Daffodils by Anne Douglas Sedgwick

I

THOUGH he knew that he was going to die, Marmaduke Follett as he lay in the hospital on the French coast had never in his life been so happy. Until these last days he had not been able to feel it in its completeness. Of the great engagement where he had fallen he remembered only the overwhelming uproar, the blood and mud; and after that, torments, apathies, dim awakenings to the smell of ether and relapses to acquiescent sleep. Now the last operation had failed—or rather, he had failed to recover from it—and there was no more hope for him; but he hardly suffered and his thoughts were emerging into a world of cleanliness, kindness, and repose.

The hospital before the war had been a big hotel, and his was one of the bedrooms on the second floor, its windows crossed by two broad blue bands of sea and sky. As an officer he had a room to himself. The men were in the wards downstairs.

One of his nurses—both were pleasant girls but this was the one who with a wing of black hair curving under her cap reminded him of his cousin Victoria—had put a glass of daffodils beside his bed, not garden daffodils, but the wild ones that grow in woods; and if she made him think of Victoria how much more they made him think of the woods in spring at Channerley!

He was dying after a gallant deed. It was a fitting death for a Follett and so little in his life had been at all fitted to that initial privilege: it was only in the manner of his death that his life matched at all those thoughts of Victoria and Channerley.

He did not remember much of the manner; it still remained cloaked in the overwhelming uproar; but as he lay there he seemed to read in the columns of the London papers what all the Folletts were so soon to read—because of him:—

"His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the under-mentioned officers, non-commissioned officers and men:—

"Sec. Lt. Marmaduke Everard Follett. For most conspicuous bravery.

“He was directed with 50 men to drive the enemy from their trench and under intense shell-and machine-gun fire he personally led three separate parties of bombers against a captured 325 yards of trench; attacking the machine gun, shooting the firer with his revolver, and destroying gun and personnel with bombs. This very brave act saved many lives and ensured the success of the attack. In carrying one of his men back to safety Sec. Lt. Follett was mortally wounded.”

He felt himself smile, as he soberly spaced it out, to remember that the youths at the office used to call him Marmalade. It was curious that he most felt his present and his present transfigured self, when he thought of Cauldwell’s office, where so many years of his past had been spent. When he thought of that, of the jocund youths, of the weary hours and wasted years, it was to feel himself transfigured; when he thought of the Folletts and of Channerley, to feel that he matched them; to feel at last as if he had come home. What to the grimy, everyday world counted as transfiguration, counted as the normal, the expected, to the world of Channerley.

He wondered, lying there and looking out past the daffodils, where Victoria was; he had heard that she was nursing, too, somewhere in France; and again, as he had smiled over the contrast of “Sec. Lt. Marmaduke Everard Follett” and the “Marmalade” of Cauldwell’s office, he smiled in thinking of the difference between Victoria and the nice young nurse who, for all her resembling curve of hair, was also second-rate. It would have been very wonderful to have been nursed by Victoria, and yet his thought turned from that. There had never been any sweetness, never even any kindness for him, in Victoria’s clear young gaze; when it came to nursing, he could imagine her being kind to a Tommy, but not to him, the dull, submerged cousin; and the nice though second-rate nurse was very kind. He would rather die under her eyes than under Victoria’s.

And he would rather think of Victoria as he had last seen her at the big London dance to which, most unexpectedly, he had found himself asked last spring—the spring before the war. He had decided, as with nervous fingers he tied his white cravat,—how rarely disturbed had been that neat sheaf lying in his upper drawer!—that he must have been confused with some other Follett, for he was so seldom asked anywhere, where he would be likely to meet Victoria. However, it was a delight to see her in her snowy dress, her beautiful hair bound with silver, and to feel, as he watched her dancing, that she belonged, in a sense, to him; for he, too, was a Follett.

How much more did she belong to him now! And not only Victoria, but all of them, these Folletts of his and the Folletts of past generations; and Channerley, centre of all his aching, wistful memories. It had been for him, always, part of the very structure of his nature, that beautiful old house where he had spent his boyhood. Perhaps it was because he had been turned out of the nest so early that he never ceased to miss it. His thought, like a maimed fledgling, had fluttered round and round it, longing, exiled, helpless.

If, now, he could have survived, his eldest brother, he felt sure, must have asked him oftener to stay at Channerley. It still gave him a pang, or, rather, the memory of many pangs, to recall that Robert had not asked him for two years, and had seemed to forget all about him after that. They had all seemed to forget about him,—that was the trouble of it,—and almost from the very beginning: Robert, who had Channerley; Austin, who had gone into the army and was now in Mesopotamia; Griselda, married so splendidly up in her northern estate; and Amy, the artistic bachelor-girl of the family, whom he associated with irony and cigarette-smoke and prolonged absences in Paris. Even cheerful Sylvia, of South Kensington, with her many babies and K.C. husband, whom he always thought of, for all her well-being, as very nearly as submerged as himself,—even Sylvia saw little of him and asked him only to family dinners,—Mr. Shillington’s family, not hers,—at depressingly punctual intervals.

But Sylvia, the one nearest him in years, was the one who had forgotten least, and she had, after her fashion, done her best for him. Confused at study, clumsy at games, shy and tongue-tied, he had not in any way distinguished himself at a rather second-rate public school; and to distinguish himself had been the only hope for him. The Folletts had never had any money to spare, and Eton and Oxford for Robert and Sandhurst for Austin fulfilled a tradition that became detached and terse where younger sons who could not distinguish themselves were concerned. Still, he had always felt that, had his father lived, something better would have been found for him than to be bundled, through the instrumentality of Mr. Shillington, into a solicitor’s office. There he had been bundled, and there he had stuck for all these years, as clumsy, as confused as ever; a pallid, insignificant little fellow (oh, he had no illusions about himself!) with the yellow hair and small yellow moustache which, together with his name, had earned for him his sobriquet.

They had not disliked him, those direfully facetious companions of his. Noblesse oblige was an integral part of his conception of himself, however little they might be aware of his unvarying courtesy towards them as its exercise. He suspected that they thought of him as merely inoffensive and rather piteous; but shyness might give that impression; they could not guess at the quiet aversion that it covered. He was aware sometimes, suddenly, that in the aloofness and contemplative disdain of his pale sidelong glance at them, he most felt himself a Follett. If his mind, for most practical purposes, was slow and clumsy, it was sharp and swift in its perceptions. He judged the young men in Cauldwell’s office as a Follett must judge them. In the accurate applying of that standard he was as instinctively gifted as any of his race; and if he knew, from his first look at her, that the nice young nurse was second-rate, how coldly and calmly, all these years, he had known that the young men who called him Marmalade were third-rate. And yet they none of them disliked him, and he wondered whether it was because, when he most felt disdain, he most looked merely timid, or because they recognized in him, all dimly as it might be, the first-rateness that was his inherently and inalienably.

Just as the third-rate young men might recognize the first-rate but dimly, he was aware that to the world the Folletts, too, were not important. It was not one of the names, in spite of centuries of local lustre, to conjure with; and he liked it all the better because of that. They had never, it was true, distinguished themselves; but they were people of distinction, and that was, to his quiet, reflective, savouring, an even higher state. He sometimes wondered if, in any of them, the centring of family consciousness was as intense as in himself. If they were aloof about third-rate people, it was not because they were really very conscious about themselves. They took themselves for granted, as they took Channerley and the family history; and only Amy was aware that some of the family portraits were good.

The history—it was not of course accurate to call it that, yet it seemed more spacious and significant than mere annals—pored over during long evenings, in faded parchments, deeds, and letters, was known in every least detail to him. How the Folletts had begun, very soberly but very decorously, in the fifteenth century, and how they had gone on: rooting more deeply into their pleasant woodlands and meadows; flowering, down the centuries, now in a type of grace—that charming Antonia who had married so well at James the First’s court; and of gallantry—a Follett had fallen at Naseby, and a Follett had fought at Waterloo; or of good-humoured efficiency, as in the eighteenth-century judge and the nineteenth-century bishop. And he, who was neither graceful nor gallant nor good-humoured (sour and sad he felt himself), never could resist the warming, revivifying influence of these recognitions, stretching himself, sighing, smiling happily before his Bloomsbury fire on a winter’s evening, as he laid down the thick pile of yellowed manuscripts to think it all over and feel himself, in spite of everything, a link with it all.

Robert had always been very decent about letting him have and keep the documents for as long as he liked.

It was strange to think that he was never to see his Bloomsbury lodgings again, and stranger, really, that a certain tinge of regret was in the thought; for how, for years, he had hated them, place of exile, of relegation, as he had always felt them! Yet he had come to be fond of his little sitting-room, just because, to his eye, with its mingled comfort and austerity, it was so significant of exile. If a Follett couldn’t have what he wanted, that was all he would have—his rack of pipes, his shelves of books, his little collection of mostly marginless mezzotints ranged along the dark, green walls. The room was a refuge and did not pretend to be an achievement, and in that very fact might, to an eye as sharp as his for such significance, suggest the tastes that it relinquished. He had indeed all the tastes and none of the satisfactions of Channerley.

There it was; he had come back to it again, as, indeed, he had, in spirit, never left it—never for a moment. He felt himself, lying there in the hospital on the French coast, with the soft spring sea lapping upon the beach under his window—he felt himself drop, drop, softly, sweetly, deeply, back to his childhood. From his high nursery-window he saw the dewy tree-tops,—the old hawthorn that grew so near the house, and the old mulberry,—and the rooks wheeling on a spring sky so many years ago. The dogs, at that early hour, just released, might be racing over the lawns: idle, jovial Peter, the spaniel, and Jack, the plucky, hot-tempered little Dandy-Dinmont.

Below the lawns were the high grey garden walls, and above, rising a little from the flagged rose-garden, were the woods where the daffodils grew, daffodils like those beside him now, tall and small, their pale, bright pennons set among warrior spears of green. Little bands of them ran out upon the lawn from under the great trees, and one saw their gold glimmering far, far along the woodlands. Oh, the beauty of it, and the stillness; the age and youth; the smile and the security! How he had always loved it, shambling about the woods and gardens; creeping rather—he always saw himself as creeping somehow—about the dear, gay, faded house! Always such an awkward, insignificant little boy; even his dear old Nanna had felt dissatisfied with his appearance, and he had always known it, when she sent him down with the others to the drawing-room; and his mother, she had made it very apparent, had found him only that.

He shrank from the thought of his mother; perhaps it was because of her, of her vexed and averted eyes, her silken rustle of indifference as she passed him by, that he saw himself as creeping anywhere where she might come. He only remembered her in glimpses: languidly and ironically smiling at her tea-table (Amy had her smile), the artificial tone of her voice had even then struck his boyish ear; reading on a summer afternoon, with bored brows and dissatisfied lips, as she lay on a garden chair in the shade of the mulberry tree; querulously arguing with his father, who, good-humoured and very indifferent, strolled about the hall in his pink coat on a winter morning, waiting for the horses to be brought round; his mother’s yellow braids shining under her neatly tilted riding-hat, her booted foot held to the blaze of the great log-fire. A hard, selfish, sentimental woman; and—wasn’t it really the only word for what he felt in her?—just a little shoddy. He distinguished it from the second-rate nicely: it was a more personal matter; for his mother, though certainly not a Follett, was of good stock; he knew, of course, all about her stock. It always grieved him to think that it was from her he had his yellow hair and the pale grey of his eyes; his stature, too, for she had been a small woman; all the other Folletts were tall; but she had given him nothing more: not a trace of her beauty was his, and he was glad of it.

It was curious, since he had really had so little to do with him, as little, almost, as with his mother, how blissfully his sense of his father’s presence pervaded his childish memories. He was so kind. The kindest thing he remembered at Channerley, except his dear old Nanna and Peter the spaniel. It used to give him a thrill of purest joy when, meeting him, his father, his hands clasped behind his back after his strolling wont, would stop and bend amused and affectionate eyes upon him; rather the eyes, to be sure, that he bent upon his dogs; but Marmaduke always felt of him that he looked upon his children, and upon himself, too, as parts of the pack; and it was delightful to be one of the pack, with him.

“Well, old fellow, and how goes the world with you to-day?” his father would say.

And after that question the world would go in sunshine.

He had always believed that, had his father lived, he would never have been so forgotten; just as he had always believed that his father would never have allowed one of his pack to be bundled into the solicitor’s office. For that he had to thank, he felt sure, not only Sylvia’s negative solicitude, but his mother’s active indifference. Between them both they had done it to him.

And he never felt so to the full his dispossession as in thinking of Robert. He had always intensely feared and admired Robert. He did not know what he feared, for Robert was never unkind. But Robert was everything that he was not: tall and gay and competent, and possessing everything needful, from the very beginning, for the perfect fulfilment of his type. The difference between them had been far more than the ten years that had made of Robert a man when he was still only a little boy. There had been, after all, a time when they had been a very big and a very little boy together, with Austin in between; yet the link had seemed always to break down after Austin. Robert, in this retrospect, had always the air of strolling away from him—for Robert, too, was a stroller. Not that he himself had had the air of pursuit; he had never, he felt sure, from the earliest age, lacked tact; tact and reticence and self-effacement had been bred into him. But his relationship with Robert had seemed always to consist in standing there, hiding ruefulness, and gazing at Robert’s strolling back.

The difference from Austin had perhaps been as great, but it had never hurt so much, for Austin, though with his share of the Follett charm, had never had the charm of Robert. A clear-voiced and clear-eyed, masterful boy, Austin’s main contact with others was in doing things with them, and that sort of contact did not mean congeniality. Austin had made use of him; had let him hold his ferrets and field for him at cricket; and a person whom you found useful did not, for the time being, bore you.

But he had bored Robert always—that was apparent; and beautiful Griselda, who was older than either of them, and Amy, who was younger. Griselda had gazed rather sadly over his head; and Amy had smiled and teased him so that he had seldom ventured on a remark in her presence. Even fat little Sylvia, the baby, had always preferred any of the others to him as she grew up; had only not been bored because, while she was good-humoured, she was also rather dull. And at the bottom of his heart, rueful always, sore, and still patiently surprised, he knew that, while he found them all a little brutal, he could not admire them the less because of it. It was part of the Follett inheritance to be able to be brutal, unconsciously, and therefore with no loss of bloom.

And now, at last, he was not to bore them any longer; at last, he was not to be forgotten. How could he not be happy,—it brought back every blissful thrill of boyhood, his father’s smile, the daffodil woods in spring, heightened to ecstasy,—when he had at last made of himself one of the Folletts who were remembered? He would have his place in the history beside the Follett who fell at Naseby. No family but is glad of a V.C. in its annals. They could no longer stroll away. They would be proud of him; he had done something for all the Folletts forever.

II

THE nice young nurse came in. She closed the door gently, and, with her smile, calm before accustomed death, and always, as it were, a little proud of him,—that was because they were both English,—she took his wrist and felt his pulse, holding her watch in the other hand, and asked him, presently, how he felt. Only after that did she say, contemplating him for a moment,—Marmaduke wondered how many hours—or was it perhaps days?—she was giving him to live,—

“A gentleman has come to see you. You may see him if you like. But I’ve told him that he is only to stay for half an hour.”

The blood flowed up to Marmaduke’s forehead. He felt it beating hard in his neck and behind his ears, and his heart thumped down there under the neatly drawn bed-clothes.

“A gentleman? What’s his name?”

Was it Robert?

“Here is his card,” said the nurse.

She drew it from her pocket and gave it to him. It couldn’t have been Robert, of course. Robert would only have had to come up. Yet he was dizzy with the disappointment. It was as if he saw Robert strolling away for the last time. He would never see Robert again.

Mr. Guy Thorpe was the name. The address was a London club that Marmaduke placed at once as second-rate, and “The Beeches, Arlington Road,” in a London suburb. On the card was written in a neat scholarly hand: “May I see you? We are friends.”

It was difficult for a moment to feel anything but the receding tide of his hope. The next thing that came was a sense of dislike for Mr. Guy Thorpe and for the words that he had written. Friends? By what right since he did not know his name?

“Is he a soldier?” he asked. “How did he come? I don’t know him.”

“You needn’t see him unless you want to,” said the nurse. “No; he’s not a soldier. An elderly man. He’s driving a motor for the French Wounded Emergency Fund, and came on from the Alliance because he heard that you were here. Perhaps he’s some old family friend. He spoke as if he were.”

Marmaduke smiled a little. “That’s hardly likely. But I’ll see him, yes; since he came for that.”

When she had gone, he lay looking again at the blue bands across the window. A flock of sea-gulls flew past—proud, swift, and leisurely, glittering in the sun. They seemed to embody the splendour and exultation of his thoughts, and, when they had disappeared, he was sorry, almost desolate.

Mr. Guy Thorpe. He took up the card again in his feeble hand and looked at it. And now, dimly, it seemed to remind him of something.

Steps approached along the passage, the nurse’s light footfall and the heavier, careful tread of a man. An oddly polite, almost a deprecating tread. He had gone about a great many hospitals and was cautious not to disturb wounded men. Yet Marmaduke felt again that he did not like Mr. Guy Thorpe, and, as they came in, he was conscious of feeling a little frightened.

There was nothing to frighten one in Mr. Thorpe’s appearance. He was a tall, thin, ageing man, travel-worn, in civilian clothes, with a dingy Red-Cross badge on the sleeve of his waterproof overcoat. Baldish and apparently near-sighted, he seemed to blink towards the bed, and, as if with motoring in the wind, his eyelids were moist and reddened. He sat down, murmuring some words of thanks to the nurse.

A very insignificant man, for all his height and his big forehead. Altogether of The Beeches, Arlington Road. Had he turned grey, he might have looked less shabby, but dark thin locks still clustered above his high crown and behind his long-lobed ears. His eyes were dark, his moustache drooped, and he had a small, straight nose. Marmaduke saw that he was the sort of man who, in youth, might have been considered very handsome. He looked like a seedy poet and some sort of minor civil servant mingled, the civil servant having got the better of the poet. Marmaduke also imagined that he would have a large family and a harassed but ambitious wife, with a genteel accent—a wife a little below himself. His tie was of a dull red silk. Marmaduke did not like him.

Mr. Thorpe glanced round, as if cautiously, to see if the nurse had closed the door, and then, it was really as if more cautiously still, looked at Marmaduke, slightly moving back his chair.

“I’m very grateful to you, very grateful indeed,” he said in a low voice, “for seeing me.”

“You’ve come a long way,” said Marmaduke.

“Yes. A long way. I had heard of your being here. I hoped to get here. I felt that I must see you. We are all proud of you; more proud than I can say.”

He looked down now at the motoring-cap he held, and Marmaduke became aware that the reddened eyes were still more suffused and that the mouth under the drooping moustache twitched and trembled. He could think of nothing to say, except to murmur something about being very glad—though he didn’t want to say that; and he supposed, to account for Mr. Thorpe’s emotion, that he must be a moving sight, lying there, wasted, bandaged, and dying.

“You don’t remember my name, I suppose,” said Mr. Thorpe after a moment, in which he frankly got out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes.

“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” said Marmaduke very politely. He was glad to say this. It was the sort of thing he did want to say.

“Yet I know yours very, very well,” said Mr. Thorpe, with a curious watery smile. “I lived at Channerley once. I was tutor there for some time—to Robert, your brother, and Griselda. Yes,” Mr. Thorpe nodded, “I know the Folletts well; and Channerley, the dear old place.”

Now the dim something in memory pressed forward, almost with a physical advance, and revealed itself as sundry words scratched on the schoolroom window-panes and sundry succinct drawings in battered old Greek and Latin grammars. Robert had always been very clever at drawing, catching with equal facility and accuracy the swiftness of a galloping horse and the absurdities of a human profile. What returned to Marmaduke now, and as clearly as if he had the fly-leaf before him, was a tiny thumb-nail sketch of such a galloping horse unseating a lank, crouching figure, of whom the main indications were the angles of acute uncertainty taken by the knees and elbows; and a more elaborate portrait, dashed and dotted as if with a ruthless boyish grin—such an erect and melancholy head it was, so dark the tossed-back locks, so classical the nose and unclassical the moustache, and a brooding eye indicated in a triangular sweep of shadow. Beneath was written in Robert’s clear, boyish hand, “Mr. Guy Thorpe, Poet, Philosopher, and Friend. Vale.” Even the date flashed before him, 1880; and with it—strange, inappropriate association—the daffodils running out upon the lawn, as no doubt he had seen them as he leaned from the schoolroom window, with the Greek grammar under his elbow on the sill.

So that was it. Mr. Guy Thorpe, placed, explained, disposed of—poor dear! He felt suddenly quite kindly towards him, quite touched by his act of loyalty to the old allegiance in coming; and flattered, too,—yes, even by Mr. Thorpe,—that he should be recognized as a Follett who had done something for the name; and smiling very benevolently upon him, he said:—

“Oh, of course; I remember perfectly now—your name, and drawings of you in old schoolbooks, you know. All tutors and governesses get those tributes from their pupils, don’t they? But I myself couldn’t remember, could I? for it was before I was born that you were at Channerley.”

There was a moment of silence after this, and in it Marmaduke felt that Mr. Thorpe did not like being so placed. He had no doubt imagined that there would be less ambiguous tributes, and that his old pupils would have talked of him to the younger generation.

And something of this chagrin certainly came out in his next words as, nodding and looking round at the daffodils, he said:—

"Yes, yes. Quite true. No, of course you couldn’t yourself remember. I was more though, I think I may fairly say, than the usual tutor or governess. I came, rather, at Sir Robert’s instance."—Sir Robert was Marmaduke’s father.—“We had met, made friends, at Oxford; his former tutor there was an uncle of mine, and Sir Robert, in my undergraduate days, used to visit him sometimes. He was very keen on getting me to come. Young Robert wanted something of a firm hand. I was the friend rather than the mere man of books in the family.”

"Poet, Philosopher and Friend"—Marmaduke had it almost on his lips, and almost with a laugh, his benevolence deepened for poor Mr. Thorpe, so self-revealed, so entirely Robert’s portrait of him. Amusing to think that even the quite immature first-rate can so relegate the third. But perhaps it was a little unfair to call poor Mr. Thorpe third. The Folletts would not be likely to choose a third-rate man for a tutor; second was kinder, and truer. He had, obviously, come down in the world.

“I see. It’s natural I never heard, though: there’s such a chasm between the elders and the youngers in a big family, isn’t there?” he said. “Griselda is twelve years older than I am, and Robert ten, you remember. She was married by the time I began my Greek. You never came back to Channerley, did you? I hope things have gone well with you since those days?”

He questioned, wanting to be very kind; wanting to give something of the genial impression of his father smiling, with his “And how goes the world with you to-day?” But he saw that, while Mr. Thorpe’s evident emotion deepened, it was with a sense of present grief as well as of retrospective pathos.

“No; I never came,—that is—. No; I passed by: I never came to stay. I went abroad; I travelled, with a pupil, for some years before my marriage.” Grief and confusion were oddly mingled in his drooping face. “And after that—life had changed too much. My dear old friend Sir Robert had died. I could not have faced it all. No, no; when some chapters are read, it is better to close the book; better to close the book. But I have never forgotten Channerley, nor the Folletts of Channerley; that will always remain for me the golden page; the page,” said Mr. Thorpe, glancing round again at the daffodils, “of friendship, of youth, of daffodils in springtime. I saw you there,” he added suddenly, “once, when you were a very little lad. I saw you. I was passing by; bicycling; no time to stop. You remember the high road skirts the woods to the north. I came and looked over the wall; and there you were—in your holland pinafore and white socks—digging up the daffodils and putting them into your little red-and-yellow cart. A beautiful spring morning. The woods full of sunshine. You wouldn’t remember.”

But he did remember—perfectly. Not having been seen; but the day; the woods; the daffodils. He had dug them up to plant in his own little garden, down below. He had always been stupid with his garden; had always failed where the other succeeded. And he had wanted to be sure of daffodils. And they had all laughed at him for wanting the wild daffodils like that for himself, and for going to get them in the wood. And why had Mr. Thorpe looked over the wall and not come in? He hated to think that he had been watched on that spring morning—hated it. And, curiously, that sense of fear with which he had heard the approaching footsteps returned to him. It frightened him that Mr. Thorpe had watched him over the wall.

His distaste and shrinking were perhaps apparent in his face, for it was with a change of tone and hastiness of utterance, as though hurrying away from something, that Mr. Thorpe went on:— “You see,—it’s been my romance, always, Channerley—and all of you. I’ve always followed your lives—always—from a distance—known what you were up to. I’ve made excuses to myself—in the days when I used to go a good deal about the country—to pass by Channerley and just have a glimpse of you. And when I heard that you had done this noble deed,—when I heard what you had done for England, for Channerley, for us all,—I felt I had to come and see you. You must forgive me if I seem a mere intruder. I can’t seem that to myself. I’ve cared too much. And what I came for, really, was to thank you,—to thank you, my dear boy,—and to tell you that because of you, life must be nobler, always, for all of us.”

His words had effaced the silly, groping fear. It was indeed, since his colonel’s visit, the first congratulation he had had from the outer world. The nurses, of course, had congratulated him, and the surgeons; but no one who knew him outside; the kindly telegrams from Robert and Sylvia did not count as congratulations. And in a way poor Mr. Thorpe did know him, and though it was only from him, it had its sweetness. He felt himself flush as he answered, “That’s very kind of you.”

“Oh, no!” said Mr. Thorpe, shaking his head and swinging his foot—Marmaduke knew that from the queer movement of his body as he sat with very tightly folded arms. “Not kind! That’s not the word—from us to you! Not the word at all!”

“I’m very happy, as you may imagine,” said Marmaduke. And he was happy again, and glad to share his happiness with poor Mr. Thorpe. “It makes everything worth while, doesn’t it, to have brought it off at all?”

“Everything, everything—it would; it would, to you. So heroes feel,” said Mr. Thorpe. “To give your life for England. I know it all—in every detail. Yes, you are happy in dying that England may live. Brave boy! Splendid boy!”

Now he was weeping. He had out his handkerchief and his shoulders shook. It made Marmaduke want to cry, too, and he wondered confusedly if the nurse would soon come back. Had not the half hour passed?

“Really—it’s too good of you. You mustn’t, you know; you mustn’t,” he murmured, while the word, “boy—boy,” repeated, made tangled images in his mind, and he saw himself in the white socks and with the little red-and-yellow cart, and then as he had been the other day, leading his men, his revolver in his hand and the bullets flying about him. “And I’m not a boy,” he said; "I’m thirty-four; absurdly old to be only a second lieutenant. And there are so many of us. Why,"—the thought came fantastically, but he seized it, because Mr. Thorpe was crying so and he must seize something,—“we’re as common as daffodils!”

“Ah! not for me! not for me!” Mr. Thorpe gulped quickly. Something had given way in him—as if the word “daffodils” had pressed a spring. He was sobbing aloud, and he had fallen on his knees by the bed and put up his hand for Marmaduke’s. “I cannot keep it from you! Not at this last hour! Not when you are leaving me forever!—My son! My brave son! I am your father, Marmaduke! I am your father, my dear, dear boy!”

III

IT was the stillest room. The two calm bands of blue crossed the window. In the sunlight the gulls came flying back. Marmaduke looked out at them. Were they the same sea-gulls or another flock? Then quietly he closed his eyes. Stillness—calm. But something else was rising to him from them. Darkness; darkness; a darkness worse than death. Oh! death was sweet compared to this. Compared to this all his life had been sweet; and something far dearer than life was being taken from him. He only knew the terrible confusion of his whole nature.

He opened his eyes again with an instinct of escape. There were the bands of blue, and, still passing in their multitudes, leaving him forever, the proud, exultant sea-gulls. The man still knelt beside him. He heard his own voice come:—

“What do you mean?”

“I never meant to tell you! I never meant to tell you!” a moan answered him. “But—seeing you lying there!—dying!—my son!—who has given his life for England!—And how I have longed for you all these years!—My romance, Marmaduke—How could I be silent? Forgive me! Forgive me, my boy. Yes, mine. My known children are dear to me, but how far dearer the unknown son, seen only by stealth, in snatched glimpses! It is true, Marmaduke, true. We were lovers. She loved me. Do not ask. Do not question. We were young. She was very beautiful. It was springtime; daffodils were in the woods. She said that she had never known any one like me. She said that her life was hollow, meaningless. I opened doors to her, I read to her. Browning—I read Browning,” he muttered on, “in the woods; among the daffodils. It was a new life to her—and to me. And we were swept away. Don’t blame us, Marmaduke. If there was wrong, there was great beauty—then. Only then; for after, she was cruel—very cruel. She turned from me; she crushed and tore my heart. Oh!—I have suffered! But no one knew. No one ever dreamed of it. Only she and I. My God!—I see her in your hair and eyes!”

It was true. It was absolutely true. Through his whole being he felt its inevitability. Everything was clear, with a strange, black, infernal clearness. His life lay open before him, open from beginning to end: that beginning of tawdry sentiment and shame—with daffodils; and this end, with daffodils again, and again with tawdry sentiment and shame.

He was not a Follett. He had no part in the Folletts. He had no part in Channerley. He was an interloper, a thief. He was the son of this wretched man, in whose very grief he could detect the satisfaction—oh, who more fitted to detect such satisfaction!—of his claim upon a status above his own. He was all that he had always most despised, a second-rate, a third-rate little creature; the anxious, civil, shrinking Marmalade of Cauldwell’s office. Why (as the hideous moments led him on, point by point, his old lucidity, sharpened to a needle fineness, seemed to etch the truth in lines of fire upon the blackness), hadn’t he always been a pitiful little snob? Wasn’t it of the essence of a snob to over-value the things one hadn’t and to fear the things one was? It hadn’t been other people, it had been himself, what he really was, of whom he had always been afraid. He saw himself reduced to the heretofore unrecognized, yet always operative, element in his own nature—a timid, watchful humility.

Oh, Channerley! Channerley! The wail rose in his heart and it filled the world. Oh, his woods, his daffodils, his father’s smile—gone—lost forever! Worse than that—smirched, withered, desecrated!

A hideous gibbering of laughter seemed to rise around him, and pointing fingers. Amy’s eyes passed with another malice in their mockery; and Robert would never turn to him now, and Griselda would never look at him. He saw it all, as they would never see it. He was not one of them, and they had always felt it; and oh,—above all,—he had always felt it. And now, quite close it seemed, softly rustling, falsely smiling, moved his loathsome mother: not only as he remembered her in youth, but in her elegant middle years, as he had last seen her, with hard eyes and alien lips and air of brittle, untouched exquisiteness.

Suddenly fury so mounted in him that he saw himself rising in bed, rending his dressings, to seize the kneeling man by the throat and throttle him. He could see his fingers sinking in on either side among the clustered hair, and hear himself say, “How dare you! How dare you! You hound! You snivelling, sneaking hound! You look for pity from me, do you!—and tenderness! Well, take this, this! Everything, everything I am and have that’s worth being and having, I owe to them. I’ve hated you and all you mean, always—yes, your fear and your caution and your admiration and your great high forehead. Oh, I see it! I see it!—it’s my own! And though I am only that in myself, then take it from me that I hate myself along with you and curse myself with you!”

It came to him that he was slowly panting, and that after the fever-fury an icy chill crept over him. And a slow, cold smile came with it, and he saw Jephson, the wit of the office, wagging his head and saying, “Little Marmalade take a man by the throat! Ask me another!”

No; little Marmalade might win the V.C.; but only when he thought he was a Follett. Was that what it all came to, really? Something broke and stopped in his mind.

He heard his father’s voice. How long ago it had all happened. He had known for years, hadn’t he, that this was his father?

“Marmaduke! Mr. Follett! What have I done? Shall I call somebody? Oh, forgive me!”

His father was standing now beside him and bending over him. He looked up at him and shook his head. He did not want any one to come.

“Oh, what have I done?” the man repeated.

“I was dying anyway, you know,” he heard himself say.

What a pitiful face it was, this weary, loosened, futureless old face above him! What a frightened face! What long years of slow disgarnishing lay behind it: youth, romance, high hopes, all dropped away. He had come to-day with their last vestiges, still the sentimental, romancing fool, self-centred and craving; but nothing of that was left. He was beaten, at last, down into the very ground. It was a haggard, humiliated, frightened face, and miserable. As he himself had been. But not even death lay before this face. For how many years must it go on sinking down until the earth covered it? Marmaduke seemed to understand all about him, as well as if he had been himself.

“Sit down,” he said. He heard that his voice was gentle, though he was not aware of feeling anything, only of understanding. “I was rather upset. No; I don’t want any one. Of course I forgive you. Don’t bother about it, I beg.”

His father sat down, keeping his swollen eyes on the motoring-cap which, unseeingly, he turned and turned in his hands.

“Tell me about yourself a little,” said Marmaduke, with slow, spaced breaths. “Where do you live? How? Are you fairly happy?”

He knew that he was not happy; but he might, like most people with whom life had not succeeded, often imagine himself so, and Marmaduke wanted to help him, if possible, to imagine it.

“I live near London. I used to do a good deal of University Extension lecturing. I’ve a clerkship in the Education Office now.” Mr. Thorpe spoke in a dead obedient voice. “A small salary, not much hope of advance; and I’ve a large family. It’s rather up-hill, of course. But I’ve good children; clever children. My eldest boy’s at Oxford; he took a scholarship at Westminster; and my eldest girl’s at Girton. The second girl, Winnie, has a very marked gift for painting; she is our artist; we’re going to send her to the Slade next year when she leaves the High School. Good children. I’ve nothing to complain of.”

“So you’re fairly happy?” Marmaduke repeated. Oddly, he felt himself comforted in hearing about the good and happy children, in hearing about Winnie, her father’s favourite.

“Happy? Well, just now, with this terrible war, one can’t be that, can one? It is a great adventure for me, however, this work of mine, motoring about France. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything I cared so much about since—for years,” said Mr. Thorpe. “It’s a beautiful country, isn’t it? and the soldiers are such splendid fellows! One gets a lot out of it. But happy? No, I don’t suppose I am. I’m pretty much of a failure, and I started life with great imaginings about myself. One doesn’t get over that sort of disappointment; one never really gets over it in a way.” Mr. Thorpe was looking at him now, and it was as if there were a kindliness between them. “Things have been rather grey and disagreeable on the whole,” he said.

“They can be very grey and disagreeable, can’t they?” said Marmaduke, closing his eyes.

He was very tired, and as he lay there quietly, having nothing further to know or to suffer, having reached the very limits of conscious dissolution, something else began to come to him. It seemed born of the abolition of self and of the acceptance of the fact that he was dead to all that had given life worth or beauty. It would have been very good to be a Follett; though, he saw it now, he had over-prized that special sort of goodness—with so much else from which he had been, as really, shut out; but he was not a Follett; nor was he merely this poor, insignificant father. He did not quite make out in what the difference lay and he did not rejoice in it, for there was no rejoicing left in him. But, even if the difference were only an acquired instinct (dimly, the terms of his complacent readings in biology and sociology returned to him), even if it were only that, not anything inherent and transmissible, it was, all the same, his own possession; something that he and the Folletts had made together; so that it was as true to say that he had won the V.C. as to say that they had. The lessened self that was left to him had still its worth. To see the truth, even if it undid you, was worthy; to see so unwaveringly that it was good to be a Follett even when you weren’t one, had the elements of magnanimity; and to accept the fact of being second-rate proved, did it not?—if you still cared to prove it; he felt himself smile as gently at the relinquished self as he had smiled at his father,—that you were not merely second-rate.

There was now a sound of stumbling movement; doors opening and shutting; nurses, surgeons in the room; and his father’s face, far away, against the blue bands, looking at him, still so frightened and so miserable that he tried again to smile at him and to say, “It’s all right. Quite all right.”

At all events he had been decent to the poor old fellow. His thoughts came brokenly, but he was still seeing something, finding something; it was like a soft light growing. At all events, he had behaved as a Follett would wish to behave even when brought to such a pass. No—but it wasn’t quite that, either; it was something new. He had behaved as any one decent should wish to behave. And the daffodils glimmering to his vision seemed to light him further still. “We are as common as daffodils,” came back to him. Daffodils were for everybody. Foolish little boy who, on the distant spring morning in the woods of Channerley, dug them up to take them to his own garden!

He was there among them with his little red-and-yellow cart, and the thrush was singing high above him, in the rosy topmost branches of an elm.

Beautiful woods. Beautiful flowers of light and chivalry. How the sunshine streamed among them!

“Dear Channerley,” he thought. For again he seemed to belong there.

Gentle hands were tending him and, as he turned his cheek on the pillow, it was with the comfort—almost that of the little boy at Channerley being tucked up in the warm nursery to go to sleep—of knowing that he was dying, and that, in spite of everything, he had given something to the name.