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The three did not meet again until the sun had set and the brilliant sky had taken on the pale, cold colour in which, like a reluctant bride, it waited for the night. Then John put away his tools and Miriam began to stir about the house which was alive with a secret life of stone and woodwork, of footsteps silenced long ago, and thoughts which refused to die: then, too, Helen came back from the moor where she had gone for comfort. Her feet were wet, her hair was for once in disarray, but her eyes shone with a faith restored. Warring in her always were two beliefs, one bright with the beauty and serenity which were her idea of good, the other dark with the necessity of sacrifice and propitiation. She had not the freedom of her youth, and she saw each good day as a thing to be accepted humbly and ultimately to be paid for, yet she would show no sign of fear. She had to go on steadily under the banner of a tranquil face, and now the moor and the winds that played on it had made that going easier.

She passed through the darkening garden, glanced at the poplars, which looked like brooms sweeping away the early stars, and entered the house by the kitchen door. John and Miriam sat by a leaping fire, but the room was littered with unwashed dishes and the remains of meals.

"Well," Miriam said in answer to Helen's swift glance and the immediate upturning of her sleeves, "why should I do it all? Look at her, John, trying to shame me."

"I'm not. I just can't bear it."

"Have some tea first," John said.

"Let me pile up the plates."

"Have some tea," Miriam echoed, "and I'll make toast; but you shouldn't have gone away without telling me. I didn't know where you were, and the house was full of emptiness."

"I found her snivelling about you," John said. "She wanted me to go out and look for you with a lantern! After a day's work!"

"Things," Miriam murmured, "might have got hold of her."

"I shouldn't have minded moor things. Oh, these stained knives! John, did she really cry?"

"Nearly, I did."

"Not she!"

"I did, Helen. I thought the dark would come, and you'd be lost perhaps, out on the moor—O-oh!"

"I think I'd like it—wrapped up in the night."

"But the noises would send you mad. Your eyes are all red. Have you been crying too?"

"It's the wind. Here's the rain coming. And where's my hair?" She smoothed it back and took off her muddy shoes before she sat down in the armchair and looked about her. "Isn't it as if somebody were dead?" she asked. "There are more shadows."

"I'll turn up the lamp," John said.

The tinkle of Helen's cup and saucer had the clearness of a bell in the quiet room, and she moved more stealthily. Miriam paused as she spread butter on the toast.

"This house is full of dead people," she whispered. "If you begin to think about them—John, you're not going, are you?"

"Only to draw the curtains. Yes, here's the rain."

"And soon Notya will be on the sea," Helen said, listening to the sounds of storm.

"And I hope," Miriam added on a rich burst of laughter, "that Uncle Alfred will be sea-sick. Oh, wouldn't he look queer!" She flourished the knife. "Can't we be merry when we have the chance? Now that she's gone, why should the house still feel full of her? It isn't fair!"

"You're dripping butter on the floor," Helen said.

"Make your old toast yourself, then!"

"It's not only Notya," Helen went on, as she picked up the knife. "It's the Pinderwells and their thoughts, and the people who lived here before them. Their thoughts are in the walls and they come out when the house is quiet."

"Then let us make a noise!" Miriam cried. "Tomorrow's Saturday, and Daniel will come up. Shall we ask him to stay? It would make more live people in the house."

"If he stays, I'm not going to have Rupert in my room again. He talks in his sleep."

"It's better than snoring," Helen said.

"Awful to marry a man who snores," Miriam remarked. "Uncle Alfred does. I heard him."

"You're not thinking of marrying him?" John asked.

"No. I don't like the little man," she said incisively. "He gave me his card as though he'd met me in a train. In case we needed him! I've thrown it into Mrs. Pinderwell's desk." She looked frowningly at the fire. "But he liked me," she said, throwing up her head and defying the silent criticism of the company. "Yes, he did, but I hadn't enough time."

"That's better than too much," Helen said shrewdly, and stretched her stockinged feet to the bars. "Thank you for the tea, and now let us wash up."

"You're scorching," Miriam said, and no one moved. The lamplight had driven the shadows further back, and the room was the more peaceful for the cry of the wind and the hissing of the rain.

"Rupert will get wet," Helen said.

"Poor lad!" John mocked drowsily over his pipe.

"And he doesn't know about our father," Miriam said from her little stool. "Our father, who may be in Heaven."

"That's where Notya is afraid he is," Helen sighed remembering her stepmother's lonely figure on the sofa backed by the bare window and the great moor.

"Does she hate him as much as that?"

"Oh, I hate jokes about Heaven and Hell. They're so obvious," Helen said.

"If they weren't, you wouldn't see them, my dear."

Helen let that pass, but trouble looked from her eyes and sounded in her voice. "She wanted to see him and she was afraid, and no one should ever be afraid. It's ugly."

"Perhaps," Miriam said hopefully, "he will be ill for a very long time, and then she'll have to stay with him, and we can have fun. Fun! Where can we get it? What right had she to bring us here?"

"For God's sake," John said, "don't begin that again. We're warm and fed and roofed, and it's raining outside, and we needn't stir. That ought to make you thankful for your mercies. Suppose you were a tramp."

"Yes, suppose I was a tramp." She clasped her knees and forgot her anger in this make-believe. "A young tramp. Just like me, but ragged."

"Cold and wet."

"My hair would still be curly and my face would be very brown."

"You'd be dirty," Helen reminded her, "and your boots would be crumpled and too big and sodden." She looked at her own slim feet. "That is what I should hate."

"Of course there'd be disadvantages, but if I were a tramp and dwelt on my mercies, what would they be? First—freedom!"

"Ha!" John snorted.


"Freedom! Where is it?"

"With the lady tramp."

"And what is it?"

"Being able to do what you like," Miriam said promptly, "and having no Notya."

John was trying to look patient. "Very well. Let us consider that."

"Yes, grandpapa," Miriam answered meekly, and tweaked Helen's toe.

"You think the tramp can do what she likes, but she has no money in her pocket, so she can't buy the comfortable bed and the good meal she is longing for. She can only go to the first workhouse or sell herself for the price of a glass of gin."

"A pretty tramp like me," Miriam began, and stopped at Helen's pleading. "But John and I are facing facts, so you must not be squeamish. When you come to think of it," she went on, "lady tramps generally have gentlemen tramps with them."

"And there's your Notya."


"And he'd beat you."

"I might like it."

"And he'd be foul-mouthed."

"Horrid!" Helen exclaimed.

"But I should be used to nothing else."

"And if you came down our high road one day and begged at our door, and saw some one like yourself, some one clean and fresh and innocent—"

"So that's what he thinks of me!"

"Hush! I like this," Helen said.

"Even if there were a stern stepmother in the background, you'd be envious of that girl. You might obey no laws, but you'd find yourself the slave of something, your own vice, perhaps, or folly, or the will of that gentleman tramp of yours." He ended with a sharp tap of his emptied pipe, and sank back in a thoughtful silence.

Helen's hands slid down her stockings from knee to ankle and back again: her eyes were on the fire, but they saw the wet high road and the ragged woman with skirt flapping against shapeless boots. The storm's voice rose and fell, and sometimes nothing could be heard but the howling of the wind, and she knew that the poplars were bent under it; but when it rested for a moment the steady falling of the rain had a kind of reassurance. In the room, there were small sounds of shifting coals and breathing people.

Miriam sat on her stool like a bird on a branch. Her head was on one side, the tilted eyebrows gave her face an enquiring look, and she smiled with a light mischief. "You ought to have been a preacher, John dear," she said. "And you took—they always do—rather an unfair case."

"Take any case you like, you can't get freedom. When you're older you won't want it."

"You're very young, John, to have found that out," Helen said.

"But you know it."

Miriam clapped her hands in warning. "Don't say," she begged, "that it's because you are a woman!"

"Is that the reason?" Helen asked.

"No, it's because you are a Helen, a silly, a slave! And John makes himself believe it because he's in love with a woman who is going to manage him. Clever me!"

Colour was in John's cheeks. "Clever enough," he said, "but an awful little fool. Let's do something."

"When I have been sitting still for a long time," Helen said, as though she produced wisdom, "I'm afraid to move in case something springs on me. I get stiff-necked. I feel—I feel that we're lost children with no one to take care of us."

"I'm rather glad I'm not that tramp," Miriam owned, and shivered.

"And I do wish Notya were safe at home."

"I don't," said Miriam stubbornly.

The wind whistled with a shrill note like a call, and upstairs a door banged loudly.

"Which room?" Miriam whispered.

"Hers, I think. We left the windows open," John said in a sensible loud voice. "I'll go and shut them."

"Don't go. I won't be left here!" Miriam cried. "This house—this house is too big."

"It's because she isn't here," Helen said.

"John, you're the oldest. Make us happy."

"But I'm feeling scared myself," he said comically. "And the front door's wide open, I'll bet."

"And that swearing tramp could walk in if he liked!"

"But we mustn't be afraid of open doors," Helen said, and listened to her own words for a moment. Then she smiled, remembering where she had heard them. "We're frightening each other, and we must wash up. Look at the muddle!"

"It will make a clatter," Miriam objected, "and if you hadn't gone for that walk and made the house feel lonely, I shouldn't be like this now. Something's peeping at me!"

"It's only Mr. Pinderwell," Helen said. "Come and dry."

"I shall sleep in your bed tonight."

"Then I shall sleep in yours."

"I wish Rupert would come."

"John, do go and shut the windows."

"But take a light."

"It would be blown out."

Helen lowered the mop she had been wielding. "And Notya—where is she?"

John lifted his shoulders and opened the door. A gust of wind came down the passage, the front door was loudly shut, and Rupert whistled clearly.

"Oh, here he is," Miriam said on a deep breath, and went to meet him.

John pointed towards the hall. "I don't know why he should make us all feel brave."

"There's something—beautiful about him," Helen said.


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