Infomotions, Inc.The Devil's Garden / Maxwell, W. B., 1866-1938



Author: Maxwell, W. B., 1866-1938
Title: The Devil's Garden
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): mavis; dale; norah; hadleigh wood
Contributor(s): Pope, R. Martin (Robert Martin), 1865-1944 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 120,615 words (average) Grade range: 8-10 (high school) Readability score: 68 (easy)
Identifier: etext14605
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Title: The Devil's Garden

Author: W. B. Maxwell

Release Date: January 5, 2005  [eBook #14605]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


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THE DEVIL'S GARDEN

by

W. B. MAXWELL

Author of _In Cotton Wool_, _Mrs. Thompson_, _Seymour Charlton_, etc.

Indianapolis
The Bobbs-Merrill Company
Publishers

1914







          THE DEVIL'S GARDEN


   The Devil playeth in a man's mind like a
   wanton child in a garden, bringing his filth
   to choke each open path, uprooting the
   tender plants, and trampling the buds that
   should have blown for the Master.




I


The village postmaster stood staring at an official envelope that had
just been shaken out of a mailbag upon the sorting-table. It was
addressed to himself; and for a few moments his heart beat quicker,
with sharp, clean percussions, as if it were trying to imitate the
sounds made by the two clerks as they plied their stampers on the
blocks. Perhaps this envelope contained his fate.

Soon the stamping was finished; the sorting went on steadily and
methodically; before long the letters and parcels were neatly arranged
in compartments near the postmen's bags. The first delivery of the day
was ready to go forth to the awakening world.

"All through, Mr. Dale."

The postmaster struck a bell, and glanced at the clock. Five
fifty-six. Up to time, as usual.

"Now then, my lads, off with you."

The postmen had come into the sorting-room, and were packing their
bags and slinging their parcels.

"Sharp's the word."

Picking up his unopened letter, the postmaster went through the public
office, stood on the outer threshold, and looked up and down the
street.

To his left the ground sloped downward through a narrowing perspective
of house-fronts and roof cornices to faint white mist, in which one
could see some cattle moving vaguely, and beyond which, if one knew
that it was there, one might just discern a wide space of common land
stretching away boldly until the dark barrier of woods stopped it
short. To his right the ground lay level, with the road enlarging
itself to a dusty bay in front of the Roebuck Inn, turning by the
churchyard wall, forking between two gardened houses of gentlefolk,
and losing itself suddenly in the same white mist that closed the
other vista. Over the veiling whiteness, over the red roofs, and high
above the church tower, the sky of a glorious July morning rose
unstained to measureless arches of blue.

As always in this early hour of the day, the postmaster thought of his
own importance. The village seemed still half asleep--blinds down
wherever he looked--lazy, money-greedy tradesmen not yet alive to
their selfish enterprises--only the poor laborers of the soil already
at work; and nevertheless here was he, William Dale, up and about,
carrying on the continuous business of the state.

But how long would he be permitted to feel like this? Could it be
possible that the end of his importance was near at hand?

_On Her Majesty's Service!_ He opened the envelope, unfolded the folio
sheet of paper that it contained, began to read--and immediately all
the blood in his body seemed to rush to his head.

"I am to inform you that you are temporarily suspended." And in the
pompous language of headquarters he was further informed that the
person appointed to take over control would arrive at Rodchurch Road
Station by the eleven o'clock train; that he himself was to come to
London on the morrow, and immediately call at the G.P.O.; where, on
the afternoon of that day or the morning of a subsequent day, he would
be given an opportunity of stating his case in person, "agreeable to
his request."

Why had they suspended him? Surely it would have been more usual if
they had allowed him to leave the office in charge of his chief clerk,
or if they had given charge of it to a competent person from Rodhaven,
and not sent a traveler from London? The traveling inspector is the
bird of evil presage: he hovers over the houses of doomed men.

William Dale ran his hand round the collarless neck of his shirt, and
felt the perspiration that had suddenly moistened his skin.

He was a big man of thirty-five; a type of the strong-limbed,
quick-witted peasant, who is by nature active as a squirrel and
industrious as a beaver; and who, if once fired with ambition, soon
learns to direct all his energies to a chosen end, and infallibly wins
his way from the cart-tracks and the muck-wagons to office stools and
black coats. Not yet dressed for the day, in his loose serge jacket
and unbraced trousers, he looked what was termed locally "a rum
customer if you had to tackle un." His dark hair bristled stiffly, his
short mustache wanted a lot of combing, a russet stubble covered chin
and neck; but the broad forehead and blue eyes gave a suggestion of
power and intelligence to an aspect that might otherwise have seemed
simply forbidding.

"Good marnin', sir."

One of the helpers at the Roebuck stables had come slouching past.

"Good mornin', Samuel."

It was still music to the ears of the postmaster when people addressed
him as "Sir." Especially if, like that fellow, they had known him as a
boy. But he thought now that perhaps many who spoke to him thus
deferentially in truth desired his downfall.

Quite possible. One never knows. He himself wished them well, in his
heart was fond of them all, and craved their regard; although he was
too proud to be always seeking it, or even going half-way to meet it.

And he thought, tolerantly, that you can not have everything in this
world. Your successful man is rarely a popular man. He had had the
success in full measure--if it pleased them, let the envious ones go
on envying him his elevated station, his domestic comfort, and his
pretty wife.

As he thought of his wife all his reflections grew tender. She was
probably still fast asleep; and when, presently, he went up-stairs to
the private part of the house, he was careful not to disturb her.

His official clothes lay waiting for him on a chair in the kitchen.
They had been brushed and folded by Mary, the servant, who sprang to
attention at the appearance of her master, brought him shaving-water,
arranged the square of looking-glass conveniently, assisted with the
white collar and black tie, and generally proved herself an efficient
valet.

She ventured to ask a question when Mr. Dale was about to leave the
kitchen.

"Any news, sir?"

"News!" Mr. Dale echoed the word sternly. "What news should there
be--anyway, what news that concerns _you_?

"I beg pardon, sir." Buxom, red-cheeked Mary lowered her eyes, and by
voice and attitude expressed the confusion proper to a subordinate who
has taken a liberty in addressing a superior. "I'm sorry, sir. But I
on'y ast."

"All right," said Dale, less sternly. "You just attend to your own
job, my girl."

He went down into the office, and did not come up again until an hour
and a half later, when breakfast was ready and waiting. He stood near
the window for a few moments, meditatively looking about him. The
sunlight made the metal cover of the hot dish shine like beautifully
polished silver; it flashed on the rims of white teacups, and, playing
some prismatic trick with the glass sugar basin, sent a stream of
rainbow tints across the two rolls and the two boiled eggs. An
appetizing meal--and as comfortable, yes, as luxurious a room as any
one could ask for. Through the open door and across the landing, he
had a peep into the other room. In that room there were books, a
piano, a sofa, hand-painted pictures in gold frames--the things that
you expect to see only in the homes of gentlemen.

"Sorry I'm late, Will."

"Don't mention it, Mavis."

Mrs. Dale had come through the doorway, and his whole face brightened,
softened, grew more comely. Yes, he thought, a home fit for a
gentleman, and a wife fit for a king.

"Any news?"

"They've told me to go up and see them to-morrow;" and he moved to the
table. "Come on. I'm sharp-set."

"Did they write in a satisfactory way?"

"Oh, yes. Sit down, my dear, and give me my tea."

He had said that he felt hungry, but he ate without appetite. The roll
was crisp and warm, the bacon had been cooked to a turn, the tea was
neither too strong nor too weak; and yet nothing tasted quite right.

"Will," said his wife, toward the end of the meal, "I can see you
aren't really satisfied with their answer. Do tell me;" and she
stretched her hand across the table with a gesture that expressed
prettily enough both appeal and sympathy.

She was a naturally graceful woman, tall and slim, with reddish brown
hair, dark eyebrows, and a white skin; and she carried her thirty-two
years so easily that, though the searching sunlight bore full upon
her, she looked almost a young girl.

Dale took her hand, squeezed it, and then, with an affectation of
carelessness, laughed jovially. "They've appointed a deputy to take
charge here during my absence."

"Oh, Will!" Mrs. Dale's dark eyebrows rose, and her brown eyes grew
round and big; in a moment all the faint glow of color had left her
pale cheeks, and her intonation expressed alarm and regret.

"It riled me a bit at first," said Dale firmly. "However, it's no
consequence--really."

"But, Will, that means--" She hesitated, and her lips trembled before
she uttered the dreadful word--"That means--suspended!"

"Yes--_pro tem_. Don't fret yourself, Mav. I tell you it's all right."

"But, Will, this does change the look of things. This is
serious--_now_." And once more she hesitated. "Will, let me write
again to Mr. Barradine."

"No," said Dale, with great determination.

"May I get Auntie to write to him? She said she knows for sure he'd
help us."

"Well, he said so himself, didn't he?"

"Yes. Anything in his power!"

Dale reflected for a moment, and when he spoke again his tone was less
firm.

"In his power! Of course Mr. Barradine is a powerful gentleman. That
stands to reason; but all the same--Let's have a look at his letter."

"I haven't got his letter, Will."

"Haven't got his letter? What did you do with it?

"I tore it up."

"Tore it up!" Dale stared at his wife in surprise, and spoke rather
irritably. "What did you do that for?"

"You seemed angry at my taking on myself to write to him without
permission--so I didn't wish the letter lying about to remind you of
what I'd done."

"You acted foolish in destroying document'ry evidence," said Dale,
sternly and warmly. But then immediately he stifled his irritation.
"Don't you see, lassie, I'd 'a' liked to know the precise way he
worded it. I'm practised to all the turns of the best sort o'
correspondence, and I'd 'a' known in a twinkling whether he meant
anything or nothing."

"He said he'd be glad to do what was in his power. Really he said no
more."

"Very good. We'll leave it at that. He has done more than enough for
us already, and I don't hold with bothering gentlemen in and out of
season. Besides, this is a bit in which I don't want his help, nor
nobody else's. This is between me and _them_."

He pushed away his uneaten food, stood up, and squared his big
shoulders.

"Yes, but, Will dear--you, you won't be hasty when you get before
them."

Dale frowned, then laughed. "Mav, trust your old boy, and don't fret."
He came round the table, and laid his hand on his wife's shoulder. "My
sweetheart, I'm sorry, for your sake, that this little upset should
have occurred. But don't you fret. I'm coming out on top. Maybe, this
is like touch-and-go. I don't say it isn't. But I know my vaarlue--and
I mean to let them know it, if they don't know it already. Look at my
record! Who's goin' to pick a hole in it?"

"No, but--"

"There's times when a man's got to show pluck--to stan' to's guns, and
assert hisself for what he's worth. And that's what I'm going to do in
the General Post Office of all England." As he said this the blood
showed redly, and every line of his face deepened and hardened. "You
keep a stout heart. This isn't going to shake William Dale off of his
perch."

"No?" And she looked up at him with widely-opened eyes.

"No." He gave her shoulder a final pat, and laughed noisily. "No,
it'll set me firmer on the road to promotion than what I've ever been.
When I get back here again, I shall be like the monkey--best part up
the palm-tree, and nothing dangerous between him and the nuts."

All that day Dale was busy installing the deputy.

"You find us fairly in order," he said, with a pride that did not
pretend to conceal itself. "Nothing you wouldn't call shipshape?"

"Apple-pie order," said Mr. Ridgett. "Absolutely O.K."

Mr. Ridgett was a small sandy man of fifty, who obviously wished to
make himself as agreeable as might be possible in rather difficult
circumstances. During the afternoon he listened with an air of
interested attention while Dale told him at considerable length the
series of events that had led up to this crisis.

"For your proper understanding," said the postmaster, "I'll ask you
once more to cast your eye over the position of the instruments;" and
he marched Mr. Ridgett from the sorting-room to the public office, and
showed him the gross error that had been committed in placing the
whole telegraphic apparatus right at the front, close to the window,
merely screened from the public eye and the public ear by glass
partition-work, instead of placing it all at the back, out of
everybody's way. "I told them it was wrong from the first--when they
were refitting the office, at the time of the extensions. My
experience at Portsmouth had taught me the danger."

It seemed that one evening, about three weeks ago, a certain soldier
on leave had been lounging against the counter, close to the glass
screen. On the other side of the screen the apparatus was clicking
merrily while Miss Yorke, the telegraph clerk, despatched a message.
And all at once the soldier, who was well versed in the code, began to
recite the message aloud. The postmaster peremptorily ordered him to
stand away from the counter. An altercation ensued, and the soldier
became so impudent that the postmaster threatened to put him outside
the door. "Oh," said the soldier, "it'd take a many such as you to put
me out."

"Did he say so? Really now!" And Mr. Ridgett looked at Dale
critically. "I take it he was a heavyweight, eh?"

"He gave me my work," said Dale; "and I was all three minutes at it.
But _out_ he went."

"Really now!" and Mr. Ridgett smiled.

"I had stopped Miss Yorke from operating. And I started her again
within four minutes. That was the time, and no more, the message was
delayed. That was the time it took me to renew the service with the
confidence and secrecy provided by Her Majesty's Regulations. And I
ask you, how else could I have acted? Was I to allow a telegram
consigned to my care to be blabbed out word for word to all the
world?"

"Were there many people in the office just then?"

"Two. But that makes no difference. If it had been only one--or half a
one--it couldn't be permitted."

"And was the message itself of a particularly private or important
nature?"

"Not as it happens. But the principle was the same."

"Just so."

As it appeared from Dale's narration, the soldier was at first willing
to accept his licking in a sportsmanlike spirit, was indeed quite
ready to admit that he had been the offending party; but injudicious
friends--secret enemies of Dale perhaps--had egged him on to take out
a summons for assault. When, however, Dale appeared before the
magistrates, the soldier had changed his mind again--he did not
appear, he allowed the charge to fall to the ground. And there the
matter might have ended, ought to have ended, but for the fact that
the local Member of Parliament suddenly made a ridiculous fuss--said
it was a monstrous and intolerable state of affairs that soldiers of
the Queen should be knocked about by her civil servants--wrote letters
to other Members of Parliament, to Government secretaries, to
newspapers. Then the excitement that had been smoldering burst forth
with explosive force, shaking the village, the county, the universe.

Dale, at handy grips with his superior officers, stood firm, declined
to budge an inch from his position; he was right, and nothing would
ever make him say he was wrong.

"Ah, well," said Mr. Ridgett, "if that's the way you looked at it. But
I don't quite follow how it got lifted out of their hands at Rodhaven,
and brought before _us_."

"I demanded it," said Dale proudly. "I wasn't going to be messed about
any further by a pack of funking old women--for that's what they are,
at Rodhaven. And I wasn't going to have it hushed over--nor write any
such letter as they asked."

"Oh, they suggested--"

"They suggested," said Dale, swelling with indignation, "that I should
write regret that I had perhaps acted indiscreet but only through
over-zeal."

"Oh! And you didn't see your way to--"

"Not _me_. Take a black mark, and let my record go. No, thank you. I
sent up my formal request to be heard at headquarters. I appealed to
Caesar."

Mr. Ridgett smiled good-naturedly. "Why, you're quite a classical
scholar, Mr. Dale. You have your Latin quotations all pat."

"I'm a self-educated man," said Dale. "I begun at the bottom, and I've
been trying to improve myself all the way to where I've risen to."

Once or twice he sought tentatively to obtain from Mr. Ridgett the
moral support that even the strongest people derive from being assured
that they are entirely in the right. But Mr. Ridgett, who had been
sympathetic from the moment of his arrival, and who throughout the
hours had been becoming more and more friendly, did not entirely
respond to these hinted invitations.

"If you tell me to speak frankly," he said at last, "I should have a
doubt that you've made this one false step. You haven't kept
everything in proportion."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, I mean it strikes me--quite unbiased, you know--that you've let
Number One overshadow the situation. You've drawn it all too personal
to yourself."

"I don't see that," said Dale, forcibly, almost hotly. "It's the
principle I stand for--pretty near as much as for myself."

"Ah, yes, just so," said Mr. Ridgett. "And now I'm going to ask you to
help me find a bedroom somewhere handy, and put me up to knowing where
I'd best get my meals;" and he laughed cheerfully. "Don't think I'm
_establishing_ myself--but one may as well be comfortable, if one can.
And I do give you this tip. You're in for what we used to call the
devil's dance up there. Caesar is a slow mover. I mean, it won't be
'Step this way, Mr. Dale. Walk in this minute.' They'll keep you on
the dance. I should take all you're likely to want for a week--at the
least."

Dale made arrangements for the future comfort of the visitor, and
hospitably insisted that he should take his first substantial meal
up-stairs.

"It's served at seven sharp," said Dale; "and we make it a meat tea;
but you aren't restricted to non-alcolic bev'rages."

"Oh, tea is more than good enough for me, thank you."

"Mavis," said Dale, introducing his guest, "this is Mr. Ridgett, who
is so kind as to honor us without ceremony." And, as if to demonstrate
the absence of ceremony, he put his arm round his wife's waist and
kissed her.

Mr. Ridgett smiled, and opened conversation in a very pleasant easy
fashion.

"From the look of things," he said facetiously, "I hazard the guess
that you two aren't long home from the honeymoon."

"You're off the line there," said Dale. "We're quite an old Darby and
Joan."

"Really!" And Mr. Ridgett's smile, as he regarded Mrs. Dale, expressed
admiration and surprise. "Appearances are deceitful. And how long may
you have been running in double harness?"

"Eleven years," said Dale.

"Never! Any children?"

"No," said Mrs. Dale.

"No," said her husband. "We haven't been blessed that way--not as
yet."

"I note the addition. Not as yet! Very neatly put." Mr. Ridgett
laughed, and bowed gallantly to Mrs. Dale. "Plenty of time for any
amount of blessings."

Then they all sat down to the table.

During the course of the meal, and again when it was over, they spoke
of the business that lay before Dale on the morrow.

"I've ventured to tell your husband that perhaps he has been taking it
all too seriously."

"Oh, has he? I'm so glad to hear you say it." And Mavis Dale, with her
elbows on the table, leaned forward and watched the deputy's face
intently.

"Too much of the personal equation."

"Yes?"

"What I say is, little accidents happen to all of us--but they blow
over."

Mavis Dale drew in her breath, and her eyebrows contracted. "Mr.
Ridgett! The way you say that, shows you really think it's serious for
him."

"Oh, I don't in the least read it up as ruin and all the rest of it.
It's just a check. In Mr. Dale's place, I should be philosophical. I
should say, 'This is going to put me back a bit, but nothing else.'"

Dale shrugged his shoulders and snorted. Mrs. Dale's eyebrows had
drawn so close together that they almost touched; her eyes appeared
darker, smaller, more opaque. Mr. Ridgett continued talking in a tone
of light facetiousness that seemed to cover a certain deprecating
earnestness.

"Yes, that would be _my_ point of view--quite general, philosophical.
I should say to myself, 'Old chap, if you're in for a jolly good
wigging, why, just take it. If you're to be offered a little humble
pie to eat--well, eat it.'"

"I won't," cried Dale, loudly; and he struck the table with his
clenched fist. "I'm not goin' to crawl on my belly any more. I've done
it in my time, when perhaps I felt myself wrong. But I won't do it now
when I'm right--no, so help me, God, I won't."

It was as if all restraints had been burst by the notion of such
injustice.

"Ah, well," said Ridgett, looking uncomfortable, "then I must withdraw
the suggestion."

Mavis Dale was trembling. Her husband's noisy outburst seemed to have
shaken her nerves; the downward lines formed themselves at the corners
of her mouth; and her eyelids fluttered as if she were on the verge of
tears. "Will," she murmured, "you--you ought to listen, if it's good
advice. Mr. Ridgett knows the ropes--he, he has experience--and he
means you well."

"Indeed I do," said Ridgett cordially.

"And I thank you for it, sir," said Dale. "And now--" He mastered his
emotions and was calm and polite again, as became a host. "Now, what
about two or three whiffs?"

"If madam permits."

"Mav don't mind. She's smoke-dried."

All three remained sitting at the table. The two men smoked their
pipes reflectively, and spoke only at intervals, while Mavis sank into
the motionless silence of a deep reverie. The golden sunlight came no
more into the room; bright colors of oleograph pictures, hearth-rug,
and window-curtains imperceptibly faded; the whole world seemed to be
growing quiet and cool and gray. The sounds of voices and the rumble
of passing wheels rose so drowsily from the street that they did not
disturb one's sense of peace.

All at once Mavis roused herself, or rather, seemed to be roused
involuntarily by some inward sensation--perhaps an ugly and unexpected
turn that her thoughts had suddenly taken. She gave a little shiver,
looked across the table at the visitor as if surprised at his
presence, and then began to talk to him volubly.

"Do you know this part of the world? It's a pretty country--especially
the forest side. Lots of artists and photographers come here on
purpose to take the views."

For a little while she and Mr. Ridgett chatted gaily together; and
Dale observed, not without satisfaction, that the deputy patently
admired Mavis. "Yes," he thought, "it must be an eye-opener for him or
anybody else to come up those stairs and find a postmaster's wife with
all the education and manners of a lady, and as pretty as a bunch of
primroses into the bargain."

And indeed little Mr. Ridgett was fully susceptible to Mavis' varied
charms. He liked her complexion--so unusually white; he liked her
hair--such a lot of it; he liked the mobility of her lips, the
fineness and straightness of her nose; and he also greatly liked the
broad black ribbon that was tied round her slender neck. The simple
decoration seemed curiously in harmony with something childlike
pertaining to its wearer. He did not attempt to analyze this
characteristic, but he felt it plainly--something that drew its
components from voice, expression, gesture, and that as a whole
carried to one a message of extreme youth.

And how fond of her husband! The anxiety for his welfare that she had
shown just now quite touched a soft spot in Mr. Ridgett's dryly
official heart.

"You know," said Dale, interrupting the conversation, and speaking as
though the subject that occupied his own mind was still under debate,
"they can't pretend but what I warned them. I said it's madness to go
and put the instruments anywhere but the place I've marked on the
plan. If they'd listened to my words _then_--"

"Ah, there you are again," said Mr. Ridgett. "The personal equation!"

"Where's the personality of it?"

"I'll tell you. London isn't Rodchurch. What you said--how many years
ago?--isn't going to govern the judgment of people who never heard you
say it."

"It ought to have gone on record. It _is_ on record over at Rodhaven."

"London isn't Rodhaven either."

Then once again the talk became serious; and once again Ridgett saw in
Mrs. Dale's white face, trembling fingers, and narrowed eyes, the
deadly anxiety that she was suffering. With that face opposite to one,
it would have been monstrously cruel not to offer the wisest and best
considered advice that one could anyhow produce.

"Here's _verb. sap_," he said solemnly. "_Ultimatum_, and _ne plus
ultra_. I'm giving you Latin for Latin, Mr. Dale. I understand your
attitude, and I appreciate its bearing; but I say to you, the best
causes sometimes need the best advocates."

"Yes!" Mavis drew in her breath with a little gasp.

"If any of the gentry down here would speak up for you, send you a few
testimonials--well, I should get them to do it. You see, from what you
tell me of the case, you've your Member of Parliament against you. It
would be useful to counteract--"

Then Mavis eagerly explained that the biggest man of the neighborhood
had promised to give his support to her husband. This great personage
was the Right Honorable Everard Barradine, an ex-Cabinet Minister and
a large landed proprietor, who lived over at the Abbey House, on the
edge of Manninglea Chase, five miles away. Mr. Barradine had always
borne a good heart to her and hers.

"Capital!" said Mr. Ridgett, visibly brightening. "A friend at
court--what's the proverb? It's not for me to let fall any remarks
about wire-pulling. But naturally there's a freemasonry among the
bigwigs. You take my tip, and use Mr. Barradine's interest for all
it's worth."

"Well," said Dale, "he has given a promise--of a sort--and I shan't
bother him further."

After that the talk became light again. As if the strain of her
anxiety was more than Mavis Dale could bear for long at a time, she
plunged into frivolous discussion, telling Mr. Ridgett of the
splendors and beauties of the Abbey House. It was a show-place. Its
gardens surpassed belief; royal persons came hundreds of miles to look
at them. And the wild historic woodland of Manninglea Chase was
famous, it was said, all over Europe. Talking thus, she seemed as gay
and careless as a child of ten.

Mr. Ridgett, puffing his pipe luxuriously, contemplated her animated
face with undisguised admiration; and presently Dale felt irritated by
the admiring scrutiny.

That was what always happened. At first he felt pleased that people
should admire his wife; but if they seemed to admire her the least
little shade too much, he became angry. In the lanes, in church,
anywhere, he froze too attentive glances of admiring males with a most
portentous scowl. It was not that he entertained the faintest doubt of
her loyalty and devotion, or of her power to protect herself from
improper assiduities; but he loved her so passionately that his blood
began to boil at the mere thought of anybody's having the audacity to
court her favor. Instinctively, on such occasions, words formed
themselves in his mind and clamored for utterance on his lips. "You
take care, my fine fellow;" "Hands off, please;" "Let me catch you
trying it"--and so on: only thought-counters secretly used by himself,
and never issued in the currency of spoken words.

Now the internal warmth was just sufficient to make him push back his
chair and break up the party. "Mavis," he said, rather grimly, "we
mustn't detain Mr. Ridgett from his duties." Then he forced a laugh.
"I'm nobody; and so it doesn't matter how long I sit over my supper.
But we've to remember that Mr. Ridgett is the postmaster of
Rodchurch."




II


He went to bed early; but he knew that he would not sleep until the
mail-cart had gone.

His wife was sleeping peacefully. He could feel the warmth of her body
close against him; her breath, drawn so lightly and regularly, just
touched his face; and he edged away cautiously, seeking space in which
to turn without disturbing her. At immeasurably long periods the
church clock chimed the quarters. That last chime must have been the
quarter after eleven.

Every now and then there came a sound that told him of the things that
were happening on the ground floor; and in the intervals of silence he
began to suffer from an oppressive sense of unreality. This disruption
of the routine of life was so strange as to seem incredible. They were
making up the two big bags for the up mail and the down mail; and he
was lying here like a state prisoner, of no account for the time
being, while below him his realm remained actively working.

As midnight approached, an increasing anxiety possessed him. The horse
and cart had been standing under the window for what appeared to be
hours, and yet they would not bring out the bags. What in the name of
reason were they waiting for now? Then at last he detected the
movement of shuffling footsteps; he heard voices--Ridgett's voice
among the others; a wheel grated against the curbstone, and the cart
rolled away. The sounds of the church clock chiming twelve mingled
with the reverberations made by the horse's hoofs as the cart passed
between the garden walls. Thank goodness, anyhow, they had got it off
to its time.

With a sigh, he turned on his back and stared at the darkness that hid
the ceiling. Ah! A profuse perspiration had broken out on his neck and
chest. To give himself more air he pulled down the too generous supply
of bed clothes, and in imagination he followed the cart.

It was progressing slowly and steadily along the five miles of road to
the railway junction. Would Perkins, the driver, break the regulations
to-night and pick up somebody for a ride with the sacred bags? Such a
gross breach of duty would render Perkins, or his employer, liable to
a heavy penalty; and again and again Dale had reminded him of the
risks attending misbehavior. But unwatched men grow bold. This would
be a night to bring temptation in the way of Perkins. Some
villager--workman, field-laborer, wood-cutter--tramping the road would
perhaps ask for a lift. "What cheer, mate! I'm for the night-mail.
Give us a lift's far as junction, and I'll stan' the price of a pint
to you."

A glance up and down the empty road--and then "Jump in. Wunnerful
weather we're having, aren't us?" So much for the wise regulation!
_Most_ wise regulation, if one understand it properly. For when once
you begin tampering with the inviolable nature of a mail-cart, where
are you to stop? Suppose your chance passenger proves to be not an
honest subject, but a malefactor--_one of a gang_. "Take that, ye
swab." A clump on the side of his head, and the driver is sent
endways from the box-seat; the cart gallops on to where the, rest of
the gang lurk waiting for it; strong arms, long legs, and the
monstrous deed is consummated. Her Majesty's bags have been stolen.

Though so dark in this bedroom, there would be light enough out there.
There was no moon; but the summer night, as he knew, would never
deepen to real obscurity. It would keep all of a piece till dawn, like
a sort of gray dusk, heavy and impenetrable beneath the trees, but
quite transparent on the heath and in the glades; and then it would
become all silvery and trembling; the wet bracken would glisten
faintly, high branches of beech trees would glow startlingly, each
needle on top of the lofty firs would change to a tiny sword of
fire--just as he had seen happen so often years ago, when as an
undisciplined lad he lay out in the woods for his pleasure.

Now! The church clock had struck one. Barring accidents, the cart was
at its goal; and in imagination he saw the junction as clearly as if
he had been standing at Perkins' elbow. There was the train for London
already arrived--steam rising in a straight jet from the engine, guard
and porter with lanterns, and a flood of orange light streaming from
the open doors of the noble Post Office coach. Perkins hands in his up
bag, receives a bag in exchange, and half his task is done. Forty
minutes to wait before he can perform the other half of it. Then,
having passed over the metals with the cart, he will attend to the
down train; hand in his other bag, receive the London bag; and, as
soon as the people in the signal-box will release the crossing-gates,
he may come home.

Dale knew now that he would not sleep until the cart returned.

When the church clock struck the half-hour after two, he lay straining
his ears to catch the sound of the horse's hoofs. Finally it came to
him, immensely remote, a rhythmic plod, plod, plod. Then in a few more
minutes the cart was at rest under his window again; they were taking
in the bags; bolts shot into their fastenings, a key turned in a lock,
and the clerk went back to bed at the top of the house. All was over
now. Nothing more would happen until the other clerk came down in a
couple of hours' time, until the bags were opened, until Ridgett came
yawning from his hired bedroom at the saddler's across the street, and
the new day's work began. And Dale would be shut out of the work--a
director who might not even assist, a master superseded, a general
under arrest in the midst of his army.

He gulped and grew hot. "By Jupiter! I'll have to tell them what I
think of them up there, and please the pigs!"

Then he remembered the pleadings of his wife. She had implored him to
keep a tight hold of himself; and in fairness to her he must exercise
discretion. She and he were one. With extraordinary tenderness he
mentally framed the words that by custom he employed when speaking of
her. "She is the wife of my boosum."

For a little while he calmed himself by thinking only of her. Then,
tossing and turning and perspiring again, he began to think of his
whole life, seeing it as a pageant full of wonder and pathos. Holy
Jupiter! how hard it had been at its opening! Everything against
him--just a lout among the woodside louts, an orphan baited and
lathered by a boozy stepfather, a tortured animal that ran into the
thickets for safety, a thing with scarce a value or promise inside it
except the little flame of courage that blows could not extinguish!
And yet out of this raw material he had built up the potent, complex,
highly-dowered organism known to the world as Mr. Dale of Rodchurch.
There was the pride and glory--from such a start to have reached so
magnificent a position. But he could not have done it--not all of
it--without Mavis.

It would be unkind to wake this dear bedfellow merely because he
himself could not sleep. He clasped his hands behind his head, and by
a prolonged effort of will remained motionless. But insomnia was
exciting every nerve in his body; each memory seemed to light up the
entire labyrinth of his brain; each sense-message came inward like a
bomb-shell, reaching with its explosion the highest as well as the
deepest centers, discharging circuits of swift fire through every area
of associated ideas, and so completely shattering the normal congruity
between impressions and recognitions that the slight drag of the sheet
across his raised toes was sufficient to make him feel again the
pressure of thick boots that he had worn years ago when he tramped as
new postman on the Manninglea Road.

And each thing that he thought of he saw--hawthorn blossom like snow
on the hedgerows, red rhododendrons as vivid as Chinese lanterns in
the gloom of the dark copse, the green moss of the rides, the white
paint of the gates. The farthest point of his round was Mr.
Barradine's mansion, and he used to arrive there just before eight
o'clock. With the thought came the luminous pictures, and he saw
again, as clearly as fifteen years ago, the splendor of the Abbey
House--that is, all one can see of it as one approaches its vast
servants' offices. Here, solidly real, were the archway, the first and
the second courtyard, grouped gables and irregular roof ridges, the
belfry tower and its gilded vane; men washing a carriage, a horse
drinking at the fountain trough, a dog lying on a sunlit patch of
cobble-stones and lazily snapping at flies; a glimpse, through iron
scroll work, of terrace balustrades, yellow gravel, and lemon-trees in
tubs; the oak doors of laundries, drying-rooms, and so forth.

It was here, outside the laundry, that he saw Mavis for the first
time; and although the sleeves of her print dress were rolled up and
she was carrying a metal skimming dish, something ineffably refined
and superior in her deportment led him to believe that she was some
lesser member of the august Barradine family, and not one of its hired
dependents. He touched his peaked cap, and did not even venture to say
"Good morning, miss."

Then he found out about her. She was not quite so grand as all that.
You might say she was a young lady right enough, if you merely counted
manners and education; but she had been born far below the level of
gentility. She belonged to the Petherick lot; and, living with her
aunt at North Ride Cottage, she came every day to the Abbey to do some
light and delicate work in Mr. Barradine's model dairy. The fact that
she had lost both her parents interested and pleased Dale: orphanhood
seemed to contain the embryonic germs of a mutual sympathy.

He used to speak to her now whenever he saw her. One day they stood
talking in the copse, and he showed her their distorted reflections on
the curves of her shining cream-dish. She laughed; and that day he was
late on his round.

Then somehow he got to a heavy sort of chaff about the letters. She
said she liked receiving letters, and she never received enough of
them. He used to say, "Good morning, miss. My mate started off with a
tremendous heavy bag to-day. I expect the most of it was for you.
You'll find 'em when you get home this evening--shoals of 'em."

Walking fast on his round he rehearsed such little speeches, and if
she made an unanticipated answer he was baffled and confused. He
suffered from an extreme shyness when face to face with her.

Then all at once his overwhelming admiration gave him a hot flow of
language. Beginning the old cumbrous facetiousness about her
correspondence, he blurted out the true thoughts that he had begun to
entertain.

"You didn't ought to want for letters, miss, and you wouldn't--not if
I was your letter-writer. I'd send you a valentine every day of the
year."

As he spoke, he looked at her with burning eyes. He was astonished,
almost terrified by his hardiness; and what he detected of its effect
on her threw him into an indescribable state of emotion.

Rough and coarse he might be, and yet not truly disagreeable to her
fine senses; his freckled face and massive shoulders did not repel
her; no instinct of the lovely princess turned sick at these advances
of the wild man of the woods. Under his scrutiny she showed a sort of
fluttered helplessness, a mingling of beauty and weakness that sent
fiery messages thrilling through and through him, a pale tremor, a
soft glow, a troubled but not offended frown; and from beneath all
these surface manifestations the undeveloped woman in her seemed to
speak to the matured manhood in him--seemed to say without words, "Oh,
dear me, what is this? I hope you haven't taken a real fancy to my
whiteness and slenderness and tremulousness; because if you _have_,
you are so big and so strong that I know you'll get me in the end."

That was the crucial moment of his marvelous life. After that all his
dreams fused and became one. He felt as if from soft metal he had
changed into hard metal. And, moreover, the stimulus of love seemed to
induce a vast intellectual growth; things that had been difficult of
comprehension became lucidly clear; prejudices and ignorances fell
away from him of their own accord. A shut world had suddenly become an
open world.

As a grown man he returned to the benches of evening school. He
learned to write his beautiful copper-plate hand, and knocked the
bottom out of arithmetic and geography. Then came sheer erudition--the
nature of chemical elements, stars in their courses, kings of England
with their Magna Chartas and habeas corpuses. Nor content even then,
he must needs grapple with Roman emperors and Greek republics, and
master the fabled lore concerning gods and goddesses, cloven-footed
satyrs, and naked nymphs of the grove. But he understood that, in
spite of all this culture, in spite, too, of his greater care for
costume and his increased employment of soap and water, Mavis was
still enormously above him. The aunt, a smooth-tongued little woman
whom for a long time he regarded as implacably hostile to his suit,
made him measure the height of the dividing space every time that he
called at North Ride Cottage. Plainly trying to crush him with the
respectability both of herself and of her surroundings, she showed off
all the presents from the Abbey--the china and glass ornaments, the
piano; the photographs of Mr. Barradine on horseback, of the late Lady
Evelyn Barradine in her pony-carriage, of Mr. Barradine's guests with
guns waiting to shoot pheasants. And she conducted him into and out of
the two choicely upholstered rooms which on certain occasions Mr.
Barradine deigned to occupy for a night or a couple of nights--for
instance, when the Abbey House was being painted and he fled the smell
of paint, when the Abbey House was closed and he came down from London
to see his agent on business, when he wanted to make an early start at
the cub-hunting and he couldn't trust the servants of the Abbey House
to rouse him if he slept there.

"Last time of all," and Mrs. Petherick rubbed her hands together and
smiled insinuatingly, "he paid me the pretty compliment of saying that
I made him more comfortable than he ever is in his own house. I said,
'If we can't let you feel at home here, it's something new among the
Pethericks.'"

It seemed that the bond between the humble family and the great one
had existed for several generations. It was a tradition that the
Pethericks should serve the Barradines. Mavis' grandfather had been
second coachman at the Abbey; her aunt's husband had been valet to Mr.
Everard and made the grand tour of Europe with him; aunt herself was
of the Petherick blood, and had been a housemaid at the Abbey. It
also seemed to be a tradition that the acknowledgment made by the
Barradines for this fidelity of the Pethericks should be boundless in
its extent.

Aunt spoke of the Right Honorable Everard as though she held him like
a purse in her pocket, and Dale at one period had some queer thoughts
about this old widow of a dead servant for whom so much had been done
and who yet expected so much more. She said Mr. Barradine had charged
himself with the musical training of another niece, and he would
probably not hesitate to send Mavis to Vienna for the best masters,
should she presently display any natural talent. Her cousin Ruby sang
like an angel from the age of ten; but Mavis so far exhibited more
inclination for instrumental music.

"She'll belie her name, though, if she doesn't pipe up some day, won't
she?"

When Dale secured his appointment at Portsmouth, he and Mavis were not
engaged. She said, "Auntie simply won't hear of it."

"Not now," he said. "But later, when I've made my way, she'll come
round. Mav, will you wait for me?

"Oh, I don't know," said Mavis. "I can't give any promise. I must do
whatever Auntie tells me. I can't go against her wishes."

Yet somehow he felt sure that she would be his. A thousand slimy,
humbugging old aunts should not keep them apart. From Portsmouth he
wrote a letter to his sweetheart on every day of the year for three
years--except on those days of joyous leave when he could get away and
talk to her instead of writing to her. At the end of the three years
the postmastership at Rodchurch became vacant, and he boldly applied
for the place.

His life just then was almost too glorious to be true. All
difficulties and dangers seemed to melt away in a sort of warm haze of
rapture. Mrs. Petherick no longer opposed the marriage; Mr. Barradine,
at the zenith of political power, exerted his influence; the
postmastership was obtained. To top up, Dale made the not unpleasing
discovery that Mavis was an heiress as well as an orphan. She had two
hundred pounds of her very own, "which came in uncommon handy for the
furnishing."

And his education did not cease with wedlock. Mavis was always
improving him, especially in regard to diction. He was pleased to
think that he made very few slips nowadays--an "h" elided here and
there; the vowels still rather broad, more particularly the Hampshire
"a"; and one or two unchanged words, such as "boosum." But these
microscopic faults were of no consequence, and Mav had stopped teasing
him about them. She only warned him of what he knew was Gospel
truth--that the little failures were more frequent under hurry or
excitement, and that when deeply moved he had a tendency to lapse
badly toward the ancient peasant lingo.

Nothing to worry about, however. It merely indicated that he must
never speak on important matters without due preparation. He would be
all right up there, knowing to a syllable what he wished to say; and
he thought with swelling pride of comparatively recent public speeches
and the praise that he had received from them. After the Parish
meeting last January the _Rodhaven District Courier_ had said, "With
a few happy remarks Mr. Dale adverted again to the fallacy of plunging
the village into the expense of a costly fire-engine without first
ascertaining the reliability of the water supply." His very words,
almost _verbatim_ "Happy remarks!" A magistrate on the bench could not
have been better reported or more handsomely praised.

The reviewing of these manifold bounties of Providence had produced a
sedative effect; but now he grew restless once more. He felt that
twinge of doubt, the pin-prick of illogical fear which during the last
eighteen hours had again and again pierced his armor of
self-confidence. Suppose things went against him! No, that would be
too monstrous; that would mean no justice left in England, the whole
fabric of society gone rotten and crumbling to dust.

The spaces between the blinds and window-frames were white instead of
gray; the sun had risen; presently the whole room was visible.

Mavis' little face showed pink and warm as a baby's above the bed
clothes. And a sudden longing for caresses took possession of her
husband. To wake her, fold her in his arms, and then, pacified by the
embrace, perhaps obtain a few hours' sound sleep? For some moments his
desire was almost irresistible. But it would be selfish thus to break
her tranquil repose--poor little tired bird.

He noiselessly slipped from the bed, huddled on some clothes, washed
his face in cold water at the kitchen sink, and let himself out of the
house. The open air refreshed him almost as much as sleep could have
done. He walked nearly five miles and back on the Manninglea Road,
and would not even glance at the busy sorting-room when he came in
again.

Mavis accompanied him to Rodchurch Road Station, and saw him off by
the nine o'clock train. He looked very dignified in his newest bowler
hat and black frock-coat, with a light overcoat on one arm and his
wife's gloved hand on the other; and as he walked up and down the
platform he endeavored to ignore the fact that he was an object of
universal attention.

When buying his ticket he had let fall a guarded word or two about the
nature of his errand, and from the booking-office the news had flown
up and down both sides of the station, round the yard, and even into
the signal cabins. "See Mr. Dale?" "Mr. Dale!" "There's Mr. Dale,
going to London for an interview with the Postmaster-General."

Mr. Melling, the Baptist minister, took off his hat and bowed gravely;
Mrs. Norton, the vicar's wife, smilingly stopped Mavis and spoke as if
she had been addressing a social equal; then they received greetings
from old Mr. Bates, the corn merchant, and from young Richard Bates,
his swaggering good-for-nothing son. And then, as passengers gathered
more thickly, it became quite like a public reception. "Ma'arnin',
sir." "Good day, Mr. Dale." "I hope I see you well, sir."

Mavis got him away from all this company just before the train came
in, and made a last appeal to him. Would he recollect what the deputy
had said about eating that ugly dish which is commonly known as humble
pie?

But at the mention of Mr. Ridgett's advice Dale displayed a slight
flare of irascibility.

"Let Mr. Ridgett mind his own business," he said shortly, "and not
bother himself about mine. And look here," he added. "I am not
trusting that gentleman any further than I see him."

"I think you're wrong there, Will."

"I know human nature." His face had flushed, and he spoke
admonitorily. "I don't need to tell you to be circumspect during my
absence--but you may have a little trouble in keeping Mr. R. in his
proper place. You'll be quick to twig if he supposes the chance has
come to pester you. These London customers--whatever their age--think
when they get along with a pretty woman--"

"Oh, Will, don't be absurd;" and she looked at him wistfully, and
spoke sadly. "I'm not so attractive as you think me. I may be the same
to your eyes--but not to others. It's very doubtful if anybody would
want me now--except those who knew me when I was young."

Then after a moment's reflection she said that, if he consented, she
proposed to relieve his mind of any silly jealous fancies about Mr.
Ridgett by going over to stay with her aunt at North Ride.

"I should be anxious and miserable here, Will, while you were
away--whereas with her I could occupy my thoughts."

He immediately consented to the arrangement. An excellent idea. She
might go that very afternoon, and safely promise to stay three days.
He would write to North Ride and keep her informed as to his
movements.

"Good-by, my sweetheart. God bless you."

"Good luck, Will. Good luck, my dear one."




III


The devil's dance had begun.

They kept him waiting. Days passed; but his hour of crisis postponed
itself, and all things combined to enervate him. Above all, the
callous immensity of London oppressed his mind. His case, that had
been so important down there in the village, was absolutely of no
account up here in the city. Not a single sympathizer among these
millions of hurrying human beings.

The General Post Office was itself a town within a town--a mighty
labyrinth that made the imagination ache. To find one's way through a
fractional block of it, to see a thronged corner of any of its yards,
to hear even at a distance the stone thunder made by the smallest
stampede of its red carts, irresistibly evoked a realization of one's
nothingness. Never would he have believed it possible that the local
should thus shrink in presence of the central.

He had taken a bedroom on the top floor of a cheap lodging-house near
the Euston Road, and every night as he climbed the dimly-lit staircase
he knew that he was toiling upward toward a fit of depression. The
house was almost empty of lodgers; no one noticed when he went out or
came in; at each flight of the stairs his sense of solitude increased.

He had never before lived in a building that contained so many
stories, and at first he was troubled by the great height above the
ground; but now he could stand at his open window and look down
without giddiness. Wonder used to fill his mind as he stared out
toward the southeast at the stupendous field of roofs, chimneys, and
towers; at the sparkling powder of street-lamps; at the astounding
yellow haze that extended across the horizon, illuminating the sky
nearly to the zenith, and seemingly like the onset of a terrific
conflagration which only he of all the thousands who were threatened
had as yet observed. Even this bit of London, the comparatively small
part of the overwhelming whole now visible to his eyes, must be as big
as Manninglea Chase. And beyond his half circle of vision, behind him,
on either hand, the forest of houses stretched away almost to
infinity. The thought of it was as crushing as that of interstellar
distances, of the pathless void into which God threw a handful of dust
and then quietly ordained that each speck should be a sun and the
pivot of a solar system.

He turned from the window to look at the dark little room, groped his
way to the chest of drawers, and lighted a candle. Its flame
sputtered, then settled and burned unwaveringly. Here in London the
nights seemed as stuffy as the days; there was no life or freshness,
no movement of the air; it was as if the warm breath of the crowd rose
upward and nothing less than a balloon would allow one to escape from
its taint. But he noticed that even at this slight elevation he had
got free from the noise of the traffic. It would continue--a crashing
roar--for hours, and yet it was now scarcely perceptible. Listening
attentively he heard it--just a crackling murmur, a curious muffled
rhythm, as of drums beaten by an army of drummers marching far away.

When he got into bed and blew out his candle, the rectangle of the
window became brighter. After a little while he fancied that he could
distinguish two or three stars shining very faintly in the patch of
sky above the sashes; and again thinking of remoteness, immensity,
infinity, he experienced a curious physical sensation of contracting
bulk, as though all his body had grown and was steadily growing
smaller. Very strong this sensation, and, unless one wrestled with it
firmly, translating itself in the mental sphere as a vaguely
distressful notion that one was nothing but a tiny insect at war with
the entire universe.

Day after day he spent his time in the same manner at the
G.P.O.--asking questions of clerks, lounging in stone corridors,
sitting on wooden benches, thinking that the hour was coming and
finding that it did not come. He was one of a weary regiment of people
waiting for interviews. Clerks behind counters of inquiry offices
hunted him up in pigeon-holes, looked for him in files and on skewers.
"Oh, yes, let's see. You say you're the man from Rodchurch! That's
north or midlands, isn't it? You must ask in Room 45.... What say?
Down south, is it? Then you're quite right to ask here. No, we haven't
heard any more about it since yesterday."

At the end of each fruitless day he emerged from the vast place of
postponement feeling exhausted, dazed, stupefied. The sunlight made
him blink. He stood holding his hat so as to shade his eyes.

Then after a few minutes, as he plodded along Queen Victoria Street,
his confusion passed away, and he observed things with a clear
understanding. It was a lovely evening really and truly, and these
ponderous omnibuses were all carrying people home because the day's
work was done. The streets were clean and bright; and there was plenty
of gayness and joy--for them as could grab a share of it. He noticed
fine private carriages drawn up round corners, waiting for prosperous
tradesmen; young men with tennis-bats in their hands, taking
prodigiously long strides, eager to get a game of play before dusk;
girls who went by twos and threes, chattering, laughing, making funny
short quick steps of it, like as if on the dance to reach sweethearts
and green lanes. A man selling a mechanical toy--sort of a tin frog
that jumped so soon as you put it down--made him smile indulgently.

Outside the Mansion House Station the traffic stopped dead all of a
moment, and directly the wheels ceased rattling one heard the cheerful
music of a soldiers' band close upon one. It was the Bank
Guard--Coldstreams--marching proudly. The officer in charge seemed
very proud; with drawn sword, his broad red back bulging above his
sash, and the enormous bearskin narrowing to his shoulders and hiding
his neck.

The wheels rolled again; the music, floating, fading, died beneath the
horses' feet; and Dale stood gaping at a board over the entrance of
the railway station. Places served by this District Company had
pleasant-sounding suburban names--such as Kew Gardens, Richmond,
Wimbledon. Reading the names, he felt a sick nostalgic yearning for
the wind that blows through fir-trees, for the dust that falls on
highroads, for the village street and the friendly nod--for home.

He ate some food at an eating-house near Blackfriars, and then
wandered aimlessly for hours. The broad river, with its dull brown
flood breaking in oily wavelets against the embankment wall, exercised
a fascination. He admired the Temple, watched some shadows on a lawn,
and wondered if the pigeons by the cab-rank ever went to bed, or if,
changing their natural habits to suit their town-life, they had become
night birds like the owls. The trains passing to and fro in the iron
cage called Hungerford Bridge interested him; and as he approached the
Houses of Parliament, he was stirred by memories of his historical
reading.

The stately pile had become almost black against the western sky by
the time that he drew near to it, and its majestic extent, with the
lamplight gleaming from innumerable windows, gave him a quite personal
satisfaction. It represented all that was grandest in the tale of his
country. The freedom of the subject had been born on this hallowed
spot; here had been thrown down those cruel barriers by which the rich
and powerful penned and confined the poor and humble as cattle or
slaves; by this and because of this, the people's meeting-place, men
like himself had been enabled to aspire and to achieve. He was aware
of a moisture in his eyes and a lump in his throat while he meditated
thus; and then suddenly his eyes grew hot and dry again, and his
larynx opened. His thought had taken a rapid turn from the general to
the particular. It was a pity that an interfering ass like their
member should have the right to come in and out here, record his vote,
and spout his nonsense with the best of them.

The metal tongue of Big Ben startled him, a booming voice that might
have been that of Time itself, telling the tardy sunlight and the
encroaching dusk that it was nine o'clock. Under a lamp-post Dale
brought out his silver watch, and carefully set it.

"I suppose they keep Greenwich," he thought, "same as we do;" and an
apprehensive doubt presented itself. Would his clerk have the sense to
see to it, that the clocks down there were duly wound? Ridgett, of
course, could not be expected to know that they were always wound on
Thursdays.

St. James' followed Westminster in his tour of inspection, and then,
after that amazing street of clubs, he soon found himself in the white
glare, the kaleidoscopic movement, and the concentrated excitement of
Piccadilly Circus. Then he sauntered through Leicester Square and
began to drift northward. The gas torches outside places of
entertainment had arrested his slow progress. One of the music-halls
in the Square appeared to him as iniquitously gorgeous, and he gazed
through the wide entrance at the vestibule hall, and staircase. The
whole thing was as fine as one might have expected inside Buckingham
Palace or the Mansion House--crimson curtains, marble steps, golden
balusters, and flunkeys wearing velvet breeches and silk stockings. It
grieved him momentarily to discover that two giant commissionnaires
were both foreigners. He heard them address each other with a rapid
guttural jabber. "Should 'a' thought there's large-sized men enough in
England, if you troubled to look for 'em."

To this point he had amused himself sufficiently; but each night as
he turned his face toward the Euston Road, his spirits sank and the
same queer mixture of bodily and mental discomfort attacked him. It
began with the slightly bitter thought of being "out of it." He looked
disapprovingly at pallid and puffed young swells gliding past in cabs;
at the humbler folk who hurried by without seeming to be aware of his
existence, who bumped into him and never said "Pardon!"; at the
painted women of the narrower pavements--more foreigners half of
them--who leered and murmured.

"Where's the police?" He asked himself the question indignantly and
contemptuously. "Can't they see what's going on under their noses? Or
don't they _wish_ to see it? Or have they been paid _not_ to see it?
Funny thing if every respectable married man is to be bothered like
this--three times in fifty yards!"

These incessant solicitations affected his nerves. So much so, indeed,
that he cursed the impudence of one woman and called her a rude name.
She did not seem to mind. While he was still in the generous afterglow
produced by a bit of plain-speaking, another one had taken her place.

With head high and shoulders squared he marched on, subject for some
distance to a purely nervous irritation, together with a disagreeably
potent memory of powdered cheeks, reddened lips, and a searching
perfume.

Then he thought of his wife, and instantly he had so vivid a
presentation of her image that it obliterated all newer visual
records. What a lady she looked when bidding him farewell at the
station. He had watched her till the train carried him out of sight--a
slender graceful figure; pale face and sad eyes; a fluttering
handkerchief and a waved parasol; then nothing at all, except a
sudden sense of emptiness in his heart.

And once more he mused with gratitude on the things that Mavis had
done for him. He thought of how she had saved him from the ugly
imaginations of his youth. How marvelously she had purified and
elevated him! He used to be afraid of himself, of all the
potentialities for evil that one takes with one across the threshold
of manhood.

The fantastic dread which recurred to his memory now, as he turned
from Dean Street into Oxford Street, had been started when he first
heard the legendary tale of Hadleigh Wood. It was said that seventy or
a hundred years ago some louts had caught girls bathing in the stream
and violated them. The legend declared that one of the offenders was
executed and the rest were sent to prison for life. Perhaps it was all
a myth, but it helped to give the upper wood a bad name; and out of
these fabled materials William had built his fancy--dread and desire
combining--a wish that, when he pushed the branches apart, he might
see a lass bathing; and a fear that he would not be able to resist an
impulse to plunge into the water and carry her off. As he walked
through the shade cast by summer foliage, with a hot whisper of
nascent virility tormenting his senses, the fancy was almost strong
enough to be a hallucination. He could imagine that he saw female
garments on the bank, petticoats fallen in a circle, boots and
stockings hard by; he could hear the splashing of water on the other
side of the holly bushes; he could feel the weight of the nude form
slung across his shoulder as he galloped into the gloom with his prey.
And later, under the increasing stress of his adolescence, he used to
have a dread of realities--a conviction that he could not trust
himself. He thought at this period not of legends, but of facts--of
things that truly happened; of the brutality of hayfields; of a man
full of beer dealing roughly with a woman-laborer who unluckily came
in his way alone and defenceless at nightfall.

From all this kind of vague peril his wife had saved him. When in the
course of his education he read of nymphs and satyrs, and was startled
by what seemed a highly elaborated version of his own crude
imaginings, he had already, through the influence of Mavis, attained
to states of mind that rendered such suggestions powerless to stir his
pulses or warm his blood; and now, as he recognized with proud
satisfaction, he had reached a stage of development wherein the
improper advances of a thousand houris would evoke merely indignation
and repugnance. It was not a matter that one could boast about to
anybody except one's self; but he wondered if Mr. Ridgett, or several
other customers who might remain nameless, could say as much.

Thanks to Mav! Yes, he ought always let himself be guided by her.

And then, by a natural transition of ideas, he thought of that other
great instinct of untutored man--the fighting instinct. When a person
is rising in the social scale he should learn to govern that also.
Although the nobs themselves do it when pushed to it, scrapping is not
respectable. It is common. Nevertheless there must be exceptions to
every rule: anger when justified by its provocation is not, can not be
reprehensible.

But dimly he understood that with him cerebral excitement, when it
reached a certain pitch, overflowed too rapidly into action. Whereas
the gentry, after their centuries of repressive training, could
always control themselves. They could fight, but they could wait for
the appropriate moment. If you stung them with an insult, they
resolved to avenge themselves--but not necessarily then and there; and
their resolve deepened in every instant of delay, so that when the
fighting hour struck, their heads worked with their arms, and they
fought _better_ than the hasty peasants.

And then he thought of the various advantages still possessed by
gentlefolk. How unfairly easy is the struggle of life made for them,
in spite of all the talk about equality; how difficult it still is for
the humbly-born, in spite of Magna Chartas, habeas corpuses, and
Houses of Commons! Finishing his long ramble, he remembered the
biggest and grandest gentleman of his acquaintance, and wondered
bitterly if the Right Honorable Everard Barradine had done so much as
to raise a little finger on his behalf.

Five days had passed, and as yet not a single official at St.
Martin's-le-Grand had learnt to know him by sight. Every morning he
was forced to repeat the whole process of self-introduction.

"Dale? Rodchurch, Hants. Let's see. What name did you say? Dale!
Superseded--eh?"

But on the sixth morning somebody knew all about him. It was quite a
superior sort of clerk, who announced that Mr. Dale and all that
concerned Mr. Dale had been transferred to other hands, in another
part of the building. Dale gathered that something had happened to his
case; it was as though, after lying dormant so long, it had
unexpectedly come to life; and in less than ten minutes he was given a
definite appointment. The interview would take place at noon on the
day after to-morrow.

To-day was Saturday. The long quiescent Sunday must be endured--and
then he would stand in the presence of supreme authority.

By the end of that Sunday his enervation was complete. The want of
exercise, the want of fresh air, the want of Mavis, had been steadily
weakening him, and now his anticipations as to the morrow produced a
feverish excitement.

Throughout the day he rehearsed his speeches. He was still
assuming--had always taken for granted--that the personage addressed
would be the Postmaster-General, and he was sure of the correct mode
of address. "Your Grace, I desire to respectfully state my
position."... That was the start all right; but how did it go on?
Again and again, before recovering the hang of it, he was confronted
with a blank wall of forgetfulness.

And there was the bold flight that he had determined on for wind-up.
This had come as an inspiration, down there at Rodchurch over a
fortnight ago, and had been cherished ever since. "Your Grace, taking
the liberty under this head of speaking as man to man, I ask: If you
had been situated as I was, wouldn't you have done as I done?" That
was to be the wind-up, and it had rung in his mind like a trumpet
call, bold yet irresistible--"Duke you may be, but if also a man, act
as a man, and see fair play." Now, however, the prime virtue of it
seemed to be lessened: it was all muddled, unstimulating, and flat of
tone.

How damnable if some insane nervousness should make him mix things up!
Strong as his case was, it might be spoiled by ineffective argument.
But was his case strong? Again the cruel twinge of doubt.




IV


The parquetry all around the square of carpet was so smooth that Dale
had slipped a foot and nearly come down when he entered the room and
bowed to his judges; and now he moved with extreme caution when they
told him to withdraw to the window.

There were three seated at the table, and none of the three was the
Postmaster-General. Two of them were obviously bigwigs--so big, at any
rate, that his fate lay in their hands; and the other one was a
secretary--not the General Secretary--not even a gentleman, if one
could draw any inference from his deferential tone and the casual
manner in which the others addressed him. He was a sandy person--not
unlike Ridgett, but rather older and much fatter.

Once a quiet young gentleman--a real gentleman, although apparently
acting just as a clerk--had been in and out of the room. He had given
Dale a half smile, and it had been welcome as a ray of sunlight on the
darkest day of winter. Instinct told Dale that this nice young man
sympathized with him, as certainly as it told him that his judges were
unsympathetic.

He stood now in the deep bay window, as far as possible from the
table, pretending not to listen while straining every nerve to catch
the words that were being spoken over there. His blood was hurrying
thickly, his heart beat laboriously, his collar stuck clammily to his
perspiring neck. His sense of bodily fatigue was as great as if he had
run a mile race; and yet one might say that the interview had scarcely
begun. What would he be like before it was over? He summoned all his
courage in order to go through with it gamely.

... "You can't have this sort of thing." The words had reached him
distinctly--spoken by the one they called Sir John; and the one that
Sir John called "Colonel" said with equal distinctness, "Certainly
not."

Dale's heart beat more easily. As he hoped and believed, they must be
talking of the soldier. Then the heart-beats came heavy again. Were
they talking of him and not of the soldier? He caught a few other
broken phrases of enigmatic import--such as "storm in teacup,"
"trouble caused," "no complaints"--and then the voices were lowered,
and he heard no more of the conversation at the table.

Presently he saw that the secretary was producing a fresh file of
papers, and at the same moment, quite inexplicably, his attention
wandered. He had brought out a handkerchief, and while with a slow
mechanical movement he rubbed the palms of his hands, he noticed and
thought about the furniture and decoration of the room. Clock, map,
and calendar; some busts on top of a bookless bookcase; red turkey
carpet, the treacherous parquetry, and these stiff-looking
chairs--really that was all. The emptiness and tidiness surprised him,
and he began to wonder what the Postmaster-General's room was like.
Surely there would be richer furniture and more litter of business
there. Then, with a little nervous jerk, as of his internal machinery
starting again after a breakdown, he felt how utterly absurd it was
to be thinking about chairs and desks at such a moment. He must pull
himself together, or he was going to make an ass of himself.

"Now, if you please." They were calling him to the table. He slowly
marched across to them, and stood with folded hands.

"Well now, Mr. Dale." The Colonel was speaking, while Sir John read
some letters handed to him by the secretary. "We have gone into this
matter very carefully, and I may tell you at once that we have come to
certain conclusions."

"Yes, sir." Dale found himself obliged to clear his throat before
uttering the two words. His voice had grown husky since he last spoke.

"You have caused us a lot of trouble--really an immense amount of
trouble."

Dale looked at the Colonel unflinchingly, and his voice was all right
this time. "Trouble, sir, is a thing we can't none of us get away
from--not even in private affairs, much less in public affairs."

"No; but there is what is called taking trouble, and there is what is
called making trouble."

"And the best public servants, Mr. Dale"--this was Sir John, who had
unexpectedly raised his eyes--"are those who take most and make
least;" and he lowered his eyes and went on reading the documents.

"First," said the Colonel, "there is your correspondence with the
staff at Rodhaven. Here it is. We have gone through it carefully--and
there's plenty of it. Well, the plain fact is, it has not impressed us
favorably--that is, so far as you are concerned."

"Sorry to hear it, sir."

"No, I must say that the tone of your letters does not appear to be
quite what it should be."

"Indeed, sir. I thought I followed the usual forms."

"That may be. It is not the form, but the spirit. There is an
arrogance--a determination not to brook censure."

"No censure was offered, sir."

"No, but your tone implied that you would not in any circumstances
accept it."

"Only because I knew I hadn't merited it, sir."

"But don't you see that subordination becomes impossible when each
officer--"

Sir John interrupted his colleague.

"Mr. Dale, perhaps short words will be more comprehensible to you than
long ones."

Dale flushed, and spoke hurriedly.

"I'm not without education, sir--as my record shows. I won the Rowland
Hill Fourth Class Annual and the Divisional Prize for English
composition."

Sir John and the Colonel exchanged a significant glance; and Dale,
making a clumsy bow, went on very submissively. "However you are good
enough to word it, sir, I shall endeavor to understand."

"Then," said Sir John, with a sudden crispness and severity, "the
opinion I have derived from the correspondence is that you were
altogether too uppish. You had got too big for your boots."

"Sorry that should be your opinion, sir."

"It is the opinion of my colleague too," said Sir John sharply. "The
impudence of a little Jack in office. I'm the king of the castle."

"I employed no such expression, sir."

"No, but you couldn't keep your temper in writing to your superiors,
any more than you could in managing the ordinary business of your
office.

"Who makes the allegation?" Unconsciously Dale had raised his voice to
a high pitch. "That's what I ask. Let's have facts, not allegations,
sir."

"Or," said Sir John, calmly and gravely, "any more than you can keep
your temper now;" and he leaned back in his chair and looked at Dale
with fixed attention.

Dale's face was red. He opened and shut his mouth as if taking gulps
of air.

Sir John smiled, and continued very quietly and courteously. "You must
forgive me, Mr. Dale, if by my bruskness and apparent lack of
consideration I put you to a little test. But it seemed necessary. You
see, as to Rodhaven, the gravamen of their charge against you--"

"Charge!" Dale's voice had dropped to a whisper. "Do they lodge a
charge against me, sir--in spite of my record?"

"Their report is of course strictly confidential, and it is not
perhaps my duty to inform you as to its details."

"I thought if a person's accused, he should at least know his
indictment, sir."

Sir John smiled, and nudged the Colonel's elbow. "Then, Mr. Dale, it
merely amounts to this. They say you are unquestionably an efficient
servant, but that your efficiency--at any rate, in the position you
have held of late--has been marred by what seem to be faults of
temperament. They believe--and we believe--that you honestly try to
do your best; but, well, you do not succeed."

"I'd be glad to know where I've failed, sir. Mr. Ridgett, he said he
found everything in apple-pie order. That was Mr. Ridgett's very own
word."

"Who is Mr. Ridgett?"

"Your inspector, sir--what you sent to take over."

"Ah, yes. But he no doubt referred to the office itself. What I am
referring to is a much wider question--the necessity of avoiding
friction with the public. We have to remember that we are the servants
of the public, and not its masters. Now in country districts--You were
at Portsmouth, weren't you, before you went to Rodchurch?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, of course, in the poorer parts of big towns like Portsmouth,
one has rather a rough crowd to deal with; good manners may not be
required; a dictatorial method is not so much resented. But in a
country village, in a residential neighborhood, where high and low are
accustomed to live in amity--well, I must say candidly, a postmaster
who adopts bullying tactics, and is always losing his temper--"

"Sir," said Dale earnestly, "I do assure you I am not a bully, nor one
who is always losing his temper."

"Yet you gave me the impression of irascibility just now, when I drew
you."

Dale inwardly cursed his stupidity in having allowed himself to be
drawn. He had made a mistake that might prove fatal. He felt that the
whole point of the affair was being lost sight of; they seemed to have
drifted away into a discussion of good and bad manners, while he
wanted to get back to the great issue of right and wrong, justice or
injustice. And he understood the ever-increasing danger of being
condemned on the minor count, with the cause itself, the great
fundamental principle, remaining unweighed.

"No one," he said, humbly but firmly, "regrets it more than I do,
gentlemen, if I spoke up too hot. But, sir," and he bowed to Sir John,
"you were wishing to nettle me, and there's no question that for the
moment I was nettled."

All three judges smiled; and Dale, accepting the smiles as a happy
augury, went on with greater confidence.

"I'm sure I apologize. And I ask you not to turn it to more than its
proper consequence--or to make the conclusion that I'm that way as a
rule. With all respect, I'd ask you to think that this means a great
deal to me--a very great deal; and that it has dragged on
until--naturally--it begins to prey on one's mind. I am like to that
extent shaken and off my balance; but I beg, as no more than is due,
gentlemen, that you won't take me for quite the man up here, where
all's strange, to what I am down there, where I'm in my element and on
my own ground. And I would further submit, under the head of all
parties at Rodhaven, that there may be a bit of malice behind their
report."

"What malice could there possibly be? They appear to have shown an
inclination to pass over the whole matter."

"Only if I took a black mark, sir. That's where the shoe pinched with
me, sir--and perhaps with them too. They mayn't have been best pleased
when I asked to have _your_ decision over theirs."

Then the Colonel spoke instead of Sir John.

"But apart from Rodhaven, we have evidence against you from the
village. Your neighbors, Mr. Dale, complain more forcibly than anybody
else."

"Is that so?" Dale felt as if he had received a wickedly violent blow
in the dark. "Of course," and he moved his hands spasmodically--"Of
course I've long expected I'd enemies." Then he snorted. "But I
suppose, sir, you're alluding now to a certain Member of Parliament
whose name I needn't mention."

"Yes, I allude to him, and to others--to several others."

"If some have spoken against me, there's a many more would have spoken
for me."

"But they have not done so," said the Colonel dryly.

For a moment Dale's mental distress was so acute that his ideas seemed
to blend in one vast confused whirl. Some answer was imperatively
necessary, and no answer could evolve itself. Hesitation would be
interpreted as the sign of a guilty conscience. And in this dreadful
arrest of his faculties, the sense of bodily fatigue accentuated
itself till it seemed that it would absolutely crush him.

"Gentlemen, as I was venturing to say--" Really the pause had been
imperceptible: "From the vicar downwards, there's many would have
spoke to my credit--if I'd asked them. And I did not ask them--and for
why?"

"Well, why?"

"Because," said Dale, with a brave effort, "I relied implicitly on the
fair play that would be meted out here. From the hour I knew I was to
be heard at headquarters, I said this is now between me and
headquarters, and I don't require any one--be it the highest in the
land--coming between us."

"Ah, I understand," said the Colonel, with great politeness.

"Such was my confident feeling, sir--my full confidence that, having
heard me, you'd bear me out as doing my duty, and no more nor no less
than my duty."

Yet, even as he said so, his whole brain seemed as if fumes from some
horrid corrosive acid were creeping through and through it. In truth,
all his confidence had gone, and only his courage remained. These men
were hostile to him; they had prejudged him; their deadly politeness
and their airs of suave impartiality could not conceal their
abominable intentions. He had trusted them, and they were going to
show themselves unworthy of trust.

"Gentlemen," he said the word very loudly, and again there came the
check to the sequence of his ideas. In another whirl of thought he
remembered those courtyards at the Abbey House, the loyal service of
his wife's family, the great personage who might have spoken up for
him. Oh, why hadn't he allowed Mavis to write a second time imploring
aid? "Gentlemen--" He echoed the word twice, and then was able to go
on. "My desire has ever bin to conduct the service smooth and
expeditious, and in strict accordance with the regulations--more
particularly as set out in the manual, which I can truly
ass-ass-assev'rate that I read more constant and careful than what I
do the Bible."

He knew that the crisis was close upon him. Now or never he must speak
the words that should convince and prevail; and instinct told him
that he would speak in vain. Nevertheless, he succeeded in stimulating
himself adequately for the last great effort. He would fight game and
he would die game.

"If," he said stoutly, "I am at liberty now to make my plain statement
of the facts, I do so. It was seven-thirty-five P.M. Miss Yorke was at
the instrument. I was here"--and he moved a step away. "The soldier
was there;" and he pointed. "The soldier began his audacity by--"

"But, good gracious," said Sir John, "you are going back to the very
beginning."

"For your proper understanding," said Dale, with determination, "I
must commence at the commencement. If, as promised, I am to be
heard--"

"But you _have_ been heard."

"Your pardon, sir. You have examined me, but I have made no
statement."

"Oh, very well." Sir John, as well as the other two, assumed an
attitude of patient boredom. "Fire ahead, then, Mr. Dale."

And, bowing, Dale plunged into his long-pondered oration. Their three
faces told him that he was failing. Not a single point seemed to
score. He was muddled, hopeless, but still brave. He struggled on
stanchly. With a throbbing at his temples, a prickly heat on his
chest, a clammy coldness in his spine--with his voice sounding harsh
and querulous, or dull and faint--with the sense that all the
invisible powers of evil had combined to deride, to defeat, and to
destroy him--he struggled on toward the bitterly bitter end of his
ordeal.

He had nearly got there, was just reaching his man-to-man finale, when
the judges cut him short.

"One moment, Mr. Dale."

The nice young man had come in, and was talking both to Sir John and
the Colonel.

"Thank you. Just for a moment."

Of his own accord Dale had gone back to the window.

It was all over. Never mind about the end of the speech. Nothing could
have been gained by saying it. The tension of his nerves relaxed, and
a wave of sick despair came rolling upward from viscera to brain. He
knew now with absolute certainty that right was going to count for
nothing; no justice existed in the world; these men were about to
decide against him.

"Yes,"--and the young man laughed genially--"he said I was to offer
his apologies."

Dale listened to the conversation at the table without attempting to
understand it. Somebody, as he gathered dully, was demanding an
interview. But the interruption could make no difference. It was all
over.

"He said he wouldn't take 'No' for an answer."

Then they all laughed; and Sir John said to the young man, "Very well.
Ask him in."

The young man went out, leaving the door open; and Dale saw that the
secretary had risen and brought another chair to the table. Then
footsteps sounded in the corridor, and Sir John and the Colonel
smilingly turned their eyes toward the open doorway. Dale, turning his
eyes in the same direction, started violently.

The newcomer was Mr. Barradine.

He shook hands with the gentlemen at the table, who had both got up
to receive him; he talked to them pleasantly and chaffingly, and there
was more laughter; then he nodded to Dale; then he said he was much
obliged to the secretary for giving him the chair, and then he sat
down.

Dale's thoughts were like those of a drowning sailor, when through the
darkness and the storm he hears the voice of approaching aid. He had
been going down in the deep, cruel waters, with the longed-for lights
of home, the adored face of his wife, the dreaded gates of hell, all
dancing wildly before his eyes--and now. Breath again, hope again,
life again.

He listened, but did not trouble to understand. It was dreamlike,
glorious, sublime. The illustrious visitor had alluded to the fact
that Jack, the nice young man, was a connection of his; and had
explained that, hearing from Jack of to-day's appointment, he
determined to go right down there and beard the lions in their den. He
had also spoken of a nephew of Sir John's, who was coming to have a
bang at the Abbey partridges in September. He further reminded the
Colonel that he did not consider himself a stranger, because they used
to meet often at such and such a place. He also asked if the Colonel
kept up his riding. Now, without any change of tone, he was talking of
the case.

And Dale, watching, felt as if his whole heart had been melted, and as
if it was streaming across the room in a warm vapor of gratitude.

"My interest," said Mr. Barradine, "is simply public spirit; although
it is quite true that I know Mr. Dale personally. Indeed, he and his
wife have been friends with me and my family for more years than I
care to count."

Dale caught his breath and coughed. He was almost overwhelmed by the
noble turn of that last phrase. Friends! Nothing more, and nothing
less. Not patron and dependents, but friends.

"And, of course," Mr. Barradine was saying, "I want my friend to come
out of it all right--as I honestly believe he deserves to come out of
it."

Dale felt himself on the verge of breaking down and sobbing. His
strength had gone long ago, and now all his courage went too. With his
gratitude there mingled a cowardly joy that he had not been left to
fight things out alone and be beaten, that succor had come at the
supreme moment. Ardently admiring as well as fervently thanking, he
watched the friend in need, the splendid ally, the only agent of
Providence that could have saved him.

Who would not admire such a prince?

He was old and big, and though rather frail, yet so magnificently
grand. His costume was of the plainest character--black satin
neck-scarf tied negligently, with a pearl pin stuck through it anyhow,
a queer sort of black pea-jacket with braid on its edges, square-toed
patent-leather boots with white spats--and, nevertheless, he seemed to
be dressed as sumptuously as if he had been wearing all the gold and
glitter of his Privy Councilor's uniform. His face seemed to Dale like
the mask of a Roman emperor--a high-bridged delicate nose, thin gray
hair combed back from a low forehead, a ridge like a straight bar
above the tired eyes and a puffiness of flesh below them, a moustache
that showed the lose curves of the mouth, and a small pointed beard
that perhaps concealed an unbeautiful protrusion of the chin. His
voice, so calm, so evenly modulated, had been trained in the senate
and the palace. His attitude, his manner, his freedom from gesture
and emphasis, all indicated a born ruler as well as a born aristocrat.
Was it likely that when _he_ spoke he would fail?

Already he had swung the balance. Dale could see that he would not be
resisted. And as the great man sat talking--chatting, one might almost
term it--he seemed to be taking out of the atmosphere every element of
discomfort, all the passionate excitement, the hot throbs of
indignation, the cold tremors of fear. Dale felt his muscles
recovering tone, his legs stiffening themselves, his blood circulating
richly and freely.

"You have here," said Mr. Barradine, "a man of unblemished reputation,
who, acting obviously from conscientious motives, has in the exercise
of his judgment done so and so. Now, admitting for the sake of
argument, that he has done wrong, are you to punish him for an error
of judgment? We do not, however, admit that it was an error."...

Dale looked dogged and stern. He had been on the point of saying, "I
never will admit it;" but the words would not come out. He must not
interrupt. This was Heaven-sent advocacy.

Mr. Barradine went on quietly and grandly. In truth what he said now
was almost what had been said by the authorities at Rodhaven--good
intentions, over-zeal, a mistake, if you care to call it so;--but from
these lips it fell on Dale's ear as soothing music. Mr. Barradine
might say whatever he pleased: and the man he was defending would not
object.

"And now if I show the edge of the little private ax that I myself
have to grind!" Mr. Barradine laughed. They all laughed. "Our
member--we agree in politics; but, well, you know, he and I do not
altogether hit it off. We are both of us getting older than we
were--and perhaps we both suffer from swollen head. It's the
prevailing malady of the period."

Sir John laughed gaily. "I don't think you show any marked symptoms of
it. But I can't answer for what's-his-name."

"Well;" and Mr. Barradine made his first gesture--just a wave of the
right hand. "One can't have two kings at Brentford. And honestly I
shall feel that you have given me a smack in the face, if--"

"Oh, my dear sir!"

Then they sent Dale out of the room. Really it seemed that they had
forgotten his presence, or they might have banished him before. It was
the Colonel who suddenly appeared to remember that he was still
standing over there by the window.

He waited in a large empty room, and the time passed slowly. It was
the luncheon hour, and far and near he heard the footsteps of clerks
going to and coming from the midday meal. Bigwigs no doubt would take
their luncheon privately, in small groups, here and there, all over
the building. He too was getting very hungry.

An hour passed, an hour and a half, two hours; and then he was again
summoned to the other room. There was no one in it except the
secretary--looking hot and red after a copious repast, speaking
jovially and familiarly, and seeming altogether more common and less
important than when under the restraining influence of bigwigs.

"Ah, here you are." And he chuckled amicably, and gave Dale a roguish
nod. "You've had your wires pulled A1 for you. It's decided to stretch
a point in your favor. Not to make a secret, they don't wish to run
counter to Mr. B.'s wishes. You have been lucky, Mr. Dale, in having
him behind you."

Dale gulped, but did not say anything.

"Very well. I am to inform you that you will be reinstated; but--in
order to allow the talk to blow over--you will not resume your duties
for a fortnight. You will take a fortnight's holiday--from now--on
full pay."

Dale said nothing. He could have said so much. At this moment he felt
that his victory had been intrinsically a defeat. But the strength had
gone from him; and in its place there was only joy--weak but immense
joy in the knowledge that all had ended happily. And the world would
say that he had won.




V


Outside in the streets his joy increased. Nothing had mattered.
Beneath all surface sensations there was the deep fundamental rapture:
as of a wild animal that has been caught, and is now loose and free--a
squirrel that has escaped from the trap, and, whisking and bounding
through sunlight and shadow, understands that its four paws are still
under it, and that only a little of its fur is left in those iron
teeth. Security after peril--articulate man or dumb brute, can one
taste a fuller bliss?

But he must share and impart it. Mavis! He might not go dashing back
to Hampshire--the fortnight's exile prevented him from joining her
there. A broad grin spread across his face. What was that learned
saying that his old schoolmaster, Mr. Fenley, used to be so fond of
repeating? "If Mahomet can not go to the mountain, the mountain must
come to Mahomet."

The memory of this classical quotation tickled him, and he went
chuckling into the Cannon Street post office and wrote out a
telegraph-form.

"Reinstatement. Come at once. Shall expect you this evening without
fail."

Having sent off the telegram, he presently ordered his dinner in the
grill-room of a Ludgate Hill restaurant.

"Yes, let's see your notion of a well-cooked rumpsteak. And I'll try
some of the famous lager beer.... Oh, bottle or draught's all one to
me;" and he snapped his fingers and laughed. "Now, sharp's the word,
Mister waiter. I'm fairly famished."

The lager beer, served in a glass vase, was delicious--sunbeams
distilled to make a frothing and unheady nectar. The grilled steak and
the fried potatoes could not have been better done at the Buckingham
Palace kitchens. Never for three weeks had food tasted like this. All
had been dust and ashes in his mouth since the row began.

Then with appetite satisfied and digestion beginning, he smoked.

"If you've anything in the shape of a really good threepenny cigar, I
can do with it. But don't fob me off with any poor trash. For I've my
pipe in my pocket."

The waiter said he had a truly splendid threepenny; and Dale, enjoying
it, talked to the waiter. He could not help talking; he could not help
laughing. After so much silence it was a treat to hear the sound of
his own loud, jolly voice, and he gave himself the treat freely.

"You're from the country, sir," said the waiter, politely.

"Yes, bull's eye," said Dale, with boisterous good-humor. "Hand him
out a cokernut. But may I ask how you guessed my place of origin so
pat?"

"Well, sir. I don't know, sir. Haven't had you here before, I think."

"Oh, you're very clever, you Londoners. I don't doubt you can all see
through a brick wall. Yes, I'm from the country--but I'm beginning to
know my way about the town too. Ever bin on a steamboat to Rodhaven?"

"Rodhaven? No, sir."

Then Dale told the waiter about the heaths and downs and woods that
lie between Rodhaven and Old Manninglea.

"Prettiest part of the world that I know of," he said proudly. "You
spend your next holiday there. Take the four-horse sharrybank from
Rodhaven pier--and when you get to the Roebuck at Rodchurch, you get
off of the vehicle and ask for the Postmaster."

"Yes, sir?"

"He won't eat you," and Dale laughed with intense enjoyment of his
humor. "He's not a bad chap really, though his neighbors say he's a
bit of a Tartar. I give you my word he'll receive you, decently, and
stand you dinner into the bargain. I know he will--and for why?
Because I am that gentleman myself."

He could not resist the pleasure of rounding off his sentence with the
grand word "Gentleman," and he was gratified by the waiter's meekly
obsequious reception of the word.

"Thank you, sir. Much obliged, sir."

When leaving, he gave the waiter a generous tip.

To-day his walk through the gaily-crowded streets was sweet to him as
a lazy truant ramble in the woods during church-time. Everything that
he looked at delighted him--the richness of shop-windows, showing all
the expensive useless goods that no sensible person ever wants; the
liveries worn by pampered servants standing at carriage wheels; the
glossy coats of mettlesome, prancing horses; the extravagant dresses
of fine ladies mincingly walking on the common public pavement; the
stolid grandeur of huge policemen, and the infinite audacity of small
newspaper boys; the life, the color, the noise. It seemed as if the
busy city and the pleasure-loving West-end alike unfolded themselves
as a panorama especially arranged for one's amusement; and his
satisfaction was so great that it mutely expressed itself in words
which he would have been quite willing to shout aloud. Such as:
"Bravo, London! You aren't a bad little place when one gets to know
you. There's more in you than meets the eye, first view."

And because he was so happy himself, he could sympathize with the
happiness of everybody else. He was glad that the rich people were so
rich and the poor people so contented; he admired a young swell for
buying flowers from a woman with a shawl over her head; he mused on
all the honest, well-paid toil that had gone to the raising of the
grapes and peaches at a Piccadilly fruiterer's. "Live, and let
live"--that's a good motto all the world over. When he saw babies in
perambulators, he would have liked to kiss them. When he saw an
elderly man with a pretty young woman, he wanted to nudge him and say
jocosely, "You're in luck, old chap, aren't you?" When couples of boy
and girl lovers went whispering by, he smiled sentimentally. "That's
right. You can't begin too soon. Never mind what Ma says. If you like
him, stick to him, lassie."

And though still alone, he felt no loneliness. His own dear companion
was soon coming to him. Throughout the walk the only thoughts tinged
with solemnity were those which sprang from his always deepening
gratitude to Mr. Barradine. He wanted to pay a ceremonious call for
the purpose of expressing his thanks, and he felt that he should do
this immediately; but for the life of him he could not remember
whether the great man's London house was situated in Grosvenor Square
or Grosvenor Place. Mavis of course would know. Or he could find out
from one of these policemen. He hesitated, and it was the state of his
collar that decided him. He would postpone the visit of gratitude, and
do it first thing to-morrow morning in a clean collar.

The hall clock at his lodgings announced the hour as close on five,
and he mentally noted that the timepiece was inaccurate--three and a
half minutes behind Greenwich. As usual, the hall was untenanted, with
no servant to answer questions. He searched the dark recesses of a
dirty letter-rack, on the chance that he might find a telegram from
his wife waiting for him. Then he went gaily up the interminable
staircase, making nothing now of its five flights, enjoying their
steepness as productive of agreeable exercise.

"Hulloa!" he muttered. "What's this?"

A woman's hat and parasol were lying on a chair, and there was a
valise on the floor by the chest of drawers. Turning, he gave a cry of
delight. Mavis was stretched on the bed, fast asleep.

She woke at the sound of his voice, scrambled down, and flung herself
into his arms.

"Will, oh, Will. My dearest Will!

"My darling--my little sweetheart. But how have you come to me--have
you flown?"

"Don't be silly."

He was devouring her face with his kisses, straining her to his breast
in a paroxysm of pleasure, almost suffocating himself and her in the
ardor of the embrace, and jerking out his words as though they were
gasps for breath.

"When did you get my wire? Why, it's impossible. I on'y wired
two-forty-three. Is it witchcraft or just a dream?"

"Did you wire? I never got it. I was so anxious that I couldn't stay
there any longer without news. So I just packed and came. Will--be
sensible. Tell me everything."

"Best of news! Reinstated!" He bellowed the glad tidings over her
head. She was all warm and palpitating in his arms, her dear body so
delicate and fragile and yet so round and firm, her dear face soft and
smooth, with lips that trembled and smelled like garden flowers.

"Did you come up by the nine o'clock train? How long have you been
waiting here?"

"Oh, don't bother about me. I'm nothing. It's you I want to hear
about."

Then they sat side by side on the narrow little bed, he with his arm
firmly clasped round her waist, and she nestling against him with her
face hidden on his breast.

"Mav, my bird, I can't never leave you again. I've bin just a lost dog
without you. Did you start before you got my Sunday letter?"

"Yes."

"Every day I wrote--didn't I?--just like the old time. But I've a bone
to pick with you, young lady. What d'ye mean by not writing to me more
regular? Not even so much as a post-card these last three days!"

"Will--I, I couldn't. I was too anxious while it all remained in
suspense."

"Yes, but you might have sent me a card. I told you cards would
satisfy me. I was thinking of you off and on all yesterday. I can tell
you it was just about the longest day of my life. Did you and Auntie
go to church?"

"No. Oh, don't ask questions about me--when I'm dying for a full
account of it."

He asked no more questions. After stooping to kiss the fragrant coil
of hair above her forehead, he burst out into his joyous tale of
triumph.

"It was Mr. Barradine that did the trick for me;" and with enthusiasm
he narrated the gloriously opportune arrival of "the friend at court."
Indeed his enthusiasm was so great that he could not keep still while
speaking. He got off the bed, and walked about the room, brandishing
his arms. "He's just a tip-topper. If you could have been there to
hear him, you wouldn't 'a' left off crying yet. I tell you I was
fairly overcome myself. It was the _way_ he did it. 'Of course,' he
said, 'I want my friend to come out of it as I honestly believe he
deserves.' They couldn't stand up against him half a minute. But, mind
you, Mav;" and Dale stopped moving, and spoke solemnly, "he's aged
surprising these last few years. He's more feeble like than ever one
would think, seeing him on his horse. I mean, his bodily frame. The
int'lect's more powerful, I should make the guess, than ever it
was.... And mind you, here's another thing, Mav;" and he spoke even
more solemnly. "All this is going to be a lesson to me. I've worn my
considering cap most of the time I've been away from you--and, Mav,
I'm going to lay to heart the fruits of my experience. All's well that
ends well, old lady. But once bit, twice shy; and in the future I'm
going to trim my sails so's to avoid another such an upset." He came
back to the bed, and sat beside her again. "I shan't be too proud to
say the gray mare's the better horse when it comes to steering through
the etiquette book, and I mean to mend my manners by Mav's advice."

"My dear Will--my true husband--I'm so glad to think it's ended as we
wished."

Her joy in his joy was beautiful to see. Though her pretty eyes were
flooded by sudden tears, her whole face was shining with happiness;
and she pressed both her hands against him, and raised her lips to his
lips with the rapid movements of a child that craves a caress from its
loved and venerated guardian.

"There," he said, after a long hug. "Now use your hanky, and let's be
jolly--and begin to enjoy ourselves. You and I are going to have the
best treat this evening that London can provide. But I think that, now
you've come, I'll do my duty first, and then throw myself into the
pleasure without alloy. What's his address?"

"Whose address?"

"Mr. Barradine's."

"How do you mean? His address here, in London?"

Yes."

"Number 181, Grosvenor Place."

"Ah, I thought it was the Place--and yet I couldn't feel sure it
wasn't the Square. Now you shall tie my tie for me."

And, getting out a new collar, he told her that he would go to thank
Mr. Barradine there and then. He would be less than no time fulfilling
this act of necessary politeness, and while he was away she was to see
the people of the house and get a proper married couple's bedroom in
lieu of this bachelor's crib. Mavis, however, thought that Dale was
mistaken in supposing the ceremonious call necessary or even
advisable, and she gently tried to dissuade him from carrying out his
purpose. She considered that a carefully written letter would be a
better method of communication to employ in thanking their grand ally.
But Dale was obstinate. He said that in this one matter he knew best.
It was between him and Mr. Barradine now--a case of man to man.

"He'll look for it, Mav, and would take a very poor opinion of me if I
hadn't the manhood to go straight and frank, and say 'I thank you.'
Trust your old William for once more, Mav;" and he laughed merrily. "I
tell you what I felt I wanted to do at the G.P.O. was a leaf out of
the Roman history--that is, to kneel down to him and say, 'Put your
hand on William Dale's head, sir, for sign and token, and take his
service from this day forward as your bondsman and your slave.' But I
shan't say that;" and again he laughed. "I shall simply say, 'Mr.
Barradine, sir, I thank you for what you've done for me and for the
kind and open way you done it.' So much he will expect, and the rest
he will understand."

He was equally determined to despatch a telegram giving the good news
to Mrs. Petherick at North Ride Cottage, and he became almost huffy
when Mavis again suggested that a letter would meet the case.

"I don't understand you, Mav. You seem now as if you were for
belittling everything. I'm not going to spare sixpence to keep your
aunt on tenterhooks for course of post."

Mr. Barradine's town mansion stood in a commanding corner position,
with its front door in the side street; and from the glimpse that Dale
obtained of its hall, its staircase, and its vast depth, he judged
that it was quite worthy of the owner of that noble countryseat, the
Abbey House.

The servants were at first doubtful as to the propriety of admitting
him. They said their master was at home, but they did not know if he
could receive visitors.

"He won't refuse to see me," said Dale confidently. "Tell him it's Mr.
Dale of Rodchurch, and won't detain him two minutes."

"Very good," said the principal servant gravely. "But I can't disturb
him if he's resting."

"Oh, if he's resting," said Dale, "I'll wait. I'll make my time his
time--whether convenient to me or not." Then they led him down a
passage, past a cloak-room and a lavatory, to a small room right at
the back of the house.

Perhaps the room seemed small only by reason of its great height.
Dale, waiting patiently, examined his surroundings with curious
interest. There were two old-fashioned writing-tables--one looking as
if it was never used, and the other looking busy and homelike, with a
cabinet full of every conceivable sort of notepaper, trays full of
pens, and little candles to be lighted when one desired to affix
seals. On a roundabout conveniently near there were books of reference
that included the current volume of the _London Post Office
Directory_. The sofas and chairs were upholstered in dark green
leather, the chimney-piece was of carved marble, a few ancient and
rather dismal pictures hung almost out of sight on the walls; and
generally, the room would have produced an impression of a repellent
and ungenial kind of pomp, if it had not been for the extremely human
note struck by the large assortment of photographs.

These were dabbed about everywhere--in panels above the chair rail, in
screens and silver frames, on the writing-table, and loose and
unframed on the mantel-shelf. They were nearly all portraits of
women--and some nice attractive bits among them, as Dale thought;
young and cheeky ones, too, that he guessed were actresses and not
nieces or cousins. He smiled tolerantly. These photographs brought to
his mind a nearly forgotten fancy of his own, together with echoes of
the local gossip. Round Rodchurch the talk ran that the Right
Honorable gentleman was still a rare one for the ladies. "And why
not?" thought Dale. A childless old widower may keep up that sort of
game as long as he likes, or as long as he can, without wounding any
one's feeling. It wasn't as if her ladyship had been still alive.

"Sir, I hope I have not disturbed you; but I couldn't be easy till I'd
cordially and heartily thanked you." Mr. Barradine had come in, and
Dale fired off his brief set speeches. But instinct almost immediately
told him that once more Mavis had been right and he wrong. Mr.
Barradine was not expecting or desiring a personal call.

"Not worth mentioning. Nothing at all." He said these things
courteously, but there was a coldness in his tone that quite froze the
visitor. He seemed to be saying really: "Now look here, I have had
quite enough bother about you; and please don't let me have any more
of it."

"Then, sir, I thank you--and--er--that's all."

"Very glad if--" Mr. Barradine made the same gesture that Dale had
seen a few hours ago: a wave of the right hand. But to Dale it seemed
that it was different now, that it indicated languor and haughtiness;
indeed, it seemed that the whole man was different. Could this be the
advocate who had spoken up so freely for a friend in trouble? All the
majesty and the force, as well as the generous friendliness, had
disappeared. The face, the voice, the whole bearing belonged to
another man. The tired eyes had not a spark of fire in them; those
puffy bags of loose flesh, that hung between the outer corners of the
cheekbones and the thin birdlike nose, were so ugly as to be
disfiguring; the mouth, instead of looking soft and kind, although
proud, now appeared to close in the unbending lines of a very obdurate
self-esteem. This new aspect of his patron made Dale stammer
uncomfortably; and he felt something akin to humiliation in lieu of
the fine glow of gratitude with which he had come hurrying from the
Euston Road.

"Then my duty--and my thanks--and I'll say good afternoon, sir."

He had pulled himself together and spoken these last words ringingly,
and now grasping Mr. Barradine's hand he gave it a mercilessly severe
squeeze.

"Damnation!" Under the horny grip, Mr. Barradine emitted a squeal of
pain. "Confound it--my good fellow--why the deuce can't you be
careful what you're doing?"

Mr. Barradine, very angry, was ruefully examining his hand; and Dale,
apologizing profusely, stared at it too. It was limp in texture,
yellowish white of color, with bluish swollen veins, some darkish
brown patches here and there, and slight glistening protuberances at
the knuckle joints-an old man's hand, so feeble that it could not bear
the least pressure, and yet decorated with a young man's fopperies.
Dale noticed the three rings on the little finger-one of gold, one of
silver, one of black metal, each with tiny colored gems in it--and
while heartily ashamed of his rustic violence, he felt a secret
contempt for its victim.

"That's all right." Mr. Barradine, although still wincing, had
recovered composure, and what he said now appeared to be an implied
excuse for the sharpness of his protest. "When you get to my time of
life, you'll perhaps know what gout means."

"Sorry you should be afflicted that way, sir," said Dale contritely.

Mr. Barradine had rung a bell, and a servant was standing at the door.

"Good day to you, Mr. Dale. You're going home, I suppose?"

"Not for a fortnight, sir."

"Ah! I hope to return to the Abbey on Thursday morning;" and quite
obviously Mr. Barradine now intended to gratify Dale by a few polite
sentences of small talk, and thus show him that his offense had been
pardoned. "Yes, I soon begin to pine for my garden. Friday, at latest,
sees me home again. I always call the Abbey home. No place like home,
Dale."

Dale going out, through the long passage to the hall, felt momentarily
depressed by a sense of humiliating failure in the midst of his
apparent success. If only he could have fought them and beaten them
alone, as a strong man fighting unaided, instead of being pulled
through the battle by that veinous, blotchy, ringed hand! However, he
promptly tried to banish all such vague discomfort from his mind.

All of it was gone when he got back to the lodging-house, and found
his wife established in their new room.




VI


"The Acadia Theater! So be it. They're all one to me."

Mavis had chosen this famous music hall because, as she explained,
Chirgwin was performing at it, and her aunt had always said that
Chirgwin was the most excruciatingly funny of all music-hall artists.

"So be it. Half a minute, though." Dale counting his money, dolefully
discovered that it had run very low indeed. "I begin to think we shall
have to cut down our treat a bit."

But Mavis swept away all difficulties. She had brought money--her very
own money--her little emergency hoard; and opening her handbag, and
tumbling inside it, she produced a five-pound note, and smilingly put
it on the dressing-table.

"Hulloa! There's more where that comes from." His quick ear had caught
the rustling sound inside the handbag. "There's other notes in there,
old lady;" and, laughing, he tried to snatch the bag from her. "How
much? Here's a miser, and no mistake."

"Never you mind how much your miser's got." Her lips were smiling, her
eyes shining, and with a happy laugh she sprang away from him. "Now,
no nonsense. Take me out, and make a fuss of me."

For a moment he stood still, admiring her. She was dressed in her very
best Sunday clothes, and, to his eye at least, she looked quite
entrancingly nice. Her straw hat was full of artificial roses that
any one might have sworn were real; her unbuttoned jacket disclosed
the delicate finery of a muslin blouse; her long skirt, held up so
gracefully by the unoccupied hand, was made of veritable silk. She
just looked tip-top--a picture--to the full as much a lady as the
young dames he had been lately observing; and yet, wonder of wonders,
she was his property.

"By Jupiter, I must have another hug--and then off we go."

"No," she said archly, and yet decidedly. "No more kisses till
bedtime. I'm all ready to show myself to company, and I don't wish to
be rumpled."

They rode like a gentleman and a lady in a hansom cab; they dined like
a duke and a duchess at the Criterion restaurant; and they were both
as happy and light-hearted as schoolboys on the first day of their
holidays. Like children they made silly little jokes which would have
been jokes to no one but themselves. He caused immoderate laughter in
her by assuming the airs of a man about town, by affecting a profound
knowledge of the French names for all the dishes on the table d'hote
menu, and by describing how offended he would now be if any one should
detect that he was not a regular London swell; and she, by whispered
criticism of a stout party at a distant table, sent such a convulsion
of mirth through him that he choked badly while drinking wine. He had
insisted on ordering the wine, and in making Mav take her share of it,
although she vowed that the unaccustomed stimulant would fly to her
head.

"Rot, old girl. You dip your beak in it--it's mostly froth and fizz,
and no more strength than the lager beer, as far as I can make out."

"How much does it cost?"

"Shan't tell. Yes, I will," and he roared with laughter, "since it's
you that's paying for it. Best part of seven shillings."

"Oh, Will, it's _wicked_!"

"Bosh! This is the time of our lives;" and he chaffed her again about
being a secret capitalist. "Blow the expense. Let the money fly. And,
Mav, I on'y borrow it. This is all my affair really."

"No, no. You'll spoil half my pleasure if you don't let me pay."

But his money or her money--what did it matter? They two were one,
reunited after a cruel, most bitterly cruel separation; her face was
flushed with joy more than with wine, and her love poured out of her
eyes like a stream of light.

They walked from the restaurant to Leicester Square, arm in arm, proud
and joyous, enjoying the lamplight and noise, not minding the airless
heat; but when they reached the entrance of the music hall--where he
had stood gaping, solitary and sad, a few nights ago--Mavis met with
disappointment.

"Oh," she said, "what a shame! They've changed the bill. Chirgwin's
name is gone. He was acting here Friday night."

"How d'you know that?"

She followed him into the vestibule, and he asked her again while they
waited in the crowd by the ticket office.

"I read it in the paper. Aunt and I were talking of him; and I--I had
the curiosity to look at the advertisements--not dreaming that I
should come so near seeing him."

"Never mind," cried Dale, in his jovial, far-carrying voice; "there'll
be a many as good as him."

"Hush," she whispered. "If you talk like that, they'll know we come
from the country;" and she squeezed his arm affectionately. "I don't
mind a bit, dear--but there's no one so clever as Chirgwin. Really
there isn't."

She at once forgot her trifling disappointment. Placed side by side in
extravagantly expensive seats of the stately circle, surrounded by
ladies and gentlemen in evening dress, they both gave themselves
wholly to the pleasure of this unparalleled treat. All the early items
of a long program astounded or charmed him; and her enjoyment was
enhanced by recognizing how completely he had thrown off the
narrowness or prejudice of village life. Listening to his laughter at
almost indecent jokes, his ejaculations of wonder when conjurers
showed their skill, his enthusiastic clappings after acrobats had
proved their strength, she understood that all his natural sternness
was temporarily relaxed; he would not allow himself to be disturbed by
any semi-religious notions of propriety or impropriety; he was just a
jolly comrade for an evening's sport.

"Brayvo! Brayvo! By Jupiter--wouldn't 'a' credited it without the
evidence of my own eyes." The gorgeous curtains had just descended
upon a narrow parlor, which a Japanese necromancer had literally
filled to overflowing with colored cardboard boxes produced from the
interior of one single top hat. "See! Watch 'em, Mav." Footmen were
coming in front of the curtains to remove the plethora of cardboard
boxes. "They're real boxes, Mav."

Sweet music, happy laughter, brilliant light--the evening glided
entrancingly, like a dream in which neither Greenwich nor any other
time is kept.

During the interval before the ballet he took her out of the circle,
strolled with her up and down the promenade, and gave her an American
drink in a refreshment saloon. It was appallingly hot, and they were
both longing to quench their thirst with something big and cold. A
magnificent waiter brought them bigness and coldness in tall tumblers
with straws, and they sat on a velvet divan and sucked rapturously.

Standing or seated at tables, there were young bloods with white
waistcoats and cigarettes, and young ladies with rich gowns and
made-up faces; through a gilded doorway one had a vista of the
thronged promenade; the air was hot, exhausted, pungent with tobacco
smoke; and amid the chatter of voices, the clink of glasses, the
rustle of petticoats, one could only just hear the great orchestra
playing chords of some fantastic march.

Suddenly Mavis felt a vaguely pleasant confusion of mind, as though
the icily cold liquid, as she slowly absorbed it through the straw,
was freezing her intelligence. She could not for a few moments
understand what Dale was whispering at her ear.

"Between you and me and the post, Mav"--And he told her that,
according to his opinion, all these women parading up and down were no
better than they ought to be. They were of course, socially, much
higher than the common women of the streets, but he considered them to
be, morally, on the same level: although they did not accost
strangers, they were all willing to scrape acquaintance with any one
who looked as if he had money in his pocket. "Yes, London's a bit of
an eye-opener, old girl." Then he laughed behind his hand, and said
that she was probably the only respectable woman and virtuous wife in
the whole of the theater.

Mavis, although trying to listen, answered at random.

"Will, I do believe there's spirits in this stuff--yes, and strong
spirits too."

"Oh, bosh. It's just a refresher. Mostly crushed ice, and a few drops
of sirup."

Mavis, however, was quite correct. At the bottom of the glass, and
below the light sirupy mixture, there lurked liqueurs of which the
potency was only rendered doubtful because of their low temperature.
The beginning of the long drink was absolutely delicious, so soothing
and so cooling; but at the end of it was as if one had filled one's
self with insidious quick-running flame.

Mavis put down her empty tumbler, and looked at it reproachfully.

"Will, it has made me come over all funny. My head's swimming."

When they got back to their seats and were watching the ballet, he too
felt the consequences of guileless straw-sucking; but with him the
after effects were entirely pleasurable. He felt invigorated,
peaceful, massively grand.

He sat placidly enjoying the beauty of the scene, the grace of the
dancers, the vibrations of the music. The stage was dark at first, and
one could merely make out that it pictured a wildly-imagined grove in
the land of dreams; then it grew brighter, and one saw preposterous
giant-flowers--foxgloves so big that when they opened there was a
human face in each quivering bell. And the flowers came out of the
earth and danced; children dressed up as birds, brown boys like
beetles, slim girls like butterflies, all came dancing, dancing; with
more light every moment, till the dazzle and the blaze seemed to drive
away the little people;--and then quite glorious forms appeared,
pirouetting, almost flying--pink-limbed houris, fairies, nymphs--"call
'em what you please--a fair knock-out."

"It makes me go round and round," whispered Mavis.

He sat grave and silent--just nodding his head in approval of all he
saw, not troubling to applaud any further, impassive as some Eastern
sultan for whom slaves and courtiers had made a mask.

Then gradually his mind seemed half to detach itself from the thraldom
of external objects. These novel sense impressions, pouring into him,
joined themselves to old memories, and, mingling, made up a fuller
stream of joy. He seemed to be able to think of five or six things at
once; but, as the undercurrent of every thought, there was the same
deep-flowing comfort, of which the source lay in his relief at the
escape from danger. Those fairies flashing about under the branches of
sham trees momentarily evoked the ancient haunting distress of his
youth, and out of this thought came the lofty conception of Mavis as
his guardian angel. How persistently the first of those fancies
lingered--after so many years! Bother the fairies or nymphs, or
whatever they were. Household angels are what a man wants to bring
him contentment; and keep him straight, day by day, and week by week.

Before the ballet was over, he became bored with it. Too long! Enough
is as good as a feast. They were singing now as well as dancing.

The massive, voluminously quiescent sensation induced by the liqueurs
had passed away, and in its place came increased weariness of the
spectacular entertainment. The light, and the music, and the
half-naked women, who still danced and pranced, were affecting his
nerves unpleasantly now. He looked away from the stage, and stared at
the audience. Behind him, as he knew, there were all those hussies
with painted faces offering themselves for hire. And wherever he
looked, he seemed to see evidences of amorous traffic. When you
examined it attentively, the entire audience seemed to resolve itself
into an endless repetition of the same small group of two persons of
two sexes, each soliciting the other's favor; a man and a woman
sitting close together, the couple, the factorial two--everywhere, all
round the circle, along the three visible rows of stalls, and again in
the private boxes. Those wealthy men in the boxes were unquestionably
accompanied by their mistresses and not by their wives or sisters.
Through the vibrating music and the super-heated atmosphere, on a
river of vivid light, they were all drifting fast toward the night of
love that each pair had arranged for itself.

And they too would have their night of love. He looked at his wife,
and felt his pulses stirred as much now as in the far-off days of
courtship--more, because then there was no experience of facts to
strengthen his imagination. He gently pressed her arm, and thrilled
at the mere contact. She was leaning back, fanning herself with her
program, and he observed the roundness and whiteness of her neck, the
flesh of her shoulder showing through the transparent sleeve of her
blouse, the moistness and warmth of her open lips.

Yet she had told him at Rodchurch Road Station that she was attractive
only to his eyes, and that she could never again arouse desire in
other men. What utter nonsense! She was simply adorable.




VII


They took a cab to drive back in, and he almost carried her up to
their bedroom. It was on the same floor as the other room, with the
same marvelous bird's-eye view of the starlit sky and the lamplit
town. He had got her to himself at last--here, high above the world,
half-way to heaven. There seemed to him something poetical, almost
sublime in their situation: they two alone, isolated, millions of
people surrounding them and no living creature able to interfere with
them.

As he knew, they were the only lodgers on this top floor; and so one
need not even trouble to avoid making a noise. He gave full voice to
his exultation.

"There, old lady." He had opened the window as wide as it would go,
and he told her to look out. "The air--what there is of it--will do
you good."

"Oh, I couldn't," and she recoiled.

"Giddy?"

"_Giddy_ isn't the word. Oh, Will, why did you let me drink that
stuff--after drinking the wine?"

"I thought you'd got a better head-piece. Look at _me_. I could 'a'
stood two or three more goes at it, and bin none the worse." And he
chaffed her merrily. "Here's a tale--if it ever leaks out Rodchurch
way. Have you heard how Mrs. Dale behaved up in London? Went to the
theater, and drunk more'n was good for her. Came out fair
squiffy--so's poor Mr. Dale, he felt quite disgraced."

She was not intoxicated in an ugly way; her speech, her movements were
unaffected, and yet the alcohol was troubling her brain. She looked
like a child who has been overexercised at a children's party, and who
comes home with eyebrows raised, eyes glowing and yet dull, and cheeks
very pale.

"Oh, dear, I _am_ tired," and she sat down on a chair by the chest of
drawers, and slowly took off her hat.

But she got up again and pushed Dale away, when he offered to help her
in undressing.

"No, certainly not. What are you thinking of?" and she began to hum
one of the pretty airs they had heard at the theater. "But, my word,
Will," and she stopped humming, and laughed foolishly, "I shan't be
sorry to get out of my things. It _is_ hot. This is the hottest night
we've had."

"Ah, you feel it. I've got acclim'tized."

He undressed rapidly, and lighting the briar pipe which he had not
cared to smoke in the genteel society at the theater, he lay on the
outside of the bed.

"Better now, old girl?"

"Yes. I'm all right, Will. Dear old boy--I'm all right."

Lying on the bed and immensely enjoying his delayed pipe, he watched
her. She wandered about the room, moved one of the two candles from
the mantel-shelf to the chest of drawers, put her blouse on the seat
of a chair and her skirt across the back of it. Then with slow
graceful movements she began to uncoil her hair, and as her smooth
white arms went up and down, the candlelight sent gigantic wavering
shadows across the wall-paper to the ceiling. Beneath one of her
elbows he could see right out through the open window into a dark
void. From his position on the bed nothing was visible out there, but
he could fill it if he cared to do so--the scattered dust of street
lamps below and the scattered dust of solar systems above.

Soon he puffed lazily, drowsily; then he nodded, and then the pipe
fell from his mouth.

"Hullo!" And muttering, he roused himself. "I must 'a' dropped off.
Might 'a' set the bed on fire."

Mavis, in her chemise and stockings now, with her hair down, was still
at the dressing-table. She did not turn when he spoke to her. While he
dozed she had fetched the other candle, and in the double light she
was staring intently at the reflection of her face in the
looking-glass.

Dale slipped softly off the bed, moved across to the dressing-table,
and with explosive vigor clasped her in his arms.

"Oh, how you frightened me!" She had given a little squeal, and she
tried to release herself. "Let me go--please."

"Rot!" And he lifted her from the ground, and carried her across to
the bed.

"Will--let me go. I--I'm tired;" and she began to cry. "Be kind to me,
Will." The words came in feeble entreaty, between weak sobs. "Be kind
to me--my husband--not only now--but always."

She sobbed and shivered; and he, holding her in his arms, soothed her
with gentle murmurs. "My pretty Mav! My poor little bird. Go to
sleepy-by, then. Tuck her up, and send her to sleep, a dear little
Mav." At the touch of her coldly trembling limbs, at the sight of her
tears, all the sensual desire lessened its throb, and the purer side
of his love began to subjugate him. That was the greatest of her
powers--to tame the beast in him, to lift him from the depths to the
heights, to make him feel as though he was her father instead of her
lover, because she herself was pure and good as a child.
"There--there, don't cry, my pretty Mav."

And she, melting beneath the gentleness and tenderness of his
caresses, wept in pity of herself. "Yes, I'm tired--dead-tired." And
the tears flowed unchecked, blotting out emotion, reason, instinct,
swamping her in floods of self-pity. "Let me sleep--and let me forget.
Oh, let me forget what I've gone through these last two days."

"Anyways, it's over now."

"Yes, it's over. Oh, thank God in Heaven, it's over and done with."

"Just so." And there was a change in the tone of his voice that she
might have noticed, but did not. "Just so--but you're talking rather
strange, come to think of it."

His arms slowly relaxed, and he let her slide out of his embrace. She
sank down wearily upon the pillow, closed her eyes, and for a little
while went on talking drowsily and inconsecutively.

"Shut up," he said suddenly. "Hold your tongue. I'm thinking."

Then almost immediately he turned, and, with his hands upon her
shoulders, looked down into her face.

"Why didn't you go to church yesterday?"

"What did you say, Will?"

"I said, why didn't you go to church yesterday?"

"Oh--I really didn't care to go."

"That wasn't like you--you so fond of the Abbey Church. Did your Aunt
go?"

"Yes."

"You said this afternoon she didn't go."

"She did go. I remember now."

"Ah! Another thing! That actor-feller--what d'yer call 'im--him that
you counted on and didn't find--Chugwun!"

"Yes."

"You see the name in the paper?"

"Yes."

"You didn't aarpen t'see it on the boards outside the theater?"

"No."

She was wide awake and quite sober now. But her limbs were trembling
again, and her eyes seemed preposterously large as they stared up at
him from the white face. "Will!" And she spoke fast and piteously;
"don't look at me like this. What's come to you? Why do you ask me
such a pack of questions?" And she tried to laugh. "At such a time of
night!"

"Bide a bit, my lass. I'm just thinking."

Where had the thoughts come from?--out of blank space?--from nowhere?
Yet here they were, filling his head, multiplying, expanding, making
his blood rattle like boiling water in a tube as it rushed up to
nourish their monstrous growth.

"Will, let go my shoulders. You hurt. Get into the bed--and be
sensible. I'll answer all questions in the morning."

"No, I think I'll have the answers now."

He went on questioning her, and his hands growing heavier crushed her
shoulders so that she thought he would break the bones and joints.

"What train did you come up by this morning?"

"The nine o'clock."

"What! D'you mean you went right across from North Ride to Rodchurch
Road?"

"Oh, no. I caught it at Manninglea Cross."

"Did you, then? An' s'pose I was to tell you the nine o'clock don't
stop at Manninglea Cross!"

"Will! Loosen your hands. It does stop--it did stop there this
morning."

"Yes, it did stop--and so it does all mornings. But a fat lot you know
about it. And for why? You weren't in it."

"I was--I really was. Will--don't go on so cruel."

"Oh, but I _am_ going on." He had lowered his face close to hers, and
his hot breath beat upon her cold cheeks. "Now, give me the
explanation of what you let slip about going through so much these
last two days. What was the precise sense o' _that_?"

"I only meant I've been so anxious."

"Yes, but yer bin anxious best part o' four weeks. What was the mighty
difference in yesterday or day before?"

"I didn't mean any difference. I scarce knew what I was saying--or
what I'm saying now."

"Oh! Just a remark let fall without a scrap o' sense in it!"

Staring up at him, it was as if she saw the face of a stranger. His
eyes were half closed and glittering fiercely; his lips protruded as
if grotesquely pouting to express scorn, and on each side of the
distended nostrils a deep vertical wrinkle showed like the blackened
gash of a knife wound.

"Will, dear, I meant nothing at all."

"You're lying."

Abruptly he took his hands from her shoulders, got off the bed, and
went to the chest of drawers. Her handbag was on the drawers; and when
she saw him pick it up she sprang after him, clutching at his hands
and imploring.

"You'll find nothing there. Nothing that I can't explain;" and she
made a desperate gurgling laugh. "Why, Will, old man, it is you that's
drunk, yourself, after chaffing me? No, you shan't. No, Will, you
shan't."

He gave her a back-hander that sent her reeling. It was the first time
he had struck her, and he delivered the blow quite automatically, the
thought that she was preventing him from opening the bag and the
action that got rid of her interference being all one process. His
hand had remained open, but he swung it with unhesitating force; and
now, as he plunged it into the bag, he saw that there was blood on it.

Before he had extracted all the contents of the bag she was back
again, once more clinging, clutching, and impeding. He did not strike
her again--merely shook her off so violently that she fell to the
floor, where she lay for a moment.

In the inner pockets of the bag there were three five-pound notes,
together with a tooth-brush and several small articles wrapped up in
paper. These he laid on one side, while he carefully examined all the
odds and ends that had been packed loose in the bag. Three or four
pocket-handkerchiefs, a new piece of scented soap, a pair of
nail-scissors--as he looked at each innocent article, he gave a snort.

She had come back, but she had not risen from the ground; while he
slowly pursued his investigations she kept quite still, crouching
close to his legs, silently waiting.

She could not see what he was doing, but presently she knew that he
had begun to unfold the paper from the things she had hidden in the
pocket.

"Ah," and he snorted. One of the bits of paper held hairpins; another
a side-comb; and another, a bit of trebly folded paper, proved to be
an envelope--the envelope of one of the letters that he had sent to
her at North Ride Cottage. He looked at the postmark. The postmark
told him that the envelope belonged to a letter he had written four
days ago.

Then he found what she had put in the envelope before she folded it.
It was the return half of a railway ticket, from London to Rodchurch
Road--he turned it in his fingers and examined the date on the back of
it.

"Last Friday, my lady. Not to-day by any means--and not Manninglea
Cross. Issued at Rodchurch Road o' Friday last--the day you come up to
London."

"Yes, Will, I won't pretend any more."

She had put her arms round his legs and lifted herself to a kneeling
position. "I _did_ come Friday. But don't be angry with me. Don't fly
out at me, and I--I'll explain everything."

"May I make so bold 's t'a' ask _why_ you come, without my permission
begged for nor given?"

His voice was terrible to hear, so deep and yet so harsh, and
vibrating with such implacable wrath.

"Will, I did it for your sake. I thought if I asked permission, you'd
say no. So I dared to do it myself--feeling certain as life that you
were done for if no help came--and I thought it was my duty to bring
you the help if I could."

"Go on. I'm listening, an' I'm thinking all the time."

"I thought--Auntie thought so too--she advised it--that Mr. Barradine
knowing me so long, ever since I was a girl, if I went direct to
him--"

"Ah!" And he made a loud guttural noise, as if on the point of
choking. "Ah--so's I supposed. Then I got a bull's-eye with my first
thought to-night. So you went to him. Where?"

"At his house."

"Yes, right into his house. By yourself?"

"Yes."

"You didn't think to bring your aunt with you. Two was to be comp'ny
at Mr. Barradine's. So in you go--alone--without my leave--behind my
back."

"Will--remember yourself, my dear one. You won't blame, you can't
blame me. But for him, you were done for. All could see it, except
you. I asked for his help, and I got it."

"But your next move! We're talking about Friday, aren't we? Well,
after you'd bin to Mr. Barradine, what next?"

"Then I hoped he'd help us."

"Yes, but Friday, Saturday, Sunday? Had yer forgotten my address--or
didn' 'aarpen to remember that _I_ was in London, too?"

"I was afraid of your being angry. I thought I'd better wait."

"_Where_?"

She looked up at him, but did not answer.

"You've played me false. You've sold yourself to that fornicating old
devil. You--"

And with a roar he burst into imprecations, blasphemies and
obscenities. It was the string of foul words that, under a sufficient
impetus, infallibly comes rolling from the peasant's tongue--an
explosion as natural as when a thunderbolt scatters a muck-heap at the
roadside.

Then, snarling and growling like an animal, he stooped and cuffed her.

"Will!" "Will!" She repeated his name between the blows. She did not
utter a word of complaint, or make an effort to escape. Brave and
unflinching, though almost stunned, she raised her white blood-stained
face for him to strike again each time that he buffed it from him.
"Will!" "Will!"

But her courage and submissiveness were driving him mad, had changed
suspicion to certainty. Only guilt could make her take her punishment
this way. Nevertheless she must confess the guilt herself. Even in his
fury, he remembered to hold his hand open and not clench it--like a
cruelly strong animal, tormenting its prey before killing, careful to
keep it alive.

"Answer me. Go on with your tale."

"Then stop beating me, and I'll tell you."

He stayed his hand, poised it, and she seized it and clung to it.

"Will--as God sees me--I did it for your sake--only to help you. I
couldn't get the help unless I sacrificed myself to save you."

Wrenching his hand away he knocked her to the ground, and she lay face
downward. But this blow was nothing, purely automatic, like his first
blow, not bringing with it that faint sense of something refreshing,
the momentary appeasement of his agony. For in truth the torture that
he himself suffered was almost unendurable. Yet up to now his pain,
though so tremendous, was unlocalized; it came from a fusion of all
his thoughts, and perhaps each separate thought, when it became clear,
would bring more pain than all the thoughts together.

The world had tumbled about his ears; his glorious life had shriveled
to nothing; his pride was gone, his love was gone, his trust in man
and his belief in man's creator; and for a few moments one thought
grew a little clearer than the rest. The end of all this must be
death--nothing less. He was really dead already, and he would not
pretend to go on living. He would finish her, and then finish himself.

Turning his head, he looked at the window; and the open space out
there seemed to whisper to him, to beg to him, and to command him.
Yes, that way would be as good as another--strangle her, pitch her
out, and jump out after her.

"Will!" She had once more scrambled to her knees. "I've loved you
faithfully. I've never loved any one but you."

He did not hit her. Grasping the arm that she was stretching toward
him, he dragged her upward, seized her round the body, and carried her
to the bed.

"Now we'll go to work, you and I." He had thrown her down on her back,
and he held her with both his hands about her throat. "Now"--and the
sudden pressure of his hands made her gasp and cough--"we'll begin at
the beginning."

"Do you mean to murder me?"

"Prob'ly. But not till I've 'ad the truth--and I'll 'aarve it to the
last word, if I tear it out o' yer boosum."

"You'll kill me if I tell you."

"See that winder! That's yer road--head first--if you try to lie to
me."

Then she told him the whole sickening story of her relations with Mr.
Barradine. He had debauched her innocence when she was quite a young
girl; she had continued to be one of his many mistresses for several
years; then he grew tired of her, and, his attentions gradually
ceasing, he had left her quite free to do what she pleased. She had
never liked him, had always feared him. The long intermittent thraldom
to his power had been an abomination to her, and it was martyrdom to
return to him.

"Only to save you, Will. And he wouldn't help unless I done it. It was
as much a sacrifice for you as if I'd been hung, drawn, and quartered
for your sake."

"And why did you sacrifice yourself in the beginning, before ever
you'd seen my face?"

"Auntie made me. It was Auntie's fault, not mine. I told her I was
afraid of him."

"Your aunt had been that gait with him herself, in her time?"

"Oh, I don't know."

"Yes, I twigged that--and then the mealy-mouthed, filthy hag came over
me. I on'y guessed, but _you_ knew. Answer me;" and his grip tightened
on her throat, and he shook her. "Answer."

"Oh, I suppose so."

"And that cousin--the one he paid for in foreign parts?"

"I suppose so."

"Those rooms at the Cottage. They were furnished and set out for you
and him to take your pleasure."

"He used them for other women--once or twice."

"What other women?"

"Girls from London."

As he questioned her and listened to her answers his passion took a
rhythm, upward and downward, from blind wrath to black sorrow; and it
seemed that the points reached by the rising curves were becoming less
high, while the descending curves went lower and lower, through sorrow
into shame, and still down, to fathomless depths of despair. He had
heard all that it was necessary to hear. His life that he had thought
marvelous and splendid was ridiculous and pitiful; what he had fancied
to be success was failure; all that he had been proud of as being
gained by his own merit had been brought to him by his wife's
disgrace. What more could he learn?

Yet he went on questioning her.

She swore that she had loved him, that she had quite done with the
other when she married him, had been true to him in thought and deed
ever since their marriage. But she had been tempted two or three
times, through her aunt. Mr. Barradine had desired that she should
understand with what affection he always regarded her, and he invited
her to meet him; and it was the knowledge that he had come to covet
her again that made her sure she could get him to do anything for her.
At the same time the knowledge terrified her; and when Dale's trouble
began, and things with him seemed to be going from bad to worse, she
felt as if a sort of waking nightmare was drawing nearer and nearer.

She wrote to Mr. Barradine, simply asking him to exert this influence
on behalf of her husband; and the reply--the letter that she tore
up--was in these words: "I will do what I can; but why don't you come
and ask me yourself?" Of course she knew what that meant.

It was at the railway station, when bidding Dale good-by, that she
made up her mind to save him at all costs. When he refused to act on
Ridgett's advice, when he showed himself so firm, so unyielding, she
knew that he was a man going to his doom, unless she could avert the
doom.

"And, Will--believe it or not--no woman ever loved a husband truer
than I loved you at that moment. To see you there so brave and strong
and good--and yet certain sure to ruin yourself! Well, I couldn't bear
it. And if it was to do again, I'd do it."

Slowly he withdrew his hands from her throat, and clasped them
together with all his strength. Turning for a moment, he glanced at
the open window. The space seemed to have contracted and darkened, so
that it looked black and small as a square grave cut out for a child.
But if not by the window, what other end to it all would he find? He
could not go on like this--with a to-morrow and a day after, and weeks
and months to follow.

He turned, and in speaking to her, unconsciously used her name.

"Could you think, Mavis, I cared for my job better'n my honor?"

"I thought you'd never know. And I loved you, Will--only you--no one
else."

He scarcely seemed to listen to the answer. He turned from her again;
and went on talking, as if to himself or the far-off stars, or the
invisible powers that mold men's destinies.

"'Aardn't I my fingers and brains--to work for you? Would I care--so's
you could be what I thought you were--whether I broke my back or burst
my heart in working for you? Besides, t'wouldn't 'a' bin that. What
was it but the loss of the office--a step back that I'd soon 'a'
recovered."

He groaned; then suddenly he unclasped his hands and brandished them.
The rhythmic beat of his rage came strong and high, and with savage
energy he seized her again.

"It's half lies still. The money? How does that match? He gave it to
you. Deny it if you dare."

"Yes, I tried not to take it. He forced it on me."

"Lies! It was the bit for yourself when you drove your
bargain--nothing to do with me--you--you. The price of your two or
three nights of love."

"No, I swear. He forced the money as a present. The price he paid was
his help to you. As God hears me, that's the truth."

Then, answering more and more questions, she resumed her story.

After Dale's departure she went over to North Ride, thinking that Mr.
Barradine was at the Abbey, and that he would come to her at the
Cottage. She sent a letter inviting him to do so. There was no answer
for four days. Then Mr. Barradine wrote to her from London; and she
went up on Friday afternoon, and saw him at Grosvenor Place. "He said
he'd engaged rooms for me at an hotel, and I was to go there; and I
went there."

"What hotel?"

"The Sunderland Hotel--Alderney Street."

"Go on."

"I waited in the rooms."

"Rooms! You mean one room, you slut!"

"No, there were four rooms--a grand suite."

"Go on."

"He said he would come to me next day, or Sunday at latest. And he
didn't come on Saturday--I stopped indoors all day, afraid to go out
for fear of meeting you--and he didn't come till Sunday, after lunch."

"Ah! How long did he stay?"

"Till early this morning. Will, let me be--I'm done. You're throttling
me."

"Go on. I'll 'aarve it all out of you. Begin at the beginning. It's
Sunday afternoon we're talking of--ever since lunch time. There's a
many hours to amuse yourselves."

"After dinner he made me dress up."

"What d'you mean?"

"He had brought things in his luggage--fancy dress."

"What dresses?"

"Oh, boy's things--things he'd bought in Turkey, on his travels. He
made me act that I was his page--and bring the coffee, and sit
cross-legged on the ground."

"Go on."

"No--what's the use?" She was crying now. "Oh, God have mercy, what's
the use?"

"Go on."

"No. Kill me, if you want to, and be done with it. I don't care--I'm
tired out. What I've gone through was worse than death. I'm not afraid
of dying."

She would tell him no more; she defied him; and yet he did not kill
her. She lay weeping, moaning, at intervals, repeating that desolate
phrase, "What's the use? Oh, what's the use?"

Irremediable loss--it sounded in her voice, it crept coldly in his
burning veins, it came spreading, flooding, filling the whole earth in
the first faint glimmer of dawn. He sat on the edge of the bed, let
his hands fall heavy and inert between his knees, and for a long time
did not change his attitude.

Just now, looking down at her, he had felt a sickness of loathing. He
hated her for the musical note of her voice, the tragic eloquence of
her eyes, and above all he hated her for her nakedness. The almost
nude sprawling form seemed to symbolize the unspeakable shame of his
sex. This was the disgusting female, round and smooth, white and weak,
with tumbling hair and lying lips, the lewd parasite that can drag the
noble male down into hell-fire. Now he looked at her with comparative
indifference, and felt even pity for the broken and soiled thing that
he had believed to be clean and sound.

The fusion of his thoughts was over. One thought had split away from
all the rest, and every moment was becoming more definite, more
logical, more full of excruciating pain. He thought now only of his
enemy, of the human fiend who had destroyed Mavis and himself.

At least she had been innocent once. She was clean and good--really
and truly the candid child that she had never ceased to seem to
be--when that sliming, crawling reptile first got his coils about her.
As he thought of the maddening reality, his imagination made pictures
that printed themselves, deep and indelible, on the soft recording
surfaces of his brain. Henceforth, so long as blood pumped, nerves
worked, and cells and fibers held to their shape, he would see these
pictures--must see them each time that chance stirred his memory of
the facts for which they stood as emblems.

And with his rage against the man came more and more detestation of
the crime itself. At the very beginning it had no possible excuse in
honest love. There was nothing belonging to it of nature's grand
instinct. It had not the inexorable brutality of primitive passion.
Here was an old, or an elderly man, not driven by the force of normal,
full-blooded desire, but craftily plotting, treacherously abusing his
power, because he was rotten with impure whims--befouling youth and
innocence just to obtain a few faint voluptuous thrills.

Then the brain-pictures flashed out with torturing clearness, and Dale
saw the criminal renewing the outrage after long years. He was quite
old, shaky, infirm, and yet strong enough to consummate the final act
of his infinite wickedness. And Dale saw those yellow-white hands,
with their nauseating blotches, their glistening blue knobs, and their
jeweled rings, as they took possession again of the victim to whom
they had once given freedom.

Daylight was coming fast; the flame of the candles had turned so pale
that one could scarcely see it. Dale got off the bed heavily and
clumsily, blew out one of the candles and carried the other to the
fireplace. There he lighted the corners of the three bank-notes and
watched them burning in the empty grate till nothing was left of them
but black and gray powder. Then he put on his hat and moved to the
door.

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know."

Blindly raging, he passed through the silent, deserted streets, and
presently blundered into Regent's Park. It was all exquisitely pretty
in the pure morning light, with dew-wet grass, feathery branches of
trees, and the water of a river or lake flashing and sparkling; and as
he stared stupidly about him, he thought for a moment that he was
experiencing an illusion of the senses. Or was he a boy again safe in
his forest? This sort of thing belonged to the happy past, and could
have no proper place in the abominable present.

He crossed a low rail, walked on a little way toward the water, and
then threw himself face downward on the grass. He knew where he was
now--in the present time, in a public pleasure-ground. London
stretched about the park, and beyond that there was the vast round
globe; beyond that again there was the universe; and it seemed to him
that, big as it all was, it was not big enough to hold one other man
and himself.

When, four or five hours later, he came back to the lodging-house he
found his wife dressed and sitting by the bedroom table. She had
contrived to wash away nearly all the marks of violence: one noticed
only the swollen aspect of the whole face, an inflamed eyebrow, and a
cut lip. She looked up meekly and fondly as a thrashed dog.

"Will, have you decided what you will do?"

"No."

Then, while getting together his things and beginning to pack, he told
her that he would take his fortnight's leave, as arranged, and
carefully consider matters. "And then, at the end of the fortnight, if
I'm above ground by that time, I'll let you know what I've decided."

But, on hearing this, she flopped from the chair to her knees, and
clung round him just as she had clung when he was first questioning
her.

"Will, don't be mad and wicked, and go and take your life."

"Why not? D'you think there's vaarlue in it to me now?"

He spoke quite quietly, but he looked gray, haggard, terrible, his
clothes all stained and dirty from his open-air bed.

"Will, for mercy's sake--"

He shook her off, and began to count his money.

"I must keep this," he said. "I'll pay it back later to the right
quarter--along with the equivalent of what I burnt."

When he had finished packing he told her that he would settle with the
lodging-house keeper, and he gave her a few shillings.

"That's enough to get you home with."

Then he picked up his bag and went out.




VIII


Mavis had bought a cheap blue veil to protect her face, and being,
moreover, fortunate enough to find an empty compartment in the through
coach to Rodchurch Road, she did not suffer during the journey from
too curious observation of strangers. She was going home, exactly as
if nothing had happened. Her husband had said that she was to go, and
what else could she do but obey him?

When the station omnibus pulled up outside the post office, Mr.
Ridgett caught sight of her, and gallantly came to assist her in
alighting. Evidently he noticed nothing strange about her appearance.
She at once announced the good news that Dale had not only been
reinstated, but given a couple of weeks' holiday; and Ridgett,
genuinely delighted, squeezed both her hands.

"That's something like. Here, let me carry this upstairs for you."

"No, thank you, please don't trouble. I can manage."

Mr. Allen, the saddler, had come across from his shop, and she told
him the good news too. Mr. Allen hurried down the street to tell
others. Soon the whole village knew that Mr. Dale had triumphed, and
that the Postmaster-General was granting him leave of absence as a
special mark of favor.

Mary clapped her hands on hearing the good news, and was rapturously
pleased at seeing her mistress home again; but she immediately
required explanations.

"Oh, lor, mum, whatever have you done to yourself?"

"I have had an accident," said Mrs. Dale. "I fell down--and it has
given me a bad headache. I don't want any tea. I shall go to bed
early, and try to get a good sleep."

And in truth, she was longing to sleep. After the terrible ordeal of
yesterday sleep seemed to be the one good thing left in the world for
her. But, notwithstanding supreme fatigue, sleep would not come.

Throughout that first night, and again on succeeding nights, she
struggled beneath a suffocating burden of anxiety. In the daylight she
had been able to think of herself, but in the darkness she could think
only of her husband. She was haunted by the expression of his face, by
the tone of his voice, when he had asked her if she supposed that
existence was any longer valuable to him, and the sudden instinctive
apprehension that she had felt then now grew so strong that she fought
against it vainly.

He intended to commit suicide. At first she had thought of all those
London bridges, with the dark rivers swirling through their arches and
eddying round their piers; then she became sure that he would not
drown himself. He was a vigorous swimmer--such a death would be
impossible to him. No, he would poison himself, or shoot himself, or
hang himself. Perhaps even now it was all over.

In his presence it had seemed impossible to disobey him. Whatever he
commanded she must do. But what pitiful weakness! Why, with instinct
prompting her, had she not resisted him, refused to let him leave
her, stayed with him in spite of blows, and been there to snatch the
cup or the rope from his hands, to thrust herself between the pistol
and his body?

By day she recognized that her anxiety was unreasoning, based on her
own emotions, or at least not logically derived from her knowledge of
his character. Of course he had taken the discovery of her secret far
worse than she had ever conceived as possible, when timorously
thinking of untoward hazards that one day or another might lead to
disclosure. But, even then, fully allowing for the effect of his
extreme excitement, would he, so brave and self-reliant a creature, be
guilty of an act that is in its essence cowardly?

She thought of his courage. He was as brave a man as ever breathed,
and yet you could not describe him as reckless or foolhardy. He was
wise enough to be chary of exposing himself to useless risks. So much
so that he had more than once surprised her by keeping quite calm when
she had expected and dreaded perilous energy. Especially she
remembered a day out on the Manninglea road when a runaway horse with
an empty cart came galloping toward them, and Dale, instead of
attempting to stop it, put his arm round her waist and hastily drew
her well out of the way. In another hundred yards the runaway went
crashing off the road, fell, and smashed the cart into smithereens.

"Tally-ho! Gone to ground," cried Dale cheerily. "There's a nice
little bill for Mr. Baker to pay." And then he told her that one of
the most dangerous things a pedestrian can do is to interfere with a
bolting horse when there's a vehicle behind it. "Mind you," he added,
"I'd have had a try at bringing it to anchor if there'd been anybody
in the cart. That would have been another pair of shoes. What you're
justified in doing for a fellow human being you aren't justified in
doing to save a few pounds, shillings and pence."

She clung to this thought of his innate common sense. And there was
comfort and hope, too, in another thought. He was a naturally
religious man, if not an orthodoxly religious one. The church service
bored him; he only attended it from motives of policy; but,
nevertheless, when you got him inside the sacred edifice, his behavior
was perfect, and you could not watch him on his knees or hear him say
"Christ have mercy upon us, O Lord Christ have mercy on us," without
being convinced that he did truly believe in an omnipotent God and the
punishments or rewards that await us on the other side of the grave.
Surely the man who bowed his head like that at the name of Jesus would
not, could not, be the man to take his own life merely because it had
become an unhappy life.

The hope that lay in such thoughts as these helped her to support the
strain of three long waiting days and four long sleepless nights. Then
on the fourth day, Saturday, the strain was relieved.

"Mrs. Dale," said Ridgett, speaking to her from the bottom of the
stairs, "would you be disposed for a little stroll before tea?"

"No, thank you, Mr. Ridgett."

"Have pity on a lonely stranger, and change your mind," said Mr.
Ridgett, smiling up at her.

"No, really not--but thank you for offering it."

"You know, it isn't right the way you shut yourself up this lovely
weather."

"I--I have not been feeling quite myself, Mr. Ridgett."

"No, so your maid told me. But, still, I am afraid it's the way to
make yourself worse, never going out of doors;" and Mr. Ridgett
laughed amiably. "I won't press you--that is, I won't press you to
honor me with your company; but I do respectfully press my advice to
get out a bit. You know I feel a responsibility to look after you in
the absence of your lord and master."

"Thank you."

"By the way, I had a note from him this morning."

"From Mr. Dale?"

"Yes."

"Oh, had you? Where--" Mavis gripped the baluster rail so tightly that
the slender wooden uprights rattled. She had nearly asked a question
which would have betrayed the fact that she did not know her husband's
address. "Did he write from his lodgings?"

"No, he wrote from a public library. Lambeth--yes, the Lambeth
Library."

"What did he say?"

"Only confirmed your report that he wouldn't be back till the
twenty-eighth." Mr. Ridgett laughed again. "And told me that the
clocks ought to be wound up Thursday, and he hoped we hadn't let them
run down. We hadn't, you know."

Mavis was inexpressibly relieved; and yet that night she did not sleep
any better than on the preceding nights. The worst anxiety had gone,
but so much that was distressing in her situation remained. Since Will
was alive now, he would continue to live. And that little circumstance
of his remembering about the clocks was full of promise--that is,
promise concerning himself. It implied that he meant to go on much as
usual. He would come back, and be postmaster as in the past. But what
would he do with her?

Would he go for a divorce? Publish her shame? Perhaps, even if he were
willing to spare her, he would not forego the chance of dragging down
Mr. Barradine. Feeling as strongly as he did--and since the world
began, surely no one in such circumstances had ever felt quite so
strongly--he would seize upon the overthrow of Mr. Barradine's
reputation as the obvious means of obtaining his own revenge. Then she
thought of what such a scandal would mean to a gentleman of Mr.
Barradine's state and status. Mr. Barradine would move heaven and
earth to avert it. He might even get Will spirited away, never to be
found again! One was always reading in the newspaper of mysterious,
inexplicable disappearances. New fears almost as bad as the old fear
began to shake her again.

Of this there could be no question. Mr. Barradine would pay a very
large sum of money to avoid the threatened disgrace. And--in the midst
of her acute apprehension and distress--the plain matter-of-fact idea
presented itself: that if Dale were not rendered irresponsible by
jealous ire, one might hope that he would eventually fall in with Mr.
Barradine's views--that he ought, for everybody's sake, to take his
damages, more damages than he would ever get in a court of law, and
then let bygones be bygones.

While dressing of a morning she used to examine the bruises on her
neck, her arms, and her legs. After passing through the stage of
blackness and purpleness, their discoloration had spread out into
faint violet and yellow; now already this was beginning to fade; and
it seemed that as the ugly marks of his hands disappeared from her
skin, the memory of all the causes that had brought them there began
itself to weaken. Certainly the despairing anguish that she had felt,
the submission to his unpardoning wrath, the tacit agreement that the
discovery gave him license to do anything he liked with her, not only
then but throughout the future--all this pertained to a state of mind
which could be coldly recollected, but which could not be warmly
revived.

How he had knocked her about! Standing before the toilet-glass and
looking at her bruises musingly, she tried to remember in what part of
the room, and at which period of the long volcanic discussion, each
one had been received. All the neck marks could be accounted for on
the bed, when he was holding her down and shaking her; that graze
above the knee, outside the right thigh had come when she rolled over
by the chest of drawers. Raising her eyes in order to see if the lip
and eyebrow continued to mend satisfactorily, she was surprised by the
general expression of her face. Positively she was smiling. The smile
vanished at once, but it had been there--a gentle, melancholy, yet
proud little smile. And reflecting, she understood that deep in her
thoughts there was truly pride whenever she dwelt upon her husband's
violence. It did prove so conclusively how immense was his love.

Jealousy is of course the inevitable accompaniment of love; and while
it is active everything else is pushed aside, postponed, or forgotten.
And she smiled again, as she thought what queer creatures men are, how
extravagantly different from women. She had never understood them,
and possibly never would do so. For instance, how strange that old
Will should not for a moment have been softened by a recognition of
her success in extricating him from his difficulty! One might have
expected that gratitude would almost counterbalance anger. But, no,
not for a fraction of a second could he think that, although what she
had done might be wrong, it had been done with the most unselfish
intention and had proved very efficacious.

Then, not in the least expecting that she was about to cry, she burst
into tears.

She had remembered his voice and his look when he said something about
honor and dishonor, and about working for her till he dropped. Noble
and splendid love had spoken in that--such love as few women are lucky
enough to get. Oh, surely if he loved her like that, he could not
leave off loving her altogether, and never, never, want his Mav again.

Sadness and desolation overcame her. She was alone in their dear, dear
home, disgraced, abandoned, heart-broken; and her thoughts for a
little while were all prayers. With each one of them she prayed her
husband to go on loving her; to come back and bruise her limbs, to
punish her with fierce glances and cutting words, to subject her to
systematic penitential discipline, if only at the end of it all she
might have his love again.

She sat crying most bitterly; and then, when at last she dried her
eyes, and went down-stairs to gratify Mary by pretending to eat some
breakfast, a supremely commonplace and yet poignantly sad reflection
brought another flood of tears. What wretched little chances can
produce the most tragically terrific upheavals! Had she not bought a
return railway ticket, the whole disaster might have been averted. But
for that horrible square inch of pink cardboard, all would have been
well, her ordeal would not have been suffered in vain. The wickedly
strong intoxicant had of course begun the mischief by making her blurt
out those imbecile words that first set Will on the rampage; but it
was the knowledge of the telltale ticket, close at hand, unguarded,
certain to be found if looked for, that had unnerved her so
completely. Otherwise, as she now believed, she could have held her
own under his rapid fire of questions. She could have laughed off his
accusations as absurd--or, at the worst, she could have gained time to
think of plausible explanations. But the ticket simply paralyzed her.

And she had known that she was running a risk when she made up her
mind to keep it. She bought it without any thought at all--a stupid
thing to do, considering that the cost was the same as two single
fares. Not so stupid, however, as the thrifty idea that if she and
Will traveled home in different trains, she might after all use her
return half. Oh, fatal economy! In scheming to avoid the loss of five
shillings she had wrecked all her peace and comfort.

On this Sunday she would have liked to go to church, but a dread of
loquacious and inquisitive neighbors kept her a prisoner in the house.

On Monday morning she almost determined to go out for a walk but her
courage again failed her. Until noon the village street was dull and
lifeless, with only one or two people visible at a time, and yet she
dared not go down and walk through it. Were she to show herself, all
the idle shopkeepers would issue from their shops, to congratulate her
on the postmaster's victory, to inquire where he was spending his
holiday and why she hadn't gone for the holiday with him.

Nearly all day she sat by the window of the front room, staring at the
trite and familiar scene, and encouraging her thoughts to wander away
from her misery whenever they would consent to do so. A butcher's boy
leaned his bicycle against the curbstone in so careless a fashion that
it immediately fell down; Mr. Bates the corn merchant passed by with
an empty wagon; then Mr. Norton the vicar appeared, going from house
to house, distributing handbills of special services. And she wondered
if he and his wife had ever had a hidden domestic storm in their
outwardly tranquil existence. Mrs. Norton must have been quite pretty
once, and perhaps at that period she caused Mr. Norton anxieties. But
if she had ever needed forgiveness for some indiscretion or other, she
had obviously obtained it; and again the thought came strong and clear
that people who hold conspicuous positions--such as vicars,
tax-collectors, postmasters, and so on--owe a duty to the world as
well as to themselves. They must hush things up, and preserve
appearances: they can not wash their dirty linen in public.

After twelve o'clock there was much more to look at. The children came
shouting out of school, laborers passed to and fro on their way to
dinner, and with horns loudly blowing, three heavily-laden
chars-a-bancs arrived one after another from Rodhaven. The tourists
filled the street, and for about two hours the aspect of things was
lively and bustling. Then the horns sounded again, the huge vehicles
lumbered away, and the whole village relapsed into drowsiness and
inertia. Literally nothing to look at now.

But before tea time that afternoon she saw something in the street
that held her breathlessly attentive as long as it remained there. It
was Mr. Barradine, riding slowly toward her between the churchyard and
the Roebuck stables. She shrank back behind the muslin curtain of her
window, and, watching him, passed through an extraordinarily rapid
sequence of emotions.

The horse was a chestnut, and it stepped lightly and springily. As she
thought of how and when she had last seen its rider, she felt a
sensation that was like helplessness, shame, and fear all mingled. It
was as though her whole body, muscles, flesh and nerves, quailed and
grew weak at the mere sight of him; as though inherited instincts were
controlling her, and would always control her whenever she was in his
presence; as though she the descendant of serfs must infallibly submit
to the descendant of lords--must forever fear the man who had been her
master even when he was her lover. Rationally she hated him for the
harm that he had done her, but instinctively she feared him for the
further harm that he might yet have power to do.

And together with the hatred and the fear, there was a pitiful
sneaking admiration. He looked so grand and unruffled--so old, and yet
sitting the skittish, high-mettled horse so firmly; so feeble, and yet
full of such an absolute confidence in his power to rule and
subordinate, accustomed for forty years to the unfailing subjection of
such things as servants, horses, and women. Her heart bumped against
her stays, and her face became red and then white, when she thought
that he intended to stop at the post office and ask for her. But he
rode on--gave one glance up toward the windows from which she shrank
still further, and rode by, right down the street, with the horse
swishing its long tail and seeming to dance in a light amble.

Then, as soon as he disappeared, the spell was broken.

In all that she had confessed to her husband she had been sincere; but
hers was a simple and easy going nature, and exaltation could not be
long sustained. After excitement she returned rapidly to a passive and
unimaginative level; and now, quietly brooding, she could not do
otherwise than justify herself for all that had happened.

At the end of everything she felt a deep-seated conviction that she
was in truth blameless. She was not a bad woman. Therefore it would be
wicked to treat her as a sinner and an outcast. Sinners did wrong
because they enjoyed the sin; but she had never been vicious, or even
selfishly anxious for pleasure. Pleasure! She had never cared for that
sort of thing. Girls of her own age used to talk to her about it, and
what they said was almost incomprehensible. She had never had such
feelings, however faintly.

No, her only fault had been in giving way to the people who had charge
of her, and who were too strong to be resisted. Just at first she had
been flattered and pleased when Mr. Barradine had begun to take notice
of her--patting her, and holding her hand, and saying he admired her
hair; but she had not in the least known where all this was leading.
What she told Will was substantially correct as to the beginning--but
of course her eyes had been opened before anything definite occurred.
Then she had told Auntie that she was afraid; and then it was that
Auntie ought to have saved her, and didn't. Far from it. Auntie, who
in early days had been severe enough, now became all smiles, treating
her deferentially, saying: "If you play your cards properly you'll set
us all up as large as towers. Don't lose your head. For goodness'
sake, don't be wild and foolish, and go offending him so that instead
of coming back again he'll look elsewhere."

Then later, when she had, as it were, sacrificed herself on the family
altar, she was indignant at finding that he had nevertheless looked
elsewhere. There were others--and she said she would never forgive
him. Yet she did forgive him. Finally, there came the outrage of his
stopping at the Cottage with somebody else. Her aunt had sent her out
of the way, but she heard of it; and this time she determined to be
done with Mr. Barradine. And yet again she forgave him.

Then she discovered, without any explanations, that _he_ had done with
her. He was paternal and kind, but she had become just nobody; and her
aunt was very angry, saying that she had played her cards badly
instead of well. That was about the time that Dale had been two years
at Portsmouth. She liked Dale from the first because he was honest and
good, and because he seemed to offer her an escape from an extremely
difficult position. But if she had been a nasty girl, she would not
have made such a marriage; instead of being anxious to secure
respectability, however humble, she would have followed Auntie's
suggestions and looked out for another protector instead of for a
husband. And she had wanted to tell Dale the whole truth; but there
again she had been overruled. Auntie forbade her to utter a whisper or
hint of it; she said that Mr. Barradine would never pardon such a
betrayal of his confidence, whereas if a properly discreet silence
were preserved he would give the bride a suitable wedding present, as
well as push the fortunes of the bridegroom. "Besides," said Aunt
Petherick, "a nice hash you'll make of it if you go and label yourself
damaged goods before you're fairly started. Why, it would be just
giving Dale the whip-hand over you for the rest of your days." Looking
back at it all, Mavis felt that this argument was irrefutable.

After marriage she began to love Will most truly and devotedly--but
not for his embraces, which did not even stir her pulses, which only
made her tenderly happy that she could make him happy. Now after
eleven years her feeling toward him was all unselfish and beautiful, a
gentle and deep affection, without a taint of anything that one would
not call really _lady-like_. The passion and boisterousness were all
on his side.

And thinking of things that she had never told Will, she wondered if
this calmness of temperament, or perhaps unusual failure in response,
was but another fatal consequence of the Barradine slavery. If so,
what cause she had to hate and curse him! The episode with him was
simply an irksomeness: it had frozen her instead of warming her,
checked her expansion, and perhaps, breaking the cycle of normal
development, made her imperfect as a woman.

Perhaps this was the real reason why she had remained childless. She
represented completed womanhood in this respect at least, that she
desired to be a mother. The possession of children was the one thing
that made her envious of other women. The idea of having a child of
her own made her almost faint with longing--a baby to nurse, a little
burden to wheel about in a perambulator, a companion to prattle to her
all day while Will was busy down-stairs. If the hope of such joy had
been taken from her by Mr. Barradine, oh, how immeasureably great was
her cause for hatred!

She sat staring at the distant point where he and his horse had just
now vanished, and for a little while her thoughts were like curses.
Any attributes of grandeur were transitory illusions; he was wholly
mean and base: he was the embodied principle of evil that had spoiled
the past and that still threatened the future. She wished that he
might eventually suffer as much as he had made her suffer. She wished
that he might be racked with rheumatism, burned up with gout, tortured
with every conceivable painful disease. She wished him dead and
crumbling to dust in his coffin.

After tea she came back to the window and stayed there till nightfall.

Little by little the street became dim and vague. Two or three futile
oil lamps were lighted, and the shop fronts shone brightly, but all
the rest grew dark, like a river or a canal instead of a street. One
heard voices, and then people showed themselves momentarily as they
passed through the lamplight.

While she watched them passing, her thoughts drifted into generalized
sadness.

The shutters went up at the saddler's, and she saw Mr. Allen for a
moment--a long, thin man, looking too tall for the frame of the
lamplit doorway. Mr. Allen used to have a fine business but he was
spoiling it by his folly. It had been his custom to go to neighboring
meets of hounds and ask the young gentlemen if the saddles he had made
for them were satisfactory, insinuate his fingers between saddle-tree
and hunter's withers to see if there was plenty of room, and generally
render himself obsequiously agreeable. That was good for trade. But
then the hunting gradually fascinated him, and he followed on foot
throughout the season, halloaing hounds to wrong foxes, standing on
banks and frightening horses, being a nuisance to the gentlemen, and
coming home to boast that although he was fifty he had walked
twenty-seven miles in the day. And his trade was all going or gone,
and he not seeming to care. His wife let lodgings to make up a bit.
Very sad.

Candle-light showed in a window of the house next door to the
saddler's, and Mavis thought of these neighbors--two sisters, old
maids--who had a very, very little money of their own and who
endeavored to add to what was barely enough for necessities by selling
butterfly nets, children's fishing-rods, stamp albums, and picture
post-cards. Two years ago the elder sister tumbled down-stairs and
injured her spine; and since then she had been bedridden, lying in the
upper room at the back of the house, with nothing to amuse her but a
view of the graveyard behind the church. Mavis had been to see her one
day this summer, had sat by the bed, and read her a chapter out of the
New Testament and then the weekly instalment of a novel in the
_Rodhaven District Courier_. Extremely sad.

Then livid-faced, matty-haired Emily Frayne passed by, carrying a
brown-paper parcel. This poor overworked girl was the only daughter
of Frayne the tailor, who was a confirmed drunkard. All day long she
was kept toiling like a slave, cutting out, beginning and finishing
gaiters, breeches, and stable-jackets, doing all the work that was
ever done at Frayne's; and at night she went round trying to get
orders, delivering the goods that she had completed, and being forced
to support the impudence and familiarity of coachmen and grooms, who
chucked her under the chin and said they'd give her a kiss for her
pains because they weren't flush enough to stand her a drink. All
painfully sad.

There was a dreadful lot of tippling at Rodchurch: in fact, one might
say that drink was the prevailing fault of the village. The vicar
publicly touched on the matter in his sermons, and privately he often
said that Mr. Cope, the fat landlord of The Gauntlet Inn, was greatly
to blame. The tradesmen had a little club at the Gauntlet, where Cope
employed a horrid brazen barmaid who sometimes sang comic songs to the
club members. Mrs. Cope felt strongly about the barmaid, and quite
took the vicar's side in the dispute the day that Cope came out of the
tap-room and was so rude and abusive to the reverend gentleman. Mrs.
Cope said she'd be glad if Mr. Norton brought her husband to book
before the magistrates and got his license taken away.

Dale openly expressed contempt for this boozing Gauntlet club, refused
to take up his membership when elected, and had received a
complimentary letter from the vicar thanking him for the fine example
he had set for others. No, dear old Will, though he liked his glass of
beer as well as anybody, would often go a whole week on tea and
coffee; and she thought what a merit his sobriety had been. Merely
considered as economy, it was a blessing. It is always the drink, and
never the food, that runs away with one's household money.

Mr. Silcox the tobacconist hurried through the lamplight,
unquestionably on his way to the Gauntlet. Silcox was a chattering
foolish creature who had lost his own and his widowed mother's savings
in a ridiculous commercial enterprise--a promptly bankrupt theater
company over at Rodhaven--and it was thought that the workhouse would
be the end for him and Mrs. Silcox. But early this summer people had
been startled by hearing that the _Courier_ had appointed Silcox as
their reporter; and local critics were of opinion that Silcox had
taken very kindly to literature, and that he was shaping well, and
might perhaps retrieve the past in making name and fortune. Dale, who
used to chaff Silcox rather heavily, was at present quite polite to
him. It had always been Will's policy to stand well with the press,
and there was no doubt that during the recent controversy Silcox had
endeavored to render aid with his pen.

Lamplight moving now--a cart coming down. Mavis, peering out, saw that
it was old Mr. Bates again, in a gig this time, going home to his
pretty little farm two miles off on the Hadleigh Road. Fancy his being
still at it so late, only finishing the day's work long after so many
younger men had done. Mr. Bates was reputed rich--a highly respected
person; but the sorrow of his old age was a bad, bad son. Richard
Bates raced, and habitually ran after women--that is, when he
possessed the use of his legs and was able to run. But he was a heavy
drinker, and it was no unusual thing for the helpers at the Roebuck
stables to have to get out a conveyance at closing time and drive
Richard, speechless, motionless, to Vine-Pits Farm. He never went to
the Gauntlet, but always to the Roebuck--beginning the evening in the
hotel billiard-room, trying to swagger it out at pool with the
solicitor and the doctor, then drifting to the stable bar, and
finishing the evening there, or outside in the open yard. One could
imagine the feelings of the old father, waiting up all alone, knowing
from experience what the sound of wheels implied after ten o'clock.
Will said once that he believed Mr. Bates was glad Mrs. Bates hadn't
been spared to see it.

And Mavis, moving at last from the window, thought that she was not
the only sad inhabitant of Rodchurch. There is a cruel lot of sorrow
in most people's lives.




IX


The second week of the fortnight was passing much quicker than the
first week. By a most happy inspiration Mavis had hit upon a means of
filling the dull empty time. On Tuesday morning she told Mary that
they would turn the master's absence to good account by giving the
house an unseasonal but complete spring cleaning, and ever since then
they had both been hard at work.

The work gave exercise as well as occupation; it furnished a ready
excuse for declining to go over and see Mrs. Petherick or to allow a
visit from her; and, moreover, it had a satisfactory calming effect on
one's nerves. While Mavis was reviewing pots and pans, standing on the
high step-ladder to unhook muslin curtains, and, most of all, while
she was going through her husband's winter underclothes in search of
moths, it seemed to her that she was not only retaining but
strengthening her hold on all these inanimate friends, and that they
themselves were eloquently though dumbly protesting against the mere
idea of forcible separation. When she sat down, hot and tired, in the
midst of shrouded masses of furniture, to enjoy a picnic meal that
Mary had set out on the one unoccupied corner of a crowded table, she
was able to eat with hearty appetite; and yet, no matter how tired she
might be by the end of the day, she could not sleep properly at
night.

If she slept, a dream of trouble woke her. As she lay awake her
trouble sometimes seemed greater than ever. It was as though the
spring cleaning, which by day proved mentally beneficial, became
deleterious during these long night watches. The neater, the cleaner,
the brighter she made her home, the more terrible must be a sentence
of perpetual banishment.

On Friday afternoon the work was nearly over. Kitchen utensils were
like shining mirrors; the flowers of the best carpet were like real
blossoms budding after rain; and Mavis on the step-ladder, with a
smudged face, untidy hair, and grimy hands, had begun to reinstate the
pictures handed to her by Mary, when Miss Yorke came knocking abruptly
at the parlor door.

"A telegram, ma'am."

"All right."

Mavis had come down the ladder, and as she opened the yellow envelope
she began to tremble.

"Answer paid, ma'am. Shall I wait?"

"No. I--I'll--No, don't wait."

It was from Dale. She had sat down on the lowest step of the ladder,
and was trembling violently. "Oh, how dreadful!" She muttered the
words mechanically, without any attempt to express her actual thought.
"How very dreadful!"

"What is it, ma'am? Bad news?"

"Oh, most dreadful. But perhaps a mistake. I'm to find out;" and she
stared stupidly at the paper that was shaking in her fingers. Then,
spreading it on her lap, she read the message aloud:--

    "Evening paper says fatal accident to Mr. Barradine. Is this
    true? Wire Dale, Appledore Temperance Hotel, Stamford Street,
    S.E."

Then she jumped up, ran into the front room, and looked out of the
window. A glance showed her that the village was in possession of some
sensational tidings. There was a knot of people standing in front of
the saddler's, and another--quite a little crowd--in front of the
butcher's; all were talking excitedly, nodding their heads, and
gesticulating.

She ran down-stairs and joined the group at the saddler's.

"I never cared for the look of the horse," Allen was saying
sententiously. "And I might almost claim to have warned them--no
longer ago than last March. The stud-groom was riding him at a meet,
and I said, 'Mr. Yeatman, you aren't surely going to let Mr. Barradine
risk his neck with hounds on that thing?' 'No,' he said, 'Mr.
Barradine has bought him for hacking.' 'Oh,' I said, 'hacking and
hunting are two things, of course, but--'"

Then somebody interrupted.

"Chestnut horse, wasn't it?"

"Yes," said Allen, "one of these thoroughbred weeds, without a back
that you can fit with to anything bigger than a racing saddle; and
I've always maintained the same thing. A bit of blood may do very well
for young gentlemen, but to go and put a gentleman of Mr. Barradine's
years--"

"Mind you," interposed a Roebuck stableman, "Mr. Barradine liked 'em
gay. Mr. Barradine was a horseman!"

Mr. Barradine _liked_ gay horses. Mr. Barradine _was_ a horseman.
That tremendous sound of the past tense answered the question that
Mavis was breathlessly waiting to ask.

"Shocking bad business, isn't it, Mrs. Dale?"

She did not reply; but nobody noticed her silence or agitation. They
all went on talking; and she only thought: "He is dead. He is dead. He
is dead." She was temporarily tongue-tied, awestricken, full of a
strange superstitious horror.

Presently Allen spoke to her again. "There'll never be such another
kind gentleman in _our_ times, Mrs. Dale; nor one so open-handed. And
it's not only the gentry that's going to mourn him. The pore hev lost
a good friend."

"Yes," she whispered. "Indeed they have. Indeed they have."

Miss Waddy came out of her absurd little post-card shop and kept
saying, "Oh, dear!" She, like almost everybody else in the village
except Mavis Dale and Mary, had known the news for hours; but she was
greedy for the more and more particularized information that every
newcomer brought with him along the road from Manninglea.

"How was the body taken to the Abbey?"

"Sent one of the carriages."

"Oh, dear!"

They continued to talk; and Mavis, listening, for a few moments felt
gladness, nothing but gladness. He had gone out of their lives
forever. There could be no divorce. Now that he was dead, she would be
forgiven. Then again she felt the horror of it. The thing was like an
answer to her secret prayer or wish--like the mysterious overwhelming
consequence of her curse. It was as though in cursing him she had
doomed him to destruction.

"They caught the horse last night, didn't they?"

"Yes. Some chaps at Abbey Cross Roads see un go gallopin' by, and
followed un up Beacon Hill. Catched un in the quag by th' old gravel
pits."

"Oh, dear!" said Miss Waddy.

Little by little Mavis pieced the story together. Mr. Barradine had
been out riding late yesterday, and the riderless horse had given the
alarm some time about nine o'clock in the evening. But, although a
wide-spread search continued all through the night, the body was not
found until past noon to-day.

They had found it at Kibworth Rocks. These rocks, situated in Hadleigh
Wood, about two miles from the Abbey, were of curious formation--a
wide mass of jagged boulders cropping out unexpectedly from the sandy
soil, some of them half hidden with bracken, while others, the bigger
ones, rose brown and bare and strange. They provided a redoubtable
fortress for foxes, and contained what was known as the biggest
"earth" of the neighborhood. Not far off, the main ride passed through
the wood, making a broad sunlit avenue between the gloomy pines; but
no one without local knowledge would have suspected the existence of
the rocky gorge or slope, because, although only at a little distance,
it was quite invisible from the ride.

The body had been discovered lying in a narrow cleft, the head
fearfully battered; and how Mr. Barradine came by his death was
obvious. He had been riding through or near the rocks, and the horse,
probably stumbling, had thrown him; and then, frightened and
struggling away, had dragged him some considerable distance, until
the rocks held him fast and tore him free.

What remained doubtful was how or why Mr. Barradine approached the
rocks. Of course, his horse might have shied from the ride and taken
him there before he could recover control of it; or, as perhaps was
more probable, Mr. Barradine might have ridden from the safe and open
track in order quietly to examine what was called the main earth, and,
if fortunate, gratify himself with a glimpse of two or three lusty fox
cubs playing outside the burrows.

However, as Mr. Allen sagely observed, such conjectures were at
present idle. These and all other matters would be cleared up at the
inquest.

"Oh, dear!" said Miss Waddy. "Will there have to be an inquest?"

"Certainly there will," said Mr. Allen.

"Yes, that's the law always," said somebody else.

"Surely not," said Miss Waddy, "in the case of such a well-known
gentleman as Mr. Barradine."

"It would be the same," said Allen, "if it was the Prince of Wales, or
the Archbishop of Canterbury. Coroner's Court sits on everybody who
doesn't die in his bed certified by his doctor."

"And it rained, too, last night," said Miss Waddy.

"Yes, there was some heavy showers."

"Fancy the poor gentleman lying out in the rain. Oh, dear!"

Mavis Dale left them talking and went back to the post office. In her
agitation she had forgotten about the reply telegram to her husband.
She got Mr. Ridgett to write the message--her hands were trembling so
that she could scarcely hold the pencil.

"Very sorry, I'm sure," said Mr. Ridgett sympathetically. "This was
the party you told me of--the gentleman that was giving his support to
Mr. Dale?"

"Yes."

"Well, well--very sad. How will you word it?"

"Please say--'Report true. Mr. Barradine killed by fall from his horse
yesterday.' And sign it 'Mavis.' No, sign it 'Mav.'"

"Mav!--Ma-v!" Mr. Ridgett looked round, smiling. "That's hubby's pet
name for you, isn't it? Upon my word, you two _are_ a pair of
love-birds.... There, off it goes. Good night, Mrs. Dale. I'm truly
sorry that you've been deprived of such a friend."

She went up-stairs to her bedroom, and did not come out of it that
evening. For a long time she sat on the bed sobbing and shivering. She
was glad really, and she knew that she was glad, and yet all the blood
in her body seemed to be running coldly because of unreasoning
superstitious fear. It was as though she had seen a ghost, and as
though the ghost, while imparting to her a piece of surprisingly good
news, had at the same time almost frightened her out of her wits. It
is so wicked, so impiously wicked to wish for the death of a fellow
creature. But what are wishes? Common sense revolts from the
supposition that thoughts can kill. Why, if they could, half the
population of the world would succumb beneath the impalpable weapons
wielded by the other half. It is only toward nightfall, when rooms
begin to grow dark, and the deepening shadows give queer shapes to
furniture, curtains, and other familiar objects, that one can be
foolish enough to entertain such fancies.

She told Mary to bring the candles, and to run out and buy a
night-light. Then Mary helped her to undress and to get to bed; and
she slept dreamlessly. The feeling after all was one of unutterable
relief. Mr. Barradine _was_! Never again would her flesh shrink at the
sight of him; never again could those lascivious hands touch her.

Next day, between dinner-time and tea-time, while she was giving final
touches to the well-cleaned parlor, she heard her husband's voice just
outside the door. He had come up-stairs very quietly and was speaking
to Mary on the landing.

"Will, Will!" With a cry of delight, Mavis rushed out to welcome him.
"Oh, thank goodness, you've come home." She boldly took his arm, drew
him into the parlor and shut the door again. "Will--aren't you going
to kiss me?"

"No." And he disengaged himself and moved away from her. "No, I can
not kiss you."

"Oh, Will. Do try to forget and forgive." She stood stretching out her
hands toward him imploringly, with eyebrows raised, and lips
quavering.

"I can never forget," he said, after a moment's pause.

Then she tried to make him say that things would eventually come all
right, that if he could not pardon her and take her to his heart now,
he would do so some time or another. He listened to her pleadings
impassively, stolidly; his attitude was stiffly dignified, and it
seemed to her that, whatever his real frame of mind might be, he had
determined to hide it by maintaining an impenetrably solemn tone and
manner.

"Will, you've come home, and I'm grateful for it. But--but I do think
you're cruel to me. Especially considering what's happened, I did
hope you'd begin to think kinder to me."

"Mavis," he said solemnly, "it is the finger of God." And he repeated
the phrase slowly, with a solemnity that was almost pompous. "It is
the finger of God. If that man had not chanced to die in this sudden
and startling way, I could never have come home to you. It was the
decision I had arrived at before I read of his accident in the paper.
Otherwise you'd 'a' never set eyes on me. Now all I can say is, you
and I must trust to the future. It will be my endeavor not to look
back, and I ask you equally to look forward."

She was certain that this was a set speech prepared beforehand. She
knew so well the faintly unnatural note in his voice when he was
reciting sentences that he had learned by rote: she who had helped in
so many rehearsals before his public utterances could not be mistaken.
However, she had to be contented with it. And, stilted and stiff as it
was, it certainly seemed to imply that she need not relinquish hope.

He added something, in the same ponderous style, about the probability
of its being advisable to put private inclinations on one side and
attend the funeral of the deceased in his public capacity of
postmaster. This mark of respect would be expected from him, and
people would wonder if he did not pay it. Then he left the parlor, and
again spoke to Mary.

Mavis, listening, heard him give orders that an unused camp bedstead
should be brought down from the clerk's room and made up in the
kitchen. He told Mary that he wished to sleep by himself because he
felt twinges of rheumatism and was afraid of disturbing the mistress
if the pain came on during the night. And Mavis noticed that all the
time that he was talking to Mary his voice sounded perfectly natural.

Then he went down-stairs, speaking again when he was half-way down.

"How goes it, Miss Yorke? Is Mr. Ridgett in the office?"

And this time it was absolutely his old voice--rather loud, rather
authoritative, but really quite cheerful.

Thinking of his manner to her and his manner to others, she believed
that she could now understand all that he intended. She was to be held
in disgrace perhaps for a long time, but appearances were to be kept
up. No breath of scandal was to tarnish the reputation of the
Rodchurch postmaster; the curious world must not be allowed the very
slightest peep behind the scenes of his private life; and she, without
explicit instructions, was to assist in preventing any one--even poor
humble Mary--from guessing that as husband and wife they were not as
heretofore on the best possible terms.

Down below in the sorting-room Dale greeted Mr. Ridgett very heartily.

"Here I am. May I venture to come in a minute? I'm only a visitor till
Monday, you know." And he told Ridgett how he had taken a liberty in
returning before the stipulated date; but he had written to
headquarters explaining the circumstances, and he had no doubt they
would approve. "There's the funeral, you know. Though I suppose that
won't be till Tuesday or even Wednesday. But there's the inquest. And
I felt it like a duty to attend that too."

"Yes, I suppose this is a bit of a blow to you--knowing him so long.
Your good lady was mightily upset."

"So she had cause to be," said Dale gravely.

"He'd always shown himself a real friend?"

"The best friend anybody ever had," said Dale with impressive
earnestness. Then, going, he returned to speak in a confidential
whisper close to Mr. Ridgett's ear. "It was he who did the trick for
me up there. But for _him_, I was to be hoofed out of this, as sure as
eggs."

"Really! Well, I'll tell you frankly, I'm not surprised to hear it.
Ever since the little Missis came home with the happy tale, I've been
wondering what miracle pulled you through so grand with them."

Then Dale went out and down the street, talking to everybody he met.

The village received him with tranquil indifference. No one
congratulated him. The greater excitement had obliterated all memory
of the less: not a soul seemed to recollect the famous controversy,
the postmaster's campaign against detractors, his long absence or his
brilliant success. Kibworth Rocks, the drawn blinds of the Abbey
House, the decorations of the Abbey Church--these were the only things
that Rodchurch could now think of, or talk about.

The inquest, held on Monday in one of the state rooms at the Abbey,
brought to light no new facts that were of the least importance. All
sorts of people gave evidence, but no one had anything to say that was
really worth saying. Mr. Allen, it appeared, had "acted foolish" and
been reproved by the Coroner, first for irrelevance and then for
impertinence.

Allen had attempted to persuade the Court that the prime cause of the
accident was simply this, that poor Mr. Barradine's saddle was made by
a London firm instead of by him--Allen. He pooh-poohed the
stud-groom's statement that Mr. Barradine had an ineradicable
objection to patent detachable stirrups, and maintained that he would
have been able, in five minutes' quiet conversation, to prevail on the
deceased gentleman to adopt a certain device which was known to Allen
but to nobody else in the trade; and then he attempted to read a
written paper in which he advocated the superiority to the modern
plain flap of the ancient padded knee-roll as a means of rendering the
seat more secure for forehand stumbles.

"It was laughable--but for the occasion--to hear him spouting out his
nonsense, until Doctor Hollis told him straight he wouldn't put up
with it any longer."

Dale gave this account of the proceedings to Mavis and to Mr. Ridgett,
who had come up to take high tea on the eve of his departure just as
he had done on the day of his arrival.

"But I admit," said Dale, conscientiously, "there was one bit of sense
in Allen's remarks. He convinced me against trusting to these blood
animals. They're too _quick_, and they're never _sure_. The grooms an'
all spoke up to Mr. Barradine's knowledge of his ridin' gen'rally; but
it stands to reason, when you're past sixty your grip on a horse isn't
the same thing as what it once was. Say, your mount gets bounding this
way, that way;" and with his body and hands he indicated the rapid
lateral movements of a horse shying and plunging. "Well, it's only the
grip that can save you. You aren't going to keep in your saddle by
mere balance--and it's balance that old gentlemen rely on best part
of the time."

Mavis listened wonderingly and admiringly. When her husband spoke of
the dead man, his voice was grave, calm and kindly. No one on earth
could have detected that while the man lived, he had been regarded
with anything but affection. She thought of that epithet that people
so often echo--Death the Leveler. Could one hope that already,
although Will might not know it, might not be willing to know it,
death had taken from him all or nearly all of his anger and
resentment? If it was only just acting--the stubborn effort to keep up
appearances--it was marvelous. Then she sighed. She had remembered
that Will never did things by halves.

She felt almost gay, certainly quite light-hearted, when driving out
with him to the funeral. It was such a glorious day, not a bit too
hot, with a west wind sweeping unseen through the limpid sky; and the
whole landscape seeming animated, everywhere the sound of wheels, the
roads full of people all going one way. She simulated gravity, even
sadness, as they passed the dark pines near Hadleigh Wood; but in
truth she was quite undisturbed by her proximity to the fateful spot.
It seemed to her that with the murmur of the wheels, the movement of
the air, the progressive excitement of every minute, all the tragic or
gloomy element of life was rolling far away from her.

The scene presented at the Abbey struck her as magnificent. She had
never seen so many private carriages assembled together, and she would
not have guessed that the whole county of Hampshire contained so many
policemen. There were soldiers also--members of some volunteer or
yeomanry corps of which the deceased was honorary colonel. Their
brilliant uniforms shone out dazzlingly on a background of black
dresses and coats.

Naturally there was not space in the church for all this vast
concourse. The nobility, gentry, and other ticket-holders were
admitted first, and then there came an unmannerly rush which the
constables checked with difficulty. Mavis and Dale were just inside
the door; and Mr. Silcox close by, whispering, and pointing out
several lords and ladies near the chancel steps. The service was long
but very beautiful, with giant candles burning by the draped bier,
organ music that seemed to swell and rumble in the pit of one's
stomach, and light voices of singing boys that made one vibrate as if
one had been turned into glass--all stirring one to a quite
meaningless regret, not for the man who lay deaf and dumb and blind
beneath the velvet pall, but because of vague thoughts about children
who die young and have wings to hover over those they loved down here
below. And, oh, the increasing heat of the church, the oppressive
crush, the heavy odors of flowers and crape and perspiration! When at
last one emerged, and the open air touched one's forehead, it was like
coming out of an oven into a cold bath.

Then the remains were consigned to the family vault in the small
graveyard behind the church--the crowd filling every vista, the bells
tolling, and the soldiers discharging a cannon and making one jump at
each regularly timed discharge. Mavis, turning her eyes in all
directions, looked at everything with intense interest--at the
gentlefolk, now inextricably mixed up with the tenantry and the mob;
at her husband, standing so black and solemn, with a face that might
have belonged to a marble statue; at the puff of smoke that crept
upward when the gun went bang, at the sunlight on the church tower, at
the birds flying so high and so joyous above its battlements. And all
at once she saw Aunt Petherick--the blackest mourner there, with crape
veils trailing to the ground, a red face down which the tears streamed
in rivers; sobbing so that the sobs sounded like the most violent
hiccoughs; really almost as much noise as the soldiers' gun.

Will had seen her too. Mavis noticed his stony glance at Auntie, when
the crowd began to move again.

While he was slowly making his way toward the stables, she got hold of
Mrs. Petherick and had a little chat with her. Auntie had now entirely
recovered from her recent hysterical storm; the redness of her face
was passing off, and its expression was one of anxiety, rather than of
grief.

"My dear girl," she said, "I don't yet know what this will mean to me.
You know, he promised the house for my life--but he wouldn't give me a
lease. I've nothing to show--not so much as a letter. I may be turned
out neck and crop."

"Oh, Auntie, I should think his wishes would be respected."

"How'm I to prove his wishes?" said Mrs. Petherick, quite testily.
"It'll be wish my foot, for all the lawyers'll care."

"Oh, Auntie!"

"You know, he faithfully promised to provide for me. And now the talk
is he never made a will at all. You can't believe the talk. But, oh,
it's awful to me. The suspense! It'll break my heart to give up North
Ride."

"Auntie," said Mavis presently; "if you chance upon Will, don't speak
to him."

"Why not?"

She whispered the answer. "He found out about _him_ and me."

"Oh, did he? How did he take it?"

"Awfully badly."

But Mrs. Petherick did not seem to care twopence about the domestic
trouble of Mavis and Will. Her thoughts were engrossed by her own
affairs.

"Mavis, I do think this: that if there's a will found, I shall be in
it. He wasn't a liar, whatever he was."

That night there seemed to be a tremendous lot of drunkenness in
Rodchurch, and when the Gauntlet Inn closed you could hear the
shouting as far off as the post office. But next day the village was
quietly drowsy as of old: it had got over its excitement.

Weeks passed, and for Mavis time began to glide. All things in the
post office itself had resumed their ordinary course, and she felt
instinctively that up-stairs, as well as down-stairs, a normal order
would rule again before very long. Outwardly she and Dale were just
what they used to be. They were not, however, really living as husband
and wife. She suffered, but made no complaint. All would come right.




X


Mr. Barradine had not died intestate. This fact was made known at the
post office in a sudden and perturbing manner by a letter to Mavis
from Messrs. Cleaver, the Old Manninglea solicitors. Messrs. Cleaver
informed her that the London firm who were acting in the matter of Mr.
Barradine's will had instructed them to communicate with her, because
certain documents--such as attested copies of her birth certificate,
marriage certificate, and so on--would presently be required; and it
would be convenient to Messrs. Cleaver, if she could pay them a call
within the next two or three days.

Mavis gave the letter to Dale when they met at breakfast, and he read
it slowly and thoughtfully.

"What do you suppose it means, Will?"

"I suppose it means that you're one of the leg'tees."

"Yes." Mavis drew in her breath. "It came into my mind that it might
be that."

"I don't see what else it can be."

His face had become dull and expressionless, and he spoke in a heavy
tone.

"I may go over and see Mr. Cleaver, mayn't I?"

"Yes," he said. "But I must go with you."

"When can you get away? I don't think we ought to put it off."

"No. There mustn't be an hour's avoidable delay. I'll take you over
this afternoon."

Then, without another word, he finished his breakfast and went
down-stairs. Mavis was vibrating with excitement, her eyes large and
bright, a spot of poppy color on each cheek; she longed to burst out
into all sorts of conjectures, to discuss every possibility, but she
did not dare speak to him again just then.

Though the market town of Old Manninglea was only eight miles distant,
the roundabout journey thither by rail offered such difficulties that
Dale hired a dog-cart from the Roebuck and drove his wife across by
road.

Their route for the first four miles was the one they would have
followed if they had been going to the Abbey, and as they bowled along
behind a strong and active little horse Mavis felt again, but in an
intensified degree, those sensations of well-being, of comfort, and
hopefulness, that she had experienced when passing through the same
scenery on the day of the funeral. All the country looked so warm and
rich in its fulness of summer tints--corn ready to cut, fruit waiting
to be picked, cows asking to be milked; everywhere plenty and peace;
nature giving so freely, and still promising to give more. It seemed
to her that as surely as there is a law under which the seasons
change, sunshine follows storm, and trees after losing their leaf soon
begin to bud again, so surely is it intended that states of mind
should succeed one another, that after sorrow should come gladness,
and that no one has the right to say "I will keep my heart like a
shuttered room, and because it was dark yesterday the light shall not
enter it to-day."

About a mile out from Rodchurch they passed the Baptist chapel--a
supremely ugly little building that stood isolated and forlorn in a
narrow banked enclosure among flat pasture fields--and Mavis, making
conversation, called Dale's attention to the tablet that largely
advertised its date.

"Eighteen thirty-seven, Will! That's a long time ago."

"Yes," he said, "a many years back--that takes one. Year the Queen
came to the throne."

"I wonder why they built it out here--such a way from everybody--such
a tramp for the worshipers."

"In those days all non-conformists were a deal more down-trodden than
they are now. It was before people began to understan' the meanin' o'
liberty o' conscience; and, like enough, that's a bit of evidence."

"How so, Will?"

"Quite likely there wasn't a landlord lib'ral enough to give 'em a
patch o' ground within reach o' th' village. Shoved 'em off as far as
they could, to please Mr. Parson, and not contam'nate his church with
the sight of an honest dissenter."

He said all this sententiously and didactically, as one who enjoys
speaking on historical or sociological subjects; but then a cloud
seemed to descend upon him, and he relapsed into gloomy silence.

After another mile they came to Vine-Pits Farm, the home of Mr. Bates
the corn-merchant. It was one of the few stone houses of the district,
a compact snug-looking nucleus from which an irregular wing, rather
higher than the main building, advanced to the very edge of the
roadway. A much smaller wing, merely an excrescence, on the other
side, seemed as if it had gone as far as it could in the direction of
making a quadrangle and had then given over the task to a broad low
wall. The square piece of garden, though untidy and neglected, derived
a great air of dignity from its stone surrounding, and importance was
added to the house by the solid range of outbuildings, barns, and
stables. A rick yard with haystacks so big that they showed above the
tops of fruit trees and yews, three or four wagons and carts, half a
dozen busy men, made the whole Bates establishment seem quite like a
thriving little town all to itself.

"It's a funny name, Vine-Pits," said Mavis, still making conversation.
"I wonder why ever they called it that."

"There was formerly a quantity of old pits 'longside the
rick-bargan--same as you see forcing-pits at a market-gardener's--and
the tale goes that they were orig'nally placed there for the purpose
of growing grapes on the same principle as cucumbers or melons."

"What a funny idea!"

"'Twas a failure. Sort of a gentleman farmer had the notion he knew
better than others, and tried it on year after year till he made a
laughing-stock of himself. Anyhow, that's the tale. Mr. Bates has
shown me the basis of the pits--built over now by the buildings you
were looking at. Ah, here is the old fellow."

Mr. Bates driving toward them in his gig pulled up, and invited Dale
to do so also.

"How are you, William?" And he took off his hat to Mrs. Dale. "Your
servant, madam. Turn head about, William, and come into my place and
take a bit of refreshment."

"No, thank you, Mr. Bates. Not to-day. Some other time."

"No time like the present. A cup of tea, Mrs. Dale. I don't care to
see those I count as friends pass my place without stopping."

"I know you mean what you say," said Dale cordially; "but we're for
Old Manninglea--business appointment."

"Then I mustn't hinder you. But look in on your way back. Your
servant, madam."

Mavis liked the fresh clean complexion and the silvery white hair of
Mr. Bates, and there was something very pleasing in his old-fashioned
mode of address, his courteous way of saluting her, and his gentle
friendly smile as he spoke to her husband.

"Will," she said, as they drove on, "I believe Mr. Bates is really
fond of you."

Dale gave a snort; and then after a long pause spoke with strong
emphasis.

"I'll tell you, Mavis, what Mr. Bates is. He's a _good_ man, every bit
and crumb of him. There's no one between the downs and the sea that I
feel the same respect for that I do for that old gentleman."

"Yes, Will, I know you've always praised him."

"And since you make the remark, I'll admit its truth. I do verily
believe that Mr. Bates _is_ fond of me." Then he laughed bitterly.
"I'm not aware of any one else I could say it of."

"Oh, Will--there's lots are fond of you."

"No--none. That was one small part of my lesson last month in London.
I got that tip, straight, at the G.P.O."

"Will!"

They were driving now through the woods, and Mavis, glancing from time
to time at her husband's face, saw that it had become fearfully
somber. She guessed that this indicated an unfortunate turn of
thought, and she talked incessantly in the hope of rendering such
thought difficult, if not impossible.

After crossing the bridge over the stream that runs serpentining
through the Upper Hadleigh Wood on its way to join the Rod River, they
were soon at the Abbey Cross Roads. Here, as they turned into the
highroad by the Barradine Arms and the cluster of adjacent cottages,
they had a splendid panoramic view of the Abbey estate rolling
downward on their left in wide, sylvan beauty as far as the eye could
see. From this higher ground, the park showed like an irregular
pattern of lighter color on a dark green carpet, and a few of the main
rides were visible here and there as truncated straight lines that
began and ended capriciously; but all the houses and buildings lay
hidden by the undulating woodland. Mavis turned her eyes toward the
point where North Ride Cottage shyly concealed itself, and then she
glanced back at Dale. He was staring straight in front, not looking to
left or right, as if focusing the roadway between the horse's ears.

"It's uphill now, Will, all the way, isn't it? Oh, that's a new
cottage. How red the bricks are!"

They had left all the trees behind them now, and, going up the slope
through the last strip of fields, they soon emerged on the open heath.
For a mile or two the landscape was wildly sad in aspect, just a waste
of sand and heather, with naked ridges and boggy hollows, one or two
wind-swept hillocks that bore a ragged crest of blackened firs, and in
the farthest distance massive contours of grassy down rising as a
barrier to guard the fertile valleys of another county. It was here
that the riderless horse had galloped about and been hunted by the
people from the cross road cottages.

"You _have_ driven well. I think it's wonderful, considering what a
little practise you get.... Look, I believe that's a hawk. Must be!
Nothing but a hawk could stand so still in the air. He can see
something down under him, I suppose. Rabbits, perhaps. Though I don't
suppose he'd strike at anything as big as a rabbit, would he?"

Mavis chattered vigorously, to prevent her husband from brooding on
painful things; but, even while talking, she did not obliterate her
own real thoughts. Inside her there seemed to be a running chorus of
unuttered words, and she listened to the inner voice even when at her
busiest with the outward sounding voice.

"Has he truly left me money? If so, how much?" These mute questions
were perpetually repeated. "A hundred pounds? Perhaps more than that.
He gave me two hundred when I married. Suppose he has left me quite a
lot of money."

It was not market-day, and the town therefore was not at its best and
brightest. Nevertheless, the appearance of shops, pavements, and
nicely dressed young ladies, had a most exhilarating effect on Mavis
when, after putting up the horse and cart, Dale solemnly conducted her
through the High Street to the solicitor's office in Church Place.

The interview with Mr. Cleaver did not take long, although such
weighty concerns were spoken of. Dale sat on a chair near the wall,
his hat held between his knees, his eyes lowered; while Mavis sat on
a chair close to the solicitor, talking, flushing, throbbing,
gradually ascending a scale of excitement so feverishly strong that it
seemed as if it must eventually consume her just as fire consumes.

Mr. Barradine had left her two thousand pounds, and this sum was to be
paid to her free of all duties. The will had not yet been proved, but
everything was in order and probate would be granted any day now;
minor legacies would then immediately be cleared off; and, since Mavis
would have no difficulty in satisfying the executors as to her
identity, she might really consider the money as safe in her pocket.
Mr. Cleaver, having made this stimulating communication and described
the formalities that she must fulfil, asked a few questions about
certain of her relatives.

"Ruby Millicent Petherick. That is a cousin of yours? Yes." And he
jotted down a note of any facts that Mavis could supply. "Still a
spinster. About your own age, and living abroad. Thank you. That is
all you can tell me? There seems to be doubt as to her whereabouts.
Your aunt--Mrs. John Edward Petherick--does not know her address. But
she will no doubt present herself in due course."

Then Mr. Cleaver indicated that he need not further detain them, and
Dale, rising slowly and still looking at the crown of his hat, spoke
for the first time and in a very ponderous way.

"This has come as a complete surprise to my wife."

"Yes," and the solicitor smiled, "but not by any means as an
unpleasant surprise, Mr. Dale!"

"No, sir, naturally not. My wife having been connected with the family
since childhood would be naturally one to be thought of by the head
of the family if wishful to benefit _all_ old friends after he was
called away."

"Quite so," said Mr. Cleaver.

"Will," said Mavis, "we mustn't waste Mr. Cleaver's time by telling
him our history;" and she gave a nervous fluttered laugh.

"Mr. Cleaver," said Dale glumly, "will pardon me for desiring to learn
how others stand, as well as yourself."

"Oh, well," said Mr. Cleaver, "I think it might be premature to go
into matters that do not directly concern Mrs. Dale."

"Yes," said Mavis, nervously, "we mustn't ask for secrets."

"It's just this," said Dale, with stolid insistence. "I do hope he has
done something equally handsome for those relations of my wife whose
names you mentioned--especially for her aunt, Mrs. J.E. Petherick, who
is now past her youth, and to whom it would be a comfort. Also my
wife's cousin Ruby, who is earning her livelihood on the continent by
following the profession of a musician. Such a windfall would come as
a blessing to her."

"Mr. Dale," said the solicitor, "I may safely say as much as this. No
one who had the smallest grounds for expecting anything will find
himself left out in the cold."

"Thank you, sir." Dale had raised his eyes, and, while speaking now,
in the same sententious manner, he seemed to be observing Mr.
Cleaver's face very closely. "The fact is, my wife and I had no
grounds whatever for expecting to be singled out for special rewards.
On the contrary, it was never in my wife's power to render the long
and faithful service rendered by the others; so that if a bequest had
fallen to us while others of the Petherick clan--if I may employ that
expression--had bin passed over, it might have bin difficult for us to
benefit to the detriment of the rest of 'em--at least, without causing
fam'ly squabbles."

"Then I'll freely reassure you. Such a contingency will not arise.
No," and Mr. Cleaver's tone became heartily enthusiastic. "It is a
beautiful will. You'll see all the particulars in the newspapers
before a week is over, and you'll say that no critic--however hard to
please--could find fault. It is a will that is bound to attract the
attention of the press."

"Then thank you again, sir. And good afternoon--with renewed thanks
for the courteous way you wrote to my wife, and received the two of us
to-day."

"Good afternoon." Mr. Cleaver smiled and shook hands good-humoredly.
"My congratulations, Mrs. Dale; and one word of advice, free gratis.
Invest your legacy wisely, and don't confound capital with income.
You're going to have two thousand pounds all told, not two thousand a
year, you know."

"Oh, no, sir--I wouldn't be so foolish as to think so."

They had tea at a pastry-cook's in complete silence, and they were
half-way home again before Mavis ventured to rouse her husband from
his ominous gloom.

"Will," she said, with an assumption of calmness and confidence, "I
didn't at once catch the drift of what you were saying to Mr. Cleaver,
and when I tried to stop you it was because I was all on edge from
hearing such a tremendous piece of news. Such a lot more than ever I
could have _dreamed_ of."

He did not answer. Steadily watching the horse's ears, and holding the
reins in both hands with the conscientious care of an unpractised
coachman, he drove down the slope to the Cross Roads and round the
corner into the woods.

"No, but I soon saw what was passing through your mind, Will. You
wanted to make quite sure that there would be nothing to cause talk. I
don't myself believe people would have really noticed if I had been
the only one. But, of course, as I am one of several, it stands to
reason nobody can say anything nasty."

Still he did not answer.

"Will, you'll let me take the money, won't you?"

"I don't know. I must think."

"Yes, dear, but you'll think sensibly, won't you? Think of the use--to
both of us. If it's mine in name, I count it all as yours every bit as
much as mine."

"That's enough now. Don't go on talking about it."

"All right. Are you going to stop at Mr. Bates'?"

"No."

"He was very pressing."

"I've no spirit to tell him--or any one else--what we've heard over
there."

"Will," and she drew close to him, nestling against him as much as she
could venture to do without causing him difficulty in driving, "you
said we were to look forward, not back. Don't get thinking of the
past. What's done is done--and it _must_ be right to be happy if we
can."

"Ah," and he gave a snort, "that's what the heathens used to say. I
thought you were a Christian."

"So I am, Will. Christ preached mercy--yes, and happiness too."

"Thought He preached remorse for sins before you reach pardon and
peace. But never mind religion--don't let's drag _that_ in. And leave
me alone. Don't talk. I tell you I want to think."

"Very well, dear. Only this one thing. Keep this before you. Now that
he's dead--"

"I've asked you to hold your tongue."

"And I will. But let me finish. However lofty you choose to look at
it, it can't be wrong to take the money now he's gone."

"I wish his money had gone with him. Look at it lofty or low--take it
or leave it--this cursed legacy reminds me of all I was trying to
forget."




XI


Full particulars of the disposition of Mr. Barradine's fortune had now
been published, and the world was admiringly talking about it.

The claims of the entire Petherick family would be once for all
satisfied. Mrs. Petherick and that young person who had been sent to
learn music at Vienna were each to receive as much as Mavis Dale;
three other Pethericks would get five hundred pounds apiece; still
more Pethericks would be dowered in a lesser degree. Then came the
ordinary servants, with legacies proportionate to terms of
service--everybody remembered, nobody left out in the cold. Then, with
nice lump sums of increasing magnitude, came a baker's dozen of
Barradine nephews, nieces, and second cousins; the Abbey domain was to
go to an elderly first cousin; and then, after bequests to various
charities, came the grand item that the local solicitor had in his
mind when he foretold a salvo of newspaper comment.

The residue of the estate, the larger half of all the dead man's
possessions, was to be employed in the establishment of a Home for
parentless, unprotected, or destitute female children. The trustees of
this institution were to find a suitable site somewhere within five
miles of the Abbey House, and if possible on the Barradine property,
being guided in their selection of the exact spot by expert advice as
to the character of the soil, the qualities of the air, and the
facilities for obtaining a supply of pure water. When they had found
the site they were immediately to build thereon, and provide
accommodation at the earliest date for fifty small inmates, each of
whom was to be reared, educated, and finally launched in life with a
small dowry. The funds available would be more than sufficient for the
number of children named; and Mr. Barradine expressed the wish that
the number should not be increased if, as he hoped, the income of the
Trust grew bigger with the passage of time. He desired that extension
of revenue should be devoted to improving the comfort and amenities of
the fifty occupants, to increasing their dowries, and to assisting
them after they had gone out into the world.

Not only the _Rodhaven District Courier_, but great London journals
also, experienced difficulty in marshaling enough adjectives to convey
their sense of admiration for such a perfect scheme. Ever since his
death the local praise of Mr. Barradine's amiable qualities had been
taking richer colors, and now the will seemed so to sanctify his
memory that one felt he must be henceforth classed with the
traditional philanthropic heroes of England--those whose names grow
brighter through the centuries.

When on Sunday Mr. Norton took for his text those beautiful words,
"Suffer little children to come unto Me," all instantaneously guessed
what he was getting at, and by the time he finished there was scarcely
a dry eye that had not been wet at some point or other of an unusually
long sermon. "We have had," he said in conclusion, "a striking
instance of that noblest of all the feelings of the human breast,
tenderness and care for the weak and helpless; and without abrogating
the practise of our church which forbids us to pray for the souls of
those who have been summoned away from us, I will ask you all before
dispersing to-day to join with me in a few moments' silent meditation
on the lesson to be derived from a kindness that has proved undying--a
pity that has the attribute of things eternal, and, speaking to us
from the other side of the grave, may in all reverence be described as
Angelic."

The talk about the vast sums to be expended in charity produced a
curious effect on Mavis Dale. It seemed that her own two thousand
pounds was a steadily diminishing quantity; she was still greatly
excited whenever she thought about it, but she could not feel again
the respectful rapture caused by her first thought of its lavishly
generous extent. Perhaps just at first, doing what the solicitor
advised her not to do, she had not altogether discriminated between
capital and interest. Dazzled by the abstract notion of wealth, she
had over-estimated concrete potentialities.

Of course William would allow her to accept the legacy. In the early
days after their visit to Old Manninglea she had tormented herself
with fears that he would attempt to force a renunciation of benefits
from that quarter, and she had determined never to yield to so
preposterous an exercise of authority; but now she felt certain that
he would not thus drive her to open revolt. He was still somber and
silent, but, however long he remained in this gloomy state, he would
not interfere with her freedom in regard to the money.

Nevertheless, she felt relieved when he explicitly stated that there
would be no further opposition on his part.

"Oh, Will, I can't tell you how glad I am to hear you talk so sensibly
about it."

"It is not willingly that I say 'Yes.' Don't you go and think that."

"No. But you do see we couldn't act otherwise?"

"You must accept it--for this reason, and not for any other reason.
Our hands are tied. If you refuse it, people would wonder."

"Yes--yes. But, Will, you keep saying _you_, when it's really us. It
will be _ours_, not just only mine, you must remember."

"Ah, but I doubt if I could ever take you at your word, there."

After this she sang at her household work. She took as a good sign the
fact that he had spoken doubtfully, instead of formally repudiating
her suggestion that they were to share alike in all the good things
which the money might bring them. She thought it must mean that he was
very near to forgiving her. Death had now almost wiped out
_everything_. He was feeling more and more every day what she had felt
from the beginning, that it was palpably absurd to go on harboring
resentment.

Free now from exaggerated estimates, with ideas readjusted to the
measure of reality, and her natural common sense at work again, she
thought of what the little fortune might truly do for them. It ought
to yield a hundred pounds, twice fifty pounds a year--roughly two
pounds a week coming in unearned. Why, it _was wealth_. On top of
William's annual emoluments such an income would make them feel as if
they were rolling in money.

Visions immediately arose of all sorts of things that would now be
within the scope of their means--choicer meals for William, aprons and
caps for Mary, new curtains and much else new and delightful to
beautify the home. Little excursions too--a regular seaside holiday
during leave-time!

Messrs. Cleaver had intimated that the London solicitors were ready to
hand over the money, and Mavis was talking to her husband about its
investment.

"I trust your judgment, Will--and I'd like it put in both our names."

"Oh, no, I couldn't quite consent to that."

"I do wish you would. If it's invested well, I make out it ought to
bring us a hundred a year."

"Mavis," he said, thoughtfully, "it might be invested to bring more
than that, if you were prepared to take a certain amount of risk."

"Oh, I don't want any risk."

"An' p'raps the risk, after all, would be covered by the security I'd
offer you. That'd be for your lawyers to decide; it's not for me to
urge the safety."

"Will, what is it?"

"I hesitate for this purpose. I want to lead you up to it, so that you
shouldn't turn against the proposal without yourself or your
representatives giving it consideration."

"Will, I wish you'd tell me--I can't bear suspense."

"Then here's the first question. If satisfied of the security, would
you lend out the money on mortgage with a person who has the chance of
setting up himself in an old-established business?"

"What business?"

"I'll tell you in a minute. Take the person first. You haven't asked
about _him_. In a sense, his character--honesty and straight ways--is
a part of the security. He is somebody you've known for a many years."

"Who is it?"

"Myself."

"Will? What on earth do you mean?"

"Mavis, it's like this--There, bide a bit."

They had been sitting in the dusk after their high tea; and now Mary
brought a lighted lamp into the room, and put it on the table between
them.

"All right, my girl. Never mind clearing away till I call for you."

He waited until Mary had gone out of the room, and then went on
talking. His face with the lamp-light full upon it looked very firm
and serious, and his manner while he explained all these new ideas was
strangely unemotional. He spoke not in the style of a husband to a
wife, but of a business man proposing a partnership to another man.

"It seems to me, viewing it all round, a wonderful good chance. An
opening that isn't likely to come in one's way twice. Mr. Bates' son
has bin and got himself into such a mess over a horse-racing
transaction that he's had to make a bolt of it. I can't tell you the
facts, because I don't rightly know them; but it's bad--something to
do with checks that'll put him to hidin' for a long day, if he doesn't
want to answer for it in a court o' law. Well, then, the old gentleman
being worn out with private care, wishful to retire, and seeing a
common cheat and waster in the one who ought by nature to succeed
him, has offered me to take over the farm, the trade, an' the whole
bag of tricks."

"But, surely to goodness, Will, you don't think of giving up the post
office?"

"Yes, I do. I think of that, in any case."

"But you love the work."

"Used to, Mavis."

"Don't you now?"

"No. Mavis, it's like this." He had raised a hand to shade his eyes,
as if the lamplight hurt them, and she could no longer see the
expression of his face. But she observed a sudden change in his
manner. He spoke now much in the same confidential tone that he had
always employed in the old time when telling her of his most intimate
affairs--in the happy time when he brought all his little troubles to
her, and flattered her by saying that she never failed to make them
easy to bear. "So far's the P.O. is concerned, all the heart has gone
out of me. The events through which I've passed have altered my view
of the entire affair. Where all seemed leading me on and on, and up
and up, I see nothing before me now."

"Promotion!"

"I don't b'lieve I'd ever get it. The best I could hope for'd be that
they'd leave me here to th' end o' my service life. And besides, if
promotion comes tomorrow, I don't want it."

"Will, let me say it at once. Take the money. I consent. Whatever you
feel's best for you, that's what I want."

He altogether ignored her interruption, and went on in the same tone.
"I used to think it grand, and now it all seems nothing. I do assure
you when I was down there handing out a halfpenny stamp or signing a
two-shilling order, I used to feel large enough to burst with
satisfaction. I felt 'I'm the king o' the castle.'--That was thrown in
my teeth as how I appeared to others. Well, now, I feel like a brock
in a barrel--or not so big as him. Just something small that's got
into the wrong box by accident, and had the lid clapped to on it. I
want room for my elbows, an' scope for my int'lect. I must get the sky
over my head again, and the open roads under my feet. If I stopped
down there much longer, I should go mad."

"Then, my dear, you mustn't stop."

"These last weeks--fairly determined to chuck it--I bin thinking o'
the Colonies as affording advantages to any man who's got capacities
in him; but now this chance comes nearer home, and it lies with you to
say if you'll give me the help required for me to take it."

"Yes," said Mavis, earnestly, "and more glad than words can say to
think I'm able to do so."

Indeed she was delighted. She had been deeply moved by all he told her
about his distaste for the work he used to love, and she recognized
that he had been magnanimous in refraining from reproaches, but rather
implying a purely personal change of ideas as to the cause of
disillusionment and depression. So that, jumping at the opportunity to
prove that she counted his inclinations as higher than mere money, she
would have accepted any scheme, however unpromising; but in fact the
enterprise appeared to her judgment as quite gloriously hopeful. Every
moment increased the charms that it presented; above all, its complete
novelty fascinated, and with surprising quickness she found herself
thinking almost exactly what her husband had thought in regard to
their present existence. It seemed to her too that she was pining for
a larger, freer environment, that this narrow home had become a
permanent prison-house, and that she could never really be contented
until she got away from it; then she thought of Vine-Pits Farm, the
peaceful fields, the lovely woodland, the space, the air, the sunlight
that one would enjoy out there; and then in another moment came the
fear lest all this should prove too good to be true.

"But, Will, however can Mr. Bates be willing to part with such a
splendid business as his for no more than two thousand pounds?"

"Ah, there you show your sense, Mavis." As he said this Dale took his
hand from his forehead, and resumed his entirely matter-of-fact tone.
"You must understand things aren't always what they seem. The business
is not what it was."

"But Mr. Bates is very rich, isn't he?"

"He _ought_ to be, but he isn't. That son of his has bin eating him
up, slow an' fast, for th' last ten years. The turnover of his trade
is big enough, but the whole management of it has gone end-ways. From
a man working with capital he's come down to a man financing things
from hand to mouth. What's left to him now is strictly speaking his
stock, his wagons, his horses, his lease, his household
belongings--and whatever should be put down for the good-will."

Then, continuing his purely businesslike exposition, he explained that
he would have to make two engagements, one to his wife and one to Mr.
Bates. All material property would be charged with Mavis' loan, and
the value of the good-will would be repaid how and when he could repay
it. Mr. Bates was content to risk that part of the bargain on his
faith in Dale's personal integrity.

"Don't say any more," cried Mavis. "I'm not understanding it, but I
know it's all right. Do let's get it settled before Mr. Bates alters
his mind."

"It must be done formally, Mavis, through your lawyers. Mr. Cleaver is
capable and trustworthy. It's to be a regular mortgage, properly tied
up; and he must approve--"

"I don't care whether he approves or doesn't. I approve."

"Then I thank you," said Dale, gravely, "for the way you've met me,
and I assure you I appreciate it. As to the trade itself, I b'lieve I
shan't go wrong. It's not so new to me as people might suppose. I'm
well aware of its principles; and, moreover, one trade's precious like
another--and a man's faculties are bound to tell, no matter how you
apply them."

Mavis was overjoyed. When she sang to herself now while dressing of a
morning the notes poured out loud and full, even when there was scarce
a puff of breath behind them. She felt so proud and happy to think
that fate had given her the power to help William, and that he had
consented to avail himself of the power. Once more he had begun to
lean on her. As in the past, so in the future, he would derive support
from his poor little misunderstood, but always well-meaning Mavis.




XII


By the end of September everything was arranged. Dale had ceased to be
postmaster of Rodchurch; the purchase of the business had been
completed; and Mr. Bates had moved out of Vine-Pits to a cottage near
Otterford Mill, leaving behind him the bulk of his furniture as the
property of the incomers. Thus the Dales would have no difficulty in
furnishing the comparatively large house that henceforth was to be
their home.

For the last two days they had been living chaotically in rooms
stripped to a woeful bareness; this morning Mary had gone along the
Hadleigh Road with a wagon full of bedsteads, bedding, and household
utensils; and now, late in the afternoon, the wagon stood at the post
office door again, packed this time with a final load consisting of
those treasures which had been held back for transit under their
owners' charge.

Mavis had already climbed up, and was settling herself on a high
valley of rolled carpets between two mountain ranges formed by the
piano and the parlor bookcases. With anxious eyes she looked at minor
chains of packing-cases that contained the best china, the mantel
ornaments, the hand-painted pictures. Inside a basket on her knees
their cat was mewing disconsolately, despite well-buttered paws. The
two big horses, one in front of the other, continuously tinkled the
metal disks on their forehead bands; Mr. Allen and other neighbors
came out of their shops; Miss Yorke and the clerks from the office
filled the pavement; children gathered about the wagon staring
silently, and Miss Waddy on the opposite pavement waved her
handkerchief and said "Oh, dear! oh, dear!"

"Good luck!"

"Thank you, thank you kindly." Dale moved about briskly, shaking hands
with every one. Already he had abandoned all trace of his ancient
official costume. In cord breeches and leather gaiters, his straw hat
on the back of his head, he looked thoroughly farmer-like, and he
seemed to have assumed the jovial independent manner as well as the
clothes appropriate to the man who has no other master but the winds
and the weather.

"So long, Mr. Allen. Put in a good word for me at the Kennels."

"I will so, Mr. Dale."

"Good-by, Mr. Silcox. Hope you'll honor us with a call whenever you're
passing. And if you can, give me a lift in the _Courier_. I may say
it's my intention to patronize their advertisement columns regular,
soon's ever I begin to feel my feet under me."

"See _Rodchurch Gossip_ next issue," said Mr. Silcox significantly.

"Thanks. You're a trump."

"Good-by, Miss Yorke." And he laughed. "'Pon my soul, I'm surprised
it's still _Miss_ Yorke; but it'll be _Mrs._ before long, I warrant."

"Oh, Mr. Dale!"

"There, so long," and he shook Miss Yorke's hand warmly. "And take my
excuse if I bin a bit of a slave-driver now and then. I didn't mean
it."

"We've no complaints," said one of the clerks. "Good luck, sir!"

Then Dale told his carter to make a start of it, and the wagon
creaked, jolted, slowly lumbered away.

Though they moved at a foot pace, it was not easy traveling in the
wagon; the china boxes bumped and rattled, the piano swayed so much
that all its strings vibrated, and the cat leaped frantically in the
basket; but Mavis felt no inconvenience. She was full of hope. For
more than a mile Dale walked beside the shaft horse, echoing the "Coom
in then" and "Oot thar" of the man with the leader, and the sound of
the voices, the plod of the iron shoes, and the bell-like tinkle of
the harness were all pleasant to hear. The whole thing seemed to her
picturesque and interesting, like a small episode in the Old
Testament, and imaginary words offered themselves as suitable to
describe it. "Therefore that day her husband gathered all that was
theirs, and set her behind his horses and they journeyed into another
place."

She smiled at her cleverness in inventing such good Bible language,
and then the thought came to her mind that they were going into the
promised land. Once she turned her head to get a last glimpse of the
church tower, and perhaps be able to pick out the roof of the post
office among the other roofs, but the high mass of furniture shut out
all the view. Only the sky was visible, with the sun quite low, and so
bright that it was almost blinding. And she thought that this chance
of the hour being late and the sun being nearly down was a lucky omen.
Straight ahead of them the road was sunlit, and the long slanting
sunbeams appeared to hurry on before them as if to light up and
glorify the land of promise. "If," she said to herself, "we get there
before it has dipped and I catch the sunshine on the ricks, I shall
know we are going to be happy."

Then all at once she saw Dale's straw hat and face rise above the fore
boards of the wagon. He had swung himself on the shaft to see how she
was getting on.

"All right, old lady?"

"Yes--lovely."

The tone of his voice had made her heart bound. It was the dear old
voice, speaking to her just as he used to speak before their bad time
began.

"We'll be there sooner than you know where you are. I think I'll rest
my bones a bit."

Then he got into the wagon, and carefully clambering over impediments
came toward her. For a moment as he stood over her the sunlight was on
his face, and she, looking up at him, thought that he was not only a
fine but quite a beautiful man. The light seemed to soften and yet
ennoble his features, and his eyes, unblinking in the glare, were blue
and clear as water. When he sat down close to her little nest she
pushed the basket away from her, and raising her hand laid it on his
knees. To her delight he put his hand on hers, and left it there. He
was in shadow now, showing a dark profile, and again she admired
him--her strong, big, handsome man, her man that she was pining for.

"Will," she said tremulously, "don't move, but just look behind you,
and tell me all you see."

"I don't see anything, Mav, unless I heft meself up again."

"No, sit as you are. It just bears out what you said. We're never more
to look back. We're only to look forward. Will?"

He had taken his hand away, and turned the back of his head toward
her.

"Will," she repeated; but he did not answer. "Will, my dear one, this
_is_ going to be a fresh start, isn't it? Like a new beginning for
us."

"Yes," he said, very seriously, "that's what I build on its being.
Take it so. You and I are beginning life again in our new home."

"Bless you for saying it. The one thing I wished to hear."

"Yes, we must help each other. I'll do--I mean to do. But, maybe,
it'll be more 'v o' fight than I'm reckoning, and there's a many ways
that you can make the fight easier--beyond the one great thing you've
done a'ready."

"I will, dear. I will."

Then they were silent. The carter cracked his whip, shouted to his
team, and whistled; and the horses, neither frightened by the whip nor
excited by the whistling, drew the big wagon at exactly the same
steady pace.

And Mavis felt as if her throat had suddenly enlarged itself and
become too big for her collar, while her whole breast was swelling and
hardening until it seemed so rigidly immense that it would burst all
her garments; it was as if her whole being, together with all the
thoughts or memories that it contained felt the expansion of some
force that had been long gathering and now swiftly was released. In
all her life she had experienced no such sensations hitherto. She who
had been passive under the desires of others now felt desire active in
herself. It was not only that she wanted pardon, kindness,
companionship, the things that she had been so systematically deprived
of; she wanted the man himself, the partner, and the mate to whom
nature had given her a right.

Abruptly she changed her position, scrambling forward close against
him, and put up both her hands to his shoulders.

"Will, stoop your head. I want to whisper something."

Then, as soon as he bent toward her, she clasped her hands behind his
neck and tried to drag him down in a kiss.

"What yer doin'? Let me be."

"No, I won't. I won't." She was holding him with all her strength,
pulling herself up since she could not pull him down. "Be nice to me."
And as he recoiled she thrust forward her upturned face, the cheeks
hard and white, the eyes burning, the mouth not quite closing even
while she spoke. "I won't let you go, till you've kissed me and made
it up for good an' all."

She was acting now as instinctively as any wild animal of the woods.
What had started in the zone of voluntary impulse had now passed into
the ruling power of reflexes; every nerve of her body seemed to be
thinking for itself, guiding her, and compelling her to struggle for
the desired end. All this nonsense of high-falutin' morality must be
swept aside; if he loved her still, he must admit that he loved her;
it must be love or hate, but no more sham and pretense, no more of
these half measures that made her a wife when people were looking, and
an enemy, a culprit in disgrace, or a sexless business associate, when
they two were alone behind drawn blinds.

"Mav, you're shaming me. 'A' done. 'Aarve you tekken leave o' yer
senses?"

She felt him shiver as he resisted her; then in another moment he
gripped her round the waist as brutally and violently as if he
intended to pitch her out of the wagon, held her to him so fiercely
that he crushed all the breath from her lungs, and gave her a long
passionate mouth-to-mouth kiss. And it seemed to her that the strength
and brutality of the embrace formed the one supreme gratification that
she had been burning to obtain; she wanted to give herself to him as
she had never done before, and if he crushed her and broke her and
killed her in their joint rapture, she would drink death greedily as
something inevitable to all those who empty the deep goblet of love.

"There!" He took his lips away, and she sank back gasping. "You've 'ad
yer way wi' me;" and he heaved a sigh that was as loud as a groan.
"Oh, Mav, my girl, gi' me yer kisses--kiss me all night and all
day--if on'y you make me forget."

Her hat had tumbled off in the struggle, a mesh of brown hair was
dangling over her shoulder, and she was still too much out of breath
to speak. The wagon rolled heavily forward along the flat road, and
the carter cracked his whip continuously to tell the horses they were
nearly home. Presently Mavis got up, perched herself beside her
husband, and whispered to him jerkily.

"You've nothing to forget, dear. No looking back. But, oh, my darling,
I'm going to be more than I ever was to you. I feel it. I _know_
it--an' we'll be happy, happy, happy, so long as we live."

She pressed her face against the sleeve of his jacket, and stroked his
knee with as much luxurious pleasure as if the rough cord breeches had
been made of the softest satin velvet.

"See. Look straight ahead," and she raised her hand and pointed.

Vine-Pits Farm was in sight. The stone house, the barns, the straw
ricks, and the fruit trees all seeming to have clustered close
together, to form a compact little kingdom of hope and joy.

"Look, dear. How pretty--see the sunlight on the roofs and on the
ricks. That's luck. All the straw is changing into gold. My old Will
is going to make heaps of golden sovereigns as big as any rick."

"Woo then. A-oo then." The carter stopped the horses outside the
garden entrance. "Will the missis get down here at th' front door, or
be us to go on into yaard?"

Mrs. Dale got down here, took the cat-basket from her husband, and
went gaily up the path to the open front door.

"Don't let th' cat loose," Dale called after her warningly, "or she'll
be back to Rodchurch like a streak o' greased lightning. She'll need
acclim'tyzing all to-morrow."

Mavis ran through the house to the kitchen, where Mary and a
courtesying old woman received her. Then she scampered from room to
room, uttering little cries of contentment. Often as she had seen and
admired the house during the last few weeks, it had never seemed so
perfectly delightful as it did to-day: with its low-ceiled cozy little
rooms at the back, its high and imposing rooms in front, its broad
staircase and square landing, it would be quite a little palace when
all had been set to rights.

Coming hurrying back to the hall, she saw her husband in the porch, a
splendid dark figure with the last rays of yellow sunlight behind him.
He paused bare-headed on the threshold, obviously not aware of her
presence, and she was about to speak to him when he startled her by
dropping on his knees and praying aloud.

"O merciful Powers, give me grace and strength to lead a healthy
fearless life in this house."




XIII


The Dales were beginning to prosper now, but their first winter had
been an anxious, difficult time.

Dale had made a common mistake in his calculations, and experience
soon taught him that what is known as good-will, the most delicate and
sensitive of all trade-values, can not by a mere stroke of the pen be
transferred from one person to another. Solid customers turned truant;
the business went down with terrifying velocity; and old Bates, who
loyally came day after day to advise and assist, spoke with sincere
regret. "William, I never foretold this. I must see what can be done.
I'll leave no stone unturned." And he trotted about, touting for his
successor, tramping long miles to beg for a continuance of favors that
had unexpectedly ceased, but usually returning sadly to confess that
his efforts had again been fruitless. They were gloomy evening hours,
when the old and the young man sat together in the office by the
roadway; and at night Mavis used to hear her sleeping husband moan and
groan so piteously that she sometimes felt compelled to wake him.

"What is it?" Awakened thus, he would spring up with a hoarse cry, and
be almost out of the bed before she was able to restrain him.

"It's nothing, dear. Only you were in one of your bad dreams, and I
simply couldn't let you go on being tormented."

"That's right," he used to mutter sleepily. "I don't want to dream.
I've enough that's real."

"Don't you worry, dear old boy. You're going to pull through grand--in
the end. I _know you are_. Besides, if not--then we'll try something
else."

She always murmured such consolatory phrases until he fell asleep once
more.

The fact was that Bates had been respected by the well-to-do and loved
by the humble; and Dale, out here, remained an unknown quantity.
Anything of his fame as postmaster that had traveled along these two
miles from Rodchurch did not help him. He was not liked. He felt it in
the air, a dull inactive hostility, when talking to gentlefolks'
coachmen or giving orders to his own servants. The coachmen could take
no pleasure in patronizing him, nor the men in working for him. Mr.
Bates advised him once or twice to cultivate a gentler and more
ingratiating method of dealing with the people in his employ.

"Perhaps, William, I'm to blame for having spoilt 'em a bit;--but it'd
be good policy for you to take them as you find them, and get them
bound to you before you begin drilling 'em. A soft word now and then,
William--you don't know how far it goes sometimes."

"What I complain of is this," said Dale; "they don't show any spirit.
Every stroke o' bad luck I've had--every chance where they might step
in with common sense, or extra care, or a spark of invention to save a
situation for me--it's just as if they were a row o' turnips."

And the strokes of bad luck were so many and so heavy. The elements
seemed to be making war against him--such wet days as made it
impossible to deliver hay without damage to it, and an accusation from
somebody's stables that the last lot was poisoned; then frost, and two
horses seriously injured on the ice-clothed roads; then February
gales, wrecking the barn roofs, entailing costly repairs; then floods;
and last of all _rats_. The unusual amount of land water had driven
them to new haunts, and Dale's granaries were suddenly invaded. "Oh,
William," said Mr. Bates, horror-stricken, "beware of rats. They are
the worst foe. _One_ rat will mess up a mountain of grain."

About the time of the vernal equinox there came a tempest in
comparison with which all previous wind and rain were but a whispering
and a sprinkling. Every door was being rattled as if by giant hands,
the glass sang in the latticed windows, and the whole house seemed
swaying, when Mary told her mistress that something had gone wrong
with the big straw stack and that the master was attempting to climb
to the top of it on the long ladder.

Mavis instantly pulled up her skirt in true country fashion to make a
cloak, and told Mary to help her open the kitchen door.

"You bide where you be, Mrs. Dale," said the old charwoman. "You ben't
goin' to be no use of any kind out there, and you may bring yourself
to a misfortune."

But Mavis insisted on struggling through the doorway, into the rude
embrace of the weather. Great branches of the walnut tree were waving
wildly, while little twigs and buds flew from apple trees like dust;
the rain, not in drops but as it seemed in solid packets, struck her
face and shoulders with such force that she could scarcely stand
against it; a shallow wooden tub came bounding to her along the
flagged path and passed like a sheet of brown paper; and just as she
got to the corner of the buildings from which she could obtain a view
of the rick-yard, thirty feet of pale fencing lay down upon the
beehives and the rhubarb bed without a sound that was even faintly
audible above the racket of the storm.

But she had no eyes for anything except her husband, and no other
thought than of the horrible peril in which he was placing himself.
Four men clung to the bottom of the ladder, and yet, with Dale's
weight half-way up to help them, could not for a moment keep it
steady. On top of the rick one of the tarpaulin sheets had broken
loose; the cruel wind was tearing beneath it, wrenching out pegs and
cordage, snatching at thatch-hackle, and making the stout ropes that
should have held the sheet hiss and dart like serpents.

It seemed to her that the rick was as high as Mont Blanc, and that
even on a placid summer day no one but a lunatic would want to scale
it. Then she screamed, and went rushing forward.

Dale, in the act of clambering from the top rung of the ladder, had
been blown off, and was hanging to a rope over the edge of the stack.
With extreme difficulty the men moved the ladder, and he succeeded in
getting on it again.

"Gi't up, sir. 'Tis mortally impossible." As well as Mavis, every one
of them shouted an entreaty that he would come down.

Probably he did not hear them, and certainly he did not obey them. He
went up, not down. Then for half an hour he fought like a madman with
the flapping sheet, and finally conquered it.

Mavis, as she stared upward, saw the gray clouds driving so fast over
the crest of the stack that they made it seem as if the whole yard was
drifting away in the opposite direction; while her man, a poor little
black insect painfully crawling here and there, desperately writhed as
new billows surged up beneath him, labored at the rope, seemed to use
feet, hands, and teeth in his frantic efforts against the overwhelming
power that was opposed to him. She felt dazed and giddy, sick with
fear, and yet glowing with admiration in the midst of her agonized
anxiety.

To the men it was a wonderful and exciting sight that had altogether
stirred them from their usual turnip-like lethargy. When the master
came down, all shaking and bleeding, they bellowed hearty compliments
in his ear.

"Now," said the old charwoman, when Mr. and Mrs. Dale returned to the
kitchen, "you've a 'aad a nice skimmle-skammle of it, sir, an' you
best back me up to send the missis to her bed, and bide there warm,
and never budge. I means it," she added, with authority. "You ben't to
put yourself in a caddle, Mrs. Dale, an' I know what I be talkin' of."

After this the men appeared to work better for Dale; perhaps still
somewhat sulkily whenever he pressed them, continuing to be more or
less afraid of him, but not so keenly regretting the loss of their
white-haired old master.

The storm had brought back the floods, and they were now worse than
anything that anybody remembered having ever seen. The feeding sources
of the Rod River had broken all bounds; the lower parts of Hadleigh
Wood had become a quagmire; and the volume of water passing under the
road bridge was so great that many people thought this ancient
structure to be in danger of collapsing. Over at Otterford Mill, the
stream swept like a torrent through a chain of wide lakes; Mr. Bates'
cottage was cut off from the highroad, and the meadows behind the
neighboring Foxhound Kennels were deep under water.

In these days Dale took to riding as the easiest means of getting
about; and one afternoon when he had gone splashing across to see Mr.
Bates, thence to pay a visit of polite canvass at the Kennels, and was
now returning homeward by the lanes, he heard a dismal chorus of cries
in the Mill meads.

Forcing his clumsy horse through a gap in the hedge, he galloped along
the sodden field tracks to the shifting scene of commotion. Three or
four idle louts, a couple of children, and a farm-laborer were running
by the swollen margin of the mill-stream, yelling forlornly, pointing
at an object that showed itself now and again in the swirling center
of the current. Plainly, somebody had chosen this most unpropitious
season for an accidental bath, and his companions were sympathetically
watching him drown, while not daring, not dreaming of, any foolhardy
attempt at a rescue.

"'Tis Veale, sir. A'bram Veale, sir. Theer!" And all the cries came
loud and hearty. "Theer he goes ag'in. I see 'un come up and go under.
Oo, oo! Ain't 'un trav'lin'!"

"Catch th' 'orse!" shouted Dale; and next moment it was a double
entertainment that offered itself to hurrying spectators.

The water, charged with sediment from all the rich earth it had
scoured over, was thick as soup; its brown wavelets broke in slimy
froth, and its deepest swiftest course had a color of darkly shining
lead beneath the pale gleams of March sunshine. In this leaden glitter
the two men were swept away, seeming to be locked in each other's
arms, their heads very rarely out of the water, their backs visible
frequently; until at a boundary fence they vanished from the sight of
attentive pursuers who could pursue no further; and seemed in the
final glimpse as small and black as two otters fiercely fighting.

"Laard's sake," said one of the louts, "I'd 'a' liked to 'a' seen 'em
go over the weir and into the wheel--for 'tis to be, and there's
nought can stop it now."

The event, however, proved otherwise. Before the submerged weir was
reached a kindly branch among the willows, stretching gnarled hands
just above the flood level, gave the ready aid that no louts could
offer. Here Dale contrived to hang until people came from the mill and
fished him and his now unconscious burden out of their hazardous
predicament.

This little incident so stimulated Dale's servants that they began to
work for him quite enthusiastically. It occurred to them that he was
not only a good plucked 'un, but that, however hard his manner, his
heart must possess a big soft spot in it, or he could never have so
"put himself about for a rammucky pot-swilling feller like Abe Veale."

Veale was truly a feckless, good-for-little creature. By trade a
hurdle-maker, he lived in one of the few remaining mud cottages on the
skirts of Hadleigh Upper Wood, and in his hovel he had bred an immense
family. His wife had long since died; her mother, a toothless old
crone, kept house for him and was supposed to look after the younger
children; but generally the Veales and their domestic arrangements
were considered as a survival of a barbaric state of society and a
disgrace in these highly polished modern times. People said that Veale
was half a gipsy, that his boys were growing up as hardy young
poachers, and that every time he got drunk at the Barradine Arms he
would himself produce wire nooses from his pocket, and offer to go out
and snare a pheasant before the morning if anybody would pay for it in
advance by another quart of ale.

Drunk or sober now, he widely advertised a sincere sense of obligation
to his preserver. He bothered Dale with too profuse acknowledgments;
he came to the Vine-Pits kitchen door at all hours; and he would even
stop the red-coated young gentlemen as they rode home from hunting, in
order to supply them with unimpeachable details of all that had
happened. He told the tale with the greatest gusto, and invariably
began and ended in the same manner.

"You sin it in th' paper, I make no doubt, but yer can 'aave it from
me to its proper purpus. Mr. Dale he plunged without so much as
tekking off of his getters and spurs." And then he described how,
stupefied by his mortal danger, he treated Dale more like an enemy
than a savior. "I gripped 'un, sir, tighter than a lad in his senses
'd clip his sweetheart;" and he would pause and laugh. "Yes, I'd 'a'
drowned 'un as well as myself if he'd 'a' let me. I fair tried to
scrag 'un. But Mr. Dale he druv at me wi' 's fist, and kep' a bunching
me off wi' 's knees, and then when all the wind and the wickedness was
gone out o' me, he tuk me behind th' scruff a' the neck and just
paddled me along like a dummy."

At this point Veale would pause to laugh, before continuing. "Nor that
wasn't all, nether. So soon as Mr. Dale catched his own breath he give
me th' artificial respreation--saved my life second time when they'd
lugged us on the bank. I was gone for a ghost; but I do hear--as
they'll tell 'ee at th' mill--Mr. Dale he knelt acrost me a
pump-handling my arms, pulling of my tongue, and bellows-blowing my
ribs for a clock hour;" and Veale would laugh again, spit on the
ground, and conclude his story. "Quaarts an' quaarts of waater they
squeedged out of me afore the wind got back in--an' I don't seem's if
I'd ever get free o' the taste o' that waater. Nothing won't settle
it, no matter how 'ard I do try."

The gentry who smilingly listened, knowing Veale for a queer rustic
character of poor repute, gave him sixpences to assist in his efforts
to quench an abnormal thirst. Talking together, they decided that the
hero of the tale had done rather a fine thing in a very unostentatious
way, and it occurred to several of them that pluck ought to be
rewarded. If the chance came they would encourage Dale. The M.F.H. in
fact made up his mind to reconsider matters, and see if he could not
before long let Dale have an inning at the Kennels.

Throughout this period and well into the hot weather of June Mavis was
stanchly toiling, both as clerical assistant in the office and
general servant in the house. It was she who did most of the cooking,
no light task since meals had to be supplied for the carter and two of
the other men. Mary always worked with a will; but old Mrs. Goudie,
who came for charring twice a week, used to say that, in spite of
being handicapped by the state of her health, the mistress worked
harder than the maid.

A swept hearth, a trimmed lamp, and the savory odor of well-cooked
food, were what Dale might be sure of finding at the evening hour; and
Mavis tried to give him something more. He must have peace at the end
of the day, and thus be able to forget the day's disappointments, no
matter how cruel they had been. She would not let him talk about the
business at night. She said he must just eat, rest, and then sleep;
but she allowed him to read, provided that he read real books and
magazines, not his ledgers or those horrid trade journals.

So after their supper they used to sit in the pleasant lamplight very
quietly, near together and yet scarcely speaking to each other,
feeling the restful joy of a companionship that had passed into that
deeper zone where silence can be more eloquent than words. He was
reading political economy for the purpose of opening his mind,
"extending the scope of one's int'lect," as he said himself, and she
watched him as he frowned at the page or puckered up his lips with a
characteristic doggedly questioning doubtfulness. Certainly no words
were needed then to enable her to interpret his thought. "Look here,
my lad"--that was how he was mentally addressing a famous author--"I'm
ready to go with you a fair distance; but I don't allow you to take
me an inch further than my reasoning faculty tells me you are on the
right road." When he frowned like this, she smiled and felt much
tenderness. He would always be the same obstinate old dear: ready to
set himself against the whole weight of immemorial authority, whether
in literature or everyday life.

She did not read, but with a large work-basket on a chair by her knees
continued busily sewing until bedtime. And the tenderness that she
felt as she stitched and stitched was overwhelmingly more than she
could feel even for Will. When her work itself made her smile, all the
intellectual expression seemed to go out of her face, and it really
expressed nothing but a blankly unthinking ecstasy, whereas her smile
at her husband just now had shown shrewd understanding, as well as
immense kindness. In fact, at such moments, only the outer case of
Mavis Dale remained in the snug little room, while the inward best
part of her had gone on a very long journey. She could not now see the
man with his book, or the walls of the room; the lamp had begun to
shine with ineffable radiance; and she was temporarily a sewing-woman
in paradise, stitching the ornamental flounces for dreams of glory.

Her baby, a girl, was born at the end of June, exactly three-quarters
of a year from the beginning of their new existence. The mother had
what is called a bad time, and was slow to recover strength.
Nevertheless, she was able to suckle the infant, who did well from its
birth and throve rapidly.

It was during the convalescent stage, one evening when he had come up
to sit by her bedside, that Dale told her they had at last turned the
corner.

"Yes," he said, "orders are dropping in nicely. We're getting back all
the good customers that slipped away from me, and some bettermost
ones--such as the Hunt stables--that Mr. Bates himself had lost. You
may take it as something to rely on that we're fairly round the corner
of our long lane."

Then, holding her hand and softly patting it, he praised her for the
way in which she had helped him. "You've been better than your word,
Mav; you've supported me something grand."

And he added that henceforth he should insist on her doing less work,
at any rate less household work. "There's more valuable things than
burning your face over the kitchen fire, and roughing your arms with
hot water. I'm going to be done with that messing of the men; I'm
arranging their meals on another basis; I mean to keep house and yard
as two distinct regions. And as to you, old lady, I intend to turn
your dairy knowledge to account. Don't see why we shouldn't keep a cow
or two--and poultry--and cultivate the bees a bit. Kitchen garden too.
And, look here, I've engaged Mrs. Goudie to come every day instead of
twice a week--and we shall want a nurse."

But Mavis flatly refused to have any hired person coming between her
and the transcendent joy of her life. She had waited long enough for a
baby, and she proposed to keep the baby to herself.

"However successful you come to be," she said to her husband,
earnestly, "I shouldn't like you to make a fine lady of me. I want to
go on feeling I'm useful to you. That's my pleasure--and if good luck
took it from me, I'd almost wish the bad luck back again."

"Hush," he said, gravely. "Don't speak of such a wish, even in joke."

"I only meant I'd wish for the time since we came here. I wasn't
thinking of anything before then."

"All right;" and he stooped over her, and kissed her. "You've bin
talking more'n enough, I dare say. Take care of yourself, and get well
as fast as may be. For I can't do without you."

"That's what I wanted to hear."

"You don't take it for granted yet?"

"No. I want you to say it every time I see you."

"Good night--an' happy dreams."

"Will!" Mavis' voice was full of reproach. "Are you going without
kissing the baby?"

Then Dale came back from the doorway, stooped again, and making his
lips as light as a butterfly's wings, kissed his first-born.

Before September was over Mavis had not only recovered her ordinary
health, but had entered into such stores of new energy that nothing
could hinder her from getting back into harness. She herself was
astonished by her physical sensations. Languors that had seemed an
essential part of her temperament ever since girlhood were now only
memories; she felt more alive when passive now than during extreme
excitement in the past; her whole body, from the surface to the bones,
appeared to be larger and yet more compact. Even the muscles of her
back and legs, which ought to have been relaxed and feeble after weeks
of bed, had the tone and hardness that only exercise is supposed to
induce; so that when standing or walking she experienced a curiously
stimulating sense of solidity and power, as if her hold upon the
ground was heavier and firmer than it had ever been, although she
could move about from place to place with incredibly more lightness
and ease.

These new sensations were strong in her one morning when, Dale having
risen at dawn, she determined to take a ramble or tour of inspection
before the day's work began; and with the mere bodily well-being there
was a mental vigorousness that made the notion of all future effort,
whether casual or persistent, seem equally pleasurable.

She came out through the front garden, and pausing a moment thought of
all the things that ought to be done at the very first opportunity.
This neglected garden was a mere tangle of untrimmed shrub and
luxuriant weed, with just a few dahlias and hollyhocks fighting
through the ruin of what had been pretty flower borders; and she
thought how nice it would all look again when sufficient work had been
put into it. Some of the broken flagstones of the path wanted
replacing by sound ones; the orchard trees were full of dead wood; and
the door and casements of the house sadly needed painting. Her
thoughts flew about more strenuously than the belated bees that were
searching high and low for non-existent pollen. This front of their
house would look lovely with its casements and deep eaves painted
white instead of gray; and if bright green shutters could at some time
or other be added to the windows, one might expect artists to stop and
make sketches of the most attractive homestead in Hampshire.

She kissed the tips of her fingers to that rearward portion of the
building where Mary guarded the cradle, and then went through the gate
and along the highroad.

It was a misty morning--almost a fog--the sun making at first but
feeble attempts to pierce through the white veil. There would come a
faint glow, a widening circle of yellow light; then almost immediately
the circle contracted, changed from gold to silver, and for a moment
one saw the sun itself looking like a bright new sixpence, and then it
was altogether gone again. Out of the mist on her right hand floated
the song of birds in a field. No rain having fallen during this month
of September, the ground was dry and hard as iron, but the roadway lay
deep in dust, and a continuous rolling cloud followed her firm
footsteps. The air was sweet and fresh, although not light to breathe
as it is in spring. One felt something of ripeness, maturity,
completion--those harvest perfumes that one gets so strong in
Switzerland and Northern Italy, together with the heavier touch of
sun-dried earth, decaying fruit, turning fern. When the birds fell
silent Mavis took up their song, walked faster; and all things on the
earth and in the heaven over the earth seemed to be adding themselves
together to increase the sum of her happiness.

She loved, and was loved; she lived, and had given life--bud, blossom,
and fruit, all nature and she were now in harmony.

Presently the wood that stretched so dark and so grand on her left
tempted her from the highroad. This was her first real walk, and she
decided to make it a good one. She would aim for the Hadleigh rides,
and, going on beyond Kibworth Rocks to the higher ground, get a view
of the new buildings. Will had gone across to the far side of
Rodchurch and could not be back to breakfast. It would not therefore
matter if she were a little late.

She passed rapidly through open glades, to which the great oaks and
beeches still made solid walls. The foliage of the beech trees was
merely touched with yellow here and there, while the oaks showed no
sign of fading color, and beneath all the lower branches there were
splendid deep shadows wherever the undergrowth of holly did not fill
up the green wall. This was the true wild woodland, remnant of the
ancient forest, the place of virgin timber, dense thickets, and
natural openings, that tourists always praised beyond anything else.
The stream ran babbling through it, with pretty little pools,
cascades, and fords, all owning names that spoke of bygone times--such
as White Doe's Leap, Knight's Well, and Monk's Crossing. Locally it
was not, of course, so highly esteemed. Cottagers said it was "a
lonesome, fearsome bit o'country," and, whether because of the ugly
memories that hung about it, or in view of extremely modern stories of
disagreements between Chase guardians and poachers, considered it an
undesirable short cut after dark from anywhere to anywhere.

To-day it seemed to Mavis friendly and pleasant as well as beautiful.
The mist slowly rising was now high overhead, so that one could see to
a considerable distance. Some fern-cutters in shirt-sleeves and slouch
hats were already at work, cutting with rhythmic precision, calling to
one another, and whistling tunefully.

One or two of them greeted her as she passed.

By the time she reached the straight rides and the fir trees the sun
came bursting forth bravely, the shadows just danced before vanishing,
the mist broke into rainbow streamers, and then there was nothing more
between one's head and the milky blue sky. She walked within a
stone's-throw of Kibworth Rocks, and did not feel a tremor, scarcely
even a recollection. People nowadays came here from Rodchurch and
Manninglea on Sunday afternoons, making it the goal for wagonette
drives, wandering up and down, and gaping at a scene rendered
interesting to them merely because it had once been the background of
tragedy; and Mavis was thinking more of these Sunday visitors than of
the dead man, as she hurried through the sunlight so near the spot
where he had lain staring with glassy eyes throughout the darkness of
a July night.

She thought of him a little later, when she stood on the higher ground
looking at what live men were constructing in fulfilment of his wish,
and her mind did not hold the least tinge of bitterness. At present
the Barradine Orphanage was simply an eye-sore to miles and miles of
the country-side, but no doubt, as she thought, it would be all very
fine when finished. The bad weather of the winter had caused progress
to be rather slow; the red brickwork was only about ten feet out of
the ground, but a shell of scaffolding enabled one to trace the
general plan. It would be a central block with two long, low
dependencies, apparently, and, as it seemed, there were to be terraces
and leveled lawns all about it; a great deal of clearing work as well
as building work would, however, be necessary before the whole thing
could take shape and explain itself properly. She stood outside one of
its new ugly fences, and wondered if Mr. Barradine's trustees had,
after all, chosen the site wisely. Poor old gentleman, it would be
unkind if his last fancies received scant attention. It was rather
nice of him to have this idea of doing good after his death, to plot
it all, and put it down on paper with such painstaking care.

Truly she was thinking of him now as though he had been a total
stranger, some important person that she had known well by name but
never chanced to meet. She listened to the faint clinking of
bricklayers' trowels, watched men with hods going slowly up and down
ladders, men carrying poles, men unloading half a dozen carts; thought
what a quantity of money was being expended, and how grateful in the
future the little desolate children would be when their costly home
was ready for them; and only as it were by accident did she remember
that she too had cost the estate money, and perhaps also ought to be
grateful. But she had long since ceased to think about the legacy.
What the yokels would call her "small basket fortune" had served a
purpose handsomely, and there was an end of it. The man from whom it
came had gone as completely as the morning mist went when the sun
began to shine.

The harm he had done her was nothing. If she purposely dragged out its
memory, it seemed much less strong and actual than half one's dreams.
Incredible that little more than a year ago she had been in such dire
and dreadful trouble.

She struck the highroad again a little way short of the Abbey Cross
Roads, and came swinging homeward with long strides, feeling healthy,
hungry, happy. And the nearer she drew to home, the deeper grew the
happiness. "Oh, what a lucky woman I am," she said to herself.

And with a quite unconscious selfishness that is an essential
attribute of joy, and that makes all very successful and contented
people think themselves singled out, watched over, and especially
guided by fate, she blessed and applauded the beneficently omniscient
Providence which had given just enough worry in her youth to enable
her to appreciate comfort in mature years, which had delayed
motherhood until she could best bear a hearty child, which had wiped
out Mr. Barradine and restored her husband's love, which, last of all,
had removed Aunt Petherick from North Ride and sent her to live at the
seaside.

A small thing, this, perhaps; and yet a Providential boon, a filling
of one's lap with bounties. There would have been great awkwardness in
having Aunt so near, but forbidden to darken one's door. Will was very
firm there: Auntie was not to be admitted at Vine-Pits on any pretext
whatever. But it had all worked out so neatly, without the least
friction. The new owner of the Abbey wanted North Ride. He had,
however, been very kind about the lease or the absence of a lease, and
had paid the tenant for life, as she described herself, to surrender
possession. Auntie, one might therefore say, was not at all badly
treated.

As the master was away and no kind of state necessary, she breakfasted
in the kitchen with Mary and Mrs. Goudie. Her baby was asleep in its
cradle, which she gently swung with her foot while eating; and the
three women all spoke whisperingly. The pots and pans were shining,
the hearthstone was white as snow, and through the open doorway one
had a pretty little picture of the back pathway, the end of the barn,
and a drooping branch of the walnut trees. From the yard beyond came
sounds of industrious activity--the rumble of a wagon being pulled
from the pent-house, the thump of sacks being let down on the pulleys,
and the intermittent buzz of a chaff-cutting machine.

Presently somebody appeared on the pathway, and came slowly and shyly
toward the door.

"Oh, bother," said Mary. "If it isn't Mr. Druitt again."

"Good mornin', mum," said the visitor, diffidently. "Would you be
doing with an egg or so?"

Mr. Druitt had been introduced by Mrs. Goudie as the higgler, or
itinerant poulterer and greengrocer, who served the house in Mr.
Bates' time. He was a thin middle-aged man, with light watery eyes, a
straggling beard, and an astoundingly dilatory manner. He used to pull
his pony and cart into the hedge or bank by the roadside, and leave
them there an unconscionable time, while he pottered about the back
doors of his customers, offering the articles that he had brought with
him, or trying to obtain orders for other articles that he would bring
next week; and although apparently so shy himself, no bruskness in
others ever seemed to rebuff him. His arrival now broke up the
breakfast party, and was accepted as a signal that the day's labors
must really be attacked. Mrs. Goudie and Mary pushed back their chairs
with a horrid scrooping noise, Mavis got up briskly, the baby awoke
and began to cry.

"No, thank you, Mr. Druitt. Nothing this morning."

"I've some sweet-hearted cabbages outside."

"No, thank you."

"It's wonderful late to get 'em with any heart to 'em. I'll fetch
'em."

Thus, as was usual, the higgler went backward and forward between the
door and his cart; and Mavis, with the baby on her arm, at intervals
inspected various commodities. Eventually she purchased a capon for
the Sunday dinner, paid for it, and bade Mr. Druitt good-by.

"Good-by, mum--and much obliged."

But then, quite ten minutes afterward, his shadow once more fell
across the kitchen floor. He had not really gone yet. Here he was back
again at the kitchen door, staring reflectively at his grubby little
pocketbook.

"Beg pardon--but did I mention the side o' bacon I've been promised
for Tuesday. It's good bacon."

Mavis Dale with courteous finality dismissed him; but Mary, whose
ordinarily red cheeks had become a fiery crimson, spoke hotly and
angrily.

"Drat the man. I've no patience with him. He ought to know better,
going on so."

"But what harm does he do, poor fellow," said Mavis, indulgently,
"except muddling away his own time?"

"He's up to no good," said Mary; and she flounced across to the door,
and looked out at the now empty path. "Hanging about like that! Why
can't he keep away? I don't want him."

Mrs. Goudie, at the sink, screwed up her wrinkled nut-cracker face,
and chuckled.

"No, mum, she don't want un. But he wants she."

And, astonishing as it might seem, this was truly the case. The
higgler had fallen in love with Mary; and she, apparently without a
single explicit word, had understood the nature of the emotion that
stirred his breast. He had somehow surrounded her with an atmosphere
of admiration--anyhow he had made her understand.

Mavis laughed gaily, and chaffed Mary about her conquest; and
henceforth she more or less obliterated herself when this visitor
called, and allowed the servant to conduct all transactions with him.

Mary was always very stern, disparaging his goods, and beating down
his prices; while he stood sheepishly grinning, and in no wise
protesting against her harshness. He now of course stayed longer than
ever, indeed only withdrew when Mary indignantly drove him away.

"Be off, can't you?" cried Mary. "I'm ashamed of you."

"Haw, haw," chuckled Mrs. Goudie. "Don't she peck at un fierce."

"Yes, Mary," and Mrs. Dale laughed, much amused. "I do think you're
rather cruel to him."

"'Twill be t'other way roundabout one day, Mary, preaps."

Then Mary tossed her head and bustled at her work. "I ain't afeard o'
that day, Mrs. Goudie. He isn't going the right way to win me, I can
tell him. I hate his sly ways."

Mavis and the old charwoman thought that Mr. Druitt would win the
prize in the end, and with a natural tendency toward match-making
tacitly aided and abetted his queer courtship. Except for the
disparity of years it seemed a desirable match. It was known that he
had a tidy place, almost a farm, eight miles away on the edge of the
down; and Mrs. Goudie, who confessed that she had merely encountered
him higgling, said the tale ran that he was quite a warm man.

And thus Mary's little romance, announcing itself so abruptly and
developing itself so slowly, brought still another new interest to
Vine-Pits kitchen. It was something vivid and bright and even
fantastic in the midst of solidly useful facts, like the strange
flower that blooms on a roadside merely because some high-flying
strong-winged bird has carelessly happened to drop a seed.

"What," thought Mavis, "can any of us do without love? And where
should we be without the odd chances that bring love to us?"




XIV


Fat easy years came now after the hard and lean ones; and the Dales in
the dual regions of home and trade were doing really well. Dale had a
powerful decently-bred cob to ride; on Wednesdays, when he went into
Old Manninglea for the Corn Market, he often wore a silk top-hat and
always a black coat; and at all times he looked exactly what he was,
an alert, industrious, straight-dealing personage who has risen
considerably and who intends to rise still higher in the social scale.

As to Mavis, she had another baby--a boy this time--and she was an
infinitely proud mother as well as a very busy woman. She kept cows,
poultry and bees; could and did distil a remarkably choice sloe gin,
had achieved some reputation for her early peas and late lettuces, and
had made the quadrangle in front of the house a sight that even
tourists from London talked about. It blazed with color from May to
November, and there was one of the Rodhaven drivers who on several
occasions stopped his char-a-bancs to let the passengers have a long
look at it. Wandering artists, too, fascinated by the stone walls, the
flowers, the white paint, and the green shutters, would sometimes ring
the bell and ask if Mrs. Dale let lodgings.

Mrs. Dale was rather crushing to masculine intruders of this sort,
especially when they adopted an off-handedly gallant air.

In answering their questions she drawled slightly, and smiled in a
manner that, although not contemptuous, might permit them to guess
that they had made a tactless mistake.

"Oh, no, we do not let lodgings."

"Don't you really? I think you _ought_ to, you know."

"Possibly," said Mavis, drawling and smiling. "But Mr. Dale and I do
not think so. Of course if we did, we should put up a board, or
notice--and you may observe that there isn't one."

She was, however, always gentle and forbearing with wanderers of her
own sex. To two ladies who expressed disappointment at finding no
apartments and asked if she did not at least provide afternoon tea,
she said at once, "Oh, certainly, I shall be delighted to give you
some tea."

They were tired, dusty, not young; and she showed them into the grand
front parlor that contained her piano, pictures, well-bound books, and
there laid the table and brought the tea with her own hands. Such a
tea--the best china, thick cream, three sorts of jam, cakes, and jolly
round home-made bannocks! The ladies were so pleased, until they
became embarrassed. For of course when they wished to pay, Mavis could
not accept payment.

"Oh, indeed no. You're very welcome. I hope that you'll stop and rest
as long as you like;" and faintly blushing she shied away from the
open purse and hurried out of the room.

"What on earth are we to do?" said one of the ladies.

"I saw a child in the passage," said the other lady. "Let us offer the
child a present."

"Ah. That solves the difficulty. But how much? I suppose it must be
half-a-crown."

"_Nonsense!_" said the other lady, tartly. "That is more than the
price of the whole meal if she had let us pay for it. A present of a
shilling at the _outside_. No, a shilling is absurd. Sixpence."

"Do you really think so?"

"Yes, sixpence wrapped up in a bit of paper."

"Then _you_ must offer it."

And the other lady did. "Is that your little girl? Oh, what brown
eyes--and mamma's pretty complexion. Good afternoon! We are so much
obliged. And this is for _you_, dear--to buy sweeties."

Mavis was not disposed to allow her small princess to take a tip from
a stranger's hand; but natural good-breeding forced her to acquiesce.

The ladies looked back at her, waved their hands by the garden gate,
and went away talking.

"The child never said 'Thank you.' Badly reared."

"But the mother thanked you. I liked her face. She must have been
distinctly good-looking."

The artists thought her distinctly good-looking even now, and perhaps,
after being repulsed in their quest for bed and board, drifted off
into an idle dream of how they might have met her a few years ago when
they were less famous but more magnetically attractive. What a sitter
she would have been for them, if she wouldn't be anything else! They
admired the extreme delicacy of her nose that seemed so narrow in the
well-rounded face, the loose brown hair that showed such a red flash
in it beneath her sunbonnet, the perfect modeling of full forearms,
firm neck, and ample bosom, the whole poise of her graciously solid
figure, at once so reposeful and so free. But it was the eyes
principally that set them dreaming of vanished youth, abandoned hopes,
and lost opportunities. Nowadays Mavis could meet the unduly
interested regard of male investigators with a candid unvacillating
outlook; there came no hint of feebleness in resistance, too ready
submission, or temperamental proneness to surrender; but her eyes,
whether she wished it or not, still served as messengers between all
that was feminine in her and all that was masculine outside her; and,
with no reason not to tell the truth, they told it boldly, seeming to
say, "Yes, once I had much to give, and I gave every single bit of it
to one man. I have nothing left now for cadgers, sneak-thieves, and
other outsiders."

She was a woman steadily completing her cycle. In fact, with her added
weight, broadened contours and settled mental equilibrium, she had so
changed from the slim, pallid, childish Mrs. Dale of the post office
that any old Rodchurch friends might be forgiven for saying that they
could scarcely recognize her.

"Really shouldn't have known you," said one of them frankly. "You have
furnished like a colt brought in from grass to corn."

This outspoken old friend was Mr. Allen the saddler, who turned up one
winter day when Vine-Pits had been thrown into a great state of
excitement and confusion by the passage of the hunt right across the
meadows behind the orchard. Just after dinner everybody had heard the
horn sounding in the woods, with distant holloas and deep music of
hounds, and then the pack came streaming out in full cry, and next
moment all the horsemen were galloping over the fields and leaping the
hedges. The women ran forth from the back of the house; the men
abandoned their work. "Oo, oo! Look an' look." There were shouts of
rapture each time the horses jumped. "Oo! Crimany! That _were_ a
beauty!"

Then in another minute Dale himself came galloping to the empty yard,
rode his horse along the flags into the garden, and yelled to Mavis
that she was to fetch trays of bread and cheese and bannocks as quick
as life.

"An' bring the white bob full of beer--an' whisky, an' water--an' some
o' the sloe gin; an' devel knows how many glasses."

Mrs. Dale and Mary, before one could look round, carried out into the
yard all these light refreshments, and with them Dale regaled the
large concourse of unexpected visitors that was pouring through the
opened gates. His guests were grooms, second-horsemen, one or two
farmers, and several dealers--the people who are rarely in a hurry
when out hunting; and after them came pedestrians, a sturdy fellow in
a red coat with a terrier in his pocket and a terrier under his arm, a
keeper, a wood-cutter, Abraham Veale the hurdle-maker, and just
riffraff--the very tail of the hunt, and, as the tail of the tail,
that stupid trade-neglecting Mr. Allen. For a while the yard was full
of animation, the horses pawing and snorting, Dale bustling
hospitably, his wife filling the glasses and handing the food, and
everybody talking who was not eating or drinking.

Mr. Allen was exhausted, tottering on his skinny legs, but
nevertheless burning with ardor for the chase.

"They've changed foxes," he cried breathlessly. "They've lost the
hunted fox, and they've only themselves to thank for it. I told them,
and they wouldn't listen. I knew."

"Ah, but you always know," said a second-horseman, grinning.

"If Mr. Maltby," said Allen, "had cast back instead of forward last
time I holloa'd, he'd have had the mask on his saddle rings by now."

Then he sank down upon one of the upping-stocks, snatched a hunk of
bread, munched hastily.

"Mr. Allen, you've no cheese. Here, let me fill your glass again.
How's Rodchurch?" Every time that Mavis passed, she asked a question.
"Mr. Allen, how's Miss Waddy's sister?"

"Dead," said Allen, with his mouth full.

"Dead. Oh, that's sad!" Then next time it was: "How's Miss Yorke? Not
married yet?"

"No, nor likely to be."

The horse-people soon began to move off again--"Thank you, Mr. Dale.
Good night, Mr. Dale.... You've done us proper, sir.... Just what I
wanted.... Good night, ma'am;"--but the foot-people lingered. The
red-coated earth-digger, Veale, and one or two others, had got around
Mr. Allen and were chaffing him irreverently.

"There, that'll do," said Dale, joining the group and speaking with
firmness. Then he politely offered to have a nag put into the gig and
to send Mr. Allen home on wheels.

"Thank you kindly," said Allen. "I'm not going home; but if your man
can rattle me a mile or so up towards Beacon Hill, it's a hundred to
one I shall drop in with them again. With the wind where it is, hounds
are bound to push anything that's in front of them up to the high
ground."

As soon as Dale went to order his gig the clumsy facetiousness was
renewed.

"'Tes a pity you ben't a hound yersel, Mr. Allen."

"Ah," said Veale, "if the wood pucks cud transform him on to all
fours, what a farder he'd mek to th' next litter o' pops at the
Kennels."

"By gum," said the earth-digger, slapping his leg, "they pups would
have noses. They wuddent never be at fault, would 'em?"

Old Mrs. Goudie, who had a simple taste in raillery, was so convulsed
by this jesting that she put down her tray in order to laugh at ease;
and chiefly because she was laughing, Mary laughed also.

"An' you know most o' the tricks o' foxes too, don't you, Mr. Allen?"

"Now then," said Dale, returning, "that's enough, my lads. I dropped
you the hint by now. You're welcome to as much more of my beer as you
can carry, but you won't sauce my friends inside my gates--nor
outside, either, if I chance to be there."

"Aw right, sir."

"Take no heed of them," said Allen. "It is only their ignorance;" and
he staggered to his feet.

Dale escorted the honored guest to the gig, then wiped his perspiring
face, lighted a pipe; and then reproved Mary and Mrs. Goudie for
unseemly mirth.

They still had Mary with them, and, although they did not know it,
were to enjoy her faithful service for some time to come. Now that
Mrs. Dale grew her own vegetables, purchases from Mr. Druitt, the
higgler, had become rare; only an occasional bit of bacon, or once in
a way a couple of rabbits, a hare, a doubtfully obtained pheasant,
could ever be required from him; so that the greater part of his
frequent visits were admittedly paid to the servant and not to the
mistress. But he proved an unconscionably slow courtier. Mary, for her
part, when she was teased about him and asked if he did not yet show
anxiety to reach the happy day, always tossed her head and said that
she was in no hurry, that she doubted if she could ever tear herself
away from Vine-Pits, and so on.

Then, at last, a shocking discovery was made. Mary, after an afternoon
out, came home with her face all red and blubbered, sat in the kitchen
sobbing and rocking herself, and told Mavis how she had heard on
unimpeachable authority that the higgler was a married man. He had
always been married--and poor Mary confessed that she was very fond of
him, although so angry with him for his disgraceful treatment of her.

On the next visit of the higgler Dale was lying in wait for him.

"Come inside, please. I'd like a few words with you, Mr. Druitt;" and
the higgler was led through the kitchen, and up the three steps into
the adjacent room.

Here, as soon as the door had been shut, Mr. and Mrs. Dale both
tackled him. Dale was very fine, like a magistrate, so dignified as
well as so severe, accusing the culprit of playing fast and loose with
a young woman, of arousing feelings in her bosom which he was not in
a position to satisfy.

"A girl," said Mavis, "that we consider under our charge, as much as
if she was our daughter."

"Who looks to us," said Dale, "for guardianship and protection."

Mr. Druitt, sitting on the edge of his chair, smiling foolishly,
nodded his head in the direction of the kitchen door, and gave a queer
sort of wink.

"Meaning _her?_"

"Yes, who else should we mean?"

"I've never said a word of love to her in my life."

"Oh, how," cried Mavis, "can you make such a pretense?"

"Because it's the truth."

"But," said Mavis, indignantly, "you've made her fond of you. You've
courted her."

The higgler distinctly preened himself, and smiled archly. "Ah,
there's a language of the eyes, which speaks perhaps when the lips are
sealed."

Mavis was angry and disgusted. "You, a married man!"

Dale, outraged too, spoke with increasing sternness. "You don't deny
you've got a wife?"

The higgler answered very gravely. "Mr. Dale, that's my misfortune,
not my fault. But my wife isn't going to last forever, and the day
she's gone--that is, the day after I've buried her decently--I shall
come here to Mary Parsons and say 'Mary'--mind you, I've never called
her Mary yet--I shall say, 'Mary, my lips are unsealed, and I ask you
to be my true and lawful second wife.'"

They could make nothing of the higgler.

"It's seven years," he went on, "since Doctor Hollin said to me, 'I
have to warn you Mrs. Druitt isn't going to make old bones.' However,
we find it a long job. There's a proverb, isn't there? Creaking
doors!"

Mavis was inexpressibly shocked. "How can you talk of your wife so?
Have you no feelings for her?"

"Mrs. Dale," said the higgler, solemnly, "I married my first wife for
money, and I've been punished for my mistake. That's why I made up my
mind I'd marry next time for love--in choosing a wholesome maiden and
not asking what she'd got sewed in her petticoat or harbored in the
bank;" and, nodding, he again gave his curious self-satisfied wink.
"Mr. Dale, you tell her to wait patiently. I'll be true to her, if
she'll be true to me." Then he rose, and smiling sheepishly, once more
addressed Mrs. Dale. "The purpose of my call this morning was to say I
shall have some _good_ bacon next week."

Mavis refused the bacon, and Dale said a few words of stern rebuke.

"I can tell you, Mr. Druitt, I take a very poor opinion of your
manhood and proper feeling."

Then Mavis interposed to check her husband. The fact was, she felt
baffled by the situation and utterly at a loss as to what would be the
best way of dealing with it. Whatever one might think of Mr. Druitt
one's self, there was Mary to be considered. What would ultimately be
best for her? The man was warm; and Mary, who was not growing younger,
said she liked him.

"I'll wish you good morning," said the higgler.

Then, when they thought he had been long gone and Mavis was talking
to Mary, he put in his head at the kitchen doorway.

"Will this make any difference?" he asked shyly. "Should I call
again--or do you forbid me the house?"

The three women, Mavis, Mary and Mrs. Goudie, all looked at one
another, quite perplexed.

"Er--no," said Mavis, after a pause. "You can call. I may, just
possibly, be wanting bacon next week."

"It's a real beautiful side;" and, without a glance at Mary, he
disappeared.

Then Mary instantaneously decided that she would wait for him, and not
break with him; and she asked Mrs. Dale to run out and tell him that
she would wait.

But that Mavis could not do. It would be too undignified. Mary must
restrain her emotions till next week, and tell him herself.




XV


The little girl Rachel at the age of six was able to take interest in
everything that happened, and to be a real companion who loved to help
her mother at any important task. Thus one winter evening between tea
and supper, when Mavis was most importantly engaged, she sat up late
by special license and gave her company and aid in the little room
behind the kitchen.

"Now, see if you can find the blotting-paper over there on daddy's
desk. Quietly, my darling. Very quietly--because we mustn't wake
Billy."

Billy, the little boy, was asleep in his cradle, near, but not too
near, the cheerful fire; a bluish flicker that reminded one of the
frost out of doors showed intermittently among the yellow and red
flames; the wick of the lamp on the round table burned clearly; and in
the mingling lamplight and firelight the whole room looked
delightfully cozy and homelike. Mavis, with a body just pleasantly
tired and a mind still comfortably active, paused before starting her
labor in order luxuriously to feel the peaceful charm that was being
shed forth by all her surroundings.

More and more the very heart of their home life seemed to locate
itself in this room, and so every day additional memories and
associations wove themselves about the objects it contained. Rachel,
young as she was, showed a marked predilection for it, loving it
better than all other rooms. From the dawn of intelligence she had
been fascinated by the two guns and the brass powder-flasks that hung
high over the chimney-place; her first climbings and tumblings had
been performed on the three steps that led to the kitchen; and she had
addled her tender brains, as well as inflamed the natural greed which
is so pardonable in infants, by what was to her a sort of differential
calculus before she learned to discriminate nicely among the various
jams kept by Mummy in the big cupboard.

Nearly all the furniture, as well as the two guns, had belonged to Mr.
Bates. It was solid, and very old--a tall-boy with a drawer that,
opening out, made a writing-desk; a bureau with a latticed glass
front; three chairs of the Chippendale farmhouse order; and one vast
chair, covered with leather and adorned with nails, that had probably
been dozed in by the hall-porter of some great mansion more than a
century ago. Here and there Mavis had of course dabbed her small
prettinesses--blue china and a clock on the mantel-shelf, colored
cushions, photographs of the children, views of Rodchurch High Street,
the Chase, Rodhaven Pier; and the old and the new, the useful and the
ornamental, alike whispered to her of fulfilled desires, gratified
fancies, and William Dale.

It was her husband's room. Perhaps that formed the real source of all
its charms, the essence or base of attraction that lay deep beneath
visual presentations of chairs and fire-gleamings, or associations of
ideas, or memories of past happiness. Those were his books, behind the
latticed glass--the _Elocution Manual_, the _Elements of Rhetoric_,
the ten-volumed _People's Encyclopedia_, that he had read, and still
read so assiduously. It was here that he ate, drank, and mused. Here
he did all of his work that wasn't real office work. Here he received
such visitors as head coachmen, stud-grooms, and the huntsmen.

In the cupboard with the jam-pots, there were two or three boxes of
cigars, the famous sloe gin, and other liqueurs, for the entertainment
of such highly esteemed visitors; and so long as one of them occupied
the colossal armchair, her husband was quite a different Dale. He was
then such a much better listener than usual, so quick to see a joke
and so easy to be tickled by it, so debonair that he would swallow
almost insulting criticism of his favorite politicians. As she thought
of these things her eyelids fluttered and her lips parted mirthfully.
She never asked any questions as to Dale's more secret methods of
dealing with customers' servants. Obviously he got on well with them;
and one might be quite certain that he did not offer any material
compliments that were either traditionally illegitimate or open in the
smallest degree to a suspicion of corrupt purpose.

And she thought admiringly that her man was really a very wonderful
man. Though so candid and straight, he could be grandly silent; he
told his womankind all that he considered it good for them to know,
and the rest he kept to himself; he had that quality of rulership
without which manhood always seems deficient.

"Mummy," said Rachel, "I do believe Mary is reading aloud."

"Is she, darling? Yes, I think she is."

Through the kitchen door one could hear a monotonous murmur.

"D'you think she's reading fairy tales?"

"Perhaps. Would you like to listen to her?"

"Oh, no. I'd sooner stay and help you, Mummy."

"Then so you shall, my angel; and I thank you for preferring my
company."

Mavis, with the little girl at her knee, got to work. She had
purchased a large scrap-album, and was now to begin putting in her
scraps. For a long time she had collected interesting extracts from
the newspapers, more especially portions of old numbers of the
_Rodhaven Courier_ which contained her husband's name.

"Here, Rachel, we'll commence with this;" and she started the book
with a long account of the ceremonial opening of the Barradine
Orphanage. The report of a speech by "Mr. Dale of Vine-Pits Farm" at a
political meeting was the second item, and other gems followed fast.

Rachel assisted from time to time, by twice upsetting the paste pot,
tearing a good many cuttings, and finally by tilting the heavy album
off Mummy's lap to the floor.

But Mavis thought all these actions rather spirited and charming than
maladroit and annoying. They proved that Rachel was trying hard to be
of use, and her too rapid and abrupt gestures were a pleasing evidence
that the little creature possessed a vivacious and not a sluggish
disposition. However, the crash of the album on the floor had awakened
Billy, who was now crying lustily; and Rachel's license having long
since expired, Mavis decided to send both her treasures to bed.
Rachel resisted the edict, and, presently conducted up-stairs by Mary,
bellowed more loudly than her brother; indeed for a little while the
house was filled with the harsh sound of squalling. Yet this noise,
though distressing, was as musical as harps and lutes to the mother's
ears; and while old Mrs. Goudie in the kitchen was saying: "They
children want a smart popping to learn them on'y to squawk when
there's reason for squawking," Mavis was thinking: "Poor darlings, I'd
go up and kiss them again, if Mary didn't always quiet them down
quicker than I can."

Alone with her newspaper snippets, Mavis did more reading than
pasting. "Heroic Rescue at Otterford Mill"--that was the description
of how Will saved good-for-nothing Abraham Veale. She knew it almost
by heart, but she had to read it again. "Brave Deed at Manninglea
Cross Station"--that was something that made her feel faint every time
she thought of it, and she trembled now as she read in the snippet of
how there had been a frightened dog on the line between the platforms,
and how Will had jumped down in front of the approaching train and
whisked the dog out of danger just in time.

She folded her hands, puckered her forehead, and passed into a reverie
about him. Combining with her intense admiration, there was a great
horror of all this reckless courage. He would not have been so
foolhardy years ago. It was against the principles that he had once
laid down as limiting the risks that a brave man may run. It indicated
a change in him, a change that she had never pondered on till now. She
thought of him fighting the wind on top of their rick, and of several
other incidents unchronicled by the press--of his going with the
police at Old Manninglea when there was the bad riot, of his joining
the Crown keepers when they went out to catch the poachers, of his
wild performance when Mr. Creech's bull got loose. Goring bulls,
bludgeoning men, tempest and flood--wherever and whatever the danger,
he went straight to it. But it was not fair to her and the babes. His
thrice precious life! And she grew cold as she thought that an
accident--like a curtain descending when a stage play is over--might
some day end all her joy.

Then she thought once more of that dark period of their dual
existence; and it was the last time that she was ever capable of
thinking of it seriously and with any real concentration. Had that
trouble left any permanent mark on him? Her own suffering had left no
mark on her. It was gone so entirely that, as well as seeming
incredible, it seemed badly invented, silly, preposterous. All that
remained to her was just this one firm memory, that, strange or not,
there had truly once been a time when his arms were not her shelter,
and she dared not look into his face.

But he was different from her; with a vastly more capacious brain, in
which there was such ample room that perhaps the present did not even
impinge upon the past, much less drive it out altogether. She who in
the beginning had tacitly agreed with those who considered her the
obvious superior now felt humbly pleased in recognizing that he was of
grander, finer, and more delicate stuff than herself. And for the
first and last time she was assailed by a disturbing doubt. Was he
completely happy even now? He loved her, he loved his children, he
loved his successful industry; yet sometimes when she found him alone
his face was almost as somber as it had ever been.

And those bad dreams of his still continued. At first, when things
were all in jeopardy, it had seemed not unnatural that the troubles of
the day should break his rest at night; but why should he dream now,
when he was prosperous and without a single anxiety to distress him?
Did he in sleep go back to that old storm of anger, jealousy, and
grief about which he never thought during his waking hours?

And again Mavis was actuated all unconsciously by the elemental
selfishness that mingles with our joy. When we are happy we want
others to be happy too, we can not brook their not being so; even
transient darkness in those we love seems inimical to the light that
is burning so cheerfully in ourselves. Mavis ceased to trouble herself
with questions, and forgot that they remained unanswered.

When Dale came in she was, however, more than ordinarily sweet to him,
waiting on him, bringing the supper dishes, not sitting down until he
was served, and watching him while he ate. She told him that she had
been reading about the dog on the railway line, and that he was not to
do such things. If he ever again felt such a wild impulse, he was to
stifle it immediately by remembering his wife and bairns.

"D'you understand, Will? We won't have it--and we all three think you
ought to be ashamed of yourself for not knowing better. You're not a
boy."

"No," he said, "I shall be forty-two next year. Look here," and he
pointed to his temples. "Look at my gray hair."

"I can't see it."

"But it's there, my dear, all the same. I am beginning to turn toward
the sear and yellow leaf, as Shakespeare puts it."

She admired the easy way in which he quoted Shakespeare, as if it was
the most natural thing in the world to do. Indeed, all through supper
she was admiring him. She thought how beautifully he spoke, expressing
himself so elegantly, and with tones in his voice that every day
seemed to sound a little more cultivated. At first after their arrival
at Vine-Pits, being plunged again into the midst of purely rustic
talk, he had fallen back in regard to his diction. Instinctively he
reverted to the dialect that had been his own, and that was being used
by everybody about him; but now one might say that he really had two
languages--his rough patter for the yard and the fields, and his
carefully-measured phrasing for the home, office, and upper circles.
She understood that his constant reading and his unflagging desire for
self-improvement were telling rapidly; and with a touch of sadness she
wondered if, passing on always, he would finally leave her quite
behind.

No, while life lasted, he would hold to her. He would never shake her
off now. Even if she were old and ugly, useless to him, a dead-weight
upon his ascending progress, he would be true to her now. Even if his
love died, the memory of it would keep him still hers. And she thought
of the pity in him, as well as the strength. The man who could not
resist the appeal of a poor little stray dog would not break faith
with the mother of his children; and she thought, "Yes, whatever I say
to him, I know really and truly that it was a nobler, better thing to
risk all than to allow even a dog to perish. And I love him for not
having hesitated then, even when I pray him not to do it again."

Looking at him, she saw the gray hair that she had just now denied;
and to her eyes these gray feathers at each side of the forehead not
only increased his dignity, but gave him a fresh charm. The gray hair
made him somehow more romantic. In her eyes his face was always
growing more beautiful, always refining itself, always losing
something that had been rather coarsely massive and gaining something
that was new, spiritualized, and subtle.

"What are you examining me like that for, Mav? A penny for your
thoughts."

"Shall I tell you truly?" and she laughed. "I was thinking if your
looks continue to improve at this rate all the girls will get falling
in love with you."

"Go along with you."




XVI


In this manner the full and happy years began to glide past them.
Their prosperity was now firmly established; the business grew; and
money came in so nicely that Mrs. Dale's mortgage had been paid off
and her two thousand pounds invested in gilt-edged securities, while
Dale hoped very shortly to discharge the remainder of his obligation
to Mr. Bates. They were, however, as economical as ever in their own
way of life, although they permitted themselves some license in the
generosity they had begun to practise with regard to their less
fortunate neighbors. But they found, as so many have found before
them, that in personal charity a little money goes a long way, and
that the claims of the very poor, although sometimes noisy, are rarely
excessive. Naturally they had to be careful for the sake of their
children, the security of whose future must be the first
consideration. Dale had promised the baby boy in his cradle "the
advantages of a lib'ral education," and he intended to act up to this
promise largely.

"It is my wish," he said, "that the two of them shall enjoy all that I
was myself deprived of."

New scraps were continually being pasted into the album, and it seemed
to Mavis that she ought to have bought a bigger one, if indeed any
albums were made of a size sufficiently big to contain all the
evidences of her husband's gratified ambition. Scarce a _Courier_ was
published without "a bit" in it that referred to Mr. Dale of Vine-Pits
Farm. He was really becoming quite a public character. He had been
called to the District Council, on its foundation, as a personage who
could not be left out. When the Otterford branch of the Fire Brigade
was instituted all agreed in inviting Mr. Dale to be its captain; and
four of the once sluggish yard-servants had immediately decided that
they must follow their master wherever he led, and had enrolled
themselves forthwith under his captaincy. He was a prominent figure at
the Old Manninglea corn market, known by sight in its streets, and had
recently been chosen as a member of its very select tradesmen's club.
This was an affair truly different from that vulgar boozing circle at
the Gauntlet Inn which he had denounced so contemptuously in old days.
The Manninglea Club was solid and respectable, a pleasant
meeting-place where he could take his midday meal after market
business in company with men of substance and repute. He was on
friendly terms with most of the farmers between the down country and
Rodhaven Harbor; and last, but not least, the gentry all passed the
time of day when they met him, and many would stop him on the
high-roads for a chat in the most polite and jolly fashion.

He confessed to Mavis that the sweetest thing in his success was the
feeling of being no longer disliked.

"Oh, Will, you never were disliked."

"But that's just what I was. And I begin to get a glimmer of the
reason why. I was reading an article in _Answers_ last week, and it
seemed as if it had been written specially to enlighten me. It was
about sympathy. The author, who didn't sign his name, but was
ev'dently a man of powerful int'lect, said that without understanding
you can't sympathize; and he went on to show that without sympathy the
whole world would come to a standstill."

"Ah," said Mavis, "that's the sort of difficult reading that you like.
It's too deep for me."

"It's plain as the nose on one's face, come to think of it. Sympathy
is the key-note. It enables you to look at things from both sides--to
put yourself in another man's place, and ask yourself the question,
What should I be thinking and doing, if I was him?--I should say if I
was he. In the old days I was very deficient in that. A fool just made
me angry. Now I try to put myself in his place." He paused, and
smiled. "Perhaps you'll say I'm there already--a fool myself."

"Oh, I wouldn't go so far as to say that;" and Mavis smiled too. "Not
_quite_ a fool, Will."

He went on analyzing his characteristics, talking with great interest
in the subject, and after a didactic style, but not with the heavy
egoistic method that he had often employed years ago.

"No, I never remarked that."

"You know," he said presently, "in spite of all my bounce, I was a
_shy_ man.

"It's the fact, Mav. And my shyness came between me and others. I
couldn't take them sufficiently free. I wanted all the overtures to
come from them, and I was too ready to draw in my horns if they didn't
seem to accept me straight at what I judged my own value. For a long
while now it has been my endeavor to sink what was once described to
me as my pers'nal equation. I don't think of myself at all, if I can
help it; and the consequence is the shyness gets pushed into the
background, my manner becomes more free and open, and people begin to
treat me in a more friendly spirit."

And he wound up his discourse by returning to the original cause of
satisfaction.

"Yes, I do think there are some now that like me for myself--not many,
but just one or two, besides dear old Mr. Bates."

"Everybody does. Why, look at that child, Norah. Only been here a
month, and worships the ground you tread on."

"Poor little mite. That's her notion of being grateful for what I did
for her father. Does she eat just the same?"

"Ravenous."

"Don't stint her," said Dale, impressively. "Feed her _ad lib_. Give
her all she'll swallow. It's the leeway she's got to make up;" and he
turned his eyes toward the kitchen door. "Is she out there?"

"Yes."

"I spoke loud. You don't think she heard what I said?"

"Oh, no. She's busy with Mrs. Goudie."

"I wouldn't like for her to hear us discussing her victuals as though
she was an animal."

"You might have thought she was verily an animal," said Mavis, "if
you'd seen her at the first meals we set before her. And even now it
brings a lump into my throat to watch her."

"Just so."

"When I told her to undress that night to wash herself, she was a
sight to break one's heart. Her poor little ribs were almost sticking
through the skin; and, Will, I thought of one of ours ever being
treated so."

Dale got up from the table, his face glowing redly, his brows
frowning; and he stretched his arms to their full length.

"By Jupiter!" he said thickly, "if only Mrs. Neath had been a man, I'd
'a' given him--well, at the least, I'd 'a' given him a piece of my
mind. I'd have told him what I thought of him."

"I promise you," said Mavis, "that I told Mrs. Neath what I thought of
_her_."

"An' I'm right glad you did."

This new inmate under their roof was Norah Veale, a twelve-year-old
daughter of the Hadleigh Wood hurdle-maker. Mavis, taking a present of
tea and sugar to one of the Cross Roads cottages, had found her
digging in the garden, and, struck by her pitiful aspect, had
questioned her and elicited her history. It was a common enough one in
those parts. Not being wanted at home, she had been "lent" to Mrs.
Neath, the cottage woman, in exchange for her keep, and was
mercilessly used by the borrower. She rose at dawn, worked as the
regular household drudge till within an hour of school-time, then
walked into Rodchurch for the day's schooling with a piece of dry
bread in her pocket as dinner; and on her return from school worked
again till late at night. She admitted that she felt always hungry,
always tired, always miserable; that she suffered from cold at night
in her wretched little bed; and that Mrs. Neath often beat her. She
was a bright, intelligent child, black-haired, olive-complexioned,
with lively blue eyes which expressed at once the natural
trustfulness of youth, a certain boldness and wildness derived from
gipsy ancestors, and a questioning wonder that this pleasant-looking
world should be systematically ill-treating her.

The horrid, lying, carneying old woman of the cottage received home
truths instead of tea and sugar from Mavis Dale, who, with all her
maternal feelings aroused, rushed off straightway to hunt for the
neglectful father. She found him at the Barradine Arms, and demanded
his permission to take away the child. Veale, although sadly bemused,
at once said that he could refuse nothing to the wife of his
preserver.

"Oh, lor-a-mussy, yes, mum, you may 'aave my little Norrer an' do what
you like wi' her. Bless her heart, I look on Norrer and her brothers
to be the comfort o' my old age, but I wunt stan' in their light to
interfere wi' what's best for any of 'em."

Mavis then took Norah straight home with her to Vine-Pits, bathed her,
fed her, clothed her, and made much of her. And Norah proved grateful,
docile, amenable, doing all that Mrs. Dale told her to do; and from
the first exhibiting an almost superstitious worship of Mr. Dale. For
truly, as he himself had surmised, her little starved breast was
overflowing with gratitude to the man who had saved her father. It
mattered nothing to the children of the mud hovel that their father
was not an exemplary character; they did not want him to be drowned;
and Norah, hearing in extreme youth of the hero who had interposed
between him and such a cruel death, had mentally built a pedestal for
the hero and kept him on top of it ever since.

It happened that about the time when Dale was preparing to pay off
the last instalment of his debt, Mr. Bates unexpectedly applied for
the money. He had never before shown the least anxiety for repayment;
it had always been "Take your time, William. I know I'm in safe
hands," and so forth; but now he said, "If you can make it convenient
to you, William, it would be convenient to me."

"Oh, certainly, Mr. Bates. You shall have it before the end of the
week--and I hope you're going to act on the advice I ventured to offer
last time; that is, put it in one of these Canadian Government
guaranteed stocks."

"I'm sure it was good advice, William--even if I didn't act on it."

"Of course my orig'nal advice was what you ought to have acted on, Mr.
Bates. That is to say, bought an annuity with your entire capital."

"Ah, William, I really couldn't do that;" and Mr. Bates turned away
his eyes, as if unable to support Dale's friendly regard. "Apart from
these annuities for old folk being rather a dog-in-the-manger trick,
I--well, one has one's private difficulties, William. One is not
always a free agent."

The demand for repayment, and with something of evasiveness or
reticence in the old fellow's manner, greatly troubled Dale. Not at
all from selfish motives; but because it confirmed a suspicion that he
had long entertained. Although invisible locally, disgraced and hiding
somewhere at a distance, that blackguardly son was probably still
draining the good old man's resources.

So many things pointed to the correctness of this supposition. On the
interest of the money that Mavis and Dale had together paid him for
the business, he should have been able to live very comfortably;
whereas, in fact, his way of life was mean and sorry. His cottage was
quite a decent dwelling, separated from the road by a nice long strip
of garden, and with a miniature apple orchard behind it; but it showed
all those signs of neglect that had been evident at Vine-Pits when the
Dales first came there. He had no proper servant, but just pigged it
anyhow with the occasional assistance of a woman and her husband. His
clothes, though neatly brushed, were too shabby and overworn for a
person of his position. And he was not a miser; he was a proud
self-respecting man, who naturally would desire to maintain
conventionally adequate state, were he able to do so.

These thoughts worried Dale. He really loved Mr. Bates, thoroughly
appreciated the great dignity and sweetness of his nature, and felt it
to be a monstrous and intolerable thing that the dear old chap at the
age of seventy-three, instead of being allowed to end his days in a
happy, seemly style, should be as if were bled to death by a
conscienceless reprobate. But what could one do? It was like the
cruelties of the woods that one regrets, but can not prevent--the
rabbits chased by the weasels, the pheasants killed by the foxes, the
thrushes destroyed by the hawks.

Any doubt that remained in the mind of Dale was soon dissipated. He
told Mavis how he had seen Bates junior--a seedy, wicked-looking
wretch now--lurking at dusk in the cottage porch, and how next morning
he had ridden over to talk to Mr. Bates about this ill-omened visitor.
Mr. Bates said it was true that his son had been there for two or
three days, but he was now gone; and he declined to discuss the
matter any further. "I can't speak of it, William. I thank you for
meaning kindness, but it's a thing I can't speak of."

Dale also told Mrs. Goudie that Richard Bates had shown himself in the
neighborhood, and asked her if the fact was generally known. He was
aware that Mrs. Goudie had almost as much regard for the old man as he
had himself.

"No, sir," said Mrs. Goudie, "I hadn't 'a' heard of it."

"Then that proves how close he kept. No doubt he came and went as
surreptitiously as he could. Let it be between ourselves, Mrs. Goudie.
Don't spread the tale an inch beyond us three."

"I will not, sir. But, oh, well-a-day, it's a bad bit o' news, sir. I
did hope Mr. Bates was cured o' that runnin' sore."

She had been summoned from the kitchen just before leaving for the
night; and with her shawl over her head, her wrinkled face working,
and her bony hands clasped she stood near the table and waited for Mr.
Dale to give the signal for her to withdraw.

"If you should see him, at any time, let me know, Mrs. Goudie."

"I will, sir."

"I might perhaps do good, if I could get hold of him on the quiet and
address a few words to him."

"I wish you'd break his neck for him, yes, I do, indeed I do. I could
tell you things as 'd make any one say hanging was too good for him."

And, encouraged to talk freely, Mrs. Goudie told Mavis and Dale, what
indeed she had often told them before, of the shocking badness of
Richard Bates and the ugly scenes that had taken place in this very
house; of how he bullied his father to give him money, storming and
raving like a lunatic when resisted; and of how the old fellow alone
by himself had groaned and wept and prayed. Mrs. Goudie had heard him,
after a most dreadful quarrel, praying out loud in his room up-stairs.

"An' believe me, sir, he was a praying for his son all the
time--imploring of the Lord to soften his heart like, and save him
from the hell-fire that his conduct asked for. You know, sir, he's a
very God-fearing man, Mr. Bates."




XVII


The action of the Dales in regard to Norah Veale did not pass
unnoticed. "They do tell me," said humble folk quite far afield, "that
Mr. Dale up to Vine-Pits hev adapted little Norrer Veale same as if
'twas his own darter; and I sin her myself ridin' to her schoolin' in
Mr. Dale's wagon. I allus held that Abe Veale was born a lucky one,
fer nobody ever comes adapting my childer; an' how hey he kep' out o'
jail all his days, if 'tisn't the luck?"

Nearer home, so striking an instance of kindness encouraged the
cottagers to do more freely what already they were doing with
considerable freedom: that is, to regard Vine-Pits Farm, and
especially the parts of it presided over by Mrs. Dale, as the proper
place to go in all moments of embarrassment or tribulation. Thus the
flagged path by the walnut tree, the wooden bench beneath the window,
and the open kitchen door, tended to become a sort of court where
Mavis had to listen to an ever-increasing number of applicants.

It used to be: "Muvver hey sent me to tell you at once, Mum, she isn't
no better but a good deal worse, and the doctor hev ordered her some
strong soup for to nourish her stren'th;" or "Mr. Scull's compliments,
and might he hev the loan of some butter agin;" or "Mrs. Craddock
wishes you, Mum, to read this letter which she hey written out of her
sickbed, and every word of it is no more than the truth, as I can
vouch for. Mr. Craddock in his cups last night punished her pore face
somethin' frightful. She can't go to her work, and there's not so much
as a bite of bread or a sip of milk in the house."

Mrs. Goudie declared that Mavis was often imposed upon; and, although
Mavis herself wished to give wisely rather than blindly, endeavoring
to govern warm impulse with cold reason, certainly very few people
went away from the Vine-Pits back door empty-handed.

The gentry, in their turn, learned the commonly accepted fact that Mr.
and Mrs. Dale were charitably-minded as well as prosperous, and
thought all the better of them, asked for subscriptions, and invited
cooperation in various good works. So that their fame was always
shining with a steadier brightness, and one might say that nowadays
there appeared to be only a single objection occasionally hinted
against this fortunate couple. Certain very old-fashioned people
refrained from patronizing Dale's business or praising his private
life, because of the regrettable and notorious circumstance that he
never went to church.

It could not be denied. During a good many years he had been to one
funeral and two christenings; and, except for these rare occasions,
had entirely abstained from attending any religious ceremonies. And
Mavis too had gradually become slack in the performance of her
spiritual duties. On Sunday mornings there was the dinner to think
about. She still liked to cook the great weekly feast herself.
Moreover, after six days of genuine labor, Sunday's fundamental
purport as a day of rest is apt to overshadow its symbolic aspects as
a day set apart for communion with things impalpable. The Abbey Church
was too far off, even if it had not been out of the question for other
reasons. It required a walk of two fat miles to get to Rodchurch, and
one had to start early if one did not want to arrive there hot and
flustered; again there was the risk of rain overtaking one in one's
best dress. Every fine Sunday she used to talk at breakfast of
intending to go to the morning service; and at dinner of intending to
go to the evening service.

If she carried either the first or the second intention into effect,
it was Dale's custom to go along the road and meet her returning. And
this he now prepared to do, on a warm dry April morning, when
obviously there could be no fear of rain and she had set out in her
best directly after breakfast.

Dale loved the quiet and the freedom from interruption of these Sunday
mornings; he enjoyed the luxury of being able to smoke in the office
while he made up his books, and reveled in the lolling ease of the old
porter's chair as he read Saturday's _Courier_ and the last number of
_Answers_. To-day he was peculiarly conscious of the soothing Sunday
hush that had fallen widely on the land. All the doors and windows
stood open, so that the soft air flowed like water through and through
the house, making it an undivided part of the one great generous
flooding atmosphere, and giving sensations of vast space and free
activities as well as those produced by guarded comfort and motionless
repose. The only sounds that reached him were the droning of bees in a
border of spring flowers, the pawing of a horse in the stables, the
pipe of young voices in the orchard; and all three sounds were
pleasant to his ear. How could they be otherwise; since they spoke of
three such pleasant things as awakening life, rewarded toil, and
contented fatherhood?

When presently he went up-stairs to change his coat, he stood by a
window and looked down at the peaceful little realm that fate had
given to him. The sunlight was glittering on the red tiles of the
clustered roofs, the brown thatch of the ricks, and the white
cobblestones of a corner of the yard; and the blossom of pears and
apples was pink and white, as if a light shower of colored snow had
just fallen on the still leafless trees. Beneath the orchard branches
he could see his children and Norah playing among the daffodils that
grew wild in the grass; the light all about them was faintly blue and
unceasingly tremulous and he stood watching, listening, smiling,
thinking.

He observed the gracefulness and slimness of his daughter's stockinged
legs, and thought what a real little man his son seemed already, so
sturdy on his pins. In his blue overalls he looked like a miniature
ploughman in a smock-frock. Dale laughed when Billy scampered away
resolutely, and Norah had to run to catch him.

"Le' me go," roared Bill.

"Na, na," said Norah, "you mustn't go brevetin' about so far. Bide wi'
sister and me, an' chain the daffies."

And Dale noticed the musical note in Norah's voice, almost like a wild
bird singing. It was a pleasure to him to see the little maid making
herself so useful; and it corroborated what Mavis had told him about
her being splendid in taking care of the chicks, as well as keeping
them happy and amused.

He put on his black coat, fetched out a pair of brown dogskin gloves,
and then, failing to find the silk hat, came to the top of the
staircase and shouted for Mary.

"My hat, Mary. Where in the name of reason is my hat?"

His shouts broke the Sunday silence, filled the house with noise, went
rolling through the open windows in swift vibrations. Norah Veale
under the blossoming apple tree caught up the cry as though she had
been an echo, and ran with the children after her.

"Mary, the master's hat. Mary, Mary! Master wants his hat."

Then she appeared at the foot of the stairs, with an anxious excited
face and speaking breathlessly.

"Mary can't leave th' Yorkshire pudden, sir; but she says she saw Mrs.
Dale with th' hat in her hand after you wore it on Wednesday to
Manninglea."

"Yes, but where is it _now_, Norah?"

"I do think Mrs. Dale must have put it in the cupboard under the
stairs to get it safe out of Billy's way."

And sure enough there the hat was. Both children pressed beside Norah
to peep in with her when she opened the cupboard door. This hall
cupboard was the most sacred and awe-inspiring receptacle in the whole
house, because here were kept Dale's fireman's outfit always ready and
handy to be snatched out at a moment's notice. Rachel gazed
delightedly at the blue coat hanging extended, with the webbed steel
on the shoulder-straps, at the helmet above, the great boots beneath,
and the shining ax that dangled near an empty sleeve; but the sight
was almost too tremendous for Billy. His lively young imagination
could too readily inflate this shell of apparel with ogreish flesh and
bone waiting to pounce on small intruders, and he clung rather
timorously to Norah's skirt.

"Daddy," said Rachel, "I wis' you'd wear your helmet to-day."

"Oh, no, lassie, that wouldn't be seemly. This is more the thing for
Sunday. Thank you, Norah." And having taken the silk hat, he laid his
hand lightly on Norah's wavy black hair, and spoke to her very kindly.
"Nothing like thought, Norah. I believe you've got a good little
thinking-box under all this pretty hair, and you can't use it too
much, my dear--specially so long as you're thinking about others."

Norah, with her blue eyes fixed on the venerated master's face, seemed
to tremble joyously under the caress and the compliment. She and the
children came out into the front garden and stood at the gate to watch
Dale march away down the white road. He looked grandly stiff, black
and large, in his ceremonious costume--a daddy and a master to be
proud of.

He went only half-way to Rodchurch, and then sitting on a gate
opposite the Baptist chapel indulged himself with another pipe. He
made his halt here because several times when he had gone farther he
had found Mavis accompanied by old Rodchurch acquaintances who had
volunteered to escort her for a portion of the homeward journey, and
he felt no inclination for this sort of chance society.

Not a human being, not even the smallest sign of a man's habitation,
was in sight; not a movement of bird or beast could be perceived in
the stretching expanse of flat fields, across which huge cloud shadows
passed slowly; the broad white road on either hand seemed to lead from
nowhere to nowhere, and Dale, meditatively puffing out his tobacco
smoke and watching it rise and vanish, had that sense of deep and
almost solemn restfulness which comes whenever we realize that for any
reason we are cut off from the possibility of communication with our
kind. For a few moments he felt as a man feels all alone at the summit
of a mountain, in the depths of an untrodden forest, on the limitless
surface of a calm ocean. Yet, as he knew, there were men quite near to
him. Across the road, not fifty yards away, the brick walls of the
Baptist Chapel were hiding many men and women. Perhaps it was the
complete isolation of this ugly building, the house of prayer pushed
away into the desert far from all houses of laughter and talk, that
had induced the idea of isolation in himself.

If he listened, he could hear sounds made by men. Through the chapel
windows there came a continuous murmur, like the buzzing of a monster
bee under the dome of a glass hive--the voice of the pastor preaching
his sermon. Then all at once came loud music, shuffling of seats,
scraping of chairs; and a voluminous song poured out and upward in the
silent air. Dale idly thought of this chorus as resembling the smoke
from the pipe--something that went up a little way and faded long
before it reached the sky.

The music ceased. The congregation were leaving the chapel. Dale got
off the gate, put his pipe in his pocket, and watched the humble
worshipers as they came toward him. He knew them nearly all, and
gravely returned their grave salutations as they passed by. They were
maid-servants and men-servants from Rodchurch, old people and quite
young people, a few laborers and cottage-women; and they all walked
slowly, not at first talking to one another, but smiling with
introspective vagueness. Dale observed their decent costume, their
sober deportment, and leisurely gait, observed also a striking
similarity in the expression of all the faces. They were like people
who unwillingly awake and struggle to recall every detail of the dream
they are being forced to relinquish. Observing them thus, one could
not fail to understand that, at this moment at least, they all firmly
believed that their just-finished song had been heard a very, very
long way up.

The road was empty again when the pastor came out and locked the
chapel door behind him. He spoke to Dale with a gentle cheerfulness.

"Good day, friend Dale."

Dale, not too well pleased with this easy and familiar mode of
address, replied stiffly.

"I wish you good day, Mr. Osborn."

"Good day. God's day. That's what it meant in the beginning, Mr.
Dale."

And Dale, resuming his seat on the gate, watched Mr. Osborn go
plodding away toward Vine-Pits and the Cross Roads. This pastor, who
had succeeded old Melling a few years ago, was a short, bearded man of
sixty, and he lived in lodgings on the outskirts of Rodchurch.
Evidently he was not going home to dinner. Perhaps he had some sick
person to visit, and he might get a snack at the Barradine Arms or
one of the cottages. It was said that his father had been a rich
linen-draper in some North of England town; and that he himself would
have inherited this flourishing business and its accumulated wealth,
if he had not insisted on joining the ministry. But he threw up all to
preach the Gospel. Dale thought of the nature of the faith that would
make a man go and do a thing like that. It must be unquestioning,
undoubting; a conviction that amounted to certainty.

He did not see Mavis approaching. She called to him from a distance,
and he sprang off the gate and hurried to meet her. Instinctively, as
he drew near, he looked into her face, searching for the expression
that he had noticed just now in those other faces. It was not there.
She was hot and red after her walk; her eyes were full of life and
gaiety; she seemed a fine, broad-blown, well-dressed dame who might
have been returning from market instead of from church, and her first
words spoke of practical affairs.

"Holly Lodge is let again, Will, and Mr. Allen says the new gentleman
keeps horses--because he's having the stables painted. You ought to
send a circular at once, and make a call without delay."

Dale took his pipe out of his pocket, and spoke in an absent tone.

"I've been thinking what a rum world it is, Mav."

"Yes, but a very nice world, Will;" and she slipped her arm in his, as
they walked on together. "No, not another pipe. Don't take the edge
off your appetite with any more smoking. There's good roast beef and
Yorkshire pudding waiting for you. That is, if Mary hasn't made a mess
of everything."




XVIII


On the evening of the next Sunday Dale was quietly going out of the
house when Mavis offered to accompany him.

"Off for a stroll, Will? If you can wait ten minutes, I'll come with
you."

But he excused himself from waiting, and further confessed that he
preferred to be alone. He said he was in a thoughtful rather than a
talkative mood to-night.

"You understand, old girl?"

"Yes, dear, I understand. You want to put on your considering cap
about something."

"That's just it, Mav. The considering cap. Ta-ta."

Outside in the roadway Mr. Creech, a farmer, hindered him for a few
minutes. Between him and Mr. Creech there were certain business
arrangements now under negotiation, and it was impossible to avoid
speaking of them. Dale, however, cut their chat as short as possible,
and directly he had shaken off Mr. Creech he walked away briskly
toward Rodchurch.

He had intended to arrive at the Baptist Chapel before the evening
service began, but now he was late. The congregation were all on their
knees, and the pastor, standing in his desk or pulpit above a raised
platform, had begun to pray aloud. Dale paused just inside the door,
looking at his strange surroundings, and feeling the awkwardness of a
person who enters a place that he has never seen before, and finds
himself among a lot of people who have their own customs and usages,
all of which are unknown to him. Then he noticed that a man was
smiling at him and beckoning, and he bowed gravely and followed the
hand. He was led up the little building to some empty chairs on a
level with the platform, at right angles to the rows of benches, and
close to a harmonium. Mr. Osborn, the pastor, had stopped praying, and
he did not go on again until Dale was seated. No one else had looked
up or seemed to be aware of the interruption caused by his entrance.

He assumed a duly reverent attitude, not kneeling, but bending his
body forward, and observed everything with great interest. There were
many differences between the arrangements of this chapel and those of
an ordinary church. The absence of an altar struck him as very
remarkable. The large platform, with its balustrade and central perch,
seemed to be altar, pulpit, and lectern all rolled into one--and choir
too, since it was occupied by several men and a dozen girls and young
women, who were all now on their knees while Mr. Osborn, looking very
odd in purely civilian clothes, prayed loudly over their heads.

He glanced at the high bare walls and narrow windows, and observed
that, except for some stenciled texts, there was not the slightest
attempt at decoration. Outside, the light was rapidly waning, and
inside the building the general tone had a grayness and dimness that
obliterated all the bright colors of the girls' dresses and hats. The
circumstance that not a single face was visible produced a curious
impression on one's mind. It made Dale feel for a moment as though he
were improperly prying, behind people's backs, at matters that did not
in the least concern him; and next moment he thought that all the gray
stooping forms were exactly like those of ghosts. Then, in another
moment, noticing with what rigid immobility they held themselves, he
thought of them as being dead and waiting for some tremendous signal
that should bring them to life again.

"Now," said Mr. Osborn, "let us praise God by singing the hundred and
twenty-sixth hymn."

Then all the faces showed. It was like a flash of pallid light running
to and fro along the benches as everybody changed the kneeling to the
sitting posture; and Dale immediately felt that he had been placed in
an uncomfortably conspicuous position. Far from being situated so that
he could pry on the private affairs of others, he was where everybody
could study him. He was alone, opposite to the entire crowd, instead
of being comfortably absorbed in its mass.

"Oh, thank you. Much obliged."

Mr. Osborn, speaking from the pulpit, had said something to one of his
young women, and she was leaning over the balustrade, smilingly
offering Dale an open hymn-book.

"I am afraid," she said, "that it's very small print; but I dare say
you have good eyes."

She spoke in the most friendly natural manner, exactly as one speaks
to a visitor when one is anxious to make him feel welcome and at home.
Dale, startled by this style of address in such a place, made a
dignified bow.

"Give him this," said Mr. Osborn, handing a book out of the pulpit.
"It's a larger character--'long primer,' as I believe the printers
call it. We'll have the lamps directly; but we are all of us rather
partial to blind man's holiday--not to mention that oil is oil, and
that Brother Spiers doesn't give it away. We know he couldn't afford
to do that. But there it is--Take care of the pence."

To Dale's astonishment, he heard a distinct chuckle here and there
among the congregation. Then the same young woman, having found the
correct page, handed him the large-type book. Then the man at the
harmonium struck up, and the whole congregation burst into song.

They sang with a fervent strength that he had never heard equaled. For
a moment the powerful chorus seemed to shake the walls, to fill every
cubic foot of air that the building contained, and then to go straight
up, splitting the ugly roof, and out into the sky. Otherwise this hymn
would have left one no space to breathe in. Dale felt a sudden rush of
blood to the head, as if the pressure of vocal sound were about to
produce suffocation; and at the same time he had the fantastic but
almost irresistible idea that the whole congregation were singing
solely at him, that they and their pastor had together planned to set
him alone in this high place where he must bear the full brunt of the
hymn while they all watched its effect upon him, and that the hymn
itself had been specially and artfully chosen with a view to him and
to nobody else.

      "Hail, sov'reign love, that first began
      The scheme to rescue fallen man!
      Hail, matchless, free, eternal grace,
      That gave my soul a hiding-place."

With his face turned as much as possible from the singers, he stood
very stiff and erect, staring at the printed page. Loudly as they had
sung the first verse they seemed to sing the second verse more loudly.

      "Against the God that rules the sky,
      I fought with hand uplifted high;
      Despised His rich abounding grace,
      Too proud to seek a hiding-place."

Dale braced himself, squared his shoulders and stood more erect than
ever as they struck into the third verse.

They sang louder than before: it seemed to him that they were
screaming.

      "But thus th' eternal counsel ran,
      '_Almighty_ love, arrest that man!'"

Dale closed the hymn-book, held it behind his back, and stared at the
cross-beams of the roof until the hymn was over.

After the hymn Mr. Osborn read a couple of chapters from the Bible,
and Dale, seated again, understood how utterly unfounded had been his
recent notion that these people were devoting any particular attention
to him. He looked at them carefully. Obviously they had not a thought
of him. The eyes of those near to him and far from him were alike
fixed upon the pastor's face.

But as soon as they sang again he experienced the same sensations
again, felt a conviction that the hymn was aimed directly at him.

      "Lord, when Thy Spirit deigns to show
          The badness of our hearts,
      Astonished at the amazing view,
          The Soul with horror starts.

      "Our staggering faith gives way to doubt,
          Our courage yields to fear;
      Shocked at the sight, we straight cry out,
          'Can ever God dwell here?'

      "None less than God's Almighty Son
          Can move such loads of sin;
      The water from his side must run,
          To wash this dungeon clean."

"Now, I think," said Mr. Osborn, "it is fairly lighting-up time, and
that no one can accuse us of being extravagant if we call for the
match-boxes. Brother Maghull, please get to work. And, yes, you too,
Brother Hartley, if you will. You're always a dab at regulating them."

Then the lamps were lighted; two or three men going round to do the
work, the congregation generally assisting as much as they were able,
while the pastor, watching all operations, made genial comments.

"Thank you. Now we begin to see who's who, and what's what. I say,
that's on the smoke, isn't it? I seem to smell something, or is it
imagination? If the wicks are as badly trimmed as they were three
Sundays ago, I shall be tempted to copy the procedure of the House of
Commons, and _name_ a member." Then he smiled. "Yes, I shall name a
certain young sister who must have turned clumsy-fingered because she
was thinking of her fal-lals and her chignon, or her new hat, when
she ought to have been thinking of her duty to our lamps."

A ripple of gentle laughter, like a lightly dancing wave on a deep
calm sea, passed from the platform to the outer door; the lamplighters
went back to their seats; and the pastor with a change of voice said
solemnly: "Friends, let us pray."

Dale observed his manner of holding his hand to his forehead as if
seeking inspiration, the almost spasmodic movements of his mouth, the
sort of plaintive groan that started the prayer, and the steadily
accumulating earnestness with which it went on.

"O merciful and divine Father, supreme and omnipotent lord of Thy
created universe, vouchsafe unto this little knot of Thy lowly
creatures ..."

It was a long prayer; and Dale, surmising it to be an extempore
composition, admired Mr. Osborn's flow of language, command of erudite
words, and success in bringing some very intricate sentences to an
appropriate period.

During the sermon Mr. Osborn several times aroused laughter by little
homely jokes coming unexpectedly in the midst of his serious
discourse; but Dale no longer felt surprise. He thought that he had
caught their point of view, got the hang of the main scheme. These
people were genuine believers, and entirely free from any affectation
or pretense. They possessed no church-manner: thus, when they spoke to
one another here, they did so as naturally as when they were speaking
in the fields or on the highroads. Only when they spoke to God, could
you hear the vibration and the thrill, the effort and the strain.

And all at once his own self-consciousness vanished. He felt
comfortable, quite at ease, and extraordinarily glad that he had
dedicated an hour to the purpose of coming here.

The lamplight enormously improved the appearance of the chapel; the
genial yellow glow was surrounded by fine dark shadows that draped the
ugly walls as if with soft curtains; there were golden glittering
bands on the roof beams, and above them all had become black,
impenetrable, mysterious. When one glanced up one might have had the
night sky over one's head, for all one could see of the roof. The
light shone bright on crooked backs, slightly distorted limbs, the
pallor of sickness, the stains of rough weather; on girls meekly
folding hands that daily scrub and scour; on laboring men stooping the
shoulders that habitually carry weights; on spectacled old women with
eyes worn out by incessantly peering at the tiny stitches of their
untiring needles; but one would have looked in vain for any types even
approximately similar to the stalwart well-balanced youths, the
smooth-cheeked game-playing maidens, the prosperously healthful
fathers and mothers of the established faith. Dale did not look for
them, did not miss them, would not have wished them here.

It might be said that there was not a single person of the whole
gathering on whom there was not plainly printed, in one shape or
another, the stamp of toil. That fact perhaps formed the root of the
difference between this and a Church of England congregation. To
Dale's mind, however, there was something else of a saliently
differentiating character. Once again he was struck by the expression
of all the faces. He thought how calm, how trustful, how quietly
joyous these people must be feeling, in order to shine back at the
lamps as steadily and clearly as the lamps were shining on them.

"Friends, let us praise God by singing the hundred and tenth hymn
before we separate."

They all rose and began to sing their final song; and Dale observed
that here and there, as the loud chorus swelled and flowed, singers
would sink down upon their knees as though of a sudden impelled to
silence and prayer.

      "There is a fountain filled with blood,
        Drawn from Emmanuel's veins;
      And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
        Lose all their guilty stains.

      "The dying thief rejoiced to see
        That fountain in his day;
      And there may I, as vile as he,
        Wash all my sins away."

Dale abruptly sat down, leaned forward, and then knelt upon the
boarded floor, hiding his face in his hands. He did not get up until
the pastor had given the blessing and the people were moving out.




XIX


As so often happens toward the latter part of April, there had come a
spell of unseasonably warm weather; thunder had been threatening for
the last week, and now at the end of an oppressive day you could
almost smell the electricity in the air.

Mavis warned Dale that he would get a sousing, when he told her that
he was obliged to go as far as Rodchurch.

"Won't it do to-morrow, Will?"

"No, I shan't have time to-morrow. Remember I'm not made of
barley-sugar. I shouldn't melt, you know, even if I hadn't got my
mack."

Norah fetched him his foul weather hat, and ran for his umbrella.

"No," he said, "I don't want that, my dear;" and he smiled at her very
kindly. "Besides, if we're going to have a storm, an umbrella is just
the article to bring the lightning down on my head."

Norah pulled away the umbrella hastily, as though she would now have
fought to the death rather than let him have it.

"Don't wait supper, Mav. I may be latish."

He walked fast, and his mackintosh made him uncomfortably warm. The
rain held off, although now and then a few heavy drops fell ominously.
It was quite dark--a premature darkness caused by the clouds that hung
right across the sky. There seemed to be nobody on the move but
himself; the street at Rodchurch was absolutely empty, the
tobacconist's shop at the corner being alone awake and feebly busy,
the oil lamps flickering in the puffs of a warm spring wind.

He took one glance toward the post office, and then went right down
the street and out upon the common. The house that he was seeking
stood a little way off the road, and a broad beam of light from an
open window proved of assistance as he crossed the broken and uneven
ground. While he groped for the bell handle inside the dark porch he
could hear, close at hand, a purring and whirring sound of wheels that
he recognized as the unmistakable noise made by a carpenter's lathe.
As soon as he rang the bell the lathe stopped working, and next moment
the Baptist pastor came to the door.

"Mr. Dale--is it not?

"Yes--good evening, Mr. Osborn."

"Pray come in."

"Thank you. Could you spare time for a chat?"

"Surely. I was expecting you."

Dale drew back, and spoke coldly, almost rudely.

"Indeed? I am not aware of any reason for your doing so."

"I ought to have said, _hoping_ to see you."

"Oh. May I ask why?"

Mr. Osborn laughed contentedly. "Since I saw you at our service, you
know. Please come into my room."

It was not an attractive or nicely furnished room. All one side of it
was occupied by the lathe, bench, and tools; and on this side the
boards of the floor, with a carpet rolled back, were covered with
wood shavings.

"There, take off your wraps and be seated, Mr. Dale. I'll sort my
rubbish. Stuffy night, isn't it?"

Dale noticed that there was no bookcase, and he could not detect more
than six books anywhere lying about. Perhaps there were some in the
chiffonier. He would have expected to find quite a little library at a
house tenanted by this sort of man.

"What do you think of that?" And Mr. Osborn handed him the small round
box which he had been turning. "I amuse myself so. It's my hobby."

"You don't feel the want to read of an evening?"

"No, I'm not a book-worm. But one has to do something; so I took up
this. If folk chaff me"--and Mr. Osborn smiled and nodded his
head--"well, I tell them that infinitely better people than I have
done carpentering in their time. Of course they don't always follow
the allusion."

Dale himself did not follow it. He understood that this was light and
airy conversation provided by Mr. Osborn for the amiable purpose of
putting him at his ease. He had taken off the slouch hat and loose
coat that had made him look like some rough shepherd or herdsman; and
now, as he sat stiffly on a chair, showing his jacket, breeches, and
gaiters, he looked like a farmer who had come to buy or to sell stock.
His manner was altogether businesslike when, after clearing his
throat, he explained the actual reason of the visit. If it would not
be troubling Mr. Osborn too much, he desired to obtain information
about Baptist tenets, adult baptism, total immersion, and so on. Mr.
Osborn, declaring that it was no trouble, and in an equally
businesslike manner, gave him the information.

"Is there anything else I can tell you?"

"I am afraid of putting you out."

"Not in the least."

"Well, then, if you're sure I don't trespass--Mr. Osborn, the kind way
you're receiving me makes me venturesome. I see an ash-tray over
there, proving you sometimes favor the weed. Would you mind if I took
a whiff of tobacco--a pipe?"

"Why, surely not."

"You won't join me?"

"No, thanks. But I'll tell you what I will do;" and Mr. Osborn emitted
a chuckle. "I'll go on with my boxes, if you'll allow me."

"I should greatly prefer it."

"You know, I can listen just as well, while I'm fiddling away at my
nonsense."

"I find," said Dale, as he filled his pipe, "that I rely on smoking
more and more. Seems with me to steady the nerves and clear the brain.
I know there are others that it just fuddles."

"Exactly."

Mr. Osborn had gone back to the lathe, and the pleasantly soothing
whir of the wheels was heard again, while a fountain of the finest
possible shavings began to spin in the air. For a few moments Dale
watched him at his work. His gray hair flopped about queerly; he made
rapid precise movements; and he talked as though he still had his eyes
on one, although his back was turned.

"There are matches at your elbow, Mr. Dale--on that shelf--beside the
flower-pot."

"Thanks, Mr. Osborn."

He wore a loose blue flannel coat, and Dale wondered if this was a
garment that he had bought years ago to play cricket in. Perhaps he
had belonged to a University. It was quite clear that he must have had
an extremely lib'ral education to start with. And Dale thought again
what he had thought just now in the porch--that one ought to be
precious careful in dealing with a man of such natural and acquired
powers.

However, the fact that Mr. Osborn was continuing his work, and yet, as
he had promised, at the same time listening properly, made the
interview easier and Dale more comfortable. He recovered his
self-confidence, and after puffing out a sufficient cloud of smoke,
talked weightily and didactically.

"I am desirous not to exaggerate; but I would like to state that I was
well impressed by my experience of your ritual--if that is the correct
term. I seemed to find what I had not found elsewhere. If I may speak
quite openly, I would say it appeared to me there wasn't an ounce of
humbug in your service."

"Oh, I hope not."

"Now, in the event of a person wishing to become a member--in short,
to embrace the Baptist faith entirely, there are one or two points
that I'd like to have cleared up."

Then Dale asked a lot of questions; and the pastor, seeming to go on
with the work, answered over his shoulder, or looking round for an
instant only.

Dale wished to learn all about the method of receiving adults; he
asked also if anything in the nature of confession or absolute
submission to the priest would be required. And the pastor said, "No,
nothing of the sort." Such a person must of course bring a cleansed
and purified heart to the ceremony, or it would be the very worst kind
of humbug for him to present himself at all. But that was a matter
which concerned him and God, who reads all hearts and knows all
secrets. Mr. Osborn said it had never been the practise of Baptist
ministers to insinuate themselves into the private secrets of their
flocks. They left that to the Roman Catholics.

Dale heartily commended the Baptist custom. He said that much of his
objection to religion had been caused by what he read of the Roman
Catholic faith. As a responsible man he could never bring himself to
that abject submission to another man, however you sanctified and
tricked out the other man; besides, no one of mature age cares to make
a complete confession of his past life. There must always be things
that he could not force himself to disclose--follies, indiscretions,
perhaps the grievous mistakes which he himself wants to forget,
knowing that improvement lies in determination for better conduct, and
not in brooding on past failure.

Mr. Osborn looked round, and used a gentle deprecating tone.

"You speak of your objection to religion; but, Mr. Dale, you are a
singularly religious man. You are, really."

"I will postpone that part of it, if you please"--and Dale became
rather stiff again--"but with the intention of adverting to it later.
What I wish first to lay at rest is something in regard to the hymns
employed on the occasion of my attendance. The numbers were one
hundred and twenty-six, six hundred and fifty-nine, and one hundred
and ten. Now I ask you as man to man, feeling sure you'll give me a
straight answer: Were those hymns specially selected for the reason
that I had chanced to drop in?"

Mr. Osborn stopped work, looked round quickly, and his face was all
bright and eager.

"No. But did you feel there was a special message to you in them?"

"I wouldn't put it quite like that," said Dale guardedly.

"Because it so often happens. It has happened again and again--to my
own knowledge."

"You'll understand, Mr. Osborn, that I didn't take them as any way
personal to myself--certainly not any way offensive; but it occurred
to me that it might perhaps be the habit whenever a stranger dropped
in to pick out hymns of strength, with a view to shaking him and
warming him up, as it were."

The pastor resumed his work. "Those hymns were given out the day
before--Saturday. Sister Eldridge had asked for one hundred and
twenty-six; number six hundred and fifty-nine was, as far as I
remember, also bespoken; and I chose number one hundred and ten
myself--because it is a great favorite of mine. So you see, Mr. Dale,
at the time we settled on those hymns, we did not know that you were
coming--and perhaps you did not know it yourself."

"I did not know it," said Dale.

"Tell me," said Mr. Osborn, "how doubt has assailed you."

"Ah, there you put me a puzzling one;" and Dale puffed at his pipe
laboriously.

"You oughtn't to doubt, you know. You have what men prize--wife,
children, and home. You thrive, and the world smiles on you."

"Yes, I'm more than solvent. I hope to leave Mrs. Dale and the babes
secure."

"But you don't feel secure yourself?"

"I banked a matter of seven hundred last year."

"You know I didn't mean that." Mr. Osborn worked briskly, and sent the
shavings almost to the ceiling. "But still--lots of men have told me
that material prosperity renders faith easy and doubt difficult.
That's the awful danger of trouble--the danger of thinking that God
has deserted us. It's easiest to recognize His hand when all's going
well with us. That's our poor human nature. And then when our sorrows
come, it's the devil's innings, and he'll whisper: 'Where's God now?
He isn't treating you very kindly, is He, in return for all your
praying and kneeling and believing?'"

"Yes, that just hits the nail on the head. It was what I said--at a
period when trouble fell upon me. It was how the doubt came in and the
belief went out. And nowadays, when, as you mention, things run smooth
and I know I've much to be thankful for, the doubt holds firm. For one
thing prob'bly, I read a great deal; I've crammed my head with
science; can't ever have enough of it. But, of course, I'm but an
ignorant man compared with you."

"Oh, no."

"Yes. I bow down to education--whenever I meet it. I needn't
apologize--because I hadn't many advantages. I try to make up by
application. I read, and I'm always thinking--and having mastered the
rudiments of science, I can look with some comprehension at the whole
scheme of nature. With the result that, viewing my own affairs in the
same spirit that I view the whole bag of tricks, I ask myself that
same old question of _Q. I. Bono._"

"What's that?"

"That's Latin," said Dale. "_Q. I. Bono._"

"Oh, yes--exactly."

"Where's the good? Whatever one has, it isn't enough if this life is
all we've got to look to and there's nothing beyond it."

Mr. Osborn had let the wheels run down. He came and sat opposite to
Dale, and spoke very quietly.

"There is everything beyond it."

"And supposing that's so, one's difficulty begins bigger than before.
It's the life-risk a million times larger all over again--success or
failure, punishment or peace."

"That's better than what happened to the match you threw into the
fender--extinction."

"I want to believe. Mr. Osborne, I wish to speak with honesty. I feel
the need to believe. If you can make me believe, you'll do me a great
service."

"The service will be done, but it won't be I who does it."

"I want to be saved. I want the day when you can tell me I have gained
everlasting salvation."

"The day will come; but it will not be my voice that tells you."

Mr. Osborn got up to fetch one of the six shabby volumes, and when he
had returned to his chair he went on talking.

"What you should do is to take things quietly. You are a fine
specimen, Mr. Dale, muscularly; but your nerves aren't quite so grand
as your muscles." He said this just as doctors talk to patients, and
as if Dale had been speaking of his bodily health. "Don't worry--and
don't hurry. And I'd like to read you a passage here, to set your
thoughts on the right line.... Well, well, I fancied I'd put a
paper-mark. I shall only garble it if I try to quote from memory. It
was Doctor Clifford, speaking about Jesus at our last Autumn Assembly.
He says Jesus never put God forward as a severe judge, or hard
taskmaster, but as His Father.... Ah, here we are. May I read it?"

"Yes, I wish to hear it."

"'God is Father; He is our Father. To Him'--speaking of Jesus--'and to
us God is Father, and that means that we are in a deep and real sense
His children, and, being children, then brothers to each other; for if
God must be interpreted in terms of fatherhood, then man will never be
interpreted accurately until he is interpreted in the terms of
brotherhood.'" Mr. Osborn closed the book and laid his hand on Dale's
knee. "How does that strike you, Brother Dale?"

"It strikes me as beautifully worded--Brother Osborn."

"That's how I want you to think of Him. A Father's love. Nothing
strange nor new about it. Just what you used to be thinking as a boy,
coming home to Father."

"I can't remember my father," said Dale simply. "He died when I was a
baby, and mother married again. I only knew a stepfather."

"Then you'll know the real thing now, if you join us." Mr. Osborn
beamed cheerfully. "Understand, I don't press you. Why should I? The
pressure behind you is not of this earth; and if it's there, as I
think it is, you'll no more resist it than the iron bolt resists the
steam-ram. But what's steam and _horse_-power?" And he beamed all over
his face. "This is ten thousand _angel_-power to the square inch."

The rain began as Dale walked up the village street, in which no light
except that of the public lamps was now showing. It fell sharply as he
emerged into the open country, and then abruptly ceased. The odor of
dust that has been partially moistened rose from the roadway; some
dead leaves scurried in the ditch with a sound of small animals
running for shelter; and he felt a heavy, tepid air upon his face, as
if some large invisible person was breathing on him.

Then the heavens opened, and a flood of light came pouring down. The
thunder seemed simultaneous with the flash. It was a crashing roar
that literally shook the ground. It was as if, without prelude or
warning, every house in England had fallen, every gun fired, and every
powder-magazine blown up. Dale stood still, trying to steady himself
after the shock, and ascertaining that his eyes had not been blinded
nor the drums of his ears broken.

Then he walked on slowly, watching the storm. The lightning flooded
and forked, the thunder boomed and banged; and it seemed to Dale that
the whole world had been turned upside down. When one looked up at the
illuminated sky, one seemed to be looking down at a mountainous
landscape. The clouds, rent apart, torn, and shattered, were like
masses of high hills, inky black on the summits, with copper-colored
precipices and glistening purple slopes; and in remote depths of the
valleys, where there should have been lakes of water, there were lakes
of fire. In the intervals between the flashes, when suddenly the sky
became dark, one had a sensation that the earth had swung right again,
and that it was now under one's feet as usual instead of being over
one's head.

Dale plodding along thought of all he had read about thunder-storms.
It was quite true, what he said to Norah. Lightning strikes the
highest object. That was why trees had got such a bad name for
themselves; although, as a fact, you were often a jolly sight safer
under a tree than out in the open. Salisbury Plain, he had read, was
the most dangerous place in England; for the reason that, because of
its bareness, it made a six-foot man as conspicuous, upstanding an
object as a church tower or a factory chimney would be elsewhere. And
he thought that if any cattle had been left out in those wide flat
fields near the Baptist Chapel, they were now in great peril. Mav's
cows were all safe under cover.

Then, stimulated by a new thought, he began to walk faster. He hurried
on until he came to the middle of the flats; then, gropingly through
the darkness, and swiftly through the light, he made his way to a gate
that he had just seen standing high and solid between the low field
banks. He climbed the gate, a leg on each side, to the top bar but
one; and there, easily balancing himself, he stood high above every
other object.

And he thought: "If I am to be killed, I shall be killed now. I stand
here at God's pleasure, to take me or leave me."

He carefully observed the lightning. It fell like a live shot, a
discharge of artillery aimed at a fixed point, and then bursting
seemed to go out in all directions till it faded with a widespread
glare. During this final glare after each discharge the land to its
farthest horizon leaped into view. Thus he saw all at once the Baptist
Chapel several hundred yards away, but seeming to be close ahead of
him, much bigger than it actually was, looking familiar and yet
strange--looking like the ark waiting to be floated as soon as the
deluge should begin. At the same moment he saw the stones in the road,
blades of grass at the side of the ditch, and nails on the gate-post
near his foot.

He stood calmly surveying the tremendous pageant, and thought in each
roar and crash: "This must be the climax."

That last flash had crimson streamers, and it swamped the road with
violet waves. The fury and the splendor of the thing was overwhelming.
Was it brought about by Nature's forces or God's machinery?
Titanic--like a struggle between the divine and the evil power--some
fresh rebellion of Satan just reported up there, and God, rightly
indignant, giving the devil what for--or God angry with _man_! Very
magnificent, whatever way you regarded it.

The worst was over, and gradually the storm began to roll away.
Holding his hands high above his head, he felt the rain-drops beat
upon them, saw the lightning soften and grow pale, heard the thunder
booming more gently, grumbling, whispering--as if it had been the
voice of the Maker of heaven and earth, murmuring in sleep.

Such a storm had naturally disturbed everything. Mavis and Norah were
trembling on the lamplit threshold; horses rattled their head-stalls
and stamped in the stables; even the bees were frightened in their
hives. And a cock, thinking that so much light and noise must mean
morning, had begun to crow hours before the proper time.

Dale, listening to the cock's crow while he told Mavis he was safe and
sound, thought of Peter, the well-meaning man who wanted to believe
but could not always do so.




XX


When the time came for Dale to be baptized Mr. Osborn offered to
perform the ceremony at dawn in the stream that runs through Hadleigh
Wood; but Dale refused the offer. He said he would much prefer to have
it done within four walls, in the evening, at what he supposed to be
the usual place, the chapel. He added an expression of the hope that
there would not be many people there.

"There would only be a few of ourselves, true-hearted ones, in either
event," said Mr. Osborn; "and out of doors is not unusual. I did it
that way for George Hitching a year ago. We took him down to Kib Pool,
and waited till the sun rose. Then in he went."

And without urging Dale to change his mind, Mr. Osborn in a few words
touched off the beauty of this baptismal scene. He described how the
dew was like diamonds on the grass, and they stood all among the
shadows, and the rising sun seemed to touch George Hitching's head
before it touched anything else. "Then we and the birds began to sing
together. I promise you it was uncommonly pretty, as well as very
moving."

Nevertheless, Dale remained quite firm. That idea of Hadleigh Wood at
dawn held no attraction for him.

So far he had said nothing of all this to Mavis, but now one night
after supper he broached the subject. He had laid down his knife and
fork, and she had brought him the tobacco jar. He sat filling his pipe
slowly, and then instead of lighting it he put it meditatively aside.

"Mavis, something has happened which will probably surprise you. I
have found religion again."

"Oh, Will, I am glad."

Mavis was delighted; but when he told her that he was about to join
the Baptists she did not feel so well pleased. She scarcely knew what
to say. Why should he want to take the creed of dissenters, of quite
common people? It was all very well for farm-laborers, sempstresses,
and servants; but it did not seem good enough for her Will. Socially
it was without doubt a retrograde step; and nowadays, when he got on
capitally with the best of the gentlefolk, when they were all jolly
and nice to him, it did seem a pity to go and mix himself up with a
pack of ignorant underlings. The gentry, who of course all belonged to
the Church of England, would not like it any better than she herself.

Moreover, that notion of total immersion was extremely repugnant to
her. A grown-up person, an important person, a member of the District
Council, splashing about in a tank! She asked him many questions
concerning the baptism itself, and he told her all that he knew about
it. He did not tell her, however, of Mr. Osborn's proposal that the
immersion should occur in the wood-stream.

"What took your fancy, Will dear, with Mr. Osborn's teaching more than
anybody else's?"

Then he told her all that Mr. Osborn had said of the fatherly
attributes of God, of the fact that men were veritably His children,
and that for communion with God one must be as a child approaching a
father.

"Yes, dear, I'm sure that's true. But Mr. Norton would say just the
same."

"He never _has_ said it, Mav. That is, I never heard him say it."

"Perhaps in those days you didn't note his words. I'm not arguing,
dear. You must do whatever you judge right, and it will be right for
me--if once you've done it. Only I do assure you what you repeated is
altogether Church of England; and I feel certain Mr. Norton must have
said it times and often."

"Then perhaps he hasn't said it quite in the same way."

When the evening arrived Mavis asked if she might come to the chapel,
but he said "No." Her presence would distract his thoughts.

"Very well, dear, I'll stay here. I shall say a prayer for you. I may
do that?"

"Yes, please do that."

Throughout the ceremony, and afterward, he was very grave and
dignified, plainly taking the whole matter with the most profound
seriousness. He was silent and solemn throughout the rest of the
evening; but he slept extraordinarily well at night. There were no
dreams, no disturbances of any kind. He lay motionless, sleeping as
peacefully as a little child.

Tender thoughts filled the mind of his wife as she watched him. She
thought of the ugly chapel, those stupid illiterate people, the dark
water, the splashing and the noise; the clumsy absurdness of the whole
rite; and yet, in spite of everything, she now felt the essential
beauty of the idea itself. It seemed to her most beautiful when
applied to this particular case--the strong brave man who in spirit
and heart has made himself simple and guileless as a child, to be
taken back to the Eternal Father of all children.




XXI


Outwardly his religion sat lightly on him, but inwardly it was solid
and real. He took to reading aloud one chapter of the Gospel every
night, and soon made a habit of adding a brief extempore prayer for
the benefit of Mary, Norah Veale, and Mrs. Goudie, who regularly came
from the kitchen to hear him. His reading and praying formed, of
course, a marked innovation; but beyond it there were very few
perceptible changes that could be traced to the fresh phase of mind
into which he had now entered. And these few changes were traced or
perceived by only one person, his wife.

Mavis saw with satisfaction that the gentlefolk did not seemed to be
huffed. Orders came in from several of those old-fashioned people who
had hitherto held aloof, but who perhaps were at present generous
enough to think that if you don't go to church, the next best thing is
to go to chapel. The Baptists were not therefore standing in his way:
they had caused no check to his success.

He bought all the corn and hay which the neighboring farms could spare
to sell, so that what others had grown and cut for miles round was
carted straight into his rick-yard. During the hay harvest he appeared
especially grand, riding about the fields on his horse, grave and
watchful, really like a prince with vassals hard at work for him as
far as the eye could see. On the last day he entertained the farmers
to dinner in the best parlor, and afterward they all stood in the
front garden, smoking cigars and praising Mrs. Dale's roses and
carnations.

Mavis too gave parties; but she as a rule exercised her hospitality at
the back of the house, where the little court and the petitioners'
bench near the kitchen door were more fully occupied than ever. Here
took place the annual summer tea-party for the cottage women, when
Mavis was quite like some squire's wife, being courtesied to,
receiving votes of thanks, and taking innocent pleasure in the
proudness of her position. A far bigger and more difficult affair was
when she invited all the children from the Orphanage. Long trestle
tables for the girls were set out on the grass paths of the kitchen
garden, with a separate and more stately table for the matrons and
governesses; urns had been borrowed, seats hired, mountains of food
and fruit got ready; and nevertheless the heart of Mavis almost failed
her when the two-and-two procession of blue-coated orphans began to
arrive. It seemed endless, an army, and she felt that she had
attempted something too big for her resources. However, everything
went off splendidly. The orphans whooped for joy as they broke their
formation and spread out, through the garden, far into the meadows.
Out there they looked like large bluebells; and at tea, when their
cloaks had been removed and their brown frocks showed, they looked
like locusts. Locusts could scarcely have eaten more. After tea Dale's
men came from the yard and brought the piano out of the house, and
Mrs. Dale played with stiff fingers while Norah Veale, Rachel, and the
orphans danced on the flags and up and down the grass paths. The poor
little orphans stayed late, and left regretfully. They said it had
been the treat of their lives.

But the most interesting party and the one that Mavis enjoyed most
came upon her unexpectedly.

One week Mr. Druitt the higgler failed to pay his usual visit, and
there was conjecture in the Vine-Pits kitchen as to the reason of his
absence. He had never before allowed a week to pass without a call.
Mavis asked Mary if he had written to her explaining his absence; and
Mary said no, and that she felt very anxious.

But next week he turned up, gay, jovial, looking ten years younger. He
stood just inside the kitchen door, smiled at all, and winked most
archly at Mary.

"See this, Mary?" And he pointed to the band of black crape on his
arm. "Know what that means, Mary?" Then he turned to Mavis. "I call
her Mary now, because I can do it with a clear conscience, ma'am. I
buried Mrs. Druitt yesterday."

This meant a marriage feast for Mary; nor would the higgler permit of
the least delay in its preparation. He was ardent to taste the
felicity that had been so long postponed, and refused to listen to any
appeals that might be addressed to his sense of propriety, the respect
due to the departed, and so forth. Dale, inclined to say he would not
put up with Druitt's nonsense, was overborne; chiefly because Mary,
having been greatly scared by a facetious remark of her lover, at once
took his part in the dispute. He had said, when she pleaded with him
for a reasonable breathing-space, that he knew of as many other
red-cheeked maids as there were morris-apples at akering-time. Mary
then bustled with her trousseau, of which the cost was defrayed by the
Dales.

The charm of that party was its homelike, almost patriarchal
character. A Saturday had been chosen to suit everybody's convenience,
and the fickle June weather was kind to them. One long table was set
out on the flags, in the shade of the house wall, close to the kitchen
and the hot dishes; and the meal, which was substantial and lavish,
lasted from about half-past three till five o'clock. Dale sat at the
head of the table with his wife and the newly married couple; then
there were a coachman and his daughter, and the higgler's best man;
then Norah Veale and the children, and further off Mrs. Goudie, the
dairymaid, and all the men from the yard. Mr. Bates had been asked,
but he would not come. Abe Veale came unasked, to Nora's shame and
indignation.

"I thought," he said, "as Norrer's true farder, and owing my life to
him who is her adapted farder, and so well beknown to Miss Parsons,
that I wouldn't be otherwise than welcome."

"You are welcome," said Dale quietly. "Be seated." And Norah felt
intensely grateful to Dale and intensely disgusted with her parent.

They ate and drank and laughed; and Norah was sweet with the children,
taking them away before they had gorged themselves. Outside the shadow
of the wall one had the vivid beauty of flowers, the perfume of fruit,
and the lively play of the sunlight; with glimpses through the foliage
of smooth meadow, sloped arable, and distant heath; the firm ground
beneath them, the open sky above them, and all around them the
contented atmosphere of home. All these things together confirmed
Mavis in the feeling that she had reached the apotheosis of her
party-giving.

At the bottom of the table there was of course slight excess. The fun
down there became rather broad. And old Mrs. Goudie made jokes which
she reserved solely for weddings, and which she had better have kept
to herself even then.

Dale proposed the bride's health, and spoke in the dignified easy
style of a man who is accustomed to addressing large audiences, but
who is tactfully able to reduce the compass of his voice and the
weight of his manner for friendly informal gatherings. He was only
heavy--and not a bit too heavy--when he thanked Mary for the kindness
she had always shown to him and his. Then he pointed to the gold
locket that was his wedding present, and said that when she wore that
round her neck, as she was wearing it now, "it reposed on a loyal,
faithful heart." This caused Mary to weep.

The opening of the higgler's speech was in deplorable taste--all about
widowers making the best husbands. He said, "Widowers know what to
expect; so they ain't disappointed. And if they've suffered in their
first venture, it's an easy job for Number Two to please 'em;" and he
winked to right and left. Mavis and Dale were looking uncomfortable.
Fortunately, however, the speech improved toward the end of it.

"All I ask of Mary is to look nice--and that she can't help doing,
bless her bonny face; to speak nice--and that she can do if she tries,
and copies Mrs. Dale; and to act nice--and in that she'll have an
example under her eyes, for I mean to act uncommon nice to her."

When, winking and bowing, he resumed his seat by Mary's side, the
applause from the bottom of the table was vociferous. "Brayvo. He hev
a said it smart. Never 'eard it better worded. Well done, Mr. Druitt."

Half the flowers had lost their color in the extending shadow of the
house before Mr. and Mrs. Druitt drove away. The higgler's pony
groaned between the shafts of a cart that was much too big for him;
rice and old shoes struck the wheels; Mrs. Goudie made her last joke;
the men at the yard gate shouted; Norah and the children ran a little
way along the road--and then the party was over.

After a few days Mr. Druitt called exactly as usual to offer good
bacon. "Mornin', ma'am. Mary sends her love, and the message that
she's as happy as the day is long."

"And I hope," said Mavis, "that you are happy too, Mr. Druitt."

"Mrs. Dale," he said, "I don't reco'nize myself. When I think of the
past and the present--"

Mavis stopped him. He was of course going to disparage Number One, and
she felt that to be so horrid of him.




XXII


The new housemaid was adequately filling Mary's place, and life at
Vine-Pits as of old ran smoothly on. With increasing means the Dales
still refrained from frivolous additions to household expenditure.
Neither craved for further pomp or luxury; both took pleasure in
amassing rather than in squandering.

To get up early, work hard, and go to bed thoroughly tired--all this
Mavis took for granted as a correct and undeviating program for one's
days. Indeed in her complete satisfaction she tended naturally to a
mental attitude that was taking for granted all phenomena, whether
objective or subjective. The visible comforts of her home, the love of
her husband, the bliss of being the mother of two perfect children,
together with her contented thoughts in relation to each and all of
these matters, were accepted as so intimately connected with the prime
fact of her existence itself that no fear of possible disturbance or
cessation ever troubled her. She no more thought of a break in the
grand routine of placid joy than she thought of leaving off the
process by which she filled and emptied her lungs when breathing.

As perhaps is usual with the majority of successful people, she never
considered whether the hour had not come for diminishing the effort
that was producing the success. They had fixed no goal which when
reached should be a resting-place as well as a winning-post.

They were working for the future. The money they earned was for then,
and not for now. But she very rarely thought of this remote period;
and when she did, it was with absolute vagueness. A lot of money would
be required for the children; and eventually she and Will would be
old, feeble, unable to go on working, and then a modest amount of
money would be required for themselves.

Always in her early dreams of affluence she had pictured holidays, the
excitement of traveling, and rapid changes of scene; yet, although
since they first came to Vine-Pits they had not been away for a single
staying holiday, she had no sense of missing something that might have
been enjoyed. It would be absurd to drag Dale away from home while he
was so busy. For herself it seemed quite sufficient change and
excitement to drive over to Old Manninglea for an afternoon's severe
shopping about six times a year.

Now, of a sudden, Dale himself offered to give her a day out at the
very first opportunity. Little Rachel had never seen the sea, and
expressed a strong desire to look upon the wonders of the deep; so
daddy promised to take her and her mother to Rodhaven Pier directly he
was free enough to do so. In the end he chose a Sunday for this treat,
saying that the better the day the better the deed.

He came out of chapel before the sermon; they dined at noon, and
started in good time to catch the train at Rodchurch Road. At the
moment of departure, when the horse and wagonette stood ready, and
Dale in his silk hat, black coat, and dogskin gloves was about to
mount the box-seat, the boy Billy began to howl most pitifully because
he was being left behind. Mavis, whose heartstrings were torn by the
sight of her angel's tears and the sound of his yells, looked at Dale
appealingly.

"All right," said Dale. "Will you behave yourself, Billy, if we take
you?"

But this meant taking Norah too, because obviously Mavis could not
manage both children unaided.

"Norah," said Dale, impressively, "I give you two minutes, and no
more, to get yourself and the boy ready."

Mavis, overjoyed, put Rachel in the back of the wagonette, took her
seat by her husband's side, and with sprightly chat endeavored to make
two long minutes seem two short ones.

"How nice the horse looks! Will, I do feel we are all in luck. Such a
fine day too. Do you think your top hat is necessary? Wouldn't you be
more comfortable in your straw?"

"May be--but I don't think it would be the thing," said Dale. "We
shall be sure to meet a lot of people we know."

"I only thought you'd get it so dusty. Is it your best or the old
one?"

He did not answer, because just then Norah and Billy came rushing down
the garden path.

It proved an altogether delightful excursion. There was so little in
it really, and yet long years afterward Mavis sometimes thought of it
as perhaps the happiest day of her life. They drove through Rodchurch,
past the post office, the church, and other interesting sights; then
along the broader road beneath big trees, to the railway station.
Billy sat between his parents, and did not behave too well, wriggling,
contorting himself, threatening to jump out, and even grabbing for
the reins.

"It's his excitement," said Norah.

"Yes, it's his excitement," said Mavis; and she and Norah talked
reassuringly, as if to each other, but really at Dale. "He'll be all
right, Norah, when he has had his run about."

"Yes," sad Norah sagely, "children are like that. They must let off
steam. As soon as they're tired they remember their manners and behave
nicely."

At the Station Inn Dale put up the horse and trap, and the journey was
pursued by rail.

The brightness and gaiety of Rodhaven charmed them all. They seemed to
get out of the train into another climate, another world. Everything
was new and strange--blazing sun with a wind that made you as cool as
a cucumber; crowds and crowds of people, Salvation Army band,
procession of volunteers; and the pier, the streamers, the sea--and
the _sands_.

Rachel scarcely glanced at Ocean's face: the sands were enough for
her. They got away from the crowd, and played on the sands. Dale was
so jolly with the children, running about, sportively chasing them,
hunting for shells, popping the buds of seaweed; while Mavis sat on a
dry bit of rock, looking large, red, overblown, and adored her family.
The little boy soon became, frankly, a nuisance, wanting his sister's
shells, refusing to catch daddy, wishing to paddle in his boots; and
Dale, testy at last, very hot and perspiring said: "Ma lad, if you
wear out my patience, you'll suffer for your conduct."

Then, almost at the same moment, Dale's top hat blew off; and a mad
chase ensued. The hat, like a live thing with the devil in it,
bounded and curvetted wildly, doubled away from Dale, dodged Rachel,
and sprang right over Norah's head, threatening to make for the open
sea. Mavis had scrambled up; and she stood on the rock, a tragic
figure, with a finger to her lip, watching the hat chase distractedly.
Norah caught the hat in the end, and it was really not much the worse
for its gambol.

Mavis' first words were, "Is it your best?"

"No," gasped Dale, very much out of breath; "my second-best."

"Thank goodness," said Mavis.

They made a fine solid meal at tea in a vast refreshment-hall on the
sands; Mavis and Norah, with their hats on adjacent chairs and their
hair untidy, helping the little ones to top and tail the first shrimps
that they had ever encountered; Dale eating heaps of shrimps and
drinking cup after cup of tea. The wind blew sand against the glass
front of the hall--the smell of the sea mingled with the smell of the
shrimps--and they were absolutely happy. But when all felt replete the
boy began to cry, and soon howled. "I wis' I lived here always, yes, I
do."

"O Billy, you like home best."

"No, I don't. I like this best. I hate home;" and he bellowed.

"He's getting tired," said Norah sagely.

"Yes," said Mavis. "That's all it is. He's getting tired."

He fell asleep directly they got into the lamplit train; and Norah
carried him from the station, carried him all the time the horse was
being put to and they were getting ready to leave. "He's too much for
you," said Dale kindly. "Give him to me."

"Oh, no, sir."

And Dale whispered approvingly to Mavis, saying that he liked Norah's
grit.

Then they drove home; Norah behind with the children, both of them
sleeping now; and Dale and Mavis side by side in front, talking
quietly as they passed beneath the dark trees and out beneath the
bright stars.




XXIII


Norah was a treasure to them, and she seemed always to be improving.
She had done with school now, but she evinced a commendable yearning
for further cultivation, buying copy-books with her pocket-money,
imitating Dale's clerkly hand; so that already at a pinch she was able
to help in the office work. But proud as she felt when permitted to
copy out accounts or circular letters, her pride did not spoil her for
household labor. In fact she worked so stanchly at scrubbing,
scouring, and so forth, as well as looking after the children, that
for a long while Mavis did not detect how poor old Mrs. Goudie was
failing, and leaving nearly all her duties to be performed by others.
Moreover, in spite of having issued from the untidy hovel of those
rammucky Veales, she showed an innate love of cleanliness and order,
assiduously brushing her black hair and scrupulously washing her white
skin.

Only very rarely she gave a little trouble, and then both Dale and his
wife attributed this naughtiness to the Veale origin, finding the
explanation of a certain wildness in that strain of gipsy blood which,
as was popularly supposed, ran down her pedigree. She disgraced
herself when the circus menagerie passed the gates of Vine-Pits. She
stood firm with the rest of them watching the great painted vans go
by, and the droves of horses, and the tiny ponies; but when the
elephants came she broke away. The size, the weirdness, the shuffling
footsteps of these beasts made her beside herself. A lot of ragged
children with great wicked-looking hobbledehoys from the Cross Roads,
were trotting after the elephants; and Norah, joining this
disreputable band, trotted also. She went all the way to Rodchurch,
saw the immense tent set up on the Common, and probably crept inside
to see the entertainment. She did not return for six hours, not till
after dark.

Another thing that made Mavis anxious and angry was Norah's
ineradicable love of the woods. She never deserted work, but, if
allowed any time to herself, she would go stealing off into Hadleigh
Wood to pick flowers or bring back birds' eggs for the children. She
knew perfectly well that she was to keep to the road or the field
tracks, but the sylvan depths seemed to call her and she could not
resist the call.

Once when Norah had been troublesome in this respect, Mavis was so
angry that she threatened her with corporal punishment.

"Look here, my lass," said Mavis, unconsciously founding herself on
the manner of her husband when administering rebuke, "if you can't
obey what I tell you, I shall ask Mr. Dale to chastise you--yes, my
lass, to give you a lesson you won't forget in a hurry." Norah hung
her head and pouted. Then she looked up and spoke firmly.

"He wouldn't do it. He's too kind."

"Oh, yes, he would. Don't you make a mistake about that."

"He _wouldn't_." Norah's eyes flashed; she stamped her foot, and
turned on Mavis quite fiercely. "He's so good that he wouldn't hurt a
fly, much less beat a girl. You've no right to say it--behind his
back--what you know isn't true."

"Be off to your work this instant," said Mavis, stamping also, "or
I'll whip you myself." And she pursued Norah to the kitchen. "You dare
to sauce me like that again as long as you live!"

Before the evening was over, Norah, completely contrite, begged to be
forgiven for her rudeness; and Mavis was only too ready both to
forgive and to forget. She had felt quite shocked and upset by the
girl's tantrums.

It was almost immediately after this that Norah said she wished to be
a Baptist, and to go to chapel with Mr. Dale.

"Do you think," asked Dale, when informed of Norah's petition, "that
it is genuine? Or is it just curiosity?"

"I think it's genuine," said Mavis. "But no doubt she is influenced by
the fact that _you_ go there. I do believe she'd wish to go
anywhere--or do anything that you did."

Dale questioned Norah seriously.

"Why do you wish it? Speak to me with freedom, my dear."

"I do want to be good, sir." And Norah burst into tears. "Oh, I do
want to be good."

"Then come with me," said Dale.

Henceforth they two went to worship together every Sunday, and Mavis
once or twice felt a twinge of regret that she herself had not been
able to abandon the established church and join the Baptists with her
husband. But that she could not do. The chapel was too ugly, its
eastward wall too bare, its faith too painfully simple and
matter-of-fact.

She took great pains with Norah's Sunday costume, dressing her better
than before, anxious that the girl should do them credit when seen
with Dale in a public place; and Norah, all in her best, following
after her master as he made his long strides down the road, trotted
like a faithful little dog. She sat beside him in one of the front
benches, breathing hard, and following the text with her finger, while
Mr. Osborn read the Bible; and she blended her birdlike trills with
Dale's strong bass when they both stood up to sing the hymns. Dale
liked the note of her voice, took pleasure in observing her piety, and
thoroughly enjoyed expounding any difficulties in the sermon while
they walked home to dinner or to supper.

If Dale stood outside the chapel talking to elders of the flock, Norah
modestly withdrew to a little distance; or if he met people on the
road and stopped to chat, she went on ahead, waiting respectfully, and
only returning to his side when he walked on again alone. He always
kept his eye on her, and saw that she was not being accosted
unpleasantly by any undesirable acquaintance.

Once, when Dale had stopped thus to talk to Mr. Maghull, there were
two field-laborers leaning against a gate and discussing people as
they passed. Neither of them was a Baptist. One was a stupid old man,
and his would-be-funny chatter, at which the other kept guffawing,
bothered Dale in his serious conversation with Mr. Maghull.

"Be that little Norrer Veale?"

"I dunno."

"I do think that's little Norrer Veale, but I ben't sure."

"Yes, it is," said Dale, turning and speaking sharply. "What about
her?"

"Lord, how she's coming on," said the old man. "She's an advertisement
to your larder, sir;" and he stared at the girl. "Fillin' out into all
a piece o' goods, ben't un?" Then he laughed, in peasant style. "Give
her another year or two and she'll be a blink to set some un o' fire
pretty quick, if she gets hedge-row walkin'."

Dale felt annoyed by this rustic criticism, but he knew that there was
substantial truth in it. Norah was developing rapidly, and showed
distinct comeliness. As he walked after her he noticed her figure. It
was still very slender, but it had roundnesses that would soon become
rounder, and graceful curves that would swell with an ampler grace
every month till she reached full growth. He was pleased when he
thought of the good food that she had received in return for her good
work. He thought, too, that he must tell Mavis to be watchful and
careful, a real guardian, when this childlike bud burst into
womanhood.

He felt a glow of indignation at the mere idea of harm coming to her
while she was under their care. Hands off, there. Any louts who
attempted tricks would have him, William Dale, to reckon with.

For years Dale had been a bad sleeper, but now he was a good sleeper;
and Mavis traced this change directly to the calming effect of his
religion. There could be no question that the improvement dated from
that night on which he was baptized. Since then he had not once been
troubled with bad dreams, and habitually he slept so soundly that he
required a lot of rousing in the morning. Another change, among those
slight differences that she fancied she observed in him, was his
abstraction when reading. Formerly he used to seem particularly alert
and vigorous whenever he sat with an open book before him; his whole
air was that of lively expectation; the features worked; he was
waiting for a passage that he did not agree with. Nowadays he seemed
to read in a completely receptive spirit, without questioning, without
doubting; and his face reflected the quiet confidence that he was
adopting with regard to the author. He never looked up, or stopped to
read out anything that struck him; he had withdrawn himself from
every-day life and given himself to the world of the book; you had to
speak two or three times, and quite loudly, before you could drag him
back to material facts.

Still another change, and one that affected them both, Mavis did not
altogether attribute to the revival of her husband's religious belief;
but she thought that this had accelerated its progress and confirmed
its finality. It had begun after the birth of her second child. Then
it was that the love between husband and wife purified itself still
further; and the refining process had continued; they had passed
onward and upward until the beautiful new feelings seemed firmly
established, and, without a word spoken, all the old passion had been
allowed to fade. It was quite another joy now when they kissed or lay
locked in each other's arms: they were a father and a mother, a
brother and sister, comrades--but no longer lovers.

She was surprised once or twice to find how calmly and contentedly she
thought about all this; without the least regret for something that
was and had ceased to be; and without a vestige of the confusion of
ideas which makes women in their ripening years cling to all belonging
or seeming to belong to vanished youth, and to suffer under the loss
of anything they possessed then, even though a better thing has come
to them in its place. She was a woman completing her destined course;
and so that the cycle-curve swept on unbroken, she would be as happy
on the downward sweep as when the sweep was rising.

But in these days, in spite of her mental tranquillity, she could not
sleep well at night; she tossed and turned, muttered and started, as
if the dreams and restlessness that had gone out of Will had found
their way into her. For this reason they generally occupied different
beds, and sometimes different rooms.

Throughout this period while Mrs. Dale's bodily health was not on its
normal level of excellence, Norah showed magnificent grit and
altogether proved worth her weight in gold.

Dale always remembered the night when she came to his room, and, after
much beating on the door and calling him by name, at last succeeded in
waking him. Mavis, who had unfortunately caught cold the day before,
was now taken with violent colic, and suffering such pain that she
could not restrain her groans and screams. Ethel, the new maid, was
scared out of her wits by the sight of her afflicted mistress; Dale
himself was alarmed; neither of them could do anything. But Norah did
it all. She had sprung out of bed just as she was, rushed to the scene
of disorder, snatched up the mistress' keys, then had procured and
administered brandy. Then she rushed down-stairs again, lighted the
fire, and began to boil water and to get flannel for hot compresses.

Dale came down to the kitchen presently, and said that his wife was
feeling easier; the brandy had done her good. Then, the anxiety having
lessened, his attention was held by Norah's scanty attire. She was in
her night-dress and nothing more, and even this garment was not
sufficiently fastened; her black hair was tumbling loose about her
shoulders, and she pattered here and there across the stone floor on
her bare feet.

He began to chide her, rather irritably. "You little fool, do you want
to catch a chill as well--so's to make two invalids instead of one?
Here, put on my jacket."

"Oh, no, Mr. Dale."

"Do as I tell you. Besides, it--well, it isn't seemly to be running
about half naked."

Norah flushed red in the candle-light, and clutched at her
night-dress. Then she hastily put on Dale's jacket, which swamped her,
going far down below her hips and making her seem a wonderfully
strange figure.

Next morning, when she was bringing him his breakfast, he talked to
her of what had "passed a few hours ago."

"Norah, my dear, I'm sorry I spoke sharply to you--just when you were
doing all that you possibly could for us. But, you know, I didn't mean
it a bit unkind."

"Oh, no, sir," said Norah, shyly.

It's only that I'm always a stickler for etiquette--and that sort of
thing. I do so like what I call seemly conduct."

"Yes, sir. I was ashamed the moment you spoke;" and Norah blushed
again. "But truly I hadn't thought, sir. If I'd given it a thought,
I'd never have done it."

"No, you didn't think. And there's nothing on earth for you to be
ashamed of. Far be it from me to put thoughts into your innocent
little noddle which needn't come there yet a while. You'll
understand--and it'll just be instinct to you then--that what's right
for children is a bit odd and startling for those who're older. Now
don't think any more about it."

"I don't want to, sir--if you say so;" and Norah smiled comfortably
once more.

She made and laid his early breakfast for him every morning until
Mavis was well enough to come down to do it herself, and Dale had
never been better waited on or seen a daintier way of arranging a
table. She always gave him a napkin, which was an unusual luxury, and
she folded it in fantastic shapes; moreover, undeterred by the notions
of economy or caution natural in a proprietor, she brought out pieces
of the bettermost china that were rarely used by Mavis; she set one of
the smallest and very best afternoon tea-cloths in such a manner that
it looked like a diamond instead of a square, and on this, as central
decoration, she placed a blue bowl full of flowers. Then, too, she had
requisitioned the silver-plated cake basket for the newly-baked
bannocks. The silver basket gave a touch of splendor that really made
the table seem as if its proper situation was a grand London
restaurant or a nobleman's mansion.

"You want to spoil me, Norah," said Dale, watching her. Then he
laughed. "But, my dear, all these pretty trickings and ornamentations
are fairly wasted on me."

"No, they aren't," said Norah, breathing hard, seeming to purr with
pleasure. "They can't be wasted, if you've noticed them, Mr. Dale;"
and as she lifted her head, she shook back the dark curling hair from
her forehead. "P'raps they'd be wasted if you didn't know they were
there."

"Oh, we rough old chaps don't require such prettiness about them."

Norah displayed her small white teeth in a broadening smile; then she
looked at the revered master thoughtfully.

"Why do you say you're _old_? You aren't really old, Mr. Dale."

"Oh, aren't I? I wonder what you call old, lassie."

"I call father old, and Mr. Bates--and Mrs. Goudie."

"Well, I mayn't be as old as them--as they; but I think I'm like the
walnut tree out there. I still stand up straight, but I fear me I've
seen my best days.... There! What are you up to now?"

She was lugging and pushing the great porter's chair from its corner.

"I don't want that."

"It's your chair, so why shouldn't you sit in it at breakfast as well
as supper?" She brought it to the table, and looked at him over the
back of it shyly, yet with a kind of defiance--much as his own
children looked at him when they had made up their minds to be cheeky.
"It's quite an old man's chair, sir--so it'll suit you nicely."

He sat in the chair, amused by her impudence, but holding up his
finger with mock reproof. She had run to the kitchen door, and she
stood there for a moment laughing merrily. "Oh, you do look all a
gran'father in that chair, Mr. Dale. You do, indeed."

Next moment she was singing at her work outside in the kitchen. Then
there came a silence; her shadow passed the window, and he guessed
that she was taking a circuitous route to the room up-stairs where the
children and Ethel were busily engaged in toilet operations. Rather
than risk disturbing him at his breakfast by coming through here, she
had gone right round the house and in again at the front door. She was
always like that--always thinking of other people's comfort, never
sparing her own labor.

Then he heard her voice at a distance somewhere near the cowhouse. She
had not gone up-stairs after all; she had gone out there on dairy
business. Soon she came singing back--singing, he thought, as blithely
as a lark; just as sweetly and tunefully as any bird one could name.

Other people as well as Dale noticed the freshness and unforced music
of Norah's singing, and it was not long before she received an
invitation to sing among the regularly trained young women at the
chapel.

On the morning when she left Dale's side to take her place upon the
platform she was woefully nervous. Dale too had been anxious, but
directly he heard her voice--and he knew it so well that he at once
distinguished it amid all the other voices that made up the platform
chorus--he felt perfectly reassured. Her nervousness had not put her
out of tune: she was acquitting herself admirably.

They walked home together in a high state of gratification; and he
hastened to tell Mavis that the little maid had achieved a success,
and that Mr. Osborn had paid her a compliment at the door before
everybody. Mavis was delighted. She ran to give kisses of
congratulation, and she said that on her very next visit to Old
Manninglea she would buy some stuff to make Norah a pretty new dress,
which they would set to work on as soon as the evenings began to
lengthen again.

A considerable time elapsed before this kind intention became an
accomplished fact; but in due course the dress was ready to wear, and
Norah looked very nice when wearing it. As to color, it was of so
lively a blue that it would permit no shadows even in its deepest
folds; it was just a close-fitting brightness that made the girl seem
to have shot up in a night to a form of much greater height and
increased slenderness. Her hat was made of yellow straw, with a wreath
of artificial daisies round the crown. When the tempered sunshine fell
upon her as she stood up to sing, she looked like something composed
of vivid color, light, and life--like a flower glowing in a garden, a
kingfisher hovering over a stream, a rainbow trembling on the crest of
a hill. Dale, watching her, thought that in comparison the other
maidens on the platform were positively plain.

He told Mavis afterward that he felt certain the dress had been
admired, adding that Norah's general appearance did her the utmost
credit. And that Sunday they both talked seriously about Norah's
future.

"You know," said Dale, "I feel it as a responsibility on us."

"So do I," said Mavis.

"Having taken it up, we must go through with it to the end. I mean,
we must always stand her friends--and more than that, her guardians."

"Of course."

"In a sense," he went on, didactically, "we may have made a mistake in
bringing her forward to the extent we've done."

"How so, Will?"

"I mean, if one wished to argue selfish--which of course I don't
wish--well, the selfish view would be not to have drawn her out but
rather keep her down a bit."

"Oh, she'd be miserable if she didn't feel to be one of ourselves--and
you always said let's treat her that way."

"I know; and I don't go back on it. I was only stating the case of
selfish policy, for the sake of argument. It's like this. The more
useful you teach her to be, the more we're going to miss her when she
leaves us."

"She'll never leave us."

"Won't she be thinking of taking service in some gentleman's family
when you've perfected her, and rendered her really capable of filling
a situation?"

"Oh, no, she'd never want to go away from Vine-Pits."

"Is that so? Well, of course I regard that as another feather in her
cap. I'm glad to think she's properly devoted to you."

"It isn't me," said Mavis. "It's you she's devoted to. It's been the
same all along. I told you from the first that child just worshiped
you. It's Mr. Dale. Mr. Dale is the cry with Norah always. She looks
on me as very small potatoes," and Mavis laughed. "I don't mind. It's
how I look on myself."

Dale patted his wife's hand, and smiled. "Rubbish! But look here,
Mav;" and he spoke very thoughtfully.

"I don't wish ever to trade on Norah's gratitude. It may be, when the
time comes, we shall have to decide for her. It may be that she'll do
better for herself in the long run by going than by staying. If so, we
mustn't be the barrier in her way. We must push her out into the
world, even if she can't see the point of it. But all that lies far
ahead. We needn't worry about it yet a while.... How old is Norah
now?"

"Seventeen."

"No? Do you mean to say she has been with us five years?"

"Yes. Every bit of five years."

"Then how old is Rachel?"

"Eleven."

"And Billy?"

"Five--and more."

"My goodness, Mav," and Dale sighed, "how time goes." Then he rose
from his chair, stretched himself, and sighed again. "_How_ time is
going!"




XXIV


Another charwoman had now been engaged; and Mrs. Goudie, retiring on a
small pension from the Dales, came to Vine-Pits only to pay her
respects or now and then to appear as the least greedy and most
deserving petitioner of all those who sat on the bench or stood
waiting at the back door. Coming thus for a dole of tea, she asked
Norah to inform Mr. Dale that young Bates--as he was still called--had
again been seen in the neighborhood. As usual, he had come and gone
furtively.

Dale, duly receiving the message, frowned and shook his head
ominously. He had never been able to get hold of young Bates, although
Mrs. Goudie had reported several of these sinister reappearances, and
probably nothing could have been gained by an interview with such a
heartless scoundrel. So long as old Bates was weak enough to give,
young Bates would be cruel enough to go on taking; and from the aspect
of things it appeared that the too generous father would before long
be altogether denuded. He was getting shabbier and shabbier in his
apparel; his poor old face looked pinched and thin, and the talk was
that he lived on starvation rations. It all seemed horrible to Dale--a
thing that should not be permitted; and yet what could one do?

He thought about it all next day, and it was more or less occupying
his mind at dusk when he sat with Norah in the office clearing up for
the night.

"There, my dear, that'll do. You'll only hurt your eyes."

"It's all right, Mr. Dale. I can see well enough just to finish."

Dale was sitting at the table in the window and Norah stood at his
desk beside the high stool, copying rows of figures out of a huge
day-book. He turned his head and watched her for a minute or so in
silence. Her dusky black hair was like a crown over her stooping face;
her left elbow and hand lay on the desk; and the moving pen in her
other hand pointed straight at the right shoulder, exactly as Dale had
taught her to point it when she first began to imitate his
copper-plate writing. She had been an apt pupil, and there was no
mistake about the help she gave him nowadays. At the beginning he used
to pretend a little, saying that her aid lightened his labors, merely
to encourage and please her.

"Now stop, lassie. This is what Mr. Osborn terms blind man's holiday.
Shut the book."

"I should have liked to finish," said Norah.

Nevertheless she obeyed him, closing the book and putting her papers
in a drawer.

"Look here, if you _must_ be busy to the last moment, come over here
nearer the light and address these envelopes for me--and I'll have a
pipe."

Norah came meekly to the window and took the chair that Dale had
vacated for her. Standing close behind the chair and looking down upon
her, he noticed the deft way in which her hands gathered the loose
envelopes and stacked them; the shapeliness of her arms and
shoulders; and the ivory whiteness of her cheek. It was the fading
light that produced this effect, because she was not by any means a
pale girl. Her skin, although white enough, had warm tones in it, and
under it still warmer tones--a brownish glow, like a sunburn that had
been transmitted by nomad ancestors who baked themselves under fierce
southern skies centuries ago. The gipsy blood showed to that extent in
her complexion, and to a greater extent in her hair.

And suddenly he thought of what Mavis had been as a girl. _She_ had a
white skin--if you please; much whiter than Norah's; but she was like
this girl in many respects, was Mavis when he first saw her. She and
Norah were as like as two peas out of one pod in the matter of looking
fragile and yet firm, as gracefully delicate of form as it is possible
to be without arousing any suspicion of debility or unhealthiness. The
back of Mavis' stooping neck used to be exactly like this girl's--a
smooth, round stem, without a crease or a speck on it, a solid,
healthy neck, and yet so slender that his great hand would almost
girdle it.

"Aren't I doing right?" Norah looked up quickly. "I'm copying the
addresses off the letters."

"No, you're doing quite right." Dale put his hands in his pockets and
moved away to the high stool. "What made you think you were doing
wrong?"

"Oh, I don't know. I always get nervous when you watch me and don't
say anything."

"Then we'll talk. There, I'll wait till you're through, and then we'll
talk a bit."

"I am through now," said Norah in a minute. "Shall I put the stamps
on?"

"No, don't trouble. I'll do it myself--and post 'em at the pillar."

He had seated himself on the stool and had brought out his pipe. He
looked at its bowl reflectively, and then began to talk to Norah about
the children.

"Don't you think, Norah, that we ought to be putting Billy out to
school?"

Mavis so far had acted as governess, with Norah to assist, and between
them they had taught both children to read and write; but this home
tuition could not go on indefinitely, and Dale thought that the time
had already come when larger and bolder steps must be taken toward
achieving that liberal education which he had solemnly promised his
son and heir. He was always reading advertisements of attractive
seaside schools, where the boy could secure home comforts, the
rudiments of sound religious faith, as well as a good grounding in the
humanities. Mavis, however, would not yet hear of a separation from
her darling. She pleaded that he was such a _little_ fellow still; she
prayed Will not to hurry.

"Tell me what _you_ think about it, Norah--quite candidly."

Norah had hesitated about replying; but she now said that she really
thought Dale need not be in a hurry. Billy was so clever that when he
did get to school he would learn faster than other boys; and she added
that his departure from home would be "a dreadful wrinch for Mrs.
Dale."

"But it will be a wrench for her whenever it happens. In life one has
to prepare one's self for _wrenches_--That, I fancy, is the better way
of pronouncing the word. Yes, wrench after wrench, Norah--that's life;
until the last great wrench comes--and, well, that _isn't_ life....
Who was that passed the window?"

Norah turned her bright young face to the window and peered out.

"It's Mr. Bates, sir. How funny he looks!"

"What d'you mean--funny?"

"Walking so slow, and leaning on his great stick--as if he was a
pilgrim."

Dale had jumped off his stool; and he ran out to the road and begged
the old man to come in.

"Certainly, William," said Mr. Bates.

He had cut himself a long staff from some woodland holly-tree, a rough
prop that reached shoulder high, and on this he leaned heavily as soon
as he stopped walking. He looked very old and very shaky.

"Good evening, Miss Veale," he said courteously as he entered the
office.

"Oh, you mustn't call her _Miss_ Veale. She's Norah--one of us, you
know." And as he spoke, Dale laid his hand on the back of Norah's neck
to prevent her from rising. "She's our _multum in parvo_--making
herself so useful to the wife and me that we can't think what we
should ever do without her. Bide where you are a moment, Norah."

Dale established his visitor on a chair that faced the rapidly waning
light, and addressed him again with increased deference.

"If you can spare a few minutes, there's a thing I'd like to speak to
you about, Mr. Bates."

"I can spare all the minutes between now and morning," said Mr. Bates
cordially, "if I can be of the least service to you, William."

As much now as in the beginning of the enterprise Bates held himself
at the younger man's disposal, indeed liked nothing better than to
give information and counsel whenever his prosperous successor was of
a mind to accept either.

"I won't keep you as long as that," said Dale, smiling; "but will you
give us the pleasure of your company at supper?"

"You're very kind, William, but I don't think I can."

"Do, Mr. Bates. The wife will be as pleased as me--as I."

The old fellow looked up at Dale hesitatingly; and Dale, looking down
at his clean-shaven cheeks, bushy white eyebrows, and the long wisps
of white hair brushed across his bald head, felt a great reverence. He
would not look at the threadbare shabbiness of the gray cloth suit, or
at the queer tints given by time and weather to the black felt hat
that was being balanced on two shrunken knees.

"I, ah, don't think I'll present myself before Mrs. Dale--ah, without
more preparation than this. Besides, would it not put her out?"

"No, indeed. Quite unceremonious--taking us exactly as you find
us--pot-luck."

"Then be it so. You are very good. Thank you, William."

"Thank you, Mr. Bates." Dale seized upon the visitor's hat and stick.
"Now you may cut along, Norah, and tell Mrs. Dale that Mr. Bates is
kind enough to stay supper--without ceremony."

Norah glided across the office to the inner door, and, going out,
asked if she should bring a lamp.

"Yes, bring the lamp in ten minutes--not before. There's light enough
for two such old friends to chat together;" and Dale waited until she
had shut the door. "Now, sir, this is kind and friendly. Give me your
hand, Mr. Bates. I'd like to hold it in mine, while I say these few
prelim'nary words."

"Yes, William?" The old man had immediately offered his hand, and he
looked up with a puzzled and anxious expression.

"I merely wish to assure you, Mr. Bates, very sincerely, that if you
at this moment could see right into my heart, you'd plainly see my
respect, and what is more, my true affection for you, sir."

"I believe it, William."

"And it has always been a source of comfort to me to think that you,
sir, have entertained a most kindly feeling to me, sir."

Mr. Bates had averted his eyes, and he moved his feet restlessly, his
demeanor seeming to indicate that he regretted having accepted the
supper invitation and was perhaps desirous of withdrawing his
acceptance.

"I hope," Dale went on, "I haven't been presumptuous in my estimate of
your feeling, sir."

"No." And the old man looked up again. His eyes, his whole face had
grown soft, and the tone of his voice was firm, yet rather low and
very sweet. "No, William, my feeling for you began in taking note of
your sharpness combined with your steady ways, and it has ended in
love."

"That's a large word, Mr. Bates."

"It's no larger than the truth."

"Then I say 'Thank you, sir, for the honor you have done me.'" Dale
pressed the old chap's hand, dropped it, and returned to the high
stool. "And now, after what has passed between us two, man to man,
you'll credit me with no disrespectfulness if I make bold to let fall
certain remarks."

Bates nodded his white head and stared at the floor.

"There's a thing, sir, that I particularly want to say. It is about
yourself, sir--"

"Go on, William," said Mr. Bates, "and get it over. I know what you're
after, of course--something about Richard. Well, I'll take it from
you. I wouldn't take it from any one else."

"D'you remember all you used to advise me about the danger of rats,
telling me to fight 'em as if it was the devil himself, horns and
tail, and not just so many stinking little avaricious rodents? You
said, one rat was sufficient to mess me up."

Mr. Bates nodded.

"And you knew what you were talking about--no one better. And for why?
Because it was your own story you were telling me, in the form of a
parable."

"You're wrong there, William."

"Not a bit. You'd had one rat--but, by Jupiter, he was a whooping big
'un, and he'd eaten your grain, and messed you up--he'd ruined your
business, and well-nigh broken your heart, and practically done for
you."

"Have you finished?" asked Mr. Bates, with dignity.

"Yes, sir--almost;" and Dale in the most earnest manner besought his
old friend to resist any further attacks from that wicked son. "I do
implore you, sir, not to be weak and fullish. Don't take him to your
boosum. He's a rat still--an' he'll gnaw and devour the little that's
left to you, so sure as I sit here."

But it was all no use, as he could easily see. Mr. Bates raised his
eyes, moved his feet, and then spoke gently but proudly.

"I thank you, William, for your well-meant intentions. I have listened
to what you wished to say. Now shall we talk of something else?"

"Yes--but with just this one proviso added. Will you remember that I
am your banker, for the full half of what the banker's worth? If the
pinch comes, draw on me."

"I thank you again, William. But I shan't need help."

"I think you will."

"Then to speak quite truly, I couldn't take help, William, I really
couldn't."

"Why not? Think of all you've done for me. Don't deny me the pleasure
of doing something for you."

"I'll consider, William. Please let it rest there."

Dale could say no more and they both sat silent for a little while.
Then old Bates spoke again.

"William," he said, "if you'll excuse me, I really won't stay. You
have--to tell the truth--agitated me."

"Indeed I'm sorry, sir. But don't punish me by going."

"I am not quite up to merry-making."

Just then Norah arrived, carrying the lamp, and Dale turned to her for
aid.

"Norah, speak for me. Mr. Bates says he won't stay. Tell him how
disappointed we shall be."

"Oh, do stay, Mr. Bates," said Norah. "It'll be such a disappointment
to Mr. Dale."

"Some other evening, Miss--ah, Norah. But you must excuse me this
time."

And, having picked up his hat and stick, Mr. Bates bade them good
night.

Dale and Norah went out into the road and watched him as he walked
away.

"There, Norah;" and Dale, slipping his arm within hers, drew her
closer to his side. "Look with all your eyes. You'll never see a
better man than that."

They watched him till he disappeared in the gathering darkness; and he
seemed just like a pilgrim with his staff, slowly approaching the end
of a cruelly long journey.




XXV


It was perhaps a month after this when Dale heard news which plainly
indicated that the wicked son had completed his horrible task. He had
eaten up all that there was to eat.

Mr. Osborn said that old Bates had given his landlord notice, and he
was leaving his cottage almost immediately. The matter had been
brought to the pastor's knowledge because one of the Baptist
congregation thought of taking the cottage, and had asked Mr. Osborn's
advice.

Other people, who professed to know more than Mr. Osborn, said it was
true that Bates had given notice, but it was also true that he owed
two quarters' rent and that the landlord was determined to have his
money. To this end everything the cottage contained would be seized
and sold. And what would happen to Mr. Bates when not only his house
was gone, but all his sticks of furniture too?

"It do seem a pity he ben't a young orphan female instead of a
wore-out old man, for then he cud move on into Barradine Home and be
fed on the best for naught."

The cottage and other cottages about Otterford Mill, although close to
the Abbey estate, did not belong to it. They were the property of
various small owners, and Bates' landlord, as Dale knew, was a
tradesman at Old Manninglea.

Dale, having heard the news on a Sunday evening, put his check-book in
his pocket very early next morning and rode over the heath to the
market town. There he saw Bates' landlord, readily obtained leave to
withdraw the notice, cleared off the arrears, and paid rent for a year
in advance. Then he rode straight to Otterford Mill.

"Good morning, William. Pray come in. But will your horse stand quiet
there?"

"Oh, yes, sir. He'll stand quiet enough. Only too glad of the chance
to stand. I keep him moving, you know."

"Don't he ever get jerking at the rein, and break his bridle?"

"If he did he wouldn't run away. He'd be too ashamed of himself for
what he'd done."

"Then step inside, William," said Mr. Bates once more.

He ushered Dale into a bare, sad-looking room; and the whole cottage
smelled of nakedness, famine, misery.

"Now, my dear old friend," said Dale cheerily, "what's all this
whispering that reaches my ears _in re_ you thinking of changing your
quarters and leaving us?"

"It's the truth, William. I can't afford these premises any longer."

"Oh, come, we can't have that. We haven't so many friends that we can
put up with losing the one we value most of all."

Then he told Mr. Bates what he had done at Manninglea.

The old man frowned, flushed, and began to tremble.

"You shouldn't 'a' done that, William. It was a liberty. I must write
and say my notice holds good."

Then there was a brief but most painful conversation, Dale nearly
shedding tears while he pleaded to be allowed on this one occasion to
act as banker, and Bates resolutely refusing help, refusing even to
admit how much help was needed.

"William," he said obdurately, "I recognize your kind intention--but
you've made a mistake. You shouldn't have done it, without a word to
me. I can only repeat, it was a liberty."

Dale of course apologized, but went on pleading. It was all no use.
Obviously Mr. Bates' pride had been wounded to the quick. He was
white, shaky, so old, so feeble, and yet firm as a rock. Never till
now had he spoken to Dale in such tones of stiff reproof.

"William, we'll say no more. I have paid my way all my days, and at my
present age it's a bit too late to start differently."

His last words were: "I shall write next post to confirm the notice."

And he did so.

Then the tale ran round that Mr. Bates was going to the workhouse.
People declared that he had ceded all his furniture to the landlord,
who could now sell it quietly and advantageously, in a manner which
would yield more than enough to wipe out the debt. Perhaps there might
even be a trifling balance in the debtor's favor eventually; but
meanwhile the homeless and stickless old gentleman would fall as
another burden on the rates to which he had so long subscribed.

It was curious, perhaps, but the humble folk spoke of him as the old
gentleman, and not as the old man, all at once giving him the title
which they only now began to think he had fairly earned as a master
and employer, an important personage who used to drive about in gigs,
wear a black coat at church, and always have a kind word for you when
you touched your cap to him.

"'Tis all a pity but so 'tis, and can't be gainsaid. Th' old gentleman
hev come down so low, that 'tis the Union and nought else."

"Is that for sure?"

"Oh, yes, for certain sure. He is a-goin' into workhouse to-morrow
maarning."

But he did not go there.

In the morning some one came running into Dale's yard, and shouted
what had happened since dark last night.

"Th' old gentleman hev a done fer hisself."

He had been found hanging from the biggest of the apple trees behind
his cottage. He had set a ladder against the tree, gone up it, fixed
the rope firmly, put the noose round his neck, and stepped off into
the air. That was the way they did for themselves in this part of
Hampshire.




XXVI


The suicide of Mr. Bates had a great effect on Dale. The sadness and
regret that he felt at the time continued to tinge his thoughts for a
long while afterward. He could not shake off the horror of that
midnight scene, as he imagined it--the God-fearing man breaking the
divine laws, the man full of years who was so near the grave and yet
could not wait till it received him naturally, the poor feeble old
creature taxing all his remnant of strength to knock out the small
spark of life that already had begun to gleam so dimly. How long did
he take to drag and raise the ladder, pausing to recover breath,
holding his side and coughing, then again toiling?

Another thing that depressed Dale's spirits was the departure of Mr.
Osborn, who had gone to the Midlands to take up the ministry of a
large church in a large town. And never had Dale more felt the want of
priestly support than at this period. The new pastor was a young man
who preached eloquently, but Dale would not be able to talk to him as
he had talked to Osborn.

Mavis observed again what she had not seen for ages, the gloom on her
husband's face when he sat alone, or thought that he was alone. The
dull brooding look that spoiled his aspect at such times was like the
shadow of a dark cloud on a field; but as in the past the shadow went
rapidly, and she fancied she could chase it away as surely as if she
had been the sunshine. She would have been startled and pained if she
could have seen his face now, as he rode from Manninglea after
luncheon at the club.

It was a wet spring day, with dark clouds hanging low over the heath,
a cold wind cheeping, soughing, sighing; and Dale's face was darker
and sadder than the day. Before mounting his horse in the hotel yard
at Manninglea he had gone to the station and bought _The Times_
newspaper; now he drew the paper out of his pocket, and sheltering it
with his rain cloak, read an advertisement on the front page.

The advertisement told him that a London hospital gratefully
acknowledged the receipt of one hundred pounds, being the twenty-first
donation from the same hand, and making two thousand and twenty pounds
as the total received to date. In accordance with the request of their
anonymous benefactor, they inserted this notice, and they offered at
the same time their heartfelt thanks.

Dale tore out the advertisement and threw away the rest of the paper.

To his mind, this money was the payment of a very old debt. The amount
of his first charitable donation sent nearly fifteen years ago, had
been twenty pounds. That, the most urgent part of the debt,
represented the four bank-notes given to the wife by Mr. Barradine in
London. The other twenty instalments made up the amount of the legacy
that came to her at his death. Mavis had lent the money to her
husband, had in due course received a similar sum of money from him,
and she held it now safely invested; but, as Dale told himself, she
did not in truth hold one penny of the dead man's gifts. All that she
had now was the gift of him, Dale; and the money that soiled her hands
in touching it, the money that had burned his brain, the filthy gold
that had made him half-mad to think of, had gone to strangers whom
neither of them had ever seen. He had been slow about it; but, thank
God, he had done at last what he wanted to do at the very beginning.

He folded the scrap of paper that was his receipt or quittance, put it
in his breast pocket, and rode on at a foot-pace. He was absolutely
alone, not a soul in sight wherever he turned his eyes, not a beast,
not a bird moving, the desolate brown heath and the sad gray sky alike
empty of life; straight ahead, about a mile distant, lay the Cross
Roads, the tavern, and the small hamlet of cottages, but as yet they
were hidden by a rise of the intervening ground; only the fringe of
cultivated land at the point where it met the barren waste indicated
the work or proximity of mankind. His face grew still darker as he
approached these fields and saw the cluster of houses on their edge.
He looked at the deep ditch that surrounded the outermost field; then
turning his head looked again at the heath, its bleak contours
mounting gradually till they showed an ugly ridge beyond which the
downs swelled up soft and vague against the hanging curtain of clouds.
And he thought of what lay on the far side of this long grass rampart
of down country--the fat-soiled valley, the other railway line, the
trains from the West of England, full of queer people, running by
night as well as by day.

As he passed the Barradine Arms, he saw three louts leaning against a
dry bit of wall under the eaves of an outhouse. They stared at him
stupidly, not speaking or touching their caps, just loutishly
staring; and he stared at them with black severity. He thought how he
himself had been like one of those oafs, living in a cottage not so
many miles from this spot. No one now seemed to remember his humble
birth, his unhappy youth, his sordid home. Other people forgot
everything; while he could forget nothing.

At the Cross Roads he drew rein for a moment, as if undecided as to
which way to turn. Before going home he had to pay a business call,
and his destination was straight ahead of him, about four miles off as
the crow flies. The quickest way to get there, the line nearest to the
crow's line, would be to leave the road here and ride through Hadleigh
Wood, under the bare beeches, among the somber pines, along the gloomy
rides; and the alternative route would be to turn to the right, hold
to the open road, and follow its deflected course past the Abbey gates
and park, and all round the wild forest. That way would be three miles
longer than the other way. He turned his horse's head to the right;
and as he went on by the road, he was thinking of the terrible chapter
in his life that closed with the death of Mr. Barradine.

Nearly fifteen years ago; yet in all that time, although dwelling so
near to the tragic fateful wood, he had been into it only once--and
then he had gone there with the hounds and jolly loud-voiced riders,
cub-hunting, on a bright September morning. The wood symbolized
everything that he wished to forget. And he thought that if he were
really a rich man--not a poor little well-to-do trader, but a fabulous
millionaire--he'd buy all this woodland, cut down every tree, chase
away every shadow, and grow corn in the sunlight. He would buy
woodland and parkland too--he would burn Aunt Petherick's hidden
cottage, the Abbey with its inner, outer and middle courtyards, yes,
and its church also; he would burn and fell, and grub and plough, and
then plant the seeds of corn that symbolize the resurrection of life;
and the sun should shine on a wide yellow sea, with waves of hope
rippling across it as the ripened ears bowed and rose; and there
should be no trace or stain to mark the submerged slime that had held
corruption and death. Then, if he could do that, he would have nothing
to remind him of all he had gone through in the past.

Nothing to remind him?

It made no difference whether the Abbey towers and the North Ride
chimneys were visible or invisible; no screen of trees, whether
leafless as now or carrying the full weight of foliage, could really
screen them from him; they were inside him, together with all that
they had once signified, a part of himself. If he did not look at them
with introspective eyes, if he ignored their existence, if he
succeeded in not thinking of them, there was always something else,
inside him or outside him, to carry his thoughts back into the black
bad time.

At this moment it was the Orphanage, with its wet red roofs and
dripping white verandas. His road took him close in front of it--a
lengthy stretch of building composed of a central block that contained
the hall and schoolrooms, and two lesser and lower blocks connected by
cloisters. He glanced at these blocks--long and low, only a ground
floor and an upper story--and noticed the veranda and broad balconies.
The girls slept here, as Mavis had told him; the younger in one block
and the older in the other block. The whole institution had an air of
old-established order and unceasing care; all the paint was new and
clean; the gardens and terraces, with hedges and shrubs that had grown
high and thick, were beautifully kept; not a weed showed in borders or
paths; the copper bell in the belfry turret was so well polished that
it seemed to shine, even though no glint of sunlight touched it. As he
rode by he heard the sound of children's voices, and, raising himself
in his stirrups, looked over the clipped yew hedge that guarded the
lower garden from the roadway. A dozen or fifteen small blue-cloaks
were romping joyously under one of the verandas, and perhaps twenty of
the bigger blue-cloaks were soberly parading two by two in a cloister.

Nothing carried him back so promptly and surely as the sight of these
blue-cloaked girls, and scarcely a day ever passed without his seeing
them. Two by two they were incessantly tramping the roads for miles
round. He could not walk, ride, or drive without meeting them. When he
heard their footsteps and knew that they were coming marching by
Vine-Pits, he turned his back to the office window, or went into the
depths of granary or stable. He had hated that day when Mavis brought
them off the road and into the heart of his home.

With the sound of their shrill cries and merry laughter lingering in
his ears he rode on.

What a hideous and damnable mockery! This was the monument of that
good kind man, the late Mr. Barradine. Every red tile, every dab of
white paint, every square inch of clean gravel, gave substance and
solidity to the lasting fame of that dear sweet gentleman. Visitors
to the neighborhood always stopped their carriages or motor cars
outside the Orphanage gates, questioned and gaped, sent in their
cards, begged for permission to go all over it. Inside, no doubt they
admired the rows of clean white beds, some of them quite little cots,
others big enough for almost full-grown bouncing lasses; they stood
with hushed breath before his portrait in the refectory hall or his
bust on the stairs; and perhaps they patted the cheeks of some pretty
inmate and asked if, when saying her prayers, she always included the
name of the patron saint. On high occasions clergymen and bishops
came, there to hiccough and weep over his blessed memory. Great lords
and ladies praised him, newspaper writers praised him, ignorant fools
in cottages praised him; and to high and low the crowning grace of his
glorious charity was the selection of the softer, gentler, and too
often downtrodden sex as the object of such tender care. That was what
set the sentimental rivers flowing. It proved the innate gentleness
and sweetness of him who was now an angel in Heaven. When it came to
choosing the guests for the lovely home he had built in his mind, he
had said: "I will not fill it with a lot of hulking boys. Boys are
naturally rough and coarse animals, and can generally fight their way
out on top, no matter how stiff the struggle. Give me so many graceful
delicate girls; pretty helpless things, dainty little innocent
fascinating creatures; not necessarily fatherless girls, but
unprotected girls--girls that grievously need protection."

And Dale thought how the man, when he was alive, dealt with any
innocent unprotected girl who chanced to fall into his power. In
imagination he saw him taking care of Mavis, when she was young and
tender, and scarcely knew right from wrong. In imagination he saw it
all again--the pattings and pawings, the scheming and devising, the
luring and ensnaring--Barradine and Mavis--the man of many years and
the girl of few years, the serpent and the dove, the destroyer and the
destroyed. Those torturing mental pictures glowed and took form, and
were as vivid now as when, in the hour of his grief and despair, he
first made them and saw them.

This departed saint, whose memory had become as a fragrance of myrrh,
whose name sounded like the clinking of an incense-pot swung by devout
hands, whose monument stood firm as a temple built upon the rock, was
simply a dirty old beast for whom no excuse could be possible. What
worse crime can there be than that of befouling youth? Who is a worse
enemy to the commonweal than he who snatches and steals for his
transient gratification treasures that are accumulating to make some
honest man's life-long joy? Such wanton abuse of society's law and
nature's plan is the unpardonable sin; it is sin as monstrous as the
enormities that brought down fire upon the dwellers in the cities of
the plain.

To Dale the idea of an offense so gross that its perpetrator deserved
neither pity nor mercy was if anything stronger now than when it had
first entered and filled his mind.

Yet it seemed to him that now, after all the years that had gone by,
he could for the first time perfectly understand the dark and shameful
tangle of emotions through which the sinner moved onward to his sin.
It seemed that with luminous clearness he could look right into the
corrupt heart of the dead man. He could understand all, though he
could forgive nothing. He could measure the force of every thought and
sensation that had pushed the dead man on and on.

After middle-age the blood grows stagnant, habit dulls the edge of
appetite, a weariness of the mind and of the body makes one cease to
taste well-used delights; a strong new stimulus is required to revive
the emotional life that is sinking to decay. Such a stimulus must not
only be strong and new, it must be light, delicate, altogether
strange. The effect it produces is due to charm and spell as much as
to substance and form.

To people who are elderly, youth itself, merely because it is youth,
exercises a tremendous fascination. It sheds an atmosphere that is
pleasant to breathe. It seems like a fountain of life in which, if we
might bathe, we should take some rejuvenating virtue as well as a
soothing bliss. There is a common saying that it makes one feel young
just to consort with young people.

Then imagine the selfish unprincipled wretch who at the same time
feels the new stimulus, experiences the mysterious fascination, and
craves for the revivifying delight. Putting himself in the sinner's
place, Dale could realize the pressure that drove him to his sin. He
could estimate the fearful temptation offered by the mere presence of
the fresh young innocent creature that one has begun to think about in
this improper manner. She comes and she goes before one's eyes,
piercing them with her beauty; she fills one with desire as wine fills
a cup; she absorbs one, whether she knows it or not, dominates,
overwhelms, makes one her sick and fainting slave. And suppose that
while one becomes her slave one remains her master. To what a gigantic
growth the temptation must rush up each time that one thinks she is
utterly in one's power! How irresistible it must seem if she herself
does not aid one to resist it, if through her ignorance or childish
faith she invites the disaster one is struggling to avoid, if instead
of flying from her danger she draws nearer and nearer to it.

But to yield to such temptation, however tremendous it may be, is
abominable, disgusting, and inexpressibly base. No explanation can
palliate or apology prevail--the crime remains the same crime, and he
who commits it is not fit to live with decent upright men. That was
what Dale had felt fifteen years ago, and he felt it with increased
conviction now because of the religious faith that had become his
guide and comfort. To a believing Baptist there is a peculiar
sacredness, in unsullied innocence.

Two hours afterward, when he had transacted his business and drew near
to home, he was still thinking of Mr. Barradine and the Orphanage for
unguarded innocent girls. He shook himself in the saddle, squared his
shoulders, and held up his head as he rode into the yard.

"Here, take my horse," he said sternly, as he swung his foot out of
the stirrup.

Then, at the sound of a voice behind him, he felt a little shiver run
down his spine, like the cold touch of superstitious fear.

It was only Norah calling to him. She had come out into the rain to
tell him that Mavis Dale had gone to Rodchurch and could not be back
to tea.




XXVII


A lassitude descended upon him. Things that had always seemed easy
began to seem difficult; little bits of extra work that used to be
full of pleasure now brought a fatigue that he felt he must evade;
interests that he had allowed to widen without limit all at once
contracted and shrank to nothing.

He surprised Mavis by telling her that he had resigned his membership
of the District Council. During the last winter he had retired from
the fire brigade, and Mavis thoroughly approved of this retirement;
but she thought it rather a pity that he should cease to be a
councilor. She had always liked the sound of his official designation.
Councilor Dale sounded so very grand.

The fire brigade had proved a disappointment to him. Since its
enrollment he and his men had often been useful at minor
conflagrations, of ricks, cottage thatch, and kitchen flues; but they
had never been given a chance of really distinguishing themselves.
They had saved no lives, nor met with any perilous risks. However, the
captain's retirement was made the occasion of showing the regard and
respect in which Mr. Dale was held by the whole neighborhood. Secretly
subscriptions had been collected for the purpose of giving Mr. Dale a
testimonial, and at a very large meeting in the Rodchurch Schoolroom,
it was presented by one of the most important local gentlemen. "Mr.
Dale," said Sir Reginald, "our worthy vicar has mentioned the fact
that I have come here to-night at some slight personal inconvenience;
but I can assure you that if the inconvenience had been very much
greater I should have come all the same." (Considerable cheering.)
"And in handing you this inscribed watch and accompanying chain, I
desire to assure you on behalf of all here"--and so on. Dale, for his
part, said that "had he guessed this testimonial was on foot, he might
have been tempted to burk it, because he could not have
conscientiously countenanced it. But now accepting it, although he did
not desire it, he felt quite overcome by it. Nevertheless he would
ever value it." (Loud and prolonged cheers.) The record of all these
proceedings, faithfully set forth in the _Rodhaven District Courier_,
formed the proudest and finest snippet in Mavis' bulging scrap album;
and brought moisture to her eyes each time that she examined it anew.

"I was never more pleased," she said, "than when I knew you wouldn't
ever have to wear your fire helmet again; but now I'm wondering if you
won't _miss_ the Council."

"No, Mav, I shan't miss it."

"One thing I'm sure of--they'll miss _you_."

"They'll get on very well without me, my dear." And then he told her
that he was not quite the man he had been. "I'm not so greedy nowadays
for every opportunity of spouting out my opinions; and I've come to
think one's private work is enough, without putting public work on top
of it. You'll understand, I don't mean that I want to fold my hands
and sit quiet for the rest of my days. But I do seem to feel the need
of taking things a little lighter than I used to do."

This explanation was more than sufficient for Mavis; she
sympathetically praised him for his wisdom in dropping the silly old
useless Council.

But it was later this evening, or perhaps one evening a little
afterward, when something he said set her thoughts moving so fast that
they rushed on from sympathy to apprehensive anxiety.

He spoke with unusual kindness about her family, and asked if she had
suffered any real discomfort because of his having forbidden
intercourse with all the Petherick relations. She said "No." Then he
said he had been actuated by the best intentions; and he further added
that all his experience of the world led him to believe that one got
on a great deal better by one's self than if chocked up with uncles
and cousins and aunts. "So I should hope, Mav, that you'd never now
feel the wish to mend what I took the decision of breaking. I mean,
especially as your people have mostly scattered and gone from these
parts, that you'd never, however you were situated, wish to hunt them
all out and bring them back to your doors again." Mavis dutifully and
honestly said that her own experience had led her to similar
conclusions. She thought that relatives were often more trouble than
they were worth, and she promised never to attempt a regathering of
the scattered Petherick clan.

"You know," he said, "if anything happened to me, you'd be all right.
I have made my will long ago. There's a copy of it in there," and he
pointed to the lower part of the bureau; "while th' instrument itself
lies snug in Mr. Cleaver's safe, over at Manninglea."

"Oh, for goodness' sake, don't speak of it. I can't bear even to hear
the word." And then, taking alarm, she said he must be feeling really
ill, or such things as wills would never have come into his head.
"Tell me the truth, dear. Tell me what you do feel--truly." And she
asked him all sorts of questions about his health, begging him to
consult a doctor without a day's delay.

"Only a bit tired, Mav--and that's what I never used to feel."

"No, you never did. And I don't at all understand it."

"It's quite natural, my dear."

"Not natural to you."

Then he took her hand, pressed it affectionately, and laughed in his
old jolly way. "My dear, it's nothing--just an excuse for slacking off
now and then. Remember, Mav, I am not a chicken. I shall be fifty
before th' end of this year."

He convinced her that there was no cause for her anxiety; and only too
happy not to have to be anxious, she thought no more of this strange
thing that her untiring Will now sometimes knew what tiredness meant.

But his lassitude increased. He uttered no further hints about it to
anybody; he endeavored to conceal it; he refused to admit its extent
even to himself. On certain days to think made him weary, to be active
and bustling was an impossibility. Instinct seemed to whisper that he
was passing through still another phase, that presently he would be
all right again--just as vigorous and energetic as in the past; and
that meanwhile he should not flog and spur himself, but just rest
patiently until all his force returned to him.

Since to do anything was a severe effort, he had better do nothing. He
ceased to bother about Billy's schooling. He postponed making his
harvest arrangements; he forgot to answer a letter asking for an
estimate, and one Thursday he omitted to wind the clocks. He tried to
let his beard grow, in order to escape the trouble of shaving. It grew
during three days; but the effect was so disfiguring--a stiff stubble
of gray, hiding his fine strong chin, and spreading high on his
bronzed cheeks--that Norah and Mavis implored him to desist. Even
Ethel the housemaid ventured to say how very glad she felt when he
shaved again.

The month of May was hot and enervating; the month of June was wet and
depressing. Day after day the rain beat threateningly against the
windows, and night after night it dripped with a melancholy patter
from the eaves. On three successive Sundays Dale considered the rain
an adequate excuse for not going to chapel. He and Norah had a very
short informal service within sound and within smell of the roast beef
that was being cooked close by in the kitchen, and afterward he
meditatively read the Bible to himself while Norah laid the cloth for
dinner.

He had said that he did not want to fold his hands and sit quiet for
the remainder of his existence; but that was precisely what he desired
to do for the moment. He allowed Norah to relieve him of more and more
of his office duties, and he idly watched her as she stood bending her
neck over the tall desk or sat stooping her back and squaring her
elbows at the writing-table. And still sitting himself, he would
maintain long desultory conversations with her about nothing in
particular when, having completed the tasks that he had entrusted to
her, she moved here and there about the office tidying up for the
night.

Thus on an evening toward the end of June he talked to her about love
and the married state. It had been raining all day long, and though no
rain fell at the moment, one felt that more was coming. The air was
saturated with moisture; heavy odors of sodden vegetation crept
through the open window; and one saw a mist like steam beginning to
rise from the fields beyond the roadway. Mr. Furnival, the new pastor,
had just passed by; and it was his appearance that started the
conversation.

"He is a conscientious talented young man," said Dale; "and with
experience he will ripen. At present he seems to me deficient in
sympathy."

"Yes, so he does," said Norah, as she opened the desk drawer.

"He hasn't the knack of putting himself in the place of other people.
There's something cold and cheerless in his preaching--I don't say as
if he didn't feel it all himself, but as if he hadn't yet caught the
knack of imparting his feelings to others."

"No more he has," said Norah, putting away her papers.

"Between you and me and the post," said Dale, "I don't like him."

"No more do I."

"What! Don't you like Mr. Furnival either?"

Norah shook her head and said "No" emphatically.

"But he is handsome, Norah. I call him undoubtedly a handsome man.
And they tell me that the girls are falling in love with him."

Norah laughed, and said that, if Mr. Dale had been correctly informed,
she was sorry for the taste of the girls.

"Then you don't admire his looks, Norah?"

"It rather surprises me, because I should have thought he was just the
sort of person to attract and fascinate the other sex--a bachelor too,
without ties, able to take advantage of any success in that line that
came his way. I mean, of course, by offering marriage to the party who
fancied him."

Norah said again that she thought nothing of Mr. Furnival's alleged
handsomeness. She considered him a namby-pamby.

"You are young still. Perhaps I oughtn't to talk like this--putting
nonsense in your head. But it'll come there sure enough of its own
accord. Your turn will come. You'll fall in love one day, Norah."

Norah, putting the big account-books back on the shelf over the desk,
did not answer.

"You've never fallen in love yet, have you?"

Norah would not answer.

"Ah, well." Dale got up from his chair, and stretched himself. "But
you'll have to marry some day, you know."

"Oh, no, I shan't."

"Oh, yes, my dear, you will. That's a thing there's no harm for girls
to think of, because it's what they've got to prepare themselves for."
And Dale delivered a serious little homily on the duties and pleasures
of wedlock, and concluded by telling Norah that when she had chosen
an honest proper sort of young fellow, neither himself nor Mrs. Dale
would stand in the way of her future happiness. "Yes, my dear, you'll
leave us then; and we shall miss you greatly--both of us will miss you
very greatly, but we shan't either of us consider that. And you
mustn't consider it yourself. It's nature--quite proper and correct
that under those circumstances you should leave us."

"Never," said Norah. "Never--unless you send me away;" and stooping
her head on her arms, she began to cry.

"Oh, my dear, don't cry," said Dale bruskly. "What in the name of
reason is there to cry about?"

"Then say you won't send me away," sobbed Norah. "Promise me you won't
do that."

"Of course I won't," said Dale, in the same brusk tone. "That is,
unless I'm morally certain that--"

"No, no--never."

"Oh, don't be silly. Dry your eyes, and be sensible;" and Dale,
plunging his hands in his pockets, hurried out of the office.

He walked as far as the Baptist Chapel, and straight back again; and
before he got home he made a solemn resolution to rouse himself from
the idle lethargic state into which he felt himself slipping deeper
and deeper. Thinking about business and other matters, he decided now
that the odd weariness which he had been experiencing must be
struggled with, and not submitted to. There was no sense in calmly
accepting such a mental and bodily condition. It might be different if
there was anything organically wrong with him; but he was really as
strong and fit as ever--only a bit tired; but he thought with scorn of
the folly of allowing dark days and foul weather to influence one's
spirits or one's capacity for effort. That sort of rubbish is well
enough for rich old maids who go about the world with a maid, a
hot-water bottle, and a poll parrot; but it is degrading and
undignified in a successful business man who has a wife and two
children to work for, whether the sun shines or the sky is overcast.

At supper he told Mavis that he was going to make a long round of it
next day, starting early, and riding far to pay several calls that
were overdue. He added that he would not require Norah's assistance in
the office, either to-morrow or for some time to come.

"I fear me," he said, "that I've been selfish, and abused the
privilege of taking her away to act as secretary, and thereby thrown
more on you."

"Not a bit," said Mavis. "Take her just as long as she makes herself
useful."

"She has done fine," said Dale, "and lifted a lot off my shoulders.
But now I feel I'm all clear, and I restore her to her proper place
and duties."

Mavis, if aware of the fact, would have thought it curious that Dale
had spoken to Norah of falling in love, because she herself was at
this time worried by thoughts of such possibilities with regard to the
girl. She noticed various changes in Norah's manner and deportment.
Norah, although Dale said she worked well enough for him in the
office, showed a perceptible slackness at her household tasks. She
seemed to have lost interest, especially in all kitchen work; she was
often careless in dusting and cleaning the parlor, and had done one or
two very clumsy things--such as breaking tea-cups when washing up--as
if her wits had gone wool-gathering instead of being concentrated on
the job in hand. Her temper, too, was not so even and agreeable as it
ought to have been. She was distinctly irritable once or twice to the
children, when they were trying to play with her as of old, and not,
as she declared, wilfully teasing her. And once or twice when she was
reproved, there had come some nasty little flashes of rebellion.

Mavis, seeking any reason for this slight deterioration of conduct and
steadiness, wondered if Norah by chance had a little secret love
affair up her sleeve. That would account for everything. But if so,
who could it be who was upsetting her? Girls, even at what matrons
call the silly age, can not give scope to their silliness without
opportunities; and there were no visitors to the house, and certainly
none of the men in the yard, who could conceivably be carrying on with
her.

Then the suspicions of Mavis were aroused by discovering that Norah
was at her old tricks again. If you sent her as messenger of charity
to one of the cottages, and more still if you gave her an hour or two
for herself, she went stealing off into the forbidden woods. She had
been seen doing it twice, and, as Mavis suspected, had done it often
without being seen. She knew that she wasn't allowed to do it. There
was the plain house-rule that neither she nor Ethel were ever to leave
the roads when they were out alone. Yet she broke the rule; and Mavis
now suspected that she did not break this rule in order to pick wild
flowers and look at green leaves but to meet a sweetheart.

Mavis, thinking about it, was at once angry and apprehensive. A fine
thing for all of them, if the little fool came to trouble and disgrace
that way. She would not immediately bother Dale about it; but she
promptly tackled Norah, roundly accused her of improper behavior,
expressed a firm conviction that she was playing the fool with some
young man, and threatened to lay the whole matter before the master.

"D'you understand, Norah? We won't put up with it--not for a moment.
We're not going to let you make yourself the talk of the place and
bring us to shame into the bargain."

Norah, alternately flushing and turning pale, defended herself with
vigor. She was indignant not with the threats, but with the suspicion.
She swore that she had never for one instant thought of a young man,
much less spoken to or made appointments with a young man; and that
she had broken the house-rule simply because she found it almost
impossible to keep it. She had always loved wandering about under the
trees: she used to go there all alone as a baby, and she thought it
unreasonable that she might not go there alone as a grown-up person.

Norah's indignant tone suggested complete innocence, and Mavis felt
relieved in mind, but yet not quite sure whether the girl was really
telling the truth.

She indirectly returned to the charge on the following Sunday, when
Norah was about to start for her afternoon out.

"Norah, I want a word with you."

The girl came back along the flagged path to the kitchen door.

"It's just this, Norah. You'll please to remember what I've told you,
and act accordingly."

Norah turned her head and answered over her shoulder, rather sullenly,
as Mavis thought.

"All right. I remember."

"Don't answer me like that," said Mavis sharply. "And please to
remember your manners, and look at people when you speak to them."

"All right," said Norah again, and, as Mavis judged, very sullenly
this time.

"Look you here, young lady," she said, with increasing warmth. "I'm
not going to stand any of your nonsense--and of that I give you fair
warning. Now you just answer me in a seemly manner and tell me exactly
where you are going this afternoon, or I'll send you straight back
into the house to take off your finery and not go out at all."

Dale, close by in the little sitting-room, heard his wife's voice
raised thus angrily, closed the book that was lying open on his knees,
and came to the window.

"What's wrong, Mav?"

"It's Norah offering me her sauce, and I won't put up with it."

Dale, with the book in his hand, came out through the kitchen, and
stood by Mavis on the stone flags.

"Norah," he said seriously, "you must always be good, and do whatever
Mrs. Dale tells you."

"Yes, but that's just what she doesn't do;" and Mavis explained that,
in spite of repeated orders, Norah had several times gone mooning off
into the woods all by herself. "So now I'm reminding her, and asking
where she means to go this afternoon."

Norah, with her eyes on the flags, said that she would go to
Rodchurch.

"Very good," said Mavis. "Then now you've answered, you may go."

When Norah had disappeared round the corner of the house, Mavis
talked to her husband apologetically and confidentially.

"Will, dear, I'm sorry I disturbed you when you were reading;" and
glancing at the book in his hand, she felt ashamed of her recent
warmth. "I couldn't help blowing her up, and I'll tell you why." Then
she spoke of the necessity of keeping a sharp eye and a firm hand on a
girl of Norah's age and attractions; and she further mentioned her
suspicion, now almost entirely allayed, of some secret carryings-on.

"Oh, I don't think there's anything of that sort," said Dale. "No, I
may say I'm morally sure Norah isn't deceiving you there."

"I'm glad you think so. Yes, it's what I think myself. I should have
bowled her out if there'd been anything going on. But, Will, there's
other dangers for her--worse dangers."

"What dangers, Mavis?"

"Well, all the lads naturally are looking at her. Norah has come on
faster than you may have noticed. I don't want her to mix herself up
with any of those louts that hang about the Cross Roads."

"No."

"And she'll come across them for certain if she gets trapesing through
the trees like she does. There's her brothers would bring them
together. Besides, it isn't _safe_--at her age. You know yourself
what's always been said of it."

"Quite so," said Dale. "You are wise, Mavis--very wise to be watchful
and careful."

Then he returned to the sitting-room, settled himself again in the
porter's chair, and reopened his book at the place where he had been
interrupted.

It was the New Testament; and just now, while reading the twenty-first
chapter of Saint Matthew, he had enjoyed a clear vision of Christ's
entry into Jerusalem. Making his picture from materials supplied by an
article in the _People's Encyclopedia_, he seemed to be able to see
the ancient city and its exotic life as the Redeemer and the disciples
must have seen it on that memorable day. Here were the narrow streets
and the crowded market-places; the towers and domes; the strangely
garbed traders, laden camels, gorgeous Roman soldiers, brown-faced
priests, black-bodied slaves; sunlit hills high above one, distant
faintly blue mountains far ahead of one--a thronged labyrinth of
shadow and light, of noise and confusion, of pomp and squalor.

But the picture was gone, the dream was broken, the hope was darkened.
He tried to bring it all back again, and failed utterly. He could not
think of Christ riding into Jerusalem; he could only think of Norah
walking along the road to Rodchurch.




XXVIII


Extreme heat came that year with the opening of July, and the
atmosphere at night seemed as oppressive as in the day.

After an unusually wet June the foliage was rich and dense, but
flowers were few and poor--except the roses, which had prospered
greatly. Throughout the daylight hours trees close at hand looked
solid, as if composed of some unbending green material; while those a
little way off were rather firm, presenting the appearance of trees
during heavy rain. Indeed that was the appearance of the whole
scene--a country-side being drenched and rendered vague by a heavy
downpour; but it was sheer heat that was descending, with never an
atom of moisture in it.

The shadows beneath the trees were absolutely black, impenetrable; a
dark cave under each ring of leaves. Then toward nightfall this shadow
grew lighter and lighter, until it was a transparent grayness into
which one could see quite clearly. Thus a girl and a man sitting under
a hedgerow elm five or six hundred yards away were distinct objects,
although perhaps themselves unaware that they had gradually lost their
shelter and become conspicuous.

Dale, crossing his fields and staring at these two figures, for a
moment fancied that one of them was Norah. Yet that would have been an
impossibility, because he had just left her behind him at the house;
and she could not have swum round in a great half-circle, through the
drowsy air, to confront him at a distant point where he did not expect
to see her. But the heat made one stupid and slow-witted. This man and
woman were farmer Creech's people, and they had come sauntering along
the edge of uncut grass to make lazy love to each other. Dale turned
aside to avoid disturbing them.

As he returned toward the house presently, he thought of Norah's
unwonted pallor. Poor child, the heat seemed to be trying her more
than anybody. And he thought of how wan and limp and sad she looked
early this morning, when he had again sent her out of his office and
flatly refused to let her do any more writing or tidying for him. Even
her red lips had gone pale; she dropped her head; her white eyelids
and black lashes fluttered as she looked up at him piteously, seeming
to ask: "What have I done that you treat me like this, oh, my cruel
master?" He had driven his hands deep into his pockets, had shrugged
his shoulders, and spoken almost roughly--telling her to go about her
business, and not bother. He thought if he gave her time to do it, she
might cry again; and he did not want to see any more of her tears.

But off and on throughout the day he had watched her when she did not
in the least know that she was being observed. Just after breakfast he
had watched her as she scrubbed the kitchen floor, and had noticed the
pretty lines of her figure in these sprawling attitudes--her ankles,
stockings, and the upturned soles of her buckle-shoes.

He was watching her when she came up from the dairy with the pail that
held Mavis' afternoon supply of milk, and he noticed her stretched
arm, bare to the elbow, and the other arm balancing, the tilted body
helping also to maintain equilibrium. Almost more than she could
manage--why didn't that broad-backed thick-legged lump of a dairy-maid
carry the house-pail? He would have liked to go out and carry the pail
himself; but that was one of the many things which he must carefully
refrain from doing.

And all day long, though he saw her so often, he never once heard her
sing. She made no song over her work, as used to be her habit. He
wondered if Mavis was not working her too hard in this terribly
exhausting weather. He wondered also if he would ever be able to say
quite naturally what he had for so long wished to say and felt he
ought to say--that Norah must be given a holiday, that she must be
sent somewhere at a considerable distance and stay there in charge of
kind and respectable people for an indefinite period. Mavis might
consider the suggestion so strange; and it might be impossible to
explain that, strange as it seemed, it was nevertheless full of
wisdom--a suggestion that should be acted upon without an instant's
delay.

The supper table had been brought out into the open air, and it stood
upon the flagged path, where they had spread their hospitable feast
for the higgler's wedding. Norah was coming in and out of the kitchen,
and Dale sat watching her as she arranged knives, forks, and glasses.
Both the children were to be of the party; and they might stay up as
late as they pleased, because as it was too hot to sleep in their
beds, it did not matter how long the young people remained out of
them. They were now roaming about the orchard with Mavis, hunting for
a coolness that did not exist anywhere except in one's memory, and
their voices sounded at intervals languidly.

More and more color was now perceptible; distances were extending;
lines of meager flowers, crimson and blue as well as white, showed in
a border of the kitchen garden; and the sky, seeming to lift and
brighten, was a faint orange above the horizon and a most delicate
rose tint toward the zenith--so that till half-past eight, or later,
one had the illusion that the night was going to be more brightly
lighted than the day.

Nobody had much appetite for supper, but they all sat a long while at
the table, glad to rest if they could not eat, hoping that when they
moved from their chairs they would find the temperature lower within
the house walls than outside them. Mavis gave little oppressed sighs
as she fanned her jolly round face and broad matronly chest with a
copy of the _Courier_. Ethel, who to-night seemed an extraordinarily
cumbrous awkward creature, flumped the dishes down on the table and
shuffled away on her big flat feet. Norah glided to and fro, now here,
now there, pouring out milk and water for the children, and ducking
prettily when a bat came close to her white face and black hair.

"What, Norah," said Mavis, laughing, "you a country girl, and afraid
of a flitter-mouse!"

"Yes," said Billy, "she's afraid of the flitty-mouse. Isn't she a
coward? You are a coward, Norah."

And then the laugh was turned against Billy; for the bat passing again
and lower than before, Billy himself ducked and crouched
automatically.

"Who's the coward now, young sir?"

"I don't mind anything that has wings," said Rachel. "It's what goes
creeping and crawling that I'm afraid of."

"I don't mind ear-wigs," said Billy defiantly.

And Dale, while he talked without interest and ate without appetite,
watched Norah. She had changed her gown an hour ago, and obviously
when changing had discarded the burden of under-petticoats; this other
gown hung close and yet limp about her limbs, modeling itself to each
slim length and shapely curve; and he thought it made her look like
the statue of a Grecian hand-maiden-such as he had seen many years
before in illustrations of learned books. When she stood near him, he
noticed nothing but the blackness of her hair or the whiteness of her
cheeks; and then he thought she looked somehow wild and fantastic,
like a person that one can see only in dreams. But whether she was
near him or at a little distance, so long as she remained in sight, he
was unintermittently conscious that the essential charm that she shed
forth could be traced directly to her youth.

"Good night, daddy."

"Good night, Rachel."

His daughter had kissed him, and she stood between his knees while he
patted her and caressed her. She too was young and fresh and
sweet-smelling; and yet the touch of her purified one. So long as he
was holding her, it seemed to him that a father's love is so great and
so pure that there can not be any other love in the world.

But a minute afterward, when his own girl had gone and the other girl
was again before his eyes, all the impure unworthy unpermissible
desires came rushing back upon him.

They lighted lamps in the kitchen presently, and he sat staring at the
open doorway, alone now, after the table had been cleared. The doorway
seemed like an empty picture-frame. But each time that Norah came and
stood there looking out for a moment, the picture was in its frame.
With the light behind her, she was just a thin black figure; and he
thought how slight, how weak and small a thing to possess such
tremendous, almost irresistible power over him.

Next evening, between tea-time and supper-time, Norah absented herself
without leave. Mavis did not miss her at first. Then she thought that
very probably the girl was wandering about with the children, or
gossiping with the maid at the dairy; but then old Mrs. Goudie, who
had come to pay a call at the back door, said she had met Norah and
had a chat with her "up th' road." On being further examined, Mrs.
Goudie said that Norah, after bidding her good night, had got over the
stile at the second footpath into Hadleigh Wood.

Mavis at once became angry and suspicious again, and she went to her
husband to report this act of rebellion. The office was empty, but she
found him at the yard. He was in his shirt-sleeves, sitting on a
corn-bin, and he seemed to be greatly troubled by what she told him
that she wished him to do. She asked him to go into the wood himself
and spy out Norah quietly, and see if she was really alone there.

"Oh, I don't much like this job, Mav. Besides, it's to hunt for a
needle in a bundle of hay. How do I know which way the lass has gone?"

"I'm telling you she went in at the second path. She won't have gone
far. Probably you'll come upon her this side of the rides--along by
the stream, very likely."

But Dale still showed reluctance to undertake the detective mission.

"Then I must go," said Mavis. "I can't put up with this sort of thing,
and I mean to stop it. She must be made to understand once for all--"

"Very well," said Dale; and he got off the corn-bin and picked up his
jacket.

"She'll pay more heed to you than she would to me. But, one word,
Will. If you catch her with a young man don't go and lose your temper
with him. Don't bother about him. Just bring the young minx straight
home."

"An' suppose there's no young man."

"Bring her back just the same, and lecture her all the way on her
disobedience--and the trouble and annoyance she is giving us. Tell her
we're not going to stand any more of it."

"Very well."

He walked along the road at a fairly brisk pace until he came to the
second stile, and then he stood hesitatingly. The firs grew thick
here, and the shadows that they cast were dark and opaque, encroaching
on the pathway, making it a narrow strip of dim light that would lead
one into the mysterious and gloomy depths of the wood.

He crossed the stile, and went along the path very slowly, pausing now
and then to listen. There was not a sound; the whole wood was as
silent as the grave.

Presently the fir-trees on each side of him opened out a little, and
here and there beeches and ashes appeared; then the path passed
through a glade, the shadows receded, and he had a sensation of being
more free and able to breathe better. If he kept on by the path he
would soon come to the main ride, that long widely cut avenue which
goes close to Kibworth Rocks and gives access to the other straight
cuts leading to the Abbey park. He left the path and struck across
through the trees, making a line that would take him soon to the
wildest part of the ancient Chase, and that, if he pursued it far
enough, would eventually bring him out on the big ride near the rocks.

The dark stiff firs gave place to solemnly magnificent beeches; glade
succeeded glade; thickets of holly and hawthorn dense as a savage
jungle tried to baffle one's approach to lawnlike spaces where the
grass grew finely as in a garden, and the white stems of the high
trees looked like pillars of a splendid church; the stream ran
silently and secretly, not flashing when it swept out under the sky,
or murmuring when it slid down tiny cascades beneath the branches.

Dale was following the stream, whether it showed itself or hid itself,
and could have found his way blindfold. He knew the wood by night as
well as he knew it by day.

He stopped on the edge of the biggest of all the glades, looked about
him cautiously, advanced slowly, and stopped again to wipe the
perspiration from his forehead. He was very near to the main ride now;
straight ahead of him, say two hundred yards away, on the other side
of the invisible ride lay the invisible rocks.

One of the beech-trees had fallen, and been left as it fell two months
ago. Most of its tender young foliage had shriveled and died, but on
branches near its upturned roots a few leaves were bright and green,
still drawing life from the ruined trunk. Dale stood by the fallen
tree, looking out across the glade. It was all silent and beautiful,
with that curious effect of increasing light which made the distances
clearer every moment, gave more color to the earth and a more tender
glow to the sky.

Then he saw her, a long way off, coming from the direction of the ride
through the trees; and he felt the pressure of blood pumping into his
head, the weight on his lungs, the laboring pain of his heart, that a
man might feel just before he sinks to the ground in an apoplectic
fit.

She was all alone, sauntering toward him with her hands full of
flowers. She had no hat, and she was wearing the same loose frock that
she wore last night.

With the gesture that had become habitual to him, Dale put his hands
in his pockets--those wicked hands that no prison could much longer
hold, that would defy control, that seemed now to be stretched forth
across all the intervening space to touch the face and limbs they
hungered for. He moved away from the shadow by the fallen tree,
stepped out into the open, went slowly to meet her, and his longing
was intolerably acute. He was sick and mad with longing: he wanted her
as a man dying of thirst wants the water that will save his life.

"Oh, Mr. Dale, how you hev made me jump!"

At sight of him she dropped the flowers and raised one of her hands to
press it against her breast. She had been so startled that she still
breathed fast, almost pantingly; but her lips were smiling, and her
eyes shone with pleasure.

"Now look here, Norah; this won't do--no, really this won't do." He
had taken his hands out of his pockets and clasped them behind his
back. He too was breathing fast, though he spoke deliberately and
rather thickly. "No, all this sort of thing won't do; it can't be
allowed;" and he laid his right hand on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry," she said, watching his face intently.

"You mustn't go and moon about by yourself, like this. You know you
mustn't, don't you?"

"Yes, I know. But I couldn't stay indoors."

He had slid his hand downward, and was holding her arm above the
elbow. "It is very disobedient. Often and often Mrs. Dale has told you
that you mustn't come here."

"I know," she said humbly.

"So now, you see, I am sent to fetch you--and to tell you that you
mustn't do it." He was struggling hard to speak in his ordinary tone
of voice, but failing. And his imitation of his usual fatherly manner,
as he held her arm and led her along, was clumsy and laborious. He
stopped moving when they reached the prostrate beech-tree, but
continued to talk to her, saying the same things again and again.
"Norah, it can not be allowed. You mustn't be disobedient. We can't
allow it."

They lingered by the tree, she looking at him all the time, and he
scarcely ever looking at her, but glancing about him furtively. Then
they sat down side by side on one of the great branches, and as if
unconsciously he began to caress her.

"Is Mrs. Dale very angry with me?"

"Yes, Norah, she is angry. You can't be surprised at that."

"Not so angry that she won't never forgive me?"

"Oh, no, she's not so angry as all that."

"But she isn't fond of me, as she used to be."

"Yes, of course she is, Norah." His arm was round her waist, and he
lifted her upon his lap, and held her there. "We are both very fond of
you."

"_You_ are," she whispered. "I know that.... I should die if you ever
turned so as not to care for me;" and she nestled against him.

"Norah."

With a last assumption of the fatherly manner he stooped and kissed
her forehead. Then she raised her lips to his, and they kissed slowly.

"Norah," he muttered. "Oh, Norah."

He felt as though almost swooning from delight. It was a rapture that
he had never known--a voluptuous joy that yet brought with it complete
appeasement to nerves and pulses.

"Norah, Norah;" and he continued to kiss her lips and mutter her name.

All thought had gone. It was as though all that was trouble and pain
inside him had melted into sweet streams of delight--streams of fire;
but a magical flame that soothes and restores, instead of burning and
destroying. He went on fondling her, glorying in her freshness, her
immature grace, her youthful beauty. And she was silent and passive,
yielding to his gentle movements, pressing close if he held her to
him, relaxing the pressure and becoming limp if he wished to see her
face and held her from him, making him understand by messages through
every sense channel that she was his absolutely.

Then after a while she began to talk in the pretty birdlike whisper
that enchanted and enthralled him.

"Why didn't she want me to come here--really?"

"She--she thought you came to meet some lad."

"Oh, no;" and she gave a little laugh, and pressed against him. "It's
the truth, what I've always answered to her. I came because I couldn't
help it. Shall I tell you all my secrets--secrets I've never told any
one?"

"Yes."

"Ever since I was a child--quite small--I hev always thought something
wondersome would happen to me in Hadleigh Wood."

"Why should you think that?"

He had sat up stiffly, and while she clung whispering at his breast he
looked out over her head, glancing his eyes in all directions.
Straight in front of him across the glade, the great beeches were gray
and ghostly, and beyond them in the strip that concealed the ride it
seemed that the shadows had suddenly thickened and blackened.

"I'll tell you. But _you_ tell me something first. Does Mrs. Dale
think this place is haunted?"

He changed his attitude abruptly, put his hands on her shoulders and
held her away from him, so that he could see her face.

"What was it you asked me?"

"Does she fancy the wood is haunted?"

"No, why?"

"I believe she does."

"Rubbish. Why should she?"

"They used to say it was. Granny used to say so. She gave me some
dreadful whippings for coming here. Poor Granny was just like Mrs.
Dale about it--always saying it wasn't right for me to come here."

Dale had settled the girl on his knees so that she sat now without any
support from him. His hands had dropped to the rough surface of the
tree; and he spoke in his ordinary voice.

"Look here, Norah, never mind for a moment what your Granny said. Tell
me what it was that my wife said."

"When do you mean? Last time she was angry?"

"I mean, whatever she said--and whenever she said it--about ghosts or
hauntings."

"Oh, a long time ago. It was to Mrs. Goudie."

"I expect you misunderstood her. But I'd like to know what first put
such nonsense into your head--that Mrs. Dale thought the wood was
haunted. Can't you remember exactly what she did say?"

"She said something about the gentleman's being killed here, and she
wondered at the people coming a Sundays like they used to."

"Was that all?"

"No, she said something about it would serve them right for their
pains if they saw the gentleman's ghost."

Dale grunted. "That was just her joke. There are no such things as
ghosts."

"Aren't there?" Norah laughed softly and happily, and snuggled down
again with her face against his jacket. "_You_ aren't a ghost--though
you made me jump, yes, you did. But I wasn't afraid of you."

"Hush," he muttered. "Norah, don't go on--don't." His hands were still
on the tree, rigidly fixed there, and he sat bolt upright, staring
out over her head.

"Why not? You said I might tell my secrets. I wasn't afraid. I thought
'Oh, aren't I glad I done what Mrs. Dale told me not to--and come into
my wondersome, wondersome wood, and drawn _you_ after me!'"

"Norah, stop."

"Why? You're glad too, aren't you? I _know_ you are. I knew it when
you came walking so tall and so quiet; an' I thought 'This is it--what
I always hoped for--wonders to happen to me in Hadleigh Wood.' But I
was afraid of the wood once--more afraid than Granny knew. I wouldn't
tell her."

"What d'you mean? What wouldn't you tell her?"

"What I'd seen here."

"What had you seen?"

"I kep' it as my great secret--but I'll tell you, because you've found
out all my secrets, now, haven't you?"

"Well, let's hear it."

"I saw a man hiding, crawling, ready to spring out on me."

"Oh. When was that?"

"Ages and ages ago, when I was almost a baby."

"Heft yourself, Norah. I want to get up, an' stretch ma legs."

The gentle soothing fire had faded--an invincible coldness crept on
slow-moving blood from his heart to his brain. The girl was safe now.
He would not injure her to-night. He got up, and stood looking down at
her.

"Well," he said quietly, "let's hear some more. What sort of a man was
it?"

"A wild man--with water dripping off him. He had crept out of the
river."

"Do you mean--a sort of ghost or demon?"

"I didn't know."

"Not like an ordinary man--not like any other man you've ever seen?"

"Oh, no. All wild--fierce and dreadful. Not standing upright--more
like an animal in the shape of a man."

"But surely you told your Granny, or somebody?"

"No. I've never told a soul except you."

"An' you say you were scared, though?"

"Oh, I was, rarely scared."

"Then you must have told your Granny, or one of 'em. You've forgotten,
but I expect you told people at the time."

"I didn't. I didn't dare to at first. I thought he'd come after me, if
I did. I was afraid."

Dale grunted again. "An' d'you mean to say you'd the grit in you to
come back here all the same, after that?"

"Not for a little while. Then I did. I was all a twitter, so
frightened still, but I was fascinated for to do it too--just to see."

"But you never saw him again."

"No, and then I began to think it was all a fancy. D'you think it was
a fancy, and not real?"

"My dear girl, no;" and Dale shrugged his shoulders. "You prob'ly saw
some poor devil of a tramp who had slept here, and was getting on the
move after his night's rest." Then he took a step away from the tree,
and spoke curtly. "Come. We must go home."

Norah sprang off the tree, hurried to his side, and, with her hands
linked about his arm, looked up at him anxiously.

"Yes, but it's all right, isn't it? You're not angry with me--not
turning against me?"

"No, it's all right."

"Then, don't let's go. Let's stay here a little longer"

"No, we must go--or Mrs. Dale will be coming to fetch us;" and he
began to walk briskly. "And look here, Norah. I shall inform her I
found you here by yourself, and I have lectured you at full length,
and you've said you'll be good for the future. So don't answer back if
she speaks sharp."

"Oh, I don't mind what she says now;" and Norah laughed happily as she
trotted after him through the trees.

That evening he sat outside on the bench long after the supper table
had been taken away and the kitchen door closed. Quite late, when
Mavis spoke to him from an upper window, he said he must have one more
pipe before he turned in.

Norah had been singing in the kitchen while she washed the plates;
then he had heard her humming softly in the sitting-room; now she had
gone up-stairs and was silent. The thoughts and sensations that had
been suddenly and strangely inhibited a few hours ago came into play
again, warmed his blood once more, repossessed his brain. Soon he was
impotent to struggle against them. As he sat huddled and motionless,
he revived each memory and wilfully renewed its delight. The brick
walls, the timber beams, the flooring boards, and plastered partitions
could not divide her from him; though hidden at a distance, she shed
emanations, fiery atoms, darting sparks, that infallibly reached him:
when he closed his eyes in order not to see the empty space before
him, she herself was here. He could feel again the light weight of her
body upon his knees, her hair brushed against his chin, her face gave
itself to his lips.

Then more remote memories came to join the recent memories, deepening
the spell that subjugated him. He thought of her crying when he teased
her about love and marriage, and when her poor little innocent heart
was bursting because of his pretense of not understanding that she
craved for no love but his. And he thought of how she had looked in
the middle of the night when he covered her with his jacket, and she
stood before him trembling and blushing, with her hair all tumbling
loose. That had been one of the mental pictures which he could not
even make dim, much less obliterate.

He groaned, got up from the bench, and walked very slowly round the
kitchen and behind the house. The first breath of air that he had
noticed for days was stirring the leaves, and he saw the new moon like
a golden sickle poised above the broken summit of a hayrick. It was a
serenely beautiful nights with an atmosphere undoubtedly cooler than
any they had had of late; he looked at the peaceful fields, and the
fruit trees and the barn roof, all so gently, imperceptibly touched by
the young and tender moonbeams; and he thought that the thin yellow
crescent was being watched by thousands and thousands of eyes, that
men were turning their money, and wishing for luck, for fame, or for
satisfied love. But he only of all men might not wish for the desire
of his heart, and to him only the moon could bring nothing but pain.

He went through the kitchen garden, and stood under an apple tree
staring back at the window of her room. And still older memories
sprang up and grew strong, so that they might attack and overcome and
utterly undo him. The wild bad fancies of his adolescence came
thronging upon him. Imagination and fact entangled themselves; the
past and the present fused, and became one vast throbbing distress. He
thought if he crept beneath the window and called to her, she would
answer his call. If he told her to do so, she would come out in her
night-dress--she would walk bare-footed through the fields, and plunge
with him into the wonderful wood. If he told her to do it, she would
go into the stream, and dance and splash--realizing that old
dream--the white-bodied nymph of the wood for him to leap at and carry
off into the gloom. He wrenched himself round, and made his way
rapidly from the garden to the meadow. He could not support his
thoughts. The proximity of the girl was driving him mad.

All through the little meadow and again in the wider fields the air
had a soft fragrance; the sky was high and quite clear, with a few
stars; the whole earth, for as much as he could see of it, seemed to
be sleeping in a deep delightful peace. Beyond his fences there were
the neighbors' farms, and then there were the heath, the hills; and
beyond these, other counties, other countries, the rest of the turning
globe, the universe it turned in--and once again he had that feeling
of infinite smallness, the insect unfairly matched against a solar
system, the speck of dust whirled as the biggest stars are whirled,
inexorably.

At the confines of his land he leaned upon a gate, groaning and
praying.

"O Christ Jesus, Redeemer of mankind, why hast Thou deserted me? O God
the Father, Lord and Judge, why dost Thou torment me so?"




XXIX


Very early in the morning he told Mavis that he felt sure they ought
to send Norah away on a holiday for the good of her health.

"This hot weather has been a severe test for all of us," he said; "and
of course what I should consider equally advisable would be to send
you and the children along with her, but I suppose--"

"What, me go away just when you're going to cut the grass!"

"Very well," he said, "I won't urge it. But as to Norah, that's a
decision I've come to; so please don't question it. She's been working
too hard--"

"Did she complain to you yesterday, when you lectured her?"

"No. Not a word. An' she'll prob'ly resist the idea. But she must be
overruled, because my mind is made up. So now the only question that
remains is--where are you to send her? What about that place for
servants resting--at Bournemouth, the place Mrs. Norton collects
subscriptions for?"

"Yes, I might ask Mrs. Norton if she could spare us a ticket."

"No, send the girl as a paying guest. I don't grudge any reasonable
expense. Or again there's Mrs. Creech's daughter-in-law, over at
S'thaampton Water."

"Oh, there's half a dozen people I could think of--"

"All right," he said; "but I want it done now, straight away. And
look here, Mav. Take this thing off my shoulders, and don't let me be
bothered. I shouldn't have decided it, if I didn't know it was right.
I've a long and difficult day before me. You just hop into the gig,
and Tom'll drive you round--to see Mrs. Norton or anybody else. Only
let me hear by dinner-time that the arrangement is made."

"You shall," said Mavis cheerfully.

"Thank you, Mav. You're always a trump. You never fail one."

What had seemed an insuperable difficulty was thus in a moment
accomplished. His quietly authoritative tone had made Mavis accept the
thing not only easily but without a doubt or question, and he thought
remorsefully that, except for his sneaking, cowardly delay, all this
might have occurred a month ago. He felt a distinct lightening of the
trouble as he went back into his own room, and then the weight of it
fell upon him again. He had succeeded so far as Mavis was concerned;
but how about Norah?

He stood meditating in front of the looking-glass before he began to
shave. When he picked up the shaving-brush, he noticed that his hand
was trembling--not much, yet quite visibly. It never used to do that,
and he looked at it with disgust. It seemed to him like an old man's
hand.

Then he began to study his face in the glass. No one would have
guessed that this was a man who had been praying all night. The whole
face showed those signs of fatigue that come after base pleasures,
after riotous waste of energy, after long hours of debauch. It seemed
to him that his gray hair was finer of texture than it ought to be,
hanging straight and thin, with no strength in it; that his eyes were
too dim, that the flesh underneath them had puffed out loosely, and
that his lower lip was drooping slackly--and he shuddered in disgust.
It seemed to him that his face changed and grew uglier as he looked at
it. It was becoming like an old man's face he had seen years ago.

In spite of the slight shakiness of his hand he managed to shave
himself without a cut, and he was just about to wash the soap away
when he heard a sound of lamentation on the lower floor. It was Norah
loudly bewailing herself. Mavis had gone down-stairs and published his
sentence of banishment.

Suppose that the girl betrayed their secret. Suppose that she was even
now telling his wife what had happened in the wood. Well, he must go
down to them and flatly deny whatever Norah said. But he tingled and
grew hot with a most miserable shame; his heart quailed at the mere
notion of the sickening, disgraceful character of such a scene--he,
the highly respected Mr. Dale, the good upright religious man, being
accused by a little servant girl and having to rebut her accusations
in the presence of his wife.

He dipped his head in the basin, and even when under the cold water
the tips of his ears seemed as if they were on fire. He must go
down-stairs the moment he had cooled his face; but he would go as some
wretched schoolboy goes to the headmaster's room when he guesses that
his unforgivable beastliness has been discovered, and that first a
thrashing and then expulsion are awaiting him.

Some of the lying words that he must utter suggested themselves. "Oh,
Norah, this is a poor return you are making for all my kindness.
Aren't you ashamed to stand there and tell such ungrateful
false-hoods. Ma lass, your cheek surprises me. I wonder you can look
me in the face."

But it would be Mavis, and not Norah, who would look him in the
face--and she would read the truth there. She would see it staring at
her in his shifting eyes, his slack lip, and his weak frown. Her first
glance at him would be loyal and frank, just an eager flash of love
and confidence, seeming to say, "Be quick, Will, and put your foot on
this viper that we've both of us warmed, and that is trying to bite
me;" then she would turn pale, avert her head, and drop upon a chair.
And for why? Because she had seen the nauseating truth, and her heart
was almost broken.

Then he suddenly understood that there was no real danger of all this.
It was only his own sense of guilt that unnerved him. Nothing had
happened in the wood. If he behaved quietly and sensibly, he would be
altogether safe, and Mavis would never guess. Truly all that he had to
conceal was that he had been stopped on the very brink of his sin,
that but for a startling interference, an almost miraculous
interference, the wicked thoughts would infallibly have found their
outlet in wicked deeds.

If Norah said he took her on his knees and kissed her, Mavis would
think nothing of it--would not even think it undignified; would merely
take as one more evidence of his kindly nature the fact that, instead
of upbraiding the silly child, he had embraced her. If the girl howled
and said she did not want to go because she was fond of him, Mavis
would think nothing of that either. Mavis knew it already, and had
never thought anything of it.

Therefore if he did not betray himself, the girl could not betray him.
All that was required of him was just to maintain an ordinary air of
ingenuousness. He had done enough acting in his life to be at home
when dissimulating. He must do a little more successful acting now.

After a minute or so he went down-stairs, and was outwardly staid and
calm, looking as he had looked on hundreds of mornings: the good kind
father of a household, whose only care is the happiness and welfare of
those who are dependent on him.

Directly he entered the breakfast-room Norah ran sobbing to him and
clung to his hand.

"She is sending me away. Oh, don't let her do it. You promised you
wouldn't. Oh, why do you let her do it?"

"This is _my_ plan, Norah," he said gently; "not Mrs. Dale's. I wish
it--and I ask you not to make a fuss."

"I've told her," said Mavis, "that it's only for her own good; and
that she'll be back here in a fortnight or three weeks. But she seems
to think we want to be rid of her forever."

"No, no," said Dale. "Nothing of the sort. It's merely for the good of
your health--and not in any way as a punishment for your having been
rather disobedient."

"Why, I'm sure," said Mavis cheerfully, "most girls would jump for joy
at the chance. You'll enjoy yourself, and have all a happy time."

"No, I shan't," Norah cried. "I shall be miserable;" and she looked
up at Dale despairingly. "Do you promise I'm really and truly to come
back?"

"Of course I do. And it's all on the cards that Mrs. Dale and Rachel
and Bill may follow you before your holiday is over."

"Oh, I doubt that," said Mavis.

"No," cried Norah, "when I'm gone you'll turn against me, and forget
me. I shall never see you again, and I shall die. I can't bear it."
And she began to sob wildly.

Then Dale, standing big and firm, although each sob tore at his
entrails, pacified and reassured the girl. He said that she must not
be "fullish," she must be "good and sensible," she must fall in with
the views of those "older and wiser" than herself; finally, after his
arguments and admonitions, he laid his hand on her bowed head as if
silently giving a patriarchal blessing; and Mavis watched and admired,
and loved him for his noble generosity in taking so much trouble about
the poor little waif that had no real claim on him.

"There," she said, "dry your eyes, Norah. Mr. Dale has told you he
wishes it, and that ought to be enough for you."

And then Norah said she would do what Mr. Dale wished, even if she
died in doing it.

"Oh, stuff, stuff," said Mavis, laughing cheerily. "I never heard such
talk. Now come along with me, and get the breakfast things;" and she
took Norah down the steps into the kitchen.

Norah came back to lay the cloth presently, and would have rushed into
Dale's arms, if he had not motioned to her to keep away, and laid a
finger on his lips warningly. But he could not prevent her from
whispering to him across the table.

"Will you come and see me, wherever it is?"

"Perhaps."

"Come and see me without _her_. Come all for me, by yourself."

Dale did more work in that one morning than he had done for months.
The wet season had naturally postponed the hay-making, but negligence
was postponing it still further; now at last he gave all necessary
orders. But it was only his own grass that he had to deal with.
Letting everything drift, he had not made any of the usual
arrangements with his neighbors; this year he would not have to ride
grandly round and watch dozens of men and women laboring for him; and
there would be no farmers' banquet or speeches or cigar-smoking.

When he came in to dinner he found Mavis all hot and red, but pleased
with herself after her bustling activities. The whole business was
settled. Norah was to go as a paying guest to that place at
Bournemouth, and Mavis would drive her over to Rodchurch Road and put
her into the four-fifteen train. At the station they would meet a girl
called Nellie Evans, whom by a happy chance Mrs. Norton was
despatching to-day; and so the two girls could travel together, and
prevent each other from being a fool when they changed trains at the
junction; and altogether nothing could have turned out better or
nicer.

Mavis, babbling contentedly all through dinner, harped on the niceness
both of people and things. Mrs. Norton, and indeed everybody else, had
been so nice about it. All Rodchurch had seemed anxious to assist Mr.
and Mrs. Dale in contriving their little maid's holiday. "And it is
nice," said Mavis simply, "to be treated like that." Mrs. Norton had
taken her all round the vicarage garden, and she had never seen it
looking nicer. "Although the flowers aren't anything to boast of, any
more than ours are."

"And what _do_ you think? Here's a bit of news you'll be sorry to
hear, though it mayn't surprise you." Then Mavis related how it had
been necessary to procure some sort of trunk to hold Norah's things,
because there wasn't a single presentable bit of luggage in the house,
and she had discovered exactly what she wanted--something that was not
immoderate, appearing solid, yet not heavy--at the new shop that had
recently been opened at the bottom of the village near the Gauntlet
Inn. First, however, she had gone to their old friend the saddler's,
wanting to see if she could buy the box there. But Mr. Allen's shop
was empty, woe-begone, dirty with cobwebs, dead flies, and mud on the
window; and Mr. Allen himself was ill in bed, being nursed hand and
foot, and fed like a baby, by poor Mrs. Allen. He had been stricken
down by some dreadful form of rheumatism, and three doctors had said
the same thing--that he had brought this calamity upon himself by his
ridiculous, ceaseless tramping after the hounds.

Dale nodded and smiled, or made his face appropriately grave, while
Mavis prattled to him; but truly his mind was occupied only by Norah.
She came in and out of the room, looking pale and limp and resigned;
she knew all about the trunk, and that it was up-stairs and that
already the mistress and Ethel had begun to pack it; she was
submitting to destiny, but out of her soft blue eyes there shot a
glance now and then that made him quiver with pain.

He went out of the house the moment dinner was finished, and kept
moving about, now in the office, now in the yard, never still. Then,
when he was pottering round and round the office for the fiftieth time
in two hours, he heard a footstep, and Norah came--to whisper and
cling to him, to make him kiss her again; to penetrate him with her
ineffable sweetness; to plant the seeds of inextinguishable desire in
the last few cells and fibers of his brain that as yet she had not
reached.

"I don't ast you to stand in th' road when we drive away. I'd rather
not. Say good-by to me now, when there's nobody watchin'."

Then he had to take her in his arms once more; and they stood close to
the door, far from the window, pressed heart to heart, mute,
throbbing.

"I'm kissing you," she whispered presently, "but you're not kissing
me. Kiss me."

And he obeyed her.

"No," she whispered. "Different from that. Kiss me like you did
yesterday."

"Very well," he said hoarsely. "This is the good-by kiss. This is
good-by." And once again he felt the swift lambent ecstasy of a love
that he had never till now guessed at; a joy beyond words, beyond
dreams, beyond belief. "Now, you must go;" and he slowly released
himself, and held her at arm's length. "That was our good-by. Good-by,
my Norah--my darling--good-by." Then he went to the table in front of
the window, and sat down.

She came a little way from the door, and spoke to him before going out
and along the passage.

"I shan't mind now--however miserable I am--because I know it's all
right. An' I promise to be good, an' do all I'm told, an' always be
your own Norah."

Then she left him--the gray-haired respected Mr. Dale of Vine-Pits
Farm, sitting in his office window for all the world to see; looking
livid, shaky, old; and feeling like a Christian missionary in some
far-off heathen land, who, having preached to the gang of pirates into
whose hands he had fallen, lies now at the roadside with all his
inside torn away, and waits for birds with beaks or beasts with claws
to come and finish him.

Before the horse was put into the wagonette and the trunk brought
down-stairs, Dale had left the house and gone some distance along the
road in the direction of the Barradine Arms. Even if Norah had not
said that he need not be there at the moment of departure, he would
have been unable to remain. He could not stand by and see her piteous
face, her slender figure, her forlorn gestures, while they carried her
off--the poor little weak thing sent away from hearth and home, cast
out among strangers because any spot on the earth, however bare or
hard, had become a better shelter for her than the place that should
have been sacredly secure.

He walked heavily, with a leaden heart and leaden feet; his eyes
downcast, not glancing at the dark trees on one side or the bright
fields on, the other. But after passing the first of the woodland
paths and before coming to the second, he looked up. He had heard the
sound of many footsteps and the murmur of many voices. All those
blue-cloaked orphans, two and two, an endless procession, were
advancing toward him.

Never had the sight and the sound of them been so horribly distasteful
to him. They were still a long way off, and he thought he could dodge
them, at any rate avoid meeting them face to face, if he hurried on to
the second footpath and dived into the wood there. But then it seemed
as if he had stupidly miscalculated the distance, or that his legs
were failing him, or that the girls came sweeping down the road at an
impossibly rapid pace; so that they were right upon him just as he
reached the stile. He drew aside, and, feeling that it was too late
now to turn his back, watched them as they passed.

The mistresses must have issued a sudden order of silence, for they
all went by without so much as a whisper. There were fifty of them,
but they seemed to be thousands. Dressed in their light blue summer
cloaks, golden-haired, brown-haired, a very few black-haired, they
passed two by two, with the little ones first, and bigger and bigger
girls behind--an ascending scale of size, so that he had the illusion
of seeing a girl grow up under his eyes, change in a minute instead of
in years from the small sexless imp that is like an amusing toy, to
the full-breasted creature that is so nearly a woman as to be
dangerous to herself and to everybody else.

Not one of them spoke, but all of them, little and big, looked at
him--very shyly, and yet with intense interest. He stood staring after
them, and presently their tuneful young voices sounded again, filled
the air with virginal music. He swung his leg over the stile, and
went along the path through the trees where he had followed Norah
yesterday.

He had not intended to leave the highroad, but it was as if that dead
man's girls had driven him into the wood to get away from their shyly
questioning eyes. He might meet them again if he stayed out there. In
here he could be alone with his thoughts.

To-day there was plenty of sunlight, and instead of turning off the
path he went straight on to the main ride. This too was bright with
sunshine, a splendid broad avenue that was shut close on either side
by the thickly planted firs; the mossy track seeming soft as a bed,
and the sky like an immensely high canopy of delicate blue gauze. A
heron crossed quickly but easily, making only three flaps of its
powerful wings before it disappeared; there was an unceasing hum of
insects; and two wood-cutters came by and wished Dale good afternoon
and touched their weather-stained hats.

"Good afternoon," he said, in a friendly tone. "A bit cooler and
pleasanter to-day, isn't it?"

"You're right, sir. 'Bout time too."

Then he walked on, alone with his thoughts again, along the wide
sunlit ride toward Kibworth Rocks; and a phrase kept echoing in his
ears, sounding as if he said it aloud. "It is the finger of God. It is
the finger of God." He was quoting himself really, because he had once
used that phrase in a pompously effective manner. Could one repeat it
as effectively in regard to what happened near here yesterday? Could
one dare to say that the finger of God interposed, touching his blood
with ice, making his muscles relax, forcing him to loosen his hold on
the delicious morsel that like a beast of prey he was about to devour
and enjoy.

He walked with hunched shoulders and lowered head, but there was great
resolution, even an odd sort of swaggering defiance in his gait. He
stopped short, raised his head, and looked about him at a certain
point of the ride. Here he was very near to the open glade where he
met Norah; but he was nearer still to the strewn boulders, jagged
ridges, and hollow clefts of Kibworth Rocks. If he left the ride, he
would see them, brown and gray, glittering in the sunshine.

And he thought again of those fifty orphans or waifs. Why weren't they
here to bow and do honor to him who had been the friend of girls in
life and who was the guardian angel of girls in death? This was the
hallowed spot, the benefactor's resting-place till devout hands raised
him and priests sang over him, the rocky shrine of their patron saint.

Dale grunted, shook himself, and went off the ride in the opposite
direction--to tread the moss that had been crushed by Norah's
footsteps, to push against the branches that had touched her
shoulders, to see the dead flowers that had dropped from her hands. He
found a shriveled sprig or two of her woodland posy, and carried them
to the fallen beech tree.

She was gone now--already a long way from him--at the railway station,
with ticket bought, and box labeled, waiting for the train to take her
still farther from him. Only a heron could fly fast enough to get to
her now before the train possessed her. And he quoted himself again,
really saying the words aloud this time. "Good-by--my darling--good-by,
good-by."

That was what he meant when he gave her the last kiss. He had said so.
He had called it the last kiss. But she--poor lamb--thought it was the
last kiss till next time; that it was good-by for three weeks, not
good-by forever. He must never see her again. There could be no two
ways about _that_ decision. He mustn't palter, or trifle, or
shilly-shally about that iron certainty. But how without Heaven's
unceasing aid would he have strength to keep such a vow?

And sitting on the tree, and thinking for a little while about himself
rather than about her, he endeavored to survey his situation in the
logical clear-sighted way that had once been customary with him. To
what a blank no-thoroughfare he had brought himself. What a damnable
mess he had made of his peaceful, happy home.

Of course he had known for a long time what was the matter with him.
His disgust with himself at the revelation of his own weakness dated
from a long time ago; but the progress of his passing from perfectly
pure and normal thoughts about the girl to cravings that he struggled
with as morbid impurities was so subtle that it defied analysis. At
first when he put his hand on her head, or patted her shoulder, every
thought behind the fatherly gesture was itself fatherly; and then,
without anything to startle one by a recognition of change, the time
had come when he felt a slight thrill in touching her, when he was
always seeking occasions or excuses for doing it, when the wider the
contact the more massive was his satisfaction. Her white neck, her
round fore-arms, her thin wrists, irresistibly attracted a caress. He
could not keep his hands off her--and it distressed and worried him
whenever he saw anybody else doing quite innocently what he did with
an unavowable purpose. Perhaps this was the real cause of his dislike
for the new pastor. After Mr. Furnival's initial appearance at the
chapel, they all three walked a little way together, and the
good-looking young man paid Norah compliments about her singing, and
held her hand and patted it. Nothing could have been more innoxious,
more completely ministerial; and yet Dale had felt that he would like
to take the clerical gentleman by the collar of his black coat and the
seat of his gray trousers, and send him sprawling over a quick-set
hedge into a ploughed field.

He knew then the nature of the poison that had crept insidiously into
his blood and was beginning to spread and rage with deadly power. He
fought against it bravely, he fought against it despairingly. He hoped
that chance would cure him, he prayed that heaven would cleanse him.

He would not believe that his ruin was irretrievable. That would be
too monstrous and absurd. Because, except for this expanding trouble,
everything inside him, all the main component parts that made up the
vast and still solid thinking organism which had been labeled for
external observers by the name of William Dale, remained quite
unchanged. His religious faith stood absolutely firm, was strengthened
rather than shaken; he regarded his wife with exactly the same
affection; he loved his children as much as, more than ever; only this
astounding dreadful new thing was added to him: he worshiped Norah.

In his struggles to free himself from the new mental growth, he had
turned to his children. Instinct seemed to say that from them and
through them should come an influence sufficiently potent to resist
temptation, however tremendous. He felt so proud of the boy. Billy was
never afraid of him, looked at him so firmly even when threatened,
holding up the pink and white face, with its soft unformed features
and yet a determined set to the chin and mouth already--a real little
man. Dale took his son's hand in his, took Billy with him into the
granary, the hay loft, or across the fields, cut bits of willow and
showed how to make a whistle, took a hedge sparrow's nest and blew the
eggs; and the boy was proud and happy in such noble society, but he
could not exorcise the evil spell for his grand companion.

Nor could Rachel give freedom. Dale embraced his daughter with the
truest paternal fervor, pumping up sweet clean love from deep
unsullied wells, thinking honestly and as of old so long as she stood
by his side. At such moments he forced himself to imagine a man
playing the fool with Rachel, and immediately there came a full normal
explosion of parental rage; and he knew, without the possibility of
doubt, that such a man had better never have been born than encounter
Rachel's father. But these imaginations could not help him. Thoughts
about Rachel and thoughts about Norah, which once had mingled, were
now like two rivers running side by side but never meeting.

Again, what had rendered the fight hopeless was his recognition of the
overwhelming fact that the spell was mutual. It was not only that he
wanted her, Norah wanted him. There lay the sweetly venomous throb of
the poison. In her eyes he was _not_ old; his gray hair did not appall
her, his rugged frame did not repel her. All night and all day,
during months, yes, during years, she had told him: "You are _not_
old; you _need_ not be old; _I_ can make you young."

He thought, as he had thought again and again, of her artlessness, her
ignorance, and her total absence of compunction. It seemed so
wonderful. She drifted toward him as the petal of a flower comes on
running water, as corn seeds blow through the air, as anything small
and light obeying a natural law. She did not in the least understand
social conventions. She was not troubled with one thought of right or
wrong; she neither meditated nor remembered. How wonderful. The ten
commandments and the catechism that she knew by heart, all the hymns
she had sung and all the sermons she had heard, did not exert the
faintest restraining influence. They had no real meaning for her
probably, and she could not therefore bring them into relation with
concrete facts. In her innocence, in her virginal simplicity, she
would keep the book of life close--sealed until he opened it roughly
for her at its ugliest page.

He, or somebody else!

Suddenly he threw away the faded wood-blossoms, sprang up from the
tree, and paced to and fro. A wave of revolt came sweeping through and
through him. Was he not making mountains out of mole-hills?

If he could trample down all this sentimental fiddle-de-dee, what was
the plain English of the case so far as she was concerned? Unbidden,
innumerable circumstances stored from local knowledge offered
themselves as guides for argument. Take any girl of that class--well,
what are her chances? Why, you are lucky if you keep 'em straight
until the time comes to send 'em out into domestic service; their
parents scarcely expect it, barely seem to desire it. But after that
time, when they get among strangers and there's nobody with an eye on
them, they fall as victims--if you choose to call it so--to the first
marauder--to the young master, the nephew home for his Christmas
holidays, or the man who comes to tune the piano. If not himself, it
would be somebody else.

And he thought. "Blast it all, am I a man or a mouse? Who's to judge
me, or stan' in my way, if I do what I please? Suppose it's found out,
well, it must be smoothed over, covered up, and put behind the
fireplace. I shan't be Number One that's bin th' same road!" and he
remembered how lightly other married men, his neighbors, country
farmers, or town tradesmen, amused themselves with their servants, and
how their middle-aged wives just had to grin and bear it. "An' Mavis,"
he thought, "can do the same. Heavens an' earth, I've got an answer
ready if she tries to make a fuss, or wants to take the dinner-bell
and go round as public crier--an answer that ought to flatten her as
if a traction engine had bin over her. 'My lass, who began it? Bring
out your slate and put it alongside mine, an' we'll see which looks
dirtiest, all said and done.'" While he was thinking in this manner,
his face became very ugly, with hard deep lines in it, and about the
mouth that cruel pouting expression once seen by Mavis.

He came back to the tree; and sat down, letting his hands hang loose,
his head droop, and his shoulders contract. The fire had gone cold
again.

Now he felt only disgust and horror. Norah's ignorance and disregard
of moral precepts, or readiness to yield to the snares of unlicensed
joy, were summed up in the better and truer word innocence. The
greater her weakness, the greater his wickedness. If he could not save
her from others, he could save her from himself. Then if she fell, it
would at least be a natural fall. It would not be a foul betrayal of
youth by age; it would not be the sort of degraded crime that makes
angels weep, and ordinary people change into judges and executioners.

When a man has reached a certain time of life he must not crave for
forbidden delights, he must not permit himself to be eaten up with new
desire, he must not risk destroying a girl's soul for the
gratification of his own body. If he does, he commits the unpardonable
sin. And there is no excuse for him.

The Devil's reasonings to which a few minutes ago he had listened
greedily were specious, futile, utterly false. That sort of argument
might do for other men--might do for every other man in the wide
world--but it would not do for _him_, William Dale. Its acceptance
would knock the very ground from under his feet.

For, if there could be any excuse, why had he killed Everard
Barradine?




XXX


Then Dale lived again for the hundred thousandth time in the thoughts
and passions of that distant period.

The forest glade grew dim, vanished. He was lying on the grass in a
London park, and Mavis' confession rang through the buzzing of his
ears, through the chaos of his mind. It seemed that the whole of his
small imagined world had gone to pieces, and the immensity of the real
world had been left to him in exchange--crushing him with an idea of
its unexplored vastness, of its many countries, its myriad races. And
yet, big as it all was, it could not provide breathing space for that
man and himself.

Soon this became an oppressive certainty. Life under the new
conditions had been rendered unendurable. And then there grew up the
one solid determination, that he must stand face to face with his
enemy and call him to account. It must _at last_ be man to man. He
must tell the man what he thought of him, call him filthy names, strip
him of every shred of dignity--and strike him. A few blows of scorn
might suffice--a backhander across the snout, a few swishes with a
stick, a kick behind when he turned. He was too rottenly weak a thing
to fight with.

His mind refused to go further than this. However deeply and darkly it
was working below the surface of consciousness, it gave him no
further directions than this.

He got rid of his wife. That was the first move in the game--anyhow.
He did not want to think about her now; she would be dealt with again
later on. At present he wished to concentrate all his attention on the
other one.

He took a bed for himself in a humbler and cheaper house farther west,
a little nearer to the house of his enemy; and almost all that day he
spent in thinking how and where he should obtain the meeting he longed
for. He understood at once that it would be hopeless to attempt such
an interview at Grosvenor Place. In imagination he saw himself
escorted by servants to that tank-like room at the back of the
mansion--the room where the man had treated him as dirt, where his
first instinct of distrust had been aroused, where all those
photographs of girls had subtly suggested the questioning doubts that
led him on to suspicion and discovery. The man would come again to
this room, with his tired eyes and baggy cheeks and drooping lip;
would stare contemptuously; and at the first words of abuse, he would
ring a bell, call for servants, call for the police, and have the
visitor ignominiously turned out. "Policeman, this ruffian has been
threatening me. He is an ill-conditioned dog that I've been
systematically kind to, and he now seems to have taken leave of his
senses and accuses me of injuring him. For the sake of his wife, who
is a good respectful sort of person, I do not give him in charge. But
I ask you to keep an eye on him. And if he dares to return to my door,
just cart him off to the police station." No, that would not do at
all. He and Mr. Barradine must meet somewhere quietly and
comfortably, out of reach of electric bells, butlers, and police
officers.

That first night after the confession he slept sound and long. In the
morning when he woke, feeling refreshed and strengthened, his
determination to bring about the interview had assumed an iron
firmness, as if all night it had been beaten on the anvil of his
thoughts while he lay idle. But he was no nearer to devising a scheme
that should give effect to the determination.

Mr. Barradine had said that he was going down to the Abbey to-morrow,
or next day, Friday, at latest; and in the course of this Wednesday
morning Dale decided that the interview must be delayed. It was
impossible up here. It would be much easier to arrange down there. He
must wait until Mr. Barradine went down to Hampshire, and go down
after him. He could call at the Abbey, where the man would be more
accessible than up here; and, by restraining himself, by simulating
his usual manner, by lulling the man to a false security, he could
lure him out of the house--get him out into the open air, away from
his servants, perhaps beyond the gardens and as far off as the park
copses. Then when they were alone, they two, at a distance from the
possibility of interruption, Dale could drop the mask of subservience,
turn upon him, and say "Now--"

No, that would not do. It was all childish. For a thousand obscure
reasons it would not do at all.

Then, brooding over his wife's confession--the things she had merely
hinted at as well as the things she had explicitly stated--he
remembered how in the beginning the wood near Long Ride was their
meeting-place, how the man had met her there, and led her slowly
beneath the trees to the cottage of the procuress. And then an
inspiration came. A note to be sent in his wife's name, as soon as Mr.
Barradine got home to the Abbey. "Meet me in the West Gate copse. I
want to show my gratitude"--or--"I want to thank you again"--something
of that sort. "Meet me at the end of North Ride by the Heronry. I will
be there if possible four o'clock to-morrow. If not there to-morrow, I
will be there next day. Mavis."

He wrote such a letter, in a hand sufficiently like his wife's. Yes,
that would fetch him. The old devil would have no suspicions.

Then a cold shiver ran down his spine. It was a thought rising from
the depths, warning him, terrifying him. The note would remain
_afterward_. If Mr. Barradine did not destroy it--and very likely he
would not do so--the note would be found afterward. But after what?

He tore up the note, tore it into tiny pieces. It seemed to him that
he had escaped from a danger. His plan had been the idea of a madman.
But why? With his skin still cold and clammy, he found himself
whispering words which sounded explanatory, but which did not explain:
"Suppose a mistake occurred. Yes, suppose a mistake occurred." Then
trying to think quietly and sensibly, instead of in this fluttered,
erratic way, he forced himself to interpret the real significance of
the whisper. Well, suppose he struck too hard, and too often. But
again there came the blankness--an abrupt check to thought--the depths
refusing to give anything more to the surface.

He decided that he would go down to Hampshire secretly, letting no
one know of his movements; and, stationing himself at some likely spot
near the Abbey, he would wait till chance brought them face to face.
Yes, that would do. Almost immediately he chose Hadleigh Wood as the
place to hide in. Instinct seemed to have suggested the wood rather
than any point nearer to the Abbey, and instinct now ordered him to go
there and nowhere else. It was a likely road to so many parts; it was
full of good hiding-places; and, although it was tricky, with its
close thickets suddenly terminating on the edge of unexpected open
spaces, he knew it all as well as the back of his right hand. He could
lie snug, or range about cautiously, seeing but unseen; and he would
not have long to wait before the grand gentleman passed by on his way
to or from the Abbey park.

He had got it now. This was right; and he laid all his plans
accordingly. First he pawned his silver watch and chain, so obtaining
a little money without bothering anybody. The pawnbroker's shop was in
Chapel Street, and he went on along the Edgware Road and up a narrow
street in search of a shop where he could procure a suit of old
clothes. Here again it was as though instinct guided him, because he
had no knowledge of London and did not know where to look for a
slop-shop; but he pushed on, noticing that the houses were shabby, and
feeling sure that he would soon find what he wanted. And this
happened. All at once he was among the second-hand clothes; every shop
on both sides of the street invited him--the whole street at this
sordid end of it was trying to help him. For a very few shillings he
bought just the garments that he had imagined--loose and big made of
drab canvas or drill, the suit of overalls that had been worn by some
kind of mechanic, with two vast inside pockets to the jacket, in which
the wearer had carried tools, food, and his bottle of drink. Dale also
bought a common soft felt hat, a thing you could pull down over your
eyes and ears, and make into any shape you pleased.

When he put on the suit and the hat in his bedroom, he felt satisfied
with their appearance. He said to himself, "After I have slept out a
night, and got plenty of earth stains and muck on this greasy old
canvas, I shall look just a tramp wandered from the highroad, and no
one will recognize me if they do chance to see me--that is, unless I
take my hat off. And I don't do _that_, until I take it off for the
purpose of being recognized by _him_."

He locked the suit of overalls and the slouch hat safely in his bag.
But next day he brought out the hat, and wore it while making a very
careful tour of inspection in the neighborhood of the Grosvenor Place
mansion. Approaching it from the western side he spied out the lie of
the land, found a mews that had an entrance in the side street, and
judged that this mews contained Mr. Barradine's horses and carriages.
This proved to be true. Sauntering up and down, and lurking at corners
on the side street, Dale waited and watched. Always seeming to be
strolling away from the house, but glancing back over his shoulder now
and then, he saw Mr. Barradine's brougham come out of the mews and
stand at Mr. Barradine's door. No luggage was brought down the steps:
Mr. Barradine was merely starting for a drive about town. Dale came in
the evening and observed the house as he strolled along the main
thoroughfare of Grosvenor Place. There were lights in several rooms,
and the window of the porch showed that the hail was lighted up. Mr.
Barradine had said that he hoped to be able to get home to-day, but
evidently his journey had been postponed until to-morrow. He had said
he would go on Friday at the latest.

He did not, however, go on Friday. Dale kept the house under
observation off and on all day, and again in the evening. Mr.
Barradine went out driving twice; but the carriage brought him back
each time. How many more postponements? Would he go to-morrow? Yes, he
would go to-morrow; but this involved more delay. It would be useless
to follow him to-morrow, because he would never pass through the wood
on Sunday. No, he would spend Sunday inside his park-rails, going to
the Abbey church, walking about the garden, looking at the stables and
the dairy. Moreover, Sunday would be the one dangerous day in the
woods--nobody at work, everybody free to wander; young men with their
sweethearts coming off the rides for privacy; cottagers with squoils
hunting the squirrels all through church time perhaps. Dale ground his
teeth, shook his fist at the lighted windows, and thought. "If he does
not go to-morrow--I can't wait. My self-control will be exhausted, and
I shall certainly do something fullish."

But Mr. Barradine went home that Saturday. Between ten and eleven in
the morning the brougham stood at the door, a four-wheeled cab was
fetched and loaded with luggage, and the two vehicles drove off round
the corner southward on their way to Waterloo. And Dale felt his
spirits lightening and a fierce gaiety filling his breast. The time
of inaction was nearly over; this hateful sitting down under one's
wrongs would not last long now; soon he would be doing something. He
took quite a pleasant walk through Chelsea, and over the river to
Lambeth, where, after a snack of lunch, he read the newspapers in a
Public Library. The Library was a quiet, convenient resort; and
yesterday he had written a letter there, to Mr. Ridgett at Rodchurch
Post Office--not because he really had anything to communicate, but
because it seemed necessary, or at least wise, to send off a letter
from London.

He enjoyed a good night's rest, and lay in bed till late on Sunday
afternoon. He intended to travel by the mail train--the train that
left Waterloo at ten-fifteen, and went through the night dropping
post-bags all the way down the line; and it was extremely improbable
that he would meet any Rodchurch friends in this train, but he
understood that the dangerous part of his proceedings would begin when
he got to Waterloo, and he was a little worried, even muddled, as to
how and where to change his clothes--or rather to put on that canvas
suit over his ordinary clothes. If he made the change here, and any
one saw him going out, it might seem a bit odd.

But then his confusion of ideas passed off, and all became clear. He
must change at the last possible moment, of course; and he thought,
"Why am I so muddled about such simple things? I must pull myself
together. Of course I don't mind being seen in London; it is down
there that I don't wish to be seen. Anybody is welcome to see me till
I'm started, an' perhaps the more people that see me the better."

He therefore shaved, and dressed neatly and carefully; packed his
valise with the bowler hat in it, turned up the brim of the common
slouch hat and wore it jauntily. The overalls were rolled in an
unobtrusive brown-paper parcel to be carried under the arm; and,
having paid for his bedroom, he went out at about eight o'clock,
walking boldly through the streets--just as Mr. Dale of Rodchurch,
dressed in blue serge and not in his best black coat--Mr. Dale dressed
for the holidays, with a rakish go-as-you-please soft hat instead of
the ceremonious hard-brimmed bowler, and not too proud to carry his
bag and parcel for himself.

All straightforward now. It would be still Mr. Dale at Waterloo,
depositing the bag at the cloak-room, buying a ticket, and getting
into the train with his brown-paper parcel. Only Mr. Dale would get
lost on the journey, and a queer shabby customer would emerge at the
other end.

But he allowed himself to modify the plan slightly. It was necessary
that he should have a good meal and also procure food to take with
him, and for these purposes he went to an eating-house in the York
Road. This turned out to be just the place he required--a room with
tables where diners could sit as long as they chose, a counter spread
out with edibles to be absorbed standing, and the company consisting
of cabmen from the station ranks, some railway porters, and a few
humble travelers.

He ordered a large beef-steak; and he ate like a boa-constrictor,
thinking the while: "This ought to stick to my ribs. I can't put away
too much now, because it may come to short commons if the luck's
against me." Then after the meal there came a temptation to hurry up
his program, and get through some of the little difficulties at once.
He observed his surroundings. The place was fuller now than when he
came in; the atmosphere was thick with tobacco smoke and the steam of
hot food; the kitchen was at its busiest; and at the counter the
stupid-looking girl in charge was handing over refreshments so fast
that it seemed as if soon there would be none left.

He paid a waitress for his supper, and then went into the dark little
lavatory behind the room and put on his canvas suit. Coming out into
the room again, he intended to say something about having slipped on
his overalls for a night job; but nothing of the kind was necessary.
Nobody cared, nobody noticed. His difficulty was to make the counter
girl attend to him at all. He spoke to her bruskly at last; and then
she sold him slices of cold meat, cheese, biscuits, a lot of chocolate
and some nuts, with which he filled those two inner pockets of his
jacket. They had become his larders now.

There were not more than a dozen passengers in the whole train, and no
one on the platform at Waterloo took the faintest notice of him.

No one noticed him three hours later when he left the train at a
station short of Manninglea Cross; and soon he was far from other men,
striking across the dark country, with the stars high over his head,
and his native air blowing into his lungs. He came down over the heath
on the Abbey side of the Cross Roads, and reached Hadleigh Wood just
before dawn.

He felt at home now, alone with the wild animals, on ground that he
had learned the tricks of when he was like a wild animal himself. He
knew his wood as well as any of them. He could make lairs beneath the
hollies, glide imperceptibly among the trees, crawl on his belly from
tussock to tussock, and startle the very foxes by creeping quite close
before they smelled peril. So he hid and glided as the sun climbed the
sky, and then waited and watched when the sun was high, now here, now
there, but always very near the open rides along which people would be
passing. And that day many passed, but not the man he wanted.

He was three days and nights in the wood; and on the morning of the
fourth day somebody saw him.

He had moved stealthily to the stream to drink, and while creeping
back on hands and knees among some holly bushes by a glade, he paused
suddenly. Out there on the grass, so small that she had not shown
above the lowest bushes, there was a little girl--a child of about
five, in a tattered pinafore, picking daisies and making a daisy
chain. Breathless and with a beating heart, he watched her, and he
dared not move forward into the sunlight or backward into the shade.
She had not seen him yet. She was playing with the chain of flowers--a
small wood goblin sprung out of nowhere, a little black-haired devil
fired up from hell through the solid earth and out into this empty
glade to squat there right in his track. Then she stood upon her feet,
and admired the length of the chain as she held it dangling.

Then she dropped the chain, gave a little cry like the note of a
frightened bird, and scampered away--never looking back.

Never looking back. But she had seen him. He tried to hope that she
had not seen him.

He was hungry now. His provisions were exhausted; he had eaten nothing
since last night, and he felt excited and fretful. He said to
himself: "If to-day my enemy is not delivered into my hands, I must go
out into the open and seek him at all risks, at all costs." It was a
dominant idea now. Nothing else mattered.

But that day the man came. When the day was almost over, when the
whole wood was fading to the neutral tints of dusk, he came. He was on
horseback, sitting easily and proudly, and his chestnut horse paced
daintily and noiselessly over the moss.

Dale took off his hat. Then presently he came out of the bracken into
the ride, gripped the horse by its bridle, and spoke to the rider.

"Halloa! Dale? But, my good fellow, what the deuce--Damn you, let go.
What are you trying to--"

"I'll show you. Yes, you"--and violent, obscene, incoherent words came
pouring from Dale in a high-pitched querulous voice. All his set
speeches had been blown to the clouds by the blast of his passion. All
his plans exploded in flame at the sight of the man's face--the eyes
that had gloated over Mavis' reluctant body, the lips that had fed on
her enforced kisses. But what did the words matter? Any words were
sufficient. They could understand each other without words now.

He was holding the bridle firmly, pulling the horse's head round; and
he grasped Mr. Barradine's foot, got it out of the stirrup, and
jerking the whole leg upward, pitched him out of the saddle. The
horse, released, sprang away, jumping this way, that way, as it dashed
through the brake to the rocks--the clatter of its hoofs sounded on
the rocks, and the last glimpse of it showed its empty saddle and the
two flying stirrup-irons.

Dale was mad now--the devil loose in him--only conscious of
unappeasable rage and hatred, as he struck with his fists, beating the
man down every time he tried to get up, and kicking at the man's head
when he lay prostrate.

Then there came a brief pause of extraordinary deep quiet, a sudden
cessation of all perceptible sounds and movements. Dale was confused,
dazed, breathing hard. That was a dead man sprawling there--what you
call a corpse, a bleeding carcass. Dale looked at him. Beneath his
last kick, the skull had cracked like a well-tapped egg.

As abruptly as if his legs had been knocked from under him Dale sat
down, and endeavored to think.

Then it was as if all his thought and the action resulting from his
thought were beyond his control. In all that he did he seemed to be
governed by instinct.

At any minute some one might pass by. He must drag the body out of
sight. And the instinctive thoughts came rapidly, each one as the
necessity for it arose. He must leave no foot-prints, or as few as
possible. He unlaced and pulled off his boots, and, noticing the blood
on them, made a mental note to wash them as soon as he could find time
to do so.

He took the dead man by the heels, and dragged him cautiously toward
the rocks--seeking the zigzag line taken by the galloping horse. That
was the chance. Instinct directed and explained the task--to make it
seem that the horse had dragged him, and battered his life out over
the rocks. A good chance. Those stirrups didn't come out. He might
truly have been dragged by one of them.

The track of the horse was lost directly the rocks began. Dale left
the body, and cautiously clambered upon the rocks to see if any living
thing observed him.

Then he took the corpse by the heels again, and hauled it over the
jagged surfaces and through the hollows--conscious all the while of
great pain--and finally left it in a cleft, staring stupidly upward.
He hurried back to the ride, and sat down by the rank-smelling bracken
where he had left his boots. He was startled when he looked at his
feet--their soles were covered with blood. He thought it was the dead
man's blood, but then discovered it was his own. He had torn his feet
to pieces on the rocks. He put on his boots in agony, picked up his
hat, and limped away through the hollies into the gloom of the pines.
Down in the stream, with the water rippling over his ankles, he stood
and listened.

What to do next? They had not yet discovered the dead man; but it
seemed to him that they would do so in another minute or two. He tried
to think logically, but could not. It seemed now necessary to get
clear away before the body was seen--get as far off as possible.
Vaguely it occurred to him that he should wait here till night, and it
was still only dusk. But then he had a clear vision of the wood at
night--lanterns moving in every direction, men's voices, a cordon of
men all round the wood. Yes, that would be the state of affairs when
they had found the body and were beginning to look for the murderer.
This wood was a death-trap. He forgot the pain in his feet, and began
to run with the long trotting stride of a hunted stag, careless now of
the crash of the bushes and fern as he swung through them.

He paused crouching on the edge of the wood, then came out over the
bank, across a road, and into the fields. With arched back he went
along the deep ditch of the first field, through a gap, and into the
ditch of the next field. To his right lay Vine-Pits Farm; to his left
lay the Cross Roads, the Barradine Arms, the clustered cottages. He
ran on, in ditch after ditch, under hedges and banks, swinging
left-handed in a wide detour till he came to the last of the fields
and the highroad to Old Manninglea.

But he had to wait here. He saw laborers on the road, and waited till
they were gone. Then he crept through the gap where the ditch went
under the road culvert, crossed this second road, and ran stooping on
the open heath.

The sky was red, with terrible clouds; and a wind followed him,
keeping his spine cold, although all the rest of him was burning. When
he looked back he fancied that he saw men moving, and that he heard
distant shoutings from Beacon Hill. Rain fell--not much of it, just
showers, wetting his hands, and mingling with the perspiration in
front, but making him colder behind; and he muttered to cheer himself.
"That's luck. That'll wash away the blood. Yes, that's luck. Yes, I
must take it for a good sign--bit o' luck."

He walked and ran for miles--over the bare downs, through the fertile
valleys, and alongside the other railway line; and late that night he
got into a feeding train for Salisbury, where, he was told, he would
catch a West of England express for London.

There was delay at Salisbury, and he ate some food and drank some
brandy.

Then at last he found himself in the London train, in an empty
compartment of a corridor coach. He sat with folded arms, his hat
pulled low on his forehead, his eyes peering suspiciously out of the
window, or at the door of the corridor. Whenever anybody went by in
the corridor, he stooped his head lower and pretended to be asleep.

There were strange people in this train--soldiers and sailors from
Devonport; some foreigners too, or people dressed up to look like
foreigners; numbers of men also who kept their heads down as he was
doing, as if for some jolly good private reason. Who the hell were
they really? Detectives?

The train was going so fast now that it rocked to and fro, and hummed
and sang; but it seemed to Dale to be standing still--to be going
backward. This illusion was so strong for some moments that he jumped
up and went out into the corridor, to look down at the permanent way
on that side also. The lamplight from the train showed on both sides
that the sleepers, the chairs, the gravel, slipped and slid in the
correct direction. The train was flying, simply flying along the inner
up-track of the four sets of metals.

"I mustn't be so fullish," he kept saying to himself. "I'm all safe
now."

A sudden noise of voices drew him to the corridor; and he stood
holding a hand-rail, watching the leather walls and the gangway that
led into the next coach leap and dance and bob and sink, while he
listened eagerly. The roar of the train was so great here that he
could not catch what the hidden men were saying, but he understood
that they were sailors making too much noise and a railway guard
rebuking them. "It's nothing to do with me," he said to himself. "Why
_am_ I so fullish?"

He returned to the compartment, sat with his shoulder to the corridor,
and brooded dully and heavily. All that fiery trouble about Mavis and
her being dishonored had gone out of his mind as if forever; the
grievance and the rage and the hatred had gone too; temporarily there
was nothing but a most ponderous self-pity.

"What a mess this is," he thought. "What a hash I've made of it. What
a cruel thing to happen to me. What an awful hole I've put myself
into."

The train swept onward, and he began to doze. Then after a while he
slept and dreamed. He dreamed that he was here in this train, not
fettered, but spell-bound, unable to move and hide, only able to
understand what was happening and to suffer from his perception of the
hideous predicament that he was in. Another train, on another of the
four tracks, was racing after this train, was overhauling it, was
infallibly catching it. Mysteriously he could see into this following,
hunting train--it was a train full of policemen, magistrates, wardens,
judges, hangmen: all the offended majesty of the law.

He woke shivering, after this first taste of a murderer's dreams. His
punishment had begun.

It was daylight at Waterloo, and he slunk in terror; but things had to
be done. He washed himself as well as he could, took off his dirty
canvas, got his bag from the cloak-room and hurried away. No questions
were asked, no bones made about giving him a room at a house in
Stamford Street; and he at once went to bed and slept profoundly.

When he woke this time he was quite calm, and able to think clearly
again.

He went out late in the afternoon, and saw a message for him on
newspaper bills: "Fatal Accident to ex-Cabinet Minister." Then, having
bought a paper, he read the very brief report of the accident. He
stood gasping, and then drew deep breaths. The _Accident_. Oh, the joy
of seeing that word! No suspicion so far. It was working out just as
one might hope.

And it seemed that his courage, so lamentably shaken, began to return
to him. He felt more himself. He marched off to a post office, and
sent his telegram to Mavis: "Evening paper says fatal accident to Mr.
Barradine. Is this true?" The main purpose of the telegram was to
prove that here he was in London, where he had been last Friday, and
where he had remained during all the intervening time; its secondary
purpose was to put on record at the earliest possible moment his
surprise--surprise so complete that he could scarcely believe the sad
news. He gave his utmost care to the wording of the telegram and was
satisfied with the result. The turn of words seemed perfectly natural.

Then, having despatched his telegram, he hurried off to call at Mr.
Barradine's house in Grosvenor Place--to make some anxious inquiries.

There were people at the door, ladies and gentlemen among them, and
the servants looked white and agitated as they answered questions.
Dale pushed his way up the steps almost into the hall, acting
consternation and grief--the honest, rather rough country fellow, the
loyal dependent who forgets his good manners in his sorrow at the
death of the chieftain. He would not go away, when the other callers
had departed. He told the butler of the services rendered to him by
Mr. Barradine. "Not more'n ten days ago."

"Don't you remember me? I came here to thank him for his kindness."

"Ah, yes," said the agitated butler, "he was a kind gentleman, and no
mistake."

"_Kind!_ I should think he was. Well, well!" And Dale stood nodding
his head dolefully. Then he went away slowly and sadly, and he kept on
nodding his head in the same doleful manner long after the door was
shut--just on the chance that the servants might look out of the hail
windows and see it before he vanished round the corner.

He could think now, as well as he had ever done. It was of prime
importance that no outsiders should ever learn that Everard Barradine
had injured him. This guided him henceforth. It settled the course of
his life there and then. He must return to Mavis; he must by his
demeanor cover the intrigue--or so act that if people came to know of
it, they would suppose either that he was ignorant of his shame or
that he was a complaisant husband, taking advantage of the situation
and pocketing all gifts from his wife's protector. No motive for the
crime. That was his guide-post.

In the night he got rid of the canvas suit and slouch hat. Next day he
went home to Rodchurch Post Office, and, speaking to Mavis of Mr.
Barradine's death, uttered that terrific blasphemy. "_It is the finger
of God._"




XXXI


He acted his part well, and everything worked out easily--more easily
than one could have dared to hope for.

Not a soul was thinking about him. He had to assert himself, thrust
himself forward, before people in the village would so much as notice
that he had come back among them again. The inquest, as he gathered,
was going to be a matter of form: it seemed doubtful if the
authorities would even make an examination of the ground over there.
All was to be as nice as nice for him.

Yet he was afraid. Fear possed him--this sneaking, torturing,
emasculating passion that he had never known hitherto was now always
with him. He lay alone in the camp-bedstead sweating and funking. The
events of the day made him seem safe, but he felt that he would not be
really safe for ages and ages. Throughout the night he was going over
the list of his idiotic mistakes, upbraiding himself, cursing himself
for a hundred acts of brainless folly. The plan had been sound enough:
it was the accomplishment of the plan that had been so damnably
rotten.

Why had he changed his addresses in that preposterous fashion? Instead
of providing himself with useful materials for an alibi, he had just
made a lot of inexplicable movements. Then the pawning of the
watch--in a false name. How could he ever explain _that_? Anybody
short of money may put his ticker up the spout, but no one has the
right to assume an alias. And the buying of the clothes and hat.
Instead of bargaining, as innocent people do, however small the price
demanded, he just dabbed down the money. He must have appeared to be
in the devil's own hurry to get the things and cut off with them. The
two men at that shop must have noticed his peculiarities as a
customer. They would be able to pick him out in the biggest crowd that
ever assembled in a magistrate's court.

But far worse had been his watchings and prowlings round and about the
house in Grosvenor Place. Could he have blundered upon anything more
full of certain peril? Why, to stand still for ten minutes in London
is to invite the attention of the police. Their very motto or
watchword is "Move on;" and for every policeman in helmet and buttons
there are three policemen in plain clothes to make sure that people
_are_ moving on. While watching that house he had been watched
himself.

Then, again, the insane episode of the eating-house--the wild
hastening of his program, the untimely change of appearance in that
thronged room--and his rudeness to the woman behind the counter. With
anguish he remembered, or fancied he remembered, that she had looked
at him resentfully seeming to say as she studied his face. "I'm sizing
you up. Yes, I won't forget you--you brute."

His bag too--left by him at Waterloo for a solid proof that he was
_not_ in London as he pretended. The bag was at the cloak-room all
right when he came to fetch it, but perhaps in the meantime it had
been to Scotland Yard and back again. Besides, Waterloo was a station
he should never once have showed his nose in; the link between
Waterloo and home was too close--his own line--the railway whose staff
was replenished by people from his own part of the country. While he
was feeling glad that the passengers were strangers, perhaps a porter
was saying to a mate: "There goes the postmaster of Rodchurch. He and
I were boys together. I should know him anywhere, though it's ten
years since I last saw William Dale." He ought to have used Paddington
Station--he could have got to Salisbury that way, and gone into the
woods the way he came out of them.

Last of all, that child in the glade--a child strayed from one of the
cottages, or the child of some woodcutter who had brought her with
him, who was perhaps a very little way off, who listened to the tale
of what the child had seen five minutes after she had seen it. Of
course nothing much would be thought of the child's tale at first; but
it would assume importance directly suspicion had been aroused; it
would link up with other circumstances, it would suggest new ideas and
further researches to the minds of detectives, it might be the clue
that eventually hanged him.

It seemed to Dale as he went over things in this quivering, quaking
manner that, from the little girl weaving flowers back to the two Jews
selling slops, he had recruited an army of witnesses to denounce and
destroy him.

Only in one respect had he not bungled. He got rid of the clothes and
hat all right. Cut and torn into narrow stripes they had gone
comfortably down the drains of the temperance hotel in Stamford
Street. That was a night's wise labor. But the labor and thoughtful
care had come too late, on top of all the previous folly.

And he said to himself, "It's prob'ly all up with me. This quiet is
the usual trick of the p'lice to throw you off the scent. They're
playin' wi' me. They let me sim to run free, because they know they
can 'aarve me when they want me."

With such thoughts, he went down-stairs of a morning to talk jovially
with Ridgett, to chaff Miss Yorke; and with the thoughts unchanged he
came up-stairs to glower at Mavis across the breakfast-table.

His thoughts in regard to Mavis were extraordinarily complicated. At
first he had been horribly afraid of her--dreading their meeting as a
crisis, a turning-point, an awful bit of touch-and-go work. It seemed
that she of all people would be the one to suspect the truth. When she
heard of the man's death, surely the idea _must_ have flashed into her
mind: "This is Will's doing." But then perhaps, when no facts appeared
to support the idea, she might have abandoned it. Nevertheless it
would readily come flashing back again--and again, and again.

To his delight, however, he saw that she did not suspect now, and
there was nothing to show that she ever had suspected. And he thought
in the midst of his great relief: "How stupid she is really. Any other
woman would have put two and two together. But she is a stupid woman.
Stupidity is the key-note to her character--and it furnishes the
explanation of half her wrong-doing."

This reflection was comforting, but he still considered her to be a
source of terrible danger to him. For the moment at least, all his
resentment about her past unchasteness and her recent escapade was
entirely obliterated; it was a closed chapter; he did not seem to care
two pence about it--that is, he did not feel any torment of jealousy.
The offense was expiated. But he must not on any account let her see
this--no, because it might lead her, stupid as she was, to trace the
reason. He knew himself that if Mr. Barradine had died otherwise than
by his blows, he would have felt quite differently toward Mavis. He
would have felt then "The swine has escaped me. We are not quits. That
dirty turn is not paid for." He would have continued to smart under
the affront to his pride as a man, and association with Mavis would
have still been impossible.

Logically, then, he must act out these other feelings; Mavis must see
him as he would have been under those conditions. But it made it all
so difficult--two parts to render adequately instead of one. In the
monstrous egotism produced by his fear, he thought it uncommonly rough
luck that the wife who ought to have been dutifully assisting him
should thus add to his cares and worries. Sometimes he had to struggle
against insane longings to take her into his confidence, and compel
her to do her fair share of the job--to say, slap out, "It's you, my
lady, who've landed me in this tight place; so the least you can do is
to help pull me into open country."

Moreover, as the days and nights passed, instincts that were more
human and natural made him crave for re-union. He yearned to be
friends with her again. He felt that if he could safely make it up,
cuddle her as he used to do, hold her hands and arms when he went to
sleep, he would derive fortitude and support against his fear, even
if he obtained no aid from her in dodging the law.

He thought during the inquest that the fear had reached its climax.
Nothing that could come in the future would be as bad as this. Yet all
the time he was telling himself, "There is no cause for the fear. It
is quite baseless. All is going as nice as nice."

Indeed, if he had conducted the proceedings himself, he could not have
wished to arrange anything differently. The whole affair was more like
a civilian funeral service--a rite supplemental to the church
funeral--than a businesslike inquiry into the circumstances and
occasion of a person's death. A sergeant and constable were present,
but apparently for no reason whatever. Allen talked nonsense, grooms
and servants talked nonsense, everybody paid compliments to the
deceased--and really that was all. At last Mr. Hollis, the coroner,
said the very words that Dale would have liked to put into his
mouth--something to the effect that they had done their melancholy
duty and that it would be useless to ask any more questions.

But Dale, sitting firmly and staring gloomily, felt an internal
paroxysm of terror. Near the lofty doors of the fine state room common
folk stood whispering and nudging one another--cottagers, carters,
woodcutters; and Dale thought "Now I'm in for it. One of those chaps
is going to come forward and tell the coroner that his little girl saw
a strange man in the wood." He imagined it all so strongly that it
almost seemed to happen. "Beg pardon, your honor, I don't rightly know
as, it's wuth mentionin', but my lil' young 'un see'd a scarecrow sort
of a feller not far from they rocks, the mornin' afore."

It did not, however, happen. Nothing happened.

And nothing happened when he came to the Abbey again to attend the
real burial service--except that he found how wrong he had been in
supposing that the fear had reached its highest point. He nearly
fainted when he saw all those policemen--the entire park seeming to be
full of them, a blue helmet under every tree, a glittering line of
buttons that stretched through the courtyards and right round the
church. Inside the church he said to himself, "They've got me now.
They'll tap me on the shoulder as I come out."

Standing in the open air again he wondered at the respite that had
been allowed, and thought, "Yes, but that is always their way. They
never show their hand until they have collected all the evidence. The
detectives, who've been on my track from the word 'go,' prob'ly
advised the relatives to accept the thing as an accident in order to
hoodwink the murderer. The tip was given to that coroner not to probe
deep, because they weren't ready yet with their case;" and it suddenly
occurred to him that he had left deep footsteps in the wood, and that
plaster casts had been made of all these impressions.

He looked across a gravestone in the crowded churchyard and saw a
strange man who was staring at the ground. A detective? He believed
that this man was watching his feet, measuring them, saying to
himself, "Yes, those are the feet that will fit my plaster cast."

After the funeral he began to grow calmer, and soon he was able to
believe during long periods of each day that the most considerable
risks were now over.

Then came news of the legacy to Mavis--the cursed money that he
hated, that threw him back into the earlier distress concerning his
wife's shame, that restored vividness to the thoughts which had faded
in presence of the one overpowering thought of his own imminent peril.

But here again he was governed by what he had set before himself as
his unfailing guide-post--the necessity to conceal any motive for an
act of vengeance. What would people think if he refused the money? It
was a question not easy to answer, and the guide-post seemed to point
in two opposite directions. He was harassed by terrible doubt until he
and Mavis went to see the solicitor at Old Manninglea. During the
conversation over there he assured himself that the solicitor saw
nothing odd in the legacy, and made no guess at there having been an
intrigue between Mavis and the benefactor; and further he ascertained
that this was only one of several similar legacies. All was clear
then: the guide-post pointed one way now: they must take the money.

But this necessity shook Dale badly again. It seemed as if the man so
tightly put away in his lead coffin and stone vault was not done with
yet. It was as if one could never be free from his influence, as if,
dead or alive, he exercised power over one. Dale resisted such
superstitious fancies in vain. They upset him; and the fear returned,
bigger than before.

It was irrational, bone-crumbling fear--something that defied
argument, that nothing could allay. It was like the elemental passion
felt by the hunted animal--not fear of death, but the anguish of the
live thing which must perforce struggle to escape death, although
prolonged flight is worse than that from which it flies.

Dale had no real fear of death--nor even fear of the gallows. If the
worst came, he could face death bravely. He was quite sure of that.
Then, as he told himself thousands of times, it was absurd to be so
shaken by terror. Terror of what? And he thought, "It is because of
the uncertainty. But there too, how absurdly fullish I am; for there
is no _real_ uncertainty. My crime can not and will not be discovered.
If I were to go now and accuse myself, people would not credit me."

He thought also, in intervals between the paroxysms, "I suppose what
I've been feeling is what all murderers feel. It is this that makes
men go and give themselves up to the police after they have got off
scot free. They are safe, but they never can believe they're safe;
they can't stand the strain, and if they didn't stop it, they'd go
mad. So they give themselves up--just go get a bit o' quiet. And that
is what I shall do, if this goes on much longer. I'd sooner be turned
off short and sharp with a broken neck than die of exhaustion in a
padded cell."

Then suddenly chance gave the hateful money an immense value,
converted it into a means of escape from the outer life whose monotony
and narrowness were assisting the cruelly wide inner life to drive him
mad.

He went to Vine-Pits, and the strangeness of his surroundings, the
difficulties, the hard work, produced a salutary effect upon him; but
most of all he drew strength and courage from the renewal of love
between Mavis and himself. That was most wonderful--like a new birth,
rather than a reanimation. They loved each other as a freshly married
couple, as a boy and girl who have just returned from their
honeymoon, and who say, "We shall feel just the same when the time
comes to keep our silver wedding."

So he toiled comfortably, almost happily. Mavis was perfectly happy,
and he found increasing solace in the knowledge of this fact.

Thence onward his busy days were free from fear, except for the
transient panics which, as he surmised, he would be subject to for the
remainder of his life. They did not matter, because he could control
them to the extent of preventing the slightest outward manifestation.
All at once while transacting business he would feel the inward
collapse, deadly cold, a sensation that his intestines had been
changed from close-knitted substance to water; and he would think
"This person"--a farmer, a servant, old Mr. Bates, anybody--"suspects
my secret. He guessed it a long while ago. Or he has just discovered
the proofs of guilt." Nevertheless he went on talking in exactly the
same tone of voice, without a contraction of a single facial muscle,
with nothing at all shown unless perhaps a bead of perspiration on his
forehead.

"Good morning, sir. Many thanks, sir.... Yes, Mr. Envill, the stuff
shall be at your stables by one P.M. sharp. I'm making it my pride to
obey all orders punctually, whether big or small."

Thus he got on comfortably enough during the daylight waking hours.
But the fear that had gone out of the days had made its home in the
night. Sleep was now its stronghold.

His dreams were terrible. They were like immense highly-colored
fabrics reeling off the vast gray thought-loom--that dreadful thought
machine that worked as well when the workshop was darkened as when
all the lamps were burning. Their pattern displayed infinite variety
of detail, but a constant similarity in the main design.

They began by his being happy and light-hearted, that is, he was
_innocent_; and then gradually the horrible fact returned to his
memory. Recently, or a long time ago, he had killed a man. That was
always the end of the dream; his lightness and gaiety of spirits
vanished, and he felt again the load that he was eternally forced to
carry on his conscience.

The details of one form in which the dream worked itself out were
repeated hundreds of times. There was a strange man who at first made
himself extremely agreeable, and yet in spite of all his amiability
Dale did not like him. Nevertheless there was some mysterious
necessity to keep friends with him, even to kow-tow to him. And Dale
gradually felt sure that he and this man had met before, and that the
man knew it, but for some sinister purpose concealed his knowledge.
They went about together in gay and lively scenes, and the man grew
more and more hateful to Dale--becoming insolent, making disparaging
remarks, sneering openly; and laughing when Dale only tittered in a
nervous way and swallowed all insults. And Dale could not do
otherwise, because he was afraid of the man.

And finally this false friend disclosed his true hostile character in
some strikingly painful manner.

For instance, the man would make Dale take off his boots for him in
some public place. They were together in a place like the lounge of
some grand music-hall; the electric light shone brilliantly, a band
played at a distance, the gaily dressed crowd gathered round
them--young London swells with white waistcoats, pretty painted women,
old men and young girls, and all of them watching, all contemptuously
amused, all grinning because they understood that, though so big and
strong, he was at heart a pitiful sort of poltroon, and that his
companion was showing him up publicly. "Yes, you shall take my boots
off for me. That's all you're fit for." And in spite of his anguish of
resentment, Dale dared not refuse. The man had moved to a divan, he
reclined upon his back, lifted his feet; and Dale, pretending to laugh
it off as a bit of fun, took him by the heels.

Then he uttered a terrified cry--because he saw it was Barradine,
dead, battered, with glassy staring eyes. All the people rushed away
screaming, the lights went out, the music ceased: Dale was alone, at
dusk, in a rocky wilderness, still dragging the dead man by the heels.

And then he would wake--to find Mavis bending over him, to hear her
saying, "My dearest, you are sleeping on your back, and it is making
you dream." He clung to her desperately, muttering, "Quite right, Mav.
Don't let me dream. It's a fullish trick--dreaming."

Then he would settle himself to sleep again, thinking, "It is all no
use. I love my wife; I bless her for the generous way in which she has
risked all that money to give me a fresh start; I enjoy the work; I
believe I may succeed with the business--but I shall never know real
peace of mind. And sooner or later my crime will be brought home to
me. It is always so. I've read it in the papers a dozen times.
Murderers never get off altogether. Years and years pass; but at last
justice overtakes them."

Already, although he did not recognize it, had come remorse for the
wickedness of his deed. He had no regret for the fact itself, and not
the slightest pity for the victim. Mr. Barradine had got no more than
he deserved, the only proper adequate punishment for his offenses; but
Dale knew that, according to the tenets of all religions, God does not
allow private individuals to mete out punishment, however well
deserved--especially not the death penalty.

He resolutely revived his idea of the dead man as a thing unfit to
live--just a brute, without a man's healthy instincts--a foul
debauchee, ruining sweet and comely innocence whenever he could get at
it. Such a wretch would be executed by any sensible community. In new
countries they would lynch him as soon as they caught him--"A lot of
chaps like myself would ride off their farms, heft him up on the
nearest tree, and empty their revolvers into him. And it wouldn't be a
murder: it would be a rough and ready execution. Well, I did the job
by myself, without sharing the responsibility with my pals; and I
consider myself an executioner, not a murderer."

He could now always make the hate and horror return and be as strong
as they had ever been, and thus solidify the argument whereby he found
his justification; no mercy is possible for such brutes.
Subconsciously he was always striving to reinforce it; as if the voice
of that logical faculty which he admired as his highest attribute were
always whispering advice, reminding him: "This is your strong point.
It is the only firm ground you stand on. You can't possibly hope to
justify yourself to other people; but if you don't justify yourself to
yourself, then you are truly done for."

And he used to think: "I have justified myself to myself all along. I
was never one who considered human life so sacred as some try to make
out. Why should it be? Aren't we proved to be animals--along with the
rest? The parsons own it nowadays themselves, allowing a man's soul to
be what God counts most important, but not going so far as to say any
animal's soul isn't immortal too. Then where's the sacredness? If it's
right to kill a vicious dog or a poisonous snake, how is it so wrong
to out a man that won't behave himself?"

Insensibly this consideration had the greatest possible effect on his
conduct. Without advancing step by step in a reasoned progress, he
understood that any one holding his views on human life generally
should not attach an excessive value to his own individual life. He
must carry his life lightly, and be ready to lay it down without a lot
of fuss. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. He acted on the
maxim, risking his life freely, courting dangers that he would have
avoided in the days before the day on which he executed Mr. Barradine.

Executed--yes. But God would not have authorized him, although Judge
Lynch would. God would say: "It must be left to Me. I will attend to
it in My own good time. From My point of view perhaps, keeping the man
alive is in truth his punishment, and to kill him is to let him off.
You have come blundering with your finite intelligence into the
department of omniscient wisdom. Instead of interpreting My laws, you
have set up a law of your own invention."

And Dale sometimes thought: "But there isn't any God. All that is my
eye and my elbow. I believed it once, but I shall never believe it
again."

His thoughts about God's laws were curious, and baffling to himself.
They had been always there, always active, but in a manner secondary
and faint when compared with his thoughts about his infringement of
men's laws. Faith in God had seemed to be quite gone. It used to
permeate his entire mind; and yet it dropped out as though it had been
only in one corner of his mind, and a hole had been made under that
corner for it to fall through. Now he sometimes had the notion that it
went out through many holes, as if it had been forcibly ejected, and
that his whole mind was left in a shattered and unstable condition.

Then it began to seem that the faith had not truly been altogether got
rid of. Fragments of it remained.

Rapidly then he reached the certainty that he wished to have the faith
back again. His was an orderly solid mind that could not do with
cracks and holes in it, trimness, neatness, and firmness of outer wall
were necessary to its well-being; openness to windy doubts ruined it.
He felt that an accidental universe was the wrong box for it. He
wanted to believe in the God who created order out of chaos, the God
who settled cut-and-dried plans for the whole of creation--yes, the
God made in man's image, and yet the Maker and Ruler of man.

And some days he did believe, and some days he couldn't. But all at
once an idea came, first soothing then cheering him. He thought:
"Whether I believe or not, I'll take it for granted. I'll act as if
God is real."

He did so, acting as if God were believed in as truly by him as by the
most stanch believers. He clung to the idea. It seemed to be the way
out of all his troubles. He would make peace with God--then there
would be no need to bother about men, or offer any confession of his
guilt to _them_.

He grew calmer now. Doing things had always suited him better than
brooding over things. His new determination illuminated the reason for
reckless adventures, and lifted their purpose to a higher plane. He
thought now that he held his life at God's will--to be given back to
God at a moment's notice.

This thought made him calmer still, made him strong, almost made him
happy. A life for a life. He would expiate his offense in God's good
time. So no danger was too big for William Dale to face; his courage
became a byword; gentlefolk and peasants alike admired and wondered.

Out of the consistent course of action came the consistency of the
thought that was governing the action. Assumption of the reality of
God as a working hypothesis led to conviction of the existence of God.

Yet strangely and unexpectedly the attempt to formalize his faith
almost shook his faith out of him again. Although throughout the
episode of his acceptance by the Baptists he seemed so stolid and
matter-of-fact, he was truly suffering storms of emotion. He fell a
prey to old illusions; that unreasoning fear returned; he was thrown
back into the state of terrified egoism which rendered lofty
impersonal meditation beyond attainment.

That evening when for the first time he went to the Baptist Chapel,
the illusion was strong upon him that every man, woman, and child in
the congregation had discovered his secret. When they all stood up to
sing, it seemed that he was naked, defenseless, utterly at their
mercy. With every word of their carefully selected hymn they were
telling him that they knew all about him. When they began their third
verse, they simply roared a denunciation straight at him:

      "But thus th' eternal counsel ran:
      'Almighty love, _arrest that man_.'"

And the second and third hymns were just as bad, shaking him to
pieces, tumbling him headlong into the terror he had felt when his
crime was no more than a week old. The rest of the service entranced
and delighted him, made him think: "These people are in touch with
God, and their God is full of love and mercy. If He would accept me, I
should feel safe." At the end of the service he knelt, praying for
this to happen. Then he went home and doubted.

The fear was on him again in the beginning of his interview with Mr.
Osborn the pastor. He thought: "This man has seen through me. He
knows. Perhaps his past experiences have taught him to be quick in
spotting criminals. He may have been a prison chaplain some time or
other. Anyhow, he knows; and he'll try to get a confession out of me,
as sure as I sit here." But the beauty of the conception of God as
unfolded by Mr. Osborn banished the fear. He thought: "If I had been
told these things before, I should have never ceased to believe. I
feel it through and through me. This is God; and if I am not too
late, if He will still accept me, I shall be saved. Christ, the
friend, the brother of man--same as described by Mr. Osborn two
minutes ago--can do it for me if He will. He can take me home to
Father." A verse of one of those hymns echoed in his ears:

      "None less than God's Almighty Son
        Can move such loads of sin;
      The water from His side must run,
        To wash this dungeon clean."

And once more he prayed to the God of the Baptists; and then once more
doubted.

While he was walking home, he thought: "It is too good to be true.
Perhaps I'm fullish to pin my trust to it. Do I believe in it all, or
do I not?" He wanted a sign; and when the storm of thunder and
lightning burst like the most tremendous sign one could ask for, he
seized this opportunity of risking his life, and said: "Now I stand
here for God to take me or leave me."

He was left, not taken. The fear vanished, the doubt passed, and he
made his way into the Baptist Church exactly as if, as Mr. Osborn had
said, there was an irresistible pressure behind him, and he could not
make his way anywhere else.

It was all right after his baptism. He knew then that he would never
doubt again. The faith was permanent now: it would last as long as he
himself lasted. He had no more evil dreams. He slept soundly, as a man
sleeps when he has got home late after a tiring journey. And in the
morning and the evening of each day he thanked God for having
accepted him.

Then came the years of tranquillity, the respite from pain, his golden
time. He was prosperous, respected; he had a loved and loving wife,
and lovely lovable children; he had grain in his barns, money in his
bank, peace in his mind. He felt too all the better part in him
growing bigger and bigger; religion, in simplifying his ideas, had
increased their value; his intellectual power seemed wider and more
comprehensive when exercised with regard to all things that can be
learned, now that he had entirely ceased to exercise it with regard to
things that must not be questioned.

And then there had happened something that was like the knocking down
of a house of cards, the blowing out of a paper lantern, or the
obliteration of a picture scratched on sand when the inrushing tide
sweeps over it.

His soul turned sick at the thought that God had not accepted, but
rejected him. God refused his offer of humble homage, had seen the
latent wickedness in him, had kept him alive until he also could see
and loathe himself for what he really was--a wretch who in wishes and
cravings, if not in accomplished facts, was as vile as the man he had
slain.




XXXII


Dale's meditations had carried him backward and forward through the
past years, and left him against the blank wall of the present.

He was sitting on the fallen beech tree in the woodland glade. The sun
had set, and the night promised to be darker than recent nights; when
he looked at the grand gold watch given to him by his admirers, he
could only just see its hands. Nearly nine o'clock. He had been here a
long while. It was hours and hours since Norah went away. He sighed
wearily, got up, and walked back to his empty home.

Quite empty--that was the impression it made upon his mind both
to-night and all next day. He looked at it in the bright morning
sunshine, across the meadows, while the scythes laid down the first
long swathes of fragrant grass, and it seemed merely the shell of a
house. He looked at it in the midday glare, as he came up the field to
his dinner, and it seemed cold and black and cheerless. He looked at
it in the softer, kinder light of late afternoon, and it seemed to him
tragically sad--a monument of woe rather than a house, a fantastic
tomb built in the shape of a house in order to symbolize the homely
joy that had perished on this spot.

Yet smoke was rising from its chimneys, sound issuing from its
windows. All day long it had been full of active cheerful life. It and
the fields were happy in the animating harvest toil. Men with
harvesters' hats, women with sunbonnets, cracked their rustic jokes,
laughed, and sang at their labor; Mavis cooked food, filled the big
white bobs with beer, sent out bannocks and tin bottles of tea; Dale's
children had rakes and played at hay-making. Only the master, the
husband, the father, was unhappy.

No one knew it, of course. To other people he appeared to be just the
same as usual, naturally preoccupied with thoughts about the weather
as one always is at grass-cutting time, giving his orders firmly, and
seeing that they were obeyed promptly, smiling and nodding when you
showed yourself handy, frowning and looking rather black if you did
anything "okkard or feckless." Who could have guessed, as he looked at
his watch and then at the sky, that he was thinking: "It wants five
minutes of noon, and she is prob'ly out on what they term an
esplanade. There is a nice breeze down there, comin' to her over the
waater, blowin' her hair a bit loose, flappin' her skirts, sendin' out
her neck ribbon like a little flag behind her. It's all jolly, wi' the
mil'tary band, an' the smell o' the waves, an' crowds an' crowds o'
people--an' she won't have occasion to think o' me. P'raps they've bid
her wear her best--the white frock Mavis gave her, with the stockings
to match, and the new buckle-shoes--and likely young lads'll eye her
all over as they pass. Yes, she's seeing now the young uns--the mates
for her age--the proper article to make a photograph of a suitable
pair; and she'll soon stop thinking anything about me, if she hasn't
done it a'ready."

He was in his office still thinking of her, after the busy day, when
the postman brought the last delivery of letters.

"Good evening, sir. Only three to-night."

"Thank you. Good night, George," and Dale had a friendly smile for
this old acquaintance.

Postman George was growing fat and heavy, betraying signs of age. He
had been a sprightly telegraph boy when Dale was postmaster of
Rodchurch.

"Good night, sir. Fine weather for the hay."

"Yes, capital."

When the postman had gone Dale stood trembling. One of the letters was
from her. He felt unnerved by the mere sight of her handwriting on the
envelope--the hand that was so like his own, the hand that she had
taught herself by laborious study and imitation of his official
copper-plate; and he thought, "If I was wise I shouldn't open it. If I
was strong enough, I should just burn it, without reading. For,
whatever's inside, it's going to make me one bit more desp'rate than I
am now."

He snatched up his hat, went out of the house, and walked along the
road holding her letter pressed tight against his heart. There was a
gentle air that floated pleasantly over the fields, and in spite of
all the heavy rain that had fallen such a little while ago, the white
dust rose in high clouds when a motor-car came whizzing by. After the
car two timber wagons crept slowly, and then there were children
trailing a broken perambulator; but directly the road became vacant
again, he leaned against a gate and opened the envelope. He had felt
that he must be quite alone when he read what she said to him, and had
intended to go farther, but he could not wait any more.

"Sir, I beg to say"--That was how he had taught her to begin all
letters: she knew no other mode of address. "I beg to say this is a
very large place and you can see the sea from the bedrooms."

He read on; and his pleasure was so exquisite and his pain so
laceratingly sharp that the sky and the acids swam round and round.

... "There's nice girls here, one or two. Nellie Evans do all she can
to make me not so miserable She has a sweetheart at Rodchurch. They
all have their boys if you believe their talk.

"And all the marks at the end are the sweet kisses I give my boy. For
you are my boy now--my own secret one, and I am your loving girl

                                                     "Norah."

She was thinking only of him; she wanted no one younger and handsomer;
in her eyes and thoughts he was not old: he was her boy. Those words
had a terrible effect upon him. They entered his blood as if they had
been an injection of some sweetly narcotic drug; thy lanced deep into
his bowels as if they had been a surgeon's knife; they made him like a
half-anesthetized patient who at the same time dreams of paradise and
feels that he is bleeding to death.

"You are my boy ... and I am your loving girl."

He moved from the gate, hurried along the dusty road, and entered
Hadleigh Wood at the first footpath. As he got over the stile he was
saying to himself, "This letter finishes me. I can't go on with it
after this. I'm done for."

Then, as he walked in the cool silence beneath the dark firs, he held
her letter to his lips--kissed the inked crosses that she had set as
marks to represent her kisses--counted and kissed them and counted
them until his hot tears blinded him.

She wanted him; she longed for him; he was her boy.

He could get to her to-night. She was only twenty or twenty-two miles
away, as the crow flies--say half an hour's journey if one had the
wings of a heron. He could rush home, jump into his gig, and send the
horse at a gallop; he could get there by road or rail, somehow; he
could telegraph, telling her not to go to bed, telling her to go to
the station and wait for him there.

Then he would walk with her in the moonlight by the sea, on the wet
sand, close to the breaking waves. When they came back to the
Institution no light would be showing from any of the windows, and she
might say, "I'm shut out. When they come down to let me in, won't they
make a fuss?" But he would say, "You are not going in there again."
"What," she would say, "are you taking me back to Vine-Pits after only
two days? Don't you think Mrs. Dale will be angry?"

Then he would say, "I'm not taking you back. I'm going to take you
half across the world with me. I've tried hard, Norah, but I can't do
without you. I own up, I'm beat, I take the consequences. I'm not
good, I'm bad. I've done wicked things, and now I'm ripe for the
crowning wickedness. I'm going to break my wife's heart, dishonor my
children's name, and take you down to hell with me."

Or if he could not say and do all that, he might at least do this. He
could pick her up in his arms and wade out to sea with her; he could
whisper and kiss and wade until the ribbed sand went from under his
feet; and then he would swim, go on whispering, kissing, and swimming
until his strength failed him--yes, he could drown himself and her, so
that they died locked fast in each other's arms, taking in death the
embraces that had been denied them in life.

He was crying now as a child cries, abandoning himself to his tears,
not troubling to wipe them away, temporarily overcome by self-pity.
But soon he shook off this particular form of weakness, and thought,
"What nonsense comes into a man's head, when he's once off his right
balance--such wild nonsense, such mad nonsense. Drown _her_, poor
innocent. Make her pay _my_ bill. Think of it even--when I'd swim the
Atlantic to save her life, if it was in danger."

And then the thought that had been the impetus or origin of these
fantastic imaginations presented itself again, and more strongly than
before. He said to himself, "This letter is my death-warrant. I can't
go on. It is my death-warrant."

He had made straight for the main ride, and he walked straight along
it in the direction of Kibworth Rocks. As he drew toward them it was
as if the spirit of the dead man called him, seeming to say: "Come and
keep me company. Our old quarrel is over. You and I understand each
other _now_. We are two of a kind, just as like as two hogs from one
litter--you the sanctimonious psalm-singer and I the conscienceless
profligate--we are brothers at last in our beastliness."

Dale walked with his hands clasped behind his back, thoughtfully
looking at the trees, and trying to suppress his wild imaginations.
But he could not suppress them. The dead man seemed to say, "Don't be
a humbug, don't pretend. You know we are alike. Why, when you looked
in the glass the other day, you _saw_ the resemblance. You saw my
puffy eye-orbits and my pendulous lip in your own face."

Dale shrugged his shoulders, held his head high, and grunted fiercely.
But when he was abreast of the rocks, this imagined voice seemed to
speak to him again.

"You and I have drawn so near together that there's only one
difference now--that you are alive and I am dead. But even that
difference will be gone soon."

And Dale, walking on rather slower than before, made an odd gesture of
his left hand, a wave of hand and arm together, as of a dignified
well-to-do citizen waving off some impudent mendicant: seeming to say,
"Be damned to you. Just you lie quiet where I put you, and don't
worry. I decline to have anything to do with you, or to allow the
slightest communication between us. I simply don't recognize you--nor
will I ever admit again that I see the faintest resemblance. If I
wished, I could explain why. Only I shan't condescend to do
so--certainly not to _you_."

Out of the big ride he went into one of the narrower cuts, and
followed it until he came to the woodside boundary of the Barradine
Orphanage. This was where Mavis had stood looking at it years ago,
when the building was in course of construction. The wooden fence that
she had thought so stiff and ugly then was all weak and old, green and
moss-covered, completely broken down in many places. Inside, the
privet hedge had grown broad and thick; and this barrier, although
any one could easily thrust himself through it, was evidently
considered sufficient, since no trouble had been taken to repair the
outer fence. Indeed, what protective barriers could be needed for such
an enclosure? It contained no money or other kind of treasure; and
who, however base, would attack or in any way threaten a lot of
children?

Dale looked at the top of the belfry tower and the roof of the central
block, and thought of it as a temple of youth, a sacred place
dedicated to the worship of tender and innocent life. He moved through
the trees and found a point where, on higher ground, he could look
across into the garden and see a part of the terrace and verandas.
None of the girls was visible. They had been gathered into those
hospitable walls for the night.

Presently he thought he heard them singing. Yes, that was an evening
hymn. The girls were thanking God for the long daylight of a summer's
day, before they lay down to rest, to sleep, to forget they were alive
till God's sun rose again.

And Dale began once more to think of God. To-night he would not fly
from the sound of the girls' voices. All that reluctance and distaste
was over and done with; it belonged to the time when he was still
struggling against the inevitable drift of his inclinations. Now he
had passed to a state of mind that nothing external could really
affect.

"The finger of God"--Yes, those were unforgivable words. He stretched
himself at full length upon the ground, leaned his head on his elbow,
and lay musing.

He taxed his imagination in order to give himself a concept of what
such a tremendous figure of speech should in truth convey. One said
finger, of course, because one wished to imply that no effort was
used, scarcely any of the divine force drawn upon--just as one says of
a man, he did so-and-so with a turn of the wrist, that is, quite
easily, without putting his back into it. Yes, he thought, that's
about right. Then to make up something for an instance, just to spread
the idea as big as it ought properly to be, one might say that once
upon a time God gave our sun and all the other suns the slightest push
with His finger, _and they haven't done moving yet_.

And it seemed to him that, look where one pleased, one could see the
real work of the finger of God. It had been giving him, William Dale,
faint imperceptible pushes for fifteen years, and see now at the end
where it had pushed him. First it had pushed him upward, higher and
higher, to a position of conspicuous pride, to the topmost summit of a
fair mountain, where he could look round and say, "I have all that I
pined for. This is the world's castle, and I am the king of the
castle." Then it had begun to push him down the other side of this
mountain, the dark side, the side that was always in shadow, downward
and still downward to the miasmic unhealthy plain where all was
rankness, downward to the level of corruption and death. Yes, it had
brought him, the bold, proud law-maker, down and down till he stood no
higher than the victim of his law.

He remembered the common phrase--so often employed by
himself--comparing mice with men. Am I a man or a mouse? And it seemed
that no cat had ever played with a mouse as the Infinite Ruling Power
of the universe had been playing with the man William Dale. He had
been allowed to break loose, to frisk and jump, to fancy he was free
to run right round the earth if he wished to do so; and all the while
he had truly been a prisoner, the helpless prey of his captor, held
close to the place of ultimate doom.

If he had been promptly convicted and hanged, it would have been no
punishment at all compared with what was happening now. The long delay
was the essential part of the punishment, and of the lesson. The fact
that no one suspected his crime had given him the period of agonized
suspense, with all those dream-torments, the fear of death which was
worse than death itself.

He thought of all the things that had appeared to be blind chances but
were really stern decrees. The true function of the money that came
from the dead man's hand was to keep him always on the rack of memory.
And with the aid of the money he had been made to move a little nearer
to the site of his crime. He had been made to buy Bates' business so
that he might dwell right up against Hadleigh Wood, see it every day
from his windows, hear it whispering to him every night when he was
not asleep and dreaming of it. But for that apparently lucky chance of
Mr. Bates' retirement, he would have gone to some splendid new
country, and severing ties of locality, would have shattered
associations of ideas, and been _able to forget_. He had made up his
mind to go to one of the Australian colonies and make a fresh start
there. But that didn't match with God's intentions by any manner of
means.

His thoughts returned to Norah, and here again--here more plainly
than anywhere else--he saw the work of God. It was wonderful and
awe-inspiring how God had selected the instrument that should destroy
him. He felt that he could have resisted the charms of any other girl
in the world except this one. In mysterious ways Norah's fascination
was potent over him, while it might have been quite feeble in its
effects with regard to other men. But for Dale she represented the
solid embodiment of imagined seductiveness, allurement, supreme
feminine charm; that flicker of wild blood in her was to him an
essential attraction, and it linked itself inexplicably with the
amorous reveries of far-off days when, young and free and wild
himself, he loved the woodland glades instead of hating them.

The selected instrument--Yes, she was the one girl on earth who could
have been safely employed to achieve God's double purpose of
overwhelming him with base passion and bringing his lesson home to him
simultaneously. No other girl that ever was born could have aroused
such desire in him, and yet have slipped unscathed out of his arms at
the very moment when the consummation of his sin seemed unavoidable.
Any other girl must herself have been sacrificed in destroying him;
only the child who had frightened him in the wood could
instantaneously, by a few unconsidered words, have taken all the fire
out of him and changed his heart to a lump of ice. That was a stroke
of the Master: most Godlike in its care for the innocent and its
confusion of the guilty.

He remembered how grievously he had dreaded this child--the little
black-haired elf that had seen him hiding. It had made him shiver to
think of her--the small woodland demon, the devil's spy whose lisping
treble might be distinct and loud enough to utter his death sentence.
A thousand times he had wondered about her--thinking: "She is growing
up. She belongs here;" looking in the faces of cottagers' children and
asking himself: "Are you she? Or you? Or you?" Then he had left off
thinking about her.

She had come into his life again, into his very home, and he had never
once asked himself: "Is Norah she?" No, because God would not allow
him to do so; it had suited God's purpose to paralyze the outlet of
all natural thought in that direction. So she grew tall and strong
under his eyes--the dreaded imp of the wood eating his food, squatting
at his own fireside; changing into the imagined nymph of the wood that
he had seen only in dreams; becoming the very spirit of the wood--yes,
the wood's avenging spirit.

He moved from his recumbent position, sat up, and drew out Norah's
letter from the breast pocket of his jacket. He read her letter again,
and his sadness and despair deepened. There was no revolt now; he felt
nothing but black misery. He thought: "I used to fear that she would
be the means of my death, and now death is coming from her. This
letter is my death-warrant."

There was no other way out of his troubles. Life had become
unendurable; he could not go on with it. And this thought became now a
fixed determination. He must copy the example of other and better men;
he must do for himself, as old Bates and many others had done for
themselves when they found their lives too hard for them.

If he didn't--oh, the whole thing was hopeless. Suppose that he
rebelled against this cruel necessity. No, he saw too plainly the
torment that would lie before him--disgrace, grief of wife and
children, soon all the world wishing him dead. And no joy. The girl
would be taken from him. The world--or God--would never allow him to
hide and be happy with her.

Suppose he were to carry her off to the Colonies, and attempt to begin
the new life that he had planned fifteen years ago. Impossible--he was
too old; nearly all his strength had gone from him; the mere idea of
fighting his way uphill again filled him with a sick fatigue. And the
girl, when she saw him failing, physically and mentally, would desert
him. _Her_ love could not last--it was too unnatural; and when,
contrasting him with other men, she saw that he was feeble, exhausted,
utterly worn out, she would shake off the bondage of his
companionship. No, there was no possible hope for the future of such a
union.

He thought: "Other men at fifty are often hale and hearty, chock-full
of vigor. But that's not my case." He felt that, though his frame
remained stout enough, he had exhausted his whole supply of
nerve-force; and this was due not to length of years, but to the pace
at which he had lived them. He thought: "That is what has whacked me
out--the rate I've gone. If I'd been some rich swell treating himself
to a harem of women, horse-racing, gambling at cards; or if I'd been
one of these City gentlemen floating companies, speculating on the
Stock Exchange, and so on; or if I'd been a Parliament man spouting
all night, going round at elections all day, people would have said:
'Oh, what a mighty pity he doesn't give himself a proper chance, but
lives too fast.' Yet those men would all be reposing of themselves
compared with _me_. It stands to reason. It could not be otherwise.
And for why? Because a _murderer_ lives other men's years in one of
his minutes--and the wear and tear on him is more than the Derby
Race-Course, the Houses of Parliament, and the Stock Exchange all
rolled into one crowd would ever feel if they went on exciting
themselves from now to the Day of Judgment."

And again he felt self-pity, but of another kind than that which had
stirred him an hour ago. Now it was clear-sighted, analytical, almost
free from weakness. He thought: "It is a bit rough--it is rather hard,
rather cruel on me, all said and done. For I know that I might have
bin a good man. The good lay in me--it only wanted drawing out." He
remembered the elevating effect of his love for Mavis, how through all
the time of his belief in her purity he had tried to purify himself,
to purge away all the grossness and sensualness that, as he vainly
fancied, made him unworthy to be the mate of so immaculate a creature;
but he was not allowed to continue the purifying process; her horrible
revelation ended it--knocked the sense out of it, made it
preposterously absurd. "If Mavis had been in the beginning what she
has come to be at last, she would have kept me on the highroad to
Heaven." But all the chances had gone against him. "My father failed
me, my mother failed me, my wife failed me."

"The worst faults I had in my prime were conceit and uppishness, but
they only came from my ignorance. They'd have been wiped out of me at
the start, if I'd had the true advantages of education; regular
school training, such as gentlemen's sons enjoy, would have made all
the difference. It's all very well to talk about educating yourself
and rising in the world at the same time, but it can't be done.
There's a season for everything, and the best part of education must
be over before you begin to fight for a position. Otherwise the
handicap is too heavy."

His pity for himself became more poignant; yet still there was nothing
weakening in it, at least nothing that tended to alter his
determination. "No," he thought, "take me all round, I couldn't
originally have bin meant to turn out a wrong un. I've never bin mean
or sneaking or envious in my dealings with other people. I've never
spared myself to give a helping hand to those who treated me decently.
And no one will ever guess the kindly sentiments I entertained for
many other men, or the pleasure I derived the few times I could feel:
'This chap is one I respect, and he seems to like me.' I wanted to be
liked, but the gift o' making myself liked was denied me. Yet, except
for being cast down into sin, I should have got over _that_
difficulty. I was on the right road there too. By enlarging my mind
I'd become more sympathetic. Though always a shy man really and truly,
I was learning to smother the false effects of my shyness."

Thinking thus of his mind, and his long-continued efforts to improve
its powers, he felt: "To go and extinguish all this is an awful thing
to have to do."

Still his determination was not altered. The mystery of that great
pageant, the mental life of William Dale, could not be permitted to
unfold itself any further. It must cease with a snap and a jerk, much
as when the electric current becomes too strong for a small
incandescent lamp and the bulb bursts, the filaments fuse, and all
that the lamp was showing disappears in darkness.

Yes, darkness without a glimmer of hope.

The finger of God--one can't get away from it. If it pushes you toward
the light, then rejoice exceedingly and with a loud voice; if it
pushes you into the dark, then swallow your tongue and go silently. It
seemed to Dale that he comprehended the whole scope and purport of his
doom, and that God's tremendous logic made the justice of his doom
unanswerable. He understood that the law which he had himself set up
was to be binding now. He must execute himself, as he had executed
Everard Barradine. It is for this, the hour of hopelessness and
despair, that God has been waiting. Now it is God's good time. God has
slowly taught him his worthlessness and infamy, so that he may die
despairing.




XXXIII


"Mavis," he said, after supper that evening "I've noticed a branch at
the top of the walnut tree that doesn't look to me too safe. I must
lop that tree first chance I get--or we shall have an accident."

Next morning he was up and dressed before the sun rose, and he came
down-stairs very softly, carrying his boots in his hands, and pausing
now and then to listen. The house was quite silent, with no one
stirring yet except himself. He sat on the lowest step of the stairs
and put on his boots, listened again, then quietly let himself out of
the front door.

On the threshold the cool morning air rushed into his lungs, expanding
them widely, making him draw deep breaths merely for the pleasure of
tasting its freshness and sweetness. The light was still gray and dim,
and the buildings round the yard were vague and shadowy. In the garden
there was a delicious perfume of roses--those most beautiful of all
flowers pouring out their fragrant charms, although their glory of
color had not yet burst forth from the shadows of night.

Moving like a shadow himself, he hurried noiselessly to his work. One
of the shorter ladders would be long enough to reach the lower
branches, and he could climb from them as high as he wished. He
fetched the ladder from the yard, fixed it in position against the
walnut tree, and then went back to the yard for the other things he
wanted.

In the loft where the tools were kept he remained much longer than he
had intended. At first there was scarcely any light at all up here,
and, having stupidly forgotten to bring a box of matches, he had to
grope about fumblingly; but gradually the light improved. He found a
saw, and, attaching it to a light cord, slung it round his neck in the
approved woodman fashion. The saw would be carried merely for the sake
of appearances. Then he hunted for the particular rope that he
required for his purposes, and could not find it. He had seen it two
days ago, neatly rolled, in the corner with other tackle; but now the
corner was all untidy, a confused mass of cordage, and the good new
strong rope was concealing itself beneath weak old rubbish. He knew
that he could trust this rope, because it was the exact fellow of the
one on the pulleys--and with the pulley rope they let down loads that
were a good deal heavier than any man.

Then all at once a ray of light shot through a chink in the boarded
wall, and came like a straight rainbow across the dusty gray floor and
into the corner where he stood stooping. His rope was there right
enough, showing itself conspicuously, seeming to rise on its coils
like a snake and slip its sinuous neck into his hands, so that he had
picked it up and taken it from the corner before he knew what he was
doing.

It was necessary to arrange things with care, but he was a strangely
long time in making his running noose and satisfying himself that it
could not possibly give way or anyhow fail. He was also slow in making
a stop-knot at the part of the rope that he proposed to attach to the
tree, and he felt an extraordinary obtuseness of intelligence while
making the calculations that he had so many times thought out during
the night. "Yes," he said to himself, "twice the length of my arms.
That's quite right. Six feet is twice the length of my arms--but I'll
try it again. Yes--quite all right. Must be. That's a six foot drop.
That's what I decided--a six foot drop. The rope'll stand that. But it
mightn't stand more. An' less than six feet mightn't be enough either.
Yes, that's right."

Then he thought: "I am wasting time." He was conscious of an
imperative necessity for speed and a great danger in acting too
hurriedly; and a queer idea came to him that while in this loft he had
been having a series of cataleptic fits--sudden blanknesses, total
arrests of volition if not of consciousness, during which he had stood
still, listening or staring, but not doing anything to the rope.

He came down from the loft, and in the doorway below a flood of bright
sunlight dazzled him. The sun had risen, Some of Mavis' pigeons were
cooing gently on the granary roof, a horse in the stables began to
whinny, and two of the men came whistling round the outer barn into
the yard.

"Good mornin', sir."

"Good morning."

"Another nice day we are goin' to 'aarve, sir."

"Yes, looks like it."

Seeing his rope and saw, the men asked if there was a job on hand in
which they were to help; but he told them "No." He was only going to
take down a small branch out of the walnut tree, and he could do it
without any assistance.

Then the men went into the stables, and Dale passed through the
kitchen garden to the back of the house. Beneath the walnut tree he
slung the coiled rope over one shoulder and under the other arm; and
then he slowly ascended the ladder, saying to himself: "I am on the
steps of my scaffold. The scaffold steps. I am going up the scaffold
steps." From the top of the ladder he got upon a branch, and, putting
his arms about the stem, began to climb. "Yes," he said to himself,
"my gallows tree. I am going up the gallows tree. This is my gallows
tree;" and he climbed nimbly and firmly.

The green leaves were all round him, a green tent with pretty
loopholes through which he could take peeps at the home that was on
the point of vanishing forever from his eyes. He paused on a level
with the broad eaves, and looked through between branches at a window
on the first floor landing. The casements stood wide open; the square
of glass glittered; the muslin curtains just stirred, trembled
whitely. Far down below his feet were the flagged pathway, the wooden
bench, and three shining milk-pans.

He climbed higher; and it seemed to him that from the moment he left
the ground till now he had been like a drowsy man shaking off his
sloth, like a drugged man recovering consciousness, like a man who was
supposed to be dead rapidly coming to life again. With every inch
added to the height from the ground, he felt stronger, more active,
fuller of nervous and muscular energy. His fingers gripped each branch
as firmly as if they had been iron clamps; his feet, encumbered by
the stout boots, seemed to catch hold and cling to the slightest
irregularities of the smooth bark as skilfully and tenaciously as if
they had been the prehensile paws of a cat; not a touch of vertigo
troubled him; he felt as fearless and splendidly alive as when he
climbed tall trees for buzzards' eggs thirty-three years ago.

Soon he had climbed so high that he knew it would not be safe to climb
higher. He must stop here. At this point the main stem was still thick
enough to take the shock that in a minute he would give it. Above this
point it might not stand the strain. Besides, this was high enough for
appearances. He was within reach of the branch that had some decayed
wood at the top of it. Sitting astride a branch close to the stem, he
adjusted and fixed his rope, binding it round and round the stem and
over and under the branch, reefing it, making it taut and trim so that
no strain could loosen it; and all the while he was conscious of the
power in his arms and hands, the volume of air in his lungs, the flow
of blood in his veins, the nervous force bracing and hardening his
muscles. The rope was fast now. Now he assured himself that its free
length--the part from the tree to the noose--was absolutely correct as
to its amount. Nothing remained to do, nothing but to stand upon the
branch, fix the noose round his neck, and step off into the air.

Lightly and easily he changed his position, stood upon the branch,
holding the stem with his left hand, the noose with his right; and the
life in him pulsed and throbbed with furious strength. It tingled
through and through him, filled him as if he had been a battery
overstored with electricity, shot out at his extremities in lightning
flashes.

In this final position his head had emerged into a leafless space, so
that he could see in all directions; could look down at the house, at
that open window, the kitchen door, and the flagged path; could look
at the barn roofs, the rick-yard, the beehives; could look at his
fields, where the grass lay drying; or could look away at woodland, at
heath, at distant hill. He paused purposely to give himself one last
look round at all he was leaving.

Yes, here was the world--the bitterly sweet world, smiling once more
as it wakes from sleep. Looking down at it he felt an agony of regret.
How intolerably cruel his doom. Why should he of all mortals have been
made to suffer so? But God's law--his own law. Mentally he was
obeying, but physically he was in fierce revolt. Every fiber of him,
every drop of blood, every minute nerve-cell was crying out against
the execution.

The sunlight flowed across the fields in golden waves, the colors of
the flowers sprang out, the soft cool air was like a supremely
magnificent wine that could give old nerveless men the strength of
young giants; and the very marrow of his bones seemed to shrink and
scream for mercy. "Ought to 'a' done it at night," he said to himself.
"Mr. Bates didn't wait till daylight. In the dark--that's it. At the
prisons they give you a bonnet--extinguishing cap; high walls all
round you too; and they do it at the double quick--hoicked out of your
cell and pinioned in one movement, bundled through the shed, and begun
to dance before you can think. Darkness, the sound of a bell, and the
chaplain's whisper, 'Merciful Lord, receive this sinner.' And I've
heard say they stupefy 'em first, make 'em so drunk they don't know
where they are while they shove 'em into nowhere.... Very easy
compared with this set-out;" and he groaned. "O God, you've fairly put
top weight on me--and no mistake."

But he would have done it if he had not heard his daughter's voice.

Rachel had come to the open window, and she uttered a frightened cry
at sight of him perched high in the tree.

"Oh, dads, do take care!"

Next moment her mother came to the window; and they stood side by
side, each with a hand to her eyes, watching him in the same attitude
of anxiety.

"Don't speak to him," whispered Mavis; and Dale heard the whisper as
clearly as if it had been close against his ear.

He could not do it before them. He had been too slow about it; he
could not darken their lives with the visible horror of it. And it
seemed to him that he had not sufficiently thought of its effect upon
them. The whole thing had been clumsily planned. Just at first, when
he was found hanging dead with the saw dangling from his neck, it
might have been believed that he had slipped and fallen, and hanged
himself by accident; but afterward all would have known that it was
suicide. The truth would have been betrayed by the running noose, by
recollections of Mr. Bates, and by everybody's knowledge of an ancient
local custom.

"All right," he said. "Don't alarm yourselves, my dears. I must give
this job up, Mavis. I can't quite reach where I wanted to."

"Mind how you come down," said Mavis. "Do come down carefully."

"Yes, dads," said Rachel, "do _please_ come down carefully."

He climbed down slowly, feeling no joy in his respite, saying to
himself: "I must think of some other way. I must finish with the
hay-making, get the rick complete, and clear up everything in the
office--so's at least poor Mav'll find things all ship-shape when she
has to take over and manage without me. My hurry to get it through was
selfishness; for, after all, I've best part of three weeks to do it
in. The on'y real necessity is to have it done before Norah comes
home."

And again he thought of the finger of God. This clumsy hurried
execution had been refused by God. He was being pushed away, so that
the last glimpse of his eyes should not see the pleasant picture of
home.

He must do it privately, secretly, in a lonely spot; and he must spare
no pains, must plot and scheme till he contrived all the convincing
details of a likely accident. That was how he had killed Everard
Barradine; and he must arrange matters similarly for himself.




XXXIV


Two or three days passed. The busy yet peaceful life of home and
fields was going on; the hay had been carried; the rick was made, and
the rick-sheet covered a handsome pile.

Dale worked hard, quite in his old untiring way, and seemed just his
natural self; but truly he was mentally detached from the surrounding
scene. For the second time in his life, and to a greater extent than
the first time, he was subjugated and controlled by one dominant idea.
Throughout each day all things around him were dreamlike and
unsubstantial, and he performed many actions as automatically as if he
had been a somnambulist. He walked and talked or rode on the shaft of
a wagon without in the least troubling to think what he was doing, and
every time his thought became active it seemed to spring into vigor
again merely to obey the prompting of the inner voice that now
governed him.

Thus while sitting on the wagon shaft he thought: "If I pitched myself
off and let the wheels go over me, that would be _likely_, just the
accident that fools are always making, but it wouldn't fulfil the
other conditions that have been laid on me. Also it might fail. I
might only mess myself up, and not quite kill myself."

Half an hour afterward, as he walked beside the empty wagon back to
his hay fields, he was still hammering away at the dominant idea.

A gun and a hedge--no accident can be more common than that. Say you
want to shoot some rats that have been showing their ugly whiskers in
the field ditches; take your gun, well charged, and blow your brains
out among the brambles of an untrimmed hedge.

Or these motor-cars! He thought of the way they came racing down the
highroad from Old Manninglea. How would it be to wait for one of these
buzzing, crashing, stinking road monsters over there on the edge of
the heath, and jump out just in front of it? If one stooped down and
took the full shock on one's forehead, it would mean a mess that there
would be no patching together again. But one could not attempt that in
daylight, because the driver would jam the breaks on, swerve round
one, do anything desperate rather than run into one. And if he could
not avoid one, he would tell everybody at the inquest that it was a
plain suicide and nothing else. There would be passengers in the car
too, who would also swear to its being a suicide. And at night these
traveling cars have such powerful head-lamps that the roadway is
lighted up for a hundred yards in front of them. Even at night, they
would recognize it as suicide.

Toward dusk every evening external things became more real, and his
hold on life tightening, he suffered more acutely in each hour that
passed. Night after night he went back to Hadleigh Wood. It was the
wood of despair, the focal point of all his pain, and he was drawn to
it irresistibly through the gathering darkness.

On the second evening he found it difficult to get away. Mavis
stopped him, asked him some domestic question, and then began to talk
about a new suit of clothes for their boy. He was alive again now,
emerged from his somnambulistic state, and he gave full attention to
this matter of Billy's new serge suit; nevertheless, all at once she
apologized for troubling him, and inquired if he had anything on his
mind.

"No, Mav, of course not."

"Are you sure, Will? Do tell me if you've something worrying you."

"What should I have to worry me?" and he put his arm round her ample
waist, and gave her an affectionate squeeze.

"The hay's all right, isn't it?"

"Yes, everything is all right.... You can't do better than you've
suggested about Billy. Take him with you to Manninglea--and, look
here, if Mr. Jones can't fit him properly out of stock, let him make
the suit to measure. Don't consider the extra expense. We can afford
it."

"Thank you, Will." Mavis was delighted. "You've told me to do the very
thing I wanted to do; but of course I'd never have done it without
your authority. I've been longing to see the little chap in clothes
regularly cut out and finished for him, and nobody else."

Going through the yard Dale was stopped by his men. The foreman wanted
directions for to-morrow's work; the carter asked for three new tires;
the stableman regretted to be compelled to report that one of the
horses had broken his manger rack.

As he finally came out on the road, Dale was thinking, "Soon now I
shall be gone, but everything here will be just the same. They will
all of them find that they can do very well without me: the men, the
children, Mavis--yes, even Norah. Mavis will be the one who will
grieve for me. Norah will suffer most, but it will be only for a
little while. She'll take another sweetheart--a real sweetheart this
time, and she'll marry, and give birth to babies; and it will be to
her as if I had died a hundred years ago, as if I had never lived at
all, as if I'd been somebody she'd read of in a story-book, or
somebody she'd dreamed about in one of those silly nasty sort of
dreams which young girls can't help having, but are ashamed to
remember and always try to forget."

Mavis, however, would wish to remember him, and be sorry when she
found his image fading. She would struggle to keep it bright and
fresh. She would grieve long and sincerely--and then she would be
quite happy. She wouldn't marry again; she wouldn't do anything
foolish. "No," he thought, "she'll just devote herself to the bairns,
working for them late and early, and managing the business as well as
I have managed it myself. She'll be cheated a bit here and there, as a
woman always is--but, all said and done, she'll do very well without
me. Customers will support her--the word will go round. 'Don't let's
turn our backs on the widow of that poor fellow Dale.'"

And he thought, with a bitterness of heart that almost made him sick,
that perhaps after his death many people might speak well of him; that
certainly in the little world of Vine-Pits Farm and the Cross Road
cottages there would be a natural inclination to exaggerate his few
good qualities and be gentle to his innumerable faults; so that a
sort of legend of virtue would weave itself about his memory, making
him a humble, insignificant, but local saint--to be placed at a
respectful distance and yet not too far from the shrine of that great
and illustrious saint the late Mr. Barradine. "Of course," people
might say, "one was a grand gentleman, and the other only a common
fellow who had raised himself a bit by hard work; but both of 'em were
good kind men, and both no doubt have met with the reward of their
goodness up there in Heaven."

As soon as he got into the wood he hurried as rapidly as he could
toward Kibworth Rocks; and then when he got near them he walked slowly
up and down the ride, with his head bowed and his hands clasped behind
his back. And each evening the same thing happened. Visions of Norah
assailed him; he passed again through the tortures of yearning desire
that he had felt when he first read her letter; and he said to
himself, "If proof was wanted, here's the proof. This would show me,
if I didn't know already, that I must do it."

In imagination he saw her sitting alone on a balk of timber by the
sea. Her hands lay loose in her lap; her neck was bent; her whole
attitude indicated dejection, loneliness, sadness. She was thinking
about him. She was thinking, "How cruel of him not to answer my sad
little letter. He can't be so busy but what he could have found time
to send me a few lines with his own hand. Just half a sheet of paper
would have been enough--with one or two ink crosses at the end, to
show me he prized the kisses that I put in my letter to him. It was
brutal, yes, and cowardly, to make Mrs. Dale write instead. If Mrs.
Dale hadn't written telling me he'd received my letter, I couldn't
have found it in my heart to believe that he'd treat me so abominably
cruel."

And, groaning, he spoke to this mental picture that he had evoked for
his renewed torment. "Norah, my sweet one, I can't help myself.
Commands have been laid upon me. I'm no longer free to do what I
please. Norah, don't look away from me. Turn to your boy--let him see
your dear eyes, though the sight of them makes him bleed." And the
thought-picture obeyed him. He saw the entrancing oval of the face
instead of its delicate profile, looked into the profound beauty of
her eyes, felt that her warm red lips were close in front of him, and
that he would go raving mad if they did not come closer still and let
him kiss them.

After such spasms of burning pain he was temporarily exhausted; he
felt completely emptied of emotional power, as if his nerves had
delivered so fierce a discharge that they must cease from working
until time and repose had allowed them to replenish themselves. Then,
so long as this state lasted, his love for the girl was deprived of
all material for passion; it was as though the highest thinking part
of him had been cut off from the sensational mass, and only the top of
his head served to keep alive his memory of the girl.

Then he thought of her with a fantastic longing that seemed to him
beautiful, immaterial, and innocent. He said to himself, "I don't
shirk my punishment. I'm going to take it. But fair's fair--There's no
occasion to make myself out worse than I really am. Norah has taken
hold of me a great deal more by my int'lect than by the low animal
kind of feelings that are the mark of the abject sinner. I can't live
without her; but if I might live with her, I feel I could be content
to let it all remain quite innocent between us. Yes, I feel I could be
happy with her just as a companion, provided she and I were alone
together, far away from everybody else--yes, I'd take my happiness on
those terms, that she was never to be anything else to me but just
that."

But soon those treacherous nerves restored themselves, the upper and
lower parts of him were all one again, and the diffuse yet darting
pain returned. Anger came too. It seemed that the dead man mocked him,
went on softly laughing at him.

"What a humbug you are"--he gave the dead man words--"what a colossal
humbug. You and your nice Sunday go-to-meeting thoughts. It's so easy,
isn't it? to dress up one's rottenness in pretty sentimental twaddle.
But you don't deceive anybody. You don't even deceive yourself, not
for three minutes at a stretch. You know that underneath all your
humbugging pretenses the black sin is unchanged. You are no better and
no worse than I was. You are exactly the same as me."

And Dale, breaking his own rule, or forgetting in his anger that he
had refused to discuss things with this imaginary voice, answered
wrathfully.

"This girl cares for me--that's the difference between us. She offers
me love. And that's something you never had."

"How do you know?" said the dead man. "Your Mavis was one of many.
And, besides, don't be so sure that Mavis wasn't fond of me. She never
ran away from me. She came when I whistled for her."

Dale brandished his arms wildly, turned round, and stared at the
pine-trees and the bracken. It seemed to him that some imperishable
essence of the man was really here, mingling with the shadows,
floating in the dusky air; and that possibly over there among the
rocks, if one went to look for it, one might see a simulacrum of the
man's bodily shape--perhaps only a gray shadowy outlined form, the
odious stranger of dreams, but more vague than in the dreams,
stretched on his back, holding up his blood-stained boots, and
grinning all over his battered face.

"Yes, perhaps so," said the voice. "But I notice that you don't come
in to look for me. You keep to the ride still. Now you've got so very
close to me, why do you turn shy of the last little bit? Is it that
you wish me to save you trouble by showing myself?"

And Dale made gestures of semi-insane fury, and spoke in a loud,
hoarse voice.

"Yes, show yourself if you want to. You 'aarve my leave. Come out an'
stan' here before me. I'm not afraid of you--now or hereafter."

"Hereafter--hereafter--hereafter." As Dale moved away slowly, the dead
man seemed to mock him, to laugh at him derisively. "Hereafter--yes,
that's a big word. Yes, go and talk that out with God."

He went up one of the narrow tracks that led toward the dead man's
Orphanage, intending to look at it and perhaps hear again the evening
hymn; but before he got to those broken fences he turned and began to
wander aimlessly through the trees. All his mind was now full of the
awful thought of God, and of the eternal punishment to which he
believed God had condemned him.

Christ had tried to save him; but the other two persons of the Holy
Blessed and Glorious Trinity had interposed, had prevented Christ from
holding any further communication with him, and together had issued
the fearful decree. That was it. Christ had not deserted him; he had
lost the right ever to approach Christ again. That accounted for
everything--the unutterable desolation, the dark despair, the
overwhelming necessity of death without one ray of hope.

All that lovely and comforting faith in the endless loving mercy of
God the Son, the Redeemer of mankind, the Friend and sometime Comrade
of man, was to prove useless to him; the gentle creed of the Baptists
could not be applied to so vile a case as his; he was at handygrips
with the dread Jehovah, the mighty Judge, the offended King of
creation.

Three Persons and one God--yes, but such different Persons; and
thinking of the triple mystery, he imagined that two of its component
parts had probably seen through him from the very beginning of his
religious fervor. Only the other part, the part that he wished was the
whole, had believed in him and gone on believing in him until it was
forbidden to do so any more.

The awe and reverence that he felt while he thought in this manner
made him bow his head and keep his eyes humbly downcast, as one not
daring to look upward to the heavenly throne; yet, profound and
sincere as was his reverential awe, he unhesitatingly translated all
the sublime mystery of the skies into the simple terms that alone
possess plain meaning to man's limited intelligence. Nothing in the
naturally courageous bent of his mind prevented him; everything in his
experiences of the Baptists, with their constant habit of homely
illustration, encouraged him to do so.

He imagined the First and the Third Persons of the Trinity seated
royally but vaguely amid the clouds, all about them a splendor of
light like that of sunset or dawn, melodious music faintly
perceptible, exquisitely beautiful forms of angels rising on white
wings, hovering obediently, fading obediently--but they themselves,
the Lords of Life and of Death, the Masters of Time and Space, were
two tangible concrete old men--two venerable wise old men--the
ultimate strained extended conception of two powerful, honored,
high-placed old men. And they talked as men would talk--not in the
human vocabulary, but conveying to each other, _somehow_, human
ideas--about the man William Dale.

It was at the period of his conversion or repentance or baptism, and
they were speaking to each other of Their Beloved Son and His newest
recruit. And God the Father seemed to say that He would hope for the
best--although, as they Both knew, Christ was too easily imposed on.
And God the Holy Ghost pursed His lips, and shook His head, and said,
"Take it from Me, this fellow Dale will turn out badly"--seeming to
add or explain that it was a mere pretense and no true repentance. "He
has _never_ repented of his crime. But of course he is anxious about
his future, and would try any trick to escape the punishment he has
richly deserved."

All this was terribly real to him, and he imagined the dread scene
more strongly every moment. Those Two went on debating his
case--becoming now so solidly presented to his imagination that he
could see Them, the purple color of Their robes, the halo of light as
in a painted window, Their forms, Their faces. God the Father was not
unlike old Mr. Bates, except that He had a long beard and that there
mingled with the candid dignity of His expression a consciousness of
sovereign power. The Holy Ghost was clean-shaven, very thin, with
sharp clearly-cut features as of somebody who does not enjoy robust
health, and with a slight but painful suggestion of a Roman Catholic
priest who habitually goes deep into private secrets and is never
really satisfied until he has extracted the fullest possible
confessions. He was the One that Dale had never so much cared
about--the _difficult_ member of the firm, the sleeping partner who
never really slept, who professed to keep himself in the background,
but who quietly asserted himself in important moments and proved
infinitely the hardest of the Three.

And so it had been in this case. Since time is nothing, and then and
now are all one, Dale imagined that while his Judges talked of him in
Heaven his whole earthly career had flashed onward to its end; so that
he and all that concerned him was disposed of at one continuous
sitting. Thus, without a pause, the Holy Ghost was already saying,
"You see I was right in my first view of the affair. Dale is
disgracing himself again. Now You and I must not allow any further
communication between Our dear Son and such an impostor."

Then Christ pleaded for him, prayed for mercy. Christ, although
invisible, was certainly there, imploring mercy for the man he had
trusted and loved; and, in spite of the fact that He remained unseen,
His mere presence glorified and magnified the heavenly scene. The
light grew softer and yet more supremely radiant; hosts of angels
soared and hovered in vast spaces between the rolling clouds; a
vibrating echo of the divine pity swept like music far and near.

But the Holy Ghost brought forward a large strongly-bound volume,
opened it, and said very quietly, "Let Me show You what We have
against him in the book." And at sight of the book Dale shivered and
grew cold to the core of his spine. He knew perfectly well what was
entered in the book, and he thought, "It stands to reason They could
never get over _that_. I might have known all along _that_ would do
for me, an' there was no getting round it."

"This is his record," the voice of the implacable Judge continued;
"not what I have attributed to him as secret thought, but words taken
down as spoken by his own mouth. Having committed his crime, he had
the calm audacity--_to lay the blame on US_.... Yes, here is the
entry. This is the statement verbatim: 'It is the finger of God'."

And Christ seemed to plead in an agony of grief still strove to
lighten the punishment of the pitiful worm that he had deigned to call
His brother man. "Oh, he didn't mean it."

"He _said_ it," replied the Holy Ghost, dryly.

"But he didn't think what he was saying--he has been sorry for it ever
since."

"Yet, frankly," said the Holy Ghost, "I can not see that he has made
a single effort to put things straight, by removing the blame to the
proper quarter--that is, to himself."

Nevertheless, Christ still pleaded, could not be silenced, must go on
struggling to save this one man--because He was the Savior of all men,
because He was Christ. He was there, certainly, infallibly, although
quite invisible--He was there, kneeling at the feet of the other Two,
praying, weeping:--He was there, filling Heaven with inconsolable woe
because, although His myriad suns shone bright as when He lighted them
and His universe swung steady and true in His measureless void, one
microscopic speck of dirt only just big enough to hold immortal life
was in danger of eternal death.

All these imaginations were absolutely real to Dale, an approximate
conception of the truth which he could not doubt; and he thought:
"Need I wonder if I have not had the slightest glimpse of His face? It
is my doom. Christ is cut off from me. So far as human time counts,
the communication was broken that afternoon when I was seeming to see
him as he rode into Jerusalem and my hankerings after Norah seemed to
snap the thread.

"I was judged at that moment. It was my doom--never more, here or
there, to look upon His face."




XXXV


It was the evening of another day; and Dale stood motionless in the
ride, close to Kibworth Rocks.

The twilight was fading rapidly; clouds that had crept up from the
east filled the sky, and presaged a dark and probably a stormy night.
Every now and then a gust of angry wind shook the tops of the fir
trees; then the air was still and heavy again, and then the wind came
back a little fiercer than before. Dale felt sure that there would be
rain presently, and he thought: "If his ghost is really lying in
there, it'll get as wet as that first night when the showers washed
away all the blood."

He stared and listened, but to-night he could not fancy that he heard
the dead man calling to him. He could not invent any appropriate
conversation. It seemed to him that the ugly phantom was refusing to
talk, that it had become sulky, or that it was pretending not to be
there at all in order to effect a most insidious purpose. Yes, that
must be the explanation. It wanted to entice and lure him off the
ride--to make him venture right in there among the rocks, so that he
might be shown the thing that had haunted him in dreams.

"Very well," said Dale, "so be it. That's the idea. All right. I
agree."

He did not, however, move for another minute or so. He was thinking
hard, and listening eagerly. But he could hear no sound, could
imagine no sound, other than that made by the wind.

Then he moved, and, examining the ground, made his way slowly from the
ride to the rocks, thinking the while, "It's impossible to follow my
exact footsteps, because things have changed--but this was about the
line I took with him."

Forcing himself through a tangle of holly and hawthorn, he came out
into the open space and his feet struck against stone. In front of him
the rocks rose darkly against the waning light, and he began to
clamber about among them, over smooth round surfaces, along narrow
gullies, and by cruel jagged ridges, seeking to find the exact spot
where he had left the dead body. "It was about here," he said, after a
time. "It was close by here. Prob'bly down there, where the foxgloves
and the blackberries have taken root. Anyhow, that's near enough. I've
come as near as I can;" and he sat down upon the ledge just above this
hollow, and looked about him, attentively, in all directions.

The wind had ceased to blow; not a leaf stirred; silence reigned over
the strewn boulders. Downward, where the ground fell away to a deep
chasm, everything was indistinct; to the west, beneath banked masses
of cloud, the last glow of the sunset showed in blood-red bands, and
on this side all the intervening trees were black as ink; all about
him the shadows filled every hollow, and the rocks were like shoals or
reefs above the surface of a stagnant sea.

The place was a wilderness, a solitude, the dead and barren landscape
of dreams--quite empty, unoccupied, a place that even ghosts would
shun. He sat thinking, and listening; and soon it occurred to him
that, though all seemed so dead and so silent, this place was really
full of life. He heard the faint buzz of belated bees questing in
tufts of heather or foxglove bells, a bat flitted over his head, some
small furred thing scuttled past his feet; and in the air there were
thousands of winged insects, whose tiny voices one could hear by
straining one's ears. Listening intently for such murmurs, he thought:
"Perhaps really and truly one has not any right to kill the smallest
of these gnats. All that stuff about self-protection, an' struggle for
existence, is just fiddle-de-dee in so far's God's concerned. He never
meant it, an' never will approve of it. It's just nature's hatefulness
and cruelty--not permitted or intended, an' to be put right some day."

It grew darker and darker, and the shadows rose all round him till he
was like a man who had climbed out of the gray sea upon the only rock
that was not yet submerged. When he got up presently and looked down
at the hollow where he believed the corpse had lain, he could no
longer see it. It was gone, lost in shadow.

Then he knelt upon his rock, and prayed--offered up the last agonized
prayer of a despairing human soul. "O God--have mercy on me just so
far's this. Don't let me die hopeless. I've submitted myself into Your
hands. I don't complain. I don't question. I'm going to do it. But
don't send me out in total darkness. Give me a blink of light--just
one blink o' light before I go."

Was it this that had been wanted, this that had been waited for--the
true acknowledgment, the true submission, the cry for mercy of the
repentant creature who has already tasted more than the bitterness of
death?

He rose from his knees, and without once looking back left the rocks
and came through the thicket to the ride. It grew darker, the clouds
dropped still lower, and the wind again blew fierce and strong. He
left the broad ride and sauntered along one of the narrow tracks. He
could hear the wind as it tore through slender branches high above his
head, but down here it did not touch him; and he strolled on slowly,
feeling extraordinarily calm, full of a great reverence and wonder,
not noticing external things because he wished to maintain this
strange inward peace.

Then soon the voluminous but indefinite sensations of mental
tranquillity concentrated their soothing messages to make the comfort
of one definite thought, and Dale said to himself: "Christ has
returned to me."

And then he saw Him--not for an instant believing that he really saw
Him, that he had passed from the order of common facts into the realm
of miracles, that the usual laws of heaven had been broken by a
special material manifestation, or anything of that sort; but that he
saw Him with the beautifully clear visualization for which he had
longed and prayed. And it seemed to him that the power of his thoughts
took a splendid leap, and that he could now understand everything that
hitherto had been unintelligible and inexplicable. Very God, and very
man. Yes, this was the man--a man after his own heart--the comrade
with whom one could work shoulder to shoulder and never know
fatigue--the unfailing friend whom one dared not flatter or slobber
over, but the grip of whose hand gave self-respect and the glance of
whose eyes swept the evil out of one's breast. And this was God
too--the only God that men can worship without fear; Whose power is so
great that it makes one's head split to think of, and Whose love is
greater than His power.

And the voice of Christ seemed to speak to him, not by the channel of
crudely imagined words, but in a transcendent joy that was sent
thrilling through and through him.

"Then I need not despair," he said to himself. "That was the voice of
Christ telling me to hope."

He strolled on with bowed head, and remembered the night when he sat
in Mr. Osborn's little room, staring at the carpenter's bench, and
struggling between belief and doubt. He had said: "I want to be saved.
I want the day when you can tell me I have gained everlasting
salvation." And Mr. Osborn had answered him: "The day will come; but
it will not be my voice that tells you."

It was dark, but he did not mind the darkness. He walked on, not
knowing where he was going, and time passed without his thinking Of
the lateness of the hour. He had forgotten his wife and his home; he
had forgotten Norah; he had forgotten all his pain.

Then the odd and unexpected character of an external object made an
impression sufficiently strong to rouse him from his reverie, and he
thought dreamily: "What is that? Why, yes, it is what I was asking
for--a blink of light."

Suddenly, straight in front of him, he saw the gleam again. What could
it be? Then something right ahead, in the darkness of the trees, a
bright flicker--as might be made by a man waving a lantern. There it
was again, but brighter than before, quite a long way off. And he
walked on faster.

Then, looking up, he saw a red glow in the sky, and he thought: "The
heath is on fire." He walked faster, saw a column of crimson smoke and
a great tongue of flame above the pine trees, and thought: "It is much
nearer than the heath. It must be right on the edge of the wood."

He ran now, and soon the track was brightly lighted and confused
sounds grew plain--shouting of voices, the galloping of a horse, the
clamorous ringing of a bell. The trees opened out and he was running
along the high ground above those broken fences, looking down at the
Orphanage gardens, at men clustered like black ants, at solid
buildings that seemed to send forth sheets, lakes, and seas of flame.

He rushed down the slope, burst through wooden barriers and leafy
screens, shouting as he came. In the glare on the upper terraces there
were many people--men, women, children; some of the men vainly
endeavoring to fix and work unused hose-pipes; others dragging away
furniture, curtains, carpets that lay in heaps near the central hall;
the greatest number of them struggling with ladders, advancing and
recoiling in front of the low block at the further end of the
building.

"Are they all out?" shouted Dale. "Have they all been got out?"

Terror-stricken voices answered as he passed. "There's seven they
can't get at.... Seven have been left.... They're the little ones."

And running in the fiery glare, he thought: "Yes, mercy has been
vouchsafed me. This is my chance."

All things were plain to him; there was nothing that he could not
understand. This fire must have broken out in the low block he had
passed, and at first it seemed insignificant; as a precautionary
measure the girls were fetched out of that block; the bell had been
rung, and a messenger was sent galloping to summon the engine and
brigade which would not arrive for an hour; and the stupid guardians
of the place had wasted precious minutes in what they considered
another precaution only, carrying furniture from the big hall. Nothing
was done at the further block, because that appeared to be in no
danger. They hadn't reckoned with the wind. The wind had sent the fire
licking up the woodwork, dancing over slates and tiles, springing at
the roof of the hall; and all at once the far block was involved. A
furnace blast of flame leaped at it, billowing waves of smoke rolled
through it; and it crackled and screamed and blazed. The bigger girls
had just time to escape; but the children, seven of the smallest, were
left on the upper floor.

"It's Mr. Dale. Oh, Mr. Dale, 'tis pitiful. You can hear 'em squealin'
up theer. Oh, Mr. Dale, sir, what can us do?"

The heat was tremendous, and as the men came staggering back they
pushed him away. Then they clustered round him, each face like a fiery
mask, and yelled to make themselves heard above the noise of the wind
and the flames, the clatter of failing stone, and the cries of
hysterical women.

He broke free from them, stood alone near the burning shell of the
veranda, and hoarsely shouted from there. "Come on, ma lads. Give me
the ladder. Don't shrink or skulk. Come on. If I can stan' it--so can
you. Fetch those floor-rugs."

He was almost breathless, but joy seemed to give force to his laboring
lungs. He was thinking: "Mercy has been shown. I have been reserved
for this. Instead of destroying that one child, I am to save these
other children."

He had no doubt; he knew that he would do it. Nothing could stop the
man who was doing his appointed work.

To all others the thing seemed impossible. He had taken off his jacket
and put it over his head, and the women became silent when they saw
him climb high on the ladder and spring blindfold through the flames.
The ladder fell with half its length on fire and then smoldered like a
shattered torch. Then they saw clouds of smoke pouring outward from a
window; and the flames on the balcony lessened and grew dim, as if
choked by the smoke. Then there came a shout, and the men with the
stretched rug moved stanchly to his call.

He was out again on the balcony, with a child in his arms.

"That's one," he shouted, as he dropped her to the men below. "I
b'lieve they're all alive."

So he came and went, rapid and sure, carrying his burdens. "That's
two.... That's three.... That's four. They're well-nigh
suffocated--but they're alive." He crawled on the floor to find them,
snatched the blankets and sheets off the beds, wrapped them from head
to foot. "That's five.... That's six. She has fainted--but she's
alive."

On the balcony the red-hot metal had burned his feet nearly to the
bone, his blistered hands were big and soft as boxing gloves, even the
air in his lungs was on fire. While he crawled and groped between the
beds for the last of the children, the floor began to bulge and sag,
and fragments of the plaster ceiling rained upon his head and back.

"That's seven. Fainted. Wants air.... Still alive."

They all shouted to him. "Don't go back, sir. There's no more. You've
got 'em all out now. Oh, sir, don't go back."

But he went, gasping for breath, and muttering, "May be another.
P'raps there's another. Better see."

He had got to the middle of the room when the floor gave way under
him; and almost at the same moment there was a crash and the whole
roof fell in. He went down amid the sudden wreck, down to a narrow
couch of wood and stone, where he lay and still could think. He was
pinned with an iron beam across his chest, in darkness, with the roar
of the flames just above his head; smashed, mangled, roasting; but
still full of a joy and hope that obliterated pain. He whispered
faintly: "O God the Father and God the Holy Ghost, accept this my
expiation."

And he whispered again.

"This fire has cleansed me. O Christ, take me to Thy bosom, white and
spotless as the driven snow."

That was his last thought. There came another crash, a rending pang,
and peace.



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