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The Three Sisters by May Sinclair

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the path, by the door that led from the garden to the orchard.

He came toward her. Harker drew back into the orchard. They followed
him and found themselves alone.

For ten minutes they paced the narrow flagged path under the orchard
wall. And they talked, quickly, like two who have but a short time.

"Well--so you've come back at last?"

"At last? I haven't been gone six months."

"You see, time feels longer to us down here."

"That's odd. It goes faster."

"Anyhow, you're not tired of London?"

She stared at him for a second and then looked away.

"Oh no, I'm not tired of it yet."

They turned.

"Shall you stop long here?"

"I'm going back to-morrow."

"To-morrow? You're so glad to get back then?"

"So glad to get back. I only came down for Mary's wedding."

He smiled.

"You won't come for anything but a wedding?"

"A funeral might fetch me."

"Well, Gwenda, I can't say you look as if London agreed with you

"I can't say you look as if Garthdale agreed very well with you."

"I'm only tired--tired to death."

"I'm sorry."

"I want a holiday. And I'm going to get one--for a month. _You_ look
as if you'd been burning the candle at both ends, if you'll forgive my
saying so."

"Oh--for all the candles I burn! It isn't such awfully hard work, you

"What isn't?"

"What I'm doing."

He stopped straight in the narrow path and looked at her.

"I say, what _are_ you doing?"

She told him.

His face expressed surprise and resentment and a curious wonder and

"But I thought--I thought----They told me you were having no end of a

"Tunbridge Wells isn't very amusing. No more is Lady Frances."

Again he stopped dead and stared at her.

"But they told me--I mean I thought you were in London with Mrs.
Cartaret, all the time."

She laughed.

"Did Papa tell you that?"

"No. I don't know who told me. I--I got the impression." He almost
stammered. "I must have misunderstood."

She meditated.

"It sounds awfully like Papa. He simply can't believe, poor thing,
that I'd stick to anything so respectable."

"Hah!" He laughed out his contempt for the Vicar. He had forgotten
that he too had wondered.

"Chuck it, Gwenda," he said, "chuck it."

"I can't," she said. "Not yet. It's too lucrative."

"But if it makes you seedy?"

"It doesn't. It won't. It isn't hard work. Only----" She broke off.
"It's time for you to go."

"Steve! Steve!"

Rowcliffe's youngest cousin was calling from the study window.

"Come along. Mary's ready."

"All right," he shouted. "I'm coming."

But he stood still there at the end of the orchard under the gray

"Good-bye, Steven."

Gwenda put out her hand.

He held her with his troubled eyes. He did not see her hand. He saw
her eyes only that troubled his.

"I say, is it very beastly?"

"No. Not a bit. You must go, Steven, you must go."

"If I'd only known," he persisted.

They were going down the path now toward the house.

"I wouldn't have let you----"

"You couldn't have stopped me."

(It was what she had always said to all of them.)

She smiled. "You didn't stop me going, you know."

"If you'd only told me--"

She smiled again, a smile as of infinite wisdom. "Dear Steven, there
was nothing to tell."

They had come to the door in the wall. It led into the garden. He
opened to let her pass through.

The wedding-party was gathered together on the flagged path before the
house. It greeted them with laughter and cries, cheerfully ironic.

The bride in her traveling dress stood on the threshold. Outside the
carriage waited at the open gate.

Rowcliffe took Mary's hand in his and they ran down the path.

"He can sprint fast enough now," said Rowcliffe's uncle.

* * * * *

But his youngest cousin and Harker, his best friend, had gone faster.
They were waiting together on the bridge, and the girl had a slipper
in her hand.

"Were you ever," she said, "at such an awful wedding?"

Harker saw nothing wrong about the wedding but he admitted that his
experience was small.

The youngest cousin was not appeased by his confession. She went on.

"Why on earth didn't Steven _try_ to marry Gwenda?"

"Not much good trying," said the doctor, "if she wouldn't have him."

"You believe that silly story? I don't. Did you see her face?"

Harker admitted that he had seen her face.

And then, as the carriage passed, Rowcliffe's youngest cousin did an
odd thing. She tossed the slipper over the bridge into the beck.

Harker had not time to comment on her action. They were coming for him
from the house.

Rowcliffe's youngest sister-in-law had fainted away on the top

Everybody remembered then that it was she who had been in love with


Alice had sent for Gwenda.

Three months had gone by since her sister's wedding, and all her fears
were gathered together in the fear of her father and of what was about
to happen to her.

And before Gwenda could come to her, Rowcliffe and Mary had come to
the Vicar in his study. They had been a long time with him, and then
Rowcliffe had gone out. They had sent him to Upthorne. And the two had
gone into the dining-room and they had her before them there.

It was early in a dull evening in February. The lamps were lit and in
their yellow light Ally's face showed a pale and quivering exaltation.
It was the face of a hunted and terrified thing that has gathered
courage in desperation to turn and stand. She defended herself with
sullen defiance and denial.

It had come to that. For Ned, the shepherd at Upthorne, had told what
he had seen. He had told it to Maggie, who told it to Mrs. Gale. He
had told it to the head-gamekeeper at Garthdale Manor, who had a tale
of his own that he too had told. And Dr. Harker had a tale. Harker had
taken his friend's practice when Rowcliffe was away on his honeymoon.
He had seen Alice and Greatorex on the moors at night as he had driven
home from Upthorne. And he had told Rowcliffe what he had seen. And
Rowcliffe had told Mary and the Vicar.

And at the cottage down by the beck Essy Gale and her mother had
spoken together, but what they had spoken and what they had heard they
had kept secret.

"I haven't been with him," said Alice for the third time. "I don't
know what you're talking about."

"Ally--there's no use your saying that when you've been seen with

It was Mary who spoke.

"I ha--haven't."

"Don't lie," said the Vicar.

"I'm not. They're l-l-lying," said Ally, shaken into stammering now.

"Who do you suppose would lie about it?" Mary said.

"Essy would."

"Well--I may tell you, Ally, that you're wrong. Essy's kept your
secret. So has Mrs. Gale. You ought to go down on your knees and thank
the poor girl--after what you did to her."

"It _was_ Essy. I know. She's mad to marry him herself, so she goes
lying about _me_."

"Nobody's lying about her," said the Vicar, "but herself. And she's
condemning herself with every word she says. You'd better have left
Essy out of it, my girl."

"I tell you that she's lying if she says she's seen me with him. She's
never seen me."

"It wasn't Essy who saw you," Mary said.

"Somebody else is lying then. Who was it?"

"If you _must_ know who saw you," the Vicar said, "it was Dr. Harker.
You were seen a month ago hanging about Upthorne alone with that

"Only once," Ally murmured.

"You own to 'once'? You--you----" he stifled with his fury. "Once is
enough with a low blackguard like Greatorex. And you were seen more
than once. You've been seen with him after dark." He boomed. "There
isn't a poor drunken slut in the village who's disgraced herself like

Mary intervened. "Sh--sh--Papa. They'll hear you in the kitchen."

"They'll hear _her_." (Ally was moaning.) "Stop that whimpering and

"She can't help it."

"She can help it if she likes. Come, Ally, we're all here----Poor
Mary's come up and Steven. There are things we've got to know and
I insist on knowing them. You've brought the most awful trouble and
shame on me and your sister and brother-in-law, and the least you can
do is to answer truthfully. I can't stand any more of this distressing
altercation. I'm not going to extort any painful confession. You've
only got to answer a simple Yes or No. Were you anywhere with Jim
Greatorex before Dr. Harker saw you in December? Think before you
speak. Yes or No."

She thought.


"Remember, Ally," said Mary, "he saw you in November."

"He didn't. Where?"

The Vicar answered her. "At your sister's wedding."

She recovered. "Of course he did. Jim Greatorex wasn't there, anyhow."

"He was _not_."

The stress had no significance for Ally. Her brain was utterly

"Well. You say you were never anywhere with Greatorex before December.
You were not with him in--when was it, Mary?"

"August," said Mary. "The end of August."

Ally simply stared at him in her white bewilderment. Dates had no
meaning as yet for her cowed brain.

He helped her.

"In the Three Fields. On a Sunday afternoon. Did you or did you not go
into the barn?"

At that she cried out with a voice of anguish. "No--No--No!"

But Mary had her knife ready and she drove it home.

"Ally--Ned Langstaff _saw_ you."

* * * * *

When Rowcliffe came back from Upthorne he found Alice cowering in a
corner of the couch and crying out to her tormentors.

"You brutes--you brutes--if Gwenda was here she wouldn't let you bully

Mary turned to her husband.

"Steven--will you speak to her? She won't tell us anything. We've been
at it more than half an hour."

Rowcliffe stared at her and the Vicar with strong displeasure.

"I should think you had by the look of her. Why can't you leave the
poor child alone?"

At the sound of his voice, the first voice of compassion that had yet
spoken to her, Alice cried to him.

"Steven! Steven! They've been saying awful things to me. Tell them it
isn't true. Tell them you don't believe it."

"There--there----" His voice stuck in his throat.

He put his hand on her shoulder, standing between her and her father.

"Tell them----" She looked up at him with her piteous eyes.

"She's worried to death," said Rowcliffe. "You might have left it for
to-night at any rate."

"We couldn't, Steven, when you've sent for Greatorex. We _must_ get at
the truth before he comes."

Rowcliffe shrugged his shoulders.

"Have you brought him?" said the Vicar.

"No, I haven't. He's in Morfe. I've sent word for him to come on

Alice looked sharply at him.

"What have you sent for _him_ for? Do you suppose _he'd_ give me

She began to weep softly.

"All this," said Rowcliffe, "is awfully bad for her."

"You don't seem to consider what it is for us."

Rowcliffe took no notice of the Vicar.

"Look here, Mary--you'd better take her upstairs before he comes. Put
her to bed. Try and get her to sleep."

"Very well. Come, Ally." Mary was gentler now.

Then Ally became wonderful.

She stood up and faced them all.

"I won't go," she said. "I'll stay till he comes if I sit up all
night. How do I know what you're going to do to him? Do you suppose
I'm going to leave him with you? If anybody touches him I'll _kill_

"Ally, dear----"

Mary put her hand gently on her sister's arm to lead her from the

Ally shook off the hand and turned on her in hysteric fury.

"Stop pawing me--you! How dare you touch me after what you've said.
Steven--she says I took Essy's lover from her."

"I didn't, Ally. She doesn't know what she's saying."

"You _did_ say it. She did, Steven. She said I ought to thank Essy for
not splitting on me when I took her lover from her. As if _she_ could
talk when _she_ took Steven from Gwenda."


Rowcliffe shook his head at Mary, frowning, as a sign to her not to
mind what Alice said.

"You treat me as if I was dirt, but I'd have died rather than have
done what she did."

"Come, Alice, come. You know you don't mean it," said Rowcliffe,
utterly gentle.

"I do mean it! She sneaked you from behind Gwenda's back and lied to
you to make you think she didn't care for you----"

"Be quiet, you shameful girl!"

"Be quiet yourself, Papa. I'm not as shameful as Molly is. I'm not as
shameful as you are yourself. You killed Mother."

"Oh--my--God----" The words were almost inaudible in the Vicar's
shuddering groan.

He advanced on her to turn her from the room. Ally sank on her sofa as
she saw him come.

Rowcliffe stepped between them.

"For God's sake, sir----"

Ally was struggling in hysterics now, choking between her piteous and
savage cries.

Rowcliffe laid her on the sofa and put a cushion under her head. When
he tried to loosen her gown at her throat she screamed.

"It's all right, Ally, it's all right."

"_Is_ it? _Is_ it?" The Vicar hissed at him.

"It won't be unless you leave her to me. If you go on bullying her
much longer I won't answer for the consequences. You surely don't

"It's all right, Ally. Lie quiet, there--like that. That's a good
girl. Nobody's going to worry you any more."

He was kneeling by the sofa, pressing his hand to her forehead. Ally
still sobbed convulsively, but she lay quiet. She closed her eyes
under Rowcliffe's soothing hand.

"You might go and see if you can find some salvolatile, Mary," he

Mary went.

The Vicar, who had turned his back on this scene, went, also, into his

Ally still kept her eyes shut.

"Has Mary gone?"


"And Papa?"

"Yes. Lie still."

She lay still.

* * * * *

There was the sound of wheels on the road. It brought Mary and the
Vicar back into the room. The wheels stopped. The gate clanged.

Rowcliffe rose.

"That's Greatorex. I'll go to him."

Ally lay very still now, still as a corpse, with closed eyes.

The house door opened.

Rowcliffe drew back into the room.

"It isn't Greatorex," he said. "It's Gwenda."

"Who sent for her?" said the Vicar.

"I did," said Ally.

She had opened her eyes.

"Thank God for that, anyhow," said Rowcliffe.

Mary and her father looked at each other. Neither of them seemed
to want to go out to Gwenda. It struck Rowcliffe that the Vicar was

They waited while Gwenda paid her driver and dismissed him. They could
hear her speaking out there in the passage.

The house door shut and she came to them. She paused in the doorway,
looking at the three who stood facing her, embarrassed and expectant.
She seemed to be thinking that it was odd that they should stand
there. The door, thrown back, hid Alice, who lay behind it on her

"Come in, Gwenda," said the Vicar with exaggerated suavity.

She came in and closed the door. Then she saw Alice.

She took the hand that Rowcliffe held out to her without looking at
him. She was looking at Alice.

Alice gave a low cry and struggled to her feet.

"I thought you were never coming," she said.

Gwenda held her in her arms. She faced them.

"What have you been doing to her--all of you?"

Rowcliffe answered. Though he was the innocent one of the three he
looked the guiltiest. He looked utterly ashamed.

"We've had rather a scene, and it's been a bit too much for her," he

"So I see," said Gwenda. She had not greeted Mary or her father.

"If you could persuade her to go upstairs to bed----"

"I've told you I won't go till he comes," said Ally.

She sat down on the sofa as a sign that she was going to wait.

"Till who comes?" Gwenda asked.

She stared at the three with a fierce amazement. And they were

"She doesn't know, Steve," said Mary.

"I certainly don't," said Gwenda.

She sat down beside Ally.

"Has anybody been bullying you, Ally?"

"They've all been bullying me except Steven. Steven's been an angel.
He doesn't believe what they say. Papa says I'm a shameful girl, and
Mary says I took Jim Greatorex from Essy. And they think----"

"Never mind what they think, darling."

"I must protest----"

The Vicar would have burst out again but that his son-in-law
restrained him.

"Better leave her to Gwenda," he said.

He opened the door of the study. "Really, sir, I think you'd better.
And you, too, Mary."

And with her husband's compelling hand on her shoulder Mary went into
the study.

The Vicar followed them.

* * * * *

As the door closed on them Alice looked furtively around.

"What is it, Ally?" Gwenda said.

"Don't you know?" she whispered.

"No. You haven't told me anything."

"You don't know why I sent for you? Can't you think?"

Gwenda was silent.

"Gwenda--I'm in the most awful trouble----" She looked around again.
Then she spoke rapidly and low with a fearful hoarse intensity.

"I won't tell them, but I'll tell you. They've been trying to get it
out of me by bullying, but I wasn't going to let them. Gwenda--they
wanted to make me tell straight out, there--before Steven. And I
wouldn't--I wouldn't. They haven't got a word out of me. But it's
true, what they say."

She paused.

"About me."

"My lamb, I don't know what they say about you."

"They say that I'm going to----"

Crouching where she sat, bent forward, staring with her stare, she


"I'm not ashamed, not the least little bit ashamed. And I don't care
what they think of me. But I'm not going to tell them. I've told _you_
because I know you won't hate me, you won't think me awful. But I
won't tell Mary, and I won't tell Papa. Or Steven. If I do they'll
make me marry him."

"Was it--was it----"

Ally's instinct heard the name that her sister spared her.

"Yes--Yes--Yes. It is."

She added, "I don't care."

"Ally--what made you do it?"

"I don't--know."

"Was it because of Steven?"

Ally raised her head.

"No. It was _not_. Steven isn't fit to black his boots. I know

"But--you don't care for him?"

"I did--I did. I do. I care awfully----"


"Oh, Gwenda, can they _make_ me marry him?"

"You don't want to marry him?"

Ally shook her head, slowly, forlornly.

"I see. You're ashamed of him."

"I'm _not_ ashamed. I told you I wasn't. It isn't that----"

"What is it?"

"I'm afraid."


"It isn't his fault. He wants to marry me. He wanted to all the time.
He never meant that it should be like this. He asked me to marry him.
Before it happened. Over and over again he asked me and I wouldn't
have him."

"Why wouldn't you?"

"I've told you. Because I'm afraid."

"Why are you afraid?"

"I don't know. I'm not really afraid of _him_. I think I'm afraid of
what he might do to me if I married him."

"_Do_ to you?"

"Yes. He might beat me. They always do, you know, those sort of men,
when you marry them. I couldn't bear to be beaten."

"Oh----" Gwenda drew in her breath.

"He wouldn't do it, Gwenda, if he knew what he was about. But he might
if he didn't. You see, they say he drinks. That's what frightens me.
That's why I daren't tell Papa. Papa wouldn't care if he did beat me.
He'd say it was my punishment."

"If you feel like that about it you mustn't marry him."

"They'll make me."

"They shan't make you. I won't let them. It'll be all right, darling.
I'll take you away with me to-morrow, and look after you, and keep you

"But--they'll have to know."

"Yes. They'll have to know. I'll tell them."

She rose.

"Stay here," she said. "And keep quiet. I'm going to tell them now."

"Not now--please, not now."

"Yes. Now. It'll be all over. And you'll sleep."

* * * * *

She went in to where they waited for her.

Her father and her sister lifted their eyes to her as she came in.
Rowcliffe had turned away.

"Has she said anything?"

(Mary spoke.)


The Vicar looked sternly at his second daughter.

"She denies it?"

"No, Papa. She doesn't deny it."

He drove it home. "Has--she--confessed?"

"She's told me it's true--what you think."

In the silence that fell on the four Rowcliffe stayed where he stood,
downcast and averted. It was as if he felt that Gwenda could have
charged him with betrayal of a trust.

The Vicar looked at his watch. He turned to Rowcliffe.

"Is that fellow coming, or is he not?"

"He won't funk it," said Rowcliffe.

He turned. His eyes met Gwenda's. "I think I can answer for his

"Do you mean Jim Greatorex?" she said.


"What is it that he won't funk?"

She looked from one to the other. Nobody answered her. It was as if
they were, all three, afraid of her.

"I see," she said. "If you ask me I think he'd much better not come."

"My dear Gwenda----" The Vicar was deferent to the power that had
dragged Ally's confession from her.

"We _must_ get through with this. The sooner the better. It's what
we're all here for."

"I know. Still--I think you'll have to leave it."

"Leave it?"

"Yes, Papa."

"We can't leave it," said Rowcliffe. "Something's got to be done."

The Vicar groaned and Rowcliffe had pity on him.

"If you'd like me to do it--I can interview him."

"I wish you would."

"Very well." He moved uneasily. "I'd better see him here, hadn't I?"

"You'd better not see him anywhere," said Gwenda. "He can't marry

She held them all three by the sheer shock of it.

The Vicar spoke first. "What do you mean, 'he can't'? He _must_."

"He must not. Ally doesn't want to marry him. He asked her long ago
and she wouldn't have him."

"Do you mean," said Rowcliffe, surprised out of his reticence, "before
this happened?"


"And she wouldn't have him?"

"No. She was afraid of him."

"She was afraid of him--and yet----" It was Mary who spoke now.

"Yes, Mary. And yet--she cared for him."

The Vicar turned on her.

"You're as bad as she is. How can you bring yourself to speak of
it, if you're a modest girl? You've just told us that your sister's
shameless. Are we to suppose that you're defending her?"

"I am defending her. There's nobody else to do it. You've all set on
her and tortured her----"

"Not all, Gwenda," said Rowcliffe. But she did not heed him.

"She'd have told you everything if you hadn't frightened her. You
haven't had an atom of pity for her. You've never thought of _her_ for
a minute. You've been thinking of yourselves. You might have killed
her. And you didn't care."

The Vicar looked at her.

"It's you, Gwenda, who don't care."

"About what she's done, you mean? I don't. You ought to be gentle with
her, Papa. You drove her to it."

Rowcliffe answered.

"We'll not say what drove her, Gwenda."

"She was driven," she said.

"'Let no man say he is tempted of God when he is driven by his own
lusts and enticed,'" said the Vicar.

He had risen, and the movement brought him face to face with Gwenda.
And as she looked at him it was as if she saw vividly and for the
first time the profound unspirituality of her father's face. She knew
from what source his eyes drew their darkness. She understood the
meaning of the gross red mouth that showed itself in the fierce
lifting of the ascetic, grim moustache. And she conceived a horror of
his fatherhood.

"No man ought to say that of his own daughter. How does he know what's
her own and what's his?" she said.

Rowcliffe stared at her in a sort of awful admiration. She was
terrible; she was fierce; she was mad. But it was the fierceness and
the madness of pity and of compassion.

She went on.

"You've no business to be hard on her. You must have known."

"I knew nothing," said the Vicar.

He appealed to her with a helpless gesture of his hands.

"You did know. You were warned. You were told not to shut her up. And
you did shut her up. You can't blame her if she got away. You flung
her to Jim Greatorex. There wasn't anybody who cared for her but him."

"Cared for her!" He snarled his disgust.

"Yes. Cared for her. You think that's horrible of her--that she should
have gone to him--and yet you want to tie her to him when she's afraid
of him. And I think it's horrible of you."

"She must marry him." Mary spoke again. "She's brought it on herself,

"She hasn't brought it on herself. And she shan't marry him."

"I'm afraid she'll have to," Rowcliffe said.

"She won't have to if I take her away somewhere and look after her. I
mean to do it. I'll work for her. I'll take care of the child."

"Oh, you--_you----!_" The Vicar waved her away with a frantic flapping
of his hands.

He turned to his son-in-law.

"Rowcliffe--I beg you--will you use your influence?"

"I have none."

That drew her. "Steven--help me--can't you see how terrible it is if
she's afraid of him?"

"But _is_ she?"

He looked at her with his miserable eyes, then turned them from her,
considering gravely what she had said. It was then, while Rowcliffe
was considering it, that the garden gate opened violently and fell to.

They waited for the sound of the front door bell.

Instead of it they heard two doors open and Ally's voice calling to
Greatorex in the hall.

As the Vicar flung himself from his study into the other room he saw
Alice standing close to Greatorex by the shut door. Her lover's arms
were round her.

He laid his hands on them as if to tear them apart.

"You shall not touch my daughter--until you've married her."

The young man's right arm threw him off; his left arm remained round

"It's yo' s'all nat tooch her, Mr. Cartaret," he said. "Ef yo' coom
between her an' mae I s'all 'ave t' kill yo'. I'd think nowt of it.
Dawn't yo' bae freetened, my laass," he murmured tenderly.

The next instant he was fierce again.

"An' look yo' 'ere, Mr. Cartaret. It was yo' who aassked mae t' marry
Assy. Do yo' aassk mae t' marry Assy now? Naw! Assy may rot for all
yo' care. (It's all right, my sweet'eart. It's all right.) I'd a
married Assy right enoof ef I'd 'a' looved her. But do yo' suppawss
I'd 'a' doon it fer yore meddlin'? Naw! An' yo' need n' aassk mae t'
marry yore daughter--(There--there--my awn laass)--"

"You are not going to be asked," said Gwenda. "You are not going to
marry her."

"Gwenda," said the Vicar, "you will be good enough to leave this to

"It can't be left to anybody but Ally."

"It s'all be laft to her," said Greatorex.

He had loosened his hold of Alice, but he still stood between her and
her father.

"It's for her t' saay ef she'll 'aave mae."

"She has said she won't, Mr. Greatorex."

"Ay, she's said it to mae, woonce. But I rackon she'll 'ave mae now."

"Not even now."

"She's toald yo'?"

He did not meet her eyes.


"She's toald yo' she's afraid o' mae?"

"Yes. And you know why."

"Ay. I knaw. Yo're afraid o' mae, Ally, because yo've 'eard I haven't
always been as sober as I might bae; but yo're nat 'aalf as afraid o'
mae, droonk or sober, as yo' are of yore awn faather. Yo' dawn't think
I s'all bae 'aalf as 'ard an' crooil to yo' as yore faather is. She
doosn't, Mr. Cartaret, an' thot's Gawd's truth."

"I protest," said the Vicar.

"Yo' stond baack, sir. It's for 'er t' saay."

He turned to her, infinitely reverent, infinitely tender.

"Will yo' staay with 'im? Or will yo' coom with mae?"

"I'll come with you."

With one shoulder turned to her father, she cowered to her lover's

"Ay, an' yo' need n' be afraaid I'll not bae sober. I'll bae sober
enoof now. D'ye 'ear, Mr. Cartaret? Yo' need n' bae afraaid, either.
I'll kape sober. I'd kape sober all my life ef it was awnly t' spite
yo'. An' I'll maake 'er 'appy. For I rackon theer's noothin' I could
think on would spite yo' moor. Yo' want mae t' marry 'er t' poonish
'er. _I_ knaw."

"That'll do, Greatorex," said Rowcliffe.

"Ay. It'll do," said Greatorex with a grin of satisfaction.

He turned to Alice, the triumph still flaming in his face. "Yo're
_nat_ afraaid of mae?"

"No," she said gently. "Not now."

"Yo navver were," said Greatorex; and he laughed.

That laugh was more than Mr. Cartaret could bear. He thrust out his
face toward Greatorex.

Rowcliffe, watching them, saw that he trembled and that the
thrust-out, furious face was flushed deeply on the left side.

The Vicar boomed.

"You will leave my house this instant, Mr. Greatorex. And you will
never come into it again."

But Greatorex was already looking for his cap.

"I'll navver coom into et again," he assented placably.

* * * * *

There were no prayers at the Vicarage that night.

* * * * *

It was nearly eleven o'clock. Greatorex was gone. Gwenda was upstairs
helping Alice to undress. Mary sat alone in the dining-room, crying
steadily. The Vicar and Rowcliffe were in the study.

In all this terrible business of Alice, the Vicar felt that his
son-in-law had been a comfort to him.

"Rowcliffe," he said suddenly, "I feel very queer."

"I don't wonder, sir. I should go to bed if I were you."

"I shall. Presently."

The one-sided flush deepened and darkened as he brooded. It fascinated

"I think it would be better," said the Vicar slowly, "if I left the
parish. It's the only solution I can see."

He meant to the problem of his respectability.

Rowcliffe said yes, perhaps it would be better.

He was thinking that it would solve his problem too.

For he knew that there would be a problem if Gwenda came back to her

The Vicar rose heavily and went to his roll-top desk. He opened it and
began fumbling about in it, looking for things.

He was doing this, it seemed to his son-in-law, for quite a long time.

But it was only eleven o'clock when Mary heard sounds in the study
that terrified her, of a chair overturned and of a heavy body falling
to the floor. And then Steven called to her.

She found him kneeling on the floor beside her father, loosening his
clothes. The Vicar's face, which she discerned half hidden between
the bending head of Rowcliffe and his arms, was purple and horribly

Rowcliffe did not look at her.

"He's in a fit," he said. "Go upstairs and fetch Gwenda. And for God's
sake don't let Ally see him."


The village knew all about Jim Greatorex and Alice Cartaret now. Where
their names had been whispered by two or three in the bar of the Red
Lion, over the post office counter, in the schoolhouse, in the smithy,
and on the open road, the loud scandal of them burst with horror.

For the first time in his life Jim Greatorex was made aware that
public opinion was against him. Wherever he showed himself the men
slunk from him and the women stared. He set his teeth and held his
chin up and passed them as if he had not seen them. He was determined
to defy public opinion.

Standing in the door of his kinsman's smithy, he defied it.

It was the day before his wedding. He had been riding home from Morfe
Market and his mare Daisy had cast a shoe coming down the hill. He
rode her up to the smithy and called for Blenkiron, shouting his need.

Blenkiron came out and looked at him sulkily.

"I'll shoe t' maare," he said, "but yo'll stand outside t' smithy, Jim

For answer Jim rode the mare into the smithy and dismounted there.

Then Blenkiron spoke.

"You'd best 'ave staayed where yo' were. But yo've coom in an' yo'
s'all 'ave a bit o' my toongue. To-morra's yore weddin' day, I 'ear?"

Jim intimated that if it was his wedding day it was no business of

"Wall," said the blacksmith, "ef they dawn't gie yo' soom roough music
to-morra night, it'll bae better loock than yo' desarve--t' two o'

Greatorex scowled at his kinsman.

"Look yo' 'ere, John Blenkiron, I warn yo'. Any man in t' Daale thot
speaaks woon word agen my wife 'e s'all 'ave 'is nack wroong."

"An' 'ow 'bout t' women, Jimmy? There'll bae a sight o' nacks fer yo'
t' wring, I rackon. They'll 'ave soomat t' saay to 'er, yore laady."

"T' women? T' women? Domned sight she'll keer for what they saay.
There is n' woon o' they bitches as is fit t' kneel in t' mood to 'er
t' tooch t' sawle of 'er boots."

Blenkiron peered up at him from the crook of the mare's hind leg.

"Nat Assy Gaale?" he said.

"Assy Gaale? 'Oo's she to mook _'er_ naame with 'er dirty toongue?"

"Yo'll not goa far thot road, Jimmy. 'Tis wi' t' womenfawlk yo'll
'aave t' racken."

He knew it.

The first he had to reckon with was Maggie.

Maggie, being given notice, had refused to take it.

"Yo' can please yoresel, Mr. Greatorex. I can goa. I can goa. But ef I
goa yo'll nat find anoother woman as'll coom to yo'. There's nat woon
as'll keer mooch t' work for _yore_ laady."

"Wull yo' wark for 'er, Maaggie?" he had said.

And Maggie, with a sullen look and hitching her coarse apron, had
replied remarkably:

"Ef Assy Gaale can wash fer er I rackon _I_ can shift to baake an'

"Wull yo' waait on 'er?" he had persisted.

Maggie had turned away her face from him.

"Ay, I'll waait on 'er," she said.

And Maggie had stayed to bake and clean. Rough and sullen, without a
smile, she had waited on young Mrs. Greatorex.

* * * * *

But Alice was not afraid of Maggie. She was not going to admit for a
moment that she was afraid of her. She was not going to admit that she
was afraid of anything but one thing--that her father would die.

If he died she would have killed him.

Or, rather, she and Greatorex would have killed him between them.

This statement Ally held to and reiterated and refused to qualify.

For Alice at Upthorne had become a creature matchless in cunning and
of subtle and marvelous resource. She had been terrified and tortured,
shamed and cowed. She had been hounded to her marriage and conveyed
with an appalling suddenness to Upthorne, that place of sinister and
terrible suggestion, and the bed in which John Greatorex had died had
been her marriage bed. Her mind, like a thing pursued and in deadly
peril, took instantaneously a line. It doubled and dodged; it hid
itself; its instinct was expert in disguises, in subterfuges and

In her soul she knew that she was done for if she once admitted and
gave in to her fear of Upthorne and of her husband's house, or if
she were ever to feel again her fear of Greatorex, which was the most
intolerable of all her fears. It was as if Nature itself were aware
that, if Ally were not dispossessed of that terror before Greatorex's
child was born her own purpose would be insecure; as if the unborn
child, the flesh and blood of the Greatorexes that had entered into
her, protested against her disastrous cowardice.

So, without Ally being in the least aware of it, Ally's mind,
struggling toward sanity, fabricated one enormous fear, the fear of
her father's death, a fear that she could own and face, and set it up
in place of that secret and dangerous thing which was the fear of life

Ally, insisting a dozen times a day that she had killed poor Papa,
was completely taken in by this play of her surreptitiously
self-preserving soul. Even Rowcliffe was taken in by it. He called
it a morbid obsession. And he began to wonder whether he had not been
mistaken about Ally after all, whether her nature was not more subtle
and sensitive than he had guessed, more intricately and dangerously

For the sadness of the desolate land, of the naked hillsides, of the
moor marshes with their ghostly mists; the brooding of the watchful,
solitary house, the horror of haunted twilights, of nightfall and of
midnights now and then when Greatorex was abroad looking after his
cattle and she lay alone under the white ceiling that sagged above her
bed and heard the weak wind picking at the pane; her fear of Maggie
and of what Maggie had been to Greatorex and might be again; her fear
of the savage, violent and repulsive elements in the man who was
her god; her fear of her own repulsion; the tremor of her recoiling
nerves; premonitions of her alien blood, the vague melancholy of her
secret motherhood; they were all mingled together and hidden from her
in the vast gloom of her one fear.

And once the dominant terror was set up, her instinct found a thousand
ways of strengthening it. Through her adoration of her lover her mind
had become saturated with his mournful consciousness of sin. In their
moments of contrition they were both convinced that they would be
punished. But Ally had borne her sin superbly; she had declared that
it was hers and hers only, and that she and not Greatorex would be
punished. And now the punishment had come. She persuaded herself that
her father's death was the retribution Heaven required.

* * * * *

And all the time, through the perilous months, Nature, mindful of her
own, tightened her hold on Ally through Ally's fear. Ally was afraid
to be left alone with it. Therefore she never let Greatorex out of her
sight if she could help it. She followed him from room to room of the
sad house where he was painting and papering and whitewashing to make
it fine for her. Where he was she had to be. Stowed away in some swept
corner, she would sit with her sweet and sorrowful eyes fixed on him
as he labored. She trotted after him through the house and out into
the mistal and up the Three Fields. She would crouch on a heap of
corn-sacks, wrapped in a fur coat, and watch him at his work in the
stable and the cow-byre. In her need to immortalise this passion she
could not have done better. Her utter dependence on him flattered and
softened the distrustful, violent and headstrong man. Her one chance,
and Ally knew it, was to cling. If she had once shamed him by her
fastidious shrinking she would have lost him; for, as Mrs. Gale had
told her long ago, you could do nothing with Jimmy when he was shamed.
Maggie, for all her coarseness, had contrived to shame him; so had
Essy in her freedom and her pride. Ally's clinging, so far from
irritating or obstructing him, drew out the infinite pity and
tenderness he had for all sick and helpless things. He could no more
have pushed little Ally from him than he could have kicked a mothering
ewe, or stamped on a new dropped lamb. He would call to her if she
failed to come. He would hold out his big hand to her as he would
have held it to a child. Her smallness, her fineness and fragility
enchanted him. The palms of her hands had the smoothness and softness
of silk, and they made a sound like silk as they withdrew themselves
with a lingering, stroking touch from his. He still felt, with a
fearful and admiring wonder, the difference of her flesh from his.

To be sure Jim's tenderness was partly penitential. Only it was Ally
alone who had moved him to a perfect and unbearable contrition. For
the two women whom he had loved and left Greatorex had felt nothing
but a passing pang. For the woman he had made his wife he would go
always with a wound in his soul.

And with Ally, too, the supernatural came to Nature's aid. Her fear
had a profound strain of the uncanny in it, and Jim's bodily presence
was her shelter from her fear. And as it bound them flesh to flesh,
closer and closer, it wedded them in one memory, one consolation and
one soul.

* * * * *

One day she had followed him into the stable, and on the window-sill,
among all the cobwebs where it had been put away and forgotten, she
found the little bottle of chlorodyne.

She took it up, and Jim scolded her gently as if she had been a child.

"Yore lil haands is always maddlin'. Yo' put thot down."

"What is it?"

"It's poison, is thot. There's enoof there t' kill a maan. Yo' put it
down whan I tall yo'."

She put it down obediently in its place on the window-sill among the

He made a nest for her of clean hay, where she sat and watched him
as he gave Daisy her feed of corn. She watched every movement of him,
every gesture, thoughtful and intent.

"I can't think, Jim, why I ever was afraid of you. _Was_ I afraid of

Greatorex grinned.

"Yo' used t' saay yo' were."

"How silly of me. And I used to be afraid of Maggie."

"_I_'ve been afraaid of Maaggie afore now. She's got a roough side t'
'er toongue and she can use it. But she'll nat use it on yo'. Yo've
naw call to be afraaid ef annybody. There isn't woon would hoort a lil
thing like yo'."

"They say things about me. I know they do."

"And yo' dawn't keer what they saay, do yo'?"

"I don't care a rap. But I think it's cruel of them, all the same."

"But yo're happy enoof, aren't yo'--all the same?"

"I'm very happy. At least I would be if it wasn't for poor Papa. It
wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for what we did."

Wherever they started, whatever round they fetched, it was to this
that they returned.

And always Jim met it with the same answer:

"'Tisn' what we doon; 'tis what 'e doon. An' annyhow it had to bae."

Every week Rowcliffe came to see her and every week Jim said to him:
"She's at it still and I caan't move 'er."

And every week Rowcliffe said: "Wait. She'll be better before long."

And Jim waited.

He waited till one afternoon in February, when they were again in the
stable together. He had turned his back on her for a moment.

When he looked round she was gone from her seat on the cornsacks. She
was standing by the window-sill with the bottle of chlorodyne in her
hand and at her lips. He thought she was smelling it.

She tilted her head back. Her eyes slewed sidelong toward him. They
quivered as he leaped to her.

She had not drunk a drop and he knew it, but she clutched her bottle
with a febrile obstinacy. He had to loosen her little fingers one by

He poured the liquid into the stable gutter and flung the bottle on to
the dung heap in the mistal.

"What were you doing wi' thot stoof?" he said.

"I don't know. I was thinking of Papa."

After that he never left her until Rowcliffe came.

Rowcliffe said: "She's got it into her head he's going to die, and she
thinks she's killed him. You'd better let me take her to see him."


The Vicar had solved his problem by his stroke, but not quite as he
had anticipated.

Nothing had ever turned out as he had planned or thought or willed. He
had planned to leave the parish. He had thought that in his wisdom he
had saved Alice by shutting her up in Garthdale. He had thought that
she was safe at choir-practice with Jim Greatorex. He had thought
that Mary was devoted to him and that Gwenda was capable of all
disobedience and all iniquity. She had gone away and he had forbidden
her to come back again. He had also forbidden Greatorex to enter his

And Greatorex was entering it every day, for news of him to take to
Alice at Upthorne. Gwenda had come back and would never go again, and
it was she and not Mary who had proved herself devoted. And it was not
his wisdom but Greatorex's scandalous passion for her that had saved
Alice. As for leaving the parish because of the scandal, the Vicar
would never leave it now. He was tied there in his Vicarage by his

It left him with a paralysis of the right side and an utter confusion
and enfeeblement of intellect.

In three months he recovered partially from the paralysis. But the
flooding of his brain had submerged or carried away whole tracts
of recent memory, and the last vivid, violent impression--Alice's
affair--was wiped out.

There was no reason why he should not stay on. What was left of his
memory told him that Alice was at the Vicarage, and he was worried
because he never saw her about.

He did not know that the small gray house above the churchyard had
become a place of sinister and scandalous tragedy; that his name and
his youngest daughter's name were bywords in three parishes; and that
Alice had been married in conspicuous haste by the horrified Vicar
of Greffington to a man whom only charitable people regarded as her

And the order of time had ceased for him with this breach in the
sequence of events. He had a dim but enduring impression that it
was always prayer time. No hours marked the long stretches of blank
darkness and of confused and crowded twilight. Only, now and then, a
little light pulsed feebly in his brain, a flash that renewed itself
day by day; and day by day, in a fresh experience, he was aware that
he was ill.

It was as if the world stood still and his mind moved. It "wandered,"
as they said. And in its wanderings it came upon strange gaps and
hollows and fantastic dislocations, landslips where a whole foreground
had given way. It looked at these things with a serene and dreamlike
wonder and passed on.

And in the background, on some half-lit, isolated tract of memory,
raised above ruin, and infinitely remote, he saw the figure of his
youngest daughter. It was a girlish, innocent figure, and though,
because of the whiteness of its face, he confused it now and then with
the figure of Alice's dead mother, his first wife, he was aware that
it was really Alice.

This figure of Alice moved him with a vague and tender yearning.

What puzzled and worried him was that in his flashes of luminous
experience he didn't see her there. And it was then that the Vicar
would make himself wonderful and piteous by asking, a dozen times a
day, "Where's Ally?"

For by the stroke that made him wonderful and piteous the Vicar's
character and his temperament were changed. Nothing was left of Ally's
tyrant and Robina's victim, the middle-aged celibate, filled with the
fury of frustration and profoundly sorry for himself. His place was
taken by a gentle old man, an old man of an appealing and childlike
innocence, pure from all lust, from all self-pity, enjoying, actually
enjoying, the consideration that his stroke had brought him.

He was changed no less remarkably in his affections. He was utterly
indifferent to Mary, whom he had been fond of. He yearned for Alice,
whom he had hated. And he clung incessantly to Gwenda, whom he had

When he looked round in his strange and awful gentleness and said,
"Where's Ally?" his voice was the voice of a mother calling for her
child. And when he said, "Where's Gwenda?" it was the voice of a child
calling for its mother.

And as he continually thought that Alice was at the Vicarage when she
was at Upthorne, so he was convinced that Gwenda had left him when she
was there.

* * * * *

Rowcliffe judged that this confusion of the Vicar's would be favorable
to his experiment.

And it was.

When Mr. Cartaret saw his youngest daughter for the first time since
their violent rupture he gazed at her tranquilly and said, "And where
have _you_ been all this time?"

"Not very far, Papa."

He smiled sweetly.

"I thought you'd run away from your poor old father. Let me see--was
it Ally? My memory's going. No. It was Gwenda who ran away. Wasn't it

"Yes, Papa."

"Well--she must come back again. I can't do without Gwenda."

"She has come back, Papa."

"She's always coming hack. But she'll go away again. Where is she?"

"I'm here, Papa dear."

"Here one minute," said the Vicar, "and gone the next."

"No--no. I'm not going. I shall never go away and leave you."

"So you say," said the Vicar. "So you say."

He looked round uneasily.

"It's time for Ally to go to bed. Has Essy brought her milk?"

His head bowed to his breast. He fell into a doze. Ally watched.

And in the outer room Gwenda and Steven Rowcliffe talked together.

"Steven--he's always going on like that. It breaks my heart."

"I know, dear, I know."

"Do you think he'll ever remember?"

"I don't know. I don't think so."

Then they sat together without speaking. She was thinking: "How good
he is. Surely I may love him for his goodness?" And he that the old
man in there had solved _his_ problem, but that his own had been taken
out of his hands.

And he saw no solution.

If the Vicar had gone away and taken Gwenda with him, that would have
solved it. God knew he had been willing enough to solve it that way.

But here they were, flung together, thrust toward each other when they
should have torn themselves apart; tied, both of them, to a place they
could not leave. Week in, week out, he would be obliged to see her
whether he would or no. And when her tired face rebuked his senses,
she drew him by her tenderness; she held him by her goodness. There
was only one thing for him to do--to clear out. It was his plain and
simple duty. If it hadn't been for Alice and for that old man he
would have done it. But, because of them, it was his still plainer
and simpler duty to stay where he was, to stick to her and see her

He couldn't help it if his problem was taken out of his hands.

They started. They looked at each other and smiled their strained and
tragic smile.

In the inner room the Vicar was calling for Gwenda.

It was prayer time, he said.

* * * * *

Rowcliffe had to drive Alice back that night to Upthorne.

"Well," he said, as they left the Vicarage behind them, "you see he
isn't going to die."

"No," said Alice. "But he's out of his mind. I haven't killed him.
I've done worse. I've driven him mad."

And she stuck to it. She couldn't afford to part with her fear--yet.

Rowcliffe was distressed at the failure of his experiment. He told
Greatorex that there was nothing to be done but to wait patiently till
June. Then--perhaps--they would see.

In his own mind he had very little hope. He said to himself that he
didn't like the turn Ally's obsession had taken. It was _too_ morbid.

But when May came Alice lay in the big bed under the sagging ceiling
with a lamentably small baby in her arms, and Greatorex sat beside her
by the hour together, with his eyes fixed on her white face. Rowcliffe
had told him to be on the lookout for some new thing or for some more
violent sign of the old obsession. But nine days had passed and he had
seen no sign. Her eyes looked at him and at her child with the same
lucid, drowsy ecstasy.

And in nine days she had only asked him once if he knew how poor Papa

Her fear had left her. It had served its purpose.


There was no prayer time at the Vicarage any more.

* * * * *

There was no more time at all there as the world counts time.

The hours no longer passed in a procession marked by distinguishable
days. They rolled round and round in an interminable circle,
monotonously renewed, monotonously returning upon itself. The Vicar
was the center of the circle. The hours were sounded and measured by
his monotonously recurring needs. But the days were neither measured
nor marked. They were all of one shade. There was no difference
between Sunday and Monday in the Vicarage now. They talked of the
Vicar's good days and his bad days, that was all.

For in this house where time had ceased they talked incessantly of
time. But it was always _his_ time; the time for his early morning
cup of tea; the time for his medicine; the time for his breakfast;
the time for reading his chapter to him while he dozed; the time for
washing him, for dressing him, for taking him out (he went out now,
in a wheel-chair drawn by Peacock's pony); the time for his medicine
again; his dinner time; the time for his afternoon sleep; his
tea-time; the time for his last dose of medicine; his supper time and
his time for being undressed and put to bed. And there were several
times during the night which were his times also.

The Vicar had desired supremacy in his Vicarage and he was at last
supreme. He was supreme over his daughter Gwenda. The stubborn,
intractable creature was at his feet. She was his to bend or break
or utterly destroy. She who was capable of anything was capable of an
indestructible devotion. His times, the relentless, the monotonously
recurring, were her times too.

If it had not been for Steven Rowcliffe she would have had none to
call her own (except night time, when the Vicar slept). But Rowcliffe
had kept to his days for visiting the Vicarage. He came twice or
thrice a week; not counting Wednesdays. Only, though Mary did not know
it, he came as often as not in the evenings at dusk, just after the
Vicar had been put to bed. When it was wet he sat in the dining-room
with Gwenda. When it was fine he took her out on to the moor under

They always went the same way, up the green sheep-track that they
knew; they always turned back at the same place, where the stream he
had seen her jumping ran from the hill; and they always took the same
time to go and turn. They never stopped and never lingered; but went
always at the same sharp pace, and kept the same distance from each
other. It was as if by saying to themselves, "Never any further than
the stream; never any longer than thirty-five minutes; never any
nearer than we are now," they defined the limits of their whole
relation. Sometimes they hardly spoke as they walked. They parted with
casual words and with no touching of their hands and with the same
thought unspoken--"Till the next time."

But these times which were theirs only did not count as time. They
belonged to another scale of feeling and another order of reality.
Their moments had another pulse, another rhythm and vibration. They
burned as they beat. While they lasted Gwenda's life was lived with an
intensity that left time outside its measure. Through this intensity
she drew the strength to go on, to endure the unendurable with joy.

* * * * *

But Rowcliffe could not endure the unendurable at all. He was savage
when he thought of it. That was her life and she would never get away
from it. She, who was born for the wild open air and for youth and
strength and freedom, would be shut up in that house and tied to that
half-paralyzed, half-imbecile old man forever. It was damnable. And
he, Rowcliffe, could have prevented it if he had only known. And if
Mary had not lied to him.

And when his common sense warned him of their danger, and his
conscience reproached him with leading her into it, he said to
himself, "I can't help it if it is dangerous. It's been taken out of
my hands. If somebody doesn't drag her out of doors, she'll get ill.
If somebody doesn't talk to her she'll grow morbid. And there's nobody
but me."

He sheltered himself in the immensity of her tragedy. Its darkness
covered them. Her sadness and her isolation sanctified them. Alice had
her husband and her child. Mary had--all she wanted. Gwenda had nobody
but him.

* * * * *

She had never had anybody but him. For in the beginning the Vicar and
his daughters had failed to make friends among their own sort. Up in
the Dale there had been few to make, and those few Mr. Cartaret had
contrived to alienate one after another by his deplorable legend and
by the austere unpleasantness of his personality. People had not been
prepared for intimacy with a Vicar separated so outrageously from his
third wife. Nobody knew whether it was he or his third wife who had
been outrageous, but the Vicar's manner was not such as to procure for
him the benefit of any doubt. The fact remained that the poor man
was handicapped by an outrageous daughter, and Alice's behavior was
obviously as much the Vicar's fault as his misfortune. And it had been
felt that Gwenda had not done anything to redeem her father's and her
sister's eccentricities, and that Mary, though she was a nice girl,
had hardly done enough. For the last eighteen months visits at the
Vicarage had been perfunctory and very brief, month by month they had
diminished, and before Mary's marriage they had almost ceased.

Still, Mary's marriage had appeased the parish. Mrs. Steven Rowcliffe
had atoned for the third Mrs. Cartaret's suspicious absence and for
Gwenda Cartaret's flight. Lady Frances Gilbey's large wing had further
protected Gwenda.

Then, suddenly, the tale of Alice Cartaret and Greatorex went round,
and it was as if the Vicarage had opened and given up its secret.

At first, the sheer extremity of his disaster had sheltered the Vicar
from his own scandal. Through all Garthdale and Rathdale, in the
Manors and the Lodges and the Granges, in the farmhouses and the
cottages, in the inns and little shops, there was a stir of pity and
compassion. The people who had left off calling at the Vicarage called
again with sympathy and kind inquiries. They were inclined to forget
how impossible the Cartarets had been. They were sorry for Gwenda. But
they had been checked in their advances by Gwenda's palpable recoil.
She had no time to give to callers. Her father had taken all her time.
The callers considered themselves absolved from calling.

Slowly, month by month, the Vicarage was drawn back into its
silence and its loneliness. It assumed, more and more, its aspect of
half-sinister, half-sordid tragedy. The Vicar's calamity no longer
sheltered him. It took its place in the order of accepted and
irremediable events.

* * * * *

Only the village preserved its sympathy alive. The village, that
obscure congregated soul, long-suffering to calamity, welded together
by saner instincts and profound in memory, the soul that inhabited
the small huddled, humble houses, divided from the Vicarage by no more
than the graveyard of its dead, the village remembered and it knew.

It remembered how the Vicar had come and gone over its thresholds,
how no rain nor snow nor storm had stayed him in his obstinate and
punctual visiting. And whereas it had once looked grimly on its Vicar,
it looked kindly on him now. It endured him for his daughter Gwenda's
sake, in spite of what it knew.

For it knew why the Vicar's third wife had left him. It knew why Alice
Cartaret had gone wrong with Greatorex. It knew what Gwenda Cartaret
had gone for when she went away. It knew why and how Dr. Rowcliffe had
married Mary Cartaret. And it knew why, night after night, he was to
be seen coming and going on the Garthdale road.

* * * * *

The village knew more about Rowcliffe and Gwenda Cartaret than
Rowcliffe's wife knew.

For Rowcliffe's wife's mind was closed to this knowledge by a certain
sensual assurance. When all was said and done, it was she and not
Gwenda who was Rowcliffe's wife. And she had other grounds for
complacency. Her sister, a solitary Miss Cartaret, stowed away in
Garth Vicarage, was of no account. She didn't matter. And as Mary
Cartaret Mary would have mattered even less. But Steven Rowcliffe's
professional reputation served him well. He counted. People who had
begun by trusting him had ended by liking him, and in two years' time
his social value had become apparent. And as Mrs. Steven Rowcliffe
Mary had a social value too.

But while Steven, who had always had it, took it for granted and never
thought about it, Mary could think of nothing else. Her social value,
obscured by the terrible two years in Garthdale, had come to her as a
discovery and an acquisition. For all her complacency, she could not
regard it as a secure thing. She was sensitive to every breath that
threatened it; she was unable to forget that, if she was Steven
Rowcliffe's wife, she was Alice Greatorex's sister.

Even as Mary Cartaret she had been sensitive to Alice. But in those
days of obscurity and isolation it was not in her to cast Alice off.
She had felt bound to Alice, not as Gwenda was bound, but pitiably,
irrevocably, for better, for worse. The solidarity of the family had

She had not had anything to lose by sticking to her sister. Now it
seemed to her that she had everything to lose. The thought of Alice
was a perpetual annoyance to her.

For the neighborhood that had received Mrs. Steven Rowcliffe had
barred her sister.

As long as Alice Greatorex lived at Upthorne Mary went in fear.

This fear was so intolerable to her that at last she spoke of it to

They were sitting together in his study after dinner. The two
armchairs were always facing now, one on each side of the hearth.

"I wish I knew what to do about Alice," she said.

"What to _do_ about her?"

"Yes. Am I to have her at the house or not?"

He stared.

"Of course you're to have her at the house."

"I mean when we've got people here. I can't ask her to meet them."

"You must ask her. It's the very least you can do for her."

"People aren't going to like it, Steven."

"People have got to stick a great many things they aren't going to
like. I'm continually meeting people I'd rather not meet. Aren't you?"

"I'm afraid poor Alice is--"

"Is what?"

"Well, dear, a little impossible, to say the least of it. Isn't she?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't see anything impossible about 'poor Alice.' I never did."

"It's nice of you to say so."

He maintained himself in silence under her long gaze.

"Steven," she said, "you are awfully good to my people."

She saw that she could hardly have said anything that would have
annoyed him more.

He positively writhed with irritation.

"I'm not in the least good to your people."

The words stung her like a blow. She flushed, and he softened.

"Can't you see, Molly, that I hate the infernal humbug and the cruelty
of it all? That poor child had a dog's life before she married. She
did the only sane thing that was open to her. You've only got to look
at her now to see that she couldn't have done much better for herself
even if she hadn't been driven to it. What's more, she's done the best
thing for Greatorex. There isn't another woman in the world who could
have made that chap chuck drinking. You mayn't like the connection. I
don't suppose any of us like it."

"My dear Steven, it isn't only the connection. I could get over that.
It's--the other thing."

His blank stare compelled her to precision.

"I mean what happened."

"Well--if Gwenda can get over 'the other thing', I should think _you_
might. She has to see more of her."

"It's different for Gwenda."

"How is it different for Gwenda?"

She hesitated. She had meant that Gwenda hadn't anything to lose.
What she said was, "Gwenda hasn't anybody but herself to think of. She
hasn't let you in for Alice."

"No more have you."

He smiled. Mary did not understand either his answer or his smile.

He was saying to himself, "Oh, hasn't she? It was Gwenda all the time
who let me in."

Mary had a little rush of affection.

"My dear--I think I've let you in for everything. I wouldn't mind--I
wouldn't really--if it wasn't for you."

"You needn't bother about me," he said. "I'd rather you bothered about
your sister."

"Which sister?"

For the life of her she could not tell what had made her say that. The
words seemed to leap out suddenly from her mind to her tongue.

"Alice," he said.

"Was it Alice we were talking about?"

"It was Alice I was thinking about."

"Was it?"

Again her mind took its insane possession of her tongue.

* * * * *

The evening dragged on. The two chairs still faced each other, pushed
forward in their attitude of polite attention and expectancy.

But the persons in the chairs leaned back as if each withdrew as far
as possible from the other. They made themselves stiff and upright as
if they braced themselves, each against the other in the unconscious
tension of hostility. And they were silent, each thinking an
intolerable thought.

Rowcliffe had taken up a book and was pretending to read it. Mary's
hands were busy with her knitting. Her needles went with a rapid jerk,
driven by the vibration of her irritated nerves. From time to time she
glanced at Rowcliffe under her bent brows. She saw the same blocks of
print, a deep block at the top, a short line under it, then a narrower
block. She saw them as vague, meaningless blurs of gray stippled on
white. She saw that Rowcliffe's eyes never moved from the deep top
paragraph on the left-hand page. She noted the light pressure of his
thumbs on the margins.

He wasn't reading at all; he was only pretending to read. He had set
up his book as a barrier between them, and he was holding on to it for
dear life.

Rowcliffe moved irritably under Mary's eyes. She lowered them and
waited for the silken sound that should have told her that he had
turned a page.

And all the time she kept on saying to herself, "He _was_ thinking
about Gwenda. He's sorry for Alice because of Gwenda, not because of
me. It isn't _my_ people that he's good to."

The thought went round and round in Mary's mind, troubling its

She knew that something followed from it, but she refused to see it.
Her mind thrust from it the conclusion. "Then it's Gwenda that he
cares for." She said to herself, "After all I'm married to him." And
as she said it she thrust up her chin in a gesture of assurance and

In the chair that faced her Rowcliffe shifted his position. He crossed
his legs and the tilted foot kicked out, urged by a hidden savagery.
The clicking of Mary's needles maddened him.

He glanced at her. She was knitting a silk tie for his birthday.

She saw the glance. The fierceness of the small fingers slackened;
they knitted off a row or two, then ceased. Her hands lay quiet in her

She leaned her head against the back of the chair. Her grieved eyes
let down their lids before the smouldering hostility in his.

Her stillness and her shut eyes moved him to compunction. They
appeased him with reminiscence, with suggestion of her smooth and
innocent sleep.

He had been thinking of what she had done to him; of how she had lied
to him about Gwenda; of the abominable thing that Alice had cried out
to him in her agony. The thought of Mary's turpitude had consoled him
mysteriously. Instead of putting it from him he had dwelt on it, he
had wallowed in it; he had let it soak into him till he was poisoned
with it.

For the sting of it and the violence of his own resentment were more
tolerable to Rowcliffe than the stale, dull realisation of the fact
that Mary bored him. It had come to that. He had nothing to say to
Mary now that he had married her. His romantic youth still moved
uneasily within him; it found no peace in an armchair, facing Mary.
He dreaded these evenings that he was compelled to spend with her. He
dreaded her speech. He dreaded her silences ten times more. They no
longer soothed him. They were pervading, menacing, significant.

He thought that Mary's turpitude accounted for and justified the
exasperation of his nerves.

Now as he looked at her, lying back in the limp pose reminiscent of
her sleep, he thought, "Poor thing. Poor Molly." He put down his book.
He stood over her a moment, sighed a long sigh like a yawn, turned
from her and went to bed.

Mary opened her eyes, sighed, stretched herself, put out the light,
and followed him.


Not long after that night it struck Mary that Steven was run down. He
worked too hard. That was how she accounted to herself for his fits of
exhaustion, of irritability and depression.

But secretly, for all her complacence, she had divined the cause.

She watched him now; she inquired into his goings out and comings in.
Sometimes she knew that he had been to Garthdale, and, though he went
there many more times than she knew, she had noticed that these moods
of his followed invariably on his going. It was as if Gwenda left her
mark on him. So much was certain, and by that certainty she went on to
infer his going from his mood.

One day she taxed him with it.

Rowcliffe had tried to excuse his early morning temper on the plea
that he was "beastly tired."

"Tired?" she had said. "Of course you're tired if you went up to
Garthdale last night."

She added, "It isn't necessary."

He was silent and she knew that she was on his trail.

Two evenings later she caught him as he was leaving the house.

"Where are you going?" she said.

"I'm going up to Garthdale to see your father."

Her eyes flinched.

"You saw him yesterday."

"I did."

"Is he worse?"

He hesitated. Lying had not as yet come lightly to him.

"I'm not easy about him," he said.

She was not satisfied. She had caught the hesitation.

"Can't you tell me," she persisted, "if he's worse?"

He looked at her calmly.

"I can't tell you till I've seen him."

That roused her. She bit her lip. She knew that whatever she did she
must not show temper.

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