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hand with a gasp, and sat motionless on the
pony, looking after her as she walked into the
station. He sat there until he saw the train go
out, but she did not come back.

Then he rode slowly home along the dusty
road, at the pony's own pace, bending over its
neck, and staring in front of him like a man
in a dream. . . .

When he had thrown the reins to his servant
he went up the steps to the house. At the top
of the winding, rose-hung passage, he turned.
A vision of Jocelyn, standing at the foot and
looking up at him with the roses whispering
above her, was for an instant before him ; then
it was gone, and there stood only an Italian boy,
in nankeen clothes, and a wide-brimmed hat,
holding the ends of the pony's reins, and looking


up at his master with mournful black eyes.
Legard spoke in his gentle voice. It was char-
acteristic of him that in his trouble his con-
sideration for others did not lessen.

" Jacopo, we shall take the yacht and go

Jacopo's apathetic, olive-coloured face lighted
up for a moment. He was a silent, ubiquitous
boy, and devoted to his master.

" Si, Signore ! "

" We start directly — you must be ready to-

The boy stroked the pony's nose solemnly
with his dark fingers. Giles had chosen him
because he was fond of animals — a rare thing in
an Italian.

" For where, Signore ? " he said.

" I don't know yet ; somewhere where there
is something to shoot. Pack for cold weather
and for hot. We shall be away a long time
perhaps. Take Shikari, and put in a rug for
him. That's all, I think. Do you want any
money ?"

'' No, Signore."

Jacopo threw the reins on the pony's neck


and departed, whistling a little tune. The pony
followed him like a dog.

Legard stayed a moment at the top of the
steps, passing his hand over his brow, and try-
ing to conjure up again the girl's image, then he
went into the house and began mechanically to
overhaul his guns.

For a little while he felt the relief it would be
to have done with it all — a merciful span of time
that was gone as soon as it was come — then a
great horror of loneliness, and a sense that the
sands of his life had run out, came over him.
He leant his face against the frame of the gun
cabinet, feeling sick and cold. He cotild not live
without her !

A great wave of pity for her carried him a
little beyond that thought. Her eyes with the
shrinking look in them were always before him.
At whatever cost he would not crown the dis-
grace of his manhood by forcing himself upon
her ! The instinctive revolt within him against
brutality of any sort, which was at once the
strength and the weakness of his character, for-
bade that. To that instinct he must be true 1
He clung to it with the despairing clutch of a


man who had lost other things which he had
thought secure. He would go away ! He would
see her once again, that very day, as a matter of
form — he did not confess to any hope — just as
a matter of form. He was, in fact, unable, even
then, to despair. He went to the sideboard,
drank some wine, and ate some fruit — he could
not get anything solid down — and went about
his preparations mechanically. The thought
came into his mind that, since he was going
away, he must see his wife. He poured out
the rest of the wine, drank it, and lit a cigarette.
If it had to be done, it might as well be done at
once. He sat down, and smoked the cigarette
steadily through, with a sense of effacing his
emotions. When he had finished it he got up
and knocked at her door.

There was no answer. He opened it gently
and went in.


In the room there was a faint, sweet, sickly smell
of flowers and of drugs, the scent that pervades
the rooms of invalids. The sun was still blaz-
ing outside, and through the drawn Venetian
blinds three long streaks of warm light forced
their way, and fell across the white figure lying
on the couch. Bars of golden air, breathing with
innumerable tiny sparks of dust — they seemed
in the hushed room to be the only living things.
Even the flowers drooped, like beings that had
given up their souls to the woman with the ashen
yellow face, whose breathing scarcely stirred the
white swansdown ruffle thrown across her chest.
Over the bullfinch's cage was drawn a grey silk
covering that quivered faintly at the opening
of the door. The oaken furniture seemed to
shrink dark and ill-defined into the corners of
the room.

It was so still there that Giles paused, and


his heart gave a queer thump. He shut the
door noiselessly, and bent his head, looking
into his wife's face. His tall, thin figure had
a great dignity in the dim light.

She was not dead, as he had thought, she was
asleep. On the little table by the couch were
the book she had been reading — Tolstoi's " The
Kingdom of God is within You " — three roses, a
medicine glass, and bottle. Giles's eyes fastened
on the roses ; by some twist of fate they were
Jocelyn's favourites, the sunset-coloured Riviera
roses. A bar of light fell across two of them,
so that they gleamed and glowed at him ; the
third was in shadow, the colour drained from
its petals by the blight of the grey room. It
seemed to him as an omen, and he shivered.
He took the rose, and turned its face to the
sunlight. His wife sighed huskily in her

Giles stepped back, he thought she would wake,
but she did not. He listened to her breathing,
it was faint and strained ; and but for the faint,
irregular monotony of it she might have been
dead. She was very far from death, as it seemed
to him, with the insistent pain of Jocelyn's suf-


fering, and the lurking shadow of possible shame
ever present to his mind.

A faint sound of voices rose in the outer
corridor, and footsteps creaked coming down
the passage towards the door. Giles stepped
behind a screen, which sheltered the couch from
a French window opening on the garden. His
nerves were so jarred and unstrung that he
recoiled from the idea of meeting any one, and
having to talk in his wife's presence. The clasp
of the window was not fastened ; it was slightly
ajar. He waited, prepared to step out if any
one came.

The door was opened softly, and he heard a
whispered conversation in French.

" Madame is asleep, Monsieur."

" Ah ! then do not wake her for the world !
I will call again later. It is of no consequence.
I will take a little walk. Thank you, Pauline ;
shut the door gently."

Giles recognised the peculiarly soft, purring
tones of Nielsen's voice. The door closed
softly, and through the flower-covered trellis
work, he watched the Swede's square figure as
he tiptoed his way down the steps. He noticed


black clouds creeping fast towards the coast
from over the sea, and the olives below the road
beginning to sway a little. He saw very clearly,
and with a childish feeling of irritation, Nielsen's
broad, wrinkled face, with its great tawny mous-
tache and gold-rimmed eyeglass, lifted towards
the sky at an angle which bared his short neck.

His brain was in an exhausted state of nervous
excitement, rendering it as receptive of outward
impression as a photographer's plate ; every-
thing he saw and heard was graven upon it

When Nielsen had disappeared, Giles turned
back to his wife's couch. The bars of sunlight
were gone. She was still sleeping heavily ;
would she never wake, and let him get this
over ?

He fingered the medicine glass mechanically,
there were a few drops of moisture at the
bottom. He smelled it — the sickly-sweet, unmis-
takable smell of morphia — and put it down
with a faint quiver of disgust. The drug she
took every day to make her sleep. He looked
at the bottle nearly full of a white liquid, with a
kind of fascination. A tenth of it would kill


him ! An easy death, that ! He felt with in-
dignation that the bottle had no business to be
there ; his wife always put it under her cushions
before going to sleep, for fear of a mistake — he
had seen her many times. Fingering the cool,
slippery round of the glass, he looked mechani-
cally about him for the medicine that she took
the instant she woke, heavy and dazed from the
morphia. It should be there ready, it was
always there ! There was no bottle upon the
table except the wrong one, that which should
have been under her cushions.

A thought flashed through his mind, a vivid
vision snatched from the future. What if — !
He stood up, hardly breathing, his hands behind
his back, looking down upon his wife. Her
first waking act ! Half conscious — the wrong
bottle ! — the wrong . . .

He drew a deep breath, turned suddenly upon
his heel, and passed swiftly through the window.

The humming of insects and the long droning
sigh of the coming wind was in the breath of
the warm air as he stepped out. A creeper
went swish-swish over his head, and a loosened
spray of jessamine beat him in the face. Its



sweet, subtle scent penetrated his senses, and
gave him a queer feeHng as if his heart were
contracting within him, and the cool beat of
the leaves against his face felt like the touch
of fingers, forcing him back. He pulled the
window to, very gently. A chance had been sent !

A chance had been sent ! He had a dim
vision of black clouds driving over the sky,
olives swaying in a long line in front of him,
and there was the road, long, white, and dusty,
and he knew that what he had to do was to get
down it, as far and as fast as he could. To get
down it, before he began to think. He began
to run — he had no hat on, and he knew it, but
he knew that it was not his business to inquire
into the reason why he had no hat, it was to get
over the ground quickly.

He found that he was thinking as he went,
but upon quite trivial matters. He thought of
a little shop at the bottom of the road, where
he could buy himself a hat, a peasant's hat like
Jacopo's ; he hoped it might be clean. He
thought of the weather ; it looked like breaking
up, the clouds made a curious effect over the
sea. He thought at a great pace, as fast as he


could, and his thoughts left no mark whatever
on his mind.

His tall figure striding along, bareheaded,
with coat flying open, created no small astonish-
ment in Nielsen's mind, who, seated on the edge
of the water-tank under the olives opposite, was
waiting with his usual surface apathy to renew
his visit at the villa. Remembering the scene of
the night before, he made no attempt to attract
Legard's attention, but sat fingering his long
moustache, and staring patiently after him, with
mixed feelings of curiosity and commiseration.

Giles passed the shop without stopping — he
was so busy keeping his mind unoccupied — and
he had to turn back to buy himself a hat. He
had exhausted his power of trivial reflection
now, and he tried to think of Jocelyn. He
would see her — he must see her ! And as he
walked he found that her image, to which he
trusted to save himself from thought, danced
elusively just out of the reach of his mind's eye.

He walked swiftly, a man haunted by the
hidden, ugly shape of an unborn remorse. At a
turn in the road he came suddenly upon Jocelyn


She was sitting on a stony bank covered with
wild thyme, just above the road ; her soft mauve
blouse and the little stone-coloured toque on
her head were in exact tone with their setting.
Over her knees hung a long, bright spray of
gladiolus flowers.

In the suddenness of the meeting, the grave
dejected look on her bent face smote Giles with
the vehemence of a blow. Now that what he
had set himself to attain was unexpectedly within
his reach, he felt as if he could not face her.

He stopped. Had she seen him ? Should
he go back ? He half turned in his painful
indecision, shuffling his feet on the dusty road.

Jocelyn raised her head. He could see her
face, the eyes stared at him, unnaturally soft
and large, and there was a pitiful curve at the
corners of her mouth.

He felt no more indecision or dread, he felt


nothing but the helplessness and pathos of her
face. He brushed his hand over his eyes, walked
across the road, and stood close to her, with his
head bent down and his face hidden under the
wide-brimmed peasant's hat.

Without saying a word she put out her hand,
and her slender fingers fell like bars of ice
across his burning palm. Then she said —

" Will you come with me up the hill a little ?
If there is peace anywhere, it will be among the

His heart beat violently, giving him a sense
of suffocation.

They left the dusty road, and mounted the
banks silently, twisting in and out up the narrow
path over slopes covered with yellow broom and
magenta gladiolus, with snowy garlic flower,
purple vetch, and masses of mauve wild thyme.
The scent from the pine needles and the sage-
plant rose from the cooling earth as the heat
of the vivid, glaring day gave way under the
clouds driven up by the rising wind.

At first, as they climbed the steep ascent, a
rush of relief, a joyous flowing of his blood at
being near her again, carried him away past all


power of reason and doubt. It was happiness,
just to see her slender figure swaying, as she
mounted two paces in front of him, to hear her
hghtly-drawn breath, to catch the perfume of
her hair, the half glimpse of her profile as the
path twisted. But long before they stopped
there had come a returning agony of doubt.
What would she say when she at last spoke ?
What were they to be to each other in the
future ? Had he sinned beyond forgiveness ?
With one step he felt a mad spasm of hope,
with the next the dull throb of a blank despair ;
and always with him, like the cloud left by a
bad dream, was the grim shadow of his wife's
awakening beside the little table, in that dark-
ened room.

They were high up now among the olives,
and neither had spoken. A gloomy, purple hue
had spread like a pall over the broken ridges of
the mountains, which ran inland to the west.
It shaded up from the surf-girt, murky sea, and
deepened on the sides of the hills till it crowned
the summit with a hard, blue line against the
veiled sky. Upon the remote greyness of the
westward sea the hidden sun threw a narrow


streak of yellow light. Where the sun had
travelled, far as the gloomy horizon, the violet
waters brooded in long, broken ridges, and in-
shore little white waves hissed at the borders of
shallow, turquoise pools.

The wind was sighing a mournful tune in
gentle crescendo through the patient olives,
whose knotted stems creaked a sad accompani-
ment. In the sinister colouring the vivid green
of a tiny fig-tree made a single bright spot
whereon the eye rested gratefully.

At the foot of a little tower, grey, ruined,
and flanked by two towering cypresses, Jocelyn
stopped, and, leaning against the broken stair,
looked long and steadily over the sea. One
small singing-bird was lifting the feeble requiem
of the day's departed glory, and from the valley
came an occasional crowing of cocks ; these,
and the sigh of the wind, were the only sounds.
Presently she spoke —

" I like that angry white blaze on the sea,"
she said. Giles heard the even tones of her
voice with wonder, but they served to steady

" Yes, it's beautiful." He was standing beside


her, a tall figure, holding his hat in his hand,
and taking deep breaths like a man that has
come to the surface of water, after a long dive.
He found it difficult to believe that he was
actually at her side talking commonplaces, and
he made a great effort to brace himself to meet
what was coming. His impulse was to fling
himself at her feet, but he stood straight and
stiff, gnawing his moustache, and clenching his
hands. Presently Jocelyn said, without looking
at him —

" We have something to say to each other,
haven't we ? "

" Yes. What made you come ? "

" Your face at the station."

" Ah ! "

To both of them the interchange of question
and answer seemed very strange and unreal.
There was another silence. Of the two faces,
side by side, staring visionless over the sea, the
man's showed the ravages of emotion most ;
perhaps because he was older, perhaps because
it was his nature to take things harder. The
little bird still lifted its voice ; there was a
curious pathos in the feeble twittering.


Jocelyn said suddenly, lifting her eyes to
his —

" I have suffered so. I have cried till I
think I shall never cry again. Forgive me,
I didn't mean to hurt you, I didn't want to
hurt you so. I couldn't help it. Poor
eyes ! "

Her hand stole up, and touched his face.
With the words and the touch of her hand,
his self - control suddenly left him, and he
shook with dry, silent sobs, burying his face
deep in his hands. It was characteristic of
him that he broke down most at the touch of

Jocelyn pulled his head down on to her
shoulder, stroking his hair and his cheek with
her fingers, and murmuring —

" There, there ! " as a mother cries to her
child. All the hardness had gone out of her
face, it was very tender, and her eyes were
pure and deep - coloured with a wonderful

Making a great effort, Giles mastered himself ;
he put his arms round her, and stood rocking
himself to and fro gently, his face buried in her


hair. There was no passion in his embrace, only
pity, and gradually peace.

It was a long time before either spoke again.

" My darling, forgive me ! " he said at last in
a faint, husky whisper, barely heard in the
moaning of the wind.

" Dear, there is nothing to forgive — it was
my fault — I tempted you."

Giles shuddered.

" No, no ! " he said, and he pressed her con-
vulsively in his arms.

The words came presently from him with
an effort —

" Tell me, darling ! Is it all pity you have
for me now ? Is there any love left ? — tell me
the truth," but he could not look at her, he
dreaded the answer too much.

Jocelyn drew herself gently away from him,
till only the touch of his fingers rested on her

" I don't know," she said ; " it isn't as it used
to be — I can't tell."

He sighed.

" It isn't as it used to be — how can it be ?
I think something has died in me. But, dear —


I know that if I did not love you, I couldn't
pity you. I couldn't be sorry for you. I'm
sure of that — I could only hate you."

"Thank God!" he said, breathing deeply.
It was like the lifting of a great weight from
his chest ; but as he straightened himself, the
spectre of his wife's awakening in the darkened
room suddenly started up before him.

" Promise me," he said with an eager ring in
his voice, " whatever comesy you won't shut me
quite away from you ! Promise you'll let me
share your suffering ! Promise mc — "

She shuddered, and her eyes contracted.

" I promise," she whispered.

"Thank you, Sweet, that is sacred," he said.

He drew her again towards him, and would
have kissed her lips ; but she bent her forehead
to him instead, and he kissed it reverently.

The wind was rising steadily, it swept through
the trees, and whistled mournfully in the hollows
of the ruined tower.

Jocelyn was shivering in her light blouse.

" Let me go home, there is a storm coming,
and I am so tired." She spoke like a frightened


He answered mechanically like a man in deep

" Poor little one, yes, yes, at once." He was
holding his watch in his hand, and looking over
her shoulder down the hill side, measuring time
against distance. He was thinking there would
still be a chance — his wife might have gone on
sleeping. If he could only get back to the
room in time ? and he muttered to himself,
absorbed in his sudden desire to get back
before it was too late.

" Yes," he said, " we must go down before
the storm breaks. Come, darling," and he led
the way down the winding path rapidly.

When they reached the road, he said —

" Can you go home alone ? You will be
quite safe on the road, and I have something
to do — very important, terribly important. I
must go. Let me see you to-morrow. I will
come, may I ? Good-bye ! good-bye ! Poor
child, you look so tired." He put his hands
gently on either side of her face, looking into
her eyes.

" Remember your promise ! " he said, and
kissed her lips passionately ; then, as if some


invisible force had plucked him from her, he
turned suddenly and walked along the road at
full speed, his head bent down, and without
once looking back.

Jocelyn gazed after him surprised and trem-
bling. The tide of her emotions had run out
and left her spent and heavy with a sense of
coming disaster.


Once hidden by a group of trees, Giles broke
into a run. The road stared in front of him,
white and implacable ; the dust rose from it,
choking him. He bent forward, lifting his feet
doggedly, dead tired, and with the feeling that
he would never get to the villa. There was a
lull in the wind, and a few splashes of warm rain
fell upon him.

Suddenly he stopped. What was he running
for ? To find out if his wife had killed herself ?
A mere matter of curiosity. For it came into
his mind that nothing whatever was changed.
He had left her to die. He was going back —
to save her ? A cold sweat broke out on his
forehead, he leant against a pine tree by the
road side and rocked himself to and fro, trying
to think.

A drove of kine passed close, their bells tink-
ling, as one by one turned wet muzzle, and



moody, brown eyes towards him. The sound,
full of memory, of those bells was a spur to his
thoughts. Nothing was changed ! A chance
had been sent to him and to Jocelyn — above all,
to Jocelyn ! And he was going back to set it
at naught ?

He had a vision of the face that he loved, as
it might become, haggard and shame-ridden, and
of the faces of all the people he had ever known
drawn in a sanctimonious circle around it. He
felt as if he were being guilty of treachery. Why
should he go back ? He would stifle memory
— forget he had ever been in the room. It was
a cowardly thought, and he knew it. He could
not get away from responsibility one way or the
other — he had to accept it. He seemed conti-
nually to see his wife's frail body half-raised on
one bent elbow, her thin hand stretched grop-
ingly, the long fingers closing on the medicine
bottle — her face, the look of exhaustion upon it,
and the heavy, half-closed eyes. He began to
walk forward again, slowly at first, then faster
and faster.

His mind swayed, like the olive trees in the
gusty wind, this way and that. When at mo-


ments, in the blank irresolution of his thoughts,
he had glimpses of the knowledge that it was all
decided — that he was going back to save her if
he could — he hated himself.

The sound of a horse's gallop was in the wind
that beat in his face. An undefined feeling of
guilt made him stoop to avoid notice as he
walked. The horseman passed ; there was a
cry in his ears, the single word " Madame ! "
He looked up sharply ; through a cloud of dust
he had a glimpse of flying hoofs, and of Jacopo's
body turned in the saddle, waving a hand to-
wards the villa.

Something had happened ! What ? Was he
to go down to the grave with the memory of his
desertion staring him in the face ? Anything
was better than this suspense. He dashed for-
ward and arrived, breathless, and dripping with
perspiration. He ran up the steps. At the
window, out of which he had come, he stopped ;
it was as he had left it. He set his face against
the glass, and stared through. He could see
things in the room dimly in the grey light, her
couch and figures standing beside it, the white
drapery upon it, but he could not see her face.


The same spray of jessamine trailed across his
cheek, a cockchafer buzzed against him. Was it
really two hours since he had left that room ?

The shrill sound of a woman's sob came to
him from within ; it jarred his nerves, so that he
started and his hand knocked against the glass.
A figure inside looked up sharply with a gesture
of surprise. It was Nielsen. Giles stared back
at him through the window, his face, very white
and motionless, still pressed against it. After a
moment, when nothing in the heavens and the
earth seemed to move, he pushed it open, and
went in, walking unsteadily, his hands clenched
convulsively on the hat in them.

" What is it ? "

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Online LibraryJohn GalsworthyJocelyn → online text (page 7 of 14)