Pink Foxgloves

by Anne Douglas Sedgwick

THEY were only beginning to revert. Last summer they had stood, spires of fretted snow tapering at the points to jade-coloured buds, at the edge of the little copse where the garden path lost itself among young larches, birches, hazels, and poplars, black and white. The sun set behind the copse, spreading in the summer evenings a pale gold background, and often when he went to look at his foxgloves and to listen to the lonely song of the willow-wren, rippling, like a tiny rill of water, from the heart of the wood, Aubrey Westmacott had felt that there was something almost dangerous in such bliss as this. To breathe this limpid air, to hear the willow-wren, to look at white foxgloves, and to know himself free forever from the long oppression of London—if he could have sung his wistful gratitude, his melancholy joy, the song might have been like the bird’s.

This year the change in the foxgloves had come as a complete surprise; he was still a novice at gardening. He had left his beloved garden for a week; regretfully, for he could not bear to lose a day of it—he was like a lover with a bride, long pined for, who each day grows dearer and lovelier; but he had gone, because it seemed churlish to refuse the old don friend at Cambridge—and when he returned, at evening, and had walked down to the copse and had seen them standing there, so delicately yet so decisively altered, the shock of the surprise had seemed all delight. He had intended white foxgloves to rise, always, against the copse; but then he had not known how lovely pink foxgloves could be. He had never seen them of such a shade, each bell of palest rose brimmed with shadows of mauve, and finely freaked within. Regiments of the white flowers had remained steadfast, so that there could be no sense of loss, and he had picked an armful of the pink ones and carried them back to the house, feeling, as he looked at them against his shoulder, that he would have liked to kiss them. He spent the remaining hours of dusk in arranging them. He never allowed the parlourmaid to arrange the flowers. That she saw him, tolerantly, if with a flavour of irony, as a very eccentric gentleman, he was aware, just as he was aware, quite cheerfully, that many of his kind neighbours found him a rather absurd one. But one of the deepest joys this new life afforded him, after the paternal bliss of seeing the darlings grow, was in disposing them about the rooms, with a loving discrimination that Ridley’s skilled but cold and conventional hands could never have accomplished.

This evening he put the foxgloves in the drawing-room, a tall jar on the bureau, a taller jar on the piano, and a group in the vast white Chinese bowl, wedged cunningly into place with stones among the stems. Here he could look at them next morning as he worked at his history. He always worked in the drawing-room, for there he had the morning sun, and, if he could not see his massed and tiered herbaceous border, could look out at the cherry tree and at the tiny squares of terraced lawns, dropping from level to level, with their stone steps and low stone walls and narrow jewelled bordering of flowers.

There was a very nice little study behind the dining-room—it was from the dining-room that one saw the herbaceous border, and he could meditate future rearrangements and harmonies while he ate his breakfast—but the study looked out on the stable shrubberies. He liked, too, to feel himself encompassed by his treasures, old and new, while he wrote of mediæval customs; his mother’s incompetent but loveable water-colours, sketches of her old home, the grey, ancient, gabled house among just such Cotswold slopes and uplands as his western windows looked out upon, though his mother’s old home, passed long since to alien hands, lay on the other side of the county; and his father’s seafaring trophies, from China and Japan and far Pacific islands, and all the lately acquired delightful solidities of Jacobean oak, and his maturest choice in printed linen. Here, on their background of mullioned window or dark wainscoting—such a gem of a little Jacobean house it was—the pink foxgloves greeted him next morning, set among feathery heads and sharp green spears of meadow grass, glimmering and poised on tiptoe, like groups of softly blushing nymphs, and he stood for a long time looking at them, his hands clasped behind his back.

He was forty-six, a fragile little man, blanched and stooping from the long years of imprisonment in the Government office, from which the undreamed-of inheritance had released him only three years ago, with faded gold hair hanging across his forehead and a gentle face of stifled dreams, the mouth slightly puckering as if in intentness on some task. The eyes, of a dim yet dense pastel blue that told darkly in his faded face, were intent, too, but not acute; they dwelt; they did not penetrate. He wore a small, short moustache, and a pair of gold pince-nez dangled at his coat button.

Delicate as he had always been, and ineffectual, as he had always so dejectedly been aware of being, he, too, with all his relatives, had thought it very fortunate when, on leaving the university, he had secured the tiny post in the Civil Service. There, he knew, he would stay; he was not of the type that rises, and he had never during the long years that followed rebelled consciously against his fate. He was, he often told himself reproachfully, so very fortunate compared with men far abler and more deserving than himself. He found that he could not write, as he had hoped to do, after the conscientious hours at the office. He read a great deal, and crept away to the country for every week-end, sitting by meadow or river, like a dusty mouse let loose from its trap and softly panting in the sunlight. He was often ill, and the doctors always recommended a country life, but it was not on hygienic grounds that he pined for limpid spaces and starry solitudes. There was a soft passion in his blood, inherited from the mother whom he so much resembled, for the sights and sounds and occupations of rurality. He adored flowers. He often dreamed of them at night, and in waking hours the thought of a garden of his own haunted him. Sometimes he went to stay with friends in their gardens; but this was an ambiguous joy; it was like seeing the pink and white babies playing about their nurses and perambulators in the Flower Walk in Kensington Gardens, and having no claim to kiss any of them. He loved children, too.

And now he found himself transplanted to this wonderful fairy tale by Uncle Percy’s legacy. He still, often, could hardly realize it. There was a haze of dizzy delight over all the memory of the last three years; the search for a house, the securing of Meadows, the furnishing and ordering of his household—he who had lived in rooms in Kensington for twenty-four years, ruled over by a flawlessly honest but relentless landlady! To think that he could have other fish for breakfast than finnan haddock, and other vegetables in winter than cabbage! This was a minor but an emphatic pleasure.

But above all, around all, the garden! He had planned and planted it all, studying books, brooding over catalogues, making lists, writing labels ever so neatly. The vegetables were given over to the gardener; but his flowers, except for deep trenching—and oh, how deep, how rich, he saw to it that it was! he tended single-handed. His seed-boxes, his cold-frames, his tools and baskets, how he adored them all, and how happy he was in any small personal economies, so that extravagance in manure and bone-meal and leaf-mould should be well justified. The history of mediæval customs was also a long-cherished ideal, but it remained of secondary interest; his heart, always, was in the garden, meditating mulchings, waterings, or hoeings. Every dream had come true, had more than realized itself. Was it any wonder that he should feel himself going softly in his amazed gratitude, should sometimes, as when he listened to the willow-wren at evening, feel that such happiness was dangerous.

It had not seemed to flaw the happiness, it had seemed but to add a sweeter undertone to it, melancholy yet blissful, that into the new Paradise there should have stolen a new longing, and that, as of old, he should find himself haunted by an unattainable loveliness. He thought of this as he looked at the pink foxgloves, for they made him think of the face of Leila Pickering. “Yes, yes, yes,” he said to himself, as he turned to the mediæval history, for he had the habit, caught from his long loneliness, of speaking much to himself and with a quaint repetition of words that stole into his social speech, “it is she they are like; she they are like. Lovely, lovely, like her.”

Later in the morning, privileged as she was to interrupt even the history, it was Mrs. Pomfrey who informed him that the strange, delicate beauty was transitory, an unfixed type, and that, next year, or in a very few years, the palely rosy nymphs would be purple.

“They’ll revert. You can get pink ones, you know, from the seedsmen; rosy carmine they call it; but not at all this colour. I’ve never seen a colour quite like this. Your soil must do it. I’ve always thought the soil of Meadows had magic in it.”

Mrs. Pomfrey was the late rector’s widow, and lived in a thicket of roses half a mile away in the village. She was tall, black-robed, majestic, and melancholy, with a deep voice and black eyes and a high, hooked nose and large false teeth that shifted slightly and slightly clashed together when she spoke. She had survived all emotions except the grief of having to grow her roses on a clayless soil, and to this grief she often returned. A girlhood friend of Aubrey Westmacott’s mother, she had been his link with Windbury. His week-ends with her there had been the very comets of his dark London sky, and for years he had seen Meadows inadequately tenanted, with an eye of brooding love.

“Oh! they’ll revert to purple, then,” he said, somewhat distressed; and he repeated “purple, purple,” several times, as if to familiarize himself with the sound and very sight of it, while Mrs. Pomfrey answered him, “Give 'em time and they’ll all revert. You must dig 'em up and sow again from year to year if you want to keep 'em pure.”

“Not that I don’t care very much for the purple ones,” said Aubrey; “they are most beautiful flowers, most beautiful; but it’s wild in woods, that I like best to see them. It will be a business to replant; dear me! It took me a day of hard work to establish my white ones in that haphazard-looking little colony down there.”

“Gardening is all hard work,” said Mrs. Pomfrey, “and all disappointment, for the most part, too. It’s only the things you didn’t expect to succeed that ever do, and any effect you particularly count on is pretty sure to fail you.” She tempered her grimness by a slight, bleak smile, however, for she and Aubrey Westmacott understood each other and had the gardener’s soul, for which no work is too hard and no disappointments too many.

“It will be very wonderful to have the intervals of pink to look forward to, though,” Aubrey found the atonement. “They are singularly lovely, aren’t they? Will you think me very silly, now, I wonder, or sillier than you always think me?”

“I don’t think you silly, my dear Aubrey,” Mrs. Pomfrey interposed, “only guileless; you are very guileless; I’ve thought that ever since you were taken in by that dreadful cook of yours, who had red hair, and got drunk and rubbed the whitebait through a sieve.”

“Well,” Aubrey continued, smiling his gentle, tentative smile, “my foxgloves, at all events, can’t take me in, and since they are so very unusual and so lovely I thought I’d ask a few people in to-day to see them. The Carews, you know, and Barton, and Mrs. and Miss Pickering. And you—if you can come. I’ll put it off till to-morrow, if that will secure you, only the foxgloves may not be quite so lovely by then.”

“I will come with pleasure, my dear Aubrey,” said Mrs. Pomfrey, “and though nobody will appreciate your foxgloves as you do, we shall all enjoy your tea.”

“Miss Pickering cares very much for flowers, you know, very much. We’ve talked a great deal about flowers,” said Aubrey, swinging his eyeglass and nodding as he looked at his old friend.

“Does she? She doesn’t know much about 'em though.”

“No; all those years in India, and in towns. She has lived so much in towns. Such an inappropriate life it seems for such an exquisite creature.”

“Does it?” said Mrs. Pomfrey. She added after a moment, as if with concession, “She is a very pretty girl.”

Aubrey Westmacott was not acute. “Isn’t she?” he said eagerly. “A beautiful and noble and lovely head, isn’t it? like a flower; she is altogether like a flower, with her slenderness and height. Do you know,” he went on, swinging his glasses more quickly, while he kept his ingenuous eyes on his friend, “can you guess the flower she makes me think of? In that pale pink dress, that pink dress she wore the other day at the rectory garden party, and with that white hat lined with pink. Can you guess?” His eyes overflowed with their suggestion.

Mrs. Pomfrey moved hers from his face to the foxgloves. “Like those, I suppose you mean.”

Isn’t she?” he repeated. “Now, isn’t it quite remarkable? You see it, too.”

“Yes; I see it,” said Mrs. Pomfrey. She studied the flowers and again, after a deliberating pause, went on, “Do you think Mrs. Pickering is like purple foxgloves?”

Aubrey’s eyeglass tumbled from his hand. He was astonished, almost indignant. “Mrs. Pickering?”

“She looks like her daughter,” said Mrs. Pomfrey; “as much like her, that is, as a purple foxglove looks like a pink one.”

“I can imagine nothing more unlike a flower than Mrs. Pickering,” said Aubrey, with gathered repudiation.

“No; certainly; she’s not at all like a flower. She’s more like a sparrow—something sharp and commonplace and civic. I only intended an analogy, for she must have been a very pretty girl.” “Nothing could be less sharp or commonplace or civic than Miss Pickering.” Aubrey was now deeply flushed.

“Oh, of course not, my dear Aubrey; she is very unusual looking,” Mrs. Pomfrey again conceded. “And she is tall and her mother is short. Old Colonel Pickering, too, was tall, I remember. I saw him once or twice when they were living at Cheltenham the year before he died! a bleached, dull, oppressed old man, a much better type than the wife; she ruled him, I heard, with a rod of iron. One may be sure that she doesn’t rule Miss Leila. She is a young lady with a will of her own, unless I am much mistaken in her.”

"A will of her own; yes, yes"—Aubrey eagerly, pathetically to Mrs. Pomfrey’s ear, gathered up the ambiguous fragments—“and great firmness of will; great decision of character; and the serenity, you know, the sweet dignity that go with it, that so often go with it. You have noticed her serenity, her dignity. And she is very silent—a great contrast to her mother. I often wonder what brought them here. It’s very fortunate for all of us; but Mrs. Pickering is, as you say, so civic, yes, so commonplace, that I don’t understand what she can find in this quiet place to please her. She certainly doesn’t care about her garden. Those beds about The Cottage are very distressing; they distress Miss Pickering.”

“It’s quite clear to me why they came,” said Mrs. Pomfrey. “They can’t afford London, and, I suppose, know nobody there if they could; and there is more chance of a pretty girl like Miss Leila marrying well here than there is in Cheltenham. She doesn’t hunt, it’s true; but the hunting makes a difference, and there is a good deal going on in one way and another. Mrs. Pickering hoped to capture Arthur Barton; she made that very evident. But he has never looked at another woman since his wife died, and never will, I imagine; at all events, he didn’t look at Miss Leila.”

Aubrey’s eyes, dwelling on her, expressed reprobation and almost horror. “She tried to marry her daughter to Barton! That lovely child and Barton! What a terrible woman!”

“Miss Pickering must be a good twenty-five, my dear Aubrey, and I was married at eighteen. No; I don’t like Mrs. Pickering, but I can see nothing reprehensible in her determination to settle her daughter well in life.”

“But Barton! He is fifty! He must be fifty! He must be older than I am; yes, very considerably older than I am.”

“Well?” said Mrs. Pomfrey, and there was a mingled reluctance and grimness in her smile, “and do you think of yourself as unmarriageable?”

He ran his hand several times over his head and through his hair. He was still flushed, but suddenly he became pale, swallowing quickly several times.

“Do you know—you have said something—you have made me think something—put something before me. Yes; I must tell you, I must tell you,” he said, thrusting his hands into his pockets and fixing his eyes on the wall above Mrs. Pomfrey’s head. “I love her; I love Miss Pickering. You may think it absurd. I know I’m a dull old bachelor; everything of that sort; but there it is. Ever since I saw her, a year ago, when they first came. I never dreamed of anything else. A dull old bachelor, nothing to offer, and twice her age. But I can’t help wondering—it’s only a wonder—whether there might just be a chance for me—if you don’t think my age, and all that, makes it impossible. What I mean,” Aubrey finished, with a sort of quiet desperation, “is—could she love me? It would have to be love with a girl like Miss Pickering. Am I a man that a girl like that could love?”

Tears now were in his eyes as he brought them back to Mrs. Pomfrey’s, and seated upon the sofa, the pink foxgloves in the Chinese bowl beside her, she looked back at him very gravely. She was so grave that for some moments she was silent. Then, before speaking, she took out her spectacles and polished them and put them on. She saw him quite well without them. It was as if in emphasis of the gravity of the moment. And, in the first place, she did not answer his question.

“How much have you seen, my dear Aubrey, of this young lady?” she enquired.

He said, faltering, that he had seen a good deal of Miss Pickering during this spring and summer. Mrs. Pickering had been very kind, had asked him there quite often for tennis; and Miss Pickering had been far more kind, for she had played with him and he was a wretched player, though he was so fond of the game. “And we’ve had one or two little walks. She came with me to the woods this spring and helped me to dig anemone roots. Oh! I don’t pretend it’s anything at all; it’s only, I know, her kindness; I never thought it anything else. But—if you really don’t think me absurd for dreaming of it—?” He faltered to a long gazing question.

Mrs. Pomfrey now rose. She stood looking away from him, then moved towards the door. “My dear Aubrey,” she said, “I think of you what anybody who knows you must think—that the woman who wins your love is one of the most fortunate of women. Whether you are the kind of man that a girl like Miss Pickering could love, I cannot say. I’ve really seen very little of her. All that I know of her is that she is very pretty and has nice quiet manners. If she marries you, she is, as I say, the most fortunate of women.”

Mrs. Pomfrey stepped out into the little square, flagged hall. He accompanied her to the garden gate, following her speechless, while, lifting up her skirts, displaying large, flat-heeled shoes, she stepped down from terrace to terrace. She paused at the last.

“Your Alpine phlox is doing very nicely. You’ll find that by next year it will have spread to a foot across,” she said. He had put in the Alpine phlox the autumn before under her supervision. She added at the gate, “By that time there may be a Mrs. Westmacott at Meadows.”

Pale, almost tearful, he pressed her hand over the gate. “I can’t say how I thank you,” he murmured.

After a little while he was able to compose his thoughts and write his notes. Thompson took them round, and before lunch he had his answers. They could all come, except Mr. Barton, the dapper, fussy, kindly, pepper-and-salt little squire, who lived in the beautiful big house just over the nearest hill; he had gone up to London for the day.

Aubrey very much enjoyed giving little tea-parties at Meadows. In London he had not enjoyed them at all. He had given them when duty required it, and he had sometimes been very extravagant and had taken a couple of young girl cousins, up for the season, to a restaurant and a play. But he had never enjoyed these occasions. He was shy and a poor talker, and in London the demands upon one’s personality were too heavy to make his entertaining a success. The demands upon one’s personality in the country were so small and so easily satisfied; a garden talked for one and entertained for one. All his neighbours, except Mrs. Pickering, whose formal beds did not count, had gardens and were profoundly interested in them. The mild, middle-aged Carews were authorities, and to-day he remembered, with all the pressure of his new preoccupations, that he must question them about that matter of mulching.

At four-thirty he saw two parasols approaching along his box hedges—one was black and one was rose-colour; his heart stood still when he saw it. She would be wearing, then, the dress that made her look more than ever like a pink foxglove. He went down the terraces to greet mother and daughter at the gate.

Mrs. Pickering was short and stout and blonde, her slightly rapacious features—small aquiline nose, small smiling mouth, and small projecting chin—embedded and muffled, as it were, in powdery expanses of cheek and throat. She had an unsmiling, steel-blue eye, appraising, determined, deliberate, under its level bar of dark eyebrow. She did not please Aubrey. Her voice in especial, metallic yet glossy, as if with a careful veneer, disturbed him. A gossiping lady of the neighbourhood had informed him that Mrs. Pickering’s origins were quite lacking in distinction and that in her handsome girlhood she had stalked the stupid Colonel—of a quite good family—and had brought him down, resistless, at the first shot. These stories, for which he had not liked his informant the more, seemed to hover in Mrs. Pickering’s glance and smile, and her voice to preserve the flavour of many strategies and triumphs. But Aubrey did not look for long at Mrs. Pickering. She rustled in, dressed in her fashionable black and white, a long chain of steel and brilliants crossing her buttressed bosom, a crest of plumes, black and white, waving upon her head.

Miss Pickering followed her mother. Tall, very tall, and poised with a lovely grace, she was, but for the arresting darkness of brows and lashes, fair; with the infantile fairness, the wild-rose tints, that to the ingenuous male will always seem to vouch for a spiritual exquisiteness to match. And she, too, had small, aquiline features, and her hair was as golden as the heart of a wild rose. She did not smile, like her mother; she was a serene young lady, and silent, as loveliness should be.

“This sweet place!” said Mrs. Pickering. “How charmingly you are improving it, Mr. Westmacott; it looks prettier every time I see it.”

“It will take years before it looks as I mean it to look,” said Aubrey, leading them up the terraces. “That’s the joy of gardening, isn’t it? It gives one something to plan for one’s whole future.” He smiled with a slight appealingness at Miss Pickering. “I am afraid I make myself rather foolish sometimes; I talk so much about my garden.”

“I don’t wonder that you do,” said Mrs. Pickering; “it’s quite a little Paradise.”

In the drawing-room it was Mrs. Pickering who continued to talk. She renewed her laments over the water-colours. "To think that these beautiful old places should get into the hands of common middle-class people!"—Aubrey had again to assure her that the people who had bought his mother’s old home were very nice indeed.—And Mrs. Pickering said that she doted upon his room, “So old-world, so peaceful!” and expatiated on the view of the terraced lawns and further meadows from the window. She made no comment on his foxgloves, and it seemed like a presage of happiness when Miss Pickering, from her chair, remarked, looking up at them, “How lovely your pink foxgloves are!”

“You think so? You like them? Yes, yes, are they not lovely?” He was delighted with her commendation.

“It’s such a pretty idea, putting them with the grasses,” said Miss Pickering. “I do like lots of flowers in a room.”

He did not have an opportunity of speaking with her alone till after tea. Then, when they had all gone into the garden—how it happened he did not know, for he would not have dared arrange it—he found himself walking down the path towards the copse with Miss Pickering, while behind them, quite far already behind them, Mrs. Pickering paused and exclaimed over the herbaceous border, Mr. Carew beside her. Mrs. Carew and Mrs. Pomfrey had sat down under the trees near the house.

“Would you like to see the pink foxgloves growing?” he asked her. “They are very beautiful growing—more beautiful, I think you’ll feel, than in the house.”

“I’d love to see them,” said Miss Pickering.

They crossed the slip of meadow among the tall grasses and, “There,” said Aubrey, pointing, with a faint smile, “there they are!”

How sweet!” said Miss Pickering, with her serene emphasis. They stood to look.

“Do you know,” said Aubrey, wondering at himself, but he felt upborne, “that I find they look like you—the pink ones.”

“Really?” She smiled now, turning her calm, blue eyes upon him. “That’s very flattering.”

“No, no; not flattering; not at all flattering,” said Aubrey. “Not at all, not at all,” he repeated under his breath. He could say no more just then. They walked on, his heart in a flutter.

“Have you ever heard a willow-wren, Miss Pickering?” he asked suddenly.

“A willow-wren? I don’t think so. I don’t know much about birds.”

“It is usually singing in the wood at this hour. Would you care to come and see if we can hear it?”

“I’d love to. I wish you’d teach me all about birds,” said Miss Pickering.

His heart was thumping now. They entered the copse. It seemed to him, as they passed them, that the foxgloves were tall angels set about Paradise and welcoming him there. It was very still among the trees. Miss Pickering walked lightly beside him. She, too, looked like an angel. They reached a clearing, where an old fallen log lay, and here they sat down. “We shall hear it, I think,” said Aubrey, “if we sit here quietly.”

Presently, in the stillness, the little bird began to sing its song, the descending chromatic chain of liquid notes, melancholy and happy; the song of his very soul, Aubrey felt, and that the bird said for him all that he could not say as, with head bent, he sat listening, the beloved presence beside him. She was part of the song; and in it, as they listened together, their very hearts were mingling. They knew each other, he felt sure, very well.

“How sweet!” she murmured, and he nodded, not able to look at her.

There was a silence, and then the bird sang again. He raises his eyes to hers now, and they turned to him and smiled. Her hand lay on the rough bark of the log, and his was near it. Was it her hand that responded to the unconscious appeal of his, or had he dared? He held it. That was the bewildering, the transcending fact.

“Oh, Miss Pickering! Miss Leila—Leila,” he stammered. “May I tell you? May I ask you? Can you care for me?”

Her eyes still smiled, if very gravely. “Do you really love me?” she murmured.

“Oh, Leila!” he repeated. The willow-wren still sang, but all the little chains of sound seemed to be woven into a mist about him, trembling, shining. He held her hand to his lips. He wished to kneel before her. This was Paradise.

“It’s so very sudden,” said Leila Pickering. “I never dreamed you cared till just now.”

“Ever since I saw you first—ever since I saw your eyes. It has been like the fragrance of my flowers at evening, like the moon rising on my flowers. I did not dare to hope—you so young, so lovely;—life before you.”

“I think we can be very happy together,” said Leila Pickering. “I knew you were a dear from the first moment I saw you, too.”

The willow-wren stopped singing now and flew away. In the distance, then, he heard the liquid, dropping notes, and they sounded very sad. His arm was around Leila Pickering, and she leaned her head on his shoulder, so that in an ecstasy of wonder he felt the warm brightness of her hair against his cheek. He had never heard her talk so much. She told him that she had had such a dull, horrid life, so poor, knowing such tiresome, second-rate people. And she did not get on at all well with her mother.

“Nobody has ever really understood me—till you came,” she said, sitting upright now beside him, the lovely colour in her cheeks delicately heightened, her eyes shining while she talked. She confided in him. She loved him. They were betrothed—this was the blissful, culminating thought that seemed to go in waves of music through him as he gazed at her. He had ceased to hear the willow-wren’s melancholy little song. And then he heard her say:

“I don’t want to live in the country, you know. You won’t mind? Of course I love it; but we can pay week-end visits, always;—you must know such heaps of nice people; friends. And we’ll travel too—I long to see the world. India doesn’t count. Only think, I’ve never been to Paris except once—on a horrid, cheap trip, for a week. We never could afford to do anything really amusing or buy any really nice things. My life has been so frightfully dull, and I do want to stretch my wings and see lots of people and entertain and go to plays, you know. I adore London. I’m sure I shall be a good hostess.”

It was as if a sword had transfixed him. He seemed to hear a great bell booming—a great London bell—Big Ben; he had always heard Big Ben from his office in Whitehall, and there had been a jangle of bells in Kensington, too, and a roar, a ceaseless roar. And he seemed to hear the words “Dangerous, dangerous.” He had been too happy.

He kept his mild, kind eyes of a pastel blue upon her, and he told himself, while he wrestled, transfixed, that she must not guess; but, as if pressed from his anguish, he heard himself murmuring helplessly, though the gentle, fixed smile held his lips, “You don’t care for my little place, then? You wouldn’t care to go on living at Meadows? It’s a nice little place, Meadows—a nice little place; we could make it very pretty, and we could have people here, as many as you wanted.”

Had a note of pleading, almost desperate, crept in unawares? He saw her calm eyes harden slightly, fixed on him. And he saw, then, tears rise in them.

“Oh! it’s so dull, so dull, down here!” she breathed. “It’s a darling little place, Meadows—of course, of course I love it. I wish we could afford to keep it, just to run down to for a quiet week-end now and then; but you couldn’t, could you? And it’s far too small for entertaining, isn’t it? And no one really smart cares to come and stay with one if one has no shooting, nothing to offer. One can really live in London—I’ve always felt that. You do care more for me than you do for Meadows?” she finished with a smile, half appealing and half challenging.

And looking into the blue eyes, blurred and enlarged, like a child’s, with their tears, he saw himself as mean and petty and selfish. He loved her, and was it only as another flower to place among his flowers, another treasure to place among his treasures, a possession of his own, without end or purpose for itself? He loved her, and, unimaginably, she loved him and would marry him. Love must know pain and sacrifice—"pain and sacrifice"—he seemed to hear himself repeating. This was a young life, with its rights to life, and it must stretch its wings.

He smiled at her and raised her hand again to his lips, saying, “Of course I care more for you than for Meadows, dear Leila. Of course we will live where you choose.”

And very radiant now, rising and smiling down upon him, Leila Pickering said, “You are a dear. I’m sure it’s best for us both; we’d get so pokey here. I know we couldn’t afford Mayfair—I wouldn’t dream of that; but I think a house in one of those little new streets near Cadogan Square would be just right for us; don’t you?”