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The Three Sisters by May Sinclair

Part 7 out of 8

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"Did Gwenda send for you?"

Her voice was quiet.

"She did not."

He strode out of the house.

After that he never told her when he was going up to Garthdale toward
nightfall. He was sometimes driven to lie. It was up Rathdale he was
going, or to Greffington, or to smoke a pipe with Ned Alderson, or to
turn in for a game of billiards at the village club.

And whenever he lied to her she saw through him. She was prepared for
the lie. She said to herself, "He is going to see Gwenda. He can't
keep away from her."

And then she remembered what Alice had said to her. "You'll know some

She knew.


And with her knowledge there came a curious calm.

She no longer watched and worried Rowcliffe. She knew that no wife
ever kept her husband by watching and worrying him.

She was aware of danger and she faced it with restored complacency.

For Mary was a fount of sensual wisdom. Rowcliffe was ill. And
from his illness she inferred his misery, and from his misery his

She told herself that nothing had happened, that she knew nothing that
she had not known before. She saw that her mistake had been in showing
that she knew it. That was to admit it, and to admit it was to give it
a substance, a shape and color it had never had and was not likely to

And Mary, having perceived her blunder, set herself to repair it.

She knew how. Under all his energy she had discerned in her husband a
love of bodily ease, and a capacity for laziness, undeveloped because
perpetually frustrated. Insidiously she had set herself to undermine
his energy while she devised continual opportunities for ease.

Rowcliffe remained incurably energetic. His profession demanded

Still, there were ways by which he could be captured. He was not
so deeply absorbed in his profession as to be indifferent to the
arrangements of his home. He liked and he showed very plainly that he
liked, good food and silent service, the shining of glass and silver,
white table linen and fragrant sheets for his bed.

With all these things Mary had provided him.

And she had her own magic and her way.

Her way, the way she had caught him, was the way she would keep him.
She had always known her power, even unpracticed. She had always known
by instinct how she could enthrall him when her moment came. Gwenda
had put back the hour; but she had done (and Mary argued that
therefore she could do) no more.

Here Mary's complacency betrayed her. She had fallen into the error of
all innocent and tranquil sensualists. She trusted to the present. She
had reckoned without Rowcliffe's future or his past.

And she had done even worse. By habituating Rowcliffe's senses to her
way, she had produced in him, through sheer satisfaction, that sense
of security which is the most dangerous sense of all.


One week in June Rowcliffe went up to Garthdale two nights running. He
had never done this before and he had had to lie badly about it both
to himself and Mary.

He had told himself that the first evening didn't count.

For he had quarreled with Gwenda the first evening. Neither of them
knew how it had happened or what it was about. But he had hardly come
before he had left her in his anger.

The actual outburst moved her only to laughter, but the memory of it
was violent in her nerves, it shook and shattered her. She had not
slept all night and in the morning she woke tired and ill. And, as
if he had known what he had done to her, he came to see her the next
evening, to make up.

That night they stayed out later than they had meant.

As they touched the moor the lambs stirred at their mothers' sides and
the pewits rose and followed the white road to lure them from their
secret places; they wheeled and wheeled round them, sending out their
bored and weary cry. In June the young broods kept the moor and the
two were forced to the white road.

And at the turn they came in sight of Greffington Edge.

She stood still. "Oh--Steven--look," she said.

He stood with her and looked.

The moon was hidden in the haze where the gray day and the white night
were mixed. Across the bottom on the dim, watery green of the eastern
slope, the thorn trees were in flower. The hot air held them like
still water. It quivered invisibly, loosening their scent and
scattering it. And of a sudden she saw them as if thrown back to a
distance where they stood enchanted in a great stillness and clearness
and a piercing beauty.

There went through her a sudden deep excitement, a subtle and
mysterious joy. This passion was as distant and as pure as ecstasy.
It swept her, while the white glamour lasted, into the stillness where
the flowering thorn trees stood.

* * * * *

She wondered whether Steven had seen the vision of the flowering thorn
trees. She longed for him to see it. They stood a little apart and her
hand moved toward him without touching him, as if she would draw him
to the magic.

"Steven--" she said.

He came to her. Her hand hung limply by her side again. She felt his
hand close on it and press it.

She knew that he had seen the vision and felt the subtle and
mysterious joy.

She wanted nothing more.

"Say good-night now," she said.

"Not yet. I'm going to walk back with you."

They walked back in a silence that guarded the memory of the mystic

They lingered a moment by the half-open door; she on the threshold, he
on the garden path; the width of a flagstone separated them.

"In another minute," she thought, "he will be gone."

It seemed to her that he wanted to be gone and that it was she who
held him there against his will and her own.

She drew the door to.

"Don't shut it, Gwenda."

It was as if he said, "Don't let's stand together out here like this
any longer."

She opened the door again, leaning a little toward it across the
threshold with her hand on the latch.

She smiled, raising her chin in the distant gesture that was their
signal of withdrawal.

But Steven did not go.

* * * * *

"May I come in?" he said.

Something in her said, "Don't let him come in." But she did not heed
it. The voice was thin and small and utterly insignificant, as if
one little brain cell had waked up and started speaking on its own
account. And something seized on her tongue and made it say "Yes," and
the full tide of her blood surged into her throat and choked it, and
neither the one voice nor the other seemed to be her own.

He followed her into the little dining-room where the lamp was. The
Vicar was in bed. The whole house was still.

Rowcliffe looked at her in the lamplight.

"We've walked a bit too far," he said.

He made her lean back on the couch. He put a pillow at her head and a
footstool at her feet.

"Just rest," he said, and she rested.

But Rowcliffe did not rest. He moved uneasily about the room.

A sudden tiredness came over her.

She thought, "Yes. We walked too far." She leaned her head back on
the cushion. Her thin arms lay stretched out on either side of her,
supported by the couch.

Rowcliffe ceased to wander. He drew up with his back against the
chimney-piece, where he faced her.

"Close your eyes," he said.

She did not close them. But the tired lids drooped. The lifted bow of
her mouth drooped. The small, sharp-pointed breasts drooped.

And as he watched her he remembered how he had quarreled with her in
that room last night. And the thought of his brutality was intolerable
to him.

His heart ached with tenderness, and his tenderness was intolerable

The small white face with its suffering eyes and drooping eyelids, the
drooping breasts, the thin white arms slackened along the couch, the
childlike helplessness of the tired body moved him with a vehement
desire. And his strength that had withstood her in her swift, defiant
beauty melted away.


"Don't speak," he said.

She was quiet for a moment.

"But I want to, Steven. I want to say something."

He sighed.

"Well--say it."

"It's something I want to ask you."

"Don't ask impossibilities."

"I don't think it's impossible. At least it wouldn't be if you really
knew. I want you to be more careful with me."

She paused.

He turned from her abruptly.

His turning made it easier for her. She went on.

"It's only a little thing--a silly little thing. I want you, when
you're angry with me, not to show it quite so much."

He had turned again to her suddenly. The look on his face stopped her.

"I'm never angry with you," he said.

"I know you aren't--really. I know. I know. But you make me think you
are; and it hurts so terribly."

"I didn't know you minded."

"I don't always mind. But sometimes, when I'm stupid, I simply can't
bear it. It makes me feel as if I'd done something. Last night I got
it into my head--"

"What did you get into your head? Tell me--"

"I thought I'd made you hate me. I thought you thought I was
awful--like poor Ally."


He drew a long breath and sent it out again.

"You know what I think of you."

He looked at her, threw up his head suddenly and went to her.

His words came fast now and thick.

"You know I love you. That's why I've been such a brute to
you--because I couldn't have you in my arms and it made me mad. And
you know it. That's what you mean when you say it hurts you. You
shan't be hurt any more. I'm going to end it."

He stooped over her suddenly, steadying himself by his two hands laid
on the back of her chair. She put out her arms and pushed with her
hands against his shoulders, as if she would have beaten him off. He
sank to her knees and there caught her hands in his and kissed them.
He held them together helpless with his left arm and his right arm
gathered her to him violently and close.

His mouth came crushing upon her parted lips and her shut eyes.

Her small thin hands struggled piteously in his and for pity he
released them. He felt them pushing with their silk-soft palms against
his face. Their struggle and their resistance were pain to him and
exquisite pleasure.

"Not that, Steven! Not that! Oh, I didn't think--I didn't think you

"Don't send me away, Gwenda. It's all right. We've suffered enough.
We've got to end it this way."

"No. Not this way."

"Yes--yes. It's all right, darling. We've struggled till we can't
struggle any more. You must. Why not? When you love me."

He pressed her closer in his arms. She lay quiet there. When she was
quiet he let her speak.

"I can't," she said. "It's Molly. Poor little Molly."

"Don't talk to me of Molly. She lied about you."

"Whatever she did she couldn't help it."

"Whatever we do now we can't help it."

"We can. We're different. Oh--don't! Don't hold me like that. I can't
bear it."

His arms tightened. His mouth found hers again as if he had not heard

She gave a faint cry that pierced him.

He looked at her. The lips he had kissed were a purplish white in her
thin bloodless face. "I say, are you ill?"

She saw her advantage and took it.

"No. But I can't stand things very well. They make me ill. That's what
I meant when I asked you to be careful."

Her helplessness stilled his passion as it had roused it. He released
her suddenly.

He took the thin arm surrendered to his gentleness, turned back her
sleeve and felt the tense jerking pulse.

He saw what she had meant.

* * * * *

"Do you mind my sitting beside you if I keep quiet?"

She shook her head.

"Can you stand my talking about it?"

"Yes. If you don't touch me."

"I won't touch you. We've got to face the thing. It's making you ill."

"It isn't."

"What is, then?"

"Living with Papa."

He smiled through his agony. "That's only another name for it.

"It can't go on. Why shouldn't we be happy?

"Why shouldn't we?" he insisted. "It's not as if we hadn't tried."


"You're afraid?"

"Oh, no, I'm not afraid. It's simply that I can't."

"You think it's a sin? It isn't. It's we who are sinned against.

"If you're afraid of deceiving Mary--I don't care if I do. She
deceived me first. Besides we can't. She knows and she doesn't mind.
She can't suffer as you suffer. She can't feel as you feel. She can't

"She does care. She must have cared horribly or she wouldn't have done

"She didn't. Anybody would have done for her as well as me. I tell you
I don't want to talk about Mary or to think about her."

"Then I must."

"No. You must think of me. You don't owe anything to Mary. It's me
you're sinning against. You think a lot about sinning against Mary,
but you think nothing about sinning against me."

"When did I ever sin against you?"

"Last year. When you went away. That was the beginning of it all. Why
_did_ you go, Gwenda? You knew. We should have been all right if you

"I went because of Ally. She had to be married. I thought--perhaps--if
I wasn't there----"

"That I'd marry her? Good God! Ally! What on earth made you think
I'd do that? I wouldn't have married her if there hadn't been another
woman in the world."

"I couldn't be sure. But after what you said about her I had to give
her a chance."

"What _did_ I say?"

"That she'd die or go mad if somebody didn't marry her."

"I never said that. I wouldn't be likely to."

"But you did, dear. You frightened me. So I went away to see if that
would make it any better."

"Any better for whom?"

"For Ally."

"Oh--Ally. I see."

"I thought if it didn't--if you didn't marry her--I could come back
again. And when I did come back you'd married Mary."

"And Mary knew that?"

"There's no good bothering about Mary now."

Utterly weary of their strife, she lay back and closed her eyes.

"Poor Gwenda."

Again he had compassion on her. He waited.

"You see how it was," she said.

"It doesn't help us much, dear. What are we going to do?"

"Not what you want, Steven, I'm afraid."

"Not now. But some day. You'll see it differently when you've thought
of it."

"Never. Never any day. I've had all these months to think of it and I
can't see it differently yet."

"You _have_ thought of it?"

"Not like that."

"But you did think. You knew it would come to this."

"I tried not to make it come. Do you know why I tried? I don't think
it was for Molly. It was for myself. It was because I wanted to keep
you. That's why I shall never do what you want."

"But that's how you _would_ keep me. There's no other way."

She rose with a sudden gesture of her shoulders as if she shook off
the obsession of him.

She stood leaning against the chimney-piece in the attitude he knew,
an attitude of long-limbed, insolent, adolescent grace that gave her
the advantage. Her eyes disdained their pathos. They looked at him
with laughter under their dropped lids.

"How funny we are," she said, "when we know all the time we couldn't
really do a caddish thing like that."

He smiled queerly.

"I suppose we couldn't."

* * * * *

He too rose and faced her.

"Do you know what this means?" he said. "It means that I've got to
clear out of this."

"Oh, Steven----" The brave light in her face went out.

"You wouldn't go away and leave me?"

"God knows I don't want to leave you, Gwenda. But we can't go on like
this. How can we?"

"I could."

"Well, I can't. That's what it means to me. That's what it means to a
man. If we're going to be straight we simply mustn't see each other."

"Do you mean for always? That we're never to see each other again?"

"Yes, if it's to be any good."

"Steven, I can bear anything but that. It _can't_ mean that."

"I tell you it's what it means for me. There's no good talking about
it. You've seen what I've been like tonight."

"This? This is nothing. You'll get over this. But think what it would
mean to me."

"It would be hard, I know."


"Not half so hard as this."

"But I can bear this. We've been so happy. We can be happy still."

"This isn't happiness."

"It's _my_ happiness. It's all I've got. It's all I've ever had."

"What is?"

"Seeing you. Or not even seeing you. Knowing you're there."

"Poor child. Does that make you happy?"

"Utterly happy. Always."

"I didn't know."

He stooped forward, hiding his face in his hands.

"You don't realise it. You've no idea what it'll mean to be boxed up
in this place together, all our lives, with this between us."

"It's always been between us. We shall be no worse off. It may have
been bad now and then, but conceive what it'll be like when you go."

"I suppose it would be pretty beastly for you if I did go."

"Would it be too awful for you if you stayed?"

He was a long time before he answered.

"Not if it really made you happier."


She smiled her pitiful, strained smile. It said, "Don't you see that
it would kill me if you went?"

And again it was by her difference, her helplessness, that she had

He too smiled drearily.

"You don't suppose I really could have left you?"

He saw that it was impossible, unthinkable, that he should leave her.

He rose. She went with him to the door. She thought of something

"Steven," she said, "don't worry about to-night. It was all my fault."

"You--you," he murmured. "You're adorable."

"It was really," she said. "I made you come in."

She gave him her cold hand. He raised it and brushed it with his lips
and put it from him.

"Your little conscience was always too tender."


Two years passed.

Life stirred again in the Vicarage, feebly and slowly, with the slow
and feeble stirring of the Vicar's brain.

Ten o'clock was prayer time again.

Twice every Sunday the Vicar appeared in his seat in the chancel.
Twice he pronounced the Absolution. Twice he tottered to the altar
rails, turned, shifted his stick from his left hand to his right, and,
with his one good arm raised, he gave the Benediction. These were the
supreme moments of his life.

Once a month, kneeling at the same altar rails, he received the bread
and wine from the hands of his ritualistic curate, Mr. Grierson.

It was his uttermost abasement.

But, whether he was abased or exalted, the parish was proud of
its Vicar. He had shown grit. His parishioners respected the
indestructible instinct that had made him hold on.

* * * * *

For Mr. Cartaret was better, incredibly better. He could creep about
the house and the village without any help but his stick. He could
wash and feed and dress himself. He had no longer any use for his
wheel-chair. Once a week, on a Wednesday, he was driven over his
parish in an ancient pony carriage of Peacock's. It was low enough for
him to haul himself in and out.

And he had recovered large tracts of memory, all, apparently, but
the one spot submerged in the catastrophe that had brought about his
stroke. He was aware of events and of their couplings and of their
sequences in time, though the origin of some things was not clear
to him. Thus he knew that Alice was married and living at Upthorne,
though he had forgotten why. That she should have married Greatorex
was a strange thing, and he couldn't think how it had happened. He
supposed it must have happened when he was laid aside, for he would
never have permitted it if he had known. Mary's marriage also puzzled
him, for he had a most distinct idea that it was Gwenda who was to
have married Rowcliffe, and he said so. But he would own humbly that
he might be mistaken, his memory not being what it was.

He had settled more or less into his state of gentleness and
submission, broken from time to time by fits of violent irritation and
relieved by pride, pride in his feats of independence, his comings and
goings, his washing, his dressing and undressing of himself. Sometimes
this pride was stubborn and insistent; sometimes it was sweet and
joyous as a child's. His mouth, relaxed forever by his stroke, had
acquired a smile of piteous and appealing innocence. It smiled upon
the just and upon the unjust. It smiled even on Greatorex, whom
socially he disapproved of (he took care to let it be known that he
disapproved of Greatorex socially), though he tolerated him.

He tolerated all persons except one. And that one was the ritualistic
curate, Mr. Grierson.

He had every reason for not tolerating him. Not only was Mr.
Grierson a ritualist, which was only less abominable than being a
non-conformist, but he had been foisted on him without his knowledge
or will. The Vicar had simply waked up one day out of his confused
twilight to a state of fearful lucidity and found the young man there.
Worse than all it was through the third Mrs. Cartaret that he had got

For the Vicar of Greffington had applied to the Additional Curates Aid
Society for a grant on behalf of his afflicted brother, the Vicar of
Garthdale, and he had applied in vain. There was a prejudice against
the Vicar of Garthdale. But the Vicar of Greffington did not relax his
efforts. He applied to young Mrs. Rowcliffe, and young Mrs. Rowcliffe
applied to her step-mother, and not in vain. Robina, answering by
return of post, offered to pay half the curate's salary. Rowcliffe
made himself responsible for the other half.

Robina, in her compact little house in St. John's Wood, had become the
prey of remorse. Her conscience had begun to bother her by suggesting
that she ought to go back to her husband now that he was helpless
and utterly inoffensive. She ought not to leave him on poor Gwenda's
hands. She ought, at any rate, to take her turn.

But Robina couldn't face it. She couldn't leave her compact little
house and go back to her husband. She couldn't even take her turn.
Flesh and blood shrank from the awful sacrifice. It would be a living
death. Your conscience has no business to send you to a living death.

Robina's heart ached for poor Gwenda. She wrote and said so. She said
she knew she was a brute for not going back to Gwenda's father. She
would do it if she could, but she simply couldn't. She hadn't got the

And Robina did more. She pulled wires and found the curate. That
he was a ritualist was no drawback in Robina's eyes. In fact, she
declared it was a positive advantage. Mr. Grierson's practices would
wake them up in Garthdale. They needed waking. She had added that Mr.
Grierson was well connected, well behaved and extremely good-looking.

Even charity couldn't subdue the merry devil in Robina.

"I can't see," said Mary reading Robina's letter, "what Mr. Grierson's
good looks have got to do with it."

Rowcliffe's face darkened. He thought he could see.

* * * * *

But Mr. Grierson did not wake Garthdale up. It opened one astonished
eye on his practices and turned over in its sleep again. Mr. Grierson
was young, and the village regarded all he did as the folly of his
youth. It saw no harm in Mr. Grierson; not even when he conceived a
Platonic passion for Mrs. Steven Rowcliffe, and spent all his spare
time in her drawing-room and on his way to and from it.

The curate lodged in the village at the Blenkirons' over Rowcliffe's
surgery, and from that vantage ground he lay in wait for Rowcliffe.
He watched his movements. He was ready at any moment to fling open his
door and spring upon Rowcliffe with ardor and enthusiasm. It was as if
he wanted to prove to him how heartily he forgave him for being Mrs.
Rowcliffe's husband. There was a robust innocence about him that
ignored the doctor's irony.

Mary had her own use for Mr. Grierson. His handsome figure, assiduous
but restrained, the perfect image of integrity in adoration, was the
very thing she wanted for her drawing-room. She knew that its presence
there had the effect of heightening her own sensual attraction. It
served as a reminder to Rowcliffe that his wife was a woman of charm,
a fact which for some time he appeared to have forgotten. She could
play off her adorer against her husband, while the candid purity
of young Grierson's homage renewed her exquisite sense of her own

And then the Curate really was a cousin of Lord Northfleet's and Mrs.
Rowcliffe had calculated that to have him in her pocket would increase
prodigiously her social value. And it did. And Mrs. Rowcliffe's social
value, when observed by Grierson, increased his adoration.

And when Rowcliffe told her that young Grierson's Platonic friendship
wasn't good for him, she made wide eyes at him and said, "Poor boy! He
must have _some_ amusement."

She didn't suppose the curate could be much amused by calling at the
Vicarage. Young Grierson had confided to her that he couldn't "make
her sister out."

"I never knew anybody who could," she said, and gave him a subtle look
that disturbed him horribly.

"I only meant--" He stammered and stopped, for he wasn't quite sure
what he did mean. His fair, fresh face was strained with the effort to
express himself.

He meditated.

"You know, she's really rather fascinating. You can't help looking at
her. Only--she doesn't seem to see that you're there. I suppose that's
what puts you off."

"I know. It does, dreadfully," said Mary.

She summoned a flash and let him have it. "But she's magnificent."

"Magnificent!" he echoed with his robust enthusiasm.

But what he thought was that it was magnificent of Mrs. Rowcliffe to
praise her sister.

And Rowcliffe smiled grimly at young Grierson and his Platonic
passion. He said to himself, "If I'd only known. If I'd only had the
sense to wait six months. Grierson would have done just as well for

Still, though Grierson had come too late, he welcomed him and his
Platonic passion. It wasn't good for Grierson but it was good for
Molly. At least, he supposed it was better for her than nothing. And
for him it was infinitely better. It kept Grierson off Gwenda.

* * * * *

Young Grierson was right when he said that Gwenda didn't see that he
was there. He had been two years in Garthdale and she was as far
from seeing it as ever. He didn't mind; he was even amused by her
indifference, only he couldn't help thinking that it was rather odd of
her, considering that he _was_ there.

The village, as simple in its thinking as young Grierson, shared his
view. It thought that it was something more than odd. And it had a
suspicion that Mrs. Rowcliffe was at the bottom of it. She wouldn't
be happy if she didn't get that young man away from her sister. The
village hinted that it wouldn't be for the first time.

* * * * *

But in two years, with the gradual lifting of the pressure that had
numbed her, Gwenda had become aware. Not of young Grierson, but of
her own tragedy, of the slow life that dragged her, of its
relentless motion and its mass. Now that her father's need of her was
intermittent she was alive to the tightness of the tie. It had been
less intolerable when it had bound her tighter; when she hadn't had
a moment; when it had dragged her all the time. Its slackening was
torture. She pulled then, and was jerked on her chain.

It was not only that Rowcliffe's outburst had waked her and made
her cruelly aware. He had timed it badly, in her moment of revived
lucidity, the moment when she had become vulnerable again. She was the
more sensitive because of her previous apathy, as if she had died and
was new-born to suffering and virgin to pain.

What hurt her most was her father's gentleness. She could stand his
fits of irritation and obstinacy; they braced her, they called forth
her will. But she was defenseless against his pathos, and he knew it.
He had phrases that wrung her heart. "You're a good girl, Gwenda."
"I'm only an irritable old man, my dear. You mustn't mind what I say."
She suffered from the incessant drain on her pity; for she wanted all
her will if she was to stand against Rowcliffe. Pity was a dangerous
solvent in which her will sank and was melted away.

There were moments when she saw herself as two women. One had still
the passion and the memory of freedom. The other was a cowed and
captive creature who had forgotten; whose cramped motions guided her;
whose instinct of submission she abhorred.

* * * * *

Her isolation was now extreme. She had had nothing to give to any
friends she might have made. Rowcliffe had taken all that was left
of her. And now, when intercourse was possible, it was they who had
withdrawn. They shared Mr. Grierson's inability to make her out. They
had heard rumors; they imagined things; they remembered also. She was
the girl who had raced all over the country with Dr. Rowcliffe, the
girl whom Dr. Rowcliffe, for all their racing, had not cared to marry.
She was the girl who had run away from home to live with a dubious
step-mother; and she was the sister of that awful Mrs. Greatorex,
who--well, everybody knew what Mrs. Greatorex was.

Gwenda Cartaret, like her younger sister, had been talked about. Not
so much in the big houses of the Dale. The queer facts had been tossed
up and down a smokeroom for one season and then dropped. In the big
houses they didn't remember Gwenda Cartaret. They only remembered to
forget her.

But in the little shops and in the little houses in Morfe there had
been continual whispering. They said that even after Dr. Rowcliffe's
marriage to that nice wife of his, who was her own sister, the two
had been carrying on. If there wasn't any actual harm done, and maybe
there wasn't, the doctor had been running into danger. He was up at
Garthdale more than he need be now that the old Vicar was about again.
And they had been seen together. The head gamekeeper at Garthdale had
caught them more than once out on the moor, and after dark too. It was
said in the little houses that it wasn't the doctor's fault. (In the
big houses judgment had been more impartial, but Morfe was loyal
to its doctor.) It was hers, every bit, you might depend on it. Of
Rowcliffe it was said that maybe he'd been tempted, but he was a good
man, was Dr. Rowcliffe, and he'd stopped in time. Because they didn't
know what Gwenda Cartaret was capable of, they believed, like the
Vicar, that she was capable of anything.

It was only in her own village that they knew. The head gamekeeper had
never told his tale in Garth. It would have made him too unpopular.

* * * * *

Gwenda Cartaret remained unaware of what was said. Rumor protected her
by cutting her off from its own sources.

And she had other consolations besides her ignorance. So long as she
knew that Rowcliffe cared for her and always had cared, it did not
seem to matter to her so much that he had married Mary. She actually
considered that, of the two, Mary was the one to be pitied; it was so
infinitely worse to be married to a man who didn't care for you than
not to be married to a man who did.

Of course, there was the tie. Her sister had outward and visible
possession of him. But she said to herself "I wouldn't give what I
have for _that,_ if I can't have both."

And of course there was Steven, and Steven's misery which was more
unbearable to her than her own. At least she thought it was more
unbearable. She didn't ask herself how bearable it would have been if
Steven's marriage had brought him a satisfaction that denied her and
cast her out.

For she was persuaded that Steven also had his consolation. He knew
that she cared for him. She conceived this knowledge of theirs as
constituting an immaterial and immutable possession of each other.
And it did not strike her that this knowledge might be less richly
compensating to Steven than to her.

* * * * *

Her woman's passion, forced inward, sustained her with an inward
peace, an inward exaltation. And in this peace, this exaltation, it
became one with her passion for the place.

She was unaware of what was happening in her. She did not know that
her soul had joined the two beyond its own power to put asunder. She
still looked on her joy in the earth as a solitary emotion untouched
by any other. She still said to herself "Nothing can take this away
from me."

For she had hours, now and again, when she shook off the slave-woman
who held her down. In those hours her inner life moved with the large
rhythm of the seasons and was soaked in the dyes of the visible
world; and the visible world, passing into her inner life, took on its
radiance and intensity. Everything that happened and that was great
and significant in its happening, happened there.

Outside nothing happened; nothing stood out; nothing moved. No
procession of events trod down or blurred her perfect impressions of
the earth and sky. They eternalised themselves in memory. They became
her memory.

The days were carved for her in the lines of the hills and painted
for her in their colors; days that were dim green and gray, when
the dreaming land was withdrawn under a veil so fine that it had the
transparency of water, or when the stone walls, the humble houses and
the high ramparts, drenched with mist and with secret sunlight, became
insubstantial; days when all the hills were hewn out of one opal; days
that had the form of Karva under snow, and the thin blues and violets
of the snow. She remembered purely, without thinking, "It was in April
that I went away from Steven," or, "It was in November that he married
Mary," or "It was in February that we knew about Ally, and Father had
his stroke."

Her nature was sound and sane; it refused to brood over suffering. She
was not like Alice and in her unlikeness she lacked some of Alice's
resources. She couldn't fling herself on to a Polonaise of a Sonata
any more than she could lie on a couch all day and look at her own
white hands and dream. Her passion found no outlet in creating violent
and voluptuous sounds. It was passive, rather, and attentive. Cut
off from all contacts of the flesh, it turned to the distant and the
undreamed. Its very senses became infinitely subtle; they discerned
the hidden soul of the land that had entranced her.

There were no words for this experience. She had no sense of self
in it and needed none. It seemed to her that she _was_ what she
contemplated, as if all her senses were fused together in the sense of
seeing and what her eyes saw they heard and touched and felt.

But when she came to and saw herself seeing, she said, "At least this
is mine. Nobody, not even Steven, can take it away from me."

* * * * *

She also reminded herself that she had Alice.

She meant Alice Greatorex. Alice Cartaret, oppressed by her own
"awfulness," had loved her with a sullen selfish love, the love of
a frustrated and unhappy child. But there was no awfulness in Alice
Greatorex. In the fine sanity of happiness she showed herself as good
as gold.

Marriage, that had made Mary hard, made Alice tender. Mary was wrapped
up in her husband and her house, and in her social relations and young
Grierson's Platonic passion, so tightly wrapped that these things
formed round her an impenetrable shell. They hid a secret and
inaccessible Mary.

Alice was wrapped up in her husband and children, in the boy of
three who was so like Gwenda, and in the baby girl who was so like
Greatorex. But through them she had become approachable. She had the
ways of some happy household animal, its quick rushes of affection,
and its gaze, the long, spiritual gaze of its maternity, mysterious
and appealing. She loved Gwenda with a sad-eyed, remorseful love. She
said to herself, "If I hadn't been so awful, Gwenda might have married
Steven." She saw the appalling extent of Gwenda's sacrifice. She saw
it as it was, monstrous, absurd, altogether futile.

It was the futility of it that troubled Alice most. Even if Gwenda
had been capable of sacrificing herself for Mary, which had been by
no means her intention, that would have been futile too. Alice was of
Rowcliffe's opinion that young Grierson would have done every bit as
well for Mary.

Better, for Mary had no children.

"And how," said Alice, "could she expect to have them?"

She saw in Mary's childlessness not only God's but Nature's justice.

* * * * *

There were moments when Mary saw it too. But she left God out of it
and called it Nature's cruelty.

If it was not really Gwenda. For in flashes of extreme lucidity Mary
put it down to Rowcliffe's coldness.

And she had come to know that Gwenda was responsible for that.


But one day in April, in the fourth year of her marriage, Mary sent
for Gwenda.

Rowcliffe was out on his rounds. She had thought of that. She was fond
of having Gwenda with her in Rowcliffe's absence, when she could talk
to her about him in a way that assumed his complete indifference to
Gwenda and utter devotion to herself. Gwenda was used to this habit of
Mary's and thought nothing of it.

She found her in Rowcliffe's study, the room that she knew better than
any other in his house. The window was closed. The panes cut up the
colors of the orchard and framed them in small squares.

Mary received her with a gentle voice and a show of tenderness. She
said very little. They had tea together, and when Gwenda would have
gone Mary kept her.

She still said very little. She seemed to brood over some happy

Presently she spoke. She told her secret.

And when she had told it she turned her eyes to Gwenda with a look of
subtle penetration and of triumph.

"At last," she said,--"After three years."

And she added, "I knew you would be glad."

"I _am_ glad," said Gwenda.

She _was_ glad. She was determined to be glad. She looked glad. And
she kissed Mary and said again that she was very glad.

But as she walked back the four miles up Garthdale under Karva, she
felt an aching at her heart which was odd considering how glad she

She said to herself, "I _will_ be glad. I want Mary to be happy. Why
shouldn't I be glad? It's not as if it could make any difference."


In September Mary sent for her again.

Mary was very ill. She lay on her bed, and Rowcliffe and her sister
stood on either side of her. She gazed from one to the other with eyes
of terror and entreaty. It was as if she cried out to them--the two
who were so strong--to help her. She stretched out her arms on
the counterpane, one arm toward each of them; her little hands,
palm-upward, implored them.

Each of them laid a hand in Mary's hand that closed on it with a
clutch of agony.

Rowcliffe had sat up all night with her. His face was white and
haggard and there was fear and misery in his eyes. They never looked
at Gwenda's lest they should see the same fear and the same misery
there. It was as if they had no love for each other, only a profound
and secret pity that sprang in both of them from their fear.

Only once they found each other, outside on the landing, when they
had left Mary alone with Hyslop, the old doctor from Reyburn, and the
nurse. Each spoke once.

"Steven, is there really any danger?"

"Yes. I wish to God I'd had Harker. Do you mind sending him a wire? I
must go and see what that fool Hyslop's doing."

He turned back again into the room.

Gwenda went out and sent the wire.

But at noon, before Harker could come to them, it was over. Mary lay
as Alice had lain, weak and happy, with her child tucked in the crook
of her arm. And she smiled at it dreamily.

The old doctor and the nurse smiled at Rowcliffe.

It couldn't, they said, have gone off more easily. There hadn't been
any danger, nor any earthly reason to have sent for Harker. Though, of
course, if it had made Rowcliffe happier--!

The old doctor added that if it had been anybody else's wife Rowcliffe
would have known that it was going all right.

And in the evening, when her sister stood again at her bedside, as
Mary lifted the edge of the flannel that hid her baby's face, she
looked at Gwenda and smiled, not dreamily but subtly in a triumph that
was almost malign.

That night Gwenda dreamed that she saw Mary lying dead and with a dead
child in the crook of her arm.

She woke in anguish and terror.


Three years passed and six months. The Cartarets had been in Garthdale
nine years.

Gwenda Cartaret sat in the dining-room at the Vicarage alone with her

It was nearly ten o'clock of the March evening. They waited for the
striking of the clock. It would be prayer time then, and after prayers
the Vicar would drag himself upstairs to bed, and in the peace
that slid into the room when he left it Gwenda would go on with her

She had her sewing in her lap and her book, Bergson's _Evolution
creatrice_ propped open before her on the table. She sewed as she
read. For the Vicar considered that sewing was an occupation and that
reading was not. He was silent as long as his daughter sewed and
when she read he talked. Toward ten his silence would be broken by a
continual sighing and yearning. The Vicar longed for prayer time to
come and end his day. But he had decreed that prayer time was ten
o'clock and he would not have permitted it to come a minute sooner.

He nursed a book on his knees, but he made no pretence of reading
it. He had taken off his glasses and sat with his hands folded, in an
attitude of utter resignation to his own will.

In the kitchen Essy Gale sat by the dying fire and waited for the
stroke of ten. And as she waited she stitched at the torn breeches of
her little son.

Essy had come back to the house where she had been turned away. For
her mother was wanted by Mrs. Greatorex at Upthorne and what Mrs.
Greatorex wanted she got. There were two more children now at the Farm
and work enough for three women in the house. And Essy, with all her
pride, had not been too proud to come back. She had no feeling but
pity for the old man, her master, who had bullied her and put her to
shame. If it pleased God to afflict him that was God's affair, and,
even as a devout Wesleyan, Essy considered that God had about done

As Essy sat and stitched, she smiled, thinking of Greatorex's son who
lay in her bed in the little room over the kitchen. Miss Gwenda let
her have him with her on the nights when Mrs. Gale slept up at the

It was quiet in the Vicarage kitchen. The door into the back yard was
shut, the door that Essy used to keep open when she listened for a
footstep and a whisper. That door had betrayed her many a time when
the wind slammed it to.

Essy's heart was quiet as the heart of her sleeping child. She had
forgotten how madly it had leaped to her lover's footsteps, how it
had staggered at the slamming of the door. She had forgotten the tears
that she had shed when Alice's wild music had rocked the house, and
what the Vicar had said to her that night when she spilled the glass
of water in the study.

But she remembered that Gwenda had given her son his first little
Sunday suit; and that, before Jimmy came, when Essy was in bed, crying
with the face-ache, she had knocked at her door and said, "What is it,
Essy? Can I do anything for you?" She could hear her saying it now.

Essy's memory was like that.

She had thought of Gwenda just then because she heard the sound of Dr.
Rowcliffe's motor car tearing up the Dale.

* * * * *

The woman in the other room heard it too. She had heard its horn
hooting on the moor road nearly a mile away.

She raised her hand and listened. It hooted again, once, twice,
placably, at the turning of the road, under Karva. She shivered at the

It hooted irritably, furiously, as the car tore through the village.
Its lamps swung a shaft of light over the low garden wall.

At the garden gate the car made a shuddering pause.

Gwenda's face and all her body listened. A little unborn, undying hope
quivered in her heart always at that pausing of the car at her gate.

It hardly gave her time for one heart-beat before she heard the
grinding of the gear as the car took the steep hill to Upthorne.

But she was always taken in by it. She had always that insane hope
that the course of things had changed and that Steven had really
stopped at the gate and was coming to her.

* * * * *

It _was_ insanity, for she knew that Rowcliffe would never come to see
her in the evening now. After his outburst, more than five years ago,
there was no use pretending to each other that they were safe. He had
told her plainly that, if she wanted him to hold out, he must never be
long alone with her at any time, and he must give up coming to see her
late at night. It was much too risky.

"When I can come and see you _that_ way," he had said, "it'll mean
that I've left off caring. But I'll look in every Wednesday if I can.
Every Wednesday as long as I live."

He _had_ come now and then, not on a Wednesday, but "that way." He had
not been able to help it. But he had left longer and longer intervals
between. And he had never come ("that way") since last year, when his
second child was born.

Nothing but life or death would bring Rowcliffe out in his car after
nightfall. Yet the thing had her every time. And it was as if her
heart was ground with the grinding and torn with the tearing of the

Then she said to herself, "I must end it somehow. It's horrible to go
on caring like this. He was right. It would be better not to see him
at all."

And she began counting the days and the hours till Wednesday when she
would see him.


Wednesday was still the Vicar's day for visiting his parish. It was
also Rowcliffe's day for visiting his daughter. But the Vicar was not
going to change it on that account. On Wednesday, if it was a fine
afternoon, she was always sure of having Rowcliffe to herself.

Rowcliffe himself had become the creature of unalterable habit.

She was conscious now of the normal pulse of time, a steady pulse that
beat with a large rhythm, a measure of seven days, from Wednesday to

She filled the days between with reading and walking and parish work.

There had been changes in Garthdale. Mr. Grierson had got married in
one of his bursts of enthusiasm and had gone away. His place had been
taken by Mr. Macey, the strenuous son of a Durlingham grocer. Mr.
Macey had got into the Church by sheer strenuousness and had married,
strenuously, a sharp and sallow wife. Between them they left very
little parish work for Gwenda.

She had become a furious reader. She liked hard stuff that her brain
could bite on. It fell on a book and gutted it, throwing away the
trash. She read all the modern poets and novelists she cared about,
English and foreign. They left her stimulated but unsatisfied. There
were not enough good ones to keep her going. She worked through the
Elizabethan dramatists and all the Vicar's Tudor Classics, and came
on Jowett's Translations of the Platonic Dialogues by the way, and
was lured on the quest of Ultimate Reality, and found that there
was nothing like Thought to keep you from thinking. She took to
metaphysics as you take to dram-drinking. She must have strong, heavy
stuff that drugged her brain. And when she found that she could trust
her intellect she set it deliberately to fight her passion.

At first it was an even match, for Gwenda's intellect, like her body,
was robust. It generally held its ground from Thursday morning till
Tuesday night. But the night that followed Wednesday afternoon would
see its overthrow.

This Wednesday it fought gallantly till the very moment of Steven's
arrival. She was still reading Bergson, and her brain struggled to
make out the sense and rhythm of the sentences across the beating of
her heart.

After seven years her heart still beat at Steven's coming.

It remained an excitement and adventure, for she never knew how
he would be. Sometimes he hadn't a word to say to her and left her
miserable. Sometimes, after a hard day's work, he would be tired
and heavy; she saw him middle-aged and her heart would ache for him.
Sometimes he would be young almost as he used to be. She knew that
he was only young for her. He was young because he loved her. She had
never seen him so with Mary. Sometimes he would be formal and frigid.
He talked to her as a man talks to a woman he is determined to keep
at a distance. She hated Steven then, as passion hates. He had come
before now in a downright bad temper and was the old, irritable Steven
who found fault with everything she said and did. And she had loved
him for it as she had loved the old Steven. It was his queer way of
showing that he loved her.

But he had not been like that for a very long time. He had grown
gentler as he had grown older.

To-day he showed her more than one of his familiar moods. She took
them gladly as so many signs of his unchanging nature.

He still kept up his way of coming in, the careful closing of the
door, the slight pause there by the threshold, the look that sought
her and that held her for an instant before their hands met.

She saw it still as the look that pleaded with her while it caressed
her, that said, "I know we oughtn't to be so pleased to see each
other, but we can't help it, can we?"

It was the look of his romantic youth.

As long as she saw it there it was nothing to her that Rowcliffe had
changed physically, that he moved more heavily, that his keenness and
his slenderness were going, that she saw also a slight thickening of
his fine nose, a perceptible slackening of the taut muscles of his
mouth, and a decided fulness about his jaw and chin. She saw all these
things; but she did not see that his romantic youth lay dying in the
pathos of his eyes and that if it pleaded still it pleaded forgiveness
for the sin of dying.

His hand fell slackly from hers as she took it.

It was as if they were still on their guard, still afraid of each
other's touch.

As he sat in the chair that faced hers he held his hands clasped
loosely in front of him, and looked at them with a curious attention,
as if he wondered what kind of hands they were that could resist
holding her.

When he saw that she was looking at him they fell apart with a nervous

They picked up the book she had laid down and turned it. His eyes
examined the title page. Their pathos lightened and softened; it
became compassion; they smiled at her with a little pitiful smile,
half tender, half ironic, as if they said, "Poor Gwenda, is that what
you're driven to?"

He opened the book and turned the pages, reading a little here and

He scowled. His look changed. It darkened. It was angry, resentful,
inimical. The dying youth in it came a little nearer to death.

Rowcliffe had found that he could not understand what he had read.

"Huh! What do you addle your brains with that stuff for?" he said.

"It amuses me."

"Oh--so long as you're amused."

He pushed away the book that had offended him.

They talked--about the Vicar, about Alice, about Rowcliffe's children,
about the changes in the Dale, the coming of the Maceys and the going
of young Grierson.

"He wasn't a bad chap, Grierson."

He softened, remembering Grierson.

"I can't think why you didn't care about him."

And at the thought of how Gwenda might have cared for Grierson and
hadn't cared his youth revived; it came back into his eyes and lit
them; it passed into his scowling face and caressed and smoothed it to
the perfect look of reminiscent satisfaction. Rowcliffe did not know,
neither did she, how his egoism hung upon her passion, how it drew
from it food and fire.

He raised his head and squared his shoulders with the unconscious
gesture of his male pride.

* * * * *

It was then that she saw for the first time that he wore the black tie
and had the black band of mourning on his sleeve.

"Oh Steven--what do you wear that for?"

"This? My poor old uncle died last week."

"Not the one I saw?"


"At Mary's wedding."

"No. Another one. My father's brother."

He paused.

"It's made a great difference to me and Mary."

He said it gravely, mournfully almost. She looked at him with tender

"I'm sorry, Steven."

He smiled faintly.

"Sorry, are you?"

"Yes. If you cared for him."

"I'm afraid I didn't very much. It's not as if I'd seen a lot of him."

"You said it's made a difference."

"So it has. He's left me a good four hundred a year."

"Oh--_that_ sort of difference."

"My dear girl, four hundred a year makes all the difference; it's no
use pretending that it doesn't."

"I'm not pretending. You sounded sorry and I was sorry for you. That
was all."

At that his egoism winced. It was as if she had accused him of
pretending to be sorry.

He looked at her sharply. His romantic youth died in that look.

* * * * *

Silence fell between them. But she was used to that. She even welcomed
it. Steven's silences brought him nearer to her than his speech.

Essy came in with the tea-tray.

He lingered uneasily after the meal, glancing now and then at the
clock. She was used to that, too. She also had her eyes on the clock,
measuring the priceless moments.

* * * * *

"Is anything worrying you, Steven?" she said presently.

"Why? Do I look worried?"

"Not exactly, but you don't look well."

"I'm getting a bit rusty. That's what's the matter with me. I want
some hard work to rub me up and put a polish on me and I can't get
it here. I've never had enough to do since I left Leeds. Harker was a
wise chap to stick to it. It would do me all the good in the world if
I went back."

"Then," she said, "you'll _have_ to go, Steven."

She did not know, in her isolation, that Rowcliffe had been going
about saying that sort of thing for the last seven years. She thought
it was the formidable discovery of time.

"You ought to go if you feel like that about it. Why don't you?"

"I don't know."

"You _do_ know."

She did not look at him as she spoke, so she missed his bewilderment.

"You know why you stayed, Steven."

He understood. He remembered. The dull red of his face flushed with
the shock of the memory.

"Do I?" he said.

"I made you."

His flush darkened. But he gave no other sign of having heard her.

"I don't know why I'm staying now."

He rose and looked at his watch.

"I must be going home," he said.

He turned at the threshold.

"I forgot to give you Mary's message. She sent her love and she wants
to know when you're coming again to see the babies."

"Oh--some day soon."

"You must make it very soon or they won't be babies any more. She's
dying to show them to you."

"She showed them to me the other day."

"She says it's ages since you've been. And if she says it is she
thinks it is."

Gwenda was silent.

"I'm coming all right, tell her."

"Well, but what day? We'd better fix it. Don't come on a Tuesday or a
Friday, I'll be out."

"I must come when I can."


She went on a Tuesday.

She had had tea with her father first. Meal-time had become sacred to
the Vicar and he hated her to be away for any one of them.

She walked the four miles, going across the moor under Karva and
loitering by the way, and it was past six before she reached Morfe.

She was shown into the room that was once Rowcliffe's study. It had
been Mary's drawing-room ever since last year when the second child
was born and they turned the big room over the dining-room into a
day nursery. Mary had made it snug and gay with cushions and shining,
florid chintzes. There were a great many things in rosewood and brass;
a piano took the place of Rowcliffe's writing table; a bureau and a
cabinet stood against the wall where his bookcases had been; and a
tall palm-tree in a pot filled the little window that looked on to the

She had only to close her eyes and shut out these objects and she
saw the room as it used to be. She closed them now and instantly she
opened them again, for the vision hurt her.

She went restlessly about the room, picking up things and looking at
them without seeing them.

In the room upstairs she heard the cries of Rowcliffe's children,
bumping and the scampering of feet. She stood still then and clenched
her hands. The pain at her heart was like no other pain. It was as if
she hated Rowcliffe's children.

Presently she would have to go up and see them.

She waited. Mary was taking her own time.

Upstairs the doors opened and shut on the sharp grief of little
children carried unwillingly to bed.

Gwenda's heart melted and grew tender at the sound. But its tenderness
was more unbearable to her than its pain.

The maid-servant came to the door.

"Mrs. Rowcliffe says will you please go upstairs to the night nursery,
Miss Gwenda. She can't leave the children."

That was the message Mary invariably sent. She left the children for
hours together when other visitors were there. She could never leave
them for a minute when her sister came. Unless Steven happened to be
in. Then Mary would abandon whatever she was doing and hurry to the
two. In the last year Gwenda had never found herself alone with Steven
for ten minutes in his house. If Mary couldn't come at once she sent
the nurse in with the children.

Upstairs in the night nursery Mary sat in the nurse's low chair.
Her year-old baby sprawled naked in her lap. The elder infant stood
whining under the nurse's hands.

Mary had changed a little in three and a half years. She was broader
and stouter; the tender rose had hardened over her high cheek bones.
Her face still kept its tranquil brooding, but her slow gray eyes had
a secret tremor, they were almost alert, as if she were on the watch.

And Mary's mouth, with its wide, turned back lips, had lost its
subtlety, it had coarsened slightly and loosened, under her senses'
continual content.

Gwenda brushed Mary's mouth lightly with the winged arch of her upper
lip. Mary laughed.

"You don't know how to kiss," she said. "If you're going to treat Baby
that way, and Molly too--"

Gwenda stooped over the soft red down of the baby's head. To Gwenda it
was as if her heart kept her hands off Rowcliffe's children, as if
her flesh shrank from their flesh while her lips brushed theirs in
tenderness and repulsion.

But seeing them was always worse in anticipation than reality.

For there was no trace of Rowcliffe in his children. The little
red-haired, white-faced things were all Cartaret. Molly, the elder,
had a look of Ally, sullen and sickly, as if some innermost reluctance
had held back the impulse that had given it being. Even the younger
child showed fragile as if implacable memory had come between it and
perfect life.

Gwenda did not know why her fierceness was appeased by this
unlikeness, nor why she wanted to see Mary and nothing but Mary in
Rowcliffe's children, nor why she refused to think of them as his;
she only knew that to see Rowcliffe in Mary's children would have been
more than her flesh and blood could bear.

"You've come just in time to see Baby in her bath," said Mary.

"I seem to be always in time for that."

"Well, you're not in time to see Steven. He won't be home till nine at

"I didn't expect to see him. He told me he'd be out."

She saw the hidden watcher in Mary's eyes looking out at her.

"When did he tell you that?"

"Last Wednesday."

The watcher hid again, suddenly appeased.

Mary busied herself with the washing of her babies. She did it
thoroughly and efficiently, with no sentimental tendernesses, but with
soft, sensual pattings and strokings of the white, satin-smooth skins.

And when they were tucked into their cots and disposed of for the
night Mary turned to Gwenda.

"Come into my room a minute," she said.

Mary's joy was to take her sister into her room and watch her to see
if she would flinch before the signs of Steven's occupation. She drew
her attention to these if Gwenda seemed likely to miss any of them.

"We've had the beds turned," she said. "The light hurt Steven's eyes.
I can't say I like sleeping with my head out in the middle of the

"Why don't you lie the other way then?"

"My dear, Steven wouldn't like that. Oh, what a mess my hair's in!"

She turned to the glass and smoothed her disordered waves and coils,
while she kept her eyes fixed on Gwenda's image there, appraising her
clothes, her slenderness and straightness, the set of her head on her
shoulders, the air that she kept up of almost insolent adolescence.
She noted the delicate lines on her forehead and at the corners of her
eyes; she saw that her small defiant face was still white and firm,
and that her eyes looked violet blue with the dark shadows under them.

Time was the only power that had been good to Gwenda.

"She ought to look more battered," Mary thought. "She _does_ carry it
off well. And she's only two years younger than I am.

"It's her figure, really, not her face. She's got more lines than I
have. But if I wore that long straight coat I should look awful in

"It's all very well for you," she said. "You haven't had two

"No. I haven't. But what's all very well?"

"The good looks you contrive to keep, my dear. Nobody would know you
were thirty-three."

"_I_ shouldn't, Molly, if you didn't remind me every time."

Mary flushed.

"You'll say next that's why you don't come."

"Why--I--don't come?"

"Yes. It's ages since you've been here."

That was always Mary's cry.

"I haven't much time, Molly, for coming on the off-chance."

"The off chance! As if I'd never asked you! You can go to Alice."

"Poor Ally wouldn't have anybody to show the baby to if I didn't. You
haven't seen one of Ally's babies."

"I can't, Gwenda. I must think of the children. I can't let them grow
up with little Greatorexes. There are three of them, aren't there?"

"Didn't you know there's been another?"

"Steven _did_ tell me. She had rather a bad time, hadn't she?"

"She had. Molly--it wouldn't do you any harm now to go and see her.
I think it's horrid of you not to. It's such rotten humbug. Why, you
used to say _I_ was ten times more awful than poor little Ally."

"There are moments, Gwenda, when I think you are."

"Moments? You always did think it. You think it still. And yet
you'll have me here but you won't have her. Just because she's gone a
technical howler and I haven't."

"You haven't. But you'd have gone a worse one if you'd had the

Gwenda raised her head.

"You know, Molly, that that isn't true."

"I said if. I suppose you think you had your chance, then?"

"I don't think anything. Except that I've got to go."

"You haven't. You're going to stay for dinner now you're here."

"I can't, really, Mary."

But Mary was obstinate. Whether her sister stayed or went she made it
hard for her. She kept it up on the stairs and at the door and at the
garden gate.

"Perhaps you'll come some night when Steven's here. You know he's
always glad to see you."

The sting of it was in Mary's watching eyes. For, when you came to
think of it, there was nothing else she could very well have said.


That year, when spring warmed into summer, Gwenda's strength went from

She was always tired. She fought with her fatigue and got the better
of it, but in a week or two it returned. Rowcliffe told her to
rest and she rested, for a day or two, lying on the couch in the
dining-room where Ally used to lie, and when she felt better she
crawled out on to the moor and lay there.

One day she said to herself, "There's Ally. I'll go and see how she's
getting on."

She dragged herself up the hill to Upthorne.

It was a day of heat and hidden sunlight. The moor and the marshes
were drenched in the gray June mist. The hillside wore soft vapor like
a cloak hiding its nakedness.

At the top of the Three Fields the nave of the old barn showed as
if lifted up and withdrawn into the distance. But it was no longer
solitary. The thorn-tree beside it had burst into white flower; it
shimmered far-off under the mist in the dim green field, like a magic
thing, half-hidden and about to disappear, remaining only for the hour
of its enchantment.

It gave her the same subtle and mysterious joy that she had had on
the night she and Rowcliffe walked together and saw the thorn-trees on
Greffington Edge white under the hidden moon.

The gray Farm-house was changed, for Jim Greatorex had got on. He
had built himself another granary on the north side of the mistal. He
built it long and low, of hewn stone, with a corrugated iron roof. And
he had made himself two fine new rooms, a dining-room and a nursery,
one above the other, within the blind walls of the house where the old
granary had been. The walls were blind no longer, for he had knocked
four large windows out of them. And it was as if one-half of the house
were awake and staring while the other half, in its old and alien
beauty, dozed and dreamed under its scowling mullions.

As Gwenda came to it she wondered how the Farm could ever have seemed
sinister and ghost-haunted; it had become so entirely the place of
happy life.

Loud noises came from the open windows of the dining-room where the
family were at tea; the barking of dogs, the competitive laughter of
small children, a gurgling and crowing and spluttering; with now and
then the sudden delicate laughter of Ally and the bellowing of Jim.

"Oh--there's Gwenda!" said Ally.

Jim stopped between a bellowing and a choking, for his mouth was full.

"Ay--it's 'er."

He washed down his mouthful. "Coom, Ally, and open door t' 'er."

But Ally did not come. She had her year-old baby on her knees and was
feeding him.

At the door of the old kitchen Jim grasped his sister-in-law by the

"Thot's right," he said. "Yo've joost coom in time for a cup o' tae.
T' misses is in there wi' t' lil uns."

He jerked his thumb toward his dining-room and led the way there.

Jim was not quite so alert and slender as he had been. He had lost his
savage grace. But he moved with his old directness and dignity, and he
still looked at you with his pathetic, mystic gaze.

Ally was contrite; she raised her face to her sister to be kissed. "I
can't get up," she said, "I'm feeding Baby. He'd howl if I left off."

"I'd let 'im howl. I'd spank him ef 'twas me," said Jim.

"He wouldn't, Gwenda."

"Ay, thot I would. An' 'e knows it, doos Johnny, t' yoong rascal."

Gwenda kissed the four children; Jimmy, and Gwendolen Alice, and
little Steven and the baby John. They lifted little sticky faces and
wiped them on Gwenda's face, and the happy din went on.

Ally didn't seem to mind it. She had grown plump and pink and rather
like Mary without her subtlety. She sat smiling, tranquil among the
cries of her offspring.

Jim turned three dogs out into the yard by way of discipline. He and
Ally tried to talk to each other across the tumult that remained. Now
and then Ally and the children talked to Gwenda. They told her that
the black and white cow had calved, and that the blue lupins had come
up in the garden, that the old sow had died, that Jenny, the chintz
cat, had kittened and that the lop-eared rabbit had a litter.

"And Baby's got another tooth," said Ally.

"I'm breaakin' in t' yoong chestnut," said Jim. "Poor Daasy's gettin'
paasst 'er work."

All these happenings were exciting and wonderful to Ally.

"But you're not interested, Gwenda."

"I am, darling, I am."

She was. Ally knew it but she wanted perpetual reassurance.

"But you never tell us anything."

"There's nothing to tell. Nothing happens."

"Oh, come," said Ally, "how's Papa?"

"Much the same except that he drove into Morfe yesterday to see

"Yes, darling, of course you may."

Ally was abstracted, for Gwenny had slipped from her chair and was
whispering in her ear.

It never occurred to Ally to ask what Gwenda had been doing, or what
she had been thinking of, or what she felt, or to listen to anything
she had to say.

Her sister might just as well not have existed for all the interest
Ally showed in her. She hadn't really forgotten what Gwenda had done
for her, but she couldn't go on thinking about it forever. It was the
sort of thing that wasn't easy or agreeable to think about and Ally's
instinct of self-preservation urged her to turn from it. She tended
to forget it, as she tended to forget all dreadful things, such as
her own terrors and her father's illness and the noises Greatorex made
when he was eating.

Gwenda was used to this apathy of Ally's and it had never hurt her
till to-day. To-day she wanted something from Ally. She didn't know
what it was exactly, but it was something Ally hadn't got.

She only said, "Have you seen the thorn-trees on Greffington Edge?"

And Ally never answered. She was heading off a stream of jam that was
creeping down Stevey's chin to plunge into his neck.

"Gwenda's aasskin' yo 'ave yo seen t' thorn-trees on Greffington
Edge," said Greatorex. He spoke to Ally as if she were deaf.

She made a desperate effort to detach herself from Stevey.

"The thorn-trees? Has anybody set fire to them?"

"Tha silly laass!----"

"What about the thorn-trees, Gwenda?"

"Only that they're all in flower," Gwenda said.

She didn't know where it had come from, the sudden impulse to tell
Ally about the beauty of the thorn-trees.

But the impulse had gone. She thought sadly, "They want me. But they
don't want me for myself. They don't want to talk to me. They don't
know what to say. They don't know anything about me. They don't
care--really. Jim likes me because I've stuck to Ally. Ally loves me
because I would have given Steven to her. They love what I was, not
what I am now, nor what I shall be.

"They have nothing for me."

It was Jim who answered her. "I knaw," he said, "I knaw."

"Oh! You little, little--lamb!"

Baby John had his fingers in his mother's hair.

* * * * *

Greatorex rose. "You'll not get mooch out o' Ally as long as t' kids
are about. Yo'd best coom wi' mae into t' garden and see t' loopins."

She went with him.

He was silent as they threaded the garden path together. She thought,
"I know why I like him."

They came to a standstill at the south wall where the tall blue lupins
rose between them, vivid in the tender air and very still.

Greatorex also was still. His eyes looked away over the blue spires
of the lupins to the naked hillside. They saw neither the hillside nor
anything between.

When he spoke his voice was thick, almost as though he were in love or

"I knaw what yo mane about those thorn-trees. 'Tisn' no earthly beauty
what yo see in 'em."

"Jim," she said, "shall I always see it?"

"I dawn--knaw. It cooms and it goas, doos sech-like."

"What makes it come?"

"What maakes it coom? Yo knaw better than I can tall yo."

"If I only did know. I'm afraid it's going."

"I can tell yo this for your coomfort. Ef yo soofer enoof mebbe it'll
coom t' yo again. Ef yo're snoog and 'appy sure's death it'll goa."

He paused.

"It 'assn't coom t' mae sence I married Ally."

She was wrong about Jim. He had not forgotten her. He was not saying
these things for himself; he was saying them for her, getting them out
of himself with pain and difficulty. It was odd to think that nobody
but she understood Jim, and that nobody but Jim had ever really
understood her. Steven didn't understand her, any more than Ally
understood her husband. And it made no difference to her, and it made
no difference to Jim.

"I'll tell yo anoother quare thing. 'T' assn't got mooch t' do wi'
good and baad. T' drink 'll nat drive it from yo, an' sin'll nat drive
it from yo. Saw I raakon 't is mooch t' saame thing as t' graace o'

"Did the grace of God go away from you when you married, Jim?"

"Mebbe t' would 'aave ef I'd roon aaffter it. 'Tis a tricky thing is
Gawd's graace."

"But _it's_ gone," she said. "You gave your _soul_ for Ally when you
married her."

He smiled. "I toald 'er I'd give my sawl t' marry 'er," he said.


As she went home she tried to recapture the magic of the flowering
thorn-trees. But it had gone and she could not be persuaded that it
would come again. She was still too young to draw joy from the memory
of joy, and what Greatorex had told her seemed incredible.

She said to herself, "Is it going to be taken from me like everything

And a dreadful duologue went on in her.

"It looks like it."

"But it _was_ mine. It was mine like nothing else."

"It never had anything for you but what you gave it."

"Am I to go on giving the whole blessed time? Am I never to have
anything for myself?"

"There never is anything for anybody but what they give. Or what they
take from somebody else. You should have taken. You had your chance."

"I'd have died, rather."

"Do you call this living?"

"I _have_ lived."

"He hasn't. Why did you sacrifice him?"

"For Mary."

"It wasn't for Mary. It was for yourself. For your own wretched soul."

"For _his_ soul."

"How much do you suppose Mary cares about his soul? It would have had
a chance with you. Its one chance."

The unconsoling voice had the last word. For it was not in answer to
it that a certain phrase came into her brooding mind.

"I couldn't do a caddish thing like that."

It puzzled her. She had said it to Steven that night. But it came
to her now attached to an older memory. Somebody had said it to her

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