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Fraternity, by John Galsworthy by John Galsworthy

Part 7 out of 7

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physical revolt.

Thus repulsed, the girl stood rigid, her breast heaving, her eyes
unnaturally dilated, her mouth still loosened by the kiss. Snatching
from his pocket a roll of notes, Hilary flung them on the bed.

"I can't take you!" he almost groaned. "It's madness! It's
impossible!" And he went out into the passage. He ran down the
steps and got into his cab. An immense time seemed to pass before it
began to move. It started at last, and Hilary sat back in it, his
hands clenched, still as a dead man.

His mortified face was recognised by the landlady, returning from her
morning's visit to the shops. The gentleman looked, she thought, as
if he had received bad news! She not unnaturally connected his
appearance with her lodger. Tapping on the girl's door, and
receiving no answer, she went in.

The little model was lying on the dismantled bed, pressing her face
into the blue and white ticking of the bolster. Her shoulders shook,
and a sound of smothered sobbing came from her. The landlady stood
staring silently.

Coming of Cornish chapel-going stock, she had never liked this girl,
her instinct telling her that she was one for whom life had already
been too much. Those for whom life had so early been too much, she
knew, were always "ones for pleasure!" Her experience of village
life had enabled her to construct the little model's story--that very
simple, very frequent little story. Sometimes, indeed, trouble of
that sort was soon over and forgotten; but sometimes, if the young
man didn't do the right thing by her, and the girl's folk took it
hardly, well, then---! So had run the reasoning of this good woman.
Being of the same class, she had looked at her lodger from the first
without obliquity of vision.

But seeing her now apparently so overwhelmed, and having something
soft and warm down beneath her granitic face and hungry eyes, she
touched her on the back.

"Come, now!" she said; "you mustn't take on! What is it?"

The little model shook off the hand as a passionate child shakes
itself free of consolation. "Let me alone!" she muttered.

The landlady drew back. "Has anyone done you a harm?" she said.

The little model shook her head.

Baffled by this dumb grief, the landlady was silent; then, with the
stolidity of those whose lives are one long wrestling with fortune,
she muttered:

"I don't like to see anyone cry like that!"

And finding that the girl remained obstinately withdrawn from sight
or sympathy, she moved towards the door.

"Well," she said, with ironical compassion, "if you want me, I'll be
in the kitchen."

The little model remained lying on her bed. Every now and then she
gulped, like a child flung down on the grass apart from its comrades,
trying to swallow down its rage, trying to bury in the earth its
little black moment of despair. Slowly those gulps grew fewer,
feebler, and at last died away. She sat up, sweeping Hilary's bundle
of notes, on which she had been lying, to the floor.

At sight of that bundle she broke out afresh, flinging herself down
sideways with her cheek on the wet bolster; and, for some time after
her sobs had ceased again, still lay there. At last she rose and
dragged herself over to the looking-glass, scrutinising her streaked,
discoloured face, the stains in the cheeks, the swollen eyelids, the
marks beneath her eyes; and listlessly she tidied herself. Then,
sitting down on the brown tin trunk, she picked the bundle of notes
off the floor. They gave forth a dry peculiar crackle. Fifteen ten-
pound notes--all Hilary's travelling money. Her eyes opened wider
and wider as she counted; and tears, quite suddenly, rolled down on
to those thin slips of paper.

Then slowly she undid her dress, and forced them down till they
rested, with nothing but her vest between them and the quivering warm
flesh which hid her heart.



At half-past ten that evening Stephen walked up the stone-flagged
pathway of his brother's house.

"Can I see Mrs. Hilary?"

"Mr. Hilary went abroad this morning, sir, and Mrs. Hilary has not
yet come in."

"Will you give her this letter? No, I'll wait. I suppose I can wait
for her in the garden?"

"Oh yes, sit!"

"Very well."

"I'll leave the door open, sir, in case you want to come in."

Stephen walked across to the rustic bench and sat down. He stared
gloomily through the dusk at his patent-leather boots, and every now
and then he flicked his evening trousers with the letter. Across the
dark garden, where the boughs hung soft, unmoved by wind, the light
from Mr. Stone's open window flowed out in a pale river; moths, born
of the sudden heat, were fluttering up this river to its source.

Stephen looked irritably at the figure of Mr. Stone, which could be
seen, bowed, and utterly still, beside his desk; so, by lifting the
spy-hole thatch, one may see a convict in his cell stand gazing at
his work, without movement, numb with solitude.

'He's getting awfully broken up,' thought Stephen. 'Poor old chap!
His ideas are killing him. They're not human nature, never will be.'
Again he flicked his trousers with the letter, as though that
document emphasised the fact. 'I can't help being sorry for the
sublime old idiot!'

He rose, the better to see his father-in-law's unconscious figure.
It looked as lifeless and as cold as though Mr. Stone had followed
some thought below the ground, and left his body standing there to
await his return. Its appearance oppressed Stephen.

'You might set the house on fire,' he thought; 'he'd never notice.'

Mr. Stone's figure moved; the sound of along sigh came out to Stephen
in the windless garden. He turned his eyes away, with the sudden
feeling that it was not the thing to watch the old chap like this;
then, getting up, he went indoors. In his brother's study he stood
turning over the knick-knacks on the writing-table.

'I warned Hilary that he was burning his fingers,' he thought.

At the sound of the latch-key he went back to the hall.

However much he had secretly disapproved of her from the beginning,
because she had always seemed to him such an uncomfortable and
tantalising person, Stephen was impressed that night by the haunting
unhappiness of Bianca's face; as if it had been suddenly disclosed to
him that she could not help herself. This was disconcerting, being,
in a sense, a disorderly way of seeing things.

"You look tired, B.," he said. "I'm sorry, but I thought it better
to bring this round tonight."

Bianca glanced at the letter.

"It is to you," she said. "I don't wish to read it, thank you."

Stephen compressed his lips.

"But I wish you to hear it, please," he said. "I'll read it out, if
you'll allow me.



"'I told you yesterday morning that I was going abroad alone.
Afterwards I changed my mind--I meant to take her. I went to her
lodgings for the purpose. I have lived too long amongst sentiments
for such a piece of reality as that. Class has saved me; it has
triumphed over my most primitive instincts.

"'I am going alone--back to my sentiments. No slight has been placed
on Bianca--but my married life having become a mockery, I shall not
return to it. The following address will find me, and I shall ask
you presently to send on my household gods.

"'Please let Bianca know the substance of this letter.

"'Ever your affectionate brother,


With a frown Stephen folded up the letter, and restored it to his
breast pocket.

'It's more bitter than I thought,' he reflected; 'and yet he's done
the only possible thing!'

Bianca was leaning her elbow on the mantelpiece with her face turned
to the wall. Her silence irritated Stephen, whose loyalty to his
brother longed to fend a vent.

"I'm very much relieved, of course," he said at last. "It would have
been fatal"

She did not move, and Stephen became increasingly aware that this was
a most awkward matter to touch on.

"Of course," he began again. "But, B., I do think you--rather--I
mean---" And again he stopped before her utter silence, her utter
immobility. Then, unable to go away without having in some sort
expressed his loyalty to Hilary, he tried once more: "Hilary is the
kindest man I know. It's not his fault if he's out of touch with
life--if he's not fit to deal with things. He's negative!"

And having thus in a single word, somewhat to his own astonishment,
described his brother, he held out his hand.

The hand which Bianca placed in it was feverishly hot. Stephen felt
suddenly compunctious.

"I'm awfully sorry," he stammered, "about the whole thing. I'm
awfully sorry for you---"

Bianca drew back her hand.

With a little shrug Stephen turned away.

'What are you to do with women like that?' was his thought, and
saying dryly, "Good-night, B.," he went.

For some time Bianca sat in Hilary's chair. Then, by the faint
glimmer coming through the half-open door, she began to wander round
the room, touching the walls, the books, the prints, all the familiar
things among which he had lived so many years....

In that dim continual journey she was like a disharmonic spirit
traversing the air above where its body lies.

The door creaked behind her. A voice said sharply:

"What are you doing in this house?"

Mr. Stone was standing beside the bust of Socrates. Bianca went up
to him.


Mr. Stone stared. "It is you! I thought it was a thief! Where is

"Gone away."


Bianca bowed her head. "It is very late, Dad," she whispered.

Mr. Stone's hand moved as though he would have stroked her.

"The human heart," he murmured, "is the tomb of many feelings."

Bianca put her arm round him.

"You must go to bed, Dad," she said, trying to get him to the door,
for in her heart something seemed giving way.

Mr. Stone stumbled; the door swung to; the room was plunged in
darkness. A hand, cold as ice, brushed her cheek. With all her
force she stiffed a scream.

"I am here," Mr. Stone said.

His hand, wandering downwards, touched her shoulder, and she seized
it with her own burning hand. Thus linked, they groped their way out
into the passage towards his room.

"Good-night, dear," Bianca murmured.

By the light of his now open door Mr. Stone seemed to try and see her
face, but she would not show it him. Closing the door gently, she
stole upstairs.

Sitting down in her bedroom by the open window, it seemed to her that
the room was full of people--her nerves were so unstrung. It was as
if walls had not the power this night to exclude human presences.
Moving, or motionless, now distinct, then covered suddenly by the
thick veil of some material object, they circled round her quiet
figure, lying back in the chair with shut eyes. These disharmonic
shadows flitting in the room made a stir like the rubbing of dry
straw or the hum of bees among clover stalks. When she sat up they
vanished, and the sounds became the distant din of homing traffic;
but the moment she closed her eyes, her visitors again began to steal
round her with that dry, mysterious hum.

She fell asleep presently, and woke with a start. There, in a
glimmer of pale light, stood the little model, as in the fatal
picture Bianca had painted of her. Her face was powder white, with
shadows beneath the eyes. Breath seemed coming through her parted
lips, just touched with colour. In her hat lay the tiny peacock's
feather beside the two purplish-pink roses. A scent came from her,
too--but faint, as ever was the scent of chicory flower. How long
had she been standing there? Bianca started to her feet, and as she
rose the vision vanished.

She went towards the spot. There was nothing in that corner but
moonlight; the scent she had perceived was merely that of the trees
drifting in.

But so vivid had that vision been that she stood at the window,
panting for air, passing her hand again and again across her eyes.

Outside, over the dark gardens, the moon hung full and almost golden.
Its honey-pale light filtered down on every little shape of tree, and
leaf, and sleeping flower. That soft, vibrating radiance seemed to
have woven all into one mysterious whole, stilling disharmony, so
that each little separate shape had no meaning to itself.

Bianca looked long at the rain of moonlight falling on the earth's
carpet, like a covering shower of blossom which bees have sucked and
spilled. Then, below her, out through candescent space, she saw a
shadow dart forth along the grass, and to her fright a voice rose,
tremulous and clear, seeming to seek enfranchisement beyond the
barrier of the dark trees: "My brain is clouded. Great Universe! I
cannot write! I can no longer discover to my brothers that they are
one. I am not worthy to stay here. Let me pass into You, and die!"

Bianca saw her father's fragile arms stretch out into the night
through the sleeves of his white garment, as though expecting to be
received at once into the Universal Brotherhood of the thin air.

There ensued a moment, when, by magic, every little dissonance in all
the town seemed blended into a harmony of silence, as it might be the
very death of self upon the earth.

Then, breaking that trance, Mr. Stone's voice rose again, trembling
out into the night, as though blown through a reed.

"Brothers!" he said.

Behind the screen of lilac bushes at the gate Bianca saw the dark
helmet of a policeman. He stood there staring steadily in the
direction of that voice. Raising his lantern, he flashed it into
every corner of the garden, searching for those who had been
addressed. Satisfied, apparently, that no one was there, he moved it
to right and left, lowered it to the level of his breast, and walked
slowly on.

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