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  • 1907
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Lord Dunholm and his wife agreed afterwards that so noticeable a pair had never before danced together in their ballroom. Certainly no pair had ever been watched with quite the same interested curiosity. Some onlookers thought it singular that they should dance together at all, some pleased themselves by reflecting on the fact that no other two could have represented with such picturesqueness the opposite poles of fate and circumstance. No one attempted to deny that they were an extraordinarily striking-looking couple, and that one’s eyes followed them in spite of one’s self.

“Taken together they produce an effect that is somehow rather amazing,” old Lady Alanby commented. “He is a magnificently built man, you know, and she is a magnificently built girl. Everybody should look like that. My impression would be that Adam and Eve did, but for the fact that neither of them had any particular character. That affair of the apple was so silly. Eve has always struck me as being the kind of woman who, if she lived to-day, would run up stupid bills at her dressmakers and be afraid to tell her husband. That wonderful black head of Miss Vanderpoel’s looks very nice poised near Mount Dunstan’s dark red one.”

“I am glad to be dancing with him,” Betty was thinking. “I am glad to be near him.”

“Will you dance this with me to the very end,” asked Mount Dunstan–“to the very late note?”

“Yes,” answered Betty.

He had spoken in a low but level voice–the kind of voice whose tone places a man and woman alone together, and wholly apart from all others by whomsoever they are surrounded. There had been no preliminary speech and no explanation of the request followed. The music was a perfect thing, the brilliant, lofty ballroom, the beauty of colour and sound about them, the jewels and fair faces, the warm breath of flowers in the air, the very sense of royal presence and its accompanying state and ceremony, seemed merely a naturally arranged background for the strange consciousness each held close and silently–knowing nothing of the mind of the other.

This was what was passing through the man’s mind.

“This is the thing which most men experience several times during their lives. It would be reason enough for all the great deeds and all the crimes one hears of. It is an enormous kind of anguish and a fearful kind of joy. It is scarcely to be borne, and yet, at this moment, I could kill myself and her, at the thought of losing it. If I had begun earlier, would it have been easier? No, it would not. With me it is bound to go hard. At twenty I should probably not have been able to keep myself from shouting it aloud, and I should not have known that it was only the working of the Law. `Only!’ Good God, what a fool I am! It is because it is only the Law that I cannot escape, and must go on to the end, grinding my teeth together because I cannot speak. Oh, her smooth young cheek! Oh, the deep shadows of her lashes! And while we sway round and round together, I hold her slim strong body in the hollow of my arm.”

It was, quite possibly, as he thought this that Nigel Anstruthers, following him with his eyes as he passed, began to frown. He had been watching the pair as others had, he had seen what others saw, and now he had an idea that he saw something more, and it was something which did not please him. The instinct of the male bestirred itself–the curious instinct of resentment against another man–any other man. And, in this case, Mount Dunstan was not any other man, but one for whom his antipathy was personal.

“I won’t have that,” he said to himself. “I won’t have it.”

. . . . .

The music rose and swelled, and then sank into soft breathing, as they moved in harmony together, gliding and swirling as they threaded their way among other couples who swirled and glided also, some of them light and smiling, some exchanging low-toned speech–perhaps saying words which, unheard by others, touched on deep things. The exalted guest fell into momentary silence as he looked on, being a man much attracted by physical fineness and temperamental power and charm. A girl like that would bring a great deal to a man and to the country he belonged to. A great race might be founded on such superbness of physique and health and beauty. Combined with abnormal resources, certainly no more could be asked. He expressed something of the kind to Lord Dunholm, who stood near him in attendance.

To herself Betty was saying: “That was a strange thing he asked me. It is curious that we say so little. I should never know much about him. I have no intelligence where he is concerned–only a strong, stupid feeling, which is not like a feeling of my own. I am no longer Betty Vanderpoel– and I wish to go on dancing with him–on and on–to the last note, as he said.”

She felt a little hot wave run over her cheek uncomfortably, and the next instant the big arm tightened its clasp of her– for just one second–not more than one. She did not know that he, himself, had seen the sudden ripple of red colour, and that the equally sudden contraction of the arm had been as unexpected to him and as involuntary as the quick wave itself. It had horrified and made him angry. He looked the next instant entirely stiff and cold.

“He did not know it happened,” Betty resolved.

“The music is going to stop,” said Mount Dunstan. “I know the waltz. We can get once round the room again before the final chord. It was to be the last note–the very last,” but he said it quite rigidly, and Betty laughed.

“Quite the last,” she answered.

The music hastened a little, and their gliding whirl became more rapid–a little faster–a little faster still–a running sweep of notes, a big, terminating harmony, and the thing was over.

“Thank you,” said Mount Dunstan. “One will have it to remember.” And his tone was slightly sardonic.

“Yes,” Betty acquiesced politely.

“Oh, not you. Only I. I have never waltzed before.”

Betty turned to look at him curiously.

“Under circumstances such as these,” he explained. “I learned to dance at a particularly hideous boys’ school in France. I abhorred it. And the trend of my life has made it quite easy for me to keep my twelve-year-old vow that I would never dance after I left the place, unless I WANTED to do it, and that, especially, nothing should make me waltz until certain agreeable conditions were fulfilled. Waltzing I approved of –out of hideous schools. I was a pig-headed, objectionable child. I detested myself even, then.”

Betty’s composure returned to her.

“I am trusting,” she remarked, “that I may secretly regard myself as one of the agreeable conditions to be fulfilled. Do not dispel my hopes roughly.”

“I will not,” he answered. “You are, in fact, several of them.”

“One breathes with much greater freedom,” she responded.

This sort of cool nonsense was safe. It dispelled feelings of tenseness, and carried them to the place where Sir Nigel and Lady Anstruthers awaited them. A slight stir was beginning to be felt throughout the ballroom. The royal guest was retiring, and soon the rest began to melt away. The Anstruthers, who had a long return drive before them, were among those who went first.

When Lady Anstruthers and her sister returned from the cloak room, they found Sir Nigel standing near Mount Dunstan, who was going also, and talking to him in an amiably detached manner. Mount Dunstan, himself, did not look amiable, or seem to be saying much, but Sir Nigel showed no signs of being disturbed.

“Now that you have ceased to forswear the world,” he said as his wife approached, “I hope we shall see you at Stornham. Your visits must not cease because we cannot offer you G. Selden any longer.”

He had his own reasons for giving the invitation–several of them. And there was a satisfaction in letting the fellow know, casually, that he was not in the ridiculous position of being unaware of what had occurred during his absence–that there had been visits–and also the objectionable episode of the American bounder. That the episode had been objectionable, he knew he had adroitly conveyed by mere tone and manner.

Mount Dunstan thanked him in the usual formula, and then spoke to Betty.

“G. Selden left us tremulous and fevered with ecstatic anticipation. He carried your kind letter to Mr. Vanderpoel, next to his heart. His brain seemed to whirl at the thought of what `the boys’ would say, when he arrived with it in New York. You have materialised the dream of his life!”

“I have interested my father,” Betty answered, with a brilliant smile. “He liked the romance of the Reuben S. Vanderpoel who rewarded the saver of his life by unbounded orders for the Delkoff.”

. . . . .

As their carriage drove away, Sir Nigel bent forward to look out of the window, and having done it, laughed a little.

“Mount Dunstan does not play the game well,” he remarked.

It was annoying that neither Betty nor his wife inquired what the game in question might be, and that his temperament forced him into explaining without encouragement.

“He should have `stood motionless with folded arms,’ or something of the sort, and `watched her equipage until it was out of sight.’ “

“And he did not?” said Betty

“He turned on his heel as soon as the door was shut.”

“People ought not to do such things,” was her simple comment. To which it seemed useless to reply.

CHAPTER XXXIII

FOR LADY JANE

There is no one thing on earth of such interest as the study of the laws of temperament, which impel, support, or entrap into folly and danger the being they rule. As a child, not old enough to give a definite name to the thing she watched and pondered on, in child fashion, Bettina Vanderpoel had thought much on this subject. As she had grown older, she had never been ignorant of the workings of her own temperament, and she had looked on for years at the laws which had wrought in her father’s being–the laws of strength, executive capacity, and that pleasure in great schemes, which is roused less by a desire for gain than for a strongly-felt necessity for action, resulting in success. She mentally followed other people on their way, sometimes asking herself how far the individual was to be praised or blamed for his treading of the path he seemed to choose. And now there was given her the opportunity to study the workings of the nature of Nigel Anstruthers, which was a curious thing.

He was not an individual to be envied. Never was man more tormented by lack of power to control his special devil, at the right moment of time, and therefore, never was there one so inevitably his own frustration. This Betty saw after the passing of but a few days, and wondered how far he was conscious or unconscious of the thing. At times it appeared to her that he was in a state of unrest–that he was as a man wavering between lines of action, swayed at one moment by one thought, at another by an idea quite different, and that he was harried because he could not hold his own with himself.

This was true. The ball at Dunholm Castle had been enlightening, and had wrought some changes in his points of view. Also other factors had influenced him. In the first place, the changed atmosphere of Stornham, the fitness and luxury of his surroundings, the new dignity given to his position by the altered aspect of things, rendered external amiability more easy. To ride about the country on a good horse, or drive in a smart phaeton, or suitable carriage, and to find that people who a year ago had passed him with the merest recognition, saluted him with polite intention, was, to a certain degree, stimulating to a vanity which had been long ill-fed. The power which produced these results should, of course, have been in his own hands–his money-making father- in-law should have seen that it was his affair to provide for that–but since he had not done so, it was rather entertaining that it should be, for the present, in the hands of this extraordinarily good-looking girl.

He had begun by merely thinking of her in this manner– as “this extraordinarily good-looking girl,” and had not, for a moment, hesitated before the edifying idea of its not being impossible to arrange a lively flirtation with her. She was at an age when, in his opinion, girlhood was poised for flight with adventure, and his tastes had not led him in the direction of youth which was fastidious. His Riviera episode had left his vanity blistered and requiring some soothing application. His life had worked evil with him, and he had fallen ill on the hands of a woman who had treated him as a shattered, useless thing whose day was done and with whom strength and bloom could not be burdened. He had kept his illness a hidden secret, on his return to Stornham, his one desire having been to forget–even to disbelieve in it, but dreams of its suggestion sometimes awakened him at night with shudders and cold sweat. He was hideously afraid of death and pain, and he had had monstrous pain–and while he had lain battling with it, upon his bed in the villa on the Mediterranean, he had been able to hear, in the garden outside, the low voices and laughter of the Spanish dancer and the healthy, strong young fool who was her new adorer.

When he had found himself face to face with Betty in the avenue, after the first leap of annoyance, which had suddenly died down into perversely interested curiosity, he could have laughed outright at the novelty and odd unexpectedness of the situation. The ill-mannered, impudently-staring, little New York beast had developed into THIS! Hang it! No man could guess what the embryo female creature might result in. His mere shakiness of physical condition added strength to her attraction. She was like a young goddess of health and life and fire; the very spring of her firm foot upon the moss beneath it was a stimulating thing to a man whose nerves sprung secret fears upon him. There were sparks between the sweep of her lashes, but she managed to carry herself with the air of being as cool as a cucumber, which gave spice to the effort to “upset” her. If she did not prove suitably amenable, there would be piquancy in getting the better of her –in stirring up unpleasant little things, which would make it easier for her to go away than remain on the spot–if one should end by choosing to get rid of her. But, for the moment, he had no desire to get rid of her. He wanted to see what she intended to do–to see the thing out, in fact. It amused him to hear that Mount Dunstan was on her track. There exists for persons of a certain type a pleasure full-fed by the mere sense of having “got even” with an opponent. Throughout his life he had made a point of “getting even” with those who had irritatingly crossed his path, or much disliked him. The working out of small or large plans to achieve this end had formed one of his most agreeable recreations. He had long owed Mount Dunstan a debt, which he had always meant to pay. He had not intended to forget the episode of the nice little village girl with whom Tenham and himself had been getting along so enormously well, when the raging young ass had found them out, and made an absurdly exaggerated scene, even going so far as threatening to smash the pair of them, marching off to the father and mother, and setting the vicar on, and then scratching together–God knows how–money enough to pack the lot off to America, where they had since done well. Why should a man forgive another who had made him look like a schoolboy and a fool? So, to find Mount Dunstan rushing down a steep hill into this thing, was edifying. You cannot take much out of a man if you never encounter him. If you meet him, you are provided by Heaven with opportunities. You can find out what he feels most sharply, and what he will suffer most by being deprived of. His impression was that there was a good deal to be got out of Mount Dunstan. He was an obstinate, haughty devil, and just the fellow to conceal with a fury of pride a score of tender places in his hide.

At the ball he had seen that the girl’s effect had been of a kind which even money and good looks uncombined with another thing might not have produced. And she had the other thing–whatsoever it might be. He observed the way in which the Dunholms met and greeted her, he marked the glance of the royal personage, and his manner, when after her presentation he conversed with and detained her, he saw the turning of heads and exchange of remarks as she moved through the rooms. Most especially, he took in the bearing of the very grand old ladies, led by Lady Alanby of Dole. Barriers had thrown themselves down, these portentous, rigorous old pussycats admired her, even liked her.

“Upon my word,” he said to himself. “She has a way with her, you know. She is a combination of Ethel Newcome and Becky Sharp. But she is more level-headed than either of them, There’s a touch of Trix Esmond, too.”

The sense of the success which followed her, and the gradually- growing excitement of looking on at her light whirls of dance, the carnation of her cheek, and the laughter and pleasure she drew about her, had affected him in a way by which he was secretly a little exhilarated. He was conscious of a rash desire to force his way through these laughing, vaunting young idiots, juggle or snatch their dances away from them, and seize on the girl himself. He had not for so long a time been impelled by such agreeable folly that he had sometimes felt the stab of the thought that he was past it. That it should rise in him again made him feel young. There was nothing which so irritated him against Mount Dunstan as his own rebelling recognition of the man’s youth, the strength of his fine body, his high-held head and clear eye.

These things and others it was which swayed him, as was plain to Betty in the time which followed, to many changes of mood.

“Are you sorry for a man who is ill and depressed,” he asked one day, “or do you despise him?”

“I am sorry.”

“Then be sorry for me.”

He had come out of the house to her as she sat on the lawn, under a broad, level-branched tree, and had thrown himself upon a rug with his hands clasped behind his head.

“Are you ill?”

“When I was on the Riviera I had a fall.” He lied simply. “I strained some muscle or other, and it has left me rather lame. Sometimes I have a good deal of pain.”

“I am very sorry,” said Betty. “Very.”

A woman who can be made sorry it is rarely impossible to manage. To dwell with pathetic patience on your grievances, if she is weak and unintelligent, to deplore, with honest regret, your faults and blunders, if she is strong, are not bad ideas.

He looked at her reflectively.

“Yes, you are capable of being sorry,” he decided. For a few moments of silence his eyes rested upon the view spread before him. To give the expression of dignified reflection was not a bad idea either.

“Do you know,” he said at length, “that you produce an extraordinary effect upon me, Betty?”

She was occupying herself by adding a few stitches to one of Rosy’s ancient strips of embroidery, and as she answered, she laid it flat upon her knee to consider its effect

“Good or bad?” she inquired, with delicate abstraction.

He turned his face towards her again–this time quickly.

“Both,” he answered. “Both.”

His tone held the flash of a heat which he felt should have startled her slightly. But apparently it did not.

“I do not like `both,’ ” with composed lightness. “If you had said that you felt yourself develop angelic qualities when you were near me, I should feel flattered, and swell with pride. But `both’ leaves me unsatisfied. It interferes with the happy little conceit that one is an all-pervading, beneficent power. One likes to contemplate a large picture of one’s self– not plain, but coloured–as a wholesale reformer.”

“I see. Thank you,” stiffly and flushing. “You do not believe me.”

Her effect upon him was such that, for the moment, he found himself choosing to believe that he was in earnest. His desire to impress her with his mood had actually led to this result. She ought to have been rather moved–a little fluttered, perhaps, at hearing that she disturbed his equilibrium.

“You set yourself against me, as a child, Betty,” he said. “And you set yourself against me now. You will not give me fair play. You might give me fair play.” He dropped his voice at the last sentence, and knew it was well done. A touch of hopelessness is not often lost on a woman.

“What would you consider fair play?” she inquired.

“It would be fair to listen to me without prejudice–to let me explain how it has happened that I have appeared to you a–a blackguard–I have no doubt you would call it–and a fool.” He threw out his hand in an impatient gesture–impatient of himself–his fate–the tricks of bad fortune which it implied had made of him a more erring mortal than he would have been if left to himself, and treated decently.

“Do not put it so strongly,” with conservative politeness.

“I don’t refuse to admit that I am handicapped by a devil of a temperament. That is an inherited thing.”

“Ah!” said Betty. “One of the temperaments one reads about–for which no one is to be blamed but one’s deceased relatives. After all, that is comparatively easy to deal with. One can just go on doing what one wants to do–and then condemn one’s grandparents severely.”

A repellent quality in her–which had also the trick of transforming itself into an exasperating attraction–was that she deprived him of the luxury he had been most tenacious of throughout his existence. If the injustice of fate has failed to bestow upon a man fortune, good looks or brilliance, his exercise of the power to disturb, to enrage those who dare not resent, to wound and take the nonsense out of those about him, will, at all events, preclude the possibility of his being passed over as a factor not to be considered. If to charm and bestow gives the sense of power, to thwart and humiliate may be found not wholly unsatisfying.

But in her case the inadequacy of the usual methods had forced itself upon him. It was as if the dart being aimed at her, she caught it in her hand in its flight, broke off its point and threw it lightly aside without comment. Most women cannot resist the temptation to answer a speech containing a sting or a reproach. It was part of her abnormality that she could let such things go by in a detached silence, which did not express even the germ of comment or opinion upon them. This, he said, was the result of her beastly sense of security, which, in its turn, was the result of the atmosphere of wealth she had breathed since her birth. There had been no obstacle which could not be removed for her, no law of limitation had laid its rein on her neck. She had not been taught by her existence the importance of propitiating opinion. Under such conditions, how was fear to be learned? She had not learned it. But for the devil in the blue between her lashes, he realised that he should have broken loose long ago.

“I suppose I deserved that for making a stupid appeal to sympathy,” he remarked. “I will not do it again.”

If she had been the woman who can be gently goaded into reply, she would have made answer to this. But she allowed the observation to pass, giving it free flight into space, where it lost itself after the annoying manner of its kind.

“Have you any objection to telling me why you decided to come to England this year?” he inquired, with a casual air, after the pause which she did not fill in.

The bluntness of the question did not seem to disturb her. She was not sorry, in fact, that he had asked it. She let her work lie upon her knee, and leaned back in her low garden chair, her hands resting upon its wicker arms. She turned on him a clear unprejudiced gaze.

“I came to see Rosy. I have always been very fond of her. I did not believe that she had forgotten how much we had loved her, or how much she had loved us. I knew that if I could see her again I should understand why she had seemed to forget us.”

“And when you saw her, you, of course, decided that I had behaved, to quote my own words–like a blackguard and a fool.”

“It is, of course, very rude to say you have behaved like a fool, but–if you’ll excuse my saying so–that is what has impressed me very much. Don’t you know,” with a moderation, which singularly drove itself home, “that if you had been kind to her, and had made her happy, you could have had anything you wished for–without trouble?”

This was one of the unadorned facts which are like bullets. Disgustedly, he found himself veering towards an outlook which forced him to admit that there was probably truth in what she said, and he knew he heard more truth as she went on.

“She would have wanted only what you wanted, and she would not have asked much in return. She would not have asked as much as I should. What you did was not business- like.” She paused a moment to give thought to it. “You paid too high a price for the luxury of indulging the inherited temperament. Your luxury was not to control it. But it was a bad investment.”

“The figure of speech is rather commercial,” coldly.

“It is curious that most things are, as a rule. There is always the parallel of profit and loss whether one sees it or not. The profits are happiness and friendship–enjoyment of life and approbation. If the inherited temperament supplies one with all one wants of such things, it cannot be called a loss, of course.”

“You think, however, that mine has not brought me much?”

“I do not know. It is you who know.”

“Well,” viciously, “there HAS been a sort of luxury in it in lashing out with one’s heels, and smashing things–and in knowing that people prefer to keep clear.”

She lifted her shoulders a little.

“Then perhaps it has paid.”

“No,” suddenly and fiercely, “damn it, it has not!”

And she actually made no reply to that.

“What do you mean to do?” he questioned as bluntly as before. He knew she would understand what he meant.

“Not much. To see that Rosy is not unhappy any more. We can prevent that. She was out of repair–as the house was. She is being rebuilt and decorated. She knows that she will be taken care of.”

“I know her better than you do,” with a laugh. “She will not go away. She is too frightened of the row it would make– of what I should say. I should have plenty to say. I can make her shake in her shoes.”

Betty let her eyes rest full upon him, and he saw that she was softly summing him up–quite without prejudice, merely in interested speculation upon the workings of type.

“You are letting the inherited temperament run away with you at this moment,” she reflected aloud–her quiet scrutiny almost abstracted. “It was foolish to say that.”

He had known it was foolish two seconds after the words had left his lips. But a temper which has been allowed to leap hedges, unchecked throughout life, is in peril of forming a habit of taking them even at such times as a leap may land its owner in a ditch. This last was what her interested eyes were obviously saying. It suited him best at the moment to try to laugh.

“Don’t look at me like that,” he threw off. “As if you were calculating that two and two make four.”

“No prejudice of mine can induce them to make five or six–or three and a half,” she said. “No prejudice of mine– or of yours.”

The two and two she was calculating with were the likelihoods and unlikelihoods of the inherited temperament, and the practical powers she could absolutely count on if difficulty arose with regard to Rosy.

He guessed at this, and began to make calculations himself.

But there was no further conversation for them, as they were obliged to rise to their feet to receive visitors. Lady Alanby of Dole and Sir Thomas, her grandson, were being brought out of the house to them by Rosalie.

He went forward to meet them–his manner that of the graceful host. Lady Alanby, having been welcomed by him, and led to the most comfortable, tree-shaded chair, found his bearing so elegantly chastened that she gazed at him with private curiosity. To her far-seeing and highly experienced old mind it seemed the bearing of a man who was “up to something.” What special thing did he chance to be “up to”? His glance certainly lurked after Miss Vanderpoel oddly. Was he falling in unholy love with the girl, under his stupid little wife’s very nose?

She could not, however, give her undivided attention to him, as she wished to keep her eye on her grandson and–outrageously enough fit happened that just as tea was brought out and Tommy was beginning to cheer up and quite come out a little under the spur of the activities of handing bread and butter and cress sandwiches, who should appear but the two Lithcom girls, escorted by their aunt, Mrs. Manners, with whom they lived. As they were orphans without money, if the Manners, who were rather well off, had not taken them in, they would have had to go to the workhouse, or into genteel amateur shops, as they were not clever enough for governesses.

Mary, with her turned-up nose, looked just about as usual, but Jane had a new frock on which was exactly the colour of the big, appealing eyes, with their trick of following people about. She looked a little pale and pathetic, which somehow gave her a specious air of being pretty, which she really was not at all. The swaying young thinness of those very slight girls whose soft summer muslins make them look like delicate bags tied in the middle with fluttering ribbons, has almost invariably a foolish attraction for burly young men whose characters are chiefly marked by lack of forethought, and Lady Alanby saw Tommy’s robust young body give a sort of jerk as the party of three was brought across the grass. After it he pulled himself together hastily, and looked stiff and pink, shaking hands as if his elbow joint was out of order, being at once too loose and too rigid. He began to be clumsy with the bread and butter, and, ceasing his talk with Miss Vanderpoel, fell into silence. Why should he go on talking? he thought. Miss Vanderpoel was a cracking handsome girl, but she was too clever for him, and he had to think of all sorts of new things to say when he talked to her. And– well, a fellow could never imagine himself stretched out on the grass, puffing happily away at a pipe, with a girl like that sitting near him, smiling–the hot turf smelling almost like hay, the hot blue sky curving overhead, and both the girl and himself perfectly happy–chock full of joy–though neither of them were saying anything at all. You could imagine it with some girls–you DID imagine it when you wakened early on a summer morning, and lay in luxurious stillness listening to the birds singing like mad.

Lady Jane was a nicely-behaved girl, and she tried to keep her following blue eyes fixed on the grass, or on Lady Anstruthers, or Miss Vanderpoel, but there was something like a string, which sometimes pulled them in another direction, and once when this had happened–quite against her will–she was terrified to find Lady Alanby’s glass lifted and fixed upon her.

As Lady Alanby’s opinion of Mrs. Manners was but a poor one, and as Mrs. Manners was stricken dumb by her combined dislike and awe of Lady Alanby, a slight stiffness might have settled upon the gathering if Betty had not made an effort. She applied herself to Lady Alanby and Mrs. Manners at once, and ended by making them talk to each other. When they left the tea table under the trees to look at the gardens, she walked between them, playing upon the primeval horticultural passions which dominate the existence of all respectable and normal country ladies, until the gulf between them was temporarily bridged. This being achieved, she adroitly passed them over to Lady Anstruthers, who, Nigel observed with some curiosity, accepted the casual responsibility without manifest discomfiture.

To the aching Tommy the manner in which, a few minutes later, he found himself standing alone with Jane Lithcom in a path of clipped laurels was almost bewilderingly simple. At the end of the laurel walk was a pretty peep of the country, and Miss Vanderpoel had brought him to see it. Nigel Anstruthers had been loitering behind with Jane and Mary. As Miss Vanderpoel turned with him into the path, she stooped and picked a blossom from a clump of speedwell growing at the foot of a bit of wall.

“Lady Jane’s eyes are just the colour of this flower,” she said.

“Yes, they are,” he answered, glancing down at the lovely little blue thing as she held it in her hand. And then, with a thump of the heart, “Most people do not think she is pretty, but I–” quite desperately–“I DO.” His mood had become rash.

“So do I,” Betty Vanderpoel answered.

Then the others joined them, and Miss Vanderpoel paused to talk a little–and when they went on she was with Mary and Nigel Anstruthers, and he was with Jane, walking slowly, and somehow the others melted away, turning in a perfectly natural manner into a side path. Their own slow pace became slower. In fact, in a few moments, they were standing quite still between the green walls. Jane turned a little aside, and picked off some small leaves, nervously. He saw the muslin on her chest lift quiveringly.

“Oh, little Jane!” he said in a big, shaky whisper. The following eyes incontinently brimmed over. Some shining drops fell on the softness of the blue muslin.

“Oh, Tommy,” giving up, “it’s no use–talking at all.”

“You mustn’t think–you mustn’t think–ANYTHING,” he falteringly commanded, drawing nearer, because it was impossible not to do it.

What he really meant, though he did not know how decorously to say it, was that she must not think that he could be moved by any tall beauty, towards the splendour of whose possessions his revered grandmother might be driving him.

“I am not thinking anything,” cried Jane in answer. “But she is everything, and I am nothing. Just look at her–and then look at me, Tommy.”

“I’ll look at you as long as you’ll let me,” gulped Tommy, and he was boy enough and man enough to put a hand on each of her shoulders, and drown his longing in her brimming eyes.

. . . . .

Mary and Miss Vanderpoel were talking with a curious intimacy, in another part of the garden, where they were together alone, Sir Nigel having been reattached to Lady Alanby.

“You have known Sir Thomas a long time?” Betty had just said.

“Since we were children. Jane reminded me at the Dunholms’ ball that she had played cricket with him when she was eight.”

“They have always liked each other?” Miss Vanderpoel suggested.

Mary looked up at her, and the meeting of their eyes was frank to revelation. But for the clear girlish liking for herself she saw in Betty Vanderpoel’s, Mary would have known her next speech to be of imbecile bluntness. She had heard that Americans often had a queer, delightful understanding of unconventional things. This splendid girl was understanding her.

“Oh! You SEE!” she broke out. “You left them together on purpose!”

“Yes, I did.” And there was a comprehension so deep in her look that Mary knew it was deeper than her own, and somehow founded on some subtler feeling than her own. “When two people want so much–care so much to be together,” Miss Vanderpoel added quite slowly–even as if the words rather forced themselves from her, “it seems as if the whole world ought to help them–everything in the world– the very wind, and rain, and sun, and stars–oh, things have no RIGHT to keep them apart.”

Mary stared at her, moved and fascinated. She scarcely knew that she caught at her hand.

“I have never been in the state that Jane is,” she poured forth. “And I can’t understand how she can be such a fool, but–but we care about each other more than most girls do– perhaps because we have had no people. And it’s the kind of thing there is no use talking against, it seems. It’s killing the youngness in her. If it ends miserably, it will be as if she had had an illness, and got up from it a faded, done-for spinster with a stretch of hideous years to live. Her blue eyes will look like boiled gooseberries, because she will have cried all the colour out of them. Oh! You UNDERSTAND! I see you do.”

Before she had finished both Miss Vanderpoel’s hands were holding hers.

“I do! I do,” she said. And she did, as a year ago she had not known she could. “Is it Lady Alanby?” she ventured.

“Yes. Tommy will be helplessly poor if she does not leave him her money. And she won’t if he makes her angry. She is very determined. She will leave it to an awful cousin if she gets in a rage. And Tommy is not clever. He could never earn his living. Neither could Jane. They could NEVER marry. You CAN’T defy relatives, and marry on nothing, unless you are a character in a book.”

“Has she liked Lady Jane in the past?” Miss Vanderpoel asked, as if she was, mentally, rapidly going over the ground, that she might quite comprehend everything.

“Yes. She used to make rather a pet of her. She didn’t like me. She was taken by Jane’s meek, attentive, obedient ways. Jane was born a sweet little affectionate worm. Lady Alanby can’t hate her, even now. She just pushes her out of her path.”

“Because?” said Betty Vanderpoel.

Mary prefaced her answer with a brief, half-embarrassed laugh.

“Because of YOU.”

“Because she thinks—-?”

“I don’t see how she can believe he has much of a chance. I don’t think she does–but she will never forgive him if he doesn’t make a try at finding out whether he has one or not.”

“It is very businesslike,” Betty made observation.

Mary laughed.

“We talk of American business outlook,” she said, “but very few of us English people are dreamy idealists. We are of a coolness and a daring–when we are dealing with questions of this sort. I don’t think you can know the thing you have brought here. You descend on a dull country place, with your money and your looks, and you simply STAY and amuse yourself by doing extraordinary things, as if there was no London waiting for you. Everyone knows this won’t last. Next season you will be presented, and have a huge success. You will be whirled about in a vortex, and people will sit on the edge, and cast big strong lines, baited with the most glittering things they can get together. You won’t be able to get away. Lady Alanby knows there would be no chance for Tommy then. It would be too idiotic to expect it. He must make his try now.”

Their eyes met again, and Miss Vanderpoel looked neither shocked nor angry, but an odd small shadow swept across her face. Mary, of course, did not know that she was thinking of the thing she had realised so often–that it was not easy to detach one’s self from the fact that one was Reuben S. Vanderpoel’s daughter. As a result of it here one was indecently and unwillingly disturbing the lives of innocent, unassuming lovers.

“And so long as Sir Thomas has not tried–and found out– Lady Jane will be made unhappy?”

“If he were to let you escape without trying, he would not be forgiven. His grandmother has had her own way all her life.”

“But suppose after I went away someone else came?”

Mary shook her head.

“People like you don’t HAPPEN in one neighbourhood twice in a lifetime. I am twenty-six and you are the first I have seen.”

“And he will only be safe if?”

Mary Lithcom nodded.

“Yes–IF,” she answered. “It’s silly–and frightful–but it is true.”

Miss Vanderpoel looked down on the grass a few moments, and then seemed to arrive at a decision.

“He likes you? You can make him understand things?” she inquired.

“Yes.”

“Then go and tell him that if he will come here and ask me a direct question, I will give him a direct answer–which will satisfy Lady Alanby.”

Lady Mary caught her breath.

“Do you know, you are the most wonderful girl I ever saw!” she exclaimed. “But if you only knew what I feel about Janie!” And tears rushed into her eyes.

“I feel just the same thing about my sister,” said Miss Vanderpoel. “I think Rosy and Lady Jane are rather alike.”

. . . . .

When Tommy tramped across the grass towards her he was turning red and white by turns, and looking somewhat like a young man who was being marched up to a cannon’s mouth. It struck him that it was an American kind of thing he was called upon to do, and he was not an American, but British from the top of his closely-cropped head to the rather thick soles of his boots. He was, in truth, overwhelmed by his sense of his inadequacy to the demands of the brilliantly conceived, but unheard-of situation. Joy and terror swept over his being in waves.

The tall, proud, wood-nymph look of her as she stood under a tree, waiting for him, would have struck his courage dead on the spot and caused him to turn and flee in anguish, if she had not made a little move towards him, with a heavenly, every-day humanness in her eyes. The way she managed it was an amazing thing. He could never have managed it at all himself.

She came forward and gave him her hand, and really it was HER hand which held his own comparatively steady.

“It is for Lady Jane,” she said. “That prevents it from being ridiculous or improper. It is for Lady Jane. Her eyes,” with a soft-touched laugh, “are the colour of the blue speedwell I showed you. It is the colour of babies’ eyes. And hers look as theirs do–as if they asked everybody not to hurt them.”

He actually fell upon his knee, and bending his head over her hand, kissed it half a dozen times with adoration. Good Lord, how she SAW and KNEW!

“If Jane were not Jane, and you were not YOU,” the words rushed from him, “it would be the most outrageous–the most impudent thing a man ever had the cheek to do.”

“But it is not.” She did not draw her hand away, and oh, the girlish kindness of her smiling, supporting look. “You came to ask me if—-“

“If you would marry me, Miss Vanderpoel,” his head bending over her hand again. “I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon. Oh Lord, I do.’

“I thank you for the compliment you pay me,” she answered. “I like you very much, Sir Thomas–and I like you just now more than ever–but I could not marry you. I should not make you happy, and I should not be happy myself. The truth is—-” thinking a moment, “each of us really belongs to a different kind of person.

And each of knows the fact.”

“God bless you,” he said. “I think you know everything in the world a woman can know–and remain an angel.”

It was an outburst of eloquence, and she took it in the prettiest way–with the prettiest laugh, which had in it no touch of mockery or disbelief in him.

“What I have said is quite final–if Lady Alanby should inquire,” she said–adding rather quickly, “Someone is coming.”

It pleased her to see that he did not hurry to his feet clumsily, but even stood upright, with a shade of boyish dignity, and did not release her hand before he had bent his head low over it again.

Sir Nigel was bringing with him Lady Alanby, Mrs. Manners, and his wife, and when Betty met his eyes, she knew at once that he had not made his way to this particular garden without intention. He had discovered that she was with Tommy, and it had entertained him to break in upon them.

“I did not intend to interrupt Sir Thomas at his devotions,” he remarked to her after dinner. “Accept my apologies.”

“It did not matter in the least, thank you,” said Betty.

. . . . .

“I am glad to be able to say, Thomas, that you did not look an entire fool when you got up from your knees, as we came into the rose garden.” Thus Lady Alanby, as their carriage turned out of Stornham village.

“I’m glad myself,” Tommy answered.

“What were you doing there? Even if you were asking her to marry you, it was not necessary to go that far. We are not in the seventeenth century.

Then Tommy flushed.

“I did not intend to do it. I could not help it. She was so–so nice about everything. That girl is an angel. I told her so.”

“Very right and proper spirit to approach her in,” answered the old woman, watching him keenly. “Was she angel enough to say she would marry you?”

Tommy, for some occult reason, had the courage to stare back into his grandmother’s eyes, quite as if he were a man, and not a hobbledehoy, expecting to be bullied.

“She does not want me,” he answered. “And I knew she wouldn’t. Why should she? I did what you ordered me to do, and she answered me as I knew she would. She might have snubbed me, but she has such a way with her–such a way of saying things and understanding, that–that–well, I found myself on one knee, kissing her hand–as if I was being presented at court.”

Old Lady Alanby looked out on the passing landscape.

“Well, you did your best,” she summed the matter up at last, “if you went down on your knees involuntarily. If you had done it on purpose, it would have been unpardonable.”

CHAPTER XXXIV

RED GODWYN

Stornham Court had taken its proper position in the county as a place which was equal to social exchange in the matter of entertainment. Sir Nigel and Lady Anstruthers had given a garden party, according to the decrees of the law obtaining in country neighbourhoods. The curiosity to behold Miss Vanderpoel, and the change which had been worked in the well- known desolation and disrepair, precluded the possibility of the refusal of any invitations sent, the recipient being in his or her right mind, and sound in wind and limb. That astonishing things had been accomplished, and that the party was a successful affair, could not but be accepted as truths. Garden parties had been heard of, were a trifle repetitional, and even dull, but at this one there was real music and real dancing, and clever entertainments were given at intervals in a green-embowered little theatre, erected for the occasion. These were agreeable additions to mere food and conversation, which were capable of palling.

To the garden party the Anstruthers did not confine themselves. There were dinner parties at Stornham, and they also were successful functions. The guests were of those who make for the success of such entertainments.

“I called upon Mount Dunstan this afternoon,” Sir Nigel said one evening, before the first of these dinners. “He might expect it, as one is asking him to dine. I wish him to be asked. The Dunholms have taken him up so tremendously that no festivity seems complete without him.”

He had been invited to the garden party, and had appeared, but Betty had seen little of him. It is easy to see little of a guest at an out-of-door festivity. In assisting Rosalie to attend to her visitors she had been much occupied, but she had known that she might have seen more of him, if he had intended that it should be so. He did not–for reasons of his own–intend that it should be so, and this she became aware of. So she walked, played in the bowling green, danced and talked with Westholt, Tommy Alanby and others.

“He does not want to talk to me. He will not, if he can avoid it,” was what she said to herself.

She saw that he rather sought out Mary Lithcom, who was not accustomed to receiving special attention. The two walked together, danced together, and in adjoining chairs watched the performance in the embowered theatre. Lady Mary enjoyed her companion very much, but she wondered why he had attached himself to her.

Betty Vanderpoel asked herself what they talked to each other about, and did not suspect the truth, which was that they talked a good deal of herself.

“Have you seen much of Miss Vanderpoel?” Lady Mary had begun by asking.

“I have SEEN her a good deal, as no doubt you have.”

Lady Mary’s plain face expressed a somewhat touched reflectiveness.

“Do you know,” she said, “that the garden parties have been a different thing this whole summer, just because one always knew one would see her at them?”

A short laugh from Mount Dunstan.

“Jane and I have gone to every garden party within twenty miles, ever since we left the schoolroom. And we are very tired of them. But this year we have quite cheered up. When we are dressing to go to something dull, we say to each other, `Well, at any rate, Miss Vanderpoel will be there, and we shall see what she has on, and how her things are made,’ and that’s something–besides the fun of watching people make up to her, and hearing them talk about the men who want to marry her, and wonder which one she will take. She will not take anyone in this place,” the nice turned-up nose slightly suggesting a derisive sniff. “Who is there who is suitable?”

Mount Dunstan laughed shortly again.

“How do you know I am not an aspirant myself?” he said. He had a mirthless sense of enjoyment in his own brazenness. Only he himself knew how brazen the speech was.

Lady Mary looked at him with entire composure.

“I am quite sure you are not an aspirant for anybody. And I happen to know that you dislike moneyed international marriages. You are so obviously British that, even if I had not been told that, I should know it was true. Miss Vanderpoel herself knows it is true.”

“Does she?”

“Lady Alanby spoke of it to Sir Nigel, and I heard Sir Nigel tell her.”

“Exactly the kind of unnecessary thing he would be likely to repeat.” He cast the subject aside as if it were a worthless superfluity and went on: “When you say there is no one suitable, you surely forget Lord Westholt.”

“Yes, it’s true I forgot him for the moment. But–” with a laugh–“one rather feels as if she would require a royal duke or something of that sort.”

“You think she expects that kind of thing?” rather indifferently.

“She? She doesn’t think of the subject. She simply thinks of other things–of Lady Anstruthers and Ughtred, of the work at Stornham and the village life, which gives her new emotions and interest. She also thinks about being nice to people. She is nicer than any girl I know.”

“You feel, however, she has a right to expect it?” still without more than a casual air of interest.

“Well, what do you feel yourself?” said Lady Mary. “Women who look like that–even when they are not millionairesses– usually marry whom they choose. I do not believe that the two beautiful Miss Gunnings rolled into one would have made anything as undeniable as she is. One has seen portraits of them. Look at her as she stands there talking to Tommy and Lord Dunholm!”

Internally Mount Dunstan was saying: “I am looking at her, thank you,” and setting his teeth a little.

But Lady Mary was launched upon a subject which swept her along with it, and she–so to speak–ground the thing in.

“Look at the turn of her head! Look at her mouth and chin, and her eyes with the lashes sweeping over them when she looks down! You must have noticed the effect when she lifts them suddenly to look at you. It’s so odd and lovely that it–it almost—-“

“Almost makes you jump,” ended Mount Dunstan drily.

She did not laugh and, in fact, her expression became rather sympathetically serious.

“Ah,” she said, “I believe you feel a sort of rebellion against the unfairness of the way things are dealt out. It does seem unfair, of course. It would be perfectly disgraceful–if she were different. I had moments of almost hating her until one day not long ago she did something so bewitchingly kind and understanding of other people’s feelings that I gave up. It was clever, too,” with a laugh, “clever and daring. If she were a young man she would make a dashing soldier.”

She did not give him the details of the story, but went on to say in effect what she had said to Betty herself of the inevitable incidentalness of her stay in the country. If she had not evidently come to Stornham this year with a purpose, she would have spent the season in London and done the usual thing. Americans were generally presented promptly, if they had any position–sometimes when they had not. Lady Alanby had heard that the fact that she was with her sister had awakened curiosity and people were talking about her.

“Lady Alanby said in that dry way of hers that the arrival of an unmarried American fortune in England was becoming rather like the visit of an unmarried royalty. People ask each other what it means and begin to arrange for it. So far, only the women have come, but Lady Alanby says that is because the men have had no time to do anything but stay at home and make the fortunes. She believes that in another generation there will be a male leisure class, and then it will swoop down too, and marry people. She was very sharp and amusing about it. She said it would help them to rid themselves of a plethora of wealth and keep them from bursting.”

She was an amiable, if unsentimental person, Mary Lithcom –and was, quite without ill nature, expressing the consensus of public opinion. These young women came to the country with something practical to exchange in these days, and as there were men who had certain equivalents to offer, so also there were men who had none, and whom decency should cause to stand aside. Mount Dunstan knew that when she had said, “Who is there who is suitable?” any shadow of a thought of himself as being in the running had not crossed her mind. And this was not only for the reasons she had had the ready composure to name, but for one less conquerable.

Later, having left Mary Lithcom, he decided to take a turn by himself. He had done his duty as a masculine guest. He had conversed with young women and old ones, had danced, visited gardens and greenhouses, and taken his part in all things. Also he had, in fact, reached a point when a few minutes of solitude seemed a good thing. He found himself turning into the clipped laurel walk, where Tommy Alanby had stood with Jane Lithcom, and he went to the end of it and stood looking out on the view.

“Look at the turn of her head,” Lady Mary had said. “Look at her mouth and chin.” And he had been looking at them the whole afternoon, not because he had intended to do so, but because it was not possible to prevent himself from doing it.

This was one of the ironies of fate. Orthodox doctrine might suggest that it was to teach him that his past rebellion had been undue. Orthodox doctrine was ever ready with these soothing little explanations. He had raged and sulked at Destiny, and now he had been given something to rage for.

“No one knows anything about it until it takes him by the throat,” he was thinking, “and until it happens to a man he has no right to complain. I was not starving before. I was not hungering and thirsting–in sight of food and water. I suppose one of the most awful things in the world is to feel this and know it is no use.”

He was not in the condition to reason calmly enough to see that there might be one chance in a thousand that it was of use. At such times the most intelligent of men and women lose balance and mental perspicacity. A certain degree of unreasoning madness possesses them. They see too much and too little. There were, it was true, a thousand chances against him, but there was one for him–the chance that selection might be on his side. He had not that balance of thought left which might have suggested to him that he was a man young and powerful, and filled with an immense passion which might count for something. All he saw was that he was notably in the position of the men whom he had privately disdained when they helped themselves by marriage. Such marriages he had held were insults to the manhood of any man and the womanhood of any woman. In such unions neither party could respect himself or his companion. They must always in secret doubt each other, fret at themselves, feel distaste for the whole thing. Even if a man loved such a woman, and the feeling was mutual, to whom would it occur to believe it–to see that they were not gross and contemptible? To no one. Would it have occurred to himself that such an extenuating circumstance was possible? Certainly it would not. Pig-headed pride and obstinacy it might be, but he could not yet face even the mere thought of it–even if his whole position had not been grotesque. Because, after all, it was grotesque that he should even argue with himself. She–before his eyes and the eyes of all others–the most desirable of women; people dinning it in one’s ears that she was surrounded by besiegers who waited for her to hold out her sceptre, and he–well, what was he! Not that his mental attitude was that of a meek and humble lover who felt himself unworthy and prostrated himself before her shrine with prayers –he was, on the contrary, a stout and obstinate Briton finding his stubbornly-held beliefs made as naught by a certain obsession –an intolerable longing which wakened with him in the morning, which sank into troubled sleep with him at night–the longing to see her, to speak to her, to stand near her, to breathe the air of her. And possessed by this–full of the overpowering strength of it–was a man likely to go to a woman and say, “Give your life and desirableness to me; and incidentally support me, feed me, clothe me, keep the roof over my head, as if I were an impotent beggar”?

“No, by God!” he said. “If she thinks of me at all it shall be as a man. No, by God, I will not sink to that!”

. . . . .

A moving touch of colour caught his eye. It was the rose of a parasol seen above the laurel hedge, as someone turned into the walk. He knew the colour of it and expected to see other parasols and hear voices. But there was no sound, and unaccompanied, the wonderful rose-thing moved towards him.

“The usual things are happening to me,” was his thought as it advanced. “I am hot and cold, and just now my heart leaped like a rabbit. It would be wise to walk off, but I shall not do it. I shall stay here, because I am no longer a reasoning being. I suppose that a horse who refuses to back out of his stall when his stable is on fire feels something of the same thing.”

When she saw him she made an involuntary-looking pause, and then recovering herself, came forward.

“I seem to have come in search of you,” she said. “You ought to be showing someone the view really–and so ought I.”

“Shall we show it to each other?” was his reply.

“Yes.” And she sat down on the stone seat which had been placed for the comfort of view lovers. “I am a little tired– just enough to feel that to slink away for a moment alone would be agreeable. It IS slinking to leave Rosalie to battle with half the county. But I shall only stay a few minutes.”

She sat still and gazed at the beautiful lands spread before her, but there was no stillness in her mind, neither was there stillness in his. He did not look at the view, but at her, and he was asking himself what he should be saying to her if he were such a man as Westholt. Though he had boldness enough, he knew that no man–even though he is free to speak the best and most passionate thoughts of his soul–could be sure that he would gain what he desired. The good fortune of Westholt, or of any other, could but give him one man’s fair chance.

But having that chance, he knew he should not relinquish it soon. There swept back into his mind the story of the marriage of his ancestor, Red Godwyn, and he laughed low in spite of himself.

Miss Vanderpoel looked up at him quickly.

“Please tell me about it, if it is very amusing,” she said.

“I wonder if it will amuse you,” was his answer. “Do you like savage romance?”

“Very much.”

It might seem a propos de rien, but he did not care in the least. He wanted to hear what she would say.

“An ancestor of mine–a certain Red Godwyn–was a barbarian immensely to my taste. He became enamoured of rumours of the beauty of the daughter and heiress of his bitterest enemy. In his day, when one wanted a thing, one rode forth with axe and spear to fight for it.”

“A simple and alluring method,” commented Betty. “What was her name?”

She leaned in light ease against the stone back of her seat, the rose light cast by her parasol faintly flushed her. The silence of their retreat seemed accentuated by its background of music from the gardens. They smiled a second bravely into each other’s eyes, then their glances became entangled, as they had done for a moment when they had stood together in Mount Dunstan park. For one moment each had been held prisoner then–now it was for longer.

“Alys of the Sea-Blue Eyes.”

Betty tried to release herself, but could not.

“Sometimes the sea is grey,” she said.

His own eyes were still in hers.

“Hers were the colour of the sea on a day when the sun shines on it, and there are large fleece-white clouds floating in the blue above. They sparkled and were often like bluebells under water.”

“Bluebells under water sounds entrancing,” said Betty.

He caught his breath slightly.

“They were–entrancing,” he said. “That was evidently the devil of it–saving your presence.”

“I have never objected to the devil,” said Betty. “He is an energetic, hard-working creature and paints himself an honest black. Please tell me the rest.”

“Red Godwyn went forth, and after a bloody fight took his enemy’s castle. If we still lived in like simple, honest times, I should take Dunholm Castle in the same way. He also took Alys of the Eyes and bore her away captive.”

“From such incidents developed the germs of the desire for female suffrage,” Miss Vanderpoel observed gently.

“The interest of the story lies in the fact that apparently the savage was either epicure or sentimentalist, or both. He did not treat the lady ill. He shut her in a tower chamber overlooking his courtyard, and after allowing her three days to weep, he began his barbarian wooing. Arraying himself in splendour he ordered her to appear before him. He sat upon the dais in his banquet hall, his retainers gathered about him– a great feast spread. In archaic English we are told that the board groaned beneath the weight of golden trenchers and flagons. Minstrels played and sang, while he displayed all his splendour.”

“They do it yet,” said Miss Vanderpoel, “in London and New York and other places.”

“The next day, attended by his followers, he took her with him to ride over his lands. When she returned to her tower chamber she had learned how powerful and great a chieftain he was. She `laye softely’ and was attended by many maidens, but she had no entertainment but to look out upon the great green court. There he arranged games and trials of strength and skill, and she saw him bigger, stronger, and more splendid than any other man. He did not even lift his eyes to her window. He also sent her daily a rich gift.”

“How long did this go on?”

“Three months. At the end of that time he commanded her presence again in his banquet hall. He told her the gates were opened, the drawbridge down and an escort waiting to take her back to her father’s lands, if she would.”

“What did she do?”

“She looked at him long–and long. She turned proudly away–in the sea-blue eyes were heavy and stormy tears, which seeing—-“

“Ah, he saw them?” from Miss Vanderpoel.

“Yes. And seizing her in his arms caught her to his breast, calling for a priest to make them one within the hour. I am quoting the chronicle. I was fifteen when I read it first.”

“It is spirited,” said Betty, “and Red Godwyn was almost modern in his methods.”

While professing composure and lightness of mood, the spell which works between two creatures of opposite sex when in such case wrought in them and made them feel awkward and stiff. When each is held apart from the other by fate, or will, or circumstance, the spell is a stupefying thing, deadening even the clearness of sight and wit.

“I must slink back now,” Betty said, rising. “Will you slink back with me to give me countenance? I have greatly liked Red Godwyn.”

So it occurred that when Nigel Anstruthers saw them again it was as they crossed the lawn together, and people looked up from ices and cups of tea to follow their slow progress with questioning or approving eyes.

CHAPTER XXXV

THE TIDAL WAVE

There was only one man to speak to, and it being the nature of the beast–so he harshly put it to himself–to be absolutely impelled to speech at such times, Mount Dunstan laid bare his breast to him, tearing aside all the coverings pride would have folded about him. The man was, of course, Penzance, and the laying bare was done the evening after the story of Red Godwyn had been told in the laurel walk.

They had driven home together in a profound silence, the elder man as deep in thought as the younger one. Penzance was thinking that there was a calmness in having reached sixty and in knowing that the pain and hunger of earlier years would not tear one again. And yet, he himself was not untorn by that which shook the man for whom his affection had grown year by year. It was evidently very bad–very bad, indeed. He wondered if he would speak of it, and wished he would, not because he himself had much to say in answer, but because he knew that speech would be better than hard silence.

“Stay with me to-night,” Mount Dunstan said, as they drove through the avenue to the house. “I want you to dine with me and sit and talk late. I am not sleeping well.”

They often dined together, and the vicar not infrequently slept at the Mount for mere companionship’s sake. Sometimes they read, sometimes went over accounts, planned economies, and balanced expenditures. A chamber still called the Chaplain’s room was always kept in readiness. It had been used in long past days, when a household chaplain had sat below the salt and left his patron’s table before the sweets were served. They dined together this night almost as silently as they had driven homeward, and after the meal they went and sat alone in the library.

The huge room was never more than dimly lighted, and the far-off corners seemed more darkling than usual in the insufficient illumination of the far from brilliant lamps. Mount Dunstan, after standing upon the hearth for a few minutes smoking a pipe, which would have compared ill with old Doby’s Sunday splendour, left his coffee cup upon the mantel and began to tramp up and down–out of the dim light into the shadows, back out of the shadows into the poor light.

“You know,” he said, “what I think about most things– you know what I feel.”

“I think I do.”

“You know what I feel about Englishmen who brand themselves as half men and marked merchandise by selling themselves and their houses and their blood to foreign women who can buy them. You know how savage I have been at the mere thought of it. And how I have sworn—-“

“Yes, I know what you have sworn,” said Mr. Penzance.

It struck him that Mount Dunstan shook and tossed his head rather like a bull about to charge an enemy.

“You know how I have felt myself perfectly within my rights when I blackguarded such men and sneered at such women–taking it for granted that each was merchandise of his or her kind and beneath contempt. I am not a foul-mouthed man, but I have used gross words and rough ones to describe them.”

“I have heard you.”

Mount Dunstan threw back his head with a big, harsh laugh. He came out of the shadow and stood still.

“Well,” he said, “I am in love–as much in love as any lunatic ever was–with the daughter of Reuben S. Vanderpoel. There you are–and there _I_ am!”

“It has seemed to me,” Penzance answered, “that it was almost inevitable.”

“My condition is such that it seems to ME that it would be inevitable in the case of any man. When I see another man look at her my blood races through my veins with an awful fear and a wicked heat. That will show you the point I have reached.” He walked over to the mantelpiece and laid his pipe down with a hand Penzance saw was unsteady. “In turning over the pages of the volume of Life,” he said, “I have come upon the Book of Revelations.”

“That is true,” Penzance said.

“Until one has come upon it one is an inchoate fool,” Mount Dunstan went on. “And afterwards one is–for a time at least–a sort of madman raving to one’s self, either in or out of a straitjacket–as the case may be. I am wearing the jacket –worse luck! Do you know anything of the state of a man who cannot utter the most ordinary words to a woman without being conscious that he is making mad love to her? This afternoon I found myself telling Miss Vanderpoel the story of Red Godwyn and Alys of the Sea-Blue Eyes. I did not make a single statement having any connection with myself, but throughout I was calling on her to think of herself and of me as of those two. I saw her in my own arms, with the tears of Alys on her lashes. I was making mad love, though she was unconscious of my doing it.”

“How do you know she was unconscious?” remarked Mr. Penzance. “You are a very strong man.”

Mount Dunstan’s short laugh was even a little awful, because it meant so much. He let his forehead drop a moment on to his arms as they rested on the mantelpiece.

“Oh, my God!” he said. But the next instant his head lifted itself. “It is the mystery of the world–this thing. A tidal wave gathering itself mountain high and crashing down upon one’s helplessness might be as easily defied. It is supposed to disperse, I believe. That has been said so often that there must be truth in it. In twenty or thirty or forty years one is told one will have got over it. But one must live through the years–one must LIVE through them–and the chief feature of one’s madness is that one is convinced that they will last forever.”

“Go on,” said Mr. Penzance, because he had paused and stood biting his lip. “Say all that you feel inclined to say. It is the best thing you can do. I have never gone through this myself, but I have seen and known the amazingness of it for many years. I have seen it come and go.”

“Can you imagine,” Mount Dunstan said, “that the most damnable thought of all–when a man is passing through it– is the possibility of its GOING? Anything else rather than the knowledge that years could change or death could end it! Eternity seems only to offer space for it. One knows–but one does not believe. It does something to one’s brain.”

“No scientist, howsoever profound, has ever discovered what,” the vicar mused aloud.

“The Book of Revelations has shown to me how–how MAGNIFICENT life might be!” Mount Dunstan clenched and unclenched his hands, his eyes flashing. “Magnificent–that is the word. To go to her on equal ground to take her hands and speak one’s passion as one would–as her eyes answered. Oh, one would know! To bring her home to this place–having made it as it once was–to live with her here–to be WITH her as the sun rose and set and the seasons changed–with the joy of life filling each of them. SHE is the joy of Life–the very heart of it. You see where I am–you see!”

“Yes,” Penzance answered. He saw, and bowed his head, and Mount Dunstan knew he wished him to continue.

“Sometimes–of late–it has been too much for me and I have given free rein to my fancy–knowing that there could never be more than fancy. I was doing it this afternoon as I watched her move about among the people. And Mary Lithcom began to talk about her.” He smiled a grim smile. “Perhaps it was an intervention of the gods to drag me down from my impious heights. She was quite unconscious that she was driving home facts like nails–the facts that every man who wanted money wanted Reuben S. Vanderpoel’s daughter–and that the young lady, not being dull, was not unaware of the obvious truth! And that men with prizes to offer were ready to offer them in a proper manner. Also that she was only a brilliant bird of passage, who, in a few months, would be caught in the dazzling net of the great world. And that even Lord Westholt and Dunholm Castle were not quite what she might expect. Lady Mary was sincerely interested. She drove it home in her ardour. She told me to LOOK at her–to LOOK at her mouth and chin and eyelashes–and to make note of what she stood for in a crowd of ordinary people. I could have laughed aloud with rage and self-mockery.”

Mr. Penzance was resting his forehead on his hand, his elbow on his chair’s arm.

“This is profound unhappiness,” he said. “It is profound unhappiness.”

Mount Dunstan answered by a brusque gesture.

“But it will pass away,” went on Penzance, “and not as you fear it must,” in answer to another gesture, fiercely impatient. “Not that way. Some day–or night–you will stand heretogether, and you will tell her all you have told me. I KNOW it will be so.”

“What!” Mount Dunstan cried out. But the words had been spoken with such absolute conviction that he felt himself become pale.

It was with the same conviction that Penzance went on.

“I have spent my quiet life in thinking of the forces for which we find no explanation–of the causes of which we only see the effects. Long ago in looking at you in one of my pondering moments I said to myself that YOU were of the Primeval Force which cannot lose its way–which sweeps a clear pathway for itself as it moves–and which cannot be held back. I said to you just now that because you are a strong man you cannot be sure that a woman you are–even in spite of yourself– making mad love to, is unconscious that you are doing it. You do not know what your strength lies in. I do not, the woman does not, but we must all feel it, whether we comprehend it or no. You said of this fine creature, some time since, that she was Life, and you have just said again something of the same kind. It is quite true. She is Life, and the joy of it. You are two strong forces, and you are drawing together.”

He rose from his chair, and going to Mount Dunstan put hishand on his shoulder, his fine old face singularly rapt and glowing.

“She is drawing you and you are drawing her, and each is too strong to release the other. I believe that to be true. Both bodies and souls do it. They are not separate things. They move on their way as the stars do–they move on their way.”

As he spoke, Mount Dunstan’s eyes looked into his fixedly. Then they turned aside and looked down upon the mantel against which he was leaning. He aimlessly picked up his pipe and laid it down again. He was paler than before, but he said no single word.

“You think your reasons for holding aloof from her are the reasons of a man.” Mr. Penzance’s voice sounded to him remote. “They are the reasons of a man’s pride–but that is not the strongest thing in the world. It only imagines it is. You think that you cannot go to her as a luckier man could. You think nothing shall force you to speak. Ask yourself why. It is because you believe that to show your heart would be to place yourself in the humiliating position of a man who might seem to her and to the world to be a base fellow.”

“An impudent, pushing, base fellow,” thrust in Mount Dunstan fiercely. “One of a vulgar lot. A thing fancying even its beggary worth buying. What has a man–whose very name is hung with tattered ugliness–to offer?”

Penzance’s hand was still on his shoulder and his look at him was long.

“His very pride,” he said at last, “his very obstinacy and haughty, stubborn determination. Those broken because the other feeling is the stronger and overcomes him utterly.”

A flush leaped to Mount Dunstan’s forehead. He set both elbows on the mantel and let his forehead fall on his clenched fists. And the savage Briton rose in him.

“No!” he said passionately. “By God, no!”

“You say that,” said the older man, “because you have not yet reached the end of your tether. Unhappy as you are, you are not unhappy enough. Of the two, you love yourself the more–your pride and your stubbornness.”

“Yes,” between his teeth. “I suppose I retain yet a sort of respect–and affection–for my pride. May God leave it to me!”

Penzance felt himself curiously exalted; he knew himself unreasoningly passing through an oddly unpractical, uplifted moment, in whose impelling he singularly believed.

“You are drawing her and she is drawing you,” he said. “Perhaps you drew each other across seas. You will stand here together and you will tell her of this–on this very spot.”

Mount Dunstan changed his position and laughed roughly, as if to rouse himself. He threw out his arm in a big, uneasy gesture, taking in the room.

“Oh, come,” he said. “You talk like a seer. Look about you. Look! I am to bring her here!”

“If it is the primeval thing she will not care. Why should she?”

“She! Bring a life like hers to this! Or perhaps you mean that her own wealth might make her surroundings becoming– that a man would endure that?”

“If it is the primeval thing, YOU would not care. You would have forgotten that you two had ever lived an hour apart.”

He spoke with a deep, moved gravity–almost as if he were speaking of the first Titan building of the earth. Mount Dunstan staring at his delicate, insistent, elderly face, tried to laugh again–and failed because the effort seemed actually irreverent. It was a singular hypnotic moment, indeed. He himself was hypnotised. A flashlight of new vision blazed before him and left him dumb. He took up his pipe hurriedly, and with still unsteady fingers began to refill it. When it was filled he lighted it, and then without a word of answer left the hearth and began to tramp up and down the room again–out of the dim light into the shadows, back out of the shadows and into the dim light again, his brow working and his teeth holding hard his amber mouthpiece.

The morning awakening of a normal healthy human creature should be a joyous thing. After the soul’s long hours of release from the burden of the body, its long hours spent– one can only say in awe at the mystery of it, “away, away”– in flight, perhaps, on broad, tireless wings, beating softly in fair, far skies, breathing pure life, to be brought back to renew the strength of each dawning day; after these hours of quiescence of limb and nerve and brain, the morning life returning should unseal for the body clear eyes of peace at least. In time to come this will be so, when the soul’s wings are stronger, the body more attuned to infinite law and the race a greater power–but as yet it often seems as though the winged thing came back a lagging and reluctant rebel against its fate and the chain which draws it back a prisoner to its toil.

It had seemed so often to Mount Dunstan–oftener than not. Youth should not know such awakening, he was well aware; but he had known it sometimes even when he had been a child, and since his return from his ill-starred struggle in America, the dull and reluctant facing of the day had become a habit. Yet on the morning after his talk with his friend– the curious, uplifted, unpractical talk which had seemed to hypnotise him–he knew when he opened his eyes to the light that he had awakened as a man should awake–with an unreasoning sense of pleasure in the life and health of his own body, as he stretched mighty limbs, strong after the night’s rest, and feeling that there was work to be done. It was all unreasoning– there was no more to be done than on those other days which he had wakened to with bitterness, because they seemed useless and empty of any worth–but this morning the mere light of the sun was of use, the rustle of the small breeze in the leaves, the soft floating past of the white clouds, the mere fact that the great blind-faced, stately house was his own, that he could tramp far over lands which were his heritage, unfed though they might be, and that the very rustics who would pass him in the lanes were, so to speak, his own people: that he had name, life, even the common thing of hunger for his morning food–it was all of use.

An alluring picture–of a certain deep, clear bathing pool in the park rose before him. It had not called to him for many a day, and now he saw its dark blueness gleam between flags and green rushes in its encircling thickness of shrubs and trees.

He sprang from his bed, and in a few minutes was striding across the grass of the park, his towels over his arm, his head thrown back as he drank in the freshness of the morning- scented air. It was scented with dew and grass and the breath of waking trees and growing things; early twitters and thrills were to be heard here and there, insisting on morning joyfulness; rabbits frisked about among the fine-grassed hummocks of their warren and, as he passed, scuttled back into their holes, with a whisking of short white tails, at which he laughed with friendly amusement. Cropping stags lifted their antlered heads, and fawns with dappled sides and immense lustrous eyes gazed at him without actual fear, even while they sidled closer to their mothers. A skylark springing suddenly from the grass a few yards from his feet made him stop short once and stand looking upward and listening. Who could pass by a skylark at five o’clock on a summer’s morning–the little, heavenly light-heart circling and wheeling, showering down diamonds, showering down pearls, from its tiny pulsating, trilling throat?

“Do you know why they sing like that? It is because all but the joy of things has been kept hidden from them. They knew nothing but life and flight and mating, and the gold of the sun. So they sing.” That she had once said.

He listened until the jewelled rain seemed to have fallen into his soul. Then he went on his way smiling as he knew he had never smiled in his life before. He knew it because he realised that he had never before felt the same vigorous, light normality of spirit, the same sense of being as other men. It was as though something had swept a great clear space about him, and having room for air he breathed deep and was glad of the commonest gifts of being.

The bathing pool had been the greatest pleasure of his uncared-for boyhood. No one knew which long passed away Mount Dunstan had made it. The oldest villager had told him that it had “allus ben there,” even in his father’s time. Since he himself had known it he had seen that it was kept at its best.

Its dark blue depths reflected in their pellucid clearness the water plants growing at its edge and the enclosing shrubs and trees. The turf bordering it was velvet-thick and green, and a few flag-steps led down to the water. Birds came there to drink and bathe and preen and dress their feathers. He knew there were often nests in the bushes–sometimes the nests of nightingales who filled the soft darkness or moonlight of early June with the wonderfulness of nesting song. Sometimes a straying fawn poked in a tender nose, and after drinking delicately stole away, as if it knew itself a trespasser.

To undress and plunge headlong into the dark sapphire water was a rapturous thing. He swam swiftly and slowly by turns, he floated, looking upward at heaven’s blue, listening to birds’ song and inhaling all the fragrance of the early day. Strength grew in him and life pulsed as the water lapped his limbs. He found himself thinking with pleasure of a long walk he intended to take to see a farmer he must talk to about his hop gardens; he found himself thinking with pleasure of other things as simple and common to everyday life–such things as he ordinarily faced merely because he must, since he could not afford an experienced bailiff. He was his own bailiff, his own steward, merely, he had often thought, an unsuccessful farmer of half- starved lands. But this morning neither he nor they seemed so starved, and–for no reason–there was a future of some sort.

He emerged from his pool glowing, the turf feeling like velvet beneath his feet, a fine light in his eyes.

“Yes,” he said, throwing out his arms in a lordly stretch of physical well-being, “it might be a magnificent thing–mere strong living. THIS is magnificent.”

CHAPTER XXXVI

BY THE ROADSIDE EVERYWHERE

His breakfast and the talk over it with Penzance seemed good things. It suddenly had become worth while to discuss the approaching hop harvest and the yearly influx of the hop pickers from London. Yesterday the subject had appeared discouraging enough. The great hop gardens of the estate had been in times past its most prolific source of agricultural revenue and the boast and wonder of the hop-growing county. The neglect and scant food of the lean years had cost them their reputation. Each season they had needed smaller bands of “hoppers,” and their standard had been lowered. It had been his habit to think of them gloomily, as of hopeless and irretrievable loss. Because this morning, for a remote reason, the pulse of life beat strong in him he was taking a new view. Might not study of the subject, constant attention and the application of all available resource to one end produce appreciable results? The idea presented itself in the form of a thing worth thinking of.

“It would provide an outlook and give one work to do,” he put it to his companion. “To have a roof over one’s head, a sound body, and work to do, is not so bad. Such things form the whole of G. Selden’s cheerful aim. His spirit is alight within me. I will walk over and talk to Bolter.”

Bolter was a farmer whose struggle to make ends meet was almost too much for him. Holdings whose owners, either through neglect or lack of money, have failed to do their duty as landlords in the matter of repairs of farmhouses, outbuildings, fences, and other things, gradually fall into poor hands. Resourceful and prosperous farmers do not care to hold lands under unprosperous landlords. There were farms lying vacant on the Mount Dunstan estate, there were others whose tenants were uncertain rent payers or slipshod workers or dishonest in small ways. Waste or sale of the fertiliser which should have been given to the soil as its due, neglect in the case of things whose decay meant depreciation of property and expense to the landlord, were dishonesties. But Mount Dunstan knew that if he turned out Thorn and Fittle, whom no watching could wholly frustrate in their tricks, Under Mount Farm and Oakfield Rise would stand empty for many a year. But for his poverty Bolter would have been a good tenant enough. He was in trouble now because, though his hops promised well, he faced difficulties in the matter of “pickers.” Last year he had not been able to pay satisfactory prices in return for labour, and as a result the prospect of securing good workers was an unpromising one.

The hordes of men, women, and children who flock year after year to the hop-growing districts know each other. They learn also which may be called the good neighbourhoods and which the bad; the gardens whose holders are considered satisfactory as masters, and those who are undesirable. They know by experience or report where the best “huts” are provided, where tents are supplied, and where one must get along as one can.

Generally the regular flocks are under a “captain,” who gathers his followers each season, manages them and looks after their interests and their employers’. In some cases the same captain brings his regiment to the same gardens year after year, and ends by counting himself as of the soil and almost of the family of his employer. Each hard, thick-fogged winter they fight through in their East End courts and streets, they look forward to the open-air weeks spent between long, narrow green groves of tall garlanded poles, whose wreathings hang thick with fresh and pungent-scented hop clusters. Children play ” ‘oppin” in dingy rooms and alleys, and talk to each other of days when the sun shone hot and birds were singing and flowers smelling sweet in the hedgerows; of others when the rain streamed down and made mud of the soft earth, and yet there was pleasure in the gipsying life, and high cheer in the fire of sticks built in the field by some bold spirit, who hung over it a tin kettle to boil for tea. They never forgot the gentry they had caught sight of riding or driving by on the road, the parson who came to talk, and the occasional groups of ladies from the “great house” who came into the gardens to walk about and look at the bins and ask queer questions in their gentry-sounding voices. They never knew anything, and they always seemed to be entertained. Sometimes there were enterprising, laughing ones, who asked to be shown how to strip the hops into the bins, and after being shown played at the work for a little while, taking off their gloves and showing white fingers with rings on. They always looked as if they had just been washed, and as if all of their clothes were fresh from the tub, and when anyone stood near them it was observable that they smelt nice. Generally they gave pennies to the children before they left the garden, and sometimes shillings to the women. The hop picking was, in fact, a wonderful blend of work and holiday combined.

Mount Dunstan had liked the “hopping” from his first memories of it. He could recall his sensations of welcoming a renewal of interesting things when, season after season, he had begun to mark the early stragglers on the road. The stragglers were not of the class gathered under captains. They were derelicts–tramps who spent their summers on the highways and their winters in such workhouses as would take them in; tinkers, who differ from the tramps only because sometimes they owned a rickety cart full of strange household goods and drunken tenth-hand perambulators piled with dirty bundles and babies, these last propelled by robust or worn-out, slatternly women, who sat by the small roadside fire stirring the battered pot or tending the battered kettle, when resting time had come and food must be cooked. Gipsies there were who had cooking fires also, and hobbled horses cropping the grass. Now and then appeared a grand one, who was rumoured to be a Lee and therefore royal, and who came and lived regally in a gaily painted caravan. During the late summer weeks one began to see slouching figures tramping along the high road at intervals. These were men who were old, men who were middle-aged and some who were young, all of them more or less dust-grimed, weather-beaten, or ragged. Occasionally one was to be seen in heavy beery slumber under the hedgerow, or lying on the grass smoking lazily, or with painful thrift cobbling up a hole in a garment. Such as these were drifting in early that they might be on the ground when pickers were wanted. They were the forerunners of the regular army.

On his walk to West Ways, the farm Bolter lived on, Mount Dunstan passed two or three of these strays. They were the usual flotsam and jetsam, but on the roadside near a hop garden he came upon a group of an aspect so unusual that it