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a hasty unkind word. These tears were different, he kissed
them, his arms shook as he held her. She clung to him and
her words were almost wild.


" Oh, Desmond ! Is it true — is it really true ? "

He saw how young she was, hardly old enough to hold
this great truth. And then it was he proved himself a fine
gentleman, not wild or undisciplined as his mother thought
him, but a fine gentleman, chivalrous, sensitive, restrained.
Her lips were there, but for all the temptation it was not there
he answered her. His arm was about her waist, but he never
drew her to him, for all his sudden hunger for her. He
steadied himself and answered as soberly as if he were

" It is true. You won't forget it whilst I am away ? "

" No."

" You won't marry Michael ? "

" Never ! "

" Promise ! "

" I promise."

" You'll never marry anyone but me. You'll wait for

" I promise."

" Honest Injun ! "

" Honest Injun," she repeated.

It was the old childish oath that had never been broken,
that was as solemn as a sacrament. They looked at each other,
half laughing, but there was a solemnity about their laughter,
and a difference. Then she said hurriedly, a little confused :

" It's getting late. Oughtn't we to be going back ? "

*' There's no going back on this," he answered agitatedly.

" I know."

She was as one caught unawares, her young feet unsteady
in this radiant path; she wanted to hide, to get to shelter.
And because of his chivalry and fineness, because he would
as lief prize open a money-box, or open a letter not addressed
to him, as force the emotion upon her that was making his
own colour come and go, unsteadying his voice, he said no
more to her. And soberly, for all he was so secretly thrilled
and elated and sure that they understood each other, he agreed
that it was getting late, and that their truant holiday was


Afterwards they spoke of trivial things, of the boxes that
must be packed, and what he would take with him and what
leave behind; in whose keeping he would leave the care of
dog or ferret. It was not until they were in sight of the
house, not until in the distance he saw his mother on the
terrace, that he said to her again in that low, unsteady voice :

" You won't forget ? "

The strange new shyness with him broke like a flower in
her heart into a too poignant sweetness. She shook her head,
and that was all. But he took it as the ratification of her
promise, following her with his heart lightened.


Blathwayt Bird, whose famous cramming establishment in
Netting Hill had been selected for Desmond, was a man with
a history. Men, no less than countries and women, are gen-
erally better without one, and Blathwayt Bird was no excep-
tion to the rula He had been in Parliament, and might have
made a figure there, for he had great debating gifts and that
intolerance of other people's opinons and feelings whicli dis-
tinguish proletarian leaders of men. At the commencement
of what promised to be an interesting career, however, a
slight accident combined with some hereditary delicacy to
make a lifelong cripple of him. Henceforth the heated brain
effervesced in a shrunken and impotent body. Some spinal
trouble developed, and he never recovered the use of his legs.

Unable to debate, he was still able to instruct. His first
pupil was the son of one of the Liberal Whips. The boy had
been a conspicuous failure at his public school, but after six
months with Blathwayt Bird he passed a brilliant examina-
tion for the Indian Civil Service. The next was the son of a
South African millionaire, and the result was the same.
Blathwayt Bird's reputation as a coach sprang, mushroom-
like, in a single night. Before he had learned to accommodate
himself to his invalid chair, he had more work than he could
get through. As a teacher he proved himself truculent,
effective, arresting. He took a house in Notting Hill, and
people rushed to secure his sendees for their sons. His
pupils headed the lists for Sandhurst, Woolwich, the Indian
and Home Civil Services. He enlarged and enlarged his
premises, increased his st-aff, was both conscious and vain of
his success, but never became reconciled to his condition.

Wheeled into the dining-room, where he had meals with
his pupils and fellow-teachers, he talked Atheism and de-
pravity, giving classical examples in praise^ not only of
drunkenness, but debauchery. He set the tone of his house,



defending himself when attacked, and repudiating respon-
sibility callously and cynically.

"I am here to pass men through examinations, not to
dry-nurse them. If they want dry-nursing they must go to
a mealy-mouthed parson. I'm an immoralist, a free thinker.
Damn it, look at me ! Am I an object lesson on the goodness
of God?" he shouted.

The unwieldy establishment — three houses and a dis-
organised control — was dominated by the personality of the
head, and from the first Desmond found it difficult to accom-
modate himself to its ways.

Blathwayt Bird was a Radical, a Socialist, a Home Ruler,
everything to which the young landowner's sympathies were
most diametrically opposed. For Desmond was a landowner,
although those acres of his paid little or no rent, and what
money was allowed to filter through to him was absorbed by
payments to the mortgages. He never understood that the
wild and heated talk here was half artificial, and only the
work was real. Desmond at first tried to argue, and so came
under the scathing satire of the cripple's coarse tongue. An
injudicious letter from his mother failed to improve matters.
Knowing nothing of Blathwayt Bird save that he was a suc-
cessful coach, she thought it her duty to write to him about
Desmond. Agatha never failed in duty, though her per-
spective might be awry. She was anxious not to prejudice Mr.
Bird against Dfesmond, and wrote carefully:

"You will find my dear boy somewhat excitable and
impulsive. It would be better, perhaps, if you used your
influence to persuade him to abstain entirely from wine
and spirits. . . ."

Blathwayt read the letter aloud, mockingly, at the dinner

"You are to drink milk and water, I understand. I
wonder she doesn't send you a bottle. I suppose that's what
you've been brought up on, why your brain hasn't developed."
What he added made the boy's cheeks redden; there was


nothing Blathwayt minded saying to these young men, no
decencies he did not enjoy outraging.

Desmond soon became something of a butt to him, and
to show he was not the effeminate fellow his tutor thought
him, he did and said things to prove his manhood which
only proved the contrary.

All tlie atmosphere was bad for him. Lady Grindelay
came to a faint misgiving about it, but not until it was too
late for her to make a change. Mr. Bird wrote as he talked.
He ridiculed encouraging Desmond to teetotalism, and said
he was pleased to discover in him a dawning palate :

" My dear Madam, — I can report that your son shows
a happier aptitude to distinguish between Chateau Yquem
and Veuve Cliquot than he does to differentiate his Greek
roots. It would be a pity to discourage the only talent I
have observed. . . ."

When, in alarm, she wrote again, hoping that Desmond
had not proved intemperate, he replied that if she wished to
take him away she could, but, if he remained, it would not
be as a Sunday school scholar.

Andrew McKay saw the correspondence, and tried to
explain Blathwayt Bird to Agatha. She did realise the im-
portance of the examination, was made to understand no one
but Bird could get the boy through, and reluctantly agreed
to write him no more letters, not to interfere with him,

Andrew's house in Campden Hill was open to Desmond,
but he did not often take advantage of the hospitalities
offered. He could not bear to meet Michael. At Whitsuntide
he heard Michael was again at Marley, whilst he was bidden
to remain on grinding at Notting Hill. His mother tried
to soften the position.

" It will be better for you to remain where you are. Mr.
Bird tells me you will need every minute if you are to get
through. I will come up and stay near you for a few days if
it will make things any better for you."

He refused the offer. Sometimes now he was conscious


of a growing resentment against his mother and what he was
beginning to think of as her " damnable kindness." He was
not yet keen on his prospects, and the getting up the various
subjects demanded was thoroughly uncongenial. So was the
whole life, with its surroundings.

Eunice wrote, too, but her letters said nothing to him.
They seemed to be written under constraint; they were full
of what she was doing, never of what she was thinking, dif-
fering in some vital essential from the letters he had always
had from her. He could not know it was her new shyness
that cramped theiii. The remembrance of their wonderful
talk in the woods seemed to him at times only a dream.

It never struck him that she, too, had some reflection of
this feeling, that the old, unrestrained intercourse was ob-
scured, without, as yet, giving them a new and more perfect
intimacy. She seemed farther off from him than she had
ever been, inaccessible. Often now he wished he had said
more. Yet he never wrote it, for the vein of chivalry in him
prevented this. He thought sometimes that everything would
be different if he could pass this " beastly examination."

But in the meantime he resented Michael having the op-
portunities denied to himself, and went rarely to Campden

Of course he made friends. He had passed through Eton
unscathed, but here he could not hold himself aloof, nor live
differently from liis fellows; not ostentatiously differently.
There were few restrictions and little restraint. As long as
the work was got through, nothing else mattered. Desmond
went with others of the pupils to theatres and music halls,
talked with barmaids and promenaders ; " saw life," a sordid
life, of which he always remained, however, something of an
outsider. He did his best to work, although work was so
against the grain. Blathwayt Bird called him milk-bred and
mealy-mouthed, until he became more reckless and played at
being the man of the world, not condemning that which never-
theless he did not copy. He was sometimes persuaded of his
own unworthiness, and thought that Eunice might also be,
and that she would give him up; he had at these times no


armour to buckle on, no shining armour of love and faith
such as is girded upon boys whose young mothers watch and
pray by their bedsides. He was defenceless against any temp-
tation that might come.

Michael came to see him on his return from Marley, bring-
ing messages. Desmond misunderstood all the messages
Michael brought, resented hearing of Eunice through him,
was almost rude, and said he did not want to hear any more.
Michael thought Desmond had deteriorated, and held anxious
consultation with his father, hoping he was not getting under
bad influence. They tried to get him to go more often to
Campden Hill, but after he heard that Michael was going
with Lady Grindelay and Eunice to Cornwall at midsummer,
and from his mother that he was to join Mr. Bird's reading
party, Desmond refused to go at all to Campden Hill, putting
forward his work as an excuse.

The McKays heard of him at music halls and feared for
him. But they need not have feared. There was no coarse
fibre in the texture of his mind, and if he had no armour, he
had at least an amulet.

He went down to Marley for the August Bank Holiday.
This was to be practically his good-bye visit. The foreign
travel had fallen through for the moment, and Lady Grinde-
lay was taking Eunice to Cornwall. The McKays would be
of the party, whilst Desmond was to suffer the uncongeniality
of Blathwayt Bird and his most backward pupils. Then back
to Netting Hill until it was time to go up for the examina-
tion. After which, if he was fortunate, there would be Sand-
hurst. If not — well, that he did not care to contemplate.

He was very much disappointed to find that even during
those few days he and Eunice were never alone. His mother
had arranged that the Campdens should be there, and one or
two cadets; she wished to make Desmond in love with his
new career. Everything was designed to that end.

Having cut the ground from under his feet with Eunice,
she was anxious to compensate him for all of which she had
deprived him. Not knowing that its name was Hope, the
spring of life and high endeavour, Agatha was satisfied with


all she had done and was doing for her son. She talked to him
of his career until he was sick of the word, and praised him
because he took no more champagne than the others with
his meals.

Eunice had blossomed into some new beauty, whilst he,
emerging from that coarse atmosphere at Notting Hill, had
perhaps some new reticence. Lady Grindelay noted with sat-
isfaction the manner of the young people toward each other.
As a matter of fact, Eunice hardly knew this changed and
silent Desmond, who was so abrupt and strange, cool or in-
different. She began to think she had mistaken what he said
to her that day in the wood, or that he had changed his
mind. She began to feel estranged from him, ashamed of
all she had dreamed. It seemed as if the old intimacy was
gone, as if they no longer understood each other. And yet,
and yet — she was not sure. There were moments when she
thought differently, when his eyes met hers in sudden recog-
nition, when she found herself moved to flush and confusion,
and some strange flutter of pleasure or poignant pain.

Lady Grindelay filled the time with engagements, enter-
tainments, keeping the house full, arranging that the two
young people should be kept apart. It never struck her that
secretly, strangely, shyly, the two she wished to keep separate
were abetting her in her endeavour. Eunice and Desmond
had no talk together at all. He saw her wooed by all the
young men about her, and felt himself strangely and inex-
plicably debarred. Sometimes he wondered if his mother was
right about him, if it was true he was unfit for her. The
humility of his spirit was the measure of the greatness of his
love. The girl had suddenly become mysterious. To him
she represented the whole soul of womanhood. He thrilled
with her nearness, and was silenced by it. He felt stained
by the knowledge he had acquired, her virginal innocence
made him ashamed. If only they had been left alone! But
Lady Grindelay shepherded them carefully, conscientiously
doing what she believed to be her duty to her dead sister's



Michael's wooing was little different in Cornwall from what
it had been at Marley,

Eunice was adroit in contriving that they were never alone
together, in avoiding sentimentality and substituting exercise.
They were staying at the gayest and most-frequented hotel
in Newquay; there were tennis and croquet and golf, and at
one or the other of them the girl could always be found. She
made friends easily, was always in request for this or the
other game. She included Michael in her arrangements, but
that was all. He was quite satisfied with the progress he was
making; knowing nothing of what was behind her anxiety
to avoid being alone with him he put it down to natural girlish
shyness, and found it wholly charming. They were to be away
six weeks altogether. Before three of them were gone, she
complained of being bored with the place, of finding every-
thing tedious; she lost interest in games.

He could not know she was wearying for her boy cousin,
for the letters that said so little when they came; that she
was counting the days to the time when they were to go back
to Marley, home-sick in the simshine for the shadow of Marley
Woods, home-sick beside the changing sea and jagged coast-
line for the grey river and the banks where it lapped among
the reeds. She did not avoid Michael; she went with him
willingly on this excursion or the other, preferring him to the
strangers from the clubs or hotel, hungry for the talk that
led sometimes to Desmond. Michael was ready to tell her of
Desmond, unlikely to say anything to wound her. If he had
fears or misgivings that the boy was not as steady as he should
be, and kept bad company in town, Eunice was the last person
in the world to whom he would convey it. He was the type
of young man, the best type, steady and definite, who thought
women should know nothing of the underside of life, should
be kept sweet and ignorant in their guarded homes.

There came a day when he knew he could wait no longer.
It was the end of August, and his holiday was coming to an



end. That morning, dressing deliberately and carefully in
his grey suit and brown tie, he made up his mind that the
time had come when she might know he had her aunt's per-
mission to address her, his father's approval. He meant also
to tell her he loved her, but in all the years to come he would
show her that. He saw her as his wife, the mother of his
children ; his hand shook a little when he had finished tying
the brown bow.

He meant to keep himself well in hand, not to startle her.
He was full of tenderness and consideration and certainty,
knowing how well he would care for her.

Having made up his mind to speak to-day, Michael would
speak, whether the occasion offered or not. The occasion did
offer. Lady Grindelay, divining what he had in his mind,
sent them out walking together soon after breakfast, saying
she had letters to write.

They went along East Pentire toward the Gannell River,
Eunice talking as usual, as if there were nothing to differen-
tiate this day from any other.

"Don't you think the sea looks quite different on the
English coast from the way it does on the French ? We were
at Paris Plage last year, and it was so much quieter, better-
mannered, as if it had lessons in deportment — French lessons."

When with Michael she always felt she must entertain him
and talk her best, although listening was more to her taste.

She had brought bread with, her, and now they stood to
feed the seagulls. Her undeclared lover expatiated upon the
birds' ill-considered habit of circling over refuse. They
stood where at low tide the salt river ran almost dry; the
harvest was late, and fields of golden corn swayed on either
side; the green hedges marked the boundaries. Far in the
distance they heard the swell of the Atlantic. Where they
stood the birds circled in their hundreds.

" The gulls are trying to teach the Gannell how to play,
saying ' Come on, show a little spirit ; send up some waves
and foam, don't you know you're a part of the sea ? ' "

"I had not observed that; it had not struck me in that


She threw more breadcrumbs to the birds, and they rose
and cawed, circling with pathetic, weakly legs hanging down,
and swaying wings.

^' We never do see things the same way, do we? " she said

" I should be sorry to think that," he answered gravely.

She laughed.

" It isn't surprising. You are older than I am, and you
know so much more."

" I am sure you know all that a girl should."

" Do I ? I feel very ignorant sometimes. I always hated
lessons. Auntie and you know a hundred thousand things
more than I do. You and she agree about everything."

Dark and purple was the distant sea, and the sky a wind-
swept blue.

" I should be sorry to think we differed on any essential
points," he began.

She laughed again, mocking him a little in her quick
change of mood.

" How solemn you are to-day ! We differ about the gulls,
don't we? You think they flock here to feed on impurity,
because the drains attract them. I think they are having a
party, playing games, hide-and-seek and puss-in-the-comer,

" You are fanciful about them."

" You are never fanciful, are you ? "

*' I had hoped you found me companionable."

She was shocked at the hurt tone in his voice, and hastened
to reassure him ; she would not for anything have been found
lacking in courtesy.

" Of course I do. You know that. I was only joking
about the seagulls. We have had some nice talks; of course
I've found you companionable."

He had determined to speak to her to-day, to-morrow or
the next day he must go back to town. He cleared his throat,
took the opening and said almost the words he had prepared
before he came out, appropriate words.

" I am glad of that — more than glad. You say you have


found me companionable in a short holiday. I hope, on a
longer road, you would not find me less congenial." He fal-
tered before the puzzled surprise in her eyes, paused. His
stiff and formal words misrepresented his feelings. He really
loved her well and truly. She could see some emotion in his
face, and wondered at it; then had the quick intuition that
the moment she had instinctively avoided was upon her. She
flushed quickly, and would have interrupted with light or
trivial speech.

" We've been a much longer road than this. We walked
to the Mawgan the day before yesterday."

" You will listen to me, won't you ? " He was almost
humble. " You know what I want to say, although I may
be saying it badly."

" Saying it badly ! " Poor Michael, who had ever dis-
tinguished himself at the Union or lesser debating societies!
The very doubt made for grace.

" Your aunt has given me permission to speak to you.
My father and sisters would welcome you. Don't turn your
head away. Leave off feeding the gulls."

She threw her last crumb and the paper bag to them,
and turned at his request. His voice said more than his words,
and it was his voice she answered impulsively, her cheeks

''Don't say any more, please; don't say any more,

" I must."

" But I don't want to hear."

"You know I am asking you to marry me — not at once,
not until you are ready. But to say one day you will be my

" Oh, no, no ! It's impossible ! " Never had she looked
fairer, nor her flushed face sweeter. " I am so sorry, Michael,
more than sorry. Why did you say it? You know I don't
want to marry you. I can't."

" The idea is new to you, strange."

" No, it isn't." The flush deepened. " I knew you were
going to ask me. I wanted to prevent you."


" Why ? " He was really a bad wooer. " You haven't
anything against me, have you ? I can't take ' no ' for an
answer, I really can't, I have had this in my mind so long.
You say you've known it."

"I tried not to — not to believe it."

" But now that you know it is true." He burst into truth,
or what he thought was truth. "I love you. I can't live
without you."

Now he pleaded, pleaded as well as he knew; she could
not silence him, although she tried. She resented the circum-
stance, resented with a new and sudden irritability that he
was here at all, telling her that he loved her. What had lain
warm and quiescent all these months in her girlish heart was
again like an expanding flower. Her colour came and went,
her breath was uneven, but not for Michael or his pleading.

" Your aunt and my father are old friends. In every way
it would be suitable."

" Don't talk about it, please don't talk about it any more,
Michael. I don't mean to marry, at least not for years and
years. I don't want to leave auntie." Any excuse must
serve. " Do leave off talking about it."

" But if she agrees, if she herself tells you it is her wish ? "

"Nothing could make any difference." They stood side
by side in silence for a moment or two. Then he broke out in
phrase less stilted than he had used up to now, more natural

" Give me any reason — any real reason. You must leave
home one day. Marley will belong to Desmond. There isn't
anyone you like better than me, is there? I'm going home
to-morrow ; I can't go away and feel you have decided against
me. You can't have decided against me. Speak freely, we
have been good companions, the only differences between us
are the differences between any man and girl. You are more
imaginative, poetic." He was becoming desperate. " I know
I'm more matter-of-fact; I'll try and alter."

" It isn't that."

" What is it, then ? I have never looked at another girl ;
you are the uttermost perfection to me, the sweetest. . . ."


His voice went, but came back. " Don't think I don't know
I'm unworthy. Any man is unworthy of such a girl as you."

" I wish you wouldn't say such things."

" I must. I don't think you understand. I must make
you know what this means to me. For over a year now I've

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Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 10 of 27)