THE SERMON ON FORGIVENESS

Half-an-hour later the three Furlongers sat down to a cold breakfast.
They were almost silent, for there was nothing more to be said. The
matter was settled. Nigel had found an unexpected ally in Janet, and had
carried his point. Directly after breakfast he wrote to von
Gleichroeder. It was a difficult letter, for it meant nothing less than
eating humble pie, but for that very reason he did not take long over
it. An envelope addressed in his large, scrawling hand was soon ready to
be posted.

It was a clear, cold day, this feast of Stephen. A frosty sunshine
crisped the grass, scattering the damps of yesterday’s fog. The lane
smelled of frost as Nigel walked up it to the post-office. But he did
not see it as it was–in the duress and beggarliness of winter; he saw
it as it would be, bursting with spring, full of scent and softness and
song. He pictured those naked bushes when spring had clothed them, those
grey banks when spring had fired them–the hedges were full of future
song, the hollows of primroses to be.

He posted his letter, then stood for a moment, looking southward. The
sunshine was so clear that the rims of distant windows gleamed with
white across the fields. He could see the windows of Shovelstrode….

Dared he?

After all, he would have to. He could not leave Sparrow Hall without
seeing Tony. He would not tell her of her place in his plans, but he
owed it to her and to himself that she should think of him as a man
living uprightly, striving after honour. Now she was thinking of him as
a scoundrel and an outcast–he came into her thoughts with a shudder. It
must not be.

At the same time he was afraid. It gave him a strange, cold qualm to
think he was afraid of Tony, once his comrade, now his love–but he was.
If he meant to see her, he must go at once, before his resolve lost
strength with spontaneity. He turned towards the south, where the
sunshine lay.

As he came near Shovelstrode his quakings grew. After all, by the time
he had made himself worthy to think of her, she would have given herself
to another. He could not even hint that he wanted her to wait. He must
trust to her aloofness to keep her free, and the memory of their
friendship to keep alive in her heart a little spark that he could some
day fan into flame. But it was all rather hopeless, a leap in the dark.

Perhaps, even, she would refuse to see him. He remembered the look in
her eyes when she had turned from him by Goatsluck Farm. All the
steel-cold virtue, all the ignorant horror, all the cruelty of youth had
been in that look. Perhaps she had turned from him for ever. Perhaps
nothing that he could ever achieve or be would wipe out from her memory
his foul betrayal of others and herself.

But he went too far in his fears for utter despair. Reaction set
in–hope began once more to lacerate him, and whipped him forward to
make his last desperate appeal to the fates that had always hitherto
been deaf and blind.

He hesitated a moment when he came to the house. The servants might know
who he was and not allow him in, or he might be seen by some of the
family. It struck him that he had better go and look for her in the park
before risking himself on the doorstep. She had once told him that she
often wandered among the pines.

He slipped round behind the lodge, and was skirting the lawn at the back
of the house, when he saw one of the French windows open and a girl come
out with her dog. His heart gave a suffocating leap, and something
seemed to rise in his throat and stay there, making him gulp
idiotically. He had never before felt any emotion at the sight of
her–just pleasure, a calm, slow-moving comfort. But to-day his head
swam, and he could hardly see her as she came running and skipping
across the lawn in a manner wholly at variance with her long skirts and
coiled-up hair.

She turned aside before she reached the bushes that hid him, and he just
managed to call after her–

“Tony!–Tony!”

The dog barked, and the next minute had scented him, and came cantering
over the grass. Tony stood still and listened. She looked uncertain, and
he called again–

“Tony!”

She turned quickly, and slipped behind the bushes, running to him along
the path. When she was a few yards off she stopped dead.

“Mr. Furlonger….”

She stood outlined against a patch of wintry sky. It was the first time
that he had seen her since her return. He thought that she was paler
than in the valiant days of their friendship, and certainly the way she
did her hair gave her a grown-up look. The stifling sensation in his
throat became worse, and he could not speak.

“What is it … Mr. Furlonger?”

“I–I want to speak to you.”

“Oh, no! I can’t!” Her voice was quite childish.

“I must–please do.”

She hesitated a moment.

“Then come into the shrubbery. We can be seen here from the house.”

“I know. I’m not here to get you into trouble. I–I only came to say
good-bye.”

“Good-bye,” she repeated vaguely, not quite understanding him, for her
heart had said good-bye to him long ago.

“Yes–I’m going to London.”

They were walking away from the house to where the pine-needles were
thick under their feet–on a little, moist path smelling of winter. The
sunshine came slanting down on Tony as she stopped, showing up her slim,
strong figure in a cold purity of light. It rested on her hair, and he
saw golden threads in it–in her eyes, and he saw golden sparks in them.
For the first time he realised how beautiful she was in all the
assurance and unconsciousness of her youth. He longed to tell her so.
Instead he muttered–

“How grown-up you look.”

“Do I?–it’s my hair, I suppose.”

“Did they make you put it up?”

“Aunt Maggie said I was old enough–and I think so too.”

“I hope you don’t mind my coming here to see you.” He was desperately
embarrassed, and her manner did not reassure him. “I’m going away, you
see, to study music, and I–I thought I should like to say good-bye.”

“Oh, no,” she said rather awkwardly, her excessive youth showing nowhere
more clearly than in her inability to put him at his ease. “Oh, no, I’m
glad you came–to say good-bye.”

“I’m going to work very hard. There’s a fellow–Eitel von Gleichroeder,
I don’t know if you’ve heard of him–who’s taken a fancy to me, and says
he’ll coach me if I’ll take up the violin professionally.”

“I didn’t know you played.”

“Yes–but I’d no idea I was any good till I met this chap. He says I
ought to make quite a decent thing out of it. I–I think it’s worth
trying.”

“Oh, yes.”

“You see,” he continued, his voice shaking with emotion, “I want to
start a new life–to be respectable, I suppose you’d call it. If I win
fame as a violinist–and von Gleichroeder thinks I may–I–I shall have
lived down everything.”

“Yes … of course.”

It was embarrassment, not lack of interest, that made her replies so
trite. Memories of their friendship–now dim and far-off, separated from
her by many wonderful happenings–were creeping up to her and filling
her with a vague uneasiness.

As for Nigel, he realised now what had taken place. He understood why
his tongue had suddenly become tied in her presence, and his eagerness
collapsed into shuffling uncouthness. He had come to Shovelstrode to
speak to a little girl–and he had found a woman. Tony the schoolgirl,
the hoyden, the gay comrade, was now nothing but a little ghost haunting
the slopes of Ashdown and the secret lanes of Kent. In her place stood a
woman–come suddenly, as the woman always comes–and the woman, he knew,
was trying to call back the girl, and see things from her eyes once
more–and could not.

“Tony–Miss Strife–I wanted to tell you this, just to show you I’m not
always going to be a convict on ticket-of-leave.”

“I’m sure you won’t. I hope you’ll become very famous.”

The words passed her lips in jerks. Her memories of him carried
something very like repulsion. The more she struggled to revisualise the
comradeship of two months ago, the greater was her distaste and
humiliation. The kindest attitude possible for her now was one of
embarrassed shyness. At first she had tried to heal herself with her
memories, but as soon as she had worked back to them she found their
sweet secrets all sicklied with bitterness and shame.

He looked steadfastly at her, and he saw what had happened.

“Tony–you don’t want to know me any longer–you want to forget we ever
were friends. There’s no good denying it, for I can see it.”

She stood motionless, her lips white, her hands clenched in front of
her.

“It’s true–I can see it,” he repeated.

She did not speak. Her memories were calling very loud, and there were
tears in the voices, softening the shame.

“You can’t bear the thought of having once been my friend.”

Tears were rising in her throat, and with her tears the little
school-girl who had run away came back, and showed her face again before
she went for ever.

“Oh, it’s hurt me!” she cried. “You don’t know how it’s hurt me!”

“To know I was a bad ‘un?” He grasped the shaking hand she thrust out
before her.

“Yes–I can’t bear to think….”

“But I’ve changed–I swear I have. I’m going to live a decent life; and
you’re going to help me–by just saying you believe I can.”

She shuddered, and pulled her hand away.

“I tell you I’ve changed,” he exclaimed bitterly; “won’t you believe
me?”

She was crying now.

“You don’t understand … you don’t understand … what one feels about
men like you.”

He winced.

“You don’t know what I felt … when I heard….”

“Tony!” he cried, “you _must_ forgive me.”

“I do forgive you–it’s not me you’ve hurt–but—-”

“‘But’ you don’t forgive me, and it is you I’ve hurt–that’s what your
‘but’ means.”

There was another silence, broken only by her muffled crying and the
throbbing of the wind in the pine-tops. Nigel felt that his old life was
struggling in its cerements to spring up and strangle the new life at
its birth.

“I can’t understand,” sobbed the girl, “how you or any man could have
done such a horrible thing. You’ve been merciless and cruel and grasping
and unworthy–and you won my friendship by false pretences, by lies and
shams–when all the time you knew that if I’d had any idea who you
really were I wouldn’t have let you come near me. Oh, it probably seems
only a little thing to you, but it’s dreadful for me to think I’ve given
my friendship to a man who’s been a–a cad.”

His anger kindled, for her inexperience and ignorance no longer
attracted him–they were now only fragments that remained of something
he had worshipped.

“Then are you going to inquire into the history of every man you meet,
in case any one else should ‘win your friendship under false
pretences’? Most men have had a little shake up in their pasts.”

“You don’t call yours a little shake up, do you?”

The retort was obvious, and he flushed–but at the same time it gave him
an unwonted courage.

“No, of course not. But you mustn’t think it’s been just as easy for me
to keep straight as for you. Do you realise what being a man means?–it
means to be tempted.”

“Women are tempted.”

He laughed.

“But not like men.”

He saw the incredulousness of her eyes, and once more his rage flared
up.

“You don’t understand!” he cried, “you don’t understand!”

Then it struck him that she would never understand, that she would go
through life with her narrow ideas, acquired in a girls’ school and
nurtured in her home. All her divine womanly powers of sympathy and
forgiveness would be strangled by her ignorance and her hard-and-fast
rules based on inexperience. She was the only woman he knew of her
class, but he knew the limitations of that class, and Tony would soon be
bound by them like the others. Janey was so different–Janey realised
what one felt like when one simply had to go on the bust, when one came
beastly muckers. She scolded, but she understood. Tony did not scold,
and she did not understand.

“I want you to understand,” he said painfully.

“What?”

“About me–about other men.”

“Why do you think I don’t understand?”

“You don’t!–you don’t! You simply can’t–and if you go on as you are,
you never will. Oh, I wish you could! You’re too good to be like–other
women.”

Something in his nervous, excited manner frightened her, and strange to
say that faint thrill of fear removed the shame which had tarnished her
attitude towards him that day. Once more she felt the subtle magic of
his unusualness–the attraction of Mr. Smith.

“Tell me,” she said in a low voice, “tell me about yourself.”

He laughed a little.

“Oh, my story is just every man’s. I’ve mucked it a bit worse, that’s
all. But the fight’s pretty well as hard with all of us. Directly we’re
grown up, almost before, there are people going about whose paid
business it is to tempt us. Tempting us, just when Nature has made it
most difficult for us to resist, is the profession of thousands of human
beings. We fall–we often fall–for if we didn’t a powerful set would
have empty pockets–so they see that we fall. And then we can’t pick
ourselves up, we sink deeper and deeper into the mud … and some of us
touch bottom.”

He paused, but she did not speak. Her face was turned away.

“The horrible thing I did,” he continued almost roughly, “which, if
you’d only believe me, I loathe as much as you do–I did only as the
consequence of other things, not quite so bad, before it. If a woman
like you had come along when I first fell–I was only nineteen–she
might have pulled me up again. But she didn’t come. Other women came,
and they knocked me flatter. They couldn’t forgive. Poor devils! I don’t
blame them–they’d a great deal to forgive. I went down–and down–till
it became a sort of habit to lie there in the ditch. Then you came, and
I–I wanted to get up.”

She still looked away from him, but her head was bowed.

“Oh, Tony–won’t you give me a hand?”

“How can I?”

“By just believing I can and will do better, and by saying that if I
live a decent life, and pull my name out of the dirt, and make myself
fit to know you, I may be your–friend. You’ve a right to punish me, but
I ask you to put aside that right for–for pity’s sake.”

“I don’t see why you want my forgiveness so much–why it means such a
lot to you.”

“It means the world to me. Oh, Tony–little pal that was–forgive me!
Life’s a hard, rotten, wretched thing, and if there was no one to
forgive….”

“I’ll try.”

“Oh, please try! If you think, you’ll come to understand things
presently, even if you can’t now. It’s for your own sake as well as mine
I ask it. Think how many a man who lies in the mud wouldn’t be there if
only he had some woman to forgive him.”

“I’ll try—-” she repeated falteringly.

“Then I’ve got what’ll keep me going for the present. And, Tony, you’ll
believe that I can and will behave decently, and make myself worthy to
be your–your friend?”

“Yes, I’ll believe it.”

“Thank you.”

She was trembling from head to foot.

“Good-bye,” he said.

“Good-bye.”

He took her hand, and longed to kiss it. But he was still humble and
afraid, and let it fall.

“Tony–Tony–you will have to forgive me a great many things … because
I am so very hungry.”

There was a foam of anemones in the hollows of Furnace Wood. The wind
crept over the heads of the hazel bushes, bowing them gently, and
shaking out of them the scent of their budding. From the young grass and
tender, vivid mosses crept up more scents, faint, moist and earthy. The
sky was grey behind the stooping hazels, but glimmered with the yellow
promise of noon.

Janet Furlonger and Quentin Lowe had met to say good-bye in Furnace
Wood. The scent of spring was in Janey’s clothes, and when her lover
drew her head down to his shoulder he tasted spring in her hair. But
there was not spring on her lips when he sought them–only the salt wash
of sorrow.

“Why do you cry, little Janey? This is the beginning of hope.”

Another tear slid down towards her mouth, but she wiped it away–he must
not drink her tears.

“Quentin … I hope it won’t be for long.”

“No, no–not long, little Janey, sweet, not long. It can’t be. In six
months, perhaps in less, you’ll have a letter asking you to come up to
town and marry a poor but independent journalist.”

“You really think that this time you’re going to succeed?”

“Of course. Do you imagine I’d touch Rider’s idiotic rag with the tongs
if I didn’t look on it as a stepping-stone to better things. There’s a
mixed metaphor, Janey. Didn’t you notice it?”

“No, dear.”

“You’re not critical enough, little one. You’re worthy of good
prose–when I’m too weak and heavy-hearted for poetry.”

The wind sighed towards them, bringing the scent of hidden water.

“I must leave you, my own–or I shall be late. Now for months of hard
work and hungry dreams of Janey, who will be given at last to my great
hunger. Little heart, do you know what it is to hunger?”

She trembled. “Yes.”

“Then pity me. Pity me from the fields when you walk in them, as you and
I have so often walked, over fallen leaves–pity me from your fire when
you sit by it and see in the embers things too beautiful to be–from
your meals when you eat them–you and I have had only one meal together,
Janey–and from your bed when you lie waking in it. Janey, Janey–pity
me.”



“Pity … yes….”

He was holding her in his arms, looking into her beautiful, haggard
face. A sudden pang contracted her limbs, then released them into an
abandonment of weakness.

“Quentin … promise me that you will never forget how much you loved
me.”

“Janey!”

“Promise me.”

“Janey, how dare you!–‘loved you’! What do you mean?”

“Oh, please promise!”

She was crying. He had never seen her like this. Hitherto at their
meetings she had left the stress and earthquake of love to him, fronting
it with a sweet, half-timid calm. Now she clung to him, twisted and
trembled.

“Promise, Quentin.”

“Well, since you’re such a silly little thing, I will. Listen. ‘I
promise never to forget how much I loved you.’ There, you darling fool.”

“Thank you …” she said weakly.

He drew her close, kissed her, and laughed at her.

“Janey–you’re the spring, with its doubts and distresses. You were the
autumn when autumn was here, all tanned and flushed and rumpled, with
September in your eyes. Now you’re the spring, thin, soft, aloof and
wondering–you’re sunshine behind a cloud–you’re the promise of August
and heavy apple-boughs.”

“And you’ll never forget how much you loved me….”

II

The golden lights of late afternoon were kindled in London, warring with
the smoky remnants of an April day. They shone on the wet pavements and
mud-slopped streets–down Oxford Street poured the full blaze of the
sunset, flamy, fogged, mysterious, crinkling into dull purples behind
the Circus and the spire in Langham Place.

The Queen’s Hall was emptying–crowds poured out, taxi-horns answered
taxi-whistles, and the surge of the streets swept by, gathering up the
units, and whirling them into the nothingness of many people. It
gathered up Nigel Furlonger, and rushed him, like a bubble on a torrent,
down Regent Street, with his face to the darkness of the south–lit from
below by the first flash of the electric advertisements in Piccadilly
Circus, from above by the first pale, useless glimmer of a star.

He walked quickly, his chin lifted, but mechanically taking his part in
the general hustle, not too much in dreamland to make way, shift, pause,
or plunge, as the ballet of the pavements might require. His hands were
clenched in his pockets. He, perhaps alone among those hundreds, saw the
timid star.

A dream was threading through his heart, knitting up the tags of
longing, regret and hope that fluttered there. A definite scheme seemed
now to explain the sorrow of the world. The armies of the sorrowful had
received marching orders, had marched to music, had been given a nation,
and a song. Nigel had heard the Eroica Symphony.

In his ears was still the bourdon of drums, the sigh of strings, the
lilt of wood-wind, the restless drone of brasses. He had heard sorrow
claim its charter of rights, vindicate its pleadings, fight, triumph and
crown itself. He had seen the life-story of the sorrowful man, presented
not as a tragedy or a humiliation, a shame to be veiled, but as a
pageant, a tremendous spectacle, set to music, lighted, staged,
applauded.

At first the sorrowful man was half afraid, he sought refuge and
disguise in laughter, he pined for distraction and a long sleep. But
each time he touched his desire, the wailings of heavenly wood-wind
called him onward to holier, darker things. He had dropped the dear,
dustless prize, and gone boldly on into the fire and blackness…. A
thick, dark cloud swagged on the precipices of frozen mountains, frowned
over deserts of snow. The sorrowful man stumbled in the dark, and his
loud crying and the flurry of his seeking rose in a wail against the
thudding drums of fate. Gold crept into the cloud, curling out from
under it like a flame, and the sorrowful man seemed to see a human face
looking down on him, and a hand that held seven stars…. “Who made the
Seven Stars and Orion….” It was by the light of those stars in the
Hero’s hand that the sorrowful man saw, in a sudden awful wonder, that
he was not alone–he marched in the ranks of a huge army. All round him,
over the frozen plain, under the cloud with its lightnings, towards the
blackness of the boundless void, marched the army of the sorrowful,
unafraid. They marched in mail, helmeted, plated, with drawn swords. The
ground shook with the thunder of their tread, the mountains quaked, the
darkness smoked, the heavens heeled over, toppled and scattered before
the conquering host whom the Lord had stricken–triumphant, fearless,
proud, crowned and pierced….

Footsteps overtook Nigel, and he heard the greeting of a fellow
student.

“You’re in the clouds, old man. Who sent you there? Beethoven?”

Nigel stared.

“But the only cosmic genius is Offenbach.”

“You mean the ‘Orphée’?”

“Yes–and ‘Hoffmann.’ Life isn’t a triumphal march, for all Beethoven
would make it–it’s comic opera, with just a pinch of the bizarre and a
spice of the macabre. That’s Offenbach.”

Furlonger was still marching with the stricken army.

“When a man suffers,” continued the student, “the gods laugh, the world
laughs, and last of all–if he’s a sport–the man laughs too.”

“Sorrow is a triumph,” said Nigel, dreamily.

“Not at all, old man–sorrow is a commonplace. The question is, what are
we to make of the commonplace–a pageant or a joke? I’m not sure that
Offenbach hasn’t given a better answer than Beethoven.”

III

In a small room in Gower Street a man lay on his bed, his face crammed
into the pillow, his shoulders high against his ears, his legs twisted
in a rigid lock of endurance. Now and then a shudder went through him,
but it was the shudder of something taut and stiff, over which the
merest surface tremble can pass.

In his hand he crushed a letter. Behind his teeth words were forming,
and fighting through to his colourless lips. “Janey!–my Janey! Oh, my
God! I can’t bear this.”

He suddenly twisted himself round on to his back, and faced the aching,
yellow square of the window, where a May day was mocked by rain. There
was a pipe close to the window, and the water poured from it in a quick
tinkling trickle, cheering in rhythm, tragic in tone. Quentin unfolded
Janey’s letter.

He read it–but that word is inadequate, for he read it in the same
spirit as an Egyptian priest might read the glyphs of his divinity,
seeing in each sign a volume of esoteric meaning, so that every jot and
tittle was worthy of long minutes’ contemplation.

It was some time since Janey’s letters had ceased to be for Quentin what
she hoped. Literally they were rather bald and laboured, for Janey was
no penwoman, but she put a wealth of thought and passion into the
straggling lines, and for a long while he had seen this. But now he saw
much more, she would have trembled to think of the meaning he read into
her words–he tested each phrase for the insincerity he felt sure it
must conceal, he hunted up and down the pages for that monster unknown
to Janet, the _arrière pensée_. Her letters were a torture to him–they
tortured his brain with shadows and seekings, they tortured his heart
with blue fires of misgiving and scorchings of jealousy. She did not
write oftener than once a week, but the torment of a single letter
lasted till its successor at once varied and renewed it.

Lying there in the hideous dusk of what should have been a summer
afternoon, Quentin wondered if the doom of love and lovers had not been
spoken him–“thou canst not see My Face and live.”

It was a vital fear. Before he had brought his love to its consummation,
snatched the veil from its mysteries, and looked it in the face, it had,
in spite of hours of anguish, been his comfort, the strongest,
tenderest, purest thing in his life. But now he saw, without much
searching, that this love, though deeper and fiercer than ever, belonged
somehow to his lower self. To realise it brought despair instead of
comfort, wreckage instead of calm. He dared not, as in former days,
plunge his sick heart into it as into a spring of healing waters–rather
it was a scalding fountain, bubbling and seething out of death.

He had hoped that perhaps separation would make him calmer. Of late he
had often denied himself the sight of Janey in that same vain hope. But
now, as then, he found her letters almost as disintegrating as her
presence–indeed more so, since they gave wider scope to his familiar
demon of doubt. He wondered if he would ever find rest. Would marriage
give it to him? He started up suddenly on the bed. An awful thought was
thrust like a sword against his heart–the thought that even in marriage
he would not find peace.

He had fallen into the habit of looking on marriage as the end of
sorrows–and now, when fate and hard work seemed to have brought it
within gazing-distance of hope, he suddenly saw that it would be as full
of torment as his present state; or rather, more so–just as his present
state was an intensification of the pain of earlier days. He
realised–hardly definitely, but with horrible acuteness–that he had
allowed love to frustrate love, and that by his demand to look into that
great dread Face, he had brought on himself scorching and blindness and
doom.

“Thou canst not see my Face and live.”

He sprang off the bed. His pulses were hammering, his blood was thick, a
kind of film obscured his eyes, so that he groped his way to the
dressing-table. A clock struck four, and he suddenly remembered an
engagement he had that afternoon. He would go–it would distract him. He
might forget Janey–if only for an hour, he would be free of the torment
that each thought of her carried like poison in a golden bowl. It was
strange, it was terrible, that he should ever have come to want to
forget Janey–and it was not because he did not love her; he loved her a
hundred times more passionately than ever. But the love which had once
been his strength and salve had now become a rotten sickness of the
soul.

He dressed himself, removed as far as possible the stains of sorrow and
exhaustion from his face, and plunged out to take his place in the
restless, ill-managed pageant of the pavements, where threads are
tangled, characters lost, and cues unheard. He was going to a
semi-literary gathering at a friend’s flat in Coleherne Gardens. He did
not look forward to it particularly, but it might help him in his
twofold struggle–to win Janey in the future and forget her for the
present.

The room was crowded. Hallidie was presiding over a mixed assembly of
more-or-less celebrities with that debonair self-confidence which had
helped make him a famous novelist in spite of his novels. There were one
or two great ones present, just to raise the level–he did not introduce
them to Lowe. He knew exactly whom they would like to meet, and Lowe, he
felt, would let the conversation down, just when it was becoming yeasty
with literary wit. There were other people in the room who showed a
tendency to do this, and Hallidie had carefully introduced them to one
another, so that they could all fail mutually in a well-upholstered
corner.

“Ah–Lowe. Glad to see you. Come, let me introduce you to Miss
Strife”–and sweeping Quentin past the renowned author of _Life and How
to Bear It_, and Dompter, the little, insignificant, world-famous
sea-poet, he presented him to a very young girl, sitting alone on a
divan.

Quentin’s first feeling was one of outrage. What right had Hallidie to
drag him away from the pulse of things, so vital to his struggling
ambition, and condemn him to atrophy with a flapper. He stared down at
her disapprovingly–then something in her wistful look disarmed him.

“I believe our fathers are neighbours in the country,” he said stiffly.

He did not notice her reply. It was not that which made him stop his
furious glances at Hallidie and sit down beside her. She was evidently
very young. There was a lack of sophistication about her hair-dressing
which proclaimed an early attempt, her frock was simple and girlish, her
face alert and innocent.

Quentin found himself gulping in his throat, almost as if tears had
found their way there at last; for he suddenly realised how new and
beautiful it was to sit beside a woman and not be tormented. As he
looked at her delicate profile, the pure curves of her chin and
collarless neck, his heart became suddenly still. There was a great
calm. Peace had come down on him like water. Simplicity rested on his
parched thoughts like rain-clouds on a desert. He seemed suddenly to
come back to life, to the world, and to see them in the calm, usual
light of every day. The racket, the glare, the sense of being in an
abnormal relation to his surroundings–all were gone. For the first time
in his complicated, sophisticated, catastrophic life, Quentin Lowe was
at peace.

IV

It was late in June. A haze wimpled the pine-trees of Shovelstrode, and
the heather between their trunks was in full flower. The old house
shimmered in the haze and sunshine, and stared away to yellow fields of
buttercups and distances of brown and blue.

Tony and Awdrey Strife were lying in the shadow of a chestnut on the
lawn. Two young gracious figures in muslins, they lay with their chins
on their hands, and looked away towards the golden weald. They did not
speak much, for the post had just come, and they were reading their
letters. Awdrey giggled to herself a good deal over hers, but Tony was
serious–the corners of her mouth even drooped a little, but whether
from sorrow or tenderness or both it would be hard to say. Suddenly she
made an exclamation.

“What’s the matter?” asked Awdrey.

“It’s a letter from Furlonger.”

“_The_ Furlonger!”

“Yes–he’s written me quite a long letter.”

“What cheek. I thought you’d seen the last of him.”

“He came to say good-bye before he went to London.”

“Oh—-”

Awdrey rolled over on her side, and stared hard at her sister.

“Did he know you were in town last month?”

“No–I’ve never written to him, and this is the first time he’s written
to me.”

“Then he hasn’t shown unseemly eagerness–it’s nearly six months since
he left. What does he say?–anything exciting?”

“Exciting for him. Von Gleichroeder is giving a pupils’ concert at the
Bechstein, and Mr. Furlonger is going to play.”

“A solo?”

“Yes–something by Scriabin. He’s only had six months’ teaching, but von
Gleichroeder’s so pleased with him that he’s going to let him play at
this concert of his. Then he’ll finish his course, and then he’ll start
professionally.”

“Good Lord!–it sounds thrilling for an ex-convict. Let’s see his
letter.”

“Here it is. No,” changing suddenly, “I think I’d rather read it to
you.”

“Right-O! Excuse a smile.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Awdrey. Now listen; he says: ‘Von Gleichroeder’s
concert is fixed for the twenty-seventh’–why, that’s next Friday–‘and
it’s been settled that I’m to play Scriabin’s second Prelude. It sounds
like cats fighting, but it’s exciting stuff. Von Gleichroeder is
tremendously keen on the ultra-moderns–nothing makes him madder than to
hear Verdi or Gounod or Rossini. So I play d’Indy and Stravinsky and
Strauss and Sibelius; except when I’m alone in my digs–and then I have
the old tunes out, for I like them best.'”

She did not read the next paragraph aloud.

“I’ve been having a hard fight for it, Tony–but I’m pulling through.
Music has helped me, and the memory of our friendship, and the thought
that you’re trying to understand me and forgive me.”

“Well, I wish him luck,” said Awdrey; “what a good thing von
Gleichroeder found him out!”

“Yes, he’ll have his chance now–his chance of a decent life.”

“Nonsense, Tony! That’s not what he’s after–fame and dibs, my dear
girl, fame and dibs.”

“He told me he was accepting von Gleichroeder’s offer because he wanted
to be–good.”

“Well, London’s a queer place to go for that.”

“He’s gone there to work. He had no chance here.”

“More chance than he’ll have there–you bet he’s painted the place
pretty red by this time.”

Her sister was about to retort sharply, when a man suddenly came round
the corner of the house towards them.

“Awdrey!” cried Tony, springing up. “Here’s Quentin!”