Part 6 out of 7
drive. We 'ave to draw it, o' course, from the pit, but--'
Midmore looked at her helplessly.
'Rhoda,' said he, 'what am I supposed to do?'
'Oh, let 'em come through,' she replied. 'You never know. You may want
to 'unt yourself some day.'
That evening it rained and his misery returned on him, the worse for
having been diverted. At last he was driven to paw over a few score
books in a panelled room called the library, and realised with horror
what the late Colonel Werf's mind must have been in its prime. The
volumes smelt of a dead world as strongly as they did of mildew. He
opened and thrust them back, one after another, till crude coloured
illustrations of men on horses held his eye. He began at random and read
a little, moved into the drawing-room with the volume, and settled down
by the fire still reading. It was a foul world into which he peeped for
the first time--a heavy-eating, hard-drinking hell of horse-copers,
swindlers, matchmaking mothers, economically dependent virgins selling
themselves blushingly for cash and lands: Jews, tradesmen, and an
ill-considered spawn of Dickens-and-horsedung characters (I give
Midmore's own criticism), but he read on, fascinated, and behold, from
the pages leaped, as it were, the brother to the red-eyed man of the
brook, bellowing at a landlord (here Midmore realised that _he_ was that
very animal) for new barns; and another man who, like himself again,
objected to hoof-marks on gravel. Outrageous as thought and conception
were, the stuff seemed to have the rudiments of observation. He dug out
other volumes by the same author, till Rhoda came in with a silver
'Rhoda,' said he, 'did you ever hear about a character called James
'Why, o' course,' said she. 'The Colonel used to come into the kitchen
in 'is dressin'-gown an' read us all those Jorrockses.'
'Oh, Lord!' said Midmore, and went to bed with a book called _Handley
Cross_ under his arm, and a lonelier Columbus into a stranger world the
wet-ringed moon never looked upon.
* * * * *
Here we omit much. But Midmore never denied that for the epicure in
sensation the urgent needs of an ancient house, as interpreted by Rhoda
pointing to daylight through attic-tiles held in place by moss, gives an
edge to the pleasure of Social Research elsewhere. Equally he found that
the reaction following prolonged research loses much of its grey terror
if one knows one can at will bathe the soul in the society of plumbers
(all the water-pipes had chronic appendicitis), village idiots (Jimmy
had taken Midmore under his weak wing and camped daily at the
drive-gates), and a giant with red eyelids whose every action is an
Towards spring Midmore filled his house with a few friends of the
Immoderate Left. It happened to be the day when, all things and Rhoda
working together, a cartload of bricks, another of sand, and some bags
of lime had been despatched to build Sidney his almost daily-demanded
pig-pound. Midmore took his friends across the flat fields with some
idea of showing them Sidney as a type of 'the peasantry.' They hit the
minute when Sidney, hoarse with rage, was ordering bricklayer, mate,
carts and all off his premises. The visitors disposed themselves
'You never give me no notice about changin' the pig,' Sidney shouted.
The pig--at least eighteen inches long--reared on end in the old sty and
smiled at the company.
'But, my good man--' Midmore opened.
'I ain't! For aught you know I be a dam' sight worse than you be. You
can't come and be'ave arbit'ry with me. You _are_ be'avin' arbit'ry! All
you men go clean away an' don't set foot on my land till I bid ye.'
'But you asked'--Midmore felt his voice jump up--'to have the pig-pound
''Spose I did. That's no reason you shouldn't send me notice to change
the pig. 'Comin' down on me like this 'thout warnin'! That pig's got to
be got into the cowshed an' all.'
'Then open the door and let him run in,' said Midmore.
'Don't you be'ave arbit'ry with _me_! Take all your dam' men 'ome off my
land. I won't be treated arbit'ry.'
The carts moved off without a word, and Sidney went into the house and
slammed the door.
'Now, I hold that is enormously significant,' said a visitor. 'Here you
have the logical outcome of centuries of feudal oppression--the frenzy
of fear.' The company looked at Midmore with grave pain.
'But he _did_ worry my life out about his pig-sty,' was all Midmore
found to say.
Others took up the parable and proved to him if he only held true to the
gospels of the Immoderate Left the earth would soon be covered with
'jolly little' pig-sties, built in the intervals of morris-dancing by
'the peasant' himself.
Midmore felt grateful when the door opened again and Mr. Sidney invited
them all to retire to the road which, he pointed out, was public. As
they turned the corner of the house, a smooth-faced woman in a widow's
cap curtsied to each of them through the window.
Instantly they drew pictures of that woman's lot, deprived of all
vehicle for self-expression--'the set grey life and apathetic end,' one
quoted--and they discussed the tremendous significance of village
theatricals. Even a month ago Midmore would have told them all that he
knew and Rhoda had dropped about Sidney's forms of self-expression. Now,
for some strange reason, he was content to let the talk run on from
village to metropolitan and world drama.
Rhoda advised him after the visitors left that 'if he wanted to do that
again' he had better go up to town.
'But we only sat on cushions on the floor,' said her master.
'They're too old for romps,' she retorted, 'an' it's only the beginning
of things. I've seen what _I've_ seen. Besides, they talked and laughed
in the passage going to their baths--such as took 'em.'
'Don't be a fool, Rhoda,' said Midmore. No man--unless he has loved
her--will casually dismiss a woman on whose lap he has laid his head.
'Very good,' she snorted, 'but that cuts both ways. An' now, you go down
to Sidney's this evenin' and put him where he ought to be. He was in his
right about you givin' 'im notice about changin' the pig, but he 'adn't
any right to turn it up before your company. No manners, no pig-pound.
Midmore did his best to make him. He found himself reviling the old man
in speech and with a joy quite new in all his experience. He wound
up--it was a plagiarism from a plumber--by telling Mr. Sidney that he
looked like a turkey-cock, had the morals of a parish bull, and need
never hope for a new pig-pound as long as he or Midmore lived.
'Very good,' said the giant. 'I reckon you thought you 'ad something
against me, and now you've come down an' told it me like man to man.
Quite right. I don't bear malice. Now, you send along those bricks an'
sand, an' I'll make a do to build the pig-pound myself. If you look at
my lease you'll find out you're bound to provide me materials for the
repairs. Only--only I thought there'd be no 'arm in my askin' you to do
it throughout like.'
Midmore fairly gasped. 'Then, why the devil did you turn my carts back
when--when I sent them up here to do it throughout for you?'
Mr. Sidney sat down on the floodgates, his eyebrows knitted in thought.
'I'll tell you,' he said slowly. ''Twas too dam' like cheatin' a suckin'
baby. My woman, she said so too.'
For a few seconds the teachings of the Immoderate Left, whose humour is
all their own, wrestled with those of Mother Earth, who has her own
humours. Then Midmore laughed till he could scarcely stand. In due time
Mr. Sidney laughed too--crowing and wheezing crescendo till it broke
from him in roars. They shook hands, and Midmore went home grateful that
he had held his tongue among his companions.
When he reached his house he met three or four men and women on
horse-back, very muddy indeed, coming down the drive. Feeling hungry
himself, he asked them if they were hungry. They said they were, and he
bade them enter. Jimmy took their horses, who seemed to know him. Rhoda
took their battered hats, led the women upstairs for hairpins, and
presently fed them all with tea-cakes, poached eggs, anchovy toast, and
drinks from a coromandel-wood liqueur case which Midmore had never known
that he possessed.
'And I _will_ say,' said Miss Connie Sperrit, her spurred foot on the
fender and a smoking muffin in her whip hand, 'Rhoda does one top-hole.
She always did since I was eight.'
'Seven, Miss, was when you began to 'unt,' said Rhoda, setting down more
'And so,' the M.F.H. was saying to Midmore, 'when he got to your brute
Sidney's land, we had to whip 'em off. It's a regular Alsatia for 'em.
They know it. Why'--he dropped his voice--'I don't want to say anything
against Sidney as your tenant, of course, but I do believe the old
scoundrel's perfectly capable of putting down poison.'
'Sidney's capable of anything,' said Midmore with immense feeling; but
once again he held his tongue. They were a queer community; yet when
they had stamped and jingled out to their horses again, the house felt
hugely big and disconcerting.
This may be reckoned the conscious beginning of his double life. It ran
in odd channels that summer--a riding school, for instance, near Hayes
Common and a shooting ground near Wormwood Scrubs. A man who has been
saddle-galled or shoulder-bruised for half the day is not at his London
best of evenings; and when the bills for his amusements come in he
curtails his expenses in other directions. So a cloud settled on
Midmore's name. His London world talked of a hardening of heart and a
tightening of purse-strings which signified disloyalty to the Cause. One
man, a confidant of the old expressive days, attacked him robustiously
and demanded account of his soul's progress. It was not furnished, for
Midmore was calculating how much it would cost to repave stables so
dilapidated that even the village idiot apologised for putting visitors'
horses into them. The man went away, and served up what he had heard of
the pig-pound episode as a little newspaper sketch, calculated to annoy.
Midmore read it with an eye as practical as a woman's, and since most of
his experiences had been among women, at once sought out a woman to whom
he might tell his sorrow at the disloyalty of his own familiar friend.
She was so sympathetic that he went on to confide how his bruised
heart--she knew all about it--had found so-lace, with a long O, in
another quarter which he indicated rather carefully in case it might be
betrayed to other loyal friends. As his hints pointed directly towards
facile Hampstead, and as his urgent business was the purchase of a horse
from a dealer, Beckenham way, he felt he had done good work. Later, when
his friend, the scribe, talked to him alluringly of 'secret gardens' and
those so-laces to which every man who follows the Wider Morality is
entitled, Midmore lent him a five-pound note which he had got back on
the price of a ninety-guinea bay gelding. So true it is, as he read in
one of the late Colonel Werf's books, that 'the young man of the present
day would sooner lie under an imputation against his morals than against
his knowledge of horse-flesh.'
Midmore desired more than he desired anything else at that moment to
ride and, above all, to jump on a ninety-guinea bay gelding with black
points and a slovenly habit of hitting his fences. He did not wish many
people except Mr. Sidney, who very kindly lent his soft meadow behind
the floodgates, to be privy to the matter, which he rightly foresaw
would take him to the autumn. So he told such friends as hinted at
country week-end visits that he had practically let his newly inherited
house. The rent, he said, was an object to him, for he had lately lost
large sums through ill-considered benevolences. He would name no names,
but they could guess. And they guessed loyally all round the circle of
his acquaintance as they spread the news that explained so much.
There remained only one couple of his once intimate associates to
pacify. They were deeply sympathetic and utterly loyal, of course, but
as curious as any of the apes whose diet they had adopted. Midmore met
them in a suburban train, coming up to town, not twenty minutes after he
had come off two hours' advanced tuition (one guinea an hour) over
hurdles in a hall. He had, of course, changed his kit, but his too heavy
bridle-hand shook a little among the newspapers. On the inspiration of
the moment, which is your natural liar's best hold, he told them that he
was condemned to a rest-cure. He would lie in semi-darkness drinking
milk, for weeks and weeks, cut off even from letters. He was astonished
and delighted at the ease with which the usual lie confounds the unusual
intellect. They swallowed it as swiftly as they recommended him to live
on nuts and fruit; but he saw in the woman's eyes the exact reason she
would set forth for his retirement. After all, she had as much right to
express herself as he purposed to take for himself; and Midmore believed
strongly in the fullest equality of the sexes.
That retirement made one small ripple in the strenuous world. The lady
who had written the twelve-page letter ten months before sent him
another of eight pages, analysing all the motives that were leading her
back to him--should she come?--now that he was ill and alone. Much might
yet be retrieved, she said, out of the waste of jarring lives and
piteous misunderstandings. It needed only a hand.
But Midmore needed two, next morning very early, for a devil's
diversion, among wet coppices, called 'cubbing.'
'You haven't a bad seat,' said Miss Sperrit through the morning-mists.
'But you're worrying him.'
'He pulls so,' Midmore grunted.
'Let him alone, then. Look out for the branches,' she shouted, as they
whirled up a splashy ride. Cubs were plentiful. Most of the hounds
attached themselves to a straight-necked youngster of education who
scuttled out of the woods into the open fields below.
'Hold on!' some one shouted. 'Turn 'em, Midmore. That's your brute
Sidney's land. It's all wire.'
'Oh, Connie, stop!' Mrs. Sperrit shrieked as her daughter charged at a
'Wire be damned! I had it all out a fortnight ago. Come on!' This was
Midmore, buffeting into it a little lower down.
'_I_ knew that!' Connie cried over her shoulder, and she flitted across
the open pasture, humming to herself.
'Oh, of course! If some people have private information, they can afford
to thrust.' This was a snuff-coloured habit into which Miss Sperrit had
cannoned down the ride.
'What! 'Midmore got Sidney to heel? _You_ never did that, Sperrit.' This
was Mr. Fisher, M.F.H., enlarging the breach Midmore had made.
'No, confound him!' said the father testily. 'Go on, sir! _Injecto ter
pulvere_--you've kicked half the ditch into my eye already.'
They killed that cub a little short of the haven his mother had told him
to make for--a two-acre Alsatia of a gorse-patch to which the M.F.H. had
been denied access for the last fifteen seasons. He expressed his
gratitude before all the field and Mr. Sidney, at Mr. Sidney's
'And if there should be any poultry claims--' he went on.
'There won't be,' said Midmore. 'It's too like cheating a sucking child,
isn't it, Mr. Sidney?'
'You've got me!' was all the reply. 'I be used to bein' put upon, but
you've got me, Mus' Midmore.'
Midmore pointed to a new brick pig-pound built in strict disregard of
the terms of the life-tenant's lease. The gesture told the tale to the
few who did not know, and they shouted.
Such pagan delights as these were followed by pagan sloth of evenings
when men and women elsewhere are at their brightest. But Midmore
preferred to lie out on a yellow silk couch, reading works of a debasing
vulgarity; or, by invitation, to dine with the Sperrits and savages of
their kidney. These did not expect flights of fancy or phrasing. They
lied, except about horses, grudgingly and of necessity, not for art's
sake; and, men and women alike, they expressed themselves along their
chosen lines with the serene indifference of the larger animals. Then
Midmore would go home and identify them, one by one, out of the
natural-history books by Mr. Surtees, on the table beside the sofa. At
first they looked upon him coolly, but when the tale of the removed wire
and the recaptured gorse had gone the rounds, they accepted him for a
person willing to play their games. True, a faction suspended judgment
for a while, because they shot, and hoped that Midmore would serve the
glorious mammon of pheasant-raising rather than the unkempt god of
fox-hunting. But after he had shown his choice, they did not ask by what
intellectual process he had arrived at it. He hunted three, sometimes
four, times a week, which necessitated not only one bay gelding (L94:
10s.), but a mannerly white-stockinged chestnut (L114), and a black
mare, rather long in the back but with a mouth of silk (L150), who so
evidently preferred to carry a lady that it would have been cruel to
have baulked her. Besides, with that handling she could be sold at a
profit. And besides, the hunt was a quiet, intimate, kindly little hunt,
not anxious for strangers, of good report in the _Field_, the servant of
one M.F.H., given to hospitality, riding well its own horses, and, with
the exception of Midmore, not novices. But as Miss Sperrit observed,
after the M.F.H. had said some things to him at a gate: 'It _is_ a pity
you don't know as much as your horse, but you will in time. It takes
years and yee-ars. I've been at it for fifteen and I'm only just
learning. But you've made a decent kick-off.'
So he kicked off in wind and wet and mud, wondering quite sincerely why
the bubbling ditches and sucking pastures held him from day to day, or
what so-lace he could find on off days in chasing grooms and
brick-layers round outhouses.
To make sure he up-rooted himself one week-end of heavy mid-winter rain,
and re-entered his lost world in the character of Galahad fresh from a
rest-cure. They all agreed, with an eye over his shoulder for the next
comer, that he was a different man; but when they asked him for the
symptoms of nervous strain, and led him all through their own, he
realised he had lost much of his old skill in lying. His three months'
absence, too, had put him hopelessly behind the London field. The
movements, the allusions, the slang of the game had changed. The couples
had rearranged themselves or were re-crystallizing in fresh triangles,
whereby he put his foot in it badly. Only one great soul (he who had
written the account of the pig-pound episode) stood untouched by the
vast flux of time, and Midmore lent him another fiver for his integrity.
A woman took him, in the wet forenoon, to a pronouncement on the Oneness
of Impulse in Humanity, which struck him as a polysyllabic _resume_ of
Mr. Sidney's domestic arrangements, plus a clarion call to 'shock
civilisation into common-sense.'
'And you'll come to tea with me to-morrow?' she asked, after lunch,
nibbling cashew nuts from a saucer. Midmore replied that there were
great arrears of work to overtake when a man had been put away for
'But you've come back like a giant refreshed.... I hope that
Daphne'--this was the lady of the twelve and the eight-page
letter--'will be with us too. She has misunderstood herself, like so
many of us,' the woman murmured, 'but I think eventually ...' she flung
out her thin little hands. 'However, these are things that each lonely
soul must adjust for itself.'
'Indeed, yes,' said Midmore with a deep sigh. The old tricks were
sprouting in the old atmosphere like mushrooms in a dung-pit. He passed
into an abrupt reverie, shook his head, as though stung by tumultuous
memories, and departed without any ceremony of farewell to--catch a
mid-afternoon express where a man meets associates who talk horse, and
weather as it affects the horse, all the way down. What worried him most
was that he had missed a day with the hounds.
He met Rhoda's keen old eyes without flinching; and the drawing-room
looked very comfortable that wet evening at tea. After all, his visit to
town had not been wholly a failure. He had burned quite a bushel of
letters at his flat. A flat--here he reached mechanically towards the
worn volumes near the sofa--a flat was a consuming animal. As for
Daphne ... he opened at random on the words: 'His lordship then did as
desired and disclosed a _tableau_ of considerable strength and variety.'
Midmore reflected: 'And I used to think.... But she wasn't.... We were
all babblers and skirters together.... I didn't babble much--thank
goodness--but I skirted.' He turned the pages backward for more _Sortes
Surteesianae_, and read: 'When at length they rose to go to bed it
struck each man as he followed his neighbour upstairs, that the man
before him walked very crookedly.' He laughed aloud at the fire.
'What about to-morrow?' Rhoda asked, entering with garments over her
shoulder. 'It's never stopped raining since you left. You'll be
plastered out of sight an' all in five minutes. You'd better wear your
next best, 'adn't you? I'm afraid they've shrank. 'Adn't you best
try 'em on?'
'Here?' said Midmore.
''Suit yourself. I bathed you when you wasn't larger than a leg o'
lamb,' said the ex-ladies'-maid.
'Rhoda, one of these days I shall get a valet, and a married butler.'
'There's many a true word spoke in jest. But nobody's huntin'
'Why? Have they cancelled the meet?'
'They say it only means slipping and over-reaching in the mud, and they
all 'ad enough of that to-day. Charlie told me so just now.'
'Oh!' It seemed that the word of Mr. Sperrit's confidential clerk had
'Charlie came down to help Mr. Sidney lift the gates,' Rhoda continued.
'The floodgates? They are perfectly easy to handle now. I've put in a
wheel and a winch.'
'When the brook's really up they must be took clean out on account of
the rubbish blockin' 'em. That's why Charlie came down.'
Midmore grunted impatiently. 'Everybody has talked to me about that
brook ever since I came here. It's never done anything yet.'
'This 'as been a dry summer. If you care to look now, sir, I'll get you
She paddled out with him into a large wet night. Half-way down the lawn
her light was reflected on shallow brown water, pricked through with
grass blades at the edges. Beyond that light, the brook was strangling
and kicking among hedges and tree-trunks.
'What on earth will happen to the big rose-bed?' was Midmore's first
'It generally 'as to be restocked after a flood. Ah!' she raised her
lantern. 'There's two garden-seats knockin' against the sun-dial. Now,
that won't do the roses any good.'
'This is too absurd. There ought to be some decently thought-out
system--for--for dealing with this sort of thing.' He peered into the
rushing gloom. There seemed to be no end to the moisture and the racket.
In town he had noticed nothing.
'It can't be 'elped,' said Rhoda. 'It's just what it does do once in
just so often. We'd better go back.'
All earth under foot was sliding in a thousand liquid noises towards
the hoarse brook. Somebody wailed from the house: ''Fraid o' the water!
Come 'ere! 'Fraid o' the water!'
'That's Jimmy. Wet always takes 'im that way,' she explained. The idiot
charged into them, shaking with terror.
'Brave Jimmy! How brave of Jimmy! Come into the hall. What Jimmy got
now?' she crooned. It was a sodden note which ran: 'Dear Rhoda--Mr.
Lotten, with whom I rode home this afternoon, told me that if this wet
keeps up, he's afraid the fish-pond he built last year, where Coxen's
old mill-dam was, will go, as the dam did once before, he says. If it
does it's bound to come down the brook. It may be all right, but perhaps
you had better look out. C.S.'
'If Coxen's dam goes, that means.... I'll 'ave the drawing-room carpet
up at once to be on the safe side. The claw-'ammer is in the libery.'
'Wait a minute. Sidney's gates are out, you said?'
'Both. He'll need it if Coxen's pond goes.... I've seen it once.'
'I'll just slip down and have a look at Sidney. Light the lantern again,
'You won't get _him_ to stir. He's been there since he was born. But
_she_ don't know anything. I'll fetch your waterproof and some
''Fraid o' the water! 'Fraid o' the water!' Jimmy sobbed, pressed
against a corner of the hall, his hands to his eyes.
'All right, Jimmy. Jimmy can help play with the carpet,' Rhoda
answered, as Midmore went forth into the darkness and the roarings all
round. He had never seen such an utterly unregulated state of affairs.
There was another lantern reflected on the streaming drive.
'Hi! Rhoda! Did you get my note? I came down to make sure. I thought,
afterwards, Jimmy might funk the water!'
'It's me--Miss Sperrit,' Midmore cried. 'Yes, we got it, thanks.'
'You're back, then. Oh, good!... Is it bad down with you?'
'I'm going to Sidney's to have a look.'
'You won't get _him_ out. 'Lucky I met Bob Lotten. I told him he hadn't
any business impounding water for his idiotic trout without
rebuilding the dam.'
'How far up is it? I've only been there once.'
'Not more than four miles as the water will come. He says he's opened
all the sluices.'
She had turned and fallen into step beside him, her hooded head bowed
against the thinning rain. As usual she was humming to herself.
'Why on earth did you come out in this weather?' Midmore asked.
'It was worse when you were in town. The rain's taking off now. If it
wasn't for that pond, I wouldn't worry so much. There's Sidney's bell.
Come on!' She broke into a run. A cracked bell was jangling feebly down
'Keep on the road!' Midmore shouted. The ditches were snorting
bank-full on either side, and towards the brook-side the fields were
afloat and beginning to move in the darkness.
'Catch me going off it! There's his light burning all right.' She halted
undistressed at a little rise. 'But the flood's in the orchard. Look!'
She swung her lantern to show a front rank of old apple-trees reflected
in still, out-lying waters beyond the half-drowned hedge. They could
hear above the thud-thud of the gorged floodgates, shrieks in two keys
as monotonous as a steam-organ.
'The high one's the pig.' Miss Sperrit laughed.
'All right! I'll get _her_ out. You stay where you are, and I'll see you
'But the water's only just over the road,' she objected.
'Never mind. Don't you move. Promise?'
'All right. You take my stick, then, and feel for holes in case
anything's washed out anywhere. This _is_ a lark!'
Midmore took it, and stepped into the water that moved sluggishly as yet
across the farm road which ran to Sidney's front door from the raised
and metalled public road. It was half way up to his knees when he
knocked. As he looked back Miss Sperrit's lantern seemed to float in
'You can't come in or the water'll come with you. I've bunged up all the
cracks,' Mr. Sidney shouted from within. 'Who be ye?'
'Take me out! Take me out!' the woman shrieked, and the pig from his
sty behind the house urgently seconded the motion.
'I'm Midmore! Coxen's old mill-dam is likely to go, they say. Come out!'
'I told 'em it would when they made a fish-pond of it. 'Twasn't ever
puddled proper. But it's a middlin' wide valley. She's got room to
spread.... Keep still, or I'll take and duck you in the cellar!... You
go 'ome, Mus' Midmore, an' take the law o' Mus' Lotten soon's you've
changed your socks.'
'Confound you, aren't you coming out?'
'To catch my death o' cold? I'm all right where I be. I've seen it
before. But you can take _her_. She's no sort o' use or sense.... Climb
out through the window. Didn't I tell you I'd plugged the door-cracks,
you fool's daughter?' The parlour window opened, and the woman flung
herself into Midmore's arms, nearly knocking him down. Mr. Sidney leaned
out of the window, pipe in mouth.
'Take her 'ome,' he said, and added oracularly:
'Two women in one house,
Two cats an' one mouse,
Two dogs an' one bone--
Which I will leave alone.
I've seen it before.' Then he shut and fastened the window.
'A trap! A trap! You had ought to have brought a trap for me. I'll be
drowned in this wet,' the woman cried.
'Hold up! You can't be any wetter than you are. Come along!' Midmore
did not at all like the feel of the water over his boot-tops.
'Hooray! Come along!' Miss Sperrit's lantern, not fifty yards away,
The woman threshed towards it like a panic-stricken goose, fell on her
knees, was jerked up again by Midmore, and pushed on till she collapsed
at Miss Sperrit's feet.
'But you won't get bronchitis if you go straight to Mr. Midmore's
house,' said the unsympathetic maiden.
'O Gawd! O Gawd! I wish our 'eavenly Father 'ud forgive me my sins an'
call me 'ome,' the woman sobbed. 'But I won't go to _'is_ 'ouse!
'All right, then. Stay here. Now, if we run,' Miss Sperrit whispered to
Midmore, 'she'll follow us. Not too fast!'
They set off at a considerable trot, and the woman lumbered behind them,
bellowing, till they met a third lantern--Rhoda holding Jimmy's hand.
She had got the carpet up, she said, and was escorting Jimmy past the
water that he dreaded.
'That's all right,' Miss Sperrit pronounced. 'Take Mrs. Sidney back with
you, Rhoda, and put her to bed. I'll take Jimmy with me. You aren't
afraid of the water now, are you, Jimmy?'
'Not afraid of anything now.' Jimmy reached for her hand. 'But get away
from the water quick.'
'I'm coming with you,' Midmore interrupted.
'You most certainly are not. You're drenched. She threw you twice. Go
home and change. You may have to be out again all night. It's only
half-past seven now. I'm perfectly safe.' She flung herself lightly over
a stile, and hurried uphill by the foot-path, out of reach of all but
the boasts of the flood below.
Rhoda, dead silent, herded Mrs. Sidney to the house.
'You'll find your things laid out on the bed,' she said to Midmore as he
came up. I'll attend to--to this. _She's_ got nothing to cry for.'
Midmore raced into dry kit, and raced uphill to be rewarded by the sight
of the lantern just turning into the Sperrits' gate. He came back by way
of Sidney's farm, where he saw the light twinkling across three acres of
shining water, for the rain had ceased and the clouds were stripping
overhead, though the brook was noisier than ever. Now there was only
that doubtful mill-pond to look after--that and his swirling world
abandoned to himself alone.
'We shall have to sit up for it,' said Rhoda after dinner. And as the
drawing-room commanded the best view of the rising flood, they watched
it from there for a long time, while all the clocks of the house bore
''Tisn't the water, it's the mud on the skirting-board after it goes
down that I mind,' Rhoda whispered. 'The last time Coxen's mill broke, I
remember it came up to the second--no, third--step o' Mr.
'What did Sidney do about it?'
'He made a notch on the step. 'E said it was a record. Just like 'im.'
'It's up to the drive now,' said Midmore after another long wait. 'And
the rain stopped before eight, you know.'
'Then Coxen's dam _'as_ broke, and that's the first of the flood-water.'
She stared out beside him. The water was rising in sudden pulses--an
inch or two at a time, with great sweeps and lagoons and a sudden
increase of the brook's proper thunder.
'You can't stand all the time. Take a chair,' Midmore said presently.
Rhoda looked back into the bare room. 'The carpet bein' up _does_ make a
difference. Thank you, sir, I _will_ 'ave a set-down.'
''Right over the drive now,' said Midmore. He opened the window and
leaned out. 'Is that wind up the valley, Rhoda?'
'No, that's _it_! But I've seen it before.'
There was not so much a roar as the purposeful drive of a tide across a
jagged reef, which put down every other sound for twenty minutes. A wide
sheet of water hurried up to the little terrace on which the house
stood, pushed round either corner, rose again and stretched, as it were,
yawning beneath the moonlight, joined other sheets waiting for them in
unsuspected hollows, and lay out all in one. A puff of wind followed.
'It's right up to the wall now. I can touch it with my finger.' Midmore
bent over the window-sill.
'I can 'ear it in the cellars,' said Rhoda dolefully. 'Well, we've done
what we can! I think I'll 'ave a look.' She left the room and was absent
half an hour or more, during which time he saw a full-grown tree
hauling itself across the lawn by its naked roots. Then a hurdle knocked
against the wall, caught on an iron foot-scraper just outside, and made
a square-headed ripple. The cascade through the cellar-windows
'It's dropping,' Rhoda cried, as she returned. 'It's only tricklin' into
my cellars now.'
'Wait a minute. I believe--I believe I can see the scraper on the edge
of the drive just showing!'
In another ten minutes the drive itself roughened and became gravel
again, tilting all its water towards the shrubbery.
'The pond's gone past,' Rhoda announced. 'We shall only 'ave the common
flood to contend with now. You'd better go to bed.'
'I ought to go down and have another look at Sidney before daylight.'
'No need. You can see 'is light burnin' from all the upstairs windows.'
'By the way. I forgot about _her_. Where've you put her?'
'In my bed.' Rhoda's tone was ice. 'I wasn't going to undo a room for
'But it--it couldn't be helped,' said Midmore. 'She was half drowned.
One mustn't be narrow-minded, Rhoda, even if her position isn't
'Pfff! I wasn't worryin' about that.' She leaned forward to the window.
'There's the edge of the lawn showin' now. It falls as fast as it rises.
Dearie'--the change of tone made Midmore jump--'didn't you know that I
was 'is first? _That's_ what makes it so hard to bear.' Midmore looked
at the long lizard-like back and had no words.
She went on, still talking through the black window-pane:
'Your pore dear auntie was very kind about it. She said she'd make all
allowances for one, but no more. Never any more.... Then, you didn't
know 'oo Charlie was all this time?'
'Your nephew, I always thought.'
'Well, well,' she spoke pityingly. 'Everybody's business being nobody's
business, I suppose no one thought to tell you. But Charlie made 'is own
way for 'imself from the beginnin'!... But _her_ upstairs, she never
produced anything. Just an 'ousekeeper, as you might say. 'Turned over
an' went to sleep straight off. She 'ad the impudence to ask me for 'ot
'Did you give it to her,' said Midmore.
'Me? Your sherry? No!'
The memory of Sidney's outrageous rhyme at the window, and Charlie's
long nose (he thought it looked interested at the time) as he passed the
copies of Mrs. Werf's last four wills, overcame Midmore without warning.
'This damp is givin' you a cold,' said Rhoda, rising. 'There you go
again! Sneezin's a sure sign of it. Better go to bed. You can't do any
thin' excep''--she stood rigid, with crossed arms--'about me.'
'Well. What about you?' Midmore stuffed the handkerchief into his
'Now you know about it, what are you goin' to do--sir?'
She had the answer on her lean cheek before the sentence was finished.
'Go and see if you can get us something to eat, Rhoda. And beer.'
'I expec' the larder'll be in a swim,' she replied, 'but old bottled
stuff don't take any harm from wet.' She returned with a tray, all in
order, and they ate and drank together, and took observations of the
falling flood till dawn opened its bleared eyes on the wreck of what had
been a fair garden. Midmore, cold and annoyed, found himself humming:
'That flood strewed wrecks upon the grass,
That ebb swept out the flocks to sea.
There isn't a rose left, Rhoda!
An awesome ebb and flow it was
To many more than mine and me.
But each will mourn his ...
It'll cost me a hundred.'
'Now we know the worst,' said Rhoda, 'we can go to bed. I'll lay on the
kitchen sofa. His light's burnin' still.'
'Dirty old cat! You ought to 'ear 'er snore!'
At ten o'clock in the morning, after a maddening hour in his own garden
on the edge of the retreating brook, Midmore went off to confront more
damage at Sidney's. The first thing that met him was the pig, snowy
white, for the water had washed him out of his new sty, calling on high
heaven for breakfast. The front door had been forced open, and the flood
had registered its own height in a brown dado on the walls. Midmore
chased the pig out and called up the stairs.
'I be abed o' course. Which step 'as she rose to?' Sidney cried from
above. 'The fourth? Then it's beat all records. Come up.'
'Are you ill?' Midmore asked as he entered the room. The red eyelids
blinked cheerfully. Mr. Sidney, beneath a sumptuous patch-work quilt,
'Nah! I'm only thankin' God I ain't my own landlord. Take that cheer.
What's she done?'
'It hasn't gone down enough for me to make sure.'
'Them floodgates o' yourn'll be middlin' far down the brook by now; an'
your rose-garden have gone after 'em. I saved my chickens, though. You'd
better get Mus' Sperrit to take the law o' Lotten an' 'is fish-pond.'
'No, thanks. I've trouble enough without that.'
'Hev ye?' Mr. Sidney grinned. 'How did ye make out with those two women
o' mine last night? I lay they fought.'
'You infernal old scoundrel!' Midmore laughed.
'I be--an' then again I bain't,' was the placid answer. 'But, Rhoda,
_she_ wouldn't ha' left me last night. Fire or flood, she wouldn't.'
'Why didn't you ever marry her?' Midmore asked.
'Waste of good money. She was willin' without.'
There was a step on the gritty mud below, and a voice humming. Midmore
rose quickly saying: 'Well, I suppose you're all right now.'
'I be. I ain't a landlord, nor I ain't young--nor anxious. Oh, Mus'
Midmore! Would it make any odds about her thirty pounds comin' regular
if I married her? Charlie said maybe 'twould.'
'Did he?' Midmore turned at the door. 'And what did Jimmy say about it?'
'Jimmy?' Mr. Sidney chuckled as the joke took him. 'Oh, _he's_ none o'
mine. He's Charlie's look-out.'
Midmore slammed the door and ran downstairs.
'Well, this is a--sweet--mess,' said Miss Sperrit in shortest skirts and
heaviest riding-boots. 'I had to come down and have a look at it. "The
old mayor climbed the belfry tower." 'Been up all night nursing
'Nearly that! Isn't it cheerful?' He pointed through the door to the
stairs with small twig-drift on the last three treads.
'It's a record, though,' said she, and hummed to herself:
'That flood strewed wrecks upon the grass,
That ebb swept out the flocks to sea.'
'You're always singing that, aren't you?' Midmore said suddenly as she
passed into the parlour where slimy chairs had been stranded at
'Am I? Now I come to think of it I believe I do. They say I always hum
when I ride. Have you noticed it?'
'Of course I have. I notice every--'
'Oh,' she went on hurriedly. 'We had it for the village cantata last
winter--"The Brides of Enderby."'
'No! "High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire."' For some reason Midmore
'Just like that.' She pointed to the befouled walls. 'I say.... Let's
get this furniture a little straight.... You know it too?'
'Every word, since you sang it of course.'
'The first night I ever came down. You rode past the drawing-room window
in the dark singing it--"And sweeter woman--"'
'I thought the house was empty then. Your aunt always let us use that
short cut. Ha-hadn't we better get this out into the passage? It'll all
have to come out anyhow. You take the other side.' They began to lift a
heavyish table. Their words came jerkily between gasps and their faces
were as white as--a newly washed and very hungry pig.
'Look out!' Midmore shouted. His legs were whirled from under him, as
the table, grunting madly, careened and knocked the girl out of sight.
The wild boar of Asia could not have cut down a couple more
scientifically, but this little pig lacked his ancestor's nerve and fled
shrieking over their bodies.
'Are you hurt, darling?' was Midmore's first word, and 'No--I'm only
winded--dear,' was Miss Sperrit's, as he lifted her out of her corner,
her hat over one eye and her right cheek a smear of mud.
They fed him a little later on some chicken-feed that they found in
Sidney's quiet barn, a pail of buttermilk out of the dairy, and a
quantity of onions from a shelf in the back-kitchen.
'Seed-onions, most likely,' said Connie. 'You'll hear about this.'
'What does it matter? They ought to have been gilded. We must buy him.'
'And keep him as long as he lives,' she agreed. 'But I think I ought to
go home now. You see, when I came out I didn't expect ... Did you?'
'No! Yes.... It had to come.... But if any one had told me an hour
ago!... Sidney's unspeakable parlour--and the mud on the carpet.'
'Oh, I say! Is my cheek clean now?'
'Not quite. Lend me your hanky again a minute, darling.... What a purler
'You can't talk. 'Remember when your chin hit that table and you said
"blast"! I was just going to laugh.'
'You didn't laugh when I picked you up. You were going "oo-oo-oo" like a
'My dear child--'
'Say that again!'
'My dear child. (Do you really like it? I keep it for my best friends.)
My _dee-ar_ child, I thought I was going to be sick there and then. He
knocked every ounce of wind out of me--the angel! But I must really go.'
They set off together, very careful not to join hands or take arms.
'Not across the fields,' said Midmore at the stile. 'Come round by--by
your own place.'
She flushed indignantly.
'It will be yours in a little time,' he went on, shaken with his own
'Not so much of your little times, if you please!' She shied like a colt
across the road; then instantly, like a colt, her eyes lit with new
curiosity as she came in sight of the drive-gates.
'And not quite so much of your airs and graces, Madam,' Midmore
returned, 'or I won't let you use our drive as a short cut any more.'
'Oh, I'll be good. I'll be good.' Her voice changed suddenly. 'I swear
I'll try to be good, dear. I'm not much of a thing at the best. What
'I'm worse--worse! Miles and oceans worse. But what does it matter now?'
They halted beside the gate-pillars.
'I see!' she said, looking up the sodden carriage sweep to the front
door porch where Rhoda was slapping a wet mat to and fro. '_I_ see....
Now, I really must go home. No! Don't you come. I must speak to Mother
first all by myself.'
He watched her up the hill till she was out of sight.
The rain it rains without a stay
In the hills above us, in the hills;
And presently the floods break way
Whose strength is in the hills.
The trees they suck from every cloud,
The valley brooks they roar aloud--
Bank-high for the lowlands, lowlands,
Lowlands under the hills!
The first wood down is sere and small,
From the hills, the brishings off the hills;
And then come by the bats and all
We cut last year in the hills;
And then the roots we tried to cleave
But found too tough and had to leave--
Polting through the lowlands, lowlands,
Lowlands under the hills!
The eye shall look, the ear shall hark
To the hills, the doings in the hills,
And rivers mating in the dark
With tokens from the hills.
Now what is weak will surely go,
And what is strong must prove it so.
Stand fast in the lowlands, lowlands,
Lowlands under the hills!
The floods they shall not be afraid--
Nor the hills above 'em, nor the hills--
Of any fence which man has made
Betwixt him and the hills.
The waters shall not reckon twice
For any work of man's device,
But bid it down to the lowlands, lowlands,
Lowlands under the hills!
The floods shall sweep corruption clean--
By the hills, the blessing of the hills--
That more the meadows may be green
New-amended from the hills.
The crops and cattle shall increase,
Nor little children shall not cease--
Go--plough the lowlands, lowlands,
Lowlands under the hills!
When all the world would have a matter hid,
Since Truth is seldom friend to any crowd,
Men write in fable, as old AEsop did,
Jesting at that which none will name aloud.
And this they needs must do, or it will fall
Unless they please they are not heard at all.
When desperate Folly daily laboureth
To work confusion upon all we have,
When diligent Sloth demandeth Freedom's death,
And banded Fear commandeth Honour's grave--
Even in that certain hour before the fall
Unless men please they are not heard at all.
Needs must all please, yet some not all for need
Needs must all toil, yet some not all for gain,
But that men taking pleasure may take heed,
Whom present toil shall snatch from later pain.
Thus some have toiled but their reward was small
Since, though they pleased, they were not heard at all.
This was the lock that lay upon our lips,
This was the yoke that we have undergone,
Denying us all pleasant fellowships
As in our time and generation.
Our pleasures unpursued age past recall.
And for our pains--we are not heard at all.
What man hears aught except the groaning guns?
What man heeds aught save what each instant brings?
When each man's life all imaged life outruns,
What man shall pleasure in imaginings?
So it hath fallen, as it was bound to fall,
We are not, nor we were not, heard at all.
'Thy Lord spoke by inspiration to the Bee.'
I have, to my grief and loss, suppressed several notable stories of my
friend, the Hon. A.M. Penfentenyou, once Minister of Woods and
Waysides in De Thouar's first administration; later, Premier in all but
name of one of Our great and growing Dominions; and now, as always, the
idol of his own Province, which is two and one-half the size of England.
[Footnote 8: See 'The Puzzler,' _Actions and Reactions_.]
For this reason I hold myself at liberty to deal with some portion of
the truth concerning Penfentenyou's latest visit to Our shores. He
arrived at my house by car, on a hot summer day, in a white waistcoat
and spats, sweeping black frock-coat and glistening top-hat--a little
rounded, perhaps, at the edges, but agile as ever in mind and body.
'What is the trouble now?' I asked, for the last time we had met,
Penfentenyou was floating a three-million pound loan for his beloved but
unscrupulous Province, and I did not wish to entertain any more of his
'We,' Penfentenyou replied ambassadorially, 'have come to have a Voice
in Your Councils. By the way, the Voice is coming down on the evening
train with my Agent-General. I thought you wouldn't mind if I invited
'em. You know We're going to share Your burdens henceforward. You'd
better get into training.'
'Certainly,' I replied. 'What's the Voice like?'
'He's in earnest,' said Penfentenyou. 'He's got It, and he's got It bad.
He'll give It to you,' he said.
'What's his name?'
'We call him all sorts of names, but I think you'd better call him Mr.
Lingnam. You won't have to do it more than once.'
'What's he suffering from?'
'The Empire. He's pretty nearly cured us all of Imperialism at home.
P'raps he'll cure you.'
'Very good. What am I to do with him?'
'Don't you worry,' said Penfentenyou. 'He'll do it.'
And when Mr. Lingnam appeared half-an-hour later with the Agent-General
for Penfentenyou's Dominion, he did just that.
He advanced across the lawn eloquent as all the tides. He said he had
been observing to the Agent-General that it was both politically immoral
and strategically unsound that forty-four million people should bear the
entire weight of the defences of Our mighty Empire, but, as he had
observed (here the Agent-General evaporated), we stood now upon the
threshold of a new era in which the self-governing _and_ self-respecting
(bis) Dominions would rightly and righteously, as co-partners in Empery,
shoulder their share of any burden which the Pan-Imperial Council of
the Future should allot. The Agent-General was already arranging for
drinks with Penfentenyou at the other end of the garden. Mr. Lingnam
swept me on to the most remote bench and settled to his theme.
We dined at eight. At nine Mr. Lingnam was only drawing abreast of
things Imperial. At ten the Agent-General, who earns his salary, was
shamelessly dozing on the sofa. At eleven he and Penfentenyou went to
bed. At midnight Mr. Lingnam brought down his big-bellied despatch box
with the newspaper clippings and set to federating the Empire in
earnest. I remember that he had three alternative plans. As a dealer in
words, I plumped for the resonant third--'Reciprocally co-ordinated
Senatorial Hegemony'--which he then elaborated in detail for
three-quarters of an hour. At half-past one he urged me to have faith
and to remember that nothing mattered except the Idea. Then he retired
to his room, accompanied by one glass of cold water, and I went into the
dawn-lit garden and prayed to any Power that might be off duty for the
blood of Mr. Lingnam, Penfentenyou, and the Agent-General.
To me, as I have often observed elsewhere, the hour of earliest dawn is
fortunate, and the wind that runs before it has ever been my most
'Wait!' it said, all among the night's expectant rosebuds. 'To-morrow is
also a day. Wait upon the Event!'
I went to bed so at peace with God and Man and Guest that when I waked I
visited Mr. Lingnam in pyjamas, and he talked to me Pan-Imperially for
half-an-hour before his bath. Later, the Agent-General said he had
letters to write, and Penfentenyou invented a Cabinet crisis in his
adored Dominion which would keep him busy with codes and cables all the
forenoon. But I said firmly, 'Mr. Lingnam wishes to see a little of the
country round here. You are coming with us in your own car.'
'It's a hired one,' Penfentenyou objected.
'Yes. Paid for by me as a taxpayer,' I replied.
'And yours has a top, and the weather looks thundery,' said the
Agent-General. 'Ours hasn't a wind-screen. Even our goggles were hired.'
'I'll lend you goggles,' I said. 'My car is under repairs.'
The hireling who had looked to be returned to London spat and growled on
the drive. She was an open car, capable of some eighteen miles on the
flat, with tetanic gears and a perpetual palsy.
'It won't make the least difference,' sighed the Agent-General. 'He'll
only raise his voice. He did it all the way coming down.'
'I say,' said Penfentenyou suspiciously, 'what are you doing all this
'Love of the Empire,' I answered, as Mr. Lingnam tripped up in dust-coat
and binoculars. 'Now, Mr. Lingnam will tell us exactly what he wants to
see. He probably knows more about England than the rest of us put
'I read it up yesterday,' said Mr. Lingnam simply. While we stowed the
lunch-basket (one can never make too sure with a hired car) he outlined
a very pretty and instructive little day's run.
'You'll drive, of course?' said Penfentenyou to him. 'It's the only
thing you know anything about.'
This astonished me, for your greater Federationists are rarely
mechanicians, but Mr. Lingnam said he would prefer to be inside for the
present and enjoy our conversation.
Well settled on the back seat, he did not once lift his eyes to the
mellow landscape around him, or throw a word at the life of the English
road which to me is one renewed and unreasoned orgy of delight. The
mustard-coloured scouts of the Automobile Association; their natural
enemies, the unjust police; our natural enemies, the deliberate
market-day cattle, broadside-on at all corners, the bicycling
butcher-boy a furlong behind; road-engines that pulled giddy-go-rounds,
rifle galleries, and swings, and sucked snortingly from wayside ponds in
defiance of the notice-board; traction-engines, their trailers piled
high with road metal; uniformed village nurses, one per seven statute
miles, flitting by on their wheels; governess-carts full of pink
children jogging unconcernedly past roaring, brazen touring-cars; the
wayside rector with virgins in attendance, their faces screwed up
against our dust; motor-bicycles of every shape charging down at every
angle; red flags of rifle-ranges; detachments of dusty-putteed
Territorials; coveys of flagrant children playing in mid-street, and the
wise, educated English dog safe and quite silent on the pavement if his
fool-mistress would but cease from trying to save him, passed and
repassed us in sunlit or shaded settings. But Mr. Lingnam only talked.
He talked--we all sat together behind so that we could not escape
him--and he talked above the worn gears and a certain maddening swish of
one badly patched tire--_and_ he talked of the Federation of the Empire
against all conceivable dangers except himself. Yet I was neither
brutally rude like Penfentenyou, nor swooningly bored like the
Agent-General. I remembered a certain Joseph Finsbury who delighted the
Tregonwell Arms on the borders of the New Forest with nine'--it should
have been ten--'versions of a single income of two hundred pounds'
placing the imaginary person in--but I could not recall the list of
towns further than 'London, Paris, Bagdad, and Spitsbergen.' This last I
must have murmured aloud, for the Agent-General suddenly became human
and went on: 'Bussorah, Heligoland, and the Scilly Islands--'
'What?' growled Penfentenyou.
'Nothing,' said the Agent-General, squeezing my hand affectionately.
'Only we have just found out that we are brothers.'
'Exactly,' said Mr. Lingnam. 'That's what I've been trying to lead up
to. We're _all_ brothers. D'you realise that fifteen years ago such a
conversation as we're having would have been unthinkable? The Empire
wouldn't have been ripe for it. To go back, even ten years--'
'I've got it,' cried the Agent-General. '"Brighton, Cincinnati, and
Nijni-Novgorod!" God bless R.L.S.! Go on, Uncle Joseph. I can endure
Mr. Lingnam went on like our shandrydan, slowly and loudly. He admitted
that a man obsessed with a Central Idea--and, after all, the only thing
that mattered was the Idea--might become a bore, but the World's Work,
he pointed out, had been done by bores. So he laid his bones down to
that work till we abandoned ourselves to the passage of time and the
Mercy of Allah, Who Alone closes the Mouths of His Prophets. And we
wasted more than fifty miles of summer's vivid own England upon him
About two o'clock we topped Sumtner Rising and looked down on the
village of Sumtner Barton, which lies just across a single railway line,
spanned by a red brick bridge. The thick, thunderous June airs brought
us gusts of melody from a giddy-go-round steam-organ in full blast near
the pond on the village green. Drums, too, thumped and banners waved and
regalia flashed at the far end of the broad village street. Mr. Lingnam
'Nothing Imperial, I'm afraid. It looks like a Foresters' Fete--one of
our big Mutual Benefit Societies,' I explained.
'The Idea only needs to be co-ordinated to Imperial scale--' he began.
'But it means that the pub. will be crowded,' I went on.
'What's the matter with lunching by the roadside here?' said
Penfentenyou. 'We've got the lunch-basket.'
'Haven't you ever heard of Sumtner Barton ales?' I demanded, and be
became the administrator at once, saying, '_I_ see! Lingnam can drive us
in and we'll get some, while Holford'--this was the hireling chauffeur,
whose views on beer we knew not--'lays out lunch here. That'll be better
than eating at the pub. We can take in the Foresters' Fete as well, and
perhaps I can buy some newspapers at the station.'
'True,' I answered. 'The railway station is just under that bridge, and
we'll come back and lunch here.'
I indicated a terrace of cool clean shade beneath kindly beeches at the
head of Sumtner Rise. As Holford got out the lunch-basket, a detachment
of Regular troops on manoeuvres swung down the baking road.
'Ah!' said Mr. Lingnam, the monthly-magazine roll in his voice. 'All
Europe is an armed camp, groaning, as I remember I once wrote, under the
weight of its accoutrements.'
'Oh, hop in and drive,' cried Penfentenyou. 'We want that beer!'
It made no difference. Mr. Lingnam could have federated the Empire from
a tight rope. He continued his oration at the wheel as we trundled.
'The danger to the Younger Nations is of being drawn into this vortex of
Militarism,' he went on, dodging the rear of the soldiery.
'Slow past troops,' I hinted. 'It saves 'em dust. And we overtake on the
right as a rule in England.'
'Thanks!' Mr. Lingnam slued over. 'That's another detail which needs to
be co-ordinated throughout the Empire. But to go back to what I was
saying. My idea has always been that the component parts of the Empire
should take counsel among themselves on the approach of war, so that,
after we have decided on the merits of the _casus belli_, we can
co-ordinate what part each Dominion shall play whenever war is,
unfortunately, a possibility.'
We neared the hog-back railway bridge, and the hireling knocked
piteously at the grade. Mr. Lingnam changed gears, and she hoisted
herself up to a joyous _Youp-i-addy-i-ay!_ from the steam-organ. As we
topped the arch we saw a Foresters' band with banners marching down
'That's all very fine,' said the Agent-General, 'but in real life things
have a knack of happening without approaching--'
* * * * *
(Some schools of Thought hold that Time is not; and that when we attain
complete enlightenment we shall behold past, present, and future as One
Awful Whole. I myself have nearly achieved this.)
* * * * *
We dipped over the bridge into the village. A boy on a bicycle, loaded
with four paper bonnet-boxes, pedalled towards us, out of an alley on
our right. He bowed his head the better to overcome the ascent, and
naturally took his left. Mr. Lingnam swerved frantically to the right.
Penfentenyou shouted. The boy looked up, saw the car was like to squeeze
him against the bridge wall, flung himself off his machine and across
the narrow pavement into the nearest house. He slammed the door at the
precise moment when the car, all brakes set, bunted the abandoned
bicycle, shattering three of the bonnet-boxes and jerking the fourth
over the unscreened dashboard into Mr. Lingnam's arms.
There was a dead stillness, then a hiss like that of escaping steam, and
a man who had been running towards us ran the other way.
'Why! I think that those must be bees,' said Mr. Lingnam.
They were--four full swarms--and the first living objects which he had
remarked upon all day.
Some one said, 'Oh, God!' The Agent-General went out over the back of
the car, crying resolutely: 'Stop the traffic! Stop the traffic, there!'
Penfentenyou was already on the pavement ringing a door-bell, so I had
both their rugs, which--for I am an apiarist--I threw over my head.
While I was tucking my trousers into my socks--for I am an apiarist of
experience--Mr. Lingnam picked up the unexploded bonnet-box and with a
single magnificent gesture (he told us afterwards he thought there was a
river beneath) hurled it over the parapet of the bridge, ere he ran
across the road towards the village green. Now, the station platform
immediately below was crowded with Foresters and their friends waiting
to welcome a delegation from a sister Court. I saw the box burst on the
flint edging of the station garden and the contents sweep forward
cone-wise like shrapnel. But the result was stimulating rather than
sedative. All those well-dressed people below shouted like Sodom and
Gomorrah. Then they moved as a unit into the booking-office, the
waiting-rooms, and other places, shut doors and windows and declaimed
aloud, while the incoming train whistled far down the line.
I pivoted round cross-legged on the back seat, like a Circassian beauty
beneath her veil, and saw Penfentenyou, his coat-collar over his ears,
dancing before a shut door and holding up handfuls of currency to a
silver-haired woman at an upper window, who only mouthed and shook her
head. A little child, carrying a kitten, came smiling round a corner.
Suddenly (but these things moved me no more than so many yards of
three-penny cinematograph-film) the kitten leaped spitting from her
arms, the child burst into tears, Penfentenyou, still dancing, snatched
her up and tucked her under his coat, the woman's countenance blanched,
the front door opened, Penfentenyou and the child pressed through, and I
was alone in an inhospitable world where every one was shutting windows
and calling children home.
A voice cried: 'You've frowtened 'em! You've frowtened 'em! Throw dust
on 'em and they'll settle!'
I did not desire to throw dust on any created thing. I needed both hands
for my draperies and two more for my stockings. Besides, the bees were
doing me no hurt. They recognised me as a member of the County
Bee-keepers' Association who had paid his annual subscription and was
entitled to a free seat at all apicultural exhibitions. The quiver and
the churn of the hireling car, or it might have been the lurching
banners and the arrogant big drum, inclined many of them to go up
street, and pay court to the advancing Foresters' band. So they went,
such as had not followed Mr. Lingnam in his flight toward the green, and
I looked out of two goggled eyes instead of half a one at the
approaching musicians, while I listened with both ears to the delayed
train's second whistle down the line beneath me.
The Forester's band no more knew what was coming than do troops under
sudden fire. Indeed, there were the same extravagant gestures and
contortions as attend wounds and deaths in war; the very same uncanny
cessations of speech--for the trombone was cut off at midslide, even as
a man drops with a syllable on his tongue. They clawed, they slapped,
they fled, leaving behind them a trophy of banners and brasses crudely
arranged round the big drum. Then that end of the street also shut its
windows, and the village, stripped of life, lay round me like a reef at
low tide. Though I am, as I have said, an apiarist in good standing, I
never realised that there were so many bees in the world. When they had
woven a flashing haze from one end of the desert street to the other,
there remained reserves enough to form knops and pendules on all
window-sills and gutter-ends, without diminishing the multitudes in the
three oozing bonnet-boxes, or drawing on the Fourth (Railway) Battalion
in charge of the station below. The prisoners in the waiting-rooms and
other places there cried out a great deal (I argued that they were dying
of the heat), and at regular intervals the stationmaster called and
called to a signalman who was not on duty, and the train whistled as it
Then Penfentenyou, venal and adaptable politician of the type that
survives at the price of all the higher emotions, appeared at the window
of the house on my right, broken and congested with mirth, the woman
beside him, and the child in his arms. I saw his mouth open and shut, he
hollowed his hands round it, but the churr of the motor and the bees
drowned his words. He pointed dramatically across the street many times
and fell back, tears running down his face. I turned like a hooded
barbette in a heavy seaway (not knowing when my trousers would come out
of my socks again) through one hundred and eighty degrees, and in due
time bore on the village green. There was a salmon in the pond, rising
short at a cloud of midges to the tune of _Yip-i-addy_; but there was
none to gaff him. The swing-boats were empty, cocoa-nuts sat still on
their red sticks before white screens, and the gay-painted horses of the
giddy-go-rounds revolved riderless. All was melody, green turf, bright
water, and this greedy gambolling fish. When I had identified it by its
grey gills and binoculars as Lingnam, I prostrated myself before Allah
in that mirth which is more truly labour than any prayer. Then I turned
to the purple Penfentenyou at the window, and wiped my eyes on the
He raised the window half one cautious inch and bellowed through the
crack: 'Did you see _him_? Have they got _you_? I can see lots of
things from here. It's like a three-ring circus!'
'Can you see the station?' I replied, nodding toward the right rear
He twisted and craned sideways, but could not command that beautiful
'No! What's it like?' he cried.
'Hell!' I shouted. The silver-haired woman frowned; so did Penfentenyou,
and, I think, apologised to her for my language.
'You're always so extreme,' he fluted reproachfully. 'You forget that
nothing matters except the Idea. Besides, they are this lady's bees.'
He closed the window, and introduced us through it in dumb show; but he
contrived to give the impression that _I_ was the specimen under glass.
A spurt of damp steam saved me from apoplexy. The train had lost
patience at last, and was coming into the station directly beneath me to
see what was the matter. Happy voices sang and heads were thrust out all
along the compartments, but none answered their songs or greetings. She
halted, and the people began to get out. Then they began to get in
again, as their friends in the waiting-rooms advised. All did not catch
the warning, so there was congestion at the doors, but those whom the
bees caught got in first.
Still the bees, more bent on their own business than wanton torture,
kept to the south end of the platform by the bookstall, and that was why
the completely exposed engine-driver at the north end of the train did
not at first understand the hermetically sealed stationmaster when the
latter shouted to him many times to 'get on out o' this.'
'Where are you?' was the reply. 'And what for?'
'It don't matter where I am, an' you'll get what-for in a minute if you
don't shift,' said the stationmaster. 'Drop 'em at Parson's Meadow and
they can walk up over the fields.'
That bare-armed, thin-shirted idiot, leaning out of the cab, took the
stationmaster's orders as an insult to his dignity, and roared at the
shut offices: 'You'll give me what-for, will you? Look 'ere, I'm not in
the 'abit of--' His outstretched hand flew to his neck.... Do you know
that if you sting an engine-driver it is the same as stinging his train?
She starts with a jerk that nearly smashes the couplings, and runs,
barking like a dog, till she is out of sight. Nor does she think about
spilled people and parted families on the platform behind her. I had to
do all that. There was a man called Fred, and his wife Harriet--a
cheery, full-blooded couple--who interested me immensely before they
battered their way into a small detached building, already densely
occupied. There was also a nameless bachelor who sat under a half-opened
umbrella and twirled it dizzily, which was so new a game that I
When they had thoroughly cleared the ground, the bees set about making
comb for publication at the bookstall counter. Presently some bold
hearts tiptoed out of the waiting-rooms over the loud gravel with the
consciously modest air of men leaving church, climbed the wooden
staircase to the bridge, and so reached my level, where the
inexhaustible bonnet-boxes were still vomiting squadrons and platoons.
There was little need to bid them descend. They had wrapped their heads
in handkerchiefs, so that they looked like the disappointed dead
scuttling back to Purgatory. Only one old gentleman, pontifically draped
in a banner embroidered 'Temperance and Fortitude,' ran the gauntlet
up-street, shouting as he passed me, 'It's night or Bluecher, Mister.'
They let him in at the White Hart, the pub. where I should have
bought the beer.
After this the day sagged. I fell to reckoning how long a man in a
Turkish bath, weakened by excessive laughter, could live without food,
and specially drink; and how long a disenfranchised bee could hold out
under the same conditions.
Obviously, since her one practical joke costs her her life, the bee can
have but small sense of humour; but her fundamentally dismal and
ungracious outlook on life impressed me beyond words. She had paralysed
locomotion, wiped out trade, social intercourse, mutual trust, love,
friendship, sport, music (the lonely steam-organ had run down at last),
all that gives substance, colour or savour to life, and yet, in the
barren desert she had created, was not one whit more near to the
evolution of a saner order of things. The Heavens were darkened with the
swarms' divided counsels; the street shimmered with their purposeless
sallies. They clotted on tiles and gutter-pipes, and began frenziedly to
build a cell or two of comb ere they discovered that their queen was
not with them; then flung off to seek her, or whirled, dishevelled and
insane, into another hissing nebula on the false rumour that she was
there. I scowled upon them with disfavour, and a massy, blue
thunder-head rose majestically from behind the elm-trees of Sumtner
Barton Rectory, arched over and scowled with me. Then I realised that it
was not bees nor locusts that had darkened the skies, but the on-coming
of the malignant English thunderstorm--the one thing before which even
Deborah the bee cannot express her silly little self.
'Aha! _Now_ you'll catch it,' I said, as the herald gusts set the big
drum rolling down the street like a box-kite. Up and up yearned the dark
cloud, till the first lightning quivered and cut. Deborah cowered. Where
she flew, there she fled; where she was, there she sat still; and the
solid rain closed in on her as a book that is closed when the chapter is
finished. By the time it had soaked to my second rug, Penfentenyou
appeared at the window, wiping his false mouth on a napkin.
'Are you all right?' he inquired. 'Then _that's_ all right! Mrs. Bellamy
says that her bees don't sting in the wet. You'd better fetch Lingnam
over. He's got to pay for them and the bicycle.'
I had no words which the silver-haired lady could listen to, but paddled
across the flooded street between flashes to the pond on the green. Mr.
Lingnam, scarcely visible through the sheeting downpour, trotted round
the edge. He bore himself nobly, and lied at the mere sight of me.
'Isn't this wet?' he cried. 'It has drenched me to the skin. I shall
need a change.'
'Come along,' I said. 'I don't know what you'll get, but you deserve
Penfentenyou, dry, fed, and in command, let us in. 'You,' he whispered
to me, 'are to wait in the scullery. Mrs. Bellamy didn't like the way
you talked about her bees. Hsh! Hsh! She's a kind-hearted lady. She's a
widow, Lingnam, but she's kept _his_ clothes, and as soon as you've paid
for the damage she'll rent you a suit. I've arranged it all!'
'Then tell him he mustn't undress in my hall,' said a voice from the
'Tell _her_--' Lingnam began.
'Come and look at the pretty suit I've chosen,' Penfentenyou cooed, as
one cajoling a maniac.
I staggered out-of-doors again, and fell into the car, whose
ever-running machinery masked my yelps and hiccups. When I raised my
forehead from the wheel, I saw that traffic through the village had been
resumed, after, as my watch showed, one and one-half hour's suspension.
There were two limousines, one landau, one doctor's car, three
touring-cars, one patent steam-laundry van, three tricars, one
traction-engine, some motor-cycles, one with a side-car, and one brewery
lorry. It was the allegory of my own imperturbable country, delayed for
a short time by unforeseen external events but now going about her
business, and I blessed Her with tears in my eyes, even though I knew
She looked upon me as drunk and incapable.
Then troops came over the bridge behind me--a company of dripping wet
Regulars without any expression. In their rear, carrying the
lunch-basket, marched the Agent-General and Holford the hired chauffeur.
'I say,' said the Agent-General, nodding at the darkened khaki backs.
'If _that's_ what we've got to depend on in event of war they're a
broken reed. They ran like hares--ran like hares, I tell you.'
'And you?' I asked.
'Oh, I just sauntered back over the bridge and stopped the traffic that
end. Then I had lunch. 'Pity about the beer, though. I say--these
cushions are sopping wet!'
'I'm sorry,' I said. 'I haven't had time to turn 'em.'
'Nor there wasn't any need to 'ave kept the engine runnin' all this
time,' said Holford sternly. 'I'll 'ave to account for the expenditure
of petrol. It exceeds the mileage indicated, you see.'
'I'm sorry,' I repeated. After all, that is the way that taxpayers
regard most crises.
The house-door opened and Penfentenyou and another came out into the now
'Ah! There you both are! Here's Lingnam,' he cried. 'He's got a little
wet. He's had to change.'
'We saw that. I was too sore and weak to begin another laugh, but the
Agent-General crumpled up where he stood. The late Mr. Bellamy must have
been a man of tremendous personality, which he had impressed on every
angle of his garments. I was told later that he had died in delirium
tremens, which at once explained the pattern, and the reason why Mr.
Lingnam, writhing inside it, swore so inspiredly. Of the deliberate and
diffuse Federationist there remained no trace, save the binoculars and
two damp whiskers. We stood on the pavement, before Elemental Man
calling on Elemental Powers to condemn and incinerate Creation.
'Well, hadn't we better be getting back?' said the Agent-General.
'Look out!' I remarked casually. 'Those bonnet-boxes are full of bees
'Are they?' said the livid Mr. Lingnam, and tilted them over with the
late Mr. Bellamy's large boots. Deborah rolled out in drenched lumps
into the swilling gutter. There was a muffled shriek at the window where
Mrs. Bellamy gesticulated.
'It's all right. I've paid for them,' said Mr. Lingnam. He dumped out
the last dregs like mould from a pot-bound flower-pot.
'What? Are you going to take 'em home with you?' said the Agent-General.
'No!' He passed a wet hand over his streaky forehead. 'Wasn't there a
bicycle that was the beginning of this trouble?' said he.
'It's under the fore-axle, sir,' said Holford promptly. 'I can fish it
out from 'ere.'
'Not till I've done with it, please.' Before we could stop him, he had
jumped into the car and taken charge. The hireling leaped into her
collar, surged, shrieked (less loudly than Mrs. Bellamy at the window),
and swept on. That which came out behind her was, as Holford truly
observed, no joy-wheel. Mr. Lingnam swung round the big drum in the
market-place and thundered back, shouting: 'Leave it alone. It's
'Mince-meat, 'e means,' said Holford after this second trituration. 'You
couldn't say now it 'ad ever _been_ one, could you?'
Mrs. Bellamy opened the window and spoke. It appears she had only
charged for damage to the bicycle, not for the entire machine which Mr.
Lingnam was ruthlessly gleaning, spoke by spoke, from the highway and
cramming into the slack of the hood. At last he answered, and I have
never seen a man foam at the mouth before. 'If you don't stop, I shall
come into your house--in this car--and drive upstairs and--kill you!'
She stopped; he stopped. Holford took the wheel, and we got away. It was
time, for the sun shone after the storm, and Deborah beneath the tiles
and the eaves already felt its reviving influence compel her to her
interrupted labours of federation. We warned the village policeman at
the far end of the street that he might have to suspend traffic again.
The proprietor of the giddy-go-round, swings, and cocoanut-shies wanted
to know from whom, in this world or another, he could recover damages.
Mr. Lingnam referred him most directly to Mrs. Bellamy.... Then we
After dinner that evening Mr. Lingnam rose stiffly in his place to make
a few remarks on the Federation of the Empire on the lines of
Co-ordinated, Offensive Operations, backed by the Entire Effective
Forces, Moral, Military, and Fiscal, of Permanently Mobilised
Communities, the whole brought to bear, without any respect to the
merits of any _casus belli_, instantaneously, automatically, and
remorselessly at the first faint buzz of war.
'The trouble with Us,' said he, 'is that We take such an infernally long
time making sure that We are right that We don't go ahead when things
happen. For instance, I ought to have gone ahead instead of pulling up
when I hit that bicycle.'
'But you were in the wrong, Lingnam, when you turned to the right,' I
'I don't want to hear any more of your damned, detached, mugwumping
excuses for the other fellow,' he snapped.
'Now you're beginning to see things,' said Penfentenyou. 'I hope you
won't backslide when the swellings go down.'
THE SONG OF SEVEN CITIES
I was Lord of Cities very sumptuously builded.
Seven roaring Cities paid me tribute from afar.
Ivory their outposts were--the guardrooms of them
And garrisoned with Amazons invincible in war.
All the world went softly when it walked before my
Neither King nor Army vexed my peoples at their toil.
Never horse nor chariot irked or overbore my Cities,
Never Mob nor Ruler questioned whence they drew
Banded, mailed and arrogant from sunrise unto sunset,
Singing while they sacked it, they possessed the land
Yet when men would rob them, they resisted, they
And pierced the smoke of battle with a thousand-sabred
So they warred and trafficked only yesterday, my Cities.
To-day there is no mark or mound of where my Cities
For the River rose at midnight and it washed away my
They are evened with Atlantis and the towns before the
Rain on rain-gorged channels raised the water-levels
Freshet backed on freshet swelled and swept their
world from sight,
Till the emboldened floods linked arms and flashing forward
Drowned my Seven Cities and their peoples in one
Low among the alders lie their derelict foundations,
The beams wherein they trusted and the plinths whereon
My rulers and their treasure and their unborn populations,
Dead, destroyed, aborted, and defiled with mud and
The Daughters of the Palace whom they cherished in
My silver-tongued Princesses, and the promise of their
Their bridegrooms of the June-tide--all have perished
in my Cities,
With the harsh envenomed virgins that can neither
love nor play.
I was Lord of Cities--I will build anew my Cities,
Seven, set on rocks, above the wrath of any flood.
Nor will I rest from search till I have filled anew my Cities
With peoples undefeated of the dark, enduring blood.
To the sound of trumpets shall their seed restore my Cities.
Wealthy and well-weaponed, that once more may I behold
All the world go softly when it walks before my Cities,
And the horses and the chariots fleeing from them as of old!
'Swept and Garnished'
When the first waves of feverish cold stole over Frau Ebermann she very
wisely telephoned for the doctor and went to bed. He diagnosed the
attack as mild influenza, prescribed the appropriate remedies, and left
her to the care of her one servant in her comfortable Berlin flat. Frau
Ebermann, beneath the thick coverlet, curled up with what patience she
could until the aspirin should begin to act, and Anna should come back
from the chemist with the formamint, the ammoniated quinine, the
eucalyptus, and the little tin steam-inhaler. Meantime, every bone in
her body ached; her head throbbed; her hot, dry hands would not stay the
same size for a minute together; and her body, tucked into the smallest
possible compass, shrank from the chill of the well-warmed sheets.
Of a sudden she noticed that an imitation-lace cover which should have
lain mathematically square with the imitation-marble top of the radiator
behind the green plush sofa had slipped away so that one corner hung
over the bronze-painted steam pipes. She recalled that she must have
rested her poor head against the radiator-top while she was taking off
her boots. She tried to get up and set the thing straight, but the
radiator at once receded toward the horizon, which, unlike true
horizons, slanted diagonally, exactly parallel with the dropped lace
edge of the cover. Frau Ebermann groaned through sticky lips and
'Certainly, I have a temperature,' she said. 'Certainly, I have a grave
temperature. I should have been warned by that chill after dinner.'
She resolved to shut her hot-lidded eyes, but opened them in a little
while to torture herself with the knowledge of that ungeometrical thing
against the far wall. Then she saw a child--an untidy, thin-faced little
girl of about ten, who must have strayed in from the adjoining flat.
This proved--Frau Ebermann groaned again at the way the world falls to
bits when one is sick--proved that Anna had forgotten to shut the outer
door of the flat when she went to the chemist. Frau Ebermann had had
children of her own, but they were all grown up now, and she had never
been a child-lover in any sense. Yet the intruder might be made to serve
her scheme of things.
'Make--put,' she muttered thickly, 'that white thing straight on the top
of that yellow thing.'
The child paid no attention, but moved about the room, investigating
everything that came in her way--the yellow cut-glass handles of the
chest of drawers, the stamped bronze hook to hold back the heavy puce
curtains, and the mauve enamel, New Art finger-plates on the door. Frau
Ebermann watched indignantly.
'Aie! That is bad and rude. Go away!' she cried, though it hurt her to
raise her voice. 'Go away by the road you came!' The child passed
behind the bed-foot, where she could not see her. 'Shut the door as you
go. I will speak to Anna, but--first, put that white thing straight.'
She closed her eyes in misery of body and soul. The outer door clicked,
and Anna entered, very penitent that she had stayed so long at the
chemist's. But it had been difficult to find the proper type of
'Where did the child go?' moaned Frau Ebermann--'the child that was
'There was no child,' said startled Anna. 'How should any child come in
when I shut the door behind me after I go out? All the keys of the flats
'No, no! You forgot this time. But my back is aching, and up my legs
also. Besides, who knows what it may have fingered and upset? Look
'Nothing is fingered, nothing is upset,' Anna replied, as she took the
inhaler from its paper box.
'Yes, there is. Now I remember all about it. Put--put that white thing,
with the open edge--the lace, I mean--quite straight on that--' she
pointed. Anna, accustomed to her ways, understood and went to it.
'Now, is it quite straight?' Frau Ebermann demanded.
'Perfectly,' said Anna. 'In fact, in the very centre of the radiator.'
Anna measured the equal margins with her knuckle, as she had been told
to do when she first took service.
'And my tortoise-shell hair brushes?' Frau Ebermann could not command
her dressing-table from where she lay.
'Perfectly straight, side by side in the big tray, and the comb laid
across them. Your watch also in the coralline watch-holder.
Everything'--she moved round the room to make sure--'everything is as
you have it when you are well.' Frau Ebermann sighed with relief. It
seemed to her that the room and her head had suddenly grown cooler.
'Good!' said she. 'Now warm my night-gown in the kitchen, so it will be
ready when I have perspired. And the towels also. Make the inhaler
steam, and put in the eucalyptus; that is good for the larynx. Then sit
you in the kitchen, and come when I ring. But, first, my
It was brought and scientifically tucked in.
'What news?' said Frau Ebermann drowsily. She had not been out that day.
'Another victory,' said Anna. 'Many more prisoners and guns.'
Frau Ebermann purred, one might almost say grunted, contentedly.
'That is good too,' she said; and Anna, after lighting the inhaler-lamp,
Frau Ebermann reflected that in an hour or so the aspirin would begin to
work, and all would be well. To-morrow--no, the day after--she would
take up life with something to talk over with her friends at coffee. It
was rare--every one knew it--that she should be overcome by any
ailment. Yet in all her distresses she had not allowed the minutest
deviation from daily routine and ritual. She would tell her friends--she
ran over their names one by one--exactly what measures she had taken
against the lace cover on the radiator-top and in regard to her two
tortoise-shell hair brushes and the comb at right angles. How she had
set everything in order--everything in order. She roved further afield
as she wriggled her toes luxuriously on the hot-water bottle. If it
pleased our dear God to take her to Himself, and she was not so young as
she had been--there was that plate of the four lower ones in the blue
tooth-glass, for instance--He should find all her belongings fit to meet
His eye. 'Swept and garnished' were the words that shaped themselves in
her intent brain. 'Swept and garnished for--'
No, it was certainly not for the dear Lord that she had swept; she would
have her room swept out to-morrow or the day after, and garnished. Her
hands began to swell again into huge pillows of nothingness. Then they
shrank, and so did her head, to minute dots. It occurred to her that she
was waiting for some event, some tremendously important event, to come
to pass. She lay with shut eyes for a long time till her head and hands
should return to their proper size.
She opened her eyes with a jerk.
'How stupid of me,' she said aloud, 'to set the room in order for a
parcel of dirty little children!'
They were there--five of them, two little boys and three girls--headed
by the anxious-eyed ten-year-old whom she had seen before. They must
have entered by the outer door, which Anna had neglected to shut behind
her when she returned with the inhaler. She counted them backward and
forward as one counts scales--one, two, three, four, five.
They took no notice of her, but hung about, first on one foot then on
the other, like strayed chickens, the smaller ones holding by the
larger. They had the air of utterly wearied passengers in a railway
waiting-room, and their clothes were disgracefully dirty.
'Go away!' cried Frau Ebermann at last, after she had struggled, it
seemed to her, for years to shape the words.
'You called?' said Anna at the living-room door.
'No,' said her mistress. 'Did you shut the flat door when you came in?'
'Assuredly,' said Anna. 'Besides, it is made to catch shut of itself.'
'Then go away,' said she, very little above a whisper. If Anna pretended
not to see the children, she would speak to Anna later on.
'And now,' she said, turning toward them as soon as the door closed. The
smallest of the crowd smiled at her, and shook his head before he buried
it in his sister's skirts.
'Why--don't--you--go--away?' she whispered earnestly.
Again they took no notice, but, guided by the elder girl, set themselves
to climb, boots and all, on to the green plush sofa in front of the
radiator. The little boys had to be pushed, as they could not compass
the stretch unaided. They settled themselves in a row, with small gasps
of relief, and pawed the plush approvingly.
'I ask you--I ask you why do you not go away--why do you not go away?'
Frau Ebermann found herself repeating the question twenty times. It
seemed to her that everything in the world hung on the answer. 'You know
you should not come into houses and rooms unless you are invited. Not
houses and bedrooms, you know.'
'No,' a solemn little six-year-old repeated, 'not houses nor bedrooms,
nor dining-rooms, nor churches, nor all those places. Shouldn't come in.
'Yes, he said so,' the younger girl put in proudly. 'He said it. He told
them only pigs would do that.' The line nodded and dimpled one to
another with little explosive giggles, such as children use when they
tell deeds of great daring against their elders.
'If you know it is wrong, that makes it much worse,' said Frau Ebermann.
'Oh yes; much worse,' they assented cheerfully, till the smallest boy
changed his smile to a baby wail of weariness.
'When will they come for us?' he asked, and the girl at the head of the
row hauled him bodily into her square little capable lap.
'He's tired,' she explained. 'He is only four. He only had his first
breeches this spring.' They came almost under his armpits, and were held
up by broad linen braces, which, his sorrow diverted for the moment, he
'Yes, beautiful, dear,' said both girls.
'Go away!' said Frau Ebermann. 'Go home to your father and mother!'
Their faces grew grave at once.
'H'sh! We _can't_,' whispered the eldest. 'There isn't anything left.'
'All gone,' a boy echoed, and he puffed through pursed lips. 'Like
_that_, uncle told me. Both cows too.'
'And my own three ducks,' the boy on the girl's lap said sleepily.
'So, you see, we came here.' The elder girl leaned forward a little,
caressing the child she rocked.
'I--I don't understand,' said Frau Ebermann 'Are you lost, then? You
must tell our police.'
'Oh no; we are only waiting.'
'But what are you waiting _for?_'
'We are waiting for our people to come for us. They told us to come here
and wait for them. So we are waiting till they come,' the eldest
'Yes. We are waiting till our people come for us,' said all the others
'But,' said Frau Ebermann very patiently--'but now tell me, for I tell
you that I am not in the least angry, where do you come from? Where do
you come from?'
The five gave the names of two villages of which she had read in the
'That is silly,' said Frau Ebermann. 'The people fired on us, and they
were punished. Those places are wiped out, stamped flat.'
'Yes, yes, wiped out, stamped flat. That is why and--I have lost the
ribbon off my pigtail,' said the younger girl. She looked behind her
over the sofa-back.
'It is not here,' said the elder. 'It was lost before. Don't you
'Now, if you are lost, you must go and tell our police. They will take
care of you and give you food,' said Frau Ebermann. 'Anna will show you
the way there.'
'No,'--this was the six-year-old with the smile,--'we must wait here
till our people come for us. Mustn't we, sister?'
'Of course. We wait here till our people come for us. All the world
knows that,' said the eldest girl.
'Yes.' The boy in her lap had waked again. 'Little children, too--as
little as Henri, and _he_ doesn't wear trousers yet. As little as
'I don't understand,' said Frau Ebermann, shivering. In spite of the
heat of the room and the damp breath of the steam-inhaler, the aspirin
was not doing its duty.
The girl raised her blue eyes and looked at the woman for an instant.
'You see,' she said, emphasising her statements with her ringers,