KEEPING CHRISTMAS

Every evening the three Furlongers used to sit by the fire and stare
into it. Len would sprawl back in his chair with his pipe, and the other
two lean forward with needlework and newspapers and cigarettes. They
seldom spoke–the wind would howl, and the shadows would creep, and the
night drift on through star-strewn silences. At last some one would yawn
loudly, and the others laugh–and all go to bed.

Len was worried about Nigel and Janey, and usually devoted these
evenings and their pipely inspiration to thinking them out in a
blundering way. He was not a man given to problems, and hitherto life
had held but few. It was an added bitterness that now his problem should
be that brother and sister who had always stood to him for all that was
simple and beloved.

Nigel, in his strange fears, his subcurrents of emotion, and quickly
changing moods, reminded Len of a horse; he did not object to drawing
upon his knowledge of horses and their ways for the management of his
brother. He humoured him, bore with him, but kept at the same time a
tight hand–especially when the boy’s seething restiveness and pain
found vent in harsh words to Janey. Janey could not bear harsh words
now–she had used to be able to pick them off and throw them back in the
true sisterly style, but now she winced and let them stick. Janey
perplexed Len as much as Nigel, and worried him far more. Her eyes
seemed to be growing very large, and her cheeks very hollow. When she
smiled her lips twitched in a funny way, and when she laughed it grated.
Janey cost Len many pipes.

The explanation of Janey was, of course, at Redpale Farm, sitting glumly
by his winter fireside, just as she sat by hers. The love of Janet
Furlonger and Quentin Lowe had entered on a new phase. Quentin was
beginning to be dissatisfied. At first Janey had imagined that she would
welcome this, but it did not come as she had expected. It brought their
love into spasmodic silences. Up till then Quentin and she had always
been writing and meeting, but now he wrote to her and met her in
strange, sudden jerks of feeling. Sometimes he left her for days without
even a line, but she could never doubt him, because when at last they
met, his love seemed to burn with even greater torment and fierceness
than in the months of its more regular expression. He began to give her
presents, too–a locket, a ring, a book, which she shrank from, but
forced herself to accept because of the evident delight he found in
giving.

Once more he was rambling restlessly and ineffectively on a quest for
independence. His efforts always came to nothing, partly through his own
incapacity, but always, too, through a sheer perverseness of fate,
thwarting developments, wrecking coincidences–so there really seemed
truth in his cry that the stars fought against him.

She began to realise that, much as she had deplored what looked like
his permanent satisfaction with a makeshift, she had found in it a kind
of vicarious rest. When anxiety and disillusion lay like stones at the
bottom of her heart, she had comforted herself with the thought of the
lightness of his. Now she could do so no longer–she had the burden of
his sorrow as well as her own to bear, and for a woman like Janey, this
was bound much more than to double her load.

Her anxiety about Nigel was also a pain that bruised through the weeks.
He was decidedly “queer,” and she could not understand his new craze for
fiddling to children. Sometimes, too, he would be terribly sentimental,
and have fits of more or less maudlin affection for her and Leonard. At
other times he would be surly, and during his attacks of surliness he
would work with desperation, almost with greed, as if he longed to wear
himself out. Then he would come in, and throw himself down in a chair,
and sleep the sleep of utter exhaustion with wide-flung limbs–or he
would have a bath by the fire, regardless of any cooking operations she
might have on hand, or the difficulty of heating gallons of ice-cold
water in a not over-large kettle. Len would be furious with him on these
occasions, and tell him that if he wanted a Turkish bath built on to
Sparrow Hall he had better say so at once.

“I hope we’ll have a happy Christmas,” remarked Janey rather plaintively
to Len one evening late in December.

“Why shouldn’t we?” he asked; he was kneeling on the hearthstone,
cleaning her boots.

“Well, we’ve been counting on it so. You remember last Christmas, when
I said that next time we’d have Nigel with us….”

“And we’ve got him, haven’t we?”

“Yes.”

She was silent then, and the next minute he lifted his eyes from the
blacking and laughed up at her.

“There’s the rub, Janey. We don’t know how Nigel will take Christmas.”

“No–he’ll probably be frightfully sentimental at breakfast, and kiss us
both–and then he’ll have a boiling bath–and then he’ll take his fiddle
and go out for hours to play to those wretched kids.”

“A pretty fair prophecy, I should think.”

“He’s just like a kid himself,” sighed Janey.

“Yes–I think he’s getting soft in that way. At any rate, he’s taken an
uncommon fancy to kids. By the bye, that girl he rescued at Grinstead
station, Strife’s girl, has come home for Christmas. I saw her out with
her father this morning, and she’d got her hair up, and looked years
older. I expect she’ll be getting married soon. Her people will see that
she settles down early–they don’t want two like her sister.”

“What was that?” cried Janey.

“What?”

“I thought I heard some one in the room.”

“There’s nobody–look, quite empty, except for you and me. You’re
getting nervy, old girl.”

“Perhaps I am.”

He stood up, and looked at her closely and rather anxiously. Then he
put his arms round her.

“You’re not well, sis–I’ve noticed it for a long time. I say–there’s
nothing the matter, is there? You’d tell us if there was, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course … there’s nothing,” she whispered, as his rough hand
stroked her hair. He held her to him very tenderly, he was always
gentler and less exacting with her than Nigel. Yet, somehow, when she
was unhappy it was Nigel she wanted to cling to, whose strong arms she
liked to feel round her, whose suffering face she wanted close to hers.
She wanted Nigel now.

But Nigel had gone out.

He walked heavily, his arms folded over his chest, his head hanging.

So she was back–and she was grown up–and she would soon be married.

These three contingencies had never struck him before. She had gone so
inevitably out of his life, that he had never troubled to consider her
return to Shovelstrode. She had stood so inevitably for adolescence,
unformed and free, that he had never thought of her growing up. And as
for marriage, it had seemed a thing alien and incongruous, her girlhood
had been virgin to his timidest desire.

But she was grown up. She was ready for marriage, and most likely would
soon be married. He realised that to some other man would be given,
probably readily enough, what he had not dared even think about. A
shudder passed through him, but the next minute he flung up his head
almost triumphantly. He had had from Tony what she would never give to
another–he had had her free thoughtless comradeship, and she would
never give it again. She was grown up now, and unconsciously she would
realise her womanhood, put up little barriers, put on little airs.
He–he alone–would have the memory of her heedless girlhood innocently
displayed–he had what no other man had had, or could have ever.

Christmas came, a moist day, warm and rather hazy. Janey had decorated
Sparrow Hall with holly and evergreens, and had even compounded an
ominous-looking plum-pudding. She was desperately anxious that their
first Christmas together for four years should be a success–she even
ventured to hint the same to Nigel.

“Why,” he drawled, “do we keep Christmas? Is it because Christ was born
in a manger?”

“Of course not–how queerly you talk!”

“Because that was why we kept it in prison.”

“But we aren’t in prison here.”

“Aren’t we?–aren’t we, Janey?–would there be any good keeping
Christmas if we weren’t?”

She laughed uneasily.

“Nigel, you’re balmy. Come along and help me make mince-pies. It’s all
you’re good for.”

In spite of her fears, Christmas morning passed happily enough, and
though the dinner was culinarily a failure, socially it was a huge
success. The pudding, having triumphantly defeated the onslaughts of
knives, forks and teeth, was accorded a hero’s death in the kitchen
fire, to the accompaniment of the Dead March on Nigel’s fiddle, and
various ritual acts extemporised by Len from memories both military and
ecclesiastical. He was preparing a ceremonial funeral for the
mince-pies, when he and Janey suddenly realised that Nigel had left the
room.

“Now where the devil has he gone?”

Janey sighed.

“Some silly game of his. I hope he’ll be back soon.”

“Not he!–he’s probably off for the day, to fiddle to those blasted
kids, if they’re not too full of plum-pudding to dance. By Christopher,
Janey–he’s mad.”

The dark was gathering stealthily–crawling up from the Kent country in
the east, burying the wet winter meadows of Surrey and Sussex in damp
and dusk and fogs. In the west a crimson furnace smouldered, showing up
a black outline of hills. Moisture was everywhere–the roads gleamed
with mud, the banks were sticky with damp tangled grass, and drops
quivered and glistened on the bare twigs of the hedges.

A great sense of disheartenment was everywhere. It was Christmas day,
and hundreds of hearths were bright–but outside, away from humanity and
its cheerful dreams, all Nature mourned, in the curse of the winter
solstice, drowned in the water-flood. Furlonger had left his hearth with
its cheery flames and loved faces and warm, sweet dreams of goodwill,
and was out alone with Nature, who had no warmth nor love nor
make-believe, only wet winds and winter desolation.

He came to Dormans Land. The blinds were down, and through the chinks he
saw the leap and spurt of firelight. He stood where three roads met, and
the wind swept up from Lingfield, where the first stars had hung their
lanterns. He began to play–a dreary, springless tune, that struck cold
into the hearts of the few it reached through their closed windows. He
played the song of Christmas as Nature keeps it–the festival of life’s
drowning and despair.

No children came to dance. They were happy beside their parents, with
sweets and crackers and fun. They were keeping Christmas as man keeps
it, and drew down the blinds on Nature keeping it outside, and the lone
fiddler who felt it more congenial to keep it with Nature than to keep
it with men.

Nigel stopped playing and looked around him into the gloom. He felt
disappointed because the children had not come to dance. He had broken
away from his brother and sister because he wanted those dancing
children so badly–and they had not come. Perhaps he had better go
further up into the village, since the children were not playing in the
street as usual, but in their homes.

So he went up, and stood between the church and the Royal Oak. The place
seemed deserted–only a great, empty car stood outside the inn. Nigel
began to play, but again there was no response. The darkness came
fluttering towards him from the back streets of the village, and seemed
to creep right into his heart.

Then suddenly it struck him that he played too doleful a tune for the
children. They liked lively airs–they found it hard to dance to those
bizarre mournful extempores of his. So he started “O Caro Nome,” and
when that had jigged and rippled to an end, he played airs from Flotow’s
_Martha_, and then his old favourite, “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble
Halls.”

The street was still empty. From a cottage close by came the wheeze of a
harmonium. He stood drearily snapping the strings with his fingers. Then
suddenly he realised how ridiculous he was–playing in the village
street, in the damp and the cold and the dark, when he ought to be at
home, eating and drinking and singing and joking because Christ was born
in a manger.

He turned away–he was a fool. Why did he like seeing children
dance?–why did it hurt him so that they were better employed to-day? He
did not know. His life, his emotions, his heart, were like the twilight,
a dark and cheerless mystery. He could not understand half what he felt
in his own breast. He was himself only a child dancing in the dusk, to
an unknown fiddler playing a half-comprehended tune.

The next moment he heard the inn door open behind him, and turning round
saw a short, broad figure on the doorstep, wrapped in an enormous
motor-coat.

“Will you not play something else?”

The words came heavily, with a teutonic lumber. Nigel saw a round,
florid face, and dark, very close-cropped hair.

He hesitated–perhaps the stranger was making game of him.

“I have been listening to you for some time, and now I have come to see
you. I am surprised. I do not think you are a beggar.”

“Not quite,” said Nigel.

“Well, play some more.”

Again Furlonger hesitated. Then he hoisted his fiddle to his shoulder
with a short, rather grating, laugh.

He played the Requiem from _Il Trovatore_.

There was silence. The darkness seemed to pass in waves over the sky,
each wave engulfing it deeper. The wind sobbed a strange little tune in
the eaves of the inn.

“You have tortured my ears,” said the stranger. Nigel flushed
angrily–so after all the idea had been to make game of him–“with your
damned Verdi.”

“How do you mean?”

“You are too good to play Verdi.”

“Oh!”

“What are your favourite composers?”

“Gounod–Verdi–Balfe—-”

“Ai! Ai! Ach!” and the stranger put his hands over his ears.

Nigel was beginning to be faintly amused.

“Well, what’s the matter with ’em?”

“The matter?–they are dead.”

“That’ll be the matter with us all, sooner or later.”

“Let us hope it will be sooner for some of us.”

Nigel looked into the stranger’s face, and again experienced a slight
shock of surprise. The eyes in the midst of its florid circumference
were haunted with despair, grief-stricken and appealing. He suddenly
realised that it was not normal for a man to spend Christmas day in
lonely petrol prowlings.

“Play some more.”

“I can only play Verdi and Balfe and those others.”

“Well, I’ll try to endure it.”

“Look here,” said Furlonger, “what’s your game? Why should you want me
to play when you hate my music?”

“I hate your music, but I like your playing. You are a wonderful
player.”

“Oh, rats!” and Nigel felt angry, he did not know why.

“I repeat–you are a wonderful player. Who taught you?”

“Carl Hauptmann.”

“Hauptmann!–he was a pupil of mine.”

“Then you’re Eitel von Gleichroeder!”

“I am.”

Nigel looked interested. Memories of his life in London revived–music
lessons, concerts, musical jargon, a lost world in which he had once
lived, but had now almost forgotten. He seemed to hear Hauptmann’s
strange, coughing laugh as he chid his pupil for what von Gleichroeder
had just chidden him now–his abominable taste. “You are hobeless,
hobeless–you and your Balfe and your Bellini and your odder vons.” Von
Gleichroeder he knew would take an even more serious view of the case,
as he had a reputation for ultra-modernism in music. Hauptmann’s
contempt for Balfe and Bellini he carried on to Verdi and Gounod, even
Tschaikowsky, while though he was obliged to grant Beethoven supremacy
with a grudge, he passed over his works in favour of those of Scriabin,
d’Indy, Debussy and Strauss.

“Well, well,” said the musician, “play _Zampa_, play _Lucia di
Lammermoor_, play _La Somnambula_–any abomination you please–but
play.”

Nigel, with rather an evil grin, played _Zampa_.

“Why do you like those things?”

“Because they are pretty tunes.”

“Ach!–and why do you like pretty tunes?”

Nigel stared at him full of hostility, then his manner changed.

“Because they remind me of–of things I used to feel.”

He realised dimly that there was a subtle free-masonry between him and
this man. In a way it drew them together, in a way it held them apart.

“What you used to feel. So! that is better. It’s your heart they tickle,
not your ears.”

Furlonger nodded.

“Do you play for your living?”

“No–I am a farmer.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“I play for children to dance.”

Von Gleichroeder looked round, and shrugged his shoulders. He did not
seem particularly surprised.

“Would you not like to play for grown-up children to dance? For
fashionable society to crowd to hear you, and gather round you like
children round a barrel-organ?”

“Fashionable society won’t waste much of its time on me. I’ve been in
prison three years for bogus company promoting.”

“So! But that is good. Without that attraction you could fill the
Bechstein, but with it you can fill the Albert Hall.”

“Gammon.”

“Not at all. My dear young man, I see a glorious future ahead of you, if
you will only trouble to secure it. Come to London and study music—-”

“Please don’t talk nonsense.”

“It is not nonsense. You are wonderfully gifted. I don’t say you are a
genius, for you are not–but you are wonderfully gifted, and your
history will make you interesting to the ladies. With your talent and
your history and–and your face, you ought to do really well, if only
some enterprising person would take you in hand.”

“Which isn’t likely.”

“I beg your pardon–it is most likely. I will do it.”

Nigel was more surprised than grateful.

“No, thank you.”

“Do not be proud. It is purely a business offer. I expect to make money
out of you, and–what do you call it?–credit. Listen here–if you
cannot pay my fees, I will give you a year’s tuition free of charge, on
condition that I have a percentage on your salaries during the next
five years. That is a generous offer–many a young man would give much
to have me for professor.”

Nigel shook his head.

“Thanks awfully–but I’m not keen on it.”

“And why?”

“Well, for one thing, I don’t want to make my stinking past into an
advertisement, and for another I don’t want to go back to prison.”

“Prison!–that is a strange name for fame and big salaries.”

“I’m not thinking of those so much as of what must come before them–all
the grind and slavery. My music’s the only part of me that has never
been in prison, and if I make a trade and treadmill out of it, I shall
be degrading it just as I have degraded everything else about me.”

“It will not be degradation–on the contrary.”

“And I don’t believe I shall ever make myself a name.”

“That remains to be seen. I don’t expect you to become world-famous, but
there is no reason why you should not be exceedingly successful in
England, where no one bothers very much about taste or technique. Taste
you have none, technique—- Lord help us!–but temperament–ach,
temperament! You have suffered–hein?”

Nigel coloured. He could not answer–because he felt this man had
suffered too.

“Of course, you have suffered–you could not play like that if you had
not. Without your suffering you would be a clever amateur–just that.
But now, because you have suffered, you are something more. ‘Wer nie
sein Brod mit Thränen ass’–you doubtless know our Goethe’s wonderful
lines. So”–and his dark, restless eyes looked up almost imploringly to
the sky–“sorrow has one use in this world.”

There was another pause. The village was quite dark now–lights
twinkled. High above the frosty exhalations of the dusk, piling walls of
smoke-scented mist round the cottages, the stars shone like the lights
of celestial villages, dotting the dark country of the sky. The Wain
hung tilted in the north, lonely and ominous, Betelgeuse was bright
above Sussex, Aldebaran burned luminous and lonely in his quarter. Nigel
watched the Sign of Virgo, which had just risen, and glowed over the
woods of Langerish. It flickered like candles in the wind. Then he
dropped his eyes to the darkness round him, and through it came the
creak of a harmonium.

“Well?” said von Gleichroeder.

“Well?”



“Will you accept my offer?”

“No, thank you.”

“Why?”

“I’ve given you my reasons.” The subtle sense of hostility put insolence
into his voice.

“They are no reasons.”

“They are mine.”

The foreigner shrugged his shoulders.

“So be it. I have made my offer–you have refused it. It is your own
concern.”

He took out his card-case, and presented his card to Furlonger.

“In case you change your mind.”

This was anti-climax, and Nigel felt irritated.

“I’m not in the habit of changing my mind.”

“Just as you please,” and von Gleichroeder put back the card-case in his
pocket.

“Good evening,” he added politely.

“Good evening,” mumbled Furlonger.

He turned away, and walked down the village to where the foot-path to
Wilderwick striped the fields. At the stile he paused, and realised that
he had been exceptionally insolent.

Nigel reached home only half-an-hour before supper-time. Len and Janey
did not receive him cordially, but he was too much preoccupied with his
adventure to notice their coldness or take their hints. He poured it all
out at the evening meal–the subtle sense of outrage which for some
unknown reason von Gleichroeder’s offer had stirred up, contending in
his voice with a ridiculous, childish pride.

Len and Janey were unfeignedly surprised. It had never occurred to them
that Nigel’s playing was even tolerable–they had sometimes liked it in
the distance, that was all.

“Fancy his wanting you to go and study in London,” said Janey. “I’m glad
you refused.”

“So’m I”!

“It would have been beastly losing you again, old man–we haven’t had
you back three months.”

“Wouldn’t you like to see me fill the Albert Hall?”

“Well–er–if you could really do it, it might be interesting to
watch–just for once in a way. But I don’t see that it would be worth
breaking up the ‘appy ‘ome, only for that.”

Nigel would have liked them to be more impressed, but they voiced his
own feelings exactly.

“No–nor do I. Well, I’ve settled the old geyser, anyway–and now let’s
forget all about him.”

Which they did at once.

That night Nigel had restless dreams. He dreamed he was playing to
crowded audiences in great nightmare-like halls that stretched away to
infinity. The circumstances were always unfavourable–sometimes he would
have only one string on his violin, and sometimes he would find himself
struggling with some horrible dream-begotten instrument with as many
strings as a harp. Once he dreamed that all the audience got up and
danced a hideous rigadoon, another time they all had the same face–a
dark, florid face that leered.

Towards morning he dreamed a quieter dream. He was playing in a very
large place, but he had a rational instrument, and he was playing “I
Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls.” The melody floated all through his
dreams–the same as in waking hours, and yet not quite the
same–celestial, rarefied, wistful in heart and ears. He was also
conscious of a presence–he knew he was near Tony Strife; he felt her
close to him, and it was magic in his blood. The melody drifted
on–sometimes pouring out of his violin, sometimes seeming to come from
very far away.

“And I also dreamed, which pleased me most,
That you loved me still the same …”

The music ceased abruptly, and he dropped his bow, looking round to see
Tony. She was not there; the great hall was empty–nothing but empty
seats stretching away into dimness–except that in the front row of all
sat two figures huddled together. He looked down at them, and at first
he did not know them, then he saw that they were Len and Janey, staring
up at him with hungry, loving eyes….

He woke and sat up, shivering a little. It must be late, for the winter
sky was white beyond the woods. Yet he did not feel inclined to rise. He
lay back, and folded his hands behind his head, staring out at the dull
line of brown that lay against the quivering, dawn-filled clouds.

Those woods always put strange thoughts into his head. They made him
think of his own life, lonely, windy and sere. But some day the spring
would throb in them, their branches would shine with green, their
thickets would thrill with song; in their waste, desolate places
primroses would push through the dead leaves of last year…. He sat up
again with a jerk–for the first time he realised that the woods would
not be always brown.

The thought gave him a faint shock of surprise. Ever since the day he
left prison he had looked out on brown woods, rocked by autumn and
winter winds, so that he had almost forgotten that autumn and winter
would not last for ever. He had never thought of spring, of March and
tender green, of April and first flowers, of sweet, quickening rains,
and winds full of warmth and the scent of young leaves. It was strange
that he should have forgotten spring.

Now in the darkest day of the year, spring held out its promise to the
woods–and to him. The yellow of a hidden sunrise was filling the
clouds like hope unbounded–and Nigel’s dream came back to him, his
dream of marble halls and of love that was “still the same.” He saw
himself playing to thronged audiences, with Tony close to him, unseen,
intangible, but there–with all the sweet memories of Lingfield and
Brambletye revived and re-established, her friendship, candour, and
tenderness “still the same.”

Then he understood. Gulfs unbridgeable might lie between the convict
with his stained and broken life and the simple little schoolgirl of
Shovelstrode. But the well-known violinist who played for “big
salaries,” who “filled the Albert Hall.”… A terrible thing had
happened to Nigel–he had begun to hope. When hope has been a long time
away, the return of it is like the return of sensation to a frost-bitten
limb. It pricks, it burns, it tortures. It tortured Nigel till a cry of
anguish burst from him, bitterer than in any of his fits of despair. He
bent forward, clapping his hand to his side.

Hope showed him the doors of his prison flung wide at last. For long
years he had never dreamed of escape, he was a captive, so fast in
prison that he could not get forth–free only among the dead. But now
the doors were open and he could go out. His music would raise him up
out of the pit, bring him back to an earth washed in rain and spring, to
touch the trembling innocence of the lilies, and drink the sweetness of
the eternal May.

“Oh, God! Oh, God!–I want to be free! I want to be free!”

The cry was not a prayer so much as the cry of his great hunger,
finding voice at last–“I want to be free! I want to be free!”

His mind dropped hastily to practical details. He had seen von
Gleichroeder’s address on his card, and that tough memory of his, which
was sometimes a curse to him, held it fast. He would write and tell him
he had changed his mind. It would be humiliating, but it must be done.
Then he would go to London, and work–and work. It was not only the
topmost pinnacle that could lift him out of his old life, the name he
would make for himself need not be a great name–as long as it was a
fair name. That was what he wanted, and would struggle for–a fair name.
Hard work, an honest livelihood, self-denial, constant communion with
the beautiful and inspired, would purge his soul of its defilement. The
hideous stain of his crime would be wiped off. When he had lived for
years in poverty and honesty, when he had brought by his music a little
sunshine into poor lives like those he had smitten, when the fields of
three counties had ceased to reproach him for his treachery, and the
name of Furlonger had some faint lustre from his bearing it–then he
would be free. And when he was free he would allow himself–not to claim
Tony’s friendship or anything else beyond him, but just to think of
her–think of her with hope.

Oh, Tony, little Tony! his little love!

For weeks now he had known that he loved her. Though he had never dared
think of her as a woman, he wanted her. He had wanted women before, he
had had his adventures with them–though not perhaps as many as the
average man–but they had all been stale and ordinary, the stock line,
the job lot, which eager, extravagant youth pays high for as a novelty.
Now he had something new. He loved a little girl, scarcely more than a
child, parted from him by a dozen barriers of his own erecting. He loved
her because she was good and innocent, and had given him perfect
comradeship; most of all he loved her because of the barriers between
them, because she lived utterly apart from him, in a foreign land of
liberty and hope and uprightness, towards which he must strive hourly if
he were to gain even the frontiers.

He scowled a little. He was not blind, and he knew that he would have to
go into slavery, perhaps for a long time, before this new freedom was
won. Even in an hour he had been able to see that von Gleichroeder was a
technique-fiend, and would make matters hot for his clumsy pupil. He
also realized that though the German had borne good humouredly with his
insolence, he would not be so patient when he became his master. Yes–he
would have a master–he would have to practise scales and exercises–he
would be reprimanded, lectured, ordered about. Herr von Gleichroeder
would be his master, and the tacit sympathy between them would but make
their relations more galling.

There would be other sacrifices too. He would have to say good-bye to
Sparrow Hall, and to Len and Janey. He caught his breath–God! how he
loved Len and Janey! He had been brutal and heartless to them again and
again, but he loved them with a love that was half pain in its
intensity. He would have to be away from them perhaps for years. Yet
when he came back he would bring them a gift–the same gift that he
would bring Tony–a fair name. That was what he owed every one–the
world, his brother and sister, his little love.

The very fact that he was taking his “stinking past” with him into the
future would to some extent remove its offensiveness. It was all very
well to talk of “starting afresh under another name.” What he wanted was
to raise his old name–the name of Furlonger–out of the dust. The
convict should not just quietly disappear, he should be transfigured
into the artist, publicly, before the whole world. As his degradation
had been public, the comment of cheap newspapers, so should his
exaltation.

A thundering knock at the door broke into his dreams.

“Nigel, in the devil’s name, get up!–breakfast’s waiting.”

The next moment Len was in the room, tearing the bed-clothes off him.

“You _are_ a fat lot of use on the farm!–I’ve got through half the
morning’s work without you.”

“Then you won’t miss me so much when I’m gone.”

“Gone where?”

“To London.”

Nigel began to dress himself–Len stared at him gaping.

“To London! why, you aren’t going there, are you?”

“I am.”

“To that man von what’s-his-name?”

“Of course.”

Len stared harder than ever. Then he suddenly lost his temper.

“‘Of course’!–there’s no ‘of course’ about it–except ‘of course not.’
Why, you told him you wouldn’t hear of such a thing.”

“But I may change my mind, mayn’t I?”

“No–you mayn’t. Look here, Nigel, you’ve led sister and self an
infernal dance for the last three months. Can’t you chuck it?”

“I’m going to chuck it–by leaving this place.”

Leonard saw his brother was in earnest. He came quickly towards him, and
laid his hand on his shoulder.

“What have we done to upset you, old man?”

“Nothing–you’ve always been sports.”

“Then why are you going?”

Nigel hesitated. He could not bring himself to tell even this brother of
his sacred, half-formed plans.

“You won’t miss me,” he faltered.

“Won’t miss you! Won’t miss you!–what the devil d’you mean?”

“I’m no use on the farm–I laze and I slack. You’ll get on much better
without me.”

“Gammon! You’re tumbling into it nicely, and if you go, I’ll have to
hire a man–and there’ll be the expense of your keep in London. No, no,
old chap–that won’t wash.”

“Wait till you’ve tried it.”

“Haven’t I been trying it for three years? Besides, my boy, this is only
beating round the bush. The main fact is that Janey and I would miss you
simply damnably.”

“Not really,” said Nigel, his mouth drooping with a great tenderness,
“you’d soon feel the relief of being rid of me and my tantrums.”

There was a knock at the door.

“That’s Janey,” cried Len. “Come in, old girl–I want you.”

Janey came in. Nigel was nearly dressed, and had begun to shave.

“Breakfast’s—-” began Janey.

“Yes–I know all about breakfast. That isn’t what’s the matter. Len
wants you to join him in trying to persuade me not to go to London.”

“But you’re not going to London!…”

“I’m writing this morning to von Gleichroeder to say I’ve changed my
mind.”

“No!… Nigel!” cried Janey.

For a moment she stood as if paralyzed, then suddenly she darted towards
him, and flung her arms round him, looking up beseechingly into his
face.

“Nigel! no!–you mustn’t leave us–I can’t bear it. Oh, say you won’t!”

“Damn you, Janey!–can’t you see I’ve got a razor in my hand?”

She was taking it even worse than he had expected. She seemed actually
terrified.

“I can’t live here without you,” she cried brokenly, “indeed I can’t.”

He gently disengaged himself.

“Most people’s difficulty,” he said, deliberately lathering his chin,
“has not been how to live without me, but how to live with me.”

“But I can’t live without you.”

“You’ve got Len.”

“But he’s only–only half.”

“The better half. I’m a rotten lot, Janey. You’ll be far happier when
I’m gone. I’m a sulky brute–don’t contradict me; I know it. I’m a
sulky, bad-tempered brute. Again and again I’ve spoiled your happiness
and the lad’s–I’ve done nothing but snap and snarl at you, and I’ve
gone whining about the place when you wanted to be cheerful. You’ve both
been utter sports to put up with me so long–you’ll notice the
difference when I’m away, if you can’t realise it now.”

Janey was sitting on the bed, drowned in tears.

“Aren’t you happy with us?” asked Leonard.

“Hardly–or I shouldn’t be going.”

He spoke with all the exaggerated brutality of the man who sees himself
obliged to hurt those he loves.

“It’s not your fault,” he continued in a gentler voice, “it’s mine. I’m
such a waster. I’m a miserable, restless rotter, bound to make myself
and every one else unhappy. Now if I go to London, I shall work–I shall
have something to live for.”

“Fame, you mean,” sobbed Janey.

“Well, something of that kind.”

He had finished shaving, and came and sat down by her on the bed,
forcing her drowned eyes to look into his.

“Janey, don’t you want me to be famous? Wouldn’t you like to be the
sister of a well-known violinist instead of Convict Seventy-six?
Wouldn’t you like to see me fill the Albert Hall?”

“Fill hell!” shouted Leonard. “D’you really believe all the rot that old
bounder spoke?”

“Well, it isn’t likely he’d teach me for nothing if he didn’t expect to
make something out of me.”

“Yes–that’ll be just what he’ll do–and he’ll make a fat lot more than
you will.”

“Oh, don’t go!” sobbed Janey.

Nigel looked wretchedly from one to the other.

“Janey,” he cried, drawing her close to him, and quivering in the agony
of his appeal, “Janey, can’t you understand?–I want to start a new
life, I want to throw off all my beastly past. I want to make my
name–your name–clean and honourable. I dragged it into the mud, and I
must pull it out again. Oh, I’ve suffered so, Janey. I can’t get out of
prison, I feel more helplessly shut up than ever I did at Parkhurst. But
now I–can be–free.”

The last words burst from him in a choking cry. He flung himself back
from her, and looked into her eyes. Then he was surprised, for he saw in
them, swimming in tears, a glimmer of understanding.

“Janey,” he continued, putting his lips close to her face, and mumbling
his appeal almost incoherently, “I can’t expect you to grasp all that
this means to me. You’re good, you’re pure–you don’t know what it is
to have a horrible stain on your heart, which all your tears don’t seem
able to wash away. But can’t you put yourself for a moment in my place
and realise what it is to hunger for a decent life, to dream of
whiteness and purity and innocence, and burn to make them yours?–to be
willing to give the whole world–just to be–clean?”

“I think I can,” said Janey.