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yoimg lips on her cheeks sent fire through her, stopping lier


They went up in the lift, leaving the luggage to follow.
She remembered to tell the hall porter to pay the cab. Des-
mond said hastily he had plenty of change. He was thrown
back upon himself, chilled by her reception.

The lift took them up to the sitting-room, and Desmond
saw that it was full of flowers. Reynolds, his mother's in-
comparable maid, came out of the bedroom and said a respect-
ful word of welcome.

" The flowers came up from Marley after you left," Lady
Grindelay said to Eunice.

" I hope you haven't been tiring yourself arranging them."

"No; Reynolds did that."


Not until after dinner did mother and son get any nearer.
Before Eunice left them together they talked only of the
war. Desmond was modest, as Eunice had expected, about
his own exploits, but her eyes glowed when he told of gallant
actions he had seen or of which he had been told. Her eyes
glowed, but presently her cheeks paled, and her aunt said the
girl looked tired and should go to bed early. Eunice's imagi-
nation realised these scenes he was depicting; she saw him
in the forefront of them all. How wonderful that he should
be here, talking of it, restored to her! Throb after throb
of thanksgiving made her colour come and go emotionally.

"It's impossible to think you will be here in the morn-
ing," she said, with a laugh that had a sob, when, in obedience
to Lady Grindelay's suggestion, she rose to go.

"To-morrow morning, and all the other mornings," Des-
mond answered in a tone that matched her own.

They were all a little constrained. Eunice kissed her
aunt, and gave her hand to Desmond.

" Good night."

He opened the door for her.

"I am sure you must be too tired for any more talk,"
v^as the first thing his mother said when they were alone.

" I am not tired at all. But you — ought you not to rest ? "

"I am tired of resting. I shall have time enough for

She had so much to say to him, and such a difficulty in
saying it. There had been nothing but misunderstanding be-
tween them, and now all was to be made clear. She would
give him Eunice, let him see that she was proud of him and
the reputation he had made. It was difficult. Easy perhaps
to make up her mind that it had to be done, but almost im-
16 241


possible to do it. There was no intimacy between them.
There had always been something to keep them apart. When
she had thought him dead she wanted only his forgiveness.
She craved more than that now, a son's love she would have
from him, but thought it beyond her reach. She had ever
shown herself cold and unloving to him. Even now she could
not voice what she felt at his return, her pride in him. She
could only sit erect and drop out her words as if they were of
little importance. Outwardly she was little altered.

"I did not want you to go to bed to-night, your first
night in England, without knowing that you are quite free
as regards Eunice." The next sentence came more slowly:
"I know that I misjudged you. ..."

He was confused, anxious to avoid anything in the nature
of a scene. But not as unloving as she thought him. He
had always known he cared for her, and now he would have
liked to tell her so.

" You didn't misjudge me. I made an awful fool of

He came nearer to her. But she sat quite erect, and he
thought she seemed to wish to keep the distance between them.

''We have agreed — haven't we? — that that particular in-
cident is to be forgotten."

" I — I can't quite forget it," he said huskily.

"That is the one thing I must ask of you." Then she
went on less steadily : " You will promise me that, will you
not ? I do not wish you to be less than a hero in her eyes, in
anyone's eyes." In a lower voice she added : " I want your
happiness to be untroubled, complete." She stopped.

Desmond was greatly moved.

" I am not fit for her," he broke out.

She had that throb of pride, that passionate contradic-
tion, but no words to tell him of it. Eunice no longer counted
in comparison.

" She need never know that," was all she could get out.

" I will do anyihing you say, mother." He felt the ten-
sion behind her limited words and began to speak agitatedly.


" You know how I regret everytliing, everything I have ever
done to vex you. Mother, can't we be different together?"
he said, rather desperately.

Poor stiff-tongued Agatha ! She put out her hand to him
uncertainly and he took it in his.

"I hope everything will be different," she said.

How could he guess that under her breast her breath
came as if her heart was but a bruise beneath it, that to
solace her pain he had but to lay his head there and say:
"I love you, mother. Put your hand on my head and say
3^ou love me, too. I've longed to do it so often."

He kissed the hand that lay in his hurriedly, half ashamed,
and she withdrew it, a faint flush on her old cheeks.

" I'll try to do everything you say. If Eunice's happiness
depends on me, I'll try to be what you both wish me. If you
think she ought not to know, I won't tell her. I don't know
whether it's right "

"There are stories girls may not hear, temptations of
M-liich one must not speak to them."

"I should hate to tell her. So if you really think she
ought not to know "

"I am sure it is unnecessary for her to know of these
temptations, of any evil," she said with agitation. "We
women, wives, are best left ignorant ^"

" I'll make her happy, I know I can make her happy." His
face flushed and he spoke huskily. "But you? Is there
nothing I can do for you ? "

" I want you to be happy." She wanted him to love her,
but that she could not say. " You will care for Marley,
hold your inheritance as a trust, remember you are a Wan-
stead? . . ."

But he did not want to hear of his inheritance, nor she
to talk to him of what would happen when she was gone.
Something of his happiness she wanted to see, to stay and see.

" I know now what a suitable and appropriate thing a
marriage between you and Eunice will be. I want to see your
unclouded happiness "


Her maimer touched him, that change of which Michael
had spoken was so obvious, and yet not complete.

" And everything between us two will be different ? "
" I hope so."

Everything between them was different, although without
words or caresses to establish the change. Eeynolds, that
wonderful, understanding maid, knew that if a wrap were
needed. Lady Grindelay liked her son to lay it across her
shoulders. Then, when Desmond came into the room to bid
her good morning or good night she detained him as long as
possible, and when he was in the room with her, her eyes
dwelt .upon him. Eunice now took second place. Eunice knew
this, and Desmond too, vaguely. He kissed his mother night
and morning, asked how she had slept or how she felt, brought
her roses and was awkward when she thanked him. " As if I
could ever do enough for you ! "

" But I have done so little for you."

In a way their positions were reversed, she felt she was in
his debt, dwelt all the time upon her sins of omission, and
tried to make up to him for them.

The fortnight in London passed very quickly. The war
was by no means at an end. De Wet and liis guerilla troops
had begun to prove it.

" I never should have come home if you had not sent for
me," Desmond told his mother.

" You are content ? " she asked anxiously.

"Eather," he answered, smiling.

Agatha, too, was content, although the report of the
specialist had not been too favourable, and already there were
disquieting symptoms. No one but herself and Dr. Keid
knew this, and it was to be kept from everyone else.

After Desmond had sat with his mother, visited his tailor,
done the hundred and one little things demanded of him by
friends or circumstances, he was free for long hours with
Eunice. They were neither of them London bred or bom,
and they found it a delightful place for wandering. They


were sufficiently unsophisticated to find the Zoological Grar-
dens entrancing, and Hyde Park a never ending delight.
They visited the museums and the National Gallery, and did
not even disdain Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's. Lady
Grindelay saw no reason why they should not go to the the-
atre together, and many evenings were spent at the play. She
put forward no claim to their companionship, happy in their
happiness, wishful only to add to it. She did not want them
to see or notice into what invalid ways she was growing.
Everybody was in the conspiracy to keep them from know-
ing ; Dr. Keid and Andrew, and above all, Eeynolds.

" She's had a tiring morning, people coming in and out,
letters to write," Eeynolds would tell them, " perhaps it would
be better to let her have a sleep after lunch. I'll tell her you
came in to see her."

There was always some excuse or good reason why Lady
Grindelay should be allowed to rest. Neither of the young
folks ever saw her during the attacks of pain that were return-
ing with alarming frequency. She always seemed well enough
to sit up to dinner, to question them as to what they had seen
or heard, to be interested.

'^ She looks at you all the time," Eunice told Desmond,
" I hardly count with her now."

"You are not jealous?"

"I can't tell you how glad I am. I always knew you
would understand each other one day."

But she and Desmond understood each other even better.
They knew they were never to be separated again. The
flaming, inevitable moment had not come yet, but it was
always in the background, warming and exhilarating the days.
They talked of their intimacy, sometimes Desmond had a
sudden qualm of misgiving.

" We have never really been apart except that horrid war
time and when you were a prisoner. Tell me about it again.
I hate there to be anything you have seen and done that I
haven't shared," Eunice said, more than once. " We seem
to have been always together except then."

He told her of the red and rolling veldt, of sunsets over


lonely farms, of dust and the whizzing of bullets. He told
her of long and lonely marches, of brave men and blunders,
sniping shot that reached its billet, and of empty saddle. He
told her of the hospital at Waterval; could speak to her,
although with difficulty, of Jimmy Thwaites and Elphie.

"I seem to see it all as clearly as if I had been there.
We'll make Jimmy come to Marley, won't we? He can be
wheeled about the grounds. We could take him on the river."

" Eather ! He's with his people now, but they are not very
well off. I'd like to do something for him, look after him."

She pressed his arm. " So would I. We always want the
same thing, don't we ? "


There came an hour when speech between them grew a
little frayed or fretted. They had had a long day together,
there were only two more before they would be again at
Marley. Eunice knew of the welcome that awaited Des-
mond, but the preparations were being kept a secret from
him. He could never agree that he had done anything de-
serving of admiration in letting his men be cut up, in refus-
ing to surrender. He was very silent about the whole episode,
not caring to hear it alluded to. He knew what had lain at
the back of his courage, why he had been so ready to give up
his life. He was trying to forget, but it was not easy. Eunice's
happy confidence that she knew everything about him some-
times sent a qualm through him. He could not talk of the
Waterval hospital and forget Gabrielle had been there, nor of
Cape Town, without seeing her go out of the door of the hotel
with undraped shoulders, laughing and talking with her com-
panion. He did not want to remember, but he did.

"I think we shall have to leave off talking about South
Africa," he said when they drove back to the hotel that after-
noon. '■' I was so far away from you, desperately home-sick
at times, not very happy. I'd like to forget it sometimes if
you don't mind."

" And I have been talking of notliing else all day."


" I know. And just begun again/' She was surprised to
see how nearly irritable he was.

"Why did you not tell me so before?" she exclaimed.
If he did not care to talk about South Africa, of course, they
would talk of other things. But she could not think of many
others at dinner time, and it was her aunt's favourite topic too.

Desmond could not escape all the consequences of his
sobriquet, and the story that had been in all the newspapers.
He was lionised a little, invited out to dinner, made rather a
fuss of. He refused as many invitations as his mother would
allow. But when their own friends made a point of his pres-
ence at this or the other entertainment, when Eunice was
invited with him, and there seemed no reasonable excuse that
he should stay away, Lady Grindelay pointed out to him that
he must not get a reputation for exclusiveness or eccentricity.

" You will have to take your place in Society when we go
back to Marley. There is a certain duty we owe to our neigh-
bours. You will have both to dispense and receive hospi-
tality; it has always been expected of us, and I think fulfilled.

I have not given balls, but ^" And she told of garden and

dinner parties, fetes, and when the gardens had been illu-
minated. Some of these entertainments both Eunice and
Desmond could remember.

To-night, therefore, because Lady Grindelay thought it
the right thing, they were going to a dance, a dance got up in
Desmond's honour by the Fevershams. The Fevershams had
a house in Great Marley, although they were in London now.
They were not exactly County, but Mrs. Feversham was a
distant, very distant, cousin of their nearest neighbours, the

Desmond thought he had never seen Eunice look prettier
than she did to-night, in the white evening frock, with the
string of pearls round her neck, and her fair hair snooded
with its blue ribbon. He could not make out what had made
him suddenly irritable or impatient with her a little while
ago, he was now full of remorse.

When they were in the brougham, on the way to the Fever-
shams, he began to tell her so.


" I was rather a brute this afternoon, wasn't I ? "

" No, of course j^ou were not. How many dances are we
going to have together ? Auntie says we are not to make our-
selves too conspicuous."

" Do you want to dance with anyone else ? "

" You know I don't."

He had never actually asked her to marry him. Now
suddenly he felt he must make sure. He put out his hand to
possess himself of hers.

" You don't want to dance with anybody but me ? "

*' Our steps go so well together."

" I wasn't tliinking only of that."

" You're crushing my dress ; can't you move a little ? " He
did not stir. " You are not cross again ? "

" I'm not cross, I'm impatient, that's all."

" To get to the Fevershams ? " But she knew better, for all
the innocent way she said it, and her heart beat a little faster.

" I don't care if we never get there at all."

" But I look so nice. You told me yourself I looked nice."

*' You look like an angel. But I'm not sure I want anyone
else to see it."

She laughed happily.

" Auntie will want to know if anyone took any notice of
me. I believe she thinks I am a little country-cousinish to
go about with you. It is you everybody really wants, not me.
You will have to be introduced to all sorts of people to-night.
Do you want me to sit in a corner all by myself whilst you
are dancing and being lionised ? "

*' I don't want to be lionised."

They were already in Eaton Square. The sound of the
string band came to them. Eunice was young enough and
gay enough at heart to feel the call of the music.

" You'll have to wait until we get inside, you know."

He saw her eyes dancing, and that her feet wanted to
emulate them.

In another five minutes his arm was round her waist and
there was not a handsomer couple in the room. The mere
joy of the valse filled her, and they were exquisitely in step.


" I haven't forgotten how to dance, have I ? "

" We couldn't be better together."

To-night, to-night he knew he would tell her what he
wanted of her. She must be his wife as soon as possible. He
could not wait any longer. She was fond of him, but he
wanted more. His blood was tumultuous to-night, and she
was so cool and smiling.

" Don't hold me so close," she breathed, for his hold had
tightened suddenly.

" I shall hold you as close as I like," he answered, disobey-
ing her. She laughed lightly.

" I'm out of breath."

One last turn and it was over ; they were in the stream of
the others going towards the refreshment room.

" You want an ice ? "

" No, I don't. I want to sit down."

" We'll find a place." Her hand was on his arm. " Come
in here."

" Here " was a conservatory full of exotic plants and
palms, chairs arranged in twos, many of them occupied. Now
she no longer held his arm but followed where he piloted her.
When they were in the shadow of the deepest greenery, he
stopped abruptly. They were really alone for the moment,
their pulses throbbing from the dance.

" I can't let you dance with anyone else to-night," he said
unevenly; and then put his arms about her. She stood in
his embrace, hex heart beating, strangely excited. " You know
why, tell me you know why ? " But she did not speak and
he went on : " I know you're fond of me. How fond are you ?
That's the question." His arms tightened about her and she
went a little pale. " Do you love me better than anything
in the world ; as I love you ? " He sought her lips now, and
she yielded them to him at first, but then would have drawn
back, resisting. He would not let her go, startling her.

" Do you understand ? You often say we understand
each other. I want you for my wife, my wife." He strained
her again to him. She put out a tremulous, restraining hand
and went paJe.


" What a brute I am ! I'm frightening you. You don't
know how I feel to-night, how I've been feeling all day. I'll
be gentle — don't be frightened. Darling ! But kiss me. Oh !
my darling, darling ; how I've longed for you ! "

" You do love me ? " he asked hungrily,

" I have always loved you."

" You couldn't dance with anyone else to-night, nor have
anyone else's arm round you ? "

" No."

"You imderstand now how I love you?" He held her
close. " I love you in every way, in ways you don't dream of.
I'm desperate because I know I'm not good enough for you.
But you'd forgive me anything, wouldn't you? That is the
sort of way you care for me, isn't it? Say it is; that it
wouldn't matter what I did." His lips seemed insatiable for

She thought he meant that it would not matter what he
did to her. She muttered that she did not care what he did.
She wanted to run away from him, yet to stay with him, to
hide her head, and to go on looking at him, to feel his arms
about her. She wanted him to know how she loved him, then
her cheeks crimsoned, her eyes were lowered, and she was
ashamed of the flooding crimson of her love for him.

" It will never the same between us again," he whispered.
" Not after this."

It would never be the same. And yet she felt that it had
never been different, although so deep down.

" Tell me again that you love me."

« I— I can't talk."

Neither could he. He laid his lips on hers again. What
was so wonderful was that this Desmond was still the other
one, her brother and companion, her intimate.

" You did not always love me like this ? " she said f alter-

" Yes, I did, but I held myself back. You were little
more than a child. You are still so young, and innocent, and


ignorant. Oh, Eunice, my love, my little love, I wish I had
never been away from you," he cried. He wished he could
have come to her as she to him. "If only I were more worthy
of you," he said.

" Perhaps we should not have known how we cared for
each other if we'd always been together," she said. She
spoke low, and the flush was lovely in her cheeks and glowing
eyes. What had flamed between them had made everything
dift'erent, it was as if she had come into a fortune, the future
was golden with promise.

" I've always known of it," he answered.

When they got back to the drawing-room, Desmond was
impatient of the people who spoke to him, who wanted to
shake him by the hand, and tell him what they thought of
him ; he wanted to do nothing but sit beside Eunice, or dance
with her.

" I wish we were in the conservatory again."

But she had got back something of her self-possession, for
all that she was so gloriously happy. Her lips throbbed from
his kisses, and her shoulders were warm where his arms had
lain, but she was not Agatha's niece for nothing, she knew
how to behave.

" You must not stay here, everybody wants to talk to you,"
she told him.

" Do you want to talk to me ? "

" We have all our lives before us," she answered happily.

" They won't be long enough."

"But Just to-night, because auntie will want to hear of
everything, you must not stay beside me. The party was
given for you. Go and be congratulated, made a hero of '^

" I've nothing to be congratulated upon except that you
care for me."

" We ought to pretend."

" We ought to do nothing of the sort."

" Auntie would not like us to make ourselves conspicuous."

"As if you wouldn't be conspicuous anyhow. Don't you
know how pretty you are ? "

"Am I?"


" Are you ? Don't you know you are ? "
" I am glad you think so."

"Come along; they are striking up again. I must have
one more dance."

4: « ^ 4: «

In the brougham going home he said that he wanted her
to marry him as soon as it could be arranged.

" I don't feel sure of you. So many tilings might happen."

" What could happen ? "

"You might change your mind, take a sudden dislike to

" Haven't I known you all my life ? "

" But you didn't know this."

She answered him low, when her lips were free, when he
would listen, that in a way she too had always known it. She
let him see right into her pure, yet passionate heart. She
might not know all the song of love; but she was familiar
with the melody, for it had sung between them always.

" You don't know all that love means, love like ours,
he whispered.

He could make her blush and edge away from him; he
could lure her back until she lay again close folded in the
shelter of his arms. But he could not make her falter in her
belief that she had nothing more to learn of her love for him.

" I knew you were not dead, I felt you were alive all the
time. I told auntie I should know if anything had happened
to you. I am so much more intimate with you than she has
ever been, I know all you do and even think "

He was quieter after she had said that, he did not even
kiss her again. She ought to be told. He had no doubt she
ought to be told. She did not know all he had done, nor all
that had led up to his folly. He could not tell her now;
but even now he wished that she knew. He had got to that
already. He wished he had not agreed to silence. He knew
that one day he would ask his mother to release him from his
promise. But not yet, not until Eunice was his wife.


" Mother, you won't make us wait ? " Desmond asked when
he told his news. Lady Grindelay no longer felt jealousy, and
as for misgiving, it was impossible. She could see no fault
in him,

" Only sufficient time to make proper preparations," she

" Must there be a fuss ? "

" We have our duty to our neighbours," she said again.
" The Wansteads of Marley cannot get married as if they
were the Joneses of Nowhere."

But she was almost as anxious as he, for she knew that her
days might be few. But that was a small matter. There
would be Wansteads of Marley for all time, and everything
had come right. Desmond would keep up the hot-houses,
she made him promise that, and build more cottages. He
would have promised anything.

" You will be satisfied if I can arrange the date a month
from to-day ? " she asked him.

" I'd be better satisfied if it were a week."

" Give me a little time. Let me arrange matters properly
for you." He kissed her.

*' Of course, I know you'll do your best for me, mother

And the " Mother darling " showed how everything had
changed between them, the kiss too. He had got to know tliat
his caresses, though never invited, were nevertheless not un-
welcome to her. To-morrow they were all going down to
Marley together. She knew what awaited him there, and lay
in bed all that day to rest herself for the coming emotion and

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Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 19 of 27)