Part 6 out of 6
hearing, that she would walk home, and he might come if he cared. He
But when once she had begun to swing along in the mellow afternoon,
under the mellow trees, where the air was sweetened by the South-West
wind, all that mutinous, reckless mood of hers vanished, she felt
suddenly happy and kind, glad to be walking with him. To-day too he
was cheerful, as if determined not to spoil her gaiety; and she was
grateful for this. Once or twice she even put her hand up and
touched his sleeve, calling his attention to birds or trees,
friendly, and glad, after all those hours of bitter feelings, to be
giving happiness. When they parted at the door of Valleys House, she
looked back at him with a queer, half-rueful smile. For, now the
hour had come!
In a little unfrequented ante-room, all white panels and polish, she
sat down to wait. The entrance drive was visible from here; and she
meant to encounter Courtier casually in the hall. She was excited,
and a little scornful of her own excitement. She had expected him to
be punctual, but it was already past five; and soon she began to feel
uneasy, almost ridiculous, sitting in this room where no one ever
came. Going to the window, she looked out.
A sudden voice behind her, said:
Turning, she saw little Ann regarding her with those wide, frank,
hazel eyes. A shiver of nerves passed through Barbara.
"Is this your room? It's a nice room, isn't it?"
"Quite a nice room, Ann."
"Yes. I've never been in here before. There's somebody just come,
so I must go now."
Barbara involuntarily put her hands up to her cheeks, and quickly
passed with her niece into the hall. At the very door the footman
William handed her a note. She looked at the superscription. It was
from Courtier. She went back into the room. Through its half-closed
door the figure of little Ann could be seen, with her legs rather
wide apart, and her hands clasped on her low-down belt, pointing up
at William her sudden little nose. Barbara shut the door abruptly,
broke the seal, and read:
"DEAR LADY BARBARA,
"I am sorry to say my interview with your brother was fruitless.
"I happened to be sitting in the Park just now, and I want to wish
you every happiness before I go. It has been the greatest pleasure
to know you. I shall never have a thought of you that will not be my
pride; nor a memory that will not help me to believe that life is
good. If I am tempted to feel that things are dark, I shall remember
that you are breathing this same mortal air. And to beauty and joy'
I shall take off my hat with the greater reverence, that once I was
permitted to walk and talk, with you. And so, good-bye, and God
"Your faithful servant,
Her cheeks burned, quick sighs escaped her lips; she read the letter
again, but before getting to the end could not see the words for
mist. If in that letter there had been a word of complaint or even
of regret! She could not let him go like this, without good-bye,
without any explanation at all. He should not think of her as a
cold, stony flirt, who had been merely stealing a few weeks'
amusement out of him. She would explain to him at all events that it
had not been that. She would make him understand that it was not
what he thought--that something in her wanted--wanted----! Her mind
was all confused. "What was it?" she thought: "What did I do?" And
sore with anger at herself, she screwed the letter up in her glove,
and ran out. She walked swiftly down to Piccadilly, and crossed into
the Green Park. There she passed Lord Malvezin and a friend
strolling up towards Hyde Park Corner, and gave them a very faint
bow. The composure of those two precise and well-groomed figures
sickened her just then. She wanted to run, to fly to this meeting
that should remove from him the odious feelings he must have, that
she, Barbara Caradoc, was a vulgar enchantress, a common traitress
and coquette! And his letter--without a syllable of reproach! Her
cheeks burned so, that she could not help trying to hide them from
people who passed.
As she drew nearer to his rooms she walked slower, forcing herself to
think what she should do, what she should let him do! But she
continued resolutely forward. She would not shrink now--whatever
came of it! Her heart fluttered, seemed to stop beating, fluttered
again. She set her teeth; a sort of desperate hilarity rose in her.
It was an adventure! Then she was gripped by the feeling that had
come to her on the roof. The whole thing was bizarre, ridiculous!
She stopped, and drew the letter from her glove. It might be
ridiculous, but it was due from her; and closing her lips very tight,
she walked on. In thought she was already standing close to him, her
eyes shut, waiting, with her heart beating wildly, to know what she
would feel when his lips had spoken, perhaps touched her face or
hand. And she had a sort of mirage vision of herself, with eyelashes
resting on her cheeks, lips a little parted, arms helpless at her
sides. Yet, incomprehensibly, his figure was invisible. She
discovered then that she was standing before his door.
She rang the bell calmly, but instead of dropping her hand, pressed
the little bare patch of palm left open by the glove to her face, to
see whether it was indeed her own cheek flaming so.
The door had been opened by some unseen agency, disclosing a passage
and flight of stairs covered by a red carpet, at the foot of which
lay an old, tangled, brown-white dog full of fleas and sorrow.
Unreasoning terror seized on Barbara; her body remained rigid, but
her spirit began flying back across the Green Park, to the very hall
of Valleys House. Then she saw coming towards her a youngish woman
in a blue apron, with mild, reddened eyes.
"Is this where Mr. Courtier lives?"
"Yes, miss." The teeth of the young woman were few in number and
rather black; and Barbara could only stand there saying nothing, as
if her body had been deserted between the sunlight and this dim red
passage, which led to-what?
The woman spoke again:
"I'm sorry if you was wanting him, miss, he's just gone away."
Barbara felt a movement in her heart, like the twang and quiver of an
elastic band, suddenly relaxed. She bent to stroke the head of the
old dog, who was smelling her shoes. The woman said:
"And, of course, I can't give you his address, because he's gone to
With a murmur, of whose sense she knew nothing, Barbara hurried out
into the sunshine. Was she glad? Was she sorry? At the corner of
the street she turned and looked back; the two heads, of the woman
and the dog, were there still, poked out through the doorway.
A horrible inclination to laugh seized her, followed by as horrible a
desire to cry.
By the river the West wind, whose murmuring had visited Courtier and
Miltoun the night before, was bringing up the first sky of autumn.
Slow-creeping and fleecy grey, the clouds seemed trying to overpower
a sun that shone but fitfully even thus early in the day. While
Audrey Noel was dressing sunbeams danced desperately on the white
wall, like little lost souls with no to-morrow, or gnats that wheel
and wheel in brief joy, leaving no footmarks on the air. Through the
chinks of a side window covered by a dark blind some smoky filaments
of light were tethered to the back of her mirror. Compounded of
trembling grey spirals, so thick to the eye that her hand felt
astonishment when it failed to grasp them, and so jealous as ghosts
of the space they occupied, they brought a moment's distraction to a
heart not happy. For how could she be happy, her lover away from her
now thirty hours, without having overcome with his last kisses the
feeling of disaster which had settled on her when he told her of his
resolve. Her eyes had seen deeper than his; her instinct had
received a message from Fate.
To be the dragger-down, the destroyer of his usefulness; to be not
the helpmate, but the clog; not the inspiring sky, but the cloud!
And because of a scruple which she could not understand! She had no
anger with that unintelligible scruple; but her fatalism, and her
sympathy had followed it out into his future. Things being so, it
could not be long before he felt that her love was maiming him; even
if he went on desiring her, it would be only with his body. And if,
for this scruple, he were capable of giving up his public life, he
would be capable of living on with her after his love was dead! This
thought she could not bear. It stung to the very marrow of her
nerves. And yet surely Life could not be so cruel as to have given
her such happiness meaning to take it from her! Surely her love was
not to be only one summer's day; his love but an embrace, and then--
for ever nothing!
This morning, fortified by despair, she admitted her own beauty. He
would, he must want her more than that other life, at the very
thought of which her face darkened. That other life so hard, and far
from her! So loveless, formal, and yet--to him so real, so
desperately, accursedly real! If he must indeed give up his career,
then surely the life they could live together would make up to him--
a life among simple and sweet things, all over the world, with music
and pictures, and the flowers and all Nature, and friends who sought
them for themselves, and in being kind to everyone, and helping the
poor and the unfortunate, and loving each other! But he did not want
that sort of life! What was the good of pretending that he did? It
was right and natural he should want, to use his powers! To lead and
serve! She would not have him otherwise: With these thoughts
hovering and darting within her, she went on twisting and coiling her
dark hair, and burying her heart beneath its lace defences. She
noted too, with her usual care, two fading blossoms in the bowl of
flowers on her dressing-table, and, removing their, emptied out the
water and refilled the bowl.
Before she left her bedroom the sunbeams had already ceased to dance,
the grey filaments of light were gone. Autumn sky had come into its
own. Passing the mirror in the hall which was always rough with her,
she had not courage to glance at it. Then suddenly a woman's belief
in the power of her charm came to her aid; she felt almost happy--
surely he must love her better than his conscience! But that
confidence was very tremulous, ready to yield to the first rebuff.
Even the friendly fresh--cheeked maid seemed that morning to be
regarding her with compassion; and all the innate sense, not of 'good
form,' but of form, which made her shrink from anything that should
disturb or hurt another, or make anyone think she was to be pitied,
rose up at once within her; she became more than ever careful to show
nothing even to herself. So she passed the morning, mechanically
doing the little usual things. An overpowering longing was with her
all the time, to get him away with her from England, and see whether
the thousand beauties she could show him would not fire him with love
of the things she loved. As a girl she had spent nearly three years
abroad. And Eustace had never been to Italy, nor to her beloved
mountain valleys! Then, the remembrance of his rooms at the Temple
broke in on that vision, and shattered it. No Titian's feast of
gentian, tawny brown, and alpen-rose could intoxicate the lover of
those books, those papers, that great map. And the scent of leather
came to her now as poignantly as if she were once more flitting about
noiselessly on her business of nursing. Then there rushed through
her again the warm wonderful sense that had been with her all those
precious days--of love that knew secretly of its approaching triumph
and fulfilment; the delicious sense of giving every minute of her
time, every thought, and movement; and all the sweet unconscious
waiting for the divine, irrevocable moment when at last she would
give herself and be his. The remembrance too of how tired, how
sacredly tired she had been, and of how she had smiled all the time
with her inner joy of being tired for him.
The sound of the bell startled her. His telegram had said, the
afternoon! She determined to show nothing of the trouble darkening
the whole world for her, and drew a deep breath, waiting for his
It was not Miltoun, but Lady Casterley.
The shock sent the blood buzzing into her temples. Then she noticed
that the little figure before her was also trembling; drawing up a
chair, she said: "Won't you sit down?"
The tone of that old voice, thanking her, brought back sharply the
memory of her garden, at Monkland, bathed in the sweetness and
shimmer of summer, and of Barbara standing at her gate towering above
this little figure, which now sat there so silent, with very white
face. Those carved features, those keen, yet veiled eyes, had too
often haunted her thoughts; they were like a bad dream come true.
"My grandson is not here, is he?"
Audrey shook her head.
"We have heard of his decision. I will not beat about the bush with
you. It is a disaster for me a calamity. I have known and loved him
since he was born, and I have been foolish enough to dream, dreams
about him. I wondered perhaps whether you knew how much we counted
on him. You must forgive an old woman's coming here like this. At
my age there are few things that matter, but they matter very much."
And Audrey thought: "And at my age there is but one thing that
matters, and that matters worse than death." But she did not speak.
To whom, to what should she speak? To this hard old woman, who
personified the world? Of what use, words?
"I can say to you," went on the voice of the little figure, that
seemed so to fill the room with its grey presence, "what I could not
bring myself to say to others; for you are not hard-hearted."
A quiver passed up from the heart so praised to the still lips. No,
she was not hard-hearted! She could even feel for this old woman
from whose voice anxiety had stolen its despotism.
"Eustace cannot live without his career. His career is himself, he
must be doing, and leading, and spending his powers. What he has
given you is not his true self. I don't want to hurt you, but the
truth is the truth, and we must all bow before it. I may be hard,
but I can respect sorrow."
To respect sorrow! Yes, this grey visitor could do that, as the wind
passing over the sea respects its surface, as the air respects the
surface of a rose, but to penetrate to the heart, to understand her
sorrow, that old age could not do for youth! As well try to track
out the secret of the twistings in the flight of those swallows out
there above the river, or to follow to its source the faint scent of
the lilies in that bowl! How should she know what was passing in
here--this little old woman whose blood was cold? And Audrey had the
sensation of watching someone pelt her with the rind and husks of
what her own spirit had long devoured. She had a longing to get up,
and take the hand, the chill, spidery hand of age, and thrust it into
her breast, and say: "Feel that, and cease!"
But, withal, she never lost her queer dull compassion for the owner
of that white carved face. It was not her visitor's fault that she
had come! Again Lady Casterley was speaking.
"It is early days. If you do not end it now, at once, it will only
come harder on you presently. You know how determined he is. He
will not change his mind. If you cut him off from his work in life,
it will but recoil on you. I can only expect your hatred, for
talking like this, but believe me, it's for your good, as well as
his, in the long run."
A tumultuous heart-beating of ironical rage seized on the listener to
that speech. Her good! The good of a corse that the breath is just
abandoning; the good of a flower beneath a heel; the good of an old
dog whose master leaves it for the last time! Slowly a weight like
lead stopped all that fluttering of her heart. If she did not end it
at once! The words had now been spoken that for so many hours, she
knew, had lain unspoken within her own breast. Yes, if she did not,
she could never know a moment's peace, feeling that she was forcing
him to a death in life, desecrating her own love and pride! And the
spur had been given by another! The thought that someone--this hard
old woman of the hard world--should have shaped in words the
hauntings of her love and pride through all those ages since Miltoun
spoke to her of his resolve; that someone else should have had to
tell her what her heart had so long known it must do--this stabbed
her like a knife! This, at all events, she could not bear!
She stood up, and said:
"Please leave me now! I have a great many things to do, before I
With a sort of pleasure she saw a look of bewilderment cover that old
face; with a sort of pleasure she marked the trembling of the hands
raising their owner from the chair; and heard the stammering in the
voice: "You are going? Before-before he comes? You-you won't be
seeing him again?" With a sort of pleasure she marked the
hesitation, which did not know whether to thank, or bless, or just
say nothing and creep away. With a sort of pleasure she watched the
flush mount in the faded cheeks, the faded lips pressed together.
Then, at the scarcely whispered words: "Thank you, my dear!" she
turned, unable to bear further sight or sound. She went to the
window and pressed her forehead against the glass, trying to think of
nothing. She heard the sound of wheels-Lady Casterley had gone. And
then, of all the awful feelings man or woman can know, she
experienced the worst: She could not cry!
At this most bitter and deserted moment of her life, she felt
strangely calm, foreseeing clearly, exactly; what she must do, and
where go. Quickly it must be done, or it would never be done!
Quickly! And without fuss! She put some things together, sent the
maid out for a cab, and sat down to write.
She must do and say nothing that could excite him, and bring back his
illness. Let it all be sober, reasonable! It would be easy to let
him know where she was going, to write a letter that would bring him
flying after her. But to write the calm, reasonable words that would
keep him waiting and thinking, till he never again came to her, broke
When she had finished and sealed the letter, she sat motionless with
a numb feeling in hands and brain, trying to realize what she had
next to do. To go, and that was all!
Her trunks had been taken down already. She chose the little hat
that he liked her best in, and over it fastened her thickest veil.
Then, putting on her travelling coat and gloves, she looked in the
long mirror, and seeing that there was nothing more to keep her,
lifted her dressing bag, and went down.
Over on the embankment a child was crying; and the passionate
screaming sound, broken by the gulping of tears, made her cover her
lips, as though she had heard her own escaped soul wailing out there.
She leaned out of the cab to say to the maid:
"Go and comfort that crying, Ella."
Only when she was alone in the train, secure from all eyes, did she
give way to desperate weeping. The white smoke rolling past the
windows was not more evanescent than her joy had been. For she had
no illusions--it was over! From first to last--not quite a year!
But even at this moment, not for all the world would she have been
without her love, gone to its grave, like a dead child that evermore
would be touching her breast with its wistful fingers.
Barbara returning from her visit to Courtier's deserted rooms, was
met at Valleys House with the message: Would she please go at once to
When, in obedience, she reached Ravensham, she found her grandmother
and Lord-Dennis in the white room. They were standing by one of the
tall windows, apparently contemplating the view. They turned indeed
at sound of Barbara's approach, but neither of them spoke or nodded.
Not having seen her grandfather since before Miltoun's illness,
Barbara found it strange to be so treated; she too took her stand
silently before the window. A very large wasp was crawling up the
pane, then slipping down with a faint buzz.
Suddenly Lady Casterley spoke.
"Kill that thing!"
Lord Dennis drew forth his handkerchief.
"Not with that, Dennis. It will make a mess. "Take a paper knife."
"I was going to put it out," murmured Lord Dennis.
"Let Barbara with her gloves."
Barbara moved towards the pane.
"It's a hornet, I think," she said.
"So he is!" said Lord Dennis, dreamily:
"Nonsense," murmured Lady Casterley, "it's a common wasp."
"I know it's a hornet, Granny. The rings are darker."
Lady Casterley bent down; when she raised herself she had a slipper
in her hand.
"Don't irritate him!" cried Barbara, catching her wrist. But Lady
Casterley freed her hand.
"I will," she said, and brought the sole of the slipper down on the
insect, so that it dropped on the floor, dead. "He has no business
And, as if that little incident had happened to three other people,
they again stood silently looking through the window.
Then Lady Casterley turned to Barbara.
"Well, have you realized the mischief that you've done?"
"Ann!" murmured Lord Dennis.
"Yes, yes; she is your favourite, but that won't save her. This
woman--to her great credit--I say to her great credit--has gone away,
so as to put herself out of Eustace's reach, until he has recovered
With a sharp-drawn breath Barbara said:
"Oh! poor thing!"
But on Lady Casterley's face had come an almost cruel look.
"Ah!" she said: "Exactly. But, curiously enough, I am thinking of
Eustace." Her little figure was quivering from head to foot: "This
will be a lesson to you not to play with fire!"
"Ann!" murmured Lord Dennis again, slipping his arm through
"The world," went on Lady Casterley, "is a place of facts, not of
romantic fancies. You have done more harm than can possibly be
repaired. I went to her myself. I was very much moved.' If it
hadn't been for your foolish conduct----"
"Ann!" said Lord Dennis once more.
Lady Casterley paused, tapping the floor with her little foot.
Barbara's eyes were gleaming.
"Is there anything else you would like to squash, dear?"
"Babs!" murmured Lord Dennis; but, unconsciously pressing his hand
against her heart, the girl went on.
"You are lucky to be abusing me to-day--if it had been yesterday----"
At these dark words Lady Casterley turned away, her shoes leaving
little dull stains on the polished floor.
Barbara raised to her cheek the fingers which she had been so
convulsively embracing. "Don't let her go on, uncle," she whispered,
"not just now!"
"No, no, my dear," Lord Dennis murmured, "certainly not--it is
"It has been your sentimental folly," came Lady Casterley's voice
from a far corner, "which has brought this on the boy."
Responding to the pressure of the hand, back now at her waist,
Barbara did not answer; and the sound of the little feet retracing
their steps rose in the stillness. Neither of those two at the
window turned their heads; once more the feet receded, and again
began coming back.
Suddenly Barbara, pointing to the floor, cried:
"Oh! Granny, for Heaven's sake, stand still; haven't you squashed
the hornet enough, even if he did come in where he hadn't any
Lady Casterley looked down at the debris of the insect.
"Disgusting!" she said; but when she next spoke it was in a less
hard, more querulous voice.
"That man--what was his name--have you got rid of him?"
Barbara went crimson.
"Abuse my friends, and I will go straight home and never speak to you
For a moment Lady Casterley looked almost as if she might strike her
granddaughter; then a little sardonic smile broke out on her face.
"A creditable sentiment!" she said.
Letting fall her uncle's hand, Barbara cried:
"In any case, I'd better go. I don't know why you sent for me."
Lady Casterley answered coldly:
"To let you and your mother know of this woman's most unselfish
behaviour; to put you on the 'qui vive' for what Eustace may do now;
to give you a chance to make up for your folly. Moreover to warn you
against----" she paused.
"Let me----" interrupted Lord Dennis.
"No, Uncle Dennis, let Granny take her shoe!"
She had withdrawn against the wall, tall, and as it were, formidable,
with her head up. Lady Casterley remained silent.
"Have you got it ready?" cried Barbara: "Unfortunately he's flown!"
A voice said:
He had come in quietly and quickly, preceding the announcement, and
stood almost touching that little group at the window before they
caught sight of him. His face had the rather ghastly look of
sunburnt faces from which emotion has driven the blood; and his eyes,
always so much the most living part of him, were full of such
stabbing anger, that involuntarily they all looked down.
"I want to speak to you alone," he said to Lady Casterley.
Visibly, for perhaps the first time in her life, that indomitable
little figure flinched. Lord Dennis drew Barbara away, but at the
door he whispered:
"Stay here quietly, Babs; I don't like the look of this."
Unnoticed, Barbara remained hovering.
The two voices, low, and so far off in the long white room, were
uncannily distinct, emotion charging each word with preternatural
power of penetration; and every movement of the speakers had to the
girl's excited eyes a weird precision, as of little figures she had
once seen at a Paris puppet show. She could hear Miltoun reproaching
his grandmother in words terribly dry and bitter. She edged nearer
and nearer, till, seeing that they paid no more heed to her than if
she were an attendant statue, she had regained her position by the
Lady Casterley was speaking.
"I was not going to see you ruined before my eyes, Eustace. I did
what I did at very great cost. I did my best for you."
Barbara saw Miltoun's face transfigured by a dreadful smile--the
smile of one defying his torturer with hate. Lady Casterley went on:
"Yes, you stand there looking like a devil. Hate me if you like--but
don't betray us, moaning and moping because you can't have the moon.
Put on your armour, and go down into the battle. Don't play the
Miltoun's answer cut like the lash of a whip.
"By God! Be silent!"
And weirdly, there was silence. It was not the brutality of the
words, but the sight of force suddenly naked of all disguise--like a
fierce dog let for a moment off its chain--which made Barbara utter a
little dismayed sound. Lady Casterley had dropped into a chair,
trembling. And without a look Miltoun passed her. If their
grandmother had fallen dead, Barbara knew he would not have stopped
to see. She ran forward, but the old woman waved her away.
"Go after him," she said, "don't let him go alone."
And infected by the fear in that wizened voice, Barbara flew.
She caught her brother as he was entering the taxi-cab in which he
had come, and without a word slipped in beside him. The driver's
face appeared at the window, but Miltoun only motioned with his head,
as if to say: Anywhere, away from here!
The thought flashed through Barbara: "If only I can keep him in here
She leaned out, and said quietly:
"To Nettlefold, in Sussex--never mind your petrol--get more on the
road. You can have what fare you like. Quick!"
The man hesitated, looked in her face, and said:
"Very well; miss. By Dorking, ain't it?"
The clock over the stables was chiming seven when Miltoun and Barbara
passed out of the tall iron gates, in their swift-moving small world,
that smelled faintly of petrol. Though the cab was closed, light
spurts of rain drifted in through the open windows, refreshing the
girl's hot face, relieving a little her dread of this drive. For,
now that Fate had been really cruel, now that it no longer lay in
Miltoun's hands to save himself from suffering, her heart bled for
him; and she remembered to forget herself. The immobility with which
he had received her intrusion, was ominous. And though silent in her
corner, she was desperately working all her woman's wits to discover
a way of breaking into the house of his secret mood. He appeared not
even to have noticed that they had turned their backs on London, and
passed into Richmond Park.
Here the trees, made dark by rain, seemed to watch gloomily the
progress of this whirring-wheeled red box, unreconciled even yet to
such harsh intruders on their wind-scented tranquillity. And the
deer, pursuing happiness on the sweet grasses, raised disquieted
noses, as who should say: Poisoners of the fern, defilers of the
trails of air!
Barbara vaguely felt the serenity out there in the clouds, and the
trees, and wind. If it would but creep into this dim, travelling
prison, and help her; if it would but come, like sleep, and steal
away dark sorrow, and in one moment make grief-joy. But it stayed
outside on its wistful wings; and that grand chasm which yawns
between soul and soul remained unbridged. For what could she say?
How make him speak of what he was going to do? What alternatives
indeed were now before him? Would he sullenly resign his seat, and
wait till he could find Audrey Noel again? But even if he did find
her, they would only be where they were. She had gone, in order not
to be a drag on him--it would only be the same thing all over again!
Would he then, as Granny had urged him, put on his armour, and go
down into the fight? But that indeed would mean the end, for if she
had had the strength to go away now, she would surely never come back
and break in on his life a second time. And a grim thought swooped
down on Barbara. What if he resigned everything! Went out into the
dark! Men did sometimes--she knew--caught like this in the full
flush of passion. But surely not Miltoun, with his faith! 'If the
lark's song means nothing--if that sky is a morass of our invention--
if we are pettily creeping on, furthering nothing--persuade me of it,
Babs, and I'll bless you.' But had he still that anchorage, to
prevent him slipping out to sea? This sudden thought of death to one
for whom life was joy, who had never even seen the Great Stillness,
was very terrifying. She fixed her eyes on the back of the
chauffeur, in his drab coat with the red collar, finding some comfort
in its solidity. They were in a taxi-cab, in Richmond Park! Death-
incongruous, incredible death! It was stupid to be frightened! She
forced herself to look at Miltoun. He seemed to be asleep; his eyes
were closed, his arms folded--only a quivering of his eyelids
betrayed him. Impossible to tell what was going on in that grim
waking sleep, which made her feel that she was not there at all, so
utterly did he seem withdrawn into himself!
He opened his eyes, and said suddenly:
"So you think I'm going to lay hands on myself, Babs?"
Horribly startled by this reading of her thoughts, Barbara could only
edge away and stammer:
"No; oh, no!"
"Where are we going in this thing?"
"Nettlefold. Would you like him stopped?"
"It will do as well as anywhere."
Terrified lest he should relapse into that grim silence, she timidly
possessed herself of his hand.
It was fast growing dark; the cab, having left the villas of Surbiton
behind, was flying along at great speed among pine-trees and
stretches of heather gloomy with faded daylight.
Miltoun said presently, in a queer, slow voice "If I want, I have
only to open that door and jump. You who believe that 'to-morrow we
die'--give me the faith to feel that I can free myself by that jump,
and out I go!" Then, seeming to pity her terrified squeeze of his
hand, he added: "It's all right, Babs; we, shall sleep comfortably
enough in our beds tonight."
But, so desolate to the girl was his voice, that she hoped now for
"Let us be skinned quietly," muttered Miltoun, "if nothing else.
Sorry to have disturbed you."
Pressing close up to him, Barbara murmured:
"If only----Talk to me!".
But Miltoun, though he stroked her hand, was silent.
The cab, moving at unaccustomed speed along these deserted roads,
moaned dismally; and Barbara was possessed now by a desire which she
dared not put in practice, to pull his head down, and rock it against
her. Her heart felt empty, and timid; to have something warm resting
on it would have made all the difference. Everything real,
substantial, comforting, seemed to have slipped away. Among these
flying dark ghosts of pine-trees--as it were the unfrequented
borderland between two worlds--the feeling of a cheek against her
breast alone could help muffle the deep disquiet in her, lost like a
child in a wood.
The cab slackened speed, the driver was lighting his lamps; and his
red face appeared at the window.
"We'll 'ave to stop here, miss; I'm out of petrol. Will you get some
dinner, or go through?"
"Through," answered Barbara:
While they were passing the little their, buying then petrol, asking
the way, she felt less miserable, and even looked about her with a
sort of eagerness. Then when they had started again, she thought: If
I could get him to sleep--the sea will comfort him! But his eyes
were staring, wide-open. She feigned sleep herself; letting her head
slip a little to one side, causing small sounds of breathing to
escape. The whirring of the wheels, the moaning of the cab joints,
the dark trees slipping by, the scent of the wet fern drifting in,
all these must surely help! And presently she felt that he was
indeed slipping into darkness--and then-she felt nothing.
When she awoke from the sleep into which she had seen Miltoun fall,
the cab was slowly mounting a steep hill, above which the moon had
risen. The air smelled strong and sweet, as though it had passed
over leagues of grass.
"The Downs!" she thought; "I must have been asleep!"
In sudden terror, she looked round for Miltoun. But he was still
there, exactly as before, leaning back rigid in his corner of the
cab, with staring eyes, and no other signs of life. And still only
half awake, like a great warm sleepy child startled out of too deep
slumber, she clutched, and clung to him. The thought that he had
been sitting like that, with his spirit far away, all the time that
she had been betraying her watch in sleep, was dreadful. But to her
embrace there was no response, and awake indeed now, ashamed, sore,
Barbara released him, and turned her face to the air.
Out there, two thin, dense-black, long clouds, shaped like the wings
of a hawk, had joined themselves together, so that nothing of the
moon showed but a living brightness imprisoned, like the eyes and
life of a bird, between those swift sweeps of darkness. This great
uncanny spirit, brooding malevolent over the high leagues of moon-wan
grass, seemed waiting to swoop, and pluck up in its talons, and
devour, all that intruded on the wild loneness of these far-up plains
of freedom. Barbara almost expected to hear coming from it the lost
whistle of the buzzard hawks. And her dream came back to her. Where
were her wings-the wings that in sleep had borne her to the stars;
the wings that would never lift her--waking--from the ground? Where
too were Miltoun's wings? She crouched back into her corner; a tear
stole up and trickled out between her closed lids-another and another
followed. Faster and faster they came. Then she felt Miltoun's arm
round her, and heard him say: "Don't cry, Babs!" Instinct telling
her what to do, she laid her head against his chest, and sobbed
bitterly. Struggling with those sobs, she grew less and less
unhappy--knowing that he could never again feel quite so desolate, as
before he tried to give her comfort. It was all a bad dream, and
they would soon wake from it! And they would be happy; as happy as
they had been before--before these last months! And she whispered:
"Only a little while, Eusty!"
Old Lady Harbinger dying in the early February of the following year,
the marriage of Barbara with her son was postponed till June.
Much of the wild sweetness of Spring still clung to the high moor
borders of Monkland on the early morning of the wedding day.
Barbara was already up and dressed for riding when her maid came to
call her; and noting Stacey's astonished eyes fix themselves on her
boots, she said:
"It'll tire you."
"Nonsense; I'm not going to be hung."
Refusing the company of a groom, she made her way towards the stretch
of high moor where she had ridden with Courtier a year ago. Here
over the short, as yet unflowering, heather, there was a mile or more
of level galloping ground. She mounted steadily, and her spirit
rode, as it were, before her, longing to get up there among the
peewits and curlew, to feel the crisp, peaty earth slip away under
her, and the wind drive in her face, under that deep blue sky.
Carried by this warm-blooded sweetheart of hers, ready to jump out of
his smooth hide with pleasure, snuffling and sneezing in sheer joy,
whose eye she could see straying round to catch a glimpse of her
intentions, from whose lips she could hear issuing the sweet bitt-
music, whose vagaries even seemed designed to startle from her a
closer embracing--she was filled with a sort of delicious impatience
with everything that was not this perfect communing with vigour.
Reaching the top, she put him into a gallop. With the wind furiously
assailing her face and throat, every muscle crisped; and all her
blood tingling--this was a very ecstasy of motion!
She reined in at the cairn whence she and Courtier had looked down at
the herds of ponies. It was the merest memory now, vague and a
little sweet, like the remembrance of some exceptional Spring day,
when trees seem to flower before your eyes, and in sheer wantonness
exhale a scent of lemons. The ponies were there still, and in
distance the shining sea. She sat thinking of nothing, but how good
it was to be alive. The fullness and sweetness of it all, the
freedom and strength! Away to the West over a lonely farm she could
see two buzzard hawks hunting in wide circles. She did not envy
them--so happy was she, as happy as the morning. And there came to
her suddenly the true, the overmastering longing of mountain tops.
"I must," she thought; "I simply must!"
Slipping off her horse she lay down on her back, and at once
everything was lost except the sky. Over her body, supported above
solid earth by the warm, soft heather, the wind skimmed without sound
or touch. Her spirit became one with that calm unimaginable freedom.
Transported beyond her own contentment, she no longer even knew
whether she was joyful.
The horse Hal, attempting to eat her sleeve, aroused her. She
mounted him, and rode down. Near home she took a short cut across a
meadow, through which flowed two thin bright streams, forming a delta
full of lingering 'milkmaids,' mauve marsh orchis, and yellow flags.
>From end to end of this long meadow, so varied, so pied with trees
and stones, and flowers, and water, the last of the Spring was
Some ponies, shyly curious of Barbara and her horse, stole up, and
stood at a safe distance, with their noses dubiously stretched out,
swishing their lean tails. And suddenly, far up, following their own
music, two cuckoos flew across, seeking the thorn-trees out on the
moor. While she was watching the arrowy birds, she caught sight of
someone coming towards her from a clump of beech-trees, and suddenly
saw that it was Mrs. Noel!
She rode forward, flushing. What dared she say? Could she speak of
her wedding, and betray Miltoun's presence? Could she open her mouth
at all without rousing painful feeling of some sort? Then, impatient
of indecision, she began:
"I'm so glad to see you again. I didn't know you were still down
"I only came back to England yesterday, and I'm just here to see to
the packing of my things."
"Oh!" murmured Barbara. "You know what's happening to me, I
Mrs. Noel smiled, looked up, and said: "I heard last night. All joy
A lump rose in Barbara's throat.
"I'm so glad to have seen you," she murmured once more; "I expect I
ought to be getting on," and with the word "Good-bye," gently
echoed, she rode away.
But her mood of delight was gone; even the horse Hal seemed to tread
unevenly, for all that he was going back to that stable which ever
appeared to him desirable ten minutes after he had left it.
Except that her eyes seemed darker, Mrs. Noel had not changed. If
she had shown the faintest sign of self-pity, the girl would never
have felt, as she did now, so sorry and upset.
Leaving the stables, she saw that the wind was driving up a huge,
white, shining cloud. "Isn't it going to be fine after all!" she
Re-entering the house by an old and so-called secret stairway that
led straight to the library, she had to traverse that great dark
room. There, buried in an armchair in front of the hearth she saw
Miltoun with a book on his knee, not reading, but looking up at the
picture of the old Cardinal. She hurried on, tiptoeing over the.
soft carpet, holding her breath, fearful of disturbing the queer
interview, feeling guilty, too, of her new knowledge, which she did
not mean to impart. She had burnt her fingers once at the flame
between them; she would not do so a second time!
Through the window at the far end she saw that the cloud had burst;
it was raining furiously. She regained her bedroom unseen. In spite
of her joy out there on the moor, this last adventure of her girlhood
had not been all success; she had again the old sensations, the old
doubts, the dissatisfaction which she had thought dead. Those two!
To shut one's eyes, and be happy--was it possible! A great rainbow,
the nearest she had ever seen, had sprung up in the park, and was
come to earth again in some fields close by. The sun was shining out
already through the wind-driven bright rain. Jewels of blue had
begun to star the black and white and golden clouds. A strange white
light-ghost of Spring passing in this last violent outburst-painted
the leaves of every tree; and a hundred savage hues had come down
like a motley of bright birds on moor and fields.
The moment of desperate beauty caught Barbara by the throat. Its
spirit of galloping wildness flew straight into her heart. She
clasped her hands across her breast to try and keep that moment. Far
out, a cuckoo hooted-and the immortal call passed on the wind. In
that call all the beauty, and colour, and rapture of life seemed to
be flying by. If she could only seize and evermore have it in her
heart, as the buttercups out there imprisoned the sun, or the fallen
raindrops on the sweetbriars round the windows enclosed all changing
light! If only there were no chains, no walls, and finality were
Her clock struck ten. At this time to-morrow! Her cheeks turned
hot; in a mirror she could see them burning, her lips scornfully
curved, her eyes strange. Standing there, she looked long at
herself, till, little by little, her face lost every vestige of that
disturbance, became solid and resolute again. She ceased to have the
galloping wild feeling in her heart, and instead felt cold. Detached
from herself she watched, with contentment, her own calm and radiant
beauty resume the armour it had for that moment put off.
After dinner that night, when the men left the dining-hall, Miltoun
slipped away to his den. Of all those present in the little church
he had seemed most unemotional, and had been most moved. Though it
had been so quiet and private a wedding, he had resented all cheap
festivity accompanying the passing of his young sister. He would
have had that ceremony in the little dark disused chapel at the
Court; those two, and the priest alone. Here, in this half-pagan
little country church smothered hastily in flowers, with the raw
singing of the half-pagan choir, and all the village curiosity and
homage-everything had jarred, and the stale aftermath sickened him.
Changing his swallow-tail to an old smoking jacket, he went out on to
the lawn. In the wide darkness he could rid himself of his
Since the day of his election he had not once been at Monkland; since
Mrs. Noel's flight he had never left London. In London and work he
had buried himself; by London and work he had saved himself! He had
gone down into the battle.
Dew had not yet fallen, and he took the path across the fields.
There was no moon, no stars, no wind; the cattle were noiseless under
the trees; there were no owls calling, no night-jars churring, the
fly-by-night chafers were not abroad. The stream alone was alive in
the quiet darkness. And as Miltoun followed the wispy line of grey
path cleaving the dim glamour of daisies and buttercups, there came
to him the feeling that he was in the presence, not of sleep, but of
eternal waiting. The sound of his footfalls seemed desecration. So
devotional was that hush, burning the spicy incense of millions of
leaves and blades of grass.
Crossing the last stile he came out, close to her deserted cottage,
under her lime-tree, which on the night of Courtier's adventure had
hung blue-black round the moon. On that side, only a rail, and a few
shrubs confined her garden.
The house was all dark, but the many tall white flowers, like a
bright vapour rising from earth, clung to the air above the beds.
Leaning against the tree Miltoun gave himself to memory.
>From the silent boughs which drooped round his dark figure, a little
sleepy bird uttered a faint cheep; a hedgehog, or some small beast of
night, rustled away in the grass close by; a moth flew past, seeking
its candle flame. And something in Miltoun's heart took wings after
it, searching for the warmth and light of his blown candle of love.
Then, in the hush he heard a sound as of a branch ceaselessly trailed
through long grass, fainter and fainter, more and more distinct;
again fainter; but nothing could he see that should make that
homeless sound. And the sense of some near but unseen presence crept
on him, till the hair moved on his scalp. If God would light the
moon or stars, and let him see! If God would end the expectation of
this night, let one wan glimmer down into her garden, and one wan
glimmer into his breast! But it stayed dark, and the homeless noise
never ceased. The weird thought came to Miltoun that it was made by
his own heart, wandering out there, trying to feel warm again. He
closed his eyes and at once knew that it was not his heart, but
indeed some external presence, unconsoled. And stretching his hands
out he moved forward to arrest that sound. As he reached the
railing, it ceased. And he saw a flame leap up, a pale broad pathway
of light blanching the grass.
And, realizing that she was there, within, he gasped. His finger-
nails bent and broke against the iron railing without his knowing.
It was not as on that night when the red flowers on her windowsill
had wafted their scent to him; it was no sheer overpowering rush of
passion. Profounder, more terrible, was this rising up within him of
yearning for love--as if, now defeated, it would nevermore stir, but
lie dead on that dark grass beneath those dark boughs. And if
victorious--what then? He stole back under the tree.
He could see little white moths travelling down that path of
lamplight; he could see the white flowers quite plainly now, a pale
watch of blossoms guarding the dark sleepy ones; and he stood, not
reasoning, hardly any longer feeling; stunned, battered by struggle.
His face and hands were sticky with the honey-dew, slowly, invisibly
distilling from the lime-tree. He bent down and felt the grass. And
suddenly there came over him the certainty of her presence. Yes, she
was there--out on the verandah! He could see her white figure from
head to foot; and, not realizing that she could not see him, he
expected her to utter some cry. But no sound came from her, no
gesture; she turned back into the house. Miltoun ran forward to the
railing. But there, once more, he stopped--unable to think, unable
to feel; as it were abandoned by himself. And he suddenly found his
hand up at his mouth, as though there were blood there to be
staunched that had escaped from his heart.
Still holding that hand before his mouth, and smothering the sound of
his feet in the long grass, he crept away.
In the great glass house at Ravensham, Lady Casterley stood close to
some Japanese lilies, with a letter in her hand. Her face was very
white, for it was the first day she had been allowed down after an
attack of influenza; nor had the hand in which she held the letter
its usual steadiness. She read:
"Just a line, dear, before the post goes, to tell you that Babs has
gone off happily. The child looked beautiful. She sent you her
love, and some absurd message--that you would be glad to hear, she
was perfectly safe, with both feet firmly on the ground."
A grim little smile played on Lady Casterley's pale lips:--Yes,
indeed, and time too! The child had been very near the edge of the
cliffs! Very near committing a piece of romantic folly! That was
well over! And raising the letter again, she read on:
"We were all down for it, of course, and come back tomorrow.
Geoffrey is quite cut up. Things can't be what they were without our
Babs. I've watched Eustace very carefully, and I really believe he's
safely over that affair at last. He is doing extraordinarily well in
the House just now. Geoffrey says his speech on the Poor Law was
head and shoulders the best made."
Lady Casterley let fall the hand which held the letter. Safe? Yes,
he was safe! He had done the right--the natural thing! And in time
he would be happy! He would rise now to that pinnacle of desired
authority which she had dreamed of for him, ever since he was a tiny
thing, ever since his little thin brown hand had clasped hers in
their wanderings amongst the flowers, and the furniture of tall
rooms. But, as she stood--crumpling the letter, grey-white as some
small resolute ghost, among her tall lilies that filled with their
scent the great glass house-shadows flitted across her face. Was it
the fugitive noon sunshine? Or was it some glimmering perception of
the old Greek saying--'Character is Fate;' some sudden sense of the
universal truth that all are in bond to their own natures, and what a
man has most desired shall in the end enslave him?