CHILDREN DANCING IN THE DUSK

Rather to Tony’s surprise, she and her father drove in silence. As a
matter of fact, Sir Gambier was baffled by his younger daughter. Awdrey
he could have dealt with easily enough–he was used to Awdrey’s scrapes.
But Tony had always been more or less impersonal–a vague some one for
whom one paid school-bills, who came home for the holidays, made herself
pretty scarce, and then went back to school again, to write prim letters
home every Sunday. It was a new idea that this half-realised being
should suddenly show herself possessed of a personality in the form of a
scrape–and such a scrape too! Furlonger! He grunted with fury, but–as
would never have been the case if he had had Awdrey to deal with–he
said nothing.

Once, however, he looked sideways, and noticed how Tony was sitting. Her
back was bent, and her arms rested on her knees, the hands clenched
between them; her chin was a little thrust forward into the darkness
through which they rushed.

At last they reached Shovelstrode. The moon was high above the pines,
and they seemed to be waving in waters of silver. The house-front
shimmered in the white light, as the motor pulsed up to it. Tony climbed
down, and stood stiffly on the step.

“You’d better go to your room,” said Sir Gambier in muddled rage. “I–I
expect your mother will want to speak to you.”

“Very well,” said Tony.

She walked quickly upstairs, went into her room, and sat down on the
bed. A square of moonlight lay on the floor, and the moving shadows
curtsied across it. They and the pines outside seemed to be nodding to
her grotesquely under the moon–they seemed to be mocking her for her
great illusion lost.

“Furlonger….” she repeated to herself. “Furlonger….”

A sick quake of rage was in her heart. Her feelings were still confused,
but definite grievances stood out of the jumble. This man whom she had
thought so much of–in school-girl language “had a rave on”–had
deceived her, told her lies, acted them, and won by them … well, the
horrible thing was that she did not really know how much or how little
he had won.

But worse still was the realisation that he had made her do
unconsciously something she thought wrong. Like most girls of her age
she had a cast-iron code of morals. When a school-girl sets out to be
moral, there is no professor of ethics or minister of religion that can
touch her–her morality has behind it all the enormous force of
inexperience, it can neither stretch nor bend, and it breaks only at the
risk of her whole spiritual life.

She was horrified to think she had given her friendship to a scoundrel,
even though she had done it ignorantly. It was like befriending a girl
who cheated or told tales. For her his crime had no attraction or
interest–it was just a hideous blot and defilement. She had often heard
the Wickham Rubber scandal discussed, and now store-housed memories came
to appal her. Hundreds of people, most of them already poor, had been
ruined and plunged into misery–widows with growing families, elderly
spinsters with hard-gathered savings, poor old men with the terror of
the workhouse closing on them with age, had trusted this Furlonger once
and execrated him now. He was like that dreadful man in the Psalms, who
laid wait to murder the innocent–“he doth ravish the poor when he
getteth him into his den.” And she had allowed this man to be her
friend, she had confided her secrets to him, she had dreamed of him and
prayed to meet him…. Tony’s teeth and hands clenched, and her eyes
grew miserable and hard.

Then she began to wonder what had made Furlonger want her friendship.
What had he and she in common? Somehow she could not for a moment
believe that he had sought her out from unworthy motives. The fact would
always remain that he had wanted her friendship, that he had not given
her a word which was not kind or courteous, that he had come to her
rescue in her hour of need … the tears rushed to her eyes; that was
the bitterest part of all–her memories of his kindliness and
knight-errantry–pictures of East Grinstead, Swites Wood, Brambletye,
Lingfield Park, and that little old cottage by Goatsluck Farm. Suddenly
she found herself making up her mind not to join her father and mother
in condemning him. She would take his part in the scene which she knew
was at hand.

She soon heard her father calling her, and went down. He pointed into
her mother’s boudoir, a small room with French windows opening on the
lawn. It was full of vague furniture and vague mixed colours, and it
seemed to Tony as if she were swimming through it up to the couch where
her mother lay. It never struck her as strange that her father should
seem unable to deal with her himself, but should hand her over to this
weak invalid, who lay with closed eyes in the lamplight.

“Now, I don’t want a scene,” she said, without opening them.

“Tony won’t make a scene,” said Sir Gambier; “she’s a deep one.”

“Oh, Antoinette,” sighed Lady Strife–“I never was so surprised in my
life as when I heard of your deceit.”

“My deceit!” said Tony quickly.

“Yes–going about with a man like Furlonger, and hiding it from your
father and mother–don’t you call that deceit?”

“I didn’t know he was Furlonger.”

“But you knew it was wrong to have a secret friendship with any man
whatsoever. I never heard of such a thing in a young girl of your age
and position–it’s what housemaids do, and not nice housemaids at that.”

“Mother,” cried Tony, her voice shaking unexpectedly, “it was an
adventure.”

“A what!” shouted Sir Gambier.

His wife winced.

“Don’t startle me, dear. And let the child say what she likes–I’m glad
she has a theory to explain her actions.”

Strife muttered something unintelligible, but made no more
interruptions.

“Now tell me, Antoinette,” said her mother, “exactly how long you have
known this man–and what have you and he been doing together?”

“Mother, I can’t explain. I know it sounds deceitful and caddish and all
that, but it–it wasn’t. It was an adventure, just as I’ve said. I’ve
_done_ something.”

The invalid smiled distantly.

“When you are older you will realise the superiority of thought to
action. The soul is built of thoughts–actions harden and coarsen it.
But we won’t discuss that now. Tell me how you and he got to know each
other.”

“He was the man who was so splendid at East Grinstead station. He told
me his name was Smith, because, of course, he didn’t want me to know who
he really was. Then I met him one morning when I was giving Prince a run
in Swites Wood, and then another time when I’d punctured my bicycle,
and….”

“Go on, Antoinette.”

“Oh, you’ll never understand. But he was so different from any one else
I’d met. He spoke so differently–about such different things—-”

“I can imagine that.”

“But he wasn’t horrid, mother–I swear he wasn’t. He was very quiet,
and interesting, and rather unhappy–and I liked him–I liked him
awfully.”

Lady Strife did not speak, but her eyes were wide open. As for Sir
Gambier, an unheard-of thing happened–he became sarcastic.

“Oh, you liked him, did you? Found him a nice-mannered young
fellow?–well-informed? I didn’t know you were interested in the inner
life of his Majesty’s prisons.”

“Father!” cried Tony sharply.

“Now, listen to me, dear,” said her mother; “you are very young, and
consequently very inexperienced. A grown-up person would at once have
realised that this man’s friendship for you could not be disinterested.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that he’s not the type of man who would naturally want to be the
friend of a young and innocent girl like you. He must have had some
ulterior motive in seeking your friendship. You have possibly seen no
signs of that so far, but it would have been plain enough later.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Hush, dear. Your impertinence disconcerts me. I am trying to view the
matter from the standpoint of pure thought, and how am I to do that if
you keep on rudely interrupting me and dragging me down into the surge
of human annoyance? You must take it from those older and more
experienced than yourself that this man’s motives in seeking your
friendship could not have been disinterested. Besides, even suppose for
the sake of argument that they were, don’t you think you’ve been acting
most disloyally to your father and me in associating with a man you know
we disapprove of?”

“Mother, I’ve told you I’d no idea who he really was. Why, I thought the
other man was Furlonger. Besides, I didn’t know you disapproved of him.
When all the others were letting fly at him, you said something about
his having a beautiful soul and sinning more divinely than many people
pray.”

There is nothing more irritating to the Magus than to have his early
philosophies cast in his teeth by some one with a better memory than his
own. Lady Strife descended deep into the surge of human annoyance.

“Really, Antoinette, you are a perfectly exasperating child. All this
comes from trying to treat you like a reasonable being. Your father said
that what you really need is a good thrashing, and I’m inclined to agree
with him now, though I insisted on having you in, and discussing things
with you from the standpoint of pure thought. I shan’t waste any more
time on you–you can go back to your room, and stay there till your
father gets an answer to his telegram to your Aunt Margaret.”

“Aunt Maggie!”

“Yes,” cried Sir Gambier, “you’re going to Southsea, to stay with your
Aunt Maggie till your confounded school re-opens or the crack of doom
falls–whichever happens first. You’re too much trouble at home–going
about with a face like a plaster saint, while in reality you’re
traipsing over the country with men.”

“Father, I wasn’t traipsing. Oh, please don’t send me to Aunt
Maggie’s–I shall die.” This was that terrible coercion from outside
which so effectually routs the forces of sixteen.

“My dear little girl,” said her mother, who had climbed back to her
standpoint of pure thought, “I know you will be reasonable now, and–I
think I may be quite sure of that too–grateful afterwards. Your father
and I are really doing you a great kindness in sending you to your
aunt’s–here you would never be free from the persecutions of that
Furlonger.”

“Mother, it wasn’t persecutions. I liked it.”

“Antoinette, I shall really begin to think you are utterly silly. To put
the matter on its lowest, most materialistic footing, don’t you realise
that in associating with a man like that you are seriously damaging your
prospects?”

“My prospects?”

“Yes–your prospects of making a good marriage and doing credit to your
family. Come, don’t stare at me so blankly. You must realise that you
are now approaching–if not actually arrived at–a marriageable age, and
that you must do nothing to damage—-”

“But, mother, I don’t want ever to marry. Really, I don’t want to talk
about such things. It makes me feel–oh, mother, don’t you see it’s bad
form?”

“What!” shrieked her mother, with extraordinary lung-power for an
invalid.

“We think it bad form at school to talk about marriage.”

Her parents both stared at her blankly.

“Well, you can just think it good form to talk about it now,” said Sir
Gambier, feeling for some vague reason that he had said something rather
witty.

“Your school must be an extraordinary place,” said Lady Strife. “I shall
have to write to the principal–now, don’t interrupt–I shall certainly
write; I won’t have such ideas put into your head. You’re quite old
enough to think seriously of marriage. Why, I’d already had two offers
at your age.”

Tony looked surprised. She was very fond of her mother, but always
wondered how she had ever managed to get married at all, and that she
should have had more than one chance seemed positively miraculous.

Lady Strife saw the surprised look, and spoke more sharply.

“Really, Antoinette, you’re no more than a great baby. You need
education in the most ordinary matters. I’ll write to your Aunt
Margaret, and ask her to get some eligible men to meet you. Now don’t
_cry_.”

Tony was actually crying. She was generally as chary and ashamed of
tears as a boy.

“I–I can’t help it. Oh, mother, don’t send me to Aunt Maggie’s. Oh,
don’t make her ask el-el-eligible m-men.”

“Don’t be a blithering idiot!” shouted Sir Gambier. “If you can’t
control yourself, go upstairs and begin packing at once.”

Tony went out, crying into a handkerchief stained with blackberry juice.
Her demoralisation was complete.

Awdrey, who had been lurking uneasily in the dining-room, came out as
the boudoir door opened and slammed, and for a moment stood horrified at
the sight of her sister.

“Hullo, Tony! Whenever did I last see you cry? What’s the matter, old
girl?”

“M-Mother thinks I’m old enough to-to b-be married.”

“To whom?” shrieked Awdrey, all agog at once.

“Nobody–only some el-eligible men at–at Aunt Maggie’s.”

“What rot you’re talking. Hasn’t any one asked you?”



“Of course not.”

“Then what on earth’s all the row about? It’s only natural mother should
want you to be married some day.”

“But–but I’ve sworn never to marry.”

“Ah,” said Awdrey knowingly, as she tramped upstairs beside her sister;
then in a gentler voice, “Why can’t you marry _him_?”

“Who’s ‘him’?”

“Why, the man who made you swear not to marry.”

“It wasn’t a man–it was a g-girl,” and Tony’s tears burst out afresh,
as she remembered how she and Gladys Gates had sworn to each other never
to marry, but always to live together, and had solemnly divided and
eaten a lump of sugar in ratification of the covenant.

Awdrey was speechless with disgust, but she went with Tony into her
room, because she had not yet found out what she primarily wanted to
know.

“You’re an extraordinary kid, Tony–I really should call you only half
there. You kick up all this ridiculous fuss at the mere mention of
marriage, and yet you go about with a man like Furlonger. Oh yes, I know
all about it. Father was bawling loud enough for every one this side of
the Channel to hear.”

“But I tell you I didn’t know he was Furlonger. Besides, he didn’t want
me to marry him. He wouldn’t dream of suggesting such a thing.”

“Oh, no, I’m quite sure of that. But you don’t tell me your relations
with him were entirely platonic.”

“Yes, I do.”

“You mean to say he never even kissed you?”

“Kissed me!–of course not!–how dare you, Awdrey!”

“My dear child, you play the injured innocence game very well, but when
you make out you don’t know what sort of man Furlonger is, you’re
carrying it a bit too far.”

“Of course, I know he’s been in prison,” and Tony sobbed drily, “but as
for kissing me, I’m sure he’s not as bad as that.”

“Are you trying to be funny?” asked Awdrey sharply.

Tony only sniffed in reply, and her sister’s gaze wandered round the
windy, austere room, resting on the few photographs of school-girl
friends on the mantelpiece.

“I suppose you’re in earnest,” she said, after a pause, “but really,
you’re the weirdest thing, even in flappers, I’ve ever met. Perhaps in
time you’ll realise that even such a heinous crime as a kiss is a degree
better than robbing a few score poor widows of their savings.”

Tony stopped crying suddenly, and a quiver passed through her. The
expression of her eyes changed.

“Awdrey–I–I think I’d like to be–alone–to do my packing.”

Half-an-hour later Tony’s boxes were still empty, except for a
foundation layer of the school-girl photographs. The bed and chairs were
littered with underclothing, shoes, hats, books and frocks. Tony sat on
the floor, staring miserably in front of her with tear-blind eyes that
did not notice the surrounding confusion, so intent were they on the
litter of a broken dream. Her dream, once so joyful, fresh and
iridescent, was now a mere jumble of shards. She had defended Furlonger
against her parents and her sister, but it had been the last effort of
which her bleeding heart was capable. Her hero and his epic had now
broken up into a terrible shatter of disillusion, to which her mother
and Awdrey had added the most humiliating dust. She could not think
which was worse–the motives of self-interest attributed by the one, or
the love-motives attributed by the other. And though she denied both,
at the bottom of her heart was a far worse accusation. Her stainless
champion was a criminal, a false swearer, a defrauder of the helpless, a
devourer of widows’ houses. He had not sinned against her in the way her
family imagined, but in a far more horrible, subtle way … she
shuddered, sickened and shrank.

All the same she was glad that when others accused him she had taken his
part.

Nigel was late for supper that evening. He came in very quietly, and
slipped into his place without a word. He had very little to say about
the races.

“Lost your money on Midsummer Moon?” said Leonard. “Well, you needn’t
look so glum–it was only five bob.”

But Janey knew that was not the matter, though she knew nothing more.
After supper she put her arm through his, and drew him out into the
garden. They walked up and down in front of Sparrow Hall. At first she
had meant to ask him questions, but soon she realised that the questions
would not come–only a great stillness between her and Nigel, and a
fierce clutch of their hands. They walked up and down, up and down,
breathing the thick scents of the garden–touched with autumn
rottenness, sodden with rain and night. Gradually they pulled each other
closer, till she felt the throb of his heart under her hand….

The next day Nigel worked hard with Len at weed-burning. It was strange
what a lot of weed-burning there was to do, thought he–not only at
Sparrow Hall, but at Wilderwick, and Swites Farm, and Golden Compasses,
and the Two-Mile Cottages, and all those places from which little curls
of blue, dream-scented smoke were drifting up against the sky. Men were
burning the tangles of their summer gardens, they were piling into the
flame those trailing sweets, now dead. For autumn was here, and winter
was at hand, and a few dead things that must be burnt were all that
remained of June.

Nigel wondered if his June had not gone too, and if he had not better
burn at once those few sweet, dead, tangled thoughts it had left him. He
thought of the dim lane by Goatsluck Farm, with the glare of two motor
lights on the hedges. He saw the puddles gleam, and Tony erect in the
trickery of light and darkness, shapeless in his coat. Then across the
aching silence of his heart came her words–“I can’t bear it!–I–I’m
so–disappointed.”

That was the end of June–and he ought to have expected it. His
friendship with Tony Strife could never have lasted in a neighbourhood
where both were known and talked about. It had ended a little suddenly,
that was all. He did not reproach himself for deceiving her; he did not
even regret it, though he guessed what she must think. The doorway of
the house of light had stood open, and he had crept in like a beggar,
knowing that he must soon be turned out, but resolute meanwhile to bask
and be glad.

But he wished she had not been “disappointed,” that was so pathetic.
Poor little girl! the memory of him would eat into her heart for a
while. Girls of her age were righteous, and he had cheated her into
friendship with unrighteousness. She would hate him for a bit. “I am so
disappointed”–it seemed as if all his seething desires for goodness
and peace had died into that little wail of outraged girlhood, and come
back to haunt the empty house of his heart.

During the first few days of separation he childishly hoped that he
might hear from her–surely she would write if only to upbraid. But no
letter came. His coat was returned the next morning, but he searched the
parcel in vain for a message. How cruel of Tony!–and yet all children,
even girl-children, are cruel. Their experience of sorrow is limited to
its tempestuous side–they do not know its aching calms; they quench
their thirst with great gulps, and do not know the relief of small drops
of water. This was the price he had to pay for seeking his comfort in
the gaiety of boys and girls instead of in the more stable sympathy of
his contemporaries.

The next two weeks were heartsick and lonely. All day long a piteous
consciousness of Tony was present in the background of his thoughts,
waiting till night to creep into the foreground of his dreams, and
torment him with hungry wakings. Everything that reminded him even of
her type was painful. Little ridiculous things twanged chords of
plaintive memory–a picture of the Roedean hockey-team, with their short
skirts and pig-tails, the demure flappers he sometimes met in his walks,
a correspondence on “moral training in girls’ schools” which was being
waged in a daily paper–everything that reminded him of healthy,
growing, undeveloped girlhood, reminded him of Tony, and made his heart
ache and yearn and grieve after her.

He wandered about by himself a good deal in the lanes, snatching his few
free moments after dusk. He no longer tramped furiously–he roamed, with
slow steps and dreaming eyes, drinking a faint peace from the darkness
of the fields. He found comfort, too, in his fiddle, and every evening
he would play through his banal repertory, “O Caro Nome,” from
_Rigoletto_, “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls,” the overtures to
_Zampa_ and _La Gazza Ladra_, the Finale from _Lucia di Lammermoor_. He
became wonderfully absorbed in his fiddling, and had recovered a certain
amount of his old skill and flexibility.

One day he took his violin to East Grinstead, as the sounding post had
fallen down. He came back by a long road–through Hophurst and New
Chapel and Blindley Heath. He stopped at the last to have a drink–it
was a dreary collection of cottages, scattered round a flat, windswept
heath. There were ponds in the corners of the heath, and their waters
were always ruffled by a strange wind. Right in the middle of the waste
was a little house squatting in its own patch of tillage, an island, a
tumble-down oasis, in the great dreariness.

The scene, with the grey, scudding sky behind it, became stamped on
Nigel’s brain, as he stood with his beer in the pothouse door. It was
one of those days when it seems as if our own hopelessness has at last
impressed the unfeeling mask of Nature, and caused it to put on the
grimace of our despair.

One or two children were playing in the road in front of the tavern, the
wind fluttering their pinafores, and blowing their clothes against their
limbs. A little boy with a mouth-organ was playing a vague and plaintive
tune, to which two little girls were dancing. Nigel stood listening for
some minutes, till both the moaning wind and the creaking tune had woven
themselves together into a symphony of wretchedness.

Then he put down his beer, and took up his violin. He unfastened the
case, unrolled the chrysalis of wrappings, and laid the instrument
against his shoulder. The next minute a shrill wail rose up and
challenged the wind.

The bar was nearly empty, but Nigel would not have cared had it been
full. He stood in the doorway, his hair blowing and ruffling madly, his
body swaying, as he forced his fiddle into a duet with the wind. He had
never before tried to extemporise, his violin had been for him a memory
of sugary tunes, each wrapped up in the tinsel of a little past–he had
never tried to wring the present out of it in a sudden, fierce
expression of the emotions that tortured him as he played. This evening
he wanted to join the wind in its wailing race, to rush with it over the
common, to tear with it through the hedges, and sweep with it over the
water. He forced out of his fiddle the cries of his own heart–they rose
up and challenged the wind. The wind hushed a little–fluttered,
throbbed–was still … the fiddle tore through the silence and
shattered it … then the wind rose, and drummed savagely. Nigel dashed
his bow down on the deep strings, and forced deep sounds out of them.
The wind galloped up to a shriek–and Nigel’s hand tore into harmonics,
and wailed there till the wind was only puffing and sobbing. Then the
fiddle sobbed. The fiddle and the wind sobbed together … till the wind
swung up a scale–up came the fiddle after it … the wind rushed higher
and higher, it whistled in the dark eaves of the inn, and the fiddle
squeaked higher and higher, and Nigel’s fingers strained on the
fingerboard–he would not be beaten, blind Nature should not defeat him,
two should play her game. The wind was like a maniac as it whistled its
arpeggios–the casements of the house were rattling like tin, the trees
were swishing and bending, the water in the ruts of the lane was
rippling, doors were creaking and banging, the fiddle was straining and
shrieking … then suddenly the string broke. Nigel dropped his bow,
angry and defeated. The duet with the wind was over.

Then he noticed a strange thing. He had been staring blindly and
stupidly ahead of him, all his senses merged into sound, but now he saw
that the road was crowded with children, and they were all
dancing–little girls with their petticoats held high, little boys
jumping aimlessly in their clumsy boots. They stopped as his hand fell,
and stared at him in surprise, as if they had expected the music to go
on for ever.

“Hullo!” said Nigel–then suddenly he laughed; they all looked so
forlorn, holding out their pinafores and pointing their feet.

“Wait a bit,” he said, “my string’s broken, but I’ll have another on in
no time.”

So he did–but not to play a duet with the wind. He played the
Intermezzo from _Cavalleria_, and the dance went on as raggedly as
before. After the Intermezzo he played the Overture to _Zampa_, which
was immensely popular, then threaded a patchwork of _La Somnambula_, the
_Bohemian Girl_, _La Tosca_, and _Aida_, till mothers began to appear on
the doorsteps with cries of “Supper’s waiting.”

Supper was waiting for Nigel when he appeared at Sparrow Hall. Len and
Janey asked no questions–it was pathetic how few questions they asked
him nowadays–but they both noticed he was happier. He did not speak
much–he sat in a kind of dream, with a wistful tremulousness in the
corners of his mouth. His mouth had always been the oldest part of
him–hard in repose and fierce in movement–but to-night it had taken
some of the extreme childishness of his eyes. Nigel felt very much the
same as a child that cries for the moon and is given a ball to play
with–the ball almost makes him forget that he wants the moon so badly.
Those dancing children had, for some strange reason, partly filled the
place of stalwart Tony in his heart. That night they came and danced in
his dreams–in a pale light, to a tinkling tune. He found himself
forming plans for making them dance again. He would never be on the old
footing with Tony, but those children should dance for him and help him
to forget.

So the next evening he went out again with his fiddle, and played at
Blindley Heath. Again the children danced–with clumping boots and high
petticoats they danced outside the Sweepers Inn. But this time he did
not stay long–he went on to Dormans Land, to see if they would dance
there. It was nearly dark now, and one or two misty stars shone above
the village roofs–the wind was heavy with approaching rain as it
soughed up the street towards him. He did not stand at the inn, but
where the road to Lingfield joins the road to Cowden, close to the
schools. One or two children came and looked at him curiously.

“He wants a halfpenny,” said one, “I’ll ask my mumma for it.”

“No,” said Nigel, “I want you to dance.”

The children giggled, but at last the little girl who had suggested the
halfpenny picked up her skirts, and then it was not long before they
were all dancing to the waltz from _Traviata_.

Every day afterwards, when evening fell, Nigel took his violin, and went
out into the lanes and the dark-swept villages, and played for the
children to dance. They grew to expect him, and to clamour for old
tunes. “Give us the jiggy one,” they would cry, and he would play “O
Caro Nome.” “Give us the twirly one,” and he would play “I Dreamt I
Dwelt in Marble Halls.” But sometimes he would not give them what they
wanted–he would play what he chose, strange things that came into his
head and would not leave it till he had sent them wailing into the dusk.
One day he played a duet with some long grass that rustled and sighed
behind him; another day it was with a wood, brown and naked, but full of
palpitating mysteries; another time he played an accompaniment to the
stars as they crept timidly one by one into the deserts of the sky. He
knew the constellations, and gave gentle, bird-like notes to the dim
Pleiades, and low, sonorous tones to Orion, and heavy quavers to the
Wain; there was a sudden scale for Casseopeia, and harmonics for the
Ram. By the time he had finished all the children had gone, and he was
alone in the breeze and darkness, in a great, grief-stricken silence,
which, he realised painfully, greeted the stars far more fitly than any
strivings of his.

It was impossible for this new life to be hidden from the brother and
sister at Sparrow Hall. One evening Leonard burst into the kitchen where
Janey was sitting.

“What do you think Nigel’s up to now?”

“What?”

“Playing the fiddle outside pubs for kids to dance to.”

Janey gasped.

“Are you sure, Len?”

“Absolutely pos. Old Pilcher was telling me–the lad was fiddling away
for an hour outside the Sweepers at Blindley Heath, and all the brats
were on their hind legs, kicking up no end. Janet, do you think he’s all
there?”

“I–I don’t know–I’ve been wondering.”

“There’s no doubt that he’s been strange ever since he came out of quod.
Poor old Nigel–life’s hit him hard, and bruised him a lot.”

“He was funny about kids from the first. He took a tremendous fancy to
that odious little Ivy Batt who comes for the milk.”

“I expect this is part of the same game.”

“I expect it is–but it hurts me to think of it.”

She turned to the fire, and a sigh shook her breast–life had a habit of
hitting hard all round.

A few minutes later Nigel came in. He set down his violin, and went over
to the hearth, kneeling beside Janey. She put her arms round him, and
drew his head to her shoulder.

“Old man … is it really true that you go about the villages fiddling
to kids?”

“Yes–I like to see ’em dance.”

“Are you fond of them?”

“Only when they dance.”

“What a funny old man you are.”

“Ain’t I, Janey!”