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  • 1917
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When she made him set her down, she said gaily that she was all right, and gave him a kiss of thanks, simply, like a child. The valley lay before them with its scattered lights, and they pressed on through the twilight–two dim and spectral figures–spirits it seemed, who had been on the heights sharing ambrosial feasts with the Immortals, and had but just descended to the common earth again.

* * * * *

Nelly spent the next three days, outside their walks and boatings on the lake, in whatever wifely offices to her man still remained to her–marking his new socks and khaki shirts, furnishing a small medicine chest, and packing a tin of special delicacies, meat lozenges, chocolate, various much advertised food tabloids, and his favourite biscuits. Sarratt laughed over them, but had not the heart to dissuade her. She grew paler every day, but was always gay and smiling so long as his eyes were on her; and his sound young sleep knew nothing of her quiet stifled weeping at those moments of the night, when the bodily and nervous forces are at their lowest, and all the future blackens. Miss Martin paid them several visits, bringing them books and flowers. Books and flowers too arrived from Carton–with a lavish supply of cigarettes for the departing soldier. Nelly had the piteous sense that everyone was sorry for her–Mrs. Weston, the kind landlady, Milly, the little housemaid. It seemed to her sometimes that the mere strangers she met in the road knew that George was going, and looked at her compassionately.

The last day came, showery in the morning, and clearing to a glorious evening, with all the new leaf and growing hayfields freshened by rain, and all the streams brimming. Bridget came over in the afternoon, and as she watched her sister’s face, became almost kind, almost sympathetic. George proposed to walk back part of the way to Ambleside with his sister-in-law, and Nelly with a little frown of alarm watched them go.

But the tete-a-tete was not disagreeable to either. Bridget was taken aback, to begin with, by some very liberal proposals of Sarratt’s on the subject of her and Nelly’s joint expenses during his absence. She was to be Nelly’s guest–they both wished it–and he said kindly that he quite understood Nelly’s marriage had made a difference to her, and he hoped she would let them make it up to her, as far and as soon as they could. Bridget was surprised into amiability,–and Sarratt found a chance of saying–

‘And you’ll let Nelly talk about the war–though it does bore you? She won’t be able to help it–poor child!’

Bridget supposed that now she too would have to talk about the war. He needn’t be afraid, she added drily. She would look after Nelly. And she looked so masterful and vigorous as she said it, that Sarratt could only believe her.

They shook hands in the road, better friends to all seeming than they had been yet. And Nelly received George’s account of the conversation with a sigh of relief.

* * * * *

That night the midsummer moon would be at the full, and as the clouds vanished from the sky, and the soft purple night came down, Nelly and Sarratt leaving every piece of luggage behind them, packed, labelled, locked, and piled in the hall, ready for the cart that was to call for it in the early hours–took their way to the lake and the boathouse. They had been out at night once before, but this was to be the crowning last thing–the last joint memory.

It was eleven o’clock before the oars dipped into the water, and as they neared the larger island, the moon, rearing its bright head over the eastern fells, shot a silver pathway through the lake; and on either side of the pathway, the mirrored woods and crags, more dim and ghostly than by day, seemed to lead downward to that very threshold and entrance of the underworld, through which the blinded Theban king vanished from the eyes of men. Silver-bright the woods and fell-side, on the west; while on the east the woods in shadow, lay sleeping, ‘moon-charmed.’ The air was balmy; and one seemed to hear through it the steady soft beat of the summer life, rising through the leaves and grass and flowers. Every sound was enchantment–the drip of water from the oars, the hooting of an owl on the island, even the occasional distant voices, and tapping of horses’ feet on the main road bordering the lake.

Sarratt let the oars drift, and the boat glided, as though of its own will, past the island, and into the shadow beyond it. Now it was Silver How, and all the Grasmere mountains, that caught the ‘hallowing’ light.

Nelly sat bare-headed, her elbows on her knees, and her face propped in her hands. She was in white, with a white shawl round her, and the grace of the slight form and dark head stirred anew in Sarratt that astonished and exquisite sense of possession which had been one of the main elements of consciousness, during their honeymoon. Of late indeed it had been increasingly met and wrestled with by something harsher and sterner; by the instinct of the soldier, of the fighting man, foreseeing a danger to his own will, a weakening of the fibre on which his effort and his power depend. There were moments when passionately as he loved her, he was glad to be going; secretly glad that the days which were in truth a greater test of endurance than the trenches were coming to an end. He must be able to trust himself and his own nerve to the utmost. Away from her, love would be only a strengthening power; here beside her, soul and sense contended.

A low voice came out of the shadow.

‘George–I’m not going with you to the station.’

‘Best not, dearest–much best.’

A silence. Then the voice spoke again.

‘How long will it take you, George, getting to the front?’

‘About twenty-four hours from the base, perhaps more. It’s a weary business.’

‘Will you be in action at once?’

‘I think so. That part of the line’s very short of men.’

‘When shall I hear?’

He laughed.

‘By every possible post, I should think, darling. You’ve given me post-cards enough.’

And he tapped his breast-pocket, where lay the little writing-case she had furnished for every imaginable need.

‘George!’

‘Yes, darling.’

‘When you’re tired, you’re–you’re not to write.’

He put out his long arms, and took her hands in his.

‘I shan’t be tired–and I shall write.’

She looked down upon the hands holding hers. In each of the little fingers there was a small amusing deformity–a slight crook or twist–which, as is the way of lovers, was especially dear to her. She remembered once, before they were engaged, flaming out at Bridget, who had made mock of it. She stooped now, and kissed the fingers. Then she bowed her forehead upon them.

‘George!’–he could only just hear her–‘I know Miss Martin will be kind to me–and I shall find plenty to do. You’re never to worry about me.’

‘I won’t–so long as you write to me–every day.’

There was again a silence. Then she lifted her head, and as the boat swung out of the shadow, the moonlight caught her face.

‘You’ll take that Wordsworth I gave you, won’t you, George? It’ll remind you–of this.’ Her gesture showed the lake and the mountains.

‘Of course, I shall take it. I shall read it whenever I can–perhaps more for your sake–than Wordsworth’s.’

‘It’ll make us remember the same things,’ she murmured.

‘As if we wanted anything to make us remember!’

‘George!’ her voice was almost a sob–‘It’s been almost too perfect. Sometimes–just for that–I’m afraid.’

‘Don’t be, darling. The God we believe in _isn’t_ a jealous God! That’s one of the notions one grows out of–over there.’

‘Do you think He’s our friend, George–that He really cares?’

The sweet appealing voice touched him unbearably.

‘Yes, I do think it–‘ he said, firmly, after a pause. ‘I do believe it–with all my heart.’

‘Then I’ll believe it!’ she said, with a long breath; and there was silence again, till suddenly over the water came the sound of the Rydal Chapel bell, striking midnight. Nelly withdrew her hands and sat up.

‘George, we must go home. You must have a good night.’

He obeyed her, took up the oars, and pulled swiftly to the boathouse. She sat in a kind of dream. It was all over, the heavenly time–all done. She had had the very best of life–could it ever come again? In her pain and her longing she was strangely conscious of growth and change. The Nelly of three weeks back seemed to have nothing to do with her present self, to be another human being altogether.

He made her go to bed, and remained in the sitting-room himself, under pretence of some papers he must put in order. When the sounds in the next room ceased, and he knew that she must be lying still, waiting for him, he sat down, took pen and paper, and began to write to her–a letter to be given to her if he fell. He had already written a letter of business directions, which was at his lawyer’s. This was of another kind.

‘My Darling,–this will be very short. It is only to tell you that if I fall–if we never meet again, after to-morrow, you are to think first of all–and always–that you have made a man so happy that if no more joy can come to him on earth, he could die now–as far as he himself is concerned–blessing God for his life. I never imagined that love could be so perfect. You have taught me. God reward you–God watch over you. If I die, you will be very sad–that will be the bitterness to me, if I have time to know it. But this is my last prayer to you–to be comforted by this remembrance–of what you have done for me–what you have been to me. And in time, my precious one, comfort will come. There may be a child–if so, you will love it for us both. But if not, you must still take comfort. You must be willing, for my sake, to be comforted. And remember:–don’t be angry with me, darling–if in years to come, another true love, and another home should be offered you, don’t refuse them–Nelly! You were born to be loved. And if my spirit lives, and understands; what could it feel but joy that your sorrow was healed–my best beloved!

‘This will be given to you only if I die. With the deepest gratitude and the tenderest love that a man can feel, I bid you good-bye–my precious wife–good-bye!’

He put it up with a steady hand, and addressed it first to Nelly, enclosing it in a larger envelope addressed to his oldest friend, a school-fellow, who had been his best man at their marriage. Then he stole downstairs, unlocked the front door, and crossing the road in the moonlight, he put the letter into the wall post-box on the further side. And before re-entering the house, he stood a minute or two in the road, letting the fresh wind from the fells beat upon his face, and trying the while to stamp on memory the little white house where Nelly lay, the trees overhanging it, the mountain tops beyond the garden wall.

CHAPTER V

‘Is Mrs. Sarratt in?’ asked Miss Martin of Mrs. Weston’s little maid, Milly.

Milly wore a look of animation, as of one who has been finding the world interesting.

‘She’s gone a walk–over the bridge, Miss.’

‘Has she had news of Mr. Sarratt?’

‘Yes, Miss,’ said the girl eagerly. ‘He’s all right. Mrs. Sarratt got a telegram just a couple of hours ago.’

‘And you think I shall find her by the lake?’

Milly thought so. Then advancing a step, she said confidentially–

‘She’s been dreadfully upset this two days, Miss. Not that she’d say anything. But she’s looked——‘

‘I know. I saw her yesterday.’

‘And it’s been a job to get her to eat anything. Mrs. Weston’s been after her with lots of things–tasty you know, Miss–to try and tempt her. But she wouldn’t hardly look at them.’

‘Thank you, Milly’–said Miss Martin, after a pause. ‘Well, I’ll find her. Is Miss Cookson here?’

Milly’s candid countenance changed at once. She frowned–it might have been said she scowled.

‘She came the day Mr. Sarratt went away, Miss. Well of course it’s not my place to speak, Miss–but _she_ don’t do Mrs. Sarratt no good!’ Miss Martin couldn’t help a smile–but she shook her head reprovingly all the same, as she hastened away. Milly had been in her Sunday-school class, and they were excellent friends.

Across the Rotha, she pursued a little footpath leading to the lakeside. It was a cold day, with flying clouds and gleams on hill and water. The bosom of Silver How held depths of purple shadow, but there were lights like elves at play, chasing each other along the Easedale fells, and the stony side of Nab Scar.

Beside the water, on a rock, sat Nelly Sarratt. An open telegram and a bundle of letters lay on her lap, her hands loosely folded over them. She was staring at the water and the hills, with absent eyes, and her small face wore an expression–relaxed and sweet–like that of a comforted child, which touched Miss Martin profoundly.

‘So you’ve heard?–you poor thing!’ said the elder woman smiling, as she laid a friendly hand on the girl’s shoulder.

Nelly looked up–and drew a long deep breath.

‘He’s all right, and the battalion’s going to have three weeks’ rest–behind the lines.’

Her dark eyes shone. Hester Martin sat down on the turf beside her.

‘Capital! When did you hear last?’

‘Just the day before the “push.” Of course he couldn’t tell me anything–but somehow I knew. And then the papers since–they’re pretty ghastly,’ said Nelly, with a faint laugh and a shiver. ‘The farm under the hill there’–she pointed–‘you know about them?’

‘Yes. I saw them after the telegram,’ said Miss Martin, sadly. ‘Of course it was the only son. These small families are too awful. Every married woman ought to have six sons!’

Nelly dropped her face out of sight, shading it with her hands. Presently she said, in a dreamy voice of content–

‘I shall get a letter to-morrow.’

‘How do you know?’

Nelly held out the telegram, which said–

‘All safe. Posted letter last night. Love.’

‘It _can’t_ take more than forty-eight hours to come–can it?’ Then she lifted her eyes again to the distant farm, with its white front and its dark patch of yews.

‘I keep thinking of _their_ telegram–‘ she said, slowly–‘and then of mine. Oh, this war is too _horrible!’_ She threw up her hands with a sudden wild gesture, and then let one of them drop into Hester Martin’s grasp. ‘In George’s last letter he told me he had to go with a message across a bit of ground that was being shelled. He went with a telephonist. He crossed first. The other man was to wait and follow him after an interval. George got across, then the man with the telephone wire started, and was shot–just as he reached George. He fell into George’s arms–and died. And it might have been George–it might have been George just as well! It might be George any day!’

Miss Martin looked at her in perplexity. She had no ready-made consolations–she never had. Perhaps it was that which made her kind wrinkled face such a welcome sight to those in trouble. But at last she said–‘It is all we women can do–to be patient–and hope–not to let our courage go down.’

Nelly shook her head.

‘I am always saying that to myself–but! when the news comes–_if_ it comes–what good will that be to me! Oh, I haven’t been idle–indeed I haven’t,’ she added piteously–‘I’ve worked myself tired every day–just not to think!’

‘I know you have,’ Miss Martin pressed the hand in hers. ‘Well, now, he’ll be all safe for a fortnight——‘

‘Perhaps three weeks,’ Nelly corrected her, eagerly. Then she looked round at her new friend, a shy smile lighting up her face, and bringing back its bloom.

‘You know he writes to me nearly every day?’

‘It’s the way people have–war or no war–when they’re in love,’ said Hester Martin drily. ‘And you–how often?’

‘_Every_ day. I haven’t missed once. How could I?–when he wants me to write–when I hear so often!’ And her free hand closed possessively, greedily, over the letters in her lap.

Hester Martin surveyed her thoughtfully.

‘I wouldn’t do war-work all day, if I were you,’ she said at last. ‘Why don’t you go on with your sketching?’

‘I was going to try this very afternoon. Sir William said he would give me a lesson,’ was the listless reply.

‘He’s coming here?’

‘He said he would be walking this way, if it was fine,’ said Nelly, indifferently.

Both relapsed into silence. Then Miss Martin enquired after Bridget. The face beside her darkened a little.

‘She’s very well. She knows about the telegram. She thought I was a great goose to be so anxious. She’s making an index now–for the book!’

‘The psychology book?’

‘Yes!’ A pause–then Nelly looked round, flushing.

‘I can’t talk to Bridget you see–about George–or the war. She just thinks the world’s mad–that it’s six to one and half a dozen to the other–that it doesn’t matter at all who wins–so long of course as the Germans don’t come here. And as for me, if I was so foolish as to marry a soldier in the middle of the war, why I must just take the consequences–grin and bear it!’

Her tone and look showed that in her clinging way she had begun to claim the woman beside her as a special friend, while Hester Martin’s manner towards her bore witness that the claim excited a warm response–that intimacy and affection had advanced rapidly since George Sarratt’s departure.

‘Why do you put up with it?’ said Miss Martin, sharply. ‘Couldn’t you get some cousin–some friend to stay with you?’

Nelly shook her head. ‘George wanted me to. But I told him I couldn’t. It would mean a quarrel. I could never quarrel with Bridget.’

Miss Martin laughed indignantly. ‘Why not–if she makes you miserable?’

‘I don’t know. I suppose I’m afraid of her. And besides’–the words came reluctantly–: ‘she does a lot for me. I _ought_ to be very grateful!’

Yes, Hester Martin did know that, in a sense, Bridget did ‘a lot’ for her younger sisters. It was not many weeks since she had made their acquaintance, but there had been time for her to see how curiously dependent young Mrs. Sarratt was on Miss Cookson. There was no real sympathy between them; nor could Miss Martin believe that there was ever much sense of kinship. But whenever there was anything to be done involving any friction with the outside world, Bridget was ready to do it, while Nelly invariably shrank from it.

For instance, some rather troublesome legal business connected with Nelly’s marriage, and the reinvestment of a small sum of money, had descended on the young wife almost immediately after George’s departure. She could hardly bring herself to look at the letter. What did it matter? Let their trustee settle it. To be worrying about it seemed to be somehow taking her mind from George–to be breaking in on that imaginative vision of him, and his life in the trenches, which while it tortured her, yet filled the blank of his absence. So Bridget did it all–corresponded peremptorily with their rather old and incompetent trustee, got all the signatures necessary out of Nelly, and carried the thing through. Again, on another and smaller occasion, Miss Martin had seen the two sisters confronted with a scandalous overcharge for the carriage of some heavy luggage from Manchester. Nelly was aghast; but she would have paid the sum demanded like a lamb, if Bridget had not stepped in–grappled with carter and railway company, while Nelly looked on, helpless but relieved.

It was clear that Nelly’s inborn wish to be liked, her quivering responsiveness, together with a strong dose of natural indolence, made her hate disagreement or friction of any kind. She was always yielding–always ready to give in. But when Bridget in her harsh aggravating way fought things out and won, Nelly was indeed often made miserable, by the _ricochet_ of the wrath roused by Bridget’s methods upon herself; but she generally ended, all the same, by realising that Bridget had done her a service which she could not have done for herself.

Hester Martin frankly thought the sister odious, and pitied the bride for having to live with her. All the same she often found herself wondering how Nelly would ever manage the practical business of life alone, supposing loneliness fell to her at any time. But why should it fall to her?–unless indeed Sarratt were killed in action. If he survived the war he would make her the best of guides and husbands; she would have children; and her sweetness, her sensitiveness would stiffen under the impact of life to a serviceable toughness. But meanwhile what could she do–poor little Ariadne!–but ‘live and be lovely’–sew and knit, and gather sphagnum moss–dreaming half her time, and no doubt crying half the night. What dark circles already round the beautiful eyes! And how transparent were the girl’s delicate hands! Miss Martin felt that she was watching a creature on whom love had been acting with a concentrated and stimulating energy, bringing the whole being suddenly and rapidly into flower. And now, what had been only stimulus and warmth had become strain, and, sometimes, anguish, or fear. The poor drooping plant could with difficulty maintain itself.

For the moment however, Nelly, in her vast relief, was ready to talk and think of quite ordinary matters.

‘Bridget is in a good temper with me to-day!’ she said presently, looking with a smile at her companion–‘because–since the telegram came–I told her I would accept Miss Farrell’s invitation to go and spend a Sunday with them.’

‘Well, it might distract you. But you needn’t expect to get much out of Cicely!’

The old face lit up with its tolerant, half-sarcastic smile.

‘I shall be dreadfully afraid of her!’ said Nelly.

‘No need to be. William will keep her in order. She is a foolish woman, Cicely, and her own worst enemy, but–somehow’–The speaker paused. She was about to say–‘somehow I am fond of her’–when she suddenly wondered whether the remark would be true, and stopped herself.

‘I think she’s very–very good-looking’–said Nelly, heartily. ‘Only, why’–she hesitated, but her half-laughing look continued the sentence.

‘Why does she blacken her eyebrows, and paint her lips, and powder her cheeks? Is that what you mean?’

Nelly’s look was apologetic. ‘She doesn’t really want it, does she?’ she said shyly, as though remembering that she was speaking to a kinswoman of the person discussed. ‘She could do so well without it.’

‘No–to be quite candid, I don’t think she _would_ look so well without it. That’s the worst of it. It seems to suit her to be made up!–though everybody knows it _is_ make-up.’

‘Of course, if George wanted me to “make up,” I should do it at once,’ said Nelly, thoughtfully, propping her chin on her hands, and staring at the lake. ‘But he hates it. Is–is Miss Farrell–‘ she looked round–‘in love with anybody?’

Miss Martin laughed.

‘I’ll leave you to find out–when you go there. So if your husband liked you to paint and powder, you would do it?’

The older woman looked curiously at her companion. As she sat there, on a rock above the lake, in a grey nurse’s dress with a nurse’s bonnet tied under her chin, Hester Martin conveyed an impression of rugged and unconscious strength which seemed to fuse her with the crag behind her. She had been gathering sphagnum moss on the fells almost from sunrise that morning; and by tea-time she was expecting a dozen munition-workers from Barrow, whom she was to house, feed and ‘do for,’ in her little cottage over the week-end. In the interval, she had climbed the steep path to that white farm where death had just entered, and having mourned with them that mourn, she had come now, as naturally, to rejoice with Nelly Sarratt.

Nelly considered her question, but not in any doubtfulness of mind.

‘Indeed, I would,’ she said, decidedly. ‘Isn’t it my duty to make George happy?’

‘What “George”? If Mr. Sarratt wanted you to paint and powder—-‘

‘He wouldn’t be the “George” I married? There’s something in that!’ laughed Nelly. Then she lifted her hand to shade her eyes against the westering sun–‘Isn’t that Sir William coming?’

She pointed doubtfully to a distant figure walking along the path that skirts the western edge of the lake. Miss Martin put up her glasses.

‘Certainly. Coming no doubt to give you a lesson. But where are your sketching things?’

Nelly rose in a hurry.

‘I forgot about them when I came out. The telegram–‘ She pressed her hands to her eyes, with a long breath.

‘I’ll run back for them. Will you tell him?’

She departed, and Hester awaited her cousin. He came slowly along the lake, his slight lameness just visible in his gait–otherwise a splendid figure of a man, with a bare head, bearded and curled, like a Viking in a drawing by William Morris. He carried various artist’s gear slung about him, and an alpenstock. His thoughts were apparently busy, for he came within a few yards of Hester Martin, before he saw her.

‘Hullo! Hester–you here? I came to get some news of Mrs. Sarratt and her husband. Is he all right?’

Hester repeated the telegram, and added the information that seeing him coming, Mrs. Sarratt had gone in search of her sketching things.

‘Ah!–I thought if she’d got good news she might like to begin,’ said Farrell. ‘Poor thing–she’s lucky! Our casualties these last few days have been awful, and the gain very small. Men or guns–that’s our choice just now. And it will be months before we get the guns. So practically, there’s no choice. Somebody ought to be hung!’

He sat down frowning. But his face soon cleared, and he began to study the point of view.

‘Nothing to be made of it but a picture post-card,’ he declared. ‘However I daresay she’ll want to try it. They always do–the beginners. The more ambitious and impossible the thing, the better.’

‘Why don’t you _teach_ her?’ said Hester, severely.

Farrell laughed.

‘Why I only want to amuse her, poor little soul!’ he said, as he put his easel together. ‘Why should she take it seriously?’

‘She’s more intelligence than you think.’

‘Has she? What a pity! There are so many intelligent people in the world, and so few pretty ones,’

He spoke with a flippant self-confidence that annoyed his cousin. But she knew very well that she was poorly off in the gifts that were required to scourge him. And there already was the light form of Nelly, on the footbridge over the river. Farrell looked up and saw her coming.

‘Extraordinary–the grace of the little thing!’ he said, half to himself, half to Hester. ‘And she knows nothing about it–or seems to.’

‘Do you imagine that her husband hasn’t told her?’ Hester’s tone was mocking.

Farrell looked up in wonder. ‘Sarratt? of course he has–so far as he has eyes to see it. But he has no idea how remarkable it is.’

‘What? His wife’s beauty? Nonsense!’

‘How could he? It wants a trained eye,’ said Farrell, quite serious. ‘Hush!–here she comes.’

Nelly came up breathlessly, laden with her own paraphernalia. Farrell at once perceived that she was pale and hollow-eyed. But her expression was radiant.

‘How kind of you to come!’ she said, looking up at him. ‘You know I’ve had good news–splendid news?’

‘I do indeed. I came to ask,’ he said gravely. ‘He’s out of it for a bit?’

‘Yes, for three weeks!’

‘So you can take a rest from worrying?’

She nodded brightly, but she was not yet quite mistress of her nerves, and her face quivered. He turned away, and began to set his palette, while she seated herself.

Hester watched the lesson for half an hour, till it was time to go and make ready for her munition-workers. And she watched it with increasing pleasure, and increasing scorn of a certain recurrent uneasiness she had not been able to get rid of. Nothing could have been better than Farrell’s manner to Ariadne. It was friendly, chivalrous, respectful–all it should be–with a note of protection, of unspoken sympathy, which, coming from a man nearly twenty years older than the little lady herself, was both natural and attractive. He made an excellent teacher besides, handling her efforts with a mixture of criticism and praise, which presently roused Nelly’s ambition, and kindled her cheeks and eyes. Time flew and when Hester Martin rose to leave them, Nelly cried out in protest–‘It can’t be five o’clock!’

‘A quarter to–just time to get home before my girls arrive!’

‘Oh, and I must go too,’ said Nelly regretfully. ‘I promised Bridget I would be in for tea. But I _was_ getting on–wasn’t I?’ She turned to Farrell.

‘Swimmingly. But you’ve only just begun. Next time the sitting must be longer.’

‘Will you–will you come in to tea?’–she asked him shyly. ‘My sister would be very glad.’

‘Many thanks–but I am afraid I can’t. I shall be motoring back to Carton to-night. To-morrow is one of my hospital days. I told you how I divided my week, and salved my conscience.’

He smiled down upon her from his great height, his reddish gold hair and beard blown by the wind, and she seemed to realise him as a great, manly, favouring presence, who made her feel at ease.

Hester Martin had already vanished over the bridge, and Farrell and Nelly strolled back more leisurely towards the lodgings, he carrying her canvas sketching bag.

On the way she conveyed to him her own and Bridget’s acceptance of the Carton invitation.

‘If Miss Farrell won’t mind our clothes–or rather our lack of them! I did mean to have my wedding dress altered into an evening dress–but!—-‘

She lifted her hand and let it fall, in a sad significant gesture which pleased his fastidious eye.

‘You hadn’t even the time of the heart for it? I should think not!’ he said warmly. ‘Who cares about dress nowadays?’

‘Your sister!’ thought Nelly–but aloud she said–

‘Well then we’ll come–we’ll be delighted to come. May I see the hospital?’

‘Of course. It’s like any other hospital.’

‘Is it very full now?’ she asked him uneasily, her bright look clouding.

‘Yes–but it ebbs and flows. Sometimes for a day or two all our men depart. Then there is a great rush.’

‘Are they bad cases?’

There was an unwilling insistence in her voice, as though her mind dealt with images it would gladly have put away, but could not.

‘A good many of them. They send them us as straight as they can from the front. But the surgeons are wonderfully skilful. It’s simply marvelous what they can do.’

He seemed to see a shiver pass through her slight shoulders, and he changed the subject at once. The Carton motor should come for her and her sister, he said, whenever they liked, the following Saturday afternoon. The run would take about an hour. Meanwhile–

‘Do you want any more books or magazines?’ he asked her smiling, with the look of one only eager to be told how to serve her. They had paused in the road outside the lodgings.

‘Oh I how could we! You sent us such a bundle!’ cried Nelly gratefully. ‘We are always finding something new in it. It makes the evenings so different. We will bring them back when we come.’

‘Don’t hurry. And go on with the drawing. I shall expect to see it a great deal further on next time. It’s all right so far.’

He went his way back, speedily, taking a short cut over Loughrigg to his cottage. His thoughts, as he climbed, were very full of Mrs. Sarratt. But they were the thoughts of an artist–of a man who had studied beauty, and the European tradition of beauty, whether in form or landscape, for many years; who had worked–_a contre coeur_–in a Paris studio, and had copied Tintoret–fervently–in Venice; who had been a collector of most things, from Tanagra figures to Delia Robbias. She made an impression upon him in her lightness and grace, her small proportions, her lissomness of outline, very like that of a Tanagra figure. How had she come to spring from Manchester? What kindred had she with the smoke and grime of a great business city? He fell into amused speculation. Manchester has always possessed colonies of Greek merchants. Somewhere in the past was there some strain of southern blood which might account for her? He remembered a beautiful Greek girl at an Oxford Commemoration, when he had last attended that function; the daughter of a Greek financier settled in London, whose still lovely mother had been drawn and painted interminably by the Burne Jones and William Morris group of artists. _She_ was on a larger scale than Mrs. Sarratt, but the colour of the flesh was the same–as though light shone through alabaster–and the sweetness of the deep-set eyes. Moreover she had produced much the same effect on the bystander, as of a child of nature, a creature of impulse and passion–passion, clinging and self-devoted, not fierce and possessive–through all the more superficial suggestions of reticence and self-control. ‘This little creature is only at the beginning of her life’–he thought, with a kind of pity for her very softness and exquisiteness. ‘What the deuce will she have made of it, by the end? Why should such beings grow old?’

His interest in her led him gradually to other thoughts–partly disagreeable, partly philosophical. He had once–and only once–found himself involved in a serious love-affair, which, as it had left him a bachelor, had clearly come to no good. It was with a woman much older than himself–gifted–more or less famous–a kind of modern Corinne whom he had met for a month in Rome in his first youth. Corinne had laid siege to him, and he had eagerly, whole-heartedly succumbed. He saw himself, looking back, as the typically befooled and bamboozled mortal; for Corinne, in the end, had thrown him over for a German professor, who admired her books and had a villa on the Janiculum. During the eighteen years which had elapsed since their adventure, he had quite made it up with her, and had often called at the Janiculan villa, with its antiques, its window to the view, and the great Judas tree between it and Rome. His sense of escape–which grew upon him–was always tempered by a keen respect for the lady’s disinterestedness, and those high ideals which must have led her–for what else could?–to prefer the German professor, who had so soon become decrepit, to himself. But the result of it all had been that the period of highest susceptibility and effervescence had passed by, leaving him still unmarried. Since then he had had many women-friends, following harmlessly a score of ‘chance desires’! But he had never wanted to marry anybody; and the idea of surrendering the solitude and independence of his pleasant existence had now become distasteful to him. Renan in some late book speaks of his life as ‘cette charmante promenade a travers la realite.’ Farrell could have adopted much the same words about his own–until the war. The war had made him think a good deal, like Sarratt; though the thoughts of a much travelled, epicurean man of the world were naturally very different from those of the young soldier. At least ‘the surge and thunder’ of the struggle had developed in Farrell a new sensitiveness, a new unrest, as though youth had returned upon him. The easy, drifting days of life before the catastrophe were gone. The ‘promenade’ was no longer charming. But the jagged and broken landscape through which it was now taking him, held him often–like so many others–breathless with strange awes, strange questionings. And all the more, because, owing to his physical infirmity, he must be perforce a watcher, a discontented watcher, rather than an actor, in the great scene.

* * * * *

That night Nelly, sitting at her open window, with starlight on the lake, and the cluster rose sending its heavy scent into the room–wrote to her husband.

‘My darling–it is just a little more than eight hours since I got your telegram. Sometimes it seems like nothing–and then like _days_–days of happiness. I was _very_ anxious. But I know I oughtn’t to write about that. You say it helps you if I keep cheerful, and always expect the best and not the worst. Indeed, George, I do keep cheerful. Ask Miss Martin–ask Bridget–‘

At this point two splashes fell, luckily not on the letter, but on the blotting paper beside it, and Nelly hastily lifted her handkerchief to dry a pair of swimming eyes.

‘But he can’t see–he won’t know!’ she thought, apologising to herself; yet wrestling at the same time with the sharp temptation to tell him exactly how she had suffered, that he might comfort her. But she repelled it. Her moral sense told her that she ought to be sustaining and strengthening him–rather than be hanging upon him the burden of her own fears and agonies.

She went on bravely–

‘Of course, after the news in the paper this morning,–and yesterday–I was worried till I heard. I knew–at any rate I guessed–you must have been in it all. And now you are safe, my own own!–for three whole blessed weeks. Oh, how well I shall sleep all that time–and how much work I shall do! But it won’t be all war-work. Sir William Farrell came over to-day, and showed me how to begin a drawing of the lake. I shall finish it for your birthday, darling. Of course you won’t want to be bothered with it out there. I shall keep it till you come. The lake is so beautiful to-night, George. It is warmer again, and the stars are all out. The mountains are so blue and quiet–the water so still. But for the owls, everything seems asleep. But they call and call–and the echo goes round the lake. I can just see the island, and the rocks round which the boat drifted–that last night. How good you were to me–how I loved to sit and look at you, with the light on your dear face–and the oars hanging–and the shining water–

‘And then I think of where you are–and what you have been seeing in that awful fighting. But not for long. I try to put it away.

‘George, darling!–you know what you said when you went away–what you hoped might come–to make us both happy–and take my thoughts off the war? But, dear, it isn’t so–you mustn’t hope it. I shall be dreadfully sorry if you are disappointed. But you’ll only find _me_–your own Nelly–not changed a bit–when you come back.

‘I want to hear everything when you write–how your men did–whether you took any prisoners, whether there was ammunition enough, or whether you were short again? I feel every day that I ought to go and make munitions–but somehow–I can’t. We are going to Carton on Saturday. Bridget is extremely pleased. I rather dread it. But I shall be able to write you a long letter about it on Sunday morning, instead of going to church. There is Rydal chapel striking twelve! My darling–my darling!–good-night.’

CHAPTER VI

The following Saturday afternoon, at three o’clock, the Carton motor duly arrived at the Rydal cottage door. It was a hot summer day, the mountains colourless and small under their haze of heat, the woods darkening already towards the August monotony, the streams low and shrunken. Lakeland was at the moment when the artists who haunt her would rather not paint her, remembering the subtleties of spring, and looking forward to the pageantry of autumn. But for the eye that loves her she has beauties enough at any time, and no blanching heat and dust can spoil the lovely or delicate things that lie waiting in the shade of her climbing oak-woods or on her bare fells, or beside her still lakes.

Nelly took her seat in the landaulette, with Bridget beside her. Milly and Mrs. Weston admiringly watched their departure from the doorway of the lodgings, and they were soon speeding towards Grasmere and Dunmail Raise. Nelly’s fresh white dress, aided by the blue coat and shady hat which George had thought so ravishing, became her well; and she was girlishly and happily aware of it. Her spirits were high, for there in the little handbag on her wrist lay George’s last letter, received that morning, short and hurried, written just to catch the post, on his arrival at the rest camp, thirty miles behind the line. Heart-ache and fear, if every now and then their black wings brushed her, and far within, a nerve quivered, were mostly quite forgotten. Youth, the joy of being loved, the joy of mere living, reclaimed her.

Bridget beside her, in a dark blue cotton, with a very fashionable hat, looked more than her thirty years, and might almost have been taken for Nelly’s mother. She sat erect, her thin straight shoulders carrying her powerful head and determined face; and she noticed many things that quite escaped her sister: the luxury of the motor for instance; the details of the Farrell livery worn by the two discharged soldiers who sat in front as chauffeur and footman; and the evident fact that while small folk must go without servants, the rich seemed to have no difficulty in getting as many as they wanted.

‘I wonder what this motor cost?’ she said presently in a speculative tone, as they sped past the turn to Grasmere church and began to ascend the pass leading to Keswick.

‘Well, we know–about–don’t we?’ said Nelly vaguely. And she guessed a sum, at which Bridget looked contemptuous.

‘More than _that_, my dear! However of course it doesn’t matter to them.’

‘Don’t you think people look at us sometimes, as though we were doing something wrong?’ said Nelly uneasily. They had just passed two old labourers–fine patriarchal fellows who had paused a moment to gaze at the motor and the two ladies. ‘I suppose it’s because–because we look so smart.’

‘Well, why shouldn’t we?’

‘Because it’s war-time I suppose,’ said Nelly slowly–‘and perhaps their sons are fighting–‘

‘We’re not fighting!’

‘No–but–.’ With a slight frown, Nelly tried to express herself. ‘It looks as if we were just living as usual, while–Oh, you know, Bridget, what people think!–how _everybody’s_ trying not to spend money on themselves.’

‘Are they?’ Bridget laughed aloud. ‘Look at all the dress advertisements in the papers. Why, yesterday, when I was having tea with those people at Windermere, there was a man there telling lots of interesting things. He said he knew some great merchants in the city, who had spent thousands and thousands on furs–expensive furs–the summer before the war. And they thought they’d all have been left on their hands, that they’d have lost heavily. And instead of that they sold them all, and made a real big profit!’

Bridget turned an almost triumphant look on her sister, as though the _coup_ described had been her own.

‘Well, it isn’t right!’ said Nelly, passionately. ‘It isn’t–it _isn’t_–Bridget! When the war’s costing so much–and people are suffering and dying–‘

‘Oh, I know!’ said Bridget hastily. ‘You needn’t preach to me my dear child. I only wanted you to look at _facts_. You’re always so incurably sentimental!’

‘I’m not!’ Nelly protested, helplessly. ‘We _make_ the facts. If nobody bought the furs, the facts would be different. George says it’s wicked to squander money, and live as if everything were just the same as it used to be. And I agree with him!’

‘Of course you do!’ laughed Bridget. ‘_You_ don’t squander money, my dear!’

‘Only because I haven’t got it to spend, you mean?’ said Nelly, flushing.

‘No–but you should look at things sensibly. The people who are making money are spending it–oceans of it! And the people who have money, like the Farrells, are spending it too. Wait till you see how they live!’

‘But there’s the hospital!’ cried Nelly.

Bridget shrugged her shoulders.

‘That’s because they can afford to give the hospital, and have the motor-cars too. If they had to choose between hospitals and motor-cars!’

‘Lots of people do!’

‘You think Sir William Farrell looks like doing without things?’ said Bridget, provokingly. Then she checked herself. ‘Of course I like Sir William very much. But then _I_ don’t see why he shouldn’t have motor-cars or any other nice thing he wants.’

‘That’s because–you don’t think enough–you never think enough–about the war!’ said Nelly, insistently.

Bridget’s look darkened.

‘I would stop the war to-morrow–I would make peace to-morrow–if I could–you know I would. It will destroy us all–ruin us all. It’s sheer, stark lunacy. There, you know what I think!’

‘I don’t see what it’s ever cost you, Bridget!’ said Nelly, breathing fast.

‘Oh, well, it’s very easy to say that–but it isn’t argument.’

Bridget’s deep-set penetrating eyes glittered as she turned them on her sister. ‘However, for goodness’ sake, don’t let’s quarrel about it. It’s a lovely day, and we don’t often have a motor like this to drive in!’

The speaker leant back, giving herself up to the sensuous pleasure of the perfectly hung car, and the rapid movement through the summer air. Wythburn and Thirlmere were soon passed; leaving them just time to notice the wrack and ruin which Manchester has made of the once lovely shore of Thirlmere, where hideous stretches of brown mud, and the ruins of long submerged walls and dwellings, reappear with every dry summer to fling reproach in the face of the destroyer.

Now they were on the high ground above Keswick; and to the west and north rose a superb confusion of mountain-forms, peaked and rounded and cragged, with water shining among them, and the silver cloud wreaths looped and threaded through the valleys, leaving the blue or purple tops suspended, high in air, unearthly and alone, to parley with the setting sun. Not yet setting indeed–but already flooding the west with a glory in which the further peaks had disappeared–burnt away; a shining holocaust to the Gods of Light and Fire.

Then a sharp descent, a run through Keswick, another and a tamer lake, a sinking of the mountain-forms, and they were nearing the woods of Carton. Both sisters had been silent for some time. Nelly was wrapt in thoughts of George. Would he get leave before Christmas? Suppose he were wounded slightly–just a wound that would send him home, and let her nurse him?–a wound from which he would be sure to get well–not too quickly! She could not make up her mind to wish it–to pray for it–it seemed like tempting Providence. But how she had envied a young couple whom she sometimes met walking on the Ambleside road!–a young private of one of the Border regiments, with a bandaged arm, and his sweetheart. Once–with that new free-masonry which the war has brought about, she had stopped to speak to them. The boy had been quite ready to talk about his wound. It had seemed nothing at first–just a fragment of shrapnel–he had scarcely known he was hit. But abscess after abscess had formed–a leading nerve had been injured–it might be months before he could use it again. And meanwhile the plain but bright-faced girl beside him was watching over him; he lodged with her parents as his own were dead; and they were to be married soon. No chance of his going out again! The girl’s father would give him work in his garage. They had the air of persons escaped from shipwreck and ashamed almost of their own secret happiness, while others were still battling with and sinking in the waves.

* * * * *

A flowery lodge, a long drive through green stretches of park, with a heather fell for background–and then the motor, leaving to one side a huge domed pile with the Union Jack floating above it, ran through a wood, and drew up in front of Carton Cottage, a low building on the steps of which stood Sir William Farrell.

‘Delighted to see you! Come in, and let Cicely give you some tea. They’ll see to your luggage!’

He led in Nelly, and Bridget followed, glancing from side to side, with an eye shrewdly eager, an eye that took in and appraised all it saw. A cottage indeed! It had been built by Sir William’s father, for his only sister, a maiden lady, to whom he was much attached. ‘Aunt Sophy’ had insisted on a house to herself, being a person of some ruggedness and eccentricity of character and averse to any sort of dependence on other people’s ways and habits. But she had allowed her brother to build and furnish the cottage for her as lavishly as he pleased, and during his long widowhood she had been of much help to him in the management of the huge household at Carton Hall, and in the bringing up of his two children. After her death, the house had remained empty for some time, till, six months after the outbreak of war, Farrell had handed over the Hall to the War Office, and he and his sister had migrated to the smaller house.

Bridget was aware, as she followed her sister, of rooms small but numerous opening out on many sides, of long corridors with glistening teak floors, of windows open to a garden ablaze with roses. Sir William led them to what seemed a buzz of voices, and opened a door.

Cicely Farrell rose languidly from a table surrounded by laughing young men, and advanced to meet the newcomers. Nelly found herself shaking hands with the Captain Marsworth she had seen at Loughrigg Tarn, and being introduced by Sir William to various young officers, some in khaki, visitants from a neighbouring camp, and some from the Hall, in various forms of convalescent undress, grey flannel suits, khaki tunics with flannel ‘slacks,’ or full khaki, as the wearers pleased. The little lady in white had drawn all the male eyes upon her as she came in, and those who rapidly resumed their talk with Miss Farrell or each other, interrupted by the entrance of the newcomers, were no less aware of her than those who, with Farrell, devoted themselves to supply the two sisters with tea.

Nelly herself, extremely shy, but sustained somehow by the thought that she must hold her own in this new world, was soon deep in conversation with a charming youth, who owned a long, slightly lantern-jawed face and fair hair, moved on crutches with a slung knee, and took everything including his wound as ‘funny.’

‘Where is your husband?’ he asked her. ‘Sir William thinks he is somewhere near Festubert? My hat, the Lanchesters have been having a hot time there!–funny, isn’t it? But they’ll be moved to an easier job soon. They’re always in luck–the Lanchesters–funny, I call it?–what? I wouldn’t worry if I were you. Your husband’s got through this all right–mightn’t have another such show for ages. These things are awful chancey–funny, isn’t it? Oh, my wound?–well, it was just when I was getting over the parados to move back to billets–that the brute got me. Funny, wasn’t it? Hullo!–here’s a swell! My hat!–it’s General Torr!’

Nelly looked up bewildered to see a group of officers enter the room, headed by a magnificent soldier, with light brown hair, handsome features, and a broad be-ribboned chest. Miss Farrell greeted him and his comrades with her best smiles; and Nelly observed her closely, as she stood laughing and talking among them. Sir William’s sister was in uniform, if it could be called a uniform. She wore a nurse’s cap and apron over a pale blue dress of some soft crapey material. The cap was a square of fine lawn, two corners of which were fastened under the chin with a brooch consisting of one large pearl. The open throat showed a single string of fine pearls, and diamonds sparkled in the small ears. Edging the cap on the temples and cheeks were little curls–a la Henrietta Maria–and the apron, also of the finest possible lawn, had a delicately embroidered edge. The lips of the wearer had been artificially reddened, her eyebrows and eyelids had been skilfully pencilled, her cheeks rouged. A more extraordinary specimen of the nursing sisterhood it would have been impossible to find. Nevertheless the result was, beyond gainsaying, both amusing and picturesque. The lad beside Nelly watched Miss Farrell with a broad grin. On the other hand, a lady in a thin black dress and widow’s veil, who was sitting near Bridget, turned away after a few minutes’ observation of the hostess, and with a curling lip began to turn over a book lying on a table near her. But whether the onlookers admired or disapproved, there could be no question that Miss Farrell held the field.

‘I am very glad to hear that Mrs. Sarratt has good news of her husband!’ said Captain Marsworth courteously to Bridget, hardly able to make himself heard however amid the din and laughter of the central group. He too had been watching Cicely Farrell–but with a wholly impassive countenance. Bridget made some indifferent answer, and then eagerly asked who the visitors were. She was told that they were officers from a neighbouring camp, including the general commanding the camp. Sir William, said Captain Marsworth, had built the whole camp at his own expense, and on his own land, without waiting for any government contractor.

‘I suppose he is so enormously rich–he can do anything he wants!’ said Bridget, her face kindling. ‘It must be grand never to think what you spend.’

Captain Marsworth was a trifle taken aback by the remark, as Sir William was barely a couple of yards away.

‘Yes, I daresay it’s convenient,’ he said, lightly. ‘And what do you find to do with yourself at Rydal?’

Bridget informed him briefly that she was correcting some proof-sheets for a friend, and would then have an index to make.

Captain Marsworth looked at her curiously.

‘May one ask what the book is?’

‘It’s something new about psychology,’ said Bridget, calmly. ‘It’s going to be a great deal talked about. My friend’s awfully clever.’

‘Ah! Doesn’t she find it a little difficult to think about psychology just now?’

‘Why should she? Somebody’s got to think about psychology,’ was the sharp reply. ‘You can’t let everything go, because there’s a war.’

‘I see! You remind me of a man I know, who’s translating Dante. He’s just over military age, and there he sits in a Devonshire valley, with a pile of books. I happen to know a particular department in a public office that’s a bit hustled for want of men, and I suggested that he should lend a hand. He said it was his business to keep culture going!’

‘Well?’ said Bridget.

The challenging obstinacy of her look daunted him. He laughed.

‘You think it natural–and right–to take the war like that?’

‘Well, I don’t see who’s got a right to interfere with you if you do,’ she said, stiffly. Then, however, it occurred even to her obtuse and self-centred perception, that she was saying something unexpected and distasteful to a man who was clearly a great friend of the Farrells, and therefore a member of the world she envied. So she changed the subject.

‘Does Miss Farrell ever do any real nursing?’ she asked abruptly.

Captain Marsworth’s look became, in a moment, reserved and cold. ‘She’s always ready to do anything for any of us!’

Then the speaker rose. ‘I see Sir William’s preparing to take your sister into the gardens. You certainly ought to see them. They’re very famous.’

* * * * *

The party streamed out into the paths leading through a wood, and past a series of water-lily pools to the walled gardens. Sir William walked in front with Nelly.

‘My brother’s new craze!’ said Cicely in the ear of the General beside her, who being of heroic proportions had to stoop some way to hear the remark. He followed the direction of her eyes.

‘What, that little woman? A vision! Is it only looks, or is there something besides?’

Cicely shrugged her shoulders.

‘I don’t know. I haven’t found out. The sister’s plain, disagreeable, stupid.’

‘She looks rather clever.’

‘Doesn’t that show she’s stupid? Nobody ought to look clever. Do you admire Mrs. Sarratt?’

‘Can one help it? Or are you going also to maintain,’ laughed the general, ‘that no one can be beautiful who looks it?’

‘One _could_ maintain it–easily. The best kind of beauty has always to be discovered. What do you think, Captain Marsworth?’

She turned–provokingly–to the soldier on her left hand.

‘About beauty?’ He looked up listlessly. ‘I’ve no idea. The day’s too hot.’

Cicely eyed him.

‘You’re tired!’ she said peremptorily. ‘You’ve been doing too much. You ought to go and rest.’

He smiled, and standing back he let them pass him. Turning into a side path he disappeared towards the hospital.

‘Poor old fellow!–he still looks very delicate,’ said the General. ‘How is he really getting on?’

‘The arm’s improving. He’s having massage and electricity. Sometimes he seems perfectly well,’ said Cicely. An oddly defiant note had crept into the last sentence.

‘He looks down–out of spirits. Didn’t he lose nearly all his friends at Neuve Chapelle?’

‘Yes, some of his best friends.’

‘And half the battalion! He always cared enormously about his men. He and I, you know, fought in South Africa together. Of course then he was just a young subaltern. He’s a splendid chap! I’m afraid he won’t get to the front again. But of course they’ll find him something at home. He ought to marry–get a wife to look after him. By the way, somebody told me there was some talk about him and the daughter of the rector here. A nice little girl. Do you know her?’

‘Miss Stewart? Yes.’

‘What do you think of her?’

‘A little nincompoop. Quite harmless!’

The handsome hero smiled–unseen by his companion.

Meanwhile Farrell was walking with Nelly through the stately series of walled gardens, which his grandfather had planned and carried out, mainly it seemed for the boredom of the grandson.

‘What do we want with all these things now?’ he said, waving an impatient hand, as he and Nelly stood at the top flight of steps looking down upon the three gardens sloping to the south, with their fragments of statuary, and old leaden statuettes, ranged along the central walks. ‘They’re all out of date. They were before the war; and the war has given them the _coup de grace_. No more big estates–no more huge country houses! My grandfather built and built, for the sake of building, and I pay for his folly. After the war!–what sort of a world shall we tumble into!’

‘I don’t want these gardens destroyed!’ said Nelly, looking up at him. ‘No one ought to spoil them. They’re far too beautiful!’

She was beginning to speak with more freedom, to be less afraid of him. The gap between her small provincial experience and modes of thought, and his, was narrowing. Each was beginning to discover the inner personality of the other. And the more Farrell explored her the more charmed he was. She was curiously ignorant, whether of books or life. Even the busy commercial life amid which she had been brought up, as it seemed to him, she had observed but little. When he asked her questions about Manchester, she was generally vague or puzzled. He saw that she was naturally romantic; and her passion for the absent Sarratt, together with her gnawing anxiety about him which could not be concealed, made her, again, very touching in the eyes of a man of imagination whose feelings were quick and soft. He walked about with her for more than an hour, discoursing ironically on the Grecian temples, the rustic bridges and pools and fountains, now in imitation of the older Versailles and now of the Trianon, with which his grandfather had burdened his descendants; so that the glorious evening, as it descended, presently became a merry duel between him and her, she defending and admiring his own possessions, and he attacking them. Her eyes sparkled, and a bright red–a natural red–came back into her pale cheeks. She spoke and moved with an evident exhilaration, as though she realised her own developing powers, and was astonished by her own readiness of speech, and the sheer pleasure of talk. And something, no doubt, entered in of the new scene; its scale and magnificence, so different from anything she had yet known; its suggestion of a tradition reaching back through many generations, and of a series of lives relieved from all vulgar necessities, playing as they pleased with art and money, with water and wood.

At the same time she was never merely dazzled; and never, for one moment, covetous or envious. He was struck with her simple dignity and independence; and he perfectly understood that a being so profoundly in love, and so overshadowed by a great fear, could only lend, so to speak, her outer mind to Carton or the persons in it. He gathered roses for her, and did his utmost to please her. But she seemed to him all the time like a little hovering elf–smiling and gay–but quite intangible.

* * * * *

Dinner in the ‘cottage’ was short, but in Bridget’s eyes perfect. Personally, she was not enjoying herself very much, for she had made up her mind that she did not get on with military men, and that it was their fault, not hers; so that she sat often silent, a fact however unnoticed in the general clatter of the table. She took it quite calmly, and was more than compensated for the lack of conversation by the whole spectacle of the Farrell wealth; the flowers, the silver, the costly accessories of all kinds, which even in war-time, and in a ‘cottage,’ seemed to be indispensable. It would have been more amusing, no doubt, if it had been the big house and not the cottage. Sometimes through the open windows and the trees, she caught sight of the great lighted pile a little way off, and found herself dreaming of what it would be to live there, and to command all that these people commanded. She saw herself sweeping through the magnificent rooms, giving orders, inviting guests, entertaining royalty, driving about the country in splendid motors. It was a waking dream, and though she never uttered a word, the animation of her thoughts infused a similar animation into her aspect, and made her almost unconscious of her neighbours. Captain Marsworth made several attempts to win her attention before she heard him.

‘Yes.’

She turned at last an absent glance upon him.

‘Miss Farrell talks of our all going over to the hospital after dinner. She and Sir William often spend the evening there,’ said Captain Marsworth, quite aware from Miss Farrell’s frequent glances in his direction that he was not in her opinion doing his duty with Miss Cookson.

‘Will it take us long?’ said Bridget, the vivacity of her look dying out.

‘As long as you please to stay!’ laughed the Captain, drily.

* * * * *

That passage after dinner through the convalescent wards of the finely equipped hospital was to Nelly Sarratt an almost intolerable experience. She went bravely through it, leaving, wherever she talked to a convalescent, an impression of shy sweetness behind her, which made a good many eyes follow her as Farrell led her through the rooms. But she was thankful when it was over; and when, at last, she was alone in her room for the night, she flew–for consolation–to the drawer in which she had locked her writing-desk, and the letters she had received that morning. The post had just arrived as they were leaving Rydal, and she had hastily torn open a letter from George, and thrust the others into a large empty envelope. And now she discovered among them to her delight a second letter from George, unopened. What unexpected joy!

It too was dated–‘Somewhere in France’–and had been written two days after the letter she had opened in the morning.

‘My darling–we’re having a real jolly time here–in an old village, far behind the line, and it is said we shall be here for three whole weeks. Well, some of us really wanted it, for the battalion has been in some very hot fighting lately, and has had a nasty bit of the line to look after for a long time–with nothing very much to show for it. My platoon has lost some of its best men, and I’ve been pretty badly hit, as some of them were real chums of mine–the bravest and dearest fellows. And I don’t know why, but for the first time, I’ve been feeling rather jumpy and run down. So I went to a doctor, and he told me I’d better go off duty for a fortnight. But just then, luckily, the whole battalion was ordered, as I told you a week ago, into what’s called “divisional rest,” so here we are–for three weeks! Quite good billets–an old French farm–with two good barns and lots of straw for the men, and an actual bedroom for me–and a real bed–_with sheets!_ Think of that! I am as comfortable as possible. Just at first I’m going to stay in bed for a couple of days to please the doctor–but then I shall be all right, and shall probably take a course of gymnastics they’re starting here–odd, isn’t it?–like putting us to school again!–so that I may be quite fit before going back to the front.

‘One might almost forget the war here, if it weren’t for the rumble of the guns which hardly ever ceases. They are about thirty-five miles away. The whole country is quite peaceful, and the crops coming on splendidly. The farm produces delicious brown eggs–and you should see–and _taste_–the omelets the farmer’s wife makes! Coffee too–first-rate! How these French women work! Our men are always helping them, and the children hang round our Tommies like flies.

‘These two days in bed are a godsend, for I can read all your letters through again. There they are–spread out on my sheet! By Jove, little woman, you’ve treated me jolly well! And now I can pay you back a little. But perhaps you won’t mind, dearest, if I don’t write anything very long, for I expect I ought to take it easy–for a bit–I can’t think why I should have felt so slack. I never knew anything about nerves before. But the doctor has been very nice and understanding–a real, decent fellow. He declares I shall be as fit as a fiddle, long before the three weeks are done.

‘My bedroom door is open, and some jolly yellow chickens are wandering in and out. And sometimes the farmer’s youngest–a nice little chap of eight–comes to look at me. I teach him English–or I try–but when I say the English words, he just doubles up with laughing and runs away. Nelly, my precious–if I shut my eyes–I can fancy your little head there–just inside the door–and your eyes looking at me!…May the Lord give us good luck–and may we all be home by Christmas!–Mind you finish that sketch!’

She put the letter down with a rather tremulous hand. It had depressed her, and made her anxious. She read in it that George had been through horrible things–and had suffered.

Then all that she had seen in the hospital came back upon her, and rising restlessly she threw herself, without undressing, face downwards on her bed. That officer, blanched to the colour of white wax, who had lost a leg after frightful haemorrhage; that other, the merest boy, whose right eye had been excised–she could not get them out of her mind, nor the stories they had told her of the actions in which they had been wounded.

‘George–George!’ It was a moan of misery, stifled in the darkness.

Then, suddenly, she remembered she had not said good-night to Bridget. She had forgotten Bridget. She had been unkind. She got up, and sped along the passage to Bridget’s room.

‘Bridget!’ She just opened the door. ‘May I come in?’

‘Come in.’

Bridget was already in bed. In her hands was a cup of steaming chocolate which a maid had just brought her, and she was lingering over it with a face of content.

Nelly opened her eyes in astonishment.

‘Did you ask for it, Bridget?’

‘I did–or rather the housemaid asked what I would have. She said–“ladies have just what they like in their rooms.” So I asked for chocolate.’

Nelly sat down on the bed.

‘Is it good?’

‘Excellent,’ said Bridget calmly. ‘Whatever did you expect?’

‘We seem to have been eating ever since we came!’ said Nelly frowning,–‘and they call it economising!’

Bridget threw back her head with a quiet laugh.

‘Didn’t I tell you so?’

‘I wondered how you got on at dinner?’ said Nelly hesitating. ‘Captain Marsworth didn’t seem to be taking much trouble?’

‘It didn’t matter to me,’ said Bridget. ‘That kind of man always behaves like that,’

Nelly flushed.

‘You mean soldiers behave like that?’

‘Well, I don’t like soldiers–brothers-in-law excepted, of course.’ And Bridget gave her short, rather harsh laugh.

Nelly got up.

‘Well, I shall be ready to go as early as you like on Monday, Bridget. It was awfully good of you to pack all my things so nicely!’

‘Don’t I always?’ Bridget laughed.

‘You do–you do indeed. Good-night.’

She touched Bridget’s cheek with her lips and stole away.

Bridget was left to think. There was a dim light in the room showing the fine inlaid furniture, the flowery paper, the chintz-covered arm-chairs and sofa, and, through an open door, part of the tiled wall of the bathroom.

Miss Cookson had never slept in such a room before, and every item in it pleased a starved sense in her. Poverty was _hateful_! Could one never escape it?

Then she closed her eyes, and seemed to be watching Sir William and Nelly in the gardens, his protecting eager air–her face looking up. Of _course_ she might have married him–with the greatest ease!–if only George Sarratt had not been in the way.

But supposing–

All the talk that evening had been of a new ‘push’–a new and steady offensive, as soon as the shell supply was better. George would be in that ‘push.’ Nobody expected it for another month. By that time he would be back at the front. She lay and thought, her eyes closed, her harsh face growing a little white and pinched under the electric lamp beside her. Potentially, her thoughts were murderous. The _wish_ that George might not return formed itself clearly, for the first time, in her mind. Dreams followed, as to consequences both for Nelly and herself, supposing he did not return. And in the midst of them she fell asleep.

CHAPTER VII

August came, the second August of the war. The heart of England was sad and sick, torn by the losses at Gallipoli, by the great disaster of the Russian retreat, by the shortage of munitions, by the endless small fighting on the British front, which eat away the young life of our race, week by week, and brought us no further. But the spirit of the nation was rising–and its grim task was becoming nakedly visible at last. _Guns–men!_ Nothing else to say–nothing else to do.

George Sarratt’s battalion returned to the fighting line somewhere about the middle of August. ‘But we are only marking time,’ he wrote to his wife. ‘Nothing doing here, though the casualties go on every day. However we all know in our bones there will be plenty to do soon. As for me I am–more or less–all right again.’

Indeed, as September wore on, expectation quickened on both sides of the Channel. Nelly went in fear of she knew not what. The newspapers said little, but through Carton and the Farrells, she heard a great deal of military gossip. The shell supply was improving–the new Ministry of Munitions beginning to tell–a great blow was impending.

Weeks of rain and storm died down into an autumnal gentleness. The bracken was turning on the hills, the woods beginning to dress for the pageant of October. The sketching lessons which the usual August deluge had interrupted were to begin again, as soon as Farrell came home. He had been in France for a fortnight, at Etaples, and in Paris, studying new methods and appliances for the benefit of the hospital. But whether he was at home or no, the benefactions of Carton never ceased. Almost every other day a motor from the Hall drove up laden with fruit and flowers, with books and magazines.

The fourth week of September opened. The rumours of coming events crept more heavily and insistently than ever through a sudden spell of heat that hung over the Lakes. Nelly Sarratt slept little, and wrote every day to her George, letters of which long sections were often destroyed when written, condemned for lack of cheerfulness.

She was much touched by Farrell’s constant kindness, and grateful for it; especially because it seemed to keep Bridget in a good temper. She was grateful too for the visitors whom a hint from him would send on fine afternoons to call on the ladies at Rydal–convalescent officers, to whom the drive from Carton, and tea with ‘the pretty Mrs. Sarratt’ were an attraction, while Nelly would hang breathless on their gossip of the war, until suddenly, perhaps, she would turn white and silent, lying back in her garden chair with the look which the men talking to her–brave, kind-hearted fellows–soon learnt to understand. Marsworth came occasionally, and Nelly grew to like him sincerely, and to be vaguely sorry for him, she hardly knew why. Cicely Farrell apparently forgot them entirely. And in August and the first part of September she too, according to Captain Marsworth’s information, had been away, paying visits.

On the morning of September 26th, the Manchester papers which reached the cottage with the post contained columns of telegrams describing the British attack at Loos, and the French ‘push’ in Champagne. Among the letters was a short word from Sarratt, dated the 24th. ‘We shall probably be in action to-morrow, dearest. I will wire as soon as I can, but you must not be anxious if there is delay. As far as I can judge it will be a big thing. You may be sure I shall take all the precautions possible. God bless you, darling. Your letters are _everything_.’

Nelly read the letter and the newspaper, her hands trembling as she held it. At breakfast, Bridget eyed her uncomfortably.

‘He’ll be all right!’ she said with harsh decision. ‘Don’t fret.’

The day passed, with heavy heat mists over the Lake, the fells and the woods blotted out. On pretence of sketching, Nelly spent the hours on the side of Loughrigg, trying sometimes to draw or sew, but for the most part, lying with shut eyes, hidden among the bracken. Her faculty for dreaming awake–for a kind of visualisation sharper than most people possess–had been much developed since George’s departure. It partly tormented, partly soothed her.

Night came without news. ‘I _can’t_ hear till to-morrow night,’ she thought, and lay still all night patient and sleepless, her little hands crossed on her breast. The window was wide open and she could see the stars peering over Loughrigg.

Next morning, fresh columns in the newspaper. The action was still going on. She must wait. And somehow it was easier to wait this second day; she felt more cheerful. Was there some secret voice telling her that if he were dead, she would have heard?

After lunch she set out to take some of the Carton flowers to the farmer’s wife living in a fold of the fell, who had lost her only son in the July fighting. Hester Martin had guided her there one day, and some fellow-feeling had established itself rapidly between Nelly, and the sad, dignified woman, whose duties went on as usual while all that gave them zest had departed.

The distance was short, and she left exact word where she could be found. As she climbed the narrow lane leading to the farm, she presently heard a motor approaching. The walls enclosing the lane left barely room to pass. She could only scramble hurriedly up a rock which had been built into the wall, and hold on to a young tree growing from it. The motor which was large and luxurious passed slowly, and in the car she saw two young men, one pale and sickly-looking, wrapped in a great-coat though the day was stuffily warm: the other, the driver, a tall and stalwart fellow, who threw Nelly a cold, unfriendly look as they went by. Who could they be? The road only led to the farm, and when Nelly had last visited Mrs. Grayson, a week before, she and her old husband and a granddaughter of fourteen had been its only inmates.

Mrs. Grayson received her with a smile.

‘Aye, aye, Mrs. Sarratt, coom in. Yo’re welcome.’

But as Nelly entered the flagged kitchen, with its joints of bacon and its bunches of dried herbs, hanging from the low beamed ceiling, its wide hob grate, its dresser, table and chairs of old Westmorland oak, every article in it shining with elbow-grease,–she saw that Mrs. Grayson looked particularly tired and pale.

‘Yo mun ha’ passed them in t’ lane?’ said the farmer’s wife wearily, when the flowers had been admired and put in water, and Nelly had been established in the farmer’s own chair by the fire, while his wife insisted on getting an early cup of tea.

‘Who were they, Mrs. Grayson?’

‘Well, they’re nobbut a queer soart, Mrs. Sarratt–and I’d be glad to see t’ back on ’em. They’re “conscientious objectors”–that’s what they are–an my husband coom across them in Kendal toother day. He’d finished wi t’ market, and he strolled into the room at the Town Hall, where the men were coomin’ in–yo know–to sign on for the war. An’ he got talkin’ wi’ these two lads, who were lookin’ on as he was. And they said they was “conscientious objectors”–and wouldn’t fight not for nothing nor nobody. But they wouldn’t mind doing their bit in other ways, they said. So John he upped and said–would they coom and help him with his second crop o’ hay–you know we’ve lost nearly all our men, Mrs. Sarratt–and they said they would–and that very evening he brought ’em along. And who do you think they are?’

Nelly could not guess; and Mrs. Grayson explained that the two young men were the wealthy sons of a wealthy Liverpool tradesman and were starting a branch of their father’s business in Kendal. They had each of them a motor, and apparently unlimited money. They had just begun to be useful in the hay-making–‘But they wouldn’t _touch_ the stock–they wouldn’t kill anything–not a rat! They wouldn’t even shoo the birds from the oats! And last night one of them was took ill–and I must go and sit up with him, while his brother fetched the big car from Kendal to take him home. And there was he, groaning,–nobbut a bit of _colic_, Mrs. Sarratt, that anybody might have!–and there I sat–thinking of our lads in the trenches–thinking of _my boy_–that never grumbled at anything–and would ha’ been just ashamed to make such a fuss for such a little. And this afternoon the brother’s taken him away to be molly-coddled at home. And, of course, they’ve left us, just when they might ha’ been o’ soom real service. There’s three fields still liggin oot in t’ wet–and nobody to lend a hand wi’ them. But I doan’t want them back! I doan’t hold wi’ foak like that. I doan’t want to see a mon like that settin’ where my boy used to set, when he came home. It goes agin me. I can’t soomhow put up wi’ it.’

And as she sat there opposite Nelly, her gnarled and work-stained hands resting on her knees, the tears suddenly ran over her cheeks. But she quickly apologised for herself. ‘The truth is I am run doon, Mrs. Sarratt. I’ve done nothing but _cook_ and _cook_–since these young men coom along. They wouldn’t eat noa flesh–soa I must always be cookin’ summat–vegetables–or fish–or sweet things. I’m fair tired oot!’

Nelly exclaimed indignantly.

‘Was it their _religion_ made them behave like that?’

‘Religion!’ Mrs. Grayson laughed. ‘Well, they was only the yan Sunday here–but they took no account o’t, whativer. They went motorin’ all day; an niver set foot in church or chapel. They belong to soom Society or other–I couldna tell what. But we’ll not talk o’ them ony more, Mrs. Sarratt, if yo please. I’m just thankful they’re gone … An have ye heard this day of Mr. Sarratt?’

The gentle ageing face bent forward tenderly. Nelly lifted her own dark-rimmed eyes to it Her mouth quivered.

‘No, not yet, Mrs. Grayson. But I shall soon. You’ll have seen about this fighting in the newspapers? There’s been a great battle–I think he’ll have been in it. I shall hear to-night. I shall be sure to hear to-night.’

‘The Lord protect him!’ said Mrs. Grayson softly. They both sat silent, looking into the fire. Through the open door, the hens could be heard pecking and clucking in the yard, and the rushing of a beck swollen by the rain, on the fell-side. Presently the farmer’s wife looked up–

‘It’s devil’s work, is war!’ she said, her eyes blazing. Nelly held out her hand and Mrs. Grayson put hers into it. The two women looked at each other,–the one who had lost, and the other who feared to lose.

‘Yes, it’s awful,’ said Nelly, in a low voice. ‘They want us to be brave–but–‘

Mrs. Grayson shook her head again.

‘We can do it when they’re settin’ there–afore us,’ she said, ‘but not when we’re by our lone.’

Nelly nodded.

‘It’s the nights that are worst–‘ she murmured, under her breath–‘because it’s then they’re fighting–when we’re in bed–sleeping.’

‘My boy was killed between one and two in the morning ‘–whispered Mrs. Grayson. ‘I heard from one of his friends this morning. He says it was a lovely night, and the daylight just comin’ up. I think of it when I’m layin’ awake and hearing the birds beginning.’

There was silence again, till Mrs. Grayson said, suddenly, with a strange passion:–

‘But I’d rather be Jim’s mother, and be settin’ here without him, than I’d be the mother o’yan of them young fellows as is just gone!’

‘Yes,’ said Nelly slowly–‘yes. If we think too much about keeping them safe–just for ourselves–If; they despise–they _would_ despise us. And if anyone hangs back, we despise them. It’ a horrible puzzle.’

‘We can pray for them,’ said Mrs. Grayson simply. ‘God can keep them safe if it’s His will.’

‘Yes ‘–said Nelly again. But her tone was flat and hesitating. Her ever-present fear was very little comforted by prayer. But she found comfort in Mrs. Grayson. She liked to stay on in the old kitchen, watching Mrs. Grayson’s household ways, making friends with the stolid tabby cat, or listening to stories of Jim as a child. Sometimes she would read parts of George’s letters to this new friend. Bridget never cared to hear them; and she was more completely at ease with the farmer’s wife even than with Hester Martin.

But she could not linger this afternoon. Her news might come any time. And Sir William had telephoned that morning to say that he and his sister would call on their way from Windermere, and would ask for a cup of tea. Marsworth would probably meet them at Rydal.

As she descended the lane, she scolded herself for ingratitude. She was glad the Farrells were coming, because they would bring newspapers, and perhaps information besides, of the kind that does not get into newspapers. But otherwise–why had she so little pleasure now in the prospect of a visit from Sir William Farrell? He had never forced himself upon them. Neither his visits nor his lessons had been oppressively frequent, while the kindnesses which he had showered upon them, from a distance, had been unceasing. She could hardly have explained her disinclination. Was it that his company had grown so stimulating and interesting to her, that it made her think too much of other things than the war?–and so it seemed to separate her from George? Her own quiet occupations–the needlework and knitting that she did for a neighbouring war workroom, the gathering and drying of the sphagnum moss, the visiting of a few convalescent soldiers, a daily portion of Wordsworth, and some books about him–these things were within her compass George knew all about them, for she chronicled them in her letters day by day. She had a happy peaceful sense of communion with him while she was busy with them. But Farrell’s restless mind and wide culture at once tired and fascinated her. He would often bring a volume of Shelley, or Pater, or Hardy, or some quite modern poet, in his pocket, and propose to read to her and Bridget, when the sketching was done. And as he read, he would digress into talk, the careless audacity of which would sometimes distress or repel, and sometimes absorb her; till suddenly, perhaps, she realised how far she was wandering from that common ground where she and George had moved together, and would try and find her way back to it. She was always learning some new thing; and she hated to learn, unless George changed and learnt with her.

* * * * *

Meanwhile Captain Marsworth was walking along the road from Grasmere to Rydal with a rather listless step. As a soldier he was by no means satisfied with the news of the week. We ought to have been in Lille and weren’t. It seemed to him that was about what the Loos action came to; and his spirits were low. In addition he was in one of those fits of depression which attack an able man who has temporarily come to a stand-still in life, when his physical state is not buoyant enough to enable him to fight them off. He was beginning plainly to see that his own part in the war was done. His shattered arm, together with the neuralgic condition which had followed on the wound, were not going to mend sufficiently within any reasonable time to let him return to the fighting line, where, at the moment of his wound, he was doing divisional staff work, and was in the way of early promotion. He was a man of clear and vigorous mind, inclined always to take a pessimistic view of himself and his surroundings, and very critical also of persons in authority; a scientific soldier, besides, indulging a strong natural contempt for the politicians and all their crew, only surpassed by a similar scorn of newspapers and the press. He had never been popular as a subaltern, but since he had conquered his place among the ‘brains’ of the army, his fame had spread, and it was freely prophesied that his rise would be rapid. So that his growing conviction that his active military career was over had been the recent cause in him of much bitterness of soul. It was a bitter realisation, and a recent one. He had been wounded at Neuve Chapelle in March, and up to July he had been confident of complete and rapid recovery.

Well, there was of course some compensation. A post in the War Office–in the Intelligence Department–would, he understood, be offered him; and by October he meant to be at work. Meanwhile an old school and college friendship between himself and ‘Bill Farrell,’ together with the special facilities at Carton for the treatment of neuralgia after wounds, had made him an inmate for several months of the special wing devoted to such cases in the splendid hospital; though lately by way of a change of surroundings, he had been lodging with the old Rector of the village of Carton, whose house was kept–and well kept–by a sweet-looking and practical granddaughter, herself an orphan.

Marsworth had connections in high quarters, and possessed some considerable means. He had been a frequenter of the Farrells since the days when the old aunt was still in command, and Cicely was a young thing going to her first dances. He and she had sparred and quarrelled as boy and girl. Now that, after a long interval, they had again been thrown into close contact, they sparred and quarrelled still. He was a man of high and rather stern ideals, which had perhaps been intensified–made a little grimmer and fiercer than before–by the strain of the war; and the selfish frivolity of certain persons and classes in face of the national ordeal was not the least atoned for in his eyes by the heroism of others. The endless dress advertisements in the daily papers affected him as they might have affected the prophet Ezekiel, had the daughters of Judah added the purchase of fur coats, priced from twenty guineas to two hundred to their other enormities. He had always in his mind the agonies of the war, the sights of the trenches, the holocaust of young life, the drain on the national resources, the burden on the national future. So that the Farrell motor-cars and men servants, the costly simplicity of the ‘cottage,’ Cicely’s extravagance in dress, her absurd and expensive uniform, her make-up and her jewels, were so many daily provocations to a man thus sombrely possessed.

And yet–he had not been able so far to tear himself away from Carton! And he knew many things about Cicely Farrell that Nelly Sarratt had not discovered; things that alternately softened and enraged him; things that kept him now, as for some years past, provokingly, irrationally interested in her. He had once proposed to her, and she had refused him. That was known to a good many people. But what their relations were now was a mystery to the friends on both sides.

Whatever they were, however, on this September afternoon Marsworth was coming rapidly to the conclusion that he had better put an end to them. His latent feelings of resentment and irritation had been much sharpened of late by certain passages of arms between himself and Cicely–since she returned from her visits–with regard to that perfectly gentle and inoffensive little maiden, Miss Daisy Stewart, the Rector’s granddaughter. Miss Farrell had several times been unpardonably rude to the poor child in his presence, and, as it seemed to him, with the express object of showing him how little she cared to keep on friendly terms with him.

Nevertheless–he found himself puzzling over certain other incidents in his recent ken, of a different character. The hospital at Carton was mainly for privates, with a certain amount of accommodation for officers. He had done his best during the summer to be useful to some poor fellows, especially of his own regiment, on the Tommies’ side. And he had lately come across some perplexing signs of a special thoughtfulness on Miss Farrell’s part for these particular men. He had discovered also that she had taken pains to keep these small kindnesses of hers from his knowledge.

‘I wasn’t to tell you, sir,’–said the boy who had lost an eye–‘not whatever. But when you come along with them things’–a set of draughts and a book–‘why it do seem as though I be gettin’ more than my share!’

Well, she had always been incomprehensible–and he was weary of the attempt to read her. But he wanted a home–he wanted to marry. He began to think again–in leisurely fashion–of the Rector’s granddaughter.

Was that Mrs. Sarratt descending the side-lane? The sight of her recalled his thoughts instantly to the war, and to a letter he had received that morning from a brother officer just arrived in London on medical leave–the letter of a ‘grouser’ if ever there was one.

‘They say that this week is to see another big push–the French probably in Champagne, and we south of Bethune. I know nothing first-hand, but I do know that it can only end in a few kilometres of ground, huge casualties,–and, as you were! _We are not ready_–we can’t be ready for months. On the other hand we must keep moving–if only to kill a few Germans, and keep our own people at home in heart. I passed some of the Lanchesters on my way down–going up, as fresh as paint after three weeks’ rest–what’s left of them. They’re sure to be in it.’

The little figure in the mauve cotton had paused at the entrance to the lane, perceiving him.

What about Sarratt? Had she heard? He hurried on to meet her, and put his question.

‘There can’t be any telegram yet,’ she said, her pale cheeks flushing. ‘But it will come to-night. Shall we go back quickly?’

They walked on rapidly. He soon found she did not want to talk of the news, and he was driven back on the weather.

‘What a blessing to see the sun again I this west country damp demoralises me.’

‘I think I like it!’

He laughed.

‘Do you only “say that to annoy “?’

‘No, I _do_ like it! I like to see the rain shutting out everything, so that one can’t make any plans–or go anywhere.’ She smiled, but he was well aware of the fever in her look. He had not seen it there since the weeks immediately following Sarratt’s departure. His heart warmed to the frail creature, tremulous as a leaf in the wind, yet making a show of courage. He had often asked himself whether he would wish to be loved as Mrs. Sarratt evidently loved her husband; whether he could possibly meet such a claim upon his own sensibility. But to-day he thought he could meet it; to-day he thought it would be agreeable.

Nelly had not told Marsworth however that one reason for which she liked the rain was that it had temporarily put an end to the sketching lessons. Nor could she have added that this new distaste in her, as compared with the happy stir of fresh or quickened perception, which had been the result of his early teaching, was connected, not only with Sir William–but with Bridget–her sister Bridget.

But the truth was that something in Bridget’s manner, very soon after the Carton visit, had begun to perplex and worry the younger sister. Why was Bridget always insisting on the lessons?–always ready to scold Nelly if one was missed–and always practising airs and graces with Sir William that she wasted on no one else? Why was she so frequently away on the days when Sir William was expected? Nelly had only just begun to notice it, and to fall back instinctively on Miss Martin’s company whenever it could be had. She hated her own vague annoyance with Bridget’s behaviour, just because she could not pour herself out to George about it. It was really too silly and stupid to talk about. She supposed–she dreaded–that Bridget might be going to ask Sir William some favour; that she meant to make use of his kindness to her sister in order to work upon him. How horrible that would be!–how it would spoil everything! Nelly began sometimes to dream of moving, of going to Borrowdale, or to the coast at Scascale. And then, partly her natural indolence, and partly her clinging to every rock and field in this beautiful place where she had been so happy, intervened; and she let things slide.

Yet when Sir William and Cicely arrived, to find Bridget making tea, and Nelly listening with a little frown of effort, while Marsworth, pencil in hand, was drawing diagrams _a la Belloc_, to explain to her the Russian retreat from Galicia, how impossible not to feel cheered by Farrell’s talk and company! The great _bon enfant_, towering in the little room, and positively lighting it up by the red-gold of his-hair and beard, so easily entertained, so overflowing with kind intentions, so fastidious intellectually, and so indulgent morally:–as soon as he appeared he filled the scene.

‘No fresh news, dear Mrs. Sarratt, nothing whatever,’ he said at once, meeting her hungry eyes. ‘And you?’

She shook her head.

‘Don’t worry. You’ll get it soon. I’ve sent the motor back to Windermere for the evening papers.’

Meanwhile Marsworth found himself reduced to watching Cicely, and presently he found himself more angry and disgusted than he had ever yet been. How could she? How dared she? On this day of all days, to be snobbishly playing the great lady in Mrs. Sarratt’s small sitting-room! Whenever that was Cicely’s mood she lisped; and as often as Marsworth, who was sitting far away from her, talking to Bridget Cookson, caught her voice, it seemed to him that she was lisping–affectedly–monstrously. She was describing for instance a certain ducal household in which she had just been spending the week-end, and Marsworth heard her say–

‘Well at last, poor Evelyn’ (‘poor Evelyn’ seemed to be a youthful Duchess, conducting a war economy campaign through the villages of her husband’s estate), ‘began to get threatening letters. She found out afterwards they came from a nurse-maid she had sent away. “Madam, don’t you talk to us, but look at ‘ome! examine your own nursewy, Madam, and hold your tongue!” She did examine, and I found her cwying. “Oh, Cicely, isn’t it awful, I’ve just discovered that Nurse has been spending _seven pounds a week_ on Baby’s wibbons!” So she’s given up war economy!’

‘Why not the “wibbons?”‘ said Hester Martin, who had just come in and heard the tale.

‘Because nobody gives up what they weally want to have,’ said Cicely promptly, with a more affected voice and accent than before.

Bridget pricked up her ears and nodded triumphantly towards Nelly.

‘Don’t talk nonsense, Cicely,’ said Farrell. ‘Why, the Duchess has planted the whole rose-garden with potatoes, and sold all her Pekinese.’

‘Only because she was tired of the Pekinese, and has so many flowers she doesn’t know what to do with them! On the other hand the _Duke_ wants parlour-maids; and whenever he says so, Evelyn draws all the blinds down and goes to bed. And that annoys him so much that he gives in! Don’t you talk, Willy. The Duchess always gets wound you!’

‘I don’t care twopence about her,’ said Farrell, rather savagely. ‘What does she matter?’ Then he moved towards Nelly, whose absent look and drooping attitude he had been observing for some minutes.

‘Shan’t we go down to the Lake, Mrs. Sarratt? It seems really a fine evening at last, and there won’t be so many more. Let me carry some shawls. Marsworth, lend a hand.’

Soon they were all scattered along the edge of the Lake. Hester Martin had relieved Marsworth of Bridget; Farrell had found a dry rock, and spread a shawl upon it for Nelly’s benefit. Marsworth and Cicely had no choice but to pair; and she, with a grey hat and plume half a yard high, preposterously short skirts, and high-heeled boots buttoned to the knee, condescended to stroll beside him, watching his grave embarrassed look with an air of detachment as dramatically complete as she could make it.

* * * * *

‘You look awfully tired!’ said Farrell to his companion, eyeing her with most sincere concern. ‘I wonder what you’ve been doing to yourself.’

‘I’m all right,’ she said with emphasis. ‘Indeed I’m all right. You said you’d sent for the papers?’

‘The motor will wait for them at Windermere. But I don’t think there’ll be much more to hear. I’m afraid we’ve shot our bolt.’

She clasped her hands listlessly on her knee, and said nothing.

‘Are you quite sure Sarratt has been in it?’ he asked her.

‘Oh, yes, I’m sure.’

There was a dull conviction in her voice. She began to pluck at the grass beside her, while her dark contracted eyes swept the Lake in front of her–seeing nothing.