George Pendyce, in a fly drawn by an old grey horse, the only vehicle that frequented the station at Worsted Skeynes, passed him in the lane, and leaned back to avoid observation. He had not forgotten the tone of the Rector's voice in the smoking-room on the night of the dance. George was a man who could remember as well as another. In the corner of the old fly, that rattled and smelled of stables and stale tobacco, he fixed his moody eyes on the driver's back and the ears of the old grey horse, and never stirred till they set him down at the hall door.
He went at once to his room, sending word that he had come for the night. His mother heard the news with feelings of joy and dread, and she dressed quickly for dinner, that she might see him the sooner. The Squire came into her room just as she was going down. He had been engaged all day at Sessions, and was in one of the moods of apprehension as to the future which but seldom came over him.
"Why didn't you keep Vigil to dinner?" he said. "I could have given him things for the night. I wanted to talk to him about insuring my life; he knows, about that. There'll be a lot of money wanted, to pay my death-duties. And if the Radicals get in I shouldn't be surprised if they put them up fifty per cent."
"I wanted to keep him," said Mrs. Pendyce, "but he went away without saying good-bye."
"He's an odd fellow!"
For some moments Mr. Pendyce made reflections on this breach of manners. He had a nice standard of conduct in all social affairs.
"I'm having trouble with that man Peacock again. He's the most pig-headed——What are you in such a hurry for, Margery?"
"George is here!"
"George? Well, I suppose he can wait till dinner. I have a lot of things I want to tell you about. We had a case of arson to-day. Old Quarryman was away, and I was in the chair. It was that fellow Woodford that we convicted for poaching—a very gross case. And this is what he does when he comes out. They tried to prove insanity. It's the rankest case of revenge that ever came before me. We committed him, of course. He'll get a swinging sentence. Of all dreadful crimes, arson is the most——"
Mr. Pendyce could find no word to characterise his opinion of this offence, and drawing his breath between his teeth, passed into his dressing-room. Mrs. Pendyce hastened quietly out, and went to her son's room. She found George in his shirtsleeves, inserting the links of his cuffs.
"Let me do that for you, my dear boy! How dreadfully they starch your cuffs! It is so nice to do something for you sometimes!"
George answered her:
"Well, Mother, and how have you been?"
Over Mrs. Pendyce's face came a look half sorrowful, half arch, but wholly pathetic. 'What! is it beginning already? Oh, don't put me away from you!' she seemed to say.
"Very well, thank you, dear. And you?"
George did not meet her eyes.
"So-so," he said. "I took rather a nasty knock over the 'City' last week."
"Is that a race?" asked Mrs. Pendyce.
And by some secret process she knew that he had hurried out that piece of bad news to divert her attention from another subject, for George had never been a "crybaby."
She sat down on the edge of the sofa, and though the gong was about to sound, incited him to dawdle and stay with her.
"And have you any other news, dear? It seems such an age since we've seen you. I think I've told you all our budget in my letters. You know there's going to be another event at the Rectory?"
"Another? I passed Barter on the way up. I thought he looked a bit blue."
A look of pain shot into Mrs. Pendyce's eyes.
"Oh, I'm afraid that couldn't have been the reason, dear." And she stopped, but to still her own fears hurried on again. "If I'd known you'd been coming, I'd have kept Cecil Tharp. Vic has had such dear little puppies. Would you like one? They've all got that nice black smudge round the eye."
She was watching him as only a mother can watch-stealthily, minutely, longingly, every little movement, every little change of his face, and more than all, that fixed something behind which showed the abiding temper and condition of his heart.
'Something is making him unhappy,' she thought. 'He is changed since I saw him last, and I can't get at it. I seem to be so far from him—so far!'
And somehow she knew he had come down this evening because he was lonely and unhappy, and instinct had made him turn to her.
But she knew that trying to get nearer would only make him put her farther off, and she could not bear this, so she asked him nothing, and bent all her strength on hiding from him the pain she felt.
She went downstairs with her arm in his, and leaned very heavily on it, as though again trying to get close to him, and forget the feeling she had had all that winter—the feeling of being barred away, the feeling of secrecy and restraint.
Mr. Pendyce and the two girls were in the drawing-room.
"Well, George," said the Squire dryly, "I'm glad you've come. How you can stick in London at this time of year! Now you're down you'd better stay a couple of days. I want to take you round the estate; you know nothing about anything. I might die at any moment, for all you can tell. Just make up your mind to stay."
George gave him a moody look.
"Sorry," he said; "I've got an engagement in town."
Mr. Pendyce rose and stood with his back to the fire.
"That's it," he said: "I ask you to do a simple thing for your own good—and—you've got an engagement. It's always like that, and your mother backs you up. Bee, go and play me something."
The Squire could not bear being played to, but it was the only command likely to be obeyed that came into his head.
The absence of guests made little difference to a ceremony esteemed at Worsted Skeynes the crowning blessing of the day. The courses, however, were limited to seven, and champagne was not drunk. The Squire drank a glass or so of claret, for, as he said, "My dear old father took his bottle of port every night of his life, and it never gave him a twinge. If I were to go on at that rate it would kill me in a year."
His daughters drank water. Mrs. Pendyce, cherishing a secret preference for champagne, drank sparingly of a Spanish burgundy, procured for her by Mr. Pendyce at a very reasonable price, and corked between meals with a special cork. She offered it to George.
"Try some of my burgundy, dear; it's so nice."
But George refused and asked for whisky-and-soda, glancing at the butler, who brought it in a very yellow state.
Under the influence of dinner the Squire recovered equanimity, though he still dwelt somewhat sadly on the future.
"You young fellows," he said, with a friendly look at George, "are such individualists. You make a business of enjoying yourselves. With your piquet and your racing and your billiards and what not, you'll be used up before you're fifty. You don't let your imaginations work. A green old age ought to be your ideal, instead of which it seems to be a green youth. Ha!" Mr. Pendyce looked at his daughters till they said:
"Oh, Father, how can you!"
Norah, who had the more character of the two, added:
"Isn't Father rather dreadful, Mother?"
But Mrs. Pendyce was looking at her son. She had longed so many evenings to see him sitting there.
"We'll have a game of piquet to-night, George."
George looked up and nodded with a glum smile.
On the thick, soft carpet round the table the butler and second footman moved. The light of the wax candles fell lustrous and subdued on the silver and fruit and flowers, on the girls' white necks, on George's well-coloured face and glossy shirt-front, gleamed in the jewels on his mother's long white fingers, showed off the Squire's erect and still spruce figure; the air was languorously sweet with the perfume of azaleas and narcissus bloom. Bee, with soft eyes, was thinking of young Tharp, who to-day had told her that he loved her, and wondering if father would object. Her mother was thinking of George, stealing timid glances at his moody face. There was no sound save the tinkle of forks and the voices of Norah and the Squire, talking of little things. Outside, through the long opened windows, was the still, wide country; the full moon, tinted apricot and figured like a coin, hung above the cedar-trees, and by her light the whispering stretches of the silent fields lay half enchanted, half asleep, and all beyond that little ring of moonshine, unfathomed and unknown, was darkness—a great darkness wrapping from their eyes the restless world.
THE SINISTER NIGHT
On the day of the big race at Kempton Park, in which the Ambler, starting favourite, was left at the post, George Pendyce had just put his latch-key in the door of the room he had taken near Mrs. Bellew, when a man, stepping quickly from behind, said:
"Mr. George Pendyce, I believe."
"Yes; what do you want?"
The man put into George's hand a long envelope.
"From Messrs. Frost and Tuckett."
George opened it, and read from the top of a slip of paper:
"'ADMIRALTY, PROBATE, AND DIVORCE. The humble petition of Jaspar Bellew——-'"
He lifted his eyes, and his look, uncannily impassive, unresenting, unangered, dogged, caused the messenger to drop his gaze as though he had hit a man who was down.
He shut the door, and read the document through. It contained some precise details, and ended in a claim for damages, and George smiled.
Had he received this document three months ago, he would not have taken it thus. Three months ago he would have felt with rage that he was caught. His thoughts would have run thus 'I have got her into a mess; I have got myself into a mess. I never thought this would happen. This is the devil! I must see someone—I must stop it. There must be a way out.' Having but little imagination, his thoughts would have beaten their wings against this cage, and at once he would have tried to act. But this was not three months ago, and now——
He lit a cigarette and sat down on the sofa, and the chief feeling in his heart was a strange hope, a sort of funereal gladness. He would have to go and see her at once, that very night; an excuse—no need to wait in here—to wait—wait on the chance of her coming.
He got up and drank some whisky, then went back to the sofa and sat down again.
'If she is not here by eight,' he thought, 'I will go round.'
Opposite was a full-length mirror, and he turned to the wall to avoid it. There was fixed on his face a look of gloomy determination, as though he were thinking, 'I'll show them all that I'm not beaten yet.'
At the click of a latch-key he scrambled off the sofa, and his face resumed its mask. She came in as usual, dropped her opera cloak, and stood before him with bare shoulders. Looking in her face, he wondered if she knew.
"I thought I'd better come," she said. "I suppose you've had the same charming present?"
George nodded. There was a minute's silence.
"It's really rather funny. I'm sorry for you, George."
George laughed too, but his laugh was different.
"I will do all I can," he said.
Mrs. Bellew came close to him.
"I've seen about the Kempton race. What shocking luck! I suppose you've lost a lot. Poor boy! It never rains but it pours."
George looked down.
"That's all right; nothing matters when I have you."
He felt her arms fasten behind his neck, but they were cool as marble; he met her eyes, and they were mocking and compassionate.
Their cab, wheeling into the main thoroughfare, joined in the race of cabs flying as for life toward the East—past the Park, where the trees, new-leafed, were swinging their skirts like ballet-dancers in the wind; past the Stoics' and the other clubs, rattling, jingling, jostling for the lead, shooting past omnibuses that looked cosy in the half-light with their lamps and rows of figures solemnly opposed.
At Blafard's the tall dark young waiter took her cloak with reverential fingers; the little wine-waiter smiled below the suffering in his eyes. The same red-shaded lights fell on her arms and shoulders, the same flowers of green and yellow grew bravely in the same blue vases. On the menu were written the same dishes. The same idle eye peered through the chink at the corner of the red blinds with its stare of apathetic wonder.
Often during that dinner George looked at her face by stealth, and its expression baffled him, so careless was it. And, unlike her mood of late, that had been glum and cold, she was in the wildest spirits.
People looked round from the other little tables, all full now that the season had begun, her laugh was so infectious; and George felt a sort of disgust. What was it in this woman that made her laugh, when his own heart was heavy? But he said nothing; he dared not even look at her, for fear his eyes should show his feeling.
'We ought to be squaring our accounts,' he thought—'looking things in the face. Something must be done; and here she is laughing and making everyone stare!' Done! But what could be done, when it was all like quicksand?
The other little tables emptied one by one.
"George," she said, "take me somewhere where we can dance!"
George stared at her.
"My dear girl, how can I? There is no such place!"
"Take me to your Bohemians!"
"You can't possibly go to a place like that."
"Why not? Who cares where we go, or what we do?"
"Ah, my dear George, you and your sort are only half alive!"
Sullenly George answered:
"What do you take me for? A cad?"
But there was fear, not anger, in his heart.
"Well, then, let's drive into the East End. For goodness' sake, let's do something not quite proper!"
They took a hansom and drove East. It was the first time either had ever been in that unknown land.
"Close your cloak, dear; it looks odd down here."
Mrs. Bellew laughed.
"You'll be just like your father when you're sixty, George."
And she opened her cloak the wider. Round a barrel-organ at the corner of a street were girls in bright colours dancing.
She called to the cabman to stop.
"Let's watch those children!"
"You'll only make a show of us."
Mrs. Bellew put her hands on the cab door.
"I've a good mind to get out and dance with them!"
"You're mad to-night," said George. "Sit still!"
He stretched out his arm and barred her way. The passers-by looked curiously at the little scene. A crowd began to collect.
"Go on!" cried George.
There was a cheer from the crowd; the driver whipped his horse; they darted East again.
It was striking twelve when the cab put them down at last near the old church on Chelsea Embankment, and they had hardly spoken for an hour.
And all that hour George was feeling:
'This is the woman for whom I've given it all up. This is the woman to whom I shall be tied. This is the woman I cannot tear myself away from. If I could, I would never see her again. But I can't live without her. I must go on suffering when she's with me, suffering when she's away from me. And God knows how it's all to end!'
He took her hand in the darkness; it was cold and unresponsive as a stone. He tried to see her face, but could read nothing in those greenish eyes staring before them, like a cat's, into the darkness.
When the cab was gone they stood looking at each other by the light of a street lamp. And George thought:
'So I must leave her like this, and what then?'
She put her latch-key in the door, and turned round to him. In the silent, empty street, where the wind was rustling and scraping round the corners of tall houses, and the lamplight flickered, her face and figure were so strange, motionless, Sphinx-like. Only her eyes seemed alive, fastened on his own.
"Good-night!" he muttered.
"Take what you can of me, George!" she said.
Mr. PENDYCE'S HEAD
Mr. Pendyce's head, seen from behind at his library bureau, where it was his practice to spend most mornings from half-past nine to eleven or even twelve, was observed to be of a shape to throw no small light upon his class and character. Its contour was almost national. Bulging at the back, and sloping rapidly to a thin and wiry neck, narrow between the ears and across the brow, prominent in the jaw, the length of a line drawn from the back headland to the promontory at the chin would have been extreme. Upon the observer there was impressed the conviction that here was a skull denoting, by surplusage of length, great precision of character and disposition to action, and, by deficiency of breadth, a narrow tenacity which might at times amount to wrong-headedness. The thin cantankerous neck, on which little hairs grew low, and the intelligent ears, confirmed this impression; and when his face, with its clipped hair, dry rosiness, into which the east wind had driven a shade of yellow and the sun a shade of brown, and grey, rather discontented eyes, came into view, the observer had no longer any hesitation in saying that he was in the presence of an Englishman, a landed proprietor, and, but for Mr. Pendyce's rooted belief to the contrary, an individualist. His head, indeed, was like nothing so much as the Admiralty Pier at Dover—that strange long narrow thing, with a slight twist or bend at the end, which first disturbs the comfort of foreigners arriving on these shores, and strikes them with a sense of wonder and dismay.
He sat very motionless at his bureau, leaning a little over his papers like a man to whom things do not come too easily; and every now and then he stopped to refer to the calendar at his left hand, or to a paper in one of the many pigeonholes. Open, and almost out of reach, was a back volume of Punch, of which periodical, as a landed proprietor, he had an almost professional knowledge. In leisure moments it was one of his chief recreations to peruse lovingly those aged pictures, and at the image of John Bull he never failed to think: 'Fancy making an Englishman out a fat fellow like that!'
It was as though the artist had offered an insult to himself, passing him over as the type, and conferring that distinction on someone fast going out of fashion. The Rector, whenever he heard Mr. Pendyce say this, strenuously opposed him, for he was himself of a square, stout build, and getting stouter.
With all their aspirations to the character of typical Englishmen, Mr. Pendyce and Mr. Barter thought themselves far from the old beef and beer, port and pigskin types of the Georgian and early Victorian era. They were men of the world, abreast of the times, who by virtue of a public school and 'Varsity training had acquired a manner, a knowledge of men and affairs, a standard of thought on which it had really never been needful to improve. Both of them, but especially Mr. Pendyce, kept up with all that was going forward by visiting the Metropolis six or seven or even eight times a year. On these occasions they rarely took their wives, having almost always important business in hand—old College, Church, or Conservative dinners, cricket-matches, Church Congress, the Gaiety Theatre, and for Mr. Barter the Lyceum. Both, too, belonged to clubs—the Rector to a comfortable, old-fashioned place where he could get a rubber without gambling, and Mr. Pendyce to the Temple of things as they had been, as became a man who, having turned all social problems over in his mind, had decided that there was no real safety but in the past.
They always went up to London grumbling, but this was necessary, and indeed salutary, because of their wives; and they always came back grumbling, because of their livers, which a good country rest always fortunately reduced in time for the next visit. In this way they kept themselves free from the taint of provincialism.
In the silence of his master's study the spaniel John, whose head, too, was long and narrow, had placed it over his paw, as though suffering from that silence, and when his master cleared his throat he guttered his tail and turned up an eye with a little moon of white, without stirring his chin.
The clock ticked at the end of the long, narrow room; the sunlight through the long, narrow windows fell on the long, narrow backs of books in the glassed book-case that took up the whole of one wall; and this room, with its slightly leathery smell, seemed a fitting place for some long, narrow ideal to be worked out to its long and narrow ending.
But Mr. Pendyce would have scouted the notion of an ending to ideals having their basis in the hereditary principle.
"Let me do my duty and carry on the estate as my dear old father did, and hand it down to my son enlarged if possible," was sometimes his saying, very, very often his thought, not seldom his prayer. "I want to do no more than that."
The times were bad and dangerous. There was every chance of a Radical Government being returned, and the country going to the dogs. It was but natural and human that he should pray for the survival of the form of things which he believed in and knew, the form of things bequeathed to him, and embodied in the salutary words "Horace Pendyce." It was not his habit to welcome new ideas. A new idea invading the country of the Squire's mind was at once met with a rising of the whole population, and either prevented from landing, or if already on shore instantly taken prisoner. In course of time the unhappy creature, causing its squeaks and groans to penetrate the prison walls, would be released from sheer humaneness and love of a quiet life, and even allowed certain privileges, remaining, however, "that poor, queer devil of a foreigner." One day, in an inattentive moment, the natives would suffer it to marry, or find that in some disgraceful way it had caused the birth of children unrecognised by law; and their respect for the accomplished fact, for something that already lay in the past, would then prevent their trying to unmarry it, or restoring the children to an unborn state, and very gradually they would tolerate this intrusive brood. Such was the process of Mr. Pendyce's mind. Indeed, like the spaniel John, a dog of conservative instincts, at the approach of any strange thing he placed himself in the way, barking and showing his teeth; and sometimes truly he suffered at the thought that one day Horace Pendyce would no longer be there to bark. But not often, for he had not much imagination.
All the morning he had been working at that old vexed subject of Common Rights on Worsted Scotton, which his father had fenced in and taught him once for all to believe was part integral of Worsted Skeynes. The matter was almost beyond doubt, for the cottagers—in a poor way at the time of the fencing, owing to the price of bread—had looked on apathetically till the very last year required by law to give the old Squire squatter's rights, when all of a sudden that man, Peacock's father, had made a gap in the fence and driven in beasts, which had reopened the whole unfortunate question. This had been in '65, and ever since there had been continual friction bordering on a law suit. Mr. Pendyce never for a moment allowed it to escape his mind that the man Peacock was at the bottom of it all; for it was his way to discredit all principles as ground of action, and to refer everything to facts and persons; except, indeed, when he acted himself, when he would somewhat proudly admit that it was on principle. He never thought or spoke on an abstract question; partly because his father had avoided them before him, partly because he had been discouraged from doing so at school, but mainly because he temperamentally took no interest in such unpractical things.
It was, therefore, a source of wonder to him that tenants of his own should be ungrateful. He did his duty by them, as the Rector, in whose keeping were their souls, would have been the first to affirm; the books of his estate showed this, recording year by year an average gross profit of some sixteen hundred pounds, and (deducting raw material incidental to the upkeep of Worsted Skeynes) a net loss of three.
In less earthly matters, too, such as non-attendance at church, a predisposition to poaching, or any inclination to moral laxity, he could say with a clear conscience that the Rector was sure of his support. A striking instance had occurred within the last month, when, discovering that his under-keeper, an excellent man at his work, had got into a scrape with the postman's wife, he had given the young fellow notice, and cancelled the lease of his cottage.
He rose and went to the plan of the estate fastened to the wall, which he unrolled by pulling a green silk cord, and stood there scrutinising it carefully and placing his finger here and there. His spaniel rose too, and settled himself unobtrusively on his master's foot. Mr. Pendyce moved and trod on him. The spaniel yelped.
"D—n the dog! Oh, poor fellow, John!" said Mr. Pendyce. He went back to his seat, but since he had identified the wrong spot he was obliged in a minute to return again to the plan. The spaniel John, cherishing the hope that he had been justly treated, approached in a half circle, fluttering his tail; he had scarcely reached Mr. Pendyce's foot when the door was opened, and the first footman brought in a letter on a silver salver.
Mr. Pendyce took the note, read it, turned to his bureau, and said: "No answer."
He sat staring at this document in the silent room, and over his face in turn passed anger, alarm, distrust, bewilderment. He had not the power of making very clear his thought, except by speaking aloud, and he muttered to himself. The spaniel John, who still nurtured a belief that he had sinned, came and lay down very close against his leg.
Mr. Pendyce, never having reflected profoundly on the working morality of his times, had the less difficulty in accepting it. Of violating it he had practically no opportunity, and this rendered his position stronger. It was from habit and tradition rather than from principle and conviction that he was a man of good moral character.
And as he sat reading this note over and over, he suffered from a sense of nausea.
It was couched in these terms:
"THE FIRS, "May 20. "DEAR SIR,
"You may or may not have heard that I have made your son, Mr. George Pendyce, correspondent in a divorce suit against my wife. Neither for your sake nor your son's, but for the sake of Mrs. Pendyce, who is the only woman in these parts that I respect, I will withdraw the suit if your son will give his word not to see my wife again.
"Please send me an early answer. "I am, "Your obedient servant,
The acceptance of tradition (and to accept it was suitable to the Squire's temperament) is occasionally marred by the impingement of tradition on private life and comfort. It was legendary in his class that young men's peccadilloes must be accepted with a certain indulgence. They would, he said, be young men. They must, he would remark, sow their wild oats. Such was his theory. The only difficulty he now had was in applying it to his own particular case, a difficulty felt by others in times past, and to be felt again in times to come. But, since he was not a philosopher, he did not perceive the inconsistency between his theory and his dismay. He saw his universe reeling before that note, and he was not a man to suffer tamely; he felt that others ought to suffer too. It was monstrous that a fellow like this Bellew, a loose fish, a drunkard, a man who had nearly run over him, should have it in his power to trouble the serenity of Worsted Skeynes. It was like his impudence to bring such a charge against his son. It was like his d——d impudence! And going abruptly to the bell, he trod on his spaniel's ear.
"D—-n the dog! Oh, poor fellow, John!" But the spaniel John, convinced at last that he had sinned, hid himself in a far corner whence he could see nothing, and pressed his chin closely to the ground.
"Ask your mistress to come here."
Standing by the hearth, waiting for his wife, the Squire displayed to greater advantage than ever the shape of his long and narrow head; his neck had grown conspicuously redder; his eyes, like those of an offended swan, stabbed, as it were, at everything they saw.
It was not seldom that Mrs. Pendyce was summoned to the study to hear him say: "I want to ask your advice. So-and-so has done such and such.... I have made up my mind."
She came, therefore, in a few minutes. In compliance with his "Look at that, Margery," she read the note, and gazed at him with distress in her eyes, and he looked back at her with wrath in his. For this was tragedy.
Not to everyone is it given to take a wide view of things—to look over the far, pale streams, the purple heather, and moonlit pools of the wild marches, where reeds stand black against the sundown, and from long distance comes the cry of a curlew—nor to everyone to gaze from steep cliffs over the wine-dark, shadowy sea—or from high mountainsides to see crowned chaos, smoking with mist, or gold-bright in the sun.
To most it is given to watch assiduously a row of houses, a back-yard, or, like Mrs. and Mr. Pendyce, the green fields, trim coverts, and Scotch garden of Worsted Skeynes. And on that horizon the citation of their eldest son to appear in the Divorce Court loomed like a cloud, heavy with destruction.
So far as such an event could be realised imagination at Worsted Skeynes was not too vivid—it spelled ruin to an harmonious edifice of ideas and prejudice and aspiration. It would be no use to say of that event, "What does it matter? Let people think what they like, talk as they like." At Worsted Skeynes (and Worsted Skeynes was every country house) there was but one set of people, one church, one pack of hounds, one everything. The importance of a clear escutcheon was too great. And they who had lived together for thirty-four years looked at each other with a new expression in their eyes; their feelings were for once the same. But since it is always the man who has the nicer sense of honour, their thoughts were not the same, for Mr. Pendyce was thinking: 'I won't believe it—disgracing us all!' and Mrs. Pendyce was thinking: 'My boy!'
It was she who spoke first.
The sound of her voice restored the Squire's fortitude.
"There you go, Margery! D'you mean to say you believe what this fellow says? He ought to be horsewhipped. He knows my opinion of him.
"It's a piece of his confounded impudence! He nearly ran over me, and now——"
Mrs. Pendyce broke in:
"But, Horace, I'm afraid it's true! Ellen Maiden——"
"Ellen Maiden?" said Mr. Pendyce. "What business has she——" He was silent, staring gloomily at the plan of Worsted Skeynes, still unrolled, like an emblem of all there was at stake. "If George has really," he burst out, "he's a greater fool than I took him for! A fool? He's a knave!"
Again he was silent.
Mrs. Pendyce flushed at that word, and bit her lips.
"George could never be a knave!" she said.
Mr. Pendyce answered heavily:
"Disgracing his name!"
Mrs. Pendyce bit deeper into her lips.
"Whatever he has done," she said, "George is sure to have behaved like a gentleman!"
An angry smile twisted the Squire's mouth.
"Just like a woman!" he said.
But the smile died away, and on both their faces came a helpless look. Like people who have lived together without real sympathy—though, indeed, they had long ceased to be conscious of that—now that something had occurred in which their interests were actually at one, they were filled with a sort of surprise. It was no good to differ. Differing, even silent differing, would not help their son.
"I shall write to George," said Mr. Pendyce at last. "I shall believe nothing till I've heard from him. He'll tell us the truth, I suppose."
There was a quaver in his voice.
Mrs. Pendyce answered quickly:
"Oh, Horace, be careful what you say! I'm sure he is suffering!"
Her gentle soul, disposed to pleasure, was suffering, too, and the tears stole up in her eyes. Mr. Pendyce's sight was too long to see them. The infirmity had been growing on him ever since his marriage.
"I shall say what I think right," he said. "I shall take time to consider what I shall say; I won't be hurried by this ruffian."
Mrs. Pendyce wiped her lips with her lace-edged handkerchief.
"I hope you will show me the letter," she said.
The Squire looked at her, and he realised that she was trembling and very white, and, though this irritated him, he answered almost kindly:
"It's not a matter for you, my dear."
Mrs. Pendyce took a step towards him; her gentle face expressed a strange determination.
"He is my son, Horace, as well as yours."
Mr. Pendyce turned round uneasily.
"It's no use your getting nervous, Margery. I shall do what's best. You women lose your heads. That d——d fellow's lying! If he isn't——"
At these words the spaniel John rose from his corner and advanced to the middle of the floor. He stood there curved in a half-circle, and looked darkly at his master.
"Confound it!" said Mr. Pendyce. "It's—it's damnable!"
And as if answering for all that depended on Worsted Skeynes, the spaniel John deeply wagged that which had been left him of his tail.
Mrs. Pendyce came nearer still.
"If George refuses to give you that promise, what will you do, Horace?"
Mr. Pendyce stared.
"Promise? What promise?"
Mrs. Pendyce thrust forward the note.
"This promise not to see her again."
Mr. Pendyce motioned it aside.
"I'll not be dictated to by that fellow Bellew," he said. Then, by an afterthought: "It won't do to give him a chance. George must promise me that in any case."
Mrs. Pendyce pressed her lips together.
"But do you think he will?"
"Think—think who will? Think he will what? Why can't you express yourself, Margery? If George has really got us into this mess he must get us out again."
Mrs. Pendyce flushed.
"He would never leave her in the lurch!"
The Squire said angrily:
"Lurch! Who said anything about lurch? He owes it to her. Not that she deserves any consideration, if she's been——You don't mean to say you think he'll refuse? He'd never be such a donkey?"
Mrs. Pendyce raised her hands and made what for her was a passionate gesture.
"Oh, Horace!" she said, "you don't understand. He's in love with her!"
Mr. Pendyce's lower lip trembled, a sign with him of excitement or emotion. All the conservative strength of his nature, all the immense dumb force of belief in established things, all that stubborn hatred and dread of change, that incalculable power of imagining nothing, which, since the beginning of time, had made Horace Pendyce the arbiter of his land, rose up within his sorely tried soul.
"What on earth's that to do with it?" he cried in a rage. "You women! You've no sense of anything! Romantic, idiotic, immoral—I don't know what you're at. For God's sake don't go putting ideas into his head!"
At this outburst Mrs. Pendyce's face became rigid; only the flicker of her eyelids betrayed how her nerves were quivering. Suddenly she threw her hands up to her ears.
"Horace!" she cried, "do——Oh, poor John!"
The Squire had stepped hastily and heavily on to his dog's paw. The creature gave a grievous howl. Mr. Pendyce went down on his knees and raised the limb.
"Damn the dog!" he stuttered. "Oh, poor fellow, John!"
And the two long and narrow heads for a moment were close together.
RECTOR AND SQUIRE
The efforts of social man, directed from immemorial time towards the stability of things, have culminated in Worsted Skeynes. Beyond commercial competition—for the estate no longer paid for living on it—beyond the power of expansion, set with tradition and sentiment, it was an undoubted jewel, past need of warranty. Cradled within it were all those hereditary institutions of which the country was most proud, and Mr. Pendyce sometimes saw before him the time when, for services to his party, he should call himself Lord Worsted, and after his own death continue sitting in the House of Lords in the person of his son. But there was another feeling in the Squire's heart—the air and the woods and the fields had passed into his blood a love for this, his home and the home of his fathers.
And so a terrible unrest pervaded the whole household after the receipt of Jaspar Bellew's note. Nobody was told anything, yet everybody knew there was something; and each after his fashion, down to the very dogs, betrayed their sympathy with the master and mistress of the house.
Day after day the girls wandered about the new golf course knocking the balls aimlessly; it was all they could do. Even Cecil Tharp, who had received from Bee the qualified affirmative natural under the circumstances, was infected. The off foreleg of her grey mare was being treated by a process he had recently discovered, and in the stables he confided to Bee that the dear old Squire seemed "off his feed;" he did not think it was any good worrying him at present. Bee, stroking the mare's neck, looked at him shyly and slowly.
"It's about George," she said; "I know it's about George! Oh, Cecil! I do wish I had been a boy!"
Young Tharp assented in spite of himself:
"Yes; it must be beastly to be a girl."
A faint flush coloured Bee's cheeks. It hurt her a little that he should agree; but her lover was passing his hand down the mare's shin.
"Father is rather trying," she said. "I wish George would marry."
Cecil Tharp raised his bullet head; his blunt, honest face was extremely red from stooping.
"Clean as a whistle," he said; "she's all right, Bee. I expect George has too good a time."
Bee turned her face away and murmured:
"I should loathe living in London." And she, too, stooped and felt the mare's shin.
To Mrs. Pendyce in these days the hours passed with incredible slowness. For thirty odd years she had waited at once for everything and nothing; she had, so to say, everything she could wish for, and—nothing, so that even waiting had been robbed of poignancy; but to wait like this, in direct suspense, for something definite was terrible. There was hardly a moment when she did not conjure up George, lonely and torn by conflicting emotions; for to her, long paralysed by Worsted Skeynes, and ignorant of the facts, the proportions of the struggle in her son's soul appeared Titanic; her mother instinct was not deceived as to the strength of his passion. Strange and conflicting were the sensations with which she awaited the result; at one moment thinking, 'It is madness; he must promise—it is too awful!' at another, 'Ah! but how can he, if he loves her so? It is impossible; and she, too—ah! how awful it is!'
Perhaps, as Mr. Pendyce had said, she was romantic; perhaps it was only the thought of the pain her boy must suffer. The tooth was too big, it seemed to her; and, as in old days, when she took him to Cornmarket to have an aching tooth out, she ever sat with his hand in hers while the little dentist pulled, and ever suffered the tug, too, in her own mouth, so now she longed to share this other tug, so terrible, so fierce.
Against Mrs. Bellew she felt only a sort of vague and jealous aching; and this seemed strange even to herself—but, again, perhaps she was romantic.
Now it was that she found the value of routine. Her days were so well and fully occupied that anxiety was forced below the surface. The nights were far more terrible; for then, not only had she to bear her own suspense, but, as was natural in a wife, the fears of Horace Pendyce as well. The poor Squire found this the only time when he could get relief from worry; he came to bed much earlier on purpose. By dint of reiterating dreads and speculation he at length obtained some rest. Why had not George answered? What was the fellow about? And so on and so on, till, by sheer monotony, he caused in himself the need for slumber. But his wife's torments lasted till after the birds, starting with a sleepy cheeping, were at full morning chorus. Then only, turning softly for fear she should awaken him, the poor lady fell asleep.
For George had not answered.
In her morning visits to the village Mrs. Pendyce found herself, for the first time since she had begun this practice, driven by her own trouble over that line of diffident distrust which had always divided her from the hearts of her poorer neighbours. She was astonished at her own indelicacy, asking questions, prying into their troubles, pushed on by a secret aching for distraction; and she was surprised how well they took it—how, indeed, they seemed to like it, as though they knew that they were doing her good. In one cottage, where she had long noticed with pitying wonder a white-faced, black-eyed girl, who seemed to crouch away from everyone, she even received a request. It was delivered with terrified secrecy in a back-yard, out of Mrs. Barter's hearing.
"Oh, ma'am! Get me away from here! I'm in trouble—it's comin', and I don't know what I shall do."
Mrs. Pendyce shivered, and all the way home she thought: 'Poor little soul—poor little thing!' racking her brains to whom she might confide this case and ask for a solution; and something of the white-faced, black-eyed girl's terror and secrecy fell on her, for, she found no one not even Mrs. Barter, whose heart, though soft, belonged to the Rector. Then, by a sort of inspiration, she thought of Gregory.
'How can I write to him,' she mused, 'when my son——'
But she did write, for, deep down, the Totteridge instinct felt that others should do things for her; and she craved, too, to allude, however distantly, to what was on her mind. And, under the Pendyce eagle and the motto: 'Strenuus aureaque penna', thus her letter ran: "DEAR GRIG,
"Can you do anything for a poor little girl in the village here who is 'in trouble'?—you know what I mean. It is such a terrible crime in this part of the country, and she looks so wretched and frightened, poor little thing! She is twenty years old. She wants a hiding-place for her misfortune, and somewhere to go when it is over. Nobody, she says, will have anything to do with her where they know; and, really, I have noticed for a long time how white and wretched she looks, with great black frightened eyes. I don't like to apply to our Rector, for though he is a good fellow in many ways, he has such strong opinions; and, of course, Horace could do nothing. I would like to do something for her, and I could spare a little money, but I can't find a place for her to go, and that makes it difficult. She seems to be haunted, too, by the idea that wherever she goes it will come out. Isn't it dreadful? Do do something, if you can. I am rather anxious about George. I hope the dear boy is well. If you are passing his club some day you might look in and just ask after him. He is sometimes so naughty about writing. I wish we could see you here, dear Grig; the country is looking beautiful just now—the oak-trees especially—and the apple-blossom isn't over, but I suppose you are too busy. How is Helen Bellew? Is she in town?
"Your affectionate cousin, "MARGERY PENDYCE."
It was four o'clock this same afternoon when the second groom, very much out of breath, informed the butler that there was a fire at Peacock's farm. The butler repaired at once to the library. Mr. Pendyce, who had been on horseback all the morning, was standing in his riding-clothes, tired and depressed, before the plan of Worsted Skeynes.
"What do you want, Bester?"
"There is a fire at Peacock's farm, sir." Mr. Pendyce stared.
"What?" he said. "A fire in broad daylight! Nonsense!"
"You can see the flames from the front, sir." The worn and querulous look left Mr. Pendyce's face.
"Ring the stable-bell!" he said. "Tell them all to run with buckets and ladders. Send Higson off to Cornmarket on the mare. Go and tell Mr. Barter, and rouse the village. Don't stand there—God bless me! Ring the stable-bell!" And snatching up his riding-crop and hat, he ran past the butler, closely followed by the spaniel John.
Over the stile and along the footpath which cut diagonally across a field of barley he moved at a stiff trot, and his spaniel, who had not grasped the situation, frolicked ahead with a certain surprise. The Squire was soon out of breath—it was twenty years or more since he had run a quarter of a mile. He did not, however, relax his speed. Ahead of him in the distance ran the second groom; behind him a labourer and a footman. The stable-bell at Worsted Skeynes began to ring. Mr. Pendyce crossed the stile and struck into the lane, colliding with the Rector, who was running, too, his face flushed to the colour of tomatoes. They ran on, side by side.
"You go on!" gasped Mr. Pendyce at last, "and tell them I'm coming."
The Rector hesitated—he, too, was very out of breath—and started again, panting. The Squire, with his hand to his side, walked painfully on; he had run himself to a standstill. At a gap in the corner of the lane he suddenly saw pale-red tongues of flame against the sunlight.
"God bless me!" he gasped, and in sheer horror started to run again. Those sinister tongues were licking at the air over a large barn, some ricks, and the roofs of stables and outbuildings. Half a dozen figures were dashing buckets of water on the flames. The true insignificance of their efforts did not penetrate the Squire's mind. Trembling, and with a sickening pain in his lungs, he threw off his coat, wrenched a bucket from a huge agricultural labourer, who resigned it with awe, and joined the string of workers. Peacock, the farmer, ran past him; his face and round red beard were the colour of the flames he was trying to put out; tears dropped continually from his eyes and ran down that fiery face. His wife, a little dark woman with a twisted mouth, was working like a demon at the pump. Mr. Pendyce gasped to her:
"This is dreadful, Mrs. Peacock—this is dreadful!"
Conspicuous in black clothes and white shirt-sleeves, the Rector was hewing with an axe at the boarding of a cowhouse, the door end of which was already in flames, and his voice could be heard above the tumult shouting directions to which nobody paid any heed.
"What's in that cow-house?" gasped Mr. Pendyce.
Mrs. Peacock, in a voice harsh with rage and grief answered:
"It's the old horse and two of the cows!"
"God bless me!" cried the Squire, rushing forward with his bucket.
Some villagers came running up, and he shouted to these, but what he said neither he nor they could tell. The shrieks and snortings of the horse and cows, the steady whirr of the flames, drowned all lesser sounds. Of human cries, the Rector's voice alone was heard, between the crashing blows of his axe upon the woodwork.
Mr. Pendyce tripped; his bucket rolled out of his hand; he lay where he had fallen, too exhausted to move. He could still hear the crash of the Rector's axe, the sound of his shouts. Somebody helped him up, and trembling so that he could hardly stand, he caught an axe out of the hand of a strapping young fellow who had just arrived, and placing himself by the Rector's side, swung it feebly against the boarding. The flames and smoke now filled the whole cow-house, and came rushing through the gap that they were making. The Squire and the Rector stood their ground. With a furious blow Mr. Barter cleared a way. A cheer rose behind them, but no beast came forth. All three were dead in the smoke and flames.
The Squire, who could see in, flung down his axe, and covered his eyes with his hands. The Rector uttered a sound like a deep oath, and he, too, flung down his axe.
Two hours later, with torn and blackened clothes, the Squire stood by the ruins of the barn. The fire was out, but the ashes were still smouldering. The spaniel John, anxious, panting, was licking his master's boots, as though begging forgiveness that he had been so frightened, and kept so far away. Yet something in his eye seemed to be saying:
"Must you really have these fires, master?"
A black hand grasped the Squire's arm, a hoarse voice said:
"I shan't forget, Squire!"
"God bless me, Peacock!" returned Mr. Pendyce, "that's nothing! You're insured, I hope?'
"Aye, I'm insured; but it's the beasts I'm thinking of!"
"Ah!" said the Squire, with a gesture of horror.
The brougham took him and the Rector back together. Under their feet crouched their respective dogs, faintly growling at each other. A cheer from the crowd greeted their departure.
They started in silence, deadly tired. Mr. Pendyce said suddenly:
"I can't get those poor beasts out of my head, Barter!"
The Rector put his hand up to his eyes.
"I hope to God I shall never see such a sight again! Poor brutes, poor brutes!"
And feeling secretly for his dog's muzzle, he left his hand against the animal's warm, soft, rubbery mouth, to be licked again and again.
On his side of the brougham Mr. Pendyce, also unseen, was doing precisely the same thing.
The carriage went first to the Rectory, where Mrs. Barter and her children stood in the doorway. The Rector put his head back into the brougham to say:
"Good-night, Pendyce. You'll be stiff tomorrow. I shall get my wife to rub me with Elliman!"
Mr. Pendyce nodded, raised his hat, and the carriage went on. Leaning back, he closed his eyes; a pleasanter sensation was stealing over him. True, he would be stiff to-morrow, but he had done his duty. He had shown them all that blood told; done something to bolster up that system which was-himself. And he had a new and kindly feeling towards Peacock, too. There was nothing like a little danger for bringing the lower classes closer; then it was they felt the need for officers, for something!
The spaniel John's head rose between his knees, turning up eyes with a crimson touch beneath.
'Master,' he seemed to say, 'I am feeling old. I know there are things beyond me in this life, but you, who know all things, will arrange that we shall be together even when we die.'
The carriage stopped at the entrance of the drive, and the Squire's thoughts changed. Twenty years ago he would have beaten Barter running down that lane. Barter was only forty-five. To give him fourteen years and a beating was a bit too much to expect: He felt a strange irritation with Barter—the fellow had cut a very good figure! He had shirked nothing. Elliman was too strong! Homocea was the thing. Margery would have to rub him! And suddenly, as though springing naturally from the name of his wife, George came into Mr. Pendyce's mind, and the respite that he had enjoyed from care was over. But the spaniel John, who scented home, began singing feebly for the brougham to stop, and beating a careless tail against his master's boot.
It was very stiffly, with frowning brows and a shaking under-lip, that the Squire descended from the brougham, and began sorely to mount the staircase to his wife's room.
There comes a day each year in May when Hyde Park is possessed. A cool wind swings the leaves; a hot sun glistens on Long Water, on every bough, on every blade of grass. The birds sing their small hearts out, the band plays its gayest tunes, the white clouds race in the high blue heaven. Exactly why and how this day differs from those that came before and those that will come after, cannot be told; it is as though the Park said: 'To-day I live; the Past is past. I care not for the Future!'
And on this day they who chance in the Park cannot escape some measure of possession. Their steps quicken, their skirts swing, their sticks flourish, even their eyes brighten—those eyes so dulled with looking at the streets; and each one, if he has a Love, thinks of her, and here and there among the wandering throng he has her with him. To these the Park and all sweet-blooded mortals in it nod and smile.
There had been a meeting that afternoon at Lady Maiden's in Prince's Gate to consider the position of the working-class woman. It had provided a somewhat heated discussion, for a person had got up and proved almost incontestably that the working-class woman had no position whatsoever.
Gregory Vigil and Mrs. Shortman had left this meeting together, and, crossing the Serpentine, struck a line over the grass.
"Mrs. Shortman," said Gregory, "don't you think we're all a little mad?"
He was carrying his hat in his hand, and his fine grizzled hair, rumpled in the excitement of the meeting, had not yet subsided on his head.
"Yes, Mr. Vigil. I don't exactly——"
"We are all a little mad! What did that woman, Lady Maiden, mean by talking as she did? I detest her!"
"Oh, Mr. Vigil! She has the best intentions!"
"Intentions?" said Gregory. "I loathe her! What did we go to her stuffy drawing-room for? Look at that sky!"
Mrs. Shortman looked at the sky.
"But, Mr. Vigil," she said earnestly, "things would never get done. Sometimes I think you look at everything too much in the light of the way it ought to be!"
"The Milky Way," said Gregory.
Mrs. Shortman pursed her lips; she found it impossible to habituate herself to Gregory's habit of joking.
They had scant talk for the rest of their journey to the S. R. W. C., where Miss Mallow, at the typewriter, was reading a novel.
"There are several letters for you, Mr. Vigil"
"Mrs. Shortman says I am unpractical," answered Gregory. "Is that true, Miss Mallow?"
The colour in Miss Mallow's cheeks spread to her sloping shoulders.
"Oh no. You're most practical, only—perhaps—I don't know, perhaps you do try to do rather impossible things, Mr. Vigil"
There was a minute's silence. Then Mrs. Shortman at her bureau beginning to dictate, the typewriter started clicking.
Gregory, who had opened a letter, was seated with his head in his hands. The voice ceased, the typewriter ceased, but Gregory did not stir. Both women, turning a little in their seats, glanced at him. Their eyes caught each other's and they looked away at once. A few seconds later they were looking at him again. Still Gregory did not stir. An anxious appeal began to creep into the women's eyes.
"Mr. Vigil," said Mrs. Shortman at last, "Mr. Vigil, do you think—-"
Gregory raised his face; it was flushed to the roots of his hair.
"Read that, Mrs. Shortman."
Handing her a pale grey letter stamped with an eagle and the motto 'Strenuus aureaque penna' he rose and paced the room. And as with his long, light stride he was passing to and fro, the woman at the bureau conned steadily the writing, the girl at the typewriter sat motionless with a red and jealous face.
Mrs. Shortman folded the letter, placed it on the top of the bureau, and said without raising her eyes—
"Of course, it is very sad for the poor little girl; but surely, Mr. Vigil, it must always be, so as to check, to check——"
Gregory stopped, and his shining eyes disconcerted her; they seemed to her unpractical. Sharply lifting her voice, she went on:
"If there were no disgrace, there would be no way of stopping it. I know the country better than you do, Mr. Vigil."
Gregory put his hands to his ears.
"We must find a place for her at once."
The window was fully open, so that he could not open it any more, and he stood there as though looking for that place in the sky. And the sky he looked at was very blue, and large white birds of cloud were flying over it.
He turned from the window, and opened another letter.
"LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS, "May 24, 1892. "MY DEAR VIGIL,
"I gathered from your ward when I saw her yesterday that she has not told you of what, I fear, will give you much pain. I asked her point-blank whether she wished the matter kept from you, and her answer was, 'He had better know—only I'm sorry for him.' In sum it is this: Bellow has either got wind of our watching him, or someone must have put him up to it; he has anticipated us and brought a suit against your ward, joining George Pendyce in the cause. George brought the citation to me. If necessary he's prepared to swear there's nothing in it. He takes, in fact, the usual standpoint of the 'man of honour.'
"I went at once to see your ward. She admitted that the charge is true. I asked her if she wished the suit defended, and a counter-suit brought against her husband. Her answer to that was: 'I absolutely don't care.' I got nothing from her but this, and, though it sounds odd, I believe it to be true. She appears to be in a reckless mood, and to have no particular ill-will against her husband.
"I want to see you, but only after you have turned this matter over carefully. It is my duty to put some considerations before you. The suit, if brought, will be a very unpleasant matter for George, a still more unpleasant, even disastrous one, for his people. The innocent in such cases are almost always the greatest sufferers. If the cross-suit is instituted, it will assume at once, considering their position in Society, the proportions of a 'cause celebre', and probably occupy the court and the daily presses anything from three days to a week, perhaps more, and you know what that means. On the other hand, not to defend the suit, considering what we know, is, apart from ethics, revolting to my instincts as a fighter. My advice, therefore, is to make every effort to prevent matters being brought into court at all.
"I am an older man than you by thirteen years. I have a sincere regard for you, and I wish to save you pain. In the course of our interviews I have observed your ward very closely, and at the risk of giving you offence, I am going to speak out my mind. Mrs. Bellew is a rather remarkable woman. From two or three allusions that you have made in my presence, I believe that she is altogether different from what you think. She is, in my opinion, one of those very vital persons upon whom our judgments, censures, even our sympathies, are wasted. A woman of this sort, if she comes of a county family, and is thrown by circumstances with Society people, is always bound to be conspicuous. If you would realise something of this, it would, I believe, save you a great deal of pain. In short, I beg of you not to take her, or her circumstances, too seriously. There are quite a number of such men and women as her husband and herself, and they are always certain to be more or less before the public eye. Whoever else goes down, she will swim, simply because she can't help it. I want you to see things as they are.
"I ask you again, my dear Vigil, to forgive me for writing thus, and to believe that my sole desire is to try and save you unnecessary suffering.
"Come and see me as soon as you have reflected:
"I am, "Your sincere friend, "EDMUND PARAMOR."
Gregory made a movement like that of a blind man. Both women were on their feet at once.
"What is it, Mr. Vigil? Can I get you anything?"
"Thanks; nothing, nothing. I've had some rather bad news. I'll go out and get some air. I shan't be back to-day."
He found his hat and went.
He walked towards the Park, unconsciously attracted towards the biggest space, the freshest air; his hands were folded behind him, his head bowed. And since, of all things, Nature is ironical, it was fitting that he should seek the Park this day when it was gayest. And far in the Park, as near the centre as might be, he lay down on the grass. For a long time he lay without moving, his hands over his eyes, and in spite of Mr. Paramor's reminder that his suffering was unnecessary, he suffered.
And mostly he suffered from black loneliness, for he was a very lonely man, and now he had lost that which he had thought he had. It is difficult to divide suffering, difficult to say how much he suffered, because, being in love with her, he had secretly thought she must love him a little, and how much he suffered because his private portrait of her, the portrait that he, and he alone, had painted, was scored through with the knife. And he lay first on his face, and then on his back, with his hand always over his eyes. And around him were other men lying on the grass, and some were lonely, and some hungry, and some asleep, and some were lying there for the pleasure of doing nothing and for the sake of the hot sun on their cheeks; and by the side of some lay their girls, and it was these that Gregory could not bear to see, for his spirit and his senses were a-hungered. In the plantations close by were pigeons, and never for a moment did they stop cooing; never did the blackbirds cease their courting songs; the sun its hot, sweet burning; the clouds above their love-chase in the sky. It was the day without a past, without a future, when it is not good for man to be alone. And no man looked at him, because it was no man's business, but a woman here and there cast a glance on that long, tweed-suited figure with the hand over the eyes, and wondered, perhaps, what was behind that hand. Had they but known, they would have smiled their woman's smile that he should so have mistaken one of their sex.
Gregory lay quite still, looking at the sky, and because he was a loyal man he did not blame her, but slowly, very slowly, his spirit, like a spring stretched to the point of breaking, came back upon itself, and since he could not bear to see things as they were, he began again to see them as they were not.
'She has been forced into this,' he thought. 'It is George Pendyce's fault. To me she is, she must be, the same!'
He turned again on to his face. And a small dog who had lost its master sniffed at his boots, and sat down a little way off, to wait till Gregory could do something for him, because he smelled that he was that sort of man.
DOUBTFUL POSITION AT WORSTED SKEYNES
Then George's answer came at last, the flags were in full bloom round the Scotch garden at Worsted Skeynes. They grew in masses and of all shades, from deep purple to pale grey, and their scent, very penetrating, very delicate, floated on the wind.
While waiting for that answer, it had become Mr. Pendyce's habit to promenade between these beds, his hand to his back, for he was still a little stiff, followed at a distance of seven paces by the spaniel John, very black, and moving his rubbery nostrils uneasily from side to side.
In this way the two passed every day the hour from twelve to one. Neither could have said why they walked thus, for Mr. Pendyce had a horror of idleness, and the spaniel John disliked the scent of irises; both, in fact, obeyed that part of themselves which is superior to reason. During this hour, too, Mrs. Pendyce, though longing to walk between her flowers, also obeyed that part of her, superior to reason, which told her that it would be better not.
But George's answer came at last.
"STOICS' CLUB. "DEAR FATHER,
"Yes, Bellew is bringing a suit. I am taking steps in the matter. As to the promise you ask for, I can give no promise of the sort. You may tell Bellew I will see him d—-d first.
"Your affectionate son, "GEORGE PENDYCE."
Mr. Pendyce received this at the breakfast-table, and while he read it there was a hush, for all had seen the handwriting on the envelope.
Mr. Pendyce read it through twice, once with his glasses on and once without, and when he had finished the second reading he placed it in his breast pocket. No word escaped him; his eyes, which had sunk a little the last few days, rested angrily on his wife's white face. Bee and Norah looked down, and, as if they understood, the four dogs were still. Mr. Pendyce pushed his plate back, rose, and left the room.
Norah looked up.
"What's the matter, Mother?"
Mrs. Pendyce was swaying. She recovered herself in a moment.
"Nothing, dear. It's very hot this morning, don't you think? I'll Just go to my room and take some sal volatile."
She went out, followed by old Roy, the Skye; the spaniel John, who had been cut off at the door by his master's abrupt exit, preceded her. Norah and Bee pushed back their plates.
"I can't eat, Norah," said Bee. "It's horrible not to know what's going on."
"It's perfectly brutal not being a man. You might just as well be a dog as a girl, for anything anyone tells you!"
Mrs. Pendyce did not go to her room; she went to the library. Her husband, seated at his table, had George's letter before him. A pen was in his hand, but he was not writing.
"Horace," she said softly, "here is poor John!"
Mr. Pendyce did not answer, but put down the hand that did not hold his pen. The spaniel John covered it with kisses.
"Let me see the letter, won't you?"
Mr. Pendyce handed it to her without a word. She touched his shoulder gratefully, for his unusual silence went to her heart. Mr. Pendyce took no notice, staring at his pen as though surprised that, of its own accord, it did not write his answer; but suddenly he flung it down and looked round, and his look seemed to say: 'You brought this fellow into the world; now see the result!'
He had had so many days to think and put his finger on the doubtful spots of his son's character. All that week he had become more and more certain of how, without his wife, George would have been exactly like himself. Words sprang to his lips, and kept on dying there. The doubt whether she would agree with him, the feeling that she sympathised with her son, the certainty that something even in himself responded to those words: "You can tell Bellew I will see him d—-d first!"—all this, and the thought, never out of his mind, 'The name—the estate!' kept him silent. He turned his head away, and took up his pen again.
Mrs. Pendyce had read the letter now three times, and instinctively had put it in her bosom. It was not hers, but Horace must know it by heart, and in his anger he might tear it up. That letter, for which they had waited so long; told her nothing; she had known all there was to tell. Her hand had fallen from Mr. Pendyce's shoulder, and she did not put it back, but ran her fingers through and through each other, while the sunlight, traversing the narrow windows, caressed her from her hair down to her knees. Here and there that stream of sunlight formed little pools in her eyes, giving them a touching, anxious brightness; in a curious heart-shaped locket of carved steel, worn by her mother and her grandmother before her, containing now, not locks of their son's hair, but a curl of George's; in her diamond rings, and a bracelet of amethyst and pearl which she wore for the love of pretty things. And the warm sunlight disengaged from her a scent of lavender. Through the library door a scratching noise told that the dear dogs knew she was not in her bedroom. Mr. Pendyce, too, caught that scent of lavender, and in some vague way it augmented his discomfort. Her silence, too, distressed him. It did not occur to him that his silence was distressing her. He put down his pen.
"I can't write with you standing there, Margery!"
Mrs. Pendyce moved out of the sunlight.
"George says he is taking steps. What does that mean, Horace?"
This question, focusing his doubts, broke down the Squire's dumbness.
"I won't be treated like this!" he said. "I'll go up and see him myself!"
He went by the 10.20, saying that he would be down again by the 5.55
Soon after seven the same evening a dogcart driven by a young groom and drawn by a raking chestnut mare with a blaze face, swung into the railway-station at Worsted Skeynes, and drew up before the booking-office. Mr. Pendyce's brougham, behind a brown horse, coming a little later, was obliged to range itself behind. A minute before the train's arrival a wagonette and a pair of bays, belonging to Lord Quarryman, wheeled in, and, filing past the other two, took up its place in front. Outside this little row of vehicles the station fly and two farmers' gigs presented their backs to the station buildings. And in this arrangement there was something harmonious and fitting, as though Providence itself had guided them all and assigned to each its place. And Providence had only made one error—that of placing Captain Bellew's dogcart precisely opposite the booking-office, instead of Lord Quarryman's wagonette, with Mr. Pendyce's brougham next.
Mr. Pendyce came out first; he stared angrily at the dogcart, and moved to his own carriage. Lord Quarryman came out second. His massive sun-burned head—the back of which, sparsely adorned by hairs, ran perfectly straight into his neck—was crowned by a grey top-hat. The skirts of his grey coat were square-shaped, and so were the toes of his boots.
"Hallo, Pendyce!" he called out heartily; "didn't see you on the platform. How's your wife?"
Mr. Pendyce, turning to answer, met the little burning eyes of Captain Bellew, who came out third. They failed to salute each other, and Bellow, springing into his cart, wrenched his mare round, circled the farmers' gigs, and, sitting forward, drove off at a furious pace. His groom, running at full speed, clung to the cart and leaped on to the step behind. Lord Quarryman's wagonette backed itself into the place left vacant. And the mistake of Providence was rectified.
"Cracked chap, that fellow Bellew. D'you see anything of him?"
Mr. Pendyce answered:
"No; and I want to see less. I wish he'd take himself off!"
His lordship smiled.
"A huntin' country seems to breed fellows like that; there's always one of 'em to every pack of hounds. Where's his wife now? Good-lookin' woman; rather warm member, eh?"
It seemed to Mr. Pendyce that Lord Quarryman's eyes searched his own with a knowing look, and muttering "God knows!" he vanished into his brougham.
Lord Quarryman looked kindly at his horses.
He was not a man who reflected on the whys, the wherefores, the becauses, of this life. The good God had made him Lord Quarryman, had made his eldest son Lord Quantock; the good God had made the Gaddesdon hounds—it was enough!
When Mr. Pendyce reached home he went to his dressing-room. In a corner by the bath the spaniel John lay surrounded by an assortment of his master's slippers, for it was thus alone that he could soothe in measure the bitterness of separation. His dark brown eye was fixed upon the door, and round it gleamed a crescent moon of white. He came to the Squire fluttering his tail, with a slipper in his mouth, and his eye said plainly: 'Oh, master, where have you been? Why have you been so long? I have been expecting you ever since half-past ten this morning!'
Mr. Pendyce's heart opened a moment and closed again. He said "John!" and began to dress for dinner.
Mrs. Pendyce found him tying his white tie. She had plucked the first rosebud from her garden; she had plucked it because she felt sorry for him, and because of the excuse it would give her to go to his dressing-room at once.
"I've brought you a buttonhole, Horace. Did you see him?"
Of all answers this was the one she dreaded most. She had not believed that anything would come of an interview; she had trembled all day long at the thought of their meeting; but now that they had not met she knew by the sinking in her heart that anything was better than uncertainty. She waited as long as she could, then burst out:
"Tell me something, Horace!"
Mr. Pendyce gave her an angry glance.
"How can I tell you, when there's nothing to tell? I went to his club. He's not living there now. He's got rooms, nobody knows where. I waited all the afternoon. Left a message at last for him to come down here to-morrow. I've sent for Paramor, and told him to come down too. I won't put up with this sort of thing."
Mrs. Pendyce looked out of the window, but there was nothing to see save the ha-ha, the coverts, the village spire, the cottage roofs, which for so long had been her world.
"George won't come down here," she said.
"George will do what I tell him."
Again Mrs. Pendyce shook her head, knowing by instinct that she was right.
Mr. Pendyce stopped putting on his waist-coat.
"George had better take care," he said; "he's entirely dependent on me."
And as if with those words he had summed up the situation, the philosophy of a system vital to his son, he no longer frowned. On Mrs. Pendyce those words had a strange effect. They stirred within her terror. It was like seeing her son's back bared to a lifted whip-lash; like seeing the door shut against him on a snowy night. But besides terror they stirred within her a more poignant feeling yet, as though someone had dared to show a whip to herself, had dared to defy that something more precious than life in her soul, that something which was of her blood, so utterly and secretly passed by the centuries into her fibre that no one had ever thought of defying it before. And there flashed before her with ridiculous concreteness the thought: 'I've got three hundred a year of my own!' Then the whole feeling left her, just as in dreams a mordant sensation grips and passes, leaving a dull ache, whose cause is forgotten, behind.
"There's the gong, Horace," she said. "Cecil Tharp is here to dinner. I asked the Barters, but poor Rose didn't feel up to it. Of course they are expecting it very soon now. They talk of the 15th of June."
Mr. Pendyce took from his wife his coat, passing his arms down the satin sleeves.
"If I could get the cottagers to have families like that," he said, "I shouldn't have much trouble about labour. They're a pig-headed lot—do nothing that they're told. Give me some eau-de-Cologne, Margery."
Mrs. Pendyce dabbed the wicker flask on her husband's handkerchief.
"Your eyes look tired," she said. "Have you a headache, dear?"
COUNCIL AT WORSTED SKEYNES
It was on the following evening—the evening on which he was expecting his son and Mr. Paramor that the Squire leaned forward over the dining-table and asked:
"What do you say, Barter? I'm speaking to you as a man of the world."
The Rector bent over his glass of port and moistened his lower lip.
"There's no excuse for that woman," he answered. "I always thought she was a bad lot."
Mr. Pendyce went on:
"We've never had a scandal in my family. I find the thought of it hard to bear, Barter—I find it hard to bear——"
The Rector emitted a low sound. He had come from long usage to have a feeling like affection for his Squire.
Mr. Pendyce pursued his thoughts.
"We've gone on," he said, "father and son for hundreds of years. It's a blow to me, Barter."
Again the Rector emitted that low sound.
"What will the village think?" said Mr. Pendyce; "and the farmers—I mind that more than anything. Most of them knew my dear old father—not that he was popular. It's a bitter thing."
The Rector said:
"Well, well, Pendyce, perhaps it won't come to that."
He looked a little shamefaced, and his light eyes were full of something like contrition.
"How does Mrs. Pendyce take it?"
The Squire looked at him for the first time.
"Ah!" he said; "you never know anything about women. I'd as soon trust a woman to be just as I'd—I'd finish that magnum; it'd give me gout in no time."
The Rector emptied his glass.
"I've sent for George and my solicitor," pursued the Squire; "they'll be here directly."
Mr. Barter pushed his chair back, and raising his right ankle on to his left leg, clasped his hands round his right knee; then, leaning forward, he stared up under his jutting brows at Mr. Pendyce. It was the attitude in which he thought best.
Mr. Pendyce ran on:
"I've nursed the estate ever since it came to me; I've carried on the tradition as best I could; I've not been as good a man, perhaps, as I should have wished, but I've always tried to remember my old father's words: 'I'm done for, Horry; the estate's in your hands now.'" He cleared his throat.
For a full minute there was no sound save the ticking of the clock. Then the spaniel John, coming silently from under the sideboard, fell heavily down against his master's leg with a lengthy snore of satisfaction. Mr. Pendyce looked down.
"This fellow of mine," he muttered, "is getting fat."
It was evident from the tone of his voice that he desired his emotion to be forgotten. Something very deep in Mr. Barter respected that desire.
"It's a first-rate magnum," he said.
Mr. Pendyce filled his Rector's glass.
"I forget if you knew Paramor. He was before your time. He was at Harrow with me."
The Rector took a prolonged sip.
"I shall be in the way," he said. "I'll take myself off'."
The Squire put out his hand affectionately.
"No, no, Barter, don't you go. It's all safe with you. I mean to act. I can't stand this uncertainty. My wife's cousin Vigil is coming too—he's her guardian. I wired for him. You know Vigil? He was about your time."
The Rector turned crimson, and set his underlip. Having scented his enemy, nothing would now persuade him to withdraw; and the conviction that he had only done his duty, a little shaken by the Squire's confidence, returned as though by magic.
"Yes, I know him."
"We'll have it all out here," muttered Mr. Pendyce, "over this port. There's the carriage. Get up, John."
The spaniel John rose heavily, looked sardonically at Mr. Barter, and again flopped down against his master's leg.
"Get up, John," said Mr. Pendyce again. The spaniel John snored.
'If I move, you'll move too, and uncertainty will begin for me again,' he seemed to say.
Mr. Pendyce disengaged his leg, rose, and went to the door. Before reaching it he turned and came back to the table.
"Barter," he said, "I'm not thinking of myself—I'm not thinking of myself—we've been here for generations—it's the principle." His face had the least twist to one side, as though conforming to a kink in his philosophy; his eyes looked sad and restless.
And the Rector, watching the door for the sight of his enemy, also thought:
'I'm not thinking of myself—I'm satisfied that I did right—I'm Rector of this parish it's the principle.'
The spaniel John gave three short barks, one for each of the persons who entered the room. They were Mrs. Pendyce, Mr. Paramor, and Gregory Vigil.
"Where's George?" asked the Squire, but no one answered him.
The Rector, who had resumed his seat, stared at a little gold cross which he had taken out of his waistcoat pocket. Mr. Paramor lifted a vase and sniffed at the rose it contained; Gregory walked to the window.
When Mr. Pendyce realised that his son had not come, he went to the door and held it open.
"Be good enough to take John out, Margery," he said. "John!"
The spaniel John, seeing what lay before him, rolled over on his back.
Mrs. Pendyce fixed her eyes on her husband, and in those eyes she put all the words which the nature of a lady did not suffer her to speak.
'I claim to be here. Let me stay; it is my right. Don't send me away.' So her eyes spoke, and so those of the spaniel John, lying on his back, in which attitude he knew that he was hard to move.
Mr. Pendyce turned him over with his foot.
"Get up, John! Be good enough to take John out, Margery."
Mrs. Pendyce flushed, but did not move.
"John," said Mr. Pendyce, "go with your mistress." The spaniel John fluttered a drooping tail. Mr. Pendyce pressed his foot to it.
"This is not a subject for women."
Mrs. Pendyce bent down.
"Come, John," she said. The spaniel John, showing the whites of his eyes, and trying to back through his collar, was assisted from the room. Mr. Pendyce closed the door behind them.
"Have a glass of port, Vigil; it's the '47. My father laid it down in '56, the year before he died. Can't drink it myself—I've had to put down two hogsheads of the Jubilee wine. Paramor, fill your glass. Take that chair next to Paramor, Vigil. You know Barter?"
Both Gregory's face and the Rector's were very red.
"We're all Harrow men here," went on Mr. Pendyce. And suddenly turning to Mr. Paramor, he said: "Well?"
Just as round the hereditary principle are grouped the State, the Church, Law, and Philanthropy, so round the dining-table at Worsted Skeynes sat the Squire, the Rector, Mr. Paramor, and Gregory Vigil, and none of them wished to be the first to speak. At last Mr. Paramor, taking from his pocket Bellew's note and George's answer, which were pinned in strange alliance, returned them to the Squire.
"I understand the position to be that George refuses to give her up; at the same time he is prepared to defend the suit and deny everything. Those are his instructions to me." Taking up the vase again, he sniffed long and deep at the rose.
Mr. Pendyce broke the silence.
"As a gentleman," he said in a voice sharpened by the bitterness of his feelings, "I suppose he's obliged——"
Gregory, smiling painfully, added:
"To tell lies."
Mr. Pendyce turned on him at once.
"I've nothing to say about that, Vigil. George has behaved abominably. I don't uphold him; but if the woman wishes the suit defended he can't play the cur—that's what I was brought up to believe."
Gregory leaned his forehead on his hand.
"The whole system is odious——" he was beginning.
Mr. Paramor chimed in.
"Let us keep to the facts; without the system."
The Rector spoke for the first time.
"I don't know what you mean about the system; both this man and this woman are guilty——"
Gregory said in a voice that quivered with rage:
"Be so kind as not to use the expression, 'this woman.'"
The Rector glowered.
"What expression then——"
Mr. Pendyce's voice, to which the intimate trouble of his thoughts lent a certain dignity, broke in:
"Gentlemen, this is a question concerning the honour of my house."
There was another and a longer silence, during which Mr. Paramor's eyes haunted from face to face, while beyond the rose a smile writhed on his lips.
"I suppose you have brought me down here, Pendyce, to give you my opinion," he said at last. "Well; don't let these matters come into court. If there is anything you can do to prevent it, do it. If your pride stands in the way, put it in your pocket. If your sense of truth stands in the way, forget it. Between personal delicacy and our law of divorce there is no relation; between absolute truth and our law of divorce there is no relation. I repeat, don't let these matters come into court. Innocent and guilty, you will all suffer; the innocent will suffer more than the guilty, and nobody will benefit. I have come to this conclusion deliberately. There are cases in which I should give the opposite opinion. But in this case, I repeat, there's nothing to be gained by it. Once more, then, don't let these matters come into court. Don't give people's tongues a chance. Take my advice, appeal to George again to give you that promise. If he refuses, well, we must try and bluff Bellew out of it."
Mr. Pendyce had listened, as he had formed the habit of listening to Edmund Paramor, in silence. He now looked up and said:
"It's all that red-haired ruffian's spite. I don't know what you were about to stir things up, Vigil. You must have put him on the scent." He looked moodily at Gregory. Mr. Barter, too, looked at Gregory with a sort of half-ashamed defiance.
Gregory, who had been staring at his untouched wineglass, turned his face, very flushed, and began speaking in a voice that emotion and anger caused to tremble. He avoided looking at the Rector, and addressed himself to Mr. Paramor.
"George can't give up the woman who has trusted herself to him; that would be playing the cur, if you like. Let them go and live together honestly until they can be married. Why do you all speak as if it were the man who mattered? It is the woman that we should protect!"
The Rector first recovered speech.
"You're talking rank immorality," he said almost good-humouredly.
Mr. Pendyce rose.
"Marry her!" he cried. "What on earth—that's worse than all—the very thing we're trying to prevent! We've been here, father and son—father and son—for generations!"
"All the more shame," burst out Gregory, "if you can't stand by a woman at the end of them——!"
Mr. Paramor made a gesture of reproof.
"There's moderation in all things," he said. "Are you sure that Mrs. Bellew requires protection? If you are right, I agree; but are you right?"
"I will answer for it," said Gregory.
Mr. Paramor paused a full minute with his head resting on his hand.
"I am sorry," he said at last, "I must trust to my own judgment."
The Squire looked up.
"If the worst comes to the worst, can I cut the entail, Paramor?"
"What? But that's all wrong—that's——"
"You can't have it both ways," said Mr. Paramor.
The Squire looked at him dubiously, then blurted out:
"If I choose to leave him nothing but the estate, he'll soon find himself a beggar. I beg your pardon, gentlemen; fill your glasses! I'm forgetting everything!"
The Rector filled his glass.
"I've said nothing so far," he began; "I don't feel that it's my business. My conviction is that there's far too much divorce nowadays. Let this woman go back to her husband, and let him show her where she's to blame"—his voice and his eyes hardened—"then let them forgive each other like Christians. You talk," he said to Gregory, "about standing up for the woman. I've no patience with that; it's the way immorality's fostered in these days. I raise my voice against this sentimentalism. I always have, and I always shall!"
Gregory jumped to his feet.
"I've told you once before," he said, "that you were indelicate; I tell you so again."
Mr. Barter got up, and stood bending over the table, crimson in the face, staring at Gregory, and unable to speak.
"Either you or I," he said at last, stammering with passion, "must leave this room!"
Gregory tried to speak; then turning abruptly, he stepped out on to the terrace, and passed from the view of those within.
The Rector said:
"Good-night, Pendyce; I'm going, too!"
The Squire shook the hand held out to him with a face perplexed to sadness. There was silence when Mr. Barter had left the room.
The Squire broke it with a sigh.
"I wish we were back at Oxenham's, Paramor. This serves me right for deserting the old house. What on earth made me send George to Eton?"
Mr. Paramor buried his nose in the vase. In this saying of his old schoolfellow was the whole of the Squire's creed:
'I believe in my father, and his father, and his father's father, the makers and keepers of my estate; and I believe in myself and my son and my son's son. And I believe that we have made the country, and shall keep the country what it is. And I believe in the Public Schools, and especially the Public School that I was at. And I believe in my social equals and the country house, and in things as they are, for ever and ever. Amen.'
Mr. Pendyce went on:
"I'm not a Puritan, Paramor; I dare say there are allowances to be made for George. I don't even object to the woman herself; she may be too good for Bellew; she must be too good for a fellow like that! But for George to marry her would be ruination. Look at Lady Rose's case! Anyone but a star-gazing fellow like Vigil must see that! It's taboo! It's sheer taboo! And think—think of my—my grandson! No, no, Paramor; no, no, by God!"
The Squire covered his eyes with his hand.
Mr. Paramor, who had no son himself, answered with feeling:
"Now, now, old fellow; it won't come to that!"
"God knows what it will come to, Paramor! My nerve's shaken! You know yourself that if there's a divorce he'll be bound to marry her!"
To this Mr. Paramor made no reply, but pressed his lips together.
"There's your poor dog whining," he said.
And without waiting for permission he opened the door. Mrs. Pendyce and the spaniel John came in. The Squire looked up and frowned. The spaniel John, panting with delight, rubbed against him. 'I have been through torment, master,' he seemed to say. 'A second separation at present is not possible for me!'
Mrs. Pendyce stood waiting silently, and Mr. Paramor addressed himself to her.
"You can do more than any of us, Mrs. Pendyce, both with George and with this man Bellew—and, if I am not mistaken, with his wife."
The Squire broke in:
"Don't think that I'll have any humble pie eaten to that fellow Bellew!"
The look Mr. Paramor gave him at those words, was like that of a doctor diagnosing a disease. Yet there was nothing in the expression of the Squire's face with its thin grey whiskers and moustache, its twist to the left, its swan-like eyes, decided jaw, and sloping brow, different from what this idea might bring on the face of any country gentleman.
Mrs. Pendyce said eagerly
"Oh, Mr. Paramor, if I could only see George!"
She longed so for a sight of her son that her thoughts carried her no further.
"See him!" cried the Squire. "You'll go on spoiling him till he's disgraced us all!"
Mrs. Pendyce turned from her husband to his solicitor. Excitement had fixed an unwonted colour in her cheeks; her lips twitched as if she wished to speak.
Mr. Paramor answered for her:
"No, Pendyce; if George is spoilt, the system is to blame."
"System!" said the Squire. "I've never had a system for him. I'm no believer in systems! I don't know what you're talking of. I have another son, thank God!"
Mrs. Pendyce took a step forward.
"Horace," she said, "you would never——"
Mr. Pendyce turned from his wife, and said sharply:
"Paramor, are you sure I can't cut the entail?"
"As sure," said Mr. Paramor, "as I sit here!"
DEFINITION OF "PENDYCITIS"
Gregory walked long in the Scotch garden with his eyes on the stars. One, larger than all the rest, over the larches, shone on him ironically, for it was the star of love. And on his beat between the yew-trees that, living before Pendyces came to Worsted Skeynes, would live when they were gone, he cooled his heart in the silver light of that big star. The irises restrained their perfume lest it should whip his senses; only the young larch-trees and the far fields sent him their fugitive sweetness through the dark. And the same brown owl that had hooted when Helen Bellew kissed George Pendyce in the conservatory hooted again now that Gregory walked grieving over the fruits of that kiss.
His thoughts were of Mr. Barter, and with the injustice natural to a man who took a warm and personal view of things, he painted the Rector in colours darker than his cloth.
'Indelicate, meddlesome,' he thought. 'How dare he speak of her like that!'
Mr. Paramor's voice broke in on his meditations.
"Still cooling your heels? Why did you play the deuce with us in there?"
"I hate a sham," said Gregory. "This marriage of my ward's is a sham. She had better live honestly with the man she really loves!"
"So you said just now," returned Mr. Paramor. "Would you apply that to everyone?"
"Well," said Mr. Paramor with a laugh, "there is nothing like an idealist for-making hay! You once told me, if I remember, that marriage was sacred to you!"
"Those are my own private feelings, Paramor. But here the mischief's done already. It is a sham, a hateful sham, and it ought to come to an end!"
"That's all very well," replied Mr. Paramor, "but when you come to put it into practice in that wholesale way it leads to goodness knows what. It means reconstructing marriage on a basis entirely different from the present. It's marriage on the basis of the heart, and not on the basis of property. Are you prepared to go to that length?"
"You're as much of an extremist one way as Barter is the other. It's you extremists who do all the harm. There's a golden mean, my friend. I agree that something ought to be done. But what you don't see is that laws must suit those they are intended to govern. You're too much in the stars, Vigil. Medicine must be graduated to the patient. Come, man, where's your sense of humour? Imagine your conception of marriage applied to Pendyce and his sons, or his Rector, or his tenants, and the labourers on his estate."
"No, no," said Gregory; "I refuse to believe——"
"The country classes," said Mr. Paramor quietly, "are especially backward in such matters. They have strong, meat-fed instincts, and what with the county Members, the Bishops, the Peers, all the hereditary force of the country, they still rule the roast. And there's a certain disease—to make a very poor joke, call it 'Pendycitis' with which most of these people are infected. They're 'crass.' They do things, but they do them the wrong way! They muddle through with the greatest possible amount of unnecessary labour and suffering! It's part of the hereditary principle. I haven't had to do with them thirty five years for nothing!"
Gregory turned his face away.
"Your joke is very poor," he said. "I don't believe they are like that! I won't admit it. If there is such a disease, it's our business to find a remedy."
"Nothing but an operation will cure it," said Mr. Paramor; "and before operating there's a preliminary process to be gone through. It was discovered by Lister."
"Paramor, I hate your pessimism!"
Mr. Paramor's eyes haunted Gregory's back.
"But I am not a pessimist," he said. "Far from it.
"'When daisies pied and violets blue, And lady-smocks all silver-white, And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue Do paint the meadows with delight, The cuckoo then, on every tree——'"
Gregory turned on him.
"How can you quote poetry, and hold the views you do? We ought to construct——"
"You want to build before you've laid your foundations," said Mr. Paramor. "You let your feelings carry you away, Vigil. The state of the marriage laws is only a symptom. It's this disease, this grudging narrow spirit in men, that makes such laws necessary. Unlovely men, unlovely laws—what can you expect?"
"I will never believe that we shall be content to go on living in a slough of—of——"
"Provincialism!" said Mr. Paramor. "You should take to gardening; it makes one recognise what you idealists seem to pass over—that men, my dear friend, are, like plants, creatures of heredity and environment; their growth is slow. You can't get grapes from thorns, Vigil, or figs from thistles—at least, not in one generation—however busy and hungry you may be!"
"Your theory degrades us all to the level of thistles."
"Social laws depend for their strength on the harm they have it in their power to inflict, and that harm depends for its strength on the ideals held by the man on whom the harm falls. If you dispense with the marriage tie, or give up your property and take to Brotherhood, you'll have a very thistley time, but you won't mind that if you're a fig. And so on ad lib. It's odd, though, how soon the thistles that thought themselves figs get found out. There are many things I hate, Vigil. One is extravagance, and another humbug!"