[Frontispiece: Hugh Walpole. From a photograph by Messrs. Elliott & Fry]
WITH A PORTRAIT
MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON
MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
LONDON — BOMBAY — CALCUTTA — MADRAS MELBOURNE
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
NEW YORK — BOSTON — CHICAGO DALLAS — SAN FRANCISCO
THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.
First Published April 1909 Second Impression October 1909 Wayfarers' Library 1914 New Edition 1919
"Er liebte jeden Hund, und wuenschte von jedem Hund geliebt zu sein."—FLEGELJAHRE (JEAN PAUL).
Robin Trojan was waiting for his father.
Through the open window of the drawing-room came, faintly, the cries of the town—the sound of some distant bell, the shout of fishermen on the quay, the muffled beat of the mining-stamps from Porth-Vennic, a village that lay two miles inland. There yet lingered in the air the faint afterglow of the sunset, and a few stars, twinkling faintly in the deep blue of the night sky, seemed reflections of the orange lights of the herring-boats, flashing far out to sea.
The great drawing-room, lighted by a cluster of electric lamps hanging from the ceiling, seemed to flaunt the dim twinkle of the stars contemptuously; the dark blue of the walls and thick Persian carpets sounded a quieter note, but the general effect was of something distantly, coldly superior, something indeed that was scarcely comfortable, but that was, nevertheless, fulfilling the exact purpose for which it had been intended.
And that purpose was, most certainly, not comfort. Robin himself would have smiled contemptuously if you had pleaded for something homely, something suggestive of roaring fires and cosy armchairs, instead of the stiff-backed, beautifully carved Louis XIV. furniture that stood, each chair and table rigidly in its appointed place, as though bidding defiance to any one bold enough to attempt alterations.
The golden light in the sky shone faintly in at the open window, as though longing to enter, but the dazzling brilliance of the room seemed to fling it back into the blue dome of sea and sky outside.
Robin was standing by a large looking-glass in the corner of the room trying to improve the shape of his tie; and it was characteristic of him that, although he had not seen his father for eighteen years, he was thinking a great deal more about his tie than about the approaching meeting.
He was, at this time, twenty years of age. Tall and dark, he had all the Trojan characteristics; small, delicately shaped ears; a mouth that gave signs of all the Trojan obstinacy, called by the Trojans themselves family pride; a high, well-shaped forehead with hair closely cut and of a dark brown. He was considered by most people handsome—but to some his eyes, of the real Trojan blue, were too cold and impassive. He gave you the impression of some one who watched, rather disdainfully, the ill-considered and impulsive actions of his fellow-men.
He was, however, exactly suited to his surroundings. He maintained the same position as the room with regard to the world in general—"We are Trojans; we are very old and very expensive and very, very good, and it behoves you to recognise this fact and give way with fitting deference."
He had not seen his father for eighteen years, and, as he had been separated from him at the unimpressionable age of two, he may be said never to have seen him at all. He had no recollection of him, and the picture that he had painted was constructed out of monthly rather uninteresting letters concerned, for the most part, with the care and maintenance of New Zealand sheep, and such meagre details as his Aunt Clare and Uncle Garrett had bestowed on him from time to time. From the latter he gathered that his father had been, in his youth, in some vague way, unsatisfactory, and had departed to Australia to seek his fortune, with a clear understanding from his father that he was not to return thence until he had found it.
Robin himself had been born in New Zealand, but his mother dying when he was two years old, he had been sent home to be brought up, in the proper Trojan manner, by his aunt and uncle.
On these things Robin reflected as he tried to twist his tie into a fitting Trojan shape; but it refused to behave as a well-educated tie should, and the obvious thing was to get another. Robin looked at his watch. It was really extremely provoking; the carriage had been timed to arrive at half-past six exactly; it was now a quarter to seven and no one had appeared. There was probably not time to search for another tie. His father would be certain to arrive at the very moment when one tie was on and the other not yet on, which meant that Robin would be late; and if there was one thing that a Trojan hated more than another it was being late. With many people unpunctuality was a fault, with a Trojan it was a crime; it was what was known as an "odds and ends"—one of those things, like untidiness, eating your fish with a steel knife and wearing a white tie with a short dinner-jacket, that marked a man, once and for all, as some one outside the pale, an impossible person.
Therefore Robin allowed his tie to remain and walked to the open window.
"At any rate," he said to himself, still thinking of his tie, "father won't probably notice it." He wondered how much his father would notice. "As he's a Trojan," he thought, "he'll know the sort of things that a fellow ought to do, even though he has been out in New Zealand all his life."
It would, Robin reflected, be a very pretty little scene. He liked scenes, and, if this one were properly manoeuvred, he ought to be its very interesting and satisfactory centre. That was why it was really a pity about the tie.
The door from the library swung slowly open, and Sir Jeremy Trojan, Robin's grandfather, was wheeled into the room.
He was very old indeed, and the only part of his face that seemed alive were his eyes; they were continually darting from one end of the room to the other, they were never still; but, for the rest, he scarcely moved. His skin was dried and brown like a mummy's, and even when he spoke, his lips hardly stirred. He was in evening dress, his legs wrapped tightly in rugs; his chair was wheeled by a servant who was evidently perfectly trained in all the Trojan ways of propriety and decorum.
"Well, grandfather," said Robin, turning back from the window with the look of annoyance still on his face, "how are you to-night?" Robin always shouted at his grandfather although he knew perfectly well that he was not deaf, but could, on the other hand, hear wonderfully well for his age. Nothing annoyed his grandfather so much as being shouted at, and of this Robin was continually reminded.
"Tut, tut, boy," said Sir Jeremy testily, "one would think that I was deaf. Better? Yes, of course. Close the windows!"
"I'll ring for Marchant," said Robin, moving to the bell, "he ought to have done it before." Sir Jeremy said nothing—it was impossible to guess at his thoughts from his face; only his eyes moved uneasily round the room.
He was wheeled to his accustomed corner by the big open stone fireplace, and he lay there, motionless in his chair, without further remark.
Marchant came in a moment later.
"The windows, Marchant," said Robin, still twisting uneasily at his tie, "I think you had forgotten."
"I am sorry, sir," Marchant answered, "but Mr. Garrett had spoken this morning of the room being rather close. I had thought that perhaps——"
He moved silently across the room and shut the window, barring out the fluttering yellow light, the sparkling silver of the stars, the orange of the fishing-boats, the murmured distance of the town.
A few moments later Clare Trojan came in. Although she had never been beautiful she had always been interesting, and indeed she was (even when in the company of women far more beautiful than herself) always one of the first to whom men looked. This may have been partly accounted for by her very obvious pride, the quality that struck the most casual observer at once, but there was also an air of indifference, a look in the eyes that seemed to pique men's curiosity and stir their interest. It was not for lack of opportunity that she was still unmarried, but she had never discovered the man who had virtue and merit sufficient to cover the obvious disadvantages of his not having been born a Trojan. Middle age suited the air of almost regal dignity with which she moved, and people who had known her for many years said that she had never looked so well as now. To-night, in a closely-fitting dress of black silk relieved by a string of pearls round her neck, and a superb white rose at her breast, she was almost handsome. Robin watched her with satisfaction as she moved towards him.
"Ah, it's cold," she said. "I know Marchant left those windows open till the last moment. Robin, your tie is shocking. It looks as if it were made-up."
"I know," said Robin, still struggling with it; "but there isn't time to get another. Father will be here at any moment. It's late as it is. Yes, I told Marchant to shut the windows, he said something about Uncle Garrett's saying it was stuffy or something."
"Harry's late." Clare moved across to her father and bent down and kissed him.
"How are you to-night, father?" but she was arranging the rose at her breast and was obviously thinking more of its position than of the answer to her question.
"Hungry—damned hungry," said Sir Jeremy.
"Oh, we'll have to wait," said Clare. "Harry's got to dress. Anyhow you've got no right to be hungry at a quarter to seven. Nobody's ever hungry till half-past seven at the earliest."
It was evident that she was ill at ease. Perhaps it was the prospect of meeting her brother after a separation of eighteen years; perhaps it was anxiety as to how this reclaimed son of the house of Trojan would behave in the face of the world. It was so very important that the house should not be in any way let down, that the dignity with which it had invariably conducted its affairs for the last twenty years should be, in no way, impaired. Harry had been anything but dignified in his early days, and sheep-farming in New Zealand—well, of course, one knew what kind of life that was.
But, as she looked across at Robin, it was easy to see that her anxiety was, in some way, connected with him. How was this invasion to affect her nephew? For eighteen years she had been the only father and mother that he had known, for eighteen years she had educated him in all the Trojan laws and traditions, the things that a Trojan must speak and do and think, and he had faithfully responded to her instruction. He was in every way everything that a Trojan should be; but there had been moments, rare indeed and swiftly passing, when Clare had fancied that there were other impulses, other ideas at work. She was afraid of those impulses, and she was afraid of what Henry Trojan might do with regard to them.
It was, indeed, hard, after reigning absolutely for eighteen years, to yield her place to another, but perhaps, after all, Robin would be true to his early training and she would not be altogether supplanted.
"Randal comes to-morrow," said Robin suddenly, after a few minutes' silence. "Unfortunately he can only stop for a few days. His paper on 'Pater' has been taken by the National. He's very much pleased, of course."
Robin spoke coldly and without any enthusiasm. It was not considered quite good form to be enthusiastic; it was apt to lead you into rather uncertain company with such people as Socialists and the Salvation Army.
"I'm glad he's coming—quite a nice fellow," said Clare, looking at the gold clock on the mantelpiece. "The train is shockingly late. On 'Pater' you said! I must try and get the National—Miss Ponsonby takes it, I think. It's unusual for Garrett to be unpunctual."
He entered at the same moment—a tall, thin man of forty years of age, clean shaven and rather bald, with a very slight squint in the right eye. He walked slowly, and always gave the impression that he saw nothing of his surroundings. For the rest, he was said to be extremely cynical and had more than a fair share of the Trojan pride.
"The train is late," he said, addressing no one in particular. "Father, how are you this evening?"
This third attack on Sir Jeremy was repelled by a snort, which Garrett accepted as an answer. "Robin, your tie is atrocious," he continued, picking up the Times and opening it slowly; "you had better change it."
Robin was prevented from answering by the sound of carriage-wheels on the drive. Clare rose and stood by the fireplace near Sir Jeremy; Garrett read to the end of the paragraph and folded the paper on his knee; Robin fingered his watch-chain nervously and moved to his aunt's side—only Sir Jeremy remained motionless and gave no sign that he had heard.
Perhaps he was thinking of that day twenty years before when, after a very heated interview, he had forbidden his son to see his face again until he had done something that definitely justified his existence. Harry had certainly done several things since then that justified his existence; he had, for one thing, made a fortune, and that was not so easily done nowadays. Harry was five-and-forty now; he must be very much changed; he had steadied down, of course ... he would be well able to take his place as head of the family when Sir Jeremy himself....
But he gave no sign. You could not tell that he had heard the carriage-wheels at all; he lay motionless in his chair with his eyes half closed.
There were voices in the hall. Beldam's superlatively courteous tones as of one who is ready to die to serve you, and then another voice—rather loud and sharp, but pleasant, with the sound of a laugh in it.
"They are in the blue drawing-room, sir—Mr. Henry," Beldam's voice was heard on the stairs, and, in a moment, Beldam himself appeared—"Mr. Henry, Sir Jeremy." Then he stood aside, and Henry Trojan entered the room.
Clare made a step forward.
"Harry—old boy—at last———"
Both her hands were outstretched, but he disregarded them, and, stepping forward, crushed her in his arms, crushed her dress, crushed the beautiful rose at her breast, and, bending down, kissed her again and again.
"Clare—after twenty years!"
He let her go and she stepped back, still smiling, but she touched the rose for a moment and her hair. He was very strong.
And then there was a little pause. Harry Trojan turned and faced his father. The old man made no movement and gave no sign, but he said, his lips stirring very slightly, "I am glad to see you here again, Harry."
The man flushed, and with a little stammer answered, "I am gladder to be back than you can know, father."
Sir Jeremy's wrinkled hand appeared from behind the rugs, and the two men shook in silence.
Then Garrett came forward. "You're not much changed, Harry," he said with a laugh, "in spite of the twenty years."
"Why, Garrie!" His brother stepped towards him and laid a hand on his shoulder. "It's splendid to see you again. I'd almost forgotten what you were like—I only had that old photo, you know—of us both at Rugby."
Robin had stood aside, in a corner by the fireplace, watching his father. It was very much as he had expected, only he couldn't, try as he might, think of him as his father at all. The man there who had kissed Aunt Clare and shaken hands with Sir Jeremy was, in some unexplained way, a little odd and out of place. He was big and strong; his hair curled a little and was dark brown, like Robin's, and his eyes were blue, but, in other respects, there was very little of the Trojan about him. His mouth was large, and he had a brown, slightly curling moustache. Indeed the general impression was brown in spite of the blue, badly fitting suit. He was deeply tanned by the sun and was slightly freckled.
He would have looked splendid in New Zealand or Klondyke, or, indeed, anywhere where you worked with your coat off and your shirt open at the neck; but here, in that drawing-room, it was a pity, Robin thought, that his father had not stopped for two or three days in town and gone to a West End tailor.
But, after all, it was a very nice little scene. It really had been quite moving to see him kiss Clare like that, but, at the same time, for his part, kissing...!
"And Robin?" said Harry.
"Here's the son and heir," said Garrett, laughing, and pushing Robin forward.
Now that the moment had really come, Robin was most unpleasantly embarrassed. How foolish of Uncle Garrett to try and be funny at a time like that, and what a pity it was that his tie was sticking out at one end so much farther than at the other. He felt his hand seized and crushed in the grip of a giant; he murmured something about his being pleased, and then, suddenly, his father bent down and kissed him on the forehead.
They were both blushing, Robin furiously. How he hated sentiment! He felt sure that Uncle Garrett was laughing at him.
"By Jove, you're splendid!" said Harry, holding him back with both his hands on his shoulders. "Pretty different from the nipper that I sent over to England eighteen years ago. Oh, you'll do, Robin."
"And now, Harry," said Clare, laughing, "you'll go and dress, won't you? Father's terribly hungry and the train was late."
"Right," said Harry; "I won't be long. It's good to be back again."
When the door had closed behind him, there was silence. He gave the impression of some one filled with overwhelming, rapturous joy. There was a light in his eyes that told of dreams at length fulfilled, and hopes, long and wearily postponed, at last realised. He had filled that stiff, solemn room with a spirit of life and strength and sheer animal good health—it was even, as Clare afterwards privately confessed, a little exhausting.
Now she stood by the fireplace, smiling a little. "My poor rose," she said, looking at some of the petals that had fallen to the ground. "Harry is strong!"
"He is looking well," said Garrett. It sounded almost sarcastic.
Robin went up to his room to change his tie—he had said nothing about his father.
As Harry Trojan passed down the well-remembered passages where the pictures hung in the same odd familiar places, past staircases vanishing into dark abysses that had frightened him as a child, windows deep-set in the thick stone walls, corners round which he had crept in the dark on his way to his room, it seemed to him that those long, dreary years of patient waiting in New Zealand were as nothing, and that it was only yesterday that he had passed down that same way, his heart full of rage against his father, his one longing to get out and away to other countries where he should be his own master and win his own freedom. And now that he was back again, now that he had seen what that freedom meant, now that he had tasted that same will-o'-the-wisp liberty, how thankful he was to rest here quietly, peacefully, for the remainder of his days; at last he knew what were the things that were alone, in this world, worth striving for—not money, ambition, success, but love for one's own little bit of country that one called home, the patient resting in the heritage of all those accumulating traditions that ancestors had been making, slowly, gradually, for centuries of years.
He had hoped that he would have the same old rooms at the top of the West Towers that he had had when a boy; he remembered the view of the sea from their windows—the great sweep of the Cornish coast far out to Land's End itself, and the gulls whirring with hoarse cries over his head as he leant out to view the little cove nestling at the foot of the Hall. That view, then, had meant to him distant wonderful lands in which he was to make his name and his fortune: now it spoke of home and peace, and, beyond all, of Cornwall.
They had put him in one of the big spare rooms that faced inland. As he entered the sense of its luxury filled him with a delicious feeling of comfort: the log-fire burning in the open brown-tiled fireplace, the softness of the carpets, the electric light, shaded to a soft glow—ah! these were the things for which he had waited, and they had, indeed, been worth waiting for.
His man was laying his dress-clothes on his bed.
"What is your name?" he said, feeling almost a little shy; it was so long since he had had things done for him.
"James Treduggan, sir," the man answered, smiling. "You won't remember me, sir, I expect. I was quite a youngster when you went away. But I've been in service here ever since I was ten."
When Harry was left alone, he stood by the fire, thinking. He had been preparing for this moment for so long that now that it was actually here he was frightened, nervous. He had so often imagined that first arrival in England, the first glimpse of London; then the first meeting and the first evening at home. Of course, all his thoughts had centred on Robin—everything else had been secondary, but he had, in some unaccountable way, never been able to realise exactly what Robin would be. He had had photographs, but they had been unsatisfactory and had told him nothing; and now that he had seen him, he was at rest; he was all that he had hoped—straight, strong, manly, with that clear steady look in the eyes that meant so much; yes, there was no doubt about his son. He remembered Robin's mother with affectionate tenderness; she had been the daughter of a doctor in Auckland—he had fallen in love with her at once and married her, although his prospects had been so bad. They had been very happy, and then, when Robin was two years old, she had died; the boy had been sent home, and he had been alone again—for eighteen years he had been alone. There had been other women, of course; he did not pretend to have been a saint, and women had liked him and been rather sorry for him in those early years; but they had none of them been very much to him, only episodes—the central fact of his existence had always been his son. He had had a friend there, a Colonel Durand, who had three sons of his own, and had given him much advice as to his treatment of Robin. He had talked a great deal about the young generation, about its impatience of older theories and manners, its dislike of authority and restraint; and Harry, remembering his own early hatred of restriction and longing for freedom, was determined that he would be no fetter on his son's liberty, that he would be to him a friend, a companion rather than a father. After all, he felt no more than twenty-five—there was really no space of years between them—he was as young to-day as he had been twenty years ago.
As to the others, he had never cared very much for Clare and Garrett in the old days; they had been stiff, cold, lacking all sense of family affection. But that had been twenty years ago. There had been a time, in New Zealand, when he had hated Garrett. When he had been away from home for some ten years, the longing to see his boy had grown too strong to be resisted, and he had written to his father asking for permission to return. He had received a cold answer from Garrett, saying that Sir Jeremy thought that, as he was so successful there, it would be perhaps better if he remained there a little while longer; that he would find little to do at home and would only weary of the monotony—four closely written pages to the same effect. So Harry had remained.
But that was ten years ago. At last, a letter had come, saying that Sir Jeremy was now very old and feeble, that he desired to see his son before he died, and that all the past was forgotten and forgiven. And now there was but one thought in his heart—love for all the world, one overwhelming desire to take his place amongst them decently, worthily, so that they might see that the wastrel of twenty years ago had developed into a man, able to take his place, in due time, at the head of the Trojan family. Oh! how he would try to please them all! how he would watch and study and work so that that long twenty years' exile might be forgotten both by himself and by them.
He bathed and dressed slowly by the fire. As he saw his clothes on the bed he fancied, for a moment, that they might be a little worn, a little old. They had seemed very good and smart in Auckland, but in England it was rather different. He almost wished that he had stayed in London for two days and been properly fitted by a tailor. But then he had been so eager to arrive, he had not thought of clothes; his one idea had been to rush down as soon as possible and see them all, and the place, and the town.
Then he remembered that Clare had asked him to be quick. He finished his dressing hurriedly, turned out the electric light, and left the room.
He was pleased to find that he had not forgotten the turns and twists of the house. He threaded the dark passages easily, humming a little tune, and smelling that same sweet scent of dried rose leaves that he had known so well when he was a small boy. He could see, in imagination, the great white-and-pink china pot-pourri bowls standing at the corner of the stairs—nothing was changed.
The blue drawing-room was deserted when he entered it—only the blaze of the electric light, the golden flame of the log-fire in the great open fireplace, and the solemn ticking of the gold clock that had stood there, in the same place of honour, for the last hundred years. He passed over to the windows and flung them open; the hum of the town came, with the cold night air, into the room. The stars were brilliant to-night and the golden haze of the lamplight hung over the streets like a magic curtain. Ah! how good it was! The peace of it, the comfort, the homeliness!
Above all, it was Cornwall—the lights of the herring fleet, the distant rhythmical beat of the mining-stamps, that peculiar scent as of precious spices coming with the wind of the sea, as though borne from distant magical lands, all told him that he was, at last, again in Cornwall.
He drank in the night air, bending his eyes on the town as though he were saluting it again, tenderly, joyously, with the greeting of an old familiar friend.
Robin closed the door behind him and shivered a little. The windows were open—how annoying when Aunt Clare had especially asked that they should be closed. Oh! it was his father! Of course, he did not know!
He had not been noticed, so he coughed. Harry turned round.
"Hullo, Robin, my boy!" He passed his arm through his son's and drew him to the window. "Isn't it splendid?" he said. "Oh! I don't suppose you see it now, after having been here all this time; you want to go away for twenty years, then you'd know how much it's worth. Oh! it's splendid—what times we'll have here, you and I!"
"Yes," said Robin, a little coldly. It was very chilly with the window open, and there was something in all that enthusiasm that was almost a little vulgar. Of course, it was natural, after being away so long ... but still.... Also his father's clothes were really very old—the back of the coat was quite shiny.
Sir Jeremy entered in his chair, followed by Clare and Garrett.
Clare gave a little scream.
"Oh! How cold!" she cried. "Now whoever——!"
"I'm afraid I was guilty," said Harry, laughing. "The town looked so splendid and I hadn't seen it for so long. I——"
"Of course, I forgot," said Clare. "I don't suppose you notice open windows in New Zealand, because you're always outside in the Bush or something. But here we're as shivery as you make them. Dinner's getting shivery too. The sooner we go down the better."
She passed back through the door and down the hall. There was no doubt that she was a magnificent woman.
As Sir Jeremy was wheeled through the doors he gripped Harry's hand. "I'm damned glad that you're back," he whispered.
Robin, who was the last to leave the room, closed the windows and turned out the lights. The room was in darkness save for the golden light of the leaping fire.
It had been called the "House of the Flutes" since the beginning of time. People had said that the name was absurd, and Harry's grandfather, a prosaic gentleman of rather violent radical opinions, had made a definite attempt at a change—but he had failed. Trojans had appeared from every part of the country, angry Trojans, tearful Trojans, indignant Trojans, important Trojans, poor-relation Trojans, and had, one and all, demanded that the name should remain, and that the headquarters of the Trojan tradition, of the Trojan power, should continue to be the "House of the Flutes."
Of course, it had its origin in tradition. In the early days when might was right, and the stronger seized the worldly goods of the weaker and nobody said him nay, there had been a Sir Jeremy Trojan whose wife had been the talk of the country-side both because of her beauty and also because of her easy morals. Sir Jeremy having departed on a journey, the lovely Lady Clare entertained a neighbouring baron at her husband's bed and board, and for two days all was well. But Sir Jeremy unexpectedly returned, and, being a gentleman of a pleasant fancy, walled up the room in which he had found the erring couple and left them inside. He then sat outside, and listened with a gentle pleasure to their cries, and, being a musician of no mean quality, played on the flute from time to time to prevent the hours from being wearisome. For three days he sat there, until there came no more sounds from that room; then he pursued his ordinary affairs, but sought no other wife—a grim little man with a certain sense of humour.
There are many other legends connected with the house; you will find them in Baedeker, where it also says: "Kind permission is accorded by Sir Henry Trojan to visitors who desire to see the rooms during the residence of the family in London. Special attention should be paid to the gold Drawing-room with its magnificent carving, the Library with its fine collection of old prints, and the Long Gallery with the family portraits, noticing especially the Vandyke of Sir Hilary Trojan (temp. Ch. I.), and a little sketch by Turner of the view from the West Tower. The gardens, too, are well worth a short inspection, special mention being made of the Long Terrace with its magnificent sea-view.
"A small charge is made by Sir Henry for admittance (adults sixpence, children half-price), with a view to benefiting the church, a building recently restored and sadly in need of funds."
So far Baedeker (Cornwall, new ed., 1908). The house is astonishingly beautiful, seen from any point of view. Added to from time to time, it has that air of surprise, as of a building containing endless secrets, only some of which it intends to reveal. It is full of corners and angles, and at the same time preserves a symmetry and grandeur of style that is surprising, if one considers its haphazard construction and random additions.
Part of its beauty is undoubtedly owing to its superb position. It rises from the rock, over the grey town at its feet, like a protecting deity, its two towers to west and east, raised like giant hands, its grey walls rising sheer from the steep, shelving rock; behind it the gentle rise of hills, bending towards the inland valleys; in front of it an unbroken stretch of sea.
It strikes the exact note that is in harmony with its colour and surroundings: the emblem of some wild survival from dark ages when that spot had been one of the most uncivilised in the whole of Britain—a land of wild, uncouth people, living in a state of perpetual watch and guard, fearing the sea, fearing the land, cringingly superstitious because of their crying need of supernatural defence; and, indeed, there is nothing more curious in the Cornwall of to-day than this perpetual reminder of past superstitions, dead gods, strange pathetic survival of heathen ancestry.
The town of Pendragon, lying at the foot of the "House of the Flutes," had little of this survival of former custom about it; it was rapidly developing into that temple of British middle-class mediocrity, a modern watering-place. It had, in the months of June, July, and August, nigger minstrels, a cafe chantant, and a promenade, with six bathing-machines and two donkeys; two new hotels had sprung up within the last two years, a sufficient sign of its prosperity. No, Pendragon was doing its best to forget its ancient superstitions, and even seemed to regard the "House of the Flutes" a little resentfully because of its reminder of a time when men scaled the rocks and stormed the walls, and fell back dying and cursing into their ships riding at anchor in the little bay.
Very different was Cullin's Cove, the little fishing-village that lay slightly to the right of the town. Here traditions were carefully guarded; a strict watch was kept on the outside world, and strangers were none too cheerfully received. Here, "down-along," was the old, the true Cornwall—a land that had changed scarcely at all since those early heathen days that to the rest of the world are dim, mysterious, mythological, but to a Cornishman are as the events of yesterday. High on the moor behind the Cove stand four great rocks—wild, wind-beaten, grimly permanent. It is under their guardianship that the Cove lies, and it is something more than a mere superstitious reverence that those inhabitants of "down-along" pay to those darkly mysterious figures. Seen in the fading light of the dying day, when Cornish mists are winding and twisting over the breast of the moor, these four rocks seem to take a living shape, to grow in size, and to whisper to those that care to hear old stories of the slaughter that had stained the soil at their feet on an earlier day.
From Harry's windows the town and the sea were hidden. Immediately below him lay the tennis-lawns and the rose-garden, and, gleaming in the distance, at the end of the Long Walk, two white statues that had fascinated him in his boyhood.
His first waking thought on the morning after his arrival was to look for those statues, and when he saw them gleaming in the sun just as they used to do, there swept over him a feeling of youth and vigour such as he had never known before. Those twenty years in New Zealand were, after all, to go for nothing; they were to be as though they had had no existence, and he was to be the young energetic man of twenty-five, able to enter into his son's point of view, able to share his life and vitality, and, at the same time, to give him the benefit of his riper experience.
Through his open window came the faint, distant beating of the sea; a bird flew past him, a white flash of light; some one was singing the refrain of a Cornish "chanty"—the swing of the tune came up to him from the garden, and some of the words beat like little bells upon his brain, calling up endless memories of his boyhood.
He looked at his watch and found that it was nine o'clock. He had no idea that it was so late; he had asked to be called at seven, but he had slept so soundly that he had not heard his man enter with his shaving water; it was quite cold now, and his razors were terribly blunt. He cut himself badly, a thing that he scarcely ever did. But it was really unfortunate, on this first morning when he had wanted everything to be at its best.
He came down to the breakfast-room humming. The house seemed a palace of gold on this wonderful September morning; the light came in floods through the great windows at the head of the stairs, and shafts of golden light struck the walls and the china potpourri bowls and flashed wonderful colours out of a great Venetian vase that stood by the hall door.
He found Garrett and Robin breakfasting alone; Clare and Sir Jeremy always had breakfast in their own rooms.
"I'm afraid I'm awfully late," said Harry cheerfully, clapping his brother on the back and putting his hand for a minute on Robin's shoulder; "things all cold?"
"Oh no," said Garrett, scarcely looking up from his morning paper. "Damned good kidneys!"
Robin said nothing. He was watching his father curiously. It was one of the Trojan rules that you never talked at breakfast; it was such an impossible meal altogether, and one was always at one's worst at that time of the morning. Robin wondered whether his father would recognise this elementary rule or whether he would talk, talk, talk, as he had done last night. They had had rather a bad time last night; Aunt Clare had had a headache, but his father had talked continuously—about sheep and Maories and the Pink Terraces. It had been just like a parish-room magic-lantern lecture—"Some hours with our friends the Maories"—it had been very tiring; poor Aunt Clare had grown whiter and whiter; it was quite a relief when dinner had come to an end.
Harry helped himself to kidneys and sat down by Robin, still humming the refrain of the Cornish song he had heard at his window. "By Jove, I'm late—mustard, Robin, my boy—can't think how I slept like that. Why, in New Zealand I was always up with the lark—had to be, you know, there was always such heaps to do—the bread, old boy, if you can get hold of it. I remember once getting up at three in the morning to go and play cricket somewhere—fearful hot day it was, but I knocked up fifty, I remember. Probably the bowling was awfully soft, although I remember one chap—Pulling, friend of Durand's—could fairly twist 'em down the pitch—made you damned well jump. Talking of cricket, I suppose you play, Robin? Did you get your cap or whatever they call it—College colours, you know?"
"Oh, cricket!" said Robin indifferently. "No, I didn't play. The chaps at King's who ran the games were rather outers—pretty thoroughly barred by the decent men. None of the 'Gracchi' went in for the sports."
"Oh!" said Harry, considerably surprised. "And who the deuce are the 'Gracchi'?"
"A society I was on," said Robin, a little wearily—it was so annoying to be forced to talk at breakfast. "A literary society—essays, with especial attention paid to the New Literature. We made it our boast that we never went back further than Meredith, except, of course, when one had to, for origins and comparisons. Randal, who's coming to stop for a few days, was president last year and read some awfully good papers."
Harry stared blankly. He had thought that every one played cricket and football, especially when they were strong and healthy like Robin. He had not quite understood about the society—and who was Meredith? "I shall be glad to meet your friend," he said. "Is he still at Cambridge?"
"Oh, Randal!" said Robin. "No, he came down the same time as I did. He only got a second in History, although he was worth a first any day of the week. But he had such lots of other things to do—his papers for the 'Gracchi' took up any amount of time—and then history rather bored him. He's very popular here, especially with all Fallacy Street people."
"The Fallacy Street people!" repeated Harry, still more bewildered. "Who are they?"
"Oh! I suppose you've forgotten," said Robin, mildly surprised. "They're all the people who're intellectual in Pendragon. If you live in Fallacy Street you're one of the wits. It's like belonging to the 'Mermaid' used to be, you know, in Shakespeare's time. They're really awfully clever—some of them—the Miss Ponsonbys and Mrs. le Terry—Aunt Clare thinks no end of Mrs. le Terry."
Robin's voice sounded a little awed. He had a great respect for Fallacy Street. "Oh, they won't have any room for me," said Harry, laughing. "I'm an awfully stupid old duffer. I haven't read anything at all, except a bit of Kipling—'Barrack-room Ballads'—seems a waste of time to read somehow."
That his father had very little interest in literature Robin had discovered some time before, but that he should boast of it—openly, laughingly—was really rather terrible.
Harry was silent for a few minutes; he had evidently made a blunder in his choice of a subject, but it was really difficult.
"Where are we going this morning, Robin?" he said at last.
"Oh! I say!" Robin looked a little unhappy. "I'm awfully sorry, father. I'm really afraid I can't come out this morning. There's a box of books that have positively got to get off to Randal's place to-night. I daren't keep them any longer. I'd do it this afternoon, only it's Aunt Clare's at-home day and she always likes me to help her. I'm really awfully sorry, but there are lots of other mornings, aren't there? I simply must get those books off this morning."
"Why, of course," said Harry cheerfully; "there's plenty of time."
He was dreadfully disappointed. He had often thought of that first stroll with Robin. They would discuss the changes since Harry's day; Robin would point out the new points of interest, and, perhaps, introduce him to some of his friends—it had been a favourite picture of his during some of those lonely days in New Zealand. And now Robin's aunt and college friend were to come before his father—it was rather hard.
But, then, on second thoughts, how unreasonable it was of him to expect to take up Robin's time like that. He must fall into the ways of the house, quietly, unobtrusively, with none of that jolting of other people's habits and regular customs; it had been thoughtless, of him and ridiculous. He must be more careful.
Breakfast ended, he found himself alone. Robin left the room with the preoccupied air of a man of fifty; the difficulty of choosing between Jefferies' "Story of my Heart" and Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," if there wasn't room in the box for both, was terrible! Of course Randal was coming himself in a few days, and it would have been simpler to let him choose for himself; but he had particularly asked for them to be sent by the fourth, and to-day was the third. Robin had quite forgotten his father.
Harry was alone. From the garden came the sound of doves, and, through the window that overlooked the lawn, the sun shone into the room. Harry lit a cigarette and went out. The garden was changed; there was a feeling of order and authority about it that it had never had before. Not a weed was to be seen on the paths: flowers stretched in perfect order and discipline; colours in harmony, shapes and patterns of a tutored symmetry—it was the perfection of a modern gardener's art. He passed gardeners, grave, serious men with eyes intent on their work, and he remembered the strange old man who had watched over the garden when he had been a boy; an old man with a wild ragged beard and a skinny hand like the Ancient Mariner's. The garden had not prospered under his care—it had been wild, undisciplined, tangled; but he had been a teller of wonderful tales, a seer of visions—it was to him that Harry had owed all the intimate knowledge of Cornish lore and mystery that he possessed.
The gardeners that were there now were probably not Cornishmen at all—strangers, Londoners perhaps. They could watch that wonderful, ever-changing view of sea and cliff and moor without any beating of the heart; to them the crooked, dusky windings of the Cove, the mighty grey rocks of Trelennan's Jump, the strange, solemn permanency of the four grey stones on the moor, were as nothing; their hearts were probably in Peckham.
He turned a little sadly from the ordered discipline of the garden; the shining green of the lawns, the blazing red and gold of its flowers almost annoyed him—it was not what he had expected. Then, suddenly, he came upon a little tangled wood—a strange, deserted place, with tall grasses and wild ferns and a little brook bubbling noisily over shining white and grey pebbles. He remembered it; how well he remembered it. He had often been there in those early days. He had tried to make a little mill in the brook. He had searched there for some of those strange creatures about whom Tony Tregoth, the old gardener, had told him—fauns and nymphs and the wild god Pan. He had never found anything; but its wild, disordered beauty had made a fitting setting for Tony's wild, disordered legends.
It was still almost exactly as it had been twenty years before; no one had attempted improvement. He stayed there for some time, thinking, regretting, dreaming—it was the only part of the garden that was real to him.
He passed down the avenue and out through the white stone gates as one in a dream. Something was stirring within him. It was not that during those years in New Zealand he had forgotten. He had longed again and again with a passionate, burning longing for the grey cliffs and the sea and the haunting loneliness of the moor; for the Cornwall that he had loved from the moment of his birth—no, he had never forgotten. But there was waking in him again that strange, half-inherited sense of the eternal presence of ancient days and old heathen ceremonies, and the manners of men who had lived in that place a thousand years before. He had known it when he was a boy; when he had chased rabbits over the moor, when he had seen the mist curling mysteriously from the sea and wrapping land and sky in a blinding curtain of grey, when he had stood on Trelennan's Jump and watched the white, savage tossing of the foam hundreds of feet below; he had sometimes fancied that he saw them, those wild bearded priests of cruelty, waiting smilingly on the silent twilit moor for victims—they had always been cruel; something terrible in the very vagueness of their outline.
Now the old thoughts came back to him, and he almost fancied that he could see the strange faces in the shadows of the garden and feel their hot breath upon his cheek.
His passage through the streets of Pendragon woke him from his dreams; its almost startling modernity and obtrusive up-to-dateness laughed at his fancies. It was very much changed since he had been there before—like the garden, it was the very apotheosis of order and modern methods. "The Pendragon Hotel" astonished him by its stone pillars, its glimpse of a wonderful, cool, softly carpeted hall, its official in gold buttons who stood solemnly magnificent on the steps, the admiration of several small boys who looked up into his face with wide-open eyes.
Harry remembered the old "Pendragon Hotel," a dirty, unmethodical place, with beds that were never clean. It had been something of a scandal, but its landlord had been an amusing fellow and a capital teller of stories.
The shops dazzled him by their brilliance. The hairdresser's displayed a wonderful assortment of wigs in the window; coloured bottles of every size and hue glittered in the chemist's; diamonds flashed in the jeweller's—the street seemed glorious to his colonial eyes.
The streets were not very crowded, and no one seemed to be in a hurry. Auckland had been rather a busy little town—no one had had very much time to spare—but here, under the mellow September sun, people lingered and talked, and the time and place seemed to stand still with the pleasant air of something restfully comfortable, and, above all, containing nothing that wasn't in the very best taste. It was this air of polite gentility that struck Harry so strongly. It had never been like that in the old days; a ragged unkempt place of uncertain manners and a very evident poverty. He rather resented its new polish, and he regretted once more that he had not sought a London tailor before coming down to Cornwall.
He suddenly recognised a face—a middle-aged, stout gentleman, with a white waistcoat and the air of one who had managed to lead a virtuous life and, nevertheless, accumulate money; he was evidently satisfied with both achievements. It was Barbour, Bunny Barbour. He had been rather a good chap at school, with some taste for adventure. He had had a wider horizon than most of them; Harry remembered how Bunny had envied him in New Zealand. He looked prosperous and sedate now, and the world must have treated him well. Harry spoke to him and was received with effusion. "Trojan, old man! Well, I never! I'm damned if I'd have recognised you. How you've changed! I heard you were coming back; your boy told me—fine chap that, Trojan, you've every reason to be proud. Well, to be sure! Come in and have a whisky and see the new club-rooms! Just been done up, and fairly knocks spots out of the old place."
He was extremely cordial, but Harry felt that he was under criticism. Barbour's eyes looked him up and down; there was almost a challenge in his glance, as though he said, "We are quite ready to receive you if you are one of us. But you must move with the times. It's no good for you to be the same as in the old days. We've all changed, and so must you!"
The club was magnificent. Harry stared in amazement at its luxury and comfort. Its wonderful armchairs and soft carpets, its decorations and splendid space astonished him. The old place had seemed rather fine to him as a boy, but he saw now how bad it had really been. He sank into one of the armchairs with that strange sense of angry resentment that he had felt before in the street gaining hotly upon him.
"It's good, isn't it?" said Barbour, smiling with an almost personal satisfaction, as though he had been largely responsible for the present improvements. "The membership's going up like anything, and we're thinking of raising subscriptions. Very decent set of fellows on it, too. Oh! we're getting along splendidly here. You must have noticed the change in the place!"
"I should think I have," said Harry—the tone of his voice was a little regretful; "but it's not only here—it's the whole town. It's smartened up beyond all knowing. But I must confess that, dirty and dingy as they were, I regret the old club-rooms. There was something extraordinarily homely and comfortable about them. Do you remember that old armchair with the hole in it? Gone long ago, of course, but I shall never sit in anything as nice again."
"Ah, sentiment," said Barbour, smiling; "you won't find much of it in Pendragon nowadays. It doesn't do. Sentimentalists are always Tories, you'll find; always wanting to keep the old things, and all against progress. We're all for progress now. We've got some capital men on the Town Council—Harding, Belfast, Rogers, Snaith—you won't remember them. There's some talk of pulling down the Cove and building new lodging-houses there. We're crowded out in the summer, and there are more people every year."
"Pull down the Cove?" said Harry, aghast; "but you can't. It's been there for hundreds of years; it's one of the most picturesque places in Cornwall."
"That's the only thing," said Barbour regretfully. "It acts rather well as a draw for painters and that sort of person, and it makes some pretty picture postcards that are certain to sell. Oh, I suppose they'll keep it for a bit, but it will have to go ultimately. Pendragon's changing."
There was no doubt that it was, and Harry left the club some quarter of an hour later with dismay in his heart. He had dreamed so long of the old times, the old beauties, the old quiet spirit of unprogressive content, that this new eagerness to be up-to-date and modern, this obvious determination to make Pendragon a watering-place of the most detestable kind, horrified him.
As he passed down the crooked, uneven stone steps that led to the Cove, he felt indignant, almost unhappy. It was as if a friend had been insulted in his presence and he had been unable to defend him. They said that the Cove must go, must make way for modern jerry-built lodging-houses, in order that middle-class families from London and Manchester might be sufficiently accommodated.
The Cove had meant a great deal to him when a boy—mystery, romance, pirates and smugglers, strange Cornish legends of saints and sinners, knights and men-at-arms. The little inn, "The Bended Thumb," with its irregular red-brick floor and its smoke-stained oaken rafters, had been the theatre of many a stirring drama—now it was to be pulled down. It was a wonderfully beautiful morning, and the little, twisting street of the Cove seemed to dance with its white shining cobbles in the light of the sun. It was mysterious as ever, but colours lingered in every corner. Purple mists seemed to hang about the dark alleys and twisting ways; golden shafts of light flashed through the open cottage doorways into rooms where motes of dust danced, like sprites, in the sun; smoke rose in little wreaths of pearl-grey blue into the cloudless sky; there was perfect stillness in the air, and from an overflowing pail that stood outside "The Bended Thumb," the clear drip, drip of the water could be heard falling slowly into the white cobbles, and close at hand was the gentle lap of the sea, as it ran up the little shingly beach and then dragged slowly back again with a soft, reluctant hiss.
It was the Cove in its gentlest mood. No one was about; the women were preparing the dinner and the men were away at work. No strange faces peered from inhospitable doorways; there was nothing to-day that could give the stranger a sense of outlawry, of almost savage avoidance of ordinary customs and manners. Harry's heart beat wildly as he walked down the street; there was no change here; it was as he had left it. He was at home here as he could never be in that new, strident Pendragon with its utter disregard of tradition and beauty.
He saw that it was late and hurried back. He had discovered a great deal during the morning.
At lunch he spoke of the changes that he had seen. Clare smiled. "Why, of course," she said. "Twenty years is a long time, and Pendragon has made great strides. For my part, I am very glad. It brings money to the shopkeepers, and the place will be quite fashionable in a few years' time. We're all on the side of progress up here," she added, laughing.
"But the Cove?" said Harry. "Barbour tells me that they are thinking of pulling it down to make way for lodging-houses or something."
"Well, why not?" said Clare. "It is really very much in the way where it is, and is, I am told, extremely insanitary. We must be practical nowadays or we are nothing; you have to pay heavily for being romantic."
Harry felt again that sensation of personal affront as though some close friend, bound to him by many ties, had been attacked violently in his presence. It was unreasonable, he knew, but it was very strong.
"And you, Robin," he said, "what do you think of it?"
"I agree with Aunt Clare," answered Robin lightly, as though it were a matter that interested him very little. "If the place is in the way, it ought to go. He's a sensible man, Barbour."
"The fact is, Harry," said Garrett, "you haven't changed quite as fast as the place has. You'll see the point of view in a few weeks' time."
He felt unreasonably, ridiculously angry. They were all treating him as a child, as some one who would grow up one day perhaps, but was, at present at any rate, immature in thought and word; even with Robin there was a half-implied superiority.
"But the Cove!" he cried vehemently. "Is it nothing to any of you? After all that it has been to us all our lives, to our people, to the whole place, are you going to root it out and destroy it simply because the town isn't quite big enough to put up all the trippers that burden it in the summer? Don't you see what you will lose if you do? I suppose you think that I am sentimental, romantic, but upon my word I can't see that you have improved Pendragon very much in all these twenty years. It was charming once—a place with individuality, independence; now it is like anywhere else—a miniature Brighton."
He knew that he was wasting his words. There was a pause, and he felt that they were all three laughing at him—yes, Robin as well. He had only made a fool of himself; they could not understand how much he had expected during those weary years of waiting—how much he had expected and how much he had missed.
Clare looked round the room and was relieved to find that only Beldam was present. If one of the family was bent on being absurd, it was as well that there should only be one of the servants to hear him.
"You know that you are to be on your trial this afternoon, Harry?" she said.
"My trial?" he repeated, bewildered.
"Yes—it's my at-home day, you know—first Thursdays—and, of course, they'll all come to see you. We shall have the whole town——" She looked at him a little anxiously; so much depended on how he behaved, and she wasn't completely reassured by his present manner.
If he astonished them all this afternoon by saying things about the Cove like that, it would be too terrible!
"How horrible!" he said, laughing. "I'm very much afraid that I shan't do you justice, Clare. I'm no good at small conversation."
His treating it so lightly made it worse, and she wondered how she could force him to realise the seriousness of it.
"All the nicest people in Pendragon," she said; "and they are rather ridiculously critical, and of course they talk."
He looked at her and laughed. "I wish they were Maories," he said, "I shouldn't be nearly so frightened!"
She leant over the table to emphasise her words. "But it really does make a difference, Harry. First impressions count a lot. You'll be nice to them, won't you?"
The laugh had left his eyes. It was serious, as he knew. He had had no idea that he would have, so to speak, "funked" it so. It was partly, of course, because of Robin. He did not want to make a fool of himself before the boy. He was already beginning to realise what were the things that counted with Robin.
The real pathos of the situation lay in his terrible anxiety to do the right thing. If he had taken it quietly, had trusted to his natural discretion and had left circumstances to develop of themselves, he would have, at any rate, been less self-conscious. But he could not let it alone. He had met Auckland society often enough and had, indeed, during his later years, been something of a society man, but there everything was straight-forward and simple. There was no tradition, no convention, no standard. Because other people did a thing was no reason why you should do it—originality was welcomed rather than otherwise. But here there were so many things that you must do, and so very, very many that you mustn't; and if you were a Trojan, matters were still more complicated.
It was after half-past four when he entered the drawing-room, and Clare was pouring out tea. Five or six ladies were already there, and a clergyman of ample proportions and quite beautifully brushed hair. He was introduced—"Mrs. le Terry—Miss Ponsonby—Miss Lucy Ponsonby—Miss Werrel—Miss Thisbe Werrel—Mr. Carrell—our rector, Harry."
He shook hands and was terribly embarrassed. He was conscious at once of that same sense of challenge that he had felt with Barbour in the morning. They were not obviously staring, but he knew that they were rapidly summing him up. He coloured foolishly, and stood for a moment awkwardly in the middle of the room.
"Tea, Harry?" said Clare. "Scones down by the fire. Everybody else is all right—so look after yourself."
He found himself by Mrs. le Terry, a small, rather pretty woman with wide-open blue eyes, and a mass of dark brown hair hidden beneath a large black hat that drooped over one ear. She talked rapidly and with few pauses. She was, he discovered, one of those persons whose conversation was a series of exclamation marks. She was perpetually astonished, delighted, and disappointed with an amount of emotion that left her no breath and gave her hearers a small opinion of her sincerity. "It's too terribly funny," she said, opening her eyes very wide indeed, "that you should have been in that amazing place, New Zealand—all sheep and Maories, isn't it?—and if there's one thing that I should be likely to detest more than mutton I'm sure it would be Maories. Too dreadful and terrible! But you look splendidly well, Mr. Trojan. I never, really never, saw any one with such a magnificent colour! I suppose that it's that gorgeous sun, and it never rains, does it? Too delightful! If there's one thing that I do adore, it's the sun!"
"Well, I don't know about that," said Harry, laughing; "we had rain pretty often in Auckland, and——"
"Oh," she said, breaking in upon him, "that's too curious, because, do you know, I thought you never had rain at all, and I do detest rain so. It's too distressing when one has a new frock or must go to some stupid place to see some one. But I'm too awfully glad that you've come here, Mr. Trojan. We do want waking up a little, you know, and I'm sure you're the very person to do it. It would be too funny if you were to wake us all up, you know."
Harry was pleased. There were no difficulties here, at any rate. Hadn't Robin mentioned Mrs. le Terry as one of the leaders of Fallacy Street? He suddenly lost his shyness and wanted to become confidential. He would tell her how glad he was to be back in England again; how anxious he was to enter into all the fun and to take his part in all the work. He wondered what she felt about the Cove, and he hoped that she would be an enemy to its proposed destruction.
But she yielded him no opportunity of speaking, and he speedily discovered her opinion on the Cove. "And such changes since you went away! Quite another place, I'm glad to say. Pendragon is the sweetest little town, and even the dear, dirty trippers in the summer are the most delightful and amusing people you ever saw. And now that they talk of pulling down that horrid, dirty old Cove, it will be too splendid, with lodging-houses and a bandstand; and they do talk of an Esplanade—that would be too delightful!"
While she was speaking, he watched the room curiously. Robin had come in and was standing by the fireplace talking to the Miss Werrels, two girls of the athletic type, with short skirts and their hair brushed tightly back over their foreheads. He was leaning with one arm on the mantelpiece, and was looking down on the ladies with an air of languid interest: his eyes were restless, and every now and again glanced towards his father. The two Miss Ponsonbys were massive ladies of any age over fifty. Clad in voluminous black silk, with several little reticules and iron chains, their black hair bound in tight coils at the back of their heads, each holding stiffly her teacup with a tenacity that was worthy of a better cause, they were awe-inspiring and militant. In spite of their motionless gravity, there was something aggressive in their frowning brows and cold, expressionless eyes. Harry thought that he had never seen two more terrifying persons. Clare was talking to the prosperous clergyman; he smiled continually, and now and again laughed in reply to some remark, but it was always something restrained and carefully guarded. He was obviously a man who laid great store by exterior circumstances. That the sepulchre should be filled with dead men's bones might cause him pain, but that it should be unwhitened would be, to him, a thing far more terrible.
Clare turned round and addressed the room generally.
"Mr. Carrell has just been telling me of the shocking state of the Cove," she said. "Insanitary isn't the word, apparently. Things have gone too far, and the only wise measure seems to be to root the place up completely. It is sad, of course—it was a pretty old place, but it has had its day."
"I've just been telling your brother about it, Miss Trojan," said Mrs. le Terry. "It's quite too terrible, and I'm sure it's very bad for all of us to have anything quite so horrible so close to our houses. There's no knowing what dreadful things we may not all of us be catching at this very moment——"
She was interrupted by two new arrivals—Mrs. and Miss Bethel. They were a curious contrast. The mother was the strangest old lady that Harry had ever seen. She was tiny in stature, with snow-white hair and cheeks that were obviously rouged; she wore a dress of curious shot silk decorated with much lace, and her fingers were thick with jewels; a large hat with great purple feathers waved above her head. It was a fantastic and gaudy impression that she made, and there was something rather pitiful in the contrast between her own obvious satisfaction with her personal appearance and the bizarre, almost vulgar, effect of such strangely contrasted colours. She came mincing into the room with her head a little on one side, but in spite of, or perhaps because of, her rather anxious smiles, it was obvious that she was not altogether at her ease.
The girl who followed her was very different. Tall and very dark, she was clothed quite simply in grey; her hair was wonderful, although it was at present hidden to some extent by her hat, but its coal-black darkness had something intent, almost luminous, about it, so that, paradoxically, its very blackness held hidden lights and colours. But it was her manner that Harry especially noticed. She followed her mother with a strange upright carriage of the head and flash of the eyes that were almost defiant. She was evidently expecting no very civil reception, and she seemed to face the room with hostility and no very ready eagerness to please.
The effect on the room was marked. Mrs. le Terry stopped speaking for a moment and rustled her skirts with a movement of displeasure, the Miss Ponsonbys clutched their teacups even tighter than before and their brows became more clouded, the Miss Werrels smiled confidentially at each other as though they shared some secret, and even Robin made a slight instinctive movement of displeasure.
Harry felt at once an impulse of sympathy towards the girl. It was almost as if this sudden hostility had made them friends: he liked that independence of her carriage, the pride in her eyes. Mrs. le Terry's voice broke upon his ears.
"Which must be, Mr. Trojan, extraordinarily provoking. To go there, I mean, and find absolutely no one in—all that way, too, and a horribly wet night, and no train until nine o'clock."
In his endeavours to pick up the thread of the conversation he lost sight of their meeting with Clare.
She, indeed, had greeted them with all the Trojan coldness; nothing could have been more sternly formal than her "Ah! Mrs. Bethel, I'm so glad that you were able to come. So good of you to trouble to call. Won't you have some tea? Do find a seat somewhere, Miss Bethel. I hope you won't mind our all having finished."
Harry was introduced and took them their tea. It was obvious that, for some reason unknown to him, their presence there was undesired by all the company present, including Clare herself. He also knew instinctively that their coming there had been some act of daring bravery, undertaken perhaps with the hope that, after all, it might not be as they had feared.
The old lady's hand trembled as she took her teacup; the colour had fled from her face, and she sat there white and shaking. As Harry bent over her with the scones, he saw to his horror that a tear was trembling on her eyelid; her throat was moving convulsively.
At the same instant he knew that the girl's eyes were fixed upon his; he saw them imploring, beseeching him to help them. It was a difficult situation, but he smiled back at the girl and turned to the old lady.
"Do try these scones, Mrs. Bethel," he said; "they are still hot and I can recommend them strongly. I'm so glad to meet you; my sister told me only this morning that she hoped you would come this afternoon, as she wanted us to become acquainted."
It was a lie, but he spoke it without hesitation, knowing that it would reach Clare's ears. The little lady smiled nervously and looked up at him.
"Ah, Mr. Trojan," she said, "it's very good of you, I'm sure. We are only too delighted. It's not much gaiety that we can offer you here, but such as it is——"
She was actually making eyes at him, the preposterous old person. It was really a little pitiful, with her gorgeous colours, and her trembling assumption of a coquettish youth that had left her long ago. Her attempt to storm a difficult position by the worst of all possible tactics made him extremely sorry for the daughter, who was forced to look on in silence. His thoughts, indeed, were with the girl—her splendid hair, her eyes, something wild, almost rebellious, that found a kindred note in himself; curiously, almost absurdly, they were to a certain degree allies although they had not spoken. He talked to her a little and she mentioned the Cove.
"It is a test of your Cornish ancestry," she said—"if you care for it, I mean. So many people here look on it as a kind of rubbish-heap—picturesque but untidy—and it is the most beautiful place in the world."
"I am glad that you feel like that," he said quietly; "it meant a lot to me as a boy. I have been sorry to find how unpopular it is now; but I see that it still has its supporters."
"Ah, you must talk to father," she said. "He is always there. We are a little old-fashioned, I'm afraid."
There was in her voice, in her smile, something that stirred him strangely. He felt as though he had met her before—a long while ago. He recognised little characteristics, the way that she pushed back her hair when she was excited, the beautiful curve of her neck when she raised her eyes to his, the rise and fall of her bosom—it was all strangely, individually familiar, as though he had often watched her do the same things in the same way before, in some other place....
He had forgotten the others—Clare, Robin, the Miss Ponsonbys, Mrs. le Terry; and when they had all gone, he did not realise that he had in any way neglected them.
After Miss Bethel had left the room, followed by the preposterous old mother, he stood at the window watching the lights of the town shining mistily through the black network of trees in the drive. He must meet her again.
Clare spoke to him and he turned round. "I'm afraid you have made the Miss Ponsonbys enemies for life," she said; "you never spoke to them once. I warned you that they were the most important people in the place."
"Oh! the Miss Ponsonbys!" said Harry carelessly, and Robin stood amazed.
Robin's rooms, charming as they were, with their wide windows opening on to tossing sea and the sharp bend of the grey cliffs stretching to distant horizons, suffered from overcrowding.
His sitting-room, with its dark red wallpaper and several good prints framed in dark oak—Burne-Jones' "Study for Cupid's Masque," Hunt's "Hireling Shepherd," and Whistler's "Battersea Bridge" were the best—might have been delightful had he learned to select; but at the present stage in his development he hated rejecting anything as long as it reached a certain standard. His appreciations were wide and generous, and his knowledge was just now too superficial to permit of discerning criticism. The room, again, suffered from a rather effeminate prettiness. There were too many essentially trivial knick-knacks—some fans, silver ornaments, a charming little ebony clock, and a generous assortment of gay, elegantly worked cushions. The books, too, were all in handsome editions—Meredith in green leather with a gold-worked monogram, Pater in red half-morocco, Swinburne in light-blue with red and gold tooling—rich and to some extent unobtrusive, but reiterating unmistakably the first impression that the room had given, the mark of something superficial.
Robin was there now, dressing for dinner. He often dressed in his sitting-room, because his books were there. He liked to open a book for a moment before fitting his studs into his shirt, and how charming to read a verse of Swinburne before brushing his hair—not so much because of the Swinburne, but rather because one went down to dinner with a pleasant feeling of culture and education. To-night he was in a hurry. People had stayed so late for tea (it was still the day after his father's arrival), and he had to be at the other end of the town by half-past seven. What a nuisance going out to dinner was, and how he wished he wasn't going to-night.
The fact that the dinner promised, in all probability, to afford something of a situation did not, as was often the case, give him very much satisfaction. Indeed it was the reverse. The situation was going to be extremely unpleasant, and there was every likelihood that Robin would look a fool. Robin's education had been a continuous insistence on the importance of superficiality. It had been enforced while he was still in the cradle, when a desire to kick and fight had been always checked by the quiet reiteration that it was not a thing that a Trojan did. Temper was not a fault of itself, but an exhibition of it was; simply because self-control was a Trojan virtue. At his private school he was taught the great code of brushing one's hair and leaving the bottom button of one's waistcoat undone. Robbery, murder, rape—well, they had all played their part in the Trojan history; but the art of shaking hands and the correct method of snubbing a poor relation, if properly acquired, covered the crimes of the Decalogue.
It was not that Robin, either then or afterwards, was a snob. He thought no more of a duke or a viscount than of a plain commoner, but he learnt at once the lesson of "Us—and the Others." If you were one of the others—if there was a hesitation about your aspirates, if you wore a tail-coat and brown boots—then you were non-existent, you simply did not count.
When he left Eton for Cambridge, this Code of the Quite Correct Thing advanced beyond the art of Perfect Manners; it extended to literature and politics, and, in fact, everything of any importance. He soon discovered what were the things for "Us" to read, whom were the painters for "Us" to admire, and what were the politics for "Us" to applaud. He read Pater and Swinburne and Meredith, Bernard Shaw and Galsworthy and Joseph Conrad, and had quite definite ideas about all of them. He admired Rickett's stage effects, and thought Sholto Douglas's portraits awfully clever, and, of course, Max's Caricatures were masterly. I'm not saying that he did not really admire these things—in many things his appreciation was genuine enough—but if it should happen that he cared for "The Christian" or "God's Good Man," he speedily smothered his admiration and wondered how he could be such a fool. To do him justice, he never had any doubt that those whose judgment he followed were absolutely right; but he followed them blindly, often praising books or pictures that he had never read or seen because it was the thing to do. He read quite clever papers to "The Gracchi" at Cambridge, but the most successful of all, "The Philosophy of Nine-pins according to Bernard Shaw," was written before he had either seen or read any of that gentleman's plays. He was, in fact, in great danger of developing into a kind of walking Rapid Review of other people's judgments and opinions. He examined nothing for himself; his standard of the things to be attained in this world was fixed and unalterable; to have an unalterable standard at twenty-one is to condemn oneself to folly for life.
And now, as he was dressing for dinner, two things occupied his mind: firstly, his father; in the second place, the situation that he was to face in half-an-hour's time.
With regard to his father, Robin was terribly afraid that he was one of the Others. He had had his suspicions from the first—that violent entry, the loud voice and the hearty laugh, the bad-fitting clothes, and the perpetual chatter at dinner; it had all been noisy, unusual, even a little vulgar. But his behaviour at tea that afternoon had grieved Robin very much. How could he be so rude to the light and leading of Fallacy Street? It could only have been through ignorance; it could only have been because he really did not know how truly great the Miss Ponsonbys were. But then, to spend all his time with the Bethels, strange, odd people, with the queerest manners and an uncertain history, whom Fallacy Street had decided to cut!
No, Robin was very much afraid that his father must be ranked with the Others. He had not expected very much after all; New Zealand must be a strange place on all accounts; but his father seemed to show no desire to improve, he seemed quite happy and contented, and scarcely realised, apparently, the seriousness of his mistakes.
But, after all, the question of his father was a very minor affair as compared with the real problem that he must answer that evening. Robin had met Dahlia Feverel in the summer of the preceding year at Cambridge. He had thought her extremely beautiful and very fascinating. Most of his college friends had ladies whom they adored; it was considered quite a thing to do—and so Robin adored Dahlia.
No one knew anything about the Feverels. The mother was kept in the background and the father was dead—there was really only Dahlia; and when Robin was with her he never thought of questioning her as to antecedents of earlier history. For two months he loved her passionately, chiefly because he saw her very seldom. When he went down at the end of the summer term he felt that she was the only thing in the world worth living for. He became Byronic, scowled at Aunt Clare, and treated Garrett's cynicism with contempt. He wrote letters to her every day full of the deepest sentiments and a great deal of amazingly bad poetry. Clare wondered what was the matter, but asked no questions, and was indeed far too firmly convinced of the efficacy of the Trojan system to have any fears of mental or moral danger.
Then Miss Feverel made a mistake; she came with her mother to stay at Pendragon. For the first week Robin was blissfully happy—then he began to wonder. The best people in Pendragon would have nothing to do with the Feverels. Aunt Clare, unaware that they were friends of Robin's, pronounced them "commonly vulgar." The mother was more in evidence than she had been at Cambridge, and Robin passed from dislike to horror and from horror to hatred. Dahlia, too, seemed to have changed. Robin had loved her too passionately hitherto to think of the great Division. But soon he began to wonder. There were certain things—little unimportant trifles, of course—that made him rather uneasy; he began to have a horrible suspicion that she was one of the Others; and then, once the suspicion was admitted, proof after proof came forward to turn it into certainty.
How horrible, and what an escape! His visits to the little lodging-house overlooking the sea where Dahlia played the piano so enchantingly, and Mrs. Feverel, a solemn, rather menacing figure, played silently and mournfully continuous Patience, were less and less frequent. He was determined to break the matter off; it haunted his dreams, it troubled him all day; he was forced to keep his acquaintanceship with them secret, and was in perpetual terror lest Aunt Clare should discover it. He had that most depressing of unwished-for possessions, a skeleton; its cupboard-door swung creakingly in the wind, and its bones rattled in his ears.
No, the thing must come to an end at once, and completely. They had invited him to dinner and he had accepted, meaning to use the occasion for the contemplated separation. He had thought often enough of what he would say—words that had served others many times before in similar situations. He would refer to their youth, the affair should be a midsummer episode, pleasant to look back upon when they were both older and married to more worthy partners; he would be a brother to her and she should be a sister to him—but, thank God for his escape!
He believed that the Trojan traditions would carry him through. He was not quite sure what she would do—cry probably, and remonstrate; but it would soon be over and he would be at peace once more.
He dressed slowly and with his usual care. It would be easier to speak with authority if there was no doubt about his appearance. He decided to walk, and he passed through the garden into the town, his head a buzzing repetition of the words that he meant to say. It was a beautiful evening; a soft mist hid the moon's sharper outline, but she shone, a vague circlet of light through a little fleet of fleecy white cloud. Although it was early in September, some of the trees were beginning to change their dark green into faint gold, and the sharp outline of their leaves stood out against the grey pearl light of the sky. As he passed into the principal street of Pendragon, Robin drew his coat closer about him, like some ancient conspirator. He had no wish to be stopped by an inquisitive friend; his destination demanded secrecy. Soon the lights and asphalt of the High Street gave place to dark, twisting paths and cobbled stones. These obscure and narrow ways were rather pathetic survivals of the old Pendragon. At night they had an almost sinister appearance; the lamps were at very long intervals and the old houses leaned over the road with a certain crazy picturesqueness that was, at the same time, exceedingly dangerous. There were few lights in the windows and very few pedestrians on the cobbles; the muffled roar of the sea sounded close at hand. And, indeed, it sprang upon you quite magnificently at a turn of the road. To-night it scarcely moved; a ripple as the waves licked the sand, a gentle rustle as of trees in the wind when the pebbles were dragged back with the ebb—that was all. It seemed strangely mysterious under the misty, uncertain light of the moon.
The houses facing the sea loomed up darkly against the horizon—a black contrast with the grey of sea and sky. It was No. 4 where the Feverels lived. There was a light in the upper window and some one was playing the piano. Robin hesitated for some minutes before ringing the bell. When it had rung he heard the piano stop. For a few seconds there was no sound; then there were steps in the passage and the door was opened by the very dowdy little maid-of-all-work whose hands were always dirty and whose eyes were always red, as though with perpetual weeping.
With what different eyes he saw the house now! On his first visit, the sun had dazzled his eyes; there had been flowers in the drawing-room and she had come to meet him in some charming dress; he had stood enraptured at the foot of the stairs, deeming it Paradise. Now the lamp in the hall flared with the wind from the door, and he was acutely conscious of a large rent in the dirty, faded carpet. The house was perfectly still—it might have been a place of ghosts, with the moon shining mistily through the window on the stairs and the strange, insistent murmur of the sea beating mysteriously through the closed doors!
There was no one in the drawing-room, and its appalling bad taste struck him as it had never done before. How could he have been blind to it? The glaring yellow carpet, the bright purple lamp-shades, the gilt looking-glass over the fireplace, and, above all, dusty, drooping paper flowers in bright china vases ranged in a row by the window. Of course, it might be merely the lodgings. Lodgings always were like that—but to live with them for months! To attempt no change, to leave the flowers, and the terrible oil-painting "Lost in the Snow"—an obvious British Public appeal to a pathos that simply shrieked at you, with its hideous colours and very material snow-storm. No, Robin could only repeat once more, What an escape!
But had he, after all, escaped? He was not quite sure, as he stood by the window waiting. It might be difficult, and he was unmistakably nervous.
Dahlia closed the door, and stood there for a moment before coming forward.
"Robin—at last!" and she held out both hands to him. They were the same words that his aunt had used to his father last night, he remembered foolishly, and at once they seemed strained, false, ridiculous!
He took her hand and said something about being in time; then, as she seemed to expect it, he bent down and kissed her.
She was pretty in a rather obvious way. If there had been less artificiality there would have been more charm; of middle height, she was slim and dark, and her hair, parted in the middle, fell in waves over her temples. She affected a rather simple, aesthetic manner that suited her dark eyes and rather pale complexion. You said that she was intense until you knew her. To-night she wore a rather pretty dress of some dark-brown stuff, cut low at the neck, and with her long white arms bare. She had obviously taken a good deal of trouble this evening, and had undoubtedly succeeded.
"And so Sir Robert has deigned to come and see his humble dependants at last!" she said, laughing. "A whole fortnight, Robin, and you've not been near us."
"I'm dreadfully sorry," he said, "but I've really been too terribly busy. The Governor coming home and one thing and another——"
He felt gauche and awkward, the consciousness of what he must say after dinner weighed on him heavily. He could hardly believe that there had ever been a time when he had talked eagerly, passionately—he cursed himself for a fool.
"Yes, we've been very lonely and you're a naughty boy," said Dahlia. "But now you are here I won't scold you if you promise to tell me everything you've done since last time——"
"Oh! done?" said Robin vaguely; "I really don't know—the usual sort of thing, I suppose—not much to do in Pendragon at any time."
She had been looking at him curiously while he was speaking. Now she suddenly changed her voice. "I've been so lonely without you, dear," she said, speaking almost in a whisper; "I fancied—of course it was silly of me—that perhaps there was some one else—that you were getting a little tired of me. I was—very unhappy. I nearly wrote, but I was afraid that—some one might see it. Letters are always dangerous. But it's very lonely here all day—with only mother. If you could come a little oftener, dear—it means everything to me."
Her voice was a little husky as though tears were not far away, and she spoke in little short sentences—she seemed to find it hard to say the words.
Robin suddenly felt a brute. How could he ever tell her of what was in his mind? If it was really so much to her he could never leave her—not at once like that; he must do it gradually.
She was sitting by him on the sofa and looked rather delightful. She had the pathetic expression that always attracted him, and he felt very sorry indeed. How blank her days would be without him! Part of the romance had always been his role of King Cophetua, and tears sprang to his eyes as he thought of the poor beggar-maid, alone, forlornly weeping, when he had finally withdrawn his presence.
"I think it is partly the sea," she said, putting her hand gently on his sleeve. "When one is sitting quite alone here in the evening with nothing to do and no one to talk to, one hears it so plainly—it is almost frightening. You know, Robin, old boy, I don't care for Pendragon very much. I only came here because of you—and now—if you never come to see us——"