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Eadlett began to tell him the story of her life. He listened ;
he could not sleep, and anything was better than going over
and over again the reasons that had led Eunice to leave off
writing to him, to engage herself to Michael McKay. Of
course, she would never marry Michael ; he had her promise.
She had engaged herself to him to please his mother, who
had persuaded her to it. It would be all right if he passed
his examination; not that he would ever pass. Better than
such thoughts as these, coming and going, keeping him from
sleep, making him turn over and then back again in his hot
and restless bed, was Nurse Radlett's talk. She seemed to
have had a rotten time too. He began to listen, even to be


interested. Anything was better than lying here thinking
of Eunice and Michael.

There were many nights before he heard the worst thing
that had befallen his good nurse. By the time he learnt this
he was already overwhelmingly sorry for her. He could not
read, he was sick of his thoughts, the days were longer than
the nights. He missed her when she was out of the room,
when she went for her daily walk or rest; there was nothing
to do when she was not there. She offered never to go out,
said she wanted no rest. He began to realise that she had
grown fond of him, to be glad about it — grateful. She kept
him partially drugged, having the doctor's authority for this,
since these restless, wakeful nights, as she described them,
were retarding his recovery. So she said, and the doctor
thought it more than likely. Veronal, chloral, the various
bromides were tried. Desmond's brain did not gain in lucidity
under the treatment.

" You are lucky in having such a devoted nurse," the
doctor told him.

" I know I am," he answered gratefully, weakly, indefin-
ably moved.

He knew it. She stopped awake at nights to talk to him
and hardly left him in the day. He owed his life to her; his
own people had not cared. Talking of her troubles because
he begged her to, saying it took his mind off his own, she
began to tell him something of the perils to which young girls
were exposed when they were trying to earn a living for them-
selves, told him of temptations, enlarged upon them, stirred
his quickening sympathy, his imagination.

The warm room, lit by the night-light and the low fire,
became full of man's unbridled passions, woman's defenceless-
ness. She talked from the distance of the sofa at the foot
of the bed, but the time came when she had to give him
food or medicine, when she went over to his side, sat there,
and after she had taken glass or cup away, went on talking.
In her blue dressing-gown, with hair unbound, she looked
like a girl — one of those girls of whom she had been talking.

"What would you think of me, what would you say of


me, if — if ? " Her head went down on the quilt, and he

heard her asking him what he would think of her if she had
been like one of those girls, had been tempted, fallen. He
caught the sob as if it were in his own throat, put a weak hand
on her soft hair; only to comfort her, only to tell her he
would think no worse of her, to remind her of what she had
been to him, of his gratitude that nothing could ever alter.

" I was too young to protect myself."

Then he heard from her of temperament, of what girls
suffered; it was new talk to him. She made him go red in
the dusk.

One night was like another, only her talk became less and
less restrained. He discovered in himself the restlessness of
which she spoke, turning the current of his thoughts by the
things she told him. He left off thinking of Eunice, pur-
posely left off. She was not for such talk as this, nor for such
restlessness. He began to understand better what Gabrielle
meant by " temperament " and " suffering." She asked him
to call her Gabrielle. There seemed no harm in letting her
lie beside him as she talked, her red hair fragrant and soft
against her face. She made no secret of having got to care
for him, she played her part with adroitness, subtlety, and a
knowledge of men not gained in one adventure, but in many.
Yet to stir his blood was difficult. To move his pity, his
young chivalry, was easier; and it was on that she concen-
trated presently. The time came when he told her he would
never be like other men, never take advantage of her defence-


Desmond "was nursed into convalescence by Nurse Gabrielle
Radlett. She went with him to Torquay when the doctor
agreed with her that change of air was necessary for the

Yet, when during that October, war was declared, and
Lady Grindelay and Eunice came hurrying back from Biar-
ritz, nothing had happened that was irrevocable. Eunice
was not engaged to Michael, had not even seen him since they
parted by the Gannell River, nor was Desmond so entangled
with Gabrielle that he could not have freed himself when he
knew it. His mother's hands were to rivet the chains upon
him — ^her nervous, bungling hands.

Desmond was not at the station to welcome them, nor at
the furnished house Lady Grindelay had rented for the
winter. In some anxiety the day after her return Lady Grin-
delay drove up to Notting Hill. And there she heard with
astonishment, which rapidly gave way to indignation, of how
much more serious Desmond's illness had been than she knew,
and that he had been sent to the seaside with a nurse by the
doctor's orders. Blathwayt Bird was callous to her indigna-
tion. He was satisfied the boy had not the opportunity of
failure. Another coaching genius had appeared on the
horizon, and the two of them were racing for averages.

Lady Grindelay was the very type that aggravated Blath-
wayt Bird's socialism into extravagance and unreason. Not
only did she bear about her an indefinable air of birth and
good breeding, but she had the absurdity of a title, and the
reputation and appearance of wealth. He thought her manner
patronising, and now she had the impertinence to upbraid

" I understood from you my son's illness was only slight,
that he had recovered two weeks ago," Lady Grindelay ex-



claimed when she was told Desmond was not there, but in
Torquay with a nurse.

" Did I tell you so? Well, I didn't think it of much im-
portance," Blathwayt answered calmly. He had been wheeled
into the room in his invalid chair, and pretended at first to
have forgotten what had become of young Lord Grindelay,
and whether he was in the house or not. " See what the young
rip is doing/' he said to his secretary. " Oh, I remember
now ! "

He behaved outrageously, as was his wont when the
humour seized him. When his interlocutor expressed her
indignation his behaviour became worse, for he suggested
that Desmond had prolonged and exaggerated his illness to
avoid his work. And he added, with something of a chuckle,
that there might be more in it than met the eye.

"He's got a pretty, red-haired nurse, the young rascal,
and they've gone off to Torquay together. I shouldn't send
after him if I were you; I should wait until he came back.
He's not the first lad to cut loose from his mother's apron-

Agatha could not even wait to hear more. She was worse
than angry at thinking she had placed Desmond in such

Dr. Ashford put a different complexion on the matter,
and showed a series of temperature charts. He said he
understood that Lady Grindelay had been kept informed,
although on one occasion he had suggested a telegram being
sent to her.

"One lung haa still a little delicacy, a little dullness.
Certainly, I advised he should go to the sea. As for the nurse,
she is a most able young woman. He was quite unfit to be

She telegraphed immediately to Desmond at Torquay,
announcing their return, and that she was ready to come to
him. He replied that he was completely recovered, and would
prefer to Join them in London.

When, after further delay, he came, she found him grown
and very thin. He was impatient, and even a little irritable


when questioned about his health, and with difficulty she per-
suaded him to allow his lungs to be examined.

" There is nothing the matter with me/' he said. And,
indeed, the eminent specialist she consulted could find little
to justify Lady Grindelay's anxiety. He said Desmond had
perhaps overgrown his strength.

" We never thought he was going to be so tall, did we ? "
Eunice said when she heard the favourable report.

" Desmond is going to more than justify all our hopes,"
Lady Grindelay answered, trying to chase the gloom from his

" Like getting into the Army," he scoffed. For now that
war was declared he hated himself for being outside.

Desmond, just now, was suffering from a horrible sense
of unworthiness. He knew that Eunice was not engaged
to Michael. But he could scarcely bear to look at or speak to
her. Gabrielle Kadlett was between them; what in him had
been plastic to her moulding was something with which
Eunice must not be soiled. His unhappiness at the position
was perhaps excessive. For it was not too late to extricate
himself, in this first week of his mother's and Eunice's home-
coming. He realised this presently, and made a desperate
attempt to avert the doom that was settling over him. But it
was like the forlorn hope he was to lead later, and to meet
with no better result. Only here his mother was his enemy,
a friendly and diplomatic foe, most difficult to fight.

Desmond seemed rather to avoid Eunice than otherwise.
His mother could scarcely bear him out of her sight. She
was desperately concerned about his health, and when the
doctors had reassured her, yet more desperately concerned
about his happiness. She became convinced that it was his
failure to pass into the Army that was on his mind, and
decided that something must be done in the matter. She came
to that conclusion one night, when, on the advice of an old
lady who ought to have known better, she took the two young
people to the Palace music-hall, to convince themselves of
the patriotic feeling that the declaration of war had aroused.

It may have been true that the music-halls were full of


this note of patriotism. But it was music-hall patriotism-
vulgar, blatant, without endeavour or personal sacrifice. A
little drawf, with misshapen limbs and deformed fingers, who
was a great favourite with this particular public, was dressed
in uniform and paraded the stage singing a lyric entitled " A
little British Array goes a damned long way," telling an over-
whelmingly enthusiastic audience that one British soldier
could " down " ten foreigners of any nationality. There
were comic lines in the song about " Dutch courage." A
pori^rait of Kruger drinking coffee was thrown on the screen
and duly hissed. This was followed by one of Sir George
White that was duly applauded.

Eunice said to Desmond as they drove home :

"I felt very excited when they unfurled our flag. You
did, too, didn't you, Desmond ? I saw you get red."

" I wish to God I was out there," answered Desmond

And that decided Agatha to call on the Metherbys. It
has to be remembered that at that time few had any idea
save that the war would be a small affair, short-lived. Among
Lady Grindelay's friends the impression prevailed that the
youngsters who got out in time to see something of the fun
would be lucky; it would be little more than a picnic. All
the young men in their own particular sets were keen on
going, and all their relatives were proud of their high courage
and handsome uniforms. There were no misgivings.

Lady Grindelay came home to lunch a few days after the
visit to the music-hall in great good humour. She had found
there were ways and means of giving Desmond his heart's
desire, or what she thought was her heart's desire. Through
Colonel Metherby's influence at the War Office she had ac-
complished her object. Desmond was to have a commission
as second lieutenant in the militia battalion of Colonel
Metherby's regiment. If the war went on, he would be
attached, and subsequently transferred, to the regular bat-
talion. He might even go out to South Africa . . . She had
the tribute of Desmond's startled attention, Eunice's excla-


"Even in these degenerate days there is something to be
done by friendship."

Lady Grindelay meant patronage, but said friendship.
She was elated at her success, there was to be no delay. She
neglected her luncheon whilst she talked, sending away the
truffled eggs and lobster salad in the excitement of her news.
Colonel Metherby or his wife had posted her, and she was
full of detail.

*' There is any amount to do. You can go to the Army
tailor's this afternoon.''

She produced a list of the tradesmen he was to patronise,
of the regimental tailors, saddle-makers and others. She
took the paper out of her purse and passed it to him before
she tasted the marango de veau.

" No claret, thank you. Pass this to his lordship."

After lunch she asked Desmond to go up with her to the
study. Perhaps she looked forward to hearing him express
his gratitude, to hear him say how wonderfully she had found
out what ailed liim, and so quickly relieved it. He was to pass
into his chosen profession without examination. She never
noticed the irresolution with which he followed her, but was
disappointed when the expressions of gratitude and surprise
failed to come from him. He still looked unhappy. She had
the intensest desire to solace him, to make him know that was
her desire.

" You vsdll be pushed on as quickly as possible. Mrs.
Metherby and I are old friends, and Colonel Metherby has
great influence at the War Office. There is no doubt of your

He tried then to make the response expected of him. He
saw the kindness of her intention.

"It's awfully good of you to have taken so much

" I don't want any thanks."

She was hurt by his manner and the way he was taking
her news, and went on shortly :

" Let us make a list of what there is to do. Get a pencil.


There is paper in that, drawer. You might go to Sandros this
afternoon to be measured."

Now she was at her writing-table, her pencil suspended
over the paper.

" Shall I have to go away at once ? "

"To Hythe or Aldershot. Yes, I think almost imme-
diately. Why?" She looked inquiringly, surprised — looked
up to find his blue eyes misty and miserable and his lips a
little tremulous.

"You haven't changed your mind about what we spoke
of before ? " he said desperately.

She put down her pencil and looked at him inquiringly.

"What was that?"

He flushed furiously.

" About Eunice. If it hadn't been for what you said "

But he did not finish the sentence. He was going through
a bad time at the hands of a clever, unscrupulous woman.
Sometimes he was sorry for Gabrielle Eadlett; sometimes he
hated her, and always himself for his weakness. Sin had
little attraction for young Lord Grindelay; there was more
of his mother than his father in him. Already what he had
done was hot coal in his breast. And yet it was not irre-

"What I said?"

She had really half forgotten; the boy-and-girl love be-
tween him and Eunice was so much less than her own feeling
for him that it had ceased to seem of importance. But now
that she remembered she was only anxious not to estrange
hinL " I hope I was not harsh or inconsiderate ; I was think-
ing for both of you."

" I know as well as you do I am not good enough for

" Perhaps by now you have learned self-control," she be-
gan hesitatingly.

"No, I haven't, I'm not a bit better than I was; I'm

" You wrong yourself. I'm sure you wrong yourself."

"Don't you believe it?"


She wanted to tell him she too had had periods of self-
distrust, to draw him closer to her by her confession; she
wanted his confidence ; and then, suddenly, she dreaded it.

" I — I'm in a ghastly mess."

" Not — not what that horrible man hinted ? ''

The blood rushed into her face; she conjured up a dread-
ful thing.

" You don't mean Bird guessed ! " Desmond was startled
into answering. " What did he tell you ? "

"That your nurse — that you and your nurse " She

could not go on.

" Cockieolly told you that ! "

" Is that what you called him ? " she said mechanically.

" Cockieolly Bird. Yes. I wonder how he knew ? "

" It is true, then ? " she gasped.

" It depends what he said."

He was longing for the relief of confession. His mother
was old, experienced, he even thought at the moment she was
a woman of the world. He needed advice, help.

'' I suppose it's what you would call true ? " he said sul-
lenly; but only the manner was sullen, hiding anxiety, even

"But . . . but you care for Eunice," she said with

"What's that got to do with it?"

She had no answer ready, and he went on :

"There is nothing to prevent my marrying Eunice, if
you will give your consent."

" How can I ? How can I ? "

Lord Grindelay's stories came rushing into her mind,
all of them at once. Seduction and intrigue, licentiousness
and intemperance ; all the dreadful things men do,

" You took advantage of her position ! "

He could not see into her mind, nor that she pictured
Nurse Radlett as his victim, caught unawares whilst tending
him. She saw dreadful pictures.

And but a few hours ago, divining his ambition, she had
counted herself happy. He was England's soldier and her


son. She •was sending him forth, as so many Wanstead
mothers had done. Now he was hardly fit to go. He saw
how her face had changed, the grey disappointment in it.

" You may say anything you like to me. I suppose you
think I'm outside the pale, that this makes it more impos-
sible than ever. But if I had been engaged to Eunice it
couldn't have happened."

" You ought to have thought of her." She did not know
■what to say.

" I'm no worse than other fellows."

" God help their mothers and wives," she whispered.

« That's rot."

For all his unhappiness he had not got quite out of per-
spective as she had ; he was better informed. What had driven
him to his half confession he hardly knew. It was really his
honesty, because he wanted to speak of Eunice before he went
away and make a last effort for her.

" How about Eimice ? "

" But if — if your honour is already pledged ? "

" If s nothing of that sort," he answered hastily.

She was afraid of what more she might hear, literally
afraid. Since the day, nineteen years ago, that she had left
his father, her ears had been closed against such stories as
these. She found herself no better able to bear them now
than she had been then.

"Don't tell me, I am trying not to be intolerant. Don't
tell me more than you are compelled."

" I'm not compelled to tell you anything. I wish now I
had not spoken at all."

Lady Grindelay said quickly that she, too, wished it. She
had an extraordinary physical repulsion from him, only mo-
mentary, however.

"You'd rather see her dead than give her to me now?
You'd put the world between us if you could ? " Desmond
said angrily.

" I can't let you wrong any woman. You must let me
think. . . ."

She was flushed inside and out with the shame of what


he had done. To her it was as bad as if he had been a girl.
She could see little difference. But that was her folly, her
altruistic folly. She almost knew it, and that she ought never
to have been the mother of a son.

When Desmond found himself alone he knew he had made
an ass of himself. That his mother was a good woman he had
no doubt. But he had made a mistake in thinking her worldly
wise. He felt very miserable.

" Was there ever such a mother ? I can't be myself with
her at all," his thoughts ran. " One minute she'll be for
giving me the earth, and the next for kicking me out. What
does she know about temptation? Why, just nothing at all.
And how can I explain it to her."

" Oh, Desmond ! " Eunice came in breathlessly. " There's
Lady John downstairs and the Metlierbys. I'm going down
to pour out tea. You'll come, won't you ? They'll be wanting
to see you."

"No." He actually could not even face Eunice at this
moment. Turning his back to her, he stared out of the
window. " No. I haven't got much time, and I can't waste
it on outsiders."

She went over to the table.

"Are these the lists? Are these all the things you've
got to get? What a quantity! You and auntie have been
talking for a long time, haven't you? " she» added innocently.

He came away from the window abruptly, inconsequently,
came to where she stood.

"Perhaps you'd like to hear what we've been talking
about?" he asked her. He seemed quite angry and unlike
himself. " It was about you."


" Ymt/'

She met his eyes with surprise in her own. Then hers
went down, and she heard her heart beating so fast that
she thought he too must hear it.

" You haven't forgotten what I said to you under the oak
at Marley ? " he went on. He was in for it now, and a little
reckless. " Have you forgotten ? "



" I was right about Michael McKay wanting you, wasn't
I ? " He came a step nearer to her. " Wasn't I ? " he repeated.

" Yes."

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him "

" Go on." He was very near to her, and she had the
habit of candour with him,

" I told him about you and me," she faltered.

" You told him that ! You hadn't forgotten, then .'' But
you've been so different to me."

" I thought you'd been different to me."

" What do you think now ? "

" I think you are the same."

A thousand memories were between them and about them.
Words were almost unnecessary, because the memories were
as loud as words. He had his arms quickly about her.


" Is that what you and Aunt Agatha were talking about ? "
she whispered,

" She won't hear of it. She's quite right, too. I'm not
good enough for you, not nearly good enough. I'm as bad
as bad can be, or I'd not be talking like this to you now.
But I'm going away, and I love you. Whatever I've done,
I've never left off loving you."

"What have you done?" she asked innocently. "I am
sure it has been nothing very bad."

"Yes, I have. How can I tell you? I won't tell you.
Eunice, she'll never give her consent. She is too old to un-
derstand. Can't we do without it? Let's throw everybody
overboard. Have you got the courage ? Do you care enough
about me? I'm in such a devil of a mess. I want you so
badly. Come away with me."

His eyes were bloodshot. He did not mean a word of it ;
never held her more closely nor entreated her as if he had been
a man, or an3rthing but the unhappy and distracted boy he
found himself. "Marry me at once, with or without her


" But she's always been so good to me — to us," she faltered
out, in astonishment. " How can I ? You don't mean it."

" And wouldn't I be good to you ? Who wouldn't be good
to you ? What is she to either of us compared to what we are
to each other. Come away with me, Eunice. I don't know
what I'll do if you don't." For now he felt the down of her
cheek against his own and the softness of her lips. Both
their hearts were beating fast.

" What is she to either of ils compared to what we are to
each other."

Those were the words Lady Grindelay heard as she stood
on the threshold of the room. From time immemorial
mothers have listened or heard the same, but to this one they
seemed unbearable. Moved to sudden anger and unreason in
pain, the words rushed from her, the words that should never
have been spoken.

"This is how you intrigue against me, while I — I have
been only planning to help you, to do you service. You are,
after all, nothing but your father over again, treacherous,
cruel, unfaithful "

Eunice came swiftly to her, would have pleaded, but
Lady Grindelay put her on one side.

" Have you told her that you are not even free ? Is no
woman safe from you?"

" It's a lie. She isn't in danger from me."

" Don't say unkind things to Desmond, auntie."

" I know what to say to Desmond."
" But she knew so little what to say to him, and said it so
badly that when he left her he believed himself to be un-
worthy and tainted, that it did not matter what became of
him, that he had no chance of winning Eunice.

And it was all because she loved him and had never learnt
the language of love; because of her ignorance and want of
reasoning power.


The next day and the next the girl hung about her with
question in her eyes, but Desmond stayed away. The weeks
passed. Then they heard he had joined his regiment, and

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Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 12 of 27)