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Uncle Alfred in a trap and Rupert on foot arrived at the same moment on Saturday, and while Rupert asked quick questions about Mildred Caniper, the other listened in alarm.

He was astonished to feel Helen's light touch leading him to the corner where the hats were hanging, to hear her low voice in his ear.

"Pretend that's why you've come!"

He whispered back, "Where is she?"

"In bed."


"No, no. Dressing up for you!"

"Ah," he said, relieved, but he felt he was plunged into melodrama. Nothing else could be expected of a family which had exiled itself mysteriously in such a wilderness, but he felt himself uncomfortably out of place and he straightened his tie and gave his coat a correcting pull before he went into the schoolroom, where John and Lily were sitting by the fire.

"We're all waiting for the doctor," Helen explained.

"Ah!" Uncle Alfred said again, on a different note. He clasped his hands behind his back and nodded, and in spite of this inadequate contribution he conveyed an impression of stiff sympathy, and gave the youthful gathering the reassurance of his age as they made a place for him by the fire.

"I'm jolly glad you're here," Rupert said cordially, and Uncle Alfred, not used to a conspirator's part, stole a glance at Helen. She was standing near him; her stillness was broken by constant tiny movements, like ripples on a lake; she looked from one face to another as though she anticipated and watched the thoughts behind, and was prepared to combat them.

"I wish you'd sit down," Lily said, as Helen went to the window and looked out.

"Yes, sit down, sit down," said Uncle Alfred, and he stood up, pointing to his chair.

"No; I'm listening, thank you," Helen said.

The nurse's heavy tramp thudded across the room above, and her steps had something in them of finality, of the closing of doors, the shutting down of lids, the impenetrability of earth.

Sitting next to John, with her arm in his, Lily moved a little. Her eyes were full of pity, not so much for the woman upstairs, or for the Canipers, as because the emotions of these people were not the heartily unmixed ones which she had suffered when her own mother died.

"He's a long time," Helen said. She went into the hall and passed Miriam, in a black dress, with her hair piled high and a flush of colour on her cheeks.

"He's in there," Helen said with a wave of her hand, and speaking this time of Uncle Alfred.

The front door stood open, and she passed through it, but she did not go beyond the gate. The moor was changelessly her friend, yet George was on it, and perhaps he, too, called it by that name. She was jealous that he should, and she did not like to think that the earth under her feet stretched to the earth under his, that the same sky covered them, that they were fed by the same air; yet this was not on account of any enmity, but because the immaterial distance between them was so great that a material union mocked it.

Evening was slipping into night: there was no more rain, but the ground smelt richly damp, and seemed to heave a little with life eager to be free; a cloud, paler than the night, dipped upon the moor above Brent Farm and rose again, like the sail of a ship seen on a dark sea. Then a light moving on the road caught back Helen's thoughts and she went into the house.

"He's coming," she said listlessly, careless of the use of pronouns. There was a pronoun on a ship, one on the moor, another driving up the road, and each had an importance and a supremacy that derided a mere name.

She shut the schoolroom door and waited in the hall, but half an hour later, she opened the door again.

"It's good news," she said breathlessly. "Do you want to speak to him, Rupert? She's going to live!"

She could not see her own happiness reflected.

"Like that?" John asked roughly.

"No, better, better. Always in bed, perhaps, but able to speak and understand."

He lifted his big shoulders; Uncle Alfred flicked something from his knee and, in the silence, Helen felt forlorn; her brightness faded.

"And you'll be left here with her, alone!" Miriam wailed, at last.

"Alone?" asked John.

"Uncle Alfred's going to take me away," Miriam said, yet she was not sure of that, and she looked curiously at him.

"I want her to go," Helen said quickly.

John was still glowering at Miriam. "Take you away! You talk as if you were a parcel!"

"I knew you would be angry," she said. "You've always been hard on me, and you don't understand."

"Well, it's Helen's affair."

"You don't understand," Miriam said again. She sat close to Uncle Alfred, and he patted her.

"Helen knows best," Lily said cheerfully, for she suspected what she did not know. "And we'll look after her. Come along, John. It's time we all went to bed."

"He'll grumble all the way home," Miriam said with a pout.

Rupert was still talking to the doctor: they had found some subject to their taste, and their voices sounded loudly in the quiet house. Helen had gone out to speak to Zebedee's old horse.

"Now, tell me what's the matter," Uncle Alfred said.

"Didn't Helen tell you?"


"Well," she swayed towards him, "the fact is, I'm too fascinating, Uncle Alfred. It's only fair to warn you."

All the strain had left her face, and she was more beautiful than he had remembered, but he now looked at her with the practical as well as the romantic eye, for his middle-aged happiness was to depend largely on this capricious creature, and for an instant he wondered if he had not endangered it.

"Probably," he said aloud.

"Aren't you sure of it?"

"Er—I was thinking of something else."

"That," she said emphatically, "is what I don't allow."

He looked at her rather sternly, bending his head so that the eye behind the monocle was full on her. She would never be as charming as her mother, he reflected, and with a start, he straightened himself on the thought, for he seemed to hear that remark being uttered by dull old gentlemen at their clubs. It was a thing not to be said: it dated one unmistakably, though in this case it was true.

"We must have a talk."

"A serious one?"


She looked at him nervously, regardless of her effect. "Will you mind taking care of me?" she asked in a low voice.

"My dear child—no."

"What is it, then?"

"I am trying to frame a piece of good advice. Well—er—this is the kind of thing." He was swinging the eyeglass by its string. "Don't go out into the world thinking you can conquer it: go out meaning to learn."

"Oh," Miriam said drearily. This meant that he was not entirely pleased with her. She wondered which of them had changed during these months, and characteristically she decided that it was he.

"Are you certain you want me?" she asked sadly.

"Quite certain, but you're not going to object to criticism, are you?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"Well then—" he began and they both smiled, simultaneously reassured about each other.

"And will you take me with you when you go back? Perhaps on Monday?"

"If the mistress of the house approves." This was addressed to Helen, who had entered.

"On Monday, Helen, may I go?"

"Yes. But then we ought to have told the trap to come for you."

"There's always George," Miriam said with innocence.

"Yes, he's always there. That's quite true," Helen said, and she spoke hollowly, as though she were indeed the shell she felt herself to be.

"But," Miriam went on, "it would be unkind to ask him."

To Uncle Alfred's concern, Helen leaned towards her sister, and spoke rapidly, in a hard, angry voice.

"Stop saying things like that! They're not funny. They make you ridiculous. And they're cruel. You've no respect—no respect for people. And George is better than you. He's sorry. That's something—a great deal. I'm not going to have him laughed at."

"Now, now," Uncle Alfred said feebly, but Helen had stopped, amazed at herself and at the loyalty which George evoked already. She knew, unwillingly, that it was a loyalty of more than words, for in her heart she felt that, in truth, she could not have him mocked. She stared before her, realizing herself and looking into a future blocked by George's bulk. She could not remember what she had been saying to Miriam; she looked at her, huddled in her chair against the storm, and at Uncle Alfred, standing with his back to the fire, jauntily swinging his eyeglass to seem at ease.

"Was I rude?" she asked.

"No, just horrid."

She went from the room slowly, through the passage and the kitchen into the garden, and George's figure went before her. She looked up at the poplars and saw that they would soon have their leaves to peep into the windows and whisper secrets of the Canipers.

"They knew," she said solemnly, "they always knew what was to happen."

Beyond the garden door she walked into a dark, damp world: mist was settling on the moor; drops spangled her dress and rested softly on her face and hands. She shut her eyes and seemed to be walking through emptiness, a place unencumbered by thoughts and people; yet she was not surprised when she was caught and held.

"Let go!" she said, without opening her eyes, and she was obeyed.

"I've been waiting for you," George said in a husky whisper.

"But I didn't say I would come."

She could hear him breathing close to her. "I can't see your eyes. You've got them shut. What's the matter? You're not crying?"

She opened them, and they were the colour of the night, grey and yet black, but they were not wet.

"I've been waiting for you," he said again, and once more she answered, "I didn't say I would come."

"I was coming to the door to ask about Mrs. Caniper," he went on, still speaking huskily and very low.

"Were you?"

"You wouldn't have liked that!"

"She is better." Emptiness was becoming peopled, and she remembered Mildred Caniper in bed, and the nurse smiling when she meant to be sympathetically sad, and Miriam, pitiful under scolding, but George was only the large figure that blocked the future: he was not real, though he talked and must be answered.

"I was coming to ask: do you hear?"

"You know now."

"But there's more. Who's the old chap who drove up tonight? Your uncle, isn't it?"

Her mind, which had lain securely in her body out of reach of hurt, was slowly being drawn into full consciousness; but he had to repeat his words before she answered them, and then she spoke with a haughtiness to which Miriam had accustomed him.

"So you have been watching?"

"Why not?" he asked defiantly. "I've got to watch. Besides," he became clumsy, shy, and humble, "I was waiting to see you."

"I'm here."

"But you're—you're like a dead thing. That night, in my room, you were alive enough. You sat there, with your mouth open, a little—I could see your teeth, and your eyes—they shone."

His words were like touches, and they distressed her into movement, into a desire to run from him.

"I'm going in," she said.

"Not yet."

"I must."

He was hovering on the edge of sentences which had their risk: she could feel that he wished to claim her but dared not, lest she should refuse his claim. He found a miserable kind of safety in staying on the brink, yet he made one venture.

"There are things we've got to talk about."

"But not tonight."

"You'll say that every night."

"There's never really any need to talk about anything," she said.

He stammered, "But—you're going to marry me. I must make—make arrangements."

She had her first real scorn of him. He was afraid of her, and she despised him for it, yet she saw that she must keep him so. She could hardly bring herself to say, "Do what you like," but having said it, she could add, with vehemence, "Don't bother me! I'm busy."

"But—" he said, and looked down: and now she seemed to be caught in his shame, a partner, and she had to wait for what he tried to say.

He looked up, saying, "You promised."

"Oh, I know."

She did not go. Perhaps people lying side by side in their graves would talk to each other like this, in voices muffled by their coffins and inarticulate because of fleshless lips, with words that had no meaning now that life, which made them, was done. And again she felt that she and George were moles, burrowing in the earth, scratching, groping for something blindly.

She brought her hands together and shook them.

"If only one could see!" she said aloud.

"What is it?"

"I feel as if I'm in a dark room."

"It's a dark night," he said, and touched her wrist. "When shall I see you again? Tomorrow?"

"You can't see me now."

"I can. Your hair has drops on it, and your face—"

"No!" she cried. "Don't tell me. Don't come with me."

She ran from him at last, and he did not follow her. Like her, he was bewildered, but for him she was a light he could not put out: for her he was the symbol of that darkness which had fallen on life.


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