Warwick Deeping.

The white gate : by Warwick Deeping online

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OHN CUTHBERTSON made his way down the har-
bour pier at Dover, looking like a big brown bear in his rough
ulster. There was expectancy in the kind blue eyes set wide
apart in the fresh-coloured face. Like many big men, John
Cuthbertson had a shy and silent dignity. He moved slowly,
spoke slowly, and smiled with his eyes when smaller people
would have laughed.

A March sky hurried overhead, and the sea kept up a mo-
notonous splashing on the other side of the great grey break-
water. Landwards, Dover Castle stood out dimly on a
dim hill, the grass and the chalk looking sad and soiled
under the grey sky. The Calais boat was in. John Cuthbert-
son could see her masts above the roofs of the shelters on the

"I'm late, I suppose."

The boat, train came steaming towards him, and he stood
to watch it pass. People were settling themselves there, read-
ing books and papers, or looking with tired and apathetic
faces at nothing in particular. Cuthbertson had a glimpse of a



child holding a Teddy bear against a window, as though de-
termined that the good beast should lose no chances.

The red train swept by. He smiled and passed on.

Most of the people had left by the boat train, and the long
platform on the quay was left to the jerseyed figures of the
harbour porters. Just beyond the small buffet Cuthbertson saw
two people walking towards him a tall man with a lean,
alert face and a coal-black beard cut to a point and a little
old woman in black. The man was carrying a brown basket.
He had given an arm to the little old lady, and was looking
down at her with an air of understanding and of sympathy.

A glimmer of surprise, humour, and affection shone in
John Cuthbertson's eyes. The two were coming along very
slowly, the little figure in black rather tottery and forlorn.
The yellow face under the black bonnet had sunken eyes and
lines of pain.

"It's so kind of you. I thought I was going to die. And
I'm giving you such a lot of trouble. I'm afraid I can't go
any faster."

The man with the short black beard looked down at her

"There's no hurry. Just take your time. Now, what do you
say to a plate of soup?"

"I couldn't touch it I really couldn't."

"No? Well, just take your time. The fresh air will make you
feel better."

He glanced up suddenly, and his eyes met the eyes of the
big man in the brown ulster. A flash of recognition leapt into
them. The hearts of the two men seemed to come together in
that look.

"Old man, this is good of you."


"You knew I should come."

"You see, I have a friend here who wants to get to the
harbour station. You won't mind going slowly?"

Cuthbertson took off his hat, swung into line, and offered
to carry the basket.

"Let me take it, old man."

"It's all right; I can manage. My hand luggage has gone
on by porter. They tell me I shall have to wait an hour to get
my baggage through the Customs."

So these two tall fellows went at a snail's pace towards the
town, sheltering the little black figure that shuffled between
them. It was a patient and a kindly escort, and the exhausted
face looked grateful.

"How do you feel now?"

They had reached the space before the "Lord Warden,"
and the sea wind blew in strongly and lifted the old lady's
black bonnet.

"Better, thank you. It doesn't go up and down so much.
I can't say how kind you've been. I don't know what I should
have done "

"It was a very rough crossing, you know. Would you like
to go to the waiting-room?"

"Yes, please."

They took her there, still walking very slowly. The yellow
face had lost some of its deathliness. Tears came into her eyes
as she looked up at the man with the black beard.

"I'm so very grateful."

He carried her basket into the waiting-room, and put it
down on one of the seats.

"Good-bye. I hope you will soon feel all right. I shall be
hanging about the station for an hour or so, so if you want


anything send a porter to hunt me out a man with a black

"I don't know why people should be so kind."

"Why? Oh, because we all need it. Good-bye."

Cuthbertson was waiting for him on the platform. They
smiled at each other, and by some common impulse shook

"Old man, how are you?"

"Better pounds better."

"Are you going to leave your friend there?"

"Yes, poor old soul. I only picked her up on the quay; she
could hardly stand, or ask anybody for anything. Whence
and whither? Let's go in here and get something to eat."

They turned into the refreshment room, and sat down at
the table that was farthest from the bar. But talking rather
than eating seemed to be the importunate need of the mo-
ment. They gave casual orders to the casual young woman
behind the counter, and then forgot everything in being with
each other. For these two men had loved with the rare, rich
love of comrades in arms.

"Yes, you look more like your old self."

Cuthbertson leant back in his chair and examined Skelton
with shrewd and affectionate eyes. He had spoken of the old
self, and the Richard Skelton of two years ago stood out like
some magnificent portrait hung in a great room where the
evening sunlight entered. The lean, alert, sensitive face, with
the deep blue eyes that looked black in certain lights. The
straightness of the mobile mouth. The proud holding of the
head. He had loved this man, loved him for his forcefulness,
his fine flashes of anger, his moments of tenderness, his sparkles
of half-devilish humour. That rarest of rare things a per-


sonality, an aliveness so brilliant that it had made weaker men
seem but half awake.

Then that tragedy of overwork, when he, John Cuthbertson,
had spent half his days with a dying wife, and his comrade
in arms had done the fighting. That breakup of a man whose
creed had been to spend all of himself or nothing! Skel ton's
face still showed the lines of strain, and his eyes had not
wholly lost their restlessness. Cuthbertson noticed these things.
He knew how the man had suffered.

"I had your last letter. You did not say anything about the

Their eyes met across the table.

"Old man, I was afraid of my razors."

"Nonsense! You?"

"It's the truth. No one understands this sort of thing until
they have been through it."

A fierce light came into his eyes and his nostrils quivered.

"It sounds preposterous, hysterical, to those who haven't
been down into the depths. Three years ago I should have
had something like a sneer for people whose nerve gave out.
Now I know. Everything wrong, inside and out, and your
soul like an empty wine-skin. And the nights! Good God!
Old man, I used to lie awake in my cabin and say over and
over again, 'You are not going to do it you are not going to
play the coward.' Well, that's passed."

Cuthbertson drummed on the table with his fingers. His
eyes were very soft for a man's.

"What are you going to do? I have kept everything open.
Things are going well."

"That's like you. But I am not coming back yet; it wouldn't
be fair to you if I did. I don't think I could stand London. It


would put me in a fever. You know, I can't lounge and watch
other people doing things. I must be fighting if I am in the
thick of it."

"Have you made any plans?"

"I am going to have a year in the country perhaps more.
Cockney or peasant, I couldn't stand a provincial town. I shall
work. There was that thing I was rummaging at before I
crocked. And I want to think; to make sure of one or two
lessons I've been learning."

He was silent a moment. Then his eyes flashed up sud-
denly, and his whole face seemed to radiate inward light.

"Old man, I was a hard beggar. I thought I was strong
enough for anything, equal to anything. I despised the people
I used to call weaklings, and the poor devils who got stuck
on stools. I hadn't any patience, and not much pity, and I
thought myself so confoundedly clever. Then the crash came.
Fate had been smiling and waiting. Well, I've been through

Cuthbertson stared hard at the opposite wall.

"You always would work too hard. And it was my fault
in a way."

"Not a bit of it. But, do you know, I have relearnt some-
thing I had managed to forget? I have had the egotism burnt
out of me; I have rediscovered the other side of life. When
you are a hard, clever devil you want breaking, just to be
made to understand. I do understand now. At least, I hope so."

Cuthbertson's eyes glimmered in his big, round face.

"I have been hurt in my time."

"That's it. The sequence of things that we call Fate, or
God, or the Great Cause, had to hurt me most damnably in


order to teach me to feel. I had a bit of steel for a brain
then. I have had my purgatory; I have come out softened."

He smiled reflectively.

"Sympathy a sensitive surface. What one misses by being
in such a heartless hurry! I tell you what I swore to do, Jack,
to tear the skin off my old self and to go about feeling life.
Men, women and children. We have all got to help each other
to live."

The big man nodded.

"There's a monstrous lot of good in the world," he said.
"Why, you have only to keep a dog to learn that."

CONSTANCE BRENT came out of her mother's room with dull
and bewildered eyes.

As she closed the door behind her a woman appeared at
the end of the short passage leading from the hall. She had
been waiting for the opening of the door, and the brown eyes
in the broad face were full of pity and of anger.

"Miss Connie "

But the girl fled towards the stairs, her face quivering as
her self-control gave way. She wanted to keep back tears until
she was alone in her own room.

"I can't, Mary."

The woman watched her run up the stairs and disappear.
She stood twisting her hands into her apron and staring at a
patch of sunlight on the red carpet. Anger and compassion
were big in her. She nodded her head emphatically, and gazed
at the door of the room from which Constance Brent had

"She's told her."


The woman had a broad face, with steadiness and strength
in the mouth and forehead. Her brown eyes could be very
kind. She was not one who acted quickly, but when once set
upon a purpose she was not easily rebuffed.

Crossing the hall, she opened the door of the room and
went in.

Dora Brent lay on a Chesterfield sofa by the open French
window, with a bowl of red and white roses on a little Shera-
ton table beside her. She might have been about fifty, though
her hair was the colour of saffron. Her face had a curious
waxy pallor; the only live things in it were the eyes, large, of
a lightish hazel, and very hard and restless. Deep furrows
ran from the nose to the angles of the mouth. It was a face
that betrayed nothing so much as discontented apathy, though
the selfishness that lived in the eyes seemed to have sucked
all the blood and substance from the surrounding flesh and
left it sapped and shrunken.

She was dressed or overdressed in some pink gauzy stuff
that would have suited a girl of twenty. The left hand had
three rings on the third finger, a large emerald, a hoop of
opals, and a circle of plain gold. In repose she kept her fingers
pressed together, the tips curved inwards so that the hands
appeared to run to a point and to take the shape of hooks.

The servant closed the door and stood with her back to
it. Dora Brent had turned her head. Her eyes looked at the
other woman with cynical steadiness.

"You've told her "

"I beg your pardon."

The servant's broad face flushed hotly.

"You think I've no cause "

"If you must choose to regard yourself as one of the family


I have told her. She had to be told some day, or other
people would have remedied the omission. I made up my
mind to tell her when she was eighteen."

The woman by the door drew in a deep breath and held it.
Her face looked astonished, angry and compassionate.

"And on her birthday "

"Well, on her birthday "

"Yes; and how did you tell her? You don't care how you
hurt people. She's not like you or me. She feels things dif-
ferent; she's all heart and nerves. Oh, you don't care or under-

Dora Brent's eyes were ironically imperturbable.

"If I tell you to mind your own business, Mary "

The servant threw up her head.

"I wonder why I stay here!"

"I wonder "

"It's not because of you."

"You can go the moment you please."

"I would. I wouldn't have stayed with you all these years
but for her. Poor little soul."

Dora Brent's eyes grew harder, more cynical. It was easy
to read some of the past from this woman's face. She had
been something of a vampire, ever ready to suck the vitality
of those who were weaker than herself. Mary, the big woman
with the broad bosom and the square forehead, had had
strength enough to stand against her. With the child it was
different. The mother's selfishness was ready to devour the
soul of the daughter.

"I don't think there is any more to be said. You can bring
in tea at four."


She reached out for a rose, chose a white one, smelt it, and
put it in her dress.

The servant's lips opened, faltered, and then closed again.
She opened the door slowly and went out.

For some seconds she stood hesitating in the hall before she
climbed the stairs to listen at the door of Constance's bed-
room. Mary's hand went to her cheek and stroked it, as
though she were unconsciously projecting a stream of sym-
pathy into the girl's room. She could hear the sound of bitter

"Miss Connie "

The weeping ceased abruptly.

"Miss Connie, shall I bring you up some tea?"

"I am lying down, Mary. I would rather be quiet."

The woman nodded her head, sighed, and went slowly
down the stairs.

Chapter One

J.HE girl in the pink linen dress came through the open
French window on to the terrace. Pallant, the "Vernors' "
butler, had preceded her with an air of stolid and sallow de-
tachment. She had looked at Pallant with frightened eyes
when he had asked her her name.

"Miss Brent."

She had to walk the whole length of the terrace before reach-
ing the place where Mrs. Hesketh Power sat chatting in the
thick of a group of well-dressed people. A man, sitting on a
cushion on the top step of the stairway leading down from the
terrace to the garden, glanced around and saw the girl follow-
ing Pallant's shadow.

The glance had been a careless one, but it was arrested and
held. The pink linen dress would have seemed satisfyingly
simple to a man, and cheap to a woman. Otherwise it was a
shaft of moving colour sustaining something that was sensi-
tive, and fragile, and afraid. The face, with its full red lips and
delicately curved nose and chin, swam in a setting of crisp
jet hair. The eyes had a frightened, defensive look, a clouded


velvety blackness that made the white skin appear even whiter.
The whole figure suggested the image of a pale flame carried
forward against an unsympathetic wind.

As the girl passed behind him, the man on the steps turned
his head, and was able to watch the group upon his left. Mrs.
Hesketh Power was rising from her chair, a tall, fair woman
in a biscuit-coloured gown and a huge black hat. She had the
happy, gracious poise of the thoroughbred, and though her
eyes were often amused, they never mingled their amusement
with malice.

She went forward to meet the girl, smiling down at her

"I am so glad you could come."

The girl blushed.

"Mother asked me to explain. She has one of her head-

"I'm sorry. Have you brought your racket and shoes?"

"I'm afraid I can't play tennis."

"No? Come along; I want to introduce you to some people."

Mrs. Hesketh Power was the most understanding of women,
but, having launched Constance Brent on the little social sea
on the terrace of "Vernors," she had to leave her to greet
other guests. And the girl with the frightened eyes, who was
suffering from an agony of self-consciousness, found herself
placed between two people who did not encourage her to talk.
On her left sat Mrs. Gascoyne, a melancholy neurasthenic,
whose lined and sallow face suggested a mask of tallow that
had melted and run downwards into one long gloom of mouth
and chin. On her right a mothy young man in spectacles and
a low collar, bent forward, elbows on knees and fingers to-


gether, trying to assume that he was absorbed in watching the
tennis on the courts below the terrace.

Constance Brent felt herself seated in a litde circle of silence.
Inwardly she was still in turmoil, too sensitively alive to every-
thing about her, and struggling against a sense of nudity as
though she were being stripped and searched.

The man on the terrace steps was still watching her. She
met his eyes more than once, and felt angry with him for
being so inconsiderate as to stare when she was passing through
an ordeal. How could he know that she had faltered and
turned back at the front door, and had only been driven back
into the porch by a motor arriving and hemming her in with
a group of fresh arrivals.

She tried to lose herself in the excitement down yonder,
and to fix her eyes upon the moving figures. A stout little man,
strenuous, elastic, and eager, flashed a racket on the near side
of the net. Her attention concentrated itself upon him, strove
to lose itself in his superabundant vitality. His cuts and
smashes at the net had glitter and dexterity. The happiness
of his round face after a crisp and victorious rally held her

Richard Skelton, seated on the terrace steps, was hidden by
the massive corner pillar of the balustraded parapet from two
women who had drawn two chairs aside in order to be undis-
turbed. Skelton was waiting for a set at tennis, his long legs
drawn up and his arms wrapped round them, the sleeves of
his brown Norfolk showing sinewy wrists. A grey slouch hat
shaded his face. He no longer wore a black beard and mous-
tache. His thin, determined chin and the humorous mobility
of his mouth were all to his credit.

But he had forgotten the tennis players, first in watching


the girl in the pink dress, and then in listening to the conversa-
tion of the two women behind the pillar. He knew who they
were old Mrs. Cottle, with her pink face and her air of bland
patronage, and Betty Strickson, laced up in her alert reserve,
with hard brown eyes that watched and criticised and a mouth
that was eternally clever.

"I think tolerance can go too far. That is the one fault I
have to find with Philippa. She told me she was going to call
on the woman."

"Philippa Power is no fool."

"That is what I said to her, my dear. I said, 'As a woman
of the world, you ought to know that some people are im-
possible, and that one is not justified ' "

"In being kind to the child in spite of the mother."

"That was her view. The Brent woman is impossible. I
think Philippa is the only person who has called. I shall not.
I regard tainted people as dangerous. One has to retain some
social daintiness."

"I quite agree with you. A yellow head and a chalked face
are apt to arouse prejudice. Besides "

"My dear, it is not the mere appearances. Everybody
knows "

"What every woman knows by instinct. I think Madame
la mere showed some sense in having a headache. And the
girl Philippa is such a good sort."

"Kindness may be unjustifiable in certain cases. If one lets
sentimentality loose "

"At all events, the daughter is pretty, and looks too fright-
ened to be dangerous."

"Of course, my dear, I am sorry for the girl, but "


"She should have been more careful in choosing her

"I told Philippa Power that, though she might choose to
take the lead, no one else in the neighbourhood could follow
her. I refuse to know such people. Why should one?"

Skelton glanced at Constance Brent. She was still sitting
silently in her chair, her hands clasped in her lap, her dark
eyes watching the players on the court below. A flash of under-
standing and of pity struck across the man's consciousness.
It seemed strangely hard that a circle of circumstances over
which the girl had no control should condemn her from the
first to this humiliating isolation.

Tea was brought on to the terrace. The tennis players
climbed the steps, and the various groups split up and re-
arranged themselves. Philippa Power, observant and serenely
kind, beckoned her husband to her and spoke in an undertone.

"Kethie, go and be kind to the child over there."

"Which one?"

"The little pink thing you know."

Skelton, carrying round plates of bread and butter and cu-
cumber sandwiches, saw this piece of by-play, and looked
admiringly at Philippa Power. What a quiet and gracious
understanding of life this woman had; how very patient she
was even with the bitterest bores; what fine courtesy she
showed in her unselfish self-restraint. An aristocrat! In the
spirit Skelton bowed down and gave her homage, for such
women helped other people to live.

Hesketh Power was a good fellow, but years spent in dis-
ciplining and stiffening an extreme self-consciousness had
ended in giving him a poise that was altogether too perfect.
He was so intelligently dressed that no one noticed what he


wore. His clothes effaced themselves, as did his feelings. His
slow, drawling voice always seemed to be holding itself in, lest
it should run away with itself and say something that was

Skelton, standing with his back to a French window and
chatting with Garside, the Roymer doctor, watched these two
and saw that they were in distress. Hesketh Power's poise had
frightened the girl into mute awkwardness. He stood at her
elbow and dropped a sentence from time to time as though
whipping a trout stream and getting nothing in the way of a
bite. The girl had had no experience of men, and to her an
interesting conversation meant the interchange of enthusiasms,
yet instinct warned her that to Hesketh Power enthusiasms
were but the gambols of a lamb.

Skelton turned suddenly to Garside.

"Do you know the girl over there in pink talking to

"Miss Brent?"


"Ah, yes, I know her and her mother."

"I wish you would introduce me presently."

The doctor gave him an interested look.

"Of course I will."

"Thanks." ..

With the moving on of the Chevalier of the Perfect Poise,
Constance Brent was left once more in crowded isolation.
Garside put his tea cup on a table and glanced at Skelton. The
two men made their way to where Constance Brent was sit-

She had no idea that these two tall men were singling her
out till Garside's figure threw a shadow on the flagstones at


her feet. He was built like a blacksmith, with a head covered
with crisp, curled, black hair, puzzling dark eyes, an immense
throat, and very massive shoulders. A man of big passions and
big tendernesses, he could be extraordinarily gentle and playful
towards women.

"How do you do, Miss Brent?"

He looked down at her very kindly, and held out a big

"I don't think you have met Mr. Skelton. I have brought
him along to be presented."

Constance Brent coloured self-consciously. Her eyes met the
eyes of the man on the terrace steps the man of the brown
Norfolk jacket and the grey flannel trousers. He was smiling,
and there was something about his smile that gave her a
sudden sense of protecting friendliness.

"Garside and I always try to out-talk each other, Miss Brent,
unless some third party keeps us in order."

The doctor laughed.

"I'm not argumentative to-day. Besides, I have to make up
a four in three minutes. Skelton likes someone who will listen
to him. If you let him talk about Japan or California, or heavy
oil engines "

Constance Brent's eyes cleared, and her face looked happier.

"I don't know anything about Japan."

"There's Skelton's opportunity!"

"No, my privilege."

"Or mine?"

A voice hailed the doctor:

"Garside, are you coming?"

"Coming, coming out of Japan on to the grass!"


They watched him make his way along the terrace. Skelton
turned again to the girl.

"Do you know what I call our friend?"


Her eyes looked up at him almost gratefully.

"The Oxygen Cylinder."

"Oh ?"

"Because he is packed so full of vitality."

"Yes, I have felt that. He can be so very kind."

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