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Title:      The Prussian Officer and Other Stories (1914)
Author:     D. H. Lawrence
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      The Prussian Officer and Other Stories (1914)
Author:     D. H. Lawrence





Contents

THE PRUSSIAN OFFICER

THE THORN IN THE FLESH

DAUGHTERS OF THE VICAR

A FRAGMENT OF STAINED GLASS

THE SHADES OF SPRING

SECOND BEST

THE SHADOW IN THE ROSE GARDEN

GOOSE FAIR

THE WHITE STOCKING

A SICK COLLIER

THE CHRISTENING

ODOUR OF CHRYSANTHEMUMS





THE PRUSSIAN OFFICER


I


They had marched more than thirty kilometres since dawn, along the
white, hot road where occasional thickets of trees threw a moment
of shade, then out into the glare again.  On either hand, the
valley, wide and shallow, glittered with heat; dark green patches
of rye, pale young corn, fallow and meadow and black pine woods
spread in a dull, hot diagram under a glistening sky.  But right in
front the mountains ranged across, pale blue and very still, snow
gleaming gently out of the deep atmosphere.  And towards the
mountains, on and on, the regiment marched between the rye fields
and the meadows, between the scraggy fruit trees set regularly on
either side the high road.  The burnished, dark green rye threw off
a suffocating heat, the mountains drew gradually nearer and more
distinct.  While the feet of the soldiers grew hotter, sweat ran
through their hair under their helmets, and their knapsacks could
burn no more in contact with their shoulders, but seemed instead to
give off a cold, prickly sensation.

He walked on and on in silence, staring at the mountains ahead,
that rose sheer out of the land, and stood fold behind fold, half
earth, half heaven, the heaven, the barrier with slits of soft
snow, in the pale, bluish peaks.

He could now walk almost without pain.  At the start, he had
determined not to limp.  It had made him sick to take the first
steps, and during the first mile or so, he had compressed his
breath, and the cold drops of sweat had stood on his forehead.  But
he had walked it off.  What were they after all but bruises!  He
had looked at them, as he was getting up: deep bruises on the backs
of his thighs.  And since he had made his first step in the
morning, he had been conscious of them, till now he had a tight,
hot place in his chest, with suppressing the pain, and holding
himself in.  There seemed no air when he breathed.  But he walked
almost lightly.

The Captain's hand had trembled at taking his coffee at dawn: his
orderly saw it again.  And he saw the fine figure of the Captain
wheeling on horseback at the farm-house ahead, a handsome figure in
pale blue uniform with facings of scarlet, and the metal gleaming
on the black helmet and the sword-scabbard, and dark streaks of
sweat coming on the silky bay horse.  The orderly felt he was
connected with that figure moving so suddenly on horseback: he
followed it like a shadow, mute and inevitable and damned by it.
And the officer was always aware of the tramp of the company
behind, the march of his orderly among the men.

The Captain was a tall man of about forty, grey at the temples.  He
had a handsome, finely knit figure, and was one of the best
horsemen in the West.  His orderly, having to rub him down, admired
the amazing riding-muscles of his loins.

For the rest, the orderly scarcely noticed the officer any more
than he noticed himself.  It was rarely he saw his master's face:
he did not look at it.  The Captain had reddish-brown, stiff hair,
that he wore short upon his skull.  His moustache was also cut
short and bristly over a full, brutal mouth.  His face was rather
rugged, the cheeks thin.  Perhaps the man was the more handsome for
the deep lines in his face, the irritable tension of his brow,
which gave him the look of a man who fights with life.  His fair
eyebrows stood bushy over light blue eyes that were always flashing
with cold fire.

He was a Prussian aristocrat, haughty and overbearing.  But his
mother had been a Polish Countess.  Having made too many gambling
debts when he was young, he had ruined his prospects in the Army,
and remained an infantry captain.  He had never married: his
position did not allow of it, and no woman had ever moved him to
it.  His time he spent riding--occasionally he rode one of his own
horses at the races--and at the officers' club.  Now and then he
took himself a mistress.  But after such an event, he returned to
duty with his brow still more tense, his eyes still more hostile
and irritable.  With the men, however, he was merely impersonal,
though a devil when roused; so that, on the whole, they feared him,
but had no great aversion from him.  They accepted him as the
inevitable.

To his orderly he was at first cold and just and indifferent: he
did not fuss over trifles.  So that his servant knew practically
nothing about him, except just what orders he would give, and how
he wanted them obeyed.  That was quite simple.  Then the change
gradually came.

The orderly was a youth of about twenty-two, of medium height, and
well built.  He had strong, heavy limbs, was swarthy, with a soft,
black, young moustache.  There was something altogether warm and
young about him.  He had firmly marked eyebrows over dark,
expressionless eyes, that seemed never to have thought, only to
have received life direct through his senses, and acted straight
from instinct.

Gradually the officer had become aware of his servant's young,
vigorous, unconscious presence about him.  He could not get away
from the sense of the youth's person, while he was in attendance.
It was like a warm flame upon the older man's tense, rigid body,
that had become almost unliving, fixed.  There was something so
free and self-contained about him, and something in the young
fellow's movement, that made the officer aware of him.  And this
irritated the Prussian.  He did not choose to be touched into life
by his servant.  He might easily have changed his man, but he did
not.  He now very rarely looked direct at his orderly, but kept his
face averted, as if to avoid seeing him.  And yet as the young
soldier moved unthinking about the apartment, the elder watched
him, and would notice the movement of his strong young shoulders
under the blue cloth, the bend of his neck.  And it irritated him.
To see the soldier's young, brown, shapely peasant's hand grasp the
loaf or the wine-bottle sent a flash of hate or of anger through
the elder man's blood.  It was not that the youth was clumsy: it
was rather the blind, instinctive sureness of movement of an
unhampered young animal that irritated the officer to such a
degree.

Once, when a bottle of wine had gone over, and the red gushed out
on to the tablecloth, the officer had started up with an oath, and
his eyes, bluey like fire, had held those of the confused youth for
a moment.  It was a shock for the young soldier.  He felt something
sink deeper, deeper into his soul, where nothing had ever gone
before.  It left him rather blank and wondering.  Some of his
natural completeness in himself was gone, a little uneasiness took
its place.  And from that time an undiscovered feeling had held
between the two men.

Henceforward the orderly was afraid of really meeting his master.
His subconsciousness remembered those steely blue eyes and the
harsh brows, and did not intend to meet them again.  So he always
stared past his master, and avoided him.  Also, in a little
anxiety, he waited for the three months to have gone, when his time
would be up.  He began to feel a constraint in the Captain's
presence, and the soldier even more than the officer wanted to be
left alone, in his neutrality as servant.

He had served the Captain for more than a year, and knew his duty.
This he performed easily, as if it were natural to him.  The
officer and his commands he took for granted, as he took the sun
and the rain, and he served as a matter of course.  It did not
implicate him personally.

But now if he were going to be forced into a personal interchange
with his master he would be like a wild thing caught, he felt he
must get away.

But the influence of the young soldier's being had penetrated
through the officer's stiffened discipline, and perturbed the man
in him.  He, however, was a gentleman, with long, fine hands and
cultivated movements, and was not going to allow such a thing as
the stirring of his innate self.  He was a man of passionate
temper, who had always kept himself suppressed.  Occasionally there
had been a duel, an outburst before the soldiers.  He knew himself
to be always on the point of breaking out.  But he kept himself
hard to the idea of the Service.  Whereas the young soldier seemed
to live out his warm, full nature, to give it off in his very
movements, which had a certain zest, such as wild animals have in
free movement.  And this irritated the officer more and more.

In spite of himself, the Captain could not regain his neutrality of
feeling towards his orderly.  Nor could he leave the man alone.  In
spite of himself, he watched him, gave him sharp orders, tried to
take up as much of his time as possible.  Sometimes he flew into a
rage with the young soldier, and bullied him.  Then the orderly
shut himself off, as it were out of earshot, and waited, with
sullen, flushed face, for the end of the noise.  The words never
pierced to his intelligence, he made himself, protectively,
impervious to the feelings of his master.

He had a scar on his left thumb, a deep seam going across the
knuckle.  The officer had long suffered from it, and wanted to do
something to it.  Still it was there, ugly and brutal on the young,
brown hand.  At last the Captain's reserve gave way.  One day, as
the orderly was smoothing out the tablecloth, the officer pinned
down his thumb with a pencil, asking:

"How did you come by that?"

The young man winced and drew back at attention.

"A wood axe, Herr Hauptmann," he answered.

The officer waited for further explanation.  None came.  The
orderly went about his duties.  The elder man was sullenly angry.
His servant avoided him.  And the next day he had to use all his
will-power to avoid seeing the scarred thumb.  He wanted to get
hold of it and--A hot flame ran in his blood.

He knew his servant would soon be free, and would be glad.  As yet,
the soldier had held himself off from the elder man.  The Captain
grew madly irritable.  He could not rest when the soldier was away,
and when he was present, he glared at him with tormented eyes.  He
hated those fine, black brows over the unmeaning, dark eyes, he was
infuriated by the free movement of the handsome limbs, which no
military discipline could make stiff.  And he became harsh and
cruelly bullying, using contempt and satire.  The young soldier
only grew more mute and expressionless.

"What cattle were you bred by, that you can't keep straight eyes?
Look me in the eyes when I speak to you."

And the soldier turned his dark eyes to the other's face, but there
was no sight in them: he stared with the slightest possible cast,
holding back his sight, perceiving the blue of his master's eyes,
but receiving no look from them.  And the elder man went pale, and
his reddish eyebrows twitched.  He gave his order, barrenly.

Once he flung a heavy military glove into the young soldier's face.
Then he had the satisfaction of seeing the black eyes flare up into
his own, like a blaze when straw is thrown on a fire.  And he had
laughed with a little tremor and a sneer.

But there were only two months more.  The youth instinctively tried
to keep himself intact: he tried to serve the officer as if the
latter were an abstract authority and not a man.  All his instinct
was to avoid personal contact, even definite hate.  But in spite of
himself the hate grew, responsive to the officer's passion.
However, he put it in the background.  When he had left the Army he
could dare acknowledge it.  By nature he was active, and had many
friends.  He thought what amazing good fellows they were.  But,
without knowing it, he was alone.  Now this solitariness was
intensified.  It would carry him through his term.  But the officer
seemed to be going irritably insane, and the youth was deeply
frightened.

The soldier had a sweetheart, a girl from the mountains, independent
and primitive.  The two walked together, rather silently.  He went
with her, not to talk, but to have his arm round her, and for the
physical contact.  This eased him, made it easier for him to ignore
the Captain; for he could rest with her held fast against his chest.
And she, in some unspoken fashion, was there for him.  They loved
each other.

The Captain perceived it, and was mad with irritation.  He kept the
young man engaged all the evenings long, and took pleasure in the
dark look that came on his face.  Occasionally, the eyes of the two
men met, those of the younger sullen and dark, doggedly unalterable,
those of the elder sneering with restless contempt.

The officer tried hard not to admit the passion that had got hold
of him.  He would not know that his feeling for his orderly was
anything but that of a man incensed by his stupid, perverse
servant.  So, keeping quite justified and conventional in his
consciousness, he let the other thing run on.  His nerves, however,
were suffering.  At last he slung the end of a belt in his
servant's face.  When he saw the youth start back, the pain-tears
in his eyes and the blood on his mouth, he had felt at once a
thrill of deep pleasure and of shame.

But this, he acknowledged to himself, was a thing he had never done
before.  The fellow was too exasperating.  His own nerves must be
going to pieces.  He went away for some days with a woman.

It was a mockery of pleasure.  He simply did not want the woman.
But he stayed on for his time.  At the end of it, he came back in
an agony of irritation, torment, and misery.  He rode all the
evening, then came straight in to supper.  His orderly was out.
The officer sat with his long, fine hands lying on the table,
perfectly still, and all his blood seemed to be corroding.

At last his servant entered.  He watched the strong, easy young
figure, the fine eyebrows, the thick black hair.  In a week's time
the youth had got back his old well-being.  The hands of the
officer twitched and seemed to be full of mad flame.  The young man
stood at attention, unmoving, shut off.

The meal went in silence.  But the orderly seemed eager.  He made a
clatter with the dishes.

"Are you in a hurry?" asked the officer, watching the intent, warm
face of his servant.  The other did not reply.

"Will you answer my question?" said the Captain.

"Yes, sir," replied the orderly, standing with his pile of deep
Army plates.  The Captain waited, looked at him, then asked again:

"Are you in a hurry?"

"Yes, sir," came the answer, that sent a flash through the
listener.

"For what?"

"I was going out, sir."

"I want you this evening."

There was a moment's hesitation.  The officer had a curious
stiffness of countenance.

"Yes, sir," replied the servant, in his throat.

"I want you to-morrow evening also--in fact, you may consider your
evenings occupied, unless I give you leave."

The mouth with the young moustache set close.

"Yes, sir," answered the orderly, loosening his lips for a moment.

He again turned to the door.

"And why have you a piece of pencil in your ear?"

The orderly hesitated, then continued on his way without answering.
He set the plates in a pile outside the door, took the stump of
pencil from his ear, and put it in his pocket.  He had been copying
a verse for his sweetheart's birthday card.  He returned to finish
clearing the table.  The officer's eyes were dancing, he had a
little, eager smile.

"Why have you a piece of pencil in your ear?" he asked.

The orderly took his hands full of dishes.  His master was standing
near the great green stove, a little smile on his face, his chin
thrust forward.  When the young soldier saw him his heart suddenly
ran hot.  He felt blind.  Instead of answering, he turned dazedly
to the door.  As he was crouching to set down the dishes, he was
pitched forward by a kick from behind.  The pots went in a stream
down the stairs, he clung to the pillar of the banisters.  And as
he was rising he was kicked heavily again, and again, so that he
clung sickly to the post for some moments.  His master had gone
swiftly into the room and closed the door.  The maid-servant
downstairs looked up the staircase and made a mocking face at the
crockery disaster.

The officer's heart was plunging.  He poured himself a glass of
wine, part of which he spilled on the floor, and gulped the
remainder, leaning against the cool, green stove.  He heard his man
collecting the dishes from the stairs.  Pale, as if intoxicated, he
waited.  The servant entered again.  The Captain's heart gave a
pang, as of pleasure, seeing the young fellow bewildered and
uncertain on his feet, with pain.

"Schöner!" he said.

The soldier was a little slower in coming to attention.

"Yes, sir!"

The youth stood before him, with pathetic young moustache, and fine
eyebrows very distinct on his forehead of dark marble.

"I asked you a question."

"Yes, sir."

The officer's tone bit like acid.

"Why had you a pencil in your ear?"

Again the servant's heart ran hot, and he could not breathe.  With
dark, strained eyes, he looked at the officer, as if fascinated.
And he stood there sturdily planted, unconscious.  The withering
smile came into the Captain's eyes, and he lifted his foot.

"I--I forgot it--sir," panted the soldier, his dark eyes fixed on
the other man's dancing blue ones.

"What was it doing there?"

He saw the young man's breast heaving as he made an effort for
words.

"I had been writing."

"Writing what?"

Again the soldier looked up and down.  The officer could hear him
panting.  The smile came into the blue eyes.  The soldier worked
his dry throat, but could not speak.  Suddenly the smile lit like a
flame on the officer's face, and a kick came heavily against the
orderly's thigh.  The youth moved a pace sideways.  His face went
dead, with two black, staring eyes.

"Well?" said the officer.

The orderly's mouth had gone dry, and his tongue rubbed in it as on
dry brown-paper.  He worked his throat.  The officer raised his
foot.  The servant went stiff.

"Some poetry, sir," came the crackling, unrecognizable sound of his
voice.

"Poetry, what poetry?" asked the Captain, with a sickly smile.

Again there was the working in the throat.  The Captain's heart had
suddenly gone down heavily, and he stood sick and tired.

"For my girl, sir," he heard the dry, inhuman sound.

"Oh!" he said, turning away.  "Clear the table."

"Click!" went the soldier's throat; then again, "click!" and then
the half-articulate:

"Yes, sir."

The young soldier was gone, looking old, and walking heavily.

The officer, left alone, held himself rigid, to prevent himself
from thinking.  His instinct warned him that he must not think.
Deep inside him was the intense gratification of his passion, still
working powerfully.  Then there was a counter-action, a horrible
breaking down of something inside him, a whole agony of reaction.
He stood there for an hour motionless, a chaos of sensations, but
rigid with a will to keep blank his consciousness, to prevent his
mind grasping.  And he held himself so until the worst of the
stress had passed, when he began to drink, drank himself to an
intoxication, till he slept obliterated.  When he woke in the
morning he was shaken to the base of his nature.  But he had fought
off the realization of what he had done.  He had prevented his mind
from taking it in, had suppressed it along with his instincts, and
the conscious man had nothing to do with it.  He felt only as after
a bout of intoxication, weak, but the affair itself all dim and not
to be recovered.  Of the drunkenness of his passion he successfully
refused remembrance.  And when his orderly appeared with coffee,
the officer assumed the same self he had had the morning before.
He refused the event of the past night--denied it had ever been--
and was successful in his denial.  He had not done any such thing--
not he himself.  Whatever there might be lay at the door of a
stupid, insubordinate servant.

The orderly had gone about in a stupor all the evening.  He drank
some beer because he was parched, but not much, the alcohol made
his feeling come back, and he could not bear it.  He was dulled, as
if nine-tenths of the ordinary man in him were inert.  He crawled
about disfigured.  Still, when he thought of the kicks, he went
sick, and when he thought of the threat of more kicking, in the
room afterwards, his heart went hot and faint, and he panted,
remembering the one that had come.  He had been forced to say, "For
my girl."  He was much too done even to want to cry.  His mouth
hung slightly open, like an idiot's.  He felt vacant, and wasted.
So, he wandered at his work, painfully, and very slowly and
clumsily, fumbling blindly with the brushes, and finding it
difficult, when he sat down, to summon the energy to move again.
His limbs, his jaw, were slack and nerveless.  But he was very
tired.  He got to bed at last, and slept inert, relaxed, in a sleep
that was rather stupor than slumber, a dead night of stupefaction
shot through with gleams of anguish.

In the morning were the manoeuvres.  But he woke even before the
bugle sounded.  The painful ache in his chest, the dryness of his
throat, the awful steady feeling of misery made his eyes come awake
and dreary at once.  He knew, without thinking, what had happened.
And he knew that the day had come again, when he must go on with
his round.  The last bit of darkness was being pushed out of the
room.  He would have to move his inert body and go on.  He was so
young, and had known so little trouble, that he was bewildered.  He
only wished it would stay night, so that he could lie still,
covered up by the darkness.  And yet nothing would prevent the day
from coming, nothing would save him from having to get up and
saddle the Captain's horse, and make the Captain's coffee.  It was
there, inevitable.  And then, he thought, it was impossible.  Yet
they would not leave him free.  He must go and take the coffee to
the Captain.  He was too stunned to understand it.  He only knew it
was inevitable--inevitable, however long he lay inert.

At last, after heaving at himself, for he seemed to be a mass of
inertia, he got up.  But he had to force every one of his movements
from behind, with his will.  He felt lost, and dazed, and helpless.
Then he clutched hold of the bed, the pain was so keen.  And
looking at his thighs, he saw the darker bruises on his swarthy
flesh and he knew that, if he pressed one of his fingers on one of
the bruises, he should faint.  But he did not want to faint--he did
not want anybody to know.  No one should ever know.  It was between
him and the Captain.  There were only the two people in the world
now--himself and the Captain.

Slowly, economically, he got dressed and forced himself to walk.
Everything was obscure, except just what he had his hands on.  But
he managed to get through his work.  The very pain revived his dull
senses.  The worst remained yet.  He took the tray and went up to
the Captain's room.  The officer, pale and heavy, sat at the table.
The orderly, as he saluted, felt himself put out of existence.  He
stood still for a moment submitting to his own nullification--then
he gathered himself, seemed to regain himself, and then the Captain
began to grow vague, unreal, and the younger soldier's heart beat
up.  He clung to this situation--that the Captain did not exist--so
that he himself might live.  But when he saw his officer's hand
tremble as he took the coffee, he felt everything falling
shattered.  And he went away, feeling as if he himself were coming
to pieces, disintegrated.  And when the Captain was there on
horseback, giving orders, while he himself stood, with rifle and
knapsack, sick with pain, he felt as if he must shut his eyes--as
if he must shut his eyes on everything.  It was only the long agony
of marching with a parched throat that filled him with one single,
sleep-heavy intention: to save himself.


II


He was getting used even to his parched throat.  That the snowy
peaks were radiant among the sky, that the whity-green glacier-
river twisted through its pale shoals, in the valley below, seemed
almost supernatural.  But he was going mad with fever and thirst.
He plodded on uncomplaining.  He did not want to speak, not to
anybody.  There were two gulls, like flakes of water and snow, over
the river.  The scent of green rye soaked in sunshine came like a
sickness.  And the march continued, monotonously, almost like a bad
sleep.

At the next farm-house, which stood low and broad near the high
road, tubs of water had been put out.  The soldiers clustered round
to drink.  They took off their helmets, and the steam mounted from
their wet hair.  The Captain sat on horseback, watching.  He needed
to see his orderly.  His helmet threw a dark shadow over his light,
fierce eyes, but his moustache and mouth and chin were distinct in
the sunshine.  The orderly must move under the presence of the
figure of the horseman.  It was not that he was afraid, or cowed.
It was as if he was disembowelled, made empty, like an empty shell.
He felt himself as nothing, a shadow creeping under the sunshine.
And, thirsty as he was, he could scarcely drink, feeling the
Captain near him.  He would not take off his helmet to wipe his wet
hair.  He wanted to stay in shadow, not to be forced into
consciousness.  Starting, he saw the light heel of the officer
prick the belly of the horse; the Captain cantered away, and he
himself could relapse into vacancy.

Nothing, however, could give him back his living place in the hot,
bright morning.  He felt like a gap among it all.  Whereas the
Captain was prouder, overriding.  A hot flash went through the
young servant's body.  The Captain was firmer and prouder with
life, he himself was empty as a shadow.  Again the flash went
through him, dazing him out.  But his heart ran a little firmer.

The company turned up the hill, to make a loop for the return.
Below, from among the trees, the farm-bell clanged.  He saw the
labourers, mowing barefoot at the thick grass, leave off their work
and go downhill, their scythes hanging over their shoulders, like
long, bright claws curving down behind them.  They seemed like
dream-people, as if they had no relation to himself.  He felt as in
a blackish dream: as if all the other things were there and had
form, but he himself was only a consciousness, a gap that could
think and perceive.

The soldiers were tramping silently up the glaring hillside.
Gradually his head began to revolve, slowly, rhythmically.
Sometimes it was dark before his eyes, as if he saw this world
through a smoked glass, frail shadows and unreal.  It gave him a
pain in his head to walk.

The air was too scented, it gave no breath.  All the lush
greenstuff seemed to be issuing its sap, till the air was deathly,
sickly with the smell of greenness.  There was the perfume of
clover, like pure honey and bees.  Then there grew a faint acrid
tang--they were near the beeches; and then a queer clattering
noise, and a suffocating, hideous smell; they were passing a flock
of sheep, a shepherd in a black smock, holding his crook.  Why
should the sheep huddle together under this fierce sun?  He felt
that the shepherd would not see him, though he could see the
shepherd.

At last there was the halt.  They stacked rifles in a conical
stack, put down their kit in a scattered circle around it, and
dispersed a little, sitting on a small knoll high on the hillside.
The chatter began.  The soldiers were steaming with heat, but were
lively.  He sat still, seeing the blue mountains rising upon the
land, twenty kilometres away.  There was a blue fold in the ranges,
then out of that, at the foot, the broad, pale bed of the river,
stretches of whity-green water between pinkish-grey shoals among
the dark pine woods.  There it was, spread out a long way off.  And
it seemed to come downhill, the river.  There was a raft being
steered, a mile away.  It was a strange country.  Nearer, a red-
roofed, broad farm with white base and square dots of windows
crouched beside the wall of beech foliage on the wood's edge.
There were long strips of rye and clover and pale green corn.  And
just at his feet, below the knoll, was a darkish bog, where globe
flowers stood breathless still on their slim stalks.  And some of
the pale gold bubbles were burst, and a broken fragment hung in the
air.  He thought he was going to sleep.

Suddenly something moved into this coloured mirage before his eyes.
The Captain, a small, light-blue and scarlet figure, was trotting
evenly between the strips of corn, along the level brow of the
hill.  And the man making flag-signals was coming on.  Proud and
sure moved the horseman's figure, the quick, bright thing, in which
was concentrated all the light of this morning, which for the rest
lay a fragile, shining shadow.  Submissive, apathetic, the young
soldier sat and stared.  But as the horse slowed to a walk, coming
up the last steep path, the great flash flared over the body and
soul of the orderly.  He sat waiting.  The back of his head felt as
if it were weighted with a heavy piece of fire.  He did not want to
eat.  His hands trembled slightly as he moved them.  Meanwhile the
officer on horseback was approaching slowly and proudly.  The
tension grew in the orderly's soul.  Then again, seeing the Captain
ease himself on the saddle, the flash blazed through him.

The Captain looked at the patch of light blue and scarlet, and dark
heads, scattered closely on the hillside.  It pleased him.  The
command pleased him.  And he was feeling proud.  His orderly was
among them in common subjection.  The officer rose a little on his
stirrups to look.  The young soldier sat with averted, dumb face.
The Captain relaxed on his seat.  His slim-legged, beautiful horse,
brown as a beech nut, walked proudly uphill.  The Captain passed
into the zone of the company's atmosphere: a hot smell of men, of
sweat, of leather.  He knew it very well.  After a word with the
lieutenant, he went a few paces higher, and sat there, a dominant
figure, his sweat-marked horse swishing its tail, while he looked
down on his men, on his orderly, a nonentity among the crowd.

The young soldier's heart was like fire in his chest, and he
breathed with difficulty.  The officer, looking downhill, saw three
of the young soldiers, two pails of water between them, staggering
across a sunny green field.  A table had been set up under a tree,
and there the slim lieutenant stood, importantly busy.  Then the
Captain summoned himself to an act of courage.  He called his
orderly.

The flame leapt into the young soldier's throat as he heard the
command, and he rose blindly, stifled.  He saluted, standing below
the officer.  He did not look up.  But there was the flicker in the
Captain's voice.

"Go to the inn and fetch me . . ." the officer gave his commands.
"Quick!" he added.

At the last word, the heart of the servant leapt with a flash, and
he felt the strength come over his body.  But he turned in
mechanical obedience, and set off at a heavy run downhill, looking
almost like a bear, his trousers bagging over his military boots.
And the officer watched this blind, plunging run all the way.

But it was only the outside of the orderly's body that was obeying
so humbly and mechanically.  Inside had gradually accumulated a
core into which all the energy of that young life was compact and
concentrated.  He executed his commission, and plodded quickly back
uphill.  There was a pain in his head, as he walked, that made him
twist his features unknowingly.  But hard there in the centre of
his chest was himself, himself, firm, and not to be plucked to
pieces.

The Captain had gone up into the wood.  The orderly plodded through
the hot, powerfully smelling zone of the company's atmosphere.  He
had a curious mass of energy inside him now.  The Captain was less
real than himself.  He approached the green entrance to the wood.
There, in the half-shade, he saw the horse standing, the sunshine
and the flickering shadow of leaves dancing over his brown body.
There was a clearing where timber had lately been felled.  Here, in
the gold-green shade beside the brilliant cup of sunshine, stood
two figures, blue and pink, the bits of pink showing out plainly.
The Captain was talking to his lieutenant.

The orderly stood on the edge of the bright clearing, where great
trunks of trees, stripped and glistening, lay stretched like naked,
brown-skinned bodies.  Chips of wood littered the trampled floor,
like splashed light, and the bases of the felled trees stood here
and there, with their raw, level tops.  Beyond was the brilliant,
sunlit green of a beech.

"Then I will ride forward," the orderly heard his Captain say.  The
lieutenant saluted and strode away.  He himself went forward.  A
hot flash passed through his belly, as he tramped towards his
officer.

The Captain watched the rather heavy figure of the young soldier
stumble forward, and his veins, too, ran hot.  This was to be man
to man between them.  He yielded before the solid, stumbling figure
with bent head.  The orderly stooped and put the food on a level-
sawn tree-base.  The Captain watched the glistening, sun-inflamed,
naked hands.  He wanted to speak to the young soldier, but could
not.  The servant propped a bottle against his thigh, pressed open
the cork, and poured out the beer into the mug.  He kept his head
bent.  The Captain accepted the mug.

"Hot!" he said, as if amiably.

The flame sprang out of the orderly's heart, nearly suffocating
him.

"Yes, sir," he replied, between shut teeth.

And he heard the sound of the Captain's drinking, and he clenched
his fists, such a strong torment came into his wrists.  Then came
the faint clang of the closing pot-lid.  He looked up.  The Captain
was watching him.  He glanced swiftly away.  Then he saw the
officer stoop and take a piece of bread from the tree-base.  Again
the flash of flame went through the young soldier, seeing the stiff
body stoop beneath him, and his hands jerked.  He looked away.  He
could feel the officer was nervous.  The bread fell as it was being
broken.  The officer ate the other piece.  The two men stood tense
and still, the master laboriously chewing his bread, the servant
staring with averted face, his fist clenched.

Then the young soldier started.  The officer had pressed open the
lid of the mug again.  The orderly watched the lid of the mug, and
the white hand that clenched the handle, as if he were fascinated.
It was raised.  The youth followed it with his eyes.  And then he
saw the thin, strong throat of the elder man moving up and down as
he drank, the strong jaw working.  And the instinct which had been
jerking at the young man's wrists suddenly jerked free.  He jumped,
feeling as if it were rent in two by a strong flame.

The spur of the officer caught in a tree-root, he went down
backwards with a crash, the middle of his back thudding sickeningly
against a sharp-edged tree-base, the pot flying away.  And in a
second the orderly, with serious, earnest young face, and underlip
between his teeth, had got his knee in the officer's chest and was
pressing the chin backward over the farther edge of the tree-stump,
pressing, with all his heart behind in a passion of relief, the
tension of his wrists exquisite with relief.  And with the base of
his palms he shoved at the chin, with all his might.  And it was
pleasant, too, to have that chin, that hard jaw already slightly
rough with beard, in his hands.  He did not relax one hair's
breadth, but, all the force of all his blood exulting in his
thrust, he shoved back the head of the other man, till there was a
little "cluck" and a crunching sensation.  Then he felt as if his
head went to vapour.  Heavy convulsions shook the body of the
officer, frightening and horrifying the young soldier.  Yet it
pleased him, too, to repress them.  It pleased him to keep his
hands pressing back the chin, to feel the chest of the other man
yield in expiration to the weight of his strong, young knees, to
feel the hard twitchings of the prostrate body jerking his own
whole frame, which was pressed down on it.

But it went still.  He could look into the nostrils of the other
man, the eyes he could scarcely see.  How curiously the mouth was
pushed out, exaggerating the full lips, and the moustache bristling
up from them.  Then, with a start, he noticed the nostrils
gradually filled with blood.  The red brimmed, hesitated, ran over,
and went in a thin trickle down the face to the eyes.

It shocked and distressed him.  Slowly, he got up.  The body
twitched and sprawled there, inert.  He stood and looked at it in
silence.  It was a pity IT was broken.  It represented more than
the thing which had kicked and bullied him.  He was afraid to look
at the eyes.  They were hideous now, only the whites showing, and
the blood running to them.  The face of the orderly was drawn with
horror at the sight.  Well, it was so.  In his heart he was
satisfied.  He had hated the face of the Captain.  It was
extinguished now.  There was a heavy relief in the orderly's soul.
That was as it should be.  But he could not bear to see the long,
military body lying broken over the tree-base, the fine fingers
crisped.  He wanted to hide it away.

Quickly, busily, he gathered it up and pushed it under the felled
tree-trunks, which rested their beautiful, smooth length either end
on logs.  The face was horrible with blood.  He covered it with the
helmet.  Then he pushed the limbs straight and decent, and brushed
the dead leaves off the fine cloth of the uniform.  So, it lay
quite still in the shadow under there.  A little strip of sunshine
ran along the breast, from a chink between the logs.  The orderly
sat by it for a few moments.  Here his own life also ended.

Then, through his daze, he heard the lieutenant, in a loud voice,
explaining to the men outside the wood, that they were to suppose
the bridge on the river below was held by the enemy.  Now they were
to march to the attack in such and such a manner.  The lieutenant
had no gift of expression.  The orderly, listening from habit, got
muddled.  And when the lieutenant began it all again he ceased to
hear.

He knew he must go.  He stood up.  It surprised him that the leaves
were glittering in the sun, and the chips of wood reflecting white
from the ground.  For him a change had come over the world.  But
for the rest it had not--all seemed the same.  Only he had left it.
And he could not go back.  It was his duty to return with the beer-
pot and the bottle.  He could not.  He had left all that.  The
lieutenant was still hoarsely explaining.  He must go, or they
would overtake him.  And he could not bear contact with anyone now.

He drew his fingers over his eyes, trying to find out where he was.
Then he turned away.  He saw the horse standing in the path.  He
went up to it and mounted.  It hurt him to sit in the saddle.  The
pain of keeping his seat occupied him as they cantered through the
wood.  He would not have minded anything, but he could not get away
from the sense of being divided from the others.  The path led out
of the trees.  On the edge of the wood he pulled up and stood
watching.  There in the spacious sunshine of the valley soldiers
were moving in a little swarm.  Every now and then, a man harrowing
on a strip of fallow shouted to his oxen, at the turn.  The village
and the white-towered church was small in the sunshine.  And he no
longer belonged to it--he sat there, beyond, like a man outside in
the dark.  He had gone out from everyday life into the unknown, and
he could not, he even did not want to go back.

Turning from the sun-blazing valley, he rode deep into the wood.
Tree-trunks, like people standing grey and still, took no notice as
he went.  A doe, herself a moving bit of sunshine and shadow, went
running through the flecked shade.  There were bright green rents
in the foliage.  Then it was all pine wood, dark and cool.  And he
was sick with pain, he had an intolerable great pulse in his head,
and he was sick.  He had never been ill in his life.  He felt lost,
quite dazed with all this.

Trying to get down from the horse, he fell, astonished at the pain
and his lack of balance.  The horse shifted uneasily.  He jerked
its bridle and sent it cantering jerkily away.  It was his last
connection with the rest of things.

But he only wanted to lie down and not be disturbed.  Stumbling
through the trees, he came on a quiet place where beeches and pine
trees grew on a slope.  Immediately he had lain down and closed his
eyes, his consciousness went racing on without him.  A big pulse of
sickness beat in him as if it throbbed through the whole earth.  He
was burning with dry heat.  But he was too busy, too tearingly
active in the incoherent race of delirium to observe.


III


He came to with a start.  His mouth was dry and hard, his heart
beat heavily, but he had not the energy to get up.  His heart beat
heavily.  Where was he?--the barracks--at home?  There was
something knocking.  And, making an effort, he looked round--trees,
and litter of greenery, and reddish, bright, still pieces of
sunshine on the floor.  He did not believe he was himself, he did
not believe what he saw.  Something was knocking.  He made a
struggle towards consciousness, but relapsed.  Then he struggled
again.  And gradually his surroundings fell into relationship with
himself.  He knew, and a great pang of fear went through his heart.
Somebody was knocking.  He could see the heavy, black rags of a fir
tree overhead.  Then everything went black.  Yet he did not believe
he had closed his eyes.  He had not.  Out of the blackness sight
slowly emerged again.  And someone was knocking.  Quickly, he saw
the blood-disfigured face of his Captain, which he hated.  And he
held himself still with horror.  Yet, deep inside him, he knew that
it was so, the Captain should be dead.  But the physical delirium
got hold of him.  Someone was knocking.  He lay perfectly still, as
if dead, with fear.  And he went unconscious.

When he opened his eyes again, he started, seeing something
creeping swiftly up a tree-trunk.  It was a little bird.  And the
bird was whistling overhead.  Tap-tap-tap--it was the small, quick
bird rapping the tree-trunk with its beak, as if its head were a
little round hammer.  He watched it curiously.  It shifted sharply,
in its creeping fashion.  Then, like a mouse, it slid down the bare
trunk.  Its swift creeping sent a flash of revulsion through him.
He raised his head.  It felt a great weight.  Then, the little bird
ran out of the shadow across a still patch of sunshine, its little
head bobbing swiftly, its white legs twinkling brightly for a
moment.  How neat it was in its build, so compact, with pieces of
white on its wings.  There were several of them.  They were so
pretty--but they crept like swift, erratic mice, running here and
there among the beech-mast.

He lay down again exhausted, and his consciousness lapsed.  He had
a horror of the little creeping birds.  All his blood seemed to be
darting and creeping in his head.  And yet he could not move.

He came to with a further ache of exhaustion.  There was the pain
in his head, and the horrible sickness, and his inability to move.
He had never been ill in his life.  He did not know where he was or
what he was.  Probably he had got sunstroke.  Or what else?--he had
silenced the Captain for ever--some time ago--oh, a long time ago.
There had been blood on his face, and his eyes had turned upwards.
It was all right, somehow.  It was peace.  But now he had got
beyond himself.  He had never been here before.  Was it life, or
not life?  He was by himself.  They were in a big, bright place,
those others, and he was outside.  The town, all the country, a big
bright place of light: and he was outside, here, in the darkened
open beyond, where each thing existed alone.  But they would all
have to come out there sometime, those others.  Little, and left
behind him, they all were.  There had been father and mother and
sweetheart.  What did they all matter?  This was the open land.

He sat up.  Something scuffled.  It was a little, brown squirrel
running in lovely, undulating bounds over the floor, its red tail
completing the undulation of its body--and then, as it sat up,
furling and unfurling.  He watched it, pleased.  It ran on again,
friskily, enjoying itself.  It flew wildly at another squirrel,
and they were chasing each other, and making little scolding,
chattering noises.  The soldier wanted to speak to them.  But only
a hoarse sound came out of his throat.  The squirrels burst away--
they flew up the trees.  And then he saw the one peeping round at
him, half-way up a tree-trunk.  A start of fear went through him,
though, in so far as he was conscious, he was amused.  It still
stayed, its little, keen face staring at him halfway up the tree-
trunk, its little ears pricked up, its clawey little hands clinging
to the bark, its white breast reared.  He started from it in panic.

Struggling to his feet, he lurched away.  He went on walking,
walking, looking for something--for a drink.  His brain felt hot
and inflamed for want of water.  He stumbled on.  Then he did not
know anything.  He went unconscious as he walked.  Yet he stumbled
on, his mouth open.

When, to his dumb wonder, he opened his eyes on the world again, he
no longer tried to remember what it was.  There was thick, golden
light behind golden-green glitterings, and tall, grey-purple
shafts, and darknesses further off, surrounding him, growing
deeper.  He was conscious of a sense of arrival.  He was amid the
reality, on the real, dark bottom.  But there was the thirst
burning in his brain.  He felt lighter, not so heavy.  He supposed
it was newness.  The air was muttering with thunder.  He thought he
was walking wonderfully swiftly and was coming straight to relief--
or was it to water?

Suddenly he stood still with fear.  There was a tremendous flare of
gold, immense--just a few dark trunks like bars between him and it.
All the young level wheat was burnished gold glaring on its silky
green.  A woman, full-skirted, a black cloth on her head for head-
dress, was passing like a block of shadow through the glistening,
green corn, into the full glare.  There was a farm, too, pale blue
in shadow, and the timber black.  And there was a church spire,
nearly fused away in the gold.  The woman moved on, away from him.
He had no language with which to speak to her.  She was the bright,
solid unreality.  She would make a noise of words that would
confuse him, and her eyes would look at him without seeing him.
She was crossing there to the other side.  He stood against a tree.

When at last he turned, looking down the long, bare grove whose
flat bed was already filling dark, he saw the mountains in a
wonder-light, not far away, and radiant.  Behind the soft, grey
ridge of the nearest range the further mountains stood golden and
pale grey, the snow all radiant like pure, soft gold.  So still,
gleaming in the sky, fashioned pure out of the ore of the sky, they
shone in their silence.  He stood and looked at them, his face
illuminated.  And like the golden, lustrous gleaming of the snow he
felt his own thirst bright in him.  He stood and gazed, leaning
against a tree.  And then everything slid away into space.

During the night the lightning fluttered perpetually, making the
whole sky white.  He must have walked again.  The world hung livid
round him for moments, fields a level sheen of grey-green light,
trees in dark bulk, and the range of clouds black across a white
sky.  Then the darkness fell like a shutter, and the night was
whole.  A faint flutter of a half-revealed world, that could not
quite leap out of the darkness!--Then there again stood a sweep of
pallor for the land, dark shapes looming, a range of clouds hanging
overhead.  The world was a ghostly shadow, thrown for a moment upon
the pure darkness, which returned ever whole and complete.

And the mere delirium of sickness and fever went on inside him--
his brain opening and shutting like the night--then sometimes
convulsions of terror from something with great eyes that stared
round a tree--then the long agony of the march, and the sun
decomposing his blood--then the pang of hate for the Captain,
followed by a pang of tenderness and ease.  But everything was
distorted, born of an ache and resolving into an ache.

In the morning he came definitely awake.  Then his brain flamed
with the sole horror of thirstiness!  The sun was on his face, the
dew was steaming from his wet clothes.  Like one possessed, he got
up.  There, straight in front of him, blue and cool and tender, the
mountains ranged across the pale edge of the morning sky.  He
wanted them--he wanted them alone--he wanted to leave himself and
be identified with them.  They did not move, they were still soft,
with white, gentle markings of snow.  He stood still, mad with
suffering, his hands crisping and clutching.  Then he was twisting
in a paroxysm on the grass.

He lay still, in a kind of dream of anguish.  His thirst seemed to
have separated itself from him, and to stand apart, a single
demand.  Then the pain he felt was another single self.  Then there
was the clog of his body, another separate thing.  He was divided
among all kinds of separate beings.  There was some strange,
agonized connection between them, but they were drawing further
apart.  Then they would all split.  The sun, drilling down on him,
was drilling through the bond.  Then they would all fall, fall
through the everlasting lapse of space.  Then again, his
consciousness reasserted itself.  He roused on to his elbow and
stared at the gleaming mountains.  There they ranked, all still and
wonderful between earth and heaven.  He stared till his eyes went
black, and the mountains, as they stood in their beauty, so clean
and cool, seemed to have it, that which was lost in him.


IV


When the soldiers found him, three hours later, he was lying with
his face over his arm, his black hair giving off heat under the
sun.  But he was still alive.  Seeing the open, black mouth the
young soldiers dropped him in horror.

He died in the hospital at night, without having seen again.

The doctors saw the bruises on his legs, behind, and were silent.

The bodies of the two men lay together, side by side, in the
mortuary, the one white and slender, but laid rigidly at rest, the
other looking as if every moment it must rouse into life again, so
young and unused, from a slumber.




THE THORN IN THE FLESH


I


A wind was running, so that occasionally the poplars whitened as if
a flame flew up them.  The sky was broken and blue among moving
clouds.  Patches of sunshine lay on the level fields, and shadows
on the rye and the vineyards.  In the distance, very blue, the
cathedral bristled against the sky, and the houses of the city of
Metz clustered vaguely below, like a hill.

Among the fields by the lime trees stood the barracks, upon bare,
dry ground, a collection of round-roofed huts of corrugated iron,
where the soldiers' nasturtiums climbed brilliantly.  There was a
tract of vegetable garden at the side, with the soldiers' yellowish
lettuces in rows, and at the back the big, hard drilling-yard
surrounded by a wire fence.

At this time in the afternoon, the huts were deserted, all the beds
pushed up, the soldiers were lounging about under the lime trees
waiting for the call to drill.  Bachmann sat on a bench in the
shade that smelled sickly with blossom.  Pale green, wrecked lime
flowers were scattered on the ground.  He was writing his weekly
post card to his mother.  He was a fair, long, limber youth, good
looking.  He sat very still indeed, trying to write his post card.
His blue uniform, sagging on him as he sat bent over the card,
disfigured his youthful shape.  His sunburnt hand waited motionless
for the words to come.  "Dear mother"--was all he had written.
Then he scribbled mechanically:  "Many thanks for your letter with
what you sent.  Everything is all right with me.  We are just off
to drill on the fortifications--"  Here he broke off and sat
suspended, oblivious of everything, held in some definite suspense.
He looked again at the card.  But he could write no more.  Out of
the knot of his consciousness no word would come.  He signed
himself, and looked up, as a man looks to see if anyone has noticed
him in his privacy.

There was a self-conscious strain in his blue eyes, and a pallor
about his mouth, where the young, fair moustache glistened.  He was
almost girlish in his good looks and his grace.  But he had
something of military consciousness, as if he believed in the
discipline for himself, and found satisfaction in delivering
himself to his duty.  There was also a trace of youthful swagger
and dare-devilry about his mouth and his limber body, but this was
in suppression now.

He put the post card in the pocket of his tunic, and went to join a
group of his comrades who were lounging in the shade, laughing and
talking grossly.  To-day he was out of it.  He only stood near to
them for the warmth of the association.  In his own consciousness
something held him down.

Presently they were summoned to ranks.  The sergeant came out to
take command.  He was a strongly built, rather heavy man of forty.
His head was thrust forward, sunk a little between his powerful
shoulders, and the strong jaw was pushed out aggressively.  But the
eyes were smouldering, the face hung slack and sodden with drink.

He gave his orders in brutal, barking shouts, and the little
company moved forward, out of the wire-fenced yard to the open
road, marching rhythmically, raising the dust.  Bachmann, one of
the inner file of four deep, marched in the airless ranks, half
suffocated with heat and dust and enclosure.  Through the moving of
his comrades' bodies, he could see the small vines dusty by the
roadside, the poppies among the tares fluttering and blown to
pieces, the distant spaces of sky and fields all free with air and
sunshine.  But he was bound in a very dark enclosure of anxiety
within himself.

He marched with his usual ease, being healthy and well adjusted.
But his body went on by itself.  His spirit was clenched apart.
And ever the few soldiers drew nearer and nearer to the town, ever
the consciousness of the youth became more gripped and separate,
his body worked by a kind of mechanical intelligence, a mere
presence of mind.

They diverged from the high road and passed in single file down a
path among trees.  All was silent and green and mysterious, with
shadow of foliage and long, green, undisturbed grass.  Then they
came out in the sunshine on a moat of water, which wound silently
between the long, flowery grass, at the foot of the earthworks,
that rose in front in terraces walled smooth on the face, but all
soft with long grass at the top.  Marguerite daisies and lady's-
slipper glimmered white and gold in the lush grass, preserved here
in the intense peace of the fortifications.  Thickets of trees
stood round about.  Occasionally a puff of mysterious wind made the
flowers and the long grass that crested the earthworks above bow
and shake as with signals of oncoming alarm.

The group of soldiers stood at the end of the moat, in their light
blue and scarlet uniforms, very bright.  The sergeant was giving
them instructions, and his shout came sharp and alarming in the
intense, untouched stillness of the place.  They listened, finding
it difficult to make the effort of understanding.

Then it was over, and the men were moving to make preparations.  On
the other side of the moat the ramparts rose smooth and clear in
the sun, sloping slightly back.  Along the summit grass grew and
tall daisies stood ledged high, like magic, against the dark green
of the tree-tops behind.  The noise of the town, the running of
tram-cars, was heard distinctly, but it seemed not to penetrate
this still place.

The water of the moat was motionless.  In silence the practice
began.  One of the soldiers took a scaling ladder, and passing
along the narrow ledge at the foot of the earthworks, with the
water of the moat just behind him, tried to get a fixture on the
slightly sloping wall-face.  There he stood, small and isolated, at
the foot of the wall, trying to get his ladder settled.  At last it
held, and the clumsy, groping figure in the baggy blue uniform
began to clamber up.  The rest of the soldiers stood and watched.
Occasionally the sergeant barked a command.  Slowly the clumsy blue
figure clambered higher up the wall-face.  Bachmann stood with his
bowels turned to water.  The figure of the climbing soldier
scrambled out on to the terrace up above, and moved, blue and
distinct, among the bright green grass.  The officer shouted from
below.  The soldier tramped along, fixed the ladder in another
spot, and carefully lowered himself on to the rungs.  Bachmann
watched the blind foot groping in space for the ladder, and he felt
the world fall away beneath him.  The figure of the soldier clung
cringing against the face of the wall, cleaving, groping downwards
like some unsure insect working its way lower and lower, fearing
every movement.  At last, sweating and with a strained face, the
figure had landed safely and turned to the group of soldiers.  But
still it had a stiffness and a blank, mechanical look, was
something less than human.

Bachmann stood there heavy and condemned, waiting for his own turn
and betrayal.  Some of the men went up easily enough, and without
fear.  That only showed it could be done lightly, and made
Bachmann's case more bitter.  If only he could do it lightly, like
that.

His turn came.  He knew intuitively that nobody knew his condition.
The officer just saw him as a mechanical thing.  He tried to keep
it up, to carry it through on the face of things.  His inside
gripped tight, as yet under control, he took the ladder and went
along under the wall.  He placed his ladder with quick success, and
wild, quivering hope possessed him.  Then blindly he began to
climb.  But the ladder was not very firm, and at every hitch a
great, sick, melting feeling took hold of him.  He clung on fast.
If only he could keep that grip on himself, he would get through.
He knew this, in agony.  What he could not understand was the blind
gush of white-hot fear, that came with great force whenever the
ladder swerved, and which almost melted his belly and all his
joints, and left him powerless.  If once it melted all his joints
and his belly, he was done.  He clung desperately to himself.  He
knew the fear, he knew what it did when it came, he knew he had
only to keep a firm hold.  He knew all this.  Yet, when the ladder
swerved, and his foot missed, there was the great blast of fear
blowing on his heart and bowels, and he was melting weaker and
weaker, in a horror of fear and lack of control, melting to fall.

Yet he groped slowly higher and higher, always staring upwards with
desperate face, and always conscious of the space below.  But all
of him, body and soul, was growing hot to fusion point.  He would
have to let go for very relief's sake.  Suddenly his heart began to
lurch.  It gave a great, sickly swoop, rose, and again plunged in a
swoop of horror.  He lay against the wall inert as if dead, inert,
at peace, save for one deep core of anxiety, which knew that it was
NOT all over, that he was still high in space against the wall.
But the chief effort of will was gone.

There came into his consciousness a small, foreign sensation.  He
woke up a little.  What was it?  Then slowly it penetrated him.
His water had run down his leg.  He lay there, clinging, still with
shame, half conscious of the echo of the sergeant's voice
thundering from below.  He waited, in depths of shame beginning to
recover himself.  He had been shamed so deeply.  Then he could go
on, for his fear for himself was conquered.  His shame was known
and published.  He must go on.

Slowly he began to grope for the rung above, when a great shock
shook through him.  His wrists were grasped from above, he was
being hauled out of himself up, up to the safe ground.  Like a sack
he was dragged over the edge of the earthworks by the large hands,
and landed there on his knees, grovelling in the grass to recover
command of himself, to rise up on his feet.

Shame, blind, deep shame and ignominy overthrew his spirit and left
it writhing.  He stood there shrunk over himself, trying to
obliterate himself.

Then the presence of the officer who had hauled him up made itself
felt upon him.  He heard the panting of the elder man, and then the
voice came down on his veins like a fierce whip.  He shrank in
tension of shame.

"Put up your head--eyes front," shouted the enraged sergeant, and
mechanically the soldier obeyed the command, forced to look into
the eyes of the sergeant.  The brutal, hanging face of the officer
violated the youth.  He hardened himself with all his might from
seeing it.  The tearing noise of the sergeant's voice continued to
lacerate his body.

Suddenly he set back his head, rigid, and his heart leapt to burst.
The face had suddenly thrust itself close, all distorted and
showing the teeth, the eyes smouldering into him.  The breath of
the barking words was on his nose and mouth.  He stepped aside in
revulsion.  With a scream the face was upon him again.  He raised
his arm, involuntarily, in self-defence.  A shock of horror went
through him, as he felt his forearm hit the face of the officer a
brutal blow.  The latter staggered, swerved back, and with a
curious cry, reeled backwards over the ramparts, his hands
clutching the air.  There was a second of silence, then a crash to
water.

Bachmann, rigid, looked out of his inner silence upon the scene.
Soldiers were running.

"You'd better clear," said one young, excited voice to him.  And
with immediate instinctive decision he started to walk away from
the spot.  He went down the tree-hidden path to the high road where
the trams ran to and from the town.  In his heart was a sense of
vindication, of escape.  He was leaving it all, the military world,
the shame.  He was walking away from it.

Officers on horseback rode sauntering down the street, soldiers
passed along the pavement.  Coming to the bridge, Bachmann crossed
over to the town that heaped before him, rising from the flat,
picturesque French houses down below at the water's edge, up a
jumble of roofs and chasms of streets, to the lovely dark cathedral
with its myriad pinnacles making points at the sky.

He felt for the moment quite at peace, relieved from a great
strain.  So he turned along by the river to the public gardens.
Beautiful were the heaped, purple lilac trees upon the green grass,
and wonderful the walls of the horse-chestnut trees, lighted like
an altar with white flowers on every ledge.  Officers went by,
elegant and all coloured, women and girls sauntered in the
chequered shade.  Beautiful it was, he walked in a vision, free.


II


But where was he going?  He began to come out of his trance of
delight and liberty.  Deep within him he felt the steady burning of
shame in the flesh.  As yet he could not bear to think of it.  But
there it was, submerged beneath his attention, the raw, steady-
burning shame.

It behoved him to be intelligent.  As yet he dared not remember
what he had done.  He only knew the need to get away, away from
everything he had been in contact with.

But how?  A great pang of fear went through him.  He could not bear
his shamed flesh to be put again between the hands of authority.
Already the hands had been laid upon him, brutally upon his
nakedness, ripping open his shame and making him maimed, crippled
in his own control.

Fear became an anguish.  Almost blindly he was turning in the
direction of the barracks.  He could not take the responsibility of
himself.  He must give himself up to someone.  Then his heart,
obstinate in hope, became obsessed with the idea of his sweetheart.
He would make himself her responsibility.

Blenching as he took courage, he mounted the small, quick-hurrying
tram that ran out of the town in the direction of the barracks.  He
sat motionless and composed, static.

He got out at the terminus and went down the road.  A wind was
still running.  He could hear the faint whisper of the rye, and the
stronger swish as a sudden gust was upon it.  No one was about.
Feeling detached and impersonal, he went down a field-path between
the low vines.  Many little vine trees rose up in spires, holding
out tender pink shoots, waving their tendrils.  He saw them
distinctly and wondered over them.  In a field a little way off,
men and women were taking up the hay.  The bullock-waggon stood by
on the path, the men in their blue shirts, the women with white
cloths over their heads carried hay in their arms to the cart, all
brilliant and distinct upon the shorn, glowing green acres.  He
felt himself looking out of darkness on to the glamorous, brilliant
beauty of the world around him, outside him.

The Baron's house, where Emilie was maidservant, stood square and
mellow among trees and garden and fields.  It was an old French
grange.  The barracks was quite near.  Bachmann walked, drawn by a
single purpose, towards the courtyard.  He entered the spacious,
shadowy, sun-swept place.  The dog, seeing a soldier, only jumped
and whined for greeting.  The pump stood peacefully in a corner,
under a lime tree, in the shade.

The kitchen door was open.  He hesitated, then walked in, speaking
shyly and smiling involuntarily.  The two women started, but with
pleasure.  Emilie was preparing the tray for afternoon coffee.  She
stood beyond the table, drawn up, startled, and challenging, and
glad.  She had the proud, timid eyes of some wild animal, some
proud animal.  Her black hair was closely banded, her grey eyes
watched steadily.  She wore a peasant dress of blue cotton sprigged
with little red roses, that buttoned tight over her strong maiden
breasts.

At the table sat another young woman, the nursery governess, who
was picking cherries from a huge heap, and dropping them into a
bowl.  She was young, pretty, freckled.

"Good day!" she said pleasantly.  "The unexpected."

Emilie did not speak.  The flush came in her dark cheek.  She still
stood watching, between fear and a desire to escape, and on the
other hand joy that kept her in his presence.

"Yes," he said, bashful and strained, while the eyes of the two
women were upon him.  "I've got myself in a mess this time."

"What?" asked the nursery governess, dropping her hands in her lap.
Emilie stood rigid.

Bachmann could not raise his head.  He looked sideways at the
glistening, ruddy cherries.  He could not recover the normal world.

"I knocked Sergeant Huber over the fortifications down into the
moat," he said.  "It was an accident--but--"

And he grasped at the cherries, and began to eat them, unknowing,
hearing only Emilie's little exclamation.

"You knocked him over the fortifications!" echoed Fräulein Hesse in
horror.  "How?"

Spitting the cherry-stones into his hand, mechanically, absorbedly,
he told them.

"Ach!" exclaimed Emilie sharply.

"And how did you get here?" asked Fräulein Hesse.

"I ran off," he said.

There was a dead silence.  He stood, putting himself at the mercy
of the women.  There came a hissing from the stove, and a stronger
smell of coffee.  Emilie turned swiftly away.  He saw her flat,
straight back and her strong loins, as she bent over the stove.

"But what are you going to do?" said Fräulein Hesse, aghast.

"I don't know," he said, grasping at more cherries.  He had come to
an end.

"You'd better go to the barracks," she said.  "We'll get the Herr
Baron to come and see about it."

Emilie was swiftly and quietly preparing the tray.  She picked it
up, and stood with the glittering china and silver before her,
impassive, waiting for his reply.  Bachmann remained with his head
dropped, pale and obstinate.  He could not bear to go back.

"I'm going to try to get into France," he said.

"Yes, but they'll catch you," said Fräulein Hesse.

Emilie watched with steady, watchful grey eyes.

"I can have a try, if I could hide till to-night," he said.

Both women knew what he wanted.  And they all knew it was no good.
Emilie picked up the tray, and went out.  Bachmann stood with his
head dropped.  Within himself he felt the dross of shame and
incapacity.

"You'd never get away," said the governess.

"I can try," he said.

To-day he could not put himself between the hands of the military.
Let them do as they liked with him to-morrow, if he escaped to-day.

They were silent.  He ate cherries.  The colour flushed bright into
the cheek of the young governess.

Emilie returned to prepare another tray

"He could hide in your room," the governess said to her.

The girl drew herself away.  She could not bear the intrusion.

"That is all I can think of that is safe from the children," said
Fräulein Hesse.

Emilie gave no answer.  Bachmann stood waiting for the two women.
Emilie did not want the close contact with him.

"You could sleep with me," Fräulein Hesse said to her.

Emilie lifted her eyes and looked at the young man, direct, clear,
reserving herself.

"Do you want that?" she asked, her strong virginity proof against
him.

"Yes--yes--" he said uncertainly, destroyed by shame.

She put back her head.

"Yes," she murmured to herself.

Quickly she filled the tray, and went out.

"But you can't walk over the frontier in a night," said Fräulein
Hesse.

"I can cycle," he said.

Emilie returned, a restraint, a neutrality, in her bearing.

"I'll see if it's all right," said the governess.

In a moment or two Bachmann was following Emilie through the square
hall, where hung large maps on the walls.  He noticed a child's
blue coat with brass buttons on the peg, and it reminded him of
Emilie walking holding the hand of the youngest child, whilst he
watched, sitting under the lime tree.  Already this was a long way
off.  That was a sort of freedom he had lost, changed for a new,
immediate anxiety.

They went quickly, fearfully up the stairs and down a long
corridor.  Emilie opened her door, and he entered, ashamed, into
her room.

"I must go down," she murmured, and she departed, closing the door
softly.

It was a small, bare, neat room.  There was a little dish for holy-
water, a picture of the Sacred Heart, a crucifix, and a prie-Dieu.
The small bed lay white and untouched, the wash-hand bowl of red
earth stood on a bare table, there was a little mirror and a small
chest of drawers.  That was all.

Feeling safe, in sanctuary, he went to the window, looking over the
courtyard at the shimmering, afternoon country.  He was going to
leave this land, this life.  Already he was in the unknown.

He drew away into the room.  The curious simplicity and severity of
the little Roman Catholic bedroom was foreign but restoring to him.
He looked at the crucifix.  It was a long, lean, peasant Christ
carved by a peasant in the Black Forest.  For the first time in his
life, Bachmann saw the figure as a human thing.  It represented a
man hanging there in helpless torture.  He stared at it, closely,
as if for new knowledge.

Within his own flesh burned and smouldered the restless shame.  He
could not gather himself together.  There was a gap in his soul.
The shame within him seemed to displace his strength and his
manhood.

He sat down on his chair.  The shame, the roused feeling of
exposure acted on his brain, made him heavy, unutterably heavy.

Mechanically, his wits all gone, he took off his boots, his belt,
his tunic, put them aside, and lay down, heavy, and fell into a
kind of drugged sleep.

Emilie came in a little while, and looked at him.  But he was sunk
in sleep.  She saw him lying there inert, and terribly still, and
she was afraid.  His shirt was unfastened at the throat.  She saw
his pure white flesh, very clean and beautiful.  And he slept
inert.  His legs, in the blue uniform trousers, his feet in the
coarse stockings, lay foreign on her bed.  She went away.


III


She was uneasy, perturbed to her last fibre.  She wanted to remain
clear, with no touch on her.  A wild instinct made her shrink away
from any hands which might be laid on her.

She was a foundling, probably of some gipsy race, brought up in a
Roman Catholic Rescue Home.  A naïve, paganly religious being, she
was attached to the Baroness, with whom she had served for seven
years, since she was fourteen.

She came into contact with no one, unless it were with Ida Hesse,
the governess.  Ida was a calculating, good-natured, not very
straight-forward flirt.  She was the daughter of a poor country
doctor.  Having gradually come into connection with Emilie, more an
alliance than an attachment, she put no distinction of grade
between the two of them.  They worked together, sang together,
walked together, and went together to the rooms of Franz Brand,
Ida's sweetheart.  There the three talked and laughed together, or
the women listened to Franz, who was a forester, playing on his
violin.

In all this alliance there was no personal intimacy between the
young women.  Emilie was naturally secluded in herself, of a
reserved, native race.  Ida used her as a kind of weight to balance
her own flighty movement.  But the quick, shifty governess,
occupied always in her dealings with admirers, did all she could to
move the violent nature of Emilie towards some connection with men.

But the dark girl, primitive yet sensitive to a high degree, was
fiercely virgin.  Her blood flamed with rage when the common
soldiers made the long, sucking, kissing noise behind her as she
passed.  She hated them for their almost jeering offers.  She was
well protected by the Baroness.

And her contempt of the common men in general was ineffable.  But
she loved the Baroness, and she revered the Baron, and she was at
her ease when she was doing something for the service of a
gentleman.  Her whole nature was at peace in the service of real
masters or mistresses.  For her, a gentleman had some mystic
quality that left her free and proud in service.  The common
soldiers were brutes, merely nothing.  Her desire was to serve.

She held herself aloof.  When, on Sunday afternoon, she had looked
through the windows of the Reichshalle in passing, and had seen the
soldiers dancing with the common girls, a cold revulsion and anger
had possessed her.  She could not bear to see the soldiers taking
off their belts and pulling open their tunics, dancing with their
shirts showing through the open, sagging tunic, their movements
gross, their faces transfigured and sweaty, their coarse hands
holding their coarse girls under the arm-pits, drawing the female
up to their breasts.  She hated to see them clutched breast to
breast, the legs of the men moving grossly in the dance.

At evening, when she had been in the garden, and heard on the other
side of the hedge the sexual inarticulate cries of the girls in the
embraces of the soldiers, her anger had been too much for her, and
she had cried, loud and cold:

"What are you doing there, in the hedge?"

She would have had them whipped.

But Bachmann was not quite a common soldier.  Fräulein Hesse had
found out about him, and had drawn him and Emilie together.  For he
was a handsome, blond youth, erect and walking with a kind of
pride, unconscious yet clear.  Moreover, he came of a rich farming
stock, rich for many generations.  His father was dead, his mother
controlled the moneys for the time being.  But if Bachmann wanted a
hundred pounds at any moment, he could have them.  By trade he,
with one of his brothers, was a waggon-builder.  The family had the
farming, smithy, and waggon-building of their village.  They worked
because that was the form of life they knew.  If they had chosen,
they could have lived independent upon their means.

In this way, he was a gentleman in sensibility, though his
intellect was not developed.  He could afford to pay freely for
things.  He had, moreover, his native, fine breeding.  Emilie
wavered uncertainly before him.  So he became her sweetheart, and
she hungered after him.  But she was virgin, and shy, and needed to
be in subjection, because she was primitive and had no grasp on
civilized forms of living, nor on civilized purposes.


IV


At six o'clock came the inquiry of the soldiers:  Had anything been
seen of Bachmann?  Fräulein Hesse answered, pleased to be playing a
rôle:

"No, I've not seen him since Sunday--have you, Emilie?"

"No, I haven't seen him," said Emilie, and her awkwardness was
construed as bashfulness.  Ida Hesse, stimulated, asked questions,
and played her part.

"But it hasn't killed Sergeant Huber?" she cried in consternation.

"No.  He fell into the water.  But it gave him a bad shock, and
smashed his foot on the side of the moat.  He's in hospital.  It's
a bad look-out for Bachmann."

Emilie, implicated and captive, stood looking on.  She was no
longer free, working with all this regulated system which she could
not understand and which was almost god-like to her.  She was put
out of her place.  Bachmann was in her room, she was no longer the
faithful in service serving with religious surety.

Her situation was intolerable to her.  All evening long the burden
was upon her, she could not live.  The children must be fed and put
to sleep.  The Baron and Baroness were going out, she must give
them light refreshment.  The man-servant was coming in to supper
after returning with the carriage.  And all the while she had the
insupportable feeling of being out of the order, self-responsible,
bewildered.  The control of her life should come from those above
her, and she should move within that control.  But now she was out
of it, uncontrolled and troubled.  More than that, the man, the
lover, Bachmann, who was he, what was he?  He alone of all men
contained for her the unknown quantity which terrified her beyond
her service.  Oh, she had wanted him as a distant sweetheart, not
close, like this, casting her out of her world.

When the Baron and Baroness had departed, and the young manservant
had gone out to enjoy himself, she went upstairs to Bachmann.  He
had wakened up, and sat dimly in the room.  Out in the open he
heard the soldiers, his comrades, singing the sentimental songs of
the nightfall, the drone of the concertina rising in accompaniment.


     "Wenn ich zu mei . . . nem Kinde geh' . . .
      In seinem Au . . . g die Mutter seh'. . . ."


But he himself was removed from it now.  Only the sentimental cry
of young, unsatisfied desire in the soldiers' singing penetrated
his blood and stirred him subtly.  He let his head hang; he had
become gradually roused: and he waited in concentration, in another
world.

The moment she entered the room where the man sat alone, waiting
intensely, the thrill passed through her, she died in terror, and
after the death, a great flame gushed up, obliterating her.  He sat
in trousers and shirt on the side of the bed.  He looked up as she
came in, and she shrank from his face.  She could not bear it.  Yet
she entered near to him.

"Do you want anything to eat?" she said.

"Yes," he answered, and as she stood in the twilight of the room
with him, he could only hear his heart beat heavily.  He saw her
apron just level with his face.  She stood silent, a little
distance off, as if she would be there for ever.  He suffered.

As if in a spell she waited, standing motionless and looming there,
he sat rather crouching on the side of the bed.  A second will in
him was powerful and dominating.  She drew gradually nearer to him,
coming up slowly, as if unconscious.  His heart beat up swiftly.
He was going to move.

As she came quite close, almost invisibly he lifted his arms and
put them round her waist, drawing her with his will and desire.  He
buried his face into her apron, into the terrible softness of her
belly.  And he was a flame of passion intense about her.  He had
forgotten.  Shame and memory were gone in a whole, furious flame of
passion.

She was quite helpless.  Her hands leapt, fluttered, and closed
over his head, pressing it deeper into her belly, vibrating as she
did so.  And his arms tightened on her, his hands spread over her
loins, warm as flame on her loveliness.  It was intense anguish of
bliss for her, and she lost consciousness.

When she recovered, she lay translated in the peace of
satisfaction.

It was what she had had no inkling of, never known could be.  She
was strong with eternal gratitude.  And he was there with her.
Instinctively with an instinct of reverence and gratitude, her arms
tightened in a little embrace upon him who held her thoroughly
embraced.

And he was restored and completed, close to her.  That little,
twitching, momentary clasp of acknowledgment that she gave him in
her satisfaction, roused his pride unconquerable.  They loved each
other, and all was whole.  She loved him, he had taken her, she was
given to him.  It was right.  He was given to her, and they were
one, complete.

Warm, with a glow in their hearts and faces, they rose again,
modest, but transfigured with happiness.

"I will get you something to eat," she said, and in joy and
security of service again, she left him, making a curious little
homage of departure.  He sat on the side of the bed, escaped,
liberated, wondering, and happy.


V


Soon she came again with the tray, followed by Fräulein Hesse.  The
two women watched him eat, watched the pride and wonder of his
being, as he sat there blond and naïf again.  Emilie felt rich and
complete.  Ida was a lesser thing than herself.

"And what are you going to do?" asked Fräulein Hesse, jealous.

"I must get away," he said.

But words had no meaning for him.  What did it matter?  He had the
inner satisfaction and liberty.

"But you'll want a bicycle," said Ida Hesse.

"Yes," he said.

Emilie sat silent, removed and yet with him, connected with him in
passion.  She looked from this talk of bicycles and escape.

They discussed plans.  But in two of them was the one will, that
Bachmann should stay with Emilie.  Ida Hesse was an outsider.

It was arranged, however, that Ida's lover should put out his
bicycle, leave it at the hut where he sometimes watched.  Bachmann
should fetch it in the night, and ride into France.  The hearts of
all three beat hot in suspense, driven to thought.  They sat in a
fire of agitation.

Then Bachmann would get away to America, and Emilie would come and
join him.  They would be in a fine land then.  The tale burned up
again.

Emilie and Ida had to go round to Franz Brand's lodging.  They
departed with slight leave-taking.  Bachmann sat in the dark,
hearing the bugle for retreat sound out of the night.  Then he
remembered his post card to his mother.  He slipped out after
Emilie, gave it her to post.  His manner was careless and
victorious, hers shining and trustful.  He slipped back to shelter.

There he sat on the side of the bed, thinking.  Again he went over
the events of the afternoon, remembering his own anguish of
apprehension because he had known he could not climb the wall
without fainting with fear.  Still, a flush of shame came alight in
him at the memory.  But he said to himself:  "What does it matter?--
I can't help it, well then I can't.  If I go up a height, I get
absolutely weak, and can't help myself."  Again memory came over
him, and a gush of shame, like fire.  But he sat and endured it.
It had to be endured, admitted, and accepted.  "I'm not a coward,
for all that," he continued.  "I'm not afraid of danger.  If I'm
made that way, that heights melt me and make me let go my water"--
it was torture for him to pluck at this truth--"if I'm made like
that, I shall have to abide by it, that's all.  It isn't all of
me."  He thought of Emilie, and was satisfied.  "What I am, I am;
and let it be enough," he thought.

Having accepted his own defect, he sat thinking, waiting for
Emilie, to tell her.  She came at length, saying that Franz could
not arrange about his bicycle this night.  It was broken.  Bachmann
would have to stay over another day.

They were both happy.  Emilie, confused before Ida, who was excited
and prurient, came again to the young man.  She was stiff and
dignified with an agony of unusedness.  But he took her between his
hands, and uncovered her, and enjoyed almost like madness her
helpless, virgin body that suffered so strongly, and that took its
joy so deeply.  While the moisture of torment and modesty was still
in her eyes, she clasped him closer, and closer, to the victory and
the deep satisfaction of both of them.  And they slept together, he
in repose still satisfied and peaceful, and she lying close in her
static reality.


VI


In the morning, when the bugle sounded from the barracks they rose
and looked out of the window.  She loved his body that was proud
and blond and able to take command.  And he loved her body that was
soft and eternal.  They looked at the faint grey vapour of summer
steaming off from the greenness and ripeness of the fields.  There
was no town anywhere, their look ended in the haze of the summer
morning.  Their bodies rested together, their minds tranquil.  Then
a little anxiety stirred in both of them from the sound of the
bugle.  She was called back to her old position, to realize the
world of authority she did not understand but had wanted to serve.
But this call died away again from her.  She had all.

She went downstairs to her work, curiously changed.  She was in a
new world of her own, that she had never even imagined, and which
was the land of promise for all that.  In this she moved and had
her being.  And she extended it to her duties.  She was curiously
happy and absorbed.  She had not to strive out of herself to do her
work.  The doing came from within her without call or command.  It
was a delicious outflow, like sunshine, the activity that flowed
from her and put her tasks to rights.

Bachmann sat busily thinking.  He would have to get all his plans
ready.  He must write to his mother, and she must send him money to
Paris.  He would go to Paris, and from thence, quickly, to America.
It had to be done.  He must make all preparations.  The dangerous
part was the getting into France.  He thrilled in anticipation.
During the day he would need a time-table of the trains going to
Paris--he would need to think.  It gave him delicious pleasure,
using all his wits.  It seemed such an adventure.

This one day, and he would escape then into freedom.  What an agony
of need he had for absolute, imperious freedom.  He had won to his
own being, in himself and Emilie, he had drawn the stigma from his
shame, he was beginning to be himself.  And now he wanted madly to
be free to go on.  A home, his work, and absolute freedom to move
and to be, in her, with her, this was his passionate desire.  He
thought in a kind of ecstasy, living an hour of painful intensity.

Suddenly he heard voices, and a tramping of feet.  His heart gave a
great leap, then went still.  He was taken.  He had known all
along.  A complete silence filled his body and soul, a silence like
death, a suspension of life and sound.  He stood motionless in the
bedroom, in perfect suspension.

Emilie was busy passing swiftly about the kitchen preparing the
children's breakfasts when she heard the tramp of feet and the
voice of the Baron.  The latter had come in from the garden, and
was wearing an old green linen suit.  He was a man of middle
stature, quick, finely made, and of whimsical charm.  His right
hand had been shot in the Franco-Prussian war, and now, as always
when he was much agitated, he shook it down at his side, as if it
hurt.  He was talking rapidly to a young, stiff Ober-leutnant.  Two
private soldiers stood bearishly in the doorway.

Emilie, shocked out of herself, stood pale and erect, recoiling.

"Yes, if you think so, we can look," the Baron was hastily and
irascibly saying.

"Emilie," he said, turning to the girl, "did you put a post card to
the mother of this Bachmann in the box last evening?"

Emilie stood erect and did not answer.

"Yes?" said the Baron sharply.

"Yes, Herr Baron," replied Emilie, neutral.

The Baron's wounded hand shook rapidly in exasperation.  The
lieutenant drew himself up still more stiffly.  He was right.

"And do you know anything of the fellow?" asked the Baron, looking
at her with his blazing, greyish-golden eyes.  The girl looked back
at him steadily, dumb, but her whole soul naked before him.  For
two seconds he looked at her in silence.  Then in silence, ashamed
and furious, he turned away.

"Go up!" he said, with his fierce, peremptory command, to the young
officer.

The lieutenant gave his order, in military cold confidence, to the
soldiers.  They all tramped across the hall.  Emilie stood
motionless, her life suspended.

The Baron marched swiftly upstairs and down the corridor, the
lieutenant and the common soldiers followed.  The Baron flung open
the door of Emilie's room and looked at Bachmann, who stood
watching, standing in shirt and trousers beside the bed, fronting
the door.  He was perfectly still.  His eyes met the furious,
blazing look of the Baron.  The latter shook his wounded hand, and
then went still.  He looked into the eyes of the soldier, steadily.
He saw the same naked soul exposed, as if he looked really into the
MAN.  And the man was helpless, the more helpless for his singular
nakedness.

"Ha!" he exclaimed impatiently, turning to the approaching
lieutenant.

The latter appeared in the doorway.  Quickly his eyes travelled
over the bare-footed youth.  He recognized him as his object.  He
gave the brief command to dress.

Bachmann turned round for his clothes.  He was very still, silent
in himself.  He was in an abstract, motionless world.  That the two
gentlemen and the two soldiers stood watching him, he scarcely
realized.  They could not see him.

Soon he was ready.  He stood at attention.  But only the shell of
his body was at attention.  A curious silence, a blankness, like
something eternal, possessed him.  He remained true to himself.

The lieutenant gave the order to march.  The little procession went
down the stairs with careful, respectful tread, and passed through
the hall to the kitchen.  There Emilie stood with her face
uplifted, motionless and expressionless.  Bachmann did not look at
her.  They knew each other.  They were themselves.  Then the little
file of men passed out into the courtyard.

The Baron stood in the doorway watching the four figures in uniform
pass through the chequered shadow under the lime trees.  Bachmann
was walking neutralized, as if he were not there.  The lieutenant
went brittle and long, the two soldiers lumbered beside.  They
passed out into the sunny morning, growing smaller, going towards
the barracks.

The Baron turned into the kitchen.  Emilie was cutting bread.

"So he stayed the night here?" he said.

The girl looked at him, scarcely seeing.  She was too much herself.
The Baron saw the dark, naked soul of her body in her unseeing
eyes.

"What were you going to do?" he asked.

"He was going to America," she replied, in a still voice.

"Pah!  You should have sent him straight back," fired the Baron.

Emilie stood at his bidding, untouched.

"He's done for now," he said.

But he could not bear the dark, deep nakedness of her eyes, that
scarcely changed under this suffering.

"Nothing but a fool," he repeated, going away in agitation, and
preparing himself for what he could do.




DAUGHTERS OF THE VICAR


I


Mr Lindley was first vicar of Aldecross.  The cottages of this tiny
hamlet had nestled in peace since their beginning, and the country
folk had crossed the lanes and farm-lands, two or three miles, to
the parish church at Greymeed, on the bright Sunday mornings.

But when the pits were sunk, blank rows of dwellings started up
beside the high roads, and a new population, skimmed from the
floating scum of workmen, was filled in, the cottages and the
country people almost obliterated.

To suit the convenience of these new collier-inhabitants, a church
must be built at Aldecross.  There was not too much money.  And so
the little building crouched like a humped stone-and-mortar mouse,
with two little turrets at the west corners for ears, in the fields
near the cottages and the apple trees, as far as possible from the
dwellings down the high road.  It had an uncertain, timid look
about it.  And so they planted big-leaved ivy, to hide its
shrinking newness.  So that now the little church stands buried in
its greenery, stranded and sleeping among the fields, while the
brick houses elbow nearer and nearer, threatening to crush it down.
It is already obsolete.

The Reverend Ernest Lindley, aged twenty-seven, and newly married,
came from his curacy in Suffolk to take charge of his church.  He
was just an ordinary young man, who had been to Cambridge and taken
orders.  His wife was a self-assured young woman, daughter of a
Cambridgeshire rector.  Her father had spent the whole of his
thousand a year, so that Mrs Lindley had nothing of her own.  Thus
the young married people came to Aldecross to live on a stipend of
about a hundred and twenty pounds, and to keep up a superior
position.

They were not very well received by the new, raw, disaffected
population of colliers.  Being accustomed to farm labourers, Mr
Lindley had considered himself as belonging indisputably to the
upper or ordering classes.  He had to be humble to the county
families, but still, he was of their kind, whilst the common people
were something different.  He had no doubts of himself.

He found, however, that the collier population refused to accept
this arrangement.  They had no use for him in their lives, and they
told him so, callously.  The women merely said, "they were throng,"
or else, "Oh, it's no good you coming here, we're Chapel."  The men
were quite good-humoured so long as he did not touch them too nigh,
they were cheerfully contemptuous of him, with a preconceived
contempt he was powerless against.

At last, passing from indignation to silent resentment, even, if he
dared have acknowledged it, to conscious hatred of the majority of
his flock, and unconscious hatred of himself, he confined his
activities to a narrow round of cottages, and he had to submit.  He
had no particular character, having always depended on his position
in society to give him position among men.  Now he was so poor, he
had no social standing even among the common vulgar tradespeople of
the district, and he had not the nature nor the wish to make his
society agreeable to them, nor the strength to impose himself where
he would have liked to be recognized.  He dragged on, pale and
miserable and neutral.

At first his wife raged with mortification.  She took on airs and
used a high hand.  But her income was too small, the wrestling with
tradesmen's bills was too pitiful, she only met with general,
callous ridicule when she tried to be impressive.

Wounded to the quick of her pride, she found herself isolated in an
indifferent, callous population.  She raged indoors and out.  But
soon she learned that she must pay too heavily for her outdoor
rages, and then she only raged within the walls of the rectory.
There her feeling was so strong, that she frightened herself.  She
saw herself hating her husband, and she knew that, unless she were
careful, she would smash her form of life and bring catastrophe
upon him and upon herself.  So in very fear, she went quiet.  She
hid, bitter and beaten by fear, behind the only shelter she had in
the world, her gloomy, poor parsonage.

Children were born one every year; almost mechanically, she
continued to perform her maternal duty, which was forced upon her.
Gradually, broken by the suppressing of her violent anger and
misery and disgust, she became an invalid and took to her couch.

The children grew up healthy, but unwarmed and rather rigid.  Their
father and mother educated them at home, made them very proud and
very genteel, put them definitely and cruelly in the upper classes,
apart from the vulgar around them.  So they lived quite isolated.
They were good-looking, and had that curiously clean, semi-
transparent look of the genteel, isolated poor.

Gradually Mr and Mrs Lindley lost all hold on life, and spent their
hours, weeks and years merely haggling to make ends meet, and
bitterly repressing and pruning their children into gentility,
urging them to ambition, weighting them with duty.  On Sunday
morning the whole family, except the mother, went down the lane to
church, the long-legged girls in skimpy frocks, the boys in black
coats and long, grey, unfitting trousers.  They passed by their
father's parishioners with mute, clear faces, childish mouths
closed in pride that was like a doom to them, and childish eyes
already unseeing.  Miss Mary, the eldest, was the leader.  She was
a long, slim thing with a fine profile and a proud, pure look of
submission to a high fate.  Miss Louisa, the second, was short and
plump and obstinate-looking.  She had more enemies than ideals.
She looked after the lesser children, Miss Mary after the elder.
The collier children watched this pale, distinguished procession of
the vicar's family pass mutely by, and they were impressed by the
air of gentility and distance, they made mock of the trousers of
the small sons, they felt inferior in themselves, and hate stirred
their hearts.

In her time, Miss Mary received as governess a few little daughters
of tradesmen; Miss Louisa managed the house and went among her
father's church-goers, giving lessons on the piano to the colliers'
daughters at thirteen shillings for twenty-six lessons.


II


One winter morning, when his daughter Mary was about twenty years
old, Mr Lindley, a thin, unobtrusive figure in his black overcoat
and his wideawake, went down into Aldecross with a packet of white
papers under his arm.  He was delivering the parish almanacs.

A rather pale, neutral man of middle age, he waited while the train
thumped over the level-crossing, going up to the pit which rattled
busily just along the line.  A wooden-legged man hobbled to open
the gate, Mr Lindley passed on.  Just at his left hand, below the
road and the railway, was the red roof of a cottage, showing
through the bare twigs of apple trees.  Mr Lindley passed round the
low wall, and descended the worn steps that led from the highway
down to the cottage which crouched darkly and quietly away below
the rumble of passing trains and the clank of coal-carts in a quiet
little under-world of its own.  Snowdrops with tight-shut buds were
hanging very still under the bare currant bushes.

The clergyman was just going to knock when he heard a clinking
noise, and turning saw through the open door of a black shed just
behind him an elderly woman in a black lace cap stooping among
reddish big cans, pouring a very bright liquid into a tundish.
There was a smell of paraffin.  The woman put down her can, took
the tundish and laid it on a shelf, then rose with a tin bottle.
Her eyes met those of the clergyman.

"Oh, is it you, Mr Lin'ley!" she said, in a complaining tone.  "Go
in."

The minister entered the house.  In the hot kitchen sat a big,
elderly man with a great grey beard, taking snuff.  He grunted in a
deep, muttering voice, telling the minister to sit down, and then
took no more notice of him, but stared vacantly into the fire.  Mr
Lindley waited.

The woman came in, the ribbons of her black lace cap, or bonnet,
hanging on her shawl.  She was of medium stature, everything about
her was tidy.  She went up a step out of the kitchen, carrying the
paraffin tin.  Feet were heard entering the room up the step.  It
was a little haberdashery shop, with parcels on the shelves of the
walls, a big, old-fashioned sewing machine with tailor's work lying
round it, in the open space.  The woman went behind the counter,
gave the child who had entered the paraffin bottle, and took from
her a jug.

"My mother says shall yer put it down," said the child, and she was
gone.  The woman wrote in a book, then came into the kitchen with
her jug.  The husband, a very large man, rose and brought more coal
to the already hot fire.  He moved slowly and sluggishly.  Already
he was going dead; being a tailor, his large form had become an
encumbrance to him.  In his youth he had been a great dancer and
boxer.  Now he was taciturn, and inert.  The minister had nothing
to say, so he sought for his phrases.  But John Durant took no
notice, existing silent and dull.

Mrs Durant spread the cloth.  Her husband poured himself beer into
a mug, and began to smoke and drink.

"Shall you have some?" he growled through his beard at the
clergyman, looking slowly from the man to the jug, capable of this
one idea.

"No, thank you," replied Mr Lindley, though he would have liked
some beer.  He must set the example in a drinking parish.

"We need a drop to keep us going," said Mrs Durant.

She had rather a complaining manner.  The clergyman sat on
uncomfortably while she laid the table for the half-past ten lunch.
Her husband drew up to eat.  She remained in her little round arm-
chair by the fire.

She was a woman who would have liked to be easy in her life, but to
whose lot had fallen a rough and turbulent family, and a slothful
husband who did not care what became of himself or anybody.  So,
her rather good-looking square face was peevish, she had that air
of having been compelled all her life to serve unwillingly, and to
control where she did not want to control.  There was about her,
too, that masterful APLOMB of a woman who has brought up and ruled
her sons: but even them she had ruled unwillingly.  She had enjoyed
managing her little haberdashery-shop, riding in the carrier's cart
to Nottingham, going through the big warehouses to buy her goods.
But the fret of managing her sons she did not like.  Only she loved
her youngest boy, because he was her last, and she saw herself
free.

This was one of the houses the clergyman visited occasionally.  Mrs
Durant, as part of her regulation, had brought up all her sons in
the Church.  Not that she had any religion.  Only, it was what she
was used to.  Mr Durant was without religion.  He read the
fervently evangelical "Life of John Wesley" with a curious
pleasure, getting from it a satisfaction as from the warmth of the
fire, or a glass of brandy.  But he cared no more about John
Wesley, in fact, than about John Milton, of whom he had never
heard.

Mrs Durant took her chair to the table.

"I don't feel like eating," she sighed.

"Why--aren't you well?" asked the clergyman, patronizing.

"It isn't that," she sighed.  She sat with shut, straight mouth.
"I don't know what's going to become of us."

But the clergyman had ground himself down so long, that he could
not easily sympathize.

"Have you any trouble?" he asked.

"Ay, have I any trouble!" cried the elderly woman.  "I shall end my
days in the workhouse."

The minister waited unmoved.  What could she know of poverty, in
her little house of plenty!

"I hope not," he said.

"And the one lad as I wanted to keep by me--" she lamented.

The minister listened without sympathy, quite neutral.

"And the lad as would have been a support to my old age!  What is
going to become of us?" she said.

The clergyman, justly, did not believe in the cry of poverty, but
wondered what had become of the son.

"Has anything happened to Alfred?" he asked.

"We've got word he's gone for a Queen's sailor," she said sharply.

"He has joined the Navy!" exclaimed Mr Lindley.  "I think he could
scarcely have done better--to serve his Queen and country on the
sea . . ."

"He is wanted to serve ME," she cried.  "And I wanted my lad at
home."

Alfred was her baby, her last, whom she had allowed herself the
luxury of spoiling.

"You will miss him," said Mr Lindley, "that is certain.  But this
is no regrettable step for him to have taken--on the contrary."

"That's easy for you to say, Mr Lindley," she replied tartly.  "Do
you think I want my lad climbing ropes at another man's bidding,
like a monkey--?"

"There is no DISHONOUR, surely, in serving in the Navy?"

"Dishonour this dishonour that," cried the angry old woman.  "He
goes and makes a slave of himself, and he'll rue it."

Her angry, scornful impatience nettled the clergyman and silenced
him for some moments.

"I do not see," he retorted at last, white at the gills and
inadequate, "that the Queen's service is any more to be called
slavery than working in a mine."

"At home he was at home, and his own master.  _I_ know he'll find a
difference."

"It may be the making of him," said the clergyman.  "It will take
him away from bad companionship and drink."

Some of the Durants' sons were notorious drinkers, and Alfred was
not quite steady.

"And why indeed shouldn't he have his glass?" cried the mother.
"He picks no man's pocket to pay for it!"

The clergyman stiffened at what he thought was an allusion to his
own profession, and his unpaid bills.

"With all due consideration, I am glad to hear he has joined the
Navy," he said.

"Me with my old age coming on, and his father working very little!
I'd thank you to be glad about something else besides that, Mr
Lindley."

The woman began to cry.  Her husband, quite impassive, finished his
lunch of meat-pie, and drank some beer.  Then he turned to the
fire, as if there were no one in the room but himself.

"I shall respect all men who serve God and their country on the
sea, Mrs Durant," said the clergyman stubbornly.

"That is very well, when they're not your sons who are doing the
dirty work.--It makes a difference," she replied tartly.

"I should be proud if one of my sons were to enter the Navy."

"Ay--well--we're not all of us made alike--"

The minister rose.  He put down a large folded paper.

"I've brought the almanac," he said.

Mrs Durant unfolded it.

"I do like a bit of colour in things," she said, petulantly.

The clergyman did not reply.

"There's that envelope for the organist's fund--" said the old
woman, and rising, she took the thing from the mantelpiece, went
into the shop, and returned sealing it up.

"Which is all I can afford," she said.

Mr Lindley took his departure, in his pocket the envelope
containing Mrs Durant's offering for Miss Louisa's services.  He
went from door to door delivering the almanacs, in dull routine.
Jaded with the monotony of the business, and with the repeated
effort of greeting half-known people, he felt barren and rather
irritable.  At last he returned home.

In the dining-room was a small fire.  Mrs Lindley, growing very
stout, lay on her couch.  The vicar carved the cold mutton; Miss
Louisa, short and plump and rather flushed, came in from the
kitchen; Miss Mary, dark, with a beautiful white brow and grey
eyes, served the vegetables; the children chattered a little, but
not exuberantly.  The very air seemed starved.

"I went to the Durants," said the vicar, as he served out small
portions of mutton; "it appears Alfred has run away to join the
Navy."

"Do him good," came the rough voice of the invalid.

Miss Louisa, attending to the youngest child, looked up in protest.

"Why has he done that?" asked Mary's low, musical voice.

"He wanted some excitement, I suppose," said the vicar.  "Shall we
say grace?"

The children were arranged, all bent their heads, grace was
pronounced, at the last word every face was being raised to go on
with the interesting subject.

"He's just done the right thing, for once," came the rather deep
voice of the mother; "save him from becoming a drunken sot, like
the rest of them."

"They're not ALL drunken, mama," said Miss Louisa, stubbornly.

"It's no fault of their upbringing if they're not.  Walter Durant
is a standing disgrace."

"As I told Mrs Durant," said the vicar, eating hungrily, "it is the
best thing he could have done.  It will take him away from
temptation during the most dangerous years of his life--how old is
he--nineteen?"

"Twenty," said Miss Louisa.

"Twenty!" repeated the vicar.  "It will give him wholesome
discipline and set before him some sort of standard of duty and
honour--nothing could have been better for him.  But--"

"We shall miss him from the choir," said Miss Louisa, as if taking
opposite sides to her parents.

"That is as it may be," said the vicar.  "I prefer to know he is
safe in the Navy, than running the risk of getting into bad ways
here."

"Was he getting into bad ways?" asked the stubborn Miss Louisa.

"You know, Louisa, he wasn't quite what he used to be," said Miss
Mary gently and steadily.  Miss Louisa shut her rather heavy jaw
sulkily.  She wanted to deny it, but she knew it was true.

For her he had been a laughing, warm lad, with something kindly and
something rich about him.  He had made her feel warm.  It seemed
the days would be colder since he had gone.

"Quite the best thing he could do," said the mother with emphasis.

"I think so," said the vicar.  "But his mother was almost abusive
because I suggested it."

He spoke in an injured tone.

"What does she care for her children's welfare?" said the invalid.
"Their wages is all her concern."

"I suppose she wanted him at home with her," said Miss Louisa.

"Yes, she did--at the expense of his learning to be a drunkard like
the rest of them," retorted her mother.

"George Durant doesn't drink," defended her daughter.

"Because he got burned so badly when he was nineteen--in the pit--
and that frightened him.  The Navy is a better remedy than that, at
least."

"Certainly," said the vicar.  "Certainly."

And to this Miss Louisa agreed.  Yet she could not but feel angry
that he had gone away for so many years.  She herself was only
nineteen.


III


It happened when Miss Mary was twenty-three years old, that Mr
Lindley was very ill.  The family was exceedingly poor at the time,
such a lot of money was needed, so little was forthcoming.  Neither
Miss Mary nor Miss Louisa had suitors.  What chance had they?  They
met no eligible young men in Aldecross.  And what they earned was a
mere drop in a void.  The girls' hearts were chilled and hardened
with fear of this perpetual, cold penury, this narrow struggle,
this horrible nothingness of their lives.

A clergyman had to be found for the church work.  It so happened
the son of an old friend of Mr Lindley's was waiting three months
before taking up his duties.  He would come and officiate, for
nothing.  The young clergyman was keenly expected.  He was not more
than twenty-seven, a Master of Arts of Oxford, had written his
thesis on Roman Law.  He came of an old Cambridgeshire family, had
some private means, was going to take a church in Northamptonshire
with a good stipend, and was not married.  Mrs Lindley incurred new
debts, and scarcely regretted her husband's illness.

But when Mr Massy came, there was a shock of disappointment in the
house.  They had expected a young man with a pipe and a deep voice,
but with better manners than Sidney, the eldest of the Lindleys.
There arrived instead a small, chétif man, scarcely larger than a
boy of twelve, spectacled, timid in the extreme, without a word to
utter at first; yet with a certain inhuman self-sureness.

"What a little abortion!" was Mrs Lindley's exclamation to herself
on first seeing him, in his buttoned-up clerical coat.  And for the
first time for many days, she was profoundly thankful to God that
all her children were decent specimens.

He had not normal powers of perception.  They soon saw that he
lacked the full range of human feelings, but had rather a strong,
philosophical mind, from which he lived.  His body was almost
unthinkable, in intellect he was something definite.  The
conversation at once took a balanced, abstract tone when he
participated.  There was no spontaneous exclamation, no violent
assertion or expression of personal conviction, but all cold,
reasonable assertion.  This was very hard on Mrs Lindley.  The
little man would look at her, after one of her pronouncements, and
then give, in his thin voice, his own calculated version, so that
she felt as if she were tumbling into thin air through a hole in
the flimsy floor on which their conversation stood.  It was she who
felt a fool.  Soon she was reduced to a hardy silence.

Still, at the back of her mind, she remembered that he was an
unattached gentleman, who would shortly have an income altogether
of six or seven hundred a year.  What did the man matter, if there
were pecuniary ease!  The man was a trifle thrown in.  After
twenty-two years her sentimentality was ground away, and only the
millstone of poverty mattered to her.  So she supported the little
man as a representative of a decent income.

His most irritating habit was that of a sneering little giggle, all
on his own, which came when he perceived or related some illogical
absurdity on the part of another person.  It was the only form of
humour he had.  Stupidity in thinking seemed to him exquisitely
funny.  But any novel was unintelligibly meaningless and dull, and
to an Irish sort of humour he listened curiously, examining it like
mathematics, or else simply not hearing.  In normal human
relationship he was not there.  Quite unable to take part in simple
everyday talk, he padded silently round the house, or sat in the
dining-room looking nervously from side to side, always apart in a
cold, rarefied little world of his own.  Sometimes he made an
ironic remark, that did not seem humanly relevant, or he gave his
little laugh, like a sneer.  He had to defend himself and his own
insufficiency.  And he answered questions grudgingly, with a yes or
no, because he did not see their import and was nervous.  It seemed
to Miss Louisa he scarcely distinguished one person from another,
but that he liked to be near her, or to Miss Mary, for some sort of
contact which stimulated him unknown.

Apart from all this, he was the most admirable workman.  He was
unremittingly shy, but perfect in his sense of duty: as far as he
could conceive Christianity, he was a perfect Christian.  Nothing
that he realized he could do for anyone did he leave undone,
although he was so incapable of coming into contact with another
being, that he could not proffer help.  Now he attended assiduously
to the sick man, investigated all the affairs of the parish or the
church which Mr Lindley had in control, straightened out accounts,
made lists of the sick and needy, padded round with help and to see
what he could do.  He heard of Mrs Lindley's anxiety about her
sons, and began to investigate means of sending them to Cambridge.
His kindness almost frightened Miss Mary.  She honoured it so, and
yet she shrank from it.  For, in it all Mr Massy seemed to have no
sense of any person, any human being whom he was helping: he only
realized a kind of mathematical working out, solving of given
situations, a calculated well-doing.  And it was as if he had
accepted the Christian tenets as axioms.  His religion consisted in
what his scrupulous, abstract mind approved of.

Seeing his acts, Miss Mary must respect and honour him.  In
consequence she must serve him.  To this she had to force herself,
shuddering and yet desirous, but he did not perceive it.  She
accompanied him on his visiting in the parish, and whilst she was
cold with admiration for him, often she was touched with pity for
the little padding figure with bent shoulders, buttoned up to the
chin in his overcoat.  She was a handsome, calm girl, tall, with a
beautiful repose.  Her clothes were poor, and she wore a black silk
scarf, having no furs.  But she was a lady.  As the people saw her
walking down Aldecross beside Mr Massy, they said:

"My word, Miss Mary's got a catch.  Did ever you see such a sickly
little shrimp!"

She knew they were talking so, and it made her heart grow hot
against them, and she drew herself as it were protectively towards
the little man beside her.  At any rate, she could see and give
honour to his genuine goodness.

He could not walk fast, or far.

"You have not been well?" she asked, in her dignified way.

"I have an internal trouble."

He was not aware of her slight shudder.  There was silence, whilst
she bowed to recover her composure, to resume her gentle manner
towards him.

He was fond of Miss Mary.  She had made it a rule of hospitality
that he should always be escorted by herself or by her sister on
his visits in the parish, which were not many.  But some mornings
she was engaged.  Then Miss Louisa took her place.  It was no good
Miss Louisa's trying to adopt to Mr Massy an attitude of queenly
service.  She was unable to regard him save with aversion.  When
she saw him from behind, thin and bent-shouldered, looking like a
sickly lad of thirteen, she disliked him exceedingly, and felt a
desire to put him out of existence.  And yet a deeper justice in
Mary made Louisa humble before her sister.

They were going to see Mr Durant, who was paralysed and not
expected to live.  Miss Louisa was crudely ashamed at being
admitted to the cottage in company with the little clergyman.

Mrs Durant was, however, much quieter in the face of her real
trouble.

"How is Mr Durant?" asked Louisa.

"He is no different--and we don't expect him to be," was the reply.
The little clergyman stood looking on.

They went upstairs.  The three stood for some time looking at the
bed, at the grey head of the old man on the pillow, the grey beard
over the sheet.  Miss Louisa was shocked and afraid.

"It is so dreadful," she said, with a shudder.

"It is how I always thought it would be," replied Mrs Durant.

Then Miss Louisa was afraid of her.  The two women were uneasy,
waiting for Mr Massy to say something.  He stood, small and bent,
too nervous to speak.

"Has he any understanding?" he asked at length.

"Maybe," said Mrs Durant.  "Can you hear, John?" she asked loudly.
The dull blue eye of the inert man looked at her feebly.

"Yes, he understands," said Mrs Durant to Mr Massy.  Except for the
dull look in his eyes, the sick man lay as if dead.  The three
stood in silence.  Miss Louisa was obstinate but heavy-hearted
under the load of unlivingness.  It was Mr Massy who kept her there
in discipline.  His non-human will dominated them all.

Then they heard a sound below, a man's footsteps, and a man's voice
called subduedly:

"Are you upstairs, mother?"

Mrs Durant started and moved to the door.  But already a quick,
firm step was running up the stairs.

"I'm a bit early, mother," a troubled voice said, and on the
landing they saw the form of the sailor.  His mother came and clung
to him.  She was suddenly aware that she needed something to hold
on to.  He put his arms round her, and bent over her, kissing her.

"He's not gone, mother?" he asked anxiously, struggling to control
his voice.

Miss Louisa looked away from the mother and son who stood together
in the gloom on the landing.  She could not bear it that she and Mr
Massy should be there.  The latter stood nervously, as if ill at
ease before the emotion that was running.  He was a witness,
nervous, unwilling, but dispassionate.  To Miss Louisa's hot heart
it seemed all, all wrong that they should be there.

Mrs Durant entered the bedroom, her face wet.

"There's Miss Louisa and the vicar," she said, out of voice and
quavering.

Her son, red-faced and slender, drew himself up to salute.  But
Miss Louisa held out her hand.  Then she saw his hazel eyes
recognize her for a moment, and his small white teeth showed in a
glimpse of the greeting she used to love.  She was covered with
confusion.  He went round to the bed; his boots clicked on the
plaster floor, he bowed his head with dignity.

"How are you, dad?" he said, laying his hand on the sheet,
faltering.  But the old man stared fixedly and unseeing.  The son
stood perfectly still for a few minutes, then slowly recoiled.
Miss Louisa saw the fine outline of his breast, under the sailor's
blue blouse, as his chest began to heave.

"He doesn't know me," he said, turning to his mother.  He gradually
went white.

"No, my boy!" cried the mother, pitiful, lifting her face.  And
suddenly she put her face against his shoulder, he was stooping
down to her, holding her against him, and she cried aloud for a
moment or two.  Miss Louisa saw his sides heaving, and heard the
sharp hiss of his breath.  She turned away, tears streaming down
her face.  The father lay inert upon the white bed, Mr Massy looked
queer and obliterated, so little now that the sailor with his
sunburned skin was in the room.  He stood waiting.  Miss Louisa
wanted to die, she wanted to have done.  She dared not turn round
again to look.

"Shall I offer a prayer?" came the frail voice of the clergyman,
and all kneeled down.

Miss Louisa was frightened of the inert man upon the bed.  Then she
felt a flash of fear of Mr Massy, hearing his thin, detached voice.
And then, calmed, she looked up.  On the far side of the bed were
the heads of the mother and son, the one in the black lace cap,
with the small white nape of the neck beneath, the other, with
brown, sun-scorched hair too close and wiry to allow of a parting,
and neck tanned firm, bowed as if unwillingly.  The great grey
beard of the old man did not move, the prayer continued.  Mr Massy
prayed with a pure lucidity, that they all might conform to the
higher Will.  He was like something that dominated the bowed heads,
something dispassionate that governed them inexorably.  Miss Louisa
was afraid of him.  And she was bound, during the course of the
prayer, to have a little reverence for him.  It was like a
foretaste of inexorable, cold death, a taste of pure justice.

That evening she talked to Mary of the visit.  Her heart, her veins
were possessed by the thought of Alfred Durant as he held his
mother in his arms; then the break in his voice, as she remembered
it again and again, was like a flame through her; and she wanted to
see his face more distinctly in her mind, ruddy with the sun, and
his golden-brown eyes, kind and careless, strained now with a
natural fear, the fine nose tanned hard by the sun, the mouth that
could not help smiling at her.  And it went through her with pride,
to think of his figure, a straight, fine jet of life.

"He is a handsome lad," said she to Miss Mary, as if he had not
been a year older than herself.  Underneath was the deeper dread,
almost hatred, of the inhuman being of Mr Massy.  She felt she must
protect herself and Alfred from him.

"When I felt Mr Massy there," she said, "I almost hated him.  What
right had he to be there!"

"Surely he has all right," said Miss Mary after a pause.  "He is
REALLY a Christian."

"He seems to me nearly an imbecile," said Miss Louisa.

Miss Mary, quiet and beautiful, was silent for a moment:

"Oh, no," she said.  "Not IMBECILE--"

"Well then--he reminds me of a six months' child--or a five months'
child--as if he didn't have time to get developed enough before he
was born."

"Yes," said Miss Mary, slowly.  "There is something lacking.  But
there is something wonderful in him: and he is really GOOD--"

"Yes," said Miss Louisa, "it doesn't seem right that he should be.
What right has THAT to be called goodness!"

"But it IS goodness," persisted Mary.  Then she added, with a
laugh:  "And come, you wouldn't deny that as well."

There was a doggedness in her voice.  She went about very quietly.
In her soul, she knew what was going to happen.  She knew that Mr
Massy was stronger than she, and that she must submit to what he
was.  Her physical self was prouder, stronger than he, her physical
self disliked and despised him.  But she was in the grip of his
moral, mental being.  And she felt the days allotted out to her.
And her family watched.


IV


A few days after, old Mr Durant died.  Miss Louisa saw Alfred once
more, but he was stiff before her now, treating her not like a
person, but as if she were some sort of will in command and he a
separate, distinct will waiting in front of her.  She had never
felt such utter steel-plate separation from anyone.  It puzzled her
and frightened her.  What had become of him?  And she hated the
military discipline--she was antagonistic to it.  Now he was not
himself.  He was the will which obeys set over against the will
which commands.  She hesitated over accepting this.  He had put
himself out of her range.  He had ranked himself inferior,
subordinate to her.  And that was how he would get away from her,
that was how he would avoid all connection with her: by fronting
her impersonally from the opposite camp, by taking up the abstract
position of an inferior.

She went brooding steadily and sullenly over this, brooding and
brooding.  Her fierce, obstinate heart could not give way.  It
clung to its own rights.  Sometimes she dismissed him.  Why should
he, inferior, trouble her?

Then she relapsed to him, and almost hated him.  It was his way of
getting out of it.  She felt the cowardice of it, his calmly
placing her in a superior class, and placing himself inaccessibly
apart, in an inferior, as if she, the sensient woman who was fond
of him, did not count.  But she was not going to submit.  Dogged in
her heart she held on to him.


V


In six months' time Miss Mary had married Mr Massy.  There had been
no love-making, nobody had made any remark.  But everybody was
tense and callous with expectation.  When one day Mr Massy asked
for Mary's hand, Mr Lindley started and trembled from the thin,
abstract voice of the little man.  Mr Massy was very nervous, but
so curiously absolute.

"I shall be very glad," said the vicar, "but of course the decision
lies with Mary herself."  And his still feeble hand shook as he
moved a Bible on his desk.

The small man, keeping fixedly to his idea, padded out of the room
to find Miss Mary.  He sat a long time by her, while she made some
conversation, before he had readiness to speak.  She was afraid of
what was coming, and sat stiff in apprehension.  She felt as if her
body would rise and fling him aside.  But her spirit quivered and
waited.  Almost in expectation she waited, almost wanting him.  And
then she knew he would speak.

"I have already asked Mr Lindley," said the clergyman, while
suddenly she looked with aversion at his little knees, "if he would
consent to my proposal."  He was aware of his own disadvantage, but
his will was set.

She went cold as she sat, and impervious, almost as if she had
become stone.  He waited a moment nervously.  He would not persuade
her.  He himself never even heard persuasion, but pursued his own
course.  He looked at her, sure of himself, unsure of her, and
said:

"Will you become my wife, Mary?"

Still her heart was hard and cold.  She sat proudly.

"I should like to speak to mama first," she said.

"Very well," replied Mr Massy.  And in a moment he padded away.

Mary went to her mother.  She was cold and reserved.

"Mr Massy has asked me to marry him, mama," she said.  Mrs Lindley
went on staring at her book.  She was cramped in her feeling.

"Well, and what did you say?"

They were both keeping calm and cold.

"I said I would speak to you before answering him."

This was equivalent to a question.  Mrs Lindley did not want to
reply to it.  She shifted her heavy form irritably on the couch.
Miss Mary sat calm and straight, with closed mouth.

"Your father thinks it would not be a bad match," said the mother,
as if casually.

Nothing more was said.  Everybody remained cold and shut-off.  Miss
Mary did not speak to Miss Louisa, the Reverend Ernest Lindley kept
out of sight.

At evening Miss Mary accepted Mr Massy.

"Yes, I will marry you," she said, with even a little movement of
tenderness towards him.  He was embarrassed, but satisfied.  She
could see him making some movement towards her, could feel the male
in him, something cold and triumphant, asserting itself.  She sat
rigid, and waited.

When Miss Louisa knew, she was silent with bitter anger against
everybody, even against Mary.  She felt her faith wounded.  Did the
real things to her not matter after all?  She wanted to get away.
She thought of Mr Massy.  He had some curious power, some
unanswerable right.  He was a will that they could not controvert.--
Suddenly a flush started in her.  If he had come to her she would
have flipped him out of the room.  He was never going to touch HER.
And she was glad.  She was glad that her blood would rise and
exterminate the little man, if he came too near to her, no matter
how her judgment was paralysed by him, no matter how he moved in
abstract goodness.  She thought she was perverse to be glad, but
glad she was.  "I would just flip him out of the room," she said,
and she derived great satisfaction from the open statement.
Nevertheless, perhaps she ought still to feel that Mary, on her
plane, was a higher being than herself.  But then Mary was Mary,
and she was Louisa, and that also was inalterable.

Mary, in marrying him, tried to become a pure reason such as he
was, without feeling or impulse.  She shut herself up, she shut
herself rigid against the agonies of shame and the terror of
violation which came at first.  She WOULD not feel, and she WOULD
not feel.  She was a pure will acquiescing to him.  She elected a
certain kind of fate.  She would be good and purely just, she would
live in a higher freedom than she had ever known, she would be free
of mundane care, she was a pure will towards right.  She had sold
herself, but she had a new freedom.  She had got rid of her body.
She had sold a lower thing, her body, for a higher thing, her
freedom from material things.  She considered that she paid for all
she got from her husband.  So, in a kind of independence, she moved
proud and free.  She had paid with her body: that was henceforward
out of consideration.  She was glad to be rid of it.  She had
bought her position in the world--that henceforth was taken for
granted.  There remained only the direction of her activity towards
charity and high-minded living.

She could scarcely bear other people to be present with her and her
husband.  Her private life was her shame.  But then, she could keep
it hidden.  She lived almost isolated in the rectory of the tiny
village miles from the railway.  She suffered as if it were an
insult to her own flesh, seeing the repulsion which some people
felt for her husband, or the special manner they had of treating
him, as if he were a "case".  But most people were uneasy before
him, which restored her pride.

If she had let herself, she would have hated him, hated his padding
round the house, his thin voice devoid of human understanding, his
bent little shoulders and rather incomplete face that reminded her
of an abortion.  But rigorously she kept to her position.  She took
care of him and was just to him.  There was also a deep craven fear
of him, something slave-like.

There was not much fault to be found with his behaviour.  He was
scrupulously just and kind according to his lights.  But the male
in him was cold and self-complete, and utterly domineering.  Weak,
insufficient little thing as he was, she had not expected this of
him.  It was something in the bargain she had not understood.  It
made her hold her head, to keep still.  She knew, vaguely, that she
was murdering herself.  After all, her body was not quite so easy
to get rid of.  And this manner of disposing of it--ah, sometimes
she felt she must rise and bring about death, lift her hand for
utter denial of everything, by a general destruction.

He was almost unaware of the conditions about him.  He did not fuss
in the domestic way, she did as she liked in the house.  Indeed,
she was a great deal free of him.  He would sit obliterated for
hours.  He was kind, and almost anxiously considerate.  But when he
considered he was right, his will was just blindly male, like a
cold machine.  And on most points he was logically right, or he had
with him the right of the creed they both accepted.  It was so.
There was nothing for her to go against.

Then she found herself with child, and felt for the first time
horror, afraid before God and man.  This also she had to go
through--it was the right.  When the child arrived, it was a bonny,
healthy lad.  Her heart hurt in her body, as she took the baby
between her hands.  The flesh that was trampled and silent in her
must speak again in the boy.  After all, she had to live--it was
not so simple after all.  Nothing was finished completely.  She
looked and looked at the baby, and almost hated it, and suffered an
anguish of love for it.  She hated it because it made her live
again in the flesh, when she COULD not live in the flesh, she could
not.  She wanted to trample her flesh down, down, extinct, to live
in the mind.  And now there was this child.  It was too cruel, too
racking.  For she must love the child.  Her purpose was broken in
two again.  She had to become amorphous, purposeless, without real
being.  As a mother, she was a fragmentary, ignoble thing.

Mr Massy, blind to everything else in the way of human feeling,
became obsessed by the idea of his child.  When it arrived,
suddenly it filled the whole world of feeling for him.  It was his
obsession, his terror was for its safety and well-being.  It was
something new, as if he himself had been born a naked infant,
conscious of his own exposure, and full of apprehension.  He who
had never been aware of anyone else, all his life, now was aware of
nothing but the child.  Not that he ever played with it, or kissed
it, or tended it.  He did nothing for it.  But it dominated him, it
filled, and at the same time emptied his mind.  The world was all
baby for him.

This his wife must also bear, his question:  "What is the reason
that he cries?"--his reminder, at the first sound:  "Mary, that is
the child,"--his restlessness if the feeding-time were five minutes
past.  She had bargained for this--now she must stand by her
bargain.


VI


Miss Louisa, at home in the dingy vicarage, had suffered a great
deal over her sister's wedding.  Having once begun to cry out
against it, during the engagement, she had been silenced by Mary's
quiet:  "I don't agree with you about him, Louisa, I WANT to marry
him."  Then Miss Louisa had been angry deep in her heart, and
therefore silent.  This dangerous state started the change in her.
Her own revulsion made her recoil from the hitherto undoubted Mary.

"I'd beg the streets barefoot first," said Miss Louisa, thinking of
Mr Massy.

But evidently Mary could perform a different heroism.  So she,
Louisa the practical, suddenly felt that Mary, her ideal, was
questionable after all.  How could she be pure--one cannot be dirty
in act and spiritual in being.  Louisa distrusted Mary's high
spirituality.  It was no longer genuine for her.  And if Mary were
spiritual and misguided, why did not her father protect her?
Because of the money.  He disliked the whole affair, but he backed
away, because of the money.  And the mother frankly did not care:
her daughters could do as they liked.  Her mother's pronouncement:

"Whatever happens to HIM, Mary is safe for life,"--so evidently and
shallowly a calculation, incensed Louisa.

"I'd rather be safe in the workhouse," she cried.

"Your father will see to that," replied her mother brutally.  This
speech, in its indirectness, so injured Miss Louisa that she hated
her mother deep, deep in her heart, and almost hated herself.  It
was a long time resolving itself out, this hate.  But it worked and
worked, and at last the young woman said:

"They are wrong--they are all wrong.  They have ground out their
souls for what isn't worth anything, and there isn't a grain of
love in them anywhere.  And I WILL have love.  They want us to deny
it.  They've never found it, so they want to say it doesn't exist.
But I WILL have it.  I WILL love--it is my birthright.  I will love
the man I marry--that is all I care about."

So Miss Louisa stood isolated from everybody.  She and Mary had
parted over Mr Massy.  In Louisa's eyes, Mary was degraded, married
to Mr Massy.  She could not bear to think of her lofty, spiritual
sister degraded in the body like this.  Mary was wrong, wrong,
wrong: she was not superior, she was flawed, incomplete.  The two
sisters stood apart.  They still loved each other, they would love
each other as long as they lived.  But they had parted ways.  A new
solitariness came over the obstinate Louisa, and her heavy jaw set
stubbornly.  She was going on her own way.  But which way?  She was
quite alone, with a blank world before her.  How could she be said
to have any way?  Yet she had her fixed will to love, to have the
man she loved.


VII


When her boy was three years old, Mary had another baby, a girl.
The three years had gone by monotonously.  They might have been an
eternity, they might have been brief as a sleep.  She did not know.
Only, there was always a weight on top of her, something that
pressed down her life.  The only thing that had happened was that
Mr Massy had had an operation.  He was always exceedingly fragile.
His wife had soon learned to attend to him mechanically, as part of
her duty.

But this third year, after the baby girl had been born, Mary felt
oppressed and depressed.  Christmas drew near: the gloomy,
unleavened Christmas of the rectory, where all the days were of the
same dark fabric.  And Mary was afraid.  It was as if the darkness
were coming upon her.

"Edward, I should like to go home for Christmas," she said, and a
certain terror filled her as she spoke.

"But you can't leave baby," said her husband, blinking.

"We can all go."

He thought, and stared in his collective fashion.

"Why do you wish to go?" he asked.

"Because I need a change.  A change would do me good, and it would
be good for the milk."

He heard the will in his wife's voice, and was at a loss.  Her
language was unintelligible to him.  And while she was breeding,
either about to have a child, or nursing, he regarded her as a
special sort of being.

"Wouldn't it hurt baby to take her by the train?" he said.

"No," replied the mother, "why should it?"

They went.  When they were in the train, it began to snow.  From
the window of his first-class carriage the little clergyman watched
the big flakes sweep by, like a blind drawn across the country.  He
was obsessed by thought of the baby, and afraid of the draughts of
the carriage.

"Sit right in the corner," he said to his wife, "and hold baby
close back."

She moved at his bidding, and stared out of the window.  His
eternal presence was like an iron weight on her brain.  But she was
going partially to escape for a few days.

"Sit on the other side, Jack," said the father.  "It is less
draughty.  Come to this window."

He watched the boy in anxiety.  But his children were the only
beings in the world who took not the slightest notice of him.

"Look, mother, look!" cried the boy.  "They fly right in my face"--
he meant the snowflakes.

"Come into this corner," repeated his father, out of another world.

"He's jumped on this one's back, mother, an' they're riding to the
bottom!" cried the boy, jumping with glee.

"Tell him to come on this side," the little man bade his wife.

"Jack, kneel on this cushion," said the mother, putting her white
hand on the place.

The boy slid over in silence to the place she indicated, waited
still for a moment, then almost deliberately, stridently cried:

"Look at all those in the corner, mother, making a heap," and he
pointed to the cluster of snowflakes with finger pressed
dramatically on the pane, and he turned to his mother a bit
ostentatiously.

"All in a heap!" she said.

He had seen her face, and had her response, and he was somewhat
assured.  Vaguely uneasy, he was reassured if he could win her
attention.

They arrived at the vicarage at half-past two, not having had
lunch.

"How are you, Edward?" said Mr Lindley, trying on his side to be
fatherly.  But he was always in a false position with his son-in-
law, frustrated before him, therefore, as much as possible, he shut
his eyes and ears to him.  The vicar was looking thin and pale and
ill-nourished.  He had gone quite grey.  He was, however, still
haughty; but, since the growing-up of his children, it was a
brittle haughtiness, that might break at any moment and leave the
vicar only an impoverished, pitiable figure.  Mrs Lindley took all
the notice of her daughter, and of the children.  She ignored her
son-in-law.  Miss Louisa was clucking and laughing and rejoicing
over the baby.  Mr Massy stood aside, a bent, persistent little
figure.

"Oh a pretty!--a little pretty! oh a cold little pretty come in a
railway-train!"  Miss Louisa was cooing to the infant, crouching on
the hearthrug opening the white woollen wraps and exposing the
child to the fireglow.

"Mary," said the little clergyman, "I think it would be better to
give baby a warm bath; she may take a cold."

"I think it is not necessary," said the mother, coming and closing
her hand judiciously over the rosy feet and hands of the mite.
"She is not chilly."

"Not a bit," cried Miss Louisa.  "She's not caught cold."

"I'll go and bring her flannels," said Mr Massy, with one idea.

"I can bath her in the kitchen then," said Mary, in an altered,
cold tone.

"You can't, the girl is scrubbing there," said Miss Louisa.
"Besides, she doesn't want a bath at this time of day."

"She'd better have one," said Mary, quietly, out of submission.
Miss Louisa's gorge rose, and she was silent.  When the little man
padded down with the flannels on his arm, Mrs Lindley asked:

"Hadn't YOU better take a hot bath, Edward?"

But the sarcasm was lost on the little clergyman.  He was absorbed
in the preparations round the baby.

The room was dull and threadbare, and the snow outside seemed
fairy-like by comparison, so white on the lawn and tufted on the
bushes.  Indoors the heavy pictures hung obscurely on the walls,
everything was dingy with gloom.

Except in the fireglow, where they had laid the bath on the hearth.
Mrs Massy, her black hair always smoothly coiled and queenly,
kneeled by the bath, wearing a rubber apron, and holding the
kicking child.  Her husband stood holding the towels and the
flannels to warm.  Louisa, too cross to share in the joy of the
baby's bath, was laying the table.  The boy was hanging on the
door-knob, wrestling with it to get out.  His father looked round.

"Come away from the door, Jack," he said, ineffectually.  Jack
tugged harder at the knob as if he did not hear.  Mr Massy blinked
at him.

"He must come away from the door, Mary," he said.  "There will be a
draught if it is opened."

"Jack, come away from the door, dear," said the mother, dexterously
turning the shiny wet baby on to her towelled knee, then glancing
round:  "Go and tell Auntie Louisa about the train."

Louisa, also afraid to open the door, was watching the scene on the
hearth.  Mr Massy stood holding the baby's flannel, as if assisting
at some ceremonial.  If everybody had not been subduedly angry, it
would have been ridiculous.

"I want to see out of the window," Jack said.  His father turned
hastily.

"Do YOU mind lifting him on to a chair, Louisa," said Mary hastily.
The father was too delicate.

When the baby was flannelled, Mr Massy went upstairs and returned
with four pillows, which he set in the fender to warm.  Then he
stood watching the mother feed her child, obsessed by the idea of
his infant.

Louisa went on with her preparations for the meal.  She could not
have told why she was so sullenly angry.  Mrs Lindley, as usual,
lay silently watching.

Mary carried her child upstairs, followed by her husband with the
pillows.  After a while he came down again.

"What is Mary doing?  Why doesn't she come down to eat?" asked Mrs
Lindley.

"She is staying with baby.  The room is rather cold.  I will ask
the girl to put in a fire."  He was going absorbedly to the door.

"But Mary has had nothing to eat.  It is SHE who will catch cold,"
said the mother, exasperated.

Mr Massy seemed as if he did not hear.  Yet he looked at his
mother-in-law, and answered:

"I will take her something."

He went out.  Mrs Lindley shifted on her couch with anger.  Miss
Louisa glowered.  But no one said anything, because of the money
that came to the vicarage from Mr Massy.

Louisa went upstairs.  Her sister was sitting by the bed, reading a
scrap of paper.

"Won't you come down and eat?" the younger asked.

"In a moment or two," Mary replied, in a quiet, reserved voice,
that forbade anyone to approach her.

It was this that made Miss Louisa most furious.  She went
downstairs, and announced to her mother:

"I am going out.  I may not be home to tea."


VIII


No one remarked on her exit.  She put on her fur hat, that the
village people knew so well, and the old Norfolk jacket.  Louisa
was short and plump and plain.  She had her mother's heavy jaw, her
father's proud brow, and her own grey, brooding eyes that were very
beautiful when she smiled.  It was true, as the people said, that
she looked sulky.  Her chief attraction was her glistening, heavy,
deep-blond hair, which shone and gleamed with a richness that was
not entirely foreign to her.

"Where am I going?" she said to herself, when she got outside in
the snow.  She did not hesitate, however, but by mechanical walking
found herself descending the hill towards Old Aldecross.  In the
valley that was black with trees, the colliery breathed in
stertorous pants, sending out high conical columns of steam that
remained upright, whiter than the snow on the hills, yet shadowy,
in the dead air.  Louisa would not acknowledge to herself whither
she was making her way, till she came to the railway crossing.
Then the bunches of snow in the twigs of the apple tree that leaned
towards the fence told her she must go and see Mrs Durant.  The
tree was in Mrs Durant's garden.

Alfred was now at home again, living with his mother in the cottage
below the road.  From the highway hedge, by the railway crossing,
the snowy garden sheered down steeply, like the side of a hole,
then dropped straight in a wall.  In this depth the house was snug,
its chimney just level with the road.  Miss Louisa descended the
stone stairs, and stood below in the little backyard, in the
dimness and the semi-secrecy.  A big tree leaned overhead, above
the paraffin hut.  Louisa felt secure from all the world down
there.  She knocked at the open door, then looked round.  The
tongue of garden narrowing in from the quarry bed was white with
snow: she thought of the thick fringes of snowdrops it would show
beneath the currant bushes in a month's time.  The ragged fringe of
pinks hanging over the garden brim behind her was whitened now with
snow-flakes, that in summer held white blossom to Louisa's face.
It was pleasant, she thought, to gather flowers that stooped to
one's face from above.

She knocked again.  Peeping in, she saw the scarlet glow of the
kitchen, red firelight falling on the brick floor and on the bright
chintz cushions.  It was alive and bright as a peep-show.  She
crossed the scullery, where still an almanac hung.  There was no
one about.  "Mrs Durant," called Louisa softly, "Mrs Durant."

She went up the brick step into the front room, that still had its
little shop counter and its bundles of goods, and she called from
the stair-foot.  Then she knew Mrs Durant was out.

She went into the yard to follow the old woman's footsteps up the
garden path.

She emerged from the bushes and raspberry canes.  There was the
whole quarry bed, a wide garden white and dimmed, brindled with
dark bushes, lying half submerged.  On the left, overhead, the
little colliery train rumbled by.  Right away at the back was a
mass of trees.

Louisa followed the open path, looking from right to left, and then
she gave a cry of concern.  The old woman was sitting rocking
slightly among the ragged snowy cabbages.  Louisa ran to her, found
her whimpering with little, involuntary cries.

"Whatever have you done?" cried Louisa, kneeling in the snow.

"I've--I've--I was pulling a brussel-sprout stalk--and--oh-h!--
something tore inside me.  I've had a pain," the old woman wept
from shock and suffering, gasping between her whimpers,--"I've had
a pain there--a long time--and now--oh--oh!"  She panted, pressed
her hand on her side, leaned as if she would faint, looking yellow
against the snow.  Louisa supported her.

"Do you think you could walk now?" she asked.

"Yes," gasped the old woman.

Louisa helped her to her feet.

"Get the cabbage--I want it for Alfred's dinner," panted Mrs
Durant.  Louisa picked up the stalk of brussel-sprouts, and with
difficulty got the old woman indoors.  She gave her brandy, laid
her on the couch, saying:

"I'm going to send for a doctor--wait just a minute."

The young woman ran up the steps to the public-house a few yards
away.  The landlady was astonished to see Miss Louisa.

"Will you send for a doctor at once to Mrs Durant," she said, with
some of her father in her commanding tone.

"Is something the matter?" fluttered the landlady in concern.

Louisa, glancing out up the road, saw the grocer's cart driving to
Eastwood.  She ran and stopped the man, and told him.

Mrs Durant lay on the sofa, her face turned away, when the young
woman came back.

"Let me put you to bed," Louisa said.  Mrs Durant did not resist.

Louisa knew the ways of the working people.  In the bottom drawer
of the dresser she found dusters and flannels.  With the old pit-
flannel she snatched out the oven shelves, wrapped them up, and put
them in the bed.  From the son's bed she took a blanket, and,
running down, set it before the fire.  Having undressed the little
old woman, Louisa carried her upstairs.

"You'll drop me, you'll drop me!" cried Mrs Durant.

Louisa did not answer, but bore her burden quickly.  She could not
light a fire, because there was no fire-place in the bedroom.  And
the floor was plaster.  So she fetched the lamp, and stood it
lighted in one corner.

"It will air the room," she said.

"Yes," moaned the old woman.

Louisa ran with more hot flannels, replacing those from the oven
shelves.  Then she made a bran-bag and laid it on the woman's side.
There was a big lump on the side of the abdomen.

"I've felt it coming a long time," moaned the old lady, when the
pain was easier, "but I've not said anything; I didn't want to
upset our Alfred."

Louisa did not see why "our Alfred" should be spared.

"What time is it?" came the plaintive voice.

"A quarter to four."

"Oh!" wailed the old lady, "he'll be here in half an hour, and no
dinner ready for him."

"Let me do it?" said Louisa, gently.

"There's that cabbage--and you'll find the meat in the pantry--and
there's an apple pie you can hot up.  But DON'T YOU do it--!"

"Who will, then?" asked Louisa.

"I don't know," moaned the sick woman, unable to consider.

Louisa did it.  The doctor came and gave serious examination.  He
looked very grave.

"What is it, doctor?" asked the old lady, looking up at him with
old, pathetic eyes in which already hope was dead.

"I think you've torn the skin in which a tumour hangs," he replied.

"Ay!" she murmured, and she turned away.

"You see, she may die any minute--and it MAY be swaled away," said
the old doctor to Louisa.

The young woman went upstairs again.

"He says the lump may be swaled away, and you may get quite well
again," she said.

"Ay!" murmured the old lady.  It did not deceive her.  Presently
she asked:

"Is there a good fire?"

"I think so," answered Louisa.

"He'll want a good fire," the mother said.  Louisa attended to it.

Since the death of Durant, the widow had come to church
occasionally, and Louisa had been friendly to her.  In the girl's
heart the purpose was fixed.  No man had affected her as Alfred
Durant had done, and to that she kept.  In her heart, she adhered
to him.  A natural sympathy existed between her and his rather
hard, materialistic mother.

Alfred was the most lovable of the old woman's sons.  He had grown
up like the rest, however, headstrong and blind to everything but
his own will.  Like the other boys, he had insisted on going into
the pit as soon as he left school, because that was the only way
speedily to become a man, level with all the other men.  This was a
great chagrin to his mother, who would have liked to have this last
of her sons a gentleman.

But still he remained constant to her.  His feeling for her was
deep and unexpressed.  He noticed when she was tired, or when she
had a new cap.  And he bought little things for her occasionally.
She was not wise enough to see how much he lived by her.

At the bottom he did not satisfy her, he did not seem manly enough.
He liked to read books occasionally, and better still he liked to
play the piccolo.  It amused her to see his head nod over the
instrument as he made an effort to get the right note.  It made her
fond of him, with tenderness, almost pity, but not with respect.
She wanted a man to be fixed, going his own way without knowledge
of women.  Whereas she knew Alfred depended on her.  He sang in the
choir because he liked singing.  In the summer he worked in the
garden, attended to the fowls and pigs.  He kept pigeons.  He
played on Saturday in the cricket or football team.  But to her he
did not seem the man, the independent man her other boys had been.
He was her baby--and whilst she loved him for it, she was a little
bit contemptuous of him.

There grew up a little hostility between them.  Then he began to
drink, as the others had done; but not in their blind, oblivious
way.  He was a little self-conscious over it.  She saw this, and
she pitied it in him.  She loved him most, but she was not
satisfied with him because he was not free of her.  He could not
quite go his own way.

Then at twenty he ran away and served his time in the Navy.  This
made a man of him.  He had hated it bitterly, the service, the
subordination.  For years he fought with himself under the military
discipline, for his own self-respect, struggling through blind
anger and shame and a cramping sense of inferiority.  Out of
humiliation and self-hatred, he rose into a sort of inner freedom.
And his love for his mother, whom he idealised, remained the fact
of hope and of belief.

He came home again, nearly thirty years old, but naïve and
inexperienced as a boy, only with a silence about him that was new:
a sort of dumb humility before life, a fear of living.  He was
almost quite chaste.  A strong sensitiveness had kept him from
women.  Sexual talk was all very well among men, but somehow it had
no application to living women.  There were two things for him, the
IDEA of women, with which he sometimes debauched himself, and real
women, before whom he felt a deep uneasiness, and a need to draw
away.  He shrank and defended himself from the approach of any
woman.  And then he felt ashamed.  In his innermost soul he felt he
was not a man, he was less than the normal man.  In Genoa he went
with an under officer to a drinking house where the cheaper sort of
girl came in to look for lovers.  He sat there with his glass, the
girls looked at him, but they never came to him.  He knew that if
they did come he could only pay for food and drink for them,
because he felt a pity for them, and was anxious lest they lacked
good necessities.  He could not have gone with one of them: he knew
it, and was ashamed, looking with curious envy at the swaggering,
easy-passionate Italian whose body went to a woman by instinctive
impersonal attraction.  They were men, he was not a man.  He sat
feeling short, feeling like a leper.  And he went away imagining
sexual scenes between himself and a woman, walking wrapt in this
indulgence.  But when the ready woman presented herself, the very
fact that she was a palpable woman made it impossible for him to
touch her.  And this incapacity was like a core of rottenness in
him.

So several times he went, drunk, with his companions, to the
licensed prostitute houses abroad.  But the sordid insignificance
of the experience appalled him.  It had not been anything really:
it meant nothing.  He felt as if he were, not physically, but
spiritually impotent: not actually impotent, but intrinsically so.

He came home with this secret, never changing burden of his
unknown, unbestowed self torturing him.  His navy training left him
in perfect physical condition.  He was sensible of, and proud of
his body.  He bathed and used dumb-bells, and kept himself fit.  He
played cricket and football.  He read books and began to hold fixed
ideas which he got from the Fabians.  He played his piccolo, and
was considered an expert.  But at the bottom of his soul was always
this canker of shame and incompleteness: he was miserable beneath
all his healthy cheerfulness, he was uneasy and felt despicable
among all his confidence and superiority of ideas.  He would have
changed with any mere brute, just to be free of himself, to be free
of this shame of self-consciousness.  He saw some collier lurching
straight forward without misgiving, pursuing his own satisfactions,
and he envied him.  Anything, he would have given anything for this
spontaneity and this blind stupidity which went to its own
satisfaction direct.


IX


He was not unhappy in the pit.  He was admired by the men, and well
enough liked.  It was only he himself who felt the difference
between himself and the others.  He seemed to hide his own stigma.
But he was never sure that the others did not really despise him
for a ninny, as being less a man than they were.  Only he pretended
to be more manly, and was surprised by the ease with which they
were deceived.  And, being naturally cheerful, he was happy at his
work.  He was sure of himself there.  Naked to the waist, hot and
grimy with labour, they squatted on their heels for a few minutes
and talked, seeing each other dimly by the light of the safety
lamps, while the black coal rose jutting round them, and the props
of wood stood like little pillars in the low, black, very dark
temple.  Then the pony came and the gang-lad with a message from
Number 7, or with a bottle of water from the horse-trough or some
news of the world above.  The day passed pleasantly enough.  There
was an ease, a go-as-you-please about the day underground, a
delightful camaraderie of men shut off alone from the rest of the
world, in a dangerous place, and a variety of labour, holing,
loading, timbering, and a glamour of mystery and adventure in the
atmosphere, that made the pit not unattractive to him when he had
again got over his anguish of desire for the open air and the sea.

This day there was much to do and Durant was not in humour to talk.
He went on working in silence through the afternoon.

"Loose-all" came, and they tramped to the bottom.  The whitewashed
underground office shone brightly.  Men were putting out their
lamps.  They sat in dozens round the bottom of the shaft, down
which black, heavy drops of water fell continuously into the sump.
The electric lights shone away down the main underground road.

"Is it raining?" asked Durant.

"Snowing," said an old man, and the younger was pleased.  He liked
to go up when it was snowing.

"It'll just come right for Christmas," said the old man.

"Ay," replied Durant.

"A green Christmas, a fat churchyard," said the other
sententiously.

Durant laughed, showing his small, rather pointed teeth.

The cage came down, a dozen men lined on.  Durant noticed tufts of
snow on the perforated, arched roof of the chain, and he was
pleased.

He wondered how it liked its excursion underground.  But already it
was getting soppy with black water.

He liked things about him.  There was a little smile on his face.
But underlying it was the curious consciousness he felt in himself.

The upper world came almost with a flash, because of the glimmer of
snow.  Hurrying along the bank, giving up his lamp at the office,
he smiled to feel the open about him again, all glimmering round
him with snow.  The hills on either side were pale blue in the
dusk, and the hedges looked savage and dark.  The snow was trampled
between the railway lines.  But far ahead, beyond the black figures
of miners moving home, it became smooth again, spreading right up
to the dark wall of the coppice.

To the west there was a pinkness, and a big star hovered half
revealed.  Below, the lights of the pit came out crisp and yellow
among the darkness of the buildings, and the lights of Old
Aldecross twinkled in rows down the bluish twilight.

Durant walked glad with life among the miners, who were all talking
animatedly because of the snow.  He liked their company, he liked
the white dusky world.  It gave him a little thrill to stop at the
garden gate and see the light of home down below, shining on the
silent blue snow.


X


By the big gate of the railway, in the fence, was a little gate,
that he kept locked.  As he unfastened it, he watched the kitchen
light that shone on to the bushes and the snow outside.  It was a
candle burning till night set in, he thought to himself.  He slid
down the steep path to the level below.  He liked making the first
marks in the smooth snow.  Then he came through the bushes to the
house.  The two women heard his heavy boots ring outside on the
scraper, and his voice as he opened the door:

"How much worth of oil do you reckon to save by that candle,
mother?"  He liked a good light from the lamp.

He had just put down his bottle and snap-bag and was hanging his
coat behind the scullery door, when Miss Louisa came upon him.  He
was startled, but he smiled.

His eyes began to laugh--then his face went suddenly straight, and
he was afraid.

"Your mother's had an accident," she said.

"How?" he exclaimed.

"In the garden," she answered.  He hesitated with his coat in his
hands.  Then he hung it up and turned to the kitchen.

"Is she in bed?" he asked.

"Yes," said Miss Louisa, who found it hard to deceive him.  He was
silent.  He went into the kitchen, sat down heavily in his father's
old chair, and began to pull off his boots.  His head was small,
rather finely shapen.  His brown hair, close and crisp, would look
jolly whatever happened.  He wore heavy moleskin trousers that gave
off the stale, exhausted scent of the pit.  Having put on his
slippers, he carried his boots into the scullery.

"What is it?" he asked, afraid.

"Something internal," she replied.

He went upstairs.  His mother kept herself calm for his coming.
Louisa felt his tread shake the plaster floor of the bedroom above.

"What have you done?" he asked.

"It's nothing, my lad," said the old woman, rather hard.  "It's
nothing.  You needn't fret, my boy, it's nothing more the matter
with me than I had yesterday, or last week.  The doctor said I'd
done nothing serious."

"What were you doing?" asked her son.

"I was pulling up a cabbage, and I suppose I pulled too hard; for,
oh--there was such a pain--"

Her son looked at her quickly.  She hardened herself.

"But who doesn't have a sudden pain sometimes, my boy.  We all do."

"And what's it done?"

"I don't know," she said, "but I don't suppose it's anything."

The big lamp in the corner was screened with a dark green, so that
he could scarcely see her face.  He was strung tight with
apprehension and many emotions.  Then his brow knitted.

"What did you go pulling your inside out at cabbages for," he
asked, "and the ground frozen?  You'd go on dragging and dragging,
if you killed yourself."

"Somebody's got to get them," she said.

"You needn't do yourself harm."

But they had reached futility.

Miss Louisa could hear plainly downstairs.  Her heart sank.  It
seemed so hopeless between them.

"Are you sure it's nothing much, mother?" he asked, appealing,
after a little silence.

"Ay, it's nothing," said the old woman, rather bitter.

"I don't want you to--to--to be badly--you know."

"Go an' get your dinner," she said.  She knew she was going to die:
moreover, the pain was torture just then.  "They're only cosseting
me up a bit because I'm an old woman.  Miss Louisa's VERY good--and
she'll have got your dinner ready, so you'd better go and eat it."

He felt stupid and ashamed.  His mother put him off.  He had to
turn away.  The pain burned in his bowels.  He went downstairs.
The mother was glad he was gone, so that she could moan with pain.

He had resumed the old habit of eating before he washed himself.
Miss Louisa served his dinner.  It was strange and exciting to her.
She was strung up tense, trying to understand him and his mother.
She watched him as he sat.  He was turned away from his food,
looking in the fire.  Her soul watched him, trying to see what he
was.  His black face and arms were uncouth, he was foreign.  His
face was masked black with coal-dust.  She could not see him, she
could not even know him.  The brown eyebrows, the steady eyes, the
coarse, small moustache above the closed mouth--these were the only
familiar indications.  What was he, as he sat there in his pit-
dirt?  She could not see him, and it hurt her.

She ran upstairs, presently coming down with the flannels and the
bran-bag, to heat them, because the pain was on again.

He was half-way through his dinner.  He put down the fork, suddenly
nauseated.

"They will soothe the wrench," she said.  He watched, useless and
left out.

"Is she bad?" he asked.

"I think she is," she answered.

It was useless for him to stir or comment.  Louisa was busy.  She
went upstairs.  The poor old woman was in a white, cold sweat of
pain.  Louisa's face was sullen with suffering as she went about to
relieve her.  Then she sat and waited.  The pain passed gradually,
the old woman sank into a state of coma.  Louisa still sat silent
by the bed.  She heard the sound of water downstairs.  Then came
the voice of the old mother, faint but unrelaxing:

"Alfred's washing himself--he'll want his back washing--"

Louisa listened anxiously, wondering what the sick woman wanted.

"He can't bear if his back isn't washed--" the old woman persisted,
in a cruel attention to his needs.  Louisa rose and wiped the sweat
from the yellowish brow.

"I will go down," she said soothingly.

"If you would," murmured the sick woman.

Louisa waited a moment.  Mrs Durant closed her eyes, having
discharged her duty.  The young woman went downstairs.  Herself, or
the man, what did they matter?  Only the suffering woman must be
considered.

Alfred was kneeling on the hearthrug, stripped to the waist,
washing himself in a large panchion of earthenware.  He did so
every evening, when he had eaten his dinner; his brothers had done
so before him.  But Miss Louisa was strange in the house.

He was mechanically rubbing the white lather on his head, with a
repeated, unconscious movement, his hand every now and then passing
over his neck.  Louisa watched.  She had to brace herself to this
also.  He bent his head into the water, washed it free of soap, and
pressed the water out of his eyes.

"Your mother said you would want your back washing," she said.

Curious how it hurt her to take part in their fixed routine of
life!  Louisa felt the almost repulsive intimacy being forced upon
her.  It was all so common, so like herding.  She lost her own
distinctness.

He ducked his face round, looking up at her in what was a very
comical way.  She had to harden herself.

"How funny he looks with his face upside down," she thought.  After
all, there was a difference between her and the common people.  The
water in which his arms were plunged was quite black, the soap-
froth was darkish.  She could scarcely conceive him as human.
Mechanically, under the influence of habit, he groped in the black
water, fished out soap and flannel, and handed them backward to
Louisa.  Then he remained rigid and submissive, his two arms thrust
straight in the panchion, supporting the weight of his shoulders.
His skin was beautifully white and unblemished, of an opaque, solid
whiteness.  Gradually Louisa saw it: this also was what he was.  It
fascinated her.  Her feeling of separateness passed away: she
ceased to draw back from contact with him and his mother.  There
was this living centre.  Her heart ran hot.  She had reached some
goal in this beautiful, clear, male body.  She loved him in a
white, impersonal heat.  But the sun-burnt, reddish neck and ears:
they were more personal, more curious.  A tenderness rose in her,
she loved even his queer ears.  A person--an intimate being he was
to her.  She put down the towel and went upstairs again, troubled
in her heart.  She had only seen one human being in her life--and
that was Mary.  All the rest were strangers.  Now her soul was
going to open, she was going to see another.  She felt strange and
pregnant.

"He'll be more comfortable," murmured the sick woman abstractedly,
as Louisa entered the room.  The latter did not answer.  Her own
heart was heavy with its own responsibility.  Mrs Durant lay silent
awhile, then she murmured plaintively:

"You mustn't mind, Miss Louisa."

"Why should I?" replied Louisa, deeply moved.

"It's what we're used to," said the old woman.

And Louisa felt herself excluded again from their life.  She sat in
pain, with the tears of disappointment distilling her heart.  Was
that all?

Alfred came upstairs.  He was clean, and in his shirt-sleeves.  He
looked a workman now.  Louisa felt that she and he were foreigners,
moving in different lives.  It dulled her again.  Oh, if she could
only find some fixed relations, something sure and abiding.

"How do you feel?" he said to his mother.

"It's a bit better," she replied wearily, impersonally.  This
strange putting herself aside, this abstracting herself and
answering him only what she thought good for him to hear, made the
relations between mother and son poignant and cramping to Miss
Louisa.  It made the man so ineffectual, so nothing.  Louisa groped
as if she had lost him.  The mother was real and positive--he was
not very actual.  It puzzled and chilled the young woman.

"I'd better fetch Mrs Harrison?" he said, waiting for his mother to
decide.

"I suppose we shall have to have somebody," she replied.

Miss Louisa stood by, afraid to interfere in their business.  They
did not include her in their lives, they felt she had nothing to do
with them, except as a help from outside.  She was quite external
to them.  She felt hurt and powerless against this unconscious
difference.  But something patient and unyielding in her made her
say:

"I will stay and do the nursing: you can't be left."

The other two were shy, and at a loss for an answer.

"Wes'll manage to get somebody," said the old woman wearily.  She
did not care very much what happened, now.

"I will stay until to-morrow, in any case," said Louisa.  "Then we
can see."

"I'm sure you've no right to trouble yourself," moaned the old
woman.  But she must leave herself in any hands.

Miss Louisa felt glad that she was admitted, even in an official
capacity.  She wanted to share their lives.  At home they would
need her, now Mary had come.  But they must manage without her.

"I must write a note to the vicarage," she said.

Alfred Durant looked at her inquiringly, for her service.  He had
always that intelligent readiness to serve, since he had been in
the Navy.  But there was a simple independence in his willingness,
which she loved.  She felt nevertheless it was hard to get at him.
He was so deferential, quick to take the slightest suggestion of an
order from her, implicitly, that she could not get at the man in
him.

He looked at her very keenly.  She noticed his eyes were golden
brown, with a very small pupil, the kind of eyes that can see a
long way off.  He stood alert, at military attention.  His face was
still rather weather-reddened.

"Do you want pen and paper?" he asked, with deferential suggestion
to a superior, which was more difficult for her than reserve.

"Yes, please," she said.

He turned and went downstairs.  He seemed to her so self-contained,
so utterly sure in his movement.  How was she to approach him?  For
he would take not one step towards her.  He would only put himself
entirely and impersonally at her service, glad to serve her, but
keeping himself quite removed from her.  She could see he felt real
joy in doing anything for her, but any recognition would confuse
him and hurt him.  Strange it was to her, to have a man going about
the house in his shirt-sleeves, his waistcoat unbuttoned, his
throat bare, waiting on her.  He moved well, as if he had plenty of
life to spare.  She was attracted by his completeness.  And yet,
when all was ready, and there was nothing more for him to do, she
quivered, meeting his questioning look.

As she sat writing, he placed another candle near her.  The rather
dense light fell in two places on the overfoldings of her hair till
it glistened heavy and bright, like a dense golden plumage folded
up.  Then the nape of her neck was very white, with fine down and
pointed wisps of gold.  He watched it as it were a vision, losing
himself.  She was all that was beyond him, of revelation and
exquisiteness.  All that was ideal and beyond him, she was that--
and he was lost to himself in looking at her.  She had no
connection with him.  He did not approach her.  She was there like
a wonderful distance.  But it was a treat, having her in the house.
Even with this anguish for his mother tightening about him, he was
sensible of the wonder of living this evening.  The candles
glistened on her hair, and seemed to fascinate him.  He felt a
little awe of her, and a sense of uplifting, that he and she and
his mother should be together for a time, in the strange, unknown
atmosphere.  And, when he got out of the house, he was afraid.  He
saw the stars above ringing with fine brightness, the snow beneath
just visible, and a new night was gathering round him.  He was
afraid almost with obliteration.  What was this new night ringing
about him, and what was he?  He could not recognize himself nor any
of his surroundings.  He was afraid to think of his mother.  And
yet his chest was conscious of her, and of what was happening to
her.  He could not escape from her, she carried him with her into
an unformed, unknown chaos.


XI


He went up the road in an agony, not knowing what it was all about,
but feeling as if a red-hot iron were gripped round his chest.
Without thinking, he shook two or three tears on to the snow.  Yet
in his mind he did not believe his mother would die.  He was in the
grip of some greater consciousness.  As he sat in the hall of the
vicarage, waiting whilst Mary put things for Louisa into a bag, he
wondered why he had been so upset.  He felt abashed and humbled by
the big house, he felt again as if he were one of the rank and
file.  When Miss Mary spoke to him, he almost saluted.

"An honest man," thought Mary.  And the patronage was applied as
salve to her own sickness.  She had station, so she could
patronize: it was almost all that was left to her.  But she could
not have lived without having a certain position.  She could never
have trusted herself outside a definite place, nor respected
herself except as a woman of superior class.

As Alfred came to the latch-gate, he felt the grief at his heart
again, and saw the new heavens.  He stood a moment looking
northward to the Plough climbing up the night, and at the far
glimmer of snow in distant fields.  Then his grief came on like
physical pain.  He held tight to the gate, biting his mouth,
whispering "Mother!"  It was a fierce, cutting, physical pain of
grief, that came on in bouts, as his mother's pain came on in
bouts, and was so acute he could scarcely keep erect.  He did not
know where it came from, the pain, nor why.  It had nothing to do
with his thoughts.  Almost it had nothing to do with him.  Only it
gripped him and he must submit.  The whole tide of his soul,
gathering in its unknown towards this expansion into death, carried
him with it helplessly, all the fritter of his thought and
consciousness caught up as nothing, the heave passing on towards
its breaking, taking him further than he had ever been.  When the
young man had regained himself, he went indoors, and there he was
almost gay.  It seemed to excite him.  He felt in high spirits: he
made whimsical fun of things.  He sat on one side of his mother's
bed, Louisa on the other, and a certain gaiety seized them all.
But the night and the dread was coming on.

Alfred kissed his mother and went to bed.  When he was half
undressed the knowledge of his mother came upon him, and the
suffering seized him in its grip like two hands, in agony.  He lay
on the bed screwed up tight.  It lasted so long, and exhausted him
so much, that he fell asleep, without having the energy to get up
and finish undressing.  He awoke after midnight to find himself
stone cold.  He undressed and got into bed, and was soon asleep
again.

At a quarter to six he woke, and instantly remembered.  Having
pulled on his trousers and lighted a candle, he went into his
mother's room.  He put his hand before the candle flame so that no
light fell on the bed.

"Mother!" he whispered.

"Yes," was the reply.

There was a hesitation.

"Should I go to work?"

He waited, his heart was beating heavily.

"I think I'd go, my lad."

His heart went down in a kind of despair.

"You want me to?"

He let his hand down from the candle flame.  The light fell on the
bed.  There he saw Louisa lying looking up at him.  Her eyes were
upon him.  She quickly shut her eyes and half buried her face in
the pillow, her back turned to him.  He saw the rough hair like
bright vapour about her round head, and the two plaits flung coiled
among the bedclothes.  It gave him a shock.  He stood almost
himself, determined.  Louisa cowered down.  He looked, and met his
mother's eyes.  Then he gave way again, and ceased to be sure,
ceased to be himself.

"Yes, go to work, my boy," said the mother.

"All right," replied he, kissing her.  His heart was down at
despair, and bitter.  He went away.

"Alfred!" cried his mother faintly.

He came back with beating heart.

"What, mother?"

"You'll always do what's right, Alfred?" the mother asked, beside
herself in terror now he was leaving her.  He was too terrified and
bewildered to know what she meant.

"Yes," he said.

She turned her cheek to him.  He kissed her, then went away, in
bitter despair.  He went to work.


XII


By midday his mother was dead.  The word met him at the pit-mouth.
As he had known, inwardly, it was not a shock to him, and yet he
trembled.  He went home quite calmly, feeling only heavy in his
breathing.

Miss Louisa was still at the house.  She had seen to everything
possible.  Very succinctly, she informed him of what he needed to
know.  But there was one point of anxiety for her.

"You DID half expect it--it's not come as a blow to you?" she
asked, looking up at him.  Her eyes were dark and calm and
searching.  She too felt lost.  He was so dark and inchoate.

"I suppose--yes," he said stupidly.  He looked aside, unable to
endure her eyes on him.

"I could not bear to think you might not have guessed," she said.

He did not answer.

He felt it a great strain to have her near him at this time.  He
wanted to be alone.  As soon as the relatives began to arrive,
Louisa departed and came no more.  While everything was arranging,
and a crowd was in the house, whilst he had business to settle, he
went well enough, with only those uncontrollable paroxysms of
grief.  For the rest, he was superficial.  By himself, he endured
the fierce, almost insane bursts of grief which passed again and
left him calm, almost clear, just wondering.  He had not known
before that everything could break down, that he himself could
break down, and all be a great chaos, very vast and wonderful.  It
seemed as if life in him had burst its bounds, and he was lost in a
great, bewildering flood, immense and unpeopled.  He himself was
broken and spilled out amid it all.  He could only breathe panting
in silence.  Then the anguish came on again.

When all the people had gone from the Quarry Cottage, leaving the
young man alone with an elderly housekeeper, then the long trial
began.  The snow had thawed and frozen, a fresh fall had whitened
the grey, this then began to thaw.  The world was a place of loose
grey slosh.  Alfred had nothing to do in the evenings.  He was a
man whose life had been filled up with small activities.  Without
knowing it, he had been centralized, polarized in his mother.  It
was she who had kept him.  Even now, when the old housekeeper had
left him, he might still have gone on in his old way.  But the
force and balance of his life was lacking.  He sat pretending to
read, all the time holding his fists clenched, and holding himself
in, enduring he did not know what.  He walked the black and sodden
miles of field-paths, till he was tired out: but all this was only
running away from whence he must return.  At work he was all right.
If it had been summer he might have escaped by working in the
garden till bedtime.  But now, there was no escape, no relief,
no help.  He, perhaps, was made for action rather than for
understanding; for doing than for being.  He was shocked out of his
activities, like a swimmer who forgets to swim.

For a week, he had the force to endure this suffocation and
struggle, then he began to get exhausted, and knew it must come
out.  The instinct of self-preservation became strongest.  But
there was the question:  Where was he to go?  The public-house
really meant nothing to him, it was no good going there.  He began
to think of emigration.  In another country he would be all right.
He wrote to the emigration offices.

On the Sunday after the funeral, when all the Durant people had
attended church, Alfred had seen Miss Louisa, impassive and
reserved, sitting with Miss Mary, who was proud and very distant,
and with the other Lindleys, who were people removed.  Alfred saw
them as people remote.  He did not think about it.  They had
nothing to do with his life.  After service Louisa had come to him
and shaken hands.

"My sister would like you to come to supper one evening, if you
would be so good."

He looked at Miss Mary, who bowed.  Out of kindness, Mary had
proposed this to Louisa, disapproving of herself even as she did
so.  But she did not examine herself closely.

"Yes," said Durant awkwardly, "I'll come if you want me."  But he
vaguely felt that it was misplaced.

"You'll come to-morrow evening, then, about half-past six."

He went.  Miss Louisa was very kind to him.  There could be no
music, because of the babies.  He sat with his fists clenched on
his thighs, very quiet and unmoved, lapsing, among all those
people, into a kind of muse or daze.  There was nothing between him
and them.  They knew it as well as he.  But he remained very steady
in himself, and the evening passed slowly.  Mrs Lindley called him
"young man".

"Will you sit here, young man?"

He sat there.  One name was as good as another.  What had they to
do with him?

Mr Lindley kept a special tone for him, kind, indulgent, but
patronizing.  Durant took it all without criticism or offence,
just submitting.  But he did not want to eat--that troubled him,
to have to eat in their presence.  He knew he was out of place.
But it was his duty to stay yet awhile.  He answered precisely,
in monosyllables.

When he left he winced with confusion.  He was glad it was
finished.  He got away as quickly as possible.  And he wanted still
more intensely to go right away, to Canada.

Miss Louisa suffered in her soul, indignant with all of them, with
him too, but quite unable to say why she was indignant.


XIII


Two evenings after, Louisa tapped at the door of the Quarry
Cottage, at half-past six.  He had finished dinner, the woman had
washed up and gone away, but still he sat in his pit dirt.  He was
going later to the New Inn.  He had begun to go there because he
must go somewhere.  The mere contact with other men was necessary
to him, the noise, the warmth, the forgetful flight of the hours.
But still he did not move.  He sat alone in the empty house till it
began to grow on him like something unnatural.

He was in his pit dirt when he opened the door.

"I have been wanting to call--I thought I would," she said, and she
went to the sofa.  He wondered why she wouldn't use his mother's
round armchair.  Yet something stirred in him, like anger, when the
housekeeper placed herself in it.

"I ought to have been washed by now," he said, glancing at the
clock, which was adorned with butterflies and cherries, and the
name of "T. Brooks, Mansfield."  He laid his black hands along his
mottled dirty arms.  Louisa looked at him.  There was the reserve,
and the simple neutrality towards her, which she dreaded in him.
It made it impossible for her to approach him.

"I am afraid," she said, "that I wasn't kind in asking you to
supper."

"I'm not used to it," he said, smiling with his mouth, showing the
interspaced white teeth.  His eyes, however, were steady and
unseeing.

"It's not THAT," she said hastily.  Her repose was exquisite and
her dark grey eyes rich with understanding.  He felt afraid of her
as she sat there, as he began to grow conscious of her.

"How do you get on alone?" she asked.

He glanced away to the fire.

"Oh--" he answered, shifting uneasily, not finishing his answer.

Her face settled heavily.

"How close it is in this room.  You have such immense fires.  I
will take off my coat," she said.

He watched her take off her hat and coat.  She wore a cream cashmir
blouse embroidered with gold silk.  It seemed to him a very fine
garment, fitting her throat and wrists close.  It gave him a
feeling of pleasure and cleanness and relief from himself.

"What were you thinking about, that you didn't get washed?" she
asked, half intimately.  He laughed, turning aside his head.  The
whites of his eyes showed very distinct in his black face.

"Oh," he said, "I couldn't tell you."

There was a pause.

"Are you going to keep this house on?" she asked.

He stirred in his chair, under the question.

"I hardly know," he said.  "I'm very likely going to Canada."

Her spirit became very quiet and attentive.

"What for?" she asked.

Again he shifted restlessly on his seat.

"Well"--he said slowly--"to try the life."

"But which life?"

"There's various things--farming or lumbering or mining.  I don't
mind much what it is."

"And is that what you want?"

He did not think in these times, so he could not answer.

"I don't know," he said, "till I've tried."

She saw him drawing away from her for ever.

"Aren't you sorry to leave this house and garden?" she asked.

"I don't know," he answered reluctantly.  "I suppose our Fred would
come in--that's what he's wanting."

"You don't want to settle down?" she asked.

He was leaning forward on the arms of his chair.  He turned to her.
Her face was pale and set.  It looked heavy and impassive, her hair
shone richer as she grew white.  She was to him something steady
and immovable and eternal presented to him.  His heart was hot in
an anguish of suspense.  Sharp twitches of fear and pain were in
his limbs.  He turned his whole body away from her.  The silence
was unendurable.  He could not bear her to sit there any more.  It
made his heart go hot and stifled in his breast.

"Were you going out to-night?" she asked.

"Only to the New Inn," he said.

Again there was silence.

She reached for her hat.  Nothing else was suggested to her.  She
HAD to go.  He sat waiting for her to be gone, for relief.  And she
knew that if she went out of that house as she was, she went out a
failure.  Yet she continued to pin on her hat; in a moment she
would have to go.  Something was carrying her.

Then suddenly a sharp pang, like lightning, seared her from head to
foot, and she was beyond herself.

"Do you want me to go?" she asked, controlled, yet speaking out of
a fiery anguish, as if the words were spoken from her without her
intervention.

He went white under his dirt.

"Why?" he asked, turning to her in fear, compelled.

"Do you want me to go?" she repeated.

"Why?" he asked again.

"Because I wanted to stay with you," she said, suffocated, with her
lungs full of fire.

His face worked, he hung forward a little, suspended, staring
straight into her eyes, in torment, in an agony of chaos, unable to
collect himself.  And as if turned to stone, she looked back into
his eyes.  Their souls were exposed bare for a few moments.  It was
agony.  They could not bear it.  He dropped his head, whilst his
body jerked with little sharp twitchings.

She turned away for her coat.  Her soul had gone dead in her.  Her
hands trembled, but she could not feel any more.  She drew on her
coat.  There was a cruel suspense in the room.  The moment had come
for her to go.  He lifted his head.  His eyes were like agate,
expressionless, save for the black points of torture.  They held
her, she had no will, no life any more.  She felt broken.

"Don't you want me?" she said helplessly.

A spasm of torture crossed his eyes, which held her fixed.

"I--I--" he began, but he could not speak.  Something drew him from
his chair to her.  She stood motionless, spellbound, like a
creature given up as prey.  He put his hand tentatively,
uncertainly, on her arm.  The expression of his face was strange
and inhuman.  She stood utterly motionless.  Then clumsily he put
his arms round her, and took her, cruelly, blindly, straining her
till she nearly lost consciousness, till he himself had almost
fallen.

Then, gradually, as he held her gripped, and his brain reeled
round, and he felt himself falling, falling from himself, and
whilst she, yielded up, swooned to a kind of death of herself, a
moment of utter darkness came over him, and they began to wake up
again as if from a long sleep.  He was himself.

After a while his arms slackened, she loosened herself a little,
and put her arms round him, as he held her.  So they held each
other close, and hid each against the other for assurance, helpless
in speech.  And it was ever her hands that trembled more closely
upon him, drawing him nearer into her, with love.

And at last she drew back her face and looked up at him, her eyes
wet, and shining with light.  His heart, which saw, was silent with
fear.  He was with her.  She saw his face all sombre and
inscrutable, and he seemed eternal to her.  And all the echo of
pain came back into the rarity of bliss, and all her tears came up.

"I love you," she said, her lips drawn and sobbing.  He put down
his head against her, unable to hear her, unable to bear the sudden
coming of the peace and passion that almost broke his heart.  They
stood together in silence whilst the thing moved away a little.

At last she wanted to see him.  She looked up.  His eyes were
strange and glowing, with a tiny black pupil.  Strange, they were,
and powerful over her.  And his mouth came to hers, and slowly her
eyelids closed, as his mouth sought hers closer and closer, and
took possession of her.

They were silent for a long time, too much mixed up with passion
and grief and death to do anything but hold each other in pain and
kiss with long, hurting kisses wherein fear was transfused into
desire.  At last she disengaged herself.  He felt as if his heart
were hurt, but glad, and he scarcely dared look at her.

"I'm glad," she said also.

He held her hands in passionate gratitude and desire.  He had not
yet the presence of mind to say anything.  He was dazed with
relief.

"I ought to go," she said.

He looked at her.  He could not grasp the thought of her going, he
knew he could never be separated from her any more.  Yet he dared
not assert himself.  He held her hands tight.

"Your face is black," she said.

He laughed.

"Yours is a bit smudged," he said.

They were afraid of each other, afraid to talk.  He could only keep
her near to him.  After a while she wanted to wash her face.  He
brought her some warm water, standing by and watching her.  There
was something he wanted to say, that he dared not.  He watched her
wiping her face, and making tidy her hair.

"They'll see your blouse is dirty," he said.

She looked at her sleeves and laughed for joy.

He was sharp with pride.

"What shall you do?" he asked.

"How?" she said.

He was awkward at a reply.

"About me," he said.

"What do you want me to do?" she laughed.

He put his hand out slowly to her.  What did it matter!

"But make yourself clean," she said.


XIV


As they went up the hill, the night seemed dense with the unknown.
They kept close together, feeling as if the darkness were alive and
full of knowledge, all around them.  In silence they walked up the
hill.  At first the street lamps went their way.  Several people
passed them.  He was more shy than she, and would have let her go
had she loosened in the least.  But she held firm.

Then they came into the true darkness, between the fields.  They
did not want to speak, feeling closer together in silence.  So they
arrived at the Vicarage gate.  They stood under the naked horse-
chestnut tree.

"I wish you didn't have to go," he said.

She laughed a quick little laugh.

"Come to-morrow," she said, in a low tone, "and ask father."

She felt his hand close on hers.

She gave the same sorrowful little laugh of sympathy.  Then she
kissed him, sending him home.

At home, the old grief came on in another paroxysm, obliterating
Louisa, obliterating even his mother for whom the stress was raging
like a burst of fever in a wound.  But something was sound in his
heart.


XV


The next evening he dressed to go to the vicarage, feeling it was
to be done, not imagining what it would be like.  He would not take
this seriously.  He was sure of Louisa, and this marriage was like
fate to him.  It filled him also with a blessed feeling of
fatality.  He was not responsible, neither had her people anything
really to do with it.

They ushered him into the little study, which was fireless.  By and
by the vicar came in.  His voice was cold and hostile as he said:

"What can I do for you, young man?"

He knew already, without asking.

Durant looked up at him, again like a sailor before a superior.  He
had the subordinate manner.  Yet his spirit was clear.

"I wanted, Mr Lindley--" he began respectfully, then all the colour
suddenly left his face.  It seemed now a violation to say what he
had to say.  What was he doing there?  But he stood on, because it
had to be done.  He held firmly to his own independence and self-
respect.  He must not be indecisive.  He must put himself aside:
the matter was bigger than just his personal self.  He must not
feel.  This was his highest duty.

"You wanted--" said the vicar.

Durant's mouth was dry, but he answered with steadiness:

"Miss Louisa--Louisa--promised to marry me--"

"You asked Miss Louisa if she would marry you--yes--" corrected the
vicar.  Durant reflected he had not asked her this:

"If she would marry me, sir.  I hope you--don't mind."

He smiled.  He was a good-looking man, and the vicar could not help
seeing it.

"And my daughter was willing to marry you?" said Mr Lindley.

"Yes," said Durant seriously.  It was pain to him, nevertheless.
He felt the natural hostility between himself and the elder man.

"Will you come this way?" said the vicar.  He led into the dining-
room, where were Mary, Louisa, and Mrs Lindley.  Mr Massy sat in a
corner with a lamp.

"This young man has come on your account, Louisa?" said Mr Lindley.

"Yes," said Louisa, her eyes on Durant, who stood erect, in
discipline.  He dared not look at her, but he was aware of her.

"You don't want to marry a collier, you little fool," cried Mrs
Lindley harshly.  She lay obese and helpless upon the couch,
swathed in a loose, dove-grey gown.

"Oh, hush, mother," cried Mary, with quiet intensity and pride.

"What means have you to support a wife?" demanded the vicar's wife
roughly.

"I!" Durant replied, starting.  "I think I can earn enough."

"Well, and how much?" came the rough voice.

"Seven and six a day," replied the young man.

"And will it get to be any more?"

"I hope so."

"And are you going to live in that poky little house?"

"I think so," said Durant, "if it's all right."

He took small offence, only was upset, because they would not think
him good enough.  He knew that, in their sense, he was not.

"Then she's a fool, I tell you, if she marries you," cried the
mother roughly, casting her decision.

"After all, mama, it is Louisa's affair," said Mary distinctly,
"and we must remember--"

"As she makes her bed, she must lie--but she'll repent it,"
interrupted Mrs Lindley.

"And after all," said Mr Lindley, "Louisa cannot quite hold herself
free to act entirely without consideration for her family."

"What do you want, papa?" asked Louisa sharply.

"I mean that if you marry this man, it will make my position very
difficult for me, particularly if you stay in this parish.  If you
were moving quite away, it would be simpler.  But living here in a
collier's cottage, under my nose, as it were--it would be almost
unseemly.  I have my position to maintain, and a position which may
not be taken lightly."

"Come over here, young man," cried the mother, in her rough voice,
"and let us look at you."

Durant, flushing, went over and stood--not quite at attention, so
that he did not know what to do with his hands.  Miss Louisa was
angry to see him standing there, obedient and acquiescent.  He
ought to show himself a man.

"Can't you take her away and live out of sight?" said the mother.
"You'd both of you be better off."

"Yes, we can go away," he said.

"Do you want to?" asked Miss Mary clearly.

He faced round.  Mary looked very stately and impressive.  He
flushed.

"I do if it's going to be a trouble to anybody," he said.

"For yourself, you would rather stay?" said Mary.

"It's my home," he said, "and that's the house I was born in."

"Then"--Mary turned clearly to her parents, "I really don't see how
you can make the conditions, papa.  He has his own rights, and if
Louisa wants to marry him--"

"Louisa, Louisa!" cried the father impatiently.  "I cannot
understand why Louisa should not behave in the normal way.  I
cannot see why she should only think of herself, and leave her
family out of count.  The thing is enough in itself, and she ought
to try to ameliorate it as much as possible.  And if--"

"But I love the man, papa," said Louisa.

"And I hope you love your parents, and I hope you want to spare
them as much of the--the loss of prestige, as possible."

"We CAN go away to live," said Louisa, her face breaking to tears.
At last she was really hurt.

"Oh, yes, easily," Durant replied hastily, pale, distressed.

There was dead silence in the room.

"I think it would really be better," murmured the vicar, mollified.

"Very likely it would," said the rough-voiced invalid.

"Though I think we ought to apologize for asking such a thing,"
said Mary haughtily.

"No," said Durant.  "It will be best all round."  He was glad there
was no more bother.

"And shall we put up the banns here or go to the registrar?" he
asked clearly, like a challenge.

"We will go to the registrar," replied Louisa decidedly.

Again there was a dead silence in the room.

"Well, if you will have your own way, you must go your own way,"
said the mother emphatically.

All the time Mr Massy had sat obscure and unnoticed in a corner of
the room.  At this juncture he got up, saying:

"There is baby, Mary."

Mary rose and went out of the room, stately; her little husband
padded after her.  Durant watched the fragile, small man go,
wondering.

"And where," asked the vicar, almost genial, "do you think you will
go when you are married?"

Durant started.

"I was thinking of emigrating," he said.

"To Canada? or where?"

"I think to Canada."

"Yes, that would be very good."

Again there was a pause.

"We shan't see much of you then, as a son-in-law," said the mother,
roughly but amicably.

"Not much," he said.

Then he took his leave.  Louisa went with him to the gate.  She
stood before him in distress.

"You won't mind them, will you?" she said humbly.

"I don't mind them, if they don't mind me!" he said.  Then he
stooped and kissed her.

"Let us be married soon," she murmured, in tears.

"All right," he said.  "I'll go to-morrow to Barford."




A FRAGMENT OF STAINED GLASS


Beauvale is, or was, the largest parish in England.  It is thinly
populated, only just netting the stragglers from shoals of houses
in three large mining villages.  For the rest, it holds a great
tract of woodland, fragment of old Sherwood, a few hills of pasture
and arable land, three collieries, and, finally, the ruins of a
Cistercian abbey.  These ruins lie in a still rich meadow at the
foot of the last fall of woodland, through whose oaks shines a blue
of hyacinths, like water, in May-time.  Of the abbey, there remains
only the east wall of the chancel standing, a wild thick mass of
ivy weighting one shoulder, while pigeons perch in the tracery of
the lofty window.  This is the window in question.

The vicar of Beauvale is a bachelor of forty-two years.  Quite
early in life some illness caused a slight paralysis of his right
side, so that he drags a little, and so that the right corner of
his mouth is twisted up into his cheek with a constant grimace,
unhidden by a heavy moustache.  There is something pathetic about
this twist on the vicar's countenance: his eyes are so shrewd and
sad.  It would be hard to get near to Mr Colbran.  Indeed, now, his
soul had some of the twist of his face, so that, when he is not
ironical, he is satiric.  Yet a man of more complete tolerance and
generosity scarcely exists.  Let the boors mock him, he merely
smiles on the other side, and there is no malice in his eyes, only
a quiet expression of waiting till they have finished.  His people
do not like him, yet none could bring forth an accusation against
him, save, that "You never can tell when he's having you."

I dined the other evening with the vicar in his study.  The room
scandalizes the neighbourhood because of the statuary which adorns
it: a Laocoon and other classic copies, with bronze and silver
Italian Renaissance work.  For the rest, it is all dark and tawny.

Mr Colbran is an archaeologist.  He does not take himself
seriously, however, in his hobby, so that nobody knows the worth of
his opinions on the subject.

"Here you are," he said to me after dinner, "I've found another
paragraph for my great work."

"What's that?" I asked.

"Haven't I told you I was compiling a Bible of the English people--
the Bible of their hearts--their exclamations in presence of the
unknown?  I've found a fragment at home, a jump at God from
Beauvale."

"Where?" I asked, startled.

The vicar closed his eyes whilst looking at me.

"Only on parchment," he said.

Then, slowly, he reached for a yellow book, and read, translating
as he went:

"Then, while we chanted, came a crackling at the window, at the
great east window, where hung our Lord on the Cross.  It was a
malicious covetous Devil wrathed by us, rended the lovely image of
the glass.  We saw the iron clutches of the fiend pick the window,
and a face flaming red like fire in a basket did glower down on us.
Our hearts melted away, our legs broke, we thought to die.  The
breath of the wretch filled the chapel.

"But our dear Saint, etc., etc., came hastening down heaven to
defend us.  The fiend began to groan and bray--he was daunted and
beat off.

"When the sun uprose, and it was morning, some went out in dread
upon the thin snow.  There the figure of our Saint was broken and
thrown down, whilst in the window was a wicked hole as from the
Holy Wounds the Blessed Blood was run out at the touch of the
Fiend, and on the snow was the Blood, sparkling like gold.  Some
gathered it up for the joy of this House. . . ."

"Interesting," I said.  "Where's it from?"

"Beauvale records--fifteenth century."

"Beauvale Abbey," I said; "they were only very few, the monks.
What frightened them, I wonder."

"I wonder," he repeated.

"Somebody climbed up," I supposed, "and attempted to get in."

"What?" he exclaimed, smiling.

"Well, what do you think?"

"Pretty much the same," he replied.  "I glossed it out for my
book."

"Your great work?  Tell me."

He put a shade over the lamp so that the room was almost in
darkness.

"Am I more than a voice?" he asked.

"I can see your hand," I replied.  He moved entirely from the
circle of light.  Then his voice began, sing-song, sardonic:

"I was a serf in Rollestoun's Newthorpe Manor, master of the
stables I was.  One day a horse bit me as I was grooming him.  He
was an old enemy of mine.  I fetched him a blow across the nose.
Then, when he got a chance, he lashed out at me and caught me a
gash over the mouth.  I snatched at a hatchet and cut his head.  He
yelled, fiend as he was, and strained for me with all his teeth
bare.  I brought him down.

"For killing him they flogged me till they thought I was dead.  I
was sturdy, because we horse-serfs got plenty to eat.  I was
sturdy, but they flogged me till I did not move.  The next night I
set fire to the stables, and the stables set fire to the house.  I
watched and saw the red flame rise and look out of the window, I
saw the folk running, each for himself, master no more than one of
a frightened party.  It was freezing, but the heat made me sweat.
I saw them all turn again to watch, all rimmed with red.  They
cried, all of them when the roof went in, when the sparks splashed
up at rebound.  They cried then like dogs at the bagpipes howling.
Master cursed me, till I laughed as I lay under a bush quite near.

"As the fire went down I got frightened.  I ran for the woods, with
fire blazing in my eyes and crackling in my ears.  For hours I was
all fire.  Then I went to sleep under the bracken.  When I woke it
was evening.  I had no mantle, was frozen stiff.  I was afraid to
move, lest all the sores of my back should be broken like thin ice.
I lay still until I could bear my hunger no longer.  I moved then
to get used to the pain of movement, when I began to hunt for food.
There was nothing to be found but hips.

"After wandering about till I was faint I dropped again in the
bracken.  The boughs above me creaked with frost.  I started and
looked round.  The branches were like hair among the starlight.  My
heart stood still.  Again there was a creak, creak, and suddenly a
whoop, that whistled in fading.  I fell down in the bracken like
dead wood.  Yet, by the peculiar whistling sound at the end, I knew
it was only the ice bending or tightening in the frost.  I was in
the woods above the lake, only two miles from the Manor.  And yet,
when the lake whooped hollowly again, I clutched the frozen soil,
every one of my muscles as stiff as the stiff earth.  So all the
night long I dare not move my face, but pressed it flat down, and
taut I lay as if pegged down and braced.

"When morning came still I did not move, I lay still in a dream.
By afternoon my ache was such it enlivened me.  I cried, rocking my
breath in the ache of moving.  Then again I became fierce.  I beat
my hands on the rough bark to hurt them, so that I should not ache
so much.  In such a rage I was I swung my limbs to torture till I
fell sick with pain.  Yet I fought the hurt, fought it and fought
by twisting and flinging myself, until it was overcome.  Then the
evening began to draw on.  All day the sun had not loosened the
frost.  I felt the sky chill again towards afternoon.  Then I knew
the night was coming, and, remembering the great space I had just
come through, horrible so that it seemed to have made me another
man, I fled across the wood.

"But in my running I came upon the oak where hanged five bodies.
There they must hang, bar-stiff, night after night.  It was a
terror worse than any.  Turning, blundering through the forest, I
came out where the trees thinned, where only hawthorns, ragged and
shaggy, went down to the lake's edge.

"The sky across was red, the ice on the water glistened as if it
were warm.  A few wild geese sat out like stones on the sheet of
ice.  I thought of Martha.  She was the daughter of the miller at
the upper end of the lake.  Her hair was red like beech leaves in a
wind.  When I had gone often to the mill with the horses she had
brought me food.

"'I thought,' said I to her, ''twas a squirrel sat on your
shoulder.  'Tis your hair fallen loose.'

"'They call me the fox,' she said.

"'Would I were your dog,' said I.  She would bring me bacon and
good bread, when I called at the mill with the horses.  The thought
of cakes of bread and of bacon made me reel as if drunk.  I had
torn at the rabbit holes, I had chewed wood all day.  In such a
dimness was my head that I felt neither the soreness of my wounds
nor the cuts of thorns on my knees, but stumbled towards the mill,
almost past fear of man and death, panting with fear of the
darkness that crept behind me from trunk to trunk.

"Coming to the gap in the wood, below which lay the pond, I heard
no sound.  Always I knew the place filled with the buzz of water,
but now it was silent.  In fear of this stillness I ran forward,
forgetting myself, forgetting the frost.  The wood seemed to pursue
me.  I fell, just in time, down by a shed wherein were housed the
few wintry pigs.  The miller came riding in on his horse, and the
barking of dogs was for him.  I heard him curse the day, curse his
servant, curse me, whom he had been out to hunt, in his rage of
wasted labour, curse all.  As I lay I heard inside the shed a
sucking.  Then I knew that the sow was there, and that the most of
her sucking pigs would be already killed for tomorrow's Christmas.
The miller, from forethought to have young at that time, made
profit by his sucking pigs that were sold for the mid-winter feast.

"When in a moment all was silent in the dusk, I broke the bar and
came into the shed.  The sow grunted, but did not come forth to
discover me.  By and by I crept in towards her warmth.  She had but
three young left, which now angered her, she being too full of
milk.  Every now and again she slashed at them and they squealed.
Busy as she was with them, I in the darkness advanced towards her.
I trembled so that scarce dared I trust myself near her, for long
dared not put my naked face towards her.  Shuddering with hunger
and fear, I at last fed of her, guarding my face with my arm.  Her
own full young tumbled squealing against me, but she, feeling her
ease, lay grunting.  At last I, too, lay drunk, swooning.

"I was roused by the shouting of the miller.  He, angered by his
daughter who wept, abused her, driving her from the house to feed
the swine.  She came, bowing under a yoke, to the door of the shed.
Finding the pin broken she stood afraid, then, as the sow grunted,
she came cautiously in.  I took her with my arm, my hand over her
mouth.  As she struggled against my breast my heart began to beat
loudly.  At last she knew it was I.  I clasped her.  She hung in my
arms, turning away her face, so that I kissed her throat.  The
tears blinded my eyes, I know not why, unless it were the hurt of
my mouth, wounded by the horse, was keen.

"'They will kill you,' she whispered.

"'No,' I answered.

"And she wept softly.  She took my head in her arms and kissed me,
wetting me with her tears, brushing me with her keen hair, warming
me through.

"'I will not go away from here,' I said.  'Bring me a knife, and I
will defend myself.'

"'No,' she wept.  'Ah, no!'

"When she went I lay down, pressing my chest where she had rested
on the earth, lest being alone were worse emptiness than hunger.

"Later she came again.  I saw her bend in the doorway, a lanthorn
hanging in front.  As she peered under the redness of her falling
hair, I was afraid of her.  But she came with food.  We sat
together in the dull light.  Sometimes still I shivered and my
throat would not swallow.

"'If,' said I, 'I eat all this you have brought me, I shall sleep
till somebody finds me.'

"Then she took away the rest of the meat.

"'Why,' said I, 'should I not eat?'  She looked at me in tears of
fear.

"'What?' I said, but still she had no answer.  I kissed her, and
the hurt of my wounded mouth angered me.

"'Now there is my blood,' said I, 'on your mouth.'  Wiping her
smooth hand over her lips, she looked thereat, then at me.

"'Leave me,' I said, 'I am tired.'  She rose to leave me.

"'But bring a knife,' I said.  Then she held the lanthorn near my
face, looking as at a picture.

"'You look to me,' she said, 'like a stirk that is roped for the
axe.  Your eyes are dark, but they are wide open.'

"'Then I will sleep,' said I, 'but will not wake too late.'

"'Do not stay here,' she said.

"'I will not sleep in the wood,' I answered, and it was my heart
that spoke, 'for I am afraid.  I had better be afraid of the voice
of man and dogs, than the sounds in the woods.  Bring me a knife,
and in the morning I will go.  Alone will I not go now.'

"'The searchers will take you,' she said.

"'Bring me a knife,' I answered.

"'Ah, go,' she wept.

"'Not now--I will not--'

"With that she lifted the lanthorn, lit up her own face and mine.
Her blue eyes dried of tears.  Then I took her to myself, knowing
she was mine.

"'I will come again,' she said.

"She went, and I folded my arms, lay down and slept.

"When I woke, she was rocking me wildly to rouse me.

"'I dreamed,' said I, 'that a great heap, as if it were a hill, lay
on me and above me.'

"She put a cloak over me, gave me a hunting-knife and a wallet of
food, and other things I did not note.  Then under her own cloak
she hid the lanthorn.

"'Let us go,' she said, and blindly I followed her.

"When I came out into the cold someone touched my face and my hair.

"'Ha!' I cried, 'who now--?'  Then she swiftly clung to me, hushed
me.

"'Someone has touched me,' I said aloud, still dazed with sleep.

"'Oh hush!' she wept.  ''Tis snowing.'  The dogs within the house
began to bark.  She fled forward, I after her.  Coming to the ford
of the stream she ran swiftly over, but I broke through the ice.
Then I knew where I was.  Snowflakes, fine and rapid, were biting
at my face.  In the wood there was no wind nor snow.

"'Listen,' said I to her, 'listen, for I am locked up with sleep.'

"'I hear roaring overhead,' she answered.  'I hear in the trees
like great bats squeaking.'

"'Give me your hand,' said I.

"We heard many noises as we passed.  Once as there uprose a
whiteness before us, she cried aloud.

"'Nay,' said I, 'do not untie thy hand from mine,' and soon we were
crossing fallen snow.  But ever and again she started back from
fear.

"'When you draw back my arm,' I said, angry, 'you loosed a weal on
my shoulder.'

"Thereafter she ran by my side, like a fawn beside its mother.

"'We will cross the valley and gain the stream,' I said.  'That
will lead us on its ice as on a path deep into the forest.  There
we can join the outlaws.  The wolves are driven from this part.
They have followed the driven deer.'

"We came directly on a large gleam that shaped itself up among
flying grains of snow.

"'Ah!' she cried, and she stood amazed.

"Then I thought we had gone through the bounds into faery realm,
and I was no more a man.  How did I know what eyes were gleaming at
me between the snow, what cunning spirits in the draughts of air?
So I waited for what would happen, and I forgot her, that she was
there.  Only I could feel the spirits whirling and blowing about
me.

"Whereupon she clung upon me, kissing me lavishly, and, were dogs
or men or demons come upon us at that moment, she had let us be
stricken down, nor heeded not.  So we moved forward to the shadow
that shone in colours upon the passing snow.  We found ourselves
under a door of light which shed its colours mixed with snow.  This
Martha had never seen, nor I, this door open for a red and brave
issuing like fires.  We wondered.

"'It is faery,' she said, and after a while, 'Could one catch such--
Ah, no!'

"Through the snow shone bunches of red and blue.

"'Could one have such a little light like a red flower--only a
little, like a rose-berry scarlet on one's breast!--then one were
singled out as Our Lady.'

"I flung off my cloak and my burden to climb up the face of the
shadow.  Standing on rims of stone, then in pockets of snow, I
reached upward.  My hand was red and blue, but I could not take the
stuff.  Like colour of a moth's wing it was on my hand, it flew on
the increasing snow.  I stood higher on the head of a frozen man,
reached higher my hand.  Then I felt the bright stuff cold.  I
could not pluck it off.  Down below she cried to me to come again
to her.  I felt a rib that yielded, I struck at it with my knife.
There came a gap in the redness.  Looking through I saw below as it
were white stunted angels, with sad faces lifted in fear.  Two
faces they had each, and round rings of hair.  I was afraid.  I
grasped the shining red, I pulled.  Then the cold man under me
sank, so I fell as if broken on to the snow.

"Soon I was risen again, and we were running downwards towards the
stream.  We felt ourselves eased when the smooth road of ice was
beneath us.  For a while it was resting, to travel thus evenly.
But the wind blew round us, the snow hung upon us, we leaned us
this way and that, towards the storm.  I drew her along, for she
came as a bird that stems lifting and swaying against the wind.  By
and by the snow came smaller, there was not wind in the wood.  Then
I felt nor labour, nor cold.  Only I knew the darkness drifted by
on either side, that overhead was a lane of paleness where a moon
fled us before.  Still, I can feel the moon fleeing from me, can
feel the trees passing round me in slow dizzy reel, can feel the
hurt of my shoulder and my straight arm torn with holding her.  I
was following the moon and the stream, for I knew where the water
peeped from its burrow in the ground there were shelters of the
outlaw.  But she fell, without sound or sign.

"I gathered her up and climbed the bank.  There all round me hissed
the larchwood, dry beneath, and laced with its dry-fretted cords.
For a little way I carried her into the trees.  Then I laid her
down till I cut flat hairy boughs.  I put her in my bosom on this
dry bed, so we swooned together through the night.  I laced her
round and covered her with myself, so she lay like a nut within its
shell.

"Again, when morning came, it was pain of cold that woke me.  I
groaned, but my heart was warm as I saw the heap of red hair in my
arms.  As I looked at her, her eyes opened into mine.  She smiled--
from out of her smile came fear.  As if in a trap she pressed back
her head.

"'We have no flint,' said I.

"'Yes--in the wallet, flint and steel and tinder box,' she
answered.

"'God yield you blessing,' I said.

"In a place a little open I kindled a fire of larch boughs.  She
was afraid of me, hovering near, yet never crossing a space.

"'Come,' said I, 'let us eat this food.'

"'Your face,' she said, 'is smeared with blood.'

"I opened out my cloak.

"'But come,' said I, 'you are frosted with cold.'

"I took a handful of snow in my hand, wiping my face with it, which
then I dried on my cloak.

"'My face is no longer painted with blood, you are no longer afraid
of me.  Come here then, sit by me while we eat.'

"But as I cut the cold bread for her, she clasped me suddenly,
kissing me.  She fell before me, clasped my knees to her breast,
weeping.  She laid her face down to my feet, so that her hair
spread like a fire before me.  I wondered at the woman.  'Nay,' I
cried.  At that she lifted her face to me from below.  'Nay,' I
cried, feeling my tears fall.  With her head on my breast, my own
tears rose from their source, wetting my cheek and her hair, which
was wet with the rain of my eyes.

"Then I remembered and took from my bosom the coloured light of
that night before.  I saw it was black and rough.

"'Ah,' said I, 'this is magic.'

"'The black stone!' she wondered.

"'It is the red light of the night before,' I said.

"'It is magic,' she answered.

"'Shall I throw it?' said I, lifting the stone, 'shall I throw it
away, for fear?'

"'It shines!' she cried, looking up.  'It shines like the eye of a
creature at night, the eye of a wolf in the doorway.'

"''Tis magic,' I said, 'let me throw it from us.'  But nay, she
held my arm.

"'It is red and shining,' she cried.

"'It is a bloodstone,' I answered.  'It will hurt us, we shall die
in blood.'

"'But give it to me,' she answered.

"'It is red of blood,' I said.

"'Ah, give it to me,' she called.

"'It is my blood,' I said.

"'Give it,' she commanded, low.

"'It is my life-stone,' I said.

"'Give it me,' she pleaded.

"'I gave it her.  She held it up, she smiled, she smiled in my
face, lifting her arms to me.  I took her with my mouth, her mouth,
her white throat.  Nor she ever shrank, but trembled with
happiness.

"What woke us, when the woods were filling again with shadow, when
the fire was out, when we opened our eyes and looked up as if
drowned, into the light which stood bright and thick on the tree-
tops, what woke us was the sound of wolves. . . ."


"Nay," said the vicar, suddenly rising, "they lived happily ever
after."

"No," I said.




THE SHADES OF SPRING


I


It was a mile nearer through the wood.  Mechanically, Syson turned
up by the forge and lifted the field-gate.  The blacksmith and his
mate stood still, watching the trespasser.  But Syson looked too
much a gentleman to be accosted.  They let him go in silence across
the small field to the wood.

There was not the least difference between this morning and those
of the bright springs, six or eight years back.  White and sandy-
gold fowls still scratched round the gate, littering the earth and
the field with feathers and scratched-up rubbish.  Between the two
thick holly bushes in the wood-hedge was the hidden gap, whose
fence one climbed to get into the wood; the bars were scored just
the same by the keeper's boots.  He was back in the eternal.

Syson was extraordinarily glad.  Like an uneasy spirit he had
returned to the country of his past, and he found it waiting for
him, unaltered.  The hazel still spread glad little hands
downwards, the bluebells here were still wan and few, among the
lush grass and in shade of the bushes.

The path through the wood, on the very brow of a slope, ran winding
easily for a time.  All around were twiggy oaks, just issuing their
gold, and floor spaces diapered with woodruff, with patches of dog-
mercury and tufts of hyacinth.  Two fallen trees still lay across
the track.  Syson jolted down a steep, rough slope, and came again
upon the open land, this time looking north as through a great
window in the wood.  He stayed to gaze over the level fields of the
hill-top, at the village which strewed the bare upland as if it had
tumbled off the passing waggons of industry, and been forsaken.
There was a stiff, modern, grey little church, and blocks and rows
of red dwellings lying at random; at the back, the twinkling
headstocks of the pit, and the looming pit-hill.  All was naked and
out-of-doors, not a tree!  It was quite unaltered.

Syson turned, satisfied, to follow the path that sheered downhill
into the wood.  He was curiously elated, feeling himself back in an
enduring vision.  He started.  A keeper was standing a few yards in
front, barring the way.

"Where might you be going this road, sir?" asked the man.  The tone
of his question had a challenging twang.  Syson looked at the
fellow with an impersonal, observant gaze.  It was a young man of
four or five and twenty, ruddy and well favoured.  His dark blue
eyes now stared aggressively at the intruder.  His black moustache,
very thick, was cropped short over a small, rather soft mouth.  In
every other respect the fellow was manly and good-looking.  He
stood just above middle height; the strong forward thrust of his
chest, and the perfect ease of his erect, self-sufficient body,
gave one the feeling that he was taut with animal life, like the
thick jet of a fountain balanced in itself.  He stood with the butt
of his gun on the ground, looking uncertainly and questioningly at
Syson.  The dark, restless eyes of the trespasser, examining the
man and penetrating into him without heeding his office, troubled
the keeper and made him flush.

"Where is Naylor?  Have you got his job?" Syson asked.

"You're not from the House, are you?" inquired the keeper.  It
could not be, since everyone was away.

"No, I'm not from the House," the other replied.  It seemed to
amuse him.

"Then might I ask where you were making for?" said the keeper,
nettled.

"Where I am making for?" Syson repeated.  "I am going to Willey-
Water Farm."

"This isn't the road."

"I think so.  Down this path, past the well, and out by the white
gate."

"But that's not the public road."

"I suppose not.  I used to come so often, in Naylor's time, I had
forgotten.  Where is he, by the way?"

"Crippled with rheumatism," the keeper answered reluctantly.

"Is he?" Syson exclaimed in pain.

"And who might you be?" asked the keeper, with a new intonation.

"John Adderley Syson; I used to live in Cordy Lane."

"Used to court Hilda Millership?"

Syson's eyes opened with a pained smile.  He nodded.  There was an
awkward silence.

"And you--who are you?" asked Syson.

"Arthur Pilbeam--Naylor's my uncle," said the other.

"You live here in Nuttall?"

"I'm lodgin' at my uncle's--at Naylor's."

"I see!"

"Did you say you was goin' down to Willey-Water?" asked the keeper.

"Yes."

There was a pause of some moments, before the keeper blurted:  "I'M
courtin' Hilda Millership."

The young fellow looked at the intruder with a stubborn defiance,
almost pathetic.  Syson opened new eyes.

"Are you?" he said, astonished.  The keeper flushed dark.

"She and me are keeping company," he said.

"I didn't know!" said Syson.  The other man waited uncomfortably.

"What, is the thing settled?" asked the intruder.

"How, settled?" retorted the other sulkily.

"Are you going to get married soon, and all that?"

The keeper stared in silence for some moments, impotent.

"I suppose so," he said, full of resentment.

"Ah!"  Syson watched closely.

"I'm married myself," he added, after a time.

"You are?" said the other incredulously.

Syson laughed in his brilliant, unhappy way.

"This last fifteen months," he said.

The keeper gazed at him with wide, wondering eyes, apparently
thinking back, and trying to make things out.

"Why, didn't you know?" asked Syson.

"No, I didn't," said the other sulkily.

There was silence for a moment.

"Ah well!" said Syson, "I will go on.  I suppose I may."  The
keeper stood in silent opposition.  The two men hesitated in the
open, grassy space, set around with small sheaves of sturdy
bluebells; a little open platform on the brow of the hill.  Syson
took a few indecisive steps forward, then stopped.

"I say, how beautiful!" he cried.

He had come in full view of the downslope.  The wide path ran from
his feet like a river, and it was full of bluebells, save for a
green winding thread down the centre, where the keeper walked.
Like a stream the path opened into azure shallows at the levels,
and there were pools of bluebells, with still the green thread
winding through, like a thin current of ice-water through blue
lakes.  And from under the twig-purple of the bushes swam the
shadowed blue, as if the flowers lay in flood water over the
woodland.

"Ah, isn't it lovely!" Syson exclaimed; this was his past, the
country he had abandoned, and it hurt him to see it so beautiful.
Woodpigeons cooed overhead, and the air was full of the brightness
of birds singing.

"If you're married, what do you keep writing to her for, and
sending her poetry books and things?" asked the keeper.  Syson
stared at him, taken aback and humiliated.  Then he began to smile.

"Well," he said, "I did not know about you . . ."

Again the keeper flushed darkly.

"But if you are married--" he charged.

"I am," answered the other cynically.

Then, looking down the blue, beautiful path, Syson felt his own
humiliation.  "What right HAVE I to hang on to her?" he thought,
bitterly self-contemptuous.

"She knows I'm married and all that," he said.

"But you keep sending her books," challenged the keeper.

Syson, silenced, looked at the other man quizzically, half pitying.
Then he turned.

"Good day," he said, and was gone.  Now, everything irritated him:
the two sallows, one all gold and perfume and murmur, one silver-
green and bristly, reminded him, that here he had taught her about
pollination.  What a fool he was!  What god-forsaken folly it all
was!

"Ah well," he said to himself; "the poor devil seems to have a
grudge against me.  I'll do my best for him."  He grinned to
himself, in a very bad temper.


II


The farm was less than a hundred yards from the wood's edge.  The
wall of trees formed the fourth side to the open quadrangle.  The
house faced the wood.  With tangled emotions, Syson noted the plum
blossom falling on the profuse, coloured primroses, which he
himself had brought here and set.  How they had increased!  There
were thick tufts of scarlet, and pink, and pale purple primroses
under the plum trees.  He saw somebody glance at him through the
kitchen window, heard men's voices.

The door opened suddenly: very womanly she had grown!  He felt
himself going pale.

"You?--Addy!" she exclaimed, and stood motionless.

"Who?" called the farmer's voice.  Men's low voices answered.
Those low voices, curious and almost jeering, roused the tormented
spirit in the visitor.  Smiling brilliantly at her, he waited.

"Myself--why not?" he said.

The flush burned very deep on her cheek and throat.

"We are just finishing dinner," she said.

"Then I will stay outside."  He made a motion to show that he would
sit on the red earthenware pipkin that stood near the door among
the daffodils, and contained the drinking water.

"Oh no, come in," she said hurriedly.  He followed her.  In the
doorway, he glanced swiftly over the family, and bowed.  Everyone
was confused.  The farmer, his wife, and the four sons sat at the
coarsely laid dinner-table, the men with arms bare to the elbows.

"I am sorry I come at lunch-time," said Syson.

"Hello, Addy!" said the farmer, assuming the old form of address,
but his tone cold.  "How are you?"

And he shook hands.

"Shall you have a bit?" he invited the young visitor, but taking
for granted the offer would be refused.  He assumed that Syson was
become too refined to eat so roughly.  The young man winced at the
imputation.

"Have you had any dinner?" asked the daughter.

"No," replied Syson.  "It is too early.  I shall be back at half-
past one."

"You call it lunch, don't you?" asked the eldest son, almost
ironical.  He had once been an intimate friend of this young man.

"We'll give Addy something when we've finished," said the mother,
an invalid, deprecating.

"No--don't trouble.  I don't want to give you any trouble," said
Syson.

"You could allus live on fresh air an' scenery," laughed the
youngest son, a lad of nineteen.

Syson went round the buildings, and into the orchard at the back of
the house, where daffodils all along the hedgerow swung like
yellow, ruffled birds on their perches.  He loved the place
extraordinarily, the hills ranging round, with bear-skin woods
covering their giant shoulders, and small red farms like brooches
clasping their garments; the blue streak of water in the valley,
the bareness of the home pasture, the sound of myriad-threaded
bird-singing, which went mostly unheard.  To his last day, he would
dream of this place, when he felt the sun on his face, or saw the
small handfuls of snow between the winter twigs, or smelt the
coming of spring.

Hilda was very womanly.  In her presence he felt constrained.  She
was twenty-nine, as he was, but she seemed to him much older.  He
felt foolish, almost unreal, beside her.  She was so static.  As he
was fingering some shed plum blossom on a low bough, she came to
the back door to shake the table-cloth.  Fowls raced from the
stackyard, birds rustled from the trees.  Her dark hair was
gathered up in a coil like a crown on her head.  She was very
straight, distant in her bearing.  As she folded the cloth, she
looked away over the hills.

Presently Syson returned indoors.  She had prepared eggs and curd
cheese, stewed gooseberries and cream.

"Since you will dine to-night," she said, "I have only given you a
light lunch."

"It is awfully nice," he said.  "You keep a real idyllic atmosphere--
your belt of straw and ivy buds."

Still they hurt each other.

He was uneasy before her.  Her brief, sure speech, her distant
bearing, were unfamiliar to him.  He admired again her grey-black
eyebrows, and her lashes.  Their eyes met.  He saw, in the
beautiful grey and black of her glance, tears and a strange light,
and at the back of all, calm acceptance of herself, and triumph
over him.

He felt himself shrinking.  With an effort he kept up the ironic
manner.

She sent him into the parlour while she washed the dishes.  The
long low room was refurnished from the Abbey sale, with chairs
upholstered in claret-coloured rep, many years old, and an oval
table of polished walnut, and another piano, handsome, though still
antique.  In spite of the strangeness, he was pleased.  Opening a
high cupboard let into the thickness of the wall, he found it full
of his books, his old lesson-books, and volumes of verse he had
sent her, English and German.  The daffodils in the white window-
bottoms shone across the room, he could almost feel their rays.
The old glamour caught him again.  His youthful water-colours on
the wall no longer made him grin; he remembered how fervently he
had tried to paint for her, twelve years before.

She entered, wiping a dish, and he saw again the bright, kernel-
white beauty of her arms.

"You are quite splendid here," he said, and their eyes met.

"Do you like it?" she asked.  It was the old, low, husky tone of
intimacy.  He felt a quick change beginning in his blood.  It was
the old, delicious sublimation, the thinning, almost the vaporizing
of himself, as if his spirit were to be liberated.

"Aye," he nodded, smiling at her like a boy again.  She bowed her
head.

"This was the countess's chair," she said in low tones.  "I found
her scissors down here between the padding."

"Did you?  Where are they?"

Quickly, with a lilt in her movement, she fetched her work-basket,
and together they examined the long-shanked old scissors.

"What a ballad of dead ladies!" he said, laughing, as he fitted his
fingers into the round loops of the countess's scissors.

"I knew you could use them," she said, with certainty.  He looked
at his fingers, and at the scissors.  She meant his fingers were
fine enough for the small-looped scissors.

"That is something to be said for me," he laughed, putting the
scissors aside.  She turned to the window.  He noticed the fine,
fair down on her cheek and her upper lip, and her soft, white neck,
like the throat of a nettle flower, and her fore-arms, bright as
newly blanched kernels.  He was looking at her with new eyes, and
she was a different person to him.  He did not know her.  But he
could regard her objectively now.

"Shall we go out awhile?" she asked.

"Yes!" he answered.  But the predominant emotion, that troubled the
excitement and perplexity of his heart, was fear, fear of that
which he saw.  There was about her the same manner, the same
intonation in her voice, now as then, but she was not what he had
known her to be.  He knew quite well what she had been for him.
And gradually he was realizing that she was something quite other,
and always had been.

She put no covering on her head, merely took off her apron, saying,
"We will go by the larches."  As they passed the old orchard, she
called him in to show him a blue-tit's nest in one of the apple
trees, and a sycock's in the hedge.  He rather wondered at her
surety, at a certain hardness like arrogance hidden under her
humility.

"Look at the apple buds," she said, and he then perceived myriads
of little scarlet balls among the drooping boughs.  Watching his
face, her eyes went hard.  She saw the scales were fallen from him,
and at last he was going to see her as she was.  It was the thing
she had most dreaded in the past, and most needed, for her soul's
sake.  Now he was going to see her as she was.  He would not love
her, and he would know he never could have loved her.  The old
illusion gone, they were strangers, crude and entire.  But he would
give her her due--she would have her due from him.

She was brilliant as he had not known her.  She showed him nests: a
jenny wren's in a low bush.

"See this jinty's!" she exclaimed.

He was surprised to hear her use the local name.  She reached
carefully through the thorns, and put her fingers in the nest's
round door.

"Five!" she said.  "Tiny little things."

She showed him nests of robins, and chaffinches, and linnets, and
buntings; of a wagtail beside the water.

"And if we go down, nearer the lake, I will show you a kingfisher's
. . ."

"Among the young fir trees," she said, "there's a throstle's or a
blackie's on nearly every bough, every ledge.  The first day, when
I had seen them all, I felt as if I mustn't go in the wood.  It
seemed a city of birds: and in the morning, hearing them all, I
thought of the noisy early markets.  I was afraid to go in my own
wood."

She was using the language they had both of them invented.  Now it
was all her own.  He had done with it.  She did not mind his
silence, but was always dominant, letting him see her wood.  As
they came along a marshy path where forget-me-nots were opening in
a rich blue drift:  "We know all the birds, but there are many
flowers we can't find out," she said.  It was half an appeal to
him, who had known the names of things.

She looked dreamily across to the open fields that slept in the
sun.

"I have a lover as well, you know," she said, with assurance, yet
dropping again almost into the intimate tone.

This woke in him the spirit to fight her.

"I think I met him.  He is good-looking--also in Arcady."

Without answering, she turned into a dark path that led up-hill,
where the trees and undergrowth were very thick.

"They did well," she said at length, "to have various altars to
various gods, in old days."

"Ah yes!" he agreed.  "To whom is the new one?"

"There are no old ones," she said.  "I was always looking for
this."

"And whose is it?" he asked.

"I don't know," she said, looking full at him.

"I'm very glad, for your sake," he said, "that you are satisfied."

"Aye--but the man doesn't matter so much," she said.  There was a
pause.

"No!" he exclaimed, astonished, yet recognizing her as her real
self.

"It is one's self that matters," she said.  "Whether one is being
one's own self and serving one's own God."

There was silence, during which he pondered.  The path was almost
flowerless, gloomy.  At the side, his heels sank into soft clay.


III


"I," she said, very slowly, "I was married the same night as you."

He looked at her.

"Not legally, of course," she replied.  "But--actually."

"To the keeper?" he said, not knowing what else to say.

She turned to him.

"You thought I could not?" she said.  But the flush was deep in her
cheek and throat, for all her assurance.

Still he would not say anything.

"You see"--she was making an effort to explain--"_I_ had to
understand also."

"And what does it amount to, this UNDERSTANDING?" he asked.

"A very great deal--does it not to you?" she replied.  "One is
free."

"And you are not disappointed?"

"Far from it!"  Her tone was deep and sincere.

"You love him?"

"Yes, I love him."

"Good!" he said.

This silenced her for a while.

"Here, among his things, I love him," she said.

His conceit would not let him be silent.

"It needs this setting?" he asked.

"It does," she cried.  "You were always making me to be not
myself."

He laughed shortly.

"But is it a matter of surroundings?" he said.  He had considered
her all spirit.

"I am like a plant," she replied.  "I can only grow in my own
soil."

They came to a place where the undergrowth shrank away, leaving a
bare, brown space, pillared with the brick-red and purplish trunks
of pine trees.  On the fringe, hung the sombre green of elder
trees, with flat flowers in bud, and below were bright, unfurling
pennons of fern.  In the midst of the bare space stood a keeper's
log hut.  Pheasant-coops were lying about, some occupied by a
clucking hen, some empty.

Hilda walked over the brown pine-needles to the hut, took a key
from among the eaves, and opened the door.  It was a bare wooden
place with a carpenter's bench and form, carpenter's tools, an axe,
snares, straps, some skins pegged down, everything in order.  Hilda
closed the door.  Syson examined the weird flat coats of wild
animals, that were pegged down to be cured.  She turned some knotch
in the side wall, and disclosed a second, small apartment.

"How romantic!" said Syson.

"Yes.  He is very curious--he has some of a wild animal's cunning--
in a nice sense--and he is inventive, and thoughtful--but not
beyond a certain point."

She pulled back a dark green curtain.  The apartment was occupied
almost entirely by a large couch of heather and bracken, on which
was spread an ample rabbit-skin rug.  On the floor were patchwork
rugs of cat-skin, and a red calf-skin, while hanging from the wall
were other furs.  Hilda took down one, which she put on.  It was a
cloak of rabbit-skin and of white fur, with a hood, apparently of
the skins of stoats.  She laughed at Syson from out of this
barbaric mantle, saying:

"What do you think of it?"

"Ah--!  I congratulate you on your man," he replied.

"And look!" she said.

In a little jar on a shelf were some sprays, frail and white, of
the first honeysuckle.

"They will scent the place at night," she said.

He looked round curiously.

"Where does he come short, then?" he asked.  She gazed at him for a
few moments.  Then, turning aside:

"The stars aren't the same with him," she said.  "You could make
them flash and quiver, and the forget-me-nots come up at me like
phosphorescence.  You could make things WONDERFUL.  I have found it
out--it is true.  But I have them all for myself, now."

He laughed, saying:

"After all, stars and forget-me-nots are only luxuries.  You ought
to make poetry."

"Aye," she assented.  "But I have them all now."

Again he laughed bitterly at her.

She turned swiftly.  He was leaning against the small window of the
tiny, obscure room, and was watching her, who stood in the doorway,
still cloaked in her mantle.  His cap was removed, so she saw his
face and head distinctly in the dim room.  His black, straight,
glossy hair was brushed clean back from his brow.  His black eyes
were watching her, and his face, that was clear and cream, and
perfectly smooth, was flickering.

"We are very different," she said bitterly.

Again he laughed.

"I see you disapprove of me," he said.

"I disapprove of what you have become," she said.

"You think we might"--he glanced at the hut--"have been like this--
you and I?"

She shook her head.

"You! no; never!  You plucked a thing and looked at it till you had
found out all you wanted to know about it, then you threw it away,"
she said.

"Did I?" he asked.  "And could your way never have been my way?  I
suppose not."

"Why should it?" she said.  "I am a separate being."

"But surely two people sometimes go the same way," he said.

"You took me away from myself," she said.

He knew he had mistaken her, had taken her for something she was
not.  That was his fault, not hers.

"And did you always know?" he asked.

"No--you never let me know.  You bullied me.  I couldn't help
myself.  I was glad when you left me, really."

"I know you were," he said.  But his face went paler, almost
deathly luminous.

"Yet," he said, "it was you who sent me the way I have gone."

"I!" she exclaimed, in pride.

"You WOULD have me take the Grammar School scholarship--and you
would have me foster poor little Botell's fervent attachment to me,
till he couldn't live without me--and because Botell was rich and
influential.  You triumphed in the wine-merchant's offer to send me
to Cambridge, to befriend his only child.  You wanted me to rise in
the world.  And all the time you were sending me away from you--
every new success of mine put a separation between us, and more for
you than for me.  You never wanted to come with me: you wanted just
to send me to see what it was like.  I believe you even wanted me
to marry a lady.  You wanted to triumph over society in me."

"And I am responsible," she said, with sarcasm.

"I distinguished myself to satisfy you," he replied.

"Ah!" she cried, "you always wanted change, change, like a child."

"Very well!  And I am a success, and I know it, and I do some good
work.  But--I thought you were different.  What right have you to a
man?"

"What do you want?" she said, looking at him with wide, fearful
eyes.

He looked back at her, his eyes pointed, like weapons.

"Why, nothing," he laughed shortly.

There was a rattling at the outer latch, and the keeper entered.
The woman glanced round, but remained standing, fur-cloaked, in the
inner doorway.  Syson did not move.

The other man entered, saw, and turned away without speaking.  The
two also were silent.

Pilbeam attended to his skins.

"I must go," said Syson.

"Yes," she replied.

"Then I give you 'To our vast and varying fortunes.'"  He lifted
his hand in pledge.

"'To our vast and varying fortunes,'" she answered gravely, and
speaking in cold tones.

"Arthur!" she said.

The keeper pretended not to hear.  Syson, watching keenly, began to
smile.  The woman drew herself up.

"Arthur!" she said again, with a curious upward inflection, which
warned the two men that her soul was trembling on a dangerous
crisis.

The keeper slowly put down his tool and came to her.

"Yes," he said.

"I wanted to introduce you," she said, trembling.

"I've met him a'ready," said the keeper.

"Have you?  It is Addy, Mr Syson, whom you know about.--This is
Arthur, Mr Pilbeam," she added, turning to Syson.  The latter held
out his hand to the keeper, and they shook hands in silence.

"I'm glad to have met you," said Syson.  "We drop our correspondence,
Hilda?"

"Why need we?" she asked.

The two men stood at a loss.

"IS there no need?" said Syson.

Still she was silent.

"It is as you will," she said.

They went all three together down the gloomy path.

"'Qu'il était bleu, le ciel, et grand l'espoir,'" quoted Syson, not
knowing what to say.

"What do you mean?" she said.  "Besides, WE can't walk in OUR wild
oats--we never sowed any."

Syson looked at her.  He was startled to see his young love, his
nun, his Botticelli angel, so revealed.  It was he who had been the
fool.  He and she were more separate than any two strangers could
be.  She only wanted to keep up a correspondence with him--and he,
of course, wanted it kept up, so that he could write to her, like
Dante to some Beatrice who had never existed save in the man's own
brain.

At the bottom of the path she left him.  He went along with the
keeper, towards the open, towards the gate that closed on the wood.
The two men walked almost like friends.  They did not broach the
subject of their thoughts.



Instead of going straight to the high-road gate, Syson went along
the wood's edge, where the brook spread out in a little bog, and
under the alder trees, among the reeds, great yellow stools and
bosses of marigolds shone.  Threads of brown water trickled by,
touched with gold from the flowers.  Suddenly there was a blue
flash in the air, as a kingfisher passed.

Syson was extraordinarily moved.  He climbed the bank to the gorse
bushes, whose sparks of blossom had not yet gathered into a flame.
Lying on the dry brown turf, he discovered sprigs of tiny purple
milkwort and pink spots of lousewort.  What a wonderful world it
was--marvellous, for ever new.  He felt as if it were underground,
like the fields of monotone hell, notwithstanding.  Inside his
breast was a pain like a wound.  He remembered the poem of William
Morris, where in the Chapel of Lyonesse a knight lay wounded, with
the truncheon of a spear deep in his breast, lying always as dead,
yet did not die, while day after day the coloured sunlight dipped
from the painted window across the chancel, and passed away.  He
knew now it never had been true, that which was between him and
her, not for a moment.  The truth had stood apart all the time.

Syson turned over.  The air was full of the sound of larks, as if
the sunshine above were condensing and falling in a shower.  Amid
this bright sound, voices sounded small and distinct.

"But if he's married, an' quite willing to drop it off, what has
ter against it?" said the man's voice.

"I don't want to talk about it now.  I want to be alone."

Syson looked through the bushes.  Hilda was standing in the wood,
near the gate.  The man was in the field, loitering by the hedge,
and playing with the bees as they settled on the white bramble
flowers.

There was silence for a while, in which Syson imagined her will
among the brightness of the larks.  Suddenly the keeper exclaimed
"Ah!" and swore.  He was gripping at the sleeve of his coat, near
the shoulder.  Then he pulled off his jacket, threw it on the
ground, and absorbedly rolled up his shirt sleeve right to the
shoulder.

"Ah!" he said vindictively, as he picked out the bee and flung it
away.  He twisted his fine, bright arm, peering awkwardly over his
shoulder.

"What is it?" asked Hilda.

"A bee--crawled up my sleeve," he answered.

"Come here to me," she said.

The keeper went to her, like a sulky boy.  She took his arm in her
hands.

"Here it is--and the sting left in--poor bee!"

She picked out the sting, put her mouth to his arm, and sucked away
the drop of poison.  As she looked at the red mark her mouth had
made, and at his arm, she said, laughing:

"That is the reddest kiss you will ever have."

When Syson next looked up, at the sound of voices, he saw in the
shadow the keeper with his mouth on the throat of his beloved,
whose head was thrown back, and whose hair had fallen, so that one
rough rope of dark brown hair hung across his bare arm.

"No," the woman answered.  "I am not upset because he's gone.  You
won't understand . . ."

Syson could not distinguish what the man said.  Hilda replied,
clear and distinct:

"You know I love you.  He has gone quite out of my life--don't
trouble about him . . ."  He kissed her, murmuring.  She laughed
hollowly.

"Yes," she said, indulgent.  "We will be married, we will be
married.  But not just yet."  He spoke to her again.  Syson heard
nothing for a time.  Then she said:

"You must go home, now, dear--you will get no sleep."

Again was heard the murmur of the keeper's voice, troubled by fear
and passion.

"But why should we be married at once?" she said.  "What more would
you have, by being married?  It is most beautiful as it is."

At last he pulled on his coat and departed.  She stood at the gate,
not watching him, but looking over the sunny country.

When at last she had gone, Syson also departed, going back to town.




SECOND BEST


"Oh, I'm tired!" Frances exclaimed petulantly, and in the same
instant she dropped down on the turf, near the hedge-bottom.  Anne
stood a moment surprised, then, accustomed to the vagaries of her
beloved Frances, said:

"Well, and aren't you always likely to be tired, after travelling
that blessed long way from Liverpool yesterday?" and she plumped
down beside her sister.  Anne was a wise young body of fourteen,
very buxom, brimming with common sense.  Frances was much older,
about twenty-three, and whimsical, spasmodic.  She was the beauty
and the clever child of the family.  She plucked the goose-grass
buttons from her dress in a nervous, desperate fashion.  Her
beautiful profile, looped above with black hair, warm with the
dusky-and-scarlet complexion of a pear, was calm as a mask, her
thin brown hand plucked nervously.

"It's not the journey," she said, objecting to Anne's obtuseness.
Anne looked inquiringly at her darling.  The young girl, in her
self-confident, practical way, proceeded to reckon up this
whimsical creature.  But suddenly she found herself full in the
eyes of Frances; felt two dark, hectic eyes flaring challenge at
her, and she shrank away.  Frances was peculiar for these great,
exposed looks, which disconcerted people by their violence and
their suddenness.

"What's a matter, poor old duck?" asked Anne, as she folded the
slight, wilful form of her sister in her arms.  Frances laughed
shakily, and nestled down for comfort on the budding breasts of the
strong girl.

"Oh, I'm only a bit tired," she murmured, on the point of tears.

"Well, of course you are, what do you expect?" soothed Anne.  It
was a joke to Frances that Anne should play elder, almost mother to
her.  But then, Anne was in her unvexed teens; men were like big
dogs to her: while Frances, at twenty-three, suffered a good deal.

The country was intensely morning-still.  On the common everything
shone beside its shadow, and the hillside gave off heat in silence.
The brown turf seemed in a low state of combustion, the leaves of
the oaks were scorched brown.  Among the blackish foliage in the
distance shone the small red and orange of the village.

The willows in the brook-course at the foot of the common suddenly
shook with a dazzling effect like diamonds.  It was a puff of wind.
Anne resumed her normal position.  She spread her knees, and put in
her lap a handful of hazel nuts, whity-green leafy things, whose
one cheek was tanned between brown and pink.  These she began to
crack and eat.  Frances, with bowed head, mused bitterly.

"Eh, you know Tom Smedley?" began the young girl, as she pulled a
tight kernel out of its shell.

"I suppose so," replied Frances sarcastically.

"Well, he gave me a wild rabbit what he'd caught, to keep with my
tame one--and it's living."

"That's a good thing," said Frances, very detached and ironic.

"Well, it IS!  He reckoned he'd take me to Ollerton Feast, but he
never did.  Look here, he took a servant from the rectory; I saw
him."

"So he ought," said Frances.

"No, he oughtn't! and I told him so.  And I told him I should tell
you--an' I have done."

Click and snap went a nut between her teeth.  She sorted out the
kernel, and chewed complacently.

"It doesn't make much difference," said Frances.

"Well, 'appen it doesn't; but I was mad with him all the same."

"Why?"

"Because I was; he's no right to go with a servant."

"He's a perfect right," persisted Frances, very just and cold.

"No, he hasn't, when he'd said he'd take me."

Frances burst into a laugh of amusement and relief.

"Oh, no; I'd forgot that," she said, adding, "And what did he say
when you promised to tell me?"

"He laughed and said, 'he won't fret her fat over that.'"

"And she won't," sniffed Frances.

There was silence.  The common, with its sere, blonde-headed
thistles, its heaps of silent bramble, its brown-husked gorse in
the glare of sunshine, seemed visionary.  Across the brook began
the immense pattern of agriculture, white chequering of barley
stubble, brown squares of wheat, khaki patches of pasture, red
stripes of fallow, with the woodland and the tiny village dark like
ornaments, leading away to the distance, right to the hills, where
the check-pattern grew smaller and smaller, till, in the blackish
haze of heat, far off, only the tiny white squares of barley
stubble showed distinct.

"Eh, I say, here's a rabbit hole!" cried Anne suddenly.  "Should we
watch if one comes out?  You won't have to fidget, you know."

The two girls sat perfectly still.  Frances watched certain objects
in her surroundings: they had a peculiar, unfriendly look about
them: the weight of greenish elderberries on their purpling stalks;
the twinkling of the yellowing crab-apples that clustered high up
in the hedge, against the sky: the exhausted, limp leaves of the
primroses lying flat in the hedge-bottom: all looked strange to
her.  Then her eyes caught a movement.  A mole was moving silently
over the warm, red soil, nosing, shuffling hither and thither,
flat, and dark as a shadow, shifting about, and as suddenly brisk,
and as silent, like a very ghost of joie de vivre.  Frances
started, from habit was about to call on Anne to kill the little
pest.  But, to-day, her lethargy of unhappiness was too much for
her.  She watched the little brute paddling, snuffing, touching
things to discover them, running in blindness, delighted to ecstasy
by the sunlight and the hot, strange things that caressed its belly
and its nose.  She felt a keen pity for the little creature.

"Eh, our Fran, look there!  It's a mole."

Anne was on her feet, standing watching the dark, unconscious
beast.  Frances frowned with anxiety.

"It doesn't run off, does it?" said the young girl softly.  Then
she stealthily approached the creature.  The mole paddled
fumblingly away.  In an instant Anne put her foot upon it, not too
heavily.  Frances could see the struggling, swimming movement of
the little pink hands of the brute, the twisting and twitching of
its pointed nose, as it wrestled under the sole of the boot.

"It DOES wriggle!" said the bonny girl, knitting her brows in a
frown at the eerie sensation.  Then she bent down to look at her
trap.  Frances could now see, beyond the edge of the boot-sole, the
heaving of the velvet shoulders, the pitiful turning of the
sightless face, the frantic rowing of the flat, pink hands.

"Kill the thing," she said, turning away her face.

"Oh--I'm not," laughed Anne, shrinking.  "You can, if you like."

"I DON'T like," said Frances, with quiet intensity.

After several dabbling attempts, Anne succeeded in picking up the
little animal by the scruff of its neck.  It threw back its head,
flung its long blind snout from side to side, the mouth open in a
peculiar oblong, with tiny pinkish teeth at the edge.  The blind,
frantic mouth gaped and writhed.  The body, heavy and clumsy, hung
scarcely moving.

"Isn't it a snappy little thing," observed Anne twisting to avoid
the teeth.

"What are you going to do with it?" asked Frances sharply.

"It's got to be killed--look at the damage they do.  I s'll take it
home and let dadda or somebody kill it.  I'm not going to let it
go."

She swaddled the creature clumsily in her pocket-handkerchief and
sat down beside her sister.  There was an interval of silence,
during which Anne combated the efforts of the mole.

"You've not had much to say about Jimmy this time.  Did you see him
often in Liverpool?" Anne asked suddenly.

"Once or twice," replied Frances, giving no sign of how the
question troubled her.

"And aren't you sweet on him any more, then?"

"I should think I'm not, seeing that he's engaged."

"Engaged?  Jimmy Barrass!  Well, of all things!  I never thought
HE'D get engaged."

"Why not, he's as much right as anybody else?" snapped Frances.

Anne was fumbling with the mole.

"'Appen so," she said at length; "but I never thought Jimmy would,
though."

"Why not?" snapped Frances.

"_I_ don't know--this blessed mole, it'll not keep still!--who's he
got engaged to?"

"How should I know?"

"I thought you'd ask him; you've known him long enough.  I s'd
think he thought he'd get engaged now he's a Doctor of Chemistry."

Frances laughed in spite of herself.

"What's that got to do with it?" she asked.

"I'm sure it's got a lot.  He'll want to feel SOMEBODY now, so he's
got engaged.  Hey, stop it; go in!"

But at this juncture the mole almost succeeded in wriggling clear.
It wrestled and twisted frantically, waved its pointed blind head,
its mouth standing open like a little shaft, its big, wrinkled
hands spread out.

"Go in with you!" urged Anne, poking the little creature with her
forefinger, trying to get it back into the handkerchief.  Suddenly
the mouth turned like a spark on her finger.

"Oh!" she cried, "he's bit me."

She dropped him to the floor.  Dazed, the blind creature fumbled
round.  Frances felt like shrieking.  She expected him to dart away
in a flash, like a mouse, and there he remained groping; she wanted
to cry to him to be gone.  Anne, in a sudden decision of wrath,
caught up her sister's walking-cane.  With one blow the mole was
dead.  Frances was startled and shocked.  One moment the little
wretch was fussing in the heat, and the next it lay like a little
bag, inert and black--not a struggle, scarce a quiver.

"It is dead!" Frances said breathlessly.  Anne took her finger from
her mouth, looked at the tiny pinpricks, and said:

"Yes, he is, and I'm glad.  They're vicious little nuisances, moles
are."

With which her wrath vanished.  She picked up the dead animal.

"Hasn't it got a beautiful skin," she mused, stroking the fur with
her forefinger, then with her cheek.

"Mind," said Frances sharply.  "You'll have the blood on your
skirt!"

One ruby drop of blood hung on the small snout, ready to fall.
Anne shook it off on to some harebells.  Frances suddenly became
calm; in that moment, grown-up.

"I suppose they have to be killed," she said, and a certain rather
dreary indifference succeeded to her grief.  The twinkling crab-
apples, the glitter of brilliant willows now seemed to her
trifling, scarcely worth the notice.  Something had died in her, so
that things lost their poignancy.  She was calm, indifference
overlying her quiet sadness.  Rising, she walked down to the brook
course.

"Here, wait for me," cried Anne, coming tumbling after.

Frances stood on the bridge, looking at the red mud trodden into
pockets by the feet of cattle.  There was not a drain of water
left, but everything smelled green, succulent.  Why did she care so
little for Anne, who was so fond of her? she asked herself.  Why
did she care so little for anyone?  She did not know, but she felt
a rather stubborn pride in her isolation and indifference.

They entered a field where stooks of barley stood in rows, the
straight, blonde tresses of the corn streaming on to the ground.
The stubble was bleached by the intense summer, so that the expanse
glared white.  The next field was sweet and soft with a second crop
of seeds; thin, straggling clover whose little pink knobs rested
prettily in the dark green.  The scent was faint and sickly.  The
girls came up in single file, Frances leading.

Near the gate a young man was mowing with the scythe some fodder
for the afternoon feed of the cattle.  As he saw the girls he left
off working and waited in an aimless kind of way.  Frances was
dressed in white muslin, and she walked with dignity, detached and
forgetful.  Her lack of agitation, her simple, unheeding advance
made him nervous.  She had loved the far-off Jimmy for five years,
having had in return his half-measures.  This man only affected her
slightly.

Tom was of medium stature, energetic in build.  His smooth, fair-
skinned face was burned red, not brown, by the sun, and this
ruddiness enhanced his appearance of good humour and easiness.
Being a year older than Frances, he would have courted her long ago
had she been so inclined.  As it was, he had gone his uneventful
way amiably, chatting with many a girl, but remaining unattached,
free of trouble for the most part.  Only he knew he wanted a woman.
He hitched his trousers just a trifle self-consciously as the girls
approached.  Frances was a rare, delicate kind of being, whom he
realized with a queer and delicious stimulation in his veins.  She
gave him a slight sense of suffocation.  Somehow, this morning, she
affected him more than usual.  She was dressed in white.  He,
however, being matter-of-fact in his mind, did not realize.  His
feeling had never become conscious, purposive.

Frances knew what she was about.  Tom was ready to love her as soon
as she would show him.  Now that she could not have Jimmy, she did
not poignantly care.  Still, she would have something.  If she
could not have the best--Jimmy, whom she knew to be something of a
snob--she would have the second best, Tom.  She advanced rather
indifferently.

"You are back, then!" said Tom.  She marked the touch of uncertainty
in his voice.

"No," she laughed, "I'm still in Liverpool," and the undertone of
intimacy made him burn.

"This isn't you, then?" he asked.

Her heart leapt up in approval.  She looked in his eyes, and for a
second was with him.

"Why, what do you think?" she laughed.

He lifted his hat from his head with a distracted little gesture.
She liked him, his quaint ways, his humour, his ignorance, and his
slow masculinity.

"Here, look here, Tom Smedley," broke in Anne.

"A moudiwarp!  Did you find it dead?" he asked.

"No, it bit me," said Anne.

"Oh, aye!  An' that got your rag out, did it?"

"No, it didn't!" Anne scolded sharply.  "Such language!"

"Oh, what's up wi' it?"

"I can't bear you to talk broad."

"Can't you?"

He glanced at Frances.

"It isn't nice," Frances said.  She did not care, really.  The
vulgar speech jarred on her as a rule; Jimmy was a gentleman.  But
Tom's manner of speech did not matter to her.

"I like you to talk NICELY," she added.

"Do you," he replied, tilting his hat, stirred.

"And generally you DO, you know," she smiled.

"I s'll have to have a try," he said, rather tensely gallant.

"What?" she asked brightly.

"To talk nice to you," he said.  Frances coloured furiously, bent
her head for a moment, then laughed gaily, as if she liked this
clumsy hint.

"Eh now, you mind what you're saying," cried Anne, giving the young
man an admonitory pat.

"You wouldn't have to give yon mole many knocks like that," he
teased, relieved to get on safe ground, rubbing his arm.

"No indeed, it died in one blow," said Frances, with a flippancy
that was hateful to her.

"You're not so good at knockin' 'em?" he said, turning to her.

"I don't know, if I'm cross," she said decisively.

"No?" he replied, with alert attentiveness.

"I could," she added, harder, "if it was necessary."

He was slow to feel her difference.

"And don't you consider it IS necessary?" he asked, with misgiving.

"W--ell--is it?" she said, looking at him steadily, coldly.

"I reckon it is," he replied, looking away, but standing stubborn.

She laughed quickly.

"But it isn't necessary for ME," she said, with slight contempt.

"Yes, that's quite true," he answered.

She laughed in a shaky fashion.

"I KNOW IT IS," she said; and there was an awkward pause.

"Why, would you LIKE me to kill moles then?" she asked tentatively,
after a while.

"They do us a lot of damage," he said, standing firm on his own
ground, angered.

"Well, I'll see the next time I come across one," she promised,
defiantly.  Their eyes met, and she sank before him, her pride
troubled.  He felt uneasy and triumphant and baffled, as if fate
had gripped him.  She smiled as she departed.

"Well," said Anne, as the sisters went through the wheat stubble;
"I don't know what you two's been jawing about, I'm sure."

"Don't you?" laughed Frances significantly.

"No, I don't.  But, at any rate, Tom Smedley's a good deal better
to my thinking than Jimmy, so there--and nicer."

"Perhaps he is," said Frances coldly.

And the next day, after a secret, persistent hunt, she found
another mole playing in the heat.  She killed it, and in the
evening, when Tom came to the gate to smoke his pipe after supper,
she took him the dead creature.

"Here you are then!" she said.

"Did you catch it?" he replied, taking the velvet corpse into his
fingers and examining it minutely.  This was to hide his
trepidation.

"Did you think I couldn't?" she asked, her face very near his.

"Nay, I didn't know."

She laughed in his face, a strange little laugh that caught her
breath, all agitation, and tears, and recklessness of desire.  He
looked frightened and upset.  She put her hand to his arm.

"Shall you go out wi' me?" he asked, in a difficult, troubled tone.

She turned her face away, with a shaky laugh.  The blood came up in
him, strong, overmastering.  He resisted it.  But it drove him
down, and he was carried away.  Seeing the winsome, frail nape of
her neck, fierce love came upon him for her, and tenderness.

"We s'll 'ave to tell your mother," he said.  And he stood,
suffering, resisting his passion for her.

"Yes," she replied, in a dead voice.  But there was a thrill of
pleasure in this death.




THE SHADOW IN THE ROSE GARDEN


A rather small young man sat by the window of a pretty seaside
cottage trying to persuade himself that he was reading the
newspaper.  It was about half-past eight in the morning.  Outside,
the glory roses hung in the morning sunshine like little bowls of
fire tipped up.  The young man looked at the table, then at the
clock, then at his own big silver watch.  An expression of stiff
endurance came on to his face.  Then he rose and reflected on the
oil-paintings that hung on the walls of the room, giving careful
but hostile attention to "The Stag at Bay".  He tried the lid of
the piano, and found it locked.  He caught sight of his own face in
a little mirror, pulled his brown moustache, and an alert interest
sprang into his eyes.  He was not ill-favoured.  He twisted his
moustache.  His figure was rather small, but alert and vigorous.
As he turned from the mirror a look of self-commiseration mingled
with his appreciation of his own physiognomy.

In a state of self-suppression, he went through into the garden.
His jacket, however, did not look dejected.  It was new, and had a
smart and self-confident air, sitting upon a confident body.  He
contemplated the Tree of Heaven that flourished by the lawn, then
sauntered on to the next plant.  There was more promise in a
crooked apple tree covered with brown-red fruit.  Glancing round,
he broke off an apple and, with his back to the house, took a
clean, sharp bite.  To his surprise the fruit was sweet.  He took
another.  Then again he turned to survey the bedroom windows
overlooking the garden.  He started, seeing a woman's figure; but
it was only his wife.  She was gazing across to the sea, apparently
ignorant of him.

For a moment or two he looked at her, watching her.  She was a
good-looking woman, who seemed older than he, rather pale, but
healthy, her face yearning.  Her rich auburn hair was heaped in
folds on her forehead.  She looked apart from him and his world,
gazing away to the sea.  It irked her husband that she should
continue abstracted and in ignorance of him; he pulled poppy fruits
and threw them at the window.  She started, glanced at him with a
wild smile, and looked away again.  Then almost immediately she
left the window.  He went indoors to meet her.  She had a fine
carriage, very proud, and wore a dress of soft white muslin.

"I've been waiting long enough," he said.

"For me or for breakfast?" she said lightly.  "You know we said
nine o'clock.  I should have thought you could have slept after the
journey."

"You know I'm always up at five, and I couldn't stop in bed after
six.  You might as well be in pit as in bed, on a morning like
this."

"I shouldn't have thought the pit would occur to you, here."

She moved about examining the room, looking at the ornaments under
glass covers.  He, planted on the hearthrug, watched her rather
uneasily, and grudgingly indulgent.  She shrugged her shoulders at
the apartment.

"Come," she said, taking his arm, "let us go into the garden till
Mrs Coates brings the tray."

"I hope she'll be quick," he said, pulling his moustache.  She gave
a short laugh, and leaned on his arm as they went.  He had lighted
a pipe.

Mrs Coates entered the room as they went down the steps.  The
delightful, erect old lady hastened to the window for a good view
of her visitors.  Her china-blue eyes were bright as she watched
the young couple go down the path, he walking in an easy, confident
fashion, with his wife, on his arm.  The landlady began talking to
herself in a soft, Yorkshire accent.

"Just of a height they are.  She wouldn't ha' married a man less
than herself in stature, I think, though he's not her equal
otherwise."  Here her granddaughter came in, setting a tray on the
table.  The girl went to the old woman's side.

"He's been eating the apples, gran'," she said.

"Has he, my pet?  Well, if he's happy, why not?"

Outside, the young, well-favoured man listened with impatience to
the chink of the teacups.  At last, with a sigh of relief, the
couple came in to breakfast.  After he had eaten for some time, he
rested a moment and said:

"Do you think it's any better place than Bridlington?"

"I do," she said, "infinitely!  Besides, I am at home here--it's
not like a strange sea-side place to me."

"How long were you here?"

"Two years."

He ate reflectively.

"I should ha' thought you'd rather go to a fresh place," he said at
length.

She sat very silent, and then, delicately, put out a feeler.

"Why?" she said.  "Do you think I shan't enjoy myself?"

He laughed comfortably, putting the marmalade thick on his bread.

"I hope so," he said.

She again took no notice of him.

"But don't say anything about it in the village, Frank," she said
casually.  "Don't say who I am, or that I used to live here.
There's nobody I want to meet, particularly, and we should never
feel free if they knew me again."

"Why did you come, then?"

"'Why?'  Can't you understand why?"

"Not if you don't want to know anybody."

"I came to see the place, not the people."

He did not say any more.

"Women," she said, "are different from men.  I don't know why I
wanted to come--but I did."

She helped him to another cup of coffee, solicitously.

"Only," she resumed, "don't talk about me in the village."  She
laughed shakily.  "I don't want my past brought up against me, you
know."  And she moved the crumbs on the cloth with her finger-tip.

He looked at her as he drank his coffee; he sucked his moustache,
and putting down his cup, said phlegmatically:

"I'll bet you've had a lot of past."

She looked with a little guiltiness, that flattered him, down at
the tablecloth.

"Well," she said, caressive, "you won't give me away, who I am,
will you?"

"No," he said, comforting, laughing, "I won't give you away."

He was pleased.

She remained silent.  After a moment or two she lifted her head,
saying:

"I've got to arrange with Mrs Coates, and do various things.  So
you'd better go out by yourself this morning--and we'll be in to
dinner at one."

"But you can't be arranging with Mrs Coates all morning," he said.

"Oh, well--then I've some letters to write, and I must get that
mark out of my skirt.  I've got plenty of little things to do this
morning.  You'd better go out by yourself."

He perceived that she wanted to be rid of him, so that when she
went upstairs, he took his hat and lounged out on to the cliffs,
suppressedly angry.

Presently she too came out.  She wore a hat with roses, and a long
lace scarf hung over her white dress.  Rather nervously, she put up
her sunshade, and her face was half-hidden in its coloured shadow.
She went along the narrow track of flag-stones that were worn
hollow by the feet of the fishermen.  She seemed to be avoiding her
surroundings, as if she remained safe in the little obscurity of
her parasol.

She passed the church, and went down the lane till she came to a
high wall by the wayside.  Under this she went slowly, stopping at
length by an open doorway, which shone like a picture of light in
the dark wall.  There in the magic beyond the doorway, patterns of
shadow lay on the sunny court, on the blue and white sea-pebbles of
its paving, while a green lawn glowed beyond, where a bay tree
glittered at the edges.  She tiptoed nervously into the courtyard,
glancing at the house that stood in shadow.  The uncurtained
windows looked black and soulless, the kitchen door stood open.
Irresolutely she took a step forward, and again forward, leaning,
yearning, towards the garden beyond.

She had almost gained the corner of the house when a heavy step
came crunching through the trees.  A gardener appeared before her.
He held a wicker tray on which were rolling great, dark red
gooseberries, overripe.  He moved slowly.

"The garden isn't open today," he said quietly to the attractive
woman, who was poised for retreat.

For a moment she was silent with surprise.  How should it be public
at all?

"When is it open?" she asked, quick-witted.

"The rector lets visitors in on Fridays and Tuesdays."

She stood still, reflecting.  How strange to think of the rector
opening his garden to the public!

"But everybody will be at church," she said coaxingly to the man.
"There'll be nobody here, will there?"

He moved, and the big gooseberries rolled.

"The rector lives at the new rectory," he said.

The two stood still.  He did not like to ask her to go.  At last
she turned to him with a winning smile.

"Might I have ONE peep at the roses?" she coaxed, with pretty
wilfulness.

"I don't suppose it would matter," he said, moving aside: "you
won't stop long--"

She went forward, forgetting the gardener in a moment.  Her face
became strained, her movements eager.  Glancing round, she saw all
the windows giving on to the lawn were curtainless and dark.  The
house had a sterile appearance, as if it were still used, but not
inhabited.  A shadow seemed to go over her.  She went across the
lawn towards the garden, through an arch of crimson ramblers, a
gate of colour.  There beyond lay the soft blue sea with the bay,
misty with morning, and the farthest headland of black rock jutting
dimly out between blue and blue of the sky and water.  Her face
began to shine, transfigured with pain and joy.  At her feet the
garden fell steeply, all a confusion of flowers, and away below was
the darkness of tree-tops covering the beck.

She turned to the garden that shone with sunny flowers around her.
She knew the little corner where was the seat beneath the yew tree.
Then there was the terrace where a great host of flowers shone, and
from this, two paths went down, one at each side of the garden.
She closed her sunshade and walked slowly among the many flowers.
All round were rose bushes, big banks of roses, then roses hanging
and tumbling from pillars, or roses balanced on the standard
bushes.  By the open earth were many other flowers.  If she lifted
her head, the sea was upraised beyond, and the Cape.

Slowly she went down one path, lingering, like one who has gone
back into the past.  Suddenly she was touching some heavy crimson
roses that were soft as velvet, touching them thoughtfully, without
knowing, as a mother sometimes fondles the hand of her child.  She
leaned slightly forward to catch the scent.  Then she wandered on
in abstraction.  Sometimes a flame-coloured, scentless rose would
hold her arrested.  She stood gazing at it as if she could not
understand it.  Again the same softness of intimacy came over her,
as she stood before a tumbling heap of pink petals.  Then she
wondered over the white rose, that was greenish, like ice, in the
centre.  So, slowly, like a white, pathetic butterfly, she drifted
down the path, coming at last to a tiny terrace all full of roses.
They seemed to fill the place, a sunny, gay throng.  She was shy of
them, they were so many and so bright.  They seemed to be
conversing and laughing.  She felt herself in a strange crowd.  It
exhilarated her, carried her out of herself.  She flushed with
excitement.  The air was pure scent.

Hastily, she went to a little seat among the white roses, and sat
down.  Her scarlet sunshade made a hard blot of colour.  She sat
quite still, feeling her own existence lapse.  She was no more than
a rose, a rose that could not quite come into blossom, but remained
tense.  A little fly dropped on her knee, on her white dress.  She
watched it, as if it had fallen on a rose.  She was not herself.

Then she started cruelly as a shadow crossed her and a figure moved
into her sight.  It was a man who had come in slippers, unheard.
He wore a linen coat.  The morning was shattered, the spell
vanished away.  She was only afraid of being questioned.  He came
forward.  She rose.  Then, seeing him, the strength went from her
and she sank on the seat again.

He was a young man, military in appearance, growing slightly stout.
His black hair was brushed smooth and bright, his moustache was
waxed.  But there was something rambling in his gait.  She looked
up, blanched to the lips, and saw his eyes.  They were black, and
stared without seeing.  They were not a man's eyes.  He was coming
towards her.

He stared at her fixedly, made unconscious salute, and sat down
beside her on the seat.  He moved on the bench, shifted his feet,
saying, in a gentlemanly, military voice:

"I don't disturb you--do I?"

She was mute and helpless.  He was scrupulously dressed in dark
clothes and a linen coat.  She could not move.  Seeing his hands,
with the ring she knew so well upon the little finger, she felt as
if she were going dazed.  The whole world was deranged.  She sat
unavailing.  For his hands, her symbols of passionate love, filled
her with horror as they rested now on his strong thighs.

"May I smoke?" he asked intimately, almost secretly, his hand going
to his pocket.

She could not answer, but it did not matter, he was in another
world.  She wondered, craving, if he recognized her--if he could
recognize her.  She sat pale with anguish.  But she had to go
through it.

"I haven't got any tobacco," he said thoughtfully.

But she paid no heed to his words, only she attended to him.  Could
he recognize her, or was it all gone?  She sat still in a frozen
kind of suspense.

"I smoke John Cotton," he said, "and I must economize with it, it
is expensive.  You know, I'm not very well off while these lawsuits
are going on."

"No," she said, and her heart was cold, her soul kept rigid.

He moved, made a loose salute, rose, and went away.  She sat
motionless.  She could see his shape, the shape she had loved, with
all her passion: his compact, soldier's head, his fine figure now
slackened.  And it was not he.  It only filled her with horror too
difficult to know.

Suddenly he came again, his hand in his jacket pocket.

"Do you mind if I smoke?" he said.  "Perhaps I shall be able to see
things more clearly."

He sat down beside her again, filling a pipe.  She watched his
hands with the fine strong fingers.  They had always inclined to
tremble slightly.  It had surprised her, long ago, in such a
healthy man.  Now they moved inaccurately, and the tobacco hung
raggedly out of the pipe.

"I have legal business to attend to.  Legal affairs are always so
uncertain.  I tell my solicitor exactly, precisely what I want, but
I can never get it done."

She sat and heard him talking.  But it was not he.  Yet those were
the hands she had kissed, there were the glistening, strange black
eyes that she had loved.  Yet it was not he.  She sat motionless
with horror and silence.  He dropped his tobacco pouch, and groped
for it on the ground.  Yet she must wait if he would recognize her.
Why could she not go!  In a moment he rose.

"I must go at once," he said.  "The owl is coming."  Then he added
confidentially:  "His name isn't really the owl, but I call him
that.  I must go and see if he has come."

She rose too.  He stood before her, uncertain.  He was a handsome,
soldierly fellow, and a lunatic.  Her eyes searched him, and
searched him, to see if he would recognize her, if she could
discover him.

"You don't know me?" she asked, from the terror of her soul,
standing alone.

He looked back at her quizzically.  She had to bear his eyes.  They
gleamed on her, but with no intelligence.  He was drawing nearer to
her.

"Yes, I do know you," he said, fixed, intent, but mad, drawing his
face nearer hers.  Her horror was too great.  The powerful lunatic
was coming too near to her.

A man approached, hastening.

"The garden isn't open this morning," he said.

The deranged man stopped and looked at him.  The keeper went to the
seat and picked up the tobacco pouch left lying there.

"Don't leave your tobacco, sir," he said, taking it to the
gentleman in the linen coat.

"I was just asking this lady to stay to lunch," the latter said
politely.  "She is a friend of mine."

The woman turned and walked swiftly, blindly, between the sunny
roses, out of the garden, past the house with the blank, dark
windows, through the sea-pebbled courtyard to the street.
Hastening and blind, she went forward without hesitating, not
knowing whither.  Directly she came to the house she went upstairs,
took off her hat, and sat down on the bed.  It was as if some
membrane had been torn in two in her, so that she was not an entity
that could think and feel.  She sat staring across at the window,
where an ivy spray waved slowly up and down in the sea wind.  There
was some of the uncanny luminousness of the sunlit sea in the air.
She sat perfectly still, without any being.  She only felt she
might be sick, and it might be blood that was loose in her torn
entrails.  She sat perfectly still and passive.

After a time she heard the hard tread of her husband on the floor
below, and, without herself changing, she registered his movement.
She heard his rather disconsolate footsteps go out again, then his
voice speaking, answering, growing cheery, and his solid tread
drawing near.

He entered, ruddy, rather pleased, an air of complacency about his
alert figure.  She moved stiffly.  He faltered in his approach.

"What's the matter?" he asked a tinge of impatience in his voice.
"Aren't you feeling well?"

This was torture to her.

"Quite," she replied.

His brown eyes became puzzled and angry.

"What is the matter?" he said.

"Nothing."

He took a few strides, and stood obstinately, looking out of the
window.

"Have you run up against anybody?" he asked.

"Nobody who knows me," she said.

His hands began to twitch.  It exasperated him, that she was no
more sensible of him than if he did not exist.  Turning on her at
length, driven, he asked:

"Something has upset you hasn't it?"

"No, why?" she said neutral.  He did not exist for her, except as
an irritant.

His anger rose, filling the veins in his throat.

"It seems like it," he said, making an effort not to show his
anger, because there seemed no reason for it.  He went away
downstairs.  She sat still on the bed, and with the residue of
feeling left to her, she disliked him because he tormented her.
The time went by.  She could smell the dinner being served, the
smoke of her husband's pipe from the garden.  But she could not
move.  She had no being.  There was a tinkle of the bell.  She
heard him come indoors.  And then he mounted the stairs again.  At
every step her heart grew tight in her.  He opened the door.

"Dinner is on the table," he said.

It was difficult for her to endure his presence, for he would
interfere with her.  She could not recover her life.  She rose
stiffly and went down.  She could neither eat nor talk during the
meal.  She sat absent, torn, without any being of her own.  He
tried to go on as if nothing were the matter.  But at last he
became silent with fury.  As soon as it was possible, she went
upstairs again, and locked the bedroom door.  She must be alone.
He went with his pipe into the garden.  All his suppressed anger
against her who held herself superior to him filled and blackened
his heart.  Though he had not know it, yet he had never really won
her, she had never loved him.  She had taken him on sufference.
This had foiled him.  He was only a labouring electrician in the
mine, she was superior to him.  He had always given way to her.
But all the while, the injury and ignominy had been working in his
soul because she did not hold him seriously.  And now all his rage
came up against her.

He turned and went indoors.  The third time, she heard him mounting
the stairs.  Her heart stood still.  He turned the catch and pushed
the door--it was locked.  He tried it again, harder.  Her heart was
standing still.

"Have you fastened the door?" he asked quietly, because of the
landlady.

"Yes.  Wait a minute."

She rose and turned the lock, afraid he would burst it.  She felt
hatred towards him, because he did not leave her free.  He entered,
his pipe between his teeth, and she returned to her old position on
the bed.  He closed the door and stood with his back to it.

"What's the matter?" he asked determinedly.

She was sick with him.  She could not look at him.

"Can't you leave me alone?" she replied, averting her face from
him.

He looked at her quickly, fully, wincing with ignominy.  Then he
seemed to consider for a moment.

"There's something up with you, isn't there?" he asked definitely.

"Yes," she said, "but that's no reason why you should torment me."

"I don't torment you.  What's the matter?"

"Why should you know?" she cried, in hate and desperation.

Something snapped.  He started and caught his pipe as it fell from
his mouth.  Then he pushed forward the bitten-off mouth-piece with
his tongue, took it from off his lips, and looked at it.  Then he
put out his pipe, and brushed the ash from his waistcoat.  After
which he raised his head.

"I want to know," he said.  His face was greyish pale, and set
uglily.

Neither looked at the other.  She knew he was fired now.  His heart
was pounding heavily.  She hated him, but she could not withstand
him.  Suddenly she lifted her head and turned on him.

"What right have you to know?" she asked.

He looked at her.  She felt a pang of surprise for his tortured
eyes and his fixed face.  But her heart hardened swiftly.  She had
never loved him.  She did not love him now.

But suddenly she lifted her head again swiftly, like a thing that
tries to get free.  She wanted to be free of it.  It was not him so
much, but it, something she had put on herself, that bound her so
horribly.  And having put the bond on herself, it was hardest to
take it off.  But now she hated everything and felt destructive.
He stood with his back to the door, fixed, as if he would oppose
her eternally, till she was extinguished.  She looked at him.  Her
eyes were cold and hostile.  His workman's hands spread on the
panels of the door behind him.

"You know I used to live here?" she began, in a hard voice, as if
wilfully to wound him.  He braced himself against her, and nodded.

"Well, I was companion to Miss Birch of Torril Hall--she and the
rector were friends, and Archie was the rector's son."  There was a
pause.  He listened without knowing what was happening.  He stared
at his wife.  She was squatted in her white dress on the bed,
carefully folding and re-folding the hem of her skirt.  Her voice
was full of hostility.

"He was an officer--a sub-lieutenant--then he quarrelled with his
colonel and came out of the army.  At any rate"--she plucked at her
skirt hem, her husband stood motionless, watching her movements
which filled his veins with madness--"he was awfully fond of me,
and I was of him--awfully."

"How old was he?" asked the husband.

"When--when I first knew him?  Or when he went away?--"

"When you first knew him."

"When I first knew him, he was twenty-six--now--he's thirty-one--
nearly thirty-two--because I'm twenty-nine, and he is nearly three
years older--"

She lifted her head and looked at the opposite wall.

"And what then?" said her husband.

She hardened herself, and said callously:

"We were as good as engaged for nearly a year, though nobody knew--
at least--they talked--but--it wasn't open.  Then he went away--"

"He chucked you?" said the husband brutally, wanting to hurt her
into contact with himself.  Her heart rose wildly with rage.  Then
"Yes", she said, to anger him.  He shifted from one foot to the
other, giving a "Ph!" of rage.  There was silence for a time.

"Then," she resumed, her pain giving a mocking note to her words,
"he suddenly went out to fight in Africa, and almost the very day I
first met you, I heard from Miss Birch he'd got sunstroke--and two
months after, that he was dead--"

"That was before you took on with me?" said the husband.

There was no answer.  Neither spoke for a time.  He had not
understood.  His eyes were contracted uglily.

"So you've been looking at your old courting places!" he said.
"That was what you wanted to go out by yourself for this morning."

Still she did not answer him anything.  He went away from the door
to the window.  He stood with his hands behind him, his back to
her.  She looked at him.  His hands seemed gross to her, the back
of his head paltry.

At length, almost against his will, he turned round, asking:

"How long were you carrying on with him?"

"What do you mean?" she replied coldly.

"I mean how long were you carrying on with him?"

She lifted her head, averting her face from him.  She refused to
answer.  Then she said:

"I don't know what you mean, by carrying on.  I loved him from the
first days I met him--two months after I went to stay with Miss
Birch."

"And do you reckon he loved you?" he jeered.

"I know he did."

"How do you know, if he'd have no more to do with you?"

There was a long silence of hate and suffering.

"And how far did it go between you?" he asked at length, in a
frightened, stiff voice.

"I hate your not-straightforward questions," she cried, beside
herself with his baiting.  "We loved each other, and we WERE
lovers--we were.  I don't care what YOU think: what have you got to
do with it?  We were lovers before ever I knew you--"

"Lovers--lovers," he said, white with fury.  "You mean you had your
fling with an army man, and then came to me to marry you when you'd
done--"

She sat swallowing her bitterness.  There was a long pause.

"Do you mean to say you used to go--the whole hogger?" he asked,
still incredulous.

"Why, what else do you think I mean?" she cried brutally.

He shrank, and became white, impersonal.  There was a long,
paralysed silence.  He seemed to have gone small.

"You never thought to tell me all this before I married you," he
said, with bitter irony, at last.

"You never asked me," she replied.

"I never thought there was any need."

"Well, then, you SHOULD think."

He stood with expressionless, almost childlike set face, revolving
many thoughts, whilst his heart was mad with anguish.

Suddenly she added:

"And I saw him today," she said.  "He is not dead, he's mad."

Her husband looked at her, startled.

"Mad!' he said involuntarily.

"A lunatic," she said.  It almost cost her her reason to utter the
word.  There was a pause.

"Did he know you?" asked the husband in a small voice.

"No," she said.

He stood and looked at her.  At last he had learned the width of
the breach between them.  She still squatted on the bed.  He could
not go near her.  It would be violation to each of them to be
brought into contact with the other.  The thing must work itself
out.  They were both shocked so much, they were impersonal, and no
longer hated each other.  After some minutes he left her and went
out.




GOOSE FAIR


I


Through the gloom of evening, and the flare of torches of the night
before the fair, through the still fogs of the succeeding dawn came
paddling the weary geese, lifting their poor feet that had been
dipped in tar for shoes, and trailing them along the cobble-stones
into the town.  Last of all, in the afternoon, a country girl drove
in her dozen birds, disconsolate because she was so late.  She was
a heavily built girl, fair, with regular features, and yet
unprepossessing.  She needed chiselling down, her contours were
brutal.  Perhaps it was weariness that hung her eyelids a little
lower than was pleasant.  When she spoke to her clumsily lagging
birds it was in a snarling nasal tone.  One of the silly things sat
down in the gutter and refused to move.  It looked very ridiculous,
but also rather pitiful, squat there with its head up, refusing to
be urged on by the ungentle toe of the girl.  The latter swore
heavily, then picked up the great complaining bird, and fronting
her road stubbornly, drove on the lamentable eleven.

No one had noticed her.  This afternoon the women were not sitting
chatting on their doorsteps, seaming up the cotton hose, or swiftly
passing through their fingers the piled white lace; and in the high
dark houses the song of the hosiery frames was hushed:  "Shackety-
boom, Shackety-shackety-boom, Z--zzz!"  As she dragged up Hollow
Stone, people returned from the fair chaffed her and asked her what
o'clock it was.  She did not reply, her look was sullen.  The Lace
Market was quiet as the Sabbath: even the great brass plates on the
doors were dull with neglect.  There seemed an afternoon atmosphere
of raw discontent.  The girl stopped a moment before the dismal
prospect of one of the great warehouses that had been gutted with
fire.  She looked at the lean, threatening walls, and watched her
white flock waddling in reckless misery below, and she would have
laughed out loud had the wall fallen flat upon them and relieved
her of them.  But the wall did not fall, so she crossed the road,
and walking on the safe side, hurried after her charge.  Her look
was even more sullen.  She remembered the state of trade--Trade,
the invidious enemy; Trade, which thrust out its hand and shut the
factory doors, and pulled the stockingers off their seats, and left
the web half-finished on the frame; Trade, which mysteriously
choked up the sources of the rivulets of wealth, and blacker and
more secret than a pestilence, starved the town.  Through this
morose atmosphere of bad trade, in the afternoon of the first day
of the fair, the girl strode down to the Poultry with eleven sound
geese and one lame one to sell.

The Frenchmen were at the bottom of it!  So everybody said, though
nobody quite knew how.  At any rate, they had gone to war with the
Prussians and got beaten, and trade was ruined in Nottingham!

A little fog rose up, and the twilight gathered around.  Then they
flared abroad their torches in the fair, insulting the night.  The
girl still sat in the Poultry, and her weary geese unsold on the
stones, illuminated by the hissing lamp of a man who sold rabbits
and pigeons and such-like assorted live-stock.


II


In another part of the town, near Sneinton Church, another girl
came to the door to look at the night.  She was tall and slender,
dressed with the severe accuracy which marks the girl of superior
culture.  Her hair was arranged with simplicity about the long,
pale, cleanly cut face.  She leaned forward very slightly to glance
down the street, listening.  She very carefully preserved the
appearance of having come quite casually to the door, yet she
lingered and lingered and stood very still to listen when she heard
a footstep, but when it proved to be only a common man, she drew
herself up proudly and looked with a small smile over his head.  He
hesitated to glance into the open hall, lighted so spaciously with
a scarlet-shaded lamp, and at the slim girl in brown silk lifted up
before the light.  But she, she looked over his head.  He passed
on.

Presently she started and hung in suspense.  Somebody was crossing
the road.  She ran down the steps in a pretty welcome, not effuse,
saying in quick, but accurately articulated words:  "Will!  I began
to think you'd gone to the fair.  I came out to listen to it.  I
felt almost sure you'd gone.  You're coming in, aren't you?"  She
waited a moment anxiously.  "We expect you to dinner, you know,"
she added wistfully.

The man, who had a short face and spoke with his lip curling up on
one side, in a drawling speech with ironically exaggerated
intonation, replied after a short hesitation:

"I'm awfully sorry, I am, straight, Lois.  It's a shame.  I've got
to go round to the biz.  Man proposes--the devil disposes."  He
turned aside with irony in the darkness.

"But surely, Will!" remonstrated the girl, keenly disappointed.

"Fact, Lois!--I feel wild about it myself.  But I've got to go down
to the works.  They may be getting a bit warm down there, you
know"--he jerked his head in the direction of the fair.  "If the
Lambs get frisky!--they're a bit off about the work, and they'd
just be in their element if they could set a lighted match to
something--"

"Will, you don't think--!" exclaimed the girl, laying her hand on
his arm in the true fashion of romance, and looking up at him
earnestly.

"Dad's not sure," he replied, looking down at her with gravity.
They remained in this attitude for a moment, then he said:

"I might stop a bit.  It's all right for an hour, I should think."

She looked at him earnestly, then said in tones of deep
disappointment and of fortitude:  "No, Will, you must go.  You'd
better go--"

"It's a shame!" he murmured, standing a moment at a loose end.
Then, glancing down the street to see he was alone, he put his arm
round her waist and said in a difficult voice:  "How goes it?"

She let him keep her for a moment, then he kissed her as if afraid
of what he was doing.  They were both uncomfortable.

"Well--!" he said at length.

"Good night!" she said, setting him free to go.

He hung a moment near her, as if ashamed.  Then "Good night," he
answered, and he broke away.  She listened to his footsteps in the
night, before composing herself to turn indoors.

"Helloa!" said her father, glancing over his paper as she entered
the dining-room.  "What's up, then?"

"Oh, nothing," she replied, in her calm tones.  "Will won't be here
to dinner tonight."

"What, gone to the fair?"

"No."

"Oh!  What's got him then?"

Lois looked at her father, and answered:

"He's gone down to the factory.  They are afraid of the hands."

Her father looked at her closely.

"Oh, aye!" he answered, undecided, and they sat down to dinner.


III


Lois returned very early.  She had a fire in her bedroom.  She drew
the curtains and stood holding aside a heavy fold, looking out at
the night.  She could see only the nothingness of the fog; not even
the glare of the fair was evident, though the noise clamoured small
in the distance.  In front of everything she could see her own
faint image.  She crossed to the dressing-table, and there leaned
her face to the mirror, and looked at herself.  She looked a long
time, then she rose, changed her dress for a dressing-jacket, and
took up Sesame and Lilies.

Late in the night she was roused from sleep by a bustle in the
house.  She sat up and heard a hurrying to and fro and the sound of
anxious voices.  She put on her dressing-gown and went out to her
mother's room.  Seeing her mother at the head of the stairs, she
said in her quick, clean voice:

"Mother, what it it?"

"Oh, child, don't ask me!  Go to bed, dear, do!  I shall surely be
worried out of my life."

"Mother, what is it?"  Lois was sharp and emphatic.

"I hope your father won't go.  Now I do hope your father won't go.
He's got a cold as it is."

"Mother, tell me what is it?"  Lois took her mother's arm.

"It's Selby's.  I should have thought you would have heard the
fire-engine, and Jack isn't in yet.  I hope we're safe!"  Lois
returned to her bedroom and dressed.  She coiled her plaited hair,
and having put on a cloak, left the house.

She hurried along under the fog-dripping trees towards the meaner
part of the town.  When she got near, she saw a glare in the fog,
and closed her lips tight.  She hastened on till she was in the
crowd.  With peaked, noble face she watched the fire.  Then she
looked a little wildly over the fire-reddened faces in the crowd,
and catching sight of her father, hurried to him.

"Oh, Dadda--is he safe?  Is Will safe--?"

"Safe, aye, why not?  You've no business here.  Here, here's
Sampson, he'll take you home.  I've enough to bother me; there's my
own place to watch.  Go home now, I can't do with you here."

"Have you seen Will?" she asked.

"Go home--Sampson, just take Miss Lois home--now!"

"You don't really know where he is--father?"

"Go home now--I don't want you here--" her father ordered
peremptorily.

The tears sprang to Lois' eyes.  She looked at the fire and the
tears were quickly dried by fear.  The flames roared and struggled
upward.  The great wonder of the fire made her forget even her
indignation at her father's light treatment of herself and of her
lover.  There was a crashing and bursting of timber, as the first
floor fell in a mass into the blazing gulf, splashing the fire in
all directions, to the terror of the crowd.  She saw the steel of
the machines growing white-hot and twisting like flaming letters.
Piece after piece of the flooring gave way, and the machines
dropped in red ruin as the wooden framework burned out.  The air
became unbreathable; the fog was swallowed up: sparks went rushing
up as if they would burn the dark heavens; sometimes cards of lace
went whirling into the gulf of the sky, waving with wings of fire.
It was dangerous to stand near this great cup of roaring
destruction.

Sampson, the grey old manager of Buxton and Co's, led her away as
soon as she would turn her face to listen to him.  He was a stout,
irritable man.  He elbowed his way roughly through the crowd, and
Lois followed him, her head high, her lips closed.  He led her for
some distance without speaking, then at last, unable to contain his
garrulous irritability, he broke out:

"What do they expect?  What can they expect?  They can't expect to
stand a bad time.  They spring up like mushrooms as big as a house-
side, but there's no stability in 'em.  I remember William Selby
when he'd run on my errands.  Yes, there's some as can make much
out of little, and there's some as can make much out of nothing,
but they find it won't last.  William Selby's sprung up in a day,
and he'll vanish in a night.  You can't trust to luck alone.  Maybe
he thinks it's a lucky thing this fire has come when things are
looking black.  But you can't get out of it as easy as that.
There's been a few too many of 'em.  No, indeed, a fire's the last
thing I should hope to come to--the very last!"

Lois hurried and hurried, so that she brought the old manager
panting in distress up the steps of her home.  She could not bear
to hear him talking so.  They could get no one to open the door for
some time.  When at last Lois ran upstairs, she found her mother
dressed, but all unbuttoned again, lying back in the chair in her
daughter's room, suffering from palpitation of the heart, with
Sesame and Lilies crushed beneath her.  Lois administered brandy,
and her decisive words and movements helped largely to bring the
good lady to a state of recovery sufficient to allow of her
returning to her own bedroom.

Then Lois locked the door.  She glanced at her fire-darkened face,
and taking the flattened Ruskin out of the chair, sat down and
wept.  After a while she calmed herself, rose, and sponged her
face.  Then once more on that fatal night she prepared for rest.
Instead, however, or retiring, she pulled a silk quilt from her
disordered bed and wrapping it round her, sat miserably to think.
It was two o'clock in the morning.


IV


The fire was sunk to cold ashes in the grate, and the grey morning
was creeping through the half-opened curtains like a thing ashamed,
when Lois awoke.  It was painful to move her head: her neck was
cramped.  The girl awoke in full recollection.  She sighed, roused
herself and pulled the quilt closer about her.  For a little while
she sat and mused.  A pale, tragic resignation fixed her face like
a mask.  She remembered her father's irritable answer to her
question concerning her lover's safety--"Safe, aye--why not?"  She
knew that he suspected the factory of having been purposely set on
fire.  But then, he had never liked Will.  And yet--and yet--Lois'
heart was heavy as lead.  She felt her lover was guilty.  And she
felt she must hide her secret of his last communication to her.
She saw herself being cross-examined--"When did you last see this
man?"  But she would hide what he had said about watching at the
works.  How dreary it was--and how dreadful.  Her life was ruined
now, and nothing mattered any more.  She must only behave with
dignity, and submit to her own obliteration.  For even if Will were
never accused, she knew in her heart he was guilty.  She knew it
was over between them.

It was dawn among the yellow fog outside, and Lois, as she moved
mechanically about her toilet, vaguely felt that all her days would
arrive slowly struggling through a bleak fog.  She felt an intense
longing at this uncanny hour to slough the body's trammelled
weariness and to issue at once into the new bright warmth of the
far Dawn where a lover waited transfigured; it is so easy and
pleasant in imagination to step out of the chill grey dampness of
another terrestrial daybreak, straight into the sunshine of the
eternal morning!  And who can escape his hour?  So Lois performed
the meaningless routine of her toilet, which at last she made
meaningful when she took her black dress, and fastened a black jet
brooch at her throat.

Then she went downstairs and found her father eating a mutton chop.
She quickly approached and kissed him on the forehead.  Then she
retreated to the other end of the table.  Her father looked tired,
even haggard.

"You are early," he said, after a while.  Lois did not reply.  Her
father continued to eat for a few moments, then he said:

"Have a chop--here's one!  Ring for a hot plate.  Eh, what?  Why
not?"

Lois was insulted, but she gave no sign.  She sat down and took a
cup of coffee, making no pretence to eat.  Her father was absorbed,
and had forgotten her.

"Our Jack's not come home yet," he said at last.

Lois stirred faintly.  "Hasn't he?" she said.

"No."  There was silence for a time.  Lois was frightened.  Had
something happened also to her brother?  This fear was closer and
more irksome.

"Selby's was cleaned out, gutted.  We had a near shave of it--"

"You have no loss, Dadda?"

"Nothing to mention."  After another silence, her father said:

"I'd rather be myself than William Selby.  Of course it may merely
be bad luck--you don't know.  But whatever it was, I wouldn't like
to add one to the list of fires just now.  Selby was at the
'George' when it broke out--I don't know where the lad was--!"

"Father," broke in Lois, "why do you talk like that?  Why do you
talk as if Will had done it?"  She ended suddenly.  Her father
looked at her pale, mute face.

"I don't talk as if Will had done it," he said.  "I don't even
think it."

Feeling she was going to cry, Lois rose and left the room.  Her
father sighed, and leaning his elbows on his knees, whistled
faintly into the fire.  He was not thinking about her.

Lois went down to the kitchen and asked Lucy, the parlour-maid, to
go out with her.  She somehow shrank from going alone, lest people
should stare at her overmuch: and she felt an overpowering impulse
to go to the scene of the tragedy, to judge for herself.

The churches were chiming half-past eight when the young lady and
the maid set off down the street.  Nearer the fair, swarthy, thin-
legged men were pushing barrels of water towards the market-place,
and the gipsy women, with hard brows, and dressed in tight velvet
bodices, hurried along the pavement with jugs of milk, and great
brass water ewers and loaves and breakfast parcels.  People were
just getting up, and in the poorer streets was a continual splash
of tea-leaves, flung out on to the cobble-stones.  A teapot came
crashing down from an upper story just behind Lois, and she,
starting round and looking up, thought that the trembling, drink-
bleared man at the upper window, who was stupidly staring after his
pot, had had designs on her life; and she went on her way
shuddering at the grim tragedy of life.

In the dull October morning the ruined factory was black and
ghastly.  The window-frames were all jagged, and the walls stood
gaunt.  Inside was a tangle of twisted débris, the iron, in parts
red with bright rust, looking still hot; the charred wood was black
and satiny; from dishevelled heaps, sodden with water, a faint
smoke rose dimly.  Lois stood and looked.  If he had done that!  He
might even be dead there, burned to ash and lost for ever.  It was
almost soothing to feel so.  He would be safe in the eternity which
now she must hope in.

At her side the pretty, sympathetic maid chatted plaintively.
Suddenly, from one of her lapses into silence, she exclaimed:

"Why if there isn't Mr Jack!"

Lois turned suddenly and saw her brother and her lover approaching
her.  Both looked soiled, untidy and wan.  Will had a black eye,
some ten hours old, well coloured.  Lois turned very pale as they
approached.  They were looking gloomily at the factory, and for a
moment did not notice the girls.

"I'll be jiggered if there ain't our Lois!" exclaimed Jack, the
reprobate, swearing under his breath.

"Oh, God!" exclaimed the other in disgust.

"Jack, where have you been?" said Lois sharply, in keen pain, not
looking at her lover.  Her sharp tone of suffering drove her lover
to defend himself with an affectation of comic recklessness.

"In quod," replied her brother, smiling sickly.

"Jack!" cried his sister very sharply.

"Fact."

Will Selby shuffled on his feet and smiled, trying to turn away his
face so that she should not see his black eye.  She glanced at him.
He felt her boundless anger and contempt, and with great courage he
looked straight at her, smiling ironically.  Unfortunately his
smile would not go over his swollen eye, which remained grave and
lurid.

"Do I look pretty?" he inquired with a hateful twist of his lip.

"Very!" she replied.

"I thought I did," he replied.  And he turned to look at his
father's ruined works, and he felt miserable and stubborn.  The
girl standing there so clean and out of it all!  Oh, God, he felt
sick.  He turned to go home.

The three went together, Lois silent in anger and resentment.  Her
brother was tired and overstrung, but not suppressed.  He chattered
on blindly.

"It was a lark we had!  We met Bob Osborne and Freddy Mansell
coming down Poultry.  There was girl with some geese.  She looked a
tanger sitting there, all like statues, her and the geese.  It was
Will who began it.  He offered her three-pence and asked her to
begin the show.  She called him a--she called him something, and
then somebody poked an old gander to stir him up, and somebody
squirted him in the eye.  He upped and squawked and started off
with his neck out.  Laugh!  We nearly killed ourselves, keeping
back those old birds with squirts and teasers.  Oh, Lum!  Those old
geese, oh, scrimmy, they didn't know where to turn, they fairly
went off their dots, coming at us right an' left, and such a row--
it was fun, you never knew!  Then the girl she got up and knocked
somebody over the jaw, and we were right in for it.  Well, in the
end, Billy here got hold of her round the waist--"

"Oh, dry it up!" exclaimed Will bitterly.

Jack looked at him, laughed mirthlessly, and continued:  "An' we
said we'd buy her birds.  So we got hold of one goose apiece--an'
they took some holding, I can tell you--and off we set round the
fair, Billy leading with the girl.  The bloomin' geese squawked an'
pecked.  Laugh--I thought I should a' died.  Well, then we wanted
the girl to have her birds back--and then she fired up.  She got
some other chaps on her side, and there was a proper old row.  The
girl went tooth and nail for Will there--she was dead set against
him.  She gave him a black eye, by gum, and we went at it, I can
tell you.  It was a free fight, a beauty, an' we got run in.  I
don't know what became of the girl."

Lois surveyed the two men.  There was no glimmer of a smile on her
face, though the maid behind her was sniggering.  Will was very
bitter.  He glanced at his sweetheart and at the ruined factory.

"How's dad taken it?" he asked, in a biting, almost humble tone.

"I don't know," she replied coldly.  "Father's in an awful way.  I
believe everybody thinks you set the place on fire."

Lois drew herself up.  She had delivered her blow.  She drew
herself up in cold condemnation and for a moment enjoyed her
complete revenge.  He was despicable, abject in his dishevelled,
disfigured, unwashed condition.

"Aye, well, they made a mistake for once," he replied, with a curl
of the lip.

Curiously enough, they walked side by side as if they belonged to
each other.  She was his conscience-keeper.  She was far from
forgiving him, but she was still farther from letting him go.  And
he walked at her side like a boy who had to be punished before he
can be exonerated.  He submitted.  But there was a genuine bitter
contempt in the curl of his lip.




THE WHITE STOCKING


I


"I'm getting up, Teddilinks," said Mrs Whiston, and she sprang out
of bed briskly.

"What the Hanover's got you?" asked Whiston.

"Nothing.  Can't I get up?" she replied animatedly.

It was about seven o'clock, scarcely light yet in the cold bedroom.
Whiston lay still and looked at his wife.  She was a pretty little
thing, with her fleecy, short black hair all tousled . . .  He
watched her as she dressed quickly, flicking her small, delightful
limbs, throwing her clothes about her.  Her slovenliness and
untidiness did not trouble him.  When she picked up the edge of her
petticoat, ripped off a torn string of white lace, and flung it on
the dressing-table, her careless abandon made his spirit glow.  She
stood before the mirror and roughly scrambled together her profuse
little mane of hair.  He watched the quickness and softness of her
young shoulders, calmly, like a husband, and appreciatively.

"Rise up," she cried, turning to him with a quick wave of her arm--
"and shine forth."

They had been married two years.  But still, when she had gone out
of the room, he felt as if all his light and warmth were taken
away, he became aware of the raw, cold morning.  So he rose
himself, wondering casually what had roused her so early.  Usually
she lay in bed as late as she could.

Whiston fastened a belt round his loins and went downstairs in
shirt and trousers.  He heard her singing in her snatchy fashion.
The stairs creaked under his weight.  He passed down the narrow
little passage, which she called a hall, of the seven and sixpenny
house which was his first home.

He was a shapely young fellow of about twenty-eight, sleepy now and
easy with well-being.  He heard the water drumming into the kettle,
and she began to whistle.  He loved the quick way she dodged the
supper cups under the tap to wash them for breakfast.  She looked
an untidy minx, but she was quick and handy enough.

"Teddilinks," she cried.

"What?"

"Light a fire, quick."

She wore an old, sack-like dressing-jacket of black silk pinned
across her breast.  But one of the sleeves, coming unfastened,
showed some delightful pink upper-arm.

"Why don't you sew your sleeve up?" he said, suffering from the
sight of the exposed soft flesh.

"Where?" she cried, peering round.  "Nuisance," she said, seeing
the gap, then with light fingers went on drying the cups.

The kitchen was of fair size, but gloomy.  Whiston poked out the
dead ashes.

Suddenly a thud was heard at the door down the passage.

"I'll go," cried Mrs Whiston, and she was gone down the hall.

The postman was a ruddy-faced man who had been a soldier.  He
smiled broadly, handing her some packages.

"They've not forgot you," he said impudently.

"No--lucky for them," she said, with a toss of the head.  But she
was interested only in her envelopes this morning.  The postman
waited inquisitively, smiling in an ingratiating fashion.  She
slowly, abstractedly, as if she did not know anyone was there,
closed the door in his face, continuing to look at the addresses on
her letters.

She tore open the thin envelope.  There was a long, hideous,
cartoon valentine.  She smiled briefly and dropped it on the floor.
Struggling with the string of a packet, she opened a white
cardboard box, and there lay a white silk handkerchief packed
neatly under the paper lace of the box, and her initial, worked in
heliotrope, fully displayed.  She smiled pleasantly, and gently put
the box aside.  The third envelope contained another white packet--
apparently a cotton handkerchief neatly folded.  She shook it out.
It was a long white stocking, but there was a little weight in the
toe.  Quickly, she thrust down her arm, wriggling her fingers into
the toe of the stocking, and brought out a small box.  She peeped
inside the box, then hastily opened a door on her left hand, and
went into the little, cold sitting-room.  She had her lower lip
caught earnestly between her teeth.

With a little flash of triumph, she lifted a pair of pearl ear-
rings from the small box, and she went to the mirror.  There,
earnestly, she began to hook them through her ears, looking at
herself sideways in the glass.  Curiously concentrated and intent
she seemed as she fingered the lobes of her ears, her head bent on
one side.

Then the pearl ear-rings dangled under her rosy, small ears.  She
shook her head sharply, to see the swing of the drops.  They went
chill against her neck, in little, sharp touches.  Then she stood
still to look at herself, bridling her head in the dignified
fashion.  Then she simpered at herself.  Catching her own eye, she
could not help winking at herself and laughing.

She turned to look at the box.  There was a scrap of paper with
this posy:


     "Pearls may be fair, but thou art fairer.
      Wear these for me, and I'll love the wearer."


She made a grimace and a grin.  But she was drawn to the mirror
again, to look at her ear-rings.

Whiston had made the fire burn, so he came to look for her.  When
she heard him, she started round quickly, guiltily.  She was
watching him with intent blue eyes when he appeared.

He did not see much, in his morning-drowsy warmth.  He gave her, as
ever, a feeling of warmth and slowness.  His eyes were very blue,
very kind, his manner simple.

"What ha' you got?" he asked.

"Valentines," she said briskly, ostentatiously turning to show him
the silk handkerchief.  She thrust it under his nose.  "Smell how
good," she said.

"Who's that from?" he replied, without smelling.

"It's a valentine," she cried.  "How da I know who it's from?"

"I'll bet you know," he said.

"Ted!--I don't!" she cried, beginning to shake her head, then
stopping because of the ear-rings.

He stood still a moment, displeased.

"They've no right to send you valentines, now," he said.

"Ted!--Why not?  You're not jealous, are you?  I haven't the least
idea who it's from.  Look--there's my initial"--she pointed with an
emphatic finger at the heliotrope embroidery--


     "E for Elsie,
      Nice little gelsie,"


she sang.

"Get out," he said.  "You know who it's from."

"Truth, I don't," she cried.

He looked round, and saw the white stocking lying on a chair.

"Is this another?" he said.

"No, that's a sample," she said.  "There's only a comic."  And she
fetched in the long cartoon.

He stretched it out and looked at it solemnly.

"Fools!" he said, and went out of the room.

She flew upstairs and took off the ear-rings.  When she returned,
he was crouched before the fire blowing the coals.  The skin of his
face was flushed, and slightly pitted, as if he had had small-pox.
But his neck was white and smooth and goodly.  She hung her arms
round his neck as he crouched there, and clung to him.  He balanced
on his toes.

"This fire's a slow-coach," he said.

"And who else is a slow-coach?" she said.

"One of us two, I know," he said, and he rose carefully.  She
remained clinging round his neck, so that she was lifted off her
feet.

"Ha!--swing me," she cried.

He lowered his head, and she hung in the air, swinging from his
neck, laughing.  Then she slipped off.

"The kettle is singing," she sang, flying for the teapot.  He bent
down again to blow the fire.  The veins in his neck stood out, his
shirt collar seemed too tight.


     "Doctor Wyer,
      Blow the fire,
      Puff! puff! puff!"


she sang, laughing.

He smiled at her.

She was so glad because of her pearl ear-rings.

Over the breakfast she grew serious.  He did not notice.  She
became portentous in her gravity.  Almost it penetrated through his
steady good-humour to irritate him.

"Teddy!" she said at last.

"What?" he asked.

"I told you a lie," she said, humbly tragic.

His soul stirred uneasily.

"Oh aye?" he said casually.

She was not satisfied.  He ought to be more moved.

"Yes," she said.

He cut a piece of bread.

"Was it a good one?" he asked.

She was piqued.  Then she considered--WAS it a good one?  Then she
laughed.

"No," she said, "it wasn't up to much."

"Ah!" he said easily, but with a steady strength of fondness for
her in his tone.  "Get it out then."

It became a little more difficult.

"You know that white stocking," she said earnestly.  "I told you a
lie.  It wasn't a sample.  It was a valentine."

A little frown came on his brow.

"Then what did you invent it as a sample for?" he said.  But he
knew this weakness of hers.  The touch of anger in his voice
frightened her.

"I was afraid you'd be cross," she said pathetically.

"I'll bet you were vastly afraid," he said.

"I WAS, Teddy."

There was a pause.  He was resolving one or two things in his mind.

"And who sent it?" he asked.

"I can guess," she said, "though there wasn't a word with it--
except--"

She ran to the sitting-room and returned with a slip of paper.


     "Pearls may be fair, but thou art fairer.
      Wear these for me, and I'll love the wearer."


He read it twice, then a dull red flush came on his face.

"And WHO do you guess it is?" he asked, with a ringing of anger in
his voice.

"I suspect it's Sam Adams," she said, with a little virtuous
indignation.

Whiston was silent for a moment.

"Fool!" he said.  "An' what's it got to do with pearls?--and how
can he say 'wear these for me' when there's only one?  He hasn't
got the brain to invent a proper verse."

He screwed the sup of paper into a ball and flung it into the fire.

"I suppose he thinks it'll make a pair with the one last year," she
said.

"Why, did he send one then?"

"Yes.  I thought you'd be wild if you knew."

His jaw set rather sullenly.

Presently he rose, and went to wash himself, rolling back his
sleeves and pulling open his shirt at the breast.  It was as if his
fine, clear-cut temples and steady eyes were degraded by the lower,
rather brutal part of his face.  But she loved it.  As she whisked
about, clearing the table, she loved the way in which he stood
washing himself.  He was such a man.  She liked to see his neck
glistening with water as he swilled it.  It amused her and pleased
her and thrilled her.  He was so sure, so permanent, he had her so
utterly in his power.  It gave her a delightful, mischievous sense
of liberty.  Within his grasp, she could dart about excitingly.

He turned round to her, his face red from the cold water, his eyes
fresh and very blue.

"You haven't been seeing anything of him, have you?" he asked
roughly.

"Yes," she answered, after a moment, as if caught guilty.  "He got
into the tram with me, and he asked me to drink a coffee and a
Benedictine in the Royal."

"You've got it off fine and glib," he said sullenly.  "And did
you?"

"Yes," she replied, with the air of a traitor before the rack.

The blood came up into his neck and face, he stood motionless,
dangerous.

"It was cold, and it was such fun to go into the Royal," she said.

"You'd go off with a nigger for a packet of chocolate," he said, in
anger and contempt, and some bitterness.  Queer how he drew away
from her, cut her off from him.

"Ted--how beastly!" she cried.  "You know quite well--"  She caught
her lip, flushed, and the tears came to her eyes.

He turned away, to put on his necktie.  She went about her work,
making a queer pathetic little mouth, down which occasionally
dripped a tear.

He was ready to go.  With his hat jammed down on his head, and his
overcoat buttoned up to his chin, he came to kiss her.  He would be
miserable all the day if he went without.  She allowed herself to
be kissed.  Her cheek was wet under his lips, and his heart burned.
She hurt him so deeply.  And she felt aggrieved, and did not quite
forgive him.

In a moment she went upstairs to her ear-rings.  Sweet they looked
nestling in the little drawer--sweet!  She examined them with
voluptuous pleasure, she threaded them in her ears, she looked at
herself, she posed and postured and smiled, and looked sad and
tragic and winning and appealing, all in turn before the mirror.
And she was happy, and very pretty.

She wore her ear-rings all morning, in the house.  She was self-
conscious, and quite brilliantly winsome, when the baker came,
wondering if he would notice.  All the tradesmen left her door with
a glow in them, feeling elated, and unconsciously favouring the
delightful little creature, though there had been nothing to notice
in her behaviour.

She was stimulated all the day.  She did not think about her
husband.  He was the permanent basis from which she took these
giddy little flights into nowhere.  At night, like chickens and
curses, she would come home to him, to roost.

Meanwhile Whiston, a traveller and confidential support of a small
firm, hastened about his work, his heart all the while anxious for
her, yearning for surety, and kept tense by not getting it.


II


She had been a warehouse girl in Adams's lace factory before she
was married.  Sam Adams was her employer.  He was a bachelor of
forty, growing stout, a man well dressed and florid, with a large
brown moustache and thin hair.  From the rest of his well-groomed,
showy appearance, it was evident his baldness was a chagrin to him.
He had a good presence, and some Irish blood in his veins.

His fondness for the girls, or the fondness of the girls for him,
was notorious.  And Elsie, quick, pretty, almost witty little
thing--she SEEMED witty, although, when her sayings were repeated,
they were entirely trivial--she had a great attraction for him.  He
would come into the warehouse dressed in a rather sporting reefer
coat, of fawn colour, and trousers of fine black-and-white check, a
cap with a big peak and a scarlet carnation in his button-hole, to
impress her.  She was only half impressed.  He was too loud for her
good taste.  Instinctively perceiving this, he sobered down to navy
blue.  Then a well-built man, florid, with large brown whiskers,
smart navy blue suit, fashionable boots, and manly hat, he was the
irreproachable.  Elsie was impressed.

But meanwhile Whiston was courting her, and she made splendid
little gestures, before her bedroom mirror, of the constant-and-
true sort.


     "True, true till death--"


That was her song.  Whiston was made that way, so there was no need
to take thought for him.

Every Christmas Sam Adams gave a party at his house, to which he
invited his superior work-people--not factory hands and labourers,
but those above.  He was a generous man in his way, with a real
warm feeling for giving pleasure.

Two years ago Elsie had attended this Christmas-party for the last
time.  Whiston had accompanied her.  At that time he worked for Sam
Adams.

She had been very proud of herself, in her close-fitting, full-
skirted dress of blue silk.  Whiston called for her.  Then she
tripped beside him, holding her large cashmere shawl across her
breast.  He strode with long strides, his trousers handsomely
strapped under his boots, and her silk shoes bulging the pockets of
his full-skirted overcoat.

They passed through the park gates, and her spirits rose.  Above
them the Castle Rock looked grandly in the night, the naked trees
stood still and dark in the frost, along the boulevard.

They were rather late.  Agitated with anticipation, in the cloak-
room she gave up her shawl, donned her silk shoes, and looked at
herself in the mirror.  The loose bunches of curls on either side
her face danced prettily, her mouth smiled.

She hung a moment in the door of the brilliantly lighted room.
Many people were moving within the blaze of lamps, under the
crystal chandeliers, the full skirts of the women balancing and
floating, the side-whiskers and white cravats of the men bowing
above.  Then she entered the light.

In an instant Sam Adams was coming forward, lifting both his arms
in boisterous welcome.  There was a constant red laugh on his face.

"Come late, would you," he shouted, "like royalty."

He seized her hands and led her forward.  He opened his mouth wide
when he spoke, and the effect of the warm, dark opening behind the
brown whiskers was disturbing.  But she was floating into the
throng on his arm.  He was very gallant.

"Now then," he said, taking her card to write down the dances,
"I've got carte blanche, haven't I?"

"Mr Whiston doesn't dance," she said.

"I am a lucky man!" he said, scribbling his initials.  "I was born
with an amourette in my mouth."

He wrote on, quietly.  She blushed and laughed, not knowing what it
meant.

"Why, what is that?" she said.

"It's you, even littler than you are, dressed in little wings," he
said.

"I should have to be pretty small to get in your mouth," she said.

"You think you're too big, do you!" he said easily.

He handed her her card, with a bow.

"Now I'm set up, my darling, for this evening," he said.

Then, quick, always at his ease, he looked over the room.  She
waited in front of him.  He was ready.  Catching the eye of the
band, he nodded.  In a moment, the music began.  He seemed to
relax, giving himself up.

"Now then, Elsie," he said, with a curious caress in his voice that
seemed to lap the outside of her body in a warm glow, delicious.
She gave herself to it.  She liked it.

He was an excellent dancer.  He seemed to draw her close in to him
by some male warmth of attraction, so that she became all soft and
pliant to him, flowing to his form, whilst he united her with him
and they lapsed along in one movement.  She was just carried in a
kind of strong, warm flood, her feet moved of themselves, and only
the music threw her away from him, threw her back to him, to his
clasp, in his strong form moving against her, rhythmically,
deliriously.

When it was over, he was pleased and his eyes had a curious gleam
which thrilled her and yet had nothing to do with her.  Yet it held
her.  He did not speak to her.  He only looked straight into her
eyes with a curious, gleaming look that disturbed her fearfully and
deliriously.  But also there was in his look some of the automatic
irony of the roué.  It left her partly cold.  She was not carried
away.

She went, driven by an opposite, heavier impulse, to Whiston.  He
stood looking gloomy, trying to admit that she had a perfect right
to enjoy herself apart from him.  He received her with rather
grudging kindliness.

"Aren't you going to play whist?" she asked.

"Aye," he said.  "Directly."

"I do wish you could dance."

"Well, I can't," he said.  "So you enjoy yourself."

"But I should enjoy it better if I could dance with you."

"Nay, you're all right," he said.  "I'm not made that way."

"Then you ought to be!" she cried.

"Well, it's my fault, not yours.  You enjoy yourself," he bade her.
Which she proceeded to do, a little bit irked.

She went with anticipation to the arms of Sam Adams, when the time
came to dance with him.  It WAS so gratifying, irrespective of the
man.  And she felt a little grudge against Whiston, soon forgotten
when her host was holding her near to him, in a delicious embrace.
And she watched his eyes, to meet the gleam in them, which
gratified her.

She was getting warmed right through, the glow was penetrating into
her, driving away everything else.  Only in her heart was a little
tightness, like conscience.

When she got a chance, she escaped from the dancing-room to the
card-room.  There, in a cloud of smoke, she found Whiston playing
cribbage.  Radiant, roused, animated, she came up to him and
greeted him.  She was too strong, too vibrant a note in the quiet
room.  He lifted his head, and a frown knitted his gloomy forehead.

"Are you playing cribbage?  Is it exciting?  How are you getting
on?" she chattered.

He looked at her.  None of these questions needed answering, and he
did not feel in touch with her.  She turned to the cribbage-board.

"Are you white or red?" she asked.

"He's red," replied the partner.

"Then you're losing," she said, still to Whiston.  And she lifted
the red peg from the board.  "One--two--three--four--five--six--
seven--eight--Right up there you ought to jump--"

"Now put it back in its right place," said Whiston.

"Where was it?" she asked gaily, knowing her transgression.  He
took the little red peg away from her and stuck it in its hole.

The cards were shuffled.

"What a shame you're losing!" said Elsie.

"You'd better cut for him," said the partner.

She did so, hastily.  The cards were dealt.  She put her hand on
his shoulder, looking at his cards.

"It's good," she cried, "isn't it?"

He did not answer, but threw down two cards.  It moved him more
strongly than was comfortable, to have her hand on his shoulder,
her curls dangling and touching his ears, whilst she was roused to
another man.  It made the blood flame over him.

At that moment Sam Adams appeared, florid and boisterous,
intoxicated more with himself, with the dancing, than with wine.
In his eyes the curious, impersonal light gleamed.

"I thought I should find you here, Elsie," he cried boisterously, a
disturbing, high note in his voice.

"What made you think so?" she replied, the mischief rousing in her.

The florid, well-built man narrowed his eyes to a smile.

"I should never look for you among the ladies," he said, with a
kind of intimate, animal call to her.  He laughed, bowed, and
offered her his arm.

"Madam, the music waits."

She went almost helplessly, carried along with him, unwilling, yet
delighted.

That dance was an intoxication to her.  After the first few steps,
she felt herself slipping away from herself.  She almost knew she
was going, she did not even want to go.  Yet she must have chosen
to go.  She lay in the arm of the steady, close man with whom she
was dancing, and she seemed to swim away out of contact with the
room, into him.  She had passed into another, denser element of
him, an essential privacy.  The room was all vague around her, like
an atmosphere, like under sea, with a flow of ghostly, dumb
movements.  But she herself was held real against her partner, and
it seemed she was connected with him, as if the movements of his
body and limbs were her own movements, yet not her own movements--
and oh, delicious!  He also was given up, oblivious, concentrated,
into the dance.  His eye was unseeing.  Only his large, voluptuous
body gave off a subtle activity.  His fingers seemed to search into
her flesh.  Every moment, and every moment, she felt she would give
way utterly, and sink molten: the fusion point was coming when she
would fuse down into perfect unconsciousness at his feet and knees.
But he bore her round the room in the dance, and he seemed to
sustain all her body with his limbs, his body, and his warmth
seemed to come closer into her, nearer, till it would fuse right
through her, and she would be as liquid to him, as an intoxication
only.

It was exquisite.  When it was over, she was dazed, and was
scarcely breathing.  She stood with him in the middle of the room
as if she were alone in a remote place.  He bent over her.  She
expected his lips on her bare shoulder, and waited.  Yet they were
not alone, they were not alone.  It was cruel.

"'Twas good, wasn't it, my darling?" he said to her, low and
delighted.  There was a strange impersonality about his low,
exultant call that appealed to her irresistibly.  Yet why was she
aware of some part shut off in her?  She pressed his arm, and he
led her towards the door.

She was not aware of what she was doing, only a little grain of
resistant trouble was in her.  The man, possessed, yet with a
superficial presence of mind, made way to the dining-room, as if to
give her refreshment, cunningly working to his own escape with her.
He was molten hot, filmed over with presence of mind, and bottomed
with cold disbelief.

In the dining-room was Whiston, carrying coffee to the plain,
neglected ladies.  Elsie saw him, but felt as if he could not see
her.  She was beyond his reach and ken.  A sort of fusion existed
between her and the large man at her side.  She ate her custard,
but an incomplete fusion all the while sustained and contained her
within the being of her employer.

But she was growing cooler.  Whiston came up.  She looked at him,
and saw him with different eyes.  She saw his slim, young man's
figure real and enduring before her.  That was he.  But she was in
the spell with the other man, fused with him, and she could not be
taken away.

"Have you finished your cribbage?" she asked, with hasty evasion of
him.

"Yes," he replied.  "Aren't you getting tired of dancing?"

"Not a bit," she said.

"Not she," said Adams heartily.  "No girl with any spirit gets
tired of dancing.--Have something else, Elsie.  Come--sherry.  Have
a glass of sherry with us, Whiston."

Whilst they sipped the wine, Adams watched Whiston almost
cunningly, to find his advantage.

"We'd better be getting back--there's the music," he said.  "See
the women get something to eat, Whiston, will you, there's a good
chap."

And he began to draw away.  Elsie was drifting helplessly with him.
But Whiston put himself beside them, and went along with them.  In
silence they passed through to the dancing-room.  There Adams
hesitated, and looked round the room.  It was as if he could not
see.

A man came hurrying forward, claiming Elsie, and Adams went to his
other partner.  Whiston stood watching during the dance.  She was
conscious of him standing there observant of her, like a ghost, or
a judgment, or a guardian angel.  She was also conscious, much more
intimately and impersonally, of the body of the other man moving
somewhere in the room.  She still belonged to him, but a feeling of
distraction possessed her, and helplessness.  Adams danced on,
adhering to Elsie, waiting his time, with the persistence of
cynicism.

The dance was over.  Adams was detained.  Elsie found herself
beside Whiston.  There was something shapely about him as he sat,
about his knees and his distinct figure, that she clung to.  It was
as if he had enduring form.  She put her hand on his knee.

"Are you enjoying yourself?" he asked.

"EVER so," she replied, with a fervent, yet detached tone.

"It's going on for one o'clock," he said.

"Is it?" she answered.  It meant nothing to her.

"Should we be going?" he said.

She was silent.  For the first time for an hour or more an inkling
of her normal consciousness returned.  She resented it.

"What for?" she said.

"I thought you might have had enough," he said.

A slight soberness came over her, an irritation at being frustrated
of her illusion.

"Why?" she said.

"We've been here since nine," he said.

That was no answer, no reason.  It conveyed nothing to her.  She
sat detached from him.  Across the room Sam Adams glanced at her.
She sat there exposed for him.

"You don't want to be too free with Sam Adams," said Whiston
cautiously, suffering.  "You know what he is."

"How, free?" she asked.

"Why--you don't want to have too much to do with him."

She sat silent.  He was forcing her into consciousness of her
position.  But he could not get hold of her feelings, to change
them.  She had a curious, perverse desire that he should not.

"I like him," she said.

"What do you find to like in him?" he said, with a hot heart.

"I don't know--but I like him," she said.

She was immutable.  He sat feeling heavy and dulled with rage.  He
was not clear as to what he felt.  He sat there unliving whilst she
danced.  And she, distracted, lost to herself between the opposing
forces of the two men, drifted.  Between the dances, Whiston kept
near to her.  She was scarcely conscious.  She glanced repeatedly
at her card, to see when she would dance again with Adams, half in
desire, half in dread.  Sometimes she met his steady, glaucous eye
as she passed him in the dance.  Sometimes she saw the steadiness
of his flank as he danced.  And it was always as if she rested on
his arm, were borne along, upborne by him, away from herself.  And
always there was present the other's antagonism.  She was divided.

The time came for her to dance with Adams.  Oh, the delicious
closing of contact with him, of his limbs touching her limbs, his
arm supporting her.  She seemed to resolve.  Whiston had not made
himself real to her.  He was only a heavy place in her consciousness.

But she breathed heavily, beginning to suffer from the closeness of
strain.  She was nervous.  Adams also was constrained.  A
tightness, a tension was coming over them all.  And he was
exasperated, feeling something counteracting physical magnetism,
feeling a will stronger with her than his own, intervening in what
was becoming a vital necessity to him.

Elsie was almost lost to her own control.  As she went forward with
him to take her place at the dance, she stooped for her pocket-
handkerchief.  The music sounded for quadrilles.  Everybody was
ready.  Adams stood with his body near her, exerting his attraction
over her.  He was tense and fighting.  She stooped for her pocket-
handkerchief, and shook it as she rose.  It shook out and fell from
her hand.  With agony, she saw she had taken a white stocking
instead of a handkerchief.  For a second it lay on the floor, a
twist of white stocking.  Then, in an instant, Adams picked it up,
with a little, surprised laugh of triumph.

"That'll do for me," he whispered--seeming to take possession of
her.  And he stuffed the stocking in his trousers pocket, and
quickly offered her his handkerchief.

The dance began.  She felt weak and faint, as if her will were
turned to water.  A heavy sense of loss came over her.  She could
not help herself anymore.  But it was peace.

When the dance was over, Adams yielded her up.  Whiston came to
her.

"What was it as you dropped?" Whiston asked.

"I thought it was my handkerchief--I'd taken a stocking by
mistake," she said, detached and muted.

"And he's got it?"

"Yes."

"What does he mean by that?"

She lifted her shoulders.

"Are you going to let him keep it?" he asked.

"I don't let him."

There was a long pause.

"Am I to go and have it out with him?" he asked, his face flushed,
his blue eyes going hard with opposition.

"No," she said, pale.

"Why?"

"No--I don't want to say anything about it."

He sat exasperated and nonplussed.

"You'll let him keep it, then?" he asked.

She sat silent and made no form of answer.

"What do you mean by it?" he said, dark with fury.  And he started
up.

"No!" she cried.  "Ted!"  And she caught hold of him, sharply
detaining him.

It made him black with rage.

"Why?" he said.

Then something about her mouth was pitiful to him.  He did not
understand, but he felt she must have her reasons.

"Then I'm not stopping here," he said.  "Are you coming with me?"

She rose mutely, and they went out of the room.  Adams had not
noticed.

In a few moments they were in the street.

"What the hell do you mean?" he said, in a black fury.

She went at his side, in silence, neutral.

"That great hog, an' all," he added.

Then they went a long time in silence through the frozen, deserted
darkness of the town.  She felt she could not go indoors.  They
were drawing near her house.

"I don't want to go home," she suddenly cried in distress and
anguish.  "I don't want to go home."

He looked at her.

"Why don't you?" he said.

"I don't want to go home," was all she could sob.

He heard somebody coming.

"Well, we can walk a bit further," he said.

She was silent again.  They passed out of the town into the fields.
He held her by the arm--they could not speak.

"What's a-matter?" he asked at length, puzzled.

She began to cry again.

At last he took her in his arms, to soothe her.  She sobbed by
herself, almost unaware of him.

"Tell me what's a-matter, Elsie," he said.  "Tell me what's a-
matter--my dear--tell me, then--"

He kissed her wet face, and caressed her.  She made no response.
He was puzzled and tender and miserable.

At length she became quiet.  Then he kissed her, and she put her
arms round him, and clung to him very tight, as if for fear and
anguish.  He held her in his arms, wondering.

"Ted!" she whispered, frantic.  "Ted!"

"What, my love?" he answered, becoming also afraid.

"Be good to me," she cried.  "Don't be cruel to me."

"No, my pet," he said, amazed and grieved.  "Why?"

"Oh, be good to me," she sobbed.

And he held her very safe, and his heart was white-hot with love
for her.  His mind was amazed.  He could only hold her against his
chest that was white-hot with love and belief in her.  So she was
restored at last.


III


She refused to go to her work at Adams's any more.  Her father had
to submit and she sent in her notice--she was not well.  Sam Adams
was ironical.  But he had a curious patience.  He did not fight.

In a few weeks, she and Whiston were married.  She loved him with
passion and worship, a fierce little abandon of love that moved him
to the depths of his being, and gave him a permanent surety and
sense of realness in himself.  He did not trouble about himself any
more: he felt he was fulfilled and now he had only the many things
in the world to busy himself about.  Whatever troubled him, at the
bottom was surety.  He had found himself in this love.

They spoke once or twice of the white stocking.

"Ah!" Whiston exclaimed.  "What does it matter?"

He was impatient and angry, and could not bear to consider the
matter.  So it was left unresolved.

She was quite happy at first, carried away by her adoration of her
husband.  Then gradually she got used to him.  He always was the
ground of her happiness, but she got used to him, as to the air she
breathed.  He never got used to her in the same way.

Inside of marriage she found her liberty.  She was rid of the
responsibility of herself.  Her husband must look after that.  She
was free to get what she could out of her time.

So that, when, after some months, she met Sam Adams, she was not
quite as unkind to him as she might have been.  With a young wife's
new and exciting knowledge of men, she perceived he was in love
with her, she knew he had always kept an unsatisfied desire for
her.  And, sportive, she could not help playing a little with this,
though she cared not one jot for the man himself.

When Valentine's day came, which was near the first anniversary of
her wedding day, there arrived a white stocking with a little
amethyst brooch.  Luckily Whiston did not see it, so she said
nothing of it to him.  She had not the faintest intention of having
anything to do with Sam Adams, but once a little brooch was in her
possession, it was hers, and she did not trouble her head for a
moment how she had come by it.  She kept it.

Now she had the pearl ear-rings.  They were a more valuable and a
more conspicuous present.  She would have to ask her mother to give
them to her, to explain their presence.  She made a little plan in
her head.  And she was extraordinarily pleased.  As for Sam Adams,
even if he saw her wearing them, he would not give her away.  What
fun, if he saw her wearing his ear-rings!  She would pretend she
had inherited them from her grandmother, her mother's mother.  She
laughed to herself as she went down town in the afternoon, the
pretty drops dangling in front of her curls.  But she saw no one of
importance.

Whiston came home tired and depressed.  All day the male in him had
been uneasy, and this had fatigued him.  She was curiously against
him, inclined, as she sometimes was nowadays, to make mock of him
and jeer at him and cut him off.  He did not understand this, and
it angered him deeply.  She was uneasy before him.

She knew he was in a state of suppressed irritation.  The veins
stood out on the backs of his hands, his brow was drawn stiffly.
Yet she could not help goading him.

"What did you do wi' that white stocking?" he asked, out of a
gloomy silence, his voice strong and brutal.

"I put it in a drawer--why?" she replied flippantly.

"Why didn't you put it on the fire back?" he said harshly.  "What
are you hoarding it up for?"

"I'm not hoarding it up," she said.  "I've got a pair."

He relapsed into gloomy silence.  She, unable to move him, ran away
upstairs, leaving him smoking by the fire.  Again she tried on the
earrings.  Then another little inspiration came to her.  She drew
on the white stockings, both of them.

Presently she came down in them.  Her husband still sat immovable
and glowering by the fire.

"Look!" she said.  "They'll do beautifully."

And she picked up her skirts to her knees, and twisted round,
looking at her pretty legs in the neat stockings.

He filled with unreasonable rage, and took the pipe from his mouth.

"Don't they look nice?" she said.  "One from last year and one from
this, they just do.  Save you buying a pair."

And she looked over her shoulders at her pretty calves, and the
dangling frills of her knickers.

"Put your skirts down and don't make a fool of yourself," he said.

"Why a fool of myself?" she asked.

And she began to dance slowly round the room, kicking up her feet
half reckless, half jeering, in a ballet-dancer's fashion.  Almost
fearfully, yet in defiance, she kicked up her legs at him, singing
as she did so.  She resented him.

"You little fool, ha' done with it," he said.  "And you'll backfire
them stockings, I'm telling you."  He was angry.  His face flushed
dark, he kept his head bent.  She ceased to dance.

"I shan't," she said.  "They'll come in very useful."

He lifted his head and watched her, with lighted, dangerous eyes.

"You'll put 'em on the fire back, I tell you," he said.

It was a war now.  She bent forward, in a ballet-dancer's fashion,
and put her tongue between her teeth.

"I shan't backfire them stockings," she sang, repeating his words,
"I shan't, I shan't, I shan't."

And she danced round the room doing a high kick to the tune of her
words.  There was a real biting indifference in her behaviour.

"We'll see whether you will or not," he said, "trollops!  You'd
like Sam Adams to know you was wearing 'em, wouldn't you?  That's
what would please you."

"Yes, I'd like him to see how nicely they fit me, he might give me
some more then."

And she looked down at her pretty legs.

He knew somehow that she WOULD like Sam Adams to see how pretty her
legs looked in the white stockings.  It made his anger go deep,
almost to hatred.

"Yer nasty trolley," he cried.  "Put yer petticoats down, and stop
being so foul-minded."

"I'm not foul-minded," she said.  "My legs are my own.  And why
shouldn't Sam Adams think they're nice?"

There was a pause.  He watched her with eyes glittering to a point.

"Have you been havin' owt to do with him?" he asked.

"I've just spoken to him when I've seen him," she said.  "He's not
as bad as you would make out."

"Isn't he?" he cried, a certain wakefulness in his voice.  "Them
who has anything to do wi' him is too bad for me, I tell you."

"Why, what are you frightened of him for?" she mocked.

She was rousing all his uncontrollable anger.  He sat glowering.
Every one of her sentences stirred him up like a red-hot iron.
Soon it would be too much.  And she was afraid herself; but she was
neither conquered nor convinced.

A curious little grin of hate came on his face.  He had a long
score against her.

"What am I frightened of him for?" he repeated automatically.
"What am I frightened of him for?  Why, for you, you stray-running
little bitch."

She flushed.  The insult went deep into her, right home.

"Well, if you're so dull--" she said, lowering her eyelids, and
speaking coldly, haughtily.

"If I'm so dull I'll break your neck the first word you speak to
him," he said, tense.

"Pf!" she sneered.  "Do you think I'm frightened of you?"  She
spoke coldly, detached.

She was frightened, for all that, white round the mouth.

His heart was getting hotter.

"You WILL be frightened of me, the next time you have anything to
do with him," he said.

"Do you think YOU'D ever be told--ha!"

Her jeering scorn made him go white-hot, molten.  He knew he was
incoherent, scarcely responsible for what he might do.  Slowly,
unseeing, he rose and went out of doors, stifled, moved to kill
her.

He stood leaning against the garden fence, unable either to see or
hear.  Below him, far off, fumed the lights of the town.  He stood
still, unconscious with a black storm of rage, his face lifted to
the night.

Presently, still unconscious of what he was doing, he went indoors
again.  She stood, a small stubborn figure with tight-pressed lips
and big, sullen, childish eyes, watching him, white with fear.  He
went heavily across the floor and dropped into his chair.

There was a silence.

"YOU'RE not going to tell me everything I shall do, and everything
I shan't," she broke out at last.

He lifted his head.

"I tell you THIS," he said, low and intense.  "Have anything to do
with Sam Adams, and I'll break your neck."

She laughed, shrill and false.

"How I hate your word 'break your neck'," she said, with a grimace
of the mouth.  "It sounds so common and beastly.  Can't you say
something else--"

There was a dead silence.

"And besides," she said, with a queer chirrup of mocking laughter,
"what do you know about anything?  He sent me an amethyst brooch
and a pair of pearl ear-rings."

"He what?" said Whiston, in a suddenly normal voice.  His eyes were
fixed on her.

"Sent me a pair of pearl ear-rings, and an amethyst brooch," she
repeated, mechanically, pale to the lips.

And her big, black, childish eyes watched him, fascinated, held in
her spell.

He seemed to thrust his face and his eyes forward at her, as he
rose slowly and came to her.  She watched transfixed in terror.
Her throat made a small sound, as she tried to scream.

Then, quick as lightning, the back of his hand struck her with a
crash across the mouth, and she was flung back blinded against the
wall.  The shock shook a queer sound out of her.  And then she saw
him still coming on, his eyes holding her, his fist drawn back,
advancing slowly.  At any instant the blow might crash into her.

Mad with terror, she raised her hands with a queer clawing movement
to cover her eyes and her temples, opening her mouth in a dumb
shriek.  There was no sound.  But the sight of her slowly arrested
him.  He hung before her, looking at her fixedly, as she stood
crouched against the wall with open, bleeding mouth, and wide-
staring eyes, and two hands clawing over her temples.  And his lust
to see her bleed, to break her and destroy her, rose from an old
source against her.  It carried him.  He wanted satisfaction.

But he had seen her standing there, a piteous, horrified thing, and
he turned his face aside in shame and nausea.  He went and sat
heavily in his chair, and a curious ease, almost like sleep, came
over his brain.

She walked away from the wall towards the fire, dizzy, white to the
lips, mechanically wiping her small, bleeding mouth.  He sat
motionless.  Then, gradually, her breath began to hiss, she shook,
and was sobbing silently, in grief for herself.  Without looking,
he saw.  It made his mad desire to destroy her come back.

At length he lifted his head.  His eyes were glowing again, fixed
on her.

"And what did he give them you for?" he asked, in a steady,
unyielding voice.

Her crying dried up in a second.  She also was tense.

"They came as valentines," she replied, still not subjugated, even
if beaten.

"When, to-day?"

"The pearl ear-rings to-day--the amethyst brooch last year."

"You've had it a year?"

"Yes."

She felt that now nothing would prevent him if he rose to kill her.
She could not prevent him any more.  She was yielded up to him.
They both trembled in the balance, unconscious.

"What have you had to do with him?" he asked, in a barren voice.

"I've not had anything to do with him," she quavered.

"You just kept 'em because they were jewellery?" he said.

A weariness came over him.  What was the worth of speaking any more
of it?  He did not care any more.  He was dreary and sick.

She began to cry again, but he took no notice.  She kept wiping her
mouth on her handkerchief.  He could see it, the blood-mark.  It
made him only more sick and tired of the responsibility of it, the
violence, the shame.

When she began to move about again, he raised his head once more
from his dead, motionless position.

"Where are the things?" he said.

"They are upstairs," she quavered.  She knew the passion had gone
down in him.

"Bring them down," he said.

"I won't," she wept, with rage.  "You're not going to bully me and
hit me like that on the mouth."

And she sobbed again.  He looked at her in contempt and compassion
and in rising anger.

"Where are they?" he said.

"They're in the little drawer under the looking-glass," she sobbed.

He went slowly upstairs, struck a match, and found the trinkets.
He brought them downstairs in his hand.

"These?" he said, looking at them as they lay in his palm.

She looked at them without answering.  She was not interested in
them any more.

He looked at the little jewels.  They were pretty.

"It's none of their fault," he said to himself.

And he searched round slowly, persistently, for a box.  He tied the
things up and addressed them to Sam Adams.  Then he went out in his
slippers to post the little package.

When he came back she was still sitting crying.

"You'd better go to bed," he said.

She paid no attention.  He sat by the fire.  She still cried.

"I'm sleeping down here," he said.  "Go you to bed."

In a few moments she lifted her tear-stained, swollen face and
looked at him with eyes all forlorn and pathetic.  A great flash of
anguish went over his body.  He went over, slowly, and very gently
took her in his hands.  She let herself be taken.  Then as she lay
against his shoulder, she sobbed aloud:

"I never meant--"

"My love--my little love--" he cried, in anguish of spirit, holding
her in his arms.




A SICK COLLIER


She was too good for him, everybody said.  Yet still she did not
regret marrying him.  He had come courting her when he was only
nineteen, and she twenty.  He was in build what they call a tight
little fellow; short, dark, with a warm colour, and that upright
set of the head and chest, that flaunting way in movement recalling
a mating bird, which denotes a body taut and compact with life.
Being a good worker he had earned decent money in the mine, and
having a good home had saved a little.

She was a cook at "Uplands", a tall, fair girl, very quiet.  Having
seen her walk down the street, Horsepool had followed her from a
distance.  He was taken with her, he did not drink, and he was not
lazy.  So, although he seemed a bit simple, without much
intelligence, but having a sort of physical brightness, she
considered, and accepted him.

When they were married they went to live in Scargill Street, in a
highly respectable six-roomed house which they had furnished
between them.  The street was built up the side of a long, steep
hill.  It was narrow and rather tunnel-like.  Nevertheless, the
back looked out over the adjoining pasture, across a wide valley of
fields and woods, in the bottom of which the mine lay snugly.

He made himself gaffer in his own house.  She was unacquainted with
a collier's mode of life.  They were married on a Saturday.  On the
Sunday night he said:

"Set th' table for my breakfast, an' put my pit-things afront o'
th' fire.  I s'll be gettin' up at ha'ef pas' five.  Tha nedna
shift thysen not till when ter likes."

He showed her how to put a newspaper on the table for a cloth.
When she demurred:

"I want none o' your white cloths i' th' mornin'.  I like ter be
able to slobber if I feel like it," he said.

He put before the fire his moleskin trousers, a clean singlet, or
sleeveless vest of thick flannel, a pair of stockings and his pit
boots, arranging them all to be warm and ready for morning.

"Now tha sees.  That wants doin' ivery night."

Punctually at half past five he left her, without any form of
leave-taking, going downstairs in his shirt.

When he arrived home at four o'clock in the afternoon his dinner
was ready to be dished up.  She was startled when he came in, a
short, sturdy figure, with a face indescribably black and streaked.
She stood before the fire in her white blouse and white apron, a
fair girl, the picture of beautiful cleanliness.  He "clommaxed"
in, in his heavy boots.

"Well, how 'as ter gone on?" he asked.

"I was ready for you to come home," she replied tenderly.  In his
black face the whites of his brown eyes flashed at her.

"An' I wor ready for comin'," he said.  He planked his tin bottle
and snap-bag on the dresser, took off his coat and scarf and
waistcoat, dragged his arm-chair nearer the fire and sat down.

"Let's ha'e a bit o' dinner, then--I'm about clammed," he said.

"Aren't you goin' to wash yourself first?"

"What am I to wesh mysen for?"

"Well, you can't eat your dinner--"

"Oh, strike a daisy, Missis!  Dunna I eat my snap i' th' pit wi'out
weshin'?--forced to."

She served the dinner and sat opposite him.  His small bullet head
was quite black, save for the whites of his eyes and his scarlet
lips.  It gave her a queer sensation to see him open his red mouth
and bare his white teeth as he ate.  His arms and hands were
mottled black; his bare, strong neck got a little fairer as it
settled towards his shoulders, reassuring her.  There was the faint
indescribable odour of the pit in the room, an odour of damp,
exhausted air.

"Why is your vest so black on the shoulders?" she asked.

"My singlet?  That's wi' th' watter droppin' on us from th' roof.
This is a dry un as I put on afore I come up.  They ha'e gre't
clothes-'osses, and' as we change us things, we put 'em on theer
ter dry."

When he washed himself, kneeling on the hearth-rug stripped to the
waist, she felt afraid of him again.  He was so muscular, he seemed
so intent on what he was doing, so intensely himself, like a
vigorous animal.  And as he stood wiping himself, with his naked
breast towards her, she felt rather sick, seeing his thick arms
bulge their muscles.

They were nevertheless very happy.  He was at a great pitch of
pride because of her.  The men in the pit might chaff him, they
might try to entice him away, but nothing could reduce his self-
assured pride because of her, nothing could unsettle his almost
infantile satisfaction.  In the evening he sat in his armchair
chattering to her, or listening as she read the newspaper to him.
When it was fine, he would go into the street, squat on his heels
as colliers do, with his back against the wall of his parlour, and
call to the passers-by, in greeting, one after another.  If no one
were passing, he was content just to squat and smoke, having such a
fund of sufficiency and satisfaction in his heart.  He was well
married.

They had not been wed a year when all Brent and Wellwood's men came
out on strike.  Willy was in the Union, so with a pinch they
scrambled through.  The furniture was not all paid for, and other
debts were incurred.  She worried and contrived, he left it to her.
But he was a good husband; he gave her all he had.

The men were out fifteen weeks.  They had been back just over a
year when Willy had an accident in the mine, tearing his bladder.
At the pit head the doctor talked of the hospital.  Losing his head
entirely, the young collier raved like a madman, what with pain and
fear of hospital.

"Tha s'lt go whoam, Willy, tha s'lt go whoam," the deputy said.

A lad warned the wife to have the bed ready.  Without speaking or
hesitating she prepared.  But when the ambulance came, and she
heard him shout with pain at being moved, she was afraid lest she
should sink down.  They carried him in.

"Yo' should 'a' had a bed i' th' parlour, Missis," said the deputy,
"then we shouldn'a ha' had to hawkse 'im upstairs, an' it 'ud 'a'
saved your legs."

But it was too late now.  They got him upstairs.

"They let me lie, Lucy," he was crying, "they let me lie two mortal
hours on th' sleck afore they took me outer th' stall.  Th' peen,
Lucy, th' peen; oh, Lucy, th' peen, th' peen!"

"I know th' pain's bad, Willy, I know.  But you must try an' bear
it a bit."

"Tha manna carry on in that form, lad, thy missis'll niver be able
ter stan' it," said the deputy.

"I canna 'elp it, it's th' peen, it's th' peen," he cried again.
He had never been ill in his life.  When he had smashed a finger he
could look at the wound.  But this pain came from inside, and
terrified him.  At last he was soothed and exhausted.

It was some time before she could undress him and wash him.  He
would let no other woman do for him, having that savage modesty
usual in such men.

For six weeks he was in bed, suffering much pain.  The doctors were
not quite sure what was the matter with him, and scarcely knew what
to do.  He could eat, he did not lose flesh, nor strength, yet the
pain continued, and he could hardly walk at all.

In the sixth week the men came out in the national strike.  He
would get up quite early in the morning and sit by the window.  On
Wednesday, the second week of the strike, he sat gazing out on the
street as usual, a bullet-headed young man, still vigorous-looking,
but with a peculiar expression of hunted fear in his face.

"Lucy," he called, "Lucy!"

She, pale and worn, ran upstairs at his bidding.

"Gi'e me a han'kercher," he said.

"Why, you've got one," she replied, coming near.

"Tha nedna touch me," he cried.  Feeling his pocket, he produced a
white handkerchief.

"I non want a white un, gi'e me a red un," he said.

"An' if anybody comes to see you," she answered, giving him a red
handkerchief.

"Besides," she continued, "you needn't ha' brought me upstairs for
that."

"I b'lieve th' peen's commin' on again," he said, with a little
horror in his voice.

"It isn't, you know, it isn't," she replied.  "The doctor says you
imagine it's there when it isn't."

"Canna I feel what's inside me?" he shouted.

"There's a traction-engine coming downhill," she said.  "That'll
scatter them.  I'll just go an' finish your pudding."

She left him.  The traction-engine went by, shaking the houses.
Then the street was quiet, save for the men.  A gang of youths from
fifteen to twenty-five years old were playing marbles in the middle
of the road.  Other little groups of men were playing on the
pavement.  The street was gloomy.  Willy could hear the endless
calling and shouting of men's voices.

"Tha'rt skinchin'!"

"I arena!"

"Come 'ere with that blood-alley."

"Swop us four for't."

"Shonna, gie's hold on't."

He wanted to be out, he wanted to be playing marbles.  The pain had
weakened his mind, so that he hardly knew any self-control.

Presently another gang of men lounged up the street.  It was pay
morning.  The Union was paying the men in the Primitive Chapel.
They were returning with their half-sovereigns.

"Sorry!" bawled a voice.  "Sorry!"

The word is a form of address, corruption probably of 'Sirrah'.
Willy started almost out of his chair.

"Sorry!" again bawled a great voice.  "Art goin' wi' me to see
Notts play Villa?"

Many of the marble players started up.

"What time is it?  There's no treens, we s'll ha'e ter walk."

The street was alive with men.

"Who's goin' ter Nottingham ter see th' match?" shouted the same
big voice.  A very large, tipsy man, with his cap over his eyes,
was calling.

"Com' on--aye, com' on!" came many voices.  The street was full of
the shouting of men.  They split up in excited cliques and groups.

"Play up, Notts!" the big man shouted.

"Plee up, Notts!" shouted the youths and men.  They were at
kindling pitch.  It only needed a shout to rouse them.  Of this the
careful authorities were aware.

"I'm goin', I'm goin'!" shouted the sick man at his window.

Lucy came running upstairs.

"I'm goin' ter see Notts play Villa on th' Meadows ground," he
declared.

"You--YOU can't go.  There are no trains.  You can't walk nine
miles."

"I'm goin' ter see th' match," he declared, rising.

"You know you can't.  Sit down now an' be quiet."

She put her hand on him.  He shook it off.

"Leave me alone, leave me alone.  It's thee as ma'es th' peen come,
it's thee.  I'm goin' ter Nottingham to see th' football match."

"Sit down--folks'll hear you, and what will they think?"

"Come off'n me.  Com' off.  It's her, it's her as does it.  Com'
off."

He seized hold of her.  His little head was bristling with madness,
and he was strong as a lion.

"Oh, Willy!" she cried.

"It's 'er, it's 'er.  Kill her!" he shouted, "kill her."

"Willy, folks'll hear you."

"Th' peen's commin' on again, I tell yer.  I'll kill her for it."

He was completely out of his mind.  She struggled with him to
prevent his going to the stairs.  When she escaped from him, he was
shouting and raving, she beckoned to her neighbour, a girl of
twenty-four, who was cleaning the window across the road.

Ethel Mellor was the daughter of a well-to-do check-weighman.  She
ran across in fear to Mrs Horsepool.  Hearing the man raving,
people were running out in the street and listening.  Ethel hurried
upstairs.  Everything was clean and pretty in the young home.

Willy was staggering round the room, after the slowly retreating
Lucy, shouting:

"Kill her!  Kill her!"

"Mr Horsepool!" cried Ethel, leaning against the bed, white as the
sheets, and trembling.  "Whatever are you saying?"

"I tell yer it's 'er fault as th' peen comes on--I tell yer it is!
Kill 'er--kill 'er!"

"Kill Mrs Horsepool!" cried the trembling girl.  "Why, you're ever
so fond of her, you know you are."

"The peen--I ha'e such a lot o' peen--I want to kill 'er."

He was subsiding.  When he sat down his wife collapsed in a chair,
weeping noiselessly.  The tears ran down Ethel's face.  He sat
staring out of the window; then the old, hurt look came on his
face.

"What 'ave I been sayin'?" he asked, looking piteously at his wife.

"Why!" said Ethel, "you've been carrying on something awful,
saying, 'Kill her, kill her!'"

"Have I, Lucy?" he faltered.

"You didn't know what you was saying," said his young wife gently
but coldly.

His face puckered up.  He bit his lip, then broke into tears,
sobbing uncontrollably, with his face to the window.

There was no sound in the room but of three people crying bitterly,
breath caught in sobs.  Suddenly Lucy put away her tears and went
over to him.

"You didn't know what you was sayin', Willy, I know you didn't.  I
knew you didn't, all the time.  It doesn't matter, Willy.  Only
don't do it again."

In a little while, when they were calmer, she went downstairs with
Ethel.

"See if anybody is looking in the street," she said.

Ethel went into the parlour and peeped through the curtains.

"Aye!" she said.  "You may back your life Lena an' Mrs Severn'll be
out gorping, and that clat-fartin' Mrs Allsop."

"Oh, I hope they haven't heard anything!  If it gets about as he's
out of his mind, they'll stop his compensation, I know they will."

"They'd never stop his compensation for THAT," protested Ethel.

"Well, they HAVE been stopping some--"

"It'll not get about.  I s'll tell nobody."

"Oh, but if it does, whatever shall we do? . . ."




THE CHRISTENING


The mistress of the British School stepped down from her school
gate, and instead of turning to the left as usual, she turned to
the right.  Two women who were hastening home to scramble their
husbands' dinners together--it was five minutes to four--stopped to
look at her.  They stood gazing after her for a moment; then they
glanced at each other with a woman's little grimace.

To be sure, the retreating figure was ridiculous: small and thin,
with a black straw hat, and a rusty cashmere dress hanging full all
round the skirt.  For so small and frail and rusty a creature to
sail with slow, deliberate stride was also absurd.  Hilda Rowbotham
was less than thirty, so it was not years that set the measure of
her pace; she had heart disease.  Keeping her face, that was small
with sickness, but not uncomely, firmly lifted and fronting ahead,
the young woman sailed on past the market-place, like a black swan
of mournful, disreputable plumage.

She turned into Berryman's, the baker's.  The shop displayed bread
and cakes, sacks of flour and oatmeal, flitches of bacon, hams,
lard and sausages.  The combination of scents was not unpleasing.
Hilda Rowbotham stood for some minutes nervously tapping and
pushing a large knife that lay on the counter, and looking at the
tall, glittering brass scales.  At last a morose man with sandy
whiskers came down the step from the house-place.

"What is it?" he asked, not apologizing for his delay.

"Will you give me six-pennyworth of assorted cakes and pastries--
and put in some macaroons, please?" she asked, in remarkably rapid
and nervous speech.  Her lips fluttered like two leaves in a wind,
and her words crowded and rushed like a flock of sheep at a gate.

"We've got no macaroons," said the man churlishly.

He had evidently caught that word.  He stood waiting.

"Then I can't have any, Mr Berryman.  Now I do feel disappointed.
I like those macaroons, you know, and it's not often I treat
myself.  One gets so tired of trying to spoil oneself, don't you
think?  It's less profitable even than trying to spoil somebody
else."  She laughed a quick little nervous laugh, putting her hand
to her face.

"Then what'll you have?" asked the man, without the ghost of an
answering smile.  He evidently had not followed, so he looked more
glum than ever.

"Oh, anything you've got," replied the schoolmistress, flushing
slightly.  The man moved slowly about, dropping the cakes from
various dishes one by one into a paper bag.

"How's that sister o' yours getting on?" he asked, as if he were
talking to the flour scoop.

"Whom do you mean?" snapped the schoolmistress.

"The youngest," answered the stooping, pale-faced man, with a note
of sarcasm.

"Emma!  Oh, she's very well, thank you!"  The schoolmistress was
very red, but she spoke with sharp, ironical defiance.  The man
grunted.  Then he handed her the bag and watched her out of the
shop without bidding her "Good afternoon".

She had the whole length of the main street to traverse, a half-
mile of slow-stepping torture, with shame flushing over her neck.
But she carried her white bag with an appearance of steadfast
unconcern.  When she turned into the field she seemed to droop a
little.  The wide valley opened out from her, with the far woods
withdrawing into twilight, and away in the centre the great pit
streaming its white smoke and chuffing as the men were being turned
up.  A full, rose-coloured moon, like a flamingo flying low under
the far, dusky east, drew out of the mist.  It was beautiful, and
it made her irritable sadness soften, diffuse.

Across the field, and she was at home.  It was a new, substantial
cottage, built with unstinted hand, such a house as an old miner
could build himself out of his savings.  In the rather small
kitchen a woman of dark, saturnine complexion sat nursing a baby in
a long white gown; a young woman of heavy, brutal cast stood at the
table, cutting bread and butter.  She had a downcast, humble mien
that sat unnaturally on her, and was strangely irritating.  She did
not look round when her sister entered.  Hilda put down the bag of
cakes and left the room, not having spoken to Emma, nor to the
baby, not to Mrs Carlin, who had come in to help for the afternoon.

Almost immediately the father entered from the yard with a dustpan
full of coals.  He was a large man, but he was going to pieces.  As
he passed through, he gripped the door with his free hand to steady
himself, but turning, he lurched and swayed.  He began putting the
coals on the fire, piece by piece.  One lump fell from his hand and
smashed on the white hearth.  Emma Rowbotham looked round, and
began in a rough, loud voice of anger:  "Look at you!"  Then she
consciously moderated her tones.  "I'll sweep it up in a minute--
don't you bother; you'll only be going head first into the fire."

Her father bent down nevertheless to clear up the mess he had made,
saying, articulating his words loosely and slavering in his speech:

"The lousy bit of a thing, it slipped between my fingers like a
fish."

As he spoke he went tilting towards the fire.  The dark-browed
woman cried out: he put his hand on the hot stove to save himself:
Emma swung round and dragged him off.

"Didn't I tell you!" she cried roughly.  "Now, have you burnt
yourself?"

She held tight hold of the big man, and pushed him into his chair.

"What's the matter?" cried a sharp voice from the other room.  The
speaker appeared, a hard well-favoured woman of twenty-eight.
"Emma, don't speak like that to father."  Then, in a tone not so
cold, but just as sharp:  "Now, father, what have you been doing?"

Emma withdrew to her table sullenly.

"It's nöwt," said the old man, vainly protesting.  "It's nöwt, at
a'.  Get on wi' what you're doin'."

"I'm afraid 'e's burnt 'is 'and," said the black-browed woman,
speaking of him with a kind of hard pity, as if he were a
cumbersome child.  Bertha took the old man's hand and looked at it,
making a quick tut-tutting noise of impatience.

"Emma, get that zinc ointment--and some white rag," she commanded
sharply.  The younger sister put down her loaf with the knife in
it, and went.  To a sensitive observer, this obedience was more
intolerable than the most hateful discord.  The dark woman bent
over the baby and made silent, gentle movements of motherliness to
it.  The little one smiled and moved on her lap.  It continued to
move and twist.

"I believe this child's hungry," she said.  "How long is it since
he had anything?"

"Just afore dinner," said Emma dully.

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Bertha.  "You needn't starve the child
now you've got it.  Once every two hours it ought to be fed, as
I've told you; and now it's three.  Take him, poor little mite--
I'll cut the bread."  She bent and looked at the bonny baby.  She
could not help herself: she smiled, and pressed its cheek with her
finger, and nodded to it, making little noises.  Then she turned
and took the loaf from her sister.  The woman rose and gave the
child to its mother.  Emma bent over the little sucking mite.  She
hated it when she looked at it, and saw it as a symbol, but when
she felt it, her love was like fire in her blood.

"I should think 'e canna be comin'," said the father uneasily,
looking up at the clock.

"Nonsense, father--the clock's fast!  It's but half-past four!
Don't fidget!"  Bertha continued to cut the bread and butter.

"Open a tin of pears," she said to the woman, in a much milder
tone.  Then she went into the next room.  As soon as she was gone,
the old man said again:  "I should ha'e thought he'd 'a' been 'ere
by now, if he means comin'."

Emma, engrossed, did not answer.  The father had ceased to consider
her, since she had become humbled.

"'E'll come--'e'll come!" assured the stranger.

A few minutes later Bertha hurried into the kitchen, taking off her
apron.  The dog barked furiously.  She opened the door, commanded
the dog to silence, and said:  "He will be quiet now, Mr Kendal."

"Thank you," said a sonorous voice, and there was the sound of a
bicycle being propped against a wall.  A clergyman entered, a big-
boned, thin, ugly man of nervous manner.  He went straight to the
father.

"Ah--how are you?" he asked musically, peering down on the great
frame of the miner, ruined by locomotor ataxy.

His voice was full of gentleness, but he seemed as if he could not
see distinctly, could not get things clear.

"Have you hurt you hand?" he said comfortingly, seeing the white
rag.

"It wor nöwt but a pestered bit o' coal as dropped, an' I put my
hand on th' hub.  I thought tha worna commin'."

The familiar 'tha', and the reproach, were unconscious retaliation
on the old man's part.  The minister smiled, half wistfully, half
indulgently.  He was full of vague tenderness.  Then he turned to
the young mother, who flushed sullenly because her dishonoured
breast was uncovered.

"How are YOU?" he asked, very softly and gently, as if she were ill
and he were mindful of her.

"I'm all right," she replied, awkwardly taking his hand without
rising, hiding her face and the anger that rose in her.

"Yes--yes"--he peered down at the baby, which sucked with distended
mouth upon the firm breast.  "Yes, yes."  He seemed lost in a dim
musing.

Coming to, he shook hands unseeingly with the woman.

Presently they all went into the next room, the minister hesitating
to help his crippled old deacon.

"I can go by myself, thank yer," testily replied the father.

Soon all were seated.  Everybody was separated in feeling and
isolated at table.  High tea was spread in the middle kitchen, a
large, ugly room kept for special occasions.

Hilda appeared last, and the clumsy, raw-boned clergyman rose to
meet her.  He was afraid of this family, the well-to-do old
collier, and the brutal, self-willed children.  But Hilda was queen
among them.  She was the clever one, and had been to college.  She
felt responsible for the keeping up of a high standard of conduct
in all the members of the family.  There WAS a difference between
the Rowbothams and the common collier folk.  Woodbine Cottage was a
superior house to most--and was built in pride by the old man.
She, Hilda, was a college-trained schoolmistress; she meant to keep
up the prestige of her house in spite of blows.

She had put on a dress of green voile for this special occasion.
But she was very thin; her neck protruded painfully.  The
clergyman, however, greeted her almost with reverence, and, with
some assumption of dignity, she sat down before the tray.  At the
far end of the table sat the broken, massive frame of her father.
Next to him was the youngest daughter, nursing the restless baby.
The minister sat between Hilda and Bertha, hulking his bony frame
uncomfortably.

There was a great spread on the table, of tinned fruits and tinned
salmon, ham and cakes.  Miss Rowbotham kept a keen eye on
everything: she felt the importance of the occasion.  The young
mother who had given rise to all this solemnity ate in sulky
discomfort, snatching sullen little smiles at her child, smiles
which came, in spite of her, when she felt its little limbs
stirring vigorously on her lap.  Bertha, sharp and abrupt, was
chiefly concerned with the baby.  She scorned her sister, and
treated her like dirt.  But the infant was a streak of light to
her.  Miss Rowbotham concerned herself with the function and the
conversation.  Her hands fluttered; she talked in little volleys
exceedingly nervous.  Towards the end of the meal, there came a
pause.  The old man wiped his mouth with his red handkerchief,
then, his blue eyes going fixed and staring, he began to speak, in
a loose, slobbering fashion, charging his words at the clergyman.

"Well, mester--we'n axed you to come her ter christen this childt,
an' you'n come, an' I'm sure we're very thankful.  I can't see
lettin' the poor blessed childt miss baptizing, an' they aren't
for goin' to church wi't--"  He seemed to lapse into a muse.  "So,"
he resumed, "we'v axed you to come here to do the job.  I'm not
sayin' as it's not 'ard on us, it is.  I'm breakin' up, an'
mother's gone.  I don't like leavin' a girl o' mine in a situation
like 'ers is, but what the Lord's done, He's done, an' it's no
matter murmuring. . . .  There's one thing to be thankful for, an'
we ARE thankful for it: they never need know the want of bread."

Miss Rowbotham, the lady of the family, sat very stiff and pained
during this discourse.  She was sensitive to so many things that
she was bewildered.  She felt her young sister's shame, then a kind
of swift protecting love for the baby, a feeling that included the
mother; she was at a loss before her father's religious sentiment,
and she felt and resented bitterly the mark upon the family,
against which the common folk could lift their fingers.  Still she
winced from the sound of her father's words.  It was a painful
ordeal.

"It is hard for you," began the clergyman in his soft, lingering,
unworldly voice.  "It is hard for you today, but the Lord gives
comfort in His time.  A man child is born unto us, therefore let us
rejoice and be glad.  If sin has entered in among us, let us purify
out hearts before the Lord. . . ."

He went on with his discourse.  The young mother lifted the
whimpering infant, till its face was hid in her loose hair.  She
was hurt, and a little glowering anger shone in her face.  But
nevertheless her fingers clasped the body of the child beautifully.
She was stupefied with anger against this emotion let loose on her
account.

Miss Bertha rose and went to the little kitchen, returning with
water in a china bowl.  She placed it there among the tea-things.

"Well, we're all ready," said the old man, and the clergyman began
to read the service.  Miss Bertha was godmother, the two men
godfathers.  The old man sat with bent head.  The scene became
impressive.  At last Miss Bertha took the child and put it in the
arms of the clergyman.  He, big and ugly, shone with a kind of
unreal love.  He had never mixed with life, and women were all
unliving, Biblical things to him.  When he asked for the name, the
old man lifted his head fiercely.  "Joseph William, after me," he
said, almost out of breath.

"Joseph William, I baptize thee. . . ." resounded the strange,
full, chanting voice of the clergyman.  The baby was quite still.

"Let us pray!"  It came with relief to them all.  They knelt before
their chairs, all but the young mother, who bent and hid herself
over her baby.  The clergyman began his hesitating, struggling
prayer.

Just then heavy footsteps were heard coming up the path, ceasing at
the window.  The young mother, glancing up, saw her brother, black
in his pit dirt, grinning in through the panes.  His red mouth
curved in a sneer; his fair hair shone above his blackened skin.
He caught the eye of his sister and grinned.  Then his black face
disappeared.  He had gone on into the kitchen.  The girl with the
child sat still and anger filled her heart.  She herself hated now
the praying clergyman and the whole emotional business; she hated
her brother bitterly.  In anger and bondage she sat and listened.

Suddenly her father began to pray.  His familiar, loud, rambling
voice made her shut herself up and become even insentient.  Folks
said his mind was weakening.  She believed it to be true, and kept
herself always disconnected from him.

"We ask Thee, Lord," the old man cried, "to look after this childt.
Fatherless he is.  But what does the earthly father matter before
Thee?  The childt is Thine, he is Thy childt.  Lord, what father
has a man but Thee?  Lord, when a man says he is a father, he is
wrong from the first word.  For Thou art the Father, Lord.  Lord,
take away from us the conceit that our children are ours.  Lord,
Thou art Father of this childt as is fatherless here.  O God, Thou
bring him up.  For I have stood between Thee and my children; I've
had MY way with them, Lord; I've stood between Thee and my
children; I've cut 'em off from Thee because they were mine.  And
they've grown twisted, because of me.  Who is their father, Lord,
but Thee?  But I put myself in the way, they've been plants under a
stone, because of me.  Lord, if it hadn't been for me, they might
ha' been trees in the sunshine.  Let me own it, Lord, I've done 'em
mischief.  It could ha' been better if they'd never known no
father.  No man is a father, Lord: only Thou art.  They can never
grow beyond Thee, but I hampered them.  Lift 'em up again, and undo
what I've done to my children.  And let this young childt be like a
willow tree beside the waters, with no father but Thee, O God.  Aye
an' I wish it had been so with my children, that they'd had no
father but Thee.  For I've been like a stone upon them, and they
rise up and curse me in their wickedness.  But let me go, an' lift
Thou them up, Lord . . ."

The minister, unaware of the feelings of a father, knelt in
trouble, hearing without understanding the special language of
fatherhood.  Miss Rowbotham alone felt and understood a little.
Her heart began to flutter; she was in pain.  The two younger
daughters kneeled unhearing, stiffened and impervious.  Bertha was
thinking of the baby; and the younger mother thought of the father
of her child, whom she hated.  There was a clatter in the scullery.
There the youngest son made as much noise as he could, pouring out
the water for his wash, muttering in deep anger:

"Blortin', slaverin' old fool!"

And while the praying of his father continued, his heart was
burning with rage.  On the table was a paper bag.  He picked it up
and read, "John Berryman--Bread, Pastries, etc."  Then he grinned
with a grimace.  The father of the baby was baker's man at
Berryman's.  The prayer went on in the middle kitchen.  Laurie
Rowbotham gathered together the mouth of the bag, inflated it, and
burst it with his fist.  There was a loud report.  He grinned to
himself.  But he writhed at the same time with shame and fear of
his father.

The father broke off from his prayer; the party shuffled to their
feet.  The young mother went into the scullery.

"What art doin', fool?" she said.

The collier youth tipped the baby under the chin, singing:


     "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man,
      Bake me a cake as fast as you can. . . ."


The mother snatched the child away.  "Shut thy mouth," she said,
the colour coming into her cheek.


     "Prick it and stick it and mark it with P,
      And put it i' th' oven for baby an' me. . . ."


He grinned, showing a grimy, and jeering and unpleasant red mouth
and white teeth.

"I s'll gi'e thee a dab ower th' mouth," said the mother of the
baby grimly.  He began to sing again, and she struck out at him.

"Now what's to do?" said the father, staggering in.

The youth began to sing again.  His sister stood sullen and
furious.

"Why, does THAT upset you?" asked the eldest Miss Rowbotham,
sharply, of Emma the mother.  "Good gracious, it hasn't improved
your temper."

Miss Bertha came in, and took the bonny baby.

The father sat big and unheeding in his chair, his eyes vacant, his
physique wrecked.  He let them do as they would, he fell to pieces.
And yet some power, involuntary, like a curse, remained in him.
The very ruin of him was like a lodestone that held them in its
control.  The wreck of him still dominated the house, in his
dissolution even he compelled their being.  They had never lived;
his life, his will had always been upon them and contained them.
They were only half-individuals.

The day after the christening he staggered in at the doorway
declaring, in a loud voice, with joy in life still:  "The daisies
light up the earth, they clap their hands in multitudes, in praise
of the morning."  And his daughters shrank, sullen.




ODOUR OF CHRYSANTHEMUMS


I


The small locomotive engine, Number 4, came clanking, stumbling
down from Selston--with seven full waggons.  It appeared round the
corner with loud threats of speed, but the colt that it startled
from among the gorse, which still flickered indistinctly in the raw
afternoon, outdistanced it at a canter.  A woman, walking up the
railway line to Underwood, drew back into the hedge, held her
basket aside, and watched the footplate of the engine advancing.
The trucks thumped heavily past, one by one, with slow inevitable
movement, as she stood insignificantly trapped between the jolting
black waggons and the hedge; then they curved away towards the
coppice where the withered oak leaves dropped noiselessly, while
the birds, pulling at the scarlet hips beside the track, made off
into the dusk that had already crept into the spinney.  In the
open, the smoke from the engine sank and cleaved to the rough
grass.  The fields were dreary and forsaken, and in the marshy
strip that led to the whimsey, a reedy pit-pond, the fowls had
already abandoned their run among the alders, to roost in the
tarred fowl-house.  The pit-bank loomed up beyond the pond, flames
like red sores licking its ashy sides, in the afternoon's stagnant
light.  Just beyond rose the tapering chimneys and the clumsy black
head-stocks of Brinsley Colliery.  The two wheels were spinning
fast up against the sky, and the winding-engine rapped out its
little spasms.  The miners were being turned up.

The engine whistled as it came into the wide bay of railway lines
beside the colliery, where rows of trucks stood in harbour.

Miners, single, trailing and in groups, passed like shadows
diverging home.  At the edge of the ribbed level of sidings squat a
low cottage, three steps down from the cinder track.  A large bony
vine clutched at the house, as if to claw down the tiled roof.
Round the bricked yard grew a few wintry primroses.  Beyond, the
long garden sloped down to a bush-covered brook course.  There were
some twiggy apple trees, winter-crack trees, and ragged cabbages.
Beside the path hung dishevelled pink chrysanthemums, like pink
cloths hung on bushes.  A woman came stooping out of the felt-
covered fowl-house, half-way down the garden.  She closed and
padlocked the door, then drew herself erect, having brushed some
bits from her white apron.

She was a till woman of imperious mien, handsome, with definite
black eyebrows.  Her smooth black hair was parted exactly.  For a
few moments she stood steadily watching the miners as they passed
along the railway: then she turned towards the brook course.  Her
face was calm and set, her mouth was closed with disillusionment.
After a moment she called:

"John!"  There was no answer.  She waited, and then said distinctly:

"Where are you?"

"Here!" replied a child's sulky voice from among the bushes.  The
woman looked piercingly through the dusk.

"Are you at that brook?" she asked sternly.

For answer the child showed himself before the raspberry-canes that
rose like whips.  He was a small, sturdy boy of five.  He stood
quite still, defiantly.

"Oh!" said the mother, conciliated.  "I thought you were down at
that wet brook--and you remember what I told you--"

The boy did not move or answer.

"Come, come on in," she said more gently, "it's getting dark.
There's your grandfather's engine coming down the line!"

The lad advanced slowly, with resentful, taciturn movement.  He was
dressed in trousers and waistcoat of cloth that was too thick and
hard for the size of the garments.  They were evidently cut down
from a man's clothes.

As they went slowly towards the house he tore at the ragged wisps
of chrysanthemums and dropped the petals in handfuls along the
path.

"Don't do that--it does look nasty," said his mother.  He
refrained, and she, suddenly pitiful, broke off a twig with three
or four wan flowers and held them against her face.  When mother
and son reached the yard her hand hesitated, and instead of laying
the flower aside, she pushed it in her apron-band.  The mother and
son stood at the foot of the three steps looking across the bay of
lines at the passing home of the miners.  The trundle of the small
train was imminent.  Suddenly the engine loomed past the house and
came to a stop opposite the gate.

The engine-driver, a short man with round grey beard, leaned out of
the cab high above the woman.

"Have you got a cup of tea?" he said in a cheery, hearty fashion.

It was her father.  She went in, saying she would mash.  Directly,
she returned.

"I didn't come to see you on Sunday," began the little grey-bearded
man.

"I didn't expect you," said his daughter.

The engine-driver winced; then, reassuming his cheery, airy manner,
he said:

"Oh, have you heard then?  Well, and what do you think--?"

"I think it is soon enough," she replied.

At her brief censure the little man made an impatient gesture, and
said coaxingly, yet with dangerous coldness:

"Well, what's a man to do?  It's no sort of life for a man of my
years, to sit at my own hearth like a stranger.  And if I'm going
to marry again it may as well be soon as late--what does it matter
to anybody?"

The woman did not reply, but turned and went into the house.  The
man in the engine-cab stood assertive, till she returned with a cup
of tea and a piece of bread and butter on a plate.  She went up the
steps and stood near the footplate of the hissing engine.

"You needn't 'a' brought me bread an' butter," said her father.
"But a cup of tea"--he sipped appreciatively--"it's very nice."  He
sipped for a moment or two, then:  "I hear as Walter's got another
bout on," he said.

"When hasn't he?" said the woman bitterly.

"I heered tell of him in the 'Lord Nelson' braggin' as he was going
to spend that b---- afore he went: half a sovereign that was."

"When?" asked the woman.

"A' Sat'day night--I know that's true."

"Very likely," she laughed bitterly.  "He gives me twenty-three
shillings."

"Aye, it's a nice thing, when a man can do nothing with his money
but make a beast of himself!" said the grey-whiskered man.  The
woman turned her head away.  Her father swallowed the last of his
tea and handed her the cup.

"Aye," he sighed, wiping his mouth.  "It's a settler, it is--"

He put his hand on the lever.  The little engine strained and
groaned, and the train rumbled towards the crossing.  The woman
again looked across the metals.  Darkness was settling over the
spaces of the railway and trucks: the miners, in grey sombre
groups, were still passing home.  The winding-engine pulsed
hurriedly, with brief pauses.  Elizabeth Bates looked at the dreary
flow of men, then she went indoors.  Her husband did not come.

The kitchen was small and full of firelight; red coals piled
glowing up the chimney mouth.  All the life of the room seemed in
the white, warm hearth and the steel fender reflecting the red
fire.  The cloth was laid for tea; cups glinted in the shadows.  At
the back, where the lowest stairs protruded into the room, the boy
sat struggling with a knife and a piece of whitewood.  He was
almost hidden in the shadow.  It was half-past four.  They had but
to await the father's coming to begin tea.  As the mother watched
her son's sullen little struggle with the wood, she saw herself in
his silence and pertinacity; she saw the father in her child's
indifference to all but himself.  She seemed to be occupied by her
husband.  He had probably gone past his home, slunk past his own
door, to drink before he came in, while his dinner spoiled and
wasted in waiting.  She glanced at the clock, then took the
potatoes to strain them in the yard.  The garden and fields beyond
the brook were closed in uncertain darkness.  When she rose with
the saucepan, leaving the drain steaming into the night behind her,
she saw the yellow lamps were lit along the high road that went up
the hill away beyond the space of the railway lines and the field.

Then again she watched the men trooping home, fewer now and fewer.

Indoors the fire was sinking and the room was dark red.  The woman
put her saucepan on the hob, and set a batter pudding near the
mouth of the oven.  Then she stood unmoving.  Directly, gratefully,
came quick young steps to the door.  Someone hung on the latch a
moment, then a little girl entered and began pulling off her
outdoor things, dragging a mass of curls, just ripening from gold
to brown, over her eyes with her hat.

Her mother chid her for coming late from school, and said she would
have to keep her at home the dark winter days.

"Why, mother, it's hardly a bit dark yet.  The lamp's not lighted,
and my father's not home."

"No, he isn't.  But it's a quarter to five!  Did you see anything
of him?"

The child became serious.  She looked at her mother with large,
wistful blue eyes.

"No, mother, I've never seen him.  Why?  Has he come up an' gone
past, to Old Brinsley?  He hasn't, mother, 'cos I never saw him."

"He'd watch that," said the mother bitterly, "he'd take care as you
didn't see him.  But you may depend upon it, he's seated in the
'Prince o' Wales'.  He wouldn't be this late."

The girl looked at her mother piteously.

"Let's have our teas, mother, should we?" said she.

The mother called John to table.  She opened the door once more and
looked out across the darkness of the lines.  All was deserted: she
could not hear the winding-engines.

"Perhaps," she said to herself, "he's stopped to get some ripping
done."

They sat down to tea.  John, at the end of the table near the door,
was almost lost in the darkness.  Their faces were hidden from each
other.  The girl crouched against the fender slowly moving a thick
piece of bread before the fire.  The lad, his face a dusky mark on
the shadow, sat watching her who was transfigured in the red glow.

"I do think it's beautiful to look in the fire," said the child.

"Do you?" said her mother.  "Why?"

"It's so red, and full of little caves--and it feels so nice, and
you can fair smell it."

"It'll want mending directly," replied her mother, "and then if
your father comes he'll carry on and say there never is a fire when
a man comes home sweating from the pit.--A public-house is always
warm enough."

There was silence till the boy said complainingly:  "Make haste,
our Annie."

"Well, I am doing!  I can't make the fire do it no faster, can I?"

"She keeps wafflin' it about so's to make 'er slow," grumbled the
boy.

"Don't have such an evil imagination, child," replied the mother.

Soon the room was busy in the darkness with the crisp sound of
crunching.  The mother ate very little.  She drank her tea
determinedly, and sat thinking.  When she rose her anger was
evident in the stern unbending of her head.  She looked at the
pudding in the fender, and broke out:

"It is a scandalous thing as a man can't even come home to his
dinner!  If it's crozzled up to a cinder I don't see why I should
care.  Past his very door he goes to get to a public-house, and
here I sit with his dinner waiting for him--"

She went out.  As she dropped piece after piece of coal on the red
fire, the shadows fell on the walls, till the room was almost in
total darkness.

"I canna see," grumbled the invisible John.  In spite of herself,
the mother laughed.

"You know the way to your mouth," she said.  She set the dustpan
outside the door.  When she came again like a shadow on the hearth,
the lad repeated, complaining sulkily:

"I canna see."

"Good gracious!" cried the mother irritably, "you're as bad as your
father if it's a bit dusk!"

Nevertheless she took a paper spill from a sheaf on the mantelpiece
and proceeded to light the lamp that hung from the ceiling in the
middle of the room.  As she reached up, her figure displayed itself
just rounding with maternity.

"Oh, mother--!" exclaimed the girl.

"What?" said the woman, suspended in the act of putting the lamp
glass over the flame.  The copper reflector shone handsomely on
her, as she stood with uplifted arm, turning to face her daughter.

"You've got a flower in your apron!" said the child, in a little
rapture at this unusual event.

"Goodness me!" exclaimed the woman, relieved.  "One would think the
house was afire."  She replaced the glass and waited a moment
before turning up the wick.  A pale shadow was seen floating
vaguely on the floor.

"Let me smell!" said the child, still rapturously, coming forward
and putting her face to her mother's waist.

"Go along, silly!" said the mother, turning up the lamp.  The light
revealed their suspense so that the woman felt it almost
unbearable.  Annie was still bending at her waist.  Irritably, the
mother took the flowers out from her apron-band.

"Oh, mother--don't take them out!" Annie cried, catching her hand
and trying to replace the sprig.

"Such nonsense!" said the mother, turning away.  The child put the
pale chrysanthemums to her lips, murmuring:

"Don't they smell beautiful!"

Her mother gave a short laugh.

"No," she said, "not to me.  It was chrysanthemums when I married
him, and chrysanthemums when you were born, and the first time they
ever brought him home drunk, he'd got brown chrysanthemums in his
button-hole."

She looked at the children.  Their eyes and their parted lips were
wondering.  The mother sat rocking in silence for some time.  Then
she looked at the clock.

"Twenty minutes to six!"  In a tone of fine bitter carelessness she
continued:  "Eh, he'll not come now till they bring him.  There
he'll stick!  But he needn't come rolling in here in his pit-dirt,
for _I_ won't wash him.  He can lie on the floor--Eh, what a fool
I've been, what a fool!  And this is what I came here for, to this
dirty hole, rats and all, for him to slink past his very door.
Twice last week--he's begun now-"

She silenced herself, and rose to clear the table.

While for an hour or more the children played, subduedly intent,
fertile of imagination, united in fear of the mother's wrath, and
in dread of their father's home-coming, Mrs Bates sat in her
rocking-chair making a 'singlet' of thick cream-coloured flannel,
which gave a dull wounded sound as she tore off the grey edge.  She
worked at her sewing with energy, listening to the children, and
her anger wearied itself, lay down to rest, opening its eyes from
time to time and steadily watching, its ears raised to listen.
Sometimes even her anger quailed and shrank, and the mother
suspended her sewing, tracing the footsteps that thudded along the
sleepers outside; she would lift her head sharply to bid the
children 'hush', but she recovered herself in time, and the
footsteps went past the gate, and the children were not flung out
of their playing world.

But at last Annie sighed, and gave in.  She glanced at her waggon
of slippers, and loathed the game.  She turned plaintively to her
mother.

"Mother!"--but she was inarticulate.

John crept out like a frog from under the sofa.  His mother glanced
up.

"Yes," she said, "just look at those shirt-sleeves!"

The boy held them out to survey them, saying nothing.  Then
somebody called in a hoarse voice away down the line, and suspense
bristled in the room, till two people had gone by outside, talking.

"It is time for bed," said the mother.

"My father hasn't come," wailed Annie plaintively.  But her mother
was primed with courage.

"Never mind.  They'll bring him when he does come--like a log."
She meant there would be no scene.  "And he may sleep on the floor
till he wakes himself.  I know he'll not go to work tomorrow after
this!"

The children had their hands and faces wiped with a flannel.  They
were very quiet.  When they had put on their nightdresses, they
said their prayers, the boy mumbling.  The mother looked down at
them, at the brown silken bush of intertwining curls in the nape of
the girl's neck, at the little black head of the lad, and her heart
burst with anger at their father who caused all three such
distress.  The children hid their faces in her skirts for comfort.

When Mrs Bates came down, the room was strangely empty, with a
tension of expectancy.  She took up her sewing and stitched for
some time without raising her head.  Meantime her anger was tinged
with fear.


II


The clock struck eight and she rose suddenly, dropping her sewing
on her chair.  She went to the stairfoot door, opened it,
listening.  Then she went out, locking the door behind her.

Something scuffled in the yard, and she started, though she knew it
was only the rats with which the place was overrun.  The night was
very dark.  In the great bay of railway lines, bulked with trucks,
there was no trace of light, only away back she could see a few
yellow lamps at the pit-top, and the red smear of the burning pit-
bank on the night.  She hurried along the edge of the track, then,
crossing the converging lines, came to the stile by the white
gates, whence she emerged on the road.  Then the fear which had led
her shrank.  People were walking up to New Brinsley; she saw the
lights in the houses; twenty yards further on were the broad
windows of the 'Prince of Wales', very warm and bright, and the
loud voices of men could be heard distinctly.  What a fool she had
been to imagine that anything had happened to him!  He was merely
drinking over there at the 'Prince of Wales'.  She faltered.  She
had never yet been to fetch him, and she never would go.  So she
continued her walk towards the long straggling line of houses,
standing blank on the highway.  She entered a passage between the
dwellings.

"Mr Rigley?--Yes!  Did you want him?  No, he's not in at this
minute."

The raw-boned woman leaned forward from her dark scullery and
peered at the other, upon whom fell a dim light through the blind
of the kitchen window.

"Is it Mrs Bates?" she asked in a tone tinged with respect.

"Yes.  I wondered if your Master was at home.  Mine hasn't come
yet."

"'Asn't 'e!  Oh, Jack's been 'ome an 'ad 'is dinner an' gone out.
E's just gone for 'alf an hour afore bedtime.  Did you call at the
'Prince of Wales'?"

"No--"

"No, you didn't like--!  It's not very nice."  The other woman was
indulgent.  There was an awkward pause.  "Jack never said nothink
about--about your Mester," she said.

"No!--I expect he's stuck in there!"

Elizabeth Bates said this bitterly, and with recklessness.  She
knew that the woman across the yard was standing at her door
listening, but she did not care.  As she turned:

"Stop a minute!  I'll just go an' ask Jack if e' knows anythink,"
said Mrs Rigley.

"Oh, no--I wouldn't like to put--!"

"Yes, I will, if you'll just step inside an' see as th' childer
doesn't come downstairs and set theirselves afire."

Elizabeth Bates, murmuring a remonstrance, stepped inside.  The
other woman apologized for the state of the room.

The kitchen needed apology.  There were little frocks and trousers
and childish undergarments on the squab and on the floor, and a
litter of playthings everywhere.  On the black American cloth of
the table were pieces of bread and cake, crusts, slops, and a
teapot with cold tea.

"Eh, ours is just as bad," said Elizabeth Bates, looking at the
woman, not at the house.  Mrs Rigley put a shawl over her head and
hurried out, saying:

"I shanna be a minute."

The other sat, noting with faint disapproval the general untidiness
of the room.  Then she fell to counting the shoes of various sizes
scattered over the floor.  There were twelve.  She sighed and said
to herself, "No wonder!"--glancing at the litter.  There came the
scratching of two pairs of feet on the yard, and the Rigleys
entered.  Elizabeth Bates rose.  Rigley was a big man, with very
large bones.  His head looked particularly bony.  Across his temple
was a blue scar, caused by a wound got in the pit, a wound in which
the coal-dust remained blue like tattooing.

"Asna 'e come whoam yit?" asked the man, without any form of
greeting, but with deference and sympathy.  "I couldna say wheer he
is--'e's non ower theer!"--he jerked his head to signify the
'Prince of Wales'.

"'E's 'appen gone up to th' 'Yew'," said Mrs Rigley.

There was another pause.  Rigley had evidently something to get off
his mind:

"Ah left 'im finishin' a stint," he began.  "Loose-all 'ad bin gone
about ten minutes when we com'n away, an' I shouted, 'Are ter
comin', Walt?' an' 'e said, 'Go on, Ah shanna be but a'ef a
minnit,' so we com'n ter th' bottom, me an' Bowers, thinkin' as 'e
wor just behint, an' 'ud come up i' th' next bantle--"

He stood perplexed, as if answering a charge of deserting his mate.
Elizabeth Bates, now again certain of disaster, hastened to
reassure him:

"I expect 'e's gone up to th' 'Yew Tree', as you say.  It's not the
first time.  I've fretted myself into a fever before now.  He'll
come home when they carry him."

"Ay, isn't it too bad!" deplored the other woman.

"I'll just step up to Dick's an' see if 'e IS theer," offered the
man, afraid of appearing alarmed, afraid of taking liberties.

"Oh, I wouldn't think of bothering you that far," said Elizabeth
Bates, with emphasis, but he knew she was glad of his offer.

As they stumbled up the entry, Elizabeth Bates heard Rigley's wife
run across the yard and open her neighbour's door.  At this,
suddenly all the blood in her body seemed to switch away from her
heart.

"Mind!" warned Rigley.  "Ah've said many a time as Ah'd fill up
them ruts in this entry, sumb'dy 'll be breakin' their legs yit."

She recovered herself and walked quickly along with the miner.

"I don't like leaving the children in bed, and nobody in the
house," she said.

"No, you dunna!" he replied courteously.  They were soon at the
gate of the cottage.

"Well, I shanna be many minnits.  Dunna you be frettin' now, 'e'll
be all right," said the butty.

"Thank you very much, Mr Rigley," she replied.

"You're welcome!" he stammered, moving away.  "I shanna be many
minnits."

The house was quiet.  Elizabeth Bates took off her hat and shawl,
and rolled back the rug.  When she had finished, she sat down.  It
was a few minutes past nine.  She was startled by the rapid chuff
of the winding-engine at the pit, and the sharp whirr of the brakes
on the rope as it descended.  Again she felt the painful sweep of
her blood, and she put her hand to her side, saying aloud, "Good
gracious!--it's only the nine o'clock deputy going down," rebuking
herself.

She sat still, listening.  Half an hour of this, and she was
wearied out.

"What am I working myself up like this for?" she said pitiably to
herself, "I s'll only be doing myself some damage."

She took out her sewing again.

At a quarter to ten there were footsteps.  One person!  She watched
for the door to open.  It was an elderly woman, in a black bonnet
and a black woollen shawl--his mother.  She was about sixty years
old, pale, with blue eyes, and her face all wrinkled and
lamentable.  She shut the door and turned to her daughter-in-law
peevishly.

"Eh, Lizzie, whatever shall we do, whatever shall we do!" she
cried.

Elizabeth drew back a little, sharply.

"What is it, mother?" she said.

The elder woman seated herself on the sofa.

"I don't know, child, I can't tell you!"--she shook her head
slowly.  Elizabeth sat watching her, anxious and vexed.

"I don't know," replied the grandmother, sighing very deeply.
"There's no end to my troubles, there isn't.  The things I've gone
through, I'm sure it's enough--!"  She wept without wiping her
eyes, the tears running.

"But, mother," interrupted Elizabeth, "what do you mean?  What is
it?"

The grandmother slowly wiped her eyes.  The fountains of her tears
were stopped by Elizabeth's directness.  She wiped her eyes slowly.

"Poor child!  Eh, you poor thing!" she moaned.  "I don't know what
we're going to do, I don't--and you as you are--it's a thing, it is
indeed!"

Elizabeth waited.

"Is he dead?" she asked, and at the words her heart swung
violently, though she felt a slight flush of shame at the ultimate
extravagance of the question.  Her words sufficiently frightened
the old lady, almost brought her to herself.

"Don't say so, Elizabeth!  We'll hope it's not as bad as that; no,
may the Lord spare us that, Elizabeth.  Jack Rigley came just as I
was sittin' down to a glass afore going to bed, an' 'e said,
''Appen you'll go down th' line, Mrs Bates.  Walt's had an
accident.  'Appen you'll go an' sit wi' 'er till we can get him
home.'  I hadn't time to ask him a word afore he was gone.  An' I
put my bonnet on an' come straight down, Lizzie.  I thought to
myself, 'Eh, that poor blessed child, if anybody should come an'
tell her of a sudden, there's no knowin' what'll 'appen to 'er.'
You mustn't let it upset you, Lizzie--or you know what to expect.
How long is it, six months--or is it five, Lizzie?  Ay!"--the old
woman shook her head--"time slips on, it slips on!  Ay!"

Elizabeth's thoughts were busy elsewhere.  If he was killed--would
she be able to manage on the little pension and what she could
earn?--she counted up rapidly.  If he was hurt--they wouldn't take
him to the hospital--how tiresome he would be to nurse!--but
perhaps she'd be able to get him away from the drink and his
hateful ways.  She would--while he was ill.  The tears offered to
come to her eyes at the picture.  But what sentimental luxury was
this she was beginning?--She turned to consider the children.  At
any rate she was absolutely necessary for them.  They were her
business.

"Ay!" repeated the old woman, "it seems but a week or two since he
brought me his first wages.  Ay--he was a good lad, Elizabeth, he
was, in his way.  I don't know why he got to be such a trouble, I
don't.  He was a happy lad at home, only full of spirits.  But
there's no mistake he's been a handful of trouble, he has!  I hope
the Lord'll spare him to mend his ways.  I hope so, I hope so.
You've had a sight o' trouble with him, Elizabeth, you have indeed.
But he was a jolly enough lad wi' me, he was, I can assure you.  I
don't know how it is . . ."

The old woman continued to muse aloud, a monotonous irritating
sound, while Elizabeth thought concentratedly, startled once, when
she heard the winding-engine chuff quickly, and the brakes skirr
with a shriek.  Then she heard the engine more slowly, and the
brakes made no sound.  The old woman did not notice.  Elizabeth
waited in suspense.  The mother-in-law talked, with lapses into
silence.

"But he wasn't your son, Lizzie, an' it makes a difference.
Whatever he was, I remember him when he was little, an' I learned
to understand him and to make allowances.  You've got to make
allowances for them--"

It was half-past ten, and the old woman was saying:  "But it's
trouble from beginning to end; you're never too old for trouble,
never too old for that--" when the gate banged back, and there were
heavy feet on the steps.

"I'll go, Lizzie, let me go," cried the old woman, rising.  But
Elizabeth was at the door.  It was a man in pit-clothes.

"They're bringin' 'im, Missis," he said.  Elizabeth's heart halted
a moment.  Then it surged on again, almost suffocating her.

"Is he--is it bad?" she asked.

The man turned away, looking at the darkness:

"The doctor says 'e'd been dead hours.  'E saw 'im i' th' lamp-
cabin."

The old woman, who stood just behind Elizabeth, dropped into a
chair, and folded her hands, crying:  "Oh, my boy, my boy!"

"Hush!" said Elizabeth, with a sharp twitch of a frown.  "Be still,
mother, don't waken th' children: I wouldn't have them down for
anything!"

The old woman moaned softly, rocking herself.  The man was drawing
away.  Elizabeth took a step forward.

"How was it?" she asked.

"Well, I couldn't say for sure," the man replied, very ill at ease.
"'E wor finishin' a stint an' th' butties 'ad gone, an' a lot o'
stuff come down atop 'n 'im."

"And crushed him?" cried the widow, with a shudder.

"No," said the man, "it fell at th' back of 'im.  'E wor under th'
face, an' it niver touched 'im.  It shut 'im in.  It seems 'e wor
smothered."

Elizabeth shrank back.  She heard the old woman behind her cry:

"What?--what did 'e say it was?"

The man replied, more loudly:  "'E wor smothered!"

Then the old woman wailed aloud, and this relieved Elizabeth.

"Oh, mother," she said, putting her hand on the old woman, "don't
waken th' children, don't waken th' children."

She wept a little, unknowing, while the old mother rocked herself
and moaned.  Elizabeth remembered that they were bringing him home,
and she must be ready.  "They'll lay him in the parlour," she said
to herself, standing a moment pale and perplexed.

Then she lighted a candle and went into the tiny room.  The air was
cold and damp, but she could not make a fire, there was no
fireplace.  She set down the candle and looked round.  The candle-
light glittered on the lustre-glasses, on the two vases that held
some of the pink chrysanthemums, and on the dark mahogany.  There
was a cold, deathly smell of chrysanthemums in the room.  Elizabeth
stood looking at the flowers.  She turned away, and calculated
whether there would be room to lay him on the floor, between the
couch and the chiffonier.  She pushed the chairs aside.  There
would be room to lay him down and to step round him.  Then she
fetched the old red tablecloth, and another old cloth, spreading
them down to save her bit of carpet.  She shivered on leaving the
parlour; so, from the dresser-drawer she took a clean shirt and put
it at the fire to air.  All the time her mother-in-law was rocking
herself in the chair and moaning.

"You'll have to move from there, mother," said Elizabeth.  "They'll
be bringing him in.  Come in the rocker."

The old mother rose mechanically, and seated herself by the fire,
continuing to lament.  Elizabeth went into the pantry for another
candle, and there, in the little penthouse under the naked tiles,
she heard them coming.  She stood still in the pantry doorway,
listening.  She heard them pass the end of the house, and come
awkwardly down the three steps, a jumble of shuffling footsteps and
muttering voices.  The old woman was silent.  The men were in the
yard.

Then Elizabeth heard Matthews, the manager of the pit, say:  "You
go in first, Jim.  Mind!"

The door came open, and the two women saw a collier backing into
the room, holding one end of a stretcher, on which they could see
the nailed pit-boots of the dead man.  The two carriers halted, the
man at the head stooping to the lintel of the door.

"Wheer will you have him?" asked the manager, a short, white-
bearded man.

Elizabeth roused herself and came from the pantry carrying the
unlighted candle.

"In the parlour," she said.

"In there, Jim!" pointed the manager, and the carriers backed round
into the tiny room.  The coat with which they had covered the body
fell off as they awkwardly turned through the two doorways, and the
women saw their man, naked to the waist, lying stripped for work.
The old woman began to moan in a low voice of horror.

"Lay th' stretcher at th' side," snapped the manager, "an' put 'im
on th' cloths.  Mind now, mind!  Look you now--!"

One of the men had knocked off a vase of chrysanthemums.  He stared
awkwardly, then they set down the stretcher.  Elizabeth did not
look at her husband.  As soon as she could get in the room, she
went and picked up the broken vase and the flowers.

"Wait a minute!" she said.

The three men waited in silence while she mopped up the water with
a duster.

"Eh, what a job, what a job, to be sure!" the manager was saying,
rubbing his brow with trouble and perplexity.  "Never knew such a
thing in my life, never!  He'd no business to ha' been left.  I
never knew such a thing in my life!  Fell over him clean as a
whistle, an' shut him in.  Not four foot of space, there wasn't--
yet it scarce bruised him."

He looked down at the dead man, lying prone, half naked, all grimed
with coal-dust.

"''Sphyxiated,' the doctor said.  It IS the most terrible job I've
ever known.  Seems as if it was done o' purpose.  Clean over him,
an' shut 'im in, like a mouse-trap"--he made a sharp, descending
gesture with his hand.

The colliers standing by jerked aside their heads in hopeless
comment.

The horror of the thing bristled upon them all.

Then they heard the girl's voice upstairs calling shrilly:
"Mother, mother--who is it?  Mother, who is it?"

Elizabeth hurried to the foot of the stairs and opened the door:

"Go to sleep!" she commanded sharply.  "What are you shouting
about?  Go to sleep at once--there's nothing--"

Then she began to mount the stairs.  They could hear her on the
boards, and on the plaster floor of the little bedroom.  They could
hear her distinctly:

"What's the matter now?--what's the matter with you, silly thing?"--
her voice was much agitated, with an unreal gentleness.

"I thought it was some men come," said the plaintive voice of the
child.  "Has he come?"

"Yes, they've brought him.  There's nothing to make a fuss about.
Go to sleep now, like a good child."

They could hear her voice in the bedroom, they waited whilst she
covered the children under the bedclothes.

"Is he drunk?" asked the girl, timidly, faintly.

"No!  No--he's not!  He--he's asleep."

"Is he asleep downstairs?"

"Yes--and don't make a noise."

There was silence for a moment, then the men heard the frightened
child again:

"What's that noise?"

"It's nothing, I tell you, what are you bothering for?"

The noise was the grandmother moaning.  She was oblivious of
everything, sitting on her chair rocking and moaning.  The manager
put his hand on her arm and bade her "Sh--sh!!"

The old woman opened her eyes and looked at him.  She was shocked
by this interruption, and seemed to wonder.

"What time is it?"--the plaintive thin voice of the child, sinking
back unhappily into sleep, asked this last question.

"Ten o'clock," answered the mother more softly.  Then she must have
bent down and kissed the children.

Matthews beckoned to the men to come away.  They put on their caps
and took up the stretcher.  Stepping over the body, they tiptoed
out of the house.  None of them spoke till they were far from the
wakeful children.

When Elizabeth came down she found her mother alone on the parlour
floor, leaning over the dead man, the tears dropping on him.

"We must lay him out," the wife said.  She put on the kettle, then
returning knelt at the feet, and began to unfasten the knotted
leather laces.  The room was clammy and dim with only one candle,
so that she had to bend her face almost to the floor.  At last she
got off the heavy boots and put them away.

"You must help me now," she whispered to the old woman.  Together
they stripped the man.

When they arose, saw him lying in the naïve dignity of death, the
women stood arrested in fear and respect.  For a few moments they
remained still, looking down, the old mother whimpering.  Elizabeth
felt countermanded.  She saw him, how utterly inviolable he lay in
himself.  She had nothing to do with him.  She could not accept it.
Stooping, she laid her hand on him, in claim.  He was still warm,
for the mine was hot where he had died.  His mother had his face
between her hands, and was murmuring incoherently.  The old tears
fell in succession as drops from wet leaves; the mother was not
weeping, merely her tears flowed.  Elizabeth embraced the body of
her husband, with cheek and lips.  She seemed to be listening,
inquiring, trying to get some connection.  But she could not.  She
was driven away.  He was impregnable.

She rose, went into the kitchen, where she poured warm water into a
bowl, brought soap and flannel and a soft towel.

"I must wash him," she said.

Then the old mother rose stiffly, and watched Elizabeth as she
carefully washed his face, carefully brushing the big blond
moustache from his mouth with the flannel.  She was afraid with a
bottomless fear, so she ministered to him.  The old woman, jealous,
said:

"Let me wipe him!"--and she kneeled on the other side drying slowly
as Elizabeth washed, her big black bonnet sometimes brushing the
dark head of her daughter.  They worked thus in silence for a long
time.  They never forgot it was death, and the touch of the man's
dead body gave them strange emotions, different in each of the
women; a great dread possessed them both, the mother felt the lie
was given to her womb, she was denied; the wife felt the utter
isolation of the human soul, the child within her was a weight
apart from her.

At last it was finished.  He was a man of handsome body, and his
face showed no traces of drink.  He was blonde, full-fleshed, with
fine limbs.  But he was dead.

"Bless him," whispered his mother, looking always at his face, and
speaking out of sheer terror.  "Dear lad--bless him!"  She spoke in
a faint, sibilant ecstasy of fear and mother love.

Elizabeth sank down again to the floor, and put her face against
his neck, and trembled and shuddered.  But she had to draw away
again.  He was dead, and her living flesh had no place against his.
A great dread and weariness held her: she was so unavailing.  Her
life was gone like this.

"White as milk he is, clear as a twelve-month baby, bless him, the
darling!" the old mother murmured to herself.  "Not a mark on him,
clear and clean and white, beautiful as ever a child was made," she
murmured with pride.  Elizabeth kept her face hidden.

"He went peaceful, Lizzie--peaceful as sleep.  Isn't he beautiful,
the lamb?  Ay--he must ha' made his peace, Lizzie.  'Appen he made
it all right, Lizzie, shut in there.  He'd have time.  He wouldn't
look like this if he hadn't made his peace.  The lamb, the dear
lamb.  Eh, but he had a hearty laugh.  I loved to hear it.  He had
the heartiest laugh, Lizzie, as a lad--"

Elizabeth looked up.  The man's mouth was fallen back, slightly
open under the cover of the moustache.  The eyes, half shut, did
not show glazed in the obscurity.  Life with its smoky burning gone
from him, had left him apart and utterly alien to her.  And she
knew what a stranger he was to her.  In her womb was ice of fear,
because of this separate stranger with whom she had been living as
one flesh.  Was this what it all meant--utter, intact separateness,
obscured by heat of living?  In dread she turned her face away.
The fact was too deadly.  There had been nothing between them, and
yet they had come together, exchanging their nakedness repeatedly.
Each time he had taken her, they had been two isolated beings, far
apart as now.  He was no more responsible than she.  The child was
like ice in her womb.  For as she looked at the dead man, her mind,
cold and detached, said clearly:  "Who am I?  What have I been
doing?  I have been fighting a husband who did not exist.  HE
existed all the time.  What wrong have I done?  What was that I
have been living with?  There lies the reality, this man."--And her
soul died in her for fear: she knew she had never seen him, he had
never seen her, they had met in the dark and had fought in the
dark, not knowing whom they met nor whom they fought.  And now she
saw, and turned silent in seeing.  For she had been wrong.  She had
said he was something he was not; she had felt familiar with him.
Whereas he was apart all the while, living as she never lived,
feeling as she never felt.

In fear and shame she looked at his naked body, that she had known
falsely.  And he was the father of her children.  Her soul was torn
from her body and stood apart.  She looked at his naked body and
was ashamed, as if she had denied it.  After all, it was itself.
It seemed awful to her.  She looked at his face, and she turned her
own face to the wall.  For his look was other than hers, his way
was not her way.  She had denied him what he was--she saw it now.
She had refused him as himself.--And this had been her life, and
his life.--She was grateful to death, which restored the truth.
And she knew she was not dead.

And all the while her heart was bursting with grief and pity for
him.  What had he suffered?  What stretch of horror for this
helpless man!  She was rigid with agony.  She had not been able to
help him.  He had been cruelly injured, this naked man, this other
being, and she could make no reparation.  There were the children--
but the children belonged to life.  This dead man had nothing to do
with them.  He and she were only channels through which life had
flowed to issue in the children.  She was a mother--but how awful
she knew it now to have been a wife.  And he, dead now, how awful
he must have felt it to be a husband.  She felt that in the next
world he would be a stranger to her.  If they met there, in the
beyond, they would only be ashamed of what had been before.  The
children had come, for some mysterious reason, out of both of them.
But the children did not unite them.  Now he was dead, she knew how
eternally he was apart from her, how eternally he had nothing more
to do with her.  She saw this episode of her life closed.  They had
denied each other in life.  Now he had withdrawn.  An anguish came
over her.  It was finished then: it had become hopeless between
them long before he died.  Yet he had been her husband.  But how
little!--

"Have you got his shirt, 'Lizabeth?"

Elizabeth turned without answering, though she strove to weep and
behave as her mother-in-law expected.  But she could not, she was
silenced.  She went into the kitchen and returned with the garment.

"It is aired," she said, grasping the cotton shirt here and there
to try.  She was almost ashamed to handle him; what right had she
or anyone to lay hands on him; but her touch was humble on his
body.  It was hard work to clothe him.  He was so heavy and inert.
A terrible dread gripped her all the while: that he could be so
heavy and utterly inert, unresponsive, apart.  The horror of the
distance between them was almost too much for her--it was so
infinite a gap she must look across.

At last it was finished.  They covered him with a sheet and left
him lying, with his face bound.  And she fastened the door of the
little parlour, lest the children should see what was lying there.
Then, with peace sunk heavy on her heart, she went about making
tidy the kitchen.  She knew she submitted to life, which was her
immediate master.  But from death, her ultimate master, she winced
with fear and shame.



THE END




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