Tantissimi classici della letteratura e della cultura politica,
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Abbe Prevost - MANON LESCAUT
Alcott, Louisa M. - AN OLDFASHIONED GIRL
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE MEN
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE WOMEN
Alcott, Louisa May - JACK AND JILL
Alcott, Louisa May - LIFE LETTERS AND JOURNALS
Andersen, Hans Christian - FAIRY TALES
Anonimo - BEOWULF
Ariosto, Ludovico - ORLANDO ENRAGED
Aurelius, Marcus - MEDITATIONS
Austen, Jane - EMMA
Austen, Jane - MANSFIELD PARK
Austen, Jane - NORTHANGER ABBEY
Austen, Jane - PERSUASION
Austen, Jane - PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Austen, Jane - SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
Authors, Various - LETTERS OF ABELARD AND HELOISE
Authors, Various - SELECTED ENGLISH LETTERS
Autori Vari - THE WORLD ENGLISH BIBLE
Bacon, Francis - THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING
Balzac, Honore de - EUGENIE GRANDET
Balzac, Honore de - FATHER GORIOT
Baroness Orczy - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
Barrie, J. M. - PETER AND WENDY
Barrie, James M. - PETER PAN
Bierce, Ambrose - THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
Blake, William - SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE
Boccaccio, Giovanni - DECAMERONE
Brent, Linda - INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL
Bronte, Charlotte - JANE EYRE
Bronte, Charlotte - VILLETTE
Buchan, John - GREENMANTLE
Buchan, John - MR STANDFAST
Buchan, John - THE 39 STEPS
Bunyan, John - THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
Burckhardt, Jacob - THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
Burnett, Frances H. - A LITTLE PRINCESS
Burnett, Frances H. - LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY
Burnett, Frances H. - THE SECRET GARDEN
Butler, Samuel - EREWHON
Carlyle, Thomas - PAST AND PRESENT
Carlyle, Thomas - THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Cellini, Benvenuto - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Cervantes - DON QUIXOTE
Chaucer, Geoffrey - THE CANTERBURY TALES
Chesterton, G. K. - A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND
Chesterton, G. K. - THE BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE
Chesterton, G. K. - THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
Chesterton, G. K. - THE WISDOM OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - TWELVE TYPES
Chesterton, G. K. - WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA
Chesterton, Gilbert K. - HERETICS
Chopin, Kate - AT FAULT
Chopin, Kate - BAYOU FOLK
Chopin, Kate - THE AWAKENING AND SELECTED SHORT STORIES
Clark Hall, John R. - A CONCISE ANGLOSAXON DICTIONARY
Clarkson, Thomas - AN ESSAY ON THE SLAVERY AND COMMERCE OF THE HUMAN SPECIES
Clausewitz, Carl von - ON WAR
Coleridge, Herbert - A DICTIONARY OF THE FIRST OR OLDEST WORDS IN THE ENGLISH
Coleridge, S. T. - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Coleridge, S. T. - HINTS TOWARDS THE FORMATION OF A MORE COMPREHENSIVE THEORY
Coleridge, S. T. - THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
Collins, Wilkie - THE MOONSTONE
Collodi - PINOCCHIO
Conan Doyle, Arthur - A STUDY IN SCARLET
Conan Doyle, Arthur - MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE SIGN OF THE FOUR
Conrad, Joseph - HEART OF DARKNESS
Conrad, Joseph - LORD JIM
Conrad, Joseph - NOSTROMO
Conrad, Joseph - THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS
Conrad, Joseph - TYPHOON
Crane, Stephen - LAST WORDS
Crane, Stephen - MAGGIE
Crane, Stephen - THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
Crane, Stephen - WOUNDS IN THE RAIN
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: HELL
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PARADISE
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PURGATORY
Darwin, Charles - THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES DARWIN
Darwin, Charles - THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
Defoe, Daniel - A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE PYRATES
Defoe, Daniel - A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR
Defoe, Daniel - CAPTAIN SINGLETON
Defoe, Daniel - MOLL FLANDERS
Defoe, Daniel - ROBINSON CRUSOE
Defoe, Daniel - THE COMPLETE ENGLISH TRADESMAN
Defoe, Daniel - THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE
Deledda, Grazia - AFTER THE DIVORCE
Dickens, Charles - A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Dickens, Charles - A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Dickens, Charles - BLEAK HOUSE
Dickens, Charles - DAVID COPPERFIELD
Dickens, Charles - DONBEY AND SON
Dickens, Charles - GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Dickens, Charles - HARD TIMES
Dickens, Charles - LETTERS VOLUME 1
Dickens, Charles - LITTLE DORRIT
Dickens, Charles - MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT
Dickens, Charles - NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
Dickens, Charles - OLIVER TWIST
Dickens, Charles - OUR MUTUAL FRIEND
Dickens, Charles - PICTURES FROM ITALY
Dickens, Charles - THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD
Dickens, Charles - THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP
Dickens, Charles - THE PICKWICK PAPERS
Dickinson, Emily - POEMS
Dostoevsky, Fyodor - CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
Du Maurier, George - TRILBY
Dumas, Alexandre - THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Dumas, Alexandre - THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
Dumas, Alexandre - THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Eliot, George - DANIEL DERONDA
Eliot, George - MIDDLEMARCH
Eliot, George - SILAS MARNER
Eliot, George - THE MILL ON THE FLOSS
Engels, Frederick - THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING-CLASS IN ENGLAND IN 1844
Equiano - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Esopo - FABLES
Fenimore Cooper, James - THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
Fielding, Henry - TOM JONES
France, Anatole - THAIS
France, Anatole - THE GODS ARE ATHIRST
France, Anatole - THE LIFE OF JOAN OF ARC
France, Anatole - THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD
Frank Baum, L. - THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ
Frank Baum, L. - THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
Franklin, Benjamin - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Frazer, James George - THE GOLDEN BOUGH
Freud, Sigmund - DREAM PSYCHOLOGY
Galsworthy, John - COMPLETE PLAYS
Galsworthy, John - STRIFE
Galsworthy, John - STUDIES AND ESSAYS
Galsworthy, John - THE FIRST AND THE LAST
Galsworthy, John - THE FORSYTE SAGA
Galsworthy, John - THE LITTLE MAN
Galsworthy, John - THE SILVER BOX
Galsworthy, John - THE SKIN GAME
Gaskell, Elizabeth - CRANFORD
Gaskell, Elizabeth - MARY BARTON
Gaskell, Elizabeth - NORTH AND SOUTH
Gaskell, Elizabeth - THE LIFE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE
Gay, John - THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
Gentile, Maria - THE ITALIAN COOK BOOK
Gilbert and Sullivan - PLAYS
Goethe - FAUST
Gogol - DEAD SOULS
Goldsmith, Oliver - SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
Goldsmith, Oliver - THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD
Grahame, Kenneth - THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Grimm, Brothers - FAIRY TALES
Harding, A. R. - GINSENG AND OTHER MEDICINAL PLANTS
Hardy, Thomas - A CHANGED MAN AND OTHER TALES
Hardy, Thomas - FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
Hardy, Thomas - JUDE THE OBSCURE
Hardy, Thomas - TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES
Hardy, Thomas - THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE
Hartley, Cecil B. - THE GENTLEMEN'S BOOK OF ETIQUETTE
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - LITTLE MASTERPIECES
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - THE SCARLET LETTER
Henry VIII - LOVE LETTERS TO ANNE BOLEYN
Henry, O. - CABBAGES AND KINGS
Henry, O. - SIXES AND SEVENS
Henry, O. - THE FOUR MILLION
Henry, O. - THE TRIMMED LAMP
Henry, O. - WHIRLIGIGS
Hindman Miller, Gustavus - TEN THOUSAND DREAMS INTERPRETED
Hobbes, Thomas - LEVIATHAN
Homer - THE ILIAD
Homer - THE ODYSSEY
Hornaday, William T. - THE EXTERMINATION OF THE AMERICAN BISON
Hume, David - A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE
Hume, David - AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
Hume, David - DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION
Ibsen, Henrik - A DOLL'S HOUSE
Ibsen, Henrik - AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
Ibsen, Henrik - GHOSTS
Ibsen, Henrik - HEDDA GABLER
Ibsen, Henrik - JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN
Ibsen, Henrik - ROSMERHOLM
Ibsen, Henrik - THE LADY FROM THE SEA
Ibsen, Henrik - THE MASTER BUILDER
Ibsen, Henrik - WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN
Irving, Washington - THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
James, Henry - ITALIAN HOURS
James, Henry - THE ASPERN PAPERS
James, Henry - THE BOSTONIANS
James, Henry - THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
James, Henry - THE TURN OF THE SCREW
James, Henry - WASHINGTON SQUARE
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN IN A BOAT
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN ON THE BUMMEL
Jevons, Stanley - POLITICAL ECONOMY
Johnson, Samuel - A GRAMMAR OF THE ENGLISH TONGUE
Jonson, Ben - THE ALCHEMIST
Jonson, Ben - VOLPONE
Joyce, James - A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
Joyce, James - CHAMBER MUSIC
Joyce, James - DUBLINERS
Joyce, James - ULYSSES
Keats, John - ENDYMION
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1817
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1820
King James - THE BIBLE
Kipling, Rudyard - CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
Kipling, Rudyard - INDIAN TALES
Kipling, Rudyard - JUST SO STORIES
Kipling, Rudyard - KIM
Kipling, Rudyard - THE JUNGLE BOOK
Kipling, Rudyard - THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Kipling, Rudyard - THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
Lawrence, D. H - THE RAINBOW
Lawrence, D. H - THE WHITE PEACOCK
Lawrence, D. H - TWILIGHT IN ITALY
Lawrence, D. H. - AARON'S ROD
Lawrence, D. H. - SONS AND LOVERS
Lawrence, D. H. - THE LOST GIRL
Lawrence, D. H. - WOMEN IN LOVE
Lear, Edward - BOOK OF NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - LAUGHABLE LYRICS
Lear, Edward - MORE NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - NONSENSE SONG
Leblanc, Maurice - ARSENE LUPIN VS SHERLOCK HOLMES
Leblanc, Maurice - THE ADVENTURES OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE CONFESSIONS OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE HOLLOW NEEDLE
Leblanc, Maurice - THE RETURN OF ARSENE LUPIN
Lehmann, Lilli - HOW TO SING
Leroux, Gaston - THE MAN WITH THE BLACK FEATHER
Leroux, Gaston - THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM
Leroux, Gaston - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
London, Jack - MARTIN EDEN
London, Jack - THE CALL OF THE WILD
London, Jack - WHITE FANG
Machiavelli, Nicolo' - THE PRINCE
Malthus, Thomas - PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION
Mansfield, Katherine - THE GARDEN PARTY AND OTHER STORIES
Marlowe, Christopher - THE JEW OF MALTA
Marryat, Captain - THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST
Maupassant, Guy De - BEL AMI
Melville, Hermann - MOBY DICK
Melville, Hermann - TYPEE
Mill, John Stuart - PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
Milton, John - PARADISE LOST
Mitra, S. M. - HINDU TALES FROM THE SANSKRIT
Montaigne, Michel de - ESSAYS
Montgomery, Lucy Maud - ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
More, Thomas - UTOPIA
Nesbit, E. - FIVE CHILDREN AND IT
Nesbit, E. - THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET
Nesbit, E. - THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
Nesbit, E. - THE STORY OF THE AMULET
Newton, Isaac - OPTICKS
Nietsche, Friedrich - BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
Nietsche, Friedrich - THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA
Nightingale, Florence - NOTES ON NURSING
Owen, Wilfred - POEMS
Ozaki, Yei Theodora - JAPANESE FAIRY TALES
Pascal, Blaise - PENSEES
Pellico, Silvio - MY TEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT
Perrault, Charles - FAIRY TALES
Pirandello, Luigi - THREE PLAYS
Plato - THE REPUBLIC
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 1
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 2
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 3
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 4
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 5
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
Potter, Beatrix - THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT
Proust, Marcel - SWANN'S WAY
Radcliffe, Ann - A SICILIAN ROMANCE
Ricardo, David - ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION
Richardson, Samuel - PAMELA
Rider Haggard, H. - ALLAN QUATERMAIN
Rider Haggard, H. - KING SOLOMON'S MINES
Rousseau, J. J. - THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATION OF INEQUALITY AMONG MANKIND
Ruskin, John - THE SEVEN LAMPS OF ARCHITECTURE
Schiller, Friedrich - THE DEATH OF WALLENSTEIN
Schiller, Friedrich - THE PICCOLOMINI
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE ART OF CONTROVERSY
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE WISDOM OF LIFE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THIS SIDE OF PARADISE
Scott, Walter - IVANHOE
Scott, Walter - QUENTIN DURWARD
Scott, Walter - ROB ROY
Scott, Walter - THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
Scott, Walter - WAVERLEY
Sedgwick, Anne Douglas - THE THIRD WINDOW
Sewell, Anna - BLACK BEAUTY
Shakespeare, William - COMPLETE WORKS
Shakespeare, William - HAMLET
Shakespeare, William - OTHELLO
Shakespeare, William - ROMEO AND JULIET
Shelley, Mary - FRANKENSTEIN
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - A DEFENCE OF POETRY AND OTHER ESSAYS
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Sheridan, Richard B. - THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
Sienkiewicz, Henryk - QUO VADIS
Smith, Adam - THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
Smollett, Tobias - TRAVELS THROUGH FRANCE AND ITALY
Spencer, Herbert - ESSAYS ON EDUCATION AND KINDRED SUBJECTS
Spyri, Johanna - HEIDI
Sterne, Laurence - A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
Sterne, Laurence - TRISTRAM SHANDY
Stevenson, Robert Louis - A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES
Stevenson, Robert Louis - ESSAYS IN THE ART OF WRITING
Stevenson, Robert Louis - KIDNAPPED
Stevenson, Robert Louis - NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE BLACK ARROW
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
Stevenson, Robert Louis - TREASURE ISLAND
Stoker, Bram - DRACULA
Strindberg, August - LUCKY PEHR
Strindberg, August - MASTER OLOF
Strindberg, August - THE RED ROOM
Strindberg, August - THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
Strindberg, August - THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES
Swift, Jonathan - A MODEST PROPOSAL
Swift, Jonathan - A TALE OF A TUB
Swift, Jonathan - GULLIVER'S TRAVELS
Swift, Jonathan - THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS AND OTHER SHORT PIECES
Tagore, Rabindranath - FRUIT GATHERING
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE GARDENER
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE HUNGRY STONES AND OTHER STORIES
Thackeray, William - BARRY LYNDON
Thackeray, William - VANITY FAIR
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE BOOK OF SNOBS
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE ROSE AND THE RING
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE VIRGINIANS
Thoreau, Henry David - WALDEN
Tolstoi, Leo - A LETTER TO A HINDU
Tolstoy, Lev - ANNA KARENINA
Tolstoy, Lev - WAR AND PEACE
Trollope, Anthony - AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Trollope, Anthony - BARCHESTER TOWERS
Trollope, Anthony - FRAMLEY PARSONAGE
Trollope, Anthony - THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS
Trollope, Anthony - THE MAN WHO KEPT HIS MONEY IN A BOX
Trollope, Anthony - THE WARDEN
Trollope, Anthony - THE WAY WE LIVE NOW
Twain, Mark - LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
Twain, Mark - SPEECHES
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
Twain, Mark - THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER
Vari, Autori - THE MAGNA CARTA
Verga, Giovanni - SICILIAN STORIES
Verne, Jules - 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS
Verne, Jules - A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Verne, Jules - ALL AROUND THE MOON
Verne, Jules - AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Verne, Jules - FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON
Verne, Jules - FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
Verne, Jules - MICHAEL STROGOFF
Verne, Jules - THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Voltaire - PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY
Vyasa - MAHABHARATA
Wallace, Edgar - SANDERS OF THE RIVER
Wallace, Edgar - THE DAFFODIL MYSTERY
Wallace, Lew - BEN HUR
Webster, Jean - DADDY LONG LEGS
Wedekind, Franz - THE AWAKENING OF SPRING
Wells, H. G. - KIPPS
Wells, H. G. - THE INVISIBLE MAN
Wells, H. G. - THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
Wells, H. G. - THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
Wells, H. G. - THE TIME MACHINE
Wells, H. G. - THE WAR OF THE WORLDS
Wells, H. G. - WHAT IS COMING
Wharton, Edith - THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
White, Andrew Dickson - FIAT MONEY INFLATION IN FRANCE
Wilde, Oscar - A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Wilde, Oscar - AN IDEAL HUSBAND
Wilde, Oscar - DE PROFUNDIS
Wilde, Oscar - LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN
Wilde, Oscar - SALOME
Wilde, Oscar - SELECTED POEMS
Wilde, Oscar - THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL
Wilde, Oscar - THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
Wilde, Oscar - THE HAPPY PRINCE AND OTHER TALES
Wilde, Oscar - THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Wilde, Oscar - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY
Wilde, Oscar - THE SOUL OF MAN
Wilson, Epiphanius - SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST
Wollstonecraft, Mary - A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN
Woolf, Virgina - NIGHT AND DAY
Woolf, Virgina - THE VOYAGE OUT
Woolf, Virginia - JACOB'S ROOM
Woolf, Virginia - MONDAY OR TUESDAY
Wordsworth, William - POEMS
Wordsworth, William - PROSE WORKS
Zola, Emile - THERESE RAQUIN
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ISTRUZIONI D'USO DETTAGLIATE
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"I only wish you had a taste of teaching, it would cure your
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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!"
"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
"He is rather good looking," said Lettie with a smile.
""You" could make a man of him, I am sure," I said, bowing satirically
""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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"I do not know the gentleman," he said, afraid that she was laughing at
"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.
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,
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
"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,
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
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.
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"My mother would be so glad if you would come to the party, Miss
"I cannot. I shall be at school. Thanks very much."
"Ah—it's very good of you," said the father, beaming. But George smiled
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
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
"George!" said Emily sharply.
"We will go," said Leslie.
George looked up sideways at Lettie and his black eyes were full of
"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
"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
"Then there's some comfort in knowing I don't please you," he said
"Oh! but you do! You amuse me also," she said.
After that he would not speak, preferring, I suppose, "not" to amuse
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,
"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
"Your bull!" I repeated laughing.
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
I laughed—on the wrong side, understanding her malicious feminine
"If they had, I should have looked happy."
"Dear boy, smile now then,"—and she tipped me under the chin. I drew
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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,
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,
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
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
"Didn't you know the picture before?" she said, in a low, toneless
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
"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
"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
They smiled again at each other, and, with a blind movement, he broke
the spell and was gone.
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,
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"Did ye want to see 'im?" asked the old woman with half timid
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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,
"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
"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."
"Then it's a good thing he is out of the way if he was such a nuisance
to mother. Where is she?"
Lettie ran to her.
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"'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
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
"And you?" he said.
She shrugged her shoulders, laughed, and turned to pick up a scarlet
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"You can tame us," said Leslie, in mighty good humour.
She did not reply. George began, in that deliberate voice that so
"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
"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
"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
"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,
"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,
"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
"Surely not like that "now"," Leslie replied in a low voice, feeling
"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
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
"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."
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
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
"You have to live," I retorted.
"Yes—but it's rotten. And father won't move—and he won't change his
"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
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,
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
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
"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
"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."
"Did he knock me down?"
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
"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
"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
"Don't—you won't say anything?" he asked as I was leaving him.
"Nothing at all—not to anybody?"
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
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
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,
"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
"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
"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
"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.
"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
"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
"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
"Ha, ha!" she laughed. "You look so serious."
I took her arm and drew her away. She linked her arm in mine and leaned
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"'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.
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
"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
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."
"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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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?"
"Go across to Woodside for me?"
"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?"
"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,
"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
"But!" he exclaimed, then he stopped.
"I suppose you enjoyed yourself," she went on calmly.
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
"How do you mean?"
"A kind of guilty—or shall I say embarrassed—look. Don't you notice it
"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
"What have you been doing this miserable weather?" he enquired
"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
"What a shame we may not ask him to roar his old roars over for us,"
"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.
"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
"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,"
"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
"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
"Well," she replied, determined to take this omen unto herself. "I saw
"'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
"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
"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
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
"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."
"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—she admits it—everything!"
"Oh!—but let me breathe. Did you claim everything?"
"Yes, and you gave it me."
"Not yet. Everything though?"
"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
"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
"Then poor old Horace."
"Ha! Ha!—Well, I shan't forget "you". What's that queer look in your
"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."
"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."
"It would be dangerous. You'd die of it, and I—I should——"
"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
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
At last George rose, put down his book—looked at his father—and went
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
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
"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
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?"
"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
"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
"You only want a bit more practice," he said, joking in his ripe
fashion. "Why George, is that all you've got from Julia?"
"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
"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
"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'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.
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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
"It might be a 'hess'—if you couldn't write."
"Or an 'L'," I added. Lettie looked over at me imperiously, and I was
"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
"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
"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
"—Less tomfoolery," he answered.
"Ah—you call it tomfoolery because you cannot do it. Myself, I like
"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."
"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
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
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
"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
"Have we come to count the berries?" she said. "I can't even see the
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
"Yes—there is plenty this year."
"You will give me some," she replied, turning away and finally breaking
"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
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,
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
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."
"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,
"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
"In the fields with their flocks abiding.
They lay on the dewy
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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."
"Oh—you can only marry one——"
"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.
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
"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."
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Did you, mother?"
"I longed to take it off and put it away. But after a while I got used
"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:
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
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.
"Then we may keep on waiting. Isn't it a deuced nuisance, these people
"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
He stared into the fire.
"It seems pressing you, pressing you on. Never leaves you alone a
Again he lapsed into reflection.
"Then, all at once, you remember how she kissed you, and all your blood
He mused again for awhile—or rather, he seemed fiercely to con over his
"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?—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
"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
"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
"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
"It's lovely enough for heaven."
"Eskimo's heaven perhaps. And we're the angels eh? And I'm an
"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
"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
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?'"
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"I think," said Leslie, smiling, "you improved the shining hours to
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
"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
"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,
"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
"Then we're behaving in quite the traditional fashion," she answered
"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
"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
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
"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.
"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
"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
"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.
"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
"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?"
"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
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
"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
"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
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."
"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
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
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—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!"
"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!"
"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."
"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
"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
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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
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
"I should think you never have seen many—unless—! Have you ever been a
"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
"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'
"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
Emily had joined Lettie, and they kept aloof from the man they
"They'll get nicely trapped, one of these days," said I.
"They're natural—they can fend for themselves like wild beasts do," he
"You are not doing your duty, it strikes me," put in Leslie
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
"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
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
"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
"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?"
"'E'd nobbut laugh," put in the mother, "an' say as a bite's bett'r'n a
"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
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."
"Oh—I meant to tell you—what do you think of Greymede old vicarage for
"It's a lovely old place!" exclaimed Lettie, and we passed out of
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"
"Ay—we don't see much of her nowadays," added the father in his jovial
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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'
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
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
"Sit thee down an' drink a drop wi's—it's not ivry night as we 'a'e
"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
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
"Here, aunt!" said he, lifting his tumbler, "here's to what you want—you
"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
"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,
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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.
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
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
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
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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