VIGIL

The doctor called early the next morning, and looked serious. Leonard
had had a restless night, and his symptoms were becoming very grave. He
still kept up his efforts at conversation, though they were more painful
than ever.

“I–I’m not going to die, Doc,” he panted.

“Well, keep quiet, and we’ll see about it,” said the doctor.

“But have you heard about my brother?… the one who fills the Albert
Hall?… Oh, ‘ninety-nine,’ since you insist.”

Nigel had been sent over to Dormans the first thing in the morning, to
buy up all the papers he could. Several of them had a report of von
Gleichroeder’s concert, and most of these mentioned Nigel’s performance
favourably.

“Mr. Furlonger has undoubtedly a great deal to learn on the mechanical
side of his art, but he has a wonderful force of temperament, which last
night compensated in many ways for faulty technique. He even managed to
work some emotional beauty into Scriabin’s bundle of tricks, and one can
imagine that in music which depended on the beautiful instead of on the
bizarre for its appeal, he would have the chance, which was denied him
last night, of a really fine performance. We do not say that Mr.
Furlonger will ever be a master, but if he will avoid fashionable
gymnastics and not despise such out-of-date considerations as beauty and
harmony, he may become a temperamental violinist of the first order.”
All the critics, more or less, had a hit at the “advanced” type of
music, and Nigel imagined von Gleichroeder’s wrath.

Len insisted on having all the criticisms read to him, and a thrill of
pride went through even Janey’s numb breast. She had never tried to
speak to Nigel alone, and he gave her no hint that he knew she was in
trouble. But when his heart was not bursting with anxiety for Len, it
brimmed with compassion for Janey. She might have been nursing her
brother for weeks instead of hours to judge by her haggard face, white
lips, and faded eyes. Her movements were listless, and her figure in
rest had the droop of utter exhaustion.

She and Nigel divided the nursing between them. Len was never left
alone. He had to be fed every two hours, and it generally took both of
them to do it, as he was very perverse in the matter of meals, saying
that the food choked him. In the afternoon he became a little delirious.
He seemed to be trying to ask for things, and yet to be unable to say
what he really meant, often saying something quite different. He was
intensely pathetic in his weakness. This dulling, or rather disturbance,
of his faculties seemed to distress him far more than his difficult
breathing or the pain in his side. Now and then he would hold out his
hands piteously to Nigel and Janey, and would lie for some time holding
the hand of each, his brown eyes staring at them imploringly, as if they
were fighting for the powers of speech which the tongue had lost–in
the way that the eyes of animals often fight.

They tried to make him go to sleep, but he was always restless and
awake. They read to him, talked to him and to each other, with no
success. Outside, the day was dull, yet warm and steamy. Every now and
then a shower would rustle noisily on the leaves, and after it passed
there would be many drippings.

Nigel went out for an hour or two’s work on the farm when evening fell.
It seemed extraordinary that only some eighteen hours lay between him
and the concert at the Bechstein Hall. That part of his life had been
put aside–not for ever, perhaps, but none the less temporarily banished
by a usurping present. Some day, no doubt, he would put on the last six
months again, just as he would put on the dress clothes he had folded
away, but now he wore corduroys and the last eighteen hours.

At six the doctor called again. He shook his head at the sight of
Leonard.

“He must have a nurse,” he said.

“Oh, no … for heaven’s sake!” groaned Len.

“Nigel and I can nurse him,” said Janey.

“My dear young lady, have you seen your own face in the glass?”

Len raised himself with difficulty on his pillows.

“Lord, Janey!–you look quite cooked up…. I say, old girl, I won’t
have it…. Doctor, I surrender.”

“I don’t know whether I can send any one in to-night–but I’ll try.
Anyhow, to-morrow morning–now ‘ninety-nine,’ please.”

Nigel went over to East Grinstead for ice and fruit. Len was dreadfully
thirsty all the evening. They put bags of ice on his forehead and sides,
but it did not seem to cool him much. The doctor had left a
sleeping-draught, to be administered the last thing at night.

“If I take it,” said Len, “will you two go to bed?”

“Janey will,” said Nigel. “I’ll have a shake-down in here.”

“Well, it’ll keep me quiet, I suppose … so I’ll take the beastly
thing…. I want to sleep … but I don’t want to die…. I won’t die,
in fact.”

“Don’t talk of it, old man.”

He lifted Len in his strong arms, and settled him more comfortably in
the bedclothes. Then he gave him the sleeping-draught.

The window was wide open, and one could hear the rain pattering on the
lilac bushes. The wind, sweet-smelling with damp and hay, puffed the
curtains into the room, then sucked them back. A fire was burning low on
the hearth. Janey went and sat beside it. Nigel sat by the bed, for
between sleeping and waking his brother suffered from strange fears.

At last, after a few sighs and struggles, Len fell asleep, still high on
his pillows, the lines of his face very tired and grim. There was a
little light in the room, or rather the mingled lights of a dying fire
and a fighting moon. Nigel rose softly, and went over to Janet.

“You must go to bed.”

“No–I’d rather stay here.”

“You must have some sleep, or you’ll be worn out.”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

The words broke from her in a strangling sigh, and the next minute his
arm crept round her, for he remembered Leonard’s words.

“Dear Janey …” he whispered.

She began to cry.

For a moment or two he held her to him, helping her to choke her sobs
against his breast.

“Won’t you tell me what it is?”

“How do you know there’s anything more than that?” and she pointed
towards the bed.

“Len told me.”

“About Quentin?…”

“Quentin!”

“Yes–I thought you said he’d told you.”

“He told me you were wretched about something. But who’s Quentin?–not
Quentin Lowe?”

They were the very words Len had used, and Janey shuddered.

“Yes …” she said faintly, “Quentin Lowe.”

“But—-”

“You’ll never understand…. I hid it from you for three years.”

“Hid what, Janey?”

“My–my love.”

Nigel’s arm dropped from her waist, but hers was round his neck, and
she clung to him feverishly.

“Yes, I loved him. I loved him and I pitied him … and I wanted, I
tried, to help him–and–and I’ve been his ruin–and another woman has
saved him.”

Nigel was speechless. What astonished him, the man of secrets, most, was
that Janey should have had a secret from him for three years.

“Don’t tremble so, darling–but tell me about it. I won’t be hard on
you.”

“You will–when you know all.”

“Does Len know all?”

“Yes.”

He glanced over to the sleeping man, then put back his arm round Janey’s
waist.

“Now tell me–all.”

Janey told him–all.

For some moments there was silence. The rain was still beating on the
leaves, but the moon had torn through the clouds, and flung a white
patch over Leonard’s feet. The fire was just a red lump, and Janey and
Nigel, sitting outside the moonrays, were lost in darkness.

Janey wondered when her brother would speak. She could see the outline
of his face, blurred in the shadows. He held his head high, and he had
not dropped his arm from her waist, but his free hand was clenched–then
she felt the other clench against her side. Sickening fears assailed
her. Why did he not speak? Only that arm round her gave her hope….

Then suddenly he took it away, and put both his hands over his face.
She saw his shoulders quiver, just for a moment, then for what seemed
long moments he did not move.

A paralysis of horror was creeping towards her heart. He was taking
things even worse than she had expected, but they did not seem to fill
him with anger so much as with grief. His body was crumpled as if under
a load, and when he suddenly dropped his hands and looked up at her, she
drew back shuddering from what she saw in his eyes.

“My poor boy!–I wish I hadn’t told you.”

“Oh, God!–oh, God!”

Something in his cowering, hopeless attitude woke all the divine
motherhood in Janey. She forgot her fear of unforgiveness, her danger of
a rebuff, and put her arms round him, drawing his head to her breast.

“My poor Nigel … my poor, poor lad!”–so she comforted him for the
shame he felt for her.

After a time, when thought was not quite swallowed up in tenderness, she
began to wonder why he let her hold him so.

Then suddenly he rose, and began to pace up and down the room–up and
down, up and down, swinging round sharply at the corners, but always,
she noticed with a gulp, treading softly for fear of waking Len. She
watched him in numb despair. The minutes dragged on. Now and then he put
his hand over his brow, as if he fought either for or against some
memory, now and then he bent his head so low that she could not see his
face. She wondered how much longer she would be able to endure it.

“Nigel—-” she whispered at last.

He stopped and turned towards her.

“Nigel …”

“What is it?”

“For heaven’s sake … don’t keep me in suspense.”

“Suspense about what?”

“Your forgiveness.”

In a moment he was at her side.

“Janey–if I thought you could be doubting that—-”

He put his arms round her, and the relief was so sudden that she burst
into tears.

“What a selfish hound I am!–wrapped up in my own beastly feelings, and
forgetting yours. But I never imagined you could think—-”

“I thought … perhaps you couldn’t.”

“Janey, how dare you!”

“When you got up and walked about …”

“I know–I know. But that wasn’t anger against you–my poor, outraged,
suffering darling,” and he covered her face with kisses.

She clung to him in a passion of love and relief.

“Oh, you’re good–you and Len!”

“Nonsense, Janey. You mustn’t talk like that. We’re not worthy to tie
your shoes–we never shall be. How could you think we’d turn against
you? It’s him, that little, loathly cad, that—-”

“Oh, hush, dear–I can’t bear it.”

His rage was stronger and fiercer than Len’s, his whole body quivered in
the passion of it. Then suddenly it changed unaccountably to grief, and
his head fell back against her shoulder, the eyes dull, the mouth old
and drawn. She thought it was for her, and he hugged his poor, dead
secret too tight to grant her the mercy of disillusion.

The night wore on, and they clung together on the hearthstone, where
cinders fell and glowed, making the only sound, the only light, in the
room. Two lost children, they huddled together in the only warm place
they had left–each other’s arms.

There was a feeble sigh, a feeble stirring in the bed–just as the first
of the morning came between the curtains, and pointed like a finger into
the gloom.

“Lenny….”

Janet and Nigel rose, wearily dropping their stiff arms from each other,
and went over to the bed.

“How long have you been awake?”

“Only just woke up … would you draw back the curtains?”

Nigel pulled them back, and a white dawn shuddered into the room.

“What time is it?”

“About three–can’t you go to sleep again?”

“No–I’ve wakened for good … I mean … I mean …”

“What, old man?”

“I think I am going to die after all.”

“No, Lenny, no….”

“It’s rather a come down … after saying I wouldn’t … but I feel so
tired.”

His face was spread over with a ghastly pallor, and something which
Nigel and Janey could not exactly define, which indeed they hardly saw
with their bodily sight, but which impressed them vaguely as a kind of
film.

“I’m going to die,” he repeated, plucking with cold fingers at the
sheet.

“I’ll go and fetch the doctor,” cried Nigel.

“No … I don’t want you to leave me.”

“But we must do something.”

“There’s nothing to do … only talk to me … and don’t let me get
funky.”

“You might look out of the window, Nigel, and see if any one’s passing,”
said Janey.

There was not likely to be any one at that hour, but he thrust his head
out and eagerly scanned the lane. The rain had stopped, though the sky
was shagged over with masses of cloud. One or two stars glimmered wanly
above the woods. It was the constellation of Orion, setting.

“There’s no one,” said Nigel, “nor likely to be–I must go, Len.”

“Oh, no … don’t … don’t leave me … the doctor couldn’t do
anything…. Perhaps I won’t die … only I hate the dark.”

A strangling pity seized Nigel. He went over to his brother, and sat
down beside the bed, taking his hand.

“There, there, old boy, don’t worry. We’ll both stay with you. I’ll hold
this hand, and Janey ‘ull hold the other, and you’ll soon get over it.”

Len lay shivering and gasping. Nigel and Janey looked into each other’s
eyes across him, and swallowed their grief.

“I–I expect it’s nothing,” panted Leonard. “One often feels low at this
time of night.”

They leaned upon the bed each side of him, and suddenly Janey thrust out
her hand and grasped Nigel’s across him.

“Now we’re all three holding hands,” she said.

The minutes flew by. A clock was ticking–measuring them out.

“Kiss me …” moaned Leonard suddenly.

They both stooped and kissed him.

He shut his eyes, then opened them, and a strange, piteous resignation
was in their glazing depths.

“I’m sorry … I must die…. I’m so tired.”

“You will go to sleep, Len.”

“No … I’m too tired … it wouldn’t be enough.”

Janey’s tears fell on his face.

“Don’t cry, Janey … it’s–it’s all right…. Remember me to the doctor
… and say my last words were ‘ninety-nine’ … laugh, Janey … it’s a
joke.”

“Lenny, Lenny….”

There was another silence, and a faint flush tinted the watery sky. A
bird chirrupped in the eaves of Sparrow Hall.

“Hold my hands tighter,” gasped Len.

They both gripped tighter.

“And give my love to Tottie Coughdrop … and say I’m sorry to have
missed her…. Tighter … oh!… tighter.”

His breath came in a fierce, whistling rush, and he sat bolt upright,
gripping their hands and struggling.

“Nigel, fetch the doctor!” shrieked Janey.

But Len had his brother’s hand in the agonised grip of dying.

“Tighter … oh, tighter….”

There was another whistling rush of breath, but this time no
struggle–only a sigh.

Len fell back on the pillow, and the terror passed suddenly from his
face.

During the week that followed Leonard’s death, there was a succession of
heavy storms. Chill sodden winds drove June from the fields, and
substituted a bleak mock-autumn. Sparrow Hall was full of the moaning
winds–they sped down the passages, and throbbed against the doors, they
whistled through cracks and chinks, and rumbled in the chimneys.

Janey was in bed for the first few days; she had collapsed utterly. The
two blows which had fallen on her almost together had smitten her into a
kind of numbness, in which she lay, white and stiff and tearless,
through the windy hours. Nigel scarcely ever left her, and he scarcely
ever spoke to her–they just crouched together, she on the bed, he on a
chair beside it, their fingers twined, both dumbly busy with the
problems of death and anguish that had assaulted their lives.

Meantime the routine of the house and farm remained unbroken. The “man”
looked after the latter, and through the former moved a figure that
seemed strangely out of place. When “Tottie Coughdrop” arrived the
morning after Len’s death, she proved to be no more or less than a
novice from St. Margaret’s Convent, and finding her ministrations as
truly needed as if her patient had been alive, she did not leave on
finding him dead.

She nursed Janey–at least she did for her the little that Nigel could
not do; she dusted and cooked; she made Furlonger eat, the stiffest duty
of all. It used to hurt Nigel when he thought how Len would have enjoyed
seeing him sit down to supper every night with a nun.

Novice Unity Agnes also undertook all the arrangements for the
funeral–which had always been a nightmare to Nigel and Janey. Moreover,
the day before, she went to East Grinstead and bought a black skirt and
blouse and hat for Janey, who but for her would never have thought of
going into mourning at all; and though her charity was not able to
overcome her diffidence and buy a mourning suit for Nigel, she sewed
black bands on all his coats.

That was how it happened that the funeral of Leonard Furlonger was such
a surprise to the inhabitants of the Three Counties. The coffin was met
at the church door by the choir headed by a crucifix, and the service
was read by a priest in a black cope. There were hymns too–Novice Unity
Agnes’s favourites, all about as appropriate as “How doth the little
busy bee”–and incense, and a little collection of nuns, persuaded by
the kind-hearted novice to swell the scanty number of mourners. In fact,
as Nigel remarked bitterly, the whole thing was a joke, and it was a
shame Len had missed it.

He and Janey walked home alone, arm in arm, through the wet lanes. As
usual, they did not speak, but they strained close together as the
solitude of the fields crept round them. The rain had cleared, but the
wind was still romping in the hedges–little tearful spreads of sky
showed among the clouds, very pale and rain-washed, soon swallowed up by
moving shapes of storm.

Janet went to bed early. She had suddenly found that she could sleep,
and her appetite for sleep became abnormal. She woke each morning
greedily counting the hours till night. In the old careless days she had
never set such store on sleep, because it had meant merely strengthening
and resting and refreshing; now it meant what was more to her than
anything else in life–forgetting.

Nigel could not sleep. In his heart the lights were not yet all put out.
There were flashes of terror and sparks of desire, and dull flares of
conjecture. He had sometimes hesitated whether he should tell Janey his
secret, but had drawn back on each occasion, urged partly by the thought
of adding to her burden, but principally by a feeling of shame. His
wonderful dream, which had sustained him so triumphantly during six
months of work and sacrifice, had now shrivelled into a poor little
secret, such as school-girls nurture–a love which must always be hidden
and silent and unconsummated.

His brain ached with regrets and revisualisations, quaked with
apprehension and the knowledge of his own utter helplessness in the face
of circumstances. The thought of Lowe’s perfidy to Janet would rouse in
him a sweat of rage from his poor attempts at sleep. Janey stood to
Nigel for all that was noble, meek and understanding, and that she
should be treated heartlessly and lightly by a scoundrel not worthy to
black her boots, was a thought that drove him nearly rabid with hate.
What was he to do to save Tony from this swine? He knew perfectly well
how she would look upon him if she heard his story. He remembered the
hard, stiff little figure in the garden of Shovelstrode–“You won my
friendship under false pretences.” What would she say to the cad who had
won by false pretences not only her friendship but her body, her heart
and her soul? Yet he could never tell her the truth. He would not betray
Janet even to this girl he loved, and a vague accusation could easily be
denied by Lowe, and was not likely to be believed by Tony.

Often he envied Len–lost in cool sleep, free from responsibilities and
problems, eased for ever from the soul-chafing burdens of hate and love.

It was the beginning of July. Sunshine baked on the fields, and drank
the green out of the grass, so that the fields were brown, with splashes
of yellow where the buttercups still grew. In the hedges the wild
elder-rose sent out its sickening sweetness, while from the ditches came
the even more cloying fragrance of the meadowsweet. The haze of a great
heat veiled the distance from Nigel, as he tramped over the parched
grass into Kent. He saw the roofs of Scarlets and Redpale shimmering in
the valley of the hammer ponds, but beyond them was a fiery, thundering
dusk, which swallowed up the hills of Cowden in the east.

He walked with bent head and arms slack. He often took these lonely
walks, undaunted by either storm or swelter. He knew that Janey missed
him, but he could not keep his body still while his mind ran to and fro
so desperately.

His walks were full of dark and furious planning of schemes that came to
nothing. He roamed aimlessly through the country, without noticing where
he went–except that he half unconsciously avoided the roads and wider
lanes. He was desperate because his brain worked so slowly, a cloud
seemed to lie on it, and he had a tendency to lose the thread of his
ideas after he had followed them a little way.



This afternoon he was wandering towards the valley of the hammer ponds.
It was nearly seven when he came to Furnace Wood. The sun was swimming
to the west through whorls of heat. A sullen glow crawled over the sky,
nearly brown in the west. The air hung heavy in the wood, laden with the
pungency of midsummer flowers and grasses–scarcely a leaf stirred,
though now and then an unaccountable rustling shudder passed through the
thickets.

Weariness dropped on Nigel like a cloak–he was used to it. It was not
really physical, only the deadly striving of his soul reaching out to
his body and exhausting it. He flung himself down in a clump of bracken
and tansy, sinking down in it, till everything was shut out by the tall,
earth-smelling stalks. This was what he often found himself longing for
with a desperate physical desire–a little corner, cool and quiet and
green, shut off from life, where he could drowse–and forget.

This evening only the first part of his desire was satisfied. He had his
corner, but he could not drowse in it. His limbs lay inert, but his
thoughts kicked painfully. His brain hammered with old impressions,
which, instead of wearing away with time, each day bored and jarred with
renewed power. He was the victim of an abnormally acute mentality–just
as to a swollen limb the lightest touch is painful, so to Nigel’s brain
inflamed with grief and struggle, every impression was like a blow, an
enduring source of agony.

He heard footsteps on the path. No one could see him–it was still quite
light in the fields, but in the wood was dusk and a blurring of
outlines; besides, he was deeply buried in the tall stalks. However,
though he could not be seen, he could see, for on the path stood a
golden pillar of sunshine into which the footsteps must pass. Nigel
wondered if it could be Lowe, returning early for some reason from
Shovelstrode. But the steps did not sound heavy enough, and the next
minute he saw the white of a woman’s dress through the trees. In an
instant his limbs had shrunk together, for another of those sickening
blows had smitten his brain. The figure had passed out of the pillar of
sunset, but he had seen Tony Strife as she went by.

She was dressed in white, and wore no hat, only a muslin scarf over her
hair. She carried a cloak on her arm, and Furlonger realised that she
must be going to dine at Redpale. The sight of Tony–he had not seen
her since he lost her, or rather his dream of her–threw him into a fit
of torment. He flung himself back among the stalks, and rolled there,
biting them, suddenly mad with pain.

The next moment he started up. A thud and a low cry came from a few
yards further on.

Nigel sprang to his feet. He remembered that not far off the path ran by
the mouth of a disused chalk quarry, from which it was divided only by a
very rickety fence. Suppose…. He crashed through the bushes to the
path, and dashed along it to the chalk-pit. Something white lay only a
few feet from the dreadful brink.

Just here the path was in darkness–hazel bushes and a dense thicket of
alder shut out the sun. For a moment he could not make out clearly what
had happened, but was immediately reassured by seeing Tony sit up, and
try to struggle to her feet.

“What is it?” she cried, hearing his steps behind her. “Who’s there?”

“Are you hurt?”

“Oh, Mr. Furlonger….”

She made another struggle to rise, but could not without his hand.

“Are you hurt?” he repeated.

“No-o-o.”

“I think you are a little.”

He was trembling all over, and hoped she did not notice it.

“I fell over some wire, just here, where the path is so dark. I might
have gone over the edge,” she added with a shudder.

“You had a lucky escape–but I’m afraid you’re hurt.”

“It isn’t much. I may have twisted my ankle a bit, that’s all.”

She stood there in the shadows, her white dress gleaming like a moth,
her face mysterious in the disarray of her wrap. Nigel’s eyes devoured
her, while his heart filled itself with inexpressible pain.

“Take my arm,” he said huskily, “and I’ll help you back to
Shovelstrode.”

“Oh, no!–I’ll go on to Redpale. It’s much nearer–if you’ll be so kind
as to help me.”

“But how about getting home?”

“My fiancé, Mr. Lowe, will drive me home. He was to have fetched me too,
but at the last moment he had to go up to town, and couldn’t be back in
time.”

“Are you sure you’re well enough to go out to dinner?” He hated the idea
of taking her to Redpale.

“Oh, quite–this is nothing. Besides, dining at Redpale is just like
dining at home–I don’t call it going ‘out’ to dinner.”

Furlonger winced, and gave her his arm, hoping she would not notice how
it shook.

They walked slowly out of Furnace Wood, towards the leaden east. Tony
limped slightly, and Nigel wanted to carry her, but he dared not risk
his patched self-control too far.

“You should never have come all this way alone,” he said gruffly,
“these woods by the quarries are dangerous.”

“I expect my father will be furious when he finds out what I’ve done.
But I hoped that if I walked across the fields, instead of driving round
by the road, I–I might meet my fiancé on his way home from the
station.”

A tremulous archness crept into her voice. Nigel shuddered.

“I’m pleased I met you,” she said gently, after a pause, “because I
wanted to tell you how dreadfully sorry I am about your brother.”

“Thank you.”

“And I want to tell you that I’m so glad about your success in London. I
saw in the papers how you distinguished yourself at Herr von
Gleichroeder’s concert.”

Nigel did not speak.

“I suppose you’ll soon be going back to town?” she went on timidly.

“I don’t know. I can’t leave my sister.”

“But you can take her with you. It would be a pity to throw up your
career just when everything looks so promising.”

They were not far from Redpale now. The sunset was creeping over the
sky–only the east before them was dark, banked high with thundery
vapour. Nigel could still hear Tony speaking, as if in a kind of dream.
His thoughts were busy elsewhere.

“Won’t you?” repeated Tony for the second time.

“Won’t I what?”

“Go back to London, and make yourself famous.”

“I don’t see much chance of that.”

“But I do–and so will you when you’re not so unhappy. Now, to please
me, won’t you promise to go back to London and make yourself a great
career? You and I used to be friends once–I hope we’re friends
still–and I shall always be interested in everything you do. I expect
to see your name in a very high place some day. Now, for my sake,
promise to go back.”

“For your sake….”

“Yes–since you won’t go for your own.”

They had stopped a moment to rest her foot. Nigel lifted his eyes from
the grass and looked into hers–wondering. Was it true, was it even
possible, that she had never seen his love? She could not, or she would
not speak like this–“For my sake.” After all, she would never expect
him to dare … that would blind her to much that might have betrayed
him had he been worthier. No, she had not seen his love, and she had
never loved him. She had never loved any man but Quentin Lowe–he was
her first love, he had lit the first flame in her heart, and that heart
was his, in all its purity and burning.

Standing there beside her in the sunset, her weight resting deliciously
on him as she raised her injured foot from the ground, he realised the
change that had come to Tony. Her manner was as entirely different from
her manner of six months ago at Shovelstrode as that had been different
from the manner of those still earlier days at Lingfield or Brambletye.
In those days, during their playtime, Tony had been a school-girl, a
delightful hoyden, the best pal and fellow-adventurer a man could have.
In December, in the garden at Shovelstrode, she had lost that valiant
girlhood, and at the same time her womanhood was unripe–she had been a
crude mixture of girl and woman, sometimes provokingly both, sometimes
repellingly neither. But to-day she was woman complete. Both her mind
and her body seemed to have stepped out of their green adolescence.
There was a certain dignity of curve about the tall figure resting
against him, which Nigel had not seen in the forest or in the garden;
there was a clear and confident look in the eyes which in earlier days
had been either wistful or timid; there was a heightened colour on the
cheeks. Her manner was full of gentle assurance, her speech easy and
sympathetic–as utterly different from the crude tactlessness of
Christmastide as from the school-girl rattle of November.

Yes, Tony was a woman come into her kingdom, proud, sweet, compassionate
and strong. Quentin Lowe had made her this in the short weeks of his
love. Unworthy little cad as he was, he had yet been able to raise her
from girlhood to womanhood, to crown her with the diadem of her
heritage….

“Tony,” cried Nigel, caught in a sudden storm of impulse, “do you love
Quentin Lowe?”

“Love him!–why, of course…. Let’s move on.”

“You’re not angry with me?–I have my reason for asking.”

“No, I’m not angry. But what reason can you have?”

“I remember,” said Nigel desperately, “what you told me six months ago.
You said you couldn’t forgive….”

The colour rushed to his face, but he fought on.

“There is something which I think you ought to know about him.”

“What do you mean?”

She spoke sharply, but not quite so sharply as he had expected.

“Miss Strife–it’s very difficult for me … but I think I ought—-”

“I suppose,” she said, her voice faltering a little, “you’re trying to
tell me–you think you ought to tell me–that Quentin hasn’t always been
quite–quite worthy of himself. I know.”

“You know!”

“Yes.”

There was silence, broken only by the swish of their footsteps through
the grass.

“How did you know?–Who told you?” cried Furlonger suddenly.

“I might ask–how do _you_ know?”

“The girl–was a friend of mine….”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t mistake me. I–I didn’t love her–not in that way, I mean. But,
Tony–who told you?”

“Quentin.”

“My God!”

“Why are you so surprised? It was right that he should tell me.”

“Of course. But I–I didn’t think he would.”

Tony hesitated a moment–it struck Nigel that she was considering how
far she ought to take him into her confidence. The thought humiliated
him.

“He did tell me,” she said after a pause, “he told me everything, one
night, nearly three weeks ago, just before your brother died. He
suddenly came to Shovelstrode–very late, after we had all gone
upstairs. He wanted to see me–and I came down … oh, I shall never
forget it! He was standing there, all white and tired–and very wet, as
if he’d been lying in the grass. He tried to speak, but he couldn’t–and
I was frightened, like a silly ass, and I cried … and then he told me
all about himself–and this girl.”

“And you?…”

She shuddered.

“I–I told him he must go.”

“You told him to go!”–his voice had a hungry catch in it.

“Yes–I was a beast.”

Anxiety and scorn strove together in him.

“But you changed your mind.”

She nodded.

“Tony!”

“Well, why not?”

“Because it’s paltry and weak of you–he doesn’t deserve your
forgiveness–and you’ve no right to forgive him for what he did to
another woman.”

“Do you think I haven’t considered that other woman?”

“You must have. But–egad!–you’re so calm about it. Don’t you realise
what all this means–to her?”

“You think I ought to make him marry her?”

“Of course not–she wouldn’t have him if she was paid. But–but how can
_you_ marry him, Tony?”

She bit her lip.

“I’m sorry I put things so bluntly, but I’m always a blundering ass when
I’m excited. Tony, you’re not to marry this man.”

By her mounting colour he saw that he had said too much.

“I beg your pardon–I know all this sounds like impertinent
interference. But it isn’t. I’ve been worrying about it a lot–about
your marrying him. I felt you ought to know….”

“Well, I do know–and I’ve forgiven him.”

“I’m not sure that isn’t even worse than your not knowing.”

She stared at him in anger and surprise.

“You say that!–you!–the man but for whom perhaps I never should have
forgiven him.”

Nigel gasped. “What do you mean?”

“Well, at first, as I told you, I felt I couldn’t forgive him. But
afterwards I remembered all you said.”

“_I_ said!”

“Yes.”

“What?–When?”

“Don’t you remember that day you came over to Shovelstrode and said,
‘You will have to forgive me a great many things because I am so very
hungry’?”

They had stopped again; the fields swelled round them, ghostly in the
lemon twilight, and a wistful radiance glowed on Tony’s face. He
searched her eyes despairingly–he scarcely knew what for. The anger in
them had died, and in its place was a beautiful serenity and kindliness.
But that was not what he was looking for. His heart was full of hunger
and tears, yet he did not hunger or cry for the woman who stood before
him, but for the little girl he had known long months ago.

“Quentin used almost the same words as you did,” she said, breaking the
silence, “he told me how all his life he had been hungry, always craving
for something good and pure and satisfying, never able to reach it. Then
he met this girl, and he thought that he’d find in her all he was
seeking. But he found only sorrow–sorrow for them both. He was in
despair, in hell–and he believed I could help him out and make him a
good man again. Don’t you remember how you said that a man’s only chance
of rising out of the mud was for some woman to give him a hand and help
him up?”

Nigel could not find words. A thick, misty horror was settling on him.
Had those poor pleadings of his dying self then turned against him in
his hour of need?

“There was Quentin asking for my help,” continued Tony. “Oh, I know I’m
no better than other girls, than the girl he used to love, but somehow
I can’t help feeling I’m the girl sent to help Quentin. When I told him
he must go, he nearly went crazy … his father said he was afraid he
would kill himself … and I–I was nearly mad too, for I–oh, God! I
loved him.”

A sounding contralto note swept into her voice; it seemed to swell up
from her heart, from her heaving woman’s breast on which her hands were
folded.

“So I forgave him.”

“Tony!…” cried Nigel faintly.

“Yes–I’m grateful to you. I’m afraid that when I saw you at
Shovelstrode I was very stupid and stiff–I was a horrid little beast,
and I couldn’t forgive you for what was after all an honour you had done
me. Now I see how much your friendship meant to me. But for you, Quentin
and I might have been parted for ever.”

A stupid rage was tearing Furlonger, and there was a mockery of laughter
in it. He saw that his tragedy was after all only a farce–he was the
time-honoured lover of farce, who with infinite pains makes a ladder to
his lady’s chamber, and then sees his rival swarm up it. There he stood,
forlorn, discomfited, frustrated–but also intensely comic. Perhaps the
student was right about Offenbach….

“I’m surprised that you should be so disgusted with me,” said Tony.

The ghostly laughter pealed again, and at the same time he remembered
that “if the man’s a sport, he laughs too.” He threw back his head, and
startled her with a hearty laugh.

“Mr. Furlonger!”

“I’m sorry–but things struck me suddenly as rather funny.”

“How?”

“Oh, I don’t suppose they’d strike you the same way. But it seems funny
you should care whether I’m disgusted or not.”

“I do–of course I do; and I can’t see why you are disgusted. After all
you said….”

“Damn all I said!–I’m sorry, but I never thought of a case like this.”
He blushed, remembering the case he had thought of.

They walked down the hill–they could see Redpale now, huddling beneath
them in its orchards. The colours of the sunset had grown fainter, and
pale, trembling lights burned on the barn-roofs and the pond.

Their feet beat swiftly on the rustling grass. Furlonger’s time was
short.

“I’m going to try to be a big woman,” said Tony softly, “a strong, brave
woman; and I don’t want to think sentimental rot about a perfect knight
and a spotless hero and all that. I want to be a man’s fighting
comrade–I want to feel he can’t do without me. It was you who first
told me that I must take men as I find them–but not leave them so.”

“Tony, if only I thought there was any good in him—-”

“I tell you there’s a mine of good in him. But he’s never had a chance
till now. Our engagement is to be a very long one, and already I can see
a difference in him. It’s not I that have done it–it’s his love for
me. And all the sorrow he went through, when he thought he’d lost me,
seems to have made him gentler and humbler somehow. Quentin has suffered
dreadfully”–there was a little click in her throat–“and he wants so
much to be good and pure and true. And I’ve promised to help him, by
believing that he can and will do better.”

His own words were being mercilessly fired back at him. He remembered
how he had first breathed them to her, full of hope and entreaty. In the
face of such artillery his rout was complete.

“Forgive him, Tony!” he cried. “Forgive him! But oh, forgive me, too!”

They had reached the gate of Redpale Farm. He stopped–he would go no
further.

“Tony–forgive me too.”

The words broke from his lips in an exceeding bitter cry.

“Forgive you!–what for?”

“For a great deal–for all you know of, and for the more you don’t
know.”

“Of course I forgive you–but I thank you most.”

“No, you must forgive me most–are you sure that you forgive me for what
you don’t know as well as for what you know?”

“Quite sure”–her voice trembled a little, for he was beginning to
frighten her.

“Then good-bye.”

“Good-bye. I–I hope I haven’t brought you very far out of your way.”

He muttered something unintelligible, pulled off his cap, and left her.

He walked quickly, pricked on by a discovery which was also a triumph.
Quentin Lowe had not taken Tony from him after all. The Tony he loved
had never known Quentin Lowe, she had been no man’s friend but Nigel
Furlonger’s–and so much his friend that when he had been taken from her
she would not stay without him, but herself had gone away. Quentin Lowe
loved a beautiful woman–proud and sweet and assured, with just a dash
of the prig about her. Nigel had never loved this woman, he had loved a
little girl–and the little girl who had been his comrade in the Kentish
lanes and the ruins of Brambletye, would never be any man’s but his.

He plunged recklessly through the fields, and recklessly into Furnace
Wood. Lowe could not be far off. He must have missed the fast train from
Victoria, but the next one arrived only an hour or so later. Nigel
hurried through the wood, now coal dark, and full of a strange dread for
him–though he did not know of the ghosts which haunted it. As he caught
his first glimpse of the faintly crimsoned west, he saw a figure
outlined against it. Some one was coming down the slope of Furnace
Field. It must be Lowe.

The two men met on the rim of the wood. It was a moment of blackness for
Quentin when he saw the blazing eyes and bitten lips of Furlonger.
Strange words broke from his tongue–

“Hast thou found me, O mine enemy!”

Nigel’s great body towered over him. His lips had shrunk back from his
teeth, which gleamed in the dying ugly light. Lowe remembered the other
Furlonger who was dead. In Furnace Wood fate would not tamper with
vengeance as at Cowsanish.

Suddenly Nigel spoke.

“Two good women have forgiven you–so I’ve nothing to say–or do.
Pass—-”

He moved out of the path, and waved his hand towards the wood.

“Pass—-” he said.

Quentin hesitated a moment.

“Won’t–won’t you shake hands?”

“No. Pass–and for God’s sake, pass quickly.”

A few faint stars were in the west as Nigel tramped towards it. They
seemed to swim up out of the eddies of crimson fog that floated
there–they seemed to be showing little candles of hope to the man who
turned his back on the east. The castle of the dayspring lay behind him,
swallowed in thundery murk, but before him were the lights of a broader
palace where dead hopes and dead hatreds keep state together.

The west glowed and trembled and purpled–fiery rays rested on the
woods, and reached over the sky to the moon. Then against the purple
showed a tall chimney, rising from a high-roofed cottage that squatted
in the fields of Wilderwick.

As Nigel walked down the hill towards Sparrow Hall, a great quickening
realisation struck his exhausted heart. He knew that his dream was not
dead. Tony, the light in which he had seen it, was gone for ever, but
the dream itself was still there in the dark. For six months he had
tried to lead a good and honourable life, and now, though the motive was
gone, the old desire remained as strong and white as ever. He could
never be as he had been before he met Tony. He knew now that it was not
she that had called him–she had merely opened his ears to a voice that
had been calling him all through his life, through struggle, lust and
pain, failure and hate–and was calling him still, through the utter
darkness. The child in him, which had desperately sought congenial
comradeship in a little girl, rose out of the wreck, and heard as in a
dream the voices of boys and girls in London, laughing, fooling and
ragging together, calling to all in him that was gay and young and
outrageous. He wanted to go back to London, he wanted to play and to
work, and to win for himself what he had once yearned to win for Tony.
His music, that one touch of the poetic and supernatural in his sordid,
materialistic life, would raise him up in this his Last Day, and give
him his heart’s desire–his desire for a clean life and an honourable
name.

He stood for a moment in the great lonely field–the last of the sun and
the first of the moon upon him, around him the dawning eternity of the
stars. Two hours ago he had been festering, sick, with his schemes, the
comrade of a hundred repulsive ideas. Now he was alone–utterly alone
with his one great ambition, stripped of the last rag of personal motive
that had clung to it–his ambition to be honest and pure and true.

Tony had pointed him out the way, and directly he had taken it, she had
gone–to show it to another man, and walk in it with him. Nigel suddenly
pictured that man. He was at Redpale Farm … he kneeled in the dust at
Tony’s feet … her hands were upon his head. In her he found
redemption, love and blessing–and dared he, Furlonger, grudge
redemption, love and blessing to any man? He did not grudge them–let
Quentin Lowe take them, walk in white with Tony, and be worthy of her.
Furlonger, too, would walk in white and be worthy–but he would walk
alone.

No, not quite alone. He trod softly up the path to Sparrow Hall, between
the ranks of the folded flowers. The evening primroses and night-scented
stock sent their fragrance in with him at the door. The house was in
darkness, and he groped his way to the kitchen, where he found Janey.

She was half asleep in the armchair by the fire–she had laid the
supper, that dreary little supper for two, and now lay huddled by the
dying embers, cold, in spite of the thick heat of the night.

“Janey,” whispered Nigel, as he kissed her.

She started.

“Oh, you’re back at last!–what a time you’ve been!”

“I’m sorry, dear. Come now, I’ll light the lamp, and we’ll have supper.”

She rose listlessly, and sat down opposite him.

“It’s a rotten supper–I don’t cook so well as Novice Unity Agnes.”

“Nonsense! you cook quite well enough for me. Janey–will you come and
cook for me in London?”

“In London?”–she stared at him blankly.

“Yes, I must go back to my work–and I can’t leave you here.”

“But–but–I don’t understand–and what shall we do about the farm?”

“We can sell it, and the money will keep us–just the two of us in a
workman’s flat–till my training is over, and I’m earning money on my
own. Oh, Janey, I don’t suppose I’ll ever be rich or famous or that I’ll
fill the Albert Hall–but I–I shall be more worthy of you, dear.”

“Of me!”–she laughed.

“Yes. Don’t you understand? I’ve got my dream back again–but there’s an
empty place in it…. Will you fill it, Janey?”

She looked questioningly at him with her great haggard eyes.

“Who left it empty?”

“Tony Strife,” he said in a low voice.

“Nigel!…”

She rose to her feet and came to him.

“My poor, poor boy.”

Her pity, the first he had received, had an unexpected effect on him. It
nearly unmanned him–he put up his hands to her neck, and drew down her
face to him, while his body shuddered.

“Nigel … did she know?”

“No, never–thank God!”

She stroked his hair, and held his head against her breast.

“It was a hopeless dream, Janey.”

She could not contradict him.

“But it helped me.”

“Then it was a good dream.”

He gently slipped himself free.

“And now we’ll say no more about it.”

After supper Janey asked Nigel to play to her. He often used to play to
her in the evenings, to relieve the aching weight of agony that gathered
on her with the dusk. She lay back in the armchair, her eyes closed,
wondering why Nigel’s music, which she had used sometimes to hate,
soothed her so inexpressibly now. She always asked him to play when she
felt her heart was becoming hard–music seemed to melt down that stony
sense of outrage which sometimes grew like a cancer into her thoughts.
She would not, dared not, have a hard heart, and music was the only
thing at present that could keep it soft.

She thought with gathering tears of the confession her brother had just
made her, but she would not let her mind dwell on it–somehow she felt
he would not like it. The episode did not belong to the surface of
things, it belonged to the hidden life of a secret man, a holy, hopeless
thing, to be guarded from the prying even of reverent thoughts. She knew
that though she and Nigel might often talk together of her sorrow, they
would never talk of his.

He was playing a strange tune that pattered on the silence like rain. It
was the song of the man who has dreamed of love, who has wakened at last
to find it only a dream, and that he lies with empty arms on a hard
bed–and then suddenly realises that he has before him that which is
sweeter than sleep and dreams–the joy of the day’s work. He played the
Prelude of the Day’s Work, through which would trill the magic memory of
love–love, which is so much sweeter in memory and in dream than in
realisation.

At last he put aside his violin, and going over to Janey, he knelt down
by her and kissed her tired face.

“Oh, Nigel … Nigel!”

“You’ll come with me to London, and help me in my new life?”

“I want a new life too.”

“We’ll start one together.”

“And–and you’ll play the devil out of me when he comes?”

“Always–and we won’t have any secrets from each other, Janey.”

She smiled faintly. Her brother always amused her when he spoke of
secrets.

There was silence for some minutes. The moon was leaving the window,
climbing high among the stars. A little wind began to flutter round
Sparrow Hall, whispering and throbbing.

“I’m tired,” said Janey.

“You must go to bed.”

“Yes.”

“And you’ll dream of the life you and I are going to live together–of
success for me, and happiness for you.”

She rose and put her hands on his shoulders.

“Good-night, lad.”

“Good-night. I think I’m going to bed too. I think I can sleep to-night.
But before we go we must drink a toast, Janey.”

“A toast!–to whom?”

“To–to two people who we thought were going to make you and me
happy–but are going to make each other happy instead.”

She did not answer for a moment. She and her brother stood facing each
other in the strange freak of lamplight and moonlight. Then she said–

“Yes. We must _want_ them to be happy, Nigel.”

He turned to the uncleared supper-table and poured out some of the red
wine that Janey drank in these days of her weakness.

“We’ll drink to their happiness, old sister. We won’t go whining and
grudging because it isn’t ours. Besides, we’re going to have it some
day–we’ll make a new lot of our own.”

“Yes, Nigel”–Janey’s eyes had kindled–“we’re not going to grudge them
what they’ve got, or be envious and mean.”

They faced each other across the table. The wind gave a sudden little
sigh round Sparrow Hall–blustered–and was still.

“A toast!” cried Nigel, lifting his glass, “a toast!–To those who’ve
got what we have lost.”