MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
Author of Lady Rose's Daughter, Missing, etc.
Frontispiece in Color by C. Allan Gilbert
TO THE DEAR AND GALLANT MEMORY OF T. S. A. PASSCHENDAELE, OCTOBER 11, 1917
This book was finished in April 1918, and represents the mood of a supremely critical moment in the war.
M. A. W.
'Remember, Slater, if I am detained, that I am expecting the two gentlemen from the War Agricultural Committee at six, and Captain Mills of the Red Cross is coming to dine and sleep. Ask Lady Chicksands to look after him in case I am late—and put those Tribunal papers in order for me, by the way. I really must go properly into that Quaker man's case—horrid nuisance! I hope to be back in a couple of hours, but I can't be sure. Hullo, Beryl! I thought you were out.'
The speaker, Sir Henry Chicksands, already mounted on his cob outside his own front door, turned from his secretary, to whom he had been giving these directions, to see his only daughter hurrying through the inner hall with the evident intention of catching her father before he rode off.
She ran down the steps, but instead of speaking at once she began to stroke and pat his horse's neck, as though doubtful how to put what she had to say.
'Well, Beryl, what's the matter?' said her father impatiently. The girl, who was slender and delicate in build, raised her face to his.
'Are you—are you really going to Mannering, father?'
'I am—worse luck!'
'You'll handle him gently, won't you?' There was anxiety in the girl's voice. 'But of course you will—I know you will.'
Chicksands shrugged his shoulders.
'I shall do my best. But you know as well as I do that he's a queer customer when it comes to anything connected with the war.'
The girl looked behind her to make sure that the old butler of the house had retired discreetly out of earshot.
'But he can't quarrel with you, father!'
'I hope not—for your sake.'
'Must you really tackle him?'
'Well, I thought I was the person to do it. It's quite certain nobody else could make anything of it.'
Privately Beryl disagreed, but she made no comment.
'Aubrey seems to be pretty worried,' she said, in a depressed tone, as she turned away.
'I don't wonder. He should have brought up his father better. Well, good-bye, dear. Don't bother too much.'
She waved her hand to him as he made off, and stood watching him from the steps—a gentle, attaching figure, her fair hair and the pale oval of her face standing out against the panelled hall behind her.
Her father went his way down a long winding hill beyond his own grounds, along a country road lined with magnificent oaks, through a village where his practised eye noted several bad cottages with disapproval, till presently he slackened his horse's pace, as he passed an ill-looking farm about half a mile beyond the village.
'Not a decent gate in the whole place!' he said to himself with disgust. 'And the farm buildings only fit for a bonfire. High time indeed that we made Mannering sit up!'
He paused also to look over the neighbouring hedge at some fields literally choked with weeds.
'And as for Gregson—lazy, drunken fellow! Why didn't he set some village women on? Just see what they've done on my place! Hullo, here he is! Now I'm in for it!' For he saw a slouching man coming rapidly towards him from the farmyard, with the evident intention of waylaying him. The man's shabby, untidy dress and blotched complexion did not escape Sir Henry's quick eye. 'Seems to have been making a night of it,' was his inward comment.
'Good-day, Sir Henry,' said the farmer, laying a hand on Chicksands' bridle, 'I wanted a word with you, sir. I give you fair warning, you and your Committee, you'll not turn me out without a fight! I was never given no proper notice—and there are plenty as 'll stand by me.'
The voice was thick and angry, and the hand shook. Sir Henry drew his horse away, and the man's hold dropped.
'Of course you had every notice,' said Sir Henry drily.
'I hadn't,' the man persisted. 'If the letters as they talk of were sent, I never saw 'em. And when the Committee came I was out—on business. Can't a man be out on his lawful business, Sir Henry, instead of dancin' attendance on men as know no better than he? The way this Government is doing things—you might as well live under the Czar of Russia as in this country. It's no country this for free men now, Sir Henry.'
'The Czar of Russia has come to grief, my man, for the same reason that you have,' said Sir Henry, gathering up the reins, 'for shirking his duty. All very well before the war, but now we can't afford this kind of thing.'
'And so you've told the Squire to turn me out?' said the man fiercely, his hands on his sides.
'You've had no notice from Mr. Mannering yet?'
'Not a word.'
'But you've heard from the Inspection Committee?'
The man nodded.
'But it's not they as can turn me out, if the Squire don't agree.'
There was a note of surly defiance in his voice.
'I don't know about that,' said Sir Henry, whose horse was getting restive. 'My advice to you, Gregson, is to take it quietly, pull yourself together, and get some other work. There's plenty going nowadays.'
'Thank you for nothing, Sir Henry. I've got plenty to advise me—people as I set more store by. I've got a wife and children, sir, and I shan't give in without a fuss—you may be sure of that. Good-day to you.'
Sir Henry nodded to him and rode off.
'He'll go, of course,' reflected the rider. 'Our powers are quite enough. But if I can't get Mannering to send the notice, it'll be a deal more trouble. Hullo, here's some one else! This is another pair of boots!'
He had scarcely turned the corner beyond the farm when another man came running down the sloping field, calling to him. Sir Henry pulled up his horse again. But his aspect had changed, and his voice took another note.
'Did you want to speak to me, Adam? A nice day, isn't it?'
'I saw you, Sir Henry, from the top of the field, talking to Gregson in the road, and I thought perhaps you'd let me have a few words with you. You know, sir, this is awfully hard lines.'
Sir Henry looked impatient, but the man who had spoken to him was a fine specimen of young manhood—broad-shouldered, clear-eyed, with a natural dignity of manner, not at all a person to be brushed aside.
'I'm sure you can't defend Gregson, Adam,' said Sir Henry, 'you—one of the best farmers in the district! I wish they had put you on the Inspection Committee.'
'Well, they didn't,' said the other, perhaps with a slight emphasis. 'And there's many of us feel, I can assure you, as I do. Gregson's a poor creature, but he hasn't had quite fair play, Sir Henry—that's what we feel. And he's been fifteen years on his place.' The man spoke hesitatingly, but strongly. There was a queer, suppressed hostility in his pleasant blue eyes.
'Fifteen years too long,' interrupted Sir Henry. 'I tell you, Adam, we can't afford now to let men like Gregson spoil good land while the country's likely to go hungry! The old happy-go-lucky days are done with. I wonder whether even you recognize that we're fighting for our lives?'
'I know we are, Sir Henry. But if the war makes slaves of us what good will it do if we do win it?'
Sir Henry laughed. 'Well, Adam, you were always a Radical and I was always a Conservative. And I don't like being managed any more than you do. But look at the way I'm managed in my business!—harried up and down by a parcel of young fellows from the Ministry that often seem to me fools! But we've all got to come in. And this country's worth it!'
'You know I'm with you there, sir. But why don't you get at the Squire himself? What good have he or his agent ever been to anybody? You're a landlord worth living under; but—'
'Ah! don't be in too great a hurry, Adam, and you'll see what you will see!' And with a pleasant salute, his handsome face twitching between frowns and smiles, Sir Henry rode on. 'What trade unionists we all are—high and low! That man's as good a farmer as Gregson's a vile one. But he stands by his like, as I stand by mine.'
Then his thoughts took a different turn. He was entering a park, evidently of wide extent, and finely wooded. The road through it had long fallen out of repair, and was largely grass-grown. A few sheep were pasturing on it, and a few estate cottages showed here and there. Sir Henry looked about him with quick eyes. He understood that the Inspection Sub-Committee, constituted under the Corn Production Act, and on the look-out for grass-land to put under the plough, had recommended the ploughing up of all this further end of Mannering Park. It carried very few sheep under its present management; and the herd of Jersey cattle that used to graze it had long since died out. As for the game, it had almost gone—before the war. No use, either for business or play!
Then—on this early autumn day of 1917—Sir Henry fell to musing on the vast changes coming over England in consequence of the war. 'Who would ever have believed that we—we should put ourselves to school as we have done? Military service, rations, food-prices, all our businesses "controlled," and now our land looked after! How much of it has come to stay? Well, it won't affect me much! Ah! is that the Rector?'
For a hundred yards ahead of him he perceived a clerical figure, spare and tall, in a wideawake hat, swinging towards him. The September sun was westering, and behind the approaching man lay broad stretches of wood, just showing here and there the first bronze and purple signs of autumn.
The Rector, recognizing the solitary rider, waved his hand in welcome, and Sir Henry pulled up. The two men, who were evidently personal friends, exchanged greetings.
'You're going to the Hall, Sir Henry?' said the Rector.
Sir Henry described his business.
The Rector shook his head reflectively.
'You haven't announced yourself, I hope?'
'No, I took that simple precaution. I suppose he's already pretty savage?'
'With whom? The Committee? Yes, you won't find him easy to deal with. But just at present there's a distraction. His new secretary arrived some weeks ago, and he now spends his whole time, from morning till night, dictating to her and showing her his things.'
'Secretary? A woman? Good heavens! Who is she?'
'A great swell, I understand. Oxford First Class in Mods, Second in Greats. I've only just seen her. A striking-looking person.'
'Why isn't she in France, or doing munition work?' growled Sir Henry.
'I don't know. I suppose she has her reasons. She seems patriotic enough. But I've only exchanged a few words with her, at a very hurried luncheon, at which, by the way, there was a great deal too much to eat. She and Pamela disappeared directly afterwards.'
'Oh, so Pamela's at home? What's the name of the new woman? I suppose she's to chaperon Pamela?'
'I shouldn't wonder. Her name is Miss Bremerton.'
'Beryl declares that Pamela is going to be a beauty—and clever besides. She used to be a jolly child. But then they go to school and grow up quite different. I've hardly seen her for a year and a half.'
'Well, you'll judge for yourself. Good luck to you! I don't envy you your job.'
'Good Lord, no! But you see I'm Chairman of this blessed show, and they all fixed on me to bell the cat. We want a hundred acres of the Park, a new agent, notices for three farmers, etcetera!'
The Rector whistled. 'I shall wait, on tiptoe, to see what happens! What are your powers?'
'So you have him? Well, good-day.'
And the Rector was passing on. But Sir Henry stooped over his horse's neck—'As you know, perhaps, it would be very inconvenient to my poor little Beryl if Mannering were to make a quarrel of it with me.'
'Ah, I gathered that she and Aubrey were engaged,' said the Rector cordially. 'Best congratulations! Has the Squire behaved well?'
'Moderately. He declares he has no money to give them.'
'And yet he spent eighteen hundred pounds last week at that Christie sale!' said the Rector with a laugh. 'And now I suppose the new secretary will add fuel to the flame. I saw Pamela for a minute alone, and she said Miss Bremerton was "just as much gone on Greek things as father," and they were like a pair of lunatics when the new vases came down.'
'Oh, blow the secretary!' said Sir Henry with exasperation. 'And meanwhile his daughters can't get a penny out of him for any war purpose whatever! Well, I must go on.'
They parted, and Sir Henry put his cob into a sharp trot which soon brought him in sight of a distant building—low and irregular—surrounded by trees, and by the wide undulating slopes of the park.
'Dreadfully ugly place,' he said to himself, as the house grew plainer; 'rebuilt at the worst time, by a man with no more taste than a broomstick. Still, he was the sixteenth owner, from father to son. That's something.'
And he fell to thinking, with that half-ironic depreciation which he allowed to himself, and would have stood from no one else, of his own brand-new Georgian house, built from the plans of a famous American architect, ten years before the war, out of the profits of an abnormally successful year, and furnished in what he believed to be faultless taste by the best professional decorator he could find.
'Yet compared to a Mannering, what do I mean to the people here? You scarcely begin to take root in this blessed country under half a century. Mannering is exceedingly unpopular; the people think him a selfish idler; but if he chose he could whistle them back with a hundredth part of the trouble it would take me! And if Aubrey wanted to go into Parliament, he'd probably have his pick of the county divisions. Curious fellow, Aubrey! I wonder exactly what Beryl sees in him?'
His daughter's prospects were not indeed very clear to a mind that liked everything cut and dried. Aubrey Mannering was the Squire's eldest son; but the Squire was not rich, and had been for years past wasting his money on Greek antiquities, which seemed to his neighbours, including Sir Henry Chicksands, a very dubious investment. If Aubrey should want to sell, who was going to buy such things at high prices after the war? No doubt prices at Christie's—for good stuff—had been keeping up very well. That was because of war profits. People were throwing money about now. But when the war industries came to an end? and the national bills had to be paid?
'The only thing that can't go down is land,' thought Sir Henry, with the cheerful consciousness of a man who had steadily year by year increased what had originally been a very modest property to something like a large estate.
Mannering had plenty of that commodity. But how far had he dipped the estate? It must be heavily mortgaged. By decent management anybody, no doubt, might still bring it round. 'But Aubrey's not the man. And since he joined up at the beginning of the war the Squire won't let him have a voice in anything. And now Desmond—by George, the twins are nineteen this month!—Desmond'll be off directly. And then his father will be madder than ever.'
By this time the ugly house was near at hand, and the thick woods which surrounded it had closed about the horse and rider.
'Splendid timber,' thought Sir Henry, as he rode through it, measuring it with a commercial eye, 'but all past its prime, and abominably neglected.... Hullo! that looks like Pamela, and the new woman—the secretary!'
For two ladies were coming down the drive towards him, with a big white and tan collie jumping round them. One of them, very tall and erect, was dressed in a dark coat and skirt, reasonably short, a small black toque, and brown boots and leggings. The close-fitting coat showed a shapely but quite substantial figure. She carried a stick, and walked with a peculiarly rapid and certain step. The young girl beside her seemed by comparison a child. She wore a white dress, in keeping with the warm September day, and with it a dark blue sports coat, and a shady hat. Her dress only just passed her knees, and beneath it the slender legs and high heels drew Sir Henry's disapproving eye. He hated extravagance in anything. Beryl managed to look fashionable, without looking outre, as Pamela did. But he reined up to greet her with ready smiles.
'Well, Pamela, jolly to see you at home again! My word, you've grown! Shall I find your father in?'
'Yes, we left him in the library. May I introduce Miss Bremerton—Sir Henry Chicksands.' The girl spoke with hurried shyness, the quick colour in her cheeks. The lady beside her bowed, and Sir Henry took off his hat. Each surveyed the other. 'A strong-minded female!' thought Sir Henry, who was by no means advanced in his views of the other sex.
'The strong-minded female,' however, was not, it seemed, of the talkative kind. She remained quite silent while Pamela and Sir Henry exchanged some family gossip, with her ungloved hand caressing the nose of the collie, who was pressing against her with intrusive friendliness. But her easy self-possession as contrasted with Pamela's nervousness was all the time making an impression on Sir Henry, as was also the fact of her general good looks. Not a beauty—not at all; but, as the Rector had said, 'striking.'
As for Pamela, what was the matter with the child? Until Beryl's name was mentioned, there was not a smile to be got out of her. And it was a very fleeting one when it came. Desmond's name fared a little better. At that the girl did at last raise her beautiful eyes, which till then she had hardly allowed to be seen, and there was a ray in them.
'He's here on leave,' she said; 'a few days. He's just got his Commission and been accepted for the artillery. He goes into camp next week. He thinks he'll be out by January.'
'We must certainly manage to see him before he goes,' said Sir Henry heartily. Then turning to Miss Bremerton with the slightly over-emphatic civility of a man who prides himself on his manners in all contingencies, he asked her if she was already acquainted with the Mannering neighbourhood.
Miss Bremerton replied that it was quite unknown to her. 'You'll admire our trees,' said Sir Henry. 'They're very fine.'
'Are they?' said the lady rather absently, giving a perfunctory glance to the woods sloping away on her right towards a little stream winding in the hollow. Sir Henry felt a slight annoyance. He was a good fellow, and no more touchy as to personal dignity than the majority of men of his age and class. But he was accustomed to be treated with a certain deference, and in Miss Bremerton's manner there was none whatever.
'Well, good-bye, Pamela. I mustn't miss your father. When are you coming over to see Beryl?'
'How am I to get there?' said the girl with a sudden laugh.
'Oh, I see, you've got no petrol allowance?'
'How should we? Nobody's doing any war work here.'
There was an odd note in the speaker's voice.
'Why don't you join Beryl in her canteen work?' said Sir Henry abruptly.
'I don't know.'
'She wants help badly. She passes your gate on her way to Fallerton. She could pick you up, and bring you back.'
'Yes,' said Pamela. There was a pause.
'Well, good-bye, dear,' said Sir Henry again, and with a ceremonious bow to Pamela's companion, he rode on—meditating on many things.
* * * * *
'The Squire's in, Sir Henry, but—well, he's very busy.'
'Never mind, Forest. I must see him. Can you find some one to take my horse round?'
The grey-haired butler looked perplexed.
'I've only got my own small boy, Sir Henry. There's two more of our men gone this morning. I don't know if you'll trust him. He's a good boy.'
'Send him along, Forest. My beast's a lamb—you know him. But look here, Forest'—Sir Henry dismounted, bridle in hand. 'Don't give the Squire notice that I'm here, if you can help it, till you announce me.'
The butler, who, in spite of his grey hair, was a square-set, vigorous-looking fellow, might be said, in reply, to have given the Squire's visitor a wink. At any rate a look of understanding passed between the two. The butler went quickly back into the house, and re-emerged with a boy, who was the small image of his father, to whom Sir Henry cheerfully gave up his cob. But as Forest led the way through the outer hall he stopped to say:
'The Squire's not alone, sir. There was a gentleman arrived just as Miss Pamela went out. But I don't think he'll stay long.'
'Who is he?'
'Can't say, sir. He's lodging in the village, and comes to see the Squire's collections sometimes.'
They were now in a long passage running along the eastern front of the house to a large room which had been added to its southern end, in order to hold the Squire's library and collections. Midway the butler turned.
'You've heard, Sir Henry, about Mr. Desmond?'
'Yes, Miss Pamela told me.'
'Mr. Desmond says he'll be in France by January. He's as pleased as possible, but it's a deal sooner than Mr. Mannering hoped.'
'Well, we've all got to take our chance in this war,' said Sir Henry gravely. 'And the artillery is a bit safer than the infantry. You know my son Arthur's a gunner.'
'I hope he's all right, sir?'
'Well, he's still on light work. He comes home this week for a bit. He was gassed at Ypres a year and a half ago, and had a bullet taken out of his chest about two months since. But he is nearly fit again.'
The butler expressed his sympathy with a complete absence of shyness or servility, then threw open a door at the end of the passage, announcing, 'Sir Henry Chicksands, sir.'
'D-mn!' said a voice loudly within.
Sir Henry gave an involuntary start. Another look passed between him and Forest, amused or interrogative on the visitor's part, non-committal on the butler's.
* * * * *
The library of Mannering Hall as Sir Henry Chicksands entered it presented a curious spectacle. It was a long, barn-like room, partly lined with books, and partly with glass cases, in which Greek vases, Tanagra figures, and other Greek and Etruscan antiquities, all carefully marked and labelled, were displayed. A few large tables stood at intervals on the shabby carpet, also laden with books and specimens. They conveyed an impression of dust and disorder, as though no housemaid had been allowed to touch them for weeks—with one exception. A table, smaller than the rest, but arranged with scrupulous neatness, stood at one side of the room, with a typewriter upon it, certain books, and a rack for stationery. A folded duster lay at one corner. Pens, pencils, a box of clips, and a gum-pot stood where a careful hand had placed them. And at a corner corresponding to the duster was a small vase of flowers—autumnal roses—the only flowers in the room.
But the various untidy accumulations, most of which seemed to be of old standing, had been evidently just added to by some recent arrivals. Four large packing-cases, newly opened, took up much of what free space was left on the floor. The straw, paper, and cottonwool, in which their contents had been packed, had been tossed out with a careless or impatient hand, and littered the carpet. Among the litter stood here and there some Greek vases of different sizes; in particular, a superb pair, covered with figures; beside which stood the owner of Mannering, talking to an apparently young man with an eye-glass, who was sitting on the floor closely examining the vases. The Squire turned a furrowed brow towards his approaching visitor, and putting down a small bronze he had been holding raised a warning hand.
'How do you do, Chicksands? Very sorry, but I'm much too filthy to touch. And I'm horribly busy! These things arrived last night, and Mr. Levasseur has kindly come over to help me unpack them. Don't know if you've met him. Mr. Levasseur—Sir Henry Chicksands.'
The man on the floor looked up carelessly, just acknowledging Sir Henry's slight inclination. Sir Henry's inner mind decided against him—at once—instinctively. What was a stout fellow, who at any rate looked as though he were still of military age, doing with nonsense of this sort, at four o'clock in the day, when England wanted every able-bodied man she possessed, either to fight for her or to work for her? At the same time the reflection passed rapidly through his mind that neither the man nor the name had come up—so far as he could remember—before the County Tribunal of which he was Chairman.
'Well, Chicksands, what do you want with me?' said the Squire abruptly. 'Will you take a chair?' And he pointed to one from which he hastily removed a coat.
'I have some confidential business to talk to you about,' said Sir Henry, with a look at the dusty gentleman among the straw.
'Something you want me to do that I'll be bound I shan't want to do! Is that it?' said Mannering with vivacity.
He stood with his hands on a table behind him, his long spare frame in a nervous fidget, his eyes bright and hostile, and a spot of red on either thin cheek. Beside Chicksands, who was of middle height, solidly built, and moderately stout, with mental and physical competence written all over him, the Squire of Mannering seemed but the snippet of a man. He was singularly thin, with a slender neck, and a small head covered with thick hair, prematurely white, which tumbled over his forehead and eyes. He had the complexion of a girl, disproportionately large nose, very sharply and delicately cut as to bridge and nostril, and a mouth and chin which seemed to be in perpetual movement. He looked older than Sir Henry, who was verging on sixty, but he was in fact just over fifty.
Sir Henry smiled a little at the tone of the Squire's question, but he answered good-humouredly.
'I believe, when we've talked it over, you won't think it unreasonable. But I've come to explain.'
'I know, you want me to give Gregson notice. But I warn you I'm not the least inclined to do anything of the kind.' And the speaker crossed his arms, which were very long and thin, over a narrow chest, while his eyes restlessly countered those of Sir Henry.
Chicksands paused a moment before replying.
'I have a good many papers here to show you,' he said at last, mildly, drawing a large envelope half-way from the inner pocket of his coat to illustrate his words, and then putting it back again. 'But I really can't discuss them except with yourself.'
The Squire's eyes shot battle.
'It's the war, of course,' he said with emphasis; 'it's all the war. I'm told to do things I don't want to do, which affect my personal freedom, and other people's, because of a war I don't believe in, never asked for, and don't approve of. Here's Levasseur now, a clever fellow, cleverer than either you or me, Chicksands, and he's no more patriotic than I am. You talk to him!'
'Thank you, I'm too busy,' said Sir Henry sharply, his face stiffening. 'Where can you see me, Mannering? I'm rather pressed for time. Is the smoking-room free?' And with a marked avoidance of any concern with the gentleman on the floor, who had by now risen to his feet, Sir Henry made an impatient movement towards a door at the further end of the library which stood ajar.
Levasseur looked amused. He was a strongly-built, smooth-shaven fellow, with rather long hair, and the sallow look of the cigarette-smoker. His eyes were sleepy, his expression indolent or good-natured.
'Oh, I'll make myself scarce with the greatest pleasure,' he said civilly. 'I can stroll about the park till you're ready for me again,' he added, turning to the Squire. 'Lovely day—I'll take a book and some cigarettes.' And diving into an open box which stood near he filled his cigarette-case from it, and then looked round him for a book. 'Where's that copy of the Anthology? That'll do nicely.'
The Squire burst into a laugh, observing Sir Henry.
'He's over military age, Chicksands.'
'I suppose so,' said Sir Henry stiffly.
'But only by six months, when the Act passed. So he's just escaped you.'
'I've really no concern whatever with Mr. Levasseur's affairs.' Sir Henry had flushed angrily. 'Is it to be here, or the smoking-room?'
'Ta-ta! See you again presently,' said Levasseur. 'Ah, there's the book!' And diving to the floor for a hat and a book lying beside it, he made off, lighting a cigarette, with a laughing backward glance towards the Squire and his companion.
'Well, now, what is it?' said Mannering, throwing himself with an air of resignation into a low arm-chair, and taking out a pipe. 'Won't you smoke, Chicksands?'
'Thank you, I've had my morning's allowance. Hullo! Who did that? What an awfully fine thing!'
For suddenly, behind the Squire's head, Chicksands had become aware of an easel, and on it a charcoal sketch, life-size, of a boy, who seemed about eighteen or nineteen, in cricketing dress.
The Squire looked round.
'What, that sketch of Desmond? Haven't you seen it? Yes, it's jolly good. I got Orpen to do it in July.'
Now that Sir Henry had once perceived the drawing it seemed to him to light up the whole place. The dress was the dress of the Eton Eleven; there was just a suggestion of pale blue in the sash round the waist. But the whole impression was Greek in its manly freedom and beauty; above all in its sacrifice of all useless detail to one broad and simple effect. Youth, eager, strong, self-confident, with its innocent parted lips, and its steadfast eyes looking out over the future—the drawing stood there as the quintessence, the embodiment, of a whole generation. So might the young Odysseus have looked when he left his mother on his first journey to hunt the boar with his kinsfolk on Mount Parnassus. And with such an air had hundreds of thousands of English boys gone out on a deadlier venture since the great war began, with a like intensity of will, a like merry scorn of fate.
Sir Henry was conscious of a lump in his throat. He had lost his youngest son in the retreat from Mons, and two nephews on the Somme.
'It's wonderful,' he said, not very clearly. 'I envy you such a possession.'
The Squire made no reply. He sat with his long body hunched up in the deep chair, a pair of brooding eyes fixed on his visitor.
'Well, what is it?' he said again, in a voice that was barely civil.
Sir Henry had been talking some time. The Squire had not interrupted him much, but the papers which Sir Henry had presented to him from time to time—Government communications, Committee reports, and the like—were mostly lying on the floor, where, after a perfunctory glance at them, he had very quickly dropped them.
'Well, that's our case,' said Sir Henry at last, thrusting his hands into his pockets and leaning back in his chair, 'and I assure you we've taken a great deal of trouble about it. We shouldn't ask you or anybody else to do these things if it wasn't vitally necessary for the food-supply of the country. But we're going to have a narrow squeak for it next spring and summer, and we must get more food out of the land.'
Whereupon, in a manner rather provokingly reminiscent of a public meeting, Sir Henry fell into a discourse on submarines, tonnage, the food needs of our Allies, and the absolute necessity for undoing and repairing the havoc of Cobdenism—matters of which the newspapers of the day were commonly full. That the sound of his own voice was agreeable to him might have been suspected.
Mr. Mannering roughly broke in upon him.
'What was that you said about ploughing up the park?'
'We ask you to break up fifty acres of it near the Fallerton end, and perhaps some other bits elsewhere. This first bit is so far from the house you'll never notice it; and the land ought to do very well if it's properly broken and trampled down.'
The Squire sat up and began to tick things off on the fingers of his left hand.
'Let me understand. You want me to give three of my farmers notice to quit—Gregson first of all—for bad farming; you ask me to plough up fifty acres of my park; and you have the goodness to suggest that I should cut some of my woods.'
Sir Henry realized that possibly a strain on his temper was coming, but he felt sure he could stand it.
'That is what we suggest—for your own advantage and the country's.'
'And pray who are "we"? I don't yet understand that clearly.'
'"We,"' said Sir Henry patiently, 'are the County War Agricultural Committee, formed for the express purpose of getting more food out of the land, and so making these islands self-supporting.'
'And if I refuse, what can you do?'
'Well, I'm afraid,' said Sir Henry, smiling uncomfortably, 'we can act without you.'
'You can turn out my farmers, and plough my land, as you please?'
'Our powers are very wide.'
'Under—what do you call the beastly thing?—"Dora"—the Defence of the Realm Act?'
Sir Henry nodded.
The Squire rose and began to pace up and down, his hands under his coat-tails, his long spider legs and small feet picking their way in and out of the piles and boxes on the floor. At last he turned impetuously.
'Look here, Chicksands, I shall not give that man warning!'
Sir Henry surveyed the lanky figure standing opposite to him.
'I should be very sorry, Mannering, to see you take that course,' he said, smiling and amiable as before. 'In some ways, of course, I am no more in love with some of the Government's proceedings than you are. We landlords may have to defend ourselves. I want, if I may say so, to keep your influence intact for the things that really matter. You and I, and all the other Brookshire landlords, may have, at some point, to act together. But we shall resist unreasonable demands much more easily if we accept the reasonable ones.'
The Squire shook his head. The suave tone of the speaker had clearly begun to rasp his nerves.
'No! You and I have really nothing in common. You may take it from me that I shall not give these men notice. What happens then?'
'The Government steps in,' said Sir Henry quietly.
'And turns them out? Very well, let them. And the park?'
'We are, of course, most anxious to consult you.'
'Excuse me, that's nonsense! I refuse—that's flat.'
Sir Henry shrugged his shoulders. His tone became a trifle colder.
'I can't believe that you will refuse. You can't deny—no sensible man could—that we've simply got to grow more food at home. The submarines have settled that for us.'
'Who brought the submarines upon us? The politicians! No politicians, no war! If it hadn't been for a pack of idiots called diplomats making mischief abroad, and a pack of incompetents called politicians unable to keep their heads at home, there'd have been no war. It's Russia's war—France's war! Who asked the country whether it wanted a war? Who asked me?' The Squire, standing opposite to Sir Henry, tapped his chest vehemently.
'The country is behind the war,' said Chicksands firmly.
'How do we know? How do you know? I've as much right to an opinion as you, and I tell you the country is sick and tired of the war. We are all dying of the war! We shall all be paupers because of the war! What is France to me, or Belgium? We shall have lost men, money, security—half the things that make life worth living—for what?'
'Honour!' said Sir Henry sharply, as he got on his feet.
'Honour!' sneered Mannering—'what's honour? It means one thing to me and another to you. Aubrey bangs me over the head with it. But I'm like the Doctor in the Punch and Judy show—he thinks he's knocked me flat. He hasn't. I've a new argument every time he comes. And as for my daughters, they think me a lunatic—a stingy lunatic besides—because I won't give to their Red Cross shows and bazaars. I've nothing to give. The income tax gentlemen have taken care of that.'
'Yet you spend on this kind of thing!' Sir Henry pointed to the vases. He had grown a little white.
'Of course I can. That's permanent. That's something to mend the holes that the soldiers and the politicians are making. When the war's become a nightmare that nobody wants to remember, those little things'—he pointed to a group of Greek bronzes and terra-cottas on a table near—'will still be the treasures of the world!'
In the yeasty deep of Sir Henry's honest mind emotions were rising which he knew now he should not long be able to control. He took up his hat and stick.
'I'm sorry, Mannering, that I have not been able to convince you. I'm sorry for your point of view—and I'm sorry for your sons.'
The words slipped out of his mouth before he knew.
The Squire bounded.
'My sons! The one's a fire-eater, with whom you can't argue. The other's a child—a babe—whom the Government proposes to murder before he has begun to live.'
Sir Henry looked at the speaker, who had been violently flushed a minute earlier, and was now as pale as himself, and then at the sketch of Desmond, just behind the Squire. His eyes dropped; the hurry in his blood subsided.
'Well, good-bye, Mannering. I'll—I'll do what I can to make things easy for you.'
The Squire laughed angrily.
'You'll put on the screws politely? Thank you? But still it will be you who'll be putting the screw on, who'll be turning out my farmers, and ploughing up my land, and cutting down my trees. Doesn't it strike you that—well, that—under the circumstances—it will be rather difficult for Aubrey and Beryl to keep up their engagement?'
The Squire was sitting on the edge of the table, his thin legs crossed, his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets. Sir Henry coloured hotly.
'You gave your consent to their engagement, Mannering.'
'Yes, but I propose to withdraw it,' said the Squire coolly.
Sir Henry's indignation kept him cool also.
'You can't play ducks and drakes with young people's lives like that. Even you can't do that.'
'I can. I can withdraw my consent.'
'Because you mean to fight the County War Committee, of which I am Chairman?'
'Precisely. The situation is too difficult,' said the Squire with sparkling eyes. 'The young people will no doubt see it for themselves.'
'Pshaw! Nonsense!' cried Sir Henry, finally losing his temper. 'Aubrey is long since of age and his own master.'
'Perhaps, but he is an extravagant fellow, who likes money and spends it. And if he is his own master, I am the master of the estate; there is no entail.'
Chicksands laughed aloud.
'So because I come on a mission to try and save you friction and trouble, you are going to avenge yourself on your son and my daughter?'
'I merely point out the properties,' said the Squire provokingly, his legs dangling.
There was a pause. Sir Henry broke it with dignity, as he turned away.
'I think we had better break off this discussion. I cannot—I do not—believe you will carry out what you say. But if you do, I shall stand by the young people.'
'No doubt!' said the Squire, who seemed to bristle from head to foot. 'Well, good-bye, Sir Henry. Sorry your visit has not been more agreeable. Forest will look after you.' And ringing the bell vehemently as he passed the fireplace, the Squire walked rapidly to the door and threw it open.
Chicksands passed through it, speechless with indignation and, if the truth were told, bewilderment.
* * * * *
The Squire shut the door upon his adversary, and then, with his hands on his sides, exploded in a fit of laughter.
'I always knew I must be rude to the old boy some time,' he said, with the glee of a mischievous child. 'But, ye gods, how his feathers drooped! He looked like a plucked cockatoo as he went out.'
He stood thinking a moment, and then with a look of sudden determination he went to his writing-table and sat down to it. Drawing a writing-pad towards him, he wrote as follows:
'MY DEAR AUBREY—Your future father-in-law has just been insulting and harrying me in ways which no civilized State had ever heard of before the war. He is the Chairman of a ridiculous body that calls itself the County War Agricultural Committee, that lays absurd eggs in the shape of sub-Committees to vex landlords. They have been going about among my farmers and want me to turn out three of them. I decline, so I suppose they'll do it for me. And they're going to plough up a lot of the park—without my leave. And Chicksands is the head and front of the whole business. He came here to-day to try and coax me into submission. But I would neither be coaxed nor bullied. I've broken with him; and if my children stand by me properly, they'll break with him too. I really don't see how you're going to marry Beryl after this. At least, I shall certainly not help you to do it, and if you defy me you must take the consequences. The whole world's gone mad. My only consolation is that I have just got some new Greek things, and that Levasseur's helping me unpack them. However, it's no good talking to you about them. You wasted all your time at Cambridge, and I doubt whether you could construe a bit of Euripides to save your life.
'Of course if you want to talk this over, you had better run down. I have got a new secretary—came here six weeks ago—a topping young woman—who reads Greek like a bird. But her quantities are not always what they should be. Good-bye.—Your affectionate father,
Having finished the epistle he read it over with a complacent countenance, put it up and stamped it. Then he looked at his watch.
'What a long time that young woman's been away! I told her to take two hours off, but of course I didn't mean it. That was just my excessive politeness. D-mn my politeness. It's always getting in my way. I forget that women are naturally lazy. I daresay she was a bit fagged. But if she's interested in her work, what does that matter? I wonder whether she's looked out all these references?'
And walking over to the one neat table In the room he surveyed it. There were some sheets lying on it mostly covered with an excellent Greek script, which he turned over. Suddenly he swooped on one of them.
'Hullo! That line's wrong. Won't scan. Trusted to her memory, I suppose. Didn't look it up. And yesterday I caught her out in her accents. Women play the devil with accents. But she writes a pretty Greek. Eh? What?' For he had become aware of the re-entry of Levasseur, who was standing at his elbow.
''Fraid I can't stay now,' said that person. 'I've promised to pick up some wounded at the station to-night.'
'You—wounded!—what do you mean?' said the Squire, turning upon him.
Levasseur's large, thin-lipped mouth showed what seemed an habitual grin.
'I'd been getting so unpopular, it was becoming a nuisance. Line of least resistance, you understand. Now everybody's quite civil again. And I like chauffing.'
'A mere bit of weakness!' grumbled the Squire. 'Either you keep out of the war, or you go into it. You'd better go off to a camp now, and get trained—and shot—as quickly as possible—get done with it.'
'Oh no,' laughed the other. 'I'm all for middle courses. If they'll let me go on with my book, I don't mind driving a few poor fellows now and then!'
The Squire looked at him critically.
'The fact is you're too well fed, Levasseur, or you look it. That annoys people. Now I might gorge for a month, and shouldn't put on a pound.'
'I suppose your household is rationed?'
'Not it! We eat what we want. Just like the labourers. I found an old labourer eating his dinner under a hedge yesterday. Half a pound of bread at the very least, and he gets as much for his supper, and nearly as much for his breakfast. "I shall eat it, Squire, as long as I can get it. There's nowt else packs ye like bread." And quite right too. Good word "pack."'
'What'll he do when he can't get it?' laughed Levasseur, taking up his hat.
'Stuff! This food business is all one big blague. Anyway the Government got us into the war; they're jolly well bound to feed us through it. They will, for their own necks' sake. Well, good-night.'
Levasseur nodded in response, with the same silent, aimless grin, and disappeared through the garden door of the library.
'Queer fellow!' thought the Squire. 'But he's useful. I shall get him to help catalogue these things as he did the others. Ah, there you are!'
He turned with a reproachful air as the door opened.
The westerly sun was coming strongly into the library, and shone full on the face and figure of the Squire's new secretary as she stood in the door-way. He expected an apology for an absence just five minutes over the two hours; but she offered none.
'Pamela asked me to tell you, Mr. Mannering, that tea was ready under the verandah.'
'Afternoon tea is an abominable waste of time!' said the Squire discontentedly, facing her with a Greek pot under each arm.
'Do you think so? To me it's always the pleasantest meal in the day.'
The voice was musical and attractive, but its complete self-possession produced a vague irritation in the Squire. With his two former secretaries, a Cambridge man and a spectacled maiden with a London University degree, he had been accustomed to play the tyrant as must as he pleased. Something had told him from the very beginning that he would not be able to tyrannize over this newcomer.
But his quick masterful temper was already trying to devise ways of putting her down. He beckoned her towards the table where she had left her work, and she went obediently.
'You've got that line wrong.' He pointed to a quotation from the Odyssey. 'Read it, please!'
She read it. He stopped her triumphantly.
'No, no, you can't make that long!' He pointed to one of the Greek words.
Her fair skin flushed.
'But indeed you can!' she said eagerly. 'Merry quotes three parallel passages. I have them in one of my notebooks.' And she began to search her table. Mannering stopped her ungraciously.
'Of course there's always some learned fool behind every bad reading. Anyway, what do you say to those accents?' He pointed severely to another line of her Greek. This time Miss Bremerton's countenance changed.
'Oh dear, what a blunder!' she said in distress, as she bent over her pages. 'I assure you I don't often do anything as bad as that.'
Mannering was secretly delighted. His manner became at once all politeness.
'Don't worry yourself, please. We all make mistakes.... You have a beautiful Greek handwriting.'
Miss Bremerton took the compliment calmly—did not indeed seem to hear it. She was already scratching out the offending words with a sharp penknife, and daintily rewriting them. Then she looked up.
'Pamela asked me to go back to her. And I was to say, will you come, or shall she send tea here?'
'Oh, I'll come, I'll come. I've got something to say to Pamela,' said the Squire, frowning. And he stalked in front of her along the library passage, his brilliant white hair gleaming in its shadows. It was well perhaps that he did not see the amusement which played round Elizabeth Bremerton's handsome mouth as she pursued him.
* * * * *
Tea was laid on a flagged walk under a glazed pergola running along part of the southern wall of the house. Here Pamela was sitting waiting, with a basket of knitting on her knee which she put out of sight as soon as she heard her father's step. She had taken off her hat, and her plentiful brown hair was drawn in a soft wave across her forehead, and thickly coiled behind a shapely head. She was very young, and very pretty. Perhaps the impression of youth predominated, youth uncertain of itself, conscious rather of its own richness and force than of any definite aims or desires. Her expression was extremely reserved. A veil seemed to lie over her deep, heavy-lidded eyes, and over features that had now delicacy and bloom, but promised much more—something far beyond any mere girlish prettiness. She was tall and finely made, and for the school tableaux in which she had frequently helped she had been generally cast for such parts as 'Nausicaa among her maidens,' 'Athene lighting the way for Odysseus and Telemachus,' 'Dante's Beatrice,' or any other personage requiring dignity, even a touch of majesty. Flowing skirts, indeed, at once made a queen of her. It was evident that she was not at her ease with her father; nor, as yet, with her father's new secretary.
The contrast between this lady and Pamela Mannering was obvious at once. If Pamela suggested romance, Elizabeth Bremerton suggested efficiency, cheerfulness, and the practical life. Her grandmother had been Dutch, and in Elizabeth the fair skin and yellow-gold hair (Rembrandt's 'Saskia' shows the type) of many Dutch forebears had reappeared. She was a trifle plump; her hair curled prettily round her temples; her firm dimpled chin and the fair complexion of her face and neck were set off, evidently with intention, by the plain blouse of black silky stuff, open at the neck, and showing a modest string of small but real pearls. The Squire, who had a wide knowledge of jewels, had noticed these pearls at once. It seemed to him—vaguely—that lady secretaries should not possess real pearls; or if they did possess them, should carefully keep them to themselves.
He accepted a cup of tea from his daughter, and drank it absently before he asked:
'He went to lunch at Fallerton—at the camp. Captain Byles asked him. I think afterwards he was going to play in a match.'
The same thought passed through the minds of both father and daughter. 'This day week, Desmond will be gone.' In Pamela it brought back the dull pain of which she was now habitually conscious—the pain of expected parting. In her father it aroused an equally habitual antagonism—the temper, indeed, of ironic exasperation in which all his thinking and doing were at the moment steeped. He looked up suddenly.
'Pamela, I have got something disagreeable to say to you.'
His daughter turned a startled face.
'I have had a quarrel with Sir Henry Chicksands, and I do not wish you, or Desmond, or any of my children, to have any communication henceforth with him, or with any of his family!'
'Father, what do you mean?'
The girl's incredulous dismay only increased the Squire's irritation.
'I mean what I say. Of course your married sisters and Aubrey will do what they please, though I have warned Aubrey how I shall view it if he takes sides against me. But you and Desmond are under my control—you, at any rate. I forbid you to go to Chetworth, and your friendship with Beryl must be given up.'
'Father!' cried his daughter passionately, 'she is my best friend, and she is engaged to Aubrey.'
'If they are wise, they will break it off. Family quarrels are awkward things. And if Aubrey has any feeling for his father, he will be as angry as I am.'
'What has Sir Henry been doing, father?'
'Taking my own property out of my hands, my dear, giving notice to my farmers, and proposing to plough up my park, without my consent. That's all—just a trifle. But it's a trifle I shall fight!'
The Squire struck the arm of his chair with a long and bony hand.
'Why, it's only because they must!' said the girl half scornfully, her breath fluttering. 'Think what other people put up with, father. And what they do! And we do nothing!'
Every word was said with difficulty, torn out of her by the shock of her father's statement. The Squire stared at her threateningly a little, then quieted down. He did not want a wrangle with Pamela, to whom in general he was not unkind, while keeping a strict rule over her.
'Do nothing? What should we do? As if the war did not bleed us at every turn already. I warn you all I shan't be able to pay the income tax next year. Mannering will be sold up.' And thrusting his hands again into his pockets, he looked gloomily before him, over a piece of ill-kept garden, to the sloping park and blue interlacing hills that filled the distance.
Elizabeth Bremerton put down her teacup, glanced at the father and daughter, and went discreetly away, back to the library and her work.
Pamela hesitated a little, but at last moved nearer to him, and put a hand on his arm.
'Father! I dreadfully want you to let me do something!'
'Eh, what?' said Mannering, rousing himself. 'Don't try and coax me, child. It doesn't answer.'
'I don't want to coax you,' said the girl proudly withdrawing her hand. 'It's a very simple thing. Will you let me go and do day work at the new Hospital, just across the park? They want some help in the housework. There are fifty wounded men there.'
'Certainly not,' said Mannering firmly. 'You are too young. You have your education to think of. I told you I engaged Miss Bremerton to give you two hours' classics a day. When we've arranged these pots, she'll be free. You must also keep up your music. You have no time for housemaiding. And I don't approve of housemaiding for my daughter.'
'The nicest girls I know are doing anything—scrubbing, washing up, polishing bath-taps, making swabs, covering splints,' said Pamela in a low voice. 'There are two of the Joyce girls at this hospital, just my age. Of course they don't let you do any nursing—for months.'
'Lord Entwhistle may do what he likes with his girls. I propose to do what I think best with mine,' said Mannering as he rose.
Then the girl's passion broke out.
'It's horrible, father, that you won't do anything for the war, or let me do anything. Oh, I'm glad'—she clenched her hands as she stood opposite him, her beautiful head thrown back—'I'm thankful, that you can't stop Desmond!'
Mannering looked at her, frowned, turned abruptly, and went away whistling.
Pamela was left alone in the September evening. She betook herself to an old grass-grown walk between yew hedges at the bottom of the Dutch garden, and paced it in a tumult of revolt and pain. Not to go to Chetworth again! not to see Beryl, or any of them! How cruel! how monstrously unjust!
'I shan't obey!—why should I? Beryl and I must manage to see each other—of course we shall! Girls aren't the slaves they used to be. If a thing is unjust, we can fight it—we ought to fight it!—somehow. Poor, poor Beryl! Of course Aubrey will stick to her, whatever father does. He would be a cur if he didn't. Desmond and I would never speak to him again!... Beryl'll have Arthur to help her, directly. Oh, I wish I had a brother like Arthur!' Her face softened and quivered as she stood still a moment, sending her ardent look towards the sunset. 'I think I shall ask him to advise me.... I don't suppose he will.... How provoking he used to be! but awfully kind too. He'll think I ought to do what father tells me. How can I! It's wrong—it's abominable! Everybody despises us. And Desmond's dying to be off—to get away from it all—like Aubrey. He hates it so—he almost hates coming home! It's humiliating, and it's not our fault!'
Such cries and thoughts ran through her as she walked impetuously up and down, in rebellion against her father, unhappy for her girl friend, and smarting under the coercion put upon her patriotism and her conscience. For she had only two months before left a school where the influence of a remarkable head-mistress had been directed towards awakening in a group of elder girls, to which Pamela belonged, a vivid consciousness of the perils and sufferings of the war—of the sacredness of the cause for which England was fighting, of the glory of England, and the joy and privilege of English citizenship. In these young creatures the elder woman had kindled a flame of feeling which, when they parted from her and their school life—so she told them—was to take practical effect in work for their country, given with a proud and glad devotion.
But Pamela, leaving school at the end of July for the last time, after a surfeit of examinations, had been pronounced 'tired out' by an old aunt, a certain Lady Cassiobury, who came for long periodical visits to Mannering, and made a show of looking after her motherless niece. Accordingly she had been packed off to Scotland for August to stay with a school friend, one of a large family in a large country house in the Highlands. And there, roaming amid lochs and heather, with a band of young people, the majority of the men, of course, in the Army—young officers on short leave, or temporarily invalided, or boys of eighteen just starting their cadet training—she had spent a month full of emotions, not often expressed. For generally she was shy and rather speechless, though none the less liked by her companions for that. But many things sank deep with her; the beauty of mountain and stream; the character of some of the boys she walked and fished with—unnoticed sub-lieutenants, who had come home to get cured of one wound, and were going out again to the immediate chance of another, or worse; the tales of heroism and death of which the Scotch countryside was full. Her own mood was tuned thereby to an ever higher and more tragic key. Nobody indeed of the party was the least tragic. Everybody walked, fished, flirted, and laughed from morning till night. Yet every newspaper, every post, brought news of some death that affected one or other of the large group; and amid all the sheer physical joy of the long days in the open, bathed in sun and wind, there was a sense in all of them—or almost all of them—that no summer now is as the summers of the past, that behind and around the laughter and the picnicking there lay the Shadow that darkens the world.
One gorgeous evening of gold and purple she was sitting by a highland stream with a lad of twenty, throwing ducks and drakes into the water. She was not at all in love with him; but, immature as she was, she could not help seeing that he was a good deal in love with her. He had been in uproarious spirits all the afternoon, and then somehow he had contrived to find this moment alone with her.
'Well, it'll be good-bye to-morrow, or perhaps to-night,' he had said, as he flung yet another stone into the river, and she clapped her hands as she counted no less than six skips along the smooth water.
'And then no leave for a long time?'
'Well, I'd been ten months without any before.'
'Perhaps we'll meet here again—next year.'
'I don't expect it,' he said quietly.
Her startled eyes met his full.
'It'll be worse fighting this winter than last—it'll go on getting worse till the end. I don't look to coming back.'
His tone was so cheerful and matter-of-fact that it confused her.
'Oh, Basil, don't talk like that!' was all she could find to say.
'Why not? Of course it's better not to talk about it. Nobody does. But just this afternoon—when it's been so jolly—here with you, I thought I'd like to say a word. Perhaps you'll remember—'
He threw another stone, and on the moor beyond the stream she heard the grouse calling.
'That I was quite willing,' he said simply. 'That's all. It's worth it.'
She could say nothing, but presently her hand dropped its pebble and found its way into his, and he had held it without saying a word for a little while. Then after dinner, with no good-bye to her, he had disappeared by the night train to the south.
And that had been the spirit of all of them, those jolly, rampagious lads, plain or handsome, clever or slow. Two of them were dead already. But the one who had thrown ducks and drakes was still, so far as she knew, somewhere in the Ypres salient, unscathed.
And after that she had come home to the atmosphere created by her father's life and character, in this old house where she was born, and in the estate round about it. It was as though she had only just realized—begun to realize—her father's strangeness. His eccentricities and unpopularity had meant little to her before. Her own real interests had lain elsewhere; and her mind had been too slow in developing to let her appreciate his fundamental difference from other people.
At any rate her father's unpopularity had been lately acute, and Pamela herself felt it bitterly, and shrank from her neighbours and the cottage people. When Desmond came home with a D.S.O., or a Victoria Cross, as of course he would, she supposed it would be all right. But meanwhile not a single thing done for the war!—not a sou to the Red Cross, or to any war funds! And hundreds spent on antiquities—thousands perhaps—getting them deeper and deeper into debt. For she was quite aware that they were in debt; and her own allowance was of the smallest. Two hundred and fifty a year, too, for Miss Bremerton!—when they could barely afford to keep up the garden decently, or repair the house. She knew it was two hundred and fifty pounds. Her father was never reticent about such things, and had named the figure at once.
'Why wasn't Miss Bremerton doing something for the war? Greek indeed! when there was this fearful thing going on!' And in the evening air, as the girl turned her face towards the moonrise, she seemed to hear the booming of the Flanders guns.
And now Miss Bremerton was to do the housekeeping, and to play tutor and chaperon to her. Pamela resented both. If she was not to be allowed to scrub in a hospital, she might at least have learnt some housekeeping at home, for future use. As for the Greek lessons, it was not easy for her to be positively rude to any one, but she promised herself a good deal of passive resistance on that side. For if nothing else was possible, she could always sew and knit for the soldiers. Pamela was not very good at either, but they did something to lessen the moral thirst in her.
Ah, there was the library door. Miss Bremerton coming out—perhaps to propose a lesson! Pamela took to flight—noiseless and rapid—among the bosky corners and walks of the old garden.
Elizabeth emerged, clearly perceiving a gleam of vanishing white in the far distance. She sighed, but not at all sentimentally. 'It's silly how she dislikes me,' she thought. 'I wonder what I can do!'
Then her eye was caught by the tea-table still standing out in the golden dusk, which had now turned damp and chilly. Careless of Pamela not to have sent it away! Elizabeth examined it. Far too many cakes—too much sugar, too much butter, too much everything! And all because the Squire, who seemed to have as great a need of economy as anybody else, if not more, to judge from what she was beginning to know about his affairs, was determined to flout the Food Controller, and public opinion! What about the servants? she wondered.
Perceiving a little silver bell on the table she rang it and waited. Within a couple of minutes Forest emerged from the house. Elizabeth hesitated, then plunged.
'Take away the tea, please, Forest. And—and I should like to consult you. Do you think anybody wants as much tea and cakes in war-time?' She pointed to the table.
Forest paused as he was lifting the silver tray, and put it down again. He looked at the table; then he looked at the lady opposite.
'We servants, Miss, have never been asked what we think. Mr. Mannering—that's not his way.'
'But I may ask it, mayn't I, Forest?'
Forest's intelligent face flamed.
'Well, if we've really to speak out what we think, Miss—that's Cook and me—why, of course, the feeding here—well, it's a scandal! that's what it is. The Master will have it. No change, he says, from what it used to be. And the waste—well, you ask Cook! She can't help it!'
'Has she been here long, Forest?'
'Well, Forest,' Miss Bremerton approached him confidingly, 'don't you think that you, and Cook, and I—you know Mr. Mannering wishes me to do the housekeeping—well, that between us we could do something?'
Forest considered it.
'I don't see why not, Miss,' he said at last, with caution. 'You can reckon on me, that's certain, and on Cook, that's certain too. As for the young uns, we can get round them! They'll eat what they're given. But you'll have to go careful with the Squire.'
Miss Bremerton smiled and nodded. They stood colloguing in the twilight for ten minutes more.
'I say, Pamela, who is this female, and why has she descended on us?'
The speaker was Desmond Mannering. He was sitting on the edge of a much dilapidated arm-chair in the room which had been the twins' "den" from their childhood, in which Pamela's governess even, before the girl's school years, was allowed only on occasional and precarious footing. Here Pamela dabbed in photography, made triumphant piles of the socks and mittens she kept from her father's eye, read history, novels, and poetry, and wrote to her school friends and the boys she had met in Scotland. Ranged along the mantelpiece were numbers of snapshots—groups and single figures—taken by her, with results that showed her no great performer.
At the moment, however, Pamela was engaged in marking Desmond's socks. She was very jealous of her sisterly prerogative in the matter of Desmond's kit, and personal affairs generally. Forest was the only person she would allow to advise her, and one or two innocent suggestions made that morning by her new chaperon had produced a good deal of irritation.
Pamela looked up with a flushed countenance.
'I believe father did it specially that he might be able to tell Alice and Margaret that he hadn't a farthing for their war charities.'
'You mean because she costs so much?'
'Two hundred and fifty,' said Pamela drily.
'My hat!—and her keep! I call that mean of father,' said Desmond indignantly. 'You can't go tick with a secretary. It means cash. There'll never be anything for you, Pam, and nothing for the garden. The two old fellows that were here last week have been turned off, Forest tells me?'
'Father expects me to do the garden,' said Pamela, with rather pinched lips.
'Well, jolly good thing,' laughed her brother. 'Do you a lot of good, Pam. You never get half enough exercise.'
'I wouldn't mind if I were paid wages and could spend the money as I liked.'
'Poor old Pam! It is hard lines. I heard father tell the Rector he'd spent eighteen hundred at that sale.'
'And I'm ashamed to face any of the tradesmen,' said Pamela fiercely. 'Why they go on trusting us I don't know.'
Desmond looked out of the window with a puckered brow—a slim figure in his cadet's uniform. To judge from a picture on the wall behind his head, an enlarged photograph of the late Mrs. Mannering taken a year before the birth of the twins—an event which had cost the mother her life—Desmond resembled her rather than his father. In both faces there was the same smiling youthfulness, combined—as indeed also in Pamela—with something that entirely banished any suggestion of insipidity—something that seemed to say, 'There is a soul here—and a brain.' It had sometimes occurred, in a dreamy way to Pamela, to connect that smile on her mother's face with a line in a poem of Browning's, which she had learnt for recitation at school:
This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together.
Had her mother been happy? That her children could never know.
Desmond's countenance, however, soon cleared. It was impossible for him to frown for long on any subject. He was very sorry for 'old Pam.' His father's opinions and behaviour were too queer for words. He would be jolly worried if he had to stay long at home, like Pamela. But then he wasn't going to be long at home. He was going off to his artillery camp in two days, and the thought filled him with a restless and impatient delight. At the same time he was more tolerant of his father than Pamela was, though he could not have told why.
'Desmond, give me your foot,' Pamela presently commanded.
The boy bared his foot obediently, and held it out while Pamela tried on a sock she had just finished knitting on a new pattern.
'I'm not very good at it,' sighed Pamela. 'Are you sure you can wear them, Dezzy?'
'Wear them? Ripping!' said the boy, surveying his foot at different angles. 'But you know, Pam, I can't take half the things you want me to take. What on earth did you get me a Gieve waistcoat for?'
'How do you know you won't be going to Mesopotamia?'
'Well, I don't know; but I don't somehow think it's very likely. They get their drafts from Egypt, and there's lots of artillery there.'
Pamela remembered with annoyance that Miss Bremerton had gently hinted the same thing when the Gieve waistcoat had been unpacked in her presence. It was true, of course, that she had a brother fighting under General Maude. That, no doubt, did give her a modest right to speak.
'How old do you think she is?' said Desmond, nodding in the direction of the library.
'Well, she's over thirty.'
'She doesn't look it.'
'Oh, Desmond, she does!'
'Let's call her the New Broom—Broomie for short,' said Desmond. 'Look here, Pam, I wish you'd try and like her. I shall have a dreadful hump when I get to camp if I think she's going to make you miserable.'
'Oh, I'll try,' said the girl with dreary resignation. 'You know I'm not to see Beryl again?' She looked up.
Her brother laughed.
'Don't I see you keeping to that! If Aubrey's any good he'll marry her straight away. And then how can father boycott her after that?'
'He will,' said Pamela decisively.
'And if father thinks I'm going to give up Arthur, he's jolly well mistaken,' said the boy with energy. 'Arthur's the best fellow I know, and he's been just ripping to me.'
The young face softened and glowed as though under the stress of some guarded memory. Pamela, looking up, caught her brother's expression and glowed too.
'Beryl says he isn't a bit strong yet. But he's moving heaven and earth to get back to the front.'
'Well, if they don't give him enough to do he'll be pretty sick. He's no good at loafing.'
There was silence a little. Outside a misty sunshine lay on the garden and the park and in it the changing trees were beginning to assume the individuality and separateness of autumn after the levelling promiscuity of the summer. The scene was very English and peaceful; and between it and the two young creatures looking out upon it there were a thousand links of memory and association. Suddenly Desmond said:
'Do you remember that bother I got into at Eton, Pam?'
Pamela nodded. Didn't she remember it? A long feud with another boy—ending in a highly organized fight—absolute defiance of tutor and housemaster on Desmond's part—and threatened expulsion. The Squire's irritable pride had made him side ostentatiously with his son, and Pamela could only be miserable and expect the worst. Then suddenly the whole convulsion had quieted down, and Desmond's last year at Eton had been a very happy one. Why? What had happened? Pamela had never known.
'Well, Arthur heard of it from "my tutor." He and Arthur were at Trinity together. And Arthur came over from Cambridge and had me out for a walk, and jawed me, jawed "my tutor," jawed the Head, jawed everybody. Oh, well no good going into the rotten thing,' said Desmond, flushing, 'but Arthur was awfully decent anyway.'
Pamela assented mutely. She did not want to talk about Arthur Chicksands. There was in her a queer foreboding sense about him. She did not in the least expect him to fall in love with her; yet there was a dim, intermittent fear in her lest he might become too important to her, together with a sharp shrinking from the news, which of course might come any day, that he was going to be married. She had known him from her childhood, had romped and sparred with him. He was the gayest, most charming companion; yet he carried with him, quite unconsciously, something that made it delightful to be smiled at or praised by him, and a distress when you did not get on with him, and were quite certain that he thought you silly or selfish. There was a rumour which reached Mannering after the second battle of Ypres that he had been killed. The Chicksands' household believed it for twenty-four hours.
Then he was discovered—gassed and stunned—in a shell-hole, and there had been a long illness and convalescence. During the twenty-four hours when he was believed to be dead, Pamela had spent the April daylight in the depths of the Mannering woods, in tangled hiding-places that only she knew. It was in the Easter holidays. She was alone at Mannering with an old governess, while her father was in London. The little wrinkled Frenchwoman watched her in silence, whenever she was allowed to see her. Then when on the second morning there came a telegram from Chetworth, and Pamela tore it open, flying with it before she read it to the secrecy of her own room, the Frenchwoman smiled and sighed. 'Ca, c'est l'amour!' she said to herself, 'assurement c'est l'amour!' And when Pamela came down again, radiant as a young seraph, and ready to kiss the apple-red cheek of the Frenchwoman—the rarest concession!—Madame Guerin did not need to be told that Arthur Chicksands was safe and likely to be sound.
But the Frenchwoman's inference was premature. During the two years she had been at school, Pamela had thought very little of Arthur Chicksands. She was absorbed in one of those devotions to a woman—her schoolmistress—very common among girls of strong character, and sometimes disastrous. In her case it had worked well. And now the period of extravagant devotion was over, and the girl's mind and heart set free. She thought she had forgotten Arthur Chicksands, and was certain he must have forgotten her. As it happened they had never met since his return to the front in the autumn of 1915—Pamela was then seventeen and a schoolgirl—or, as she now put it, a baby. She remembered the child who had hidden herself in the woods as something very far away.
And yet she did not want to talk about 'Arthur,' as she had always called him, and there was a certain tremor and excitement in her mind about him. The idea of being prevented from seeing him was absurd—intolerable. She was already devising ways and means of doing it. It was really not to be expected that filial obedience should reign at Mannering.
* * * * *
The twins had long left the subject of the embargo on Chetworth, and were wrangling and chaffing over the details of Desmond's packing, when there was a knock at the door.
Pamela stiffened at once.
Miss Bremerton entered.
'Are you very busy?'
'Not at all!' said Desmond politely, scurrying with his best Eton manners to find a chair for the newcomer. 'It's an awful muddle, but that's Pamela!'
Pamela aimed a sponge-bag at him, which he dodged, and Elizabeth Bremerton sat down.
'I want to hold a council with you,' she said, turning a face just touched with laughter from one to the other. 'Do you mind?'
'Certainly not,' said Desmond, sitting on the floor with his hands round his knees. 'What's it about?' And he gave Pamela's right foot a nudge with his left by way of conveying to her that he thought her behaviour ungracious. Pamela hurriedly murmured, 'Delighted.'
'I want to tell you about the servants,' said Elizabeth. 'I can't do anything unless you help me.'
'Help you in what?' said Desmond, wondering.
'Well, you know, it's simply scandalous what you're all eating in this house!' exclaimed Elizabeth, with sudden energy. 'You ought to be fined.' She frowned, and her fair Dutch complexion became a bright pink.
'It's quite true,' said Pamela, startled. 'I told father, and he laughed at me.'
'But now even the servants are on strike,' said Elizabeth. 'It's Forest that's been preaching to them. He and Cook have been drawing up a week's menu, according to the proper scale. But—'
'Father won't have it,' said Pamela decidedly.
'An idea has occurred to me,' was Elizabeth's apologetic reply. 'Your father doesn't come in to lunch?'
'Happy thought!' cried Desmond. 'Send him in a Ritz luncheon, while the rest of you starve. Easy enough for me to say as I'm off—and soldiers aren't rationed! We may be as greedy pigs as we like.'
'What do you say?' Elizabeth looked at Pamela. The girl was flattered by the deference shown her, and gradually threw herself into the little plot. How to set up a meatless day for the household, minus the Squire, and not be found out; how to restrict the bread and porridge allowance, while apparently outrunning it—knotty problems! into which the twins plunged with much laughter and ingenuity. At the end of the discussion, Elizabeth said with hesitation, 'I don't like not telling Mr. Mannering, but—'
'Oh no, you can't tell him' said Pamela, in her most resolute tone. 'Besides, it's for the country!'
'Yes, it's the country!' echoed Elizabeth. 'Oh, I'm so glad you agree with me. Forest's splendid!'
'I say, Broomie's not bad,' thought Desmond. Aloud he said, 'Forest's a regular Turk in the servants' hall—rules them all with a rod of iron.'
Elizabeth laughed. 'He tells me there was a joint of cold beef last night for supper, and he carried it away bodily back into the larder. And they all supped on fried potatoes, cheese, oatcake and jam! So then I asked him whether anybody minded, and he said the little kitchen-maid cried a bit, and said she "was used to her vittles and her mother would be dreadfully put out." "'Mother!' says I, 'haven't you got a young man!' And then I give her a real talking to about the war. 'You back your young man,' I said, 'and there's only one way as females can do it—barring them as is in munitions. Every bit of bread you don't eat is helping to kill Boches. And what else is your young man doin'? Where do you say he is? Wipers? You ask him. He'll tell you!' So then we were all nice and comfortable—and you needn't bother about us downstairs. We're all right!"'
'Good old Forest!' laughed Desmond, delighted. 'I always knew he was the real boss here. Father thinks he is, but he can't do without Forest, and the old boy knows it.'
'Well, so that's agreed,' said Elizabeth demurely, as she rose. 'I naturally couldn't do anything without you, but so long as your father gets everything that he's accustomed to—'
'I don't see quite what you're going to do about dinner—late dinner, I mean?' said Pamela pensively.
Elizabeth beamed at her.
'Well, I became a vegetarian last week, except for very occasional break-outs. Fish is a vegetable!'
'I see,' reflected Pamela. 'We can break out now and then at dinner, when father's got his eye on us—'
'And be pure patriots at lunch,' laughed Miss Bremerton, as she opened the door. 'Au revoir! I must go back to work.'
She vanished. The brother and sister looked at each other.
Desmond gave his opinion.
'I believe she's a good sort!'
'"Wait and see,"' said Pamela pompously, and returned to her packing.
* * * * *
The preceding conversation took place during a break in Elizabeth's morning occupations. She had been busily occupied in collecting and copying out some references from Pausanias, under the Squire's direction. He meanwhile had been cataloguing and noting his new possessions, which, thanks to the aid of his henchman Levasseur, had been already arranged. And they made indeed a marvellous addition to the Mannering library and its collections. At the end of the room stood now a huge archaic Nike, with outstretched peplum and soaring wings. To her left was the small figure, archaic also, of a charioteer, from the excavations at Delphi, amazingly full of life in spite of hieratic and traditional execution. But the most conspicuous thing of all was a mutilated Eros, by a late Rhodian artist—subtle, thievish, lovely, breathing an evil and daemonic charm. It stood opposite the Nike, 'on tiptoe for a flight.' And there was that in it which seemed at moments to disorganize the room, and lay violent and exclusive hold on the spectator.
Elizabeth on returning to her table found the library empty. The Squire had been called away by his agent and one of the new officials of the county, and had not yet returned. She expected him to return in a bad—possibly an outrageous temper. For she gathered that the summons had something to do with the decree of the County War Agricultural Committee that fifty acres, at least, of Mannering Park were to be given back to the plough, which, indeed, had only ceased to possess them some sixty years before. The Squire had gone out pale with fury, and she looked anxiously at her work, to see what there might be in it to form an excuse for a hurricane.
She could find nothing, however, likely to displease a sane man. And as she was at a standstill till he came back, she slipped an unfinished letter out of her notebook, and went on with it. It was to a person whom she addressed as 'my darling Dick.'
'I have now been rather more than a month here. You can't imagine what a queer place it is, nor what a queer employer I have struck. There might be no war—as far as Mannering is concerned. The Squire is always engaged in mopping it out, like Mrs. Partington. He takes no newspaper, except a rag called the Lanchester Mail, which attacks the Government, the Army—as far as it dare—and "secret diplomacy." It comes out about once a week with a black page, because the Censor has been sitting on it. Desmond Mannering—that's the gunner-son who came on leave a week ago and is just going off to an artillery camp—and I, conspire through the butler—who is a dear, and a patriot—to get the Times; but the Squire never sees it. Desmond reads it in bed in the morning, I read it in bed in the evening, and Pamela Mannering, Mr. Desmond's twin, comes in last thing, in her dressing-gown, and steals it.
'I seem indeed to be living in the heart of a whirlwind, for the Squire is fighting everybody all round, and as he is the least reticent of men, and I have to write his letters, I naturally, even by now, know a good deal about him. Shortly put, he is in a great mess. The estate is riddled with mortgages, which it would be quite easy to reduce. For instance, there are masses of timber, crying to be cut. He consults me often in the naivest way. You remember that I trained for six months as an accountant. I assure you that it comes in extremely useful now! I can see my way a little where he can't see it at all. He glories in the fact that he was never any good at arithmetic or figures of any kind, and never looked at either after "Smalls." The estate of course used to be looked after in the good old-fashioned way by the family lawyers. But a few years ago the Squire quarrelled with these gentlemen, recovered all his papers, which no doubt went back to King Alfred, and resolved to deal with things himself. There is an office here, and a small attorney from Fallerton comes over twice or three times a week. But the Squire bosses it. And you never saw anything like his accounts! I have been trying to put some of them straight—just those that concern the house and garden—after six weeks' acquaintance! Odd, isn't it? He is like an irritable child with them. And his agent, who is seventy, and bronchitic, is the greatest fool I ever saw. He neglects everything. His accounts too, as far as I have inspected them, are disgraceful. He does nothing for the farmers, and the farmers do exactly as they please with the land.
'Or did! For now comes the rub. Government is interfering, through the County Committee. They are turning out three of Mr. Mannering's farmers by force, because he won't do it himself, and ploughing up the park. I believe the steam tractor comes next week. The Squire has been employing some new lawyers to find out if he can't stop it somehow. And each time he sees them he comes home madder than before.
'Of course it all comes from a passionate antagonism to the war. He is not a pacifist exactly—he is not a conscientious objector. He is just an individualist gone mad—an egotistical, hot-tempered man, with all the ideas of the old regime, who thinks he can fight the world. I am often really sorry for him—he is so preposterous. But the muddle and waste of it all drives me crazy—you know I always was a managing creature.
'But one thing is certain—that he is a most excellent scholar. I knew I had got rusty, but I didn't know how rusty till I came to work for him. He has a wonderful memory—seems to know every Greek author by heart—and a most delicate and unerring taste. I thought I should find a mere dabbler—an amateur. And it takes all I know to do the drudgery work he gives me. And then he is always coming down upon me. It delights him to find me out in a howler—makes him, in fact, quite good-tempered for twenty minutes.