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Title: Mrs. Gailey
Author: Kaye-Smith, Sheila (1887-1956)
Date of first publication: 1951
Place and date of edition used as base for this ebook: New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951 (First U.S. Edition)
Date first posted: 8 July 2008
Date last updated: 8 July 2008
Project Gutenberg Canada ebook #142

This ebook was produced by: Andrew Templeton





Mrs. GAILEY

by SHEILA KAYE-SMITH




HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS
New York




MRS. GAILEY




Part I

1

All the heat of that summer's day seemed to burn on Doleham Valley station. The unshaded platform breathed like a stove, the flowers glared against the wall of the stationmaster's garden, the blue sky leaned and ached upon the roof.

"Best come inside, Mum, and sit down," said old Chaffage to Iris Winrow.

She smiled and shrugged her shoulders. The smile was a part of that duty of charm in which she had been brought up. The shrug was an appeal to masculine chivalry. It said: I am a helpless woman, still almost as beautiful as when I was young, now stranded many miles from home, but hoping that a kind, competent man will ring up Doleham Manor for me and find out what has happened.

Old Chaffage, however, was unschooled in any language but that of words.

"You sit here, Mum, and Miss Sale too, and I reckon Elphinstone will be along before many minutes."

Iris finished her unspoken sentence with a sigh. The ticket office and general waiting room of Doleham Valley station contained a single six-foot bench which was already occupied at one end by a young woman with a suitcase. The young woman smiled as she made room, but neither Iris nor her maid seemed to notice her as they sat down. Iris settled the folds of her gray and violet dress, then turned at once to Sale.

"Sale, I think you had better telephone."

"I've never telephoned from here'm."

"There's a telephone in Mr. Chaffage's office."

"I've never used it'm."

Iris knew that, as far as Sale was concerned, the subject was closed. But she had achieved her object, for Chaffage understood her at last.

"How'd it be if I was to ring up, Mum, and find out what's happened?"

"Oh, Mr. Chaffage, it would be sweet of you. Just ring up and tell whoever answers that the car hasn't come to meet us. Find out what's happened, and if Elphinstone hasn't started tell him to come along at once."

Chaffage disappeared into a disordered chamber behind the ticket office. Here branch-line goods awaited delivery by the slow travail of the station van, and several times a day the telephone rang unanswered while the stationmaster acted alternatively as signalman and porter. Soon from it emerged the broken ends of an unintelligible conversation.

It lasted for some time, and during its length Iris's attention wandered more than once to the young woman next her. Closer examination revealed the fact that she was not really very young, but had been made to look so by her clothes, which were short and bunchy, and her hair, which was long and loose, with a gay ribbon snood tied around it. Her bare legs ended in high-heeled shoes and were short and plump and pink—altogether a deplorable person, thought Iris. What could she be doing here at Doleham Valley station? What or whom was she waiting for? She looked like the sort of person one got nowadays when one advertised for a cook, the sort of person that made her keep on Mrs. Ashplant in spite of her ways.

The stationmaster came out of his office, looking flustered.

"I'm sorry, Mum, to have taken so long, but there's been a bit of a mix-up. Seemingly you weren't expected till tomorrow."

"But I said Friday. I spoke to Miss Lesley and told her Friday."

"Miss Lesley was on the phone, Mum, and she said she's sorry, but she thought Friday was tomorrow."

Iris threw up her hands. "Sale, what am I to do about that girl?"

"I'm sure I don't know'm."

"Well, Chaffage, the point is—what's happening now? Is the car coming at once?"

"Unfortunately, Mum, Elphinstone wasn't told you was expected, and he's taken the engine down. He can't bring your car, but Miss Lesley promised he should come in his own."

"That miserable little rattletrap. . . . We'll never get the luggage in. Sale, I told you that you've brought too much."

"I've brought no more than I need'm."

"Well, it'll have to come later by the van if there isn't room for it."

"There'll be plenty of room on the back seat."

"That's where you shall sit, then, and I hope it squashes you. I shall sit in front with Elphinstone."

Sale made no reply, and Iris's attention was diverted by the behavior of the woman on the bench beside them. For some moments she had been looking as if she wanted to speak, and now she said, "Excuse me . . ."

The duty of charm has its limits, and Iris's look was not encouraging. But the stranger continued, "I think we're both in the same fix. I thought I was going to be met by the Doleham Manor car. My name's Gailey, Mrs. Gailey."

She evidently expected this name to convey something, but as it obviously did not, she added, "Your daughter has just engaged me as her secretary."

So that was what she was—not a new-style cook but a new-style secretary—just the sort of person Lesley would engage. . . . As Iris said nothing, the young woman asked, "You are Mrs. Winrow, aren't you?"

"I am, but my daughter hasn't told me anything about you. She's inclined to be secretive about her personal affairs, and as it happens, I'm very seldom in the country. I spend most of my time at our house in town."

She hoped the young woman would stop talking. She felt tired, and it might be half an hour before Elphinstone arrived with his car. She did not want to have to sit all that time talking about Lesley and her crackbrained schemes. She thoroughly disliked the looks of the new secretary. She was common—not a lady, not a bit like the secretaries she sometimes saw in the houses of her friends. She looked neither immaculate nor discreet. She looked just another of those queer women whom Lesley perversely preferred to those she met in her mother's drawing room. The secretary could not, however, be aware of these deficiencies, for she smiled and said in the friendliest way, "What a pretty dress you're wearing."

"It's an old one I keep for traveling."

"Well, it does look nice. And you look so cool."

"I feel very hot—and rather tired. Do you mind if I read my paper?"

"Oh, please do, and I'll read mine."

Iris opened her Tatler and Mrs. Gailey smoothed out a battered copy of the Picture Post.



2

Iris had opened her paper not only to stop the conversation but to screen her thoughts. Her thoughts, however, were not new. They revolved around the question she had been asking herself for years, but to which she had never found an answer. Why had poor Tom left Waters Farm to Lesley?

Of course, poor sweet, he had made his will in a hurry, expecting to be killed in a few months—which he was—and before he had recovered from his disappointment at the baby's being a girl. It was funny, thought Iris, how differently men reacted to that situation. Old Lord Downsbridge had practically cut his wife out of his will altogether because she had failed to provide him with an heir. But Tom had seemed to love her more than ever—only to dislike the baby. Iris was not so surprised as some of her friends when he left her the whole of the Doleham Manor property except for one outlying farm, which he bequeathed to his daughter with ten thousand pounds.

But why had Tom left Waters Farm to Lesley? He knew very well that the whole estate would be hers when her mother died, for though—dear, unselfish darling—he had told her that if anything happened to him out there she must marry again, he knew that she could never have another child. Lesley would inherit Doleham Manor and its four other farms. Why start her off with Waters on her own? A sum of money, of course, should have been hers, but not the farm.

Naturally, poor Tom could not have guessed the trouble it would bring, the difficulties it would create, the nuisance it would make of Lesley when she grew up—how it would encourage her in all her oddness and obstinacy, provide the materials for her silly schemes, and allow her to set her mother's wishes at naught. It is true that Nigel had been in some degree to blame. He had never got on with his stepdaughter, and it was very much of his doing that Lesley had spent so much of her time down at Doleham instead of at the house in Bryanston Square. Nigel had not left the girl a penny, which was mean of him, for another ten thousand pounds might have got her married by now. Iris frowned at Nigel's memory.

Mrs. Gailey, who had been looking at her over the edge of her Picture Post, misinterpreted the frown.

"The car's a long time coming, isn't it?"

"I hadn't expected it as soon as this."

"How far is Doleham Manor from the station?"

"About six miles."

Iris fixed her eyes on the photograph of a duchess, but the secretary prattled on. "It was Miss Sylvia Dunning who recommended me for this post. You know her, of course."

"No, I've never met her."

"But I understand that she's a great friend of your daughter's."

"My daughter's friends are very seldom mine."

"That must sometimes make things awkward."

"It does."

Was it really impossible to silence this woman? Mercifully, she was not likely to be staying at Doleham Manor itself. Lesley's secretary until now had lived with her other parasites at the farm. But then her present secretary was a man. . . . Who was this Mrs. Gailey? How had the Dunning woman got hold of her? Her recommendation meant nothing. Though Iris had never met her, she knew all about her. She was one of Lesley's gang, her hanger-on, and Mrs. Gailey was probably a hanger-on of the hanger-on. It was all very distressing and degrading.

"Ah," cried the secretary, "here he is at last."

She jumped to her feet just as a small, dark Austin stopped at the ticket-office door. Old Chaffage came up with the luggage on a handcart.

"Would this be all, Mum?"

Before Iris could speak, Mrs. Gailey had told him her trunk had better wait to come by van. "I can manage quite well with this suitcase till tomorrow."

She was going to put it on the top of the other bags when Iris stopped her.

"I'm afraid there won't be room for either you or your luggage in this small car."

For the first time the secretary looked daunted.

"Then what am I to do?"

"There's a bus that passes the drive gate. When is it due here, Mr. Chaffage?"

"In another hour, Mum. Half-past five's his time, but he's often late."

"We could have found room for you in my own car," said Iris, speaking more graciously now that the other woman was at last in her place, "but this is my chauffeur's little runabout, and it will be a tight fit for my maid and me without anyone extra."

"Couldn't I just squeeze into the back seat?"

"I'm afraid not—not with the suitcases. Sale will be dreadfully crowded as it is. Get in, Sale."

Sale got in, and the bags were arranged on the seat beside her. Iris settled herself in front with the chauffeur.

"I'll tell my daughter you're here and she can expect you about half-past six."

She nodded pleasantly and Mrs. Gailey smiled. Would she ever stop smiling?



3

She did—directly the car was out of sight. Then she turned back into the waiting room, and after making sure that Chaffage was not in his adjoining lair, released a flow of language that would have startled him considerably. Then she lit a cigarette and walked out on the platform.

It was still as hot as ever. The afternoon, though advanced by Summer Time into evening, was held back by the sun in midday folds of heat. Not far from the station were thick woods, and meadows where oaks and ashes made cool tents on the grass. But Rosamund Gailey was not looking for shade.

"Is there anywhere," she asked Chaffage, who had just appeared, "where I could get a cup of tea?"

"I'm afraid not, Miss, not unless you go to the village."

"And how far's that?"

"Close on six miles."

Everything seemed to be six miles away from this god-awful hole. "I'd been hoping," she said, "there might be some place that sold tea and postcards. I want to send a postcard to my boy."

"No, Miss, there ain't nothing like that till you get to Doleham. Then you might find something at the post office."

Not if I'm on the bus, she thought; it won't stop for me to buy postcards. But I might get out there, of course, and walk the rest of the way.

"How far," she asked, "is Doleham village from the Manor?"

She almost expected him to say six miles, but this time he used another measure: "Maybe half an hour."

She couldn't walk half an hour in this heat, carrying her suitcase. And after all, it wasn't as if Michael had any idea of when she would be arriving at Doleham or anywhere else. The postcard would come to him out of the blue without any connections in time or place. And he would laugh with pleasure and almost talk as he showed his granny the new wonder that had appeared in his life. She would make a point of going to the village tomorrow.

"Does the bus run in the morning—the one that passes the Manor gate?"

"There'd be one at eleven o'clock, but he don't come back till the afternoon, as he gets his dinner in Sandlake. And now, if you'll excuse me, Miss, I must be going down the line to see about the points for up train."

"Don't let me keep you," said Rosamund, and changed her mind about offering him a cigarette. He wasn't much in the way of company—and he might have stopped calling her Miss when she told him she had a boy—or did he think she meant a boy friend? Yet he had been somebody to talk to, and now she had nobody. By this time she knew her Picture Post by heart, so there was nothing for her to do but sit and think, and she hated thinking.

Thinking took her into even worse places than Doleham Valley station—places she had been long ago and not so long ago, places she hadn't been yet but might well find herself in before long if she wasn't careful. She positively must make a success out of this job. It must get her somewhere.

But she had made a bad start, having failed for some reason to recommend herself to that snooty old bitch. How could Sylvia have said that Mrs. Winrow was charming? Sylvia's geese were always swans, of course. She was probably just as wrong about the daughter. What had she said about her? "So sweet and clever." So clever that she didn't know Thursday from Friday? But as long as she remembered to pay one's salary . . .

That was it. The money was good. Any job was worth putting up with at eight pounds a week and "all found"—found in a beautiful, historic manor house, where there still were servants. Sylvia had said that Mrs. Winrow kept a staff both at Doleham and in London. There could not be much to put up with under such conditions, even if her employer was bats. But perhaps the question was not so much one of putting up as of holding down. She wished her typing wasn't so rusty. If only she had finished her course at the College before she married Phil . . . If only she could have got hold of a machine to practice on before she came. But she depended less on her typing than on her gift for making people like her. She mustn't let Mrs. Winrow make her lose her confidence in that pleasant manner which for so long had kept her in jobs she might otherwise have lost for lack of skill. This was her big chance and she must take it.

She lit another cigarette off the stub of the old one and tried to recall everything that Sylvia had told her about the place. Then she remembered that she still had her last letter in her handbag. There was only too much time to read it again.

My dear Rosamund,

I've just seen Lesley Bullen and she's delighted to hear that you're taking the job. Her present secretary leaves at the end of the month, so she'd like you to come a few days before he goes, so that he can show you the ropes. (It is a he, but quite useless to you, my dear, so don't waste your time.) You'd better write to her and fix a date, also your money—and don't be afraid to ask a lot. She's rolling. I'm so glad you're going there, for I'm very fond of her—she's so sweet and so clever and I know you'll be happy working for her. It'll be nice for her too, as she's a great deal alone. Her mother's a charming person but lives mostly in London. I expect you've seen her picture in the papers, as she goes everywhere. I believe King Edward used to admire her when she was young. You'll simply love Doleham Manor. It's a most beautiful old place and has been in the family since Queen Elizabeth's day. Mrs. Winrow is one of the few people left who have servants, so you're sure to be comfortable. After a little time you might get Lesley to ask me down. I love staying there.

I hope Michael still likes his school and that it's doing him good. You ought to be able to afford it quite easily now. I saw Ben Everton at the Cornet last night, but he was completely screwed, so I didn't speak to him.

Fondest love from
Sylvia

Well, even if this was only another of Sylvia's write-ups, it was pretty good. She would have been a fool not to jump at it, though it did mean leaving town. When you compared it with Mother's idea that you should go into a shop . . . "Madame Wheeler would take you on in the showroom tomorrow. She says you've got just the right manner for selling gowns. Then you could live at home, and you know how Michael would love that." Yes, he would, and so would she, though there were times when he made her feel so bad that she knew it was best to see him only occasionally. Besides, it would be much better for him in the long run if she made enough money to keep him on at school. She ought to be able to save quite five pounds a week, as she'd have hardly any expenses. But if she lived at home and went to work in a gown shop—a gown shop in the Harrow Road . . . She wondered how her mother could think of such a thing. It was sending her right back behind her first start. Now she was starting again, and from a higher level than at first, for she had learned to speak nicely as well as a great many other useful things. Those restless, racketing years with Phil had not been wasted. Mother was a fool.



4

By this time she had finished her second cigarette and was just about to light a third, when she noticed a change in the life of the station. Movement arose. First it was no more than old Chaffage hurrying along with a red flag to guard the gateless level crossing; but soon, with a lot of noise and clouds of escaping steam, a small train appeared and drew up at the platform. This must be what he called the "up train," though it could be going no further than Sandlake junction on the main line ten miles away. It consisted of a saddle-tank engine, a single third-class carriage, and a couple of open freight cars. Nobody got out of it, but there was a certain activity around the freight cars, from which Chaffage dragged various strange-looking objects of an agricultural nature.

"It's Ellis's, of Maidstone. They've put a lot of their stuff on today," he said as Rosamund strolled up. She was quite uninterested, but at least here was something to look at and talk about. "There's Mr. Vine's pump come at last. I wonder if Ellis'ull have let him know, so he can come and fetch it. If not, I'd better telephone. He told me a week ago he was tired of waiting."

"I'm tired of waiting," said Rosamund. "Isn't it nearly time for the bus?"

"Another half-hour yet he'll be, I reckon."

She swallowed an unwise word. Had she been alone with her thoughts only for half an hour? It might have been all her life. She had sat all her life on this miserable station, waiting for a bus that would not run this side of eternity. An idea suddenly came to her and she looked in her purse. Yes, she still had over a pound left.

"Tell me," she asked Chaffage, "isn't there a garage or someplace close by where I could hire a taxi?"

"No, Miss, there ain't nowheres."

"But how do people manage if they want a taxi?"

"They hires from Mr. Catt in Doleham."

"Well, couldn't I hire from Mr. Catt? Is he on the phone?"

"Yes, Miss, he is," said Chaffage reluctantly. "But I doubt if he'll be there. He's mostly out these days."

She was losing patience.

"There must be somebody to answer the phone. Anyway, I'm going to try."

But "he" proved to be the taxi, and he was out, "taking Mr. Simons over to Barnhorn," a voice informed her.

She turned drearily away and was trying to suck some comfort from the thought that thanks to the obstacles and hesitations of the local telephone service, ten minutes of her sentence had expired, when she noticed that a vehicle had drawn up in the station yard—a Ford utility van. Anything on wheels was a message of hope, and she looked around for the driver.

The next minute she saw him, helping Chaffage put into the van one of the strange objects she had seen on the platform. She walked out into the yard.

"I wonder," she said to Chaffage with a smile, "if this gentleman is going anywhere near Doleham Manor?"

The driver turned around. His back view had revealed no more of him than a well-made suit, but his face was young and handsome and he had most decidedly a look in his eye. Rosamund's spirits rose and her smile changed its aim.

"I'd be just too terribly grateful . . ." she began.

"I live quite near the Manor. Let me give you a lift."

"That really would be kind of you. I was waiting for the bus, but I understand it isn't due for another half-hour."

"And takes at least forty minutes to reach the Manor gates, while I can do it in ten. Please get in."

Nothing could be better than this.

"I have some luggage . . ."

"There's plenty of room."

Her heart sang, and it was all she could do to stop herself from singing. Here was one of those changes of fortune which had so often restored her confidence in life. A minute ago she had been resigning herself to a long and boring wait before she started on a long and boring journey; now after ten minutes' drive with an attractive man she would be at her journey's end. She had been snubbed by an old hag who had deliberately chosen to leave her to kick her heels in this bloody hole; now in ten minutes she would be driven up to her front door by this most presentable neighbor, probably one of the local squirearchy, possibly someone the old hag wanted for her own daughter. Before she got to Doleham, Rosamund was determined to fix the glance of that lively dark eye.

He was helping Chaffage carry her trunk, which would now arrive honorably with her instead of following, perhaps days later, in the station van. She felt in such a good humor with everybody that she gave the old horror half a crown.

"Thank you, Miss. A bit of luck, this, Maas' Charley's coming for the pump. I've known that bus be twenty minutes late."

And would you have thought of asking him to give me a lift if I hadn't appeared at the moment and done it myself? But she smiled graciously and waved her hand as they drove away.



5

"I know your name," she said, flashing her eyes at him.

"You heard him call me Charley. What's the rest?"

"Vine. He said the doings at the back were for Mr. Vine and that he might call for them. Thank heaven you did."

"May I ask why you were waiting for the bus? They've got at least two cars at Doleham and a full-time chauffeur."

She laughed. She could laugh at it now.

"Miss Bullen got mixed in her dates and thought Friday was tomorrow. The engine of the big car had been taken down and there wasn't room for me in the small one with all Mrs. Winrow's luggage. Moral, never start a job on a Friday."

"So you're starting a job, are you?"

She looked saucy.

"Did you think that I'd come for the week-end with that trunk? Yes, I'm starting a job. I'm Miss Bullen's secretary."

"Ah!"

The exclamation baffled her. It might have been either of contempt or of relief.

"Why do you say 'Ah' like that?"

"Forgive me. I only meant I'm thankful that chap's going."

"Wasn't he much good?"

"He was worse than no good. I do hope you know something about farming."

This was a poser. It had not so far occurred to her that the secretary of a farm settlement should know anything about farming. She didn't know what to say. Should she bluff about farming as she had bluffed about so many other things she knew nothing about and perhaps get at least partly away with it? Then she remembered the object at the back of the car and decided not to try. This young man, even though he seemed so well bred, must know a lot about farming. He probably owned a big estate. She had better not risk a fall so early.

"Well—er—no, I'm afraid not. At least not much. I understand that my work has very little connection with the agricultural side of things."

"But—" he turned round and looked at her with such concern and bewilderment that she felt quite upset. "It's time," he said after a pause, "that someone down there got to know a bit about farming."

"But don't they? I thought Miss Bullen was running a sort of model farm."

He said nothing. Evidently he did not want to talk any more about the Waters Farm Settlement, but she could tell by the look on his face that he was thinking a lot. She felt awkward and tried to find another topic.

"Is that Doleham village over there?"

"Yes, that's the village. But we don't actually pass through it. The Manor's on the other road."

A new set of thoughts and feelings had started working in her. She hesitated. It might not be wise to ask him now to do any more for her than he was doing. She mustn't upset him by seeming to encroach. Yet, if she didn't send Michael that postcard today she might not be able to do so till next week; and though time and distance meant nothing to him, they meant a lot to her. She would risk it.

"I wonder—I wonder if it would be taking you very much out of your way if we did pass through . . . by the post office, I mean. Does it make the run much longer?"

"Not more than a couple of miles, and it wouldn't matter if it was twenty. This car goes on farm petrol."

"Then I should really be most awfully grateful. I do so want to send a postcard to my little boy. I promised him he should have one tomorrow."

"Oh, of course, I'll take you with pleasure."

She judged from his manner that her request, far from having put him against her, had worked in her favor. She really did like him, and apart from her relief at not having to struggle into the village on some uncertain future date, she rejoiced at the prospect of two extra miles in his company. But one thing must be made clear.

"I've left him with my mother in London. She's given him a home while I'm on jobs—ever since my husband died."

He nodded gravely and for a moment or two they drove in silence. The road forked just before the village, which she was disappointed to find consisted of no more than a dozen cottages besides the church and a very small pub.

"Is this all there is?"

"All there is," he answered smiling. "Isn't it enough?"

"Well, one likes to go to a hotel sometimes, or to the pictures."

"You have high ideals of village life. You'll find all that at Sandlake."

"Yes, but I'll have to get there."

Perhaps he would take her there someday. He was just the sort of man she would like to take her out. There was something solid about him, under the surface ease. She wondered how old he was—younger than she was, but she could not tell how much.

"Here's the post office."

It was a small general shop, as she might have expected. He held the door open for her, but he did not go in. She surveyed the meager stock of picture postcards. Anything would please Michael, but she wanted to find what would please him most. Luckily there was one with kittens on it. Cats were the only animals he really understood about—Mother had always kept a cat. She wrote "These pussies have come to tell you that Mum has arrived safely in the country. She sends you love and kisses and will come and see you before very long." She printed the letters very carefully, as if there had been a chance of his being able to read her message himself. When she had finished, she found that her eyes were dim with tears.

It was always like that. He hurt her even from a distance. Oh, why couldn't she be tough and cut loose? It was partly Mother's fault. She'd carry on terribly if she sent him to a Place. But he wouldn't mind—not after the first day or two. He'd forget all about her, all about them both. Then she'd be really free and have a chance of making a life for herself. But even without Mother she couldn't do that. He was all she had.

At this point she shook herself and took out her powder compact. She couldn't reappear with wet eyes. He might think she was a disconsolate widow, and keep his distance. Someday she must let him know that Phil had been dead five years. She walked out smiling brightly.

"Thank you so much. I'm glad to have been able to get that off."

"How old is your little boy?"

He was helping her into the car, so it was easy to pretend she hadn't heard. The time had not come yet—if it should ever come—that he need know that Michael was twelve. She said as they drove on, "Mrs. Winrow's a very charming person, isn't she?"

"I've heard so, but I've very seldom met her. She spends most of her time in London and I've been in Germany for the last four years."

"Have you really? In the Army of Occupation?"

"Yes. I had rather a good job, so I stuck to it. But the time came when I simply couldn't bear being away from home any longer."

She wondered if he was married. Hitherto she had taken for granted that he wasn't, but now she realized that she had done so entirely without evidence.

"You were alone out there—without your people?"

"Oh, I'm not married—yet." She thought she saw a teasing look in his eye as he smiled at her, "but I'm very fond of my father and mother and the place where I was born. It was the place as much as the people that I missed."

"Then have you always lived here?"

"Always—till I joined up in 1940. But perhaps you wouldn't call it living."

"Why not?"

"In this dead hole, fifteen miles from the nearest movie?"

"I bet you cover those fifteen miles pretty often."

Again he mocked her with a teasing eye.

"Not so often as you think."

She could see lodge gates a few yards on. Her time with him was running out in seconds.

"Perhaps you'll take me to the pictures one day."

"Should you like me to take you?"

"I've said so, haven't I?"

"Well, then, perhaps someday. But I warn you I'm not a movie-fiend. And now here we are at Doleham Manor. Isn't it a fine old place?"



6

Sylvia Dunning was out by nearly two hundred years when she settled the Bullens at Doleham in Queen Elizabeth's day. A family called Cheynell had owned it then and kept it until 1761, when the Bullens took it over, foreclosing on a mortgage. It was they who had given it its present classical frontage, which on clear days from as far off as Sandlake could be seen gleaming among the woods like a white stone. They had thought it essential to cover up the scrambled mess of Tudor and Stuart buildings which for centuries had been growing and crumbling on the site. But they had done no more than cover. Out of the pillared Georgian portico one stepped into a beamed Stuart hall, where old Italian furniture showed a strange congruity with its surroundings. Then, passing under a William and Mary staircase, one found oneself between narrow walls of Tudor linen-fold paneling, and then walked out into the very last construction of all—a Lutyens terrace and loggia, which Nigel Winrow had had built as a setting for the parties that in those days Iris was giving as part of her campaign to get Lesley married.

The flagstones nursed the day's heat on into twilight, so that it was nearly always possible to have tea outdoors. But this evening the heat was bakehouse heat, and Iris had taken refuge in the loggia, where blinds of jasmine hung between her and the sun. They shut her and her daughter into a flecked, scented shadow that moved upon their faces and the floor and the china and silver of the tea table.

"You wouldn't know there was a breeze," said Lesley, "if you didn't see the shadows move."

Iris felt one of those gusts of irritation which seldom failed to shake her if she was any length of time in Lesley's company.

"Have you heard a word of what I'm saying?"

"Oh, yes."

"Then what did I say?"

"You were talking about Mrs. Gailey."

"We've talked about little else since I arrived. What I'm now trying to find out is what she was doing before she applied to you. Whose references have you got?"

"Why, nobody's. Sylvia Dunning knows her very well indeed and says she's charming."

"But what are her qualifications as a secretary?"

"She can do typing and shorthand."

"Can she? Are you sure?"

"Well, she said so. And why shouldn't she?"

"Because, darling, she's got what the Americans call dishpan hands. I had plenty of opportunity for studying them at the station, and my opinion is that she's never been anybody's secretary but may have been somebody's cook."

"I dare say she has. She's had a dreadful life. Oh, Mother, do try and think kindly of her; she's been terribly unhappy. Her husband's dead and her little boy's mentally deficient. She's had to work in order to keep him and send him to a special school. I'm dreadfully sorry for her."

"And that is why you engaged her as your secretary?"

Lesley flushed and did not answer.

"Well, all I can say," began Iris, but she said nothing more because at that moment the front doorbell rang. They could hear its iron tongue through all the open doors of the house.

"I'll go and answer it," said Lesley, uncoiling her long legs from among the legs of her chair.

"No, don't. Wait and see if Ashplant goes."

"He won't. It's his time off before dinner. I wonder who's come. It can't be Mrs. Gailey."

"No, it can't. The bus isn't due for forty minutes yet. Perhaps it's Cousin Nicholas."

"I'd better go and see. I expect Mrs. Ashplant's busy with the cooking."

"But I don't like you answering the door when I've servants to do it."

"But if they won't—"

Iris said nothing and the bell rang again. This time a stumping footstep was heard going toward it from the servants' quarters.

"That's Sale," said Iris. "I've never known her do that before. She must be in a good temper."

"I expect Ashplant has given her a drop of something. He generally does, you know, and then she helps him."

The next moment Sale appeared. She said to Iris, "The person's come."

"What person?" asked Lesley.

"The person we saw at the station."

Lesley started. "You don't mean Mrs. Gailey? Sale, you're not to call her a person. She isn't one. She's a lady. Where is she?"

"In the hall, Miss."

"Lesley, Lesley," cried Iris as her daughter scrambled out of her chair, "don't be in such a hurry. It can't be Mrs. Gailey. How could she have got here?"

But Lesley was already running through the house.



7

Rosamund was disappointed that Charley Vine had not come in with her. He had lifted out her luggage and carried it into the hall. Then he had said, "If you'll excuse me, I'll be off now."

"Wouldn't Mrs. Winrow like you to come in?"

"I don't suppose she would, and anyhow I haven't time. Good-by and good luck."

He was gone, leaving her a little resentful. How long would she have to wait here in the hall while that old trout was announcing her arrival?

Not more than a few seconds. For suddenly there was a sound of hurrying feet and the passage in front of her was blocked by a running figure.

"Oh, Mrs. Gailey—I'm so sorry—please forgive me—I'd no idea you could get here so soon."

"Well, I've only just arrived."

Rosamund smiled as she took the large, well-shaped hand held out to her. Sylvia had said Miss Bullen was tall, and for once had been guilty of an understatement. Miss Bullen, seen against the outdoor sunshine that streamed down the passage over shoulders, looked enormous—a big, ungainly creature who would have towered if she had not stooped. She was untidily dressed in a rather worn cotton frock and straw sandals, and her hair swung in two dark curtains on each side of her face, which was entirely without make-up. Rosamund could not have imagined anyone more unlikely to be Iris Winrow's daughter.

"I was lucky enough to find someone with a car coming this way," she began. But Lesley was still apologizing.

"It's all my fault, making that stupid mistake about Thursday and Friday. But I'm always getting the days mixed up. They seem so much alike, especially toward the end of the week."

"Well, now you can leave all that to your secretary," said Rosamund brightly. She thought to herself: That at least is a part of the job I shan't fall down on.

"Yes, I know, and I'm so glad. But I'm afraid today Mother's terribly upset because nothing's ready and there isn't any proper dinner in the house. Would you like some tea?"

"I should love it."

"Then come along. It's in the loggia." She plunged off down the passage, her sandals flapping, and Rosamund followed, her heels tapping. They flapped and tapped together across the terrace, where the sun was a golden blindness wiping out the view, into the loggia where the striped shade for a moment made Iris invisible like a tiger camouflaged by jungle grass.

"Wait a minute while I fetch another cup." Lesley knocked over a small table as she ran out again, and Rosamund picked it up, smiling at Iris as she did so. In spite of all she felt about the hag, she must manage somehow to get into her good graces.

"I'm afraid I've made things awkward by arriving before I was expected. But a neighbor of yours very kindly offered me a lift."

"Indeed. Which neighbor?"

"A Mr. Vine—Mr. Charles Vine."

"Oh—him." Iris paused a moment. "His father's one of my tenants. I understand that the son did well in the army, but that doesn't exactly make a neighbor of him. Our nearest neighbor is Sir George Anderson at Barnhorn Place."

Rosamund swallowed, but she was less hurt by Iris's contempt than her own disappointment. She had made sure that her escort was a young man of good family whose notice would give luster to her arrival and whose acquaintance might ultimately be made a part of her hopes. But a farmer's son was useless. He had shed no luster and he could offer no escape into that world which she had viewed with such longing from its soiled fringes—the world of which Phil had given her a glimpse and which ever since she had been determined to enjoy. Yet there had been nothing about him to tell her he did not belong to that world. She felt almost angry with him for being so unlike her idea of a farmer's son. She was sorry that she had encouraged him to think of another meeting. She had better not see him again. She was too susceptible; her eye was too easily taken off the ball of her own interests. Well, judging by Mrs. Winrow's reactions, it would be easy enough to keep out of his way.

The silence lasted until Lesley came back with a cup and saucer.

"I'm afraid there isn't much tea left. I hope you don't mind it strong."

"Oh, no. I like strong tea." And she smiled as she swallowed the bitter, lukewarm dregs.

She hoped the daughter would not revive the subject her mother had made so painful. But Lesley seemed quite without curiosity. She occupied herself with shaking the teapot to see if any more tea would come out of it.

"I could do with some more myself; tea's supposed to be cooling on a hot day. Never mind, dinner will soon be ready."

"I doubt if it will," said Iris, "considering Mrs. Ashplant had no idea I was coming till I phoned from the station. What is it, Sale?"

Sale had appeared on the terrace outside.

"Please'm. What about the luggage? Who's going to take it to the farm?"

"Oh, that's all right," cried Lesley. "Mrs. Gailey's staying here."

"But I thought your secretary always lived at the farm," said Iris, her voice on edge.

"There isn't any room for her now. Mr. Hightower's still there, and when he goes I want his room for the eldest Benson boy. He's getting too old to sleep with his sisters."

"Must we go into all this?"

"Oh, no. I was only explaining why there isn't room for Mrs. Gailey at the farm. But even if there was, I'd rather have her here. Then I shan't have to be alone so much."

"Darling, you're talking nonsense. You know that you don't have to live alone down here. It's entirely your own choice. And anytime you like to be sensible about Waters Farm—Sale, is my room ready?"

"Yes'm."

"And my bags unpacked?"

"Yes'm."

"Then I'll go and change. And you must change too, Lesley dear. Nicholas and Anne are coming in after dinner."

Lesley seemed pleased. "Oh, are they?"

"Yes, you know they are. That's the reason why I'm here—that and the Red Cross Ball Committee."

"I thought you were coming down to discuss selling Birdskitchen to the Vines?"

Rosamund pricked up her ears.

"That's exactly what I'm saying. I want to discuss the sale with Nicholas. He's my agent and I must talk it over with him before I see old Vine—if I ever get as far as that."

She went into the house, Sale stumping after her.



8

For some moments Rosamund and Lesley sat in silence. Then the girl said, "Mother always makes me feel more stupid than I really am."

"She's rather frightening, isn't she?"

"It isn't that she frightens me," said Lesley, knotting her hands together under her chin and speaking in the solemn, careful voice of one analyzing an obscure problem, "so much as she somehow puts me off my mental stroke. You see, she doesn't really like me. My father didn't either, but then he didn't live more than a few months after I was born. He didn't like me because I wasn't a boy. Mother doesn't like me because I can't bear her sort of life and don't know how to dress and haven't got married. I can't bear her friends, either."

"Then it's just as well that you aren't together much. She lives mostly in town, doesn't she?"

She thought to herself: It would be nicer for me if they lived the other way round.

"Yes. She doesn't come down here very often, though the house is hers. She's only come this time because the Vines want to buy their farm. Of course I knew she'd want to see Cousin Nicholas about it, but I thought she'd go and see him at his office instead of asking him and Cousin Anne to come in after dinner like this. So when she said they were coming in I thought it was something quite different. That's what I mean by putting me off my mental stroke."

"Well, I don't mind telling you," said Rosamund, "that she puts me off mine, and she doesn't like me either."

"But she will like you," said Lesley earnestly, "I'm sure she will like you. You're young and pretty and nicely dressed, which is what she likes."

A curious mixture of pleasure and pity choked Rosamund's voice.

"I hope you'll like me," she said, when she had cleared her throat.

"Oh, yes, of course I will. I do."

"Well, then, let's hope you won't change when you know me better," she rapped away the softening mood. "And tell me—I don't know what time dinner is, but isn't it time you went to dress?"

"It won't take me five minutes."

Rosamund could imagine that.

"But it'll take me longer, especially as I shall have to unpack my things."

"Oh, yes, of course, I'd forgotten. And your room's ready. Luckily Mrs. Crouch hadn't gone when I found out you were coming today instead of Friday—I mean that Friday is today. Come along and I'll show you where it is."

As they passed through the house, Rosamund caught sight of her luggage still in the hall.

"What about this? I'd better carry some of it up."

"Well, if you don't mind . . . Perhaps we can manage the suitcase between us. Then tomorrow the gardener will bring up your trunk. I'm afraid Ashplant won't do it—he'll say it isn't his work."

So this is what it's like to live in a house with a full staff of servants, thought Rosamund as she picked up her bag. Aloud she said cheerfully, "I shan't need the trunk. I've everything I want for now in here."

They went up the staircase, across a wide landing furnished, it seemed to Rosamund, like a drawing room, then down a long passage to a glass-paneled door.

"This is my own wing," said Lesley. "We'll be quite on our own here. There's two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs and a nice, large sitting room below. It's like having my own house."

Rosamund would rather have lived in the main building. She suspected Lesley's wing of being in point of fact the servants' wing. However, the room allotted to her was bright and freshly decorated, and she liked the modern furniture better than the old stuff she had seen downstairs.

"You see," said Lesley, solemn again, "I don't believe in luxury. One must have tables and chairs and a bed, of course, but when a sofa, like Mother's Knole, costs as much as a house, and housing's so difficult, it seems wrong that a worker's family shouldn't have it."

"The sofa?"

"No, the house that it's instead of. If the contents of this house could be sold there'd be enough money to buy a dozen houses—ifthey had been built, of course. That's the trouble. That's why I've turned Waters Farm into a settlement for families working on the land. They can't any of them get anywhere else to live. It's terrible. I wanted Mother to let me have this house as well. She'd keep her own rooms, of course, and we could put up at least three more families in what was left. But she won't hear of it."

For once Rosamund found herself in agreement with Mrs. Winrow. She walked over to the window and looked out. Beyond the garden, with its bright borders and dark trees, the valley of the Doleham River spread southward, and already wore the faint enlargements of the evening light. The thick dazzle of the high sun had been strained into clearness; shadows hung clear from the woods and the fields showed their color and pattern again. Far away at the valley's end the sky no longer swallowed the hills.

But Rosamund was not looking at the view. A sudden desperate nostalgia had taken hold of her—nostalgia for roofs and streets and houses broken into little flats, where women like herself lived and talked and laughed and squabbled, played bridge, smoked, drank gin when they could afford it, made plans, and met men. How was she to live in this lonely, empty place, with two women so utterly unlike herself, so utterly unlike her friends—one snooty and the other goofy. Between them they would bore her to screams. And whom else would she ever get to know? Her disappointment over Charley Vine had shown her what was likely. Yet her hopes had been so high. Suddenly, standing and fighting there, she recovered herself. She must keep this job, she must stick it out, if only for the money. And surely she was smart enough to make something out of it besides that. She might not find all that Sylvia Dunning had promised, or that she had promised herself, but at least she was taking a step in the right direction and she would be a fool if she didn't go on.

Her thoughts had taken her so far from her surroundings that she started when she found that Lesley Bullen was standing at her side.

"That's the Doleham Valley," she said. "Isn't it beautiful? If you look over there, just beyond that little wood, you'll see Waters Farm."



9

Four of the five Doleham Manor farms were in Doleham Valley and had river names—Waters, Reedbed, Lambpool, and Sweetwillow—spreading along the river until both the property and the parish ended together in Dolehamtail Wood.

Beyond the wood was Pookreed, another river farm. But it did not belong to the Manor. The Cheynell family, when driven out in 1761, had not left the district, but had maintained themselves on an unmortgaged corner of their land. Here they had lived for some time as little more than farmers; but later generations had improved their position, and by the middle of Queen Victoria's reign had recaptured enough of their lost state for a Cheynell son to marry a Bullen daughter.

The Cheynells, however, had never equaled the Bullens either in acres or in income, and the present owner of Pookreed had been glad enough to accept the post of agent for the Doleham Manor estate. There had been no question of an agent while Tom Bullen was alive, for Tom had loved his land as no one else could love it, and cared for it as only a lover could care. But when he was killed in France it became essential for his widow to have someone to manage the place, though it was not until her second marriage had provided her with a town house that she spent so much time away from it.

It had always been a mystery to Nicholas Cheynell how a woman like Iris could have married such a taprooted countryman as his cousin Tom. He supposed vaguely that he had got her on the rebound from some other affair. She had a little money and a little beauty—a friend had once described her as "not so much beautiful as with the sort of face which when she's old will make people say what a beautiful girl she must have been"—and the charming, fluttering feminine manner that was fashionable in the last year of King Edward's reign. But she had loved Tom, though she could not love what he loved, and had made him happy, though she had failed to give him what he wanted most. Their only child, born seven years after marriage, was a girl, and Tom had gone out to France knowing that if he died there the Bullens of Doleham Manor died with him.

"If only," he had said to Nicholas as they sat together by the fire on his last leave, "if only we could have the Cheynells here again"—meaning: if only your son could have lived to marry my daughter I need not die more than once. But Nicholas Cheynell, like Tom Bullen, had no heir. He was an older man than his cousin and had married rather late in life the daughter of a struggling peer, whose choice of him must have seemed as mysterious to her friends as Iris's choice of Tom had seemed to hers. Their only son had died before he was six, so when the Bullen daughter was dead the Bullens and the Cheynells would both have gone from the valley of the Doleham River. Only their two houses, one like a red pippin and one like a white stone, would live on among the fields and woods, far into the years beyond them.

Two houses more unlike each other could hardly be imagined—Doleham Manor sprawling and miscellaneous behind its classical front, Pookreed square and compact, offering to the sunset the honest red face of a Sussex tile-hung farmhouse. The Cheynells had never done anything to make it look unlike a farm, though inside they had made various improvements and modernizations. In many ways Pookreed was a more comfortable home than the Manor House.

On this special evening it was full of red sunshine. The western light poured in with the first movements of a night breeze. The Cheynells were old people and liked the heat, so the blinds were not drawn in the big, high-ceilinged dining room where they sat at dinner. Nicholas Cheynell was just beginning his seventy-sixth year and was as deeply taprooted a countryman as his cousin Tom, even to the extent, now rare, of carrying on his tongue some of the drawling breadth of local speech. Lady Anne Cheynell was a few years younger than her husband and a great deal smaller and slighter. He wore a dark suit and she wore a trailing gown. They always dressed for dinner, even though they had to cook it and wash it up themselves.

"I do hope," she was saying, "that Iris won't be tiresome about Birdskitchen."

He shook his head. "I'm afraid she will. She's full of notions about the price she could get for it—all the nonsense that her London friends have stuffed her up with about the sale of houses. And maybe if she looked around she could get a bit more than the Vines are offering. The point is that they can't afford to pay more than the place is worth."

"Will she see that point?"

"I doubt it. She hasn't any of what I call the Squire feeling. Tom's father once told me that he felt as if his tenants were his children."

"I don't believe Iris knows who her tenants are."

"Oh, yes, she does. Don't make any mistake. She knows a great deal more about everything than she'd like us to think. That's what makes her so hard to manage."

"Poor Nick! Why should you have to manage Iris as well as the estate?"

"Because if I didn't she'd most likely sell it all—all except the part she's got to pass on. I can't imagine why Tom left it to her absolutely like that."

"He'd much better have let Lesley have it. She's terribly muddleheaded and unpractical, poor darling, but at least she loves the place."

Again old Nicholas shook his head. His white hair looked fiery in the sun.

"If he hadn't been killed like that . . . if he'd lived to get over his disappointment about the girl . . . I think he'd have made another will and a very different one. After all, it's nonsense to talk about the Bullens being finished. Quite a number of families have carried on through the female line."

"I know. Even the name could have been kept. Most men would have been willing to tack it on to theirs, considering how old it is." Then she added in a different voice, "I wonder now if Lesley will ever marry."

Nicholas grunted. "Too many bees in her bonnet."

"I know, but she's really very sweet. It's such a pity she should live like this, and I can't help blaming Iris. She's handled her all wrong—tried to make a sow's ear out of a silk purse. . . . Yes, I mean it that way round."

"She's tried her damnedest to get her married, especially when that feller was alive. They were always giving parties and dragging her about."

"Yes, I know, poor child, and that's what's put her back up and all the bees in her bonnet. I'm sure it's at the bottom of that wild scheme at Waters Farm."

"Bah!" said Nicholas. "Don't talk to me of Waters Farm. If there's one thing that would make me want to have another war it would be that place. Any competent War Ag. would take it over at once. They'd never stand for what she's doing now. In all my life I've never seen such a gang of wasters and loafers as she's got down there."

"That," said Anne, "is Lesley's soft heart."

"Soft head," grumbled Nicholas. "She must be half-witted if she doesn't see that they're ruining one of the best little farms in Sussex."

"It's because she's a sort of social misfit herself that she feels for other social misfits, and she's so idealistic that she thinks she's only got to show them kindness and generosity in order to get the best out of them in return."

"Instead of which they're robbing and swindling her all the time. Think of the mess that place is in—and five men working on it, too. I don't know any two-hundred-acre farm in these parts that wouldn't look like a market garden if it had five men to work on it."

"There's one good worker," said Anne.

"You mean Ivory? Because he belongs to your church you think a lot of him, but I don't see that he's any better than the others."

"Oh, Nick—how can you say that? He works very hard. As for belonging to my church, I'm afraid that doesn't go for much, as he never comes to Mass. The reason I like him is that he seems really grateful to Lesley—the only one of them who is."

"Gratitude won't clean her fields or mend her hedges. I grant you the feller works hard enough, but he's had no experience. He's got everything to learn and nobody to teach him."

"Perhaps that new secretary of hers may be some use. It's a woman this time, but she may have had some experience or been trained."

"How did she get hold of her?"

"Through one of her friends—Miss Dunning, I think."

Nicholas snorted. "That's Lesley all over. She'll take the recommendation of a woman who knows nothing about anything, just because she calls herself her friend. I bet you that secretary's no good. She'll be like the Dunning woman and all the rest of 'em, just a hanger-on, out for what she can get."

"Poor Lesley likes anyone who likes her and is kind and friendly."

"Well, we like her, don't we? And aren't we kind and friendly?"

"Perhaps we lecture her too much."

Here the Cheynells were interrupted by the necessity of having to clear away the food they had eaten and fetch the next course from the kitchen. When they had sat down again and the pudding was on their plates, Nicholas said, "I think Iris might have asked us to dinner instead of just to come in afterwards. She knows we have no cook and that it would be nice for you to have an evening with nothing to do."

"My dear, you know I love cooking; and Iris really finds it more difficult to have guests than we do, as Mrs. Ashplant won't always stand for anyone extra in the dining room. I'm often thankful we haven't anybody and can do as we like."

"But it comes very heavy on you sometimes. I wish you'd let Mrs. Field do a little more. She's quite willing."

"She's more than willing—she's eager. But she isn't at all strong."

"Nor are you, my dear. Don't forget what Dr. Clonboy said about your heart."

"He didn't say anything that need frighten us; and anyway, I haven't another house to look after with five great hulking men in it. Besides, it's in my own interest to consider Mrs. Field. If she gets ill I'd lose Rosie too, as she'd have to look after the home. Don't worry about me, dear."

"I'll try not to. I know we can't afford a proper staff even if we could get one, and I know one reason why Iris is short of money is that she must have a lot of servants, because she can't do anything for herself. But I don't like to see you slaving away while she just flits about."

"How beautifully you describe her, darling. She does flit. But is she really short of money—at last?"

"Yes, I think even Iris is beginning to feel the draft a little. She's felt it less than most of us up till now; but at last things are getting a bit tight even with her. That's why I expect to have some difficulty in getting her to accept Vine's price for Birdskitchen."

"Are you going to discuss the matter tonight?"

"So I understand—have a preliminary argument, anyway."

"Then we'd better start washing up, so as to give you plenty of time."

They carried the glass and china into the pantry, where Nicholas put on a butler's apron and Anne a flowered overall—rolling up her chiffon sleeves so that they did not trail in the sink.



10

Neither Anne nor Nicholas was aware that the new secretary had already arrived. When they first walked out into the warm dusk of the terrace of Doleham Manor, they took the smiling young woman who sat beside Lesley for just another of those friends of hers—women who appeared and disappeared at Doleham, mostly when Iris was away. Iris certainly made no attempt to introduce her, and it was not till Anne—convinced that her cheerful manner must hide some real embarrassment—sat down on her other side with a few words of greeting that Lesley said awkwardly, "This is my new secretary. She came this afternoon."

Anne murmured something conventionally pleasant about a hot journey, while trying to learn more through her eyes. They could not tell her much beyond the fact that the secretary had a fresh, cheerful, not overintelligent face, and that she was dressed with very great care in a very bad style. In the language of Anne's generation, she did not look a lady. Of course, that had nothing to do with her job; but Anne had laid more store than her husband on the chance that this newcomer might be not only a practical helper at the farm but the right sort of companion for a lonely young woman who had very few real friends.

Anne had always deplored Lesley's predilection for people without roots, who belonged nowhere. It was, of course, a part of her reactions against her mother and against that life she had been forced to lead, contrary to all instinct and inclination, until her twenty-first birthday had brought her a measure of independence. During that period, Anne knew, she had deliberately chosen her friends outside the circle in which Iris had tried to shut her up, escaping out of her mother's drawing room into all sorts of odd corners, into lodgings, furnished rooms, cheap flats where girls of her own age lived struggling but independent lives. Now they were all ten years older, but the associations remained, because Lesley was loyal and grateful and the young women were wise. Anne did not accuse them all of venality, but she could not help smelling a little in so many incongruous friendships. This secretary was probably one of these women without roots, or a friend of one of them. It was so like Lesley to have made the introduction without mentioning any names.

"Is this your first visit to Doleham?" she asked, knowing that her thoughts could tell her no more than her eyes.

"Oh, yes. I've never seen it before. Charming old place, isn't it?"

"Indeed it is. I've always loved the view from this terrace."

The secretary's eyes traveled casually over the blue smoky pool that was the Doleham Valley at twilight.

"Yes, it's charming—when you can see it," she added with a laugh.

"But you can see it," said Lesley earnestly, leaning toward her and pointing into the dusk. "You can see the river shining like a silver string. And that's Furnace Wood beside it. The Cheynells had a forge here once, you know. And those lights are Waters Farm, and that light beyond must be Sweetwillow. . . . Yes, I can see the white cowls of the oasts sitting there like little doves."

"You must have good eyes," said the secretary with another laugh. Her own eyes seemed to be trying to catch Anne's as if to share a joke. But Anne could never hear Lesley talk like this without a sensation of pride and pity—pride that for all her preference for the rootless, her own roots were so deep in her own soil; pity that she grew there alone, the last tree in the wood. Rosamund was amazed to see tears fill the eyes she sought.

"I haven't seen Waters Farm yet," she said quickly. "Miss Bullen is taking me there tomorrow."

"You'll find it. . ." Anne did not quite know what to say. "Have you worked much in the country, Mrs.—er—?" She had seen the wedding ring.

"Mrs. Gailey. Not really very much. I love it, though."

"Farming nowadays is so complicated with office work that the ordinary working farmer finds it very hard to manage. I expect you've had some experience of that kind of thing."

"I've had all sorts of experience, and what I don't know I'll soon learn. I'm very quick at picking things up."

Lesley said, "I'm sure you'll manage quite easily. They all do. Besides, it isn't only for the farm that I need a secretary. I'm going to write a book."

"My dear!"

Anne was astonished. It was the first time that Lesley had shown any ambition of that kind.

"Yes. But don't tell Mother. She'd be sure to disapprove."

"What sort of book? What is it to be about?"

"About this place. I want the Turners and the Bensons and Ivory to know all about it. It seems so pathetic that they should live here and know nothing."

"Would they be interested?"

"Oh, yes, I'm sure they would. At least Ivory would."

"It seems rather an undertaking to write a book just for Ivory. Aren't you going to try to get it published?"

"I don't suppose it'll be good enough for that. I'll get Mrs. Gailey to type a lot of copies and we'll lend them round. I dare say there are other people who'd like to know the history of the Doleham Valley, and all about the farms and the families and the place names."

"It sounds," said Anne, "just the sort of book that would please Nicholas."

That was one of the many confusions in Lesley. One day she could reduce Nicholas to puffing fury with some display of ignorance or indifference and the next she would delight him with an unexpected performance in one of his own fields of knowledge.

"Oh, he knows much more about it all than I do, of course. But if he's pleased I'll be terribly glad. He isn't often pleased with me."

"Don't say that, dear. It's only that you and he don't agree about some things."

"You mean Waters Farm?" In the dusk it was just possible to see the flags of color mount on her cheeks. "What I can't make him understand is that I'm not just trying to run the place as a farm but as a home for homeless people."

Anne did not want to start an argument about Waters Farm in front of the new secretary. She tried to give a careful reply.

"As long as they do the work they'd have to do if they had the homes they ought to have—"

"And you think they don't?"

"Well . . . not all of them, perhaps."

Iris's voice came suddenly across the terrace from where she sat with Nicholas.

"Come over here and talk to me, Anne. I've scarcely had a word with you this evening."

Anne left her seat and crossed over to her. "I thought you wanted to talk to Nick."

"So I do—did, I mean. We've talked and we've quarreled. What I want to do now is to save you from that ghastly woman."

"I was talking to Lesley," said Anne, glancing anxiously at her husband's face. He looked ruffled.

"Yes, but she was there listening all the time. I've endured her the whole evening and I can tell you she's deadly. You've no idea how she talked at dinner—trying to show that she's used to this sort of house and betraying her ignorance at every word. Really, I'm most distressed at Lesley having her with her here, and I'm sure she's no good as a secretary."

"Well, you won't be seeing much of her," said Anne, who sometimes gave herself the treat of being frank with Iris.

"I shall have to go on seeing her till Monday. Then, thank heaven, I must go back to town. But I'd meant to come down for quite a bit later on with a party for the Red Cross Ball. . . . However, she's pretty sure to be gone by then. I don't believe that even Lesley could put up with her for long."

Anne did not want to discuss Mrs. Gailey till she had made up her own mind about her, so she changed the subject rather abruptly.

"What have you settled about Birdskitchen?"

"Nothing, dear. Absolutely nothing. Nicholas is very cross with me, aren't you, Nick?"

"Well, I must give Vine some sort of an answer. He knew we were going to talk things over tonight, and he'll want to hear what we've decided."

"Surely he can wait a little longer."

"Till you find out what price you can get elsewhere?"

"Yes," said Iris sweetly.

Nicholas's face turned as crimson as the edges of the sky.

"Then all I can say is that you're treating a good man abominably."

Iris drew her chiffon scarf more closely around her and gave an exquisite shiver.

"Darling Nick—always so outspoken. You seem to forget that you nearly ate me alive when I suggested selling a bit of Lambpool a few years ago."

"Because you wanted to sell the best eight acres of a farm that's already too small, to a London chap for building a week-end cottage. Masters couldn't have carried on without that meadow. This is quite different. A man who's been a tenant forty years wants to buy his farm, and though on principle I'm against selling off any part of the estate, Birdskitchen is our only farm across the river and just the one I should choose to let go if we had to raise capital."

"But Vine's offering such a wretched price."

"He's offering what it's worth in a fair market. Of course, some rich Londoner might be able to pay more. But think of the mess he'd make of it as a farm."

"Would that matter if it didn't belong to us?"

Anne wished that Iris would not say such things to Nicholas. It was bad for him to be made so angry.

"Of course it would matter! A bad farmer's a danger not only to himself but to his neighbors, as I'm always telling Lesley. Vine's the best farmer on the estate, and we must keep him here. He managed to make that place pay its way even when times were bad before the war—the only one of the lot that really did. He deserves to have it. He wants it for his son."

Iris leaned back in a cloud of scarfs that seemed the color of starlight.

"That's it," she said with a faint smile. "I'm by no means sure that I want the son to have it."

"Why the—why on earth! What's the matter with young Vine?"

"By all accounts, he's already suffering sufficiently from swelled head. I haven't seen him since he came back from Germany, but I gather from what Mrs. Gailey says that he's giving himself all sorts of ludicrous airs. He brought her here from the station; and she was tremendously impressed by him, without the slightest idea of what he really was. Of course, I don't suppose he would have deceived anyone who really knew, but with her he seems to have passed himself off as a sort of local squire. Goodness knows what he'd do if he actually owned the place."

Anne had noticed, that ever since the mention of Mrs. Gailey's name, Iris had raised her voice. Every word of her last speech must have been heard across the terrace, and meant to be heard.

"Oh," she began, feeling she must stop her somehow, but her husband had already broken in.

"Charley Vine's as good a chap as I'd ever want to know. He'd never pretend to be other than he is. Because he's proud of what he is—that's why."

"Darling Nick, don't jump down my throat. I'm sure Charley Vine's a most worthy young man, but having risen from the ranks and become some sort of officer during the war seems to have gone to his head a little."

"Then why has he come back to work on his father's farm?"

"Because he hopes to own it someday. But I don't much fancy him as a neighbor; so before I decide to part with a farm I may want to keep, I shall think the matter over a little longer."

Anne said, "It doesn't seem much good talking of it any more."

"Perhaps," said Iris, "thinking will be better for us all."

Nicholas grumbled, "She's had plenty of time to think."

To Anne's relief Iris made no reply; and for the first time since the Cheynells' arrival, silence fell upon the terrace, as neither group was talking now. The fog that had made visible the chills of night had thrust a gauzy finger between them. Anne peered through it, trying to see the faces of the other two, for she wondered how much they had heard of the conversation; but she could see nothing clearly. Lesley was crouched forward, her long hands dangling between her knees, as she gazed down into the valley where the farmhouse lights looked like magnified reflections of the stars. Mrs. Gailey was only a gleaming cigarette end in the shadow of the house.



11

Rosamund had smoked many more cigarettes before she saw Waters Farm the next morning. Her employer, though she didn't seem to smoke much herself, fortunately kept a large supply. It looked as if she would be able to save even more of her salary than she had hoped.

She no longer expected, however, that salary to pile up into a large sum. She had not been twelve hours at Doleham, but already she was feeling she had been there long enough. When the company dispersed at what seemed to her a depressingly early hour, she sat for some minutes in her bedroom, bored and wakeful; then decided in wrath to write to Sylvia Dunning. Sylvia should not have cracked up the place like this—even Sylvia should stick closer to real life than to say that the job was right up her street, that she would enjoy the comfort of a full staff of servants, that Lesley Bullen was clever and Mrs. Winrow charming.

June 22nd, 1949

This is to tell you that you'll soon see me back in the old haunts, for I really can't stand much more of this. I haven't actually started the job yet, but they seem to think I should know all about farming to make a success of it. Of course I could get over that little bit of trouble if I liked the place, but I don't. The house is old-fashioned and dark and depressing. There are servants in it, but they mustn't be asked to do any work, for then they'd leave at once. Of course it isn't really a full staff, but a very uppish married couple and a number of daily women as required. Lesley Bullen wouldn't notice if they all ran away, so you can imagine how nice it will be for me when Mrs. Winrow goes back to town, which she does on Monday. Apart from that, of course, I'll be glad. Really, Syl, how could you have said she was charming? She's a bitch. Would you believe it, but at dinner last night I wasn't even given a wine glass, only a tumbler. She herself drank wine, and though the daughter didn't, she had a glass. She goes out of her way to make me feel small, and if anything would make me stay it would be to spite her, for I can see she's just itching to get rid of me. Some quite nice but dull people came in after dinner—Mr. Cheynell who's a sort of cousin and Lady Cheynell (how does she work that?). Otherwise there's nobody round here worth knowing, as far as I can see. Rather an attractive type gave me a lift from the station (as the old faggot had driven off and left me to come by the bus), but he turned out to be only a farmer's son. So you can expect me back in a month or two. I can't very well give notice before I've actually started the job, but I shall do so afterwards as soon as I decently can. I'll probably go to Mother's for a bit while I look round. I'll be thirty pounds to the good, anyhow, even if I don't stay more than a month. Please don't think I've let you down over this, but you really did overdo the sales talk a little.

Love from
Rosamund

When she had finished her letter, there was nothing to do but go to bed; but it was only eleven o'clock and she could not fall asleep. The night was much too quiet; the silence seemed to lie on her like a weight. She longed for noise, for footsteps in the house, for the sound of wheels outside. It was dark, too. She had drawn back the curtain to find a huge black sky hanging like another curtain outside the window. There were pinholes in the curtain with winks of far-off light, but no comforting glow of a street lamp to freak the room with cheerful patterns and make a tent of brightness in the street below. After about an hour she got up and looked out, but she could see only dim, lumpish shapes, the blocks of yew hedges and garden trees. The night seemed to breathe over her from the invisible grass. Then suddenly there was a terrible cry, the despairing screech of some creature surprised and lost. A faint, answering cluck or chuckle came from somewhere near, then silence fell deep, unchanging, but much more terrible than before. Rosamund took one leap into her bed, pulled the bedclothes over her, sobbed for a moment against the pillow, and then, as if fear and strangeness had at last exhausted her, fell asleep.

The next morning she was surprised to find that she had slept well. She did not wake till the night's black curtain had become a blinding tissue of sunshine, and her dreams had all been pleasant ones in which she met old friends. She spent barely a moment wondering where she was, for she had slept in too many beds not to be able to recollect herself quickly. Her only question was the time. She thought at first that she must have wakened early, for though the silence had filled itself with bird song, no sounds came from inside the house. But her watch told her it was past eight o'clock. Lesley had said something about breakfast at nine. No early tea, she supposed, in this house of servants—at least not for the secretary. Never mind. I'll get even with them before I go, even with the lot of them. She felt quite cheerful as she dressed.

Iris had breakfast upstairs, and Rosamund and Lesley were alone together in the little sitting room of the daughter's wing. It was not unpleasant. Neither the post nor the newspapers had arrived yet; but Lesley was talkative and friendly, and they chatted together about Sylvia Dunning and others of their common acquaintance. Rosamund talked about her life with Phil, hoping that it would all be passed on to the right quarter. "Of course it's difficult for a man brought up like he was to realize that we really couldn't afford to go to places like the Savoy. . . . For a man like that, London's only a few streets round Piccadilly—I don't suppose he'd ever heard of the Earls Court Road. . . . That's what made it all so difficult—he did so hate having to live in cheap rooms, right off the map as he called it. Sometimes it did seem a shame that he shouldn't have what he was used to, when he was so ill."

"But wouldn't his family do anything for him?" cried Lesley. "Surely they didn't leave you to struggle like that to support their son."

"Oh, his family would have nothing to do with him, or with me, or with my boy."

"But that's abominable!" Lesley's eyes were flashing globes of fire and water. "Oh, Mrs. Gailey, what a terrible time you must have had!"

"It wasn't too good."

"How glad I am that you've come here! I do hope you'll be happy and like the job."

Rosamund looked away, conscious again of that embarrassment which only one other person in the world could make her feel. Only Michael could pull her up like this with a sudden jerk of compunction. She had the strange feeling that Lesley was at her mercy, just as Michael was, made vulnerable by innocence. Her goodness of heart was an exposure that should not be taken advantage of. Though still determined to leave her, she was no longer pleased with herself about it.

They set out directly after breakfast for Waters Farm, and Rosamund found herself returning to a more comfortable attitude of amused contempt as Lesley bored her with a flood of breathless talk that was no longer about people.

"This lane is very old—all the valley lanes are old. That's why they're sunk so deep between the hedges." And damp even on a morning like this, thought Rosamund. "They've been trodden down by people using them for centuries to drive cattle from farm to farm. That's what makes them twist and turn so—cattle never walk straight." Nor some people either, thought Rosamund, as Lesley cannoned into her. "Oh, I'm sorry, but I was looking through that gate. The dew's still on the grass in there where the shadow lies. Are you fond of walking?"

"We-ell, I wouldn't know till I'd tried."

"I love it. I often take quite long walks—to Barnhorn or even to Sandlake. I go by the lanes, of course. The main roads are horrid. Now this cottage we're passing is supposed to be haunted"—hooray! it only wanted that—"but I've never seen the ghost, though I must have walked by dozens of times at night. There's supposed to be a ghost at Pookreed too. Pook is a sort of nature spirit, you know, and Pookreed's a very old farm. Most of the farms here date from the furnaces, but Pookreed's earlier than that. I do hope Cousin Nicholas will like my book—what I mean to say is, I hope he'll like me better because he likes the book. He's angry with me, because I haven't got local people at Waters Farm. He thinks that when the Boormans left at the end of the war I should have let the Homards have it. That's quite a common name round here—Homard, I mean. It's of Huguenot origin, of course. The house at Waters was built by Huguenot settlers in the eighteenth century, and of course it would be nice in some ways if their descendants had it now. But I simply couldn't have sat back and let just one family run the place when there are so many people without homes."

Rosamund at last saw a chance of interrupting her. "Who have you got there now? In the settlement, I mean."

"Oh! . . ." Lesley started, like a somnambulist suddenly awakened, but the next moment slipped into the new track. "Oh, yes, of course I ought to tell you about them before you meet them. I've got two families called Benson and Turner, and a single man called Ivory. I picked him up on the road one day when I was out driving and he thumbed a lift. Elphinstone didn't want to stop for him, but I made him, and then I found he had nowhere to go and hadn't had a proper meal for days—he hadn't even got a ration book."

"He's got one now, I hope."

"Oh, yes. Benson got one for him. Benson used to have a shop in London, but it never did well, and in the war it was blitzed, and he never got adequate compensation. The authorities treated him abominably. He was in the army for a time, and when the war ended he had no home. So he was thankful when he saw my advertisement."

"Oh, you advertised?"

"Yes, I put an advertisement in a number of papers, offering comfortable homes to two families willing to work on the land—at the normal agricultural rate, of course. I had dozens of replies, and I'd never have made up my mind about them—for they all sounded so heart-rending—if two families hadn't suddenly turned up. They both came—the Turners the first day and the Bensons the day after. They'd literally nowhere else to go, so I had to keep them."

"Lucky for you that no one else turned up after that."

"I don't know what I should have done if they had, for the place is quite full now. The women run the house and the men work on the land. That's five altogether, for Bill Turner and Tiggy Benson both work with their fathers. Ivory's the best worker, but the others don't do too badly. It's only that they're not used to outdoor work, while he was a roadman at one time I believe. Besides, he never wants to go out off the place, the way the others do. He won't even go to church with Cousin Anne. She's a Catholic, you know, and when she found out he was too she offered to take him with her in the car when she goes to church at Sandlake. But so far he's always run away and hidden when she calls for him."

"It looks," said Rosamund, "as if he didn't want to go."

"But he's very pious. He says his rosary in the fields, and Mr. Hightower once went into his room about something and found him praying on his knees by himself in the dark."

Well, thought Rosamund, for crying out loud. She said: "What time does the post go from Doleham? I've got a letter I want to catch it."



12

The next turn up the lane—and it had had many turnings—brought them suddenly in front of Waters Farm. It was a squat, black house with white-rimmed windows set crookedly in its tar-board front. The roof was a huge sprawl of mingled colors as various mosses and lichens ate the tiles. Around it was packed a jumble of barns and lodges with two headless oasts.

"We haven't been able to do much about the garden," said Lesley as she led the way up a weedy path between some derelict bean rows, "but we hope in time to get that going, as it's expensive to buy vegetables, even though I can get them locally at almost cost price."

"Then do you feed your people too as well as house them and pay them for it?"

"Oh, no. They're supposed to keep themselves out of their wages, and anything I spend they pay me back, though sometimes I have to let it run a week or two. . . . Oh, good morning, Mrs. Turner. Do you want to speak to me?"

A woman had come out of the door just as they reached it. She was big and fair, with rather a pretty face still smeared with yesterday's make-up. Rosamund, who recognized her type, guessed that she had just got out of bed and wore nothing more than her shoes and a cooking overall.

"Yes, Miss, I'd like a word with you if you don't mind. It's about the stove."

"Oh, Yes. I'm seeing about that. But do you mind if I take this lady upstairs first and show her the office? She's our new secretary."

"Pleased to meet you, I'm sure, Miss—er—"

"My name's Gailey—Mrs. Gailey."

"Mrs. Gailey, that's right. I'll wait for you down here, Miss."

"I shan't be a moment," apologized Lesley, ushering Rosamund up rather a sudden flight of stairs.

At the top they found an open door and a large, low room full of sunshine. It looked quite comfortable, with a settee and two armchairs as well as the usual office furniture. Rosamund glanced anxiously at the typewriter and was relieved to find it a make she had used before. Everything looked very tidy, as if the day's work had not yet begun, but there was a good deal of dust about.

"This is the office," said Lesley. "I hope you'll find everything you want. I wonder where Mr. Hightower is. He said he would explain things to you. . . ." She looked round vaguely, as if she expected to see him somewhere in the room.

There was a step outside the door, and a woman crossed the landing.

"Oh, Mrs. Benson. Do you know where Mr. Hightower is?"

"Yes, Miss, I think he's dressing."

"Oh. . . ." Lesley appeared a little startled. "I hope he'll be here soon. He said he'd explain things to Mrs. Gailey. She's our new secretary."

The woman came forward into the room and stared at Rosamund, who nodded and smiled, without any response. She was very different from Mrs. Turner, being small and prettily dressed in a printed cotton frock, with gay red shoes.

"I dare say he won't be long," she said indifferently.

"I hope he won't, for I mustn't keep Mrs. Turner waiting. She wants to speak to me about the stove."

"It's high time something was done. We can't go on like this."

The snap was so sudden that Rosamund jumped as well as Lesley. She was the first to speak. "You two been fighting over the stove? Am I right or am I?"

"That's it. We've been promised a new one for months and it doesn't come. I don't believe it's ever been ordered."

"Oh, yes, it has," said Lesley earnestly.

"Look here," said Rosamund, "you get on with this and leave me. I can quite well amuse myself till your Mr. Hightower finishes dressing."

The time had come, she felt, for another cigarette, and as soon as Lesley and the Benson woman had gone, she lit one and sat down in an armchair. Everything was quiet, except for a distant murmur of female voices. The men, of course, would be out working on the place, and the children would be at school. She wondered if everyone took their ease as freely as those she had met. Evidently early rising was no part of the life of Waters Farm. It also seemed obvious that everyone was out for what they could get. Well, who was to blame them? All the same, she felt she'd like to stop that little game. It was a shame to take advantage quite so openly of a kindhearted thing like Lesley. If she had thought of staying . . . but she was more than ever determined to go. This was a dump if ever there was one, and she'd better get out of it as quickly as possible. She'd try a shop next time—not a dress shop, unless she could get into one of those Grosvenor Street places . . . but even that wouldn't be much good, because in them you meet only women, and she'd had a sickener of women. What about antiques? Grace Morrow had done very well in an antique shop—got some quite big sums in commission—and you often met interesting people. . . . She'd ask Grace if she knew of anything going in that line—

"Hullo, Gorgeous!"

It was the second time in that room that Rosamund had been made to jump. She nearly jumped off her chair, for she had heard no footsteps approaching and was considerably startled. A big, good-looking man was standing just inside the door and grinning at her.

"Sorry if I scared you. But I've been drinking you in for at least five minutes and thought it time to speak. Mrs. Gailey, I presume."

"Yes, I'm Mrs. Gailey," said Rosamund with dignity.

"Good-oh. Pleased to meet you. I'm supposed to be showing you the ropes. Sorry I wasn't here earlier, but even now I can't find my shoes."

He came forward into the room in his stockinged feet and sat down at the desk.

"Well," he said, looking hard at her, "this is a pleasant surprise."

"There's nothing to be surprised at."

"Oh, no—only somehow I'd expected somebody different. What made you take a job like this?"

"What made you take it?"

She did not know how to talk to him. She was not quite sure what sort of man he was. Why did he talk to her like this? She met his eyes, and they were brown and bright and piercing. He was rather like a hawk, with those eyes in his lean, strong face.

"I took it," he said, and he spoke with an accent she could not identify, "because of the money."

"Well, perhaps I did too."

"Yes, the pay's good, and I was wanting a job badly at the moment. But now I've got a better one."

She pricked up. "Where?"

"Over at Sandlake. A pal of mine's opening a cafe there and I'm going in with him."

"What's it like in Sandlake?"

"Oh, not too bad. Anyway, it's the only place round here where there's any life at all."

"How does one get there?"

"That's the trouble—only one late bus a week. You'd better choose Saturday for your day off. I did."

"And yet you were there last night, which was Friday."

"How do you know?"

"Because you weren't dressed this morning when we came."

"Smart, ain't you?"

He sat at right angles to her, tilting back his chair, and looking at her with some complacency. Her heart began to beat quickly and she felt frightened of herself. Sylvia had warned her about this Hightower, had told her not to waste her time on him. Sylvia knew that she was always falling in love with the wrong sort of man—with anybody who made a pass at her, was the unchoice expression she recalled with a blush. But he was exactly her type. He reminded her in a way of Charley Vine, or rather he was an exaggeration of all she admired in Charley, with the advantage that he seemed to be very much taken with her, which she had to acknowledge Charley Vine had not. But viewed in connection with her own ambition he was completely useless, far more ineligible than Charley Vine. He was an adventurer—a colonial she judged from his accent—grabbing at opportunity in the same way as she was. . . . No, she must have as little to do with him as possible. Of course he would have to show her a few things about the job, but that couldn't take him long, and then he would be gone . . . no further than Sandlake.

"A penny for 'em."

"I was thinking about Sandlake. How did you get there last night?"

"The lot of us went and we hired a taxi. But I'm going there again this evening. Like to come with me?"

"No, thanks. I can't possibly leave Miss Bullen. I've only just arrived."

"Oh, it's like that, is it? Never mind, we'll go another day. I'm here for a whole week more, you know, to teach you your job."

"Surely it won't take as long as that."

"I think it will. Anyhow, I'll see that it does."

"You might begin," she said icily, "by telling me what it's all in aid of."

"What? The job?"

"Yes, the Waters Farm Settlement. What's the big idea behind it all?"

"Don't you know?"

"No, I don't, and I don't think you do, either."

He laughed. "You're right there. I don't know. Nor does anybody, least of all her nibs herself. It may be a charitable or a political scheme. All I know is that she doesn't. As for the other side, the Turners and the Bensons, their big idea is to live here at her expense and do as little work as possible until the housing shortage ends. The secretary's job is to keep her from knowing what really goes on."

"I think it should be to let her know."

"Not at all. She's much happier as things are."

"Well, I've half a mind to go down now and rescue her from those two women who are bullying her about the kitchen stove."

Hightower gave another laugh. "That's what's so wonderful about women. These two refuse to share a kitchen stove, but they don't seem to object to a free exchange of husbands. At night we shuffle like a pack of cards."

"Oh, it's like that, is it? That includes all of you, I suppose, you and the odd man—I mean the man with the odd name, Ivory."

"No, it doesn't. Neither of us come in. I'm particular and he's loopy."

"Isn't he the one who works?"

"Yes, he's got that claim to distinction. He works from dawn till dark. His overtime must add up to almost another salary. He's paying Benson some sort of blackmail. I don't know what the story is and I haven't bothered to find out. He's up against the police, I shouldn't wonder. All I know is that he never goes off the place and won't talk to anyone from outside. There was a priest or some such called to see him a few weeks ago, but he streaked off right away into the woods, though I imagine a priest would be good for at least half a quid out of the poor box. I told you he was loopy."

"I shall be loopy," said Rosamund, "if I stay here."

"Oh, don't say I've put you off the job. I tell you it's a good one—well paid and no more work than you can do in your spare time. You'll be a fool if you chuck it. Besides, I want you to stay."

"Oh, you do, do you?"

"Yes—I do."

He moved across to her with a sudden, lithe movement and kissed her on the mouth.

"Oh . . ." For a moment she could not speak. She held her hand over her mouth as if she were ashamed of it and wished to hide it. Then she said, "You're a fast worker."

"Always was."

He was in his chair again, leaning back and looking at her and laughing.

"But—" she said.

"But what?"

"Oh, I don't know what I was going to say . . . and be careful now—here she is coming back."

"Don't pretend you're angry with me, because you're not." His words were covered by the rattle of footsteps on the wooden stairs, "What were you saying your shorthand speed was, Mrs. Gailey?"

Lesley was in the room, smiling at them both.

"How have you got on? Do you think you've got the hang of the job?"

Hightower answered:

"Well, we've made a start."



13

The letter to Sylvia Dunning which went from Doleham Manor to the post that afternoon was not the one that Rosamund had written the night before.

I think that I'm going to manage all right. I was nervous at first, for I thought I might have to know something about farming, but now I find that isn't really necessary. It's only ordinary routine work—forms, accounts, letters and such like. And I believe that later on Miss Bullen is going to start writing a book. She's a nice creature—a bit cuckoo, but I like her. She's so generous. I don't like the old lady, though. She was dreadfully upstage with me yesterday. I haven't seen her at all today, so far, thank goodness, as she was at a Committee Meeting all the morning and then out to lunch. The daughter took me down to the farm and introduced me to the settlers—at least that's what I suppose they're called, as it's a settlement. They seem a mixed lot. There's two families with four or five children each and an odd man who seems very odd indeed. I met them all as they came in to dinner, which wasn't ready because their wives were fighting over the kitchen stove. It seems rather a muddly sort of concern, but I shall enjoy working here, especially when Mrs. Winrow's gone back to London. King Edward can't have been up to his usual form if he really admired her. I can't think that she ever was worth looking at. But Lesley might be quite pretty if she was brushed up a bit. I'll see what I can do. It's very quiet here. All we've had in the way of company so far is an elderly couple—some sort of cousins, I believe—who came in after dinner last night. She has a title, but he hasn't, which I've never met before. I have a nice office, and the typewriter's a Remington, which was what I learned on at the College. So that's all right. Excuse more for now. Much love from

Rosamund

If you're ever anywhere near Mother's you might look in and see how Michael's getting on.




Part II

1

Young Charley Vine had surprised a good many people besides Rosamund Gailey when he discarded his uniform with the crowned shoulders and slipped back into the working life of his father's farm. His parents, however, were not at all surprised. They had never dreamed that he would fail to come back and help them carry on. Such a failure would have seemed to them quite out of keeping with all that they knew of their son. He had traveled, he had seen the world, he had met all sorts of people, but he was always writing home to know how they were cropping the Yellow field, how the Sheeplane had stood up to plowing, what price they had got for the alder wood in Chant Bog.

The scheme for buying Birdskitchen had taken shape and substance on his last leave, when he had already decided to take advantage of a proposed reconstruction in his area and apply for his discharge from the Army of Occupation. The war years had been prosperous for old Harry Vine, and he had begun to fondle the idea of having his own place and leaving it to his son after him. His tenancy had not always been a happy one, owing to his landlord's reluctance to spend money on her estate. Mr. Cheynell had done his best, but he could not always persuade her to meet all her tenants' demands for improvements and repairs, and most of them had given up asking. Vine was not the type who gives up easily, and the situation had become one of strain and irritation. Birdskitchen was the only Doleham Manor farm on the south bank of the river. It had some pastures on the other side, between Waters and Sweetwillow, and Vine thought it likely that the estate would wish to keep these and amalgamate them with the adjoining farms. To make up for their loss, there was an almost similar acreage available at Whitesmith's Farm, where the owner wanted to sell off some outlying fields. He talked over this scheme in detail with his son, who was as pleased with it as he had expected and offered his gratuity to swell the purchase price.

From all sources—the gratuity, his own savings, and a loan from the bank—Harry Vine was able to offer three thousand pounds of the full amount, the rest to be raised on a mortgage. It was a mortifying blow to have his offer rejected as inadequate. He knew that it was a fair one, and he was disgusted to find that Mrs. Winrow was taking advantage of the postwar situation and demanding a fancy price.

"No one in their senses would give as much as that," he said when Cheynell mentioned ten thousand pounds. "A farmer couldn't do it, and if she's thinking some Londoner 'ud take it for the sake of the house, that house has had nothing done to it since 1934, as she well knows. If my boy marries, as I hope he will before long, I'd have to put it in order for him; but if some of her friends was to buy it, I reckon they'd want bathrooms put in and electric light and sinks in the bedrooms and all the rest. And that'ud cost them another two thousand, even if they could get a license for the work, which I doubt if they could."

Old Nicholas Cheynell said, "I don't want you to take this as her last word. It's only that she won't commit herself till she's looked round and seen what she can get elsewhere."

"That's all very well, sir. But if I buy the place I shall want these fifteen acres of Barnes's, and he won't wait for ever and ever."

"He isn't likely to sell them, except to you. No one else would want them, as they march with your place."

"They're on the Pegget lane. Now that building's easier, they might go for a small holding."

"Well, if they do, you must keep the meadows on the north side, that's all."

"Um . . . just the part I don't want."

Old Nicholas looked at him keenly.

"Why? They used to be famous as fatting grounds."

"That was when Boorman still had Waters. . . . I don't want to speak against the young lady; but since she took over, that ground's been nothing but a nuisance to me. Those people of hers have let the place get so dirty that I can't keep my own clean—thistle and dock blowing all the time and seeding themselves even across the river. And the hedges so bad that her stock is always breaking through and trampling my place. I've even found them roaming in Chant Wood."

Nicholas shook his head. "I know, Vine, I know—and I'm sorry for that. But there's not much I can do about it as things are. I've spoken to her often enough, but I just can't make her see that those miserable blokes of hers are letting her down—or that she's letting us down, for the matter of that. All we can hope for is that in time they'll get sick of the place and go off somewhere else. Then I might be able to take her in hand a little."

"I've told you, sir, I don't want to say anything against the young lady. I like her—we all like her around here. She's a nice-feeling girl and in many ways she takes after her father."

"You remember him, then?"

"I should ought to do. I was here for close on eight years under Mus' Bullen, and a better landlord I'd never wish to see. All that was a tur'ble pity."

"Reckon it was. If he'd lived she'd have had a very different sort of life and turned out a very different sort of creature. Even as it is, she's very like him in some ways. She loves this place, for one thing, even if she is making a mess of her own piece of it."

"Yes, I know that. We all know that. We all know she wouldn't leave here during the war, though her mother wanted to get her away, into some Ministry or other in Wales. She told my Missus she'd never forgive herself if she went, though when conscription came it meant her biking over every day to that small-arms place in Sandlake. Many a time I've seen her on the road—and the bombs falling too. That's why I won't let my boy go and tick her off as he wants to. I said let her be for a while, anyway. You can't go and grumble at a woman for being too kindhearted."

"Your boy wants to tick her off, does he?"

"Well, he said he did the other day, when her heifers got into Chant Bog. But I reckon he's got over it by now. Tell me, sir, if I was able to put up another thousand pound for the place, d'you think Mrs. Winrow would let me have it?"

They talked for a few minutes longer, and then Harry Vine went home.



2

Nearly a month had passed since he first made his offer, but he was a slow man living in the slow world of a southern countryside and almost endlessly capable of waiting. He was hurt and affronted because Mrs. Winrow had thought his price too small, but—in spite of what he had said to Mr. Cheynell—he was not, apart from that, surprised at her inability to make up her mind. Selling a farm is an important matter, requiring much consideration. If he could be sure that Barnes would not sell those fields before he was ready to buy them, he'd willingly let her have another month to think things over. The more she thought, the more she was bound to see his offer was fair and even generous in its new increase.

His son was much more impatient. He found Charley waiting for him in the little room next to the kitchen which they used as an office. It contained a table and a chair and a cupboard, and smelt of grain and sacks.

"Well, Dad; settled anything?"

"Not yet. I've told him I thought we could put another thousand on the price, and he's going to write and tell her."

"Does he think she'll accept?"

"Er-um . . ." (Mr. Cheynell had not been as hopeful as he could have wished.) "He says she wants ten thousand."

"Does he think she'll get it?"

"He says the trouble is that she thinks she will, and we'll have to let her go on trying. Maybe if in the end she finds she can't, then she'll take my offer."

Charley shook his head.

"I believe there's a way you can diddle the income-tax people by investing money in farmlands. That's how she may get her price. Some of her friends are very rich."

"But I reckon they'll want a better house."

"No doubt they will. But that doesn't mean they won't pay her price and then a bit more for alterations. They'll be able to afford what a working farmer can't."

"Maybe you're right. There's no bounds to what rich folk will do with their money."

They were both silent for a few moments, looking remarkably like father and son in their gloom, which was lit up incongruously by the afternoon sunshine pouring through the little leaded window and holding them both in its slant across the room. Charley was the first to speak.

"How soon does he expect to hear from her about the new offer?"

"Oh, I reckon she'll take her time, same as she did before."

"Do you know when she's coming down again?"

Harry shook his head.

"I dunno. There's some talk of her coming for the Red Cross Ball."

"That's not till September. Didn't you tell him, Dad, that we can't wait for ever?"

"Well, I did tell him about Barnes's piece."

"Yes, and I know Barnes wants his money quickly. . . . Then there's the house. Every month we put off seeing to it, the more it'll cost. Besides, Dad, as you know, I want to get things settled with Margery."

Old Harry looked keenly at his son.

"Well, if you want to get things settled, why don't you? You can't bring her to live here till the place is ready, but at least you can get fixed up."

Charley began to fiddle with the pen that lay beside the blotter on the table. The biggest contrast between him and his father lay in their hands. Their faces were very much alike, and their build was not unlike. But old Vine's hands had done too much heavy work to be other than heavy, shapeless hands, with a skin of which earth had become so much a part that no scrubbing could remove its shadow. Charley's hands, though strong and sunburned, were well cared for, and there was a signet ring on the little finger of one of them. When he spoke his words were like his hands.

"I don't want to fix anything till I can offer her something better than what she's got now—till the farm's in the bag."

"And suppose it never is?"

"Then I'll have to think again and make some other plan."

The old man shook his head.

"When I was your age I didn't think like that. Your mother and I were engaged for close on seven years. I asked her to marry me as soon as I knew my own heart."

"Things were different then. If you'd seen the marriages I've seen . . . all rushed into in a hurry."

"I'm not asking you to get married, Son. I'm only saying you'd better not wait much longer before you fix up with her, or you may lose her—that's all."

Charley smiled. "I don't think I shall."

"You sound pretty sure of her."

"I am sure. Hang it all, I've known her ever since we were kids at school. You really needn't worry about me, Dad—or about Margery either. She knows what I'm waiting for."

"As long as she does— What is it, Bill?"

The big, stooping form of Bill Juden, the cowman and teamster, filled the doorway.

"Maas' Charley, they've broke through again and I've got 'em."

"What's that?" asked Harry.

Charley said, "It's the Waters Farm heifers. I told Bill that if they got into Chant Bog again he was to take them and shut them up in the river lodge. I'm going to keep them there till Miss Bullen's agreed to pay for the damage they've done. I don't see why we should put up with that sort of thing forever."

Old Vine looked aghast. "You can't do it."

"You've told me yourself that it's the rule."

"But I've never done it—and I'd never do it . . . against Miss Bullen too—I'd never do it."

"It's time she learned something."

"It ain't for us to teach her."

"Who else?"

A new silence stressed this other difference the war had made between them. Bill Juden was the one to break it.

"It's the hedge on the far side of Chant Wood, beyond the dick. It's theirs to mend, but that chap has done nothing but stuff it with chucks and straw."

"We'd better put up some barbed wire," said Harry.

"I don't see why we should fence against their stock."

"But I don't hold with acting otherways. You've taken all this on yourself, Charley. It was your orders, given without consulting me."

"I'm sorry, Dad. But I've got so tired of those heifers that I told Bill that next time they broke through he was to shut them up and I'd deal with Miss Bullen. I think I'll go and see her this evening on my way to Light Row."

"You can't, Charley—I won't have it. Let Bill drive them back to where they came from and we'll fence against them on our side. There's no sense in upsetting Miss Bullen, seeing what we're after."

"That won't make any difference," said Charley. "She and her mother don't go the same way. And I shan't upset her. I shall have a nice neighborly talk with her and teach her a bit about farming."

"It isn't your place."

"Maybe not; but if others won't do anything, I must. At Reedbed and Sweetwillow they grumble all day, but they do nothing and that isn't right. I shouldn't be surprised if she hasn't the smallest idea of what's happening on her place, so it's only fair that someone should let her know."

His father looked stricken. He saw the sense of what Charley said, but it shocked him nonetheless. However, he would not argue about it any more in front of Bill Juden, who still blocked the doorway, his mouth a little open in wonder and deference. Bill evidently approved of Maas' Charley's boldness. . . . Maas' Charley—he had been plain Charley to his teamster before he went away. No doubt about it, the boy had changed. His father only hoped he had not changed too much.

"Let's go down and have a look at 'em in the lodge," Harry said. He still thought he might bring Charley round to his way of thinking.



3

When young Vine came out of the army and went home to his father's farm, he gave up a way of living which was entirely different from the life he had led before the war and the life he intended to lead afterward. During those years at Herford he had been on familiar terms with men and women whom he would afterward be more likely to meet at Doleham Manor than at Birdskitchen. It had been a jolt to find himself back in an atmosphere of old-fashioned deference for a class in which he had learned to be at ease. He had no other wish than to live on at the old place and to marry the girl he had known from boyhood; but he deplored his parents' attitude to Mrs. Winrow and her daughter, and even to the Cheynells. He supposed it had been his once, but it struck him now as feudal. Why should his father put up with the atrocious farming at Waters, which was beginning to affect his own property? He would never have put up with it if the place had not belonged to Lesley Bullen, and she ought to be treated as they would have treated Masters of Lambpool or Allnutt of Reedbed or Douch of Sweetwillow, if these had inconceivably mended their hedgerows with chucks and straw.

He did not think for a moment that his remonstrance would have any ill effects on the negotiations for Birdskitchen. Even if Lesley Bullen were to tell her mother about it, which was unlikely, it was well known that Mrs. Winrow disapproved of the Waters Farm Settlement as thoroughly as he did himself. Besides, he did not mean to give offense. His years in the army had given him confidence in his way of handling people, and he hoped to bring Lesley Bullen to her senses by methods that were perfectly suave. He tried to explain all this to his father while they inspected the heifers; but though the old man no longer opposed him, Charley could see that he was still nervous.

"Promise me you'll be careful, Son," he said anxiously.

"Yes, Dad, I'll be careful. After all, I'm as anxious as you can be to tackle her the right way."

"But you spoke of her paying for the damage."

"I'll talk to her so that she'll offer to."

Old Vine looked hard at him for a moment.

"Take care," he said slowly. "You sound as if you were getting a bit too sure of yourself."

Of course that was what the last eight years had done for him—made him feel sure and self-confident. But that was the blessing of the last eight years, a blessing that he had brought back to Birdskitchen, to his parents, and to Margery. In time they would all come to acknowledge that it was a blessing.

He was, however, very patient with his father that afternoon, and listened good-humoredly to many more of his admonitions before setting out to spend the evening with Margery at Light Row. Waters Farm was not exactly on his way, for Light Row, like Birdskitchen, stood above the valley on the high ground between the river and the village. But around Doleham it was possible to go anywhere by any way if you ignored the high road and followed the lanes. He drove his utility van very carefully through the loops and knots of the valley lane, till at last he found himself turning at right angles into the drive that led up to the black house and the headless oasts.

It was a long time since he had been to the place, and he noticed one or two small changes, which, to his surprise, were all improvements. It looked tidier—cleaned up. Of course that was really unimportant. Some women, probably one of the wives, had got tired of the mess. The most significant change was in the strip of garden between the house and the yard. Last time he called, it had been a wilderness. Now it had been dug over—the wrong time for digging a garden, to be sure, but nonetheless a move in the right direction. If only the reformer could tackle the rest of the farm.

The door stood open, and as he knocked he saw a woman running down the stairs. He recognized her at once. She was the woman to whom a month ago he had given a lift to the Manor from the station and had found so dismally fresh. She had told him then that she was going to be Lesley Bullen's secretary.

"How are you?" he asked politely, hoping she would not detain him long. "I've called to have a word with Miss Bullen if it's convenient."

"Certainly. She's in the office. I'll take you to her. I was just running up to the Manor to telephone. It's awkward not having a phone here."

"Don't let me keep you. I can find Miss Bullen myself, now I know where she is."

"Oh, I'm in no hurry," and she led the way upstairs.

She was as industriously bright as she had been on the first occasion, but he could see that this time none of it was aimed at him personally. He had lost his attraction—probably because he had done nothing about her since their meeting. She had wanted him to take her to Sandlake, he remembered. He hoped he had not hurt her feelings too much.

"How are you liking it here?" he asked in propitiation.

"Very much indeed," she answered crisply. "The weather's been glorious."

She had opened the office door and he could see Lesley Bullen sitting at the desk and frowning over a heap of papers. It was longer since he had seen her than since he had seen her farm, for the last time he had visited Waters he had met only Hightower. He had not spoken to her, he thought, since he was in uniform, and he suddenly wished he was wearing uniform now. As a major in His Majesty's Royal Sussex Regiment he could have dealt more easily with what he now saw was going to be a difficult interview.

As he came in, Lesley lifted her eyes. He had forgotten her eyes. They were large and solemn and clear, and they looked at him in a sort of bewilderment.

"Mr. Vine hopes you can spare him a few moments," the secretary said jauntily. "I've got to run up to the house. But you'll manage all right, won't you? As it's so late, I thought I wouldn't come down again."

"Yes, certainly. Please go. I'll come up when . . ." She looked vaguely at Charley. She did not ask him to sit down, but he attributed the omission to nothing more sinister than absent-mindedness.

"May I?" he asked, pulling forward a chair.

"Oh, yes, please do."

He sat down and for a moment there was silence. She evidently had no idea why he had come and he found it unexpectedly difficult to tell her. He had taken for granted that the conversation would start with a few automatic civilities, but these were not forthcoming on her side, and that seemed to make it almost impossible to produce them on his. He decided to come to the point at once.

"Forgive me for interrupting you like this, Miss Bullen, but I've come to tell you that eight of your heifers have broken through to land belonging to my father's farm. So we've put them in one of our lodges until you can send for them."

"Oh," she said, "how very, very kind."

He would have laughed if anyone could have told him beforehand that this was how she would answer him. But as it happened, he did not feel amused at all—only disconcerted.

"I'm afraid," he said quickly, "we didn't do it out of kindness."

"Oh . . ." She looked as if she were searching for some less likely motive.

"They've done a good bit of damage, you know, altogether. They must have been loose for some time in Chant Wood before they broke through the hedge in two or three places, and they've trampled the ground pretty badly by the river."

"I'm sorry—dreadfully sorry. You must let me pay."

He was beginning almost to feel angry. He had told his father that he would make her offer to pay of her own accord but she was running ahead of schedule. She had offered before he had attempted to make her.

"We shall have to ask for some compensation," he said stiffly. "It's the usual thing in these cases. But what I'd much rather you did would be to mend your hedges properly."

"But we have mended them—some of them, at least. Benson told me he was mending hedges all Monday afternoon."

"Yes, he's filled in the gaps with bundles of straw and brushwood. Do you think that's going to stop a beast getting through?"

"They got through your hedges, too, didn't they?"

He was surprised at her coming back at him like this.

"Yes. I'm not saying that a beast won't get through a well-made hedge if it's the hedge-breaking sort. In that case one has to fence with barbed wire. But a wood hedge is not kept in quite the same way as a field hedge—I mean that it's not laid along except after the wood is cleared, and generally it's left to the last for brishing. You see, one doesn't expect to find heifers wandering in a wood."

She had listened attentively to his little lecture, and when he had finished, she said, "I see. I ought to have thought of having some barbed wire put up, for I can't expect men like Benson to know how to mend a hedge in the real professional manner."

"Why not?"

"Because they'd done no farmwork before they came here. It's all new to them."

"Then may I ask why you engaged them?"

He was surprised at his own asperity and a little ashamed. The interview was not going at all the way he had meant it to go. So far he did not think he had given offense, but he certainly was not being suave.

"Well, I didn't exactly engage them in the sense that you and the other farmers round here engage hands. This farm is a sort of settlement for families who can't find work or homes."

"Surely there isn't anyone who can't find work these days."

"But much of it's such a deadly sort of work—and more often than not it's impossible to find even a room anywhere near it. These men didn't want to leave their families and live in hostels."

"I see. So really this place isn't a farm but a charity."

He wished he had not said it, once he had spoken.

"No," she said, coming back at him in her surprising way, "it isn't a charity, unless it's charity to share what one has too much of with people who have too little. It's a kind of socialism, really, but I don't call it that because it has nothing to do with politics. I've got this farm and I've also got my own wing in Doleham Manor, which is quite as big as the average workingman's cottage. I don't need both these places. Actually, I'd like it much better if my mother and I lived here and we divided up the Manor, as we could provide for many more families that way. But she won't hear of it, so I have to use this house instead. But it isn't a charity. I pay the legal farming wage for the legal farming week of fifty-two hours, and I'm hoping that before long the place will be self-supporting."

He had listened to her little lecture as patiently as she had listened to his, but with less obvious respect for its conclusions.

"I'm afraid that if your people worked a hundred hours a week they still wouldn't get much done. Have you never considered engaging an experienced farmhand to supervise them and teach them their job?"

"That was my idea in engaging Mr. Hightower. He said he was thoroughly experienced and had farmed for years. But it turned out that the farm was in Australia, where farming methods are quite different from what they are here."

"Does your present secretary know anything about farming?"

He knew that she did not from what she herself had told him, but he wanted to find out what Lesley Bullen thought about her.

"She hasn't had much practical experience so far, but she's extremely quick at picking things up. She's done quite a lot since she came."

"On the farm?"

"No, not exactly on the farm. But she's made Turner dig over the garden. She says it's nonsense for us to buy vegetables when we can grow them ourselves. And she collects the eggs and rations them to the settlers, so that very many more go to the packing station, and we're beginning to make a bit of money that way."

Charley's opinion of the secretary rose a little.

"That's all to the good. But you still need someone who really knows. Couldn't Mr. Cheynell advise you now and then?"

She shook her head and the dark curtains of her hair nearly hid her face as they swung across it. She was an unkempt thing, compared with his girl.

"I'm afraid Cousin Nicholas is just as angry with me as you are."

"But I'm not angry."

She smiled. "I'm sorry, I thought you were. When you don't know people very well it's difficult sometimes to tell if they're angry or not."

"I'm not angry," he repeated, for his own assurance as much as hers, "but I've been pretty frank, I admit." Then he smiled at her in his turn. "I told my father I would try to teach you a bit about farming."

"It's very good of you to take so much trouble."

"I'm afraid I'm not doing it only for your sake. A bad farm in a parish is like a bad apple in a tub—it rots the lot."

She looked at him almost tragically.

"I'm sorry. I know I'm not farming well. I'm not so ignorant as—as some people think, and soon I hope we'll do better here. But at the moment there are other things that must come first. . . . I've told you I'd like to pay for the damage I've done."

They had wandered as far from the heifers in the river lodge as these had wandered from their own pastures. Now they were back again, after an interview which he had found unexpectedly disconcerting.

"I'll ask my father to let you know what it comes to," he said, standing up to end it. "But first of all you must fetch back those heifers. We can't keep them on our place all night."

"But"—she spoke in some consternation—"it's after five. The men have stopped work."

"And is there no such thing as overtime at Waters?" he asked with a smile.

"Well . . . Ivory might go—if I can find him. But I don't think he's come back yet."

As she spoke there were footsteps and voices in the passage below.

"That must be somebody," he said. He was anxious to see a man start before he went on to Light Row. Otherwise the chances were that nothing would happen and the heifers would be left where they were all night.

"I expect it's the Turners and the Bensons starting off for Doleham."

"They had better do this job first—it won't take more than an hour."

"But—" he saw her hesitate, torn between the wish to do the right thing and reluctance to interfere with her people's leisure.

He said, "I'll tackle them if you like, but we must hurry or they'll be gone."

He was nearer than she was to the door, and he ran to the stair-head without waiting for her reply. By the time he had reached the bottom, a small string of men and women was threading through the garden gate.

"Hi!" he called after them, and the string ceased its coil through the gate and knotted around it.

"Look here," he said, "there's eight of your heifers in my lodge at Birdskitchen. My man shut them in there after they'd broken through about five hedges and made a terrible mess of Chant Wood. I've just been asking Miss Bullen if one of you chaps can come over and fetch them back."

He spoke pleasantly, though he did not much like the looks of the group he was addressing. It was equally made up of men, women, and boys, two of each, and all tidily, even smartly, dressed, doubtless on their way up to the village for an evening at the pub. No one answered for a moment, then one of the men said, "Couldn't they stay where they are till tomorrow?"

"Not possibly. They're in a small lodge never intended for cattle, and we can't manage any fodder."

"Well, you see, sir, it's like this." Charley noticed the "sir," which would certainly not be forthcoming from any local farmhand. "We're all changed to go off duty. Couldn't you send one of your own blokes round with them?"

"I've only got one bloke, and he has more to do already than he can manage. He wouldn't dream of going off the place till eight or nine at this time of the year, but there's only one of him and there's five of you."

"That's right," said the man. "Five. Where's Ivory?"

No one seemed to know.

"He's sure to be somewhere about the place," said a woman.

Then suddenly Lesley Bullen spoke. She was standing just behind Charley, and her voice made him start, for at the moment he had forgotten all about her.

"I think I know where he is. He went into the Shaw to cut spiles, and I expect he's still there."

The woodman in Charley blenched at the thought of cutting spiles in July, but all he said was, "Then one of you had better go and find him."

Nobody moved.

"I'll go," said Lesley Bullen.

"For heaven's sake, no!" He was indignant. "Let one of these—" He meant to say "rotters," but let the word drop without a substitute. "Let one of these go."

"Run along, Cyril," said a man to one of the youths. "You can come after us."

Cyril detached himself unwillingly. Then a woman cried, "I see him! He's in the house. He's looking out of the window."

Charley turned around, but all he saw was a group of children with their noses pressed against the glass. Then behind them for a moment, hanging in the shadows of the room, was a long white face like a ghost's, which, like a ghost's, immediately disappeared.

Men shouted and women shrilled. "Ivory! Come out! You're wanted!"

But no one came until Lesley Bullen put her head into the passage and called, "Ivory! I want you. I want you to do something for me."

There was a dragging sound of footsteps, and Ivory came out of the kitchen into the passage. He stood there with a half-eaten slice of bread and butter in his hand, looking warily at the stranger. Vine's first reaction was to wonder how a man who worked outdoors all day could manage to look so pale. His face was as white as his name, which was obviously a nickname given to match his looks.

"Our heifers have broken into Mr. Vine's field," said Lesley Bullen, "and he's come over to ask one of us to fetch them back. As you haven't changed yet—"

"I'll go," said Ivory at once. "Where are they?"

"In the small lodge beside the river," said Vine. "You go through Chant Wood, and it's about ten yards beyond. You can't miss it."

Ivory turned away without another word, as if to start immediately.

"Wait a minute," said Vine. "Since you've been gashing timber to get spiles, you'd better take some with you and mend your hedges, or we'll be having this all over again."

Ivory brought up a large, rather simian hand in what looked as if it was going to be a military salute, until about halfway it wavered and fell back to his side.

"I'll put 'em in the little Pound field," he said to Lesley Bullen, and as he looked at her his features underwent a queer distortion which might or might not have been a smile.



4

Charley Vine was glad to leave the human assemblage of Waters Farm and drive on toward Light Row. He was also glad that the drive was not a long one; for all the time he was driving he was thinking, and he did not altogether like his thoughts. In the jargon that of late years had become almost a second language to him, the interview had not gone according to plan. It was true that it had achieved the results he had intended—the cattle were to be fetched and the damage they had done was to be paid for—but he had not achieved it in the way he had meant and he felt discomfited.

Nor did he think that he had taught Lesley Bullen even a little about farming. For one thing, he did not now believe her to be so ignorant as he used to imagine. It was executive ability, foresight, and planning that she lacked, rather than knowledge or even a certain amount of experience. To balance this lack, her nature had a tragic overweight of idealism, optimism, and trust.

He was used to dealing with women, but none could have been more unlike her than those Service girls in Germany. No girl like Lesley Bullen, he reflected, could have come through O.C.T.U. Those girl officers must all have been of the practical, resourceful, observant type which she was not. Hence his experience with them had only misled him when he came to deal with her. That was why he had found her so disconcerting. It would have been better if he had known less about a different kind of woman.

But he bore her no grudge. In fact, he liked her, though his liking was less a personal reaction than a reflection of local opinion. He knew that she was well liked in Doleham Valley, because she was unpretentious and kind and very different from her mother, taking after her father, who had been everybody's friend. For that reason, Doleham forgave her lapses and put down her occasional ungraciousness to shyness or absence of mind. Its liking was reinforced by a strand of pity; the neighborhood held that she had been neglected by her mother and stepfather and alternatively that she had been bullied by them. She had grown up the way she had because she had never really been given her proper chances. There was, now he came to think of it, a certain amount of pity in his own liking. That was why, perhaps, he could forgive her for pricking a small hole in his self-esteem.

As for the setup at Waters Farm, it was very much what he had expected to find, neither better nor worse. The secretary was certainly an improvement on that spiv Hightower, but the others were not unlike what local repute and his own notions had made them. He had always taken them for a gang of wasters who had found their providence in an incautious idealist. Waters Farm was at present providing them with a pleasant home and good wages in exchange for as little work as they chose to do. He guessed that it also provided for the younger men an escape from military service. Ivory did not quite fit into the picture. He worked, though ignorantly, and his attitude toward Lesley Bullen was something more than the good-natured tolerance of a confidence man for a generous sucker. He appeared at a first glance to be mentally deficient; but Charley had seen that look before, in army men who for some reason or other found life too much for them. He hoped he was competent enough to bring back the heifers without mishap. Perhaps one of the lads should have been sent with him, though it was a task which could have been done singlehanded by any ordinary farmer's boy. However, it was too late to worry about that now. The valley and its queer, disturbing inhabitants now lay a couple of miles behind him, and he was barely a hundred yards from his girl.



5

Light Row wore the sunshine on its windows, and would continue to wear it when the sun was no more than a red ball dipping behind the woods of Dolehamtail. It was that holding of the light from its high place, not only above the valley but above the village, which had given it its name. The windows, too, were larger than was common in the district, having toward the end of the eighteenth century been enlarged into queer Gothic shapes, clumsily and sometimes crookedly set in their white frames in the red walls of the old place. The number of houses in the Row had varied from time to time. It was reputed to have been built as a single house, but had later been cut up into smaller dwellings. At one time it had been no more than a row of workmen's cottages. Now it was divided unequally into three, all inhabited by members of the Sinden family. An old aunt lived in the smallest, which would doubtless at her death be absorbed by its next-door neighbor. The other two housed two Sinden brothers, the elder of whom was Margery's father.

His house was not only the biggest of the three but the most ornate. Instead of a white door set in flat like the other two it had a hooded porch, evidently put in at the same time as the windows. A fire thorn was tidily trimmed across the width of the ground floor; and the garden, with its smooth lawn and well-tended flower beds, might have been the garden of a villa in the town. Percy Sinden was a successful hauler and the rich man of his family. He was said to have made a lot of money during the war, and could doubtless have bought a better house for his family if it had ever occurred to any of the Sindens to live anywhere but in Light Row.

Charley Vine parked his car at the garden gate and walked up the neat path between cement rabbits and toadstools to the front door. Before he had time to ring, it opened and Margery appeared. She must have been watching for him from the window.

"Hullo, Charley! Here you are at last. I was beginning to think I'd make a mistake about the day."

He kissed her, not quite as a lover nor quite as a brother.

"I stopped at Waters Farm on the way. Those miserable heifers have broken through again and I had to get someone to come and fetch them off our place—to say nothing of giving them a piece of my mind."

Now he was with her he had recovered his self-esteem.

"What a crew! Who did you see there? Miss Bullen or the secretary?"

"I saw them both. But the secretary didn't stay—she was off somewhere."

"And did you get any sense out of Miss Bullen?"

He shook his head. "Not much." Then he added, "What a queer piece she is, Margery."

"I don't know that I've ever spoken to her. She looks queer."

"She is queer, but I like her."

"I think most people do. But they wish she had more sense."

He was holding her hand and plaiting the fingers with his as they sauntered around the house toward a little orchard at the back. Neither had said a word about wanting to go there, but they had moved that way in a sort of secret understanding. It was always like this with him and Margery. He did not have to tell her things, because they thought alike. They thought alike because they were the same sort of person. They had also led very much the same sort of life. They had both spent a comparatively humble childhood in the houses of hard-working parents and had gone together to the village school. Then, he first, she two years later, they had won scholarships at the Sandlake Grammar School, and had traveled there and back together by the bus. When war broke out, he had gone into the army and she into the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. They had both been recommended for O.C.T.U. and by the end of the war she was a Flight Officer and he a Captain. Then their ways had for a time been different, for he had stayed on in Germany and won his Majority in the Army of Occupation, while she had been demobbed and gone home. But the correspondence they had kept up during the war still held them together and his leaves had brought him her society in a way that had not been possible when they were still in the forces. The whole neighborhood, as well as their families, expected them to marry; but so far he had not asked her, for reasons he had only partly given his father. Perhaps he would have spoken if he had not felt so sure she understood why he did not.

This evening in the orchard they sat in an accord of speech and silence. An old apple tree hung out a low bough where Margery could sit with her feet in the grass, while he leaned against her knees. Above them a tent of green leaves and green fruit filtered the sunlight into golden drops. When he looked up at her face, the shadows were green on her clear and lovely skin, which wore its own delicate colors among them like the apple blossom that had been among the leaves. She was beautiful, his girl, in her fair, smooth, burnished way—an apple tree in sunshine. Once he put up his arm and drew her face down to him for a kiss, but he did not in any common acceptance of the term make love. During the last eight years he had been so sickened by the easy cheapness of love as he had seen it in the army, by its casual, promiscuous, uncounted, unvalued exchanges, that he had deliberately cultivated a certain austerity in his love for Margery. This, because it was real, must be different from his encounters with other girls.

There was, besides, so much friendship between them that it was natural to them when together to talk as friends, sharing the common events of everyday. This evening they talked mainly of Waters Farm and the trouble it had made.

"Of course," he said, "in time those town types will get browned off and move on somewhere else. Then, if only one could be ready with advice, or she would take it . . ."

"What sort of advice?"

"If she really wants to run the place as a philanthropic concern as well as a farm, why doesn't she start it as a training center, with a proper instructor and perhaps a government grant? Nobody could object to that."

"You'd better suggest it to her."

"I will, but of course she'll never send the present lot packing as long as they want to stay, and I don't expect them to move off in a hurry. They're quite comfortable where they are at present."

"Can't you do something to drive them out?"

"I don't see what I can do—unless I get the Agricultural Committee to make a row. But even if I did that, and it wouldn't be easy, I imagine she's the sort of girl who if you oppose her will only dig her toes in more firmly."

"I don't want you to upset her, Charley."

He looked around at her quickly. "Why?"

"Well, don't you think . . . wouldn't it be a mistake to do anything to upset that family? I mean, before it's all fixed up about Birdskitchen."

"Oh, that . . ." It was odd that she should have the same sort of fear as his father, and he answered her as he had answered his father. "I assure you that if I upset Miss Bullen it won't upset her family. On the contrary, I believe both her mother and old Cheynell would be grateful to anybody who could bring her to her senses about Waters Farm."

Margery laughed. "You're taking on rather a lot, aren't you, if you propose to bring her to her senses?"

"I never said that I did—only if anyone could . . . However, I think I'll have a try."

He was grateful to her because he felt his confidence returning. He pulled her hand against his cheek and kissed it. "Dear Margery . . ."

She asked suddenly, "Has your father heard anything more from Mrs. Winrow?"

The question, for some reason, discomposed him. At the same time he wondered that she had not asked it earlier. She had known that his father was going to see Mr. Cheynell today.

"Nothing really new. She's still holding out on the price. I think I told you Dad's going up a thousand on his offer, and he seems to think she'll take it. But personally I haven't much hope. She's probably quite right in thinking she could get eight or ten thousand elsewhere."

"What will your father do if she refuses again?"

"Nothing. That closes it as far as he's concerned. He's gone his limit."

"But will he stay on at Birdskitchen as a tenant or get another place?"

Charley thought for a moment.

"He hasn't said anything, not definitely. But I'm pretty sure he'll go.

"And where do you think you—he'll go to?"

There was another silence, and before he could break it Margery cried, "I wish she'd make up her mind. I'm sick of waiting."

"My darling!"

The new note in her voice had startled him, and he turned right round to see her face. But there was a shuttle of light and shadow across it so that he could not tell what expression it really wore. Her voice was perfectly calm as she said, "It must be trying for your father to be kept on tenterhooks like this, and for you too, I imagine."

The strange new note was gone, but he still could not see her face—only that she was gazing over his head toward the valley, where the sun had already given place to a creeping dusk.

"Yes. I want to know how I stand."

He need say no more. She understood him. She always understood. Then if she did, why didn't he say more? How easy it would be to finish the sentence he had begun and say: I want to know how I stand before I ask you to marry me. He opened his mouth, but found a curious reluctance to commit himself to what he had made up his mind to do. His pride somehow was involved in his original plan of keeping silence until Birdskitchen was his father's own farm. He picked a blade of centaury out of the grass and nibbled the stalk. Then Margery turned the corner of their silence.

"I think we should go indoors."

"It's early yet."

"I heard the clock strike nine, and supper will be ready."

He scrambled to his feet. He was surprised that so much time had passed. Already the valley's pool of twilight had become a lake that drowned the hills and had no shores but cloud. The sunset that had left Pookreed would soon be gone even from Light Row. Its last rays ripened the pale colors on Margery's face as he took her in his arms.

"My sweet," he murmured against its softness, "you know how much I love you." And it was not a question that he asked.



6

From the other side of the valley, Light Row could be seen hanging like a fiery bar above the dusk. Lesley Bullen and her secretary sat on the terrace at Doleham Manor and watched the light move, flash on the windows, and gutter out. Now nothing burned but the edges of the sky, which faintly colored the twilight, so that the women's faces had a pearly look. Both were in characteristic attitudes—Rosamund lighting a cigarette from its predecessor's stub, Lesley crouching forward over her knees and trying to detach the things she knew from the shadows knitted around them.

She said in a voice of concern, "I can't see any lights at Waters Farm."

"Why should you? The children must be in bed by now and the rest are out."

"All except Ivory."

"Well, I expect he can say his prayers just as well in the dark."

"I wonder if he's got back yet with those heifers."

"Surely, by now."

"I don't know. It might be difficult, unless he mended all the hedges first. And if he's done that he may have lost the daylight."

"Don't worry about him. He'll manage, and if he doesn't there's no great harm done."

Lesley shuffled her big feet.

"But I don't want Charley Vine to find them still in his lodge tomorrow morning."

"Surely he can do with them, just for one night."

"But you see, they oughtn't to be there at all. It isn't a proper cow lodge and there's no fodder for them. He'll think worse of us than ever if we don't get them away tonight."

"Does it matter so much what he thinks?"

Lesley did not answer, and the dusk hid a crease of amusement on Rosamund's face. This was the third time Charley Vine had come into the conversation since his visit to the farm. Lesley had evidently been both disturbed and impressed by it, and kept harking back to it from all their topics.

"Why do you mind so much what he thinks?" asked Rosamund. "He isn't the only one who criticizes you."

"No; but he did it so nicely. And of course a man like him matters so much more than Cousin Nicholas and the others. I mean, he's a workingman himself, so he has a right to complain of people not working. I wish I knew how I could get my men to work."

Rosamund laughed. "That's every woman's problem—and I don't care who said that 'Men must work and women must weep.' Personally I never knew a man who didn't like weeping better than working, and a woman has to do both anyway, so what's it all in aid of?"

"Do men like weeping better than working?" asked Lesley gravely.

"All those I've had anything to do with."

"But have you ever seen a man weep?"

"Bless you, my dear, Phil did nothing else when he was down."

Lesley shook her head slowly, as if appalled at this new revelation. Then she said, "I'm sure Charley Vine isn't like that."

Rosamund said nothing. She was beginning to weary of Charley Vine as a topic of conversation, and as all other topics seemed to lead to him, she thought she would try silence. For some time it remained unbroken. Lesley was evidently thinking hard, her chin in her hands, her elbows on her knees. The women's faces were like paper now, white and frail in the last hover of light. A little breeze rustled over the garden, fanning the heat. Then suddenly the telephone rang in the house.

Rosamund jumped up. "I'll go. I expect it's for me."

She ran quickly through the hall, ignoring the noisy summons there, and into the sitting room of Lesley's wing, where there was an extension. As she picked up the receiver she felt almost suffocated by her own heartbeats.

"Doleham 26," she heard her prim secretary's voice say, and there was eternity in the second that passed before a man's voice came on the line.

"That you, Beautiful?"

"Oh . . . Bob . .. be careful. Suppose it hadn't been."

"But I knew it was, you see. How are you, Sweet?"

"Oh, fine."

"Sorry I wasn't there when you rang me. But I'd gone to meet a man at the local. How's tricks?"

"Oh, much as usual. The old girl keeps away, but I hear she's coming down next week for a committee meeting or something. That's why I rang you. It would be better if I didn't come over when she's here."

"Will she be here long?"

"I don't know. No one does, at least Lesley doesn't."

"Surely she can't object to your having an evening off."

"It isn't that, but she's so sharp. She'd find out what I did on it, and that old Sale of hers, she's a regular spy and noses out everything. So I was going to suggest that I come over Tuesday or Wednesday that week instead of Saturday—that is, if you can run me back in the jeep."

"I reckon I can do that for you, Gorgeous. All cats in the dark are gray, so maybe all petrol is too."

"Well, anyway, the police will be in bed."

"May they rest in peace."

She tittered. "How are you, Bob?"

"Alive and well."

"Do you still love me?"

"Ah, that's telling."

She was gripping the receiver so hard that her knuckles stood out white. She felt as if she would never be able to put it down.

"But I want to hear you tell me."

"I'll tell you when I see you. Must I wait till Saturday?"

"Well—well, no. I can really manage any day this week . . . if you can manage the jeep."

"I've told you all about the jeep."

"Then shall we say—er—shall we say tomorrow?"

"Let's say it by all means. I'll expect you round about the usual time."

"Yes, I'll come by the bus. Shall I—?"

"I'll ring off now, as I can hear Archie coming. Good-by, Sweet."

"Good-by, till tomorrow."

"By."

She heard the receiver on his side click back, and with difficulty released her hold of her own. Her heart was still beating thickly and her face was hot, while her head sang with remembered words which had not all been glorious but nevertheless combined with hope, relief, and anticipation in a delirious, suffocating happiness. She crossed the room to the little cupboard in the corner and took out a bottle of gin. Thank goodness she didn't have to face up to things any more without that. Lesley had agreed at once that she should have a supply, "for her indigestion," so there need in future be no more than humiliation in wineless meals.

She diluted the spirit with a little orange juice and swallowed a good peg. That would stop her shaking. She could not go back to Lesley shaking like this; even Lesley might not believe one could shake for a woman friend. Oh, what a fool she was, what a goddamned fool, and yet what a happy fool. She must never let Sylvia and the others know that she had fallen again for the wrong sort of man. Well (as the drink stiffened her defiance of Sylvia and the rest of life), what other sort was there here? And was it worth going without the fun and rapture she had found with Bob Hightower, just on the chance of meeting some dull, well-bred, well-off man who would fall wildly enough in love with her to take on poor Michael? Probably such a man did not exist. She was best off as things were, enjoying her secret adventure, adoring her chosen man—chosen by her heart, her flesh, her fancy, by all of her that was singing now. Yes, it was the best thing for her, even though it could lead to nothing. He would never marry her, and he did not even know about Michael. But it was best—and anyway she couldn't help it, so there was no good worrying even if it wasn't. Tomorrow . . .



7

There was now, of course, no longer any question of changing her job. Bob Hightower had confirmed her in it for as long as he remained at Sandlake. Nor was there the smallest fear of her losing it except by her own choice. She could do what was required of her quite well enough to satisfy Lesley Bullen, always uncritical and anxious to be pleased. It was also plain that Lesley liked her and enjoyed her company. The wiles that had failed so notably with Iris Winrow had won an easy success with her daughter, and had in consequence ceased to be wiles. Rosamund quite genuinely liked her employer, her liking being all the stronger for an admixture of contempt. It was pleasant, it did her good, to be able to look down on a girl in so much better circumstances than she was—better born, better bred, better off, better educated, and yet withal completely cuckoo. Lesley needed looking after, and though Rosamund would not have recognized any maternal impulse behind her efforts to protect her from the more barefaced exploitations of her goodwill, there was nonetheless some satisfaction in attending to such small matters within her scope as the vegetable garden and the chicken yard, especially as her reforms had been carried out without in any way antagonizing those most concerned.

She had always had the power to make people like her, even when she could not do what they wanted or was making them do what they did not want. That was her gift, her stock in trade, her only fortune; and when Iris Winrow had failed to respond to it, she had experienced something worse than defeat. She had tried so hard during that weekend. She had turned on all her batteries of brightness, helpfulness, and general amiability. She had met snubs with a smile and rudeness with gaiety. But it had all been no use. Mrs. Winrow not only disliked her, she despised her, she saw through her, she exposed her even to herself. She had made her feel a miserable little upstart woman without abilities, manners, or looks, who made her way through life by toadying and flattering her betters, but yet had never really succeeded in getting anywhere and would never succeed. In other words, Mrs. Winrow had made her feel unsure of herself; and, as she had no one but herself to rely on, that was a blow at the whole substance and security of her life.

Mercifully, she did not feel like this when Mrs. Winrow was away, and as she was mostly away Rosamund could often forget her and build up a better notion of herself in her relations with other people. With Lesley, of course, she had been entirely successful; and as the Cheynells were always agreeable and polite to her, she gathered that she had been successful there too. But her main victory was with the servants at Doleham Manor. She had at first been afraid that they might share their mistress's disdain, but a very few days had shown her that their attitude was scarcely feudal and that she ought not to find it difficult to win them to her side.

In this she had been favored by circumstance. Going unexpectedly into Lesley's sitting room, she had caught Ashplant in the act of helping himself from the cigarette box. His look of outrage had vanished completely when she said with a pleasant smile, "Leave a few for me, Ashplant, there's a dear," and engaged him in talk which displayed her full realization of the sacredness of a butler's perquisites.

She found that all the ordering of common supplies was in the hands of the Ashplants and that Mrs. Winrow troubled herself very little with accounts, having still the attitude of a rich Edwardian lady toward her housekeeping. Almost anything could go down on the bill, though it sometimes had to be called by another name; and when the Ashplants found her a wholehearted supporter of this policy, she no longer had to complain of their neglect. Life both for her and for Lesley became very much more comfortable.

The omissions and peculations at the farm belonged to another order, for their victim was Lesley. But again by tolerance—this time of the curiously mixed relations of the married couples—and a lot of amiable talk, she was able to convince Benson and Turner that an evening's work in the garden was a refreshing change after work on the farm. As for the two women, as soon as each realized that the other gained no unfair advantage from the redistribution of the eggs, Rosamund found she had an easy job there too—eggs evidently partaking of the nature of stoves and not of husbands in the shared economy.

Because of all this, as well as because of Bob Hightower, she had begun to enjoy her life again. Once she had managed to ignore her defeat at the hands of Iris Winrow and to get over her disappointment at finding herself in a very different situation from what she had expected, she savored all the comforts of relaxation. She felt like a woman who finds unexpectedly that she is able to kick off a pair of tight shoes. It was a relief not to have to play up constantly to her surroundings. In spite of her friendships with women who had their roots in a class above her, in spite even of twelve years of marriage to the outcast son of a good family, she still felt most at ease with those whom she would have liked to consider her inferiors. It was refreshing to ride around with Elphinstone in his car filled up with Mrs. Winrow's petrol, it was amusing to play a game of darts with Ashplant at the pub, and it was cosy to sit and gossip with Mrs. Ashplant in the kitchen, especially as that gossip mostly concerned "the madam" and "the old image," her maid. Such pleasures made her feel still more disinclined for the marriage on which she had once set her hopes. The few specimens of country society she had met since coming to Doleham had one and all impressed her with their dullness, their flatness, their lack of savor. As for marrying one of them—no. Certainly everything was for the best.

Warmed by this pleasant thought she rejoined Lesley on the terrace.

"Sorry to have been so long, but my friend would talk."

Lesley did not answer for a moment, then she said, "I can see the lights now. It must be Ivory, for the others wouldn't be back so early as this."

"That's all right, then. You needn't worry any more."

Lesley said in rather a stricken voice, "I can't help worrying."

"Oh, come; it's not as bad as that. Ivory's sure to have mended the hedges, or he'd have been back earlier, so I don't suppose those cows will get out again."

There was silence while Rosamund lit another cigarette. Then she said carelessly, "I hope you don't mind if I go out tomorrow evening. My friend wants me to come over and see a film she's keen on. She'll run me back in her car afterward."

"Oh, no, of course not. Do go—as early as you like."

Never had Rosamund found anyone easier to manage in such matters. One did not have to work at all—to find a title for the film or even a name for the friend, to say nothing of petrol for her car. Lesley had a mind remote from detail. She had also without question assumed the friend to be of the female sex; indeed, Rosamund thought that it was she who in the first instance had supplied the pronoun. In her experience all friends were female, and she accepted them as such for others. Never was anyone less aware of the position of men in the average woman's life. Rosamund doubted if there had ever been any in Lesley's. She had once or twice referred to "some ghastly bounder Mother wanted me to marry," but it appeared that the ghastly bounder had been choked off before he reached the length of a proposal. And yet she was not unattractive. She had lovely eyes and a sweet smile, and if nicely dressed and made up, with a permanent wave, and taught to hold herself properly instead of crouching and sprawling . . . Rosamund's thoughts were interrupted by Lesley with an almost passionate exclamation.

"I've been thinking."

"Oh . . ."

"I do wish I knew what I could do to pull Waters Farm together and make it a success."

"But, my dear," Rosamund took her cigarette out of her mouth and stared at her, "why this all of a sudden? You never used to mind what people said about Waters Farm."

"I've told you this is different. Charley Vine is different from the others."

There he was again . . . but this time Rosamund no longer felt toward him as on his earlier intrusions. Possibly her conversation with Bob Hightower and her hopes of tomorrow had stimulated her to a new awareness; or it might have been the gin. Anyway, across her mind rushed the thought: I believe she's fallen for him.

Well, why not? He was attractive, and by Lesley's account he had behaved charmingly. The fact that he was a man of the people would also be in his favor where Lesley was concerned. And it would do her all the good in the world to fall in love . . . and no harm if she married him. And what a blow to the old cow!

Rosamund nearly laughed as the idea flew into her mind on the wings of love and gin. A marriage between Lesley Bullen and Charley Vine would completely wipe out the mounting score of insult and exposure, the first items of which had been chalked up on Doleham Valley station over a month ago. Even if the affair stopped short of marriage—even if Lesley were no more than "talked about" with young Vine—it would still be a perfect instrument of vengeance. And it would, she repeated, do Lesley herself all the good in the world. But for that consideration, of course, she would not think of it. For she really liked her—as much as she hated her mother.

It was now too dark for her to see Lesley's face, but she listened carefully as she asked—"In what way is Charley Vine different from others?"

"Oh, in every way. He knows what he's talking about. As I said, he's a workingman himself, so he has a right to criticize. And he did so well with the men—Benson, Turner, Ivory, all of them were like soldiers obeying him."

Rosamund suppressed a whistle.

"I wish," Lesley continued, "I'd someone like him to take them in hand. He said that I ought to engage an experienced farmworker to teach them, but I don't know of anyone round here who would do."

"Perhaps he might know."

"He might. Do you think I could ask him?"

"Yes, of course. Why don't you write and ask him to come and see you and talk it over?"

Another silence filled the darkness. Then Lesley said, "Yes, I really think I might write. I could say again how sorry I am about it all and how I hope he'll let me know the exact amount of the damage. Then I could say I've been thinking over his advice about engaging an experienced farmhand and ask him to come and see me and talk it over."

"And you might add how struck you were about what he said about the bad farming on your place, and as you've got no one to advise you it would be nice of him to call and perhaps make a few suggestions."

She thought: That will fetch him quicker than talk about engaging farmhands.

"Yes, I might do that."

"I'll type the letter for you tomorrow," said Rosamund.

By doing that she could have a hand in its contents and see that they were more persuasive than Lesley alone was likely to make them. She was now completely enchanted with her new idea that Lesley and young Vine should fall in love. It would be nice, she thought, for both of them, and a most satisfactory revenge on Iris Winrow. They would be happy and she would be mad. As a scheme it could hardly be improved on.




Part III

1

Iris Winrow prided herself on having kept her place in society, unlike so many of her friends who in successive reigns and wars had faded out and been no more seen. But her place was less that of a swimmer with the social stream than of a post firmly fixed among its changing waters. The fashionable life of three eras had swept past her, leaving her very much as she had always been when she delighted the drawing rooms of the first one with all the little flutterings, frivolities, prattlings, and spites that were in fashion when women modeled themselves on Elinor Glyn's ingenues and E. F. Benson's Dodo. In those days, all entertaining was done in private houses. It was in a private house that King Edward had seen her dancing, and with a casual remark on the elegance of her Grecian Bend laid the foundations of Sylvia Dunning's royal romance. It was in a private house that she had met and fallen in love with Tom Bullen, and her own first entertainments had been set among the private chintzes and water colors of the Doleham Manor drawing room.

Then had come the shake-up of the first world war; and when entertaining was resumed it had moved out to the restaurants, which competed with free lists for titles and voguish names. Either from the increasing difficulty of finding good servants or from the need to hide the gaps the war had made in the home circle, the carpets and canopies outside the private houses grew fewer every year. It was at a fashionable restaurant that she had met Nigel Winrow, and chiefly at fashionable restaurants she had entertained his friends, in spite of the house in Bryanston Square. Of course, private entertaining still survived in the country, and she had given many parties at Doleham in the days before she had abandoned hope of finding a husband for Lesley. But now, after another world war, private parties even in the country had come to an end, and in town the restaurant parties were growing thinner and dimmer. To meet the right people now you had to belong to a number of charitable committees, and even these were beginning to lose their integrity as the old names lost their value and were supplemented or supplanted by those of film stars and politicians. And there were signs of still worse to come, as the government insisted on doing for the nation what had formerly been done by people like Iris Winrow. Already blank spaces were beginning to appear in her engagement book. It looked as if private charities, like private parties, would have their last fling in country districts.

She had been on the Doleham Valley Red Cross Committee ever since the first war, and she was pleased that it still featured the old names—names of long-settled families whom, as none lived further than twenty miles away, she called her neighbors. She very seldom saw them now except at committee meetings—the Willoughbys lived in one of their lodges and had no room for entertaining, Lady Anderson did all her own housework and could not be bothered, while the Frost-Leightons stood in too much awe of their cook to ask their friends to partake of her doubtful achievements. Iris herself did not like to upset Mrs. Ashplant by too many invitations. As a result, the committee meetings, which for so many years had been a mere routine sacrifice of time in the cause of charity, had become valued social occasions and almost the only chance of meeting old friends.

By the same token, the annual Red Cross Ball, which had formerly been only one of the many social events of the year, had become the district's only really exclusive festivity. Everyone agreed that Hunt Balls were now impossible, for the farmers went to them even though evening dress was once more compulsory. The Red Cross Ball, after its suspension during the war, had been made a summer fixture, so as to discourage the farming element, and with tickets at three guineas each could be relied on to provide the diminished county with the only high jinks that could truthfully be said to compare with the good days gone by.

Iris always went to the Red Cross Ball, and made a point of taking Lesley. Even before the war she had given up taking her to dances in London, where the sight of her stooping over all but her tallest partners and boring every size with earnest talk had been a public humiliation. But in Doleham it simply would not do to appear to give up hope. Lesley was only thirty-two, and looked five years younger even without any make-up; and it was just possible that some eligible friend of one of the "neighbors" might see her for the first time and be smitten, or that some sufficiently serious man could be found in London to join the Doleham Manor house party.

But this year Iris had only just begun to cast her net for this rare fish when she received an invitation that changed everything. Some old friends, who had come back to London after five years overseas in a colonial governorship, invited her to join their house party in Scotland at a date just covering the Red Cross Ball. It was the sort of occasion that above all others she loved and had feared she might never enjoy again—a party of well-connected, still wealthy people, many of whom would be old friends, all passing their time very much in the old way with guns and shooting luncheons, dinner parties, bridge, and dancing. They had hired a whole staff of servants from a well-known agency, and she would take Sale and be almost the lady she was when she first married. The Red Cross Ball was, after all, only a very diminished affair. She would be missed, she told herself, but she herself would miss nothing. She broke the news gracefully at the last committee meeting.

It was received with so much regret and consternation that she felt moved to invite the entire committee with their friends and families to cocktails on the eve of her departure—"just ourselves . . ." she fluttered; "really the garden's still looking presentable in spite of the drought."

In a very different spirit was the announcement heard by her daughter: "Thank heaven! Then I don't have to go."

"Darling, don't talk like that. My not being there won't make any difference as far as you are concerned. You must go. I've arranged it all."

"Arranged what?" cried Lesley in some alarm.

"For you to go with the two young Mortimers and Belle's fiancÚ. It's too soon after Mrs. Mortimer's operation for her to go, so you and the young people will make a nice party."

Lesley scowled thunderously and scuffed her foot. "It'll be a very awkward number."

"Nonsense. Four's the best number you can have for a party like that."

"But it will be five with Rosamund—Mrs. Gailey."

There was a brief, full silence. Rosamund, who was drinking tea, looked across the loggia at Mrs. Winrow's face and saw what she expected.

"That's impossible," said Iris. "There's no question of Mrs. Gailey going. She would be quite out of it."

Rosamund forced her voice into a gay casualness.

"It's so many years since I danced . . . not since I used to go with my husband to the Savoy. I expect I'm out of practice, and anyhow I don't care for country balls." There's for you, old cow!

"But I don't see why I have to go. I don't like Robin Mortimer, and if we go together I'll have to dance with him most of the evening."

The argument drooled on, but Rosamund no longer listened. She was furious. Mrs. Winrow was evidently just as determined as ever to thwart and humiliate her. She wanted to get rid of her, she supposed—exasperate her into giving notice. She should not succeed in doing that, but it looked as if she might succeed in preventing her going to the ball. Rosamund had heard enough local talk at all levels to convince her that the Red Cross Ball was a really big occasion, and that not to attend it would mean loss of face as well as loss of fun. She had expected there would be a house party for it at Doleham Manor and that Lesley, who always liked to have her company, would gladly include her in her own special set. Once at the ball, she could spend a blissful evening dancing with Bob Hightower, who she was determined should also come, even if she had to buy him his ticket. But now with this small, pre-chosen company, all her plans were wrecked. What could she do? She was still determined to go, but this old hag had made everything difficult and inglorious. A middle-aged Cinderella, Rosamund sat in angry silence, dreaming of the ball and scheming how to get there without a fairy godmother and in spite of at least one exceedingly determined wicked sister.



2

On one point her mind was made up, and that was that Iris Winrow should not prevent her going to the cocktail party. With this end in view, she kept her plans hidden even from Lesley, but in due time dressed herself with special care in her best pink and green shot taffeta, with a green ribbon around her head and even her toenails varnished, and walked out on the lawn below the terrace just after everyone had assembled in the shade of the big cedar trees. Mrs. Winrow gave her a chilling look, but could not possibly send her away, and gazing round her at the well-dressed company, Rosamund felt a thrill of pleasure and achievement.

Here, however, her luck ended. She had relied on Lesley for introductions, not realizing that her invariable custom at a Doleham Manor party was to take possession of the least uncongenial guest and escape the others by "showing her round the garden." At this moment some unhappy female—it never was a man—was trailing, probably without a drink, in the wake of a mooning hostess, who herself caring nothing for what she exhibited, led her up every shadeless path, past every baking flower bed, through every stifling greenhouse, in flight from the hour when she must return to shade and refreshment in the society of her mother's friends.

Rosamund stood for some moments looking round and smiling. Then, as no one returned her smile and she feared that Mrs. Winrow might notice her isolation, she strolled off toward the table where cocktails were being shaken by the only human being likely to provide her with friendly conversation.

"Here," she said to Ashplant, "give me something snappy. I'm bored in this crowd."

"Don't you know anyone?"

"Not a soul."

"Aren't Mr. Cheynell and Lady Anne here?"

"I haven't seen them. And I can't find Miss Bullen either."

"Oh, she's run away. She always does. Here, you take one of these and you won't feel lonely."

Rosamund took one of Ashplant's cocktails, which he had improved with an added measure of gin. She liked it so much that she had another, and after that she really did feel better. Up till now her usual drink had been gin diluted with synthetic orange juice; it was the favorite tipple of all her friends, in which they indulged when they were together or sometimes even when they were alone. It was the favorite because it was the cheapest with any real kick in it. But now Ashplant, lavish on principle with his employer's goods, had enlarged her horizons. It was long since she had tasted a real cocktail. "What's in this?" she had asked him, and names like pernod and cointreau followed the quick slide of her mind as, after swallowing a third, she walked away.

"Of course I put water or fruit juice in for those old trouts—otherwise they'd be falling all over the place. But I know you can carry your stuff."

Yes, indeed she could—no danger of her falling about like an old ninepin. She looked down at her legs moving so strongly and freely over the lawn and thought how beautifully sunburnt they were—she might have been wearing nylons. Her mind was full of a delightful exhilaration. As Ashplant had promised, she no longer felt lonely. Not that it would have mattered if she had, because now she saw no reason why she should not go up and talk to anyone she chose. "Good afternoon. Wouldn't you like another drink? Let me take your glass" . . . and then some pleasant chat as she returned it.

She did this several times, and, as a result, not only enjoyed herself but added very much to the success of the party. So far it had been rather stiff. Iris, true to an earlier tradition of hostesses, had gone about moving people rather than glasses, most of which were now empty, for Ashplant had always insisted that he could not both shake cocktails and hand them round. Rosamund's frequent journeys to his table encouraged the bolder spirits to do the same for themselves and for their friends, and soon a hum as of a swarming hive rose from the lawn where hitherto conversation had only tinkled like the empty glasses.

"Who is that very pleasant young woman who spoke to me just now?" Mrs. Willoughby asked Iris.

"That," said Iris, with a curious emphasis on the pronoun, "is my daughter's secretary."

"Indeed. She seems a very nice person—so natural."

"Her legs are a little too natural, don't you think?"

"Oh . . . of course, yes. I see what you mean: no stockings. But so many people do that nowadays, and hers are such a nice color they might be stockings."

"Yes, they certainly look better than when they were pink. Now do let me introduce Lord Ellenford. He's staying with the Maynards. . . ."

Rosamund had already exchanged civilities with Lord Ellenford, though without any introduction. Ashplant had pointed him out to her, for it pleased him to see her crashing into the old girl's exclusive circle. By this time she had had several more drinks and had spoken to almost everybody. If she had still nursed her old ambitions, she could have gratified them by making friends with more than one eligible young man. But her heart was still Bob Hightower's exclusive possession, and there was no one at the party to challenge her conviction that young men of good family were dull, if they happened also to be of good character or in possession of a good income.

She was thoroughly enjoying herself, but unfortunately an invariable effect of drink on her system was to make her lose her sense of class distinction and gravitate toward those with whom she felt most at ease. In spite of her high beginnings, she ended her party laughing and talking with the chauffeurs who stood by their cars in the sweep outside the front door, and there Iris Winrow found her when she came to see off the first departures among her guests.

"Good-by. So sweet of you to have come."

"Good-by. I do hope you enjoyed it," said Rosamund, joining the group in time to shake hands.

"Very much indeed. You looked after us so well," said the guest cordially.

Rosamund could have laughed in Iris's face, but contented herself with winking at the chauffeurs. Then she walked indoors. She was beginning to feel a little unsteady and thought it best to end her party on this high note.



3

"For heaven's sake," cried Iris to Anne Cheynell, "get rid of that dreadful woman for me."

The Cheynells had arrived late, because of Nicholas having to attend a District Council meeting at Sandlake, and were now sitting with Iris under the cedars after everyone else had gone.

"My dear," said Anne, "I don't know how. Is she really so very dreadful?"

"She's absolutely impossible. Didn't you see her this afternoon?"

"I saw her handing things round to people."

"That's just it. She'd no business to be there at all. I hadn't asked her."

"But as Lesley's secretary . . ."

Iris fumed.

"Really, Anne, I'd have expected you to see things in the same light as I do. There are secretaries and secretaries. This woman really belongs to the servant class. She was quite out of place among my friends, and, as I've said, I shouldn't dream of inviting her. But in she walks, as bold as brass, and talks to everybody without being introduced. It wouldn't surprise me if she'd had too much to drink. That sort of person isn't used to cocktails."

Anne was silent. She did not know what to say. She did not want to exasperate Iris, nor did she altogether approve of Mrs. Gailey. On the other hand, she thought it most unfriendly, in fact rude, to have tried to exclude her from the party.

"Surely" she ventured at last, "there was no harm in her handing round refreshments. She might have thought it the secretary's job."

"I have servants to do that."

"But they didn't," said Nicholas.

Iris glared at him. "I really don't see why you both want to take that woman's part."

"I'm not taking her part," said Anne. "I agree with a lot you say about her. She's common and rather pushing. But she's also extremely good-natured and most helpful. When she and Lesley dined with us she insisted on doing all the washing-up for me. Besides that, I think she does well by Lesley, who's certainly very fond of her."

"That," said Iris, "is the dreadful part. Why, she actually wanted to take her with her to the ball."

Anne jumped at the change of subject. "Is Lesley going to the ball?"

"Yes, she must go. Of course she tried to dodge it when she found I wasn't; but I insisted, and I've fixed up for her to go with the Mortimers. Robin's too young for her, of course, but they're a nice family; and I've arranged for them to have dinner at Doleham first. Are you and Nicholas going?"

"Oh, yes, we always go—just to look on. We're going this year with the Andersons. They've no young people with them this time, so we thought it would be fun to join up."

"Then you might keep an eye on Lesley and see that she dances and doesn't go mooning about. And if you notice any likely man among the visitors—I mean someone brainy-looking or eccentric in a distinguished way, do get hold of him and have him introduced."

Anne bought her peace with Iris by promising, though without any confidence in results. Her experience with Lesley at dances dated from the ball at Claridge's which Iris and Nigel Winrow had given for her coming out and at which, as she said afterward, her pity was equally divided between the girl and her partners. It would be the same at the Red Cross Ball. Lesley, hating her company, indifferent to her appearance, and a clumsy dancer, would bore the men her friends produced either with floods of talk on impossible subjects or almost unbreakable silence. Oh, why did Iris make her go?

"Thank you so much, Anne darling. I really am most grateful. And if you'll do one more thing for me and persuade that terrible woman to find another situation, I'll love you for ever and ever. She could find one quite easily if only she'd drop this ridiculous notion about being a secretary and offer herself as cook. You could give her a reference at least for her washing-up." Her voice went tinkling into the layers of the cedar tree like a mischievous bird.

When Anne went late in the afternoon to visit her friends, she nearly always had to resist the temptation to linger on in hope of being invited to a meal she did not have to cook. Iris's mention of cooking reminded her of this piece of human frailty as well as of the duties awaiting her at Pookreed. She stood up.

"Nick, we really must be going now. It's getting late and I'm sure Iris is tired."

Iris stood up too, but Nicholas remained obstinately settled in his chair.

"I must have a word about Vine with Iris before I go. Is it all right for me to tell him that you accept his latest offer?"

Iris fluttered and hesitated. "Yes, I suppose it is. But I still think it's a very poor one."

"All the same, you've failed to get a better. So perhaps we may think that at least one racket is on the wane. I'll have the agreement drawn up, then, for you to sign when you come back."

"Oh, do what you like about it," said Iris crossly.

She was disappointed because she had failed to find the sort of purchaser she wanted. She had always prided herself on her ability to pull strings, and her failure on this occasion had involved her in a sense of personal defeat at the hands of Nicholas and Harry Vine. She knew really that they had nothing to do with it, but she felt angry with them all the same. Her only comfort lay in the hope that an offer might materialize during her stay in Scotland. The sort of person she expected to meet at Edna Colquhoun-Scott's was just the sort who would have income-tax problems, and everybody knew that a good way of dodging income tax was buying and selling farms. The hope was slender, but strong enough to make her delay her consent to the deal until it was too late to have the agreement drawn up before her departure.

Nicholas guessed a part at least of what was in her mind, and his conjectures chastened his reply to his wife's joyful congratulations on the way home.

"Thank goodness, Nick, you've got her round at last."

"I shan't believe I have till she's signed the agreement."

"But surely you don't expect her to back out—not now."

"I don't know what I expect, but I know what she's like and I'm keeping my fingers crossed until she's signed."

Anne said nothing for a mile, then as the lane turned toward Pookreed she started another subject.

"Iris seems to have got her knife into that poor Mrs. Gailey."

"Yes, I noticed that. She's quite a pleasant little woman, but I wish Lesley had someone who knew more about farming."

"I wish she had someone more of her own kind. Mrs. Gailey's a bit too much like those awful friends of hers in London. But she's a very nice woman all the same, and Lesley looks much brighter and happier since she's been with her."

"I dare say, but don't tell me she couldn't have found someone just as nice who knew more about the job. By the way, Charley Vine told me something a bit queer about Lesley the other day. He said she'd written and asked him to call and advise her about the farm. She said she was getting worried at the way it was going and thought maybe he could help her."

"How very odd, considering how she's refused to take all the advice you've been offering her for years."

"That's what I thought, and I'm not too pleased about it. But Charley Vine's a sound chap, and if she'll do what he tells her I'll forgive her for not coming to me. It seems that last week he gave her a piece of his mind about the way her stock kept breaking into his father's woods."

"He must have been very tactful if she's asked him for more."

"I tell you Charley Vine's a sound chap."

"He's enormously improved since he went into the army."

"Yes, it's brought him out a lot. But he always was a sound chap. I like Charley Vine."



4

The dry summer had favored Waters Farm. The name declared its historic advantage over other farms, even over those in the Doleham River valley. Long after the pond at Sweetwillow had revealed its fundament of cans, broken china, old wheels, old tires, and animal bones—while at Reedbed they were carting water for their cows and at Lambpool the grazing was so parched that the farmer was already using hay—its springs gushed and made its weedy meadows a green patch in the straw of cleaner pastures. Neither of its two ponds had fallen below two feet of the brim, and even a thirty-gallon cow could slake her thirst at the trough in the farmyard.

On the other side of the drought, it had profited from the absence of rain during harvest time, and gathered in its sheaves without loss or mishap, in spite of no one working overtime except Ivory. It is true that now the corn was stacked there was nobody to thatch it; but as the weather looked like holding until well beyond the threshers' visit, there was no immediate cause for worry—if anyone had thought of worrying.

For a few days Rosamund had worried over a very different matter. The week passed without any signal from Charley Vine. But she soon realized that he would almost certainly be too busy to call in harvest time and must put off his visit till it was over. Lesley appeared to have forgotten all about him, which was just as well, as Rosamund had feared she might provoke a premature crisis by praising him to her mother. But now Iris Winrow was safely in Scotland and the plans for her confusion might go forward in peace.

Rosamund had been right about Charley. He appeared at the end of the week, at the end of a hot, sunny day which she had spent in the orchard, sewing. She and Lesley always spent the greater part of each day at Waters, and as Rosamund had now picked up enough knowledge of farming to tell her that the evening rather than the morning was the likely time for a busy farmer's call, she had used the heat as an excuse for both starting and staying later than their former custom.

Lesley was upstairs, at work on her book, which had made its start in a chaos of maps, parish histories, and stray notes on odd bits of paper. Rosamund had just begun to think of going into the house and making tea for them both, when there was the sound of an approaching car, and she recognized the Ford utility van which two months ago had brought her from the station.

Here he was at last. She went to meet him.

"Oh, Miss Bullen will be pleased. She really does rely on you to help her."

He smiled, and she thought how good-looking and pleasant he was, and how it would be a splendid thing for Lesley Bullen if she married him. For a moment she forgot Iris Winrow and thought only of the happiness her scheme would bring to a girl of whom she was growing really fond.

He said, "I shall be more than glad if I can do anything. But I hope she realizes that I'm not so well qualified as some others. Mr. Cheynell is much more competent to advise her than I am."

"Oh, but you see it's the way these things are done. I'll tell you frankly this is the first time I've ever known her to listen to advice on running this place, and, what is so really wonderful, ask for more."

He smiled again, for the secretary amused him. What was she after? She was snapping her eyes at him, but her flatteries seemed all designed in favor of Lesley Bullen.

He asked her, "How is your little boy?" and once again saw her turn into a real person.

"He's getting on nicely. He likes his school."

"Oh, he goes to school, does he?"

She broke in rather nervously, "Yes, he's just started." It occurred to him that probably she could not afford to send him anywhere better than the Council School. Well, he had started at the Council School himself. He told her so, but she made no confidences.

"I'll run up and tell Miss Bullen you're here."

It had occurred to her that Lesley might be in a state which would make it unwise to usher a possible admirer suddenly into her presence. Even when newly washed and brushed she did not always appear to advantage, and now after thrusting her fingers through her hair for the last hour and smudging ink on herself and her surroundings she probably looked a fright.

"Sorry to interrupt," said Rosamund as she opened the door, "but you've got a visitor. Charley Vine's come."

Lesley's head shot up from her work and her general appearance was very much as Rosamund had expected to find it. What she was not prepared for was the delicate flush that moved like a sunset over her skin. It looked as if, after all, she had not forgotten Charley Vine.

"Where—where is he?" she asked, stammering at the question.

"Downstairs. I'll fetch him in a minute, but I thought perhaps you'd like to tidy a bit first. I'll lend you a comb."

One of the improvements Rosamund had made at Waters was the hanging of a mirror on the office wall. Lesley, of course, carried no aids to beauty, but her secretary was able to supply a powder compact as well as a comb, though her offer of lipstick was rejected.

"It's no good. I forget it's on and rub it all over my face. There, that's the best I can do. Do I look awful?"

"No, you look exceedingly nice," encouraged Rosamund, herself encouraged by the fact that Lesley for the first time had asked her how she looked.

She collected and hid away the fragmentary genesis of the book, having an idea that men did not like women who wrote books. Then she ran downstairs and sent up Charley Vine.

She hoped that the interview would last some time, and with a view to prolonging it she decided to make and take up tea. There was nothing like tea for making a man and a woman feel cozy together. Of course it would have been better if it was winter and they could sit in the shadows beside a roaring fire, or if on this summer evening they could eat in the orchard or in the shaded meadows beside the river. But she could move neither them nor the season, and after all the office was a cool and pleasant place, where a man and woman could get very friendly, as she knew from experience. The memory lingered in a flush on her cheeks as she filled the kettle and set it on the kitchen fire.

It was late and the others had all had tea—all except Ivory, who still sat beside his cooling cup, whittling away at a piece of soft wood he was shaping. He had a gift for making odds and ends out of wood. He had made toys for the children and she had commissioned him to make for Michael a little wooden pussycat. She thought he was at work on it now, but when she drew near to look, he covered it with his hand.

"No, this ain't yours. I'm doing that tomorrow. I've got to finish this first."

"What is it? Let me see."

He hesitated, then lifted his hand. She was surprised and a little discountenanced, for she saw the outlines of a figure on a cross. It was not finished and very crudely done. The features were nearly grotesque. The crown was of thorns so coarse and huge that they looked like swords. The wounds in the hands and feet were enormous. She felt a stab of repugnance. "Oh . . ."

He picked up his knife and went on working, and her feeling of repugnance grew. She had an impulse to tell him not to make the toy she had ordered for Michael. Instead she asked, "What's it for?"

"It's for her."

"Who's her? Not Miss Bullen?"

He nodded his head.

"But you can't give her that. She isn't a Catholic. Besides, how could she—" she broke off, seeing the look on his face. "Why don't you make her something pretty—a rabbit or a bird?"

"I want her to have this."

"But what will she do with it?"

He mumbled something she could not hear.

"Oh, well . . ." She lost patience with him. "Have it your own way. It's your present, but I think it's hideous, and not nearly so well done as the other things."

He said in a flat voice, "Your kettle's boiling."



5

Her schemes for Lesley Bullen and Charley Vine had not made Rosamund lose her interest in her own affairs. She was still determined to go to the ball. The only question was how, and as time was running short it became imperative to find an answer. She could, of course, persuade Bob Hightower to fetch her in his jeep; but that, beside threatening destruction to her clothes and hair, would be a sorry pumpkin coach for Cinderella's arrival. Nor did she want to try the simple method of asking Lesley to let her come with her and the Mortimers. That would make her appear to everyone (except Lesley) as a mere gate-crasher, and in the party an awkward, unwanted odd-woman-out. She could not quite bring herself to ask Bob Hightower to join the dinner guests at the Manor, for not only was he one of the few people Lesley disliked but she did not trust him to behave. His manners, if he felt that way, could be perfectly outrageous, and she feared that a party like the young Mortimers would provoke the very worst in him. She did not utterly reject all or any of these schemes, but she hoped that she would soon be able to think of something better.

The inspiration came that evening when she and Lesley were at supper. Dinner was never served except when Mrs. Winrow was at the Manor, and though Rosamund would have preferred a more imposing meal she would not risk offending Mrs. Ashplant by asking for anything better than what contented Lesley. As a result they often ate, she suspected, leftovers from the kitchen, but as there was always plenty of fresh fruit, all the gin she wanted before supper, and all the coffee afterwards, she did not complain even to herself.

This evening Lesley was unusually and unexpectedly silent. Rosamund had prepared herself for tides of talk about Charley Vine, and was indeed curious to know how the interview had gone. When she took in the tea she had found them leaning together over a map of the farm. Any proximity for any reason was in her opinion a good start, and she hoped to preserve it by setting down the tea tray by the sofa. She attached no importance to Lesley's not asking her to stay and have tea with them, for though it might be a favorable symptom it might equally be absence of mind.

Young Vine could have been in no hurry to go away, for Lesley was not back at the Manor until long after Rosamund had finished her daily phone call to Bob Hightower.

"Here you are at last," she said casually. "I was wondering what had happened. Has he only just gone?"

She had expected the floodgates to open, but all Lesley said was, "About an hour ago. I came home by Furnacefield."

Here was another favorable symptom, for who but the lovesick would choose to roam an extra three miles of lane on this hot evening? Her general moony air added to the probabilities of the situation. Her silence, too, could mean a lot. Unfortunately, it told Rosamund nothing about young Vine's attitude. She might feel pretty sure that Lesley was in love, but what about him? She had nothing to go by. She scarcely knew him, and had not the smallest idea what was most likely to attract him. Her knowledge of mankind inclined her to rely on Lesley's wealth and social position, combined with the almost certain fact that she would make her own feelings plain. Her preference would flatter him, and Rosamund did not believe there breathed a man unsusceptible to flattery. It would also be a most advantageous match for him. He would have Waters Farm as well as Birdskitchen, and the two of them together would make (or so it seemed to her) a nice little estate—to say nothing of the reversion of Doleham Manor at Mrs. Winrow's death. As for Lesley herself, she was not unattractive; her eyes were lovely and her smile had charm. If properly dressed and combed and cared-for she might look even distinguished. Surely he could admire her. She determined to talk about him.

"Well," she said, as she lighted her second cigarette after supper, "how did you get on with Mr. Vine?"

Lesley started, obviously waking from a dream. The room was full of dusk, and she sat half-turned toward the window, her elbow on the table, her face leaning on her hand.

"Oh," she said vaguely, "he was nice . . . very nice."

"Was he able to help you?"

"Yes, he thinks he knows of someone."

"Someone? Who? What for?"

"Oh. To be a foreman. He says if I had a good foreman . . . he's going to inquire. He can't live in, of course—the house is full. But he's just beyond Dolehamtail, so he might come over daily."

"He must think you've heaps of money. Surely a foreman would cost a lot?"

"He says I'll get it back from the farm. It's losing money now, and he says it oughtn't to."

Silence fell again. The twilight was turning rusty in the glow of a red moon that climbed the window's oblong toward a star. Rosamund, cigarette in mouth, snapped on the lights; and the room, with its cheerful commonplaces, became the world instead of the growing strangeness outside the window.

"What else did you talk about?" she probed.

Lesley blinked in the sudden light and shook herself as if finally waking from her dream. Then came the flood that Rosamund had been waiting for.

"Oh, we talked about all sorts of things. At first he seemed to think I should apply for a government grant and get the place run officially as a training farm. But of course I wouldn't hear of it, so he advised me to engage an experienced foreman and we went on a long time about that; and then that led to what the farm could do best, and plowing up orders, and so on. And then you brought in tea and we somehow got on to other things—his war experiences, where he'd been, and how pleased he was to get back here again in spite of the fun he'd had. And I told him about my book, and he seemed really interested. . . . Then we had some arguments about helping people and how far you should go when they didn't deserve it. And then we talked about what we thought. . . ."

A smile spread slowly and tenderly over her face. She looked as if she might fall back into her dream again, and Rosamund sharpened her voice.

"Do you like him?"

"Yes."

In the glare of the ceiling light one could see the color on her cheeks. It was not a blush, but a sudden glow of beauty. Rosamund thought: What she needs is rouge; she's quite pretty now.

"Oh, yes," Lesley repeated. Then she added, "He's changed a lot."

"In what way? Since when?"

"Since the old days before the war. He didn't talk much then. I never thought he could be so interesting as he was this evening. He's quite presentable, too."

"Presentable?"

"Yes. One wouldn't be surprised to meet him anywhere. I suppose it's having been an officer for so long."

Rosamund was a little astonished to hear Lesley talking so very like her mother, but the remark gave her an inspiration.

"Look here," she said, "I've got an idea. Why don't you ask him to come with us to the dance?"

Lesley blinked at her.

"What dance? Oh, that dreadful thing. Surely he wouldn't want to go."

"Of course he would. Why shouldn't he? I expect he went to lots of dances when he was in Germany. It must be pretty bleak for him here now, never going anywhere unless it's the village hops. I'm sure he'd be delighted."

Lesley pondered, and Rosamund watched her curiously. She seemed both frightened and attracted. Evidently the idea, though tempting, was a daring one. She must have been more influenced than anybody could have supposed by her upbringing and her mother's social taboos.

"But how could I do it?" she asked after some thinking. "Wouldn't he think it queer?"

"I don't see why he should." Lord, child, he'll be far too pleased to get the invitation to bother whether it's queer or not. "If you write and say you're getting up a party for the Red Cross Ball and you'd be delighted if he'd join it, I bet he'll come, even if he has to hire his suit. Then I shall have a partner."

"You! I thought you didn't want to go?"

Rosamund snorted. "After what your mother had just said about me, I had to tell her that."

"Oh . . ." Lesley's eyes widened with dismay. "How dreadful! I'd no idea you wanted to go. I'm so sorry."

"Don't be sorry—it wasn't your fault. And if you ask him I can go," said Rosamund, hugging her advantage. "There'll be six of us and he can be your partner, while I have Mr. Robin Mortimer—you said you didn't want to dance with him."

"It'll be rather dreary for you. He's only a boy."

"Never mind that—I shan't. I don't want to dance a lot. It was quite true what I said to your mother about not having danced for so long. But I want to be there, just to see the fun."

Lesley shook her head lugubriously.

"I don't suppose there'll be much fun."

"Oh, yes, there will be—especially," she looked hard at her, "if you invite Mr. Charley Vine."

Fun for you and fun for him and fun for me, but not fun for Iris Winrow.



6

Dear Mr. Vine,

We are getting up a small party for the Red Cross Ball at Sandlake, and if you are not already engaged we should be delighted if you would join us. If you can, do come and have dinner here first at eight.

Hoping so much we shall see you,

Yours very sincerely,
Lesley Cheynell Bullen

The post came late to Birdskitchen, and Charley was in the orchard with the apple pickers when his mother brought out his mail. The handsome cream-laid envelope stood out among the log shoddy of bills, invoices, and agricultural advertisements, and Charley felt sure that his mother had noticed it even before she asked: "Isn't that the Manor note paper, Charley?"

He had cured his father of questioning him about his correspondence, but his mother was a more obstinate case of surviving parental control.

"It looks like it, doesn't it?" he said, smiling at her as he put it in his pocket.

"Aren't you going to read it?" she asked, crestfallen.

"I haven't time now."

"But it may be about the sale."

"Not a chance. Mrs. Winrow's away in Scotland. Besides, she wouldn't write to me; she'd write to Dad."

He felt rather conscience-stricken as he watched her homely, cottage-loaf figure waddling away through the orchard trees. But he must preserve his independence, especially where it concerned a corner of life he had hold of and did not want to let go. He had come back to his parents, to his girl, to his village, to his farm; but he was not going to live among them quite as he had lived before the war and as they lived still. His life should be like the new Birdskitchen, built upon the old, keeping the framework, but modernized, enlarged, improved. . . . His mother had disappeared and he opened the letter.

He had expected to find it an extension of his interview with Lesley Bullen and concerned with the affairs of Waters Farm. Its actual contents surprised him. An invitation to dinner and the Red Cross Ball—he had never expected anything like that to happen. Lesley Bullen had been most friendly; she had listened to his advice with the utmost goodwill. They had also had a very pleasant chat on other subjects besides farming. But this invitation to dine at the Manor and dance at what he knew was the grand snob occasion of the year was a big jump for an acquaintanceship which had hitherto kept a sedate walking pace. He wondered why he was being thus suddenly invited—a partner fallen through, perhaps, or an extra girl wished on the party. He turned the letter over in his hand. Unlike the first he had received from her, it was not typewritten, but he suspected the secretary's influence in its compression. Without her supervision Lesley's letter, he felt, would have rambled like her speech. Then an idea struck him. Of course it was the secretary. She wanted to go to the ball—he remembered how she had seemed to hanker after the dissipations of Sandlake—and had pitched on him as her only chance of a partner. Her employer would be easy stuff to mold. Yes, that was it. He was invited as Mrs. Gailey's partner.

He made a face and thought of refusing. Or rather he pretended to think of refusing—for of course he would go. Ever since his return from Germany he had missed those contacts with a more sophisticated world which he had enjoyed out there—the dances, the theaters, the cocktail parties. If Margery had danced he would have taken her out dancing in Sandlake, but she did not care for it. It would be a treat for him to go to the ball with these people, even as no more than a last hope for the secretary. He would enjoy the dinner party too, visiting Doleham Manor and meeting the other guests. He had only a dinner jacket, but that he understood would pass muster nowadays. He had had one made on demobilization, hoping he might go to one or two Farmers' Union dances. His parents had been shocked at his extravagance. They would be shocked now.

He clicked his tongue as he thought of theirs clicking. What would Dad say? And Mum? It would upset all their old-fashioned notions if he went to the Manor to dine and dance. Yet it was what he meant to do—not only now, but later when he was married and owned his own land and was making a position for himself and Margery. He wasn't going to look down on his father's friends or the sort of folk he'd always known. But the world was wider nowadays; you could know all sorts, and social barriers were breaking down under the weight of dangers and adventures shared alike by all.

He tried to explain this to his parents at dinnertime, but it was difficult to make them see it as he did.

"It queers me," said his father, "it queers me both ways—that she should ask you and that you should want to go."

"It's not so very unusual to ask a single man to a dance. She probably wants to make sure of a partner for her secretary. There they are, two ladies on their own. It isn't so easy to find partners for them both."

Old Harry shook his head.

"That isn't the way I think you should go to a ball."

"It's quite a usual way of going."

"But I don't like it. It seems both above you and beneath you, so to say."

His mother said, "I don't think you ought to go without Margery."

"But I've told you, Mum, that she doesn't care for dancing. Besides, I must sometimes go places without her. We aren't even engaged."

"That makes it all the more important for you to treat her right."

"I am treating her right. She wouldn't want to come, and I know she'll understand why I want to go. She'll be glad for me to enjoy a bit of what she knows I miss now I'm at home."

"All I can say," said his father, "is that it's a tur'ble pity."

Charley strove for patience. "Really, Dad, I can't see that it's a pity that I should for once get a chance of enjoying myself in a way I've got used to. If you think it's giving me ideas above my station I can only say that I've got them already. You gave them to me when you had me properly educated, so that I went through most of the war as an officer, meeting people like Miss Bullen and the Cheynells and all that lot, and being just like one of themselves—as I am—and as you are, if only you knew it. Miss Bullen's invitation is a compliment to the family, to you and Mum as well as to me."

"I hope," said his mother, "that it doesn't put out Mrs. Winrow."

Charley closed his eyes for a moment before he let himself speak, and thought of his mother as a young girl in domestic service being courted by the son of a struggling tenant farmer, and having to wait years before they could afford to marry, and then to work hard for many more years to keep their home and educate their son. All their lives the Manor folk, as they called them, had been a separate breed, people of a different, more fortunate race than themselves. Neither their struggle nor their prosperity had any real connection with them that they could see, and now they had no standard to judge them by, for how did they know that the rules of their own good sense and kindly feeling prevailed at Doleham?

He said, "I don't see how Mrs. Winrow can object to my accepting an invitation from her own daughter. In fact, I shouldn't be surprised if she'd suggested it herself, as a way of getting a partner for the secretary."

With a wry twist to his satisfaction, Charley saw that they were beginning to find reassurance in the idea that he was invited only to dance with the secretary. He pressed his advantage.

"I'm pretty sure that's how it is. I doubt if she knows many people round here, and there might be some difficulty in pairing her off with one of their own set." He had always heard that Mrs. Winrow was a snob.

"What is she like?" asked his mother. "Is she nice?"

He made a face.

"She isn't bad. She's bright and cheerful and I dare say she dances quite well. But she's a good bit older than I am—I put her down at thirty-eight or nine—and she's not at all pretty."

He had said enough to show them that Margery had no cause for alarm.

"Do you think you'll dance with Miss Bullen too?"

He was pleased that she asked this, for it showed that she had come round to the idea of his going.

"I expect I shall have to, as she's invited me, but I don't suppose I shall more than once or twice. She's sure to have lots of partners."

"Well, Charley," said his father, "as long as all this grand company doesn't make you look down on those you were brought up among . . ."

"How could it! I don't like to hear you talking like that. I've come back to be with you and to be like you. But do remember that when I was in the army I made friends with all sorts of people and don't want to lose sight of them entirely, for Margery's sake as well as my own. She has lots of friends too outside the set she was brought up in, and if they don't mind about it, why should we? That's the queer thing, Dad; it's we that mind, not they."

The old man said, "We have our pride."



7

Rosamund had seen enough American films to know that any girl who is plain and awkward can, by a few visits to the hairdresser and the cosmetic shop, be transformed into a raving beauty. She did not propose to go all this way with Lesley, but as soon as young Vine had accepted her invitation she began to wonder what could be done to improve her looks.

Lesley's own ideas, she found, went no further than putting on one of the few formal dresses that lingered in her wardrobe and giving her hair what she called "a good brush." She was horrified when Rosamund suggested a permanent wave; but though rejecting a process which she plainly regarded with fear as well as contempt, she agreed to visit Madame Stubberfield's establishment in Sandlake and have her hair washed and curled.

The operation was not entirely successful, for her hair was so unyieldingly straight that Madame Stubberfield despaired of a water wave surviving even the first heats of the ball and had recourse to tongs. Lesley emerged with a lot of little tight curls around her forehead, which were not unbecoming but changed her completely. Rosamund thought that the change was for the better, but realized that everyone might not agree.

She herself had let Madame Stubberfield work her will on the remains of her perm, and having threaded a scarlet ribbon through the result, to match the sash and shoulder flower of her black gown, she hoped that Bob Hightower would consider her worth the hire of his tail suit. She had been in some fear that she might have to pay for that as well as for his ticket, but he had gallantly taken the expense upon himself; though she suspected that his desire to cut a figure, as he expressed it, was not unconnected with the hope of meeting some rich woman who would be more likely than she was to help him realize his latest ambition by paying his passage to Melbourne.

When Charley Vine walked into the drawing room at Doleham Manor, and she received his pleasant greetings and watched his quiet, easy manners with Lesley and the Mortimers, she had a moment's regret for not having followed her first impulse toward him. She had been too ambitious; socially he would have done well enough (though he wore only a dinner jacket, he was easily the best-looking man of the three) and personally he would have been more reliable and more kind than the man she had chosen. But that was the point: She had felt no urge to choose him, as she had chosen Bob Hightower, in spite of her own interests and schemes. She had thought of him only when she thought he would further these; and when she found that he would not, she had dropped him at once. She had known from the beginning that Bob could only be detrimental, but she had fallen in love with him just the same. That was her way, the way she always ruined her own chances.

These were gloomy thoughts with which to start an evening's pleasure, but she soon pushed them aside. In view of Ashplant's cocktails which, because of his idea that the quality could not hold their liquor, were likely to be more intricate than stimulating, she had gone through the process that she and her friends called ginning up, and was now sufficiently elated to put everyone at ease. Soon they were all laughing and talking together like old friends. The Mortimers, she noted, had no idea who Charley Vine was. They lived near Barnhorn and would not know who were the tenants of the Doleham Manor farms, even if the name had made more impression than names at introductions usually do. She also noted that he seemed inclined to pay attention to her rather than to Lesley, and it struck her that he might think he was invited as her partner. This idea must be corrected, though it was tantalizing in view of what might have been.

"It's very good of you to come," she said, "at such short notice. But Miss Bullen was anxious to have you as her partner. She's a shy girl, and you've managed to put her at her ease. Of course Mr. Robin Mortimer is too young for her and Captain Birch is Miss Mortimer's fiancÚ. She was dreading this dance until it occurred to us that perhaps you might not mind coming like this."

"Then," looking at her quizzically, "are you being handed over to Mr. Robin Mortimer?"

"Oh, no," she laughed, "I'm the chaperon of the party, as Mrs. Winrow can't be here. Mr. Robin will know lots of girls when we get to the ball."

"I hope you won't think yourself too staid and elderly to dance with me."

She fluttered her eyelids at him. "Of course not."

She noted, however, that after that he went over and talked to Lesley.

The girl was looking very well indeed. For one thing, she had a really good dress, a prewar Molyneux, bought for her by her mother in the days of hope. It took away her ungainliness with feathery lines and gave her a sort of Christmas glamour with iridescent sequins. Her hair looked well, too. Rosamund, for whom ribbons had a fatal attraction, had twisted one among the curls and had also persuaded her to use a little make-up. She was easily the most distingushed looking woman in the party. Beside her, Belle Mortimer looked insignificant and Rosamund dumpy in her homemade gown. Sewing was another of the things she could do just fairly well; and, as she liked having a great many clothes, she generally made them herself. Lesley had offered to give her a Reville model, which had tempted her with its gay, unusual colors. But apart from the difficulties of adapting anything made for Lesley to her own figure, there was always the risk that, as Lesley was quite unable to remember which dress she had worn at the ball last year, she might be proclaiming herself publicly as the wearer of her employer's cast-off clothes.

Her main feeling, however, was still of satisfaction. The evening was going well. There was a pleasant party atmosphere about it, and the dinner was a good one. At one time she had felt nervous of the Ashplants' reactions and their possible effect on the cooking and waiting. But by letting Mrs. Ashplant revise the menu Mrs. Winrow had chosen, she had secured a meal possibly less elegant—for the kitchen preferred chicken pie to chicken Maryland—but certainly better, because more willingly cooked; while Ashplant's collaboration had been purchased at the easy price of agreeing that six bottles of champagne ought to be enough for the dining room. There was, indeed, a general feeling of "the cat's away." The two daily women had been invited in to help, and as the party left the house Rosamund could hear them whooping in the kitchen.

In a babble of talk and laughter, the six of them crammed into the old-fashioned Vauxhall limousine. It was a close fit, but that seemed only to add to the fun. Robin Mortimer, being the youngest, sat in front with Elphinstone, while the other two men tried not to crush the chiffon, tulle, and taffeta that overflowed their knees. Rosamund wished she could have suggested that young Vine take Lesley in his own car, but the utility Ford ran too obviously on farm petrol to face the police at Sandlake, and must wait in the obscurity of the Manor drive till his return.

She comforted herself with the thought that the evening would be full of chances for lovers. She had been told that among the attractions of the ball was a big rambling garden, which would be made romantic for sitting-out with colored lights and a floodlit fountain. There must be in it some sheltered arbor for Lesley Bullen and Charley Vine—and another, she hoped, for Rosamund Gailey and Bob Hightower.

A dance, for her, had always meant a man; but this dance meant two men, her own and Lesley's. She found it hard to tell why she should be so concerned for another woman's fate; the motive of Iris Winrow's discomfiture certainly did not cover all the field. But she was truly anxious that Lesley, now started as a huntress, should not falter until she had caught her man. She seemed in a fair way of doing so, as far as her own zeal was concerned. Now and then as the car swayed into the beam of a great harvest moon, Rosamund caught a glimpse of the face so close to hers and saw it almost beautiful with excitement. Lesley did not talk much, for she was never any good at a general conversation, but she sat and listened and laughed for once like a happy girl. Whether it were love or champagne—both equally unaccustomed—she had lost her fatal earnestness.

The only question was young Vine himself. How much did he see? How much did he care? And how capable was Lesley of showing him what he did not see or making him feel if he did not care? Rosamund shrugged her shoulders. She had done a lot, but the time had come when she could do no more; Lesley, having been given a good start, must now rely on her own skill. Rosamund would have her hands full of her own uneasy affairs and must spend the evening looking after herself. Thus she dashed away her compassion and her anxiety lest the inexperienced huntress should send her arrows ricocheting from their aim to find their quarry in her own heart.



8

The George Hotel at Sandlake was the usual small-town inn, glorified into a hotel with a plywood paneled dining room and a lounge where drinks were served as well as in the bar. But it had the advantage of a large and beautiful ballroom, built in 1779 when the discovery of a strangely flavored spring gave the citizens a brief hope of their town becoming a spa. The hope died when the establishment of a new drainage system robbed the spring of its mysterious flavor; but the ballroom remained, and continued to be used by the town and neighborhood. It had been repainted, relighted, redecorated, rebuilt in the interests of safety and convenience, but it still kept its dignity of space and elegance of line, and all agreed that few towns the size of Sandlake could boast of such a setting for their functions.

On this particular night, lit from its four great chandeliers, its white walls columned with soaring window-lines, its polished floor reflecting both light and darkness, it was the lovely place Anne Cheynell always found it when she came and settled herself with Nicholas in their favorite seats halfway down the room. Here they could watch the dancers and were not too near the band. Their friends the Andersons had gone into the bridge room, but Anne and Nicholas both preferred to watch the young people enjoying themselves and greet their friends among them.

The room was nearly empty when they first came in, for it was during an interval and most of the couples had gone out into the garden. But no sooner had they sat down than the band started again, and through the high doorway at the end of the room, the dancers filed in out of the darkness between colored banks of dahlias and spread over the floor like a fan.

Ann and Nicholas watched them closely for their friends.

"Lesley can't have come yet," she said. Then, "Good heavens! There she is! I'd never have known her."

Nicholas followed her gaze. "What has she done to herself? And I'm blest if she isn't dancing with Charley Vine."

"So she is. I shouldn't have known him either. He's changed a lot."

"He certainly has," said Nicholas, "since he's come here. I'm surprised at him."

"Well, you know, dear, he was a Major in the army, and I expect he often used to go to dances like this. Besides, the farmers do go to the Hunt Balls."

"This isn't a Hunt Ball. The tickets cost three guineas, and I should have thought a man like him who's just stood up all that money for his farm would think twice before spending three guineas on a dance."

"It certainly does seem extravagant. But he may have been invited by someone who's paid for his ticket. I wonder who he's with."

"He seems to be with Lesley at the moment," said Nicholas tartly. "But he can't be in her party. She was coming with the Mortimers and Captain Birch."

"I can't see any of 'em here now."

"Oh, yes; there's Robin Mortimer dancing with the little Willoughby girl. I expect Belle and the Captain are still out in the garden. . . . Look, Nicholas, there's Mrs. Gailey. I'd no idea she was coming—look, over there, in black and red, dancing with a most striking-looking man."

Nicholas snorted so loud that he could be heard above the band.

"Of all the nerve . . . it's that ghastly bounder Hightower."

"You mean the man who used to be Lesley's secretary?"

"That's it—a terrible feller. I wonder he dare show his face in here. Things seem to have got upside down tonight."

"Mrs. Gailey may have asked him. They worked together for a week, you know."

"I tell you he's a complete outsider—nothing but a dirty adventurer—Lord knows where Lesley picked him up, but since he left Waters he's been in with the chap who's running that Friendship Cafe down by the station."

"I don't think I know it."

"You wouldn't—it's a low place, no better than a brothel."

"Not so loud, dear. I'm sorry for Mrs. Gailey. She can't know what he's like. He's very good-looking, though."

"Bounder!" was Nicholas's retort to that.

"And he's got a tail suit, while poor Charley only has a dinner jacket."

On which her husband's comment was: "Probably stolen."

The stopping of the band made it imperative to change the conversation, and Anne suggested they should walk about and talk to some of their friends. She had hoped to have a few words with Lesley, but she and Charley Vine had disappeared into the garden, apparently without seeing her. So too had Mrs. Gailey and Bob Hightower.

When the dancing began again she watched for them to come back, and was a little worried when they failed to appear. Lesley, she knew, was an awkward dancer and preferred sitting out, but she had no business still to be sitting out with Charley Vine. She had just been dancing with him; she should have found another partner. It was all very well for her to be civil to a man who had been helping her with her farm, but this was going beyond civility, or rather falling short of it, for the next minute she caught sight of Robin Mortimer standing partnerless and looking very forlorn.

"What's Lesley doing?" she said to Nicholas. "She ought to remember her duties as hostess. She brought the Mortimers, and there's poor Robin standing without a partner."

"He must know lots of girls here."

"Yes, but they're all with their own partners. He was invited to dance with Lesley, so Iris told me."

"Well, Lesley's still out in the garden with young Vine."

Anne shook her head. "I don't suppose she's got any idea the dancing's begun again, though we had a bell fixed up on the cedar especially for the benefit of sitters-out. I must see if I can't do something about poor Robin. There's a girl over there with Lady Horsfall. I don't know who she is, but I've no doubt that I can get them introduced."

She walked over to where Robin was standing, looking piteously young in his first tail suit and his obvious failure to enjoy his emancipation from the duties of the dance floor.

"Would you care to dance this?" she asked him. "If you would, there's a girl with Lady Horsfall I should like to introduce you to."

He had no false pride. "Yes, I should very much." Then, as they threaded their way down the room, he added, "I seem to be odd-man-out tonight. We started all square at dinner, but Mrs. Gailey's met a man she used to know and has been dancing with him practically ever since we came."

"But aren't you supposed to be Lesley Bullen's partner?"

"No—that's a chap called Vine. He lives somewhere round here, though we've never met him before. I believe he's only just come back from Germany. He's quite a decent fellow, but what with him and Mrs. Gailey's friend and Belle and Jim being inseparables, I haven't had much of an evening."

"No, you certainly seem to have come off badly. However, I hope you'll like this girl, and perhaps she'll know someone else who isn't in a party. That's the worst of dances nowadays. When I was young you went with your chaperon, and it was a great compliment if a man asked you twice, and very bad form if he did it oftener."

She made the introduction, saw the young couple dance off together, and then went back to her seat. She said to herself: I must speak to Lesley.



9

She had to wait for some time before she had an opportunity.

"I can't think what's happened to Lesley tonight," she said to Nicholas. "I know she doesn't like dancing, but she really ought to come back and look after the other members of her party. And as for Mrs. Gailey, she certainly has no idea how to behave. I felt quite sorry for the poor boy. Poor Mr. Vine, too; he'd probably like to be dancing again but doesn't know how to escape."

"I don't suppose he knows anyone here. Can't think what made him come."

"Oh, I meant to tell you: He came with Lesley."

"You mean she brought him along with the others?"

"Yes. Robin Mortimer told me he had dinner with them first."

Nicholas began to mutter to himself. Anne could just hear him say, "Iris will spit blood when she finds out."

"She'd much better not find out. We mustn't tell her."

But Nicholas only growled, "If we don't, somebody else will."

"Not necessarily. Lesley won't, you may be sure."

"I'm not sure. Lesley's fool enough for anything."

"Be careful, darling; here she is."

She had just seen Lesley and young Vine walk in together from the garden. She was talking with animation, but he did not wear the stricken look that Lesley's partners sometimes did when she talked. Anne thought they looked a distinguished couple. He was as tall as she was and carried himself well; she wondered how long it would be before he lost his military erectness for an agricultural slouch. He was handsome, too, with good features and a lively countenance. As for Lesley, it was impossible for her to look her awkward self in the gown she was wearing, old as it was. Anne did not altogether admire the new set of her hair, but it was certainly an improvement on those swinging curtains that used to make her face look hungry with their shadows.

Anne signaled to them, and they both caught sight of her and came over to where she sat.

"Hello, Cousin Anne," said Lesley. "Have you just arrived?"

"My dear, I've been sitting here three-quarters of an hour at least. We came just before you went out into the garden."

"We've been admiring the illuminations," said Vine. "You really must go and see them. It's a lovely warm night—I shouldn't think you'd even want a wrap."

He seemed entirely at his ease. Indeed, without him the conversation would soon have languished, for Nicholas would do little more than grunt and Lesley had fallen into a queer, starry silence. As for Anne, she was so overpowered by what she saw on the girl's face that she could hardly speak. It was not the unaccustomed make-up that had changed her—indeed it was mostly lost in the natural glow that was a part of her transfiguration. For she was transfigured. Her whole body seemed alight. Her eyes shone, her cheeks blazed, her mouth was a crimson leaf, even the hard outlines of her face seemed to have dissolved in the heat of some new experience, and her mysterious smile had found a dimple where it met her cheek. Anne stared at her, and when she thought of the probable cause of it all her heart turned over.

She tried to say something, remembered her intention to "speak to Lesley," and fanned it with thoughts of Robin Mortimer till she saw him waltz past with the girl she had provided for an earlier dance. That introduction must have been successful, and since he would obviously enjoy himself more dancing with a pretty child of his own age than with Lesley, there seemed nothing left to "speak" to her about, no opposition she could make when after chatting a little longer to three silent people, Charley Vine led her off to the refreshment room.

"Is there anything I can get for you, Lady Anne?" he asked pleasantly. "A glass of champagne? Or a sandwich?"

"No thank you. We've only just had dinner. Later on we'll come and forage ourselves."

As she watched his dark reflection and her light one move away over the shining floor—for some reason she would rather look at their images than at themselves—she hoped she had not been ungracious. He was really very nice, and it was not his fault if Lesley had fallen in love with him—if she really had done so. Or was it? Had he thought he would like to marry an heiress and mate Birdskitchen with Doleham Manor? Her mind hesitated; it was not an impossible idea. On the other hand, she did not think him mercenary, nor was he really old enough to set out in the pursuit of a woman for the sake of what she had. Either he was not in love with Lesley or she attracted him apart from her possessions. She certainly was looking very well tonight, almost lovely; and with a man who had not been chosen for her by her mother and did not belong to the class she hated because it was her own, she might be much less difficult and eccentric than other men had found her. He had certainly seemed to be enjoying her company when they came into the room.

Anne was surprised at the turn her thoughts were taking. Her whole tradition and upbringing were against the match, yet her heart had warmed at the sight of Lesley's happiness, and she very much liked both what she had seen and heard of young Vine. He was just the sort of man to call out the best in Lesley. Not only did he spring from a class that had been englamoured by her mother's mishandling of her youth, but he had none of those differences of manner and outlook which Anne was convinced would have destroyed the glamour later on. If she was to marry out of her own class, and it did not now seem probable that she would marry in it, here was the very man. . . .

Her thoughts were running away with her, and she decided to put them to the test of discussion with someone whom she could trust not to be unpractically romantic.

"Nicholas," she challenged, "I think it wouldn't be a bad idea if Lesley married Charley Vine."

They had been sitting so long in silence that he too had fallen into a sort of reverie, and at first he did not take in the unlikely gist of what she said.

"Eh?" And when she repeated her statement it already seemed rather preposterous.

"Otherwise," she added, struggling to improve on it, "I don't think she'll get married at all."

He burst out at her: "Marry Charley Vine! I never heard of such a thing. What are you talking about?"

"Well, dear, I was thinking—and it occurred to me that it might solve some of her difficulties."

"How could it possibly? Iris would have a fit. You don't think she's in love with him, do you?"

"Well," some womanly instinct urged her not to betray Lesley over this, "I don't know. . . . She looks different somehow tonight."

"Looks different! I should think she did—she looks a fright. What has she done to her hair?"

"Only had it set. The ribbon's a mistake, but I think on the whole she looks very nice."

"And is that your only reason for saying she's in love with young Vine?"

"I didn't say so. All I said was that it wouldn't be a bad idea if she married him. She'll never marry any of the men Iris produces, but here's a man she's found, so to speak, for herself. He comes from the very best type of working family, and at the same time he has better looks and better manners than most men of her own class. There won't be the surface friction that there often is in that sort of marriage. Soon he'll be owning his farm—"

"He won't if Iris gets to hear of this. Remember that she hasn't signed the contract yet."

"I'm not going to tell her. I'm only thinking out loud."

"Well, all I can say is that I'm surprised at you."

Perhaps because she was a little surprised herself, the argument began to grow heated.

"And I'm surprised at you, Nick. I always thought you had a very high opinion of Charley Vine."

"So I have, so I have. That's why I'm shocked at you thinking of his marrying Lesley. If he does, it will sink him. You don't understand, my dear. He belongs to a class that's the backbone of the country. There's no one in all England to be compared with a good, honest yeoman farmer. I'd rather know him than a duke. But once young Vine tries to get into the squire class by marrying for money—"

"Really, Nick, you're most unjust."

"Well, that's what everyone will think if he marries Lesley, even if it doesn't happen till he's got Birdskitchen. And I tell you it will sink him—get him labeled as a fortune hunter. Besides, hang it all, there's that girl of Sinden's. He'll have to jilt her before he can marry anyone else."

"Surely that boy-and-girl affair is over now. If they'd been meaning to marry they'd have got engaged when he came back from Germany."

"They may only be waiting till he's got his farm. But I don't know anything about that. All I know is that I'm disappointed in him. I always thought he was a sound chap."

Anne became aware that she was nearer quarreling with Nicholas than she had ever been in her life; and as the cause of it all was a mere conjecture, it seemed better to return to facts.

"Darling," she said, "there's no reason to think for a moment that he wants to marry Lesley. I thought she seemed attracted by him, but I daresay I was wrong; and as he hasn't given a sign of being attracted himself, it can't come to anything even if she is a little smitten."

But Nicholas only reverted to an earlier censure.

"He shouldn't be here at all," he grumbled. "This isn't a Hunt Ball. It's one of Iris's snob shows, and no place for him."

"Darling, I should think Charley Vine would look right anywhere."

"That's nothing to do with it. Lesley shouldn't have asked him—you know that—and if he hadn't come, she wouldn't have had a chance of getting silly about him. But when a man doesn't stay where he belongs . . ."

Anne heartily wished she had never spoken. She ought to have guessed what Nicholas's reaction would be. On the other hand, she had always thought him the more democratically minded of the two. It was surprising to hear him talk like this about Charley Vine. Of course, he did not share her anxiety to see Lesley married, and he seemed to hold the peculiar opinion that it was young Vine who would sink if he became her husband. She could not argue with him any more. Luckily at that moment she saw that the couple under discussion had come back into the room. It seemed the proper time for her and Nicholas to make a move themselves toward the refreshments.

"It's made me quite thirsty, quarreling with you," she said with a smile.

"I'm not quarreling, my dear—only upset at all these notions. You must talk to Lesley and I'll talk to Charley Vine."

Anne cried out in horror: "Darling, no! For heaven's sake! We can't possibly—either of us. They'd feel insulted. We've nothing to go on and there's probably nothing in it. I was only thinking out loud." And this, she added to herself, is the last time I do it.

She stood up and they moved off toward the refreshment room, both feeling a little shattered by this surprising altercation. The dance was over, and several of the dancers were going the same way. Among them she noticed Mrs. Gailey and her remarkable friend. They must have just come in from the garden, for Anne had not seen them dancing, and a closer view gave her the positive evidence of earth and leaves. There were grass cuttings on the back of Mrs. Gailey's dress, both above and below the scarlet sash, and a roll of hair had escaped from the binding ribbon and hung down her back with a leaf on the end. Anne slipped quietly up to her.

"Excuse me, Mrs. Gailey. Your hair's getting rather loose . . . and I'm sure the cloakroom attendant will brush your dress if you ask her. . . ."



10

Rosamund knew that she was behaving badly, but there seemed nothing that she could do about it. If she had attempted to play the fancy part she had assumed as chaperon, Bob Hightower would have got out of control. She did not like leaving him even for the few minutes it took to bind up her hair and have the telltale grass brushed off her gown. He was not safe with so much champagne about. Since the war, the Red Cross Ball had reduced its catering anxieties by substituting a champagne bar for the orthodox ballroom supper. Rosamund herself had drunk plenty of champagne; but she could not drink against him, and she was terrified that if he should ever drink enough to go to his head, which had so far appeared seasoned against any amount of alcohol, he would put into execution his often-made threat of treating the assembly as an Excuse-Me Dance and cutting in on some county heiress or titled debutante. For the same reason—and also because she was not an expert dancer—she preferred the garden to the ballroom. The Doleham Manor party must manage for themselves. And why shouldn't they? Chaperons were out of date, and when she had called herself one she had only been joking and putting on dog. As for the dancing, the engaged couple were inseparable, Lesley had Charley Vine, and Robin Mortimer must know half the girls in the room.

When she came back into the refreshment room she was afraid that she might not find Bob there, but was at once reassured by the sight of his tall, striking figure harmlessly engaged in talk with the barman. He looked very handsome. She told herself there was nothing in his appearance to cause anxiety. On the whole she preferred his looks to Charley Vine's. For one thing, he wore a tail suit instead of a dinner jacket—she saw very few dinner jackets besides Charley's—and looked better in it, she thought, than anyone else in the room. He had gone to a very good firm for its hire, and it had the panache, that lightly swaggering air, that seems the curious property of hired suits as distinct from custom tailoring. She deeply admired it and his looks and felt that everyone else must do so.

"So here you are, Totsy," he said as she came in. "Good-oh. Your glass is waiting. I was beginning to wonder if you'd stood me up. However, I've had a good yarn with Victor here. He used to be in the Navy and knows most of the old places."

Rosamund quickly emptied her glass. She had heard that drink affected you less if you gulped it down.

"It's hot in here," she said.

"Too right. Let's go and get some air. Au revoir, Victor. We'll be back as soon as we've had enough to make us thirsty."

"Oh, Bob," she said as they went out, "be careful what you say."

"I am being careful. You wait and hear what I say when I'm not careful."

"I don't want to." But she smiled up at him as he took her elbow to guide her along the edge of the room. "You really must behave tonight, or I'll get into trouble."

"And do you think you won't get into trouble if I do behave?"

"Why should I?"

They were in the garden now, and the lights and music of the ballroom were ghosts following them as they walked away. Ahead hung the colored constellations and a shaking pillar of light. In the gleam of the illuminated fountain she saw another gleam made by the sequins on Lesley's dress. There she stood with Charley Vine, not seeking, not needing the darkness that drew Rosamund and her lover beyond the arches of the mock stars.

He did not answer her question till they had found it.

"I'll tell you," he said. "But first of all let's sit down."

"No, I don't want to sit on the grass; it's all over lawn mowings. Let's go into the arbor."

Facing the slope of lawn, deep in its ring of bushes, was a hooded seat which might be called an arbor. A honeysuckle dripped over it and filled it with a scent so undefinable yet so all-pervading that it might have been the breath of the garden. Rosamund sat down, and the scent, the stars, the far-off music, and the yellow light of the harvest moon raking from moonset through the evergreens called to her unheeded as she asked:

"Why should I get into trouble?"

"In the first place, because you're here. The old cow didn't want you to come."

"But she can't do anything about it."

"You wait and see. Then, there's her daughter and that chap Vine. She'll have you for that—and him too, if I'm not mistaken. Oh, there's going to be plenty of trouble, and not only for you."

"Bob, you're talking nonsense. She's not coming home for a week. She needn't know anything."

"I'll be surprised if she doesn't know everything within forty-eight hours. There'll be at least two dozen people waiting to tell her how you fixed up the evening for Lesley and young Vine, how shockingly you behaved with me, how you left that poor boy to dance with himself."

"Bob, don't tease me."

"I shall tease you. I love teasing you—and squeezing you too." His arm went around her waist.

"Don't be so vulgar."

He roared with laughter.

"And please take care, or everyone will hear you."

"Why shouldn't they hear me? Surely a chap can laugh without shocking the county. That's so like you—taking all the risks, but cautious as a cat over a thing that doesn't matter. And don't turn away. I want to kiss you."

He kissed her, and they were no longer at variance.

"Look here," he said suddenly. "I'm going to London next week."

Her heart which had lifted in ecstasy sank like a stone.

"Oh, Bob! Must you? Why? For how long?"

"There's a chance of my getting a passage to Melbourne if I can see the right man. I may be able to get in touch with him Monday or Tuesday. Like to come with me?"

For nearly a minute she could not speak. She would go with him to London, they would be together perhaps for two days, she would see Michael. . . . He might get his passage to Melbourne and leave her for ever. . . . The delight of the present moment met the pain of the future in sickening warfare. Her silence startled him.

"What is it, Totsy? Won't you come?"

She tried to speak with dignity. "Thank you, I'd like to come." Then, fighting for pride in her abjection: "It'll give me a chance to see my boy."

He did not understand her for a moment. "What's this! Your boy?"

"My son. Didn't I tell you I had a son?" She knew she hadn't. She hadn't meant to now, but shock and champagne had loosened her defenses.

"No, you didn't tell me. Clever Totsy—she's got a son. Where do you keep him, Beautiful?"

"With my mother."

"So you've got a mother, too. I'm learning a lot about you tonight. You must certainly go and see them both. How old is he?"

"Twelve."

"Good Lord, who'd have thought it possible! Quite a big boy—soon he'll be taking you round. Why, what's the matter, Sweet?"

Her last two replies had been more like gulps than words and now she was gasping in a flood of tears.

"My poor, poor girl! What's happened?"

"I—I don't know. I hardly ever cry."

She was afraid he was the sort of man who might be put off by tears. But he hugged her kindly enough.

"I know what it is: you've had too much to drink and it's made you maudlin."

"Oh, no. . . ."

"Oh, yes. And then it's upset you and made you homesick to talk about young hopeful. Never mind, Totsy. You'll be seeing him this very next week, and we'll take him to a show and fill him up with ice cream and give him the time of his life—"

"Don't!" she cried. "Don't!"

"Why, what's the matter now?"

She lifted her face she had hidden on his shoulder, too muddled with grief to think of how it looked at such a moment.

"We can't take him anywhere. He's not like other boys. He's—he's—" She floundered among the words offering themselves for her use and then bobbing away like corks.

"What? Is he a cripple?"

She shook her head and repeated: "Not like other boys."

Then he got her meaning. "He's bats, is he?"

"No—not as bad as that." She tried to clear her head and her speech for Michael's sake. "He has the mental age of a child of two."

Hightower whistled. "That's tough for you, Totsy."

"He goes to a Special School." She was speaking quite calmly now, feeling as if she had broken through a hedge and was sitting on the other side, calm and collected though badly scratched and torn. "But my mother tells me they don't give a very hopeful report. He's quite nice looking. He hasn't got that dreadful sort of face—Mongol, they call it. But he can't speak; he can only make queer noises, and—and—" She choked, as some tears that seemed to have been left behind the others squeezed their way under her lashes.

"Does he know you? Is he fond of you?"

"Mother says he is. But I don't myself think I mean more to him than any other person who's kind to him and brings him toys."

"Then why not put him in a home and forget all about him?"

She drew away from him. "Bob, what are you talking about? How can I? And even if I could—"

"Well, there doesn't seem much sense in breaking your heart over a kid who doesn't even know you. Besides, if you put him in a home he'd be properly trained and maybe brought on quite a lot."

"I can't be sure that he doesn't know me. And Mother would never let him go."

"Oh, yes, she would; she'd have to. She might kick up a bit first, but soon she'd find how much easier life was without him. That's what I should do, Totsy; put him in the bin for backward kids. He'll be perfectly happy, and so will you when it's all over."

She shook her head. "You don't understand. He's all I've got."

"And he will be as long as you've got him. You aren't likely to marry anyone with an idiot child in tow."

She looked quickly at him, but there was nothing on his face to make her think he was speaking personally. She said, "I don't want to marry anyone."

"Yes you do, Totsy. Every woman does. Why, I believe you'd marry a wide boy like me if I asked you."

"I shouldn't."

"Well, we'll never know because I'm not going to ask you. I'm not going to ask any girl to tie herself up in a sack and hang herself round my neck. But I'm very fond of you, Beautiful, and it's upset me quite a lot to see you crying like this. So I say: park the boy somewhere where he'll be all right and you can forget him."

"I'm sorry I told you about him. I didn't mean to."

"No, but it popped out. And I'm very glad it did, for now I know more about you and that'll be a help to both of us. So cheer up, Sweetness. We're going to have a grand time together in London next week."

In her distress she had almost forgotten the visit to London. "You—you won't try to prevent me seeing Michael?"

"Of course not. You shall see him as much as you like as long as you don't cry, and you shall take him a toy from his Uncle Bob. Now you must dry your eyes and powder your nose and we'll go back to Victor. After all this, I feel I could do with another drink."



11

How did Cinderella feel the day after the ball, when she woke and remembered how she had fled in rags and left behind her glass slipper? Rosamund had not come home in rags, only a little disheveled, and had left nothing behind but a secret she could not have hoped to keep much longer. Nevertheless, she woke with an aching head. One reason for this may have been the sleeping tablets she took when she went to bed. She had among her possessions a bottle of barbital tablets left over from an earlier love affair, and in that terrible moment of going to bed at dawn, with the garden rising slowly out of the mist into a light that seemed more cold and dead than darkness, she had decided that if she did not drug herself she would not sleep at all. Her head was throbbing with too much drink and her heart with too much feeling and her mind with too many thoughts. She had had a good time—she had enjoyed herself—oh, yes, she had had a hell of a good time. But there was a lot to worry her all the same. Bob Hightower loved her, loved her like hell, but not for keeps. Most certainly it was not for keeps. He had told her that in so many words.

Well, she had never thought that it was, so why get in a flap about it now? He was not at all the sort of man to marry and settle down. He had never deceived her for a moment about that, nor had she deceived herself. But she was just that sort of fool—she wanted to marry and settle down. She was tired of working and struggling. And she was getting on—forty next birthday. Soon it would be too late. Well, if she wanted to settle down, the first thing to do was to get rid of Bob Hightower and look out for a different sort of man. But she could not do that. She loved him, she was his and could never be anyone else's till something tore him from her in bruising and blood, as a limb is torn off. . . . Oh, it was high time for the saltish gulp that brought forgetfulness so quickly.

She did not wake till late, past ten o'clock. She wondered if Lesley was up yet. They had both left instructions that they were not to be called. But when she went into Lesley's room she did not find her. Nor was she in the sitting room, where breakfast was on the table. She had eaten hers—some time ago, to judge by the chilling coffee pot. Rosamund thought of ringing for a fresh supply, then decided that it would be inadvisable. She must have Ashplant on her side during any trouble that might come. She remembered Bob's words with some uneasiness; the old bitch could do nothing to her personally, but if she went for Lesley about Charley Vine it might come to the same thing. Suppose Lesley quarreled with her and sacked her. . . . but that would never happen. All the same, it was to everyone's advantage that Iris Winrow should know nothing about last night's dinner party, and in that case Ashplant would have to be one of the many who kept the secret.

So she drank a rather nauseous cup of lukewarm coffee and went out. She did not want to eat; she was still suffering from depression and headache. Both of these, however, were to her the normal consequences of a night's pleasure, and she hoped to lose them in the course of a walk to Waters Farm.

The day was still fresh, for the September night had collected more dew than the sun could lick off the meadows in the first few hours. There was already some of the thickness and coolness of autumn in the air, and the scents that hung about the lane had their base in moisture rather than in heat. Rosamund noticed only her own revival as she walked. She was beginning to lose both her hangovers, mental and physical, and soon she would be back in all her hopeful schemes for herself and others. In token of this restoration, she began to wonder how Lesley's affairs had prospered last night. She had been very silent on her return, but silence with her might well be the vehicle of a happiness too deep for words. Rosamund, thanks to her own activities, had seen almost nothing of her at the ball. But every time she had seen her she had been with Charley Vine. He probably knew no one outside their party; so, as Rosamund had vanished and Belle Mortimer was engaged, he had almost certainly danced with Lesley all the evening. The affair should have taken a big step forward.

Her first act on arriving at Waters Farm was to go into the kitchen and make herself a cup of tea. The new stove had arrived some weeks ago and had been installed in the scullery, which was now the private territory of Mrs. Benson, the newness of the stove making up for the smallness of the room. The kitchen was still open to those who came in for snacks; and a fresh controversy was brewing with Mrs. Turner, who claimed the exclusive rights. This morning she was seated at the table, still eating her breakfast at the time of other people's elevenses. Rosamund saw she was not welcome.

"Good morning," she said cheerfully.

"You're early," came in reply.

"I'm glad you think so. I'd thought I was late. Miss Bullen's here already, isn't she?"

"Yes, she's upstairs. She came an hour ago—I can't think why. I should have thought she'd have wanted to lie in bed after last night—and you too," she added unpleasantly.

"Well, I didn't get up till ten or thereabouts. I was surprised myself to find Miss Bullen had got up so early. Do you mind if I move your kettle?"

"Yes, you can move it. But I've told her this very morning that she must fix up a place for all this teamaking. This is my kitchen."

"Thank you for telling me. I'd thought Miss Bullen owned this farm."

The dragging remains of her headache had made her speak unwisely. Mrs. Turner gave her a disagreeable look.

"I hear," she said, "that you had a very good time with Bob Hightower last night."

"I danced with him once or twice. Who told you he was there?"

But Mrs. Turner would only say, "A little bird."

"I must say I was surprised to see him," continued Rosamund, rallying her defenses. "It isn't at all his line of country."

"Perhaps someone paid for his ticket."

"I don't see why he shouldn't have bought his own ticket. He ought easily to be able to afford three guineas. That place is booming."

But Mrs. Turner's face had disappeared into her teacup. Rosamund felt uneasy. She had not expected the rumor of last night's doings to be so swift in reaching Doleham. At this rate, it looked almost certain that Mrs. Winrow must hear all about everything when she came back. Of course, in a sense, Rosamund wanted her to hear. She wanted her to know someday that she had been unsuccessful in keeping her from going to the ball, she wanted her to be mad with rage at the thought of Charley Vine enjoying the hospitality of Doleham Manor and squiring her daughter. But she did not want this to happen—in fact it must not till all was settled between him and Lesley, till it was too late for her to interfere. If she came to hear of the affair in its early stages there was no knowing what she might not do to stop it. Lesley was unlikely to show any resource in outwitting her mother, and if young Vine were not already secured, he might never be.

All this was very disquieting, and the best thing to do seemed to go upstairs to Lesley and find out at once how far things had progressed last night. If by any lucky chance they were already settled, then there was nothing to be afraid of. Charley Vine was well able, she felt sure, to deal with Mrs. Winrow. But she did not think they could have moved so fast. He must feel diffident about approaching a girl in Lesley's position, and would proceed very carefully. On the other hand, he might have made signals which Rosamund could interpret even if Lesley couldn't. She must make her talk about him and draw her conclusions from what she said.

She found Lesley sitting at the office table, the formless litter of her book before her, but her hands both idle in her lap. Her eyes were fixed on some point beyond Rosamund so intently that involuntarily she turned around to see what was there. Lesley looked her old, untidy, slouching self. The make-up was all washed off, leaving her skin white and smudgy, as if she had not slept; while in an attempt to restore her normal style of hairdressing, she had combed out the little curls, so that they hung in foolish ringlets on each side of her face. Rosamund's first conviction was that all was over, and these were the tokens of despair. But before she could say anything Lesley smiled.

"Hullo," she said.

"Hullo. You are an early bird. I've only just got up."

"I couldn't sleep."

Rosamund looked at her keenly.

"How's that? I thought you were very tired last night."

"Yes, I was—very tired. But I couldn't sleep all the same." She pushed back the foolish ringlets from her face. "Oh, Rosamund . . ."

What was it? What did she mean? Rosamund moved toward her; but as she did so, Lesley's head fell forward into her hands and she burst out crying.

"My dear! What is it? What's happened?"

Shocked, dismayed, she put her arm around the sobbing girl. She was not a compassionate woman, nor given to showing others a tenderness she never expected to receive herself; comfort did not come readily from her. But if Lesley was really suffering the pangs of disappointed love, she felt sorry for her, for she knew what they were. The sobs increased in frenzy, and out of them came incoherently a voice: "I—I'm so happy—so—so happy."

"Oh, God!" cried Rosamund, taking away her arm.

The gesture seemed to bring Lesley to her senses. She sat up and wiped her eyes.

"I'm sorry," she said, with a smile that looked incongruous on her tear-blotted face. "But I couldn't help it. I'm so—so—h-happy."

With the operative word the tears seemed likely to return, and Rosamund spoke briskly.

"You gave me a fright. I thought something dreadful had happened. Do tell me what it's all about."

"Oh, it's only, it's only—oh, Rosamund—I love him."

Rosamund sat down on the edge of the desk beside her and lit a much-needed cigarette.

"I thought you did, though you never told me. Now you must tell me more. But for God's sake keep calm."

"I am—I'm quite calm now. I don't know what made me so silly, except that I haven't slept all night for thinking about him. Oh, Rosamund, I can never thank you enough for making me ask him to the ball. I'd never have done it without you."

"To tell you the truth," said Rosamund, "I thought you were in love with him a little, so it seemed a pity not to do something about it."

"Dear Rosamund, how clever and kind you are."

"Well, he seems just the sort of man for you. He's charming, got good looks and good manners and all that, and yet he's quite a different sort from those other men your mother wanted you to marry. He's a farmer's son and you're both keen on the same things. It seems an ideal match. . . . What about him, though?"

"About him?" Lesley looked bewildered.

"Yes." Her voice was sharpened by some little impatience with her pupil in the ways of love. "Does he know what you feel about him? Has he shown any signs of being in love himself?"

The foolish ringlets swung over Lesley's face as she bowed her head. For a moment she did not speak. Then she said in a low voice, "Yes, he has."

Rosamund waited for more; then as nothing came, she pressed. "Won't you tell me?"

"Yes, of course. You've been so good. . . . But it's difficult to talk about things like this—even to you. Last night was so wonderful, so different from anything I've ever known before. . . . You know how I hate dances, but this wasn't like any dance I've ever been to. . . . We didn't dance all the time. We walked and sat in the garden, and we talked. . . . I asked him if he wouldn't rather dance—I offered to introduce him to some other girls. But he said he'd much rather talk to me. He was so—so—devoted."

Silence seemed about to fall again, and Rosamund asked, "What else did he say?"

"He said my dress was like a fountain."

"Yes, yes—but did he say anything about you?"

"Well, yes, he did. That's what makes me so h-happy. . . . But, Rosamund, you're not to tell anyone."

"My child, you're telling me. Not a word of this except between ourselves. What did he say?"

"Oh, lots of things. I can't repeat it all as he said it, but he talked about himself and said how much he was enjoying the dance and that it was sweet of me to have invited him. Then he said how he loved Birdskitchen, and how all through the war he'd thought about it and longed to be back there, but that now he was back he couldn't quite settle down and be exactly what he was before he went away. He's got a taste for a different sort of life, and he—he thanked me for encouraging that taste, and he didn't see why those two sorts of life shouldn't be combined in one very satisfactory manner of living, and—and—oh, Rosamund, he—he said he hoped his—wife would feel the same."

"Did he, then? And what did you say to that?"

"Nothing."

Rosamund had to check another movement of impatience. Then it occurred to her that perhaps after all Lesley had given the best reply. There was a pause while she considered the situation. It seemed to her that Charley Vine had said as much as he prudently could at such an early stage. He was obviously feeling his way, and all she hoped was that Lesley knew how to encourage him. She asked, "Did he make any plans for seeing you again?"

"Yes, he said he hoped to bring over Tickner in a day or two—that's the man he thought of as my foreman. He's going to bring him over himself."

This did not sound much like a lovers' meeting, but Rosamund had not been three months at Doleham without realizing that farming matters had an importance that set them very close to love.

"When?"

"Oh, any day."

"Then," said Rosamund crisply, "I suggest that you make yourself fit to be seen."

"Aren't I now?"

Rosamund could have laughed. She said, "Look in the glass."

Lesley rose and peered at herself in the mirror on the wall.

"Well, of course I've made a dreadful mess of my face. Can you lend me some powder?"

"I can. But it isn't just that. What have you done to your hair?"

"I've only tried to make it go as usual."

"You can't—not while it's curled. If you want to have that long bob back again you'll have to use water. It looks damn silly as it is now, if you'll excuse me saying so."

She came over and stood beside Lesley. They both looked into the glass. The light, coming at right angles from the window, was rather cruel, showing up the tearstains on Lesley's face and the lines on Rosamund's. On the wall behind them, reflected in the glass, hung the wooden cross that Ivory had made.

Rosamund shied away.

"What made you hang that thing there?" she asked irrelevantly.

"What thing? Oh, Ivory's cross. He gave it to me. He carved it himself."

"I know. I saw him doing it. But I think it's hideous."

"I don't. I dare say it isn't perfectly carved, but it's a remarkable piece of work for a man like Ivory."

"I think it's hideous," repeated Rosamund on a shriller note. "He can carve easy things fairly well, but he's made a mess of that, and even if he hadn't, it's not a thing one likes to have about. Why did you have to hang it just where we've got to see it every time we look in the glass?"

Lesley seemed surprised at her vehemence.

"There's nowhere else it could go. The other walls are all over maps and things."

"Must you hang it up at all?"

Lesley looked shocked as well as surprised; and after all, what did she know about those things to which Ivory's cross had given a visible and terrifying shape?

"Of course I must hang it up," she said. "He'd be terribly hurt if I didn't. He made it specially for me. Poor Ivory—I wish I could do more for him. I feel so sorry for him sometimes. He seems so lonely."

"All the same, I think that thing is hideous—and rather frightening too. . . . Oh, by the way, would it be all right for me to go to town for a couple of nights on Monday?"

This was the second leap that the conversation had taken away from Lesley's hair.

She looked a little bewildered by its suddenness and unexpected content. "To town—to London?"

"Yes. I want to see my boy." She realized that the sequence of her thoughts must seem mysterious, and supplied an amended version: "Our talking about Ivory reminded me that he's making a toy for Michael, and then I remembered that Mother wrote the other day and asked me if I couldn't manage to run up and see his teacher. She wants to consult me about something."

It all flowed out and sounded very convincing, though even as she spoke Rosamund wondered irrationally if Lesley realized how much of last night she had spent with Bob Hightower and connected this visit with his convenience. A sense of guilt made her underrate the other's lack not only of suspicion but of observation. There was no shadow of either in the clear eyes that met her own as Lesley answered:

"Why, of course. Do go. I can manage quite well for two days, though—" and her smile was clear and trusting as her eyes, "I shall miss you."

Rosamund spoke almost roughly. "Well, sit down now, and we'll see what, if anything, can be done about your hair."




Part IV

1

The country flowed like a river past the carriage windows. It was the train that seemed to stand still, while the country moved in a spate of fields, woods, farms, and reed-channeled marshes, swooped over by cloud shadows and their chasing gleams of sunshine, which gave it all a sense of speed and urgency that mocked its peacefulness.

It went so fast. By this time Sandlake, with Bob Hightower kissing her good-by on the branch-line platform, was miles and miles away. She could no longer feel the roughness of his kiss, or smell his tobacco, or hear the caressing banter of his voice. Soon his very image—the bronzed, lean profile that was always the last of him to go—would have become blurred by distance and the confusion of her thoughts. Oh, if only she could pull a lever and send the whole thing into reverse—bring him back to her on the flow of woods and meadows till she held him in her arms again.

There was a slowing down and then a stillness. A station sign proclaiming Barnhorn had stopped outside the window, and she knew that the next station was the one where she must get out. She shook herself. This would never do. She could not go on like this. She must pull herself together before she reached Doleham, or there might be any sort of trouble. She must stop being silly about Bob. He was the sort of man who required one to have all one's wits about one. Besides, he and she had had a very good time in London, and it was a pity to spoil it by being silly about it afterward.

They had stayed at quite a good hotel—not the Savoy, of course, but a west-end hotel where she had seen a great many well-dressed people and drunk a great many cocktails in an American bar. He had had to borrow money from her to pay the bill, but then he had spent a lot on her in different ways. He had bought an enormous toy panda as a present for Michael and driven her with it in a taxi to her mother's house in Notting Dale. She had never meant him to see Michael, but with such a gift she could not refuse to let him come; and he really had been very nice both to the boy and to her mother. Her mother, of course, had wanted to know if he was going to marry her, and Rosamund, to put her off, had told her that he was already married and was interested in her only because they both worked at Miss Bullen's farm settlement. Michael had been delighted with the panda, and Bob had laughed uproariously at the sight of a boy of twelve hugging a woolly toy.

She had been able to spend a part of each day with her mother, and also to visit Sylvia Dunning and her other friends, because Bob had left her alone quite a bit while he went on the elusive quest of his passage to Melbourne. She did not know whether or not he had been successful. He would not tell her. He would only tease. He possibly did not know himself. But her heart was eaten hollow with anxiety and a sense of impending loss. Her mother had upset her too, for the school did not think Michael would ever learn to talk. But she had enjoyed herself—she had had a hell of a good time—and now she must shake off these depressing thoughts, for she would soon be back at Doleham and involved in another woman's love affair.

That ought to be some sort of distraction for her, even if she could not always help envying Lesley the integrity of Charley Vine. She still thought she could have had him for herself if she had tried, and added a new grudge to the score against Mrs. Winrow for having put her off her stroke. Of course it was too late now. They were both fixed up elsewhere. At least she hoped he was fixed. . . . What had Lesley done about him while she was away? She really ought not to have left her at such a time. Those few days following the ball had been strategically important, and Lesley was untried in strategy. She could not trust her to have made the best use of them. She should have stayed and looked after her. But she had been forced to go. She could not possibly have stayed behind while Bob went to London without her, and Lesley must take her chances like everyone else.

The train was in Doleham Valley station, and Rosamund was back where she had stood, uncertain and hopeful, three months that seemed three years ago. The place had changed with the weather. Then it had lain in a doze of heat and sunshine; now it was lively with shadows tossed by a buffeting breeze. Old Chaffage wore his coat today, and she was the only person who left the train thank heaven, no hags this time!—so he bustled up to take her suitcase. Not wishing to give him a tip after all she had spent in London, she assured him gaily that she could carry it herself.

There was another difference she was glad to see, and that was the Doleham Manor car waiting outside in the station yard. Elphinstone had come for her in the big Vauxhall as he had promised, to trundle her importantly at twelve miles to the gallon along the road she had covered before in a Ford utility van and only just not in the bus.

"Hullo," she greeted him. "This is an improvement on last time."

"It very nearly wasn't," he said as he tucked in the rug. "If the old girl hadn't gone to have a bit of shut-eye after tea I couldn't have come—at least, not in this car."

"The old girl!" cried Rosamund. "Do you mean she's back?"

"Came back this very afternoon. This is my second trip to the station."

"Oh, Lord," said Rosamund. "What a bore!"

Elphinstone grinned and went back to his seat. As she had preferred state to company, the conversation could not be continued through the glass hatch between them; but there was plenty to occupy her thoughts. Mrs. Winrow's return would have spoiled her evening even if there had been no complications, and the complications were many and alarming. She had known that she was expected back from Scotland this week, but today was only Wednesday, and both she and Lesley had taken for granted that she would not come straight to Doleham but would stop for a few days in London. What could have made her extend her journey like this? Had she heard anything about Charley Vine being at the ball? Rosamund did not see how she could, unless Lady Anne or some other busybody had written at once. . . . It was not likely, but she could not rule it out or otherwise account for such a swift descent on Doleham. There was also the unhappy conviction that even if she had arrived in total ignorance, for some entirely unassociated reason, she must know everything by now. Lesley would have blurted it all out—not as a voluntary communication (she would never tell her mother anything like that) but in response to her inevitable inquiries about the ball. Lesley did not know how to tell a lie, and this was a situation which could not be got out of without determined and resourceful lying.

"Do you know why she came straight here instead of stopping in London?" she asked Elphinstone as he opened the car door. "We weren't expecting her so soon."

His eyelid drooped. "To see her darling daughter?"

"Oh, yeah? But what else? Did anyone know beforehand? Was Mrs. Ashplant prepared?"

"That's all right. They got a wire on Monday. I believe she means to stay quite a while."

Rosamund hurried into the house. She must find Lesley and know the worst. It was not nearly so bad as her fears had led her to suppose.

"The cook at Bryanston Square is ill, so she couldn't go there. Did you have a successful visit? How is Michael?"

"Oh, grand. Has your mother found out anything about you and Charley Vine?"

Lesley looked at her in some surprise from the window seat where she was sprawling while Rosamund comforted her heart and nerves with a pink gin.

"No, of course not."

"Well, I thought she might possibly. . . . Didn't she ask you anything about the ball?"

"No, nothing—not yet. She was telling me about Scotland and grumbling at the cook. Now she's gone to lie down; she couldn't sleep last night in the train."

"She's sure to ask about it sooner or later, and we must be careful what we say."

"Yes, I know. I'm going to be. Cousin Anne warned me."

It was Rosamund's turn to be surprised.

"Your cousin Anne! Why, I thought she might be the very one to give you away."

"Oh, no. She went on at me quite a bit when I lunched there yesterday. Both she and Cousin Nicholas are afraid that if Mother hears about Charley Vine coming with us to the ball she may refuse to sign the contract with his father. So they've fixed for her and Mr. Vine to sign it tomorrow morning. After that it won't matter so much if she finds out."

This was rather astonishing behavior on the part of the Cheynells, but it certainly helped things along.

"Well, she's bound to find out someday, but it's important she shouldn't know anything till you've got it all fixed up. And I don't mean the contract."

"You mean till we—till we're married?"

"Or at least engaged. But married would be better. Then there'll be absolutely nothing she can do. How are things going?"

Lesley smiled a little secret smile, but she said nothing.

"Has he been to see you?" asked Rosamund, after a pause.

"No, not yet."

"But—"

"I don't suppose he's been able to fix anything with Tickner, and they're hop picking at Birdskitchen, you know."

Rosamund frowned. What had gone wrong here? If young Vine had meant what he said at the dance, he would have managed to see Lesley somehow, with or without Tickner, hops or no hops. Lesley, lost in her dreams and inexperienced in the ways of love, was probably unaware of any remissness. . . . Most certainly Rosamund should not have gone away and left this innocent to cope with that most difficult and guileful of all creatures, Man.

"Look here," she said, "you'd better write to him and tell him you'd like to see him soon. He may have cold feet—thought he'd put you off by what he said at the dance. Perhaps he thinks you don't really care."

Lesley looked at her in alarm.

"He can't think that."

"Well, I don't know. . . . It's odd his not having been to see you. It's nearly a week now since the ball."

"But perhaps he's keeping away till the contract is signed. I expect he guesses how Mother would feel, and if he's in love with me it's all the more important for him to have Birdskitchen."

"Yes," said Rosamund, "that certainly is possible."

She was surprised that Lesley should have such a practical and probable explanation of her lover's absence. It might well be true. He would not want any rumor of his visits to Waters Farm to reach Doleham while such an important matter was unsettled. For now, at last, she saw the sale of Birdskitchen as an important matter. He might feel it impossible to ask Lesley to marry him while he was only the son of one of her mother's tenants. But when he owned the farm—and the old people would almost certainly retire and make it over to him—he would be on an altogether different footing. He would be a landowner in his own right, and the lands of Birdskitchen met at the river the lands of Waters Farm, making quite a good little estate. Nobody but a snooty hag like Iris Winrow could think the match objectionable, and she wouldn't be able to stop it once the contract was through. Yes, that must be why Master Charley appeared just at the moment to be hanging back. The explanation seemed so reasonable that Rosamund could not understand why she had not thought of it herself.



2

It was now more important than ever to keep Mrs. Winrow in ignorance of all that had been going on while she was away and especially of the irreverent twist that had been given to her careful arrangements for the ball. The period of danger had been shortened—for Rosamund now felt that all would be well if she heard nothing till the contract was signed—but the danger itself was more acute; for if she heard, and in consequence stopped the sale, there was now more than a chance that Charley Vine would withdraw from his wooing, at least for a time. Rosamund could not think that he would give up Lesley entirely, but he might have his pride—men had, she believed, though not the sort she knew best—and he might think that as the son of a mere tenant farmer he did not stand a chance of acceptance. Anyhow, it would mean more worry, and more work on Lesley's behalf, and she had quite enough work and worry ahead of her on her own.

This is the last time I get involved in another woman's love affair, she said to herself as she dressed for dinner, forgetting at the moment that she had deliberately encouraged, if not actually started, this one in order to spite Iris Winrow.

The motive returned with urgency before they had been at dinner very long. Mrs. Winrow greeted her with a few perfunctory civilities and then set out to ignore her. She talked to Lesley about her visit to Scotland, mentioning people and places Rosamund had never heard of, so that she could not join in—a method of conversation which even in her mother's circles was thought very ill-bred. In the end she became so angry that she took advantage of a very slight pause and broke in irrelevantly.

"Oh, by the way, Lesley—I saw Sylvia Dunning in town, and she sends you all sorts of messages."

Mrs. Winrow's eyebrows went up at the use of her daughter's Christian name; but Lesley, who up till then had been rather languid, became interested at once.

"Oh, did you? How is she? What does she say?"

Rosamund answered carefully, for Sylvia's most urgent message had been that she was longing to see her dear friend and they really must meet soon; which meant, as Lesley never came to London, that she hoped to be invited to Doleham Manor. Indeed, she had been rather vexed with Rosamund because this invitation had not already materialized: "I relied on you to get me asked. I told you I wanted to come, and you could have fixed it quite easily for me." But Rosamund was determined not to have her there to find out all about Bob Hightower, a secret she had most carefully guarded from the friend who would certainly despise her for having "done it again." And now Lesley's affair with Charley Vine was an added complication. It would be a long time before Sylvia could enjoy her share of the free cigarettes and pink gins of Doleham.

"Oh, Sylvia's grand. She was round at Rudy's last night and asked me to tell you that he's got a job with some music publishers. Joanna put him on to it. She's back with her husband, you know, again, and Serena . . ." she ran on, mentioning as many names as possible, just to show Mrs. Winrow what her behavior was like.

In the end she reduced her to her own tactics. The lightest pause for breath and she was saying:

"Lesley, darling, you've never told me how you enjoyed the ball."

This was a jolt, but the next moment Rosamund realized that the subject must be mentioned sometime, and it was just as well it should be mentioned now, while she was present to save Lesley from any indiscretions.

"Oh, Mother, I loved it—simply loved it."

Rosamund could have boxed her ears. Didn't the silly fool know she was giving herself away completely by answering like that? Even without the flags on her cheeks and the lights in her eyes.

Mrs. Winrow certainly looked a little surprised.

"That's very unlike you, darling. But I'm glad. What made it so attractive?"

Lesley, realizing that she had blundered, became awkward and silent. Rosamund hurtled in.

"I don't see how she could have helped enjoying it, Mrs. Winrow. It really was a most delightful affair—so well run. I enjoyed it enormously myself."

Her words were the inspiration of the moment, spoken to divert Mrs. Winrow's attention from Lesley to herself. But directly they were uttered she had a feeling of triumph. She had always meant Iris to know she had been at the ball, and this had been a chance to tell her without compromising Lesley—indeed, the revelation had probably saved her from making one far more dangerous to them both.

Rosamund had certainly succeeded in drawing the enemy's fire. Iris colored with annoyance, and each word was like a chip of glass as she replied:

"Really, Mrs. Gailey. So you went to the ball. That's rather unexpected."

Rosamund laughed. "Yes, I know; I said I didn't care about it. But some friends of mine were going and they made such a point of my going too that I changed my mind and went."

"Some friends of yours?"

Rosamund's smile was as wide as her face, though the last word almost bit her.

"Yes, friends of mine. They live out beyond Tunbridge Wells, but distance means nothing if you have a Rolls."

"And did they come and fetch you in the Rolls?"

"Oh, no. I wouldn't let them. That would have been too hard on their petrol ration. I went with the party here."

"Indeed. You must have felt rather awkward, I'm afraid."

"Not at all. I had my partner waiting for me, so it didn't matter being five."

As she spoke she became aware of the spectators outside the ring. Ashplant stood stiffly at the sideboard, staring straight ahead of him; he might have been carved in wood, except for some curious twitchings at the corner of his mouth. Lesley, on the other hand, was gazing at her with a look of absolute dismay, and Rosamund realized that this was the first time she had actually caught her lying. The "friends" she might have accepted, for she had been too deeply lost in her own affairs to know how Rosamund had really spent the evening; but when it came to plain figures—to five instead of six—to Charley Vine's elimination by a digit, she was shocked and horrified. For one ghastly moment Rosamund thought she would refuse to accept the succor thus compromised, for her mouth opened as if she were going to speak. But she said nothing—the open mouth was only a part of her dismay—and the next moment it was Iris herself who saved the situation by changing the subject entirely.

"How's your cousin Anne? Nicholas wrote while I was away and said she hadn't been so well lately. They're afraid it's her heart."



3

Iris Winrow had enjoyed herself in Scotland. The visit had restored her confidence in the stability of her world, of which she had begun to feel unsure. For a fortnight she had lived a life not unlike that which she had lived before the war, and the experience had fortified her to such an extent that her failure to find anyone in the house party to bid a fabulous sum for Birdskitchen gave her no real concern. Indeed, it had increased that sense of return to the days when gambling in farmlands would have been an act of folly and Harry Vine's six thousand pounds an almost incredible price for a two-hundred-acre farm.

Her good humor had survived the jolt of a forced return to Doleham when she would much rather have stayed for a while in Bryanston Square, and had been only a little ruffled by finding Mrs. Gailey still firmly established not only at the Manor but in her daughter's affections. The discovery that she had been to the Red Cross Ball, however, had shaken it considerably. She did not believe in the friends with the Rolls Royce. Mrs. Gailey had probably worked on Lesley and persuaded her to take her, and had then most likely behaved in the deplorable manner in which she had behaved at the cocktail party. She must ask Anne Cheynell about it. Meanwhile, she relieved her feelings by talking to Sale.

Every night Sale brushed her hair for a quarter of an hour before she went to bed. It was a ceremony that belonged essentially to the good old days, and Iris could not have slept without it. Every night for thirty-five years, since she first took service as lady's maid with the beautiful young Mrs. Bullen, Sale had brushed her hair with a tortoise-shell and silver brush from the set that had been Tom Bullen's wedding gift. She had seen the hair change from fine gold to synthetic copper—that had been in the days of Nigel Winrow—and then surrender gracefully to the invading gray, which had now been brushed through many blue rinses into a silver nearly as lovely as the vanished gold.

Iris enjoyed these sessions. Apart from their association with more privileged times and the soothing pleasure given by the stroke of the brush, they gave her the relaxation of a comfortable chat with her maid. The day's wave broke in harmless drops of gossip and small memories, and as she tasted the salt of these she could forget the stern, strong drag of the tide that each day was taking her further out to sea. She never talked of any great pleasures or any great pains, but of trifling irritations and petty delights, relieving her mind of puzzles rather than of problems. It was the only time when she found Sale at all companionable. It is true that she was not always sympathetic, but she often made shrewd comments and sometimes had some useful information.

"Sale," said Iris tonight, "would you believe it? That Mrs. Gailey went to the Red Cross Ball."

"Yes'm. So I heard."

"You heard, Sale! Who told you?"

"Mrs. Sivyer'm. She's in tonight to help with the extra, and her cousin was acting as cloakroom attendant. She said Mrs. Gailey came in once in a terrible mess—told her she'd fallen down in the garden," and Sale emitted a strange sound which experience had taught Iris to recognize as a laugh.

"I expect she'd had too much to drink; she wouldn't be used to champagne. I really am extremely annoyed at her going. She'd be quite out of place at an affair like that. Do you know whom she danced with?"

"Yes'm. Mrs. Sivyer's husband knows the man who acted behind the bar, and he said she was with the man Hightower who used to be Miss Lesley's secretary."

"A perfectly terrible person, I believe. How on earth did he get in?"

"The story is'm that Mrs. Gailey paid for his ticket."

"But what did he wear? Surely a man like that wouldn't have a dress suit."

"Well'm, the barman said the person told him he'd hired it in London. Looked very well in it, he said, and he'd never known a man who could put away so much liquor without getting tipsy."

Iris laughed in a manner very unlike Sale's. When the last silver bell (some were now perhaps a little cracked) had ceased to tinkle, she said:

"Only think—she was telling me she had gone to meet some people who had come from beyond Tunbridge Wells in a Rolls Royce."

Sale emitted her sound.

"It was a Ford utility van'm we had waiting outside here that night."

"What!"

Iris swung around so suddenly that Sale nearly hit her with the brush.

"You're not telling me she had that fellow to dinner here with the Mortimers?"

"No'm—not that fellow."

"Well, what other? Sale, do tell me what's been going on here while I've been away."

"Nothing'm, that I'm aware of, except that young Vine, the farmer's son from Birdskitchen, had dinner here first and went with them to the ball."

"But—stop brushing, Sale. I can't think while you're brushing. I never heard anything so terrible. Is there absolutely no limit to that woman's effrontery? Did Ashplant tell you this?"

"No'm, he only hinted. It was Mrs. Sivyer told me. She was here, and Mrs. Crouch too, and there was dinner for six, and then they all went off in the car to Sandlake, and young Vine came back here afterward to pick up his van."

Iris drummed with her fingers on the glass top of the dressing table.

"I remember now. She was struck with him when she first arrived here. He brought her from the station and let her think he was a local squire or something. I really must speak to Miss Lesley. I won't have that woman fill the house up with her men. She must go. She may be Miss Lesley's secretary, but this is my house and I won't have her in it."

Sale picked up the brush. "Shall I go on'm?"

"No—wait a moment. Where is Miss Lesley? Has she gone to bed?"

"I think so'm. I don't think she stayed long after you went up."

"But I haven't been up more than twenty minutes. She can't be in bed yet. I must speak to her, Sale. I consider she's a great deal to blame for this. She shouldn't have allowed it, and she must stop it. Please go and ask her to come here."

In the looking glass she could see Sale's face cloudy with opposition. She probably thought she was going to be kept up late. Well, she would have to put up with it, that was all.

"What shall I do if I find her in bed'm?"

"She won't be in bed, and if she is it won't hurt her to get up and come in here. I must see her or I shan't sleep a wink tonight. I must find out exactly what's been going on in my absence—how far she's let that woman have her head. So the quicker you fetch her the sooner it'll be over."

She felt giddy with anger. That the exclusiveness of the Red Cross Ball and the elegancies of Doleham Manor should have been set at naught by this little upstart woman, whose presence in her household she resented for a dozen other reasons, was an outrage that made her heart thump and her temples throb. Lesley must get rid of her—Lesley herself had behaved disgracefully, allowing this thing and then holding her tongue about it afterward—Lesley was as big a trial as her secretary— What had Iris done to deserve such a daughter?

In the looking glass she saw the door behind her open and Lesley come in.

"What is it, Mother?"



4

She had not even begun to undress; she still had on the old black Reville number that she considered proper evening wear when her mother was at home. But she had a curious rumpled, startled look, as if she had just been roused from sleep.

"So there you are."

Iris did not turn around to look at her. She felt she would rather keep her as part of the background to the face she saw in the glass. The sight of her own face—faded but aristocratic in its delicacy of feature and coloring, sagging but dignified in its high-bred lines—was a comfort and help to Iris. She would rather gaze at it than at Lesley's clumsy, disheveled youth. The dressing table was the most brightly lit object in the room. It glittered with silver and tortoise shell and crystal and glass. Lesley in her black gown was scarcely more than a shadow among the shadows by the door.

"What is it, Mother?"

Iris gathered up her long hair, fastening it high with a Spanish comb. Her anger now was only a cold throb.

"I knew you hadn't gone to bed. Where's Sale?"

Lesley shook her head. "I don't know. She came and told me you wanted me, then she went away."

She'd escaped, the old devil. Nothing would ever induce her to sit up properly for her mistress. But no matter—her misdeeds were not important now.

"That's all right. I don't want her here while I'm talking to you. For I'm very angry with you, Lesley, very angry indeed."

"With me, Mother? W-why?"

She thought Lesley looked scared and guilty. She probably guessed what she was going to say.

"For allowing that wretched woman to disgrace us at the Red Cross Ball. I've just been hearing about it from Sale. It's common gossip in the servants' hall, to say nothing of the village. What could have possessed you to let her go?"

"I didn't let her go. I took her with me."

"That's still more unaccountable. Will you kindly explain?"

Lesley flushed deeply. "She wanted to go. She only pretended that she didn't because you—you snubbed her. You hurt her feelings, so she said she didn't want to go. When I found out that she really did, I took her with me. She had as much right to go as I had."

"Don't talk nonsense, dear. Who paid for her ticket?"

"I did, of course."

"And for her men's tickets too?"

Her anger was no longer a throb, but on her tongue like a bitter taste. Lesley looked dumbfounded.

"What men? She didn't bring any men. She came quite alone."

"My dear, surely you must have known that she was drinking half the evening with your former secretary Hightower, and had had so much that she could hardly stand, and that she—"

"Mother, it isn't true. Somebody's been lying. She may have danced a lot with Mr. Hightower—I didn't see—but she certainly didn't drink too much. She was perfectly sober. That I can vouch for. Who can have told such a wicked lie against her?"

"Dear child, it's common knowledge that she had a fall and had to go to the cloakroom for repairs; also that she was constantly in the bar with Hightower—I don't suppose they were either of them sober enough to dance. You may not have noticed anything, though I should have thought that even you—however, you can't say you didn't notice her other man, for he came here to dinner."

Lesley said nothing, though her lips moved.

"Will you explain to me," continued Iris, her heart charging once more with anger, "will you explain how you could allow her to invite the son of one of my tenants to dinner in my house, to mix with the guests that I had invited, and to go with them and my daughter to the ball?"

"She didn't invite him—I did."

"That's even worse. What effrontery—" her veins were running with the current now—"She made you write—to him."

"She didn't. I did it entirely on my own—at least—" Lesley broke off and looked embarrassed.

"Oh, she got round you. I'm not suggesting that she ordered you to invite him. It probably hasn't come to that—yet. But she was determined to have him. She's been after him ever since she came here. He brought her from the station and made her think he was a neighbor of ours. So she chose to have him for her partner at the dance. I dare say Hightower was only a second string—even she must know what he is—and though all that was bad enough—disgraceful—it's nothing compared to her behavior in this house, especially when that behavior's not only countenanced but encouraged by my own daughter. Lesley—" swinging around on her suddenly, so that they no longer saw each other's faces only in the glass—"how dared you let her bring that fellow into my house?"

Like a spark her mother's anger leaped into Lesley's eyes.

"She didn't bring him—I've told you—I did."

"But he's her man."

"He isn't—he's mine."

The words seemed to drop between them like a bomb. They both swayed and their faces were shocked and white.

"You must be mad," said Iris slowly at last. "Do you know what you're saying?"

"Yes. I—I'm saying that Charley—Mr.—Major Vine has nothing whatever to do with Mrs. Gailey. He came to the dance as my guest."

"But you mean more than that."

"Yes, I do."

Neither at the moment could say anything more. Iris was trembling. She did not know if Lesley was too, because she could not bear to look at her. She fingered the bottles and jars on her dressing table, taking out the stoppers and putting them in again. At last she said in a surprisingly calm voice, "Are you engaged?"

"No."

"But you hope to be—you expect to be."

Lesley did not answer.

"Well," said Iris, still with that surprising calm, "I suppose I oughtn't to have been taken by surprise like this—I ought to have expected it. All your life you've been a trial to me. You've refused to accept the rules and decencies of your class and lived apart from it like an outlaw. You've made friends with people I couldn't possibly know, you've refused the excellent chances that again and again I've put in your way, you've made an exhibition of yourself and brought me such disgrace that I've chosen—yes, deliberately chosen—to live away from you. I'm practically a stranger here because it's impossible for me to live with you and endure your ways, and see how you're wasting your money and getting yourself talked about and being swindled by every sort of plausible rogue, male and female. But I never thought you'd sink to this. I was quite prepared for you never to marry, but I didn't think you were capable of falling in love with a common workingman, the son of one of my tenants, without breeding or education."

"Mother, how can you talk like that! You know that Charley Vine was a Major when he left the army and that he's perfectly well-bred and just like anyone we know, except that he's more interesting to talk to."

"I know nothing of the kind. I haven't seen him since he came back. But I know that he's just a common farmer's son, that he went to the village school and worked on his father's farm before the war and is working there now it's over. As for his getting his majority, that means nothing in wartime. All it's done has been to turn his head and set him above his station. I've told you how he showed off to Mrs. Gailey. But I'd no idea he was flying higher than that. No doubt he thought he'd like someone with more money, and I dare say he heard how you've been cheapening yourself all round and thought you'd stoop to his level."

"I'm not stooping. I'm looking up. Yes, Mother, I'm looking up to a man who's brave and good, who's served his country—"

Iris laughed: "With some six million others."

"Yes, yes, but he stayed on—he volunteered—because he wanted to help in Germany, to help the people who'd been defeated—"

"Don't talk rubbish, you silly girl. He stayed on because he wanted to get on. The longer he stayed in the army, the better his chances of rising above his station. If he was at all possible as an officer he'd get his majority, and as Major Vine he could swank about and meet people like us and marry a woman with money. I don't know if he thought of you then, but he may have—the heiress of Doleham, with ten thousand pounds of your own already and he probably thinks it's twenty. Now he's back and finds he's only got to whistle. He couldn't have been luckier or you easier. You're building a fine future for—"

Iris, by a persuading calmness, had hitherto been able to keep talking till she had finished what she had to say, while Lesley, more confused and more distressed, could always be interrupted after two sentences. This time, however, she was the interrupter.

"If that really was true, he wouldn't have come back the way he did—to work on his father's farm, just the same as before the war. And you're wrong if you think I like him because I think he's well educated and well bred. I shouldn't care if he wasn't. I only mention these things to show you that it wouldn't be a disgraceful match, even from your point of view. But that isn't why I like him. I like him—I admire him—I love him because he's a workingman and proud of it. He's proud of being a farmer's son and doesn't want to be anything else. The only difference the army has made is that he enjoys certain things he didn't have before he went away—things like the Red Cross Ball. I'd marry him if he was nothing more than his father is. I'm only telling you this to show you I'm not disgracing you. He likes both lives and knows how to live both. At the ball—"

This time it was her own tears that interrupted her. Iris asked her sweetly, "Did you pay for his ticket?"

"No. He wouldn't let me. He said he wanted to help the Red Cross."

"How extraordinarily kind of him."

Lesley was now speechless. The tears coursed down her face, as she groped for a handkerchief she could not find. Iris held out hers.

"Dry your eyes, child, and go to bed. I'm not going to sit up all night talking about him."

Lesley wiped away her tears, but did not go.

"Mother," she said, struggling for at least a shadow of the calmness that had outwitted her, "I want you to understand one thing—two things. I'm not going to give up Rosamund Gailey and I'm not going to give up Charley Vine. I know you want me to send her away, but you can't make me, and I'm not going to; and if—if he wants—wants me to be—en-engaged to him, I shall."

"Very well, you've made yourself clear. Now I'm going to make myself clear. I can't, as you've so dutifully pointed out, make you dismiss this woman from your employment. But this house is mine, and if you want to keep her you must find accommodation for her elsewhere. As for the man, Birdskitchen Farm is mine too, and the Vines clear out of it as soon as their lease expires in January."

"But—"

Lesley looked aghast. She tried to speak, but all she could say was, "Mother, Mother, don't—"

"Now, Lesley . . ."

But her daughter, who throughout the interview had stood in the same place just inside the door, as if afraid to leave the protecting shadows of that part of the room, now ran forward into the light, and sank on her knees by her mother's dressing stool.

"Mother, I beg you—Mother, don't do it. If you do it I—I—I'll have ruined him."

"You should have thought of that earlier."

"But I never imagined . . . you can't punish him for loving me—or his parents . . . it'll break their hearts. . . . Besides, the farm's theirs—it's morally theirs. You promised and you can't change now."

The light that danced in the facets of cut-glass jars and the prisms of dangling crystals danced in Lesley's tears as she lifted her streaming face to her mother. Iris looked away. She was shaken, but in her feelings, not in her will. She was more determined than ever to do as she had said with regard to those two upstarts, and restore her own life, if not Lesley's, as soon as possible to comfort and dignity. But she could not help being upset by her daughter's grief. The emotions of the last half-hour had exhausted her. She was getting old, nearly sixty, and unequal to such strains. The interview must end. Lesley must go: Tomorrow she would be feeling stronger.

"Leave me," she said in a shaking voice. "Go away and leave me. I can't stand any more of this."

"But, Mother, promise me—"

"I'll promise nothing. Go away."

"But I can't go unless you promise me. Oh, Mother, you're unkind. . . ."

Something seemed to break in Iris, and she screamed.

"You wretched, ungrateful girl! How dare you call me unkind, when you've spoiled my life and broken my heart? Go away, take your man, marry him if he'll have you. I don't care if I never see you again."

Lesley burst into great, noisy, breathless sobs and sank in a heap on the floor. Iris tottered to the bell and rang it repeatedly, but without much hope. Doubtless it was jangling merrily in the kitchen; but the servants must all be in bed and asleep by now, and experience had taught her that servants, once asleep, never woke up for anything less noisy than a bomb. It was with a feeling of true surprise that she heard the flap of mules coming along the corridor toward her room. The next minute, after a perfunctory knock, Mrs. Gailey walked in.

She wore a brightly flowered dressing gown, and a crimson handkerchief was tied over her head. The shadows around the door which had sucked in Lesley and her black gown spat her out before she had marched up to the dressing table.

"What's the matter? What's happened?"

Iris felt a new motion of surprise as she realized how glad she was to see Mrs. Gailey.

"Please take this girl away. I can't stand any more tonight."

"Lesley, come along." She stooped over her and shook her gently. "Come along with me and tell me what's happened."

Lesley rose suddenly to her knees and gripped both Mrs. Gailey's hands.

"Rosamund, Rosamund—"

"Come along. Let's get out of here."

"But I've ruined him. Oh, Rosamund. . . ."

"Don't tell me here. We can't talk here."

"Yes," cried Iris, "for mercy's sake, go and leave me in peace."

Mrs. Gailey ignored her.

"Come along. We'll talk about it in your room."

She pulled at the hands gripping hers, and unexpectedly Lesley was on her feet.

"Oh, Rosamund, what have I done!"

"Never mind. I dare say we can put things right."

"But we can't. She, says he—they—the Vines have got to go."

"You can tell me all about that when we're alone. Let's get a move on now."

They went out together, Lesley's tall, dark figure huddling against the little bunchy, bouncy, flowery one that half-supported her, half-dragged her out of the room. They both ignored Iris entirely.

As soon as the door was shut her face crumpled up and she cried till she had no more tears.



5

"Oh, Rosamund," gasped Lesley.

"Don't tell me anything till we get to your room."

She could feel the sobs struggling in the body that leaned on hers and felt that at any moment they might break out again and she would have to lead a wailing Lesley through the streets of the house. She expected no more than Iris any intervention from the servants' quarters, but she thought it well that tomorrow those quarters should have as little to discuss as possible.

"Let's go to your room and talk all this over—quietly."

The passage seemed interminable. Lesley's wing was at the end of the house farthest from the principal bedrooms, and it was only because it stood at right angles to the main part and both windows had been open that Rosamund had heard in her room anything of what was going on in Iris's. She had begun to feel anxious directly she heard Sale knock on Lesley's door and tell her she was wanted by her mother. By that time she herself had got into bed, for she was tired and in need of sleep; but she had soon become aware of voices raised in argument, and though she could not hear what was said she had listened restlessly till words became noisy sobs. Then the bell had rung repeatedly in the kitchen passage almost underneath her room and she had gone off to investigate.

She guessed pretty well what had happened. It stuck out a mile.

"Now," she said, as soon as the door was shut behind them, "don't waste any more time crying, but tell me straight: How much does she know?"

Lesley, who had sunk upon the bed, lifted herself and said in a dry voice, "Everything."

"You mean about you and him? Not just his coming to the dance?"

Lesley nodded, and Rosamund reacted from her protective, succoring role into sheer exasperation.

"You silly fool! Why did you have to tell her that?"

"I was angry. She said such dreadful things about—you."

Far from being softened by this display of quixotry, Rosamund was goaded by it into language most of which Lesley had never heard before.

"Of all the bloody fools," the outburst tailed off, "to lose your temper and your head because of what she said about me . . . considering what she's said to me . . . and here's my chance of getting even . . . here am I sweating my guts out to help you pull off this thing and you go and heave it all up and then say you did it for my sake!"

"I didn't say that—only that what she said about you made me angry. She said he was your man—that he and Bob Hightower were both your men—"

"Well, what of it? Oh, you make me sick. . . . But this isn't getting us anywhere. What are the net results? The Vines are to lose their farm. She can't do worse than that."

"But that's bad enough. They'll break their hearts . . . and if he finds out it's my fault he'll never forgive me."

"Oh, yes, he will. Besides, he needn't find out. Surely it won't be necessary to go into that side of it." Rosamund had lit a cigarette and was feeling calmer. "There's some bloody underground information service in these parts, or your mother wouldn't have heard about his coming with us to the dance, I mean. She had heard that much, I take it, when she sent for you?"

"Yes, Sale told her."

"Sale! My God! How could that old faggot . . . it must have been the Ashplants—or Elphinstone." A new wave of anger rose and broke and ebbed away. "See here. We can put the whole lot on to Sale—get you out of it entirely. Servants' gossip that she passed on to your mother. After all, she knew everything before she called you in, everything except what we can't very well tell him just now. You'll only be speaking the truth"—she was tolerantly aware that truth mattered to Lesley—"if you tell him your mother's running up the wall because he came to dinner here and was your partner all the evening. She'd probably have refused to sign the contract even if you hadn't told her the rest. She's that sort and I expect he knows it. All you did was to plead—you can tell him how you cried. . . ."

She fell silent a moment as she pictured a scene in which the story of Lesley's intercession and tears brought about a declaration of love in spite of the loss of Birdskitchen. After all, she thought, they'll still have the purchase money. They can buy some other place. Aloud she said, "But don't cry while you're telling him, for it doesn't suit you."

Lesley had dried her eyes and was looking slightly less woebegone as the situation took on a better shape under Rosamund's manipulation.

"I could offer him Waters Farm," she said, "as a gift to make up for what I've—I mean for what Mother has done. It has about twenty acres more than Birdskitchen and it shall be his entirely to do whatever he likes with."

"Well . . . I don't know. I shouldn't call that so hot. He'll probably want to get right out of here after the way he's been treated. . . . But it could only impress him if you made the offer. . . . Yes, I think I should certainly do that if I were you. We'll go into the details tomorrow." A prodigious yawn interrupted her. "I really don't feel equal to it now. It's after midnight and I'm as tired as a rat."

"Yes, I know, I'm so sorry. I've been selfish, but—but—"

"Never mind. You must go to bed now, and you'll feel better in the morning. We shall need all our wits about us then."

Lesley did not move. Her troubles were returning. She sat there on the bed, her face nacreous with tears which had begun to dribble again from under her closed eyelids.

"Don't," said Rosamund, "don't take on like this about it. You can never have been in love before or you'd know that love is full of these upsets. But one gets round them somehow, or if one doesn't one gets over them. And anyhow none of it really matters—it'll be all the same a hundred years hence."

"She said you were to go—she said she won't have you any longer in the house."

"Oh, did she! We'll see about that. But it must wait till tomorrow with the rest. I'm going to bed now."

"I can't," said Lesley desperately, "I can't face the night."

"I know—one does feel like that. But, look here—if you'll be sensible and get into bed I'll give you some stuff I've got that'll make you sleep."

"A sleeping draught?"

"It's tablets, really. You take them in water, and they work like a charm. I'll run along and fetch them now. But do be sensible and take your clothes off and get into bed. You won't be able to cope with anything tomorrow if you haven't slept, and there'll be plenty to cope with, I'm telling you."



6

Anne Cheynell had not particularly liked advising Lesley to say nothing to her mother about Charley Vine. It smelt of subterfuge and she was old-fashioned enough to feel uneasy in ranging herself with the younger generation against her own. But Nicholas had insisted that something must be done to make sure that Lesley held her tongue; otherwise there was a risk of Iris refusing at the very last to sell Birdskitchen to the Vines. Of course she would probably hear about the escapade before long, but if she had already signed the contract there was nothing much that she could do. The earliest possible moment after her return had been fixed for the signing. She and Harry Vine were to meet in the office at Pookreed on Thursday morning at eleven o'clock. There could be little chance of her hearing anything before then, if only Lesley were moderately discreet.

So when the girl came to lunch with them, Anne had started the subject and been shocked at Lesley's emphatic: "Of course I shouldn't dream of telling her that." If they had been alone she might have pried a little, in hopes of finding out more exactly what she felt about the young man, but Nicholas was there and she could say nothing. It was doubtful if she would have found out anything if she had, for Lesley was almost truculently reticent on the subject of Charley Vine, seeming to resent equally Nicholas's description of the affair as a bad business and Anne's few words of personal praise.

We've lectured her too much, she thought sadly afterwards. We've lectured her too much, and now she'll never think we can be on her side.

On Wednesday morning Anne was ill in bed. She had had a heart attack on Tuesday afternoon—only a mild one, but enough for the doctor to order her several days' complete rest. Mrs. Field would have to look after Nicholas and risk her own uncertain constitution. It was all very trying. If only thought Anne, we lived in a village with a pub where he could get his meals. Poor darling, he does enjoy his dinner at night, but I don't think we can expect Mrs. Field to manage that. Perhaps we could get a temporary cook from London—we could afford one if it was only for two or three weeks, and a fortnight's rest would set me up completely.

These thoughts were spoiling the unaccustomed treat of breakfast in bed when she heard loud, galloping footsteps on the stairs. Mrs. Field moved like a mouse, and her daughter Rosie made scarcely more noise—this was Nicholas, running up to her room in the middle of his breakfast. What had happened? She had heard the telephone ring over a quarter of an hour ago. Had he been talking all this time? Was it bad news? Her mind flew anxiously to the houses of sisters, brothers, friends, and she braced herself for the shock she felt was coming, for Nicholas in breaking bad news had the tact and discretion of a charging bull.

He was in the room, red faced and breathing hard.

"My dear, she's heard, she's found out everything, and the contract's off."

Anne's heart beat quickly at the mere suddenness of the announcement, for its purport, though bad enough, was lighter than what she had feared. The disappointment of the Vines at losing their farm, the unreasonableness and vindictiveness of Iris, even her husband's vexation, were smaller than sickness and death. The relief that mingled with her dismay only increased her agitation, and all she could say was, "I'm sorry, Nick."

He slumped down on the shabby armchair by the fireplace, opposite her bed.

"It's terrible. Now I shall have to tell poor old Vine that the deal's off—and for such a reason! I'm ashamed—ashamed of her—ashamed of us all."

"I know. It's ghastly. I hadn't expected . . . I'd never have thought she could have heard so quickly. Is she quite determined?"

"Set as a rock. She never really wanted him to have the place—I'd talked her over. . . . But she'd have acted just the same even if she'd been anxious to sell. I haven't told you everything. It's the girl—Lesley. She's in love with young Vine and says she means to marry him."

"Oh, the poor child!"

The words had come before she realized that he counted on her indignation. He turned away his head.

"Yes, I know you said it would be a good match for her."

"I didn't say quite that. I only asked you if you didn't think it might work. You see, I'd noticed—at the ball . . . she was quite changed—radiant. She looked beautiful. But of course I see . . . it's all dreadful. Do you know what he feels about it?"

"I don't. How can I? I've spoken to no one but Iris. She's wild, of course—says the Vines must clear out of Birdskitchen at the end of their lease. I've told her she can't make 'em—the law requires a year's notice, and even then it's difficult to turn out a tenant farmer except for bad husbandry. But I know old Harry Vine. After what's happened he won't stay. He'll clear right out, and buy a place in another part of the country."

"I wonder if he knows about his son and Lesley."

"I shouldn't think he did. He's not that sort of chap. And I didn't think Charley was till t'other night. It's a shocking business, and I don't see how we can be surprised at Iris's doing what she's done. If it had been only the young man going with Lesley to the dance, I'd have said she was making too much of it; but when it comes to wanting to marry him . . ."

Anne's lips trembled. "I don't agree with you, darling. She certainly might try to persuade Lesley, try to make her see her point of view; but if she can't do that, the best thing in my opinion would be to put as good a face on it as possible. It isn't really such a desperate match. Everyone knows that Lesley's eccentric, and he's a most presentable young man, as well as being good and steady and quite decently off. I'm sure it would be more dignified to make the best of it than to have a row like this. Lesley won't give way. She'll go off and marry him just the same, and there'll be a dreadful scandal. I wish I could see Iris."

"You can't, for she's in bed too. She says she's ill and having the doctor in. But I'm going over there and I'll see what I can do, though I don't expect it'll be much."

"If you could only persuade her not to act hastily about the Vines. Can't you make her see that she'll be cutting off her nose to spite her face if she stops the sale? She needs the money."

"She'll have it all right. Almost any house agent could get rid of the place for her at Vine's price. All the same, I'm going over. She doesn't want me, and I don't suppose I can do anything; but for poor old Harry Vine's sake, I'm going to try."

"Couldn't I come too?"

Nicholas nearly shouted at her.

"Certainly not! You've been told to keep quiet, so you stay where you are, and rest and don't worry. You couldn't do anything with her if you did come. She's all shot to pieces—says she hasn't slept all night—sounded as if she was half in hysterics. She needs a jug of water poured over her."

Anne sadly checked a smile. "Is that what you're going for?"

"No, no. But she needs a man to handle her. Hysterical women do. So you keep quiet, my dear. And now," getting out of his chair, "I think I'd better be off."

"You'll finish your breakfast before you go?"

"Oh, yes—oh, yes. Don't fuss. But I mustn't loiter, for I'll have to go round and see Vine after I've done with Iris—if I can't budge her and I don't suppose I can. . . . Unless Lesley comes to her senses . . ."

"That isn't likely. She's not the sort of girl who falls easily either in or out of love— In fact, I don't suppose she's ever been in love before—so I imagine this is really serious. I wish I could talk to her. Do you think, dear, you could ask her to come and see me?"

"I could, but I don't want her to upset you."

"It will upset me far more if I have to lie here doing nothing. If I could only see her and talk to her I might be able to help. She may refuse to come, but do ask her, Nick."

"All right, I will—though I can hardly bear to speak to the silly wench. And now I really must be off." He stooped and kissed her. "Don't think any more about all this. The doctor said you weren't to have anything to worry or upset you."

A prescription that heaven sternly refuses to make up, thought Anne as her husband left her. About two minutes later she heard the front door crash and then the angry noises of his car as it unwillingly started on its way.

She fumbled among the books and papers on the table beside the bed, and found a little black book which fell open at a familiar page. She read:

"First keep thyself in peace, and then thou shalt be able to bring others to peace. The peaceable man does more good than one who is very learned. The good peaceable man turneth all things unto good. . . ."

She read on, dropping the familiar words into the chaos of her thoughts, which slowly they ordered and pacified. Then she put down the book, able to pray once more and to plan once more without rushes of fear and anger. If only she will let me help her. . . Let me try to help her. . . . If they will let me help them—Lesley, Iris, Charley Vine—if they will not resist my prayers . . . and my pain, the pain I feel for them and offer for them. Her tired heart moved in a new rhythm as she offered its pain.



7

The gay sweetness of a fine September morning seemed to mock old Nicholas as he bumped over the ruts of the little lanes that knotted Pookreed to Doleham Manor. He was in real distress. Harry Vine was not only a man he respected and wished well, but one whom he regarded as an old and faithful friend. He had known him for fifty years. He had watched him work his way from a slow, difficult start, through years of toil and integrity, into prosperity and reputation. He knew how much he was counting on the purchase of his farm, regarding it as the final achievement of his long, hard-working life. He knew how proud he was of his boy and how he wanted to make him a yeoman—a farmer-owner. That was the limit, the crown, the honest heart of his ambition. He had no thoughts of squirearchy, of being a "landowner," or as Iris would put it, a "neighbor." He would be as shocked as Iris herself when he found out how different were the ambitions of his son. For Nicholas did not believe for a moment that the old man had any idea of what had come to pass between Charley and Lesley. The young chap must have known that it was not more necessary to keep the affair secret from Iris than from his own father.

Now it would have to be told him. One blow must follow another, and each one a knockout. Nicholas had not really any hope of persuading Iris—there was too much natural inclination mixed up with her ideas of a just penalty. She had never really wanted to sell Birdskitchen to the Vines, and now she had a first-class reason for not doing so. And who, he asked himself, could blame her? It was all very well for Anne to talk; but whether Charley married Lesley or not, it would be intolerable for Iris to have his family settled so near her. His own covert sympathy with Iris was one of the circumstances that hobbled him now. But for his regard and compassion for Harry Vine he would have let the matter take its course. He was going to see her only for the old man's sake. He could not disappoint his dearest hopes on the strength of a ten minutes' hysterical torrent on the telephone. He would have to show the poor old chap that he had done his best, tried his hardest in a vain attempt to spare him this disaster.

It was only a few minutes' drive to the Manor. He was on the doorstep before he could make any real plan of what he would say. Besides, there was not much one could say to a woman in such a state as Iris's, especially as even if she had been calm he would have considered that she had all the arguments on her side. He could only appeal to her pity, and perhaps to her honor—the contract already pledged if not signed—but he expected to find them both chain-mailed.

Ashplant opened the door with an important simper that announced his awareness of crisis in the house.

"Good morning, Ashplant. Can I see Mrs. Winrow?"

"I'll inquire, sir—if you'll come this way."

He showed him into the drawing room and disappeared. Nicholas marched about and fumed. He still could not think of what to say, and spent the time wondering if its protracted length was due to Iris's willingness or unwillingness to receive him. He had just come to the conclusion that it must be the former, as in that case she would probably be dolling herself up, whereas—there being no one in a position to argue with her—the latter could be at once conveyed in a message of denial, when without any preliminary sound of footsteps the door opened and Sale came in. He soon guessed that the delay was due to the necessity of her being word-perfect in her part.

"My mistress desires me to say, sir, that she is far too ill to see anyone. The doctor has given her a sedative and ordered her complete rest."

"Oh, he's called, has he? Quick work. But look here, Sale, I must see her. It's urgent. I shan't stay more than a few minutes."

"I am sorry, sir, but my mistress gave explicit instructions that she is unable to see you. She says she expressed her wishes clearly on the telephone."

"But, look here—I can't go away. I've got something important to say to her. So be a reasonable woman and take me upstairs."

He fumbled for his wallet, only to discover that in the haste and excitement of departure he had left it at home. His hand moved to his pocket, but could find no coin larger than a shilling. This was frustrating, and his self-confidence began to disintegrate when a wintry smile on Sale's face showed him that she had observed the maneuver.

"Well," he said dejectedly, "I'll come back later."

"My mistress requested me to inform you particularly, sir, that the matter is closed, and cannot under any circumstances be reopened."

"Damn," said Nicholas rudely.

He did not know what to do. He would not go. He would not put up with this. He had come with a sort of technical sympathy for Iris in this family dilemma, but now even that was gone. His anger, swelling suddenly against her, cleared his head for action.

"Very well, then. That's that. But before I go I want you to take her up a note."

Sale hesitated. She had evidently not been coached for that decision.

"I'm sure I don't know, sir."

"Yes, you do. Your mistress won't be at all pleased if she finds out you've taken upon yourself to refuse me. Remember that I can always send it through the post, but in her own interest she had better have it now."

For want of instructions from headquarters, Sale capitulated.

"Very good, sir. There's pen and ink on the davenport."

Nicholas had his own fountain pen, and among a number of useless silver objects on the davenport he found some writing paper. His handwriting looked much larger and more reckless than usual as in a few lines he scrawled his threat.

"Will you kindly take her that. I'll wait here for the answer."

Then he sat down, for he expected her to be away some time. What he had written would shake Iris—make her hesitate, think twice, before she finally closed the door on poor old Vine. He had written:

If you insist on stopping the sale of Birdskitchen, I must ask you to find another agent for your property. I refuse to represent you when you indulge in such highhanded actions. N.

Though he did not—could not—think his offer would be accepted, he sat in a sort of sacrificial glow while the minutes passed. Not so many had ticked by as he expected when the door opened and Sale handed him on a large silver salver a very small note. He opened it in trepidation. Did its prompt arrival proclaim the swiftness of her surrender or the cast-iron mould of her obstinacy? It ran:

I should prefer an agent who does not bully me, so I thankfully accept your resignation. I have already phoned Knight, Frank & Rutley and asked them to put Birdskitchen on their books. I.

P.S. I think you're a perfect fool.

Nicholas turned red, but he felt very cold and also as if he had fallen suddenly from a great height. He was helpless, furious, and frightened, and his mind went groping at once for Anne, as it always did when things were dark. But the thought of her brought no comfort, only the added misery of hers as well as his own. It also brought, however, the reminder of something he had forgotten, and his next words must have seemed wildly irrelevant to Sale.

"Is Miss Lesley at home?"

"No, sir. She went out half an hour ago."

"Do you know when she'll be back?"

"I'm sure I couldn't say."

Nicholas, suddenly longing to escape, blundered toward the door.

"Well, when she comes in will you tell her that Lady Anne would like to see her at Pookreed?"

"Very good, sir. Ashplant will show you out, sir. I must go back at once to my mistress." And she vanished into some domestic limbo.

What nonsense all this is, thought Nicholas. Iris and her illness and her doctors and her sedatives, and telephoning in the midst of it all to London, to get her money and her revenge together out of the house agents.

There was no sign of Ashplant, and he was going to let himself out when he heard footsteps running downstairs. It was the secretary. She came running down with rather a wild look on her face, and at first he thought she was in pursuit of him, but the next moment she declared otherwise.

"Oh, Mr. Cheynell. I didn't know you were here. I'm looking for Ashplant. Do you want anybody?"

"Not now, thanks," said Nicholas, "but when Miss Bullen comes in would you kindly tell her that my wife would like to see her at Pookreed. She's ill or she'd have come here herself this morning. She particularly wants to see Lesley."

"I'm sorry Lady Anne's ill, and I'll certainly give Lesley your message. She's at Waters Farm now, but I'll be going down there in about an hour, when I've finished packing."

"What! Are you going away?" asked Nicholas.

She laughed. "I haven't got the sack, if that's what you mean. But I'm leaving this house, or rather I've been turned out—flung out on my ear." And she laughed again.

"I'm very sorry," said Nicholas, though he had not actually determined whether he was sorry or not.

"You know all about it, of course—this flap we're in about young Mr. Vine. She thinks it's all my own work, and sent me a note this morning to say I must be out of the house by lunchtime. Just like a hotel."

"Where are you going?" asked Nicholas.

"Oh, I shall be all right. I shall stop at Waters Farm for the time being. They're going to shift young Benson and put him in with Ivory, so that I can have his room. But, oh Lord, the dust there's been here! I'll be glad to get out."

"It's a bad business," said Nicholas, "a very bad business."

"Oh, well, it's not for me to say what I think of it. But he's a charming young man, and if Lesley marries him I for one shan't pity her."

Nicholas rumbled, beginning several sentences and discarding them, till at last he came out with:

"It'll break his father's heart."

"I don't see why it should. He's still got the purchase money and can buy a place somewhere else."

"You wouldn't say that if you knew more about him."

She laughed. "Perhaps I shouldn't, and of course I'd be sorry if I thought I was really responsible. But I'm not. I only happen to come in convenient for the big stick."

Once again she laughed merrily, but Nicholas did not think she was as happy as she would have it appear.



8

He himself was desperately unhappy. As he drove across the valley to Birdskitchen, failure and catastrophe seemed to move ahead of him like cloud shadows over the fields. He had utterly failed to budge Iris; and his failure had, through a rash and futile attempt to shake her, involved his own ruin. What could he do now? What could he do when he was no longer agent for the Doleham Manor estate? His income would be halved—the income that already refused to stretch beyond the necessities of life. It would be foolish to think that he could find another job—a new job at seventy-five. At forty, men complained that they were thought too old. Besides, what else was he able to do? He had been Iris's agent ever since Tom's death over thirty years ago. He knew the estate like the palm of his hand. But he would never be equal to tackling a new place even if he could find one.

What a fool he had been—what a rash, reckless, thoughtless, witless fool! But he had felt so sure that Iris would never take him at his word—could never afford to let him go—forgetting the sort of woman she was and also how easily she could find another agent who would be less likely than he to oppose her wishes. Vain, presumptuous, self-satisfied, self-confident old fool! And now he would have to tell Anne—tell her that he had risked and lost half their income just when they were more than ever in need of money. She would not be able to carry on much longer without more help in the house. They would have to get a woman from somewhere. . . . But Anne had once said that to have a woman "living in," paying not only her wages but her keep, would cost another two hundred and fifty pounds a year. That meant four hundred pounds gross income. . . . It was impossible. He would have to sell Pookreed. No, no, he could never do that—anything but that. He had been born there, grown up there, had lived there all his life. It was the Cheynells' place—the place they had saved from the Bullens, from the wreck of their estate. No, it could not go. He would simply have to get another job. He had heard that the county branch of the Farmers' Union wanted a new secretary. He might be able to manage that, though of course the pay would be nothing compared to what he was getting now. Perhaps he could squeeze a little more out of the farm . . . and of course Anne would have something or other coming to her when her eldest brother died. . . . Disgusting thought—to wait for a man to die. He would not seek comfort there.

The only comfort he could find was in the thought that when old Vine heard that he had chucked away his job in a last desperate attempt to save him, he really would believe that he had done all he could, that he had no part in this wickedness, no share of blame for this shocking outrage, but had by his sacrifice truly proved himself his friend.

When it came to the point, however, Harry Vine seemed almost as much upset by Nicholas's plight as by his own.

"You shouldn't ought to have done it, Mr. Cheynell—not for me. There you are without your job—your life's work, one might say—and there's the estate without you, which will be a loss to one and all. And it'll be my doing."

"Nonsense, Vine. No one but yourself could possibly think that. And in a way I'm glad I did it, because it shows you I wouldn't have let this happen for worlds. . . . But of course I hoped," he added simply, "that it would make Mrs. Winrow change her mind."

Harry Vine shook his head.

"I can't blame her—not considering all things. She has every right and every reason to get rid of us. That boy of mine . . . I tell you straight, sir, I can scarce believe it of him even now you've said it. Was it Miss Bullen herself that told you?"

"No, I haven't seen her. But she told her mother that they were going to be married."

"Well, it queers me—properly queers me. I never could have thought it of him. I thought he was a straight chap. I knew he'd got some notions that I didn't hold with altogether, but I never though he'd play fast and loose like this."

"I wouldn't call it as bad as that. He must have known you'd disapprove, and he had his reasons for keeping quiet just as she had."

"But it ain't the same. He's in a different position altogether—as near as possible engaged to another girl."

Nicholas was startled.

"What! Is that affair still on with Margery Sinden?"

"Reckon it is—or was, when I heard last. But that's a thing I've had to grumble him for—holding back from asking her to wed. He said he was waiting till we had the contract signed and owned our farm. But now . . ." His face darkened. "I don't know what to think. When he got that invitation to the ball, my Missus and I both told him he shouldn't ought to go, but he said it was only to dance with the secretary."

Nicholas said, "He certainly didn't do that. He danced with Lesley all the time, as far as I could see. I told my wife I thought he had an understanding with the Sinden girl, but she would have that it had come to an end during the war."

"Not a bit of it. They both came back all set to go on with each other. He's been over to Light Row twice a week regular ever since he came home. Why, he was there last night, or said he was. . . . Could he have—" Old Vine's hand clenched in a trembling fist.

"I feel the same as you do," said Nicholas, "but my wife keeps saying that it wouldn't be such a bad match. Of course, she didn't know about the other girl."

"Begging your pardon, Mr. Cheynell and Lady Anne, it would be a tur'ble bad match. I know she's a nice young lady and well liked around here, but as a farmer's wife she'd be no more use than a wet week. Can you see her managing the dairy or the chickens, or mending Charley's socks or cooking his meals or washing his baby? She's used to being waited on, and there'll be nobody to wait on her, leastways not at the start; and she'll make as big a mess of her home as she's done already of her farm. Now Margery Sinden was to have come along of us here. I would have done up the house, and put in a bathroom and electric light, and made them a little corner of their own where they could be private. But seeing it's so hard to get a place and this house is big enough we'd have all been in together, and maybe it'll be the same wherever we go." His lip trembled. "We'll all have to live at the farmhouse to start with, anyhow. Well, Margery wouldn't mind and the Missus wouldn't mind, but Miss Bullen would mind, and so, if you'll excuse me saying it, would the Missus."

"I know, I know," agreed Nicholas. "It wouldn't do at all, and so I've told my wife. Look here, Vine, you understand that in law Mrs. Winrow can't ask you to leave without a year's notice, and that if you choose to dig in your toes and stay, she'll find it extremely difficult and expensive to get you out."

"Maybe, sir, but I have my pride; and I'm going just as soon as ever I can find a place to go to. It'll break my Missus's heart, but she no more than me wouldn't want to stay on after what's happened. And as for Charley, he's better out of these parts whether he marries her or not."

"I think you're quite right. I'm deeply sorry for you, but I think you're right. If you can give me some idea of the sort of place you want and whereabouts you want to go, I'll look out too, and maybe between us we'll soon find something."

"Thank you, sir. When I've thought it out I'll tell you, but at present all I can think of is the boy."

Nicholas had noticed from the first that he had seemed more upset about Charley than about the loss of his home.

"Even now," continued the old man, "I can't believe it of him. He has his notions, and the life he lived in the army wasn't the sort of life he's living now; but he's always been straight, and if I may say so, proud, and this is neither. I'll have it out with him and hear what he has to say. I can't help thinking that maybe he'll have something. You see, you didn't yourself speak personally to either lady."

"I spoke to Mrs. Winrow on the phone, and she told me that Lesley told her she was going to marry him. However, as you know, girls sometimes make mistakes about these things—exaggerate. The wish may have been father to the thought, as they say."

He did not really believe this himself, but it was just as well that old Vine's disasters should come to him singly.

"Well, I'll go right now and ask him," said Harry. "He's down in the hop field. I'll find him there and get his own story."

"That'll be much the best thing. You cross-examine Master Charley, and then we'll all know better where we are."

"And I shan't tell the Missus nothing till I've seen the boy. I don't want her to feel what I'm feeling now, not if I can spare her."

Nicholas found that he could not speak, but he held out his hand. They shook hands silently and then turned away from each other, Nicholas to his car, Vine toward the rutted track that led down to the hop field.

Vine had been in the farmyard when Mr. Cheynell called, having just come back to the house to change his clothes and spruce himself up for the visit to the estate office. Ellen would be surprised when she found that he had not used the can of hot water she had put in the bedroom. If she saw him from the window, going off like this in his working clothes, she would wonder what had happened. He couldn't help that. She must wonder until he knew for certain just how bad was the news he had to tell her. It might not be so bad as Mr. Cheynell feared. In spite of everything and everyone, he still could not believe that Charley had thrown over Margery Sinden and taken up with Lesley Bullen. There must be some mistake—there must be some explanation that no one but the boy himself could give. He did not think that anything he could say would influence Mrs. Winrow and make her change her mind about Birdskitchen. She'd always been difficult over that, and the mere fact of Charley having gone with her daughter to the ball would be excuse enough to stop the sale. But at least he and Ellen wouldn't have to feel ashamed of their son.

The hop picking was nearly over in this particular field. Most of the vines were down, and the stripped poles had the wintry look of leafless trees. But there was summer still in the blue blaze of the sky and in the colored clothes of the pickers like clusters of flowers around the bins. He looked about for Charley, but he could not see him. He asked at one or two bins—he employed only local pickers—"Anyone seen my boy?" But nobody seemed to know more than that he'd been there a few minutes ago. Then Bill Juden came up, rather surprised to see his master, who he thought had gone to Pookreed.

"Seen anything of Charley, Bill?"

"Aye, Mus' Vine. He was here all the morning till a few minutes ago when a chap come over from Waters—that tall white chap they call Ivory—and gave him a letter. Then he said he was wanted over there at once—urgent—and he's gone."



9

Nicholas had been right when he guessed that Rosamund was not feeling so bright and gay as her laugh. For one thing she found it exhausting to be angry with so many people at once. She was angry with the Ashplants, who, she felt sure, in spite of their denials, were at the bottom of Sale's revelations; she was angry with the two daily women whom the Ashplants had accused and who, even if not sole agents, were probably accomplices; she was angry with Sale for being a malicious old telltale; and her permanent state of anger against Iris had been enlarged to bursting point by a peremptory note ordering her to leave the house that morning.

She was even, though in a different way, angry with Lesley. Why had the silly girl given everything away like that? She could not perhaps have denied the whole story, but at least she need not have made things worse by revealing the hidden point of it. Why couldn't she have let her mother think that Charley Vine had been invited solely on Rosamund's account? Mrs. Winrow knew that she had gone to the dance, and though certain remarks of Lesley's suggested that she also knew about Bob Hightower, she would have accepted Charley as her partner readily enough. This might not have made things much better for Rosamund personally, or for the Vines, but at least there would not have been all the difficulties attending the need for an immediate showdown between the lovers.

This was what had chiefly worried Rosamund while she was dressing that morning. Her own problem was soon settled. She would go and stay at Waters Farm for as long as Iris remained at Doleham. She had not the slightest intention of giving up her job, and knew that Lesley was far too fond of her and dependent on her to send her away. It would be only a question of biding her time till she could improve the situation. But Lesley's affairs were not so easily disposed of. Was her romance ripe enough for plucking? She could not but think that the young man was proceeding carefully and that it would be a mistake to hurry him, especially as the loss of Birdskitchen would be a setback to his hopes of a better position from which to declare his love. On the other hand, he must not be left to hear of what had happened from angry, disappointed parents, or even possibly Mrs. Winrow herself. Lesley must see him and make her gesture with Waters Farm. Even if he did not accept the offer—and Rosamund did not seriously think he would—it would remove any soreness due to the part she had played in the wrecking of his hopes, it would show him her indifference to material and financial considerations and prove that she loved him and wanted him for himself alone. Rosamund was still convinced that a man in his position would not refuse the chance of marrying a woman in Lesley's, but she did not like the idea of rushing him or leaving a situation demanding skill and delicacy to Lesley's inexpert handling.

However, as she had so often said, Lesley, like everyone else, must take her chances. Obviously she herself could not be present at the interview. All she could do would be to coach her carefully and see that she went off looking her best.

She had her opportunity at breakfast. Lesley, for once, came down later than she did. She looked tired and listless and said she had a headache. But she also said that she had slept well and seemed a little surprised at the efficacy of the dose Rosamund had given her.

"I felt as if I should never sleep again; and then, just as I was going in to ask you for some more of the stuff, it was suddenly this morning."

"It's lucky I had it by me. I hadn't taken any for ages, not since I was in much the same fix as you are." No need to think of the night after the dance.

Lesley's drooping eyelids lifted.

"Were you ever in love? I mean, since you lost your husband."

Rosamund laughed.

"Oh, now and again," she said lightly. "But don't let's talk about me. It's you we've got to consider this morning. You'd better get hold of your young man before anyone else does."

"I know. Oh, Rosamund, how shall I tell him?"

Rosamund chose to take the question literally.

"You'd better ask him to come over and see you at Waters Farm. I suppose Birdskitchen isn't on the telephone."

"No, Mother's farms never are," said Lesley bitterly.

"Well, you'll have to send someone over with a message. It isn't far if you go by the fields. Tell him to come and see you at once. Make it clear that there's to be no delay, or he may hear the news from his parents or Mr. Cheynell."

"But I still don't know how to tell him the dreadful thing I've done.

"My dear, you haven't done it. You're not thinking of telling him that you told your mother you were in love with him? No, it's local gossip that she's heard and she's furious at his having come to dinner and to the dance. Put it all on that. But tell him you feel guilty because it was you who invited him, and then make your offer of Waters Farm. I don't suppose he'll take it, but he's sure to be impressed."

Lesley shuddered, as if she had been following her own thoughts rather than Rosamund's words.

"And whatever you do," her secretary added quickly, "don't cry."

"I won't—at least I'll try not to. But if I do cry it'll only show him how dreadful I feel."

"It'll show him how dreadful you look," said Rosamund. "No, you really mustn't cry. Some women can do it without spoiling their appearance, and if they can of course it's most effective. But you can't."

Lesley said nothing for a few moments, during which her thoughts must have gone further on their solitary course, for she suddenly cried out:

"Rosamund! I must marry him! I can't live here any longer with Mother, after last night. I—I hate her. Oh, I can't tell you the wicked, cruel, heartless things she said."

"No need to. I can guess. But as a matter of curiosity, just how much does she know about you and Charley?"

"I said I was going to marry him."

"You went as far as that?"

"I tell you I must marry him. I can't live here any longer. And I can't live without him. If I don't marry him I shall die."

Rosamund smelt heroics and spoke irritably.

"Oh, be your age! You're going to marry him, so why get in a flap? This showdown will probably bring him to the point. He seemed at first to be taking his time; but now, if he's handled properly—"

"There's no good saying that. I've never known how to handle people. All I can do now is to tell him what's happened and how sorry I am and to offer him Waters Farm."

"Well, that ought to be enough. It'll show him that you care. He may have been holding back because he wasn't sure of just how far you meant him to go. And of course, now that he won't have Birdskitchen, he'll need some encouragement to show him that you don't care a hoot about his social position. But that oughtn't to be difficult. Really, my dear, things are easy for you compared to what they are for some people."

"I know. But, Rosamund, you must understand—all this is new to me. I've never felt like this before. I feel almost mad. . . . No one ever told me that falling in love was like this. I thought it was supposed to make one happy."

Her big golden eyes were fixed on Rosamund, and in them was a look that checked the flippant comment on her tongue. Lesley's face seemed to have changed, to wear a new expression. That vague air of dreaminess was gone. For the first time she looked wide-awake. But it was not the look of someone who wakes to the sunshine of a happy morning. Her look smote Rosamund, as if it had been the look of a child—Michael—who wakes up to find the house on fire.

There was no refuge save in flippancy. She hummed a bar or two.

"'What is this thing called love?'" she sang unmusically. "Don't ask me! But, seriously, old thing, there's no need to run up the wall. It isn't you who's done the damage. You didn't tell your mother about the dinner party and the ball. As for the rest, I'm convinced she would have stopped the sale whether she knew you were in love with him or not. Even if she thought that Charley Vine had gone to the dance as nothing more than my partner, she'd still be thirsting for revenge. So don't let's sit here yapping any more. It's time you started, if you're going to catch him before anybody else does."

Though they were sitting at the breakfast table, so far neither of them had eaten anything. Lesley had drunk a great many cups of coffee and Rosamund had smoked a great many cigarettes; but the meal itself lay untouched under its covers.

"Don't you want to eat at all?" asked Rosamund. Then, as Lesley shook her head, "You'd better get cracking. I'd go on my bike, if I were you—it's mostly downhill, so you'll be there in a few minutes—and send off the message directly you arrive."

"Aren't you coming too?"

"I? No. What use should I be? I can't very well be there while you talk to him. This is your show entirely. Besides, I've all my packing to do. I had a note from your mother this morning telling me I must be out of the house by midday."

"Rosamund!"

Lesley had jumped out of her chair.

"Well, it's only what I expected after what you told me last night."

"But, Rosamund—you musn't go—you mustn't leave me. I couldn't possibly do without you now."

"Of course not, silly. I'm only going to leave this goddamned house. I thought I could stay at Waters just for a bit till your mother goes back to town. We can ask the Benson boy to move in with Ivory and I'll have his room. Don't worry about me. I've got it all planned out."

"I know—you think of everything. But I shan't have you here with me, and I do want you so. You're the only person in the world I can tell things to."

"Well, you can still do that. You can spend the whole day at Waters Farm. I'll be there soon after twelve. Elphinstone will run me down."

"But I shall be alone here at night—no one to talk to at breakfast. . . . Rosamund, I've never had a friend like you. My life's been quite different since you came."

For an anxious moment it looked as if she was going to add some embarrassing gesture to her words, for she moved a little nearer and held out her hand. Rosamund pretended not to see it, and said brightly:

"Well, it's going to go on being different—better and better. You may be the happiest girl in the world when you go to bed tonight."

She had uttered the limits of her hope, though her mind was still uneasy. But she really must get Lesley out of the way and attend to her own affairs.



10

Charley Vine had gone down to the hop field directly after breakfast. It was nearly stripped, and he wanted to make sure that the hops went to the oast that evening. Then the pickers could start in the upper field on Monday. Already the air was rich with the fragrance of cooking hops, and a blue tongue curling from the oast spoke of a new spread on the drying floor. Charley's spirits were high. The cool slap of the little wind on his face, the dappled sunshine, the loamy, striving scents of earth and water made an autumn so very like spring that it built in his heart some of spring's fantasies.

He hummed a tune as he strolled from bin to bin. The earth he walked on now belonged to Doleham Manor, to Mrs. Winrow; but by dinnertime it would belong to him and to his father, and by suppertime Margery's promise would have put it in trust for his children. He saw beginning the life that he had planned during all those years in Africa, in France, in Germany—a life like his father's in its roots, but with branches spreading into a wider, sunnier air than his father had ever breathed. These precious fields of Birdskitchen, the thought of which had been, in moments of danger and destruction, the strength of his hold on life, the strength of his prayer that he might come safely home, were now to be given him as the direct reward of exile; he could call it that, since it was his gratuity that had managed to pull the price up to what Mrs. Winrow would accept. He felt as if the war had not been won completely until now.

"I'm back with my Lili Marlene," he sang to the overflowing promise of his heart. And then he saw suddenly before him, as if he had risen up out of the earth, that tall, pale, shambling man that worked at Waters Farm, the man they called Ivory.

"Hullo," he said. "Good morning."

Ivory's hand went up in his unfinished sketch of a salute, then it held out a note.

"Miss Bullen asked me to find you and give you this."

"Thanks very much."

He unfolded the slip of paper.

Please come over at once and see me about something very important. Please don't delay. A serious emergency has arisen. L.C.B.

For a moment Charley stared in silence at what he had read.

"Do you know anything about this?" he asked Ivory, only to find that he had disappeared. He had vanished as suddenly as he had come; and, but for the piece of paper still in his hand, Charley might have thought he had seen a ghost.

Well, he thought to himself, I'd better go and see what the matter is. He looked around for Bill Juden and told him what he meant to do. "I'll be back before you knock off at twelve."

He wondered what could have happened to make Miss Bullen summon him so urgently. She had been on his mind for a day or two, for he had promised to put her in touch with a chap at Dolehamtail who might do as an overseer. But he had been so busy with the hop picking, and his evenings so much engaged either with office work or with Margery, that he had not been able to go over to see him as he had intended. This summons, however, could have no connection with his remissness. "Something very important . . . an emergency." Had there been a fight among her workers? Or had any of them absconded? Or gone on a jag?

He would soon know; meanwhile, he was touched by her sending for him like this. It was treating him as a friend, and he felt pleased because he really liked her now. At the ball he had come to know her more intimately, and he had found her very different from what she was thought in the common judgment and from what he himself had thought her until then. He had found her unexpectedly sweet, gracious, sympathetic, simple-minded, and had been drawn on by her obvious interest to talk a great deal about himself, to tell her something of his ideas and plans. Afterward he had wondered if he had not talked too much, bored her perhaps, in the course of a long evening, but evidently she had not taken him amiss. And now he hoped that he would be able to help her, and perhaps win a closer friendship. He would really like to be her friend. It might be a good thing for Margery too, for he knew that she found her life restricted, just as he did, after her return to Light Row. He must ask Lesley sometime if he might introduce Margery. He felt sure she would like Margery—a girl so much more vital and genuine than most of the girls she knew, judging by Belle Mortimer and others he had seen at the dance.

Waters Farm showed no outward signs of disturbance. The black house might have been asleep beside the headless oasts. Then, as he opened the garden gate, Lesley's face appeared at one of the upper windows, giving him the feeling that the house had wakened and seen him through her eyes. He could hear her footsteps on the stairs before he reached the door. She was alone, then—no secretary to let him in. Perhaps her trouble had something to do with that.

"Good morning. You see I've come at once."

He smiled and expected to see her smile, but there was no movement of her still, white face. Then with an effort she said, "Thank you. Will you come upstairs?"

He followed, wondering what had happened to change her like this. It was not surprising that she should be different from what she had been at the dance. Without her curled hair and colored face and the lovely dress that had flowed from her waist and splashed around her feet like a fountain, it was natural that she should have lost some of her self-confidence, though he had not expected to find the friendliness also gone. But neither was she, in spite of the skimpy cotton frock and the swinging curtains of hair, the same as she had been on those other occasions they had met at the farm. Something had changed—he could not quite tell what—and to his annoyance he found himself back in some of his old embarrassment.

They were in the office now, seated on the two armchairs and facing each other across the empty fireplace, which still exhaled a faint smell of wood smoke from the fires that had burned there through the winters of two centuries.

"I'm afraid I have to tell you some very bad news."

Her feet were together on the floor, her hands clenched in her lap, and she spoke as if she were repeating something she had learned by heart.

"Indeed. I'm sorry."

He wondered if it really was the secretary. Perhaps she had been cooking the farm accounts and had landed her employer where the neighborhood had long been expecting to find her, in bankruptcy.

"I hope," he added, "that it doesn't concern the farm."

"No, not this farm. At least . . ." She passed her tongue over lips that were nearly as white as her face. "It's your farm—bad news for you. My mother has stopped the sale of Birdskitchen."

The words were too unexpected for him to get their import at once. He stared at her in silence. Then he stammered, "What—why—what do you mean?"

"I mean that she's found out everything and this is her revenge."

"But—" For a moment he wondered if her mind was wandering, unhinged by the blow of some unknown catastrophe. "But what is there to find out? What's everything?"

"Everything about the dance—about your going with me to the dance."

"But surely—surely she knew about that?"

Lesley shook her head.

"No, she didn't. She thought I was going with the two Mortimers and Captain Birch. She'd arranged it all before she went away. She didn't want Rosamund—Mrs. Gailey—to go. She was beastly to her. Then afterward, we fixed up our own party and never thought she'd find out—at least, not till after the agreement was signed."

Charley still felt as if he was treading the clouds of some preposterous nightmare.

"Are you telling me that your mother has stopped the sale of Birdskitchen simply and entirely because I accepted your invitation to the Red Cross Ball?"

Lesley did not answer for a moment; then she said, "That and everything else."

"But what else is there? That I had dinner at your house first, and danced with you most of the evening because the other ladies had their own partners? I simply can't believe it. It's incredible."

"I'm afraid it's true. Mother is like that. She's a bitter snob and she always hates the people I—I like, just because I can't like the people she wants me to."

"In that case, why did you ask me?"

She did not answer.

"Because you see, if this is really true"—he found himself getting angry, as the circumstances forced themselves against his unbelief—"it's quite terrible—terrible for my parents, and terrible for me—my plans. . . . Look here, I must see your mother. I can't accept the situation. I must see her, and I'm sure I can convince her—"

"She won't see you—she won't see anybody. She wouldn't see me this morning. She says she's ill and has sent for the doctor. I—I . . ." Her lip trembled and her head jerked up in sudden fear as he sprang up out of his seat and began to walk about the room.

"I'm going to see Mr. Cheynell. He must deal with her. He must make her see reason. When did all this happen?"

"Last night, just as I was going to bed. She sent for me and told me that she'd heard about your coming to the dance. Her maid had told her. She was furious and said horrible things about you and Rosamund Gailey—"

"Heavens! She doesn't think—"

"No, no—I told her—I told her everything. But that only made it worse. She got quite wild and stormed at me. If Rosamund hadn't heard us and come along. . . . And she said your father must be out of Birdskitchen by January. This morning I tried to see her, but she wouldn't let me in; and Sale told me she'd rung up Cousin Nicholas and put Birdskitchen with the house agents. Oh, I know it's hard to believe, but you don't know how wicked she is. I do. She's always been like that—worldly and selfish and cruel. And now I hate her. You must take me away from her. I can't live with her any more. I can't—I can't wait. Please take me away." She had caught his hand as he passed her chair and was holding it fast in both her own. "I want to go somewhere far away. I had meant to offer you this place—Waters Farm—in compensation for what you've lost through me. But now I'd rather sell it. It's too near. I'll sell it and we'll buy a new place with the money—wherever you like, so long as it's far away, so that I don't ever have to see Mother again."

He was back in his cloudy nightmare. What was she talking about? What was she telling him? Had she lost her wits? Now, like him, she was on her feet, but she still clutched his hand and he could feel her trembling, shuddering rather, with her whole body as she stood beside him.

"Please . . . Miss Bullen . . . Please."

"Miss Bullen? It was Lesley at the dance."

Perhaps it had been. On such occasions—music, moonlight, and champagne—one easily slips into Christian names. . . . But . . . His eyes met hers, and suddenly in his mind flashed a supposition so preposterous, so grotesque, that he was struck dumb.

"You're angry with me," she said breathlessly, "but it wasn't I who told my mother about the ball, and the rest just followed on that."

He was able to speak at last.

"But what are you thinking? By 'the rest' do you mean . . ."

"Surely you must know."

If only he could get out of his ugly dream. . . .

"But you can't have thought that I was trying to—"

Impulsively he tore his hand out of hers, and she cried: "Don't look at me like that."

He tried to control himself, as he realized the situation. The clouds were now all gone. He saw it only too clearly. If Mrs. Winrow thought he had been making advances to her daughter, she had only too good a reason for stopping the sale of Birdskitchen and getting rid of the Vines. He forced himself to speak calmly as he asked her, "How could your mother possibly have got this idea? What did you tell her?"

She looked trapped, turning her head this way and that as if searching for a way of escape.

"You must tell me," he went on more sternly. "You must tell me what you told her. I have a right to know." Then, as she was still silent, "You've got me into this horrible mess, and you owe me the truth. What did you tell her?"

This time she answered him.

"That I loved you."

"My God!" he cried. "You told her that? Why, then, of course all this is easily accounted for. Couldn't you have seen what you were doing to me? If you'd loved me—what a way to show it!"

He was striding about again and did not see her face till he turned at the end of the room. It gave him a feeling as if he had slapped it. In its painful flush he could almost see the mark of his hand.

"I'm sorry," she said in a low voice. "I know it wasn't the right thing to have done, but when I'm with her I never know if I'm talking sense or not, and she'd sent me nearly out of my mind with all the dreadful things she said about you. And I'm quite sure that she would have stopped the sale, even if I hadn't told her any more than she'd heard already. You may not believe me, but I know she's wicked enough to have done all this just because I asked you to dinner and danced with you at the ball. I dare say I shouldn't have invited you, knowing what she is, but I never thought she'd get to hear of it so quickly. In fact, I thought she might never hear of it at all. So please don't be angry with me—I can't bear it." Then, as still he did not speak, "Oh, don't say it's changed your feelings toward me?"

"My feelings? What feelings?"

"What you felt for me at the ball."

"But I didn't feel anything beyond . . . My dear Miss Bullen, did you think—" He broke off. This conversation could not go on any longer. He must end it—kill it with a few plain words, even if they killed her too. "All this is very embarrassing, so I had better tell you straight out that I've been for years unofficially engaged to a girl who lives near here—Margery Sinden, the hauler's daughter at Light Row."

He looked at her anxiously, afraid that she would let another silence fall; but almost at once she said slowly, as if talking to herself, "Unofficially engaged. I see. . . ."

Then her face withered, and he sprang toward her, thinking she was going to faint. But before he could reach her she sat down in her chair and held up her arm to ward him off.

"I see. I understand. That's how I came to make the mistake. I'm very sorry."

It was like a dead person speaking.

"I'm sorry, too," he said, suddenly contrite, for he realized that in his confusion and misery he had been quite brutal to her. "I must have expressed myself badly or my manner was at fault."

"Oh, no, not at all. You needn't apologize. It was my fault entirely." Her voice and manner had completely changed, and had now an exaggeration of control, almost suggesting a society lady reassuring a guest who had broken a teacup. "Now it's all clear, and of course I don't any longer expect you to forgive me. You'd better go and find Mr. Cheynell and see if there's anything he can do, though I'm afraid there isn't. And perhaps you'd be wise to go and see this girl, in case any gossip gets round to her."

Some of his bitterness returned.

"Two necessary but conflicting choices. Which shall I do first?"

"That's for you to decide. I can't advise you. But you'd better go. All this has been rather trying for us both. If I hadn't—hadn't been so mistaken, I shouldn't have asked you to come here but let you find things out from Mr. Cheynell."

She was standing now for his dismissal and she spoke with firmness and a certain pride. He found himself feeling rather shamefaced.

"Believe me, I'm sorry too for all the unhappiness I've caused you, even though I didn't mean . . . Is there anything I can do for you before I go? Would you like me to call your secretary?"

"No thank you. I don't want anyone. I'm shortly going out. Good-by."

She held out her hand and he took it, surprised and a little disconcerted to find himself for the first time face to face with Miss Bullen of Doleham Manor, sole heiress of a great house and an ancient family.



11

As he hurried unseeing through Waters' dirty fields and broken gates, he would not let himself think of what he had said or had not said or could or should have said. The memory of that last hour stood up behind him like a gallows; and all through his life, however far or happily he traveled, he would see it if he looked back. On it hung the corpse of Major Vine, caught in the noose of his confidence in his own integrity, and he had some way to go before he passed beyond that swinging shadow.

He knew that he had handled the situation roughly, but he would not think about it. It was easier to be angry—angry with himself, because in his self-confidence he had taken risks for others; angry with Lesley Bullen, because she had brought all this on him and on those he loved by the wild follies of her imagination. He could not believe that he had given that imagination the smallest bit of ground to build on. But that would not help him now. No vindication of his conduct would do the Vines any good, for the trouble lay in the girl's infatuation; and its object, whether responsive or not, must be removed if she was to recover from it. In spite of all she had said, he was still convinced that no mere snobbish anger could account, at least entirely, for Mrs. Winrow's action. He and his parents owed their disappointment and frustration to her daughter, and on her his anger became focused so strongly that by the time he had told his father he did not love her and had never given her the slightest grounds for thinking that he did, his words carried all the conviction of personal dislike.

"She isn't a girl I'd want to marry if we were alone on a desert island. She isn't my sort. I can't do with a woolly, dreamy sort of girl like her . . . and a girl who's always untidy and doesn't know a thing about housekeeping and home life. And what's more, I've never given her the slightest occasion to think otherwise. I've never been to see her unless she asked me first—except that one time I called to tell her her heifers had strayed. I've never been in the smallest degree familiar; she says I called her by her Christian name at the dance, and I may have—I don't remember. But what's that? I simply don't understand her. She seems to have built a whole stack out of fluff."

"She always was a queer girl," said Harry Vine, "and maybe you'd have done better to keep away from her. But I believe you, my boy. It's what I thought myself and what I told Mr. Cheynell. But I wouldn't tell your mother about anything till I'd heard the truth from your mouth."

"Doesn't Mum know, then, that the sale's off?"

He had met his father in the farmyard, and they had gone together straight into the office.

"She knows I'm still on the place, so she must guess that something's happened. Just as well she should be prepared. But I haven't said anything, and I don't mind telling you I'm scared to do it. You must come with me, Charley."

Charley would rather have done almost anything else, but he could not very well refuse. The affair was partly his doing, if not his fault; and he owed it to his parents to help them through it. So he went with his father into the dairy, where his mother was pottering about, doing nothing in particular. She looked straight at his father.

"You never went."

"No. Mr. Cheynell was here. Did you know?"

She shook her head, but seeing her face light up, Charley spoke quickly.

"He didn't bring the contract. Mrs. Winrow's changed her mind at the last minute and won't allow the sale. But never mind, Mum, we're going to find you another place—a much better place than this.

Her face puckered, hurting them both. She said, "I want to stay here. I'm getting too old to move about. If Mrs. Winrow won't allow the sale, I'd rather stay on as we are."

Harry Vine threw his son an agonized look, and Charley was forced to explain further.

"I'm afraid she won't let us do that. She's angry, and it's partly my fault and partly her silly daughter's. Miss Bullen has fancied herself into love with me." He knew that his mother must hear the whole story before long, so she had better have it from him first. He told it as well as he could, trying not to be discountenanced by her growing look of bewilderment and distress, trying to be fair to Lesley and to remember his parents' prejudices. He wished his father would help him, but old Harry chose to leave the explanation to a tongue more fluent than his own. At last he had done, and he stood for a moment faltering and blushing, as if he were again his mother's little boy, explaining some small delinquency.

She looked at him for a time without speaking. Then she said, "I warned you not to buy that evening suit."



12

It was a sad day till the evening brought him to Light Row. He had had in the morning a moment's hesitation as to whether he should not go to see Margery before he saw his father. It would be too terrible if any tale of his unfaithfulness should reach her before he did. But the moment had been shortened by the remembrance that Margery had told him she was spending the day in Sandlake. Besides, it was unlikely that any rumor of what had happened could spread to her before the evening, while his father would most certainly be told the bad news at once by Mr. Cheynell. So he had put off his visit till the usual hour.

His parents behaved very well. All day he was impressed by their forebearance both to himself and to the other actors in their tragedy. But they could not quite hide the grief and disappointment that they felt. He could see, too, that his mother was terrified of the mere thought of moving house, of exchanging the loved, familiar world of Birdskitchen for another which, even if a better one, would not be the same. His father was almost equally distressed, and the only way he could escape their silent reproach would be to avoid their company, which seemed a cowardly evasion of what was due from him to them both. So he kept close to them until the evening brought its lawful and approved release.

He had been counting the minutes, yet when the time came to start he had worn himself into a fret of reluctance and alarm. Suppose he arrived to find Margery already knowing what he had come to tell her. After all, what was more likely than that her father, moving about the neighborhood in the normal course of his business, should have picked up some of the story? And suppose Margery took the view that he had compromised her by his behavior . . . suppose she resented his being mixed up in rumor with Lesley Bullen. . . . The reasons for the stopping of the sale of Birdskitchen would soon be in everybody's mouth, and everybody might not be so ready as his parents to believe him. . . . Margery might not.

But there was no good running over and over these lines like a tram. He must stop thinking what might have happened by finding out what had. So he started his car, and drove down the valley toward Light Row, with a face so set and white and a hand so unsteady with his heartbeats that Margery's first words were, "What's the matter?"

He licked his lips. "We're not to have Birdskitchen. Have you heard?"

"No, my dear, I hadn't heard. How terrible for you! But why?"

He realized then that some knowledge on her side might have helped him.

"Mrs. Winrow changed her mind at the last moment. I'll tell you all about it. But first I want to know . . . Margery, dear Margery, tell me . . . even though I haven't got Birdskitchen—or any home at all, for we have to clear out as soon as we can—will you marry me?"

They were in their usual meeting place, the orchard, for though the air had already begun to thicken with the damp chill of a September evening, he was too much of a countryman not to prefer to face his troubles outdoors. The last light of the setting sun shone full on Margery's face, and at first he could not be sure if the light in her eyes came from without or from within. Then the light brimmed over in tears and he knew she was his even before he took her in his arms.

"Margery—dearest, kindest Margery—forgive me."

"What for?"

"For not having asked you long ago."

"My darling . . ." She stood away from him with her hands on his shoulders and a smile trembling in the corners of her mouth. "Why didn't you? I've often wondered."

"I wanted to have something to offer you—something worth your having. It was just pride, and now you've got to take me even without the little bit I could have offered then."

She laughed. "Didn't you think you were worth having without Birdskitchen? I shouldn't call that pride."

"But that's what it was, all the same. I wanted to be on a higher level when I asked you and lift you up to it—make your people feel, even if you didn't, that you were making a good match. It was pride—and folly too. If I'd asked you when I first wanted to—that is, directly I came out of the army—none of this would have happened."

"None of what? Oh, Charley, don't talk in riddles."

He was surprised to hear himself laugh, but in his heart was a leaping wave of happiness which for the moment seemed to have swept away everything else, even the dangling corpse of Major Vine.

"My lovely girl, you shall hear everything. But first you must put on this." And he began to take off his coat.

"No, don't," she said. "There's no good you catching cold just to stop me doing it. Let's go indoors. Nobody's in but Mother, and she's in the kitchen."

They went into the low-ceilinged, heavily beamed sitting room of Light Row, with its fumed-oak furniture and tapestried suite, which they both knew were hideous and out of place in their ancient surroundings, but which they affectionately tolerated for the sake of those who had so proudly put them there.

They sat together among the satin cushions of the incredible sofa, and as he told her about his interview with Lesley Bullen, the clasp of Margery's warm, strong hand seemed to hold him up in the depths of that most painful memory.

"It was terrible. I don't know really what I said or what I did, only that it was the wrong thing. I hurt her abominably, but how could I help it?"

"You couldn't help it. My poor, poor Charley . . . there can't be many men who've had to go through a ghastly scene like that."

"I hope not. But I might have done better. I might have stopped her telling me what she did tell me—it would have spared her feelings a little. On the other hand," and the anger which relief and happiness had soothed away stung him again as he cried, "why should I worry about her feelings? I haven't hurt her more than she's hurt me and Mum and Dad. What she feels about me must be all imagination. She can't really be in love with me—it's only her fancy. But what her fancy's done to us is real enough. It's her fault only and entirely that we've got to leave Birdskitchen. I'll never believe her mother would have stopped the sale just because she didn't like me going to that damned ball. Lesley Bullen wanted me to believe that she would, but it's impossible."

Margery shook her head. "I wouldn't say that. From what I've heard about Mrs. Winrow, I think she could have done it."

"Well, I don't. I've heard that she's a snob, but that would be snobbery carried to the point of mania."

"And that's quite possible. I don't know her, but I know her sort; we had them even in the Air Force. They're clinging to a state of things that's over and done with. That's what scares them—they're afraid they won't have anything left. Think of how Mrs. Winrow used to live before the war—before both the wars—with plenty of money, plenty of servants, everything easy, all the tenants looking up to her and flattered if she asked them to a servants' ball. Now it's all changed. She can't find servants easily, so she has to put up with bad ones; her money won't buy what it used to, so either she has to go without things she wants or try to get more by selling things she doesn't want so much. As for her tenants," she smiled and squeezed the hand she held, "they give themselves all sorts of airs, get made Majors in the army, and have the nerve to dine at her house and go with her house party to a ball which is considered the high spot of the season by all the county people. So she loses her nerve, and tries to protect herself by getting rid of you and your family."

"I never dreamed for a moment she didn't know her daughter had invited me. But it seems that Lesley knew from the word go what her mother's attitude would be. So even if it is true that my going to the ball was enough, that still leaves her to blame for all that's happened. When I think of my poor parents I find it hard to forgive her."

"I know. But I wish you would."

"Why should you wish it so much?"

Margery smiled, and lifted his hand to her cheek.

"Because I've got you and she hasn't. Poor girl, I'm sorry for her. I know she's acted silly and brought you a terrible lot of trouble, but I can't help thinking you—yes, you and the old folks as well—will get over it before she does."

"How can you say such a thing? What she feels for me must be just her fancy, as I've said before. Or didn't you believe me when I told you that I've never done or said a single thing that could make anyone in their senses think I was in love?"

"Of course I believed you, Charley; you needn't get angry with me too. But I know what some girls are. I've had to deal with girls like that, when they were under me—girls whose life is all made up of dreams and nonsense. We had a girl, a Leading Aircraft Woman, most promising and down for O.C.T.U. What does she do but fall in love with a miserable erk who didn't care tuppence about her and finally got himself run in for stealing from the Mess."

"That's putting me in my place, isn't it? But do you really think Lesley Bullen's like that?"

"I shouldn't be surprised. I don't know her any more than I know her mother, but I've heard a lot about her. I know that she's always been queer and had queer notions. And remember this, my handsome, you're a very attractive man, and even though you didn't do the smallest thing to make her fall in love with you, there was nothing to stop her, especially as she didn't know about me."

He dropped his face for a moment into the shadows of her breast.

"That's it—that's it, my precious child. I've been forgetting what I said. If I'd asked you to marry me when I first wanted to, none of this would have happened. I expect I've only been kicking her because I don't like kicking myself. What happened to your L.A.C.W.?"

"She got over it. They do in the end, especially with a little help from the beloved object—leaving the parish, in your case."

"And getting married."

"Yes, that helps too, but I think the first is more important, unless she's a very conscientious girl. So don't worry about her, my darling, too much."

"I won't. But I can't help worrying about Dad and Mum. Margery, if you had seen Mum's face . . ."

She spoke her comfort so close to his ear that he felt it as a warm breath.

"I know, darling, I know. But we'll make it up to them, we really will. We'll help them find a lovely place. I daresay Dad will give me a bit of money as a wedding present, and it'll all help with the furnishing and doing up. We needn't go far away, but they say in West Kent the land's ever so much better than it is in East Sussex. Dad often talks about how good the farms are over Maidstone way, and—"

But he had turned his head to look at her, and her mouth was so close that he kissed it before she could tell him any more about West Kent.

"I know one thing," he said, "and that is Dad and Mum will simply love to have you with them." Then suddenly he laughed.

"What are you laughing at?"

"I know it's unkind of me, but I couldn't help thinking of what it would have been like to have Lesley Bullen living with Mum and Dad. Can you imagine it?"

"I can't. And I don't suppose she ever thought of such a thing herself."

"No, she couldn't touch earth long enough for that. But think what it would have been like—trying to help Mum cook the dinner or set the cream, and messing up everything; telling Dad he ought to take on slum down-and-outs as farmworkers. . . . I can't help laughing when I think of it."

She was surprised to hear him laugh so much at such a thing, but as the laughter seemed to do him good she did not try to stop him.



13

Rosamund had not after all driven down to Waters Farm with her luggage. Her departure had been given its dignity by her trunk and suitcase going in the car, but she herself had decided to walk, having remembered that there was a telephone box at the crossroads half a mile away, opposite a little group of houses known as Spelmonden. It was essential that she should ring up Bob Hightower and tell him her change of address; but she did not want to use the Manor telephone, for fear of being overheard on the extension to Iris's bedroom.

The Spelmonden box was so seldom used that her entrance caused a certain amount of local interest. One or two women looked at her out of their windows as she went in, and when she had shut the door she saw a number of children's faces rubbing against the glass. Well, never mind, I don't suppose they can hear, and if they do it won't do them any harm or me either. . . . "Sandlake 252." She pressed Button A. "Can I speak to Mr. Hightower?"

"Speaking, Gorgeous."

"Oh, Bob, how did you know it was me?"

"Of course it's me—it's always me. I've never been rung up by anyone else."

"Oh, stop fooling. I've something very important to tell you."

"Hullo, Totsy!"

Her heart gave an angry jump. "Didn't you know who it was till now?"

"Can't say I did. The line isn't very clear."

"Then why did you speak like that?"

"I spoke in my usual way of addressing females."

"You thought I was someone else."

"Yes, I thought you were Ingrid Bergman. This is the time she usually rings me up. But get on with it, Totsy. What's your trouble?"

She told him and he laughed immoderately.

"Poor old Totsy. So you're out on your ear. Well, I always thought it possible that might happen."

"I haven't lost my job."

"Oh, no. Only the deluxe hotel. I'm afraid you won't find Waters Farm very comfortable. That was the room I had, and there were mice in it."

"It won't be for long. I shall go back to the Manor as soon as all this has blown over."

"If you expect it to blow over in our lifetime, you're an optimist."

"Well, till the old hag goes back to London. She's only down here because her London cook is ill, and as soon as she's gone I'll slip back again. But what I wanted to tell you was that you mustn't ring me there. I'm at a call box now, and we shall have to fix a time for me to ring from that, as there isn't a phone at Waters. Shall you be in this evening?"

"No, darling. This will have to do for today."

"Where are you going?"

"Wouldn't you like to know!"

"Oh, Bob, don't tease. Are you going to the King's Head?"

"That's right. The King's Napper. But don't you ring me there—they don't like it."

"Why shouldn't they like it? And I thought you always had to be at the cafe in the evenings."

"Not this evening. Now, Totsy, don't be a tiresome, inquisitive woman. You've plenty on your own plate without worrying about what's on mine."

"I dare say, but it worries me not knowing. . . . Has anything more happened about your passage to Australia?"

"No, nothing."

An impersonal voice said, "Three minutes. If you wish to continue, insert another coin, please."

Rosamund had another sixpence ready.

"Are you there?" She was afraid that he might have gone away while she was putting in the money.

"Yes, I'm here, you extravagant woman. I'll give you your second sixpenn'orth and then I really must go. This is my busy day."

"Will you be there if I ring up tomorrow morning?"

"I guess so."

"Then we can fix something for Saturday."

"Will you be coming over on Saturday?"

"Oh, Bob, you know it's my day off."

"Yes, of course it is. Too right. You come over on Saturday and tell me more about this mess you've made."

"I haven't made any mess at all. It's Lesley who's made the mess, but I still think it should all go well—if it works."

"If it works?"

"Yes, she's at the wheel now. I can't do any more."

"I don't think you'd better."

"I can't see why you've got to talk like that—as if it was all my doing."

"Well, isn't it?"

"No, it isn't. Everything would have been all right if the old cow hadn't kicked up such a dust about that ball."

"I thought it was the young one's fault."

"Well, it's hers too—they're a pair. Oh, Bob . . ."

"What is it, Totsy?"

"Do say something nice to me before we have to ring off."

"My darling, sweet little Hotsy—Totsy."

She caught her breath. "We had such a lovely time together in London."

"Too right."

"You haven't forgotten it, have you?"

"Not I. We must do it again."

Her heart bounded. "Yes . . . and I'll ring you up tomorrow morning—ten o'clock."

"Good-oh. And you can tell me if the mice nibbled your toes."

"I don't believe there are any mice. You're only teasing. What shall we do on Saturday?"

"What we generally do, I reckon."

"Oh—I love you so much. I wish everything wasn't so unsettled. I wish—"

"Three minutes," said the voice.

"I don't believe it is."

But the telephone was impervious to argument and silence fell. Feeling as if she had left her heart on the line, she scattered the children around the door and walked out into the hot and empty road.



14

It was quite a long walk from Spelmonden to Waters Farm, and she arrived there feeling tired and dusty. She went straight upstairs to the office. It was empty. The two armchairs were rumpled as if they had recently been sat on, and one of them had been violently pushed back against the wall. The sofa had no look of recent occupation. By such faint signs Rosamund tried to read the past. She soon gave up the attempt and ran downstairs. At first there seemed to be nobody about, but in the kitchen she found Mrs. Turner washing up her crocks at the sink. This time Rosamund wasted no breath on civilities.

"Know where Miss Bullen is?"

"She's gone out."

"Oh . . . when?"

"About an hour ago. Just as I came downstairs I see her going out of the front door."

"Was she alone?"

"She was. Who'd you expect her to be with? And by the way, what's the meaning of those bags? The Manor chauffeur dumped them in the passage and said they were yours. What's the big idea?" Rosamund could not feel altogether surprised that Lesley had forgotten to tell anyone about getting her room ready, but she was very much annoyed, because now she would have to do it all herself.

After some hesitation, she decided to purchase Mrs. Turner's goodwill by telling her the whole story of her ejection from Doleham Manor, swallowing her wrath at the pleasure it obviously excited.

"Coo! So she's chucked you out, just because you got a bit oiled at the dance."

"I didn't get oiled. But she hates my guts because I won't let her high-hat me the way she does everybody else. She did all she could to stop me going, and this is because she couldn't—and a lot more. I tell you we had hells bells at the Manor last night."

She plunged deeper into the story, feeling that there was now no purpose in keeping it to herself. It would be the evening news of the whole parish, and she might as well sell an early edition to Mrs. Turner. The effect this time was more like what she had hoped.

"Really, now. So her nibs is gorn on young Vine. . . . What a joke, with him being so old-fashioned with her about the cows! It all goes to show that you never know what will lead to love."

"He was coming here to see her this morning, and it looks as if he's been. I wish I knew what had happened."

"That was why you asked me if anyone was with her when she went out? I wonder if he proposed. Rather looks as if he hadn't."

"That's what I want to know. He seemed some way off it, but I thought that maybe when he heard what had happened and knew she still was keen on him, it might bring him to the point."

"She was to tell him what had happened, was she?"

"Yes—before anybody else did."

"Does she know for certain that he's after her?"

"Why, yes. I gather he's said things. Besides, he'd never throw away a chance like that."

"He'd be a fool if he did. She must have pots of money. It's only that I heard he's been calling pretty regular on a girl at Light Row."

"That 'ud be only to pass the time."

"Perhaps. But she's got money too. She's Sinden the carrier's daughter."

This did not jolt Rosamund for more than a moment.

"I don't suppose she's got as much as Miss Bullen. Besides, it isn't only the money—think of the position. When that old hag dies—and I hope it's soon—she'll have Doleham Manor and all the estate."

"So she will. And he could call himself the Squire then and to hell with Birdskitchen. . . . Where are you off to?"

Thinking that if her story had not by now achieved its object it never would, Rosamund had moved toward the door.

"I really must start shifting Tiggy Benson's things out of the room I'm to have here. It'll take the hell of a time, with nothing started."

"I'll give you a hand, if you like."

Rosamund glowed and held out her cigarette case.

"Thanks a million. I was wondering how I'd ever get it done on my own. Miss Bullen was to have seen about it for me, but I expect she had too much to think about."

"Seems as if she had. But never mind. We'll soon shift Master Tiggy. And won't he just be mad when he comes home and finds out what we've done."

With which pleasing thought they went upstairs to sweep away the dust of weeks, move furniture, change sheets and pillowcases, and cement their new alliance with a highly experienced conversation on the technical aspects of love.



15

Lesley had not come in by lunchtime, and Rosamund began to wonder what this prolonged absence could mean. She remembered how some weeks ago, in the budding, dreaming stage of love, a late return had been accounted for by a ramble in the lanes. Then love had needed solitude. It might need it still—for all that Rosamund knew of Lesley, her heart might require the same weather for harvest as for seedtime. But she could not feel sure; and while she felt unsure, she must feel uneasy.

It was hard to believe that even Lesley could prefer her own company to that of the man she loved. Yet Mrs. Turner had said she had gone out alone. On the other hand, Charley might have joined her hastily from the midst of some other engagement which he had now to fulfill. He might have invited her to midday dinner at Birdskitchen, where possibly she was now, having shown her new-found happiness to lanes. Anyhow, Rosamund chose to think of her there as she herself sat down to dinner with the Turners.

The invitation to "muck in" with them was not so much a consequence of the new alliance as of the unpacking of several tins of tongue, bacon, ham, pineapple, and asparagus which she had brought from the Manor storeroom. Usually she and Lesley brought down sandwiches and ate a picnic meal in the office, but she had realized that more substantial catering was needed if she was to receive any sort of a welcome in her new home. She had also brought a bottle of gin, and the scene in the Turner's kitchen must have suggested a banquet to the uninvited Bensons, as they passed the open door on the way to their own quarters.

"She'll be sorry now she made such a fuss about getting that new stove," said Mrs. Turner comfortably as she sloshed "dogs" of gin into all the glasses of bottled beer. Rosamund saw that her next move must be to bring about by similar means a similar alliance with the Bensons. She had no wish to belong irrevocably to either kitchen. Nor was she disposed to join Ivory in comfortless isolation. Today, she was told, he had taken a packed lunch into the fields. "I can't abide his death's head in front of me when I eat, so I give him a whole tin of sardines. He'll never know what he's missed in the way of ham."

The Turner family was numerous enough to make a great deal of noise as it enjoyed itself. Besides young Bill Turner, who was just twenty, there was another son nearly old enough to be called a man, two daughters of fifteen and sixteen, and one or two younger children who were enjoying a holiday from school because of the hop picking. They did not all, Rosamund gathered, belong to Mrs. Turner, who had arrived comparatively late on the scene; nor, she imagined, would any future additions belong inevitably to her husband. The kitchen, not the bedroom, was the defended territory in both camps.

In spite of all the food and drink and hilarity, the meal depressed Rosamund, and toward the end of it she became almost silent. She had fallen into a world below that which she normally inhabited, even below the world in which she was born. This was something quite different from the relaxation she had found in talking to servants, who had only taken her back to her own beginnings. Her present company, with its shameless morals and manners, its spiv talk, its dirty crowding around a table spread with newspapers and laid with tins, would have been despised as an underworld in her mother's neat kitchen. It represented the basement of that house of life in which she tried so hard to reach the drawing room. The Turners bore the same relation to her own respectable working-class origin as Phil Gailey had borne to the society of Doleham Manor and Pookreed. They showed her how far she could fall. She had been for so long looking upward that she had forgotten the depths beneath—or rather, how deep they were. A new fear was added to the many that possessed her, and she became desperately anxious to escape from Waters Farm.

She no longer felt so confident of a speedy return to Doleham. It might not be so easy to arrange as she had thought. The old cow might hang on there quite a while; and even if she left, she might put enough wind up the Ashplants to prevent any advantage being taken of her absence. In that case Rosamund would have to stay on where she was, in a horrible, mousey little room, with no hot water, no bath, no bedside lamp, none of the amenities that the Manor had either automatically provided or yielded to her strategy. She would not stand for it. She would tell Lesley that she insisted on decent accommodation, that rooms must be found for her at some farm or village gues-thouse. . . . But this way out only brought her back into the rumblings of another anxiety. Where was Lesley now? Where had she gone? What was she doing? Had anything happened to her?

"Cheer up, Mrs. Gailey, you'll soon be dead," said young Rufus Turner, tipping meanwhile the last of the gin into his own glass.

Rosamund shook her head. "I wish I knew where she'd got to."

Whereat they all laughed loudly.



16

The sun had dipped low enough for its last beams to rake between the headless oasts when Lesley came back. Rosamund heard her from her bedroom, as she was trying to drape a dust sheet over her many gowns, now dispossessed of a wardrobe and hanging meanly from a row of nails on the wall. She ran at once into the office.

"Why, here you are at last! Where have you been? You've given me quite a fright."

She spoke almost angrily, for she was cross and displeased with everything; but her manner changed when she saw Lesley's face.

"Look here! Have things gone wrong?"

She did not know why she thought they had, for Lesley's face showed no sign of tears. She looked very, very tired. But then she might have walked for miles, considering the time she had been away. Her shoes were thick with dust. She made as if she was going to sink into one of the armchairs, then changed her mind and sat down heavily on the sofa.

"Tell me what's happened," said Rosamund, as she did not speak; but Lesley only dropped her head into her hands.

Obviously the scheme had failed, though there was nothing yet to show whose fault it was—whether Lesley had blundered over her peace offering or whether the young man had rejected it out of wounded pride.

"Oh, do say something!" cried Rosamund. "I can't help you if you don't."

Lesley lifted her head.

"You can't help me anyhow. He's been engaged for years to a girl called Margery Sinden."

She spoke so calmly that at first Rosamund hardly took in the full meaning of her words. She stood for a moment staring at her in silence, and when at last she found her tongue, all she said was, "You mean the carrier's daughter?"

"Yes. They live at Light Row."

Realization and indignation came together.

"The cad! The dirty cad! Engaged all this time he's been carrying on with you. What a bloody, filthy cad!"

Lesley said in the same quiet voice: "He isn't a cad. He hasn't been carrying on with me."

"But at the dance . . . the things he said to you about marriage at the dance . . . he practically told you then that he wanted to marry you."

Lesley shook her head, but the curtains of hair did not swing because they were stuck with sweat to her white face.

"No, he didn't tell me anything like that. I've been thinking over what he said, and I see now that he didn't mean me at all. . . . He was talking about this other girl."

"Then he must have been a fool—to have talked so as to make you think he meant you."

"I don't suppose I should have thought it if I hadn't wanted it so much; and he didn't know that then."

"Does he know now?"

Lesley nodded, then she said, "You remember you said that he'd better know. . . . And anyhow I couldn't have hidden it much longer."

"But, damn it all!" cried Rosamund. "If he's been engaged all this time, why on earth didn't he talk about it openly, instead of leaving you to find out in this way?"

"It's a secret engagement, he said."

"Why should it be secret? He's in a position to marry if he wants to—at least, to marry anyone like that. Why should he make a secret of it?"

Lesley said wearily, "I don't know."

Her voice was so flat and faint that the last word scarcely moved her lips. She leaned back against the cushion and her white face scared Rosamund.

"Look here, let me get you a cup of tea. You're shot to pieces."

"No, thank you. I'm all right—only a little tired."

"Where have you been?"

"I don't know. At least, I know I was in Barnhorn, but I can't remember how I got there or which way I came back."

"Have you been walking ever since he left?"

"Yes. That's why I'm tired."

"You must be! And hungry too! Why, here are your sandwiches you should have had for lunch. You'd better eat them now."

Lesley turned away her head with a look of distaste.

"I couldn't."

"Oh, come on. You must have something."

"I couldn't. I should be sick if I ate."

"Then let me make you a cup of tea."

"No, please don't—please don't leave me. I—I'm frightened."

"Frightened! What of?"

"Myself."

"Oh, come on!" Rosamund was beginning to feel impatient with this overcharge of grief. "You're being silly."

"I dare say I am, but I feel . . . I've never felt like this before. I feel as if something was ending."

"Well, it is ending, and a good job, too. It ought never to have begun."

"It's ending before it's begun."

Rosamund had had enough.

"Look here, if you're going to talk like that it's me who'll get frightened. You sound quite crazy. I know you've had a shock, but it's the sort of shock every woman gets sooner or later, and she's lucky if she only gets it once. You really don't have to go on like this. You can't help what's happened. And don't you see that you haven't got to worry any more about it? About whether you made a mistake in inviting him to the dance or in telling your mother you were in love with him or in letting him know what you felt too soon. It makes no difference now what you did or said, seeing that he was engaged to someone else the whole time. It doesn't matter. You're out of it all."

Lesley sprang off the sofa as if jerked by a wire and began to walk in jerky strides about the room.

"I don't know what you mean by being out of it all. I'm not. I've ruined him—spoiled his chances—all his hopes—the thing he's been longing for all his life and working for ever since he went into the army. He'd have it now, if it wasn't for me. It's all my doing. I wish I'd never been born."

"Don't be so simple. No money's passed. He can buy another farm."

"You don't understand. You don't begin to understand. What's a farm in another county to a man who's been born and bred around here? He said it would break his father's heart, and he'll feel it just as badly. You don't begin to know what people feel about this place—people who've lived here all their lives. They can't be happy anywhere else. I couldn't, and he can't."

"Now you really are talking nonsense. I'm sorry for the old people if they really are such stick-in-the-muds, but don't tell me that a bright young man like him minds much where he lives, as long as it's a good place. And do for heaven's sake sit down. You've walked enough for one day. It makes me feel tired to watch you."

Lesley collapsed again on the sofa, like a puppet whose wires have been let go.

"I'm sorry, Rosamund. It must sound crazy talk to you, but it's true, it really is. I love him—I love him still with all my heart, but I've brought him nothing but trouble and misery. If you could have heard what he said to me and seen the way he looked!"

"Oh, of course he made you feel it was your fault. That's a man all over. Put the woman in the wrong, make her feel she's to blame. They're all like that."

"I wish you wouldn't say such things. It isn't like you."

"What things?"

"Untrue, cynical, cheap things. You've changed."

"I haven't. I'm just the same as I always was. If anyone's changed, it's you. Can't you see that I'm only talking sense? There's no sense in kicking yourself about like this. If anyone's to blame it's him—keeping his precious engagement secret. If you'd known he was engaged, you'd have kept off and none of this would have happened. And what about your mother? Hasn't she got a finger in this pie? Baked the whole bloody thing, if you ask me."

Lesley said nothing.

"Come on," said Rosamund. "You must cheer up, or you'll have me feeling guilty next."

"How could you possibly?"

"Well, I did encourage you, didn't I—to like him? I did help you arrange meetings."

"You did, but it was all out of kindness and affection for me. How could you have known he was engaged or that Mother could object to his coming with us to the dance?"

Rosamund moved uneasily. "No, and I did think he was the sort of man who'd make you happy. I liked him myself. But now, of course, he isn't worth bothering about. He's shown you that plainly, and I'll say it, even if you do think me cheap and cynical."

"Dear Rosamund, forgive me. I shouldn't have said that. It isn't true. You've been the very best of friends, always. I can't tell you how grateful I am to you, and someday I'll show it."

"I wish you'd show it now by eating these sandwiches." She put the packet down on the sofa beside her. "Come, let's eat them together. It's late and I'm getting hungry."

All this time, while they talked, the dusk had been filling up the room. The chairs and tables had become mere shapes, the walls were planes of creeping shadow, the windows hanging squares through which darkness seemed to come as well as light. Rosamund shivered.

"Let's get on with it. We don't want to eat in the dark."

Plainly anxious to please her, Lesley began to nibble a sandwich, which lasted her while Rosamund ate all the others. She really was hungry, and in her now was a real distaste for the sleazy comforts of Mrs. Turner's kitchen. If Lesley wanted more, there was plenty for her at the Manor. But Lesley had not finished what she had begun when Rosamund brushed the crumbs away.

"Hurry up with that," she said, rather as if she was speaking to a slow child. "And then you must go home."

The last light seemed to have dwindled to two pinpoints in Lesley's eyes.

"I don't want to go home. I don't want ever to be in that house again."

"Oh, don't talk silly. You must go back, and get a good night's rest."

"How can I sleep?"

"Quite well, if I give you two more of my tablets. You remember how they helped you last night."

"Couldn't I stay here and sleep on this sofa?"

But Rosamund could bear no more.

"Not possibly. You'd be too uncomfortable and the dope wouldn't work. Come now and get started before it's quite dark."

Lesley stood up, looking rather like a ghost.

"What time is it?"

"Nearly half-past eight—not a bit too early to go to bed after the day you've had. I'll go and fetch the doings."

Lesley followed her into the bedroom, where enough light was left over from the sunset to display its wretchedness. Rosamund did not, however, expect her to notice anything in her present mood, and was surprised and a little softened when she said:

"Poor Rosamund. I'm afraid you must be very uncomfortable here."

"Well, it's not the Ritz, nor even Doleham Manor, but I can manage until your mother goes away. If I can't get back then I shall have to ask you to find me somewhere more comfortable—I mean with electric light and a bathroom. But don't let's worry about that now. Here's your poison."

She had put two of the tablets into an envelope.

"Thank you. Thank you so much."

They went downstairs through a house which was all darkness except for slits of light shining under doors. Outside the air was cool and thick with the first dews of night. Only a few stars hung in the misty sky above the edges of the valley. Lesley took a deep breath.

"Why can't I sleep outdoors? Oh, how I should like to make a bed of dry leaves in the wood."

"I never heard such nonsense. You'd catch your death of cold."

"I've often slept outdoors. I used to have a hammock in the garden, slung between the two acacia trees. I wish I had it now. I can't bear the thought of sleeping in that house."

"Oh, do have some sense. The summer's gone—we're in September now, and the nights are wringing damp. Do promise me that you'll go properly to bed."

"All right. I promise. Dear Rosamund . . ."

She had gone through the gate into the lane, and the garden fence was now between them. Lesley said again, "Dear Rosamund. . ."

"Well, good night. And come down tomorrow morning as soon as you've had breakfast."

"Thank you." (Why should she thank me? thought Rosamund. It's her house, not mine.) "I'm afraid," Lesley continued, "that I've said some rather unkind things to you. I didn't mean them."

"Oh, never mind about that."

"I do mind. Because I want you to know . . . I want you to know, Rosamund, that you're the best friend I've ever had. And I want other people to know it too. Good night."

She leaned suddenly over the fence and kissed her. The next moment she was gone—vanished like a moth between the hedges of the dark lane.

"Well," said Rosamund, "for crying out loud. . . ." It was then she realized for the first time that in all her stress and misery Lesley had not shed a tear.



17

That night, in spite of the discomforts of her new surroundings, Rosamund slept well. But at daybreak she woke with a queer impression that Lesley was in the room. She leaned on her elbow and looked around, at first scarcely knowing where she was and bewildered by the new positions of bed and window. Then she remembered. Lesley could not possibly be there. She was at Doleham Manor, nearly a mile away. Nonetheless she listened, for she could have sworn that Lesley had been in the room, almost that she had seen her standing beside her bed. But not a sound was to be heard. The silent house slept on without a creak. The first light hung behind the oasts from a sky flushed with the beginnings of sunrise. A robin's song shuttled up and down the light, and seemed a part of it to her drowsy mind as her head fell back on the pillow.

She did not fully wake till after seven; and as there could be no hope of early tea, she dressed at once and went downstairs. No one was about, for the children's holidays removed the only incentive to early rising. But on the kitchen drainboard stood a cup and plate, newly washed and put there to dry. That would be Ivory, up and about his business for his employer's sake—or his blackmailer's. She yawned and made herself some tea, glad to have the place to herself.

Then she went upstairs to the office. Mrs. Benson was supposed to have the cleaning of it, but goodness only knew when she would be about, so Rosamund put it rather sketchily to rights. When she had done so it seemed to remind her less of yesterday, and she sat down at the writing table to occupy herself till Lesley came.

Time passed. She could hear the house wake up—the children first, making a great deal of noise as they fended for themselves in the kitchen; then two of their elders, a man's clumping boots, a woman's scolding voice; then two more, pursued by shouts for tea to be carried upstairs. Rosamund felt the urge to assert herself and made her own noise by banging her typewriter. The old house was shaken by loud, confused, incongruous noises.

Gradually things became quieter, as men and boys went out to work and children out to play. Mrs. Benson's sweeper could be heard knocking against the skirting of various rooms. Mrs. Turner was probably still in bed.

Rosamund looked at her watch. It was nearly ten o'clock. Lesley had not come early after all. She hoped that meant she had had a good night and would be better company today. She was sorry for her, but she was also beginning to feel weary of her, or rather of her way of being in love. There was no good carrying on like this now that the affair was over and done with. She must take hold of herself and then in time look round for something new. As long as there was a chance that a man was to be had, one hung on and tried first one thing, then another. . . . But when he had quite firmly and unmistakably taken himself off . . . Rosamund shivered. Lesley's problem had become fused with her own, and she was thinking that the time had come for her to walk to Spelmonden and ring up Bob Hightower.

She scribbled a message that she had had to go out to phone and left it on the writing table, fully expecting to find Lesley in the office on her return. But though, what with the walk and the talk, she was away the best part of an hour, when she came back there was no sign of Lesley. Mrs. Turner, who was making tea in her kitchen, had seen nothing of her, nor had the children playing in the farmyard. She must have gone off on another of her rambles. Rosamund began to feel seriously annoyed.

This was playing the situation altogether too high. After all, what did Lesley really know about love? She had not even been kissed by this man, never felt his arms around her except in the dance. She had no knowledge, no experience. Why was she making all this fuss? Carrying on as if she was burnt by a fire that had never touched her—drowning herself in two inches of water, the silly fool. Let her wait till she really knew what it was to be loved by a man, till the fire had really burnt her and the deep waters passed over her—then she might have some right to cry out. But this was mere childish folly, a schoolgirl's bodiless rave. Rosamund grew more and more impatient as she wearied of being alone, shut up in the office where there was nothing very much for her to do, or reduced to seek Mrs. Turner's company downstairs.

The morning passed. She strolled about, sat in the orchard, walked a few hundred yards down the lane, smoked incessantly. At dinnertime her temper was not improved by Mrs. Benson's refusal of her offer to join them for a change. Mrs. Benson was offended because none of the good things from Doleham had been offered her yesterday, and today all the gin was finished. Rosamund debated her chances of securing another bottle. It would not be so easy now she was banished from the Manor. . . . She saw her life as Miss Lesley Bullen's secretary being gradually but surely stripped of its advantages. . . . If she doesn't come to her senses and behave like a normal human being and get me decent accommodation somewhere, I shall have to chuck this job. . . . Dear Rosamund, indeed! She can't care a hoot in hell about me if she leaves me stuck like this. I must get hold of something else. But it'll have to be around here, because of Bob. . . . I wonder what else is going on in this goddamned hole. I wish I'd never come.

The afternoon dragged by and part of the evening, and anger and boredom were succeeded by real anxiety. Lesley couldn't possibly be walking all this time. She must have gone somewhere by bus or train—cleared out of the district altogether. Or something had happened to her. . . . Rosamund could bear it no longer; and, as the world made ready for sunset with lengthening shadows and dipping strokes of light, she decided to walk up to the Manor and find out from Ashplant exactly what Lesley had been doing that morning. She might also be able to get hold of another bottle of gin.

On arriving at Doleham she hesitated as to whether she should ring the front doorbell or just slip quietly in; but in the end she decided to ring, as Ashplant would be able to advise her as to whether the coast was clear. He opened the door with the unbutler-like greeting of "Whoops, dearie! Whoever thought we should see you here again?"

"I've come up to ask about Miss Bullen. She hasn't been down at the farm all today. Have you any idea what she's doing?"

Ashplant shook his head. "Not the slightest. I know nothing about her at all, except that she was off at cockcrow."

"At cockcrow! Do you mean she was gone before breakfast?"

"Before she was called—not a trace of her when the Missus went in."

Rosamund's heart beat quickly. She said, "I don't like this. Look here, can I come in for a minute, or is the old hag about?"

"No, she's still in her bye-bye, though the Image says she thinks of coming down tomorrow. When she does she mayn't find anybody here."

"What are you talking about?"

"Oh, didn't you know we was under notice? Got it yesterday; and though she called it a month, we're clearing out as soon as we can find somewhere good to go to. The Missus is over at Barnhorn now, seeing a General Somebody who wants a cook and butler." He grinned from ear to ear.

Rosamund asked, "Had her bed been slept in?"

"Whose?"

"Miss Bullen's of course. I'm worried about her."

"Yes, her bed had been slept in, and there's nothing to worry about. She was always roaming the country before you came. She stopped it then, but I expect this row has started her off again."

An idea flashed into Rosamund's head.

"I wonder if they know anything about her at the Cheynells. May I come in and phone?"

"Sure." And, raising his voice, "I don't care if the old girl knows it. Lord, I shall be glad to get out of this joint—never had any fun here at all."

"What is she getting you for?" she asked, as he ushered her through the hall. "Anything to do with the upset?"

"It started that way. She began to chew the rag and I gave her all the answers, which made her so angry that she asked to see my accounts. Whew! We had some fun then." He blew kisses into the air.

"I bet you did. By the way, I was wondering if you could fit me out with a few cigarettes and another bottle of gin."

"Anything you like. I don't care what she finds or doesn't find when she comes down."

They went into the housekeeper's room where there was a telephone extension. Ashplant set out a bottle and glasses.

"Have a gulp first."

"Thanks. I could do with it. Good Lord, if you only knew the time I've had."

She felt a little better after she had told him about it, and a good deal better after she had drunk the gin—so much better, in fact, that by the time she heard Nicholas Cheynell come on the line she had decided not to make a thing of it.

"Oh, good evening, Mr. Cheynell. I only rang up to ask if Miss Bullen was over with you."

"No, she isn't—haven't seen her for days. Did you give her my message?"

Rosamund remembered the message for the first time.

"No, I'm afraid I haven't—not yet. Everything was so upset yesterday and I saw so little of her that I didn't get a chance. I'll certainly give it to her when I see her again, but of course it makes a difference my not being at the Manor any more."

"Of course it does. Perhaps I'd better give her a ring. My wife is anxious to see her."

"How is Lady Anne?"

"Not too well. This business with Iris—Mrs. Winrow—hasn't done her any good."

"It can't have. I'm so sorry. And I'm sorry I've bothered you about Miss Bullen, but I was expecting her to tea at Waters Farm, and as she hasn't turned up yet I wondered if she'd gone to you. Please don't let Lady Anne feel anxious about her."

"She won't. Lesley never was the one to turn up when she was expected."

"I know, and she's taken to going for long walks again. Yesterday she went right over to Barnhorn."

"Did she, then!" There was a pause, but as he had not hung up the receiver Rosamund waited. Then he asked, "How is she taking all this?"

A variety of answers whirled in her head and she chose hastily. "Oh, very well indeed. Walking it off in fact." She gave a nervous titter.

"I suppose you know by now that the young man never thought of her—been as good as engaged to another girl for years."

"I do know. It was very wrong of him not to have told anybody."

"That was his own affair, but it certainly hasn't worked out well. Good night."

"Good night, and I'll tell Miss Bullen—" She broke off as she heard him hang up the receiver. He sounded angry. She wondered whom it was with. It could not possibly be with her.

Ashplant was grinning. "Well, I gather you haven't found your runaway girl."

"No, I haven't, and I'm not going to try any more. I want to get back to the farm before it's dark."

"I dare say you'll find her waiting for you there."

"I dare say I shall." The gin had filled her up with optimism, and her dread had been transferred to the darkening lanes between Doleham Manor and Waters Farm. As she walked hurriedly through them, carrying the basket that Ashplant had packed full of bottles and tins, she became convinced that she would find Lesley in the office, either sprawling on the sofa or slouching over the writing table. The message she had left in the morning would apply equally well to this absence and keep her there till her return. They would have supper together, and Lesley would eat and enjoy her food as she had not done last night, having come to terms with her tragedy by walking through the countryside that was her refuge equally in joy and in sorrow.

So sure was she of finding her that when she opened the door she called her name into the shadows. There was no answer. For a moment she thought she saw a figure moving toward her, then realized with a mysterious clutch of fear that it was her own reflection in the looking glass. "Lesley!" she called again, though she knew she was not there.

Putting down her basket, she ran downstairs and asked in both the kitchens if anyone had seen Lesley while she was away. Nobody had, but nobody worried much—the past seemed full of her absences. Rosamund went upstairs again, but she was not entirely reassured; and she wished now that she had not done so much to reassure Nicholas Cheynell. She could, however, do no more about it now. The night had made her a prisoner of the house. Nothing would induce her to go out into those lanes now that darkness had fallen upon them. There was a sudden unaccustomed sound—a splutter of rain against the windows. It had not rained for weeks. Why should it rain tonight? Lesley would get wet. Where was Lesley?

Her anxiety had come back and grew as she sat there smoking and sipping gin. She found to her surprise that she could not eat. If only she could go out and ring somebody! Why wasn't there a phone in this damn place? Why wasn't there electric light? Lesley was as bad as her mother when it came to equipping her property with the comforts of civilization. This room had nothing but a lamp, which did not drive away half the shadows. The rain shining on the windowpane made the night outside look blacker. She saw her own face hanging among the shadows in the mirror—shadows that seemed to clot into the grotesque of Ivory's cross. . . . Her face hanging beside a cross. . . . She had an impulse to tear it off the wall and throw it out of the window, and would have yielded but for a feeling that if she did so she accepted and sealed into actuality her unacknowledged conviction that Lesley would never come back. She must do something about Lesley. But what could she do? She could not go out, face the darkness alone, and there was no one to help her. The Turners and the Bensons would only laugh if she told them what she felt.

She decided to go to bed. It was not yet nine, but what was the good of sitting up and being miserable? She could do nothing until the morning, and if she went to sleep the morning would come quicker. Oh, why couldn't you light each day like a cigarette at the stub of the one before, instead of having this interval of darkness, this night in which you could do nothing. Words reached out to her from her childhood: "The night cometh when no man can work." That was true enough in the country, the miserable, hateful country, where there were no street lamps, no bright, noisy pavements, only the darkness and the swish of the rain on the windows. Lesley would get wet. . . . She could stand no more of it. Directly Lesley came back she would tell her she must leave. Bob Hightower or not, she had had enough. Why, think of winter in this place!

She picked up her lamp and went into the bedroom. She would get into bed and take her dope. Then she would know nothing more till it was light. Thank heaven for phenobarbital. But what was Lesley doing tonight without it?

She undressed, but did nothing to her hair and face; they were only two more things that must wait till it was light. All she wanted now was a blank in which the time would pass. She opened the drawer where she kept the bottle of sleeping tablets. It seemed very light as she took it out, and suddenly her heart bumped. She had left it nearly full, but now, except for just two tablets, a single dose, it was empty.



18

It seemed then as if all her fears had led up to this moment. She stood there with the bottle in her hand, and night became suddenly linked with morning. Lesley in her room . . . she could not have been a dream after all. While she was asleep Lesley had crept in and helped herself to the sleeping tablets, leaving this pathetic little dose in case her dear Rosamund should discover their absence too late to provide herself with a night's rest. That was an authentic Lesley touch. . . . Besides, who else would have taken her sleeping pills? So many sleeping pills—enough to make you sleep forever. Only someone who did not want to wake again would have taken so many.

For a moment Rosamund thought she would be sick, but she got hold of herself and forced her mind to work. This was no time for the vapors. Lesley might be somewhere very near, lying unconscious in some familiar field or wood, dependent on immediate discovery if she was to live. A search party must be organized and the darkness fought with lamps and torches. She sprang for the door, remembered that she was wearing only a nightgown, tore it off, and snatched her clothes, scrambling into she knew not what to fit herself for the night she dreaded.

In a moment she was in Mrs. Turner's kitchen, only to find that the males of both families had gone to the pub and that the females had much the same attitude as she had toward the outer darkness. Having decided that it was too wet to go out with their men, they were sitting amiably together over glasses of bottled beer; and she found them, to her indignation, still inclined to regard her fears as exaggerated.

"You wait," said Mrs. Turner, "till Wally and Jim come home. There can't be all that hurry."

"But there is. If she's taken those sleeping tablets, she'll die unless she's found quickly."

"How do you know she's taken them?" asked Mrs. Benson.

"You're only guessing. You can't even be sure she was in your room this morning."

"Yes, I can. She was there. I know it now. I only thought I was dreaming because I couldn't see her when I looked round. I expect she slipped out just as I woke. We must go after her and find her—we simply must."

"We'll make the men go as soon as they come back, but there's no good us girls trying anything. I'd be frightened to death, for one, and so would you. Besides, the men have got our torches."

"They haven't got mine. But—" As she thought of the darkness and Lesley lying somewhere in it, her head swam with the conflict between two separate fears. "If only," she wailed, "I could get up to the phone box and call somebody."

"Well, why not?" said Mrs. Turner. "It isn't far. But you'll have to go by yourself. I'm not coming. Because, for one thing, I don't believe you've got any reason to create like this. Even if she has taken the pills, I expect she's taken them only so as she can have them by her in case of need. I don't suppose she has any idea of swallowing the whole lot at once."

Rosamund could have taken her blonde tousled head and knocked it against Mrs. Benson's slinky black one, so strongly did their arguments present one set of her fears while doing nothing to assuage the other. Wait till the men come home—wait by the fire in the lamplight, and have some smokes and some more gin, and then send out the men to face the darkness and whatever it hid. Wait till the men come home. And then perhaps they refuse to go. They're tired, they're sleepy, they're a little drunk, they say like the women that she's only imagining things. Wait till the men come home. Wait till tomorrow morning. She nearly screamed. Then she suddenly thought of something.

"I'll ask Ivory to come with me," she cried. "Do you know where he is?"

"He went upstairs some time ago," said Mrs. Benson. "I expect he's in bed."

"But you rout him out," said Mrs. Turner, unscrewing the top of another bottle. "He'll go with you if you tell him what it's for."

Rosamund ran out of the room, and in a few seconds was hammering on Ivory's locked door. At first she thought she would never wake him, but just as she had begun to kick as well as knock, she heard him cry out, "Who's there?"

"Me—Mrs. Gailey—Oh, do show a leg," she cried frenziedly. "I haven't brought the police."

He opened the door then and stood in the crack of it with alighted candle, looking gaunt and ridiculous in a shirt that stopped halfway to his knees.

"I want you to come with me," she panted. "Please do. Come with me to the call box at Spelmonden. I've got to go and telephone for help for Miss Bullen. She's in danger. I can't explain more to you now. But we've got to help her. Please put on your clothes and come at once."

"All right," he said. "I'll come," and shut the door.

Rosamund stood for a moment uncertainly, then groped her way to her own room. Here she put on a tweed coat and some strong shoes. She also found her flashlight. Her mind, which until then had seemed to have a sort of stop in it, began to work rapidly. She decided not to telephone but to get at once into some efficient human contact. The decision came through a first idea of going to the Manor instead of to Spelmonden; of the two, it was the nearer, and she might be able to get some kind of help from Ashplant or Elphinstone. On the other hand, they might react to her fears as Mrs. Benson and Mrs. Turner had reacted. Suddenly she thought of a much better plan.

If she went across the fields (and Ivory would know the way) it was only a very short walk to Birdskitchen, and here she would find help of a much more certain and substantial kind. Charley Vine would not mock her fears. On the contrary, they would become his own, as he would know how much he was to blame for their causes. He would know, too, much better than any town-bred Ashplant or Elphinstone, how to search the countryside for Lesley. He would be familiar with all the fields and woods, all the corners which she might have chosen for her last sleep. He would, besides, be able to get hold of other helpers. Certainly, most certainly, it was better to face the darkness between Waters and Birdskitchen than between Waters and Spelmonden.



19

When she told Ivory of her change of plan, he heard her without comment and they set out at once. She was pleased to find that the rain had stopped, though the whole earth teemed with its unaccustomed blessing, so that the air was thick with a fragrance of soil and water that soon became visible as fog. She was terrified that they might lose their way and be trapped by some evil gateless field or wicked little wood. But Ivory walked surely, without stumbling or hesitation, though he ignored the torchlight which she held over her own feet. As they walked she told him all about Lesley, holding nothing back, but he said so little that at first she thought he could not be listening. Then she began to hear mumblings which she took for prayers. As if she wasn't frightened enough already. . . .

She sang to drown them and the fears that grew in his company, which was no company, only a strangeness and a madness.

I don't know where we're going to—
If we get there I'll be glad

she sang with the echoes of an old-fashioned music-hall song.

To her horror Ivory began to sing too; at least, she supposed it was singing, though his song seemed to have neither words nor music, only a drawling and a droning. She thought it must be a hymn. Well, she said to herself, if I get to Birdskitchen without going crackers I must have a pretty strong head.

They crossed the river in a fog so thick that she could barely see the fences of the cattle bridge they used. What a night for a search! How could she expect Charley Vine or anyone else to come out on a night like this? He would say they hadn't a chance of finding Lesley till the fog had lifted; they must wait till morning. And she would have made this ghastly trip for nothing. In her anxiety she could almost have prayed that the fog would lift. . . . Was it growing thinner? . . . Without any prayers, save Ivory's, a hedge and a gate appeared. Then she realized that they were climbing up out of the mists, as out of the waters of a lake. A few yards higher, and above their heads in a clearing sky swung one or two huge stars. Then a light shone, also above them, and she knew it must shine from a house on the top of the hill. At last they were within sight of Birdskitchen.

Soon they were walking through the farmyard, past two enormous tunbellied oasts smoking out their sweetness at the stars. As she passed the lighted window of the house, she looked in and saw Charley Vine sitting by the fire with a young, fair girl and two elderly people. The room was ruddy with firelight and lamplight, and the little group looked as homely and as happy as could be. Well, she had something that would bust it up all right. She felt rather like a commando about to lob a hand grenade into some peaceful picket of the enemy. She knocked loudly at the door, and a few moments later it was opened by Charley Vine himself.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed in surprise; then, as he read her face, "Has anything happened?"

She answered brusquely, "Yes it has, and I want your help."

"Please come in."

"We mustn't waste time." She thought of the group by the fireside as she stepped into the little crooked hall. "We must do something quickly—don't go away," she called to Ivory who was still outside the door; "we shall want you later."

"You'd better come inside," said Charley Vine, but Ivory shook his head.

"No, I'll stay here." Then he added, "I won't go away."

Charley shut the door and turned to Rosamund.

"What is it? What's happened?"

"It's Lesley. She's gone off somewhere—disappeared completely. And she's taken enough of my sleeping tablets with her to knock out a platoon."

He turned white. "You mean—you think . . ."

"Yes I do. What else can anyone think?"

She took a savage pleasure in noting how shocked, how shattered he looked.

"Wh-what," he faltered, "do you want me to do?"

"Do! Why, get together a search party and go out and look for her. You know all the places about here—all the places where she's likely to be. If only we can find her quickly we may be able to save her. But we shall have to drum up a lot of people to go over all the fields and woods for miles around. You'll know best the sort we want to help us. I can't get hold of the Waters Farm men, because they're all at the pub; but anyhow they wouldn't be much good, because they don't know the country. That's why I've come to you, and you must help me."

She heard with dismay her voice rise shrilly on the last words. She had better control herself. She didn't want to break down in front of him, of all people.

He had recovered himself by now.

"Of course—I'll set about it at once. I'll get my man, Bill Juden, and he'll rake up some other chaps. The pubs will be emptying soon. . . . How long has she been gone?"

"Since early this morning. She wasn't there when they called her at half-past seven, and I'm certain she was in my room at Waters Farm before that. I was half asleep and didn't really notice, but it must have been then that she took the tablets. Oh, she meant to kill herself all right or she'd never have done such a thing."

"What are they? Phenobarbital?"

"That's it. I don't know how many's a fatal dose, but anyhow much less than she's taken."

He was silent a moment, considering.

"Look here," he said, "I'll tell you what we'll do. I'll get my car and drive you over to Mr. Cheynell's. We'll stop at Bill's on the way and start him off. But it's a bad night for getting about, and we'll get hold of people much more quickly if we use the phone. I can ring up one or two pubs. Besides, I think we ought to tell the police. They may be able to help us."

She nodded, for it looked as if he was going to be as efficient as she had hoped.

"That's right. You go and get the car."

"I shan't be a moment. Would you like to wait in here?" His hand moved toward the latch of the room he had left.

"No thank you," she said firmly. "I'll stay where I am."

"Your shoes are soaking wet. Hadn't you better dry them by the fire?"

But she would rather catch cold than join that smug little party.

"I'm all right," she said, "and I'd rather stay here."

"Just as you please." She was glad that he did not choose to waste time in argument. "Excuse me a moment. I must tell my people what I'm doing."

"Well, don't be long." Her words followed him angrily into the room, but they were not really needed, for he was out in a moment. "It'll save time if you'll come to the garage with me. Then I needn't come back to the house."

They both hurried out so quickly that they nearly knocked Ivory down.



20

The great tunbellied oasts were now blocked against a swatch of stars; but no sooner had they begun to drive downhill than they saw beneath them the lake of fog that filled the Doleham Valley. Bill Juden's cottage was like a cottage by the shore. Vine pulled up the car and went in, taking Ivory with him. They were gone some minutes, during which Rosamund sat watching the fog-waters eddy against the fields and tried to persuade herself they were falling.

"That's all right," he said when he came back. "Bill's a good chap and knows how to get things done. But of course this is the worst possible night for searching the country. Can you make any guess at all as to where she's likely to be? I mean, do you think she would be near home or gone somewhere far away?"

They were below the fog level now, crawling through a country that seemed to her invisible. As she sat beside him, staring blindly into the smudged light of the car lamps thrown back on streams of fog, she could not help remembering that other occasion when she had sat beside him in his Ford utility van and driven through lanes that were hazed only with heat and sunshine.

She shook her head in answer to his question.

"I haven't the smallest idea. It didn't occur to me to be anxious until after she'd been gone nearly twelve hours, and of course by that time she might be anywhere. . . . Yesterday she went as far as Barnhorn. But—now I remember—she did say last night that she'd like to sleep on a bed of dry leaves in a wood."

"I'm afraid," he said sadly, "that tonight they won't be dry."

Her own thoughts, rather than his words, stirred up her anger.

"It's a pity," she said, "you never told her you were engaged."

He answered quietly: "I wasn't engaged—it was only an understanding."

"Well, it was so near as makes no matter. You ought to have told her."

"I should have told her if I'd had the smallest inkling of what she felt about me. But I'm not going to defend myself. I certainly made a terrible mistake." There was a pause, during which he negotiated a baffling turn of the lane. Then he said in the same quiet voice, "You can comfort yourself with the thought that I'm suffering for my sin."

She made no reply and neither of them spoke till she asked, "How can you possibly see to drive in this?"

"I can't see. But fortunately, I know."

"Are we nearly at Mr. Cheynell's?"

"Within a few hundred yards. If he has a light we'll see it in a moment. Yes, there it is."

The light was no more than a red stain on the fog, but it was quite close to them; and in a minute he had stopped the car and was helping her out.

Nicholas Cheynell opened the door and his greeting was not unlike Charley's at Birdskitchen.

"Hullo! Vine . . . and Mrs. Gailey! Anything the matter?"

"Yes," said Charley. "Miss Bullen's disappeared—hasn't been seen since yesterday. I'm organizing a search for her."

Nicholas stared at them, his old face cloudy with dismay.

"Good God! On a night like this!"

"It couldn't be worse, could it?" said Charley. "But if I can use your phone we'll get the police, and I think it would be a good idea to ring up the pubs and find out who's there and collect some chaps who know the country well. They may be able to do something even in this fog."

"Yes—come in, come in. My wife's just got off to sleep," he added as they went through the hall, "so we won't disturb her. The phone's in my study."

The study was warm and cheerful, with a small wood fire and the first electric light that Rosamund had seen since leaving Doleham Manor. Nicholas pulled up an armchair for her and she sat down. She hoped he would offer her a cigarette; but as he did not, she lit one of her own.

She said, "The worst of it is—Mr. Vine didn't tell you—that she's gone off with quite a lot of my sleeping tablets." He looked as if he did not get the full force of her words, so she added, "Enough to kill anyone."

"You mean to say you think she may be—"

His mouth hung open with an unsaid word. Then he barked at her.

"Why didn't you tell me all this when you rang up? You gave me to understand she was only late for tea. If I'd known she hadn't been seen since yesterday, we could have gone after her sooner, instead of waiting till it's night—and fog. Now probably we're too late."

That's right, thought Rosamund, put all the blame on me. Aloud she said, "I didn't worry about her till I went to bed and found my sleeping pills were gone. She was wandering all over the country yesterday, and I thought she was only doing the same today."

"Yes, you said she was walking it off. You said she was taking it all very well."

Rosamund had quite forgotten what she had said, but she was determined that negligence should not be found in her by either of these men.

"So she was. I thought she was bearing up splendidly and getting over things in her own way."

Charley Vine asked, "Did she say or do anything that could possibly make you think she meant to take her life?"

"Not a thing."

Then suddenly she remembered that sudden, surprising kiss. Her cheeks flushed and she opened her mouth to say more, then changed her mind. She did not want to talk about it, and she could not be sure, anyway. It probably had nothing to do with what had happened. It had not meant good-by.

They were telephoning now, ringing up the pubs and then the police. She heard snatches of conversation, answers without questions and questions without answers, beginnings of sentences and ends of others. She did not listen intently, for her thoughts were too busy running about yesterday in search of everything that Lesley had said or done—everything that could prove that her kiss had not meant good-by. She remembered something she had said about Rosamund herself, about her wanting to show everyone how grateful she was to her. She had not taken much notice of it at the time, putting it down as just another of Lesley's outbursts.

But now she thought that it might have definitely meant something, and whatever that thing was, it could not possibly have been her own death. Her spirits, having hit the bottom, began to bounce again.

"Very well," said Nicholas Cheynell to the police at Sandlake. "If you'll send Porter round he'll find me here. Mr. Vine's going up to the Chequers to see what, they can do about searching the woods. . . . No, I can't tell you that. . . . I'm afraid not. . . . Well, that's always something. Good night."

He hung up the receiver and Charley Vine turned to Rosamund.

"If you'll come now, I'll run you back to Waters Farm. It's on my way and I could get hold of some of your men. I don't suppose they'll be very smart, but they must know their own place pretty well by this time."

"You'll never get them to turn out on a night like this. They don't care a hoot in hell about Miss Bullen."

Charley said grimly, "They mayn't care a hoot about Miss Bullen, but they care quite a lot about what they get out of her. What happens to them if she—she isn't found? They'll never get anyone else to pay them five pounds a week for doing nothing."

Another, lower, yet urgent aspect of the situation came into Rosamund's mind at the same time as a great reluctance to return to Waters Farm.

"Don't you want me here when the police come?" she asked Nicholas. "They may want to ask me something."

"I think I can give them all the information they need at present," he said. "You go home and get your night's rest."

Night's rest! What does he think I am? Then she remembered the two tablets that Lesley had left in the bottle.

"All right. Let's go. And I'll ring you up first thing tomorrow morning to know what's happened."

"I doubt," said Charley Vine, "if much can happen tonight."

"But I'll ring up all the same—between eight and nine. I can do it from Spelmonden. It's a curse not having a phone in the house."

They had left the study, and the front door was open on undifferentiated night. Charley snapped on his flashlight, but it did little more than smear the darkness.



21

Thanks to Lesley's tender mercies, Rosamund slept that night; but at the bottom even of her drugged sleep there were dreams, and she was glad to wake up and know that the night was over when no man can work. She was down before anyone else. This morning there was not even a cup on the drainboard to proclaim an earlier riser. She found herself still unable to eat, and hurried out directly she had drunk some coffee. The day was fine and not a trace of fog lingered in the valley. She wondered at what time it had cleared. She was earlier at the call box than she had said she would be, but she did not think that would make any difference, for Mr. Cheynell would almost certainly be at home. As she took up the receiver her heart beat so fast that she felt sick.

A man's voice answered her—an old man's voice.

"Is that Mr. Cheynell? Mrs. Gailey speaking. Have you any news?"

"None, I'm afraid. There was a big party out last night, but the weather was far too thick and they couldn't do much till it cleared, which wasn't till two hours ago."

"And you've heard nothing since then?"

"No. Charley Vine came in about six o'clock. They were combing Waters Wood, and after that they were to move on to Chant Bog. But of course, it's only guesswork. She may be miles away."

"I can't help thinking she's somewhere quite near. She loved—loves Waters Farm."

"I know that—though she had a queer way of showing it. But she loves the whole of this country, and knows it too. She may be anywhere."

"What do the police say?"

"What I do—she may be anywhere. They think it's possible that she's left a note behind her, but there's nothing at the Manor. I rang up last night and made them hunt for it. You've found nothing, of course."

"Absolutely nothing."

"There's always a chance she may have posted it—the police say they often do. Is your post in yet?"

"No, it doesn't get to Waters till after ten."

"Ours is earlier than that, but I don't suppose she'd write to us. She may, of course, have written to her mother."

Rosamund opened her mouth to make a remark, but refrained on remembering that Mr. Cheynell was Mrs. Winrow's cousin. Instead she asked, "Does she know what's happened?"

"Oh, yes. She's terribly upset."

The remark rose up again and quivered on her tongue. Luckily Nicholas was still speaking. "If you hear from Lesley by the post, you'll ring up, won't you?"

"Yes, if I do."

"Which is your nearest telephone box?"

"The crossroads at Spelmonden. Of course, the Manor's nearer; but I'm not supposed to go there nowadays."

He mumbled something in which she caught the words "bad business."

"Yes, it is," she said. "It's horrible not being anywhere near a phone. This box must be over a mile away. But I'll ring you directly the post comes, whether I hear from her or not. Shall you be in about half-past ten?"

"I'll make a point of it."

"Right, then. Good-by for now."

"Good-by."

She hung up, then asked for another number.

This time the connection took some minutes to make. At first it was No Reply; then after she had invoked Operator, a woman's sleepy voice came on the line.

"Is that the Friendship Cafe?"

"Yeah."

"I want to speak to Mr. Hightower."

"He isn't up yet."

She had forgotten how early it was.

"Is that Pat?"

"No, it's Jennifer. You're Rosamund, ain't you?"

"Yes, and I must speak to him. Tell him it's urgent, really urgent, or I shouldn't have rung up at cockcrow. Get him to come."

"All right. I'll see."

She was gone, leaving Rosamund in a noisy silence made up of telephone buzzings and her own galloping heartbeats. At last there was a click and Bob's voice asked peevishly, "What on earth's the matter?"

"I'm sorry, Bob, but I must speak to you. Something dreadful's happened. Lesley Bullen—" she suddenly found tears rising. Why did her tears always rise when she talked to Bob? "Lesley Bullen," she choked, "she's disappeared, and I'm—I'm nearly sure she's k-killed herself."

"What nonsense!"

"It isn't nonsense. She's been gone since early yesterday, and she's taken practically all my sleeping tablets."

He whistled. "Well, that's queer, for I saw her walking up the High Street yesterday afternoon."

Rosamund nearly screamed. "You saw her!"

"Yes, of course I saw her. And it wasn't her ghost."

"But, Bob, tell me—oh, this changes everything! Tell me: What was she doing?"

"Nothing. Just loping along the way she does."

"What did she look like?"

"As usual—nuts."

"What was she wearing?"

"Oh, damn it, Totsy! How should I know? What she usually wears, I suppose. Anyhow, I didn't notice anything different."

"Did she see you?"

"Not that I am aware of. I was on the other side of the street."

"Have you any idea where she was going?"

"Not the slightest. Any more questions?"

"Oh, can't you see, Bob, how important this is? We've been combing the woods round here for her, thinking she'd taken those pills and was lying somewhere. . . . But if she was in Sandlake yesterday afternoon—"

"She's probably alive and well and laughing at you all."

"But if she is, why did she take those pills?"

"Just to scare you, perhaps. She's been crossed in love, and that's when a girl likes to throw her weight about, especially if there's a chance of hitting the beloved object."

"Don't talk nonsense. Lesley isn't like that. But, listen, Bob; I must let Mr. Cheynell know about this. We may have been working on the wrong lines, so I'll ring him at once and he'll get straight on to you. You're not going out?"

"Out! I'm going back to bed."

"Oh, Bob, you're not to be silly. You must answer Mr. Cheynell if he rings. There'll be the police too, I expect."

"So you've got the police into it. God! I bet she's laughing."

"I hope," gulped Rosamund, "she is."

"Well, I'll ring off now and have a snooze before the old man starts on me. See you tonight, shall I?"

"If things are all right here—not otherwise."

"Well, you know where to find me. So long, Totsy."

"So long."

She had never been so cavalier about a date with Bob, but now all her thoughts were concentrated on Lesley and this wonderful piece of news. She rummaged in her bag for change. Suppose she hadn't enough coppers for another call. . . . She would have to ask at one of the cottages. . . . Oh, here they were—two pennies. She pressed Button A.

Nicholas Cheynell seemed surprised to hear her voice again, and he was still more surprised when she had stammered out her news. "What's that? . . . In Sandlake? . . . Yesterday afternoon! . . . Do you know what time?"

"No, I don't. But Mr. Hightower will. I'll give you his number. Sandlake 252. . . . Yes, that's it. He's expecting you to ring him. This makes things look more hopeful, doesn't it?"

"Yes, I suppose it does; though goodness knows what she's been doing since yesterday afternoon. . . . However, it gives the police something to go on, and they may find out a lot more. I'll get on to them directly I've spoken to Hightower. There's just one thing—"

"Yes?"

"Since you last rang up, my wife's suggested that as you haven't a phone at Waters Farm, you might care to come here, to us, till this business is settled. She'd be very pleased to have you. That is, if you don't mind looking after yourself to a certain extent. She's laid up and we have no resident help, so you'll understand that—"

"Oh, I don't mind in the least. I'll do anything you like—housework, cooking, washing up—"

"We're not suggesting anything like that. Only, if you can look after yourself, as I said—"

Rosamund was nearly dancing in the telephone box.

"Oh, I can, I can—look after myself and you too. It will be such a comfort not to be cut off any longer, as I am now. How very, very kind of Lady Anne."

"That's settled, then. Can you manage to get here under your own steam? I don't like to leave the place while all this is going on."

"No, of course not. I'll order a taxi from the village. What time would you like me to come?"

"As soon as you like, after the post has been. I should like you to wait for that, if you don't mind."

"Of course I'll wait for it. I don't suppose I'll be ready before then anyhow, for I'll have to pack some things. I really am most grateful. Please thank Lady Anne for me a thousand times."

He hung up, leaving her almost hysterical with relief. In addition to the good news about Lesley, she now had the prospect of going to live in a civilized house with civilized people. The Cheynells might be dull, but they were decent; and in their home she would have electric light, hot baths, and well-ordered meals again. She would also be at the headquarters of the search for Lesley and in constant touch with its progress—among people, too, who felt about it just as she did. Those damned Bensons and Turners—and that bloody old hag . . . this would learn her something—seeing her invited to stay with the Cheynells after she had kicked her out of Doleham. Her stock was going up again. If only she could be sure that Lesley was all right, she would feel completely happy.



22

Anne Cheynell was probably the only person who felt sorry for Rosamund Gailey. Nicholas had disliked her ever since the Red Cross Ball, Charley Vine suspected her of at least a complicity in the mechanics of the present situation, while to Mrs. Winrow she was the source, first cause, arch mover of it all.

To Anne she was no worse than a common, empty-headed little woman, who set her own interests before anyone else's, but was not tough or even sensible enough to look after them properly. She did not like her, but she knew that Lesley did, and that with Lesley she had succeeded where she herself had failed—in winning her confidence. It was a pity that she had not known how to make better use of her winnings, but it was also a pity that those who might have done better had lost the game to their own prejudices. She believed, too, that Mrs. Gailey was really fond of Lesley and really wretched at her disappearance. So when Nicholas repeated what Mrs. Gailey had said about being cut off at Waters Farm, Anne had suggested that she move to Pookreed for a few days.

"It must be dreadful for her to be marooned among those people who haven't the slightest feeling or thought for Lesley—Charley Vine said he had to rub it in to them that they were in danger of losing their wages before he could get any of those men to turn out last night. And if she's got to walk a mile to the phone . . . and of course we can't ring her, either. . . . It must be quite dreadful for her, Nick. If she is here she'll get any news that comes in as soon as we do."

"But what will Iris say?"

"I don't care what Iris says or thinks. I'm sorry for the poor little woman, and she'll be no trouble at all in the house. You remember how useful she made herself that time she came over with Lesley."

"She's certainly very pleasant and obliging and all that. But I don't trust her an inch."

Anne laughed. "Nor do I. But we don't have to. And she seems really devoted to Lesley. In a way, I shall quite like having her here."

"Oh, well, if it makes you happy. . . . How are you feeling, my dear?"

"I'm all right. Don't worry about me. And if you'll bring me my fountain pen and some paper I'll write a little note to Mrs. Gailey."

It was then that Rosamund rang up for the second time and saved her the trouble.

Nicholas was so long away answering the call that she began to wonder if it had brought momentous news or if any of the searchers had come in for a fresh briefing. When at last he came back into the room and told her what had happened, she was not sure how much comfort she could take.

"It's last night I'm afraid of. The fact that she was in Sandlake yesterday afternoon may mean no more than that she was wandering about the country, which was what we always thought. But where was she—what did she do—last night?"

"I know, my dear. That's it, that's the question. But the police seem to think that at last they've something to bite on, and of course that sort of thing's much more in their line than combing fields and woods. I don't know what to make of it myself. If she hadn't taken those tablets—"

"Is it absolutely certain that she has?"

"Well, they've disappeared—that's certain—and Mrs. Gailey swears she was in her room at crack of dawn yesterday. The police seem to think that she took them all right, but their idea now is the same as Hightower's—that she may have taken them to scare us all."

"I can't believe it."

"Nor can I. It wouldn't be like her. Still, they think it's possible and I hope it is. They're checking up on the buses, anyway, to see if she took one into or out of the town. They'd done a bit on that line already, but this has given them something definite to go on. The inspector seemed to think that he'd have some news before long."



23

But nothing more had been heard from the police by the time Rosamund Gailey arrived. She, drove up in the Doleham taxi, with an alarming amount of luggage for one contemplating only a short visit.

"I had to bring everything," she explained, "for there isn't a key to the door of my room, and Lord knows what would become of anything I left behind."

"That's all right," said Nicholas gruffly. "You didn't hear from Lesley by the post?"

"No, I didn't. I don't know that I expected to."

"Well, I'd hoped—if she's alive she surely would write . . . she wouldn't leave us worrying like this. . . . However, I trust we'll have some news before long. The inspector said he'd ring up as soon as he had anything to report."

"Are you still searching the valley?"

"Oh, yes. It would never do to give up. She'd have had plenty of time to get back here from Sandlake. We've gone over the whole of Waters Farm. I'm positive she's nowhere on her own land. But we're still at it. There's a party combing Reedbed now, and they're going right down the valley to Dolehamtail."

Rosamund was determined now to be hopeful.

"Surely it's a good sign if she's nowhere on Waters Farm."

"I don't know—I don't know what to think. . . . Here, let me take your bag. If you don't mind, we'll leave your trunk for the present."

Rosamund soon found herself in possession of a small, sunny room which, she noted with triumph, was better fitted up and much better cared for than her old room at the Manor. She had been invited to go in and see Lady Anne as soon as she had unpacked, and decided to make a flying start into her good graces by offering to provide Nicholas with a three-course dinner that very night.

"Of course I know how he must miss it. When you're accustomed to late dinner, nothing else does as well. I used to miss it terribly when we only had supper at the Manor. I shall enjoy it as much as he will."

"When one's over seventy it's difficult to change the habits and outlook of a lifetime. It's a nuisance, my being laid up like this. I'm very fond of cooking, and on the whole I think I manage pretty well."

"I'm fond of cooking too," said Rosamund brightly. "My husband belonged to the Royal Automobile Club, and of course that made him very particular. I'm a bit out of practice, but I expect it will all come back when I start."

Anne Cheynell smiled. "I don't want to impose on your kindness. You mustn't think I've asked you here to cook for us. It was only that I knew you'd feel cut off at Waters Farm, without a telephone."

"Yes, I did feel cut off, and I can't tell you how grateful I am to you for getting me out of that dump—er, place. But do let me cook. I'll enjoy it, and it'll take my mind off Lesley. Though, I do think the news is better, don't you?"

"Well, yes . . . as far as it goes. We know she was alive yesterday afternoon."

"And she'd gone over to Sandlake. That means that she'd gone very far—farther than on Thursday—and that would account for her not having got home last night."

Anne looked puzzled. "But surely not for her still being away, or for her not having written to us to tell us what she was doing. Then there's the sleeping tablets. Why should she have taken them if she hadn't meant to use them?"

But Rosamund had had enough of fear and anxiety and was not going to be saddled with them again.

"She may have meant something dreadful when she took them," she insisted, "and then changed her mind and gone to Sandlake. Or she may have intended to be away for some time and provided herself for several nights. I think I must have told her that you can't get them without a doctor's prescription."

"If Lesley had meant to be away for any time I'm sure she would have written—to you, most likely. She wouldn't just have gone off without a word."

"I don't know. She was always very vague and absent-minded. Come to that, why didn't she take even so much as a toothbrush with her?" Then, seeing that she was bringing herself back into the darkness, she added, "You know how slow the posts are. I've a strong feeling that we may hear from her tomorrow."

"I hope you're right," she sighed. "I hope we shall hear something soon. The police said they'd ring up when they had news."

"I always believe that no news is good news," said Rosamund brightly.

She carried her determined cheerfulness down to lunch with Nicholas, whom she found a gruff and absent-minded companion. His ear was straining the whole time for the telephone and only imperfectly receptive to the conversation with which she sought to entertain him. When the meal was over he went off to his study, so as to be near his link with action, and Rosamund found her way to the kitchen to prepare her evening campaign.

Her situation with regard to cooking was very much what it had been with regard to typing when she took on the job of secretary. She earnestly hoped that she would be able to recover lost powers that had never been very great, and that the machinery provided would be such as she had been accustomed to use. The epicure of the R.A.C. had mainly been cooked for on a gas ring reinforced by a delicatessen shop, and the same method of cookery had obtained through most of her life since then. She could not hope for a gas ring at Pookreed, any more than for a ham-and-beef shop; but since Lady Anne had done so much of her own cooking, there was more than a chance that she would not be confronted with an old-fashioned kitchen range. For the rest, she relied on that gift for making people like her and, because they liked her, tolerate her inefficiencies, which had failed so signally with Mrs. Winrow, but which she thought, looked as if it might have every success with Lady Anne.

She found the kitchen a white room, unexpectedly cool, and shining with rows of cooking implements the use of which was obscure to her. It was like no other kitchen she had seen, but the stove was an ordinary, modern type of electric cooker, which reassured her a little.

Mrs. Field, a gentle, mousy little woman, came out of the adjoining pantry, where she had just finished washing up after lunch. She greeted Rosamund with a timid smile.

"Her ladyship said you were going to cook the dinner. They'll be glad to have their little bit of dinner again."

"Oh, yes, I think I can manage that," said Rosamund affably. "I know that Lady Anne's most grateful to you for all you've done," she added, feeling that she might as well make a friend of Mrs. Field.

"I've done what I could. But I don't understand their sort of cooking. We like things quite different. I hope that stew was all right that you had just now."

"It was delicious," said Rosamund, who had thought it horrible.

"I was afraid you might think it too coarse," said the little woman diffidently. "That's how we like ours, but her ladyship and Mr. Cheynell might not think the same. There's some left that would do for their supper—dinner, I mean. And I made some shackles this morning."

"Shackles? I don't think I've heard of them before."

"Well, you might call it soup. We call it shackles, and I know her ladyship likes it in the evenings. We don't care about it much."

"Is there anything else? What about a sweet?"

"You'll find bottled fruit in the larder, and there's plenty of eggs. I'm afraid there isn't much else in the house today. But I'll see if I can't manage to bring a rabbit tomorrow—Tom's putting down some wires, now the month's turned. And you can leave the washing up to me. It's only the cooking I'm afraid of. Her ladyship has so many ideas, and of course we don't care for things like that."

By this time Rosamund had realized that We were not, as she had at first thought, Mrs. Field's family, but the agricultural population of Doleham Valley, whom Mrs. Field talked of as if they belonged to a separate aboriginal species. She seemed inclined to linger and impart more information, but Rosamund was anxious to have the kitchen to herself, so that she might do a little prospecting. She wanted to prowl around and see exactly what was in the storeroom. She would also like to try a few experiments with the stove.

"Thank you very much, Mrs. Field. That'll all do fine. And I really needn't keep you any longer. I'm sure you're anxious to get home."

"Thank you ma'am. I shall have time to make some tarts if I go now. We like jam tarts for tea."

She was gone, and Rosamund was free to explore. In the storeroom she found what she most hoped to find: a tin of curry powder. This had always been a favorite ingredient, as it could be trusted to disguise almost anything, and a pinch of it in the shackles and in what was left over of the stew, would make of them virtually a new creation. It is true that they would taste very much alike, but that did not seem to her a serious drawback.

She was soon busy with the stove, for her safest plan seemed to be to make the dinner now and heat it up again later. The kitchen was at the far end of the house, and what with this and her preoccupations, she scarcely noticed the footsteps and voices that might otherwise have disturbed her. Indeed, it was not till the footsteps were in the kitchen passage that she became aware that anything unusual was happening. She was bending over the stove, trying to understand the workings of the simmerstat when the door opened behind her and she heard Nicholas Cheynell's voice.

"They've found her." And her heart, tossing up on her determined hope to the summits of relief, danced, leaped, and sang. She seemed to taste all ecstasy in the comma of his sentence which ended: "and she's dead."

Then her heart fell and nearly choked her. Her hands and feet became cold lumps, and she leaned against the stove, thinking she would fall. He stood before her rigid, trembling, stricken.

"In Dolehamtail Wood, that's where she was. She must have been there all night for she's wet through—still. Oh, how am I to tell my poor wife?"

Rosamund found her tongue. "Oh, tell her just as you told me—that'll break it to her gently. You couldn't improve on it. Ha! Ha!"

Her laughter frightened her into silence, though it nearly broke out again as she looked at his astonished face.




Part V

1

Rosamund was at the telephone, but this time not in a cramped box a mile from home, nor in a house where many extensions might have meant at least one overhearing. She sat in luxury in Nicholas Cheynell's comfortable leather-covered armchair, the telephone at her elbow and no one in the house except herself and Lady Anne, who was in bed upstairs. But with all these advantages of ease and privacy, she was enjoying her call far less than many she had made in much harder conditions. Her heart beat painfully with dismay and apprehension, putting so mad a pulse into her wrist that the receiver shook against her ear.

"Do you really mean to tell me that you don't know where he's gone?"

"Well, he didn't say."

"But he must have said something you could go by. He didn't just scram."

"Oh, no—he's left his things behind. He means to come back, but he said he might be gone some little time."

"When did he decide to do this?"

"I think it was late last night."

"Do you think he's heard of another chance of a passage?"

"He may have. He didn't say."

"Doesn't seem to have talked much, does he?" Her tone was bitter.

"If he did, I didn't listen."

With half her mind and heart Rosamund wanted to put down the receiver, but with the other half she clutched it fiercely. There was a question she must ask—no, she couldn't ask it in its naked threat. She would ask another that enclosed and hid it.

"Is Pat about anywhere? I'd like to speak to her."

"I'm sorry—she's out."

"When will she be back?"

"I haven't the faintest."

Rosamund forced a laugh. "I hope she hasn't taken a run-out powder on you too."

"Oh, she wouldn't do that."

"Do you think she'll be in this evening?"

"Couldn't say."

I must stop this, thought Rosamund, or I'll go mad.

"Well," she said firmly, "when she comes in tell her to ring me. And please note—I'm not at Doleham Manor any more, or at Waters Farm. I'm staying with Lady Anne Cheynell, Doleham 44. Got that?"

"Righty-oh."

"Look here, I've got an urgent message for Bob. It's really important. I must get on to him. Wouldn't Archie know where he is?"

"He's out now, so I can't ask him, but I believe Bob said he'd let him know later in case there were any letters. My idea is that he doesn't know himself where he's going to stay."

"Do you think he's in London?"

"Might be. I wonder he didn't tell you where he was going. I thought you had a date with him last night."

"I couldn't keep it—I told him I mightn't be able to. And anyway, I wasn't well enough. I had to go to bed with a sick headache." She shuddered at her memories of the night.

"Sorry to hear that."

Something in her tone made Rosamund ask, "Haven't you heard about it all?"

"All what?"

"About Miss Bullen."

"Oh, her being lost and you being in such a flap about it until Bob told you he saw her walking up the High Street as large as life. Hasn't she turned up yet?"

Rosamund hesitated and said: "No."

"I expect you'll hear something soon."

"I expect I will, and so will you."

And she banged down the receiver.

For a moment she sat motionless, her head bowed into her hands. So this is what's happened. Bob has run out on me. The bastard! The dirty bastard! This is what's happened—right on top of the other. Oh, my poor Lesley. . . . No, I mustn't get silly again. The dirty bastard! To let me down just at this moment. . . . And I bet he's taken her with him—I could guess it from Jennifer's voice. He's gone off with her to London. Maybe he'd have taken me if I'd been there. But I wasn't, so he's taken her. She's got him now. I'll ring her up tonight and if she isn't there I'll know that she's with Bob. The swine! The dirty swine!

The tears were running through her fingers. Oh, Bob, Bob, come back, don't leave me—not now. I'm not ready for it yet. I want you. I can't live without you. That's what Lesley said about Charley Vine, and he hadn't even kissed her. Oh, Bob, Bob, I love you—I want you—come back soon, soon, soon. . . .

The doorbell rang.

At first she took no notice. She was trembling with grief and trying to check the tears that would bring back her headache. Then the bell rang again, and she remembered that there was no one but herself to answer it. She wished now that she had not suggested to Mrs. Field that she should go home and let her carry on, now that the cleaning was done. But she had wanted to have the place to herself for her phone call. She wondered who was at the door. Well, it didn't matter. Even if her face was tearstained, no one would know what had caused her tears.

She went to the door and opened it. On the step stood Ivory.



2

Anne Cheynell's fingers moved, slipping over the beads. Her lips moved too, only her heart was without a prayer. She felt like a vessel which has been emptied and from which not another drop can fall. Her eyes were closed against the sunshine beating on their lids, but in the darkness there was no refuge, no recollection. Her thoughts, like giants, rose up out of it and gathered round, clubbing her with questions. How guilty am I? What could I have done to prevent this happening? Why didn't I do it? Why did I make so many mistakes? Was it only because I am an old woman, belonging to a generation which is finished and a world that has foundered? Or do I still cling deliberately and selfishly to my own opinions and my own way of life?

She could not answer the giants. She was too tired. Her heart proclaimed loudly that none of this was doing it any good. It might have been a giant's club, banging her ribs and angrily demanding why it had not received the prescribed treatment: peace and rest. She tried to make a charm out of "peace and rest," to use against the giants and their clubs. She was surely falling asleep—asleep in the midst of her prayers. . . . No, it was hours since she had prayed, except with her lips and fingers. Her lips moved no longer now, and soon her fingers would be still. Peace and rest. . . . The darkness was like the morning light, sweetly ordering all things. The giants were gone and had taken away their clubs. Her heart no longer bruised her side, but made a prayer out of its gentle movements. Peace and rest . . . "Excuse me, Lady Anne; I'm sorry to disturb you."

"What is it?"

She shot up on her elbow, pale with sudden fright.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know you were asleep."

Mrs. Gailey stood inside the door. Even in that bewildered moment, Anne noticed the tearstains on her face.

"What is it?" she repeated, then added: "My dear."

"It's that man wants to see you—Ivory, you know—one of the workers at Waters Farm. He simply won't go away. I've tried to make him, but he says it's something to do with Miss Bullen, so I thought I'd better ask you. But I didn't know you were asleep."

"Oh, I'd only just dropped off for a moment. I wonder what he wants."

"He wouldn't tell me, but he was all het up about it."

"I'd better see him."

"He's loopy, if you ask me. Shall I bring him up here?"

Anne smiled. "I'm afraid you'll have to. I can't very well go down."

She was curious to see Ivory, who all through the summer had been much in her thoughts. On hearing from Lesley that one of her workers was a Catholic, she had offered to take him to Sunday Mass at Sandlake in her car. She understood that the offer had been gladly received, yet each time she called he had disappeared and was not to be found. In the end she had given up calling, and Nicholas had suggested that he might have very good reasons for avoiding Sandlake. She wondered if this visit would shed any light on the mystery.

Her first reaction on seeing him was almost of shock. His tall, gangling figure and abnormally pale face made her, as it had made others, think of a ghost. But it was a ghost obviously more terrified of those it saw than they were who saw it.

"Come in," she said reassuringly, "and sit down."

He came in, and she caught a whiff that made her heart use its club. But by this time she was growing angry with its rigid interpretation of the doctor's orders, and ignored its protests as Ivory sat down.

"What can I do for you?" she asked.

His movements were so slow that she was reminded of a slow-motion film, as with one huge hand he drew two coins out of his pocket, then crossed the room and put them on the table beside her bed.

"Five shillings? What's it for?"

He spoke nearly as slowly as he moved. "Her soul."

For a moment she was perplexed, then she understood. "A Mass stipend . . ."

"If you please, lady."

"But why give it to me? Do you want me to pass it on to the priest at Sandlake?"

"If you please, lady."

She considered a moment, then said, "It's very good and generous of you. But I think you should give it to him yourself."

He looked terrified. "I can't."

"Why not? You're a Catholic, aren't you?"

To her horror he looked as if he was going to cry. His face twisted into a web of lines but no tears fell.

"Of course I'll send him the money. I'm having a Mass said for her myself. It's only I thought it would be nice if you could see him. He might be able to help you."

He shook his head.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" she asked. "Besides this?" She remembered what Nicholas had said about him. Possibly he had fallen foul of the police. He did not look like a criminal, but there are many ways in which the mentally subnormal can get caught and minced up by the State machine. She tried to remember all that she had heard about him. It did not amount to much. Lesley had picked him up from the wayside and given him a job at Waters Farm. She had also heard that he was the only member of the community who really did any work. He looked inconceivably shabby, and she wondered what he had done with his wages.

As he did not answer her question she spoke again, chiefly with the object of keeping him in the room. She had a strong feeling that he needed help, and the religion which they so strangely shared called to her from him.

"I was so sorry," she said, "that you couldn't come with me to Mass when I called for you. I came several times, you know, but you weren't to be found."

She had not meant her voice to sound reproachful, but she could not regret it when she saw that she had provoked a reply.

"I'm sorry. You were very kind."

"Perhaps someday when I'm better and able to go to church again, you'll come."

He shook his head. "No, never. I'm not going to be here any more."

She was startled, then suddenly realized that he had more of his wits about him than she. The Waters Farm Settlement was ended. It was unlikely that Lesley had made any plans for the continuance of her scheme. The workers would be disbanded and the place either sold or reabsorbed in the Doleham estate.

"Perhaps you'll be able to get another job round here," she said. "My husband has often spoken of you as a good worker. I'm sure he would recommend you."

"No, never. I'm going right away. I don't want to stay here now she's gone."

"Have you decided where you'll go?"

"I shall walk—straight on."

She was distressed. "But you know, you can do much better than that. There's still a great shortage of labor. Any able-bodied man can get a job."

"But I can't." He looked at her fixedly for a moment and added, "They're after me."

"Who are after you?"

"The M.P.'s."

For a moment, while her mind floundered with Members of Parliament, she thought he was raving. Then suddenly she knew what he meant.

"You were in the army?"

He looked completely terrified and she hastened to reassure him, fearing he would bolt out of the room.

"Look here," she said, "you needn't be afraid to talk to me. I'm an old woman lying in bed, doing nothing and seeing nobody. I promise not to tell a soul."

He still sat staring at her like a petrified rabbit. She held up her rosary.

"You see what I'm holding. With this in my hand I promise not to tell anyone, not even my husband, whatever you choose to tell me now. But do please tell me. I'm sure you're in trouble, and I may be able to help you or put you in touch with someone who can. I know our dear Lesley would be glad if she knew I was trying to help you. She wouldn't like to think of you going away all alone like that."

She had said the right thing. His eyes ceased to bolt and moved timidly over her face.

"She didn't know," he said. "I didn't tell her. I wish I had."

"Perhaps if you tell me— Or shall I tell you?" Compassion overcame a natural shrinking, and she beckoned him to a chair beside the bed. "Come closer and I'll tell you." She dropped her voice. "You're a deserter."

The stink of him nearly overpowered her as he leaned toward her and whispered, "That's right."

"How long since you—left?"

"Years, lady."

"You've been in hiding all this time? How dreadful for you! There was an amnesty once, you know."

"Yes, but I was with some chaps . . . we lived in a bombed house . . . they wouldn't let me . . ."

"Do you think you could tell me why you left?"

"Yes, lady, it was on account of my wife."

"You're married!"

"Yes, lady, but she ran out. At least there was a chap in the Suffolks said he'd had her, and then I wrote back, and then Mrs. Corbet wrote and said she'd gone away. So I lit out after her, thinking I'd be back that night. But I heard she'd gone on to Marple, so I went after her there, but it wasn't so and I had to go to Manchester, and there some chaps got all my money, and of course by that time it was too late to go back. They'd have put me in the glasshouse."

"Did you never find her?"

"No." But he had evidently found his tongue. It ran on through half the towns in England, up and down the roads, in and out of lorries, with intervals in common lodginghouses and bombed ruins—a sad and desperate tale in which he was everybody's victim. Then had come the only human being who had not abused or exploited him. "She was good to me, from the very first. When I saw how grand the car was, I dropped my thumb; but she spoke to her shuvver and made him stop, and she told me to get in and sit beside her, and asked me where I was going and if I wanted a job. Then she took me to that lovely place and paid me for working there and always spoke as if I was a friend. I wish now I'd told her what I'm telling you. She was good, but now she's dead. I saw her lying after they had found her—all wet and her hair full of dead leaves. May—may the souls of the righteous . . ." The prayer sank into a hollow murmur in the palms of his hands.

Anne brushed some tears off her face.

"May I tell you," she said, "what I think she would like you to do now? I think she would like you to go to a police station or military depot and tell them what you've told me. Now don't be frightened—I'm not going to do anything—but if you went I'm sure you'd find that the authorities would take a very light view of what you've done. You didn't desert out of cowardice or selfishness, but for family reasons, for which I'm sure you'd have been granted compassionate leave if you'd asked for it. There's no need for you to lead a miserable, hunted life like this."

"Turner, the chap at Waters, said I'd get fourteen years."

"How outrageous! He must have been deliberately trying to mislead you. At the worst I don't suppose that you'd get more than a few weeks. And there isn't a glasshouse any more, you know."

He looked at her distrustfully, but she persevered:

"Now, listen. My husband's a magistrate. Won't you let me tell him when he comes in, and he'll arrange everything for you? I'm quite, quite sure that nothing terrible will happen. You may even be discharged at once. And think—think—then you'll be quite free, able to go where you like and take any job that suits you. You might even be able to find your wife again. Do let me tell my husband."

"No—you promised."

"And I'll keep my promise. Only it's so sad to see you like this, when it could all be ended satisfactorily."

"No, no—not that."

She saw that it had become a fixed idea with him. All those years of hiding and wandering, combined with lies and possibly the blackmail of the deserters and criminals who had been his associates, had forged it into the substance of his life. It was silly to think that she could free him from it in an hour's conversation. He must be given time and brought slowly to the realization that his fears were largely the shadows made by wicked men's hands, that he was a prisoner with the door open.

"I'm sorry," she said, "that you don't believe me. But I quite understand how you must feel. Perhaps you'll come and see me again before you go. I want you to think of me as a friend."

He said, "I'm going now. I called on my way out."

"You mean you're not going back at all to Waters Farm!"

Here was indeed a blow to any hopes she had.

"No, never no more. I don't want to be there now she's gone. I don't like those chaps. They took my money. Turner said he'd nark on me unless I gave him four pounds every week. But by doing overtime I've managed to save a bit."

"Oh, so you've got some money?" she said feebly.

"Yes. Five pound seven shillings and eightpence. It's my savings. I've paid you five bob for the priest."

"I'll give it to him. I promise. But I am sorry you're going off like this. Have—have you any idea where you're going first?"

But he would not tell her.

"Good-by," he said suddenly, standing up.

The interview seemed to have ended, though without bringing any conclusion. She could think of no excuse or reason to detain him. Besides, she was exhausted. She held out her hand.

"Good-by." She had meant to say: "I'll pray for you," but heard herself saying: "Pray for me."

He answered surprisingly: "I will," and went out.



3

"Sale," said Iris faintly.

"Yes'm."

"Haven't you got that call through yet?"

"No'm. It still says line engaged."

"But they have any number of lines and they can't all be engaged. I simply must get hold of them or they mayn't be able to send anyone in time for when we go back."

"When were you thinking of going'm?"

"You know quite well. Directly after the funeral. That'll probably be on Wednesday afternoon, so we'll leave here on Thursday morning; but I can't go back without a cook. Dear me, how terrible life is."

Iris was sitting in the little boudoir adjoining her bedroom. She was dressed for the intermediate state between bed and downstairs in a mauve silk negligee with a white Shetland scarf so fine that it floated like lace over her head and shoulders.

"When I think," she continued plaintively, "of the old days, when one had only to ring up Hunt's and she'd send round a first-class cook within the hour from her emergency list. And now we've rung up at least five offices and they've all got nobody. I simply must find a cook. Those wretched Ashplants are going at the end of this week, and Mr. Cheynell says that as I'm paying them weekly I can't stop them. Besides, I won't want to stay. I couldn't bear it. I hate this place now. I don't know how I can manage to live here till Thursday—with all the dreadful memories that I have."

Painful tears gathered and dropped into the hollows under her eyes. Sale watched her sympathetically, but comfort was not in her line. She offered instead a counterirritant.

"That person'm, you know, who used to work for poor Miss Lesley, she's staying with Lady Anne Cheynell now. They invited her to move there from the farm."

Iris flashed into alertness.

"How could they be so simple! What on earth did she do to work that?"

"I understand'm that she's been helping with the cooking now Lady Anne's so ill."

"Oh," said Iris with a smile, "that accounts for it. I always said she looked like a cook and that's what she really is, of course—not a secretary. If she's their cook she's in her proper place. But I hope she doesn't play them up the way she's played us all up here. That woman, Sale"—and her manner fell back into tragedy—"has broken up my home and spoiled my life."

"I'm sure I hope not'm."

"But she has—she has. If it wasn't for her, Miss Lesley would still be alive."

"I'm sure I hope not'm. At least, I mean—"

"I know what you mean, you old fool. But it's all quite plain. She encouraged Lesley to think of that impossible man. I'm sure that plot for getting him to dinner here and to the Red Cross Ball was hers entirely. And anyhow, if she hadn't been in the habit of taking sleeping tablets, Lesley wouldn't have taken them either. It would never have occurred to her to do such a thing, and she wouldn't have known how to get hold of them if it had. No, it's all that woman's fault that I've lost my lovely girl and have to spend my last years in loneliness."

The tears began to fall again, and again Sale promoted a diversion.

"What time are you expecting Mr. Cheynell'm?"

Iris looked at her watch.

"Oh, any time now. He said he'd come in on his way home—between twelve and one, he said it would be. Sale, you simply must get that call through before he comes. Go and have another try."

Sale disappeared and stayed away so long that Iris decided she must at last have made a connection. This proved to be the case.

"I got through this time," she said on her return, "and they've one person they could send, but she's never been in private service before. She was cook in a Church Army hostel."

"Oh, well, that probably means she's respectable, anyhow. Is she free?"

"Yes'm. She could come at once. But I hardly think she'd be up to your requirements'm."

"There's no good talking like that. I must have somebody, and it isn't as if I'd want a lot of cooking done. I shan't be entertaining again for a long time yet—only light, simple little meals—fish, omelets, and so on. I've no appetite now. Are you holding the line?"

"Yes'm."

"Then go and engage her. She'd better go in tomorrow, then Bowling can show her the ropes and she can be ready for us when we come."

Sale looked dubious, but did as she was told. When she came back she ushered in Nicholas Cheynell.



4

Nicholas had not seen Iris since Saturday evening, when he had called on her to break the news of Lesley's death, in phrases rehearsed with and largely chosen by his wife. He had left her in a mood more genuine than any he had seen her in for some time, a mood of horror and sorrow, in which she had sat stricken, face to face with the bare ribs of her life. He was no psychologist, but it was easy for him to see today at a first glance that this mood had passed. She held out to him a pale, blue-veined hand and said faintly, "Nicholas."

"How are you, my dear?"

"Oh, better . . . better. I'm up, you see." She smiled bravely. "I thought I'd better get into practice, considering I'll have to come downstairs tomorrow." She shuddered.

He sat down opposite her and wondered how she managed to look so ill when there was nothing the matter with her, while Anne, who had a great deal the matter with her, hardly looked ill at all.

"I saw Binney," he said, "and he was most sympathetic. You really haven't anything to be afraid of."

"Oh, but, Nicholas, it's all so—so—indescribably vulgar." Her shudder became a rigor that made a quivering haze of the Shetland scarf round her head. "An inquest—a jury—the horrible, curious, gaping public—all in this house. Thank God poor Tom didn't live to see it."

If he had lived, it wouldn't have happened, thought Nicholas. Aloud he said, "But we thought it would make things easier for you to have it in the house—much more private."

"I know, but they'll all come here—the public, the press. Oh, isn't there any way we can have it heard in camera?"

"No, I'm afraid there isn't. But look here, Iris, the people round here are pretty decent; they'll respect your feelings. I don't suppose there'll be any vulgar crowd of sight-seers—only the witnesses and perhaps a few others. And we're extremely lucky in having Binney for a coroner. He's a thoroughly decent chap and will make everything as easy for you as he possibly can. An inquest depends largely on the coroner as to how much of an ordeal it is for the relatives, and you can trust him to see that everything's done in the very best way."

"Will he be able to stop them bringing in a verdict of suicide?"

"I'm afraid not. I'm afraid that there's no doubt at all that she took her own life. The post-mortem found acute barbituric poisoning—about ten times the usual dose."

"But you know what Lesley was—so absent-minded. She might have taken it without thinking. Especially as I don't suppose that dreadful woman told her where to stop. Oh, I blame her for it all entirely. The guilt of Lesley's death is at her door. I hear you and Anne have taken her on as cook."

The switch was too sudden for him at first to follow.

"What? Who? Oh, Mrs. Gailey. Well, Anne suggested she should come to us while all this was going on, as she seemed so upset at not being on the phone. But we didn't mean her to cook—that was just to help us out."

"How could you, Nicholas? I think it's most disloyal to me after the way she's behaved."

"Anne was sorry for her, and she's quite a pleasant little woman. Besides, I think she was really devoted to Lesley."

Iris shut her eyes and smiled.

"She was quite knocked out," said Nicholas, "when she heard the news on Saturday—she had to go to bed. And all yesterday she was looking like a ghost."

Iris laughed merrily. "My good Nicholas, she's learned how to manage you, that's plain. She knows which side her bread is buttered. First it was Lesley—now it's you. I've known her longer than you have, and I tell you she's never thought of anyone but herself for one single moment. She may be a bit upset now because she knows it looks as if she'd killed Lesley—"

"My dear, you're talking nonsense."

"I don't mean literally, of course—I don't suppose she meant her to take an overdose; she was too good a milk cow to be got rid of like that. But she encouraged her to take the drug, and hadn't the wit to see how a dreamy girl like Lesley might easily overstep the limit. I tell you I'm convinced that Lesley didn't kill herself."

"Unfortunately, the evidence is against you."

"What evidence? An unhappy love affair? Pooh! Girls have them all the time and thrive on them."

"Not girls like Lesley."

Iris suddenly went back into her tragic role.

"Nicholas, I shall die—my heart will break—if it all has to be made public about her falling in love with that dreadful man. If only she'd killed herself on account of somebody eligible—but to die for love of a common farmer's son. Oh, Nicholas, I can't bear it. And I don't believe it."

"There's something else come out," he said, looking at her uneasily, "something else that supports the idea that she meant to take her own life."

"What's that?" she asked sharply. "What have you found out?"

"I was told it in Sandlake today. The police have discovered why she went there. She went to make her will."

"Her will! Why didn't Malcomson tell us? He must have known."

"She didn't go to Malcomson. She went to a new chap called Agnew in the Station Road. She must have chosen him deliberately because he wouldn't know her. He's been in the town only a few months, and though he says he's heard of Doleham Manor he didn't connect her name with it, especially as she gave her address as Waters Farm. It seems that she turned up on Friday afternoon and asked him to draw up the will and waited while it was typed out. Two of his clerks acted as witnesses. He went away for the weekend, so he didn't find out till this morning that the police were making inquiries."

"I'm surprised," said Iris, "that Lesley should have done a practical thing like that."

"Yes, she must have been quite determined that her property should go to the people she wanted to have it."

He looked at Iris, wondering if she knew that if Lesley had died intestate her property would have been her mother's. Iris at the same time was wondering if Lesley knew the same thing.

"Do you know who those people are?" she asked.

"Yes," said Nicholas reluctantly. "He told me. It's quite a short will."

"Then can't you tell me? Don't look so embarrassed, Nicholas. You needn't worry. I'm not expecting her to leave me anything."

Nicholas coughed, fidgeted, and turned red. The solicitor had told him, as he had told the police, of the only clause which had made Lesley's will stand out of the common ruck of wills: "To my mother I leave my forgiveness."

"Well—er," he said, "well—er—perhaps not."

"Oh, for goodness' sake, don't be mysterious. I suppose she's given all her money to charity."

"Well, more or less. I mean, she's left Waters Farm to those miserable tramps who are there now—divided it between them in equal shares. I should think the lawyers would make a fortune out of their quarrels."

"And what about her money? Who gets that?"

Nicholas fixed her agonizedly with a bulging blue eye. In a strangled voice he said, "Mrs. Gailey."

The Shetland scarf, which for a few minutes had been itself, changed suddenly into a cage of shuddering wires as Iris half rose out of her seat.

"Nicholas! It can't be true! She can't have done a thing like that!"

"She has indeed, and what's more, she's made her executor of the will."

Iris nearly screamed. "That proves it. Oh, I'm certain now! That woman killed her to get her money."

"Have you gone out of your mind?"

"But don't you see? It's all so plain—but you won't see. She taught Lesley to take drugs and then made her leave her the money and take an overdose. I thought all along it must be her doing, but couldn't understand why, as she was making such a lot out of her. But now, of course, it's all plain. She wanted the money."

Nicholas nearly choked. "Iris, you've taken leave of your senses. Do you seriously suggest that Mrs. Gailey ordered Lesley to go to Sandlake and make a will in her favor, and then when she came back crammed twenty barbital tablets down her throat and hauled her three and a half miles to Dolehamtail?"

Iris's face had taken on a look of mischievous obstinacy that reminded him of a naughty child. "She's quite capable of it."

"Don't talk nonsense."

"Well, I'll see if the police call it nonsense."

"You can't possibly tell a story like that to the police."

She looked at him innocently. "Can't I, Nicholas?"

He had the wit to answer her at her own level.

"I thought you wanted to avoid scandal and publicity. I thought you wanted to get things quickly over and then go away. If you tell the police a story like that, they won't believe it, but they'll have to investigate. You'll have them hanging round the place for weeks, the inquest will be adjourned, and the papers will be full of your private affairs."

"Well," she said sweetly, "one might be willing to endure all those things in a good cause. How does she cook?"

"Cook! Eh? Oh—not too badly—rather inclined to put curry into everything."

"Well, as long as it's only curry," said Iris thoughtfully. Then she added, "I've found a cook."

"You have?"

"Yes, and I'm going back to Bryanston Square on Thursday."

"Very wise move."

"And I think I shall sell this place."

Nicholas jumped. "What place? You can't sell the house—you've only got a life interest."

"But I can sell the land."

He cried out, "You mustn't do that, Iris—you mustn't do that."

"Why not? Now that there's no one to leave it to." She bent her shrouded head. "Unless," once more her manner changed, lighting up with malice, "unless I leave it to you, Nicholas."

He took no notice of that. "Iris, you can't sell. A good little estate like this . . . all the Doleham Manor farms . . . Poor Tom . . . I can't bear to think of it."

"This property is mine, Nicholas, not Tom's any longer. He left it to me absolutely, to do with as I liked. He must have known that one day I might want to sell."

"I'm sure he never dreamed of such a thing."

"Well, don't let's argue about poor Tom. I expect he took for granted that Lesley would have it after me. But now I have no heir—"

"You may still have one."

"My dear Nicholas!"

"Well, you know what I mean. Even if you died intestate, the property wouldn't go to the Crown. There's my sister's children—"

"Girls, aren't they?"

"Lesley was a girl. The point is that the place goes on."

"It would go on just as well if it were sold. And I can't see why you're so excited about it, Nicholas, now that you aren't the agent any longer."

He would have found it very difficult to explain even to himself.

"That, of course," she continued equably, "has influenced my decision to a certain extent."

"How? You can easily get another agent."

"Perhaps I can, but it would be an awful bore looking for one, and when I have found him he might not manage as well as—as I should like. I might lose money."

Her words showed Nicholas a firmer ground of persuasion.

"You'll certainly lose money if you sell—at whatever price. Even in these days the estate is bringing you in a much better income than you could get from invested capital. If you sell, you'll lose by it a lot."

"I've thought of that," she said, fixing him with an eye that was as bright and unfeeling as a bird's. "I'm getting much more per cent than I'd ever get from any safe investment; and as for ready money, I'll get all I want of that from the sale of Birdskitchen. I heard from Knight, Frank & Rutley this morning, and they're sending down a representative to view the place. I don't really want to sell more than one farm. But things being as they are, I think it would be better to get rid of everything and cut loose."

Nicholas gulped.

"If you hadn't resigned," she said, "I'd say that I'd better let this house furnished for a year or so—till I've got over things—and then carry on as we are now. As I've already told you, I don't want to sell."

A flush that darkened to crimson and then purple marked the struggle of his pride.

"I did say at the time," said Iris in a faraway voice, "that you were a perfect fool."

He knew that she wanted him to say: and so I was. But though he had thought it ever since, he would not say it. Instead he mumbled, "I felt strongly about the way you were treating poor old Vine."

"And I'm still treating him that way. I haven't changed my mind."

But I've changed mine—that's what she wanted him to say, and he wished he could, for Anne's sake. But he could not. For some moments they stared at each other, each waiting for the other to speak. Then suddenly Iris laughed.

"Nicholas, you are a perfect fool. Come on, tell me you never meant me to accept that resignation."

Her laugh had been as natural as her grief of yesterday. It warmed and melted something in him. His old-man's pride collapsed.

"Well," he said, "I was rather surprised."

"That's all right, then. We'll carry on. Will you see about the letting of this house or shall I?"

"I'll do it if you like."

"Thank you, Nicholas." A cough sounded outside the door. "That must be Sale with my lunch. You'd better get back to yours." Her voice sharpened. "Are you going to tell her about the will?"

"No, I shan't tell anyone but Anne—not till after the inquest. By that time we may know more exactly how much her legacy amounts to."

"But isn't it ten thousand pounds? That's what Tom left Lesley."

"My dear Iris, to the best of my belief Lesley has been spending the capital ever since she was twenty-one. I doubt if there'll be much more than three or four thousand pounds left of it now."

"Oh, indeed," said Iris, looking very pleased.

He went to the door, and she called after him.

"You'll be here in good time tomorrow, won't you? I want to talk to you again before the inquest. What time did you say it was to be?"

"Three o'clock. I'll be here by two. That suit you?"

"Yes, that'll do very well. Give my love to Anne. I'm afraid all this has been very bad for her, but at least she's got a cook out of it. Good-by, Nicholas."

He left her sitting very placidly, in happy expectation of her lunch. Baiting Nicholas had done her a lot of good.



5

The inquest went off smoothly. It had two dangerous moments, either of which might have blown it up into a vulgar sensation; but under the skillful handling of Dr. Binney, the Sandlake coroner, neither exploded, and the proceedings ended without any painful revelations. Nor were the shades of Doleham Manor polluted by an overlarge public attendance. Nicholas had been right in his assessment of the local attitude. There was, of course, a certain amount of curiosity, but it was held in check by a fundamental respect for grief. The fact, too, that the proceedings took place at the Manor gave them an additional air of privacy, which the main body of villagers and farmers were reluctant to violate.

In the library of her own house, Iris sat in a mourning cloud of gray chiffon and listened to a carefully edited reconstruction of the last hours of her daughter's life. In answer to the coroner's questions, she told in a trembling voice how Lesley had confided to her that she had fallen in love with a certain young man. She had been obliged to express her disapproval, but neither of them at the time knew that he was already engaged. No—Lesley had said nothing then about taking her life, but she had appeared greatly distressed. Iris too was distressed and sat down to a murmur of sympathy. One of the danger points of the inquest was passed.

Till she had given her evidence, Nicholas could not feel sure that she might not take some other line than that in which he had so carefully coached her, running off into diversions of her own, either against Charley Vine or more probably Rosamund Gailey. But, possibly because of the skillful questioning of a forewarned Dr. Binney, the latter was not even mentioned; and though she had given her reasons for objecting to the match with Charley Vine she had given them without rancor, and he stood up with none of his character already lost.

He certainly lost none of it in his own examination. He told the coroner that his engagement had been private—in fact, it was not actually formed until after his last meeting with Miss Bullen. He had been waiting for his situation to improve. (Nicholas wondered how many of those present knew about the negotiations over Birdskitchen.) Of course, if he had had any idea of Miss Bullen's feelings, he would have told her at once; but nothing in her words or manner suggested to him that she was in love. He had met her on only four occasions since his return from Germany. Two of these meetings had been to discuss farming matters, and in the course of them they had grown friendly enough for her to invite him to join her party for the Red Cross Ball at Sandlake. (Here Nicholas gazed nervously at Iris, who however remained quiescent.) The fourth meeting had taken place after the interview with her mother. She had asked him to come and see her, and when he realized the situation, he had immediately told her of his engagement. Yes—she certainly did appear very much upset, and he reproached himself for having been so slow in realizing how matters stood. But it had never entered his head . . . He sat down looking distressed, and the coroner spoke a few reassuring words, which did not seem to comfort him.

Nicholas was relieved. His prejudices had made him anxious for Charley Vine. He had never regarded his evidence as one of the dangerous points of the afternoon, but he had thought his conduct might provoke censure. He saw Charley much as his own father did, as a man who had stepped dangerously out of his sphere and provoked disastrous consequences. The fact that Dr. Binney obviously did not take the same view was a relief to both of them. Their eyes met across the crowded room.

Rosamund Gailey's evidence came next. She was unexpectedly voluble—indeed, so unlike the woman he had lunched with at Pookreed that he wondered if she could have been drinking. She had drunk nothing but water at lunch, but she had had to wait for an hour while he was talking to Iris and had said she would go and see the Ashplants. They might have given her something. . . . He remembered that one of Iris's complaints against Ashplant had been his spirits bill. Those spirits might be accountable for Mrs. Gailey's tripping tongue, to say nothing of the flush on her cheek and the boiled look in her eye.

Under the careful guidance of Dr. Binney, she told without mishap of those two last days at Waters Farm. She had known for some time about Miss Bullen's attachment to Mr. Vine; and having no idea that he was engaged, she had encouraged her to see him and explain her mother's attitude. She thought then, from what Miss Bullen had said, that he was aware of her feelings and, indeed, returned them. It was not till late that evening that she heard the details of the interview. Miss Bullen had seemed very unhappy, but said nothing to suggest she meant to take her life. As it appeared likely that she would be unable to sleep that night after all that had happened, the witness gave her two barbituric sleeping tablets, the same as those which had been prescribed for her and which she frequently took herself. Miss Bullen had then gone back to Doleham Manor.

The next day she had been aware at a very early hour of Miss Bullen's presence in her bedroom at Waters Farm. She was half asleep; and, as on looking round she could not see her, she had come to the conclusion that she was dreaming. For that reason she had taken no action until she discovered that her sleeping tablets were missing. Then she had gone at once to fetch Mr. Vine. Her employer's absence from the farm throughout the day had not seriously alarmed her, for she had been away most of the day before. She had always been fond of roaming about the country and had sometimes walked immense distances.

When she had given her evidence, Mrs. Gailey sat down looking for some reason extraordinarily pleased with herself, and then immediately burst into tears.

The second point of danger was the Sandlake lawyer's evidence. The fact that Lesley Bullen had visited Sandlake for the sole purpose of making her will was certainly important in view of her death so soon afterwards. But there could not be, so Nicholas thought, any necessity for the provisions of the will being made public. They could have no bearing in the case, but their disclosure might be embarrassing and lead to even greater embarrassments. Luckily, the coroner took a similar view and was exceedingly cautious in his examination of Mr. Agnew. The point for the jury was that here was a young woman who had never made a will before suddenly deciding to make one and going, moreover, to a solicitor to whom she was unknown, instead of to the firm which had always transacted the business of her family. She had also been in a hurry to have the matter completed, sitting in the waiting room while the will was typed out, though she had not taken it with her when she went away but had left it in Mr. Agnew's keeping.

After the solicitor came Sam Iden, a teamster at Weights Farm near Spelmonden, who had discovered the body lying among some brakes in Dolehamtail Wood. Finally, the doctor gave evidence as to the cause of death, and the inquiry was over.

The coroner summed up, but from him the relatives had nothing to fear. Nicholas already knew the line he was going to take. He gave his jury the picture of a young woman building out of dreams a love affair which had no connection with reality or the world in which she lived. Dreams were sometimes dangerous things, and waking from them might cause psychological disturbances that affected the balance of the dreamer's mind. He drew the parallel of a man wakened suddenly from sleep and being for a while confused and stumbling, without the full use of his faculties. It was, of course, for the jury to decide whether the quantity of barbituric poison found in the body could have been taken accidentally or had been taken in ignorance. But the immenseness of the overdose made both these suppositions unlikely. There was, moreover, the fact that the day before her death Miss Bullen had gone to Sandlake to make her will.

In and out of his careful summing up, of the smooth phrases, between the neatly ruled lines, wandered poor Lesley Bullen in her flapping straw sandals and skimpy cotton frock. Her tears were dry under the curtains of her hair, and her eyes were dark with a vision that hid the fields. From Doleham Manor to Waters Farm, then all the way to Sandlake, she rambled, unaware of the country she used to love, her mind shrunk to the pinpoint of the next action, the next step on her way out of the terrible world into which she had wakened. Then, from Sandlake back into the valley, back into the fields beside the river, knowing no longer now her own land from her neighbor's, Waters Farm from Reedbed or Lambpool or Sweetwillow—so on and on till exhaustion had made death easier and she must drop into the brakes and grope with the last effort of her will in her old, bulgy handbag for the stolen deliverance which had been so hard to swallow without water . . . the sound of running water in her ears . . . then no more sound.

No one saw her. They were too intent on the smooth phrases and the neatly ruled lines, too nervously watching in case a word should stab them with an accusation. Even Rosamund Gailey's tears had ceased.



6

She was at the telephone. This time she sat on Nicholas's desk, swinging her legs against it under her short, bunchy skirt—a juvenile attitude that brought out the fact that she had already begun to look old. This look was partly due to the western light, streaming over the flat, red face of the house and giving everything that swam in it a shadow so clear that it was almost another self. But it was also due to the lines of grief and care that the last few days had drawn—grief and care for which poor Lesley was not entirely to blame.

"Sandlake 252?"

"Yes. Is that you, Rosamund? I was wondering if you'd ring up."

The female voice sounded very much more cordial and alert than in earlier conversations. Rosamund gasped and felt the goose flesh rise.

"Have—have you any news?"

"Of Bob? No, I haven't, and don't expect to. It's your news I want to hear. How did your party go off this afternoon?"

Disappointment filled her eyes with tears and her heart with anger.

"Oh, it went off as it was meant to, of course. Everything was smoothed over and everyone had their feelings spared. No unkind references to young men who go about with one girl when they're engaged to another, or to old hags who make hell and drive their daughters to suicide."

"Was that the verdict? Suicide?"

"Yes—suicide while the balance of her mind was disturbed. I guessed it would be that."

"Then those people haven't got away with everything."

"They've got away with quite enough."

"And nobody blamed you?"

"Blamed me! How could they?"

"Well, at one time you were egging the whole thing on, weren't you?"

"I wasn't. I only helped her, as anyone would. Poor dear, she didn't know a thing. . . ." She choked. "The funeral's tomorrow."

"And what happens next?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean about the Waters Farm lot and about you. All that'll break up now, won't it? Did the lawyer say what she'd put in her will?"

"No, he didn't. He made out it was nothing remarkable. But afterwards Mr. Cheynell said something that gave me the idea that she might have left something to me."

"Really, now! That'll be nice for you, won't it?"

"Depends how much it is."

"Well, I don't know that you can expect much—you've only been with her three months. All the same, she must have known that if she killed herself she was putting you out of your job. What are you going to do next?"

Rosamund gulped. "I don't know. I can't very well stay on here much longer. I'll go back to Mother for a bit, I suppose. Then I'll look out for something else round here."

"Round here?"

"Yes. I'm not clearing out altogether, if that's what you mean."

"You must please yourself. Only I'd have thought there wasn't much doing in your line hereabouts."

"Any line's my line. I'm sure to find something. Archie might give me a job at your place. He must want somebody, now that Pat's gone."

She waited half anxiously, half angrily for the reaction to this. It came with a slap.

"Pat hasn't gone, as I've told you a dozen times. She's only away visiting her people, and anyhow the waitresses have to be under twenty-five."

"I don't want to be a waitress. I meant as bookkeeper or something like that."

"Done any bookkeeping?"

"No, but I'd soon pick it up."

"It isn't as easy as all that, and anyhow we've got old Jonesy. I can't think why you don't look out for somewhere in town. You'd get much more fun."

Rosamund said loftily, "I'm fond of these parts."

"So it seems, or you wouldn't want to go on being here after all that's happened."

Now what exactly does she mean by that? But I won't ask her.

"I've had some very happy times," she said. "I might open a teashop, or something. There's room for one in Doleham."

"Nearer Sandlake would be more convenient for you, wouldn't it? But I shouldn't think Miss Bullen would have left you enough money to do that."

"Maybe she's only left me one of her brooches," said Rosamund angrily. She was tired of the conversation which was telling her nothing she wanted to know. "I must ring off and see about getting supper. Good-by for now."

"By."

The two receivers clicked almost simultaneously.

But Rosamund did not get off the writing table. She sat on in the red sunshine, and the lines of grief and care darkened her face.



7

"My dear," said Anne to Iris, "I really must thank you for the way you've handed Nicholas back his job. I don't think he ever really meant to give it up, but he was in a state, as we all were."

The funeral was over, and the forgiving earth had given a bed to poor Lesley Bullen, who had loved it so well and abused it so shamefully. That bed was hidden now with flowers. When she closed her eyes, Iris could see them lying like a patchwork quilt under the soft September sun—expensive wreaths from the florists of Sandlake and Tunbridge Wells, gardeners' achievements from the greenhouses of Manors, Halls, and Places, and humbler sheaves from the cottages and farms. She saw under her closed lids only two things that offended her. One was a sheaf of lilies with a card attached: "Major C. H. Vine." The rank had been crossed out, but the fact remained that it was a visiting card, and engraved, not printed in the only permissible style for inferiors. What are we coming to? Or in other words, what will become of us?

The other offense was a wreath that proclaimed itself the spoils of her own garden and the work of her own gardener. The card attached, being plain, offended only in its inscription: "In loving memory of my dearest Lesley from her friend Rosamund Gailey." Iris calculated that this tribute had been worded expressly to annoy her and longed for an opportunity to tear it off. But none had arisen and she had been obliged to take comfort in the thought that it would probably rain tonight and reduce the whole thing to a smudge.

After the funeral, Nicholas Cheynell had taken Mrs. Gailey with him to Waters Farm, where Mr. Agnew was to read the will; and Iris had driven over to Pookreed to say good-by to Anne. "I never wanted him to go," she said, "and I didn't think he wanted to either; but I wasn't going to let him bully me."

"I quite understand that. But it really would have been awful for us if you hadn't given him the chance to get out of it. That's why I'm so grateful. At his age he'd never have got another job, at least not another one at anything like the money. Things are pretty tight with us even as we are, and I don't know what we should have done if you'd kept him to his word."

"I told him at the time that he was a perfect fool."

"Yes," said Anne, with a twinkle in her eye. "I pinned my hopes on that. When he showed me your note I felt better. It's difficult to say why, but somehow I felt you wouldn't have written in that way if you'd really thought he meant what he said."

"I don't know what I really thought," said Iris. "I was very much upset. And he didn't make things any easier for me. But don't let's talk about all that. He's told you, I suppose, that I'm thinking of letting the house furnished for a year."

"He didn't say for how long."

"Well, I think a year's about right. It'll give me a chance to get over things, and I'll be out of mourning too at the end of it. Not that people bother much about that now, but I should feel more free. I could give some little parties. . . . Entertaining's getting easier. Everyone says that, though of course things aren't as they used to be. I wonder if garden parties will come in again—the real old-fashioned sort that you hired waiters for. Then I shouldn't be dependent on my own staff. But if I can get decent servants I shall give some dinners—quite small affairs, not more than a dozen people, but they used to be rather fun."

Anne listened to her in a kind of horrified fascination. It almost seemed as if, under all the mourning veils, Lesley's death was a relief—no awkward, shambling figure who would not mix with her guests, who either sat in silence or held forth on dubious and unpleasant themes, who managed to look badly dressed in the latest model of a Paris house, who never seemed to like well-bred, well-behaved people, but attached herself only to social misfits. Iris was rid of the skeleton at her feasts and could look forward once again to a pleasant social life at Doleham. Anne checked her bitterness with the thought that it would be a good thing for the place and the property if she came down more often.

She was wondering what to say about it all when her husband saved her the trouble by coming into the room.

"Hullo, dear. How quick you've been!"

"Well, it wasn't a long job. Glad to see you, Iris."

"I told you I was coming to say good-by to Anne. How did you get on at Waters Farm? Are the happy beneficiaries still jumping for joy?"

"One of 'em's telephoning downstairs. I don't know about the others. What a gang! Would you believe it, but those chaps were grumbling because I told them they couldn't get their wages out of the estate. They seemed to think they ought to get their five pounds a week, or whatever it is they don't earn, until the place is sold and they can lay their hands on the price money."

"How much do you think it will fetch?" asked Iris, no doubt with Birdskitchen in mind.

"If it had been in good heart, I'd have said six or seven thousand, but no one's going to pay that for it as it is now. I told them they'd better get to work and tidy it up for their own sakes."

"I do hope," said Anne, "that poor Ivory will be found soon and get his share."

"Oh, we'll find him sure enough," said Nicholas. "That fellow Turner gave me some stuff about him that will help a lot. I reckon he did it out of spite, but it'll make him much easier to trace. Would it surprise you, my dear, to know that he's a deserter on the run?"

"Really!" exclaimed Anne.

"Yes—ever since '42, it seems. And his name isn't Ivory at all. It's Poskitt—Joseph Poskitt."

"That ought to make him much easier to find."

"It will. The fellow told me before he knew Ivory might be in for a good thing. I don't know exactly what the army has against him, but I've no doubt he'll face it for the sake of a thousand pounds or whatever he gets out of this."

"And how much does Mrs. Gailey get?" asked Anne. "Have you found out what her share amounts to?"

"Just three thousand—that's all. Poor Lesley has been chucking her capital away ever since she first got control of it—Waters Farm or gifts to crackbrained schemes like it. Malcomson says he's remonstrated with her more than once."

"I'm sorry for Mrs. Gailey," said Anne. "The full amount would have made her independent, while this can only be a nest egg. Or perhaps she could buy a small business. . . . Oh, don't go yet, Iris."

"I must. I've still a lot of packing to do."

"Surely Sale will see to that. Do stay and have some tea. Nicholas, please run down and ask Mrs. Gailey, if she'll be kind enough to make some tea for us."

Iris was standing up.

"Not on my account," she said firmly. "And I do think, Anne, you might have the tact not to confront me with a woman whom for very good reasons I've turned out of my own house."

"I'd no intention of confronting you with her. I was only going to ask her to make tea."

"Well, anyhow, you're confronting me with the fact that you've taken her in when I've turned her out."

"Only just for these few days—she's leaving tomorrow. . . . I was sorry for her. And she was very fond of Lesley, you know."

"I can't help knowing that you both think so, for you never stop telling me. All I can say is that she had a queer way of showing it. If it wasn't for her, the poor girl would be alive today."

"Oh, Iris," said Anne.

"If you go about talking like that," said Nicholas, "she could have you up for slander."

"Yes, I suppose she could afford that now. . . . Well, whatever I don't say makes no difference to what I think."

Nicholas turned red with suppressed argument, but Anne was trying not to laugh.

"Never mind, Iris. Only do stay and have tea with us. It's so long since you've been here, and goodness knows when we shall meet again. Mrs. Gailey needn't even bring the tea. Nicholas will do that."

But Iris was still having her fun with Mrs. Gailey.

"I think you're two very brave people—to drink tea made by that woman. I'm not brave enough, and besides I really must go. Sale's sure to leave half my things behind if I don't stand over her."

"Well, if you must . . ."

"Perhaps we'll meet in town. Do promise you'll come and see me next time you're up. And Nicholas, please remember that man is coming down tomorrow from Knight, Frank & Rutley. I'm relying on you to deal with him and show him over the place—both the places, one to let and the other for sale, the Manor and Birdskitchen."

"I'll see to it," said Nicholas gruffly, not particularly liking the first duties of his recovered job.

Iris stooped over Anne and kissed her. "Get well quickly."

She seemed almost in high spirits as she left the room.



8

Rosamund was telephoning. If Iris in her damnation of her had inclined to theological conceptions, she would have pictured her sitting in hell throughout eternity at a red-hot telephone, a fiery receiver at her ear, listening through the ages of the ages for a voice that did not come.

There she sat now in the hell of Nicholas's comfortable study, grasping the receiver in an agony which was different only in kind from the pain of fire, while a female voice that she seemed already to have been listening to for a hundred years, quacked out her loss.

". . . Nobody's heard—nobody's had a line."

"But as he's left his things behind, he must be coming back."

"Oh, yes—he'll be back some day."

"Is Pat back yet?"

"Not yet."

"Do you usually allow people off for so long?"

"If there's illness at home we do."

"You never said her people were ill."

"I don't know that they are."

She had lost her pride. She could not go away tomorrow leaving things like this. Yet in her heart she knew it was the best—the only—way to go. Why couldn't she burn her boats?

"Look here," she said. "I'm going away tomorrow—back to London. I'm not sure how long I shall stay." Any sensible person, she knew, would leave it at that, but she went on: "If he wants to phone me, he can always get me on Paddington 0622. We haven't got a phone ourselves, but that number belongs to friends who'll call me in."

"Righty-oh."

"It's urgent that he should call me," she persisted. "I must talk to him about what I mean to do when I come back here."

"Yeah."

"You know I've been left some money?"

"You said you expected something. I'd meant to ask you. I hope you're satisfied."

"You bet I am. She's left me everything."

There was a startled silence, then a loud: "Cor! You don't say!"

Rosamund seized her chance.

"Yes, she said it was in gratitude for all I'd done for her. The lawyer read it out. 'To my dear friend Rosamund Gailey,' it went, 'in gratitude for all she has done for me.' And she's made me her executor. I've complete control. It was a grand will. There was a smack for the old hag too: 'To my mother I leave my forgiveness'—just like that."

"I don't suppose her mother needs any more money. But, I say, Rosamund—what a piece of luck for you! How much is it? She was rich, wasn't she?"

Rosamund had been given back her pride.

"I don't know the exact sum yet," she said loftily. "There'll be death duties to pay out, of course. But she told me once that her father left her ten thousand pounds."

"Well, I never heard of such luck. Have you any idea what you're going to do with it?"

"I haven't really thought."

"Ten thousand pounds! You could buy a mink coat and a ruby and diamond necklace—you could buy a business—you could go round the world."

"I can help my poor old mother," said Rosamund smugly.

"Luck for her too. Does she know about it yet?"

"No. I'm going to tell her when I get home tomorrow." Her voice lost its superior tone. "Have you written down that number?"

"No, I haven't. Pad. 0644, wasn't it?"

"No—0622—do get it right. The name's Blenker—E. J. Blenker—if you forget and he wants to look it up."

"Righty-oh." Jennifer's voice had acquired the tone that Rosamund's had lost.

"If by any chance he comes home before lunch tomorrow, I'm still here—Doleham 44. I'm not going till the afternoon."

"I see."

"Now I really must ring off." But her hand was still clutching the receiver when a click sounded at the other end.

For some minutes she sat beside the telephone and faced her despair. Her big moment had burst like a bubble. She had lost even the memory of its colors in the darkness that enclosed her now. Bob had left her flat—that was plain. He might come back to Sandlake, but it would not be for her. She did not think he had deliberately thrown her over, but she had not been with him when the scheme or hope that took him away had presented itself, so he had taken a girl who happened to be there. Lesley Bullen had left her all the money that she had, but she had robbed her of something no money could buy. Three thousand pounds would not repay her for the loss of Bob—even the whole ten thousand would not have done that.

Oh, Lesley, you little knew the harm you were doing me. You thought your death would help me, make me rich, instead of which it's made me a beggar. I can hardly forgive you. But for you I'd have been with Bob on Saturday night and would have gone away with him on Sunday. Pat wouldn't have had a chance if I'd been there—or would she?

She moved uneasily. This was not the first time she had been jealous. . . . There had been unexplained absences, broken dates . . . possibly all these last weeks he had been two-timing her. Pat was only a common little waitress. But she was young . . . she had no crow's-feet at the corners of her eyes, no little veins to be hidden by make-up on her cheeks, no sagging outlines of chin and jaw, no fortieth birthday waiting for her three months ahead. Anyway, Pat had him now, so Pat would keep him. She was a hard little piece—she wouldn't care about him being another woman's property. She would hold what she held.

But I shan't make it easy—for her or for him. I won't be treated like this. It was he who made all the moves at first, and now he can't drop me just because another woman's easier to go about with. He did love me once—he really did. I'm going away, but I'll come back. I shall stay at the Sandlake hotel—I can afford it now—and hire a car and look for something to put my money into. I might buy a share in a business with three thousand pounds. . . . But I don't want to tie myself down here in case he goes off for good. I expect he will soon. I hate the country. I'm a fool if I come back. Why can't I cut loose now that I've got the chance? Why haven't I any pride?



9

Anne had seen very little of Rosamund during her stay at Pookreed. The pressure and confusion of outside events, her sessions at the telephone, her struggles in the kitchen, to say nothing of Anne's own need for sleep and rest, had kept them apart almost till the moment of leave-taking. From one angle, she did not mind. She had never particularly liked Mrs. Gailey—only felt sorry for her and thought that Iris was treating her badly. But as she lay alone with her thoughts, grateful for the little woman's help in the house, eating the meals she cooked and brought to her bedside, she realized how little she really knew her, and that perhaps if she knew her better she would like her more. She had only Iris's complaints and Lesley's uncertain information on which to build. Her own observation told her little. Mrs. Gailey had always worn a determined mask of brightness, which had only occasionally and recently slipped aside to reveal what Anne recognized as raw and naked misery. When discussing her with Nicholas or Iris, she chose to put down what she saw to grief for Lesley, but she did not herself think that accounted for more than part of it. She remembered her at the dance with Bob Hightower, and wondered if that affair had collapsed, as of its nature it was bound to do. The poor little thing was always telephoning . . . and she sometimes came into the room with quite a frantic look in her eyes. Anne did not wish to pry, but she could not bear the thought of so much sorrow being borne by a being so mentally and spiritually unprovided. She felt that she could not let her go away without at least trying to infuse a little comfort. It was a courtesy that was owing, too. She had not invited her to stay in her house only that she should spend her time cooking. She would ask her to come and sit with her for a short time, so that they could have a chat before she went away.

Both the Cheynells and Rosamund herself had agreed that it would be wiser for her to leave in the afternoon. Iris was going by the morning train, and there was no question but that Doleham Valley station would be too small to hold them both. Sworn enemies might safely take the same train from Victoria or Cannon Street or even Sandlake, but the single-line traffic of Doleham Valley, with its sixty-foot platform and the shared ministrations of old Chaffage, required at least those outward appearances of civility which both ladies had now discarded.

Rosamund tried to convince herself that her readiness to wait till the afternoon was not due to the hope that Bob Hightower might ring her up during the morning. Indeed, that hope was canceled by the fear that she herself would be unable to resist one more chance to use the telephone. She busied herself in the kitchen with a view to leaving some sort of a meal to be heated up in the evening, when Mrs. Field had promised to return; but Nicholas's study had remained empty ever since his departure for Birdskitchen, where he was to meet the agents' representative, and she could hardly resist the urge to go in and burn herself again at that fire.

It was therefore a relief when Rosie Field ran down from her sweeping and dusting to tell her that Lady Anne hoped she would come up and see her when she had a minute to spare. She put down her wooden spoon and prepared to go at once, for the sooner she was out of reach of the telephone the better. She had already begun to build up a legend of pride to take back to London, and did not want to do anything to make it more difficult for her to believe in it herself. She was going back to her mother, to Sylvia Dunning and her other friends, as the heroine of a drama, the provider of sensation, the heiress of a large sum of money. No one would know how battered she really was. The greatest comfort of her life at present was the knowledge that none of her friends knew anything about her and Bob Hightower. Her mother had met him, of course, but the teeth of her curiosity had been drawn; and as for Sylvia and the rest, they had not even heard her mention his name. If she persevered, in time she too might be able to shape her memories without him.

To her legend was now to be added a cosy chat with a titled lady. There had been moments when she had regretted that a fatal desire to ingratiate herself had resulted in her spending so much time in the kitchen. Mother and Sylvia must never know how much it had been. Now she would acquire material for a more flattering account of her stay at Pookreed. As the picture of herself in the armchair by the fire in Anne Cheynell's bedroom was multiplied by the looking glasses of wardrobe and dressing table into an unending vista, so the cunning little mirrors of her thoughts would make a sequence of this single occasion.

She was always so friendly . . . she always invited me to smoke—said it didn't affect her, but of course I was careful. . . . She's charming (let's forget I ever said she was dull) . . . always so interested . . . I found her very easy to talk to . . . we really had some most amusing times together . . . witty, you know . . . her sort often are . . . Lord Somebody's daughter (I must look her up) . . . that's why she's called Lady Anne, though he's only a Mister. . . . . Not nearly so nice as she is, I didn't think, though of course I didn't know him so well . . . she and I became quite friends.

Thus the cunning little mirrors flashed their images for a few minutes. Then she began to listen to what Anne was really saying. "I do feel ashamed, Mrs. Gailey, of having accepted so much kindness from you. I invited you here so that you shouldn't be alone while we were all so anxious, but I never dreamed of asking you to do more than take care of your own room as we're shorthanded. The cooking was your generous thought entirely."

Rosamund rather surprised herself by saying, "I'm afraid I'm not much of a cook."

"Oh, you mustn't think that. We've enjoyed our meals immensely, and it's been such a comfort to me to know that Nicholas was being so well looked after."

"I hope you'll be able to manage when I'm gone."

"Oh, yes, we shall manage, though of course we shall miss you. Mrs. Field has a cousin who is able to come here and help us for a week. Then I hope to be able to get hold of somebody—for a time at least. I don't mean to spend the rest of my life in idleness, but the doctor says I must take things easy for the present."

"Would you like me to go to a registry office for you in London?"

"Well, that would be very kind of you. But I don't want you to go running round on my account—I'm still able to write letters. I expect you'll find you have lots of things to see to when you get home. Lesley told me you have a little boy."

If Lesley had told her that she had probably told her everything, so there was no need to pretend that Michael was like other children. This made it much easier to talk about him.

Lady Anne was interested. She asked questions about his school and made a few suggestions. She even told Rosamund about one or two children she herself had known, children of her friends who were not quite like others, thus removing the stigma of the shameful and unnatural which had marked similar discussions in the past. Rosamund's thoughts harked back to an incident she had almost forgotten—something that had happened when she was at the secretarial college, a dreadful occasion when she had discovered that there were lice in her hair. It was during the first world war and she had traveled in buses and trains with men just out of the trenches—certainly it was no fault of her own. But she had been overwhelmed with shame, not daring to tell anyone of her discovery, shrinking like a leper from her fellow students until her misery and anxiety had become too much for her and had driven her to confide in a girl a good deal older than herself who had shown her several little kindnesses. Then she had been filled with horror at what she had done, for this girl was in much better circumstances than she was and came from a prosperous home. What would she think of her now? Back into her heart, as she listened to Lady Anne, came that tide of relief which had surged over her when the other had laughed and said, "You poor thing! I know exactly what you feel, for the same thing happened to me six months ago. You must let me take you round to my hairdresser and she'll do for you what she did for me. But don't let it worry you—it's the fortune of war, one of the troubles we share with the troops."

It was queer that this memory, which for years she had vigorously repressed, should come up now, with all its emphasis transferred from shame to grace. Lady Anne talked as if in some ways Michael was a privileged being.

"These children always seem so happy. Those I've known have often made me feel that they were happier than others who had grown up in the usual way. It seems as if they were allowed to keep something that ordinary people have to give up. I can't feel sorry for them in the same way I feel sorry for their parents."

"Michael always seems happy when I see him, and of course he's got a good home with Mother. Someone—a friend—once told me he'd be just as happy in an institution. What do you think?"

"My friend had to put her little girl into an institution because of the other children, and she always seemed perfectly happy. But if your mother's able to provide him with a home, that seems the best thing in your case."

"Yes, but Mother's getting old . . . she mightn't always . . . and I shouldn't myself feel equal to looking after him. It's funny, but she doesn't seem to mind in the way I do."

"I can understand that. But if you did have to send him away I don't think you need worry. He might be unsettled for a day or two, but I'm pretty sure he'd soon forget your mother and attach himself to another person. That's where he's lucky—he hasn't got to learn, like you and me, to do without someone he loves."

"That's true," said Rosamund, and sobbed.

Anne's eyes filled with tears. She thought she saw now into one of those other griefs that piled on the death of Lesley to make an unbearable load. Perhaps it was the only other grief—perhaps she had wronged Mrs. Gailey in thinking she was fretting after Hightower. She certainly had enough without that to account for the haunted look in her eyes. Poor little woman, who had only a wound to show where other women showed their pride. For in spite of all she had said in comfort, she still felt that she would rather have her memories of the loving, intelligent little chap who had died more than thirty years ago than have kept him all these years untouched by them, shut up like Michael in a world too small even for those who loved him to enter.

"I hope," she said, as Mrs. Gailey blew her nose and tried to pretend she had not also wiped her eyes, "I hope that what Lesley left will be some help to you over this—that you won't have to work so hard."

"Oh, yes, it will. I'm not quite sure yet what I mean to do with it. I thought perhaps I might be able to buy a share in a business."

"Well, if you do, be sure to get good advice. You mustn't risk losing it or any part of it. I wish for your sake that our dear Lesley hadn't been quite so careless over money matters. If only there'd been what she probably thought there was, you might have invested it and lived comfortably on the income. Now I'm afraid it can't be more than a help."

Rosamund said, "You don't mind my having it? I mean, you aren't offended because she left it to me and not to her relations?"

"My dear, no! My husband and I are old people—much better that somebody younger should have it. I can't, of course, approve of the way she's treated her mother, but Mrs. Winrow is very well off and certainly doesn't need to have any money left her. No, I'm very glad it's gone to you, because it really will be useful and because I think you deserve something for having been such a good friend to her. She was very fond of you, and much happier with you than I've ever seen her with anybody. I've always wanted to tell you this."

Rosamund looked down, for the tears were pricking her eyes again.

"I—I don't know," she said awkwardly, "that I've—I've really done her much good."

"Well, she evidently thought so, and I only wish she had done all she meant to. Have you thought at all what sort of business you would like to take a share in?"

Rosamund answered at random, for she was thinking.

She had been sitting nearly an hour with Lady Anne, and for most of the time they had talked about things she found painful and tried to avoid even in her thoughts. Michael, Lesley . . . she thought of them both as little as possible and talked of them not at all. Yet now, as she had talked about them, a sort of tranquility had settled on them, wrapping the sharp edges of her thoughts so that they no longer wounded her. As for her tears, they had washed some painful grit away. She sat and looked round the peaceful, faded room, and a strange reluctance seized her—reluctance to leave it and the human being who had restored her memories to grace. It almost seemed that if she sat on here long enough even her memories of Bob Hightower might change and her thoughts of him drop their knives. . . . Suppose—suppose she—

"Look here, Lady Anne—I've got a suggestion to make."

Her own voice startled her after so much thinking, and Lady Anne looked rather startled too, for it had loudly interrupted something she was saying—Rosamund never knew what.

"Suppose," she continued, "I came back here after I've settled things at home—came back to cook for you. Then you wouldn't have to hunt for a cook, and I could carry on till you were quite well again."

"My dear . . ." For a moment Anne hesitated—she was totally unprepared for this. "I think it would be an excellent arrangement in lots of ways—for me—but I doubt if it would work out very well for you. You see, my trouble is I can't afford a cook at the wages they're asking now. I must get hold of somebody at whatever price for the next fortnight or three weeks, but after that, when I'm not in bed all day, Nicholas and I will manage with Mrs. Field."

"But it's just that I could save you from—and I'd like it so much. I shouldn't ask for a cook's full wages, because I'm not really experienced, and you see I've got my own money now."

"You mustn't start breaking into your capital—that would never do."

"No, but I've got it at the back of me, and for the future. If you gave me two pounds a week, that would meet all my personal expenses"—in a place like this I might be able to do without gin—"and still leave a bit to send to Mother."

Anne said nothing for a few moments; her mind was divided. Mrs. Gailey's offer was in many ways a godsend. It would allow her to carry out fully her doctor's orders and lead a completely lazy life for the next six months; it would relieve Mrs. Field, who stood almost in as great a need of rest as she did; and it would save her the trouble and expense of engaging a costly and possibly incompetent stranger. Mrs. Gailey did not cook well, but she was no fool and would doubtless improve, especially when Anne felt equal to coaching her a little. On the other side of the scale was the fact that she still did not like her very much and that Nicholas did not like her at all, and that she would probably find it very dull to live with two conventional old people (a mind-picture of her at the Sandlake ball would intrude itself here) and observe the routine of bygone days to which they still clung.

"My dear," she said, "you'd be dreadfully bored."

"Oh, no, I shouldn't. I enjoy cooking and I like being here with you and Mr. Cheynell. Do you know that in spite of all the dreadful things that have happened since I came, I've been happier here than I ever was at the Manor?"

Anne did not believe her, but she was aware of a substratum of truth underlying her words. Besides, it was obvious that, anyway at the moment, she did most desperately want to come.

"All this is exceedingly good of you, if you really don't mind our dullness and the way we live—"

"Indeed I don't. I like it. Do let me come."

"Well, shall we try it for a few weeks?"

"That's right. I'll come back here when I've had a week at Mother's. Will that suit you?"

"It will suit me beautifully. Mrs. Field's cousin can come for the week you're away, and I shan't have to hunt round for anyone else. It really is good of you, Mrs. Gailey, and you may be sure that my husband and I will do everything we can to make you comfortable."

She was now beginning to see the arrangement entirely as a blessing, and entered into its discussion almost as eagerly as Mrs. Gailey herself.



10

Hardly had Rosamund left the room to prepare lunch than Nicholas came in. He was in excellent spirits, for not only was the ordeal of showing Birdskitchen to the London agents successfully over, but their representative had agreed with him that it was most unlikely that Iris would ever get the fancy price she expected.

"He says you get that only when the house is the temptation, and of course the house at Birdskitchen's the worst part of it all. The land is in good heart and the lodges are in good order, but the house would want thousands spending on it to make it the sort of place that sort of person would want, and no one's going to do that on top of an enormous purchase price. I've told her so myself a dozen times, and now at last she'll have to believe me. This feller says she'll be lucky if she gets six thousand, which is the last price old Vine offered. He's going to ask that, but he doubts if it'll fetch more than five. She'll have dropped a thousand through her silliness and obstinacy."

He rubbed his hands and beamed into the sunshine like another sun.

"Do you think, then," suggested Anne, "that if old Vine repeated his offer there might be a chance for him now?"

"I'll tell you this," said Nicholas. "There's a bigger chance of her accepting the offer than of his making it."

"But she's going to be away for at least a year. Wouldn't it be worth pocketing his pride? I can't bear to think of those old people having to leave their home, and it isn't as if they need ever meet her, even when she is back."

"You don't understand, my dear," said Nicholas gruffly.

Perhaps she didn't—perhaps she understood pity more easily than pride. She said nothing.

"He's heard of quite a good place near Maidstone," continued Nicholas. "Sinden told him about it, and I've made some inquiries just to help him along. It's a two-hundred-acre farm about three miles out, and there's a decent small house and in addition a cottage which the young couple could have. That would be better for them than living with the old people. Then, one day, when old Harry's had enough and retired, and the grandchildren get too many for the cottage, they can change over."

"It sounds a very good arrangement."

"I'm not sure that it isn't better than their staying where they are. That house would have been very difficult to make comfortable for two families. But I shall miss old Vine."

Anne wanted to say something about how much she liked Charley, but remembered it was a subject on which she and Nicholas had nearly quarreled once. Instead she asked:

"What about the Manor? Does the agent think he'll get a good let for that?"

"Oh, yes, I think so. There aren't any difficulties there. I'd have asked him to have a look at Waters too, but nothing can be done about that till we've found Ivory. Those chaps will just have to wait."

Here they were interrupted by the entrance of Rosamund with Anne's lunch on a tray. It was arranged with particular care on a lace-edged cloth, with a posy of flowers in a little vase beside the plate.

"My dear, how charming that looks! And fish cakes—how delicious!"

"I hope they're all right. I've got a chop for you, Mr. Cheynell. It isn't quite ready. I'll ring the bell when it is."

She smiled brightly and went out. It was not till she had shut the door that Anne told Nicholas of the arrangement she had just made with her, for she was not quite sure of his reactions.

"It really will be a godsend, Nick. Mrs. Field's cousin can't stay more than a week, and after that we should have had to get somebody terribly expensive, if we could have got anybody at all. Mrs. Gailey is asking only two pounds, which is really much too little, but as she's not very experienced and as I may be able to show her quite a lot, I hope it's not very mean of me to accept her offer."

"How long is she going to stay?" asked Nicholas in a flat voice.

"Till I'm quite well. The doctor says I'll never get really well unless I do absolutely nothing for six months. This'll give me my chance, which I must say, darling, I was afraid I might never get as things are. We needn't have her on the top of us. I can turn the yellow spare room into a little sitting room for her and she can be quite independent. She has friends round here, you know."

"Yes—Bob Hightower," said Nicholas lugubriously.

"I have an idea that's fizzled out. I'm not sure, but various signs point in that direction."

"I'm sure I hope you're right. I don't want that scallywag hanging round the place."

"Oh, he won't do that, whatever the situation is. She's got some sense. Poor little thing! Nick, I feel we may be able to be some help to her as well as she to us. She's had such a hard life, first with that dreadful husband who lived on her and made her work for him, and then with this mentally defective child she's had to work for—all without any special training or abilities. I really do feel sorry for her."

Nicholas said, "You're talking like Lesley."

"Yes, I suppose I am. Poor, darling Lesley . . . That's another thing, dear—we may be able to help her about that money. She doesn't seem yet to have planned much what she's going to do with it. You may be able to give her some good advice."

"I'm sure I don't know what."

"About investing it—putting it into some little business, perhaps. If she shows any real aptitude for cooking, she might learn cake-making and start a teashop. There's an opening for one in Doleham."

Nicholas came over to the bedside and looked down at her.

"The point is that she's going to help you get well. That's all I care about."

"She will help a lot—I feel better already. My heart doesn't jab so."

"Then I'm glad she's coming. Give me a kiss."

Their gray heads leaned together as they kissed.



11

Rosamund lay on her bed. Opposite her the window framed a yellow sky full of sultry heat, with a row of chimney pots straddling across it. They were all sorts of odd shapes and sizes and colors, but already she knew them by heart. They were all she had to look at from her bed, and she spent a great deal of time lying on it, staring at the sky. She called it resting—it was an escape from her mother's cramped sitting room, where Michael played, droning like the humming top she had brought him when she came. "Isn't he clever?" her mother had said. "He can imitate anything—even tissue paper being folded. Hark to that, now." Her mother crushed together some tissue paper and Michael made a noise exactly like tissue paper being crushed. Then he went on with his humming. Rosamund did not know how her mother could bear it.

"You might play with him, now you're here," her mother had said; and she had played with him, spinning his top better than he could do it himself. But she had been glad to escape upstairs and lie down on her bed and stare at the chimney pots and rest. It was all very well for Lady Anne to say that he was happy. Most likely he was, but that didn't stop him hurting her. He had hurt her less when he was younger and his behavior had been more in keeping with his age. Her mother saw that she was hurt and was shocked at her. She thought it was because she didn't love him. She didn't understand.

Her mother did not approve of her going to Lady Anne as cook. "I call it demeaning yourself. Why on earth should you want to do a thing like that now that you've got this money? Besides, you can't cook."

"I cook as well as I do most things, and I like being there. I like Lady Anne. It's a nice house, and I shall meet nice people."

"You said that before, when you went to Doleham Manor, but none of them seem to have been nice to my way of thinking—except that kind gentleman who gave Michael the panda. A pity he was married."

"Most men of my age are," said Rosamund, "but if there are any chances about I'm more likely to meet them there than here."

"Not if you're doing the cooking. . . . I never heard of such a thing. And all the time you've got three thousand pounds. You could buy a good business with that and make a lot of money. Why Madam Wheeler would simply jump at it if you went in with her. That shop could be a little gold mine if only there was more money behind it. And you could live here at home with me and Michael. Do think of it, Rosie."

She thought of it, but only with disgust. If she put her money into a business it would not be into a gown shop in the Harrow Road. It was funny that her mother never seemed to realize how she had risen in life. She could talk of her demeaning herself as a cook—a cook who lived "as family" with a titled lady—but she saw nothing degrading in her spending her days in a dingy street, selling cheap gowns on the installment system.

"When I go back to the Cheynells," she said loftily, "I shall ask their advice about putting my money into something really high class."

Her week at home had passed very slowly. There were still a couple of days to go, and she longed for them to be over—though not, she told herself, for Bob Hightower's sake. She would go back to Lady Anne with the hope of forgetting him. Nothing would induce her to ring him up; and if he rang her, she would be very cool and distant after all that had passed. He had made her suffer too much—he had withered the last of her youth. He was heartless and he did not really love her. She would be wise to put him out of her life and resume her plans for a second marriage. There was a chance, as she had told her mother, that she might meet somebody suitable at the Cheynells' house. They were old and they were dull, but they probably knew people who were neither. She might meet a widower, or a bachelor who had searched in vain for the right woman until now. . . . She would not be too particular. She would ask only for good birth and a sufficient income—looks, charm, riches mattered no longer now. They had been the demands of a younger Rosamund who now was dead, or rather lived only in the belief that life still held a lucky break for her.

A church clock struck four. The sky was like brass—no blue. . . . It was odd that she should miss the blue sky of the country. In the country when it was fine the sky was blue, not yellow. Her room was insufferably hot. The sitting room would be cooler, for it faced north. She had half a mind to go down for a bit. . . . But there were sounds, a door opening—a neighbor must have called. She would stay where she was. Her mother's friends depressed her. When she sat with them and her mother in that dismal, dark little room she felt like poor Rose Node again. . . . Her mother was running upstairs to fetch her, but she would not go down. Her mother stood in the doorway.

"Rosie, Mrs. Blenker's called to say you're wanted on the phone."



12

For a moment she lay quite still as if she had been dead.

"Hurry up," said her mother, and she was suddenly on her feet. It could only be Bob Hightower—it could be no one else. She had not given the number to the Cheynells. Jennifer had it, of course, but she would never ring up—not on her own. It must be Bob. It must.

These thoughts rushed through her mind as she ran for the door.

"Rosie!" shouted her mother. "Your dress is undone—do up your dress. You can't go out in the street like that."

Hastily buttoning her dress, she ran past the open door of the sitting room, where Michael hummed and spun his top, and out into the street. Mrs. Blenker lived two doors down. She kept a sweet-stuff and tobacconist's shop, and Rosamund ran through it to the cubbyhole at the back where the telephone was. The receiver lay on the shelf beside it, she snatched it up and cried "Hullo!" in a voice that almost refused to come.

"Hullo! That my Totsy?"

For a moment she could not speak. She knew she ought to be a bit upstage with him, but could not think of what to say. In the end she answered rather squeakily, "Yes, it's me."

"What made you run away?"

"I didn't run away."

"Oh, yes, you did. When I got back to Sandlake last night they told me you'd gone to London."

"Well, I wanted to see Mother and Michael. Come to that, why did you run away?"

She had managed at last to climb on to the rather uncomfortable back of her high horse.

He laughed. "I didn't run away either."

"Oh, yes, you did. Bob—you left me at the most dreadful time of my life, just when I most needed someone to stand by me. You heard about poor Lesley, I suppose?"

"Yes, it was in the papers. What a schemozzle! I read about it when I was in Brighton."

"So that's where you've been."

"Yes, and other places too—all strictly in the way of business."

She longed to ask him if he had been alone, but she was too much afraid of the answer. If he said No, all her terrors would be fulfilled; and if he said Yes, she would not believe him. She asked instead. "What business?"

"Oh, the usual—trying to get out of this goddamned country."

"And—have you been successful?"

"Yes."

"Oh, Bob!" She could say no more. Had he rung her up to say good-by?

He laughed. "Yes, at last I think I can manage it—with your help."

"My help!"

"Yes, your help. You've been left some money, haven't you, Totsy?"

She turned crimson with anger.

"If you think I'm going to pay your passage to Melbourne—"

"Not Melbourne, Beautiful—that's out of date, old history. We're going to Wellington, New Zealand, where there's an absolutely first-class business waiting for us—a cafe, but a much better one than that dud place at Sandlake. It's being offered cheap, but we must get there quickly. We shall have to fly."

Her dry throat just managed to pass the words, "Who's 'we'?"

"Why, you and me, Totsy—who else?"

"Bob!"

She felt faint and leaned against the wall.

"What about it! You know I've always loved you."

She shook her head, forgetting he could not see her.

"Well, I have, though sometimes I may have behaved as if I didn't because of—of—well, call it pressure of events. I've had to take various bulls by the horns. But I do love you, Totsy. There's nobody like you and I want you to marry me. If we set about it directly, we can get married before we start."

The tears were running down her face, and she was trembling, so that the receiver knocked against the wall.

"What's the matter?" he asked "What's that knocking?"

"Oh, nothing. . . ." She stood away from the wall's support and hoped her voice was clear. "Bob, what about Michael?"

"Oh, he'll be all right. He's still with your mother, isn't he?"

"Yes. But she can't afford to keep him unless I pay."

"He can go into a home. I've told you how happy he'd be in a home, and under the new health scheme it would cost you nothing."

"But I don't like . . ."

"Beautiful, he doesn't know the difference between you and Wednesday week."

"It isn't him—it's Mother. She'd break her heart if he had to go."

"She'll get over it, and it won't be for long. When we get this place really launched we'll be coining money and you can send her what you like—get her a good house and a maid. . . . Now for God's sake, Totsy, don't cry."

A sob must have found its way into the mouthpiece. She fought for calm, looking round in vain for the high horse that had galloped away.

"It's all right, Bob—I'm not crying."

"Oh, no. . . . You've nothing to cry about, anyway. We're going to have a gorgeous time, you and me—we're going to see the world and get rich. Now you'd better come round here at once—"

"Where are you? Aren't you at Sandlake?"

"Good lord, no! Did you think I was speaking from Sandlake? No, I'm speaking from the Marble Arch Hotel, where we stayed before. I've taken a room for us and we're going to have a champagne dinner to celebrate. Then we can make all our plans about booking our passage and getting married."

"But, Bob—"

"Well, what is it now?"

"You know I've only just been left the money—I haven't got complete control of it yet."

"That doesn't matter. You're the executor, aren't you? You can get the bank or the solicitors to let you have what you want till the will's through. Say you're getting married and flying to New Zealand—they'll stump up all right. If they don't, we can always go to the Jews."

She hesitated as to whether she should tell him she had only three thousand pounds. He probably thought she had the whole ten. But she was too much afraid of her new happiness to hesitate long. No doubt she had enough to get them to Wellington and buy the business. The rest could wait.

"Oh, Bob," she murmured, suddenly relieved, "I'm only just beginning to realize that it's true."

She heard him laugh.

"You're nuts. Now, hurry up, Totsy, pack a bag and come round at once. We can pick up the rest of your luggage some other time."

"I'll come at once—this minute!" she cried. "'By for now, darling," and hung up.



13

She ran through the shop, without taking any notice of Mrs. Blenker, who said (perhaps in irony) that she hoped she had got through all right. A minute later she was in her mother's house.

"Rosie, what have you been doing all this time?"

"Telephoning. Mother, I must go at once." She was halfway upstairs. "I'm going to pack my bag. I'm getting married."

Her mother came wheezing after her.

"What did you say?"

"I said I was getting married." She pulled out her bag from under the bed and threw the tissue paper on the floor. Her mother gaped.

"But who? When?"

"Just as soon as it can ever be managed, for we're flying to New Zealand. He's that man you liked so much, who gave Michael the panda."

"But he's married already."

"No, he isn't. I only said so. But he isn't—never was. He's going to marry me and we're going to buy a cafe in New Zealand, but we must get over there quickly."

"Rosie, you're crazy. You can't do that."

"I can—I must. There's no good trying to stop me, Mother."

She was collecting her night things to put into the bag. Something was sure to be left behind, for her mind was spinning, but it didn't really matter. She saw her black and scarlet evening dress hanging in the wardrobe and snatched it out. She would wear it tonight.

"But," said her mother, "you're not going off now—like this?"

"Oh, I'll come back again and collect my things. But he wants me to join him at his—at his friends' house. He's staying with some friends and wants me there to make plans and talk things over."

"But, Rosie, you can't go away like this—to New Zealand, I mean. What about Michael?"

"He'll be all right with you."

"But I can't manage unless you—Rosie, are you paying for all this out of your money?"

"I shall pay my passage, of course"—she knew very well that she would pay Bob's too—"and anyhow a part of the purchase price. But, Mother, we're going to be rich. I'll be able to send you money home—lots of it."

Her mother began to cry.

"I don't believe any of this. This is just another of your wildcat adventures. You won't make any money—you'll lose all you've got, and I—I shall have to give up Michael."

She stood there sobbing, and for a moment Rosamund felt bad. But she could no more stop herself doing what she had begun to do than she could have stopped a brakeless, driverless car rushing downhill. She shut her bag with a snap.

"Look here, Mother. I'm going to give you a check for a hundred pounds. I'll write it now and you can put it in the bank. You'll be able to keep Michael on that for at least a year, and at the end of a year I'll send you some more—I swear it."

"I don't believe you. I don't believe that I shall ever hear from you again."

Rosamund picked up her bag and carried it downstairs, her mother following her. In the sitting room Michael was still spinning his top. He did not look up while she took out her checkbook and wrote the check. Then she remembered something.

"And, Mother, if you wouldn't mind sending off a telegram. . . . to Lady Anne, to tell her I can't come back."

She wrote: "Desperately sorry but getting married so cannot return." Then she handed her mother the check and the telegram, feeling she had dealt thoughtfully and adequately with all concerned.

"Aren't you going to leave your address?"

"The Marble Arch Hotel," she said without thinking.

"I thought you said it was a house—his friends' house."

"Well, it's where his friends are staying. Mother, I must go and see if I can pick up a taxi. Good-by for now. I'll ring you up later at Mrs. Blenker's and tell you exactly what I'm going to do."

She kissed her mother, who was still crying bitterly.

"Rosie, I believe you're a bad woman."

"Oh, no, no—it's going to be all right. But I must hurry. Good-by, Mother—good-by, Michael."

She kissed him, felt a catch in her throat and rushed out, followed by the sound of her mother's crying and the humming of his top.



The End





[End of Mrs. Gailey by Sheila Kaye-Smith]