Commonplace as the scene was, he found it restful to dwell upon in a lazy fashion. He forgot for a while that Cleo was by his side, and when he awoke again to the consciousness of her presence he found she had been engaged in reading again the two favourable notices of her performance, which she had carefully carried about with her.
Soon Alice and Mary appeared, and all four went home together. Tea was laid in the same room, the table being set out as for a heavy meal.
"Did you enjoy your walk, sir?" asked Mr. Kettering, while the trim servant, waiting at table with the same solemn gravity as before, put before him a huge cup of very strong tea, of which no milk or sugar could alleviate the astringency. He now found he was expected to eat large quantities of boiled fish, plum-cake and sweets; and Mrs. Kettering, perceiving that he didn't do justice to the fare, enumerated to him other things that were in the larder, with the suggestion that he might perhaps prefer a choice of them. Some of the stiffness that had characterised the former meal had vanished—Morgan could see now that had been due to shyness at his presence—and, though Mark still showed little willingness to converse, the girls were evidently beginning to find themselves again, occasional gigglings heralding their return to normality. But the concentration of the united attention of the family for Morgan's benefit was somewhat disconcerting. The girls vied with each other in pressing plum-cake upon him, and seemed to view his refusal as a personal rebuff. He did not understand just then that each considered a bit of her own niceness went into the cake when held towards him with her own hand, and that it was this niceness he was rejecting. As for the cake, they took it for granted that there could be no difficulty about disposing of that. Before the end, Morgan got the sensation of having the food rammed down his throat with a pole.
They tried to flirt with him, too, but here again he unconsciously annoyed them by his unresponsiveness. In fact, being entirely unacquainted with the game as they were in the habit of playing it, he set down the strange attempts of Cleo's sisters to provoke him to banter as rather silly. He did not know that they had thrown off their first unquestioning acceptance of his impressiveness and were now subjecting him to sharp criticism. They had their own notion—and a very definite one it was—of what a perfect gentleman should be, and they were not disposed lightly to accept a substitute. What, however, struck him particularly was their unbounded affection for their father and mother, for Cleo and Mark, and last, though not least, for each other.
During the evening Mary grew so bold as to offer to show him the harbour by night, and he welcomed the suggestion as likely to afford him a little quiet distraction. He had sat amid the family for several hours, and it had not occurred to anybody he might like to be just alone. The day had seemed interminable, and as they had been behaving more freely among themselves, once the restraint had worn off, he had begun to get a somewhat revised perception of them. Their peculiar atmosphere was beginning to enter into his being, and his vision of them, therefore, to lose its first impersonality.
Though the sky was clear, there was no moon that evening, which elicited the remark from Mary that it was a pity. Morgan presumed that moonlight made the harbour look much more poetic, whereupon Mary admitted that she wasn't thinking of the harbour, but of the fact that it made walking with a girl much more poetic. She wanted him to say that walking with her was so heavenly, absence of moonlight notwithstanding, that he couldn't possibly imagine any improvement. But he didn't say it. He only just gave the faintest indication of a laugh.
When he happened to admire the far-stretching, soft shadow of the sea, with its gentle, irregular line of white where it met the shore, she asked him if he wouldn't like to be rowing just then with a girl on a lovely lake. She wanted him to say—yes, if the girl were she. But he did not say it, and he had no idea that she was getting angry.
They walked on a little in silence, passing a girl talking to a man under the full light of a lamp. Mary remarked that the girl was exquisitely pretty. She wanted him to say that she herself was a thousandfold prettier. But he did not say it; and she led him off the front rather sulkily, taking him over a drawbridge and on to the quay that bisected the harbour. They strolled about amid the piles of timber and along more quays and drawbridges, now and again encountering other promenaders in the soft darkness. For awhile Morgan found the stillness delicious, almost forgetting the existence of his companion. But very soon she recommenced her tactics, making statements that credited him—by implication—with flirtations galore, and hinting at vast experience on her own part and lovers by the score. Certainly she laid pitfalls by the score, but she was so invariably unsuccessful that she could not help at last giving expression to her vexation.
"You're the first man I've ever known," she said frankly, "who didn't think me beautiful."
He recognised he had got a whiff of his Cleo there, but, just as he was about to deliver the polite reply to which she had forced him, they happened to turn round the side of a great wood-stack and, at the same moment, an impressive chorus of voices floated softly across the night. They were now on a quay that ran across the harbour, parallel with the cliffs that rose at the back of it. To right and left were the massed silhouettes of shipping and small craft, of odd superannuated sailing vessels and huge-funnelled steamers, and in the intervening waters were moored half a dozen Russian gun-boats. On the largest of these a sailors' service was being held. They could hear the priest's sweet voice raised in exhortation, and then again rose the sailors' chant.
Morgan listened enraptured. The velvety surface of the water, traversed here and there by glistering bars, the subdued stars above, the profound silence of the night, the strange whiteness of the cliff beyond, rising in marked contrast to the dark line of dwellings at its foot, save where the patches of green on its face showed as grey stains in the darkness, the looming hulls and intertangled masts and rigging, the mystic scattered lights of the harbour—the enchantment of all entered into his spirit, attuned to this beautiful singing of the vespers.
And then, of a sudden, a bugle-call rang out, clear and far-reaching, from the great barracks of the Western heights; instinct in its rhythm with discipline, valour, and martial fire; thrilling into the spaces of the night in strange contrast to the spirit of peace that breathed in the sweet concord of the sailors' chanting of evening hymns.
"What a funny lingo!" said Alice, as the chaplain's voice was again heard in prayer. Her laugh rang out, loud and scornful, insulting the solemnity and beauty of the scene. Morgan instinctively began to move on, pained to think that these sojourners in English waters might deem they were being scoffed at.
"It wasn't at them I was laughing," she explained, as if aware she had offended him. "Something came into my mind that happened just at that spot. It's so funny that I can't help laughing every time I think of it. If you're very, very good, perhaps I may tell you."
She looked up at him, wagging her head about to indicate her last sentence had been intended playfully. Morgan expressed a desire to hear it, in a sort of indifferent murmur.
"Well, there was a fellow I let dance with me three or four times, and I went for a walk with him twice or so. Then he began to get a bit cheeky, and so I thought I'd put him in his place. I wouldn't take any notice of him for a long time, and when we passed him in the street I pretended not to know him. At last one day he comes up to me and he says: 'Mary, I can't stand it any longer. If you won't speak to me again I'll go and drown myself.' And then he begged so hard that at last I promised to go for a walk with him in the evening. Well, I kept my promise, and we strolled along here. And just at that very spot we stood still to look at the harbour. 'John,' said I, 'there's the water; now drown yourself.'"
Again she laughed immoderately at the recollection of this brilliant jeu d'esprit and her admirer's discomfiture.
But the jeu d'esprit kept echoing oddly through Morgan's brain.
"There's the water. Now drown yourself!"
Morgan found the Monday infinitely easier to get through. For the members of the family were absorbed in the duties of life, so that he was left much to himself. Alice and Mary kept the accounts and served behind the counter in the stationery shop. In a workshop at the back Simon Kettering, Mark, four journeymen and one apprentice stood "at case," whilst in the basement two antiquated printing machines rumbled on, worked by a small gas-engine. There was also a Columbian press for pulling posters and a platen machine for small work. Mr. Kettering devoted a few odd minutes to showing Morgan over the establishment. As he observed, it was not a magnificent concern; but he had it all under his eye and by hard work made it yield him a living. Still, times were hard and—and Mr. Kettering, having once begun to enlarge on the subject of his disadvantages, proceeded to pour forth all the accumulated vexations of his spirit.
Cleo remained in the parlour during the morning writing letters, but she did not offer to enlighten Morgan as to their nature. He was rather glad of this incommunicativeness of hers, for he felt in too restless a mood to talk to her. Impatiently as he was awaiting Helen's letter, he would not inquire at the post-office till the evening. He could not bear the idea of coming away empty-handed.
Meanwhile he amused himself rummaging leisurely amid the contents of an old mahogany book-case. He found rather a medley of worn school-books—old-fashioned geographies and histories and foreign conversation grammars; of mouldy novels, many in French and Italian; of illustrated lives of actresses, prime donne, and celebrated courtezans. Most of the novels and non-scholastic books were of a shoddy, sensational type. Here, then, he had evidently stumbled across the source of Cleo's early mental nourishment; this was the literature with which her nature had found affinity. In nearly every book he took down he came across passages underlined, with occasionally a note in the margin in her own handwriting. The rich manner and false, pompous sublimity of these passages brought a smile to his lips, though making his heart contract painfully. He called to mind the books he had seen lying about on the occasion of his memorable visit to her in company with Ingram, and he now had an intuition that the slumbering of her fierce activity for so many years had been facilitated by a plentiful provision of literature of the same kind. Her imagination had found some compensating stimulation and satisfaction in the luscious scenes amid which it had wandered.
And suddenly he had a startled flash of memory anent a paper-covered novel he was holding in his hands. The lithographed wrapper, with its illuminated veiled figure and its seven mystic stars, he had seen before; and he now recognised the book as an older copy of the very one he had found her reading the first time he had ventured to call on her by himself. It was the work of a lurid lady novelist, popular some ten years before. He turned its pages with bitter interest. Passage after passage was marked and underlined. And at length he lighted on one that seemed to jump from the page and strike him in the face. It was doubly underlined in red ink, as well as thickly marked down the margin.
"In me is reincarnated the spirit of the ancient East, and it is my mission to interpret that spirit to the modern world."
And lower down on the same page, indicated with the like emphasis:
"By sitting in this temple each day and meditating herein I have ministered to my sacred moods, and I have kept pure the essence of the ages, which I am to revive for the modern world."
Morgan remembered only too well by whom and on what occasion such words had been addressed to him. He put back the volume and shut the book-case.
At the one o'clock dinner they all came together again. There was the same profuse solidity of fare as on the previous day, and the same insistence that Morgan must do justice to it. The girls seemed in high spirits, mysterious signs and words passing between them, accompanied by much laughter, of which Morgan dimly suspected he was the cause.
When the clerk at the post-office, looking through a little heap of letters, picked out one and put it aside, Morgan could scarcely restrain his emotion. He chafed at having to wait whilst the man satisfied himself there were no others for him, and the quiet way he took the letter revealed little of his almost overmastering impulse to snatch at it as a wild beast might snatch at meat. Blessed writing on the envelope! Tears were streaming down his cheeks as he stepped again into the street! And when at last he began to read, all that he had suppressed surged up and almost choked him.
"My very dear friend," said Helen, "I want to write to you such a great deal because I know how welcome a long letter will be, and yet I fear that I cannot make this one very long for the simple reason that I am feeling serious. Moods are like dresses. Some of them do not suit me at all. Seriousness not only spoils me, it makes me absolutely idiotic. Most people I know, however, prefer me like that because then I express my agreement with their opinions so very readily. But to be serious. I don't quite understand what you are going to do at Dover. Still, I am glad you've gone, for I'm dying to know what her sisters are like. By the way, I mean to make the acquaintance of the Medhursts. I have an idea I shan't find that a very difficult task. Then perhaps my letters may be more agreeable reading for you, for of course we shall continue corresponding unless you are back in town before long. Morgan, don't lose faith! I told you I was a prophet—or should it be prophetess? When I looked you in the face last I read therein that you were born to be happy.
"In the meanwhile I don't want you to be uncomfortable. And I now come to a point I hate to mention because I am afraid of you. You fly at one so savagely. I don't think you ought to allow a question of mere money to poison such sweet human relation as ours. Won't you look at it in the right spirit? I implore you, do. I want you to believe that I understand and sympathise with your feelings, but recollect now I am writing to you as your best friend, without any admixture of anything else, and it is as my best friend I want you to respond to me. Forget that I am only a woman. Let my purse be yours. Take only a trifle if you will, but still take it. It will make me happy, for I want to feel sure that you are bearing up. Meanwhile I am in dreadful suspense to hear from you.
"Yours affectionately, "HELEN.
"P. S. In the name of Heaven, write me quickly to tell me what the sisters are like. I have bought a map of London in sections, and I spend hours wandering with you in some of the strange places. What funny shapes the Thames has in some of the sections, and how nicely the pieces underneath it fit into it. Alas! the days, the days that are no more! What a sob re-echoes from those simple words!"
Blessed writing! In what an impasse were his life without it!
Though in his reply to Helen he promised to accept her money in case of need, he could not prevail on himself to begin just then. His instinct was against that course as strongly as ever, and he was precisely like a proud, obstinate child that continues in its fixed attitude long after being convinced. He gave her an account of the Kettering family in as gay a note as he could strike from his leaden mood, for he wished to allay her anxiety about him. He had read in her letter far more than the mere words; her heart beat through every line.
There were still five shillings in his pocket—enough to pay the postage on sixty letters, he grimly reflected. So far he had had no occasion to spend money for anything else, and no beggar had crossed his path to tempt from him the little he had. He needed nothing beyond his food, and of that the Ketterings' hospitality provided a sufficiency, though by the third day the over-profusion of plain dishes was no longer maintained.
Cleo seemed to be getting mysterious letters from town, and she gave him to understand she would be able to put her new scheme before him very soon now, but in the meantime he must be patient. The memory of her defeat had already almost gone from her mind, as did all things which were disagreeable to it and which, therefore, it could not assimilate; and, if she conversed with him at all, it was only on the subject of her genius, her imagination making, if possible, still more gorgeous flights than in the first days he had known her.
But this bluster about her genius only made him smile bitterly now, for he knew but too well that the foundations of any scheme of hers could not be laid in the good, solid earth. He could not guess the nature of the negotiations she had apparently begun, though he had a suspicion she was offering her genius to moneylenders as a security for some gigantic advance. The thought made him feel some impatience. She could not expect him, interested as he might be in her evolutions, to stay here indefinitely, eating the bread of hard-working Simon Kettering, even if that were not becoming daily unpleasanter. He was already thinking that, in his next letter to Helen, he must tell her to send him a little money, so that, even if he did not leave the town, he could either live elsewhere or arrange to pay Kettering for his board and lodging, thus giving Cleo a fair time in which to reveal her hand. He would be as patient as possible with her, so that she should not have any real ground for the least reproach to him.
By the fourth day a fuller comprehension of the family had come to Morgan, and a growing unhappiness at living with it. His perception of the Ketterings, at first of the same nature as a traveller's perception of people among whom he is sojourning for the first time, had ceased to be art. Their spirit had begun to act on his, and he now not only saw them as a full reality, but he likewise felt them as a full reality. His first impression of them had merged gradually into his present one, though there had been well-marked stages on the route.
At the beginning, the Ketterings' interpretation of hospitality had been indicated by the quantity of food provided; the incessant pressing him to eat had been a special attention to him, and his refusal had been taken first as mere ceremony—natural on the part of a gentleman—and next as somewhat of a slight. And in proportion as he became less of a novelty to them, so did they resume their normal mode of life. By the time the fact of his being their guest had ceased to occupy the centre of their consciousness breakfast had become reduced to coffee—of the same curious flavour—and thick bread and butter, tea to the same astringent beverage as before and thin bread and butter, the two other repasts of the day being likewise administered with a due regard for economy. Mrs. Kettering, too, no longer enumerated the contents of the larder in the hope of tempting him with some delicacy that was not on the table. The trim servant girl who had waited so staidly and respectfully at table had now developed into a perfect slattern who had the habit of answering her mistress back, sometimes in a way that almost amounted to bullying, and who seemed to have as much to say in the concerns of the family as any one of its members. The kitchen, too, obtruded and occupied the foreground of life.
Morgan did not, on account of this change, which he knew did not signify any falling off in hospitable feeling, and which, indeed, he rather appreciated so far as the reduced fare was concerned, reverse his judgment that he had fallen among kind-hearted folk. It had been a strain on them to maintain an appearance of gentility, and their recoil had been merely that of a stretched piece of elastic. He had lost his importance as a special person, and was now only just one of them. He understood that the family was exactly what it had to be, that its temperament and mode of life were perfectly attuned; yet, for him, there were a thousand unseizable roughnesses that depressed his spirit. Though the Ketterings and he spoke the same mother-tongue, words bore different values for him, and full communion was impossible.
But his estimation of them was more of the nature of passive mental apprehension than of active criticism. He himself, however, had been criticised and he knew it, for Alice and Mary had at length made him feel that he did not satisfy their conception of a gentleman. The simplicity of his manners did not convince them. They seemed to hold by some complicated code of etiquette for ladies and gentlemen—Heaven knew how they had become possessed of it—of which he fell sadly short. He did not understand in the least their shibboleth of flirtation, their particular methods of banter, the precise shade of significance of their facial expressions and movements, the exact values of their phrases and catch-words; all of which was knowledge that, according to their notion, was the common stock-in-trade of breeding. Their atmosphere of coquetry did not appeal to him; and, as a rule, he remained supremely ignorant of the fact that they were coquetting with him. Thus it was they giggled and laughed and made fun of him, having attained to a vast feeling of superiority over him, and a not less vast pity for their poor, dear sister, who had married him!
He could see that nature had made precisely the same failure with their personalities as with their bodies. Each was a bundle of traits that individually made "Cleo" echo through his brain, yet the total effect lacked convincingness. In Cleo all such characteristics were fused into her general magnificence; in Mary and Alice they seemed to exist at random, failing to give any sense of harmony, but only one of irritation. The airs and graces they assumed did but emphasise their crudity. It was, indeed, an illumining perception when it struck Morgan that their absurd movements and struttings and the queen-like way in which they tried to hold their heads bore a singular resemblance to the stage-gestures of "The Basha's Favourite." At the same time they possessed a large fund of animal spirits. They talked a good deal about dancing and sitting with young men in hidden corners, or going a-rowing with them; though when or where they did any of these things he could not quite make out.
Then again, the ostentatious love for the rest of the family and for each other they had exhibited the first day turned out to be a dependent variable that often approached vanishing-point. If the girls showed a certain uncouth good-humour in their calm moments, they certainly had violent tempers which they made no effort to restrain. If Alice, attempting to pass along the narrow dining-room, caught her dress on Mary's chair: "If anybody else were to sit like that——" she would commence angrily, and then a nice quarrel would ensue. Quarrels, indeed, seemed to be evolved from incredible beginnings, and the evenings bristled with them. Mrs. Kettering was easily drawn into these disagreements and took a leading part in no few of them. Simon and Mark, however, would remain impassive, the first reading his paper and uttering now and again a facetious, mild protest, the second smoking his eternal pipe in unyielding taciturnity. Mrs. Kettering likewise annoyed her daughters by constantly talking to Morgan in their presence of the difficulty of finding husbands for them.
One morning Cleo, who was down early, pounced upon a letter for him and wanted to read it. But as he recognised his father's writing—the envelope had had much redirection in varying scripts—and as her letters were always sealed to him, he refused to open it in her presence. He was not in the mood for a squabble with her. The fact that his father had managed to pierce his inaccessibility had unnerved him, the mere sight of the letter almost making him tremble. He put it in his pocket; it was imperative he should be alone when reading it. Cleo grew sulky and looked it. Alice and Mary, being in a particularly affectionate mood that morning, came hovering round her, entwining her waist with their long arms, pressing their faces gently against hers, and kissing her with ostentatious sympathy. "What has the naughty man been doing to our darling?" they asked in a sort of playful, mincing lisp. "Has he made our dear, dear sister miserable? Naughty, naughty man!"
That made a beginning. As a continuation Mrs. Kettering took it into her head once more to lament the scarcity of possible husbands for Alice and Mary over the breakfast table. They retorted that no doubt there were plenty of husbands to be picked up without a penny, who'd be glad to come and stay at the house and idle about and eat their fill. Evidently they had overheard talk between their parents, for it had been represented to them that Cleo and her husband were only in Dover on a friendly visit to the family.
Before the others had realised it Morgan had risen and left the house. His every nerve was a-tingle with pain. He was finished with the Ketterings, he told himself; it was impossible for him ever to set foot in that house again.
The sense that a final rupture had occurred between him and the Ketterings was so strong in Morgan that for the moment he omitted to consider the difficulties that might arise as regards Cleo. He saw now that by becoming their guest under circumstances such as his he had exposed himself to the possibility of insult from the first. But he did not condemn them; he simply felt he could not live in contact with them.
He was too unstrung to read his father's letter yet, though, as he thought of it again, the reflection occurred to him that old relations were intruding into the new life that had begun with Cleo. First Helen and then his father had overtaken him!
He started to walk briskly through the town, which he soon cleared. The movement helped to calm his excitement, though it did not diminish his bitterness. All the morning he tramped through the country, deriving some little comfort from the feeling that he was all alone. He lunched on bread and cheese at a wayside inn, partaking of the meal in an old room with rough tables and benches. Near him lay four huge potatoes, newly broiled in their skins. Through the window he looked out on to a yard where poultry strutted about amid straw, dung, and rubbish, in the shadow of a hay-rick. Not till then had he the heart to take the letter from his pocket. An examination of the redirections proved interesting. It had been first sent to the address where he had lived with Cleo, whence it had been redirected care of Cleo's maid, who, in turn, had forwarded it to Dover. He understood now how those first mysterious letters had come for Cleo so quickly, though he did not quite see why she should have concealed from him this arrangement with the maid.
As he broke the envelope a labourer in corduroys came into the room, and seemed taken aback at finding a gentleman there. He was the owner of the broiled potatoes, but apologised for taking possession of them. Morgan bade him sit down and have his meal, but the man, his face shining with good-humour, insisted he must not disturb him, but would go and stand at the bar. He took only two of the potatoes, his good-nature impelling him to leave the other two for Morgan, with the hearty, encouraging remark: "Pull into them, sir!"
"My Dear Son:
"I am writing this only with the faintest hope of its ever reaching you. If by any chance it does, I beg of you to inform me of your whereabouts at once. Your letter came upon us like a bombshell. I do not wish to reproach you for the hurt we have suffered. I only want you to believe now in my desire to stand by you, however terrible the mistake you have made.
"Of course, we put the worst interpretation on your silence about the person you had made your wife. I hurried up to town at once, but you had gone from your old rooms and left not a trace. I learnt, however, that you had a sister who used to come to see you sometimes. I suppose that is your wife. Naturally I assumed you had acted towards me as you had because you thought I should reproach you for having spoilt your life. How little you seem to know me, Morgan! That is what I have to reproach you with. Why was I so little in your confidence? Did you think me incapable of sympathising with you because you are a young man and I an old? How little you seem to know me, Morgan, I must repeat again.
"I do not want to indulge in useless retrospect. I do not want to exercise my imagination and yours in tracing out some more desirable course of events that might have resulted from your acting otherwise. But I cannot help giving expression to my deep sorrow at the plight in which you now must be. I do not know how the whole thing came about—what led to your acquaintance with the lady who is now your wife; but I do wish that, instead of writing me that curt letter, you had had sufficient belief in my love and sympathy to come to me despite all. My pen is powerless to express all that is in my heart. I can only just tell you that this is the worst heart-ache I have had in my life.
"If this reaches you, dear Morgan, don't be too proud to let me hear from you at once. I am an old man now, remember, and this suspense is killing. Especially as I have come so near to finding you and have only just missed you by a day or two. On coming up to town I at once called at Mr. Ingram's flat, and then I learnt for the first time he had married a great society lady. The commissionaire gave me his new address in Grosvenor Gardens, and there I was fortunate enough to find him. He seemed astonished to hear you had got married and disappeared. I asked him about your quarrel with him, and then he told me what he knew—that you had run through all the six thousand pounds, had been afraid to tell me, and had behaved abominably rudely to him because he made to you certain suggestions for your own benefit. He was sorry he could not help me to find you. He seemed, indeed, quite distressed about you and sympathised with me in my trouble.
"My poor Morgan! How could a genius like you be bothered with having to manage money? What is the use of a man like you having a rich father if his riches are not for you to enjoy! If you had only said a word! It was hopelessly foolish of me to imagine you had suddenly developed the ability to husband your resources. But you seemed so comfortable and cheerful when I last saw you that I did not suspect anything. And then my attention was so concentrated on my book that I scarcely had a thought for anything else.
"You must forgive me for having called a private detective to my aid. What else could I do? The anxiety was terrible, and I hadn't slept for nights. He was a long time about it, and he ought to have done it sooner, for I gave him a very good photo of you to work with. But he assumed you had gone further afield, and sought to find you in the provinces. So your wife is an actress! The detective assures me she stood naked on the stage before a whole theatre full of people. That isn't true, I hope.
"As I have already said, I was too late when I called at your address, and the landlady said she couldn't forward letters, as no new address had been left with her. But it struck me that perhaps she had her reasons for making that statement, and so now I write in the hope that my letter may be forwarded after all. If it is, then write at once to your dear father, who, if you have made a mistake, will help you to live it down. I implore you not to keep away from me any longer.
"Of course, I have seen the Medhursts several times. John and Kate feel the blow quite as much as I do, though they have done their best to console me. Margaret, too, poor girl, is very pale. She shuts herself up in her studio and pretends to be working. But I'm hanged if I can make out what she's at. There is just a mass of blackfish wax, and, though I always find her shaping it with her fingers, it always seems to look the same. The composition of my book has progressed fairly well, but I am looking forward to your helping me with it a tremendous lot."
Though he was twenty-eight, Morgan felt he still had in him a child's fresh spring of emotion, and he had no more than a child's strength to struggle against it. He hurried from the inn, suppressing his sobs for a moment with one grand effort.
He walked back to the town and found an expected letter from Helen awaiting him at the post-office. He had asked for ten pounds, and she had sent him a bank-note. She had written him only just a few lines to accompany it, but promised to make amends as regards length next time. She said he had made her happy by giving her so practical a proof of his belief in her friendship, and added she was very glad indeed he was thinking of lodging elsewhere, instead of staying with that horrid and amusing family. She hoped he would make up his mind on the point very soon; and the sooner he had a terrific quarrel with his Cleo the better. As soon as she should hear of it she would execute a war-dance, adequately complicated for the occasion.
How good to him were those he had fled from! How endless was the morass into which he had floundered!
And yet the very touch of the bank-note stung him. It represented the fact of his degradation; it summed up the hopelessness of his position. The sympathy poured upon him, welcome though it was, but emphasised his sense of the pitiable failure of his existence. He still burned under the terrible insult of the morning; he smarted from the friction of living amid the petty, squabbling vulgarity of the Kettering household. He remembered, too, he must come to some understanding with Cleo; he must give her an opportunity of joining him wherever he should be staying. And, of course, he must also write to thank Mr. and Mrs. Kettering for their hospitality.
The afternoon passed by. He dined modestly at a sort of coffee-house at the back of the harbour and arranged for a bed-room there. Later in the evening he found himself forced to go out again, for it suffocated him to stay within four walls. And even as he walked at random, the blackest fit of his life came upon him. He thought of those first years of enthusiastic striving, and those following years of half-hearted striving; he thought of the long stretches of time dissipated in mental lounging, in lethargic inaction he had been unable to combat, so paralysing had been his sense of the futility of effort. Looking back now, his whole inner life seemed to have been a long, increasing bitterness. But he did not pity himself; his attitude was one of cruel self-criticism. If only he had been an isolated soul he would not have felt so keenly. But the course of his life had reacted on others and embittered their existence. It seemed as if he could not take a step without wounding those who loved him. He was not fit to breathe the same air with them, he told himself.
Of Margaret he scarce dared think, so great was his sense of his unworthiness; but the light of her face, as it swam up before him, thrilled him with the consciousness that his love for her was abiding, that this affair on which he had embarked was a grotesque nightmare in which his true being had not been concerned at all, though it had become irredeemably involved in it. Once or twice it had given him pleasure to imagine that it was in Helen's power to do more than just sympathise with him, but then he had never forgotten that was only a wistful fancy. It brought the tears to his eyes to think of her attempt to cheer him with her prophecy of happiness for him. Happiness for him! Dream as vain as his Cleo's lust for glory!
It was past ten o'clock, and the sea-front was already deserted. He strolled eastward, following the roadway to where the houses ended, when it swept round the foot of the cliff, on whose top rose the ancient castle, and eventually degenerated into an ascending foot-path protected by a wooden rail. He stayed awhile at the bend, gazing into the immense darkness, in which, here and there, glimmered a light from a passing vessel, and listening to the swish of the water lapping the foot of the sea-wall. A fisherman preparing his bait hailed him "Good-night!" from the glooms of a small, primitive jetty. He returned the salute civilly, but, as he was not in the mood for human intercourse, he sang out and wished the man a good haul and then moved on. Up, up the incline he went, the rugged cliff-front towering above him, clothed with great grey patches. The path narrowed as it wound its way up the side and at length ran into the cliff, through which a long gallery had been hewn. But the solid blackness that faced him at its mouth did not give him pause. He felt his way along, stumbling up the rough incline, and turned down another gallery which intersected this one at right angles, and which led to the face of the cliff where its opening, high above the water, was barred by a tall iron rail. Here he stood and looked out to sea.
The nocturne was beautiful in its largeness and silence. The sublimity of the great spaces emphasised his own existence just then as petty, crabbed, and sordid. The discords within him were so harsh that he could not respond to the sweet mystery of the night, or to the music that called from sea and sky, from the shadows and the spaces.
Again that bitter sense of his whole life became concentred in one moment. And then, as the sound of the soft-flowing tide came up to him again, it seemed to bring with it words that echoed strangely through his being. And his being seized upon them and gripped them. The voice of Mary Kettering seemed to be commanding him, as if her hostile spirit were hovering near, and he could hear her vulgar laugh disgracing the solitudes.
"There's the water. Now drown yourself!"
The consciousness of his personal unimportance to the world was accentuated against the free vastness on which he gazed. The mission that alone had had power to stir his blood, of being a voice to the spell of which all men should yield, had been decreed against. His hope of winning the right to live amid and breathe an atmosphere in harmony with his being, an atmosphere in which his individuality, as he conceived it, should ripen and expand and yield all the fragrance that was in it, was utterly dead.
He could not detach his dead hope from his life; its rotting carcass weighed it down and poisoned it. The love, too, that Margaret had inspired in him but remained as an exquisite bitterness. And as for those who loved him, better they should bear the blow at once than that he should torture them constantly. Let them mourn for him now; let them, in the years that were to come, sometimes feel his presence with them and think of him as one who had had good in him, but whose life had proved piteously futile. For them much pain now and an occasional pang in the future; for him, the sweetness of unending rest, for was there not sweetness in death?
He looked again out to sea, striving to pierce the darkness that floated over the world like a spirit, and divining the far-off line where the sky touched the water.
One last, glorious swim to reach it! And out there, in the infinitudes, amid the silence and the loneness, with all the still music of the universe lulling him to sleep, should his being gently merge into the all-pervasive essence; there, in the large freedom of the airs, under the full spread of Heaven's stars, and in the soft embrace of the velvet waters, should he feel his blood beat to an end; there, in the heart of those mysterious spaces, were fitting place for a poet to die!
He turned to go back and descend to the shore below, but just then he heard a strange whispering that reechoed through the passages. A flash of light seemed to fly down the long gallery, driving the darkness before it, and then a young man and a girl passed by, the former holding a lighted match. He waited a moment, half-startled, half-annoyed at their intrusion, then groped his way after them, eventually stumbling out of the tunnel's mouth. And, as he descended the incline again, he became aware of other couples standing about in the shadows, within alcoves of the cliff, or seated on the grassy slope just outside the wooden hand-rail. In his first abstraction he had overlooked these.
He could not begin his swim here with the consciousness of all these human beings so near at hand. He wanted the complete sense of isolation from his fellow-creatures, the feeling that he and the infinite were alone face to face. An idea came to him. On the other side of the town stretched some miles of shingle at the foot of the cliffs. Here he would seek the aloneness he felt to be imperative.
He started to walk briskly the length of the town, and his way took him through the harbour again. Here again he caught glimpses of isolated couples, leaning against the stacks of wood or half-lost in the shade of some black hull rising high alongside the footways.
His perception of externals seemed to have grown keener; his glance seemed to pierce where the shadows were thickest.
And all these couples gave him just then a sense of the vast, futile movement of life on the planet, of the infinite succession of human generations, each appearing and blossoming and mating and dying. He seemed in that moment to feel a hideous meaninglessness in this tidal wave of life travelling through the ages.
He crossed the railway line and passed on to the broad shingle that sloped to the water's edge. The air was almost still, the water was smooth and gentle. He set his face westward and trudged along, seeking the place where his foot should stand on the solid shore for the last time. He calculated to go about a mile, so as to be free from any sense of the proximity of the town; but he was somewhat dismayed to pass another couple after he had gone about a hundred yards. Couples—couples everywhere! Should he never escape from them? How crude seemed all this love-making when one caught a glimpse of it from the outside as a large, collective fact!
That, however, proved to be the last encounter, but as he tramped on over the grey shingle, amid which shone the white sprinkling of chalky pebbles, a sudden screech pierced the night and a train came rushing along the track that ran alongside the beach, its engine vomiting a lurid smoke that showed ghastly in the dark and that disappeared within the tunnel under the cliff like a giant flame snuffed out. And soon he had ceased to hear its roaring.
The incident seemed to him symbolic. His flame, too, was to be snuffed out; but he had the thought, with a grim smile, that he wasn't going to make so much noise about it.
Now and again he floundered into a puddle or rivulet that flowed seaward across the expanse of shelving shore, but he felt his sense of aloneness amid nature increase at each step gained. The pieces of chalk, scattered on all hands, grew larger and larger, evidently fallen from above and rounded by the wash of the waves. The patched whiteness of the cliffs rose high on his right; a tiny, solitary light shone far out at sea. Clouds were beginning to gather, and some of the stars were hidden. The night grew darker; the stillness disturbed by his footsteps alone and the low melody of the gently-breaking waters. The sea itself stretched before him, a vast, soft shadow, but the eye had to look at it determinedly to separate it from the sky. And now "Shakespeare's Cliff" towered up, its side gashed and scarred as by a giant's axe. The fallen masses lay heaped at its foot, grotesque yet solemn. Then there were larger masses, piles of enormous boulders on his right, as if a whole cliff had crashed to fragments; and a great expanse of them, mossy and weed-covered, stretching on his left to the water's edge. He was aware of them, too, ahead of him, extending in the gloom indefinitely. And soon he had to pick out a tortuous way between the mighty heaps on one hand and the far-spread belt of rock on the other.
On and on he passed, and stayed at length by a chalk rock, tall as himself, wrought by the tides into the semblance of a head, a veritable giant's head, with masses of long, intertangled weeds on its top and sides, like the strange, wild unkempt locks of a sea-god; its front showing blurred features like a carven face eaten away by the slow gnaw of a thousand centuries.
"If you had but a tongue, what secrets of the deep you could tell!" he could not help saying aloud.
And then, as he stood listening, his wish seemed to be answered. The face before him seemed to glow with a light as of life in the mystic gloom that wrapped it. And it spoke to him through the silence with a voice that was as a golden bell sounding from the heart of the universe. It spoke a language that his being comprehended; it sang to him a song of peace and sweetness and wonders. And he knew that the melody that beat through it was but a murmur of the great essence calling to him; the essence that was fragrance, that was light, that was music; the essence that sometimes showed through the grossness of things and that he himself had striven to capture as it flashed here and there for those in whom burned an intenser spark of itself than was allotted to the generality of men—for the bard, the painter, the seer—towards whom it leapt as flame leaps to flame, yet who saw it but as the seekers of visions see an elusive gleam flash and half die within the blur of a magic crystal.
Here, then, was the spot!
He proceeded to disrobe himself, for he wished to feel the embrace of the waters on his bare flesh. But he was not so absorbed in his self and his purpose as to extrude all thoughts of those who were dear to him. Nay, such thoughts, perhaps, were part of his very self. Eyes that till now were dry became blinded with tears, so that the shaded, floating night-world seemed to palpitate before him in a strange blur that was like a despairing mood externalised. It were best so, he reassured himself again; better that he should now plunge into the sweet mystery, of which the little he knew was by a dim, exquisite divination, better that he should live only as a sad memory than as an evil-causing reality.
Then, too, it occurred to him, it was right that his clothes should be left on shore. He would put them out of the reach of the tide, and the weight of a boulder should defy the wind. The letters of his father and Helen would serve to identify the owner of the clothes; he would not destroy them, since there was nothing in them save what the writers might be proud of having written. They would then know the worst at once, instead of having to endure the long-drawn, vain hope that is worse than despair. Even if his body were not washed ashore there could be no mistaking his fate.
He picked his way to the water's edge and strode in unhesitatingly. The tide was just on the turn, and the touch of the light-swelling waves was at first cold and gentle. But soon he was breasting them with steady stroke, moving out to some indefinite point where should be the full mystery of the night and the spaces, and whence the shore should be swallowed up in the darkness. His sense of the world passed into a large vagueness; the blood pulsed through his veins exquisitely; the kiss of the water was warm and sweet. Steadily, steadily his hands cleft it, the activity of his brain dwindling and dwindling and lapsing at length into a mere self-abandonment to the sensuousness of the motion. He was scarcely conscious of controlling his muscles; his arms seemed to work of themselves in rhythmical sweep. Onward, onward! with only a fused feeling of warmth and exhilaration and a drowsy sense of vague far-spreadingness.
The consciousness of time had passed away, and that of space was a mere intensity of feeling. Once or twice he was dreamily aware of a strange halo of light haunting his universe.
But at last the vibrating hoot of some great passing steamship drove suddenly across the waters, a keen note that thrilled through him startlingly, dispelling the delicious languor that possessed him. He had a sense as of awakening from slumber, and then he knew that the vague halo was a long beam, flying round at some distance from him, that came from the light-house at the end of the great stone pier. His mind leapt again to full activity, shaking off the medley of sensation that had been flowing against his passive consciousness with such dull uniformity.
His blood glowed with the full glory of the sea; he was conscious of a clear sanity, for the brooding mists had vanished from his spirit. And even as he heard and felt the throb of mighty engines that came to him from afar, and considered what mastery over the deeps they represented, the thought occurred to him that he, too, was master of the boundless water, buoyant at his will. An exaltation sprang up in him as he realised throughout all his fibre its sensuous vastness, its elastic massiveness.
And with this exultant sense of mastery, with this feeling of the good red blood coursing through him, there seemed to have awakened in him an invincible something that held him to existence with a grip that could know no loosening, that made his whole being cohere with a strength that not all the forces of dissolution could relax.
On and on he swam; on and on. What an ecstacy it was to live!
Once more a vision of his life passed before him as a single flash, and this time it drew from him a scornful anger.
Fool! Should he who rode abreast the ocean in absolute mastery not be master of his own existence? Fool! The universe before had sung to him of life, not of death; its essence had called to him not to take him into itself, but to remind him that within him was some of its own glorious fire that might yet make his life glorious. That, too, had now leapt up, had burnt away all the vapours and purged his spirit; that, too, sang and joined in the universal chant. He recognised its clear melody, inspiring him to place faith in it and to be true to himself.
Action must be the key to the redemption of his life; a flourishing, masterful Will-To-Live the force behind it. He had made mistakes; it was for him to convert them into a good, to make of them a solid pedestal on which his manhood should stand firm.
Back to the shore again! Back to human beings and human love and human duties!
And just then an odd thought intruded on him, grotesque yet touching; one of those incongruous memories that invade one's solemnest moments. He had a vision of a labourer in soiled corduroys leaving him half his dinner at the wayside inn that morning.
He turned on his back to rest awhile, but he found he could not endure the changed position. For the reality of the world was lost to him again, and he had a sense of floating alone in the immensity of strange, dark places; the cloud-stained sky seeming to rest on his face. The night, too, had grown darker, and the throb of the steam-vessel came to him now more faintly. He was conscious of being left behind. A momentary fear invaded him.
And in that moment he seemed to see the shapes of those who loved him imploring him with streaming eyes, now beckoning him, now holding their arms to him.
He set his face landwards and thrust all uncertainty from him. He could just distinguish the softly-gleaming cliffs, but he felt strong and pure and stout-hearted. Back! Back! Back to land, to work, to love! A rougher tide rolling in helped him. He knew the spot whence he had started; it was just beyond the point where the cliff rose to its highest. The sense of distance annihilated gave him new strength, and at last he stood again amid the fallen boulders and shook the water from him. He sacrificed an undergarment as a towel, then dressed himself quickly; and, suffused by the new, living spirit, he turned his steps townward again.
But he could not go home to his lodgings and sleep. It was a small confined bed-room he had taken, whereas he felt the need of breathing deep of the full wind that had by now sprung up. He felt that the open night brought inspiration, and he wished, too, to yield to all the activity that urged within him. He passed again by the harbour, plunged into the town and through the streets that ran up the hill-side to the castle.
Action, action, action! He had come through the crisis with miraculous strength, with inexhaustible energy. On, on, through the grey night, exulting in the wind even as he had exulted in the sea!
Meanwhile his plans were coming to him.
He had often, in his bitter moments, envied the bricklayer and the cobbler. Why should he not begin to learn a trade even now?
He was conscious of intelligence, of patience, of the desire to labour. Why should not Kettering give him a chance in his workshop? The old man had shown him real kindness and was evidently well-disposed towards him. He felt sure he could enlist his sympathy, for, despite the apparent limitation of his interests, Simon Kettering had impressed him as having, in a general way, a keen understanding of things. The vulgarity of life in that household was but a small consideration to him now. His vow never to return to it had been made when he had taken the old vision of things. His new and saner vision made him see that vow was a mistake. Was he not strong enough to defy the corrosiveness of a mean, vulgar atmosphere? Nay, his life, by its own inner force, would flow impervious to such influence.
To labour, and by the work of his own hands to pay those whom Cleo had wronged!
Not till he had done this would he feel true to himself; not till then would he deem himself worthy of the love of those who were dear to him.
It were easy to fall back on his father's generosity, to live an empty life of indolence; but that would not give him that respect of self which alone could keep him attuned to the harmonies of being, and thus bring him the longed-for peace of spirit. For his sense of life was the sum of his inner moods, and no mere superficial remedy could inform them with that pure flowingness that constitutes happiness.
To go though the discipline he had set himself, to labour hard and achieve a fixed, worthy end by his own unaided efforts, no matter what stretch of his life it consumed, were to vindicate himself, were to vindicate his Will-To-Live!
He had arrived at a culminating point in existence. The understanding of what his life had lacked had come to him at last, and with it a recognition of that by which it was to be guided in future. Life, to be true, must involve all the functions of the soul—thought, emotion and will; must be lived with a healthy fulness. He had not so lived it. His error had lain in detachment, which had well-nigh brought him to the verge of destruction. And now it was with him a time of reconstruction.
He desired to face that full actuality of things from which he had always shrunk as from a terrifying chaos, wilfully shutting out from his vision all but its superficial forms and tones. He wished to open his spirit to the feeling and throb of the living world.
Discipline, self-discipline! On that basis alone could the human soul develop and attain to Individuality and Freedom.
He seemed to recognise some Force working in him like a Redeemer; he fancied he saw some strange Necessity in his life, working through all its dark moments, its action eventually forcing upon him a true estimation of existence, of his relation to things.
His being should assimilate from the living world all that should serve to build it up; even as a plant wonderfully drew from the earth just that which its fibre needed. But for that end he must move through the living world—not shun it. More and more of its essence would he take into himself, more and more would he defy the mean, the ugly, the evil; till at last he should be strong enough to walk unscathed even through the fire.
That thought which had come to him a short time before about the meaninglessness of life, and of the perpetual mating that carried it on, now recurred to him again; but this time he had an accompanying sense of its utter falsity. He had been wrong in his thought, he told himself, because to view life in that large way from an apparently outside point of view was in reality to lose all sight of the meaning under quest. It was the point of view which was unsuitable, not the meaning which was absent! The error was the same fatal one of detachment. If man projected a critical mind, a mere isolated bit of himself, to which adhered nothing of his essential nature, into a boundless space and bade it look from thence on the march of humanity and deliver judgment thereon, surely that judgment could not be a true one.
The true judgment of life was only to be made by the help of the full humanness of the observer. Life had to be felt within; not viewed from without from an imagined cosmic standpoint.
Not then in the long parade of history must the meaning of life be sought, nor in its massed manifestations, the sum total resulting from its activities; not amid the buried relics in geologic strata, not in the large sweep of scientific law. But each human being might find it for himself in his own limited span; for the individual life, lived true with the fulness of the human spirit, was its own end, its own meaning. And whosoever lived true to himself felt and knew the meaning of life. Living and mating might be foreshortened to mere dry facts in the great stretch of a cosmic outlook; by the emotion of the individual they were touched to divinity.
Let him, then, since he wished to live true, not seek to escape from himself, but to accept his own human outlook and be true to the fulness of his being. Let him recognise the eternal principles of humanness underlying man's varying attempts to express them in binding rules of conduct, and let him take his place in man's world—a world, both of facts and relations, selected by man's innate nature from the swirling, chaotic continuity of which man was a part—facing the fulness of life with the fulness of character.
He had climbed the long, ascending road. Above him sat the dark castle on the top of a grey slope; and, looking downwards on his left, he saw the town sleeping in its valley, its many points of light gleaming through a palpitating mist. He could just discern the other hill beyond as a tone that was lost in the dark sky, a faint luminous spot showing here and there on the top.
He stayed a moment to admire the nocturne and was glad that he had lived to see all this beauty. Yes, everything called to him for life, not for death. He continued his wandering, heedless whither; and, when at last he became conscious of fatigue, he had covered many miles and had strayed through many by-paths. The first frenzy of restlessness had worn itself out, and he sat for awhile on a barred gate, previous to turning back to the town.
His only guide now was the general sense that he must keep the sea on his left. He was but a few hundred feet from it. Once or twice he divined the water, almost indistinguishable from cloud, when a great indentation in the cliff made its edge sweep in towards him; and once a ship's light flashed out of it for half a second. He swung along steadily, and after a time found himself traversing a great, dusky stretch of land. He had the feeling of crawling over it like an insect, so vast was his sense of this flat earth; he seemed just a bit of it moving on it and thinking about it, as if it had attained through him to consciousness of itself!
He fell into a slow saunter, philosophic fancies coming to interweave themselves with his thoughts; and, when he awoke again from a long reverie, the road had grown narrow, rough and stony. He stumbled along till at length he again made out the castle in the distance, perched on its sombre eminence, just a flat silhouette against a lighter greyish sky.
The road dipped between two slopes that cut off the view, and, when he had passed them, the battlemented silhouette seemed to show deeper and the sky lighter. The morn was approaching.
Imperceptibly the darkness thinned. A quiet feeling of holiness was in the air. The stretch of common on either hand began to take on a shade of brown, though the rare clumps of scattered bushes still showed dark and solid. A fresh morning breeze came to him, scent-laden.
In some parts the clouds were lightening, melting, and as he came again into full view of the sea, he saw its whole surface glistening and of an indefinite colour. Sometimes it struck him as a sort of steely grey, sometimes it flashed upon him as a vague, elusive green. It was almost light now, and he could see the landscape distinct and wonderfully sharp-cut. A minute later he was almost sure that the sea was green, and, to his surprise, he became aware of luminous blue bars among the clouds. There was a lovely piece of green, too, with orange streaks in it. Then there came a full flood of mystic pink, and the water was one laughing sparkle. He drew deep breaths of the air and gloried in the dawn.
The pure, sweet dawn, to him symbolic of Resurrection and Life!
Though tired now, he still lingered, strolling at ease down to the town again and lounging on the beach and in the harbour. When, in the end, he arrived at the coffee-house where he had taken his lodging he found it already open, and porters and sailors were taking their early-morning coffee.
He threw himself across his bed and slept soundly till mid-day.
END OF BOOK IV.
Morgan waited till half-past one before calling again at the Ketterings, for by then, as he knew, the printer had about finished his lunch, and usually had some few minutes to spare.
He did not ring at the side entrance, but walked through the shop, where only a boy was in charge at this hour, and into the workshop at the back. Here, to his satisfaction, he found Mr. Kettering himself busy measuring up galleys with a long piece of string. The old man was startled to see him, but said he was glad he had come, as he had been anxious about him and had wanted to talk to him. Morgan noticed that he seemed a little excited. His face, too, seemed a trifle more worn and lined than usual behind his spectacles, and his beard had a scraggy appearance.
"I'm afraid, sir, my daughters were very rude to you yesterday morning," he continued, "and I want you to accept my sincere apology for their conduct. They are hard-working girls enough, but they haven't much sense, and I'm afraid not much consideration for other folks' feelings. I only hope you'll overlook it this time. However, there's something else I must tell you at once. Selina has gone away."
"Gone away!" echoed Morgan.
"Yes," said Mr. Kettering, sadly. "Altogether we've had a nice upset. Mother's ill in bed to-day. It was this way: Of course I spoke a bit sharply to those scatter-brained girls, and they answered me back in a way it makes my blood boil to think about. Women-folk are all a bit crazy. That's the opinion I've been forced to, sir, and if I had my days over again, I'd never so much as look at one of them. Then Selina—she joined in and said it stifled her to live here. It was worse than living in a mud-hovel. Then the mother said she'd better go and live in a mud-hovel. And after that they all four fell a-screaming and I couldn't do anything to stop them. As soon as I could get a word in edgeways I begged them to be quiet, but Selina was excited and disowned us all. She said she never believed she was our child; she could never possibly have come from such filth as us, and then she lost her head and cursed us—I never heard the like in my life. My heart bled for you, sir, for I said to myself: this can't be the first exhibition she has made of herself since her marriage, especially as things went wrong. However, business had to be attended to, which put an end to the scene. But when I went up to dinner, Selina told me she had packed up and was going away that afternoon, and that we needn't expect ever to see her again. Of course I tried to talk her over, and asked her not to be foolish, but to stop till she had her arrangements properly made. Then she told me sharply not to mind about her arrangements, and that she had no need of my charity. She pulled out and showed me fifty pounds in bank-notes. They came the day before, she said, and she had any number of thousands waiting for her. 'But what about your husband?' I asked. 'My husband?' she snorted. 'I'll make you a present of him if you like. There's another woman in love with him, who's ready to give him as much money as he cares to take from her. And he has any number of mistresses besides. So you don't expect I'm going to trouble my head about him. Besides, he hasn't said six words to me since we've been here. If he had cared about me he'd have shown it.' And, sure enough, she went off by the afternoon train. 'Tell him he's rid of me now, as soon as he gets over his fit of the sulks and comes back,' was the last she said. Yes, women-folk are all crazy. You'll excuse me repeating the remark, I know, sir; but you remember what I told you when you came on Sunday. I don't mean any disrespect by it, but I can't help thinking you were a fool to marry her."
And Kettering took up his cord again as if to continue his measuring.
Morgan's brain was for an instant full of a whirling mass of thought. He could not hide from himself that he had not the slightest sense of sorrow or regret. He knew perfectly well that Cleo esteemed him no more than a dead twig, that, by his abstention from offering up to her daily an incense and a sweet savour of gross flattery, he had destroyed all possibility of her continuing to imagine he counted for something in her life. And, of course, she was not the kind of woman to stay in so sordid and narrow a household with a penniless man, who was nothing to her beyond her husband—she with her gorgeous demands upon life! No doubt her departure had been already arranged with the person who had sent her the money she had shown her father and she had been glad to seize upon any pretext. However, he thought it right to assure Mr. Kettering that Cleo's accusations against him were entirely false and that, as regards his conduct towards her, no reproach could be made to him.
"You've no need to tell me that," said Mr. Kettering, "I never for a moment doubted you. You know, sir," he added, "you're quite welcome to make my home yours so long as it suits your convenience."
Morgan replied that, as Kettering was probably aware, he had no money, but that he was anxious to earn some, however little. Could he not do so by learning to set up type?
Kettering looked hard at him, and Morgan bore the gaze without flinching.
"I can see you mean it," he said, "so we won't waste time discussing whether you're serious. Now, Mr. Druce, I don't know who you are, and I'm not going to ask you any questions. I flatter myself I've got some little skill in reading faces, and I knew from the first that you were a gentleman, and one with his heart in the right place. Now don't think I'm taking liberties, sir, but I should like you to think the matter over again and see whether you would not do better to communicate with your family and friends. I don't want to know how you came to have the misfortune to marry my girl, but I feel that as a fellow-man I ought to ask you to reconsider your position. Maybe your folk are fretting and anxious about you. I'm only a plain man, but I think I can lay some claim to common sense, and believe me I only venture to speak to you like this because I respect you."
"I do intend communicating with my people," said Morgan, touched by the old man's sincerity and thoughtfulness, "but I want to earn my bread all the same. That is essential."
"I understand," said Kettering. "You want to feel yourself stand on your own legs. Yes, that's a fine thing to feel. Well, as I said, I like your face and I trust you. I hope you're not vexed at what I ventured to say."
"On the contrary," said Morgan, "I am sincerely grateful to you for having said it."
Kettering's face beamed, and its benevolent quality grew more marked.
"A boy apprentice is supposed to take seven years learning the trade, sir, but we needn't get discouraged about that. A man anxious to learn, with his wits about him—"
"I am anxious, and I have my wits about me," put in Morgan.
"Well, after three months he could make himself deuced handy."
Kettering's mild oath was simply intended by way of encouragement.
"You see," he went on, "once you'd learnt the lay of the case, you'd soon get your hand in for straightforward setting, and then if you didn't mind exercising your muscles, you could do a bit of pulling at press. And a man of your education, sir, might turn his knowledge to account in proof-reading. Not that there's much scope for that sort of thing, sir, in my little business. But it's just an idea we might keep in mind. There's no knowing what might come of it. Now I'm not going to omit the business part, sir. I know you must be wanting to hear about that, and I know you'd prefer to make a bargain on a strict business basis. Perhaps you care to make a suggestion."
"I am too ignorant for that. I want you to give me just what I am worth and no more. Of course, I know that I shall not be worth anything for some time."
In a few minutes they had arranged everything in such a way that there should be no obligation on either side. Morgan was to live in the house. A wage was to be put to his credit from the beginning for all work done by him that was of use, at the regular "piece rates," and such work as "pulling at press" and "clearing," which could only be estimated by time, was to be entered at time rates. Of course his earnings at first would be very small, but they would increase from week to week. On the other hand, an agreed weekly value was put on his board and lodging, which from the first would be charged against his earnings. And when eventually the wages due to him had overtaken the amount thus due by him, he should get the weekly balance in cash, or he might then, if he preferred, board and lodge where it pleased him.
Morgan was touched by old Kettering's sympathetic comprehension of his needs, but when he sought to give expression to his thanks, the old man would not listen.
Mark entered just then, and, the situation having been made clear to him in a few words, readily agreed to have Morgan by his side in the workshop, and to make of him a sort of protege.
The whole interview had consumed barely half an hour, and Morgan went out just as the journeymen were returning for their afternoon's work. He had arranged to begin in the morning, since they had a heavy job to get finished that afternoon, and could not spare a moment to initiate him. Mark, however, said he would teach him the lay of the case that evening from a diagram. Kettering, before he left, said he would make it his business to give the girls to understand that they must treat him with respect, but begged him to ignore them in case they should misbehave, winding up with his oft-expressed conviction that all women-folk were crazy, and it was a mistake to take them seriously.
However, Morgan troubled himself little about the girls; they had no terrors for him now. An exquisite peace came upon him. It was many years since he had had the feeling.
He was not sorry to have the afternoon free, for it gave him the opportunity of writing long letters to Helen and to his father. He felt he owed it to both to make them understand his changed attitude.
"One real critical moment in a life," he went on to write to Helen, after narrating all that had occurred up to that very moment, "suffices to work changes that may seem almost miraculous. I am not going to say that the prophecy you made just to encourage me a little is going to be fulfilled. Happiness is not for me—I have lost the essential factors of that. But a cheerful acceptance of life, a full use of each day, a consciousness of submission to a healthy self-discipline, must bring me a healthy sense of worthiness.
"Of course you will see that my making the payment of Cleo's debts a sort of goal will enable me to test my strength. Once I arrive at the goal, I shall be able to hold my head high. I have done the one and only thing, and it was good for me that the means were so near at hand. And so I hope to have your approval both of my determination and of my returning you this bank-note. I have still eighteen-pence in my pocket, and Mr. Kettering says I can draw a few shillings whenever I feel in need of them.
"I dare say my donning an apron and holding a composing-stick must at moments seem quite comic to you. Viewed by itself, it no doubt is comic. But it isn't a fact to be looked at by itself. It is a fact which has a relation to my whole existence—in the past, present, and future—and must be strictly viewed in such relation.
"I don't know why I should mention this except that I caught a sudden glimpse of myself as a workman and found myself smiling. Every life must have its critical moments, and I feel that I have just passed through mine. I have come out with different conceptions of things; moreover, I seem to have found the key to the scheme of my existence, and, though as yet only in a haunting way, to understand the underlying principle, working through all my dreamings, my failures, my mistakes, and my folly, towards my redemption."
In the letter to his father he necessarily had to condense a good deal, as the ground to be covered was so extensive. And some instinct urged him to be silent about his attempt at suicide. He told briefly of his marriage, which he described as a sort of a jump with his eyes open he had suddenly been impelled to take. He had fallen on a place astonishingly different from what it had appeared to him, for he had been the victim of a mirage, through which the force of his impulse had taken him into underlying abysses. He went on to describe Cleo's failure and his own awakening; how they had gone to Dover, how Cleo had left him, and why he was remaining there now. He likewise included a message for the Medhursts, but asked his father not to tell them his whereabouts. It would be sufficient if they were assured all was well with him. It was an odd fancy, but he wanted to have the feeling that he was hiding from them.
He had been too touched by his father's letter not to be frank and sincere, as indeed he would have been in any case, and he only omitted to say how close he had been to his end because he shrank from giving pain.
"There is one thing in particular I want to ask you," he concluded, "and that is not to be tempted to come here to see me. If you really do sympathise with my motives for the life I have chosen, you will understand my fear that a meeting between us now might unnerve me. I know it is a great thing to ask you to be satisfied with the knowledge that I am well and cheerful, and that, my wife having left me of her own accord, I have nothing to reproach myself with in my conduct to her from beginning to end. But I want to begin my new work and submit myself to the new discipline. So much for me depends upon it that, though I am strong and confident, I must not run the risk of being distracted from my purpose by forces that are stronger than I. Where the issue is so great—as it is, according to my conception of things—it is but natural I should distrust myself a little. The year is just half gone. Give me the opportunity of testing myself and of inuring myself to the discipline with no other encouragement save the knowledge of the worthiness of my purpose and the goodwill and approval of whoever understands me. I want to stand alone for the present—isolation brings out every atom of strength in me. Then, perhaps, when the new year comes and I shall have had the strength to stand firm, I may be able to look you in the face."
Helen, in her reply, would not agree with him that he had lost the essential factors of happiness. She still stood by her prophecy. She understood and entered into his every feeling, and approved of his plans unreservedly. The ten pounds she had given to a starving man.
"I wanted to celebrate your choice between life and death, and the dawn of your new era, by making a human being happy, if only for a little while. You should have seen his face when he understood all that lump of money was really his. What emotions must have stirred in him! He must have thought that the age of miracles had come again. It gave me the sensation of drinking some ethereal brand of champagne—it was to your happiness, of course, I drank.
"I was aware, from the beginning, that you were beset with dangers from your own temperament and disposition. But perhaps, after all, it is best that your temperament should have worked itself out its own way. You will emerge the better and the stronger for it in the end, and then, when you do come into your happiness, you will be able to appreciate it with your whole being. But I must own to a sense of guilt—I might have been a truer friend to you had it not been for my selfish love for you. You have yet to forgive me for that.
"It rather vexes me that I cannot do more than just look on and see events shape themselves inevitably, like a spring uncoiling. I should so much have loved to be the good fairy of your life. But, alas! that cannot be, since its very inner force is its own good fairy.
"P. S. I have managed to write you a whole letter without one flippant phrase. Which is certainly a proof that your admonition to me not to look upon you, in apron and shirt-sleeves, picking up type, as a comic picture has made a due impression on me. I am seeing you the whole time as a sort of glorified, idealised workman, enveloped in a mystic halo, and standing for the dignity of labor and the nobility of man. By the way, I have met Miss Medhurst. I had quite a thrill as we shook hands! And she had not the slightest idea I was of any special interest, more than any other casual person she might meet. Strange dramatic position, was it not? Of course, I never want her to know about me. Which reminds me, I am rather alarmed lest your mood of confession should have led you to make me known to your sire—I hope not. And please don't. May I come to Dover for a day now and again in order to see you for ten minutes each time? I have decided to cut Scotland and pass August at Folkestone instead, just lounging on the beach and reading novels. Please say 'yes.'
"P. P. S. I don't like the idea of my role being limited to writing you amusing letters. Won't you allot me a more active and satisfying part? Would it not be a good idea for you to appoint me your 'London agent?' Suppose you give me the list of your creditors and remit me your money as soon as you have a decent instalment put by. You could leave the distribution to me. The workmen should be paid first, of course. I shall arrange to ferret them out, which, I think, will not be difficult, as most of them are, no doubt, attached to the theatre. It would make me so happy if you said 'yes.' After all, one's life, when once its conditions are settled, and its allotted tasks performed, really reduces itself to inter-relations with a few chosen personalities, and everything else becomes a mere background against which one lives. It is the few who occupy one's central consciousness and make one happy or miserable. You will see, therefore, how important to me this apparently little thing will be."
His father's reply was brief and to the point. He thanked his dear son for listening to his prayer, and was happy to hear that everything was now well. As to the irreparable mistake, that, of course, must be faced and lived down. He would respect Morgan's wishes and not seek to see him for the present. Directly he had received Morgan's letter he had sent a long telegram to the Medhursts, which he was now supplementing by a letter. They had telegraphed back, asking him to convey to Morgan their love and hoping they might hear about him from time to time. "You have made me understand a good deal to which I have been blind," he went on. "You were never an ordinary lad; you had special needs, as has every lad of any individuality. I should have sought to comprehend them, instead of trying to drive you along the ordinary lines. No wonder there was a discord—a jarring and a clashing. God speed you, my dear son, and with all my heart do I wish you success in doing that which you feel to be right. For the present, good-bye!"
When Morgan wrote again to Helen he prayed her not to come just yet. His mood was desperately set on isolation, till he could feel he had tackled the task before him and made substantial progress. He hoped she would not alter her plans, as she had meditated, but he gladly accepted her services as "London agent." There was little chance, though, of his being able to send her the first remittance for several months, by which time she would probably be back in town.
Meanwhile Morgan had settled down "at case" and was patiently learning to pick up the "stamps." He was initiated into the mysteries of ems and ens, of leading and spacing and making-up. Racks and galleys and wooden and metal "furniture" played a large part in his dreams; turpentine, paraffin and machine-oil, roller composition and inks became the breath of his nostrils. By an effort of concentration he would never before have been capable of, he made rapid advance, Kettering generously letting him do such work as he could do most effectively, so that his wages' account mounted week by week. The close attention his work demanded made mind-wandering and aimless thinking impossible; but as time went by and he found himself acquiring skill, his enthusiasm grew, and he threw himself into his new occupation almost with frenzy, taking a sort of savage satisfaction in the grey grime of the workshop with its soiled wooden fittings, and in the silent companionship of his aproned co-workers.
He filled up his time at every department of the trade, learning—besides type-setting and proof-correcting—to take the gas-engine to pieces and to clean it, to help to make ready "formes" on the machine, to mix inks, to clean rollers and to work at press, either as inker or puller. But the grime had no power to enter into his spirit, though some slight suggestion of his occupation began eventually to show itself in his face. His hands, too, suffered severely, for soft white hands get quickly ill-used in a printer's workshop.
Still smarting under a long lecture from their father, Alice and Mary had at first taken care to confine conversation with him to trade exigencies; but after a few days they had grown to accept him as part of the household, and were civil to him again. Mrs. Kettering liked to get him to herself of an evening and talk to him for two hours at a time. Kettering himself would fidget a good deal at such times, but scarcely ventured to intrude, though apparently his greatest delight was also to converse with Morgan. But Mrs. Kettering showed no such scruples about entering into the conversation and eventually taking Morgan captive, being entirely without respect for the fact that her husband was in legal possession. In either case Morgan's contribution to the conversation rarely exceeded one-fourth of the whole.
Mark continued taciturn as ever, though his enormous mustachios seemed to grow constantly, as if benefitting by the energy that should have gone into speech. Sometimes he would accompany Morgan on a long walk, and on such occasions Morgan would try to discover the secret of his personality. He learnt after some difficulty that Mark regarded women pretty well as so many demons put on this earth to entrap men's souls. He however had to confess he hadn't formed this opinion from outside experience, but then, he added, he had taken good care to steer free of the sex. He was satisfied to do his work and smoke his pipe—a veritable pipe of peace.
This philosophy, however, only represented one-half of him, though its few simple facts had had to be elicited in little bits, buried in irrelevances, and as there were apparently numbers of such little bits, the process of extrication had been a somewhat painful one. Nor did the other half come as a single revelation. It was also conveyed in little bits, which Morgan had to dig out and piece together and these bits were more difficult to find than the others, for they were infinitely tinier. Mark had once been in love, but had been too shy to let the object of it suspect it, or, rather, he had not known which way to set to work, and the prize had been snapped up by another.
Of course, Morgan's thought sometimes indulged in flights that had little relation to the workshop or to the processes of printing, but only within strict and narrow limits. These he further narrowed by giving up a great part of his leisure to the perusal of such technical books as Kettering possessed. Cleo still figured largely for him. She had been too big and important a fact in his life to lose her place as yet in the centre of his consciousness. But even had he the power, he would not have attempted to gather any intelligence as to her movements, though he could not help speculating somewhat on the very point. Should she ever return into his life again—and he could not make up his mind as to the probability of her doing so—then would be time enough for him to concern himself with her practically.
And amid all his toil, he had ever a sense of something light and dainty, something he was aware of as a haunting, unseen presence. And then at moments there gleamed upon him the wistful fancy that, beneath all the phrases and arguments with which he had equipped himself for the battle, it was really his love for Margaret was helping him to be strong, that it was the hope of his one day attaining to be worthy of her friendship was aiding his self-purification, that it was the flame she had lit in him had now sprung up again, defying all the mean elements by which he was surrounded to eat into his spirit.
And once the fancy had come to him, he nurtured it, so that it grew and grew and became part of his very self. If, indeed, it had not been truth when it had first come to him, it was truth now.
Strolling out one evening, about the end of August, to cool after the heated atmosphere of the workshop, Morgan was dreaming a beautiful vain dream. He had gone half way down the shorter St. Margaret's road, and in the distance rose the square church-tower. For the last two or three minutes he had been conscious of people a few yards ahead of him, and, as their slow stroll was yet slower than his, he had been getting nearer and nearer to them. Now his eye rested half vacantly on their backs, and the perception forced itself upon him that the three backs were those of ladies; and the next thing that dawned upon him was that there was something familiar as well as pleasing about the carriage, the curves, and the movements of those backs, still some twenty paces ahead of him. But he was still dreaming of Margaret, and these perceptions from the outer world were not strong enough to destroy the images in possession of his mind. He was quite close on them before he became aware that he had stumbled on Mrs. Medhurst, Margaret, and Diana.
Though conscious of them, he had, in his abstraction, almost walked on them in the narrow road, making them turn instinctively. He knew he was trembling visibly as he stood face to face with Margaret, her figure flashing on him for a moment like a divine vision; then he saw nothing and felt a fire burning at his temples.
"Morgan," said Mrs. Medhurst's sweet voice, and the cloud of things passed away, and he became aware her arm was supporting him.
"So we know your hiding-place now," sang out Diana. "Why wouldn't you let my old sweetheart tell me? I'm sure I'd have got it out of him all the same had he been in London."
"Morgan doesn't even offer to shake hands with us," said Margaret in soft suggestion.
Now that the encounter had been made, he pulled himself together to face it. He felt shame-faced and altogether unstrung, and he knew that the instinct that had made him insist on isolation had been fully justified. He was over-conscious, too, of the stains on his hands as he held it out. And yet beneath all his discomfort there was a full tide of immeasurable happiness. He could not speak yet. His throat swelled—the emotion was too overpowering. Here again was Margaret, the real Margaret, by his side, talking to him!
His eyes took her in greedily. Under the large straw hat, with its poppies and corn, her face showed exquisite, a face that might float tantalisingly across a painter's vision, and vanish after but allowing him the merest glimpse. Though she was clad in a simple dark blue serge dress, the grace of her figure seemed to him a revelation, and a ravishing sprig of cornflower peeped from her waistband. There was a repose, too, and a gentleness in her bearing that made him think, by contrast, of his Cleo, and of the uncouthness of Alice and Mary when they attempted to be stately.
Perhaps the very thought seemed to call out to him in warning, for, suppressing a sigh, he tore his eyes away from her.
"Why couldn't you let us know?" persisted Diana, who had been evidently much put out by the failure of her artful letters to seduce Archibald into giving away the secret of Morgan's whereabouts.
Mrs. Medhurst and Margaret both looked at Morgan and smiled, as if to convey to him that they understood his motives, and to indicate that Diana was not in the secret. Diana's quick eyes, however, noted the movement, though she said nothing just then.
"I had reasons," said Morgan, vaguely, feeling he must make some sort of an answer to so definite a question.
"We are staying at St. Margaret's," explained Mrs. Medhurst, "and we have been taking a stroll along the cliff-path. It began to get too dangerous, so we climbed a fence and cut across somebody's ploughed field, and then through a common, till at last we got on to this road. And now we're wending our steps homeward. You, Morgan, I suppose, are wandering after the labours of the day?"
He felt they were talking to him in as simple and natural a manner as if they had but parted the day before, under normal circumstances; and he was grateful for this delicacy that abstained from embarrassing him and made the meeting an easy one for him.
"The beauty of the evening tempted me," he said, growing more at his ease.
"And shall not our beauty tempt you as well," suggested Mrs. Medhurst laughingly, "to come and see our humble cottage. It is a quaint place. Mr. Medhurst bought it and we furnished it ourselves."
"Do come, Morgan," put in Margaret persuasively, as if some instinct told her he was going to hesitate.
He knew that battling against the temptation would be hopeless. He seemed to be walking with angels in the last flood of the evening sunlight, and something of the divine calm of evening came over his spirit. He was borne along, gently, gently, till all the sense of the day's toil behind him fell away. The cool air breathed on him, and fluttered the blades of grass on the common, and shook the purple wild-flowers that grew along the wayside. It was laden with the odour of the sheaves that were spread over the fields amid the brown stubble, and seemed to waft to him something of the elemental poetry of the great mother Earth, of the informing spirit of religions of antiquity, of the human joy in the harvest festival, of the symbolic cornucopia, of the grateful offerings of first-fruits.
With a rare understanding of his emotions, they referred no more to him or his work, but plunged at once into their holiday adventures, so that he also was carried away from himself. Diana was learning to swim, and was as full of the subject as she had once or twice, according to her own account, been of sea-water. Margaret's enthusiasms were all for boating, and she took the others out whenever the sea was smooth enough to soothe her mother's fears. The cottage, too, was such fun that they never grew tired of it. And then there was a field near at hand where they had a tennis-court marked out, and where Diana and Margaret kept the ball going between them.
It did not take them long to reach St. Margaret's, and they entered their cottage just as the sun was on the point of sinking. Morgan, now abandoned to his adventure, was delighted with the curiously-built place, with its tiny hall, on one side of which was the little drawing-room, and on the other the dining-room. The walls were boarded and the ceilings were low, rough and whitewashed. Sketches and prints were hung in profusion, nooks were draped, and wicker and quaint chairs and knick-knacks were arranged in a charming disorder, whilst books were scattered everywhere. A piano loomed huge in the crowded little drawing-room. And all this had been achieved, whispered Mrs. Medhurst confidentially in his ear, by the outlay of an incredibly few pounds.
Morgan had an enchanted couple of hours, handling the books, listening to Margaret's playing, and admiring Diana's skill with the mandoline, which her many-sided caprice had taken up of late. He joined them in their evening meal for, according to their rural regime, they dined at two and supped about nine. The dining-room opened direct into a third inner room, which mysterious place Morgan judged to be a kitchen; for the cottage was built long and low.
When eventually he rose to go, they bade him good-night with the same implication of normality. It almost seemed they were taking it for granted he would come again on the morrow. But he knew their omission to give him a definite invitation was dictated by their feeling for him; that they did not wish to seem to intrude on the life he had chosen, but were leaving it to him to decide.
He strode off through the gathering darkness on the hour's walk that would take him back to Dover. The colour had not quite died out of the west, and, as he watched the violets and the cold blues and the pearl greys fading with the strange, lingering light on the distant horizon, his feeling of the evening just passed brought back to him the echo of some lines in the poem, from which Helen had once quoted to him:
"It lies in heaven, across the flood Of ether, as a bridge. Beneath, the tides of day and night With flame and darkness ridge The void..."
He had the sensation of being in the middle spaces now, floating down towards earth again from some rare ethereal region, to which his spirit had mounted.
Perhaps, too, of Margaret might it be true, as of the Blessed Damozel:
"... she cast her arms along The golden barriers, And laid her face between her hands And wept."
He recalled now what his father had written in his first letter about her shutting herself up in her studio and her pretence of being at work on a mass of wax. The hint of her suffering had been almost intolerable to him then; and he knew that, in spite of all her gaiety to-night, the wound had not healed. He pictured the four of them sitting in the shaded lamp-light of the little drawing-room, and, as the echo of the music she had played surged again in his ears, he seemed to feel behind it a strange, ineffable sadness, as one might be conscious of the dark depths of a moon-lit stream. Her every movement rose before him again, giving him the sense of pain suppressed for his sake.
He had abandoned himself to the charm of the evening—it had been so wonderful to him! But now his vision seemed to have grown keener, to be piercing deeper. His memory of each moment was marvellously clear. How vivid still was the picture of Mrs. Medhurst bending down into the light, when he had noticed how the gold was fading out of the still beautiful hair. In the haunting memory of her sweet face he seemed to see now an under-expression of anxious pity and love.
Perhaps now that the pressure was relaxed, Margaret had stolen up to her room and was sobbing passionately to a silent world.
They seemed to beat through him, these sobs! And then Mrs. Medhurst's face again seemed to be with him, and the knowledge that his father had loved her in the olden days seemed to bring her closer to his heart. He stood still and threw out his arms in the darkness, with the vain yearning fancy that perhaps she might be there, that perhaps she might take him to her.
"Morgan," sang out a voice by his side.
His arms dropped and his heart beat painfully, and, though in a moment he had perceived it was Diana had overtaken him in the gloom, he could not recover himself.
"Why, you're crying!" she exclaimed, as her hand stole into his. "And so is she. That makes a pair of you. I'm sure I don't know what it's all about, but it's enough to vex a saint. Something mysterious has happened and nobody will tell me a word about it. And I dare not ask Margaret. I tried it once, and it just started her off crying—I thought she'd never stop!"
He did not answer her. He but held her little hand tighter, aware that the contact made his own seem coarser. They moved on together.
Suddenly he checked himself. "You must not come any further," he began. "I must see you back."
"Tell me first what has happened," she persisted; "Why have you become a workman?"
"I cannot and must not tell you. Besides, you could never understand."
"I understand a good deal more than you grown-up people think I do. Why can't you leave off being a workman? And why don't you come and marry Margaret? She's awfully in love with you, and so are you with her—you know you are!"