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CHAPTER X
Helen was ironing in the kitchen the next afternoon when Daniel Mackenzie appeared in the doorway. She turned to him with a welcome, but the perfection of her manner was lost on Daniel: for the kitchen was empty of Miriam, and that was all he noticed.

"Hasn't Rupert come with you?" Helen asked.

"I missed him," he said in his melancholy voice. "Perhaps he missed me," he added with resignation. He was a tall young man with large hands and feet, and his eyes were vague behind his spectacles. "I thought he would be here. Is everybody out?"

"Notya's away, you know."

"He told me."

"And John and Miriam—I don't know where they are."

He found it difficult to talk to Helen, and as he sat down in the armchair he searched his mind for a remark. "I thought people always ironed on Tuesdays," he said at last.

"Some people do. These are just odd things."

"Eliza does. She makes us have cold supper. And on Mondays. It's too bad."

"But there can't be much to do for you."

"I don't know. There's washing on Monday, and on Sunday she goes to church—so she says."

Helen changed her iron and worked on. She moved rhythmically and her bare forearms were small and shapely, but Daniel did not look at her. He seemed to be interested in the wrinkled boots he wore, and occasionally he uttered a sad; "Puss, Puss," to the cat sleeping before the fire. A light breeze was blowing outside and Helen sometimes paused to look through the open window.

"Our poplars are getting their leaves," she said. "It's strange that I have never seen your garden. Are there any trees in it?"

He sat like a half-empty sack of grain, and slowly, with an effort, he raised his head. "What did you say?"

"Have you any trees in your garden?"

"There's a holly bush in the front and one of those thin trees that have berries—red berries."

"A rowan! Oh, I'm glad you have a rowan!" She looked as though he had made a gift to her.

He was born to ask questions. "Why?" he said, with his first gleam of interest.

"Oh, I like them. Is there a garden at the back?"

"Apple-trees," he sighed. "No fruit."

"They must want pruning. You know, gardening would do you good."

He shook his head. "Too long in the back."

"And Zebedee hasn't time?"

"No, he hasn't time." Daniel was wondering where Miriam was, and how long Rupert would be, and though Helen knew she wearied him, she went on serenely.

"Is he very busy now?"

"Yes."

"I can't think why people get ill in the spring, just when the lovely summer's coming. Does he get called up at night?"

"I suppose so." He was growing tired of this. "But when I'm in bed, I'm asleep, you know."

"Ah, that's nice for you," Helen said with a touch of irony as she carefully pulled out the lace of a dainty collar. "Isn't he rather lonely when you are up here?"

"Lonely!" Daniel's mouth dropped wider and while he tried to answer this absurd question adequately, Rupert entered the room.

"I told you to meet me outside the Bull, you old idiot."

Like Miriam, Rupert had the effect of fortifying the life of his surroundings, but, unlike her, he had a happy trick of seeming more interested in others than in himself. He saw at once, with something keener than his keen eyes, that Daniel was bored, that Helen was at work on more than ironing, and with his entrance he scattered the vague dissension which was abroad. The kitchen recovered from the gloom with which Daniel had shadowed it and Daniel himself grew brighter.

"I thought you said the Plover."

"You didn't listen. Even you couldn't mistake one for the other, but I've scored off you. Helen, we shall want a good tea. I drove up with Zebedee, and he's coming here when he's finished with old Halkett."

She stood with a cooling iron in her hand. "I'll make some scones. I expect Eliza gives him horrid food. And for supper there's cold chicken and salad and plenty of pudding; but how shall we put up the horse?"

"Don't worry, Martha. He's only coming to tea. He won't stay long."

"Oh, yes, he will." She had no doubt of it. "I want him to. Make up the fire for me, Daniel, please." She folded away the ironing cloth and gathered up the little damp cuffs and collars she had not ironed. A faint smile curved her steady lips, for nothing gave her more happiness than serving those who had a claim on her, and Zebedee's claim was his lack of womankind to care for him and her own gratitude for his existence. He was the one person to whom she could give the name of friend, yet their communion had seldom expressed itself in confidences: the knowledge of it lay snugly and unspoken in her heart.

"He has never had anything to eat in this house before," she said with a solemnity which provoked Rupert to laughter.

"What a sacrament women make of meals!"

"I wish they all did," Daniel said in the bass notes of genuine feeling.

"I don't know why you keep that awful woman," Helen said.

"Don't start him on Eliza," Rupert begged. "Eliza and the intricacies of English law—"

"Have you seen her?" Daniel persisted.

"No, but of course she's awful if she doesn't give you proper food."

His look proclaimed his realization that he had never appreciated Helen before. "I'm not greedy," he said earnestly, "but I've got to be fed." He sent a wavering glance from his chest to his boots. "Bulk is what I need, and fat foods, and it's a continuous fight to get them."

Rupert roared aloud, but there was sympathy in Helen's hidden mirth. "I'll see what I can do for you today," she said, like an attentive landlady. "And you are going to stay the night. I fry bacon—oh, wonderfully, and you shall have some for breakfast. But now," she added, with a little air of dismissal, "I am going to make the scones."

"Let's have a walk," Rupert said.

"I've walked enough." He had an impulse to stay with Helen.

"Then come outside and smoke. It's as warm as June."

Daniel rose slowly, lifting his body piece by piece. "I shouldn't like you to think," he said, "that I care too much for food."

"I don't."

"But I've got to be kept going."

"I quite understand," she answered busily. Her hands were in the flour; a patch of it, on her pale cheek, showed that her skin had a warm, faint colour of its own.

"We'll sit outside and watch for Zebedee," Rupert told her.

She had baked the scones, changed her dress and made the table ready before the guest arrived. From the dining-room she heard his clear voice, broken by Miriam's low gay one, and, looking from the window, she saw them both at the gate. Out of sight, behind the wall, Daniel and Rupert were talking, involved in one of their interminable discussions, and there were sounds made by the horse as he stretched to eat the grass. For an instant, Helen felt old and forgotten; she remembered Notya, who was in trouble, and she herself was shrouded by her own readiness to see misfortune; all her little preparations, the flowers on the table, the scones before the fire, her pretty dress, were gathered into one foolishness when she saw Zebedee pushing open the gate and looking down at Miriam. There was a sudden new pain in Helen's heart, and in a blinding light which dazzled her she saw that the pain was compounded of jealousy because Miriam was beautiful, and of renunciation because it would be impossible to keep anything which Miriam wanted.

But in the hall, these feelings, like a nightmare in their blackness, passed away when Zebedee uttered the cheerful "Hullo!" with which he had so often greeted her. There were comfort and safety in his neighbourhood, in his swift, judging way of looking at people, as though, without curiosity, he wished to assure himself of their well-being and health, and while there was something professional in the glance, it seemed to be a guarantee of his own honesty. His eyes, grey with brown flecks in them, expected people to be reasonable and happy.

Helen said simply, "I am so glad you have come."

"I made him," Miriam said, and put her hand fleetingly on his arm.

"You didn't. Rupert asked him."

"Yes, but I waylaid him. He was sneaking home."

"No, no, I wasn't."

"Somewhere else, then!"

He thrust his gloves into the pocket of his coat.

"You were coming, weren't you?" Helen asked.

"Of course I was."

She smiled with her extraordinary, almost comic, radiance. "I'll go and make the tea."

Because Daniel blundered through the doorway at that moment, Miriam followed Helen to the kitchen.

"He's going to teach me to drive," she said. "But what a horse! It goes on from generation to generation, like the practice!"

George Halkett had laughed at the horse, too, and Helen felt a cold resentment against him and Miriam.

"Your hair is very untidy, and your cheeks are blue," she said.

"Now you're being a cat. We certainly don't miss Notya when you are here. I'm in the delightful position, my dear, of being able to afford blue cheeks and untidy hair. Daniel won't notice them."

"No, he's arguing with Rupert."

"He came into the house after me. I'm going back to tease him."

"Oh, do leave the poor thing alone."

"No, I shan't. He'd be disappointed."

Helen stood by the fire and watched the kettle and listened to the noises in the schoolroom. Then a shuffling step came down the passage and Daniel spoke.

"Can I help you?"

"Thank you very much." She knew that he had come for refuge and she filled the teapot and put it into his hands. "Don't drop it."

"I'll be careful," he said humbly.

Walking in the trail of the tea he spilt, she followed him with the kettle. She had not the heart to scold him, and at the dining-room door he let out a sharp sound.

"Oh, dear, has it gone through your boot?" she asked, checking her laughter.

"I should just think it has!"

Miriam, whose ears were like a hare's, cried from the schoolroom: "Then perhaps he'll have to have his boot cut off, and that would spoil that lovely pair! Whatever you do, Zebedee, try to spare his boot!"

"She never leaves me alone," Daniel muttered to the pot.

"Don't take any notice of her," Helen said.

Daniel looked up mournfully. "Wouldn't you?"

"No. Sit here and talk to me." She called through the open door. "Come in, everybody!" With Daniel on one side of the table and Zebedee on the other, John's absence was the less apparent. Twilight had not yet come, but Helen had lighted candles to give the room a festive look, and there was a feeling of freedom and friendship in the house. They all talked of unimportant things, and there was laughter amid the chinking of the cups. For the young men, the presence of the girls had a potent, hardly admitted charm: for Miriam there was the exciting antagonism of sex: for Helen there was a pleasure which made her want to take deep breaths.

"Oh!" Miriam cried at last, and flung herself back in her chair. "Isn't this good? Why can't it always be like this?"

"Hush!" Helen said.

"You know it's nicer without her."

"I didn't want you to tempt things," Helen explained.

"She's as superstitious as a savage," Rupert said. "Talk to her, Zebedee, man of science."

"Yes, I will." His glance was humorous but not quite untroubled.

"When?" she said, with great willingness.

"After tea."

"We've finished, haven't we?" Miriam asked. "Daniel, be quick and drink that. We're all waiting for you. And don't slop it on your waistcoat. There's a good boy! Very nice. Come into the drawing-room and I'll play to you. I might even sing. Ask Helen if you may get down."

"May I?" he asked, and went after Miriam.

The notes of the old piano tinkled through the hall. Miriam was playing a waltz, lightly and gaily.

"I'll go and make Daniel dance with me," Rupert said.

"Don't tease him any more."

"It'll do him good, and I want Zebedee to have a chance of lecturing you."

"It's not easy to lecture you," Zebedee said.

"Isn't it?"

Above their voices and the tinkling music there now came Daniel's protest, Rupert's persuasions, and Miriam's laughter: then these all died away and the waltz called out plaintively and with desire.

"She is making the piano cry," Helen said.

Zebedee did not speak, for he was listening: the whole house was listening. No other sound came from the drawing-room, and Helen fancied that Mr. Penderwell was standing on the stairs, held by the memory of days when he had taken his lady by her tiny waist and felt the whiff of her muslin skirts against him as they whirled. The children on the landing were wide-eyed and hushed in their quiet play. The sounds grew fainter; they faded away as though the ballroom had grown dark and empty, and for a little space all the listeners seemed to be easing themselves of sighs. Then Miriam's whistle, like a blackbird's, came clearly. She did not know how well she had been playing.

Helen stood up. "I wonder if the horse has walked away. Go into the drawing-room. I'll see."

"No. I'll come with you."

The music had subdued their voices and, because they had heard it together, they seemed to be wrapped round by it in a world unknown to anybody else. Quietly they went out of the house and found the horse, only a few yards distant, with his feet tangled in the reins.

"You ought to have fastened him to the post," Helen said, and together they led him back.

"Shall we take him out of the cart?"

"But I ought to go home."

"No," she said.

"Perhaps not."

The sunshine had gone, and over the moor the light was grey; grey clouds hung low in the sky, and as he looked down at her, it seemed to Zebedee that Helen was some emanation of grey earth and air.

"We'll take him out," she said.

"And then what shall we do with him?"

"I believe he'd be quite happy in the kitchen!"

"Yes, he's a domesticated old boy."

"We can't put him in the hen-house. Just tie him to the post and let him eat."

When that was done, she would have gone into the house, but Zebedee kept her back.

"Mayn't we stay in the garden? Are you warm enough?"

She nodded to both questions. "Let us go round to the back." The path at the side of the house was dark with shrubs. "I don't like this little bit," she said. "I hardly ever walk on it. It's—"

"What?"

"Oh, they don't come out. They stay there and get unhappy."

"The bushes?"

"The spirits in them."

He walked beside her with his hands behind his back and his head bent.

"You're thinking," she said.

"Yes."

"Don't," she begged, "think away from me."

He stopped, surprised. "I'm not doing that—but why?"

"I don't know," she said, looking him in the eyes, "but I should hate it."

"I was wondering how to bring myself to scold you."

They had reached the lawn and, caught by the light from the drawing-room, they stood under the poplars and watched the shadows moving on walls and ceiling. The piano and the people in the room were out of sight, and Miriam's small, husky voice came with a hint of mystery.

"'Drink to me only with thine eyes,'" she sang.

"'And I will pledge with mine,'" Rupert joined in richly.

"'Or leave a kiss within the cup—'"

In silence, under the trees, Helen and Zebedee listened to the singing, to voices wrangling about the words, and when a figure appeared at the window they turned together and retreated beyond the privet hedge, behind John's vegetable garden and through the door on to the moor.

The earth was so black that the rising ground was exaggerated into a hill; against it, Helen's figure was like a wraith, yet Zebedee was acutely conscious of her slim solidity. He was also half afraid of her, and he had an easily controlled desire to run from the delight she gave him, a delight which hurt and reminded him too clearly of past joys.

"Now," she said, and stood before him in her dangerous simplicity. "What are you going to say?"

She seemed to have walked out of the darkness into his life, a few nights ago, an unexpected invasion, but one not to be repelled, nor did he wish to repel it. He was amazed to hear himself uttering his thoughts aloud.

"I always liked you when you were a little girl," he said, as though he accounted for something to himself.

"Better than Miriam?" she asked quickly.

"Of course."

"Oh," she said, and paused. "But I feel as if Miriam—" She stopped again and waited for his next words, but he saw the steepness of the path on which he had set his feet and he would not follow it.

"And I used to think you looked—well, brave."

"Did I? Don't I now?"

"Yes; so you see, you must be."

"I'll try. Three stars," she said, looking up. "But mayn't I—mayn't I say the things I'm thinking?"

"I hope you will," he answered gravely; "but then, you must be careful what you think."

"This is a very gentle lecture," she said. "Four stars, now. Five. When I've counted seven, we'll go back, but I rather hoped you would be a little cross."

Pleased, yet half irritated, by this simplicity, he stood in silence while she counted her seven stars.


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