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The Three Sisters by May Sinclair

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before then. Years before.

She remembered. It was Ally.


A year passed. It was June again.

For more than a year there had been rumors of changes in Morfe. The
doctor talked of going. He was always talking of going and nobody had
yet believed that he would go. This time, they said, he was serious,
it had been a toss-up whether he stayed or went. But in the end he
stayed. Things had happened in Rowcliffe's family. His mother had died
and his wife had had a son.

Rowcliffe's son was the image of Rowcliffe.

The doctor had no brothers or sisters, and by his mother's death he
came into possession both of his father's income and of hers. He had
now more than a thousand a year over and above what he earned.

On an unearned thousand a year you can live like a rich man in

Not that Rowcliffe had any idea of giving up. He was well under forty
and as soon as old Hyslop at Reyburn died or retired he would step
into his practice. He hadn't half enough to do in Morfe and he wanted

Meanwhile he had bought the house that joined on to his own and thrown
the two and their gardens into one. They had been one twenty years
ago, when the wide-fronted building, with its long rows of windows,
was the dominating house in Morfe village. Rowcliffe was now the
dominating man in it. He had given the old place back its own.

And he had spent any amount of money on it. He had had all the
woodwork painted white, and the whole house repapered and redecorated.
He had laid down parquet flooring in the big square hall that he had
made and in the new drawing-room upstairs; and he had bought a great
deal of beautiful and expensive furniture.

And now he was building a garage and laying out a croquet ground and
tennis lawns at the back.

He and Mary had been superintending these works all afternoon till a
shower sent them indoors. And now they were sitting together in the
drawing-room, in the breathing-space that came between the children's
hour and dinner.

Mary had sent the children back to the nursery a little earlier than
usual. Rowcliffe had complained of headache.

He was always complaining of headaches. They dated from his marriage,
and more particularly from one night in June eight years ago.

But Rowcliffe ignored the evidence of dates. He ignored everything
that made him feel uncomfortable. He had put Gwenda from him. He had
said plainly to Mary (in one poignant moment not long before the birth
of their third child), "If you're worrying about me and Gwenda, you
needn't. She was never anything to me."

That was not saying there had never been anything between them, but
Mary knew what he had meant.

He said to himself, and Mary said that he had got over it. But he
hadn't got over it. He might say to himself and Mary, "She was never
anything to me"; he might put her and the thought of her away from
him, but she had left her mark on him. He hadn't put her away. She was
there, in his heavy eyes and in the irritable gestures of his hands,
in his nerves and in his wounded memory. She had knitted herself into
his secret being.

Mary was unaware of the cause of his malady. If it had been suggested
to her that he had got into this state because of Gwenda she would
have dismissed the idea with contempt. She didn't worry about
Rowcliffe's state. On the contrary, Rowcliffe's state was a
consolation and a satisfaction to her for all that she had endured
through Gwenda. She would have thought you mad if you had told her so,
for she was sorry for Steven and tender to him when he was nervous or
depressed. But to Mary her sorrow and her tenderness were a voluptuous
joy. She even encouraged Rowcliffe in his state. She liked to make it
out worse than it really was, so that he might be more dependent on

And she had found that it could be induced in him by suggestion. She
had only to say to him, "Steven, you're thoroughly worn out," and he
_was_ thoroughly worn out. She had more pleasure, because she had more
confidence, in this lethargic, middle-aged Rowcliffe than in Rowcliffe
young and energetic. His youth had attracted him to Gwenda and
his energy had driven him out of doors. And Mary had set herself,
secretly, insidiously, to destroy them.

It had taken her seven years.

For the first five years it had been hard work for Mary. It had meant,
for her body, an ignominious waiting and watching for the moment when
its appeal would be irresistible, for her soul a complete subservience
to her husband's moods, and for her mind perpetual attention to his
comfort, a thousand cares that had seemed to go unnoticed. But in the
sixth year they had begun to tell. Once Rowcliffe had made up his
mind that Gwenda couldn't be anything to him he had let go and through
sheer exhaustion had fallen more and more into his wife's hands, and
for the last two years her labor had been easy and its end sure.

She had him, bound to her bed and to her fireside.

He said and thought that he was happy. He meant that he was extremely

* * * * *

"Is your head very bad, Steven?"

He shook his head. It wasn't very bad, but he was worried. He was
worried about himself.

From time to time his old self rose against this new self that was
the slave of comfort. It made desperate efforts to shake off the
strangling lethargy. When he went about saying that he was getting
rusty, that he ought never to have left Leeds, and that it would do
him all the good in the world to go back there, he was saying what he
knew to be the truth. The life he was leading was playing the devil
with his nerves and brain. His brain had nothing to do. Hard work
might not be the cure for every kind of nervous trouble, but it was
the one cure for the kind that he had got.

He ought to have gone away seven years ago. It was Gwenda's fault that
he hadn't gone. He felt a dull anger against her as against a woman
who had wrecked his chance.

He had a chance of going now if he cared to take it.

He had had a letter that morning from Dr. Harker asking if he had
meant what he had said a year ago, and if he'd care to exchange his
Rathdale practice for his old practice in Leeds. Harker's wife was
threatened with lung trouble, and they would have to live in the
country somewhere, and Harker himself wouldn't be sorry for the
exchange. His present practice was worth twice what it had been ten
years ago and it was growing. There were all sorts of interesting
things to be done in Leeds by a man of Rowcliffe's keenness and

"Do you know, Steven, you're getting quite stout?"

"I do know," he said almost with bitterness.

"I don't mean horridly stout, dear, just nicely and comfortably

"I'm _too_ comfortable," he said. "I don't do enough work to keep me

"Is that what's bothering you?"

He frowned. It was Harker's letter that was bothering him. He said so.

For one instant Mary looked impatient.

"I thought we'd settled that," she said.

Rowcliffe sighed.

"What on earth makes you want to go and leave this place when you've
spent hundreds on it?"

"I should make pots of money in Leeds."

"But we couldn't live there."

"Why not?"

"It would be too awful. My dear, if it were a big London practice I
shouldn't say no. That might be worth while. But whatever should we
have in Leeds?"

"We haven't much here."

"We've got the county. You might think of the children."

"I do," he said mournfully. "I do. I think of nothing else but the
children--and you. If you wouldn't like it there's an end of it."

"You might think of yourself, dear. You really are not strong enough
for it."

He felt that he really was not.

He changed the subject.

"I saw Gwenda the other day."

"Looking as young as ever, I suppose?"

"No. Not quite so young. I thought she was looking rather ill."

He meditated.

"I wonder why she never comes."

He really did wonder.

* * * * *

"It's a quarter past seven, Steven."

He rose and stretched himself. They went together to the night nursery
where the three children lay in their cots, the little red-haired
girls awake and restless, and the dark-haired baby in his first sleep.
They bent over them together. Mary's lips touched the red hair and the
dark where Steven's lips had been.

They spent the evening sitting by the fire in Rowcliffe's study. The
doctor dozed. Mary, silent over her sewing, was the perfect image of
tranquillity. From time to time she looked at her husband and smiled
as his chin dropped to his breast and recovered itself with a start.

At the stroke of ten she murmured, "Steven, are you ready for bed?"

He rose, stumbling for drowsiness.

As they passed into the square hall he paused and looked round him
before putting out the lights.

"Yes" (he yawned). "Ye-hes. I think we shall do very comfortably here
for the next seven years."

He was thinking of old Hyslop. He had given him seven years.


The next day (it was a Friday), when Mary came home to tea after a
round of ineffectual calling she was told that Miss Gwenda was in the

Mary inquired whether the doctor was in.

Dr. Rowcliffe was in but he was engaged in the surgery.

Mary thought she knew why Gwenda had come to-day.

For the last two or three Wednesdays Rowcliffe had left Garthdale
without calling at the Vicarage.

He had not meant to break his habit, but it happened so. For, this
year, Mary had decided to have a day, from May to October. And her day
was Wednesday.

Her sister had ignored her day, and Mary was offended.

She had every reason. Mary believed in keeping up appearances, and
the appearance she most desired to keep up was that of behaving
beautifully to her sister. This required her sister's co-operation. It
couldn't appear if Gwenda didn't. And Gwenda hadn't given it a chance.
She meant to have it out with her.

She greeted her therefore with a certain challenge.

"What are you keeping away for? Do you suppose we aren't glad to see

"I'm not keeping away," said Gwenda.

"It looks uncommonly like it. Do you know it's two months since you've
been here?"

"Is it? I've lost count."

"I should think you did lose count!"

"I'm sorry, Molly. I couldn't come."

"You talk as if you had engagements every day in Garthdale."

"If it comes to that, it's months since you've been to us."

"It's different for me. I _have_ engagements. And I've my husband and
children too. Steven hates it if I'm out when he comes home."

"And Papa hates it if _I'm_ out."

"It's no use minding what Papa hates. What's making you so sensitive?"

"Living with him."

"Then for goodness sake get away from him when you can. One afternoon
here can't matter to him."

Gwenda said nothing, neither did she look at her. But she answered her
in her heart. "It matters to _me_. It matters to _me_. How stupid
you are if you don't see how it matters. Yet I'd die rather than you
should see."

Mary went on, exasperated by her sister's silence.

"We may as well have it out while we're about it. Why can't you look
me straight in the face and say plump out what I've done?"

"You've done nothing."

"Well, is it Steven, then? Has he done anything?"

"Of course he hasn't. What _could_ he do?"

"Poor Steven, goodness knows! I'm sure I don't. No more does he.

She stopped. Her sister was looking her straight in the face now.

"Unless what?"

"My dear Gwenda, don't glare at me like that. I'm not saying things
and I'm not thinking them. I don't know what _you're_ thinking. If you
weren't so nervy you'd own that I've always been decent to you. I'm
sure I _have_ been. I've always stood up for you. I've always wanted
to have you here----"

"And why shouldn't you?"

Mary blinked. She had seen her blunder.

"I never said you weren't decent to me, Molly."

"You behave as if I weren't."

"How am I to behave?"

"I know it's difficult," said Mary. The memory of her blunder rankled.

"Are you offended because Steven hasn't been to see you?"

"My _dear_ Molly----"

Mary ignored her look of weary tolerance.

"Because you can't expect him to keep on running up to Garthdale when
Papa's all right."

"I don't expect him."

"Well then----!" said Mary with the air of having exhausted all
plausible interpretations.

"If I were offended," said Gwenda, "should I be here?"

The appearance of the tea-tray and the parlormaid absolved Mary from
the embarrassing compulsion to reply. She addressed herself to the

"Tell Dr. Rowcliffe that tea is ready and that Miss Gwendolen is

She really wanted Steven to come and deliver her from the situation
she had created. But Rowcliffe delayed his coming.

"Is it true that Steven's going to give up his practice?" Gwenda said

"Well no--whatever he does he won't do that," said Mary.

She thought, "So that's what she came for. Steven hasn't told her

"What put that idea into your head?" she asked.

"Somebody told me so."

"He _has_ had an offer of Dr. Harker's practice in Leeds, and he'd
some idea of taking it. He seemed to think it might be a good thing."

There was a flicker in the whiteness of Gwenda's face. It arrested

It was not excitement nor dismay nor eagerness, nor even interest.
It was a sort of illumination, the movement of some inner light, the
shining passage of some idea. And in Gwenda's attitude, as it now
presented itself to Mary, there was a curious still withdrawal and
detachment. She seemed hardly to listen but to be preoccupied with her

"He thought it would be a good thing," she said.

"I think I've convinced him," said Mary, "that it wouldn't."

Gwenda was stiller and more withdrawn than ever, guarding her idea.

"Can I see Steven before I go?" she said presently.

"Of course. He'll be up in a second----"

"I can't--here."

Mary stared. She understood.

"You're ill. Poor dear, you shall see him this minute."

She rang the bell.


Five minutes passed before Rowcliffe came to Gwenda in the study.

"Forgive me," he said. "I had a troublesome patient."

"Don't be afraid. You're not going to have another."

"Come, _you_ haven't troubled me much, anyhow. This is the first time,
isn't it?"

Yes, she thought, it was the first time. And it would be the last.
There had not been many ways of seeing Steven, but this way had always
been open to her if she had cared to take it. But it had been of all
ways the most repugnant to her, and she had never taken it till now
when she was driven to it.

"Mary tells me you're not feeling very fit."

He was utterly gentle, as he was with all sick and suffering things.

"I'm all right. That's not why I want to see you."

He was faintly surprised. "What is it, then? Sit down and tell me."

She sat down. They had Steven's table as a barrier between them.

"You've been thinking of leaving Rathdale, haven't you?" she said.

"I've been thinking of leaving it for the last seven years. But I
haven't left it yet. I don't suppose I shall leave it now."

"Even when you've got the chance?"

"Even when I've got the chance."

"You said you wanted to go, and you do, don't you?"

"Well, yes--for some things."

"Would you think me an awful brute if I said I wanted you to go?"

He gave her a little queer, puzzled look.

"I wouldn't think you a brute whatever you wanted. Do you mind my
smoking a cigarette?"


She waited.


"I wish I hadn't made you stay."

"You're not making me stay."

"I mean--that time. Do you remember?"

He smiled a little smile of reminiscent tenderness.

"Yes, yes. I remember."

"I didn't understand, Steven."

"Well, well. There's no need to go back on that now. It's done,

"Yes. And I did it. I wouldn't have done it if I'd known what it
meant. I didn't think it would have been like this."

"Like what?"

Rowcliffe's smile that had been reminiscent was now vague and
obscurely speculative.

"I ought to have let you go when you wanted to," she said.

Rowcliffe looked down at the table. She sat leaning sideways against
it; one thin arm was stretched out on it. The hand gripped the paper
weight that he had pushed away. It was this hand, so tense and yet so
helpless, that he was looking at. He laid his own over it gently. Its
grip slackened then. It lay lax under the sheltering hand.

"Don't worry about that, my dear," he said. "It's been all right----"

"It hasn't. It hasn't."

Rowcliffe's nerves winced before her fierce intensity. He withdrew his
sheltering hand.

"Just at first," she said, "it was all right. But you see--it's broken
down. You said it would."

"You mustn't keep on bothering about what I said."

"It isn't what you said. It's what is. It's this place. We're all tied
up together in it, tight. We can't get away from each other. It isn't
as if I could leave. I'm stuck here with Papa."

"My dear Gwenda, did I ever say you ought to leave?"

"No. You said _you_ ought. It's the same thing."

"It isn't. And I don't say it now. What is the earthly use of going
back on things? That's what makes you ill. Put it straight out of your
mind. You know I can't help you if you go on like this."

"You can."

"My dear, I wish I knew how. You asked me to stay and I stayed. I can
understand _that_."

"If I asked you to go, would you go, Steven? Would you understand that

"My dear child, what good would that do you?"

"I want you to go, Steven."

"You want me to go?"

He screwed up his eyes as if he were trying to see the thing clearly.

"Yes," she said.

He shook his head. He had given it up.

"No, my dear, you don't want me to go. You only think you do. You
don't know what you want."

"I shouldn't say it if I didn't."

"Wouldn't you! It's exactly what you would say. Do you suppose I don't
know you?"

She had both her arms stretched before him on the table now. The hands
were clasped. The little thin hands implored him. Her eyes implored
him. In the tense clasp and in the gaze there was the passion of
entreaty that she kept out of her voice.

But Rowcliffe did not see it. He had shifted his position, sinking a
little lower into his chair, and his head was bowed before her. His
eyes, somberly reflective, looked straight in front of him under their
bent brows.

He seemed to be really considering whether he would go or stay.

"No," he said presently. "No, I'm not going."

But he was dubious and deliberate. It was as if he still weighed it,
still watched for the turning of the scale.

The clock across the market-place struck eight. He gathered himself
together. And it was then as if the strokes, falling on his ear, set
free some blocked movement in his brain.

"No," he said, "I don't see how I can go, as things are. Besides--it
isn't necessary."

"I see," she said.

* * * * *

She rose. She gave him a long look. A look that was still incredulous
of what it saw.

His eyes refused to meet it as he rose also.

They stood so for a moment without any speech but that of eyes lifted
and eyes lowered.

Still without a word, she turned from him to the door.

He sprang to open it.

* * * * *

Five minutes later he was aware that his wife had come into the room.

"Has Gwenda gone?" he said.

"Yes. Steven----" There was a small, fluttering fright in Mary's eyes.
"Is there anything the matter with her?"

"No," he said. "Nothing. Except living with your father."


Gwenda had no feeling in her as she left Rowcliffe's house. Her heart
hid in her breast. It was so mortally wounded as to be unaware that it
was hurt.

But at the turn of the white road her heart stirred in its
hiding-place. It stirred at the sight of Karva and with the wind that
brought her the smell of the flowering thorn-trees.

It discerned in these things a power that would before long make her

She had no other sense of them.

* * * * *

She came to the drop of the road under Karva where she had seen
Rowcliffe for the first time.

She thought, "I shall never get away from it."

Far off in the bottom the village waited for her.

It had always waited for her; but she was afraid of it now, afraid of
what it might have in store for her. It shared her fear as it crouched
there, like a beaten thing, with its huddled houses, naked and
blackened as if fire had passed over them.

And Essy Gale stood at the Vicarage gate and waited. She had her child
at her side. The two were looking for Gwenda.

"I thought mebbe something had 'appened t' yo," she said.

As if she had seen what had happened to her she hurried the child in
out of her sight.

Ten minutes to ten.

In the small dull room Gwenda waited for the hour of her deliverance.
She had taken up her sewing and her book.

The Vicar sat silent, waiting, he too, with his hands folded on his

And, loud through the quiet house, she heard the sound of crying and
Essy's voice scolding her little son, avenging on him the cruelty of

On Greffington Edge, under the risen moon, the white thorn-trees
flowered in their glory.


The following pages contain advertisements of Macmillan books by the
same author, and new fiction.


The Return of the Prodigal

Cloth, 12mo. $1.35 net.

"These are stories to be read leisurely with a feeling for the stylish
and the careful workmanship which is always a part of May Sinclair's
work. They need no recommendation to those who know the author's work
and one of the things on which we may congratulate ourselves is the
fact that so many Americans are her reading friends."--_Kansas City

"They are the product of a master workman who has both skill and art,
and who scorns to produce less than the best."--_Buffalo Express._

"Always a clever writer, Miss Sinclair at her best is an exceptionally
interesting one, and in several of the tales bound together in this
new volume we have her at her best."--_N.Y. Times._

"... All of which show the same sensitive apprehension of unusual
cases and delicate relations, and reveal a truth which would be hidden
from the hasty or blunt observer."--_Boston Transcript._

"One of the best of the many collections of stories published this
season."--_N.Y. Sun._

"... All these stories are of deep interest because all of them are
out of the rut."--_Kentucky Post._

"Let no one who cares for good and sincere work neglect this
book."--_London Post._

"The stories are touched with a peculiar delicacy and
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* * * * *



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Book of the day: