
hardly looked at one another, and when they did, their eyes baffled
her. The expression was outside her experience, belonging as it were
to a different world, with its faintly smiling, almost shining,
Vastly relieved when Miltoun, covered with a fur, had been taken down
to the carriage, she lingered to speak to Mrs. Noel.
"We owe you a great debt. It might have been so much worse. You
mustn't be disconsolate. Go to bed and have a good long rest." And
from the door, she murmured again: "He will come and thank you, when
Descending the stone stairs, she thought: "'Anonyma'--'Anonyma'--yes,
it was quite the name." And suddenly she saw Barbara come running up
"What is it, Babs?"
"Eustace would like some of those lilies." And, passing Lady
Valleys, she went on up to Miltoun's chambers.
Mrs. Noel was not in the sitting-room, and going to the bedroom door,
the girl looked in.
She was standing by the bed, drawing her hand over and over the white
surface of the pillow. Stealing noiselessly back, Barbara caught up
the bunch of lilies, and fled.
Miltoun, whose constitution, had the steel-like quality of Lady
Casterley's, had a very rapid convalescence. And, having begun to
take an interest in his food, he was allowed to travel on the seventh
day to Sea House in charge of Barbara.
The two spent their time in a little summer-house close to the sea;
lying out on the beach under the groynes; and, as Miltoun grew
stronger, motoring and walking on the Downs.
To Barbara, keeping a close watch, he seemed tranquilly enough
drinking in from Nature what was necessary to restore balance after
the struggle, and breakdown of the past weeks. Yet she could never
get rid of a queer feeling that he was not really there at all; to
look at him was like watching an uninhabited house that was waiting
for someone to enter.
During a whole fortnight he did not make a single allusion to Mrs.
Noel, till, on the very last morning, as they were watching the sea,
he said with his queer smile:
"It almost makes one believe her theory, that the old gods are not
dead. Do you ever see them, Babs; or are you, like me, obtuse?"
Certainly about those lithe invasions of the sea-nymph waves, with
ashy, streaming hair, flinging themselves into the arms of the land,
there was the old pagan rapture, an inexhaustible delight, a
passionate soft acceptance of eternal fate, a wonderful acquiescence
in the untiring mystery of life.
But Barbara, ever disconcerted by that tone in his voice, and by this
quick dive into the waters of unaccustomed thought, failed to find an
Miltoun went on:
"She says, too, we can hear Apollo singing. Shall we try."
But all that came was the sigh of the sea, and of the wind in the
"No," muttered Miltoun at last, "she alone can hear it."
And Barbara saw, once more on his face that look, neither sad nor
impatient, but as of one uninhabited and waiting.
She left Sea House next day to rejoin her mother, who, having been to
Cowes, and to the Duchess of Gloucester's, was back in Town waiting
for Parliament to rise, before going off to Scotland. And that same
afternoon the girl made her way to Mrs. Noel's flat. In paying this
visit she was moved not so much by compassion, as by uneasiness, and
a strange curiosity. Now that Miltoun was well again, she was
seriously disturbed in mind. Had she made a mistake in summoning
Mrs. Noel to nurse him?
When she went into the little drawing-room Audrey was sitting in the
deep-cushioned window-seat with a book on her knee; and by the fact
that it was open at the index, Barbara judged that she had not been
reading too attentively. She showed no signs of agitation at the
sight of her visitor, nor any eagerness to hear news of Miltoun. But
the girl had not been five minutes in the room before the thought
came to her: "Why! She has the same look as Eustace!" She, too,
was like an empty tenement; without impatience, discontent, or grief-
-waiting! Barbara had scarcely realized this with a curious sense of
discomposure, when Courtier was announced. Whether there was in this
an absolute coincidence or just that amount of calculation which
might follow on his part from receipt of a note written from Sea
House--saying that Miltoun was well again, that she was coming up and
meant to go and thank Mrs. Noel--was not clear, nor were her own
sensations; and she drew over her face that armoured look which she
perhaps knew Courtier could not bear to see. His face, at all
events, was very red when he shook hands. He had come, he told Mrs.
Noel, to say good-bye. He was definitely off next week. Fighting
had broken out; the revolutionaries were greatly outnumbered. Indeed
he ought to have been there long before!
Barbara had gone over to the window; she turned suddenly, and said:
"You were preaching peace two months ago!"
"We are not all perfectly consistent, Lady Barbara. These poor
devils have a holy cause."
Barbara held out her hand to Mrs. Noel.
"You only think their cause holy because they happen to be weak.
Good-bye, Mrs. Noel; the world is meant for the strong, isn't it!"
She intended that to hurt him; and from the tone of his voice, she
knew it had.
"Don't, Lady Barbara; from your mother, yes; not from you!"
"It's what I believe. Good-bye!" And she went out.
She had told him that she did not want him to go--not yet; and he was
But no sooner had she got outside, after that strange outburst, than
she bit her lips to keep back an angry, miserable feeling. He had
been rude to her, she had been rude to him; that was the way they had
said good-bye! Then, as she emerged into the sunlight, she thought:
"Oh! well; he doesn't care, and I'm sure I don't!"
She heard a voice behind her.
"May I get you a cab?" and at once the sore feeling began to die
away; but she did not look round, only smiled, and shook her head,
and made a little room for him on the pavement.
But though they walked, they did not at first talk. There was rising
within Barbara a tantalizing devil of desire to know the feelings
that really lay behind that deferential gravity, to make him show her
how much he really cared. She kept her eyes demurely lowered, but
she let the glimmer of a smile flicker about her lips; she knew too
that her cheeks were glowing, and for that she was not sorry. Was
she not to have any--any--was he calmly to go away--without----And
she thought: "He shall say something! He shall show me, without that
horrible irony of his!"
She said suddenly:
"Those two are just waiting--something will happen!"
"It is probable," was his grave answer.
She looked at him then--it pleased her to see him quiver as if that
glance had gone right into him; and she said softly:
"And I think they will be quite right."
She knew those were reckless words, nor cared very much what they
meant; but she knew the revolt in them would move him. She saw from
his face that it had; and after a little pause, said:
"Happiness is the great thing," and with soft, wicked slowness:
"Isn't it, Mr. Courtier?"
But all the cheeriness had gone out of his face, which had grown
almost pale. He lifted his hand, and let it drop. Then she felt
sorry. It was just as if he had asked her to spare him.
"As to that," he said: "The rough, unfortunately, has to be taken
with the smooth. But life's frightfully jolly sometimes."
He looked at her with firm gravity, and answered
A sense of utter mortification seized on Barbara. He was too strong
for her--he was quixotic--he was hateful! And, determined not to
show a sign, to be at least as strong as he, she said calmly:
"Now I think I'll have that cab!"
When she was in the cab, and he was standing with his hat lifted, she
looked at him in the way that women can, so that he did not realize
that she had looked.
When Miltoun came to thank her, Audrey Noel was waiting in the middle
of the room, dressed in white, her lips smiling, her dark eyes
smiling, still as a flower on a windless day.
In that first look passing between them, they forgot everything but
happiness. Swallows, on the first day of summer, in their discovery
of the bland air, can neither remember that cold winds blow, nor
imagine the death of sunlight on their feathers, and, flitting hour
after hour over the golden fields, seem no longer birds, but just the
breathing of a new season--swallows were no more forgetful of
misfortune than were those two. His gaze was as still as her very
self; her look at him had in at the quietude of all emotion.
When they' sat down to talk it was as if they had gone back to those
days at Monkland, when he had come to her so often to discuss
everything in heaven and earth. And yet, over that tranquil eager
drinking--in of each other's presence, hovered a sort of awe. It was
the mood of morning before the sun has soared. The dew-grey cobwebs
enwrapped the flowers of their hearts--yet every prisoned flower
could be seen. And he and she seemed looking through that web at the
colour and the deep-down forms enshrouded so jealously; each feared
too much to unveil the other's heart. They were like lovers who,
rambling in a shy wood, never dare stay their babbling talk of the
trees and birds and lost bluebells, lest in the deep waters of a kiss
their star of all that is to come should fall and be drowned. To
each hour its familiar--and the spirit of that hour was the spirit of
the white flowers in the bowl on the window-sill above her head.
They spoke of Monk-land, and Miltoun's illness; of his first speech,
his impressions of the House of Commons; of music, Barbara, Courtier,
the river. He told her of his health, and described his days down by
the sea. She, as ever, spoke little of herself, persuaded that it
could not interest even him; but she described a visit to the opera;
and how she had found a picture in the National Gallery which
reminded her of him. To all these trivial things and countless
others, the tone of their voices--soft, almost murmuring, with a sort
of delighted gentleness--gave a high, sweet importance, a halo that
neither for the world would have dislodged from where it hovered.
It was past six when he got up to go, and there had not been a moment
to break the calm of that sacred feeling in both their hearts. They
parted with another tranquil look, which seemed to say: 'It is well
with us--we have drunk of happiness.'
And in this same amazing calm Miltoun remained after he had gone
away, till about half-past nine in the evening, he started forth, to
walk down to the House. It was now that sort of warm, clear night,
which in the country has firefly magic, and even over the Town
spreads a dark glamour. And for Miltoun, in the delight of his new
health and well-being, with every sense alive and clean, to walk
through the warmth and beauty of this night was sheer pleasure. He
passed by way of St. James's Park, treading down the purple shadows
of plane-tree leaves into the pools of lamplight, almost with
remorse--so beautiful, and as if alive, were they. There were moths
abroad, and gnats, born on the water, and scent of new-mown grass
drifted up from the lawns. His heart felt light as a swallow he had
seen that morning; swooping at a grey feather, carrying it along,
letting it flutter away, then diving to seize it again. Such was his
elation, this beautiful night! Nearing the House of Commons, he
thought he would walk a little longer, and turned westward to the
river: On that warm evening the water, without movement at turn of
tide, was like the black, snake-smooth hair of Nature streaming out
on her couch of Earth, waiting for the caress of a divine hand. Far
away on the further; bank throbbed some huge machine, not stilled as
yet. A few stars were out in the dark sky, but no moon to invest
with pallor the gleam of the lamps. Scarcely anyone passed. Miltoun
strolled along the river wall, then crossed, and came back in front
of the Mansions where she lived. By the railing he stood still. In
the sitting-room of her little flat there was no light, but the
casement window was wide open, and the crown of white flowers in the
bowl on the window-sill still gleamed out in the darkness like a
crescent moon lying on its face. Suddenly, he saw two pale hands
rise--one on either side of that bowl, lift it, and draw it in. And
he quivered, as though they had touched him. Again those two hands
came floating up; they were parted now by darkness; the moon of
flowers was gone, in its place had been set handfuls of purple or
crimson blossoms. And a puff of warm air rising quickly out of the
night drifted their scent of cloves into his face, so that he held
his breath for fear of calling out her name.
Again the hands had vanished--through the open window there was
nothing to be seen but darkness; and such a rush of longing seized on
Miltoun as stole from him all power of movement. He could hear her
playing, now. The murmurous current of that melody was like the
night itself, sighing, throbbing, languorously soft. It seemed that
in this music she was calling him, telling him that she, too, was
longing; her heart, too, empty. It died away; and at the window her
white figure appeared. From that vision he could not, nor did he try
to shrink, but moved out into the, lamplight. And he saw her
suddenly stretch out her hands to him, and withdraw them to her
breast. Then all save the madness of his longing deserted Miltoun.
He ran down the little garden, across the hall, up the stairs.
The door was open. He passed through. There, in the sitting-room,
where the red flowers in the window scented all the air, it was dark,
and he could not at first see her, till against the piano he caught
the glimmer of her white dress. She was sitting with hands resting
on the pale notes. And falling on his knees, he buried his face
against her. Then, without looking up, he raised his hands. Her
tears fell on them covering her heart, that throbbed as if the
passionate night itself were breathing in there, and all but the
night and her love had stolen forth.
On a spur of the Sussex Downs, inland from Nettle-Cold, there stands
a beech-grove. The traveller who enters it out of the heat and
brightness, takes off the shoes of his spirit before its, sanctity;
and, reaching the centre, across the clean beech-mat, he sits
refreshing his brow with air, and silence. For the flowers of
sunlight on the ground under those branches are pale and rare, no
insects hum, the birds are almost mute. And close to the border
trees are the quiet, milk-white sheep, in congregation, escaping from
noon heat. Here, above fields and dwellings, above the ceaseless
network of men's doings, and the vapour of their talk, the traveller
feels solemnity. All seems conveying divinity--the great white
clouds moving their wings above him, the faint longing murmur of the
boughs, and in far distance, the sea.... And for a space his
restlessness and fear know the peace of God.
So it was with Miltoun when he reached this temple, three days after
that passionate night, having walked for hours, alone and full of
conflict. During those three days he had been borne forward on the
flood tide; and now, tearing himself out of London, where to think
was impossible, he had come to the solitude of the Downs to walk, and
face his new position.
For that position he saw to be very serious. In the flush of full
realization, there was for him no question of renunciation. She was
his, he hers; that was determined. But what, then, was he to do?
There was no chance of her getting free. In her husband's view, it
seemed, under no circumstances was marriage dissoluble. Nor, indeed,
to Miltoun would divorce have made things easier, believing as he did
that he and she were guilty, and that for the guilty there could be
no marriage. She, it was true, asked nothing but just to be his in
secret; and that was the course he knew most men would take, without
further thought. There was no material reason in the world why he
should not so act, and maintain unchanged every other current of his
life. It would be easy, usual. And, with her faculty for self-
effacement, he knew she would not be unhappy. But conscience, in
Miltoun, was a terrible and fierce thing. In the delirium of his
illness it had become that Great Face which had marched over him.
And, though during the weeks of his recuperation, struggle of all
kind had ceased, now that he had yielded to his passion, conscience,
in a new and dismal shape, had crept up again to sit above his heart:
He must and would let this man, her husband, know; but even if that
caused no open scandal, could he go on deceiving those who, if they
knew of an illicit love, would no longer allow him to be their
representative? If it were known that she was his mistress, he could
no longer maintain his position in public life--was he not therefore
in honour bound; of his own accord, to resign it? Night and day he
was haunted by the thought: How can I, living in defiance of
authority, pretend to authority over my fellows? How can I remain in
public life? But if he did not remain in public life, what was he to