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looked at him like you're looking at me now, is it a wonder
he was unhappy, and — and bitter ? I've had no sleep since I've
been here for hearing him calling for me, while only the ser-
vants were with him when he died. What are you looking at
me for ? I've seen people drunk, so you needn't think I don't
know. There's nothing the matter with me."

" I have not said you are drunk," she faltered. And then,
because the very word sickened her she caught at her mantle
of reserve and wrapped herself in it. ^'Will you go now?
You would be better alone, perhaps. . . ."

He resented that, and poured out more fiery incoherent
words, under which she grew whiter, but less able to reply.
Larry had the sense to see the scene must end, and led or
coaxed him away. She heard him talking to himself as he
went downstairs, holding to the stairs and saying he was " as
right as rain — quite all right — but the stairs were so un-
even." She would have held him in her arms and hidden him,
but her lack of love-words came between. She heard after-
wards of his condition at the funeral feast, and that eventually
he was helped from the dining-room, as his father had been so
many times.

In the morning, recovered and miserably conscious of
offence, without quite remembering its heinousness, Desmond
sought out Andrew, and begged him to tell his mother how
it had come about, to plead for forgiveness for him. That
was a mistake. He ought not to have called upon anyone for
help, but have thrown himself on his knees before her. She
would have lifted him up. She had come slowly to her mother-
hood, into her woman's kingdom of pride and pain. He did
not know she was there, nor what her reign might mean. He
was half afraid of her, thinking her austere and rigid. And
so he made his submission through Andrew, denying her

She answered Andrew coldly, covering up her heart. And
Andrew urged her, knowing no better.

" Have a little tolerance, hear at least what he has to say


in excuse. These young things, they bear pain so badly ! He
is only a boy; not the first boy who has taken more than is
good for him. Don't set up an impossible standard and expect
him to conform to it. These Irish servants of his have been
plying him with whisky and milk and tales. He should have
been here on the 12th.' He is unhappy at having lingered at

So Andrew pleaded, and tactlessly added: "And in his
case, of course, there is hereditary disposition to overcome.
You ought to make allowance for him, Agatha. You make
mistakes yourself."

" At least I never get drunk ! " she was goaded into retort-
ing. And because he was pleading for her son, for whom
no plea was needed, she put up her shield so that neither
Desmond nor Andrew could seQ what lay behind it.


When Lady Grindelay went back to Marley, Desmond re-
mained at Languedoc. Andrew thought it was better so
under the circumstances. He misread Agatha's silence, and
thought she would be more likely to forgive the boy if there
was a temporary separation between them. He came late to
a real understanding of her feeling for Desmond, which is
perhaps not surprising.

At Languedoc, his father's friends attentive, and the old
servants solicitous, Desmond's thoughts followed his mother
to Marley, and he wondered miserably what she would tell
Eunice. He had said unforgivable and unforgettable things
to her; he had been drunk at his father's funeral. He dwelt
upon the condition of affairs between her and his father, and
told himself wretchedly that because of it she had never cared
for him. In a way his feeling for her had been growing with
his years no less than hers for him. But he had never known
it until now. He did not want forgiveness from her; he
wanted love, comprehension; he felt very lonely and aban-
doned, and cried often for poor Pat. He could not take con-
solation from the attentions and solicitousness that were shown
by those around him, because he was conscious of disloyalty
to them, and to Languedoc.

In sight of the mountains and sea, the coastline, jutting
headland and weathered rocks, the great sweeps of dark moor-
land, he had an unspeakable longing for the green woods of
Marley and the grey house upon the hill, for the murmuring
sedges where the river washed the banks, the velvet lawns and
cut yew trees.

Eunice could not guess why Desmond lingered in Ireland.
She wrote :

"Why are you staying away? Marley isn't Marley
without you. I'm sure auntie wants you back as much as
I do, although she hasn't said anything. She isn't as in-



terested in me or my lessons as usual; whenever I speak
to her she seems to be thinking of something else, but not
something nice. I believe she is unhappy. If you have
quarrelled "with her, do come home and make it up, or
write her a loving letter. Whatever it is, if you say you
are sorry she won't think anything more about it. She
is always like that, you know; she never holds things
over us."

There followed a page about matters that were full of
interest to them both, of the dell with a trickle of water in it
that tasted as if it came from the sea, of a fox's lair that was
a secret from all the world.

" I went on the river with Michael McKay yesterday,
Uncle Andrew's son. He's got a glass in his eye that he
used not to have when he was here before. But I like him
all the same. You haven't quarrelled with me, so mind
you answer m}"- letter. I'm longing to hear from you.
Never mind about the spelling" — (for it was one of the
jokes between them that Desmond was ever a bad corre-
spondent because of this). " I promise you not to notice
if you put ' beleive ' instead of ' believe.' Dear Desmon<i,
I do long for you so."

And he ? Was he not longing for her ?

" My mother doesn't want me at Marley, or I'd come like
a shot," he replied, when he could bring himself to reply
at all.

Eunice showed the letter to Lady Grindelay. Agatha said
at first that she did not want to read it ; that to show another
person's letter was a breach of confidence.

"At least his spelling has improved," she said noncha-
lantly, when she handed it back. But Eunice noted her
expression, and went on:

" You haven't forgotten it's my birthday next week ? "

"No; I have not forgotten," Lady Grindelay answered.
But she had. The girl's place with her had altered since her
return from Ireland. She had to consider her, to consider


her above all things, because she was a sacred and precious
trust. But now she resented it, she could no longer think
of Eunice and Desmond together, her scheme must be aban-
doned. She had to guard the girl, protect her, give her to no
young drunkard, however dear.

" Auntie ! " The ready arms were about her, the coaxing
voice in her ear. " May Desmond come for my birthday ?
Desmond has been here so many of my birthdays."

" I have not told him to stay away."

"He says he'll come like a shot if you want him. He
thinks you don't want him. He always thinks you don't care
about him like you do about me. Desmond is so sensitive."

" He might have written to me himself."

" He's so afraid of his spelling. And it's just the same
if he writes to me ; he knew I should show you his letter."

" I will think it over."

But she had thought of little else since she had left Ireland,'
and how to save him. Her conscience was as troublesome at
sixty as it had been at sixteen. Why had she not warned him,
spoken openly to him, and thought not of her own humilia-
tion, but only of his good.

" Write to him, then," she said suddenly. "' Tell him about
your birthday, and that — that I shall be glad to see him."

Eunice hugged her and ran off to do it, lest her aunt should
change her mind.

He must come back; some occupation must be found for
him, some way of strengthening him. It had been planned
that he was to go to Oxford when he left Eton, but now Agatha
was doubtful if the Oxford atmosphere would not prove too
enervating. Perhaps she should keep him under her own
eye. But when she thought of that, she rejected it at once,
because that was what she would have liked best.

Of one thing, however, she was quite certain. The very
pain the certainty gave her, proved the necessity. Any talk
or thought of love-making between the two of them, between
Eunice and her poor boy must be abandoned. Monica's child
must not suffer as she had done — must not be sacrificed.

In order that she should not weaken about this, for she


had it in her mind that she could refuse him nothing for
which he might plead, she spoke to Andrew. Eunice was on
the river with Michael ; yesterday, too, had been spent in the
same way.

What she said to Andrew made his response easy.

" She is too young to be talking or thinking of marriage."

" I don't think so. I should like to feel that her future is

" There is no hurry, surely. She is barely seventeen."

They were in the library as they had been nearly thirty
years ago, and again fourteen years later. The lawyer could
forget neither occasion. He walked towards the window,
looked out on the fair and lovely prospect, the rolling lawns
and the great woods that stretched to the river. He could
not command himself to forget.

" He said half a word to me. It had better stop now if
it has to stop. I thought you had other views for her."

" If I had, I have them no longer."

He wheeled round swiftly.

"Why? You don't mean because of what happened in
Languedoc you would not give her to him ? "

" I hold her in trust."

" You never change from these quick decisions, from being
impulsive. There is nothing the matter with the boy."

"Eunice must take no risks," she said dully. He could
see she had been suffering, and forbore to argue with her.
He had accepted her view of the late Irish peer, and perhaps
not unnaturally agreed with her as the possibility of Desmond
inheriting his proclivities.

And, then, there was nothing he wished more than that
Michael should woo and wed Agatha's niece. Having missed
his own happiness in life, he was anxious Michael should not
do the same. He knew already how it was with Michael.

" You won't change your mind again ? " he asked Agatha.

" No."

" Michael is reliable, steady, straightforward."

There was more said between them, a great deal more,
but on the same lines. Such a marriage would heal any old


soreness between her and Andrew; there should never have
been any between them. She knew her folly by now, and
that if she had to marry any one, he should have been the man.
" I believe in young marriages," said Andrew, when the
preliminaries had been arranged.

" I do not see anything for which they need wait," answered
Agatha, thinking only of Desmond, and that she could devote
herself entirely to him when she had no one else.

Andrew sounded a note of warning, but when had she
listened to Andrew? If she gave up her dream, and suffered
in its relinquishment, did not that prove she was right? And
Andrew sounded his warning note but softly. He, too, thought
it would be for the girl's happiness. Michael was such a
good fellow, so steady.

No grass was allowed to grow under their feet. Before
Desmond came back— tacitly between Andrew and Agatha,
openly between Michael and his father, but with few words
as became them both — it was understood that Michael had
the freedom to woo, that his suit met with the approval of
the elders. He knew nothing about the plan that had been
before; nothing about what had been destined for Desmond,
Poor Michael ! He conducted liis wooing with such cir-
cumspection, was so considerate of her tender years that
Eunice never even guessed the meaning of his tortuous
speeches, never looked upon him as anything but a young
man with dull, admiring sisters who bored her by singing
his praises whenever they came to Marley or she went to
Campden Hill.

Her heart was full of Desmond's coming, humming within
her like a bee honey-laden. There was a little awkwardness the
first evening of his arrival.

Eunice heard the wheels of the carriage coming back
from the station, and rushed out impetuously into the hall.
She flung herself into his arms, kissing him, exclaiming:

" Oh, Desmond ! I'm so glad you've come. Oh, Desmond,

you've grown, and I think you're more handsome than ever."

Desmond returned her kiss warmly, and then was startled

at what came over him, and had not recovered when she led


him into the dining-room. He was travel-stained, and felt
himself at a disadvantage. The table "was spread with flowers
and silver and glass; Michael's sisters were in white shim-
mering evening dresses; Michael, tall and correct, with stiff
white shirt and eyeglass. His mother would think him half
a savage to be coming among them like this; he could not
meet her eye — stammering out his excuses.

" I don't want anything to eat."

For they would have made way for him. He did not
know whether to kiss his mother or not. She was at the end
of the table. She had risen agitatedly when she heard him
in the hall, but had resumed her seat before he came in.

" Here he is, auntie. Hasn't he grown ? I do believe he's
got a moustache coming ! "

Agatha was not thinking of the things her son suspected,
only of the emotion his coming gave her, and that she must
not betray it.

" John will bring back the soup. "We have only just be-
gun." She gave him no formal greeting, and spoke as if
nothing had been between them.

" I can't sit down like this."

" Oh, yes, you can," Eunice interposed quickly. " You
look as well as anything. None of us mind. Auntie ordered
whitebait because she knew you liked it. We talked over the
menu ever so long this morning. Don't let everything get

" I hope you still like whitebait ? " Lady Grindelay said.

He saw she meant kindness, and took the indicated place,
ate with them, talked of the journey. The sense of home-
coming was strong upon him as the evening wore on, and an
intimate pleasure in it swelled in his voice as he talked.

He had not kissed his mother before the McKays, and the
servants in the dining-room, in front of everybody. But he
lingered in the drawing-room until all had gone to bed but
the two of them. When Lady Grindelay got up and said :

" I think we ought to be following our guests," he seized
the opportunity — shame-faced, nervous.


"I want to thank you for letting me come back," he


She was ever inarticulate in emotion, and hurried her


" It is Eunice's birthday to-morrow. You have been here
for nearly all her birthdays. You will have to go up for your
examination next week. You had no books with you."

No maid with her lover could have been more shy than
Agatha with her son. She wished that he would kiss her,
but gave him no opportunity.

Desmond felt a little hurt, thrown back upon himself.

" Good-night, then," he said awkwardly.

" Good night," she answered. There was not even a kiss
between them. He had been full of penitence and gratitude
to her for letting him come here, of pleasure at being home
again. But now he felt something of reaction, and thought of
his father, to whom she must many times have been cold like
this. He never guessed that she was more glad than he in
his home-coming, half ashamed of what she only half realised,
young passion in an old heart, a dry old heart that had not
known it before. So few sons know how their mothers love
them. And this one less than any other, because of the cir-
cumstances that had kept them apart.

Perhaps naturally, it was not of his mother Desmond
thought when he went to bed without kissing her, but of
Eunice. She had greeted him as a sister, warmly, lovingly;
she had not omitted to kiss him. " But she isn't my sister,
and thank God for that! " was his last waking thought. He
was very happy.

The next day and the next Eunice hung about him, told
him everything that had happened during his absence, even
about the Orchid and a belated spike.

" Auntie is sure it's going to flower now. Sanders says
' it's wakin' up to its work.' Jack Eeid is coming over this
afternoon. Michael's sisters, and me, and the two Campden
boys make five ; there's you and Michael, Billy Norland, and
two boys from the vicarage. Can't we have a tournament on


Saturday, Desmond, like we had at Denham ? We've only got
a few more. Isn't it lucky we've got an asphalt court ? "

"Billy" Norland was the Eev. William Norland, curate,
supposed to be casting sheep's eyes at one of the McKays.
Eunice told Desmond about it. To her it did not appear
romantic or sentimental ; it was only funny. She was younger
even than her years, and less developed.

"We are going to have a picnic to-morrow; that's what
I chose for my birthday, although Auntie said no one had
ever heard of a picnic in March. We are going to have it in
the woods — our woods ; but we could have the tournament on
Saturday. The McKays are staying till Monday. After that,
Desmond, after that we'll go together to all our old places."

She hung about him, talked, made plans. But, except on
that first evening, she had not kissed him. There was no
reason why she should not, no reason in her own mind. Per-
haps Desmond thought he was too old for kissing. She had
instincts, although she was without reason. She was satisfied
to have him there.

The house was full of guests those few days; luncheon
parties, dinner parties, continual games. Lady Grindelay
wished to put off for the present the talk she thought inevit-
able between herself and her son. He was never out of her

He was anxious to propitiate her, intermittently attentive.
But, of course, she was not his first interest, if he was hers.
She would not have believed it if she had been told she was
jealous of the girl's place with him. She thought she was only
intent on carrying out what she had decided was her duty and
inevitable, fulfilling her trust.

" You must not neglect your other guests for Desmond,"
she told Eunice. " Desmond is at home here." Eunice had
come into her room before she was up, to ask if she and Des-
mond could go on the river before breakfast.

" If you do go, take Michael with you. Michael is fond
of rowing." This was on Saturday.

They did not go, for the presence of Michael would have
spoiled everything. They would wait until Monday, until he


■went away again. Eunice and Desmond liked best to be alone.
Eunice, at least, had always knoMoi that. Yet those seventeen
years, all warm and sunlit, had been so guarded that there
■were no seeds so"wn, and none could sprout, of comprehension
of that -which "was so near her, making every day more beau-
tiful than the last.

The full days fled. The picnic was a success. The tennis
tournament took place.. Michael and Madge Eeid "won it.
Desmond had never played so badly.

" You're out of practice," Eunice said to him consolingly.
Desmond knew better, but he -was in no mood to question -why
it -was he missed ball after ball, -why his muscles were relaxed
and he -wanted to dream, not to play games.

On Monday the McKays -were to go. Lady Grindelay, at
the last moment, suggested Michael should prolong his holi-
day. Andrew must go, the office called liim, he could not be
alone in that big house in Campden Hill. The girls had their
various avocations, their housekeeping, sewing classes, -what
not. But Michael, conscientious Michael, -who had so few
holidays, could surely prolong this one. Never had there been
a March so like May, one could see a misty veil of green already
on the trees.

Michael -would not stay, -would not neglect his father or
his -work, but said that if Lady Grindelay permitted he -would
come up and do-wn daily. It was only an hour from to-wn,
the trains "were good.

Michael -was satisfied that his wooing progressed, although
he felt the time -was not ripe for speaking. Perhaps it would
ripen -when the spring ■was fully here. He never thought of
Desmond as a rival, no more than if he had been Eunice's
young brother. Desmond -was not yet twenty, and had not
started on a career. In Michael's well-ordered mind these
were sufficient reasons to deter him from thinking of love or

Michael "went regularly up to to"wn, and Desmond and
Eunice spent the lengthening days together. They -wanted
nothing more than to be left alone. Desmond ■was alive,
although timid, to -what it meant — this happiness in being


together with Eunice. She believed it was just as it had
always been, no different. She had never had a companion
who could compare with Desmond. He was quieter than he
used to be ; she liked being with him even more.

Again they sat on the mossy ground, under the spreading
branches of some old tree, bird-haunted in the summer, bare
now, but familiar. Again she went with him on the river,
one day even as far as the raits at Dawney. It was holiday
tixae at Eton, and the shouting boys in their shorts were
absent, but the atmosphere remained and reminded him. He
\isited all the Eton tradesmen, gave liberal orders, was quite
a boy that afternoon.

They resented the evenings when Michael followed them
to the billiard-room, or sat with them in the conservatory;
the week-ends, when he was with them all the time.

" He's so much nearer auntie's age. I wonder he doesn't
keep more with her," Eunice complained. Michael was
twenty-eight ! But they were well-bred young people, good-
natured, and sorry for him because his life could not be passed
like theirs.

" I wonder he can stand being in a stuffy office ten months
out of every twelve. I should think he'd get blue mould on
him. But I suppose he likes it."

" Perhaps he did it to please his father," she suggested.

" I'd as soon be an undertaker as a lawyer."

** You ! But you're so different, Desmond. I think we
ought to be very nice to him, to try and make things up to

" So we are. Aren't I teaching him to row, although he
has no more muscle than a tadpole."

" You will go on being nice to him ? "

'' Of course I will, if you want me to, although he's a

That was what Desmond said at first, until he saw why
Michael came.

" He is so pleased always to be here, and he says such
nice things to me."

"What sort of things?"


" Things out of books, and that I'm like a flower."

" He has sense enough to see that."

Their eyes met; she coloured, but did not know why, and
laughed for the same reason. That was when Desmond began
to suspect why Michael came so often.

Michael, liking to be with them, meaning to fall in with
their ways, wishing to be as light as they, although natural
gaiety was foreign to his temperament, let Desmond teach him
to feather his oars, bend his knees, throw back his shoulders,
while Eunice instructed him in wood lore. Michael, most
estimable of young men, tall and stiff and a little Scotch, with
his eyeglass and unblemished record, his high degree and
medal, was not a good wooer, could not have been, or Eunice
would surely have perceived his intentions. She classed him
with the Odontoglossum and other things that interested
her aunt.

It was not until she and Desmond quarrelled about him,
until she had to defend him, that she really began to think
about him at all, and then it was in anything but the way
he would have wished.

" He says the same things over and over again," she told
Desmond. *' When he said :

* Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to tea'

this aitemoon, I nearly laughed. He said it last Saturday
and the Saturday before."

" Couldn't he see we don't want him ? I wonder how long
he is going to come up and down. Why doesn't he stick to the
office?" Desmond asked, forgetting but a few days ago he
had been sympathetic with Michael's mode of life, willing to
lighten it for him. Eunice reminded him :

"But it must be so wonderful for him to be here after
sitting in an office all day. We've got to remember that, to
go on making it as pleasant as possible."

" I don't suppose he would have sat in an office unless he
wanted. He has always been a sap. And he is so cursed


" Well, you're not," she answered merrily. They were on
the river together, and there were hours before Michael would
appear again. "You were very short with him yesterday,
and said he would never be anything of an oar."

" Why should I be polite to him ? It isn't me he wants
to be with ; it's you."

She laughed, a young, incredulous laugh.

" He likes to be with us both, it's because we are gayer

Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 7 of 27)