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" There is nothing I would not do for you, nor give you." She
who had not known what passion meant felt her heart beating
passionately now. Memories of past shame and humiliation
scorched her cheek, burned in her eyes. " Only not Eunice.
I — I dare not. I promised her mother to guard her."

" And why not ? Why not ? " he cried.

It was she who appealed to him now.

*^ How can I let her bear what I have borne ? I promised
her mother to take care of her. You say I must not pity you.
But if the time came when I must pity her, and know that it
was I who had connived at her unhappiness ! How could I
bear it ? She is not as strong as I. Yet I, with my strength "
— he saw the colour flush her, as if she were suffering still —
" could not endure it, was compelled to leave him — my self-
respect. . . ."

"But I — I " His voice was incredulous. "What

has that to do with it? "

She could hardly speak, but knew she could only help him
by telling him what it was he had to fight. He stood before
her, flushed and incredulous, angry. In her heart she was
rocking and soothing him, for all she was so inarticulate.
She wanted to dull and still the pain of the things she must


"I will help you, help you all that is possible, against
yourself. But you must understand ; I have never spoken of
this before, but now you force me. Already, as with him, drink
tempts you, and you yield. You say you must have her —
you must! He was like that, without principle or self-
restraint. What he wanted he — he took . . ."

"But I am not like that." He was angry, very angry,
but because he saw she suffered he kept a restraint over

" You don't know yourself. How should you ? But that
was what he did — drank, and took what he wanted , . ."
Her voice failed; she was remembering dreadful things.


" I am not like that — and I don't believe he was either/'
he repeated, almost to himself.

" You came to me drunk — drunk, on the day of your
father's funeral ! "

'"It was the first time in my life — ^the only time. I
thought you had forgiven me."

" Forgiven ! I had not to forgive you, only myself, that
I had given you this inheritance, this father. Loose living,

loose thinking, jesting about vice " There was a sob in

her throat.

"Don't, mother, don't!"

She was ashamed — ashamed of his shame and humilia-
tion. But he ? There struggled through his anger something
of exultation. If it was from those things she would protect
Eunice, he was with her heart and soul, he was with her in
desiring it. He was hot to tell her he was no drunkard, and
for loose living or loose talk he had as great an abhorrence
as she, that he knew no kisses but those from the soft lips
of his cousin. He wanted that all these things should be clear
to her, that she should know his reverence for the girl, how
he cared about her. He was shaken with the thought of
the greatness of his love, and drew nearer to his mother.
In another moment he would have told her, or tried to tell

But she gave him no time. Already the interview had
touched deeper issues than she had been prepared for. She
got up now, abruptly, before he had time to speak or ap-
proach her.

"We won't speak of it any more, if you don't mind.
Not yet, not until you have thought things over. You tell
me you have said nothing to her. You will not do so now ? "

Thrown back upon himself and silenced, in the reaction
and surprise he answered quickly:

" I am not going to make any promises.'^

"I think I hear the carriage. Isn't that the carriage
coming back ? "

It was impossible to say anything further then. Eunice


was in the hall, and Michael with her; their voices could be
heard, and Eunice's laughter. She broke into the room.

" I've got the silk and Michael."

She looked quickly from one to another.

" There is nothing the matter, is there ? "

"What should be the matter?" Lady Grindelay asked,
and welcomed Michael fittingly. Desmond found it more
difficult to regain his self-possession.


This was in the spring of 1899. There was great unrest in
South Africa, and for some time past Kruger had been
making the position impossible to Englishmen. He had
been showing his teeth, and everywhere but officially, in the
War Office, it was known he had also been buying guns. We
were displaying our usual official urbanity, and certain parlia-
mentarians were under the impression that the situation
could be cleaned up with soft soap. Diplomacy might still
have succeeded, but faddists on both sides of the House hung
on the arms of negotiators, impeding progress, delaying
everything but the preparations of the Boers. Our army, of
course, was unready. When is the British Army ready for
war? is a conundrum to which the answer has not yet been
found. But young officers at all stations were becoming hope-
ful of opportunity for showing their quality. That there
might be an insufficiency of these was a contingency that was
slowly stirring up the stagnant minds of the old dotards at
the War Office. That spring there was already a sensible
augmentation in the ranks of the probationers, who were
rushed through a short course of training in riding, shooting,
and musketry practice, tactics, and what not. The diploma
of a commission was given readily to youth and ignorance.
The effect was not fully known until a series of disasters,
holocausts of soldiers, began to bring it home.

This, however, is only incidentally concerned with the
story of Desmond and his mother.

Lady Grindelay, of course, did not believe in the war.
Few English mothers did at that time. But when, at dinner
that evening, Michael spoke of the talk at the London clubs,
how everyone thought the old man, Oom Paul, should be
given a lesson, and what a difference it was making in the
number of recruits, Lady Grindelay noticed how Desmond's
eyes lit up and how, now and again, his colour rose. Although
throughout her life she made so many sad and irretrievable



mistakes, she was not dull witted. This seemed to her to be
a way out of the immediate difficulty. If Desmond could be
led or persuaded to enter the Army, the rest would happen
naturally. Michael could be trusted to make good his oppor-
tunities. And Desmond would be under discipline. This
was what he needed. The late Lord Grindelay had been his
own master from early boyhood; uncontrolled at the most
critical period of his life. It was imperative Desmond should
be differently placed. Therefore, she encouraged Michael to
talk of the war that was coming, admitted that she too saw
there might be no other way out, and expressed the opinion
that all the young men who had not yet chosen a profession
would make a rush for the Army.

" The Campdens are fortunate with their sons. Edric has
his commission, and Jeffrey is already at Sandhurst."

" I suppose you are sorry now that you were not in the
Army Class at Eton?" Michael asked Desmond. Except
when it was a question of sport or field-lore, it was in the
foreground of Michael's mind that Desmond was a boy still,
many years younger than himself.

Desmond, antagonistic towards him, contradicted him
without hesitation.

" No, I'm not. It is a rotten way to get into the Army."

" Desmond is not anxious for military glory," Lady Grin-
delay said, always with the same objective.

" I shouldn't mind going into the Army," he answered
her, a little sullenly.

"At least, you have never shown any strong leaning
towards it."

" Yes, he has. Over and over again he has said he would
like to be a soldier," Eunice put in eagerly.

" That was before there was any talk of war," Michael
answered, with an attempt at humour; and quoted, according
to habit, "'1 was with Grant, the stranger said, two years
before the war.' "

" I suppose you would chuck the law if there was any
chance of fighting ? " Desmond retorted.

"Michael has his father to think of. Your father tells


me he leaves much in your hands already/' Lady Grindelay
put in^ to cover her son's aggressiveness.

The next day and the next the possibilities of war were
discussed. Another tennis tournament was held, and while
the youngsters played, the fathers and mothers sat in the
drawing-room, or walked in the garden, or round the hot-
houses, and spoke of little else. Lady Grindelay, without any
belief in the probability of our great country being defied
or drawn into battle by a handful of Dutch farmers, con-
cealed her opinion, and spoke of the duty of being prepared.
Desmond, sauntering into the room when all the guests were
gone and his mother and Eunice sat together, showed he
was at the point to which she had led him.

"All this war talk is jolly rot — a handful of Boer
farmers! If I thought there was anything in it, I'd have a
shot for the Army myself."

" You'd look splendid in a uniform. Lady John showed
me Edric's portrait. You'd go into the Guards, wouldn't


"I never saw anything like the fuss you all made of
Edric to-day," he answered. "I'm too old for Sandhurst,"
he added inconsequently.

"I don't think so," Lady Grindelay answered quietly,

" Then you wouldn't mind ? " Eunice cried.

" I should not like to think of my son hanging back if
his country had need of him."

" Nobody is braver than Desmond."

Lady Grindelay smiled, smiled because Eunice was so
quick in his defence. Desmond thought she smiled because
she doubted that too. He was little more than a boy; he had
not yet come to his full height, the stature of his wisdom,
or the measure of his ambition. Yesterday he could think
of nothing but Eunice and the sweetness of her, of his own
throbbing pulses and restless nights. To-day, at the thought
of "those beggars, the Boers, forbidding Englishmen in
Johannesburg to bear arms," his blood fired. If there was to
be a war, he was not the one to stay at home and read about it.



When he was alone with his mother he said, a propos of
nothing :

"I don't suppose I could get into Sandhurst without a
coach ? "

" There would be no difficulty about that," she answered.

" If it were not for Eunice " he began again.

" I should have thought that was an additional reason."

She meant that because he could not marry his cousin,
it would be a good way of putting her out of his mind if he
decided even now, late though it was, to try to get into the
Army. He needed discipline. She did not believe there
would be a war.

It came about quickly. Afterwards Lady Grindelay knew
she forced it to come about. She managed that Michael
should not come down again whilst Desmond was still unde-
cided. When she saw that Desmond thought she doubted
his courage, and that it helped to his decision, she was careful
not to reassure him. She told everyone of his decision before
he had made it.

" My son thinks if there is any chance of a war, he must
at least be in a position to take part in it."

She had no misgiving, only a great throb of gratitude
to the Jameson raiders and Kruger for having forwarded
her plana. She would take Eunice abroad when Desmond
was with his coach in London. Michael's wooing would be
done as well at Aix-le-Bains or Dinard as here. Desmond
had said Eimice knew nothing of his feelings for her, and
Lady Grindelay decided it was best she should never know
them. She thought she was acting in Desmond's best interest,
and yet not neglecting her duty to Eunice. Eunice must be
safely married, or at least engaged to Michael McKay, whilst
Desmond was learning to be a soldier. He would get over
his wish to marry Eunice ; it was only a boyish fancy. Boyish
fancy ! That was the phrase with which Agatha masked her
ignorance, with which she set herself to circumvent that
which was as capable of circumvention as the winding of a
river to the sea.

When she heard that Blathwayt Bird would take Des-


mond, and that there were ways and means of getting over
the fact that he would be a few months over age at the time
of the examination, she professed astonishment that Desmond
still hesitated.

"I thought you had quite made up your mind; but, of
course, if you prefer the Bar "

" Not me ! "

" I thought I was carrying out your views ! No doubt Mr.
Bird can get someone in your place. But it is running it a
little close ; the term begins in a week "

" In a week ! I can't leave here in a week."

''Why not?"

"You can't kick me out like that."

" Kick you out ? What an extraordinary way you have of
talking! I really understood it was your desire to be with
your friends, that the probability of having to go to South
Africa was not a deterrent to you."

" Of course it isn't."


" Oh ! I'm going right enough."

His temper was uneven, he was not always quite respect-
ful ; he was really torn this way and the other, and undecided.
But Michael stayed away, and Desmond was fairly sure of
Eunice. If he had not set them in motion, at least he
acquiesced in the arrangements that were so quickly made
for him.

Harried and driven, with the parting so near at hand,
the promise he had never given became at all hazards the
one he must break. He was not going away from Eunice for
six, or it might be eight, months without speaking to her;
not going to leave the way clear for Michael McKay or any-
body else.

His mother, having brought him to the point she desired,
had nothing more to do but keep the young people apart. He
saw what she was about, and that in these few hurried days
he and Eunice were never alone together, were like driven
partridges before her.


Love did not laugh at locksmiths on this occasion; love,
exemplified by Desmond, was in no laughing mood. He
watched and waited, looking for opportunity; but in the end
had to make his own, finding he had hesitated long enough.

Eunice was quite satisfied that Desmond was to be a
soldier, picturing him in his smart uniform, calling him
" Colonel," and teasing him. She was still quite happy, just
as she had been all the summer, with a throbbing and excitable

It was a bore that her aunt was always with her and
Desmond now, but, of course, it was natural, since he was
going away so soon. She made innocent little efforts to
dodge her, but they came to nothing. She did not understand
she was being guarded, nor why they were never alone.

On Tuesday Desmond was to go to London, and already
it was Sunday — the last Sunday of all.

On Sunday, in Marley old church, undismayed by the
brasses and monuments of his ancestry, Desmond smuggled
her a pencilled note, as he had done so often under the e5'es
of governess or tutor in more childish days. She read it as
she knelt; the irreverence of it was nothing to the fun of
feeling like a child again; she even smiled her appreciation
to him, under the cover of her kneeling.

"We never get a chance by ourselves now. Get up
at six to-morrow, and meet me in the spinney. I'll forage
a basket, and we'll get lost in the woods. It's our last

His last chance of meeting her alone, telling her what
was in his heart. But it was not only the telling he had in
his mind. He was not even quite sure what he would say,
recognising the lingering quality of childhood in her. But
he must warn her against Michael; that at least he was
entitled to do.

They would have their last day in the woods together
alone, visit each remembered haunt, be as they had always


been. He fretted under surveillance, and was upon his mettle
to evade it.

He would go into the Army, for there was a chance of
active service, but before he went he must say a word to
Eunice, or half a word ; he might get a promise from her.

At breakfast on Monday they were both missing.

Lady Grindelay was not in doubt of what had occurred,
for Eunice, never negligent or careless, had left a little note :

'' Desmond and I are going to say good-bye to every-
thing. We've taken lunch with us. I know it's rather
awful of us to run away like this before anyone is up,
but we did so want to be alone."

Lady Grindelay disguised her dismay, hoping for the best.

" It is natural they should want to go round all their
haunts; they have so many hiding-places in the woods, tame
squirrels to feed, the boats to put away." She kept reassur-
ing herself, although with difficulty. If she could only have
seen the boy without that which was really no part of him —
his father's vices — she could have acknowledged what he had
become to her, perhaps even shown it. As it was, she was
half glad he should have this day, and half ashamed, because
she thought Eunice might suffer through it. She spent the
day trying to forget all the horrible things her husband had
told her about men who had been alone with young girls, com-
forting herself by thinking how different her son was to his
father, and still young, that perhaps the stories his father had
told her had not been true ; having faith in him, only doubt-
ing herself, and whether she should have kept them apart
more strictly.

Out of doors since six o'clock, drinking in the fine fresh
fragrance of the early day, Desmond and Eunice revelled in
their stolen freedom. They were on the river for half an hour
before the sun was high, having it all to themselves, the
broad, silver surface and dappled silence. They were again
in the woods before noon, the food Desmond had foraged out-


spread ; nothing between them and complete happiness but the
consciousness of to-morrow and the parting.

When lunch was over, they wandered under the green
veiling of the interlacing trees, a little tired, their spirits a
little overcast, talking of the days they had spent here in
childhood. Desmond spoke of his unhappiness when he was a
little boy, of his old home-sickness for Languedoc.

" Now it's Marley seems home to me," he added.

"There's no place like Marley."

" That's true ; but it was you taught it me."

" You weren't happy here at first ? "

" Not until you made me so."

"Did I make you happy? I always wanted to. I knew
you felt strange and shy."

" Was it shy you thought me ? "

"Wild. I remember when you first came, and Uncle
Andrew said you were like Struwwelpeter."

" No, that was the second time. The first time I had
Biddy with me, my Irish nurse. She thought you were all
against me — criticising me."

They talked of young memories, sentimentalising over
them, perhaps. Their mood was sentimental, subdued.

" I shall often think of this day when I am away."

" So shall I."

"Will you?"

He was hardly conscious of what he was saying, for he
had said nothing to her of what he had in his mind, and the
time was getting late.

" Of course I shall."

"But you are going abroad; you'll see many new sights
and people. You'll have a lot to think of besides me."

"I always think of you when you're away; I did when
you were at Eton. Lately, too, when you stayed at Lan-
guedoc, and I knew you and auntie had quarrelled. I still
think sometimes that you and auntie don't understand each
other as well as you and I, or as well as auntie and I." She
flushed a little when she had said that. " I used to cry about


it sometimes. It is so sad, because she is really your mother,
and not mine." She paused, and added shyly, sweetly, " You
won't think unkind things of her whilst we are away, will
you ? You used to think she did not care about you ; you re-
member saying that. But it isn't true, Desmond. Auntie is
all tender and loving inside, not a bit like she pretends to
be. Besides, mothers must love their own children."

" Must they ? " And then he added hastily, " I dare say
you are right ; I'm sure you are right. But she's got a funny
way of showing it."

" She said whatever allowance the other young men had at
Mr. Bird's, Uncle Andrew was to see you had as much or
more. You were not to want for anything. She is going to
open a banking account for you. I heard her talking about
it. You know she's awfully generous."

" She'd give me anything but what I want most."

" What do you want most ? " she asked quickly, looking up
at him. She must have read something in his eyes, for the
faint flush came again, and she did not press for a reply.

" Let's sit down here."

They sat on the gnarled roots of an ancient oak, and a
silence fell between them, a silence like a shadow. But she
could not long be shy with Desmond. She came near to him
until their shoulders were almost touching.

" Don't be sad, Desmond. I can't bear to think you are
going away sad. You always said you wanted to be a soldier.
Yet, since this has been arranged, you haven't seemed a bit
happy. Of course, it can't be because there may be a war "

" Did she say that to you ? " he asked hastily. " Is that
what she thinks ? "

" I don't know. Of course, if there was really a war we
should neither of us want you to go."

" You'd have to put up with it then. No, it isn't because
there might be a chance of active service. That's about the
only inducement."

" What is it, then ? I know you're not happy."

"Do you think Michael McKay will come out to you at


Aix or Dinard?" he asked irrelevantly and in a different

" I know he will ; I heard her ask him. What has that to
do with it?''

" Nothing. Only I wanted to know. Tell me again. You
missed me when I was away, used to be unhappy about me ? "

*' Yes, and about you and auntie not loving each other. I
used to cry about it when I was alone in my bedroom at night,
cry myself to sleep/'

"You cried about me?^'

"Yes. I never told anyone. But now everything is so
different. You are going to learn to be a soldier, and you
know you always wanted to be a soldier — you remember we
used to play at soldiers? If it isn't the war, is it being in
London, or the examination?"

She saw that he was unhappy as he had been in child-
hood's days, and crept nearer to him. The green shadow
from the trees or some other shadow was upon his face, and
she wanted to comfort him.

" Tell me why you look uphappy. I want you always to
tell me everything."

« I will. I want to."

"We've always told each other everything — except about
my crying in bed."

"Not quite, not lately. I've wanted to tell you some-
thing. It's — it's about Michael McKay. You haven't guessed,
have you ? "

" Guessed what ? "

" Why Michael hangs about. Why he is coming out to you
at Aix or Dinard. Why she has invited him."

" No." But she was apprehensive, the flush again staining
her cheek.

" She wants you to marry Michael."

" Me ! " She was amused, but her breath came quickly,
smiling and a little derisive, but not utterly without belief.
He put his arm about her.

" You never guessed ? "


" It's so ridiculous ! "

"Ridiculous, is it? I believe it is. You'd never marry
anyone but me, would you ? You'll wait for me, won't you ? "
His arm was about her, but her face was quickly hidden against
his coat, and he had to stoop his head to hear her answer.

"They'll try and argue with you — persuade you. She
said we were just like brother and sister.'*

" We're not ? " Her voice was stifled.

"That's why I was angry with Michael for saying it.
It's not true at all." She had to hide her face deeper. He
whispered: "Tell me you're as glad about that as I am."
She made no answer this time, her burning face was hidden,
her beating heart frightened her.

" It's not that way I'm caring for you, nor you for me,
is it? Tell me, tell me ! "

She could not answer, sitting there in the encircling ten-
derness of his young arm, sweetly startled, sweetly afraid.
Her heart was knocking out the answer all the time as if it
were a spirit at a table-turning seance. But it was hardly
her time to love ; a minute ago she had been a child.

"I don't know, Desmond, I don't know," she faltered.
"I'm afraid."

" You mustn't be afraid." He felt that she clung to him.
" It's true then — that's all that matters. Is it true ? "

An awe of it came upon him. It was true that they loved
each other, and it was wonderful. They sat for a minute or
two, holding each other. At last she raised her face to him,
her child-lips trembling. His eyes were full of tears when he
kissed her — so were hers — quickly. A thousand memories
were between them in this surprising moment, childish mem-
ories. She had often cried in his arms or against his shoul-
der, been comforted roughly or tenderly. She had cried for
a grazed knee, or a fall; a broken doll or some nursery
tragedy ; because he was going away to school, or he had said

Online LibraryJulia FrankauFull swing → online text (page 9 of 27)