GOOD OLD ANNA
By MRS. BELLOC LOWNDES
Author of "The Chink in the Armour," "The Lodger," "The End of Her Honeymoon," etc., etc.
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
GOOD OLD ANNA
"And now," asked Miss Forsyth thoughtfully, "and now, my dear Mary, what, may I ask, are you going to do about your good old Anna?"
"Do about Anna?" repeated the other. "I don't quite understand what you mean."
In her heart Mrs. Otway thought she understood very well what her old friend, Miss Forsyth, meant by the question. For it was Wednesday, the 5th of August, 1914. England had just declared war on Germany, and Anna was Mrs. Otway's faithful, highly valued German servant.
Miss Forsyth was one of those rare people who always require an answer to a question, and who also (which is rarer still) seldom speak without having first thought out what they are about to say. It was this quality of mind, far more than the fact that she had been born, sixty years ago, in the Palace at Witanbury, which gave her the position she held in the society of the cathedral town.
But this time she herself went on speaking: "In your place I should think very seriously of sending Anna back to Germany." There was an unusual note of hesitation and of doubt in her voice. As a rule Miss Forsyth knew exactly what she thought about everything, and what she herself would be minded to do in any particular case.
But the other lady, incensed at what she considered uncalled-for, even rather impertinent advice, replied sharply, "I shouldn't think of doing anything so unkind and so unjust! Why, because the powers of evil have conquered—I mean by that the dreadful German military party—should I behave unjustly to a faithful old German woman who has been with me—let me see—why, who has been with me exactly eighteen years? With the exception of a married niece with whom she went and stayed in Berlin three autumns ago, my poor old Anna hasn't a relation left in Germany. Her whole life is centred in me—or perhaps I ought to say in Rose. She was the only nurse Rose ever had."
"And yet she has remained typically German," observed Miss Forsyth irrelevantly.
"Of course she has!" cried Mrs. Otway quickly. "And that is why we are both so much attached to her. Anna has all the virtues of the German woman; she is faithful, kindly, industrious, and thrifty."
"But, Mary, has it not occurred to you that you will find it very awkward sometimes?" Again without waiting for an answer, Miss Forsyth went on: "Our working people have long felt it very hard that there should be so many Germans in England, taking away their jobs."
"They have only themselves to thank for that," said Mrs. Otway, with more sharpness than was usual with an exceptionally kindly and amiable nature. "Germans are much more industrious than our people are, and they are content with less wages. Also you must forgive me if I say, dear Miss Forsyth, that I don't quite see what the jealousy of the average working-man, or, for the matter of that, of the average mechanic, has to do with my good old Anna, especially at such a time as this."
"Don't you really?" Miss Forsyth looked curiously into the other's flushed and still fair, delicately tinted face. She had always thought Mary Otway a rather foolish, if also a lovable, generous-hearted woman. But this was one of the few opinions Miss Forsyth always managed to keep to herself.
"I suppose you mean," said the other reluctantly, "that if I had not had Anna as a servant all these years I should have been compelled to have an Englishwoman?"
"Yes, Mary, that is exactly what I do mean! But of course I should never have spoken to you about the matter were it not for to-day's news. My maid, Pusey, you know, spoke to me about it this morning, and said that if you should be thinking of parting with her—if your good old Anna should be thinking, for instance, of going back to Germany—she knew some one who she thought would suit you admirably. It's a woman who was cook in a very good London place, and whose health has rather given way."
Miss Forsyth spoke with what was for her unusual animation.
As is always the way with your active, intelligent philanthropist, she was much given to vicarious deeds of charity. At the same time she never spared herself. Her own comfortable house always contained one or more of the odd-come-shorts whom she had not managed to place out in good situations.
Again a wave of resentment swept over Mrs. Otway. This was really too much!
"How would such a woman as you describe—a cook who has been in a good London place, and who has lost her health—work into our—mine and Rose's—ways? Why, we should both be afraid of such a woman! She would impose on us at every turn. If you only knew, dear Miss Forsyth, how often, in the last twenty years, I have thanked God—I say it in all reverence—for having sent me my good old Anna! Think what it has been to me"—she spoke with a good deal of emotion—"to have in my tiny household a woman so absolutely trustworthy that I could always go away and leave my child with her, happy in the knowledge that Rose was as safe with Anna as she was with me——"
Her voice broke, a lump came into her throat, but she hurried on: "Don't think that it has all been perfect—that I have lain entirely on a bed of roses! Anna has been very tiresome sometimes; and, as you know, her daughter, to whom I was really attached, and whom I regarded more or less as Rose's foster-sister, made that unfortunate marriage to a worthless London tradesman. That's the black spot in Anna's life—I don't mind telling you that it's been a blacker spot in mine than I've ever cared to admit, even to myself. The man's always getting into scrapes, and having to be got out of them! Why, you once helped me about him, didn't you? and since then James Hayley actually had to go to the police about the man."
"Mr. Hayley will be busier than ever now."
"Yes, I suppose he will."
And then the two ladies, looking at one another, smiled one of those funny little smiles which may mean a great deal, or nothing at all.
James Hayley, the son of one of Mrs. Otway's first cousins, was in the Foreign Office; and if he had an inordinate opinion of himself and of his value to his country, he was still a very good, steady fellow. Lately he had fallen into the way of coming down to Witanbury exceedingly often; but when doing so he did not stay with the Otways, in their pretty house in the Close, as would have been natural and as would also naturally have made his visits rather less frequent; instead, he stayed in lodgings close to the gateway which divided the Close from the town, and thus was able to be at the Trellis House as much or as little as he liked. It was generally much. Mrs. Otway wondered whether the war would so far affect his work as to keep him away from Witanbury this summer. She rather hoped it would.
"I'm even more sorry than usual for Jervis Blake to-day!" and this time there was a note of real kindness in Miss Forsyth's voice. "I shouldn't be surprised if he enlisted."
"Oh, I hope he won't do that!" Mrs. Otway was shocked at the suggestion. Jervis Blake was a person for whom she had a good deal of tolerant affection. He was quite an ordinary young man, and he had had the quite ordinary bad luck of failing to pass successive Army examinations. The news that he had failed again had just become known to his friends, and unluckily it was his last chance, as he was now past the age limit. The exceptional feature in his very common case was that he happened to be the only son of a distinguished soldier.
"I should certainly enlist if I were he," continued Miss Forsyth thoughtfully. "He wouldn't have long to wait for promotion from the ranks."
"His father would never forgive him!"
"The England of to-day is a different England from the England of yesterday," observed Miss Forsyth drily; and as the other stared at her, genuinely astonished by the strange words, "Don't you agree that that is so, Mary?"
"No, I can't say that I do." Mrs. Otway spoke with greater decision than was her wont. Miss Forsyth was far too fond of setting the world to rights.
"Ah! well, I think it is. And I only wish I was a young man instead of an old woman! I'm sorry for every Englishman who is too old to take up arms in this just cause. What must be Major Guthrie's feelings to-day! How he must regret having left the Army to please his selfish old mother! It's the more hard on him as he always believed this war would come. He really knows Germany."
"Major Guthrie only knows military Germany," said Mrs. Otway slowly.
"It's only what you call military Germany which counts to-day," observed Miss Forsyth quickly; and then, seeing that her friend looked hurt, and even, what she so very seldom was, angry too, she held out her hand with the words: "And now I must be moving on, for before going to the cathedral I have to see Mrs. Haworth for a minute. By the way, I hear that the Dean intends to give a little address about the war." She added, in a different and a kindlier tone: "You must forgive me, Mary, for saying what I did about your good old Anna! But you know I'm really fond of you, and I'm even fonder of your sweet Rose than I am of you. I always feel that there is a great deal in Rose—more than in any other girl I know. And then—well, Mary, she is so very pretty! prettier than you even were, though you had a way of making every one think you lovely!"
Mrs. Otway laughed. She was quite mollified. "I know how fond you are of Rose," she said gratefully, "and, of course, I don't mind your having spoken to me about Anna. But as to parting with her—that would mean the end of the world to us, to your young friend Rose even more than to me. Why, it would be worse—far worse—than the war!"
As Mrs. Otway walked slowly on, she could not help telling herself that dear old Miss Forsyth had been more interfering and tiresome than she usually was this morning.
She felt ruffled by the little talk they two had just had—so ruffled and upset that, instead of turning into the gate of the house where she had been bound—for she, too, had meant to pay a call in the Close on her way to the cathedral—she walked slowly on the now deserted stretch of road running through and under the avenue of elm trees which are so beautiful and distinctive a feature of Witanbury Close.
Again a lump rose to her throat, and this time the tears started into her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. In sheer astonishment at her own emotion, she stopped short, and taking out her handkerchief dabbed her eyes hurriedly. How strange that this interchange of words with one whose peculiarities she had known, and, yes, suffered under and smiled at for so many years, should make her feel so—so—so upset!
Mrs. Otway was a typical Englishwoman of her age, which was forty-three, and of her class, which was that from which are drawn most of the women from whom the clergy of the Established Church choose their wives. There are thousands such, living in serene girlhood, wifehood, or widowhood, to be found in the villages and country towns of dear old England. With but very few exceptions, they are kindly-natured, unimaginative, imbued with a shrinking dislike of any exaggerated display of emotion; in some ways amazingly broad-minded, in others curiously limited in their outlook on life. Such women, as a rule, present few points of interest to students of human nature, for they are almost invariably true to type, their virtues and their defects being cast in the same moulds.
But Mrs. Otway was much more original and more impulsive, thus far less "groovy," than the people among whom her lot was cast. There were even censorious folk in Witanbury who called her eccentric. She was generous-hearted, easily moved to enthusiasm, tenacious of her opinions and prejudices. She had remained young of heart, and her fair, curling hair, her slight, active figure, and delicately-tinted skin, gave her sometimes an almost girlish look. Those who met her for the first time were always surprised to find that Mrs. Otway had a grown-up daughter.
As a girl she had spent two very happy years in Germany, at Weimar, and she had kept from those far-off days a very warm and affectionate feeling towards the Fatherland, as also a rather exceptionally good knowledge both of the German language and of old-fashioned German literature. Then had come a short engagement, followed by five years of placid, happy marriage with a minor canon of Witanbury Cathedral. And then, at the end of those five years, which had slipped by so easily and so quickly, she had found herself alone, with one little daughter, and woefully restricted means. It had seemed, and indeed it had been, a godsend to come across, in Anna Bauer, a German widow who, for a miraculously low wage, had settled down into her little household, to become and to remain, not only an almost perfect servant, but as time went on a most valued and trusted friend.
The fact that Mrs. Otway had been left a legacy by a distant relation, while making her far more comfortable, had not caused her to alter very materially her way of life. She had raised Anna's modest wage, and she was no longer compelled to look quite so closely after every penny. Also, mother and daughter were now able to take delightful holidays together. They had planned one such for this very autumn to Germany—Germany, the country still so dear to Mrs. Otway, which she had always longed to show her daughter.
It was natural that the news which had burst upon England to-day should have unsealed the fountain of deep emotion in her nature. Mrs. Otway, like almost every one she knew, had not believed that there would or could be a great Continental war, and when that had become, with stunning suddenness, an accomplished fact, she had felt sure that her country would remain out of the awful maelstrom.
Send their good old Anna back to Germany? Why, the idea was unthinkable! What would she, Mary Otway, what would her daughter, Rose, do without Anna? Anna had become—Mrs. Otway realised it to-day as she had never realised it before—the corner-stone of their modest, happy House of Life.
* * * * *
Miss Forsyth had, however, said one thing which was unfortunately true. It is strange how often these positive, rather managing people hit the right nail on the head! The fact that England and Germany were now at war would sometimes make things a little awkward with regard to poor old Anna. Something of the kind had, indeed, happened on this very morning, less than two hours ago. And at the time it had been very painful, very disagreeable....
Mrs. Otway and her daughter, each opening a newspaper before beginning breakfast, had looked up, and in awe-struck tones simultaneously exclaimed, "Why, we are at war!" and "War has been declared!" And then Mrs. Otway, as was her wont, had fallen into eager, impulsive talk. But she had to stop abruptly when the dining-room door opened—for it revealed the short, stumpy figure of Anna, smiling, indeed beaming even more than usual, as she brought in the coffee she made so well. Mother and daughter had looked at one another across the table, an unspoken question in each pair of kind eyes. That question was: Did poor old Anna know?
The answer came with dramatic swiftness, and in the negative. Anna approached her mistress, still with that curious look of beaming happiness in her round, fat, plain face, and after she had put down the coffee-jug she held out her work-worn hand. On it was a pink card, and in her excitement she broke into eager German.
"The child has come!" she exclaimed. "Look! This is what I have received, gracious lady," and she put the card on her mistress's plate.
What was written, or rather printed, on that fancy-looking card, ran, when Englished, as follows:
THE JOYOUS BIRTH OF A LARGE-EYED SUNDAY MAIDEN IS ANNOUNCED, ULTRA-JUBILANTLY, BY WILHELM WARSHAUER, SUB-INSPECTOR OF POLICE IN BERLIN, AND WIFE MINNA, BORN BROCKMANN.
Of course they both congratulated their good old Anna very heartily on the birth of the little great-niece in Berlin—indeed Rose, jumping up from the table, had surprised her mother by giving her old nurse a hug. "I'm so glad, dear Anna! How happy they seem to be!"
But when Anna had returned to her kitchen the two ladies had gone on silently and rather sadly with their breakfasts and their papers; and after she had finished, Mrs. Otway, with a heavy heart, had walked across the hall, to her pretty kitchen, to tell Anna the great and tragic news.
The kitchen of the Trellis House was oddly situated just opposite Mrs. Otway's sitting-room and at right angles to the dining-room. Thus the two long Georgian windows of Anna's domain commanded the wide green of the Cathedral Close, and the kitchen door was immediately on your right as you walked through the front door into the arched hall of the house.
On this momentous morning Anna's mistress found the old German woman sitting at her large wooden table writing a letter. When Mrs. Otway came in, Anna looked up and smiled; but she did not rise, as an English servant would have done.
Mrs. Otway walked across to her, and very kindly she laid her hand on the older woman's shoulder.
"I have something sad to tell you," she said gently. "England, my poor Anna, is at war! England has declared war on Germany! But I have come to tell you, also, that the fact that our countries are at war will make no difference to you and to me, Anna—will it?"
Anna had looked up, and for a moment she had seemed bewildered, stunned by the news. Then all the colour had receded from her round face; it became discomposed, covered with red streaks. She broke into convulsive sobs as, shaking her head violently, she exclaimed, "Nein! Nein!"
If only poor old Anna had left it there! But she had gone on, amid her sobs, to speak wildly, disconnectedly, and yes—yes, rather arrogantly too, of the old war with France in 1870—of her father, and of her long-dead brother; how both of them had fought, how gloriously they had conquered!
Mrs. Otway had begun by listening in silence to this uncalled-for outburst. But at last, with a touch of impatience, she broke across these ill-timed reminiscences with the words, "But now, Anna? Now there is surely no one belonging to your family likely to fight? No one, I mean, likely to fight against England?"
The old woman stared at her stupidly, as if scarcely understanding the sense of what was being said to her; and Mrs. Otway, with a touch of decision in her voice, had gone on—"How fortunate it is that your Louisa married an Englishman!"
But on that Anna had again shaken her head violently. "No, no!" she cried. "Would that a German married she had—an honest, heart-good German, not a man like that bad, worthless George!"
To this surely unnecessary remark Mrs. Otway had made no answer. It was unluckily true that Anna's English son-in-law lacked every virtue dear to a German heart. He was lazy, pleasure-loving, dishonest in small petty ways, and contemptuous of his thrifty wife's anxious efforts to save money. Still, though it was not perhaps wise to say so just now, it would certainly have been a terrible complication if "little Louisa," as they called her in that household, had married a German—a German who would have had to go back to the Fatherland to take up arms, perhaps, against his adopted country! Anna ought surely to see the truth of that to-day, however unpalatable that truth might be.
But, sad to say, good old Anna had been strangely lacking in her usual good sense, and sturdy good-humour, this morning. Not content with that uncalled-for remark concerning her English son-in-law, she had wailed out something about "Willi"—for so she always called Wilhelm Warshauer—the nephew by marriage to whom she had become devotedly attached during the pleasant holiday she had spent in Germany three years ago.
"I do not think Willi is in the least likely to go to the war and be killed," said Mrs. Otway at last, a little sharply. "Why, he is in the police—a sub-inspector! They would never dream of sending him away. And then—— Anna? I wish you would listen to me quietly for a moment——"
Anna fixed her glazed, china-blue eyes anxiously on her mistress.
"If you go on in this way you will make yourself quite ill; and that wouldn't do at all! I am quite sure that you will soon hear from your niece that Willi is quite safe, that he is remaining on in Berlin. England and Germany are civilised nations after all! There need not be any unreasonable bitterness between them. Only the soldiers and sailors, not our two nations, will be at war, Anna."
* * * * *
Yes, the recollection of what had happened this morning left an aftermath of bitterness in Mrs. Otway's kind heart. It was only too true that it would sometimes be awkward; in saying so downright Miss Forsyth had been right! She told herself, however, that after a few days they surely would all get accustomed to this strange, unpleasant, new state of things. Why, during the long Napoleonic wars Witanbury had always been on the qui vive, expecting a French landing on the coast—that beautiful coast which was as lonely now as it had been then, and which, thanks to motors and splendid roads, seemed much nearer now than then. England had gone on much as usual a hundred years ago. Mrs. Otway even reminded herself that Jane Austen, during those years of stress and danger, had been writing her delightful, her humorous, her placid studies of life as though there were no war!
And then, perhaps because of her invocation of that dear, shrewd mistress of the average British human heart, Mrs. Otway, feeling far more comfortable than she had yet felt since her talk with Miss Forsyth, began retracing her steps towards the cathedral.
She was glad to know that the Dean was going to give a little address this morning. It was sure to be kindly, wise, benignant—for he was himself all these three things. Many delightful German thinkers, theologians and professors, came and went to the Deanery, and Mrs. Otway was always asked to meet these distinguished folk, partly because of her excellent knowledge of German, and also because the Dean knew that, like himself, she loved Germany.
And now she turned sick at heart, as she suddenly realised that for a time, at any rate, these pleasant meetings would take place no more. But soon—or so she hoped with all her soul—this strange unnatural war would be over. Even now the bubble of Prussian militarism was pricked, for the German Army was not doing well at Liege. During the last two or three days she had read the news with increasing amazement and—but she hardly admitted it to herself—with dismay. She did not like to think of Germans breaking and running away! It had hurt her, made her angry, to hear the exultation with which some of her neighbours had spoken of the news. It was all very well to praise the gallant little Belgians, but why should that be done at the expense of the Germans?
Mrs. Otway suddenly told herself that she hoped Major Guthrie would not be at the cathedral this morning. Considering that they disagreed about almost everything, it was odd what friends he and she were! But about Germany they had never agreed, and that was the more strange inasmuch as Major Guthrie had spent quite a long time in Stuttgart. He thought the Germans of to-day entirely unlike the Germans of the past. He honestly believed them to be unprincipled, untrustworthy, and unscrupulous; and, strangest thing of all—or so Mrs. Otway had thought till within the last few days—he had long been convinced that they intended to conquer Europe by force of arms! So strong was this conviction of his that he had given time, and yes, money too, to the propaganda carried on by Lord Roberts in favour of National Service.
It was odd that a man whose suspicions of the country which was to her so dear almost amounted to a monomania, should have become her friend. But so it was. In fact, Major Guthrie was her only man friend. He advised her about all the things concerning which men are supposed to know more than women—such as investments, for instance. Of course she did not always take his advice, but it was often a comfort to talk things out with him, and she had come instinctively to turn to him when in any little trouble. Few days passed without Major Guthrie's calling, either by chance or in response to a special invitation, at the Trellis House.
Unfortunately, or was it fortunately? the handsome old mother, for whose sake Major Guthrie had left the Army three years ago, didn't care for clerical society. She only liked country people and Londoners. As far as Mrs. Otway could dislike any one, she disliked Mrs. Guthrie; but the two ladies seldom had occasion to meet—the Guthries lived in a pretty old house in Dorycote, a village two miles from Witanbury. Also Mrs. Guthrie was more or less chair-ridden, and Mrs. Otway had no carriage.
* * * * *
The bells of the cathedral suddenly broke across her troublesome, disconnected thoughts. Mrs. Otway never heard those chimes without a wave of remembrance, sometimes very slight, sometimes like to-day quite strong and insistent, of past joys and sorrows. Those bells were interwoven with the whole of her wifehood, motherhood, and widowhood; they had rung for her wedding, they had mustered the tiny congregation who had been present at Rose's christening; the great bell had tolled the day her husband had died, and again to bid the kindly folk of Witanbury to his simple funeral. Some day, perhaps, the bells would ring a joyful peal in honour of Rose's wedding.
As she walked up the path which leads from the road encircling the Close to the cathedral, she tried to compose and attune her mind to solemn, peaceful thoughts.
There was a small congregation, perhaps thirty in all, gathered together in the choir, but the atmosphere of that tiny gathering of people was slightly electric and charged with emotion. The wife of the Dean, a short, bustling lady, who had never been so popular in Witanbury and its neighbourhood as was her husband, came forward and beckoned to Mrs. Otway. "If no one else comes in," she whispered, "I think we might all come up a little nearer. The Dean is going to say a few words about the war."
And though a few more people did come in during the five minutes that followed, the whole of the little congregation finally collected in the stalls nearest the altar. And it was not from the ornate white stone pulpit, but from the steps of the altar, that the Dean, after the short service was over, delivered his address.
For what seemed a long time—it was really only a very few moments—Dr. Haworth stood there, looking thoughtfully at this little gathering of his fellow-countrymen and countrywomen. Then he began speaking. With great simplicity and directness he alluded to the awesome news which this morning had brought to them, to England. England's declaration of war against their great neighbour, Germany—their great neighbour, and they should never forget, the only other great European nation which shared with them the blessings, he was willing to admit the perhaps in some ways doubtful blessings, brought about by the Reformation.
On hearing these words, three or four of his hearers moved a little restlessly in their seats, but soon even they settled themselves down to take in, and to approve, what he had to say.
England was going to war, however, in a just cause, to make good her promise to a small and weak nation. She had often drawn her sword on behalf of the oppressed, and never more rightly than now. But it would be wrong indeed for England to allow her heart to be filled with bitterness. It was probable that even at this moment a large number of Germans were ashamed of what had happened last Monday—he alluded to the Invasion of Belgium. Frederick the Great had once said that God was always on the side of the big battalions; in so saying he had been wrong. Even in the last two or three days they had seen how wrong. Belgium was putting up a splendid defence, and the time might come—he, the speaker, hoped it would be very soon—when Germany would realise that Might is not Right, when she would confess, with the large-hearted chivalry possible to a great and powerful nation, that she had been wrong.
Meanwhile the Dean wished to impress on his hearers the need for a generous broad-mindedness in their attitude towards the foe. England was a great civilised nation, and so was Germany. The war would be fought in an honourable, straightforward manner, as between high-souled enemies. Christian charity enjoined on us to be especially kind and considerate to those Germans who happened to be caught by this sad state of things, in our midst. He had heard these people spoken of that morning as "alien enemies." For his part he would not care to describe by any such offensive terms those Germans who were settled in England in peaceful avocations. The war was not of their making, and those poor foreigners were caught up in a terrible web of tragic circumstance. He himself had many dear and valued friends in Germany, professors whose only aim in life was the spread of "Kultur," not perhaps quite the same thing as we meant by the word culture, for the German "Kultur" meant something with a wider, more universal significance. He hoped the time would come, sooner perhaps than many pessimists thought possible, when those friends would acknowledge that England had drawn her sword in a righteous cause and that Germany had been wrong to provoke her.
While Mrs. Otway had been thinking over the now rather painful problem of her good old Anna, the subject of her meditations, that is Anna herself, from behind the pretty muslin curtain which hid her kitchen from the passers-by, was peeping out anxiously on the lawn-like stretch of green grass, bordered on two sides by high elms, which is so pleasant a feature of Witanbury Close.
Her knitting was in her hands, for Anna's fingers were never idle, but just now the needles were still.
When your kitchen happens to be one of the best rooms on the ground floor, and one commanding not only the gate of your domain but the road beyond, it becomes important that it should not be quite like other people's kitchens. It was Mrs. Otway's pride, as well as Anna's, that at any moment of the day a visitor who, after walking into the hall, opened by mistake the kitchen door, would have found everything there in exquisite order. The shelves, indeed, were worth going some way to see, for each shelf was edged with a beautiful "Kante" or border of crochet-work almost as fine as point lace. In fact, the kitchen of the Trellis House was more like a stage kitchen than a kitchen in an ordinary house, and the way in which it was kept was the more meritorious inasmuch as Anna, even now, when she had become an old woman, would have nothing of what is in England called "help." She had no wish to see a charwoman in her kitchen. Fortunately for her, there lay, just off and behind the kitchen, a roomy scullery, where most of the dirty, and what may be called the smelly, work connected with cooking was done.
To the left of the low-ceilinged, spacious, rather dark scullery was Anna's own bedroom. Both the scullery and the servant's room were much older than the rest of the house, for the picturesque gabled bit of brown and red brick building which projected into the garden, at the back of the Trellis House, belonged to Tudor days, to those spacious times when the great cathedral just across the green was a new pride and joy to the good folk of Witanbury.
As Anna stood at one of the kitchen windows, peeping out at the quiet scene outside, but not drawing aside the curtain—for that she knew was forbidden to her, and Anna very seldom consciously did anything she knew to be forbidden—she felt far more unhappy and far more disturbed than did Mrs. Otway herself.
This morning's news had stirred poor old Anna—stirred her more profoundly than even her kind mistress guessed. Mrs. Otway would have been surprised indeed had it been revealed to her that ever since breakfast Anna had spent a very anxious time thinking over her own immediate future, wondering with painful indecision as to whether it were not her duty to go back to Germany. But whereas Mrs. Otway had the inestimable advantage of being quite sure that she knew what it was best for Anna to do, the old German woman herself was cruelly torn between what was due to her mistress, to her married daughter, and, yes, to herself.
How unutterably amazed Mrs. Otway would have been this morning had she known that more than a month ago Anna had received a word of warning from Berlin. But so it was: her niece had written to her, "It is believed that war this summer there is to be. Willi has been warned that something shortly will happen."
And now, as Anna stood there anxiously peeping out at the figure of her mistress pacing up and down under the avenue of high elms across the green, she did not give more than a glancing thought to England's part in the conflict, for her whole heart was absorbed in the dread knowledge that Germany was at war with terrible, barbarous Russia, and with prosperous, perfidious France.
England, so Anna firmly believed, had no army to speak of—no real army. She remembered the day when France had declared war on Germany in 1870. How at once every street of the little town in which she had lived had become full of soldiers—splendid, lion-hearted soldiers going off to fight for their beloved Fatherland. Nothing of the sort had taken place here, though Witanbury was a garrison town. The usual tradesmen, strong, lusty young men, had called for orders that morning. They had laughed and joked as usual. Not one of them seemed aware his country was at war. The old German woman's lip curled disdainfully.
For the British, as a people, Anna Bauer cherished a tolerant affection and kindly contempt. It was true that, all unknowing to herself, she also had a great belief in British generosity and British justice. The idea that this war, or rather the joining in of England with France against Germany, could affect her own position or condition in England would have seemed to her absurd.
Germany and England? A contrast indeed! In Germany her son-in-law, that idle scamp George Pollit, would by now be marching on his way to the French or Russian frontier. But George, being English, was quite safe—unfortunately. The only difference the war would make to him would be that it would provide him with an excuse for trying to get at some of Anna's carefully-hoarded savings.
If good old Anna had a fault—and curiously enough it was one of which her mistress was quite unaware, though Rose had sometimes uncomfortably suspected the fact—it was a love of money.
Anna, in spite of her low wages, had saved far more than an English servant earning twice as much would have done. Her low wage? Yes, still low, though she had been raised four pounds a year when her mistress had come into a better income. Before then Anna had been content with sixteen pounds a year. She now received twenty pounds, but she was ruefully aware that she was worth half as much again. In fact thirty pounds a year had actually been offered to her, in a roundabout way, by a lady who had come as a visitor to a house in the Close. But the lady, like Anna herself, was a German; and, apart altogether from every other consideration, including Anna's passionate love of Miss Rose, nothing would have made her take service with a mistress of her own nationality.
"This Mrs. Hirsch me to save her money wants. Her kind I know," she observed to the emissary who had been sent to sound her. "You can say that Anna Bauer a good mistress has, and knows when she well suited is."
She had said nothing of the matter to Mrs. Otway, but even so she sometimes thought of that offer, and she often felt a little sore when she reflected on the wages some of the easy-going servants who formed part of the larger households in the Close received from their employers.
Yet, in this all-important matter of money a stroke of extraordinary good luck had befallen Anna—one of those things that very seldom come to pass in our work-a-day world. It had happened, or perhaps it would be truer to say it had begun—for, unlike most pieces of good fortune, it was continuous—just three years ago, in the autumn of 1911, shortly after her return from that glorious holiday at Berlin. This secret stroke of luck, for she kept it jealously to herself, though there was nothing about it at all to her discredit, had now lasted for over thirty months, and it had had the agreeable effect of greatly increasing her powers of saving. Of saving, that is, against the day when she would go back to Germany, and live with her niece.
Mrs. Otway would have been surprised indeed had she known that Anna not only meant to leave the Trellis House, but that, in a quiet, reflective kind of way, she actually looked forward to doing so. Miss Rose would surely marry, for a good many pleasant-mannered gentlemen came and went to the Trellis House (though none of them were as rich as Anna would have liked one of them to be), and she herself would get past her work. When that had come to pass she would go and live with her niece in Berlin. She had not told her daughter of this arrangement, and it had been spoken of by Willi and her niece more as a joke than anything else; still, Anna generally managed to carry through what she had made up her mind to accomplish.
But on this August morning, standing there by the kitchen window of the Trellis House, the future was far from good old Anna's mind. Her mind was fixed on the present. How tiresome, how foolish of England to have mixed up with a quarrel which did not concern her! How strange that she, Anna Bauer, in spite of that word of warning from Berlin, had suspected nothing!
As a matter of fact Mrs. Otway had said something to her about Servia and Austria—something, too, more in sorrow than in anger, of Germany "rattling her sword." But she, Anna, had only heard with half an ear. Politics were out of woman's province. But there! English ladies were like that.
Many a time had Anna laughed aloud over the antics of the Suffragettes. About a month ago the boy who brought the meat had given her a long account of a riot—it had been a very little one—provoked by one such lady madwoman in the market-place of Witanbury itself. In wise masculine Germany the lady's relatives (for, strange to say, the Suffragette in question had been a high-born lady) would have put her in the only proper place for her, an idiot asylum.
Anna had been genuinely shocked and distressed on learning that her beloved nursling, Miss Rose, secretly rather sympathised with this mad female wish for a vote. Why, in Germany only some of the men had votes, and yet Germany was the most glorious, prosperous, and much-to-be-feared nation in the world. "Church, Kitchen, and Children"—that should be, and in the Fatherland still was, every true woman's motto and province.
Anna's mind came back with a sudden jerk to this morning's surprising, almost incredible news. Since her two ladies had gone out, she had opened the newspapers on her kitchen table and read the words for herself—"England Declares War on Germany." But how could England do such a thing, when England had no Army? True, she had ships—but then so now had Germany!
During that blissful holiday in Berlin, Anna had been persuaded to join the German Navy League. She had not meant to keep up her subscription, small though it was, after her return to England, but rather to her disgust she had found that one of the few Germans she knew in Witanbury represented the League, and that her name had been sent to him as that of a new member. Twice he had called at the tradesmen's entrance to the Trellis House, and had demanded the sum of one shilling from her.
To-day Anna remembered with satisfaction those payments she had grudged. Thanks to her patriotism, and that of millions like her, Germany had now a splendid fleet with which to withstand her enemies. She wondered if that fleet (for which she had helped to pay) would ensure the safe delivery of parcels and letters. Probably yes.
With a relieved look on her face, the old woman dropped the curtains, and went back to the table and to her knitting.
* * * * *
Suddenly, with what seemed uncanny suddenness, the telephone bell rang in the hall.
Now Anna had never got used to the telephone. She had not opposed its introduction into the Trellis House, because it had been done by Miss Rose's wish, but once it was installed, Anna had bitterly regretted its being there. It was the one part of her work that she carried out badly, and she knew that this was so. Not only did she find it most difficult to understand what was said through the horrible instrument, but her mistress's friends found even more difficulty in hearing her, Anna. Sometimes—but she was very much ashamed of this—she actually allowed the telephone bell to go on ringing, and never answered it at all! She only did this, however, when her two ladies were away from Witanbury, and when, therefore, the message, whatever it might happen to be, could not possibly be delivered.
She waited now, hoping that the instrument would grow weary, and leave off ringing. But no; on it went, ping, ping, ping, ping—so at last very reluctantly Anna opened the kitchen door and went out into the hall.
Taking up the receiver, she said in a grumpy tone, "Ach! What is it? Yes?" And then her face cleared, and she even smiled into the telephone receiver.
To her great surprise—but the things that had happened to-day were so extraordinary that there was no real reason why she should be surprised at anything now—she had heard the voice of the one German in Witanbury—and there were a good many Germans in Witanbury—with whom she was on really friendly terms.
This was a certain Fritz Froehling, a pleasant elderly man who, like herself, had been in England a long time—in fact in his case nearer forty than twenty years. He was a barber and hairdresser, and did a very flourishing business with the military gentlemen of the garrison. So Anglicised had he and his wife become that their son was in the British Army, where he had got on very well, and had been promoted to sergeant. Even among themselves, when Anna spent an evening with them, the Froehlings generally talked English. Still, Froehling was a German of the good old sort; that is, he had never become naturalised. But he was a Socialist; he did not share Anna's enthusiasm for the Kaiser, the Kaiserine, and their stalwart sons.
This was the first time he had ever telephoned to her. "Is it Frau Bauer that I am addressing?"
And Anna, slightly thrilled by the unusual appellation, answered, "Yes, yes—it is, Herr Froehling."
"With you a talk I should like to have," said the friendly familiar voice. "Could I this afternoon you see?"
"Not this afternoon," answered Anna, "but this evening, I think yes. My mistress will I ask if I an evening free have can."
"Is it necessary her to ask?" The question was put doubtfully.
"Yes, yes! But mind she will not. To me she is goodness itself—never more good than this morning she was," shouted back Anna loyally.
"Fortunate you are," the voice became rather sharp and dry. "I notice already have to quit—told I must skip."
"Never!" cried Anna indignantly. "Who has that you told?"
"A bad business," wailed Anna. She was shocked at what her old acquaintance told her. "I will Mrs. Otway ask you to help," she shouted back.
He muttered a word or two and then, "Unless before eight you communicate, Jane and I expect you this evening."
"Certainly, Herr Froehling."
As Mrs. Otway left the cathedral, certain remarks made to her by members of the little congregation jarred on her, and made her feel, almost for the first time in her life, thoroughly out of touch with her friends and neighbours.
Some one whom Mrs. Otway really liked and respected came up to her and exclaimed, "I couldn't help feeling sorry the Dean did not mention France and the French! Any one listening to him just now would have thought that only Germany and ourselves and Belgium were involved in this awful business." And then the speaker, seeing that her words were not very acceptable, added quietly, "But of course the Dean, with so many German friends, is in a difficult position just now." In fact, almost every one said something that hurt and annoyed her, and that though it was often only a word of satisfaction that at last England had gone in, as more than one of them put it, "on the right side."
Passing through the arch of the square gateway which separates the town from the Close, Mrs. Otway hurried down the pretty, quiet street which leads in a rather roundabout way, and past one of the most beautiful grey stone crosses in England, into the great market square which is one of the glories of the famous cathedral city. Once there, she crossed the wide space, part cobbled, part paved, and made her way into a large building of stucco and red brick which bore above its plate-glass windows the inscription in huge gilt letters, "THE WITANBURY STORES."
The Monday Bank Holiday had been prolonged, and so the Stores were only, so to speak, half open. But as Mrs. Otway stepped through into the shadowed shop, the owner of the Stores, Manfred Hegner by name, came forward to take her orders himself.
Manfred Hegner was quite a considerable person in Witanbury. Not only was he the biggest retail tradesman in the place, and an active member of the Witanbury City Council, but he was known to have all sorts of profitable irons in the fire. A man to keep in with, obviously, and one who was always willing to meet one half-way. Because of his German birth—he had been naturalised some years ago—and even more because of certain facial and hirsute peculiarities, he went by the nickname of "The Kaiser."
Mrs. Otway took out of her bag a piece of paper on which she had written down, at her old Anna's dictation, a list of groceries and other things needed at the Trellis House. And then she looked round, instinctively, towards the corner of the large shop where all that remained of what had once been the mainstay of Manfred Hegner's business was always temptingly set forth. This was a counter of Delicatessen. Glancing at the familiar corner, Mr. Hegner's customer told herself that her eyes must be playing her false. In the place of the familiar sausages, herrings, the pretty coloured basins of sauerkraut, and other savoury dainties, there now stood nothing but a row of large uninteresting Dutch cheeses!
The man who was waiting attentively by her side, a pencil and block of paper in his hand, saw the surprised, regretful look on his valued customer's face.
"I have had to put away all my nice, fresh Delicatessen," he said in a low voice. "It seemed wiser to do so, gracious lady." He spoke in German, and it was in German that she answered.
"Did you really think it necessary to do such a thing? I think you are unfair on your adopted country, Mr. Hegner! English people are not so unreasonable as that."
He was about to answer, when an odd-looking man, rather like a sailor, came in, and Mr. Hegner, with a hurried "Please excuse me one minute, ma'am," in English, went off to attend to the new comer.
As Mr. Hegner went across his shop, Mrs. Otway was struck by his curious resemblance to the German Emperor; in spite of the fact that he was wearing a long white apron, he had quite a martial air. He certainly deserved his nickname. There were the same piercing, rather prominent eyes, the same look of energy and decision in his face; also the same peculiar turned-up moustache. But whereas the resemblance last week would have brought a smile, now it brought a furrow of pain to the English lady's kindly face.
Poor Manfred Hegner! What must he and thousands of others like him—excellent, industrious, civil-spoken Germans—feel all through England to-day? Mrs. Otway, who had always liked the man, and who enjoyed her little chats with him, knew perhaps rather more about this prosperous tradesman than most of the Witanbury people knew. She was aware that he had been something of a rolling stone; he had, for instance, been for quite a long time in America, and it was there that he had shed most of his Germanisms of language. He was older than he looked, and his son by a first marriage lived in Germany—where, however, the young man was buyer for a group of English firms who did a great deal of business in cheap German-made goods.
His conversation with the odd-looking stranger over, Mr. Hegner hurried back to where his valued customer was standing. "Every one on the City Council is being most kind," he said suavely. "And last night I had the honour of meeting the Dean. At his suggestion I am calling a little meeting this evening, here in my Stores, of the non-naturalised Germans of this town. There are a good many in Witanbury."
And then Mrs. Otway suddenly remembered that the man now standing opposite to her was a member of the City Council. She remembered that some time ago, three or four years back at least, some disagreeable person had expressed indignation that an ex-German, one only just naturalised, should be elected to such a body. She had thought the speaker narrow-minded and ill-natured. An infusion of German thoroughness and thrift would do the City Council good, and perhaps keep down the rates!
"But you, Mr. Hegner, have been naturalised quite a long time," she said sympathetically.
"Yes, indeed, gracious lady!" Mr. Hegner seemed surprised, perhaps a thought disturbed, by her natural remark. "I took out my certificate before I built the Stores, and just after I had married my excellent little English wife. Glad indeed am I now that I did so!"
"I am very glad too," said Mrs. Otway. And yet—and yet she felt a slight quiver of discomfort. The man standing there was so very German after all—German not only in his appearance, but in all his little ways! If nothing else had proved it, his rather absurd nickname was clear proof that so he was even now regarded in Witanbury.
"And how about your son, Mr. Hegner?" she asked. "I suppose he is in Germany now? You must feel rather anxious about him."
He hesitated oddly, and looked round him before he spoke. Then, vanquished, maybe, by the obvious sincerity and kindness of the speaker, he answered, in German, and almost in a whisper. "He is, I fear, by now on his way to the frontier. But may I ask a favour of the gracious lady? Do not speak of my son to the people of Witanbury."
"Then he was never naturalised?" Mrs. Otway also spoke in a low voice—a voice full of pity and concern.
"No, no," said Mr. Hegner hastily. "There was no necessity for him to be. His work was mostly, you see, over there."
"Still he was educated here, surely?"
"That is so, gracious lady. He talks English better even than I do. He and I did consider the question of his taking out a certificate. Then we decided that, as he would be so much in Germany, it was better he should remain German. But his wife is an English girl."
"How sorry you must be now that he did not naturalise!" she exclaimed.
An odd look came over Manfred Hegner's face. "Yes, it is very regretful—the more so that it would do me harm if it were known in the town that I had a son in the German Army. But he will not fight against the English," he added hastily. "No one will do that but the German sailors—is not that so, madam?"
"I really don't know."
"If at any time the gracious lady should hear anything of the sort, I should be grateful—nay, far more than grateful if she will let me know it!" He had lapsed back into German, and Mrs. Otway smiled very kindly at him.
"Yes, I will certainly let you know anything I hear. I know how very anxious you must be about this sad state of things."
Mrs. Otway had left the shop, and she was already some way back across the Market Place, when there came the rather raucous sound of an urgent voice in her ear. Startled, she turned round. The owner of the Witanbury Stores stood by her side.
"Pardon, pardon!" he said breathlessly. "But would you, gracious lady, ask your servant" (he used the German word "Stuetze") "if she could make it convenient to join our gathering this evening at nine o'clock? Frau Anna Bauer is so very highly respected among the Germans here that we should like her to be present."
"Certainly I will arrange for Anna to come," answered Mrs. Otway. "But you may not be aware, Mr. Hegner, that my cook has become to all intents and purposes quite English—without, of course," she hastily corrected herself, "giving up her love for the Fatherland. She has only one relation left in Germany, a married niece in Berlin. Her own daughter is the wife of an Englishman, a tradesman in London."
"That makes no difference," said Manfred Hegner; "she will be welcome, most heartily welcome, to-night! This is the moment, as the Reverend Mr. Dean so well put it to me, when all Germans should stick together, and consult as to the wisest and best thing to do in their own interests."
"Yes, indeed, Mr. Hegner. I quite agree with the Dean. But do not do anything to upset my poor old Anna. She really is not involved in the question at all. She has lived with me nearly twenty years, and my daughter and I regard her far more as a friend than as a servant. The fact that she is German is an accident—the merest accident! Nothing in her life, thank God, will be changed for the worse. And, Mr. Hegner? I should like to say one more thing." She looked earnestly into his face, but even she could see that his eyes were wandering, and that there was a slight look of apprehension in the prominent eyes now fixed on a group of farmers who stood a few yards off staring at him and at Mrs. Otway.
"Yes, gracious lady," he said mechanically, "I am attending."
"Do not think that English people bear any ill-feeling to you and your great country! We feel that Germany, by breaking her word to Belgium, has put herself in the wrong. It is England's duty to fight, not her pleasure, Mr. Hegner. And we hope with all our hearts that the war will soon be over."
He murmured a word of respectful assent. And then, choosing a rather devious route, skirting the fine old Council House, which is the most distinctive feature of Witanbury Market Place, he hurried back to his big stores.
* * * * *
Mrs. Otway opened the wrought-iron gate of the Trellis House with a feeling of restful satisfaction; but there, in her own pretty, peaceful home, a not very pleasant surprise awaited her. Good old Anna, hurrying out into the black and white hall to meet her gracious lady, did not receive Mr. Hegner's kind invitation as her mistress had supposed she would do. A look of indecision and annoyance crossed her pink face.
"Ach, but to go to Mr. Froehling promised have I," she muttered.
And then Mrs. Otway exclaimed, "But the Froehlings are Germans! They will certainly be there themselves. Mr. Froehling cannot have known of this meeting when he and his wife asked you to supper. I think, Anna, that it is your duty to attend this gathering. The Dean not only approves of it, but, from what I could make out, he actually suggested that it should take place. Of course I know it makes no real difference to you; but still, Anna," she spoke reprovingly, "you should not forget at such a time as this that you are German-born."
The old woman looked up quickly at her mistress. Forget she was German-born! Mrs. Otway was a most good lady, a most kind employer, but she was sometimes foolish, very very foolish, in what she said! She, Anna Bauer, had often noticed it. Still, averse as she was from the thought, the old German woman was ruefully aware that she would have to accept Mr. Hegner's invitation. When it came to a tussle of will between the two, herself and her mistress, Mrs. Otway generally won, partly because she was, after all, Anna's employer, and also because she always knew exactly what it was she wanted Anna to do. Anna was emotional, easily touched, highly excitable; she also generally knew what she wanted, but she did not find it easy to force her will on others, least of all on her beloved if not exactly admired mistress.
Grumbling under her breath, she retreated into her kitchen; while Mrs. Otway, feeling tired and rather dispirited, went upstairs.
The back-door bell rang, and Anna went and opened it. A boy stood there, bearing on a tray not only the various little things Mrs. Otway had ordered at the Witanbury Stores half an hour before, but also an envelope addressed to "Frau Bauer." Anna brought the things into the kitchen, then she opened with interest the envelope addressed to herself. It contained a card, elegantly headed:
"THE WITANBURY STORES. Proprietor: MANFRED HEGNER."
Across it were written in German the words: "You are bidden to a meeting at the above address to-night at nine o'clock. There will be cakes and coffee served before the meeting begins. Entrance by Market Row."
Anna read the words again and again. This was treating her at last as she ought always to have been treated! Anna did not like her erst fellow-country-man, and she considered that she had good reason for her dislike. Resentment against ingratitude is not confined to any one nationality.
When Manfred Hegner had first come to Witanbury, Anna had been delighted to make his acquaintance, and she had spent many happy half-hours chatting with him in the little Delicatessen shop he had established in Bridge Street, close to the Market Place.
Starting with only the good-will of a bankrupt confectioner, he had very soon built up a wonderfully prosperous business. But his early success had been in a measure undoubtedly owing to Mrs. Otway and her German cook. Mrs. Otway had told all her friends of this amusing little German shop, and of the good things which were to be bought there. Delicatessen had become quite the fashion, not only among the good people of Witanbury itself, but among the county gentry who made the cathedral town their shopping headquarters, and who enjoyed motoring in there to spend an idly busy morning.
Then had come the erection of the big Stores. Over that matter quite a storm had arisen, and local feeling had been very mixed. A petition originated by those who called themselves the Art Society of Witanbury, pointed out that a large modern building of the kind proposed would ruin the old-world, picturesque appearance of the Market Place. But the big local builder, the man who later promoted the election of Manfred Hegner on to the City Council, bore down all opposition, and a group of charming old gabled houses—houses that were little more than cottages, and therefore perhaps hardly in keeping with the Market Place of so prosperous a town as was Witanbury—had been pulled down, and the large Stores had risen on their site.
And then one day—which happened to be a day when Mrs. Otway and her daughter were away on a visit—Manfred Hegner himself walked along into the Close, and so to the Trellis House, in order to make Anna a proposal. It was a simple thing that he asked Anna to do—namely that she should persuade her mistress to remove her custom from the long-established tradesmen where she had always dealt, and transfer it entirely to his Stores. His things, so he said, were better as well as cheaper than those sold by the smaller people, also he would be pleased to pay Anna a handsome commission on every bill paid by her mistress.
Anna had willingly fallen in with this plan. It had taken some time and some trouble, but in the end Mrs. Otway found it very convenient to get everything at the same place. For a while all had gone well for Manfred Hegner—well for him and well for Anna. At the end of a year, however, he had arbitrarily halved Anna's commission, and that she felt to be (as indeed it was) most unfair, and not in the bond. She had no longer the power to retaliate, for her mistress had fallen into the way of going into the Stores herself. Mrs. Otway enjoyed rubbing up her German with Mr. Hegner, and the really intelligent zeal with which he always treated her, and her comparatively small orders, was very pleasant. Twice he had taken great trouble to procure for her a local Weimar delicacy which she remembered enjoying as a girl.
But when Anna, following her mistress's example, walked along to the Stores to enjoy a little chat in her native language, Mr. Hegner would be short with her, very short indeed! In fact it was now a long time since the old woman had cared to set foot there. For another thing she did not like Mrs. Hegner, the pretty English girl Manfred Hegner had married five years before; she thought her a very frivolous, silly little woman, not at all what the wife of a big commercial man should be. Anna's Louisa would have been a perfect helpmate for Manfred Hegner, and there had been a time, a certain three months, when Anna had thought the already prosperous widower was considering Louisa. His marriage to pretty Polly Brown had been a disappointment.
But now this politely-worded card of invitation certainly made a difference. Old Anna, who was not lacking in a certain simple shrewdness, had not expected Manfred Hegner to show any kindness to his ex-compatriots. She was touched to find him a better man than she expected. Most certainly would she attend this meeting!
As soon as her mistress had gone out to lunch, Anna telephoned to Mr. Froehling and explained why she could not come to him that evening.
"We too asked to Hegner's have been. As you are going, we your example will follow," shouted the barber.
Rose Otway sat in the garden of the Trellis House, under the wide-branched cedar of Lebanon which was, to the thinking of most people in the Close, that garden's only beauty. For it was just a wide lawn, surrounded on three sides by a very high old brick wall, under which ran an herbaceous border to which Rose devoted some thought and a good deal of time.
The great cedar rose majestically far above its surroundings; and when you stood at one of the windows of the Trellis House, and saw how wide the branches of the tree spread, you realised that the garden was a good deal bigger than it appeared at first sight.
Rose sat near a low wicker table on which in an hour or so Anna would come out and place the tea-tray. Spread out across the girl's knee was a square of canvas, a section of a bed-spread, on which was traced an intricate and beautiful Jacobean design. Rose had already been working at it for six months, and she hoped to have finished it by the 14th of December, her mother's birthday. She enjoyed doing this beautiful work, of which the pattern had been lent to her by a country neighbour who collected such things.
How surprised Rose would have been on this early August afternoon could she have foreseen that this cherished piece of work, on which she had already lavished so many hours of close and pleasant toil, would soon be put away for an indefinite stretch of time; and that knitting, which she had always disliked doing, would take its place!
But no such thought, no such vision of the future, came into her mind as she bent her pretty head over her work.
She felt rather excited, a thought more restless than usual. England at war, and with Germany! Dear old Anna's Fatherland—the great country to which Rose had always been taught by her mother to look with peculiar affection, as well as respect and admiration.
Rose and Mrs. Otway had hoped to go to Germany this very autumn. They had saved up their pennies—as Mrs. Otway would have put it—for a considerable time, in order that they might enjoy in comfort, and even in luxury, what promised to be a delightful tour. Rose could hardly realise even yet that their journey, so carefully planned out, so often discussed, would now have to be postponed. They were first to have gone to Weimar, where Mrs. Otway had spent such a happy year in her girlhood, and then to Munich, to Dresden, to Nuremberg—to all those dear old towns with whose names Rose had always been familiar. It seemed such a pity that now they would have to wait till after the war to go to Germany.
After the war? Fortunately the people she had seen that day—and there had been a good deal of coming and going in the Close—all seemed to think that the war would be over very soon, and this pleasant view had been confirmed in a rather odd way.
Rose's cousin, James Hayley, had rung her up on the telephone from London. She had been very much surprised, for a telephone message from London to Witanbury costs one-and-threepence, and James was careful about such things. When he did telephone, which was very seldom, he always waited to do so till the evening, when the fee was halved. But to-day James had rung up just before luncheon, and she had heard his voice almost as though he were standing by her side.
"Who's there? Oh, it's you, is it, Rose? I just wanted to say that I shall probably be down Saturday night. I shan't be able to be away more than one night, worse luck. I suppose you've heard what's happened?"
And then, as she had laughed—she had really not been able to help it (how very odd James was! He evidently thought Witanbury quite out of the world), he had gone on, "It's a great bore, for it upsets everything horribly. The one good point about it is that it won't last long."
"How long?" she had called out.
And he had answered rather quickly, "You needn't speak so loud. I hear you perfectly. How long? Oh, I think it'll be over by October—may be a little before, but I should say October."
"Mother thinks there'll be a sort of Trafalgar!"
And then he had answered, speaking a little impatiently for he was very overworked just then, "Nothing of the sort! The people who will win this war, and will win it quickly, are the Russians. We have information that they will mobilise quickly—much more quickly than most people think. You see, my dear Rose,"—he was generally rather old-fashioned in his phraseology—"the Russians are like a steam roller"; she always remembered that she had heard that phrase from him first. "We have reason to believe that they can put ten million men into their fighting line every year for fifty years!"
Rose, in answer, said the first silly thing she had said that day: "Oh, I do hope the war won't last as long as that!"
And then she had heard, uttered in a strange voice, the words, "Another three minutes, sir?" and the hasty answer at the other end, "No, certainly not! I've quite done." And she had hung up the receiver with a smile.
And yet Rose, if well aware of his little foibles, liked her cousin well enough to be generally glad of his company. During the last three months he had spent almost every week-end at Witanbury. And though it was true, as her mother often observed, that James was both narrow-minded and self-opinionated, yet even so he brought with him a breath of larger air, and he often told the ladies at the Trellis House interesting things.
* * * * *
While Rose Otway sat musing over her beautiful work in the garden, good old Anna came and went in her kitchen. She too still felt restless and anxious, she too wondered how long this unexpected war would last. But whereas Rose couldn't have told why she was restless and anxious, her one-time nurse knew quite well what ailed herself this afternoon.
Anna had a very good reason for feeling worried and depressed, but it was one she preferred to keep to herself. For the last two days she had been expecting some money from Germany, and since this morning she had been wondering, with keen anxiety, whether that money would be stopped in the post.
What made this possibility very real to her was the fact that an uncle of Anna's, just forty-four years ago, that is, in the August of 1870, had been ruined owing to the very simple fact that a sum of money owing him from France had not been able to get through! It was true that she, Anna, would not be ruined if the sum due to her, which in English money came to fifty shillings exactly, were not to arrive. Still, it would be very disagreeable, and the more disagreeable because she had foolishly given her son-in-law five pounds a month ago. She knew it would have to be a gift, though he had pretended at the time that it was only a loan.
Anna wondered how she could find out whether money orders were still likely to come through from Germany. She did not like to ask at the Post Office, for her Berlin nephew, who transmitted the money to her half-yearly, always had the order made out to some neighbouring town or village, not to Witanbury. In vain Anna had pointed out that this was quite unnecessary, and indeed very inconvenient; and that when she had said she did not wish her mistress to know, she had not meant that. In spite of her protests Willi had persisted in so sending it.
Suddenly her face brightened. How easy it would be to find out all that sort of thing at the meeting to-night! Such a man as Manfred Hegner would be sure to know.
There came a ring at the front door of the Trellis House, and Anna got up reluctantly from her easy chair and laid down her crochet. She was beginning to feel old, so she often told herself regretfully—older than the Englishwomen of her own age seemed to be. But none of them had worked as hard as she had always worked. Englishwomen, especially English servants, were lazy good-for-nothings!
Poor old Anna; she did not feel happy or placid to-day, and she hated the thought of opening the door to some one who, maybe, would condole with her on to-day's news. All Mrs. Otway's friends knew Anna, and treated her as a highly respected institution. Those who knew a little German were fond of trying it on her.
It was rather curious, considering how long Anna had been in England, that she still kept certain little habits acquired in the far-off days when she had been the young cook of a Herr Privy Councillor. Thus never did she open the front door with a cheerful, pleasant manner. Also, unless they were very intimately known to her and to her mistress, she always kept visitors waiting in the hall. She would forget, that is, to show them straight into the pretty sitting-room which lay just opposite her kitchen. She often found herself regretting that the heavy old mahogany door of the Trellis House lacked the tiny aperture which in Berlin is so well named a "stare-hole," and which enables the person inside the front door to command, as it were, the position outside.
But to-day, when she saw who it was who stood on the threshold, her face cleared a little, for she was well acquainted with the tall young man who was looking at her with so pleasant a smile. His name was Jervis Blake, and he came very often to the Trellis House. For two years he had been at "Robey's," the Army coaching establishment which was, in a minor degree, one of the glories of Witanbury, and which consisted of a group of beautiful old Georgian houses spreading across the whole of one of the wide corners of the Close.
Some of the inhabitants of the Close resented the fact of "Robey's." But Mr. Robey was the son of a former Bishop of Witanbury, the Bishop who had followed Miss Forsyth's father.
Bishop Robey had had twin sons, who, unlike most twins, were very different. The elder, whom some of the oldest inhabitants remembered as an ugly, eccentric little boy, with a taste for cutting up dead animals, had insisted on becoming a surgeon. To the surprise of his father's old friends, he had made a considerable reputation, which had been, so to speak, officially certified with a knighthood. The professional life of a great surgeon is limited, and Sir Jacques Robey, though not much over fifty and still a bachelor, had now retired.
The younger twin, Orlando, was the Army coach. He had been, even as a little boy, a great contrast to his brother, being both good looking and anything but eccentric. The brothers were only alike in the success they had achieved in their several professions, but they had for one another in full measure that curiously understanding sympathy and affection which seem to be the special privilege of twins.
Mr. Robey was popular and respected, and those dwellers in the Close who had daughters were pleased with the life and animation which the presence of so many young men gave to the place. The more thoughtful were also glad to think that the shadow of their beloved cathedral rested benignantly over the temporary home of those future officers and administrators of the Empire. And of all those who had been coached at "Robey's" during the last two years, there was none better liked, though there had been many more popular, than the young man who now stood smiling at old Anna.
During the first three months of his sojourn in the Close, Jervis Blake had counted very little, for it had naturally been supposed that he would soon go off to Sandhurst or Woolwich. Then he had failed to pass the Army Entrance Examination, not once, as so many did, but again and again, and the good folk of Witanbury, both gentle and simple, had grown accustomed to see him coming and going in their midst.
Unfortunately for Jervis Blake, his father, though a distinguished soldier, was a very peculiar man, one who had owed nothing in his hard laborious youth to influence; and he had early determined that his only son should tread the path he had himself trod.
And now poor young Blake had reached the age limit, and failed for the last time. Every one had been sorry, but no one had been surprised in Witanbury Close, when the result of the May Army Exam. had been published in July.
One person, Mr. Robey himself, had been deeply concerned. Indeed, the famous coach muttered to one or two of his old friends, "It's a pity, you know! Although I make my living by it, I often think there's a good deal to be said against a system which passes in—well, some boys whose names I could give you, and which keeps out of the Army a lad like Jervis Blake! He'd make a splendid company officer—conscientious, honest, unselfish, keen about his work, and brave—well, brave as only a man——"
And one of those to whom he said it, seeing him hesitate, had broken in, with a slight smile, "Brave as only a man totally lacking in imagination can be, eh, Robey?"
"No, no, I won't have you say that! Even an idiot has enough imagination to be afraid of danger! There's something fine about poor Jervis."
They'd gradually all got to call young Blake "Jervis" in that household. Perhaps Mrs. Robey alone of them all knew how much they would miss him. He was such a thoroughly good fellow, he was so useful to her husband in keeping order among the wilder spirits, and that without having about him a touch of the prig!
* * * * *
Rose looked up and smiled as the tall young man came forward and shook hands with her, saying as he did so, "I hope I'm not too early? The truth is, I've a good many calls to pay this afternoon. I've come to say good-bye."
"I'm sorry. I thought you weren't going away till Saturday." Rose really did feel sorry—in fact, she was herself surprised at her rather keen sensation of regret. She had always liked Jervis Blake very much—liked him from the first day she had seen him. He had a certain claim on the kindness of the ladies of the Trellis House, for his mother had been a girl friend of Mrs. Otway's.
Most people, as Rose was well aware, found his conversation boring. But it always interested her. In fact Rose Otway was the one person in Witanbury who listened with real pleasure to what Jervis Blake had to say. Oddly enough, his talk almost always ran on military matters. Most soldiers—and Rose knew a good many officers, for Witanbury is a garrison town—would discuss, before the Great War, every kind of topic except those connected with what they would have described as "shop." But Jervis Blake, who, owing to his bad luck, seemed fated never to be a soldier, thought and talked of nothing else. It was thanks to him that Rose knew so much about the great Napoleonic campaigns, and was so well "up" in the Indian Mutiny.
And now, on this 4th of August, 1914, Jervis Blake sat down by Rose Otway, and began tracing imaginary patterns on the grass with his stick.
"I'm not going to tell any one else, but there's something I want to tell you." He spoke in a rather hard, set voice, and he did not look up, as he spoke, at the girl by his side.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, Jervis? What is it?" There was something very kind, truly sympathetic, in her accents.
"I'm going to enlist."
Rose Otway was startled—startled and sorry.
"Oh, no, you mustn't do that!"
"I've always thought I should like to do it, if—if I failed this last time. But of course I knew it was out of the question—because of my father. But now—everything's different! Even father will see that I have no other course open to me."
"I—I don't understand what you mean," she answered, and to her surprise there came a queer lump in her throat. "Why is everything different now?"
He looked round at her with an air of genuine surprise, and, yes, of indignation, in his steady grey eyes. And under that surprised and indignant look, so unlike anything there had ever been before from him to her, the colour flushed all over her face.
"You mean," she faltered, "you mean because—because England is at war?"
"But I thought—of course I don't know anything about it, Jervis, and I daresay you'll think me very ignorant—but from what the Dean said this morning I thought that only our fleet is to fight the Germans."
"The Dean is an old——" and then they both laughed. Jervis Blake went on: "If we don't go to the help of the French and the Belgians, then England's disgraced. But of course we're going to fight!"
Rose Otway was thinking—thinking hard. She knew a good deal about Jervis, and his relations with the father he both loved and feared.
"Look here," she said earnestly. "We've always been friends, you and I, haven't we, Jervis?"
And again he simply nodded in answer to the question.
"Well, I want you to promise me something!"
"I can't promise you I won't enlist."
"I don't want you to promise me that. I only want you to promise me to wait just a few days—say a week. Of course I don't know anything about how one becomes a soldier, but you'd be rather sold, wouldn't you, if you enlisted and then if your regiment took no part in the fighting—if there's really going to be fighting?"
Rose Otway stopped short. She felt a most curious sensation of fatigue; it was as though she had been speaking an hour instead of a few moments. But she had put her whole heart, her whole soul, into those few simple words.
There was a long, long pause, and her eyes filled with tears. Those who knew her would have told you that Rose Otway was quite singularly self-possessed and unemotional. In fact she could not remember when she had cried last, it was so long ago. But now there came over her a childish, irresistible desire to have her way—to save poor, poor Jervis from himself. And suddenly the face of the young man looking at her became transfigured.
"Rose," he cried—"Rose, do you really care, a little, what happens to me? Oh, if you only knew what a difference that would make!"
And then she pulled herself together. Jervis mustn't become what she in her own mind called "silly." Young men, ay, and older men too, had a way of becoming "silly" about Rose Otway. And up to now she had disliked it very much. But this afternoon she was touched rather than displeased.
"I care very much," she said quietly. She knew the battle was won, and it was very collectedly that she added the words, "Now, I have your promise, Jervis? You're not to do anything foolish——" Then she saw she had made a mistake. "No, no!" she cried hastily; "I don't mean that—I don't mean that a man who becomes a soldier in time of war is doing anything foolish! But I do think that you ought to wait just a few days. Everything is different now." For the first time she felt that everything was indeed different in England—in this new strange England which was at war. It was odd that Jervis Blake should have brought that knowledge home to her.
"Very well," he said slowly. "I'll wait. I can't wait a whole week, but I'll wait till after Sunday."
"The Robeys are going to the seaside on Monday, aren't they?" She was speaking now quite composedly, quite like herself.
"Yes, and they kindly asked me to stay on till then."
He got up. "Well," he said, looking down at her—and she couldn't help telling herself what a big, manly fellow he looked, and what a fine soldier he would make—"well, Rose, so it isn't good-bye, after all?"
"No, I'm glad to say it isn't." She gave him a frank, kindly smile. "Surely you'll stay and have some tea?"
"No, thank you. Jack Robey is feeling a little above himself to-day. You see it's the fourth day of the holidays. I think I'll just go straight back, and take him out for a walk. I rather want to think over things."
As he made his way across the lawn and through the house, feeling somehow that the whole world had changed for the better, though he could not have told you exactly why, Jervis Blake met Mrs. Otway.
"Won't you stay and have some tea?" she asked, but she said it in a very different voice from that Rose had used—Rose had meant what she said.
"Thanks very much, but I've got to get back. I promised Mrs. Robey I'd be in to tea; the boys are back from school, you know."
"Oh, yes, of course! I suppose they are. Well, you must come in some other day before you leave Witanbury."
She hurried through into the garden.
"I hope Jervis Blake hasn't been here very long, darling," she said fondly. "Of course I know he's your friend, and that you've always liked him. But I'm afraid he would rather jar on one to-day. He's always so disliked the Germans! Poor fellow, how he must feel out of it, now that the war he's always been talking about has actually come!"
"Well, mother, Jervis was right after all. The Germans were preparing for war."
But Mrs. Otway went on as if she had not heard the interruption. It was a way she had, and sometimes both Rose and old Anna found it rather trying. "This morning Miss Forsyth was saying she thought young Blake would enlist—that she'd enlist if she were in his place! It's odd what nonsense she sometimes talks."
Rose remained silent and her mother continued. "I've so many things to tell you I hardly know where to begin. It was a very interesting committee, more lively than usual. There seemed a notion among some of the people there that there will be war work of some kind for us to do. Lady Bethune thought so—though I can't see how the war can affect any of us, here, in Witanbury. But just as we were breaking up, Lady Bethune told us some interesting things. There are, she says, two parties in the Government—one party wants us to send out troops to help Belgium, the other party thinks we ought to be content with letting the fleet help the French. I must say I agree with the Blue Water school."
"I don't," said Rose rather decidedly. "If we really owe so much to Belgium that we have gone to war for her sake, then it seems to me we ought to send soldiers to help her."
"But then we have such a small army," objected Mrs. Otway.
"It may grow bigger," observed her daughter quietly, "especially if people like Jervis Blake think of enlisting."
"But it wasn't Jervis Blake, darling child—it was Miss Forsyth who said that to me."
"So it was! How stupid I am!" Rose turned a little pink. She did not wish to deceive her mother. But Mrs. Otway was so confiding, so sure that every one was as honourable as herself, that she could not always be trusted to keep secrets.
Mr. and Mrs. Hegner stood together in their brilliantly lighted but now empty front shop. In a few minutes their guests would begin to arrive. Mrs. Hegner looked tired, and rather cross, for the shop had not been transformed into its present state without a good deal of hard work on the part of all of them, her husband, their German assistants, and herself—their English shopman had been told that to-night his services would not be required. But Mrs. Hegner, though her pretty face was tired and peevish-looking, yet looked far pleasanter than she had done half an hour ago, for her husband had just presented her with a long gold chain.
In a very, very quiet way, quite under the rose, so to speak, Mr. Hegner sometimes went in for small money-lending transactions. He would give loans on jewellery, and even on "curios" and good furniture; always, however, in connection with an account which had, maybe, run a little too long—never as a separate transaction. The old-fashioned chain of 18-carat gold, which he had just hung with a joking word round his pretty wife's slender neck, had been the outcome of one of these minor activities.
It was now a quarter to nine; and suddenly there came the sound of loud, rather impatient knocking on the locked and barred front door of the shop. A frown gathered over Mr. Hegner's face; it transformed his good-looking, generally genial, countenance into something which was, for the moment, very disagreeable.
"What can that be?" he said to his wife. "Did you not put plainly on every card 'Entrance by Market Row,' Polly?"
"Yes," she said, a little frightened by his look. "It was most carefully put in every case, Manfred."
The knocking had stopped now, as if the person outside expected the door to open. Husband and wife went forward.
"Who can it be?" said Mrs. Hegner uneasily.
And then her question was answered.
The voice was clear and silvery. "It's Miss Haworth! Can I come in and speak to you a moment, Mr. Hegner, or has the meeting already begun?"
"Why, it's the young lady from the Deanery!" exclaimed Manfred Hegner in a relieved voice; and both he and his wife began hastily unlocking and unbarring the great plate-glass doors.
The unbidden, unexpected visitor stepped forward into the shop, and Mrs. Hegner eagerly noted the cut and shape of the prettily draped pale blue silk evening coat, and tried to gain some notion of the evening gown beneath.
"I'm so glad to be in time—I mean before your meeting has begun. How very nice it all looks!" The speaker cast an approving glance on the rout chairs, on the table at the top of the room, on the counter where steamed, even now, the fragrant coffee. "The Dean has asked me to bring a message—of course quite an informal message, Mr. Hegner. He wants you to tell everybody that he is quite at their service if they want anything done."
"That is very, very good of Mr. Dean. Polly, d'you hear that? Is not the Reverend gentleman truly good?"
"Yes, indeed," said Mrs. Hegner, a trifle mechanically.
She felt a touch of sharp envy as she looked at the beautiful girl standing there. Though Edith Haworth knew very little of Mrs. Hegner, except that Mrs. Hegner's sister was her maid, Mrs. Hegner knew a great deal about Miss Haworth. How she had gone up to London just for one month of the season, and how during that one month she had become engaged to a rich young gentleman, a baronet. He was in the Army, too, but he couldn't be much of a soldier, for he seemed to be a great deal in Witanbury—at least he had been here a great deal during the last three weeks. The two often walked about the town together; once they had stood for quite a long time just opposite the open doors of the Stores, and Mrs. Hegner on that occasion had looked at the handsome couple with sympathetic interest and excitement.
But now, to-night, nothing but sharp envy filled her soul. It was her fate, poor, pretty Polly's fate, to sit behind that horrid glass partition over there, taking money, paying out endless small change, compelled always to look pleasant, or Manfred, if he caught her looking anything else, even when giving a farthing change out of a penny, would soon know the reason why! The young lady who stood smiling just within the door was not half as "fetching" as she, Polly, had been in her maiden days—and yet she was going to have everything the heart of woman could desire, a rich, handsome, young husband, and plenty of money!
As her eyes strayed out to the moonlit space outside where stood waiting, under the quaint little leafy mall which gives the Market Square of Witanbury such a foreign look, a gentleman in evening dress, Mrs. Hegner repeated mechanically, "Very kind, I'm sure, miss. They'll appreciate it—that they will."
"Well, that was all I came to say—only that my father will be very glad indeed to do anything he can. Oh, I did forget one more thing——" She lowered her voice a little. "The Dean thinks it probable, Mr. Hegner, that after to-day no German of military age will be allowed to leave England. You ought to tell everybody that this evening, otherwise some of them, without knowing it, might get into trouble."
And then Mrs. Hegner, perhaps because she had become nervously aware that her husband had looked at her rather crossly a moment ago, blurted out, "There's no fear of that, miss. We sent off a lot this morning to Harwich. I expect they'll have been able to get a boat there all right——" She stopped suddenly, for her husband had just made a terrible face at her—a face full of indignation and wrath.
But Miss Haworth did not seem to have noticed anything.
"Oh, well," she said, "perhaps it was a mistake to do that, but I don't suppose it matters much, one way or the other. I must go now. The meeting is due to begin, isn't it? And—and Sir Hugh is leaving to-night. He expects to find his marching orders when he gets back to town." A little colour came into her charming face; she sighed, but not very heavily. "War is an awful thing!" she said; "but every soldier, of course, wants to see something of the fighting. I expect the feeling is just as strong in France and Germany as it is here."
She shook hands warmly with Mr. and Mrs. Hegner, then she turned and tripped out into the dimly lighted and solitary Market Square. They watched her cross the road and take her lover's arm.
"Fool!" said Mr. Hegner harshly. "Pretty, silly fool!" He mimicked what he thought to be her mincing accents. "Wants to see something of war, does he? I can tell him he will be satisfied before he has done!" There was a scowl on his face. "And you"—he turned on his wife furiously—"what business had you to say that about those young German men? I was waiting—yes, with curiosity—to hear what else you were going to tell her—whether you would tell her that I had paid their fares!"
"Oh, no, Manfred. You know I would never have done that after what you said to me yesterday."
"Take it from me now, once for all," he said fiercely, "that you say nothing—nothing, mark you—about this cursed, blasted war—this war which, if we are not very careful, is going to make us poor, to bring us to the gutter, to the workhouse, you and I!"
And then Hegner's brow cleared as if by enchantment, for the first of their visitors were coming through from the back of the shop.
It was the manager of a big boot factory and his wife. They were both German-born, and the man had obtained his present excellent position owing to the good offices of Mr. Hegner. Taking his friend's wise advice, he had become naturalised a year ago. But a nephew, who had joined him in business, had not followed his example, and he had been one of the young men who had been speeded off to Harwich, through Mr. Hegner's exertions, early that morning.
While Mrs. Hegner tried to make herself pleasant to Mrs. Liebert, Mr. Hegner took Mr. Liebert aside.
"I have just learnt," he said, in a quick whisper, "that the military gentlemen here are expecting marching orders to the Continent—I presume to Belgium."
"That is bad," muttered the other.
But Mr. Hegner smiled. "No, no," he said, "not bad! It might have been disagreeable if they could have been got there last week. But by the time the fifty thousand, even the hundred thousand, English soldiers are in Belgium, there will be a million of our fellows there to meet them."
"What are you going to say at this meeting?" asked the other curiously; he used the English word, though they still spoke German.
Mr. Hegner shrugged his shoulders. "This is not going to be a meeting," he said laughingly. "It's going to be a Kaffeeklatch! Those people to whom I have to say a word I shall see by myself, in our little parlour. I trust to you, friend Max, to make everything go well and lively. As to measures, it is far too early to think of any measures. So far all goes very well with me. I have had many tokens of sympathy and of friendship this morning. Just two or three, perhaps, would have liked to be disagreeable, but they did not dare."