Mrs. Humphry Ward.

Missing online

. (page 4 of 22)
Online LibraryMrs. Humphry WardMissing → online text (page 4 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


easy enough to go along bluffing and fooling in ordinary times. Most men
don't know what they think - or what they feel - or whether they feel
anything. But somehow - out there - when you see the things other fellows
are doing - when you know the things you may have to do yourself - well - - '

'Yes, yes - go on!' she said eagerly, and he went on, but reluctantly,
for he had seen her shiver, and the white lids fall a moment over her
eyes.

' - It doesn't seem unnatural - or hypocritical - or canting - to talk and
feel - sometimes - as you couldn't talk or feel at home, with life going
on just as usual. I've had to censor letters, you see, darling - and the
letters some of the roughest and stupidest fellows write, you'd never
believe. And there's no pretence in it either. What would be the good of
pretending out there? No - it's just the pace life goes - and the
fire - and the strain of it. It's awful - and _horrible_ - and yet you
wouldn't not be there for the world.'

His voice dropped a little; he looked out with veiled eyes upon the lake
chequered with the blue and white of its inverted sky. Nelly
guessed - trembling - at the procession of images that was passing through
them; and felt for a moment strangely separated from him - separated and
desolate.

'George, it's dreadful now - to be a woman!'

She spoke in a low appealing voice, pressing up against him, as though
she begged the soul in him that had been momentarily unconscious of her,
to come back to her.

He laughed, and the vision before his eyes broke up.

'Darling, it's adorable now - to be a woman! How I shall think of you,
when I'm out there! - away from all the grime and the horror - sitting by
this lake, and looking - as you do now.'

He drew a little further away from her, and lying on his elbows on the
grass, he began to read her, as it were, from top to toe, that he might
fix every detail in his mind.

'I like that little hat so much, Nelly! - and that blue cloak is just
ripping! And what's that you've got at your waist - a silver
buckle? - yes! I gave it you. Mind you wear it, when I'm away, and tell
me you're wearing it - then I can fancy it.'

'Will you ever have time - to think of me - George?'

She bent towards him.

He laughed.

'Well, not when I'm going over the parapet to attack the Boches.
Honestly, one thinks of nothing then but how one can get one's men
across. But you won't come off badly, my little Nell - for
thoughts - night or day. And you mustn't think of us too sentimentally.
It's quite true that men write wonderful letters - and wonderful verse
too - men of all ranks - things you'd never dream they could write. I've
got a little pocket-book full that I've collected. I've left it in
London, but I'll show you some day. But bless you, nobody _talks_ about
their feelings at the front. We're a pretty slangy lot in the trenches,
and when we're in billets, we read novels and rag each other - and
_sleep_ - my word, we do sleep!'

He rolled on his back, and drew his hat over his eyes a moment, for
even in the fresh mountain air the June sun was fierce. Nelly sat still,
watching him, as he had watched her - all the young strength and
comeliness of the man to whom she had given herself.

And as she did so there came swooping down upon her, like the blinding
wings of a Fury, the remembrance of a battle picture she had seen that
morning: a bursting shell - limp figures on the ground. Oh not
George - not _George_ - never! The agony ran through her, and her fingers
gripped the turf beside her. Then it passed, and she was silently proud
that she had been able to hide it. But it had left her pale and
restless. She sprang up, and they went along the high path leading to
Grasmere and Langdale.

Presently at the top of the little neck which separates Rydal from
Grasmere they came upon an odd cavalcade. In front walked an elderly
lady, with a huge open bag slung round her, in which she carried an
amazing load of the sphagnum moss that English and Scotch women were
gathering at that moment all over the English and Scotch mountains for
the surgical purposes of the war. Behind her came a pony, with a boy.
The pony was laden with the same moss, so was the boy. The lady's face
was purple with exertion, and in her best days she could never have been
other than plain; her figure was shapeless. She stopped the pony as she
neared the Sarratts, and addressed them - panting.

'I beg your pardon! - but have you by chance seen another lady carrying
a bag like mine? I brought a friend with me to help gather this
stuff - but we seem to have missed each other on the top of Silver
How - and I can't imagine what's happened to her.'

The voice was exceedingly musical and refined - but there was a touch of
power in it - a curious note of authority. She stood, recovering breath
and looking at the young people with clear and penetrating eyes,
suddenly observant.

The Sarratts could only say that they had not come across any other
moss-gatherer on the road.

The strange lady sighed - but with a half humorous, half philosophical
lifting of the eyebrows.

'It was very stupid of me to miss her - but you really can't come to
grief on these fells in broad daylight. However, if you do meet her - a
lady with a sailor hat, and a blue jersey - will you tell her that I've
gone on to Ambleside?'

Sarratt politely assured her that they would look out for her companion.
He had never yet seen a grey-haired Englishwoman, of that age, carry so
heavy a load, and he liked both her pluck and her voice. She reminded
him of the French peasant women in whose farms he often lodged behind
the lines. She meanwhile was scrutinising him - the badge on his cap, and
the two buttons on his khaki sleeve.

'I think I know who you are,' she said, with a sudden smile. 'Aren't
you Mr. and Mrs. Sarratt? Sir William Farrell told me about you.' Then
she turned to the boy - 'Go on, Jim. I'll come soon.'

A conversation followed on the mountain path, in which their new
acquaintance gave her name as Miss Hester Martin, living in a cottage on
the outskirts of Ambleside, a cousin and old friend of Sir William
Farrell; an old friend indeed, it seemed, of all the local residents;
absorbed in war-work of different kinds, and somewhere near sixty years
of age; but evidently neither too old nor too busy to have lost the
natural interest of a kindly spinster in a bride and bridegroom,
especially when the bridegroom was in khaki, and under orders for the
front. She promised, at once, to come and see Mrs. Sarratt, and George,
beholding in her a possible motherly friend for Nelly when he should be
far away, insisted that she should fix a day for her call before his
departure. Nelly added her smiles to his. Then, with a pleasant nod,
Miss Martin left them, refusing all their offers to help her with her
load. '"My strength is as the strength of ten,"' she said with a flash
of fun in her eyes - 'But I won't go on with the quotation. Good-bye.'

George and Nelly went on towards a spot above a wood in front of them to
which she had directed them, as a good point to rest and lunch. She,
meanwhile, pursued her way towards Ambleside, her thoughts much more
occupied with the young couple than with her lost companion. The little
thing was a beauty, certainly. Easy to see what had attracted William
Farrell! An uncommon type - and a very artistic type; none of your
milk-maids. She supposed before long William would be proposing to draw
her - hm! - with the husband away? It was to be hoped some watch-dog would
be left. William was a good fellow - no real malice in him - had never
_meant_ to injure anybody, that she knew of - but -

Miss Martin's cogitations however went no farther in exploring that
'but.' She was really very fond of her cousin William, who bore an
amount of discipline from her that no one else dared to apply to the
owner of Carton. Tragic, that he couldn't fight! That would have brought
out all there was in him.




CHAPTER IV


'Glorious!'

Nelly Sarratt stood lost in the beauty of the spectacle commanded by Sir
William Farrell's cottage. It was placed in a by-road on the western
side of Loughrigg, that smallest of real mountains, beloved of poets and
wanderers. The ground dropped sharply below it to a small lake or tarn,
its green banks fringed with wood, while on the further side the purple
crag and noble head of Wetherlam rose out of sunlit mist, - thereby
indefinitely heightened - into a pearl and azure sky. To the north also,
a splendid wilderness of fells, near and far; with the Pikes and Bowfell
leading the host. White mists - radiant mists - perpetually changing, made
a magic interweaving of fell with fell, of mountain with sky. Every tint
of blue and purple, of amethyst and sapphire lay melted in the chalice
carved out by the lake and its guardian mountains. Every line of that
chalice was harmonious as though each mountain and valley filled its
place consciously, in a living order; and in the grandeur of the whole
there was no terror, no hint of a world hostile and inaccessible to man,
as in the Alps and the Rockies.

'These mountains are one's friends,' said Farrell, smiling as he stood
beside Nelly, pointing out the various peaks by name. 'If you know them
only a little, you can trust yourself to them, at any hour of the day or
night. Whereas, in the Alps, I always feel myself "a worm and no man"!'

'I have never been abroad,' said Nelly shyly.

For once he found an _ingénue_ attractive.

'Then you have it to come - when the world is sane again. But some things
you will have missed for ever. For instance, you will never see
Rheims - as it was. I have spent months at Rheims in old days, drawing
and photographing. I must show you my things. They have a tragic value
now.'

And taking out a portfolio from a rack near him, he opened it and put it
on a stand before her.

Nelly, who had in her the real instincts of the artist, turned over some
very masterly drawings, in mingled delight and despair.

'If I could only do something like that!' she said, pointing to a study
of some of the famous windows at Rheims, with vague forms of saint and
king emerging from a conflagration of colour, kindled by the afternoon
sun, and dyeing the pavement below.

'Ah, that took me some time. It was difficult. But here are some
fragments you'll like - just bits from the façade and the monuments.'

The strength of the handling excited her. She looked at them in silence;
remembering with disgust all the pretty sentimental work she had been
used to copy. She began to envisage what this commonly practised art
may be; what a master can do with it. Standards leaped up. Alp on Alp
appeared. When George was gone she would _work_, yes, she would work
hard - to surprise him when he came back.

Sir William meanwhile was increasingly taken with his guest. She was
shy, very diffident, very young; but in the few things she said, he
discerned - or fancied - the stirrings of a real taste - real intelligence.
And she was prettier and more fetching than ever - with her small dark
head, and her lovely mouth. He would like to draw the free sensuous line
of it, the beautiful moulding of the chin. What a prize for the young
man! Was he aware of his own good fortune? Was he adequate?

'I say, how jolly!' said Sarratt, coming up to look. 'My wife, Sir
William - I think she told you - has got a turn for this kind of thing.
These will give her ideas.'

And while he looked at the drawings, he slipped a hand into his wife's
arm, smiling down upon her, and commenting on the sketches. There was
nothing in what he said. He only 'knew what he liked,' and an unfriendly
bystander would have been amused by his constant assumption that Nelly's
sketches were as good as anybody's. Entirely modest for himself, he was
inclined to be conceited for her, she checking him, with rather flushed
cheeks. But Farrell liked him all the better, both for the ignorance and
the pride. The two young people standing there together, so evidently
absorbed in each other, yet on the brink of no ordinary parting, touched
the romantic note in him. He was very sorry for them - especially for the
bride - and eagerly, impulsively wished to befriend them.

In the background, the stout lady whom the Sarratts had met on Loughrigg
Terrace, Miss Hester Martin, was talking to Miss Farrell, while Bridget
Cookson was carrying on conversation with a tall officer who carried his
arm in a sling, and was apparently yet another convalescent officer from
the Carton hospital, whom Cicely Farrell had brought over in her motor
to tea at her brother's cottage. His name seemed to be Captain
Marsworth, and he was doing his best with Bridget; but there were great
gaps in their conversation, and Bridget resentfully thought him dull.
Also she perceived - for she had extremely quick eyes in such
matters - that Captain Marsworth, while talking to her, seemed to be
really watching Miss Farrell, and she at once jumped to the conclusion
that there was something 'up' between him and Miss Farrell.

Cicely Farrell certainly took no notice of him. She was sitting perched
on the high end of a sofa smoking a cigarette and dangling her feet,
which were encased, as before, in high-heeled shoes and immaculate
gaiters. She was dressed in white serge with a cap and jersey of the
brightest possible green. Her very open bodice showed a string of fine
pearls and she wore pearl ear-rings. Seen in the same room with Nelly
Sarratt she could hardly be guessed at less than twenty-eight. She was
the mature woman in full possession of every feminine weapon,
experienced, subtle, conscious, a little hard, a little malicious. Nelly
Sarratt beside her looked a child. Miss Farrell had glanced at her with
curiosity, but had not addressed many words to her. She had concluded at
once that it was a type that did not interest her. It interested William
of course, because he was professionally on the look out for beauty. But
that was his affair. Miss Farrell had no use for anything so unfledged
and immature. And as for the sister, Miss Cookson, she had no points of
attraction whatever. The young man, the husband, was well
enough - apparently a gentleman; but Miss Farrell felt that she would
have forgotten his existence when the tea-party was over. So she had
fallen back on conversation with her cousin. That Cousin Hester - dear,
shapeless, Puritanical thing! - disapproved of her, her dress, her
smoking, her ways, and her opinions, Cicely well knew - but that only
gave zest to their meetings, which were not very frequent.

Meanwhile Bridget, in lieu of conversation and while tea was still
preparing, was making mental notes of the cottage. It consisted
apparently of two sitting-rooms, and a studio - in which they were to
have tea - with two or three bedrooms above. It had been developed out of
a Westmorland farm, but developed beyond recognition. The spacious rooms
panelled in plain oak, were furnished sparely, with few things, but
those of the most beautiful and costly kind. Old Persian rugs and
carpets, a few Renaissance mirrors, a few priceless 'pots,' a picture or
two, hangings and coverings of a dim purple - the whole, made by these
various items and objects, expressed a taste perhaps originally florid,
but tamed by long and fastidious practice of the arts of decoration.

In the study where tea had been laid, Nelly could not restrain her
wonder and delight. On one wall hung ten of the most miraculous
Turners - drawings from his best period, each of them irreplaceably
famous. Another wall showed a group of Boningtons - a third a similar
gathering of Whistlers. Sir William, charmed with the bride's pleasure,
took down drawing after drawing, carried them to the light for her, and
discoursed upon them.

'Would you like that to copy?' - he said, putting a Turner into her
lap - a marvel of blue mountain peaks, and winding river, and aerial
distance.

'Oh, I shouldn't dare - I should be afraid!' said Nelly, hardly liking to
take the treasure in her own hands. 'Aren't they - aren't they worth
immense sums?'

Sir William laughed.

'Well, of course, they're valuable - everybody wants them. But if you
would ever like that one to copy, you shall have it, and any other that
would help you. I know you wouldn't let it be hurt, if you could help
it - because you'd love it - as I do. You wouldn't let a Turner drawing
like that fade and blister in the sun - as I've seen happen again and
again in houses he painted them for. Brutes! Hanging's too good for
people who maltreat Turners. Let me relieve you of it now. I must get
you some tea. But the drawing will come to you next week. You won't be
able to think of it till then.'

He looked at her with the ardent sympathy which sprang easily from his
quick, emotional temperament, and made it possible for him to force his
way rapidly into intimacy, where he desired to be intimate. But Nelly
shrank into herself. She put the drawing away, and did not seem to care
to look at any more. Farrell wished he had left his remark unspoken, and
finding that he had somehow extinguished her smiles and her talk, he
relieved her of his company, and went away to talk to Sarratt and
Captain Marsworth. As soon as tea was over, Nelly beckoned to her
husband.

'Are you going so soon?' said Hester Martin, who had been unobtrusively
mothering her, since Farrell left her - 'When may I come and see you?'

'To-morrow?' said Nelly vaguely, looking up. 'George hoped you would
come, before he goes. There are - there are only three days.'

'I will come to-morrow,' said Miss Martin, touching Nelly's hand softly.
The cold, small fingers moved, as though instinctively, towards her, and
took refuge in her warm capacious hand. Then Nelly whispered to
Bridget - appealingly -

'I want to go, Bridget.'

Bridget frowned with annoyance. Why should Nelly want to go so soon? The
beauty and luxury of the cottage - the mere tea-table with all its
perfect appointments of fine silver and china, the multitude of cakes,
the hot-house fruit, the well-trained butler - all the signs of wealth
that to Nelly were rather intimidating, and to Sarratt - in
war-time - incongruous and repellent, were to Bridget the satisfaction of
so many starved desires. This ease and lavishness; the best of
everything and no trouble to get it; the 'cottage' as perfect as the
palace; - it was so, she felt, that life should be lived, to be really
worth living. She envied the Farrells with an intensity of envy. Why
should some people have so much and others so little? And as she watched
Sir William's attentions to Nelly, she said to herself, for the
hundredth time, that but for Nelly's folly, she could easily have
captured wealth like this. Why not Sir William himself? It would not
have been at all unlikely that they should come across him on one of
their Westmorland holidays. The thought of their dingy Manchester rooms,
of the ceaseless care and economy that would be necessary for their
joint ménage when Sarratt was gone, filled her with disgust. Their
poverty was wholly unnecessary - it was Nelly's silly fault. She felt at
times as though she hated her brother-in-law, who had so selfishly
crossed their path, and ruined the hopes and dreams which had been
strengthening steadily in her mind during the last two years
especially, since Nelly's beauty had become more pronounced.

'It's not at all late!' she said, angrily, in her sister's ear.

'Oh, but George wants to take me to Easedale,' said Nelly under her
breath. 'It will be our last long walk.'

Bridget had to submit to be torn away. A little motor was waiting
outside. It had brought the Sarratts and Bridget from Rydal, and was to
take Bridget home, dropping the Sarratts at Grasmere for an evening
walk. Sir William tried indeed to persuade them to stay longer, till a
signal from his cousin Hester stopped him; 'Well, if you must go, you
must,' he said, regretfully. 'Cicely, you must arrange with Mrs.
Sarratt, when she will pay us a visit - and' - he looked uncertainly round
him, as though he had only just remembered Bridget's existence - 'of
course your sister must come too.'

Cicely came forward, and with a little lisp, repeated her brother's
invitation - rather perfunctorily.

Sir William took his guests to their car, and bade a cordial farewell to
Sarratt.

'Good-bye - and good luck. What shall I wish you? The D.S.O., and a
respectable leave before the summer's over? You will be in for great
things.'

Sarratt shook his head.

'Not till we get more guns, and tons more shell!'

'Oh, the country's waking up!'

'It's about time!' said Sarratt, gravely, as he climbed into the car.
Sir William bent towards him.

'Anything that we can do to help your wife and her sister, during their
stay here, you may be sure we shall do.'

'It's very kind of you,' said the young officer gratefully, as he
grasped Farrell's hand. And Nelly sent a shy glance of thanks towards
the speaker, while Bridget sat erect and impassive.

Sir William watched them disappear, and then returned to the tea-room.
He was received with a burst of laughter from his sister.

'Well, Willy, so you're caught - fairly caught! What am I to do? When am
I to ask her? And the sister too?'

And lighting another cigarette, Cicely looked at her brother with
mocking eyes.

Farrell reddened a little, but kept his temper.

'In a week or two I should think, you might ask her, when she's got over
her husband's going away.'

'They get over it very soon - in general,' said Cicely coolly.

'Not that sort.'

The voice was Captain Marsworth's.

Cicely appeared to take no notice. But her eyelids flickered. Hester
Martin interposed.

'A dear, little, appealing thing,' she said, warmly - 'and her husband
evidently a capital fellow. I didn't take to the sister - but who knows?
She may be an excellent creature, all the same. I'm glad I shall be so
near them. It will be a help to that poor child to find her something to
do.'

Cicely laughed.

'You think she'll hunt sphagnum - and make bandages? I don't.'

'Why this "thusness?"' said Miss Martin raising her eyebrows. 'What has
made you take a dislike to the poor little soul, Cicely? There never was
anyone more plainly in love - '

'Or more to be pitied,' said the low voice in the background - low but
emphatic.

It was now Cicely's turn to flush.

'Of course I know I'm a beast,' she said defiantly, - 'but the fact is I
didn't like either of them! - the sisters, I mean.'

'What oh earth is there to dislike in Mrs. Sarratt!' cried Farrell.
'You're quite mad, Cicely.'

'She's too pretty,' said Miss Farrell obstinately - and too - too simple.
And nobody as pretty as that can be really simple. It's only pretence.'

As she spoke Cicely rose to her feet, and began to put on her veil in
front of one of the old mirrors. 'But of course, Will, I shall behave
nicely to your friends. Don't I always behave nicely to them?'

She turned lightly to her brother, who looked at her only half appeased.

'I shan't give you a testimonial to-day, Cicely.'

'Then I must do without it. Well, this day three weeks, a party at
Carton, for Mrs. Sarratt. Will that give her time to settle down?'

'Unless her husband is killed by then,' said Captain Marsworth, quietly.
'His regiment is close to Loos. He'll be in the thick of it directly.'

'Oh no,' said Cicely, twisting the ends of her veil lightly between a
finger and thumb. 'Just a "cushy" wound, that'll bring him home on a
three months' leave, and give her the bore of nursing him.'

'Cicely, you are a hard-hearted wretch!' said her brother, angrily. 'I
think Marsworth and I will go and stroll till the motor is ready.'

The two men disappeared, and Cicely let herself drop into an arm-chair.
Her eyes, as far as could be seen through her veil, were blazing; the
redness in her cheeks had improved upon the rouge with which they were
already touched; and the gesture with which she pulled on her gloves was
one of excitement.

'Cicely dear - what is the matter with you?' said Miss Martin in
distress. She was fond of Cicely, in spite of that young lady's
extravagances of dress and manner, and she divined something gone wrong.

'Nothing is the matter - nothing at all. It is only necessary, sometimes,
to shock people,' said Cicely, calming down. She threw her head back
against the chair and closed her eyes, while her lips still smiled
triumphantly.

'Were you trying to shock Captain Marsworth?'

'It's so easy - it's hardly worth doing,' said Cicely, sleepily. Then
after a pause - 'Ah, isn't that the motor?'

* * * * *

Meanwhile the little hired motor from Ambleside had dropped the Sarratts


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryMrs. Humphry WardMissing → online text (page 4 of 22)