Part 3 out of 5
everything in the way of comfort--she is not fitted for a rough and
tumble life. And, Barry, I can't tell her. It would break her heart."
Her eyes were fixed on him intently and she waited with eager
breathlessness for him to speak. But when at length he answered his
words brought a look of swift disappointment and she relaxed in her
chair with an air of weary despondency. He replied without moving.
"Can't you arrange something, Aunt Caro? You are very fond of Gillian,
you would miss her society terribly; cannot you persuade her that she is
necessary to you--that it would be possible for her to work and still
remain with you? I know that some day you will want to go back to your
own house in London, to take up your own interests again, and to travel.
I can't expect you to take pity much longer on a lonely bachelor. You
have given up much to help me--it cannot go on for ever. For what you
have done I can never thank you, it is beyond thanks, but I must not
trade on your generosity. If you put it to Gillian that you, personally,
do not want to part with her--that she is dear to you--it's true, isn't
it?" he added with sudden eagerness. And in surprise at her silence he
swung on his heel and faced her. She was leaning back in the big
armchair in a listless manner that was not usual to her.
"I am afraid you cannot count on me, Barry," she said slowly. He stared
in sheer amazement.
"What do you mean, Aunt Caro?--you do care for her, don't you?"
"Care for her?" echoed Miss Craven, with a laugh that was curiously like
a sob, "yes, I do care for her. I care so much that I am going to
venture a great deal--for her sake. But I cannot propose that she
should live permanently with me because all future permanencies have
been taken out of my hands. I hate talking about myself, but you had to
know some day, this only accelerates it. I have not been feeling myself
for some time--a little while ago I went to London for definite
information. The man had the grace to be honest with me--he bade me put
my house in order." Her tone left no possibility of misunderstanding. He
was across the room in a couple of hasty strides, on his knees beside
her, his hands clasped over hers.
"Aunt Caro!" The genuine and deep concern in his voice almost broke her
self-control. She turned her head, catching her lip between her teeth,
then with a little shrug she recovered herself and smiled at him.
"Dear boy, it must come some day--it has come a little sooner than I
expected, that is all. I'm not grumbling, I've had a wonderful life--I've
been able to do something with it. I have not sat altogether idle in the
"But are you sure? Doctors are not infallible."
"Quite sure," she answered steadily; "the man I went to was very kind,
very thorough. He insisted I should have other opinions. There was a
council of big-wigs and they all arrived at the same conclusion, which
was at least consoling. A diversity of opinion would have torn my nerves
to tatters. I couldn't tell you before, it would have worried me. I hate
a fuss. I don't want it mentioned again. You know--and there's an end of
it." She squeezed his hands tightly for a moment, then got up abruptly
and went to the fireplace.
"I have only one regret--Gillian," she said as he followed her. "You see
now that it is impossible for me to make a definite home for her, even
supposing that she were to agree to such a proposal. They gave me two or
three years at the longest--it might be any time."
Craven stood beside her miserable and tongue-tied. Her news affected him
deeply, he was stunned with the suddenness of it and amazed at the
courage she displayed. She might almost have been discoursing on the
probable death of a stranger. And yet, he reflected, it was only in
keeping with her general character. She had been fearless all through
life, and for her death held no terrors.
He tried to speak but words failed him. And presently she spoke again,
"I am helpless. I can do nothing for Gillian. I could have left her
money in my will, despite her pride she would have had to accept it. I
can't even do that. At my death all I have, as you know, goes back into
the estate. I have never saved anything--there never seemed any reason.
And what I made with my work I gave away. There is only you--only one
way--Barry, won't you--Barry!" She was crying undisguisedly, unconscious
even of the unaccustomed tears. "You know what I mean--you must know,"
she whispered entreatingly, struggling with emotion.
He was standing rigid, to her strained fancy he seemed almost to have
stopped breathing and there was in his attitude something that
frightened her. It came to her suddenly that, after all, he was to all
intents and purposes a stranger to her. Even the intimacy of these last
months, living in close contiguity to him in his own house had not
broken down the barrier that his sojourn in Japan had raised. She
understood him no better than on the day of his arrival in Paris. He had
been uniformly thoughtful and affectionate but had never reverted to the
old Barry whom she had known so well. He had, as it were, retired within
himself. He lived his life apart, with them but not of them, daily
carrying through the arduous work he set himself with a dogged
determination in which there was no pleasure. Yet, beyond a certain
gravity, to the casual observer there was in him no great change. He
entertained frequently and was a popular host, interesting and appearing
interested. Only Miss Craven and Peters, more intimate, saw the effort
that he made. To Miss Craven it seemed sometimes as if he were
deliberately living through a self-appointed period--she had found
herself wondering what cataclysm would end it. She was conscious of the
impression, which she tried vainly to dismiss as absurd, of living over
an active volcano. What would be the result of the upheaval when it
came? She had prayed earnestly for some counter-distraction that might
become powerful enough to surmount the tragic memory with which he
lived--a memory she was convinced and the tragedy was present in his
face. She had cherished a hope, born in the early days of their return
to Craven Towers and maintained in the face of seeming improbability of
fulfilment, that had grown to be an ardent desire. In the realization of
that hope she thought she saw his salvation. With the knowledge of her
own precarious hold on life she clung even more closely to what had
become the strongest wish she had ever known. She had never deluded
herself into imagining the consummation of her wish imminent, she had
frankly acknowledged to herself that his inscrutability was
impenetrable, and now hope seemed almost extinguished. She realized it
with a feeling of helplessness. And yet she had a curious impulse, an
inner conviction that urged with a peremptoriness that over-rode
subterfuge. She would speak plainly, be the consequences what they were.
It was for the ultimate happiness of the two beings whom she loved best
on earth--for that surely she might venture something. She had never
been afraid of plain speaking, it would be strange if she let convention
deter her now. Convention! it had wrecked many a life--so had
interference, she thought with sudden racking indecision. What if by
interference she hindered now, rather than helped? What if speech did
more mischief than silence? Irresolutely she wavered, and to her
indecision there came suddenly the further disturbing thought--if Barry
acceded to her earnest wish what ground had she for pre-supposing that
it would result in his happiness? She had no definite knowledge, no
positive assurance wherewith to press her request. The inmost feelings
of both were hidden from her. Her meddling might only bring more sorrow to
him who seemed already weighed down under a crushing burden of grief.
Gratitude and an intense admiration she knew existed. But between
admiration and any deeper feeling there was a wide gulf. And yet what
might not be hidden behind the grave seriousness of those great dark
eyes that looked with apparently equal frankness at every member of the
household? Months spent in the proximity of an unusually handsome man,
the romance of the tie between them--it was an experience that any
woman, least of all an unsophisticated convent-bred girl, could hardly
pass through unscathed. It was surely enough to gamble on, she reflected
with grim humour that did not amuse. It was a great hazzard, the highest
stakes she had ever played for who had never been afraid of losing. The
thought spurred her. If it was to be the last throw then let there be no
hesitation. A reputation for courage and coolness had gone with her
She turned to him abruptly, all indecision gone, complete mistress of
"Barry, don't you understand?" she said with slow distinctness. "I want
you to ask Gillian to marry you."
He started as if she had stabbed him.
"Good God," he cried violently, "you don't know what you are saying!"
And from his tortured face she averted her eyes hastily, sick at heart.
But she held her ground, aware that retreat was not now possible.
She answered gently, steadying her voice with difficulty.
"Is it so extraordinary that I should wish it, should hope for it? I
care for you both so deeply. To know that your mother's place would be
filled by one who is worthy to follow her--how worthy only I, who have
been admitted to her high ideals, appreciate; to know that there would
be the happiness of home ties here for you, to know that I leave Gillian
safe in your hands--it would make my going very easy, Barry."
His head was down on his arms on the mantelshelf, his face hidden from
her. "Gillian--safe--in my hands--_my God_!" he groaned, and shuddered
like a man in mortal agony.
All the deep love she had for him, all the fears she entertained for him
leaped up in her with sudden strength, forcing utterance and breaking
down the reticence she had imposed upon herself. She caught his arm.
"Barry, what is it--for heaven's sake speak! Do you think I have
been blind all these months, that I have seen nothing? Can't you tell
me--anything?" her voice, quivering with emotion, was strange to him,
strange enough to recall him to himself. He straightened slowly and drew
away from her with a little shiver. "There is nothing I can tell you,"
he replied dully, "nothing that I can explain, only this--I went through
hell in Japan. I don't want any sympathy--it was my own fault, my own
doing.... Just now I made a fool of myself, I was off my guard, your
words startled me. Forget it, you can do me no good by remembering."
He made an abrupt movement as if to leave the room but Miss Craven stood
squarely in front of him, her chin raised stubbornly. She knew now that
she was face to face with something even more terrible than she had
imagined. He had avoided a definite answer. By all reasoning she should
have accepted his rebuff but intuition, stronger than reason, impelled
her. If he went now it would be the end. She knew that positively. The
question could never be opened up again. She could not let it pass
without a final effort. It was inconceivable that this shadow could
always lie across his life. Whatever tragical event had occurred
belonged to the past--surely the future might hold some alleviation,
some happiness that might compensate for the sorrow that had lined his
face and brought the silver threads that gleamed in his thick dark hair.
Surely in the care for another life memory might be dulled and there
might dawn for him a new hope, a new peace. Despite his broken
suggestive words her trust in him was still maintained; she had no fear
for Gillian--with him her future would be assured. And there seemed no
other alternative. Her confidence in herself furthermore was not shaken,
she had a deep unalterable conviction that the wish for the union she so
desired was based upon something deeper than mere fancy. It was not
anything that she could put into words or even into concrete thought,
but the belief was strong. It was a vivid assurance that went beyond
reasoning, that made it possible for her to speak again.
"Are you going to let the past dominate the rest of your life," she
asked slowly, "is the future to count for nothing? There are, in all
probability, many years ahead of you--cannot you, in them, obliterate
what has gone before?"
He turned from her with a hopeless gesture and a muttered word she could
not catch. But he did not go as she feared he would. He lingered in the
room, staring into the heart of the glowing fire and Miss Craven played
her last card.
"And--Gillian?" she said firmly, all the Craven obstinacy in her voice,
and waited long for his answer. When it came it was flat, monotonous.
"I cannot marry her. I cannot marry--anybody."
"Are you married already?" The question escaped before she could bite it
back. With a quickening heartbeat she awaited an outburst, a retort that
would end everything. But he answered quietly, in the same toneless
voice: "No, I am not married."
She caught at the loop-hole it seemed to offer. "If there is no bar----"
she began eagerly, but he cut her short. "I have done with all that sort
of thing," he said harshly.
"Why?" she persisted, with a doggedness that matched his own. "If you
have known sorrow, does that necessarily mean that you can never again
know happiness? Must you for a--a memory, turn your back irrevocably on
any chance that may restore your peace of mind? I believe that such a
chance is waiting for you."
He looked at her with strange intentness. "For me...." he smiled
bitterly. "If you only knew!"
"I only know that you are hesitating at what most men would jump at,"
she retorted, suddenly conscious of strained nerves and feeling as
if she were battering impotently against a granite rock-face. His
hands clenched but he did not reply and swift contrition fell on her.
She turned to him impulsively. "Forgive me, Barry. I shouldn't have
said that, but I want this thing so desperately. I am convinced that
it would mean happiness for you, for you both. And when I think of
Gillian--alone--fighting against the world----" She broke down
completely and he gripped her hands with a strength that made her
"She'll never do that if I can help it," he said swiftly.
Miss Craven looked up with sudden hope. "You will ask her?" she
whispered expectantly. He put her from him gently. "I can promise
nothing. I must think," he said deliberately, and there was in his face
a look that held her silent.
With uncertain feelings she watched him leave the room.... Inevitable
re-action set in, doubts overwhelmed her. Had she done what was best or
had she blundered irretrievably? She went unsteadily to a chair,
extraordinarily tired, exhausted in her new weakness by the emotional
strain through which she had passed. She was beginning to be a little
aghast at what she had done, at the force that she had set moving. And
yet she had been actuated by the highest motives. She believed
implicitly that the joining of the two lives whose future was all her
care would result in the ultimate happiness of both. They had grown used
to each other. A closer relationship than that of guardian and ward
seemed, in view of the comparatively slight difference in age, a natural
outcome of the intimacy into which they had been thrown. It was not
without precedent; similar events had happened before and would
doubtless happen again, she argued, striving to stifle the still
lingering doubt that whispered that she had gone beyond her prerogative.
And what she had done was in a way inexplicable even to herself. All
through she had felt that involuntary forceful impulse that had been
almost fatalistic, she had urged through the prompting of an inward
conviction. She had perhaps attached too much importance to it, her own
wish had been magnified until it assumed the appearance of fate.
Her closed eyes quivered as she leaned back in the chair.
She had done it for the best, she kept repeating mechanically to
herself, to try and bring happiness into his life; to insure the safety
of the girl who had become so dear to her. Had it been his thought too,
even before she spoke? His manner had been so strange. He had recoiled
from her suggestion but she had been left with the impression that it
was no new one to him. She had caught a fleeting look, before his face
had taken on that impenetrable mask, that had given the lie to his
emphatic words. He had seemed to be wrestling with himself, she had seen
the moisture thick on his forehead, his set face had looked as if it
could never soften again. When he had gone he had given her no definite
promise and she had no possibility of guessing what his decision would
be. But on reflection she found hope in his deferring reply. It was all
that was left to her. She had done her utmost, the rest lay with him.
She sighed deeply, she had never felt such weariness of mind and body.
As she gave way to a feeling of growing lassitude drowsiness came over
her which she was too tired to combat and for some time she slept
heavily. She awoke with a start to find Gillian, wide-eyed with
concern, kneeling beside her, the girl's slim warm fingers clasped
closely round her sleep-numbed hands. Dazed with sudden waking she
looked up without speaking at the fresh young face that bent over her.
Gillian rubbed the cold hands gently. "Aunt Caro, you were asleep! I've
never caught you napping before," she laughed, but a hint of anxiety
mingled with the wonder in her voice. Miss Craven slowly smiled
reassurance. Her weakness seemed to have vanished with sleep, she felt
herself once more strong enough to hide from the searching affectionate
eyes anything that might give pain or cause uneasiness. She sat up
"Laziness, my dear, sheer laziness," she said sturdily. Gillian looked
at her gravely. "Sure?" she asked, "you are sure that you are quite
well? You looked so tired--your face was quite white."
"Quite sure--unbeliever! And you--did you have a good time; did you
remember to take your tonic, and did you keep warm?"
Gillian laughed softly and stood up, ticking off the items on her
fingers. "I did have a good time, I did remember to take my tonic, and
this heavenly coat has kept me as warm as pie--Nina Atherton taught me
that. That nice family considerably enlarged my vocabulary," she added
with enjoyment, slipping out of a heavy fur coat and coming back to
perch on the arm of Miss Craven's chair.
"Not yours only," was the answer, "Peter was quoting the husband this
They were both silent for a moment thinking of the three charming
Americans who had spent a couple of months at the Towers the previous
summer, bringing with them an adored scrap of humanity and a host of
nurses, valets and maids.
Then Gillian drew her arm closer around Miss Craven.
"Alex pressed me to stay until to-morrow, I had the greatest trouble to
get away. But I promised to come back this afternoon, and, do you know,
Aunt Caro, I had the queerest feeling this morning. I thought you
_wanted_ me, wanted me urgently. As if you could ever want anybody
urgently, you self-reliant wonder." She gave the shoulder she was
caressing an affectionate hug. "But it was odd, wasn't it? I nearly
telephoned, and then I concluded you would think I had taken leave of my
Miss Craven sat very still.
"I should have," she replied, and hoped that her voice appeared more
natural than it sounded to herself. Gillian laughed.
"Anyhow, I'm glad you had Mr. Peters to cheer your solitary tea. I hated
to think of you being alone."
"He didn't. He left early. But Barry condescended to take pity on me."
"Mr. Craven!" There was the slightest pause before she added: "I thought
he scorned _le five o'clock_. He's not nearly so domesticated as David."
"As who, my dear?" asked Miss Craven, staring. Gillian gave another
"Oh, that's my private name for Mr. Peters--he doesn't mind--he spoils
me dreadfully--'the sweet singer in Israel'--you know. He has got the
most beautiful tenor voice I have ever listened to."
"Peter--sing! I've never heard him sing," said Miss Craven in wonder,
and she looked up with a new curiosity. "I've known him for thirty
years, and in less than that number of months you discover an
accomplishment of which everybody else is ignorant. How did you manage
"By accident, one evening in the summer. You were dining out, and
Mouston and I had gone for a ramble in the park--it's gorgeous there in
the _crepuscule_--and we were quite close to the Hermitage. I heard him
and I eaves-dropped--is there such a word? It was so lovely that I had
to clap and he came out and found an unexpected audience on the
windowsill. Wasn't it dreadful? He was so dear about it and explained
that it was a very private form of amusement, but since the cat was out
of the bag there was an end of the matter, only he positively declined
to perform in public. I bullied him into singing some more, and then he
walked home with me."
"You twist Peter round your little finger and trade on his good nature
shamelessly," said Miss Craven severely, but her teasing held no
"He's such a dear," the girl repeated softly, and slipping off the arm
of the chair she went to the fire and knelt down to put back a log that
had fallen on to the hearth and was smouldering uselessly. Miss Craven
looked at her as, the log replaced, she still knelt on the rug and held
her hands mechanically to the blaze. She had an intense and wholly
futile longing to speak what was in her mind and, demanding confidence
for confidence, penetrate the secret of the heart that had confided to
her all but this one thing. Little by little through no pressure but by
mere telepathic sympathy, reserve had melted away and hopes and
aspirations had been submitted and discussed. But of this one thing
there could be no discussion. Miss Craven realised it and stifled a
regretful sigh. Even she, dear as she knew herself to be, might not
intrude so intimately. For by such an intrusion she might lose all that
she had gained. She could not forfeit the confidence that had grown to
mean so much to her, it was too high a price to pay even for the
knowledge she sought. She must have patience, she thought, as she ran
her fingers with the old gesture through her grey curls. But it was hard
to be patient when any moment might bring the summons that would put her
beyond the ken of earthly events. To go, leaving this problem still
unsolved! She set her teeth and sat rigid, gripping the oak rails of the
chair until her fingers ached, battling with herself. She looked again
at the slim kneeling figure, the pale oval face half turned to her, the
thick dark hair piled high on the small proud head glistening in the
firelight. A thing of grace and beauty--in mind and body desirable. How
could he hesitate....
"Barry was riding--all day--in this atrocious weather. He came in
soaked," she said abruptly, almost querulously, unlike her usual
tolerant intonation. There was no immediate answer and for a moment she
thought she had not been heard. The girl had moved slightly, turning her
face away, and with a steady hand was building the dying fire into a
pyramid. She completed the operation carefully and sat back on her heels
flourishing the tiny brass tongs.
"He's tough," she said lightly, unconsciously echoing Peters' words and
apparently heedless of the interval between Miss Craven's remark and her
own reply. She seemed more interested in the fire than in her guardian.
Laying the tongs away leisurely she came back to Miss Craven's chair and
settled down on the floor beside her, her arms crossed on the elder
woman's knee. She looked up frankly, a faint smile lightening her
serious brown eyes.
"I don't think Mr. Craven wants any sympathy, _cherie_," she said
slowly, "I reserve all mine for Yoshio, he fusses so dreadfully when the
'honourable master' goes for those tremendous long rides or is out
hunting. Have you noticed that he always waits in the hall, to be ready
at the first moment to rush away and get dry clothes and a hot bath and
all the other Oriental paraphernalia for checking chills and driving the
ache out of sore bones? I don't suppose Mr. Craven has ever had sore
bones--he is so splendidly strong--and Yoshio certainly seems determined
he never shall. Mary thoroughly approves of him, she's a fusser by
nature too; she deplores his heathenism but says he has more sense than
many a Christian. Soon after we came here I found him in the hall one
day staring through the window, looking the picture of misery, his funny
little yellow face all puckered up. He saw me out of the back of his
head, truly he did, for he never turned, and tried to slip away. But I
made him stay and talk to me. I sat on the stairs and he folded himself
up on the mat--I can't describe it any other way--and told me all about
Japan, and California and Algeria and all the other queer places he has
been to with Mr. Craven. He has such a quaint dramatic way of speaking
and lapses into unintelligible Japanese just at the exciting moments--so
tantalising! They seem to have been in some very--what do you say?--tight
corners. We got quite sociable. I was so interested in listening to his
description of the wonderful gardens they make in Japan that I never
heard Mr. Craven come in and did not realise that he was standing near
us until Yoshio suddenly shot up and fled, literally vanished, and left
me _planteel_! I felt so idiotic sitting on the stairs hugging my knees
and Mr. Craven, all splashed and muddy, waiting for me to let him pass--I
was dreadfully frightened of him in those days," the faintest colour
tinged her cheeks. "I longed for an earthquake to swallow me up," she
laughed and scrambled to her feet, gathering the heap of furs into her
arms and holding them dark and silky against her face. "You shouldn't
have encouraged in me a love of beautiful furs, Aunt Caro," she said
inconsequently, with sudden seriousness. "I've sense enough left to
know that I shouldn't indulge it--and I'm human enough to adore them."
"Rubbish! furs suit you--please my sense of the artistic. I would not
encourage you if you had a face like a harvest moon and no carriage--I
can't bear sloppiness in anything," snapped Miss Craven in quite her old
style. "When do the Horringfords start for Egypt?" she added by way of
definitely changing the subject.
Gillian rubbed her cheek against the soft sealskin with an understanding
smile. It was hopeless to try and curb Miss Craven's generosity,
hopeless to attempt to argue against it. "Next week," she answered the
inquiry. "Tuesday, probably. They stay in Paris for a month _en route;_
Lord Horringford wants some data from the Louvre and also to arrange
some preliminaries with the French Egyptologist who is joining their
"Hum! And Alex--still interested in mummies?"
"More than ever, she is full of enthusiasm. She talks of dynasties and
tribal deities, of kings and _Kas_ and symbols until my head spins. Lord
Horringford teases her but it is easy to see that her interest pleases
him. He says she is the mascot of the expedition, that she brought luck
to the digging last year."
"Alex has had many hobbies but never one that ran for two seasons," said
Miss Craven thoughtfully; "I am glad she has found an interest at last
that promises to be permanent."
Gillian gathered the furs closer in her arms and made a few steps toward
the door. "She has found more than that," she said softly, and the
colour flamed in her sensitive face. Miss Craven nodded. "You mean that
in unearthing the buried treasure of a dead past she has found the
living treasure of a man's love? Yes, and not any too soon, poor silly
child. Men like Horringford don't bear playing with. I wonder whether
she knows how near she has been to making shipwreck of her life."
"I think she knows--now," said Gillian, with a little wise smile as she
left the room.
The sound of her soft contralto singing an old French nursery rhyme
echoed faintly back to the library:
"Mon pere m'a donne un petit mari,
Mon Dieu, quel homme!"
And, listening, Miss Craven smiled half-sadly, for the quaint words
carried her back to the days of her own childhood. But the exigencies of
the present thrust aside past memories. She sat on, wrapped in her
thoughts until the dropping temperature of the room sent through her a
sudden chill, so she rose with a shiver and a startled glance at her
"Dry bones and love," she said musingly, "it's a curious combination!
Peter, my man, you gave wise advice there.... But not all your wisdom
can help _my_ trouble."
December had brought a complete change of weather. It was within a few
days of Christmas, a typical old-fashioned Yuletide with a firm white
mantle of snow lying thick over the country.
Underneath the ground was iron and for two weeks all hunting had been
Craven was returning to the Towers after an absence of ten days. The
motor crawled through the park for in places the frozen road was
slippery as glass and the chauffeur was a cautious North-countryman
whose faith in the chains locked round the wheels was not unlimited; he
was driving carefully, with a wary eye for the worst patches noted on
the outward run, and, beside him, equally alert, sat Yoshio muffled to
the ears in an immense overcoat, a shapeless bundle.
It was early afternoon, calm and clear, and in the air the intense
stillness that succeeds a heavy snowfall. The pale sun, that earlier in
the day had iridised the snow, was now too low to affect the dead
whiteness of the scene against which the trees showed magnified and
sharply black. Here and there across the smooth surface stretching on
either side of the road lay the curiously differing tracks of animals.
From the back seat of the car where he sat alone Craven marked them
mechanically. He knew every separate spoor and could have named the
owner of each; ordinarily they would have claimed from him a certain
interest but today he passed them without a second thought. He did not
resent the slow progress of the car, he was in no hurry to reach the
Towers. He had come to a momentous decision but shrank from the action
that must necessarily follow; once at the house he knew that he would
permit himself no further delay, he would put his purpose into effect
at the earliest opportunity--today if possible; here there was still
time--vaguely he wondered for what? Not for reflection, that was done
with. He had striven with all his strength to arrive at a right
determination; he had thought until reasoning became a mere repetition
of fixed ideas moving in a circle and arriving always at an unvaried
starting point. There seemed no consequence that he had not weighed in
his mind, no issue that he had not considered. To ponder afresh would
be to cover again uselessly ground that he had gone over a hundred
times. Three days ago he had made his choice, he had no intention of
departing from it. For good or ill the thing must go forward now. And,
after all, the ultimate decision did not lie with him. Admitting it his
thoughts became introspective. Throughout his deliberations he had put
self on one side, there had been no question of his own wishes; now for
the first time he allowed personal considerations to rise unchecked. For
what did he hope? He knew the reason of his reluctance to reach the
house--he desired success and yet he feared it, feared the consequences
that might result, feared the strength of his own will to persevere in
the course he had chosen. For him there was no other way but, merciful
God, it would be hard! He set his teeth and stared at the frozen
landscape with unseeing eyes. Since her outburst four weeks ago Miss
Craven had not spoken again of the wish that was nearest her heart, but
he knew that she was waiting for an answer, knew that that answer must
be given. One way or the other. Day had succeeded day in torturing
indecision. He had lived, slept with the problem, at no time was it
out of his mind. In the course of the long rides that had become more
frequent, obtruding during the monotonous hours spent in the estate
office, the problem persisted. In the sleepless hours of the night he
wrestled with it. If it had been a matter of personal inclination, if
the past had not risen between them there would have been no hesitation.
He would have gone to her months ago, would have begged the priceless
gift that she alone could give. He wanted her, almost above the hope of
salvation, and the inducement to ignore the past had been all but
overpowering. He loved and desired with all the strength of the
passionate nature he had inherited. He craved for her with an intensity
that was anguish, that set him wondering how far the power of endurance
reached, how much a man could bear. He was torn with the fierce
promptings of primeval forces. To take her, willing or unwilling,
despite honour, despite all that stood between them, to make her his
and hold her in the face of all the world--at times the temptation had
been maddening. There had been days when he had not dared to look on
her, when he had drawn himself more than ever apart from the common
life, fearful of himself, fearful of circumstances that seemed beyond
his ordering. And the thought that another could take what he might not
had engendered an insensate jealousy that was beyond reason. He did not
recognise himself, he had not known the depths of his own nature. If
there had been no bar, if she could have come to him willingly, if there
could indeed have been for him the full ties of home--the thought was
agony. Miss Craven's words had been a sword turning in an open wound.
To the burden he already carried had been added this.
The future of his ward had been his problem as well as Miss Craven's.
Only a little while ago a way had seemed clear, not a way to his own
happiness--by his own act he had put himself beyond all possibility of
that--but a way that would mean security and happiness for her who had
come to mean more than life to him. For her safety he would have given
his soul. The term of his guardianship was drawing to an end, in a few
months his legal control over her terminated. Miss Craven who had
surrendered her independence for two years would be returning to her own
home, to her old life; it had seemed a foregone conclusion that Gillian
would accompany her.
But the double shock in the revelation of Miss Craven's precarious state
and Gillian's delicacy had been staggering. He had not been prepared for
a contingency that seemed to cut the ground from under his feet. With
all the will in the world his aunt was powerless to further the plan he
proposed, any day might bring the Great Summons. And Gillian! The little
persistent cough rang in his ears always. Gillian and poverty--by day it
haunted him, he woke in the night sweating at the very thought. It was
intolerable. And yet there appeared no means of escaping it--save one.
For a moment, with a fierce joy, he saw fate aiding him, forcing into
his hands what he yearned to gather to himself, then he recoiled from
even the thought of her purity linked with the stain of his past. He had
racked his brain to discover an alternative. To force upon her an
adequate income that would put her beyond want and the necessity of work
would be easy. To induce her to use the money thus provided he divined
would be impossible, he seemed to know intuitively that her will would
not give way to his. During these last weeks he had looked at her with
new understanding, it seemed incredible that he had never before
recognised the determination that underlay her shy gentleness. Character
shone in the frank brown eyes, there was a firmness that was
unmistakable in the arched lips that were the only patch of colour in
her delicate face. From his wealth she would accept nothing. Would she
accept him--all that he dared offer? It was no new idea, the thought had
been in his mind often but always he resolutely put it from him with a
feeling of abhorrence. It was an insult to her womanhood, an expedient
that nothing could justify. And yet step by step he was forced back upon
it--there seemed no other way to save her from herself. Days of
harrassing indecision, his only thought she, brought him no nearer to a
conclusion. And time was passing. He had reached a point when further
deliberation was beyond his power; when all his strength seemed to turn
into hopeless longing that, to the exclusion of all else, craved even
the mockery of possession; when days were torment and nights a sleepless
horror. Then change of scene had aided final determination. The factor
of the Scotch estate had written of a sudden and unexpected difficulty
for which he asked personal advice. A telegram had stopped his proposed
visit to the Towers and Craven had himself gone instead to Scotland. And
in the solitude of his northern home he had decided on the only course
that seemed open to him. He would go to her with his poor offer, the
poorest surely that ever a man made to a woman, and the rest would lie
with her. But how would she receive it? He had a vision of the soft
brown eyes blazing with scorn, of the slender figure he ached to hold in
his arms turning from him in cold disgust, and he clenched his hands
until the nails bit deep into his wet palms.
A bad skid that slewed the car half round broke his thoughts and in a
few minutes they were at the house.
Forbes, the elderly butler who had been an under footman when
Peters first came to the Towers, was waiting for him in the hall,
informative with the garrulousness of an old and privileged servant.
A late luncheon was waiting--he sighed patiently on hearing that it
was not required--Miss Craven had gone to the Vicarage for tea; Mr.
Peters was expected to dinner that night and he had telephoned in
the morning to tell Mr. Craven--Craven cut him short. Peter's message
could wait, only one thing seemed to matter just now.
"Where is Miss Locke?" he asked curtly. "In the studio, sir," replied
Forbes with resignation. If Mr. Barry didn't want to hear what Mr.
Peters had got to say he, for one, was not going to press the matter.
Mr. Barry had had his own way of doing things since the days when he sat
on the pantry table kicking his heels and flourishing stolen jam under
Forbes' very nose--a masterful one always, he was. And if it was a case
of Miss Gillian--Forbes retired with an armful of ulster and rugs into
the cloakroom to hide a sympathetic grin.
Craven crossed the hall and went into the study. He looked without
interest through an accumulation of letters lying on the writing table,
then threw them down indifferently. Walking to the fireplace he lit a
cigarette and stood staring at the cheerful blaze. At last he raised his
head and gazed with deliberation at himself in the glass over the
mantle. He scowled at the stern worn face reflected in the mirror,
looking curiously at its deep cut lines, at the silver patches in the
thick brown hair. Then with a violent exclamation he swung abruptly on
his heel, flung the cigarette into the fire and left the room. He went
upstairs slowly, surprised at the feeling of apathy that had come over
him. In the face of direct action the high tension of the last few weeks
had snapped, leaving him dull, almost inert, and reluctance to go
forward grew with every step. But at the head of the stairs his mood
changed suddenly. All that the coming interview meant to him revealed
itself with startling clearness. With a deep breath he caught at the
rail, for he was shaking uncontrollably, and covered his face with his
"God!" he whispered, and again: "God!"
Then he gripped himself and went quickly across the gallery, turning
down the corridor that led to the west wing. He followed the oddly
twisting passage, contorted at the whim of succeeding generations where
rooms had been enlarged or abolished, passing rows of closed doors and
another staircase. The corridor terminated in the room he was seeking.
It had been the old playroom; at the extreme end of the wing it faced
northward and westward and was well suited for the studio into which it
had been converted. It was Gillian's own domain and he had never asked
to visit it. As he reached the door he heard from within the shrill
treble of a boy's mirth and then a low soft laugh that made his heart
beat quicker. He tapped and went in and for a moment stared in
amazement. He did not recognise the room, it was a totally unexpected
French _atelier_ tucked away in the corner of a typically English house.
The polished rug-laid floor, the fluted folds of _toile-de-genes_
clothing the walls, the litter of sketches and pictures, casts and
easels, the familiar lay-figure grotesquely attitudinising in a corner,
above all the atmosphere carried him straight to Paris. It was the room
of an artist, and a French artist. His eyes leaped to her. She was
standing before a big easel looking wonderingly over her shoulder at the
opening door, the brush she was using poised in her hand, her eyes wide
with astonishment, a faint flush creeping into her cheeks.
In the picturesque painter's blouse, her brown hair loosely framing her
face, she seemed altogether different. He could not define wherein lay
the change, he had no time to discriminate, he only knew that seen thus
she was a thousand times more desirable than she had ever been and that
his heart cried out for her more fiercely than before. He looked at her
with hungry longing, then quickly--lest his eyes should betray him--from
her to her model. A boy of ten with an intelligent small brown face, a
mop of black curls, and red lips parted in a mischievous smile, he stood
on the raised platform with the easy assurance of a professional.
Craven shut the door behind him and came forward. She turned to meet him
and the colour rushed in a crimson wave to the roots of her hair.
"_Monsieur ... vous etes de retour ... mais, soyez le bienvenu_!" she
stammered, with surprise unconsciously lapsing into the language of
childhood. Then she caught herself up with a little laugh of confusion
and hurried on in English: "I am so sorry ... there is nobody in but me.
Will you have some tea? It is only three o'clock," with a glance at her
wrist, "but I expect you lunched early."
"I don't want any tea," he said bluntly. "I came to see you." He spoke
in French, mindful of two sharp ears on the platform. The colour in her
face deepened painfully and her eyes fell under his steady gaze. She
moved slowly back to the easel.
"If you could wait a few moments----" she murmured.
"I don't want to interrupt," he said hastily. "Please finish your work.
You don't mind if I stay? I haven't been here since I was a boy; you
have changed the room incredibly. May I look round?"
She nodded assent over a tube of colour, and returned to her study.
Left to himself he wandered leisurely round the room, examining the
pictures and sketches that were heaped indiscriminately. He had never
before displayed any interest in her work, and was now amazed at what he
saw. There was power in it that surprised him, that made him wonder what
intuition had given the convent-bred girl the knowledge she exhibited.
The tardy recognition of her talent strengthened his stranger feeling
toward her. He went thoughtfully to the fireplace, and, from the rug,
surveyed the room and its occupants. The atmosphere recalled old
memories--he had studied in Paris after leaving Oxford--only one thing
"May I smoke?" he asked abruptly.
Gillian turned with a quick smile.
"But, of course. What need to ask? After Aunt Caro has been here for an
hour the room is blue."
For another ten minutes he watched her in silence, free to look as he
would, for her back was toward him and in his position before the fire
he was beyond the range of the little model's inquisitive black eyes.
Then she laid palette and brushes on a near table and stepped back,
frowning at what she had done until a smile came slowly to chase the
creases from her forehead. She spoke without moving, still looking at
the canvas: "That is all for to-day, Danny. The light has gone."
The small boy stretched himself luxuriously, and descending from the
platform, joined her and gazed with evident interest at his portrait. He
peered in unconscious but faithful imitation of her own critical
attitude, his head slanted at the same angle as hers. "It's coming on,"
he announced solemnly, and Craven guessed from the girl's laugh that it
was a repetition of some remark heard and stored up for future use. The
boy grinned in response, and slipping behind her went to the table where
she had laid her tools. "Can I clean palut?" he asked hopefully, his
hand already half-way to the coveted mass of colour.
"Not to-day, thanks, Danny."
"Shall I fetch th' dog, Miss?" more hopefully. Gillian turned to him
"He bit you last time."
Danny wriggled his feet and his small white teeth flashed in a wide
smile. "He won't bite I again," he said confidently. "Mammy said 'twas
'cos he loved you and hated to have folks near you. She said I was to
whisper in his ear I loved you too, 'cos then he wouldn't touch me. Dad
he says 'tis a damned black devil," he added with candid relish and a
sidelong glance of mischief at his employer.
Gillian laughed and gave his shoulder a little pat.
"I'm afraid he is," she admitted ruefully. The boy threw his head back.
"I ain't afeard o' he," he said stoutly. "_Shall_ I fetch 'im?"
"I think we'll leave him where he is, Danny," she said gravely, as if in
confidence. "He's probably very happy. Now run away and come again on
Saturday." She waved a paint-stained rag at him and turned again to the
picture. Obediently he started towards the door, then hesitated,
glancing irresolutely at Craven, and tip-toed back to the easel.
"Them things in the drawer," he muttered sepulchrally, in a voice not
intended to reach the ears of the rather awe-inspiring personage on the
hearthrug. Gillian whipped round contritely. "Danny, I forgot them!" she
apologised, and tweaking a black curl went to a bureau and produced a
square cardboard box. Danny tucked it under his arm with murmured thanks
and a duck of the head, and crossing the room noiselessly went out,
closing the door behind him softly. Craven came slowly to her. She moved
to give him place before the easel. Craven looked at the small alert
brown face, the odd black eyes dancing with almost unearthly merriment,
the red lips curving upward to an enigmatical smile, and his wonder and
"Who is he?" he asked curiously, puzzled by a likeness he seemed to
recognise dimly and yet was unable to place.
"Danny Major--the son of one of your gamekeepers," said Gillian; "his
mother has gipsy blood in her."
Craven whistled. "I remember," he said, interested. "Old Major was
head-keeper. Young Major lost his heart to a gipsy lass and his father
kicked him out of doors. Peters, as usual, smoothed things over and kept
the fellow on at his job, in spite of a great deal of opposition--he had
seen the girl and formed his own opinion. I asked once or twice and he
said that it had turned out satisfactorily. So this is the son--he's a
rum-looking little beggar."
Gillian was cleaning brushes at the side table. "He's the terror of the
neighbourhood," she said smiling, "but for some reason he is a perfect
angel when he comes here. It isn't the chocolates," she added hastily as
she saw a fleeting smile on his face, "he just likes coming. And he
tells me the most wonderful things about the woods and the wood
"He would," said Craven significantly, "it's in the blood. What's this?"
he asked, pointing to a smaller board propped face inward against the
big canvas. For a moment she did not answer and the colour flamed into
her face again. She put the brushes away, and wiping her fingers on a
cloth, lifted the board and gave it into his hands.
"It's Danny as I see him," she said in an odd voice. And, looking at it,
Craven realised that the cleverness of the painted head on the large
canvas paled to mediocrity beside the brilliance of the sepia sketch he
held. It was the same head--but marvellously different--set on the body
of a faun. The dancing limbs were pulsing with life, the tiny hoofs
stamping the flower-strewn earth in an ecstasy of movement; the head was
thrown forward, bent as though to catch a distant echo, and among the
tossing curls showed two small curving horns; to the enigmatical smile
of the original had been added a subtle touch of mockery, and the wide
eyes held a look of mystical knowledge that was uncanny. Craven held it
silently, it seemed an incredible piece of work for the girl to have
conceived. And, beside him, she waited nervously for his verdict, with
close-locked twitching fingers. He had never come before, had never
shown any interest in the work that meant so much to her. She was hungry
for his praise, fearful of his censure. If he saw nothing in it now but
the immature efforts of an amateur! Her heart tightened. She drew a
little nearer to him, her eyes fixed apprehensively on his intent face,
her breath coming quickly. At length he replaced the sketch carefully.
"You have a wonderful talent," he said slowly. A little gasp of relief
escaped her and her lips trembled in spite of all efforts to keep them
steady. "You like it?" she whispered eagerly, and was terrified at
the awful pallor that overspread his face. For a moment he could not
speak. The words, the intonation! He was back again in Japan, looking
at the painting of a lonely fir tree clinging to a jutting sea-washed
cliff--the faintest scent of oriental perfume seemed stealing through
the air. He drew his hand across his eyes. "Merciful God ... not
here ... not now!" he prayed in silent agony. Then with a desperate
effort he mastered himself and turned to the frightened girl with a
forced smile. "Forgive me--I've a beastly headache--the room went
spinning round for a minute," he said jerkily, wiping the moisture
from his forehead. She looked at him gravely. "I think you are very
tired, and I don't believe you had any lunch," she said with quiet
decision. "I'm going to make some coffee. Aunt Caro says my coffee
drinking is more vicious than her smoking," she went on, purposely
giving him time to recover himself, and crossing the room she collected
little cups and a small brass pot. "Any how it's the real article, and
in spite of what she says Aunt Caro doesn't scorn it. She comes regularly
to drink my _cafe noir_ with her after-lunch cigarette."
Craven dropped down heavily on the broad cushioned window seat, his
hands clasped over his throbbing temples, fighting to regain his shaken
nerve. And yet there was a great hope dawning. For the first time the
threatening vision had failed to materialise, and the fact gave him
courage. If a time should come when it would definitely cease to haunt
him! He could never forget, never cease to regret, but he would feel
that in the Land of Understanding the hapless victim of his crime had
forgiven the sin that had robbed her of her young life.
And as he grew calmer he began to be conscious that in the room where he
sat there was a restfulness that he had not felt in any other part of
the house since his return to Craven Towers. It was acting on him
curiously and he wondered what it portended. And as he pondered it
Gillian came to him with a cup of coffee in either hand.
_"Monsieur est servi,"_ she said with a little laugh. She seemed to have
suddenly overcome shyness as if, in her own domain, the first surprise
of his visit over, her surroundings gave her confidence. Or, perhaps,
the womanliness that had been called out to meet his passing weakness
had set her on another plane. All signs of giddiness had left him and,
with her usual intuition, she did not trouble him with questions. For
the first time she found it easy to speak to him, and talked as she
would have done to Peters. She spoke of his northern visit and,
following his lead, of her work, freely and without embarrassment. Every
moment the restraint that had been between them seemed growing less. She
marvelled that she had ever found him unapproachable and wondered,
contritely, if her shyness had been alone to blame. She had been always
constrained and silent with him--small wonder that he had avoided her,
she thought humbly. Yet how could it have been otherwise? The tie
between them, the wonderful generosity he had shown, the aloofness he
had maintained, had made it impossible for her to view him as an
ordinary human being. She owed him everything and passionate recognition
and a sense of her indebtedness had grown with equal fervour. She had
almost worshipped him. He had taken her from a life that had grown
unbearable, he had given her the opportunity to follow the career for
which she longed. She could never repay him, she found it difficult to
put into words even to herself just what she felt towards him. From the
first she had raised him to the empty pedestal vacated by that fallen
idol, her father. And out of hero-worship had grown love, at first the
exalted devotion of an immature girl, adoration that was purely sexless
and selfless--a mystical love without passion, spiritual. He had
appeared to her as a being of another sphere and, mentally, she had
knelt at his feet as to a patron saint. But with her own development
love had expanded. She realised that what she felt for him was no longer
childish adoration, but a greater, more wonderful emotion. She had grown
to a full understanding of her own heart, the divinity had become a man
for whose love she yearned. But she loved hopelessly as she loved
deeply, she had no thought that her love could be returned. His
proximity had always troubled her, and to-day as she sat on the window
seat beside him she was conscious of a greater unrest than she had ever
before felt, and her heart throbbed painfully with the vague formless
longings, inexplicable and frightening, that stirred within her until it
seemed impossible that her agitation could pass unnoticed. Shyness fell
on her again, the ready words faltered, and gradually she became silent.
Craven took the empty coffee cups and replaced them on the table by the
fire. Going back to the window he found her kneeling up on the cushioned
seat, her hands clasped before her, looking out at the white world. The
childish attitude that seemed in keeping with the artist's blouse and
tumbled hair made her look singularly young. He stood beside her, so
close that he almost touched her shoulder, and his eyes ranged hungrily
over the whole slim beauty of her, lingering on the little bent brown
head, the soft curve of her girlish bosom, until the yearning for her
grew intolerable and the restraint he put upon himself took all his
resolution. The temptation to gather her into his arms was almost more
than he could resist, he folded them tightly across his chest--he could
not trust them. He could barely trust himself. The unwonted intimacy,
the subtle torture of her nearness set his pulses leaping madly. The
blood beat in his head, his body quivered with the passionate longing,
the fierce desire that rushed over him. In the agony of the moment only
the elemental man existed, and he was sensible alone of the burning
physical need that rose above all higher purer sentiment. To hold her
crushed against his throbbing heart, to bury his face in the fragrance
of her soft hair, to kiss her lips till she should beg his mercy--there
seemed no greater joy on earth. He wanted her as he had wanted nothing
in his life before. And yet, if he gained what he had come to ask he
knew that what he suffered now would be as nothing to what he would have
to endure. To know her his wife, bound in every sense to him--and to
turn his face from the happiness that by all laws was his! Had he the
strength? Almost it seemed that he had not. He was only human--and there
was a limit to human endurance. If circumstances proved too hard.... The
sound of a little smothered cough checked his thoughts abruptly. He
realised that in self-commiseration he had lost sight of the purpose of
his visit. It was only she who mattered; her health, her happiness that
must be considered. He cursed himself and searched vainly for words to
express what he must say. And the more he thought the more utterly
speech evaded him. Then chance aided. She coughed again and with a
little impatient gesture rose to her feet.
"Aunt Caro has decided to go to Cimiez for the rest of the winter--
because of my cough. She settled it while you were away. I don't want
to go, my cough is nothing. I wouldn't exchange this"--pointing to
the snow-clad park--"for all the warmth and sunshine of the Riviera.
I want to store up all the memories I can. You don't know how I have
learned to love the Towers." It was as if the last words had escaped
unintentionally for she flushed and turned again abruptly to the
darkening window. His heart gave a sudden leap but he did not move.
"Then why leave it?" he asked brusquely.
She leaned her forehead on the frosting glass and her eyes grew misty.
"You _know_," she said softly, and her voice trembled. "In all the
world I have only my--my talent and my self-respect. If I were to do
what you and Aunt Caro, in your wonderful generosity, propose--oh,
don't stop me, you _must_ listen--I should only have my talent left.
Can't you see, can't you understand that I must work, that I must
prove my self-respect? For all that you have done, for all that
you have given me I have tried to thank you--often. Always you have
stopped me. Do you grudge me the only way in which I can show my
gratitude, the only way in which I can prove myself worthy of your
esteem?" Her voice broke in a little sob. Then she turned to him
quickly, her hands out-stretched and quivering. "If I could only
do something to repay----" she cried, with a passionate earnestness
he had never heard in her before. He caught at the opening that
offered. "You can," he said quietly, "but it is so big a thing--it
would more than swamp the debt you think you owe me."
"Tell me," she whispered urgently as he paused.
He turned from her eager questioning face with acute embarrassment. He
hated himself, he hated his task, only the darkness of the room seemed
to make it possible.
"Gillian," he said, with constrained gravity. "I came to you to-day
deliberately to ask you what I believe no man has any right to ask a
woman. I have tried all the afternoon to tell you. Something you said
just now makes it easier. You say you love the Towers--do you love it
well enough to stay here as its mistress, on the only terms that I can
The look of incredulous horror that leaped into her startled eyes made
him realise suddenly the interpretation that might be put upon his
words. He caught her hands almost roughly. "Good heavens, child, not
that!" he cried aghast. "What do you take me for? I am asking you to
marry me--but not the kind of marriage that every woman has the right to
expect. If I could offer you that, God knows how willingly I would. But
there has been that in my life which comes between me and the happiness
that other men can look forward to. For me that part of life is over. I
have only friendship to offer. I know I am asking more than it seems
possible for you to grant, more, a thousand times more than I ought to
ask you--but I do ask it, most earnestly. If you can bring yourself to
make so great a sacrifice, if you can accept a marriage that will be a
marriage only in name----"
She shuddered from him with a bitter cry. "You are offering me
_charity_!" she wailed, struggling to free her hands. But he held them
firmer. "I am asking you to take pity on a very lonely man," he said
gently. "I am asking you to care for a very lonely house. You have
brought sunshine into the Towers, you have brought sunshine into the
lives of many people living on the estate. I am asking you to stay where
you are so much wanted--so much--loved."
Then he let her go and she walked unsteadily to the fireplace. She stood
for a moment, her fingers working convulsively, staring into the
smouldering embers, and then sank into a chair, for her limbs were
shaking under her. He followed slowly and stooped to stir the fire to a
blaze. Covertly she looked at him as the red light illuminated his face
and scalding tears gathered in her eyes. And, curiously, it was not
wholly of herself that she was thinking. She was envying, with a feeling
of hopeless intolerable pain, that other woman whom he had loved. For
his words could only have meant one thing, and the great sorrow she had
imagined seemed all at once explained. She wondered what manner of woman
she had been, if she had died--or if she had proved unworthy. And the
last thought roused a sudden fierce resentment--how could a woman who
had won his love throw it back at his feet, unwanted! The envious tears
welled over and she brushed them furtively away. Then her thoughts
turned in compassion to him. Through death or faithlessness love had
brought no joy to him--he suffered as she was suffering now. She looked
at the silver threads gleaming in his hair, at the deep lines in his
face and the pain in her eyes gave place to a wonderful tenderness. She
had prayed for a chance to show her gratitude; if what he asked could
bring any alleviation to his life, if her presence could bring any sort
of comfort to his loneliness, was not even that more than she had ever
dared to hope? That he should turn to her was understandable. He had men
friends in plenty, but women he openly and undisguisedly avoided. He had
grown used to her presence at the Towers, a marriage such as he
proposed would call for no great alteration in the daily routine to
which he had become accustomed. If by doing this she could in any way
The replenished fire was filling the room with soft flickering light, it
cast strange shadows on the curtained walls and revealed the girl's
strained white face pitilessly. Craven had risen and was standing
looking down on her. She grew aware of his scrutiny and flinched, the
hot blood rolling slowly, painfully over her face and neck. He spoke
abruptly, as if the words were forced from him:
"But I want you to realise fully what this marriage with me would mean,
for it is a very big sacrifice I am asking of you. Whatever happened,
you would be bound to me. If"--his voice faltered momentarily--"if you
were sometime to meet a man--and love him--you would be my wife, you
would not be free to follow your heart."
She stared straight before her, her hands clasped tight around her
knees, shivering slightly. "I shall never--want to marry--in that way,"
she said in a strangled voice. He smiled sadly. "You think that now--you
are very young," he argued, "but we have the future to think of."
She did not answer and in the silence that ensued he wondered what had
induced him to put forward an argument that might defeat his purpose. In
any other case it would have been only the honourable thing to do, but
in this it was a risk he should not have taken. He moved impatiently.
Then suddenly he leaned forward and laid his hands on her shoulders,
drawing her gently to her feet.
Slowly she raised her head. The touch of his hands was almost more than
she could bear, but she steadied her trembling lips and met his gaze
bravely as he spoke again.
"If you will agree to this--this _mariage de convenance_, I will do all
that lies in my power to make your life happy. You will be free in
everything. I ask nothing but that you will look on me as a friend to
whom you can always come in any difficulty or any trouble. You will be
complete mistress of yourself, your time, your inclinations. I will not
interfere with you in any way."
She searched his face, trying to read what lay behind his inscrutable
expression. His eyes were kind, but there was in them a curious
underlying gleam that she could not understand. And his voice puzzled
her. She was bewildered, torn with conflicting doubts. Sensitively she
shrank from his inexplicable suggestion, she could see no reason for his
amazing proposal save an extraordinary generosity that filled her with
gratitude and yet against which she revolted.
"You are doing this in pity!" she cried miserably.
"Before God I swear that I am not," he said, with unexpected fierceness
that startled her, and the sudden painful gripping of the strong hands
on her shoulders made her for the first time aware of his strength. She
thought of it wonderingly. If it had been otherwise, if he had loved
her, how gladly she would have surrendered to it. It would have stood
between her and the unknown world that loomed sometimes in spite of her
confidence with a sinister horror on which she dared not dwell. In the
safety of his arms she would never have known fear, his strength would
have shielded her through life. And, in a lesser degree, his strength
might still be hers to turn to, if she would. A new conception of the
future she had planned rushed over her, the confidence she had felt fell
suddenly away, leaving fear and dread and a terror of loneliness. His
touch had destroyed her faith in herself. It had done more. In some
subtle way it seemed to her he had by his touch claimed her. And with
his hands still pressing her shoulders she felt a strange inability to
oppose him. He had sworn that it was not pity that dictated his offer.
He had said that love did not exist for him. What then could be his
motive? She could find none.
"You wouldn't lie to me?" she whispered, tormented with doubt, "you wish
He looked at her steadily.
"I wish it, truly," he said firmly.
"You would let me go on with my work?" she faltered, fighting for time.
"I have said that I would not interfere with you in any way, that you
would be free in everything," he answered, and as if in earnest of the
freedom promised his hands slipped from her.
The fire had died down again, and the room was almost dark, he could
hardly see her where she stood. He waited, hoping she would speak, then
abruptly: "Can you give me an answer, Gillian?"
He heard the quick intake of her breath, felt her trembling beside him.
"Oh, if you would give me time," she murmured entreatingly. "I want to
think. It means so much."
"Take all the time you wish," he said, and went quietly away. And his
going brought a sudden desolation. She longed to call him back, to
promise what he asked, to yield without further struggle. But
uncertainty held her. Motionless she stood staring through the darkness
at the dim outline of the door that had closed behind him, her breast
heaving tumultuously, until tears blinded her and with a gasping sob she
slipped to the floor. She had never dared to hope that he could love
her, but the truth from his own lips was bitter. And for a time the
realisation of that bitterness deadened all other feeling. Overwrought
with the emotion of the last few hours, her nerves strained to breaking
point, she was unable to check the tide of grief that shook her to the
very depths of her being. With her face hidden in the soft rug, her
outflung hands clenching convulsively, she wept in an abandonment of
If he had never spoken, if he had never made this strange proposal but
had maintained until the end the detached reserve that had seemed to set
so wide a gulf between them, it would have been easier to bear. He would
have passed out of her life, inscrutable as he had always been. But with
his change of attitude, in the intimacy of the few hours they had spent
alone, she had seen him with new eyes. The mysterious unapproachable
guardian had gone for ever, and in his place was a very human man
revealing characteristics she had never imagined to exist, showing an
interest and a gentleness she had never suspected. He had exhibited a
similarity of tastes and ideas that agreed extraordinarily with her
own, he had talked as to a comrade. The companionship had been very
sweet--very sorrowful. She could never think of him again as he had
been, and the new conception of him gave a poignant stab to her grief.
In the brief happiness of the afternoon she had had a fleeting vision
of what might have been "if he had loved me," she moaned, and it seemed
to her that she had never known until now the real depth of her own love.
What she had felt before was not comparable with the overwhelming passion
that the touch of his hands had quickened. It swept her like a raging
torrent, carrying her beyond the limit of her understanding, bringing
with it strange yearnings that, half-understood, she shuddered from,
Torn with emotion she wept until she had no tears left, until the
hard racking sobs died away and her tired sorrow-shaken body lay still.
For the moment, exhausted, her agony of mind was dulled and time was
non-existent. She did not move or lift her head from the tear-wet rug.
A great weariness seemed to deaden all faculty. The minutes passed
unnoticed. Then some latent consciousness stirred in her brain and
she looked up startled.
It was quite dark and she realised, shivering, that the room had grown
very cold. The calm afternoon had given place to a stormy night and
heavy gusts of wind were sweeping round the angle of the house,
shrieking and whistling eerily; from the window came the soft _swish
swish_ of dry hard snow beating against the panes. She started to her
feet. She had no idea of the hour but she knew it must be late. Perhaps
the dinner gong had already sounded and, missed, somebody might come in
search of her. She shrank from being found thus. Feeling her way to a
lamp she turned the switch and the soft light flooding the room made her
wince. A glance at her watch showed that she had still a few moments in
which to gain her room unobserved.
She felt oddly lightheaded and her feet dragged wearily. The tortuous
passage had never seemed so interminable, the succession of closed doors
appeared unending. Reaching her own room she collapsed on to a sofa that
was drawn up before the fire, her head aching, her limbs shivering
uncontrollably, worn out with emotion. Exhausted in mind and body she
seemed unable even to frame a thought logically or coherently--only an
interrupted medley of unconnected ideas chased through her tired brain
until her temples throbbed agonisingly. She knew that sometime she would
have to rouse herself, that sometime a decision would have to be made,
but not now. Now she could only lie still and make no effort. She was
angry with herself, contemptuous of her weakness. She had disdained
nerves, she was humiliated now by her present lack of control. But even
self-scorn was a passing thought from which she turned wearily.
One fact only remained, clear and distinct from the confusion in her
mind--he did not love her. He did not love her. It hurt so. She hid her
face in the pillows, writhing with the shame the knowledge of her own
love brought her. The deep booming of the dinner gong awoke her to the
necessity of some kind of action. She rang the bell that hung within
reach of her hand and, by the maid who answered her summons, sent her
excuses to Miss Craven, pleading a headache for remaining upstairs.
A few minutes later Mary, grim-visaged and big-hearted, appeared with a
tray, headache remedies and multifarious messages from the dining room.
She bathed the girl's aching head, brushing the tumbled brown hair and
piling it afresh into a soft loose knot. Grumbling gently at the long
hours of work to which she attributed the unusual indisposition, she
took full advantage of the rare opportunity of rendering personal
attention and fussed to her heart's content, stripping off the stained
overall and substituting a loose velvet wrapper; and then stood over
her, a kindly martinet, until the light dinner she had brought was
eaten. Afterwards she packed pillows, made up the fire, and administered
a particularly nauseous specific emanating from a homeopathic medicine
chest that was her greatest pride, and then took herself away, still
Gillian leaned back against the cushions with a feeling of greater ease
and restfulness. Food had given her strength and under Mary's
ministrations her mental poise had steadied. She would not let herself
dwell on the question that must before long be settled, Miss Craven
would be coming soon, and until she had been and gone no definite
settlement could be attempted.
She lay looking at the fire, endeavouring to keep her mind a blank. It
was odd to be alone, she missed the familiar black form lying on the
hearth-rug, but tonight she could not bear even Mouston's presence,
and Mary had taken a request to Yoshio, to whose room the dog had been
banished from the studio, that he would keep him until the morning.
A tap at the door and Miss Craven appeared, anxious and questioning.
"Only a headache?--my dear, I don't believe it!" she protested, plumping
down on the side of the sofa and clutching at her hair, that sure sign
of perturbation. "You've never had a headache like this before. You've
been working too hard. You were painting all the morning and they tell
me you worked throughout the afternoon and had no tea. Gillian, dear,
when will you learn sense? I don't at all approve of you having tea
sent to the studio _only_ when you ring for it. Young people require
regular meals and as often as not neglect 'em; young artists are the
worst offenders--you needn't contradict me, I know all about it. I
did it myself." She patted the clasped hands lying near her and
scrutinised the girl more closely. "You're as pale as a ghost and
your eyes are too bright. Did Mary take your temperature? No?--the
woman must have lost her senses. I'll telephone to Doctor Harris to
come and see you in the morning. If you looked a fraction more feverish
I'd send for you to-night, storm or no storm. Peter braved it, open car
as usual. He sent his love. Barry turned up from Scotland this afternoon.
He looks very tired--says he had a bothering time and a wretched
journey--Gillian!" she cried sharply as the girl slid from the sofa
on to her knees beside her and raised a quivering piteous face.
"Aunt Caro, I'm not ill," the words came in tumbling haste, "there's
nothing bodily the matter with me--I'm only dreadfully unhappy. I know
Mr. Craven is back--he came to me in the studio this afternoon. He asked
me to marry him," the troubled voice sank to a whisper, "and I--I don't
know what to do."
"My dear." The tenderness of Miss Craven's tone sent a strangling wave
of emotion into Gillian's throat. "Aunt Caro, did you know? Do you wish
it too?" she murmured wistfully.
Unwilling to admit a previous knowledge which would be difficult to
explain, Miss Craven temporised. "I very greatly hoped for it," she said
guardedly; "you and Barry are all I have to care for, and you are both
so--alone. I know you think of a very different life, I know you have
dreams of making a career for yourself. But a career is not all that a
woman wants in her life; it can perhaps mean independence and fame, it
can also mean great loneliness and the loss of the full and perfect
happiness that should be every woman's. You mustn't judge all cases by
me. I have been happy in my own way but I want a greater, richer
happiness for you, dear. I want for you the best that the world can
give, and that best I believe to be the shelter and the safety of a
The brown head dropped on her knee. "You are thinking of me--I am
thinking of him," came a stifled whisper.
Miss Craven stroked the soft hair tenderly. "Then why not give him what
he asks, my dear," she said gently. "He has known sorrow and suffering.
If through you, he can forget the past in a new happiness, will you not
grant it him? Oh, Gillian, I have so hoped that you might care for each
other; that, together, you might make the Towers the perfect home it
should be, a home of mutual trust and love. You and Barry and, please
God, after you--your children." She choked with unexpected emotion and
brushed the mist from her eyes impatiently.
And at her knee Gillian knelt motionless, her lip held fast between her
teeth to stop the bitter cry that nearly escaped her, her heart almost
bursting. The picture Miss Craven's words called up was an ideal of
happiness that might have been. The suffering that reality promised
seemed more than she could contemplate. What happiness could come from
such a travesty? The strange yearnings she had experienced seemed
suddenly crystallised into form, and the knowledge was a greater pain
than she had known. What she would have gone down to the gates of death
to give him he did not require--the unutterable joy that Miss Craven
suggested would never be hers. She searched for words, for an
explanation of her silence that must seem strange to the elder woman.
Miss Craven obviously knew nothing of the unusual conditions attached to
his proposal, her words proved it, and Gillian could not tell her. She
could not betray his confidence even if she had so wished. If she could
but speak frankly and show all her difficulty to the friend who had
never yet failed in love and sympathy----She sought refuge in
prevarication. "How can I marry him?" she cried miserably. "You don't
know anything about me. I'm not a fit person to be his wife--my
"Bother your antecedents!" interrupted Miss Craven, with a somewhat
shaky laugh. "My dearest girl, Barry isn't going to marry them, he's
going to marry you. They can have been anything you like or imagine but
it does not alter the fact that their daughter is the one woman on earth
I want for Barry's wife." She stooped and gathered the girl into her
"Gillian, can you give us, Barry and me, this great happiness?"
Gently Gillian disengaged herself and rose slowly to her feet. She made
a little helpless gesture, swaying as she stood. "What can I say?" she
said brokenly. "Do you think it means nothing to me! Don't you know that
what I already owe you and Mr. Craven is almost more than I can bear,
that I would give my life for either of you? But this--oh, you don't
understand--I can't tell you--I can't explain----" She dropped back on
the sofa and her voice came muffled and entreatingly from among the
silken cushions, "If you knew how I long to repay you for your wonderful
goodness, if you knew what your love has meant to me! Oh, dearest, I'd
give the world to please you! But I don't know what to do, I don't know
what is honest--and you can't help me, nobody can help me. I've got to
settle it myself. I've got to think----"
Miss Craven guessed the crying need for solitude conveyed in the last
faltering words and rose in obedience to the unspoken request. She stood
for a moment, looking tenderly down on the slim prostrate figure, and a
fear that grew momentarily stronger came to her that in her endeavour to
bring happiness to these two lives she had blundered fatally. She had
been a fool, rushing in. And with almost a feeling of dismay she
realised it was beyond her ability now to stay what she had put in
motion. She was as one who, having wantonly released some complex
mechanism, stands aghast and powerless at the consequence of his
rashness. And yet, despite the seeming setback to her hopes, the
conviction that had urged her to this step was still strong in her; she
still had faith in its ultimate achievement. She touched the girl's
shoulder in a quick caress. "You are worn out, child. Go to bed and rest
now, and think to-morrow," she said soothingly.
For long after she left the room Gillian lay without moving. Then with a
long shuddering sigh she sat up. She tried to concentrate on the
decision she must make but her thoughts, ungovernable, dwelt
persistently on the unknown woman whom she had convinced herself he must
have loved, and the passionate envy she had felt before swept her again
until the pain of it sent a whispered prayer to her lips for strength to
put it from her. Huddled on the side of the sofa, her head supported on
her hands, she stared fixedly into the fire as if seeking in the leaping
flames the answer to the problem that confronted her. Then in her agony
of mind inaction became impossible and she rose and paced the room with
hurried nervous tread.
To do what was right--to do what was honourable; to conquer the
clamorous self that cried out for acceptance of this semblance of
happiness that was offered. To bear his name, to have the right to be
near him, to care for him and for his interests as far as she might. To
be his wife--even if only in name. Dear God, did he know how he had
tempted her? But she had no right. The crushing burden of debt she owed
rose like an unsurpassable mountain between her and what she longed for.
Only by repayment could she keep her self-respect. The dreams of
independence, the place she had thought to make for herself in the
world, the re-establishing of her father's name--could she forego what
she had planned? Was it not a nobler aim than the gratification of self
that urged the easier way? Yet would it be the easier way? Was she not
really in her heart shrinking from the difficulty and sadness that this
loveless marriage would bring? Was it not cowardice that prompted a
supposed nobility of thought that now appeared ignoble? She wrung her
hands in desperation. Had she no courage or steadfastness at all? Was
the weakness of purpose that had ruined her father's life to be her
curse as it had been his?
She felt suddenly very young, very inexperienced. Her early training
that had denied the exercise of individual responsibility and had
inculcated a passivity of mind that precluded self-determination had
bitten deeper than she knew. Her life since leaving the convent had been
smooth and uneventful, there had been no occasion to practise the new
liberty of thought and action that was hers. And now before a decision
that would be so irrevocable, that would involve her whole life--and not
hers alone--she felt to the full the disability of her upbringing. Alone
she must make her choice and she shrank from the burden of
responsibility that fell upon her. She had nobody to turn to for counsel
or advice. In her loneliness she longed for the solace of a mother's
tenderness, the shelter of a mother's arms, and bitterness came to her
as she thought of the parents who had each in their turn abandoned her
so callously. She had been robbed of her birthright of love and care.
She was alone in the world, alone to fight her own battles, alone in the
moment of her direst need.
Then all at once she seemed to see in the trend of her thoughts
only a supreme selfishness that had lost sight of all but personal
consideration. Was her love of so little worth that in thought
for herself she had forgotten him? He had asked her to pity his
loneliness--and she had had only pity for herself. Her lips quivered
as she whispered his name in an agony of self-condemnation.
Coming back slowly to the fireside she slipped to the floor and leaned
her head against the sofa listening to the storm that beat with
increasing violence against the house, and the roar of the tempest
without seemed in strange agreement with the tumult that was raging in
her heart. The words he had used came back to her. Did it really lie in
her power to lessen the loneliness of his life? To give him what he
asked--was not that, after all, the true way to pay her debt? With a
little sob she bowed her head on her hands.... An hour later she rose
stiffly, cramped with long sitting, and moving nearer to the fire chafed
her cold hands mechanically. Her face was very sad and her wide eyes
heavy with unshed tears. She drew a long sobbing breath. "Because I love
him," she murmured. "If I didn't love him I couldn't do it." A thought
that brought new hope came to her. She loved him so deeply, might not
her love, she wondered wistfully, perhaps some day be strong enough to
heal the wound he had sustained--strong enough even to compel his love?
Then doubt seized hold on her again. Would she, in the limited scope
that she would have, find opportunity--would he ever allow her to get
near enough to him?... She flung her hands out in passionate appeal.
"Oh, God! if this thing that I am doing is wrong, if it brings sorrow
and unhappiness, let me be the only one to pay!"
A sudden longing to make retraction impossible came over her. She looked
anxiously at her watch. Was it too late to go to him to-night? Only when
she had told him would she be sure of herself. Her word once given there
could be no withdrawal.
It was nearly midnight but she knew he rarely left his study until
later. Peters would be gone, he was methodical in his habits and retired
punctually at eleven o'clock with a regularity that was unvarying. She
was sure of finding him alone. She dared not wait until the morning, she
must go now while she had the courage. Delay might bring new doubts, new
uncertainty. Impulsively she started towards the door, then paused on a
sudden thought that sent the warm blood in a painful wave to her face.
Would he misunderstand, think her unwomanly, attribute her hasty
decision to a sordid desire for material gain, for the ease that would
be hers, for the position that his name would give? It was the natural
thought for him who offered so much to one who would give nothing in
return. And not for him alone--in the eyes of the world she would be
only a little adventuress who had skilfully seized the opportunity that
circumstance had given to advantage herself. But the world did not
matter, she thought with scornful curling lip, it was only in his eyes
that she desired to stand well. Then with quick shame she knew that the
sentiments she had ascribed to him were unworthy, the outcome only of
her own strained imagination, and she put them from her. She went
quickly to the gallery, dimly lit from a single lamp left alight in the
hall below--left for Craven as she knew. Silence brooded over the great
house. The storm that earlier had beat tempestuously against the dome as
if striving to shatter the massive glass plates that opposed its fury
had blown itself out and glancing upward Gillian saw the huge cupola
shrouded with snow that gleamed palely in the soft light. The stillness
oppressed her and odd thoughts chased through her mind. She looked to
right and left nervously and in a sudden inexplicable panic sped down
the wide staircase and across the shadowy hall until she reached the
study door. There she halted with wildly beating heart, panting and
breathless. It was a room which she had never before entered, and an
almost paralysing shyness made her shake from head to foot. Nerving
herself with a strong effort she tapped with trembling fingers and, at
the sound of an answering voice, went in.
Strength seemed all at once to leave her. Physically and mentally
exhausted, a feeling of unreality supervened. The strange room swam
before her eyes. As in a dream she saw him start to his feet and come
swiftly to her across a seemingly unending length of carpet that
billowed and wavered curiously, his big frame oddly magnified until he
appeared a very giant towering above her; as in a dream she felt him
take her ice-cold hands in his. But the warm strong grasp, the grave
eyes bent compellingly on her, dragged her back from the shuddering
abyss into which she was sinking. Far away, as though coming from a
great distance, she heard him speaking. And his voice, gentler than she
had ever known it, gave her courage to whisper, so low that he had to
bend his tall head to catch the fluttering words, the promise she had
come to give.
On an afternoon in early September eighteen months after her marriage
Gillian was driving across the park toward the little village of Craven
that, old world and quite unspoiled, clustered round a tiny Norman
church two miles distant from the Towers. She leaned back in the
victoria, her hands clasped in her lap, preoccupied and thoughtful. A
scented heap of deep crimson roses and carnations lay at her feet;
beside her, in contrast to her listless attitude, Mouston sat up tense
and watchful, his sharp muzzle thrust forward, his black nose twitching
eagerly at the distracting agitating smells borne on the warm air
tempting him from monotonous inactivity to a soul satisfying scamper
over the short cropped grass but, conscious of the dignity of his
position, ignoring them with a gravity of demeanour that was almost
comical. Once or twice when his wrinkling nostrils caught some
particularly attractive odour his pads kneaded the cushions vigorously
and a snarly gurgle rose in his throat. But no other sign of
restlessness escaped him--it was patience bred of experience. For miles
around he was a well-known figure, sitting grave and motionless on his
accustomed side of the victoria as it rolled through the country lanes.
To the villagers of Craven, all directly or indirectly dependent on the
estate, he was welcome in that he was inseparable from the gentle
tender-hearted girl whom they worshipped, but their welcome was a
qualified one that never descended to the familiar; his strange
appearance and disdainful aloofness made him an object of curiosity to
be viewed with most safety from a respectful distance; time had not
accustomed them to him and tales of his uncanny understanding filtering
through, richly embroidered, to the village from the house, did not tend
to lessen the awe with which he was regarded. They marvelled, without
comprehension, at the partiality of his mistress; he was the "black
French devil" to more households than that of Major, the gamekeeper, an
"unorranary brute" to those of less gifted imagination.
To Mouston Gillian's periodical visits to the village were a tedium
endured for the sake of the coveted seat beside her.
The passing of a herd of deer, feeding intently and--save for one or two
more timid hinds who started nervously--too used to the carriage to heed
its approach, roused the poodle, as always, to a high pitch of
excitement; they were old enemies and his annoyance gave vent to a sharp
yelp as he sidled close to Gillian and endeavoured to attract her
attention with an insistent paw. But for once she was heedless of the
hints of her dumb companion, and, whining, he slunk back into his own
corner, curling up on the seat with his forepaws brushing the mass of
scented blossom. And ignorant of the pleading brown eyes fixed
pathetically on her, Gillian followed the train of her own troubled
thoughts. For eighteen months she had been Barry Craven's wife, for
eighteen months she had endeavoured to fulfill her share of the contract
they had made--and to herself she admitted failure.
The strain was becoming unendurable.
In the eyes of the world an ideal couple, in reality--she wondered if in
the whole universe there were two more lonely souls than they. She knew
now that the task she had set herself that stormy December night was
beyond her power, that it had been the unattainable dream of an immature
love-sick girl. She had fought to retain her high ideals, to believe
that love--as great, as unselfish as hers--must beget love, but she had
come to realise the utter futility of her dream and to wonder at the
childish ignorance that had inspired it. The sustaining hope that she
might indeed be a comfort to his loneliness had died hard, but surely.
For he gave her no opportunity. Despite unfailing kindness and
overwhelming generosity he maintained always a baffling reserve
she found impossible to penetrate. Of his inner self she knew no
more than she had ever done, she could get no nearer to him. But in
all matters that dealt with their common life he was scrupulously frank
and out-spoken; he had insisted on her acquiring a knowledge of his
interests and a working idea of his affairs, from which she had shrunk
sensitively, but he had persisted, arguing that in the event of his
death--Peters not being immortal--it was necessary that she should be
able to administer possessions that would be hers--and the thought of
those possessions crushed her. It was only after a long struggle, in
distress that horrified him, that she persuaded him to forego the big
settlement he proposed making. If she had not loved him his liberality
would have hurt her less, but because of her love his money was a
scourge. She hated the wealth to which she felt she had no right, to
herself she seemed an impostor, a cheat. She felt degraded. She would
rather he had bought her, as women have from time immemorial been
bought, that she might have paid the price, as they pay, and so retained
the self-respect that now seemed for ever lost. It would have been a
means of re-establishing herself in her own eyes, of easing the burden
of his bounty that grew daily heavier and from which she could never
escape. It was evident in all about her; in the greater state and
ceremony observed at the Towers since their marriage, which, while it
pleased the household, who rejoiced in the restoration of the old
regime, oppressed her unspeakably; in the charities she dispensed--his
charities that brought her no sense of sacrifice, no joy of self-denial;
in the social duties that poured in upon her.
His wealth served only to strengthen the barrier between them, but for
that she might have been to him what she longed to be. If the talent
that now seemed so useless could have been used for him she would have
found a measure of happiness even if love had never come to crown her
service. In poverty she would have worked for him, slaved for him, with
the strength and tirelessness that only love can give. But here the
gladness of giving, of serving, was denied, here there was nothing she
might do and the futility of her life choked her. She had
conscientiously endeavoured to assume the responsibilities and duties of
her new position, but there seemed little for her to do, for the big
household ran smoothly on oiled wheels under the capable administration
of Forbes and Mrs. Appleyard, with whom, both honest and devoted to the
interests of the family they had served so long and faithfully, she knew
it was unnecessary and unwise to interfere. In any unusual circumstance
they would refer to her with tactful deference but for the rest she knew
that, perforce, she must be content to remain a figure-head. Even her
work--interrupted constantly by the social duties incumbent on her and
performed from a sense of obligation--failed to comfort and distract. It
was all so utterly useless and purposeless. The gift with which she had
thought to do so much was wasted. She could do nothing with it. She was
no longer Gillian Locke who had dreamed of independence, who had hoped
by toil and endeavour to clear the stain from her father's name. She
was the rich Mrs. Craven--who must smile to hide a breaking heart,
who must play the part expected of her, who must appear always
care-free and happy. And the constant effort was almost more than
she could achieve. In the ceaseless watch she set upon herself, in
the rigid self-suppression she exercised, it seemed to her as if her
true self had died, and her entity faded into an automaton that moved
in mechanical obedience to the driving of her will. Only during the
long night hours or in the safe seclusion of the studio could she
relax, could she be natural for a little while. That Craven might
never learn the misery of her life, that she might not fail him as
she had failed herself, was her one prayer. She welcomed eagerly the
advent of guests, of foreign guests--more exigent in their demands
upon her society--particularly; with the house filled the time of
host and hostess was fully occupied and the difficult days passed
more easily, more quickly. The weeks they spent alone she dreaded;
from the morning greeting in the breakfast room to the moment when
he gave her the quiet "Good-night" that might have come from an
undemonstrative brother, she was in terror lest an unguarded word,
a chance expression, might tell him what she sought to keep from him.
But so insensible did his own constant pre-occupation of mind make him
appear of much that passed, that she feared his intuition less than
that of Peters who she was convinced had a very shrewd idea of the
state of affairs existing between them. It was manifested in diverse
ways; not by any spoken word direct or indirect, but by additional
fatherly tenderness of manner, by unfailing tactfulness, by quick
intervention that had saved many awkward situations. It was practically
impossible in view of his almost daily association with the house and
its inmates that he could be unaware of certain facts. But the wise
kindly eyes that she had feared most were closed for ever.
The Great Summons for which Miss Craven had been so calmly prepared had
come more suddenly, more tragically even than she had anticipated. She
had passed over as she would have wished, had she been given the choice,
not in the awful loneliness of death but one of a company of heroic
souls who had voluntarily and willingly stood aside that others might
have the chance to live.
A few months after the marriage on which she had set her heart the
family curse had seized her as suddenly and as imperatively as it had
ever done her nephew. An exhibition of statuary in America had served as
an adequate excuse and she had started at comparatively short notice,
accompanied by the faithful Mary, after a stormy interview with her
doctor, whose gloomy warnings she refuted with the undeniable truism
that one land was as good as another to die in. Within a few hours of
the American coast the tragedy, short and overwhelming, had occurred.
From the parent ice a thousand miles away in the north the stupendous
white destruction had moved majestically down its appointed course to
loom out of the pitch-black night with appalling consequence. A sudden
crash, slight enough to be unnoticed by hundreds, a convulsive shudder
of the great ship like the death struggle of a Titan, had been followed
by unquellable panic, confusion of darkness, inadequate boats and
jamming bulkheads. Miss Craven and Mary were among the first on deck and
for the short space of time that remained they worked side by side among
the terror-stricken women and children, their own life-belts early
transferred to dazed mothers who clutched wild-eyed at wailing babes.
Together they had stood back from the overcrowded boats, smiling and
unafraid; together they had gone down into the mystery of the deep, two
gallant women, no longer mistress and maid but sisters in sacrifice and
in the knowledge of that greater love for which they cheerfully laid
down their lives.
And while Gillian mourned her bitterly she was yet glad that Miss Craven
was spared the sadness of witnessing the complete failure of her
In the little Norman church toward which Gillian was driving there had
been added yet another memorial to a Craven who had died tragically and
far from home; a record of disastrous calamity that, beginning four
hundred years before with the Elizabethan gallant, had relentlessly
pursued an ill-starred family. The church lay on the outskirts of the
village and close to the south entrance of the park.
Gillian stopped the carriage for a few moments to speak to the
anxious-looking woman who had hurried out from the creeper-covered
lodge to open the gates. Behind one of the casements of the cottage
a child was fighting for life, a cripple, with an exquisite face,
whom Gillian had painted. To the sorrowful mother the eager tender
words, the soft impulsive hand that clasped her own work-roughened
palm, the wide dark eyes, misty with sympathy were worth infinitely
more than the material aid, so carefully packed by Mrs. Appleyard,
that the footman carried up the narrow nagged path to the cottage door.
And as the impatient horses drew the carriage swiftly on again Gillian
leaned back in her seat with a quivering sigh. The woman at the lodge,
despite her burden of sorrow, despite her humbleness, was yet richer
than she and, with intolerable pain, she envied her the crowning joy of
womanhood that would never be her own. The child she longed for would
never by the touch baby hands bring consolation to her starved and
lonely heart. Her thoughts turned to her husband in a sudden passion of
hopeless love and longing. To bear him a child--to hold in her arms a
tiny replica of the beloved figure that was so dear to her, to watch and
rejoice in the dawning resemblance that the ardour of her love would
make inevitable.... Hastily she brushed away the gathering tears as the
carriage stopped abruptly with a jingle of harness at the lichgate.
Coaxing the reluctant Mouston from the seat where he still sulked she
tied him to the gate, took the armful of flowers from the grave-faced
footman, and dismissing the carriage walked slowly up the lime-bordered
avenue. The orderliness and beauty of the churchyard struck her as it
always did--a veritable garden of sleep, with level close-shorn turf set
thick with standard rose trees, that even the clustering headstones
could not make chill and sombre.
From the radiant sunshine without she passed into the cool dimness of
the little building. With its tiny proportions, ornate and numerous
Craven memorials and--for its size--curiously large chancel, it seemed
less the parish church it had become than the private chapel for which
it had been built. Then the house had been close by, but during the
troublous years of Mary Tudor was pulled down and rebuilt on the present
Through the quiet silence Gillian made her way up the short central
aisle until she reached the chancel steps. For a few minutes she knelt,
her face crushed against the flowers she held, in silent passionate
prayer that knew neither form nor words--a soundless supplication that
was an inchoate appeal to a God of infinite understanding. Then rising
slowly she pushed back the iron gate and went into the chancel. Directly
to the left the new monument gleamed cleanly white against the old dark
wall. Simple and bold, as she would herself have designed it, the
sculptor's memorial was the work of the greatest genius of the day who
had willingly come from France at Craven's invitation to perpetuate the
memory of a sister artist who had also been a lifelong friend.
A rugged pedestal of green bronze--with an inset panel representing the
tragedy--rose upward in the shape of billowing curling waves supporting
a marble Christ standing erect with outstretched pitying hand, majestic
and yet wholly human.
Gillian gazed upward with quivering lips at the Saviour's inclined
tender face, and opening her arms let the scented mass of crimson
blossom fall slowly to the slab at her feet that bore Miss Craven's name
and Mary's cut side by side.
_"Greater love hath no man than this, that
a man lay down his life for his friends."_
She read the words aloud, and with a stifled sob slipped down among the
roses and carnations that Caro Craven had loved, and leaned her aching
head against the cool hard bronze. "Dearest," she whispered, in an agony
of tears, "I wonder can you hear? I wonder are you allowed, where you
are, to know what happens here on earth? Oh, Aunt Caro, _cherie_, do you
know that I have failed--failed to bring him the peace and consolation I
thought my love was strong enough to give, I have tried so hard to
understand, to help ... I have prayed so earnestly that he might turn to
me, that I might be to him what you would have me be ... but I have not
been able ... I have failed him ... failed you ... myself. Oh, dearest,
do you know?"
Prone among the roses, at the feet of the pitying Christ, she cried
aloud in her desperate loneliness to the dead woman who had given her
the tenderest love she had ever known. The shadows lengthened widely
before she rose and drew the scattered flowers into a fragrant heap. She
stood for a while studying intently the relief of the wreck; it
suggested a train of thought, and with a sudden impulse she traversed
the chancel and sought among the memorials of dead Cravens for the
tablets commemorating those who had disappeared or died tragically. By
chance at first and later by design these had all been placed within the
confines of the chancel that formed so large a part of the tiny church.
Before the florid Italian monument that recorded all that was known of
the short life of the Elizabethan adventurer she paused long, looking
with quickening heart-beat at the graceful kneeling figure whose face
and form were those of the man she loved.
_Barry Craven ... he set his eyes unto the west_.... Amongst the
calamitous record there were four more of the name--their bodies
scattered widely in distant unknown graves, victims of the spirit of
adventure and unrest. She moved slowly from one to the other, reading
again the tragical inscriptions she knew by heart, cut as deeply in her
memory as on the marble slabs before her.
_Barry Craven--Lost in the Amazon Forest_.
_Barry Craven--In the silence of the frozen seas_.
_Barry Craven--Perished in a sandstorm in the Sahara_.
_Barry Craven--In Japan_.
_Barry Craven--Barry Craven_.
The name leaped at her from all sides until, with a shudder, she buried
her face in her hands to shut out the staring capitals that flamed in
black and gold before her eyes. The dread that was with her always
seemed suddenly closer than it had ever been, menacing, inevitable.
Would the fear that haunted her day and night become at some not far
distant time an actual fact? Would the curse that had already led to ten
years' perpetual wandering lay hold of him again--would he, too, in
quest of the peace he had never found, disappear as they had done? Was
it for this that he had insisted on her acquiring a knowledge of his
affairs? With the quick intuition of love she had come to understand the
deep unrest that beset him periodically, an unrest she recognised as
wholly apart and separate from the other shadow that lay across his
life. With unfailing patience she had learned to discriminate. Covertly
she had watched him, striving to fathom the varying moods that swayed
him, endeavouring to anticipate the alternating frames of mind that made
any definite comprehension of his character so difficult. The charm of
manner and apparent serenity that led others to think of him as one
endowed beyond further desire with all that life could give did not
deceive her. He played a part, as she did, a part that was contrary to
his nature, contrary to his whole inclination. She guessed at the strain
on him, a strain it seemed impossible for him to endure, which some day
she felt must inevitably break. His habitual self-control was
extraordinary--once only during their married life had he lost it when
some event, jarring on his overstrung nerves, had evoked a blaze of
anger that seemed totally out of proportion to the circumstance, that
would have given her proof, had she needed one, of his state of mind.
His outburst had been a perfectly natural reaction, but while she
admitted the fact she felt a nervous dread of its recurrence.
She feared anything that might precipitate the upheaval that loomed
always before her like a threatening cloud. For sooner or later the
unrest that filled him would have to be satisfied. The curse of Craven
would claim him again and he would leave her. And she would have to
watch him go and wait in agony for his return as other women of the race
had watched and agonised. And if he went would he ever return? or would
she too know the anguish of suspense, the long drawn horror of
uncertainty, the fading hope that year by year would become slighter
until at last it would vanish altogether and the bitter waters of
despair close over her head? A moan, like the cry of a wounded animal,
broke from her. In vivid self-torturing imagination she saw among the
sinister record around her another tablet--that would mean finality. He
was the last of the Cravens. Did it mean nothing to him--had the sorrow
of that past that was unknown to her but which had become woven into her
own life so inextricably, so terribly, killed in him even the pride of
race? Had he, deep down in the heart that was hidden from her, no
thought of parenthood, no desire to perpetuate the family name, the
family traditions? It would seem that he had not--and yet she wondered.
The woman he had loved--of whose existence she had convinced herself--if
she had lived, or proved faithful, would he still have desired no son?
She shrank from the stabbing thought with a very bitter sob.
A sudden horror of her environment came over her. Around her were
suggestions from which she shuddered, evidences that raised the haunting
dread with which she lived to a culmination of fear. It had never seemed
so near, so strong. It was stronger than her will to put it from her and
in it, with inherent superstition, she saw a premonition. The little
peaceful church became all at once a place of terror, a grisly charnel
house of vanished hopes and lives. The spirits of countless Cravens
seemed all about her, hostile, malign, triumphing in her weakness,
rejoicing in her fear--spectral figures of the dead crowding, hurrying,
threatening. She seemed to see them, a dense and awful concourse,
closing round her, to hear them whispering, muttering, jibing--at her, a
thing apart, an alien soul whose presence they resented. The clamorous
voices rang in her ears; vague shapes, illusive and shadowy, appeared to
float before her eyes. She shrank from what seemed the contact of actual
bodily forms. Unnerved and overwrought she yielded to the horror of her
own imagination. With a stifled cry she turned and fled, her arms
outstretched to fend from her the invisible host that seemed so real,
not daring even to look again at the pitying Christ whose calm serenity
formed such a striking contrast to her storm-tossed heart.
Blindly she sped down the chancel steps, along the short central aisle,
out into the timbered porch, where she blundered sharply into somebody
who was on the point of entering. Who, it did not at the moment seem to
matter--enough that it was a human creature, real and tangible, to whom
she clung trembling and incoherent. A strong arm held her, and against
its strength she leaned for a few moments in the weakness of reaction
from the nervous strain through which she had passed. Then as she slowly
regained control of herself she realised the awkwardness of her
position, and her cheeks burned hotly. She drew back, her fingers
uncurling from the tweed coat they clutched so tightly, and, trying to
slip clear of the arm that still lay about her shoulders, looked up
shyly with murmured thanks.
Then: "David," she cried. "Oh, David----" and burst into tears. Guiding
her to the bench that rested against the side of the porch Peters drew
her down beside him. "Just David," he said, with rather a sad little
smile, "I was passing and Mouston told me you were here." He spoke
slowly, giving her time to recover herself, thanking fate that she had
collapsed into his arms rather than into those of some chattering
village busybody. He had caught a glimpse of her face as she came
through the church door and knew that her agitation was caused by
something more than sorrow for Miss Craven, great as that sorrow was. He
had seen fear in the hunted eyes that looked unrecognisingly into his--a
fear that he somehow resented with a feeling of helpless anger.
The affection he had for her was such as he would have given the
daughter that might have been his had providence been kinder. And with
the insight that affection gave he had seen, with acute uneasiness, a
steadily increasing change in her during the last eighteen months. The
marriage from which he, as well as Miss Craven, had hoped so much seemed
after all to have brought no joy to either husband or wife. With his
intimate knowledge and close association he saw deeper than the casual
visitor to whom the family life at the Towers appeared an ideal of
domestic happiness and concord. There was nothing he could actually
take hold of, Craven was at all times considerate and thoughtful,
Gillian a model of wifely attention. But there was an atmosphere
that, super-sensitive, he discerned, a vague underlying feeling of
tension that he tried to persuade himself was mere imagination but
which at the bottom of his heart he knew existed. There had been
times when he had seen them both, as it were, off their guard, had
read in the face of each the same bitter pain, the same look of
unsatisfied longing. Possessing in so high a degree everything that
life could give they appeared to have yet missed the happiness that
should by all reasoning have been theirs. Whose was the fault? Caring
for them both it was a question that he turned from in aversion, he
had no wish to judge between them, no desire to probe their hidden
affairs. Thrown constantly into their society while guessing much he
shut his eyes to more. But anxiety remained, fostered by the memory
of the tragedy of Barry's father and mother. Was he fated to see just
such another tragedy played out before him with no power to avert the
ruin of two more lives? The pity of it! He could do nothing and his
helplessness galled him.
To-day as he sat in the little porch with Gillian's hand clasped in his
he felt more than ever the extreme delicacy of his position. Intuitively
he guessed that he was nearer than he had ever been to penetrating the
cloud that shadowed her life and Barry's but with equal intuition he
knew he must convey no hint of his understanding. He gauged her shy
sensitive mind too accurately and his own loyalty debarred him from
forcing such a confidence. Instead he spoke as though the visit to Miss
Craven's memorial must naturally be the cause of her agitation.
"Why come, my dear, if it distresses you?" he said, in quiet
remonstrance; "she would not misunderstand. She had the sanest, the
healthiest conception of death. She died nobly--willingly. It would
sadden her immeasurably if she knew how you grieved." Her fingers worked
convulsively in his. "I know--I know," she whispered, "but, oh, David, I
miss her so--so inexpressibly." "We all do," he answered; "one cannot
lose a friend like Caro Craven lightly. But while we mourn the dead we
have the living to consider--and you have Barry," he added, with almost
cruel deliberation. She faced him with steady eyes from which she had
brushed all trace of tears.
"Barry understands," she said with quick loyalty; "he mourns her
too--but he doesn't _need_ her as I do." It was an undeniable truth
that reduced Peters to silence and for a while Gillian also was silent.
Then she turned to him again with a little tremulous smile, the colour
flooding her delicate face.
"I'm glad it was only you, David, just now. Please forget it. I don't
know what's the matter with me to-day, I let my nerves get the upper
hand--I'm tired--the sun was hot----"
"So of course you sent the carriage away and proposed walking two miles
home by way of a rest cure!" he interrupted, jumping up with alacrity,
and taking advantage of the turn in the conversation. "Luckily I've got
the car. Plenty of room for you and the pampered one." And waving aside
her protests he tucked her into the little two-seater, bundling Mouston
unceremoniously in after her.
The village school was near the church, and while Peters steered the car
carefully through groups of children who were loitering in the road she
sat silent beside him, wondering, in miserable self-condemnation, how
much she had betrayed during those few moments of hysterical outburst.
Resolutely she determined that she would be strong, strong enough to put
away the dread that haunted her, strong enough to meet trouble only when
Clear of the children and running smoothly through the park Peters
condescended to break the silence.
"How went Scotland?" he asked, slowing down behind a frightened fawn who
was straying on the carriage road and cantering ahead of the car in
panicky haste. "Your letters were not satisfactory."
"I wasn't taught to write letters. I never had any to write," she
said with a smile that made the sensitive man beside her wince. "I
did my best, David, dear. And there wasn't much to tell. There were
only men--Barry said he couldn't stand women with the guns again after
the bother they were last year. They were nice men, shy silent creatures,
big game hunters mostly, and two doctors who have been doing research
work in Central Africa. When any of them could be induced to talk of
their experiences it was a revelation to me of what men will endure and
yet consider enjoyment. You would have liked them, David. Why didn't
you come? It would have done you more good than that horrid little
yacht. And we were alone the last two weeks--we missed you," she added
Peters had had his own reasons for absenting himself from the Scotch
lodge, reasons that, connected as they were with Craven and his wife, he
could not enlarge upon. He turned the question with a laugh.
"The yacht was better suited to a crusty old bachelor, my dear," he
smiled. Then he gave her a searching glance. "And what did you do all
day long by yourself while the men were on the hills?"
She gave a little shrug.
"I sketched--and--oh, lots of things," she answered, rather vaguely.
"There's always plenty to do wherever you are if you take the trouble to
look for it."