Part 2 out of 5
"Come and chaperon me, Aunt Caro."
She shook her head laughingly.
"Thank you--no. There are limits. I draw the line at convents.
Go and get it over, and if the child is presentable you can bring
her back to tea. I gather that Mary is anticipating a complete
failure on our part to sustain the situation and is prepared to
deputise. She has already ransacked _Au Paradis Des Enfants_ for
suitable bribes wherewith to beguile her infantile affection. I
understand that there was a lively scene over the purchase of a
doll, the cost of which--clad only in its birthday dress--was
reported to me as 'a fair affront.' Even after all these years
Mary jibs at Continental prices. It is her way of keeping up the
prestige of the British Empire, bless her. An overcharge, in her
opinion, is a deliberate twist of the lion's tail."
In the taxi he looked through the correspondence he had received
that morning for the lawyer's letter that would establish his claim
to John Locke's child. Then he leaned back and lit a cigarette. He
had an absurd feeling of nervousness and cursed Locke a dozen times
before he reached the convent. He was embarrassed with the awkward
situation in which he found himself--just how awkward he seemed
only now fully to appreciate. The more he thought of it, the less
he liked it. The coming interview with the Mother Superior was not
the least of his troubles. The promise of the morning had not been
maintained, overhead the sky was leaden, and a high wind drove rain
in sharp splashes against the glass of the cab. The pavements were
running with water and the leafless trees in the avenues swayed and
creaked dismally. The appearance of the streets was chill and
depressing. Craven shivered. He thought of the warmth and sunshine
that he had left in Japan. The dreariness of the present outlook
contrasted sufficiently with the gay smiling landscape, the riotous
wealth of colour, and the scent-laden air of the land of his
recollections. A feeling almost of nostalgia came to him. But with
the thought came also a vision--a little still body lying on silken
cushions; a small pale face with fast shut eyes, the long lashes a
dusky fringe against the ice-cold cheek. The vision was terribly
distinct, horribly real--not a recollection only, as on the morning
that he had found her dead--and he waited, with the sweat pouring
down his face, for the closed eyes to open and reveal the agony he
had read in them that night, when he had torn her clinging hands away
and left her. The faint aroma of the perfume she had used was in his
nostrils, choking him. The slender limbs seemed to pulsate into life,
the little breasts to stir perceptibly, the parted lips to tremble.
He could not define the actual moment of the change but, as he bent
forward, with hands close gripped, all at once he found himself
looking straight into the tortured grey eyes--for a second only.
Then the vision faded, and he was leaning back in the cab wiping
the moisture from his forehead. God, would it never leave him! It
haunted him. In the big bungalow on the Bluff; rising from the sea
as he leaned on the steamer rail; during the long nights on the ship
as he lay sleepless in the narrow brass cot; last night in the crowded
railway carriage--then it had been so vivid that he had held his breath
and glanced around stealthily with hunted eyes at his fellow passengers
looking for the horrified faces that would tell him that they also saw
what he could see. He never knew how long it lasted, minutes or seconds,
holding him rigid until it passed to leave him bathed in perspiration.
Environment seemed to make no difference. It came as readily in a crowd
as when he was alone. He lived in perpetual dread of betraying his
obsession. Once only it had happened--in the bungalow, the night
before he left Japan, and his involuntary cry had brought the watchful
valet. And as he crossed the room Craven had distinctly seen him pass
through the little recumbent figure and, with blazing eyes, had dragged
him roughly to one side, pointing and muttering incoherently. And Yoshio
had seemed to understand. Sceptical as he was about the supernatural,
at first Craven's doubt had been rudely shaken; but with the steadying
of his nerves had come the conviction that the vision was inward,
though at the moment so real that often his confidence momentarily
wavered, as last night in the train. It came with no kind of regularity,
no warning that might prepare him. And recurrence brought no mitigation,
no familiarising that could temper the acute horror it inspired. To what
pitch of actuality might it attain? To what lengths might it drive him?
He dragged his thoughts up sharply. To dwell on it was fatal, that way
lay insanity. He set his teeth and forced himself to think of other
things. There was ample material. There was primarily the salvage of
a wasted life. During the last few weeks he had been forced to a
self-examination that had been drastically thorough. The verdict
had been an adverse one. Personal criticism, once aroused, went far.
The purposeless life that he had led seemed now an insult to his
manhood. It had been in his power to do so much--he had actually
done disastrously little. He had loafed through life without a thought
beyond the passing interest of the moment. And even in the greater
interests of his life, travel and big game, he had failed to exert
himself beyond a mediocre level. He had travelled far and shot a rare
beast or two, but so had many another--and with greater difficulties
to contend with than he who had never wrestled with the disadvantages
of inferior equipment and inadequate attendance. Muscularly and
constitutionally stronger than the average, physically he could have
done anything. And he had done nothing--nothing that others had not
done as well or even better. It was sufficiently humiliating. And
the outcome of his reflections had been a keen desire for work, hard
absorbing work, with the hope that bodily fatigue might in some measure
afford mental alleviation. It did not even need finding. With a certain
shame he admitted the fact. It had waited for him any time these last
ten years in his own home. The responsibility of great possessions was
his. And he had shirked. He had evaded the duty he owed to a trust he
had inherited. It was a new view of his position that recent thought
had awakened. It was still not too late. He would go back like the
prodigal--not to eat the fatted calf, but to sit at the feet of Peters
and learn from him the secret of successful estate management.
For thirty years Peter Peters had ruled the Craven properties, and
they were all his life. For the last ten years he had never ceased
urging his employer to assume the reins of government himself. His
entreaties, protestations and threats of resignation had been
unheeded. Craven felt sure that he would never relinquish his
post, he had grown into the soil and was as firmly fixed as the
Towers itself. He was an institution in the county, a personality
on the bench. He ruled his own domains with a kindly but absolute
autocracy which succeeded perfectly on the Craven estates and was
the envy of other agents, who had not his ability to do likewise.
Well born, original and fearless he was popular in castle and in
cottage, and his advice was respected by all. He neither sought
nor abused a confidence, and in consequence was the depository of
most of the secrets of the countryside. To his sympathetic ears
came both grave offences and minor indiscretions, as to a kindly
safety-valve who advised and helped--and was subsequently silent.
His exoneration was considered final. "I confessed to Peter"
became a recognised formula, instituted by a giddy young
Marchioness at the north end of the county, whose cousin he was.
And there, invariably, the matter ended. And for Craven it was the
one bright spot in the darkness before him. Life was going to be
hell--but there would always be Peter.
At the Convent gates the taxi skidded badly at the suddenly
applied brakes, and then backed jerkily into position. Craven felt
an overwhelming inclination to take to his heels. The portress who
admitted him had evidently received orders, for she silently
conducted him to a waiting room and left him alone. It was
sparsely furnished but had on the walls some fine old rosewood
panelling. The narrow heavily leaded windows overlooked a paved
quadrangle, glistening with moisture. For a few moments the rain
had ceased but drops still pattered sharply on to the flagstones
from the branches of two large chestnut trees. The outlook was
melancholy and he turned from the window, shivering. But the
chill austere room was hardly more inspiring. The atmosphere was
strange to him. It was a world apart from anything that had ever
touched him. He marvelled suddenly at the countless lives living
out their allotted span in the confined area of these and similar
walls. Surely all could not submit willingly to such a crushing
captivity? Some must agonize and spend their strength unavailingly,
like birds beating their wings against the bars of a cage for freedom.
To the man who had roamed through all the continents of the world
this forced inactivity seemed appalling--stultifying. The hampering
of personal freedom, the forcing of independent minds into one
narrow prescribed channel that admitted of no individual expansion,
the waste of material and the fettering of intellects, that were
heaven-sent gifts to be put out to usury and not shrouded away in
a napkin, revolted him. The conventual system was to him a survival
of medievalism, a relic of the dark ages; the last refuge of the shirkers
of the world. The communities themselves, if he had thought of them
at all, had been regarded as a whole. He had never troubled to
consider them as composed of single individuals. Today he thought
of them as separate human beings and his intolerance increased. An
indefinite distaste never seriously considered seemed, during the few
moments in the bare waiting room, to have grown suddenly into
active dislike. He was wholly out of sympathy with his surroundings,
impatient of the necessity that brought him into contact with what he
would have chosen to avoid. He looked about with eyes grown hard
and contemptuous. The very building seemed to be the embodiment
of retrogression and blind superstition. He was filled with antagonism.
His face was grim and his figure drawn up stiffly to its full height
when the door opened to admit the Mother Superior. For a moment
she hesitated, a faint look of surprise coming into her face. And no
antagonism, however intolerant, could have braved her gentle dignity.
"It is--_Monsieur_ Craven?" she asked, a perceptible interrogation
in her soft voice.
She took the letters he gave her and read them carefully--pausing
once or twice as if searching for the correct translation of a
word--then handed them back to him in silence. She looked at him
again, frankly, with no attempt to disguise her scrutiny, and the
perplexity in her eyes grew greater. One small white hand slid to
the crucifix hanging on her breast, as if seeking aid from the
familiar symbol, and Craven saw that her fingers were trembling.
A faint flush rose in her face.
"_Monsieur_ is perhaps married, or--happily--he has a
mother?" she asked at last, and the flush deepened as she looked
up at the big man standing before her. She made a little gesture
of embarrassment but her eyes did not waver. They would not, he
thought with sudden intuition. For he realised that it was one of
his own order who confronted him. It was not what he had
anticipated. The Mother Superior's low voice continuing in gentle
explanation broke into his thoughts.
"_Monsieur_ will forgive that I catechise him thus but I had
expected one--much older." Her distress was obvious. And Craven
divined that as a prospective guardian he fell short of
expectation. And yet, his lack of years was apparently to her the
only drawback. His lack of years--Good God, and he felt so old!
His youth was a disadvantage that counted for nothing in the
present instance. If she could know the truth, if the anxious gaze
that was fixed so intently on him could look into his heart with
understanding, he knew that she would shrink from him as from a
He conceived the horror dawning in her eyes, the loathing in her
attitude, and seemed to hear her passionate protest against his
claim to the child who had been sheltered in the safety of the
community that he had despised. The safety of the community--that
had not before occurred to him. For the first time he considered
it a refuge to those who there sought sanctuary and who were
safeguarded from such as--he. He winced, but did not spare
himself. The sin had been only his. The child who had died for
love of him had been as innocent of sin as the birds who loved and
mated among the pine trees in her Garden of Enchantment. She had
had no will but his. Arrogantly he had taken her and she had
submitted--was he not her lord? Before his shadow fell across her
path no blameless soul within these old convent walls had been
more pure and stainless than the soul of O Hara San. It was the
sins of such as he that drove women to this shelter that offered
refuge and consolation, to escape from such as he they voluntarily
immured themselves; surrendering the purpose of their being,
seeking in bodily denial the salvation of their souls.
The room had grown very dark. A sudden glare of light made Craven
realise that a question asked was still unanswered. He had not, in
his abstraction, been aware of any movement. Now he saw the Mother
Superior walking leisurely back from the electric switch by the
door, and guessed from her placid face that the interval had been
momentary and had passed unnoticed. Some answer was required now.
He pulled himself together.
"I am not married," his voice was strained, "and I have no mother.
But my aunt--Miss Craven--the sculptor--" he paused enquiringly
and she smiled reassurance.
"Miss Craven's beautiful work is known to me," she said with ready
tact that put him more at ease.
"My aunt has, most kindly, promised to--to co-operate," he
The anxiety faded from the Mother Superior's face and she sat down
with an air of relief, motioning Craven to a chair. But with a
curt bow he remained standing. He had no wish to prolong the
interview beyond what courtesy and business demanded. He listened
with a variety of feelings while the Nun spoke. Her earnestness he
could not fail to perceive, but it required a decided effort to
concentrate, and follow her soft well modulated voice.
She spoke slowly, with feeling that broke at times the tone she
strove to make dispassionate.
"I am glad for Gillian's sake that at last, after all these years,
there has come one who will be concerned with her future. She has
no vocation for the conventual life and--I was beginning to become
anxious. For ourselves, we shall miss her more than it is possible
to say. She had been with us so long, she has become very dear to
us. I have dreaded that her father would one day claim her. She
has been spared that contamination--God forgive me that I should
speak so." For a moment she was silent, her eyes bent on her hands
lying loosely clasped in her lap.
"Gillian is not altogether friendless," she resumed, "she will go
to you with a little more knowledge of the world than can be
gained within these old walls." She glanced round the panelled
room with half-sad affection. "She is popular and has spent
vacations in the homes of some of her fellow pupils. She has
a very decided personality, and a facility for attracting affection.
She is sensitive and proud--passionate even at times. She can be
led but not driven. I tell you all this, _Monsieur_, not censoriously but
that it may help you in dealing with a character that is extraordinarily
complex, with a nature that both demands and repels affection, that
longs for and yet scorns sympathy." She looked at Craven anxiously.
His complete attention was claimed at last. A new conception of his
unknown ward was forcing itself upon him, so that any humour there
might have been in the situation died suddenly and the difficulties of
the undertaking soared. The Mother Superior smothered a sigh.
His attitude was baffling, his expression inscrutable. Had her words
touched him, had she said what was best for the welfare of the girl
who was so dear to her, and whose departure she felt so keenly?
How would she fare at this man's hands? What lay behind his stern
face and sombre tragic eyes? Her lips moved in silent prayer, but
when she spoke her voice was serene as before.
"There is yet another thing that I must speak of. Gillian has an
unusual gift." A sentence in Locke's letter flashed into Craven's
"She doesn't _dance_?" he asked, in some dismay.
"Dance, _Monsieur_--in a convent?" Then she pitied his hot
confusion and smiled faintly.
"Is dancing so unusual--in the world? No, Gillian
sketches--portraits. Her talent is real. She does not
merely draw a faithful likeness, her studies are revelations
of soul. I do not think she knows herself how her effects are
obtained, they grow almost unconsciously, but they result always
in the same strange delineation of character. It was so impossible
to ignore this exceptional gift that we procured for her the best
teacher in Paris, and continued her lessons even after--" She stopped
abruptly and Craven finished the broken sentence.
"Even after the fees ceased," he said dryly. "For how many years
has my ward lived on your charity, Reverend Mother?"
She raised a protesting hand.
"Ah--charity. It is hardly the word--" she fenced.
He took out a cheque book.
"How much is owing, for everything?" he said bluntly.
She sought for a book in a bureau standing against the
rosewood panelling and, scanning it, gave a sum with evident
"Gillian has never been told, but it is ten years since
_Monsieur_ Locke paid anything." There was diffidence in her
voice. "In an institution of this kind we are compelled to be
businesslike. It is rare that we can afford to make an exception,
though the temptation is often great. The head and the heart--_voyez,
vous, Monsieur_--they pull in contrary directions." And she
slipped the book back into a pigeon-hole as if the touch of it
was distasteful. She glanced perfunctorily at the cheque he
handed to her, then closer, and the colour rose again to her
"But _Monsieur_ has written treble the amount," she murmured.
"Will you accept the balance," he said hurriedly, "in the name of
my ward, for any purpose that you may think fit? There is one
stipulation only--I do not wish her to know that there has been
any monetary transaction between us." His voice was almost curt,
and the Nun found herself unable to question a condition which,
though manifestly generous, she deemed quixotic. She could only
bend to his decision with mingled thankfulness and apprehension.
Despite the problem of the girl's future she had it in her heart
to wish that this singular claimant had never presented himself.
His liberality was obvious but--. She locked the slip of paper
away in the bureau with a feeling of vague uneasiness. But for
good or ill the matter was out of her hands. She had said all that
she could say. The rest lay with God.
"I do accept it," she said, "with all gratitude. It will enable us
to carry out a scheme that has long been our hope. Your generosity
will more than pave the way. I will send Gillian to you now."
She left him, more embarrassed than he had been at first, more
than ever dreading the task before him. He waited with a nervous
impatience that irritated himself.
Turning to the window he looked out into the dusk. The old trees
in the courtyard were almost indistinguishable. The rain dripped
again steadily, splashing the creeper that framed the casement. A
few lights showing dimly in the windows on the opposite side of
the quadrangle served only to intensify the gloom. The time
dragged. Fretfully he drummed with his fingers on the leaded
panes, his ears alert for any sound beyond the closed door. The
echo of a distant organ stole into the room and the soft solemn
notes harmonised with the melancholy pattering of the raindrops
and the gusts of wind that moaned fitfully around the house.
In a sudden revulsion of feeling the life he had mapped out
for himself seemed horrible beyond thought. He could not bear
it. It would be tying his hands and burdening himself with a
responsibility that would curtail his freedom and hamper him
beyond endurance. A great restlessness, a longing to escape from
the irksome tie, came to him. Solitude and open spaces; unpeopled
nature; wild desert wastes--he craved for them. The want was like
a physical ache. The desert--he drew his breath in sharply--the
hot shifting sand whispering under foot, the fierce noontide sun
blazing out of a brilliant sky, the charm of it! The fascination
of its false smiling surface, its treacherous beauty luring to
hidden perils called to him imperatively. The curse of Ishmael
that was his heritage was driving him as it had driven him many
times before. He was in the grip of one of the revolts against
restraint and civilisation that periodically attacked him. The
wander-hunger was in his blood--for generations it had sent
numberless ancestors into the lonely places of the world, and
against it ties of home were powerless. In early days to the
romantic glamour of the newly discovered Americas, later to the
silence of the frozen seas and to the mysterious depth of
unexplored lands the Cravens had paid a heavy toll. A Craven had
penetrated into the tangled gloom of the Amazon forests, and had
never returned. In the previous century two Cravens had succumbed
to the fascination of the North West Passage, another had vanished
in Central Asia. Barry's grandfather had perished in a dust storm
in the Sahara. And it was to the North African desert that his own
thoughts turned most longingly. Japan had satisfied him for a
time--but only for a time. Western civilisation had there obtruded
too glaringly, and he had admitted frankly to himself that it was
not Japan but O Hara San that kept him in Yokohama. The dark
courtyard and the faintly lighted windows faded. He saw instead a
tiny well-remembered oasis in Southern Algeria, heard the
ceaseless chatter of Arabs, the shrill squeal of a stallion, the
peevish grunt of a camel, and, rising above all other sounds, the
whine of the tackling above the well. And the smell--the cloying
smell that goes with camel caravans, it was pungent! He flung up
his head inhaling deeply, then realised that the scent that filled
the room was not the acrid smell of the desert but the penetrating
odour of incense filtering in through the opened door. It shut and
he turned reluctantly.
He saw at first only a pair of great brown eyes, staring almost
defiantly, set in a small pale face, that looked paler by contrast
with the frame of dark brown hair. Then his gaze travelled slowly
over the slender black-clad figure silhouetted against the
polished panels. His fear was substantiated. Not a child who could
be relegated to nurses and governesses, but a girl in the dawn of
womanhood. Passionately he cursed John Locke.
He felt a fool, idiotically tongue-tied. He had been prepared to
adopt a suitably paternal attitude towards the small child he
had expected. A paternal attitude in connection with this
self-possessed young woman was impossible, in fact ludicrous. For
the moment he seemed unable to cope with the situation. It was the
girl who spoke first. She came forward slowly, across the long
"I am Gillian Locke, _Monsieur_."
On the cushioned window seat in her bedroom at Craven Towers
Gillian Locke sat with her arms wrapped round her knees waiting
for the summons to dinner. With Miss Craven and her guardian she
had left London that morning, arriving at the Towers in the
afternoon, and she was tired and excited with the events of the
day. She leant back against the panelled embrasure, her mind
dwelling on the last three crowded months they had spent in Paris
and London waiting until the house was redecorated and ready to
receive them. It had been for her a wonderful experience. The
novelty, the strangeness of it, left her breathless with the
feeling that years, not weeks, had rushed by. Already in the
realisation of the new life the convent days seemed long ago, the
convent itself to have receded into a far off past. And yet there
were times when she wondered whether she was dreaming, whether
waking would be inevitable and she would find herself once more in
the old dormitory to pray passionately that she might dream again.
And until tonight there had scarcely been time even to think, her
days had been full, at night she had gone to bed to sleep in happy
dreamlessness. The hotel bedrooms with their litter of trunks
suggesting imminent flight had held no restfulness. To Gillian the
transitory sensation had strained already over-excited nerves and
heightened the dreamlike feeling that made everything seem unreal.
But here, the visible evidences of travel removed, the deep
silence of a large country house penetrating her mind and
conducing to peace, she could think at last. The surroundings were
helpful. There was about the room an air of permanence which the
hotel bedrooms had never given, an atmosphere of abiding quiet
that soothed her. She was sensitive of an influence that was
wholly new to her and very sweet, that brought with it a feeling
of laughter and tears strangely mingled, that made the room appear
as no other room had ever done. It Was her room, and it had
welcomed her. It was like a big friendly silent person offering
mute reception, radiating repose. In a few hours the room had
become intimate, dear to her. She laughed happily--then checked at
a guilty feeling of treason against the grey old walls in Paris
that had so long sheltered her. She was not ungrateful, all her
life she would remember with gratitude the love and care she had
received. But the convent had been prison. Since her father had
left her there, a tiny child, she had inwardly rebelled; the life
was abhorrent to her, the restraint unbearable. With childish
pride she had hidden her feelings, living through a period of
acute misery with no hint to those about her of what she suffered.
And the habit of suppression acquired in childhood had grown with
her own development. As the years passed the limitations of the
convent became more perceptible. She felt its cramping influence
to the full, as if the walls were closing in to suffocate her, to
bury her alive before she had ever known a fuller freer life. She
had longed for expansion--ideas she could not formulate, desires
she could not express, crowded, jostled in her brain. She wanted a
wider outlook on life than the narrow convent windows offered.
Brief excursions into the world to the homes of her friends had
filled her with a yearning for freedom and for independence, for a
greater range of thought and action. Her artistic studies had
served to foster an unrest she struggled against bravely and to
conceal which she became daily more self-contained. Her reserve
was like a barrier about her. She was sweet and gentle to all
around her, but a little aloof and very silent. To the other girls
she had been a heroine of romance, puzzling mystery surrounded
her; to the Nuns an enigma. The Mother Superior, alone, had
arrived at a partial understanding, more than that even she could
not accomplish. Gillian loved her, but her reserve was stronger
than her love. Sitting now in the dainty English bedroom,
revelling in the warm beauty of the exquisite landscape that,
mellowed in the evening light, lay spread out beneath her eyes,
Gillian thought a little sadly of her parting with the Reverend
Mother. She had tried to hide the happiness that the strange
feeling of freedom gave her, to smother any look or word that
might wound the gentle sensibility of the frail robed woman whose
eyes were sad at the approaching separation. Her conscience smote
her that her own heart held no sadness. She had said very little,
nothing of the new life that lay ahead of her. She hid her hopes
of the future as jealously as she had hidden her longings in the
past, and she had left the convent as silently as she had lived in
it. She had driven back to the hotel with a sense of relief
predominating that it was all over, breathing deeply with a sigh
of relaxed tension. It seemed to her then as if she had learned to
breathe only within the last few days, as if the air itself was
lighter, more exhilarating.
From the convent her mind went back to earlier days. She thought of her
father, the handsome dissolute man, whose image had grown dim with
years. As a tiny child she had loved him passionately, the central
figure of her chequered and wandering little life--father and mother
in one, playmate and hero. Her recollection seemed to be of constant
travelling; of long hours spent in railway trains; of arrivals at
strange places in the dark night; of departures in the early dawn,
half awake--but always happy so long as the familiar arms held her
weary little body and there was the shabby old coat on which to pillow
her brown curls. A jumbled remembrance of towns and country villages;
of kind unknown women who looked compassionate and murmured over her
in a dozen different languages. It had all been a medley of impressions
and experiences--everything transient, nothing lasting, but the big
untidy man who was her all. And then the convent. For a few years
John Locke had reappeared at irregular intervals, and on the memory
of those brief visits she had lived until he came again. Then he had
ceased to come and his letters, grown short and few, full of vague
promises--unsatisfying--meagre, had stopped abruptly. At first she
had refused to admit to herself that he had forgotten, that she could
mean so little to him, that he would deliberately put her out of his
life. She had waited, excusing, trusting, until, heart-sick with
deferred hope, she had come to think of him as dead. She was old
enough then to realise her position and in spite of the love and
consideration surrounding her she had learned misery. Her popularity
even was a source of torment, for in the happy homes of her friends
she had felt more cruelly her own destitute loneliness.
When the lawyer's letter had come enclosing a few scrawled lines
written by her dying father she had felt that life could hold no
more bitterness. She had worshipped him--and he had abandoned her
callously. She was bone of his bone and he had made no effort even
for his own flesh. He had thrown her a burden on the convent that
sheltered her so willingly only for want of will power to conquer
the weakness that had devitalised brain and body. The thought
crushed her. As she read his confession, full of tardy remorse,
her proud heart had been sick with humiliation. She groped blindly
through a sea of despair, her faith broken, her trust gone. She
hid her sorrow and her shame, fulfilling her usual tasks,
following the ordinary routine--a little more silent, a little
more reserved--her eyes alone betraying the storm that was
overwhelming her. She had loved him so dearly--that was the sting.
She had guarded her memory of him so tenderly, weaving a thousand
extravagant tales about him, pinnacling him above all men, her
hero, her knight, her _preux chevalier._ And now she realised
that her memory was no memory, that she had built up a fantastic
figure of romance whose origin rested on nothing tangible, whose
elevation had been so lofty that his overthrow was demolition. Her
god had feet of clay. Her superman was nothing. All that she had
ever had, memory that was delusion, was taken from her. Woken
abruptly to the brutal truth she felt that she had nothing left to
cling to--a loneliness far greater than she had known before. Then
gradually her own honesty compelled her to admit her fantasy. The
dream man she had evolved had been of her own making, the virtues
with which she had endowed him bred of her own imagination. Of the
real man she knew nothing, and for the real man there dawned
slowly--though love for him had died--pity. It came to her,
passionately endeavouring to understand, that in the sheltered
life she led she had no knowledge of the temptations that beset a
man outside in the great world. Dimly she realised that some win
out--and some go under. He had failed. And it seemed to her that
on her had fallen his debt. She must take the place he had
forfeited in the universe, she must succeed where he had failed.
Her strength must rise out of his weakness. His honour was hers to
re-establish, given the opportunity. And the opportunity had been
given. She had waited for the coming of her unknown guardian with
a feeling of dull revolt against the degradation of being handed
over inexorably to the disposal and charity of a stranger. Though
she had not been told she had guessed, years ago, that money for
her maintenance was wanting. The kindly deception of the Mother
Superior had been ineffectual. Gillian knew she was a pauper. The
charity of the convent school had been hard to bear. The charity
of a stranger would be harder. She writhed with the humiliation of
it. She was nineteen--for two years she must go and be and endure
at the whim of an unknown. And what would he be like, this man
into whose hands her father had thrust her! What choice would John
Locke be capable of making--what love had he shown during these
last years that he should choose carefully and well? From among
what class of man, of the society into which he had sunk, would he
select one to give his daughter? He had written of "my old friend,
Barry Craven." The name conveyed nothing--the adjective admitted
of two interpretations. Which? Day and night she was haunted with
visions of old men--recollections of faces seen when driving with
her friends or visiting their homes; old men who had interested
her, old men from whom she had instinctively shrunk. What type of
man was it that was coming for her? There were times when her
courage deserted her and the constantly recurring question made
her nearly mad with fear. She was like a wild creature caught in a
trap, listening to the feet of the keeper nearing--nearing. She
had longed for the time when she could leave the Convent, she
clung to it now with dread at the thought of the future. The
London lawyer had written that Mr. Craven was returning from Japan
to assume his guardianship, and she had traced his route with
growing fear as the days slipped by--the keeper's tread coming
closer and closer. She had masked the terror the thought of him
inspired, preserving an outward apathy that seemed to imply
complete indifference. And in the end he had come sooner than she
expected, for they thought he would go first to London. One
morning she had learned he was in Paris, that very afternoon she
would know her fate. The day had been interminable. During his
interview with the Mother Superior she had paced the room where
she was waiting as it seemed for hours, her nerves at breaking
point. When the Reverend Mother came back she could have
shrieked aloud and her desperate eyes failed to interpret the
expression on the Nun's face; she tried to speak, a husky whisper
that died away inarticulately. Faintly she heard the gentle words of
encouragement and with an effort of pride she walked quickly to
the door of the visitors' room. There she paused, irresolute, and
the low peaceful roll of the organ echoing from the distant chapel
seemed to mock her. So often it had comforted, giving courage to
go forward--today its very peacefulness jarred; nerve-racked she
was out of tune with the atmosphere of calm tranquillity about
her. She felt alien--that more than ever she stood alone. Then
pride flamed afresh. With head held high and lips compressed she
went in. As he turned from the window it was his great height and
broad shoulders that struck her first--men of his physique were
rare in France--and, in the thought of a moment, the well cut
conventional morning coat had seemed absurd, and mentally she had
clothed his long limbs in damascened steel. Then she had seen that
he was young, how young she could not guess, but younger far than she
had imagined. As their eyes met the sombre tragedy in his had hurt her.
She divined a sorrow before which her own paled to nothingness and
quick pity killed fear. The sadness of his face lifted her suddenly
into full realisation of her womanhood. Compassion rose above self.
Instinctively she knew that the interview that was to her so momentous
was to him only an embarrassing interlude. Shyness remained but the
terror she had felt gave place to a feeling she had not then understood.
As quickly as possible he had taken her to the hotel, leaving to his
aunt all explanations that seemed necessary. And since then he had
remained consistently in the background, delegating his authority to
Miss Craven. But from the first his proximity had troubled her--she
was always conscious of his presence. Hypersensitive from her convent
upbringing she knew intuitively when he entered a room or left it.
Men were to her an unknown quantity; the few she had met--brothers
and cousins of school friends--had been viewed from a different
standpoint. Hedged about with rigid French convention there had been
no chance of acquaintance ripening into friendship--she had been merely
a schoolgirl among other girls, touching only the fringe of the most
youthful of the masculine element in the houses where she had stayed.
She had been unprepared for the change to the daily contact with a man
like Barry Craven. It would take time to accustom herself, to become
used to the continual masculine presence.
Miss Craven, to her nephew's relief, had taken the shy pale-faced
girl to her eccentric heart with a suddenness and enthusiasm that
had surprised herself.
And Gillian's reserve and pride had been unable to withstand the
whirlwind little lady. Miss Craven's personality took a strong
hold on her; she loved the woman, she admired the artist, and she
was quick to recognise the real feeling and deep kindness that lay
under brusque manner and quizzical speeches. She had good reason.
She glanced now round the big room. Everywhere were evidences of
lavish generosity, showered on her regardless of protest.
Gillian's eyes filled slowly with tears. It was all a fairy story,
too wonderful almost to be true. Why were they so good to her--how
would she ever be able to repay the kindness lavished on her? Her
thoughts were interrupted by the latest gift that rose out of his
basket with a sleepy yawn and stretching luxuriously came and laid
his head on her knee, looking up at her with sad brown eyes. She
had always loved animals, the possession of some dog had been an
ardent desire, and she hugged the big black poodle now with a
"Mouston, you pampered person, have you ever been lonely? Can you
imagine what it is like to be made to feel that you _belong_
to somebody again?" She rubbed her cheek against his satiny head,
crooning over him, the dog thrilling to her touch with jerking
limbs and sharp half-stifled whines. It was her first experience
of ownership, of responsibility for a living creature that was
dependent on her and for which she was answerable. And it was
likely to prove an arduous responsibility. He was single-minded
and jealous in his allegiance; Miss Craven he tolerated
indifferently, of Craven he was openly suspicious. He followed
Gillian like a shadow and moped in her absence, yielding to
Yoshio, who had charge of him on such occasions, a resigned
obedience he gave to no other member of the household. Through
Mouston Gillian and Yoshio had become acquainted.
Mouston's affection this evening became over-enthusiastic and
threatening to fragile silks and laces. Gillian kissed the top
of his head, shook solemnly an insistent paw, and put him on one
side. She moved to the dressing table and inspected herself
critically in the big mirror. She looked with grave amusement.
Was that Gillian Locke? She wondered did a butterfly feel more
incongruous when it shed its dull grub skin. For so many years she
had worn the sombre garb of the convent schoolgirl, the change was
still new enough to delight and the natural woman within her
responded to the fascination of pretty clothing. The dark
draperies of the convent had palled, she had craved colour with an
almost starved longing.
The general reflection in the long glass satisfied, a more
detailed personal survey raised serious doubts. She had never
recognised the grace of her slender figure, the uncommon beauty of
her pale oval face--other types had appealed more, other colouring
attracted. She had studied her face often, disapprovingly. Once or
twice, lacking a model, she had essayed to reproduce her own
features. She had failed utterly. The faithful portraiture she
achieved for others was wanting. She was unable to express in her
own likeness the almost startling exposition of character that
distinguished her ordinary work. She had been her own limitation.
Her failure had puzzled her, causing a searching mental inquiry.
She had no knowledge herself of how her special gift took form,
the work grew involuntarily under her hand. She was aware of no
definite impression received, no attempt at soul analysis. Vaguely
she supposed that in some subtle mysterious way the character of
her sitter communicated itself, influencing her; in fact her best
work had often had the least care bestowed upon it. Did her
inability to transfer to canvas a living copy of her own face
argue that she herself was without character--had she failed
because there was in truth nothing to delineate? Or was it because
she sought to see something unreal--sought to control a purely
inherent impulse? It was a problem she had never solved.
She looked now at the mirrored figure with her usual disapproval,
great brown eyes scowling back at her from the glass, then made a
little obliterating movement with her hand and shook her head.
Appearance had never mattered before, but now she wanted so much
to please--to be a credit to the interest shown, to repay the time
and money spent upon her. Her eyes grew wistful as she leant
nearer to see if there were any tell-tale traces of tears, then
danced with sudden amusement as she picked up a powder puff and
"Oh, Gillian Locke, what would the Reverend Mother say!" she
murmured, and laughed.
The poodle, jealous for attention, leaped on to a chair beside
her, his paws on the plate glass slab scattering brushes and
bottles, and still laughing she smothered his damp eager nose with
powder until he sneezed disgusted protest.
With a conciliatory caress she left him to disarrange the dressing
table further, and went back to the window. Beneath her lawns
extended to a wide terrace, stone balustraded, from the centre of
which a long flight of steps led down to a formal rose garden
sheltered by a high yew hedge and backed by a little copse beyond
which the heavily timbered park stretched indefinitely in the
evening light. The sense of space fascinated her. She had always
longed for unimpeded views, for the stillness of the country. On
the smooth shaven lawns great trees were set like sentinels about
the house; fancifully she thought of them as living vigilant
keepers maintaining for centuries a perpetual guard--and smiled at
her childish imagination. Her pleasure in the prospect deepened.
Already the charm of the Towers had taken hold of her, from the
first moment she had loved it. Throughout the long railway journey
and during the five mile drive from the station, she had
anticipated, and the actuality had outstripped her anticipation.
The beauty of the park, the herds of grazing deer, had delighted
her; the old grey house itself had stayed her spellbound. She had
not imagined anything half so lovely, so impressively enduring.
She had seen nothing to compare with its fine proportions, with
the luxury of its setting. It differed utterly from the French
Chateaux where she had visited; there toil obtruded, vineyards
and rich fields of crops clustered close to the very walls of the
seigneur's dwellings, a source of wealth simply displayed; here
similar activities were banished to unseen regions, and scrupulously
kept avenues, close cut lawns and immaculate flower-beds formed
evidence of constant labour whose results charmed the eye but
were materially profitless. The formal grandeur appealed to her.
She was not altogether alien, she reflected, with a curious
smile--despite his subsequent downfall John Locke had sprung
from just such stock as the owner of this wonderful house. A
sudden panic of lateness interrupted her pleasure and she turned
from the window, calling to the dog. Her suite opened on to a
circular gallery--from which bedrooms opened--running round the
central portion of the house and overlooking the big square hall
which was lit from above by a lofty glazed dome; eastward and
westward stretched long rambling wings, a story higher than the
main block, crowned with the turrets that gave the house its name.
A low murmur of men's voices came from below, and leaning over
the balustrade she saw Craven and his agent standing talking
before the empty fireplace. Sudden shyness overcame her; her
guardian was still formidable, Peters she had seen for the first
time only a few hours ago when he had met them at the station--a
short broad-shouldered man inclining to stoutness, with thick
grey hair and close-pointed beard. To go down deliberately to
them seemed impossible. But while she hesitated in an agony of
self-consciousness Mouston precipitated the inevitable by dashing
on ahead down, the stairs and plunging into the bearskin hearthrug,
ploughing the thick fur with his muzzle and sneezing wildly. The
sense of responsibility outweighed shyness and she hurried after
him, but Peters anticipated her and already had the dog's unwilling
head firmly between his hands.
"What on earth has he got on his nose, Miss Locke?" he asked, in a
tone of wonder, but the keen blue eyes looking at her from under
bushy grey eyebrows were twinkling and her shyness was not proof
against his friendliness.
She dropped to her knees and flicked the offended organ with a
scrap of lace and lawn.
"Powder," she said gravely.
"You can have no idea," she added, looking up suddenly, "how
delightful it is to powder your nose when you have been brought up
in a convent. The Nuns consider it the height of depravity," and
she laughed, a ringing girlish outburst of amusement that Craven
had never yet heard. He looked at her as she knelt on the rug
soothing the poodle's outraged feelings and smiling at Peters who
was offering his own more adequate handkerchief. That laugh was a
revelation--in spite of her self-possession, of her reserve, she
was in reality only a girl, hardly more than a child, but
influenced by her quiet gravity he had forgotten the fact.
As he watched her a slight frown gathered on his face. It seemed
that Peters, in a few hours, had penetrated the barrier outside
which he, after months, still remained. With him she was always
shyly silent. On the few rare occasions in Paris and in London
when he had found himself alone with her she had shrunk into
herself and avoided addressing him; and he had wondered,
irritably, how much was natural diffidence and how much
due to convent training. But he had made no effort at further
understanding, for the past was always present dominating
inclinations and impulses--perpetual memory, jogging at his
elbow. There were days when the only relief was physical
exhaustion and he disappeared for hours to fight his devils in
solitude. And in any case he was not wanted, it was better in
every way for him to efface himself. There was nothing for him
to do--thanks to the improvidence of John Locke no business
connected with the trust. Miss Craven had taken complete
possession of Gillian and he held aloof, not attempting to
establish more intimate relations with his ward. But tonight,
with a fine inconsistency, it piqued him that she should respond
so readily to Peters. He knew he was a fool--it mattered not
one particle to him--Peters' magnetism was proverbial--but,
illogically, the frown persisted.
As if conscious of his scrutiny Gillian turned and met his
searching gaze. The colour flooded her face and she pushed the
dog aside and rose hastily to her feet. Shyness supervened again
and she was thankful for the arrival of Miss Craven, who was
breathless and apologetic.
"Late as usual! I shall be late when the last trump sounds. But
this time it was really not my fault. Mrs. Appleyard descended
upon me!--our old housekeeper, Gillian--and her tongue has
wagged for a solid hour by the clock. I am now _au fait_ with
everything that has happened at the Towers since I was here
last--do your ears burn, Peter?--metaphorically she has dragged
me at her heels from garrets to cellars and back to the garrets
again. She is pathetically pleased to have the house open once
Still talking she led the way to the dining room. It was an
immense room, panelled like most of the house, the table an oasis
on a desert of Persian carpet, a huge fireplace predominating, and
some of the more valuable family portraits on the walls.
As Miss Craven entered she looked instinctively for the portrait
of her brother, which since his death had hung--following a family
custom--in a panel over the high carved mantelpiece. But it had
been removed and for it had been substituted a beautiful painting
of Barry's mother. She stopped abruptly in the middle of a
sentence. "An innovation?" she murmured to her nephew, with her
shrewd eyes on his face.
"A reparation," he answered shortly, as he moved to his chair. And
his tone made any further comment impossible. She sat down
thoughtfully and began her soup in silence, vaguely disturbed at
the departure from a precedent that had held for generations.
Unconventional and ultra-modern as she was she still clung to the
traditions of her family, and from time immemorial the portrait of
the last reigning Craven had hung over the fireplace in the big
dining room waiting to give place to its successor. It all seemed
bound up somehow with the terrible change that had taken place in
him since his return from Japan--a change she was beginning more
and more to connect with the man whose portrait had been banished,
as though unworthy, from its prominence. Unworthy indeed--but how
did Barry know? What had he learned in the country that had had
such a fatal attraction for his father? The old shameful story she
had thought buried for ever seemed rising like a horrible phantom
from the grave where it had lain so long hidden.
With a little shudder she turned resolutely from the painful
thoughts that came crowding in upon her and entered into animated
conversation with Peters.
Gillian, content to be unnoticed, looked about her with
appreciative interest; the big room, its sombre, rather formal
furniture and fine pictures, appealed to her. The arrangements
were in perfect harmony, nothing clashed or jarred, electric
lighting was carefully hidden and only wax candles burnt in heavy
silver candlesticks on the table.
The fascination of the old house was growing every moment more
insistent, like a spell laid on her. She gave herself up to it, to
the odd happiness it inspired. She felt it curiously familiar. A
strange feeling came to her--it was as if from childhood she had
been journeying and now come home. An absurd thought, but she
loved it. She had never had a home, but for the next two years she
could pretend. To pretend was easy. All her life she had lived in
a land of dreams, tenanted with shadowy inhabitants of her own
imagining--puppets who moved obedient to her will through all the
devious paths of make-believe; a spirit world where she ranged
free of the narrow walls that restricted her liberty. It had been
easy to pretend in the convent--how much easier here in the solid
embodiment of a dream castle and stimulated by the real human
affection for which her heart had starved. The love she had
hitherto known had been unsatisfying, too impersonal, too
restrained, too interwoven with mystical devotion. Mass Craven's
affection was of a hardier, more practical nature. Blunt candour
and sincerity personified, she did not attempt to disguise her
attachment. She had been attracted, had approved, and had finally
co-opted Gillian into the family. She had, moreover, great faith
in her own judgment. And to justify that faith Gillian would have
gone through fire and water.
She looked gratefully at the solid little figure sitting at
the foot of the table and a gleam of amusement chased the
seriousness from her eyes. Miss Craven was in the throes of a
heated discussion with Peters which involved elaborate diagrams
traced on the smooth cloth with a salt spoon, and as Gillian
watched she completed her design with a fine flourish and leant
back triumphant in her chair, rumpling her hair fantastically.
But the agent, unconvinced, fell upon her mercilessly and in a
moment she was bent forward again in vigorous protest, drumming
impatiently on the table with her fingers as he laughingly altered
her drawing. They were the best of friends and wrangled continually.
To Gillian it was all so fresh, so novel. Then her attention
veered. Throughout dinner Craven had been silent. When once
started on a discussion his aunt and Peters tore the controversy
amicably to tatters in complete absorption. He had not joined in
the argument. As always Gillian was too shy to address him of her
own accord, but she was acutely conscious of his nearness. She
deprecated her own attitude, yet silence was better than the banal
platitudes which were all she had to offer. Her range was so
restricted, his--who had travelled the world over--must be so
great. With the exception of one subject her knowledge was
negligible. But he too was an artist--hopeless to attempt that
topic, she concluded with swift contempt for her own limitations;
to offer the opinions of a convent-bred amateur to one who had
studied in famous Paris ateliers and was acquainted with the art
of many countries would be an impertinence. But yet she knew that
sometime she must break through the wall that her own diffidence
had built up; in the intimacy of country house life the
continuance of such an attitude would be both impossible and
ridiculous. Contritely she acknowledged that the tension between
them was largely her own fault, a disability due to training. But
she could not go through life sheltering behind that wholly
inadequate plea. If there was anything in her at all she must rise
above the conventions in which she had been reared; she had done
with the narrowness of the past, now she must think broadly,
expansively, in all things--even in the trivial matter of social
intercourse. A saving sense of humour sent a laugh bubbling into
her throat which nearly escaped. It was such a little thing, but
she had magnified it so greatly. What, after all, did it amount
to--the awkwardness of a schoolgirl very properly ignored by a
guardian who could not be other than bored with her society.
_Tant pis!_ She could at least try to be polite. She turned
with the heroic intention of breaking the ice and plunging into
conversation, banal though it might be. But her eyes did not
arrive at his face, they were caught and held by his hand, lying
on the white cloth, turning and twisting an empty wine-glass
between long strong fingers. Hands fascinated her. They were
indicative of character, testimonies of individual peculiarities.
She was sensitive to the impression they conveyed. With the
limited material available she had studied them--nuns' hands,
priests' hands, hands of the various inmates of the houses where
she had stayed, and the hands of the man who had taught her. From
him she had learned more than the mere rudiments of her art; under
his tuition a crude interest had developed into a definite study,
and as she sat looking at Barry Craven's hand a sentence from one
of his lectures recurred to her--"there are in some hands,
particularly in the case of men, characteristics denoting certain
passions and attributes that jump to the eye as forcibly as if
they were expressions of face."
Engaged in present study she forgot her original purpose, noting
the salient points of a fresh type, enumerating details that formed
the composite whole. A strong hand that could in its strength be
merciless--could it equally in its strength be merciful? The strange
thought came unexpectedly as she watched the thin stem of the wineglass
turning rapidly and then more slowly until, with a little tinkle, it
snapped as the hand clenched suddenly, the knuckles showing white
through the tanned skin. Gillian drew a quick breath. Had she been
the cause of the mishap--had she stared noticeably, and he been angry
at an impertinence? Her cheeks burned and in a misery of shyness she
forced her eyes to his face. Her contrition was needless. Heedless of
her he was looking at the splintered glass between his fingers with a
faint expression of surprise, as if his wandering thoughts were but
half recalled by the accident. For a moment he stared at the shattered
pieces--then laid them down indifferently.
Gillian smothered an hysterical inclination to laugh. He was so
totally negligent of her presence that even this little incident
had failed to make him sensible of her scrutiny. Immersed in his
thoughts he was very obviously miles away from Craven Towers and
the vicinity of a troublesome ward. And suddenly it hurt. She was
nothing to him but a shy _gauche_ girl whose very existence
was an embarrassment. The determination so bravely formed died
before his cold detachment. More than ever was speech impossible.
She shrugged faintly with a little pout. So, confident of his
preoccupation, she continued to study him. Had the homecoming
intensified the sadness of his eyes and deepened the lines
about his mouth?--were memories of the mother he had adored
sharpening tonight the look of suffering on his face? Or was her
imagination, over-excited, exaggerating what she saw and fancying
a great sorrow where there was only boredom? She pondered, and
had almost concluded that the latter was the saner explanation
when--watching--she saw a sudden spasm cross his face of such agony
that she caught her lip fiercely between her teeth to stifle an
exclamation. In the fleeting expression of a moment she had seen
the revelation of a soul in torment. She looked away hastily,
feeling dismayed at having trespassed. She had discovered a
secret wound. She sat tense, and a quick fear came lest the others
might have also seen. She glanced at them furtively. But the
argument was still unsettled, the tablecloth between them scored
and creased with conflicting sketches. She drew a sharp little
sigh of relief. Only she had noticed, and she did not matter. For
a few moments her thoughts ran riot until she pulled them up
frowningly. It was no business of hers--she had no right even
to speculate on his affairs. Angry with herself she turned for
distraction to the portraits on the walls--they at least would
offer no disturbing problem. But her determination to keep her
thoughts from her guardian met with a check at the outset for she
found herself staring at Barry Craven as she had visualised him
in that first moment of meeting--steel-clad. It was the picture
of a young man, dressed in the style of the Elizabethan period,
wearing a light inlaid cuirass and leaning negligently against a
stone balustrade, a hooded falcon on his wrist. The resemblance
to the owner of Craven Towers was remarkable--the same build,
the same haughty carriage of the head, the same features and
colouring; the mouth only of the painted gallant differed, for the
lips were not set sternly but curved in a singularly winning smile.
The portrait had recently been cleaned and the colours stood
out freshly. The pose of the figure was curiously unrestrained
for the period, a suggestion of energy--barely concealed by the
indolent attitude--broke through the conventional treatment of
the time, as if the painter had responded to an influence that had
overcome tradition. The whole body seemed to pulsate with life.
Gillian looked at it entranced; instinctively her eyes sought the
pictured hands. The one that held the falcon was covered with
an embroidered leather glove, but the other was bare, holding
a set of jesses. And even the hands were similar, the characteristics
faithfully transmitted. Peters' voice startled her. "You are looking
at the first Barry Craven, Miss Locke. It is a wonderful picture.
The resemblance is extraordinary, is it not?"
She looked up and met the agent's magnetic smile across the table.
"It is--extraordinary," she said slowly; "it might be a costume
portrait of Mr. Craven, except that in treatment the picture is so
different from a modern painting."
"The professional eye, Miss Locke! But I am glad that you admit
the likeness. I should have quarrelled horribly with you if you
had failed to see it. The young man in the picture," he went on,
warming to the subject as he saw the girl's interest, "was one of
the most romantic personages of his time. He lived in the reign of
Elizabeth and was poet, sculptor, and musician--there are two
volumes of his verse in the library and the marble Hermes in the
hall is his work. When he was seventeen he left the Towers to go
to court. He seems to have been universally beloved, judging from
various letters that have come down to us. He was a close friend
of Sir Philip Sidney and one of Spenser's numerous patrons. A
special favourite with Elizabeth--in fact her partiality seems to
have been a source of some embarrassment, according to entries in
his private journal. She knighted him for no particular reason
that has ever transpired, indeed it seems to have been a matter of
surprise to himself, for he records it in his journal thus:
"'--dubbed knight this day by Gloriana. God He knoweth why,
but not I.' He was an idealist and visionary, with the power of
putting his thoughts into words--his love poems are the most
beautiful I have ever read, but they are quite impersonal. There
is no evidence that his love was ever given to any 'faire ladye.'
No woman's name was ever connected with his, and from his
detached attitude towards the tender passion he earned, in a
fantastical court, the euphuistic appellation of _L'amant d' Amour._
Quite suddenly, after ten years in the queen's household, he
fitted out an expedition to America. He gave no reason. Distaste
for the artificial existence prevailing at Court, sorrow at the
death of his friend Sidney, or a wander-hunger fed on the tales
brought home by the numerous merchant adventurers may have been
the cause of this surprising step. His decision provoked dismay
among his friends and brought a furious tirade from Elizabeth who
commanded him to remain near her. But in spite of royal oaths and
entreaties--more of the former than the latter--he sailed to
Virginia on a land expedition. Two letters came from him during
the next few years, but after that--silence. His fate is not
known. He was the first of many Cravens to vanish into oblivion
searching for new lands." The pleasant voice hesitated and dropped
to a lower, more serious note. And Gillian was puzzled at the
sudden anxiety that clouded the agent's smiling blue eyes. She had
listened with eager interest. It was history brought close and
made alive in its intimate connection with the house. The dream
castle was more wonderful even than she had thought. She smiled
her thanks at Peters, and drew a long breath.
"I like that," and looking at the picture again, "the Lover of
Love!" she repeated softly; "it's a very beautiful idea."
"A very unsatisfactory one for any poor soul who may have been
fool enough to lose her heart to him." Miss Craven's voice was
"I have often wondered if any demoiselle 'pined in a green and
yellow melancholy for his sake,' she added, rising from the table.
"Reason enough, if he knew of it, for going to Virginia," said
Craven, with a hard laugh. "The family traditions have never
tended to undue consideration of the weaker sex."
"Barry, you are horrible!"
"Possibly, my dear aunt, but correct," he replied coolly, crossing
the room to open the door. "Even Peter, who has the family history
at his fingers' ends, cannot deny it." His voice was provocative
but Peters, beyond a mildly sarcastic "--thank you for the 'even,'
Barry--" refused to be drawn.
Her nephew's words would formerly have aroused a storm of
indignant protest from Miss Craven, touched in a tender spot. But
now some intuition warned her to silence. She put her arm through
Gillian's and left the room without attempting to expostulate.
In the drawing room she sat down to a patience table, lit a
cigarette, rumpled her hair, and laid out the cards frowningly.
More than ever was she convinced that in the two years he had been
away some serious disaster had occurred. His whole character
appeared to have undergone a change. He was totally different. The
old Barry had been neither hard nor cynical, the new Barry was
both. In the last few weeks she had had ample opportunity for
judging. She perceived that a heavy shadow lay upon him darkening
his home-coming--she had pictured it so very differently, and she
sighed over the futility of anticipation. His happiness meant to
her so much that she raged at her inability to help him. Until he
spoke she could do nothing. And she knew that he would never
speak. The nightly occupation lost its usual zest, so she shuffled
the cards absently and began a fresh game.
Gillian was on the hearthrug, Houston's head in her lap. She leant
against Miss Craven's chair, dreaming as she had dreamt in the old
convent until the sudden lifting of the dog's head under her hands
made her aware of Peters standing beside her. He looked down
silently on the card table for a few moments, pointed with a
nicotine-stained finger to a move Miss Craven had missed and then
wandered across the room and sat down at the piano. For a while
his hands moved silently over the keys, then he began to play, and
his playing was exquisite. Gillian sat and marvelled. Peters and
music had seemed widely apart. He had appeared so essentially a
sportsman; in spite of the literary tendency that his sympathetic
account of the Elizabethan Barry Craven had suggested she had
associated him with rougher, more physical pursuits. He was
obviously an out-door man; a gun seemed a more natural complement
to his hands than the sensitive keys of a piano, his thick rather
clumsy fingers manifestly incompatible with the delicate touch
that was filling the room with wonderful harmony. It was a check
to her cherished theory which she acknowledged reluctantly. But
she forgot to theorise in the sheer joy of listening.
"Why did he not make music a career?" she whispered, under cover
of some crashing chords. Miss Craven smiled at her eager face.
"Can you see Peter kow-towing to concert directors, and grimacing
at an audience?" she replied, rescuing a king from her rubbish
With an answering smile Gillian subsided into her former position.
Music moved her deeply and her highly strung artistic temperament
was responding to the beauty of Peters' playing. It was a Russian
folk song, plaintive and simple, with a curious minor refrain like
the sigh of an aching heart--wild sad harmony with pain in it that
gripped the throat. Swayed by the sorrow-haunted music a wave of
foreboding came over her, a strange indefinite fear that was
formless but that weighed on her like a crushing burden. The
happiness of the last few weeks seemed suddenly swamped in the
recollection of the misery rampant in the world. Who, if their
inmost hearts were known, were truly happy? And her thoughts,
becoming more personal, flitted back over the desolate days of her
own sad girlhood and then drifted to the tragedy of her father.
Then, with a forward leap that brought her suddenly to the
present, she thought of the sorrow she had seen on Craven's face
in that breathless moment at dinner time. Was there only sadness
in the world? The brooding brown eyes grew misty. A passionate
prayer welled up in her heart that complete happiness might touch
her once, if only for a moment.
Then the music changed and with it the girl's mood. She gave her
head a little backward jerk and blinked the moisture from her eyes
angrily. What was the matter with her? Surely she was the most
ungrateful girl in the universe. If there was sorrow in the world
for her then it must be of her own making. She had been shown
almost unbelievable kindness, nothing had been omitted to make her
happy. The contrast of her life only a few weeks ago and now was
immeasurable. What more did she want? Was she so selfish that she
could even think of the unhappiness that was over? Shame filled
her, and she raised her eyes to the woman beside her with a sudden
rush of gratitude and love. But Miss Craven, interested at last in
her game, was blind to her surroundings, and with a little smile
Gillian turned her attention to the silent occupant of the chair
near her. Craven had come into the room a few minutes before. He
was leaning back listlessly, one hand shading his face, a
neglected cigarette dangling from the other. She looked at him
long and earnestly, wondering, as she always wondered, what
association there had been between him and such a man as her
father--what had induced him to take upon himself the burden that
had been laid upon him. And her cheeks grew hot again at the
thought of the encumbrance she was to him. It was preposterous
that he should be so saddled!
She stifled a sigh and her eyes grew dreamy as she fell to
thinking of the future that lay before her. And as she planned
with eager confidence her hand moved soothingly over the dog's
head in measure to the languorous waltz that Peters was playing.
After a sudden unexpected chord the player rose from the piano and
joined the circle at the other end of the room. Miss Craven was
shuffling vigorously. "Thank you, Peter," she said, with a smiling
nod, "it's like old times to hear you play again. Gillian thinks
you have missed your vocation, she would like to see you at the
Peters laughed at the girl's blushing protest and sat down near
the card table. Miss Craven paused in a deal to light a fresh
"What's the news in the county?" she asked, adding for Gillian's
benefit: "He's a walking chronicle, my dear."
Peters laughed. "Nothing startling, dear lady. We have been a
singularly well-behaved community of late. Old Lacy of Holmwood
is dead, Bill Lacy reigns in his stead and is busy cutting down
oaks to pay for youthful indiscretions--none of 'em very fierce
when all's said and done. The Hamer-Banisters have gone under
at last--more's the pity--and Hamer is let to some wealthy
Australians who are possessed apparently of unlimited cash,
a most curious phraseology, and an assurance which is beautiful
to behold. They had good introductions and Alex has taken them
up enthusiastically--there are kindred tastes."
"Horses, I presume. How are the Horringfords?"
"Much as usual," replied Peters. "Horringford is absorbed in
things Egyptian, and Alex is on the warpath again," he added
Miss Craven grinned.
"What is it this time?"
Peters' eyebrows twitched quaintly.
"Socialism!" he chuckled, "a brand new, highly original conception
of that very elastic term. I asked Alex to explain the principles
of this particular organization and she was very voluble and
rather cryptic. It appears to embrace the rights of man, the
elevation of the masses, the relations between landlord and
tenant, the psychological deterioration of the idle rich--"
"Alex and psychology--good heavens!" interposed Miss Craven, her
hands at her hair, "and the amelioration of the downtrodden poor,"
continued Peters. "It doesn't sound very original, but I'm told
that the propaganda is novel in the extreme. Alex is hard at work
among their own people," he concluded, leaning back in his chair
with a laugh.
"But--the downtrodden poor! I thought Horringford was a model
landlord and his estates an example to the kingdom."
"Precisely. That's the humour of it. But a little detail like that
wouldn't deter Alex. It will be an interest for the summer, she's
always rather at a loose end when there's no hunting. She had
taken up this socialistic business very thoroughly, organizing
meetings and lectures. A completely new scheme for the upbringing
of children seems to be a special sideline of the campaign. I'm
rather vague there--I know I made Alex very angry by telling her
that it reminded me of intensive market gardening. That Alex has
no children of her own presents no difficulty to her--she is full
of the most beautiful theories. But theories don't seem to go down
very well with the village women. She was routed the other day by
the mother of a family who told her bluntly to her face she didn't
know what she was talking about--which was doubtless perfectly
true. But the manner of telling seems to have been disagreeable
and Alex was very annoyed and complained to Thomson, the new
agent. He, poor chap, was between the devil and the deep sea, for
the tenants had also been complaining that they were being
interfered with. So he had to go to Horringford and there was a
royal row. The upshot of it was that Alex rang me up on the
'phone this morning to tell me that Horringford was behaving like
a bear, that he was so wrapped up in his musty mummies that he
hadn't a spark of philanthropy in him, and that she was coming
over to lunch tomorrow to tell me all about it--she's delighted to
hear that the house is open again, and will come on to you for
tea, when you will doubtless get a second edition of her woes.
Half-an-hour later Horringford rang me up to say that Alex had
been particularly tiresome over some new crank which had set
everybody by the ears, that Thomson was sending in a resignation
daily, altogether there was the deuce to pay, and would I use my
influence and talk sense to her. It appears he is working at high
pressure to finish a monograph on one of the Pharaohs and was
considerably ruffled at being interrupted."
"If he cared a little less for the Pharaohs and a little more for
Alex--" suggested Miss Craven, blowing smoke rings thoughtfully.
Peters shook his head.
"He did care--that's the pity of it," he said slowly, "but what
can you expect?--you know how it was. Alex was a child married
when she should have been in the schoolroom, without a voice in
the matter. Horringford was nearly twenty years her senior, always
reserved and absorbed in his Egyptian researches. Alex hadn't an
idea in the world outside the stables. Horringford bored her
infinitely, and with Alex-like honesty she did not hesitate to
tell him so. They hadn't a thought in common. She couldn't see the
sterling worth of the man, so they drifted apart and Horringford
retired more than ever into his shell."
"And what do you propose to do, Peter?" Craven's sudden question
was startling, for he had not appeared to be listening to the
Peters lit a cigarette and smoked for a few moments before
answering. "I shall listen to all Alex has to say," he said at
last, "then I shall tell her a few things I think she ought to
know, and I shall persuade her to ask Horringford to take her with
him to Egypt next winter."
"Because Horringford in Egypt and Horringford in England are two
very different people. I know--because I have seen. It's an idea,
it may work. Anyhow it's worth trying."
"But suppose her ladyship does not succumb to your persuasive
"She will--before I've done with her," replied Peters grimly, and
then he laughed. "I guessed from what she said this morning that
she was a little frightened at the hornet's nest she had raised. I
imagine she won't be sorry to run away for a while and let things
settle down. She can ease off gently in the meantime and give
Egypt as an excuse for finally withdrawing."
"You think Alex is more to blame than Horringford?" said Miss
Craven, with a note of challenge in her voice.
Peters shrugged. "I blame them both. But above all I blame the
system that has been responsible for the trouble."
"You mean that Alex should have been allowed to choose her own
husband? She was such a child--"
"And Horringford was such a devil of a good match," interposed
Craven cynically, moving from his chair to the padded fireguard.
Gillian was sitting on the arm of Miss Craven's chair, sorting the
patience cards into a leather case. She looked up quickly. "I
thought that in England all girls choose their own husbands, that
they marry to please themselves, I mean," she said in a puzzled
"Theoretically they do, my dear," replied Miss Craven, "in
practice numbers do not. The generality of girls settle their own
futures and choose their own husbands. But there are still many
old-fashioned people who arrogate to themselves the right of
settling their daughters' lives, who have so trained them that
resistance to family wishes becomes almost an impossibility. A
good suitor presents himself, parental pressure is brought to
bear--and the deed is done. Witness the case of Alex. In a few
years she probably would have chosen for herself, wisely. As it
was, marriage had never entered her head."
"She couldn't have chosen a better man," said Peters warmly, "if
he had only been content to wait a year or two--"
"Alex would probably have eloped with a groom or a circus rider
before she reached years of discretion!" laughed Miss Craven. "But
it's a difficult question, the problem of husband choosing," she
went on thoughtfully. "Being a bachelor I can discuss it with
perfect equanimity. But if in a moment of madness I had married
and acquired a houseful of daughters, I should have nervous
prostration every time a strange man showed his nose inside the
"You don't set us on a very high plane, dear lady," said Peters
"My good soul, I set you on no plane at all--know too much about
you!" she smiled. Peters laughed. "What's your opinion, Barry?"
Since his one interruption Craven had been silent, as if the
discussion had ceased to interest him. He did not answer Peters'
question for some time and when at last he spoke his voice was
curiously strained. "I don't think my opinion counts for very
much, but it seems to me that the woman takes a big risk either
way. A man never knows what kind of a blackguard he may prove in
circumstances that may arise."
An awkward pause followed. Miss Craven kept her eyes fixed on the
card table with a feeling of nervous apprehension that was new to
her. Her nephew's words and the bitterness of his tone seemed
fraught with hidden meaning, and she racked her brains to find a
topic that would lessen the tension that seemed to have fallen on
the room. But Peters broke the silence before it became
noticeable. "The one person present whom it most nearly concerns
has not given us her view. What do you say, Miss Locke?"
Gillian flushed faintly. It was still difficult to join in a
general conversation, to remember that she might at any moment be
called upon to put forward ideas of her own.
"I am afraid I am prejudiced. I was brought up in a convent--in
France," she said hesitatingly. "Then you hold with the French
custom of arranged marriages?" suggested Peters. Her dark eyes
looked seriously into his. "I think it is--safer," she said
"And consequently, happier?" The colour deepened in her face.
"Oh, I don't know. I do not understand English ways. I can speak
only of France. We talked of it in the convent--naturally, since it
was forbidden, _que voulez vous?_" she smiled. "Some of my
friends were married. Their parents arranged the marriages.
It seems that--" she stammered and went on hurriedly--"that there
is much to be considered in choosing a husband, much that--girls
do not understand, that only older people know. So it is perhaps
better that they should arrange a matter which is so serious and
so--so lasting. They must know more than we do," she added
"And are your friends happy?" asked Miss Craven bluntly.
"They are content."
Miss Craven snorted. "Content!" she said scornfully. "Marriage
should bring more than contentment. It's a meagre basis on which
to found a life partnership."
A shadow flitted across the girl's face.
"I had a friend who married for love," she said slowly. "She
belonged to the old noblesse, and her family wished her to make
a great marriage. But she loved an artist and married him in spite
of all opposition. For six months she was the happiest girl in
France--then she found out that her husband was unfaithful.
Does it shock you that I speak of it--we all knew in the convent.
She went to Capri soon afterwards, to a villa her father had given
her, and one morning she went out to swim--it was a daily habit,
she could do anything in the water. But that morning she swam out
to sea--and she did not come back." The low voice sank almost to
a whisper. Miss Craven looked up incredulously. "Do you mean
she deliberately drowned herself?" Gillian made a little gesture of
evasion. "She was very unhappy," she said softly. And in the silence
that followed her troubled gaze turned almost unconsciously to
her guardian. He had risen and was standing with his hands in his
pockets staring straight in front of him, rigidly still. His attitude
suggested complete detachment from those about him, as if his
spirit was ranging far afield leaving the big frame empty, impenetrable
as a figure of stone. She was sensitive to his lack of interest. She
regretted having expressed opinions that she feared were immature
and valueless. A quick sigh escaped her, and Miss Craven,
misunderstanding, patted her shoulder gently. "It's a very sad little
story, my dear."
"And one that serves to confirm your opinion that a girl does well
to accept the husband who is chosen for her, Miss Locke?" asked
Peters abruptly, as he glanced at his watch and rose to his feet.
Gillian joined in the general move.
"I think it is--safer," she said, as she had said before, and
stooped to rouse the sleeping poodle.
Miss Craven was sitting alone in the library at the Towers. She had
been reading, but the book had failed to hold her attention and lay
unheeded on her lap while she was plunged in a profound reverie.
She sat very still, her usually serene face clouded, and once or twice a
heavy sigh escaped her.
The short November day was drawing in and though still early afternoon
it was already growing dark. The declining light was more noticeable in
the library than elsewhere in the house--a sombre room once the morning
sun had passed; long and narrow and panelled in oak to a height of about
twelve feet, above which ran a gallery reached by a hammered iron
stairway, it housed a collection of calf and vellum bound books which
clothed the walls from the floor of the gallery to within a few feet of
the lofty ceiling. On the fourth side of the room, whither the gallery
did not extend, three tall narrow windows overlooked the drive. The
furniture was scanty and severely Jacobean, having for more than two
hundred years remained practically intact; a ponderous writing table, a
couple of long low cabinets, and half a dozen cavernous armchairs
recushioned to suit modern requirements of ease. Some fine old bronzes
stood against the panelled walls. There was about the room a settled
peacefulness. The old furniture had a stately air of permanence. The
polished panels, and, above, the orderly ranks of ancient books
suggested durability; they remained--while generations of men came and
passed, transient figures reflected in the shining oak, handling for a
few brief years the printed treasures that would still be read centuries
after they had returned to their dust.
The spirit of the house seemed embodied in this big silent room that was
spacious and yet intimate, formal and yet friendly.
It was Miss Craven's favourite retreat. The atmosphere was sympathetic.
Here she seemed more particularly in touch with the subtle influence of
family that seemed to pervade the whole house. In most of the rooms it
was perceptible, but in the library it was forceful.
The house and the family--they were bound up inseparably.
For hundreds of years, in an unbroken line, from father to son ... from
father to son.... Miss Craven sat bolt upright to the sound of an
unmistakable sob. She looked with amazement at two tears blistering the
page of the open book on her knee. She had not knowingly cried since
childhood. It was a good thing that she was alone she thought, with a
startled glance round the empty room. She would have to keep a firmer
hold over herself than that. She laughed a little shakily, choked, blew
her nose vigorously, and walked to the middle window. Outside was stark
November. The wind swept round the house in fierce gusts before which
the big bare-branched trees in the park swayed and bowed, and trains of
late fallen leaves caught in a whirlwind eddied skyward to scatter widely
Rain lashed the window panes. Yet even when storm-tossed the scene had
its own peculiar charm. At all seasons it was lovely.
Miss Craven looked at the massive trees, beautiful in their clean
nakedness, and wondered how often she would see them bud again.
Frowning, she smothered a rising sigh and pressing closer to the window
peered out more attentively. Eastward and westward stretched long
avenues that curved and receded soon from sight. The gravelled space
before the house was wide; from it two shorter avenues encircling a
large oval paddock led to the stables, built at some distance facing the
house, but hidden by a belt of firs.
For some time Miss Craven watched, but only a game-keeper passed, a
drenched setter at his heels, and with a little shiver she turned back
to the room. She moved about restlessly, lifting books to lay them down
immediately, ransacking the cabinets for prints that at a second glance
failed to interest, and examining the bronzes that she had known from
childhood with lengthy intentness as if she saw them now for the first
A footman came and silently replenished the fire. Her thoughts,
interrupted, swung into a new channel. She sat down at the writing table
and drawing toward her a sheet of paper slowly wrote the date. Beyond
that she did not get. The ink dried on the pen as she stared at the
blank sheet, unable to express as she wished the letter she had intended
She laid the silver holder down at last with a hopeless gesture and her
eyes turned to a bronze figure that served as a paper weight. It was a
piece of her own work and she handled it lovingly with a curiously sad
smile until a second hard sob broke from her and pushing it away she
covered her face with her hands.
"Not for myself, God knows it's not for myself," she whispered, as if in
extenuation. And mastering herself with an effort she made a second
attempt to write but at the end of half a dozen words rose impatiently,
crumpled the paper in her hand and walking to the fireplace threw it
among the blazing logs.
She watched it curl and discolour, the writing blackly distinct, and
crumble into ashes. Then from force of habit she searched for a
cigarette in a box on the mantelpiece, but as she lit it a sudden
thought arrested her and after a moment's hesitation the cigarette
followed the half--written letter into the fire.
With an impatient shrug she went back to an arm chair and again tried to
read, but though her eyes mechanically followed the words on the printed
page she did not notice what she was reading and laying the book down
she gave up all further endeavour to distract her wandering thoughts.
They were not pleasant and when, a little later, the door opened she
turned her head expectantly with a sigh of relief. Peters came in
"I've come to inquire," he said laughing, "the family pew held me in
solitary state this morning. Time was when I never minded, but this last
year has spoiled me. I was booked for lunch but I came as soon as I
could. Nobody ill, I hope?"
Miss Craven looked at him for a moment before answering as he stood with
his back to the fire, his hands clasped behind him, his face ruddy with
the wind and rain, his keen blue eyes on hers, reliable, unchanging. It
was a curious chance that had brought him--just at that moment. The
temptation to make an unusual confidence rose strongly. She had known
him and trusted him for more years than she cared to remember. How much
to say? Indecision held her.
"You are always thoughtful, Peter," she temporised. "I am afraid there
is no excuse," with a little smile; "Barry rode off somewhere quite
early this morning and Gillian went yesterday to the Horringfords. I
expect her back to-day in time for tea. For myself, I had gout or
rheumatism or the black dog on my back, I forget which! Anyhow, I stayed
at home." She laughed and pointed to the cigarettes. He took one,
tapping it on his thumbnail.
"You were alone. Why didn't you 'phone? I should have been glad to
escape the Australians. They are enormously kind, but somewhat--er--
overwhelming," he added with a quick laugh.
"My dear man, be thankful I never thought of it. I've been like a bear
with a sore head all day." She looked past him into the fire, and struck
by a new note in her voice he refrained from comment, smoking slowly and
luxuriating in the warmth after a cold wet drive in an open motor. He
never used a closed car. But some words she had used struck him. "Barry
is riding--?" with a glance at the storm raging outside.
"Yes. He had breakfast at an unearthly hour and went off early. Weather
seems to make no difference to him, but he will be soaked to the skin."
"He's tough," replied Peters shortly. "I thought he must be out. As I
came in just now Yoshio was hanging about the hall, watching the drive.
Waiting for him, I suppose," he added, flicking a curl of ash into the
fire. "He's a treasure of a valet," he supplemented conversationally.
But Miss Craven let the observation pass. She was still staring into the
leaping flames, drumming with her fingers on the arms of the chair. Once
she tried to speak but no words came. Peters waited. He felt
unaccountably but definitely that she wished him to wait, that what was
evidently on her mind would come with no prompting from him. He felt in
her attitude a tension that was unusual--to-day she was totally unlike
herself. Once or twice only in the course of a lifelong friendship she
had shown him her serious side. She had turned to him for help then--he
seemed presciently aware that she was turning to him for help now. He
prided himself that he knew her as well as she knew herself and he
understood the effort it would cost her to speak. That he guessed the
cause of her trouble was no short cut to getting that trouble uttered.
She would take her own time, he could not go half-way to meet her. He
must stand by and wait. When had he ever done anything else at Craven
Towers? His eyes glistened curiously in the firelight, and he rammed his
hands down into his jacket pockets with abrupt jerkiness. Suddenly Miss
Craven broke the silence.
"Peter--I'm horribly worried about Barry," the words came with a rush.
He understood her too well to cavil.
"Dear lady, so am I," he replied with a promptness that did not console.
"Peter, what is it?" she went on breathlessly. "Barry is utterly
changed. You see it as well as I. I don't understand--I'm all at sea--I
want your help. I couldn't discuss him with anybody else, but you--you
are one of us, you've always been one of us. Fair weather or foul,
you've stood by us. What we should have done without you God only knows.
You care for Barry, he's as dear to you as he is to me, can't you do
something? The suffering in his face--the tragedy in his eyes--I wake up
in the night seeing them! Peter, can't you _do_ something?" She was
beside him, clutching at the mantel-shelf, shaking with emotion. The
sight of her unnerved, almost incoherent, shocked him. He realised the
depth of the impression that had been made upon her--deep indeed to
produce such a result. But what she asked was impossible. He made a
little negative gesture and shook his head.
"Dear lady, I can't do anything. And I wonder whether you know how it
hurts to have to say so? No son could be dearer to me than Barry--for
the sake of his mother--" his voice faltered momentarily, "but the fact
remains--he is not my son. I am only his agent. There are certain things
I cannot do and say, no matter how great the wish," he added with a
Miss Craven seemed scarcely to be listening. "It happened in Japan," she
asserted in fierce low tones. "Japan! Japan!" she continued vehemently,
"how much more sorrow is that country to bring to our family! It happened
in Japan and whatever it was--Yoshio knows! You spoke of him just now.
You said he was hanging about--waiting--watching. Peter, he's doing it
all the time! He watches continually. Barry never has to send for
him--he's always there, waiting to be called. When Barry goes out the
man is restless until he comes in again--haunting the hall--it gets on
my nerves. Yet there is nothing I can actually complain of. He doesn't
intrude, he is as noiseless as a cat and vanishes if he sees you, but
you know that just out of sight he's still there--waiting--listening.
Peter, what is he waiting for? I don't think that it is apparent to the
rest of the household, I didn't notice it myself at first. But a few
months ago something happened and since then I don't seem able to get
away from it. It was in the night, about two o'clock; I was wakeful and
couldn't sleep. I thought if I read I might read myself sleepy. I hadn't
a book in my room that pleased me and I remembered a half-finished novel
I had left in the library. I didn't take a light--I know every turn in
the Towers blindfold. As you know, to reach the staircase from my room
I have to pass Barry's door, and at Barry's door I fell over something
in the darkness--something with hands of steel that saved me from an
awkward tumble and hurried me down the passage and into the moonlit
gallery before I could find a word of expostulation. Yoshio of course.
I was naturally startled and angry in consequence. I demanded an
explanation and after a great deal of hesitation he muttered something
about Barry wanting him--which is ridiculous on the face of it. If
Barry had really wanted him he would have been inside the room, not
crouched outside on the door mat. He seemed very upset and kept begging
me to say nothing about it. I don't remember how he put it but he
certainly conveyed the impression that it would not be good for Barry
to know. I don't understand it--Barry trusts him implicitly--and yet
this.... I'm afraid, and I've never been afraid in my life before." The
little break in her voice hurt him. He felt curiously unable to cope
with the situation. Her story disturbed him more than he cared to let
her see in her present condition of unwonted agitation. Twice in the
past they had stood shoulder to shoulder through a crisis of sufficient
magnitude and she had showed then a cautious judgment, a reliability of
purpose that had been purely masculine in its strength and sanity. She
had been wholly matter-of-fact and unimaginative, unswayed by petty
trivialities and broad in her decision. She had displayed a levelness of
mind which had almost excluded feeling and which had enabled him to deal
with her as with another man, confident of her understanding and the
unlikelihood of her succumbing unexpectedly to ordinary womanly
weaknesses. He had thought that he knew her thoroughly, that no
circumstance that might arise could alter characteristics so set and
inherent. But to-day her present emotion which had come perilously near
hysteria, showed her in a new light that made her almost a stranger. He
was a little bewildered with the discovery. It was incredible after all
these years, just as if an edifice that he had thought strongly built of
stone had tumbled about his ears like a pack of cards. He could hardly
grasp it. He felt that there was something behind it all--something more
than she admitted. He was tempted to ask definitely but second
reflection brought the conviction that it would be a mistake, that it
would be taking an unfair advantage. Sufficient unto the day--his
present concern was to help her regain a normal mental poise. And to do
that he must ignore half of what her suggestions seemed to imply. He
felt her breakdown acutely, he must say nothing that would add to her
distress of mind. It was better to appear obtuse than to concur too
heartily in fears, a recollection of which in a saner moment he knew
would be distasteful to her. She would never forgive herself--the less
she had to forget the better. She trusted him or she would never have
spoken at all. That he knew and he was honoured by her confidence. They
had always been friends, but in her weakness he felt nearer to her than
ever before. She was waiting for him to speak. He chose the line that
seemed the least open to argument. He spoke at last, evenly, unwilling
alike to seem incredulous or overanxious, his big steady hand closing
warmly over her twitching fingers.
"I don't think there is any cause--any reason to doubt Yoshio's fidelity.
The man is devoted to Barry. His behaviour certainly sounds--curious, but
can be attributed I am convinced to over-zealousness. He is an alien in a
strange land, cut off from his own natural distractions and amusements,
and with time on his hands his devotion to his master takes a more
noticeable form than is usual with an ordinary English man-servant.
That he designs any harm I cannot believe. He has been with Barry a
long time--on the several occasions when he stayed with him at your
house in London did you notice anything in his behaviour then similar
to the attitude you have observed recently? No? Then I take it that it
is due to the same anxiety that we ourselves have felt since Barry's
return. Only in Yoshio's case it is probably based on definite knowledge,
whereas ours is pure conjecture. Barry has undoubtedly been up against
something--momentous. Between ourselves we can admit the fact frankly.
It is a different man who has come back to us--and we can only carry on
and notice nothing. He is trying to forget something. He has worked like
a nigger since he came home, slogging away down at the estate office as
if he had his bread to earn. He does the work of two men--and he hates
it. I see him sometimes, forgetful of his surroundings, staring out of
the window, and the look on his face brings a confounded lump into my
throat. Thank God he's young--perhaps in time--" he shrugged and broke
off inconclusively, conscious of the futility of platitudes. And they
were all he had to offer. There was no suggestion he could make, nothing
he could do. It was repetition of history, again he had to stand by and
watch suffering he was powerless to aid, powerless to relieve. The mother
first and now the son--it would seem almost as if he had failed both.
The sense of helplessness was bitter and his face was drawn with pain
as he stared dumbly at the window against which the storm was beating
with renewed violence. The sight of the angry elements brought almost
a feeling of relief; it would be something that he could contend with
and overcome, something that would go towards mitigating the galling
sense of impotence that chafed him. He felt the room suddenly stifling,
he wanted the cold sting of the rain against his face, the roar of the
wind in the trees above his head. Abruptly he buttoned his jacket in
preparation for departure. Miss Craven pulled herself together. She
laid a detaining hand on his arm. "Peter," she said slowly, "do you
think that Barry's trouble has any connection with--my brother? The
change of pictures in the dining-room--it was so strange. He said it
was a reparation. Do you think Barry--found out something in Japan?"
Peter shook his head. "God knows," he said gruffly. For a moment there
was silence, then with a sigh Miss Craven moved towards a bell.
"You'll stay for tea?"
"Thanks, no. I've got a man coming over, I'll have to go. Give my love
to Gillian and tell her I shall not, forgive her soon for deserting me
this morning. Has she lost that nasty cough yet?"
"Almost. I didn't want her to go to the Horringfords, but she promised
to be careful." Miss Craven paused, then:
"What did we do without Gillian, Peter?" she said with an odd little
"'You've got me guessing,' as Atherton says. She's a witch, bless her!"
he replied, holding out his hands. Miss Craven took them and held them
for a moment.
"You're the best pal I ever had, Peter," she said unsteadily, "and
you've given all your life to us Cravens."
The sudden gripping of his hands was painful, then he bent his head and
unexpectedly put his lips to the fingers he held so closely.
"I'm always here--when you want me," he said huskily, and was gone.
Miss Craven stood still looking after him with a curious smile.
"Thank God for Peter," she said fervently, and went back to her station
by the window. It was considerably darker than before, but for some
distance the double avenue leading to the stables was visible. As she
watched, playing absently with the blind-cord, her mind dwelt on the
long connection between Peter Peters and her family. Thirty years--the
best of his life. And in exchange sorrow and an undying memory. The
woman he loved had chosen not him but handsome inconsequent Barry Craven
and, for her choice, had reaped misery and loneliness. And because he
had known that inevitably a day would come when she would need
assistance and support he had sunk his own feelings and retained his
post. Her brief happiness had been hard to watch--the subsequent long
years of her desertion a protracted torture. He had raged at his own
helplessness. And ignorant of his love and the motive that kept him at
Craven Towers she had come to lean on him and refer all to him. But for
his care the Craven properties would have been ruined, and the Craven
interests neglected beyond repair.
For some time before her sister-in-law's death Miss Craven had known, as
only a woman can know, but now for the first time she had heard from his
lips a half-confession of the love that he had guarded jealously for
The unusual tears that to-day seemed so curiously near the surface rose
despite her and she blinked the moisture from her eyes with a feeling of
Then a figure, almost indistinguishable in the gloom, coming from the
stables, caught her eye and she gave a sharp sigh of relief.
He was walking slowly, his hands deep in his pockets, his shoulders
hunched against the storm of wind and rain that beat on his broad back.
His movements suggested intense weariness, yet nearing the house his
step lagged even more as if, despite physical fatigue and the inclement
weather, he was rather forcing himself to return than showing a natural
desire for shelter.
There was in his tread a heaviness that contrasted forcibly with the
elasticity that had formerly been characteristic. As he passed close
by the window where Miss Craven was standing she saw that he was
splashed from head to foot. She thought with sudden compassion of
the horse that he had ridden. She had been in the stables only a
few weeks before when he had handed over another jaded mud-caked brute
trembling in every limb and showing signs of merciless riding to the
old head groom who had maintained a stony silence as was his duty but
whose grim face was eloquent of all he might not say. It was so unlike
Barry to be inconsiderate, toward animals he had been always peculiarly
She hurried out to the hall, almost cannoning with a little dark-clad
figure who gave way with a deep Oriental reverence. "Master very wet,"
he murmured, and vanished.
"There's some sense in him," she muttered grudgingly. And quite suddenly
a wholly unexpected sympathy dawned for the inscrutable Japanese whom
she had hitherto disliked. But she had no time to dwell on her
unaccountable change of feeling for through the glass of the inner door
she saw Craven in the vestibule struggling stiffly to rid himself of a
dripping mackintosh. It had been no protection for the driving rain had
penetrated freely, and as he fumbled at the buttons with slow cold
fingers the water ran off him in little trickling streams on to the mat.
She had no wish to convey the impression that she had been waiting for
him. She met him as if by accident, hailing him with surprise that rang
"Hallo, Barry, just in time for tea! I know you don't usually indulge,
but you can do an act of grace on this one occasion by cheering my
solitude. Peter looked in for ten minutes but had to hurry away for an
engagement, and Gillian is not yet back."
His face was haggard but he smiled in reply, "All right. In the library?
Then in five minutes--I'm a little wet."
In an incredibly short time he joined her, changed and immaculate. She
looked up from the tea urn she was manipulating, her eyes resting on him
with the pleasure his physical appearance always gave her. "You've been
quick!" "Yoshio," he replied laconically, handing her buttered toast.
He ate little himself but drank two cups of tea, smoking the while
innumerable cigarettes. Miss Craven chatted easily until the tea table
was taken away and Craven had withdrawn to his usual position on the
hearthrug, lounging against the mantelshelf.
Then she fell silent, looking at him furtively from time to time, her
hands restless in her lap, nerving herself to speak. What she had to say
was even more difficult to formulate than her confidence to Peters. But
it had to be spoken and she might never find a more favourable moment.
She took her courage in both hands.
"I want to speak to you of Gillian," she said hesitatingly.
He looked up sharply. "What of Gillian?" The question was abrupt, an
accent almost of suspicion in his voice and she moved uneasily.
"Bless the boy, don't jump down my throat," she parried, with a nervous
little laugh; "nothing of Gillian but what is sweet and good and dear ...
and yet that's not all the truth--it's more than that. I find it hard to
say. It's something serious, Barry, about Gillian's future," she paused,
hoping that he would volunteer some remark that would make her task
easier. But he volunteered nothing and, stealing a glance at him she saw
on his face an expression of peculiar stoniness to which she had lately
become accustomed. The new taciturnity, which she still found so
strange, seemed to have fallen on him suddenly. She stifled a sigh and
"I wonder if the matter of Gillian's future has ever occurred to you? It
has been in my mind often and lately I have had to give it more serious
attention. Time has run away so quickly. It is incredible that nearly
two years have passed since she became your ward. She will be twenty-one
in March--of age, and her own mistress. The question is--what is she to
"Do? There is no question of her _doing_ anything," he replied shortly.
"You mean that her coming of age will make no difference--that things
will go on as they are?" Miss Craven eyed him curiously.
"Yes. Why not?"
"You know less of Gillian than I thought you did." The old caustic tone
was sharp in her voice.
He looked surprised. "Isn't she happy here?"
"Happy!" Miss Craven laughed oddly. "It's a little word to mean so much.
Yes, she is happy--happy as the day is long--but that won't keep her.
She loves the Towers, she is adored on the estate, she has a corner in
that great heart of hers for all who live here--but still that won't
keep her. In her way of thinking she has a debt to pay, and all these
months, studying, working, hoping, she has been striving to that end.
She is determined to make her own way in the world, to repay what has
been expended on her----"
"That's dam' nonsense," he interrupted hotly.
"It's not nonsense from Gillian's point of view," Miss Craven answered
quickly, "it's just common honesty. We have argued the matter, she and
I, scores of times. I have told her repeatedly that in view of your
guardianship you stand _in loco parentis_ and, therefore, as long as she
is your ward her maintenance and artistic education are merely her just
due, that there can be no question of repayment. She does not see it in
that light. Personally--though I would not for the world have her know
it--I understand and sympathize with her entirely. Her independence, her
pride, are out of all proportion to her strength. I cannot condemn, I
can only admire--though I take good care to hide my admiration ... and
if you could persuade her to let the past rest, there is still the
question of her future."
"That I can provide for."
Miss Craven shook her head.
"That you can not provide for," she said gravely.
The flat contradiction stirred him. He jerked upright from his former
lounging attitude and stood erect, scowling down at her from his great
height. "Why not?" he demanded haughtily.
Miss Craven shrugged. "What would you propose to do?" He caught the
challenge in her tone and for a moment was disconcerted. "There would be
ways--" he said, rather vaguely. "Something could be arranged--"
"You would offer her--charity?" suggested Miss Craven, wilfully dense.
"Charity be damned."
"Charity generally is damnable to those who have to suffer it. No,
Barry, that won't do."
He jingled the keys in his pocket and the scowl on his face deepened.
"I could settle something on her, something that would be adequate, and
it could be represented that some old investment of her father's had
turned up trumps unexpectedly."
But Miss Craven shook her head again. "Clever, Barry, but not clever
enough. Gillian is no fool. She knows her father had no money, that he
existed on a pittance doled out to him by exasperated relatives which
ceased with his death. He told her plainly in his last letter that there
was nothing in the world for her--except your charity. Think of what
Gillian is, Barry, and think what she must have suffered--waiting for
your coming from Japan, and, to a less extent, in the dependence of
these last years."
He moved uncomfortably, as if he resented the plainness of his aunt's
words, and having found a cigarette lit it slowly. Then he walked to the
window, which was still unshuttered, and looked out into the darkness,
his back turned uncompromisingly to the room. His inattentive attitude
seemed almost to suggest that the matter was not of vital interest to
Miss Craven's face grew graver and she waited long before she spoke
again. "There is also another reason why I have strenuously opposed
Gillian's desire to make her own way in the world, a reason of which she
is ignorant. She is not physically strong enough to attempt to earn her
own living, to endure the hard work, the privations it would entail. You
remember how bronchitis pulled her down last year; I am anxious about
her this winter. She is constitutionally delicate, she may grow out of
it--or she may not. Heaven knows what seeds of mischief she has
inherited from such parents as hers. She needs the greatest care,