Autumn Crocuses

by Anne Douglas Sedgwick

I

WHAT you need is a complete change, and quiet,” said his cousin Dorothy.

Guy, indeed, in spite of his efforts to keep up appearances, was a dismal figure. He had been passing the teacups and the bread and butter, enduring all the jests about sugar-rations and margarine, and enduring, which was so much worse, the complacencies over the approaching end of the war. His haggard face, narrow-jawed and high-foreheaded, expressed this endurance rather than any social amenity, and he was aware that Aunt Emily could hardly feel that the presence of her poet and soldier nephew added much to her tea-party. Indeed, the chattering, cheerful women affected his nerves almost as painfully as did the sound of the motor-buses when—every day it happened—he stopped on the curb, after leaving his office in Whitehall, and wondered how long it would take him to summon courage to cross the street. He felt, then, like breaking down and crying; and he felt like it now when they said, “Isn’t it all too splendid!”

Cousin Dorothy was as chattering and as cheerful as the rest of them, and she had every reason to be, he remembered, with Tom, her fiancé, ensconced in Paris, safe after all his perils. Dorothy, though like everybody else she had worked hard during the war, had seen nothing and lost nothing. And she had never had any imagination. All the same, he was thankful when she rescued him from the woman who would talk to him idiotically about his poetry (she evidently hadn’t understood a word of it), and took him into a quiet nook near the piano.

It might, then, have been mere consanguinity, for he had never before found intimacy possible where Dorothy was concerned; or it might have been a symptom of his state (his being at Aunt Emily’s tea-party at all was that!); but, at all events after admitting that Mrs. Dickson had been boring him, he found himself presently confessing his terrors about the motor-buses, his terror of the dark, his sleeplessness and general disintegration. His nervous laugh was a concession to Dorothy’s possible misunderstanding; but as he went on, he felt himself almost loving her for the matter-of-factness she infused into her sympathy. After all, even good old Dorothy wasn’t stupid enough to suspect him of cowardice; and although, from a military point of view, he had made such a mess of it (invalided home again and again on account of digestive complaints, and finally, last spring, transferred to his small official post in London), to any one, really, who had at all followed his career, it would be apparent that no one could have stuck harder to the loathly job. He had felt it that, and only that, even while, prompted by pride, he had made his effort to enlist, in the first months of the war. It had been with a deep relief that he had found himself at once rejected and free to stay behind, free to serve humanity with his gift rather than with his inefficiency; for he took his poetic vocation with a youthful seriousness. And when, later on, through one of the blunders of medical examinations, he was drawn into the net of conscription, no one could have denied that he marched off to the shambles with unflinching readiness.

Dorothy, he saw, took courage all along for granted: “It’s simply a case of shell-shock,” she said, as if it were her daily fare; “you’re queer and jumpy, and you can’t stand noise. It’s quite like Tommy.”

He couldn’t associate Tommy, short-nosed, round-headed, red-eared Tommy, with anything of the sort, and said so in some resentment. But Dorothy assured him that for some months—just a year ago—Tommy had been at home on sick leave, and really bad enough for anything. “He suffered in every way just as you do.”

Guy was quite sure he hadn’t, but he did not want to argue about it. For nothing in the world would he have defined to Dorothy what he really suffered.

“It’s country air you need; country food and country quiet,” Dorothy went on. “You can get away?”

“Oh, yes; I can get away all right. Old Forsyth is most decent about it. He was telling me this morning that I ought to take a month.”

“I wonder if Mrs. Baldwin could have you at Thatches,” Dorothy mused. “Tommy got well directly.”

“Mrs. Baldwin?” His voice, he knew, expressed an unflattering scepticism, but he couldn’t help it. “Is she at home—an institution?” He saw Mrs. Baldwin, hatefully tactful, in a Red Cross uniform. “No, thank you, my dear.”

“Of course not. What do you take me for?” Dorothy kept her competent eyes upon him. “It’s not even a P.G. place—at all events, not a regular one, though of course you do pay for your keep. She has very narrow means and takes friends sometimes, and, since the war, it’s just happened—by people telling each other, as I’m telling you—to be shell-shock cases rather particularly. It’s a lovely country, and a dear, quaint little cottage, and she does you most awfully well, Tommy said.”

“I don’t like the idea of settling down like that on a stranger.”

"But she wouldn’t be a stranger. You’d go through me, and I feel as if I knew her already through Tommy. He said he was at home at once. ‘Cosy,’
was how he expressed it. And you get honey on your bread at tea and
cream in your coffee at breakfast, and all sorts of delightful things en casserole, that she cooks with her own hands, quite equal, Tommy said, to the French. And, Tommy knows, now, you see."

“It’s Mrs. Baldwin herself who frightens me. She frightens me more than the motor-buses in Whitehall.” “That’s just what she won’t do. She’s perfectly sweet. Cosy. Middle-aged. A widow. Her nice old father lives with her, and Tommy liked him so much, too. You help her to garden, and with the bees, you know. And the old father plays chess with you in the evenings. There’s a stream near by where you can fish if you want to. It’s late for that, of course; but Tommy got some quite good sport; he was there at just this time of year. And he said that it was most awfully jolly country, and that the meadows all about were full of autumn crocuses.”

“Autumn crocuses? In the fields? I’ve never seen them wild.”

“They do grow wild, though, in some parts of England. They are wild there. Tommy particularly wrote about them. He said one walked down to the stream among the autumn crocuses.”

Dorothy was baiting her hook very prettily, and he gloomily smiled his recognition of it. “They do sound attractive,” he owned. He hadn’t imagined Tom a man to notice crocuses, and he was the more inclined to trust his good impressions further. After all, apart from Mrs. Baldwin and her father, the country, with honey, cream, and autumn crocuses, was a happy combination, if he had been in condition for feeling anything happy.

What would Dorothy have thought of him, could she have known that, while they talked, her rosy, bonnie face kept constantly, before his haunted eyes, dissolving into a skull? Faces had a way of doing this with him since his last encounter with the war in the spring. And all the people talking in the room squeaked and gibbered. How could they go on talking? How could they go on living—after what had happened? How could he? The familiar nausea rose in him even as he forced himself to smile and say, “Well, could she have me—Mrs. Baldwin?”

He could not have made an effort to find a place for himself. Such efforts, he felt sure, would have landed him at some God-forsaken farmhouse miles from the station, where the beds were damp and the meat tough; or, even worse, at a Bournemouth hotel, amid orchestras and people who made a point of dressing for dinner. But, if some one found it for him, he would let himself be pushed off.

“I’m sure she could,” said Dorothy with conviction. “I have her address and I’ll write to-night and tell her all about you: that you’re a rising poet, and that your friends and relations will be so grateful if she’ll do for you what she did for Tommy.”

He had an ironic glance for her “rising.” His relations—and Aunt Emily and her brood were the nearest left to him—had never in the least taken in his standing or realized that he was, among people who knew, looked upon as completely risen. At the same time, sunken was what he felt himself; drowned deep; too deep, he sometimes thought, for recovery. His last little volume had been like a final fight for breath. He had written most of it over there, after Ronnie’s death and before his own decisive breakdown, and he knew it a result as much of his malady as of his war experience.

He wondered now, anew, whether these people had really read the poems. If they had, it only showed how impervious to reality they must remain. And there had actually been one, written after one of his leaves, called “Eating Bread-and-Butter,” that should indeed have embarrassed them, had they remembered it, inviting them to eat it with him in a trench with unburied comrades lying in No-Man’s Land before them. His head, as he thought of that,—from unburied comrades passing to unburied friends,—gave a nervous, backward jerk, for he had told himself before that he must stop thinking in certain directions; and indeed the poems had helped to exorcise the obsession at the time when they had been written.

All the same, it was very strange—such a poet at such a tea-party. He had plunged into Aunt Emily’s tea-party as he plunged nowadays into anything that presented itself as offering distraction. And now, as he said, “Well, if you’ll put it through, I’ll go, and be very grateful to you,” he felt that he was making another plunge into Mrs. Baldwin’s cottage.

II

IT was a pretty cottage he found, as, on the September evening, his station fly drew up at the wicket-gate. They had come a long way from the station, and, after leaving a small village, the winding lane, too, had seemed long. He saw, nevertheless, as he alighted, that the rustic building, old stones below and modern thatch above, could not be far from the central group of which it formed an adjunct; for it had been contrived, by devices dear to the heart of the week-ender, from two or three labourers' cottages thrown into one and covered all over with the capacious and brooding thatch. “Quaint,” Dorothy’s really inevitable word, altogether expressed it, from the box hedges that ran on either side of the flagged path, to the pale yellow hollyhocks beside the door.

A round-cheeked country girl, neatly capped and aproned, opened the door on a square, rush-matted hall; and beyond that he saw a room full of the sunset, where a table was being laid and from which Mrs. Baldwin came out to greet him.

She was not tall, and had thick, closely bound braids. He had dreaded finding himself at once dealt with as a case; but Mrs. Baldwin’s manner was not even that of one accustomed to paying guests. Her murmur of welcome, her questions about his journey, her mild directions as she led him up to his room, "Be careful at this landing, the level of the floor goes up and the beam comes down so low,"—were rather those of a shy and entirely unprofessional hostess.

He thought, as soon as he took in his room, with its voile-de-Gènes hangings and dear old furniture, that he pleased her by saying, “What a delicious room!” and even more when, on going to the wide, low, mullioned window, its panes open to the west, he added, “And what a delicious view!” There were meadows and tall hedgerow elms, and, running in a tranquil band of brightness, the stream that reflected the sky.

She did not say that she was glad he liked it, but her very gentle smile at the welcome it all made for him was part of the welcome. What she did say was, with the little air of shy preoccupation, while she wrung her finger-tips together, those of one hand in those of the other, “I think the water’s very hot. I have a rather young little maid. You’ll tell me if you want anything. Are three blankets and the down quilt enough? The nights are rather cold already.”

He said that three would be perfect, secure, from his glance at the deep, comely bed, that they would be beautifully thick and fleecy.

“Then you’ll come down to us when you are ready.” She stood in the door to look round again. “Matches here, you see; biscuits in the little earthenware box; and the spirit-lamp is in case you should wake in the night—you could make yourself a cup of cocoa? Everything is there—cocoa, milk, and sugar. It usually sends one off again directly.”

It was all the slightly shy hostess rather than the businesslike soother and sustainer; and, no, it wasn’t a bit cosy. He repudiated that word indignantly, while he washed—the water was very hot, admirably hot; there was a complacency about cosy, and Mrs. Baldwin had no complacency, though she was, for all her shyness and the unconscious gestures of physical nervousness, composed. Her hands, he remembered, recalling their little trick,—he had noticed it in the hall,—were like a child’s; not the hands of a practical housewife. Yet, from the look of that bed (yes, thank heaven, a box-spring mattress!), from the heat of the water, and, above all, the deft and accessible grouping of the spirit-lamp and its adjuncts, she proved that she knew how to make one comfortable.

There were the meadows and—going again to the window, he wondered leaning out,—could he see the autumn crocuses? Yes, surely; even at this evening hour his eyes distinguished the pale yet delicately purpling tint that streaked the pastoral verdure. What a delicious place, indeed! He stood, absorbed in looking out, until the maid came to say that supper would be ready in five minutes.

The long room, the living-room,—for it combined, he saw, all social functions,—also faced the meadows at the back of the house, and the primrose coloured sunset still filled it as he entered. Mrs. Baldwin was busying herself with the table, and an old gentleman with a very long white beard rose, with much dignity, from the grandfather’s chair near a window-seat. Mr. Haseltine, so his daughter named him, had more the air of seeing the visitor as a P.G., perhaps even as a shell-shock patient; but he was a nice old man, Guy felt, although his beard was too long. He wore a brown velveteen jacket, and Guy surmised that he might have been a writer or scholar of some not very significant sort.

“Yes, we think ours a very favored nook indeed,” he said, as Guy again praised the prospect. “Yes; three cottages. Very happily contrived, is it not? There is a clever builder in the next town. He kept the old fireplace, you see; that end was a kitchen and the beams are all the old ones. Three gardens, too, thrown into one; but that is entirely my daughter’s creation. Pig-styes used to be in that corner.”

Guy looked out at the squares of colour, the low beds of mignonette, the phloxes, larkspurs, and the late sweet-peas a screen of stained-glass tints against the sky. Where the pig-styes had been was a little thatched summer-house with rustic seat and table. The bee-hives were just outside the hedge, at an angle of the meadow. Mr. Haseltine continued to talk while Mrs. Baldwin and the maid came in and out, carrying tea and eggs and covered dishes.

“I hope you don’t mind high tea,” she said. “It seems to go with our life here.”

He felt that high tea was his favourite meal. There was a big white earthenware bowl on the table, filled with sweet-peas. “Where do you get the old-fashioned colours?” he asked her. “I thought the growers had extirpated them; one sees only the long-stemmed ones nowadays, with the tiresome artistic shades.”

He pleased her again, he felt sure, and she told him that she always saved the seed, liking the old bright colours better, too.

He was glad that he had come, although Mr. Haseltine’s beard was too long and he feared that he would prove talkative in the worst way, the deliberate and retaining way. He liked the smell of everything,—a mingling of sweet-peas, rush-matting, and China tea,—and the look of everything; good, unpretentious old oak furniture, fresh, if faded, chintzes, and book-lined walls; and he presently liked the taste of everything too.

“I feel already as if I should sleep to-night,” he said to Mrs. Baldwin.

She sat behind the tea-urn a little distracted, if anything so mild could be called distraction, by the plunging movements of the little maid as she moved about the table. “That will do nicely, Cathy,” she said. “We can manage now. You can bring in some more hot water if I ring.—Oh, I do hope you’ll sleep. People usually sleep here.”

She was hardly middle-aged, though, after Dorothy’s bright browns and pinks, Tommy might well have thought her so. Many years older than Dorothy, of course, yet how many he could not in the least compute. There was an agelessness, with something tough and solid, about her; she was as little slender as she was stout; she might, with her neutral tints,—hair, skin, dress,—have looked almost the same at sixty as she did now. She wasn’t pale, or sallow, or sunburned; yet her complexion seemed so to go with her hair that the whole head might have been carved in some pleasantly tinted stone. Only her eyes gave any depth of difference; gentle eyes, like a grey-blue breadth of evening. She had a broad, short face and broad, beautifully drawn lips, and looked almost mysteriously innocent.

Guy took her in to this extent, swift as he was at taking people in, and sensitive as he was to what he found. He felt sure—and the depth of comfort it gave him made him aware of all the reluctances Dorothy’s decision had overborne—that she hadn’t the ghost of a method or of a theory. Shell-shock people had merely happened to come and had happened to get well quickly. He even gathered, as the peaceful evening wore on,—Cathy clearing, placid lamps lighted, the windows still left open to the twilight—that she didn’t really think very much about her cases, in so far as they were cases and not guests. Having done her best in the way of blankets, hot water, and spirit-kettles, and seen them settled down into the life she had made for herself,—and not at all for them,—she went her own way, irresponsible and unpreoccupied.

To-night she didn’t attempt to entertain him. It was Mr. Haseltine, at supper, who kept up the conversation, and with the air of always keeping it up, with even the air, Guy imagined once or twice, of feeling it specially his part to make amends, in that sort of resource, for his dear daughter’s deficiency. She was, Guy saw, very much his dear daughter; but he felt sure that it had never entered the old gentleman’s head that any one would find her interesting when he himself was there.

After supper she was occupied for a little while at her desk, adding up figures, it appeared, in house-books; for she came to her father and asked him if he would do a column for her. “It has come out differently three times with me,” she confessed, but without ruefulness. “I’m so dull at my accounts!”

Guy, as Mr. Haseltine fumbled for his large tortoise-shell eyeglasses, offered to help her, and then came over and sat beside the desk and did the rest of the sums for her. She was tidying up for the month, she told him, and always found it rather confusing. “It’s having to put the pennies, which are twelves, into pounds, which are twenties, isn’t it?” she said, and thanked him so much.

But this could hardly be called entertaining him, nor could it, when he accompanied her across the lane in the now deepening dusk, to shut up her fowls. After that, there was the game of chess, during which Mrs. Baldwin absented herself a good deal, helping Cathy, Guy imagined, with the beds and hot-water bottles; and at nine-thirty they all lighted their candles and went upstairs.

Bedtime had been, for many months, his most dreaded moment. The door shut him in and shut away the last chance of alleviation. There was nothing for it but to stretch himself haggardly on his couch and cling to every detail in the day’s events, or in the morrow’s prospects, that might preserve him from the past. To fight not to remember was a losing game, and filled one’s brain with the white flame of insomnia. He had found that it was when, exhausted by the fruitless effort, he suffered the waiting vultures to settle upon him, abandoned himself to the beaks and talons, that, through the sheer passivity of anguish, oblivion most often came.

To-night, from the habit of it, his mind braced itself as he came into the room, and he was aware, as he had been for nearly a year now, that Ronnie’s face was waiting, as it were, on the outskirts of consciousness, to seize upon him. But, after he had lighted the candles on his dressing-table and the candles on the mantelpiece, taken off his coat, and started undressing, he found that his thoughts, quite effortlessly, were engaged with his new surroundings, old Mr. Haseltine’s beard and eyeglasses occupying them, and the clucking noise he made in drinking the glass of hot ginger and water that had been brought to them on a tray while they played; Mrs. Baldwin’s accounts, her fowls, and the colour of her eyes. He decided that the colour was Wedgwood, or perhaps periwinkle blue—some very dense, quiet colour.

As he moved about the room, this protective interest came to him from the little objects he made acquaintance with: the round Venetian box, dim gilt and blue and red, on the chest of drawers in which he found a handful of tiny shells—shells, no doubt, that Mrs. Baldwin had picked up during a seaside outing; the faded old blue leather blotter on the writing-table, marked E. H., which had probably been hers since maiden days (and did E stand for Ethel or Edith or Ellen?); the pretty lettering in fine black script of the writing-paper so pleasantly stacked; the dear old Dutch coffee-pot and jug on the mantelpiece, and the bowl of mignonette that she, of course, had arranged. He sank his face into its fragrance, and peace seemed breathed upon him from the flowers.

He was wondering, as he got into bed, with a glance, before he blew out the candle, at the birds and branches, the whites and blacks and roses of the voile-de-Gènes, whether he would find the autumn crocuses open in the meadows next morning; it had looked like the evening of another fine day. Then, the candle out, his thoughts, for a little while, were tangled in the magical dreamland of the voile-de-Gènes, and the breath of the mignonette seemed to lie upon his eyelids with a soft compulsion to peace, until, all thought sliding suddenly away, he dropped into delicious slumber.

III

HT found the crocuses open, before breakfast. Only Cathy was in the living-room, sweeping, when he crossed it, though he thought he heard Mrs. Baldwin in the kitchen. A robin was singing on a spray over the summer-house. The sky arched pale and high; and though there was no mist in the air, its softness made him think of milk.

From the garden he passed into the meadows, and, almost at once, saw, everywhere, the fragile, purple flowers about him, if purple were not too rich a word for their clear, cold tint. Lower down, near the stream, they made him think of the silver bobbins set playing by great rain drops when they fall heavily upon wide, shallow pools of water; and they seemed to grow even more thickly in the farther meadow beyond the wooden bridge. A sense of bliss was upon him as he walked among the flowers. He had never seen anything more lovely, and all but the darker buds were open, showing pale golden hearts to the sun.

Yet, by the time that he had crossed the bridge, leaning on the high rail to look down into the limpid, sliding water, he knew that it could never stay at that or mean that for him. He had seen fields of flowers in France, and, while the horrors there had been enacted, these fields of crocuses, year after year, had bloomed. What they meant for his mind was the unbridged chasm between nature and the sufferings of man. Only when one ceased to be a man, ceased to remember and to think, could such a day, such sights, bring the unreasoning joy.

Walking back, he saw, as he approached the house, that Mrs. Baldwin was standing at the garden-gate, and, bare-headed, in the linen dress of pale lavender, she made him at once think of the crocuses, or they of her. Their gentleness was like her, their simplicity, and something, too,—for he felt this in her,—of unearthliness. More perhaps, than any other flower they seemed to belong to the air rather than to the ground, and, with their faint, pale stalks, their fragile petals unconfined by leaf or calyx, to be rising like emanations from the sod and ready to dissolve in mist into the sunlight.

“You’ve had a little walk?” Mrs. Baldwin asked him as they met.

He said he had been looking at the crocuses. “Are they really crocuses?” he questioned. “I’ve never seen them wild before.”

“They’re not real crocuses,” she said, “though those grow wild, too, in a few places in England. These flowers are always called autumn crocuses hereabouts; but they are really, botanically, meadow saffron; and they grow wild in a great many places. You see they are not so dark a purple as the wild crocus, and they are much taller, and the petals are more pointed. Much more beautiful flowers, I think.”

“Meadow saffron. That’s a pretty name, too. But I think I’ll go on calling them autumn crocuses. They were one of the reasons that made me want to come here,” he told her.

They were leaning on the little garden-gate looking over the meadows.

“Really? Did you hear about them?”

He told her what Dorothy had said, passed on from the appreciative Tommy, and she said again, “Really!” and with surprise, so that, laughing a little, he said that he believed she would never have thought of Mr. Barnet as an appreciator of crocuses. She laughed a little, too, confessing to a community of perception where Tommy was concerned, and remarked that it was very nice of him to have cared. “What he talked about,” she said, “was the food. He was never done praising my coffee. It’s time for coffee now,” she added.

Guy, as they went in, said that, after all, if that was what Tommy talked about, he wondered that his caring for the crocuses should have surprised her, for he was sure that the one was almost as poetical as the others. It was poetical, indeed, as she made it, in a delightful and complicated apparatus, glass and brass and premonitory scented steam; and the milk was as hot as the water had been, and there was cream. “How do you manage it, in these days?” he asked. But she said that it wasn’t wickedness and bribery, really: she and Cathy skimmed it from the milk that was brought from the nearest farm.

He realized that he was himself talking about the food just as Tommy had done; just as the chattering women at Aunt Emily’s tea-party had done; just as everybody, of course, had been doing in England ever since food became such an important matter. But it was Mrs. Baldwin who made him do it; for though unearthly, she was deliciously prosaic. He felt that anew when he heard her going about the house in her low-heeled little shoes, with Cathy. They did, evidently, all the work, and how fresh, composed, and shining everything was. The living-room, with its happy southern windows, its tempting writing-tables, its flowers and books, was an embodiment of the poetry that only such prose can secure.

Guy, while Mr. Haseltine sat behind his rustling Times, strolled before the shelves, surprised, presently, at their range of subject. Surely not Mrs. Baldwin’s, such reading; hardly, he thought, Mr. Haseltine’s. He took down a volume of Plotinus and found, on the fly-leaf, “Oliver Baldwin,” written in a small, scholarly hand. That explained it, then. Her husband’s. The Charles d’Orleans, too, the Fustel de Coulanges, the Croce, and the Dante, with marginal notes. He had been a man of letters, perhaps. Of the dozen books he took down to examine, only one was initialled “E. H.,” and that, suitably, was Dominique. But it had been given her by “O. B.”

As in the garden, presently, he and the old gentleman walked up and down, smoking, Guy asked him, with the diffidence natural to the question, whether his son-in-law, Mrs. Baldwin’s husband, had been killed in the war; though he couldn’t imagine her a war-widow. One didn’t indeed think of her in connection with marrying and giving in marriage—that was part of the unearthliness; yet widowhood, permanent widowhood, seemed a suitable state. She was not girlish, nor was she wifely. She was widowed, and it had happened, he felt sure, in spite of his question, long ago.

As he had expected, his companion replied, “Ah, no; he died eight, nine years since.” And Mr. Haseltine then went on to tell, taking the war as the obvious interest, and not without the satisfaction that Guy had so often met and so often loathed, that he had lost dear ones. “Children of my eldest son. Fine lads. Brave boys. One in the first month—at the Marne; the other only last year, flying. Yes; I’ve done my bit,” said Mr. Haseltine, with the fatuity that he was so plentifully companioned in displaying.

“Bit.” Odious word. His “bit.” Why his? Had any one written a poem on the formula coming from the lips of those for whom others had died? A scattered, flagellating line or two floated through Guy’s mind. Something about barbed wire came in. He wondered how old Mr. Haseltine would have felt about his “bit,” hung up on that and unable to die. He wondered where the fine lads now lay. No more coffee for them, with cream in it; no more robins singing; no more strolling smokes among mignonette in the sunlight. How they were forgotten, already, except for trophies, for self-glorification to display! How pleased, how smug this rescued, comfortable world! Something of his distaste attached itself even to Mrs. Baldwin when she next appeared. Something irritating him in her peacefulness. She, too, had seen nothing and lost nothing. But, at all events, she wouldn’t, he knew that, take any stand on the two nephews to claim her “bit.” There was nothing fatuous about Mrs. Baldwin. The slight distaste still lingered, however, and he found himself wondering once or twice, during the day that passed, in spite of it, so pleasantly, whether she wasn’t, for all his idealizing similes, a stupid as well as a sweet woman. It was not because of filial self-effacement that she let her father do all the talking at meals: it was simply because she had nothing to say, and the good old boy was quite right in taking his responsibility for granted. The person who could talk was the responsible person. Her mind, though so occupied, was quite singularly inactive and, he was sure, completely uncritical. She didn’t find her father in the least a bore, or suspect that anybody else might find him so. She did find, Guy felt sure, satisfaction in all her occupations. He heard her laughing—a quiet little laugh—with Cathy in the kitchen; and in the afternoon, when he helped her to prick out seedlings, her attentive profile—as, after he had dug each hole, she dropped in the little plant, pressed the earth about its roots, and fixed it in its place—made him think of the profile of a child putting its dolls to bed. They planted three beautiful long rows, and Guy was quite tired by tea-time, for though they had high tea at half-past six, they were not deprived of the precious afternoon pause, taking place as it did at the unaccustomed but pleasing hour of four.

After tea she went to see some people in the village, Mr. Haseltine dozed in his chair, and Guy took a long walk.

So the days went on, and at the end of a week he was able to write to Dorothy and tell her that he was sleeping wonderfully and that Mrs. Baldwin’s cottage was all that she had pictured it. By the end of the week he had even grown rather attached to Mr. Haseltine, and he enjoyed playing chess with him every evening; and sometimes they had a game in the afternoon when tea was over. The undercurrent of irritation still flowed, but he had learned to put up with the old gentleman and to circumvent his communicativeness, and in the case of Mrs. Baldwin he more and more felt that she was the sort of person to whom one would, probably, forgive anything. It had become evident to him that what might be dulness might also be unawareness. That was a certain kind of dulness, it was true, but it didn’t preclude capacity for response if the proper stimulus were applied. It amused him to note that if none of the nearly inevitable jars of shared life seemed ever to occur between her and her father, it was simply because, when a difference arose, she remained unconscious of it unless it were put before her. Nothing could have been less in the line of selfishness; it was she who thought of him, of his comfort and happiness, and who ordered her life to further them; he, in this respect, was passive; but Guy felt that the poor old boy often brooded in some disconsolateness over small trials and perplexities that a companion more alert to symptoms would have discerned and dispelled at once. Mr. Haseltine even, sometimes, confided such grievances to the P.G.

“I don’t want to bother Effie about it,” he said;—E. had stood for Effie--“she’s a dreamy creature and very forgetful. But it’s quite evident to me that the rector and his wife have been expecting to be asked to tea to meet you. I’ve just been talking to them in the lane, and I saw it plainly. They had asked us to bring you before you arrived, hearing we were to have another guest,—they’ve always been most kind and neighbourly in helping us to entertain our new friends,—and I really don’t know why Effie should have got out of it. I usually have to remind her, it’s true. But I sometimes get tired of always having to. She doesn’t care for them herself; but that’s no reason why you might not. We have few enough interests to offer visitors.”

Guy was glad to have escaped the rectory tea, though he did not say this in assuring Mr. Haseltine that the entertainment offered at Thatches was absolutely to his taste. He was completely out of place at any rectory; he could imagine no rector who would not find his poems pernicious; but he felt that there was justice in Mr. Haseltine’s contention. He might have cared for them. As it was, Mr. Haseltine was brought once again to reminding her. It was evident then that she was ready to please anybody or everybody.

“Ask them? Ought I to ask them?”

“My dear, it’s ten days since they sent their invitation. They spoke again—and it’s the second time—of having been so sorry not to see us, when I met them yesterday, in the lane. I don’t know why you did not go.”

“I thought it would bore Mr. Norris, father. He came here for quiet, you know. But would it bore you?” she asked Guy. “They are very nice. I don’t mean that.”

“It’s certainly very pleasant being quiet,” said Guy; “but if Mr. Haseltine likes having them, I assure you that people don’t frighten me in the least.”

“Oh, not on my account,” Mr. Haseltine protested. “I see our good friends continually. It is of them I am thinking, as well as of Mr. Norris. He might find them more interesting than you do, Effie, and they will, I fear, be hurt.”

Now that it was put before her, Mrs. Baldwin did it every justice, rising from the breakfast-table, where she had just finished, to go to her desk, and murmuring as she went, “I hadn’t thought of that. They might be hurt. So, if it won’t bore you, Mr. Norris.”

And the Laycocks were asked, and did indeed bore Guy sadly.

It was on the night after their visit—Mr. Laycock had questioned him earnestly about his personal impressions of the war and to evade him had been wearying—that Guy, for the first time, really, since he had come, found sleep difficult and even menaced. It was because of that, he felt sure, looking back on it, that the curious occurrence of the next day took place—curious, and, had it taken place in the presence of any one else, embarrassing. But what made it most curious was just that; he had not felt it embarrassing to break down and sob before Mrs. Baldwin.

The morning had begun badly. The breakfast-table papers had been full of the approaching victory. Mr. Haseltine read out passages from the Times as he broke his toast and drank his coffee. He had reiterated the triumph of his long conviction, and Mrs. Baldwin had murmured assent. “All’s well with the world,” was the suffocating assurance that seemed to breathe from them both. “All’s blue.” Was hell forgotten like that? What if the war were won? Of course, it had to be won—that was an unquestioned premise that had underlain his rebellions as well as Mr. Haseltine’s complacencies since the beginning. But what of it? No victory could redeem what had been done.

He went out into the garden, to be away from Mr. Haseltine, as soon as he could, and took a book into the summer-house; and it was here, a little later, that Mrs. Baldwin, seeing him as she passed, her garden-basket on her arm, paused to ask him, with her smile of the shy hostess, if he were all right. She didn’t often ask him that, and he saw at once that his recent recalcitrancy to rejoicing had pierced even her vagueness. He knew that he still looked recalcitrant, and he was determined not to soften the overt opposition rising in him; so he raised his eyes to her over his book and said that he was not, perhaps, feeling very fit that morning.

Mrs. Baldwin hesitated at the entrance to the summer-house. She looked behind her at the garden and up at the roses clustering over the lintel under the thatch; she even took out her scissors, in the uncertainty that, evidently, beset her, and snipped off a dead rose, and she said presently, “It was all that talk about the war, wasn’t it—when what you must ask is to forget it.”

“Oh, I don’t ask that at all,” said Guy. “I should scorn myself for forgetting it.” She glanced in again at him, mildly. “I want to forget what’s irrelevant, like victory,” he said; “but not what is relevant, like irremediable wrong.”

Her awareness had not, of course, gone nearly as far as this. She kept her eyes on him, and he was glad to feel that he could probably shock her. “You see,” he found himself saying, “I saw the wrong. I saw the war—at the closest quarters.”

“Yes—oh, yes,” Mrs. Baldwin murmured. “For me, tragedy doesn’t cease to exist when it’s shovelled underground. If one goes down into hell, one doesn’t want to forget the fact—though one may hope to forget the torments and horrors; one wants, rather, to remember that hell exists—and to try and square life with that actuality.”

There was silence after this for a moment, and he imagined that she was very much at a loss. Her next words seemed indeed to express nothing so much as her failure to follow—that and a silliness really rather adorable, had he been in a mood to find it anything but exasperating. “But, still—hell doesn’t exist, does it?” she offered him for his appeasement.

Guy laughed. “Doesn’t it? When things like this war can happen? How could it ever have existed but in men’s hearts? It’s there that it smoulders and, when its moment comes, leaps out to blast the world.”

He could talk to her like this because she was too simple to suspect in him a poetical attitudinizing; any one else would of course suspect it. Guy was even aware that to any one else that was what it would have been. She looked kind and troubled and as much as ever at a loss. She didn’t know at all how to deal with the patient, and she was evidently uncertain what to do, since it might seem heartless to go away and leave him to his black thoughts, yet intrudingly intimate to come and sit down beside him. Nothing could be less intimate than Mrs. Baldwin. It was he, of course, who was tasteless in talking to her in a vein appropriate only to intimacy.

“Don’t bother over me,” he said, offering her the patent artifice of a smile. “I’m simply a bad case. You mustn’t let me trouble you. You must just turn your back on me when I’m like this.”

It was not poetic attitudinizing now; there was in his voice a quaver of grief and she responded to it at once. “Oh, but I don’t like to do that. I do wish I could be of some help. I see you haven’t slept, for you look so tired, as you did when you first came. And Mr. Laycock did bore you. It’s wrong of people to talk to you about the war.”

For the first time he saw in the eyes fixed upon him, pity, evident pity and solicitude. And before it he felt himself crumble suddenly. He saw all the reasons she had for pitying him, did she but know. He saw Ronnie’s face again; he saw his own haunted night and his own grief. He wanted her to see it. “Oh—one can’t be guarded like that,” he murmured; “I must try to get used to it. But—I didn’t sleep; that’s true. I’m so horribly afraid of not sleeping. You can’t imagine what it is. I’ve the most awful visions.” And leaning his elbows on the table, he put his hands before his face and began to cry.

She stood there; he did not hear her move at first; and then she entered and sat down on the seat beside him. But she said nothing and did not touch him. He had had in all the tumult of his disintegration, a swift passage of surmise; would she not draw his head upon her shoulder, like a mother, and comfort him? But that would have broken him down heaven knew how much further.

He cried frankly, articulating presently, “It’s my nerves, you know; they have all gone to pieces. I lost my friend; my dearest friend. For months I didn’t sleep.”

Mrs. Baldwin’s silence was not oppressive, or repressive either. He heard her hands move slightly on the basket she held on her knees and the soft chafing in the folds of her linen bodice that her breathing made. It was an accepting stillness and it presently quieted him; more than that, it enabled him at last to lift his head and look at her without feeling ashamed of himself. Oddly enough, he knew that he, perhaps, ought to be. He could have helped himself. There had been an element of wilfulness in his breakdown; he had wanted her to see; but, even had she known this about him, he would not have felt ashamed. She was so curiously a person with whom one could not associate blames and judgments. She was an accepting person.

She wasn’t looking at him, but out at the sweet, bright, autumnal little garden; and as her eyes came to him, he felt them full of thought; felt, for the first time, sure that, whatever she might be, she was not dull.

He could not remember, looking back at the little scene, that she had said a single further word. He did not think that he had said anything further. He was helping her, a little while after, to prune the Aimée Vibert rose that had grown with great unruliness over the little tool-house near the kitchen door. “It will really pull it down unless we cut out some of these great branches,” she had said, as, equipped with stout gloves, they had worked away together, unfastening the tangled trails and stretching them out on the ground. So displayed, the Aimée Vibert was drastically dealt with, and it was midday before they finished fastening the thinned and shortened shoots into place.

She had said nothing further; but he believed that, for the first time, her thought really included him. He had been put before her. She was different afterwards. He had become an individual to her, and had ceased to be merely the paying guest.

IV

THE third week came. There was rain, rather sad September rain, for a day or two. They sat in the evenings before the wide fireplace where logs blazed. Mrs. Baldwin, at his suggestion, read aloud to them Fabre’s Souvenirs Entomologiques. She read French prettily, better than he did himself, and he was a little chagrined once or twice to find that she knew it better, priding himself on his French as he did. He had lived for a year in Paris, with Ronnie, before the war.

The horrors of the grim, complicated underworld revealed by the French seer distressed him. Mrs. Baldwin did not feel them as he did, feeling the marvels rather than the horrors, perhaps. She laughed a little, rather callously, at the ladies who devoured their husbands, and seemed pleased by the odious forethought of the egg-laying mothers. She shared Fabre’s humorous dispassionateness, if not the fond partiality which, while it made him the more charming, didn’t, Guy insisted, make his horrid wasps and beetles a bit more so. As usual, she vexed him a little, even while, more and more, he felt her intelligent; perhaps she vexed him all the more for that.

“She’s so devilishly contented with the world,” he said to himself sometimes, even while he smiled, remembering her laughter.

Old Mr. Haseltine fell asleep one night while she read, and to be together there before the fire, the old man sleeping beside them, made them nearer than they had ever been before. Guy was aware of this nearness while he listened and while he watched her hand, short, like a child’s (and her face was so short) support the book, and her eyelashes dropping down the page or raised to a fresh one.

When he went to his room that night, he stood still for a long time, his candle in his hand, listening to the soft beat of the rain against the window. He was hardly ever now afraid of being alone, or of the dark, and he stood there musing and listening, while he still seemed to see Mrs. Baldwin’s hand as it held the book, and her reading profile. Her life seemed to breathe upon him and he rested in it. He slept deliciously.

“Did you know that I write?” he asked her next day. He had wondered about this once or twice before.

“Oh, yes; your cousin, in her letter, you know, told me that you wrote,” said Mrs. Baldwin.

They were in the living-room after midday dinner, and alone. She looked up at him very kindly from the papers and letters she was sorting at her desk.

“You’ve never heard of my effusions otherwise, though?” He put on a rueful air. “Such is fame!”

“Are you famous?” Her smile was a little troubled. “I don’t follow things, you know, living here as I do.”

“You read the papers. I have had reviews: good ones.”

“I don’t read them very regularly,” she admitted. “And I so often don’t remember the names of people in reviews, even when I’ve liked what is said of them. Have you any of your poems here? Perhaps you’ll let me read them.”

He felt, with the familiar chagrin, that she would never, of herself, have thought of asking him.

“Yes, my last volume. It’s just out.”

He was going for a walk in the rain with Mr. Haseltine that afternoon. There was an old church in the neighbouring village that his friend wanted him to see. Mrs. Baldwin had letters to write. “Will you have time to look at it while we are out?” he asked.

Although she had shown so little interest in him, he was eager, pathetically so, he felt, that she should read and care about his poems. She said that it was just the time: her letters would not take long. And so he ran up to his room and got the little book for her: Burnt Offerings.

All the time that he was walking with Mr. Haseltine and seeing the church, and the old manor house that took them a half mile further, he wondered what she was thinking about his poems.

By the time they had returned the rain had ceased. A warm September sunlight diffused itself. Veils lifted from the stream and trailed upon the lower meadows. The sky grew clear and the leaves all sparkled. They found that Mrs. Baldwin had had her cup of tea, for it was past four; but all had been left in readiness for them, the kettle boiling; and after Guy had swallowed his, he went out and saw her walking down among the crocuses.

“Oh, you are back?” she said when he joined her. “I wanted to be there to give you your tea. Was it all right?”

“Perfectly,” he said. “We put in just your number of spoonfuls.”

Mrs. Baldwin wore her little knitted jacket and had put on her white, rubber-soled canvas shoes against the wet; but her head, with its thick, close braids, was bare to the sunlight.

“I had to come out as soon as it stopped raining,” she said; “and I’m afraid I simply forgot to look out for you and father.”

Her gentleness had always seemed contentment; this afternoon it seemed happiness, and he had never seen her look so young. He wondered if she were going to take him so dreadfully aback as not even to mention his poems; if she had simply forgotten them, too. Already her demeanour, unclouded, almost radiant, inflicted a wound; she had either forgotten, or she had cared little indeed, since she could look like that. But, after he had commented, consentingly, on the lovely hour, she went on with a change of tone, a voice a little shy, “I’ve read the poems. Thank you so much for letting me see them.”

“You read all of them?”

“Yes. I didn’t write my letters.”

“I hope you read them, then, because you cared for them.”

She didn’t answer for a moment, walking along and placing the small white feet carefully among the crocuses. “They are very sad,” she then said.

He was aware, after an instant of adjustment to the blow, that she made him very angry. Terrible, his poems, searing, scorching; wicked, if one would; but not sad.

“Oh!” he murmured; and he wondered if the divided feeling she had from the first roused in him had been this hatred, not perhaps of her, but of her unvarying acquiescence, her untroubled inadequacy.

“They interested me very much,” she said, feeling, no doubt, that, whatever he was, he was not pleased. “They made me see, I mean, all the things you have been through.”

“Sad things, you call them. You know, I rather feel as if I’d heard you call hell sad.”

She looked up at him quickly, and it was now she who was taken aback and, as she had been the other day, at a loss. And, as on the other day, she found the same answer, though she offered it deprecatingly, feeling his displeasure. “But hell doesn’t exist.”

“Don’t you think anything horrible exists?”

They turned at the end of the meadow. It seemed to him, although he felt as if he hated her, that they were suddenly intimate in their antagonism. He would force that antagonism, and its intimacy, upon her—to its last implication.

“Horrible? Oh, yes, yes!” she said, startled, and that was, he reflected grimly, to the good. “But it would have to be irretrievable, wouldn’t it, to be hell?” she urged.

“Do you suggest that it’s not irretrievable? You own it’s horrible. Irretrievably horrible, I call it. And that’s what I call hell. Yet all that you can find to say of my poems is that they are sad.”

She hesitated, feeling her way, hearing in the recurrent word how it had rankled. “I meant sad, I think, because of you; because you had suffered so much.”

“You seem always to imply that one might not have suffered!” And thrusting aside her quickly murmured, “Oh, no, no!” he went on: “I can’t understand your attitude of mind. Do you realize at all, I sometimes wonder, what it has all meant, this nightmare we are living in—we, that is, to whom it came? Can you imagine what it was to me to see boys, dead boys, buried stealthily, at night, under fire? Boys so mangled, so disfigured—you read that poem, 'Half a Corpse'?—that their mothers wouldn’t have known them; featureless, dismembered boys, heaped one upon the other in the mud. Has your mind ever dwelt upon the community of corruption in which they lie, as their mothers' minds must dwell? I do not understand you. I do not understand how you can dare to call such things sad.”

His own wrath shook and yet sustained him, though he knew a fear lest he had gone too far; but in her silence—they had reached the other end of the meadow and turned again in their walk—he felt that there was no resentment. It was as if she realized that those who have returned from hell cannot be asked to stop and pick their words with courtesy, and accepted his vehemence, if not his blame; and again, when she spoke at last, he felt that her bewilderment had settled into thought.

“Yes, I can imagine,” she said. “But no, I don’t think that my mind has dwelt on those things. If I were their mothers, I don’t think that my mind would dwell, as you say. Something would burn through. There are other kinds of suffering—better kinds; they help, I believe. And, for that kind, it is worse, but is it so much worse than in ordinary life? That is what happens all the time when there is no war; dreadful changes in the dead; and burials. They are not quite so near each other in a churchyard, and their graves are named; but do you think that makes it easier to bear?”

He felt now as if it were insult she was offering him.

"You deny all tragedy to war, then? It’s all to you on a level with an Elegy in a Country Churchyard, with curfew and rector and primrose-wreaths? You read 'His Eyes,'"—Guy’s voice had a hoarser note, but, mingled with the sincerity of what, at last, he knew he was to tell her, the very centre of his sick heart, went a surface appreciation of what he had just said and of how curfew and rector and primrose-wreaths would go into a bitter poem one day,—"you read that poem of mine at the end of the book. ‘His Eyes’ is about myself and my friend Ronnie Barlow, the artist; you never heard of him, I know. He hung, with shattered legs, dying, just in front of us, on the barbed wire, for three days and nights. When he could speak, it was to beg to be shot. We tried to get to him, four, five times; it was no good. There was barbed wire between, and the Germans spotted us every time. He died during the third night, and next morning I found him looking at me—as he had looked during these three days—his torment and his reproach. And so he went on looking until the rats came and he had no more eyes to look with. Will you tell me that that is no worse than the deaths died in the parishes of England? Will you tell me that it’s the sort of death died by the cheery, mature gentlemen who ate their dinners and slept warm and dropped a tear—while they did their ‘bit’ in their Government offices—over the brave lads saving England?"

He had taken refuge from Ronnie in hatred of those whom, in the poem, he called his murderers, and his voice was weighted with its fierce indictment. In the pause that followed he had time to wonder if she found him, at last, intolerable. She walked beside him, still looking down, and it might well have been in a chill withdrawal. He almost expected to hear her, in another moment, find the conventional phrase with which to leave him. But no,—and in his own long sigh he recognized the depth of his relief,—she was not going to punish him with convention; she was not going to leave him. And what she said at last was, “I’m so sorry! Please believe that I’m so very, very sorry! Only—why do you speak, and write, as though it were some one’s fault?”

Ah, here then, at last, they had come to it, the barrier, on one side of which he stood with his hell and she on the other in her artificial paradise.

“I write it and speak it because it is the truth,” he said. “Millions of innocent creatures, of gifted, beautiful creatures, like my friend, have been slaughtered, tortured, driven mad, because of greasy, greedy wire-pullers in their leather chairs at home.”

“In this war, too?”

“In this war preëminently.”

“You don’t feel that the crime was Germany’s?”

“Oh, of course!” his laugh sneered the facile acquiescence. “Let us put it on Germany, by all means. We’ll sleep the sounder! Certainly, I grant it to you freely—Germany struck the match and lighted the fuse.”

“And weren’t we all responsible for the fuse—you and I, I mean, as much as the people in the leather chairs?” There was no irony in her repetition. “The people who fought, as much as the people who didn’t fight? Wasn’t the fuse simply our conception of our national safety? of our national honour? That is what I feel so sad about your poems,—though I should never have wanted to explain it,—that you are so wrong, so ungenerous, so vindictive.”

In all his life it had rarely been his lot to know such astonishment. Astonishment came first; and then the deep, deep hurt that rose, wave after wave, within him. Was this, then, what she felt for him—only this? Hadn’t he told her about Ronnie—her alone of all the world? Should not that have made her reverent of him, and pitiful? Should a man who had endured such griefs receive such blows? Waves of colour, too, flooded his face and tears rushed to his eyes. He thought, when he was able at last to gather thoughts together, that it should now be for him to find the conventional phrase and leave her. But, glancing again at her profile, finding it, though singularly pale, so much more gentle than severe, the impulse dropped. He was not strong enough for convention. He was shaken, shattered; too weak even for self-preservation.

He walked, miserable, and his mind full of a whirling darkness, beside her, determining only that she should be the first to speak again. She was. She had quite come out of her shyness,—if it had ever been that,—and though it was with something faltering, something that was, he made out, sorry for them both in the predicament to which, after all, he, and not she, had brought them, it was more than all with resolution that she said,— “I am so sorry if I seem presumptuous. But you asked me. And your poems aren’t the first I’ve read. So many young men, who have been so brave, like you, and who have been through it all so that they have the right to speak, seem to feel more than anything that hatred, not against war,—we all hate war,—but against people, some groups of people, they make responsible. There are bad and selfish people everywhere,—among poets, I feel sure, just as much as among statesmen; but hasn’t this war proved—since everybody has gone—that no one group is bad and selfish; that there are men in every group who have been glad to die for their country? I know I have no weight with young men like you; I am not a person of any importance for opinion; but how I wish that I could make you believe that you ought not to write like that—with hatred in your heart. Can great poetry be written out of hatred? And it’s not only yourself it hurts: it hurts other people; harms them, I mean. It spreads a mood of darkness and fever just when they are so in need of light and calm. And for the mothers, for people who have lost, cruelly, those whom they loved as much, perhaps even more, than you loved your friend—do you not see how your poems must sicken them? Do you not see that it all becomes just that—a community of corruption? You imprison them, force them back into their helpless suffering; when what they pray for is strength to rise above it and to feel all the goodness and love that has been given for them; to feel what is beautiful, not what is horrible; so as to be worthy of their dead.”

As he listened to her,—and with a slow revulsion of all his nature, as if, against his very will and mind, she moved his heart to breaking with something passionate that spoke in her words,—an overwhelming experience befell him.

The crocuses beneath their feet, her sunlit shape beside him, her voice, as she spoke to him thus, with her very soul, blended together in a rising wave of light, or music, piercing, sweeping him, lifting him up to some new capacity, leaving the old inert and dangling, lifting and still lifting him, until at last, as if with a great, emerging breath, he came into a region bright and fair, whence, looking down on the dark and tattered past, he saw all life differently, even Ronnie’s death, even Ronnie’s eyes. Ronnie was with him, with Mrs. Baldwin, in the bright stillness.

Upborne, sustained, like a swimmer in some strange, new element, he seemed to gaze down through its golden spaces at the inert, alien darkness that had been himself. “Rubbish! Rubbish!” he seemed to hear himself say. Yet all was not left behind; all was not rubbish; else how could he be here, with her, with Ronnie? It was bliss to see himself as he had been, since something else was so immeasurably secure. Oh—could one stay always like this! This was to taste of everlasting life. His longing, as if with a cry, a grasp from the swimmer, marked the soft turning of the tide. He sank, but it was sweetly, if with a strange, an infinite sadness, a sadness recorded, accepted, while he sank, as making forever the portion of the temporal consciousness. And the bliss still stayed in the acceptance, and purple ripples seemed to glide back rhythmically as the crocuses swam before his eyes. It had all been only an instant then, for her last words came to him as if she had but spoken them and he heard his own voice murmuring, as if from very far away, “Perhaps you are right.”

The ripples stayed themselves. He looked down at the crocuses and saw Mrs. Baldwin’s white shoes standing still among them. Lifting his eyes, which felt heavy, he found her looking at him with attention, with anxiety.

“It’s nothing,” he tried to smile. “Nothing at all. I mean—you’ve done me good.” He saw that she hadn’t an idea of how she had done it.

“Do take my arm,” she said. “I ought to have remembered that you are not strong yet.”

He took her arm. Perhaps he needed it. His normal consciousness was gathering about him once again, but no longer with the old close texture. It was all more permeable to light—that was how he tried to put it. And he heard his voice go on, “You see—what it all amounts to—oh, I’m not thinking about the poems, I know that you must be right—it’s not what you say, is it? It’s something far more right than what you say. But I love you. That’s why you can do it to me. I wonder I didn’t see it before. You made me angry with your peacefulness. I didn’t understand. I needed your peace. You, you were what I needed. You will forgive my speaking? Surely you’ll understand. Perhaps you feel you hardly know me, while you are like my life. Is it possible that some day you might love me back and marry me?”

He had used the words that came. They were the words of the normal consciousness. How else could he ask her to keep him always near her so that he might never lose that sense of paradise?

But she had stopped still and had drawn her arm from his. Was it possible that after what she had done to him, for him, she could see him only thus? “Oh, no,” she said. “No. No.” Never had he seen a human face express with such ineffable gentleness such repudiation. And she repeated it, as if he had given her too much to bear; as if for her own reassurance; as if to efface even the memory of his words: “No; no; no!” She began again to walk towards the house.

Had it not been for the initiation that had passed he knew so clearly now, in all unawareness from her spirit to his, he would have felt to the full the shame of his rejection, the deserved shame. For he was a stranger and she had given him no right to believe that she even liked him. But he could feel no shame. Had he really thought that she could love him? Had it not been only that he wanted to tell her that he loved her, and had wanted her, as it were, to keep him safe? He found himself trying to explain this to her,—not pleading,—only so that she should not be angry. “I had to tell you. You’d done me so much good. Everything came different. Really, I’m not so presumptuous. I never meant to ask anything.”

But she was not angry. “Forgive me,” she said. “I hardly know what I am saying. You so astonished me. Forgive me. But I don’t feel as if I knew you at all. Please don’t think me reproaching you. I begin to understand. You are not at all strong. It was like the other day when you cried, I mean—I feel sure you think you care for me; but you couldn’t have said it, when we know each other so little, if you had been well.”

She was putting it aside, for his sake, as an aberration, and he really smiled a little as he shook his head. “No; really, really, it’s not that; not because I’ve been on edge and ill. It was something that came to me from what you are; something that’s been coming ever since I saw you. I know that I am nothing to you; but for a moment, just now, it seemed, when I had received so much, that you must know what you had given; it seemed that a person to whom so much could be given, could not be so far away. But even then I saw quite clearly what you saw in me; a vain, pretentious, emotional creature; insincere, too, and proud of my suffering. I am that. But I had never seen it before. And when it came to me from you and, instead of crushing me, lifted me up, I knew that I loved you.—No; I won’t try to explain. Only you do forgive me? You will let me go on as if it hadn’t happened? I promise you that I’ll never trouble you again.”

Oh, the gentleness, the heavenly gentleness! It breathed through him like the colour of the crocuses, although she was as impersonal, as untouched, and as mysterious as they. He was nothing to her—nothing; but she stood before him, looking at him, and though she gave nothing but the gentleness, he knew that he received all that he needed. It was enough that she was there.

“But it’s I to be forgiven—I,” she repeated. “Of course we will go on. Oh, you look very tired. Please take my arm again. I spoke so strangely to you. But—but—” She had flushed: for the first time he saw the colour darken her face as if with a veil of pain, and in her voice was the passion, deeper, stiller, that he had heard a little while ago and that had enfranchised him. “I am married—I mean, my husband is dead, but I am married. Perhaps you don’t understand. Perhaps you will some day, if you should lose some one you love and feel them still your very life. We were like that. He is always with me.”

They had said nothing more as they walked up the meadow to the house, his arm in hers. He had no sense of loss; rather, from her last words to him, came a sense of further gain. She would be like that. He saw now that her peace, against which he had pressed and protested, was something won, was depth, not emptiness. She, too, had lost and suffered. She was made dearer to him, more sacred. As for his love, it did not belong—he had seen this even before she told him why—to this everyday world to which he had returned. But it was everything to have found it, with that other world, and to know that there it had its being, its reality, forever. What was it that had enlarged, transformed his life, but that very certitude of an eternity where all good was secure? He could not explain it to himself in any words. Words were the keys of temporality. But he had seen, if only for the few shining moments, that Ronnie was not lost; that nothing had been in vain.

If he found no difficulty, it was evident to him that Mrs. Baldwin felt none, and he was glad to believe that this might be because he showed her so completely, in his candid contentment, that he would never trouble her again. She was not more kind to him; but she took, perhaps, even more care, as if feeling that she had miscalculated something in his recovery. She inaugurated a glass of hot milk, instead of spiced hot water, at bedtime, and a rest on the sofa, with a rug, before the midday dinner. “You will look so much better when you go back than when you came,” she said.

For the time of going back drew near, and he did not dread it, though loving Thatches and all it meant more and more with every day. But of course, even in the temporal world, he was not to lose Thatches. That was quite understood between them. The P.G. would be welcome whenever he cared to come.

V

HE was playing chess on the afternoon before his departure. Tea was over and Mrs. Baldwin had gone out. Guy had noticed that she had been perhaps a little stiller than usual that day, when he had seen her, and that he had seen her little. The game did not go very well; they were neither of them keen on it; and when the old gentleman had won an easy victory, he leaned back in his chair, the board still on its little table between them, and said, “Poor Effie! She’s still in the church, or in the churchyard, I expect.”

Guy felt the shock of a great surprise. Strangely enough, though Mrs. Baldwin had spoken of her husband and of his death, and though his books were there, he did not associate him with Thatches, nor with the churchyard. And with the word, “churchyard,” a painful anxiety rose in him.

“Is it an anniversary?” he asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Haseltine nodded, sighing and rubbing his hand over his head. “September twenty-ninth. I’d forgotten myself till just a little while ago. Oliver died on this day. Her husband. Poor Effie!”

“They lived here?” Guy asked. He had imagined that it had been after her bereavement that she and her father had found and made a home of Thatches.

“Oh, yes. They lived here. All their married life,” said Mr. Haseltine. “Ten years or so. It was a great love-match. They were very happy. I never saw a happier couple—until the end.”

“Did anything part them?”

Mr. Haseltine had put his hands into his pockets and was gazing at the board as if with a painful concentration, and though he shook his head he answered, “It was the malady. Cancer, you know. Cancer of the face. Such a handsome fellow, too: beautiful, bright, smiling eyes; beautiful mouth. All gone. All disfigured, cruelly disfigured, and with horrible suffering.”

Guy felt his breath coming thickly. “Was it long?” he asked.

“Yes. Long. Eighteen months, I think. Morphia did little good at last. He couldn’t swallow; could hardly speak; begged to be killed and put out of his torment. She was with him in it all. She never left him, day or night; nor could he have borne it if she had. Nothing quieted him except her hand in his. But at the end,” said Mr. Haseltine, pushing away the table and rising, “at the end, it attacked his brain and then he raved at her. She couldn’t go into the room at the last.”

The old man, with step lagging, as if weighted, walked away to the window and stood looking out, while Guy, at the table, felt his heart turn to stone.

“Poor Effie!” Mr. Haseltine repeated after a little while. He came back into the room and moved up and down, pausing to look at the books and pictures. “She has never been the same since. For a long while we were afraid she couldn’t live. She hardly slept for months; and when she did sleep, she used to wake crying, crying, always for him. When she became stronger, she used to walk up and down those meadows, sometimes for hours at a time. Very gentle; no complaint; always ready to talk to people, to go on with things as best she could; but changed; completely changed. We speak very little of him; but when we do, it’s quite naturally. She goes to the church sometimes, and there are always flowers on his grave; but I don’t think she has any orthodox beliefs; I don’t know that she has any beliefs at all. Still, she seems helped. She is a very dear, unselfish woman; a dreamer, she was always a dreamer; but always meaning well; and she does good in her quiet way. And I think she likes this plan of having people come and stay and seeing after them; especially now that they are so often people who have had a bad time. Dear me, dear me!” Mr. Haseltine again shook his head, stationed again at the window and looking out. “You would hardly have recognized her had you seen her ten years ago. She had bright hair and a charming colour; and full of gaiety and mischief. You’d hardly believe it now.”

“I’m so sorry,” Guy heard himself saying. He remembered that those were the words Mrs. Baldwin had used to him about Ronnie.

“Yes, it’s very sad,” said Mr. Haseltine. “Life is certainly very difficult for some of us, and Effie has had her share. Somehow one doesn’t remember it when one is with her. I only recalled the day by chance.”

Guy was walking in the meadows when Mrs. Baldwin returned. He saw her in the garden, reading the letters that the evening post had brought, and his first impulse was to remove himself as speedily as might be from her sight, to cross the bridge and the farther meadow, and turn into the lane that led away from it. But then he saw, as he stood irresolute, that she was coming down to him, and he stood there, helpless, watching her approach in the soft radiance of the late afternoon. She wore one of the lavender-coloured dresses and the little knitted jacket. In her hand were the opened letters. Her face was tranquil. She was, of course, unaware of what had happened to him.

She joined him. “You are having your last look at the crocuses?”

It was their last look together. That, of course, was why she had come, full of care and of kindness.

“Yes. Yes. My last look for the year.” He heard that his voice was strange. And his heart seemed to lie like a cold hard block in his side.

“Aren’t you feeling well?” she asked.

He walked beside her in silence. What could he say? But how was it possible not to tell her?

They had turned towards the sunset and came now to the bridge. She was looking at him, with solicitude. He stopped before they crossed.

“I must say something to you,” broke from him. “I must. I can’t go away without your knowing—my shame—my unutterable remorse.”

She looked at him with the look he knew so well. Kindly, firmly, if with anxiety, she prepared to hear him thrust some new torment upon her.

“Shame? Remorse?” she murmured.

“About my poems. About my griefs. What I’ve said to you. What I’ve given you to bear. I thought I’d borne so much. I thought you unfeeling, without experience. I thought I’d been set apart—that all of us had been set apart, who suffered in the war. Stop me at once if you won’t hear it from me. But your father told me, just now, about your husband’s death.”

She became very pale. She looked away from him, but she said nothing.

“That’s all,” said Guy after a long silence. He saw that there was nothing more to tell her. She had understood.

“Let us walk up and down,” said Mrs. Baldwin.

They crossed the bridge. He saw the stream sliding brightly below them between the old, black planks. In the farther meadows the crocuses grew more thickly and opened widely their pale purple chalices.

“We have all suffered,” said Mrs. Baldwin. “You mustn’t have remorse or shame. Nothing is harmed between us.”

The horrible stricture around his heart relaxed, and as they went very slowly up and down he felt his throat tighten and tears rising, rising to his eyes. He could not keep them back. He wasn’t really quite strong enough for this. They fell and fell, and from time to time he put up his hand to brush them away.

“We have all suffered,” Mrs. Baldwin repeated gently.

“Some, more! some, more!” he said brokenly. “Some, most of all!”

They came back to the bridge, but though they crossed over, they did not pass out through the high gate that barred the other end. The gate was closed, and Guy stopped at it and leaned on it and put his face on his hands. Mrs. Baldwin stood at the gatepost beside him, her hand holding it and her head leaned against her hand.

“He would have liked you,” she said. “He was so interested in young men, young poets. He was not old himself; and he wrote, too, did you know? All those books in the living-room are his. He used to work there. I will give you his two books if you care to have them. They were thought very good; I think you will like them.—It was because of the crocuses we came here,” she went on. “We found them one September, just like this, and the three little ruined cottages, and we knew at once that we must live here. He so loved them. When he was very ill—but before the very end when nothing could come to him any longer, when he was quite shut away—he used to lie at the window and look out at them—that big window above the living-room.”

Divinely she was helping him. It was as if, taking him by the hand, she led him again away from his darkness and into her own light.

Yes, brokenly it came to him, it was there, secure; how won, he knew not. Through her he had found it; but that was because her feet had passed before him up the calvary. She had gone through everything; and she knew everything.

And, to his new hearing, something of the infinite weariness of that ascent was in her voice when she next spoke, although it was a voice as peaceful as the evening air around them. “Are they not beautiful?” she said.

He raised his head and looked at the flowers through his tears. They had never been so beautiful. “They make me think of you,” he told her.

“Do they?” Mrs. Baldwin still leaned her head against her hand, still looked out over the meadows. “But there are so many of them,” she said. “So many. That is what I feel first of all about them. I could not think of them as like one person. Multitudes. Multitudes.—And so silent! They make me think always of the souls of the happy dead.”