This Is the End
by Stella Benson
Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

There was no lodge, and the Family walked in silence through the gate. Mr. Russell's Hound went first with a defiant expression about his tail. That expression cost him dear. Inside the gate there stood a large vulgar dog, without a tail to speak of. Its parting was crooked, its hair was in its eyes. All these personal disadvantages the Family had time to note, while the dog gazed incredulously at Mr. Russell's Hound.

A Pekinese dog never wears country clothes. It always looks as if it had its silk hat and spats on. If I were a country dog, who had never even smelt a Piccadilly smell, I should certainly bite all dogs of the type of Mr. Russell's Hound.

I could hardly describe what followed as a fight. Although I have always loved stories of giant-killers, from David downwards, and should much like to write one, I cannot in this case pretend that Mr. Russell's Hound did anything but call for help. Anonyma's umbrella, Kew's cane, and Mr. Russell's stick did all they could towards making peace, but the big dog seemed to have set itself the unkind task of mopping up a puddle with Mr. Russell's Hound. The process took a considerable time. And it was never finished, for the mistress of the house interrupted it.

She was rather a fat person, apparently possessing the gift of authority, for the sound of her call reached her dog through the noise of battle. He saw that his aim was not one to achieve in the presence of an audience. He disengaged his teeth from the mane of Mr. Russell's Hound.

"Is your dog much hurt?" asked the mistress of the house, and handed Anonyma a slate.

Anonyma scanned this unexpected gift nervously. She was much more used to taking other people aback than to being taken aback herself. But Kew was more ready. He dived for the pencil and wrote, "Only a bit punctured," on the slate.

"You'd better bring it in and bathe it," suggested the lady, when she had studied this.

They followed her in silent single file. Anonyma noticed that her hair was apparently done in imitation of a pigeon's nest, also that many hooks at the back of her dress had lost their grip of the situation.

The bathroom, whither Mr. Russell's Hound was carried, was suggestive of another presence in the house. A boat, called Golden Mary, was navigating the bath. There were some prostrate soldiers and chessmen in a little heap on the ledge, apparently waiting for a passage.

"I'm getting out my son's things because he is coming home," said the lady.

Mr. Russell was bathing his bleeding Hound in the basin, and Anonyma was at the window, ostentatiously drinking in the view. Kew took the slate and wrote politely on it: "From school?"

"From the War," said the lady.

Kew donned a pleased and interested expression. It seemed to him better to do this than to write, "Really!" on the slate.

"He wrote about a fortnight ago," the lady's harsh voice continued, "to say he would come to-day. He said he was sick of being grown-up, he told me to get out the soldiers and the Golden Mary. He wants to launch them on the pond again."

Kew nodded. "I have felt like that," he murmured, and the lady seemed to see the sense of his words.

"I should think you are six years older than Murray," she said, "and very different. Come out into the garden, and I'll show you."

Kew followed her, and Anonyma, after a moment's hesitation, went too. But Mr. Russell, who had finished his work of mercy, seemed to think it better to linger in the bathroom, explaining to his Hound the subject of a Biblical picture which hung over the bath.

"You might think I was rather too old to play things well," the mother said to Kew. "But you should see me with Murray. Even my deafness never hindered me with him, I could always see what he said. Look, we made this road for the soldiers coming down to the wharf. Do you see the way we helped nature, by tampering with the roots of the beech. It is a perfect wharf, this little flat bit, it is just level with the deck of the boat at high tide. The lower wharf is for low tide, but of course we have to pretend the tides. That round place is the bandstand, and there the pipers play when there is a troop-ship starting. Sometimes only the Favourite Piper plays, striding up and down the little bowling-green at the top here, but not often, because the work of keeping him going interferes with the disembarkation. We never let the Highlanders go abroad, because Murray loves them so. He is afraid lest something should happen to them. Were the Highlanders your favourites?"

Kew wrote on the slate: "No, the Egyptian Camel Corps."

The lady nodded. "We loved them too, but of course they lived on the other side of the pond, and sometimes they and the Sepoys and the Soudanese had to insurrect. Somebody had to, you know, but we regretted the Egyptian Camel Corps awfully. I hope you don't think us silly.... Murray was always a childish person. I hope I am too. The bowling-green gave us a lot of trouble to make; it is nice and flat, isn't it? We trim it with nail-scissors."

It was a good bowling-green, about twelve inches by six. There were some marbles on it.

"It has historical associations," said the mother of Murray. "It was here that Drake played when the Armada was sighted. Of course that was before our time, but sometimes, on a moonlit summer night, we used to lie down on our fronts and see his little ghost haunting the green. We used to bring our young sailors here, and inspire them with stories about Drake. The sailors used to stand on the green, and we put up railings made of matches all round, and civilians used to stand in great breathless crowds outside the railings watching. Chessmen, of course. Murray used to make the civilians arrive in motors, so as to make ruts in the road. Somehow it was always rather splendid and real to have ruts in the road."

There was a long pause.

"Later on, of course, things got more grown-up. The last time we played before the War—when War was already in sight—we shipped an unprecedented mass of troops to that peninsula, and had a wonderful battle. You can still see the trenches and gun emplacements; I cleared them out yesterday. Murray joined the Army in that first August, and whenever he came home after that he was somehow ashamed of these things. I quite understood that. When I am having tea with the Vicar's wife, or cutting out shirts for the soldiers, I sometimes blush a little to think how old I am, and to think of the things I do at home with Murray. I am sure he felt just the same when he was with other men. But his last letter was young again. He wrote that the War should cease the moment he set foot inside this gate, and we would have a civilian game, an alpine expedition up the mountains. You see the beech-root mountains. There is the cave where we put up for the night. There is a wonderful view from Bumpy Peak, over the sea, and right away to far-off lands. Murray thought that when the expedition had caught a chamois it might turn into engineers prospecting for the building of a road up to Bumpy Peak, so that the soldiers might march up, and look out over the sea, and see—very far off—the fringes of the East that they had conquered, when they were young and not tired of War...."

She broke off and looked at Kew.

Anonyma stood a few paces away, gazing at her vanilla-ice reflection in the pond.

"I dare say you think us silly," said the lady. "I dare say you would think Murray a rotter if you met him. It doesn't matter much. It doesn't matter at all. Nothing matters, because he will come home to-night."

Kew fidgeted a moment, and then took the slate and wrote: "I am very much afraid that all leave from abroad has been stopped this week."

"Yes, I know," said the mother, "I have been unhappy about that for some days. But it doesn't make any difference to Murray now. You see, I heard last night that he was killed on Tuesday. That's why I know he will come, and I shall be waiting here. Can't you imagine them shouting as they get through, as they get through with being grown-up, shouting to each other as they run back to their childhood and their old pretences...."

After a moment she added, "That is the only sound that I shall ever hear now,—the shouting of Murray to me as he runs home."

It was in a sort of dream that Kew watched Anonyma go forward and take both the hands of the mother. I suppose he knew that all that was superfluous, and that Murray would come home.

Anonyma said, "I am so sorry. I am so sorry that we intruded. You must forgive us."

The mother of Murray did not hear, but she saw that sympathy was intended, and she nodded awkwardly, and a little severely. I don't think she had known that Anonyma was there.

Kew was not sorry that he had intruded.

At sunset, when the high sea span About the rocks a web of foam, I saw the ghost of a Cornishman Come home. I saw the ghost of a Cornishman Run from the weariness of War, I heard him laughing as he ran Across his unforgotten shore. The great cliff, gilded by the west, Received him as an honoured guest. The green sea, shining in the bay, Did drown his dreadful yesterday.

Come home, come home, you million ghosts, The honest years shall make amends, The sun and moon shall be your hosts, The everlasting hills your friends. And some shall seek their mothers' faces, And some shall run to trysting-places, And some to towns, and others yet Shall find great forests in their debt. Oh, I would siege the golden coasts Of space, and climb high heaven's dome, So I might see those million ghosts Come home.

Next day all the Family, including Mr. Russell and excepting Cousin Gustus, came to breakfast with the intention of announcing that he or she must go up to London by the next train. Mrs. Gustus, as ever, spoke first.

"My conscience is pricking me. My work is calling me. I must go up and see my old darlings in the Brown Borough. There is, I see, a train at ten."

"I was just going to say something quite different to the same effect," said Kew. "I want to go up and whisper some secrets into the ear of Cox. I want to have my hair cut. I want to buy this week's Punch. I want some brown bootlaces. Life is empty for me unless I go up to town this morning."

Mr. Russell, although he had tried the effect of all his excuses on his Hound while dressing, was silent.

Mrs. Gustus was never less than half an hour too early for trains. This might account for the excellence of her general information. She had spent a large portion of her life at railway stations, which are, I think, the centre of much wisdom. She and Kew started for the station with mouths burnt by hurried coffee and toast-crumbs still unbrushed on their waistcoats, forty minutes before the train was due. The protests of Kew could be heard almost as far as the station, which was reached by a walk of five minutes.

Cousin Gustus, Mr. Russell, and the convalescent Hound went to lie upon the downs which climbed up straight from the back doorstep of the inn. They were accompanied by a rug, a scarf, a sunshade, an overcoat, the blessings of the landlady, and Cousin Gustus's diary. Nobody ever knew what sort of matter filled Cousin Gustus's diary, nobody ever wanted to know. It gave him grounds for claiming literary tastes, and his literary tastes presumably made him marry a literary wife. So the diary had a certain importance.

They spread out the rug in a little hollow, like a giant's footprint in the downs, and sheep and various small flowers looked over their shoulders.

For the first ten minutes Mr. Russell lay on his back listening to the busy sound of the bees filling their honeybags, and the sheep filling themselves, and Cousin Gustus filling his diary. He watched the rooks travel across the varied country of the sky. He watched a little black and white bird that danced in the air to the tune of its own very high and flippant song. He watched the sun ford a deep and foaming cloud. And all the time he remembered many reasons why it would have been nice to go up to London. Oddly enough, a 'bus-conductor seemed to stand quite apart from these reasons in the back of his mind for several minutes. One would hardly have believed that a bus-conductor could have held her own so long in the mind of a person like Mr. Russell.

And Providence finally ordained that he should feel in his cigarette case and find it empty.

"No cigarettes," said Mr. Russell, after pondering for a moment on this disappointment.

"You smoke too much," said Cousin Gustus. "I once knew a man who over-smoked all his life, and when he got a bullet in his lung in the Zulu War he died, simply as the result of his foolishness. No recuperative power. They said his lungs were simply leather."

"Should have thought that would've been a protection," said Mr. Russell.

"The train is not even signalled yet," said Cousin Gustus. "You would have time to go to the station and tell Kew to get you some cigarettes."

But this was not Providence's intention, as interpreted by Mr. Russell. "D'you know, I half believe I'll go up too," he said. "Would you be lonely?"

"Not in the least," said Cousin Gustus pathetically; "I'm used to being left alone."

As the signals dropped Mr. Russell sprang to his feet and ran down the slope. He had country clothes on, and some thistledown and a sprig or two of clover were sticking to them. He reached the station in time, and fell over a crate of hens. The hens were furious about it, and said so. Mr. Russell said nothing, but he felt hurt when the porter who opened the door for him asked if the hens were his. After the train had started he wished he had had time to tell the porter how impossible it was that a man who owned a crate full of hens should fall over it. And then he thought that would have been neither witty nor convincing. He was one of those lucky people who say so little that they rarely have need to regret what they have said.

The business that dragged him so precipitately from the country must, I suppose, have been very urgent. It chanced that it lay at Ludgate Circus, and it also chanced—not in the least unnaturally—that at half-past eleven he was standing at Kensington Church waiting to be beckoned to once more by a 'bus-conductor. The only unnatural thing was that several 'buses bound for Ludgate Circus passed without winning the patronage of Mr. Russell.

The conductor came. Mr. Russell saw her round face and squared hair appear out of the confusion of the street. He noticed with surprise that he had not borne in mind the pleasing way in which the strap of her hat tilted her already tilted chin.

Jay had been thinking a little about Mr. Russell, not much. She had been wondering who he was. The Family's friends and relations were always much talked of in the Family, and much invited, and much met. Mr. Russell had not been among them when Jay had last known the Family. An idea was in her mind that he might be a private detective, engaged by the Family to seek out their fugitive young relation. Mr. Russell had plainly alluded to a search. Jay had no experience of private detectives, but she thought it quite possible that they might disguise themselves with rather low foreheads, and rather frowning eyes, and shut thin mouths, and shut thin expressions. She hoped that she would see him to-day. An hour ago a young man with a spotty complexion and bulging eyes like a rabbit's had handed her a note with his threepence, asking for a "two-and-a-half" in a lovelorn voice. She handed him back his halfpenny and his unopened note at once, saying, "Your change, sir," in a kind, absent-minded voice. I am afraid an incident like this is always a little exciting, though I admit it ought to be insulting. That suggestive fare made Jay hope more and more that she would meet Mr. Russell to-day. I don't exactly know why, except that sentimentality is an infectious complaint.

Mr. Russell got happily into the 'bus. He made the worst entrance possible. His hat slipped crooked, he left one leg behind on the road, and only retrieved it with the help of the conductor. Jay welcomed him with a nod that was almost a bow, a remnant of her unprofessional past.

"Told you I'd come in this 'bus again," said Mr. Russell, sitting down in the left-hand seat next to the door. I really don't know what would have happened if that seat had been occupied. I suppose Mr. Russell would have sat upon the occupier.

"A good many people like this service," said Jay; "it is considered very convenient. How is your search going?"

"It hasn't begun yet," said Mr. Russell. "We haven't got within three hundred miles of the House we're looking for."

"You know more or less where it is, then?" asked Jay, who sometimes wanted to know this herself.

"I do know, but I don't know how I know, nor what I know."

"How funny that you—an Older and Wiser Man—should feel that sort of knowledge," said Jay. As an afterthought she called him Sir.

The 'bus grew fuller, and only Jay's bell punctured the silence that followed. A lady asked Jay to "set her down at Charing Cross Post Office." "The 'bus stops there automatically, Madam," said Jay, and the lady told her not to be impertinent.

Jay seemed a little subdued after this, and it was only after she had stood for a minute or two on her platform in silence that she said to Mr. Russell, "London seems dead to-day, doesn't it? Not even fog, only a lifeless light. What's the use of daylight in London to-day? You know, I don't live in London."

"No," said Mr. Russell, "where do you live?"

"London," replied Jay. "I mean my heart doesn't live in London mostly. I think it lives very far away in the same sort of place as the place you know without knowing how you know it. The happy shore of God Knows Where must have a great population of hearts. To-day I hate London so that I could tear it into pieces like a rag."

"You ought to start your 'bus on the search for the happy shore," said Mr. Russell. "You'd find the track of my tyres before you. I b'lieve you'd find the place."

"Well, that would be the only perfect Service," said Jay. "But I don't believe the public would use the route much. I would go on and on, and leave all old ruts behind. I would stop for no fares, even the sea should not stop me. I would go on to the horizon to see if that secret look just after sunset really means that the stars are just over the brink. Why do people end themselves on a note of despair? I would choose that way of perpetuating my Perfect Day. The police would see the top seats of the 'bus sticking out at low tide, and the verdict would be, 'Suicide while of even more than usually unsound mind.'"

A 'bus has an unromantic voice. The bass is a snarl, and the treble is made up of a shrill rattle. It was curious how this 'bus managed to retain withal its fantastic atmosphere.

Mr. Russell asked presently, "Why are you a 'bus-conductor?"

"To get some money," replied the conductor baldly. "I want to find out what is the attraction of money. Besides, if one talks such a lot as I do, to do anything—however small—saves one from being utterly futile. When I get to Heaven, the angels won't be able to say, 'Tush tush, you lived on the charity of God.' That's what unearned money is, isn't it? And what's the use of charity?"

"Do you ever get a day off?" asked Mr. Russell.


"Will you meet me on the steps of St. Paul's next Sunday at ten?"

"No, because I shall be at work next Sunday."

"Will you meet me the Sunday after that?"

"Yes," said Jay. The Family's theories on the bringing up of girls had evidently been wasted on her.

"What's the use of looking for this girl?" she asked, after a round of duty. "Why not leave her on her happy shore? Do you know, sir, I sympathise enormously with that girl."

"I don't expect you would if you knew her," said Mr. Russell. "She must be quite different from you, by what I hear from her relations. I think she must be an aggressive, suffragetty sort of girl. Girls nowadays seem to find running away from home a sufficient profession."

"You say that because you are so dreadfully much Older and Wiser," said Jay. "Why are you looking for her, then?"

"I'm not," said Mr. Russell. "She is just a trespasser. I'm looking for the place because I know I know it."

"I hope you'll never find it," said Jay crossly. She announced Ludgate Circus in a startling voice, and ended the conversation.

She was tired because she had been up all night among distressed friends in the Brown Borough. There had been a fight in Tann Street. Mrs. O'Rourke had broken the face of little Mrs. Love. Mrs. Love had never fought before; her fists were like lamb cutlets, and she had had a good mother with non-combatant principles. All these things are drawbacks in a Brown Borough argument. But Mrs. Love was a friend of Jay's, and I don't think she had found that a drawback. Feverish discussions with dreadfully impartial policemen, feverish drying of feverish tears, feverish extracting of medicaments from closed chemists, and finally a feverish triumph of words with which Jay capped Mrs. O'Rourke's triumph of fists were the items in the sum of a feverish night. So Jay was tired.

* * * * *

Mr. Russell was too early for his business, and he went into St. Paul's and sat on a seat far back.

St. Paul was an anti-saint, I think, who very badly needed to get married and be answered back now and then. I believe it is possible that he was unworthy of that great house called by his name. The gospel of a very splendid detachment speaks within its walls, its windows turn inward, its music sings to itself. Tossed City sinners go in and out, and pass, and penetrate, but still the music dreams, and still the dim gold blinks above their heads. A muffled God walks the aisles, and you, in the bristling wilderness of chairs, can clutch at His skirts and never see His eyes. Nothing comes forward from that altar to meet you. It is as if He walked talking to Himself, and as if even His speech were lost in those devouring spaces.

Mr. Russell sat near the door, and found only his thoughts and the shuffle of seeking feet to keep him company.

"An Older and Wiser Man ..." he thought. "God forgive me for letting it pass."

If he had thought it worth while to profess an "ism" at all, he would have been a fatalist. He was the victim of an unwitty cynicism, and of a heavy irresponsibility. He applied either "It isn't worth while" or "It doesn't matter" to everything. He never expressed his thoughts to himself—it was not worth while,—but I think he knew within himself that life was made of paper, and thrown together in a crackling chaos. There was no depth in anything, and a mere thought could slay the highest thing in the world. The only thing that ever made his heart laugh was the idea of fineness finding place in himself. A dream of himself in a heroic light sometimes made him poke himself in the ribs, and mock the farce of human vanity. He was like a man in a world that lacked mirrors, a man who sees his dark deformed shadow on the sands, and thinks it represents him fairly.

He was without self-consciousness, knowing that he was not worth his own recognition. At home he often recited little confused poems of his own composition to his Hound, and never noticed the surprise of the servants. He never knew that in the company of Mr. and Mrs. Gustus and Kew he was hardly allowed to utter three consecutive words, although, when he was away from them, and especially when he was with the 'bus-conductor, he felt a delightful lack of restraint.

As he sat down and looked at the far unanswering altar, he had two dim thoughts. One was that a man might get Older and Wiser, without getting old enough or wise enough to choose his road. The other was a question as to whether it is ever really worth while to read what the signpost says.

From the moment when Mr. Russell left her 'bus, Jay became stupefied by an invasion of the Secret World.

She gave the tickets and change with accuracy, she kept count of the stream of climbers on to the top of the 'bus, she stilled the angry whirlpool of people on the pavement for whom there was no room, she dislodged passengers at the corners of their own streets—even that gentleman (almost always to be found in an obscure corner of an east-going 'bus) who had sunk into a sudden and pathetic sleep just when his pennyworth of ride was coming to an end,—she received an unexpected inspector with the smile that comes of knowing every passenger to be properly ticketed; she even laughed at his joke. She weeded out the Whitechapel Jewesses at the Bank, and introduced them to the Mile End 'buses. She handed out to them their sombre and insolent-looking babies, and when one mother thanked her profusely in Yiddish, she replied, "Bitte, bitte...." Yet all the while the wind blew to her old remembrances of the low chimneys and the bending roofs of the House by the Sea, and the smell of the high curving fields, and the shouting of the sea. And all the while her hands must grope for the handle of the heavy door, and her eyes must fill with blindness because of the wonderful promise of distant cliffs with the sun on them, and because the sea was so shining. And all the while her ears must strain to hear a voice within the house....

It is a very great honour to be given two lives to live.

The monotonous journeys trod on each other's heels. Slowly the day consumed itself. It grew dimmer and dimmer for Jay, though I have no doubt that habit protected her, and that she behaved herself throughout with commonplace correctness.

She found presently that the great weight of copper money was gone from her shoulder, and that it was evening, and that Chloris was coming down Mabel Place to meet her. Chloris was wagging her whole person from the shoulder-blades backwards; she never found adequate the tail that had originally been provided for that purpose. Jay stumbled up the step of Eighteen Mabel Place, and found at last the path she wanted.

The path was one that had never been touched by a professional pathmaker. Feet, not hands, had made it. The rocks impatiently thrust it aside every little way, and here and there were steps up and down for no reason except that the rock would have it so. The path chose its way so that you might see the sea from every inch of it. The thundering headlands sprang from Jay's left hand, and she could see the cliffs written over with strange lines, and the shadow that they cast upon deep water. It was the colour of a great passion, and against that colour pink foxgloves bowed dramatically upon the fringe of space. The white gulls were in the valleys of the sea. I wish colour could be built by words. I wish I could speak colour to myself in the dark. I can never fill my eyes full enough of the colour of the sea, nor my ears of the crying of the seagulls. I am most greedy of these things, and take no thought for the morrow, so that if my morrow dawns darkly I have nothing stored away to comfort me.

The path joins the more civilised road almost at the door of the House by the Sea. You tumble over a great round rock that still bears the marks of the sea's fingers, and you are at the door.

The house was full of sunlight. Great panels of sunlight lay across the air. The fingers of the honeysuckle in the rough painted bowl by the window caught and held sunlight. In every room of the house you can always hear the eternal march of the sea up and down the shore. Nothing ever drowns that measured confusion. Sometimes the voices of friends thread in and out of it, sometimes the dogs bark, or a coming meal clinks in the stone passage, or you can catch the squealing of the children in their baths, sometimes your heart stops beating to listen to the speech of the ghosts that haunt the house, but no sound ever usurps the throne of the sea.

They were all on the stairs, the Secret Friend and the children. They all wore untidy clothes, and hard-boiled eggs bulged from their pockets. The Secret Friend has red hair, you might call its colour vulgar. But Jay likes it very much. He hardly ever sits still, you can never see him think, he has a way of answering you almost before you have finished speaking. His mind always seems to be exploring among words, and sometimes you can hear him telling himself splendid sentences without meaning. For this reason everything connected with him has a name, from his dog, which is called Trelawney, to the last cigarette he smokes at night, which is called Isobel. This trick Jay has imported into her own establishment: she has an umbrella called Macdonald, and a little occasional pleurisy pain under one rib, which she introduces to the Family as Julia.

The children in the house were just those very children that every woman hopes, or has hoped, to have for her own.

They were just starting for a walk, and the Secret Friend was finishing a story.

"How can you remember things that happened—I suppose—squillions of years ago," said the eldest child. "You tell them as if they happened yesterday. Doesn't it seem as if all the happiest things happened yesterday?"

"To me it seems that they will happen to-morrow," said the Secret Friend. "But then there is so little difference between yesterday and to-morrow. How can you tell which is which? Only clocks and calendars are silly enough to tread on the tail of a little space between sunrise and sunset and call it to-day. How do you know which way up time is happening?"

"Because yesterday the sun set, and we went to bed," said the youngest child.

"I think to-morrow is a little person in dark clothes watching and listening," said the eldest child. "And to-day is Cinderella, all shiny and beautiful until twelve o'clock strikes."

"All yesterdays and all to-morrows are in this house listening," said the Secret Friend. "This is the place where time is without a name. Here the beginning comes after the end. To-morrow we shall be born. Yesterday we died. To-day was just a little passage built of twenty-four odd hours. And now we will sing the Loud Song."

They were on the rocky path now, and they sang the Loud Song. Both that path and that song go on for ever, and the words of the song are like this:

There is no house like our house Even in Heaven. There is no family like our family Even in Heaven. There is no Country like our Country Even in Heaven. There is no sea like our sea Even in Heaven.

Most families sing this song, more or less, but few could sing it so loudly as this family did.

The dog Trelawney ran after the shadows of the seagulls.

There is the track my feet have worn By which my fate may find me: From that dim place where I was born Those footprints run behind me. Uncertain was the trail I left, For—oh, the way was stormy; But now this splendid sea has cleft My journey from before me.

Three things the sea shall never end, Three things shall mock its power: My singing soul, my Secret Friend, And this my perfect hour.

And you shall seek me till you reach The tangled tide advancing, And you shall find upon the beach The traces of my dancing, And in the air the happy speech Of Secret Friends romancing.

For some minutes some one had been knocking on the door. The sound was like an intruder in the Secret World, beckoning insistently to Jay. But she took no notice of it until a loud voice said: "You need not think you are paddling in golden seas and inaccessible to your relations, because you are here, and I can see you through the window."

After a moment's confusion, Jay found that this was so, and she got up and let Kew in.

"I will just ask you how you are," he said hurriedly. "And how things are going in the Other World, and all that. But you needn't answer, because I haven't much time, and I want very badly to talk about myself. I never get a chance when Anonyma is there, and when I return to France (which is likely to happen soon), I shan't find much chance to talk there. I am so glad I am going back, I am so sick of hearing other people talk about things that are not worth mentioning. Poor dear Anonyma, she meant all this recent gaiety as a reward to me for war work dutifully done. But if this be jam, give me my next pill unadorned. A motor tour combined with Anonyma is tiring. If I were alone with Russ I might enjoy it."

"Who is Russ?"

"The owner of Christina, and Christina is the vehicle which contains us during the search for you."

He became aware of the velvet face of Chloris, gazing at him from between his knees.

"What does Chloris do while you are week-ending in Heaven. Do you take her with you?"

"There is already a dog there, called Trelawney."

"By Jove, that would make a nice little clue for Anonyma. There can be only one dog on the sea-coast called Trelawney. We could stop and ask every dog we met what its name was. Besides, the name suggests Cornwall. What breed is the dog? Look here, will you write the Family a letter giving it a few neat clues for Anonyma? After all, we ought to give her all the pleasure we can, I sometimes think we are a disappointing family for her to have married. We lie to her, she lies to us, her enthusiasms make us smile behind our hands, ours make her yawn behind her notebook. Send us a good encouraging letter, addressed to the house in Kensington. We always wire our address there as we move. Give us details about Trelawney, and, if possible, the name of the nearest post town. If we must lie, let us give all the pleasure we can by doing so. Poor old Anonyma.

"It's getting dark, I must go back to the Family. I am as a babe in the hands of Anonyma, and like a babe I promised her I would be back before dark. Do you remember how we used to long to be lost after nightfall, just for the dramatic effect? Yet we were awfully frightened of the dark. Do you remember how we used to dare each other to get out of bed and run three times round the night nursery? I have never felt so brave since, as I used to feel as I jumped into bed conscious of an ordeal creditably over. Why is bed such a safe place? I am not half so brave as I used to be. I remember at the age of ten doing a thing that I have never dared to do since. I sat in the bath with my back to the taps. Do you suppose the innocent designer of baths meant everybody to sit like that, with a tap looking over each shoulder? Taps are known to be savage brutes, and it is everybody's instinct to sit the other way round, and keep an eye on the danger. If I were as brave now as I was at ten, I could probably win the War. Oh, Jay, I can't stop talking, I am so pleased to be nearly out of the clutches of my relations."

"Are you sure you won't be killed?" asked Jay suddenly.

"I can't be," said Kew. "How could I be? I'm me. I'm not brave, and I don't go to France with one eye on duty and the other on the possibility of never coming back. I go because the crowd goes, and the crowd—a rather shrunken crowd—will come back safe. I'm too average a man to get killed."

"Don't you think all those million ghosts are thinking, 'What business had Death to choose me?'" suggested Jay.

"No," said Kew. "I'm sure they know."

After a few seconds' pause he said, "By Jove, are you in fancy dress?"

"No. Why?"

"Why indeed. Why a kilt and yards of gaiters? Why a hat like a Colonial horse marine?"

"Oh, this is the uniform of a bus-conductor," replied Jay.

Kew scanned it with distaste. Presently he said, "Don't you think you'd better give it up? Buy a new hat with a day's earnings, and get the sack."

"I can't quarrel with my bread and butter," said Jay.

"Surely this is only jam," said Kew. "You've got plenty of money of your own for bread and butter."

"I haven't now," answered Jay. "I gave up having money when the War started. Perhaps I chucked it into the Serpentine. Perhaps not. I forget."

Kew got up slowly. "Well," he said, "sure you're all right? I must be going. I don't know when the last train goes."

In London it is impossible to ignore the fact that you are late. The self-righteous hands of clocks point out your guilt whichever way you look. Your eye and your ear are accused on every side. You long for the courteous clocklessness of the country; there, mercifully, the sun neither ticks nor strikes, nor cavils at the minutes.

There was a crowd of home-goers at Brown Borough Church, and each 'bus as it arrived was like the angel troubling the waters of Bethesda. There was no hope for the old or timid. Kew was an expert in the small sciences of London. He knew not only how to mount a 'bus, while others of his like were trying four abreast to do the same, but also how to stand on a space exactly half the size of his boot soles, without holding on. (This is done, as you probably know too, by not looking out of the window.)

Kew had given up taxis and cigars in war-time. It was his pretence never to do anything on principle, so he would have blushed if anybody had commented on this ingenuous economy. The fact that he had joined the Army the first day of the War was also, I think, a tender spot in the conscience of Kew. A Victoria Cross would have been practically unbearable, and even to be mentioned in despatches would have been a most upsetting contradiction of that commonplace and unprincipled past of which he boasted. He thought he was such a simple soul that he had no motives or principles in anything that he did, but really he was simpler than that. He was so simple that he did his best without thinking about it. It certainly sounds rather a curious way to live in the twentieth century.

"'Ere, you're seven standin' inside," said the gentleman 'bus—conductor, when, after long sojourn in upper regions, he came down to his basement floor. "Five standin' is all I'm supposed to 'ave, an' five standin' is all I'll allow. Why should I get myself into trouble for 'avin' more'n five standin', if five standin' is all I'm allowed to 'ave?"

In spite of a chorus of nervous assent from all his flock, and the blushing disappearance of the two superfluous standers, the 'bus-conductor continued his lament in this strain. To the man with a small but loud grievance, sympathy is a fatal offering.

The 'bus-conductor had a round red nose, and very defective teeth. Kew studied him in a new light, for this was Jay's fellow-worker. Somehow it seemed very regrettable.

"I wish I hadn't promised not to tell the Family," he thought.

He and Jay never broke their promises to each other, and there was a tacit agreement that when they found it necessary to lie to each other, they always gave each other warning. Where the rest of the world was concerned, I am afraid they used their discretion in this matter.

"It ought to be stopped. The tactful foot of Family authority ought to step on it."

He presented his penny angrily to the 'bus-conductor.

"I expect this sort of man asks Jay to walk out with him," he thought, and with a cold glance took the ticket offered to him.

"Lucky I'm so utterly selfish," he thought, "or I should be devilish worried."

His train was one which boasted a restaurant car, and Kew patronised this institution. But when he was in the middle of cold meat, he thought: "She is probably trying to live on twopence-halfpenny a week. Continual tripe and onions."

So he refused pudding. The pudding, persistent as only a railway pudding can be, came back incredulously three times. But Kew pushed it away.

"If I could get anybody outside the Family to use their influence, I should be within the letter of the law. But I mostly know subalterns, and nobody below a Brigadier would be likely to have much influence with Jay. She'd probably talk down even a sergeant-major."

It seems curious that he should deplore the fact that Jay had turned into a bus-conductor more deeply than he had deplored her experiments in sweated employment. I think that a uniformed sister or wife is almost unbearable to most men, except, perhaps, one in the nurse's uniform, of which even St. Paul might have approved. The gaiters of the 'bus-conductor had shaken Kew to his foundations. The thought of the skirt still brought his heart into his mouth. He was so lacking in the modern mind that he still considered himself a gentleman. No Socialist, speaking between clenched teeth in a strangled voice of largely groundless protest, had ever gained the ear of Kew. He had never joined a society of any sort. He had never attended a public meeting since he gave up being a Salvationist at the age of ten.

"It must be stopped," he said, as he got out of the train. "I'll think of a way in my bath to-morrow." This was always the moment he looked forward to for inspirations.

Anonyma was observable as he walked from the station to the inn, craning extravagantly from the sitting-room window. She came downstairs, and met him at the door.

"Such a disaster," she said, and handed him a telegram.

Kew stood aghast, as she meant him to. No disaster is ever so great as it is before you know what it is. But Kew ought to have known Anonyma's disasters by experience.

"Russ's wife has appeared."

"Why should she be introduced as a disaster?" asked Kew, with a sigh of relief. "Is she a maniac, or a suffragette, or a Mormon, or just some one who has never read any of your books?"

He opened the telegram. It called upon him to rejoin his battalion next day at noon.

"Russ went to his house to fetch something this morning and found his wife there. He looks quite ill. She insisted on coming here with him, and now she wishes to go on the tour with us. As I hear the car is hers, we can hardly refuse."

"I don't pretend to understand the subtleties of this disaster," said Kew. "But as you evidently don't intend me to, I will not try. Notice, however, that I am keeping my head. I have always wondered how I should behave in a disaster."

"Wait till you meet her," said Anonyma.

Kew heard Mrs. Russell's melodramatic laughter as he approached the sitting-room door, and he trembled. She laughed "Ha-ha-ha" in a concise way, and the sound was constant.

"That is her ready sense of fun that you can hear," said Anonyma bitterly. "She is teaching Gustus to see the humorous side."

They entered to find poor Cousin Gustus bending like a reed before a perfect gale of "Ha-ha-ha's." Mrs. Russell was so much interested in what she was saying that she left Kew on her leeward side for the moment, hardly looking at him as she shook hands.

"It's enough to make the gods laugh on Olympus," she said, but it did not make Cousin Gustus laugh. Noticing this, Mrs. Russell turned to Kew.

"I was telling your cousin about my pacificist efforts in the States," she said. "Yes, I can see your eye twinkling; I know a pacifist is a funny thing to be. But I'm not one of the—what I call dumpy-toad-in-the-hole ones. I do it all joyously. I was telling your cousin how very small was the chance that robbed us of success in Ohio."

"What sort of success?" asked Kew.

"Peace," said Mrs. Russell.

"But is Ohio at war?"

Mrs. Russell laughed heartily. Her unnecessarily frank laughter showed her gums as well as her teeth, and made one wish that her sense of humour were not quite so keen.

"I see you are one of us," she said. "What I call one of the Jolly Fraternity. No, Ohio is still enjoying peace. But—if you follow me—from the States peace will come; there we must fix our hopes. If we can get those millions of brothers and sisters of ours 'across the duck-pond'—as I call it—to see its urgency, peace must come. For brothers and sisters they are, you know; patriotism will come in time to be considered a vice. How can one's soul—if you take my meaning—be affected by the latitude and longitude in which one's body was born? From the States the truth shall come, salvation shall dawn in the west. Listen to me trying to be poetic, it makes me laugh."

One noticed that it did.

"War is so reasonless as to be funny," she said.

"But you haven't told me yet about the little chance that you thought would tickle Olympus," said Kew.

"You're laughing at me," said Mrs. Russell. "But I don't mind, for I laugh at myself. I like you. Shake."

Kew immediately thought her a nice woman, though peculiar.

Mr. Russell looked in and saw the Shake in progress. He murmured something and withdrew hurriedly. For a moment they could hear his agitated voice in the passage reciting Milton to his Hound.

"Do listen to my husband, never silent," said Mrs. Russell. "Did you ever see a man like him?"

There is no real answer to this sort of question, so Kew said "Yo," which is always safe. Then he added, "Do tell me about the little chance."

"This was the little chance," smiled Mrs. Russell. "We ought to have had a tremendously successful peace-meeting in a certain town in Ohio. We had every reason to expect three thousand people, and we thought of proposing the re-naming of the town—calling it Peace. But the little chance was a printer's error—the advertisement gave the date wrong. A crowd turned up at the empty hall, and two days later, when we arrived, they were so tired of us that they booed our demonstration. Just the stupidity of an inky printer between us and success."

"Do you mean to say that but for that we should have had peace by now?" asked Kew in a reverent voice.

"You never know," said Mrs. Russell. "That meeting might have been the match to light the flame of peace all over the world. It's bitterly and satirically funny, isn't it, what Fate will do. Ha-ha-ha."

Cousin Gustus laughed hysterically in chorus, and then said that his head ached, and that he thought he would go to bed early. Anonyma led him away.

"Please don't make peace for a week or two yet," begged Kew. "Let me see what I can do first. I am going to-morrow."

"How foolish of you," said Mrs. Russell. "If you like, I believe I have enough influence to get you to America instead."

"I think I like France best," said Kew. "I don't feel as if I could be content anywhere short of France just now."

"Surely you won't be content anywhere, murdering your fellow-men," said Mrs. Russell. "You won't mind my incurable flippancy, will you? I can't help treating things lightly."

"Not at all," replied Kew. "But I am often content in the intervals of murdering my fellow-men. I play the penny whistle in my dug-out."

"Now tell me," said Mrs. Russell, "what are you all doing here? What mischief are you leading my Herbert into?"

When Kew had recovered from a foolish astonishment at hearing that Mr. Russell was known to others as Herbert, he said, "We're looking—not very seriously—for my sister, who seems to have eloped by herself to the west coast, without leaving us her address."

"I know. Herbert told me that much. A place on the sea-front, isn't it? But you know, I feel a certain responsibility for Herbert, I have neglected him so long. I cannot bear that he should waste his time in what I call these stirring days. You mustn't think because I treat life as one huge joke that I can never be serious. One can wear a gay mask, but—you understand me, don't you? You are one of us."

There was a pause, and then she said, "Ha-ha. Doesn't it seem funny. We've only known each other an hour, and here we are intimate...."

Kew obediently allowed himself for a moment to see the humorous side, and then said, "What are your plans then, yours and Mr. Russell's?"

"I have neglected him too long, poor old thing," said Mrs. Russell. "I must stay with him now, and cheer him up. A cheery heart can bridge any gulf, don't you think? You know, I was just what I call a jolly girl when I married him, and afterwards I forgot to grow up, I think. Perhaps my treatment of him has been rather irresponsible. I must try and make up—what I call 'kiss and be friends,' like two jolly little kiddies."

"Then why not join the motor tour?"

"I would rather take Herbert back to our little nest in London. There's no place like home, as I always say. From there we might work together for the great cause of Peace—what I call 'My Grail.'"

She had crimped hair and a long nose, the tip of which moved when she spoke. You would never have given her credit for such influence as she claimed in the world's affairs. Only her Homeric laughter, and a pair of lorgnettes, reminded you of her greatness.

When Kew finally disentangled himself from the company of this jolly creature, it was very late. But the voice of Anonyma arrested him on his way to bed. Her face, with a corn-coloured plait on each side of it, looked at him cautiously from a dark doorway.

"Kew," said Anonyma, "I won't stand it. We must be rescued."

"Nobody can remove her now without also removing Russ and Christina," said Kew. "The reconciliation has gone too far."

"Then Russ must be sacrificed, and even the car," said Anonyma firmly. "Gustus and I can hire if we must. That woman must be removed. The jealous cat!"

Kew began to see light. "I'll rescue you, then," he replied. "I'll think of a way in my bath."

* * * * *

Next morning a great noise, centring in the bathroom, overflowed through the inn. It was the noise of Kew singing joyful extracts from Peer Gynt. Do you remember the beginning of the end of the Hall of the Mountain King? It goes:

"Bomp—chink.... Bomp—chink.... Tootle—tootle—tootle—tootle—tootle—tootle-tee.... Bomp-chink, ..." etc., etc.

The way in which Kew rendered this passage, notoriously a difficult one for a solo voice, would have conveyed to any one who knew him that he had solved both his problems.

Anonyma knocked on the bathroom door, and said, "Cousin Gustus's headache is still bad."

Kew therefore broke into Anitra's Dance, which is more subdued.

Before breakfast he and Mr. Russell and the Hound walked to the downs. The motor tour seemed to have come to a standstill. Cousin Gustus's headache could be felt all over the house.

The moment Mr. Russell and Kew were out of earshot of the inn, Kew made such a violent resolve to speak that he nearly broke a tooth.

"Russ," he said, "I want to get off my chest for your benefit something that has been worrying me awfully."

Mr. Russell made no answer. He had got out of the habit of answering.

"It's about Jay," continued Kew. "I must break to you first that Jay's 'house on the sea-front,' with all its accessories—gulls, ghosts, turrets, aeroplanes, and Friends—is one large and elaborate lie. She and I are very much alike. The only difference between us used to be her skirt, and now she has gone a good way towards discarding that. She is nowhere near the sea. She is in London. Now you, Russ, are what she and I used to call an 'Older and Wiser—'"

Mr. Russell jumped violently, but uttered nothing except a little curse to his dog, which was almost under his feet.

"—And you are about the only person I could trust, in my absence, to get Jay out of an uncommonly silly position. I can't bear her present pose. It must stop at once, and if I had time I would stop it myself. I have unfortunately sworn not to give her away to the Family, so I come to you. She is a 'bus-conductor."

Mr. Russell refrained from jumping. I believe he had expected it. But he said, "It would be too funny."

Kew looked at him nervously, fearing for a moment lest Mrs. Russell's sense of humour had proved infectious.

Mr. Russell was thinking how funny it would be if the finger of desirable coincidence had touched his life. How funny if a nice piece of six-shilling fiction should have taken upon itself to make of him its hero. Too funny to be true.

But you, I hope, will remember that the coincidence was not so funny as he thought, since Jay had beckoned to it with her eyes open.

"Now, I have a prejudice against 'bus-conductors," said Kew.

"Why?" asked Mr. Russell rather indignantly.

"I can't explain it. If I could, it wouldn't be a prejudice, it would be an opinion. But—well—just think.... The trousered 'bus-conductors probably ask her to walk out with them in Victoria Park on Sundays."

"I see your point," said Mr. Russell.

"You are about double as old as she is—if I may say so—and you are not one of the Family, two great advantages. You know, Jay has suffered from not meeting enough Older and Wiser people. She has had to worry out things too much by herself; she has never been talked to by grown-ups whom she could respect. Anonyma never talked with us, though she occasionally 'Had a Good Talk.' She never played, but sometimes suggested 'Having a Good Game.' It's different, somehow. You, Older and Wiser without being too old or too wise, might impress Jay a lot, I think, because you don't say overmuch. And I want you to tell her something of what I feel about it too."

"I never realised before that from your point of view there was any advantage in being Older and Wiser," said Mr. Russell.

"You don't mind my saying all this?" said Kew. It was an assumption rather than a question.

"Not at all. But I don't understand exactly what you want me to do."

"To give up this idiotic motor tour," said Kew. "And go back to London, and talk Jay out of her 'bus-ism. I want her to leave it off, and let the Family discover her romantically enjoying some passable imitation of her Secret World. I want the Family never to know of all that lay between. I do want it all to come right. I'm going off to-day, and I may not see her again. And I know hardly any trustable person but you."

"Right," said Mr. Russell.

He thought: It's too funny to be true, but if it isn't true, I shall be surprised.

Kew enlarged to him on the details of his mission.

On the breakfast table, when they returned, they found a letter from Jay, evidently written for private circulation in the Family.

Dear Kew—I have just come in from a walk almost as exciting as it was beautiful. We walked through our village, which clings to both sides of a crack-like harbour that might just contain a carefully navigated walnut-shell. The village is grey and white, all its walls are whitewashed, all its roofs are slate with cushions of stone-crop clinging to them. Sea-thistles grow outside its doors, seagulls are its only birds. The slope on which it stands is so steep that the main road is on a level with the roofs on one side, and if you were absentminded, you might walk on to a roof and fall down a chimney before you became aware that you had strayed from the street. But we were not absent-minded. We sang Loud Songs all the way. We ran across the grass after the shadows of the round clouds that bowled across the sky. In single file we followed the dog Trelawney after the seagulls. Everything was so clear that we could see the little rare island that keeps itself to itself on our horizon. I don't know its name; they say it bears a town and a post-office and a parson, but I don't think this is true. I think that island is an intermittent dream of ours. When you get beyond the village, the cliff leaves off indulging in coves and harbours and such frivolities, and decides to look upon itself seriously as a giant wall against a giant sea. Only it occasionally defeats its own object, because it stands up so straight that the sea finds it easier to knock down. On a point of cliff there was a Lorelei seagull standing, with its eye on Trelawney. It had pale eyes, and a red drop on its beak. And Trelawney, being a man-dog, did what the seagull meant him to do. He ran for it, he ran too far, and fell over the edge. Well, this is not a tragic incident, only an exciting one. Trelawney fell on to a ledge about ten foot below the top of the cliff, and sat there in perfect safety, shrieking for help. My Friend said: "This is a case of 'Bite my teeth and Go.'" It is a saying in this family, dating from the Spartan childhood of my Friend, that everything is possible to one who bites his teeth and goes. The less you like it, the harder you bite your teeth, and it certainly helps. My Friend said: "If we never meet again, remember to catch and hang that seagull for wilful murder. It would look rather nice stuffed in the hall." The cliff overhangs rather just there, and when he got over the edge, not being a fly or used to walking upside down, he missed his footing. We heard a yelp from Trelawney. But the seagull's conscience is still free of murder, my Friend only fell on to Trelawney's ledge. So it was all right, and we ate our hard-boiled eggs on the scene of the incident.

"I remember—" said Mr. Russell.

"That letter," said Anonyma, "ought to help us a bit."

She was quite bright, because Kew had conveyed to her the hope that the plot for the rescue of the Family was doing well. Cousin Gustus also, with no traces of a headache except a faint smell of Eau-de-Cologne, had come down hopefully to breakfast.

"Obviously the North coast of Cornwall," said Mrs. Russell. "The village might be Boscastle, and the island is surely Lundy.... Such an intensely funny name, Lundy, isn't it? Ha-ha! For some reason it amuses me more and more every time I hear it. It reminds me of learning geography with the taste of ink and bitten pen in my mouth. I used to catch my sister's eye—just as I'm catching yours now—and laugh ever so much, over Lundy. I used to be a terror to my governesses."

"I'm very much afraid that I can't spare much more time for the motor tour," said Mr. Russell, and Anonyma was so anxious for the first signs of rescue that she actually let him speak. "Business in London. I dare say I could get you to Cornwall within the next few days, but some time this week I must get back to town."

"I'll come with you," said his wife. "You can't shake me off so easily, my dear. Ha-ha!"

"It's too rainy to start to-day," said Cousin Gustus. "I have known people drowned by swollen rivers and such while trying to travel in just such a deluge as this. We will start to-morrow."

"Wet or fine," added Anonyma.

"The fact remains," said Kew, "that I must leave you by the ten something. I must leave you to sniff without my help, like bloodhounds, along the trail of the elusive Jay. But I won't bid any one a fervent good-bye, because I daresay I shall be back again on leave for lack of anything else to do in three weeks' time, if we can't get across the Channel. In that case I'll meet you one day next month—say at Land's End or the Firth of Forth. Otherwise—say forty years hence in Heaven."

"It is very wrong to joke about Death," said Cousin Gustus. "I once knew a man who died with just such a joke on his lips."

"I hope it was a better joke than that," said Kew. "It can't be wrong to laugh at Death. Death is such a silly, cynical thing that a little wholesome leg-pulling by an impartial observer ought to do it good."

Mr. Russell was heard asking his Hound in a low voice for the truth about Death and Immortality.

So Kew went away, and left the Family gazing at the rain. Mrs. Russell was conducting a mysterious process known as writing up notes. It was hardly possible, by the way, that Anonyma could have loved the possessor of a rival notebook.

It rained very earnestly. There was no hole in the sky for hope to look through. The puddles in the village street jumped into the air with the force of the rain. You will, without difficulty, remember that it rained several times in the Spring of 1916. But this day was a most perfect example of its kind.

Cousin Gustus was both depressed and depressing. I am afraid I have not given you a very flattering portrait of Cousin Gustus. I ought to have told you that he was very well provided with human affections, and that he loved Kew better than any one else in the world. I might say that the departure of Kew let loose Cousin Gustus's intense grievance against the Germans, except that I could hardly describe a grievance as let loose that had never been pent up.

Cousin Gustus was always angry with the Germans whatever they did, but the thing that made him more angry than ever was to read in his paper some report admitting courageous or gracious behaviour in a German.

"The partings and the troubles that these Germans have caused ought to hang like mill-stones round their necks for ever," said Cousin Gustus. "Talk about Iron Crosses—Pish! I should like to have a German here for ten minutes. I should say to him: 'My Kew was a good boy, I would almost say a clever boy, doing well in his profession: no more thought than that dog has of being a soldier till War broke out. Does that look as if we were prepared for War?' I should say. 'Doesn't that show where the blame lies?' What could he answer?"

Mr. Russell and his Hound were apparently listening, but they could offer no suggestions.

"Kew's going has upset me so that my headache has returned, and I cannot get any Aspirin here," continued Cousin Gustus. "I know a man who was very much addicted to these neuralgic headaches, who committed suicide by throwing himself from the bathroom window, solely owing to neuralgia. And the rain does nothing towards improving matters. They say the German guns bring on the rain. I tell you there is no limit to their guilt. Look at this morning's paper: 'The enemy bombarded this section of our front with increasing intensity during the day....' I ask you, IS THAT WAR?"

"Yes," said Mr. Russell absently.

"Nonsense," said Cousin Gustus. "What we ought to do is to shoot every German we can catch. Shooting's too good for them. Hang them. That would teach them. Any Government but ours would have thought of it long ago. Iron Crosses, indeed, Pish!"

Cousin Gustus finds the Iron Cross very useful for the filling up of crannies in his edifice of wrath.

Anonyma said: "When I think of those old fairy-like German songs, I feel as if I had lost a bit of my heart and shall never find it again. That is what I regret most about this War. It is bad art."

"Art, indeed," said Cousin Gustus. "Why, every time they steal a picture they get an Iron Cross. I know a man who saw a German wearing a perfect rosary of Iron Crosses; the fellow was boasting of having bayoneted more babies than any other man in the regiment. Listen to this: 'The enemy attacked the outskirts of the village of What D'you Call'em, and engaged our troops in hand-to-hand fighting.' Think of it, and we used to say they were a civilised race. At the point of the bayonet, it says—isn't it atrocious? 'The enemy were finally repulsed at the point of the bay—' oh well, of course that may be different. I don't pretend to be a military expert...."

"I hate the Germans," said Anonyma, "because they have spoilt my own idea of them. I hate having a mistake brought home to me."

"I hate the Germans," began Mr. Russell, "because—"

"I'm going for a walk," said Anonyma. "I am sick of sitting here and hearing you two old fogies argue about the War. If War is bad art, it is vulgar to refer to it."

I know exactly what Mr. Russell was going to say. He had a vague culinary metaphor in his mind. I hate the Germans because they are underdone, they are red meat. Their vices and their virtues and their music, and their greed and their fairyism and their militarism, all seem to have been roasted in a hurry, and to contain, like red meat, the natural juices to an extent that seems to us excessive. The reason why some of us dislike red meat is that it reminds us too much of what our food originally was. As we ourselves, possibly, are rather overcooked by the fire of civilisation, this vulgar deficiency in our enemy is very apparent to us. This is an elaborate, but not a pleasing analogy, and it was fortunate that Mr. Russell was interrupted. Otherwise, I think he might have been trying to this day to explain it to an exasperated Cousin Gustus. He spoke of it to his Hound, and the idea interested that animal very much.

Mr. Russell, unfortunately, had a cold, and was therefore unable on such a wet day to leave the house or Cousin Gustus. But Anonyma went out in a mackintosh that gave her the "silhouette" of a Cossack, and a beautiful little tarpaulin sou'wester, and high boots, and a skirt short enough to give the boots every chance of advertisement. The notebook was safe in a water-tight pocket.

She covered with great speed and enthusiasm the few miles to the sea. She reached it at a point where the cliff dwindled into flatness, where the gentle tide rattled on pebbles instead of on sand, where the tall breakwaters contradicted the line of the shore. The furthest breakwater had seaweed like hair waving on the water. At intervals it would seem to be thrust up between two glassy waves, like a victim beckoning for deliverance from the grip of some monster. And then the sea's lips would close on it again. The sea was freckled by the rain, the waves were beaten into submission. The tide was rather low, and not very far away a great company of porpoises bowed each other through the mazes of a slow quadrille. There were a few rocks spotted like leopards, and on one of these a young brown seagull rested, and allowed itself occasionally to be washed gracefully away.

"Lazy Nature!" said Anonyma reprovingly. "To sketch such a scheme in a few careless lines."

For the whole world was rain-colour. There was no horizon to the sea, the downs were blotted out, the wet shingle reflected its surroundings, the waves broke unmarked by foam or shadow. There was nothing but the porpoises and the breakwaters and the rocks, and a little bald sand dune, sketched on the canvas of that pale day.

Anonyma perpetuated in her notebook her opinion of Nature as an artist. On the whole, it was a flattering opinion. Then she sat on the breakwater, and thought how fortunate she was to be able to think such interesting thoughts about what she saw. How fortunate to enjoy thought and to cause thought! How fortunate to feel oneself a member of the comforting fellowship of intelligence! "It is much more delightful," Anonyma informed the sea, "to be intelligent than to be beautiful. Why do we all try to make our outsides beautiful? There is competition in beauty, but there is brotherhood in intelligence. To be clever is to share a secret and a smile with all clever people." A vision of the coast of the United Kingdom encircled by a ring of consciously clever Anonymas sitting on breakwaters, sharing each with all a secret and a smile, came vaguely to her.

She put all that she could of her soliloquy into her notebook.

And then she noticed the face of a man, with its eyes upon her, appearing stealthily over a breakwater. The face wore the grin that some people wear when they are doing anything with great caution. This gave it a very empty, bright expression, like the mask that represents comedy in a theatre decoration. The face dropped down behind the breakwater, after meeting Anonyma's surprised eye for a second or two.

Anonyma kept her head.

First she thought it was the face of a bather, the path to whose clothes she was unwittingly barring.

Then she thought it was the face of a picnicker, resentful of her intrusion.

Then she thought it was the face of a German spy.

The first two of these three thoughts she rejected because the weather reduced their possibility to a minimum. The third she instinctively adopted as a certainty. The face at once became obviously German in her eyes. It was broader about the chin than about the forehead, it was pink, the architecture of the nose was painfully un-English.

She scanned the sea for the periscope of a submarine.

Anonyma remembered that she had written in her notebook, a day or two before, an intimate description of the coast as seen from the Ring. She also remembered distinctly seeing in the bar of the inn a notice warning her to the effect that walls—and probably breakwaters—have ears and eyes in these days, and that the German Government has a persistent wish to possess itself of private diaries and notebooks.

"I am having an adventure," said Mrs. Gustus. "I must keep cool."

She got up from her breakwater, holding her notebook very tightly, and began to walk away. When she looked back, she saw the top of the man's head moving behind the breakwater, in a parallel direction to her own course. When he reached the point where the breakwater ended and denied him cover, he wavered for a moment, and then, with an expression of elaborate indifference, followed her.

"I must keep even cooler than this," thought Anonyma. "I must try and catch the spy."

She walked across some waste land sown with memories of picnics, and reached the main road. The man crossed the waste land behind her. He tried in a futile way to look as if he were not doing so.

On the main road, Anonyma turned and waited for him. It seemed useless in that empty landscape to sustain the pretence that they were unaware of each other.

"Did you wish to speak to me?" she asked, as well as she could for the great lump of excitement that beat in her throat. Before her eyes visions of headlines danced: "LADY NOVELIST'S PLUCKY CAPTURE OF A SPY."

The man became dark red as she spoke. "Yes," he said. "I wanted to ask you what you were writing in that notebook?"

Anonyma paused for a moment, as she decided what she ought to do. Then she said in a hoarse voice: "I have detailed military information about this coast for twenty miles round in my notebook, with accurate reports as to the depth of the water. If you come to my lodgings in D——, I can show you a map that I have made."

A tremor ran through the stranger.

"A map?" he repeated.

"Yes, a map," said Anonyma; and then, as he did not move, she added on the spur of the moment, "Also a design for a new kind of bomb which I bought from a man in London."

"A bomb?" he said.

Anonyma thought that he was evidently a foreigner, though his accent was English. He seemed to find English rather difficult to understand.

"Why do you tell me all this?" he asked finally.

"Because I recognise your face as that of a sp—I mean a fellow-worker in the great brotherhood of espionage," said Anonyma.

"Come on, then," said the man.

So they walked off together.

"Why did you take up this—calling?" asked the man presently. "Are you a German?"

"Well, more or less," said Anonyma. "At least, I have never been a Christian. I believe that one must take either War or Christianity seriously. Hardly both."

It was a good opportunity for a monologue. Obviously the stranger was not one who would resent a monopoly of the conversation.

"After all, men are only minor gods," said Anonyma, "and War is what gods were born for. Germany knows that. That's why, under the present circumstances, I'd rather take German money than English."

"Are we anywhere near D—— yet?"

Anonyma hoped that he still had no suspicions. His voice was distinctly nervous. To reassure him, she said, "Why did you take up espionage yourself?"

"Why, indeed?" said the stranger in an ardent voice. "Of course the pay was enormous. Twenty thousand francs if I could get an exact chart of the South Coast."

"Why francs?" asked Anonyma.

"Not francs. I find these various currencies so confusing, don't you? Of course I mean pfennigs."

"Twenty thousand pfennigs?" said Anonyma. "Look here, are you trying to be funny?"

"Far from it," said the man. "To tell you the truth, I am awfully nervous."

"Of me?"

"Yes. No. I mean of discovery."

"You don't seem to be absolutely cut out for your job," said Anonyma.

They walked in silence for a while. Anonyma sought through her mind to find something she could say in keeping with her part. She decided finally on a rather ambiguous though imposing attitude.

"The Germans have discovered the truth that anything good is belligerent, love included. You can't fight properly with any weapon but your life. Death is not the only thing that passes by the peace-man. He remains alive, but he also remains ignorant. All peace-men are really women in disguise, and all women are utterly superfluous to-day. We only know men. People who disapprove of War shall have no part in peace. The peace shall be ours who suffered for it, and only we have earned it. The only decent thing left for the Americans and Quakers to do now is to hold their tongues when peace comes. They haven't earned the right to rejoice."

"I am a Quaker," said the stranger.

"I didn't know the Germans allowed Quakers at large."

"I am not a German," said the stranger.

"Then what has happened?" asked Anonyma, standing suddenly still at the top of the main street of D——. "Why did you want my notebook?"

"Because I could plainly see you taking notes in it."

"You thought me a spy?"

"You don't leave me much room for doubt."

They guided each other to the gate of the police-station. There they stopped again.

"This is where I was bringing you," said Anonyma, as their eyes fell simultaneously on the label over the door: "Sussex County Police."

"It seems to me that honours are easy," she added after a pause. "Don't you see what has happened?"

The stranger thought for a moment with a look of dawning relief on his pink face. "But you couldn't have made up all those dreadful opinions," he said.

"I didn't," said Anonyma. "I meant them all—as applied to England."

"Don't you think we'd better take each other in to make sure?" suggested her companion. "The Inspector's quite a good sort. I know him well...."

"You may read my notebook if you like to make quite sure," said Anonyma. "I'm almost sure the Inspector would have either too much or too little sense of humour for the situation."

She was conscious of a certain disappointment. Her adventure had fallen flat, she felt no pleasure in the idea of painting a vivid word-vignette for the people at home. Even her notebook must never hear of this morning's work.

"How foolish of you," she said irritably. "Do I look like a spy?"

"Do I?"

She felt impelled to be angry with him, and seized upon another pretext.

"You are a conscientious objector, I suppose. And what business has a conscientious objector to be spy-hunting? Do I understand that you will only help your country when you can do it vicariously, through the police, with no risk to yourself? It isn't very dignified."

"A spy is outside every pale," said the stranger. "My conscience objects to the shedding of blood. Yet it is an English conscience all the same."

"English?" said Anonyma. "If you won't die for England, England isn't yours to love. You shall not have that honour."

"If dying for England is the test of a patriot," said the pink Quaker, "what about you?"

"I would die for England. I work for England," said Anonyma.

(Four hours a week.)

She went on: "I have told you already that women—in either sex—are superfluous to-day. But after all, real women were born to their burden, women were born to put up with second bests. And also posterity is mostly a woman's job. But you were born a man, with a great heritage of honour. You have kicked that honour away. You have sold your birthright."

The Quaker was the sort of man in whose face and mind one could see exactly what his mother was like. Some men are like that, and others, one would say, could never have been so intimate with a woman as to be born of her.

"My soul is greater than I am," said the stranger. "There is no command that drowns the command of the soul. I cannot possibly be wrong."

"You could not possibly be right," said Anonyma. "Good-morning."

Anonyma, on her return to the inn, was very generous with "word-vignettes" dealing with Nature. Her Family during supper was not left in ignorance as to the Peace and Meaning of the Sea, and the Parallel between Waves and Generations, and the Miracles of the Mist, and the Tranquil Musing of the Beaches, and the Unseen Imminence of the Downs. "It would make a wonderful background to a short story," said Anonyma, and then she stopped rather abruptly. Her silence after that might have struck the Family as strange, had it not coincided with the arrival of the evening paper, which turned the listeners' thoughts to less beautiful matters.

"Air raid," said Cousin Gustus. "I prophesied quite a long time ago that we should have another raid, but nobody ever listens to what I say. Two horses killed somewhere in the Eastern Counties."

"I thought Somewhere was a town in France, ha-ha," said Mrs. Russell.

"Was London attacked?" asked Mr. Russell. "I'm rather anxious about—St. Paul's...."

Anonyma rose to the surface again. "I had such a wonderful talk with a 'bus-conductor once about his experiences during a raid. Such an intelligent man. I dearly love 'bus conductors, such an interesting and vivacious class. I should feel it an honour to be intimate with one. He told me in the most vivid terms how a bomb fell in the street in front of his 'bus, blowing the preceding 'bus to atoms. He told me how his driver turned the 'bus in what he called 'The spice of 'arf a crown,' and plunged into a side street. He said that he could see the Zeppelin balanced on its searchlights like 'a sausage on stilts,' and when it was directly above them, the top of his 'bus was suddenly cleared of people as if by magic, except for one man who put up an umbrella and 'sat tight.' I pitied the conductor, it must have been a terrible experience, his eyes were starting from his head,—bulging like a rabbit's,—he said he had a wife and baby up Leyton way, and that he was so worried about them that he frequently called out his list of destinations the wrong way round."

"Look here," said Mr. Russell, "I think I'd better go up and see about—"

"Nonsense," said his wife. "I refuse to go to London until the moon is there to protect me, as it were. So comic to look upon a heavenly body as a practical protection. I will not allow you to run needlessly into danger. Only this morning you were making plans to go to Cornwall, naughty boy."

"No, but—"

"Darling, I insist," said Mrs. Russell. "Cornwall it is for the present. If you say another word I shall smack you and put you in the corner, ha-ha."

Cornwall it was.

The Family drew near to its destination on a misty day. The sun shone not at all, but occasionally showed its bare pale outline through a veil of cloud. The road in front of Christina was so dim that Mr. Russell could people it for himself with imaginations. Now a knight in armour stood at the next corner, now a phantom sea gleamed over the curve of the road, now he saw great slim ghosts beckoning him on.

There were real sheep every few hundred yards, for a sheep fair was taking place somewhere near by. The sheep came out of the mist like armies of giants, and shrank as they grew clearer. The roads were rippled with the footprints of many sheep. Even when there were no sheep in sight, the mist filled their places with ghostly flocks.

Each sheep as it passed examined the wheels of Christina as long as the dogs allowed it to do so. Each flock was followed by two men, and sometimes a child in ill-fitting clothes on a pony, and sometimes a woman with a shawl over her head.

Anonyma's notebook became very restless, and finally Mr. Russell was obliged to drive the Family to the point whither the sheep were bound.

So they went to the little town, through which the excitement of the fair thrilled like the blast from a trumpet. Bewildered sheep looked in at its shop windows; farmers in dog-carts shouted affectionate remarks to each other across its village green, and introduced dear friends at a great distance to other dear friends with much formality. Dogs argued in a professional way about the merits of their sheep. Mr. Russell's Hound, who had never before heard the suggestion that dogs were intended for any purpose but ornament, looked on breathless with surprise. His morals were affected for life by the revolutionary sight of a dog biting the tail of a disobedient sheep. "I'll try it in Kensington Gardens," thought Mr. Russell's Hound, as he looked nervously at his master.

Christina, the motor-car, found her way to the centre of this activity. There the sheep bleated in tight confinement, and to each pen was attached the appropriate dog, looking very self-conscious. Dogs who had come from great distances to buy sheep were anxiously sniffing up the smell of their purchases, so that no mistake might be made on the way home. Over the line of pens a two-plank viaduct ran, and it was bent continually by the weight of large shepherds balancing their way along to take a bird's-eye view of possible bargains. A facetious auctioneer with the village policeman's arm round his neck was sitting on the wall at the end of the field, addressing everybody very frequently as "Gentlemen." Sheep arrived and sheep departed constantly.

"Isn't it terribly slavish, somehow?" said Anonyma. "The sheep never being consulted at all. Bought and sold and smelt and spat upon as if they had no heart beating beneath that wool. No 'Me,' as Jay used to say."

Mr. Russell heard and remembered. There were few doubts left in him as to the truth of his too-funny miracle.

He had a little tune, the scaffolding of a poem, in his head, and to the sound of it he lived that day, although I don't expect he ever got the poem into words.

If you start your idea along an uncertain course, you have to stop and start afresh to get it straight. You can never finish it when once it has a crooked swing. I gather that motor cyclists occasionally have much the same experience with their machines.

But Mr. Russell, with a mind steering a tangled course, asked for nothing better. He was very nearly sure of romance for the first time in his life.

I hope that the feeling of making poetry is not confined to the people who write it down. There is no luxury like it, and I hope we all share it. I think perhaps the same thrill that goes through Mr. Russell and me when the ghost of a completed thing begins to be seen, also delights the khaki coster who writes his first—and very likely last—love-letter from France; and the little old country mother who lies awake composing the In Memoriam of her son for a local paper; and the burglar "down 'Oxton" who takes off his cap as a child's funeral goes by. The feeling is: "This is a thing out of my heart that I am showing. This is my best confession, and nobody knew there was this within me." I am sure that that great glory of poetry in one's heart does not wait on achievement. If it did, what centuries would die unglorified. It is just perfection appearing, to your equal pride and shame, a perfection that never taunts you with your limitations.

Mr. Russell and Christina knew well their road through the mist that afternoon. There was no difficulty in the world, and no need to see or to think. The sign-posts all spoke the names of fated places. It was useless for Anonyma to study the map, she found no mention there of the enchanted way on which their course was set.

"We will not go through Launceston," said Anonyma. "There must be a quicker way to the sea than that."

Mr. Russell cared not for her and cared not for Launceston. The spell was cast upon Christina's wheels. There was no escaping the appointed way. Launceston reached out its net and caught them. Almost as far as the post office, Anonyma was protesting: "We will NOT go through Launceston."

"Launceston was determined to get us," laughed Mrs. Russell. "Ha-ha! isn't it humorous the way things happen?"

The sun was setting as they first saw the Cornish sea. The sky was swept suddenly clear of mist. The seagulls against the sky were like little crucified angels.

The road ran to the shore.

The sun had little delicate clouds across its face, like the islands in a Japanese painting. The wet rocks that lay in the sun's path were plated with gold, and the tall waves with shadowed faces made of that path a ladder. The fields of foam on the sea looked very blue in the pale light.

The sun was like an angel with a flaming sword. The angel dipped his feet into the sea.

The sun was like a flaming stage for the comedies of gods. A ship passed dramatically across it. One's dazzled eyes saw great phantom ships all over the sea.

The sun was like a monster with horns of fire that pierced one's two eyes. And gradually it sank.

The sun was like a word written between the sea and the sky, a word that was swallowed up by the sea before any man had time to read it. There was suddenly no sun. The little forsaken clouds were like flames for a moment, and then they were blown out.

Mr. Russell waved his right hand towards great cliffs like the towers of kings behind the village.

"This is the place," he said.

If I have dared to surrender some imitation of splendour, Something I knew that was tender, something I loved that was brave, If in my singing I shewed songs that I heard on my road, Were they not debts that I owed rather than gifts that I gave?

If certain hours on their climb up the long ladder of time Turned my confusion to rhyme, drove me to dare an attempt, If by fair chance I might seem sometimes abreast of my theme, Was I translating a dream? Was it a dream that you dreamt?

High and miraculous skies bless and astonish my eyes; All my dead secrets arise, all my dead stories come true. Here is the Gate to the Sea. Once you unlocked it for me; Now, since you gave me the key, shall I unlock it for you?

Man ought to feel humble when he reflects upon the fact that he can survive, and even thrive on, any distress except distress of the body. God can wither his soul, and still he lives. Grief can swallow his heart, and still he lives. But his stomach can kill him.

"All is apparently over between me and Peace," thought Jay. "But there must be something to take the place of Peace."

There is only one thing that can adequately usurp the place of Peace. But its name did not occur to Jay.

She did not know what had happened to her. She felt constantly a little mad. Irresponsible wants clamoured in her breast from morning till night, and all night the company of her Secret Friend was more glorious than ever. She ran to her world as you perhaps run to church, yet even there she felt expectant.

When a tall tough thundercloud bends across the sky I watch for the first flash, and listen for the first roar, and in my heart stillness seems impossible and at the same time imperative.

So Jay waited, feeling all the time that she could not wait another minute.

You shall not hear whence comes my fear. You shall not know the name of it. But out of strife it came to life, And only striving came of it. Though for its sake my heart may break, Yet worse would I endure for it. This thing shall be a God to me, I will not seek a cure for it.

Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse