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CHAPTER XVI
Zebedee had the lover's gift of finding time which did not exist for other men, and there were few Sundays when he did not spend some minutes or some hours on the moor. There were blank days when Helen failed him because she thought Mildred Caniper was lonely, others when she ran out for a word and swiftly left him to the memory of her grace and her transforming smile; yet oftenest, she was waiting for him in the little hollow of earth, and those hours were the best he had ever known. It was good to sit and see the sky slowly losing colour and watch the moths flit out, and though neither he nor she was much given to speech, each knew that the other was content.

"Helen," he said one night in late September when they were left alone, "I want to tell you something."

She did not stir, and she answered slowly, softly, in the voice of one who slept, "Tell it."

"It's about beauty. I'd never seen it till you showed it to me."

"Did I? When?"

"I'm not sure. That night—"

"On the moor?"

"Always on the moor! When you had the basket. It was the first time after I came back."

"But you couldn't see me in the darkness."

"Yes, a little. You remember you told me to light the lamps. And I could hear you—your voice running with the wind—And then each day since. I want to thank you."

"Oh—" She made a little sound of depreciation and happiness.

"Those old Sundays—"

"Ah, yes! The shining pews and the painted stars. This is better."

"Yes, this is better. Heather instead of the sticky pews—"

"And real stars," she murmured.

"And you for priestess."

"No, I'm just a worshipper."

"But you show the way. You give light to them that sit in darkness."

"Ah, don't." There was pain in her voice. "Don't give me things. At least, don't give me praise. I'm afraid of having things."

"But why, my dear?" The words dropped away into the gathering dusk, and they both listened to them as they went.

"I'm afraid they will be taken away again."

"Don't have that feeling. It will be hard on those who want to give you—much."

"I hadn't thought of that," she cried, and started up as though she were glad to blame him. "And you never tell me anything. Why don't you? Why don't you tell me about your work? I could have that. There would be no harm in that."

"Harm? No. May I?"

"Why shouldn't you? They all tell me things. Don't you want somebody to talk to?"

"I want you, if you care to hear."

"Oh, Zebedee, yes," she said, and sank into her place.

"Helen," he said unsteadily, "I wish you would grow up, and yet, Helen, what a pity that you should change."

She did not answer; she might have been asleep, and he sat in a stillness born of his disturbance at her nearness, her pale smooth skin, her smooth brown hair, the young curves of her body. If he had moved, it would have been to crush her beautiful, firm mouth, but her youth was a chain wound round him, and though he was in bonds he seemed to be alive for the first time. He and Helen were the sole realities. He could see Miriam's figure, black against the sky as she stood or stooped to pick a flower, but she had no meaning for him, and the voices of the young men, not far off, might have been the droning of some late bee. The world was a cup to hold him and this girl, and over that cup he had a feeling of mastery and yet of helplessness, and all his past days dwindled to a streak of drab existence. Life had begun, and it went at such a pace that he did not know how much of it was already spent when Helen sat up, and looking at him with drowsy eyes, asked, "What is happening?"

"There was magic abroad. The sun has been going down behind the moor, and night is coming on. I must be going home."

"Don't go. Yes, it's getting dark. There will be stars soon. I love the night. Don't go. How low the birds are flying. They are like big moths. The magic hasn't gone."

Grey-gowned, grey-eyed, white-faced, he thought she was like a moth herself, fragile and impalpable in the gloom, a moth motionless on a flower, and when he saw her smile he thought the moth was making ready for flight.

"I want this to go on for ever," she said. "The moor and the night and you. You're such a friend—you and the Pinderwells. I don't know how I should live without you."

"Do you know what you're saying to me?"

"I'm telling you I like you, and it's true. And you like me. It's so comfortable to know that."

"Comfortable!"

"Isn't it?"

"Comfortable?" he said again. "Oh, my love—" He broke off, and looking at each other, both fell dumb.

He got to his feet and looked down with an expression which was strange to her, for into that moment of avowal there had come a fleeting antagonism towards the woman who, in spite of all her gifts to him, had taken his possession of himself: yet through his shamed resentment, he knew that he adored her.

"Zebedee," she said in a broken voice. "Oh, isn't it a funny name! Zebedee, don't look at me like that."

"How shall I look at you?" he asked, not clearly.

"In the old way. But don't say things." She sprang up. "Not tonight."

"When?" he asked sternly.

"I—don't know. Tonight I feel afraid. It's—too much. I shan't be able to keep it, Zebedee. It's too good. And we can't get this for nothing."

"I'm willing to pay for it. I want to pay for it, in the pain of parting from you now, in the work of all my days—" He stopped in his realization of how little he had to give. "I can't tell you," he added simply.

"Will it hurt you to leave me tonight?" she whispered.

"Yes."

She touched his sleeve. "I don't like you to be hurt, yet I like that. Will you come next Sunday?"

"Not if you're afraid. I can't come to see you if you won't let me say things."

"I'll try not to be afraid; only, only, say them very softly so that nothing else can hear."

He laughed and caught her hand and kissed it. "I shall do exactly what I like," he said; but as he strode away without another word he knew from something in the way she stood and looked at him, something of patience and resolve, that their future was not in his hands alone.

When he was out of sight and hearing, Helen moved stiffly, as though she waked from a long sleep and was uncertain where she was. The familiar light shone in the kitchen of Brent Farm, yet the house seemed unreal and remote, marooned in the high heather. The heather was thick and rich that year, and the flowers touched her hands. The smell of honey was heavy in the air, and thousands of small, pale moths made a honey-coloured cloud between the purple moor and the night blue of the sky. If she strained her ears, Helen could hear the singing of Halkett's stream and it said things she had not heard before. A sound of voices came from the road and she knew that some faithful Christians of the moor were returning from their worship in the town: she remembered them crude and ugly in their Sunday clothes, but they gathered mystery from distance and the night. Perhaps they came from that chapel where Zebedee had spent his unhappy hours. She turned and her hands swept the heather flowers. This was now his praying place, as it had always been hers, and when the Easter fires came again they would pray to them together.

At the garden door her hand fell from the latch and she faced the moor. She lifted her arms and dropped them in a kind of pleading for mercy from those whom she had served faithfully; then she smoothed her face and went into the house.

In the drawing-room, Mildred Caniper was sitting on the sofa, and near her John and Lily had disposed themselves like guests.

Helen stopped in the doorway. "Then the light in your house meant nothing," she said reproachfully.

"What should it mean?" John asked.

"Happiness and peace—somewhere," she said.

"It does mean that," and turning to Lily, he asked, "Doesn't it?"

"Yes, yes, but don't brag about it."

They laughed together, and they sat with an alert tranquillity of health which made Mildred Caniper look very small and frail. She was listening courteously to the simple things John told her about animals and crops and butter-sales, but Helen knew that she was almost too tired to understand, and she felt trouble sweeping over her own happiness.

To hide that trouble, she asked quickly, "Where are the others?" and an invisible Rupert answered her.

"You're the last in." He sat outside the window, and as she approached, he added, "And I hope you have had a happy time."

"Yes." She looked back into the room.

"Daniel wouldn't stay," Rupert went on, smoking his pipe placidly. "If it hadn't been for my good offices, my dear, he'd have hauled Zebedee off long ago. He suddenly thought of a plan for getting rid of Eliza. Why aren't you thanking me?"

"He wouldn't have gone."

"Oh, ho!"

"But they ought to get rid of Eliza. I've told Zebedee."

"Quite right," Rupert said solemnly. His dark eyes twinkled at the answering stars. "When I have lunch with Daniel, I'm afraid of being poisoned, though she rather likes me, and she's offensively ugly—ugh! Yet I like to think that even Eliza has had her little story. Are you listening, Helen? I'm being pastoral and kind. I'm going to tell you how Eliza fell in love with a travelling tinker."

"Is it true?"

"As true as anything else."

"Go on."

"It happened when Eliza was quite young, not beautiful, but fresh and ruddy. She walked out one summer night to meet the farm hand who was courting her, but he was not at the appointed place, so Eliza walked on, and she had a sore heart because she thought her lover was unfaithful. She was walking over high downs with hollows in them and the grass cropped close by sheep, and there was a breeze blowing the smell of clover from some field, and suddenly she stood on the edge of a hollow in which a fire was burning, and by the fire there sat a man. He looked big as he sat there, but when he stood up he was a giant, in corduroys, and a check cap over his black eyes. Picturesque beggar. And the farm hand had deserted her, and there was a smell of burning wood, and the sky was like a velvet curtain. What would you? Eliza did not go home that night, nor the next, nor the next. She stayed with the travelling tinker until he tired of her, and that was very soon. For him, she was no more than the fly that happened to get into his web, but for Eliza, the tinker—the tinker was beauty and romance. The tinker was life. And he sent her back to the ways of virtue permanently soured, yet proud. Thus, my dear young friend, we see—"

"Don't!" Helen cried. "You're making me sorry for Eliza. I don't want to be sorry for her. And you're making me like the tinker. He's attractive. How horrid that he should be attractive." She shuddered and shook her head. "Your story is too full of firelight—and the night. I'll go and get supper ready."

"Miriam's doing it. Stay here and I'll tell you some more."

But she slipped past him and reached the kitchen from the garden.

"Rupert has been telling me a story," she said a little breathlessly to Miriam who was filling a tray with the noisy indifference of a careless maid-servant.

"Hang the plates! Hang the dishes! What story?"

"It's rather wonderful, I think. It's about the Mackenzies' Eliza."

"Then of course it's wonderful. And hang the knives and forks!" She threw them on the tray.

"And there's a travelling tinker in it." With her hands at her throat, she looked into the fire and Miriam looked at her.

"I'll ask him to tell it to me," she said, but very soon she returned to the kitchen, grumbling. "What nonsense! It's not respectable, and it isn't even true."

"It's as true as anything else," Helen said.

"Oh, you're mad. And so is Rupert. Let's have supper and go to bed. Why can't we have a servant to do all this? Why don't we pay for one ourselves?"

"I don't want one."

"But I do, and my hands are ruined."

"Upstairs in Jane," Helen said, "in the small right-hand drawer of my chest of drawers, there's the lotion—"

"It's not only my hands! It's my whole life! Your lotion isn't going to cure my life!" She sat on the edge of a chair and drooped there.

"No," Helen said. "But what's the matter with your life?"

Miriam flapped her hands. "I'm so tired of being good. I want—I want—"

Helen knelt beside her. "Is it Zebedee you want?" Her voice and her body shook with self-sacrifice and love and when Miriam's head dropped to her shoulder Helen was willing to give her all she had.

"I'm not crying," Miriam said, after an agitated pause. "I'm not overcome. I'm only laughing so much that I can't make a sound! Zebedee! Oh! No! That's very funny." She straightened herself. "Helen dear, did you think you'd discovered my little secret, my maidenly little secret? I only want Uncle Alfred to come and take me away. This is a dreadful family to belong to, but there are humorous moments. It's almost worth while. John, here's Helen suggesting that I'm in love with Zebedee!"

"Well, why not?" he asked, but he was hardly thinking of what he said. "I've left Lily on guard in there. Notya has gone to sleep."

"But she can't have," Helen said.

"She has, my child."

"Are you sure she's not—are you sure she is asleep?"

"Like a baby."

"Then we shall have to make a noise and wake her. She would never forgive us if she found out that we knew, so tell Lily to come out and then we must all burst in."



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