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The Three Sisters by May Sinclair

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was their distance that made them so improper.

"I don't know, Papa," said Gwenda.

"Perhaps you know what was said about your sister Alice? Do you want
the same thing to be said about you?"

"It won't be, Papa. Unless you say it yourself."

She had him there; for what was said about Alice had been said first
of all by him.

"What do you mean, Gwenda?"

"I mean that I'm a little different from Alice."

"Are you? _Are_ you? When you're doing the same thing?"

"Let me see. What _was_ the dreadful thing that Ally did? She ran
after young Rickards, didn't she? Well--if you'd really seen us
scampering you'd know that I'm generally running away from young
Rowcliffe and that young Rowcliffe is generally running after me. He
says it's as much as he can do to keep up with me."

"Gwenda," said the Vicar solemnly. "I won't have it."

"How do you propose to stop it, Papa?"

"You'll see how."

(It was thus that his god lured the Vicar to destruction. For he had
no plan. He knew that he couldn't move into another parish.)

"It's no good locking me up in my room," said Gwenda, "for I can get
out at the window. And you can't very well lock young Rowcliffe up in
his surgery."

"I can forbid him the house."

"That's no good either so long as he doesn't forbid me his."

"You can't go to him there, my girl."

"I can do anything when I'm driven."

The Vicar groaned.

"You're right," he said. "You _are_ different from Alice. You're worse
than she is--ten times worse. _You_'d stick at nothing. I've always
known it."

"So have I."

The Vicar leaned against the chimney-piece and hid his face in his
hands to shut out the shame of her.

And then Gwenda had pity on him.

"It's all right, Papa. I'm not going to Dr. Rowcliffe, because there's
no need. You're not going to lock him up in his surgery and you're not
going to forbid him the house. You're not going to do anything. You're
going to listen to me. It's not a bit of good trying to bully me.
You'll be beaten every time. You can bully Alice as much as you like.
You can bully her till she's ill. You can shut her up in her bedroom
and lock the door and I daresay she won't get out at the window. But
even Alice will beat you in the end. Of course there's Mary. But I
shouldn't try it on with Mary either. She's really more dangerous than
I am, because she looks so meek and mild. But she'll beat you, too, if
you begin bullying her."

The Vicar raised his stricken head.

"Gwenda," he said, "you're terrible."

"No, Papa, I'm not terrible. I'm really awfully kind. I'm telling you
these things for your good. Don't you worry. I shan't run very far
after young Rowcliffe."


Left to himself, the Vicar fairly wallowed in his gloom. He pressed
his hands tightly to his face, crushing into darkness the image of his
daughter Gwenda that remained with him after the door had shut between

It came over him with the very shutting of the door not only that
there never was a man so cursed in his children (that thought had
occurred to him before) but that, of the three, Gwenda was the one in
whom the curse was, so to speak, most active, through whom it was most
likely to fall on him at any moment. In Alice it could be averted.
He knew, he had always known, how to deal with Alice. And it would be
hard to say exactly where it lurked in Mary. Therefore, in his times
of profoundest self-commiseration, the Vicar overlooked the existence
of his daughter Mary. He was an artist in gloom and Mary's sweetness
and goodness spoiled the picture. But in Gwenda the curse was imminent
and at the same time incalculable. Alice's behavior could be fairly
predicted and provided for. There was no knowing what Gwenda would do
next. The fear of what she might do hung forever over his head, and it
made him jumpy.

And yet in this sense of cursedness the Vicar had found shelter for
his self-esteem.

And now his fear, his noble and righteous fear of what Gwenda might
do, his conviction that she would do something, disguised more
than ever his humiliating fear of Gwenda. She was, as he had said,
terrible. There was no dealing with Gwenda; there never had been.
Patience failed before her will and wisdom before the deadly thrust of
her intelligence. She had stabbed him in several places before she had
left the room.

* * * * *

The outcome of his brooding (it would have shocked the Vicar if he
could have traced its genesis) was an extraordinary revulsion in
Rowcliffe's favor. So far from shutting the Vicarage door in the young
man's face, the Vicar was, positively he was, inclined to open it.
He couldn't stand the idea of other people marrying since he wasn't
really married himself, and couldn't be as long as Robina persisted
in being alive (thus cruelly was he held up by that unscrupulous and
pitiless woman) and the idea of any of his daughters marrying
was peculiarly disagreeable to him. He didn't know why it was
disagreeable, and it would have shocked him unspeakably if you had
told him why. And if you had asked him he would have had half a dozen
noble and righteous reasons ready for you at his finger-ends. But
the Vicar with his eyes shut could see clearly that if Gwenda married
Rowcliffe the unpleasant event would have its compensation. He would
be rid of an everlasting source of unpleasantness at home. He didn't
say to himself that his egoism would be rid of an everlasting fear. He
said that if Rowcliffe married Gwenda he would keep her straight.

And then another consoling thought struck him.

He could deal with Alice more effectually than ever. Neither Mary nor
Alice knew what he knew. They hadn't dreamed that it was Gwenda that
young Rowcliffe wanted. He would use his knowledge to bring Alice to
her senses.

* * * * *

It was on a Wednesday that he dealt with her.

He was coming in some hours earlier than usual from his rounds when
she delivered herself into his hands by appearing at the foot of the
staircase with her hair extravagantly dressed, and wearing what he
took, rightly, to be a new blue gown.

He opened the study door, and, with a treacherous smile, invited her
to enter. Then he looked at her.

"Is that another new dress you've got on?" he inquired, still with his
bland treachery.

"Yes, Papa," said Alice. "Do you like it?"

The Vicar drew himself up, squared his shoulders and smiled again, not
quite so blandly. His attitude gave him a sensation of exquisite and
powerful virility.

"Do I like it? I should, perhaps, if I were a millionaire."

"It didn't cost so much as all that," said Alice.

"I'm not asking you what it cost. But I think you must have
anticipated your next allowance."

Alice stared with wide eyes of innocence.

"What if I did? It won't make any difference in the long run."

The Vicar, with his hands plunged in his trousers pockets, jerked
forward at her from the waist. It was his gesture when he thrust.

"For all the difference it'll make to _you_, my dear child, you might
have spared yourself the trouble and expense."

He paused.

"Has young Rowcliffe been here to-day?"

"No," said Alice defiantly, "he hasn't."

"You expected him?"

"I daresay Mary did."

"I'm not asking what Mary did. Did you expect him or did you not?"

"He _said_ he might turn up."

"He said he might turn up. You expected him. And he hasn't turned up.
And you can't think why. Isn't that so?"

"I don't know what you mean, Papa."

"I mean, my child, that you're living in a fool's paradise."

"I haven't a notion what you mean by _that_."

"Perhaps Gwenda can enlighten you."

The color died in Ally's scared face.

"I can't see," she said, "what Gwenda's got to do with it."

"She's got something to do with young Rowcliffe's not turning up, I
think. I met the two of them half way between Upthorne and Bar Hill at
half past four."

He took out his watch.

"And it's ten past six now."

He sat down, turning his chair so as not to see her face. He did not,
at the moment, care to look at her.

"You might go and ask Mrs. Gale to send me in a cup of tea."

Alice went out.


"It's a quarter past six now," she said to herself. "They must come
back from Bar Hill by Upthorne. I shall meet them at Upthorne if I
start now."

She slipped her rough coat over the new gown and started.

Her fear drove her, and she went up the hill at an impossible pace.
She trembled, staggered, stood still and went on again.

The twilight of the unborn moon was like the horrible twilight of
dreams. She walked as she had walked in nightmares, with knees, weak
as water, that sank under her at every step.

She passed the schoolhouse with its beckoning ash-tree. The
schoolhouse stirred the pain under her heart. She remembered the
shining night when she had shown herself there and triumphed.

The pain then was so intolerable that her mind revolted from it as
from a thing that simply could not be. The idea by which she lived
asserted itself against the menace of destruction. It was not so much
an idea as an instinct, blind, obstinate, immovable. It had behind it
the wisdom and the persistence of life. It refused to believe where
belief meant death to it.

She said to herself, "He's lying. He's lying. He's made it all up. He
never met them."

* * * * *

She had passed the turn of the hill. She had come to the high towers,
sinister and indistinct, to the hollow walls and haunted arcades of
the dead mining station. Upthorne was hidden by the shoulder of the

She stopped suddenly, there where the road skirted the arcades. She
was struck by a shock of premonition, an instinct older and profounder
than that wisdom of the blood. She had the sense that what was
happening now, her coming, like this, to the towers and the arcades,
had happened before, and was so related to what was about to happen
that she knew this also and with the same shock of recognition.

It would happen when she had come to the last arch of the colonnade.

It was happening now. She had come to the last arch.

* * * * *

That instant she was aware of Rowcliffe and Gwenda coming toward her
down the hill.

Their figures were almost indiscernible in the twilight. It was by
their voices that she knew them.

Before they could see her she had slipped out of their path behind the
shelter of the arch.

She knew them by their voices. Yet their voices had something in them
that she did not know, something that told her that they had been with
each other many times before; that they understood each other; that
they were happy in each other and absorbed.

The pain was no longer inside her heart but under it. It was dull
rather than sharp, yet it moved there like a sharp sickle, a sickle
that gathered and ground the live flesh it turned in and twisted. A
sensation of deadly sickness made her draw farther yet into the corner
of the arcade, feeling her way in the darkness with her hand on the
wall. She stumbled on a block of stone, sank on it and cowered there,
sobbing and shivering.

Down in Garth village the church clock struck the half hour and the
quarter and the hour.

At the half hour Blenkiron, the blacksmith, put Rowcliffe's horse into
the trap. The sound of the clanking hoofs came up the hill. Rowcliffe
heard them first.

"There's something wrong down there," he said. "They're coming for

In his heart he cursed them. For it was there, at the turn of the
road, below the arches, that he had meant to say what he had not said
the other night. There was no moon. The moment was propitious. And
there (just like his cursed luck) was Blenkiron with the trap.

They met above the schoolhouse as the clock struck the quarter.

"You're wanted, sir," said the blacksmith, "at Mrs. Gale's."

"Is it Essy?"

"Ay, it's Assy."

* * * * *

In the cottage down by the beck Essy groaned and cried in her agony.

And on the road to Upthorne, under the arches by the sinister towers,
Alice Cartaret, crouching on her stone, sobbed and shivered.

Not long after seven Essy's child was born.

* * * * *

Just before ten the three sisters sat waiting, as they had always
waited, bored and motionless, for the imminent catastrophe of Prayers.

"I wonder how Essy's getting on," said Gwenda.

"Poor little Essy!" Mary said.

"She's as pleased as Punch," said Gwenda. "It's a boy. Ally--did you
know that Essy's had a baby?"

"I don't care if she has," said Ally violently. "It's got nothing to
do with me. I wish you wouldn't talk about her beastly baby."

As the Vicar came out of his study into the dining-room, he fixed his
eyes upon his youngest daughter.

"What's the matter with you?" he said.

"Nothing's the matter," said Alice defiantly. "Why?"

"You look," he said, "as if somebody was murdering you."


Ally was ill; so ill this time that even the Vicar softened to her.
He led her upstairs himself and made her go to bed and stay there. He
would have sent for Rowcliffe but that Ally refused to see him.

Her mortal apathy passed for submission. She took her milk from her
father's hand without a murmur. "There's a good girl," he said, as she
drank it down.

But it didn't do her any good. Nothing did. The illness itself was no
good to her, considering that she didn't want to be ill this time. She
wanted to die. And of course she couldn't die. It would have been too
much happiness and they wouldn't let her have it.

At first she resented what she called their interference. She
declared, as she had declared before, that there was nothing the
matter with her. She was only tired. Couldn't they see that she was
tired? That _they_ tired her?

"Why can't you leave me alone? If only you'd go away," she moaned,
"--all of you--and leave me alone."

But very soon she was too tired even to be irritable. She lay quiet,
sunk in the hollow of her bed, and kept her eyes shut, so that she
never knew, she said, whether they were there or not. And it didn't
matter. Nothing mattered so long as she could just lie there.

It was only when they talked of sending for Rowcliffe that they roused
her. Then she sat up and became, first vehement, then violent.

"You shan't send for him," she cried. "I won't see him. If he comes
into the house I'll crawl out of it."

* * * * *

One day (it was the last Wednesday in April) Gwenda came to her and
told her that Rowcliffe was there and had asked to see her.

Ally's pale eyes lightened and grew large. They were transparent as
glass in her white face.

"Did _you_ send for him?"


"Who did then?"


She closed her eyes. The old sense of ecstasy came over her, of
triumph too, of solemn triumph, as if she, whom they thought so
insignificant, had vindicated her tragic dignity at last.

For if her father had sent for Rowcliffe it could only mean that she
was really dying. Nothing else--nothing short of that--would have made
him send.

And of course that was what she wanted, that Rowcliffe should see her
die. He wouldn't forget her then. He would be compelled to think of

"You _will_ see him, won't you, Ally?"

Ally smiled her little triumphant and mysterious smile.

"Oh yes, I'll see him."

* * * * *

The Vicar did not go on his rounds that afternoon. He stayed at home
to talk to Rowcliffe. The two were shut up together in his study for
more than half an hour.

As they entered the drawing-room at tea-time it could be seen from
their manner and their faces that something had gone wrong. The Vicar
bore himself like a man profoundly aggrieved, not to say outraged, in
his own house, who nevertheless was observing a punctilious courtesy
towards the offending guest. Rowcliffe's shoulders and his jaw were
still squared in the antagonism that had closed their interview.
He too observed the most perfect courtesy. Only by the consummate
restraint of his manner did he show how impossible he had found the
Vicar, while his face betrayed a grave preoccupation in which the
Vicar counted not at all.

Mary began to talk to him about the weather. Neither she nor Gwenda
dared ask him what he thought of Alice.

And in ten minutes he was gone. The Vicar went with him to the gate.

Still standing as they had stood to take leave of Rowcliffe, the
sisters looked at each other. Mary spoke first.

"Whatever _can_ Papa have said to him?"

This time Gwenda knew what Mary was thinking.

"It isn't that," she said. "It's something he's said to Papa."


That night, about nine o'clock, Gwenda came for the third time to
Rowcliffe at his house.

She was shown into his study, where Rowcliffe was reading.

Though the servant had prepared him for her, he showed signs of

Gwenda's eyes were ominously somber and she had the white face of
a ghost, a face that to Rowcliffe, as he looked at it, recalled the
white face of Alice. He disliked Alice's face, he always had disliked
it, he disliked it more than ever at that moment; yet the sight
of this face that was so like it carried him away in an ecstasy of
tenderness. He adored it because of that likeness, because of all that
the likeness revealed to him and signified. And it increased, quite
unendurably, his agitation.

Gwenda was supernaturally calm.

In another instant the illusion that her presence had given him
passed. He saw what she had come for.

"Has anything gone wrong?" he asked.

She drew in her breath sharply.

"It's Alice."

"Yes, I know it's Alice. _Is_ anything wrong?" he said. "What is it?"

"I don't know. I want you to tell me. That's what I've come for. I'm

"D'you mean, is she worse?"

She did not answer him. She looked at him as if she were trying to
read in his eyes something that he was trying not to tell her.

"Yes," he said, "she _is_ worse."

"I know that," she said impatiently. "I can see it. You've got to tell
me more."

"But I _have_ told you. You _know_ I have," he pleaded.

"I know you tried to tell me."

"Didn't I succeed?"

"You told me why she was ill--I know all that----"

"Do sit down." He turned from her and dragged the armchair forward.
"There." He put a cushion at her back. "That's better."

As she obeyed him she kept her eyes on him. The book he had been
reading lay where he had put it down, on the hearthrug at her feet.
Its title, "_Etat mental des hysteriques_;" Janet, stared at him. He
picked it up and flung it out of sight as if it had offended him. With
all his movements her head lifted and turned so that her eyes followed

He sat down and gazed at her quietly.

"Well," he said, "and what didn't I tell you?"

"You didn't tell me how it would end."

He was silent.

"Is that what you told father?"

"Hasn't he said anything?"

"He hasn't said a word. And you went away without saying anything."

"There isn't much to say that you don't know----"

"I know why she was ill. You told me. But I don't know why she's
worse. She _was_ better. She was quite well. She was running about
doing things and looking so pretty--only the other day. And look at
her now."

"It's like that," said Rowcliffe. "It comes and goes."

He said it quietly. But the blood rose into his face and forehead in a
painful flush.

"But why? Why?" she persisted. "It's so horribly sudden."

"It's like that, too," said Rowcliffe.

"If it's like that now what is it going to be? How is it going to end?
That's what you _won't_ tell me."

"It's difficult----" he began.

"I don't care how difficult it is or how you hate it. You've got to."

All he said to that was "You're very fond of her?"

Her upper lip trembled. "Yes. But I don't think I knew it until now."

"That's what makes it difficult."

"My not knowing it?"

"No. Your being so fond of her."

"Isn't that just the reason why I ought to know?"

"Yes. I think it is. Only----"

She held him to it.

"Is she going to die?"

"I don't say she's _going_ to die. But--in the state she's in--she
_might_ get anything and die of it if something isn't done to make her


"I mean of course--to get her married. After all, you know, you've got
to face the facts."

"You think she's dying now, and you're afraid to tell me."

"No--I'm afraid I think--she's not so likely to die as to go out of
her mind."

"Did you tell my father that?"


"What did he say?"

"He said she was out of her mind already."

"She isn't!"

"Of course she isn't. No more than you and I. He talks about putting
the poor child under restraint----"


"It's preposterous. But he'll make it necessary if he continues his
present system. What I tried to impress on him is that she _will_
go out of her mind if she's kept shut up in that old Vicarage much
longer. And that she'd be all right--perfectly all right--if she was
married. As far as I can make out he seems to be doing his best to
prevent it. Well--in her case--that's simply criminal. The worse of it
is I can't make him see it. He's annoyed with me."

"He never will see anything he doesn't like."

"There's no reason why he should dislike it so much--I mean her
illness. There's nothing awful about it."

"There's nothing awful about Ally. She's as good as gold."

"I know she's as good as gold. And she'd be as strong as iron if she
was married and had children. I've seen no end of women like that, and
I'm not sure they don't make the best wives and mothers. I told your
father that. But it's no good trying to tell him the truth."

"No. It's the one thing he can't stand."

"He seems," said Rowcliffe, "to have such an extraordinary distaste
for the subject. He approaches it from an impossible point of view--as
if it was sin or crime or something. He talks about her controlling
herself, as if she could help it. Why, she's no more responsible for
being like that than I am for the shape of my nose. I'm afraid I told
him that if anybody was responsible _he_ was, for bringing her to the
worst place imaginable."

"He did that on purpose."

"I know. And I told him he might as well have put her in a lunatic
asylum at once."

He meditated.

"It's not as if he hadn't anybody but himself to think of."

"That's no good. He never does think of anybody but himself. And yet
he'd be awfully sorry, you know, if Ally died."

They sat silent, not looking at each other, until Gwenda spoke again.

"Dr. Rowcliffe--"

He smiled as if it amused him to be addressed so formally.

"Do you _really_ mean it, or are you frightening us? Will Ally really
die--or go mad--if she isn't--happy?"

He was grave again.

"I really mean it. It's a rather serious case. But it's only 'if.' As
I told you, there are scores of women--"

But she waived them all away.

"I only wanted to know."

Her voice stopped suddenly, and he thought that she was going to break

"You mustn't take it so hard," he said. "It's not as if it wasn't
absolutely curable. You must take her away."

Suddenly he remembered that he didn't particularly want Gwenda to go
away. He couldn't, in fact, bear the thought of it.

"Better still," he said, "send her away. Is there anybody you could
send her to?"

"Only Mummy--my stepmother." She smiled through her tears. "Papa would
never let Ally go to _her_."

"Why not?"

"Because she ran away from him."

He tried not to laugh.

"She's really quite decent, though you mightn't think it." Rowcliffe
smiled. "And she's fond of Ally. She's fond of all of us--except Papa.
And," she added, "she knows a lot of people."

He smiled again. He pictured the third Mrs. Cartaret as a woman of
affectionate gaiety and a pleasing worldliness, so well surrounded by
adorers of his own sex that she could probably furnish forth her three
stepdaughters from the numbers of those she had no use for. He was
more than ever disgusted with the Vicar who had driven from him a
woman so admirably fitted to play a mother's part.

"She sounds," he said, "as if she'd be the very one."

"She would be. It's an awful pity."

"Well," he said, "we won't talk any more about it now. We'll think of
something. We simply _must_ get her away."

He was thinking that he knew of somebody--a doctor's widow--who
also would be fitted. If they could afford to pay her. And if they
couldn't, he would very soon have the right----

That was what his "we" meant.

Presently he excused himself and went out to see, he said, about
getting her some tea. He judged that if she were left alone for a
moment she would pull herself together and be as ready as ever for
their walk back to Garthdale.

* * * * *

It was in that moment when he left her that she made her choice.
Not that when her idea had come to her she had known a second's
hesitation. She didn't know when it had come. It seemed to her that it
had been with her all through their awful interview.

It was she and not Ally who would have to go away.

She could see it now.

It had been approaching her, her idea, from the very instant that she
had come into the room and had begun to speak to him. And with every
word that _he_ had said it had come closer. But not until her final
appeal to him had she really faced it. Then it became clear. It
crystallised. There was no escaping from the facts.

Ally would die or go mad if she didn't marry.

Ally (though Rowcliffe didn't know it) was in love with him.

And, even if she hadn't been, as long as they stayed in Garthdale
there was nobody but Rowcliffe whom she could marry. It was her one

And there were three of them there. Three women to one man.

And since _she_ was the one--she knew it--who stood between him and
Ally, it was she who would have to go away.

It seemed to her that long ago--all the time, in fact, ever since she
had known Rowcliffe--she had known that this was what she would have
to face.

She faced it now with a strange courage and a sort of spiritual
exaltation, as she would have faced any terrible truth that Rowcliffe
had told her, if, for instance, he had told her that she was going to

That, of course, was what it felt like. She had known that it would
feel like that.

And, as sometimes happens to people who are going to die and know
it, there came to her a peculiar vivid and poignant sense of her
surroundings. Of Rowcliffe's room and the things in it,--the chair he
had sat in, the pipe he had laid aside, the book he had been reading
and that he had flung away. Outside the open window the trees of the
little orchard, whitened by the moonlight, stood as if fixed in a
tender, pure and supernatural beauty. She could see the flags on the
path and the stones in the gray walls. They stood out with a strange
significance and importance. As if near and yet horribly far away, she
could hear Rowcliffe's footsteps in the passage.

It came over her that she was sitting in Rowcliffe's room--like
this--for the last time.

Then her heart dragged and tore at her, as if it fought against her
will to die. But it never occurred to her that this dying of hers was
willed by her. It seemed foredoomed, inevitable.

* * * * *

And now she was looking up in Rowcliffe's face and smiling at him as
he brought her her tea.

"That's right," he said.

He was entirely reassured by her appearance.

"Look here, shall I drive you back or do you feel like another
four-mile walk?"

She hesitated.

"It's late," he said. "But no matter. Let's be reckless."

"There's no need. I've got my bicycle."

"Then I'll get mine."

She rose. "Don't. I'm going back alone."

"You're not. I'm coming with you. I want to come."

"If you don't mind, I'd rather you didn't--to-night."

"I'll drive you, then. I can't let you go alone."

"But I _want_," she said, "to be alone."

He stood looking at her with a sort of sullen tenderness.

"You're not going to worry about what I told you?"

"You didn't tell me. I knew."


But she persisted.

"No. I shall be all right," she said. "There's a moon."

In the end he let her have her way.

Moon or no moon he saw that it was not his moment.


What Gwenda had to do she did quickly.

She wrote to the third Mrs. Cartaret that night. She told her nothing
except that she wanted to get something to do in London and to get it
as soon as possible, and she asked her stepmother if she could put her
up for a week or two until she got it. And would Mummy mind wiring Yes
or No on Saturday morning?

It was then Thursday night.

She slipped out into the village about midnight to post the letter,
though she knew that it couldn't go one minute before three o'clock on
Friday afternoon.

She had no conscious fear that her will would fail her, but her
instinct was appeased by action.

On Saturday morning Mrs. Cartaret wired: "Delighted. Expect you
Friday. Mummy."

Five intolerable days. They were not more intolerable than the days
that would come after, when the thing she was doing would be every bit
as hard. Only her instinct was afraid of something happening within
those five days that would make the hard thing harder.

On Sunday Mrs. Cartaret's letter came. Her house, she said, was
crammed with fiends till Friday. There was a beast of a woman in
Gwenda's room who simply wouldn't go. But on Friday Gwenda's room
would be ready. It had been waiting for her all the time. Hadn't they
settled it that Gwenda was to come and live with her if things became
impossible at home? Robina supposed they _were_ impossible? She sent
her love to Alice and Mary, and she was always Gwenda's loving Mummy.
And she enclosed a five-pound note; for she was a generous soul.

On Monday Gwenda told Peacock the carrier to bring her a Bradshaw from

* * * * *

She then considered how she was to account to her family for her

She decided that she would tell Mary first. And she might as well tell
her the truth while she was about it, since, if she didn't, Mary would
be sure to find it out. She was sweet and good. Not so sweet and good
that she couldn't hold her own against Papa if she was driven to
it, but sweet enough and good enough to stand by Ally and to see her

It would be easy for Mary. It wasn't as if she had ever even begun to
care for Rowcliffe. It wasn't as if Rowcliffe had ever cared for her.

And she could be trusted. A secret was always safe with Mary. She was
positively uncanny in her silence, and quite superhumanly discreet.

Mary, then, should be told the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Her father should be told as much of it as he was likely to believe.
Ally, of course, mustn't have an inkling.

Mary herself had an inkling already when she appeared that evening in
the attic where Gwenda was packing a trunk. She had a new Bradshaw in
her hand.

"Peacock gave me this," said Mary. "He said you ordered it."

"So I did," said Gwenda.

"What on earth for?"

"To look up trains in."

"Why--is anybody coming?"

"Does anybody _ever_ come?"

Mary's face admitted her absurdity.

"Then"--she made it out almost with difficulty--"somebody must be
going away."

"How clever you are. Somebody _is_ going away."

Mary twisted her brows in her perplexity. She was evidently thinking

"Do you mean--Steven Rowcliffe?"

"No, dear lamb." (What on earth had put Steven Rowcliffe into Mary's
head?) "It's not as bad as all that. It's only a woman. In fact, it's
only me."

Mary's face emptied itself of all expression; it became a blank
screen suddenly put up before the disarray of hurrying, eager things,
unclothed and unexpressed.

"I'm going to stay with Mummy."

Gwenda closed the lid of the trunk and sat on it.

(Perturbation was now in Mary's face.)

"You can't, Gwenda. Papa'll never let you go."

"He can't stop me."

"What on earth are you going for?"

"Not for my own amusement, though it sounds amusing."

"Does Mummy want you?"

"Whether she wants me or not, she's got to have me."

"For how long?"

(Mary's face was heavy with thought now.)

"I don't know. I'm going to get something to do."

"To _do?_"

(Mary said to herself, then certainly it was not amusing. She pondered

"Is it," she brought out, "because of Steven Rowcliffe?"

"No. It's because of Ally."


"Yes. Didn't Papa tell you about her?"

"Not he. Did he tell you?"

"No. It was Steven Rowcliffe."

And she told Mary what Rowcliffe had said to her.

She had made room for her on her trunk and they sat there, their
bodies touching, their heads drawn back, each sister staring with eyes
that gave and took the other's horror.

* * * * *

"Don't, Molly, don't----"

Mary was crying now.

"Does Papa know--that she'll die--or go mad?"


"But"--Mary lifted her stained face--"that's what they said about

"If she had children. It's if Ally hasn't any."

"And Papa knew it _then_. And he knows it now--how awful."

"It isn't as awful as Steven Rowcliffe thinks. He doesn't really know
what's wrong with her. He doesn't know she's in love with _him_."

"Poor Ally. What's the good? He isn't in love with her."

"He isn't now," said Gwenda. "But he will be."

"Not he. It's you he cares for--if he cares for anybody."

"I know. That's why I'm going."

"Oh, Gwenda----"

Mary's face was somber as she took it in.

"That won't do Ally any good. If you _know_ he cares."

"I don't absolutely know it. And if I did it wouldn't make any

"And if--you care for him?"

"That doesn't make any difference either. I've got to clear out. It's
her one chance, Molly. I've got to give it her. How _can_ I let her
die, poor darling, or go mad? She'll be all right if he marries her."

"And if he doesn't?"

"He may, Molly, he may, if I clear out in time. Anyhow, there isn't
anybody else."

"If only," Mary said, "Papa had kept a curate."

"But he hasn't kept a curate. He never will keep a curate. And if
he does he'll choose a man with a wife and seven children--no, he'll
choose no children. The wife mustn't have a chance of dying."

"Gwenda--do you think anybody _knows?_ They did, you know--before, and
it was awful."

"Nobody knows this time, except Papa and Steven Rowcliffe and you and

"I wish I didn't. I wish you hadn't told me."

"You _had_ to know or I wouldn't have told you. Do you think Steven
Rowcliffe would have told _me----_"

"How could he? It was awful of him."

"He could because he isn't a coward or a fool and he knew that I'm not
a coward or a fool either. He thought Ally had nobody but me. She'll
have nobody but you when I'm gone. You mustn't let her see you think
her awful. You mustn't _think_ it. She isn't. She's as good as gold.
Steven Rowcliffe said so. If she wasn't, Molly, I wouldn't ask you to
help her--with him."

"Gwenda, you mustn't put it all on me. I'd do anything for poor Ally,
but I _can't_ make him marry her if he doesn't want to."

"I think Ally can make him want to, if she gets a chance. You've only
got to stick to her and see her through. You'll have to ask him here,
you know. _She_ can't. And you'll have to keep Papa off her. If you're
not very careful, he'll go and put her under restraint or something."

"Oh--would it come to that?"

"Yes. Papa'd do it like a shot. I believe he'd do it just to stop her
marrying him. You mustn't tell Papa what I've told you. You mustn't
tell Ally. And you mustn't tell him. Do you hear, Molly? You must
never tell him."

"Of course I won't tell him. But it's no use thinking we can do

Gwenda stood up.

"We haven't got to _do_ things. That's his business. We've only got to
sit tight and play the game."

* * * * *

Gwenda went on with her packing.

"It will be time enough," she thought, "to tell Ally tomorrow."

Ally was in her room. She never came downstairs now; and this week she
was worse and had stayed all day in bed. They couldn't rouse her.

But something had roused her this evening.

A sort of scratching on the door made Gwenda look up from her packing.

Ally stood on the threshold. She had dressed herself completely in her
tweed skirt, white blouse and knitted tie. Her strength had failed her
only in the struggle with her hair. The coil had fallen, and hung in
a loose pigtail down her back. Slowly, in the weakness of her apathy,
she trailed across the floor.

"Ally, what is it? Why didn't you send for me?"

"It's all right. I wanted to get up. I'm coming down to supper. You
can leave off packing that old trunk. You haven't got to go."

"Who told you I was going?"

"Nobody. I knew it." She answered Gwenda's eyes. "I don't know how
I knew it, but I did. And I know why you're going and it's all rot.
You're going because you know that if you stay Steven Rowcliffe'll
marry you, and you think that if you go he'll marry me."

"Whatever put that idea into your head?"

"Nothing put it. It came. It shows how awful you must think me if you
think I'd go and do a beastly thing like that."

"Like what?"

"Why--sneaking him away from you behind your back when I know you like
him. You needn't lie about it. You _do_ like him.

"I may be awful," she went on. "In fact I know I'm awful. But I'm
decent. I couldn't do a caddish thing like that--I couldn't really.
And, if I couldn't, there's no need for you to go."

She was sitting on the trunk where Mary had sat, and when she began to
speak she had looked down at her small hands that grasped the edge
of the lid, their fingers picking nervously at the ragged flap. They
ceased and she looked up.

And in her look, a look that for the moment was divinely lucid, Gwenda
saw Ally's secret and hidden kinship with herself. She saw it as if
through some medium, once troubled and now made suddenly transparent.
It was because of that queer kinship that Ally had divined her.
However awful she was, however tragically foredoomed and driven, Ally
was decent. She knew what Gwenda was doing because it was what, if any
sustained lucidity were ever given her, she might have done herself.

But in Ally no idea but the one idea was very deeply rooted. Sustained
lucidity never had been hers. It would be easy to delude her.

"I'm going," Gwenda said, "because I want to. If I stayed I wouldn't
marry Steven Rowcliffe, and Steven Rowcliffe wouldn't marry me."

"But--I thought--I thought----"

"What did you think?"

"That there was something between you. Papa said so."

"If Papa said so you might have known there was nothing in it."

"And isn't there?"

"Of course there isn't. You can put that idea out of your head

"All the same I believe that's why you're going."

"I'm going because I can't stand this place any longer. You said I'd
be sick of it in three months."

"You're not sick of it. You love it. It's me you can't stand."

"No, Ally--no."

She plunged for another argument and found it.

"What I can't stand is living with Papa."

Ally agreed that this was rather more than plausible.


The next person to be told was Rowcliffe.

It was known in the village through the telegrams that Gwenda was
going away. The postmistress told Mrs. Gale, who told Mrs. Blenkiron.
These two persons and four or five others had known ever since Sunday
that the Vicar's daughter was going away; and the Vicar did not know
it yet.

And Mrs. Blenkiron told Rowcliffe on the Wednesday before Alice told

For it was Alice who told him, and not Gwenda. Gwenda was not at home
when he called at the Vicarage at three o'clock. But he heard from
Alice that she would be back at four.

And it was Alice who told Mrs. Gale that when the doctor called again
he was to be shown into the study.

He had waited there thirteen minutes before Gwenda came to him.

He looked at her and was struck by a difference he found in her,
a difference that recalled some look in her face that he had seen
before. It was dead white, and in its whiteness her blue eyes, dark
and dilated, quivered with defiance and a sort of fear. She looked
older and at the same time younger, as young as Alice and as helpless
in her fear. Then he remembered that she had looked like that the
night she had passed him in the doorway of the house at Upthorne.

"How cold your hands are," he said.

She hid them behind her back as if they had betrayed her.

"Do you want to see me about Ally?"

"No, I don't want to see you about Ally. I want to see you about

Her eyes quivered again.

"Won't you come into the drawing-room, then?"

"I'd rather stay here if you don't mind. I say, how much time have I?"

"Till when?"

"Well--till your father comes back?"

"He won't be back for another hour. But--"

"I hear you're going away on Friday; and that you're going for good."

"Did Mary tell you?"

"No. It was Alice. She said I was to try and stop you."

"You can't stop me if I want to go."

"I'll do my best."

They stood, as they talked, in rigid attitudes that suggested that
neither was going to yield an inch.

"Why didn't you tell me yourself, Gwenda?"

She closed her eyes. It was as if she had forgotten why.

"Was it because you knew I wouldn't let you? Did you want to go as
much as all that?"

"It looks like it, doesn't it?"

"Yes. But you don't want to go a bit."

"Would I go if I didn't?"

"Yes. It's just the sort of thing you would do, if you thought it
would annoy me. It's only what you've been doing for the last three
months--getting away from me."

"Three months--?"

"Oh, I cared for you before that. It's only the last three months I've
been trying to tell you."

"You never told me anything."

"Because you never gave me a chance. You kept on putting me off."

"And if I did, didn't that show that I didn't want you to tell me? I
don't want you to tell me now."

He made an impatient movement.

"But you knew without telling. You knew then."

"I didn't. I didn't."

"Well, then, you know now. Will you marry me or will you not? I want
it straight."

"No. No."

"And--why not?"

He was horribly cool and calm.

"Because I don't want to marry you. I don't want to marry anybody."

"Good God! What _do_ you want, then?"

"I want to go away and earn my own living as other women do."

The absurdity of it melted him. He could have gone down on his knees
at her feet and kissed her cold hands. He wondered afterward why on
earth he hadn't. Then he remembered that all the time she had kept her
hands locked behind her.

"You poor child, you don't want to earn your own living. I'll tell you
what you _do_ want. You want to get away from home."

"And what if I do? You've seen what it's like. Would _you_ stay in it
a day longer than you could help if you were me?"

"Of course I wouldn't. Of course I've seen what it's like. I saw it
the first time I saw you here in this detestable house. I want to take
you away out of it. I think I wanted to take you away then."

"Oh, no. Not then. Not so long ago as that."

It was as if she had said, "Not that. That makes it too hard. Any
cruelty you like but that, or I can't go through with it."

"Yes," he said, "as long ago as that."

"You can't take me away."

"Can't I? I can take you anywhere. And I will. Anywhere you like.
You've only got to say. I _know_ I can make you happy."

"How do you know?"

"Because I know you."

"That's what you're always saying. And you know nothing about me.
Nothing. Nothing."

She said to herself: "He doesn't. He doesn't even know why I'm going."

"I know a lot more than you think. And a lot more than you know
yourself. I know that you're not happy as you are, and I know that
you can't _live_ without happiness. If you're not happy you'll be ill;
more horribly ill, perhaps, than Alice. Look at Alice."

"I'm not like Alice."

"Not now. Not next year. Not for ten years, perhaps, or twenty. But
you don't know what you may be."

She raised her head.

"I shall never be like that. Never."

Rowcliffe laughed.

It struck her then that that was what she ought never to have said if
she wanted to carry out her purpose.

"When I say I'm not like Ally I mean that I'm not so dependent on
people. I'm not gentle like Ally. I'm not as loving and I'm not as
womanly. In fact, I'm not womanly at all."

"My dear child, do you suppose it matters to me what you're not, as
long as I love you as you are?"

"No," she said, "you don't love me really. You only think you do."

She clung to that.

"Why do you say that, Gwenda?"

"Because, if you did, I should have known it before now."

"Well, considering that you _do_ know it now--"

"I mean, you'd have said so before."

"I say! I like that. I'd have said so about five times if you'd ever
given me a chance."

"Oh, no. You had your chance."

"When did I have it? When?"

"The other day. Up at Bar Hill."

"You thought so then?"

"I didn't say I thought so then. I think so now."

"That's rather clever of you. Because, you see, if you thought so then
that shows--"

"What does it show?"

"Why, that you knew all the time--and that you were thinking of me.
You _did_ know. You _did_ think--"

"No. No. It's only that I've got to--that you're _making_ me think of
you now. But I'm not thinking of you the way you want."

"If you're not--if you haven't thought of me--_the way I want_--then I
can't make you out. You're beyond me."

They sat down, tired out with the struggle, as if they had reached the
same point of exhaustion at the same instant.

"Why not leave it at that?" she said.

He rallied.

"Because I can't leave it at that. You knew I cared. You must have
seen. I could have sworn you saw. I could have sworn--"

She knew what he was going to swear and she stopped him.

"I _did_ see that you thought you cared for me. If you'd been quite
sure you'd have told me. You wouldn't have waited. You're not quite
sure now. You're only telling me now because I'm going away. If I
hadn't said I was going away you'd never have told me. You'd just have
gone on waiting till you were quite sure."

She had irritated him now beyond endurance.

"Gwenda," he said savagely, "you're enough to drive a man mad."

"You've told me _that_ before, anyhow. Don't you see that I should go
on driving you mad? Don't you see how unhappy you'd be with me, how
impossible it all is?"

She laughed. It was marvelous to her how she achieved that laugh. It
was as if she had just thought of it and it came.

"I can see," he said, "that _you_ don't care for me."

He had given himself into her hands--hands that seemed to him diabolic
in their play.

"Did I ever _say_ I cared?"

"Well--of all the women--you _are_----! No, you didn't _say_ it."

"Did I ever show it?"

"Good God, how do _I_ know what you showed? If it had been any other
woman--yes, I could have sworn."

"You can't swear to any woman--I'm afraid--till you've married her.
Perhaps--not then."

"You shouldn't say things like that; they sound----"

"How do they sound?"

"As if you knew too much."

She smiled.

"Well, then--there's another reason."

He softened suddenly.

"I didn't mean that, Gwenda. You don't know what you're saying. You
don't know anything. It's only that you're so beastly clever."

"That's a better reason still. You don't want to marry a beastly
clever woman. You really don't."

"I'd risk it. That sort of cleverness doesn't last long."

"It would last your time," she said.

She rose. It was as much as giving him his dismissal.

He stood a moment watching her. She and all her movements still seemed
to him incredible.

"Do you mind telling me where you're going to?"

"I'm going to Mummy." She explained to his blankness: "My stepmother."

He remembered. Mummy was the lady who was "the very one," the lady of
remarkable resources.

It seemed to him then that he saw it all. He knew what she was going

"I see. Instead of your sister," he sneered.

"Papa wouldn't let Ally go to her. But he can't stop _me_."

"Oh, no. Nobody could stop _you_."

She smiled softly. She had missed the brutality of his emphasis.

* * * * *

He said to himself that Gwenda was impossible. She was obstinate and
conceited and wrong-headed. She was utterly selfish, a cold mass of

"Cold?" He was not so sure. She might be. But she was capable, he
suspected, of adventures. Instead of taking her sister away to have
her chance, she was rushing off to secure it herself. And the irony of
the thing was that it was he who had put it into her head.

Well--she was no worse, and no better--than the rest of them. Only
unlike them in the queerness of her fascination. He wondered how long
it would have lasted?

You couldn't go on caring for a woman like that, who had never cared a
rap about you.

And yet--he could have sworn--Oh, _that_ was nothing. She had only
thought of him because he had been her only chance.

He made himself think these things of her because they gave him
unspeakable consolation.

All the way back to Morfe he thought them, while on his right hand
Karva rose and receded and rose again, and changed at every turn
its aspect and its form. He thought them to an accompaniment of an
interior, persistent voice, the voice of his romantic youth, that said
to him, "That is her hill, her hill--do you remember? That's where you
met her first. That's where you saw her jumping. That's her hill--her
hill--her hill."


The Vicar had been fidgeting in his study, getting up and sitting
down, and looking at the clock every two minutes. Gwenda had told
him that she wanted to speak to him, and he had stipulated that the
interview should be after prayer time, for he knew that he was going
to be upset. He never allowed family disturbances, if he could help
it, to interfere with the attitude he kept up before his Maker.

He knew perfectly well she was going to tell him of her engagement to
young Rowcliffe; and though he had been prepared for the news any time
for the last three months he had to pull himself together to receive
it. He would have to pretend that he was pleased about it when he
wasn't pleased at all. He was, in fact, intensely sorry for himself.
It had dawned on him that, with Alice left a permanent invalid on his
hands, he couldn't really afford to part with Gwenda. She might be
terrible in the house, but in her way--a way he didn't altogether
approve of--she was useful in the parish. She would cover more of it
in an afternoon than Mary could in a month of Sundays.

But, though the idea of Gwenda's marrying was disagreeable to him for
so many reasons, he was not going to forbid it absolutely. He was
only going to insist that she should wait. It was only reasonable
and decent that she should wait until Alice got either better or bad
enough to be put under restraint.

The Vicar's pity for himself reached its climax when he considered
that awful alternative. He had been considering it ever since
Rowcliffe had spoken to him about Alice.

It was just like Gwenda to go and get engaged at such a moment, when
he was beside himself.

But he smoothed his face into a smile when she appeared.

"Well, what is it? What is this great thing you've come to tell me?"

It struck him that for the first time in her life Gwenda looked
embarrassed; as well she might be.

"Oh--it isn't very great, Papa. It's only that I'm going away."


"I don't mean out of the country. Only to London."

"Ha! Going to London--" He rolled it ruminatingly on his tongue.

"Well, if that's all you've come to say, it's very simple. You can't

He bent his knees with the little self-liberating gesture that he had
when he put his foot down.

"But," said Gwenda, "I'm going."

He raised his eyebrows.

"And why is this the first time I've heard of it?"

"Because I want to go without any bother, since I'm going to go."

"Oh--consideration for me, I suppose?"

"For both of us. I don't want you to worry."

"That's why you've chosen a time when I'm worried out of my wits

"I know, Papa. That's why I'm going."

He was arrested both by the astounding statement and by something
unusually placable in her tone. He stared at her as his way was.

Then, suddenly, he had a light on it.

"Gwenda, there must be something behind all this. You'd better tell me
straight out what's happened."

"Nothing has happened."

"You know what I mean. We've spoken about this before. Is there
anything between you and young Rowcliffe."

"Nothing. Nothing whatever of the sort you mean."

"You're sure there hasn't been"--he paused discreetly for his
word--"some misunderstanding?"

"Quite sure. There isn't anything to misunderstand. I'm going because
I want to go. There are too many of us at home."

"Too many of you--in the state your sister's in?"

"That's exactly why I'm going. I'm trying to tell you. Ally'll go on
being ill as long as there are three of us knocking about the house.
You'll find she'll buck up like anything when I'm gone. There's
nothing the matter with her, really."

"That may be your opinion. It isn't Rowcliffe's."

"I know it isn't. But it soon will be. It was your own idea a little
while ago."

"Ye--es; before this last attack, perhaps. D'you know what Rowcliffe
thinks of her?"

"Yes. But I know a lot more about Ally than he does. So do you."


They were sitting down to it now.

"But I can't afford to keep you if you go away."

"Of course you can't. You won't have to keep me. I'm going to keep

Again he stared. This was preposterous.

"It's all right, Papa. It's all settled."

"By whom?"

"By me."

"You've found something to do in London?"

"Not yet. I'm going to look--"

"And what," inquired the Vicar with an even suaver irony, "_can_ you

"I can be somebody's secretary."


"Oh," said Gwenda airily, "anybody's."

"And--if I may ask--what will you do, and where do you propose to
stay, while you're looking for him?" (He felt that he expressed
himself with perspicacity.)

"That's all arranged. I'm going to Mummy."

The Vicar was silent with the shock of it.

"I'm sorry, Papa," said Gwenda; "but there's nowhere else to go to."

"If you go there," said Mr. Cartaret, "you will certainly not come
back here."

All that had passed till now had been mere skirmishing. The real
battle had begun.

Gwenda set her face to it.

"I shall not be coming back in any case," she said.

"That question can stand over till you've gone."

"I shall be gone on Friday by the three train."

"I shall not allow you to go--by any train."

"How are you going to stop me?"

He had not considered it.

"You don't suppose I'm going to give you any money to go with?"

"You needn't. I've got heaps."

"And how are you going to get your luggage to the station?"

"Oh--the usual way."

"There'll be no way if I forbid Peacock to carry it--or you."

"Can you forbid Jim Greatorex? _He_'ll take me like a shot."

"I can put your luggage under lock and key."

He was still stern, though, he was aware that the discussion was
descending to sheer foolishness.

"I'll go without it. I can carry a toothbrush and a comb, and Mummy
will have heaps of nightgowns."

The Vicar leaned forward and hid his face in his hands before that
poignant evocation of Robina.

Gwenda saw that she had gone too far. She had a queer longing to go
down on her knees before him and drag his hands from his poor face
and ask him to forgive her. She struggled with and overcame the morbid

The Vicar lifted his face, and for a moment they looked at each other
while he measured, visibly, his forces against hers.

She shook her head at him almost tenderly. He was purely pathetic to
her now.

"It's no use, Papa. You'd far better give it up. You know you can't
do it. You can't stop me. You can't stop Jim Greatorex. You can't even
stop Peacock. You don't want _another_ scandal in the parish."

He didn't.

"Oh, go your own way," he said, "and take the consequences."

"I _have_ taken them," said Gwenda.

She thought, "I wonder what he'd have said if I'd told him the truth?
But, if I had, he'd never have believed it."

The truth indeed was far beyond the Vicar's power of belief. He only
supposed (after some reflection) that Gwenda was going off in a huff,
because young Rowcliffe had failed to come to the scratch. He knew
what this running up to London and earning her own living meant--she!
He would have trusted Ally sooner. Gwenda was capable of anything.

And as he thought of what she might be capable of in London, he
sighed, "God help her!"


It was May, five weeks since Gwenda had left Garthdale.

Five Wednesdays came and went and Rowcliffe had not been seen or heard
of at the Vicarage. It struck even the Vicar that considerably more
had passed between his daughter and the doctor than Gwenda had been
willing to admit. Whatever had passed, it had been something that had
made Rowcliffe desire not to be seen or heard of.

All the same, the Vicar and his daughter Alice were both so profoundly
aware of Rowcliffe that for five weeks they had not mentioned his name
to each other. When Mary mentioned it on Friday, in the evening of
that disgraceful day, he said that he had had enough of Rowcliffe and
he didn't want to hear any more about the fellow.

Mr. Cartaret had signified that his second daughter's name was not to
be mentioned, either. But, becoming as his attitude was, he had not
been able to keep it up. In the sixth week after Gwenda's departure,
he was obliged to hear (it was Alice, amazed out of all reticence, who
told him) that Gwenda had got a berth as companion secretary to Lady
Frances Gilbey, at a salary of a hundred a year.

Mummy had got it for her.

"You may well stare, Molly, but it's what she says."

The Vicar, as if he had believed Ally capable of fabricating this
intelligence, observed that he would like to see that letter.

His face darkened as he read it. He handed it back without a word.

The thing was not so incredible to the Vicar as it was to Mary.

He had always known that Robina could pull wires. It was, in fact,
through her ability to pull wires that Robina had so successfully
held him up. She had her hands on the connections of an entire social
system. Her superior ramifications were among those whom Mr. Cartaret
habitually spoke and thought of as "the best people." And when it came
to connections, Robina's were of the very best. Lady Frances was her
second cousin. In the days when he was trying to find excuses for
marrying Robina, it was in considering her connections that he found
his finest. The Vicar had informed his conscience that he was
marrying Robina because of what she could do for his three motherless
daughters--and himself.

Preferment even lay (through the Gilbeys) within Robina's scope.

But to have planted Gwenda on Lady Frances Robina must have pulled all
the wires she knew. Lady Frances was a distinguished philanthropist
and a rigid Evangelical, so rigid and so distinguished that, in the
eyes of poor parsons waiting for preferment, she constituted a pillar
of the Church.

To the Vicar, as he brooded over it, Robina's act was more than mere
protection of his daughter Gwenda. Not only was it carrying the war
into the enemy's camp with a vengeance, it was an act of hostility
subtler and more malignant than overt defiance.

Ever since she left him, Robina had been trying to get hold of the
girls, regarding them as the finest instruments in her relentless
game. For it never occurred to Mr. Cartaret that his third wife's
movements could by any possibility refer to anybody but himself.
Robina, according to Mr. Cartaret, was perpetually thinking of him
and of how she could annoy him. She had shown a fiendish cleverness in
placing Gwenda with Lady Frances. She couldn't have done anything that
could have annoyed him more. More than anything that Robina had yet
done, it put him in the wrong. It put him in the wrong not only with
Lady Frances and the best people, but it put him in the wrong with
Gwenda and kept him there. Against Gwenda, with Lady Frances and a
salary of a hundred a year at her back, he hadn't the appearance of a
leg to stand on. The thing had the air of justifying Gwenda's behavior
by its consequences.

That was what Robina had been reckoning on. For, if it had been Gwenda
she had been thinking of, she would have kept her instead of
handing her over to Lady Frances. The companion secretaries of that
distinguished philanthropist had no sinecure even at a hundred a year.

As for Gwenda's accepting such a post, that proved nothing as against
his view of her. It only proved, what he had always known, that you
could never tell what Gwenda would do next.

And because nothing could be said with any dignity, the Vicar had said
nothing as he rose and went into his study.

It was there, hidden from his daughters' scrutiny, that he pondered
these things.

* * * * *

They waited till the door had closed on him before they spoke.

"Well, after all, that'll be very jolly for her," said Mary.

"It isn't half as jolly as it looks," said Ally. "It means that she'll
have to live at Tunbridge Wells."

"Oh," said Mary, "it won't be all Tunbridge Wells." She couldn't bear
to think that it would be all Tunbridge Wells. Not that she did think
it for a moment. It couldn't be all Tunbridge Wells for a girl like
Gwenda. Mummy could never have contemplated that. Gwenda couldn't
have contemplated it. And Mary refused to contemplate it either. She
persuaded herself that what had happened to her sister was simply
a piece of the most amazing luck. She even judged it probable that
Gwenda had known very well what she was doing when she went away.

Besides she had always wanted to do something. She had learned
shorthand and typewriting at Westbourne, as if, long ago, she had
decided that, if home became insupportable, she would leave it. And
there had always been that agreement between her and Mummy.

When Mary put these things together, she saw that nothing could be
more certain than that, sooner or later, Ally or no Ally, Gwenda would
have gone away.

But this was after it had occurred to her that Rowcliffe ought to know
what had happened and that she had got to tell him. And that was on
the day after Gwenda's letter came, when Mrs. Gale, having brought
in the tea-things, paused in her going to say, "'Ave yo' seen Dr.
Rawcliffe, Miss Mary? Ey--but 'e's lookin' baad."

"Everybody," said Mary, "is looking bad this muggy weather. That
reminds me, how's the baby?"

"'E's woorse again, Miss. I tall Assy she'll navver rear 'im."

"Has the doctor seen him to-day?"

"Naw, naw, nat yat. But 'e'll look in, 'e saays, afore 'e goas."

Mary looked at the clock. Rowcliffe left the surgery at four-thirty.
It was now five minutes past.

She wondered: Did he know, then, or did he not know? Would Gwenda have
written to him? Was it because she had not written that he was looking
bad, or was it because she had written and he knew?

She thought and thought it over; and under all her thinking there
lurked the desire to know whether Rowcliffe knew and how he was taking
it, and under her desire the longing, imperious and irresistible, to
see him.

She would have to ask him to the house. She had not forgotten that she
had to ask him, that she was pledged to ask him on Ally's account if,
as Gwenda had put it, she was to play the game.

But she had had more than one motive for her delay. It would look
better if she were not in too great a hurry. (She said to herself it
would look better on Ally's account.) The longer he was kept away (she
said to herself, that he was kept away from Ally) the more he would
be likely to want to come. Sufficient time must elapse to allow of his
forgetting Gwenda. It was not well that he should be thinking all the
time of Gwenda when he came. (She said to herself it was not well on
Ally's account.)

And it was well that their father should have forgotten Rowcliffe.

(This on Ally's account, too.)

For of course it was only on Ally's account that she was asking
Rowcliffe, really.

Not that there seemed to be any such awful need.

For Ally, in those five weeks, had got gradually better. And now, in
the first week of May, which had always been one of her bad months,
she was marvelously well. It looked as if Gwenda had known what she
was talking about when she said Ally would be all right when she was

And of course it was just as well (on Ally's account) that Rowcliffe
should not have seen her until she was absolutely well.

Nobody could say that she, Mary, was not doing it beautifully. Nobody
could say she was not discreet, since she had let five weeks pass
before she asked him.

And in order that her asking him should have the air of happy chance,
she must somehow contrive to see him first.

Her seeing him could be managed any Wednesday in the village. It was
bound, in fact, to occur. The wonder was that it had not occurred

Well, that showed how hard, all these weeks, she had been trying not
to see him. If she had had an uneasy conscience in the matter (and
she said to herself that there was no occasion for one), it would have
acquitted her.

Nobody could say she wasn't playing the game.

And then it struck her that she had better go down at once and see
Essy's baby.

It was only five and twenty past four.


The Vicar was right. Rowcliffe did not want to be seen or heard of
at the Vicarage. He did not want to see or hear of the Vicarage or of
Gwenda Cartaret again. Twice a week or more in those five weeks he had
to pass the little gray house above the churchyard; twice a week or
more the small shy window in its gable end looked sidelong at him as
he went by. But he always pretended not to see it. And if anybody in
the village spoke to him of Gwenda Cartaret he pretended not to hear,
so that presently they left off speaking.

He had sighted Mary Cartaret two or three times in the village, and
once, on the moor below Upthorne, a figure that he recognised as
Alice; he had also overtaken Mary on her bicycle, and once he had seen
her at a shop door on Morfe Green. And each time Mary (absorbed in
what she was doing) had made it possible for him not to see her. He
was grateful to her for her absorption while he saw through it. He had
always known that Mary was a person of tact.

He also knew that this preposterous avoidance could not go on forever.
It was only that Mary gave him a blessed respite week by week.
Presently one or other of the two would have to end it, and he didn't
yet know which of them it would be. He rather thought it would be

And it _was_ Mary.

He met her that first Wednesday in May, as he was leaving Mrs. Gale's

She was coming along the narrow path by the beck and there was no
avoiding her.

She came toward him smiling. He had always rather liked her smile. It
was quiet. It never broke up, as it were, her brooding face. He had
noticed that it didn't even part her lips or make them thinner. If
anything it made them thicker, it curved still more the crushed bow of
the upper lip and the pensive sweep of the lower. But it opened doors;
it lit lights. It broadened quite curiously the rather too broad
nostrils; it set the wide eyes wider; it brought a sudden blue
into their thick gray. In her cheeks it caused a sudden leaping
and spreading of their flame. Her rather high and rather prominent
cheek-bones gave character and a curious charm to Mary's face; they
had the effect of lifting her bloom directly under the pure and candid
gray of her eyes, leaving her red mouth alone in its dominion. That
mouth with its rather too long upper lip and its almost perpetual
brooding was saved from immobility by its alliance with her nostrils.

Such was Mary's face. Rowcliffe had often watched it, acknowledging
its charm, while he said to himself that for him it could never have
any meaning or fascination, any more than Mary could. There wasn't
much in Mary's face, and there wasn't much in Mary. She was too
ruminant, too tranquil. He sometimes wondered how much it would take
to trouble her.

And yet there were times when that tranquillity was soothing. She had
always, even when Ally was at her worst, smiled at him as if nothing
had happened or could happen, and she smiled at him as if nothing had
happened now. And it struck Rowcliffe, as it had frequently struck him
before, how good her face was.

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