Then Winn remembered Peter. He told her somehow that there was Peter. He hid his face against her breast while he told her; he could not bear to see in her eyes this new knowledge of Peter.
But she was very quiet about it; it was almost as if she had always known that there was Peter.
Winn spoke very wildly after that; he denied Peter; he denied any obstacles; he spoke as if they were already safely and securely married. He explained that they had to be together; that was the long and short of it. Anything else was absurd; she must see that it was absurd.
Claire didn't interrupt him once; but when he had quite finished, she said consideringly:
"Yes; but, after all, she gave you Peter."
Then Winn laughed, remembering how Estelle had given him Peter. He couldn't explain to Claire quite how funny it was.
She bore his laughter, though it surprised her a little; there seemed to be so many new things to be learned about him. Then she said:
"Anyway, we can be quite happy for a fortnight, can't we?"
Winn raised his head and looked at her. It was his turn to be surprised.
"Maurice and I," she explained, "have to go back in two weeks; we've come over here for the fortnight. So we'll just be happy, won't we? And we can settle what we'll do afterward, at the end of the time."
She spoke as if a fortnight was a long time. Then Winn kissed her; he did it with extraordinary gentleness, on the side of her cheek and on her wet curls covered with snow.
"You're such a baby," he said half to himself; "so it isn't a bit of use your being as old as the hills the other part of the time. There are just about a million reasons why you shouldn't stay, you know."
"Oh, reasons!" said Claire, making a face at anything so trivial as a reason. Then she became very grave, and said, "I want to stay, Winn; of course I know what you mean. But there's Maurice; it isn't as if I were alone. And afterwards—oh, Winn, it's because I don't know what is going to happen afterwards—I must have now!"
Winn thought for a moment, then he said:
"Well, I'll try and work it. You mustn't be in the same hotel, though. Fortunately, I know a nice woman who'll help us through; only, darling, I'm awfully afraid it's beastly wrong for you. I mean I can't explain properly; but if I let you go now, it would be pretty sickening. But you'd get away; and if you stay, I'll do the best I can but we shall get mixed up so that you'll find it harder to shake me off. You see, you're awfully young; there are chances ahead of you, awfully decent other chaps, marriage—"
"And you," she whispered—"you?"
"Oh, it doesn't matter a damn about me either way," he explained carefully. "I'm stuck. But it isn't really fair of me to let you stay. You don't understand, but it simply isn't fair."
Claire looked reproachfully at him.
"If I don't want you to be fair," she said, "you oughtn't to want to be—not more than I do, I mean. Besides—Oh, Winn, I do know about when I go! That's why I can't go till we've been happy, awfully happy, first. Don't you see, if I went now, there'd be nothing to look back on but just your being hurt and my being hurt; and I want happiness! Oh, Winn, I want happiness!"
That was the end of it. He took her in his arms and promised her happiness.
It seemed incredible that they should be happy, but from the first of their fortnight to the last they were increasingly, insanely happy. Everything ministered to their joy; the unstinted blue and gold of the skies, the incommunicable glee of mountain heights, their blind and eager love.
There was no future. They were on an island cut off from all to-morrows; but they were together, and their island held the fruits of the Hesperides.
They lived surrounded by light passions, by unfaithfulnesses that had not the sharp excuses of desire, bonds that held only because they would require an effort to break and bonds that were forged only because it was easier to pass into a new relation than to continue in an old one. Their solid and sober passion passed through these light fleets of pleasure-boats as a great ship takes its unyielding way toward deep waters.
Winn was spared the agony of foresight; he could not see beyond her sparkling eyes; and Claire was happy, exultantly, supremely happy, with the reckless, incurious happiness of youth.
It was terrible to see them coming in and out with their joy. Their faces were transfigured, their eyes had the look of sleep-walkers, they moved as through another world. They had only one observer, and to Miss Marley the sight of them was like the sight of those unknowingly condemned to die. St. Moritz in general was not observant. It had gossips, but it did not know the difference between true and false, temporary and permanent. It had one mold for all its fancies: given a man and a woman, it formed at once its general and monotonous conjecture.
Maurice might have noticed Claire's preoccupation, for Maurice was sensitive to that which touched himself, but for the moment a group more expensive and less second rate than he had discovered at Davos took up his entire attention. He had none to spare for his sister unless she bothered him, and she didn't bother him.
It was left to Miss Marley to watch from hour to hour the significant and rising chart of passion. The evening after the Davos match, Winn had knocked at the door of her private sitting-room. It was his intention only to ask her if she would dine with some friends of his from Davos; he would mention indifferently that they were very young, a mere boy and girl, and he would suggest with equal subtlety that he would be obliged if Miss Marley would continue to take meals at his table during their visit. St. Moritz, he saw himself saying, was such a place for talk. There was no occasion to go into anything, and Miss Marley would, of course, have no idea how matters really stood. She was a good sort, but he wasn't going to talk about Claire.
Miss Marley said, "Come in," in that wonderful, low, soft voice of hers that came so strangely from her blistered lips. She was sitting in a low chair, smoking, in front of an open wood fire.
Her room was furnished by herself. It was a comfortable, featureless room, with no ornaments and no flowers; there were plenty of books in cases or lying about at ease on a big table, a stout desk by the window, and several leather-covered, deep armchairs. The walls were bare except for photographs of the Cresta. These had been taken from every possible angle of the run—its banks, its corners, its flashing pieces of straight, and its incredible final hill. It was noticeable that though there was generally a figure on a toboggan in the photograph, it never happened to be one of Miss Marley herself. She was a creditable rider, but she did not, to her own mind, show off the Cresta.
Her eyes met Winn's with a shrewdness that she promptly veiled. He wasn't looking as if he wanted her to be shrewd. It struck her that she was seeing Winn as he must have looked when he was about twenty. She wondered if this was only because he had won the match. His eyes were very open and they were off their guard. It could not be said that Winn had ever in his life looked appealing, but for a Staines to look so exposed to friendliness was very nearly an appeal.
"Mavorovitch has just left me," said Miss Marley. "You ought to have heard what he said about you. It was worth hearing. You played this afternoon like a successful demon dealing with lost souls. I don't think I've ever seen bandy played quite in that vein before."
Winn sank into one of the leather armchairs and lighted a cigarette.
"As a matter of fact," he said, "I played like a fluke. I am not up to Mavorovitch's form at all. I just happened to be on my game; he would have had me down and out otherwise."
Miss Marley nodded; she was wondering what had put Winn on his game. She turned her eyes away from him and looked into the fire. Winn was resting for the first time that day; the sense of physical ease and her even, tranquil comradeship were singularly soothing to him. Suddenly it occurred to him that he very much liked Miss Marley, and in a way in which he had never before liked any woman, with esteem and without excitement. He gave her a man's first proof of confidence.
"Look here," he said, "I want you to help me."
Miss Marley turned her eyes back to him; she was a plain woman, but she was able to speak with her eyes, and though what she said was sometimes hard and always honest, on the present occasion they expressed only an intense reassurance of good-will.
"When I came in," Winn said rather nervously, "I meant to ask you a little thing, but I find I am going to ask you a big one."
"Oh, well," said Miss Marley, "ask away. Big or little, friends should stand by each other."
"Yes," said Winn, relieved, "that's what I thought you'd say. I don't know that I ever mentioned to you I'm married?"
"No," she answered quietly, "I can't say that you did; however, most men of your age are married."
"And I've got a son," Winn continued. "His name is Peter—after my father, you know."
"That's a good thing," she concurred heartily. "I'm glad you've got a son."
"Unfortunately," said Winn, "my marriage didn't exactly come off. We got hold of the wrong end of the stick."
"Ah," said Miss Marley, "that's a pity! The right end of the stick is, I believe, almost essential in marriage."
"Yes," Winn acknowledged; "I see that now, of course. I was keen on getting her, but I hadn't thought the rest out. Rather odd, isn't it, that you don't get as much as a tip about how jolly a thing could be till you've dished yourself from having it?"
Miss Marley agreed that it was rather odd.
Winn came back swiftly to his point.
"What I was going to ask you," he said, holding her with his eyes, "is to sit at my table for a bit. I happen to have two young friends of mine over from Davos. He's her brother, of course, but I thought I'd like to have another woman somewhere about. Look better, wouldn't it? She's only nineteen."
His voice dropped as he mentioned Claire's age as if he were speaking of the Madonna.
"Yes," agreed Miss Marley, "it would look better."
"I dare say," said Winn after rather a long pause, "you see what I mean? The idea is—our idea, you know—to be together as much as we can for a fortnight. It'll be all right, of course; only I rather wondered if you'd see us through."
"See you through being all right?" Miss Marley asked with the directness of a knife-thrust.
"Well—yes," said Winn. "It would just put people off thinking things. Everybody seems to know you up here, and I somehow thought I'd rather you knew."
"Thank you," said Miss Marley, briefly.
She turned back to the fire again. She had seen all she wanted to see in Winn's eyes. She saw his intention. What she wasn't sure about was the fortnight. A fortnight can do a good deal with an intention.
Miss Marley knew the world very well. People had often wanted to use her for a screen before, and generally she had refused, believing that the chief safeguard of innocence is the absence of screens. But she saw that Winn did not want her to be that kind of a screen; he wanted her to be in the center of his situation without touching it. He wanted her for Claire, but he wanted her also a little for himself, so that he might feel the presence of her upright friendliness. He intensely trusted her.
There are people who intend to do good in the world and invariably do harm. They enter eagerly into the lives of others and put their fingers pressingly upon delicate machinery; very often they destroy it, more seldom, unfortunately, they cut their own fingers. Miss Marley did not belong to this type. She did not wish to be involved and she was scrupulous never to involve others. She hesitated before she gave her consent, but she couldn't withstand the thought that Claire was only nineteen. She spoke at last.
"What you suggest," she said quietly, "is going to be rather hard for you both. I suppose you do realize how hard? You see, you are only at the beginning of the fortnight now. Unhappy men and very young girls make difficult situations, Major Staines."
He got up and walked to the window, standing with his back to her. She wondered if she had said too much; his back looked uncompromising. She did not realize that she could never say too much in the defense of Claire. Then he said, without looking round:
"We shall have to manage somehow."
It occurred to Miss Marley, with a wave of reassurance, that this was probably Winn's usual way of managing.
"In any case," she said firmly, "you can count on me to do anything you wish."
Winn expressed no gratitude. He merely said:
"I shall introduce her to you this evening."
Before he left Miss Marley he shook hands with her. Her hands were hard and muscular, but she realized when she felt his grip that he must have been extremely grateful.
They went out early, before the sun was up, when the valley was an apricot mist and the mountains were as white as snowdrops in the spring. The head waiter fell easily into their habits, and provided them with an early breakfast and a parcel for lunch. Then they drove off through the biting, glittering coldness.
Sometimes they went far down the valley to Sils and on to the verge of the Maloja. Sometimes they drove through the narrower valleys to Pontresina and on into the impenetrable winter gloom of the Mortratsch glacier. The end was the same solitude, sunshine, and their love. The world was wrapped away in its winter stillness. The small Swiss villages slept and hardly stirred. In the hot noonday a few drowsy peasants crept to and from the barns where the cattle passed their winter life. Sometimes a woman labored at a frozen pump, or a party of skiers slipped rapidly through the shady streets, rousing echoes with their laughter; but for the most part they were as much alone as if the world had ceased to hold any beings but themselves. The pine-trees scented all the air, the snow dripped reluctantly, and sometimes far off they heard the distant boom of an avalanche. They sat together for long sunlit hours on the rickety wooden balcony of a friendly hospice, drinking hot spiced gluewein and building up their precarious memories.
There were moments when the hollow present snapped under their feet like a broken twig, and then the light in their eyes darkened and they ran out upon the safer path of make-believe.
It was Winn who, curiously enough, began it, and returned to it oftenest. It came to him, this abolishing of Estelle, always more easily than it came to Claire. It was inconceivable to Claire that Winn didn't, as a rule, remember his wife. She could have understood the tragedy of his marriage, but Winn didn't make a tragedy of it, he made nothing of it at all. It seemed terrible to Claire that any woman, bearing his name, the mother of his child, should have no life in his heart. She found herself resenting this for Estelle. She tried to make Winn talk about her, so that she might justify her ways to him. But Winn went no further in his expressions than the simple phrases, "She's not my sort," "We haven't anything in common," "I expect we didn't hit it off." Finally he said, terribly, under the persistency of Claire's pressure, "Well, if you will have it, I don't believe a single word she says."
"Oh, but sometimes, sometimes she must speak the truth!" Claire urged, breathless with pity.
"I dare say," Winn replied indifferently. "Possibly she does, but what difference does it make to me when I don't know which times?"
Claire waited a little, then she said:
"I wasn't thinking of the difference to you; I was thinking of the difference to her."
"I tell you," Winn repeated obstinately, "that I don't care a hang about the difference to her. People shouldn't tell lies. I don't care that for her!" He snapped a crumb off the table. He looked triumphantly at Claire, under the impression that he had convinced her of a pleasing fact. She burst into tears.
He tried to take her in his arms, but for a moment she resisted him.
"Do you want me to love Estelle?" he asked in desperation.
Claire shook her head.
"I'd like her—to be loved," she said, still sobbing.
Winn looked wonderingly at her.
"Well, as far as that goes, so would I," he observed, with a sardonic grin. "There'd be some way out for us then."
Claire shook her head vehemently, but she made no attempt to explain her tears. She felt that she couldn't alter him, and that when he most surprised her it was wiser to accept these surprises than to probe her deep astonishment.
He surprised her very often, he was in such a hurry to unburden himself of all he was. It seemed to him as if he must tell her everything while he had her. He expressed himself as he had never in his wildest dreams supposed that any man could express himself to another human being. He broke down his conventions, he forced aside his restraint, he literally poured out his heart to her. He gave her his opinions, his religion, his codes of conduct, until she began a little to understand his attitude toward Estelle.
It was part of his exterior way of looking at the world at large. Up till now people, except Lionel, had never really entered into his imagination. Of course there were his servants and his dogs and, nearer still, his horses. He spent hours telling her about his horses. They really had come into his life, but never people; even his own family were nothing but a background for wrangles.
He had never known tenderness. He had had all kinds of odd feelings about Peter, but they hadn't got beyond his own mind. His tenderness was beyond everything now; it over-flowed expression. It was the radical thing in him. He showed her plainly that it would break his heart if she were to let her feet get wet. He made plans for her future which would have suited a chronic invalid. He wanted to give her jewels, expensive specimens of spaniels, and a banking account.
She would take nothing from him but a notebook and a little opal ring. Winn restrained his passion, but out of revenge for his restraint his fancies ran wild.
It was Claire who had to be practical; she who had spent her youth in dreams now clung desperately to facts. She read nothing, she hardly talked, but she drew his very soul out to meet her listening soul. There were wonders within wonders to her in Winn. She had hardly forced herself to accept his hardness when she discovered in him a tolerance deeper than anything she had ever seen, and an untiring patience. He had pulled men out of holes only to see them run back into them with the swiftness of burrowing rabbits; but nothing made him feel as if he could possibly give them up.
"You can't tell how many new starts a man wants," he explained to Claire; "but he ought to have as many as he can take. As long as a man wants to get on, I think he ought to be helped."
His code about a man's conduct to women was astonishingly drastic.
"If you've let a woman in," he explained, "you've got to strip yourself to get her out, no matter whether you care for her or not. The moment a woman gets caught out, you can't do too much for her. It's like seeing a dog with a tin can tied to its tail; you've got to get it off. A man ought to pay for his fun; even if it isn't his fault, he ought to pay just the same. It's not so much that he's the responsible person, but he's the least had. That ought to settle the question."
He was more diffident, but not less decided, on the subject of religion.
"If there's a God at all," he stated, "He must be good; otherwise you can't explain goodness, which doesn't pay and yet always seems worth having. You know what I mean. Not that I am a religious man myself, but I like the idea. Women certainly ought to be religious."
He hoped that Claire would go regularly to church unless it was draughty.
It was on the Bernina, when they were nine thousand feet up in a blue sky, beyond all sight or sound of life, in their silent, private world, that they talked about death.
"Curious," Winn said, "how little you think about it when you're up against it. I shouldn't like to die of an illness. That's all I've ever felt about it; that would be like letting go. I don't think I could let go easily; but just a proper, decent knock-out—why, I don't believe you'd know anything about it. I never felt afraid of chucking it, till I knew you, now I'm afraid."
Claire looked at his strong hands in the sunshine and at her own which lay on his; they looked so much alive! She tried hard to think about death, because she knew that some day everybody must die; but she felt as if she was alive forever.
"Yes," she said; "of course I suppose we shall. But, Winn, don't you think that we could send for each other then? Wouldn't that be splendid?"
The idea of death became suddenly a shortening of the future; it was like something to look forward to. Winn nodded gravely, but he didn't seem to take the same comfort in it that Claire did. He only said:
"I dare say we could manage something. But you feel all right, don't you?"
Claire laughed until something in his grave eyes hurt her behind her laughter.
The sky changed from saffron to dead blue and then to startling rose color. Flame after flame licked the Bernina heights. Their sleigh-bells rang persistently beneath them. They drank their coffee hurriedly while the sun sank out of the valley, and the whole world changed into an icy light.
They drove off rapidly down the pass, wrapped in furs and clinging to each other. They did not know what anything would mean when they were apart. The thought of separation was like bending from a sunny world over a well of darkness. Claire cried a little, but not very much. She never dared let herself really cry because of what might happen to Winn.
It surprised him sometimes how little she tried to influence his future life. She did not make him promise anything except to go to see Dr. Gurnet. He wondered afterward why she had left so much to his discretion when he had made so many plans, and urgent precautions for her future; and yet he knew that when she left him he would be desperate enough to break any promises and never desperate enough to break her trust in him. Suddenly he said to her as the darkness of the pass swallowed them:
"Look here, I won't take to drink. I'd like to, but I won't." And Claire leaned toward him and kissed him, and he said a moment later, with a little half laugh:
"D'you know, I rather wish you hadn't done that. You never have before, and I sha'n't be able to forget it. You put the stopper on to that intention."
And Claire said nothing, smiling into the darkness.
Claire had never been alone with Miss Marley before; she had known her only as an accompaniment to Winn; but she had been aware, even in these partial encounters, that she was being benevolently judged. It must be owned that earlier in the day she had learned, with a sinking of the heart, that she must give up the evening to Miss Marley. When every hour counted as a victory over time, she could not understand how Winn could let her go; and yet he had said quite definitely: "I want you to go to Miss Marley this evening. She'd like to talk to you, and I think you'd better."
But something happened which changed her feelings. Miss Marley was a woman despite the Cresta and there are times when only a woman's judgment can satisfy the heart of a girl. Claire was startled and perturbed by Maurice's sudden intervention. Maurice said:
"That chap Staines is getting you talked about. Pretty low down of him, as I believe he's married." She was pulled up short in the golden stream of her love. She saw for the first time the face of opinion—that hostile, stupid, interfering face. Claire had never thought that by any malign possibility they could be supposed to be doing wrong. She could not connect wrong with either her love or Winn's. If there was one quality more than another which had distinguished it, it had been its simple sense of rightness. She had seen Winn soften and change under it as the hard earth changes at the touch of spring. She had felt herself enriched and enlarged, moving more unswervingly than ever toward her oldest prayer—that she might, on the whole, be good. She hardly prayed at all about Winn; loving him was her prayer.
If she had meant to take him away from Estelle or to rob him of Peter, then she knew she would have been wrong. But in this fortnight she was taking nothing from Estelle that Estelle had ever had, and she was doing no harm to Peter. It would not be likely to do him any harm to soften his father's heart.
Claire's morality consisted solely in the consideration of other people; her instincts revolted against unkindness. It was an early Christian theory much lost sight of, "Love, and do as you please," the safety of the concession resting upon the quality of the love.
But to-night another idea had occurred to her, and she was very uneasy. Was it really possible that any one could blame Winn? Her first instinct had been sheer anger, and her anger had carried her past fear into the pride of love. She had felt as if she wanted to confront the world and defy it. If the world dared judge them, what did it matter? Their hearts were clean. She was too young to know that under the world's judgments clean hearts break even more easily than soiled ones.
But her mind had not rested there. She had begun to be afraid for Winn, and with all her heart she longed to see him justified. What had he ever done that he could be judged? He had loved her, spared her, guarded her. He had made, he was making, inconceivable sacrifices for her. He was killing not only his own joy, but hers rather than do her what he thought a wrong.
She sat on a footstool in front of Miss Marley's wood fire, frowning at the flames. Miss Marley watched her cautiously; there was a good deal she wanted to say, but she hoped that most of it might be said by Claire. A very careful talker can get a good deal expressed in this way; impressions, to be permanent, must always come from the person you wish to impress.
"Miss Marley," Claire began, "do you think it matters what people think?"
Miss Marley, who invariably rolled her own cigarettes, took up a small silver box, flattened the cigarette-paper out carefully, and prepared to fill it before answering. Then she said:
"Very few people do think; that is generally what matters—absence of thought. Speech without thought is responsible for most people's disasters."
"But it can't matter what people say if it isn't true, can it?" Claire persisted. "I mean—nonsense can't count against any one?"
"I'm rather afraid it does matter," said Miss Marley, lighting her cigarette. "Nonsense is very infectious, and it often carries a good deal of weight. I have known nonsense break people's hearts."
"Oh!" said Claire in a rising breath. She was wondering what it was like to have a broken heart. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that she was going to have one, half of one; but what really frightened her was that the other half was going to belong to Winn.
"Could any one," she said under her breath, "think any harm of him? He told me you knew all about us, and that I might talk to you if I wanted to; but I didn't then. There didn't seem anything to say. But now I do want to know; I want to know awfully what you think. If I asked him, he'd only laugh or else he'd be angry. He's very young in some ways, you know, Miss Marley—younger than I am."
"Yes," agreed Miss Marley; "men are always, to the end of their lives, very young in some ways."
"I never thought," Claire went on breathlessly, "that people would dream of blaming him because we were together. Why, it's so stupid! If they only knew! He's so good!"
"If he's that," said Miss Marley, smiling into the fire, "you've succeeded in making a saint of a Staines, a very difficult experiment! I shouldn't advise you to run away too much with that idea, however."
"It isn't me; it's him," exclaimed Claire, regardless of grammar. "I mean, after what Maurice said this afternoon—I don't know how to put it quite—I almost wish we'd both been bad!"
Miss Marley nodded. She knew the danger of blame when a tug of war is in progress, and how it weakens the side attacked.
"How can I explain to people," Claire went on, "what he's been like? I don't know whether I've told you, but he went away almost directly he found out he cared, before—long before he knew I cared, though he might have known; and he left a message to tell me about his wife, which I never got. But, oh, Miss Marley, I've never told him, I should have come if I'd got it or not! I should really, because I had to know if he cared! So you see, don't you, that if either of us was wicked it was me? Only I didn't feel wicked; I really felt awfully good. I don't see how you're to tell what's right if God doesn't let you know and people talk nonsense."
"It's not," agreed Miss Marley, dryly, "particularly easy to know."
"And his wife doesn't care for him," Claire went on. "Fancy Winn's wife not caring for him! Poor woman!"
"Why do you pity her?" Miss Marley inquired with interest.
"Well," said Claire, with a sudden dimple, "I was only thinking I shouldn't like to be Winn's wife if he didn't care for me; and then I was thinking that if he didn't, I'd make him!"
"Well, that effort doesn't seem required of you," said Miss Marley.
"No, but it only shows you that I'm much the most wicked, doesn't it?" asked Claire, with some pride.
"The points against Winn," Miss Marley said gravely, "are his age, his experience, and his wife. I feel bound to tell you that there are points against him."
"Winn isn't really old," she explained, "because he's only done things all his life—games or his work; it hasn't been people. People make you old, especially when you are looking after them. He's never really grown up; and as for experience, I don't think you experience anything unless you care about it. It hurts me sometimes to hear him talk about his wife. He's never had her; he's only had me. I don't explain very well, but I know it's true, because he told me things about loving which showed me he'd never had anything before except dogs—and Peter; and Peter's awfully young, and dogs can't answer back. You can't grow up on dogs."
Miss Marley tacitly admitted the limitations of canine influence; but she said:
"Still, you know, he's not kept to his own code; that's what one must judge people by. I'm sure he'd tell you himself that a married man should leave girls alone."
Claire thought for a moment, then she said:
"Yes, but he's gone deeper than his code now. Don't you think that perhaps a smash, even of something you value, makes you grow? I don't know how to put it quite, but if you never did what you thought wrong, would you ever know how big right is? Besides, he hasn't gone on doing it. Perhaps he did start wrong in getting to care, but that only makes it harder and finer, his stopping himself. Very few people, I think, but Winn could stop themselves, and nobody but Winn could ever care—so much." Her voice broke, and she turned away her head.
"What," said Miss Marley, rolling another cigarette, "are your plans?"
Miss Marley felt that she must give up first principles but she hoped that she might still be able to do something about plans.
"We are going to drive over the Maloja to Chiavenna," said Claire; "Maurice has a party to go with. We shall start by the earlier post, and have lunch together at Vico-Soprano before he comes. And then when Maurice comes we shall say good-by; and then—and then, Miss Marley, I've been thinking—we mustn't meet again! I haven't told Winn yet, because he likes to talk as if we could, in places awfully far away and odd, with you to chaperon us. I think it helps him to talk like that but I don't think now that we must ever meet again. You won't blame him if I tell you something, will you?"
"No," said Miss Marley; "after what you've said to me to-night I am not inclined to blame him."
"Well," said Claire, "I don't think, if we were to meet again, he would let me go. We may manage this time, but not twice."
"Are you sure," asked Miss Marley, gently, "that you will manage this time?"
Claire raised her head and looked at Miss Marley.
"Aren't you?" she said gravely. "I did feel very sure."
"I'd feel a great deal surer," said Miss Marley, "if you didn't drive down the pass. If you once set off with Winn, do you suppose he'll stop? I am sure he means to now; in fact, his sending you up here to talk to me proves it. He knows I sha'n't be much of a help to him in carrying you off. But, my dear, I never knew any Staines stop, once he'd started. As long as he is looking at the consequences for you, he'll steer clear of them, he's looking at them now, but a moment will come when he'll cease to look, and then everything will depend on you. I think your one chance is to say good-by here, and to drive down the pass with Maurice. He can dispose of his party for once."
The color left Claire's face, but her eyes never flinched from Miss Marley's. After a time Miss Marley turned her head away; she could no longer bear the look in Claire's eyes. It was like watching the face of some one drowning.
"I don't want a chance!" whispered Claire.
Miss Marley found her voice difficult to control, but she did control it; she said:
"I was thinking of his chance. If he does you any harm, he won't forgive himself. You can stop it; he can't possibly stop himself."
"No," said Claire. She didn't cry; she sat very straight and still on her footstool in front of the fire. After a while she said in a curious dragging voice: "Very well, then; I must tell him about the pass. Oh, what shall I do if he minds! It's his minding—" She stopped, as if the words broke something in her.
"Yes," said Miss Marley; "but he'll mind more if he ruins your life. You see, you won't think you're ruined, but Winn will think so. He'll believe he's ruined the woman he loves, and after a little time, when his passion has ceased to ride him blind, he'll never hold up his head again. You'll be responsible for that." It sounded cruel, but it was not cruel. Miss Marley knew that as long as she laid the responsibility at Claire's door, Claire would not think her cruel.
Claire repeated slowly after her:
"I should be responsible for that!" Then she said: "Oh, how silly laws are! How silly! As if any one could be ruined who simply loved!"
"We should probably be sillier without laws," Miss Marley observed. "And you must remember they have their recommendations: they keep silly people comparatively safe."
"Safe!" said Claire. "I think that's the emptiest, poorest word there is! Who wants to be safe?"
"You wouldn't think so if you had a child," said Miss Marley, quietly. "You would need safety then, and you would learn to prize it."
Claire bowed her head into her hands.
"Oh, why can't I have one now! Why can't I?" she whispered brokenly.
Miss Marley bit her lips; she had hoped Claire was too young for this particular stab.
"Because he'd think it wrong," said Miss Marley after a pause, "and because of Peter. He's got that obligation. The two would clash."
Claire rose slowly to her feet.
"I'll just go and tell him about the pass," she said quietly. "When it's over I'll begin to think; but I needn't really think till then, need I? Because I feel as if I couldn't just now; it would stop my going on."
Miss Marley said that she was quite sure that Claire need not begin to think at present and privately she hoped that, when that hour came, something might happen which would deaden thought. She was thankful to remember that the worst of feeling is always over before the worst of thinking can begin. But Claire was too young to comfort herself with the limitations of pain. She only knew that she must tell Winn about the pass and seem for a moment at least, in his eyes, not to trust him. Nevertheless, she smiled at Miss Marley before she left her, because she didn't want Miss Marley to feel upset; and Miss Marley accepted this reassurance with an answering smile until the door was shut.
When Claire found Winn at the bridge-table she saw at a glance that he was not in the mood for renunciations. His eyes had the hard, shining stare that was the danger-signal of the Staines family. He shot a glance at Claire as if she were a hostile force and he was taking her measure. He was putting her outside himself in order to fight her. It was as if he knew instinctively that their wills were about to clash. When the rubber was over, he got up and walked straight to her.
"You put me off my game," he said grimly. "I can see you're up to something; but we can't talk here."
"Let's talk to-morrow," she urged, "not now. I thought perhaps you'd like to come and listen to the music with me; there is music in the hall."
"You did, did you?" he replied in the same hard voice. "Well, you were mistaken. Go up-stairs to my room and wait for me. It's number 28, two or three doors beyond Miss Marley's sitting-room. I'll follow you."
An older woman would have hesitated, and if Claire had hesitated, Winn would never have forgiven her. But her youth was at once her danger and her protection.
She would rather have waited till to-morrow, because she saw that Winn was in a difficult mood; but she had no idea what was behind his mood. She went at once.
She had never been in Winn's room before, and as she sat down to wait for him her eyes took in its neat impressive bareness. It was a narrow hotel room, a bed in one corner, a chest of drawers, washstand, and wardrobe opposite. By the balcony window were a small table and an armchair. A cane chair stood at the foot of the bed.
Nothing was lying about. There were few traces of occupation visible; only a pair of felt slippers under the bed, a large bath sponge on the washstand, and a dressing-gown hanging on the nail behind the door. In his tooth-glass by the bedside was a rose Claire had worn and given him. It was put there with meticulous care; its stalk had been re-cut and its leaves freshened. Beside it lay a small New Testament and a book on saddles.
Winn joined her in exactly five minutes. He shut the door carefully after him, and sat down on the cane chair opposite her.
"I thought you might like to know," he said politely, "that I have made up my mind not to let you go."
Then he waited for Claire to contradict him. But Claire waited, too; Claire waited longest. She was not sure what to say, and, unlike most women, when she was not sure what to say, she said nothing. Winn spoke again, but a little less quietly.
"It's no use your making a fuss," he stated, "or cutting up rough about it and throwing morals at my head. I've got past that." He got up, locked the door, and then came back. "I'm going to keep that door locked until I make sure what you're up to."
"You needn't have done that," Claire said quietly. "Do you think I want to leave you? If I did, I shouldn't be here. You can't make me do anything I don't want to do, because I want exactly what you do."
Winn shot an appreciative glance at her; that was a good stroke, but he wasn't going to be taken in by it. In some ways he would have preferred to see her angry. Hostility is generally the sign of weakness; but Claire looked at him with an unyielding tenderness.
"The question is," he said firmly, "can I make you do what we both want and what you are holding back from? I dare say you've got good reasons for holding back and all that, and I know I'm an out-and-out blackguard to press you, but I've reached a place where I won't stand any more. D'you see my point?"
Claire nodded. She was not angry, because she saw that Winn was fighting her not because he wanted to be victorious over her, but because he was being conquered by pain.
She was not going to let him be conquered by it—that, as Miss Marley had said, was her responsibility—but it wasn't going to be easy to prevent it. She was close against the danger-line, and every nerve in her being had long ago become part of Winn. He was fighting against the best of himself, but all that was not the best of Claire fought on his side. Perhaps there was not very much that was not the best in Claire. She hesitated, then she said:
"I thought you wanted me—to go. I think you really do want it; that's why I'm going."
Winn leaned forward and took hold of both her wrists. "So I did," he agreed; "but it isn't any good. I can't do it. I've thought it all out—just what to do, you know—for both of us. I'll have to leave my regiment, of course, but I can get back into something else all right later on. Estelle will give me a divorce. She'll want to keep the child away from me; besides, she'll like to be a public martyr. As for you and me, you'll have to face rough music for a year or two; that's the worst part of it. I'm sorry. We'll stay abroad till it's over. My mother will help us. I can count on her."
"Winn, come here," said Claire. He came and knelt down beside her. She put her hands on his shoulders and looked deep into his eyes. He tried to keep them hard, but he failed.
"Don't try and get round me!" he said threateningly. "You'll make me dangerous if you do. It isn't the least good!"
"Can you listen to what I say?" Claire asked quietly.
"I suppose so," said Winn, guardedly. "I love every bit of you—I love the ground your chair's on—but I'm not going to give in."
"And that's the way I love you," she said. "I'd go with you to the world's end, Winn, if I didn't love you so much and you'd take me there; but you won't, for just the same reason. We can't do what would be unfair; we shouldn't like it. It's no use, darling; we shouldn't like it."
"That's all you know about it," said Winn, unappeasably. "Anyhow, we're going to do it, whether you like it or not."
Then she took her hands away from his shoulders and leaned back in her chair. He had never seen her look so frail and small, and he knew that she had never been so formidably strong.
"Oh, no, Winn," she whispered; "I'm not. I'm not going to do it. If you wanted it, if you really wanted it with all of you, you wouldn't be rough with me; you'd be gentle. You're not being gentle because you don't think it right, and I'm never going to do what you don't think right."
Winn drew a deep, hard breath. He threw his arms round her and pressed her against his heart.
"I'm not rough," he muttered, "and you've got to do it! You've got to give in!"
Claire made no answer. She only clung to him, and every now and then she said his name under her breath as if she were calling to something in him to save her.
Whatever it was that she was calling to answered her. He suddenly bowed his head and buried it in her lap. She felt his body shake, and he began to sob, hard, dry sobs that broke him as they came. He held her close, with his face hidden. Claire pressed her hands on each side of his temples, feeling the throbbing of his heart. She felt as if something inside her were being torn to pieces, something that knocked its way against her side in a vain endeavor to escape. She very nearly gave in. Then Winn stopped as suddenly as he had begun.
"Sorry," he said, "but this kind of thing is a bit wearing. I'm not going to unlock that door. Do you intend to stay all night here, or give me your promise?" He spoke steadily now; his moment of weakness was past. She could have gone then, but nothing would have induced her to leave him while he cried.
"I don't intend to do either," Claire said with equal steadiness. "When you think I ought to go, you'll let me out."
It struck Winn that her knowledge of him was positively uncanny.
"I don't believe," he said sharply, "you're only nineteen. I believe you've been in love before!"
Claire didn't say anything, but she looked past him at the door.
Her look maddened him.
"You're playing with me!" he cried. "By Jove! you're playing with me!" He caught her by the shoulders, and for a moment he believed that he was going to kill her; but her eyes never wavered. He was not hurting her, and she knew that he never would. She said:
"O my darling boy!"
Winn got up and walked to the window. When he came back, his expression had completely changed.
"Now cut along to bed," he said quietly. "You're tired. Go—at once, Claire."
This time she knew she ought to go, but something held her back. She was not satisfied with the look in his eyes. He was controlled again, but it was a controlled desperation. She could not leave him with that.
Her mind was intensely alert with pain; she followed his eyes. They rested for a moment on the stand by his bed. He pushed the key across the table toward her, but she did not look at the key; she crossed the room and opened the drawer under the Bible.
She saw what she had expected to see. It was Winn's revolver; upon it lay a snap-shot of Peter. He always kept them together.
Claire took out the revolver. Winn watched her, with his hands in his pockets.
"Be careful," he said; "it's loaded."
She brought it to him and said:
"Now take all the things out of it." Winn laughed, and unloaded it without a word. "Now open the window," she ordered, "and throw them into the snow." Winn obeyed. When he came back she put her arms around his neck and kissed him. "Now I'll go," she said.
"All right," agreed Winn, gently. "Wait for me in the cloak-room, and I'll take you across. But, I say, look here—will you ever forgive me? I'm afraid I've been a most fearful brute."
Then Claire knew she couldn't stand any more. She turned and ran into the passage. Fortunately, the cloak-room was empty. She pressed herself against a fur coat and sobbed as Winn had sobbed up-stairs; but she had not his arms to comfort her. She had not dared to cry in his arms.
They walked hand in hand across the snow from his hotel to the door of hers.
Claire knew that she could say anything she liked to Winn now, so she said what she had made up her mind to say.
"Winn dearest, do you know what I came down for this evening?"
He held her hand tighter and nodded.
"I guessed," he said. "That was, you know, what rather did for me. You mean you aren't going to let me come with you down the pass?"
"We mustn't," Claire whispered; and then she felt she couldn't be good any more. It cost too much. So she added, "But you can if you like." But there wasn't any real need for Claire to be good now; Winn was good instead.
"No," he said; "it's much wiser not. You look thoroughly done up. I'm not going to have any more of this. Let's breakfast together. You come over at eight sharp and arrange with Maurice to take you down at ten. That's quite enough for you."
Claire laughed. Winn stared at her, then in a moment he laughed, too.
"We'd better not take any more chances," he explained. "Next time it might happen to us both together. Then you'd really be had! Thanks awfully for seeing me through. Good night."
She went into the hotel without a word, and all her heart rebelled against her for having seen him through.
The hour of parting crept upon them singularly quietly and slowly. They both pretended to eat breakfast, and then they walked out into Badrutt's Park. They sat in the nearest shelter, hand in hand, looking over the gray, empty expanse of the rink. It was too early for any one to be about. Only a few Swiss peasants were sweeping the ice and Winn hardly looked upon Swiss peasants as human.
He asked Claire exactly how much money she had a year, and told her when she came of age what he should advise her to suggest to her trustees to put it in.
Then he went through all the things he thought she ought to have for driving down the pass. Claire interrupted him once to remind him about going to see Dr. Gurnet. Winn said he remembered quite well and would go. They both assured each other that they had had good nights. Winn said he thought Maurice would be all right in a few years, and that he didn't think he was shaping for trouble. He privately thought that Maurice was not going to have any shape at all, but he omitted this further reflection.
He told her how much he enjoyed his regiment and explained laboriously how Claire was to think of his future, which was to be, apparently, a whirl of pleasure from morning till night.
They talked very disconnectedly; in the middle of recounting his future joys, Winn said:
"And then if anything was to happen to me, you know, I hope you'd think better of it and marry Lionel."
Claire did not promise to marry Lionel, but she implied that even without marriage she, like Winn, was about to pass into an existence studded with resources and amusements; and then she added:
"And if you were to die, or I was, Miss Marley could help us to see each other just at the last. I asked her about it." Despite their future happiness, they seemed to draw more solid satisfaction out of this final privilege.
The last ten minutes they hardly talked at all. Every now and then Winn wanted to know if Claire's feet were warm, and Claire asked him to let her have a photograph of Peter.
Then Maurice came out of the hotel, and a tailing party stood in the open doorway and wondered if it was going to snow. The sleigh drove up to the hotel, jingling in the gayest manner, with pawing horses. Winn walked across the courtyard with her and nodded to Maurice; and Maurice allowed Winn to tuck Claire up, because, after he'd looked at Winn's eyes, it occurred to him that he couldn't do anything else.
Winn reduced the hall porter, a magnificent person in gold lace, with an immense sense of dignity, to gibbering terror before the lift-boy and the boots because he had failed to supply the sleigh with a sufficiently hot foot-warmer.
Finally even Winn was satisfied that there was nothing more to eat or to wear which the sleigh could be induced to hold or Claire agree to want. He stood aside then, and told the man briefly to be off. The driver, who did not understand English, understood perfectly what Winn meant, and hastened to crack his whip.
Claire looked back and saw Winn, bare-headed, looking after her. His eyes were like a mother's eyes when she fights in naked absorption against the pain of her child.
He went on looking like that for a long while after the sleigh had disappeared. Then he put on his cap and started off up the valley toward Pontresina.
It had already begun to snow. The walk to Pontresina is the coldest and darkest of winter walks, and the snow made it heavy going. Winn got very much out of breath, and his chest hurt him. Every now and then he stopped and said to himself, "By Jove! I wonder if I'm going to be ill?" But as he always pushed on afterward with renewed vigor, as if a good idea had just occurred to him, it hardly seemed as if he cared very much whether he was going to be ill or not. He got as far as the Mortratsch Glacier before he stopped.
He couldn't get any farther because when he got into the inn for lunch, something or other happened to him. A fool of a porter had the impertinence to tell him afterward that he had fainted. Winn knocked the porter down for daring to make such a suggestion; but feeling remarkably queer despite this relaxation, he decided to drive back to the Kulm.
He wound up the day with bridge and a prolonged wrangle with Miss Marley on the subject of the Liberal Government.
Miss Marley lent herself to the fray and became extremely heated. Winn had her rather badly once or twice, and as he never subsequently heard her argue on the same subject with others, he was spared the knowledge that she shared his political views precisely, and had tenderly provided him with the flaws in her opponent's case.
When he went to bed he began a letter to Claire. He told her that he had had a jolly walk, a good game of bridge, and that he thought he'd succeeded in knocking some radical nonsense out of Miss Marley's head. Then he inclosed his favorite snap-shot of Peter, the one that he kept with his revolver, and said he would get taken properly with him when he went back to England.
Winn stopped for a long time after that, staring straight in front of him; then he wrote:
"I hope you'll never be sorry for having come across me, because you've given me everything I ever wanted. I hope you'll not mind my having been rather rough the other night. I didn't mean anything by it. I wouldn't hurt a hair of your head; but I think you know that I wouldn't, only I thought I'd just mention it. Please be careful about the damp when you get back to England."
He stopped for half an hour when he had got as far as "England," and as the heating was off, the room grew very cold; then he wrote, "I didn't know men loved women like this."
After that he decided to finish the letter in the morning; but when the morning came he crossed the last sentence out because he thought it might upset her.
He had been afraid that Davos would be beautiful, but the thaw had successfully dissipated its immaculate loveliness. Half of the snow slopes were already bare, the roads were a sea of mud, and the valley was as dingy as if a careless washerwoman had upset a basket of dirty linen on her way to the laundry. All the sport people had gone, the streets were half empty, and most of the tourist shops were shut. Only the very ill had reappeared; they crept aimlessly about in the sunshine with wonder in their eyes that they were still alive.
Winn had put up at the nearest hotel and made the earliest possible appointment with Dr. Gurnet. Dr. Gurnet was obviously pleased to see him, but the pleasure faded rapidly from his face after a glance or two at Winn. The twinkle remained in his eyes, but it had become perceptibly grimmer.
"Perhaps you would be so kind as to take off your things," he suggested. "After I have examined you we can talk more at our ease."
It seemed to Winn as if he had never been so knocked about before. Dr. Gurnet pounced upon him and went over him inch by inch; he reminded Winn of nothing so much as of an excited terrier hunting up and down a bank for a rat-hole. Eventually Dr. Gurnet found his rat. He went back to his chair, sat down heavily, and looked at Winn. For rather an ominous moment he was silent; then he said politely:
"Of course I suppose you are aware, Major Staines, of what you have done with your very excellent chances?"
Winn shook his head doubtfully. He hadn't, as a matter of fact, thought much lately about these particular chances.
"Ah," said Dr. Gurnet, "then I regret to inform you that you have simply walked through them—or, in your case, I should be inclined to imagine, tobogganed—and you have come out the other side. You haven't got any chances now."
Winn did not say anything for a moment or two; then he observed:
"I'm afraid I've rather wasted your time."
"Pray don't mention it," said Dr. Gurnet. "It is so small a thing compared with what you have done with your own."
"You rather have me there," he admitted; "I suppose I have been rather an ass."
"My dear fellow," said Dr. Gurnet, more kindly, "I'm really annoyed about this, extremely annoyed. I had booked you to get well. I expected it. What have you been doing with yourself? You've broken down that right lung badly; the infection has spread to the left. It was not the natural progress of the disease, which was in process of being checked; it is owing to a very great and undue physical strain, and absolutely no attempt to take precautions after it. Also you have, I should say, complicated this by a great nervous shock."
"Nonsense!" said Winn, briefly. "I don't go in for nerves."
"You must allow me to correct you," said Dr. Gurnet, gently. "You are a human being, and all human beings are open to the effects of shock."
"I'm afraid I haven't quite played the game," Winn confessed, after a short pause. "I hadn't meant to let you down like this, Doctor Gurnet. I think it is due to me to tell you that I shouldn't have come to you for orders if I had intended at the time to shirk them. You're quite right about the tobogganing: I had a go at the Cresta. I know it shook me up a bit, but I didn't spill. Perhaps something went wrong then."
"And why, may I ask, did you do it?" Dr. Gurnet asked ironically. "You did not act solely, I presume, from an idea of thwarting my suggestions?"
Winn's eyes moved away from the gimlets opposite them.
"I found time dragging on my hands, rather," he explained a trifle lamely.
"Ah," said Dr. Gurnet, "you should have done what I told you—you should have flirted; then you wouldn't have found time hanging on your hands."
Winn held his peace. He thought Dr. Gurnet had a right to be annoyed, so he gave him his head; but he had an uncomfortable feeling that Dr. Gurnet would make a very thorough use of this concession.
Dr. Gurnet watched Winn silently for a few moments, then he said:
"People who don't wish to get well don't get well; but, on the other hand, it is very rare that people who wish to die die. They merely get very ill and give everybody a great deal of highly unnecessary trouble."
"I'm not really seedy yet," Winn said apologetically. "I suppose you couldn't give me any idea of how things are going to go—I mean how long I've—" he hesitated for a few seconds; he felt as if he'd been brought up curiously short—"I've got to live," he finished firmly.
"I can give you some idea, of course," said Dr. Gurnet; "but if you take any more violent or irregular plunges, you may very greatly shorten your time. Should you insist on remaining in your regiment and doing your work, you have, I fancy, about two years more before a complete breakdown. You are a very strong man, and your lung-tissue is tough. Should you remain here under my care, you will live indefinitely, but I can hold out no hope of an ultimate recovery. If you return to England as an invalid, you will most undoubtedly kill yourself from boredom, though I have a suggestion to make to you which I hope may prevent this termination to your career. On the whole, though I fear advice is wasted upon you, I should recommend you to remain in the army. It is what I should do myself if I were unfortunate enough to have your temperament while retaining my own brains."
"Oh, yes," said Winn, rising to go; "of course I sha'n't chuck the army. I quite see that's the only sensible thing to do."
"Pray sit down again," said Dr. Gurnet, blandly, "and do not run away with the idea that I think any course you are likely to pursue sensible in itself. If you were a sensible man, you would not take personal disappointment as if it were prussic acid."
"It isn't disappointment," he said quickly; "it was the only thing to do."
"Ah, well," said Dr. Gurnet, "Heaven forbid that I should enter into a controversy with any one who believes in moral finality! Sensible people compromise, Major Staines; but do not be offended, for I have every reason to believe that sensible people do not make the best soldiers. I am asking you to remain for a few minutes further because there is one other point to which I wish to draw your attention should you be able to spare me the time?"
"All right," said Winn, with a short laugh; "I've got time enough, according to you; I've got two years."
"Well, yes," said Dr. Gurnet, drawing the tips of his fingers carefully together. "And, Major Staines, according to me you will—er—need them."
Winn sat up.
"What d' you mean?" he asked quickly.
"Men in my position," replied Dr. Gurnet, guardedly, "have very interesting little side-lights into the mentality of other nations. I don't know whether you remember my asking you if you knew German?"
"Yes," said Winn. "It went out of head; but now you speak of it, I do remember."
"I am delighted," said Dr. Gurnet, blandly, "to have reconstructed your brain-tissue up to that point. I had a certain reason for asking you this question. I have a good many German patients, some French ones, and a most excellent Belgian professor has placed himself under my care."
"Well, what about it?" asked Winn with some sharpness. He had an idea that this queer fellow before him meant something.
"The Germans are an interesting nation," Dr. Gurnet proceeded without hurrying, "and they have a universal hobby. I don't know whether you have noticed, Major Staines, but a universal hobby is a very powerful thing. I am sometimes rather sorry that with us it has wholly taken the form of athletic sports. I dare say you are going to tell me that with you it is not golf, but polo; even this enlarged idea does not wholly alter my depression.
"With the Germans, you see, the hobby happens to be man[oe]uvers—military man[oe]uvers. I understand that this spring Alsace and Lorraine have taken on the aspect of one gigantic camp. Now, Belgium," Dr. Gurnet proceeded, tapping Winn's knee with his fore-finger, "is a small, flat, undefended country, and one of my French patients informs me that the French Government have culpably neglected their northern line of forts.
"I hear from my other friend, the Belgian professor, that three years ago the Belgian Government ordered big fortress guns from Krupp. They have not got them yet; but I do not believe Krupp is incapable of turning out guns. On the contrary, I hear that Krupp has, in a still shorter time, entirely renovated the artillery of the Austrian army."
Winn leaned forward excitedly.
"I say, sir," he exclaimed, "you ought to be in the intelligence office."
"God forbid!" said Dr. Gurnet, piously. "Not that I believe in God," he added; "but I cling to the formulated expletives.
"I should be extremely uncomfortable in any office. Besides, I have my doubts as to the value of intelligence in England. It is so very rare and so un-English. One suspects occasional un-English qualities drawn together for government purposes.
"I merely mentioned these interesting national traits because I had an idea, partly that you would respond to them, and partly that they are going in an exceedingly short time to become manifest to the world at large."
"You think we are going to have war?" asked Winn, his eyes sparkling. "War!" He said the word as if he loved it.
Dr. Gurnet shrugged his shoulders and sighed, and spread out his rather fat little hands.
"Yes, Major Staines," he said dryly, "I quite think we are going to have war."
"Then I must get back to my regiment as quickly as possible," said Winn, getting up.
"I shouldn't do that if I were you," said Dr. Gurnet. "I should advise your remaining in England for three months, I think you will be used quicker if you do that. War is unlikely to begin in India, and the climate is deleterious in the summer months. And might I suggest the carrying out of a few minor precautions? If you are to live efficiently for two years, it will be highly necessary for you to carry them out."
Winn turned toward him eagerly.
"I'll do any bally thing you tell me to now," he said quickly.
Dr. Gurnet laughed, then he said:
"Go back to England, study German, and await your chance. Don't play any more heavy games, don't lose your temper or try your heart, don't drink or smoke or play billiards or sit in a room with a shut window. Take plenty of good plain food and a certain amount of exercise. You are going to be needed."
Winn drew a deep breath.
"It's a funny thing," he said, turning toward the door, "but somehow I believe in you."
Dr. Gurnet shook hands with him cordially.
"In a sense, I may say," he observed, "in spite of your extremely disappointing behavior, that I return the compliment. I believe in you, Major Staines, only—" Dr. Gurnet finished the rest of the sentence after the door had shut behind his patient. "Unfortunately, I am not sure if there are quite enough of you."
When the Staineses gave an entertainment it was to mark their contempt for what more sensitive people might have considered a family catastrophe.
They had given a ball a week from the day on which Dolores ran away with the groom. A boat-race had been inaugurated upon the occasion on which Winn lost his lawsuit; and some difficulty (ultimately overcome) between James and the Admiralty had resulted in a dinner followed by fireworks on the lawn.
When Winn returned from Davos, Lady Staines decided upon a garden party.
"Good God!" cried Sir Peter. "Do you mean to tell me I've wasted that three hundred pounds, Sarah?" Sir Peter preferred this form of the question to "Is my boy going to die?" He meant precisely the same thing.
"As far as I know," Lady Staines replied, "nobody ever dies before causing trouble; they die after it, and add their funeral expenses to the other inconveniences they have previously arranged for. Can't you see the boy's marriage has gone to pot?"
"I wish you wouldn't pick up slang expressions from your sons," growled Sir Peter. "You never hear me speaking in that loose way. Why haven't they got a home of their own? You would ask them here—nurse, bottles, and baby like a traveling Barnum's—and Winn glares in one corner—and that little piece of dandelion fluff lies down and grizzles on the nearest cushion—and now you want to have a garden party on the top of 'em! Anybody'd suppose this was a Seamen's Home from the use you put it to! And of all damned silly ways of entertaining people, a garden party's the worse! Who wants to look at other people's gardens except to find fault with 'em?
"Besides, unless you want rain (which we don't with the hay half down) it's tempting Providence. Nothing'll keep rain off a garden party except prayers in church during a drought.
"What the hell do you expect to gain by it? I know what it all means—Buns! Bands! high-heeled kick-shaws cutting up my turf! Why the devil don't you get a Punch and Judy show down and be done with it?"
"Of course you don't like a garden party," said Lady Staines, smoothly, "nor do I. Do you suppose I care to be strapped tight into smart stays at my age, and walk about my own gravel paths in purple satin, listening to drivel about other people's children? We must do something for the neighborhood sometimes, whether they like it or not. That's what we're here for—it's the responsibility of our position. Quite absurd, I know, but then, most people's responsibilities are quite absurd. You have a son and he behaves like a fool. You can leave him to take the consequences of course if you like—only as some of them will devolve on us, it is worth a slight effort to evade them."
"For God's sake, spit it out, and have done with it!" shouted Sir Peter. "What's the boy done?"
Lady Staines sat down opposite her husband and folded her hands in her lap. She was a woman who always sat perfectly still on the rare occasions when she was not too busy to sit down at all.
"What I hoped would happen," she said, "hasn't happened. He's presumably picked up with some respectable woman."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Sir Peter. "I never knew any one as cold-bloodedly immoral as you are, Sarah. Did you want the boy to pick up with a baggage?"
"Certainly," said Lady Staines. "Why not? I have always understood that the Social Evil was for our protection, but I never believed it. No woman worth her salt has ever wanted protection. It's men that want it. They need a class of creature that won't involve them beyond a certain point, and quite right too. Winn seemed to see this before he went off—but he didn't keep it in mind—he ran his head into a noose."
"Has he talked to you about it?" asked Sir Peter, incredulously.
"I don't need talk," said Lady Staines. "I judge by facts. Winn goes to church regularly, his temper is execrable, and he takes long walks by himself. A satisfied man is neither irate nor religious—and has nothing to walk off. Consequently it's a virtuous attachment. That's serious, because it will lead to the divorce court. Virtues generally lead to somebody trying to get out of something."
"Pooh!" Sir Peter grunted. "You've got that out of some damned French novel. You must have virtue, the place has got to be kept up somehow, hasn't it? If what you say is true—and I don't for a moment admit a word of it—I don't see how you're going to sugar things over with a couple of hundred people trampling up my lawn?"
"Estelle likes people," Lady Staines replied. "My idea is to make her a success. I will introduce her to everybody worth knowing. I'll get some of our people down from town. They'll hate it, of course; but they'll be curious to see what's up. Of course they won't see anything. At the end of the day, if it's all gone off well—I'll have a little talk with Estelle. I shall tell her first what I think of her; and then I shall offer to back her if she'll turn over a new leaf. Winn'll do his part for the sake of the boy, if she meets him half way. I give religion its due—he wants to do his duty, only he doesn't see what it is. He must live with his wife. His prayers will come in nicely afterwards."
Sir Peter chuckled. "There's something in your idea, Sarah," he admitted. "But it's a damned expensive process. All my strawberries will go. And if it rains, everybody'll come into the house and scuttle over my library like so many rabbits."
"I'll keep them out of the library," said Lady Staines, rising, "and I shall want a hundred pounds."
She left the library after a short series of explosions, with a check for seventy-five. She had only expected fifty.
The garden party was, if not a great success, at least a great crowd.
The village was entertained by sports in a field, backed by beer in tents, and overseen by Winn with the delighted assistance of the younger Peter.
Lady Staines, in stiff purple satin, strode uncomfortably up and down herbaceous borders, exposing the ignorance of her fellow gardeners by a series of ruthless questions.
Charles and James, who had put in an intermittent appearance in the hope of a loan from Sir Peter, did their best to make things go. Charles had brought down a bull terrier, and the bull terrier brought down, first one of the donkeys that was to take part in the sports, but was permanently incapacitated from any further participation either in sport or labor, then two pet lap dogs, in a couple of sharp shakes on the lawn, and crowned his career of murder with the stable cat, in an outhouse where Charles had at last incontinently and a little inconsiderately, as far as the cat was concerned, flung him.
Isabel and her husband had driven over from a neighboring parish.
Isabel liked garden parties. She made her way at once to a group of clergy, her husband dangling meekly in her rear; and then told them in her quarter deck style exactly what she thought ought to be done with their parishes. Sir Peter remained in the library with the windows open and his eye upon passing clouds.
Several of his friends joined him, and they talked about Ulster.
Everybody was at this time talking about Ulster.
Most of them spoke of it as people talk of a tidal wave in China. They did not exactly wish the wave to destroy the whole of China, but they would all have felt a little annoyed if it had withdrawn without drowning anybody.
"The Government has been weak," said Sir Peter sternly; "as weak as a soft-boiled egg! What Ireland wants is a firm hand, and if that's not enough, a swift kick after it! Concession! Who wants concessions? A sensible man doesn't make concessions unless he's trying to bluff you into thinking he's got what he hasn't got, or is getting out of you what he hasn't right to get!
"But people oughtn't to import arms. I'll go as far as that! It's against discipline. Whether it's one side or the other, it ought to be stopped.
"There'll be a row, of course—a healthy, blood-letting hell of a row, and we shall all be the better for it! But I don't approve of firearms being let loose all over the place—it's un-English. It only shows what the poor devils at Ulster must have suffered, and be afraid of suffering, to resort to it! That sort of thing is all very well in the Balkans. My son Winn's been talking about the Balkans lately—kind of thing the army's always getting gas off about! What I say is—let 'em fight! They got the Turk down once, all of 'em together, and he was the only person that could keep 'em in hand. Now I hear Austria wants to start trouble in Serbia because of that assassination in June. What they want to make a fuss about assassination in that family for I can't think! I should look upon it as an hereditary disease and leave it at that! But don't tell me it's anything to worry about compared to Ulster. What's the danger of a country that talks thirteen languages, has no non-commissioned officers, and always gets beat when it fights? Sarah! Sarah! Get the people in for tea. Can't you see there's a shower coming? Damn it all! And my second crop of hay's not in yet! That's what comes of giving garden parties. Of course I'm very glad to see you all, but you know what I mean. No shilly-shallying with the English climate's my motto—it's the only dangerous thing we've got!"
Lady Staines disregarded this admonition. The light clouds above the elms puffed idly in the heavy air. It was a hot bright day, murmurous with bees and the idle, half notes of midsummer birds.
Estelle, in the most diaphanous of blue muslins, held a little court under a gigantic mulberry tree. She had always intended marriage with a Staines to be like this.
Winn was nowhere to be seen, and his mother plodded patiently to and fro across the lawn, bringing a line of distinguished visitors to be introduced to her.
They were kind, curt people who looked at Estelle rather hard, and asked her absurd questions about Winn's regiment, Sir Peter's ships, and her baby. They had no general ideas, but however difficult they were to talk to, Estelle knew they were the right people to meet—she had seen their names in magazines. None of her own family were there; they had all been invited, but Estelle had preferred their remaining at home. She had once heard Sir Peter refer to her father as "Old Moneybags." He had apologized afterwards, but he might do it again.
Lady Staines was the only person who noticed the arrival of two telegrams—they were taken to Charles and James, who were at that moment in the refreshment tent opposite the claret cup. The telegrams arrived simultaneously, and Charles said, "Good Lord!" and James said, "My hat!" when they read the contents, with every symptom of surprise and pleasure.
"I shouldn't have supposed," Lady Staines thought to herself, "that two of my boys would have backed the same horse. It must be a coincidence."
They put the telegrams rather carefully away, and shortly afterwards she observed that they had set off together in the direction of the village sports.
The long golden twilight drew to a close, the swallows swooped and circled above the heavy, darkened elms. The flowers in the long herbaceous borders had a fragile look in the colorless soft air.
The garden party drifted slowly away.
Lady Staines stopped her daughter-in-law going into the house; but she was destined never to tell her what she thought of her. Estelle escaped Nemesis by the turn of a hair.
Sir Peter came out of the library prepared to inspect the lawn. "What's up with those boys?" he demanded, struck by the unusual sight of his three sons advancing towards him from the river, their heads bent in talk, and not apparently quarreling.
Lady Staines followed the direction of his eyes; then she said to Estelle, "You'd better go in now, my dear; I'll talk to you later."
Sir Peter shouted in his stentorian voice an appeal to his sons to join him. Lady Staines, while she waited, took off her white kid gloves and her purple bonnet, and deposited them upon the balustrades.
"What are you up to," demanded Sir Peter when they came within earshot, "sticking down there by the river with your heads glued together like a set of damned Guy Fawkeses—instead of saying good-by to your mother's guests—who haven't had the sense to get under way before seven o'clock—though I gave 'em a hint to be off an hour ago?"
"Helping villagers to climb greasy poles, and finishing a sack race," Charles explained. "Lively time Winn's been having down there—I had no idea our second housemaid was so pretty."
"None of that! None of that!" said Sir Peter, sharply. "You keep to bar-maids, young Charles—and manicure girls, though there ought to be an act of Parliament against 'em! Still, I'll admit you can't do much harm here—three of you together, and your mother on the front doorstep!"
"Harm," said James, winking in the direction of his mother; "what can poor chaps like us do—here to-day and gone to-morrow—Mother'd better keep her eye on those near home!"
"Off to-night you might as well say!" remarked Charles, glancing at James with a certain intentness.
"Why off to-night?" asked Lady Staines. "I thought you were staying over the week-end?"
"Winn's put us on to something," explained Charles. "Awfully good show, he says—on at the Oxford. Pretty hot stuff and the censor hasn't smelt it out yet—we rather thought we'd run up to-night and have a look at it."
Winn stuck his hands in his pockets, set his jaw, and looked at his mother. Lady Staines was regarding him with steady eyes.
"You didn't get a telegram, too?" she asked.
"No," said Winn. "Why should I?"
"Not likely," said James, genially. "Always behindhand in the—"
"Damn these midges!" said Charles, hurriedly. James stopped with his mouth open.
"Army, you were going to say, weren't you?" asked his mother, suavely. "If you are my sons I must say you make uncommonly poor liars."
Sir Peter, whose attention had wandered to tender places in the lawn, looked up sharply.
"What's that? What's that?" he asked. "Been telling lies, have they? A nice way you've brought 'em up, Sarah! What have they been lying about? A woman? Because if they have, I won't hear a word about it! Lies about a woman are perfectly correct, though I'm hanged if I can see how they can all three be lying about one woman. That seems a bit thick, I must say."
To Sir Peter's surprise, nobody made any reply. Charles yawned, James whistled, and Winn kept his eyes steadily fixed on Lady Staines.
"Those were orders then," Lady Staines observed in a dry quiet voice. "I thought it very likely. I suppose it's Germany. I felt sure we should have trouble with that excitable young man sooner or later. He had too good an opinion of himself to be an emperor."
"Not Ulster!" exclaimed Sir Peter. "God bless my soul—not Ulster!"
"Oh, we can take on Ulster afterwards," said James reassuringly. "Now we'll see what submarines can do; 'member the Japs?"
"Winn," said Lady Staines, "before you're off, say good-by to your wife."
Winn frowned, and then he said, "All right, Mother," and left them.
It was a very still evening, the scent of new mown hay and the mysterious sweetness of the starry white tobacco plant haunted the delicate air.
Winn found Estelle lying down by the open window. He had not been in her room for some time. He sat down by the sofa, and fingered the tassels at her waist.
"Is anything the matter?" she asked coldly.
He had only himself to thank that she was cold—he knew that. He saw so plainly now, all the mistakes he'd made, that the ones Estelle had made, receded into the distance. He'd never been gentle to her. Even when he thought he loved her, he wasn't really gentle.
Gentleness was superlative kindness, and no woman who had not had just that sort of kindness from the man she married, could help being rather nasty. He had owed it to Estelle—no matter whether she told him the truth or not.
"Look here, Estelle," he began. "I want our boy to go to Charterhouse."
It wasn't exactly what he meant to say, but it was something; he had never called Peter "our boy" before. Estelle did not notice it.
"Of course, I should prefer Eton," she said, "but I suppose you will do as you like—as usual!"
Winn dropped the piece of tassel, but he persevered.
"I say," he began, "don't you think we've got rather off the track? I know it's not your fault, but your being ill and my being away and all that? I don't want you to feel sore about it, you know. I want you to realize that I know I've been rather a beast to you. I don't think I'm fitted somehow for domestic life—what?"
"Fitted for it!" said Estelle, tragically. "I have never known one happy moment with you! You seem incapable of any kind of chivalry! I never would have believed a man could exist who knew less how to make a woman happy! It's too late to talk of it all now! I've made my supreme sacrifice. I've offered up my broken heart! I am living upon a higher plane! You would never understand anything that wasn't coarse, brutal, and low! So I shan't explain it to you. I know my duty, but I don't think after the way you have behaved I really need consider myself under any obligation to live with you again. Father Anselm agrees with me."
Winn laughed. "Don't you worry about that," he hastened to assure her, "or Father Anselm either; there isn't the least necessity—and it wasn't what I meant."
Estelle looked annoyed. It plainly should have been what Winn meant.
"Have as much of the higher plane as you like," he went on, "only look after the boy. I'm off to London to-night, there's probably going to be some work of a kind that I can do. I mayn't be back directly. Hope you'll be all right. We can write about plans."
He stood up, hesitating a little. He had an idea that it would make him feel less strange if she kissed him. Of course it was absurd, because just to have a woman's arms round his neck wasn't going to be the least like Claire. But he had a curious feeling that perhaps he might never be alone with a woman again, and he wanted to part friends with Estelle.
"I wonder," he said, leaning towards her, "would you mind very much if I kissed you?"
Estelle turned her head away with a little gesture of aversion.
"I am sorry," she said. "I shall not willingly allow you to kiss me, but of course you are my husband—I am in your power."