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  • 1917
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‘Sir William is there, with Captain Marsworth,’ said Nelly. ‘Cicely comes here to-morrow.’

‘Does she expect me to give her my room?’ said Bridget sharply.

‘Not at all. She likes the little spare-room.’

‘Or pretends to! Has Sir William been here to-day?’

‘Yes, he came round.’

A few more questions and answers led to silence broken only by the crackling of the fire. The firelight played on Nelly’s cheek and throat, and on her white languid hands. Presently it caught her wedding-ring, and Bridget’s eye was drawn to the sparkle of the gold. She sat looking absently at her sister. She was thinking of a tiny room in a hut hospital–of the bed–and of those eyes that had opened on her. And there sat Nelly–knowing nothing!

It was all a horrible anxiety. But it couldn’t last long.


‘So you are not at church?’

The voice was Marsworth’s as he stepped inside the flagged passage of the farm, Nelly having just opened the door to him.

‘It’s so far!–in winter,’ said Nelly a little guiltily. ‘I go to Grasmere in summer.’

‘Oh! don’t apologise–to a heathen like me! I’m only too thankful to find you alone. Is your sister here?’

‘Yes. But we’ve made a room for her in one of the outhouses. She works there.’

‘What at? Is she still learning Spanish?’ asked Marsworth, smiling, as he followed Nelly into the little white drawing-room.

‘I don’t know,’ said Nelly, after a moment, in a tone of depression. ‘Bridget doesn’t tell me.’

The corners of Marsworth’s strong mouth shewed amusement. He was not well acquainted with Bridget Cookson, but as far as his observation went, she seemed to him a curious specimen of the half-educated pretentious woman so plentiful in our modern life. In place of ‘psychology’ and ‘old Spanish,’ the subjects in which Miss Cookson was said to be engaged, he would have liked to prescribe for her–and all her kin–courses of an elementary kind in English history and vulgar fractions.

But, for Nelly Sarratt, Marsworth felt the tender and chivalrous respect that natures like hers exact easily from strong men. To him, as to Farrell, she was the ‘little saint’ and peacemaker, with her lovingness, her sympathy, her lack of all the normal vanities and alloys that beset the pretty woman. That she was not a strong character, that she was easily influenced and guided by those who touched her affections, he saw. But that kind of weakness in a woman–when that woman also possesses the mysterious something, half physical, half spiritual, which gives delight–is never unpleasing to such men as Marsworth, nor indeed to other women. It was Marsworth’s odd misfortune that he should have happened to fall in love with a young woman who had practically none of the qualities that he naturally and spontaneously admired in the sex.

It was, however, about that young woman that he had come to talk. For he was well aware of Nelly’s growing intimacy with Cicely, and had lately begun to look upon that as his last hope.

Yet he was no sooner alone with Nelly than he felt a dim compunction. This timid creature, with her dark haunting eyes, had problems enough of her own to face. He perceived clearly that Farrell’s passion for her was mounting fast, and he had little or no idea what kind of response she was likely to make to it. But all the same his own need drove him on. And Nelly, who had scarcely slept all night, caught eagerly at some temporary escape from her own perplexities.

‘Dear Mrs. Sarratt!–have you _any_ idea, whether Cicely cares one brass farthing for me, or not?’

To such broad and piteous appeal was a gallant officer reduced. Nelly was sorry for him, but could not hide the smile in her eyes, as she surveyed him.

‘Have you really asked her?’

‘Asked her? Many times!–in the dark ages. It is months, however, since she gave me the smallest chance of doing it again. Everything I do or say appears to annoy her, and of course, naturally, I have relieved her of my presence as much as possible.’

Nelly had taken up her knitting.

‘If you never come–perhaps–Cicely thinks you are tired of her.’

Marsworth groaned.

‘Is that her line now? And yet you know–you are witness!–of how she behaves when I do come.’

Nelly looked up boldly.

‘You mustn’t be angry, but–why can’t you accept her–as she is–without always wanting her different?’

Marsworth flushed slightly. The impressive effect of his fine iron-grey head, and marked features, his scrupulously perfect dress, and general look of competence and ability, was deplorably undone by the signs in him of bewilderment and distress.

‘You mean–you think I bully her?–she thinks so?’

‘She–she feels–you so dreadfully disapprove of her!’ said Nelly, sticking to it, but smiling.

‘She regards me as a first-class prig in fact?’

‘No–but she thinks you don’t always understand.’

‘That I don’t know what a splendid creature she is, really?’ said Marsworth with increasing agitation. ‘But I do know it! I know it up and down. Why everybody–except those she dislikes!–at that hospital, adores her. She’s wearing herself out at the work. None of us are fit to black her boots. But if one ever tries to tell her so–my hat!’

‘Perhaps she doesn’t like being praised either,’ said Nelly softly. ‘Perhaps she thinks–an old friend–should take it all for granted.’

‘Good Lord!’ said Marsworth holding his head in desperation–‘whatever I do is wrong! Dear Mrs. Sarratt!–look here–I must speak up for myself. You know how Cicely has taken of late to being intolerably rude to anybody she thinks is my friend. She castigates me through them. That poor little girl, Daisy Stewart–why she’s ready at any moment to worship Cicely! But Cicely tramples on her–_you_ know how she does it–and if I interfere, I’m made to wish I had never been born! At the present moment, Cicely won’t speak to me. There was some silly shindy at a parish tea last week–by the way, she’s coming to you to-day?’

‘She arrives for lunch,’ said Nelly, looking at the clock.

‘And the Stewarts are coming to the cottage in the afternoon!’ said Marsworth in despair. ‘Can you keep her away?’

‘I’ll try–but you know it’s not much good trying to manage Cicely.’

‘Don’t I know it! I return to my first question–does she care a hapo’rth?’

Nelly was looking dreamily into the fire.

‘You mean–does she care enough to give up her ways and take to yours?’

‘Yes, I suppose I do mean that,’ he said, with sudden seriousness.

Nelly shook her head, smiling.

‘I don’t know! But–Cicely’s worth a deal of trouble.’

He assented with a mixture of fervour and depression.

‘We’ve known each other since we were boy and girl. That’s what makes the difficulty, perhaps. We know each other too well. When she was a child of fourteen, I was already in the Guards, and I used to try and tackle her–because no one else would. Her father was dead. Her mother had no influence with her; and Willy was too lazy. So I tried my hand. And I find myself doing the same thing now. But of course it’s fatal–it’s fatal!’

Nelly tried to cheer him up, but she was not herself very hopeful. She, perceived too clearly the martinet in him and the rebel in Cicely. If something were suddenly to throw them together, some common interest or emotion, each might find the other’s heart in a way past undoing. On the other hand the jarring habit, once set up, has a way of growing worse, and reducing everything else to dust and ashes. Finally she wound up with a timid but emphatic counsel.

‘Please–please–don’t be sarcastic.’

He looked injured.

‘I never am!’

Nelly laughed.

‘You don’t know when you are. And be very nice to her this afternoon.’

‘How can I, if she shews me at once that I’m unwelcome? You haven’t answered my question.’

He was standing ready for departure. Nelly’s face changed–became all sad and tender pity.

‘You must ask it yourself!’ she said eagerly, ‘Go on asking it. It would be too–too dreadful, wouldn’t it?–to miss everything–by being proud, or offended, for nothing—-‘

‘What do you mean by everything?’

‘You know,’ she said, after a moment, shielding her eyes as they looked into the fire; ‘I’m sure you know. It _is_ everything.’

As he walked back to the cottage, he found himself speculating not so much about his own case as about his friend’s. Willy was certainly in love. And Nelly Sarratt was as softly feminine as Cicely was mannish and strong. But he somehow did not feel that Willy’s chances were any safer than his own.

A car arrived at one o’clock bringing Cicely, much wrapped up in fur coat and motor-veils. She came impetuously into the sitting-room, and seemed to fill it. It took some time to peel her and reduce her to the size of an ordinary mortal. She then appeared in a navy-blue coat and skirt, with navy-blue boots buttoned almost to the knees. The skirt was immensely full and immensely short. When the strange erection to which the motor-veil was attached was removed, Cicely showed a dark head with hair cut almost short, and parted on the left side. Her eyebrows were unmistakably blackened, her lips unmistakably–strengthened; and Nelly saw at once that her guest was in a very feverish and irritated condition.

‘Are you alone?’ said Cicely, glancing imperiously round her, when the disrobing was done.

‘Bridget is here.’

‘What are you going to do this afternoon?’

‘Can’t we have a walk, you and I, together?’

‘Of course we can. Why should we be bothered with anyone else?’

‘I suppose,’ said Nelly timidly–‘they will come in to tea?’

‘”They”? Oh! you mean Willy and Captain Marsworth? It is such a pity Willy can’t find somebody more agreeable for these Sundays.’

Cicely threw herself back in her chair, and lifted a navy-blue boot to the fire.

‘More agreeable than Captain Marsworth?’

‘Exactly. Willy can’t do anything without him, when he’s in these parts; and it spoils everything!’

Nelly dropped a kiss on Cicely’s hair, as she stood beside her.

‘Why didn’t you put off coming till next week?’

‘Why should I allow my plans to be interfered with by Captain Marsworth?’ said Cicely, haughtily. ‘I came to see _you_!’

‘Well, we needn’t see much of him,’ said Nelly, soothingly, as she dropped on a stool beside her friend.

‘I’m not going to be kept out of the cottage, by Captain Marsworth, all the same!’ said Cicely hastily. ‘There are several books there I want.’

‘Oh, Cicely, what have you been doing?’ said Nelly, laying her head on her guest’s knees.

‘Doing? Nothing that I hadn’t a perfect right to do. But I suppose–that very particular gentleman–has been complaining?’

Nelly looked up, and met an eye, fiercely interrogative, yet trying hard not to be interrogative.

‘I’ve been doing my best to pick up the pieces.’

‘Then he has been complaining?’

‘A little narrative of facts,’ said Nelly mildly.

‘Facts–_facts_!’ said Cicely, with the air of a disturbed lioness. ‘As if a man whose ideas of manners and morals date from about–a million years before the Flood.’

‘Dear!–there weren’t any manners or morals a million years before the Flood.’

Cicely drew a breath of exasperation.

‘It’s all very well to laugh, but if you only knew how _impossible_ that man is!’

‘Then why not get a Sunday free from him?’

Cicely flushed against her will, and said nothing. Nelly’s black eyes observed her with as much sarcasm in their sweetness as she dared to throw into them. She changed her tone.

‘Don’t go to the cottage this afternoon, Cicely.’

‘Why?’ The voice was peremptory.

‘Well, because—-‘ Nelly described Farrell’s chance meeting with the Stewarts and the inevitable invitation. Cicely’s flush deepened. But she tried to speak carelessly.

‘Of course, the merest device on that girl’s part! She arranged it all.’

‘I really don’t think she did.’

‘Ah, well, _you_ haven’t seen what’s been going on. A more shameless pursuit—-‘

Cicely stopped abruptly. There was a sudden sparkle in Nelly’s look, which seemed to shew that the choice of the word ‘pursuit’ had been unlucky.

Miss Farrell quieted down.

‘Of course,’ she said, with a very evident attempt to recapture whatever dignity might be left on the field, ‘neither Willy nor I like to see an old friend throwing himself away on a little pink and white nonentity like Daisy Stewart. We can’t be expected to smile upon it.’

‘But I understand, from one of the parties principally concerned, that there is really nothing in it!’ said Nelly, smiling.

‘One of the perjuries I suppose at which Jove laughs!’ said Cicely getting up, and hastily rearranging her short curls with the help of various combs, before the only diminutive looking-glass the farm sitting-room provided. ‘However, we shall see what happens. I have no doubt Miss Daisy has arranged the proposal scene for this very afternoon. We shall be in for the last act of the play.’

‘Then you _are_ going to the cottage?’

‘Certainly!’ said Cicely, with a clearing brow. ‘Don’t let’s talk any more about it. Do give me some lunch. I’m ravenous. Ah, here’s your sister!’

For through a back window looking on what had once been a farm-yard, and was now a small garden, Cicely saw Bridget emerge from the rebuilt outhouse where an impromptu study had been devised for her, and walk towards the farm.

‘I say, what’s happened to your sister?’

‘Happened to her? What do you mean?’

‘She looks so much older.’

‘I suppose she’s been working too hard,’ said Nelly, remorsefully. ‘I wish I knew what it was all about.’

‘Well, I can tell you’–said Cicely laughing and whispering–‘that Willy doesn’t think it’s about anything in particular!’

‘Hush!’ said Nelly, with a pained look. ‘Perhaps we shall all turn out to be quite wrong. We shall discover that it was something–‘

‘Desperately interesting and important? Not it! But I’m going to be as good as good. You’ll see.’

And when Bridget appeared, Cicely did indeed behave herself with remarkable decorum. Her opinion was that Nelly’s strange sister had grown more unlike other people than ever since she had last seen her. She seemed to be in a perpetual brown study, which was compatible, however, with a curious watchfulness which struck Cicely particularly. She was always aware of any undercurrent in the room–of anyone going in or out–of persons passing in the road. At lunch she scarcely opened her lips, but Cicely was all the time conscious of being observed. After luncheon Bridget got up abruptly, and said she was going down to Grasmere to post a letter.

‘Oh, then,’ said Nelly–‘you can ask if there are any for me.’

For there was no delivery at the farm on Sunday morning. Bridget nodded, and they soon saw her emerge from the farm gate and take the Grasmere road.

‘I must say your sister seems greatly to prefer her own company to ours,’ said Cicely, lighting her cigarette.

Again Nelly looked distressed.

‘She was always like that,’ she said at last. ‘It doesn’t really mean anything.’

‘Do I know you well enough to ask whether you get on with her?’

Nelly coloured. ‘I try my best’–she said, rather despairingly. Then she added–‘she does all sorts of things for me that I’m too lazy to do for myself!’

‘I believe she likes Willy better than most people!’ laughed Cicely. ‘I’m not suggesting, please, that she has designs upon him. But she is certainly more forthcoming to him than to anybody else, isn’t she?’

Nelly did not reply. The remark only clouded her look still more. For her inner mind was perfectly aware of Bridget’s attitude towards William Farrell, and understood it only too well. She knew by this time, past any doubt, that Bridget was hungry for the Farrell wealth, and was impatient with herself as a little fool who had not yet made certain of it. If she stuck to her purpose–if she went away and cut off all communication with Carton–Bridget would probably quarrel with her for good.

Would she stick to her purpose? Her mind was miserably swaying to and fro. She felt morally as she had once felt–physically–on a summer afternoon long before, when she, who could not swim, had gone imperceptibly out of her depth, while bathing, and had become suddenly aware of a seaward current, carrying her away. No help was near. For five minutes, which had seemed five years, she had wrestled against the deadly force, which if her girlish strength had been a fraction less, would have swept her out, a lifeless plaything to the open sea. Spiritually, it was the same now. Farrell’s will, and–infinitely less important, but still, to be reckoned with–Bridget’s will, were pressing her hard. She did not know if she could keep her footing.

Meanwhile Cicely, in complete ignorance of the new and agonised tension in Nelly’s mind, was thinking only of her own affairs. As soon as her after-luncheon cigarette was done, she sprang up and began to put on her hat.

‘So you _are_ going to the cottage?’ said Nelly.

‘Certainly. How do you like my boots?’

She held up one for inspection.

‘I don’t like them!’

‘Fast, you think? Ah, wait till you see my next costume! High Russian boots, delicious things, up to there!’ Cicely indicated a point above the knee, not generally reached by the female boot–‘hand-painted and embroidered–with tassels–you know!–corduroy trousers!’

‘Cicely!–you won’t!’

‘Shan’t I–and a pink jersey, the new shade? I saw a friend of mine in this get-up, last week. Ripping! Only she had red hair, which completed it. Perhaps I might dye mine!’

They sallied forth into a mild winter afternoon. Nelly would have avoided the cottage and Farrell if she could, but Cicely had her own way as usual. Presently they turned into a side lane skirting the tarn, from which the cottage and its approaches could be seen, at a distance. From the white-pillared porch, various figures were emerging, four in all.

Cicely came to a stop.

‘There, you see!’ she said, in her sharpest voice–‘Look there!’ For two of the figures, whom it was easy to identify as Captain Marsworth and Miss Stewart, diverging from the other pair, went off by themselves in the direction of Skelwith, with a gay wave of the hand to the old Rector and Farrell left behind.

Cicely’s sudden scarlet ebbed in a moment, leaving her quite white. She walked on with difficulty, her eyes on the ground. Nelly dared not address her, or slip a sympathising hand into hers. And it was too late to retreat. Farrell had perceived them, and he and his companion came towards them. Cicely pulled herself rapidly together.

Nelly too had need of a minute or two’s recollection before Farrell joined them. He and she were still to meet as usual, while meeting was possible–wasn’t that how it stood? After all, her new plans could not be made in a moment. She had promised nothing; but he had promised–would she be able to hold him to it? Her heart trembled as he came nearer.

But he met her in a sunny mood, introducing her to the white-haired old clergyman, and watching Cicely with eyes that shewed a hidden amusement.

‘The other two seemed to have some private business to discuss,’ he said carelessly. ‘So they’ve got rid of us for a while. They’re walking round the other side of the tarn and will join us at the top of Red Bank. At least if you’re up to a walk?’

He addressed Nelly, who could do nothing but assent, though it meant a tete-a-tete with him, while Cicely and the old Rector followed.

Mr. Stewart found Miss Farrell anything but an agreeable companion. He was not a shrewd observer, and the love-affairs especially of his fellow-creatures were always a surprise and a mystery to him. But he vaguely understood that his little granddaughter was afraid of Miss Farrell and did not get on with her. He, too, was afraid of Cicely and her sharp tongue, while her fantastic dress and her rouge put him in mind of passages in the prophet Ezekiel, the sacred author of whom he was at that moment making a special study with a view to a Cambridge University sermon. It would be terrible if Daisy were ever to take to imitating Miss Farrell. He was a little disturbed about Daisy lately. She had been so absent-minded, and sometimes–even–a little flighty. She had forgotten the day before, to look out some passages for him; and there was a rent in his old overcoat she had not mended. He was disagreeably conscious of it. And what could she have to say to Captain Marsworth? It was all rather odd–and annoying. He walked in a preoccupied silence.

Farrell and Nelly meanwhile were, it seemed, in no lack of conversation. He told her that he might possibly be going to France, in a week or two, for a few days. The Allied offensive on the Somme was apparently shutting down for the winter. ‘The weather in October just broke everybody’s heart, vile luck! Nothing to be done but to make the winter as disagreeable to the Boche as we can, and to go on piling up guns and shells for the spring. I’m going to look at hospitals at X—‘ he named a great base camp–‘and I daresay they’ll let me have a run along some bit of the front, if there’s a motor to be had.’

Nelly stopped abruptly. He could see the colour fluctuating in her delicate face.

‘You’re going to X—? You–you might see Dr. Howson?’

‘Howson?’ he said, surprised. ‘Do you know him? Yes, I shall certainly see Howson. He’s now the principal surgeon at one of the General Hospitals there, where I specially want to look at some new splints they’ve been trying.’

Nelly moved on without speaking for a little. At last she said, almost inaudibly–

‘He promised me–to make enquiries.’

‘Did he?’ Farrell spoke in the grave, deep voice he seemed to keep for her alone, which was always sweet to her ear. ‘And he has never written?’ She shook her head. ‘But he would have written–instantly–you may be quite sure, if there had been the slightest clue.’

‘Oh yes, I know, I know,’ she said hastily.

‘Give me any message for him you like–or any questions you’d like me to ask.’

‘Yes’–she said, vaguely.

It seemed to him she was walking languidly, and he was struck by her weary look. The afternoon had turned windy and cold with gusts of rain. But when he suggested an immediate return to the cottage, Nelly would have none of it.

‘We were to meet Captain Marsworth and Miss Stewart. Where are they?’

They emerged at the moment from the cottage grounds, upon the high road; Farrell pointed ahead, and Nelly saw Marsworth and Miss Stewart walking fast up the hill before them, and evidently in close conversation.

‘What can they have to talk about?’ said Nelly, wondering.

‘Wouldn’t you like to know!’

‘You’re not going to tell me?’

‘Not a word.’

His eyes laughed at her. They walked on beside each other, strangely content. And yet, with what undercurrents of sensitive and wounded consciousness on her side, of anxiety on his!

At the top of Red Bank they came up with Marsworth and Miss Stewart. Nelly’s curiosity was more piqued than ever. If all that Marsworth had said to her was true, why this evident though suppressed agitation on the girl’s part, and these shades of mystery in the air? Daisy Stewart was what anybody would have called ‘a pretty little thing.’ She was small, round-cheeked, round-eyed, round-limbed; light upon her feet; shewing a mass of brown hair brushed with gold under her hat, and the fresh complexion of a mountain maid. Nelly guessed her age about three and twenty, and could not help keenly watching the meeting between her and Cicely. She saw Cicely hold out a limp hand, and the girl’s timid, almost entreating eyes.

But, the next moment, her attention was diverted to a figure slowly mounting the steep hill from Grasmere, on the top of which the cottage party were now standing, uncertain whether to push on for their walk, or to retreat homewards before the increasing rain. The person approaching was Bridget. As she perceived her, Nelly was startled into quick recollection of Cicely’s remark of the morning–‘Your sister seems to have grown much older.’ But not only older–_different!_ Nelly could not have analysed her own impression, but it was so painful that she ran down to meet her.

‘Bridget, it’s too far for you to Grasmere!–and coming back up this awful hill! You look quite done. Do go home and lie down, or will you come to the cottage for tea first? It’s nearer.’

Bridget looked at her coldly.

‘Why do you make such a fuss? I’m all right. But I’m not coming to the cottage, thank you. I’ve got things to do.’

The implication was that everyone else was idle. Nelly drew back, rebuffed. And as Bridget reached the group at the top of the hill it was as though the rain and darkness suddenly deepened. All talk dropped. Farrell, indeed, greeted her courteously, introduced her to the Stewarts, and asked her to come back to the cottage for tea. But he was refused as Nelly had been. Bridget went on her way alone towards the farm. But after parting from the others she turned back suddenly to say–‘There were no letters for you, Nelly.’

‘What a mercy!’ said Farrell, as Bridget disappeared. ‘Don’t you think so? I never have any forwarded here.’

‘Ah, but you get so many,’ said Nelly wistfully. ‘But still, letters don’t matter to me–now.’

He said nothing, but it roused in him a kind of fierce soreness that she would always keep the past so clearly before herself and him.

Violent rain came on, and they hurried back to the cottage for shelter. Cicely was talking extravagantly all the time. She was tired to death, she said, of everything patriotic. The people who prattled about nursing, and the people who prattled about the war–especially the people who talked about women’s work–were all equally intolerable. She meant to give up everything very soon. Somebody must amuse themselves, or the world would go mad. Farrell threw at her some brotherly jibes; the old Rector looked scared; and Marsworth said nothing.

* * * * *

There were bright fires in the cottage, and the dripping walkers were glad to crowd round them; all except Cicely and Marsworth, who seemed to Nelly’s watching sense to be oddly like two wrestlers pacing round each other, and watching the opportunity to close. Each would take out a book from the shelves and put it back, or take up a newspaper from the tables–crossing repeatedly, but never speaking. And meanwhile Nelly also noticed that Daisy Stewart, now that Cicely’s close contact was removed, was looking extraordinarily pretty. Radiance, not to be concealed, shone from her charming childish face.

Suddenly Marsworth paused in front of Cicely, intercepting her as she was making for the door.

‘Would you be an angel, Miss Farrell, and help me to find a particular Turner drawing I want to see? Willy says it’s in the studio somewhere.’

Cicely paused, half haughty, half irresolute.

‘Willy knows his way about the portfolios much better than I do.’

Marsworth came nearer, and leaning one hand on the table between them, bent over to her. He was smiling, but there was emotion in his look.

‘Willy is looking after these people. Won’t you?’

Cicely considered.

‘All right!’ she said carelessly, at last, and led the way.


The studio was empty. A wood fire burnt on the wide hearth, making a pleasant glow in the wintry twilight. Cicely seated herself on the end of a sofa, crossed her feet, and took out a cigarette. But to Marsworth’s intense relief she had taken off the helmet-like erection she called a hat, and her black curly hair strayed as it pleased about her brow and eyes.

‘Well?’ she said, at last, looking at him coolly. Marsworth could not help laughing. He brought a chair, and placed it where he could see her from below, as he lay back in it, his hands behind his head.

‘Of course, you don’t want to look at the portfolio,’ she resumed, ‘that was your excuse. You want to tell me of your engagement to Miss Stewart.’

Marsworth laughed again. Her ear caught what seemed to be a note of triumph.

‘Make haste, please!’ she said, breathing quickly. ‘There isn’t very much time.’

His face changed. He sat up, and held out his hand to her.

‘Dear Cicely, I want you to do something for me.’

But she put her own behind her back.

‘Have you been quarrelling already? Because if you want me to make it up, that really isn’t my vocation.’

He was silent a moment surveying her. Then he said quietly–‘I want you to help me. I want you to be kind to that little girl.’

‘Daisy Stewart? Thank you. But I’ve no gift at all for mothering babes! Besides–she’ll now have all the advice, and all the kindness she wants.’

Marsworth’s lips twitched.

‘Yes, that’s true–if you and I can help her out. Cicely!–aren’t you a great friend of Sir John Raine?’

He named one of the chiefs of the Army Medical Department, a man whose good word was the making of any aspirant in the field he ruled.

Cicely looked rather darkly at her questioner.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I want you to help me get an appointment for somebody.’

‘For whom?’

‘For the man Daisy Stewart wants to marry.’

Cicely could not conceal her start.

‘I don’t like being mystified,’ she said coldly.

Marsworth allowed his smile to shew itself.

‘I’m not trying to mystify you in the least. Daisy Stewart has been engaged for nearly a year to one of the house-surgeons in your hospital–young Fellows. Nobody knows it–not Willy even. It has been kept a dead secret, because that wicked old man the Rector won’t have it. Daisy makes him comfortable, and he won’t give her up, if he can help it. And as young Fellows has nothing but his present pay–a year with board and lodging–it seemed hopeless. But now he has got his eye on something.’

And in a quiet business-like voice Marsworth put the case of the penniless one–his qualifications, his ambitions, and the particular post under the Army Medical Board on which he had set his hopes. If only somebody with influence would give him a leg up!

Cicely interrupted.

‘Does Willy know?’

‘No. You see, I have come to you first.’

‘How long have you known?’

‘Since my stay with them last autumn. I suspected something then, just as I was leaving; and Miss Daisy confessed–when I was there in May. Since then she seems to have elected me her chief adviser. But, of course, I had no right to tell anybody anything.’

‘That is what you like–to advise people?’

Marsworth considered it.

‘There was a time’–he said, at last, in a different voice, ‘when my advice used to be asked by someone else–and sometimes taken.’

Cicely pretended to light another cigarette, but her slim fingers shook a little.

‘And now–you never give it?’

‘Oh yes, I do,’ he said, with sudden bitterness–‘even unasked. I’m always the same old bore.’

There was silence. His right hand stole towards her left that was lying limply over her knee. Cicely’s eyes looking down were occupied with his disabled arm, which, although much improved, was still glad to slip into its sling whenever it was not actively wanted.

But just as he was capturing her, Cicely sprang up.

‘I must go and see about Sir John Raine.’

‘Cicely–I don’t care a brass farthing about Sir John Raine!’

‘But having once brought him in, I recommend you to stick to him,’ said Cicely, with teasing eyes. ‘And don’t go advising young women. It’s not good for the military. _I’m_ going to take this business in hand.’

And she made for departure, but Marsworth got to the door first, and put his back against it.

‘Find me the Turner, Cicely.’

‘A man who asks for a thing on false pretences shouldn’t have it.’

A silence. Then a meek voice said–

‘Captain Marsworth, my brother, Sir William Farrell, will be requiring my services at tea!’

Marsworth moved aside and she forward. But as she neared him, he caught her passionately in his arms and kissed her. She released herself, crimson.

‘Do I like being kissed?’ she said in a low voice–‘do I? Anyway don’t do it again!–and if you dare to say a word yet–to anyone–‘

Her eyes threatened; but he saw in them revelations her pride could not check, and would have disobeyed her at once; but she was too quick for him. In a second she had opened the door and was gone.

During the rest of the afternoon, her brother and Nelly watched Cicely’s proceedings with stupefaction; only equalled by the bewilderment of Miss Daisy Stewart. For that young lady was promoted to the good graces of Sir William’s formidable sister with a rapidity and completeness which only natural good manners and good sense could have enabled her to deal with; considering the icy exclusion to which she had been so long condemned. But as she possessed both, she took it very simply; always with the same serene light in her grey eyes.

Marsworth said to himself presently that young Fellows’ chances were good. But in truth he hardly remembered anything about them, except that by the help of them he had kissed Cicely! And he had yet to find out what that remarkable fact was to mean, either to himself or to her. She refused to let him take her back to the farm, and she only gave him a finger in farewell. Nor did she say a word of what had happened, even to Nelly.

Nelly spent again a very wakeful night. Farrell had walked home with them, and she understood from him that, although he was going over early to Carton the following morning, he would be at the cottage again before many days were over. It seemed to her that in telling her so he had looked at her with eyes that seemed to implore her to trust him. And she, on hearing it, had been merely dumb and irresponsive, not forbidding or repellent, as she ought to have been. The courage to wound him to the quick–to leave him bereft, to go out into the desert herself, seemed to be more and more oozing away from her.

Yet there beside her bed, on the table which held her Testament, and the few books–almost all given her by W.F.–to which she was wont to turn in her wakeful hours, was George’s photograph in uniform. About three o’clock in the morning she lit her candle, and lay looking at it, till suddenly she stretched out her hand for it, kissed it repeatedly, and putting it on her breast, clasped her hands over it, and so fell asleep.

But before she fell asleep, she was puzzled by the sounds in Bridget’s room next door. Bridget seemed to be walking about–pacing up and down incessantly. Sometimes the steps would cease; only to begin again after a while with the same monotony. What could be the matter with Bridget? This vague worry about her sister entered into and heightened all Nelly’s other troubles. Yet all the same, in the end, she fell asleep; and the westerly wind blowing over Wetherlam, and chasing wild flocks of grey rain-clouds before him, found no one awake in the cottage or the farm to listen to the concert he was making with the fells, but Bridget–and Cicely.

* * * * *

Bridget Cookson had indeed some cause for wakefulness. Locked away in the old workbox, where she kept the papers to which she attached importance, was a letter bearing the imprint ‘O.A.S.,’ which had been delivered to her on Sunday afternoon by the Grasmere post-mistress. It ran as follows:

‘DEAR MISS COOKSON,–I know of course that you are fully convinced the poor fellow we have here in charge has nothing to do with your brother-in-law. But as you saw him, and as the case may throw light on other cases of a similar nature, I thought I would just let you know that owing apparently to the treatment we have been carrying out, there are some very interesting signs of returning consciousness since your visit, though nothing very definite as yet. He is terribly ill, and physically I see no chance for him. But I think he _may_ be able to tell us who he is before the end, in which case I will inform you, lest you should now or at any future time feel the smallest misgiving as to your own verdict in the matter. This is very unlikely, I know, for I understand you were very decided; but still as soon as we have definite information–if we get it–you may wish to inform poor Mrs. Sarratt of your journey here. I hope she is getting stronger. She did indeed look very frail when I saw her last.

‘Yours very truly,


Since the receipt of that letter Bridget’s reflections had been more disagreeable than any she had yet grappled with. In Nelly’s company the awfulness of what she had done did sometimes smite home to her. Well, she had staked everything upon it, and the only possible course was to brazen it out. That George should die, and die _quickly_–without any return of memory or speech, was what she terribly and passionately desired. In all probability he would die quickly; he might even now be dead. She saw the thing perpetually as a race between his returning mind–if he still lived, and it was returning–and his ebbing strength. If she had lived in old Sicilian days, she would have made a waxen image like the Theocritean sorceress, and put it by the fire, that as it wasted, so George might waste. As it was, she passed her time during the forty-eight hours after reading Howson’s letter in a silent and murderous concentration on one thought and wish–George Sarratt’s speedy death.

What a release indeed for everybody!–if people would only tell the truth, and not dress up their real feelings and interests in stale sentimentalisms. Farrell made happy at no very distant date; Nelly settled for life with a rich man who adored her; her own future secured–with the very modest freedom and opportunity she craved:–all this on the one side–futile tragedy and suffering on the other. None the less, there were moments when, with a start, she realised what other people might think of her conduct. But after all she could always plead it was a mistake–an honest mistake. Are there not constantly cases in the law courts, which shew how easy it is to fail in identifying the right person, or to persist in identifying the wrong one?

During the days before Farrell returned, the two sisters were alone together. Bridget would gladly have gone away out of sight and hearing of Nelly. But she did not dare to leave the situation–above all, the postman–unwatched. Meanwhile Nelly made repeated efforts to break down the new and inexplicable barrier which seemed to have arisen between herself and Bridget. Why would Bridget always sit alone in that chilly outside room, which even with a large fire seemed to Nelly uninhabitable? She tried to woo her sister, by all the small devices in her power.

‘Why won’t you come and sit with me a bit, Bridget? I’m so dull all alone!’–she would say when, after luncheon or high tea, Bridget showed signs of immediately shutting herself up again.

‘I can’t. I must do some work.’

‘Do tell me what you’re doing, Bridget?’

‘Oh, you wouldn’t understand.’

‘Well, other people don’t always think me a born idiot!’–Nelly would say, not without resentment. ‘I really could understand, Bridget, if you’d try.’

‘I haven’t the time.’

‘And you’re killing yourself with so many hours of it. Why should you slave so? If you only would come and help me sometimes with the Red Cross work, I’d do any needlework for you, that you wanted.’

‘You know I hate needlework.’

‘You’re not doing anything–not _anything_–for the war, Bridget!’ Nelly would venture, wistfully, at last.

‘There are plenty of people to do things for the war. I didn’t want the war! Nobody asked my opinion.’

And presently the door would shut, and Nelly would be left to watch the torrents of rain outside, and to endeavour by reading and drawing, by needlework and the society of her small friend Tommy, whenever she could capture him, to get through the day. She pined for Hester, but Hester was doing Welfare work in a munition factory at Leeds, and could not be got at.

So there she sat alone, brooding and planning, too timid to talk to Bridget of her own schemes, and, in her piteous indecision, longing guiltily for Farrell’s return. Meanwhile she had written to several acquaintances who were doing V.A.D. work in various voluntary hospitals, to ask for information.

Suddenly, after the rain came frost and north wind–finally snow; the beginning in the north of the fiercest winter Western Europe has known for many years. Over heights and dales alike spread the white Leveller, melting by day in the valley bottoms, and filling up his wastage by renewed falls at night. Nelly ventured out sometimes to look at the high glories of Wetherlam and the Pikes, under occasional gleams of sun. Bridget never put a foot out of doors, except when she went to the garden gate to look for the postman in the road, and take the letters from him.

At last, one evening, when after a milder morning a bitter blast from the north springing up at dusk had, once more, sent gusts of snow scudding over the fells, Nelly’s listening ear heard the well-known step at the gate. She sprang up with a start of joy. She had been so lonely, so imprisoned with her own sad thoughts. The coming of this kind, strong man, so faithful to his small friend through all the stress of his busy and important life, made a sudden impression upon her, which brought the tears to her eyes. She thought of Carton, of its splendid buildings, and the great hospital which now absorbed them; she seemed to see Farrell as the king of it all, the fame of his doings spreading every month over the north, and wiping out all that earlier conception of him as a dilettante and an idler of which she had heard from Hester. And yet, escaping from all that activity, that power, that constant interest and excitement, here he was, making use of his first spare hour to come through the snow and the dark, just to spend an hour with Nelly Sarratt, just to cheer her lonely little life.

Nelly ran to the window and opened it.

‘Is that really you?’ she called, joyously, while the snow drifted against her face.

Farrell, carrying a lantern, was nearing the porch. The light upon his face as he turned shewed her his look of delight.

‘I’m later than I meant, but the roads are awful. May I walk in?’

She ran down to meet him; then hung back rather shyly in the passage, while he took off his overcoat and shook the snow from his beard.

‘Have you any visitors?’ he asked, still dusting away the snow.

‘Only Bridget. I asked Hester, but she couldn’t come.’

He came towards her along the narrow passage, to the spot where she stood tremulous on the lowest step of the stairs. A lamp burning on a table revealed her slight figure in black, the warm white of her throat and face, the grace of the bending head, and the brown hair wreathed about it. He saw her as an exquisite vision in a dim light and shade. But it was not that which broke down his self-control so much as the pathetic look in her dark eyes, the look of one who is glad, and yet shrinks from her own gladness–tragically conscious of her own weakness, and yet happy in it. It touched his heart so profoundly that whether the effect was pain or pleasure he could not have told. But as he reached the step, moved by an irresistible impulse, he held out his arms, and she melted into them. For one entrancing instant, he held her close and warm upon his breast, while the world went by.

But the next moment she had slipped away, and was sitting on the step, her face in her hands.

He did not plead or excuse himself. He just stood by her endeavouring to still and control his pulses–till at last she looked up. The lamp shewed her his face, and the passion in it terrified her. For there had been no passion in her soft and sudden yielding. Only the instinct of the child that is forsaken and wants comforting, that feels love close to it, and cannot refuse it.

‘There, you see!’ she said, desperately–‘You see–I must go!’

‘No! It’s I who must go. Unless ‘–his voice sank almost to a whisper–‘Nelly!–couldn’t you–marry me? You should never, never regret it.’

She shook her head, and as she dropped her face again in her hands he saw a shudder run through her. At the sight his natural impulse was to let passion have its way, to raise her in his arms again, and whisper to her there in the dark, as love inspired him, his cheek on hers. But he did not venture. He was well aware of something intangible and incalculable in Nelly that could not be driven. His fear of it held him in check. He knew that she was infinitely sorry for him and tender towards him. But he knew too that she was not in love with him. Only–he would take his chance of that, if only she would marry him.

‘Dear!’ he said, stooping to her, and touching her dark curls with his hand. ‘Let’s call in Hester! She’s dreadfully wise! If you were with her I should feel happy–I could wait. But it is when I see you so lonely here–and so sad–nobody to care for you!–that I can’t bear it!’

Through the rush of the wind, a sound of someone crossing the yard behind the farm came to their ears. Nelly sprang to her feet and led the way upstairs. Farrell followed her, and as they moved, they heard Bridget open the back door and come in.

The little sitting-room was bright with lamp and fire, and Farrell, perceiving that they were no longer to be alone, and momentarily expecting Bridget’s entrance, put impatience aside and began to talk of his drive from Carton.

‘The wind on Dunmail Raise was appalling, and the lamps got so be-snowed, we had to be constantly clearing them. But directly we got down into the valley it mended, and I managed to stop at the post-office, and ask if there were any letters for you. There were two–and a telegram. What have I done with them?’ He began to search in his pockets, his wits meanwhile in such a whirl that it was difficult for him to realise what he was doing.

At that point Bridget opened the door. He turned to shake hands with her, and then resumed his fumbling.

‘I’m sure they did give them to me’–he said, in some concern,–‘two letters and a telegram.’

‘A telegram!’ said Bridget, suddenly, hurrying forward,–‘it must be for me.’

She peremptorily held out her hand, and as she did so, Nelly caught sight of her sister. Startled out of all other thoughts she too made a step forward. What _was_ wrong with Bridget? The tall, gaunt woman stood there livid, her eyes staring at Farrell, her hand unsteady as she thrust it towards him.

‘Give me the telegram, please! I was expecting one,’ she said, trying to speak as usual.

Farrell turned to her in surprise.

‘But it wasn’t for you, Miss Cookson. It was for Mrs. Sarratt. I saw the address quite plainly. Ah, here they are. How stupid of me! What on earth made me put them in that pocket.’

He drew out the letters and the telegram. Bridget said again–‘Give it me, please! I know it’s for me!’ And she tried to snatch it. Farrell’s face changed. He disliked Bridget Cookson heartily, mainly on Nelly’s account, and her rude persistence nettled a temper accustomed to command. He quietly put her aside.

‘When your sister has read it, Miss Cookson, she will no doubt let you see it. As it happens, the post-mistress made me promise to give it to Mrs. Sarratt myself. She seemed interested–I don’t know why.’

Nelly took it. Farrell–who began to have some strange misgiving–stood between her and Bridget. Bridget made no further movement. Her eyes were fixed on Nelly.

Nelly, bewildered by the little scene and by Bridget’s extraordinary behaviour, tore open the brown envelope, and read slowly–‘Please come at once. Have some news for you. Your sister will explain. Howson, Base Headquarters, X——, France.’

‘Howson?’ said Nelly. Then the colour began to ebb from her face. ‘Dr. Howson?’ she repeated. ‘What news? What does he mean? _Oh_!’–the cry rang through the room–‘_it’s George_!–it’s George! he’s found!–he’s found!’

She thrust the telegram piteously into Farrell’s hands. He read it, and turned to Bridget.

‘What does Dr. Howson mean, Miss Cookson, and why does he refer Mrs. Sarratt to you?’

For some seconds she could not make her pale lips reply. Finally, she said–‘That’s entirely my own affair, Sir William. I shall tell my sister, of course. But Nelly had better go at once, as Dr. Howson advises. I’ll go and see to things.’

She turned slowly away. Nelly ran forward and caught her.

‘Oh, Bridget–don’t go–you mustn’t go! What news is it? Bridget, tell me!–you couldn’t–you _couldn’t_ be so cruel–not to tell me–if you knew anything about George!’

Bridget stood silent.

‘Oh, what can I do–what can I do?’ cried Nelly.

Then her eyes fell on the letters still in her hand. She tore one open–and read it–with mingled cries of anguish and joy. Farrell dared not go near her. There seemed already a gulf between her and him.

‘It’s from Miss Eustace’–she said, panting, as she looked up at last, and handed the letter to him–it’s George–he’s alive–they’ve heard from France–he asks for me–but–but–he’s dying.’

Her head dropped forward a little. She caught at the back of a chair, nearly fainting. But when Farrell approached her, she put up a hand in protest.

‘No, no,–I’m all right. But, Bridget, Miss Eustace says–you’ve actually _seen_ him–you’ve been to France. When did you go?’

‘About three weeks ago,’ said Bridget, after a moment’s pause. ‘Oh, of course I know’–she threw back her head defiantly–‘you’ll all set on me–you’ll all blame me. But I suppose I may be mistaken like anybody else–mayn’t I? I didn’t think the man I saw was George–I didn’t! And what was the good of disturbing your mind?’

But as she told the lie, she told it so lamely and unconvincingly that neither of the other two believed it for a moment. Nelly stood up–tottering–but mistress of herself. She looked at Farrell.

‘Sir William–can you take me to Windermere, for the night-train? I know when it goes–10.20. I’ll be ready–by nine.’ She glanced at the clock, which was just nearing seven.

‘Of course,’ said Farrell, taking up his hat. ‘I’ll go and see to the motor. But’–he looked at her with entreaty–‘you can’t go this long journey alone!’

The words implied a bitter consciousness that his own escort was impossible. Nelly did not notice it. She only said impatiently–

‘But, of course, I must go alone.’

She stood silent–mastering the agony within–forcing herself to think and will. When the pause was over, she said quietly–‘I will be quite ready at nine.’ And then mechanically–‘It’s very good of you.’

He went away, passing Bridget, who stood with one foot on the fender, staring down into the fire.

When the outer door had closed upon him, Nelly looked at her sister. She was trembling all over.

‘Bridget–_why_ did you do it?’ The voice was low and full of horror.

‘What do you mean? I made a mistake–that’s all!’

‘Bridget–you _knew_ it was George! You couldn’t be mistaken. Miss Eustace says–in the letter’–she pointed to it–‘they asked you about his hands. Do you remember how you used to mock at them?’

‘As if one could remember after a year and a half!’

‘No, you couldn’t forget, Bridget–a thing like that–I know you couldn’t. And what made you do it! Did you think I had forgotten George?’

At that the tears streamed down her face, unheeded. She approached her sister piteously.

‘Bridget, tell me what he looked like! Did you speak to him–did you see his eyes open? Oh my poor George!–and I here–never thinking of him’–she broke off incoherently, twisting her hands. ‘Miss Eustace says he was wounded in two places–severely–that she’s afraid there’s no hope. Did they say that to you, Bridget–tell me!–for Heaven’s sake tell me!’

‘You’ll make yourself ill,’ said Bridget harshly. ‘You’d better lie down, and let me pack for you.’

Nelly laughed out.

‘As if I’d ever let you do anything for me any more! No, that’s done with. You’ve been so accustomed to manage me all these years. You thought you could manage me now–you thought you could let George die–and I should never know–and you’d make me marry–William Farrell. Bridget–_I hate you!’_

She broke off, shivering, but resumed almost at once–‘I see it all–I think I see it all. And now it’s all done for between you and me. If George dies, I shall never come back to live with you again. You’d better make plans, Bridget. It’s over for ever.’

‘You don’t know what you’re saying, now,’ said Bridget, coldly.

Nelly did not hear her, she was lost in a whirl of images and thoughts. And governed by them she went up to Bridget again, thrusting her small white face under her sister’s eyes.

‘What sort of a room was he in, Bridget? Who was nursing him? Are you sure he didn’t know you? Did you call him by his name? Did you make him understand?’

‘He knew nobody,’ said Bridget, drawing back, against her will, before the fire in Nelly’s wild eyes. ‘He was in a very good room. There was a nurse sitting with him.’

‘Was he–was he very changed?’

‘Of course he was. If not, I should have known him.’

Nelly half smiled. Bridget could never have thought that soft mouth capable of so much scorn. But no words came. Then Nelly walked away to a drawer where she kept her accounts, her cheque-book, and any loose money she might be in possession of. She took out her cheque-book and some two or three pounds that lay there.

‘If you want money, I can lend you some,’ said Bridget, catching at the old note of guardianship.

‘Thank you. But I shall not want it.’

‘Nelly, don’t be a fool!’ said Bridget, stung at last into speech. ‘Suppose all you think is true–I don’t admit it, mind–but suppose it’s true. How was I doing such a terrible wrong to you?–in the eyes, I mean, of sensible people–in not disturbing your mind. Nobody expected–that man I saw–to know anybody again–or to live more than a few days. Even if I had been certain–and how could I be certain?–wasn’t it _reasonable_ to weigh one thing against another? You know very well–it’s childish to ignore it–what’s been going on here—-‘

But she paused. Nelly, writing a letter, was not apparently concerned with anything Bridget had been saying. It did not seem to have reached her ears. A queer terror shot through Bridget. But she dismissed it. As if Nelly could ever really get on without her. Little, feckless, sentimental thing!

Nelly finished her letter and put it up.

‘I have written to Sir William’s agent, Bridget’–she said turning towards her sister–‘to say that I give up the farm. I shall pay the servant. Hester will look after my things, and send them–when I want them.’

‘Why Hester?’ said Bridget, with something of a sneer.

Nelly did not answer. She put up her letter, took the money and the cheque-book and went out of the room. Bridget heard her call their one servant, Mrs. Dowson, and presently steps ascended the stairs and Nelly’s door shut. The sound of the shutting door roused in her again that avenging terror. Her first impulse was to go and force herself into Nelly’s room, so as to manage and pack for her as usual. But something stopped her. She consoled herself by going down to the kitchen to look after the supper. Nelly, of course, must have some food before her night journey.

Behind that shut door, Nelly was looking into the kind weather-beaten face of Mrs. Dowson.

‘Mrs. Dowson, I’m going away to-night–and I’m not coming back. Sir William knows.’

Then she caught the woman’s gnarled hands, and her own features began to work.

‘Mrs. Dowson, they’ve found my husband! Did Sir William tell you? He’s not dead–he’s alive–But he’s very, very ill.’

‘Oh, you poor lamb!’ cried Mrs. Dowson. ‘No–Sir William tellt me nowt. The Lord be gracious to you!’ Bathed in sudden tears, she kissed one of the hands that held hers, pouring out incoherent words of hope. But Nelly did not cry, and presently she said firmly–

‘Now, please, you must help me to pack. Sir William will be here at nine.’

Presently all was ready. Nelly had hunted out an old grey travelling dress in which George had often seen her, and a grey hat with a veil. She hastily put all her black clothes aside.

‘Miss Martin will send me anything I want. I have asked her to come and fetch my things.’

‘But Miss Cookson will be seein’ to that!’ said Mrs. Dowson wondering. Nelly made no reply. She locked her little box, and then stood upright, looking round the small room. She seemed to be saying ‘Good-bye’ for ever to the Nelly who had lived, and dreamed, and prayed there. She was going to George–that was all she knew.

Downstairs, Bridget was standing at the door of the little dining-room. ‘I have put out some cold meat for you,’ she said, stiffly. ‘You won’t get anything for a long time.’

Nelly acquiesced. She drank some tea, and ate as much as she could. Neither she nor Bridget spoke, till Bridget, who was at the window looking out into the snow, turned round to say–‘Here’s the motor.’

Nelly rose, and tied her veil on closely. Mrs. Dowson brought her a thick coat, which had been part of her trousseau, and wrapped her in it.

‘You had better take your grey shawl,’ said Bridget.

‘I have it here, Miss,’ said Mrs. Dowson, producing it. ‘I’ll put it over her in the motor.’

She disappeared to open the door to Sir William’s knock.

Nelly turned to her sister.

‘Good-bye, Bridget.’

Bridget flamed out.

‘And you don’t mean to write to me? You mean to carry out this absurd plan of separation!’

‘I don’t know what I shall do–till I have seen George,’ said Nelly steadily. ‘He’ll settle for me. Only you and I are not sisters any more.’

Bridget shrugged her shoulders, with some angry remark about ‘theatrical nonsense.’ Nelly went out into the passage, threw her arms about Mrs. Dowson’s neck, for a moment, and then hurried out towards the car. It stood there in the falling snow, its bright lights blazing on the bit of Westmorland wall opposite, and the overhanging oaks, still heavy with dead leaf. Farrell was standing at the door, holding a fur rug. He and Mrs. Dowson tucked it in round Nelly’s small cloaked figure.

Then without a word, Farrell shut the door of the car, and took the seat beside the driver. In another minute Bridget was watching the lights of the lamps rushing along the sides of the lane, till at a sharp bend of the road it disappeared.

There was a break presently in the snow-fall, and as they reached the shores of Windermere, Nelly was aware of struggling gleams of moonlight on steely water. The anguish in her soul almost resented the break in the darkness. She was going to George; but George was dying, and while he had been lying there in his lonely suffering, she had been forgetting him, and betraying him. The recollection of Farrell’s embrace overwhelmed her with a crushing sense of guilt. George indeed should never know. But that made no difference to her own misery.

The miles flew by. She began to think of her journey, to realise her helplessness and inexperience in the practical things of life. She must get her passport, and some money. Who would advise her, and tell her how to get to France under war conditions? Would she be allowed to go by the short sea passage? For that she knew a special permit was necessary. Could she get it at once, or would she be kept waiting in town? The notion of having to wait one unnecessary hour tortured her. Then her thoughts fastened on Miss Eustace of the Enquiry Office, who had written her the letter which had arrived simultaneously with Dr. Howson’s telegram. ‘Let me know if I can be of any use to you, for your journey. If there is anything you want to know that we can help you in, you had better come straight to this office.’

Yes, that she would do. But the train arrived in London at 7 A.M. And she could not possibly see Miss Eustace before ten or eleven. She must just sit in the waiting-room till it was time. And she must get some money. She had her cheque-book and would ask Sir William to tell her how to get a cheque cashed in London. She was ashamed of her own ignorance in these small practical matters.

The motor stopped. Sir William jumped down, but before he came to open the door for her, she saw him turn round and wave his hand to two persons standing outside the station. They hurried towards the motor, and as Nelly stepped down from it, she felt herself grasped by eager hands.

‘You poor darling! I thought we couldn’t be in time. But we flew. Don’t trouble about anything. We’ve done it all.’

Cicely!–and behind her Marsworth.

Nelly drew back.

‘Dear Cicely!’ she said faintly–‘but I can manage–I can manage quite well.’

Resistance, however, was useless. Marsworth and Cicely, it seemed, were going to London with her–Cicely probably to France; and Marsworth had already telegraphed about her passport. She would have gladly gone by herself, but she finally surrendered–for George’s sake, that she might get to him the quicker.

Then everything was done for her. Amid the bustle of the departing train, she was piteously aware of Farrell, and just before they started, she leant out to give him her hand.

‘I will tell George all you have done for me,’ she said, gulping down a sob.

He pressed her hand before releasing it, but said nothing. What was there to say? Meanwhile, Cicely, to ease the situation, was chattering hard, describing how Farrell had sent his chauffeur to Ambleside on a motor bicycle, immediately after leaving Nelly, and so had got a telephone message through to Cicely.

‘We had the small car out and ready in ten minutes, and, by good luck, there was a motor-transport man on leave, who had come to see a brother in the hospital. We laid hands on him, and he drove us here. But it’s a mercy we’re not sitting on the Raise! You remember that heap of stones on the top of the Raise, that thing they say is a barrow–the grave of some old British party before the Flood?–well, the motor gave out there! Herbert and the chauffeur sat under it in the snow and worked at it. I thought the river was coming over the road, and that the wind would blow us all away. But it’ll be all right for your crossing to-morrow–the storm will have quite gone down. Herbert thinks you’ll start about twelve o’clock,–and you’ll be at the camp that same night. Oh, isn’t it wonderful!–isn’t it _ripping_?’ cried Cicely under her breath, stooping down to kiss Nelly, while the two men talked at the carriage window.–‘You’re going to get him home! We’ll have the best men in London to look after him. He’ll pull through, you’ll see–he’ll pull through!’

Nelly sank into a seat and closed her eyes. Cicely’s talk–why did she call Marsworth ‘Herbert’?–was almost unbearable to her. _She_ knew through every vein that she was going across the Channel–to see George die. If only she were in time!–if only she might hold him in her arms once more! Would the train never go?

Farrell, in spite of snow and storm, pushed his way back to Carton that night. In that long motor drive a man took counsel with himself on whom the war had laid a chastening and refining hand. The human personality cannot spend itself on tasks of pity and service without taking the colour of them, without rising insensibly to the height of them. They may have been carelessly adopted, or imposed from without. But the mere doing of them exalts. As the dyer’s hand is ‘subdued to what it works in,’ so the man that is always about some generous business for his fellow-men suffers thereby, insensibly, a change, which is part of the ‘heavenly alchemy’ for ever alive in the world. It was so at any rate with William Farrell. The two years of his hospital work–hard, honest grappling with the problems of human pain and its relief–had made a far nobler man of him. So now, in this solitary hour, he looked his trouble–courageously, chivalrously–in the face. The crash of all his immediate hopes was bitter indeed. What matter! Let him think only of those two poor things about to meet in France.

As to the future, he was well aware of the emotional depths in Nelly’s nature. George Sarratt’s claim upon her life and memory would now be doubly strong. For, with that long and intimate observation of the war which his hospital experience had brought him, Farrell was keenly aware of the merciful fact that the mere distance which, generally speaking, the war imposes between the man dying on the battle-field and those who love him at home, inevitably breaks the blow. The nerves of the woman who loses her husband or her son are, at least, not tortured by the actual sight of his wounds and death. The suffering is spiritual, and the tender benumbing touch of religion or patriotism, or the remaining affections of life, has less to fight with than when the physical senses themselves are racked with acute memories of bodily wounds and bodily death. It is not that sorrow is less deep, or memory less tenacious; but both are less ruinous to the person sorrowing. So, at least, Farrell had often seen it, among even the most loving and passionate of women. Nelly’s renascence in the quiet Westmorland life had been a fresh instance of it; and he had good reason for thinking that, but for the tragic reappearance of George Sarratt, it would not have taken very long,–a few months more, perhaps–before she would have been persuaded to let herself love, and be loved again.

But now, every fibre in her delicate being–physical and spiritual–would be racked by the sight of Sarratt’s suffering and death. And no doubt–pure, scrupulous little soul!–she would be tormented by the thought of what had just passed between herself and him, before the news from France arrived. He might as well look that in the face.

Well!–patience and time–there was nothing else to look to. He braced himself to both, as he sped homeward through the high snowy roads, and dropped through sleeping Keswick to Bassenthwaite and Carton. Then with the sight of the hospital, the Red Cross flag drooping above its doorway, as he drove up to it, the burden and interest of his great responsibilities returned upon him. He jumped out to say a few cheery words of thanks to his chauffeur, and went on with a rapid step to his office on the ground floor, where he found important letters and telegrams awaiting him. He dealt with them till far into the night. But the thought of Nelly never really left him; nor that haunting physical memory of her soft head upon his shoulder.


Of the weary hours which intervened between her meeting with Cicely and Marsworth at Windermere station and her sight of Dr. Howson on the rain-beaten quay at Bolougne, Nelly Sarratt could afterwards have given no clear account. Of all the strings that were pulled, and the exalted persons invoked, in order to place her as quickly as possible by the side of her dying husband, she knew practically nothing. Cicely and Marsworth, with Farrell to help them at the other end of a telegraph wire, did everything. Passports and special permits were available in a minimum of time. In the winter dawn at Euston Station, there was the grey-headed Miss Eustace waiting; and two famous Army doctors journeyed to Charing Cross a few hours later, on purpose to warn the wife of the condition in which she was likely to find her husband, and to give her kindly advice as to how she could help him most. The case had already made a sensation at the Army Medical Headquarters; the reports on it from France were being eagerly followed; and when the young wife appeared from the north, her pathetic beauty quickened the general sympathy. Nelly’s path to France was smoothed in every possible way. No Royalty could have been more anxiously thought for.

But she herself realised scarcely anything about it. It was her nature to be grateful, sweet, responsive; but her gratitude and her sweetness during these hours were automatic, unconscious. She was the spectator, so to speak, of a moving picture which carried her on with it, in which she was merely passive. The crowded boat, the grey misty sea, the destroyers to right and left, she was aware of them in one connection only–as part of the process by which she and George were to meet again.

But at last the boat was alongside the quays of the French port, and through sheets of rain she saw the lights of a climbing town, and the gleaming roadways of the docks. Crowds of men in khaki; a park of big guns, their wet nozzles glittering under the electric lamps overhead; hundreds of tethered horses; a long line of motor lorries;–the scene to her was all a vague confusion, as Cicely, efficient and masterful as usual, made a way for them both along the deck of the steamer through close ranks of soldiers–a draft waiting their orders to disembark. Then as they stepped on land, perception sharpened in a moment. A tall man in khaki–whom she recognised as Dr. Howson–came eagerly forward.

‘Mrs. Sarratt!–I hope you’re not too tired. Would you rather get some food here, in the town, or push on at once?’

‘At once, please. How is he?’

A pair of kind grey eyes looked down upon her sadly.

‘Very ill, _-very_ ill!–_but_ quite sensible. I know you will be brave.’

He carried her along the quay–while Cicely was taken possession of by a nurse in uniform, who talked rapidly in an undertone.

‘I have two cars,’ said Howson to Nelly–‘You and I will go first. Our head Sister, Miss Parrish, who has been in charge of the case for so long, will bring Miss Farrell.’

And as they reached the two waiting motors, Nelly found her hand grasped by a comely elderly woman, in a uniform of grey and red.

‘He was quite comfortable when we left him, Mrs. Sarratt. There’s a wonderful difference, even since yesterday, in his _mind_. He’s beginning to remember everything. He knows you’re coming. He said–“Give her my dear love, and tell her I’m not going to have my supper till she comes. She shall give it me.” Think of that! It’s like a miracle. Three weeks ago, he never spoke, he knew nobody.’

Nelly’s white face trembled, but she said nothing. Howson put her into the foremost car, and they were soon off, threading their way through the busy streets of the base, while the Sister followed with Cicely.

‘Oh, it was _cruel_ not to let Mrs. Sarratt know earlier!’ said the Sister indignantly, in answer to a hurried question from Cicely as soon as they were alone. ‘She might have had three weeks with him, and now there can only be a day or two. What was Miss Cookson about? Even if she were just mistaken, she might at least have brought her sister over to see for herself–instead of preventing it by every means in her power. A most extraordinary woman!’

Cicely felt her way in reply. She really knew nothing except what Farrell had been able hurriedly to say to Marsworth at Windermere station–which had been afterwards handed on to her. Farrell himself was entirely mystified. ‘The only motive I can suggest’–he had said to Marsworth–‘is that Miss Cookson had an insane dislike of her brother-in-law. But, even so, why did she do it?’

Why, indeed? Cicely now heard the whole story from her companion; and her shrewd mind very soon began to guess at reasons. She had always observed Bridget’s complaisance towards her brother, and even towards herself–a clumsy complaisance which had never appealed at all either to her or him. And she had noticed many small traits and incidents that seemed to shew that Bridget had resented her sister’s marriage, and felt bitterly that Nelly might have done far better for herself. Also that there was a strong taste for personal luxury in Bridget, which seemed entirely lacking in Nelly.

‘She wanted Willy’s money!’–thought Cicely–‘and couldn’t get it for herself. So when poor Sarratt disappeared, she saw a way of getting it through Nelly. Not a bad idea!–if you are to have ideas of that kind. But then, why behave like an idiot when Providence had done the thing for you?’

That was really the puzzle. George Sarratt was dying. Why not let poor Nelly have her last weeks with him in peace, and then–in time–marry her safely and lawfully to Willy?

But Cicely had again some inkling of Bridget’s probable reply. She had not been intimate with Nelly for more than a year without realising that she was one of those creatures–so rare in our modern world–who do in truth live and die by their affections. The disappearance of her husband had very nearly killed her. In the first winter after he was finally reported as ‘Missing–believed killed,’ and when she had really abandoned hope, the slightest accident–a bad chill–an attack of childish illness–any further shock–might have slit the thin-spun life in a few days or weeks. The Torquay doctor had told Hester that she was on the brink of tuberculosis, and if she were exposed to infection would certainly develop it. Since then she had gained greatly in vitality and strength. If only Fate had left her alone! ‘With happiness and Willy, she’d have been all right!’ thought Cicely, who was daily accustomed to watch the effect of mind on body in her brother’s hospital. But now, with this fresh and deeper tragedy before her–tearing at the poor little heart–crushing the life again out of the frail being–why, the prospects of a happy ending were decidedly less. The odious Bridget might after all have acted intelligibly, though abominably.

As to the history of Sarratt’s long disappearance, Cicely found that very little was known.

‘We don’t question him,’ said the Sister. ‘It only exhausts him; and it wouldn’t be any good. He may tell his wife something more, of his own accord, but we doubt whether he knows much more than he told Dr. Howson. He remembers being wounded at Loos–lying out undiscovered, he thinks for two days–then a German hospital–and a long, long journey. And that’s practically all. But just lately–this week, actually!–Dr. Howson has got some information, through a family of peasants living near Cassel, behind the British lines. They have relations across the Belgian border, and gradually they have discovered who the man was who came over the frontier with Mr. Sarratt. He came from a farm, somewhere between Brussels and Courtrai, and now they’ve managed to get a letter through from his brother. You know the man himself was shot just as they reached the British lines. But this letter really tells a good deal. The brother says that they found Mr. Sarratt almost dead,–and, as they thought, insane–in a wood near their house. He was then wearing the uniform of a British officer. They guessed he was an escaped prisoner, and they took him in and hid him. Then news filtered through to them of two English officers who had made their escape from a hospital train somewhere south-west of Brussels; one slightly wounded, and one severely; the severely wounded man suffering also from shell-shock. And the slightly wounded man was shot, while the other escaped. The train, it was said, was lying in a siding at the time–at the further edge of the forest bordering their farm. So, of course, they identified the man discovered by them as the severely wounded officer. Mr. Sarratt must have somehow just struggled through to their side of the forest, where they found him.

‘What happened then, we can’t exactly trace. He must have been there all the winter. He was deaf and dumb, from nerve-shock, and could give no account of himself at all. The men of the farm, two unmarried sons, were good to him, but their old mother, whose family was German, always hated his being there. She was in terror of the German military police who used to ride over the farm, and one day, when her sons were away, she took Mr. Sarratt’s uniform, his identification disk, and all the personal belongings she could find, and either burned or buried them. The sons, who were patriotic Belgians, were however determined to protect him, and no doubt there may have been some idea of a reward, if they could find his friends. But they were afraid of their tyrannical old mother, and of what she might do. So at last they made up their minds to try somehow and get him over the French frontier, which was not far off, and through the German lines. One of the brothers, whose name was Benoit Desalles, to whom they say poor Mr. Sarratt was much attached, went with him. They must have had an awful time, walking by night, and hiding by day. Mr. Sarratt’s wounds must have been in a bad state, for they were only half healed when he escaped, and they had been neglected all the winter. So how he dragged himself the distance he did, the doctors can’t imagine. And the peasants near the frontier from whom we have got what information we have, have no knowledge at all of how he and his Belgian guide finally got through the German lines. But when they reached our lines, they were both, as Dr. Howson wrote to Miss Cookson, in German uniforms. His people suppose that Benoit had stripped some German dead, and that in the confusion caused in the German line–at a point where it ran through a Belgian village–by a British raid, at night, they got across the enemy trenches. And no doubt Benoit had local knowledge which helped.

‘Then in the No Man’s Land, between the lines, they were under both shell and rifle-fire, till it was seen by our men that Benoit had his hands up, and that the other was wounded. The poor Belgian was dragging Mr. Sarratt who was unconscious, and at last–wasn’t it ill-luck?–just as our men were pulling them into the trench, Benoit was shot through the head by a German sniper. That, at least, is how we now reconstruct the story. As far as Mr. Sarratt is concerned, we let it alone. We have no heart to worry him. Poor fellow–poor, gallant, patient fellow!’

And the Sister’s strong face softened, as Bridget had seen it soften at Sarratt’s bedside.

‘And there is really no hope for him?’ asked Cicely after a time. The Sister shook her head.

‘The wounds have never healed–and they drain his life away. The heart can’t last out much longer. But he’s not in pain now–thank God! It’s just weakness. I assure you, everybody–almost–in this huge camp, asks for him and many–pray for him.’ The Sister’s eyes filled with tears. ‘And now that the poor wife’s come in time, there’ll be an excitement! I heard two men in one of our wards discussing it this morning. “They do say as Mrs. Sarratt will be here to-day,” said one of them. “Well, that’s a bit of all right, ain’t it?” said the other, and they both smoked away, looking as pleased as Punch. You see Miss Cookson’s behaviour has made the whole thing so extraordinary.’

Cicely agreed.

‘I suppose she thought it would be all over in a day or two,’ she said, half-absently.

The Sister looked puzzled.

‘And that it would be better not to risk the effect on his wife? Of course Mrs. Sarratt does look dreadfully delicate. So you _don’t_ think it was a mistake? It’s very difficult to see how it could be! The hands alone–one would think that anybody who really knew him must have recognised them.’

Cicely said no more. But she wondered how poor Nelly and her sister would ever find it possible to meet again.

Meanwhile, in the car ahead, Howson was gently and tenderly preparing the mind of Nelly for her husband’s state. He described to her also, the first signs of Sarratt’s returning consciousness–the excitement among his doctors and nurses–the anxious waiting for the first words–the first clear evidence of restored hearing. And then, at last, the dazed question–‘Where am I?’–and the perplexed effort to answer Howson’s–‘Can you tell us your name and regiment?’

Howson described the breathless waiting of himself and another doctor, and then the slow coming of the words: ‘My name is George Sarratt, Lieutenant, 21st Lanchesters. But why—-?’

A look of bewilderment at nurses and doctors, and then again–sleep.

‘The next time he spoke, it was quite distinctly and of his own accord. The nurse heard him saying softly–it was in the early morning–“I want my wife–send for her.” She told him you had been already sent for, and he turned his head round at once and went to sleep.’

Howson could hardly go on, so keenly did he realise the presence of the woman beside him. The soft fluttering breath unmanned him. But by degrees Nelly heard all there was to know; especially the details of the rapid revival of hearing, speech, and memory, which had gone on through the preceding three days.

‘And what is such a blessing,’ said Howson, with the cheerfulness of the good doctor–‘is that he seems to be quite peaceful–quite at rest. He’s not unhappy. He’s just waiting for you. They’ll have given him an injection of strychnine this evening to help him through.’

‘How long?’ The words were just breathed into the darkness.

‘A day or two certainly–perhaps a week,’ he said reluctantly. ‘It’s a question of strength. Sometimes it lasts much longer than we expect.’

He said nothing to her of her sister’s visit. Instinctively he suspected some ugly meaning in that story. And Nelly asked no questions.

Suddenly, she was aware of lights in the darkness, and then of a great camp marked out in a pattern of electric lamps, stretching up and away over what seemed a wide and sloping hillside. Nelly put down the window to see.

‘Is it here?’ ‘No. A little further on.’

It seemed to her interminably further. The car rattled over the rough pavement of a town, then through the darkness of woods–threading its way through a confusion of pale roads–until, with a violent bump, it came to a stop.

In the blackness of the November night, the chauffeur, mistaking the entrance to a house, had run up a back lane and into a sand-bank.

‘Do you hear the sea?’ said Howson, as he helped Nelly to alight. ‘There’ll be wind to-night. But here we are.’

She looked round her as they walked through a thin wood. To her right beyond the bare trees was a great building with a glass front. She could see lights within–the passing figures of nurses–rows of beds–and men in bed jackets–high rooms frescoed in bright colours.

‘That used to be the Casino. Now it’s a Red Cross Hospital. There are always doctors there. So when we moved him away from the camp, we took this little house close to the Hospital. The senior surgeon there can be often in and out. He’s looking after him splendidly.’

A small room in a small house, built for summer lodgings by the sea; bare wooden walls and floor; a stove; open windows through which came the slow boom of waves breaking on a sandy shore; a bed, and in it an emaciated figure, propped up.

Nelly, as the door closed behind her, broke into a run like the soft flight of a bird, and fell on her knees beside the bed. She had taken off her hat and cloak. Excitement had kindled two spots of red in her pale cheeks. The man in the bed turned his eyes towards her, and smiled.


Howson and the Sister went on tiptoe through a side door into another room.

‘Kiss me, Nelly!’

Nelly, trembling, put her soft lips to his. But as she did so, a chill anguish struck her–the first bitterness of the naked truth. As yet she had only seen it through a veil, darkly. Was this her George–this ghost, grey-haired, worn out, on the brink of the unknown? The old passionate pressure of the mouth gone–for ever! Her young husband–her young lover–she saw him far back in the past, on Rydal lake, the dripping oars in his hand. This was a spirit which touched her–a spiritual love which shone upon her. And she had never yet known so sharp an agony.

So sharp it was that it dried all tears. She knelt there with his hands in hers, kissing them, and gazing at him.

‘Nelly, it’s hard luck! Darling, I’d better have been patient. In time, perhaps, I should have come back to you. How I got away–who planned it–I don’t remember. I remember nothing–of all that time. But Howson has heard something, through some people near Cassel–has he told you?’

‘Yes–but don’t try to remember.’

He smiled at her. How strange the old sweetness on these grey lips!

‘Have you missed me–dreadfully? Poor little Nelly! You’re very pale–a little shadow! Darling!–I _would_ like to live!’

And at that–at last–the eyes of both, as they gazed at each other, filled with tears. Tears for the eternal helplessness of man,–the ‘tears of things.’

But he roused himself, snatching still at a little love, a little brightness–before the dark. The strychnine injected had given him strength.

‘Give me that jelly–and the champagne. Feed me, Nelly! But have you had any food?’

The stress laid on the ‘_you_’ the tone of his voice, were so like his old self that Nelly caught her breath. A ray of mad hope stole in. She began to feed him, and as she did so, the Sister, as though she had heard Sarratt’s question, came quietly in with a tray on which was some food for Nelly, and put it down beside her. Then she disappeared again.

With difficulty, Sarratt swallowed a few mouthfuls of jelly and champagne. Then his left hand–the right was helpless–made a faint but peremptory sign, and Nelly obediently took some food under his dimly smiling eyes.

‘I have thought of this so often,’ he murmured–I knew you’d come. It’s been like someone walking through a dark passage that was getting lighter. Only once–I had a curious dream. I thought I saw Bridget’

Nelly, trembling, took away his tray and her own, and then knelt down again beside him. She kissed his forehead, and tried to divert his thoughts by asking him if he was warm enough. His hands were very cold. Should she make up the fire?

‘Oh, no,–it’s all right. But wasn’t it strange? Suddenly, I seemed to be looking at her–quite close–and she at me. And I was worried because I had seen her more distinctly than I could remember you. Come nearer–put your dear head against me. Oh, if I could only hold you, as I used to!’

There was silence a little. But the wine had flushed him, and when the bloodless lids lifted again, there was more life in the eyes.

‘Nelly, poor darling, have you been very lonely?–Were the Farrells kind to you?’

‘Yes, George, very kind. They did everything–everything they could.’

‘Sir William promised me’–he said, gratefully. ‘And where have you been all the time? At Rydal?’

‘No. I was ill–after the news came—-‘

‘Poor Nelly!’

‘And Sir William lent us one of his farms–near his cottage–do you remember?’

‘A little. That was kind of him–very kind. Nelly–I want to send him a message—-‘


‘Give him my grateful thanks, darling,–and–and–my blessing.’

Nelly hid her face against him, and he felt the convulsion of tearless sobbing that passed through her.

‘Poor Nelly!’–he said again, touching her hand tenderly. Then after another pause–‘Sit there, darling, where I can see you–your dear head, and your eyes, and your pretty neck. You must go to bed soon, you know–but just a little while! Now tell me what you have been doing. Talk to me. I won’t talk. I’ll rest–but I shall hear. That’s so wonderful–that I _can_ hear you. I’ve been living in such a queer world–no tongue–no ears–no mind, hardly–only my eyes.’

She obeyed him by a great effort. She talked to him–of what, she hardly knew!–about her months in London and Torquay–: about her illness–the farm–Hester Martin–and Cicely.

When she came to speak of her friendship with Cicely, he smiled in surprise, his eyes still shut.

‘That’s jolly, dearest. You remember, I didn’t like her. She wasn’t at all nice to you–once. But thank her for me–please.’

‘She’s here now, George, she brought me here. She wouldn’t let me come alone.’

‘God bless her!’ he said, under his breath. ‘I’ll see her–to-morrow. Now go on talking. You won’t mind if I go to sleep? They won’t let you stop here, dear. You’ll be upstairs. But you’ll come early–won’t you?’

They gave him morphia, and he went to sleep under her eyes. Then the night nurse came in, and the surgeon from the hospital opposite, with Howson. And Cicely took Nelly away.

Cicely had made everything ready in the little bare room upstairs. But when she had helped Nelly to undress, she did not linger.

‘Knock on the wall, if you want me. It is only wood, I shall hear directly.’

Nelly kissed her and she went. For nothing in her tender service that day was Nelly more grateful to her.

Then Nelly put out her light, and drawing up the blind, she sat for long staring into the moonlight night. The rain had stopped, but the wind was high over the sea, which lay before her a tumbled mass of waves, not a hundred yards away. To her right was the Casino, a subdued light shining through the blinds of its glass verandahs, behind which she sometimes saw figures passing–nurses and doctors on their various errands. Were there men dying there to-night–like her George?

The anguish that held her, poor child, was no simple sorrow. Never–she knew it doubly now–had she ceased to love her husband. She had told Farrell the truth–‘If George now were to come in at that door, there would be no other man in the world for me!’ And yet, while George was dying, and at the very moment that he was asking for her, she had been in Farrell’s arms, and yielding to his kisses. George would never know; but that only made her remorse the more torturing. She could never confess to him–that indeed was her misery. He would die, and her unfaith would stand between them for ever.

A cleverer, a more experienced, a more practical woman, in such a case, would have found a hundred excuses and justifications for herself that never occurred to Nelly Sarratt, to this young immature creature, in whom the passionate love of her marriage had roused feelings and emotions, which, when the man on whom they were spent was taken from her, were still the master-light of all her seeing–still so strong and absorbing, that, in her widowed state, they were like blind forces searching unconsciously for some new support, some new thing to love. She had nearly died for love–and then when her young strength revived it had become plain that she could only live for love. Her hands had met the hands seeking hers, inevitably, instinctively. To refuse, to stand aloof, to cause pain–that had been the torment, the impossibility, for one who had learnt so well how to give and to make happy. There was in it no sensual element–only Augustine’s ‘love of loving.’ Yet her stricken conscience told her that, in her moral indecision, if the situation had lasted much longer, she had not been able to make up her mind to marry Farrell quickly, she might easily have become his mistress, through sheer weakness, sheer dread of his suffering, sheer longing to be loved.

Explanations and excuses, for any more seasoned student of human nature, emerged on every hand. Nelly in her despair allowed herself none of them. It merely seemed to her, in this night vigil, that she was unworthy to touch her George, to nurse him, to uphold him; utterly unworthy of all this reverent pity and affection that was being lavished upon her for his sake.

She sat up most of the night, wrapped in her fur cloak, alive to any sound from the room below. And about four in the morning, she stole down the stairs to listen at his door. There one of the nurses found her, and moved with pity, brought her in. They settled her in an arm-chair near him; and then with the tardy coming of the November day, she watched the sad waking that was so many hours nearer death, at that moment when man’s life is at its wretchedest, and all the forces of the underworld seem to be let loose upon it.

And there, for five days and nights, with the briefest possible intervals for food, and the sleep of exhaustion, she sat beside him. She was dimly conscious of the people about her, of the boundless tenderness and skill that was poured out upon the poor sufferer at her side; she did everything for George that the nurses could shew her how to do–; it was the one grain of personal desire left in her, and doctors and nurses developed the most ingenious pity in devising things for her to do, and in letting every remedy that soothed his pain, or cleared his mind, go, as far as possible, through her hands. And there were moments when she would walk blindly along the sea beach with Cicely, finding a stimulus to endure in the sharpness of the winter wind, or looking in vague wonder at the great distant camp, with its streets of hospitals, its long lines of huts, its training-grounds, and the bodies of men at work