Staking A Larkspur

by Anne Douglas Sedgwick

AS a matter of fact (one has often to take one’s stand on fact when thinking about Vera), it’s I who am the gardener; it’s I, that is to say, who draw the plans and compute the cost and give the orders and see that the men carry them out. I often lend a hand at carrying them out, too, for I love planting seedlings and staking plants and tweaking out weeds here and there when I’ve the chance. That wonderful blue border Vera had on the south terrace last summer,—it was just going over when the war broke out,—I put in all the new blue larkspurs myself, three hundred of them,—the larkspurs that Mrs. Thornton was to remind me of,—and I designed and planted and with my own hands helped to lay out the dream-garden, Vera’s special garden. It was she, certainly, who had had the idea, standing on the site of the little, old, abandoned sunken garden in its circle of stone wall and cypresses, and saying, “I see a dream-garden here, Judith; a place where one can come and sit alone and dream dreams.” She often has charming ideas, Vera, but she knows nothing about gardening. I sound already as if I were crabbing her, I know; and perhaps I am. Certainly I never think of her relation to her garden without a touch of irony, and this story, which begins in the dream-garden, isn’t to her advantage. It was there that I felt my first definite irascibility in regard to Vera and little Mrs. Thornton, and felt the impulse, as far as I was able, to take Mrs. Thornton under my wing.

It’s a rather clipped and confined wing, and yet I can do pretty much as I choose at Compton Dally; I don’t quite know why, for Vera doesn’t exactly like me. Still, she doesn’t dislike me, and I think she’s a little bit afraid of me; for I am as definite and determined as a pair of garden shears, and my silence is often only the good manners of the dependant, and Vera knows it.

I am her cousin, an impecunious cousin, my mother a sister of her father’s, old Lord Charleyford, who died last year. Vera herself was very impecunious until she married Percival Dixon; impecunious, but always very lovely and very clever, and she was on the crest of every wave, always, and never missed anything, except ready money and a really good offer, even before Percival Dixon came along—he came via South Africa—and gave her all the money that even she could spend, and bought back Compton Dally for her. Compton Dally had been in the family for hundreds of years, and it was our grandfather, Vera’s and mine, who had ruined us all and finally sold it. It was everything for Vera to get it back, even if she had to take Percival Dixon with it; and I confess that for Compton Dally I could almost have taken Percival Dixon myself; but not quite, even for Compton Dally.

Well, she has always been fairly decent to me; not as decent as she might have been, certainly, but more decent than I, at all events, expected, whatever may have been poor mother’s hopes and indignations. I always thought mother unfair; there was no reason why Vera should go out of her way to give me a good time, and it showed some real consideration in her to have suggested, when mother died and while Jack was reading for the bar, that, until he and I could set up housekeeping in London together, I should come and be her companion and secretary and general odd-job woman; and for people like Vera to show any consideration is creditable to them. I am five years older than Jack, and our plan has always been to live together. I intend, of course,—though Jack at present doesn’t, dear lamb!—that he shall marry; but until then I’m to live with him and take care of him and help him with his work. All this if he ever comes back again. He is fighting at the front as I write, so that it remains to be seen whether I’m to go on always with Vera. If Jack doesn’t come back I shan’t find it more difficult than anything else. We have always been all in all to each other, he and I; but that is quite another story and one that will never be written. This one is neither about Jack nor me, but about Vera and her garden and little Mrs. Thornton and her husband and her clothes.

Vera had thrown open Compton Dally to wounded Tommies and wounded officers, and the Thorntons came in that way. He’d only been back from the Boulogne hospital for a week, was badly crippled, and had a very gallant record. Most of Vera’s officers before this had been colonials who had no homes to go to. The Thorntons weren’t colonials, but they had no home and were very poor, so that the arrangement for them to spend six weeks or two months at Compton Dally while Captain Thornton got back his strength—as far as he was able to get it back, poor man!—seemed an admirable one.

They came on a hot June afternoon both very tired, while we were all having tea on the west terrace. The Tommies—there were over a dozen of them, with two Red Cross nurses to take care of them—had their tea in the billiard-room, which is made over to them for their games and meals and almost constant gramophone, and the accurate laughter of Harry Lauder is wafted out to us on various music-hall strains at most hours of the day. He was laughing loudly and richly as the Thorntons arrived. After tea Vera led them about the garden. Vera’s garden is merely a part of her toilette, and plays almost as important a part as her clothes in her general introduction of herself; and that she intended to introduce herself gracefully to Captain Thornton was evident; and that I was to pilot Mrs. Thornton, I had known after Vera’s glance at her imitation Panama hat, her blue linen skirt, of an obsolete cut and a bad one at that, and her white blouse, shrunken in washing. Vera placed her swiftly as dull and dowdy, and it was my part, always, to pilot the dowdy and the dull.

I don’t mind that, however; even now, after three years of it, I always enjoy going over Compton Dally and the gardens with newcomers. It’s such a beautiful old place, so grave and so serene, its splendid Tudor front lifted high on stone terraces, and its courts and corners behind breaking out into all sorts of unexpected and enchanting antiquities. It symbolizes, if you begin with the Saxon arches in the cellars, the whole history of England, and means so much more than any person who has ever lived there, or who ever will live there, can ever mean. It’s worth the sacrifice of generations of younger sons and myriads of marriageable daughters. What could they all do better than to keep it going? I always recalled this when I wondered how Vera could have married Percival Dixon, and felt almost as much satisfaction as she could feel in the fact that two robust little boys, still at their preparatory school, stood reassuringly behind her and Percival; the elder, too, a thorough Compton, with hardly a trail of Dixon apparent on his ingenuous young countenance. I have the whole history of Compton Dally at the tips of my fingers, and if people give me an opening and show that they care about it, I can talk to them for hours as I take them round, feeling, for my little part and share in it, that, even if Vera weren’t as decent as she is, I should put up with a great deal to stay in it and take care of it.

We didn’t go about the house to-day. The Thorntons saw the big herbaceous border and the rose-garden, the rock-garden, tinkling with its little rivulet, the moat, and the lime-tree alley; and then Vera, trailing her gossamer draperies along the flagged path between the cypresses,—for Vera, even at this epoch of shortened petticoats, manages always to trail,—murmured, as I’ve heard her murmur, when she’s at Compton Dally, at least once a week, “And this is my dream-garden, where I come and sit alone and dream dreams.”

She led Captain Thornton down among the cypress boughs. He had a splinted leg and an unaccustomed crutch, and found the steps a difficulty; but Vera put a hand under his elbow and let him lean heavily on her shoulder, and he reached the dream-garden without, I hope, too many twinges.

It is really very lovely. I don’t like hearing it called a dream-garden, naturally; but I do feel always, when I come into it, that it is like sinking into the stillness and magic of a happy dream. The gypsophila wasn’t out yet, but it made a mist, like drowsiness; white peonies, grey santolina, white roses and silver sea-thistle, the dreamy spires of white foxgloves, low, purple pansies, and tall irises, white and grey and purple—these, in their twilight colours, were massed against the grey stone walls, and there were four bay-trees in stone urns at the corners. The beautiful old stone seat (I found it in Brompton Road, but it might have been made for Compton Dally three hundred years ago in Italy) was heaped with grey and purple cushions. In the centre rose the fluent shaft of the fountain, falling, with a musical rustle and murmur into the stone basin where pale goldfish move among the water-lilies.

We sat down, and Vera went on to say, as always:

“The other gardens are for friends. I plan them for them. I see them there. This is for loneliness, for my very self; and to me it is the heart of the whole, as solitude should be the heart of life.”

Vera, as a matter of fact (you see, the phrase recurs constantly), is never alone. If she is wan and strange and wistful, it isn’t from dreaming dreams, but from not having enough sleep and doing five times too many things and seeing five times too many people in the day. Vera, too, I may say it here, isn’t in the least an ass, though she may, on occasions she finds suitable, talk like one. Occasions are often suitable, so that, as I once told her, she’s in danger of making a habit of it. She looked at me, when I told her this, with the pausing, penetrating, ironic gaze she is so capable of, and finally, with a slight grimace, said, “I’ll be careful, Judith.”

I have moments of feeling fond of her and this was one of them. She is careful; I’ve very rarely heard her talk like an ass when the occasion was unsuitable; but so many people are stupid that these are rare, and I foresee that, as she gets on and sinks by degrees into the automatism that overtakes so many artificial people, it may become a habit, just as the touch of rouge on her pale lips is already becoming more emphasized.

Captain Thornton, I saw at once, as she did,—for she saw most things,—was not stupid; but he was very simple. There was a certain bewilderment on his handsome, sturdy face, wistfulness rather than delight, such as a soul newly arrived in Paradise might feel, unable to forget the passes of death and the companions left behind in suffering. He wasn’t forgetting; I felt that as I looked at him. So many of them forget. Vera, I am sure, hardly ever remembers what it all really means—all these wounded heroes. Perhaps it is natural that she shouldn’t; she has no one near in it.

Captain Thornton gazed about him quietly, and from the garden looked back at the angel who had led him there. Of course Vera must have looked like an angel to him. I haven’t described Vera, and she is difficult to describe. To say that she is pale and dark, with attenuated features and dwelling, melancholy eyes, is only the beginning of it. Of course she is getting on now,—she is nearing forty-five,—but she’s still lovely; her smile makes me think of a pearl dropped in wine, and behind the melancholy of her eyes is that well of waiting irony. She looks as soft, as tenderly encompassing, as a summer night; but she is really sharp, sharp, sharp. Thwart or vex her, and out leaps the stiletto; or, rather, it would be more exact to say, out come the claws. But women of the Vera type will always, to young men like Captain Thornton, be angels pure and simple. I don’t suppose, for one thing, that he’d ever talked intimately with any one quite like her. He came, I was to learn, from a remote country rectory where the great ladies of the neighbourhood had been unfashionable, matter of fact, and clothed for the most part in tweed and leather, and none of them would have been likely to make much, before the war, of a young soldier. Vera was making much of him, and a fashionable angel is an angel doubly equipped. He would not know what it was that made her so strange in her sweetness; but fashion of that achieved and recondite kind is like a soft incense wafted around a woman. She is first, everywhere, always, without an effort; and people who are first, if they also look like angels, win hearts as easily as they run and twist their fingers among their ropes of pearls, as Vera was doing now. She always wore her pearls; they fell together in a milky heap in her lap, and long earrings glimmered in the shadows of her hair.

Vera’s way of talking, too, is like a spell. Her voice is rather like the fountain, so low, so inarticulate, yet so expressive. She murmurs rather than speaks, with now and then a pause that is almost a soft gurgle. Sometimes it exasperates me to hear her, but sometimes even cross-grained I am charmed.

The voice purled and rippled and gurgled over Captain Thornton now. He sat on Vera’s farther hand, and Mrs. Thornton sat between Vera and me. Already, at tea-time, Mrs. Thornton had interested me. She had remained silent without seeming shy. Superficially, no doubt, she was dowdy, and superficially she looked dull, or, as I saw it, dulled; and dull and dowdy is what at tea they all put her down for. It’s curious, how in a group of highly civilized people, a newcomer, without a word or glance exchanged between them, is in a moment assessed and placed and relegated. Everybody was going to be very kind to Mrs. Thornton, that I saw, and everybody was going to relegate her; only the highly civilized can manage the combination.

Mrs. Thornton, from one point of view, had a pallid, podgy little face, with wide lips and short nose and a broad, infantile brow above eyes singularly far apart. All the same, and the more I looked at her the more I saw it, it was a delicious face; squared here, stubborn there, sweet by turns and glances. And she was of the loveliest colour, with a skin silver-white, and thick, shining, pale-gold hair, and eyes of a deep, dense, meditative blue. All her attributes, however, were invisible to Vera, and I was fully prepared for the glance with which, over Mrs. Thornton’s imitation Panama, she presently said to me: “Darling, do take Mrs. Thornton round the water-garden. It’s so lovely at this hour. Captain Thornton must wait for it till to-morrow. He’s too tired to go farther now.”

Mrs. Thornton got up at once, with her air of vague acquiescence in anything proposed, and I led her up and out and down the lime-tree alley and through the copse, where Vera, in spring, has her wild garden, to the banks of the river, the clear, wandering little stream, bridged and islanded, golden in the afternoon light under its willows and reflecting irises and meadow-sweet.

“Now we can sit down,” I said, and on a bench under a willow we did sit, Mrs. Thornton with an involuntary sigh of weariness. “I expect your husband will soon get all right here,” I said presently. “It’s such good air. Is his leg badly damaged?”

“Well, you see, he can already get about quite well with it,” said Mrs. Thornton; “but I’m afraid he’ll never be able to do any of the things he most cares for again—riding and cricket, and his soldiering, of course. He will have to give up the army. I am afraid it’s afterwards one will begin to feel all the things that one must give up. Just now all that I can think about is that he has come back alive. Have you any one out there?” she asked.

I told her about Jack and how he had got a commission at the beginning of the war and gone out in January.

“It must be even more of a wrench to have them go when they aren’t already in the army,” said Mrs. Thornton. “A soldier’s wife ought not to feel it so much of a wrench. I’m afraid I did, though.”

I saw already that Mrs. Thornton had taken to me. It was natural that she should. I had taken to her quite tremendously, and she must have felt it; and, besides, a great many women do feel confidence in me at once. I, to be sure, look like anything but an angel, though I, like Vera, have small, pale features and dark hair. But mine’s not a melancholy or mysterious face. My eyebrows dip together over my nose, and my mouth is at once placid and irascible. I look, in my straight, austere clothes,—the silver buckles on my shoes and the fob of old trinkets at my waist for all adornment,—like a cross between a young priest in his soutane and a Blue-Coat boy; and I think it is the boyish woman, curt and kind and impersonal, who gains the confidence of others of her sex.

“I don’t know that it was more of a wrench,” I said. “I expect that you and I felt pretty much the same sort of thing on that Victoria platform when we said good-bye to them. What do you and your husband intend doing, now that he has to give up his profession?”

“Well, we had thought of having a chicken-farm somewhere. We are both so fond of the country, and I’ve a cousin who has a chicken-farm, and I’ve helped her with it, and she has made it pay. Even if Clive’s leg stays so bad, I am very strong. But we’ve had, really, no time yet to talk things over.”

“You don’t look very strong,” I observed, “but that may be because you are over-tired. You look very tired. I should say that you got up at six this morning, and raced around London shopping in the heat, and packed, and had no lunch, and a journey on top of it all. So no wonder you are tired.”

“How clever of you!” Mrs. Thornton cried, laughing. “That is exactly what I have been doing. And I’ve been in a Belgian refugee hostel ever since Clive went, and that is tiring, though it keeps one going, too. Don’t you find it difficult just to go on from day to day?” She was leaning forward on her knee now to look up into my face while I knitted. “I mean, when one wakes in the morning, for instance, to think that one has to get up and brush one’s teeth and do one’s hair and all the rest of it. It seems impossible when what one is feeling is that one wants to be chloroformed till it is all over. It was then that the hostel was so sustaining; one had to get up whether one felt like it or not.”

“I know; yes,” I said, nodding. “I’ve work, too, though it’s not so sustaining as a hostel. I’m my cousin’s secretary, and we have all these Tommies now; they take up a good deal of time. It must be curious, having it all over, all that weight of anxiety.”

“It is, it is,” said little Mrs. Thornton, eagerly, with her look of gratitude for finding some one with whom to talk about it. “It’s almost like losing a limb. I feel crippled, as well as Clive. Isn’t it absurd? But it’s almost like loss. And one is dazed with the relief of it.”

“How long have you been married?” I asked.

“Only a year and a half,” she told me, and that Clive’s mother and hers had been great friends, and that she had often gone to stay with his people in the country, so that she had always known him. Her mother had died when she was a child and her father only two years ago. She had lived in London with her father, who had been an artist. She was just twenty. And after she had told me about herself, she asked me about Jack, and I found myself telling her all about him and about those plans of ours for living together in London if he ever comes back.

The party at Compton Dally was small, and they were all there (except Sir Francis who was an old family friend and who was paying a long visit), to help Vera with her Tommies. The only other officer besides Captain Thornton was poor Colonel Appleby, a pale, frightened, middle-aged man invalided home with nervous shock. At dinner that night Lady Dighton, who is the embodiment of lassitude and acquiescence, had him, and Mrs. Travers-Cray had Sir Francis, and Vera had Captain Thornton, so that Percival fell to the share of Mollie Thornton, and I wondered how she liked him. If she was already feeling herself out of it, to have Percival at dinner wouldn’t make her feel herself in; quite the reverse. Percival’s appearance is always summed up to me by the back of his head: the wedge of fat, red neck above his high collar, the sleek, glittering black hair, and the rims of his red ears curving forward on each side. The back of his head seems really as characteristic as the front, though that is jovial and not unkindly. Percival looks sly over his food, and looks over his wine like the sort of man who is going to tell a story that no one else will find at all amusing. He told Mollie several such stories that night, I inferred, though she was evidently neither shy nor shocked; it was in the quality of her smile that I read her kindly endurance.

Milly, Vera’s girl, just seventeen and just promoted to late dinner, sat on Mollie’s other hand and did not, as far as I observed, address her once during the meal. But, then, Milly never makes efforts unless they are plainly useful. All Vera’s beauty had been spoiled in her by the Dixon admixture, and yet she is a most engaging-looking little minx, with broad, bold, black, idle eyes and a blunted nose, auburn hair and a skin of roses and carnations. Vera had seen to that. Poor Vera is quite fond of the child, a half-vexed, half-ironic constantly rebuffed tenderness. But Milly says to me, “Mother is such a bore, you know,” and likes me far better, who make no claim upon her and who, she must feel, like her very little. She will soon take flight, however, when a sufficiently advantageous occasion presents itself. The war has been a sad blow to her projects, and what I like in Milly is the fact that she has never uttered a word of complaint as to the shattering of her girlish gaieties. However, to get back to Mollie Thornton, I don’t think she could have enjoyed her companions at dinner.

After dinner I go and amuse the Tommies and talk to the nurses until bedtime, but, before I went, I observed that Vera, after her wont with the detrimental belongings of a guest, had placed Mollie in a corner with a book and the urgent, smiling murmur: “By a friend of mine. Quite, quite beautiful. I know you’ll love it.” It is a book called “Spiritual Control,” with a portrait of its author, who is a stock-broker, a sleek, stalwart, satisfied person whom Vera characterizes, why I can’t think, except that she had him once to stay after hearing his lecture, as her “friend.” A great many people find the book inspiring; Vera, as a matter of fact, doesn’t, and she found Mr. Cuthbert Dawson a terrible bore. It was plain from her giving poor Mrs. Thornton “Spiritual Control” to read, where she placed her.

When I came back an hour later she was still in her corner with “Spiritual Control,” but she wasn’t reading it. She had drawn the curtain at the window where she sat, and was looking out at the splendid, dramatic moonlight. Sir Francis and Colonel Appleby were reading the evening papers, Lady Dighton and Leila Travers-Cray talked together while they knitted, Milly had disappeared, and at the farthest end of the great room, on its farthest sofa, Vera, pale and pearly, was talking to Captain Thornton.

“Well,” I said, “how is your spirit? Is it more controlled?”

Mrs. Thornton looked up at me, and after a moment her smile of understanding merged into one of friendly enjoyment.

“How do you manage,” she said, “to be so austere in the daytime and so splendid at night? You make me think of a Venetian princess in that brocade.”

“It is nice, isn’t it?” I said. “And made by the littlest of dressmakers. I’m clever at clothes. But tell me how you like Mr. Cuthbert Dawson.”

“Well, he is very cheerful and sincere,” said Mrs. Thornton, kindly; “but I don’t seem to get much out of it. I’m really too tired and stupid to read to-night.”

“And it’s time your husband was in bed,” I said. “One of the nurses is coming for him.”

Mrs. Thornton looked down the long room at her husband.

“If only I’d had the Red Cross training,” she said, “I could have taken care of his leg then. I suppose I mustn’t ask to be allowed to. Isn’t it quite early?” she added. “He’s enjoying the talk with Lady Vera.” “It’s half-past ten, and we are strict with our invalids. Here is nurse now. I’ll come up with you and see that you are comfortable.”

No one could have said that there was any creature comfort lacking in Mrs. Thornton’s reception at Compton Dally. Captain Thornton, as the invalid, had a larger room, but Mrs. Thornton’s room, next it, was quite as charming a one, pink and grey, with old French prints and hangings of toile de Jouy. She went up to the prints for a moment of silent appreciation before turning to me with a sigh, half pleasure and half wistfulness.

“How lovely everything is here! Papa would have been in rapture over those Cochins. I shall enjoy my sleep to-night.” And then,—it was her only sign of awareness,—“I suppose I’m to be allowed to go and say good-night to Clive when nurse has done with him.”


My study at Compton Dally, where I type and write and do accounts, opens on the west terrace, and from my bureau I seemed, at most hours of the days that followed, to have a view of Mollie Thornton’s little figure wandering, as it were, on the outskirts, not plaintive,—there was never a touch of plaintiveness,—but passive. With her sewing or knitting or a book she sat a good deal under the shade of the cedar that stands at the corner of the terrace, and she spent a good deal of time drifting up and down the vistas of the lawns and park watching birds, a binocular in her hand. She was certainly a most comfortable person to relegate, since she never looked melancholy and usually contrived to seem occupied, and Vera, when she passed behind her on the terrace on her way to the dream-garden, Captain Thornton beside her, would pause and put her hand on her shoulder and say, “Happy, dear?” in the most dulcet tone. And when Mrs. Thornton, lifting those meditative eyes, answered, “Yes, thank you,” Vera, all bland benevolence, would say, “That’s right,” and pass on. Leila Travers-Cray and Lady Dighton sometimes exchanged a few friendly remarks with her, and she read the morning papers to Colonel Appleby when his eyes hurt him; but she was relegated far, far away, as completely as any human being could be who could in any way count as a guest.

I was very busy and had not much time to be with her, though all the time I had was hers; but I knew accurately what she was feeling. I related it always with that dreadful Victoria platform, with those moments of pain and yet of rapture which we had both known, when we had felt ourselves, in our suffering, stand for England, lifted up in accepting sacrifice to the august and beautiful spirit that claimed our dearest. One would expect, after that transcendent suffering, to find as transcending a joy; but how was joy possible to a young wife caught into what might be to her husband a fairyland or a paradise, but to her was a cruel and complicated machine where her only part was to turn round with the other wheels and pretend to like it? I knew that it must not be taken too seriously. It was only to last for six weeks, and then she would have her Clive back again; yet while it lasted it must make the months of suffering passed through seem happy by comparison. There had then been nothing between them but distance and the fear of death; and now everything was between them—everything Vera stood for; her house, her friends, her smile, her pearls, her dream-garden.

On morning after morning I saw Vera leading him away to it, with her armful of books, and Chang, her Pekinese, trotting at her heels. I perfectly understood Vera’s state of mind in regard to Captain Thornton. There was no occasion for commonplace jealousy. He merely made her feel cheerful and rejuvenated. Everything she had to show and tell him was new to him. She became new to herself, poor old Vera! and gained from the quiet regard of his sane and simple eyes—handsome eyes under straight, dark brows—a sense of freshness and worth in everything. She liked him better than any of the wounded heroes she had yet had. Some of them had been merely stupid, and one or two had been gloomy, sardonic men—men of her own world, to whom nothing she had to say would seem new. Clive Thornton was neither stupid nor sardonic, and he was simple enough to accept Vera’s fancy tricks—her talk of dreaming dreams and solitude—as part of an angel’s manner, and he was just clever enough to be able to appreciate anything she had to say. I could quite see how endearing Vera must find his steady gaze and his considering silences. Even with my vigorous espousal of his wife’s side I never felt angry with him. His not seeing that she was unhappy was part of the same innocence that made him not see that Vera was a cat. Mollie, besides, took quite as much care to conceal her unhappiness as Vera to behave like an angel. It never crossed his mind that his wife was relegated; it never crossed his mind that they were separated. He did not feel separated; they were both, as far as he knew, in fairyland together. And yet I knew it might not all be so trivial and transient as it seemed. A new standard was being formed for him; a new idea of what it was to be an angel. It was possible that all unconsciously he would no longer think of Mollie as one when he left Compton Dally; and when I took this in I began to gather up my weapons.

I found Mollie one afternoon sitting on the bench under the willow-tree where we had had our first talk. She had her knitting, but her hands were still, and she was gazing before her at the water. If she were not a tragic figure, it was only because there are some things sadder than tragedy. She had faced everything, been through everything, she had gone down into the Hades where so many of us were still living, and now she found herself baulked and menaced by commonplace daylight. Tragedy is, in some ways, an easy thing to bear.

“Well, what are you doing here by yourself?” I asked her, advancing. There was a look on her face, startled and steadied, that showed me what she had been thinking about in the fancied security of her solitude. But she managed at once the vague smile that concealed so much, and said that she had been, as usual, resting. “I seem to find out every day more and more how tired I was,” she added.

“You didn’t care to go with the others, motoring?” I took my place beside her. “You’d have liked Marjorams. It’s a lovely old place. Some people think it beats Compton Dally, though, naturally, I’m not one of them.”

“I’m sure you’re not,” said Mollie, laughing a little. “That was one of the things that first struck me about you—how you loved it. I felt that you were a fiercely loyal person.”

“I think I am—narrow loyalties, but fierce ones,” I said. “But you haven’t answered my question.”

“About motoring? I don’t care much about it, you know. And there really wasn’t room enough for me.”

I knew there hadn’t been; but I was deliberately eschewing tact.

“Has Captain Thornton gone?” I inquired, knowing, also, that he hadn’t.

“No; Lady Vera is reading to him in the flagged garden,” said Mollie in the voice that showed me how little she had to learn about spiritual control. “Lady Vera is going to take him out for a run in her two-seater before dinner. He enjoys that a great deal more than the big car.”

“It’s far pleasanter, certainly,” I agreed. And I went on: “They are reading, you mean, in the dream-garden. You mustn’t forget that it’s a dream-garden—where one goes to be alone.”

She looked round at me quickly, and after a moment I saw that she faintly coloured. She said nothing, leaving it to me to follow up my graceless gibe. I was quite ready to follow it up.

“As a matter of fact,” I said, knitting the loops along the side of my heel, “Vera hardly ever is alone there. It’s always, with Vera, a solitude à deux. She’s not at all the sort of woman for real solitude. She is the sort of woman who likes to feel, or, rather, to look lonely and not to be alone.”

To this, after a pause, Mollie said: “She is very charming; Clive finds her very charming.” And, forced to it, apparently, by my crudity, she added, “Aren’t you fond of her, then?”

“No, I’m not; not particularly,” I said. “Especially not just now. Vera is not at her best, to my mind, when she is being angelic to young married men.”

Mollie Thornton now blushed deeply.

“I am perfectly contented that she should be angelic to Clive,” she said.

“You are very loyal,” I returned. “But you’ll own that he is getting more out of it than you are. It’s a place, Compton Dally, for wounded heroes rather than for a wounded hero’s wife.”

“Do you mean,” she asked after a moment, “that I oughtn’t to have come?” She had indeed owned to everything in the bewilderment of the question. I laughed at it.

“Oughtn’t to have been with your husband at a time like this! Even Vera could hardly ask that, could she? And that’s my quarrel with her; that it’s the time of all times that you should be together and that she never lets you see him, practically.”

She looked away, and after a moment I saw that her eyes had filled with tears.

“He hasn’t an idea of it,” she said at last.

“That fact doesn’t make you happier, does it?”

“He thinks I’m as happy as he is. He thinks that we are together in it all, and that she is an angel to me, too,” said Mollie. “She always is an angel to me when she sees me.”

“All men are rather stupid when it comes to knowing whether their wives are happy,” I remarked. “I think your Clive is a great dear; but I like you best because you see things he doesn’t. You, for instance, see that Vera isn’t an angel, though she may look like one.”

“He has no reason to think anything else, has he?” said Mollie, and I saw that I had brought her to the point to which I had intended to bring her. “I don’t let him guess that I’m not happy; it would be horrid of me if I did, for it would only mean that he’d feel at once that we must go away, and all this loveliness would be over for him. A stuffy little flat in Bayswater isn’t a very alluring alternative; and that’s where we’d have to go—to my aunt’s—till Clive was better.”

“How you’d love the stuffy flat! How glad you’d be to be there with him! And, to do him justice, how happy he’d be there with you! He will be in a month’s time. The only question is, the month. No, Vera isn’t an angel. If she were an angel, she’d have seen to it that you were happy here, too. But when it comes to being nice to other women,—really nice, I mean,—she can be a cat. And what I’d like very much to see now is what she’d make of it if you could show her that you could look like an angel, too. It’s so much a matter of looks.”

“Make of it? But I couldn’t look like an angel.”

“You could look like a rival; that’s another way of doing it. You could look like another woman of her own sort. You could make her see you. She simply doesn’t see you now. I suspect that if Vera saw you and saw that you were charming, she’d show her claws. I’d like Captain Thornton to see her showing her claws.”

In silent astonishment, her blue eyes fixed upon me, Mollie gazed.

“No, I don’t hate Vera, if that’s what you’re wondering,” I said. “I like you, that’s all, and I don’t intend that she shall go on making you unhappy.”

“But I don’t want Clive made unhappy,” Mollie said. “I can’t imagine what you mean; but, whatever it is, I don’t want it. I couldn’t bear all this to be spoiled for him. I couldn’t bear it not to be always, for him, a paradise.”

It was my turn to gaze at her, and I gazed penetratingly.

“And what if it all came to mean that you yourself, because of it, were never to be more to him than a second-rate paradise? What if she were to spoil you for him?”

I brought out the cruel questions deliberately, and for a moment Mollie faced them and me.

“Why do you say that? How cruel to say that!” she murmured, and then suddenly she bowed her head upon her hands. “It’s been my terror. I’m ashamed of myself for thinking it. And now—you see it!”

I put my arm around her shoulders.

“I’m not cruel. I only want us to see things together. I don’t really think they’d ever come to that; and, at all events, he would never know that they had.”

“But I should,” Mollie said. “Yes, you would. And it’s horribly true that real things can be spoiled and blighted by false things. I’ve often seen it happen. You do see the danger, and you must take up the burden, my dear, of being cleverer than your husband, and save him along with yourself. If Vera were what she looks and seems to him, he might be right in feeling that he found in her something he couldn’t find in you. You must show him that she isn’t what she looks and seems and you must show him that you can be a first-rate paradise, too.”

“In a little flat in Bayswater! On a chicken-farm! No, it can’t be done. Paradises of this sort don’t grow in such places,” poor Mollie moaned.

“You can keep up the real paradise in them—the one he has already—when you get there. The point is that you must show him now that you can look like this one here. And the way to look it is to dress it. I’m sure you’ve realized the absolutely supreme importance of dress for women of the paradise type—the women you see here, all these sweet ministering angels to the Tommies and the young husbands. I don’t mean to say that, with the exception of Vera, they’re not as nice as you are in spite of being well dressed; but I do mean that if they dressed as you do they’d not be women of the paradise.”

Mollie’s hands had fallen, and she was gazing again with eyes childlike, astonished, and trusting.

“But, Judith, what do you mean?” she asked. “Dress? Of course you all dress beautifully. Haven’t I loved simply looking at you all, as if you’d been the most exquisite birds? But how could I do it? I haven’t the money; I never have had. If one has no money, one must be either æsthetic or dowdy, and I’ve always prefered to be dowdy.” “Yes, I saw that; I liked you for that. There’s hope for the dowdy, but none for the æsthetic; the one is humble, and the other is complacent. Your clothes express renunciation simply—and the summer sales. But though it is a question of money, some women who have masses of money never learn how to dress. They remain mere dressmakers' formulas; and others, with very little, can’t be passed by. They count anywhere. You’ve noticed my clothes. I’ve hardly any money, yet I’m perfect. All my clothes mean just what I intend them to; just as Vera’s mean what she intends, and Mrs. Travers-Cray’s and Lady Dighton’s, and Milly’s, for Milly already is as clever as possible at knowing her thing. But you’ve abandoned the attempt to intend. You’ve sunk down, and you let the winds rake over you. You’ve always made me think of a larkspur, that blue and silver kind, all pensive grace and delicacy; but you’re a larkspur that hasn’t been staked. Your sprays don’t count; they tumble anyhow, and no one sees your shape or colour. Last night, for instance—that turquoise-blue chiffon: not turquoise, and not that sort of chiffon.”

“I know it. I hated it,” she said.

“Of course you did, and so does any one who looks at you in it.”

“But I couldn’t afford the better qualities,” she appealed. “And in the cheaper ones I couldn’t get the blue I wanted, the soft Japanese blue.”

“No, you couldn’t. And you thought it wouldn’t show if you had it made up on sateen. It always does show. No, it needs thought and time and computing, too much time, too much thought, to say nothing of too much money for many women, of course; for them it wouldn’t be worth it. There are other things to do than to live in paradise. But for you it is worth it; to show him that you can look like an angel, and to show him that Vera can look like a cat. No, I’ll show him; mine is the responsibility. It’s worth it, at all events, to me. I’ll put in the stakes, and tie you and loop you and display you. You’ll see. I told you I’d a clever little dressmaker. That’s an essential. And we’ll scrape up the money. You shall be dressed for once as you intend.”

She was bewildered, aghast, tempted, and, on the top of everything, intensely amused. Her face was lighted as I’d never seen it before with pure mirth, and it looked like still, silver water that becomes suddenly glimmering, quivering, eddying, and sunlit. She was charming thus lighted. It was a sort of illumination of which Vera’s face is incapable; her gaiety is always clouded with irony.

“It is all too kind, too astonishing, too funny for words,” Mollie said. “Of course I should love to be well dressed for once, and I can’t see why I shouldn’t avail myself of your little dressmaker now,—especially now, since, as you tell me, I offend through my dowdiness. And I do really need some new clothes. I’m wearing out my trousseau ones, you know. Yes; wasn’t it a horrid little trousseau? But, don’t you see,” and the sunlight faded, “I can’t be a real, not a real angel, not a real paradise. It’s much deeper. It’s a question of roots. It’s the way they smile, the way they walk, the way they know what they want to say and what they don’t want to say.”

I nodded. “You know, too, and you’d say it, if people saw you and cared to hear what you said.”

“That would help, of course. I’ve never felt so stupid in my life as here. But, oh, it’s deeper!” said Mollie. “I don’t belong to it. How they all make me feel it! I’m an outsider; and why should I pretend not to be?”

“It wouldn’t be pretending anything to dress as you’d like to dress. No one who sees is an outsider now a days, if they can contrive to make themselves seen. That’s the whole point. And there’s nothing you don’t see. You see far more than Vera does. Don’t bother about the roots. Take care of the flowers, and the roots will take care of themselves; that’s another modern maxim for you. Your flowers are there, and all that we need think of now is how to show them. Wait. You’ll see. We’ll go to London to-morrow,” I said; “and this very evening we’ll have a talk about your hair.”


You may be sure that I was on the spot to see a week or so later my larkspur’s début as an angel. We were all assembled in the drawing-room before dinner, and she was a little late, as I, not she, had intended that she should be. It was precisely the moment for a mild sensation. The day had been hot and long. Everybody, apart from being anxious,—for everybody was anxious, Sir Francis and Mrs. Travers-Cray with sons at the front and Lady Dighton’s husband in the Dardanelles—apart from that ever-present strain, everybody to-day was a little jaded, blank, and tired of one another. There reigned, as a symptom, that silence that in the moments before dinner falls sometimes upon people who know each other too well for surmise or ceremony. They stood about looking at the evening newspapers; they picked up a book; they sat side by side, knitting without speaking. Vera, sunken in a deep chair near my sofa, yawned wearily. No one, in fact, had anything to look to before bedtime except the stimulant of the consommé or a possible surprise in the way of sweets.

I had known that I could count upon Mollie not to be self-conscious when she appeared in her new array, but I hadn’t counted upon such complete and pensive simplicity. Her eyes were on me as she entered, her husband limping behind her, and they seemed to ask me, with a half-wistful amusement, if she came up to my expectations. She far surpassed them. I never saw a woman to whom it made more difference. “It,” on this occasion, was blue—the blue of a night sky and the blue of a sky at dawn, the blue, too, of my larkspurs, lapping at the edges here and there, as delicately as filaments of cloud crossing the sky, into white. It made one think, soft, suave triumph that it was, of breezes over the sea at daybreak and of a crescent moon low on a horizon and of white shores and blue Grecian hills; at least it made me think of these things, it and Mollie together; and with it went the alteration of her hair—bands of folded gold swathed round and round her little head. No one but myself had ever seen before that Mollie had the poise and lightness of a Tanagra figure nor that the shape of her face was curious and her eyes strange and her skin like silver; but I knew, as she advanced down the long room, that Vera, sunken in her chair, saw it all at last, drank in every drop of it, with an astonishment that, though it expressed itself in no gesture, I was able to gauge from her very stillness, her concentration of stillness, as she watched the relegated becoming visible at last. It’s not pleasant for anybody to have to own that they’ve been blind and made a mistake, and Vera was specially fond of discovering oddity and charm and of claiming and displaying and discussing a discovery. And here was oddity and charm which she had not only failed to discover, but had helped to obscure. Mollie was indeed visible, and every eye was on her as she drifted quietly forward in the evening light and sat down beside me. She was mine, and no one else’s; that was quite evident, too.

That Captain Thornton had received something of a revelation was also evident, though it had not probably amounted to more than seeing, and saying, that Mollie was looking awfully well; but it expressed itself in the fact that, instead of joining Vera, as was his wont, he came and sat down next to Mollie on my sofa. We began to talk, and, though the watching pause was prolonged for yet another moment, the others then began to talk, too. It was as if, not quite knowing what had happened to them, they were all a little cheered and exhilarated; as if they’d had their consommé and as if the sweet had been altogether a surprise. A spectacle of any sort has this effect upon a group of jaded people. Only Vera kept her ominous silence.

Dinner was announced, and we all got up. Percival, with a new alacrity, approached Mollie,—he almost always had Mollie,—the others paired off as usual, and Vera rose to Captain Thornton’s arm. It was then that she said, smiling thoughtfully upon Mollie:

“Aren’t you doing your hair in a new way, dear?”

I saw from Mollie’s answering smile that she was still ingenuous enough to hope that she might win Vera’s approval with that of the others, the hope, too, that while Clive might think of herself as a first-rate angel, he should never see Vera as a cat.

“It is new,” she said. “I’ve just learned how to; Judith showed me. Do you like it?”

Leaning on Captain Thornton’s arm, Vera, with gently lifted brows, rather sadly shook her head.

“I suppose I don’t care about fashions. It’s very fashionable, isn’t it? But I loved so that great, girlish knot. People’s way of doing their hair is part of their personality to me. Judith cares so much about fashion, I know. Do you care about fashion, Captain Thornton? Do you like this fashionable way? You know, I can’t help always thinking that it makes women’s heads look like cheeses; in napkins, you know—Stiltons.”

It was the first scratch. Mollie, though with a little startled glance, took it with all mildness, making no comment as Percival led her away, Percival remarking that it was, he thought, a ripping way of doing her hair; and I, as I went out manless, heard Captain Thornton, behind me, saying, in answer to Vera’s murmurs:

“Yes; I see; I see what you mean. But, do you know, all the same I think it’s most awfully becoming to Mollie. It brings out the shape of her face so.”

“What a dear little face it is!” said Vera, rapidly leaving the cheese.

It all worked like a stealing spell. There was nothing marked or sudden in it. No one, I think, except Vera, was aware that his or her attitude to little Mrs. Thornton had changed. She had become visible, that was all, and they became aware that she was not only worth looking at, but worth talking to. At dinner that night old Sir Francis fixed his eye-glass to observe her more than once and after dinner he joined her in the drawing-room and talked with her till bedtime. It turned out then that he had known her father and actually possessed one of his pictures; had been a great admirer. Next morning he was walking with her on the terrace before breakfast. Mollie in a blue lawn, as sprightly as it was demure, her casque of golden hair shining in the sunlight. Lady Dighton asked her that afternoon to come motoring with her and the Tommies, and in the evening I heard Mrs. Travers-Cray, while she and Mollie wound wool together, telling her about her two boys at the front. The only person who didn’t see more of Mollie was Captain Thornton; but that, I felt sure, was because Vera was determined that he shouldn’t.

It was not for a day or two that I was able to compare notes with Mollie.

“Well,” I said, joining her on the terrace before dinner, “ça y est.”

“It’s extraordinary,” said Mollie. “Everything is different. I myself am different. I feel, for one thing, as if I’d become clever to match my clothes. It would be almost humiliating to have the mere clothes make so much difference and every one change so to me unless I could really feel that I’d changed, too.”

“You’re staked. I told you how it would be.”

“And I owe it all to you. It’s a wonderfully sustaining feeling to be staked; secure, peaceful. Such a funny change, Judith, is little Milly! Have you noticed? She came up to me when I was walking this afternoon and linked her arm in mine, and in ten minutes was confiding in me all about her perplexed love-affairs, as if we’d been old friends.” “Yes, she would. She loves to tell people about her love-affairs.”

“But I couldn’t have imagined that she was really so ingenuous; for, in a sense, she is ingenuous.”

“Exceedingly ingenuous when she isn’t exceedingly sophisticated; I think one often sees the mixture. The only thing you must be prepared for with the Milly type is that in a week’s time she may forget that she ever confided in you and, almost, that she ever knew you. Her ingenuousness is a form of presumptuousness.”

“Yes, I think I saw that. I’m beginning to see so many things—far more things than I’ll ever have use for on a chicken-farm, Judith.” And Mollie laughed a little.

“And what does your husband say?” I asked.

“Well, I’ve not seen much of him, you know. But I’m sure he likes it awfully, the way I look.”

“Only Vera won’t let him get at you to tell you so.”

“Oh, he sees enough of me to tell me so,” said Mollie, smiling: “only it takes him time to come to the point of saying things, and it’s true that we haven’t much time.”

“And she hasn’t given you any more scratches before him?”

“Not before him.” Mollie flushed a little. “It was a scratch, wasn’t it? I don’t think he saw that it was.”

“He will see in time. And it’s worth it, isn’t it, since it’s to make him see?”

“Yes, I can bear it. She’s rather rude to me now when he isn’t there, you know; but it’s really less blighting to have some one see you enough to be rude to you than to see you so little that they are affectionate. Yet I hope she won’t be too rude.”

“She can hardly bear it,” I said.

It was the next morning that Vera showed me how little she was able to bear it. She had kept me singularly busy, as if afraid that I might wave a magic wand even more transformingly, and she came into the study where I was writing invitations for a garden-fête in aid of the Red Cross fund, and after giving me very dulcetly a long list of instructions, she went to the window and looked out for some silent moments at Mollie sauntering up and down with Sir Francis under the blue bubble of her parasol.

“I suppose you dressed her when you took her up to town that day,” she then remarked.

I had wondered how long Vera could keep under cover and I was pleased to see her emerge.

“Well, hardly that,” I said, marking off with my pen the names of the people on my list who were away and not to be counted on for help with the bazaar. “She badly needed some clothes and couldn’t afford expensive places; so I took her to my little woman. She was able to carry out Mollie’s ideas perfectly. She has charming ideas, hasn’t she? She knows so exactly what suits her.”

“Carry out her ideas? She hasn’t an idea in her head. Carry out yours, you mean, you funny creature. I can’t conceive why you took the pains to dress up the deadly little dowd.” Vera drummed with her fingers on the window-pane. Mrs. Travers-Cray had joined Mollie and Sir Francis, and they sat down in a shady corner of the terrace. Mrs. Travers-Cray, sweet, impassive, honey-coloured woman, was one of the few people for whose opinions and tastes Vera had a real regard.

“Oh, you’re mistaken there, Vera, just as you’ve been mistaken about her looks,” I said, all dispassionate limpidity. “She has heaps of ideas, I can assure you, and I saw it from the beginning; just as I saw that she was enchanting looking.”

“Enchanting! Help! Help! That little skim-milk face, with those great calf’s eyes! Who is the poor dear martyr thing who carries her eyes on a plate? St. Lucia, isn’t it? She makes me think of that—as much expression. You may have succeeded in making her less of a dowd, but you’ll never succeed in making her less of a bore.”

“Well, Mrs. Travers-Cray doesn’t find her a bore,” I remarked, casting a glance of quiet, satisfied possessorship at the group outside.

“Oh, Leila always was an angel,” said Vera, “and your little protégée has made a very determined set at her.”

“Sir Francis is an angel, too, then. He delights in her; that’s evident.” It was perhaps rather indiscreet of me to goad Vera like this, but I could not resist taking it out of her and rubbing it into her, and I knew that Sir Francis would vex her almost as much as Mrs. Travers-Cray. “And look at Milly,” I added. “You can’t say that Milly is an angel. The fact is that Mrs. Thornton is a very charming young woman, and that if you don’t see it you are the only person who doesn’t.”

“Another person who doesn’t see it is her husband,” said Vera. She was determined not to show that she was angry, but I could see how angry she was. “Sir Francis, of course, old goose, thinks any one charming if they are young and dress well and look at him with appealing eyes. It is her husband I’m really sorry for. It’s evident that he never spoke to a civilized woman in his life till he came here. He doesn’t show much signs of finding his wife interesting, does he? Poor fellow! It’s pitiful the way men fall into these early marriages with the first curate’s daughter they find round the corner. And now that she’s pushing herself forward like this, he is done for.” Vera, I saw, was very angry to be goaded so far.

“Surely she is the more interesting of the two,” I blandly urged. “Neither of them has a spark of ambition if it comes to pushing; they’ll be quite happy on their chicken-farm. But if it were a question of getting on and getting in with the right people, it would, I imagine, be she rather than he who would count. This last day or two has made that evident to my mind. In her soft, strange way little Mollie is unique, whereas he is only an honest young soldier, and there are thousands more just like him, thank goodness!”

Vera at this turned her head and looked at me for a moment. After all, even if I wasn’t angry, I, too, had given myself away. And it evidently pleased her to recognize this—to recognize that she wasn’t being worsted merely by Mollie’s newly revealed charm, but by my diplomacy as well. And it is rather a good mark to Vera, I think, that I don’t believe it ever crossed her mind for a moment that she had the simplest method of speedy vengeance in her hands—had simply to send me packing. Of course we should both have known that to use such a method would have been to reveal one’s self as crude and vulgar; yet a cattish woman who is very angry may easily become both. Vera didn’t. There are things I always like about her.

She took up now one of my lists, and while she scanned it said, smiling with cousinly good-humour:

"Ah, but you can hardly expect me to look upon you as a judge of that, Judith darling—how much a man counts, I mean, and how much he doesn’t. You are so essentially a woman’s woman, aren’t you? I suppose it’s just because you are so crisp and clever and unromantic that men don’t feel drawn to you, foolish creatures! So that you never get a chance, do you, of finding out anything about them except their way of brushing their hair and the colour of their ties. You’re a first-rate woman’s woman, I grant you, and you’re very clever and you’ve succeeded in foisting your little friend on silly Sir Francis and on Leila Travers-Cray, and it’s all rather dear and funny of you, and I’ve quite loved watching it all and seeing you at work; but you won’t succeed in foisting Mrs. Thornton on her husband, and he’ll hardly give you an opportunity of finding out whether he’s anything more than an honest young soldier. I have found him,"—and Vera now spoke with a simple candour,—“quite, quite a dear; with a great deal in him—sensitiveness, tact, flavour. So much could have been made of him! I, in my little way, could have taken him up and started him. But what can one do for a man who has a wife who doesn’t know how to dress without help and who will push herself forward? No; I’m afraid Mrs. Mollie, after she’s left your hands, Judith dear, will tumble quite, quite flat again. Would you mind, darling, getting all the invitations off to-day? We mustn’t be slipshod about it. And don’t forget to write to the merry-go-round man, and to Mark Hammond to see if he’ll sing.” So, having delivered what she hoped might be a somewhat stinging shaft at my complacency, Vera trailed away.

If I hadn’t so goaded her I don’t believe, really, that she’d have taken the trouble that she did take to prove herself right and me wrong. There had been, before this, little conscious malice or intended unkindness. But now the claws were out. During the next day or two it at once justified and infuriated me to watch the manifold little slights and snubs of which poor Mollie was the victim, the dexterity with which, while seeming all sweetness, Vera essayed to belittle and discompose her, to display her as ignorant or awkward or second-rate. Only a woman can be aware of what another woman is accomplishing on these lines, and though Captain Thornton once or twice showed a puzzled brow, her skill equalled her malice, and he never really saw. I was prepared for it when Mollie came to my study one morning and shut the door and said:

“I’m afraid I can’t stand it any longer, Judith.”

“It has been pretty bad,” I said. “She’s been so infernally clever, too.”

“Our time is really nearly up,” said Mollie, “and I’m trying to think of some excuse for getting Clive to feel we’d better go before it comes. Only now she’s telling him that I am jealous of her.”

Pen in hand, I leaned back and looked up at my poor little accomplice. This, I recognized, was indeed Vera’s trump-card, but I certainly hadn’t foreseen that she would use it.

“Has he told you so?” I asked. “Oh, no, he wouldn’t. He couldn’t, could he? But I know it. Men are very transparent, aren’t they, Judith? He is always urging me to see more of her, and telling me that she is so kind, so clever, such a dear, and that I’d really think so, too, if I’d try to see more of her. And when I say that I’m sure she is, and that I hope I shall see more of her, he thinks—I can see it—that I’m only playing up, and between us, her and me, he is rather wretched and uncomfortable. What shall I do, Judith? You saw the way at tea yesterday, when she was talking about pictures, she was really sneering at father’s, and when I tried to answer,—because I felt I had to answer about that,—making me seem so rude and sullen. Clive knows nothing about pictures; so he didn’t understand. And it’s all the time like that. I have to pretend not to see and be bland and silent; or, if I try to answer, she turns everything against me.”

“Be patient. Give her a little more time,” I said. “She’ll run to earth if you give her a little more time.”

“But it is so horrid, between Clive and me, Judith: if I say what I think to him, he will only see it as jealousy, so even with him I have to pretend, and it makes me feel as if I were growing to be like her, and I can’t bear it.”

I meditated while poor Mollie dried her eyes, to which the irrepressible tears had risen. “Ask him if he can’t arrange for you to see more of her,” I said presently.

She looked at me with a general trust, yet a particular scepticism.

“But she will make that seem as if I were trying to force myself on them; because she’s always with him, isn’t she?” “Only now because she keeps him, not because he wants to stay. I’m quite sure that he wants to be more with you. I think you can manage it, Mollie. Just say, when he next urges: 'Oh, but I’d love to, Clive. Only you must tell me when. Perhaps sometime you’d take me to the dream-garden when you think she’ll be there and that she’d care to have me, and then, when you get us started, you could leave us. You could go and take Judith for a stroll.' Something of that sort.”

She eyed me sadly and doubtfully.

“I’ll try whatever you tell me to try, but I feel afraid of her. I feel as if she cared, really cared, to do me harm.”

“She’s been proved wrong,” I said, “and I’ve rather rubbed it in; but at the worst, Mollie, she can never harm you now as there was danger of her doing. It’s better, far better, you’ll own, for your husband to think you’re jealous and a naughty angel than for him to think you’re a second-rate one.” With this aphorism, for the time being, she had to be contented. I myself felt sure that the hour of reckoning was to come.

It was next afternoon, after lunch, Vera being engaged in the drawing-room with visitors, that I met Captain Thornton on the lawn with his wife. Mollie was very large-eyed and rather pale, and I inferred from her demeanour that she had taken a step or made a move of some kind.

“Do come with us, Miss Elliot,” said Captain Thornton. “I’m just taking Mollie along to the dream-garden. She wants to have a little talk, all to herself, with Lady Vera, and Lady Vera told me to wait for her there till these people were gone; so it’s just the thing. And you and I can leave them together, do you see? People never get really to know each other unless they are alone together, do they?”

“No, they don’t,” I replied. “Though sometimes they never get to know each other when they are alone together,” I couldn’t resist adding; but as I saw a slight bewilderment on his honest face I indulged in no further subtleties, and made haste to add, “Does Vera know that you were going to arrange a meeting?”

“Oh, not a bit of it. That’s just the point,” said the guileless young man. “I want her to think that it’s all Mollie’s doing, you know; because she’s got it into her head that Mollie doesn’t really care about her. Funny idea, isn’t it? As if Mollie could be like that to any one who’s been as kind to us as Lady Vera has! But I’m sure that if they have a few quiet talks it will all come right. Mollie is so undemonstrative; I told her that. It needs time for her to get used to anybody.”

Mollie, her arm within her husband’s, cast across his unconscious breast a grave, deep glance upon me as he thus quoted his defence of her. What was she to do with Vera, the glance perhaps asked me, too, now that she was to have her? What account of the interview would Vera serve up to Clive? Was not her last state to be worse than her first? I tried, in my answering glance, to reassure and sustain, yet I myself felt uncertainty about this fulfilment of my counsel.

We reached the dream-garden. Vera and Captain Thornton had been there for most of the morning, and books and papers were piled on the seat where the grey and purple cushions denoted attitudes of confident tête-à-tête.

Captain Thornton and I talked about the war, and I saw, with a mild, reminiscent irony, remembering Vera’s sting, that he was perfectly prepared to give me every opportunity for judging him. I felt, indeed, though Vera had so absorbed him, that he had never cared to talk about the war with her. She and the other angels were there to help one to forget, but with me he was glad to remember. It was I who heard Vera’s swift footfall approaching. Captain Thornton, stooping to mark out with books and pencils the plan of a battle, had, I think, almost forgotten the coming interview, and until Vera appeared among the cypresses, flushed above her pearls, he remained unaware. She stood there at the top of the steps for a moment, looking down at us, at Captain Thornton and me, our heads so close together, and at Mollie in her blue and with her unrevealing little face, and I saw from her expression, as she took us all in, that she had not been succeeding so well with Captain Thornton as Mollie and even I had feared. It was a smouldering irritation against him that flared up with her anger against Mollie and me.

“Oh!” she said, a dreadfully significant monosyllable on Vera’s competent lips. It expressed surprise and weariness and the slight embarrassment of the civilized confronted with the barbarian. “Oh!” she repeated, and she descended the steps, Chang trotting after her with his countenance of quizzical superciliousness. “I’m so very, very sorry.” She did not look at any of us now; her voice was exceedingly inarticulate and exceedingly sweet. “I’m afraid there’s been a mistake. It’s the other gardens that are for my friends. I’m charmed always to see them there. And there are so many other gardens, aren’t there? But this is my own dream-garden, my very own; for solitude, where I come to be alone. One must be alone sometimes. I get very tired.”

We had, of course, all risen, Clive staring, while, still with those weary, averted eyes, Vera softly beat the desecrated cushions and shook them into place.

“It’s my fault,” Clive stammered. “I mean—I didn’t understand. I thought you and Mollie could have a talk here. She wanted to get to know you better, and I suggested this.”

Vera had sunk down in her corner, patting her silken knee, so that Chang sprang up upon it and settled down among the pearls. “I’m very, very sorry,” she gurgled, with oh, such vagueness! “It’s my one corner. My one place to be alone. I don’t see people here unless I’ve asked them to come.” She took up a review and opened it, and her eyes scanned its pages.

We were dismissed,—“thrown out,” as the Americans say,—and we retreated up the steps, Mollie helping Clive, and down the flagged path and out into the lime-tree alley.

It was a display so complete that it left me, indeed, a little abashed by the success of my manœuvres, while at the same time I felt that I mustn’t let Captain Thornton discern the irrepressible smile that quivered at the corners of my mouth. When we were out on the lawn he turned his startled eyes on me.

“Really, you know, I’d no idea, Miss Elliot—what?” He appealed to me.

“That Vera could lose her temper?” I asked.

Clive continued to stare.

“It comes to that, doesn’t it? What else can it mean?” He looked now at his wife. “To speak like that to you, Mollie! And when she’s been saying she wanted so awfully to make real friends with you.”

Mollie, I saw, was dismayed. The triumph had been too complete. She could not keep up with it.

“I am sure that Lady Vera is very badly overwrought about something,” she said. “She wanted particularly to be alone and she found us there, and it put her on edge.” Actually she was trying to patch up his fallen angel for him.

“But she told me to wait there for her.—Sent me off to wait for her when those people came,” said Clive. “It seems to me that it was you she minded finding. And yet she’s been going on about your never coming to talk to her. She’s been going on about it like anything.” He caught himself up, blushing, and I saw that Vera was all revealed to him. I hardly needed to pluck another pinion from her, though I didn’t resist the temptation to do so, saying:

“You see, Vera is rather jealous. She can’t bear sharing things—her friends of her dream-garden. She liked to have you there, but she didn’t like to have Mollie there. Did she tell you she wanted to make friends with Mollie? She’s never taken any pains to show it, has she?”

“Oh, please, Judith!” Mollie implored.

“But he sees it all now, Mollie, so why shouldn’t I say it?” I inquired. “Her point has been, Captain Thornton, to keep you in and to keep Mollie out, and she very nearly succeeded in doing it.”

“Please, Judith! It’s not only that. She’s been such a real friend to you, Clive! I’m sure she is overwrought about something, and it will be all right when you next meet her.” But Mollie pleaded in vain.

“I’m hanged if it will be all right!” said Captain Thornton.

Vera made no attempt to reinstate herself. It was part of her strength never to try to recover what was lost. She kept up appearances, it is true, but that was for her own sake rather than in any hope, or even wish, to regain his good opinion. When we all met at tea, she came trailing in, with Chang under her arm, and as she sank into her place, diffusing the suavest unconsciousness, she said to Mrs. Travers-Cray:

“Charlie Carlton’s been killed, have you heard? This war is something more than I can bear.”

Charlie Carlton, as I knew, was a cousin of the recent callers and a most remote friend of Vera’s; but it was the best that she could do for the occasion, and all that she was inclined to do, though a melancholy smile, as impersonal as it was impartial, was turned more than once on Captain Thornton and Mollie as she inquired whether they liked sugar in their tea or had enough cream. She had made their tea for six weeks now, and after the first week she had never forgotten that they both liked sugar and both disliked cream. But she thus washed her hands of intimacy while keeping up the graces of hostess-ship. They might have arrived that afternoon.

Mollie and her husband rose beautifully to the situation, for their last two days at Compton Dally; that is, Mollie rose, for the husband at such times has only to follow and be silent. I don’t think that she could have shown a grace and a distance as achieved as Vera’s had it not been for those charming clothes of hers. You must have something to rise from if you are to float serenely above people’s heads; otherwise you merely stand on tiptoe, very uncomfortably. Mollie and Vera might have been two silken balloons, passing and repassing suavely in the dulcet summer air. And on the last day Vera’s sense of dramatic fitness prompted her, evidently, to the most imperturbable volte-face: she showed to Mollie a marked tenderness. To Captain Thornton she was kind, perfectly kind, but that she found him rather dull was evident. It might have been Mollie with whom she had spent all those hours in the dream-garden.

“Must you really go, dear?” she asked.

Mollie said that she was afraid they must. She had heard from her aunt, who was waiting to take them in, and, owing to all Vera’s kindness, Clive was now quite strong again. Vera did not insist.

“I’ve so loved getting to know you!” she said, holding Mollie’s hand at the door of the motor on the morning of their departure. “It’s been such a pleasure. You must often, often come to Compton Dally again. Good-bye, dear!”

But Mollie knew, and Vera knew that she knew, that never again would they be asked to Compton Dally. Meanwhile, if the war isn’t over and Jack hasn’t come back, I’m to go and stay with them next spring on the chicken-farm.