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was mentioned in despatches, was recognised as a promising
young officer.

Again they hoped. Surely the end of the war was in sight.
Any day the news of the relief of Ladysmith might come and
that would mean the end.

" Lest we forget/'

So much has been forgotten, but never this, surely never
this. The appalling day when there brooded over London, over
the country, a fear that knocked like a li\dng* thing at every
heart, when every face one met in the street was a grey mask,
and men walked hurriedly past their fellow-men that they
should not see what it hid.
V Would White surrender ? Must White surrender ?
) In big black type, on poster and paper, on men's brains,
and fear-parched hearts, the words were printed.




The heliograph broke off here. Men were stark with ap-
prehension and walked the streets that day as one walks in
the valley of the shadow of death ; death and humiliation.

But Desmond was not in Ladysmith. The two women
who loved him had that with which to comfort themselves.
A small, dry comfort at best, and one that lasted but a brief
time. It was difficult to follow the movements of the units.


difficult to understand the plan of the scattered campaign.
They thought him still in the region of Magersfontein, or
perhaps nearing Kimberley, when Michael came to them un-
expectedly and in haste, with a face that showed them before
he spoke that it was not good tidings he bore. He could keep
nothing back from them because in less than an hour from
the time he came it might be shouted in the streets. All the
bad news was shouted in the streets. To those with dear ones
out there in the fighting line there was no respite, the taut
nerves were jangled a dozen times a day.

Again a small reconnoitring force had been sent out, this
time imder the leadership of Lord Grindelay, had unex-
pectedly met the enemy, and been overpowered. The enemy
were in shelter, the small reconnoitring party was within a
couple of hundred yards of them when they opened fire. A
Kaffir guide had led them straight into the ambush. The
rifles blazed out, the men fell like birds in a drive. It was
one of a hundred such stories. Lord Grindelay was reported
missing. Missing. Michael could tell them no more than
that for many a long day, although he haunted the War
Office. When he heard more, he could hardly bear to tell
them. Yet always it seemed better he should be before the

Lord Grindelay was reported missing because his body
had not been found. He had led his men into the ambush.
One of them, who crawled back to camp, gave the cabled
account of what had occurred.

"We were marching along when, without any warning,
there came a devil's hail of bullets and our men began to
fall. Lord Grindelay rallied us and we returned the fire
as well as we were able. Not that we'd anything to shoot at;
they were hidden behind kopjes or entrenched in pits. I shot
every round I had with me before I came away, but I never
saw one reach its billet. They called out to us to surrender;
there was nothing else to be done. But young Lord Grinde-
lay, he wouldn't have it at any price. I saw his horse shot
away under him and that they'd shattered his arm. ' Sur-
render be damned, surrender be damned ! ' I heard him call


out all in a rage. He kept shouting to the men to keep
together and blazing away until the last. Fair riddled with
bullets he was when he fell. . . ."

"Lord Grindelay reported missing," was the War Office
statement. They hoped, they hoped until this tale came

Then they went back to Marley to get through their days
as well as they were able. Agatha's pain grew sometimes to
flaming agony when she thought of her ravaged motherhood,
when she could not get away from the knowledge that she
had sent him to his death.

She went back to Marley, took up her life as before, her
strangely altered life. She had once thought she loved her
home, thought that Marley and her responsibilities there
would suffice her. Now the grey house and green grounds
were empty and drear: the days passed heavily. Kemorse
gnawed at her dully and continuously, until all her pride was
eaten away and her strength with it.

When Monica ran away she had been unhappy, but looking
back she remembered how much younger she had been and
better able to bear it. That she had blundered in her mar-
riage seemed nothing to her now, for the blunder had given
her a son. She had not dealt wisely with him, not under-
stood what had come to her until it was too late, but now he
filled every cranny of her mind. He had asked her for Eunice,
and she had refused; but if he had been given back to her
she would refuse him nothing.

She and the girl sat in the drawing-room at the work that
had superseded their embroidery; becoming adepts in knit-
ting stockings, experts in making bed-jackets, flannel coats
for hospital patients, wristlets, mittens, all the stores that
our field-hospitals lacked. It was true that Lord Grindelay
was reported "missing"; his name was not on that long
endless roll of the honoured dead. But how could hope sur-
vive the scene they saw in waking or sleeping hours? The
useless arm, the shot horse falling under him, the hail of
bullets and the defiance ringing out, " No surrender," on his
desperate lips as he fell. They knew now that many had


been buried where they fell, the Boer leader reading the
burial service over them, no means of identification left.
If Desmond had been alive he would have been held for ran-
som or exchange; news of him would have come through.

Yet some dim hope still smouldered, although it was but
as a guttering wick that flickered and went out sometimes as
the slow days dragged on. Talk was difficult between them
at first, for something lay behind speech. Jealousy, perhaps,
and on the girl's part in those early days a faint resentment,
resentment that could not last, for soon she saw that Lady
Grindelay's suffering was beyond her own, although so

" Whatever had happened he would have gone to the
war," she burst out one day, in the midst of turning a heel,
counting stitches.

" I made it easy for him," Lady Grindelay replied, speak-
ing her thought aloud. "But for me he might never have

" Don't feel like that, don't make it worse," Eunice cried
out and went over to her desperately. "Don't let us be
silent with each other, auntie. Sometimes I can't bear to see
your hopeless face."

She knelt beside her, hiding her own.

Agatha went on knitting, the click of the needles never

" Leave off working, I can't bear the sound of the needles,
I can't work any more. What's the use of it? What's the
use of anything ? " the girl sobbed weakly.

" The soldiers are without stockings."

"I don't care, I only pretended to care. I was only
working for Desmond and Desmond's men, all the time.

Every stitch I poit in was for him. Now he isn't there "

She couldn't speak for crying. She had not meant to say
this, but to comfort her aunt in some way, to break the silence
of her sorrow.

" Sometimes I don't believe it, I don't believe he is dead,"
she went on through her tears.


"Don't buoy yourself with false hopes. What hope ia
there ? " Click, click went the needles.

" I make stories, dream he has escaped or was taken pris-
oner, was nursed by a Boer woman and restored to us ; it helps
the days and nights."

" How long can you go on dreaming ? "

" Until the war is ended, until all the prisoners are re-
leased. Then — then ''

" Speak out. What have you in your mind for when the
war ends?"

The click of the needles helped the harshness of her voice.

" Then we might go out together, you and I, see the place
where he fell, put up a cross. But it won't happen, I know it
won't happen; he can't be dead, our Desmond."

And then she cried more violently.

" You at least have nothing with which to reproach your-
self," Lady Grindelay said, with dry lips, going on mechan-
ically with the violet woollen muffler, her hands stained from
it. That was what she spoke of presently. She could not
afford to break down, much of her time was spent in hiding
her agony of mind.

" I must try and find some wool of which the colour is

The sound of Eunice sobbing went to that place inside
her where the pain was always; adding a little to it. But
her voice was steady, and there was no pause in her knitting.

Many days there were like these, many hours. Lady
Grindelay seemed to grow grey and cold as the steel pins that
went in and out the wool; unapproachable. Eunice solaced
herself with dreams.

Meanwhile in London something was happening that was
to affect them both, something which even now Andrew and
Michael were on their way to tell them.

Michael, perhaps with the same hope that Eunice cher-
ished, still went daily to the War Office, still tried to believe
Desmond was only missing, not dead, that there would yet be
news of him.

He came back one day from that fruitless visit, hot foot


to his father. Andrew was at work as usual. The world went
on although to many it seemed as if it were standing still
everywhere but out there in South Africa. But in the
McKay office leases were still being prepared, and assignments,
even marriage settlements. Andrew put his pen down when
he saw Michael's face.

" You have news ? "

" Father, is there any other Lady Grindelay but the one
we know?''

"Than Agatha?"

« Yes."

" Of course not ; why do you ask ? How could there be ? "

" There couldn't be ? You are sure ? "

" Quite sure."

" There is another Lady Grindelay, or a woman who calls
herself so, asking daily at the War Office for news of Des-
mond. I heard a rumour of it once or twice but did not credit
it, thought there had been some mistake. But I have just seen
her; spoken to her."

" Spoken to Lady Grindelay ! "

" To a woman who calls herself by that name."

"What is she like?"

'' Good-looking, in rather a common way ; a woman of
about four- or iive-and-thirty."

" Not more ? You are sure she is not more ? "

" About that I should think, certainly under forty. Why?
Have you anyone in your mind, any idea? I was startled
by the incident, wondering who she could be."

"I was thinking of Biddy Malone, Desmond's old nurse
from Ireland. She would do anything, impersonate anybody,
to get news of him."

"This was not Biddy Malone. This was a woman with
red hair and thin features, a good-looking woman, not quite a
lady, but not of the servant class, nor an Irishwoman."

" Did you question her at all ? "

" I had no time. She spoke to me. ' You also are inquir-
ing about Lord Grindelay ? Alas ! there is still no news,' she
said, passing me swiftly. But she was dry-eyed, the 'alas'


sounded like affectation. I made inquiries, they told me she
had been there every day."

Father and son looked at each other; there fell a short
silence between them. Then Andrew spoke slowly. He said
only one word, but he said it deliberately :


" Impossible," answered Michael hotly.

" Nothing is impossible."

" That would be."

" Why ? " The question shot out. " Desmond is not very
steady. We saw little of him while he was at Bird's ; he came
seldom to the house. What makes you say it is impossible that
this woman has anj'thing to do with him, that he did not
become entangled ? " Andrew thought he knew more about
the ways of young men than his son.

" I am sure of it," Michael answered doggedly, loyally.


It broke from him then:

*' Because Desmond was in love with Eunice."

"With Eunice?"

" It was only Desmond's mother who stood between them.
Eunice told me herself. . . ."

He spoke with some difficulty.

" Then that was why "

The enlightenment, the exclamation fell from Andrew
involuntarily. Michael turned his back on his father.

" Yes, that was why I failed with her. We won't speak
further of it if you don't mind."

Andrew had never understood why Michael came back
from Cornwall without any announcement to make. He had
been disappointed, but vsdse enough not to show it. He knew
if there was anything to hear he would have been told. Now
he began to understand. He would have liked to say a word
of sympathy, to have reminded his son that the girl was still
young, Desmond dead. But he refrained, thinking it was
better to say nothing, to go on with the matter in hand.

" You heard no more about this woman than that she had
been there every day ; not where she lives, nor anything else ? "


" Nothing." Michael was recovering himself, grateful to
his father because the words of sympathy had not been spoken.

" You must go again to-morrow, make a point of speaking
to her if she is there. If not, try to find out where she comes
from, whether anyone knows anything about her."

" I had first to make sure there was no one else entitled
to bear the name, no other branch of the family."

" No one but Desmond's wife, if he had one, could be
entitled to call herself Lady Grindelay. This is either an
impostor, or — God grant there is no more trouble coming to
that poor woman ! "

" I feel confident ahout Desmond."

" I wish I did," his father answered dryly.


Gabrielle had no longer any object in concealing Desmond's
secret, or her own,^ rather she had everything to gain by
betraying it. She told Michael the whole story the very next
day when they met at the War Office, with complete candour,
brutal candour. He apologised for addressing her.

''I understand that you are inquiring for Lord Grin-

" Oh ! yes. I am Lady Grindelay, that is my name. I
have seen you here before, you are perhaps a relative of my

"Your husband's?"
" You are a relative of Desmond's ? "
" JSTo ! " Michael was startled, uncertain what to say,
shocked. "I am — we are — my father and I are the family

" Then you must be ' Michael ' ? Of course I have heard
him speak of you. There is no news again to-day. It seems
as if we never shall have more news now. I have quite lost

She was dressed all in black, but there was no sign of
mourning in her face. When Michael first spoke to her she
had smiled, and shown her teeth, small, white, even teeth, and
the smile was attractive. Her smile was for any man, for
all men, even this stiff young lawyer. But now she altered her

" You are surprised to hear of Desmond's marriage ? It
was he who wanted it kept secret, not I," she said quickly.
" He told me he would not be sent out, he might not have got
his commission if he had been known as a married man. He
was so keen to go to the war."

She was full of explanation, too full, too ready altogether
to talk and explain and admit his right to question her.
Michael resented her smile, her voluble talk, everything about



When she saw how unappreciative he was she changed
her smile to a sigh.

" Poor boy ! And now it seems he will never come back !
He will never see his little daughter."

" His daughter ! " Michael exclaimed, unable to disguise
his disgust,

" It was bom before its time "

She may have reddened, Michael was not sure. They
were standing together on the steps of the War Office, and
the sun was in his eyes.

"You can, of course, give proof of what you are telling
me ? '' He was beginning to recover himself.

She glanced at him, she was taking his measure. Can-
dour suited her purpose, she had no longer anything to gain
by concealment.

" Of course. Do you doubt me ? I am not lying to you.
We were married at the Notting Hill Eegistry Office a week
before he sailed. You can see the entry."

When they went down the steps of the War Office, she
suggested that Michael should walk home with her.

" I can show you letters from him. He made a will before
he left. I have that too, perhaps you would like to see it."
She was quite malicious now, and seemed to have pleasure
in giving him proof of her statement.

" You say you have a child by him, that she is some weeks

"Bom prematurely." There was no blush about her,
and her step by his side was quite brisk. Michael thought
her utterly shameless and was quite revolted by her, although
he went on mechanically walking by her side. He had not to
use any skill in cross-examining her, nor any detective quality
to understand that she was admitting the reason Desmond
married her before his departure. He went in at her invi-
tation when they reached the flat, and saw the marriage cer-
tificate, the outside of the will. He even heard the cry of a
b?,by from some inner room. ISTothing was wanting for his

The flat was in Buckingham Palace Gardens. The sitting-


room into which Gabrielle took Michael was handsomely fur-
nished, full of flowers, heaped with disorderly expensive
things, redolent of scent, suggestive. Only the cry of the
baby was incongruous as it came through the wall.

"I can't go on like this any longer," she told Michael
after she had shown him her proofs. " I have waited as long
as I am able. If he had not been killed I would have kept
the secret until he came back, but as it is, what is the use ? "
She shrugged her expressive shoulders. ^' One cannot live
without money. If you had not spoken to me to-day I should
have had to look you up."

Michael saw for himself that she could not go on living
in this way without money.

Now Desmond was no longer there to draw against it, his
allowance was not paid into the bank. His mother's allow-
ance to Desmond had been a liberal one, and had provided all
these luxuries.

"If you will read his will" — Michael had the document
in his hand but had not opened it — " you will see that he has
left me everything he had."

" Desmond had nothing to leave."

Michael was embarrassed at the position in which he found
himself, explaining to this woman of whose very existence he
had been unaware four-and-twenty hours ago, that practically
Desmond had been dependent upon his mother's generosity,
that the Languedoc estate brought in nothing. But she was
not embarrassed, nor backward in examining him quickly,
cleverly, closely. Desmond had told her something of his
dependence upon his mother, but she wanted it confirmed.

" In any case, there will be my pension."

Michael got away from her as soon as he could, as soon
as she would let him. She was a new experience to Michael,
and one with whom he felt himself unable to cope. He went
back to his father when at last he made his escape.

" You must see her, father. I can hardly convey to you
her self-assurance, want of taste or feeling, her manner gen-
erally. She seems utterly callous to his fate, thinking only
of what provision there is for her. She assumes quite coolly


that Desmond's mother will accept her story ; that we shall. I
don't see what else we can do. I have never met anyone at
all like her. There certainly was a baby — I heard it. It
seems incredible. I am afraid you will have to see her your-

Andrew questioned him, letting all other work stand over
while he considered this.

" You say she Is four or five-and-thirty, twelve or fourteen
years Desmond's senior. "Where did they meet? How long
had they known each other ? "

" I didn't ask, I was so overwhelmed. You had suggested
the explanation of her calling herself Lady Grindelay, but
when I spoke to her I still did not believe it; I thought it

" We can't do anything without consulting Agatha. I
don't think we can move without that. But I will see the
woman myself first, as you say, question her, make certain.
I suppose you have seen the original of the certificate ? "

" I went up to the registry office on my way here. Every-
thing is in order; the clerk witnessed, he remembers it per-

" Has she got a telephone ? Get on to the telephone and
ask for an appointment for me. We mustn't waste time. We
can't risk Agatha hearing of this from anyone but us. Let
me see, to-day is Thursday. If she must be told, if the in-
credible story is true, we had better go down to Marley on
Saturday. We must break it gently if it has to be broken. I
shan't wire, but just write a line offering ourselves for a visit.
It's a dreadful business. Twelve or fourteen years older than
he is ! Not a word to anybody ! What could the boy have
been thinking of ? I'll write Agatha a line myself. It will go
hard with her if this woman is all you describe. Not that
there is ever any saying what Agatha will feel called upon to
do. She may think she is bound to adopt the baby, open her
house to the woman. I'm sure I don't know what she will
do." But he was filled with sympathy for his old friend.

Gabrielle Radlett was quite as frank with Andrew in their
interview as she had been with Michael, more so perhaps.


In some ways she had always found old men more easily dealt
with than young ones. Michael had been very stiff and re-
served with Gabrielle. Andrew, recognising^ in less than ten
minutes where she stood in the kingdom of women, met her
there, displapng no distaste, encouraging her to talk, getting
from her one or two clues that were useful to him later on.
She compared him favourably with his son, thinking to please
him, saying she was satisfied to leave her affairs in his hands,
that he must get what he could for her from Desmond's
mother if it were true that Desmond's own estate would really
be so small. He learnt now that she had nursed Desmond
through his illness.

" I am sure you will do the best you can for me," she said
with emphasis.

It had been her trade to flatter men, she had no reason to
think this grizzled one was an exception.

Andrew's face was grave when he left her. She was so
much worse than he had expected ; so entirely beyond the pale.
He could not see Agatha accepting her son's wife, nor him-
self advising her to. But he knew Agatha's sense of duty,
and how impossible it was to influence her. No one, not even
he, could be sure of how she would act.

He went down to Marley on Saturday, full of misgiving.
Michael was with him, each with his heart full of the two to
whom they were not taking solace, but something worse than
grief. The train went on and they read their newspapers;
there was little they could say to each other. Michael allowed
himself to dwell on what might happen when Eunice knew of
Desmond's marriage. He was really delicate-minded, and
when he believed Desmond was dead, he had respected her
grief, not hoped, nor thought of himself at all. But this was
different. Desmond married was less a rival than Desmond
dead, and Michael allowed himself to dream on his way to

The brougham was waiting for them at the station. Lady
Grindelay and Eunice met them at the lodge. Somehow or
other, perhaps because Gabrielle had worn black, they were
glad to find neither Agatha nor Eunice in mourning. Eunice


was pale in her white summer skirt and pink shirt. Lady
Grindelay had not abandoned her old-fashioned clothes, but
now they seemed becoming and appropriate to her. She was
over sixty and had no wish to disguise her age. She wore a
tailor-made coat and skirt; no hat was on her grey hair that
had been allowed to grow and was now in a smooth knot ; her
figure was still slender and upright, the instep' still high and
well booted. She was careful about her hands, and wore wash-
leather gloves. Her complexion had faded, but there were
few wrinkles. This was the first visit the McKays had paid
to Marley since Desmond went away, and all of them wanted
to avoid remembering it, to keep from any untoward allusion
or remembrance. As they walked through the garden to the
house Andrew heard about the erratic Odontoglossum. They
spoke also of the roses and their late flowering, of the scents
from the herb garden.

, All through luncheon they kept up the pretence that
nothing had changed since they were here before, speaking
again of the orchid and the changes in orchid culture. Andrew
told of his triumphs in the small Campden Hill hothouse.
Lady Grindelay said that if the Odontoglossum were to
flower now, it would seem like a miracle, as if the clock had
been put back. All of them knew the story of how she had
opened the door of the orchid house when she was a child
because she thought that plants, like children, should have
fresh air. She promised Andrew a cutting.

Over their coffee Michael commented intolerantly on the

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Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 14 of 27)