THE THREE SISTERS
THE THREE SISTERS
North of east, in the bottom, where the road drops from the High Moor, is the village of Garth in Garthdale.
It crouches there with a crook of the dale behind and before it, between half-shut doors of the west and south. Under the mystery and terror of its solitude it crouches, like a beaten thing, cowering from its topmost roof to the bowed back of its stone bridge.
It is the last village up Garthdale; a handful of gray houses, old and small and humble. The high road casts them off and they turn their backs to it in their fear and huddle together, humbly, down by the beck. Their stone roofs and walls are naked and blackened by wind and rain as if fire had passed over them.
They have the silence, the darkness and the secrecy of all ultimate habitations.
North, where the high road begins to rise again, the Vicarage stands all alone. It turns its face toward the village, old and gray and humble as any house there, and looks on the road sideways, through the small shy window of its gable end. It has a strip of garden in front and on its farther side and a strip of orchard at the back. The garden slopes down to the churchyard, and a lane, leading to the pastures, runs between.
And all these things of stone, the village, the Vicarage, the church, the churchyard and the gravestones of the dead are alike naked and black, blackened as if fire had passed over them. And in their grayness and their desolation they are one with each other and with the network of low walls that links them to the last solitary farm on the High Moor. And on the breast of the earth they show, one moment, solid as if hewn out of her heart, and another, slender and wind-blown as a tangle of gray thread on her green gown.
Through four of its five front windows the house gave back darkness to the dark. One, on the ground floor, showed a golden oblong, skirted with watery gray where the lamp-light thinned the solid blackness of the wall.
The three sisters, Mary, Gwendolen and Alice, daughters of James Cartaret, the Vicar of Garth, were sitting there in the dining-room behind the yellow blind, doing nothing. In their supine, motionless attitudes they seemed to be waiting for something to happen, to happen so soon that, if there had been anything to do, it was not worth their while doing it.
All three were alike in the small, broad faces that brooded, half sullen and half sad; in the wide eyes that watched vaguely; in the little tender noses, and in the mouths, tender and sullen, too; in the arch and sweep of the upper lips, the delicate fulness of the lower; in the way of the thick hair, parted and turned back over the brows in two wide and shallow waves.
Mary, the eldest, sat in a low chair by the fireside. Her hands were clasped loosely on the black woolen socks she had ceased to darn.
She was staring into the fire with her gray eyes, the thick gray eyes that never let you know what she was thinking. The firelight woke the flame in her reddish-tawny hair. The red of her lips was turned back and crushed against the white. Mary was shorter than her sisters, but she was the one that had the color. And with it she had a stillness that was not theirs. Mary's face brooded more deeply than their faces, but it was untroubled in its brooding.
She had learned to darn socks for her own amusement on her eleventh birthday, and she was twenty-seven now.
Alice, the youngest girl (she was twenty-three) lay stretched out on the sofa.
She departed in no way from her sister's type but that her body was slender and small boned, that her face was lightly finished, that her gray eyes were clear and her lips pale against the honey-white of her face, and that her hair was colorless as dust except where the edge of the wave showed a dull gold.
Alice had spent the whole evening lying on the sofa. And now she raised her arms and bent them, pressing the backs of her hands against her eyes. And now she lowered them and lifted one sleeve of her thin blouse, and turned up the milk-white under surface of her arm and lay staring at it and feeling its smooth texture with her fingers.
Gwendolen, the second sister, sat leaning over the table with her arms flung out on it as they had tossed from her the book she had been reading.
She was the tallest and the darkest of the three. Her face followed the type obscurely; and vividly and emphatically it left it. There was dusk in her honey-whiteness, and dark blue in the gray of her eyes. The bridge of her nose and the arch of her upper lip were higher, lifted as it were in a decided and defiant manner of their own. About Gwenda there was something alert and impatient. Her very supineness was alive. It had distinction, the savage grace of a creature utterly abandoned to a sane fatigue.
Gwenda had gone fifteen miles over the moors that evening. She had run and walked and run again in the riotous energy of her youth.
Now she was too tired to read.
Gwenda was the first to speak.
"Is it ten yet?"
"No." Mary smiled, but the word shuddered in her throat like a weary moan.
"Oh, Lord——" Gwenda laughed the laugh of brave nerves tortured.
From her sofa beyond the table Alice sighed.
At ten o'clock Essy Gale, the maid-servant, would come in from the kitchen and the Vicar from the inner room. And Essy would put the Bible and Prayer-book on the table, and the Vicar would read Prayers.
That was all they were waiting for. It was all that could happen. It happened every night at ten o'clock.
Alice spoke next.
"What day of the month is it?"
"The thirtieth." Mary answered.
"Then we've been here exactly five months to-day."
"That's nothing," said Mary, "to the months and years we shall be here."
"I can't think what possessed Papa to come and bury us all in this rotten place."
"Can't you?" Mary's eyes turned from their brooding. Her voice was very quiet, barely perceptible the significant stress.
"Oh, if you mean it's me he wants to bury——. You needn't rub that in."
"I'm not rubbing it in."
"You are. You're rubbing it in every time you look like that. That's the beastly part of it. Supposing he does want to get back on me, why should he go and punish you two?"
"If he thinks he's punishing me he's sold," said Gwenda.
"He couldn't have stuck you in a rottener hole."
Gwenda raised her head.
"A hole? Why, there's no end to it. You can go for miles and miles without meeting anybody, unless some darling mountain sheep gets up and looks at you. It's—it's a divine place, Ally."
"Wait till you've been another five months in it. You'll be as sick as I am."
"I don't think so. You haven't seen the moon get up over Greffington Edge. If you had—if you knew what this place was like, you wouldn't lie there grizzling. You wouldn't talk about punishing. You'd wonder what you'd done to be allowed to look at it—to live in it a day. Of course I'm not going to let on to Papa that I'm in love with it."
Mary smiled again.
"It's all very well for you," she said. "As long as you've got a moor to walk on you're all right."
"Yes. I'm all right," Gwenda said.
Her head had sunk again and rested in the hollow of her arms. Her voice, muffled in her sleeve, came soft and thick. It died for drowsiness.
In the extreme immobility and stillness of the three the still house stirred and became audible to them, as if it breathed. They heard the delicate fall of the ashes on the hearth, and the flame of the lamp jerking as the oil sputtered in the burnt wick. Their nerves shook to the creeping, crackling sounds that came from the wainscot, infinitely minute. A tongue of fire shot hissing from the coal. It seemed to them a violent and terrifying thing. The breath of the house passed over them in thick smells of earth and must, as the fire's heat sucked at its damp.
The church clock struck the half hour. Once, twice; two dolorous notes that beat on the still house and died.
Somewhere out at the back a door opened and shut, and it was as if the house drew in its breath at the shock of the sound.
Presently a tremor crept through Gwenda's young body as her heart shook it.
She rose and went to the window.
She was slow and rapt in her going like one walking in her sleep, moved by some impulse profounder than her sleep.
She pulled up the blind. The darkness was up against the house, thick and close to the pane. She threw open the window, and the night entered palpably like slow water, black and sweet and cool.
From the unseen road came the noise of wheels and of a horse that in trotting clanked forever one shoe against another.
It was young Rowcliffe, the new doctor, driving over from Morthe to Upthorne on the Moor, where John Greatorex lay dying.
The pale light of his lamps swept over the low garden wall.
Suddenly the four hoofs screamed, grinding together in the slide of their halt. The doctor had jerked his horse up by the Vicarage gate.
The door at the back opened and shut again, suddenly, sharply, as if in fear.
A voice swung out like a mournful bell into the night. A dalesman's voice; such a voice as the lonely land fashions sometimes for its own delight, drawling and tender, hushed by the hills and charged with the infinite, mysterious sadness of their beauty.
It belonged to young Greatorex and it came from the doorway of the Vicarage yard.
"That yo, Dr. Rawcliffe? I wuss joost gawn oop t'road t' see ef yo wuss coomin'."
"Of course I was coming."
The new doctor was short and stern with young Greatorex.
The two voices, the soft and the stern, spoke together for a moment, low, inaudible. Then young Greatorex's voice was heard again, and in its softness there was the furtive note of shame.
"I joost looked in to Vicarage to leave woord with Paason."
The noise of the wheels and hoofs began again, the iron shoes clanked together and struck out the rhythm that the sisters knew.
And with the first beat of it, and with the sound of the two voices in the road, life, secret and silent, stirred in their blood and nerves. It quivered like a hunting thing held on the leash.
Their stillness, their immobility were now intense. And not one spoke a word to the other.
All three of them were thinking.
Mary thought, "Wednesday is his day. On Wednesday I will go into the village and see all my sick people. Then I shall see him. And he will see me. He will see that I am kind and sweet and womanly." She thought, "That is the sort of woman that a man wants." But she did not know what she was thinking.
Gwenda thought, "I will go out on to the moor again. I don't care if I am late for Prayers. He will see me when he drives back and he will wonder who is that wild, strong girl who walks by herself on the moor at night and isn't afraid. He has seen me three times, and every time he has looked at me as if he wondered. In five minutes I shall go." She thought (for she knew what she was thinking), "I shall do nothing of the sort. I don't care whether he sees me or not. I don't care if I never see him again. I don't care."
Alice thought, "I will make myself ill. So ill that they'll have to send for him. I shall see him that way."
Alice sat up. She was thinking another thought.
"If Mr. Greatorex is dead, Dr. Rowcliffe won't stay long at Upthorne. He will come back soon. And he will have to call and leave word. He will come in and I shall see him."
But if Mr. Greatorex wasn't dead? If Mr. Greatorex were a long time over his dying? Then he might be kept at Upthorne, perhaps till midnight, perhaps till morning. Then, even if he called to leave word, she would not see him. When she looked deep she found herself wondering how long Mr. Greatorex would be over his dying. If she had looked a little deeper she would have found herself hoping that Mr. Greatorex was already dead.
If Mr. Greatorex was dead before he got to Upthorne he would come very soon, perhaps before prayer-time.
And he would be shown into the drawing-room.
Would he? Would Essy have the sense? No. Not unless the lamp was lit there. Essy wouldn't show him into a dark room. And Essy was stupid. She might have no sense. She might take him straight into the study and Papa would keep him there. Trust Papa.
Alice got up from her sofa and left the room; moving with her weary grace and a little air of boredom and of unconcern. She was always most unconcerned when she was most intent.
Outside in the passage she stood a moment, listening. All the ways of the house gave upon the passage in a space so narrow that by stretching out one arm she could have touched both walls.
With a door open anywhere the passage became a gully for the north wind. Now, with all doors shut, it was as if the breath of the house was being squeezed out there, between closing walls. The passage, instead of dividing the house, drew it together tight. And this tightness was intolerable to Alice.
She hated it. She hated the whole house. It was so built that there wasn't a corner in it where you could get away from Papa. His study had one door opening into the passage and one into the dining-room. The window where he sat raked the garden on the far side. The window of his bedroom raked the front; its door commanded the stairhead. He was aware of everything you did, of everything you didn't do. He could hear you in the dining-room; he could hear you overhead; he could hear you going up and downstairs. He could positively hear you breathe, and he always knew whether you were in bed or not. She drew in her breath lest he should hear it now.
At the far end of the passage, on the wall-space between the staircase and the kitchen door, raised on a small bracket, a small tin lamp showed a thrifty flame. Under it, on a mahogany table-flap, was a row of bedroom candlesticks with their match-boxes.
Her progress to the table-flap was stealthy. She exalted this business of lighting the drawing-room lamp to a desperate, perilous adventure. The stone floor deadened her footsteps as she went.
Her pale eyes, half sullen, half afraid, slewed round to the door of the study on her right. With a noiseless hand she secured her matches and her candle. With noiseless feet she slid into the darkness of the drawing-room. She dared not light her candle out there in the passage. For the Vicar was full of gloom and of suspicion in the half hour before prayer-time, and at the spurt of the match he might come out blustering and insist on knowing what she was doing and where she was going, whereas presently he would know, and he might be quiet as long as he was satisfied that she wasn't shirking Prayers.
Stealthily, with her air of desperate adventure, she lit the drawing-room lamp. She shook out the puffs and frills of its yellow paper shade. Under its gaudy skirts the light was cruel to the cramped and shabby room, to the huddled furniture, to the tarnished gilt, the perishing tones of gray and amber.
Alice set the lamp on the top of the cottage piano that stood slantwise in a side window beyond the fireplace. She had pulled back the muslin curtains and opened both windows wide so that the room was now bared to the south and west. Then, with the abrupt and passionate gesture of desire deferred, she sat down at the little worn-out Erard and began to play.
Sitting there, with the open window behind her, she could be seen, and she knew that she could be seen from over the wall by anybody driving past in a high dog-cart.
And she played. She played the Chopin Grande Polonaise, or as much of it as her fingers, tempestuous and inexpert, could clutch and reach. She played, neither with her hands nor with her brain, but with her temperament, febrile and frustrate, seeking its outlet in exultant and violent sound. She fell upon the Erard like some fierce and hungry thing, tearing from the forlorn, humble instrument a strange and savage food. She played—with incredible omissions, discords and distortions, but she played. She flung out her music through the windows into the night as a signal and an appeal. She played (on the little worn-out Erard) in ecstasy and expectation, as if something momentous hung upon her playing. There was joy and triumph and splendor in the Grande Polonaise; she felt them in her heart and nerves as a delicate, dangerous tremor, the almost intolerable on coming of splendor, of triumph and of joy.
And as she played the excitement gathered; it swung in more and more vehement vibrations; it went warm and flooding through her brain like wine. All the life of her bloodless body swam there, poised and thinned, but urgent, aspiring to some great climax of the soul.
The whole house was full of the Chopin Grande Polonaise.
It raged there like a demon. Tortured out of all knowledge, the Grande Polonaise screamed and writhed in its agony. It writhed through the windows, seeking its natural attenuation in the open air. It writhed through the shut house and was beaten back, pitilessly, by the roof and walls. To let it loose thus was Alice's defiance of the house and her revenge.
Mary and Gwenda heard it in the dining-room, and set their mouths and braced themselves to bear it. The Vicar in his study behind the dining-room heard it and scowled. Essy, the maid-servant, heard it, she heard it worse than anybody, in her kitchen on the other side of the wall. Now and then, when the Polonaise screamed louder, Mary drew a hissing breath of pain through her locked teeth, and Gwenda grinned. Not that to Gwenda there was anything funny in the writhing and screaming of the Grande Polonaise. It was that she alone appreciated its vindictive quality; she admired the completeness, the audacity of Alice's revenge.
But Essy in her kitchen made no effort to stand up to the Grande Polonaise. When it began she sat down and laid her arms on the kitchen table, and her head, muffled in her apron, on her arms, and cried. She couldn't have told you what the Polonaise was like or what it did to her; all that she could have said was that it went through and through her. She didn't know, Essy didn't, what had come over her; for whatever noise Miss Alice made, she hadn't taken any notice, not at first. It was in the last three weeks that the Polonaise had found her out and had begun to go through and through her, till it was more than she could bear. But Essy, crying into her apron, wouldn't have lifted a finger to stop Miss Alice.
"Poor laass," Essy said to herself, "she looves to plaay. And Vicar, he'll not hold out mooch longer. He'll put foot down fore she gets trow."
Through the screaming of the Polonaise Essy listened for the opening of the study door.
The study door did not open all at once.
"Wisdom and patience, wisdom and patience——" The Vicar kept on muttering as he scowled. Those were his watchwords in his dealings with his womenkind.
The Vicar was making a prodigious effort to maintain what seemed to him his god-like serenity. He was unaware that he was trying to control at one and the same time his temper and his temperament.
He was a man of middle height and squarish build, dark, pale-skinned and blue-eyed like his daughter Gwendolen. The Vicar's body stretched tight the seams of his black coat and kept up, at fifty-seven, a false show of muscular energy. The Vicar's face had a subtle quality of deception. The austere nose, the lean cheek-bones, the square-cut moustache and close-clipped, pointed beard (black, slightly grizzled) made it appear, at a little distance, the face of an ascetic. It approached, and the blue of the eyes, and the black of their dilated pupils, the stare of the nostrils and the half hidden lines of the red mouth revealed its profound and secret sensuality.
The interior that contained him was no less deceptive. Its book-lined walls advertised him as the scholarly recluse that he was not. He had had an eye to this effect. He had placed in prominent positions the books that he had inherited from his father, who had been a schoolmaster. You were caught at the very door by the thick red line of The Tudor Classics; by the eleven volumes of The Bekker's Plato, with Notes, bound in Russia leather, side by side with Jowett's Translations in cloth; by Sophocles and Dean Plumptre, the Odyssey and Butcher and Lang; by AEschylus and Robert Browning. The Vicar had carried the illusion of scholarship so far as to hide his Aristophanes behind a little curtain, as if it contained for him an iniquitous temptation. Of his own accord and with a deliberate intention to deceive, he had added the Early Fathers, Tillotsen's Sermons and Farrar's Life of Christ.
On another shelf, rather less conspicuous, were some bound volumes of The Record, with the novels of Mrs. Henry Wood and Miss Marie Corelli. On the ledge of his bureau Blackwood's Magazine, uncut, lay ready to his hand. The Spectator, in process of skimming, was on his knees. The Standard, fairly gutted, was on the floor. There was no room for it anywhere else.
For the Vicar's study was much too small for him. Sitting there, in an arm-chair and with his legs in the fender, he looked as if he had taken flight before the awful invasion of his furniture. His bookcases hemmed him in on three sides. His roll-top desk, advancing on him from the window, had driven and squeezed him into the arm-chair. His bureau, armed to the teeth, leaning from its ambush in the recess of the fireplace, threatened both the retreat and the left flank movement of the chair. The Vicar was neither tall nor powerful, but his study made him look like a giant imprisoned in a cell.
The room was full of the smell of tobacco, of a smoldering coal fire, of old warm leather and damp walls, and of the heavy, virile odor of the Vicar.
A brown felt carpet and thick serge curtains shut out the draft of the northeast window.
On a September evening the Vicar was snug enough in his cell; and before the Grande Polonaise had burst in upon him he had been at peace with God and man.
* * * * *
But when he heard those first exultant, challenging bars he scowled inimically.
Not that he acknowledged them as a challenge. He was inclined rather to the manly course of ignoring the Grande Polonaise altogether. And not for a moment would he have admitted that there had been anything in his behavior that could be challenged or defied, least of all by his daughter Alice. To himself in his study Mr. Cartaret appeared as the image of righteousness established in an impregnable place. Whereas his daughter Alice was not at all in a position to challenge and defy.
She had made a fool of herself.
She knew it; he knew it; everybody knew it in the parish they had left five months ago. It had been the talk of the little southern seaside town. He thanked God that nobody knew it, or was ever likely to know it, here.
For Alice's folly was not any ordinary folly. It was the kind that made the parish which was so aware of it uninhabitable to a sensitive vicar.
He reflected that she would be clever if she made a fool of herself here. By his decisive action in removing her from that southern seaside town he had saved her from continuing her work. In order to do it he had ruined his prospects. He had thrown up a good living for a poor one; a living that might (but for Alice it certainly would) have led to preferment for a living that could lead to nothing at all; a living where he could make himself felt for a living where there was nobody to feel him.
And, having done it, he was profoundly sorry for himself.
So far as Mr. Cartaret could see there had been nothing else to do. If it had all to be done over again, he told himself that he would do it.
But there Mr. Cartaret was wrong. He couldn't have done it or anything like it twice. It was one of those deeds, supremeful sacrificial, that strain a man's moral energies to breaking point and render him incapable of further sacrifice; if, indeed, it did not render further sacrifice superfluous. Mr. Cartaret honestly felt that even an exacting deity could require no more of him.
And it wasn't the first time either, nor his daughter Alice the first woman who had come between the Vicar and his prospects. Looking back he saw himself driven from pillar to post, from parish to parish, by the folly or incompetence of his womankind.
Strictly speaking, it was his first wife, Mary Gwendolen, the one the children called Mother, who had begun it. She had made his first parish unendurable to him by dying in it. This she had done when Alice was born, thereby making Alice unendurable to him, too. Poor Mamie! He always thought of her as having, inscrutably, failed him.
All three of them had failed him.
His second wife, Frances, the one the children called Mamma (the Vicar had made himself believe that he had married her solely on their account), had turned into a nervous invalid on his hands before she died of that obscure internal trouble which he had so wisely and patiently ignored.
His third wife, Robina (the one they called Mummy), had run away from him in the fifth year of their marriage. When she implored him to divorce her he said that, whatever her conduct had been, that course was impossible to him as a churchman, as she well knew; but that he forgave her. He had made himself believe it.
And all the time he was aware, without admitting it, that, if the thing came into court, Robina's evidence might be a little damaging to the appearances of wisdom and patience, of austerity and dignity, which he had preserved so well. He had had an unacknowledged vision of Robina standing in the witness box, very small and shy, with her eyes fluttering while she explained to the gentlemen of the jury that she ran away from her husband because she was afraid of him. He could hear the question, "Why were you afraid?" and Robina's answer—but at that point he always reminded himself that it was as a churchman that he objected to divorce.
For his profession had committed him to a pose. He had posed for more than thirty years to his parish, to his three wives, to his three children, and to himself, till he had become unconscious of his real thoughts, his real motives, his real likings and dislikings. So that when he told himself that it would have been better if his third wife had died, he thought he meant that it would have been better for her and for his opinion of her, whereas what he really did mean was that it would have been better for himself.
For if Robina had died he could have married again. As it was, her infidelity condemned him to a celibacy for which, as she knew, he was utterly unsuited.
Therefore he thought of her as a cruel and unscrupulous woman. And when he thought of her he became more sorry for himself than ever.
Now, oddly enough, the Grande Polonaise had set Mr. Cartaret thinking of Robina. It was not that Robina had ever played it. Robina did not play. It was not the discords introduced into it by Alice, though Robina had been a thing of discords. It was that something in him, obscurely but intimately associated with Robina, responded to that sensual and infernal tremor that Alice was wringing out of the Polonaise. So that, without clearly knowing why it was abominable, Mr. Cartaret said to himself that the tune Alice was playing was an abominable tune and must be stopped at once.
He went into the drawing-room to stop it.
And Essy, in the kitchen, raised her head and dried her eyes on her apron.
"If you must make a noise," said Mr. Cartaret, "be good enough to make one that is less—disturbing."
* * * * *
He stood in the doorway staring at his daughter Alice.
Her excitement had missed by a hairsbreadth the spiritual climax. It had held itself in for one unspeakable moment, then surged, crowding the courses of her nerves. Beaten back by the frenzy of the Polonaise, it made a violent return; it rose, quivering, at her eyelids and her mouth; it broke, and, with a shudder of all her body, split itself and fell.
The Vicar stared. He opened his mouth to say something, and said nothing; finally he went out, muttering.
"Wisdom and patience. Wisdom and patience."
It was a prayer.
Alice trailed to the window and leaned out, listening for the sound of hoofs and wheels. Nothing there but the darkness and stillness of the moors. She trailed back to the Erard and began to play again.
This time it was Beethoven, the Pathetic Sonata.
Mr. Cartaret sat in his study, manfully enduring the Pathetic Sonata.
He was no musician and he did not certainly know when Alice went wrong; therefore, except that it had some nasty loud moments, he could not honestly say that the First Movement was disturbing. Besides, he had scored. He had made Alice change her tune.
Wisdom and patience required that he should be satisfied, so far. And, being satisfied, in the sense that he no longer had a grievance, meant that he was very badly bored.
He began to fidget. He took his legs out of the fender and put them back again. He shifted his weight from one leg to the other, but without relief. He turned over his Spectator to see what it had to say about the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, and found that he was not interested in what it had to say. He looked at his watch and compared it with the clock in the faint hope that the clock might be behindhand.
The watch and clock both agreed that it was not a minute later than fifteen minutes to ten. A whole quarter of an hour before Prayer-time.
There was nothing but Prayer-time to look forward to.
He began to fidget again. He filled his pipe and thought better about smoking it. Then he rang the bell for his glass of water.
After more delay than was at all necessary Essy appeared, bringing the glass of water on a plate.
She came in, soft-footed, almost furtive, she who used to enter so suddenly and unabashed. She put the plate down on the roll-top desk and turned softly, furtively, away.
The Vicar looked up. His eyes were large and blue as suspicion drew in the black of their pupils.
"Put it down here," he said, and he indicated the ledge of the bureau.
Essy stood still and stared like a half-wild creature in doubt as to its way. She decided to make for the bureau by rounding the roll-top desk on the far side, thus approaching her master from behind.
"What are you doing?" said the Vicar. "I said, Put it down here."
Essy turned again and came forward, tilting the plate a little in her nervousness. The large blue eyes, the stern voice, fascinated her, frightened her.
The Vicar looked at her steadily, remorselessly, as she came.
Essy's lowered eyelids had kept the stain of her tears. Her thick brown hair was loose and rumpled under her white cap. But she had put on a clean, starched apron. It stood out stiffly, billowing, from her waist. Essy had not always been so careless about her hair or so fastidious as to her aprons. There was a little strained droop at the corners of her tender mouth, as if they had been tied with string. Her dark eyes still kept their young largeness and their light, but they looked as if they had been drawn tight with string at their corners too.
All these signs the Vicar noted as he stared. And he hated Essy. He hated her for what he saw in her, and for her buxom comeliness, and for the softness of her youth.
"Did I hear young Greatorex round at the back door this evening?" he said.
Essy started, slanting her plate a little more.
"I doan knaw ef I knaw, sir."
"Either you know or you don't know," said the Vicar.
"I doan know, I'm sure, sir," said Essy.
The Vicar was holding out his hand for his glass of water, and Essy pushed the plate toward him, so blindly and at such a perilous slant that the glass slid and toppled over and broke itself against the Vicar's chair.
Essy gave a little frightened cry.
"Clever girl. She did that on purpose," said the Vicar to himself.
Essy was on her knees beside him, picking up the bits of glass and gathering them in her apron. She was murmuring, "I'll mop it oop. I'll mop it oop."
"That'll do," he said roughly. "That'll do, I tell you. You can go."
Essy tried to go. But it was as if her knees had weights on them that fixed her to the floor. Holding up her apron with one hand, she clutched the arm of her master's chair with the other and dragged herself to her feet.
"I'll mop it oop," she repeated, shamefast.
"I told you to go," said the Vicar.
"I'll fetch yo anoother glass?" she whispered. Her voice was hoarse with the spasm in her throat.
"No," said the Vicar.
Essy slunk back into her kitchen with terror in her heart.
"Attacca subito l'Allegro."
Alice had fallen on it suddenly.
"I suppose," said Mary, "it's a relief to her to make that row."
"It isn't," said Gwenda. "It's torture. That's how she works herself up. She's playing on her own nerves all the time. If she really could play——If she cared about the music——If she cared about anything on earth except——"
"Molly, it must be awful to be made like that."
"Nothing could be worse for her than being shut up here."
"I know. Papa's been a frightful fool about her. After all, Molly, what did she do?"
"She did what you and I wouldn't have done."
"How do you know what you wouldn't have done? How do I know? If we'd been in her place——"
"If I'd been in her place I'd have died rather."
"How do you know Ally wouldn't have rather died if she could have chosen? She didn't want to fall in love with that young ass, Rickards. And I don't see what she did that was so very awful."
"She managed to let everybody else see, anyhow."
"What if she did? At least she was honest. She went straight for what she wanted. She didn't sneak and scheme to get him from any other girl. And she hadn't a mother to sneak and scheme for her. That's fifty times worse, yet it's done every day and nobody thinks anything of it."
She went on. "Nobody would have thought anything as it was, if Papa hadn't been such a frantic fool about it. It he'd had the pluck to stand by her, if he'd kept his head and laughed in their silly faces, instead of grizzling and growling and stampeding out of the parish as if poor Ally had disgraced him."
"Well—it isn't a very pleasant thing for the Vicar of the parish——"
"It wasn't a very pleasant thing for any of us. But it was beastly of him to go back on her like that. And the silliness of it! Caring so frightfully about what people think, and then going on so as to make them think it."
"That she really had done something."
"Do you suppose they did?"
"Yes. You can't blame them. He couldn't have piled it on more if she had. It's enough to make her."
"It would be his own fault. Just as it's his own fault that he hates her."
"He doesn't hate her. He's fond of all of us, in his way."
"Wot of Ally. Don't you know why? He can't look at her without thinking of how awful he is."
"And if he is—a little——You forget what he's had to go through."
"You mean Mummy running away from him?"
"Yes. And Mamma's dying. And before that—there was Mother."
Gwenda raised her head.
"He killed Mother."
"What do you mean?"
"He did. He was told that Mother would die or go mad if she had another baby. And he let her have Ally. No wonder Mummy ran away from him."
"Who told you that story?"
"It was horrid of her."
"Everything poor Mummy did was horrid. It was horrid of her to run away from him, I suppose."
"Why did you tell me that? I didn't know it. I'd rather not have known."
"Well, now you do know, perhaps you'll be sorrier for Ally."
"I am sorry for Ally. But I'm sorry for Papa, too. You're not."
"I'd be sorry for him right enough if he wasn't so sorry for himself."
"Gwenda, you're awful."
"Because I won't waste my pity? Ally's got nothing—He's got everything."
"Not what he cares most for."
"He cares most for what people think of him. Everybody thought him a good kind husband. Everybody thinks him a good kind father."
* * * * *
The music suddenly ceased. A sound of voices came instead of it.
"There," said Gwenda. "He's gone in and stopped her."
He had, that time.
And in the sudden ceasing of the Pathetic Sonata the three sisters heard the sound of wheels and the clank of horseshoes striking together.
Mr. Greatorex was not yet dead of his pneumonia. The doctor had passed the Vicarage gate.
And as he passed he had said to himself. "How execrably she plays."
* * * * *
The three sisters waited without a word for the striking of the church clock.
The church clock struck ten.
At the sound of the study bell Essy came into the dining-room. Essy was the acolyte of Family Prayers. Though a Wesleyan she could not shirk the appointed ceremonial. It was Essy who took the Bible and Prayerbook from their place on the sideboard under the tea-urn and put them on the table, opening them where the Vicar had left a marker the night before. It was Essy who drew back the Vicar's chair from the table and set it ready for him. It was Essy whom he relied on for responses that were responses and not mere mumblings and mutterings. She was Wesleyan, the one faithful, the one devout person in his household.
To-night there was nothing but a mumbling and a muttering. And that was Mary. She was the only one who was joining in the Lord's Prayer.
Essy had failed him.
* * * * *
Prayers over, there was nothing to sit up for. All the same, it was Mr. Cartaret's rule to go back into the study and to bore himself again for a whole hour till it was bed-time. He liked to be sure that the doors were all bolted and that everybody else was in bed before he went himself.
But to-night he had bored himself so badly that the thought of his study was distasteful to him. So he stayed where he was with his family. He believed that he was doing this solely on his family's account. He told himself that it was not right that he should leave the three girls too much to themselves. It did not occur to him that as long as he had had a wife to sit with, he hadn't cared how much he had left them. He knew that he had rather liked Mary and Gwendolen when they were little, and though he had found himself liking them less and less as they grew into their teens he had never troubled to enquire whose fault that was, so certain was he that it couldn't be his. Still less was it his fault if they were savage and inaccessible in their twenties. Of course he didn't mean that Mary was savage and inaccessible. It was Gwendolen that he meant.
So, since he couldn't sit there much longer without saying something, he presently addressed himself to Mary.
"Any news of Greatorex today?"
"I haven't heard. Shall I ask Essy?"
"No," said Mr. Cartaret, so abruptly that Mary looked at him.
"He was worse yesterday," said Gwenda.
They all looked at Gwenda.
"Who told you that?" said Mr. Cartaret by way of saying something.
"When did she tell you?"
"Yesterday, when I was up at the farm."
"What were you doing at the farm?"
"Nothing. I went to see if I could do anything." She said to herself, "Why does he go on at us like this?" Aloud she said, "It was time some of us went."
She had him there. She was always having him.
"I shall have to go myself tomorrow," he said.
"I would if I were you," said Gwenda.
"I wonder what Jim Greatorex will do if his father dies."
It was Mary who wondered.
"He'll get married, like a shot," said Alice.
"Who to?" said Gwenda. "He can't marry all the girls——"
She stopped herself. Essy Gale was in the room. Three months ago Essy had been a servant at the Farm where her mother worked once a fortnight.
She had come in so quietly that none of them had noticed her. She brought a tray with a fresh glass of water for the Vicar and a glass of milk for Alice. She put it down quietly and slipped out of the room without her customary "Anything more, Miss?" and "Good-night."
"What's the matter with Essy?" Gwenda said.
Nobody spoke but Alice who was saying that she didn't want her milk.
More than a year ago Alice had been ordered milk for her anaemia. She had milk at eleven, milk at her midday dinner, milk for supper, and milk last thing at night. She did not like milk, but she liked being ordered it. Generally she would sit and drink it, in the face of her family, pathetically, with little struggling gulps. She took a half-voluptuous, half-vindictive pleasure in her anaemia. She knew that it made her sisters sorry for her, and that it annoyed her father.
Now she declared that she wasn't feeling well, and that she didn't want her milk.
"In that case," said Mr. Cartaret, "you had better go to bed."
Alice went, raising her white arms and rubbing her eyes along the backs of her hands, like a child dropping with sleep.
One after another, they rose and followed her.
* * * * *
At the half-landing five steep steps in a recess of the wall led aside to the door of Essy's bedroom. There Gwenda stopped and listened.
A sound of stifled crying came from the room. Gwenda went up to the door and knocked.
"Essy, are you in bed?"
A pause. "Yes, miss."
"What is it? Are you ill?"
"Is there anything wrong?"
A longer pause. "I've got th' faace-ache."
"Oh, poor thing! Can I do anything for you?"
"Naw, Miss Gwenda, thank yo."
"Well, call me if I can."
But somehow she knew that Essy wouldn't call.
She went on, passing her father's door at the stair head. It was shut. She could hear him moving heavily within the room. On the other side of the landing was the room over the study that she shared with Alice.
The door stood wide. Alice in her thin nightgown could be seen sitting by the open window.
The nightgown, the small, slender body showing through, the hair, platted for the night, in two pig-tails that hung forward, one over each small breast, the tired face between the parted hair made Alice look childlike and pathetic.
Gwendolen had a pang of compassion.
"Dear lamb," she said. "That isn't any good. Fresh air won't do it. You'd much better wait till Papa gets a cold. Then you can catch it."
"It'll be his fault anyway," said Alice. "Serve him jolly well right if I get pneumonia."
"Pneumonia doesn't come to those who want it. I wonder what's wrong with Essy."
Alice was tired and sullen. "You'd better ask Jim Greatorex," she said.
"What do you mean, Ally?"
But Ally had set her small face hard.
"Can't you he sorry for her?" said Gwenda.
"Why should I be sorry for her? She's all right."
She had sorrow enough, but none to waste on Essy. Essy's way was easy. Essy had only to slink out to the back door and she could have her will. She didn't have to get pneumonia.
John Greatorex did not die that night. He had no mind to die: he was a man of stubborn pugnacity and he fought his pneumonia.
The long gray house at Upthorne looks over the marshes of the high land above Garth. It stands alone, cut off by the marshes from the network of gray walls that links the village to the hill farms.
The light in its upper window burned till dawn, a sign to the brooding and solitary land. Up there, in the low room with its sunken ceiling, John Greatorex lay in the big bed and rallied a little as the clean air from the moors lapped him like water. For the doctor had thrown open all the windows of the house before he left. Presently Mrs. Gale, the untrained village nurse, would come and shut them in terror, and John Greatorex's pneumonia would get the upper hand. That was how the fight went on, with Steven Rowcliffe on John Greatorex's side and Mrs. Gale for the pneumonia. It was ten to one against John Greatorex and the doctor, for John Greatorex was most of the time unconscious and the doctor called but once or twice a day, while Mrs. Gale was always there to shut the windows as fast as he opened them. In the length and breadth of the Dale there wasn't another woman who would not have done the same. She was secure from criticism. If she didn't know how to nurse pneumonia, who did? Seeing that her own husband had died of it.
Young Rowcliffe was a dalesman and he knew his people. In six months his face had grown stiff in the struggle with them. It was making his voice stern and his eyes hard, so that they could see nothing round him but stupidity and distrust and an obstinacy even greater than his own.
Nothing in his previous experience had prepared him for it. In his big provincial hospital he had had it practically his own way. He had faced a thousand horrible and intractable diseases with a thousand appliances and with an army of assistants and trained nurses under him. And if in his five years' private practice in Leeds he had come to grips with human nature, it had been at any rate a fair fight. If his work was harder his responsibility was less. He still had trained nurses under him; and if a case was beyond him there were specialists with whom he could consult.
Here he was single-handed. He was physician and surgeon and specialist and nurse in one. He had few appliances and no assistant beside naked and primeval nature, the vast high spaces, the clean waters and clean air of the moors.
Yet it was precisely these things that his romantic youth had cried for—that solitary combat and communion, that holy and solitary aid.
At thirty Rowcliffe was still in his romantic youth.
He had all its appearances about him. A life of continual labor and discomfort had kept his body slender; and all the edges of his face—clean-shaven except for its little dark moustache—were incomparably firm and clear. His skin was bronzed and reddened by sun and wind. The fine hard mouth under the little dark moustache was not so hard that it could not, sometimes, be tender. His irreproachable nose escaped the too high curve that would have made it arrogant. And his eyes, keen and hard in movement, by simply keeping quiet under lowered brows, became charged with a curious and engaging pathos.
Their pathos had appealed to the little red-haired, pink-skinned, green-eyed nurse who had worked under him in Leeds. She was clever and kind—much too kind, it was supposed—to Rowcliffe. There had been one or two others before the little red-haired nurse, so that, though he was growing hard, he had not grown bitter.
He was not in the least afraid of growing bitter; for he knew that his eyes, as long as he could keep them quiet, would preserve him from all necessity for bitterness.
Rowcliffe had always trusted a great deal to his eyes. Because of them he had left several young ladies, his patients, quite heart-broken in Leeds. The young ladies knew nothing about the little red-haired nurse and had never ceased to wonder why Dr. Rowcliffe did not want to marry them.
And Steven Rowcliffe's eyes, so disastrous to the young ladies in Leeds, saw nobody in Morfe whom he could possibly want to marry. The village of Morfe is built in a square round its green. The doctor's house stands on a plot of rising ground on the north side of the square, and from its front windows young Rowcliffe could see the inhabitants of Morfe coming and going before him as on a stage, and he kept count of them all. There were the three middle-aged maiden ladies in the long house on the west side of whom all he knew was that they ate far too many pikelets and griddle cakes for tea. There were the two old ladies in the white house next door who were always worrying him to sound their chests, one for her lungs and the other for her arteries. In spite of lungs and arteries they were very gay old ladies. The tubes of Rowcliffe's queer, new-fangled stethescope, appearing out of his coat pocket, sent them into ecstacies of mirth. They always made the same little joke about it; they called the stethescope his telephone. But of course he didn't want to marry them. There was the very old lady on the east side, who had had one stroke and was expecting another every day. There were the two unmarried daughters of a retired manufacturer on the far side of the Green. They were plump and had red cheeks, if he had cared for plumpness and red cheeks; but they had no conversation. The only pretty girl whose prettiness appealed to Rowcliffe had an "adenoid" mouth which he held to be a drawback. There was the daughter of his predecessor, but she again was well over forty, rigid and melancholy and dry.
All these people became visibly excited when they saw young Rowcliffe starting off in his trap and returning; but young Rowcliffe was never excited, never even interested when he saw them. There was nothing about them that appealed to his romantic youth.
As for Morfe Manor, and Garth Manor and Greffington Hall, they were nearly always empty, so that he had not very much chance of improving his acquaintance there.
And he had nothing to hope for from the summer visitors, girls with queer clothes and queer manners and queer accents; bouncing, convivial girls who spread themselves four abreast on the high roads; fat, lazy girls who sat about on the Green; blowsed, slouching girls who tramped the dales with knapsacks and no hats. The hard eyes of young Rowcliffe never softened as he looked at the summer visitors. Their behavior irritated him. It reminded him that there were women in the world and that he missed, quite unbearably at moments, the little red-haired nurse who had been so clever and so kind. Moreover it offended his romantic youth. The little publicans and shop-keepers of Morfe did not offend it; neither did the peasants and the farmers; they were part of the place; generations of them had been born in those gray houses, built from the gaunt ribs of the hills; whereas the presence of the summer visitors was an outrage to the silent and solitary country that his instincts inscrutably adored. No wonder that he didn't care to look at them.
* * * * *
But one night in September, when the moon was high in the south, as he was driving toward Garth on his way to Upthorne, the eyes of young Rowcliffe were startled out of their aversion by the sudden and incredible appearance of a girl.
It was at the bend of the road where Karva lowers its head and sinks back on the moor; and she came swinging up the hill as Rowcliffe's horse scraped his way slowly down it. She was in white (he couldn't have missed her) and she carried herself like a huntress; slender and quick, with high, sharp-pointed breasts. She looked at him as she passed and her face was wide-eyed and luminous under the moon. Her lips were parted with her speed, so that, instinctively, his hands tightened on the reins as if he had thought that she was going to speak to him. But of course she did not speak.
He looked back and saw her swing off the high road and go up Karva. A flock of mountain sheep started from their couches on the heather and looked at her, and she went driving them before her. They trailed up Karva slowly, in a long line, gray in the moonlight. Their mournful, musical voices came to him from the hill.
He saw her again late—incredibly late—that night as the moon swept from the south toward Karva. She was a long way off, coming down from her hill, a white speck on the gray moor. He pulled up his horse and waited below the point where the track she followed struck the high road; he even got out of his trap and examined, deliberately, his horse's hoofs in turn, spinning out the time. When he heard her he drew himself upright and looked straight at her as she passed him. She flashed by like a huntress, like Artemis carrying the young moon on her forehead. From the turn of her head and the even falling of her feet he felt her unconscious of his existence. And her unconsciousness was hateful to him. It wiped him clean out of the universe of noticeable things.
The apparition fairly cried to his romantic youth. And he said to himself. "Who is the strange girl who walks on the moor by herself at night and isn't afraid?"
* * * * *
He saw her three times after that; once in the broad daylight, on the high road near Morfe, when she passed him with a still more perfect and inimical unconsciousness; once in the distance on the moor, when he caught her, short-skirted and wild, jumping the wide water courses as they came, evidently under the impression that she was unobserved. And he smiled and said to himself, "She's doing it for fun, pure fun."
The third time he came upon her at dawn with the dew on her skirts and on her hair. She darted away at the clank of his horse's hoofs, half-savage, divinely shy. And he said to himself that time, "I'm getting on. She's aware of me all right."
She had come down from Karva, and he was on his way to Morfe from Upthorne. He had sat up all night with John Greatorex who had died at dawn.
The smell of the sick man, and of the bed and of the low close room was still in his nostrils, and in his ears the sounds of dying and of mourning, and at his heart the oppression (he was still young enough to feel it) of the secret and abominable things he knew. And in his eyes the unknown girl and her behavior became suddenly adorable. She was the darting joy and the poignant sweetness, and the sheer extravagant ardor and energy of life. His tempestuously romantic youth rose up and was troubled at the sight of her. And his eyes, that had stared at her in wonder and amusement and inquisitive interest, followed her now with that queer pathos that they had. It was the look that he relied on to move desire in women's eyes; and now it traveled, forlorn and ineffectual, abject almost in its futility, over the gray moorgrass where she went.
* * * * *
That was on Wednesday the fourteenth. On Friday the sixteenth he saw her again at nightfall, in the doorway of John Greatorex's house.
He had overtaken the cart that was carrying John Greatorex's coffin to Upthorne. Low lighted, the long gray house brooded over the marshes, waiting to be disencumbered of its dead.
In the east the broken shoulders of the hills receded, winding with the dale like a coast line of gray cliffs above the mist that was their sea. Tortured, mutilated by the jagged cloud that held her, the moon struggled and tore her way, she lifted and freed herself high and struck the marshes white. Defaced and sinister, above her battlements, she looked at the house and made it terrible, moon-haunted. Its door, low lighted, stood open to the night.
Rowcliffe drew back from the threshold to let a woman pass out. Looking up, he was aware that he had seen her again. He supposed it was the light of that detestable moon that gave her face its queer morbid whiteness.
She went by without seeing him, clenching her hands and carrying her young head high; and he saw that her eyes still held the tears that she was afraid to spill.
Mrs. Gale stood behind her with a lamp, lighting her passage.
"Who is that young lady?" he asked.
"T' Vicar's laass, Gwanda."
The woman leaned to him and whispered, "She's seen t' body."
And in the girl's fear and blindness and defiance he saw the pride of her youth beaten and offended by that which it had seen.
Out there, in the bridle path leading from the high road to the farm, the cart had stopped. The men were lifting the coffin out, shouldering it, carrying it along. He saw Gwenda Cartaret swerve out of their way. Presently he heard her running down the road.
Then he remembered what he had been sent for.
He turned his attention to Mrs. Gale. She was a square-set, blunt-featured woman of forty-five or so, who had once been comely like her daughter Essy. Now her soft chin had sagged; in her cheeks the stagnant blood crawled through a network of little veins, and the gloss had gone from her dark hair. Her brown eyes showed a dull defiance and deprecation of the human destiny.
"Where is he?" he said.
"Oop there, in t' room wi' 's feyther."
"Been drinking again, or what?"
"Naw, Dr. Rawcliffe, 'e 'assn't. I suddn' a sent for yo all this road for nowt."
She drew him into the house place, and whispered.
"I'm feared 'e'll goa queer in 'is 'head, like. 'E's sot there by t' body sence yesterda noon. 'E's not takken off 'is breeches for tree daas. 'E caaun't sleap; 'e wunna eat and 'e wunna drink. There's work to be doon and 'e wunna lay haand to it. Wull yo goa oop t' 'im, Dr. Rawcliffe?"
Rowcliffe went up.
In the low lighted room the thing that Gwenda Cartaret had seen lay stretched in the middle of the great bed, covered with a sheet. The bed, with its white mound, was so much too big for the four walls that held it, the white plaster of the ceiling bulging above it stooped so low, that the body of John Greatorex lay as if already closed up in its tomb.
Jim Greatorex, his son, sat on a wooden chair at the head of the bed. His young, handsome face was loose and flushed as if he had been drinking. His eyes—the queer, blue, wide-open eyes that had hitherto looked out at you from their lodging in that ruddy, sensuous face, incongruously spiritual, high and above your head, like the eyes of a dreamer and a mystic—Jim's eyes were sunken now and darkened in their red and swollen lids. They stared at the rug laid down beside the bed, while Jim's mind set itself to count, stupidly and obstinately, the snippets of gray and scarlet cloth that made the pattern on the black. Every now and then he would recognise a snippet as belonging to some suit his father had worn years ago, and then Jim's brain would receive a shock and would stagger and have to begin its counting all over again.
The door opened to let Rowcliffe in. And at the sound of the door, as if a spring had been suddenly released in his spine, Jim Greatorex shot up and started to his feet.
"Good evening, Dr. Rawcliffe." He came forward awkwardly, hanging his head as if detected in an act of shame.
There was a silence while the two men turned their backs upon the bed, determined to ignore what was on it. They stood together by the window, pretending to stare at things out there in the night; and so they became aware of the men carrying the coffin.
They could no longer ignore it.
"Wull yo look at 'Im, doctor?"
"Better not——." Rowcliffe would have laid his hand on the young man's arm, muttering a refusal, but Greatorex had moved to the bed and drawn back the sheet.
What Gwenda Cartaret had seen was revealed.
The dead man's face, upturned with a slight tilt to the ceiling that bulged so brutally above it, the stiff dark beard accentuating the tilt, the eyes, also upturned, white under their unclosing lids, the nostrils, the half-open mouth preserved their wonder and their terror before a thing so incredible—that the walls and roof of a man's room should close round him and suffocate him. On this horrified face there were the marks of dissolution, and, at the corners of the grim beard and moustache, a stain.
It left nothing to be said. It was the face of the man who had drunk hard and had told his son that he had never been the worse for drink.
Jim Greatorex stood and looked at it as if he knew what Rowcliffe was thinking of it and defied him to think.
Rowcliffe drew up the sheet and covered it. "You'd better come out of this. It isn't good for you," he said.
"I knaw what's good for me, Dr. Rawcliffe."
Jim stuck his hands in his breeches and gazed stubbornly at the sheeted mound.
"Come," Rowcliffe said, "don't give way like this. Buck up and be a man."
"A ma-an? You wait till yor turn cooms, doctor."
"My turn came ten years ago, and it may come again."
"And yo'll knaw then what good it doos ta-alkin'." He paused, listening. "They've coom," he said.
There was a sound of scuffling on the stone floor below and on the stairs. Mrs. Gale's voice was heard out on the landing, calling to the men.
"Easy with un—easy. Mind t' lamp. Eh—yo'll never get un oop that road. Yo mun coax un round corner."
A swinging thud on the stone wall. Then more and more desperate scuffling with muttering. Then silence.
Mrs. Gale put her head in at the door.
"Jimmy, yo mun coom and gie a haand wi' t' coffin. They've got un faasst in t' turn o' t' stair."
Through the open doorway Rowcliffe could see the broad shoulders of the coffin jammed in the stairway.
Jim, flushed with resentment, strode out; and the struggling and scuffling began again, subdued, this time, and respectful. Rowcliffe went out to help.
Mrs. Gale on the landing went on talking to herself. "They sud 'ave browt trestles oop first. There's naw place to stond un in. Eh dear! It's job enoof gettin' un oop. What'll it be gettin' un down again wit' 'E layin' in un? 'Ere—yo get oonder un, Jimmy, and 'eave un oop."
Jim crouched and went backward down the stair under the coffin. His flushed face, with its mournful, mystic eyes, looked out at Rowcliffe for a moment under the coffin head. Then, with a heave of his great back and pushing with his powerful arms against the wall and stair rail, he loosened the shoulders of the coffin and bore it, steadied by Rowcliffe and the men, up the stair and into the room.
They set it on its feet beside the bed, propped against the wall. And Jim Greatorex stood and stared at it.
Rowcliffe went down into the kitchen, followed by Mrs. Gale.
"What d'yo think o' Jimmy, Dr. Rawcliffe?"
"He oughtn't to be left alone. Isn't there any sister or anybody who could come to him?"
"Naw; 'e's got naw sisters, Jimmy 'assn't."
"Well, you must get him to lie down and eat."
"Get 'im? Yo can do nowt wi' Jimmy. 'E'll goa 'is own road. 'Is feyther an' 'e they wuss always quar'ling, yo med say. Yet when t' owd gentleman was taaken bad, Jimmy, 'e couldn' do too mooch for 'im. 'E was set on pullin' 's feyther round. And when 'e found 'e couldn't keep t' owd gentleman, 'e gets it on 'is mind like—broodin'. And 'e's got nowt to coomfort 'im."
She sat down to it now.
"Yo see, Dr. Rawcliffe, Jim's feyther and 'is granfeyther before 'im, they wuss good Wesleyans. It's in t' blood. But Jim's moother that died, she wuss Choorch. And that slip of a laass, when John Greatorex coom courtin', she turned 'im. 'E was that soft wi' laasses. 'Er feyther 'e was steward to lord o' t' Manor and 'e was Choorch and all t' family saame as t' folk oop at Manor. Yo med say, Jim Greatorex, 'e's got naw religion. Neither Choorch nor Chapel 'e is. Nowt to coomfort 'im."
Upstairs the scuffling and the struggling became frightful. Jim's feet and Jim's voice were heard above the muttering of the undertaker's men.
Mrs. Gale whispered. "They're gettin' 'im in. 'E's gien a haand wi' t' body. Thot's soomthin'."
She brooded ponderously. A sound of stamping and scraping at the back door roused her.
"Eh—oo's there now?" she asked irritably.
Willie, the farm lad, appeared on the threshold. His face was flushed and scared.
"Where's Jim?" he said in a thick voice.
"Ooosh-sh! Doan't yo' knaw t' coffin's coom? 'E's oopstairs w' t' owd maaster."
"Well—'e mun coom down. T' mare's taaken baad again in 'er insi-ide."
"T' mare, Daasy?"
"Eh dear, there's naw end to trooble. Yo go oop and fatch Jimmy."
Willie hesitated. His flush deepened.
"I daarss'nt," he whispered hoarsely.
"Poor laad, 'e 's freetened o' t' body," she explained. "Yo stay there, Wullie. I'll goa. T' body's nowt to me. I've seen too many o' they," she muttered as she went.
They heard her crying excitedly overhead. "Jimmy! Yo coom to t' ma-are! Yo coom to t' ma-are!"
The sounds in the room ceased instantly. Jim Greatorex, alert and in violent possession of all his faculties, dashed down the stairs and out into the yard.
Rowcliffe followed into the darkness where his horse and trap stood waiting for him.
* * * * *
He was lighting his lamps when Jim Greatorex appeared beside him with a lantern.
"Dr. Rawcliffe, will yo joost coom an' taak a look at lil maare?"
Jim's sullenness was gone. His voice revealed him humble and profoundly agitated.
Rowcliffe sighed, smiled, pulled himself together and turned with Greatorex into the stable.
In the sodden straw of her stall, Daisy, the mare, lay, heaving and snorting after her agony. From time to time she turned her head toward her tense and swollen flank, seeking with eyes of anguish the mysterious source of pain. The feed of oats with which Willie had tried to tempt her lay untouched in the skip beside her head.
"I give 'er they oats an hour ago," said Willie. "An' she 'assn't so mooch as nosed 'em."
"Nawbody but a donmed gawpie would have doon thot with 'er stoomach raw. Yo med 'ave killed t' mare."
Willie, appalled by his own deed and depressed, stooped down and fondled the mare's face, to show that it was not affection that he lacked.
"Heer—clear out o' thot and let doctor have a look in."
Willie slunk aside as Rowcliffe knelt with Greatorex in the straw and examined the sick mare.
"Can yo tell at all what's amiss, doctor?"
"Colic, I should say. Has the vet seen her?"
"Ye-es. He sent oop soomthing—"
"Well, have you given it her?"
Jim's voice thickened. "I sud have given it her yesterda."
"And why on earth didn't you?"
"The domned thing went clane out o' my head."
He turned to the window ledge by the stable door where, among a confusion of cobwebs and dusty bottles and tin cans, the drench of turpentine and linseed oil, the little phial of chlorodyne, and the clean tin pannikin with its wide protruding mouth, stood ready, all gleaming in the lantern light, forgotten since the day before.
"Thot's the stoof. Will yo halp me give it 'er, doctor?"
"All right. Can you hold her?"
"That I can. Coom oop, Daasy. Coom oop. There, my beauty. Gently, gently, owd laass."
Rowcliffe took off his coat and shook up the drench and poured it into the pannikin, while Greatorex got the struggling mare on to her feet.
Together, with gentleness and dexterity they cajoled her. Then Jim laid his hands upon her mouth and opened it, drawing up her head against his breast. Willie, suddenly competent, held the lantern while Rowcliffe poured the drench down her throat.
Daisy, coughing and dribbling, stood and gazed at them with sad and terrified eyes. And while the undertaker's men screwed down the lid upon John Greatorex in his coffin, Jim Greatorex, his son, watched with Daisy in her stall.
And Steven Rowcliffe watched with him, nursing the sick mare, making up a fresh, clean bed for her, rubbing and fomenting her swollen and tortured belly. When Daisy rolled in another agony, Rowcliffe gave her chlorodyne and waited till suddenly she lay still.
In Jim's face, as he looked down at her, there was an infinite tenderness and pity and compunction.
Rowcliffe, wriggling into his coat, regarded him with curiosity and wonder, till Jim drew himself up and fixed him with his queer, unhappy eyes.
"Shall I save her, doctor?"
"I can't tell you yet. I'd better send the vet up tomorrow hadn't I?"
"Ay——" Jim's voice was strangled in the spasm of his throat. But he took Rowcliffe's hand and wrung it, discharging many emotions in that one excruciating grip.
Rowcliffe pointed to the little phial of chlorodyne lying in the straw. "If I were you," he said, "I shouldn't leave that lying about."
Through his long last night in the gray house haunted by the moon, John Greatorex lay alone, screwed down under a coffin lid, and his son, Jim, wrapped in a horse-blanket and with his head on a hay sack, lay in the straw of the stable, beside Daisy his mare. From time to time, as his mood took him, he turned and laid his hand on her in a poignant caress. As if she had been his first-born, or his bride, he spoke to her in the thick, soft voice of passion, with pitiful, broken words and mutterings.
"What is it, Daasy——what is it? There, did they, then, did they? My beauty—my lil laass. I—I wuss a domned brute to forget tha, a domned brute."
All that night and the next night he lay beside her. The funeral passed like a fantastic interlude between the long acts of his passion. His great sorrow made him humble to Mrs. Gale so that he allowed her to sustain him with food and drink. And on the third day it was known throughout Garthdale that young Greatorex, who had lost his father, had saved his mare.
Only Steven Rowcliffe knew that the mare had saved young Greatorex.
* * * * *
And the little phial of chlorodyne was put back among the cobwebs and forgotten.
Down at the Vicarage the Vicar was wrangling with his youngest daughter. For the third time Alice declared that she was not well and that she didn't want her milk.
"Whether you want it or not you've got to drink it," said the Vicar.
Alice took the glass in her lap and looked at it.
"Am I to stand over you till you drink it?"
Alice put the rim of the glass to her mouth and shuddered.
"I can't," she said. "It'll make me sick."
"Leave the poor child alone, Papa," said Gwenda.
But the Vicar ignored Gwenda.
"You'll drink it, if I stand here all night," he said.
Alice struggled with a spasm in her throat. He held the glass for her while she groped piteously.
"Oh, where's my hanky?"
With superhuman clemency he produced his own.
"It'll serve you right if I'm ill," said Alice.
"Come," said the Vicar in his wisdom and his patience. "Come."
He proffered the disgusting cup again.
"I'd drink it and have done with it, if I were you," said Mary in her soft voice.
Mary's soft voice was too much for Alice.
"Why c-can't you leave me alone? You—you—beast, Mary," she sobbed.
And Mr. Cartaret began again, "Am I to stand here——"
Alice got up, she broke loose from them and left the room.
"You might have known she wasn't going to drink it," Gwenda said.
But the Vicar never knew when he was beaten.
"She would have drunk it," he said, "if Mary hadn't interfered."
* * * * *
Alice had not got the pneumonia that had killed John Greatorex. Such happiness, she reflected, was not for her. She had desired it too much.
But she was doing very well with her anaemia.
Bloodless and slender and inert, she dragged herself about the village. She could not get away from it because of the steep hills she would have had to climb. A small, unhappy ghost, she haunted the fields in the bottom and the path along the beck that led past Mrs. Gale's cottage.
The sight of Alice was more than ever annoying to the Vicar. Only you wouldn't have known it. As she grew whiter and weaker he braced himself, and became more hearty and robust. When he caught her lying on the sofa he spoke to her in a robust and hearty tone.
"Don't lie there all day, my girl. Get up and go out. What you want is a good blow on the moor."
"Yes. If I didn't die before I got there," Alice would say, while she thought, "Serve him right, too, if I did."
And the Vicar would turn from her in disgust. He knew what was the matter with his daughter Alice.
At dinner time he would pull himself together again, for, after all, he was her father. He was robust and hearty over the sirloin and the leg of mutton. He would call for a glass and press into it the red juice of the meat.
"Don't peak and pine, girl. Drink that. It'll put some blood into you."
And Alice would refuse to drink it.
Next she refused to drink her milk at eleven. She carried it out to Essy in the scullery.
"I wish you'd drink my milk for me, Essy. It makes me sick," she said.
"I don't want your milk," said Essy.
"Please—" she implored her.
But Essy was angry. Her face flamed and she banged down the dishes she was drying. "I sail not drink it. What should I want your milk for? You can pour it in t' pig's bucket."
And the milk would be left by the scullery window till it turned sour and Essy poured it into the pig's bucket that stood under the sink.
* * * * *
Three weeks passed, and with every week Alice grew more bloodless, more slender, and more inert, and more and more like an unhappy ghost. Her small face was smaller; there was a tinge of green in its honey-whiteness, and of mauve in the dull rose of her mouth. And under her shallow breast her heart seemed to rise up and grow large, while the rest of Alice shrank and grew small. It was as if her fragile little body carried an enormous engine, an engine of infernal and terrifying power. When she lay down and when she got up and with every sudden movement its throbbing shook her savagely.
Night and morning she called to her sister: "Oh Gwenda, come and feel my heart. I do believe it's growing. It's getting too big for my body. It frightens me when it jumps about like that."
It frightened Gwenda.
But it did not really frighten Alice. She rejoiced in it, rather, and exulted. After all, it was a good thing that she had not got pneumonia, which might have killed her as it had killed John Greatorex. She had got what served her purpose better. It served all her purposes. If she had tried she could not have hit on anything that would have annoyed her father more or put him more conspicuously in the wrong. To begin with, it was his doing. He had worried her into it. And he had brought her to a place which was the worst place conceivable for anybody with a diseased heart, since you couldn't stir out of doors without going up hill.
Night and morning Alice stood before the looking-glass and turned out the lining of her lips and eyelids and saw with pleasure the pale rose growing paler. Every other hour she laid her hand on her heart and took again the full thrill of its dangerous throbbing, or felt her pulse to assure herself of the halt, the jerk, the hurrying of the beat. Night and morning and every other hour she thought of Rowcliffe.
"If it goes on like this, they'll have to send for him," she said.
But it had gone on, the three weeks had passed, and yet they had not sent. The Vicar had put his foot down. He wouldn't have the doctor. He knew better than a dozen doctors what was the matter with his daughter Alice.
Alice said nothing. She simply waited. As if some profound and dead-sure instinct had sustained her, she waited, sickening.
And on the last night of the third week she fainted. She had dragged herself upstairs to bed, staggered across the little landing and fallen on the threshold of her room.
They kept her in bed next day. At one o'clock she refused her chicken-broth. She would neither eat nor drink. And a little before three Gwenda went for the doctor.
She had not told Alice she was going. She had not told anybody.
She had to walk, for Mary had taken her bicycle. Nobody knew where Mary had gone or when she had started or when she would be back.
But the four miles between Garth and Morfe were nothing to Gwenda, who would walk twenty for her own amusement. She would have stretched the way out indefinitely if she could; she would have piled Garthdale Moor on Greffington Edge and Karva on the top of them and put them between Garth and Morfe, so violent was her fear of Steven Rowcliffe.
She had no longer any desire to see him or to be seen by him. He had seen her twice too often, and too early and too late. After being caught on the moor at dawn, it was preposterous that she should show herself in the doorway of Upthorne at night.
How was he to know that she hadn't done it on purpose? Girls did these things. Poor little Ally had done them. And it was because Ally had done them that she had been taken and hidden away here where she couldn't do them any more.
But—couldn't she? Gwenda stood still, staring in her horror as the frightful thought struck her that Ally could, and that she would, the very minute she realised young Rowcliffe. And he would think—not that it mattered in the least what he thought—he would think that there were two of them.
If only, she said to herself, if only young Rowcliffe were a married man. Then even Ally couldn't—
Not that she blamed poor little Ally. She looked on little Ally as the victim of a malign and tragic tendency, the fragile vehicle of an alien and overpowering impulse. Little Ally was doomed. It wasn't her fault if she was made like that.
And this time it wouldn't be her fault at all. Their father would have driven her. Gwenda hated him for his persecution and exposure of the helpless creature.
She walked on thinking.
It wouldn't end with Ally. They were all three exposed and persecuted. For supposing—it wasn't likely, but supposing—that this Rowcliffe man was the sort of man she liked, supposing—what was still more unlikely—that he was the sort of man who would like her, where would be the good of it? Her father would spoil it all. He spoiled everything.
Well, no, to be perfectly accurate, not everything. There was one thing he had not spoiled, because he had never suspected its existence—her singular passion for the place. Of course, if he had suspected it, he would have stamped on it. It was his business to stamp on other people's passions. Luckily, it wasn't in him to conceive a passion for a place.
It had come upon her at first sight as they drove between twilight and night from Reyburn through Rathdale into Garthdale. It was when they had left the wooded land behind them and the moors lifted up their naked shoulders, one after another, darker than dark, into a sky already whitening above the hidden moon. And she saw Morfe, gray as iron, on its hill, bearing the square crown and the triple pendants of its lights; she saw the long straight line of Greffington Edge, hiding the secret moon, and Karva with the ashen west behind it. There was something in their form and in their gesture that called to her as if they knew her, as if they waited for her; they struck her with the shock of recognition, as if she had known them and had waited too.
And close beside her own wonder and excitement she had felt the deep and sullen repulsion of her companions. The Vicar sat huddled in his overcoat. His nostrils, pinched with repugnance, sniffed as they drank in the cold, clean air. From time to time he shuddered, and a hoarse muttering came from under the gray woolen scarf he had wound round his mouth and beard. He was the righteous man, sent into uttermost abominable exile for his daughter's sin. Behind him, on the back seat of the trap, Alice and Mary cowed under their capes and rugs. They had turned their shoulders to each other, hostile in their misery. Gwenda was sorry for them.
The gray road dipped and turned and plunged them to the bottom of Garthdale. The small, scattering lights of the village waited for her in the hollow, with something humble and sad and familiar in their setting. They too stung her with that poignant and secret sense of recognition.
"This is the place," the Vicar had said. He had addressed himself to Alice; and it had been as if he had said, This the place, the infernal, the damnable place, you've brought us to with your behavior.
Their hatred of it had made Gwenda love it. "You can have your old Garthdale all to yourself," Alice had said. "Nobody else wants it."
That, to Gwenda, was the charm of it. The adorable place was her own. Nobody else wanted it. She loved it for itself. It had nothing but itself to offer her. And that was enough. It was almost, as she had said, too much. Her questing youth conceived no more rapturous adventure than to follow the sheep over Karva, to set out at twilight and see the immense night come down on the high moors above Upthorne; to get up when Alice was asleep and slip out and watch the dawn turning from gray to rose, and from rose to gold above Greffington Edge.
As it happened you saw sunrise and moonrise best from the platform of Morfe Green. There Greffington Edge breaks and falls away, and lets slip the dawn like a rosy scarf from its shoulder, and sets the moon free of her earth and gives her to the open sky.
But, just as the Vicar had spoiled Rowcliffe, so Rowcliffe had spoiled Morfe for Gwenda. Therefore her fear of him was mingled with resentment. It was as if he had had no business to be living there, in that house of his looking over the Green.
Incredible that she should have wanted to see and to know this person. But now, that she didn't want to, of course she was going to see him.
* * * * *
At the bend of the road, within a mile of Morfe, Mary came riding on Gwenda's bicycle. Large parcels were slung from her handle bars. She had been shopping in the village.
Mary, bowed forward as she struggled with an upward slope, was not aware of Gwenda. But Gwenda was aware of Mary, and, not being in the mood for her, she struck off the road on to the moor and descended upon Morfe by the steep lane that leads from Karva into Rathdale.
It never occurred to her to wonder what Mary had been doing in Morfe, so evident was it that she had been shopping.
The doctor was at home, but he was engaged, at the moment, in the surgery.
The maid-servant asked if she would wait.
She waited in the little cold and formal dining-room that looked through two windows on to the Green. So formal and so cold, so utterly impersonal was the air of the doctor's mahogany furniture that her fear left her. It was as if the furniture assured her that she would not really see Rowcliffe; as for knowing him, she needn't worry.
She had sent in her card, printed for convenience with the names of the three sisters:
Miss Cartaret. Miss Gwendolen Cartaret. Miss Alice Cartaret.
She felt somehow that it protected her. She said to herself, "He won't know which of us it is."
* * * * *
Rowcliffe was washing his hands in the surgery when the card was brought to him. He frowned at the card.
"But—You've brought this before," he said. "I've seen the lady."
"No, sir. It's another lady."
"Another? Are you certain?"
"Yes, sir. Quite certain."
"Did she come on a bicycle?"
"No, sir, that was the lady you've seen. I think this'll be her sister."
Rowcliffe was still frowning as he dried his hands with fastidious care.
"She's different, sir. Taller like."
Rowcliffe turned to the table and picked up a probe and a lancet and dropped them into a sterilising solution.
The maid waited. Rowcliffe's absorption was complete.
"Shall I ask her to call again, sir?"
"No. I'll see her. Where is she?"
"In the dining-room, sir."
"Show her into the study."
* * * * *
Nothing could have been more distant and reserved than Rowcliffe's dining-room. But, to a young woman who had made up her mind that she didn't want to know anything about him, Rowcliffe's study said too much. It told her that he was a ferocious and solitary reader; for in the long rows of book shelves the books leaned slantwise across the gaps where his hands had rummaged and ransacked. It told her that his gods were masculine and many—Darwin and Spencer and Haeckel, Pasteur, Curie and Lord Lister, Thomas Hardy, Walt Whitman and Bernard Shaw. Their photogravure portraits hung above the bookcase. He was indifferent to mere visible luxury, or how could he have endured the shabby drugget, the cheap, country wall-paper with its design of dreadful roses on a white watered ground? But the fire in the grate and the deep arm-chair drawn close to it showed that he loved warmth and comfort. That his tastes made him solitary she gathered from the chair's comparatively unused and unworn companion, lurking and sulking in the corner where it had been thrust aside.
The one window of this room looked to the west upon a little orchard, gray trunks of apple trees and plum trees against green grass, green branches against gray stone, gray that was softened in the liquid autumn air, green that was subtle, exquisite, charmingly austere.
He could see his little orchard as he sat by his fire. She thought she rather liked him for keeping his window so wide open.
She was standing by it looking at the orchard as he came in.
* * * * *
He was so quiet in his coming that she did not see or hear him till he stood before her.
And in his eyes, intensely quiet, there was a look of wonder and of incredulity, almost of concern.
Greetings and introductions over, the unused arm-chair was brought out from its lair in the corner. Rowcliffe, in his own arm-chair, sat in shadow, facing her. What light there was fell full on her.
"I'm sorry you should have had to come to me," he said, "your sister was here a minute or two ago."
"I think it must have been your sister. She said it was her sister I was to go and see."
"I didn't know she was coming. She never told me."
"Pity. I was coming out to see you first thing tomorrow morning."
"Then you know? She told you?"
"She told me something." He smiled. "She must have been a little overanxious. You don't look as if there was very much the matter with you."
"But there isn't. It isn't me."
"Who is it then?"
"My other sister."
"Oh. I seem to have got a little mixed."
"You see, there are three of us."
"Three! Let me get it right. I've seen Miss Cartaret. You are Miss Gwendolen Cartaret. And the lady I am to see is—?
"My youngest sister, Alice."
"Now I understand. I wondered how you managed those four miles. Tell me about her."
She began. She was vivid and terse. He saw that she made short cuts to the root of the matter. He showed himself keen and shrewd. Once or twice he said "I know, I know," and she checked herself.
"My sister has told you all that."
"No, she hasn't. Nothing like it. Please go on."
She went on till he interrupted her. "How old is she?"
"I see. Yes." He looked so keen now that she was frightened.
"Does that make it more dangerous?" she said.
He laughed. "No. It makes it less so. I don't suppose it's dangerous at all. But I can't tell till I've seen her. I say, you must be tired after that long walk."
"I'm never tired."
He rang the bell. The maid appeared.
"Tell Acroyd I want the trap. And bring tea—at once."
"For two, sir?"
Gwenda rose. "Thanks very much, I must be going."
"Please stay. It won't take five minutes. Then I can drive you back."
"I can walk."
"I know you can. But—you see—" His keenness and shrewdness went from him. He was almost embarrassed. "I was going round to see your sister in the morning. But—I think I'd rather see her to-night. And—" He was improvising freely now—"I ought, perhaps, to see you after, as you understand the case. So, if you don't mind coming back with me—"
She didn't mind. Why should she?
She stayed. She sat in Rowcliffe's chair before his fire and drank his tea and ate his hot griddle-cakes (she had a healthy appetite, being young and strong). She talked to him as if she had known him a long time. All these things he made her do, and when he talked to her he made her forget what had brought her there; he made her forget Alice and Mary and her father.
When he left her for a moment she got up, restless and eager to be gone. And when he came back to her she was standing by the open window again, looking at the orchard.
Rowcliffe looked at her, taking in her tallness, her slenderness, the lithe and beautiful line of her body, curved slightly backward as she leaned against the window wall.
Never before and never again, afterwards, never, that was to say, for any other woman, did Rowcliffe feel what he felt then. Looking back on it (afterward) he could only describe it as a sense of certainty. It lacked, surprisingly, the element of surprise.
"You like my north-country orchard?" (He was certain that she did.)
She turned, smiling. "I like it very much."
They had been a long time over tea. It was half-past five before they started. He brought an overcoat and put it on her. He wrapped a rug round her knees and feet and tucked it well in.
"You don't like rugs," he said (he knew she didn't), "but you've got to have it."
She did like it. She liked his rug and his overcoat, and his little brown horse with the clanking hoofs. And she liked him, most decidedly she liked him, too. He was the sort of man you could like.
They were soon out on the moor.
Rowcliffe's youth rose in him and put words into his mouth.
"Ripping country, this."
She said it was ripping.
For the life of them they couldn't have said more about it. There were no words for the inscrutable ecstasy it gave them.
As they passed Karva Rowcliffe smiled.
"It's all right," he said, "my driving you. Of course you don't remember, but we've met—several times before."
"I'll show you where. Anyhow, that's your hill, isn't it?"
"How did you know it was?"
"Because I've seen you there. The first time I ever saw you—No, that was a bit farther on. At the bend of the road. We're coming to it."
"Just here," he said.
And now they were in sight of Garthdale.
"Funny I should have thought it was you who were ill."
"I'm never ill."
"You won't be as long as you can walk like that. And run. And jump—"
A horrid pause.
"You did it very nicely."
Another pause, not quite so horrid.
And then—"Do you always walk after dark and before sunrise?"
And it was as if he had said, "Why am I always meeting you? What do you do it for? It's queer, isn't it?"
But he had given her her chance. She rose to it.
"I've done it ever since we came here." (It was as if she had said "Long before you came.") "I do it because I like it. That's the best of this place. You can do what you like in it. There's nobody to see you."
("Counting me," he thought, "as nobody.")
"I should like to do it, too," he said—"to go out before sunrise—if I hadn't got to. If I did it for fun—like you."
He knew he would not really have liked it. But his romantic youth persuaded him in that moment that he would.
Mary was up in the attic, the west attic that looked on to the road through its shy gable window.
She moved quietly there, her whole being suffused exquisitely with a sense of peace, of profound, indwelling goodness. Every act of hers for the last three days had been incomparably good, had been, indeed, perfect. She had waited on Alice hand and foot. She had made the chicken broth refused by Alice. There was nothing that she would not do for poor little Ally. When little Ally was petulant and sullen, Mary was gentle and serene. She felt toward little Ally, lying there so little and so white, a poignant, yearning tenderness. Today she had visited all the sick people in the village, though it was not Wednesday, Dr. Rowcliffe's day. (Only by visiting them on other days could Mary justify and make blameless her habit of visiting them on Wednesdays.) She had put the house in order. She had done her shopping in Morfe to such good purpose that she had concealed even from herself the fact that she had gone into Morfe, surreptitiously, to fetch the doctor.
Of course Mary was aware that she had fetched him. She had been driven to that step by sheer terror. All the way home she kept on saying to herself, "I've saved Ally." "I've saved Ally." That thought, splendid and exciting, rushed to the lighted front of Mary's mind; if the thought of Rowcliffe followed its shining trail, it thrust him back, it spread its luminous wings to hide him, it substituted its heavenly form for his.
So effectually did it cover him that Mary herself never dreamed that he was there.
Neither did the Vicar, when he saw her arrive, laden with parcels, wholesomely cheerful and reddened by her ride. He had said to her "You're a good girl, Mary," and the sadness of his tone implied that he wished her sister Gwendolen and her sister Alice were more like her. And he had smiled at her under his austere moustache, and carried in the biggest parcels for her.
The Vicar was pleased with his daughter Mary. Mary had never given him an hour's anxiety. Mary had never put him in the wrong, never made him feel uncomfortable. He honestly believed that he was fond of her. She was like her poor mother. Goodness, he said to himself, was in her face.
There had been goodness in Mary's face when she went into Alice's room to see what she could do for her. There was goodness in it now, up in the attic, where there was nobody but God to see it; goodness at peace with itself, and utterly content.
She had been back more than an hour. And ever since teatime she had been up in the attic, putting away her summer gowns. She shook them and held them out and looked at them, the poor pretty things that she had hardly ever worn. They hung all limp, all abashed and broken in her hands, as if aware of their futility. She said to herself, "They were no good, no good at all. And next year they'll all be old-fashioned. I shall be ashamed to be seen in them." And she folded them and laid them by for their winter's rest in the black trunk. And when she saw them lying there she had a moment of remorse. After all, they had been part of herself, part of her throbbing, sensuous womanhood, warmed once by her body. It wasn't their fault, poor things, any more than hers, if they had been futile and unfit. She shut the lid down on them gently, and it was as if she buried them gently out of her sight. She could afford to forgive them, for she knew that there was no futility nor unfitness in her. Deep down in her heart she knew it.
She sat on the trunk in the attitude of one waiting, waiting in the utter stillness of assurance. She could afford to wait. All her being was still, all its secret impulses appeased by the slow and orderly movements of her hands.
Suddenly she started up and listened. She heard out on the road the sound of wheels, and of hoofs that struck together. And she frowned. She thought, He might as well have called today, if he's passing.
The clanking ceased, the wheels slowed down, and Mary's peaceful heart moved violently in her breast. The trap drew up at the Vicarage gate.
She went over to the window, the small, shy gable window that looked on to the road. She saw her sister standing in the trap and Rowcliffe beneath her, standing in the road and holding out his hand. She saw the two faces, the man's face looking up, the woman's face looking down, both smiling.
And Mary's heart drew itself together in her breast. Through her shut lips her sister's name forced itself almost audibly.
* * * * *
Suddenly she shivered. A cold wind blew through the open window. Yet she did not move to shut it out. To have interfered with the attic window would have been a breach of compact, an unholy invasion of her sister's rights. For the attic, the smallest, the coldest, the darkest and most thoroughly uncomfortable room in the whole house, was Gwenda's, made over to her in the Vicar's magnanimity, by way of compensation for the necessity that forced her to share her room with Alice. As the attic was used for storing trunks and lumber, only two square yards of floor could be spared for Gwenda. But the two square yards, cleared, and covered with a strip of old carpet, and furnished with a little table and one chair; the wall-space by the window with its hanging bookcase; the window itself and the corner fireplace near it were hers beyond division and dispute. Nobody wanted them.