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Michael came late to the office the very day the letter was
dispatched, with a pale and agitated face.

"Have you heard what they are crying in the streets?
Roberts has marched into Pretoria, finding and releasing a
large number of prisoners who had long been given up as

dead. There are names amongst them " Their eyes met,

his father caught his excitement, answering it.

" Kot Desmond's ? Not Lord Grindela/s ? "

" They say so. ' No Surrender Grindelay amongst the
prisoners' is on all the placards. I am just going round to the
War Office. I only called in to tell you."

" Good God ! Good God ! If it should be true ! "

" I think it must be true. Here's the paper. It is circum-
stantial enough. I can be down at Marley before the even-
ing papers get there. You don't mind if I don't come back

" You won't be able to see Agatha."

" I can see Eunice. I should like to tell her myself. I

was so often the bearer of bad tidings " He halted in his

speech, but it was easy to see what he had suffered in carry-
ing it. " I should like to tell her this myself," he said. " Do
you mind if I go ? "

" Of course not." His father understood, showed his
sympathy by his silence. " You can call at the War Office,
and still be in time to catch the five o'clock train. Perhaps
you'll be able to let me know ? "

" It will be too late to come back if I am to catch the five

"Be careful what you telegraph. You know what they
have been going through."

" They are sure to have arranged that no telegrams are
taken up to the sick room. I shall simply wire for the
brougham to meet me."

"They'll guess. The girl never believed he was dead.
Agatha told me so."

" I know," Michael added simply. " She told me so her-

Neither of them spoke of Desmond's wife, who was no wife.


The lesser news was swallowed up by the greater. Desmond
was alive.

The War Office confirmed the news that was in the papers.
Prisoners of war had been released by Roberts in Pretoria,
and Lord Grindelay was amongst them. There were no
details to hand as yet, only the bare fact.

Michael caught the five o'clock train. He would be in
Marley before the news. His telegram was a little more ex-
plicit than his father had advised, and it was sent to Eunice.

" Arriving six-fifty, bringing news."

He wanted to see her at the station when he got to the
end of his journey ; he wanted to see her face brighten when
he told her, although the brightening would not be for him.
He had suffered in seeing her suffer, in his helplessness to
help her. If he had thought of what she might say or do
should she ever hear of Gabrielle Eadlett, he put it on one
side now. She might never hear of that, she would never
hear of it from him. He was the bearer of good news.

Eunice had been through a strenuous time, months of
anxiety and the crushing sorrow from which she had emerged,
to hope still. Then the shock of Agatha's illness ; the anxious
hours when the surgeons were with her, days and nights of

At the station Michael told her nothing and she was
afraid to question him. Now in the darkness of the evening
they were in the brougham; the two lamps cast their light
only on the road, and she heard the regular trot of the horses'

" Desmond is alive," Michael said then, briefly, curtly.
" You were quite right. Eoberts found him in Pretoria,
among the wounded."

" Desmond is alive ! " When Michael said that, her heart
gave a great bound, then was in her throat, impeding words :
" Desmond is alive ! "

The carriage rolled on. She could not speak; she knew
she must thank Michael for coming to tell her. She put out
her hand for his, and he held it. Then, after a minute, she
burst out crying. He had not thought she would take it like


this. His arm went round lier, his awkward, unaccustomed
arm. Now she was crying on his shoulder, saying : " Oh,
Michael ! " and " Is it really true? " " Oh, Michael ! I am
not crying; only so glad and — and grateful." " Oh, Michael !
I thought it must happen. I've only been half alive without
Desmond, I knew he couldn't be dead."

Michael, with his arm about her, set his teeth and bore it.
He had come down to tell her, wanting to see the grief vanish
from her face, to see it bloom again in smiles and happiness,
to hear her say " Oh, Michael ! " and thank him for bringing
the news. He had not thought of what would happen then,
or afterwards; only that he would take her the good news.
Now she was crying on his shoulder, and for the first time
his arms were round her. Perhaps he had not known how
much he loved her until he held her in his arms. There was
a moment in which he wished the marriage had been legal,
a moment in which he wanted her to know that Desmond had
not been true to her, a savage, unworthy moment, succeeded
by a great and overwhelming tenderness.

" There is no doubt at all about it. You must not cry,"
he said stiffly.

" I'm not crying ; only it's so wonderful ! "

"You never believed he was dead."

" Not in my dreams, nor in the bottom of my heart. But
sometimes — often — I thought it true. I could never bear
it when I thought it was true ; I used to feel sick and faint. I
wouldn't believe it."

" You care for him so-much ? "

"It's always been Desmond and me — me and Desmond
— ever 'since we were children — always."

She recovered herself very soon, left off crying, sat up.
She forgot Michael's arms had 'been round her, that she had
sobbed on his shoulder. She forgot Michael McKay loved
her, and had told her so. Michael never forgot, but Eunice
did. He wore an eyeglass, "used legal phrases. It seemed of
little consequence at any ftime that he loved her, of none now
that Desmond was alive. She began to talk to him soon of


what her aunt would say, of how long it would be before the
doctors would let her be told. Michael used the jejune
phrase, he said :

" Joy does not kill."

Perhaps he had had a wild idea that theirs was only
cousinly love, that it had weakened in Desmond's absence. She
had been very kind to him, sweet and gentle, in London, and
ever since Desmond went away. He may have had hope ; hope
is so hard to kill. But when he dined with her that night,
seeing her radiant face, he had again no hope except that
Desmond should prove worthy of her, tliat her happiness
might be completed. For all his staidness, there was a wild
pain at his heart. He stifled it by reiterating to himself that
all he wanted was her happiness.

'^ He will come home now ? After being wounded and
imprisoned, and wounded again, they will be sure to send him
home. How proud we shall be of him ! ' No Surrender Grin-
delay ! ' That's what the men called him, you told me that."

He had tried to comfort her with it when first they heard
Desmond was missing, when he and everybody but the girl
who loved him thought that Desmond was dead.

" He might be on his way home now."

She was almost awed with the greatness of that possibility.
In the face she turned to him for confirmation he saw, by
the heightened colour and the shining eyes, her new glad out-
look on the world. It was all for Desmond. He tried to meet
her spirit, but as the dinner went on, when all the household
had been told and were rejoicing with her — the old butler
with his filled eyes, the young footman who had permission
to go down and tell the village — Michael played his part so
indifferently well that when he went away, for he would not
stay the night although she pressed him, she found her great
joy a little dimmed, found herself a little sorry for him,
vaguely, and with that comforting sense that he never could
have really hoped for anything different. It had always been
she and Desmond — just she and Desmond.

Perhaps she thought him a little unfair, a little ungener-


ous, to let her be sorry for him to-night, to cloud her wonder-
ful happiness. Yet such a lover had he become, this prig of a
Michael, with his gold-rimmed eyeglass, in his stiffness and
want of humour, that before he got back to town he had for-
gotten himself again; he was only thinking she must never
hear now of Gabrielle Eadlett, that they must shield her —
he and his father and Lady Grindelay, He dared not think
how she would feel if she knew that there was another woman
who had a claim upon Desmond — a child !


The doctors would not allow Lady Grindelay to be told for a
day or two; but they, too, agreed that joy did not kill. Eunice
was instructed to break it gently, to speak of hope, not cer-

But Eunice's face broke the news before she did. She
could not constrain her face, and Lady Grindelay's intelli-
gence had not yet suffered in her illness.

" You look very gay this morning," she said to the girl.

" That is because you are getting well," Eunice answered

" Turn your face to the light." She lay still for a few
minutes, her eyes on the girl's face. Eunice turned away from
the scrutiny, but there was a warm, wild rose flush in her
cheek, and a light in her eyes.

" If it were not so impossible . . ." Lady Grindelay began.

" Oh, auntie, why do you look at me like that ? " she said
agitatedly. And then added absurdly: "They said I must
not tell you."

" It is true, then — the impossible is true ? " The invalid's
face flushed, her breath came quickly.

"You've guessed?"

"Your face is illuminated, what else could light it so?
My son was dead and is alive ! My son ! "

The red flushed her old cheeks, the pulses beat danger-

Nurse came running with smelling bottle and brandy,
speaking in the manner of her kind to Eunice, for all her
sympathy, and though her uniformed heart went out to them

" You oughtn't to have told her like that. I'm surprised
at your knowing no better than to tell her before she was up
or had anything done to her."

" I couldn't help it ; she guessed," sobbed Eunice. There
were tears in the nurse's eyes for all her indignation.



"Upsetting you like this, and before you've had your
breakfast.'* She was inconsistent, it is difficult even for a
hospital nurse to be consistent on such an occasion, " I knovc,
milady ; we all heard it last night, and there was great rejoic-
ing in the household. Miss Eunice sent word up and down."

"Take it away, I don't want brandy or smelling salts
because my son — is alive." The last words were faint,

She had to take the stimulant, her heart nearly failed.
As always, she overrated her strength. But it was because the
memory of Gabrielle Radlett came to her suddenly, weaken-
ing her, that she lay back, pale, with her heart failing. It was
only physical weakness ; her will was as strong as ever. Even
before she read Andrew's letter she had made up her mind
Eunice must not be told — not now, certainly. Something
must be contrived. Of course, after she read Andrew's letter,
which she was able to do in another hour or two, she knew
there was no " not yet " about it. Eunice need never know,
must never know, unless perhaps some day, in the intimacy
of married life, Desmond himself might tell her.

" The intimacy of married life ! "

Agatha lay and thought about that in the weary hours of
her convalescence. " The intimacy of married life"

Memories intruded upon her, flushing her thin old cheeks.
She thought that if Lord Grindelay had told her nothing,
had kept his secrets, she would have suffered less. But Des-
mond was different, he had only this one secret. The girl
must never turn from and resent him. His mother could
not bear to think of it; the secret must be kept.

And then she lay and built her air castles. They would
live here at Marley ; she would see him every day. He would
be grateful to her for having kept his secret, for everything
she was going to do for them. He would forgive her for not
being demonstrative, come to some understanding of her love
for him; she was an old woman now, and could not change
her ways. There would be nothing of his father left in him
after the purification of the war. He would be all Wanstead.
So many of them had served their countr}^ Then she thought


she would ask him to give up his tarnished title, and call
himself Wanstead. She would give him so much, surely she
might ask that.

She regained strength slowly, spending the next few weeks
listening whilst Eunice chattered about Desmond, adding
her own voice sometimes, arranging what was to happen when
Desmond came home. There was much to be thought of now
that Desmond was coming home. Lady Grindelay had neg-
lected Marley a little of late. There were more new cottages
needed. Desmond must superintend the new cottages.

" He will find plenty to interest him."

Eunice never doubted it.

Andrew came down to see her as soon as he was allowed.
Michael would not accompany him; he could not trust him-
self with Eunice again just yet. Andrew went up to Agatha's
bedroom, the big room with the great bow-window looking
over the gardens to the green woods, the room with its four-
poster bedstead and antiquated walnut furniture. It moved
Andrew to see Agatha on the sofa, so unlike herself in her
lace cap and wrapper. But he controlled himself well.

" I didn't die, you see," she began.

" The world would have been an empty place for me if
you had." His voice was husky.

He held her hand a moment longer than was necessary,
and it seemed to rest in his.

" I've given you a great deal of trouble one way and
another," she said.

" I've never grudged any trouble I took for you."

" I know."

Then there was another moment in which neither of them
spoke. There was much to say, some of it that would never
be spoken.

Perhaps it was not only of her son she was thinking in
that moment of silence. But when Andrew relinquished her
hand and sat down beside her, when they were both them-
selves again, she spoke of Desmond.

"It seems incredible even now. I am glad I got better.


I have not been a very good mother to him, Andrew. But
there is time still. . , ."

" No woman is fit to bring up a boy. She can't make
him, and she may mar him."

" I sent him out to the war."

" You've been eating your heart out ever since. I've little
doubt it was that brought on your illness."

" Perhaps."

*' Now he'll be coming home, thinking of his cousin again.
Have you told her about the woman ? "

" Not yet."

" She will have to know some time ; better get it over."

" Andrew, I've been thinking "

" A thing no woman should be allowed to do. She always
thinks wrong, generally illogically."

He wanted to rouse her to argument, he could hardly bear
to see her lying like this.

" Sometimes I wish I had been more like other women,"
she said, a little sadly.

He put his hand on hers again.

" I shouldn't wish that," he said, " if I were you. I like
to think of you as you are."

" Andrew," she said again, after a pause. " Nobody need
ever know of this — this abortive marriage."

" Not if you don't wish it, not if you think it best."

"I don't want Eunice to be told. I will explain why —
I will try and explain why. But first tell me all you found
out — everything there is to know."

He told her a great deal, not everything, but a great deal.
They were early days, and she was still weak. He gave her
an outline of Gabrielle Eadlett's history. But he did not
tell her then that Gabrielle had gone out to South Africa to
nurse the wounded or amuse herself. And he did not tell
her, not then, that she had sent Desmond's child — if the child
were Desmond's — to Languedoc. He thought he should be
able to get it away from there before Desmond came home.
They would, of course, provide for it suitably; some good
woman could be found to rear it. When Agatha was quite


herself again it would be time to remind her that they had
not quite done with Gabrielle Radlett or the consequence of
Desmond's folly.

Now he agreed with Agatha that the whole thing should be
hushed up. Desmond was not the first young man to fall
into such a trap. The trap had opened; he had escaped.
There was no need to take the world into their confidence, to
show how ingenuous the boy had been and easily netted. The
lawyer thought that nobody need be told but Eunice. But
Agatha said that Eunice should be the last person who must

Eunice came in whilst Andrew and Agatha were talking.
He saw how her beauty had bloomed, and although he wanted
her for Michael, he knew how suitable would be a marriage
between her and her cousin. They would hold Marley in com-
mon, there was Wanstead blood in both of them ; the old place
would stay in the old family. As for Michael, Michael must
get over it. But when he said that, he felt doubtful and sad-
dened. Had he ever fogotten, although he had taken a wife
to himself? Was there anything in his life as strong as his
feeling for the mistress of Marley? He knew there was not.
Michael himself would not stand between him and any service
he could render her.

The weeks passed. Lady Grindelay rid herself of the
nurses, went about the house again and into the garden,
wrapped in her shawl ; went again to the village, to the school
and the model laundry, resuming her old place.

She had been missed. Everyone learned her value whilst
she was away from them, lying up at the big house between
life and death. If her words had been few, her hand had
been open. They welcomed her back warmly, and she was
touched by their welcome. Now she had a new understand-
ing of childhood's magnified small troubles, every child was
some woman's son or daughter, the tragedy of motherhood
hung over everything.

Little Marley was proud of " No Surrender Grindelay,"
and Great Marley was proud of him and the many men they
had sent to the war. There would be a great reception for


them when they came home. Already it was being planned.
Sir John Campden came from his own desolate home to
tell her how glad they were that she, too, was not bereaved.
He had lost both his sons, but to Agatha he only spoke of
Desmond's bravery.

" He was always a fine lad. Cedrie and Jeff were devoted
to him, my poor wife too. When he comes back he must come
to us sometimes, though the house is dull now — empty."

His voice faltered, but he had not come to Agatha to
speak of his own troubles. He had come to tell her he re-
joiced in her joy, that the whole county rejoiced with her,
was proud with her. Perhaps he remembered he had wanted
Agatha at Denham, that she might have been the mother
of those dead boys of his. But he was glad that her own son
was alive, truly glad.

Eunice's heart swelled when men, and women too, talked
of Desmond. She went with Lady Grindelay everywhere,
attending on her, solicitous for her, but listening always, alert
to the last word.

" ' No Surrender Grindelay ! ' * Surrender be damned ! '
he said to them Boers, good luck to him ! "

" * Come on ! ' sez he. It's an Englishman I am, a Marley
man. Surrender be damned ! "

Such phrases were repeated again and again, with com-
ments and local pride. Eunice was never tired of hearing
them; always her heart swelled, often her eyes filled. But
she had long known that Desmond was brave, that he would
be a hero. It was not so new to her to be proud of Desmond
as it was to the others.

From South Africa the news came slowly; there was an
accumulation, and it filtered through in driblets. Lord
Eoberts had marched into Pretoria with flying colours, had
released the prisoners. The war was over, so it was supposed.
We know now that it was nothing like over, that De Wet had
to be reckoned with, and his picked band of sharpshooters;
that if the war were over the country was still in arms. These
were the days immediately before the block-houses and the
two years' guerilla warfare. It was only the first part of the


campaign that was over ; we had still to conquer the so-of ten-
conquered country; two more long blood-stained years had
yet to pass.

A cable was sent to Desmond as soon as communication
could be established, telling him of his mother's illness, asking
him to return as soon as possible. The reply was from head-
quarters. Lord Grindelay was ill, not recovered from his
wounds, had fever, was in hospital, unable to travel.

Before they had time to be alarmed his own letter came.
In the sun of the sunken garden, where the roses filled
the air with sweetness, throwing out largesses of scent, and
the bees came droning for honey, Agatha and the girl read
it together. To them it seemed as if now it would always
be summer:

" Deae Mother, — The post is just going. I hear we
were all reported dead. I'm sending you a line to tell you
I'm all right. I've had some fever, been pretty bad. I
hope you have not been anxious about me. I can't help
thinking it would have been better if I had not pulled
through. I dare say by this time you know why I
think so."

The letter was blurred and ill-written, ending abruptly.
The intelligent orderly who sent it had, however, added
a line or two on his own account :

" Hoping you won't think it a liberty, I let you know
your son has had a bad bout of fever as well as his wounds,
and can't use his arm very well, and is down on his luck.
But he will come all right, as his constitution is sound,
and we shall cheer him up, for we are proud of him, and
hope to serve under him again."


Over the grass and into the rose garden came Andrew and
Michael McKay, two black-coated town figures, never more
eagerly welcomed.

" He is ill, Andrew."

" Michael, Desmond has written, but he is ill."


They both spoke at once, and Lady Grindelay held out the
letter. But the men had come down that afternoon, fully
informed, and with a proposition that they opened almost
as soon as they came in sight.

" I'm going out to him."

"What do you think of Michael fetching him? "

Eunice was immediately all excited question and answer.
But Andrew went on speaking to Agatha, and let Michael
attend to her.

" We hear he is ill and unable to travel. It is Michael's
idea to go out and bring him back. If you agree he can
catch Saturday's boat. The long vacation is coming on, I
can spare him easily," he added.

" Another sacrifice you are making for me ! " Agatha said.

" Not at all ; it is no sacrifice. He wants to go ; the
change will do him good."

Michael and Eunice were talking together, apart from the

" It is a good thing in every way that Michael should go
out; there are things one cannot write."

Andrew began to explain himself more fully, but Agatha
caught his meaning quickly.

"That woman?"

" She is out there — nursing."

"Not in Pretoria?"

"No; not in Pretoria, so far as we know. The nurses
go to Cape Town in the first instance, then they are drafted
to Pretoria or one or the other of the field hospitals. We've
been making inquiries, and that is what we've ascertained.
We don't want to take any risks."

" You think she ma}' seek him out ? "

" It is not unlikely. Michael would stand between her
and any fresh influence she sought to establish."

" If I were stronger, surer of myself "

" Of course, if you had not been ill, you would have been
there before now. Numbers have gone, some to help, many
to be in the way, some because all the best of our young men.
are there ^"


" That was probably her motive," she interrupted.
" Possibly. As I said, we don't want to take any risks.
He will hear all we have learned; of your illness too, and
your desire that he should return as quickly as possible. He
may not be well enough to travel alone. Michael is very
able — gentle, too." He urged his point, but it needed little

" It is hard on Michael," she suggested doubtfully.
Now they remembered their talks about Michael and

" We are not doomed to be successful in our love affairs,
Michael and I." He spoke with a wry smile. " But we are
happy in serving."

" You have a genius for friendship, both of you," she an-
swered, with emotion.

It was decided that Michael should go on Saturday. All
the evening they calculated times and distances. They agreed
that they ought to be back, Michael and the invalid, in seven
weeks. Eunice and Michael said seven, though the elders
were a little doubtful. In any ca^e Michael would be lavish
in cables, letting Desmond know at once that he was on the
way to him.

" He might come as far as Cape Town to meet you ; that
would save three or four days," Eunice said hopefully.

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Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 16 of 27)