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than he is. It doesn't matter which of us it is, as long as he
hasn't to discuss orchids or the village schools, or the new
drainage, with auntie."

She believed every word she said. A few days later Des-
mond broke out again:

" Why does he call you my ' sister ' ? It's cheek of him."
He mimicked the words. ' Perhaps your sister will do me the
honour to play with me next Saturday instead of with you?
Miss Reid, I am sure, will be proud of your partnership.'
What does he mean by interfering? We'll play the same
match or not at all."

" It would make a better game if I played with Michael.
You are so out of form, and I was never very good."

Desmond argued the matter, spoke insultingly of Michael,
called him a Cockney, alluded to his tactlessness. " Shoving
himself where he wasn't wanted." Eunice defended him
wonderingly. It was strange for Desmond to be ill-tempered
with her.

The match was played as Michael proposed. Desmond
recovered his form on that occasion, and Mary Eeid played
up to him. \ They won easily. After it was over, Desmond
said, rather more exultantly than the occasion demanded :

" You didn't do so well without me, after all, did you ?
It wasn't such a walk-over for you and McKay. You'd better
stick to me another time if you want to win."

Michael answered for her, answered quickly •

"I am sure your sister — I am sure Miss Eunice doesn't
mind being beaten."

" Can't she speak for herself ? "


" What is the matter with you, Desmond ? " Eunice asked.

" Nothing is the matter with me." He spoke furiously.

Michael put in another word, intended to be conciliatory.
Desmond replied intemperately, and they all decided he was
better left alone.

"We'll play the final another day," Michael said sooth-
ingly, as Desmond left the court. But Eunice went after him,
slipping an arm into his.

" Why are you so cross, Desmond ? I didn't do it on pur-
pose. Did you think I wanted you to win ? I really did play
my best."

" What does he mean by calling you my sister ? " Desmond
answered savagely. "What does he mean by telling me
whether you care or not about being beaten? Don't I know
you better than he does ? Why is he always interfering between

" Why shouldn't he call me your sister ? "

" He's trying to make up to you, bringing you boxes of
sweets, books you don't read ''

" Yes, I do ; really I do, some of them."

" When mother insists."

" Auntie never insists," she answered quickly.

" I believe she's throwing you at the fellow's head."

" What do you mean ? "

But he had no explanation ready, and was sullen half
the day and during Sunday, until Michael went away on
Monday morning in fact.

The next evening he began again on the same subject. It
was wet. Michael had telegraphed that business detained him
in town, and they had the billiard-room to themselves. They
were not playing, because whilst Desmond had been away
things had got into disorder, and he had all the cues to mend,
the tops had dropped off many of them. They had been talk-
ing of the cues. Without anything to lead up to the subject
he began again about Michael.

" I believe he does it on purpose. ' Your sister and your
sister and your sister.' He knows we're only cousins. Hardly
that, for your mother was only my mother's stepsister."


" Does it matter ? " she asked wonderingly. " We've
always been the same."

"But we are not brother and sister," he said doggedly,
not meeting her eyes, going on with the cues. " Where's the
glue? I wish you'd pass it me. It's in the fireplace." She
brought it over to him, remaining by his side.

"We are practically no relations."

" It's just the same." She came a little closer to him.

" It isn't."

" I couldn't be fonder of you if I were your real sister."
She was holding the glue-pot, but found her heart beating
more quickly than usual.

" Are you fonder of me than you are of Michael McKay ? "

" I shouldn't care if I never saw Michael McKay again.
Go on with the cue. Why are you stopping ? It wants holding
down — pressing."

" I'm not in the humour for it, I'm sick of it. I suppose
he'll be coming down again to-morrow — standing between
us." He spoke gloomily, and she answered quickly, her cheeks

" As if anything could come between us."

" You mean it ? "

" Of course I do." He meant to have gone on, to have
asked her how much better she liked him than she did
Michael. But now, as once or twice before, he became tongue-
tied by her nearness ; his beating heart stopped his words ; he
could not bear her so near Mm.

" As if we could ever like anybody better than we do each
other ! " she said. And then an extraordinary silence fell
between them ; she felt her cheeks burning.

"Let's go out on the terrace; it's left off raining." She
wanted the darkness of the terrace that he should not notice
her cheeks burning or her voice trembling. Neither of them
was ready for that whicfi was so near them. It was quite in
his accustomed manner he said :

'^All right. Just wait until I put these things away to
dry. I'll have another go at them the next wet day."


Nothing in nature stands still, least of all young love between
a girl and a boy.

Lady Grindelay knew so many things — rose and orcMd
culture, drainage, what standard a little girl of seven should
have attained, and that she should wear her hair in a neat
plait; knew about silos, Berkshire pigs and Aldemey cows.
She prided herself upon the variety of her interests, upon
keeping abreast with the times, sympathising with the
Women's Movement, still in its infancy, trying to understand
Socialism and the trend of politics. The only thing completely
hidden from her was the human heart, even her own. A
misgiving she may have had, but now that she had decided
Eunice should marry Michael, she would not allow herself
to dwell upon it. Eunice was one of those girls for whom
marriage was indicated. Why, then she should marry
Andrew's son, and the sooner the better. A sexless woman
lives in a perpetual twilight, with no dawn of roseate sun to
lighten it. Love! The word was even strange on her lips.
She was not prudish, only ignorant, with a sense lacking.

Eunice should marry, since she already showed an inclina-
tion for it. But not Desmond. Agatha's conscience held the
reins of her intelligence and drove her unceasingly. Day
and night she thought of her son, and of what she could do
to cure him of the desire for strong drink. Her tenderness
tunnelled deep, until all the foundations of her strength
were shaken — shaken, but still standing. He must be dis-'
ciplined, strengthened, helped. It was the task for a mother,
not for a gentle girl like Eunice, Eunice was to be guarded
from trouble.

Lady Grindelay, planning for both of them, abandoning
what had been her dearest wish, and without a doubt that she
was doing right, never saw that this early spring was different
from all the springs of Desmond's and Eunice's childhood.
The woods held their secret^ the sap rising in the pines



scented their path, the chaffinch sang- early on the elm, the
blackbird on the thorn, the March winds blew as softly as if
it were May, and all for them.

Michael came steadily wooing, and everybody knew it but
the subject of his attentions.

Lady Grrindelay was without a doubt that as she and
Andrew had settled it so it would come about. Her feeling
towards the girl had ebbed a little, leaving dry places, Michael
would be kind to her; his character was steady, his principles
were high; he was the husband she needed. Lady Grindelay
planned in her twilight. What was between Desmond and
Eunice grew in the sunshine under budding leaves, or where
the river washed the banks among the reeds.

There came a day when it broke into words, an eventful
day ; but it was Lady Grindelay who hastened the speaking.

Desmond, because as yet nothing different had been de-
cided, went as arranged to Oxford for his examination. He
was away only the inside of a week, but he grudged the time,
grudged every minute he was not feeling the pulsing strength
of his growing manhood, the love that was not part, but the
whole of it. Because his heart was so full — not, as the exam-
iners thought, because his mind was so empty — he failed to
pass, to answer the questions put to him, to concentrate on
them. He was ploughed for his " Little Go."

The news came to him at breakfast. He opened the letter,
exclaimed at its contents, put it at the side of his plate, went
on eating. Eunice wondered a little at the way Desmond
took the news, admiring him for his calnmess. Lady Grinde-
lay said nothing.

" After all, I don't think I should have cared much about
Oxford," he said carelessly. " Pass the marmalade, Eunice.
It's not as if I was going into a profession. I don't see
what I should have done there."

Lady Grindelay got up from the breakfast-table without
comment. She was not entirely unprepared for what had


Later on Eunice found her in the drawing-room, engaged
in needlework.

" I'm going into the town, auntie. Desmond wants some
fishing-lines. We are going to row down and have the car-
riage to meet us at the lock. Is there any shopping you
want done ? "

Lady Grindelay was sitting at her frame. The Wansteads
had all been famous for their embroideries, and Lady Grin-
delay, notwithstanding her many interests and occupations,
had always found time to exercise her gifts of even stitch and
unbroken patience. It was her answer to Tolstoi's ^^what is
Art ? " — ^the expression of her limited lyricism. Perhaps the
happiest hours of Agatha's life had been spent translating
rare orchids in water-colours, and thence to silk or satin by
orderly stitch,

Eunice repeated her question.

" Didn't you say you wanted another skein or two of the
yellow?" She was interested in her aunt's work, and bent
over the frame. She, too, worked sometimes, copying needle-
work pictures, keeping up the traditions of the house. " It is
getting on wonderfully. You ought to show it to Sanders."

" It " was a mauve and yellow orchid with a purple lip,
and they spoke about the needed silks for a few moments.
Lady Grindelay made a French knot or two, put her head on
one side and examined the effect. Then she said :

" I should like to speak to Desmond before you go. You
are not in any immediate hurry, are you ? "

Eunice hesitated.

Lady Grindelay laid out her silks in order, straightening
the skeins.

" You are not angry with Desmond, are you ? " She hesi-
tated, but went on : " It wasn't Desmond's fault ; he couldn't
help it. He would have passed all right if he had gone up
before he left Eton."

" It is quite possible."

" Are you going to say anything to him ? " She made a
tentative effort to help with the sorting. " You are short of
the darkest purple, too."


" I want to know what he is going to do, what are his

Desmond, following the girl into the room, for he could
not bear just now that she should be out of his sight, answered
for himself lightly :

" My plans are to get down to the boat as quickly as pos-
sible. As it is, we shall hardly get back in time for lunch."

" I should like a few words with you," His mother was
still handling the silks.

" Won't it do after lunch ? It's getting so late."

" Just as you please ; but perhaps "

They did not allow her to finish her sentence; they were
off before she found the shade of purple of which she needed
another skein.

" All right, then. Come on, Eunice."

Eunice bade her a hasty good-bye, and went so quickly at
Desmond's impatient bidding that she forgot the pattern

" We won't be late," she called back from the door. " I'll
make him hurry."

Lady Grindelay disliked unpunctuality, as she did any
other form of disorder. The years had fixed her in her old-
maidish habits.

All the morning she spent by herself, embroidering, going
over the lines of that conversation she must have with her
son. Some occupation must be found for him, and he would
have to be persuaded to it. One in which there were few or no
temptations. In none of the professions was teetotalism a
qualification. But she racked her brains to think of one in
which strong drink would be contra-indicted. There was
the Church. But she could not picture Desmond in canon-
icals. All the time she was considering the Bar, the Church,
farming in Canada, or representing his county in Parlia-
ment, at the back of her mind was the knowledge that there
was only one profession for such as he. All the time, too,
her heart contracted, and she feared that to which she must
persuade him. He must be a soldier, disciplining himself
first, then others. But what she wanted was to keep him near


her. Because she wanted it she must not do it. Perhaps in
the years to come, the far-distant years. . . . She pictured
him disciplined, and even distinguished, returning to Marley.
Then she would walk proudly, holding on to his arm. She
habitually forgot her age, feeling still young and vigorous,
as if her days would never end.

In the afternoon, when Desmond, as arranged, came in to
talk to her, she had it all fully planned. He suggested
lightly that Eunice should Join their conference, but Lady
Grindelay decided otherwise.

" Michael will be down at five. Eunice can go in the car-
liage to meet him. You might go a little earlier, and get me
the silk you forgot this morning," she said to the girl. It did
not seem suitable she should stay while Desmond's future was
being discussed ; it was better she should go to meet her own.

" I am sorry I forgot the silk." Eunice Avas really con-
trite, anxious to make amends for her forgetfulness. " If I
go now there will still be light enough."

" We shan't be very long over our talk, shall we ? " Des-
mond asked. " She can wait, can't she, and then I can drive
in with her ? "

" I don't think she had better delay ; the dusk falls early."

" Of course I won't wait for Desmond. It was horrid of
me to forget it this morning. I'll go now."

But when she had left them, Lady Grindelay seemed in
no haste to speak. Desmond watched his mother for a few
minutes, wondering about her. Agatha retained her figure,
she had grown old in the way trees grow, was mature and
without a sign of decay. Her hair was grey, but it was a wiry
and vigorous grey; although there were fine lines about her
eyes, the eyes were still young. Mothers and sons should not
wonder about each other; they should know. Desmond knew
little of his mother, except that she was for ever surprising
him, and, he thought, perhaps criticising him. She had never,
for instance, said one word to him about his behaviour at
Languedoc. Perhaps, after all, she understood. She had
always been generous to him, never nagged him, like other
fellows' mothers, but then she had never — —


Desmond actually flushed when he thought how different
other fellows' mothers were from his. Lady John, for in-
stance, rumpled up Edric's hair and scolded him, kissed him
before everyone. Jeffrey Campden thought nothing of putting
his arm round his mother's waist or about her shoulders, and
anyone could see how well she liked it. Mrs. Reid never
talked of anyone else but Jack, and all the examinations he
passed, what his tutors wrote about him. She cackled about
him, Desmond thought, like a hen with one chicken. Up at
the parsonage, too, where many of the children were still
small, Mrs. Montgomery was never without one clinging to
her skirt or in her arms. When the big ones came back from
school ot university, she could not make enough of them.
Of course, he knew how superior Lady Grindelay was to
Lady Campden, or Mrs. Eeid, or Mrs. Montgomery. Still,
there were times when what a fellow wants from his mother
is not superiority. Then he had one sickening moment of
remembrance and longing for his father, for poor old drunken
Pat and his ready sympathy. Before it had died away he
began to speak hurriedly.

Agatha was still embroidering. She drew a long thread
through the taut silk on the frame, and held her needle
poised again whilst she listened. Her own opening she had
not yet decided upon.

" Mother, you wanted to speak to me. But there is some-
thing I want to get in first. I suppose you are sick over this
exam.? It was only because I got thinking of something
else. . . ."

She laid down her needle, and looked up at him. His face
had grown thin and the light in his blue eyes was restless;
his colour came and went. All of a sudden he had made up
his mind to tell her, if he could get it out, to ask her sym-
pathy, show her what was in his heart. After all, she was
his mother. Somewhere out of sight and deep down he had
an idea she was but unlike those other mothers on the surface.
He was her only son.

" After all, you know, I don't really want to go to Oxford.


What's the good of attending lectures and all the rest of
it ? " He spoke a little nervously.

"No?" she said inquiringly, "No? Then what is it
you wish to do? That is what I detained you to ask. It is
time we spoke of it. But you are beforehand with me. Tell
me what you have in your mind."

Thinking she understood, would meet him half-way, he
said boldly :

" I want to stay on here."

She smiled.

" And that is what I, too, should like best." He returned
her smile. " But is it best for you ? That is what we have to
think. Your education still incom]3lete, no definite occupa-
tion. . . ."

" Couldn't I look after the estate, hunt and shoot, do what
other fellows in my position do, even if it is a little earlier ? "

" But you are not quite like other fellows." Her sigh was
involuntary. He paid no heed to it,

" Oh, that's nothing. Because I've got a title ^"

*'I was not thinking of your title." She was astonished
that he should think of that. To her it seemed that to be
Lord Grindelay was so much less than to be a Wanstead,
Squire of Marley.

" Mother ! "

He stammered, stopped, and she looked at him in sur-
prise, then dropped her eyes, for she thought he was going
to say something of what was between them, of his sottish
father and his own weakness. When the words came from
him they came like a torrent, but not at all what she ex-
pected. At first she could hardly gather what he was saying,
he spoke so quickly.

"I want to stay here and marry Eunice. I know I'm
young and all that. I don't mean at once. But other men
are after her, I can't be forestalled. There's Michael, now,
Michael McKay. He's fooling about, and it's easy to see
what he wants. I'm not going to stand it." He spoke with
a kind of furious, agitated heat, went on pouring out his
grievance and his desire.


"It isn't as if she's even grown up. It's not the right
thing to do ; it's a rotten shame. I've never said a word to her
myself. He makes eyes at her, pays her compliments, says
she's like a flower." The fluctuating colour now burned more
steadily. " It isn't fair ; it's beastly. I want him to know ;

I want you to tell him that Eunice and I — Eunice and I "

He ran short of words, his eyes pleading and bright, his heart

" Eunice and you ? " She repeated the words after him
almost mechanically. " Eunice and you ! But that is im-
possible. I dare not . . . you must not . . ."

" I know I've got to wait. I haven't said anything to her,
but no one else must interfere between us. What's he hang-
ing about for, if it isn't that? You see for yourself I can't
go to Oxford, or leave her, whilst he's hanging about."

She tried to thread her silk, although her hands were

" You think I'm too young ? "

" No, it was not that." Her tongue was dry, she had not
thought it would be necessary to explain tilings to him.

" What is it, then ? "

*'You are so untried. . . ." She could not hurt him or
speak more freely. " Perhaps if I had known of this wish

of yours before " She hesitated, the truth was impossible

of utterance. " Now I have given my promise to Michael."

" To Michael McKay ? " he replied incredulously.

" Yes."

" I suppose you never thought of me at all ? " he said
furiously. " I suppose I don't count ? "

She could not bear to feel his young fury turned against

" I had to think of her." She was not speaking with
authority, but hesitatingly, almost incoherently.

" Why shouldn't you ? " And then he stopped abruptly.
'^ You've been holding that — that time at Lauguedoc against

" I have not been holding it against you. I had to think
of what was right. You are so young," she faltered.


He broke in :

" There is one thing — ^she ■wouldn't look at him."

She was struggling against a force she did not under-
stand, as unwilling to speak to him of his infirmity as if she
had to break to him that he was deformed or disabled.

" He is very steady and reliable." She was very sorry for
Desmond, and distressed. But her conscience stifled her heart,
and, although she would give him everything, she knew she
must not give him Eunice, not the girl to whom now she felt
curiously cold and estranged, but who had been left in her
care, and whom she must protect.

Doggedly, for now he caught a glimpse of the high wall
of her resistance, and meant to climb it, he went on :

"I am going to marry Eunice." His face went pale.
" You can't prevent me. I can do what I like when I am of

She began a sentence about a woman's needs, and that she
should be able to look up to her husband ; of how awful it is
when a woman must submit herself to her husband, despising
him ; she got out a desperate half word about what it is to be
a wife and see a man you have sworn to love and obey reel
into your room.

He gazed at her in surprise, then gathered she was speak-
ing of his father.

" I must protect her," she said painfully. " You must see
that." Desmond resented the allusion to his father, that he
should be dragged in. He answered rudely, but quickly and
without thought :

" You won't make her do it, for all you say. She doesn't
care for Michael any more than for a dead dog. She'll never
marry him."

" I am sorry," Lady Grindelay began, and stopped.

" I don't want your pity. Why should you be sorry for me ?
There is nothing the matter with me."

"I know it is only weakness. You vnW be cured — ^you
shall be cured."

" Never ! "

It choked him to say the next words; he had never said


them to Eunice, nor she to him, the words in which he must
make his mother understand. His voice was husky and his
eyes suffused.

'' "We — we care for each other."

He walked into the conservatory after having said it, stay-
ing there to recover himself. When he came back into the
room his mother was sitting as he had left her. He came
swiftly to her, stood close beside her.

" Mother, you don't mean to keep us apart ? I know, of
course I know you were unhappy with my father ; but because
of that you don't want me to be unhappy ? "

He could hardly hear her reply; the pale lips formed the
words, but he could hardly hear them.

" No, I do not want you to be unhappy. I could not bear
that you should be unhappy. But you and I — we have not
only ourselves to think of. We must make sacrifices."

" Not this ? " His own voice was low.

" We have to think of her — ^you and I. It is dreadful for
you, I know, to — to give her up."

" I am not going to give her up. Mother, I — I love her."

But he felt despairingly that his mother did not know what
was this love of which he was telling her, how it paralysed
his tongue and made his mouth dry, how beyond words it was.

She would have come into all the kingdom of her mother-
hood with one touch of comprehension, one half word of
sympathy. In the silence he began to hope. Never before
had he appealed to her, not in this way, not in words, only
dumbly or sullenly, and she had never quite heard or under-
stood the call ; there was so much between them. Now, having
spoken, hope rose, poised like a butterfly wing on his dry lips.

" I want Eunice. I — I want her for my wife."

She would have given her to him, thrown her to the
wolves, for that was the way she regarded it, only for her
conscientiousness, her sense of duty that was no sense at all.

^' I want you to send Michael away — to help me."

She knew — she knew already that she loved him better
than anything on earth, and would have given him her own


heart to play with. But not Eunice's. She had to be true to
her trust.

"I cannot send Michael away." Her voice was low.

Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 8 of 27)