"How did you know I was clumsy?" Keith asked. "I shall bite your old face. I shall nibble it ... as if I was a horse ... and you were a bit of sugar. Fancy Jenny going home with half a face!" He laughed excitedly at his forced pleasantry, and the sound of his laugh was music to Jenny's ears. He was excited. He was moved. Quickly the melancholy pressed back upon her after this momentary surcease. He was excited because she was in his arms—not because he loved her.
"Why did you send for me?" she suddenly said. "In your letter you said you'd explain everything. Then you said you'd tell me about yourself. You've done nothing but tease all the time.... Are you afraid, or what? Keith, dear: you don't know what it means to me. If you don't want me—let me go. I oughtn't to have come. I was silly to come; but I had to. But if you only wanted somebody to tease ... one of the others would have done quite as well."
Again the smile spread across Keith's face, brightening his eyes and making his teeth glisten.
"I said you were jealous," he murmured in her ear. "One of the others, indeed! Jenny, there's no other—nobody like you, my sweet. There couldn't be. Do you think there could be?"
"Nobody such a fool," Jenny said, miserably.
"Who's a fool? You?" He seemed to think for a moment; and then went on: "Well, I've told you I planned the supper.... That was true."
"Let me go. I'm getting cramped." Jenny drew away; but he followed, holding her less vigorously, but in no way releasing her. "No: really let me go." Keith shook his head.
"I shan't let you go," he said. "Make yourself comfortable."
"I only make myself miserable." Jenny felt her hair, which was loosened. Her cheeks were hot.
"Are you sorry you came?"
"Yes." Keith pressed closer to her, stifling her breath. She saw his brown cheeks for an instant before she was again enveloped in his strong embrace; and then she heard a single word breathed in her ear.
"Liar!" said Keith. In a moment he added: "Sorry be pole-axed."
It was the second time in that evening that Jenny had been accused of lying; and when the charge had been brought by Alf she had flamed with anger. Now, however, she felt no anger. She felt through her unhappiness a dim motion of exulting joy. Half suffocated, she was yet thrilled with delight in Keith's strength, with belief in his love because it was ardently shown. Strength was her god. She worshipped strength as nearly all women worship it. And to Jenny strength, determination, manhood, were Keith's attributes. She loved him for being strong; she found in her own weakness the triumph of powerlessness, of humiliation.
"You're suffocating me," she warned him, panting.
"D'you love me a little?"
"Yes. A little."
"A lot! Say you love me a lot! And you're glad you came ..."
Jenny held his face to hers, and kissed him passionately.
"Dear!" she fiercely whispered.
Keith slowly released her, and they both laughed breathlessly, with brimming, glowing eyes. He took her hand, still smiling and watching her face.
"Old silly," Keith murmured. "Aren't you an old silly! Eh?"
"So you say. You ought to know.... I suppose I am ..."
"But a nice old silly.... And a good old girl to come to-night."
"But then you knew I should come," urged Jenny, drily, frowningly regarding him.
"You can't forgive that, can you! You think I ought to have come grovelling to you. It's not proper to ask you to come to me ... to believe you might come ... to have everything ready in case you might come. Prude, Jenny! That's what you are."
"A prude wouldn't have come."
"That's all you know," said Keith, teasingly. "She'd have come—out of curiosity; but she'd have made a fuss. That's what prudes are. That's what they do."
"Well, I expect you know," Jenny admitted, sarcastically. The words wounded her more than they wounded him. Where Keith laughed, Jenny quivered. "You don't know what it means to me—" she began again, and checked her too unguarded tongue.
"To come?" He bent towards her. "Of course, it's marvellous to me! Was that what you meant?"
"No. To think ... other girls ..." She could not speak distinctly.
"Other girls?" Keith appeared astonished. "Do you really believe ..." He too paused. "No other girls come on this yacht to see me. I've known other girls. I've made love to other girls—what man hasn't? You don't get to my age without ..."
"Without what?" Jenny asked coolly.
"I'm not pretending anything to you. I'm thirty and a bit over. A man doesn't get to my age...No man does, without having been made a fool of."
"Oh, I don't mind that," Jenny said sharply. "It's the girls you've fooled."
"Don't you believe it, Jenny. They've always been wiser than me. Say they've known a bit more. You're different ..." Jenny shook her head, sighing.
"I bet they've all been that," she slowly said. "Till the next one." The old unhappiness had returned, gripping her heart. She no longer looked at him, but stared away, straight in front of her.
"Well, what if they had all been different?" Keith persisted. "Supposing I were to tell you about them, each one.... There's no time for it, Jenny. You'll have to take my word for it. You'll do that if you want to. If you want to believe in me. Do you?"
"Of course I do!" Jenny blazed. "I can't! Be different if I was at home. But I'm here, and you knew I'd come. D'you see what I mean?"
"You're not in a trap, old girl," said Keith. "You can go home this minute if you think you are." His colour also rose. "You make too much fuss. You want me to tell you good fat lies to save your face. Don't be a juggins, Jenny! Show your spirit! Jenny!"
Keith still held her hand. He drew it towards him, and Jenny was made to lean by his sudden movement. He slipped his arm again round her. Jenny did not yield herself. He was conscious of rebuff, although she did not struggle.
"You want me to trust you blindfold," she said in a dreary voice. "It's not good enough, Keith. Really it isn't! When you don't trust me. You sent for me, and I came. As soon as I was here you ... you were as beastly as you could be ..." Her voice trembled.
"Not really beastly ..." Keith urged, and his coaxing tone and concerned expression shook her. "Nice beastly, eh?"
"You weren't nice. You weren't ..." Jenny hesitated. "You didn't ... you weren't nice."
"I didn't want to frighten you."
Jenny drew herself up, frantically angry.
"Now who's lying!" she savagely cried, and put her hands to disengage herself. "Oh Keith, I'm so sick of it!" He held her more tightly. All her efforts were unavailing against that slowly increased pressure from his strong arms.
"Listen, Jenny," Keith said. "I love you. That's that. I wanted to see you more than anything on earth. I wanted to kiss you. Good God, Jen.... D'you think you're the easiest person in the world to manage?"
The bewilderment that succeeded clove the silence. Jenny gasped against her will.
"What do you mean?" she demanded.
"You think I'm looking on you as cheap ... when I'm in an absolute funk of you!" Keith cried.
"O-oh!" Her exclamation was incredulity itself. Keith persisted warmly:
"I'm not lying. It's all true. And you're a termagant, Jenny. That's what you are. You want it all your own way! Anything that goes wrong is my fault—not yours! You don't think there's anything that's your fault. It's all mine. But, my good girl, that's ridiculous. What d'you think I know about you? Eh? Nothing whatever! Absolutely nothing! You think you're as clear as day! You're not. You're a dark horse. I'm afraid of you—afraid of your temper ... your pride. You won't see that. You think it's my fault that ..." Keith's excitement almost convinced Jenny.
"Shouting won't do any good," she said, deeply curious and overwhelmed by her bewilderment.
"Pull yourself together, Jenny!" he urged. "Look at it from my side if you can. Try! Imagine I've got a side, that is. And now I'll tell you something about myself ... no lies; and you'll have to make the best of the truth. The Truth!" Laughing, he kissed her; and Jenny, puzzled but intrigued, withheld her indignation in order to listen to the promised account. Keith began. "Well, Jenny: I told you I was thirty. I'm thirty-one in a couple of months. I'll tell you the date, and you can work me a sampler. And I was born in a place you've never set eyes on—and I hope you never will set eyes on it. I was born in Glasgow. And there's a smelly old river there, called the Clyde, where they launch big ships ... a bit bigger than the Minerva. The Minerva was built in Holland. Well, my old father was a tough old chap—not a Scotchman, though my mother was Scotch—with a big business in Glasgow. He was as rich as—well, richer than anybody you ever met. Work that out! And he was as tough as a Glasgow business man. They're a special kind. And I was his little boy. He had no other little boys. You interested?"
Jenny nodded sharply, her breast against his, so that she felt every breath he drew.
"Yes: well, my father was so keen that I should grow up into a Glasgow business man that he nearly killed me. He hated me. Simply because when I did anything it was always something away from the pattern—the plan. D'you see? And he'd nearly beat my head in each time.... Yes, wasn't it!... Well, when I was ten he and I had got into such a way that we were sworn enemies. He'd got a strong will; but so had I, even though I was such a kid. And I wouldn't—I couldn't—do what he told me to. And when I was thirteen, I ran away. I'd always loved the river, and boats, and so on; and I ran away from my old father. And he nearly went off his head...and he brought me back. Didn't take him long to find me! That was when I began to hate him. I'd only been afraid of him before; but I was growing up. Well, he put me to a school where they watched me all the time. I sulked, I worked, I did every blessed thing; and I grew older still, and more afraid of my father, and somehow less afraid of him, too. I got a sort of horror of him. I hated him. And when he said I'd got to go into the business I just told him I'd see him damned first. That was when he first saw that you can't make any man a slave—not even your own son—as long as he's got enough to eat. He couldn't starve me. It's starved men who are made slaves, Jenny. They've got no guts. Well, he threw me over. He thought I should starve myself and then go back to him, fawning. I didn't go. I was eighteen, and I went on a ship. I had two years of it; and my father died. I got nothing. All went to a cousin. I was nobody; but I was free. Freedom's the only thing that's worth while in this life. And I was twenty or so. It was then that I picked up a girl in London and tried to keep her—not honest, but straight to me. I looked after her for a year, working down by the river. But it was no good. She went off with other men because I got tired of her. I threw her over when I found that out. I mean, I told her she could stick to me or let me go. She wanted both. I went to sea again. It was then I met Templecombe. I met him in South America, and we got very pally. Then I came back to England. I got engaged to a girl—got married to her when I was twenty-three ..."
"Married!" cried Jenny, pulling herself away. She had flushed deeply. Her heart was like lead.
"I'm not lying. You're hearing it all. And she's dead."
"What was her name?"
"Adela.... She was little and fair; and she was a little sport. But I only married her because I was curious. I didn't care for her. In a couple of months I knew I'd made a mistake. She told me herself. She knew much more than I did. She was older than I was; and she knew a lot for her age—about men. She'd been engaged to one and another since she was fifteen; and in ten years you get to know a good deal. I think she knew everything about men—and I was a boy. She died two years ago. Well, after I'd been with her for a year I broke away. She only wanted me to fetch and carry.... She 'took possession' of me, as they say. I went into partnership with a man who let me in badly; and Adela went back to her work and I went back to sea. And a year later I went to prison because a woman I was living with was a jealous cat and got the blame thrown on to me for something I knew nothing about. D'you see? Prison. Never mind the details. When I came out of prison I was going downhill as fast as a barrel; and then I saw an advertisement of Templecombe's for a skipper. I saw him, and told him all about myself; and he agreed to overlook my little time in prison if I signed on with him to look after this yacht. Now you see I haven't got a very good record. I've been in prison; and I've lived with three women; and I've got no prospects except that I'm a good sailor and know my job. But I never did what I was sent to prison for; and, as I told you, the three women all knew more than I did. I've never done a girl any harm intentionally; and the last of them belongs to six years ago. Since then I've met other girls, and some of them have run after me because I was a sailorman. They do, you know. You're the girl I love; and I want you to remember that I was a kid when I got married. That's the tale, Jenny; and every word of it's true. And now what d'you think of it? Are you afraid of me now? Don't you think I'm a bit of a fool? Or d'you think I'm the sort of fellow that fools the girls?"
There was no reply to his question for a long time; until Keith urged her afresh.
"What I'm wondering," said Jenny, in a slow and rather puzzled way, "is, what you'd think of me if I'd lived with three different men. Because I'm twenty-five, you know."
It might have checked Keith in mid-career. His tone had certainly not been one of apology. But along with a natural complacency he had the honesty that sometimes accompanies success in affairs.
"Well," he said frankly, "I shouldn't like it, Jen."
"How d'you think I like it?"
"D'you love me? Jenny, dear!"
"I don't know. I don't see why you should be different."
"Nor do I. I am, though. I wish I wasn't. Can you see that? Have you ever wished you weren't yourself! Of course you have. So have I. Have you had men running after you all the time? Have you been free night and day, with time on your hands, and temptations going. You haven't. You don't know what it is. You've been at home. And what's more, you've been tied up because...because people think girls are safer if they're tied up."
"Men do!" flashed Jenny. "They like to have it all to themselves."
"Well, if you'd ever been on your own for days together, and thinking as much about women as all young men do ..."
"I wonder if I should boast of it," Jenny said drily. "To a girl I was pretending to love."
Keith let his arm drop from her waist. He withdrew it, and sighed. Then he moved forward upon the settee, half rising, with his hands upon his knees.
"Ah well, Jenny: perhaps I'd better be taking you ashore," he said in a constrained, exasperated tone.
"You don't care if you break my heart," Jenny whispered. "It's all one to you."
"That's simply not true.... But it's no good discussing it." He had lost his temper, and was full of impatience. He sat frowning, disliking her, with resentment and momentary aversion plainly to be seen in his bearing.
"Just because I don't agree that it's mighty kind of you to ... condescend!" Jenny was choking. "You thought I should jump for joy because other women had had you. I don't know what sort of girl you thought I was."
"Well, I thought ... I thought you were fond of me," Keith slowly said, making an effort to speak coldly. "That was what I thought."
"Thought I'd stand anything!" she corrected. "And fall on your neck into the bargain."
"Jenny, old girl.... That's not true. But I thought you'd understand better than you've done. I thought you'd understand why I told you. You think I thought I was so sure of you.... I wish you'd try to see a bit further." He leaned back again, not touching her, but dejectedly frowning; his face pale beneath the tan. His anger had passed in a deeper feeling. "I told you because you wanted to know about me. If I'd been the sort of chap you're thinking I should have told a long George Washington yarn, pretending to be an innocent hero. Well, I didn't. I'm not an innocent hero. I'm a man who's knocked about for fifteen years. You've got the truth. Women don't like the truth. They want a yarn. A yappy, long, sugar-coated yarn, and lots of protestations. This is all because I haven't asked you to forgive me—because I haven't sworn not to do it again if only you'll forgive me. You want to see yourself forgiving me. On a pinnacle.... Graciously forgiving me—"
"Oh, you're a beast!" cried Jenny. "Let me go home." She rose to her feet, and stood in deep thought. For a moment Keith remained seated: then he too rose. They did not look at one another, but with bent heads continued to reconsider all that had been said.
"I've all the time been trying to show you I'm not a beast," Keith urged at last. "But a human being. It takes a woman to be something above a human being." He was sneering, and the sneer chilled her.
"If you'd been thinking of somebody for months," she began in a trembling tone. "Thinking about them all the time, living on it day after day ... just thinking about them and loving them with all your heart.... You don't know the way a woman does it. There's nothing else for them to think about. I've been thinking every minute of the day—about how you looked, and what you said; and telling myself—though I didn't believe it—that you were thinking about me just the same. And I've been planning how you'd look when I saw you again, and what we'd say and do.... You don't know what it's meant to me. You've never dreamed of it. And now to come to-night—when I ought to be at home looking after my dad. And to hear you talk about ... about a lot of other girls as if I was to take them for granted. Why, how do I know there haven't been lots of others since you saw me?"
"Because I tell you it's not so," he interposed. "Because I've been thinking of you all the time."
"How many days at the seaside was it? Three?"
"It was enough for me. It was enough for you."
"And now one evening's enough for both of us," Jenny cried sharply. "Too much!"
"You'll cry your eyes out to-morrow," he warned.
"Oh, to-night!" she assured him recklessly.
"Because you don't love me. You throw all the blame on me; but it's your own pride that's the real trouble, Jenny. You want to come round gradually; and time's too short for it. Remember, I'm away again to-morrow. Did you forget that?"
Jenny shivered. She had forgotten everything but her grievance.
"How long will you be away?" she asked.
"Three months at least. Does it matter?" She reproached his bitterness by a glance. "Jenny, dear," he went on; "when time's so short, is it worth while to quarrel? You see what it is: if you don't try and love me you'll go home unhappy, and we shall both be unhappy. I told you I'm not a free man. I'm not. I want to be free. I want to be free all the time; and I'm tied ..."
"You're still talking about yourself," said Jenny, scornfully, on the verge of tears.
Well, they had both made their unwilling attempts at reconciliation; and they were still further estranged. They were not loving one another; they were just quarrelsome and unhappy at being able to find no safe road of compromise. Jenny had received a bitter shock; Keith, with the sense that she was judging him harshly, was sullen with his deeply wounded heart. They both felt bruised and wretched, and deeply ashamed and offended. And then they looked at each other, and Jenny gave a smothered sob. It was all that was needed; for Keith was beside her in an instant, holding her unyielding body, but murmuring gentle coaxing words into her ear. In an instant more Jenny was crying in real earnest, buried against him; and her tears were tears of relief as much as of pain.
CHAPTER IX: WHAT FOLLOWED
The Minerva slowly and gently rocked with the motion of the current. The stars grew brighter. The sounds diminished. Upon the face of the river lights continued to twinkle, catching and mottling the wavelets. The cold air played with the water, and flickered upon the Minerva's deck; strong enough only to appear mischievous, too soft and wayward to make its presence known to those within. And in the Minerva's cabin, set as it were in that softly rayed room of old gold and golden brown, Jenny was clinging to Keith, snatching once again at precarious happiness. Far off, in her aspirations, love was desired as synonymous with peace and contentment; but in her heart Jenny had no such pretence. She knew that it was otherwise. She knew that passive domestic enjoyment would not bring her nature peace, and that such was not the love she needed. Keith alone could give her true love. And she was in Keith's arms, puzzled and lethargic with something that was only not despair because she could not fathom her own feelings.
"Keith," she said, presently. "I'm sorry to be a fool."
"You're not a fool, old dear," he assured her. "But I'm a beast."
"Yes, I think you are," Jenny acknowledged. There was a long pause. She tried to wipe her eyes, and at last permitted Keith to do that for her, flinching at contact with the handkerchief, but aware all the time of some secret joy. When she could speak more calmly, she went on: "Suppose we don't talk any more about being...what we are...and forgiving, and all that. We don't mean it. We only say it..."
"Well, I mean it—about being a beast," Keith said humbly. "That's because I made you cry."
"Well," said Jenny, agreeingly, "you can be a beast—I mean, think you are one. And if I'm miserable I shall think I've been a fool. But we'll cut out about forgiving. Because I shall never really forgive you. I couldn't. It'll always be there, till I'm an old woman—"
"Only till you're happy, dear," Keith told her. "That's all that means."
"I can't think like that. I feel it's in my bones. But you're going away. Where are you going? D'you know? Is it far?"
"We're going back to the South. Otherwise it's too cold for yachting. And Templecombe wants to keep out of England at the moment. He's safe on the yacht. He can't be got at. There's some wretched predatory woman of title pursuing him...."
"Here ... here!" cried Jenny. "I can't understand if you talk pidgin-English, Keith."
"Well ... you know what ravenous means? Hungry. And a woman of title—you know what a lord is.... Well, and she's chasing about, dropping little scented notes at every street corner for him."
"Oh they are awful!" cried Jenny. "Countesses! Always in the divorce court, or something. Somebody ought to stop them. They don't have countesses in America, do they? Why don't we have a republic, and get rid of them all? If they'd got the floor to scrub they wouldn't have time to do anything wrong."
"True," said Keith. "True. D'you like scrubbing floors?"
"No. But I do it. And keep my hands nice, too." The hands were inspected and approved.
"But then you're more free than most people," Keith presently remarked, in a tone of envy.
"Free!" exclaimed Jenny. "Me! In the millinery! When I've got to be there every morning at nine sharp or get the sack, and often, busy times, stick at it till eight or later, for a few bob a week. And never have any time to myself except when I'm tired out! Who gets the fun? Why, it's all work, for people like me; all work for somebody else. What d'you call being free? Aren't they free?"
"Not one. They're all tied up. Templecombe's hawk couldn't come on this yacht without a troop of friends. They can't go anywhere they like unless it's 'the thing' to be done. They do everything because it's the right thing—because if they do something else people will think it's odd—think they're odd. And they can't stand that!"
"Well, but Keith! Who is it that's free?"
"Nobody," he said.
"I thought perhaps it was only poor people ... just because they were poor."
"Well, Jenny.... That's so. But when people needn't do what they're told they invent a system that turns them into slaves. They have a religion, or they run like the Gadarine swine into a fine old lather and pretend that everybody's got to do the same for some reason or other. They call it the herd instinct, and all sorts of names. But there's nobody who's really free. Most of them don't want to be. If they were free they wouldn't know what to do. If their chains were off they'd fall down and die. They wouldn't be happy if there wasn't a system grinding them as much like each other as it can."
"But why not? What's the good of being alive at all if you've got to do everything whether you want to do it or not? It's not sense!"
"It's fact, though. From the king to the miner—all a part of a big complicated machine that's grinding us slowly to bits, making us all more and more wretched."
"But who makes it like that, Keith?" cried Jenny. "Who says it's to be so?"
Keith laughed grimly.
"Don't let's talk about it," he urged. "No good talking about it. The only thing to do is to fight it—get out of the machine ..."
"But there's nowhere to go, is there?" asked Jenny. "I was thinking about it this evening. 'They've' got every bit of the earth. Wherever you go 'they're' there ... with laws and police and things all ready for you. You've got to give in."
"I'm not going to," said Keith. "I'll tell you that, Jenny."
"But Keith! Who is it that makes it so? There must be somebody to start it. Is it God?"
Keith laughed again, still more drily and grimly.
Jenny was not yet satisfied. She still continued to revolve the matter in her mind.
"You said nobody was free, Keith. But then you said you were free—when you got married."
"Till I got married. Then I wasn't. I fell into the machine and got badly chawed then."
"Don't you want to get married?" Jenny asked. "Ever again?"
"Not that way." Keith's jaw was set. "I've been there; and to me that's what hell is."
How Jenny wished she could understand! She did not want to get married herself—that way. But she wanted to serve. She wanted Keith to be her husband; she wanted to make him happy, and to make his home comfortable. She felt that to work for the man she loved was the way to be truly happy. Did he not think that he could be happy in working for her? She couldn't understand. It was all so hard that she sometimes felt that her brain was clamped with iron bolts and chains.
"What way d'you want to get married?" Jenny asked.
"I want to marry you. Any old way. And I want to take you to the other end of the world—where there aren't any laws and neighbours and rates and duties and politicians and imitations of life.... And I want to set you down on virgin soil and make a real life for you. In Labrador or Alaska ..." He glowed with enthusiasm. Jenny glowed too, infected by his enthusiasm.
"Sounds fine!" she said. Keith exclaimed eagerly. He was alive with joy at her welcome.
"Would you come?" he cried. "Really?"
"To the end of the world?" Jenny said. "Rather!"
They kissed passionately, carried away by their excitement, brimming with joy at their agreement in feeling and desire. The cabin seemed to expand into the virgin forest and the open plain. A new vision of life was opened to Jenny. Exultingly she pictured the future, bright, active, occupied—away from all the old cramping things. It was the life she had dreamed, away from men, away from stuffy rooms and endless millinery, away from regular hours and tedious meals, away from all that now made up her daily dullness. It was splendid! Her quick mind was at work, seeing, arranging, imagining as warm as life the changed days that would come in such a terrestrial Paradise. And then Keith, watching with triumph the mounting joy in her expression, saw the joy subside, the brilliance fade, the eagerness give place to doubt and then to dismay.
"What is it?" he begged. "Jenny, dear!"
"It's Pa!" Jenny said. "I couldn't leave him ... not for anything!"
"Is that all? We'll take him with us!" cried Keith. Jenny sorrowfully shook her head.
"No. He's paralysed," she explained, and sighed deeply at the faded vision.
"Well, I'm not going to give up the idea for that," Keith resumed, after a moment. Jenny shook her head, and a wry smile stole into her face, making it appear thinner than before.
"I didn't expect you would," she said quietly. "It's me that has to give it up."
"Jenny!" He was astonished by her tone. "D'you think I meant that? Never! We'll manage something. Something can be done. When I come back ..."
"Ah, you're going away!" Jenny cried in agony. "I shan't see you. I shall have every day to think of ... day after day. And you won't write. And I shan't see you...." She held him to her, her breast against his, desperate with the dread of being separated from him. "It's easy for you, at sea, with the wind and the sun; and something fresh to see, and something happening all the time. But me—in a dark room, poring over bits of straw and velvet to make hats for soppy women, and then going home to old Em and stew for dinner. There's not much fun in it, Keith.... No, I didn't mean to worry you by grizzling. It's too bad of me! But seeing you, and hearing that plan, it's made me remember how beastly I felt before your letter came this evening. I was nearly mad with it. I'd been mad before; but never as bad as this was. And then your letter came—and I wanted to come to you; and I came, and we've wasted such a lot of time not understanding each other. Even now, I can't be sure you love me—not sure! I think you do; but you only say so. How's anyone ever to be sure, unless they know it in their bones? And I've been thinking about you every minute since we met. Because I never met anybody like you, or loved anybody before..."
She broke off, her voice trembling, her face against his, breathless and exhausted.
"Now listen, Jenny," said Keith. "This is this. I love you, and you love me. That's right, isn't it? Well. I don't care about marriage—I mean, a ceremony; but you do. So we'll be married when I come back in three months. That's all right, isn't it? And when we're married, we'll either take your father with us, whatever his health's like; or we'll do something with him that'll do as well. I should be ready to put him in somebody's care; but you wouldn't like that..."
"I love him," Jenny said. "I couldn't leave him to somebody else for ever."
"Yes. Well, you see there's nothing to be miserable about. It's all straightforward now. Nothing—except that we're going to be apart for three months. Now, Jen: don't let's waste any more time being miserable; but let's sit down and be happy for a bit...How's that?"
Jenny smiled, and allowed him to bring her once again to the settee and to begin once more to describe their future life.
"It's cold there, Jenny. Not warm at all. Snow and ice. And you won't see anybody for weeks and months—anybody but just me. And we shall have to do everything for ourselves—clothes, house-building, food catching and killing... Trim your own hats... Like the Swiss Family Robinson; only you won't have everything growing outside as they did. And we'll go out in canoes if we go on the water at all; and see Indians—'Heap big man bacca' sort of business—and perhaps hear wolves (I'm not quite sure of that); and go about on sledges... with dogs to draw them. But with all that we shall be free. There won't be any bureaucrats to tyrannise over us; no fashions, no regulations, no homemade laws to make dull boys of us. Just fancy, Jenny: nobody to make us do anything. Nothing but our own needs and wishes..."
"I expect we shall tyrannise—as you call it—over each other," Jenny said shrewdly. "It seems to me that's what people do."
"Little wretch!" cried Keith. "To interrupt with such a thing. When I was just getting busy and eloquent. I tell you: there'll be inconveniences. You'll find you'll want somebody besides me to talk to and look after. But then perhaps you'll have somebody!"
"Who?" asked Jenny, unsuspiciously. "Not Pa, I'm sure."
Keith held her away from him, and looked into her eyes. Then he crushed her against him, laughing. It took Jenny quite a minute to understand what he meant.
"Very dull, aren't you!" cried Keith. "Can't see beyond the end of your nose."
"I shouldn't think it was hardly the sort of place for babies," Jenny sighed. "From what you say."
Keith roared with laughter, so that the Minerva seemed to shake in sympathy with his mirth.
"You're priceless!" he said. "My bonny Jenny. I shouldn't think there was ever anybody like you in the world!"
"Lots of girls," Jenny reluctantly suggested, shaking a dolorous head at the ghost of a faded vanity. "I'm afraid." She revived even as she spoke; and encouragingly added: "Perhaps not exactly like."
"I don't believe it! You're unique. The one and only Jenny Redington!"
"Red—!" Jenny's colour flamed. "Sounds nice," she said; and was then silent.
"When we're married," went on Keith, watching her; "where shall we go for our honeymoon? I say!... how would you like it if I borrowed the yacht from Templecombe and ran you off somewhere in it? I expect he'd let me have the old Minerva. Not a bad idea, eh what!"
"When we're married," Jenny said breathlessly, very pale.
"What d'you mean?" Keith's eyes were so close to her own that she was forced to lower her lids. "When I come back from this trip. Templecombe says three months. It may be less."
"It may be more." Jenny had hardly the will to murmur her warning—her distrust.
"Very unlikely; unless the weather's bad. I'm reckoning on a mild winter. If it's cold and stormy then of course yachting's out of the question. But we'll be back before the winter, any way. And then—darling Jenny—we'll be married as soon as I can get the licence. There's something for you to look forward to, my sweet. Will you like to look forward to it?"
Jenny could feel his breath upon her face; but she could not move or speak. Her breast was rising to quickened breathing; her eyes were burning; her mouth was dry. When she moistened her lips she seemed to hear a cracking in her mouth. It was as though fever were upon her, so moved was she by the expression in Keith's eyes. She was neither happy nor unhappy; but she was watching his face as if fascinated. She could feel his arm so gently about her shoulder, and his breast against hers; and she loved him with all her heart. She had at this time no thought of home; only the thought that they loved each other and that Keith would be away for three months; facing dangers indeed, but all the time loving her. She thought of the future, of that time when they both would be free, when they should no longer be checked and bounded by the fear of not having enough food. That was the thing, Jenny felt, that kept poor people in dread of the consequences of their own acts. And Jenny felt that if they might live apart from the busy world, enduring together whatever ills might come to them from their unsophisticated mode of life, they would be able to be happy. She thought that Keith would have no temptations that she did not share; no other men drawing him by imitativeness this way and that, out of the true order of his own character; no employer exacting in return for the weekly wage a servitude that was far from the blessed ideal of service. Jenny thought these things very simply—impulsively—and not in a form to be intelligible if set down as they occurred to her; but the notions swam in her head along with her love for Keith and her joy in the love which he returned. She saw his dear face so close to her own, and heard her own heart thumping vehemently, quicker and quicker, so that it sounded thunderously in her ears. She could see Keith's eyes, so easily to be read, showing out the impulses that crossed and possessed his mind. Love for her she was sure she read, love and kindness for her, and mystification, and curiosity, and the hot slumbering desire for her that made his breathing short and heavy. In a dream she thought of these things, and in a dream she felt her own love for Keith rising and stifling her, so that she could not speak, but could only rest there in his arms, watching that beloved face and storing her memory with its precious betrayals.
Keith gently kissed her, and Jenny trembled. A thousand temptations were whirling in her mind—thoughts of his absence, their marriage, memory, her love... With an effort she raised her lips again to his, kissing him in passion, so that when he as passionately responded it seemed as though she fainted in his arms and lost all consciousness but that of her love and confidence in him and the eager desire of her nature to yield itself where love was given.
CHAPTER X: CINDERELLA
Through the darkness, and into the brightness of the moon's light, the rolling notes of Big Ben were echoing and re-echoing, as each stroke followed and drove away the lingering waves of its predecessor and was in turn dispersed by the one that came after. The sounds made the street noises sharper, a mere rattle against the richness of the striking clock. It was an hour that struck; and the quarters were followed by twelve single notes. Midnight. And Jenny Blanchard was still upon the Minerva; and Emmy and Alf had left the theatre; and Pa Blanchard was alone in the little house in Kennington Park.
The silvered blackness of the Minerva was disturbed. A long streak of yellow light showed from the door leading into the cabin while yet the sounds of the clock hung above the river. It became ghostly against the moonlight that bleached the deck, a long grey-yellow finger pointing the way to the yacht's side.
Jenny and Keith made their way up the steps and to the deck, and Jenny shivered a little in the strong light. Her face was in shadow. She hurried, restored to sanity by the sounds and the thought of her father. Horror and self-blame were active in her mind—not from the fear of discovery; but from shame at having for so long deserted him.
"Oh, hurry!" Jenny whispered, as Keith slipped over the side of the yacht into the waiting dinghy. There was a silence, and presently the heavy cludder of oars against the boat's side.
"Jenny! Come along!" called Keith from the water.
Not now did Jenny shrink from the running tide. Her one thought was to get home; and she had no inclination to think of what lay between her and Kennington Park. She hardly understood what Keith said as he rowed to the steps. She saw the bridge looming, its black shadow cutting the water that sparkled so dully in the moonlight; and then she saw the steps leading from the bridge to the river's edge. They were alongside; she was ashore; and Keith was pressing her hand in parting. Still she could not look at him until she was at the top of the steps, when she turned and raised her hand in farewell.
She knew she had to walk for a little way down the road in the direction of her home, and then up a side street, where she had been told that she would find the motor car awaiting her. And for some seconds she could not bear the idea of speaking to the chauffeur, from the sense that he must know exactly how long she had been on board the yacht. The hesitation caused her to linger, as the cold air had caused her to think. It was as though she feared that when he was found the man would be impudent to her, and leer, behaving familiarly as he might have done to a common woman. Because she was alone and unprotected. It was terrible. Her secret filled her with the sense of irremediable guilt. Already she was staled with the evening's excitement. She stopped and wavered, her shadow, so black and small, hesitating as she did. Could she walk home? She looked at the black houses, and listened to the terrifying sinister roar that continued faintly to fill the air. Could she go by tram? If she did—whatever she did—the man might wait for her all night, and Keith would know how cowardly she had been. It might even come to the ears of Lord Templecombe, and disgrace Keith before him. To go or to stay was equally to bring acute distress upon herself, the breathless shame of being thought disgraced for ever. Already it seemed to her that the shadows were peopled with observers ready to spy upon her, to seize her, to bear her away into hidden places...
At last, her mind resolved by her fears, which crowded upon her in a tumult, Jenny stepped fearfully forward. The car was there, dimly outlined, a single light visible to her eye. It was drawn upon at the side of the street; and the chauffeur was fast asleep, his head upon his arms, and his arms spread upon the steering-wheel.
"I say!" cried Jenny in a panic, her glance quickly over her shoulder at unseen dangers. "Wake up! Wake up!"
She stepped into the car, and it began to quiver with life as the engine was started. Then, as if drowned in the now familiar scent of the hanging bouquet, Jenny lay back once more in the soft cushions; bound for home, for Emmy and Alf and Pa; her evening's excursion at an end, and only its sequel to endure.
CHAPTER XI: AFTER THE THEATRE
After leaving the house Emmy and Alf pressed along in the darkness, Alf's arm still surrounding and supporting Emmy, Emmy still half jubilantly and half sorrowfully continuing to recognise her happiness and the smothered chagrin of her emotions. She was not able to feel either happy or miserable; but happiness was uppermost. Dislike of Jenny had its place, also; for she could account for every weakness of Alf's by reference to Jenny's baseness. But indeed Emmy could not think, and could only passively and excitedly endure the conflicting emotions of the moment. And Alf did not speak, but hurried her along as fast as his strong arm could secure her compliance with his own pace; and they walked through the night-ridden streets and full into the blaze of the theatre entrance without any words at all. Then, when the staring vehemence of the electric lights whitened and shadowed her face, Emmy drew away, casting down her eyes, alarmed at the disclosures which the brilliance might devastatingly make. She slipped from his arm, and stood rather forlornly while Alf fished in his pockets for the tickets. With docility she followed him, thrilled when he stepped aside in passing the commissionaire and took her arm. Together they went up the stairs, the heavy carpets with their drugget covers silencing every step, the gilded mirrors throwing their reflections backwards and forwards until the stairs seemed peopled with hosts of Emmys and Alfs. As they drew near the closed doors of the circle the hush filling the staircases and vestibules of the theatre was intensified. An aproned attendant seemed to Emmy's sensitiveness to look them up and down and superciliously to disapprove them. She moved with indignation. A dull murmur, as of single voices, disturbed the air somewhere behind the rustling attendant: and when the doors were quickly opened Emmy saw beyond the darkness and the intrusive flash of light caused by the opening doors a square of brilliance and a dashing figure upon the stage talking staccato. Those of the audience who were sitting near the doors turned angrily and with curiosity to view the new-comers; and the voice that Emmy had distinguished went more stridently on, with a strong American accent. In a flurry she found and crept into her seat, trying to understand the play, to touch Alf, to remove her hat, to discipline her excitements. And the staccato voice went on and on, detailing a plan of some sort which she could not understand because they had missed the first five minutes of the play. Emmy could not tell that the actor was only pretending to be an American; she could not understand why, having spoken twenty words, he must take six paces farther from the footlights until he had spoken thirteen more; but she could and did feel most overwhelmingly exuberant at being as it were alone in that half-silent multitude, sitting beside Alf, their arms touching, her head whirling, her heart beating, and a wholly exquisite warmth flushing her cheeks.
The first interval found the play well advanced. A robbery had been planned—for it was a "crook" play—and the heroine had already received wild-eyed the advances of a fur-coated millionaire. When the lights of the theatre popped up, and members of the orchestra began once more unmercifully to tune their instruments, it was possible to look round at the not especially large audience. But in whichever direction Emmy looked she was always brought back as by a magnet to Alf, who sat ruminantly beside her. To Alf's sidelong eye Emmy was looking surprisingly lovely. The tired air and the slightly peevish mouth to which he was accustomed had given place to the flush and sparkle of an excited girl. Alf was aware of surprise. He blinked. He saw the lines smoothed away from round her mouth—the lines of weariness and dissatisfaction,—and was tempted by the softness of her cheek. As he looked quickly off again he thought how full Jenny would have been of comment upon the play, how he would have sat grinning with precious enjoyment at her merciless gibes during the whole of the interval. He had the sense of Jenny as all movement, as flashing and drawing him into quagmires of sensation, like a will-o'-the-wisp. Emmy was not like that. She sat tremulously smiling, humble before him, diffident, flattering. She was intelligent: that was it. Intelligent was the word. Not lively, but restful. Critically he regarded her. Rather a nice girl, Emmy....
Alf roused himself, and looked around.
"Here, miss!" he called; and "S-s-s-s" when she did not hear him. It was his way of summoning an attendant or a waitress. "S-s-s-s." The attendant brought chocolates, which Alf handed rather magnificently to his companion. He plunged into his pockets—in his rough-and-ready, muscular way—for the money, leaning far over the next seat, which was unoccupied. "Like some lemon?" he said to Emmy. Together they inspected the box of chocolates, which contained much imitation-lace paper and a few sweets. "Not half a sell," grumbled Alf to himself, thinking of the shilling he had paid; but he looked with gratification at Emmy's face as she enjoyingly ate the chocolates. As her excitement a little strained her nervous endurance Emmy began to pale under the eyes; her eyes seemed to grow larger; she lost the first air of sparkle, but she became more pathetic. "Poor little thing," thought Alf, feeling masculine. "Poor little thing: she's tired. Poor little thing."
In the middle of this hot, excitedly-talking audience, they seemed to bask as in a warm pool of brilliant light. The brilliants in the dome of the theatre intensified all the shadows, heightened all the smiles, illumined all the silken blouses and silver bangles, the flashing eyes, the general air of fete.
"All right?" Alf inquired protectively. Emmy looked in gratitude towards him.
"Lovely," she said. "Have another?"
"I meant you," he persisted. "Yourself, I mean." Emmy smiled, so happily that nobody could have been unmoved at the knowledge of having given such pleasure.
"Oh, grand!" Emmy said. Then her eyes contracted. Memory came to her. The angry scene that had passed earlier returned to her mind, hurting her, and injuring her happiness. Alf hurried to engage her attention, to distract her from thoughts that had in them such discomfort as she so quickly showed.
"Like the play? I didn't quite follow what it was this old general had done to him. Did you?"
"Hadn't he kept him from marrying ..." Emmy looked conscious for a moment. "Marrying the right girl? I didn't understand it either. It's only a play."
"Of course," Alf agreed. "See how that girl's eyes shone when old fur-coat went after her? Fair shone, they did. Like lamps. They'd got the limes on her... You couldn't see them. My—er—my friend's the electrician here. He says it drives him nearly crazy, the way he has to follow her about in the third act. She... she's got some pluck, he says; the way she fights three of them single-handed. They've all got revolvers. She's got one; but it's not loaded. Lights a cigarette, too, with them all watching her, ready to rush at her."
"There!" said Emmy, admiringly. She was thinking: "It's only a play."
"She gets hold of his fur coat, and puts it on.... Imitates his voice.... You can see it's her all the time, you know. So could they, if they looked a bit nearer. However, they don't.... I suppose there wouldn't be any play if they did...."
Emmy was not listening to him: she was dreaming. She was as gauche and simple in his company as a young girl would have been; but her mind was different. It was practical in its dreams, and they had their disturbing unhappiness, as well, from the greater poignancy of her desire. She was not a young girl, to be agreeably fluttered and to pass on to the next admirer without a qualm. She loved him, blindly but painfully; without the ease of young love, but with all the sickness of first love. And she had jealousy, the feeling that she was not his first object, to poison her feelings. She could not think of Jenny without tremors of anger. And still, for pain, her thoughts went throbbing on about Jenny whenever, in happiness, she had seen a home and Alf and a baby and the other plain clear consequences of earning his love—of taking him from Jenny.
And then the curtain rose, the darkness fell, and the orchestra's tune slithered into nothing. The play went on, about the crook and the general and the millionaire and the heroine and all their curiously simple-minded friends. And every moment something happened upon the stage, from fights to thefts, from kisses (which those in the gallery, not wholly absorbed by the play, generously augmented) to telephone calls, plots, speeches (many speeches, of irreproachable moral tone), shoutings, and sudden wild appeals to the delighted occupants of the gallery. And Emmy sat through it hardly heeding the uncommon events, aware of them as she would have been aware of distant shouting. Her attention was preoccupied with other matters. She had her own thoughts, serious enough in themselves. Above all, she was enjoying the thought that she was with Alf, and that their arms were touching; and she was wondering if he knew that.
Through another interval they sat with silent embarrassment, the irreplaceable chocolates, which had earlier been consumed, having served their turn as a means of devouring attention. Alf was tempted to fly to the bar for a drink and composure, but he did not like to leave Emmy; and he could not think of anything which could safely be said to her in the middle of this gathering of hot and radiant persons. "To speak" in such uproar meant "to shout." He felt that every word he uttered would go echoing in rolls and rolls of sound out among the multitude. They were not familiar enough to make that a matter of indifference to him. He was in the stage of secretiveness. And Emmy, after trying once or twice to open various small topics, had fallen back upon her own thoughts, and could invent nothing to talk about until the difficulties that lay between them had been removed. Her brow contracted. She moved her shoulders, or sat pressed reservedly against the back of her seat. Her voice, whenever she did not immediately hear some word fall from Alf, became sharp and self-conscious—almost "managing."
It was a relief to both of them, and in both the tension of sincere feeling had perceptibly slackened, when the ignored orchestra gave way before the rising curtain. Again the two drew together in the darkness, as all other couples were doing, comforted by proximity, and even by the unacknowledged mutual pleasure of it; again they watched the extraordinary happenings upon the stage. The fur coat was much used, cigarettes were lighted and flung away with prodigal recklessness, pistols were revealed—one of them was even fired into the air;—and jumping, trickling music heightened the effects of a number of strong speeches about love, and incorruptibility, and womanhood.... The climax was reached. In the middle of the climax, while yet the lover wooed and the villain died, the audience began to rustle, preparatory to going home. Even Emmy was influenced to the extent of discovering and beginning to adjust her hat. It was while she was pinning it, with her elbows raised, that the curtain fell. Both Emmy and Alf rose in the immediately successive re-illumination of the theatre; and Emmy looked so pretty with her arms up, and with the new hat so coquettishly askew upon her head, and with a long hatpin between her teeth, that Alf could not resist the impulse to put his arm affectionately round her in leading the way out.
And then, once in the street, he made no scruple about taking Emmy's arm within the crook of his as they moved from the staring whiteness of the theatre lamps out into the calmer moonshine. It was eleven o'clock. The night was fine, and the moon rode high above amid the twinkling stars. When Alf looked at Emmy's face it was transfigured in this beautiful light, and he drew her gently from the direct way back to the little house.
"Don't let's go straight back," he said. "Stroll u'll do us good."
Very readily Emmy obeyed his guidance. Her heart was throbbing; but her brain was clear. He wanted to be with her; and the knowledge of that made Emmy happier than she had been since early childhood.
"It's been lovely," she said, with real warmth of gratitude, looking away from him with shyness.
"Hm," growled Alf, in a voice of some confusion. "Er...you don't go much to the theatre, do you?"
"Not much," Emmy agreed. "See, there's Pa. He always looks to me..."
"Yes." Alf could not add anything to that for a long time. "Fine night," he presently recorded. "D'you like a walk? I mean ... I'm very fond of it, a night like this. Mr. Blanchard's all right, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes. She's there." Emmy could not bring herself to name Jenny to him. Yet her mind was busy thinking of the earlier jar, recomposing the details, recalling the words that had passed. Memory brought tears into her eyes; but she would not allow Alf to see them, and soon she recovered her self-control. It had to be spoken of: the evening could not pass without reference to it; or it would spoil everything. Alf would think of her—he was bound to think of her—as a crying, petulant, jealous woman, to whom he had been merely kind. Patronising, even! Perhaps, even, the remembrance of it would prevent him from coming again to the house. Men like Alf were so funny in that respect. It took so little to displease them, to drive them away altogether. At last she ventured: "It was nice of you to take me."
Alf fidgeted, jerking his head, and looking recklessly about him.
"Not at all," he grumbled. "Not tired, are you?" Emmy reassured him. "What I mean, I'm very glad.... Now, look here, Em. May as well have it out...." Emmy's heart gave a bound: she walked mechanically beside him, her head as stiffly held as though the muscles of her neck had been paralysed. "May as well, er...have it out," repeated Alf. "That's how I am—I like to be all shipshape from the start. When I came along this evening I did mean to ask young Jen to go with me. That was quite as you thought. I never thought you'd, you know, care to come with me. I don't know why; but there it is. I never meant to put it like I did ... in that way... to have a fuss and upset anybody. I've ... I mean, she's been out with me half-a-dozen times; and so I sort of naturally thought of her."
"Of course," agreed Emmy. "Of course."
"But I 'm glad you came," Alf said. Something in his honesty, and the brusqueness of his rejoicing, touched Emmy, and healed her first wound—the thought that she might have been unwelcome to him. They went on a little way, more at ease; both ready for the next step in intimacy which was bound to be taken by one of them.
"I thought she might have said something to you—about me not wanting to come," Emmy proceeded, tentatively. "Made you think I never wanted to go out."
Alf shook his head. Emmy had there no opening for her resentment.
"No," he said, with stubborn loyalty. "She's always talked very nice about you."
"What does she say?" swiftly demanded Emmy.
"I forget.... Saying you had a rough time at home. Saying it was rough on you. That you're one of the best...."
"She said that?" gasped Emmy. "It's not like her to say that. Did she really? She's so touchy about me, generally. Sometimes, the way she goes on, anybody'd think I was the miserablest creature in the world, and always on at her about something. I'm not, you know; only she thinks it. Well, I can't help it, can I? If you knew how I have to work in that house, you'd be... surprised. I'm always at it. The way the dirt comes in—you'd wonder where it all came from! And see, there's Pa and all. She doesn't take that into account. She gets on all right with him; but she isn't there all day, like I am. That makes a difference, you know. He's used to me. She's more of a change for him."
Alf was cordial in agreement. He was seeing all the difference between the sisters. In his heart there still lingered a sort of cherished enjoyment of Jenny's greater spirit. Secretly it delighted him, like a forbidden joke. He felt that Jenny—for all that he must not, at this moment, mention her name—kept him on the alert all the time, so that he was ever in hazardous pursuit. There was something fascinating in such excitement as she caused him. He never knew what she would do or say next; and while that disturbed and distressed him it also lacerated his vanity and provoked his admiration. He admired Jenny more than he could ever admire Emmy. But he also saw Emmy as different from his old idea of her. He had seen her trembling defiance early in the evening, and that had moved him and made him a little afraid of her; he had also seen her flushed cheeks at the theatre, and Emmy had grown in his eyes suddenly younger. He could not have imagined her so cordial, so youthful, so interested in everything that met her gaze. Finally, he found her quieter, more amenable, more truly wifely than her sister. It was an important point in Alf's eyes. You had to take into account—if you were a man of common sense—relative circumstances. Devil was all very well in courtship; but mischief in a girl became contrariness in a domestic termagant. That was an idea that was very much in Alf's thoughts during this walk, and it lingered there like acquired wisdom.
"Say she's going with a sailor!" he suddenly demanded.
"So she told me. I've never seen him. She doesn't tell lies, though."
"I thought you said she did!"
Emmy flinched: she had forgotten the words spoken in her wild anger, and would have been ashamed to account for them in a moment of greater coolness.
"I mean, if she says he's a sailor, that's true. She told me he was on a ship. I suppose she met him when she was away that time. She's been very funny ever since. Not funny—restless. Anything I've done for her she's made a fuss. I give her a thorough good meal; and oh! there's such a fuss about it. 'Why don't we have ice creams, and merangs, and wine, and grouse, and sturgeon—'"
"Ph! Silly talk!" said Alf, in contemptuous wonder. "I mean to say..."
"Oh, well: you know what flighty girls are. He's probably a swank-pot. A steward, or something of that sort. I expect he has what's left over, and talks big about it. But she's got ideas like that in her head, and she thinks she's too good for the likes of us. It's too much trouble to her to be pelite these days. I've got the fair sick of it, I can tell you. And then she's always out...Somebody's got to be at home, just to look after Pa and keep the fire in. But Jenny—oh dear no! She's no sooner home than she's out again. Can't rest. Says it's stuffy indoors, and off she goes. I don't see her for hours. Well, I don't know ... but if she doesn't quiet down a bit she'll only be making trouble for herself later on. She can't keep house, you know! She can scrub; but she can't cook so very well, or keep the place nice. She hasn't got the patience. You think she's doing the dusting; and you find her groaning about what she'd do if she was rich. 'Yes,' I tell her; 'it's all very well to do that; but you'd far better be doing something useful,' I say. 'Instead of wasting your time on idle fancies.'"
"Very sensible," agreed Alf, completely absorbed in such a discourse.
"She's trying, you know. You can't leave her for a minute. She says I'm stodgy; but I say it's better to be practical than flighty. Don't you think so, Alf?"
"Exackly!" said Alf, in a tone of the gravest assent. "Exackly."
"I mean," pursued Emmy, "you must have a little common-sense. But she's been spoilt—she's the youngest. I'm a little older than she is ... wiser, I say; but she won't have it.... And Pa's always made a fuss of her. Really, sometimes, you'd have thought she was a boy. Racing about! My word, such a commotion! And then going out to the millinery, and getting among a lot of other girls. You don't know who they are—if they're ladies or not. It's not a good influence for her...."
"She ought to get out of it," Alf said. To Emmy it was a ghastly moment.
"She'll never give it up," she hurriedly said. "You know, it's in her blood. Off she goes! And they make a fuss of her. She mimics everybody, and they laugh at it—they think it's funny to mimic people who can't help themselves—if they are a bit comic. So she goes; and when she does come home Pa's so glad to see a fresh face that he makes a fuss of her, too. And she stuffs him up with all sorts of tales—things that never happened—to keep him quiet. She says it gives him something to think about.... Well, I suppose it does. I expect you think I'm very unkind to say such things about my own sister; but really I can't help seeing what's under my nose; and I sometimes get so—you know, worked up, that I don't know how to hold myself. She doesn't understand what it is to be cooped up indoors all day long, like I am; and it never occurs to her to say 'Go along, Em; you run out for a bit.' I have to say to her: 'You be in for a bit, Jen?' and then she p'tends she's always in. And then there's a rumpus...."
Alf was altogether subdued by this account: it had that degree of intimacy which, when one is in a sentimental mood, will always be absorbing. He felt that he really was getting to the bottom of the mystery known to him as Jenny Blanchard. The picture had verisimilitude. He could see Jenny as he listened. He was seeing her with the close and searching eye of a sister, as nearly true, he thought, as any vision could be. Once the thought, "I expect there's another story" came sidling into his head; but it was quickly drowned in further reminiscence from Emmy, so that it was clearly a dying desire that he left for Jenny. Had Jenny been there, to fling her gage into the field, Alf might gapingly have followed her, lost again in admiration of her more sparkling tongue and equipments. But in such circumstances the arraigned party is never present. If Jenny had been there the tale could not have been told. Emmy's virtuous and destructive monologue would not merely have been interrupted: it would have been impossible. Jenny would have done all the talking. The others, all amaze, would have listened with feelings appropriate to each, though with feelings in common unpleasant to be borne.
"I bet there's a rumpus," Alf agreed. "Old Jen's not one to take a blow. She ups and gets in the first one." He couldn't help admiring Jenny, even yet. So he hastened to pretend that he did not admire her; out of a kind of tact. "But of course ... that's all very well for a bit of sport, but it gets a bit wearisome after a time. I know what you mean...."
"Don't think I've been complaining about her," Emmy said. "I wouldn't. Really, I wouldn't. Only I do think sometimes it's not quite fair that she should have all the fun, and me none of it. I don't want a lot. My tastes are very simple. But when it comes to none at all—well, Alf, what do you think?"
"It's a bit thick," admitted Alf. "And that's a fact."
"See, she's always having her own way. Does just what she likes. There's no holding her."
"Wants a man to do that," ruminated Alf, with a half chuckle. "Eh?"
"Well," said Emmy, a little brusquely. "I pity the man who tries it on."
Emmy was not deliberately trying to secure from Alf a proposal of marriage. She was trying to show him the contrast between Jenny and herself, and to readjust the balances as he appeared to have been holding them. She wanted to impress him. She was as innocent of any other intention as any girl could have been. It was jealousy that spoke; not scheme. And she was perfectly sincere in her depreciation of Jenny. She could not understand what it was that made the admiring look come into the faces of those who spoke to Jenny, nor why the unwilling admiration that started into her own heart should ever find a place there. She was baffled by character, and she was engaged in the common task of rearranging life to suit her own temperament.
They had been walking for some little distance now along deserted streets, the moon shining upon them, their steps softly echoing, and Emmy's arm as warm as toast. It was like a real lover's walk, she could not help thinking, half in the shadow and wholly in the stillness of the quiet streets. She felt very contented; and with her long account of Jenny already uttered, and her tough body already reanimated by the walk, Emmy was at leisure to let her mind wander among sweeter things. There was love, for example, to think about; and when she glanced sideways Alf's shoulder seemed such a little distance from her cheek. And his hand was lightly clasping her wrist. A strong hand, was Alf's, with a broad thumb and big capable fingers. She could see it in the moonlight, and she had suddenly an extraordinary longing to press her cheek against the back of Alf's hand. She did not want any silly nonsense, she told herself; and the tears came into her eyes, and her nose seemed pinched and tickling with the cold at the mere idea of any nonsense; but she could not help longing with the most intense longing to press her cheek against the back of Alf's hand. That was all. She wanted nothing more. But that desire thrilled her. She felt that if it might be granted she would be content, altogether happy. She wanted so little!
And as if Alf too had been thinking of somebody nearer to him than Jenny, he began:
"I don't know if you've ever thought at all about me, Em. But your saying what you've done ... about yourself ... it's made me think a bit. I'm all on my own now—have been for years; but the way I live isn't good for anyone. It's a fact it's not. I mean to say, my rooms that I've got ... they're not big enough to swing a cat in; and the way the old girl at my place serves up the meals is a fair knock-out, if you notice things like I do. If I think of her, and then about the way you do things, it gives me the hump. Everything you do's so nice. But with her—the plates have still got bits of yesterday's mustard on them, and all fluffy from the dishcloth...."
"Not washed prop'ly." Emmy interestedly remarked; "that's what that is."
"Exackly. And the meat's raw inside. Cooks it too quickly. And when I have a bloater for my breakfast—I'm partial to a bloater—it's black outside, as if it was done in the cinders; and then inside—well, I like them done all through, like any other man. Then I can't get her to get me gammon rashers. She will get these little tiddy rashers, with little white bones in them. Why, while you're cutting them out the bacon gets cold. You may think I'm fussy ... fiddly with my food. I'm not, really; only I like it...."
"Of course you do," Emmy said. "She's not interested, that's what it is. She thinks anything's food; and some people don't mind at all what they eat. They don't notice."
"No. I do. If you go to a restaurant you get it different. You get more of it, too. Well, what with one thing and another I've got very fed up with Madame Bucks. It's all dirty and half baked. There's great holes in the carpet of my sitting-room—holes you could put your foot through. And I've done that, as a matter of fact. Put my foot through and nearly gone over. Should have done, only for the table. Well, I mean to say ... you can't help being fed up with it. But she knows where I work, and I know she's hard up; so I don't like to go anywhere else, because if anybody asked me if he should go there, I couldn't honestly recommend him to; and yet, you see how it is, I shouldn't like to leave her in the lurch, if she knew I was just gone somewhere else down the street."
"No," sympathetically agreed Emmy. "I quite see. It's very awkward for you. Though it's no use being too kind-hearted with these people; because they don't appreciate it; and if you don't say anything they just go on in the same way, never troubling themselves about you. They think, as long as you don't say anything you're all right; and it's not their place to make any alteration. They're quite satisfied. Look at Jenny and me."
"Is she satisfied!" asked Alf.
"With herself, she is. She's never satisfied with me. She never tries to see it from my point of view."
"No," Alf nodded his head wisely. "That's what it is. They don't." He nodded again.
"Isn't it a lovely night," ventured Emmy. "See the moon over there."
They looked up at the moon and the stars and the unfathomable sky. It took them at once away from the streets and the subject of their talk. Both sighed as they stared upwards, lost in the beauty before them. And when at last their eyes dropped, the street lamps had become so yellow and tawdry that they were like stupid spangles in contrast with the stars. Alf still held Emmy's arm so snugly within his own, and her wrist was within the clasp of his fingers. It was so little a thing to slide his fingers into a firm clasp of her hand, and they drew closer.
"Lovely, eh!" Alf ejaculated, with a further upward lift of his eyes. Emmy sighed again.
"Not like down here," she soberly said.
"No, it's different. Down here's all right, though," Alf assured her. "Don't you think it is?" He gave a rather nervous little half laugh. "Don't you think it is?"
"Grand!" Emmy agreed, with the slightest hint of dryness.
"I say, it was awfully good of you to come to-night," said Alf. "I've ... you've enjoyed it, haven't you?" He was looking sharply at her, and Emmy's face was illumined. He saw her soft cheeks, her thin, soft little neck; he felt her warm gloved hand within his own. "D'you mind?" he asked, and bent abruptly so that their faces were close together. For a moment, feeling so daring that his breath caught, Alf could not carry out his threat. Then, roughly, he pushed his face against hers, kissing her. Quickly he released Emmy's arm, so that his own might be more protectingly employed; and they stood embraced in the moonlight.
It was only for a minute, for Emmy, with instinctive secrecy, drew away into the shadow. At first Alf did not understand, and thought himself repelled; but Emmy's hands were invitingly raised. The first delight was broken. One more sensitive might have found it hard to recapture; but Alf stepped quickly to her side in the shadow, and they kissed again. He was surprised at her passion. He had not expected it, and the flattery was welcome. He grinned a little in the safe darkness, consciously and even sheepishly, but with eagerness. They were both clumsy and a little trembling, not very practised lovers, but curious and excited. Emmy felt her hat knocked a little sideways upon her head.
It was Emmy who moved first, drawing herself away from him, she knew not why.
"Where you going?" asked Alf, detaining her. "What is it? Too rough, am I?" He could not see Emmy's shaken head, and was for a moment puzzled at the ways of woman—so far from his grasp.
"No," Emmy said. "It's wonderful."
Peering closely, Alf could see her eyes shining.
"D'you think you're fond enough of me, Emmy?" She demurred.
"That's a nice thing to say! As if it was for me to tell you!" she whispered archly back.
"What ought I to say? I'm not ... mean to say, I don't know how to say things, Emmy. You'll have to put up with my rough ways. Give us a kiss, old sport."
"How many more! You are a one!" Emmy was not pliant enough. In her voice there was the faintest touch of—something that was not self-consciousness, that was perhaps a sense of failure. Perhaps she was back again suddenly into her maturity, finding it somehow ridiculous to be kissed and to kiss with such abandon. Alf was not baffled, however. As she withdrew he advanced, so that his knuckle rubbed against the brick wall to which Emmy had retreated.
"I say," he cried sharply. "Here's the wall."
"Hurt yourself?" Emmy quickly caught his hand and raised it, examining the knuckle. The skin might have been roughened; but no blood was drawn. Painfully, exultingly, her dream realised, she pressed her cheek against the back of his hand.
"What's that for?" demanded Alf.
"Nothing. Never you mind. I wanted to do it." Emmy's cheeks were hot as she spoke; but Alf marvelled at the action, and at her confession of such an impulse.
"How long had you ... wanted to do it?"
"Mind your own business. The idea! Don't you know better than that?" Emmy asked. It made him chuckle delightedly to have such a retort from her. And it stimulated his curiosity.
"I believe you're a bit fond of me," he said. "I don't see why. There's nothing about me to write home about, I shouldn't think. But there it is: love's a wonderful thing."
"Is it?" asked Emma, distantly. Why couldn't he say he loved her? Too proud, was he? Or was he shy? He had only used the word "love" once, and that was in this general sense—as though there was such a thing. Emmy was shy of the word, too; but not as shy as that. She was for a moment anxious, because she wanted him to say the word, or some equivalent. If it was not said, she was dependent upon his charity later, and would cry sleeplessly at night for want of sureness of him.
"D'you love me?" she suddenly said. Alf whistled. He seemed for that instant to be quite taken aback by her inquiry. "There's no harm in me asking, I suppose." Into Emmy's voice there came a thread of roughness.
"No harm at all," Alf politely said. "Not at all." He continued to hesitate.
"Well?" Emmy waited, still in his arms, her ears alert.
"We're engaged, aren't we?" Alf muttered shamefacedly. "Erum ... what sort of ring would you like? I don't say you'll get it ... and it's too late to go and choose one to-night."
Emmy flushed again: he felt her tremble.
"You are in a hurry," she said, too much moved for her archness to take effect.
"Yes, I am." Alf's quick answer was reassuring enough. Emmy's heart was eased. She drew him nearer with her arms about his neck, and they kissed again.
"I wish you'd say you love me," she whispered. "Mean such a lot to me."
"No!" cried Alf incredulously. "Really?"
"I'll think about it. Do you—me?"
"Yes. I don't mind saying it if you will."
Alf gave a little whistle to himself, half under his breath. He looked carefully to right and left, and up at the house-wall against which they were standing. Nobody seemed to be in danger of making him feel an abject fool by overhearing such a confession as he was invited to make; and yet it was such a terrible matter. He was confronted with a difficulty of difficulties. He looked at Emmy, and knew that she was waiting, entreating him with her shining eyes.
"Er," said Alf, reluctantly and with misgiving. "Er ... well, I ... a ... suppose I do...."
Emmy gave a little cry, that was half a smothered laugh of happiness at her triumph. It was not bad! She had made him admit it on the first evening. Later, when she was more at ease, he should be more explicit.
"Well," said Alf, instantly regretting his admission, and inclined to bluster. "Now I suppose you're satisfied?"
"Awfully!" breathed Emmy. "You're a dear good soul. You're splendid, Alf!"
For a few minutes more they remained in that benign, unforgettable shadow; and then, very slowly, with Alf's arm about Emmy's waist, and Emmy's shoulder so confidingly against his breast, they began to return homewards. Both spoke very subduedly, and tried to keep their shoes from too loudly striking the pavement as they walked; and the wandering wind came upon them in glee round every corner and rustled like a busybody among all the consumptive bushes in the front gardens they passed. Sounds carried far. A long way away they heard the tramcars grinding along the main road. But here all was hush, and the beating of two hearts in unison; and to both of them happiness lay ahead. Their aims were similar, in no point jarring or divergent. Both wanted a home, and loving labour, and quiet evenings of pleasant occupation. To both the daily work came with regularity, not as an intrusion or a wrong to manhood and womanhood; it was inevitable, and was regarded as inevitable. Neither Emmy nor Alf ever wondered why they should be working hard when the sun shone and the day was fine. Neither compared the lot accorded by station with an ideal fortune of blessed ease. They were not temperamentally restless. They both thought, with a practical sense that is as convenient as it is generally accepted, "somebody must do the work: may as well be me." No discontent would be theirs. And Alf was a good worker at the bench, a sober and honest man; and Emmy could make a pound go as far as any other woman in Kennington Park. They had before them a faithful future of work in common, of ideals (workaday ideals) in common; and at this instant they were both marvellously content with the immediate outlook. Not for them to change the order of the world.
"I feel it's so suitable," Emmy startlingly said, in a hushed tone, as they walked. "Your ... you know ... 'supposing you do' ... me; and me ... doing the same for you."
Alf looked solemnly round at her. His Emmy skittish? It was not what he had thought. Still, it diverted him; and he ambled in pursuit.
"Yes," he darkly said. "What do you 'suppose you do' for me?"
"Why, love you," Emmy hurried to explain, trapping herself by speed into the use of the tabooed word. "Didn't you know? Though it seems funny to say it like that. It's so new. I've never dared to ... you know ... say it. I mean, we're both of us quiet, and reliable ... we're not either of us flighty, I mean. That's why I think we suit each other—better than if we'd been different. Not like we are."
"I'm sure we do," Alf said.
"Not like some people. You can't help wondering to yourself however they came to get married. They seem so unlike. Don't they! It's funny. Ah well, love's a wonderful thing—as you say!" She turned archly to him, encouragingly.
"You seem happy," remarked Alf, in a critical tone. But he was not offended; only tingled into desire for her by the strange gleam of merriment crossing her natural seriousness, the jubilant note of happy consciousness that the evening's lovemaking had bred. Alf drew her more closely to his side, increasingly sure that he had done well. She was beginning to intrigue him. With an emotion that startled himself as much as it delighted Emmy, he said thickly in her ear, "D'you love me ... like this?"
They neared the road in which the Blanchards lived: Emmy began to press forward as Alf seemed inclined to loiter. In the neighbourhood the church that had struck eight as they left the house began once again to record an hour.
"By George!" cried Alf. "Twelve ... Midnight!" They could feel the day pass.
They were at the corner, beside the little chandler's shop which advertised to the moon its varieties of tea; and Alf paused once again.
"Half a tick," he said. "No hurry, is there?"
"You'll come in for a bit of supper," Emmy urged. Then, plumbing his hesitation, she went on, in a voice that had steel somewhere in its depths. "They'll both be gone to bed. She won't be there."
"Oh, I wasn't thinking of that," Alf declared, with unconvincing nonchalance.
"I'll give you a drop of Pa's beer," Emmy said drily.
She took out a key, and held it up for his inspection.
"I say!" Alf pretended to be surprised at the sight of a key.
"Quite a big girl, aren't I! Well, you see: there are two, and Pa never goes out. So we have one each. Saves a lot of bother." As she spoke Emmy was unlocking the door and entering the house. "See, you can have supper with me, and then it won't seem so far to walk home. And you can throw Madame Buck's rinds at the back of the fire. You'll like that; and so will she."
Alf, now perfectly docile, and even thrilled with pleasure at the idea of being with her for a little while longer, followed Emmy into the passage, where the flickering gas showed too feeble a light to be of any service to them. Between the two walls they felt their way into the house, and Alf softly closed the door.
"Hang your hat and coat on the stand," whispered Emmy, and went tiptoeing forward to the kitchen. It was in darkness. "Oo, she is a monkey! She's let the fire out," Emmy continued, in the same whisper. "Have you got a match? The gas is out." She opened the kitchen door wide, and stood there taking off her hat, while Alf fumbled his way along the passage. "Be quick," she said.
Alf pretended not to be able to find the matches, so that he might give her a hearty kiss in the darkness. He was laughing to himself because he had only succeeded, in his random venture, in kissing her chin; and then, when she broke away with a smothered protest and a half laugh, he put his hand in his pocket again for the match-box. The first match fizzed along the box as it was struck, and immediately went out.
"Oh, do hurry up!" cried Emmy in a whisper, thinking he was still sporting with her. "Don't keep on larking about, Alf!"
"I'm not!" indignantly answered the delinquent. "It wouldn't strike. Half a tick!"
He moved forward in the darkness, to be nearer the gas; and as he took the step his foot caught against something upon the floor. He exclaimed.
"Now what is it?" demanded Emmy. For answer Alf struck his match, and they both looked at the floor by Alf's feet. Emmy gave a startled cry and dropped to her knees.
"Hul-lo!" said Alf; and with his lighted match raised he moved to the gas, stepping, as he did so, over the body of Pa Blanchard, which was lying at full length across the kitchen floor.
CHAPTER XII: CONSEQUENCES
In the succeeding quietness, Emmy fumbled at the old man's hands; then quickly at his breast, near the heart. Trembling violently, she looked up at Alf, as if beseeching his aid. He too knelt, and Emmy took Pa's lolling head into her lap, as though by her caress she thought to restore colour and life to the features. The two discoverers did not speak nor reason: they were wholly occupied with the moment's horror. At last Alf said, almost in a whisper:
"I think it's all right. He's hit his head. Feel his head, and see if it's bleeding."
Emmy withdrew one hand. A finger was faintly smeared with blood. She shuddered, looking in horror at the colour against her hand; and Alf nodded sharply at seeing his supposition verified. His eye wandered from the insensible body, to a chair, to the open cupboard, to the topmost shelf of the cupboard. Emmy followed his glance point by point, and in conclusion they looked straight into each other's eyes, with perfect understanding. Alf's brows arched.
"Get some water—quick!" Emmy cried sharply. She drew her handkerchief from her breast as Alf returned with a jugful of water; and, having folded it, she dangled the kerchief in the jug.
"Slap it on!" urged Alf. "He can't feel it, you know."
So instructed, Emmy first of all turned Pa's head to discover the wound, and saw that her skirt was already slightly stained by the oozing blood. With her wetted handkerchief she gently wiped the blood from Pa's hair. It was still quite moist, and more blood flowed at the touch. That fact made her realise instinctively that the accident, the stages of which had been indicated by Alf's wandering glances, had happened within a few minutes of their arrival. When Alf took the jug and threw some of its contents upon the old man's grey face, splashing her, she made an impatient gesture of protest.
"No, no!" she cried. "It's all over me!" "Been after his beer, he has," Alf unnecessarily explained. "That's what it is. Got up on the chair, and fell off it, trying to get at it. Bad boy!"
As she did not answer, from the irritation caused by nervous apprehensiveness, he soaked his own handkerchief and began to slap it across Pa's face, until the jug was empty. Alf thoughtfully sprinkled the last drops from it so that they fell cascading about Pa. He was turning away to refill the jug, when a notion occurred to him.
"Any brandy in the house?" he asked. "Ought to have thought of it before. Pubs are all closed now."
"See if there's any ... up there." Emmy pointed vaguely upwards. She was bent over Pa, gently wiping the trickles of water from his ghastly face, caressing with her wet handkerchief the closed eyes and the furrowed brow.
Alf climbed upon the chair from which Pa had fallen, and reached his hand round to the back of the high shelf, feeling for whatever was there. With her face upturned, Emmy watched and listened. She heard a very faint clink, as if two small bottles had been knocked together, and then a little dump, as if one of them had fallen over.
"Glory!" said Alf, still in the low voice that he had used earlier. "Believe I've got it!"
"Got it? Is there any in it?" Emmy at the same instant was asking.
Alf was sniffing at the little bottle which he had withdrawn from the cupboard. He then descended carefully from the chair, and held the uncorked bottle under her nose, for a corroborative sniff. It was about half full of brandy. Satisfied, he knelt as before, now trying, however, to force Pa's teeth apart, and rubbing some of the brandy upon the parted lips.
"This'll do it!" Alf cheerfully and reassuringly cried. "Half a tick. I'll get some water to wet his head again." He stumbled once more out into the scullery, and the careful Emmy unconsciously flinched as she heard the jug struck hard in the darkness against the tap. Her eye was fixed upon the jug as it was borne brimming and splashing back to her side. She could not help feeling such housewifely anxiety even amid the tremors of her other acute concern. As Alf knelt he lavishly sprinkled some more water upon Pa's face, and set the jug ready to Emmy's hand, working with a quiet deftness that aroused her watchful admiration. He was here neither clumsy nor rough: if his methods were as primitive as the means at hand his gentle treatment of the senseless body showed him to be adaptable to an emergency. How she loved him! Pride gleamed in Emmy's eyes. She could see in him the eternal handy-man of her delight, made for husbandhood and as clearly without nonsense as any working wife could have wished.
Pa's nightshirt was blackened with great splashes of water, and the soaked parts clung tightly to his breast. At the neck it was already open, and they both thought they could see at this moment a quick contraction of the throat. An additional augury was found in the fact that Alf simultaneously had succeeded in dribbling some of the brandy between Pa's teeth, and although some of it ran out at the corners of his mouth and out on to his cheeks, some also was retained and would help to revive him. Alf gave another quick nod, this time one of satisfaction.
"Feel his heart!" Emmy whispered. He did so. "Can you feel it?"
"It's all right. Famous!"
Pa gave a little groan. He seemed to stir. Emmy felt his shoulders move against her knees; and she looked quickly up, a faint relieved smile crossing her anxious face. Then, as Alf returned her glance, his eyes became fixed, and he looked beyond her and up over her head. Jenny stood in the doorway, fully dressed, but without either hat or coat, her face blanched at the picture before her.
To Jenny, coming with every precautionary quietness into the house, the sight came as the greatest shock. She found the kitchen door ajar, heard voices, and then burst upon the three feebly illumined figures. Emmy, still in her out-of-doors coat, knelt beside Alf upon the floor; and between them, with a face terribly grey, lay Pa, still in his old red nightshirt, with one of his bare feet showing. The stained shirt, upon which the marks of water, looking in this light perfectly black, might have been those of blood, filled Jenny with horror. It was only when she saw both Emmy and Alf staring mutely at her that she struggled against the deadly faintness that was thickening a veil of darkness before her eyes. It was a dreadful moment.
"Hullo Jen!" Alf said. "Look here!"
"I thought you must be in bed," Emmy murmured. "Isn't it awful!"
Not a suspicion! Her heart felt as if somebody had sharply pinched it. They did not know she had been out! It made her tremble in a sudden flurry of excited relief. She quickly came forward, bending over Pa. Into his cheeks there had come the faintest wash of colour. His eyelids fluttered. Jenny stooped and took his hand, quite mechanically, pressing it between hers and against her heart. And at that moment Pa's eyes opened wide, and he stared up at her. With Alf at his side and Emmy behind him, supporting his head upon her lap, Pa could see only Jenny, and a twitching grin fled across his face—a grin of loving recognition. It was succeeded by another sign of recovery, a peculiar fumbling suggestion of remembered cunning.
"Jenny, my dearie," whispered Pa, gaspingly. "A good ... boy!" His eyes closed again.
Emmy looked in quick challenge at Alf, as if to say "You see how it is! She comes in last, and it's her luck that he should see her.... Always the same!" And Jenny was saying, very low:
"It looks to me as if you'd been a bad boy!"
"Can't be with him all the time!" Emmy put in, having reached a point of general self-defence in the course of her mental explorations. She was recovering from her shock and her first horrible fears.
"Shall we get him to bed? Carry him back in there?" Jenny asked. "The floor's soaking wet." She had not to receive any rebuke: Emmy, although shaken, was reviving in happiness and in graciousness with each second's diminution of her dread. She now agreed to Pa's removal; and they all stumbled into his bedroom and laid him upon his own bed. Alf went quickly back again to the kitchen for the brandy; and presently a good dose of this was sending its thrilling and reviving fire through Pa's person. Emmy had busied herself in making a bandage for his wounded head; and Jenny had arranged him more comfortably, drying his chest and laying a little towel between his body and the night-short lest he should take cold. Pa was very complacently aware of these ministrations, and by the time they were in full order completed he was fast asleep, having expressed no sort of contrition for his naughtiness or for the alarm he had given them all.
Reassured, the party returned to the kitchen.
Alf could not now wait to sit down to supper; but he drank a glass of beer, after getting it down for himself and rather humorously illustrating how Pa's designs must have been frustrated. He then, with a quick handshake with Jenny, hurried away.
"I'll let you out," Emmy said. There were quick exchanged glances. Jenny was left alone in the kitchen for two or three minutes until Emmy returned, humming a little self-consciously, and no longer pale.