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Tantissimi classici della letteratura e della cultura politica, economica e scientifica in lingua inglese con audio di ReadSpeaker e traduttore automatico interattivo FGA Translate

  1. Abbe Prevost - MANON LESCAUT
  2. Alcott, Louisa M. - AN OLDFASHIONED GIRL
  3. Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE MEN
  4. Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE WOMEN
  5. Alcott, Louisa May - JACK AND JILL
  6. Alcott, Louisa May - LIFE LETTERS AND JOURNALS
  7. Andersen, Hans Christian - FAIRY TALES
  8. Anonimo - BEOWULF
  9. Ariosto, Ludovico - ORLANDO ENRAGED
  10. Aurelius, Marcus - MEDITATIONS
  11. Austen, Jane - EMMA
  12. Austen, Jane - MANSFIELD PARK
  13. Austen, Jane - NORTHANGER ABBEY
  14. Austen, Jane - PERSUASION
  15. Austen, Jane - PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
  16. Austen, Jane - SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
  17. Authors, Various - LETTERS OF ABELARD AND HELOISE
  18. Authors, Various - SELECTED ENGLISH LETTERS
  19. Autori Vari - THE WORLD ENGLISH BIBLE
  20. Bacon, Francis - THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING
  21. Balzac, Honore de - EUGENIE GRANDET
  22. Balzac, Honore de - FATHER GORIOT
  23. Baroness Orczy - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
  24. Barrie, J. M. - PETER AND WENDY
  25. Barrie, James M. - PETER PAN
  26. Bierce, Ambrose - THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
  27. Blake, William - SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE
  28. Boccaccio, Giovanni - DECAMERONE
  29. Brent, Linda - INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL
  30. Bronte, Charlotte - JANE EYRE
  31. Bronte, Charlotte - VILLETTE
  32. Buchan, John - GREENMANTLE
  33. Buchan, John - MR STANDFAST
  34. Buchan, John - THE 39 STEPS
  35. Bunyan, John - THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
  36. Burckhardt, Jacob - THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
  37. Burnett, Frances H. - A LITTLE PRINCESS
  38. Burnett, Frances H. - LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY
  39. Burnett, Frances H. - THE SECRET GARDEN
  40. Butler, Samuel - EREWHON
  41. Carlyle, Thomas - PAST AND PRESENT
  42. Carlyle, Thomas - THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
  43. Cellini, Benvenuto - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
  44. Cervantes - DON QUIXOTE
  45. Chaucer, Geoffrey - THE CANTERBURY TALES
  46. Chesterton, G. K. - A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND
  47. Chesterton, G. K. - THE BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE
  48. Chesterton, G. K. - THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN
  49. Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
  50. Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
  51. Chesterton, G. K. - THE WISDOM OF FATHER BROWN
  52. Chesterton, G. K. - TWELVE TYPES
  53. Chesterton, G. K. - WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA
  54. Chesterton, Gilbert K. - HERETICS
  55. Chopin, Kate - AT FAULT
  56. Chopin, Kate - BAYOU FOLK
  57. Chopin, Kate - THE AWAKENING AND SELECTED SHORT STORIES
  58. Clark Hall, John R. - A CONCISE ANGLOSAXON DICTIONARY
  59. Clarkson, Thomas - AN ESSAY ON THE SLAVERY AND COMMERCE OF THE HUMAN SPECIES
  60. Clausewitz, Carl von - ON WAR
  61. Coleridge, Herbert - A DICTIONARY OF THE FIRST OR OLDEST WORDS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
  62. Coleridge, S. T. - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
  63. Coleridge, S. T. - HINTS TOWARDS THE FORMATION OF A MORE COMPREHENSIVE THEORY OF LIFE
  64. Coleridge, S. T. - THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
  65. Collins, Wilkie - THE MOONSTONE
  66. Collodi - PINOCCHIO
  67. Conan Doyle, Arthur - A STUDY IN SCARLET
  68. Conan Doyle, Arthur - MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
  69. Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
  70. Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
  71. Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE SIGN OF THE FOUR
  72. Conrad, Joseph - HEART OF DARKNESS
  73. Conrad, Joseph - LORD JIM
  74. Conrad, Joseph - NOSTROMO
  75. Conrad, Joseph - THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS
  76. Conrad, Joseph - TYPHOON
  77. Crane, Stephen - LAST WORDS
  78. Crane, Stephen - MAGGIE
  79. Crane, Stephen - THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
  80. Crane, Stephen - WOUNDS IN THE RAIN
  81. Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: HELL
  82. Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PARADISE
  83. Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PURGATORY
  84. Darwin, Charles - THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES DARWIN
  85. Darwin, Charles - THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
  86. Defoe, Daniel - A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE PYRATES
  87. Defoe, Daniel - A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR
  88. Defoe, Daniel - CAPTAIN SINGLETON
  89. Defoe, Daniel - MOLL FLANDERS
  90. Defoe, Daniel - ROBINSON CRUSOE
  91. Defoe, Daniel - THE COMPLETE ENGLISH TRADESMAN
  92. Defoe, Daniel - THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE
  93. Deledda, Grazia - AFTER THE DIVORCE
  94. Dickens, Charles - A CHRISTMAS CAROL
  95. Dickens, Charles - A TALE OF TWO CITIES
  96. Dickens, Charles - BLEAK HOUSE
  97. Dickens, Charles - DAVID COPPERFIELD
  98. Dickens, Charles - DONBEY AND SON
  99. Dickens, Charles - GREAT EXPECTATIONS
  100. Dickens, Charles - HARD TIMES
  101. Dickens, Charles - LETTERS VOLUME 1
  102. Dickens, Charles - LITTLE DORRIT
  103. Dickens, Charles - MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT
  104. Dickens, Charles - NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
  105. Dickens, Charles - OLIVER TWIST
  106. Dickens, Charles - OUR MUTUAL FRIEND
  107. Dickens, Charles - PICTURES FROM ITALY
  108. Dickens, Charles - THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD
  109. Dickens, Charles - THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP
  110. Dickens, Charles - THE PICKWICK PAPERS
  111. Dickinson, Emily - POEMS
  112. Dostoevsky, Fyodor - CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
  113. Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
  114. Du Maurier, George - TRILBY
  115. Dumas, Alexandre - THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
  116. Dumas, Alexandre - THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
  117. Dumas, Alexandre - THE THREE MUSKETEERS
  118. Eliot, George - DANIEL DERONDA
  119. Eliot, George - MIDDLEMARCH
  120. Eliot, George - SILAS MARNER
  121. Eliot, George - THE MILL ON THE FLOSS
  122. Engels, Frederick - THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING-CLASS IN ENGLAND IN 1844
  123. Equiano - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
  124. Esopo - FABLES
  125. Fenimore Cooper, James - THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
  126. Fielding, Henry - TOM JONES
  127. France, Anatole - THAIS
  128. France, Anatole - THE GODS ARE ATHIRST
  129. France, Anatole - THE LIFE OF JOAN OF ARC
  130. France, Anatole - THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD
  131. Frank Baum, L. - THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ
  132. Frank Baum, L. - THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
  133. Franklin, Benjamin - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
  134. Frazer, James George - THE GOLDEN BOUGH
  135. Freud, Sigmund - DREAM PSYCHOLOGY
  136. Galsworthy, John - COMPLETE PLAYS
  137. Galsworthy, John - STRIFE
  138. Galsworthy, John - STUDIES AND ESSAYS
  139. Galsworthy, John - THE FIRST AND THE LAST
  140. Galsworthy, John - THE FORSYTE SAGA
  141. Galsworthy, John - THE LITTLE MAN
  142. Galsworthy, John - THE SILVER BOX
  143. Galsworthy, John - THE SKIN GAME
  144. Gaskell, Elizabeth - CRANFORD
  145. Gaskell, Elizabeth - MARY BARTON
  146. Gaskell, Elizabeth - NORTH AND SOUTH
  147. Gaskell, Elizabeth - THE LIFE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE
  148. Gay, John - THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
  149. Gentile, Maria - THE ITALIAN COOK BOOK
  150. Gilbert and Sullivan - PLAYS
  151. Goethe - FAUST
  152. Gogol - DEAD SOULS
  153. Goldsmith, Oliver - SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
  154. Goldsmith, Oliver - THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD
  155. Grahame, Kenneth - THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
  156. Grimm, Brothers - FAIRY TALES
  157. Harding, A. R. - GINSENG AND OTHER MEDICINAL PLANTS
  158. Hardy, Thomas - A CHANGED MAN AND OTHER TALES
  159. Hardy, Thomas - FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
  160. Hardy, Thomas - JUDE THE OBSCURE
  161. Hardy, Thomas - TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES
  162. Hardy, Thomas - THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE
  163. Hartley, Cecil B. - THE GENTLEMEN'S BOOK OF ETIQUETTE
  164. Hawthorne, Nathaniel - LITTLE MASTERPIECES
  165. Hawthorne, Nathaniel - THE SCARLET LETTER
  166. Henry VIII - LOVE LETTERS TO ANNE BOLEYN
  167. Henry, O. - CABBAGES AND KINGS
  168. Henry, O. - SIXES AND SEVENS
  169. Henry, O. - THE FOUR MILLION
  170. Henry, O. - THE TRIMMED LAMP
  171. Henry, O. - WHIRLIGIGS
  172. Hindman Miller, Gustavus - TEN THOUSAND DREAMS INTERPRETED
  173. Hobbes, Thomas - LEVIATHAN
  174. Homer - THE ILIAD
  175. Homer - THE ODYSSEY
  176. Hornaday, William T. - THE EXTERMINATION OF THE AMERICAN BISON
  177. Hume, David - A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE
  178. Hume, David - AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
  179. Hume, David - DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION
  180. Ibsen, Henrik - A DOLL'S HOUSE
  181. Ibsen, Henrik - AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
  182. Ibsen, Henrik - GHOSTS
  183. Ibsen, Henrik - HEDDA GABLER
  184. Ibsen, Henrik - JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN
  185. Ibsen, Henrik - ROSMERHOLM
  186. Ibsen, Henrik - THE LADY FROM THE SEA
  187. Ibsen, Henrik - THE MASTER BUILDER
  188. Ibsen, Henrik - WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN
  189. Irving, Washington - THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
  190. James, Henry - ITALIAN HOURS
  191. James, Henry - THE ASPERN PAPERS
  192. James, Henry - THE BOSTONIANS
  193. James, Henry - THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
  194. James, Henry - THE TURN OF THE SCREW
  195. James, Henry - WASHINGTON SQUARE
  196. Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN IN A BOAT
  197. Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN ON THE BUMMEL
  198. Jevons, Stanley - POLITICAL ECONOMY
  199. Johnson, Samuel - A GRAMMAR OF THE ENGLISH TONGUE
  200. Jonson, Ben - THE ALCHEMIST
  201. Jonson, Ben - VOLPONE
  202. Joyce, James - A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
  203. Joyce, James - CHAMBER MUSIC
  204. Joyce, James - DUBLINERS
  205. Joyce, James - ULYSSES
  206. Keats, John - ENDYMION
  207. Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1817
  208. Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1820
  209. King James - THE BIBLE
  210. Kipling, Rudyard - CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
  211. Kipling, Rudyard - INDIAN TALES
  212. Kipling, Rudyard - JUST SO STORIES
  213. Kipling, Rudyard - KIM
  214. Kipling, Rudyard - THE JUNGLE BOOK
  215. Kipling, Rudyard - THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
  216. Kipling, Rudyard - THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
  217. Lawrence, D. H - THE RAINBOW
  218. Lawrence, D. H - THE WHITE PEACOCK
  219. Lawrence, D. H - TWILIGHT IN ITALY
  220. Lawrence, D. H. - AARON'S ROD
  221. Lawrence, D. H. - SONS AND LOVERS
  222. Lawrence, D. H. - THE LOST GIRL
  223. Lawrence, D. H. - WOMEN IN LOVE
  224. Lear, Edward - BOOK OF NONSENSE
  225. Lear, Edward - LAUGHABLE LYRICS
  226. Lear, Edward - MORE NONSENSE
  227. Lear, Edward - NONSENSE SONG
  228. Leblanc, Maurice - ARSENE LUPIN VS SHERLOCK HOLMES
  229. Leblanc, Maurice - THE ADVENTURES OF ARSENE LUPIN
  230. Leblanc, Maurice - THE CONFESSIONS OF ARSENE LUPIN
  231. Leblanc, Maurice - THE HOLLOW NEEDLE
  232. Leblanc, Maurice - THE RETURN OF ARSENE LUPIN
  233. Lehmann, Lilli - HOW TO SING
  234. Leroux, Gaston - THE MAN WITH THE BLACK FEATHER
  235. Leroux, Gaston - THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM
  236. Leroux, Gaston - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
  237. London, Jack - MARTIN EDEN
  238. London, Jack - THE CALL OF THE WILD
  239. London, Jack - WHITE FANG
  240. Machiavelli, Nicolo' - THE PRINCE
  241. Malthus, Thomas - PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION
  242. Mansfield, Katherine - THE GARDEN PARTY AND OTHER STORIES
  243. Marlowe, Christopher - THE JEW OF MALTA
  244. Marryat, Captain - THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST
  245. Maupassant, Guy De - BEL AMI
  246. Melville, Hermann - MOBY DICK
  247. Melville, Hermann - TYPEE
  248. Mill, John Stuart - PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
  249. Milton, John - PARADISE LOST
  250. Mitra, S. M. - HINDU TALES FROM THE SANSKRIT
  251. Montaigne, Michel de - ESSAYS
  252. Montgomery, Lucy Maud - ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
  253. More, Thomas - UTOPIA
  254. Nesbit, E. - FIVE CHILDREN AND IT
  255. Nesbit, E. - THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET
  256. Nesbit, E. - THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
  257. Nesbit, E. - THE STORY OF THE AMULET
  258. Newton, Isaac - OPTICKS
  259. Nietsche, Friedrich - BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
  260. Nietsche, Friedrich - THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA
  261. Nightingale, Florence - NOTES ON NURSING
  262. Owen, Wilfred - POEMS
  263. Ozaki, Yei Theodora - JAPANESE FAIRY TALES
  264. Pascal, Blaise - PENSEES
  265. Pellico, Silvio - MY TEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT
  266. Perrault, Charles - FAIRY TALES
  267. Pirandello, Luigi - THREE PLAYS
  268. Plato - THE REPUBLIC
  269. Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 1
  270. Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 2
  271. Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 3
  272. Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 4
  273. Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 5
  274. Poe, Edgar Allan - THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
  275. Potter, Beatrix - THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT
  276. Proust, Marcel - SWANN'S WAY
  277. Radcliffe, Ann - A SICILIAN ROMANCE
  278. Ricardo, David - ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION
  279. Richardson, Samuel - PAMELA
  280. Rider Haggard, H. - ALLAN QUATERMAIN
  281. Rider Haggard, H. - KING SOLOMON'S MINES
  282. Rousseau, J. J. - THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATION OF INEQUALITY AMONG MANKIND
  283. Ruskin, John - THE SEVEN LAMPS OF ARCHITECTURE
  284. Schiller, Friedrich - THE DEATH OF WALLENSTEIN
  285. Schiller, Friedrich - THE PICCOLOMINI
  286. Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE ART OF CONTROVERSY
  287. Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE WISDOM OF LIFE
  288. Scott Fitzgerald, F. - FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS
  289. Scott Fitzgerald, F. - TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
  290. Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
  291. Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THIS SIDE OF PARADISE
  292. Scott, Walter - IVANHOE
  293. Scott, Walter - QUENTIN DURWARD
  294. Scott, Walter - ROB ROY
  295. Scott, Walter - THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
  296. Scott, Walter - WAVERLEY
  297. Sedgwick, Anne Douglas - THE THIRD WINDOW
  298. Sewell, Anna - BLACK BEAUTY
  299. Shakespeare, William - COMPLETE WORKS
  300. Shakespeare, William - HAMLET
  301. Shakespeare, William - OTHELLO
  302. Shakespeare, William - ROMEO AND JULIET
  303. Shelley, Mary - FRANKENSTEIN
  304. Shelley, Percy Bysshe - A DEFENCE OF POETRY AND OTHER ESSAYS
  305. Shelley, Percy Bysshe - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
  306. Sheridan, Richard B. - THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
  307. Sienkiewicz, Henryk - QUO VADIS
  308. Smith, Adam - THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
  309. Smollett, Tobias - TRAVELS THROUGH FRANCE AND ITALY
  310. Spencer, Herbert - ESSAYS ON EDUCATION AND KINDRED SUBJECTS
  311. Spyri, Johanna - HEIDI
  312. Sterne, Laurence - A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
  313. Sterne, Laurence - TRISTRAM SHANDY
  314. Stevenson, Robert Louis - A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES
  315. Stevenson, Robert Louis - ESSAYS IN THE ART OF WRITING
  316. Stevenson, Robert Louis - KIDNAPPED
  317. Stevenson, Robert Louis - NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
  318. Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE BLACK ARROW
  319. Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
  320. Stevenson, Robert Louis - TREASURE ISLAND
  321. Stoker, Bram - DRACULA
  322. Strindberg, August - LUCKY PEHR
  323. Strindberg, August - MASTER OLOF
  324. Strindberg, August - THE RED ROOM
  325. Strindberg, August - THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
  326. Strindberg, August - THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES
  327. Swift, Jonathan - A MODEST PROPOSAL
  328. Swift, Jonathan - A TALE OF A TUB
  329. Swift, Jonathan - GULLIVER'S TRAVELS
  330. Swift, Jonathan - THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS AND OTHER SHORT PIECES
  331. Tagore, Rabindranath - FRUIT GATHERING
  332. Tagore, Rabindranath - THE GARDENER
  333. Tagore, Rabindranath - THE HUNGRY STONES AND OTHER STORIES
  334. Thackeray, William - BARRY LYNDON
  335. Thackeray, William - VANITY FAIR
  336. Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE BOOK OF SNOBS
  337. Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE ROSE AND THE RING
  338. Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE VIRGINIANS
  339. Thoreau, Henry David - WALDEN
  340. Tolstoi, Leo - A LETTER TO A HINDU
  341. Tolstoy, Lev - ANNA KARENINA
  342. Tolstoy, Lev - WAR AND PEACE
  343. Trollope, Anthony - AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
  344. Trollope, Anthony - BARCHESTER TOWERS
  345. Trollope, Anthony - FRAMLEY PARSONAGE
  346. Trollope, Anthony - THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS
  347. Trollope, Anthony - THE MAN WHO KEPT HIS MONEY IN A BOX
  348. Trollope, Anthony - THE WARDEN
  349. Trollope, Anthony - THE WAY WE LIVE NOW
  350. Twain, Mark - LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
  351. Twain, Mark - SPEECHES
  352. Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
  353. Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
  354. Twain, Mark - THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER
  355. Vari, Autori - THE MAGNA CARTA
  356. Verga, Giovanni - SICILIAN STORIES
  357. Verne, Jules - 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS
  358. Verne, Jules - A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
  359. Verne, Jules - ALL AROUND THE MOON
  360. Verne, Jules - AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
  361. Verne, Jules - FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON
  362. Verne, Jules - FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
  363. Verne, Jules - MICHAEL STROGOFF
  364. Verne, Jules - THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
  365. Voltaire - PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY
  366. Vyasa - MAHABHARATA
  367. Wallace, Edgar - SANDERS OF THE RIVER
  368. Wallace, Edgar - THE DAFFODIL MYSTERY
  369. Wallace, Lew - BEN HUR
  370. Webster, Jean - DADDY LONG LEGS
  371. Wedekind, Franz - THE AWAKENING OF SPRING
  372. Wells, H. G. - KIPPS
  373. Wells, H. G. - THE INVISIBLE MAN
  374. Wells, H. G. - THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
  375. Wells, H. G. - THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
  376. Wells, H. G. - THE TIME MACHINE
  377. Wells, H. G. - THE WAR OF THE WORLDS
  378. Wells, H. G. - WHAT IS COMING
  379. Wharton, Edith - THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
  380. White, Andrew Dickson - FIAT MONEY INFLATION IN FRANCE
  381. Wilde, Oscar - A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
  382. Wilde, Oscar - AN IDEAL HUSBAND
  383. Wilde, Oscar - DE PROFUNDIS
  384. Wilde, Oscar - LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN
  385. Wilde, Oscar - SALOME
  386. Wilde, Oscar - SELECTED POEMS
  387. Wilde, Oscar - THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL
  388. Wilde, Oscar - THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
  389. Wilde, Oscar - THE HAPPY PRINCE AND OTHER TALES
  390. Wilde, Oscar - THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
  391. Wilde, Oscar - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY
  392. Wilde, Oscar - THE SOUL OF MAN
  393. Wilson, Epiphanius - SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST
  394. Wollstonecraft, Mary - A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN
  395. Woolf, Virgina - NIGHT AND DAY
  396. Woolf, Virgina - THE VOYAGE OUT
  397. Woolf, Virginia - JACOB'S ROOM
  398. Woolf, Virginia - MONDAY OR TUESDAY
  399. Wordsworth, William - POEMS
  400. Wordsworth, William - PROSE WORKS
  401. Zola, Emile - THERESE RAQUIN

 




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D. H Lawrence
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"THE WHITE PEACOCK"

By D. H. LAWRENCE

PART I - CHAPTER I - THE PEOPLE OF NETHERMERE

I stood watching the shadowy fish slide through the gloom of the mill-pond. They were grey, descendants of the silvery things that had darted away from the monks, in the young days when the valley was lusty. The whole place was gathered in the musing of old age. The thick-piled trees on the far shore were too dark and sober to dally with the sun; the weeds stood crowded and motionless. Not even a little wind flickered the willows of the islets. The water lay softly, intensely still. Only the thin stream falling through the mill-race murmured to itself of the tumult of life which had once quickened the valley.

I was almost startled into the water from my perch on the alder roots by a voice saying:

"Well, what is there to look at?" My friend was a young farmer, stoutly built, brown eyed, with a naturally fair skin burned dark and freckled in patches. He laughed, seeing me start, and looked down at me with lazy curiosity.

"I was thinking the place seemed old, brooding over its past."

He looked at me with a lazy indulgent smile, and lay down on his back on the bank, saying: "It's all right for a doss—here."

"Your life is nothing else but a doss. I shall laugh when somebody jerks you awake," I replied.

He smiled comfortably and put his hands over his eyes because of the light.

"Why shall you laugh?" he drawled.

"Because you'll be amusing," said I.

We were silent for a long time, when he rolled over and began to poke with his finger in the bank.

"I thought," he said in his leisurely fashion, "there was some cause for all this buzzing."

I looked, and saw that he had poked out an old, papery nest of those pretty field bees which seem to have dipped their tails into bright amber dust. Some agitated insects ran round the cluster of eggs, most of which were empty now, the crowns gone; a few young bees staggered about in uncertain flight before they could gather power to wing away in a strong course. He watched the little ones that ran in and out among the shadows of the grass, hither and thither in consternation.

"Come here—come here!" he said, imprisoning one poor little bee under a grass stalk, while with another stalk he loosened the folded blue wings.

"Don't tease the little beggar," I said.

"It doesn't hurt him—I wanted to see if it was because he couldn't spread his wings that he couldn't fly. There he goes—no, he doesn't. Let's try another."

"Leave them alone," said I. "Let them run in the sun. They're only just out of the shells. Don't torment them into flight."

He persisted, however, and broke the wing of the next.

"Oh, dear—pity!" said he, and he crushed the little thing between his fingers. Then he examined the eggs, and pulled out some silk from round the dead larva, and investigated it all in a desultory manner, asking of me all I knew about the insects. When he had finished he flung the clustered eggs into the water and rose, pulling out his watch from the depth of his breeches' pocket.

"I thought it was about dinner-time," said he, smiling at me. "I always know when it's about twelve. Are you coming in?"

"I'm coming down at any rate," said I as we passed along the pond bank, and over the plank-bridge that crossed the brow of the falling sluice. The bankside where the grey orchard twisted its trees, was a steep declivity, long and sharp, dropping down to the garden.

The stones of the large house were burdened with ivy and honey-suckle, and the great lilac-bush that had once guarded the porch now almost blocked the doorway. We passed out of the front garden into the farm-yard, and walked along the brick path to the back door.

"Shut the gate, will you?" he said to me over his shoulder, as he passed on first.

We went through the large scullery into the kitchen. The servant-girl was just hurriedly snatching the table-cloth out of the table drawer, and his mother, a quaint little woman with big, brown eyes, was hovering round the wide fireplace with a fork.

"Dinner not ready?" said he with a shade of resentment.

"No, George," replied his mother apologetically, "it isn't. The fire wouldn't burn a bit. You shall have it in a few minutes, though."

He dropped on the sofa and began to read a novel. I wanted to go, but his mother insisted on my staying.

"Don't go," she pleaded. "Emily will be so glad if you stay,—and father will, I'm sure. Sit down, now."

I sat down on a rush chair by the long window that looked out into the yard. As he was reading, and as it took all his mother's powers to watch the potatoes boil and the meat roast, I was left to my thoughts. George, indifferent to all claims, continued to read. It was very annoying to watch him pulling his brown moustache, and reading indolently while the dog rubbed against his leggings and against the knee of his old riding-breeches. He would not even be at the trouble to play with Trip's ears, he was so content with his novel and his moustache. Round and round twirled his thick fingers, and the muscles of his bare arm moved slightly under the red-brown skin. The little square window above him filtered a green light from the foliage of the great horse-chestnut outside and the glimmer fell on his dark hair, and trembled across the plates which Annie was reaching down from the rack, and across the face of the tall clock. The kitchen was very big; the table looked lonely, and the chairs mourned darkly for the lost companionship of the sofa; the chimney was a black cavern away at the back, and the inglenook seats shut in another little compartment ruddy with fire-light, where the mother hovered. It was rather a desolate kitchen, such a bare expanse of uneven grey flagstones, such far-away dark corners and sober furniture. The only gay things were the chintz coverings of the sofa and the arm-chair cushions, bright red in the bare sombre room; some might smile at the old clock, adorned as it was with remarkable and vivid poultry; in me it only provoked wonder and contemplation.

In a little while we heard the scraping of heavy boots outside, and the father entered. He was a big burly farmer, with his half-bald head sprinkled with crisp little curls.

"Hullo, Cyril," he said cheerfully. "You've not forsaken us then," and turning to his son:

"Have you many more rows in the coppice close?"

"Finished!" replied George, continuing to read.

"That's all right—you've got on with 'em. The rabbits has bitten them turnips down, mother."

"I expect so," replied his wife, whose soul was in the saucepans. At last she deemed the potatoes cooked and went out with the steaming pan.

The dinner was set on the table and the father began to carve. George looked over his book to survey the fare then read until his plate was handed him. The maid sat at her little table near the window, and we began the meal. There came the treading of four feet along the brick path, and a little girl entered, followed by her grown-up sister. The child's long brown hair was tossed wildly back beneath her sailor hat. She flung aside this article of her attire and sat down to dinner, talking endlessly to her mother. The elder sister, a girl of about twenty-one, gave me a smile and a bright look from her brown eyes, and went to wash her hands. Then she came and sat down, and looked disconsolately at the underdone beef on her plate.

"I do hate this raw meat," she said.

"Good for you," replied her brother, who was eating industriously. "Give you some muscle to wallop the nippers."

She pushed it aside, and began to eat the vegetables. Her brother re-charged his plate and continued to eat.

"Well, our George, I do think you might pass a body that gravy," said Mollie, the younger sister, in injured tones.

"Certainly," he replied. "Won't you have the joint as well?"

"No!" retorted the young lady of twelve, "I don't expect you've done with it yet."

"Clever!" he exclaimed across a mouthful.

"Do you think so?" said the elder sister Emily, sarcastically.

"Yes," he replied complacently, "you've made her as sharp as yourself, I see, since you've had her in Standard Six. I'll try a potato, mother, if you can find one that's done."

"Well, George, they seem mixed, I'm sure that was done that I tried. There—they are mixed—look at this one, it's soft enough. I'm sure they were boiling long enough."

"Don't explain and apologise to him," said Emily irritably.

"Perhaps the kids were too much for her this morning," he said calmly, to nobody in particular.

"No," chimed in Mollie, "she knocked a lad across his nose and made it bleed."

"Little wretch," said Emily, swallowing with difficulty. "I'm glad I did! Some of my lads belong to—to——"

"To the devil," suggested George, but she would not accept it from him.

Her father sat laughing; her mother with distress in her eyes, looked at her daughter, who hung her head and made patterns on the table-cloth with her finger.

"Are they worse than the last lot?" asked the mother, softly, fearfully.

"No—nothing extra," was the curt answer.

"She merely felt like bashing 'em," said George, calling, as he looked at the sugar bowl and at his pudding:

"Fetch some more sugar, Annie."

The maid rose from her little table in the corner, and the mother also hurried to the cupboard. Emily trifled with her dinner and said bitterly to him:

"I only wish you had a taste of teaching, it would cure your self-satisfaction."

"Pf!" he replied contemptuously, "I could easily bleed the noses of a handful of kids."

"You wouldn't sit there bleating like a fatted calf," she continued.

This speech so tickled Mollie that she went off into a burst of laughter, much to the terror of her mother, who stood up in trembling apprehension lest she should choke.

"You made a joke, Emily," he said, looking at his younger sister's contortions.

Emily was too impatient to speak to him further, and left the table. Soon the two men went back to the fallow to the turnips, and I walked along the path with the girls as they were going to school.

"He irritates me in everything he does and says," burst out Emily with much heat.

"He's a pig sometimes," said I.

"He is!" she insisted. "He irritates me past bearing, with his grand know-all way, and his heavy smartness—I can't beat it. And the way mother humbles herself to him——!"

"It makes you wild," said I.

"Wild!" she echoed, her voice vibrating with nervous passion. We walked on in silence, till she asked.

"Have you brought me those verses of yours?"

"No—I'm so sorry—I've forgotten them again. As a matter of fact, I've sent them away."

"But you promised me."

"You know what my promises are. I'm as irresponsible as a puff of wind."

She frowned with impatience and her disappointment was greater than necessary. When I left her at the corner of the lane I felt a sting of her deep reproach in my mind. I always felt the reproach when she had gone.

I ran over the little bright brook that came from the weedy, bottom pond. The stepping-stones were white in the sun, and the water slid sleepily among them. One or two butterflies, indistinguishable against the blue sky, trifled from flower to flower and led me up the hill, across the field where the hot sunshine stood as in a bowl, and I was entering the caverns of the wood, where the oaks bowed over and saved us a grateful shade. Within, everything was so still and cool that my steps hung heavily along the path. The bracken held out arms to me, and the bosom of the wood was full of sweetness, but I journeyed on, spurred by the attacks of an army of flies which kept up a guerrilla warfare round my head till I had passed the black rhododendron bushes in the garden, where they left me, scenting no doubt Rebecca's pots of vinegar and sugar.

The low red house, with its roof discoloured and sunken, dozed in sunlight, and slept profoundly in the shade thrown by the massive maples encroaching from the wood.

There was no one in the dining-room, but I could hear the whirr of a sewing-machine coming from the little study, a sound as of some great, vindictive insect buzzing about, now louder, now softer, now settling. Then came a jingling of four or five keys at the bottom of the keyboard of the drawing-room piano, continuing till the whole range had been covered in little leaps, as if some very fat frog had jumped from end to end.

"That must be mother dusting the drawing-room," I thought. The unaccustomed sound of the old piano startled me. The vocal chords behind the green silk bosom,—you only discovered it was not a bronze silk bosom by poking a fold aside,—had become as thin and tuneless as a dried old woman's. Age had yellowed the teeth of my mother's little piano, and shrunken its spindle legs. Poor old thing, it could but screech in answer to Lettie's fingers flying across it in scorn, so the prim, brown lips were always closed save to admit the duster.

Now, however, the little old maidish piano began to sing a tinkling Victorian melody, and I fancied it must be some demure little woman with curls like bunches of hops on either side of her face, who was touching it. The coy little tune teased me with old sensations, but my memory would give me no assistance. As I stood trying to fix my vague feelings, Rebecca came in to remove the cloth from the table.

"Who is playing, Beck?" I asked.

"Your mother, Cyril."

"But she never plays. I thought she couldn't."

"Ah," replied Rebecca, "you forget when you was a little thing sitting playing against her frock with the prayer-book, and she singing to you. "You" can't remember her when her curls was long like a piece of brown silk. "You" can't remember her when she used to play and sing, before Lettie came and your father was——"

Rebecca turned and left the room. I went and peeped in the drawing-room. Mother sat before the little brown piano, with her plump, rather stiff fingers moving across the keys, a faint smile on her lips. At that moment Lettie came flying past me, and flung her arms round mother's neck, kissing her and saying:

"Oh, my Dear, fancy my Dear playing the piano! Oh, Little Woman, we never knew you could!"

"Nor can I," replied mother laughing, disengaging herself. "I only wondered if I could just strum out this old tune; I learned it when I was quite a girl, on this piano. It was a cracked one then; the only one I had."

"But play again, dearie, do play again. It was like the clinking of lustre glasses, and you look so quaint at the piano. Do play, my dear!" pleaded Lettie.

"Nay," said my mother, "the touch of the old keys on my fingers is making me sentimental—you wouldn't like to see me reduced to the tears of old age?"

"Old age!" scolded Lettie, kissing her again. "You are young enough to play little romances. Tell us about it mother."

"About what, child?"

"When you used to play."

"Before my fingers were stiff with fifty odd years? Where have you been, Cyril, that you weren't in to dinner?"

"Only down to Strelley Mill," said I.

"Of course," said mother coldly.

"Why 'of course'?" I asked.

"And you came away as soon as Em went to school?" said Lettie.

"I did," said I.

They were cross with me, these two women. After I had swallowed my little resentment I said:

"They would have me stay to dinner."

My mother vouchsafed no reply.

"And has the great George found a girl yet?" asked Lettie.

"No," I replied, "he never will at this rate. Nobody will ever be good enough for him."

"I'm sure I don't know what you can find in any of them to take you there so much," said my mother.

"Don't be so mean, Mater," I answered, nettled. "You know I like them."

"I know you like "her"" said my mother sarcastically. "As for him—he's an unlicked cub. What can you expect when his mother has spoiled him as she has. But I wonder you are so interested in licking him." My mother sniffed contemptuously.

"He is rather good looking," said Lettie with a smile.

""You" could make a man of him, I am sure," I said, bowing satirically to her.

""I" am not interested," she replied, also satirical.

Then she tossed her head, and all the fine hairs that were free from bonds made a mist of yellow light in the sun.

"What frock shall I wear Mater?" she asked.

"Nay, don't ask me," replied her mother.

"I think I'll wear the heliotrope—though this sun will fade it," she said pensively. She was tall, nearly six feet in height, but slenderly formed. Her hair was yellow, tending towards a dun brown. She had beautiful eyes and brows, but not a nice nose. Her hands were very beautiful.

"Where are you going?" I asked.

She did not answer me.

"To Tempest's!" I said. She did not reply.

"Well I don't know what you can see in "him"," I continued.

"Indeed!" said she. "He's as good as most folk——" then we both began to laugh.

"Not," she continued blushing, "that I think anything about him. I'm merely going for a game of tennis. Are you coming?"

"What shall you say if I agree?" I asked.

"Oh!" she tossed her head. "We shall all be very pleased I'm sure."

"Ooray!" said I with fine irony.

She laughed at me, blushed, and ran upstairs.

Half an hour afterwards she popped her head in the study to bid me good-bye, wishing to see if I appreciated her. She was so charming in her fresh linen frock and flowered hat, that I could not but be proud of her. She expected me to follow her to the window, for from between the great purple rhododendrons she waved me a lace mitten, then glinted on like a flower moving brightly through the green hazels. Her path lay through the wood in the opposite direction from Strelley Mill, down the red drive across the tree-scattered space to the highroad. This road ran along the end of our lakelet, Nethermere, for about a quarter of a mile. Nethermere is the lowest in a chain of three ponds. The other two are the upper and lower mill ponds at Strelley: this is the largest and most charming piece of water, a mile long and about a quarter of a mile in width. Our wood runs down to the water's edge. On the opposite side, on a hill beyond the farthest corner of the lake, stands Highclose. It looks across the water at us in Woodside with one eye as it were, while our cottage casts a sidelong glance back again at the proud house, and peeps coyly through the trees.

I could see Lettie like a distant sail stealing along the water's edge, her parasol flowing above. She turned through the wicket under the pine clump, climbed the steep field, and was enfolded again in the trees beside Highclose.

Leslie was sprawled on a camp-chair, under a copper beech on the lawn, his cigar glowing. He watched the ash grow strange and grey in the warm daylight, and he felt sorry for poor Nell Wycherley, whom he had driven that morning to the station, for would she not be frightfully cut up as the train whirled her further and further away? These girls are so daft with a fellow! But she was a nice little thing—he'd get Marie to write to her.

At this point he caught sight of a parasol fluttering along the drive, and immediately he fell into a deep sleep, with just a tiny slit in his slumber to allow him to see Lettie approach. She, finding her watchman ungallantly asleep, and his cigar, instead of his lamp untrimmed, broke off a twig of syringa whose ivory buds had not yet burst with luscious scent. I know not how the end of his nose tickled in anticipation before she tickled him in reality, but he kept bravely still until the petals swept him. Then, starting from his sleep, he exclaimed: "Lettie! I was dreaming of kisses!"

"On the bridge of your nose?" laughed she—"But whose were the kisses?"

"Who produced the sensation?" he smiled.

"Since I only tapped your nose you should dream of——"

"Go on!" said he, expectantly.

"Of Doctor Slop," she replied, smiling to herself as she closed her parasol.

"I do not know the gentleman," he said, afraid that she was laughing at him.

"No—your nose is quite classic," she answered, giving him one of those brief intimate glances with which women flatter men so cleverly. He radiated with pleasure.

CHAPTER II

DANGLING THE APPLE

The long-drawn booming of the wind in the wood and the sobbing and moaning in the maples and oaks near the house, had made Lettie restless. She did not want to go anywhere, she did not want to do anything, so she insisted on my just going out with her as far as the edge of the water. We crossed the tangle of fern and bracken, bramble and wild raspberry canes that spread in the open space before the house, and we went down the grassy slope to the edge of Nethermere. The wind whipped up noisy little wavelets, and the cluck and clatter of these among the pebbles, the swish of the rushes and the freshening of the breeze against our faces, roused us.

The tall meadow-sweet was in bud along the tiny beach and we walked knee-deep among it, watching the foamy race of the ripples and the whitening of the willows on the far shore. At the place where Nethermere narrows to the upper end, and receives the brook from Strelley, the wood sweeps down and stands with its feet washed round with waters. We broke our way along the shore, crushing the sharp-scented wild mint, whose odour checks the breath, and examining here and there among the marshy places ragged nests of water-fowl, now deserted. Some slim young lap-wings started at our approach, and sped lightly from us, their necks outstretched in straining fear of that which could not hurt them. One, two, fled cheeping into cover of the wood; almost instantly they coursed back again to where we stood, to dart off from us at an angle, in an ecstasy of bewilderment and terror.

"What has frightened the crazy little things?" asked Lettie.

"I don't know. They've cheek enough sometimes; then they go whining, skelping off from a fancy as if they had a snake under their wings."

Lettie however paid small attention to my eloquence. She pushed aside an elder bush, which graciously showered down upon her myriad crumbs from its flowers like slices of bread, and bathed her in a medicinal scent. I followed her, taking my dose, and was startled to hear her sudden, "Oh, Cyril!"

On the bank before us lay a black cat, both hindpaws torn and bloody in a trap. It had no doubt been bounding forward after its prey when it was caught. It was gaunt and wild; no wonder it frightened the poor lap-wings into cheeping hysteria. It glared at us fiercely, growling low.

"How cruel—oh, how cruel!" cried Lettie, shuddering.

I wrapped my cap and Lettie's scarf over my hands and bent to open the trap. The cat struck with her teeth, tearing the cloth convulsively. When it was free, it sprang away with one bound, and fell panting, watching us.

I wrapped the creature in my jacket, and picked her up, murmuring:

"Poor Mrs. Nickie Ben—we always prophesied it of you."

"What will you do with it?" asked Lettie.

"It is one of the Strelley Mill cats," said I, "and so I'll take her home."

The poor animal moved and murmured and I carried her, but we brought her home. They stared, on seeing me enter the kitchen coatless, carrying a strange bundle, while Lettie followed me.

"I have brought poor Mrs. Nickie Ben," said I, unfolding my burden.

"Oh, what a shame!" cried Emily, putting out her hand to touch the cat, but drawing quickly back, like the pee-wits.

"This is how they all go," said the mother.

"I wish keepers had to sit two or three days with their bare ankles in a trap," said Mollie in vindictive tones.

We laid the poor brute on the rug, and gave it warm milk. It drank very little, being too feeble, Mollie, full of anger, fetched Mr. Nickie Ben, another fine black cat, to survey his crippled mate. Mr. Nickie Ben looked, shrugged his sleek shoulders, and walked away with high steps. There was a general feminine outcry on masculine callousness.

George came in for hot water. He exclaimed in surprise on seeing us, and his eyes became animated.

"Look at Mrs. Nickie Ben," cried Mollie. He dropped on his knees on the rug and lifted the wounded paws.

"Broken," said he.

"How awful!" said Emily, shuddering violently, and leaving the room.

"Both?" I asked.

"Only one—look!"

"You are hurting her!" cried Lettie.

"It's no good," said he.

Mollie and the mother hurried out of the kitchen into the parlour.

"What are you going to do?" asked Lettie.

"Put her out of her misery," he replied, taking up the poor cat. We followed him into the barn.

"The quickest way," said he, "is to swing her round and knock her head against the wall."

"You make me sick," exclaimed Lettie.

"I'll drown her then," he said with a smile. We watched him morbidly, as he took a length of twine and fastened a noose round the animal's neck, and near it an iron goose; he kept a long piece of cord attached to the goose.

"You're not coming, are you?" said he. Lettie looked at him; she had grown rather white.

"It'll make you sick," he said. She did not answer, but followed him across the yard to the garden. On the bank of the lower mill-pond he turned again to us and said:

"Now for it!—you are chief mourners." As neither of us replied, he smiled, and dropped the poor writhing cat into the water, saying, "Good-bye, Mrs. Nickie Ben."

We waited on the bank some time. He eyed us curiously.

"Cyril," said Lettie quietly, "isn't it cruel?—isn't it awful?"

I had nothing to say.

"Do you mean me?" asked George.

"Not you in particular—everything! If we move the blood rises in our heel-prints."

He looked at her seriously, with dark eyes.

"I had to drown her out of mercy," said he, fastening the cord he held to an ash-pole. Then he went to get a spade, and with it, he dug a grave in the old black earth.

"If," said he, "the poor old cat had made a prettier corpse, you'd have thrown violets on her."

He had struck the spade into the ground, and hauled up the cat and the iron goose.

"Well," he said, surveying the hideous object, "haven't her good looks gone! She was a fine cat."

"Bury it and have done," Lettie replied.

He did so asking: "Shall you have bad dreams after it?"

"Dreams do not trouble me," she answered, turning away.

We went indoors, into the parlour, where Emily sat by a window, biting her finger. The room was long and not very high; there was a great rough beam across the ceiling. On the mantel-piece, and in the fireplace, and over the piano were wild flowers and fresh leaves plentifully scattered; the room was cool with the scent of the woods.

"Has he done it?" asked Emily—"and did you watch him? If I had seen it I should have hated the sight of him, and I'd rather have touched a maggot than him."

"I shouldn't be particularly pleased if he touched me," said Lettie.

"There is something so loathsome about callousness and brutality," said Emily. "He fills me with disgust."

"Does he?" said Lettie, smiling coldly. She went across to the old piano. "He's only healthy. He's never been sick, not anyway, yet." She sat down and played at random, letting the numbed notes fall like dead leaves from the haughty, ancient piano.

Emily and I talked on by the window, about books and people. She was intensely serious, and generally succeeded in reducing me to the same state.

After a while, when the milking and feeding were finished, George came in. Lettie was still playing the piano. He asked her why she didn't play something with a tune in it, and this caused her to turn round in her chair to give him a withering answer. His appearance, however, scattered her words like startled birds. He had come straight from washing in the scullery, to the parlour, and he stood behind Lettie's chair unconcernedly wiping the moisture from his arms. His sleeves were rolled up to the shoulder, and his shirt was opened wide at the breast. Lettie was somewhat taken aback by the sight of him standing with legs apart, dressed in dirty leggings and boots, and breeches torn at the knee, naked at the breast and arms.

"Why don't you play something with a tune in it?" he repeated, rubbing the towel over his shoulders beneath the shirt.

"A tune!" she echoed, watching the swelling of his arms as he moved them, and the rise and fall of his breasts, wonderfully solid and white. Then having curiously examined the sudden meeting of the sunhot skin with the white flesh in his throat, her eyes met his, and she turned again to the piano, while the colour grew in her ears, mercifully sheltered by a profusion of bright curls.

"What shall I play?" she asked, fingering the keys somewhat confusedly.

He dragged out a book of songs from a little heap of music, and set it before her.

"Which do you want to sing?" she asked thrilling a little as she felt his arms so near her.

"Anything you like."

"A love song?" she said.

"If you like—yes, a love song——" he laughed with clumsy insinuation that made the girl writhe.

She did not answer, but began to play Sullivan's "Tit Willow." He had a passable bass voice, not of any great depth, and he sang with gusto. Then she gave him "Drink to me only with thine eyes." At the end she turned and asked him if he liked the words. He replied that he thought them rather daft. But he looked at her with glowing brown eyes, as if in hesitating challenge.

"That's because you have no wine in your eyes to pledge with," she replied, answering his challenge with a blue blaze of her eyes. Then her eyelashes drooped on to her cheek. He laughed with a faint ring of consciousness, and asked her how could she know.

"Because," she said slowly, looking up at him with pretended scorn, "because there's no change in your eyes when I look at you. I always think people who are worth much talk with their eyes. That's why you are forced to respect many quite uneducated people. Their eyes are so eloquent, and full of knowledge." She had continued to look at him as she spoke—watching his faint appreciation of her upturned face, and her hair, where the light was always tangled, watching his brief self-examination to see if he could feel any truth in her words, watching till he broke into a little laugh which was rather more awkward and less satisfied than usual. Then she turned away, smiling also.

"There's nothing in this book nice to sing," she said, turning over the leaves discontentedly. I found her a volume, and she sang "Should he upbraid." She had a fine soprano voice, and the song delighted him. He moved nearer to her, and when at the finish she looked round with a flashing, mischievous air, she found him pledging her with wonderful eyes.

"You like that," said she with the air of superior knowledge, as if, dear me, all one had to do was to turn over to the right page of the vast volume of one's soul to suit these people.

"I do," he answered emphatically, thus acknowledging her triumph.

"I'd rather 'dance and sing' round 'wrinkled care' than carefully shut the door on him, while I slept in the chimney wouldn't you?" she asked.

He laughed, and began to consider what she meant before he replied.

"As you do," she added.

"What?" he asked.

"Keep half your senses asleep—half alive."

"Do I?" he asked.

"Of course you do;—'bos-bovis; an ox.' You are like a stalled ox, food and comfort, no more. Don't you love comfort?" she smiled.

"Don't you?" he replied, smiling shamefaced.

"Of course. Come and turn over for me while I play this piece. Well, I'll nod when you must turn—bring a chair."

She began to play a romance of Schubert's. He leaned nearer to her to take hold of the leaf of music; she felt her loose hair touch his face, and turned to him a quick, laughing glance, while she played. At the end of the page she nodded, but he was oblivious; "Yes!" she said, suddenly impatient, and he tried to get the leaf over; she quickly pushed his hand aside, turned the page herself and continued playing.

"Sorry!" said he, blushing actually.

"Don't bother," she said, continuing to play without observing him. When she had finished:

"There!" she said, "now tell me how you felt while I was playing."

"Oh—a fool!"—he replied, covered with confusion.

"I'm glad to hear it," she said—"but I didn't mean that. I meant how did the music make you feel?"

"I don't know—whether—it made me feel anything," he replied deliberately, pondering over his answer, as usual.

"I tell you," she declared, "you're either asleep or stupid. Did you really see nothing in the music? But what did you think about?"

He laughed—and thought awhile—and laughed again.

"Why!" he admitted, laughing, and trying to tell the exact truth, "I thought how pretty your hands are—and what they are like to touch—and I thought it was a new experience to feel somebody's hair tickling my cheek." When he had finished his deliberate account she gave his hand a little knock, and left him saying:

"You are worse and worse."

She came across the room to the couch where I was sitting talking to Emily, and put her arm around my neck.

"Isn't it time to go home, Pat?" she asked.

"Half past eight—quite early," said I.

"But I believe—I think I ought to be home now," she said.

"Don't go," said he.

"Why?" I asked.

"Stay to supper," urged Emily.

"But I believe——" she hesitated.

"She has another fish to fry," I said.

"I am not sure——" she hesitated again. Then she flashed into sudden wrath, exclaiming, "Don't be so mean and nasty, Cyril!"

"Were you going somewhere?" asked George humbly.

"Why—no!" she said, blushing.

"Then stay to supper—will you?" he begged. She laughed, and yielded. We went into the kitchen. Mr. Saxton was sitting reading. Trip, the big bull terrier, lay at his feet pretending to sleep; Mr. Nickie Ben reposed calmly on the sofa; Mrs. Saxton and Mollie were just going to bed. We bade them good-night, and sat down. Annie, the servant, had gone home, so Emily prepared the supper.

"Nobody can touch that piano like you," said Mr. Saxton to Lettie, beaming upon her with admiration and deference. He was proud of the stately, mumbling old thing, and used to say that it was full of music for those that liked to ask for it. Lettie laughed, and said that so few folks ever tried it, that her honour was not great.

"What do you think of our George's singing?" asked the father proudly, but with a deprecating laugh at the end.

"I tell him, when he's in love he'll sing quite well," she said.

"When he's in love!" echoed the father, laughing aloud, very pleased.

"Yes," she said, "when he finds out something he wants and can't have."

George thought about it, and he laughed also.

Emily, who was laying the table said, "There is hardly any water in the pippin, George."

"Oh, dash!" he exclaimed, "I've taken my boots off."

"It's not a very big job to put them on again," said his sister.

"Why couldn't Annie fetch it—what's she here for?" he said angrily.

Emily looked at us, tossed her head, and turned her back on him.

"I'll go, I'll go, after supper," said the father in a comforting tone.

"After supper!" laughed Emily.

George got up and shuffled out. He had to go into the spinney near the house to a well, and being warm disliked turning out.

We had just sat down to supper when Trip rushed barking to the door. "Be quiet," ordered the father, thinking of those in bed, and he followed the dog.

It was Leslie. He wanted Lettie to go home with him at once. This she refused to do, so he came indoors, and was persuaded to sit down at table. He swallowed a morsel of bread and cheese, and a cup of coffee, talking to Lettie of a garden party which was going to be arranged at Highclose for the following week.

"What is it for then?" interrupted Mr. Saxton.

"For?" echoed Leslie.

"Is it for the missionaries, or the unemployed, or something?" explained Mr. Saxton.

"It's a garden-party, not a bazaar," said Leslie.

"Oh—a private affair. I thought it would be some church matter of your mother's. She's very big at the church, isn't she?"

"She is interested in the church—yes!" said Leslie, then proceeding to explain to Lettie that he was arranging a tennis tournament in which she was to take part. At this point he became aware that he was monopolising the conversation, and turned to George, just as the latter was taking a piece of cheese from his knife with his teeth, asking:

"Do you play tennis, Mr. Saxton?—I know Miss Saxton does not."

"No," said George, working the piece of cheese into his cheek. "I never learned any ladies' accomplishments."

Leslie turned to Emily, who had nervously been pushing two plates over a stain in the cloth, and who was very startled when she found herself addressed.

"My mother would be so glad if you would come to the party, Miss Saxton."

"I cannot. I shall be at school. Thanks very much."

"Ah—it's very good of you," said the father, beaming. But George smiled contemptuously.

When supper was over Leslie looked at Lettie to inform her that he was ready to go. She, however, refused to see his look, but talked brightly to Mr. Saxton, who was delighted. George, flattered, joined in the talk with gusto. Then Leslie's angry silence began to tell on us all. After a dull lapse, George lifted his head and said to his father:

"Oh, I shouldn't be surprised if that little red heifer calved to-night."

Lettie's eyes flashed with a sparkle of amusement at this thrust.

"No," assented the father, "I thought so myself."

After a moment's silence, George continued deliberately, "I felt her gristles——"

"George!" said Emily sharply.

"We will go," said Leslie.

George looked up sideways at Lettie and his black eyes were full of sardonic mischief.

"Lend me a shawl, will you, Emily?" said Lettie. "I brought nothing, and I think the wind is cold."

Emily, however, regretted that she had no shawl, and so Lettie must needs wear a black coat over her summer dress. It fitted so absurdly that we all laughed, but Leslie was very angry that she should appear ludicrous before them. He showed her all the polite attentions possible, fastened the neck of her coat with his pearl scarf-pin, refusing the pin Emily discovered, after some search. Then we sallied forth.

When we were outside, he offered Lettie his arm with an air of injured dignity. She refused it and he began to remonstrate.

"I consider you ought to have been home as you promised."

"Pardon me," she replied, "but I did not promise."

"But you knew I was coming," said he.

"Well—you found me," she retorted.

"Yes," he assented. "I did find you; flirting with a common fellow," he sneered.

"Well," she returned. "He did—it is true—call a heifer, a heifer."

"And I should think you liked it," he said.

"I didn't mind," she said, with galling negligence.

"I thought your taste was more refined," he replied sarcastically. "But I suppose you thought it romantic."

"Very! Ruddy, dark, and really thrilling eyes," said she.

"I hate to hear a girl talk rot," said Leslie. He himself had crisp hair of the "ginger" class.

"But I mean it," she insisted, aggravating his anger.

Leslie was angry. "I'm glad he amuses you!"

"Of course, I'm not hard to please," she said pointedly. He was stung to the quick.

"Then there's some comfort in knowing I don't please you," he said coldly.

"Oh! but you do! You amuse me also," she said.

After that he would not speak, preferring, I suppose, "not" to amuse her.

Lettie took my arm, and with her disengaged hand held her skirts above the wet grass. When he had left us at the end of the riding in the wood, Lettie said:

"What an infant he is!"

"A bit of an ass," I admitted.

"But really!" she said, "he's more agreeable on the whole than—than my Taurus."

"Your bull!" I repeated laughing.

CHAPTER III

A VENDOR OF VISIONS

The Sunday following Lettie's visit to the mill, Leslie came up in the morning, admirably dressed, and perfected by a grand air. I showed him into the dark drawing-room, and left him. Ordinarily he would have wandered to the stairs, and sat there calling to Lettie; to-day he was silent. I carried the news of his arrival to my sister, who was pinning on her brooch.

"And how is the dear boy?" she asked. "I have not inquired," said I. She laughed, and loitered about till it was time to set off for church before she came downstairs. Then she also assumed the grand air and bowed to him with a beautiful bow. He was somewhat taken aback and had nothing to say. She rustled across the room to the window, where the white geraniums grew magnificently. "I must adorn myself," she said.

It was Leslie's custom to bring her flowers. As he had not done so this day, she was piqued. He hated the scent and chalky whiteness of the geraniums. So she smiled at him as she pinned them into the bosom of her dress, saying: "They are very fine, are they not?" He muttered that they were. Mother came downstairs, greeted him warmly, and asked him if he would take her to church.

"If you will allow me," said he.

"You are modest to-day," laughed mother.

"To-day!" he repeated.

"I hate modesty in a young man," said mother—"Come, we shall be late." Lettie wore the geraniums all day—till evening. She brought Alice Gall home to tea, and bade me bring up "Mon Taureau," when his farm work was over.

The day had been hot and close. The sun was reddening in the west as we leaped across the lesser brook. The evening scents began to awake, and wander unseen through the still air. An occasional yellow sunbeam would slant through the thick roof of leaves and cling passionately to the orange clusters of mountain-ash berries. The trees were silent, drawing together to sleep. Only a few pink orchids stood palely by the path, looking wistfully out at the ranks of red-purple bugle, whose last flowers, glowing from the top of the bronze column, yearned darkly for the sun.

We sauntered on in silence, not breaking the first hush of the woodlands. As we drew near home we heard a murmur from among the trees, from the lover's seat, where a great tree had fallen and remained mossed and covered with fragile growth. There a crooked bough made a beautiful seat for two.

"Fancy being in love and making a row in such a twilight," said I as we continued our way. But when we came opposite the fallen tree, we saw no lovers there, but a man sleeping, and muttering through his sleep. The cap had fallen from his grizzled hair, and his head leaned back against a profusion of the little wild geraniums that decorated the dead bough so delicately. The man's clothing was good, but slovenly and neglected. His face was pale and worn with sickness and dissipation. As he slept, his grey beard wagged, and his loose unlovely mouth moved in indistinct speech. He was acting over again some part of his life, and his features twitched during the unnatural sleep. He would give a little groan, gruesome to hear and then talk to some woman. His features twitched as if with pain, and he moaned slightly.

The lips opened in a grimace showing the yellow teeth behind the beard. Then he began again talking in his throat, thickly, so that we could only tell part of what he said. It was very unpleasant. I wondered how we should end it. Suddenly through the gloom of the twilight-haunted woods came the scream of a rabbit caught by a weasel. The man awoke with a sharp "Ah!"—he looked round in consternation, then sinking down again wearily, said, "I was dreaming again."

"You don't seem to have nice dreams," said George.

The man winced then looking at us said, almost sneering:

"And who are you?"

We did not answer, but waited for him to move. He sat still, looking at us.

"So!" he said at last, wearily, "I do dream. I do, I do." He sighed heavily. Then he added, sarcastically: "Were you interested?"

"No," said I. "But you are out of your way surely. Which road did you want?"

"You want me to clear out," he said.

"Well," I said laughing in deprecation. "I don't mind your dreaming. But this is not the way to anywhere."

"Where may you be going then?" he asked.

"I? Home," I replied with dignity.

"You are a Beardsall?" he queried, eyeing me with bloodshot eyes.

"I am!" I replied with more dignity, wondering who the fellow could be.

He sat a few moments looking at me. It was getting dark in the wood. Then he took up an ebony stick with a gold head, and rose. The stick seemed to catch at my imagination. I watched it curiously as we walked with the old man along the path to the gate. We went with him into the open road. When we reached the clear sky where the light from the west fell full on our faces, he turned again and looked at us closely. His mouth opened sharply, as if he would speak, but he stopped himself, and only said "Good-bye—Good-bye."

"Shall you be all right?" I asked, seeing him totter.

"Yes—all right—good-bye, lad."

He walked away feebly into the darkness. We saw the lights of a vehicle on the high-road: after a while we heard the bang of a door, and a cab rattled away.

"Well—whoever's he?" said George laughing.

"Do you know," said I, "it's made me feel a bit rotten."

"Ay?" he laughed, turning up the end of the exclamation with indulgent surprise.

We went back home, deciding to say nothing to the women. They were sitting in the window seat watching for us, mother and Alice and Lettie.

"You "have" been a long time!" said Lettie. "We've watched the sun go down—it set splendidly—look—the rim of the hill is smouldering yet. What have you been doing?"

"Waiting till your Taurus finished work."

"Now be quiet," she said hastily, and—turning to him, "You have come to sing hymns?"

"Anything you like," he replied.

"How nice of you, George!" exclaimed Alice, ironically. She was a short, plump girl, pale, with daring, rebellious eyes. Her mother was a Wyld, a family famous either for shocking lawlessness, or for extreme uprightness. Alice, with an admirable father, and a mother who loved her husband passionately, was wild and lawless on the surface, but at heart very upright and amenable. My mother and she were fast friends, and Lettie had a good deal of sympathy with her. But Lettie generally deplored Alice's outrageous behaviour, though she relished it—if "superior" friends were not present. Most men enjoyed Alice in company, but they fought shy of being alone with her.

"Would you say the same to me?" she asked.

"It depends what you'd answer," he said, laughingly.

"Oh, you're so bloomin' cautious. I'd rather have a tack in my shoe than a cautious man, wouldn't you Lettie?"

"Well—it depends how far I had to walk," was Lettie's reply—"but if I hadn't to limp too far——"

Alice turned away from Lettie, whom she often found rather irritating.

"You do look glum, Sybil," she said to me, "did somebody want to kiss you?"

I laughed—on the wrong side, understanding her malicious feminine reference—and answered:

"If they had, I should have looked happy."

"Dear boy, smile now then,"—and she tipped me under the chin. I drew away.

"Oh, Gum—we are solemn! What's the matter with you? Georgy—say something—else I's'll begin to feel nervous."

"What shall I say?" he asked, shifting his feet and resting his elbows on his knees. "Oh, Lor!" she cried in great impatience. He did not help her, but sat clasping his hands, smiling on one side of his face. He was nervous. He looked at the pictures, the ornaments, and everything in the room; Lettie got up to settle some flowers on the mantel-piece, and he scrutinised her closely. She was dressed in some blue foulard stuff, with lace at the throat, and lace cuffs to the elbow. She was tall and supple; her hair had a curling fluffiness very charming. He was no taller than she, and looked shorter, being strongly built. He too had a grace of his own, but not as he sat stiffly on a horse-hair chair. She was elegant in her movements.

After a little while mother called us in to supper.

"Come," said Lettie to him, "take me in to supper."

He rose, feeling very awkward.

"Give me your arm," said she to tease him. He did so, and flushed under his tan, afraid of her round arm half hidden by lace, which lay among his sleeve.

When we were seated she flourished her spoon and asked him what he would have. He hesitated, looked at the strange dishes and said he would have some cheese. They insisted on his eating new, complicated meats.

"I'm sure you like tantafflins, don't you Georgie?" said Alice, in her mocking fashion. He was "not" sure. He could not analyse the flavours, he felt confused and bewildered even through his sense of taste! Alice begged him to have salad.

"No, thanks," said he. "I don't like it."

"Oh, George!" she said, "How "can" you say so when I'm "offering" it you."

"Well—I've only had it once," said he, "and that was when I was working with Flint, and he gave us fat bacon and bits of lettuce soaked in vinegar—''Ave a bit more salit,' he kept saying, but I'd had enough."

"But all our lettuce," said Alice with a wink, "is as sweet as a nut, no vinegar about our lettuce." George laughed in much confusion at her pun on my sister's name.

"I believe you," he said, with pompous gallantry.

"Think of that!" cried Alice. "Our Georgie believes me. Oh, I am so, so pleased!"

He smiled painfully. His hand was resting on the table, the thumb tucked tight under the fingers, his knuckles white as he nervously gripped his thumb. At last supper was finished, and he picked up his serviette from the floor and began to fold it. Lettie also seemed ill at ease. She had teased him till the sense of his awkwardness had become uncomfortable. Now she felt sorry, and a trifle repentant, so she went to the piano, as she always did to dispel her moods. When she was angry she played tender fragments of Tschaïkowsky, when she was miserable, Mozart. Now she played Handel in a manner that suggested the plains of heaven in the long notes, and in the little trills as if she were waltzing up the ladder of Jacob's dream like the damsels in Blake's pictures. I often told her she flattered herself scandalously through the piano; but generally she pretended not to understand me, and occasionally she surprised me by a sudden rush of tears to her eyes. For George's sake, she played Gounod's "Ave Maria," knowing that the sentiment of the chant would appeal to him, and make him sad, forgetful of the petty evils of this life. I smiled as I watched the cheap spell working. When she had finished, her fingers lay motionless for a minute on the keys, then she spun round, and looked him straight in the eyes, giving promise of a smile. But she glanced down at her knee.

"You are tired of music," she said.

"No," he replied, shaking his head.

"Like it better than salad?" she asked with a flash of raillery.

He looked up at her with a sudden smile, but did not reply. He was not handsome; his features were too often in a heavy repose; but when he looked up and smiled unexpectedly, he flooded her with an access of tenderness.

"Then you'll have a little more," said she, and she turned again to the piano. She played soft, wistful morsels, then suddenly broke off in the midst of one sentimental plaint, and left the piano, dropping into a low chair by the fire. There she sat and looked at him. He was conscious that her eyes were fixed on him, but he dared not look back at her, so he pulled his moustache.

"You are only a boy, after all," she said to him quietly. Then he turned and asked her why.

"It is a boy that you are," she repeated, leaning back in her chair, and smiling lazily at him.

"I never thought so," he replied seriously.

"Really?" she said, chuckling.

"No," said he, trying to recall his previous impressions.

She laughed heartily, saying:

"You're growing up."

"How?" he asked.

"Growing up," she repeated, still laughing.

"But I'm sure I was never boyish," said he.

"I'm teaching you," said she, "and when you're boyish you'll be a very decent man. A mere man daren't be a boy for fear of tumbling off his manly dignity, and then he'd be a fool, poor thing."

He laughed, and sat still to think about it, as was his way.

"Do you like pictures?" she asked suddenly, being tired of looking at him.

"Better than anything," he replied.

"Except dinner, and a warm hearth and a lazy evening," she said.

He looked at her suddenly, hardening at her insult, and biting his lips at the taste of this humiliation. She repented, and smiled her plaintive regret to him.

"I'll show you some," she said, rising and going out of the room. He felt he was nearer her. She returned, carrying a pile of great books.

"Jove—you're pretty strong!" said he.

"You are charming in your compliment," she said.

He glanced at her to see if she were mocking.

"That's the highest you could say of me, isn't it?" she insisted.

"Is it?" he asked, unwilling to compromise himself.

"For sure," she answered—and then, laying the books on the table, "I know how a man will compliment me by the way he looks at me"—she kneeled before the fire. "Some look at my hair, some watch the rise and fall of my breathing, some look at my neck, and a few,—not you among them,—look me in the eyes for my thoughts. To you, I'm a fine specimen, strong! Pretty strong! You primitive man!"

He sat twisting his fingers; she was very contrary.

"Bring your chair up," she said, sitting down at the table and opening a book. She talked to him of each picture, insisting on hearing his opinion. Sometimes he disagreed with her and would not be persuaded. At such times she was piqued.

"If," said she, "an ancient Briton in his skins came and contradicted me as you do, wouldn't you tell him not to make an ass of himself?"

"I don't know," said he.

"Then you ought to," she replied. "You know nothing."

"How is it you ask me then?" he said.

She began to laugh.

"Why—that's a pertinent question. I think you might be rather nice, you know."

"Thank you," he said, smiling ironically.

"Oh!" she said. "I know, you think you're perfect, but you're not, you're very annoying."

"Yes," exclaimed Alice, who had entered the room again, dressed ready to depart. "He's so blooming slow! Great whizz! Who wants fellows to carry cold dinners? Shouldn't you like to shake him Lettie?"

"I don't feel concerned enough," replied the other calmly.

"Did you ever carry a boiled pudding Georgy?" asked Alice with innocent interest, punching me slyly.

"Me!—why?—what makes you ask?" he replied, quite at a loss.

"Oh, I only wondered if your people needed any indigestion mixture—pa mixes it—1/1 ½ a bottle."

"I don't see——" he began.

"Ta—ta, old boy, I'll give you time to think about it. Good-night, Lettie. Absence makes the heart grow fonder—Georgy—of someone else. Farewell. Come along, Sybil love, the moon is shining—Good-night all, good-night!"

I escorted her home, while they continued to look at the pictures. He was a romanticist. He liked Copley, Fielding, Cattermole and Birket Foster; he could see nothing whatsoever in Girtin or David Cox. They fell out decidedly over George Clausen.

"But," said Lettie, "he is a real realist, he makes common things beautiful, he sees the mystery and magnificence that envelops us even when we work menially. I "do" know and I "can" speak. If I hoed in the fields beside you——" This was a very new idea for him, almost a shock to his imagination, and she talked unheeded. The picture under discussion was a water-colour—"Hoeing" by Clausen.

"You'd be just that colour in the sunset," she said, thus bringing him back to the subject, "and if you looked at the ground you'd find there was a sense of warm gold fire in it, and once you'd perceived the colour, it would strengthen till you'd see nothing else. You are blind; you are only half-born; you are gross with good living and heavy sleeping. You are a piano which will only play a dozen common notes. Sunset is nothing to you—it merely happens anywhere. Oh, but you make me feel as if I'd like to make you suffer. If you'd ever been sick; if you'd ever been born into a home where there was something oppressed you, and you couldn't understand; if ever you'd believed, or even doubted, you might have been a man by now. You never grow up, like bulbs which spend all summer getting fat and fleshy, but never wakening the germ of a flower. As for me, the flower is born in me, but it wants bringing forth. Things don't flower if they're overfed. You have to suffer before you blossom in this life. When death is just touching a plant, it forces it into a passion of flowering. You wonder how I have touched death. You don't know. There's always a sense of death in this home. I believe my mother hated my father before I was born. That was death in her veins for me before I was born. It makes a difference——"

As he sat listening, his eyes grew wide and his lips were parted, like a child who feels the tale but does not understand the words. She, looking away from herself at last, saw him, began to laugh gently, and patted his hand saying:

"Oh! my dear heart, are you bewildered? How amiable of you to listen to me—there isn't any meaning in it all—there isn't really!"

"But," said he, "why do you say it?"

"Oh, the question!" she laughed. "Let us go back to our muttons, we're gazing at each other like two dazed images."

They turned on, chatting casually, till George suddenly exclaimed, "There!"

It was Maurice Griffinhagen's "Idyll."

"What of it?" she asked, gradually flushing. She remembered her own enthusiasm over the picture.

"Wouldn't it be fine?" he exclaimed, looking at her with glowing eyes, his teeth showing white in a smile that was not amusement.

"What?" she asked, dropping her head in confusion.

"That—a girl like that—half afraid—and passion!" He lit up curiously.

"She may well be half afraid, when the barbarian comes out in his glory, skins and all."

"But don't you like it?" he asked.

She shrugged her shoulders, saying, "Make love to the next girl you meet, and by the time the poppies redden the field, she'll hang in your arms. She'll have need to be more than half afraid, won't she?"

She played with the leaves of the book, and did not look at him.

"But," he faltered, his eyes glowing, "it would be—rather——"

"Don't, sweet lad, don't!" she cried laughing.

"But I shouldn't—" he insisted, "I don't know whether I should like any girl I know to——"

"Precious Sir Galahad," she said in a mock caressing voice, and stroking his cheek with her finger, "You ought to have been a monk—a martyr, a Carthusian."

He laughed, taking no notice. He was breathlessly quivering under the new sensation of heavy, unappeased fire in his breast, and in the muscles of his arms. He glanced at her bosom and shivered.

"Are you studying just how to play the part?" she asked.

"No—but——" he tried to look at her, but failed. He shrank, laughing, and dropped his head.

"What?" she asked with vibrant curiosity.

Having become a few degrees calmer, he looked up at her now, his eyes wide and vivid with a declaration that made her shrink back as if flame had leaped towards her face. She bent down her head and picked at her dress.

"Didn't you know the picture before?" she said, in a low, toneless voice.

He shut his eyes and shrank with shame.

"No, I've never seen it before," he said.

"I'm surprised," she said. "It is a very common one."

"Is it?" he answered, and this make-belief conversation fell. She looked up, and found his eyes. They gazed at each other for a moment before they hid their faces again. It was a torture to each of them to look thus nakedly at the other, a dazzled, shrinking pain that they forced themselves to undergo for a moment, that they might the moment after tremble with a fierce sensation that filled their veins with fluid, fiery electricity. She sought almost in panic, for something to say.

"I believe it's in Liverpool, the picture," she contrived to say.

He dared not kill this conversation, he was too self-conscious. He forced himself to reply, "I didn't know there was a gallery in Liverpool."

"Oh, yes, a very good one," she said.

Their eyes met in the briefest flash of a glance, then both turned their faces aside. Thus averted, one from the other, they made talk. At last she rose, gathered the books together, and carried them off. At the door she turned. She must steal another keen moment: "Are you admiring my strength?" she asked. Her pose was fine. With her head thrown back, the roundness of her throat ran finely down to the bosom which swelled above the pile of books held by her straight arms. He looked at her. Their lips smiled curiously. She put back her throat as if she were drinking. They felt the blood beating madly in their necks. Then, suddenly breaking into a slight trembling, she turned round and left the room.

While she was out, he sat twisting his moustache. She came back along the hall talking madly to herself in French. Having been much impressed by Sarah Bernhardt's "Dame aux Camelias" and "Adrienne Lecouvreur," Lettie had caught something of the weird tone of this great actress, and her raillery and mockery came out in little wild waves. She laughed at him, and at herself, and at men in general, and at love in particular. Whatever he said to her, she answered in the same mad clatter of French, speaking high and harshly. The sound was strange and uncomfortable. There was a painful perplexity in his brow, such as I often perceived afterwards, a sense of something hurting, something he could not understand.

"Well, well, well, well!" she exclaimed at last. "We must be mad sometimes, or we should be getting aged, Hein?"

"I wish I could understand," he said plaintively.

"Poor dear!" she laughed. "How sober he is! And will you really go? They will think we've given you no supper, you look so sad."

"I have supped—full——" he began, his eyes dancing with a smile as he ventured upon a quotation. He was very much excited.

"Of horrors!" she cried completing it. "Now that is worse than anything I have given you."

"Is it?" he replied, and they smiled at each other.

"Far worse," she answered. They waited in suspense for some moments. He looked at her.

"Good-bye," she said, holding out her hand. Her voice was full of insurgent tenderness. He looked at her again, his eyes flickering. Then he took her hand. She pressed his fingers, holding them a little while. Then ashamed of her display of feeling, she looked down. He had a deep cut across his thumb.

"What a gash!" she exclaimed, shivering, and clinging a little tighter to his fingers before she released them. He gave a little laugh.

"Does it hurt you?" she asked very gently.

He laughed again—"No!" he said softly, as if his thumb were not worthy of consideration.

They smiled again at each other, and, with a blind movement, he broke the spell and was gone.

CHAPTER IV

THE FATHER

Autumn set in, and the red dahlias which kept the warm light alive in their bosoms so late into the evening died in the night, and the morning had nothing but brown balls of rottenness to show.

They called me as I passed the post-office door in Eberwich one evening, and they gave me a letter for my mother. The distorted, sprawling handwriting perplexed me with a dim uneasiness; I put the letter away, and forgot it. I remembered it later in the evening, when I wished to recall something to interest my mother. She looked at the handwriting, and began hastily and nervously to tear open the envelope; she held it away from her in the light of the lamp, and with eyes drawn half closed, tried to scan it. So I found her spectacles, but she did not speak her thanks, and her hand trembled. She read the short letter quickly; then she sat down, and read it again, and continued to look at it.

"What is it mother?" I asked.

She did not answer, but continued staring at the letter. I went up to her, and put my hand on her shoulder, feeling very uncomfortable. She took no notice of me, beginning to murmur: "Poor Frank—Poor Frank." That was my father's name.

"But what is it mother?—tell me what's the matter!"

She turned and looked at me as if I were a stranger; she got up, and began to walk about the room; then she left the room, and I heard her go out of the house.

The letter had fallen on to the floor. I picked it up. The handwriting was very broken. The address gave a village some few miles away; the date was three days before.

"My Dear Lettice:

"You will want to know I am gone. I can hardly last a day or two—my kidneys are nearly gone.

"I came over one day. I didn't see you, but I saw the girl by the window, and I had a few words with the lad. He never knew, and he felt nothing. I think the girl might have done. If you knew how awfully lonely I am, Lettice—how awfully I have been, you might feel sorry.

"I have saved what I could, to pay you back. I have had the worst of it Lettice, and I'm glad the end has come. I have had the worst of it.

"Good-bye—for ever—your husband,

"FRANK BEARDSALL."

I was numbed by this letter of my father's. With almost agonised effort I strove to recall him, but I knew that my image of a tall, handsome, dark man with pale grey eyes was made up from my mother's few words, and from a portrait I had once seen.

The marriage had been unhappy. My father was of frivolous, rather vulgar character, but plausible, having a good deal of charm. He was a liar, without notion of honesty, and he had deceived my mother thoroughly. One after another she discovered his mean dishonesties and deceits, and her soul revolted from him, and because the illusion of him had broken into a thousand vulgar fragments, she turned away with the scorn of a woman who finds her romance has been a trumpery tale. When he left her for other pleasures—Lettie being a baby of three years, while I was five—she rejoiced bitterly. She had heard of him indirectly—and of him nothing good, although he prospered—but he had never come to see her or written to her in all the eighteen years.

In a while my mother came in. She sat down, pleating up the hem of her black apron, and smoothing it out again.

"You know," she said, "he had a right to the children, and I've kept them all the time."

"He could have come," said I.

"I set them against him, I have kept them from him, and he wanted them. I ought to be by him now—I ought to have taken you to him long ago."

"But how could you, when you knew nothing of him?"

"He would have come—he wanted to come—I have felt it for years. But I kept him away. I know I have kept him away. I have felt it, and he has. Poor Frank—he'll see his mistakes now. He would not have been as cruel as I have been——"

"Nay, mother, it is only the shock that makes you say so."

"This makes me know. I have felt in myself a long time that he was suffering; I have had the feeling of him in me. I knew, yes, I did know he wanted me, and you, I felt it. I have had the feeling of him upon me this last three months especially . . . I have been cruel to him."

"Well—we'll go to him now, shall we?" I said.

"To-morrow—to-morrow," she replied, noticing me really for the first time. "I go in the morning."

"And I'll go with you."

"Yes—in the morning. Lettie has her party to Chatsworth—don't tell her—we won't tell her."

"No," said I.

Shortly after, my mother went upstairs. Lettie came in rather late from Highclose; Leslie did not come in. In the morning they were going with a motor party into Matloch and Chatsworth, and she was excited, and did not observe anything.

After all, mother and I could not set out until the warm tempered afternoon. The air was full of a soft yellowness when we stepped down from the train at Cossethay. My mother insisted on walking the long two miles to the village. We went slowly along the road, lingering over the little red flowers in the high hedge-bottom up the hillside. We were reluctant to come to our destination. As we came in sight of the little grey tower of the church, we heard the sound of braying, brassy music. Before us, filling a little croft, the Wakes was in full swing.

Some wooden horses careered gaily round, and the swingboats leaped into the mild blue sky. We sat upon the stile, my mother and I, and watched. There were booths, and cocoanut shies and round-abouts scattered in the small field. Groups of children moved quietly from attraction to attraction. A deeply tanned man came across the field swinging two dripping buckets of water. Women looked from the doors of their brilliant caravans, and lean dogs rose lazily and settled down again under the steps. The fair moved slowly, for all its noise. A stout lady, with a husky masculine voice invited the excited children into her peep show. A swarthy man stood with his thin legs astride on the platform of the roundabouts, and sloping backwards, his mouth distended with a row of fingers, he whistled astonishingly to the coarse row of the organ, and his whistling sounded clear, like the flight of a wild goose high over the chimney tops, as he was carried round and round. A little fat man with an ugly swelling on his chest stood screaming from a filthy booth to a crowd of urchins, bidding them challenge a big, stolid young man who stood with folded arms, his fists pushing out his biceps. On being asked if he would undertake any of these prospective challenges, this young man nodded, not having yet attained a talking stage:—yes he would take two at a time, screamed the little fat man with the big excrescence on his chest, pointing at the cowering lads and girls. Further off, Punch's quaint voice could be heard when the cocoanut man ceased grinding out screeches from his rattle. The cocoanut man was wroth, for these youngsters would not risk a penny shy, and the rattle yelled like a fiend. A little girl came along to look at us, daintily licking an ice-cream sandwich. We were uninteresting, however, so she passed on to stare at the caravans.

We had almost gathered courage to cross the wakes, when the cracked bell of the church sent its note falling over the babble.

"One—two—three"—had it really sounded three! Then it rang on a lower bell—"One—two—three." A passing bell for a man! I looked at my mother—she turned away from me.

The organ flared on—the husky woman came forward to make another appeal. Then there was a lull. The man with the lump on his chest had gone inside the rag to spar with the solid fellow. The cocoanut man had gone to the "Three Tunns" in fury, and a brazen girl of seventeen or so was in charge of the nuts. The horses careered round, carrying two frightened boys.

Suddenly the quick, throbbing note of the low bell struck again through the din. I listened—but could not keep count. One, two, three, four—for the third time that great lad had determined to go on the horses, and they had started while his foot was on the step, and he had been foiled—eight, nine, ten—no wonder that whistling man had such a big Adam's apple—I wondered if it hurt his neck when he talked, being so pointed—nineteen, twenty—the girl was licking more ice-cream, with precious, tiny licks—twenty-five, twenty-six—I wondered if I did count to twenty-six mechanically. At this point I gave it up, and watched for Lord Tennyson's bald head to come spinning round on the painted rim of the round-abouts, followed by a red-faced Lord Roberts, and a villainous looking Disraeli.

"Fifty-one——" said my mother. "Come—come along."

We hurried through the fair, towards the church; towards a garden where the last red sentinels looked out from the top of the holly-hock spires. The garden was a tousled mass of faded pink chrysanthemums, and weak-eyed Michaelmas daisies, and spectre stalks of holly-hock. It belonged to a low, dark house, which crouched behind a screen of yews. We walked along to the front. The blinds were down, and in one room we could see the stale light of candles burning.

"Is this Yew Cottage?" asked my mother of a curious lad.

"It's Mrs. May's," replied the boy.

"Does she live alone?" I asked.

"She 'ad French Carlin—but he's dead—an she's letten th' candles ter keep th' owd lad off'n 'im."

We went to the house and knocked.

"An ye come about him?" hoarsely whispered a bent old woman, looking up with very blue eyes, nodding her old head with its velvet net significantly towards the inner room.

"Yes——" said my mother, "we had a letter."

"Ay, poor fellow—he's gone, missis," and the old lady shook her head. Then she looked at us curiously, leaned forward, and, putting her withered old hand on my mother's arm, her hand with its dark blue veins, she whispered in confidence, "and the candles 'as gone out twice. 'E wor a funny feller, very funny!"

"I must come in and settle things—I am his nearest relative," said my mother, trembling.

"Yes—I must 'a dozed, for when I looked up, it wor black darkness. Missis, I dursn't sit up wi' 'im no more, an' many a one I've laid out. Eh, but his sufferin's, Missis—poor feller—eh, Missis!"—she lifted her ancient hands, and looked up at my mother, with her eyes so intensely blue.

"Do you know where he kept his papers?" asked my mother.

"Yis, I axed Father Burns about it; he said we mun pray for 'im. I bought him candles out o' my own pocket. He wor a rum feller, he wor!" and again she shook her grey head mournfully. My mother took a step forward.

"Did ye want to see 'im?" asked the old woman with half timid questioning.

"Yes," replied my mother, with a vigorous nod. She perceived now that the old lady was deaf.

We followed the woman into the kitchen, a long, low room, dark, with drawn blinds.

"Sit ye down," said the old lady in the same low tone, as if she were speaking to herself:

"Ye are his sister, 'appen?"

My mother shook her head.

"Oh—his brother's wife!" persisted the old lady.

We shook our heads.

"Only a cousin?" she guessed, and looked at us appealingly. I nodded assent.

"Sit ye there a minute," she said, and trotted off. She banged the door, and jarred a chair as she went. When she returned, she set down a bottle and two glasses with a thump on the table in front of us. Her thin, skinny wrist seemed hardly capable of carrying the bottle.

"It's one as he'd only just begun of—'ave a drop to keep ye up—do now, poor thing," she said, pushing the bottle to my mother and hurrying off, returning with the sugar and the kettle. We refused.

"'E won't want it no more, poor feller—an it's good, Missis, he allers drank it good. Ay—an' 'e 'adn't a drop the last three days, poor man, poor feller, not a drop. Come now, it'll stay ye, come now." We refused.

"'T's in there," she whispered, pointing to a closed door in a dark corner of the gloomy kitchen. I stumbled up a little step, and went plunging against a rickety table on which was a candle in a tall brass candlestick. Over went the candle, and it rolled on the floor, and the brass holder fell with much clanging.

"Eh!—Eh! Dear—Lord, Dear—Heart. Dear—Heart!" wailed the old woman. She hastened trembling round to the other side of the bed, and relit the extinguished candle at the taper which was still burning. As she returned, the light glowed on her old, wrinkled face, and on the burnished knobs of the dark mahogany bedstead, while a stream of wax dripped down on to the floor. By the glimmering light of the two tapers we could see the outlined form under the counterpane. She turned back the hem and began to make painful wailing sounds. My heart was beating heavily, and I felt choked. I did not want to look—but I must. It was the man I had seen in the woods—with the puffiness gone from his face. I felt the great wild pity, and a sense of terror, and a sense of horror, and a sense of awful littleness and loneliness among a great empty space. I felt beyond myself as if I were a mere fleck drifting unconsciously through the dark. Then I felt my mother's arm round my shoulders, and she cried pitifully, "Oh, my son, my son!"

I shivered, and came back to myself. There were no tears in my mother's face, only a great pleading. "Never mind, mother—never mind," I said incoherently.

She rose and covered the face again, and went round to the old lady, and held her still, and stayed her little wailings. The woman wiped from her cheeks the few tears of old age, and pushed her grey hair smooth under the velvet network.

"Where are all his things?" asked mother.

"Eh?" said the old lady, lifting up her ear.

"Are all his things here?" repeated mother in a louder tone.

"Here?"—the woman waved her hand round the room. It contained the great mahogany bedstead naked of hangings, a desk, and an oak chest, and two or three mahogany chairs. "I couldn't get him upstairs; he's only been here about a three week."

"Where's the key to the desk?" said my mother loudly in the woman's ear.

"Yes," she replied—"it's his desk." She looked at us, perplexed and doubtful, fearing she had misunderstood us. This was dreadful.

"Key!" I shouted. "Where is the key?"

Her old face was full of trouble as she shook her head. I took it that she did not know.

"Where are his clothes? "Clothes"" I repeated pointing to my coat. She understood, and muttered, "I'll fetch 'em ye."

We should have followed her as she hurried upstairs through a door near the head of the bed, had we not heard a heavy footstep in the kitchen, and a voice saying: "Is the old lady going to drink with the Devil? Hullo, Mrs. May, come and drink with me!" We heard the tinkle of the liquor poured into a glass, and almost immediately the light tap of the empty tumbler on the table.

"I'll see what the old girl's up to," he said, and the heavy tread came towards us. Like me, he stumbled at the little step, but escaped collision with the table.

"Damn that fool's step," he said heartily. It was the doctor—for he kept his hat on his head, and did not hesitate to stroll about the house. He was a big, burly, red-faced man.

"I beg your pardon," he said, observing my mother. My mother bowed.

"Mrs. Beardsall?" he asked, taking off his hat.

My mother bowed.

"I posted a letter to you. You are a relative of his—of poor old Carlin's?"—he nodded sideways towards the bed.

"The nearest," said my mother.

"Poor fellow—he was a bit stranded. Comes of being a bachelor, Ma'am."

"I was very much surprised to hear from him," said my mother.

"Yes, I guess he's not been much of a one for writing to his friends. He's had a bad time lately. You have to pay some time or other. We bring them on ourselves—silly devils as we are.—I beg your pardon."

There was a moment of silence, during which the doctor sighed, and then began to whistle softly.

"Well—we might be more comfortable if we had the blind up," he said, letting daylight in among the glimmer of the tapers as he spoke.

"At any rate," he said, "you won't have any trouble settling up—no debts or anything of that. I believe there's a bit to leave—so it's not so bad. Poor devil—he was very down at the last; but we have to pay at one end or the other. What on earth is the old girl after?" he asked, looking up at the raftered ceiling, which was rumbling and thundering with the old lady's violent rummaging.

"We wanted the key of his desk," said my mother.

"Oh—I can find you that—and the will. He told me where they were, and to give them you when you came. He seemed to think a lot of you. Perhaps he might ha' done better for himself——"

Here we heard the heavy tread of the old lady coming downstairs. The doctor went to the foot of the stairs.

"Hello, now—be careful!" he bawled. The poor old woman did as he expected, and trod on the braces of the trousers she was trailing, and came crashing into his arms. He set her tenderly down, saying, "Not hurt, are you?—no!" and he smiled at her and shook his head.

"Eh, doctor—Eh, doctor—bless ye, I'm thankful ye've come. Ye'll see to 'em now, will ye?"

"Yes—" he nodded in his bluff, winning way, and hurrying into the kitchen, he mixed her a glass of whisky, and brought one for himself, saying to her, "There you are—'twas a nasty shaking for you."

The poor old woman sat in a chair by the open door of the staircase, the pile of clothing tumbled about her feet. She looked round pitifully at us and at the daylight struggling among the candle light, making a ghostly gleam on the bed where the rigid figure lay unmoved; her hand trembled so that she could scarcely hold her glass.

The doctor gave us the keys, and we rifled the desk and the drawers, sorting out all the papers. The doctor sat sipping and talking to us all the time.

"Yes," he said, "he's only been here about two years. Felt himself beginning to break up then, I think. He'd been a long time abroad; they always called him Frenchy." The doctor sipped and reflected, and sipped again, "Ay—he'd run the rig in his day—used to dream dreadfully. Good thing the old woman was so deaf. Awful, when a man gives himself away in his sleep; played the deuce with him, knowing it." Sip, sip, sip—and more reflections—and another glass to be mixed.

"But he was a jolly decent fellow—generous, open-handed. The folks didn't like him, because they couldn't get to the bottom of him; they always hate a thing they can't fathom. He was close, there's no mistake—save when he was asleep sometimes." The doctor looked at his glass and sighed.

"However—we shall miss him—shan't we, Mrs. May?" he bawled suddenly, startling us, making us glance at the bed.

He lit his pipe and puffed voluminously in order to obscure the attraction of his glass. Meanwhile we examined the papers. There were very few letters—one or two addressed to Paris. There were many bills, and receipts, and notes—business, all business.

There was hardly a trace of sentiment among all the litter. My mother sorted out such papers as she considered valuable; the others, letters and missives which she glanced at cursorily and put aside, she took into the kitchen and burned. She seemed afraid to find out too much.

The doctor continued to colour his tobacco smoke with a few pensive words.

"Ay," he said, "there are two ways. You can burn your lamp with a big draught, and it'll flare away, till the oil's gone, then it'll stink and smoke itself out. Or you can keep it trim on the kitchen table, dirty your fingers occasionally trimming it up, and it'll last a long time, and sink out mildly." Here he turned to his glass, and finding it empty, was awakened to reality.

"Anything I can do, Madam?" he asked.

"No, thank you."

"Ay, I don't suppose there's much to settle. Nor many tears to shed—when a fellow spends his years an' his prime on the Lord knows who, you can't expect those that remember him young to feel his loss too keenly. He'd had his fling in his day, though, ma'am. Ay—must ha' had some rich times. No lasting satisfaction in it though—always wanting, craving. There's nothing like marrying—you've got your dish before you then, and you've got to eat it." He lapsed again into reflection, from which he did not rouse till we had locked up the desk, burned the useless papers, put the others into my pockets and the black bag, and were standing ready to depart. Then the doctor looked up suddenly and said:

"But what about the funeral?"

Then he noticed the weariness of my mother's look, and he jumped up, and quickly seized his hat, saying:

"Come across to my wife and have a cup of tea. Buried in these dam holes a fellow gets such a boor. Do come—my little wife is lonely—come just to see her."

My mother smiled and thanked him. We turned to go. My mother hesitated in her walk; on the threshold of the room she glanced round at the bed, but she went on.

Outside, in the fresh air of the fading afternoon, I could not believe it was true. It was not true, that sad, colourless face with grey beard, wavering in the yellow candle-light. It was a lie,—that wooden bedstead, that deaf woman, they were fading phrases of the untruth. That yellow blaze of little sunflowers was true, and the shadow from the sun-dial on the warm old almshouses—that was real. The heavy afternoon sunlight came round us warm and reviving; we shivered, and the untruth went out of our veins, and we were no longer chilled.

The doctor's house stood sweetly among the beech trees, and at the iron fence in front of the little lawn a woman was talking to a beautiful Jersey cow that pushed its dark nose through the fence from the field beyond. She was a little, dark woman with vivid colouring; she rubbed the nose of the delicate animal, peeped right into the dark eyes, and talked in a lovable Scottish speech; talked as a mother talks softly to her child.

When she turned round in surprise to greet us there was still the softness of a rich affection in her eyes. She gave us tea, and scones, and apply jelly, and all the time we listened with delight to her voice, which was musical as bees humming in the lime trees. Though she said nothing significant we listened to her attentively.

Her husband was merry and kind. She glanced at him with quick glances of apprehension, and her eyes avoided him. He, in his merry, frank way, chaffed her, and praised her extravagantly, and teased her again. Then he became a trifle uneasy. I think she was afraid he had been drinking; I think she was shaken with horror when she found him tipsy, and bewildered and terrified when she saw him drunk. They had no children. I noticed he ceased to joke when she became a little constrained. He glanced at her often, and looked somewhat pitiful when she avoided his looks, and he grew uneasy, and I could see he wanted to go away.

"I had better go with you to see the vicar, then," he said to me, and we left the room, whose windows looked south, over the meadows, the room where dainty little water-colours, and beautiful bits of embroidery, and empty flower vases, and two dirty novels from the town library, and the closed piano, and the odd cups, and the chipped spout of the teapot causing stains on the cloth—all told one story.

We went to the joiner's and ordered the coffin, and the doctor had a glass of whisky on it; the graveyard fees were paid, and the doctor sealed the engagement with a drop of brandy; the vicar's port completed the doctor's joviality, and we went home.

This time the disquiet in the little woman's dark eyes could not dispel the doctor's merriment. He rattled away, and she nervously twisted her wedding ring. He insisted on driving us to the station, in spite of our alarm.

"But you will be quite safe with him," said his wife, in her caressing Highland speech. When she shook hands at parting I noticed the hardness of the little palm;—and I have always hated an old, black alpaca dress.

It is such a long way home from the station at Eberwich. We rode part way in the bus; then we walked. It is a very long way for my mother, when her steps are heavy with trouble.

Rebecca was out by the rhododendrons looking for us. She hurried to us all solicitous, and asked mother if she had had tea.

"But you'll do with another cup," she said, and ran back into the house.

She came into the dining-room to take my mother's bonnet and coat. She wanted us to talk; she was distressed on my mother's behalf; she noticed the blackness that lay under her eyes, and she fidgeted about, unwilling to ask anything, yet uneasy and anxious to know.

"Lettie has been home," she said.

"And gone back again?" asked mother.

"She only came to change her dress. She put the green poplin on. She wondered where you'd gone."

"What did you tell her?"

"I said you'd just gone out a bit. She said she was glad. She was as lively as a squirrel."

Rebecca looked wistfully at my mother. At length the latter said:

"He's dead, Rebecca. I have seen him."

"Now thank God for that—no more need to worry over him."

"Well!—He died all alone, Rebecca—all alone."

"He died as you've lived," said Becky with some asperity.

"But I've had the children, I've had the children—we won't tell Lettie, Rebecca."

"No 'm." Rebecca left the room.

"You and Lettie will have the money," said mother to me. There was a sum of four thousand pounds or so. It was left to my mother; or, in default to Lettie and me.

"Well, mother—if it's ours, it's yours."

There was silence for some minutes, then she said, "You might have had a father——"

"We're thankful we hadn't, mother. You spared us that."

"But how can you tell?" said my mother.

"I can," I replied. "And I am thankful to you."

"If ever you feel scorn for one who is near you rising in your throat, try and be generous, my lad."

"Well——" said I.

"Yes," she replied, "we'll say no more. Sometime you must tell Lettie—you tell her."

I did tell her, a week or so afterwards.

"Who knows?" she asked, her face hardening.

"Mother, Becky, and ourselves."

"Nobody else?"

"No."

"Then it's a good thing he is out of the way if he was such a nuisance to mother. Where is she?"

"Upstairs."

Lettie ran to her.

CHAPTER V

THE SCENT OF BLOOD

The death of the man who was our father changed our lives. It was not that we suffered a great grief; the chief trouble was the unanswered crying of failure. But we were changed in our feelings and in our relations; there was a new consciousness, a new carefulness.

We had lived between the woods and the water all our lives, Lettie and I, and she had sought the bright notes in everything. She seemed to hear the water laughing, and the leaves tittering and giggling like young girls; the aspen fluttered like the draperies of a flirt, and the sound of the wood-pigeons was almost foolish in its sentimentality.

Lately, however, she had noticed again the cruel pitiful crying of a hedgehog caught in a gin, and she had noticed the traps for the fierce little murderers, traps walled in with a small fence of fir, and baited with the guts of a killed rabbit.

On an afternoon a short time after our visit to Cossethay, Lettie sat in the window seat. The sun clung to her hair, and kissed her with passionate splashes of colour brought from the vermilion, dying creeper outside. The sun loved Lettie, and was loath to leave her. She looked out over Nethermere to Highclose, vague in the September mist. Had it not been for the scarlet light on her face, I should have thought her look was sad and serious. She nestled up to the window, and leaned her head against the wooden shaft. Gradually she drooped into sleep. Then she became wonderfully childish again—it was the girl of seventeen sleeping there, with her full pouting lips slightly apart, and the breath coming lightly. I felt the old feeling of responsibility; I must protect her, and take care of her.

There was a crunch of the gravel. It was Leslie coming. He lifted his hat to her, thinking she was looking. He had that fine, lithe physique, suggestive of much animal vigour; his person was exceedingly attractive; one watched him move about, and felt pleasure. His face was less pleasing than his person. He was not handsome; his eyebrows were too light, his nose was large and ugly, and his forehead, though high and fair, was without dignity. But he had a frank, good-natured expression, and a fine, wholesome laugh.

He wondered why she did not move. As he came nearer he saw. Then he winked at me and came in. He tiptoed across the room to look at her. The sweet carelessness of her attitude, the appealing, half-pitiful girlishness of her face touched his responsive heart, and he leaned forward and kissed her cheek where already was a crimson stain of sunshine.

She roused half out of her sleep with a little, petulant "Oh!" as an awakened child. He sat down behind her, and gently drew her head against him, looking down at her with a tender, soothing smile. I thought she was going to fall asleep thus. But her eyelids quivered, and her eyes beneath them flickered into consciousness.

"Leslie!—oh!—Let me go!" she exclaimed, pushing him away. He loosed her, and rose, looking at her reproachfully. She shook her dress, and went quickly to the mirror to arrange her hair.

"You are mean!" she exclaimed, looking very flushed, vexed, and dishevelled.

He laughed indulgently, saying, "You shouldn't go to sleep then and look so pretty. Who could help?"

"It is not nice!" she said, frowning with irritation.

"We are not 'nice'—are we? I thought we were proud of our unconventionality. Why shouldn't I kiss you?"

"Because it is a question of me, not of you alone."

"Dear me, you "are" in a way!"

"Mother is coming."

"Is she? You had better tell her."

Mother was very fond of Leslie.

"Well, sir," she said, "why are you frowning?"

He broke into a laugh.

"Lettie is scolding me for kissing her when she was playing 'Sleeping Beauty.'"

"The conceit of the boy, to play Prince!" said my mother.

"Oh, but it appears I was sadly out of character," he said ruefully.

Lettie laughed and forgave him.

"Well," he said, looking at her and smiling, "I came to ask you to go out."

"It is a lovely afternoon," said mother.

She glanced at him, and said:

"I feel dreadfully lazy."

"Never mind!" he replied, "you'll wake up. Go and put your hat on."

He sounded impatient. She looked at him.

He seemed to be smiling peculiarly.

She lowered her eyes and went out of the room.

"She'll come all right," he said to himself, and to me. "She likes to play you on a string."

She must have heard him. When she came in again, drawing on her gloves, she said quietly:

"You come as well, Pat."

He swung round and stared at her in angry amazement.

"I had rather stay and finish this sketch," I said, feeling uncomfortable.

"No, but do come, there's a dear." She took the brush from my hand, and drew me from my chair. The blood flushed into his cheeks. He went quietly into the hall and brought my cap.

"All right!" he said angrily. "Women like to fancy themselves Napoleons."

"They do, dear Iron Duke, they do," she mocked.

"Yet, there's a Waterloo in all their histories," he said, since she had supplied him with the idea.

"Say Peterloo, my general, say Peterloo."

"Ay, Peterloo," he replied, with a splendid curl of the lip—"Easy conquests!"

"'He came, he saw, he conquered,'" Lettie recited.

"Are you coming?" he said, getting more angry.

"When you bid me," she replied, taking my arm.

We went through the wood, and through the dishevelled border-land to the high road, through the border-land that should have been park-like, but which was shaggy with loose grass and yellow mole-hills, ragged with gorse and bramble and briar, with wandering old thorn-trees, and a queer clump of Scotch firs.

On the highway the leaves were falling, and they chattered under our steps. The water was mild and blue, and the corn stood drowsily in "stook."

We climbed the hill behind Highclose, and walked on along the upland, looking across towards the hills of arid Derbyshire, and seeing them not, because it was autumn. We came in sight of the head-stocks of the pit at Selsby, and of the ugly village standing blank and naked on the brow of the hill.

Lettie was in very high spirits. She laughed and joked continually. She picked bunches of hips and stuck them in her dress. Having got a thorn in her finger from a spray of blackberries, she went to Leslie to have it squeezed out. We were all quite gay as we turned off the high road and went along the bridle path, with the woods on our right, the high Strelley hills shutting in our small valley in front, and the fields and the common to the left. About half way down the lane we heard the slurr of the scythestone on the scythe. Lettie went to the hedge to see. It was George mowing the oats on the steep hillside where the machine could not go. His father was tying up the corn into sheaves.

Straightening his back, Mr. Saxton saw us, and called to us to come and help. We pushed through a gap in the hedge and went up to him.

"Now then," said the father to me, "take that coat off," and to Lettie: "Have you brought us a drink? No;—come, that sounds bad! Going a walk I guess. You see what it is to get fat," and he pulled a wry face as he bent over to tie the corn. He was a man beautifully ruddy and burly, in the prime of life.

"Show me, I'll do some," said Lettie.

"Nay," he answered gently, "it would scratch your wrists and break your stays. Hark at my hands"—he rubbed them together—"like sandpaper!"

George had his back to us, and had not noticed us. He continued to mow. Leslie watched him.

"That's a fine movement!" he exclaimed.

"Yes," replied the father, rising very red in the face from the tying, "and our George enjoys a bit o' mowing. It puts you in fine condition when you get over the first stiffness."

We moved across to the standing corn. The sun being mild, George had thrown off his hat, and his black hair was moist and twisted into confused half-curls. Firmly planted, he swung with a beautiful rhythm from the waist. On the hip of his belted breeches hung the scythestone; his shirt, faded almost white, was torn just above the belt, and showed the muscles of his back playing like lights upon the white sand of a brook. There was something exceedingly attractive in the rhythmic body.

I spoke to him, and he turned round. He looked straight at Lettie with a flashing, betraying smile. He was remarkably handsome. He tried to say some words of greeting, then he bent down and gathered an armful of corn, and deliberately bound it up.

Like him, Lettie had found nothing to say. Leslie, however, remarked:

"I should think mowing is a nice exercise."

"It is," he replied, and continued, as Leslie picked up the scythe, "but it will make you sweat, and your hands will be sore."

Leslie tossed his head a little, threw off his coat, and said briefly:

"How do you do it?" Without waiting for a reply he proceeded. George said nothing, but turned to Lettie.

"You are picturesque," she said, a trifle awkwardly, "Quite fit for an Idyll."

"And you?" he said.

She shrugged her shoulders, laughed, and turned to pick up a scarlet pimpernel.

"How do you bind the corn?" she asked.

He took some long straws, cleaned them, and showed her the way to hold them. Instead of attending, she looked at his hands, big, hard, inflamed by the snaith of the scythe.

"I don't think I could do it," she said.

"No," he replied quietly, and watched Leslie mowing. The latter who was wonderfully ready at everything, was doing fairly well, but he had not the invincible sweep of the other, nor did he make the same crisp crunching music.

"I bet he'll sweat," said George.

"Don't you?" she replied.

"A bit—but I'm not dressed up."

"Do you know," she said suddenly, "your arms tempt me to touch them. They are such a fine brown colour, and they look so hard."

He held out one arm to her. She hesitated, then she swiftly put her finger tips on the smooth brown muscle, and drew them along. Quickly she hid her hand into the folds of her skirt, blushing.

He laughed a low, quiet laugh, at once pleasant and startling to hear.

"I wish I could work here," she said, looking away at the standing corn, and the dim blue woods. He followed her look, and laughed quietly, with indulgent resignation.

"I do!" she said emphatically.

"You feel so fine," he said, pushing his hand through his open shirt front, and gently rubbing the muscles of his side. "It's a pleasure to work or to stand still. It's a pleasure to yourself—your own physique."

She looked at him, full at his physical beauty, as if he were some great firm bud of life.

Leslie came up, wiping his brow.

"Jove," said he, "I do perspire."

George picked up his coat and helped him into it; saying:

"You may take a chill."

"It's a jolly nice form of exercise," said he.

George, who had been feeling one finger tip, now took out his pen-knife and proceeded to dig a thorn from his hand.

"What a hide you must have," said Leslie.

Lettie said nothing, but she recoiled slightly.

The father, glad of an excuse to straighten his back and to chat, came to us.

"You'd soon had enough," he said, laughing to Leslie.

George startled us with a sudden, "Holloa." We turned, and saw a rabbit, which had burst from the corn, go coursing through the hedge, dodging and bounding the sheaves. The standing corn was a patch along the hill-side some fifty paces in length, and ten or so in width.

"I didn't think there'd have been any in," said the father, picking up a short rake, and going to the low wall of the corn. We all followed.

"Watch!" said the father, "if you see the heads of the corn shake!"

We prowled round the patch of corn.

"Hold! Look out!" shouted the father excitedly, and immediately after a rabbit broke from the cover.

"Ay—Ay—Ay," was the shout, "turn him—turn him!" We set off full pelt. The bewildered little brute, scared by Leslie's wild running and crying, turned from its course, and dodged across the hill, threading its terrified course through the maze of lying sheaves, spurting on in a painful zigzag, now bounding over an untied bundle of corn, now swerving from the sound of a shout. The little wretch was hard pressed; George rushed upon it. It darted into some fallen corn, but he had seen it, and had fallen on it. In an instant he was up again, and the little creature was dangling from his hand.

We returned, panting, sweating, our eyes flashing, to the edge of the standing corn. I heard Lettie calling, and turning round saw Emily and the two children entering the field as they passed from school.

"There's another!" shouted Leslie.

I saw the oat-tops quiver. "Here! Here!" I yelled. The animal leaped out, and made for the hedge. George and Leslie, who were on that side, dashed off, turned him, and he coursed back our way. I headed him off to the father who swept in pursuit for a short distance, but who was too heavy for the work. The little beast made towards the gate, but this time Mollie, with her hat in her hand and her hair flying, whirled upon him, and she and the little fragile lad sent him back again. The rabbit was getting tired. It dodged the sheaves badly, running towards the top hedge. I went after it. If I could have let myself fall on it I could have caught it, but this was impossible to me, and I merely prevented its dashing through the hole into safety. It raced along the hedge bottom. George tore after it. As he was upon it, it darted into the hedge. He fell flat, and shot his hand into the gap. But it had escaped. He lay there, panting in great sobs, and looking at me with eyes in which excitement and exhaustion struggled like flickering light and darkness. When he could speak, he said, "Why didn't you fall on top of it?"

"I couldn't," said I.

We returned again. The two children were peering into the thick corn also. We thought there was nothing more. George began to mow. As I walked round I caught sight of a rabbit skulking near the bottom corner of the patch. Its ears lay pressed against its back; I could see the palpitation of the heart under the brown fur, and I could see the shining dark eyes looking at me. I felt no pity for it, but still I could not actually hurt it. I beckoned to the father. He ran up, and aimed a blow with the rake. There was a sharp little cry which sent a hot pain through me as if I had been cut. But the rabbit ran out, and instantly I forgot the cry, and gave pursuit, fairly feeling my fingers stiffen to choke it. It was all lame. Leslie was upon it in a moment, and he almost pulled its head off in his excitement to kill it.

I looked up. The girls were at the gate, just turning away.

"There are no more," said the father.

At that instant Mary shouted.

"There's one down this hole."

The hole was too small for George to get his hand in, so we dug it out with the rake handle. The stick went savagely down the hole, and there came a squeak.

"Mice!" said George, and as he said it the mother slid out. Somebody knocked her on the back, and the hole was opened out. Little mice seemed to swarm everywhere. It was like killing insects. We counted nine little ones lying dead.

"Poor brute," said George, looking at the mother, "What a job she must have had rearing that lot!" He picked her up, handled her curiously and with pity. Then he said, "Well, I may as well finish this to-night!"

His father took another scythe from off the hedge, and together they soon laid the proud, quivering heads low. Leslie and I tied up as they mowed, and soon all was finished.

The beautiful day was flushing to die. Over in the west the mist was gathering bluer. The intense stillness was broken by the rhythmic hum of the engines at the distant coal-mine, as they drew up the last bantles of men. As we walked across the fields the tubes of stubble tinkled like dulcimers. The scent of the corn began to rise gently. The last cry of the pheasants came from the wood, and the little clouds of birds were gone.

I carried a scythe, and we walked, pleasantly weary, down the hill towards the farm. The children had gone home with the rabbits.

When we reached the mill, we found the girls just rising from the table. Emily began to carry away the used pots, and to set clean ones for us. She merely glanced at us and said her formal greeting. Lettie picked up a book that lay in the ingle seat, and went to the window. George dropped into a chair. He had flung off his coat, and had pushed back his hair. He rested his great brown arms on the table and was silent for a moment.

"Running like that," he said to me, passing his hand over his eyes, "makes you more tired than a whole day's work. I don't think I shall do it again."

"The sport's exciting while it lasts," said Leslie.

"It does you more harm than the rabbits do us good," said Mrs. Saxton.

"Oh, I don't know, mother," drawled her son, "it's a couple of shillings."

"And a couple of days off your life."

"What be that!" he replied, taking a piece of bread and butter, and biting a large piece from it.

"Pour us a drop of tea," he said to Emily.

"I don't know that I shall wait on such brutes," she replied, relenting, and flourishing the teapot.

"Oh," said he, taking another piece of bread and butter, "I'm not all alone in my savageness this time."

"Men are all brutes," said Lettie, hotly, without looking up from her book.

"You can tame us," said Leslie, in mighty good humour.

She did not reply. George began, in that deliberate voice that so annoyed Emily:

"It does make you mad, though, to touch the fur, and not be able to grab him"—he laughed quietly.

Emily moved off in disgust. Lettie opened her mouth sharply to speak, but remained silent.

"I don't know," said Leslie. "When it comes to killing it goes against the stomach."

"If you can run," said George, "you should be able to run to death. When your blood's up, you don't hang half way."

"I think a man is horrible," said Lettie, "who can tear the head off a little mite of a thing like a rabbit, after running it in torture over a field."

"When he is nothing but a barbarian to begin with——" said Emily.

"If you began to run yourself—you'd be the same," said George.

"Why, women are cruel enough," said Leslie, with a glance at Lettie. "Yes," he continued, "they're cruel enough in their way"—another look, and a comical little smile.

"Well," said George, "what's the good finicking! If you feel like doing a thing—you'd better do it."

"Unless you haven't courage," said Emily, bitingly.

He looked up at her with dark eyes, suddenly full of anger.

"But," said Lettie—she could not hold herself from asking, "Don't you think it's brutal, now—that you "do" think—isn't it degrading and mean to run the poor little things down?"

"Perhaps it is," he replied, "but it wasn't an hour ago."

"You have no feeling," she said bitterly.

He laughed deprecatingly, but said nothing.

We finished tea in silence, Lettie reading, Emily moving about the house. George got up and went out at the end. A moment or two after we heard him across the yard with the milk-buckets, singing "The Ash Grove."

"He doesn't care a scrap for anything," said Emily with accumulated bitterness. Lettie looked out of the window across the yard, thinking. She looked very glum.

After a while we went out also, before the light faded altogether from the pond. Emily took us into the lower garden to get some ripe plums. The old garden was very low. The soil was black. The cornbind and goosegrass were clutching at the ancient gooseberry bushes, which sprawled by the paths. The garden was not very productive, save of weeds, and perhaps, tremendous lank artichokes or swollen marrows. But at the bottom, where the end of the farm buildings rose high and grey, there was a plum-tree which had been crucified to the wall, and which had broken away and leaned forward from bondage. Now under the boughs were hidden great mist-bloomed, crimson treasures, splendid globes. I shook the old, ragged trunk, green, with even the fresh gum dulled over, and the treasures fell heavily, thudding down among the immense rhubarb leaves below. The girls laughed, and we divided the spoil, and turned back to the yard. We went down to the edge of the garden, which skirted the bottom pond, a pool chained in a heavy growth of weeds. It was moving with rats, the father had said. The rushes were thick below us; opposite, the great bank fronted us, with orchard trees climbing it like a hillside. The lower pond received the overflow from the upper by a tunnel from the deep black sluice.

Two rats ran into the black culvert at our approach. We sat on some piled, mossy stones to watch. The rats came out again, ran a little way, stopped, ran again, listened, were reassured, and slid about freely, dragging their long naked tails. Soon six or seven grey beasts were playing round the mouth of the culvert, in the gloom. They sat and wiped their sharp faces, stroking their whiskers. Then one would give a little rush and a little squirm of excitement and would jump vertically into the air, alighting on four feet, running, sliding into the black shadow. One dropped with an ugly plop into the water, and swam toward us, the hoary imp, his sharp snout and his wicked little eyes moving at us. Lettie shuddered. I threw a stone into the dead pool, and frightened them all. But we had frightened ourselves more, so we hurried away, and stamped our feet in relief on the free pavement of the yard.

Leslie was looking for us. He had been inspecting the yard and the stock under Mr. Saxton's supervision.

"Were you running away from me?" he asked.

"No," she replied. "I have been to fetch you a plum. Look!" And she showed him two in a leaf.

"They are too pretty to eat!" said he.

"You have not tasted yet," she laughed.

"Come," he said, offering her his arm. "Let us go up to the water." She took his arm.

It was a splendid evening, with the light all thick and yellow lying on the smooth pond. Lettie made him lift her on to a leaning bough of willow. He sat with his head resting against her skirts. Emily and I moved on. We heard him murmur something, and her voice reply, gently, caressingly:

"No—let us be still—it is all so still—I love it best of all now."

Emily and I talked, sitting at the base of the alders, a little way on. After an excitement, and in the evening, especially in autumn, one is inclined to be sad and sentimental. We had forgotten that the darkness was weaving. I heard in the little distance Leslie's voice begin to murmur like a flying beetle that comes not too near. Then, away down in the yard George began singing the old song, "I sowed the seeds of love."

This interrupted the flight of Leslie's voice, and as the singing came nearer, the hum of low words ceased. We went forward to meet George. Leslie sat up, clasping his knees, and did not speak. George came near, saying:

"The moon is going to rise."

"Let me get down," said Lettie, lifting her hands to him to help her. He, mistaking her wish, put his hands under her arms, and set her gently down, as one would a child. Leslie got up quickly, and seemed to hold himself separate, resenting the intrusion.

"I thought you were all four together," said George quietly. Lettie turned quickly at the apology:

"So we were. So we are—five now. Is it there the moon will rise?"

"Yes—I like to see it come over the wood. It lifts slowly up to stare at you. I always think it wants to know something, and I always think I have something to answer, only I don't know what it is," said Emily.

Where the sky was pale in the east over the rim of wood came the forehead of the yellow moon. We stood and watched in silence. Then, as the great disc, nearly full, lifted and looked straight upon us, we were washed off our feet in a vague sea of moonlight. We stood with the light like water on our faces. Lettie was glad, a little bit exalted; Emily was passionately troubled; her lips were parted, almost beseeching; Leslie was frowning, oblivious, and George was thinking, and the terrible, immense moonbeams braided through his feeling. At length Leslie said softly, mistakenly:

"Come along, dear"—and he took her arm.

She let him lead her along the bank of the pond, and across the plank over the sluice.

"Do you know," she said, as we were carefully descending the steep bank of the orchard, "I feel as if I wanted to laugh, or dance—something rather outrageous."

"Surely not like that "now"," Leslie replied in a low voice, feeling really hurt.

"I do though! I will race you to the bottom."

"No, no, dear!" He held her back. When he came to the wicket leading on to the front lawns, he said something to her softly, as he held the gate.

I think he wanted to utter his half finished proposal, and so bind her.

She broke free, and, observing the long lawn which lay in grey shadow between the eastern and western glows, she cried:

"Polka!—a polka—one can dance a polka when the grass is smooth and short—even if there are some fallen leaves. Yes, yes—how jolly!"

She held out her hand to Leslie, but it was too great a shock to his mood. So she called to me, and there was a shade of anxiety in her voice, lest after all she should be caught in the toils of the night's sentiment.

"Pat—you'll dance with me—Leslie hates a polka." I danced with her. I do not know the time when I could not polka—it seems innate in one's feet, to dance that dance. We went flying round, hissing through the dead leaves. The night, the low hung yellow moon, the pallor of the west, the blue cloud of evening overhead went round and through the fantastic branches of the old laburnum, spinning a little madness. You cannot tire Lettie; her feet are wings that beat the air. When at last I stayed her she laughed as fresh as ever, as she bound her hair.

"There!" she said to Leslie, in tones of extreme satisfaction, "that was lovely. Do you come and dance now."

"Not a polka," said he, sadly, feeling the poetry in his heart insulted by the jigging measure.

"But one cannot dance anything else on wet grass, and through shuffling dead leaves. You, George?"

"Emily says I jump," he replied.

"Come on—come on"—and in a moment they were bounding across the grass. After a few steps she fell in with him, and they spun round the grass. It was true, he leaped, sprang with large strides, carrying her with him. It was a tremendous, irresistible dancing. Emily and I must join, making an inner ring. Now and again there was a sense of something white flying near, and wild rustle of draperies, and a swish of disturbed leaves as they whirled past us. Long after we were tired they danced on.

At the end, he looked big, erect, nerved with triumph, and she was exhilarated like a Bacchante.

"Have you finished?" Leslie asked.

She knew she was safe from his question that day.

"Yes," she panted. "You should have danced. Give me my hat, please. Do I look very disgraceful?"

He took her hat and gave it to her.

"Disgraceful?" he repeated.

"Oh, you "are" solemn to-night! What is it?"

"Yes, what is it?" he repeated ironically.

"It must be the moon. Now, is my hat straight? Tell me now—you're not looking. Then put it level. Now then! Why, your hands are quite cold, and mine so hot! I feel so impish," and she laughed.

"There—now I'm ready. Do you notice those little chrysanthemums trying to smell sadly; when the old moon is laughing and winking through those boughs. What business have they with their sadness!" She took a handful of petals and flung them into the air: "There—if they sigh they ask for sorrow—I like things to wink and look wild."

CHAPTER VI

THE EDUCATION OF GEORGE

As I have said, Strelley Mill lies at the north end of the long Nethermere valley. On the northern slopes lay its pasture and arable lands. The shaggy common, now closed and part of the estate, covered the western slope, and the cultivated land was bounded on the east by the sharp dip of the brook course, a thread of woodland broadening into a spinney and ending at the upper pond; beyond this, on the east, rose the sharp, wild, grassy hillside, scattered with old trees, ruinous with the gaunt, ragged bones of old hedge-rows, grown into thorn trees. Along the rim of the hills, beginning in the northwest, were dark woodlands, which swept round east and south till they raced down in riot to the very edge of southern Nethermere, surrounding our house. From the eastern hill crest, looking straight across, you could see the spire of Selsby Church, and a few roofs, and the head-stocks of the pit.

So on three sides the farm was skirted by woods, the dens of rabbits, and the common held another warren.

Now the squire of the estate, head of an ancient, once even famous, but now decayed house, loved his rabbits. Unlike the family fortunes, the family tree flourished amazingly; Sherwood could show nothing comparable. Its ramifications were stupendous; it was more like a banyan than a British oak. How was the good squire to nourish himself and his lady, his name, his tradition, and his thirteen lusty branches on his meagre estates? An evil fortune discovered to him that he could sell each of his rabbits, those bits of furry vermin, for a shilling or thereabouts in Nottingham; since which time the noble family subsisted by rabbits.

Farms were gnawed away; corn and sweet grass departed from the face of the hills; cattle grew lean, unable to eat the defiled herbage. Then the farm became the home of a keeper, and the country was silent, with no sound of cattle, no clink of horses, no barking of lusty dogs.

But the squire loved his rabbits. He defended them against the snares of the despairing farmer, protected them with gun and notices to quit. How he glowed with thankfulness as he saw the dishevelled hillside heave when the gnawing hosts moved on!

"Are they not quails and manna?" said he to his sporting guest, early one Monday morning, as the high meadow broke into life at the sound of his gun. "Quails and manna—in this wilderness?"

"They are, by Jove!" assented the sporting guest as he took another gun, while the saturnine keeper smiled grimly.

Meanwhile, Strelley Mill began to suffer under this gangrene. It was the outpost in the wilderness. It was an understood thing that none of the squire's tenants had a gun.

"Well," said the squire to Mr. Saxton, "you have the land for next to nothing—next to nothing—at a rent really absurd. Surely the little that the rabbits eat——"

"It's not a little—come and look for yourself," replied the farmer. The squire made a gesture of impatience.

"What "do" you want?" he inquired.

"Will you wire me off?" was the repeated request.

"Wire is—what does Halkett say—so much per yard—and it would come to—what did Halkett tell me now?—but a large sum. No, I can't do it."

"Well, I can't live like this."

"Have another glass of whisky? Yes, yes, I want another glass myself, and I can't drink alone—so if I am to enjoy my glass.—That's it! Now surely you exaggerate a little. It's not so bad."

"I can't go on like it, I'm sure."

"Well, we'll see about compensation—we'll see. I'll have a talk with Halkett, and I'll come down and have a look at you. We all find a pinch somewhere—it's nothing but humanity's heritage."

——

I was born in September, and love it best of all the months. There is no heat, no hurry, no thirst and weariness in corn harvest as there is in the hay. If the season is late, as is usual with us, then mid-September sees the corn still standing in stook. The mornings come slowly. The earth is like a woman married and fading; she does not leap up with a laugh for the first fresh kiss of dawn, but slowly, quietly, unexpectantly lies watching the waking of each new day. The blue mist, like memory in the eyes of a neglected wife, never goes from the wooded hill, and only at noon creeps from the near hedges. There is no bird to put a song in the throat of morning; only the crow's voice speaks during the day. Perhaps there is the regular breathing hush of the scythe—even the fretful jar of the mowing machine. But next day, in the morning, all is still again. The lying corn is wet, and when you have bound it, and lift the heavy sheaf to make the stook, the tresses of oats wreathe round each other and droop mournfully.

As I worked with my friend through the still mornings we talked endlessly. I would give him the gist of what I knew of chemistry, and botany, and psychology. Day after day I told him what the professors had told me; of life, of sex and its origins; of Schopenhauer and William James. We had been friends for years, and he was accustomed to my talk. But this autumn fruited the first crop of intimacy between us. I talked a great deal of poetry to him, and of rudimentary metaphysics. He was very good stuff. He had hardly a single dogma, save that of pleasing himself. Religion was nothing to him. So he heard all I had to say with an open mind, and understood the drift of things very rapidly, and quickly made these ideas part of himself.

We tramped down to dinner with only the clinging warmth of the sunshine for a coat. In this still, enfolding weather a quiet companionship is very grateful. Autumn creeps through everything. The little damsons in the pudding taste of September, and are fragrant with memory. The voices of those at table are softer and more reminiscent than at haytime.

Afternoon is all warm and golden. Oat sheaves are lighter; they whisper to each other as they freely embrace. The long, stout stubble tinkles as the foot brushes over it; the scent of the straw is sweet. When the poor, bleached sheaves are lifted out of the hedge, a spray of nodding wild raspberries is disclosed, with belated berries ready to drop; among the damp grass lush blackberries may be discovered. Then one notices that the last bell hangs from the ragged spire of fox-glove. The talk is of people, an odd book; of one's hopes—and the future; of Canada, where work is strenuous, but not life; where the plains are wide, and one is not lapped in a soft valley, like an apple that falls in a secluded orchard. The mist steals over the face of the warm afternoon. The tying-up is all finished, and it only remains to rear up the fallen bundles into shocks. The sun sinks into a golden glow in the west. The gold turns to red, the red darkens, like a fire burning low, the sun disappears behind the bank of milky mist, purple like the pale bloom on blue plums, and we put on our coats and go home.

——

In the evening, when the milking was finished, and all the things fed, then we went out to look at the snares. We wandered on across the stream and up the wild hillside. Our feet rattled through black patches of devil's-bit scabius; we skirted a swim of thistle-down, which glistened when the moon touched it. We stumbled on through wet, coarse grass, over soft mole-hills and black rabbit-holes. The hills and woods cast shadows; the pools of mist in the valleys gathered the moonbeams in cold, shivery light.

We came to an old farm that stood on the level brow of the hill. The woods swept away from it, leaving a great clearing of what was once cultivated land. The handsome chimneys of the house, silhouetted against a light sky, drew my admiration. I noticed that there was no light or glow in any window, though the house had only the width of one room, and though the night was only at eight o'clock. We looked at the long, impressive front. Several of the windows had been bricked in, giving a pitiful impression of blindness; the places where the plaster had fallen off the walls showed blacker in the shadow. We pushed open the gate, and as we walked down the path, weeds and dead plants brushed our ankles. We looked in at a window. The room was lighted also by a window from the other side, through which the moonlight streamed on to the flagged floor, dirty, littered with paper, and wisps of straw. The hearth lay in the light, with all its distress of grey ashes, and piled cinders of burnt paper, and a child's headless doll, charred and pitiful. On the border-line of shadow lay a round fur cap—a game-keeper's cap. I blamed the moonlight for entering the desolate room; the darkness alone was decent and reticent. I hated the little roses on the illuminated piece of wallpaper, I hated that fireside.

With farmer's instinct George turned to the outhouse. The cow-yard startled me. It was a forest of the tallest nettles I have ever seen—nettles far taller than my six feet. The air was soddened with the dank scent of nettles. As I followed George along the obscure brick path, I felt my flesh creep. But the buildings, when we entered them, were in splendid condition; they had been restored within a small number of years; they were well-timbered, neat, and cosy. Here and there we saw feathers, bits of animal wreckage, even the remnants of a cat, which we hastily examined by the light of a match. As we entered the stable there was an ugly noise, and three great rats half rushed at us and threatened us with their vicious teeth. I shuddered, and hurried back, stumbling over a bucket, rotten with rust, and so filled with weeds that I thought it part of the jungle. There was a silence made horrible by the faint noises that rats and flying bats give out. The place was bare of any vestige of corn or straw or hay, only choked with a growth of abnormal weeds. When I found myself free in the orchard I could not stop shivering. There were no apples to be seen overhead between us and the clear sky. Either the birds had caused them to fall, when the rabbits had devoured them, or someone had gathered the crop.

"This," said George bitterly, "is what the mill will come to."

"After your time," I said.

"My time—my time. I shall never have a time. And I shouldn't be surprised if father's time isn't short—with rabbits and one thing and another. As it is, we depend on the milk-round, and on the carting which I do for the council. You can't call it farming. We're a miserable mixture of farmer, milkman, greengrocer, and carting contractor. It's a shabby business."

"You have to live," I retorted.

"Yes—but it's rotten. And father won't move—and he won't change his methods."

"Well—what about you?"

"Me! What should I change for?—I'm comfortable at home. As for my future, it can look after itself, so long as nobody depends on me."

"Laissez faire," said I, smiling.

"This is no laissez faire," he replied, glancing round, "this is pulling the nipple out of your lips, and letting the milk run away sour. Look there!"

Through the thin veil of moonlit mist that slid over the hillside we could see an army of rabbits bunched up, or hopping a few paces forward, feeding.

We set off at a swinging pace down the hill, scattering the hosts. As we approached the fence that bounded the Mill fields, he exclaimed, "Hullo!"—and hurried forward. I followed him, and observed the dark figure of a man rise from the hedge. It was a game-keeper. He pretended to be examining his gun. As we came up he greeted us with a calm "Good-evenin'!"

George replied by investigating the little gap in the hedge.

"I'll trouble you for that snare," he said.

"Will yer?" answered Annable, a broad, burly, black-faced fellow. "An' "I" should like ter know what you're doin' on th' wrong side th' 'edge?"

"You can see what we're doing—hand over my snare—"and" the rabbit," said George angrily.

"What rabbit?" said Annable, turning sarcastically to me.

"You know well enough—an' you can hand it over—or——" George replied.

"Or what? Spit it out! The sound won't kill me"—the man grinned with contempt.

"Hand over here!" said George, stepping up to the man in a rage.

"Now don't!" said the keeper, standing stock still, and looking unmovedly at the proximity of George:

"You'd better get off home—both you an' 'im. You'll get neither snare nor rabbit—see!"

"We "will" see!" said George, and he made a sudden move to get hold of the man's coat. Instantly he went staggering back with a heavy blow under the left ear.

"Damn brute!" I ejaculated, bruising my knuckles against the fellow's jaw. Then I too found myself sitting dazedly on the grass, watching the great skirts of his velveteens flinging round him as if he had been a demon, as he strode away. I got up, pressing my chest where I had been struck. George was lying in the hedge-bottom. I turned him over, and rubbed his temples, and shook the drenched grass on his face. He opened his eyes and looked at me, dazed. Then he drew his breath quickly, and put his hand to his head.

"He—he nearly stunned me," he said.

"The devil!" I answered.

"I wasn't ready."

"No."

"Did he knock me down?"

"Ay—me too."

He was silent for some time, sitting limply. Then he pressed his hand against the back of his head, saying, "My head does sing!" He tried to get up, but failed. "Good God!—being knocked into this state by a damned keeper!"

"Come on," I said, "let's see if we can't get indoors."

"No!" he said quickly, "we needn't tell them—don't let them know."

I sat thinking of the pain in my own chest, and wishing I could remember hearing Annable's jaw smash, and wishing that my knuckles were more bruised than they were—though that was bad enough. I got up, and helped George to rise. He swayed, almost pulling me over. But in a while he could walk unevenly.

"Am I," he said, "covered with clay and stuff?"

"Not much," I replied, troubled by the shame and confusion with which he spoke.

"Get it off," he said, standing still to be cleaned.

I did my best. Then we walked about the fields for a time, gloomy, silent, and sore.

Suddenly, as we went by the pond-side, we were startled by great, swishing black shadows that swept just above our heads. The swans were flying up for shelter, now that a cold wind had begun to fret Nethermere. They swung down on to the glassy mill-pond, shaking the moonlight in flecks across the deep shadows; the night rang with the clacking of their wings on the water; the stillness and calm were broken; the moonlight was furrowed and scattered, and broken. The swans, as they sailed into shadow, were dim, haunting spectres; the wind found us shivering.

"Don't—you won't say anything?" he asked as I was leaving him.

"No."

"Nothing at all—not to anybody?"

"No."

"Good-night."

——

About the end of September, our countryside was alarmed by the harrying of sheep by strange dogs. One morning, the squire, going the round of his fields as was his custom, to his grief and horror found two of his sheep torn and dead in the hedge-bottom, and the rest huddled in a corner swaying about in terror, smeared with blood. The squire did not recover his spirits for days.

There was a report of two grey wolvish dogs. The squire's keeper had heard yelping in the fields of Dr. Collins of the Abbey, about dawn. Three sheep lay soaked in blood when the labourer went to tend the flocks.

Then the farmers took alarm. Lord, of the White House farm, intended to put his sheep in pen, with his dogs in charge. It was Saturday, however, and the lads ran off to the little travelling theatre that had halted at Westwold. While they sat open-mouthed in the theatre, gloriously nicknamed the "Blood-Tub," watching heroes die with much writhing and heaving, and struggling up to say a word, and collapsing without having said it, six of their silly sheep were slaughtered in the field. At every house it was enquired of the dog; nowhere had one been loose.

Mr. Saxton had some thirty sheep on the Common. George determined that the easiest thing was for him to sleep out with them. He built a shelter of hurdles interlaced with brushwood, and in the sunny afternoon we collected piles of bracken, browning to the ruddy winter-brown now. He slept there for a week, but that week aged his mother like a year. She was out in the cold morning twilight watching, with her apron over her head, for his approach. She did not rest with the thought of him out on the Common.

Therefore, on Saturday night he brought down his rugs, and took up Gyp to watch in his stead. For some time we sat looking at the stars over the dark hills. Now and then a sheep coughed, or a rabbit rustled beneath the brambles, and Gyp whined. The mist crept over the gorse-bushes, and the webs on the brambles were white;—the devil throws his net over the blackberries as soon as September's back is turned, they say.

"I saw two fellows go by with bags and nets," said George, as we sat looking out of his little shelter.

"Poachers," said I. "Did you speak to them?"

"No—they didn't see me. I was dropping asleep when a rabbit rushed under the blanket, all of a shiver, and a whippet dog after it. I gave the whippet a punch in the neck, and he yelped off. The rabbit stopped with me quite a long time—then it went."

"How did you feel?"

"I didn't care. I don't care much what happens just now. Father could get along without me, and mother has the children. I think I shall emigrate."

"Why didn't you before?"

"Oh, I don't know. There are a lot of little comforts and interests at home that one would miss. Besides, you feel somebody in your own countryside, and you're nothing in a foreign part, I expect."

"But you're going?"

"What is there to stop here for? The valley is all running wild and unprofitable. You've no freedom for thinking of what the other folks think of you, and everything round you keeps the same, and so you can't change yourself—because everything you look at brings up the same old feeling, and stops you from feeling fresh things. And what is there that's worth anything?—What's worth having in my life?"

"I thought," said I, "your comfort was worth having."

He sat still and did not answer.

"What's shaken you out of your nest?" I asked.

"I don't know. I've not felt the same since that row with Annable. And Lettie said to me: 'Here, you can't live as you like—in any way or circumstance. You're like a bit out of those coloured marble mosaics in the hall, you have to fit in your own set, fit into your own pattern, because you're put there from the first. But you don't want to be like a fixed bit of a mosaic—you want to fuse into life, and melt and mix with the rest of folk, to have some things burned out of you——' She was downright serious."

"Well, you need not believe her. When did you see her?"

"She came down on Wednesday, when I was getting the apples in the morning. She climbed a tree with me, and there was a wind, that was why I was getting all the apples, and it rocked us, me right up at the top, she sitting half way down holding the basket. I asked her didn't she think that free kind of life was the best, and that was how she answered me."

"You should have contradicted her."

"It seemed true. I never thought of it being wrong, in fact."

"Come—that sounds bad."

"No—I thought she looked down on us—on our way of life. I thought she meant I was like a toad in a hole."

"You should have shown her different."

"How could I when I could see no different?"

"It strikes me you're in love."

He laughed at the idea, saying, "No, but it is rotten to find that there isn't a single thing you have to be proud of."

"This is a new tune for you."

He pulled the grass moodily.

"And when do you think of going?"

"Oh—I don't know—I've said nothing to mother. Not yet,—at any rate not till spring."

"Not till something has happened," said I.

"What?" he asked.

"Something decisive."

"I don't know what can happen—unless the Squire turns us out."

"No?" I said.

He did not speak.

"You should make things happen," said I.

"Don't make me feel a worse fool, Cyril," he replied despairingly.

Gyp whined and jumped, tugging her chain to follow us. The grey blurs among the blackness of the bushes were resting sheep. A chill, dim mist crept along the ground.

"But, for all that, Cyril," he said, "to have her laugh at you across the table; to hear her sing as she moved about, before you are washed at night, when the fire's warm, and you're tired; to have her sit by you on the hearth seat, close and soft. . . ."

"In Spain," I said. "In Spain."

He took no notice, but turned suddenly, laughing.

"Do you know, when I was stooking up, lifting the sheaves, it felt like having your arm round a girl. It was quite a sudden sensation."

"You'd better take care," said I, "you'll mesh yourself in the silk of dreams, and then——"

He laughed, not having heard my words.

"The time seems to go like lightning—thinking" he confessed—"I seem to sweep the mornings up in a handful."

"Oh, Lord!" said I. "Why don't you scheme forgetting what you want, instead of dreaming fulfilments?"

"Well," he replied. "If it was a fine dream, wouldn't you want to go on dreaming?" and with that he finished, and I went home.

I sat at my window looking out, trying to get things straight. Mist rose, and wreathed round Nethermere, like ghosts meeting and embracing sadly. I thought of the time when my friend should not follow the harrow on our own snug valley side, and when Lettie's room next mine should be closed to hide its emptiness, not its joy. My heart clung passionately to the hollow which held us all; how could I bear that it should be desolate! I wondered what Lettie would do.

In the morning I was up early, when daybreak came with a shiver through the woods. I went out, while the moon still shone sickly in the west. The world shrank from the morning. It was then that the last of the summer things died. The wood was dark,—and smelt damp and heavy with autumn. On the paths the leaves lay clogged.

As I came near the farm I heard the yelling of dogs. Running, I reached the Common, and saw the sheep huddled and scattered in groups, something leaped round them. George burst into sight pursuing. Directly, there was the bang, bang of a gun. I picked up a heavy piece of sandstone and ran forwards. Three sheep scattered wildly before me. In the dim light I saw their grey shadows move among the gorse bushes. Then a dog leaped, and I flung my stone with all my might. I hit. There came a high-pitched howling yelp of pain; I saw the brute make off, and went after him, dodging the prickly bushes, leaping the trailing brambles. The gunshots rang out again, and I heard the men shouting with excitement. My dog was out of sight, but I followed still, slanting down the hill. In a field ahead I saw someone running. Leaping the low hedge, I pursued, and overtook Emily, who was hurrying as fast as she could through the wet grass. There was another gunshot and great shouting. Emily glanced round, saw me, and started.

"It's gone to the quarries," she panted. We walked on, without saying a word. Skirting the spinney, we followed the brook course, and came at last to the quarry fence. The old excavations were filled now with trees. The steep walls, twenty feet deep in places, were packed with loose stones, and trailed with hanging brambles. We climbed down the steep bank of the brook, and entered the quarries by the bed of the stream. Under the groves of ash and oak a pale primrose still lingered, glimmering wanly beside the hidden water. Emily found a smear of blood on a beautiful trail of yellow convolvulus. We followed the tracks on to the open, where the brook flowed on the hard rock bed, and the stony floor of the quarry was only a tangle of gorse and bramble and honeysuckle.

"Take a good stone," said I, and we pressed on, where the grove in the great excavation darkened again, and the brook slid secretly under the arms of the bushes and the hair of the long grass. We beat the cover almost to the road. I thought the brute had escaped, and I pulled a bunch of mountain-ash berries, and stood tapping them against my knee. I was startled by a snarl and a little scream. Running forward, I came upon one of the old, horse-shoe lime kilns that stood at the head of the quarry. There, in the mouth of one of the kilns, Emily was kneeling on the dog, her hands buried in the hair of its throat, pushing back its head. The little jerks of the brute's body were the spasms of death; already the eyes were turning inward, and the upper lip was drawn from the teeth by pain.

"Good Lord, Emily! But he is dead!" exclaimed.

"Has he hurt you?" I drew her away. She shuddered violently, and seemed to feel a horror of herself.

"No—no," she said, looking at herself, with blood all on her skirt, where she had knelt on the wound which I had given the dog, and pressed the broken rib into the chest. There was a trickle of blood on her arm.

"Did he bite you?" I asked, anxious.

"No—oh, no—I just peeped in, and he jumped. But he had no strength, and I hit him back with my stone, and I lost my balance, and fell on him."

"Let me wash your arm."

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "isn't it horrible! Oh, I think it is so awful."

"What?" said I, busy bathing her arm in the cold water of the brook.

"This—this whole brutal affair."

"It ought to be cauterised," said I, looking at a score on her arm from the dog's tooth.

"That scratch—that's nothing! Can you get that off my skirt—I feel hateful to myself."

I washed her skirt with my handkerchief as well as I could, saying:

"Let me just sear it for you; we can go to the Kennels. Do—you ought—I don't feel safe otherwise."

"Really," she said, glancing up at me, a smile coming into her fine dark eyes.

"Yes—come along."

"Ha, ha!" she laughed. "You look so serious."

I took her arm and drew her away. She linked her arm in mine and leaned on me.

"It is just like Lorna Doone," she said as if she enjoyed it.

"But you will let me do it," said I, referring to the cauterising.

"You make me; but I shall feel—ugh, I daren't think of it. Get me some of those berries."

I plucked a few bunches of guelder-rose fruits, transparent, ruby berries. She stroked them softly against her lips and cheek, caressing them. Then she murmured to herself:

"I have always wanted to put red berries in my hair."

The shawl she had been wearing was thrown across her shoulders, and her head was bare, and her black hair, soft and short and ecstatic, tumbled wildly into loose light curls. She thrust the stalks of the berries under her combs. Her hair was not heavy or long enough to have held them. Then, with the ruby bunches glowing through the black mist of curls, she looked up at me, brightly, with wide eyes. I looked at her, and felt the smile winning into her eyes. Then I turned and dragged a trail of golden-leaved convolvulus from the hedge, and I twisted it into a coronet for her.

"There!" said I, "you're crowned."

She put back her head, and the low laughter shook in her throat.

"What!" she asked, putting all the courage and recklessness she had into the question, and in her soul trembling.

"Not Chloë, not Bacchante. You have always got your soul in your eyes, such an earnest, troublesome soul."

The laughter faded at once, and her great seriousness looked out again at me, pleading.

"You are like Burne-Jones' damsels. Troublesome shadows are always crowding across your eyes, and you cherish them. You think the flesh of the apple is nothing, nothing. You only care for the eternal pips. Why don't you snatch your apple and eat it, and throw the core away?"

She looked at me sadly, not understanding, but believing that I in my wisdom spoke truth, as she always believed when I lost her in a maze of words. She stooped down, and the chaplet fell from her hair, and only one bunch of berries remained. The ground around us was strewn with the four-lipped burrs of beechnuts, and the quaint little nut-pyramids were scattered among the ruddy fallen leaves. Emily gathered a few nuts.

"I love beechnuts," she said, "but they make me long for my childhood again till I could almost cry out. To go out for beechnuts before breakfast; to thread them for necklaces before supper;—to be the envy of the others at school next day! There was as much pleasure in a beech necklace then as there is in the whole autumn now—and no sadness. There are no more unmixed joys after you have grown up." She kept her face to the ground as she spoke, and she continued to gather the fruits.

"Do you find any with nuts in?" I asked.

"Not many—here—here are two, three. You have them. No—I don't care about them."

I stripped one of its horny brown coat and gave it to her. She opened her mouth slightly to take it, looking up into my eyes. Some people, instead of bringing with them clouds of glory, trail clouds of sorrow; they are born with "the gift of sorrow"; "sorrows" they proclaim "alone are real. The veiled grey angels of sorrow work out slowly the beautiful shapes. Sorrow is beauty, and the supreme blessedness." You read it in their eyes, and in the tones of their voices. Emily had the gift of sorrow. It fascinated me, but it drove me to rebellion.

We followed the soft, smooth-bitten turf road under the old beeches. The hillside fell away, dishevelled with thistles and coarse grass. Soon we were in sight of the Kennels, the red old Kennels which had been the scene of so much animation in the time of Lord Byron. They were empty now, overgrown with weeds. The barred windows of the cottages were grey with dust; there was no need now to protect the windows from cattle, dog or man. One of the three houses was inhabited. Clear water trickled through a wooden runnel into a great stone trough outside near the door.

"Come here," said I to Emily. "Let me fasten the back of your dress."

"Is it undone?" she asked, looking quickly over her shoulder, and blushing.

As I was engaged in my task, a girl came out of the cottage with a black kettle and a tea-cup. She was so surprised to see me thus occupied that she forgot her own duty, and stood open-mouthed.

"S'r Ann! S'r Ann," called a voice from inside. "Are ter goin' ter come in an' shut that door?"

Sarah Ann hastily poured a few cupfuls of water into the kettle, then she put down both utensils and stood holding her bare arms to warm them. Her chief garment consisted of a skirt with grey bodice and red flannel skirt, very much torn. Her black hair hung in wild tails on to her shoulders.

"We must go in here," said I, approaching the girl. She, however, hastily seized the kettle and ran indoors with an "Oh, mother!"

A woman came to the door. One breast was bare, and hung over her blouse, which, like a dressing-jacket, fell loose over her skirt. Her fading, red-brown hair was all frowsy from the bed. In the folds of her skirt clung a swarthy urchin with a shockingly short shirt. He stared at us with big black eyes, the only portion of his face undecorated with egg and jam. The woman's blue eyes questioned us languidly. I told her our errand.

"Come in—come in," she said, "but dunna look at th' 'ouse. Th' childers not been long up. Go in, Billy, wi' nowt on!"

We entered, taking the forgotten kettle lid. The kitchen was large, but scantily furnished save, indeed, for children. The eldest, a girl of twelve or so, was standing toasting a piece of bacon with one hand, and holding back her nightdress in the other. As the toast hand got scorched, she transferred the bacon to the other, gave the hot fingers a lick to cool them, and then held back her nightdress again. Her auburn hair hung in heavy coils down her gown. A boy sat on the steel fender, catching the dropping fat on a piece of bread. "One, two, three, four, five, six drops," and he quickly bit off the tasty corner, and resumed the task with the other hand. When we entered he tried to draw his shirt over his knees, which caused the fat to fall wasted. A fat baby, evidently laid down from the breast, lay kicking on the squab, purple in the face, while another lad was pushing bread and butter into its mouth. The mother swept to the sofa, poked out the bread and butter, pushed her finger into the baby's throat, lifted the child up, punched its back, and was highly relieved when it began to yell. Then she administered a few sound spanks to the naked buttocks of the crammer. He began to howl, but stopped suddenly on seeing us laughing. On the sack-cloth which served as hearth rug sat a beautiful child washing the face of a wooden doll with tea, and wiping it on her nightgown. At the table, an infant in a high chair sat sucking a piece of bacon, till the grease ran down his swarthy arms, oozing through his fingers. An old lad stood in the big arm-chair, whose back was hung with a calf-skin, and was industriously pouring the dregs of the teacups into a basin of milk. The mother whisked away the milk, and made a rush for the urchin, the baby hanging over her arm the while.

"I could half kill thee," she said, but he had slid under the table,—and sat serenely unconcerned.

"Could you"—I asked when the mother had put her bonny baby again to her breast—"could you lend me a knitting needle?"

"Our S'r Ann, wheer's thy knittin' needles?" asked the woman, wincing at the same time, and putting her hand to the mouth of the sucking child. Catching my eye, she said:

"You wouldn't credit how he bites. 'E's nobbut two teeth, but they like six needles." She drew her brows together and pursed her lips, saying to the child, "Naughty lad, naughty lad! Tha' shanna hae it, no, not if ter bites thy mother like that."

The family interest was now divided between us and the private concerns in process when we entered;—save, however, that the bacon sucker had sucked on stolidly, immovable, all the time.

"Our Sam, wheer's my knittin', tha's 'ad it?" cried S'r Ann after a little search.

"'A 'e na," replied Sam from under the table.

"Yes, tha' 'as," said the mother, giving a blind prod under the table with her foot.

"'A 'e na then!" persisted Sam.

The mother suggested various possible places of discovery, and at last the knitting was found at the back of the table drawer, among forks and old wooden skewers.

"I 'an ter tell yer wheer ivrythink is," said the mother in mild reproach. S'r Ann, however, gave no heed to her parent. Her heart was torn for her knitting, the fruit of her labours; it was a red woollen cuff for the winter; a corkscrew was bored through the web, and the ball of red wool was bristling with skewers.

"It's a' thee, our Sam," she wailed. "I know it's a' thee an' thy A. B. C."

Samuel, under the table, croaked out in a voice of fierce monotony:

"P. is for Porkypine, whose bristles so strong Kill the bold lion by pricking 'is tongue."

The mother began to shake with quiet laughter.

"His father learnt him that—made it all up," she whispered proudly to us—and to him.

"Tell us what 'B' is Sam."

"Shonna," grunted Sam.

"Go on, there's a duckie; an' I'll ma' 'e a treacle puddin'."

"Today?" asked S'r Ann eagerly.

"Go on, Sam, my duck," persisted the mother.

"Tha' 'as na got no treacle," said Sam conclusively.

The needle was in the fire; the children stood about watching.

"Will you do it yourself?" I asked Emily.

"I!" she exclaimed, with wide eyes of astonishment, and she shook her head emphatically.

"Then I must." I took out the needle, holding it in my handkerchief. I took her hand and examined the wound. But when she saw the hot glow of the needle, she snatched away her hand, and looked into my eyes, laughing in a half-hysterical fear and shame. I was very serious, very insistent. She yielded me her hand again, biting her lips in imagination of the pain, and looking at me. While my eyes were looking into hers she had courage; when I was forced to pay attention to my cauterising, she glanced down, and with a sharp "Ah!" ending in a little laugh, she put her hands behind her, and looked again up at me with wide brown eyes, all quivering with apprehension, and a little shame, and a laughter that held much pleading.

One of the children began to cry.

"It is no good," said I, throwing the fast cooling needle on to the hearth.

I gave the girls all the pennies I had—then I offered Sam, who had crept out of the shelter of the table, a sixpence.

"Shonna a'e that," he said, turning from the small coin.

"Well—I have no more pennies, so nothing will be your share."

I gave the other boy a rickety knife I had in my pocket. Sam looked fiercely at me. Eager for revenge, he picked up the "porkypine quill" by the hot end. He dropped it with a shout of rage, and, seizing a cup off the table, flung it at the fortunate Jack. It smashed against the fire-place. The mother grabbed at Sam, but he was gone. A girl, a little girl, wailed, "Oh, that's my rosey mug—my rosey mug." We fled from the scene of confusion. Emily had hardly noticed it. Her thoughts were of herself, and of me.

"I am an awful coward," said she humbly.

"But I can't help it——" she looked beseechingly.

"Never mind," said I.

"All my flesh seems to jump from it. You don't know how I feel."

"Well—never mind."

"I couldn't help it, not for my life."

"I wonder," said I, "if anything could possibly disturb that young bacon-sucker? He didn't even look round at the smash."

"No," said she, biting the tip of her finger moodily.

Further conversation was interrupted by howls from the rear. Looking round we saw Sam careering after us over the close-bitten turf, howling scorn and derision at us. "Rabbit-tail, rabbit-tail," he cried, his bare little legs twinkling, and his little shirt fluttering in the cold morning air. Fortunately, at last he trod on a thistle or a thorn, for when we looked round again to see why he was silent, he was capering on one leg, holding his wounded foot in his hands.

CHAPTER VII

LETTIE PULLS DOWN THE SMALL GOLD GRAPES

During the falling of the leaves Lettie was very wilful. She uttered many banalities concerning men, and love, and marriage; she taunted Leslie and thwarted his wishes. At last he stayed away from her. She had been several times down to the mill, but because she fancied they were very familiar, receiving her on to their rough plane like one of themselves, she stayed away. Since the death of our father she had been restless; since inheriting her little fortune she had become proud, scornful, difficult to please. Difficult to please in every circumstance; she, who had always been so rippling in thoughtless life, sat down in the window sill to think, and her strong teeth bit at her handkerchief till it was torn in holes. She would say nothing to me; she read all things that dealt with modern women.

One afternoon Lettie walked over to Eberwich. Leslie had not been to see us for a fortnight. It was a grey, dree afternoon. The wind drifted a clammy fog across the hills, and the roads were black and deep with mud. The trees in the wood slouched sulkily. It was a day to be shut out and ignored if possible. I heaped up the fire, and went to draw the curtains and make perfect the room. Then I saw Lettie coming along the path quickly, very erect. When she came in her colour was high.

"Tea not laid?" she said briefly.

"Rebecca has just brought in the lamp," said I.

Lettie took off her coat and furs, and flung them on the couch. She went to the mirror, lifted her hair, all curled by the fog, and stared haughtily at herself. Then she swung round, looked at the bare table, and rang the bell.

It was so rare a thing for us to ring the bell from the dining-room, that Rebecca went first to the outer door. Then she came in the room saying:

"Did you ring?"

"I thought tea would have been ready," said Lettie coldly. Rebecca looked at me, and at her, and replied:

"It is but half-past four. I can bring it in."

Mother came down hearing the clink of the tea-cups.

"Well," she said to Lettie, who was unlacing her boots, "and did you find it a pleasant walk?"

"Except for the mud," was the reply.

"Ah, I guess you wished you had stayed at home. What a state for your boots!—and your skirts too, I know. Here, let me take them into the kitchen."

"Let Rebecca take them," said Lettie—but mother was out of the room.

When mother had poured out the tea, we sat silently at table. It was on the tip of our tongues to ask Lettie what ailed her, but we were experienced and we refrained. After a while she said:

"Do you know, I met Leslie Tempest."

"Oh," said mother tentatively, "Did he come along with you?"

"He did not look at me."

"Oh!" exclaimed mother, and it was speaking volumes; then, after a moment, she resumed:

"Perhaps he did not see you."

"Or was it a stony Britisher?" I asked.

"He saw me," declared Lettie, "or he wouldn't have made such a babyish show of being delighted with Margaret Raymond."

"It may have been no show—he still may not have seen you."

"I felt at once that he had; I could see his animation was extravagant. He need not have troubled himself, I was not going to run after him."

"You seem very cross," said I.

"Indeed I am not. But he knew I had to walk all this way home, and he could take up Margaret, who has only half the distance."

"Was he driving?"

"In the dog-cart." She cut her toast into strips viciously. We waited patiently.

"It was mean of him, wasn't it mother?"

"Well, my girl, you have treated him badly."

"What a baby! What a mean, manly baby! Men are great infants."

"And girls," said mother, "do not know what they want."

"A grown-up quality," I added.

"Nevertheless," said Lettie, "he is a mean fop, and I detest him."

She rose and sorted out some stitchery. Lettie never stitched unless she were in a bad humour. Mother smiled at me, sighed, and proceeded to Mr. Gladstone for comfort; her breviary and missal were Morley's Life of Gladstone.

I had to take a letter to Highclose to Mrs. Tempest—from my mother, concerning a bazaar in process at the church. "I will bring Leslie back with me," said I to myself.

The night was black and hateful. The lamps by the road from Eberwich ended at Nethermere; their yellow blur on the water made the cold, wet inferno of the night more ugly.

Leslie and Marie were both in the library—half a library, half a business office; used also as a lounge room, being cosy. Leslie lay in a great armchair by the fire, immune among clouds of blue smoke. Marie was perched on the steps, a great volume on her knee. Leslie got up in his cloud, shook hands, greeted me curtly, and vanished again. Marie smiled me a quaint, vexed smile, saying:

"Oh, Cyril, I'm so glad you've come. I'm so worried, and Leslie says he's not a pastry cook, though I'm sure I don't want him to be one, only he need not be a bear."

"What's the matter?"

She frowned, gave the big volume a little smack and said:

"Why, I do so much want to make some of those Spanish tartlets of your mother's that are so delicious, and of course Mabel knows nothing of them, and they're not in my cookery book, and I've looked through page upon page of the encyclopedia, right through 'Spain,' and there's nothing yet, and there are fifty pages more, and Leslie won't help me, though I've got a headache, because he's frabous about something." She looked at me in comical despair.

"Do you want them for the bazaar?"

"Yes—for to-morrow. Cook has done the rest, but I had fairly set my heart on these. Don't you think they are lovely?"

"Exquisitely lovely. Suppose I go and ask mother."

"If you would. But no, oh no, you can't make all that journey this terrible night. We are simply besieged by mud. The men are both out—William has gone to meet father—and mother has sent George to carry some things to the vicarage. I can't ask one of the girls on a night like this. I shall have to let it go—and the cranberry tarts too—it cannot be helped. I am so miserable."

"Ask Leslie," said I.

"He is too cross," she replied, looking at him.

He did not deign a remark.

"Will you Leslie?"

"What?"

"Go across to Woodside for me?"

"What for?"

"A recipe. Do, there's a dear boy."

"Where are the men?"

"They are both engaged—they are out."

"Send a girl, then."

"At night like this? Who would go?"

"Cissy."

"I shall not ask her. Isn't he mean, Cyril? Men are mean."

"I will come back," said I. "There is nothing at home to do. Mother is reading, and Lettie is stitching. The weather disagrees with her, as it does with Leslie."

"But it is not fair——" she said, looking at me softly. Then she put away the great book and climbed down.

"Won't you go, Leslie?" she said, laying her hand on his shoulder.

"Women!" he said, rising as if reluctantly. "There's no end to their wants and their caprices."

"I thought he would go," said she warmly. She ran to fetch his overcoat. He put one arm slowly in the sleeve, and then the other, but he would not lift the coat on to his shoulders.

"Well!" she said, struggling on tiptoe, "You are a great creature! Can't you get it on, naughty child?"

"Give her a chair to stand on," he said.

She shook the collar of the coat sharply, but he stood like a sheep, impassive.

"Leslie, you are too bad. I can't get it on, you stupid boy."

I took the coat and jerked it on.

"There," she said, giving him his cap. "Now don't be long."

"What a damned dirty night!" said he, when we were out.

"It is," said I.

"The town, anywhere's better than this hell of a country."

"Ha! How did you enjoy yourself?"

He began a long history of three days in the metropolis. I listened, and heard little. I heard more plainly the cry of some night birds over Nethermere, and the peevish, wailing, yarling cry of some beast in the wood. I was thankful to slam the door behind me, to stand in the light of the hall.

"Leslie!" exclaimed mother, "I am glad to see you."

"Thank you," he said, turning to Lettie, who sat with her lap full of work, her head busily bent.

"You see I can't get up," she said, giving him her hand, adorned as it was by the thimble. "How nice of you to come! We did not know you were back."

"But!" he exclaimed, then he stopped.

"I suppose you enjoyed yourself," she went on calmly.

"Immensely, thanks."

Snap, snap, snap went her needle through the new stuff. Then, without looking up, she said:

"Yes, no doubt. You have the air of a man who has been enjoying himself."

"How do you mean?"

"A kind of guilty—or shall I say embarrassed—look. Don't you notice it mother?"

"I do!" said my mother.

"I suppose it means we may not ask him questions," Lettie concluded, always very busily sewing.

He laughed. She had broken her cotton, and was trying to thread the needle again.

"What have you been doing this miserable weather?" he enquired awkwardly.

"Oh, we have sat at home desolate. 'Ever of thee I'm fo-o-ondly dreeaming'—and so on. Haven't we mother?"

"Well," said mother, "I don't know. We imagined him all sorts of lions up there."

"What a shame we may not ask him to roar his old roars over for us," said Lettie.

"What are they like?" he asked.

"How should I know? Like a sucking dove, to judge from your present voice. 'A monstrous little voice.'"

He laughed uncomfortably.

She went on sewing, suddenly beginning to sing to herself:

"Pussy cat, Pussy cat, where have you been? I've been up to London to see the fine queen: Pussy cat, Pussy cat, what did you there—— I frightened a little mouse under a stair."

"I suppose," she added, "that may be so. Poor mouse!—but I guess she's none the worse. You did not see the queen, though?"

"She was not in London," he replied sarcastically.

"You don't——" she said, taking two pins from between her teeth. "I suppose you don't mean by that, she was in Eberwich—your queen?"

"I don't know where she was," he answered angrily.

"Oh!" she said, very sweetly, "I thought perhaps you had met her in Eberwich. When did you come back?"

"Last night," he replied.

"Oh—why didn't you come and see us before?"

"I've been at the offices all day."

"I've been up to Eberwich," she said innocently.

"Have you?"

"Yes. And I feel so cross because of it. I thought I might see you. I felt as if you were at home."

She stitched a little, and glanced up secretly to watch his face redden, then she continued innocently,

"Yes—I felt you had come back. It is funny how one has a feeling occasionally that someone is near; when it is someone one has a sympathy with." She continued to stitch, then she took a pin from her bosom, and fixed her work, all without the least suspicion of guile.

"I thought I might meet you when I was out——" another pause, another fixing, a pin to be taken from her lips—"but I didn't."

"I was at the office till rather late," he said quickly.

She stitched away calmly, provokingly.

She took the pin from her mouth again, fixed down a fold of stuff, and said softly:

"You little liar."

Mother had gone out of the room for her recipe book.

He sat on his chair dumb with mortification. She stitched swiftly and unerringly. There was silence for some moments. Then he spoke:

"I did not know you wanted me for the pleasure of plucking this crow," he said.

"I wanted you!" she exclaimed, looking up for the first time, "Who said I wanted you?"

"No one. If you didn't want me I may as well go."

The sound of stitching alone broke the silence for some moments, then she said deliberately:

"What made you think I wanted you?"

"I don't care a damn whether you wanted me or whether you didn't."

"It seems to upset you! And don't use bad language. It is the privilege of those near and dear to one."

"That's why you begin it, I suppose."

"I cannot remember——" she said loftily.

He laughed sarcastically.

"Well—if you're so beastly cut up about it——"

He put this tentatively, expecting the soft answer. But she refused to speak, and went on stitching. He fidgeted about, twisted his cap uncomfortably, and sighed. At last he said:

"Well—you—have we done then?"

She had the vast superiority, in that she was engaged in ostentatious work. She could fix the cloth, regard it quizzically, rearrange it, settle down and begin to sew before she replied. This humbled him. At last she said:

"I thought so this afternoon."

"But, good God, Lettie, can't you drop it?"

"And then?"—the question startled him.

"Why!—forget it," he replied.

"Well?"—she spoke softly, gently. He answered to the call like an eager hound. He crossed quickly to her side as she sat sewing, and said, in a low voice:

"You do care something for me, don't you, Lettie?"

"Well,"—it was modulated kindly, a sort of promise of assent.

"You have treated me rottenly, you know, haven't you? You know I—well, I care a good bit."

"It is a queer way of showing it." Her voice was now a gentle reproof, the sweetest of surrenders and forgiveness. He leaned forward, took her face in his hands, and kissed her, murmuring:

"You are a little tease."

She laid her sewing in her lap, and looked up.

The next day, Sunday, broke wet and dreary. Breakfast was late, and about ten o'clock we stood at the window looking upon the impossibility of our going to church.

There was a driving drizzle of rain, like a dirty curtain before the landscape. The nasturtium leaves by the garden walk had gone rotten in a frost, and the gay green discs had given place to the first black flags of winter, hung on flaccid stalks, pinched at the neck. The grass plot was strewn with fallen leaves, wet and brilliant: scarlet splashes of Virginia creeper, golden drift from the limes, ruddy brown shawls under the beeches, and away back in the corner, the black mat of maple leaves, heavy soddened; they ought to have been a vivid lemon colour. Occasionally one of these great black leaves would loose its hold, and zigzag down, staggering in the dance of death.

"There now!" said Lettie suddenly.

I looked up in time to see a crow close his wings and clutch the topmost bough of an old grey holly tree on the edge of the clearing. He flapped again, recovered his balance, and folded himself up in black resignation to the detestable weather.

"Why has the old wretch settled just over our noses," said Lettie petulantly. "Just to blot the promise of a sorrow."

"Your's or mine?" I asked.

"He is looking at me, I declare."

"You can see the wicked pupil of his eye at this distance," I insinuated.

"Well," she replied, determined to take this omen unto herself. "I saw him first."

"'One for sorrow, two for joy, Three for a letter, four for a boy, Five for silver, six for gold, And seven for a secret never told.'

"—You may bet he's only a messenger in advance. There'll be three more shortly, and you'll have your four," said I, comforting.

"Do you know," she said, "it is very funny, but whenever I've particularly noticed one crow, I've had some sorrow or other."

"And when you notice four?" I asked.

"You should have heard old Mrs. Wagstaffe," was her reply. "She declares an old crow croaked in their apple tree every day for a week before Jerry got drowned."

"Great sorrow for her," I remarked.

"Oh, but she wept abundantly. I felt like weeping too, but somehow I laughed. She hoped he had gone to heaven—but—I'm sick of that word 'but'—it is always tangling one's thoughts."

"But, Jerry!" I insisted.

"Oh, she lifted up her forehead, and the tears dripped off her nose. He must have been an old nuisance, Syb. I can't understand why women marry such men. I felt downright glad to think of the drunken old wretch toppling into the canal out of the way."

She pulled the thick curtain across the window, and nestled down in it, resting her cheek against the edge, protecting herself from the cold window pane. The wet, grey wind shook the half naked trees, whose leaves dripped and shone sullenly. Even the trunks were blackened, trickling with the rain which drove persistently.

Whirled down the sky like black maple leaves caught up aloft, came two more crows. They swept down and clung hold of the trees in front of the house, staying near the old forerunner. Lettie watched them, half amused, half melancholy. One bird was carried past. He swerved round and began to battle up the wind, rising higher, and rowing laboriously against the driving wet current.

"Here comes your fourth," said I.

She did not answer, but continued to watch. The bird wrestled heroically, but the wind pushed him aside, tilted him, caught under his broad wings and bore him down. He swept in level flight down the stream, outspread and still, as if fixed in despair. I grieved for him. Sadly two of his fellows rose and were carried away after him, like souls hunting for a body to inhabit, and despairing. Only the first ghoul was left on the withered, silver-grey skeleton of the holly.

"He won't even say 'Nevermore'," I remarked.

"He has more sense," replied Lettie. She looked a trifle lugubrious. Then she continued: "Better say 'Nevermore' than 'Evermore.'"

"Why?" I asked.

"Oh, I don't know. Fancy this 'Evermore.'"

She had been sure in her own soul that Leslie would come—now she began to doubt:—things were very perplexing.

The bell in the kitchen jangled; she jumped up. I went and opened the door. He came in. She gave him one bright look of satisfaction. He saw it, and understood.

"Helen has got some people over—I have been awfully rude to leave them now," he said quietly.

"What a dreadful day!" said mother.

"Oh, fearful! Your face "is" red, Lettie! What have you been doing?"

"Looking into the fire."

"What did you see?"

"The pictures wouldn't come plain—nothing."

He laughed. We were silent for some time.

"You were expecting me?" he murmured.

"Yes—I knew you'd come."

They were left alone. He came up to her and put his arm around her, as she stood with her elbow on the mantelpiece.

"You do want me," he pleaded softly.

"Yes," she murmured.

He held her in his arms and kissed her repeatedly, again and again, till she was out of breath, and put up her hand, and gently pushed her face away.

"You are a cold little lover—you are a shy bird," he said, laughing into her eyes. He saw her tears rise, swimming on her lids, but not falling.

"Why, my love, my darling—why!"—he put his face to her's and took the tear on his cheek:

"I know you love me," he said, gently, all tenderness.

"Do you know," he murmured. "I can positively feel the tears rising up from my heart and throat. They are quite painful gathering, my love. There—you can do anything with me."

They were silent for some time. After a while, a rather long while, she came upstairs and found mother—and at the end of some minutes I heard my mother go to him.

I sat by my window and watched the low clouds reel and stagger past. It seemed as if everything were being swept along—I myself seemed to have lost my substance, to have become detached from concrete things and the firm trodden pavement of everyday life. Onward, always onward, not knowing where, nor why, the wind, the clouds, the rain and the birds and the leaves, everything whirling along—why?

All this time the old crow sat motionless, though the clouds tumbled, and were rent and piled, though the trees bent, and the window-pane shivered with running water. Then I found it had ceased to rain; that there was a sickly yellow gleam of sunlight, brightening on some great elm-leaves near at hand till they looked like ripe lemons hanging. The crow looked at me—I was certain he looked at me.

"What do you think of it all?" I asked him.

He eyed me with contempt: great featherless, half winged bird as I was, incomprehensible, contemptible, but awful. I believe he hated me.

"But," said I, "if a raven could answer, why won't you?"

He looked wearily away. Nevertheless my gaze disquieted him. He turned uneasily; he rose, waved his wings as if for flight, poised, then settled defiantly down again.

"You are no good," said I, "you won't help even with a word."

He sat stolidly unconcerned. Then I heard the lapwings in the meadow crying, crying. They seemed to seek the storm, yet to rail at it. They wheeled in the wind, yet never ceased to complain of it. They enjoyed the struggle, and lamented it in wild lament, through which came a sound of exultation. All the lapwings cried, cried the same tale, "Bitter, bitter, the struggle—for nothing, nothing, nothing,"—and all the time they swung about on their broad wings, revelling.

"There," said I to the crow, "they try it, and find it bitter, but they wouldn't like to miss it, to sit still like you, you old corpse."

He could not endure this. He rose in defiance, flapped his wings, and launched off, uttering one "Caw" of sinister foreboding. He was soon whirled away.

I discovered that I was very cold, so I went downstairs.

Twisting a curl round his finger, one of those loose curls that always dance free from the captured hair, Leslie said:

"Look how fond your hair is of me; look how it twines round my finger. Do you know, your hair—the light in it is like—oh—buttercups in the sun."

"It is like me—it won't be kept in bounds," she replied.

"Shame if it were—like this, it brushes my face—so—and sets me tingling like music."

"Behave! Now be still, and I'll tell you what sort of music you make."

"Oh—well—tell me."

"Like the calling of throstles and blackies, in the evening, frightening the pale little wood-anemones, till they run panting and swaying right up to our wall. Like the ringing of bluebells when the bees are at them; like Hippomenes, out-of-breath, laughing because he'd won."

He kissed her with rapturous admiration.

"Marriage music, sir," she added.

"What golden apples did I throw?" he asked lightly.

"What!" she exclaimed, half mocking.

"This Atalanta," he replied, looking lovingly upon her, "this Atalanta—I believe she just lagged at last on purpose."

"You have it," she cried, laughing, submitting to his caresses. "It was you—the apples of your firm heels—the apples of your eyes—the apples Eve bit—that won me—hein!"

"That was it—you are clever, you are rare. And I've won, won the ripe apples of your cheeks, and your breasts, and your very fists—they can't stop me—and—and—all your roundness and warmness and softness—I've won you, Lettie."

She nodded wickedly, saying:

"All those—those—yes."

"All—she admits it—everything!"

"Oh!—but let me breathe. Did you claim everything?"

"Yes, and you gave it me."

"Not yet. Everything though?"

"Every atom."

"But—now you look——"

"Did I look aside?"

"With the inward eye. Suppose now we were two angels——"

"Oh, dear—a sloppy angel!"

"Well—don't interrupt now—suppose I were one—like the 'Blessed Damosel.'"

"With a warm bosom——!"

"Don't be foolish, now—I a 'Blessed Damosel' and you kicking the brown beech leaves below thinking——"

"What "are" you driving at?"

"Would you be thinking—thoughts like prayers?"

"What on earth do you ask that for? Oh—I think I'd be cursing—eh?"

"No—saying fragrant prayers—that your thin soul might mount up——"

"Hang thin souls, Lettie! I'm not one of your souly sort. I can't stand Pre-Raphaelities. You—You're not a Burne-Jonesess—you're an Albert Moore. I think there's more in the warm touch of a soft body than in a prayer. I'll pray with kisses."

"And when you can't?"

"I'll wait till prayer-time again. By Jove, I'd rather feel my arms full of you; I'd rather touch that red mouth—you grudger!—than sing hymns with you in any heaven."

"I'm afraid you'll never sing hymns with me in heaven."

"Well—I have you here—yes, I have you now."

"Our life is but a fading dawn?"

"Liar!—Well, you called me! Besides, I don't care; 'Carpe diem', my rosebud, my fawn. There's a nice Carmen about a fawn. 'Time to leave its mother, and venture into a warm embrace.' Poor old Horace—I've forgotten him."

"Then poor old Horace."

"Ha! Ha!—Well, I shan't forget "you". What's that queer look in your eyes?"

"What is it?"

"Nay—you tell me. You are such a tease, there's no getting to the bottom of you."

"You can fathom the depth of a kiss——"

"I will—I will——"

After a while he asked:

"When shall we be properly engaged, Lettie?"

"Oh, wait till Christmas—till I am twenty-one."

"Nearly three months! Why on earth——"

"It will make no difference. I shall be able to choose thee of my own free choice then."

"But three months!"

"I shall consider thee engaged—it doesn't matter about other people."

"I thought we should be married in three months."

"Ah—married in haste——. But what will your mother say?"

"Say! Oh, she'll say it's the first wise thing I've done. You'll make a fine wife, Lettie, able to entertain, and all that."

"You will flutter brilliantly."

"We will."

"No—you'll be the moth—I'll paint your wings—gaudy feather-dust. Then when you lose your coloured dust, when you fly too near the light, or when you play dodge with a butterfly net—away goes my part—you can't fly—I—alas, poor me! What becomes of the feather-dust when the moth brushes his wings against a butterfly net?"

"What are you making so many words about? You don't know now, do you?"

"No—that I don't."

"Then just be comfortable. Let me look at myself in your eyes."

"Narcissus, Narcissus!—Do you see yourself well? Does the image flatter you?—Or is it a troubled stream, distorting your fair lineaments."

"I can't see anything—only feel you looking—you are laughing at me.—What have you behind there—what joke?"

"I—I'm thinking you're just like Narcissus—a sweet, beautiful youth."

"Be serious—do."

"It would be dangerous. You'd die of it, and I—I should——"

"What!"

"Be just like I am now—serious."

He looked proudly, thinking she referred to the earnestness of her love.

——

In the wood the wind rumbled and roared hoarsely overhead, but not a breath stirred among the saddened bracken. An occasional raindrop was shaken out of the trees; I slipped on the wet paths. Black bars striped the grey tree-trunks, where water had trickled down; the bracken was overthrown, its yellow ranks broken. I slid down the steep path to the gate, out of the wood.

Armies of cloud marched in rank across the sky, heavily laden, almost brushing the gorse on the common. The wind was cold and disheartening. The ground sobbed at every step. The brook was full, swirling along, hurrying, talking to itself, in absorbed intent tones. The clouds darkened; I felt the rain. Careless of the mud, I ran, and burst into the farm kitchen.

The children were painting, and they immediately claimed my help.

"Emily—and George—are in the front room," said the mother quietly, for it was Sunday afternoon. I satisfied the little ones; I said a few words to the mother, and sat down to take off my clogs.

In the parlour, the father, big and comfortable, was sleeping in an arm-chair. Emily was writing at the table—she hurriedly hid her papers when I entered. George was sitting by the fire, reading. He looked up as I entered, and I loved him when he looked up at me, and as he lingered on his quiet "Hullo!" His eyes were beautifully eloquent—as eloquent as a kiss.

We talked in subdued murmurs, because the father was asleep, opulently asleep, his tanned face as still as a brown pear against the wall. The clock itself went slowly, with languid throbs. We gathered round the fire, and talked quietly, about nothing—blissful merely in the sound of our voices, a murmured, soothing sound—a grateful, dispassionate love trio.

At last George rose, put down his book—looked at his father—and went out.

In the barn there was a sound of the pulper crunching the turnips. The crisp strips of turnip sprinkled quietly down onto a heap of gold which grew beneath the pulper. The smell of pulped turnips, keen and sweet, brings back to me the feeling of many winter nights, when frozen hoof-prints crunch in the yard, and Orion is in the south; when a friendship was at its mystical best.

"Pulping on Sunday!" I exclaimed.

"Father didn't do it yesterday; it's his work; and I didn't notice it. You know—Father often forgets—he doesn't like to have to work in the afternoon, now."

The cattle stirred in their stalls; the chains rattled round the posts; a cow coughed noisily. When George had finished pulping, and it was quiet enough for talk, just as he was spreading the first layers of chop and turnip and meal—in ran Emily, with her hair in silken, twining confusion, her eyes glowing—to bid us go in to tea before the milking was begun. It was the custom to milk before tea on Sunday—but George abandoned it without demur—his father willed it so, and his father was master, not to be questioned on farm matters, however one disagreed.

The last day in October had been dreary enough; the night could not come too early. We had tea by lamplight, merrily, with the father radiating comfort as the lamp shone yellow light. Sunday tea was imperfect without a visitor; with me, they always declared, it was perfect. I loved to hear them say so. I smiled, rejoicing quietly into my teacup when the Father said:

"It seems proper to have Cyril here at Sunday tea, it seems natural."

He was most loath to break the delightful bond of the lamp-lit tea-table; he looked up with a half-appealing glance when George at last pushed back his chair and said he supposed he'd better make a start.

"Ay," said the father in a mild, conciliatory tone, "I'll be out in a minute."

The lamp hung against the barn-wall, softly illuminating the lower part of the building, where bits of hay and white dust lay in the hollows between the bricks, where the curled chips of turnip scattered orange gleams over the earthen floor; the lofty roof, with its swallows' nests under the tiles, was deep in shadow, and the corners were full of darkness, hiding, half hiding, the hay, the chopper, the bins. The light shone along the passages before the stalls, glistening on the moist noses of the cattle, and on the whitewash of the walls.

George was very cheerful; but I wanted to tell him my message. When he had finished the feeding, and had at last sat down to milk, I said:

"I told you Leslie Tempest was at our house when I came away."

He sat with the bucket between his knees, his hands at the cow's udder, about to begin to milk. He looked up a question at me.

"They are practically engaged now," I said.

He did not turn his eyes away, but he ceased to look at me. As one who is listening for a far-off noise, he sat with his eyes fixed. Then he bent his head, and leaned it against the side of the cow, as if he would begin to milk. But he did not. The cow looked round and stirred uneasily. He began to draw the milk, and then to milk mechanically. I watched the movement of his hands, listening to the rhythmic clang of the jets of milk on the bucket, as a relief. After a while the movement of his hands became slower, thoughtful—then stopped.

"She has really said yes?"

I nodded.

"And what does your mother say?"

"She is pleased."

He began to milk again. The cow stirred uneasily, shifting her legs. He looked at her angrily, and went on milking. Then, quite upset, she shifted again, and swung her tail in his face.

"Stand still!" he shouted, striking her on the haunch. She seemed to cower like a beaten woman. He swore at her, and continued to milk. She did not yield much that night; she was very restive; he took the stool from beneath him and gave her a good blow; I heard the stool knock on her prominent hip bone. After that she stood still, but her milk soon ceased to flow.

When he stood up, he paused before he went to the next beast, and I thought he was going to talk. But just then the father came along with his bucket. He looked in the shed, and, laughing in his mature, pleasant way, said:

"So you're an onlooker to-day, Cyril—I thought you'd have milked a cow or two for me by now."

"Nay," said I, "Sunday is a day of rest—and milking makes your hands ache."

"You only want a bit more practice," he said, joking in his ripe fashion. "Why George, is that all you've got from Julia?"

"It is."

"H'm—she's soon going dry. Julia, old lady, don't go and turn skinny."

When he had gone, and the shed was still, the air seemed colder. I heard his good-humoured "Stand over, old lass," from the other shed, and the drum-beats of the first jets of milk on the pail.

"He has a comfortable time," said George, looking savage. I laughed. He still waited.

"You really expected Lettie to have "him,"" I said.

"I suppose so," he replied, "then she'd made up her mind to it. It didn't matter—what she wanted—at the bottom."

"You?" said I.

"If it hadn't been that he was a prize—with a ticket—she'd have had——"

"You!" said I.

"She was afraid—look how she turned and kept away——"

"From you?" said I.

"I should like to squeeze her till she screamed."

"You should have gripped her before, and kept her," said I.

"She—she's like a woman, like a cat—running to comforts—she strikes a bargain. Women are all tradesmen."

"Don't generalise, it's no good."

"She's like a prostitute——"

"It's banal! I believe she loves him."

He started, and looked at me queerly. He looked quite childish in his doubt and perplexity.

"She, what——?"

"Loves him—honestly."

"She'd 'a loved me better," he muttered, and turned to his milking. I left him and went to talk to his father. When the latter's four beasts were finished, George's light still shone in the other shed.

I went and found him at the fifth, the last cow. When at length he had finished he put down his pail, and going over to poor Julia, stood scratching her back, and her poll, and her nose, looking into her big, startled eye and murmuring. She was afraid; she jerked her head, giving him a good blow on the cheek with her horn.

"You can't understand them," he said sadly, rubbing his face, and looking at me with his dark, serious eyes.

"I never knew I couldn't understand them. I never thought about it——till. But you know, Cyril, she led me on."

I laughed at his rueful appearance.

CHAPTER VIII

THE RIOT OF CHRISTMAS

For some weeks, during the latter part of November and the beginning of December, I was kept indoors by a cold. At last came a frost which cleared the air and dried the mud. On the second Saturday before Christmas the world was transformed; tall, silver and pearl-grey trees rose pale against a dim-blue sky, like trees in some rare, pale Paradise; the whole woodland was as if petrified in marble and silver and snow; the holly-leaves and long leaves of the rhododendron were rimmed and spangled with delicate tracery.

When the night came clear and bright, with a moon among the hoar-frost, I rebelled against confinement, and the house. No longer the mists and dank weather made the home dear; tonight even the glare of the distant little iron works was not visible, for the low clouds were gone, and pale stars blinked from beyond the moon.

Lettie was staying with me; Leslie was in London again. She tried to remonstrate in a sisterly fashion when I said I would go out.

"Only down to the Mill," said I. Then she hesitated a while—said she would come too. I suppose I looked at her curiously, for she said:

"Oh—if you would rather go alone——!"

"Come—come—yes, come!" said I, smiling to myself.

Lettie was in her old animated mood. She ran, leaping over rough places, laughing, talking to herself in French. We came to the Mill. Gyp did not bark. I opened the outer door and we crept softly into the great dark scullery, peeping into the kitchen through the crack of the door.

The mother sat by the hearth, where was a big bath half full of soapy water, and at her feet, warming his bare legs at the fire, was David, who had just been bathed. The mother was gently rubbing his fine fair hair into a cloud. Mollie was combing out her brown curls, sitting by her father, who, in the fire-seat, was reading aloud in a hearty voice, with quaint precision. At the table sat Emily and George: she was quickly picking over a pile of little yellow raisins, and he, slowly, with his head sunk, was stoning the large raisins. David kept reaching forward to play with the sleepy cat—interrupting his mother's rubbing. There was no sound but the voice of the father, full of zest; I am afraid they were not all listening carefully. I clicked the latch and entered.

"Lettie!" exclaimed George.

"Cyril!" cried Emily.

"Cyril, 'ooray!" shouted David.

"Hullo, Cyril!" said Mollie.

Six large brown eyes, round with surprise, welcomed me. They overwhelmed me with questions, and made much of us. At length they were settled and quiet again.

"Yes, I am a stranger," said Lettie, who had taken off her hat and furs and coat. "But you do not expect me often, do you? I may come at times, eh?"

"We are only too glad," replied the mother. "Nothing all day long but the sound of the sluice—and mists, and rotten leaves. I am thankful to hear a fresh voice."

"Is Cyril really better, Lettie?" asked Emily softly.

"He's a spoiled boy—I believe he keeps a little bit ill so that we can cade him. Let me help you—let me peel the apples—yes, yes—I will."

She went to the table, and occupied one side with her apple-peeling. George had not spoken to her. So she said:

"I won't help you—George, because I don't like to feel my fingers so sticky, and because I love to see you so domesticated."

"You'll enjoy the sight a long time, then, for these things are numberless."

"You should eat one now and then—I always do."

"If I ate one I should eat the lot."

"Then you may give me your one."

He passed her a handful without speaking.

"That is too many, your mother is looking. Let me just finish this apple. There, I've not broken the peel!"

She stood up, holding up a long curling strip of peel.

"How many times must I swing it, Mrs. Saxton?"

"Three times—but it's not All Hallows' Eve."

"Never mind! Look!——" she carefully swung the long band of green peel over her head three times, letting it fall the third. The cat pounced on it, but Mollie swept him off again.

"What is it?" cried Lettie, blushing.

"G," said the father, winking and laughing—the mother looked daggers at him.

"It isn't nothink," said David naïvely, forgetting his confusion at being in the presence of a lady in his shirt. Mollie remarked in her cool way:

"It might be a 'hess'—if you couldn't write."

"Or an 'L'," I added. Lettie looked over at me imperiously, and I was angry.

"What do you say, Emily?" she asked.

"Nay," said Emily, "It's only you can see the right letter."

"Tell us what's the right letter," said George to her.

"I!" exclaimed Lettie, "who can look into the seeds of Time?"

"Those who have set 'em and watched 'em sprout," said I.

She flung the peel into the fire, laughing a short laugh, and went on with her work.

Mrs. Saxton leaned over to her daughter and said softly, so that he should not hear, that George was pulling the flesh out of the raisins.

"George!" said Emily sharply, "You're leaving nothing but the husks."

He too was angry:

"'And he would fain fill his belly with the husks that the swine did eat.'" he said quietly, taking a handful of the fruit he had picked and putting some in his mouth. Emily snatched away the basin:

"It is too bad!" she said.

"Here," said Lettie, handing him an apple she had peeled. "You may have an apple, greedy boy."

He took it and looked at it. Then a malicious smile twinkled round his eyes,—as he said:

"If you give me the apple, to whom will you give the peel?"

"The swine," she said, as if she only understood his first reference to the Prodigal Son. He put the apple on the table.

"Don't you want it?" she said.

"Mother," he said comically, as if jesting. "She is offering me the apple like Eve."

Like a flash, she snatched the apple from him, hid it in her skirts a moment, looking at him with dilated eyes, and then she flung it at the fire. She missed, and the father leaned forward and picked it off the hob, saying:

"The pigs may as well have it. You were slow, George—when a lady offers you a thing you don't have to make mouths."

"A ce qu'il parait," she cried, laughing now at her ease, boisterously:

"Is she making love, Emily?" asked the father, laughing suggestively.

"She says it too fast for me," said Emily.

George was leaning back in his chair, his hands in his breeches pockets.

"We shall have to finish his raisins after all, Emily," said Lettie brightly. "Look what a lazy animal he is."

"He likes his comfort," said Emily, with irony.

"The picture of content—solid, healthy, easy-moving content——" continued Lettie. As he sat thus, with his head thrown back against the end of the ingle-seat, coatless, his red neck seen in repose, he did indeed look remarkably comfortable.

"I shall never fret my fat away," he said stolidly.

"No—you and I—we are not like Cyril. We do not burn our bodies in our heads—or our hearts, do we?"

"We have it in common," said he, looking at her indifferently beneath his lashes, as his head was tilted back.

Lettie went on with the paring and coring of her apples—then she took the raisins. Meanwhile, Emily was making the house ring as she chopped the suet in a wooden bowl. The children were ready for bed. They kissed us all "Good-night"—save George. At last they were gone, accompanied by their mother. Emily put down her chopper, and sighed that her arm was aching, so I relieved her. The chopping went on for a long time, while the father read, Lettie worked, and George sat tilted back looking on. When at length the mincemeat was finished we were all out of work. Lettie helped to clear away—sat down—talked a little with effort—jumped up and said:

"Oh, I'm too excited to sit still—it's so near Christmas—let us play at something."

"A dance?" said Emily.

"A dance—a dance!"

He suddenly sat straight and got up:

"Come on!" he said.

He kicked off his slippers, regardless of the holes in his stocking feet, and put away the chairs. He held out his arm to her—she came with a laugh, and away they went, dancing over the great flagged kitchen at an incredible speed. Her light flying steps followed his leaps; you could hear the quick light tap of her toes more plainly than the thud of his stockinged feet. Emily and I joined in. Emily's movements are naturally slow, but we danced at great speed. I was hot and perspiring, and she was panting, when I put her in a chair. But they whirled on in the dance, on and on till I was giddy, till the father laughing, cried that they should stop. But George continued the dance; her hair was shaken loose, and fell in a great coil down her back; her feet began to drag; you could hear a light slur on the floor; she was panting—I could see her lips murmur to him, begging him to stop; he was laughing with open mouth, holding her tight; at last her feet trailed; he lifted her, clasping her tightly, and danced twice round the room with her thus. Then he fell with a crash on the sofa, pulling her beside him. His eyes glowed like coals; he was panting in sobs, and his hair was wet and glistening. She lay back on the sofa, with his arm still around her, not moving; she was quite overcome. Her hair was wild about her face. Emily was anxious; the father said, with a shade of inquietude:

"You've overdone it—it is very foolish."

When at last she recovered her breath and her life, she got up, and laughing in a queer way, began to put up her hair. She went into the scullery where were the brush and combs, and Emily followed with a candle. When she returned, ordered once more, with a little pallor succeeding the flush, and with a great black stain of sweat on her leathern belt where his hand had held her, he looked up at her from his position on the sofa, with a peculiar glance of triumph, smiling.

"You great brute," she said, but her voice was not as harsh as her words. He gave a deep sigh, sat up, and laughed quietly.

"Another?" he said.

"Will you dance with "me"?"

"At your pleasure."

"Come then—a minuet."

"Don't know it."

"Nevertheless, you must dance it. Come along."

He reared up, and walked to her side. She put him through the steps, even dragging him round the waltz. It was very ridiculous. When it was finished she bowed him to his seat, and, wiping her hands on her handkerchief, because his shirt where her hand had rested on his shoulders was moist, she thanked him.

"I hope you enjoyed it," he said.

"Ever so much," she replied.

"You made me look a fool—so no doubt you did."

"Do you think you could look a fool? Why you are ironical! Ca marche! In other words, you have come on. But it is a sweet dance."

He looked at her, lowered his eyelids, and said nothing.

"Ah, well," she laughed, "some are bred for the minuet, and some for——"

"—Less tomfoolery," he answered.

"Ah—you call it tomfoolery because you cannot do it. Myself, I like it—so——"

"And I can't do it?"

"Could you? Did you? You are not built that way."

"Sort of Clarence MacFadden," he said, lighting a pipe as if the conversation did not interest him.

"Yes—what ages since we sang that!

'Clarence MacFadden he wanted to dance But his feet were not gaited that way . . .'

"I remember we sang it after one corn harvest—we had a fine time. I never thought of you before as Clarence. It is very funny. By the way—will you come to our party at Christmas?"

"When? Who's coming?"

"The twenty-sixth.—Oh!—only the old people—Alice—Tom Smith—Fanny—those from Highclose."

"And what will you do?"

"Sing charades—dance a little—anything you like."

"Polka?"

"And minuets—and valetas. Come and dance a valeta, Cyril."

She made me take her through a valeta, a minuet, a mazurka, and she danced elegantly, but with a little of Carmen's ostentation—her dash and devilry. When we had finished, the father said:

"Very pretty—very pretty, indeed! They do look nice, don't they, George? I wish I was young."

"As I am——" said George, laughing bitterly.

"Show me how to do them—some time, Cyril," said Emily, in her pleading way, which displeased Lettie so much.

"Why don't you ask me?" said the latter quickly.

"Well—but you are not often here."

"I am here now. Come——" and she waved Emily imperiously to the attempt.

Lettie, as I have said, is tall, approaching six feet; she is lissome, but firmly moulded, by nature graceful; in her poise and harmonious movement are revealed the subtle sympathies of her artist's soul. The other is shorter, much heavier. In her every motion you can see the extravagance of her emotional nature. She quivers with feeling; emotion conquers and carries havoc through her, for she has not a strong intellect, nor a heart of light humour; her nature is brooding and defenceless; she knows herself powerless in the tumult of her feelings, and adds to her misfortunes a profound mistrust of herself.

As they danced together, Lettie and Emily, they showed in striking contrast. My sister's ease and beautiful poetic movement was exquisite; the other could not control her movements, but repeated the same error again and again. She gripped Lettie's hand fiercely, and glanced up with eyes full of humiliation and terror of her continued failure, and passionate, trembling, hopeless desire to succeed. To show her, to explain, made matters worse. As soon as she trembled on the brink of an action, the terror of not being able to perform it properly blinded her, and she was conscious of nothing but that she must do something—in a turmoil. At last Lettie ceased to talk, and merely swung her through the dances haphazard. This way succeeded better. So long as Emily need not think about her actions, she had a large, free grace; and the swing and rhythm and time were imparted through her senses rather than through her intelligence.

It was time for supper. The mother came down for a while, and we talked quietly, at random. Lettie did not utter a word about her engagement, not a suggestion. She made it seem as if things were just as before, although I am sure she had discovered that I had told George. She intended that we should play as if ignorant of her bond.

After supper, when we were ready to go home, Lettie said to him:

"By the way—you must send us some mistletoe for the party—with plenty of berries, you know. Are there many berries on your mistletoe this year?"

"I do not know—I have never looked. We will go and see—if you like," George answered. "But will you come out into the cold?" He pulled on his boots, and his coat, and twisted a scarf round his neck. The young moon had gone. It was very dark—the liquid stars wavered. The great night filled us with awe. Lettie caught hold of my arm, and held it tightly. He passed on in front to open the gates. We went down into the front garden, over the turf bridge where the sluice rushed coldly under, on to the broad slope of the bank. We could just distinguish the gnarled old appletrees leaning about us. We bent our heads to avoid the boughs, and followed George. He hesitated a moment, saying:

"Let me see—I think they are there—the two trees with mistletoe on."

We again followed silently.

"Yes," he said, "Here they are!"

We went close and peered into the old trees. We could just see the dark bush of the mistletoe between the boughs of the tree. Lettie began to laugh.

"Have we come to count the berries?" she said. "I can't even see the mistletoe."

She leaned forwards and upwards to pierce the darkness; he, also straining to look, felt her breath on his cheek, and turning, saw the pallor of her face close to his, and felt the dark glow of her eyes. He caught her in his arms, and held her mouth in a kiss. Then, when he released her, he turned away, saying something incoherent about going to fetch the lantern to look. She remained with her back towards me, and pretended to be feeling among the mistletoe for the berries. Soon I saw the swing of the hurricane lamp below.

"He is bringing the lantern," said I.

When he came up, he said, and his voice was strange and subdued:

"Now we can see what it's like."

He went near, and held up the lamp, so that it illuminated both their faces, and the fantastic boughs of the trees, and the weird bush of mistletoe sparsely pearled with berries. Instead of looking at the berries they looked into each other's eyes; his lids flickered, and he flushed, in the yellow light of the lamp looking warm and handsome; he looked upwards in confusion and said: "There are plenty of berries."

As a matter of fact there were very few.

She too looked up, and murmured her assent. The light seemed to hold them as in a globe, in another world, apart from the night in which I stood. He put up his hand and broke off a sprig of mistletoe, with berries, and offered it to her. They looked into each other's eyes again. She put the mistletoe among her furs, looking down at her bosom. They remained still, in the centre of light, with the lamp uplifted; the red and black scarf wrapped loosely round his neck gave him a luxurious, generous look. He lowered the lamp and said, affecting to speak naturally:

"Yes—there is plenty this year."

"You will give me some," she replied, turning away and finally breaking the spell.

"When shall I cut it?"—He strode beside her, swinging the lamp, as we went down the bank to go home. He came as far as the brooks without saying another word. Then he bade us good-night. When he had lighted her over the stepping-stones, she did not take my arm as we walked home.

During the next two weeks we were busy preparing for Christmas, ranging the woods for the reddest holly, and pulling the gleaming ivy-bunches from the trees. From the farms around came the cruel yelling of pigs, and in the evening later, was a scent of pork-pies. Far-off on the high-way could be heard the sharp trot of ponies hastening with Christmas goods.

There the carts of the hucksters dashed by to the expectant villagers, triumphant with great bunches of light foreign mistletoe, gay with oranges peeping through the boxes, and scarlet intrusion of apples, and wild confusion of cold, dead poultry. The hucksters waved their whips triumphantly, the little ponies rattled bravely under the sycamores, towards Christmas.

In the late afternoon of the 24th, when dust was rising under the hazel brake, I was walking with Lettie. All among the mesh of twigs overhead was tangled a dark red sky. The boles of the trees grew denser—almost blue.

Tramping down the riding we met two boys, fifteen or sixteen years old. Their clothes were largely patched with tough cotton moleskin; scarves were knotted round their throats, and in their pockets rolled tin bottles full of tea, and the white knobs of their knotted snap-bags.

"Why!" said Lettie. "Are you going to work on Christmas eve?"

"It looks like it, don't it?" said the elder.

"And what time will you be coming back?"

"About 'alf past töw."

"Christmas morning!"

"You'll be able to look out for the herald Angels and the Star," said I.

"They'd think we was two dirty little uns," said the younger lad, laughing.

"They'll 'appen 'a done before we get up ter th' top," added the elder boy— "an' they'll none venture down th' shaft."

"If they did," put in the other, "You'd ha'e ter bath 'em after. I'd gi'e 'em a bit o' my pasty."

"Come on," said the elder sulkily.

They tramped off, slurring their heavy boots.

"Merry Christmas!" I called after them.

"In th' mornin'," replied the elder.

"Same to you," said the younger, and he began to sing with a tinge of bravado.

"In the fields with their flocks abiding. They lay on the dewy ground——"

"Fancy," said Lettie, "those boys are working for me!"

We were all going to the party at Highclose. I happened to go into the kitchen about half past seven. The lamp was turned low, and Rebecca sat in the shadows. On the table, in the light of the lamp, I saw a glass vase with five or six very beautiful Christmas roses.

"Hullo, Becka, who's sent you these?" said I.

"They're not sent," replied Rebecca from the depth of the shadow, with suspicion of tears in her voice.

"Why! I never saw them in the garden."

"Perhaps not. But I've watched them these three weeks, and kept them under glass."

"For Christmas? They are beauties. I thought some one must have sent them to you."

"It's little as 'as ever been sent me," replied Rebecca, "an' less as will be."

"Why—what's the matter?"

"Nothing. Who'm I, to have anything the matter! Nobody—nor ever was, nor ever will be. And I'm getting old as well."

"Something's upset you, Becky."

"What does it matter if it has? What are my feelings? A bunch o' fal-de-rol flowers as a gardener clips off wi' never a thought is preferred before mine as I've fettled after this three-week. I can sit at home to keep my flowers company—nobody wants 'em."

I remembered that Lettie was wearing hot-house flowers; she was excited and full of the idea of the party at Highclose; I could imagine her quick "Oh no thank you, Rebecca. I have had a spray sent to me——"

"Never mind, Becky," said I, "she is excited to-night."

"An' I'm easy forgotten."

"So are we all, Becky—tant mieux."

At Highclose Lettie made a stir. Among the little belles of the countryside, she was decidedly the most distinguished. She was brilliant, moving as if in a drama. Leslie was enraptured, ostentatious in his admiration, proud of being so well infatuated. They looked into each other's eyes when they met, both triumphant, excited, blazing arch looks at one another. Lettie was enjoying her public demonstration immensely; it exhilarated her into quite a vivid love for him. He was magnificent in response. Meanwhile, the honoured lady of the house, pompous and ample, sat aside with my mother conferring her patronage on the latter amiable little woman, who smiled sardonically and watched Lettie. It was a splendid party; it was brilliant, it was dazzling.

I danced with several ladies, and honourably kissed each under the mistletoe—except that two of them kissed me first, it was all done in a most correct manner.

"You wolf," said Miss Wookey archly. "I believe you are a wolf—a veritable rôdeur des femmes—and you look such a lamb too—such a dear."

"Even my bleat reminds you of Mary's pet."

"But you are not my pet—at least—it is well that my Golaud doesn't hear you——"

"If he is so very big——" said I.

"He is really; he's beefy. I've engaged myself to him, somehow or other. One never knows how one does those things, do they?"

"I couldn't speak from experience," said I.

"Cruel man! I suppose I felt Christmasy, and I'd just been reading Maeterlinck—and he really is big."

"Who?" I asked.

"Oh—He, of course. My Golaud. I can't help admiring men who are a bit avoirdupoisy. It is unfortunate they can't dance."

"Perhaps fortunate," said I.

"I can see you hate him. Pity I didn't think to ask him if he danced—before——"

"Would it have influenced you very much?"

"Well—of course—one can be free to dance all the more with the really nice men whom one never marries."

"Why not?"

"Oh—you can only marry one——"

"Of course."

"There he is—he's coming for me! Oh, Frank, you leave me to the tender mercies of the world at large. I thought you'd forgotten me, Dear."

"I thought the same," replied her Golaud, a great fat fellow with a childish bare face. He smiled awesomely, and one never knew what he meant to say.

We drove home in the early Christmas morning. Lettie, warmly wrapped in her cloak, had had a little stroll with her lover in the shrubbery. She was still brilliant, flashing in her movements. He, as he bade her good-bye, was almost beautiful in his grace and his low musical tone. I nearly loved him myself. She was very fond towards him. As we came to the gate where the private road branched from the highway, we heard John say "Thank you"—and looking out, saw our two boys returning from the pit. They were very grotesque in the dark night as the lamplight fell on them, showing them grimy, flecked with bits of snow. They shouted merrily, their good wishes. Lettie leaned out and waved to them, and they cried "'ooray!" Christmas came in with their acclamations.

CHAPTER IX

LETTIE COMES OF AGE

Lettie was twenty-one on the day after Christmas. She woke me in the morning with cries of dismay. There was a great fall of snow, multiplying the cold morning light, startling the slow-footed twilight. The lake was black like the open eyes of a corpse; the woods were black like the beard on the face of a corpse. A rabbit bobbed out, and floundered in much consternation; little birds settled into the depth, and rose in a dusty whirr, much terrified at the universal treachery of the earth. The snow was eighteen inches deep, and drifted in places.

"They will never come!" lamented Lettie, for it was the day of her party.

"At any rate—Leslie will," said I.

"One!" she exclaimed.

"That one is all, isn't it?" said I. "And for sure George will come, though I've not seen him this fortnight. He's not been in one night, they say, for a fortnight."

"Why not?"

"I cannot say."

Lettie went away to ask Rebecca for the fiftieth time if she thought they would come. At any rate the extra woman-help came.

It was not more than ten o'clock when Leslie arrived, ruddy, with shining eyes, laughing like a boy. There was much stamping in the porch, and knocking of leggings with his stick, and crying of Lettie from the kitchen to know who had come, and loud, cheery answers from the porch bidding her come and see. She came, and greeted him with effusion.

"Ha, my little woman!" he said kissing her. "I declare you are a woman. Look at yourself in the glass now——" She did so—"What do you see?" he asked laughing.

"You—mighty gay, looking at me."

"Ah, but look at yourself. There! I declare you're more afraid of your own eyes than of mine, aren't you?"

"I am," she said, and he kissed her with rapture.

"It's your birthday," he said.

"I know," she replied.

"So do I. You promised me something."

"What?" she asked.

"Here—see if you like it,"—he gave her a little case. She opened it, and instinctively slipped the ring on her finger. He made a movement of pleasure. She looked up, laughing breathlessly at him.

"Now!" said he, in tones of finality.

"Ah!" she exclaimed in a strange, thrilled voice.

He caught her in his arms.

After a while, when they could talk rationally again, she said:

"Do you think they will come to my party?"

"I hope not—By Heaven!"

"But—oh, yes! We have made all preparations."

"What does that matter! Ten thousand folks here to-day——!"

"Not ten thousand—only five or six. I shall be wild if they can't come."

"You want them?"

"We have asked them—and everything is ready—and I do want us to have a party one day."

"But to-day—damn it all, Lettie!"

"But I did want my party to-day. Don't you think they'll come?"

"They won't if they've any sense!"

"You might help me——" she pouted.

"Well I'll be—! and you've set your mind on having a houseful of people to-day?"

"You know how we look forward to it—my party. At any rate—I know Tom Smith will come—and I'm almost sure Emily Saxton will."

He bit his moustache angrily, and said at last:

"Then I suppose I'd better send John round for the lot."

"It wouldn't be much trouble, would it?"

"No "trouble" at all."

"Do you know," she said, twisting the ring on her finger. "It makes me feel as if I tied something round my finger to remember by. It somehow remains in my consciousness all the time."

"At any rate," said he, "I have got you."

After dinner, when we were alone, Lettie sat at the table, nervously fingering her ring.

"It is pretty, mother, isn't it?" she said a trifle pathetically.

"Yes, very pretty. I have always liked Leslie," replied my mother.

"But it feels so heavy—it fidgets me. I should like to take it off."

"You are like me, I never could wear rings. I hated my wedding ring for months."

"Did you, mother?"

"I longed to take it off and put it away. But after a while I got used to it."

"I'm glad this isn't a wedding ring."

"Leslie says it is as good," said I.

"Ah well, yes! But still it is different—" She put the jewels round under her finger, and looked at the plain gold band—then she twisted it back quickly, saying:

"I'm glad it's not—not yet. I begin to feel a woman, little mother—I feel grown up to-day."

My mother got up suddenly and went and kissed Lettie fervently.

"Let me kiss my girl good-bye," she said, and her voice was muffled with tears. Lettie clung to my mother, and sobbed a few quiet sobs, hidden in her bosom. Then she lifted her face, which was wet with tears, and kissed my mother, murmuring:

"No, mother—no—o—!"

About three o'clock the carriage came with Leslie and Marie. Both Lettie and I were upstairs, and I heard Marie come tripping up to my sister.

"Oh, Lettie, he is in such a state of excitement, you never knew. He took me with him to buy it—let me see it on. I think it's awfully lovely. Here, let me help you to do your hair—all in those little rolls—it will look charming. You've really got beautiful hair—there's so much life in it—it's a pity to twist it into a coil as you do. I wish my hair were a bit longer—though really, it's all the better for this fashion—don't you like it?—it's 'so chic'—I think these little puffs are just fascinating—it is rather long for them—but it will look ravishing. Really, my eyes, and eyebrows, and eyelashes are my best features, don't you think?"

Marie, the delightful, charming little creature, twittered on. I went downstairs.

Leslie started when I entered the room, but seeing only me, he leaned forward again, resting his arms on his knees, looking in the fire.

"What the Dickens is she doing?" he asked.

"Dressing."

"Then we may keep on waiting. Isn't it a deuced nuisance, these people coming?"

"Well, we generally have a good time."

"Oh—it's all very well—we're not in the same boat, you and me."

"Fact," said I laughing.

"By Jove, Cyril, you don't know what it is to be in love. I never thought—I couldn't ha' believed I should be like it. All the time when it isn't at the top of your blood, it's at the bottom:—'the Girl, the Girl.'"

He stared into the fire.

"It seems pressing you, pressing you on. Never leaves you alone a moment."

Again he lapsed into reflection.

"Then, all at once, you remember how she kissed you, and all your blood jumps afire."

He mused again for awhile—or rather, he seemed fiercely to con over his sensations.

"You know," he said, "I don't think she feels for me as I do for her."

"Would you want her to?" said I.

"I don't know. Perhaps not—but—still I don't think she feels——"

At this he lighted a cigarette to soothe his excited feelings, and there was silence for some time. Then the girls came down. We could hear their light chatter. Lettie entered the room. He jumped up and surveyed her. She was dressed in soft, creamy, silken stuff; her neck was quite bare; her hair was, as Marie promised, fascinating; she was laughing nervously. She grew warm, like a blossom in the sunshine, in the glow of his admiration. He went forward and kissed her.

"You are splendid!" he said.

She only laughed for answer. He drew her away to the great arm-chair, and made her sit in it beside him. She was indulgent and he radiant. He took her hand and looked at it, and at his ring which she wore.

"It looks all right!" he murmured.

"Anything would," she replied.

"What do they mean—sapphires and diamonds—for I don't know?"

"Nor do I. Blue for hope, because Speranza in 'Fairy Queen' had a blue gown—and diamonds for—the crystalline clearness of my nature."

"Its glitter and hardness, you mean—You are a hard little mistress. But why Hope?"

"Why?—No reason whatever, like most things. No, that's not right. Hope! Oh—Blindfolded—hugging a silly harp with no strings. I wonder why she didn't drop her harp framework over the edge of the globe, and take the handkerchief off her eyes, and have a look round! But of course she was a woman—and a man's woman. Do you know I believe most women can sneak a look down their noses from underneath the handkerchief of hope they've tied over their eyes. They could take the whole muffler off—but they don't do it, the dears."

"I don't believe you know what you're talking about, and I'm sure I don't. Sapphires reminded me of your eyes—and—isn't it 'Blue that kept the faith?' I remember something about it."

"Here," said she, pulling off the ring, "you ought to wear it yourself, Faithful One, to keep me in constant mind."

"Keep it on, keep it on. It holds you faster than that fair damsel tied to a tree in Millais' picture—I believe it's Millais."

She sat shaking with laughter.

"What a comparison! Who'll be the brave knight to rescue me—discreetly—from behind?"

"Ah," he answered, "it doesn't matter. You don't want rescuing, do you?"

"Not yet," she replied, teasing him.

They continued to talk half nonsense, making themselves eloquent by quick looks and gestures, and communion of warm closeness. The ironical tones went out of Lettie's voice, and they made love.

Marie drew me away into the dining room, to leave them alone.

Marie is a charming little maid, whose appearance is neatness, whose face is confident little goodness. Her hair is dark, and lies low upon her neck in wavy coils. She does not affect the fashion in coiffure, and generally is a little behind the fashion in dress. Indeed she is a half-opened bud of a matron, conservative, full of proprieties, and of gentle indulgence. She now smiled at me with a warm delight in the romance upon which she had just shed her grace, but her demureness allowed nothing to be said. She glanced round the room, and out of the window, and observed:

"I always love Woodside, it is restful—there is something about it—oh—assuring—really—it comforts one—I've been reading Maxim Gorky."

"You shouldn't," said I.

"Dadda reads them—but I don't like them—I shall read no more. I like Woodside—it makes you feel—really at home—it soothes one like the old wood does. It seems right—life is proper here—not ulcery——"

"Just healthy living flesh," said I.

"No, I don't mean that, because one feels—oh, as if the world were old and good, not old and bad."

"Young, and undisciplined, and mad," said I.

"No—but here, you, and Lettie, and Leslie, and me—it is so nice for us, and it seems so natural and good. Woodside is so old, and so sweet and serene—it does reassure one."

"Yes," said I, "we just live, nothing abnormal, nothing cruel and extravagant—just natural—like doves in a dovecote."

"Oh!—doves!—they are so—so mushy."

"They are dear little birds, doves. You look like one yourself, with the black band round your neck. You a turtle-dove, and Lettie a wood-pigeon."

"Lettie is splendid, isn't she? What a swing she has—what a mastery! I wish I had her strength—she just marches straight through in the right way—I think she's fine."

I laughed to see her so enthusiastic in her admiration of my sister. Marie is such a gentle, serious little soul. She went to the window. I kissed her, and pulled two berries off the mistletoe. I made her a nest in the heavy curtains, and she sat there looking out on the snow.

"It is lovely," she said reflectively. "People must be ill when they write like Maxim Gorky."

"They live in town," said I.

"Yes—but then look at Hardy—life seems so terrible—it isn't, is it?"

"If you don't feel it, it isn't—if you don't see it. I don't see it for myself."

"It's lovely enough for heaven."

"Eskimo's heaven perhaps. And we're the angels eh? And I'm an archangel."

"No, you're a vain, frivolous man. Is that—? What is that moving through the trees?"

"Somebody coming," said I.

It was a big, burly fellow moving curiously through the bushes.

"Doesn't he walk funnily?" exclaimed Marie. He did. When he came near enough we saw he was straddled upon Indian snow-shoes. Marie peeped, and laughed, and peeped, and hid again in the curtains laughing. He was very red, and looked very hot, as he hauled the great meshes, shuffling over the snow; his body rolled most comically. I went to the door and admitted him, while Marie stood stroking her face with her hands to smooth away the traces of her laughter.

He grasped my hand in a very large and heavy glove, with which he then wiped his perspiring brow.

"Well, Beardsall, old man," he said, "and how's things? God, I'm not 'alf hot! Fine idea though——" He showed me his snow-shoes.

"Ripping! ain't they? I've come like an Indian brave——" He rolled his "r's", and lengthened out his "ah's" tremendously—"brra-ave".

"Couldn't resist it though," he continued. "Remember your party last year—Girls turned up? On the war-path, eh?" He pursed up his childish lips and rubbed his fat chin.

Having removed his coat, and the white wrap which protected his collar, not to mention the snowflakes, which Rebecca took almost as an insult to herself—he seated his fat, hot body on a chair, and proceeded to take off his gaiters and his boots. Then he donned his dancing pumps, and I led him upstairs.

"Lord, I skimmed here like a swallow!" he continued—and I looked at his corpulence.

"Never met a soul, though they've had a snow-plough down the road. I saw the marks of a cart up the drive, so I guessed the Tempests were here. So Lettie's put her nose in Tempest's nosebag—leaves nobody a chance, that—some women have rum taste—only they're like ravens, they go for the gilding—don't blame 'em—only it leaves nobody a chance. Madie Howitt's coming, I suppose?"

I ventured something about the snow.

"She'll come," he said, "if it's up to the neck. Her mother saw me go past."

He proceeded with his toilet. I told him that Leslie had sent the carriage for Alice and Madie. He slapped his fat legs, and exclaimed:

"Miss Gall—I smell sulphur! Beardsall, old boy, there's fun in the wind. Madie, and the coy little Tempest, and——" he hissed a line of a music-hall song through his teeth.

During all this he had straightened his cream and lavender waistcoat:

"Little pink of a girl worked it for me—a real juicy little peach—chipped somehow or other"—he had arranged his white bow—he had drawn forth two rings, one a great signet, the other gorgeous with diamonds, and had adjusted them on his fat white fingers; he had run his fingers delicately, through his hair, which rippled backwards a trifle tawdrily—being fine and somewhat sapless; he had produced a box, containing a cream carnation with suitable greenery; he had flicked himself with a silk handkerchief, and had dusted his patent-leather shoes; lastly, he had pursed up his lips and surveyed himself with great satisfaction in the mirror. Then he was ready to be presented.

"Couldn't forget to-day, Lettie. Wouldn't have let old Pluto and all the bunch of 'em keep me away. I skimmed here like a 'Brra-ave' on my snow-shoes, like Hiawatha coming to Minnehaha."

"Ah—that was famine," said Marie softly. "And this is a feast, a gorgeous feast, Miss Tempest," he said, bowing to Marie, who laughed.

"You have brought some music?" asked mother.

"Wish I was Orpheus," he said, uttering his words with exaggerated enunciation, a trick he had caught from his singing I suppose.

"I see you're in full feather, Tempest. Is she kind as she is fair?'"

"Who?"

Will pursed up his smooth sensuous face that looked as if it had never needed shaving. Lettie went out with Marie, hearing the bell ring.

"She's an houri!" exclaimed William. "Gad, I'm almost done for! She's a lotus-blossom!—But is that your ring she's wearing, Tempest?"

"Keep off," said Leslie.

"And don't be a fool," said I.

"Oh, O-O-Oh!" drawled Will, "so we must look the other way! 'Le bel homme sans merci!'"

He sighed profoundly, and ran his fingers through his hair, keeping one eye on himself in the mirror as he did so. Then he adjusted his rings and went to the piano. At first he only splashed about brilliantly. Then he sorted the music, and took a volume of Tchaikowsky's songs. He began the long opening of one song, was unsatisfied, and found another, a serenade of Don Juan. Then at last he began to sing.

His voice is a beautiful tenor, softer, more mellow, less strong and brassy than Leslie's. Now it was raised that it might be heard upstairs. As the melting gush poured forth, the door opened. William softened his tones, and sang 'dolce,' but he did not glance round.

"Rapture!—Choir of Angels," exclaimed Alice, clasping her hands and gazing up at the lintel of the door like a sainted virgin.

"Persephone—Europa——" murmured Madie, at her side, getting tangled in her mythology.

Alice pressed her clasped hands against her bosom in ecstasy as the notes rose higher.

"Hold me, Madie, or I shall rush to extinction in the arms of this siren." She clung to Madie. The song finished, and Will turned round.

"Take it calmly, Miss Gall," he said. "I hope you're not hit too badly."

"Oh—how can you say 'take it calmly'—how can the savage beast be calm!"

"I'm sorry for you," said Will.

"You are the cause of my trouble, dear boy," replied Alice.

"I never thought you'd come," said Madie.

"Skimmed here like an Indian 'brra-ave,'" said Will. "Like Hiawatha towards Minnehaha. I knew you were coming."

"You know," simpered Madie, "It gave me quite a flutter when I heard the piano. It is a year since I saw you. How did you get here?"

"I came on snow-shoes," said he. "Real Indian,—came from Canada—they're just ripping."

"Oh—Aw-w "do" go and put them on and show us—"do!—do" perform for us, Billy dear!" cried Alice.

"Out in the cold and driving sleet—no fear," said he, and he turned to talk to Madie. Alice sat chatting with mother. Soon Tom Smith came, and took a seat next to Marie; and sat quietly looking over his spectacles with his sharp brown eyes, full of scorn for William, full of misgiving for Leslie and Lettie.

Shortly after, George and Emily came in. They were rather nervous. When they had changed their clogs, and Emily had taken off her brown-paper leggings, and he his leather ones, they were not anxious to go into the drawing room. I was surprised—and so was Emily—to see that he had put on dancing shoes.

Emily, ruddy from the cold air, was wearing a wine coloured dress, which suited her luxurious beauty. George's clothes were well made—it was a point on which he was particular, being somewhat self-conscious. He wore a jacket and a dark bow. The other men were in evening dress.

We took them into the drawing-room, where the lamp was not lighted, and the glow of the fire was becoming evident in the dusk. We had taken up the carpet—the floor was all polished—and some of the furniture was taken away—so that the room looked large and ample.

There was general hand shaking, and the newcomers were seated near the fire. First mother talked to them—then the candles were lighted at the piano, and Will played to us. He is an exquisite pianist, full of refinement and poetry. It is astonishing, and it is a fact. Mother went out to attend to the tea, and after a while, Lettie crossed over to Emily and George, and, drawing up a low chair, sat down to talk to them. Leslie stood in the window bay, looking out on the lawn where the snow grew bluer and bluer and the sky almost purple.

Lettie put her hands on Emily's lap, and said softly, "Look—do you like it?"

"What! engaged? exclaimed Emily.

"I am of age, you see," said Lettie.

"It is a beauty, isn't it. Let me try it on, will you? Yes, I've never had a ring. There, it won't go over my knuckle—no—I thought not. Aren't my hands red?—it's the cold—yes, it's too small for me. I do like it."

George sat watching the play of the four hands in his sister's lap, two hands moving so white and fascinating in the twilight, the other two rather red, with rather large bones, looking so nervous, almost hysterical. The ring played between the four hands, giving an occasional flash from the twilight or candlelight.

"You must congratulate me," she said, in a very low voice, and two of us knew she spoke to him.

"As, yes," said Emily, "I do."

"And you?" she said, turning to him who was silent.

"What do you want me to say?" he asked.

"Say what you like."

"Sometime, when I've thought about it."

"Cold dinners!" laughed Lettie, awaking Alice's old sarcasm at his slowness.

"What?" he exclaimed, looking up suddenly at her taunt. She knew she was playing false; she put the ring on her finger and went across the room to Leslie, laying her arm over his shoulder, and leaning her head against him, murmuring softly to him. He, poor fellow, was delighted with her, for she did not display her fondness often.

We went in to tea. The yellow shaded lamp shone softly over the table, where Christmas roses spread wide open among some dark-coloured leaves; where the china and silver and the coloured dishes shone delightfully. We were all very gay and bright; who could be otherwise, seated round a well-laid table, with young company, and the snow outside. George felt awkward when he noticed his hands over the table, but for the rest, we enjoyed ourselves exceedingly.

The conversation veered inevitably to marriage.

"But what have you to say about it, Mr. Smith?" asked little Marie.

"Nothing yet," replied he in his peculiar grating voice. "My marriage is in the unanalysed solution of the future—when I've done the analysis I'll tell you."

"But what do you think about it—?"

"Do you remember Lettie," said Will Bancroft, "that little red-haired girl who was in our year at college? She has just married old Craven out of Physic's department."

"I wish her joy of it!" said Lettie; "wasn't she an old flame of yours?"

"Among the rest," he replied smiling. "Don't you remember you were one of them; you had your day."

"What a joke that was!" exclaimed Lettie, "we used to go in the arboretum at dinner-time. You lasted half one autumn. Do you remember when we gave a concert, you and I, and Frank Wishaw, in the small lecture theatre?"

"When the Prinny was such an old buck, flattering you," continued Will. "And that night Wishaw took you to the station—sent old Gettim for a cab and saw you in, large as life—never was such a thing before. Old Wishaw won you with that cab, didn't he?"

"Oh, how I swelled!" cried Lettie. "There were you all at the top of the steps gazing with admiration! But Frank Wishaw was not a nice fellow, though he played the violin beautifully. I never liked his eyes—"

"No," added Will. "He didn't last long, did he?—though long enough to oust me. We had a giddy ripping time in Coll., didn't we?"

"It was not bad," said Lettie. "Rather foolish. I'm afraid I wasted my three years."

"I think," said Leslie, smiling, "you improved the shining hours to great purpose."

It pleased him to think what a flirt she had been, since the flirting had been harmless, and only added to the glory of his final conquest. George felt very much left out during these reminiscences.

When we had finished tea, we adjourned to the drawing-room. It was in darkness, save for the fire light. The mistletoe had been discovered, and was being appreciated.

"Georgie, Sybil, Sybil, Georgie, come and kiss me," cried Alice.

Will went forward to do her the honour. She ran to me, saying, "Get away, you fat fool—keep on your own preserves. Now Georgie dear, come and kiss me, 'cause you haven't got nobody else but me, no y' ave n't. Do you want to run away, like Georgy-Porgy apple-pie? Shan't cry, sure I shan't, if you are ugly."

She took him and kissed him on either cheek, saying softly, "You shan't be so serious, old boy—buck up, there's a good fellow."

We lighted the lamp, and charades were proposed, Leslie and Lettie, Will and Madie and Alice went out to play. The first scene was an elopement to Gretna Green—with Alice a maid servant, a part that she played wonderfully well as a caricature. It was very noisy, and extremely funny. Leslie was in high spirits. It was remarkable to observe that, as he became more animated, more abundantly energetic, Lettie became quieter. The second scene, which they were playing as excited melodrama, she turned into small tragedy with her bitterness. They went out, and Lettie blew us kisses from the doorway.

"Doesn't she act well?" exclaimed Marie, speaking to Tom.

"Quite realistic," said he.

"She could always play a part well," said mother.

"I should think," said Emily, "she could take a role in life and play up to it."

"I believe she could," mother answered, "there would only be intervals when she would see herself in a mirror acting."

"And what then?" said Marie.

"She would feel desperate, and wait till the fit passed off," replied my mother, smiling significantly.

The players came in again. Lettie kept her part subordinate. Leslie played with brilliance; it was rather startling how he excelled. The applause was loud—but we could not guess the word. Then they laughed, and told us. We clamoured for more.

"Do go, dear," said Lettie to Leslie, "and I will be helping to arrange the room for the dances. I want to watch you—I am rather tired—it is so exciting—Emily will take my place."

They went. Marie and Tom, and Mother and I played bridge in one corner. Lettie said she wanted to show George some new pictures, and they bent over a portfolio for some time. Then she bade him help her to clear the room for the dances.

"Well, you have had time to think," she said to him.

"A short time," he replied. "What shall I say?"

"Tell me what you've been thinking."

"Well—about you——" he answered, smiling foolishly.

"What about me?" she asked, venturesome.

"About you, how you were at college," he replied.

"Oh! I had a good time. I had plenty of boys. I liked them all, till I found there was nothing in them; then they tired me."

"Poor boys!" he said laughing. "Were they all alike?"

"All alike," she replied, "and they are still."

"Pity," he said, smiling. "It's hard lines on you."

"Why?" she asked.

"It leaves you nobody to care for——" he replied.

"How very sarcastic you are. You make one reservation."

"Do I?" he answered, smiling. "But you fire sharp into the air, and then say we're all blank cartridges—except one, of course."

"You?" she queried, ironically—"oh, you would forever hang fire."

"'Cold dinners!'" he quoted in bitterness. "But you knew I loved you. You knew well enough."

"Past tense," she replied, "thanks—make it perfect next time."

"It's you who hang fire—it's you who make me," he said.

"And so from the retort circumstantial to the retort direct,'" she replied, smiling.

"You see—you put me off," he insisted, growing excited. For reply, she held out her hand and showed him the ring. She smiled very quietly. He stared at her with darkening anger.

"Will you gather the rugs and stools together, and put them in that corner?" she said.

He turned away to do so, but he looked back again, and said, in low, passionate tones:

"You never counted me. I was a figure naught in the counting all along."

"See—there is a chair that will be in the way," she replied calmly; but she flushed, and bowed her head. She turned away, and he dragged an armful of rugs into a corner.

When the actors came in, Lettie was moving a vase of flowers. While they played, she sat looking on, smiling, clapping her hands. When it was finished Leslie came and whispered to her, whereon she kissed him unobserved, delighting and exhilarating him more than ever. Then they went out to prepare the next act.

George did not return to her till she called him to help her. Her colour was high in her cheeks.

"How do you know you did not count?" she said nervously, unable to resist the temptation to play this forbidden game.

He laughed, and for a moment could not find any reply.

"I do!" he said. "You knew you could have me any day, so you didn't care."

"Then we're behaving in quite the traditional fashion," she answered with irony.

"But you know," he said, "you began it. You played with me, and showed me heaps of things—and those mornings—when I was binding corn, and when I was gathering the apples, and when I was finishing the straw-stack—you came then—I can never forget those mornings—things will never be the same—You have awakened my life—I imagine things that I couldn't have done."

"Ah!—I am very sorry, I am so sorry."

"Don't be!—don't say so. But what of me?"

"What?" she asked rather startled. He smiled again; he felt the situation, and was a trifle dramatic, though deadly in earnest.

"Well," said he, "you start me off—then leave me at a loose end. What am I going to do?"

"You are a man," she replied.

He laughed. "What does that mean?" he said contemptuously.

"You can go on—which way you like," she answered.

"Oh, well," he said, "we'll see."

"Don't you think so?" she asked, rather anxious.

"I don't know—we'll see," he replied.

They went out with some things. In the hall, she turned to him, with a break in her voice, saying: "Oh, I am so sorry—I am so sorry."

He said, very low and soft,—"Never mind—never mind."

She heard the laughter of those preparing the charade. She drew away and went in the drawing room, saying aloud:

"Now I think everything is ready—we can sit down now."

After the actors had played the last charade, Leslie came and claimed her.

"Now, Madam—are you glad to have me back?"

"That I am," she said. "Don't leave me again, will you?"

"I won't," he replied, drawing her beside him. "I have left my handkerchief in the dining-room," he continued; and they went out together.

Mother gave me permission for the men to smoke.

"You know," said Marie to Tom, "I am surprised that a scientist should smoke. Isn't it a waste of time?"

"Come and light me," he said.

"Nay," she replied, "let science light you."

"Science does—Ah, but science is nothing without a girl to set it going—Yes—Come on—now, don't burn my precious nose."

"Poor George!" cried Alice. "Does he want a ministering angel?"

He was half lying in a big arm chair.

"I do," he replied. "Come on, be my box of soothing ointment. My matches are all loose."

"I'll strike it on my heel, eh? Now, rouse up, or I shall have to sit on your knee to reach you."

"Poor dear—he shall beluxurious," and the dauntless girl perched on his knee.

"What if I singe your whiskers—would you send an Armada? Aw—aw—pretty!—You do look sweet—doesn't he suck prettily?"

"Do you envy me?" he asked, smiling whimsically.

"Ra—ther!"

"Shame to debar you," he said, almost with tenderness.

"Smoke with me."

He offered her the cigarette from his lips. She was surprised, and exceedingly excited by his tender tone. She took the cigarette.

"I'll make a heifer—like Mrs. Daws," she said.

"Don't call yourself a cow," he said.

"Nasty thing—let me go," she exclaimed.

"No—you fit me—don't go," he replied, holding her.

"Then you must have growed. Oh—what great hands—let go. Lettie, come and pinch him."

"What's the matter?" asked my sister.

"He won't let me go."

"He'll be tired first," Lettie answered.

Alice was released, but she did not move. She sat with wrinkled forehead trying his cigarette. She blew out little tiny whiffs of smoke, and thought about it; she sent a small puff down her nostrils, and rubbed her nose.

"It's not as nice as it looks," she said.

He laughed at her with masculine indulgence.

"Pretty boy," she said, stroking his chin.

"Am I?" he murmured languidly.

"Cheek!" she cried, and she boxed his ears. Then "Oh, pore fing!" she said, and kissed him.

She turned round to wink at my mother and at Lettie. She found the latter sitting in the old position with Leslie, two in a chair. He was toying with her arm; holding it and stroking it.

"Isn't it lovely?" he said, kissing the forearm, "so warm and yet so white. Io—it reminds one of Io."

"Somebody else talking about heifers," murmured Alice to George.

"Can you remember," said Leslie, speaking low, "that man in Merimée who wanted to bite his wife and taste her blood?"

"I do," said Lettie. "Have you a strain of wild beast too?"

"Perhaps," he laughed, "I wish these folks had gone. Your hair is all loose in your neck—it looks lovely like that though——"

Alice, the mocker, had unbuttoned the cuff of the thick wrist that lay idly on her knee, and had pushed his sleeve a little way.

"Ah!" she said. "What a pretty arm, brown as an overbaked loaf!"

He watched her smiling.

"Hard as a brick," she added.

"Do you like it?" he drawled.

"No," she said emphatically, in a tone that meant "yes." "It makes me feel shivery." He smiled again.

She superposed her tiny pale, flower-like hands on his.

He lay back looking at them curiously.

"Do you feel as if your hands were full of silver?" she asked almost wistfully, mocking.

"Better than that," he replied gently.

"And your heart full of gold?" she mocked.

"Of hell!" he replied briefly.

Alice looked at him searchingly.

"And am I like a blue-bottle buzzing in your window to keep your company?" she asked.

He laughed.

"Good-bye," she said, slipping down and leaving him.

"Don't go," he said—but too late.

The irruption of Alice into the quiet, sentimental party was like taking a bright light into a sleeping hen-roost. Everybody jumped up and wanted to do something. They cried out for a dance.

"Emily—play a waltz—you won't mind, will you, George? What! You don't dance, Tom? Oh, Marie!"

"I don't mind, Lettie," protested Marie.

"Dance with me, Alice," said George, smiling "and Cyril will take Miss Tempest."

"Glory!—come on—do or die!" said Alice.

We began to dance. I saw Lettie watching, and I looked round. George was waltzing with Alice, dancing passably, laughing at her remarks. Lettie was not listening to what her lover was saying to her; she was watching the laughing pair. At the end she went to George.

"Why!" she said, "You can——"

"Did you think I couldn't?" he said. "You are pledged for a minuet and a valeta with me—you remember?"

"Yes."

"You promise?"

"Yes. But——"

"I went to Nottingham and learned."

"Why—because?—Very well, Leslie, a mazurka. Will you play it, Emily—Yes, it is quite easy. Tom, you look quite happy talking to the Mater."

We danced the mazurka with the same partners. He did it better than I expected—without much awkwardness—but stiffly. However, he moved quietly through the dance, laughing and talking abstractedly all the time with Alice.

Then Lettie cried a change of partners, and they took their valeta. There was a little triumph in his smile.

"Do you congratulate me?" he said.

"I am surprised," she answered.

"So am I. But I congratulate myself."

"Do you? Well, so do I."

"Thanks! You're beginning at last."

"What?" she asked.

"To believe in me."

"Don't begin to talk again," she pleaded sadly, "nothing vital."

"Do you like dancing with me?" he asked

"Now, be quiet—"that's" real," she replied.

"By Heaven, Lettie, you make me laugh!"

"Do I?" she said—"What if you married Alice—soon."

"I—Alice!—Lettie!! Besides, I've only a hundred pounds in the world, and no prospects whatever. That's why—well—I shan't marry anybody—unless its somebody with money."

"I've a couple of thousand or so of my own——"

"Have you? It would have done nicely," he said smiling.

"You are different to-night," she said, leaning on him.

"Am I?" he replied—"It's because things are altered too. They're settled one way now—for the present at least."

"Don't forget the two steps this time," said she smiling, and adding seriously, "You see, I couldn't help it."

"No, why not?"

"Things! I have been brought up to expect it—everybody expected it—and you're bound to do what people expect you to do—you can't help it. We can't help ourselves, we're all chess-men," she said.

"Ay," he agreed, but doubtfully.

"I wonder where it will end," she said.

"Lettie!" he cried, and his hand closed in a grip on her's.

"Don't—don't say anything—it's no good now, it's too late. It's done; and what is done, is done. If you talk any more, I shall say I'm tired and stop the dance. Don't say another word."

He did not—at least to her. Their dance came to an end. Then he took Marie who talked winsomely to him. As he waltzed with Marie he regained his animated spirits. He was very lively the rest of the evening, quite astonishing and reckless. At supper he ate everything, and drank much wine.

"Have some more turkey, Mr. Saxton."

"Thanks—but give me some of that stuff in brown jelly, will you? It's new to me."

"Have some of this trifle, Georgie?"

"I will—you are a jewel."

"So will you be—a yellow topaz tomorrow!"

"Ah! tomorrow's tomorrow!"

After supper was over, Alice cried:

"Georgie, dear—have you finished?—don't die the death of a king—King John—I can't spare you, pet."

"Are you so fond of me?"

"I am—Aw! I'd throw my best Sunday hat under a milk-cart for you, I would!"

"No; throw yourself into the milk-cart—some Sunday, when I'm driving."

"Yes—come and see us," said Emily.

"How nice! Tomorrow you won't want me, Georgie dear, so I'll come. Don't you wish Pa would make Tono-Bungay? Wouldn't you marry me then?"

"I would," said he.

When the cart came, and Alice, Madie, Tom and Will departed, Alice bade Lettie a long farewell—blew Georgie many kisses—promised to love him faithful and true—and was gone.

George and Emily lingered a short time.

Now the room seemed empty and quiet, and all the laughter seemed to have gone. The conversation dribbled away; there was an awkwardness.

"Well," said George heavily, at last. "To-day is nearly gone—it will soon be tomorrow. I feel a bit drunk! We had a good time to-night."

"I am glad," said Lettie.

They put on their clogs and leggings, and wrapped themselves up, and stood in the hall.

"We must go," said George, "before the clock strikes,—like Cinderella—look at my glass slippers—" he pointed to his clogs. "Midnight, and rags, and fleeing. Very appropriate. I shall call myself Cinderella who wouldn't fit. I believe I'm a bit drunk—the world looks funny."

We looked out at the haunting wanness of the hills beyond Nethermere. "Good-bye, Lettie; good-bye."

They were out in the snow, which peered pale and eerily from the depths of the black wood.

"Good-bye," he called out of the darkness. Leslie slammed the door, and drew Lettie away into the drawing-room. The sound of his low, vibrating satisfaction reached us, as he murmured to her, and laughed low. Then he kicked the door of the room shut. Lettie began to laugh and mock and talk in a high strained voice. The sound of their laughter mingled was strange and incongruous. Then her voice died down.

Marie sat at the little piano—which was put in the dining-room—strumming and tinkling the false, quavering old notes. It was a depressing jingling in the deserted remains of the feast, but she felt sentimental, and enjoyed it.

This was a gap between to-day and tomorrow, a dreary gap, where one sat and looked at the dreary comedy of yesterdays, and the grey tragedies of dawning tomorrows, vacantly, missing the poignancy of an actual to-day.

The cart returned.

"Leslie, Leslie, John is here, come along!" called Marie.

There was no answer.

"Leslie—John is waiting in the snow."

"All right."

"But you must come at once." She went to the door and spoke to him. Then he came out looking rather sheepish, and rather angry at the interruption. Lettie followed, tidying her hair. She did not laugh and look confused, as most girls do on similar occasions; she seemed very tired.

At last Leslie tore himself away, and after more returns for a farewell kiss, mounted the carriage, which stood in a pool of yellow light, blurred and splotched with shadows, and drove away, calling something about tomorrow.

PART II

CHAPTER I

STRANGE BLOSSOMS AND STRANGE NEW BUDDING

Winter lay a long time prostrate on the earth. The men in the mines of Tempest, Warrall and Co. came out on strike on a question of the rearranging of the working system down below. The distress was not awful, for the men were on the whole wise and well-conditioned, but there was a dejection over the face of the country-side, and some suffered keenly. Everywhere, along the lanes and in the streets, loitered gangs of men, unoccupied and spiritless. Week after week went on, and the agents of the Miner's Union held great meetings, and the ministers held prayer-meetings, but the strike continued. There was no rest. Always the crier's bell was ringing in the street; always the servants of the company were delivering handbills, stating the case clearly, and always the people talked and filled the months with bitter, and then hopeless, resenting. Schools gave breakfasts, chapels gave soup, well-to-do people gave teas—the children enjoyed it. But we, who knew the faces of the old men and the privations of the women, breathed a cold, disheartening atmosphere of sorrow and trouble.

Determined poaching was carried on in the Squire's woods and warrens. Annable defended his game heroically. One man was at home with a leg supposed to be wounded by a fall on the slippery roads—but really, by a man-trap in the woods. Then Annable caught two men, and they were sentenced to two months' imprisonment.

On both the lodge gates of Highclose—on our side and on the far Eberwich side—were posted notices that trespassers on the drive or in the grounds would be liable to punishment. These posters were soon mudded over, and fresh ones fixed.

The men loitering on the road by Nethermere, looked angrily at Lettie as she passed, in her black furs which Leslie had given her, and their remarks were pungent. She heard them, and they burned in her heart. From my mother she inherited democratic views, which she now proceeded to debate warmly with her lover.

Then she tried to talk to Leslie about the strike. He heard her with mild superiority, smiled, and said she did not know. Women jumped to conclusions at the first touch of feeling; men must look at a thing all round, then make a decision—nothing hasty and impetuous—careful, long-thought-out, correct decisions. Women could not be expected to understand these things, business was not for them; in fact, their mission was above business—etc., etc., Unfortunately Lettie was the wrong woman to treat thus.

"So!" said she, with a quiet, hopeless tone of finality.

"There now, you understand, don't you, Minnehaha, my Laughing Water—So laugh again, darling, and don't worry about these things. We will not talk about them any more, eh?"

"No more."

"No more—that's right—you are as wise as an angel. Come here—pooh, the wood is thick and lonely! Look, there is nobody in the world but us, and you are my heaven and earth!"

"And hell?"

"Ah—if you are so cold—how cold you are!—it gives me little shivers when you look so—and I am always hot—Lettie!"

"Well?"

"You are cruel! Kiss me—now—No, I don't want your cheek—kiss me yourself. Why don't you say something?"

"What for? What's the use of saying anything when there's nothing immediate to say?"

"You are offended!"

"It feels like snow to-day," she answered.

At last, however, winter began to gather her limbs, to rise, and drift with saddened garments northward.

The strike was over. The men had compromised. It was a gentle way of telling them they were beaten. But the strike was over.

The birds fluttered and dashed; the catkins on the hazel loosened their winter rigidity, and swung soft tassels. All through the day sounded long, sweet whistlings from the brushes; then later, loud, laughing shouts of bird triumph on every hand.

I remember a day when the breast of the hills was heaving in a last quick waking sigh, and the blue eyes of the waters opened bright. Across the infinite skies of March great rounded masses of cloud had sailed stately all day, domed with a white radiance, softened with faint, fleeting shadows as if companies of angels were gently sweeping past; adorned with resting, silken shadows like those of a full white breast. All day the clouds had moved on to their vast destination, and I had clung to the earth yearning and impatient. I took a brush and tried to paint them, then I raged at myself. I wished that in all the wild valley where cloud shadows were travelling like pilgrims, something would call me forth from my rooted loneliness. Through all the grandeur of the white and blue day, the poised cloud masses swung their slow flight, and left me unnoticed.

At evening they were all gone, and the empty sky, like a blue bubble over us, swam on its pale bright rims.

Leslie came, and asked his betrothed to go out with him, under the darkening wonderful bubble. She bade me accompany her, and, to escape from myself, I went.

It was warm in the shelter of the wood and in the crouching hollows of the hills. But over the slanting shoulders of the hills the wind swept, whipping the redness into our faces.

"Get me some of those alder catkins, Leslie," said Lettie, as we came down to the stream.

"Yes, those, where they hang over the brook. They are ruddy like new blood freshening under the skin. Look, tassels of crimson and gold!" She pointed to the dusty hazel catkins mingled with the alder on her bosom. Then she began to quote Christina Rossetti's "A Birthday."

"I'm glad you came to take me a walk," she continued—"Doesn't Strelley Mill look pretty? Like a group of orange and scarlet fungi in a fairy picture. Do you know, I haven't been, no, not for quite a long time. Shall we call now?"

"The daylight will be gone if we do. It is half past five—more! I saw him—the son—the other morning."

"Where?"

"He was carting manure—I made haste by."

"Did he speak to you—did you look at him?"

"No, he said nothing. I glanced at him—he's just the same, brick colour—stolid. Mind that stone—it rocks. I'm glad you've got strong boots on."

"Seeing that I usually wear them——"

She stood poised a moment on a large stone, the fresh spring brook hastening towards her, deepening, sidling round her.

"You won't call and see them, then?" she asked.

"No. I like to hear the brook tinkling, don't you?" he replied.

"Ah, yes—it's full of music."

"Shall we go on?" he said, impatient but submissive.

"I'll catch up in a minute," said I.

I went in and found Emily putting some bread into the oven.

"Come out for a walk," said I.

"Now? Let me tell mother—I was longing——"

She ran and put on her long grey coat and her red tam-o-shanter. As we went down the yard, George called to me.

"I'll come back," I shouted.

He came to the crew-yard gate to see us off. When we came out onto the path, we saw Lettie standing on the top bar of the stile, balancing with her hand on Leslie's head. She saw us, she saw George, and she waved to us. Leslie was looking up at her anxiously. She waved again, then we could hear her laughing, and telling him excitedly to stand still, and steady her while she turned. She turned round, and leaped with a great flutter, like a big bird launching, down from the top of the stile to the ground and into his arms. Then we climbed the steep hill-side—Sunny Bank, that had once shone yellow with wheat, and now waved black tattered ranks of thistles where the rabbits ran. We passed the little cottages in the hollow scooped out of the hill, and gained the highlands that look out over Leicestershire to Charnwood on the left, and away into the mountain knob of Derbyshire straight in front and towards the right.

The upper road is all grassy, fallen into long disuse. It used to lead from the Abbey to the Hall; but now it ends blindly on the hill-brow. Half way along is the old White House farm, with its green mounting steps mouldering outside. Ladies have mounted here and ridden towards the Vale of Belvoir—but now a labourer holds the farm.

We came to the quarries, and looked in at the lime-kilns.

"Let us go right into the wood out of the quarry," said Leslie. "I have not been since I was a little lad."

"It is trespassing," said Emily.

"We don't trespass," he replied grandiloquently.

So we went along by the hurrying brook, which fell over little cascades in its haste, never looking once at the primroses that were glimmering all along its banks. We turned aside, and climbed the hill through the woods. Velvety green sprigs of dog-mercury were scattered on the red soil. We came to the top of a slope, where the wood thinned. As I talked to Emily I became dimly aware of a whiteness over the ground. She exclaimed with surprise, and I found that I was walking, in the first shades of twilight, over clumps of snowdrops. The hazels were thin, and only here and there an oak tree uprose. All the ground was white with snowdrops, like drops of manna scattered over the red earth, on the grey-green clusters of leaves. There was a deep little dell, sharp sloping like a cup, and white sprinkling of flowers all the way down, with white flowers showing pale among the first inpouring of shadow at the bottom. The earth was red and warm, pricked with the dark, succulent green of bluebell sheaths, and embroidered with grey-green clusters of spears, and many white flowerets. High above, above the light tracery of hazel, the weird oaks tangled in the sunset. Below, in the first shadows, drooped hosts of little white flowers, so silent and sad; it seemed like a holy communion of pure wild things, numberless, frail, and folded meekly in the evening light. Other flower companies are glad; stately barbaric hordes of bluebells, merry-headed cowslip groups, even light, tossing wood-anemones; but snowdrops are sad and mysterious. We have lost their meaning. They do not belong to us, who ravish them. The girls bent among them, touching them with their fingers, and symbolising the yearning which I felt. Folded in the twilight, these conquered flowerets are sad like forlorn little friends of dryads.

"What do they mean, do you think?" said Lettie in a low voice, as her white fingers touched the flowers, and her black furs fell on them.

"There are not so many this year," said Leslie.

"They remind me of mistletoe, which is never ours, though we wear it," said Emily to me.

"What do you think they say—what do they make you think, Cyril?" Lettie repeated.

"I don't know. Emily says they belong to some old wild lost religion. They were the symbol of tears, perhaps, to some strange hearted Druid folk before us."

"More than tears," said Lettie. "More than tears, they are so still. Something out of an old religion, that we have lost. They make me feel afraid."

"What should you have to fear?" asked Leslie.

"If I knew I shouldn't fear," she answered. "Look at all the snowdrops"—they hung in dim, strange flecks among the dusky leaves—"look at them—closed up, retreating, powerless. They belong to some knowledge we have lost, that I have lost and that I need. I feel afraid. They seem like something in fate. Do you think, Cyril, we can lose things off the earth—like mastodons, and those old monstrosities—but things that matter—wisdom?"

"It is against my creed," said I.

"I believe I have lost something," said she.

"Come," said Leslie, "don't trouble with fancies. Come with me to the bottom of this cup, and see how strange it will be, with the sky marked with branches like a filigree lid."

She rose and followed him down the steep side of the pit, crying, "Ah, you are treading on the flowers."

"No," said he, "I am being very careful."

They sat down together on a fallen tree at the bottom. She leaned forward, her fingers wandering white among the shadowed grey spaces of leaves, plucking, as if it were a rite, flowers here and there. He could not see her face.

"Don't you care for me?" he asked softly.

"You?"—she sat up and looked at him, and laughed strangely. "You do not seem real to me," she replied, in a strange voice.

For some time they sat thus, both bowed and silent. Birds "skirred" off from the bushes, and Emily looked up with a great start as a quiet, sardonic voice said above us:

"A dove-cot, my eyes if it ain't! It struck me I 'eered a cooin', an' 'ere's th' birds. Come on, sweethearts, it's th' wrong place for billin' an' cooin', in th' middle o' these 'ere snowdrops. Let's 'ave yer names, come on."

"Clear off, you fool!" answered Leslie from below, jumping up in anger.

We all four turned and looked at the keeper. He stood in the rim of light, darkly; fine, powerful form, menacing us. He did not move, but like some malicious Pan looked down on us and said:

"Very pretty—pretty! Two—and two makes four. 'Tis true, two and two makes four. Come on, come on out o' this 'ere bridal bed, an' let's 'ave a look at yer."

"Can't you use your eyes, you fool," replied Leslie, standing up and helping Lettie with her furs. "At any rate you can see there are ladies here."

"Very sorry, Sir! You can't tell a lady from a woman at this distance at dusk. Who may you be, Sir?"

"Clear out! Come along, Lettie, you can't stay here now."

They climbed into the light.

"Oh, very sorry, Mr. Tempest—when yer look down on a man he never looks the same. I thought it was some young fools come here dallyin'—"

"Damn you—shut up!" exclaimed Leslie—"I beg your pardon, Lettie. Will you have my arm?"

They looked very elegant, the pair of them. Lettie was wearing a long coat which fitted close; she had a small hat whose feathers flushed straight back with her hair.

The keeper looked at them. Then, smiling, he went down the dell with great strides, and returned, saying, "Well, the lady might as well take her gloves."

She took them from him, shrinking to Leslie. Then she started, and said:

"Let me fetch my flowers."

She ran for the handful of snowdrops that lay among the roots of the trees. We all watched her.

"Sorry I made such a mistake—a lady!" said Annable. "But I've nearly forgot the sight o' one—save the squire's daughters, who are never out o' nights."

"I should think you never have seen many—unless—! Have you ever been a groom?"

"No groom but a bridegroom, Sir, and then I think I'd rather groom a horse than a lady, for I got well bit—if you will excuse me, Sir."

"And you deserved it—no doubt."

"I got it—an' I wish you better luck, Sir. One's more a man here in th' wood, though, than in my lady's parlour, it strikes me."

"A lady's parlour!" laughed Leslie, indulgent in his amusement at the facetious keeper.

"Oh, yes! 'Will you walk into my parlour——'"

"You're very smart for a keeper."

"Oh, yes Sir—I was once a lady's man. But I'd rather watch th' rabbits an' th' birds; an' it's easier breeding brats in th' Kennels than in th' town."

"They are yours, are they?" said I.

"You know 'em, do you, Sir? Aren't they a lovely little litter?—aren't they a pretty bag o' ferrets?—natural as weasels—that's what I said they should be—bred up like a bunch o' young foxes, to run as they would."

Emily had joined Lettie, and they kept aloof from the man they instinctively hated.

"They'll get nicely trapped, one of these days," said I.

"They're natural—they can fend for themselves like wild beasts do," he replied, grinning.

"You are not doing your duty, it strikes me," put in Leslie sententiously.

The man laughed.

"Duties of parents!—tell me, I've need of it. I've nine—that is eight, and one not far off. She breeds well, the ow'd lass—one every two years—nine in fourteen years—done well, hasn't she?"

"You've done pretty badly, I think."

"I—why? It's natural! When a man's more than nature he's a devil. Be a good animal, says I, whether it's man or woman. You, Sir, a good natural male animal; the lady there—a female un—that's proper as long as yer enjoy it."

"And what then?"

"Do as th' animals do. I watch my brats—I let 'em grow. They're beauties, they are—sound as a young ash pole, every one. They shan't learn to dirty themselves wi' smirking deviltry—not if I can help it. They can be like birds, or weasels, or vipers, or squirrels, so long as they ain't human rot, that's what I say."

"It's one way of looking at things," said Leslie.

"Ay. Look at the women looking at us. I'm something between a bull and a couple of worms stuck together, I am. See that spink!" he raised his voice for the girls to hear. "Pretty, isn't he? What for?—And what for do you wear a fancy vest and twist your moustache, Sir! What for, at the bottom! Ha—tell a woman not to come in a wood till she can look at natural things—she might see something—Good night, Sir."

He marched off into the darkness.

"Coarse fellow, that," said Leslie when he had rejoined Lettie, "but he's a character."

"He makes you shudder," she replied. "But yet you are interested in him. I believe he has a history."

"He seems to lack something," said Emily.

"I thought him rather a fine fellow," said I.

"Splendidly built fellow, but callous—no soul," remarked Leslie, dismissing the question.

"No," assented Emily. "No soul—and among the snowdrops."

Lettie was thoughtful, and I smiled.

It was a beautiful evening, still, with red, shaken clouds in the west. The moon in heaven was turning wistfully back to the east. Dark purple woods lay around us, painting out the distance. The near, wild, ruined land looked sad and strange under the pale afterglow. The turf path was fine and springy.

"Let us run!" said Lettie, and joining hands we raced wildly along, with a flutter and a breathless laughter, till we were happy and forgetful. When we stopped we exclaimed at once, "Hark!"

"A child!" said Lettie.

"At the Kennels," said I.

We hurried forward. From the house came the mad yelling and yelping of children, and the wild hysterical shouting of a woman.

"Tha' little devil—tha' little devil—tha' shanna—that tha' shanna!" and this was accompanied by the hollow sound of blows, and a pandemonium of howling. We rushed in, and found the woman in a tousled frenzy belabouring a youngster with an enamelled pan. The lad was rolled up like a young hedgehog—the woman held him by the foot, and like a flail came the hollow utensil thudding on his shoulders and back. He lay in the firelight and howled, while scattered in various groups, with the leaping firelight twinkling over their tears and their open mouths, were the other children, crying too. The mother was in a state of hysteria; her hair streamed over her face, and her eyes were fixed in a stare of overwrought irritation. Up and down went her long arm like a windmill sail. I ran and held it. When she could hit no more, the woman dropped the pan from her nerveless hand, and staggered, trembling, to the squab. She looked desperately weary and fordone—she clasped and unclasped her hands continually. Emily hushed the children, while Lettie hushed the mother, holding her hard, cracked hands as she swayed to and fro. Gradually the mother became still, and sat staring in front of her; then aimlessly she began to finger the jewels on Lettie's finger.

Emily was bathing the cheek of a little girl, who lifted up her voice and wept loudly when she saw the speck of blood on the cloth. But presently she became quiet too, and Emily could empty the water from the late instrument of castigation, and at last light the lamp.

I found Sam under the table in a little heap. I put out my hand for him, and he wriggled away, like a lizard, into the passage. After a while I saw him in a corner, lying whimpering with little savage cries of pain. I cut off his retreat and captured him, bearing him struggling into the kitchen. Then, weary with pain, he became passive.

We undressed him, and found his beautiful white body all discoloured with bruises. The mother began to sob again, with a chorus of babies. The girls tried to soothe the weeping, while I rubbed butter into the silent, wincing boy. Then his mother caught him in her arms, and kissed him passionately, and cried with abandon. The boy let himself be kissed—then he too began to sob, till his little body was all shaken. They folded themselves together, the poor dishevelled mother and the half-naked boy, and wept themselves still. Then she took him to bed, and the girls helped the other little ones into their nightgowns, and soon the house was still.

"I canna manage 'em, I canna," said the mother mournfully. "They growin' beyont me—I dunna know what to do wi' 'em. An' niver a 'and does 'e lift ter 'elp me—no—'e cares not a thing for me—not a thing—nowt but makes a mock an' a sludge o' me."

"Ah, baby!" said Lettie, setting the bonny boy on his feet, and holding up his trailing nightgown behind him, "do you want to walk to your mother—go then—Ah!"

The child, a handsome little fellow of some sixteen months, toddled across to his mother, waving his hands as he went, and laughing, while his large hazel eyes glowed with pleasure. His mother caught him, pushed the silken brown hair back from his forehead, and laid his cheek against hers.

"Ah!" she said, "Tha's got a funny Dad, tha' has, not like another man, no, my duckie. 'E's got no 'art ter care for nobody, 'e 'asna, ma pigeon—no,—lives like a stranger to his own flesh an' blood."

The girl with the wounded cheek had found comfort in Leslie. She was seated on his knee, looking at him with solemn blue eyes, her solemnity increased by the quaint round head, whose black hair was cut short.

"'S my chalk, yes it is, 'n our Sam says as it's 'issen, an' 'e ta'es it and marks it all gone, so I wouldna gie 't 'im,"—she clutched in her fat little hand a piece of red chalk. "My Dad gen it me, ter mark my dolly's face red, what's on'y wood—I'll show yer."

She wriggled down, and holding up her trailing gown with one hand, trotted to a corner piled with a child's rubbish, and hauled out a hideous carven caricature of a woman, and brought it to Leslie. The face of the object was streaked with red.

"'Ere sh' is, my dolly, what my Dad make me—'er name's Lady Mima."

"Is it?" said Lettie, "and are these her cheeks? She's not pretty, is she?"

"Um—sh' is. My Dad says sh' is—like a lady."

"And he gave you her rouge, did he?"

"Rouge!" she nodded.

"And you wouldn't let Sam have it?"

"No—an' mi mower says, Dun gie 't 'im'—'n 'e bite me."

"What will your father say?"

"Me Dad?"

"'E'd nobbut laugh," put in the mother, "an' say as a bite's bett'r'n a kiss."

"Brute!" said Leslie feelingly.

"No, but 'e never laid a finger on 'em—nor me neither. But 'e's not like another man—niver tells yer nowt. He's more a stranger to me this day than 'e wor th' day I first set eyes on 'im."

"Where was that?" asked Lettie.

"When I wor a lass at th' 'All—an' 'im a new man come—fair a gentleman, an' a, an' a! An even now can read an' talk like a gentleman—but 'e tells me nothing—Oh no—what am I in 'is eyes but a sludge bump?—'e's above me, 'e is, an' above 'is own childer. God a-mercy, 'e 'll be in in a minute. Come on 'ere!"

She hustled the children to bed, swept the litter into a corner, and began to lay the table. The cloth was spotless, and she put him a silver spoon in the saucer.

We had only just got out of the house when he drew near. I saw his massive figure in the doorway, and the big, prolific woman moved subserviently about the room.

"Hullo, Proserpine—had visitors?"

"I never axed 'em—they come in 'earin' th' childer cryin'. I never encouraged 'em——"

We hurried away into the night. "Ah, it's always the woman bears the burden," said Lettie bitterly.

"If he'd helped her—wouldn't she have been a fine woman now—splendid? But she's dragged to bits. Men are brutes—and marriage just gives scope to them," said Emily.

"Oh, you wouldn't take that as a fair sample of marriage," replied Leslie. "Think of you and me, Minnehaha."

"Ay."

"Oh—I meant to tell you—what do you think of Greymede old vicarage for us?"

"It's a lovely old place!" exclaimed Lettie, and we passed out of hearing.

We stumbled over the rough path. The moon was bright, and we stepped apprehensively on the shadows thrown from the trees, for they lay so black and substantial. Occasionally a moonbeam would trace out a suave white branch that the rabbits had gnawed quite bare in the hard winter. We came out of the woods into the full heavens. The northern sky was full of a gush of green light; in front, eclipsed Orion leaned over his bed, and the moon followed.

"When the northern lights are up," said Emily, "I feel so strange—half eerie—they do fill you with awe, don't they?"

"Yes," said I, "they make you wonder, and look, and expect something."

"What do you expect?" she said softly, and looked up, and saw me smiling, and she looked down again, biting her lips.

When we came to the parting of the roads, Emily begged them just to step into the mill—just for a moment—and Lettie consented.

The kitchen window was uncurtained, and the blind, as usual, was not drawn. We peeped in through the cords of budding honeysuckle. George and Alice were sitting at the table playing chess; the mother was mending a coat, and the father, as usual, was reading. Alice was talking quietly, and George was bent on the game. His arms lay on the table.

We made a noise at the door, and entered. George rose heavily, shook hands, and sat down again.

"Hullo, Lettie Beardsall, you are a stranger," said Alice. "Are you "so" much engaged?"

"Ay—we don't see much of her nowadays," added the father in his jovial way.

"And isn't she a toff, in her fine hat and furs and snowdrops. Look at her, George, you've never looked to see what a toff she is."

He raised his eyes, and looked at her apparel and at her flowers, but not at her face:

"Ay, she is fine," he said, and returned to the chess.

"We have been gathering snowdrops," said Lettie, fingering the flowers in her bosom.

"They are pretty—give me some, will you?" said Alice, holding out her hand. Lettie gave her the flowers.

"Check!" said George deliberately.

"Get out!" replied his opponent, "I've got some snowdrops—don't they suit me, an innocent little soul like me? Lettie won't wear them—she's not meek and mild and innocent like me. Do you want some?"

"If you like—what for?"

"To make you pretty, of course, and to show you an innocent little meekling."

"You're in check," he said.

"Where can you wear them?—there's only your shirt. Aw!—there!"—she stuck a few flowers in his ruffled black hair—"Look, Lettie, isn't he sweet?"

Lettie laughed with a strained little laugh:

"He's like Bottom and the ass's head," she said.

"Then I'm Titania—don't I make a lovely fairy queen, Bully Bottom?—and who's jealous Oberon?"

"He reminds me of that man in Hedda Gabler—crowned with vine leaves—oh, yes, vine leaves," said Emily.

"How's your mare's sprain, Mr. Tempest?" George asked, taking no notice of the flowers in his hair.

"Oh—she'll soon be all right, thanks."

"Ah—George told me about it," put in the father, and he held Leslie in conversation.

"Am I in check, George?" said Alice, returning to the game. She knitted her brows and cogitated:

"Pooh!" she said, "that's soon remedied!"—she moved her piece, and said triumphantly, "Now, Sir!"

He surveyed the game, and, with deliberation moved. Alice pounced on him; with a leap of her knight she called "check!"

"I didn't see it—you may have the game now," he said.

"Beaten, my boy!—don't crow over a woman any more. Stale-mate—with flowers in your hair!"

He put his hand to his head, and felt among his hair, and threw the flowers on the table.

"Would you believe it——!" said the mother, coming into the room from the dairy.

"What?" we all asked.

"Nickie Ben's been and eaten the sile cloth. Yes! When I went to wash it, there sat Nickie Ben gulping, and wiping the froth off his whiskers."

George laughed loudly and heartily. He laughed till he was tired. Lettie looked and wondered when he would be done.

"I imagined," he gasped, "how he'd feel with half a yard of muslin creeping down his throttle."

This laughter was most incongruous. He went off into another burst. Alice laughed too—it was easy to infect her with laughter. Then the father began—and in walked Nickie Ben, stepping disconsolately—we all roared again, till the rafters shook. Only Lettie looked impatiently for the end. George swept his bare arms across the table, and the scattered little flowers fell broken to the ground.

"Oh—what a shame!" exclaimed Lettie.

"What?" said he, looking round. "Your flowers? Do you feel sorry for them?—you're too tender hearted; isn't she, Cyril?"

"Always was—for dumb animals, and things," said I.

"Don't you wish you was a little dumb animal, Georgie?" said Alice.

He smiled, putting away the chess-men.

"Shall we go, dear?" said Lettie to Leslie.

"If you are ready," he replied, rising with alacrity.

"I am tired," she said plaintively.

He attended to her with little tender solicitations.

"Have we walked too far?" he asked.

"No, it's not that. No—it's the snowdrops, and the man, and the children—and everything. I feel just a bit exhausted."

She kissed Alice, and Emily, and the mother.

"Good-night, Alice," she said. "It's not altogether my fault we're strangers. You know—really—I'm just the same—really. Only you imagine, and then what can I do?"

She said farewell to George, and looked at him through a quiver of suppressed tears.

George was somewhat flushed with triumph over Lettie: She had gone home with tears shaken from her eyes unknown to her lover; at the farm George laughed with Alice.

We escorted Alice home to Eberwich—"Like a blooming little monkey dangling from two boughs," as she put it, when we swung her along on our arms. We laughed and said many preposterous things. George wanted to kiss her at parting, but she tipped him under the chin and said, "Sweet!" as one does to a canary. Then she laughed with her tongue between her teeth, and ran indoors.

"She is a little devil," said he.

We took the long way home by Greymede, and passed the dark schools.

"Come on," said he, "let's go in the 'Ram Inn,' and have a look at my cousin Meg."

It was half past ten when he marched me across the road and into the sanded passage of the little inn. The place had been an important farm in the days of George's grand-uncle, but since his decease it had declined, under the governance of the widow and a man-of-all-work. The old grand-aunt was propped and supported by a splendid grand-daughter. The near kin of Meg were all in California, so she, a bonny delightful girl of twenty-four, stayed near her grand-ma.

As we tramped grittily down the passage, the red head of Bill poked out of the bar, and he said as he recognised George:

"Good-ev'nin'—go forward—'er's non abed yit."

We went forward, and unlatched the kitchen door. The great-aunt was seated in her little, round-backed armchair, sipping her "night-cap."

"Well, George, my lad!" she cried, in her querulous voice. "Tha' niver says it's thai, does ter? That's com'n for summat, for sure, else what brings thee ter see me?"

"No," he said. "Ah'n com ter see thee, nowt else. Wheer's Meg?"

"Ah!—Ha—Ha—Ah!—Me, did ter say?—come ter see me?—Ha—wheer's Meg!—an' who's this young gentleman?"

I was formally introduced, and shook the clammy corded hand of the old lady.

"Tha' looks delikit," she observed, shaking her cap and its scarlet geraniums sadly: "Cum now, sit thee down, an' dunna look so long o' th' leg."

I sat down on the sofa, on the cushions covered with blue and red checks. The room was very hot, and I stared about uncomfortably. The old lady sat peering at nothing, in reverie. She was a hard-visaged, bosomless dame, clad in thick black cloth-like armour, and wearing an immense twisted gold brooch in the lace at her neck.

We heard heavy, quick footsteps above.

"Er's commin'," remarked the old lady, rousing from her apathy. The footsteps came downstairs—quickly, then cautiously round the bend. Meg appeared in the doorway. She started with surprise, saying:

"Well, I 'eered sumbody, but I never thought it was you." More colour still flamed into her glossy cheeks, and she smiled in her fresh, frank way. I think I have never seen a woman who had more physical charm; there was a voluptuous fascination in her every outline and movement; one never listened to the words that came from her lips, one watched the ripe motion of those red fruits.

"Get 'em a drop o' whiskey, Meg—you'll 'a'e a drop?"

I declined firmly, but did not escape.

"Nay," declared the old dame. "I s'll ha'e none o' thy no's. Should ter like it 'ot?—Say th' word, an' tha' 'as it."

I did not say the word.

"Then gi'e 'im claret," pronounced my hostess, "though it's thin-bellied stuff ter go to ter bed on"—and claret it was.

Meg went out again to see about closing. The grand-aunt sighed, and sighed again, for no perceptible reason but the whiskey.

"It's well you've come ter see me now," she moaned, "for you'll none 'a'e a chance next time you come'n;—No—I'm all gone but my cap——" She shook that geraniumed erection, and I wondered what sardonic fate left it behind.

"An' I'm forced ter say it, I s'll be thankful to be gone," she added, after a few sighs.

This weariness of the flesh was touching. The cruel truth is, however, that the old lady clung to life like a louse to a pig's back. Dying, she faintly, but emphatically declared herself, "a bit better—a bit better. I s'll be up to-morrow."

"I should a gone before now," she continued, "but for that blessed wench—I canna abear to think o' leavin 'er—come drink up, my lad, drink up—nay, tha' 'rt nobbut young yet, tha' 'rt none topped up wi' a thimbleful."

I took whiskey in preference to the acrid stuff.

"Ay," resumed the grand-aunt. "I canna go in peace till 'er's settled—an' 'er's that tickle o' choosin'. Th' right sort 'asn't th' gumption ter ax' er."

She sniffed, and turned scornfully to her glass. George grinned and looked conscious; as he swallowed a gulp of whiskey it crackled in his throat. The sound annoyed the old lady.

"Tha' might be scar'd at summat," she said. "Tha' niver 'ad six drops o' spunk in thee."

She turned again with a sniff to her glass. He frowned with irritation, half filled his glass with liquor, and drank again.

"I dare bet as tha' niver kissed a wench in thy life—not proper"—and she tossed the last drops of her toddy down her skinny throat.

Here Meg came along the passage.

"Come, gran'ma," she said. "I'm sure it's time as you was in bed—come on."

"Sit thee down an' drink a drop wi's—it's not ivry night as we 'a'e cumpny."

"No, let me take you to bed—I'm sure you must be ready."

"Sit thee down 'ere, I say, an' get thee a drop o' port. Come—no argy-bargyin'."

Meg fetched more glasses and a decanter. I made a place for her between me and George. We all had port wine. Meg, naïve and unconscious, waited on us deliciously. Her cheeks gleamed like satin when she laughed, save when the dimples held the shadow. Her suave, tawny neck was bare and bewitching. She turned suddenly to George as he asked her a question, and they found their faces close together. He kissed her, and when she started back, jumped and kissed her neck with warmth.

"Là—là—dy—dà—là—dy—dà—dy—dà," cried the old woman in delight, and she clutched her wineglass.

"Come on—chink!" she cried, "all together—chink to him!"

We four chinked and drank. George poured wine in a tumbler, and drank it off. He was getting excited, and all the energy and passion that normally were bound down by his caution and self-instinct began to flame out.

"Here, aunt!" said he, lifting his tumbler, "here's to what you want—you know!"

"I knowed tha' wor as spunky as ony on'em," she cried. "Tha' nobbut wanted warmin' up. I'll see as you're all right. It's a bargain. Chink again, ivrybody."

"A bargain," said he before he put his lips to the glass.

"What bargain's that?" said Meg.

The old lady laughed loudly and winked at George, who, with his lips wet with wine, got up and kissed Meg soundly, saying:

"There it is—that seals it."

Meg wiped her face with her big pinafore, and seemed uncomfortable.

"Aren't you comin', gran'ma?" she pleaded.

"Eh, tha' wants ter 'orry me off—what's thai say, George—a deep un, isna 'er?"

"Dunna go, Aunt, dunna be hustled off."

"Tush—Pish," snorted the old lady. "Yah, tha' 'rt a slow un, an' no mistakes! Get a candle, Meg, I'm ready."

Meg brought a brass bedroom candlestick. Bill brought in the money in a tin box, and delivered it into the hands of the old lady.

"Go thy ways to bed now, lad," said she to the ugly, wizened serving-man. He sat in a corner and pulled off his boots.

"Come an' kiss me good-night, George," said the old woman—and as he did so she whispered in his ear, whereat he laughed loudly. She poured whiskey into her glass and called to the serving-man to drink it. Then, pulling herself up heavily, she leaned on Meg and went upstairs. She had been a big woman, one could see, but now her shapeless, broken figure looked pitiful beside Meg's luxuriant form. We heard them slowly, laboriously climb the stairs. George sat pulling his moustache and half-smiling; his eyes were alight with that peculiar childish look they had when he was experiencing new and doubtful sensations. Then he poured himself more whiskey.

"I say, steady!" I admonished.

"What for!" he replied, indulging himself like a spoiled child and laughing.

Bill, who had sat for some time looking at the hole in his stocking, drained his glass, and with a sad "Good-night," creaked off upstairs.

Presently Meg came down, and I rose and said we must be going.

"I'll just come an' lock the door after you," said she, standing uneasily waiting.

George got up. He gripped the edge of the table to steady himself; then he got his balance, and, with his eyes on Meg, said:

"'Ere!" he nodded his head to her. "Come here, I want ter ax thee sumwhat."

She looked at him, half-smiling, half doubtful. He put his arm round her and looking down into her eyes, with his face very close to hers, said:

"Let's ha'e a kiss."

Quite unresisting she yielded him her mouth, looking at him intently with her bright brown eyes. He kissed her, and pressed her closely to him.

"I'm going to marry thee," he said.

"Go on!" she replied, softly, half glad, half doubtful.

"I am an' all," he repeated, pressing her more tightly to him.

I went down the passage, and stood in the open doorway looking out into the night. It seemed a long time. Then I heard the thin voice of the old woman at the top of the stairs:

"Meg! Meg! Send 'im off now. Come on!"

In the silence that followed there was a murmur of voices, and then they came into the passage.

"Good-night, my lad, good luck to thee!" cried the voice like a ghoul from upper regions.

He kissed his betrothed a rather hurried good-night at the door.

"Good-night," she replied softly, watching him retreat. Then we heard her shoot the heavy bolts.

"You know," he began, and he tried to clear his throat. His voice was husky and strangulated with excitement. He tried again:

"You know—she—she's a clinker."

I did not reply, but he took no notice.

"Damn!" he ejaculated. "What did I let her go for!"

We walked along in silence—his excitement abated somewhat.

"It's the way she swings her body—an' the curves as she stands. It's when you look at her—you feel—you know."

I suppose I knew, but it was unnecessary to say so.

"You know—if ever I dream in the night—of women—you know—it's always Meg; she seems to look so soft, and to curve her body——"

Gradually his feet began to drag. When we came to the place where the colliery railway crossed the road, he stumbled, and pitched forward, only just recovering himself. I took hold of his arm.

"Good Lord, Cyril, am I drunk?" he said.

"Not quite," said I.

"No," he muttered, "couldn't be."

But his feet dragged again, and he began to stagger from side to side. I took hold of his arm. He murmured angrily—then, subsiding again, muttered, with slovenly articulation:

"I—I feel fit to drop with sleep."

Along the dead, silent roadway, and through the uneven blackness of the wood, we lurched and stumbled. He was very heavy and difficult to direct. When at last we came to the brook we splashed straight through the water. I urged him to walk steadily and quietly across the yard. He did his best, and we made a fairly still entry into the farm. He dropped with all his weight on the sofa, and leaning down, began to unfasten his leggings. In the midst of his fumblings he fell asleep, and I was afraid he would pitch forward on to his head. I took off his leggings and his wet boots and his collar. Then, as I was pushing and shaking him awake to get off his coat, I heard a creaking on the stairs, and my heart sank, for I thought it was his mother. But it was Emily, in her long white nightgown. She looked at us with great dark eyes of terror, and whispered: "What's the matter?"

I shook my head and looked at him. His head had dropped down on his chest again.

"Is he hurt?" she asked, her voice becoming audible, and dangerous. He lifted his head, and looked at her with heavy, angry eyes.

"George!" she said sharply, in bewilderment and fear. His eyes seemed to contract evilly.

"Is he drunk?" she whispered, shrinking away, and looking at me. "Have you made him drunk—you?"

I nodded. I too was angry.

"Oh, if mother gets up! I must get him to bed! Oh, how could you!"

This sibilant whispering irritated him, and me. I tugged at his coat. He snarled incoherently, and swore. She caught her breath. He looked at her sharply, and I was afraid he would wake himself into a rage.

"Go upstairs!" I whispered to her. She shook her head. I could see him taking heavy breaths, and the veins of his neck were swelling. I was furious at her disobedience.

"Go at once," I said fiercely, and she went, still hesitating and looking back.

I had hauled off his coat and waistcoat, so I let him sink again into stupidity while I took off my boots. Then I got him to his feet, and, walking behind him, impelled him slowly upstairs. I lit a candle in his bedroom. There was no sound from the other rooms. So I undressed him, and got him in bed at last, somehow. I covered him up and put over him the calf-skin rug, because the night was cold. Almost immediately he began to breathe heavily. I dragged him over to his side, and pillowed his head comfortably. He looked like a tired boy, asleep.

I stood still, now I felt myself alone, and looked round. Up to the low roof rose the carven pillars of dark mahogany; there was a chair by the bed, and a little yellow chest of drawers by the windows, that was all the furniture, save the calf-skin rug on the floor. In the drawers I noticed a book. It was a copy of Omar Khayyam, that Lettie had given him in her Khayyam days, a little shilling book with coloured illustrations.

I blew out the candle, when I had looked at him again. As I crept on to the landing, Emily peeped from her room, whispering, "Is he in bed?"

I nodded, and whispered good-night. Then I went home, heavily.

After the evening at the farm, Lettie and Leslie drew closer together. They eddied unevenly down the little stream of courtship, jostling and drifting together and apart. He was unsatisfied and strove with every effort to bring her close to him, submissive. Gradually she yielded, and submitted to him. She folded round her and him the snug curtain of the present, and they sat like children playing a game behind the hangings of an old bed. She shut out all distant outlooks, as an Arab unfolds his tent and conquers the mystery and space of the desert. So she lived gleefully in a little tent of present pleasures and fancies.

Occasionally, only occasionally, she would peep from her tent into the out space. Then she sat poring over books, and nothing would be able to draw her away; or she sat in her room looking out of the window for hours together. She pleaded headaches; mother said liver; he, angry like a spoilt child denied his wish, declared it moodiness and perversity.

CHAPTER II

A SHADOW IN SPRING

With spring came trouble. The Saxtons declared they were being bitten off the estate by rabbits. Suddenly, in a fit of despair, the father bought a gun. Although he knew that the Squire would not for one moment tolerate the shooting of that manna, the rabbits, yet he was out in the first cold morning twilight banging away. At first he but scared the brutes, and brought Annable on the scene; then, blooded by the use of the weapon, he played havoc among the furry beasts, bringing home some eight or nine couples.

George entirely approved of this measure; it rejoiced him even; yet he had never had the initiative to begin the like himself, or even to urge his father to it. He prophesied trouble, and possible loss of the farm. It disturbed him somewhat, to think they must look out for another place, but he postponed the thought of the evil day till the time should be upon him.

A vendetta was established between the Mill and the keeper, Annable. The latter cherished his rabbits:

"Call 'em vermin!" he said. "I only know one sort of vermin—and that's the talkin sort." So he set himself to thwart and harass the rabbit slayers.

It was about this time I cultivated the acquaintance of the keeper. All the world hated him—to the people in the villages he was like a devil of the woods. Some miners had sworn vengeance on him for having caused their committal to gaol. But he had a great attraction for me; his magnificent physique, his great vigour and vitality, and his swarthy, gloomy face drew me.

He was a man of one idea:—that all civilisation was the painted fungus of rottenness. He hated any sign of culture. I won his respect one afternoon when he found me trespassing in the woods because I was watching some maggots at work in a dead rabbit. That led us to a discussion of life. He was a thorough materialist—he scorned religion and all mysticism. He spent his days sleeping, making intricate traps for weasels and men, putting together a gun, or doing some amateur forestry, cutting down timber, splitting it in logs for use in the hall, and planting young trees. When he thought, he reflected on the decay of mankind—the decline of the human race into folly and weakness and rottenness. "Be a good animal, true to your animal instinct," was his motto. With all this, he was fundamentally very unhappy—and he made me also wretched. It was this power to communicate his unhappiness that made me somewhat dear to him, I think. He treated me as an affectionate father treats a delicate son; I noticed he liked to put his hand on my shoulder or my knee as we talked; yet withal, he asked me questions, and saved his thoughts to tell me, and believed in my knowledge like any acolyte.

I went up to the quarry woods one evening in early April, taking a look for Annable. I could not find him, however, in the wood. So I left the wildlands, and went along by the old red wall of the kitchen garden, along the main road as far as the mouldering church which stands high on a bank by the road-side, just where the trees tunnel the darkness, and the gloom of the highway startles the travellers at noon. Great trees growing on the banks suddenly fold over everything at this point in the swinging road, and in the obscurity rots the Hall church, black and melancholy above the shrinking head of the traveller.

The grassy path to the churchyard was still clogged with decayed leaves. The church is abandoned. As I drew near an owl floated softly out of the black tower. Grass overgrew the threshold. I pushed open the door, grinding back a heap of fallen plaster and rubbish and entered the place. In the twilight the pews were leaning in ghostly disorder, the prayer-books dragged from their ledges, scattered on the floor in the dust and rubble, torn by mice and birds. Birds scuffled in the darkness of the roof. I looked up. In the upward well of the tower I could see a bell hanging. I stooped and picked up a piece of plaster from the ragged confusion of feathers, and broken nests, and remnants of dead birds. Up into the vault overhead I tossed pieces of plaster until one hit the bell, and it "tonged" out its faint remonstrance. There was a rustle of many birds like spirits. I sounded the bell again, and dark forms moved with cries of alarm overhead, and something fell heavily. I shivered in the dark, evil-smelling place, and hurried to get out of doors. I clutched my hands with relief and pleasure when I saw the sky above me quivering with the last crystal lights, and the lowest red of sunset behind the yew-boles. I drank the fresh air, that sparkled with the sound of the blackbirds and thrushes whistling their strong bright notes.

I strayed round to where the headstones, from their eminence leaned to look on the Hall below, where great windows shone yellow light on to the flagged court-yard, and the little fish pool. A stone

 

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  • Coloro che si iscrivono alla nostra newsletter (iscrizione caratterizzatalla da procedura double opt-in) accettano di ricevere saltuariamente delle comunicazioni di carattere informativo sulle novità del sito e, occasionalmente, delle offerte speciali relative a prodotti linguistici a pagamento sia nostri che di altre aziende. In ogni caso chiunque può disiscriversi semplicemente cliccando sulla scritta Cancella l'iscrizione che si trova in fondo alla newsletter, non è quindi necessario scriverci per chiedere esplicitamente la cancellazione dell'iscrizione.
  • L'utente, inoltre, accetta di tenere Casiraghi Jones Publishing SRL indenne da qualsiasi tipo di responsabilità per l'uso - ed eventuali conseguenze di esso - degli esercizi e delle informazioni linguistiche e grammaticali contenute sul siti. Le risposte grammaticali sono infatti improntate ad un criterio di praticità e pragmaticità più che ad una completezza ed esaustività che finirebbe per frastornare, per l'eccesso di informazione fornita, il nostro utente.

     

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