FINCH was awakened the next morning by the sound of a man’s voice shouting orders to a dog, by the dog’s barking, in his turn, orders to a flock of sheep, by the troubled baaing of the sheep themselves, and by a gust of wind blowing in at the window and flinging on his face the gathered sweetness of the garden and the fields.
His eyes flew open and he saw the bright chintz of the bed curtains, the wall paper with its prim birds pecking prim cherries, the white mantelpiece with the china figure of a little lady riding a pink horse, and two framed photographs so dim that he could not tell what they represented.
He was in Devon, he realized, in the very depths of its rich, luxuriant roundness that lay on the earth like a nest on a bough. He was in Devon. He was in England. He must make himself believe it, though it seemed impossible to believe. Here he was, Finch Whiteoak, in the middle of one of Aunt Augusta’s beds, in the middle of one of her bedrooms, in the middle of Lyming Hall, in the heart of Devon. He had traveled by train the six hundred miles from Jalna to the New York pier. He had crossed the ocean on a liner. He had stopped a fortnight in London. He had traveled the nearly two hundred miles into Devon. And he had not only done that, but he had brought his two old uncles with him, paid all their expenses out of his own money that Gran had left him, and had set them down safe and sound beside Aunt Augusta. He lay still, feeling flabbergasted at his own achievement. He wondered if other fellows felt so surprised at the happenings of their lives. There was Piers — he had got married, got a kid, gone through a good deal, yet he never seemed surprised. He might look in a rage at things, but not surprised. George Fennel never seemed surprised, nor Arthur Leigh. Still, he supposed, they kept it to themselves if they were. Just finding himself alive was often a rather frightening surprise to him. He wondered when he would outgrow it and rather hoped he would not, for there was something he liked in it.
Suddenly he jumped out of bed and went to the window. It was framed in a climbing rose, with little tight yellow roses clinging there as thick as bees on a honeycomb. Down in the garden, where sunlight and shadow had the sharp distinctness of early morning, he saw the gardener’s boy trimming a box border. He wore corduroys and leggings and his black head was glossy in the sun. The stone wall had a peculiar golden bloom on it except where there were patches of grayish lichen. Ivy lay thick along its top, and clumps of yellow stonecrop.
‘Devonshire cream,’ murmured Finch, lolling on the sill. ‘Devonshire cream — that just expresses it. Gosh, if only the others were here to see this!’
One of the others was, he remembered — just down the drive at the lodge. If he walked down that way now he might get a sight of him, before Minny was about, for Eden loved the early morning. He had not seen Eden for more than a year and a half. He would be quite a cosmopolitan, after all that time in Europe. Would he be changed, Finch wondered. Rather embarrassing to meet Minny under the conditions. Hot stuff, Minny — no doubt about that.
He slid into his clothes and went downstairs. No one was about but Ellen, industriously dusting. The door stood open and warm sunlight had already taken the chill from the hall. The gray trunks of the beeches on either side of the drive were dappled with sunshine, and here and there along the hedge a tall foxglove shook out. its bells. The ground fell away so abruptly that he looked down on the lodge. Someone was astir within, for a blue spiral of smoke rose from the chimney. He followed the curve of the drive to the gates and stood looking timidly at the house. He felt very shy of meeting Minny. At last, he got up courage to go up the flagged walk, between borders of petunias and pinks, and peer in at the window.
He saw a table inside set for a simple breakfast, the sunlight falling on a half loaf of bread and a glass pot of raspberry jam. He saw a small room with beamed ceiling and a large fireplace. A figure he recognized as Eden was bent over something in a frying pan. He was almost inside the fireplace.
Finch entered without knocking, his canvas shoes making no sound on the stone floor. He went and stood almost behind Eden. The room was filled with the smell of frying bacon. A pot in which tea was brewing stood on the warm hearth. Eden wore loose gray flannel trousers and a shirt open at the throat, with rolled-up sleeves. Finch could see the gleam of short golden hairs on his rounded forearms. His face looked full and healthy, but retained a certain delicate sensitiveness of expression that prevented its acquiring an aspect of well-being. His brows were drawn upward as he blinked against the smoke, and the inherent melancholy of his mouth was perhaps accentuated by the cigarette that drooped from its corner. His hair was, as always, well brushed, with the gleam of a metal casque.
Finch had time to take in these details, overemphasized by the glow of the fire, before he was discovered.
Eden with difficulty kept himself from overturning the bacon. ‘Well. I’ll be damned,’ he exclaimed, ‘if it is n’t Brother Finch! So you’ve come to breakfast with me!’ He stood smiling at Finch. The frying pan tilted in his left hand, he extended the right.
‘Oh, no,’ protested Finch, shaking hands limply. ‘I really mustn’t! Aunt Augusta will be expecting me. I should n’t have come in on you like this, so early — I think I’d better not stay.’ He felt flustered under Eden’s eyes.
‘Sit down,’ said Eden, pushing him on to a chair. ‘You’re just in the nick of time. I’m getting my own breakfast, as you see. We’ll start on what bacon I’ve cooked and I’ll put on some more to fry while we eat.’
He carefully divided the bacon and made his other preparations in a businesslike manner. Finch cut thick slices of the sweet crusty bread, and felt ferocious hunger rage within him. He saw that Eden had dumped all the bacon from the paper packet into the pan and he thought, ‘Lord, he has n’t forgotten what a pig I am! ’
So they sat facing each other across the breakfast table, another marvelous happening to Finch. He said: —
‘I say, Eden, is n’t it funny that you and I should be eating breakfast here together? To think that we’d both cross the ocean and you’d go to France and then come to England and then I’d come to England and we’d sit down at a breakfast table here in this lodge, just as we’ve had breakfast together many a time at home!’ He took a large mouthful of bread and his young face was so thin that it made his cheek jut out ridiculously. His eyes were bright with excitement.
‘ I don’t see anything funny in it, except you,’ said Eden. ‘Certainly you are Finch, wherever you go.’
‘Don’t you think I’ve changed?’ Shyly he hoped that Eden would say that he had improved in appearance. Eden had never seen him in such good clothes as he wore this morning.
Eden looked him over critically. ‘No, you’ve not changed, except for a better haircut, and a few glad rags. You’re the same callow youth. But,’ he added quickly, as he saw Finch’s face fall, ‘believe me, you’re the flower of the flock, Finch.’
‘I don’t see why you must pull my leg the moment we meet.’
‘I’m not pulling your leg. And I don’t know exactly why I say it. It’s not because of your music. Perhaps it’s because it seems to me that you have the faults and virtues of the rest of us sublimated in you. You’re more of the coward, more of the hero, more of the genius, more of the poet—’
‘Oh, I don’t suppose you’ll ever get it down on paper. And, unless I miss my guess, more of the lover — when your time comes.’
Finch drowned his embarrassment in a cup of blazing hot tea. Yet he liked to hear himself described, especially in such extraordinary terms as these.
‘You ’re the peculiar flower of our peculiar flock,’ continued Eden. ‘It looks to me as though our forbears had rampaged down the centuries for the sole purpose of producing you, as their final flourish. Their justification, perhaps.’
There was no doubt about it now — Eden was talking to hear himself talk. Finch glared at him. ‘What about you?’ he demanded.
Eden smiled faintly. ‘Well, perhaps me, too. Let’s hope so.’
‘We’re not half the men Renny and Piers are!’ burst out Finch.
‘No? Well, I don’t suppose we’ll produce so many young. Breed so many foals. Jump so many hurdles.’
‘I’d a thousand times sooner be like them! ’
‘Of course you would. And they’d a thousand times sooner be like themselves. The world might have reached a state of civilization ages ago if that were n’t always the case. People without imagination are always cocksure, and they’ve been given the power of intimidating and exhausting those who have. The man with imagination is frightened at what he sees in himself. The thought of trying to govern others is abhorrent to him.’
Eden emptied the remainder of the milk from the jug into his teacup and drank it. ’Ever since I had that beastly lung trouble,’ he said, ‘I drink whatever milk comes my way.’
Finch had finished the bacon. He remembered Minny. ‘Why, look here,’ he cried, ‘what’s Minny going to have?’
‘She eats scarcely any breakfast. She’s getting fat, poor soul!’
‘I hope she’s well,’ said Finch, timidly.
‘Absolutely fit. Sleeps like a log — sings like an angel — and talks like a fool,’ answered Eden, turning the loaf crumb-side down to keep it fresh for her. ‘ Let’s go for a walk, and not waste the best time of the morning indoors. I’ll show you my favorite nook. Only mind you keep out of it unless I’m with you.’
They went through the gate into the road, two tall bareheaded figures — Finch angular, rather slouching; Eden moving with the grace that made people turn to look at him.
They followed a path through a spinney where some young rabbits at play paused, staring and startled for a space, before scampering to cover. They crossed a stream by stepping-stones, and then the path joined a lane so narrow that the trees, almost meeting overhead, turned it into a green moist tunnel where the colors of flowers and fern were intensified into an unreal and dreamy brilliance.
They talked little as they went, Eden pointing out this and that in broken sentences. But when they reached a certain gap in the hedge he said, ’Here we are! This is my own particular spot. You see I must rather like you or I should n’t have brought you here.’
They passed into a grassy dell that lay at the foot of a series of fields of barley, oats, and wheat that rose, fold upon golden fold, to the rounded hills on which the bosoms of the clouds seemed to rest. They stretched themselves upon the grass and it was as though they lay at the foot of the rich tapestry of June, unrolled on the hillsides above them. Here were the last of the bluebells, their tender stems bending beneath the weight of their blossoms that seemed the very distillation of Nature’s thought of blueness.
Finch lay with eyes on a level with them, as still, as empty of remembrance as he could make himself, letting, in this instant, their beauty pour into him. As with a catch in the breath of his being, he was suspended, knowing nothing, feeling all, as he fancied.
’I cannot help thinking,’ Eden said, ‘of the ecstasy that bluebell must feel in its color — how it must push out each fibre into the soil to get more pigment for it — how it must hold up its leaves like hands to catch the sun rays, and, before it flowers, how it holds up its pale green bud like a mouth towards the rain. And all of this with just one idea — color!’
‘And yet, after all those thoughts,’ said Finch, ‘you have picked it!’
‘That is my way of reaching out to get color for myself.’
‘Eden, you’re a queer sort of fellow.’
‘Yet I should n’t be surprised if I have more pure thoughts in the twenty-four hours than some of the people who complain that I am immoral.’
‘Just what do you mean by pure thoughts?'
Eden rolled on to his back and let the sun shine on his face. ‘I mean thoughts of men and women as happy natural beings, making the most of every hour of their short stay here, as these flowers do or those birds overhead — satisfied that there shall be any number of varieties of their kind, not trying to force themselves to one dun color or one self-righteous squeak.’
Finch grunted acquiescence. ‘That’s just the way I feel,’ he said. ‘Only I think you ’re wrong when you say that Renny has no imagination. I think he has lots of imagination. Only he’s like a spirited horse, and I think his imaginings rather frighten him.’
‘Do you really? That’s interesting. . . . By the way, how do he and Alayne get on? ’
Finch wished that Eden had n’t asked that question. Discussing Alayne and Renny with him was too difficult. ‘They get on very well,’ he answered, hesitatingly; ‘that is, as far as I can tell.’
‘I can’t imagine their getting on. No Whiteoak that ever lived could satisfy Alayne’s ideal of what a husband should be. All those cold-blooded New England ancestors — with a few stolid Dutchmen thrown in — are too much alive in her to make it possible for her to understand us.’
Finch felt suddenly frightened for Alayne. ‘But Renny’s not a bit like you!’
‘Yes, he is! Only where I am weak, he is strong, and where I am strong, he’s as weak as water.’
‘I’ve never seen any signs of weakness in Renny! ’
‘Have you seen any signs of strength in me?’
Finch laughed, but did not answer.
Eden went on, ‘Well, when you begin to look for the one, you’ll perhaps stumble on the other.’
‘The only trouble I have noticed is that she does n’t see enough of him. I think she often feels hurt because he spends so much time with his horses.’ It was easier to discuss them with Eden than he had thought.
Eden laughed. ‘She may thank her stars that he does. Let them remain distant acquaintances and passionate lovers, and they may get on. Renny could n’t be a companion to a woman of Alayne’s sort. She’s too exquisitely precise. She’s a very sweet-pea-ish kind of woman.’
’I think that’s rather good,’ said Finch. ‘There’s something delicate and alert and fragrant about her. Rather like the sweet peas, though I know you don’t intend it as a compliment.’
‘A woman should n’t be like any particular flower. It grows monotonous. She should be like a whole garden of flowers — indefinite, restful, drugging the senses, not stimulating them to irritation.’
‘Is that what Minny is like?’ Finch reddened then at his own boldness.
‘Minny is like a vegetable garden. Nourishing, wholesome, a kind of roughage for the soul.’
‘She sings beautifully.’
‘Does n’t she! I sometimes think, when she is singing to me in the evening, that if only she would pass away as she sings, I could adore the memory of her forever!’
Finch considered this remark in silence. He lay in the increasing warmth of the sun, his eyes gazing into the tangle of grass blades as into a forest. At that moment it had to him the impenetrability of a forest, above which leaned the perfumed globes of the bluebells. His lips parted and he drew the sweet air into his mouth. ... A long sigh came from Eden. Was it of content or longing?
The face of his cousin, Sarah Court, rose in Finch’s mind, transfixed there as though in a trance. Dreamily he examined it, feature by feature — the high white forehead under the drawn-back hair; the eyes that repelled all warmth yet held the light of some inner fire; the high-bridged, narrownostriled nose; the mouth, small, secret, withdrawn between that nose and jutting chin; the full white throat, developed like that of a singer. He asked Eden if he had ever seen her.
Eden answered drowsily that he had.
Had he spoken to her?
No. The old aunt saw to that. He was an outcast.
Had he really seen her face?
What did he think of her?
Eden sat up, clasping his ankles. ‘Think of her? Why, I think that by the time she’s fifty her nose and chin will meet.’
Finch remembered how the lamplight had glimmered on the point of her chin, turning it to porcelain, as she stood beside the piano. He remembered how she had held the violin a prisoner with it, seemed to dig it into the very wood of the violin.
He said, huskily, ‘She’d be a funny sort of girl to kiss, would n’t she?’
‘God, you’d never be able to tear yourself aw’ay from her!’
‘There’s something very beautiful about her, too.’ He turned over and faced Eden, half shamefacedly.
‘Is there?’ A troubled look came into Eden’s eyes. ‘I wish I might meet her. I have had nothing but glimpses of her passing the lodge. She’s always going off alone. Minny can’t bear the sight of her, yet she’s always routing me out of my chair to see her go by. She cries, in a stage whisper, “For heaven’s sake, come! That old-fashioned creature is mincing past. What a dead-and-alive profile! What skirts!” And we peep between the curtains.’
‘If only you two were married, we might have some good times together. There’s a tennis court that could be made into quite a decent one.’
Eden gave a grimace that made his handsome face grotesque. ‘No! I tried it once — it does n’t suit me. Talk of prostituting one’s art — better that than smothering it in the marriage bed. ... I was only twenty-three when I married Alayne. Perhaps when I’m thirty-five I’ll try it again. No man should marry before that. . . . Don’t you do it, young Finch!’
‘This situation,’ said Finch, ‘is very worrying to Aunt Augusta. Here you are, one might say, on her doorstep — ’
‘Her very expression!’ shouted Eden. ‘You’ve been talking me over.’
‘Well, that’s natural, isn’t it?’ But he got very red. ‘ Anyhow, there are you and Minny at the lodge, and Aunt can’t invite you to the Hall — she can’t ever speak of you to her guests — ’
‘Because we’re living in sin!’ interrupted Eden. ‘Whereas if we went to a registry office, where some old gaffer, probably of the most disgusting habits, would say a few words over us and have us sign our names in a book, she’d perhaps invite us to play tennis! No — we’ll play tennis on our own kitchen table, with two spoons and a lump of sugar, and we’ll cry, “ Love all and marry none!” But I’m damned if we’ll get married for the sake of an introduction to old Mrs. Court!’
‘I see,’ said Finch. ‘But it would be nice, all the same, if you were married. . . . Well, since this not being married is so good for your writing, I suppose you’ve done a lot of poetry this year.’
Eden looked at him suspiciously. Was this youth making fun of him? But Finch looked serious, as few can look serious. His expression was indeed lugubrious.
Eden answered, rather sulkily, ‘Not a great deal. I got some good material from the libraries in Paris for my poem of New France. But I believe my natural bent is toward lyrics. I’ve had a good many published in magazines this year. Have you seen any of them?’
‘No, I scarcely ever see magazines. I’d like awfully well to hear some of them, though.’
‘Very well. The first evening you are free, come in and I’ll read some of them to you. . . . Sometimes I think I’ll attempt a novel, but I don’t believe I’d succeed. There’s something in a poet turning novelist like a beggar turning highwayman.’
He offered Finch a cigarette and they smoked in silence for a space. The sun beat down on them hotly now and from the hedge an unseen bird uttered a prolonged sweet, sweet, then broke into a gushing warble. Eden said, ‘As you know how hard up I am, there’s no need for me to tell you that I can’t pay you what I owe you yet. But when this long poem’s published —’
‘Look here, you’re not to bother about that! I’ve just been wondering if I could n’t help you a little more.'
Eden’s eyes, as they returned Finch’s gaze, had in them a look almost of sadness. The boy had such a kind of idiot-generosity in him, such inimitable silly kindness, that it almost hurt one!
‘That’s awfully good of you,’ he said. ‘Perhaps you may. And would you mind telling me if you’ve been doing things for the others, too?’
It was difficult for Finch not to look proud as he replied, ‘Well, I brought the uncles over here — did everything quite decently. And I’m putting up a new piggery for Piers. And I bought a new motor car for the family. But Renny won’t get into it. And I’ve taken over the mortgage for Maurice and Meggie — though, of course, that’s nothing, because they pay me a higher interest than I get anywhere else. Oh, yes, and I paid for a new iron fence for the plot in the graveyard. The old one was falling to pieces of rust.’
Eden considered these various financial activities in silence while he calculated roughly what they would amount to. He said, ‘I hope you’re not going to overdo this fairy-godfather business or you may find yourself sitting on someone’s doorstep along with Minny and me.'
Finch laughed. ‘No danger of that. I’ve changed Gran’s investments to much better ones. I had a frightful row with old Purvis. He was for refusing to let me take the money out of the government bonds. They brought about four and a half per cent. Fancy! But George Fennel—he’s in a broker’s office, you know — advised me to put a good deal into New York stocks. Purvis was awfully disagreeable until Renny wrote to him and said that I was to do just as I liked. Then he gave in.’
‘Hmph! I don’t believe Renny would care if you lost it. I should n’t be surprised if he would be glad — if only it would bring you to heel. He’d rather support the entire family till they drop like rotten plums from the tree than have such a rival as you are now. He’s extravagantly paternal, yet here are you taking the whole family under your wing. Snatching his role from him. No wonder he won’t ride in the car you bought. He’d acknowledge himself as one of your pensioners. Old Redhead is n’t greedy for anything but to be chief of the clan. What else have you invested in?’
‘Universal Autos, and some Western stocks. And I lent ten thousand to that Miss Trent — Alayne’s friend, you know — at nine per cent. She insisted on paying an exorbitant interest. It really makes me feel uncomfortable. She’s in the antique business. Over here to buy things. She has a stock in New York, so there’s no risk. She crossed with us and we saw something of her in London. She and Uncle Ernie were rather too thick to please Uncle Nick and me. We were quite worried about him.’
‘I think I’d like to go home,’he said. ‘This is too much for my little brain.’ He yawned and stretched his white bare arms. ‘But it perceives one thing with awful clarity. You are going to sneak back to Jalna dead-broke, world-weary, with nothing but the rags you stand in, and Renny is going to receive you with open arms. The returned Prodigal. It will be a return quite after his own heart.'
‘I suppose you’re remembering how good he was to you when you came back,’ said Finch.
That afternoon, when Augusta had carried off her brothers and Mrs. Court to pay a call at the vicarage, Finch went into the drawing-room and sat down at the piano. His fingers ached to play, for he had not done so since one day on the boat. Soon after lunch Sarah had disappeared into the park, carrying a book. The day was warm, and there was a feeling of tranquillity on the countryside now that the first passion of young growth was over. The trees, the fields, the flowers, the birds and beasts, had given themselves up to the sustained bliss of their fruition with no thought of its evanescence.
Finch had drawn aside one of the mulberry-colored curtains just far enough to allow the sunlight to slant across the dimness of the room. He sat with his hands on the keyboard waiting for the moment to come when he must play. The black keys, he thought, were like blackbirds perched in a row on a marble balustrade. Soon he would scatter them into flight. They would be scattered, singing sweetly and mournfully.
He played Moszkowski’s ‘Habanera.’ He played with a dreamy joy. As he finished he was aware that someone had come into the room, but, instead of the irritation that he usually felt at an intrusion, he was glad of this new presence. He did not look round, but sat motionless while the harmony still lingered in the room. He was not surprised when his cousin’s voice came almost in a whisper from behind him.
‘May I come in and listen?’ she asked.
‘Please do,’ he answered, still without looking round.
She came in and seated herself, her hands folded in her lap. She gave him a little smile, but after that fixed her eyes on the scene beyond the open window. He was able to study her face as he played.
He had never seen a face so still, so repressed, yet with a strange eagerness. He could not decide where this eagerness was shown. Not in the eyes, with their withdrawn look. Not in the small sweet mouth, with its almost sucked-in appearance. It seemed to come from some luminosity within or from her attitude, the posture of her arms suggesting folded wings, aquiver for flight.
Her expression did not change as he played piece after piece, but when he ceased she said, ‘Will you play with me one day?’
She spoke with the simplicity of a child, and again he was conscious of the caressing sweetness of her voice. He thought there was a look half frightened in her eyes as she spoke, and he had a sudden sensuous desire to say something brutal to her to startle her into betraying herself. Instead, he said, ‘I should like to accompany you now, if you will let me.’
She got up without a word and went to the window seat where her violin case lay. She bent over it, taking out the violin and dusting it with a piece of silk that lay in the case. Then she put it under her chin and began to tune it. She did this in a manner so aloof that Finch began to feel nervous, wondering if he could accompany her.
‘What shall we play?’ he asked, turning over her music.
‘Anything you like.’
He found something by Brahms that he knew, but at first the going was not easy. The rather frozen beauty of her playing seemed impossible to merge with the fluid grace of his. It was as though a frozen lake had said to a running stream, ‘ Come, merge with me.’
They almost gave up in despair. Then suddenly, in a waltz of Chopin, they achieved the flow, the union of spirit, for which they had been striving. Something seemed loosed in her. A delicate flush came in her cheeks. Finch delighted in the sense of power this gave him. They played on and on, speaking only in hushed tones between the pieces. It wrns miraculous to him that there should be such a change in her playing and he wondered if a corresponding change would take place in her attitude toward him.
But this was not so. As soon as the music was over, she was as remote, as monosyllabic as before. When they heard the others returning, though, she whispered, ‘Do not tell them we played together.’ As she said this, her face wore the expression of mischievousness sometimes seen in the faces of women painted by mediæval Italian artists.
‘And you will let me accompany you again?’ he whispered back.
She nodded, her lips folded close, her greenish eyes glittering. She was like a child, he thought, full of playful malice against elders who repressed her. He heard Mrs. Court holding forth on the tepidity of spirit displayed by the vicar on the subject of Prayer Book Reform. ‘Upon my word,’ she was declaring, ‘you might think, to hear him, that one Prayer Book is as good as another.’ He heard Augusta suggesting that they play bridge that evening. Might not he and Sarah be alone for a while? He was going to ask her, but found himself saying instead, ’I think Sarah is a beautiful name.’
She raised her brows and repeated the name after him. He thought her way of saying it was delightful. ‘Sairrah.’ The syllables were like sweet stressed notes.
He continued rapidly then: ‘I don’t believe you care for bridge. I hate it. Would you come out to the garden for a while?'
‘Why perhaps?' he insisted.
‘It’s always perhaps with me.'
‘Because of . . . ?’ He gave a little jerk of the head toward her aunt.
‘But, if she’s playing bridge — '
‘There’s letter writing. We have thirty-two regular correspondents. I write most of the letters.'
Finch was too astonished for words. He came of a family who seldom wrote letters except on business. It had frequently been a matter for dispute who was to write the monthly letter to Augusta. He had sent a picture postcard to each member of the family from London, but had had no word from home. Ernest had had a letter from Alayne and often said that he must get around to answering it.
‘If there’s nothing to do, I’ll come,’ she said. Then she moved away and went to Nicholas, listening attentively to what he had to say.
When Finch and Nicholas happened to be alone for a moment before dinner, Nicholas said, ‘That girl has her father’s face, but Dennis Court was a devil, and I’m afraid the aunt has brought her up to be a prude.’
They entered the garden through a door in the wall that was half hidden in ivy. The door was not easy to open, and when they were inside, Finch left it ajar. It was not dark, nor would it be that night. Across the clear primrose yellow of the mist were two bars of purple cloud fringed with crimson. The pale new moon stood aloof, like a young singer standing in the wings timidly awaiting her summons to the stage.
Sarah Court wore a flame-colored shawl the deep fringe of which almost touched the ground behind. The shawl made her look proud and Spanish, Finch thought, and he remembered having heard his grandmother say that in the days of Queen Elizabeth one of the Courts had married a Spanish woman. He suddenly had a picture of Renny in his mind, Renny with a pointed beard and a high ruff that suited him only too well. He smiled to himself and saw that she was peering around at him with curiosity. He had wondered what he could talk to her about. Then he said: —
‘I was thinking of my eldest brother. I wish you could know him. He’s such a splendid fellow. It is strange that just now there was something in you that reminded me of him.’
‘Something splendid?’ she asked.
‘Yes. Something very proud and rather splendid.’
‘But I’m not proud!’
‘But you have a look of pride.’
‘I have nothing to be proud about.’ After a moment she added, ‘And every reason to be humble.’
There was a seat like a tall, narrow church pew between two clipped yew trees, and they seated themselves on it. Finch began to tell her about his family. She listened, with absorbed interest, and as he described each one in turn his heart warmed to them, their imperfections dwindled, and he could hardly find words to describe Renny’s spirit, his horsemanship; Piers’s courage, his knowledge of farming; Wake’s gentleness and precocity; Meg’s— oh, well, Meggie was perfect! He almost made himself homesick talking about them. Eden alone he did not mention.
‘You have so many,’ she said, ‘and I have no one. I mean of my very own.'
‘Will you tell me something of your life?’ he asked gently. ‘I’d like to be able to picture you in Ireland.'
She made a disdainful movement of her shoulders under the bright shawl. ‘My life is nothing but practising, paying calls, and writing letters.’
He was hurt by her inclusion of practising with calls and letter writing. He said, ‘But you love music, don’t you?'
‘Never till to-day.’
He felt what this implied through all his nerves. Yet, to have learned to play so beautifully, and not have learned to love it, to find sanctuary in it — the thought almost repelled him. He felt something insensate in her. What had to-day’s awakening signified, then? That she had suddenly become conscious of the sensuous release in music?
‘Did n’t you care for it before you went to live with your aunt?’
‘I never thought about it.’
She talked so little he was driven to catechize her.
‘Were you left an orphan young?’
‘My mother died when I was seven.’
‘How strange.’ Her tone was musing, rather than impressed by the coincidence.
‘And your father?’ Well, she was his cousin — he had the right to question her!
‘When I was thirteen.’ She turned toward him (the moon was now giving just enough light to etherealize her features) and began to speak rapidly. ‘He was drowned. He and I had lived alone after my mother died. Our house is on the seacoast. He was very fond of horses, — like your brother Renny, — but he drank a good deal. And he brought strange people to the house. I don’t mind telling you that I liked them. Much better than Aunt Elizabeth’s friends. Father was always boasting about his horses. Especially a mare called Miriam, which had saved his life in a flooded stream once. When he had been drinking, he’d boast of the great distance she could swim. One night he and his friends began making bets about it. To prove what she could do, he led her to the shore and his friends went with him. He mounted her and rode her out into the sea. It was like glass and there was moonlight. She swam on and on, with him on her back, and he shouted and sang. At last his friends were frightened and screamed to him to come back, but he only sang the louder. They heard the mare whinny. Before morning a storm came up, and the next day his body and the mare’s were driven ashore by the waves.’
‘How appalling! And were you alone in that house?’
‘Yes, but I watched the people on the shore from a window. The peasants said it was a terrible sight to see the great waves dash the mare against the cliff. My father’s feet were caught in the stirrups. They said the mare would rear and her hoofs would clatter against the rocks, as though she were alive.’
Finch remembered having heard the family talk of this tragedy when he was a child, but he had thought of it as having happened many years before. The story had seemed too fantastic. The Dennis Court of whom he remembered his grandmother exclaiming, ‘Ah, there was a real Court!’ had seemed almost a myth. . . . And now here was he, Finch, sitting on a garden seat beside Dennis’s daughter, while she repeated the story of his death in unemotional tones.
Keeping his own voice as level as hers, he said, ‘And after that you went to live with Mrs. Court, I suppose. It was a great change.’
She answered, with a touch of bitterness, ‘Yes. A change for the better, everyone thought. No one seemed to remember how I had adored my father. It’s true enough that I can never repay her for all she’s done for me. All the lessons, the traveling. But she made me practise six hours a day, and when we traveled I never had a moment to call my own. Now we don’t travel. She can’t afford it. And if I’m quiet or go off by myself she calls me Mouse and Mole!'
He had not hoped for any intimate companionship such as this — had not dreamed that she would reveal anything of her inner self to him. Now he found that he could not keep pace with her careless and cold revelations. He would have liked to escape from her at that moment to brood on her mystery without the necessity of making talk. Yet she seemed not to expect comment from him, and when he uttered a lame sentence or two she made no reply, but withdrew into her former immobility.
Looking at her hands, like the hands of a silver statue, and remembering how they drew the music from her violin, he longed to touch them. Timidly he laid one of his own upon them. They were very cold.
‘I’m afraid you are cold,’ he said, nervously. ‘I think we had better walk about. Would you like that?’
She rose at once without answering him. They went through the garden gate, along a stone-paved passage, and crossed the tennis court.
‘Do you play tennis?’ he asked, and he wondered if her reason for rising so abruptly had been her desire to put aside the touch of his hand.
‘A little. I wish I played better.’
‘I will see if I can get Aunt Augusta to have the court put in order.’
She gave one of her small malicious smiles. ‘Perhaps we could get the two at the lodge to join us. I’d like that.’
He looked round at her, startled. ‘Would you really? I did n’t think you knew of their existence.’
‘I only wish I could meet them! I’ve passed the lodge time and again wanting to speak to them. But all I saw was the curtain moving, as though they were peering out at me, thinking how horrid I was.’
‘Well,’ he said, frowning in anxiety at what he was going to suggest, ‘we might go and call on them now, if you’re not afraid of offending your aunt.’
‘I don’t mind offending her in the least,’ she replied coolly, and turned in the direction of the drive.
She walked quickly, as though she were doing something eagerly anticipated. They passed in and out of shadow and moonlight, her bright shawl flaming and darkening like the plumage of an exotic bird.
Halfway down the drive he offered her a cigarette, which she at first declined, then suddenly accepted, saying, ‘Yes, give me one! I’ll do everything to-night that Aunt would hate.’
He had only to see her put it in her lips and light it from the match he held to know that she was well accustomed to smoking.
He looked at her almost sternly, for he felt something devious about her. ‘When do you do it?’ he asked.
‘When I am being Mole’ — and she held up a thin forefinger with a swarthy stain on it.
They found Eden sitting in the porch of the lodge on a tilted chair, like a workman after his day is done. He regarded their approach with an incredulous smile, then got to his feet.
‘I’ve brought our cousin, Miss Court, to see you,’ said Finch, feeling suddenly daredevil and at his ease. Was it the support of Eden’s presence that produced this feeling?
They shook hands gravely and Eden led the way indoors. Finch had heard Minny scampering upstairs to tidy herself. Yet, when she came down, he wondered what the process of tidying had been, she looked so far from neat. He came to the conclusion that she had gone to powder her face, which had the pink bloom of a peach in the candlelight. Her milk-white neck looked thicker than when he had seen her last, her crossed legs, under her too-short skirts, stouter. But her slanting eyes held the same challenge and gayety and her lips looked ready as ever to part in laughter or song. She had on an orange-colored jumper, a blue skirt, and pink stockings. Finch wondered how Eden could tolerate this combination of colors. But then, Eden seldom seemed to notice things.
Minny made Sarah sit in the one comfortable chair close to the fire, because she looked so pale. Minny’s own cheeks glowed like roses beneath the thick layer of powder. Her generous mouth smiled welcome, and this astonished Finch after what Eden had told him of her feelings toward Sarah. Sarah spread out the long fringe of her shawl and inhaled the smoke of her cigarette as though she were inhaling the very sweetness of life. She preened herself like a bird, and Minny was apparently delighted to entertain her. Eden, too, was delighted. He was beginning to feel the need of some society other than Minny’s. He heaped dry fagots on the fire, which crackled into swift, ruddy flames, and sat down on the narrow ingle seat facing Sarah. He thought Finch’s description of her very superficial. He read her with a far more subtle understanding.
Minny talked a great deal, directing almost all her conversation to Sarah, who sat motionless, seeming to drink in all that Minny said. She told of amusing things that happened to them abroad, now and then appealing to Eden’s memory to supply some foreign name which she invariably mispronounced. Before long she began to speak of Eden’s poetry, of which she was very proud. It was the only poetry, she said, that she had ever been able to read, even though so much of it was hard to understand. Finch reminded Eden that he had promised to read him some of the poems he had written since leaving home.
Eden took a candle and went up the stairs that ascended from a corner of the room. Minny said, ‘He keeps everything he has in such perfect order.’ Soon he returned, carrying a folio of papers. Hot wax had dripped on his hand, and he went to Minny, like a child, to show it.
He sat again in the inglenook and read by the light of the flames. His voice, always musical, took on new, full tones when he read his poems.
‘These are some bits from the long poem, “New France.” I can’t read all of it. It’s not in order,’ he said.
He read fragments which he called ‘Indian Braves as Galley Slaves,’ ‘The Loves of Bigot,’ ‘A Countess of Quebec,’ and ‘Song of the Ursuline Nuns.’
The two young women made little murmuring noises of approval after each poem. Finch liked them immensely and said so. He was almost overcome when Eden said suddenly to Sarah, ‘Do you know, this boy has been paying my way for a year and a half. If it had not been for him, I don’t know what I should have done.’
‘That was good of him,’ she said, simply. ‘But how he must have liked doing it!’
‘Did you like doing it?’ Eden asked of him.
Finch assented, uttering the sudden guffaw of his hobbledehoy days which still came from him in moments of embarrassment.
‘These,’ said Eden, taking up some sheets of paper clipped together, ‘are some things I wrote in Italy.’
‘In Italy!’ gasped Finch. ‘Why, I did n’t know you were in Italy!’
‘Yes, I had to go. It was beastly cold in France and I’d got a cough.’
‘We went on a cheap excursion,’ put in Minny easily.
‘How splendid!’ sighed Finch. ‘How I wish I might go!'
‘Don’t, be a silly young blighter,’ said Eden. ‘You can go where you like.’
‘Perhaps I’ll go with Arthur Leigh. He’s over here.’
Sarah looked expectantly into Eden’s face, waiting for the poems. He read three. The last one was ‘To a Young Nightingale Practising His Song in Sicily.’ His listeners agreed that this was best of all.
‘It’s beautiful! It’s beautiful!’ said Sarah, clasping her fingers tightly together. The shawl fell from her, as she leaned toward Eden, and her bare shoulders and arms were exposed to the firelight.
Eden was made happy by this approval. Soon he and Minny went to the larder together. Their whispers and the clink of china could be heard by the other two.
‘Do you like them?’ whispered Finch. ‘Are you glad you came?’ He was worried lest her aunt might have missed her.
She nodded composedly.
Eden and Minny returned, he carrying a bottle in each hand and she a large dish on which were arranged several sorts of cake, the icing of which, chocolate and pink and white, had crumbled and was intermingling.
Eden was hilarious at having company. Nothing was too ridiculous for him to say or do. Finch and Minny filled the room with their laughter. Sarah Court sat upright, sipping wine, nibbling cake, seeming to absorb with passionate intensity the gayety of the moment.
As they hurried home along the drive, they faced a strong warm wind from the moor. She had to grasp her shawl tightly to hold it about her. Their elders were still playing cards and they entered undiscovered. She glided up the stairs, while he lounged into the drawing-room and leaned against Augusta’s chair, asking her what luck she had been having.
The days strung themselves out like pearls warmed on the sunburnt throat of Summer till Finch and his uncles had been a month in Devon. The time had passed quickly for the two old brothers, with no incident more unpleasant than a wrangle at the bridge table to shadow their enjoyment. There was so much to do in the way of garden parties, paying calls on old acquaintances, drinking tea in the rose garden, and having the Times to read when it was a few hours instead of two weeks old, that the day was all too short. The change had done them a world of good. Nicholas had not in years been so free from gout. Ernest was almost frightened by the power of his digestion. There seemed something sinister about a stomach that, from rebelling at a piece of seed cake at tea, turned to the consumption of strawberries and Devonshire cream without a qualm.
He and Nicholas were both fond of music and they delighted in the violin and piano playing of Sarah and Mrs. Court. Nicholas thought the girl’s playing was without soul, and it was he who insisted that Finch should accompany her one evening. But the performance was a depressing failure. Finch seemed unaccountably nervous, and Sarah more soulless than ever. Mrs. Court had sat delightedly tapping her heels on the floor while they had spiritlessly executed a polonaise by Chopin.
At the end, she had exclaimed, ‘Sarah can’t play with anyone but me! And Finch is far too nervous to play accompaniments. You’ve got to have nerves of iron to play accompaniments. I’ve never heard you do so badly as you did to-night, Mouse.’
The little woman had trotted eagerly to the piano, scarcely waiting till Finch had risen from the seat before she settled herself on it and instructed Sarah to repeat the polonaise with her. Sarah had repeated it to the brilliant exactitude of her aunt’s accompaniment, and after that no one again suggested that the boy and girl play together.
But they did play together. Every afternoon that their elders went out to tea — and they went about four out of the seven — Sarah and Finch glided like two conspirators into the drawdng-room. They went as though to indulge in the taste of some forbidden wine. He trembled as he sat with bent back above the keyboard while she tuned her violin. As they lost themselves in the indolent beauty of a Tchaikovsky waltz the world about them dissolved. Their life came into flower. But no word or sign of love passed between them beyond the expression of their love for music. On the days when they were not alone together, she seemed to go out of his life, leaving him scarcely a thought of her beyond the fascination her face and her attitudes always had for him. Even sometimes when they had played together he left her presence with a feeling of relief, drawing a deep breath as though he had come from an atmosphere too close for him. But at times he was so susceptible to her nearness, to something captivating and strange in her, that he would find it hard to restrain himself from some open expression of his emotion. Once a mist came before his eyes when he was accompanying her and he could not see the notes. He stopped playing, and, after a wild cascade of grace notes, she stopped, too.
‘I lost my place,’ he muttered.
She bent over him, her violin still tucked under her chin, and looked into his eyes with a gently curious expression. Yet he thought he detected the same hint of malice in her that he had encountered before. He stared steadily back without speaking, but his heart was beating wildly and he was on the point of taking the violin from her hands and possessing himself of them when she straightened herself and, pointing to the place with her bow, said coldly, ‘Please don’t waste our time! It goes so quickly.’
He wondered whether she was really repelling him or regarded these meetings only as an outlet for the sensuous enjoyment of music.
Once Nicholas did not go with the others, as they imagined he did. Coming down from his room, he turned, with a feeling of anticipation, toward the drawing-room at the sound of music. He opened the door softly, not washing to interrupt them, but after listening for a few moments, and studying the expressions of the two, he withdrew as quietly as he had entered, standing outside the closed door until the piece was finished, with bent head and a look of sardonic gentleness on his lined face.
Though he had been conscious of the uneasy joy within the room, he never made any reference to their playing together. He never intruded on them again and he often suggested afternoon excursions that would set them free.
Mrs. Court would have liked to insist on Sarah’s accompanying them, but to have taken her would have meant discomfort in the car. She gave the girl endless letters to write and stuffy, old-fashioned dresses to alter to keep her busy in the evenings. All this Sarah did, sitting up late in her room, having previously put out her light and pretended to go to bed.
Augusta, at this time, began to be a little tired of her guests. The constant strain of ordering meals, to say nothing of the expense of providing them, was beginning to tell on her nerves. She had thought that Mrs. Court would see eye to eye with her in her hope for the union of Sarah and Finch. She had broached the subject before his arrival and it had been received with Mrs. Court’s customary jaunty good humor. But now Augusta was driven to believe that Mrs. Court did not approve of the match at all, that she selfishly wished to keep the girl unmarried in order that she might have not only a companion whose salary consisted of her clothes and keep, but one of striking appearance and artistic attainments. The young pair themselves were not very satisfactory. They seemed to have nothing to say to each other, and the music which she had hoped would draw them together was apparently a barrier between them. Finch’s attempt at accompanying Sarah had been a failure, and when Sarah and Mrs. Court made music Finch sat drooping in a comer, the picture of gloom.
Sometimes Sarah and Finch went to the lodge, where they were very welcome to Eden and Minny, who were often bored by each other’s society. They would gather about the fire and Eden would throw pine boughs on it that would burst into a vivid crackling blaze, illuminating their faces and the black oak beams of the ceiling, then die down, leaving the pine needles like fiery wires. The twigs would writhe in wormlike agony, pale, turn gray, and crumble. Then Eden would throw on fresh boughs.
Before the fire he read his new poems to them, directing his voice toward Sarah; but Minny showed no sign of jealousy. She seemed perfectly sure of Eden. He said once to Finch, as they lay talking on a hillside, ‘Minny is kind. That’s the beautiful thing about her. Alayne is unselfish, but she is n’t really kind, and love without kindness is like a garden without grass. . . .’
One evening a knock came at the door and they looked at each other like frightened children, fancying it might be Mrs. Court in search of Sarah, for Finch had told Eden of her tyranny. But it was Nicholas and Ernest come to call. Nicholas and Augusta had had words over the card table, and the game had been broken up. The two ladies had gone to Augusta’s room and the two gentlemen, feeling rather reckless, had marched down to the lodge. They showed no surprise at seeing Finch and Sarah there.
Minny was delighted by so much company. Nicholas and Ernest found the society of the young people so exhilarating that they felt aggrieved at the time they had lost on the evenings at bridge. They asked Minny if she still could sing. She denied that she could, laughing a good deal. But, persuaded at last, she threw back her head and sang one piece after another to them. She had an endless repertory of old favorites. Her face was tilted, as she sang, so that it was partly in shadow, but the full light of the fire fell on her white, throbbing throat, the skin of which was like the inner petals of a rose.
On the way back to the house Sarah whispered to Finch that now her aunt would find out everything and their evenings would be spoiled. Luckily for them a change in the weather came that night, and for several days they had driving rains and a gale from the moor. In the evenings the uncles asked for nothing better than a game of cards by the fire.
One morning Ernest announced his intention of going into Dorset to visit some old friends. That same day Finch had a letter from Arthur Leigh, and, remembering how much Augusta had admired Arthur, he conceived the idea of having him down for a visit during his uncle’s absence. He might have Ernest’s room, which was really the best guestroom. Augusta, wondering if she would ever have the felicity of feeling somewhat lonely again, agreed. Inside a few days Ernest had gone, his room had been ‘turned out,’ and Arthur had taken his place.
The friends were joyful to be with each other again, and with an opportunity for intimacy they had hitherto not known. Finch had forgotten how subtly attuned to his surroundings and how full of charm Arthur was, and Arthur felt anew the curiosity and sympathy Finch roused in him. He thought the household rather a strange one, including its offshoot in the lodge. Most of all he was interested in Sarah Court.
At his coming she had withdrawn into her former aloofness, and it was difficult to make Arthur believe that she had gone on secret visits to the lodge, continually deceiving the aunt to whom she now seemed so devoted. But one afternoon, when the three young people were left alone, Finch persuaded her to play her violin for Arthur. And from that time there seemed to be engendered in Arthur, almost against his will, an overruling passion for her. From being high-spirited and gay, he became meditative and morose. She appeared to be unconscious of the emotion she had roused in him.
This change in his friend, taking place so soon after his advent into the house, was bewildering to Finch.
Was it really love that Arthur felt for Sarah, or had she merely exercised on him the peculiar fascination that seemed to be the very core of her personality? Finch himself had felt it. He had seen its effect on Eden. But in their case the spell was volatile, intermittent. Once Sarah had entered a room, neither the room nor its occupants remained the same. By the power of her chiseled remoteness, she subdued their atmosphere. By the suggestion of hidden malice, she produced a sense of foreboding. The more Finch observed aunt and niece, the more sure he was that Mrs. Court felt both the fascination and the foreboding. He began to think that her peering attitude toward Sarah was assumed in an effort to reassure herself, as young Mooey reiterated, ‘I’m not f’ightened!’
He was angry with Arthur for allowing himself to be so speedily enslaved. He was angry with Sarah for being the enslaver. He felt in himself a stirring of jealousy that clouded the clear waters of his friendship for Arthur. Sarah and he, who had been drifting in a shadowy and devious intimacy that might have led to strange and lovely revelations, were separated by Arthur’s intrusion, for as such Finch began to regard his visit.
In the mornings, when Sarah was in attendance on Mrs. Court, Arthur Leigh sought out Eden, and they spent hours wandering in the flowery lanes, over the hillsides rich with ripening corn, and into the gorse-grown borders of the moor. Arthur could not say enough in praise of Eden. He confessed that with no one else had he ever experienced such a sensation of magnetic accord. As for Eden’s poetry, if Eden belonged to any other country he would have met with an appreciation not yet given him. He was worried over Eden’s future and was too appreciative to please Finch when Finch said that he would never let Eden suffer for lack of funds. As for Finch, Eden was his own brother and he did not see why Arthur should take such a possessive note toward him. He began to pity himself. Eden did not want him, Arthur did not want him, Sarah no longer sat with him in the garden. He took to sitting there alone and had long conversations with the gardener’s boy, who confided to him that one day he hoped to marry the kitchenmaid with whom he walked out. ‘But,’ he confided, ‘her’s the oldest of a long family and must help her mother for a bit, and I’m the youngest of a long family and must help my mother till one of my brothers can afford to have her live with he.’
Nicholas planned an excursion, in which he invited the three young people to join him. It was supposed to be merely the revisiting of a hamlet in the moor that had once pleased him; it was a rough drive that neither Augusta nor Mrs. Court cared to undertake. In reality he did not want them to know what he was about. This was to revisit the old home of the wife from whom he was divorced. He had heard of the death of her brother who had lived there, and that the contents of the house were to be privately sold. He had spent some of the happiest days of his life in this house, when he was courting Millicent, and he had a sentimental desire to walk through its rooms once more. He confided his intention to his companions, with a half-cynical air, and yet with enough seriousness to make them feel both compassion and a romantic interest in the visit.
It was a day of alternate brilliant sunshine and flying cloud shadows. Their road lay, for the greater part of the way, along the ridges of rolling hills from which they could see a wide stretch of country where the green and gold pattern of the fields was blotted here and there by rounded clumps of woodland. High Willhays and Yes Tor rose, alternately purple against the clouds or dim blue beneath the sunshine. The house where the Humes had lived was in a remote spot on the edge of the moor. Bracken and gorse grew to the very edge of its lawn, and behind it a small but noisy cascade rushed down a miniature gorge.
The house and all its outbuildings were of gray stone, very old, but quite bare of ivy and unsoftened by protecting trees, so that the impression was one of bleakness. The many windows were small and the front door was sunk inhospitably between stone projections.
As they left the car and went toward the house, the sun passed under a cloud. A wind from the moor began to whistle above the tumble of the cascade. Arthur and Finch shewed their disappointment in their faces; they did not see how there could have been much jollity in that house. Even Nicholas, whose face had been alight with eagerness, looked rebuffed. He knocked on the heavy brass knocker. The door was opened by a tall, stout man with a ruddy face, who had the place in charge. He was expecting them. He led them into the dismantled drawing-room. Surviving relatives had taken what they wanted from the house and on tables were displayed in forlorn groups the ornaments and silver for sale. Light patches stood out on the wallpaper where pictures had been taken down. Furniture that had been long ago consigned to the attic had been carried downstairs by the agent in charge as being valuable, and the pieces thus reunited stood about the rooms, with the sad, hopelessly estranged air of old friends who have not met for half a lifetime.
The last of the Humes had been dead for only a month, yet there was an accumulation of dust in the house that might have been collecting during the seven generations of their occupancy. As the party moved from room to room it seemed that some gloomy revelation of the past might be presented to them at any moment. Nicholas became more and more depressed. In a small room that had apparently been used as a study he found a framed photograph of a cricket team at Oxford, wearing striped blazers, flat straw hats, and little side whiskers. He drew Finch to it and pointed out himself and his brother-in-law, the Hume who had lately died. Finch thought he would like to have this for himself and bought it from the agent for three shillings. With it under his arm he followed Nicholas through the dining room into the kitchen. They left Leigh and Sarah examining an old brass-bound writing case which he was desirous of presenting to her.
The kitchen was the largest room in the house. The low ceiling was heavily beamed, the floor was of uneven stone, and the deep windows gave on a cobbled yard beyond which were the gabled stone stable, the shippen and linhays. A long table, with benches on either side, filled one end of the room. At the other end was the fireplace, and, at right angles to it, a high-backed settle. On the hearth lay a pair of heavy boots stained with mud, and on the settle a worn leather coat and a hat. These garments, belonging to the dead man, added the final touch of desolation to the scene. For the first time in his life Nicholas felt that he heard the portentous creak of the gates of death.
They had trouble in finding Arthur Leigh and Sarah. At last Finch discovered them — Sarah sitting on a stile that led into a field where there was a flock of sheep; Arthur standing with one of her hands in both of his, and an expression of joyous excitement on his sensitive face.
As soon as there was an opportunity, after they had returned to Lyming Hall, Leigh drew Finch into the privacy of the little outbuilding where the lawn roller and the tennis net were kept. The sun had gone and the dew was falling, but the heavens were still suffused with a tender rose-colored light. A chestnut tree shaded the outhouse and the fallen petals of its bloom lay thick about the door, trampled by those who entered.
Arthur sat down on the lawn roller and looked up at Finch with a half-pleading expression.
‘Now all the misery and uncertainty of it are over, and only the beautiful part is left, you’ll forgive me, won’t you?’
‘Forgive you what?’ Finch asked in a hurried, nervous voice. He hoped that Arthur was not going to tell him of his feelings, disclose the spiritual distress that had been torturing him during all his visit.
‘You know quite well. I’ve been a perfect beast ever since I came. Honestly, I don’t believe I can ever remember having been so morose and so brutally selfish in all my life before. Especially to you, Finch, who mean most of all to me!’
‘More than Sarah?’ asked Finch, trying to speak lightly.
Arthur answered, seriously, ‘Yes, more than Sarah, in some ways. Because you’re my dear, close friend and she’s the woman I worship, and dearness and closeness don’t seem to go with that, some way.'
‘I scarcely know anything,’said Finch. ‘Won’t you tell me? Of course, when I saw her sitting on the stile and you beside her, with that look — I knew there was something pretty serious. Arthur, is she going to marry you?’
‘She is! I can hardly believe it. I’ve been like a man lost in a forest, giving up all hope of finding his way out. I’ve felt half mad sometimes, it was all so sudden, so unexpected.’ In spite of his reassurance, his new-found joy, there was still a look of distress on his face. ‘How can I make you understand! You’ve never been up against this kind of thing.’
Finch looked at him compassionately and yet with a feeling of himself being hurt. Arthur had rushed into the midst of their scene, gathered into his own hands the strands of the tapestry Finch had slowly been weaving, and, in a kind of panic of passion, was changing it into a pattern all his own. Finch believed that it was the first time in Arthur’s life that he had ever been frightened by his own feelings, felt the possibility of being thwarted in a desire. Arthur had always worn the bright, silky look of youth that had never been crossed.
‘I can imagine something of what you are feeling. I’ve seen how unhappy you’ve been. But it could n’t last. Things were bound to come right. How could any girl keep from loving you, if you loved her?’
‘Oh, but you don’t know Sarah. A man might prostrate himself at Sarah’s feet and howl of his love till the stars were shaken, and it would n’t move her. Not unless she loved him, too!’
‘But she does love you. It must be glorious to realize that.’
‘I can’t realize it! You know, I didn’t intend to speak of love to her to-day. All I intended was to ask her if we might meet sometimes. To tell her that I simply could n’t bear to think that everything would end with my going back to London. . . . She was sitting on the stile, with a big holly bush behind her, looking divinely distant. . . . You know that little secret look at the corner of her mouth. Well, it maddened me, because I felt that, if she was thinking of me at all, it was only as a far-away mortal whose hopes or despairs could never mean anything to her. . . . I got out what I had meant to say about meeting. She said that she very seldom came over to England. It had been three years since the last visit. I said then that I’d go to Ireland to see her if she’d let me. She turned and looked at me with the most adorable smile, but she did n’t answer. . . . There was something in the smile that made me lose my head. I poured out all my feelings. . . . At the end I said that if she would not marry me I’d not answer for what I might do. She said, very gently, that she’d marry me. . . . Oh, that voice of hers! Did you ever hear a voice like it. Finch?’
’It’s very sweet.'
‘Sweet! It’s as though a star spoke. And the way she moves! Like a lily on its stem. . . . And the way she won’t look at you, and then turns and looks into the very depths of you! She is like the angel that troubled the waters and brought out all that was potent in them. It’s that way with me. Now I know she loves me, I feel as though I had a new power for living.'
‘I’m frightfully glad for you, Arthur.'
’I know you are! And to think it all came through you! I wonder how her aunt will take it.’
‘She likes you. I can see that.’
‘Well, like or not like, she can’t stop us. We’re going to be married right away.’
(To be continued)
- A brief synopsis of the preceding chapters of the novel will be found in the Contributors’ Column. — EDITOR↩